Monday, January 21, 2013

Best of Extra Credit: Weekly Menu 1/21/13

Hello friends! While my "New Dish Challenge" for January is still underway, so is a house remodeling project that has gone on much longer than expected. Though the kitchen has been available to me each night to make dinner, my time at the computer to write blog posts has been limited as our family tries to vacate the house for workers each day.

So I thought this might be a good time to recap some of my favorite "Extra Credit" dishes from the last six months of this blog. "Extra Credits" are snacks, baked goods or side dishes  - tasty items that supplement day-to-day meals.

Enjoy and stay tuned for fresh Weekly Menus soon!

Baked Oatmeal 

oatmeal baked with raisins

Your house will smell like an oatmeal cookie and you'll have a warm breakfast in no time.

  • 2 cups uncooked quick-cooking oats
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup raisins or dried cranberries
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups fat-free milk
  • 1/2 cup applesauce
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • Cooking spray
  • Preheat oven to 375°.
  • Combine the first 5 ingredients in a medium bowl. 
  • Combine the milk, applesauce, vanilla, butter, and egg. 
  • Add milk mixture to oat mixture; stir well. 
  • Pour oat mixture into an 8-inch square baking dish coated with cooking spray. 
  • Bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Serve warm.
Adapted from this Cooking Light recipe


Extra Credit: Homemade Granola Bars

Homemade Granola Bars made with oats and chocolate chips

 These are nothing like packaged granola bars. You can taste every ingredient - that's a good thing. They make a great option for school lunches and snacks before sports practices and games.

  • 2 ½  C. quick oats
  • ½  C. crisp rice cereal
  • ½  C. mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½  C. brown sugar
  • ½  tsp. salt
  • ½  C. canola oil
  • ¼  C. honey
  • ½  tsp. vanilla
Note: I always have to add a little more honey than the recipe calls for to get it sticky enough to spread in the pan, so you may want to have extra on hand.

  • Preheat to 350 degrees.
  • Spray a square baking pan really well with cooking spray or line it with parchment paper.
  • Mix all ingredients (except for the chocolate chips) really, really well - you may need to use your hands. Taking your time also allows the wet ingredients to sort of soak into the dry components. If your mixture seems dry after mixing then you may need to add a little more oil and/or honey - a teaspoon or two at a time - until it starts to clump up a little. 
  • When your granola mixture is not too wet, not too dry, then stir in the chocolate chips.
  • Press the remaining granola into your pan. Press mixture firmly, compacting it as well as you can.
  • Bake for 17-22 minutes. They are ready to remove from oven when the tops are golden.  If they don't cook long enough they may not hold their shape. If they cook too long they will get too dry and may not hold their shape.
  • Let the granola bars cool COMPLETELY. Leave them all day or overnight - cover the pan with a dry towel if you're cooling them overnight.
  • Invert the pan onto a cutting board and use a long knife to cut into bars. Wrap bars individually in waxed paper.

Find the recipe on

Extra Credit: Crash Hot Potatoes

Smashed, roasted red potatoes with salt and pepper
 This alternative to the usual baked potato is from the Pioneer Woman blog. They are simple and they never fail to be a HIT.

Make Ahead Notes
  • Boil potatoes ahead and allow to cool slightly; do not refrigerate before baking
  • 12 whole New Potatoes (or other small round potatoes)
  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil
  • Kosher Salt to taste
  • Black Pepper to taste
  • Rosemary (or other herbs of choice) to taste 
  • Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add in as many potatoes as you wish to make and cook them until they are fork-tender.
  • On a sheet pan, generously drizzle olive oil. Place tender potatoes on the cookie sheet leaving plenty of room between each potato.
  • With a potato masher, gently press down each potato until it slightly mashes, rotate the potato masher 90 degrees and mash again. Brush the tops of each crushed potato generously with more olive oil.
  • Sprinkle potatoes generously with kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper and fresh chopped rosemary (or chives or thyme or whatever herb you have available.)
  • Bake in a 450 degree oven for 20-25 minutes until golden brown.

 Recipe from The Pioneer Woman blog

Roasted Corn, Avocado & Bean Salad

Salad made with roasted corn, avocado, black beans, cilatro and lime juice
Make a batch of this to eat over several days as a healthy snack or lunch. Only add the avocado right before serving.

Ingredients for shopping list:
  • I can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • ½ bag of Trader Joe’s roasted corn, defrosted
  • 1-2 ripe, diced avocados (add this last, right before serving)
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro (if cilantro’s not your thing, try diced red onion or green onions instead)
  • Juice of 1 lime
  • Salt & Pepper to taste

Instructions: Combine all ingredients in a bowl and gently toss to combine. Add the avocado right before serving to avoid it going brown. You can tailor this salad easily to your liking with add-ins like different beans, chopped fresh tomatoes or garlic. And here’s how to turn it into a fast app: buy the “scoops” tortilla chips and spoon about a tablespoon of this salad into each chip to serve.

Monday, January 14, 2013

New Dish Challenge: Weekly Menu 1/14/13

Try 14 new dishes in one month. Yup, that's the challenge I've taken on for January and so far, I'm happy to  report that there was only one fail (not pictured here - you're welcome). Why the challenge? To branch out and try some new techniques. To use some cooking gear, such as the brown roasting dish you see in the chicken pic above, that has seen no action since purchase. To continue expanding my family's palate. And perhaps most importantly, to keep giving you the eye candy and easy ideas that make weekly menu planning possible. In case you need a little more oomph, check out these tips on getting started with weekly menu planning for your family.

Thanks for checking out these new dishes. Please let me know if you try them and like them!

Sage & Garlic Roast Chicken with Pomegranate Black Pepper Glaze

 Sage & Garlic Roast Chicken with Pomegranate Black Pepper Glaze


This dish sounds like it will be fancy and complicated, but it is most definitely not. Your kitchen will smell amazing and you'll look like a pro even though the effort is minimal.
  • Use pre-chopped root vegetables, such as butternut squash, from the produce section

Make Ahead Notes
  • Soften butter and chop sage; combine butter, sage, garlic and salt and set aside for later (try not to let it "harden" up in the fridge)
  • Clean chicken and set it at room temp and dry for about 30 minutes before cooking.

  • 4-5 pound fryer chicken (be sure to remove giblets and rinse cavity)
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh sage, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 4 Tablespoons softened butter, unsalted
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 cups (16 oz) pomegranate juice
  • 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
  • Pomegranate seeds and sage leaves for garnish (optional)
  • Cubed seasonal vegetables; prep as needed and roast alongside the chicken (suggestions: butternut squash, acorn squash, new or sweet potatoes)

  • Preheat oven to 425°F. Finely chop the sage and garlic. Combine the butter, sage, garlic, and salt in a bowl and mix well until combined. Rub the butter over the entire chicken including the cavity and underneath the skin. Place any additional sage or garlic inside the cavity (optional). 
  • Tie the drumstick ends together with cooking twine and tuck the wing tips in towards the chicken. 
  • Place chicken in a roasting pan and add vegetables around the chicken. Drizzle vegetables lightly with olive oil and a little salt and pepper. Place the chicken in oven and roast for 1 hour and 15 minutes. 
  • While the chicken is roasting, pour the pomegranate juice in a sauce pot and add pepper. Stir and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until the juice has reduced by 3/4 and formed a syrup, about 15 minutes. The glaze is finished when it thickly coats the back of a spoon. Remove the chicken from the oven and pour half of the glaze over the chicken. If the glaze has hardened, heat it over low heat until fluid. Evenly spread the glaze over the chicken with a kitchen/pastry brush. Reserve leftover glaze for serving/plating. 
  • Return the chicken to the oven and roast for an additional 10 minutes. Allow the chicken to rest for 5 to 10 minutes before carving. Carve and plate. Spoon pomegranate black pepper glaze over and garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired.
Recipe from In Sock Monkey Slippers blog

Lemon Pepper Shrimp Scampi

Lemon Pepper Shrimp Scampi served with orzo
I grew up with a butter-laden version of shrimp scampi, so this is a bright and much lighter version.

  • Buy fresh or frozen shrimp that are already peeled and/or deveined
Make Ahead Notes
  • Rinse, peel and devein shrimp; refrigerate until ready to cook 
  • Chop parsley and set aside for later
  • Squeeze lemon juice into a small bowl and set aside for later

  • 1 cup uncooked orzo
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
  • 7 teaspoons unsalted butter, divided
  • 1 1/2 pounds peeled and deveined jumbo shrimp
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Cook orzo according to package directions, omitting salt and fat. Drain. Place orzo in a medium bowl. Stir in parsley and 1/4 teaspoon salt; cover and keep warm.
  • While orzo cooks, melt 1 tablespoon butter in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle shrimp with remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Add half of shrimp to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until almost done. Transfer shrimp to a plate. Melt 1 teaspoon butter in pan. Add remaining shrimp to pan; sauté 2 minutes or until almost done. Transfer to plate.
  • Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter in pan. Add garlic to pan; cook 30 seconds, stirring constantly. Stir in shrimp, juice, and pepper; cook 1 minute or until shrimp are done.

Recipe from Cooking Light

Homemade Marinara Sauce

Homemade Marinara Sauce
Double or triple this recipe and freeze portions to use for things like lasagna or chicken Parmesan later.

  • Buy pre-chopped onion from the produce section
 Make Ahead Notes 
  • Chop onion and parsley and set aside for later
  • 1 tablespoon good olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped yellow onion (1 onion)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 cup good red wine, such as Chianti
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, or plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Heat the olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the wine and cook on high heat, scraping up all the brown bits in the pan, until almost all the liquid evaporates, about 3 minutes. 
  • Stir in the tomatoes, parsley, salt, and pepper. 
  • Cover, and simmer on the lowest heat for 15 minutes.

Recipe from Ina Garten, Food Network

Extra Credit: Puff Pastry "Pop Tarts"

These taste best warm after baking, but let them cool a bit because the jam inside is lava-hot if you get excited and bite into them too early.

  • One box frozen puff pastry (such as Pepperidge Farm)
  • 3/4 cup (8oz.) fruit jam
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 1 tbsp cold water
  • Place puff pastry on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and allow it to defrost
  • Preheat to 375.
  • Mix the jam with the cornstarch/water in a small saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, and simmer, stirring, for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, and set aside to cool. Use to fill the pastry tarts.
  • Using a pizza cutter, cut out 12 rectangles from the puff pastry sheets.
  • Place a heaping spoonful of the jam mixture in the middle of 6 rectangles. Top with remaining 6 rectangles and crimp the edges together with a fork.
  • Bake the "tarts" at 375 F for 16-18 minutes.

Recipe adapted from Smitten Kitchen and  Food Coma Blog

Monday, January 7, 2013

Resolve to Have People Over: Weekly Menu 1/7/13

Pasta salad, enchiladas, shrimp and more - dishes to host a casual dinner party

Happy New Year, friends! After going somewhat dark here on the blog over the past couple of weeks to unplug and enjoy family and friends, I'm back and inspired by the "cook new things" challenge on one of my favorite blogs, Dinner a Love Story. The challenge I'll take on is to cook 14 new dishes in the next month.  That sounds a little crazy now that I see it in writing.

While I ramp that up after doing no cooking on vacation, I bring you some Easier Simpler Better favorites. The theme this week is "Resolve to Have People Over" because I want to make a bigger effort this year to invite friends over for dinner, especially friends that we don't see as often as we'd like. So many times I psyche myself out when it comes to inviting friends over for dinner. "I won't have time to pull it off! There won't be enough food! The house is a bomb!" But I'm trying to remember how I feel as a guest. Food pretty much always tastes better when someone else made it for you. It's such a nice break to have someone else figure out what's for dinner. Guests will happily bring a salad or dessert. No one will notice if the floor is vacuumed.

Here are some favorite no-fail recipes that are great for sharing and can be easily doubled. And they can mostly be made ahead so you can enjoy your good company when they arrive. Cheers!

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad

Chicken Caesar Pasta Salad - a casual dish for entertaining friends

Sides: Baked sweet potatoes

  • Buy feta cheese that's already crumbled
 Make Ahead Notes
  • Slice Romaine lettuce, tomatoes and basil; chop tomatoes and parsley
  • 3 cups skinned, shredded roasted chicken breast (I use store-bought rotisserie chicken)
  • 3 cups hot cooked penne (about 6 ounces uncooked pasta)
  • 2 cups thinly sliced romaine lettuce
  • 1 1/2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup chopped green onions
  • 1/3 cup creamy Caesar dressing
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 (4-ounce) package crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl; toss well to coat.

Recipe adapted from

Orzo with Shrimp, Feta Cheese & White Wine

Orzo with Shrimp, Feta, Tomatoes and White Wine - an easy casual entertaining dinner

Side: Crusty Italian bread
  • Use pre-grated Parmesan cheese
  • Buy frozen, raw shrimp that are already peeled and de-veined
Make Ahead Notes:
  • If using fresh, grate the Parmesan cheese ahead, lightly cover and put in fridge for later
  • If using frozen shrimp, place them in a colander and run cool water over them for a minute or two to start defrosting. Drain and place in a covered bowl in the fridge until ready to cook.
  • Rinse, dry and chop basil to use later. If you have a kid who’s handy with scissors, have them cut up the basil with a clean pair.
  • 8 ounces orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
  • 6 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled, deveined
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes in juice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper
  • Preheat oven to 400°F. Brush 11x7-inch glass baking dish with oil. Cook orzo according to package directions. Drain well and return orzo to same pot. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1/4 cup feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, and 2 tablespoons basil; stir to blend. Arrange orzo mixture in prepared dish.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons oil in large skillet over medium-high heat. Add shrimp and sauté until slightly pink, about 2 minutes (shrimp will not be cooked through). Arrange shrimp on top of orzo. 
  • Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil to same skillet. Add garlic and sauté over medium-high heat 30 seconds. Add tomatoes with juice; cook 1 minute. Stir in wine, oregano, crushed red pepper, and remaining 1/4 cup basil. Simmer uncovered until reduced to thick sauce consistency, stirring occasionally, about 2 minutes. Season sauce to taste with salt and pepper; spoon over shrimp. 
  • Bake orzo until heated through, about 10 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup feta cheese and serve.
Find the recipe on Epicurious

Honey Lime Chicken Burritos

  Easy way to use cooked, shredded chicken: Homey Lime Chicken Burritos

Sides: Guacamole + chips or the avocado and black bean salad found in a previous Weekly Menu

Short Cuts
  • Use rotisserie chicken instead of cooking the chicken yourself
  • Use bagged, shredded cheese
Make Ahead Notes
  • If shredding cheese yourself, do this ahead and put in fridge for later
  • Juice the limes; mix up the honey-lime mixture and set aside for later
  • 4 chicken breasts, cooked & shredded
  • 1 12-15 oz. bottle salsa verde (green salsa)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1 TBSP chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 8-10 flour tortillas
  • 4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • In a large bowl; whisk together honey, lime juice, chili powder, garlic powder and salt.  Add cooked, shredded chicken to the lime mixture.  Let sit 10 minutes.
  • In a 9×13 pan, pour 3/4 of the salsa verde bottle to cover the bottom of the pan.  Set aside the remainder sauce.
  • Take a flour tortilla and fill with a couple tablespoons of  chicken and cheese.  Roll up and place seam side down in the salsa verde pan.  Repeat process until all tortillas are filled.  After you have removed all of the chicken, there will be some remaining lime sauce in the bowl.  Add the remaining salsa verde and heavy whipping cream to the lime sauce and mix.  Pour mixture over the filled burritos and cover with remaining cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until cheese is brown & bubbly.

Recipe adapted from The Krazy Coupon Lady site

Baked Stuffed Pasta Shells

Pasta Shells Stuffed with Ricotta and Mozzarella and Baked

Make Ahead Notes 
  • Chop herbs - have a kid cut them with clean scissors if you can
  • Combine cheese filling and refrigerate for later
  • Cook pasta shells - be sure to rinse well with cold water and drain 
  • If possible, assemble the shells completely and just bake when you are ready to eat
  • 12 ounces jumbo pasta shells
  • 1 1/4 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded (Reserve 1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 lbs ricotta cheese
  • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 8 ounces spaghetti sauce (jarred or homemade)
  • fresh basil, chopped, for garnish 
  • In an 8 quart pot, bring water to a boil and cook shells for 8 minutes or until al dente.
  • Drain and cool immediately with cold water.
  • Drain and place open side down on paper towels.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the rest of ingredients except the spaghetti sauce.
  • Reserve the 1/4 cup of Mozzarella.
  • Place a thin layer of spaghetti sauce into the bottom of a 12 x 9 x 2 inch baking dish.
  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Spoon the cheese mixture into each pasta shell and place open side up, in a single layer, in prepared pan.
  • Pour the rest of sauce over the stuffed shells.
  • Loosely cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes.
  • During last 5 minutes of baking, remove foil and sprinkle remaining Mozzarella cheese on top.
  • Bake 5 more minutes. Garnish with fresh chopped basil.
Recipe from