Monday, November 19, 2012

Save Energy for Turkey Day: Weekly Menu 11/19

Save energy for Turkey Day: easy family menus for a holiday week

The thing that always throws me off about Thanksgiving is that despite all the shopping, prepping, cooking and baking you do for the big day, you still have to get meals on the table leading up to that day, especially if you have house guests. So I've been trying out soups and other dishes, mainly prepared in the slow cooker, that allow you to serve a nice dinner, while saving your cooking energy for Turkey Day itself. I especially like the soups - if you're at a loss for what to serve guests or family for lunch or dinner over the holiday, throw on one of these soups and set out the makings for sandwiches. Done!

Here are some other dishes from Weekly Menus that feed with speed:

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Italian Sausage Soup

Quick Italian Sausage Soup with fresh grated Parmesan cheese on top

Here's a dish that I made way too often many years ago, and recently rediscovered it. This soup is the ultimate cheat because you can have it on the table in 20 minutes, but it tastes like it cooked way longer. Don't skip the grated cheese on top - that's a must-have.

Sides: Garlic bread

Make Ahead Notes
  • Grate Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • Rinse and chop basil - set aside, but do not refrigerate
  • 1 lb mild or sweet Italian sausage
  • 4 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
  • 2 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic, and oregano
  • 1 cup uncooked small shell pasta
  • 3-4 cups bagged baby spinach leaves
  • 4 tablespoons grated fresh Parmesan or Romano cheese
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
  • Heat a pot over medium heat. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage to pan, and cook about 5 minutes or until browned, stirring to crumble. Drain any excess fat.
  • Add broth, tomatoes, and pasta to pan, and bring to a boil over high heat. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer 10 minutes or until pasta is done. Remove from heat; stir in spinach until wilted. Sprinkle each serving with cheese and basil.

 Recipe from

Crock Pot Mongolian Beef

Mongolian Beef cooked in crock pot and served over rice with choped scallions

The sweet-salty combo of the sauce in this made it a winner with kids.

Sides: Rice and sauteed snow peas

  • Use jarred, minced ginger, usually found near jarred garlic
  • Use jarred, minced garlic
  • Buy bagged shredded carrots
Make Ahead Notes
  • Cut steak and refrigerate for later
  • Chop green onions

  • 1.5 pounds beef flank steak, cut into stir fry sized strips
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 cup soy sauce
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots
  • 3 medium green onions, chopped
  • Coat flank steak pieces in cornstarch. Add remainder of ingredients to crock pot and stir well to combine. 
  • Place flank steak into the crock pot and cook on high for 2-3 hours or on low for 4-5 hours. Serve over rice or noodles, if desired.
Recipe from Once a Month Mom

 Crock Pot Butternut Squash Soup

Butternut squash soup cooked in a crock pot and topped with sour cream and chives
  This soup gives you an earthy fall flavor, but it's not at all heavy. A mixing wand or hand blender makes fast work of pureeing the soup right in the crock pot.

Sides: Spinach or kale salad plus beer bread or another rustic bread

  • Buy already-peeled and cubed squash, such as Trader Joe's option
  • Buy pre-peeled apple slices (the kind you might buy for a kid's snack)
Make Ahead Notes
  • Peel outside of squash with a potato peeler, cut in half lengthtwise, scoop out seeds and cube into 1" pieces
  • Cut off root end and dark green end on leeks, then cut in half lengthwise. Take off tough outermost layers and soak remaining cut pieces in a shallow dish of water to get the grit out. Rinse and pat dry, then chop into half-inch pieces and set aside for later.
  • Peel and chop apples. If setting aside for later, soak apples for a few minutes in a mixture of 1 cup water with 1tsp lemon juice to stop browning. Pat dry and refrigerate for later.
  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cubed 1" size (about 1 medium squash) 
  • 2 cups leeks, chopped (whites and light green only)
  • 2 large granny smith apples, peeled, cored, diced
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans chicken or vegetable broth
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tsp marjoram, ground (I used poultry seasoning instead)
  • Salt to taste
  • White pepper to taste 
  • Sour cream or plain yogurt (optional)
  • Chives for garnish
  • In a 5-quart slow cooker, combine the squash, leeks, apples, broth and water.
  • Cover and cook on LOW for 6 to 7 hours or until the squash and leeks are very tender. You can speed up the process by cooking 3-4 hours on HIGH. Add seasonings after 5-6 hours on LOW or 2-3 on HIGH.
  • Using a mixing wand, carefully puree the soup in the slow cooker until a you have a smooth, uniform texture. Turn on HIGH for another 1/2 hour.
  • Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream or yogurt swirled into soup on top and garnish with chives.

Recipe from Group Recipes

Extra Credit: Crock Pot Chicken Broth

Chicken Broth cooked on a crockpot

If you eat rotisserie chicken or any roasted chicken on the bone, save the bones and you can make homemade chicken broth with practically no effort. You'll feel so good about being resourceful with kitchen scraps that otherwise would be discarded. By the way, use this same technique with the turkey when that bird is picked clean later this week.

  • One rotisserie chicken, picked clean of meat (okay to leave on skin, but be sure to remove any string that trussed the bird)
  • 2-3 celery ribs
  • 1/2 onion, cut into large chunks
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks (or a small handful of baby carrots)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 tsp poultry seasoning or a combo of thyme, sage and marjoram
  • Water
  • Optional:  fresh parsley (just rinse the springs and put in whole), chopped garlic
  • Put all ingredients in the crock pot and fill with water until the water is about one inch above the bird.
  • Cook on HIGH 6 hours.
  • Pour the mixture through a colander with a large bowl underneath to strain and collect the broth. Discard all bones and vegetables.
  • Cool completely and store broth in glass jars or in small Ziploc bags in 1 cup portions. If you store in Ziplocs, leave a little room in the bag for expansion. Lay them flat to freeze and they will take up way less room on your freezer shelves.

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