Thursday, April 10, 2014

Homemade SpaghettiOs

I admit I love the taste of SpaghettiOs. The sweet sugary sauce, those mini noodles... but I know it's full of crap. The sugar, the sodium, the preservatives. When I stumbled across a homemade recipe on Pinterest, I knew I had to try it. I originally made these about a year ago, but never blogged about it. (That I can find.) 

The great thing about these is you can control everything that goes into them. If you need gluten free pasta, or want to use a whole grain. You can use skim milk or low fat cheese, and can make it as spicy as you want! I added meatballs this time. It's also a fairly quick recipe, taking about 20-25 minutes from start to finish. 

This recipe is very forgiving too. You can add extra milk (on accident or on purpose), you could use a different small noodle, add more cheese, less cheese, more butter, no pepper, extra pepper, ect. Whatever you think will work. 

Homemade SpaghettiO’s

  • 8 oz ditalini pasta (or other small pasta)
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

  1. Cook the pasta, to al dente (about 10 minutes).
  2. Heat the olive oil in a  large saute' pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook until just fragrant, about 30 seconds. 
  3. Stir in the tomato sauce, water, tomato paste, salt, pepper, sugar and butter. Heat, while stirring, until the butter is melted. 
  4. Slowly stir in the milk, then turn the heat to low. Simmer at low heat for 10 minutes.
  5. Stir the shredded cheese into the soup until melted. 
  6. Drain the pasta and add it to the soup. OR, you can transfer it to a serving bowl and add the "soup" to the pasta. Stir to combine. 
I added meatballs to mine. The Sam's Club meatballs are delicious and I had some leftover and needed to use them up. 
I messed up and added 1 cup of milk instead of 1/4 cup. My finished product is a little runny, but the meatballs helped absorb some of that extra fluid. 
I added 3 pinches of red pepper flakes to make it a little more spicy. It goes a long way so don't add too much!
I had leftover crushed tomatoes in my fridge to use up, so I used that instead of Tomato Sauce. Not really a huge difference.
This freezes well. You can make a double batch and freeze for later.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Twice Baked Potato Casserole

My friend Lisa brought me and my husband (and newborn baby Liam) a Twice Baked Potato Casserole. It was delicious. Super rich, loaded with cheesey potato goodness. The 9x13 dish must have weighed 3 pounds. It was amazing.

I wasn't able to find a decent recipe that mimicked what she gave us, so I thought I'd just wing it. 

Initial Notes:
Bake the potatoes the night (or two) before hand. Let them set back up in the fridge and get cold. They are easier to cut and won't fall apart in your hands. 
Cut everything before putting them together. 
Put the kiddo down for a nap - it takes a bit to assemble. Seriously, make sure he's napping. 
When cleaning up, don't drop all the pots and pans in the sink while you are washing them. No, really. It might be better to just leave the dishes for your husband. 
This recipe is not healthy. Don't eat it too often. It's loaded with CHEESE. And more CHEESE. 
If you don't like cheese, this is not for you. I'm not sure this blog is for you if you don't like cheese. We can't be friends, sorry. 

This makes two deep 9x13s. I recently purchased these foil pans (and lids) from Sam's Club. My Gladware bakeware is no longer available in 8x8s, so I went with the cheaper method of foil pans. They take up a bit more room in the freezer, require larger portions, leave more leftovers, but the cost savings is the best overall deal. 

So my recipe. 

  • 3 pound bag of Russets potatoes (baked)
  • 1 pound of bacon (cooked and crumbled)
  • 1.5 pounds of Cubed velvetta cheese (is it cheese? eh..) 
  • 1-2 sticks of butter - sliced very thin
  • 2 bricks of cream cheese
  • 16-ounce container sour cream
  • Shredded cheese - pick any flavor
  • green onions


  1. Bake the potatoes - I clean mine really well, prick with a fork, and coat with olive oil and salt. Then bake an hour or so at 400 degrees F. I did let mine cool in the fridge (for two days). They were much easier to dice up. 
  2. Cook the bacon to crispy. I prefer to cut the bacon up and then cook it.
  3. Dice the baked potatoes. (While you're cooking the bacon.) 
  4. Use a mixer to mix together the sour cream and cream cheese. Mix in additional spices if you want - dill dressing packet, garlic, chili powder, ect. Whatever flavor you want to go for. 
  5. This is a layering dish - Put a layer of potatoes, a few pieces of butter, around 1/4 of a stick, then spread some cubed velvetta cheese and spoon fulls of the sour cream/cream cheese mixture. Sprinkle a little bacon, shredded cheese, and green onions on top. Then repeat the layer. 
  6. Bake the dish at 375 degrees F for around 30-40 minutes. 
I froze the other dish, defrosted for a day, and then baked. The longer you bake, the softer the potatoes become. If you want to cheat, you can skip the potatoes and purchase the Ore Ida diced potatoes instead. Or has brown potatoes. You'll want to make sure your velvetta is diced smaller than the potatoes, you want the cheese to melt around it. 

This was a delicious dish, but I won't be making it again anytime soon. The velvetta is expensive, the dish is time consuming, and it's very high in calories. You can probably use some different ingredients to make it lower cal, but it's more so just so addicting to eat. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Sirloin Steaks & Au Gratin Potato Puffs

I made the most delicious steaks the other night! It helps that I used Crooked Creek Beef, but I also tried a new marinade. And it was very delicious!!! I can't wait to use this marinade again. 

Sirloin Steak
  • 1 cup soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon pepper
  • 1 tablespoon ground ginger
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 8 ounces Apple Juice
  • 1 or 2 beef top sirloin steak (about 3 pounds and around 1- 2 inches thick)
  1. Mix all the ingredients in a large ziplock bag. It'll smell like a Japanese Hibachi grill. And you're mouth will start watering!
  2. Add the meat. Sirloin is a tougher meat and requires a lot longer marinating then an hour before grilling. I let this marinate 6 hours, but you can do 24 hours. 
  3. Grill to your liking. (I prefer medium rare.)
The meat was tender, delicious, it did not have a strong flavor of the marinade. If you have smaller steaks, you can half the marinade ingredients. 

We served this with a steam bag of broccoli and cheese and the Omaha Steak Au Gratin potatoes. Since they were the last of what we had, I started looking for a copy cat recipe. I found one, and plan to try it out at some point. I think instead of rolling in just Parmesan, I will add some bread crumbs. 

  • 8 large baking potatoes 
  • 1/3 cup dried onion 
  • 8 ounces cream cheese -- may use low fat 
  • 8 ounces sour cream -- may use low fat 
  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • salt -- to taste 
  • fresh ground black pepper -- to taste 
  • Parmesan cheese -- for coating balls 
  1. Bake potatoes, either in oven or microwave, Cool, peel and shred. (I use shredder on my Salad shooter) In a large bowl combine dried onion, sour cream, cream cheese, butter and seasonings. Mix in shredded potatoes until well combined. 
  2. Take an ice cream scoop and dip out mixture and roll into a ball. Roll the potato ball in Parmesan cheese until well coated and place on a cookie sheet. Continue making balls until all mixture is gone. Cover and freeze. Once frozen the balls can be placed in plastic bags or containers and stored in freezer. 
  3. To use, remove as many as needed and place on a cookie sheet. Bake in 350°F. oven for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. 
Original poster's hint: I have baked all the potato balls at the same time. Cooled and then placed in the freezer. To use, if you choose to do it this way, then just reheat in the microwave. These are delicious, and a family favorite. 

The recipe says it makes 8, but I think with the large potatoes and ingredients, you can get 16 decent sized balls, having 2 per serving. They might be more manageable too. I'll update once I make them! Might be a week or two. 

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Time for Dinner

My neighbor Facebook checked-in to this place a few weeks ago. I looked at their website and while not the most cost effective (for me), decided to check it out. I managed to sucker my friend Dee and my mom (with my sister as her chef) into going with me. :) 

Time for Dinner is where you can make your own freezer meals without the hassle of planning, shopping, chopping, portioning, and clean up. Each month they have a different menu with around a dozen different dishes and a dessert. The best deal is to choose 6 dishes to make for $125 (plus tax.) Each dish is 6-portions so you're getting 36 portions for around $3.50 a portion. I can cook cheaper by doing it all myself, but I also wouldn't branch out and make some of the meals they offer. It's nice to have other dishes besides Tater Tot Casseroles, Enchiladas, Stuffed Shells, Spaghetti Sauce, and red meat in the freezer. It also is a lot less time consuming, which is one of their main selling points. When I do my bulk cooking, I spend probably 4-5 hours doing 6 dishes from scratch. 

One of the moms we encountered on Saturday said her family wouldn't eat if it wasn't for this place. Time for Dinner has been open for 10 years! I was surprised since it was the first time I had been there, and only recently heard of it. They had this type of place in Richmond, Virginia that I never got a chance to check out. One of my Richmond friends said the place has since closed. 

It's really easy. You choose the date you want to attend, and then "order" the meals you plan to make. For April, I chose Crab Cakes, two Chicken Parmigiana, Jumbo Stuffed Shells, Pollo Queso Fundido, and Sunset Pork Tenderloin. I avoided choosing red meat dishes since I still have over 100 pounds of red meat in my freezer. I chose my order before making Stuffed Shells myself. For April they had a special where if you ordered 6 meals, you got a free half dish of Butterscotch Brownies. Which, you have to "cream" the butter and sugar by hand. I'm taking a hand mixer next time. May's special is you get $10 off. And they have a loyalty program - if you go 6 times/6 meals each, you get 20% off the 7th time. I was looking at their Facebook page and it looks like in June-July-August they run some of the best deals. Which makes sense because no one wants to fire up their oven in the summer months! 

When we showed up, we checked in and paid, and they gave us a quick tour. My sister and I started at the Crab Cake station. All the ingredients are laid out in front of you, and the instructions are printed (in large font) and easy to follow. They even include the obvious instructions like when to put on latex gloves or which utensil (spatula versus whisk) to use. Except for the meat, you can add extra veggies or leave out the cheese if you want. 

You make your dishes in two oblong aluminum pans, they are 12.5 inches by 6.5 inches. I like that they are already broke into two dishes, this makes it easier for one or two people to eat, instead of making a large dish. TFD has stickers to place on the pans, one in front for easy "freezer view", and another larger one on top with instructions. The sticker on front is an excellent idea - I need to do this in my own deep freeze! You can see below what my freezer looks like. I know the three large pans are stuffed shells, mostly because my two tater tot casseroles are in the other freezer. 

It took us around two hours to make our 6.5 dishes. My sister and I jumped on the Brownie station early because we figured most people would wait until last to make theirs. We were right, Dee had to wait a few extra minutes. We weren't the last to leave either, but I think one mom made around 20 dishes. I saw her making like 10 pretzel chickens. :) 

Some additional notes - 
Some of the spices are included in the dish, but don't be afraid to ask for more! I was making the Chicken Parmigiana and realized I was missing garlic and pepper. I asked and I received. 

One of my dishes was a pork tenderloin with a rub. You made the rub in a ziplock bag. I helped my sister with hers and the rub wasn't mixing well. Instead of making my rub "wet", I just wrote what I needed to add at home (water and hot sauce) to finish it out. I figure I could wisk it better than I could mix it in a ziplock bag. 

If you have kids that can help, bring them. A few moms did have their kids with them, some were helpful, some were bored. I think it's a helpful way for children to learn how to put a dish together. I know my mom started me young. I plan to start Liam young too, he needs to learn to cook! 

I look forward to doing this again. We are on a strict budget though and I need to figure out how to work it it, at least every two months or so.

I'm already thinking ahead to Florida vacation at the end of June and think I'll be taking a few frozen meals with us. That way I won't have to buy a ton of ingredients and worry about cooking a few nights. I know our Florida vacation is going to be very busy already.  

I took the time to make a list of our freezer stash to put on our upstairs fridge for meal planning purposes. Since sometimes I meal plan in bed, using my iPad, I'm including the list here for my laziness. 
5 cups of Chili 2 Mozzarella Cheese - 1 lb each
13 cups of Black Bean Soup 2 Eggos - 8 packs
3 Stuffed Shells 2 Butter Braids
2 Tater Tot Casseroles 1 Bertolli Chicken Florentine & Farfalle 
1 Lasagna 7 Hamburger Buns
1 Sloppy Joe 3 Hot Dog Buns
3 Chicken Huts 1 Pork Butt
4 Spaghetti Sauce 1 Loaf of banana/blueberry bread
14 Twice Baked Potatoes 15 Chicken Sausages 
4 Carmel Apple Tartlets 5 Hot Dogs
1 Garlic Bread (8 count) Toasted Ravioli
3 Small French Loafs Mozzarella Sticks
1 frozen DiGiorno pizza French Fries
1 lbs of Bacon Tater Tots 
1 loafs of Bread Meatballs
1 Tortellini
2lb & 5 oz package of Chicken Breasts
Time for Dinner Dishes
1 Butterscotch Brownies 2 Sunset Pork Tenderloin
4 Chicken Parmigiana 1 Pretzel Chicken
2 Crab Cakes 1 Carmel Apple French Toast
2 Jumbo Stuffed Shells 1 Venetian Mac & Cheese
2 Pollo Queso Fundido 1 Garlic & Herb Pasta - Side Dish
Red Meat
37 1-pound ground beef 5 Stew Meat - 1 lb each
15 Hamburger Patties 3 Sirloin Tip Steaks (2 packs)
3 Flat Iron Steak 2 Sirloin Steak
7 Rib Eye Steak (3-2-2 packs) 1 Beef Brisket
2 Porterhouse Steak (2 packs) 4 Chuck Steaks
5 T-Bone Steak (2-2-1 packs) 3 London Broil
1 Round Steak (3 packs) 3 Cube Steaks (3 packs)
1 Rump Roast

Friday, April 4, 2014

Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup

These past few days I have concentrated more on meal planning, and thinking a week ahead for dinners. This helps in using what we have in the deep freeze, especially as I make more freezer meals and fill it up!
When I make crock-pot meals, I usually don't start cooking them until around noon. I try to prep the crock-pot ingredients (chopping) the night before. It makes it easier to throw together. 

Crock Pot Chicken Tortilla Soup
  • 6 cups of low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes (I only found this in large cans.) 
  • 1 7-ounce can tomatillo salsa verde
  • 3 TBSP tomato paste
  • 2 (15 oz) cans black beans
  • 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 4 small corn tortillas, torn or cut into small pieces 
  • 2 small onions (approx 2 cups)
  • 2 jalapenos (seeds and veins removed)
  • 1 large bell pepper
  • juice of a fresh lime
  • 2-4 TBSP fresh cilantro
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • pepper, to taste
  • salt, to taste
  • shredded Mexican cheese blend
  • crunchy tortilla chips
  1. Get out the big crock-pot. 
  2. Add the chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, salsa verde, tomato paste, pepper and spices to the crock pot and mix together. 
  3. Add the chicken, onions, peppers, and tortilla pieces. 
  4. The soup will cook either 6 hours on high or 10 hours on Low. During the last hour or two, add the lime juice and cilantro. 
  5. Dish into bowls and add cheese, crushed up tortilla chips, avocado, anything else you want! Serve with Sweet Corn Cakes.

Sweet Corn Cakes

When Liam was born my parents came over and made Tacos for us. The tacos were good, but mom made Corn Cakes! I love the corn cakes at Chevy's and always ask for extra. 

Mom had found a bag mix at the grocery store and you added a can of cream corn. I haven't been able to find the mix (which probably is $2-$4 anyway), but I did find a recipe to make them from "scratch". There's a lot of recipes where you use corn meal, corn flour, corn, and like 10 other ingredients. And I found an easy three "ingredient" one. Butter, Jiffy Mix, and Canned Cream Corn. While it's not the healthiest recipe, it's a good treat with a mexican dish.  

Sweet Corn Cake (Mini Muffins)
  • One 15-ounce can Cream Corn
  • One box Jiffy Corn Bread Mix
  • One stick of butter - melted
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F
  2. Melt butter (if you missed it listed above.)
  3. Mix the three ingredients together
  4. Spoon mixture into mini-muffin tin. OR you can use a glass bread loaf pan.
  5. Bake Mini-Muffins for 20 minutes, or the loaf pan for 25 minutes.