Two Weeks of Meals

My good friend Brianna started coming over on Thursdays a few years back to "learn how to cook".  Truth be told, I taught her a few things, we made a few things, and we just hung out and chatted.  Fast forward through a bunch of kids (both of ours), two new houses, and we figured since we were finally 18 minutes door-to-door, we would start back up.  So, two weeks ago I bought the ingredients, we met at my house, and we prepped 5 meals that she could go home and cook throughout the week in her slow cooker.  They were a huge hit and so this week (since next week is NUTS) we did 10 meals that can be made or prepped ahead and frozen until they are ready to cook them.  So... what are these 10 meals?

1) Meatloaf - we made a HUGE one that would go in two meals...

2 lbs lean ground beef
2 c fresh breadcrumbs
1 c milk
2 eggs
2 envelopes Ranch dressing mix

Mix until thoroughly combined.  Freeze until ready to use.  When ready to cook, thaw in the refrigerator overnight.  Form into a loaf and place in slow cooker for 3 hours on high or on a foil-lined cookie sheet in the oven at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 10 minutes.

2) Taco Soup
Leftover meatloaf, chopped or crumbled
1 can black beans, drained
1 can pinto beans, drained
1 can corn, drained
1 can diced tomatoes
2 T taco seasoning mix
1 can chicken broth

Combine all ingredients in a large soup pot and simmer on low 30 minutes.

3) Grandma's Chicken 
My grandmother believed in two things.  Everything is better with butter and you should never waste anything.  She would use dried out bread that had been ground for this recipe, but I like Italian panko for the crunch factor.

8 drumsticks, brined (see instructions on brining here)
1 box Italian panko breadcrumbs
1/2 c (1 stick) butter, melted

Pat chicken dry and roll in melted butter and breadcrumbs.  Place on a cookie sheet with a rack on it.  Drizzle any remaining butter over top and bake at 375 degrees for 40-45 minutes or until the juices run clear.

4)  Osso Bucco
This recipe is heavily adapted from Rachel Ray's version.  We didn't go the gremolata since I have a hard time eating raw garlic, but I'm including the recipe for that too.

4-6 pieces boneless beef short ribs
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
2 small ribs celery, chopped
1 onion, chopped
1/2 t fennel seed
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 bay leaves
1 t dried thyme
1 can tomato paste
1 can beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes in the juice
Zest and juice of 1 orange

Zest of 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 c flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 c toasted pine nuts, finely 

There are really two methods to doing this.  The crock pot and the oven.  The flavor will be a little different in the crock pot than it will be on the stove top, but it's still yummy either way.  We'll go with the crock pot version here and introduce you to the stove top version later.  For our purposes, we threw all of the ingredients (minus the ingredients for gremolata) into a ziploc bag, wrote the instructions on the outside and it's ready for the freezer and that day that is just too crazy for words.  The longer this one cooks, the better so if you thaw it out in the fridge over night and put it in your slow cooker on low for 8 hours, it will literally fall apart in luscious pot-roasty goodness.  If you want, just before you serve it, chop up the gremolata ingredients and top each serving with a tablespoon of the mixture.  It's awesome served over mashed potatoes, polenta (cooked cornmeal) or pasta.  It's even great by itself with a big loaf of crusty bread. 

5)  Broccoli & Rice Casserole
This is one of those things that we made to go with Grandma's chicken, but will use in another way for a different meal.

1 (12 ounce) bag frozen, chopped broccoli
2 c cooked rice
8 ounces shredded cheddar cheese
1 (10 3/4 ounce) can cream of chicken soup
1 small onion, chopped
2 T butter

Cook onion in butter until soft in a small skillet.  Stir all ingredients together in a large bowl and put in a 2 quart casserole dish.  Bake at 350 for 35 minutes or until it is heated through and the cheese is melted.  To make ahead and freeze: Mix all ingredients together (start with your rice cooked, not raw) and spoon into two or even three smaller casserole dishes, cover, label and freeze. If you thaw overnight, just cook the 35 minutes. If cooking from frozen state, add ten minutes or so, check for doneness.

Now, if you're like me you'll have some of this leftover.  Never fear.  In a soup pot, saute 1 chopped carrot, 1 chopped rib of celery and 1 small onion in 2 T butter.  Add 1 T flour and cook for 1 minute.  Add the leftover casserole, 1 quart of chicken stock, and a cup of chopped chicken (from your Grandma's chicken recipe).  Warm through and serve!

6)  Chicken "Chili"
I take no credit for this recipe.  It came straight off of Pinterest and my family LOVES it.

3-4 chicken breasts
1 can black beans, drained
1 can Rotel tomatoes
1 can corn, drained
1 (8 ounce) block of cream cheese.

Combine and cook on low 4-6 hours.  Shred chicken and return to the pot.  Serve over rice or with warm flour tortillas.

7)  Braided Spaghetti Bread

Another Pinterest Find.  It actually comes from the Rhodes Bread website here.  We did ours without the Italian Sausage and using the Artisan Bread recipe found here.

1/4 recipe, Artisan Bread dough
6 oz cooked spaghetti
1 c spaghetti sauce
8 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded OR cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 egg white
Parmesan cheese
Parsley flakes

Roll bread dough into a 12x16 inch rectangle.  Cook spaghetti according to package directions. Drain.  Mix with sauce and place lengthwise in a 4 inch strip down the center of the dough.  Top with cheese.  Make cuts 1 1/2 inches apart on long sides of dough to within 1/2 inch of filling.  Begin braid by folding top and bottom strips toward filling.  Then braid strips left over right, right over left.  Finish by pulling last strip over and tucking under braid.  (There are awesome pictures on the Rhodes website.)  Transfer braid to a large cookie sheet sprayed with no-stick spray or covered with parchment paper.  Brush with egg white and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and parsley.  (You can add garlic powder too!).  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.  Cool 5 minutes and serve.

8)  Uncle Ronnie's Minestrone
I worked with a guy named Ron, who, to put it nicely, was an odd duck.  The best part of working with him was this recipe.  Traditionally minestrone is vegetarian, but the addition of ground beef and sausage adds a great heartiness to this meal.

1 lb Italian sausage  
1/2 lb ground beef
1 large can crushed tomatoes
2 cans tomato paste
2 quarts water
1 cube beef bouillon
1 can green beans, drained
3 large carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 large onion, diced
1 can white kidney (canellini) beans
1/2 t oregano
1/2 t basil
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 can garbanzo beans
1/4 c sugar
1 pkg frozen egg noodles

Combine all ingredients except for the last three in a large slow cooker on low for 4 hours.  Add garbanzo beans, sugar and egg noodles and cook one more hour.

9) Honey Sesame Chicken
Yet another Pinterest favorite from Six Sisters' Stuff with a few modifications...

5-6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
3/4 c honey
1/2 c soy sauce
1/2 c diced onion
1/4 c ketchup
1 t toasted sesame oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch of fresh ginger, grated
1/4 c corn starch
Sesame seeds

Combine all ingredients except sesame seeds in a slow cooker on low for 4-6 hours.  Shred chicken, top with chopped green onions (optional) and sesame seeds and serve over rice.  You can also stir fry vegetables (broccoli, cabbage, carrots, pea pods) in 1 T vegetable oil and 1 clove garlic and toss with the chicken and cooked noodles (I like linguine).

10) Pasta with Lemon "Alfredo" and Chicken

For the chicken:
2 chicken breasts
1/2 c plain yogurt
1 t dried basil (or about 20 leaves of fresh)
1/2 t garlic powder
Zest of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 lemon

Marinate 1 hour to overnight.  It can also be frozen in the marinade and thawed the day of cooking.

Cook 1 lb short-cut pasta (I like corkscrew) according to package directions, heavily salting the cooking water

For the Sauce:
4 slices bacon
2 cloves garlic, grated
1 pint heavy cream
1 pint whole milk
1 c shredded or grated parmesan cheese
1 lemon
In a large skillet, cook bacon on low until crisp.  Remove bacon and pour out bacon grease.  Return skillet to medium low heat and add garlic.  Cook 1 minute or until the garlic becomes fragrant but not brown.  Add heavy cream and milk and heat, stirring constantly.  Add cheese and stir until thick.  Remove skillet from heat and add zest and juice of one lemon.  Toss immediately with hot pasta and top with chicken that has been cooked at 375 for 30 minutes or grilled outside until cooked through.

Well... there you have it.  10 meals.  It took us around 2 hours to prep all of the ingredients and get them into ziploc bags.  We did our fair share of talking in between and I taught Brianna how to make flour tortillas in the process, but what better way to spend the afternoon and $55?

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I have a terrible habit of watching Diners, Drive-ins and Dives... late at night... by myself.  I find myself yearning for whatever Guy Fieri is eating.  Lately it has been the good old fashioned hamburger.

Some of you may recall my entries into the Build a Better Burger Challenge last year.  This was not one of those nights.  I wanted a plain hamburger with melted cheese.

But that doesn't mean it has to be flavorless, right?

My Hamburger
1 lb ground beef
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
1/4 t garlic powder
1/4 small onion, grated (on a cheese grater)
4 slices provolone cheese
4 hamburger buns
Any fixin's your heart desires.

Mix ground beef with seasonings and onion.  Form into 4 patties where the middles are shallower than the outside.  Heat a skillet over medium heat.  Place burgers in the pan and cook until the juices rise to the top.  Flip, immediately top with cheese and cover with a piece of foil until the cheese is melted.

Now, I served mine on buns that were toasted with garlic butter, barbeque sauce, pickles, and lettuce.  Throw a fruit salad and some oven baked, store bought fries on the side and my boys were in seventh heaven.  And that night, when I watched Guy Fieri sink his teeth into a huge, greasy burger I just smiled and said, "Eh."

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Cottage Pie... er... Sort of...

I was flipping through Martha Stewart's Everyday Food magazine that I meant to read when it came last November and I came across a recipe that caught my eye.  It was for "Cottage Pie" - a version of a shepherd's pie but with potato slices on top instead of mashed potatoes.  My first thought was, "Well, that's dumb.  The mashed potatoes are the best part of a shepherd's pie.  Why would I intentionally leave them off?"

Well, that got me thinking.

I didn't have any ground beef, but I came across a hidden treasure the other day while I was cleaning out my cupboards.  See, we're in the process of getting our house ready to sell (Anyone want to buy a 1700 sq ft house in Northern Utah?) and so I'm going through all of my cupboards and closets and paring down what we don't need so we can stage this sucker.  I came across a meat grinder attachment for my Kitchen Aid.  Why do I have one of these?

Well my friend Brianna was cleaning out HER cupboards one day and came over with it asking if I wanted it.  I thought, "Sure, I may want to grind meat someday," and promptly put it in the back of my cupboard.  Suddenly, I realized that I had two NY strip steaks and a pork chop in my meat keeper that I could grind to create my own version of Cottage Pie.  I promise, I'm getting there, stay with me.

So, I attached the thing to the thing and started grinding on a coarse grind.  Lo and behold - it WORKED!  I started thinking of the endless possiblities.  No more paying $3.99 a pound for hamburger when rib eyes are on sale for $2.99.  No more paying $2.50 for a pound of ground chicken when I can pay $3 for 2 lbs!  I'm free!  That's not to say that I'm completely eschewing pre-ground meat, but I will no longer be forced to go to the ONE grocery store in the area that carried ground pork when I want to do Asian pork meatballs.

I ground away until I came away with a huge pile of coarsely ground meat.  And so began the process of cleaning out my fridge and making Cottage Pie.

Cottage Pie
1 T butter, melted (I happened to have garlic herb butter on hand)
1 small yellow onion, diced
3 large carrots, cut into 1/4 inch rounds
2 T tomato paste
1 lb ground meat (beef, pork, turkey, chicken, lamb, whatever)
2 t fresh thyme leaves
2 c chicken (or beef) broth
2 T flour
1 c frozen peas
1 c frozen corn

In a large skillet, heat 1 T butter over medium-high heat.  Add onion and carrots and cook, stirring often, until onion is soft, about 5 minutes.  Season with salt and pepper and stir in tomato paste.  Add meat and cook, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until almost cooked through.  Add thyme and 1 c chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Cook, stirring frequently until slightly reduced, 2 minutes.  Sprinkle flour over mixture and stir to combine.  Add remaining 1 c broth and cook until mixture thickens, about 2 minutes.  Stir in peas and corn and season with salt and pepper.

Now, here's where Martha and I differ.  She puts the mixture in a casserole dish, slices a potato very thin and tops the meat mixture with the potato.  She then dots it with butter and bakes it at 400 degrees for 40-45 minutes until the potatoes are soft and the mixture is bubbly.

You can certainly go with that, or you can make mashed potatoes and top the cassrole with those, baking at 400 for 15-20 minutes until the potatoes are golden brown.

Or you can do what we did.  Simmer the mixture until the carrots are tender and serve over egg noodles.  Saves the peeling.

This just goes to show - you don't have to have all the ingredients for a recipe to have it turn out well.  Well, as long as you have a meat grinder.

**Note:  If you didn't have a meat grinder, you could have chopped the meat very finely with a knife or food processor.  I just like my toy.

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