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Quick dinner idea: Meatball Sandwich Casserole

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Lunches, Meal Planning, Uncategorized, recipes, summer living

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The holidays can be a crazy time of year with shopping to be done, preparing for guests and getting kids ready for exams. We’ve been out late a lot during the week lately, and traveling on the weekends, so there’s not been a lot of time to fix dinner. Since it seems my family insists on eating every night, I figured I should try to do something about feeding them.

As a matter of fact, I even had most of these things in the pantry and fridge already, so this was easy.

Meatball Sandwich Casserole

Slices (about 1/4 inch thick) baguette French bread(enough to cover a casserole dish)
olive or vegetable oil to brush on bread

1-2 pounds (depends on what size dish you’re using) frozen cooked Italian-style or regular meatballs, thawed. Works best if they are smaller, bite-sized meatballs.
1 bag frozen chopped onions thawed and drained (I sauteed mine, but I’m sure it’s fine without)
NOTE: you’re supposed to use the onions and green pepper mix to make it like an authentic meatball sandwich, but no one here but me likes green peppers.
1 1/2 cups pasta sauce (I used a tomato-basil one)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Heat oven to 350°F. Brush 1 side of each bread slice with oil.
  • Line the bottom and side of a casserole dish with bread, oil side up and slightly overlapping slices.

  • Bake 5 to 10 minutes or until edges are light golden brown.
  • In large bowl,  mix meatballs, onion (and bell pepper), and pasta sauce.
  • Spoon meatball mixture into crust; and bake uncovered 25 to 30 minutes or until thoroughly heated in center.

  • Sprinkle with cheese; bake 5 to 10 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

It was a hit with everyone, and it’s been just as good the next day!

5 ways to prepare for Thanksgiving now

Categories: Entertaining, Holiday Entertaining, Meal Planning

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Thanksgiving is only a couple of weeks away, can you believe it? It’s been a few years since I’ve had to host dinner, but this year is my turn and I’m a little out of practice.

I stay pretty busy, so I feel like I should get started on it right away. I know cooking is the bulk of the work, it’s hard to do too much about that right now, but there’s plenty of other things you can do to begin to get ready for Thanksgiving ahead of time:

1. Plan the menu - Deciding what to cook isn’t brain surgery, but take some time now to find any needed recipes and solicit special requests from your guests. I like to create a detailed shopping list from the menu I write down. Sometimes I buy all at once, and other times I see what’s on sale and buy as I go. Now’s a good time to see if you have enough staples like butter, flour and sugar already in your pantry.

2. Plan the table - What tablecloth, napkins, plates etc are you going to use? Go ahead and dig them out and wash them if they are stored somewhere. Will you need to borrow chairs? Be the first caller to that friend who always seems to have extra. When we have a lot of people, our table space is limited, so I also mentally assign a serving dish to each menu item and estimate how much space they will use.

3. Make room in the fridge - A couple of weeks before a holiday, I try to cut back on any bulky items from my regular shopping so there will be room to store all the things I’ve prepared. Also, the day of reckoning is here: clean out the refrigerator.

4. Clean the house - If you’re like us, the house doesn’t stay clean long, but now is a good time to straighten a guest room, stay on top of the laundry or vacuum a little-used dining room. If there are any chores you can take care of now, you’ll thank yourself when you don’t have to do them AND cook at the same time.

5. Plan the leftovers - Our dinner guests are family, and I have one brother-in-law who is known for taking leftovers. He’s single and It’s just what he does and everyone plans accordingly and I just factor that into what I cook. He usually arrives with his own set of storage containers, but I try to be prepared with disposable ones that he (or anyone) can use if needed. This is also the time to match those pesky tops with the good storage containers for the food you keep at home for turkey sandwiches on Friday.

I’ve been trying to do a few non food-related tasks each day to get ready for Thanksgiving. However, I have no authority to tell you how to cook ahead of time, I’ve not mastered that part. I will be the one asking you about your fastest macaroni and cheese recipe at 2am on Thanksgiving morning.

However, my storage containers will have their lids.

5 items for a great guest room

Categories: Entertaining, Organization

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We’re fortunate to have a guest room, and we really enjoy having people stay with us, and we’ve certainly put it to use, lately. While will never be mistaken for a 5-star hotel, I enjoy making sure it has what it needs to make people comfortable.

Here are 5 items I make sure that we provide for our guests:

A good bed - The guest room isn’t really a great place to put your oldest mattress. Test out your own guest bed and make sure it’s comfortable. If a new mattress isn’t in the budget, consider investing in a good foam mattress topper or even a high quality air mattress to make things more comfortable for your guests.

A place to put luggage - I always try to make sure guests have a place to put a suitcase or a bag besides the floor. We have an empty, low table near the bed that’s a great size for a suitcase, but I’m in the market for a luggage rack.

Guest toom

Clock - While it’s true that most people have cell phones to check the time when they’re on the road, it drives me crazy when I’m staying somewhere without a clock. Sometimes, you just need to glance at the time quickly in the middle of the night. It’s also important to make sure the clock has the accurate time, so be sure to check the guest room after a power failure since a flashing “12:00″ isn’t an accurate time.

Power outlets - These days, people travel with all sorts of electronic gear that needs to be charged. We live in an old house where power outlets aren’t always conveniently located, so I keep a power strip on the guest room table so our guests don’t have to crawl under the table or behind a dresser to plug in a computer. We also have an iPhone dock on the table that several of our guests have appreciated.

Wifi information - We keep a card by the guest bed with the wireless Internet information on it. I know I always appreciate that information when I travel, and I’ve been known to do some “sleuthing” in friends’ houses when I find that it’s late at night, and I’ve forgotten to ask my host for it.

How about you? Tell us in the comments below what guest room touches do you like to provide or receive?

In search of meatloaf hints

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Organization, recipes

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I unabashedly admit I’m a huge fan of the much-maligned meatloaf. Actually, I’m a fan of the much-maligned singer, Meatloaf, too, but that’s a different post for a different time.

If meatloaf (the food, not the singer) is very traditional, and made “right”, I can’t get enough. I like it made with ground beef and a simple tomato sauce topping. The problem is I’m not all that good at making it. My actual meatloaf never quite matches the vision in my head. A “meatloaf letdown”, if you will.

I know it’s not that hard to make, but I just can’t seem to get it to come out the same way twice. Sometimes, it comes out in a loaf fashion you can actually slice, sometimes it comes out in “meatloaf crumbles”. I’ve tried it in a loaf pan, out of a loaf pan, in muffin tins and once in the crockpot (Do note the “once” part.).

I usually use the meatloaf recipe on the Quaker Oats package:

Ingredients

1-1/2 pounds lean ground beef or turkey
3/4 cup Quaker® Oats(quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
3/4 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup catsup
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce or soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation

Heat oven to 350°F. Combine all ingredients in large bowl; mix lightly but thoroughly. Shape meatloaf mixture into 10×6-inch loaf on rack of broiler pan.

Bake 50 to 55 minutes or until meatloaf is to medium doneness (160°F for beef, 170°F for turkey), until not pink in center and juices show no pink color. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing. Cover and refrigerate leftovers promptly and use within 2 days, or wrap airtight and freeze up to 3 months.

I’m sure this is the way my mother and grandmother made it, too, but perhaps meatloaf skips a generation or something? All I want is to make a simple meatloaf that tastes good and that can be sliced so it looks like meatloaf, is that so much to ask?

Do you have any helpful meatloaf hints or recipes? Please share them!

Corn salad with walnuts and feta cheese

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Food, Uncategorized, side dishes, summer living

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The most difficult part about cooking dinner for me is coming up with new and interesting side dishes.  Especially in the summer when we are likely to have guests eating with us.  There is only so many times you can serve pasta salad or potato salad before you bore even yourself.

I came across this recipe last year sometime and jotted it down on a scrap of paper and stuffed it into the bottomless abyss that is otherwise known as my purse.  I found it again last week and knew it would  the perfect accompaniment to the burgers I was grilling for some friends that night.
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Mini Cherry Cobblers — Picnic Perfect

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Food, Holiday Entertaining, Kids Cook, Uncategorized, summer living

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I found these adorable ramekins at the grocery store a few weeks ago.  I am a sucker for this color blue and pretty things in general.  For only $1 each, I could not pass them up.  I knew that I would find something to use them for.  So far I have served grapes in them, hummus, dips of all kinds– the best part of course is that no one is concerned about double dipping since they all have their own individual ramekin.

I have yet to find the cure for the unparalleled horror of having a sibling breathing near your food, but should I discover the answer to that I will be sure to let you know. I am here for you, people.

So Fourth of July came and I had them setting out on the counter and I decided that I would make a red, white and blue treat with them. 

The best part? The recipe is so easy that even your youngest children can make this with minimal help.

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To make 10* individual cobblers you will need:

2 21oz canned cherries
1 tube of biscuits
1T melted butter
2T sugar
1tsp cinnamon

*Why 10? The biscuits come 10 to a tube and the 21oz can makes 5. So, uh, do the math! Or better yet, make your child do the math and then pat yourself on the back for helping them keep their mind sharp during their summer vacation. Their teacher will be proud of your efforts!

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Divide the cherries up evenly between your ten ramekins.

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Whack your tube of biscuits open against your counter until you hear that satisfying pop. Then take the biscuits out, flatten them slightly, and stick one in each ramekin on top of the cherries.

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Brush the top with the melted butter. Sprinkle with the cinnamon/sugar mixture.

Bake in the 375 degree oven for about 15 minutes.

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These taste delicious hot, cold, or any state of cooling from hot to cold. I have already made another batch today since it was easier than listening to the complaints that 10 is not evenly divisible by 7. (See, more summer math work! FTW!)
 

Italian Braided Easter Bread

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Food, Holiday Entertaining, side dishes

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This bread was always a tradition in my house growing up. The Italian Braided Easter Bread. What made it particularly Italian, I do not know. I think the my step-father’s family liked to attribute everything that they did as being uniquely an Italian tradition.

And so even though I can no no longer eat bread, I carry on the tradition.

I do not, however, dye the eggs.

This is what happened the last time we dyed easter eggs. The child in the photo has just turned 11. I have yet to recover from the experience.

easter2-2001

You will need:

6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
6 tablespoons butter
3 eggs

***
4 eggs* for putting in the braids of the bread

***

Mix in a small cup:
1 egg
2 tablespoons cold water

Brush this over the bread before putting in the oven to give the bread a nice sheen. This is optional and purely aesthetic.

Step One:

Put the milk and butter into a sauce pan and heat on low just until the butter melts. Do not boil it. If it gets too hot it will kill the yeast when you add this to the dry ingredients.

Step Two:

In your mixing bowl combine half the flour and the rest of the dry ingredients. Mix well.

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(Not shown, my son turning the measuring cup upside down and pour most of the flour NOT in the bowl.)

Step Three:

Pour the milk/melted butter mixture into the mixing bowl. Mix well.

Step Four:

Add the three eggs to the mixing bowl. Mix until it is smooth.

Step Five:

Slowly add remaining flour until the dough forms a smooth ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. You may need less than the full six cups of flour, or you may need slightly more.

Step Six:

Dump the dough out of the mixing bowl and knead it on a lightly floured surface.

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Don’t afraid to really work the dough.

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Dancing on a chair while you do it is optional, but seems to add something to the experience.

Make the dough into a nice round ball, and place it into an oiled bowl.

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Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and put somewhere warm to rise.

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You will know it is done rising when it doubles in size.

Once that happens you are going to beat the dough back down.

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Again, chair dancing while kneading is optional, but you only live once, so why the heck not. This is the fun that money can’t buy. Which is good, because who has extra money in this economy.

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Break the dough into three equal pieces.

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Form each of those pieces into a long (24″ maybe?) snake.

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Loosely braid the three pieces together and form them into a circle. Pinch the ends together. Then tuck the eggs** into the spaces of the braid.

Now set it aside and wait while it rises again.

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And wait some more. To quote Tom Petty, “The wai-ai-aiting is the hardest part.”

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After it has finished rising, feel free to shout, “It has risen! It has risen, indeed!” Just to get into the Easter spirit.

You are then going to brush the top of the bread with the egg/water mixture. Unless after all that waiting you forget, like I did.

Put your bread into a 375 degree oven and bake for about 30 min. You will know your bread is done when it has turned a golden color and when to tap on it you hear a hollow sound.

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Perfect for eating with your Easter ham.

*The eggs that you put in the braids of the bread can be dyed and hardboiled. Or you can just use raw eggs and they cook inside while the bread is baking. I have never had a problem doing it that way.

**I discourage eating the eggs that are in the bread anyway because the bread sits out of refrigeration for so long. Yes, my step father’s family always used to eat the eggs and they all lived to tell the tale, but they also gave all of us kids coffee to drink with shots of Zambuca in it and called it an Italian tradition. So, you know, use your own, probably superior, judgement.

Brunch, Entertaining Recession Style

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Food, Uncategorized

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I have noticed a new trend– families doing Sunday brunch together instead of dinner parties or going out for cocktails.  It is more casual, low-cost, and definitely kid friendly.

We had another family over for brunch and one of my children said, “This is so awesome.  It is like when we stay at the Holiday Inn Express!”  I assume that was meant as the highest of compliments.  It made me think about why brunch is such a fun meal to host, the food choices are endless and varied. 
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Pumpkin Dip

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Food, Holiday Entertaining, Kids Cook

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This is frighteningly good. It tastes like Pumpkin Pie without that pesky crust, or baking. Or time. Or any real effort. Are you the sort of person who remembers at 2:00 that you have a holiday party to attend at 2:30, and you still need to shower, dress, and bring a food item to share? Then this is the recipe for you.

Serve with Gingersnap cookies, or graham crackers if you prefer.

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Nilla Wafer Banana Pudding — Comfort Food of Childhood

Categories: Cooking, Entertaining, Food

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Yet another thing that you can make from those bananas that are over ripe and in danger of going bad.

You would think that at this point of my parenting tenure I would be able to properly estimate the number of bananas that my children go through in a given week. But my children like to mix things up, just to keep this parenting thing challenging. Sometimes I buy a big bunch of bananas and NO ONE WANTS TO EAT THEM. Then the next time I buy only a few and all I hear is complaints because THEY WANT TO EAT BANANAS.
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