“Since hunger is the most primitive and permanent of human wants, men always want to eat, but since their wish not to be a mere animal is also profound, they have always attended with special care to the manners which conceal the fact that at the table we are animals feeding.” - John Erskine

15 April 2012

easter dinner

Yes, I’m late with this post, but only by a week.  I thought it was still appropriate, since most of these foods are still great for this time of year.

I love Easter dinner.  It is seriously one of my favorite meals all year.  I adore ham, love the cheesy potatoes, and there are so many lovely Easter “fixin’s”.  Plus my chocolate needs are completely satisfied.  That being said, I hate that seemingly everyone cooks ham with pineapple and brown sugar.  Yes, it’s true that I have 28 teeth and all of them are sweet, but strangely enough my sweet tooth (teeth) doesn’t extend to meat.  I’m one of those freaks of nature who believes that the foods on my plate should never touch, that it’s always best to save your favorite food for last (hey, that’s the taste that lingers on your tongue after the meal, right?), and that sweet and meat should never, never, ever be combined.  (I even go so far as to dislike sweet and sour, and even ~ gasp! ~ barbecue sauce, except in extreme circumstances.)

So now that we have that out of the way you might understand why I spent about an hour searching the web for an alternative to this crock pot ham recipes sauce of fruit chutney, dried apricots and onions.  Once that was done, I realized that I had to find an alternative to my crock pot too, since I was using that for the potatoes.  All in all I think I did quite well.  And judging by the way the food disappeared, so did my domestic animals.  Not to mention the extended barnyard family...  Here’s what our Easter meal(s) consisted of:

Garlicky Slow Cooker (or Oven Cooked) Ham
serves 8
(see the original recipe here)
one 3-4 pound fully-cooked black forest ham
2 teaspoons butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons white vinegar
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 teaspoons parsley

Turn crock pot on low and place ham inside.  Or heat oven to 180°-200° and place ham in a roasting pan.

Melt butter in a small saucepan.  Whisk in flour until mixture is dark brown, about 4 minutes.  Add chicken broth and vinegar, bring to a boil.  Add garlic and parsley.

Keep boiling until mixture is thickened, about 3 minutes.  Pour over meat.  Cover and cook 6 to 8 hours.
Lightened-Up Slow Cooker Scalloped Potatoes
serves 12
(see the original recipe here)
1 cup plain yogurt or kefir (I used my home-grown kefir)
¼ cup flour
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
2 teaspoons onion powder
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon Chef Tess All purpose seasoning (or a Mrs. Dash of your choice)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
milk if needed
2 pounds potatoes (I used yukon gold, the original recipe called for red)
1½-2 cups shredded lower-fat cheese of choice (I used ½ cup cheddar and 1¼ cups mozzarella ~ I think I’ll try a little parmesan mixed in if I make this again)
½ teaspoon paprika and 3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives for topping (optional)

Wash and thinly slice potatoes and set aside.  To keep them from browning, I sliced them into a large bowl of cold water and white vinegar (about ½ cup vinegar to 1 cup water).

Mix flour, bouillon, onion powder and seasoning.  Slowly stir or whisk in yogurt or kefir.  Add Worcestershire sauce.  Stir in just enough milk to reach a thick, condensed soup-ish consistency.

Drain potatoes and rinse well.  Pat dry.  Add the yogurt mixture and mix until all potatoes are well coated.

Spoon half of the potato mixture into a crock pot sprayed with cooking spray.  Top with ½ the cheese.  Repeat layer with remaining potatoes and cheese.  Slide the bay leaf down the side until it’s nestled into the sauce.

Cook on HIGH for 3½-4½ hours or on LOW 7 to 8 hours.  Serve topped with a sprinkle of paprika and chives.
Spring Vegetable Orzo Pasta Salad
serves 12-15

1 bunch asparagus, about 3 cups diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced (I used a generous sprinkle of onion powder)
2 cloves garlic, minced
12 ounces orzo pasta, cooked to al dente and cooled (I used 16 ounces)
15-ounce can artichoke hearts
1½ cups sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil (I used a drained can of diced tomatoes)
1 lemon, zested and juiced
¼ cup white wine vinegar (I used white rice vinegar)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

Bring a medium saucepan full of water to a boil.  Turn off the burner, add in asparagus pieces and blanch for 2-3 minutes.  While the asparagus is in the water, heat one tablespoon olive oil in a small sauté pan.  Add shallots and garlic and sauté for 1-2 minutes, just until tender.  (I used this garlic, and onion powder, so I skipped this step.)

Drain the asparagus and rinse with cool water.

In a large bowl add cooked orzo pasta, asparagus pieces, shallots and garlic.  Drain artichoke hearts and quarter them, adding them to the bowl.  Add in tomatoes (with oil) and lemon zest.  Stir to combine.

In a small bowl or container, whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, salt and pepper.  While continuously whisking, slowly pour olive oil into the vinegar.  Once emulsified, stir the dressing into the salad.  Move to the refrigerator for at least 5 hours for flavors to combine.  Serve cold.
Lemonade Cupcakes with Raspberry Frosting
makes 2 dozen
source: babble.com
1 cup butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
grated zest and juice of a lemon
1 cup milk, divided

Preheat oven to 375° and line 24 muffin tins with paper liners.

In a large bowl, beat the butter, sugar and lemon zest with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition.  Beat in the vanilla.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder and salt.  Add to the butter mixture a third at a time, alternating with half the milk and half the lemon juice after each of the first 2 additions of flour.  Beat until just combined.

Fill the prepared tins and bake for 20 minutes, until springy to the touch.  Tip the cupcakes in their tins to help them cool.  Let cool completely before frosting.
Fresh Raspberry Frosting
1 cup fresh raspberries (or thawed from frozen) (I used about ½ cup of this)
1 cup butter, at room temperature
3 cups confectioners’ sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, puree the raspberries until smooth.  If you like, press the mixture through a sieve to get rid of the seeds.

In a medium bowl, beat the butter and half the sugar until smooth. Add the raspberry puree, then more sugar until you have a fluffy, spreadable consistency. Add a splash of water, too (a tablespoon or two) if it needs it.    If you like, sprinkle with colored sugar.

The ham was a big hit.  Middlest doesn’t much care for ham (how does anyone not like ham?  I just don’t get it) and so wouldn’t even try it, but everyone else gobbled it down.  Littlest especially loves “that pink stuff”.  (Pink just happens to be his favorite color, and he loves eating anything pink.  And yes, he knows he’s a boy.  He just loves pink.)  We used some of the leftovers last night for my mother-in-law’s famous ham and cheese croissants (one of my husband’s favorites, which his mother served at our wedding breakfast.  I’m definitely going to have to post that recipe.)  The potatoes tasted a little sweet to me, and although my husband and Middlest liked them (somewhat strangely, since Middlest isn’t usually a potato fan), Oldest didn’t.  I wonder if I got too much Worcestershire sauce in there... Anyway, I’ll still be looking for a great potato recipe. 

And that brings us to the pièce de résistance: the salad.  If you look at the picture at the top of my post, you’ll see neither the salad nor the cupcakes included in our Easter feast.  We had an extended family egg hunt to which we were asked to bring a salad and dessert.  Lucky me, a couple of days before Easter my husband’s sister just happened to bring us a bunch of fresh-picked asparagus from her farm.  Oooo baby!  Can I just say, if you’ve never had farm-fresh asparagus, you don’t know what you’re missing!  I cut up what I needed for the salad, blanched it, and couldn’t stop picking at it.  So I blanched the rest for our personal Easter dinner.  Added a little salt (which it probably didn’t need) and a little butter (to which Im admittedly addicted) and everyone ~ Littlest, my vegetable hater, included ~ enjoyed every last bite and went sniffing around for more.  Once we got to the party, everyone who tried it commented on how good the salad was.  I’m a big pasta salad fan.  I make it quite regularly in the spring and summer, and eat it for breakfast lunch and dinner.  I was hoping for leftovers, but there was only about a spoonful to take home.  My husband even said this was his favorite of all the pasta salads I have yet created.  Wonder if it tastes as good without the farm-fresh asparagus?  Hope I never have to find out!

06 April 2012

easy peasy creamy crock pot chicken lite

If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll know that I’ve been crazy busy lately.  And on top of that I’ve been trying to lighten up our diet.  On that note, I decided to try lightening up one of our family’s favorite recipes that I call creamy crock pot chicken.  I just found out that (one of) its real name(s) is Cream Cheese Crockpot Chicken.  At least on the website I nabbed the picture from.  (Crazy busy, remember?  Didn’t even take the time to take a photo.)  I originally got the recipe from a church function, and my family really likes it, but with cream cheese and cream of chicken soup it was swimming in fat.  So I decided to try to lighten it up a bit by using Chef Tess’s  wonderful homemade cream of... soup recipe again, and here’s what I came up with.  Mmm.  Family didn’t even notice that the fat was missing.

easy peasy creamy crock pot chicken lite
8 ounces cream cheese (I used the real, original, Philadelphia, but if you want to go lighter you could try a low-fat version, or Neufantel)
1 package dry Italian dressing mix (I used this)
½ cup flour
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules (I used this - they have low-sodium, non-MSG varieties too)
2 tablespoons dry onion flakes (I used a little less onion powder)
2 teaspoons Chef Tess All purpose seasoning (or a Mrs. Dash of your choice)
4 cups low or non-fat milk
2 bay leaves
4-6 frozen chicken breasts

Turn crock pot on high and dump in the cream cheese so it can start to soften.  Mix the dry Italian, flour, bouillon, onion flakes (or powder) and seasoning.  Pour onto cream cheese and stir to mix.  Slowly whisk in milk.  Add the frozen chicken, and carefully place 2 bay leaves into the sauce.

Cook on high 4-5 hours or low 6 to 8 hours.  Serve over rice or noodles.

We ate it with brown rice (this is my brown rice of choice, but I can’t find it anywhere anymore, so I used this, and it wasnt a bad alternative) and broccoli.  (If you use brown rice, keep in mind that it takes a lot longer to cook ~ ours took an hour on the stove top ~ so plan your time accordingly.)  Everyone snarffed it up.  I doubled the recipe, planning on freezing the leftovers, but my husband ~ who hates leftovers ~ asked if we could eat the rest the next day.  Some days its not so bad being the cook.

05 April 2012

lightened up chicken divan

Yes, yes I do intend to keep blogging.  It’s been so long since my last post that I was starting to wonder myself.  I’ve been a little crazy, what with Oldest’s 11th birthday and then my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary.  But I have to say I was pleased with how they both turned out.

This is Oldest’s cake.  He is obsessed with everything Titanic, and in honor of the one-hundreth anniversary of its sinking, he asked for a Titanic cake.  Needless to say my little heart fell.  I had no idea how I was going to pull it off!  But if you ignore the fact that the window gel ran (they were supposed to look like portholes, since I was too tired to make little yellow squares) I think I didn’t do too awfully bad a job.  He loved it and said it was the best birthday ever.  Yay mom!
And this is the table and one of the centerpieces from my parents’ party.  Due to a schedule conflict with the party planner I was going to hire, I ended up doing all the decorations myself.  So grateful to my brother and his wife for doing the food, the music and the video presentation.  I think they had fun.

Needless to say, with all the partying (not to mention the clean-up, put away and recovery) blogging just hasn’t been much of a priority.  To be honest, dinner hasn’t either.  But I found myself seriously craving my mom’s chicken divan.  Since my husband is trying hard to eat healthier ~ and the rest of us could seriously use some of that too ~ I looked up a couple of lighter recipes on the internet.  None of them were even close to my mom’s version, and not what I was craving.  Must have been the curry.  So I pulled my mom’s recipe out and tried to figure out how I could lighten it up a bit.  Thanks so Chef Tess’s wonderful homemade cream of... soup recipe this tasted... well, divine.

Lightened-Up Chicken Divan
20 ounces frozen broccoli
2 cups cooked diced chicken (I used this)
½ cup flour
2 tablespoons chicken boullion granules (I used these)
2 tablespoons dry onion flakes (I used 1 tablespoon of onion powder)
1 teaspoon Chef Tess All purpose seasoning (or a Mrs. Dash of your choice)
½ teaspoon curry powder
1 cup light or better for you mayonnaise (I used this)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
low-fat milk (I used 2%)
1 cup shredded low-fat mozzarella
½ cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°.

Cook broccoli; layer in bottom of casserole pan.  Mix flour, boullion, onion flakes (or powder), seasoning and curry powder in a medium-sized bowl.  Stir in mayonnaise and lemon juice.  Add enough milk to reach desired consistency.  Stir in chicken and layer over broccoli.  Sprinkle with cheese.  Mix butter and bread crumbs and sprinkle over top.  Bake for 30 minutes.