Monday, October 15, 2012

We all have favorite dinners that remind us of home. These recipes may not be fancy, but they have become family traditions. Each evening as a child, I would ask my mom, “What’s for dinner?” I was less than pleased when she said leftovers, but always thrilled when it was one of my favorites. My mom usually reserved my personal favorites like beef stew, chicken cacciatore, turkey tetrazzini, and beef stroganoff for Sunday dinner when my uncle, Jim Wilson, would come over to eat with us. We would gather together to eat on our back porch or at the round table in front of the fireplace in the family room.

If your dinners are lacking inspiration, try something new. Who knows? Maybe you’ll start a new tradition.

Carolina Pulled Pork Sandwiches

Instead of sloppy joes serve zesty pulled pork sandwiches. This meal is perfect for busy days when all you have time to do is turn on your crock pot.

Several years ago, there was a restaurant in Clive that served a triple-decker club sandwich. In between the meat and cheese there was a layer of potato salad and a layer of coleslaw. My husband, Danny, loved that sandwich and still talks about it. For now, a pork sandwich topped with coleslaw will have to do.

1 onion, chopped (1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 lbs boneless pork butter shoulder roast
1 tablespoon dry fajita seasoning
2/3 cup ketchup
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/3 cup cornstarch
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
12 hamburger buns, split
2 cups prepared coleslaw
Place onion and garlic on bottom of 3-quart slow cooker. Top with pork, sprinkle with seasoning. In a small bowl, whisk together ketchup, brown sugar, cornstarch, vinegar, and salt until smooth. Pour over pork. Cover; cook 10-12 hours on low.

Transfer pork to plate, reserving sauce in slow cooker, cool slightly. Using two fork, shred pork into bite-sized pieces; stir back into sauce. Fill buns with pork mixture, dividing evenly, top with coleslaw.

*Don’t peek! Every time you lift the lid of your slow cooker, you lose a whopping 20 minutes of cooking time.

Four Cheese Mac with Bacon

Instead of spaghetti try macaroni and cheese with the volume turned up. Our 4½-year-old, Kellan, loves noodles and cavatappi, spiral tube shaped pasta, makes it even more fun.

1 box (1 lb) cavatappi
6 slices bacon, diced
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups 2% milk
1/2 teaspoon onion flakes
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 pound sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup shredded Colby Jack cheese (4 oz)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (4 oz)
8 slices Kraft Deli Deluxe American cheese (6 oz)

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 3-quart broiler-safe baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to boiling. Cook cavatappi 8 minutes in boiling water, then drain. Meanwhile, in medium-sized saucepan, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp, 6 minutes. Transfer to paper towels. Carefully pour off drippings, returning 2 tablespoons to pan. Add butter. Whisk in flour until smooth. In a thin stream, whisk in milk. Stir in onion flakes, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes. In large bowl, toss together cheddar, Colby Jack and mozzarella. Remove milk mixture from heat; whisk in American cheese and 1¼ cups of the cheddar mixture. Toss bacon pieces with remaining shredded cheese.

In pasta pot, combine cooked pasta and cheese sauce. Pour half into prepared dish. Sprinkle with a generous cup of the bacon-cheese mixture. Repeat layering. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Increase oven temperature to broil and broil 3 minutes, until top is lightly browned. Cool slightly before serving.

Reuben Casserole

Instead of grilled cheese sandwiches, try a warm, cheesy casserole with all the flavors of my favorite sandwich. My oldest brother, Doug, got me started on reubens at a young age. When I was in college in Iowa City, my favorite lunch between class was a reuben sandwich and a cup of New England clam chowder.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 medium onion, halved and sliced
1 (14½ oz) can sauerkraut, drained
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 cup dry white wine
1½ lbs all-purpose potatoes
1 (14 oz) pkg light or turkey kielbasa, sliced on the diagonal
1 (8 oz) bag shredded Swiss cheese
2 teaspoons cornstarch

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 10 x 10 x 2-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Melt butter in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer to a bowl with a slotted spoon. Stir sauerkraut and caraway seeds into onion and toss to mix. Return skillet to heat and add wine. Heat through for 1 minute. Thinly slice potatoes with a food processor, V-slicer or mandoline. Begin layering: Spread a layer of potatoes (1/3 of the slices) on the bottom of prepared dish, overlapping slightly. Top with half of the sauerkraut mixture and half of the kielbasa.

In a medium bowl, toss Swiss cheese with cornstarch. Pour half of the wine over the kielbasa, then top with half the cheese. Add a second layer of potatoes, and the remaining sauerkraut and kielbasa. Pour remaining wine over kielbasa, then fan remaining potatoes over kielbasa. Sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Coat a sheet of foil with nonstick spray and cover dish. Bake covered at 375 degrees for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender.

Slow-Cooked Moroccan Chicken

Instead of traditional pot roast, throw together a more exotic dinner for your Sunday meal. The flavors are something a little different for you and your family to enjoy.

medium onion, coarsely chopped (about a ½ cup)
8 oz baby carrots with tops, trimmed, or baby carrots, halved lengthwise if large
½ cup pitted dried plums (prunes)
1 (14 oz) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
8 bone-in chicken thighs, skinned
1 ¼ teaspoons curry powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
In a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker combine onion and carrots. Add plums and broth. Top with chicken. In a small bowl combine curry powder, salt, and cinnamon. Sprinkle over chicken. Cover and cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 4 to 5 hours. Remove chicken, fruit, and vegetables from cooker with a slotted spoon. Spoon some of the cooking juices on each serving.

Makes 4 servings.

Shrimp Scampi Bake

Instead of chicken and rice make something a bit more sophisticated. Shrimp Scampi is one of my most favorite dishes. Shrimp, white wine and garlic served over rice in individual dishes are sure to please.

1 cup uncooked white rice
½ teaspoon salt
1 (9 oz) pkg frozen asparagus cuts, thawed (or fresh, slightly steamed)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1 pound fresh or frozen cleaned shrimp, thawed if frozen
pinch of black pepper
2 tablespoons seasoned dry bread crumbs

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Coat four 16-oz baking dishes (or one 2-quart dish) with nonstick cooking spray. In a medium saucepan, combine rice, 2¼ cups water and ¼ teaspoon of the salt. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover and reduce heat to medium-low. Cook 20 minutes. Uncover and stir in asparagus pieces. Cover and set aside. Melt butter in medium saucepan over medium heat. Add garlic and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk wine, lemon juice and cornstarch together in a measuring cup or bowl. Add to saucepan and cook 2 minutes, until thickened and bubbly. Stir in shrimp, remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and the pepper. Remove from heat.

Divide rice mixture among prepared dishes. Top with shrimp mixture. Sprinkle each dish with 1/2 tablespoon of the bread crumbs. Spritz bread crumbs with nonstick spray. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until shrimp are pink and cooked through.
Makes 4 servings.