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Dine In: Slow Cooker Cranberry Apple Cider


Slow Cooker Cranberry Apple CiderFall is the time for porch parties, fires in the chiminea and cooking out under the stars!

I’ve prided myself on learning how to build a fire in my chiminea near the back porch without having to use lighter fluid to get it started because lighter fluid is yuck. I really don’t want it stored in my garage, and I really don’t want to smell the fumes, however short-lived, in my fire.

I feel kind of like the Girl Scout I never was. Do Girl Scouts learn to build fires? I don’t know, but it’s probably a skill everyone should have. You never know when you’re going to be stranded and need to stay warm. Forget this is the South. Pretend you are camping. Or without electricity for days at a time (that happens in hurricane season). Or just learn to build a fire so you can enjoy the ambiance on your back porch on a Friday night after a long week.

I use pinion wood. It smells SO GOOD. Why does no one make a pinion wood candle, I wonder? Probably because you can get the scent from the aforementioned fire in the fire pit on your back porch. The wood needs to be super dry. I stack it on its end, forming a “tent” with the logs. Inside the tent, I pile my kindling and my super-secret fire starter. OK, so my super-secret fire starter is a cardboard toilet paper tube stuffed tightly with lint from the dryer. Yes, really. It is an amazing fire starter. Thank you, Pinterest.

Then, I light it. Voila! It creates a beautiful fire for a cozy porch party.

While relaxing on the porch, you need something to sip.

This is a great fall beverage you can prepare ahead of time, so it’s ready to sip when you’re ready to sit.

Slow Cooker Cranberry Apple Cider

Ingredients:
1 liter pure unsweetened apple juice
2 cups pure unsweetened orange juice
1 liter unsweetened cranberry juice
1/2 cup sugar, stevia, honey or other sweetener (to taste)
3 whole cinnamon sticks
1/8 tsp ground cloves

Directions:
Pour all juices into the crockery of the slow cooker. Stir in sweetener, cinnamon sticks and cloves.

Cook on low for 3 to 4 hours.

Serve with skewers of oranges and cranberries.

Serves 8

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 166, Calories from Fat: 2, Fat: 0 g (0 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 0 mg, Sodium: 5 mg, Carbohydrates: 40 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 34 g, Protein: 1 g.

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Dine In: Baked Parmesan-Garlic Salmon


Baked Parmesan-Garlic SalmonI love finding new ways to eat salmon. I mean, it’s hard to beat my favorite salmon recipe, which is grilling it with dill, salt, pepper and a sprinkle of lemon juice. However, this method might be a tie for favorite.

It reminds me of being at the beach, and we all know that anything beach-related is good, even though we just celebrated the first day of fall.

The butter in this recipe keeps the fish moist, and the garlic and parmesan add a rich flavor. As always, you do NOT want to overcook the fish, so stay on the lower side of the cooking times. You can always put it back in the oven if you need to.

Date night will be a breeze with this simple recipe. Some roasted asparagus and a salad would be a great accompaniment.

Baked Parmesan-Garlic Salmon

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs salmon
3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs lemon juice
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbs parmesan cheese, grated
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
2 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375° F. While the oven is heating, cut a piece of aluminum foil long enough to wrap around the salmon and form a packet.

Melt the butter. Add lemon juice, garlic, parmesan cheese, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper.

Place the salmon skin-side down on the foil, and brush liberally with butter mixture. Top with fresh parsley. Fold the foil around salmon, sealing well.

Bake for 13 to 15 minutes. Vent the top of the foil, and broil for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the oven. Plate the salmon, and sprinkle with additional fresh parsley or parmesan, if desired. Serve immediately.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 308, Fat: 19 g (7 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 98 mg, Sodium: 429 mg, Carbohydrates: 1 g, Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 0 g, Protein: 33 g.

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Dine In: Date Night Asiago Asparagus


Date Night Asiago AsparagusI love asparagus, but my significant other, not so much.

So, when I was dying to have it as a side dish recently alongside a hunk of burning (ie, grilled) meat, he was kind enough to say he’d make it for ME, and could we please have a salad, too?

Well, I decided to try to change his mind about asparagus. While I generally just steam it, this roasted version is amazing.

Of course, what’s not to like about a dish with cheese and bacon, when it comes right down to it? Don’t overcook these veggies; the asparagus should still be crisp-tender when it comes out of the oven.

You can always prepare this in advance, and roast the asparagus while the meat is grilling.

Date Night Asiago Asparagus

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lbs asparagus, trimmed
2 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup Asiago cheese, grated
4 slices bacon, cooked, drained of fat and chopped

Directions:
Preheat oven to 425° F. Place asparagus in a large, greased casserole dish. Toss with olive oil, and then sprinkle with salt, pepper and minced garlic. Toss to coat thoroughly. Roast, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Remove from the oven. Sprinkle half of grated cheese all over asparagus. Then, add chopped bacon, and top with more cheese. Roast for 10 more minutes.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 454, Calories from Fat: 318, Fat: 35 g (15 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 82 mg, Sodium: 1347 mg, Carbohydrates: 8 g, Fiber: 4 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 29 g.

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Dine In: Date Night Greek Lemon Chicken


Date Night Greek Lemon ChickenWhen Friday nights don’t involve football or driving the Mom taxi, I love a date night dish that can be prepared in one pan.

This Greek chicken is bursting with flavor, is healthy and good for you, and comes together in just a few minutes. Definitely marinate this overnight to let the lemon permeate the chicken. It’s so delicious that way. You can marinate the chicken as you’re preparing the rest of the meal, but the flavor is more intense if you do it overnight.

You can buy cauliflower already riced and packaged. It’ll be near the prepared bags of salad in your store, or you can buy a head of cauliflower and pulse it in your food processor. It’s that simple. You can also skip the cauliflower entirely and serve this with a side of orzo.

Date Night Greek Lemon Chicken

Ingredients:
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs (about 1 1/2 lbs)
juice of 1/2 lemon
2 Tbs olive oil
1 1/2 Tbs Greek seasoning
1 tsp salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup white onion, diced
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 (14 oz) can artichoke hearts
12 oz cauliflower rice
1/2 lemon, sliced

Directions:
Whisk together lemon juice, olive oil, Greek seasoning and salt in a small bowl. Pour into a gallon-sized, zip-top plastic bag. Then, place chicken in the bag. Marinate in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour, preferably overnight.

When it’s time to eat, heat a cast-iron skillet over high heat. Sear the chicken, skin-side down, for 5 to 6 minutes without moving. Flip the chicken, reduce heat to medium-high, and continue to cook for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cooked through and juices run clear. Remove to a plate.

Lower the heat to medium. Add the garlic and onion, and sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and artichokes, stirring frequently. Add the cauliflower rice; cook for 5 minutes. Add the lemon slices, chicken and any juices from the chicken. Heat through and serve immediately.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 477, Calories from Fat: 181, Fat: 20 g (5 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 151 mg, Sodium: 1027 mg, Carbohydrates: 21 g, Fiber: 8 g, Sugar: 5 g, Protein: 55 g.

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Dine In: Power-Packed Pasta


Power-Packed PastaMy sons are both running competitive cross country this year with their respective schools, and I couldn’t be more excited for the change in pace from the Saturday soccer games we’ve (gladly) attended for the past 10 years.

Their first meet is coming up, and we’re going to be prepared by carb-loading the night before, for energy, because it never seems like teenage boys have enough fuel to get them through the day, let alone an athletic event.

For the night before a race, a cross country runner should eat a meal high in carbs and moderate in fat and protein. They should also drink a lot of water, or “camel up” as the saying goes.

Since our meets are on Saturdays, Friday nights are the perfect time for a power-packed meal.

Power-Packed Pasta (i.e. Spaghetti and Meatballs)

Ingredients:
1 lb whole-grain spaghetti

Meatballs:
1 lb lean ground beef
2 Tbs whole milk
2 Tbs parmesan cheese, grated
2 Tbs panko breadcrumbs
1 Tbs parsley, chopped
1 Tbs dried oregano

Sauce:
1 white onion, diced
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 (48 oz) can tomato sauce
2 (14.5 oz) cans fire-roasted tomatoes, diced
1 (4 oz) can tomato paste
fresh parsley, oregano and basil, to taste
1 tsp crushed red pepper
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Directions:
Start your sauce first. Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. When it starts to become fragrant and shimmers, sauté onions until translucent. Add garlic, and stir for 1 more minute. Add tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, tomato paste and all spices. Stir together. Bring to a boil, and then turn heat to medium-low to let simmer.

While your sauce is simmering, prepare the meatballs. Preheat oven to 400° F. In a small bowl, combine milk and breadcrumbs. In a large bowl, place ground beef, cheese and spices. Add in moistened breadcrumbs. Mix thoroughly. Shape into balls, about 2 inches in diameter. Bake at 400° F until cooked through, about 10 minutes. Add meatballs to sauce immediately.

Bring a large stock pot of water to a rolling boil. Add whole-grain spaghetti; cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain well. Serve with sauce and meatballs, with a side salad and garlic bread.

Serves 6

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 524, Fat: 12 g (3 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 123 mg, Sodium: 1616 mg, Carbohydrates: 69 g, Fiber: 7 g, Sugar: 17 g, Protein: 38 g.

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Dine In: First Week of School Slow Cooker Chicken Soup


First Week of School Slow Cooker Chicken SoupThe first week of school did me in.

Phew.

Between wrangling school supplies, gym clothes, homework, backpacks, instruments, equipment and early mornings, I’m done with a capital “D.” Done.

It was imperative that I serve an easy but healthy meal to cap off the first week of school.

This chicken soup fit the bill perfectly. It slow cooks all day, so you don’t have to wrangle dinner, on top of everything else Friday afternoon. It’s also Paleo, low-fat and full of flavor. Don’t skip the bones or the skin; they add flavor and nutrients to the soup. If you can make a clean cut, you can even cut through the bone with a cleaver (like I said, clean cut so there’s no shards in your soup), so the bone marrow can leach into your soup and infuse it with flavor and health benefits.

It’s a great meal for a Friday night or any school night.

First Week of School Slow Cooker Chicken Soup

Ingredients:
1 medium onion, chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
3 carrots, diced
1 tsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbs basil
1 Tbs oregano
2 organic chicken breasts, bone-in and skin-on
2 organic chicken thighs, bone-in and skin-on
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 cups filtered water

Directions:
Layer onions, celery, carrots and chicken in the slow cooker, ensuring chicken is bone-side down on top of the vegetables. Sprinkle with spices and apple cider vinegar. Add water to cover the vegetables, and come up to the midway point of the chicken, between 3 to 4 cups.

Cook on low for 8 hours.

Remove the chicken from the slow cooker. Remove meat; discard skin and bones. Shred the chicken meat, and add back to the slow cooker.

Add more seasoning, if desired; heat through and serve.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 462, Calories from Fat: 153, Fat: 17 g (5 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 202 mg, Sodium: 704 mg, Carbohydrates: 7 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 67 g.

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Dine In: Buffalo Chicken Casserole


Buffalo Chicken CasseroleSometimes, I need a buffalo chicken fix like nobody’s business.

It happened not too long ago on a Friday night when my kids weren’t home. My sweetie and I had the option to go to a nice restaurant for an adult meal at a place where there were no video games or TVs playing sports, where they put wine glasses on the table, and where they don’t hand you a roll of paper towels to clean your hands.

Did we do that? No.

“Um, can we go get wings?” I asked.

Wings it was; my sweetie is quite accommodating that way. I pile-drived through a basket of spicy buffalo wings, and I don’t even think I came up for air. Yes, there was a roll of paper towels on the table.

When I saw this recipe, I knew I was going to pile-drive through it, too. It’s a super fun recipe for a Friday night, and who doesn’t love fun on Friday? I know I do!

You can adjust the heat in this recipe; I tend to make it hotter.

Buffalo Chicken Casserole

Ingredients:
6 small chicken thighs
6 slices bacon
3 medium jalapeños, seeded and pithed
12 oz cream cheese
1/4 cup mayonnaise
4 oz cheddar cheese, shredded
2 oz mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4 cup Frank’s Red Hot Sauce
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 400° F. Debone chicken thighs, and season with salt and pepper. Bake chicken thighs at 400° F for 40 minutes or until cooked through.

Chop up bacon slices, and cook until crisp. Just before the end of cooking, add jalapeños to the pan; cook until soft. Drain fat.

Return the pan to the stove (turn off heat). Add cream cheese, mayonnaise and hot sauce. Mix together until smooth.

When chicken is cool to the touch, remove skins. Place in a casserole dish, and top with cream cheese mixture. Then, add a layer of cheddar and mozzarella cheeses. Return to 400° F oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, until cheese is slightly browned and bubbly.

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 711, Fat: 462 g (24 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 222 mg, Sodium: 1165 mg, Carbohydrates: 5 g, Fiber: 0 g, Sugar: 1 g, Protein: 55 g.

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Dine In: Stuffed Mushrooms


Stuffed MushroomsOn some Friday nights, I just don’t feel like cooking an elaborate meal, but luckily “appetizer night” always works well in my house.

These stuffed mushrooms are always one of my favorites. You can also vary this recipe easily, swapping out sausage for bacon or red onions for green onions, or adding hot sauce, bleu cheese and a variety of other ingredients.

They cook up quickly in the oven, and they are great with a meat and cheese board, an antipasto platter or just by themselves.

Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients:
8 oz large button mushrooms, stems removed and brushed clean
4 oz cream cheese
4 oz bacon, cooked crisply and crumbled
4 Tbs green onions, chopped
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
Combine the cream cheese, bacon, green onions, and salt and pepper.

Remove stems from mushrooms and brush clean. You might need to scoop out some of the mushroom gills if the caps aren’t big enough to hold the filling. Place a heaping tablespoon of filling in each mushroom.

Preheat oven to 375° F. Place mushrooms on a baking sheet, and bake for approximately 20 minutes. Serve warm.

Serves 4

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 266, Calories from Fat: 197, Fat: 22 g (10 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 62 mg, Sodium: 743 mg, Carbohydrates: 4 g, Fiber: 1 g, Sugar: 2 g, Protein: 15 g.

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Dine In: Chili Hot Dog Bake


Chili Hot Dog BakeI’m trying to eat a low-carb diet.

This isn’t always easy.

Case in point, my family went out to dinner last night to a local pizza place where the crust is sublime. Best crust ever. Do you know how hard it is to scrape the pepperoni and cheese off your pizza and abandon the crust at the side of your plate? It’s excruciating.

So is eating a salad when your family is pile-driving pizza.

It’s been worth it, though. I’m getting my weight back to a healthy level, and I’m eating a ton more veggies because veggies are good carbs, if you didn’t already know.

One of the things that helps with a low-carb diet is eating more fat. Now, this sounds counterintuitive. Eat fat to lose fat, but it actually helps you stay full longer, so you don’t eat as much or snack as often.

This recipe has a lot of protein and fats to give you energy and to keep you full. Use a hot dog like Hebrew National, made with a lot of great ingredients, to make this recipe a little “cleaner.”

This comes together quickly on a Friday night, and you can serve it topped with some extra diced onions.

Hold the mustard.

Chili Hot Dog Bake

Ingredients:
1 lb ground beef
1 cup onions, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp celery salt
1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 cup tomato sauce
1 Tbs tomato paste
1 cup water
8 all-beef hot dogs, sliced lengthwise and cut in half
1 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

Directions:
Combine the ground beef, onions, bell peppers and garlic in a large cast-iron skillet. Sauté until beef is browned. Drain the fat.

Add in the spices, Worcestershire sauce, tomato sauce, tomato paste and water. Stir to combine, and simmer for about 30 minutes.

Lay hot dogs in the bottom of a casserole dish. Top with the chili mixture. Top with cheese. Bake at 400° F for 15 to 20 minutes or until hot and bubbly.

Serves 6

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 440, Calories from Fat: 255, Fat: 28 g (13 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 118 mg, Sodium: 1447 mg, Carbohydrates: 10 g, Fiber: 2 g, Sugar: 6 g, Protein: 35 g.

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Dine In: Meatball Bundles


Meatball Bundles‘Twas the night before vacation, and since we were getting up at 3am to catch an early flight out of Texas, dinner had to be quick and easy, and we couldn’t leave any leftovers sitting in the refrigerator because ain’t nobody got time to clean fuzzy food out of a refrigerator when they get home from vacation. Not to mention, while we were on last year’s vacation, my air conditioner stopped working, so we were dealing with that when we got home. The year before, the power had gone out in the house for almost a day, so ALL the contents of the refrigerator had to be relocated to the large, green can outside. That’s not a pleasant way to come home from vacation.

Anyway, dinner the night before vacation has to be easy, and it has to be eaten in its entirety.

This recipe is just the thing. I guarantee you that there won’t be a crumb leftover.

Meatball Bundles

Ingredients:
12 oz can Pillsbury Homestyle Butter Tastin’ Refrigerated Biscuits
8 large precooked Italian-style meatballs
1 cup marinara sauce
1 cup mozzarella cheese, shredded
4 Tbs butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions:
Preheat oven to 350° F, and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray liberally with nonstick cooking spray. Warm meatballs in microwave until lukewarm, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Remove biscuits from can, and flatten each into a 4-inch round.
Spread each round with a heaping tablespoon of marinara. Top with about 2 tablespoons cheese, and then place a meatball on top. Wrap the dough around the meatball mixture; press edges together to seal.

Place seam-side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with all biscuits and meatballs.

In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter, garlic, Italian seasoning, salt and pepper. Drizzle on top of each biscuit. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes or until golden-brown. Serve immediately with more marinara for dipping, if desired.

Makes 8

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 505, Fat: 32 g (12 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 71 mg, Sodium: 1242 mg, Carbohydrates: 34 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 6 g, Protein: 28 g.

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