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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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Dine In: Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup


Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup ‘Twas two days before Christmas and all through the house, not a creature was stirring, except Mom and Dad who were racing around frantically to try to create the perfect Christmas for their family.

Slow down tonight and serve a simple supper that will pave the way for the feasting to come.

This soup is perfect for chillier temperatures. It’s super thick and creamy but without all the added fat (you can save those calories for cookies over the next few days).

Prep this soup for Christmas Eve EVE, and enjoy the evening together by the fireplace. Take a deep breath before the hustle and bustle kicks into high gear.

Broccoli Cheddar Cheese Soup

Ingredients:
5 cups broccoli florets, chopped
1 cup carrots, grated
1 medium yellow onion, finely diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 oz reduced fat cream cheese (do not use fat-free)
1 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp nutmeg, freshly grated
2 1/2 cups reduced sodium chicken or vegetable stock
1 (12 oz) can 2% evaporated milk
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 (8 oz) block sharp cheddar cheese, grated

Directions:
Spray the liner of a slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Place broccoli, carrots, onions and garlic into the bottom of the liner. Top with cream cheese, oregano, nutmeg and chicken stock. Cover; cook on high for 2 hours or low for 4 to 6 hours.

Stir in evaporated milk.

Using an immersion blender or food processor, puree about 3/4 of the soup until it’s creamy.

Stir together back in the slow cooker, and cook 10 more minutes or until warmed through. Stir in salt, pepper and grated cheese. Cook an additional 10 to 15 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Serves 6

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 306, Calories from Fat: 176, Fat: 20 g (12 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 64 mg, Sodium: 893 mg, Carbohydrates: 17 g, Fiber: 3 g, Sugar: 10 g, Protein: 17 g.

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Dine In: Creamy Tortellini Ham Soup


Creamy Tortellini Ham SoupSo, you just cooked that fabulous Brookshire’s or Hormel sliced ham for your holiday meal (see December 14 entry). Now, it’s time to enjoy the leftovers!

I love leftover ham, better than leftover turkey or any other holiday main course actually. Ham retains its moisture and its flavor, and it’s so easy for leftovers.

You could make leftover ham sandwiches (on a King’s Hawaiian sandwich roll), or you could enjoy this fabulous, hearty soup!

Add some beans and tortellini, and you have a complete meal on a chilly winter’s night, without having to leave the comfort of your own fireplace.

Creamy Tortellini Ham Soup

Ingredients:
3 Tbs butter
2 Tbs olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
2 carrots, thinly sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 cup flour
6 cups low-sodium chicken broth, divided
2 Tbs cornstarch
2 cups ham, cooked and cubed
15 oz can Great Northern beans, rinsed and rained
1 Tbs Dijon mustard
2 bay leaves
1 Tbs chicken bouillon
1 tsp dried parsley (or 1 Tbs fresh)
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
1 lb refrigerated cheese tortellini, uncooked
2 to 3 cups half-and-half

Directions:
Melt butter and olive oil in large stockpot over medium-high heat. Add onions; sauté for about 2 minutes. Add carrots and celery; cook for 3 more minutes , stirring occasionally. Add garlic and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in flour. Cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes or until thick.

Heat chicken broth in microwave for about 2 minutes or until warm. Gradually stir 5 1/2 cups broth into vegetables. Whisk 2 tablespoons cornstarch into remaining 1/2 cup broth, and stir into soup. Stir in ham, beans, mustard, bay leaves, bouillon, and all the remaining herbs and spices.

Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to a simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, or until carrots and celery are tender.

Add tortellini. Boil for 1 to 2 minutes, or until cooked through and floating on the surface.

Stir in half-and-half; do not boil.

Garnish with parmesan cheese and serve immediately.

Serves 6 to 8

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 718, Calories from Fat: 236, Fat: 26 g (10 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 74 mg, Sodium: 1481 mg, Potassium: 1313 mg, Carbohydrates: 87 g, Fiber: 14 g, Sugar: 3 g, Protein: 35 g.

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Dine In: Spinach-Stuffed Chicken Breasts


Spinach-Stuffed Chicken BreastsBack in my single days, my friends and I would go out to eat on Friday nights, and we’d almost always get an appetizer of bubbling, warm, cheesy spinach dip with pita chips.

We’d talk and laugh and eat so much spinach dip that we often weren’t hungry for dinner after we finished.

I still love to go out on Friday nights, but I also love to stay home, especially this time of year when the stores, restaurants and roads are packed to overflowing, and you sometimes wait as long for your meal, or to get a table, as it would just to make the same thing at home.

I tried to come up with something recently that would channel the flavors of the spinach dip that I loved in a date night dish that would be perfect for a Friday night at home.

Spinach-Stuffed Chicken Breasts

Ingredients:
2 chicken breasts, about 3/4 lb
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup fresh baby spinach
2 Tbs parsley, chopped
1/2 cup ricotta cheese
1/4 cup Italian cheese blend
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbs olive oil
16 oz jar marinara sauce, or homemade
parmesan cheese

Directions:
Preheat oven to 375° F. Heat olive oil in a large skillet on medium heat until shimmery and fragrant.

Add spinach and parsley; sauté for 2 minutes. Add garlic; cook until spinach is wilted. Set aside.

Cut the chicken breasts lengthwise halfway through until they open like a book. Pound until each is about 1/4 inch thick. In a small bowl, mix together ricotta, Italian cheese blend and spinach mixture; add salt and pepper.

Spoon mixture onto the middle of the flat chicken breasts and roll, securing with a toothpick.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the skillet until shimmery and fragrant. Brown chicken on all sides. Place in oven, and cook for 35 minutes. Pour marinara sauce over the chicken, and cook for another 10 minutes. Top with parmesan cheese, and broil for 3 minutes. Serve immediately.

Serves 2

Nutritional Information: Calories Per Serving: 843, Calories from Fat: 406, Fat: 45 g (14 g Saturated Fat), Cholesterol: 190 mg, Sodium: 1339 mg, Carbohydrates: 39 g, Fiber: 7 g, Sugar: 20 g, Protein: 69 g.

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