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Dine In: Cajun Dirty Rice


Cajun Dirty RiceIt’s the Friday night before Mardi Gras, so it’s time to indulge. Come Ash Wednesday, Christians all over the world go into a period of fasting until Easter.

Some people fast by not eating meat on Fridays. Some give up something valuable to them, like coffee, social media, chocolate or soda. Some people observe the time by doing acts of service for others.

Whatever you choose to do, tonight is the last Friday before Lent begins, so southerners all over the country are letting the proverbial good times roll.

This rich dish is an amalgamation of a few other Cajun dishes and uses prized ingredients like rice and andouille sausage. Andouille is a spicy Cajun sausage, but feel free to substitute another spicy sausage of your choosing.

My older son will dump extra hot sauce on this dish, and my younger son will add some cheese on top.

You could also add diced chicken thighs in with the sausage when you cook it, making sure the chicken is cooked through.

So, stay home tonight, and celebrate the last of the decadent before the time of preparation for Easter.

Cajun Dirty Rice

Ingredients:
4 cups chicken stock
2 Tbs hot sauce
2 cups long-grain rice
12 oz andouille sausage (or other spicy sausage), sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 stalks celery, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup fresh scallions, chopped

Directions:
In a large saucepan, combine the chicken stock, hot sauce and rice. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Cook for 18 minutes without lifting the lid. After 18 minutes, do not remove pan from burner or lift lid, but turn off heat and let stand for 10 more minutes.

While the rice is standing, heat a cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the sausage, and cook until browned. Remove with a slotted spoon.

Add onions, celery, bell peppers and garlic to the drippings from the sausage. Sauté for 10 minutes or until soft, stirring frequently.

Add the remaining ingredients to the pan, and return sausage to the cast-iron skillet. Stir to combine and cook through. Add the rice; stir until all ingredients are well-incorporated.

Garnish with scallions and serve.

Serves 4.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 668, Calories from Fat: 230, Fat: 26 g (8 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 71 mg, Sodium: 1904 mg, Carbohydrates: 82 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 4 g, Protein: 25 g.

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Dine In: Million-Dollar Spaghetti


Million-Dollar SpaghettiFor many years, I worked in the church nursery taking care of babies and toddlers while their parents attended church services, Sunday school or other activities for which the church provided child care.

I loved it so much. Sunday mornings gave me the chance to snuggle MY babies (they were only mine for about 3 hours, but that was fine) or play with the little ones, my toddler included. Wednesday nights were a little wilder, as we provided child care for mid-week services and classes. Our nursery kids were usually wound up from a day at school or other childcare and came to the church nursery quite spirited.

On Wednesday nights, there was always also dinner. The kitchen was right near the nursery, and although the church encouraged families to eat together before dropping their kids off at the nursery, there were always a few kids who were finishing their meals or eating in the nursery with us.

Their favorite Wednesday night dish was Million-Dollar Spaghetti. We DREADED spaghetti night because it’s messy, but the kids loved it. We soon learned to suit them up in oversized bibs the minute they came through the door, and we kept plenty of wipes on hand at all times.

Messy as it might have been, pretty much every kid devoured their dinner when Million-Dollar Spaghetti was on the menu!

This is a hearty and satisfying dish to cap off a busy week that your whole family is sure to love.

Million-Dollar Spaghetti

Ingredients:
1 (16 oz) pkg spaghetti noodles
1 lb ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 (16 oz) jar spaghetti sauce
1/2 cup butter, sliced (divided)
1 cup ricotta cheese or cottage cheese, drained
1 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup sour cream
1 (8 oz) pkg shredded cheddar cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add spaghetti and a pinch of salt. Cook until noodles are al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Brown ground beef and onions until cooked through and crumbled. Drain. Mix the spaghetti sauce into the ground beef.
In another bowl, mix together the cream cheese, sour cream and ricotta cheese/cottage cheese until well=blended. Place half the slices of butter into the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish.

Layer half the spaghetti on top of the butter. Top with creamy mixture, and then layer with remaining noodles. Top with remaining pats of butter. Pour the meat sauce over the entire dish; spread to cover. Bake for 30 minutes. Spread the cheese over the casserole, and continue baking until the cheese is melted and bubbly, about 15 more minutes.

Serves 12

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 539, Calories from Fat: 241, Fat: 27 g (16 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 131 mg, Sodium: 3497 mg, Carbohydrates: 48 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 27 g.

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Shop the Sale: Skillet-Seared Pork Loin Chops


Skillet-Seared Pork Loin ChopsWe’ve been eating decadently for days on end.

Pizza on Friday night. Appetizers and snacks for dinner Saturday. A big pancake breakfast on Sunday and a Sunday supper fit for a king. Not to mention Valentine’s Day, which was a sumptuous dinner and an even more indulgent dessert.

So tonight, I wanted something simple and straightforward!

Brookshire’s to the rescue with their boneless pork chops.

These thick cuts of tender white meat pork are beautiful seared in the cast-iron skillet on the stovetop. The meat is lean, but you can impart a great flavor just by the way you season it and cook it. Serve with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts and a salad for a simple and satisfying meal.

Skillet-Seared Pork Loin Chops

Ingredients:
4 boneless pork loin chops, about 1 1/2 lbs
2 Tbs olive oil
2 tsp salt
2 tsp black pepper
1 Tbs Worcestershire powder

Directions:
Bring pork chops to room temperature, about 1 hour.

Season both sides with salt, pepper and Worcestershire powder. Heat oil in skillet over medium-high heat until hot. Drop pork chops into pan, searing on first side, about 3 minutes. Flip and sear other side, about 3 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Cook through until meat reaches desired doneness, at least 145° F. Remove from pan; let rest 5 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 474, Calories from Fat: 276, Fat: 31 g (10 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 136 mg, Sodium: 1269 mg, Carbohydrates: 1 g, Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 47 g.

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Dine In: Red Velvet Lasagna


Red Velvet LasagnaValentine’s Day is Tuesday, and instead of fighting crowds at a restaurant, you might decide to dine in with the people you love.

We usually start out the day with cinnamon rolls molded slightly to be in the shape of hearts. I used to cut my boys’ sandwiches into a heart shape with a cookie cutter until I was informed that high school kids don’t eat sandwiches in the shape of anything except square. We usually get heart-shaped pizza for dinner.

This year, I’m going to make Red Velvet Lasagna for dessert. Clearly, it’s not a savory lasagna but a rich, decadent treat that you can probably only expend calories on once per year. Really, there’s no better way to show someone you love them than with a delicious dessert!

Red Velvet Lasagna

Ingredients:
CRUST:
1 pkg Oreo cookies
2 Tbs butter, melted

BOTTOM LAYER:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
8 oz whipped topping
1 tsp lemon juice

MIDDLE LAYER:
1 (5.9 oz) pkg instant chocolate pudding mix
3 cups cold milk
4 oz cream cheese, softened
red food coloring

TOP LAYER:
8 oz whipped topping
1 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F. Spray a 9 x 13 glass baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside.

Pulse together Oreos and melted butter in a food processor until it forms fine crumbs.

Press the mixture into the bottom of the baking dish to form a flat crust.

Bake for 5 to 8 minutes or until slightly toasted. Cool completely.

In a large bowl, beat together cream cheese, sugar, whipped topping and lemon juice.

In another bowl, mix the pudding mix and milk according to package directions. Beat until thickened, about 2 minutes. Add in cream cheese and as much food coloring as needed to achieve desired shade. Mix until well-combined.

Pour the cream cheese layer onto the crust; smooth out cream cheese.

Top with the red velvet pudding layer, and smooth that over the cream cheese layer.

Top with the remaining whipped topping, and sprinkle with chocolate chips. Add red sprinkles or hearts, if desired. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

Serves 12

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 740, Calories from Fat: 344, Fat: 38 g (19 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 73 mg, Sodium: 487 mg, Carbohydrates: 93 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 57 g, Protein: 10 g.

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Dine In: Sirloin Steak Bites


Sirloin Steak BitesI know that I complain sometimes about the picky eaters in my house. My younger son and my boyfriend, who eats dinner with us every night, are a bit more challenging to cook for than my older son, and goodness knows I’ll eat anything.

Then, I remember that my younger son is the same kid who rushes out to help me unload groceries every week when I’m slogging bags in from the car. He opens doors for me to walk through and refills my coffee cup when it gets low. He checks to see if I want the last cookie before he tears into it, and he is always quick to tell me that he loves me.

The boyfriend, while he might not eat any sauce that is white or any beans that are not, is the one who missed his all-time favorite musician when he came to town to instead go out for a birthday dinner with us. He’s the one who remembered that I mentioned I wanted to read a new magazine that has just come out. No one can put their hands on it because it’s so popular, so he ordered me a subscription instead. He’s the one who gives my dog a bath and fills up the dog food bin without me asking.

Among many, many other things.

So really, the fact that sometimes I have to serve sauce on the side or not at all, or skip eating comfort food casseroles, or have to swap kidney beans for Great Northern really isn’t a big deal. These guys of mine deserve the foods they love (like the sirloin steak bites) because they’re so good at loving me.

Sirloin Steak Bites

Ingredients:
2 lbs sirloin steak, trimmed and cubed
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup tarragon vinegar or soy sauce
2 Tbs garlic, minced
2 Tbs parsley, dried
2 Tbs basil, dried
lemon zest, grated
olive oil, for cooking

Directions:
Combine all ingredients except sirloin in a large, zip-top bag; mix well. Add sirloin bites and marinate, refrigerated, for several hours or overnight.

Heat olive oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until shimmering and fragrant. Using a slotted spoon, remove steak bites from marinade in batches. Cook for about 3 minutes per batch for medium-rare. Remove steak from pan and set aside, keeping warm. Repeat with remaining steak until it’s all cooked. Don’t overcrowd the pan as that will steam the meat, not sear it. Discard marinade.

Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 663, Calories from Fat: 354, Fat: 39 g (9 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 203 mg, Sodium: 317 mg, Carbohydrates: 5 g, Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 69 g.

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Dine In: Queso-Smothered Chicken


Queso-Smothered ChickenFrequently on Friday nights, we go out for Mexican food.

There’s just something about warm rice and beans, soft flour tortillas and, of course, chips and salsa that’s a great way to end the week.

Eating out gets expensive, and this family is saving up for some big adventures in 2017. So, we’re eating at home more often on Friday nights.

That doesn’t mean we have to give up Mexican food, though. This chicken dish is smothered in cheese and served over orzo pasta, which you infuse with Mexican flavors. You could swap it out for rice if you wanted, and you can always serve with a side of beans.

Queso-Smothered Chicken

Ingredients:
1 bottle Lawry’s Baja Chipotle 30 Minute Marinade
4 boneless chicken breasts, pounded to an even thickness
1 Tbs olive oil
1 cup orzo
2 cups chicken broth
2 Tbs tomato paste
2 tsp chili powder
2 tsp paprika
8 oz Velveeta, diced
1 can Ro-Tel Diced Tomatoes and Green Chilies

Directions:
Place chicken in a plastic, zip-top bag, and pour marinade over the chicken, turning to coat. Refrigerate overnight or for at least 30 minutes.

Remove chicken from marinade, and grill over medium-high heat until cooked through. In a heavy saucepan, heat the oil until fragrant and shimmering. Stir in the orzo, cooking and stirring until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Stir in the chicken broth, tomato paste, chili powder and paprika; bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15 to 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

In another large saucepan, combine Ro-Tel and Velveeta over medium-low heat, stirring frequently until melted. To serve, scoop 1/4 of orzo onto a plate. Top with sliced chicken breast and queso. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 821, Calories from Fat: 322, Fat: 36 g (11 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 192 mg, Sodium: 3457 mg, Carbohydrates: 58 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 19 g, Protein: 67 g.

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Dine In: Lemon Pepper Chicken


Lemon Pepper ChickenWe eat a lot of red meat in my house, but today I’m craving chicken. Specifically, a lemony chicken.

I polled my friends on social media to find a great recipe, and many of them suggested chicken piccata, which I love. However, it contains capers, and I know two out of my four boys will not eat capers or any dish capers have touched. They clearly don’t know what they’re missing.

So, chicken piccata was out.

This recipe, which involves lightly breading the chicken breasts, seems like it would be a hit. I’m going to serve it tonight over noodles, and I’ll probably double the amount of sauce and serve with some warmed lemon halves for extra lemon flavor. (If you microwave your lemons for about 30 seconds, you’ll get more juice out of them.)

Steamed carrots with more lemon and sprinkled with some dill would be a delightful side dish.

Lemon Pepper Chicken

Ingredients:
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded to about 3/4-inch thick
1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 Tbs lemon pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
salt, to taste
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs butter
4 tsp lemon juice
1 Tbs parsley, chopped

Directions:
In a shallow bowl or pan, mix together flour, lemon pepper and salt.

Dredge the chicken breasts in the flour mixture, gently pressing mixture on to coat the chicken.

Heat the olive oil in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Add the garlic, and sauté for 1 minute.

Add the chicken; cook for 5 to 6 minutes per side until done. Remove the chicken to a plate, and tent with foil to keep warm.

Melt the butter in the pan drippings. Whisk in lemon juice; season with more salt, if necessary. Pour over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 345, Calories from Fat: 153, Fat: 17 g (6 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 111 mg, Sodium: 1000 mg, Potassium: 54 mg, Carbohydrates: 11 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 36 g.

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Dine In: Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Tacos


Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken TacosIt’s been eons since I’ve written about anything buffalo chicken. We all know that buffalo chicken is a food group, so it was time to rectify that omission.

When I get a craving for buffalo chicken, I become single-minded. It’s all I can think about.

It’s happening right now.

This recipe is fun because you can add as much or as little hot sauce as you want. Then, top it with a variety of things that may traditionally go on tacos or not. I only use a little hot sauce in the actual cooking process, as one son does not like anything “spicy.” I can just add more as a topping on my individual serving.

I like these with flour tortillas, but you can also use corn. I like sour cream, but my son will top his with ranch dressing. I also like to mince celery for a bit of a crunch. Cilantro is also a great complement to this taco. I love it with crumbled bleu cheese; other people in my family prefer cheddar.

These are fun for a Friday night at home!

Slow Cooker Buffalo Chicken Tacos

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs chicken breasts
8 oz Frank’s Hot Wing Buffalo Sauce
1 tsp minced garlic
1 pkg dry ranch salad dressing mix

Directions:
Spray the liner of your slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Place chicken in crock. In a small bowl, whisk hot sauce, garlic and ranch dressing mix. Pour over chicken. Cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.

Remove chicken from slow cooker; shred with a fork. Add chicken back to slow cooker. Stir until blended with juices.

Using a slotted spoon, scoop chicken onto tacos. Top with cheese, sour cream, avocado and other toppings of choice.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 335, Calories from Fat: 116, Fat: 13 g (4 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 151 mg, Sodium: 1725 mg, Carbohydrates: 2 g, Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 50 g.

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Dine In: Slow Cooker Stuffed Pepper Soup


Slow Cooker Stuffed Pepper SoupI want it to be cold.

I want it to be cold and crisp. I want to make a fire in my chiminea and enjoy a bowl of hot, steaming soup on the back porch next Friday night.

Instead, as I write this, it’s well over 70 degrees with 98 percent humidity, and it’s winter! It’s WINTER, Mother Nature, did you not get the memo?

Anyone who lives in the South knows that those cold, crisp evenings are not to be taken for granted. I feel like they’re few and far between most years, this year included.

Luckily, you don’t need cold weather to enjoy a hearty bowl of soup. As I scanned back over the blogs from the past few weeks, I noted that I’ve submitted several soup recipes. I guess I’ve been wishing for a cold night for a while, then resorting to making due with turning the air conditioner down a few degrees and making the soup anyway.

Maybe next Friday night will actually be colder.

Slow Cooker Stuffed Pepper Soup

Ingredients:
1 lb extra-lean ground beef
1 cup onions, diced
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes with green peppers and onions
2 cups green peppers, chopped
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
3 cups beef stock
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 cup white rice, cooked

Directions:
Brown beef and onions in a heavy skillet. Drain fat; transfer to crockery of a slow cooker. Add tomatoes and the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours or on high for 5 to 6 hours.

Serves 5

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 368, Calories from Fat: 58, Fat: 7 g (2 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 81 mg, Sodium: 1148 mg, Potassium: 868 mg, Carbohydrates: 42 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 8 g, Protein: 34 g.

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Dine In: Champagne Risotto


Champagne RisottoIn 48 hours, we’ll be welcoming a new year, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait until then to celebrate.
With New Year’s Eve EVE falling on a Friday this year, you can get the party started early.

I think the first time I ever made risotto was actually on New Year’s Eve way back in the ‘90s or, as my kids say, “last century.” They love saying that. I don’t find it as amusing.

Back to the story. My good friend and upstairs neighbor, Susan, and I decided we were going to make a meal that would make all other meals from all year pale in comparison.

We were going to roast a prime rib, dress a microgreen salad with a champagne vinaigrette and make a champagne risotto. Clearly our theme was “champagne.”

The problem was that neither of us has ever made any of those dishes, aside from maybe a vinaigrette. That was no deterrent. Out came the cookbooks. We shopped at the butcher down the street for the meat. We purchased a meat thermometer. We bought bottles of good champagne to drink as well as to use in our cooking. We were ready.

I have to admit that the prime rib didn’t turn out so well. We should have paid a little more attention to the thermometer as the meat got way too overcooked while we were stirring the risotto.

The risotto, however, turned out perfectly, and I’ve made it frequently for holidays or meals when I needed a serious WOW factor ever since.

Champagne Risotto

Ingredients:
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbs butter
1/2 yellow onion, minced
1 Tbs garlic, minced
1 1/2 cups arborio rice
3 cups champagne, divided
3 cups chicken broth
2 cups water
1 cup finely shredded parmesan cheese (shred the cheese yourself, from a block)
kosher salt, to taste
parmesan curls and fresh thyme leaves, for garnish

Directions:
In a large, heavy stockpot, swirl the olive oil and butter; melt together over medium-low heat. When the oil is fragrant and the butter begins to bubble, add the onions and sprinkle with salt. Cook over medium-low heat until the onion is soft. Add the garlic, and stir for 1 minute. Pour in the rice, stirring and cooking for about 4 minutes.

Add in 1 cup champagne to deglaze the pan. Turn heat to medium, and stir the rice constantly as it absorbs the liquid. Cook until almost all the liquid is absorbed. Add the second cup of champagne and follow the same procedure. Repeat with the third cup.

Add the chicken broth in the same way, a cup at a time, stirring and cooking until the vast majority of the liquid is absorbed.

If your rice is too firm, add two cups of water, one at a time; stir until the rice is cooked al dente and all the liquid is creamy.

Right before serving, turn heat to low; stir in the cheese and salt. Serve immediately with curls of parmesan cheese and fresh thyme leaves.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 713, Calories from Fat: 238, Fat: 26 g (13 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 56 mg, Sodium: 1148 mg, Potassium: 267 mg, Carbohydrates: 62 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 27 g.

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