Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Some Thoughts For The Holidays....

Okay, so the Holidays are pretty much here and everyone must be making plans for what to do, where to shop, what to get, what will the Holiday Menu  be like, who's coming, etc, etc, etc, right? This is a pretty safe bet..... but life goes on all around all these happenings and you still have to get the "nuts& bolts" done... so you have to think of maybe you'll be having guests or be just so tired that maybe cooking regular meals will not be your first thought? So why not plan in advance and insure you cut some of the work down and make it easier on yourself.... Making food in advance has always been a good idea, especially for busy families where everyone works and time is tight, but during this time of the year it makes more sense than ever!

Planning for family dinners during this time, taking into consideration that the weather is cold, seems to me this makes it easier for us since hearty soups, stews and comforting meals are just the right thing to offer. Plus these types of  meals are the kind that actually benefit from reheating. There's nothing like having a steaming pot of soup waiting for you after a busy day..... Mmmmm! Hits the spot.  Or how about having a great casserole ready and waiting to be put in the oven while you change and put away the shopping? It's Tuesday evening, you just got home from work, still have some laundry to get done, you're tired and the family is hungry..... luckily there's a great dinner all ready to be heated up and the work has already been done? Amazing!

It's also a good thing to have some family pleasing dishes on hand that can be made in no time flat during this time too. Shopping in advance, in bulk and having all the ingredients can help make it easy and fast yet still give you and yours, a great family meal any time of the week. You don't have to wait for the Holidays to put these ideas into motion either, everyone's schedule is busy all year round, so they make sense all the time. It's a great time to take advantage of leftovers and recycle as much as possible to bring savings and shortcuts into the mix as well. Nothing wrong with saving a little money, heh?

So let's look at some ideas that maybe will help you during this time of the year......

1- LASAGNA.- Always a good idea and most people love it. Sure, it's work but if you go ahead and make at least 2 of them, you can have one for dinner while you wrap the other one up and freeze it for over the holidays. This is one of those dishes that increases in flavor with the reheating and if you make even more sauce, this can be frozen and used for a quick pasta dinner on another night too. Lasagna is also very flexible and is equally good with meat or vegetarian, with noodles or using zucchini or eggplant instead and save some carbohydrates, any meat can be used and almost any vegetables too. Here's a great version that's easy to make and yields amazing flavor:

Lasagna Noodles  (or use thin sliced zucchini or eggplant)
salt & black pepper to taste
1-2 lb ground beef (I used hot Italian sausage instead) but you can use chicken, turkey or pork
1 green bell pepper, de-seeded and chopped
1 onion, small and chopped
3-5 garlic cloves, chopped
1 tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup tomato paste (or use 2 small cans of 6 oz each)
16 oz canned tomato sauce
1/2 - 1 cup red wine
2 tbsp fresh basil, chopped
1 tbsp fresh oregano, chopped
1-2 eggs (2, if you like it fluffy)
15 oz ricotta cheese (you can use cottage cheese instead if you like)
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
16 oz spinach (frozen chopped, thawed and drained) optional
1 lb fresh mushrooms, chopped
8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
8 oz grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 325 F . Grease a deep 9x13 inch baking pan. If making noodles, follow package instructions and keep them in some water once cooked so they don't stick together. If making vegetarian: Slice zucchini (or eggplant) lengthwise into very thin slices. Sprinkle slices lightly with salt; set aside to drain in a colander while you make the sauce. Don't skip this step or they will be too soft.

To prepare the meat sauce: (or you can leave the meat out of it) Cook and stir ground beef and black pepper in a large skillet over medium high heat for 5 minutes. If too much fat is released, then drain it and leave 2-3 tblsp in the pan to continue cooking. Add in green pepper, onion, red pepper flakes & garlic; cook and stir until meat is no longer pink. Stir in tomato paste, tomato sauce, wine, basil, and oregano, adding a small amount of hot water if sauce is too thick. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer sauce for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently. Meanwhile, stir egg, ricotta, and parsley together in a bowl until well combined.

To assemble lasagna, spread 1/3 of the meat sauce into the bottom of prepared pan. Then layer the noodles to cover well or 1/2 the zucchini slices, 1/2 the ricotta mixture, all of the spinach, followed by all of the mushrooms, then 1/2 the mozzarella cheese. Repeat by layering the remaining meat sauce, noodles or zucchini slices, ricotta mixture, and mozzarella. Spread Parmesan cheese evenly over the top; cover with foil. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove foil; raise oven temperature to 350 degrees F, and bake an additional 15 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes before serving.
NOTE: If freezing then stop before baking, cool and cover very well with heavy duty aluminum foil and place in the freezer. Either put something on the top to prevent other foods from pressing on this or freeze first and then place other foods over it. You will need additional baking time when finally using it, add about 30 minutes to the first baking time and check to insure it's bubbly before raising the temperature. You can also thaw first before baking to shorten the baking time if you have time to get this done.

2- CASSEROLES.- Just like Lasagna, these are very practical and can run the gamut from noodle, potato, rice based dishes with a variety of sauces that can be baked and served. Same goes for Chicken/Beef Pot Pies, Cassoulet, all types of Chili dishes (like Tamale Pie, Texas Chili) and most of all Stews which can be made in advance and be ready for reheating when needed. Here's a great recipe for one of our favorite Chili's: Don't be put off by the ingredients, this is an amazing Chili, you'll love it!

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2 pounds ground buffalo meat (beef, pork, turkey or chicken) or leave vegetarian
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 Poblano or Anaheim pepper, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped (I use Serrano 2-3)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
Sea salt, to taste
Ground pepper, to taste
1 (14.5-ounce) can crushed fire-roasted tomatoes
2/3 cup low-sodium beef broth (can use chicken broth or vegetable)
1/2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 (7-ounce) can chipotle sauce or 2 tablespoons adobo sauce from a can of chipotles in adobo
1 bay leaf
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed 
1 (15-ounce) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 bunch green onions, green parts only, sliced in rounds, for garnish
Chopped cilantro, for garnish

In a medium sized pot with a lid, heat oil over medium heat and add ground buffalo. Brown meat, breaking large chunks into smaller ones. Cook for about 5 minutes or until all meat is browned. Remove from pot and discard excess fat, leaving about 2 tablespoons. Bring back to medium heat, add onions, red bell pepper, green bell pepper and Poblano pepper and cook on medium heat for about 5 minutes, scraping bottom from time to time. Add jalapeño pepper and cook for another 3 minutes. Add garlic and then add cumin, oregano, coriander, salt and pepper. Let spices cook for another minute, stirring. Return browned meat to the pot. Stir in tomatoes and beef broth, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, adobo sauce and bay leaf, stir and bring to a boil. Once boiling, taste sauce and adjust salt and pepper to taste. Lower heat to a slow simmer, cover with a lid and cook for about 30 minutes. Add beans and continue simmering, covered, for another 10 minutes or until beans are warmed through. Serve in bowls and garnish with chopped cilantro and green onions.
NOTE: Spice quantities are just a guide, I use more of everything. I also have beans always on hand but you can use canned to make it easier and faster. Substitute ingredients to suit your taste....

3- TACOS, BURRITOS, TOSTADAS, SOPES: All these can make leftovers something to look forward to. My family loves them all! Just be sure to have tortillas (either corn or flour, the very best quality you can get so I won't make you make your own) and use leftovers for the fillings, add lettuce, Pico de Gallo, your favorite Salsa and you're done! Go to the nearest Mexican Market to find good quality tortillas, some of them have tortilla factories right inside the market and are made daily. Use up leftover corn tortillas, fried in some oil, for Nachos, Tortilla Soup or Dry Tortilla Soup too.

4- SOUPS: Almost anything can be turned into a soup. Leftover vegetables can be put in the blender with their own liquid, and turned into cream soup. Or use leftover meats, shredded, along with vegetables and some stock, top with some cheese and your're done. Cook some vegetables in some chicken or vegetable stock, either blend or use as is for a quick soup. Add some leftover noodles or rice. You can add some "roux" (equal parts fat/butter with flour, cooked in a pan 3-4 minutes then whisked into a clear liquid, to make a thick and creamy soup). Here's a great way to use leftover turkey or chicken and get a wonderful Main Dish Soup: Turkey Gumbo:

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1 (16-ounce) package frozen okra
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their liquid
Turkey, Chicken meat, shredded, about  (about 1 pound)
1 cup cooked brown rice
Salt and pepper to taste
Hot sauce to taste

Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add garlic and onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add peppers, okra, corn and tomatoes and stir well. Add the meat and bring to a boil. Insure liquid covers everything, if more liquid is needed add stock or water. Cover, reduce heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, cook at least 20 minutes. Stir in rice, salt, pepper and hot sauce and cook about 10 minutes more.
NOTE: Once you have the ingredients in your pantry, this hearty soup comes together quickly to give you a complete meal. You could also cook a turkey leg in the soup if it's raw (nestle in the soup, cook about 60-90 minutes, insuring it's covered by liquid), then pull out, shred, return meat to the pot and finish by adding the rice and the rest of the ingredients. Same goes for chicken.

Be sure to use the search bar shown above to look for other alternatives that you might be able to use during this time, there's plenty of recipes here. Get the kids to help, thaw frozen casseroles in the fridge while you're at work so they're ready once you return home, save leftovers thinking ahead with other meals in mind, buy vegetables thinking of hearty and quick soups for another day..... It's never been so important to save your energy yet have something yummy and fast. Who doesn't like that, right?

Wishing everyone a lovely Holiday Season!..........


  1. I'm planning to spend my summer vacation in Puerto Vallarta. After I'm landing on the airport, I think I'll be the happiest alive. I'm very excited about seeing Mexico!

  2. Excellent point to go in Mexico. It's amazing and this food also. Enojy it!

  3. Very nice place to go in Mexico. You''l enjoy everything from here.