Family Dinners

Cherry Berry Crisp is an easy dessert option

When you want a sweet ending for a last-minute dinner party or a busy weeknight, this recipe is a real winner.  It’s one of those open, dump and stir kinds of desserts that your family and friends will love- no crust to make and nothing to chill or assemble. Many quick berry and cherry crisp recipes just use canned pie filling but I think it’s way too “goopy” like that.  So I decided to mix up the pie filling with drained canned cherries. I think it has a better texture.  Bake the crisp while you’re making the rest of the meal and then serve it up warm with a scoop of high-quality vanilla ice cream. You’ll see some smiles around the dinner table.


Mystery Basket Dinner

Well here I am at our lake place too wiped out from the week to make a 30-minute trip to the grocery store.  Besides, we’re not out of everything and I did raid my fridge at home before coming… tossing every bit of produce and dairy I could find into a cooler with no real menu in mind.  Just hoping I could cobble together a couple of meals before making the store run.  Even when you’re playing mystery basket dinner, it’s important to make a plan and gather all your ingredients before cooking… just like a real recipe.

Ok here goes… I always seem to have a half package of wonton wrappers left over from a cooking class just hanging around and teasing me into not letting them waste.   So let’s do something with that together with a half pound of ground beef and a link of Italian sausage.   I know, ravioli!  But wait… I don’t have any tomatoes or pasta sauce?  Let’s improvise.   Here’s what I ended up making and it was really, really good!

-Heated a little olive oil and a tablespoon of butter in a saute pan.
-Sauteed some minced shallots (don’t need much for good flavor) until translucent, added some minced garlic and sauteed until fragrant, deglazed with a little red wine that has seen its better days, poured in a little beef broth, sprinkled some Italian seasoning, dumped in a leftover packet of marinara sauce from my son’s fast food mozzarella sticks along with a half can of tomato soup.  Ok that looks like a thin sauce.  I let it reduce down and thicken while I combined the meat mixture.  I took the sausage out of the casing and mixed it with the ground beef, some salt and pepper, an egg, a couple handfuls of arugula, the rest of a container of grated parmesan/romano cheese,  and some Italian seasoning.  Then I got out the wonton wrappers and encased little mounds of meat between them, using a little water to seal the edges.  I cooked them in a saucepot of simmering water and the rest of the beef broth.  They cooked through in 3-4 minutes.  I added them into the pan with the reduced sauce.  Tossed around a little and served with some reserved parmesan cheese and chopped parsley.  Voila!  A savory, delicious pasta dinner with a rather interesting sauce.  btw… I had more meat than wontons so I made up some meatballs, browned in a pan with olive oil, covered and simmered with the rest of the tomato soup until cooked through. My son was delighted to have his ravioli with a side of meatballs!  Let’s just say no leftovers this time!

Sometimes this mystery basket thing just works out.

Thick and Meaty Spaghetti

Spaghetti.. it can be bland cop-out dinner food or a slow-simmered pot of love.  I think my recipe is somewhere in the middle.  I also like this recipe because it’s a healthy version of a classic dish, using ground turkey and whole wheat pasta.  Your family will be so caught up in the flavors, they’ll never notice!  TIP:  to easily chop up the ground meat while it’s browning, use a potato masher.  ANOTHER TIP:  to get all the tomato paste out of that pesky little can, open both ends of the can, remove one cut-out end and use the other one to push out all the sauce.  Just be sure to catch the can end before it hits the pot!  AND ANOTHER TIP:  I like to crush dried herbs in a mortar and pestle. It’s a fun way for little ones to help out.

Turkey Taco Salad

My family has come to love ground turkey in a variety of dishes where I used to always use ground beef.  Tacos, spaghetti sauces, meatballs, chili… I particularly like this salad recipe because it used scratch-made taco seasoning instead of the processed stuff.  I think you’ll like the flavor and may find everything you need already in your spice rack.  Tip:  Heat your pan before adding turkey and onion.  Less sticking. If your turkey is just so lean that it sticks anyway, add a little bit of canola oil to get things moving.

Chicken Cordon Something on the fly… inspirations from last weekend at the lake.

My whole family loves spending as much time as possible at Smith Mountain Lake in the summer.  We swim, boat, sleep, play cards, read, gossip and of course we EAT like there’s no tomorrow.  The lake is a great place to test out my latest culinary creations because I have a captive, hungry audience and most of what I make is at least better than the food at the Dairy Queen down the road.  I cook for the hubby, the kids, the in-laws, the rents, the sibs, the dog, some of the neighbors and occasionally the random strangers in the nearest boat.   My mom and sisters take their turn at the stove too.  My van is usually running over with twice as many groceries as suitcases.  However, this past weekend was probably the last weekend at the lake for a while so I was trying to use up what food we had and not go out and buy a lot of extra groceries.  By Labor Day Monday, the cupboards were pretty bare.  So, like the enterprising family that we are, we pooled our resources to make the final dinner.    Turned out pretty good.  Here’s what happened.

Chicken Cordon Something

-I took the last of my Sister’s boneless chicken breasts and pounded them thin between plastic wrap. I didn’t have a mallet, but a heavy ice cream scoop worked just fine.
-Applied salt, pepper, minced garlic, Italian seasoning, and onion powder to both sides of chicken.  You can use whatever spice/herb mix you like.
-Collected everyone’s leftover lunch meat and layered the meat on the chicken.
-Layered slices of leftover cheese (swiss slices, grated Italian blend and what I think was shredded cheddar)  Didn’t really try to make them all the same.. the chicken pieces just got what they got.
-Rolled up the chicken pieces and secured with a toothpick
-Coated each piece in a mixture of grated Parmesan cheese, club cracker crumbs, and seasoned salt.  I used the club crackers because THAT’S ALL I HAD  and they were starting to go stale.
-Drizzled a tiny bit of butter on top for some moisture and baked at 350 for 17 minutes or so until internal temp was 165 degrees.  It’s a good idea to remove the toothpicks halfway through the cooking time.

We ate it just like this with some leftover green beans and pasta salad but a white wine cream sauce or a mushroom sauce would be a nice accompaniment.

This turned out to be one of the best meals of the weekend.  I think the key to making this approach work for you is to consider the protein ingredients you have, think of a dish you like that includes that protein and then look around your kitchen for similar items.  Don’t be afraid to improvise!  Leftover lunch meat may be the sleeping star of your next dinner, too.

Turkey Kielbasa and Sauerkraut was a big hit for dinner tonight

I don’t always go for the turkey and chicken substitutes for traditional meat ingredients, but I have found a few diamonds in the rough recently.  This dish certainly deserves full rank as a great dinner without a hint of obvious sacrifice.   The Jennie-O Smoked Turkey Kielbasa is just delicious and pairs so well with the subtle sweetness of this sauteed sauerkraut and onion mixture.  It was raining this afternoon, so I wasn’t interested in going anywhere near an outdoor grill.  I just broke out my grill pan which rarely disappoints me or ruins my hair.  The whole meal was ready in about 30 minutes, which was good news to hubby who was starving.  I served the kielbasa dish alongside some new potatoes drizzled with rosemary butter and sea salt.  Yum!  If you’re looking for a way to get out of your dinner rut, try this recipe.

Turkey Keilbasa and Sauerkraut

Affordable Family Favorite! Chicken Enchiladas

Just like you, I am often amazed at how much it costs to purchase good quality food.  I try to keep my food budget down by shopping the sales and clipping coupons.  I am pretty picky when it comes to purchasing meat, poultry and seafood so it’s important that I stock up when I find what I like on sale.  For instance, I really like that Smart brand of organic chicken.  It just tastes better to me, is really tender, and it doesn’t have that slimy feeling I sometimes notice on chicken.  But wow that stuff is expensive at regular price! So, I have figured out one of the days that my favorite grocery store reduces the price of some packages to sell before expiration dates get too close.  On that particular morning, I go to the store and literally follow the meat man to the chicken counter and wait for him to get out that magic money stapler looking thing. He just chuckles at me and hands me the chicken.  Chicken is perfectly fine to purchase on the “sell by” date and you can cook it within the next couple of days and it’s deliciously fresh.  You can also freeze it the day you buy it and thaw it out for later use.  Once thawed, I use it within two days to err on the side of freshness.   Here is one of my family’s favorite chicken dishes and it’s quite affordable when you get the bird on sale!  If your family doesn’t like food that’s too spicy, omit the Jalapenos and cayenne.



Orange -Scented Pork Chops

I admit it.. I’m a Southern Living recipe junkie.  You should see the cookbook collection I have.  I get almost giddy when that Southern Living Christmas edition arrives in July, just in time for the holidays.  LOL  I cook out of those books all year round.  I find it great fun to randomly choose one off the shelf and flip through a few pages until something strikes my fancy.  I inventory my kitchen, make my grocery list and am off on a mission for a culinary experiment.  I recently tried a recipe for Orange Scented Pork Chops out of the 2003 “Christmas with Southern Living” edition.  I actually made it twice.  The second time I used sliced pork tenderloin and added a little minced ginger root.  The rice is delicious on its own as a side dish.  I could eat a whole bowl of this rice on its own.

Much to do about Chicken….Recipes for Chicken Dijon and Coq au Vin

Coq au Vin
Chicken Dijon





OK this is a big one!  I’ve been working a lot with chicken lately and I have a new appreciation for how delicious it can be.  If you would like direction on how to cut up a whole chicken and then cook it in a couple of amazing ways. READ ON!  Process pictures included after the text directions and recipes.

Cutting up a chicken is a little intimidating at first but you’ll be amazed at how much easier it gets even the second time you try it.  Plus, you’ll get excited about all the money you’ll save.  Be sure to freeze the carcass for making stock later.

Once you’ve conquered that old bird, here are two delicious ways to cook it.  These recipes are adapted from Professional Cooking 7th Edition by Wayne Gisslen.  The Chicken with Dijon sauce is fairly simple and quick.  The Coq au Vin is a little more involved and takes a bit longer.. but worth it!  My son liked the purple-ish chicken pieces.

Take the chicken challenge and go cook for your family!

Chicken Dijon and Coq Au Vin