Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jennifer's Italian Salad

Every time I take this salad to any get-together, it disappears within the first few minutes; everyone loves it. 

This recipe comes from one of my relatives on my husband's side of the family, Jennifer.  She always makes this salad for our family reunions and I can't get enough of it.  She shared how to make it with me a few years ago and I've been making it ever since.  Thanks, Jennifer!  You have know idea how much joy you have brought to my life by giving me this recipe.

The total cost of ingredients can be a little pricey, so this is something I usually make for special occasions.  I do, however, use a store brand of olives to cut the costs a little.  You could certainly make your own croutons with day-old bread.  Also, buying a big hunk of Parmesan cheese is usually cheaper than buying the pre-shredded kind.

Jennifer told me that the key to this salad is to use a zesty Italian dressing.  I just do what she says.

Jennifer’s Italian Salad

1 (16-ounce) bag hearts of Romaine or Italian blend lettuce

3-4 chopped Roma tomatoes

1/2 cup chopped red onion

1 to 1-1/2 cups whole green olives with pimientos, drained

1 to 1-1/2 cups whole black olives, drained

1 (6-ounce) container crumbled feta cheese

3/4  to 1 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 small jar or about 1/4 cup capers, rinsed and drained

1 bag restaurant style croutons

1/2 to 3/4 cup bottled Zesty Italian dressing

  1. Place the first 8 ingredients in a large salad bowl and toss.
  2. Right before serving, drizzle with the Italian dressing and add croutons, then toss to combine.
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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

We like granola bars around here so I came up with my own recipe and they were a big hit.  Even though a lot of store bought granola bars claim to be healthy, I really question the nutritional value of some of the ingredients.  

I used a natural peanut butter because regular peanut butter has high fructose corn syrup in it and I'm trying to reduce our consumption.  It's difficult to find anything without it these days.   I used Smucker's Natural Peanut Butter with Honey and I really liked it.  Since I only used three tablespoons, I'm going to get a lot of batches of granola bars from my jar.  Also, I used an off-brand of just about everything else to reduce costs.

You could certainly throw in some dried fruit and change what type of nuts you use.  Next time I will probably throw in some wheat germ, too.  Mini dark chocolate chips would be great, too.  These are especially good because they've got the salty-sweet thing going on, but I'll have to admit that I had to resist the urge to dip them in chocolate. 

I like to put them in bags of two so my crew can grab a bag as they leave.

Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

2-1/2 cups quick-cooking oats

3/4 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup chopped walnuts

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup honey

4 tablespoons butter

3 heaping tablespoons natural style peanut butter

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

  1. Place the oats, sunflower seeds, and walnuts on baking sheet to toast for 15 minutes at 400 degrees, stirring several times.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the brown sugar, honey, butter, peanut butter, and salt in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted and combined.  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.
  3. Place the oat mixture in a large mixing bowl; add the peanut butter mixture and stir to coat.
  4. Line a 9 x 9-inch pan with foil and lightly spray with cooking spray.  Pack the oat mixture into the pan evenly.  Cool completely, then remove from pan and peel off the foil.  Cut into bars.
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Friday, October 10, 2008

Sweet Potato Mousse Semifreddo Torte

About three years ago when I first started entering recipe contests, I won an honorable mention in the Better Homes and Gardens monthly contest for this recipe.  I love this recipe because it's super easy and reminds me of cheesecake without all the fuss and baking.  It's got the flavors of autumn with the cinnamon and nutmeg and sweet potato, yet it is cool and creamy for those warm days we are still experiencing here in Mississippi.  The crust is nice and thick, which I love, with chopped pecans and gingersnaps.

Semifreddo means "half cold" or "partially frozen" in Italian.  Let this sit out at room temperature for about ten minutes for easy cutting.

Sweet Potato Mousse Semifreddo Torte

1-1/2 cups finely crushed gingersnaps

1/2 cup finely chopped pecans

3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup melted butter

1 cup whipping cream

2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened

1 cup packed light brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 (15-ounce) can sweet potatoes, drained

1 cup whipping cream

1/2 cup packed light brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Combine the crushed gingersnaps, pecans, and 3 tablespoons brown sugar; add the melted butter stirring to evenly coat.  Press into the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan.  Bake for 10 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.
  2. Meanwhile, beat 1 cup whipping cream on high speed until soft peaks form; set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese, 1 cup brown sugar, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 teaspoon nutmeg with an electric mixer on medium speed until smooth and fluffy.  Beat in the sweet potatoes.  Fold in the whipped cream.  Pour over cooled crust, spreading evenly.  Set aside.
  4. Beat the remaining 1 cup whipping cream, 1/2 cup brown sugar, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg until soft peaks form; spread over the sweet potato mixture.  Cover and freeze until firm.  Makes 12-16 servings.
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Monday, October 6, 2008

Loaded Enchilada Casserole

I know there are hundreds of versions of Mexican casserole out there.  This is my version and I incorporated a few of my favorite ingredients, rice and beans, to make it a little more filling and a little more wholesome. 

As I've said before, I usually make a big batch of brown rice at the beginning of the week, so it's ready when I need to throw it into something.  I also always have several different types of canned beans, as well as dried beans in my pantry.  Beans are just plain healthy AND cheap.  And versatile.  They can be thrown into soups, stews, and casseroles.  They can be made into dips and even used in salads.

Throwing beans into my meals helps me cut down on our meat consumption.  It's not that I don't love meat--I do--but meat can be an expensive protein. 

I do usually use ground beef because of the price, but you can certainly substitute ground chuck.  When I cook my ground beef, I drain it, then I add a little hot water to the skillet and swish the meat around, then drain again.  This will really help get most of the fat and grease off the meat.

Use any type of cheese you like in this casserole.  I used Colby jack.   Don't forget to add the cilantro and lime;  they both add a lot of fresh flavor.

Loaded Enchilada Casserole

1 pound ground beef (can decrease to 1/2 or 3/4 pound)

1 medium onion, chopped

1 clove minced garlic or 1 teaspoon preminced

1 (10.5-ounce) can cream of mushroom soup

1 cup sour cream

1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

2 cups cooked rice

1 (10-ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies

1 tablespoon chili powder

2 teaspoons cumin

Salt and pepper to taste

12 corn tortillas, quartered or torn into fourths

1 (10-ounce) can red enchilada sauce

3 cups Colby jack cheese

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

1 (4-ounce) can chopped black olives, drained

About 2-3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Lime juice for drizzling

  1. Brown the ground beef, onion and garlic in a large skillet.  Drain off grease, then stir in the cream of mushroom soup, sour cream, black beans, rice, canned tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. 
  2. Place half of the tortillas in the bottom of a 9 x 13-inch pan, then drizzle with half of the enchilada sauce evenly.
  3. Spoon half of the beef mixture on top, then half of the cheese.  Repeat layers, ending with the remaining cheese.
  4. Bake at 400 degrees for 30-35 minutes or until the cheese melts and it's bubbly. 
  5. Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes.  Sprinkle with the chopped tomatoes, black olives, and fresh cilantro.  Squeeze some lime juice on top.
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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Chocolate Revel Bars

The other day I needed to make a dessert that would yield a large enough quantity to feed to a crowd at church, but also enough to bring along on a Saturday fishing trip that my husband and I were going to take.  I was thumbing through one of my favorite basic cookbooks, The Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook, and I came across Chocolate Revel Bars.  I have made them before, but it's been years and I had forgotten how good they are.  I know they have been done over and over again on blogs everywhere, but I think they are worth repeating here.

Chocolate Revel Bars are cheap and easy to make.  I always have chocolate chips, sweetened condensed milk, and quick cooking oats in my pantry.  These are a substantial bars that are chewy and chocolaty, but also have a slightly crunchy texture with the oat crust and topping.  The original recipe is here.  I increased my measurements to make a huge quantity, so if you need a massive amount of bars, follow my measurements below and bake in a 12 x 17 x 1 -inch pan.

Chocolate Revel Bars

1-1/2 cups softened butter

3 cups packed light brown sugar

1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda

3 eggs

3 teaspoons vanilla

3-3/4 cups all-purpose flour

4-1/2 cups quick cooking oats

2-3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips

1 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (1-1/2 cans)

3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

3 teaspoons vanilla

  1. Set aside 3 tablespoons of the butter.  In a large mixing bowl, beat the remaining butter on high speed for 30 seconds.  Add the brown sugar and baking soda. Beat until combined, scraping the sides of bowl.  Beat in the eggs and 3 teaspoons vanilla.  Beat in as much of flour as you can with the mixer, then beat in remaining flour by hand.  Stir in the oats.  Press 2/3 of the oat mixture into the bottom of a 12 x 17 x 1-inch baking pan.
  2. Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons butter, the chocolate chips, and the sweetened condensed milk in a medium heavy saucepan over low heat, until melted and smooth, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and stir in walnuts and 3 teaspoons vanilla.  Spread this mixture on top of the crust.
  3. Spread remaining oat mixture on top by flattening out small pieces and placing them on the chocolate filling or spooning them evenly on top.
  4. Bake for about 30-35 minutes or until top is lightly browned.  The chocolate filling will still look moist.  Cool on wire rack before cutting into bars.
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