Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Minestrone with Tuscan Polenta Bread

Do you believe in love at first sight? I got that "love at first sight" feeling as I read the recipe for Tuscan Polenta Bread in the May edition of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine. I was sitting at the breakfast table with my children, sipping my coffee and dodging Cheerios when my eyes locked on this recipe. Pancetta, sundried tomatoes, shallots, rosemary...I had to make it! With what? We certainly couldn't just eat bread for dinner, right? Hmmm. Well, an Italian sort of soup, of course. The coffee started working on my sleepy brain. it comes...Minestrone! Yes! That's it. It went on the meal plan.

It wasn't until this afternoon as I was bringing this recipe to life that it occurred to me that this is just the Italian food version of a good old favorite in our house: chili and cornbread. Duh. Do you know that saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"? As far as we're concerned it applies to this meal. Next time, I'll stick with my good old chili and cornbread. It certainly wasn't horrible, totally edible (the baby actually loved it), but it didn't live up to my expectations. I love that Minestrone that I order in Italian restaurants. Light yet hearty, flavorful and savory. This one missed the mark a bit. It just wasn't restaurant quality. And that love-at-first-sight Tuscan Polenta Bread recipe? Well, maybe you remember a time when you had a big crush from afar on that special someone? And then by some miracle (or strategic flirting) that someone asked you out. Of course, you accepted the invitation, trying to hide your enthusiasm (Yes!yes!yes! Mental happy dance). That special someone showed up at your door, took you out...and you wanted it to work, you really did, but it was just, well...average? Ho-hum. Just not "THE ONE" (maybe this just happened to me...a couple of times). There was just no spark. Nothing. THAT is how I feel about this Tuscan Polenta Bread. I'm officially disenchanted. Still, I'm sharing these recipes here. Maybe you can improve upon them. Maybe my tastebuds are broken. I mean, geesh...pancetta, sundried tomatoes, shallots, rosemary...

First, let's start with the minestrone. Certainly, one thing that this recipe has going for it: it's super quick and easy. Dump,dump, dump. Maybe that was part of it's downfall. Here are the ingredients: beef broth, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, vegetable juice (I used Spicy V-8), stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, pasta, frozen soup veggies, Italian seasoning, and not pictured: sugar (because I forgot) and fresh spinach (because my husband had to pick it up at the grocery and he didn't make it home before I took the pic).

Combine the rinsed beans, broth, vegetable juice, tomatoes, tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and sugar. Bring it to a boil and then add the veggies, return to a boil, reduce heat, and cover and simmer for at least 10 minutes. I think that mine simmered for about 40 minutes while I waited for the spinach to arrive.

Cook 1 cup of pasta and add to your soup. I used this little tubular pasta, ditalini.

Then toss in 2 cups of chopped spinach and heat through.

Top with some freshly grated parmesean cheese.

All right. Now for the Tuscan Polenta Bread. The recipe calls for either pancetta or bacon. I went with the pancetta a)because I've never cooked with it before and I was curious and b)because I wanted it to be more "authentic". FYI: pancetta is more costly than bacon. Although, I'm not sure how "authentic" Pennsylvania pancetta is. According to the packaging, that's where this pancetta originated. I'll get to the bottom line here: bacon would have been fine in this, possibly better. To me, pancetta had more of a "pork" smell when it cooked (and I would know a pork smell, read about my pork expertise here). Also, pancetta is not smoked, which apparently is one of the reasons I love my bacon.

I fried my pancetta until crispy. Then, drained and set it aside to cool and crumble.

Next, I combined the dry ingredients: cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Give em' a stir.

Now for the "wet" ingredients: I combined half and half, a couple of slightly beaten eggs, and a tablespoon of olive oil in a large bowl.

I drained the sundried tomatoes and chopped them.

Add the crumbled pancetta, chopped sundried tomatoes, chopped shallot (I used green onion), and rosemary to the half and half mixture.

Dump the cornmeal mixture into the wet ingredients all at once.

Stir until just moistened.

Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to the baking dish and place into the pre-heated 375 degree oven for 5 minutes.

Pour battered into heated dish and bake at 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes.

Your bread is done when it passes the toothpick test. That means, when you stick a toothpick into the center and pull it out, it comes out clean. No batter or crumbs hanging on.

Let's cut a slice.

Ah. There it is. Looks pretty, doesn't it? Kind of like piece o'savory fruitcake, minus the fruit. Wait, tomatoes are a fruit aren't they? Full of goodies. Remember? Pancetta, sundried tomatoes, shallots, rosemary... I'm still sad about it.

Here are the recipes, both from Better Homes and Gardens.


Prep: 15 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes

3 14-ounce cans beef broth
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1 14-1/2-ounce can stewed tomatoes, undrained
1 11-1/2-ounce can vegetable juice
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning, crushed
1-1/2 cups loose-pack frozen mixed vegetables (such as Italian blend)
2 cups fresh spinach leaves, cut into strips
2 cups cooked pasta, such as medium shell macaroni or mostaccioli
Finely shredded Parmesan cheese (optional)
1. In a 4-quart Dutch oven combine beef broth, kidney beans, garbanzo beans, undrained tomatoes, vegetable juice, tomato paste, sugar, and Italian seasoning. Bring to boiling; add mixed vegetables. Reduce heat. Simmer, covered, about 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

2. Stir in spinach and cooked pasta; heat through. If desired, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

3. Makes 8 servings (12 cups)

4. Make-ahead directions: Prepare as above through Step 1, except cover and chill overnight. To serve, reheat soup over medium heat. Stir in spinach and cooked pasta; heat through.

Nutrition Facts
Calories 223, Total Fat (g) 2, Saturated Fat (g) 0, Monounsaturated Fat (g) 0, Polyunsaturated Fat (g) 1, Cholesterol (mg) 0, Sodium (mg) 1152, Carbohydrate (g) 43, Total Sugar (g) 6, Fiber (g) 8, Protein (g) 11, Vitamin A (DV%) 0, Vitamin C (DV%) 48, Calcium (DV%) 8, Iron (DV%) 18, Starch (d.e.) 2, Vegetables (d.e.) 2, Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Weight Watcher's Points per 1 1/2 cups: only 4! Eat up!

Tuscan Polenta Bread

Prep: 25 min.
Bake: 30 min.

1-1/2 cups cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-3/4 cups half-and-half or light cream
2 eggs, lightly beaten
9 slices bacon or 3/4 cup chopped pancetta, crisp-cooked and drained
1 8-oz. jar oil-packed dried tomatoes, drained and snipped
1 Tbsp. chopped shallot
1 Tbsp. snipped fresh rosemary
Butter, softened (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees��F. In medium bowl stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt; set aside. Add 1 tablespoon of the oil to a 10-inch cast-iron skillet or a 9x1-1/2-inch round baking pan. Place in oven for 5 minutes. Remove skillet or pan from oven; carefully swirl oil in pan to coat bottom and sides of pan.

2. Meanwhile, for batter, in large bowl combine half-and-half, eggs, and remaining oil. Crumble bacon. Stir tomatoes, bacon, shallot, and rosemary into egg mixture until combined. Add cornmeal mixture all at once to egg mixture. Stir just until moistened. Pour batter into hot skillet or pan. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cut in wedges. Serve warm with softened butter. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Nutrition Facts
Calories 367, Total Fat (g) 18, Saturated Fat (g) 6, Monounsaturated Fat (g) 9, Polyunsaturated Fat (g) 2, Cholesterol (mg) 82, Sodium (mg) 553, Carbohydrate (g) 46, Total Sugar (g) 3, Fiber (g) 2, Protein (g) 11, Vitamin C (DV%) 49, Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Weight Watcher's Points: 8 pts. per slice. My person analysis: save your calories!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Grilled Chicken with Black Bean Salsa

I discovered this chicken with black bean salsa last spring. It is one of my absolute favorite ways to prepared chicken on the grill. The rub combines hot sauce, brown sugar, garlic, salt, and pepper for a sweet-spicy flavor that is perfectly complemented by the texture and acid in the black bean salsa. Not only is it delicious, it's super quick to fix and healthy too!

First, I combined the salsa ingredients. It's just a can of black beans, drained and rinsed, 8 oz. drained, crushed pineapple, 1/2 a red onion, a plum tomato, a clove of garlic, lime juice, and salt and pepper. Not only is it delicious on this chicken, you'll love it with tortilla chips too.

Now for the rub. Super simple, it's brown sugar, hot pepper sauce, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Give it a stir to combine.

I cleaned a package of chicken breasts and cut them into 4 oz. portions. Then I divided the rub evenly among the chicken.

They don't call it a rub for nothin'. So rub!

Grill the chicken breast over medium heat, about 4 minutes per side or until juices run clear. Serve topped with the black bean salsa (and chips, if you like).

Chicken with Black Bean Salsa from Taste of Home's Light and Tasty Magazine

1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can (8 ounces) unsweetened crushed pineapple, drained
1 small red onion, chopped
1 plum tomato, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tablespoons lime juice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
1 tablespoon Domino® or C&H® Pure Cane Dark Brown Sugar
1 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves (4 ounces each)

For salsa, in a large bowl, combine the first eight ingredients; refrigerate until
serving. Combine the brown sugar, pepper sauce, garlic powder, salt and pepper;
rub over both sides of chicken. If grilling the chicken, coat grill rack with
cooking spray before starting the grill. Grill chicken, covered, over medium heat
or broil 4 in. from the heat for 4-7 minutes on each side or until juices run
clear. Serve with salsa.

Yield: 4 servings.

One serving: 1 chicken breast half with 3/4 cup salsa Calories: 269 Fat: 3 g Saturated Fat: 1 g Cholesterol: 63 mg Sodium: 710 mg Carbohydrate: 31 g Fiber: 5 g Protein: 29 g Diabetic Exchange: 3 very lean meat, 1-1/2 starch, 1/2 fruit.

Weight Watcher's Points: 5 per serving! Love this recipe. Low in points, big in flavor!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Meal Plan and Grocery List 4/27- 5/3

This weekend has been absolutely beautiful and consequently seems to have flown by. I can't believe that's it's already Sunday night and time to post another meal plan. According to last week's meal plan tonight I was supposed to make Quick Fettuccine Cacciatore. I didn't want to waste a minute of the finally-nice weather. So instead of cooking, we took a family bike ride, played some corn hole in the driveway, blew bubbles, and ran around the back yard laughing. Like I say in the guide to meal planning, the plan does have to be flexible. I have a feeling this flexibility will come into play more often as the weather gets warmer and evening plans become more spontaneous. For now, I've got a plan in place for the week ahead and here it is:

Monday April 27th

Chicken with Black Bean Salsa

Tuesday April 28th

Spaghetti and Garlic Bread
I love the way this Spaghetti with meatballs from Reeni at Cinnamon and Spice and Everything Nice looks. If I have time, I may try it this week.

Wednesday April 29th

Taco Salad

Thursday April 30th

Minestrone with Tuscan Polenta Bread

Friday May 1st

Make Your Own Pizza

Saturday May 2nd

Hotdogs and Marshmallows around the firepit

Sunday May 3rd (Brunch)

Onion Pie
Romaine and Orange Salad with Poppyseed Dressing

Grocery List


red onion
medium white or yellow onion
2 sweet onions
bunch of green onions
head of lettuce
2 tomatoes


4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1/2 lb. Italian turkey sausage
1 lb. lean ground beef
pancetta or 9 slices of bacon
6 slices of bacon


reduced fat cheddar
light sour cream
half and half
egg substitute
2 eggs

Dry Goods

brown sugar
spaghetti (I used whole wheat pasta)
1 pkg taco seasoning
Baked Doritos
soup pasta
baking soda
sliced almonds
garlic powder
Italian seasoning
mustard powder
poppy seeds

Canned Goods

15 oz. black beans
8 oz. crushed pineapple
hot pepper sauce
Spaghetti sauce
2-15 oz. cans kidney beans
black olives
Western salad dressing
42 oz. beef broth
15 oz. garbanzo beans
1 can stewed tomatoes
11 1/2 oz. can vegetable juice
6 oz. tomato paste
olive oil
8 oz. dried tomatoes in oil
fat free evaporated milk
cider vinegar


Garlic bread
Italian blend vegetables
9 in. pie shell

Friday, April 24, 2009

Grill Baby, Grill!

Friday night is traditionally make your own pizza night in our house. Then today dawned beautiful and sunny and the temperatures climbed to all of 80 degrees! It snowed here just a couple of weeks ago! The sidewalks were packed with people getting out and moving, the streets were filled with happy citizens cruisin' with their radios up and their windows down, warm breezes blowing through their hair. There was definitely a shake-off-that-winter-blues carefree spring happiness in the air. No way were we wasting it assembling pizzas, while hovered over the oven. We're a backyard livin', grillin' out family and it felt GOOD to be back!

This meal was nothing fancy. I thawed some brats earlier today. I needed to throw together a pasta salad for a church dinner tomorrow and it was perfect alongside those brats. I rounded out the meal with Bush's Grillin' Beans, the Steakhouse variety. We love those beans! I'm also pretty fond of the Bold and Spicy variety too. The whole dinner was a treat. I could just about do a happy dance thinking about it all now.

I hope that beautiful weather finds all of you this weekend too!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Tuna Cakes

After last night's involved and indulgent burritos, I needed something quick and easy and a little lighter tonight. Some of you may remember that I'm not the biggest fan of canned tuna from my Spicy Tuna Linguine post. And you may also remember that my husband does little to disguise his distaste for "all things fish" if you read my fish taco post. Tonight, while I was mixing this up, he wandered through the kitchen and asked aloud, "I wonder what possesses someone to see that recipe and actually want to try it." These tuna cakes were pretty tasty. If you liked the tuna patties that your mom used to make, you'll probably like these better. And everyone ate them...without complaint. Not too shabby. Confession: though I despise that aquatic little twerp Sponge Bob Square Pants, and have seriously tried to ban him from our home, I may have employed Sponge Bob to entice my 4 year old to eat these, by calling them "crabby patties". Whatever works, right?

I found this simple recipe in Kraft Food and Family magazine. All you need is 12 oz. of white tuna in water, a package of stuffing, a cup of cheese, a carrot or two, some mayonnaise (I apologize for the state of my mayo container, it took a soak in the cooler after our last picnic),and some sweet relish.

Combine all of the ingredients in the bowl. Add 3/4 cup of water and mix well. Then cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes.

Heat a skillet coated with cooking oil or non-stick cooking spray and place 1/3 cup portions of the tuna mixture onto the skillet, forming cakes.

Gently flatten using a spatula. Cook 3 minutes on each side until golden brown. I followed my husbands lead and sprinkled mine with Frank's Red Hot. Very nice.

Tuna Cakes from Kraft Food and Family

Prep Time: 10 min
Total Time: 26 min
Makes: 6 servings

2 cans (6 oz. each) light tuna in water, drained, flaked
1 pkg. (6 oz.) STOVE TOP Stuffing Mix for Chicken
1 cup KRAFT Shredded Mild Cheddar Cheese
3/4 cup water
1 carrot, shredded
1/3 cup KRAFT Real Mayo Mayonnaise
2 Tbsp. CLAUSSEN Sweet Pickle Relish


MIX all ingredients. Refrigerate 10 min.

HEAT large nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray on medium heat. Use ice cream scoop to add 1/3-cup portions of tuna mixture, in batches, to skillet.

FLATTEN into patties with back of spatula. Cook 6 min. or until golden brown on both sides, carefully turning patties over after 3 min.

Nutrition Information: Calories 320, Total fat 17 g, Saturated fat 5 g, Cholesterol35 mg, Sodium 810 mg, Carbohydrate 24 g, Dietary fiber 1 g, Sugars 3 g, Protein 19 g, Vitamin A 35 %DV Vitamin C 0 %DV Calcium 15 %DV Iron 10 %DV

Weight Watchers Points: 8 pts for 2 cakes. Use lowfat mayo and reduce fat cheese to shave fat grams and a point or two.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Cheesy Beef and Bean Burritos: For Here OR To Go

Part One: For Here

Some of my readers may remember my post titled How to Make Your Man Love You More: Philly Cheese Mac. This recipe also qualifies for the How to Make Your Man Love You More Category. It was so good, so cheesy, so delicious. Everyone at our table adored it. The idea for this post was actually inspired by my good friend Amy. I called her up during the long 5 1/2 hour drive home from our visit to Indiana. Don't worry mom, both hands were on the wheel, I was using my bluetooth! Our conversation turned to grocery shopping. We were joking that if we allowed our husbands to do the household shopping, we'd have a freezer full of those individually wrapped burritos.

Then she said, "That's what you should make for your blog! You should figure out how to make those." Hmm. I thought, maybe I will make burritos this week. I've made tacos, fajitas, quesadillas, enchiladas, and chimichangas, but I've never made burritos. I set out to create the perfect burrito recipe for a crowd or for one.

I began by melting 5 tablespoons of butter in a skillet.

Then I chopped half of a very large onion and 1/3 cup of green pepper.

Add to the butter and cook until tender.

Then stir in 1/2 cup of flour.

Next, I gradually added 3 cups of beef broth. I just drained the liquid from my canned beef. Cook and stir until smooth and thickened.

Next I stirred in a can of tomatoes with green chilies.

Add in a seeded and diced jalapeno pepper, chili powder, cumin, garlic powder, and salt. Stir and simmer for about 5 minutes.

I also added a can of Hormel chili and 8 oz. of cream cheese, cubed. Cook and stir until the cream cheese is melted.

Now for the beef. You'll need about 8 cups of shredded beef. You can roast or cook your own beef. This would be a good recipe if you had lots of leftover beef roast. I have an abundance of home canned beef, so I used that. Pressure cooked in the jar, it's extremely tender and flavorful. It was perfect in this recipe.

Go ahead and shred the beef.

Now add the beef to the sauce and cook until heated through. If you must, taste it now. A little sneak preview of how delicious these burritos are going to be.

Now we're ready for assembly. You'll want to start with flour tortillas. I had quite an assortment. A couple of half used packages were chillin' in my fridge and I needed to use them up. Then, I picked up a new package at the grocery earlier this week. Good thing! This recipe makes quite a few burritos. I used them all!

I believe that a good burrito needs a bean element present. So I gave each tortilla a nice bean schmear. That sounds appetizing, doesn't it?

It looks as appetizing as it sounds. We're going for flavor here,'s not a beauty contest.

Next, I topped with a blend of cheddar and monterrey jack cheese. I didn't measure, I just "eye-balled" it. You can buy Jack and Cheddar already mixed together. I happened to have a couple bags of each in my fridge, so I mixed them in a bowl.

Add about 1/2 cup of the beef mixture to each tortilla.

I rolled each burrito up, with the ends tucked in, and placed them seam side down in a baking dish. I sprinkled with some extra cheese before I popped them into a 350 degree oven for 35-40 minutes.

Here is the result:

Let's lean in for a closer look... Have mercy! It's pure burrito bliss! I'm not kidding.

Part Two: To Go

Sure, leftovers are good, but they only last a day or two. I decided to try my hand at mimicking a well-loved convenience food, the freezer burrito. To be honest, I've never eaten one. I know, what's wrong with me?! Well, if they taste like these, I might be inclined to spend the $2 plus dollars per burrito. For now, I know these are good and although I didn't add up the cost of my ingredients, I'd bet they're more cost effective too.

While my dish of dinner burritos baked, I continued to assemble burritos for individual packaging. I wrapped each burrito in waxed paper.

I wrapped them again in foil.

Then I sealed each with a label complete with cooking instructions and a little love.

I added one more safeguard against freezer burn, by placing them into a freezer bag and then I took them to our garage freezer. Perfect placement for my husband to grab one for his lunch on the way out the door to work.

I should note that if you are not feeling ambitious enough to assemble 24 (or more) burritos, you may want to cut this recipe in half.

Cheesy Beef and Bean Burritos

1/2 large onion or 1 medium onion, chopped
1/3 cup chopped green pepper
5 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 cups beef broth
1 can (10 ounces) diced tomatoes with green chilies
1 diced jalapeno pepper
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 can Hormel chili
1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese, cubed
8 cups beef, shredded
24 flour tortillas
6 cups shredded Monterrey Jack and Cheddar cheese blend
1 can refried beans

In a large skillet, saute onion and green pepper in butter until tender. Stir in
flour until blended. Gradually stir in broth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir
for 2 minutes. Reduce heat; add the tomatoes, jalapeno pepper, and
seasonings. Cook for 5 minutes or until heated through. Stir in chili and cream
cheese until cheese is melted. Stir in beef.

Spread some refried beans down the center of each tortilla. Sprinkle with 2-4 tablespoons cheese. Spoon about 1/2 cupful of beef mixture over the cheese.
Fold ends and sides over filling. Place into two greased 13-in. x 9-in. baking
dishes or wrap some burritos for individual servings (see below). Cover and freeze one casserole for up to 3 months. Cover and bake burritos at 350° for 35-40 minutes or until heated through. Serve with lettuce and sour cream.

Yield: 2 casseroles, 1 dozen burritos each or 1 casserole and a dozen individual frozen burritos.

For individual servings: Wrap each burrito in waxed paper, then aluminum foil. Freeze in a large resealable freezer bag for up to 3 months.

To reheat: Remove foil and waxed paper. Place one burrito on a microwave-safe plate. Cover with paper towel. Microwave on high for 2-1/2 to 2-3/4 minutes or until heated through, turning burrito over once. Let stand for 20 seconds.
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