Chicken: Barbecued Herb-Mustard Chicken
In the late 1980s my mother in law introduced me to this recipe from Sunset magazine. She made it frequently for family get-togethers and Brian and I continue to make it on a regular basis. In fact, when I make it, I quadruple the recipe and fill up the freezer for easy-to-make meals at a later date.
Something else I should mention, is that it's worth trying even if you don't like mustard. I HATE mustard. Hate it. I don't even scrape it off of things...I simply won't eat mustard-y foods. Yet I LOVE this recipe. And speaking of mustard, the type/brand of mustard you use does matter. I've mentioned two easy-to-find national brands that work well with this. But I've had it with other mustards and it's just not the same.
Beef: Marinated Flank Steak
This recipe really needs a better name because "marinated" doesn't describe the soy-ginger-garlicy goodness that leaves you drooling. There are many similar marinades out there with different names, and I'm sure they're all good. But I have no need to even try them because this one is so damn good. And while the title says "flank" steak, it also works well with sirloins. The flank is best, but for the budget dinners, it does wonders to a cheap sirloin.
Make sure to use fresh ingredients...onions, ginger, garlic. None of that dried stuff, please.
Pie: Old-Fashioned Apple Pie
This recipe came from the McCalls cookbook we got for a wedding gift 21 years ago. I've been making it ever since. You can pretty much count on it for Thanksgiving and Christmas at my house. Even if I make another pie, I still make the apple. It's not a holiday meal without my apple pie. When we have benefit pie auctions, my apple pie brings in a solid bid each time. What can be better than that? Pies for charity!!
When I first began making this I used the Pilsbury refrigerated pie crusts. Now I make my own crust, but if you're looking for a short-cut, get the Pilsbury crusts.
Cake: Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
Incredibly moist carrot cake and the creamiest cream cheese frosting ever. Make sure you thaw out the cream cheese before mixing so it's not lumpy. Since the shredded carrots are the most time-consuming part of this recipe, I've found a short-cut: I buy a bag of carrots and shred all of them in the food processor (using the fine shredding blade). Then I bag them up in 4 cup servings, and freeze them! I usually have a few bags of shredded carrots in my freezer. When I need (or want!) to make this cake it's super easy to grab a bag of carrots...you don't even need to defrost them...just dump them in the mixing bowl.
Stir-Fry: Kung Pao Chicken
This is another recipe we've been making for 20 some years. The only downside is that I haven't found a way to freeze parts of it for a make ahead meal....something to work on this summer! Anyway, I just love the flavors in this sauce...so much better than any jarred/premade sauces you can pick up at the grocery store. And, you can add just about any veggie to make it to your liking. Shrimp or tofu is easily added or substituted for the chicken too.
Cookies: Van's Chocolate Chip Cookies
The first thing you may notice is that these aren't so chocolate-y. Don't let that stop you. I'm not a fan of a lot of chocolate, and prefer to use about half the recommend chocolate chips in my cookies. The linked recipe will give you a generous amount of chocolate!
This recipe comes from a woman named Van, whom I met when we lived in Indiana. These were the first home-made chocolate chip cookies that I fell in love with. They just always turn out perfectly. Van said the key was the Fleishmann's margarine and the Gold Medal brand flour. I don't mess with perfection, so I always make them as she did.
Pudding: Rice Pudding
The ultimate comfort food. This version is baked in a water bath, leaving a creamy rice mixture on the bottom with custard on top. Soooooooooo good!!
Pasta: Baked Macaroni and Cheese
This is one of my newer favorites, as I've only been making it for 5 years. I love the creaminess. Cook's Illustrated insists it's because of the colby cheese...which I've had difficulty finding at times. It seems it used to be more readily available, but now I just find colby-jack, which is not what you want. So go on a colby hunt. It's worth it!
Another plus....it's just as easy to quadruple the recipe and make up a bunch of pans to freeze. I LOVE having this on hand in the freezer for some quick comfort food. When someone's in need and meals are being arranged, I can always volunteer immediately because this is stocked in my freezer. It's kid-family friendly, vegetarian, and not spicy...all great pluses when you're cooking for someone recovering from an illness.
Alcoholic Beverage: Minty Mojitos
Refreshing and light...perfect for a warm summer evening. Kids seem to like the virgin versions of these too...just leave out the rum for theirs! When you make this recipe, leave some room at the top. That way you can adjust the taste....adding a bit more simple sugar, rum, or lime. I tend to like a bit more lime!
Potato Dish: Smoky Scalloped Potatoes
Another more recent favorite from Cook's Illustrated. This is just soooooo darn good. Creamy and cheesy. It's a little time consuming and not anywhere near calorie-conscious so it gets made once a year for Thanksgiving or Christmas. It fits in nicely with my holiday meal schedule, as it needs a 425 degree oven which is exactly the same as my cornbread and apple pie...so the three of them can cook up right after the turkey comes out of the oven. Oh, and it can be assembled the day before, which helps with holiday stresses!
Appetizer: Herbed Puffs
Hot little mouth-watering morsels of cheesy-herby goodness. Can be made ahead and frozen. Enough said!
Dip: Cilantro Dip
The best party dip. Pour over a block of cream cheese and serve with water crackers. This one's been making the rounds within my circle of friends for several years. You can make it as hot or mild as you like (just add the jalapenos a little at a time until it's just right for you).
Holiday Meal Plan
When it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas, I pretty much make the same dishes each year. While that might seem boring, most of these dishes are only made for the holidays, so we look forward to them each year.
My holiday meals usually include the following dishes, which are all freshly home-made:
- Apple Streusel Coffeecake (morning)
- Mashed Potatoes (or Scalloped Potatoes)
- Broccoli with Garlic Butter and Cashews
- Green Beens with Pecans
- Sausage Stuffing
- Vegetarian Stuffing
- Apple Pie
- Turkey Pot Pie (for the day after)
The beauty behind this plan is the prep bowl chart. I line up all my bowls, number them, and get out the ingredients. Then I fill the bowls assembly-line style.