Meat Loaf – A Must Have

I am a Southern girl.  I come from a long line of true Southern women who know how to cook, pray, love, and gossip with the best of them.  One thing I have learned from my momma, and all those before her, is every woman needs to have a good meat loaf recipe under her belt.  Yes, take a trip with me back to the days of June Cleaver and Laura Petrie; the days when the way to a man’s heart was through his stomach.  Ok, so maybe some things never change.  My point is, there is a goodness, a heartiness in this All-American classic that brings the family together.  Not only that but it is a simple entrée to make, and yet the family still appreciates that someone took the time to bake for them.  Let’s bring goodness back to the family dinner table.  Let’s bring back meat loaf!

Meat Loaf  from the Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook

Preheat oven to 350°F

2 beaten eggs

3/4 cup milk

2/3 cup fine dry bread crumbs or 2 cups soft bread crumbs (I like the soft – great way to use those leftover heels!)

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

2 tbsp snipped fresh parsley

1 tsp salt

1/2 tsp dried sage, basil, or oregano, crushed (I like to use sage)

1 1/2 lbs ground beef, lamb, or pork

1/4 cup catsup

2 tbsp brown sugar

1 tsp dry mustard

1. In a bowl combine eggs and milk; stir in bread crumbs, onions, parsley, salt, sage, and 1/8 tsp black pepper. Add meat; mix well. Lightly pat mixture into an 8 x 4 x 2-in loaf pan.

2. Bake in a 350° oven for 1 to 1 1/4 hours or until internal temperature registers 160°F. Spoon off fat. In a bowl, combine catsup, sugar, and mustard; spread over meat. Bake for 10 minutes more. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

This is a super simple recipe that is easy to whip together and gives you plenty of time to make your side dishes while it is baking.  I like to have mashed potatoes with meat loaf.  A fresh tossed salad or green beans also go well with this dish.

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Potato Chips Are My Kryptonite

I think you should know before I write anything else that I have a weakness for potato chips.  The reason I exercise is so I can eat chips.  Yes, I am shamelessly one of those people.  Unfortunately, the older I get the more I have to exercise in order to eat smaller and smaller portions of chips.  At least the chips that we typically know as chips.  You know the ones: hydrogenated oils, artificial coloring, monosodium glutamate (whatever that is), and the list goes on.  BUT I have discovered a new way to make homemade chips in the microwave, and I’ve got to tell you – I am in love.  No hydrogenated oils – in fact, no oils at all!  No artificial coloring or flavoring of any kind.  No mystery ingredients of any kind.  How are these wonder chips made you might ask?  I will tell you, or rather, I will show you.  I’d like to give a special thanks to my friend Lani who clued me in to the Pampered Chef Microwave Chip Maker.

You can use potatoes (russet, red, or yellow), Sweet Potatoes or yams, apples, or yucca.  I tried the               russet potatoes, sweet potatoes, and apple.

 

Now, this would be an exhausting project if you tried to slice everything up by hand – unless you just LOVE to slice, and you are so adept you can generate slice after slice of 1mm-thick cuts. Otherwise I would suggest using a slicer.  I used my Simple Slicer (also by Pampered Chef) and was able to have everything sliced and ready to go in a matter of minutes.  (If you are starting to sense I am a Pampered Chef junkie, then you are right.  They have the best kitchen products – great quality, great functionality, and almost everything they sell comes with a warranty.)

 

 

 

 

After you get everything sliced, lay them out on a paper towel and season.  I used Season All Season Salt on some and regular salt on others.  You could use sea salt or low sodium salt to keep the sodium down if you prefer.  Then press with a paper towel to eliminate extra moisture.  Next lay them on the Microwave Chip Maker in a single layer.

 

 

 

 

Then you can stack the chip makers in the microwave to double up on batches.  The suggested cook times for all of these items are around 4 min, but every microwave is a little different so you will want to keep a close eye on them for your first couple of batches.  It took my chips about 6 min until they were light and crispy.

 

 

 

They were so tasty too; my family gobbled them all up – apple, russet potato, and sweet potato chips.  These are great for packing in school lunches or taking to work for an afternoon snack.  And best of all, I don’t have to exercise myself to death just to have my beloved chips!  I highly recommend the Pampered Chef Microwave Chip Maker and the Simple Slicer.  See my endorsed Pampered Chef link for more information and to get yours too; you will not be disappointed!

Symphony in My Mouth

Pan Seared Chicken With White Wine Tomato Sauce

For those of you who like precise measurements and control over what every little ingredient is doing, this one is probably going to drive you a little crazy.  For those of you who love to go by “feel” and watch everything tie in together beautifully like a great story,  give this recipe a try.  No matter the personality type (whether you have to struggle through or it comes easily to you), you will not be disappointed.  Believe me.  I made this for dinner tonight; we have no chicken left, but I am figuring out what to have for lunch tomorrow, so I can enjoy that sauce all over again.

Stage 1:  Heat some olive oil over medium in a large skillet (choose a skillet with a lid).  Add raw chicken pieces to hot oil (I used 5 good-sized, bone-in thighs).  Let the chicken brown a bit, cooking about 20 min.  Add a bit of soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, white wine (about half a cup, whatever you have will work – I actually used some white zinfandel tonight), and spices.* Cover with the lid. Cook about another 15 minutes.  Be sure you are turning your chicken every 10-15 min or so throughout the entire process.

* My spices: Season All Seasoned Salt, Garlic Salt, Garlic Pepper, Lemon Pepper, and Sage (be liberal with the seasoning)

Stage 2:  Add fresh minced garlic and finely chopped onion (about a third of a cup).  I also added a dash of salt and black pepper at this point.   Cover with the lid and cook for another 20 – 25 min.  (You do not want to add this too early or it will burn in your olive oil and wine sauce.)  Be sure to use your lid most of the cooking time to keep that lovely moisture in your chicken.

Stage 3:  Add chopped tomatoes (I used 3 romas, and left them in rather large slices), chopped fresh parsley, and about half a cup to a cup of chopped fresh spinach.  Just distribute evenly over the top of your chicken and sauce, and cover with the lid again.  These need to be added around the last 10 minutes of cook time to keep them from burning up or withering to nothing as well.  Don’t forget to turn that chicken!

Cooking chicken can be tricky.  If you are a pro at it, then you will understand the importance of my 3-part stages.  If not, do not be ashamed to cut into your chicken periodically to check on it.  Better to have some chicken that has been hacked at a little than to put out raw food or burn everything else because it took longer to cook the meat than you originally thought.  Plus, this sauce is so wonderful that you will want to spoon some over your chicken when plating, and no one will be able to tell the difference.

Fun For All Salad Bar

Family Salad Bar

 

If you are like me you are always trying to find ways to get the kids to eat their vegetables.  Sometimes I hide them in sauces and mixtures; at other times I try to make them fun so they want to eat food that is good for them.  This was a fun family salad bar we made to encourage them to pick out and add to their own salads however they wanted.  As you can see we had some nice greens accompanied by some color and tasty additions; like olives and mushrooms.  I could have gone all out and added croutons, boiled egg, cauliflower, colorful sweet peppers, etc.  You get the idea.  The trick is to put the things you absolutely want them to have in your base – in the greens.  Then give them a nice big bowl for them to fill on their own.  Everyone really enjoyed our salad bar; so much, in fact, that there was only enough left for me to have as a side salad for lunch the next day.

Crunchy Mixed Greens and Brussel Sprouts Salad

My base greens require a lot of chopping, which works fine for me because I enjoy slicing and dicing.  If chopping is not your thing, consider making one big salad and storing in an airtight container to eat on for the week.  Add fresh tomatoes and cheese to daily portions.

Combine mixed leafy lettuces (bag salad is fine), chopped fresh spinach, chopped fresh Brussel sprouts, chopped fresh basil and parsley, chopped green onion, chopped broccoli, shredded or chopped carrot.  Anything else that appeals to you.

Homemade Dijon Dressing

3 tbsp Plain Non Fat Yogurt

1 tbsp Miracle Whip or Mayo (Optional – use more Yogurt if you prefer to skip the Mayo)

2 tbsp sugar or Agave Nectar

1 tsp Dijon mustard

2 tsp vinegar

Whisk all ingredients together.  This dressing has somewhat of a coleslaw dressing taste with a little kick to it.  It is meant to be lightly used; toss in salad to lightly coat.

Chocolate-Caramel Bars Recipe Review

If you are ever looking for a treat that wows, I highly recommend making these Chocolate-Caramel bars by Better Homes and Gardens.  They are the perfect blend between sweet and salty, and they make a great bite-sized desert for parties and the like.  I did a couple of things differently from the recipe that turned out well.  There were a couple of tools that I used that were a big help in the making of this desert, and there was one tool that I wish I had to help me through what was, for me, the toughest part of the process.

Chocolate-Caramel Chewy Bars

This recipe was pretty easy to make, and it is broken up into four easy steps.  First you make and bake the crust.  Then you add the “filling” and bake some more.  Next you whip up your caramel topping.  Finally, you add chocolate chips and the caramel.  The filling calls for pecans and flaked coconut.  I strayed from the recipe and added walnuts along with the pecans.  The walnuts added a wonderful dimension to the flavor.  I also added only half the amount of coconut.  There was still plenty to cover the surface of the crust evenly, but it was not overpowering for those who are not crazy about coconut.

Two tools that I found particularly useful in the making of the bars were my Pampered Chef pastry roller and my Pampered Chef cooling rack.  The first step of the process is making the crust and pressing it into a 9 x 13 in pan.  My thought was, “How in the world am I supposed to make this stretch?”  The pastry roller was the perfect tool because it helped me form a crust that was spread evenly throughout, and it made the task quick and easy.  Also, the design of the roller is not like a typical rolling-pin; it was much easier to manuever within the pan.  I was able to roll the crust right up against the sides of the pan for the most part.  The second useful tool was the Pampered Chef cooling rack.  I love their cooling racks because they are not only stackable but the legs fold up for easy storage.

PC Pastry Roller

The only difficult task in the whole process was cutting these suckers once the caramel hardens.  Once I was able to get the first row sliced, I found it much easier to lift the whole thing out onto wax paper on the countertop and cut it.  Slicing was not impossible using a knife, but the one thing I wish I had at the time is the Pampered Chef pizza cutter.  I have a couple of different pizza cutters.  The reason I would have liked to have had the Pampered Chef cutter is it has a considerably larger diameter than normal pizza cutters, which means fewer rotations of the blade and less work for the wielder.  It also has a more heavy-duty blade in comparison with standard blades.  I think it is time for me to check out the PC website again!

PC Pizza Cutter

These Chocolate-Caramel bars were the perfect Valentine’s party treat.  They stood out from the normal store-bought cupcakes and cookies, and they were one of the main treats all the party volunteers stood around talking about.  It also says something when your husband hides the container full of bars from the rest of the household!  If any of you readers decided to try the recipe for yourself, please let us know how it went.  I welcome your feedback.  For recipe details, see my previous blog titled “Cook With Me Valentine Event: Chocolate-Caramel Bars.” 

Cook With Me Valentine Event

Chocolate-Caramel Bars

This recipe is from Better Homes and Gardens, and it is what I will be making for my son’s Valentine party at school.  They are beautiful and look so delicious!  I would like to invite you to bake these “with me” and let us know how yours turned out.  I will be using my Pampered Chef stoneware to bake these in.  Let us know any special tricks or equipment you used to make your bars!

Chocolate-Caramel Bars

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup butter

2 cups coarsely chopped pecans

1 cup flaked coconut

1 14-oz can sweetened condensed milk

2 tsps vanilla

20 vanilla caramels, unwrapped

2 tbsp milk

1 cup milk chocolate or semisweet  chocolate pieces

1.  Preheat oven to 350°. For crust, in a medium bowl stir together flour and brown sugar. Using a pastry cutter, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. (If you do not have a pastry cutter, you can use a fork instead.) Press onto the ungreased bottom of a 13 x 9 x 2 inch baking pan. Bake for 15 min. Sprinkle pecans and coconut over hot crust.

2.  Meanwhile, for filling combine condensed milk and vanilla. Carefully spread over pecans and coconut, spreading evenly.

3.  Bake for 25 to 30 min more or until filling is set. Cool in pan on a wire rack for 10 min.

4.  Meanwhile, in a small saucepan combine caramels and milk. Cook and stir over medium-low heat just until caramels are melted. Drizzle caramel mixture over filling. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces. Cool completely. Cut into bars. Makes 24 bars.

TO STORE: Layer bars between sheets of waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months.

Be sure to check back in here at The Ripe Banana to see my recipe review, and I sincerely hope you will have some input of your own to provide. I can’t wait to hear how your bars turned out! 🙂