Make Dinner Happen Friday #1: Use It Up Edition

Make Dinner Happen Friday #1Make Dinner Happen Friday is a new series where I will share with you what I am planning on cooking next week.  So come and join me in making dinner happen!
This week is all about “using it up.”  We are blessed this week with a full pantry and freezer, so I built my meal plan this week around what we already have.  I start my meal plans on Friday because that is the day that I go to the grocery store (although that might be changing soon as we are getting into the school year).
Friday
Black Bean Jalapeno Griddle Cakes with Salsa, Chipotle Mashed Potato Cakes, and Salad
I am trying out a couple of new recipes here with the griddle cakes and mashed potato cakes based off of recipes from How to Cook Everything – I’ll let you know how they turned out!  I will be using my favorite salsa recipe from The Pioneer Woman.  I already have these ingredients from the meal plan last week (we ended up with more leftovers than I was planning, so we had an extra “leftovers day”).
Saturday
Rosemary Roasted Pork Loin with Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Scalloped PotatoesRosemary Roasted Pork Loin with Garlic Parmesan Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes
This will be a basic rosemary marinated pork loin (which I already have in the freezer) that is oven roasted (do be honest, I don’t have something specific in mind – I’ll just throw some marinade together that day), served with these delicious-looking scalloped potatoes (I will just be using red potatoes and cheddar and Parmesan cheeses because that is what I already have).
Sunday
Brunch: Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast with Cheesy Hash Brown Cups
On Sunday, brunch is our big meal, and I have been on a kick of trying new recipes lately.  This Cinnamon Apple Baked French Toast looked tasty, plus I already have apples!  I have made these really tasty Baked Hash Brown Cups (with cheese!), though!  I’ll be using the red potatoes that I already have and grating them myself.
Dinner: Spaghetti with Garlic Knots and Salad
Basic spaghetti with our homemade spaghetti sauce served with homemade garlic knots using the olive oil dough from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day.  This sounds really elaborate, but really this is so easy and delicious!
Monday
Camembert Macaroni and Cheese and Camembert Stuffed Figs
I have some camembert cheese left over from last week (we had a French-inspired meal that, of course, had to include some “fancy” cheese), so we are going to try this macaroni and cheese and these cheese stuffed figs to use it up.  Figs are in-season here now, so I will be able to pick some up at the farmer’s market on Saturday.
Tuesday
Spaghetti Squash Chicken Pad Thai with Bean Sprouts and Peppers
Spaghetti squash and peppers are also in season, so I am going to attempt this Pad Thai recipe using chicken thighs that I have in the freezer.  I have never made homemade Pad Thai, so this is going to be an adventure.  Since I try to make most of my food from scratch, I am going to use this pad Thai sauce recipe.  This is going to be tricky since I am not sure if I can find tamarind paste here in central Arkansas.  I am adding bean sprouts and bell peppers because I am apparently incapable of making any recipe exactly as written :).
Wednesday
Buffalo Tacos with Chipotle Corn Casserole
We will be having these tacos seasoned with buffalo sauce (I will be using my homemade buffalo sauce).  I thought this corn casserole would go with this well with a little bit of chipotle seasoning added to it.
Thursday
Sausage and Potatoes with Salad
Pan fried kielbasa and red potatoes (which – you guessed it – I already have) with a side salad (btw, a “salad” in our house mostly means lettuce with sunflower seeds, but we will also add any kind of extra vegetables that we have around).
So there you have it – our meal plan for next week!  So I challenge you – what are you going to put on your meal plan this week to “use it up?”  Share it on Facebook or Twitter with #makedinnerhappen!

What’s Your Quick Meal? Contest + Spaghetti Sauce Recipe

Spaghetti SauceQuick meals – meals on the table in a flash – can save dinner when life gets hectic.  Our family’s go-to quick meal is pasta with homemade spaghetti sauce that we always keep stocked in the freezer, but I want to know, what is your family’s quick meal?  I’m looking for the best and the worst quick meals – those that your family loves and those that you are maybe a little embarrassed to admit that you actually eat.  Check out our family’s recipe then scroll to the bottom to find out how you can win one of 5 one week meal planning coaching sessions!

Spaghetti Sauce

Needs Met: Quick Meal, Prep Ahead, Allergy Friendly, Vegetarian/Vegan
Makes 12 cups

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 – 28-oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 12 oz tomato paste
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 4 tsp minced garlic (about 4 cloves)
  • 4 tsp basil
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 2 tsp parsley
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp oregano

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine all ingredients in a stock pot. Partly cover, heat over medium low heat (avoid the urge to turn the heat higher, just let it be), and simmer for 2 hours, stirring regularly (if not, it will stick to the bottom of the pot and burn.
  2. Freeze in 1½ cup portions for 3 servings of spaghetti or 1 cup portions for 1 pizza.I use freezer-safe Mason jars (some people say you can use the regular Mason jars for freezing, but they are prone to breaking), but you can also use freezer zip-top bags.  Try it with the quick cooking pasta recipe.
So now it’s your turn!  What is your family’s quick meal?  Share your family’s favorite (or most embarrassing) quick meal by sending me an e-mail at ameredith(at)sparkmeals(dot)com or by sharing on Facebook or Twitter.  I will choose 2 of the best sounding recipes to share and 3 of the worst quick meal disasters – each winner will get a free one week meal planning coaching session for themselves or a friend or family member.  Entries must be received by May 1, 2017.  Don’t forget to sign up for the mailing list to get the winning recipes!

Go-To Side Dishes: Vegetables and Fruit

When you have an exciting main dish and you just want a basic side dish, check out one of these recipes!  For more side dishes, check out the grains and the potatoes posts.

Crudites

Prep: 0 minutes Cook: 20 minutes Time to Table: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: None
Serves: 4
Choose 3-4 of the vegetables below

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 bell pepper, cut into spears
  • 3 carrots, cut into spears
  • ½ lb broccoli, cut into florets
  • 4 spears celery, cut into large pieces
  • 20 cherry or grape tomatoes
  • ½ cucumber, sliced
  • ½ lb cauliflower, cut into florets
  • 1 avocado, cut into slices

DIRECTIONS:

  1. While your meal is cooking, cut vegetables and serve.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Serve with ranch dressing with desired

Fried Apples

Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 15-30 minutes Total: 25-40 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet
Serves: 3
Spiced cooked apples! The fried apples recipe is adapted from this Fried Apples recipe.

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Peel the apples if you do not like the cooked skin. Slice the apples thinly and remove the core (You can use an apple corer if you have one and then slice the pieces more thinly. It is easier to slice the apples if you cut from the skin side.).

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cooking apples (red delicious golden delicious, Jonathon, or similar)
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • ½ tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • Dash salt

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Heat butter over medium heat in a skillet. Combine apple and seasonings in a bowl and mix to coat. Add the apple mixture to the skillet and cook stirring regularly until the apples are soft.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Make it dairy free by using 1 Tbsp canola oil, vegetables, or regular (not extra virgin) olive oil
  • You can reduce the sugar to 1 Tbsp or substitute another sweetener such as honey or maple syrup

Fruit Salad

Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 0 minutes Total: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: None
Serves: 6
Fresh fruit salad that will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days without going brown.

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Cut fruit as directed

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 apples, cored and chopped
  • 2 pears, cored and chopped
  • 1/2 lb strawberries, stems removed and sliced
  • 20 oz canned pineapple chunks in juice

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Combine fruit pieces with enough of the pineapple juice to coat (this helps keep the fruit from turning brown).

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Substitute ½ lb grapes, sliced, 1 pint blueberries or blackberries, or whatever fruit you prefer (although I don’t recommend bananas as they brown more easily)

Rosemary Peas and Corn

Prep: 5 minutes Cook: 10 minutes Time to Table: 15 minutes
Needed Equipment: Skillet
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Cut herbs according to directions

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat. Add the herbs and saute for about 1 minute. Add the remaining ingredients and bring a sizzle, stirring regularly. Cook until the vegetables are heated through and crisp-tender.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Substitute any other fresh herbs for the rosemary
  • Make it dairy free by substituting 1 Tbsp olive oil for the butter
  • Substitute 1 cup frozen carrots, cauliflower, or broccoli for the corn or peas

Side Salad

Prep: 10-20 minutes Cook: 0 minutes Total: 10-20 minutes
Needed Equipment: None
Serves: 4
Start with the lettuce and dressing then choose 1-2 topping to add!
Tortilla Casserole

STARTING PREPARATION:

None, although you can cut your vegetables ahead of time and store them according to this chart.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 oz lettuce, chopped
  • 4 Tbsp salad dressing of choice
  • ½ cucumber, sliced
  • 20 grape or cherry tomatoes
  • ½ lb snap peas
  • 1 carrot, shredded or diced
  • 1 bell pepper, cut into strips or diced
  • 1 avocado, peeled, pit removed, and chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. While your meal is cooking, prepare ingredients and toss salad with or without dressing, according to preference (if you are tossing with the dressing, wait until you are ready to serve).

Spaghetti Squash

Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 30-45 minutes Time to Table: 40-55 minutes
Needed Equipment: Baking dish
Serves: 3
Easy baked spaghetti squash (the magical squash that cooks up with a taste and texture very similar to spaghetti)

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Prepare squash by cutting in half lengthwise and scraping out the seeds and strings.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 spaghetti squash

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Place the squash cut-side down in the baking dish. Add a little bit of water around the squash. Bake at 400F for 30-45 minutes until the squash is VERY soft (you should be able to very easily poke the flesh with a fork on all parts of the squash).
  2. Remove from the oven, remove from the baking dish, and allow to cool for a minute. Drag a fork lengthwise down the side of the squash (this will give you longer “noodles”), repeating until you have removed all the flesh.

Go To Side Dishes: Potatoes

When you have an exciting main dish and you just want a basic side dish, check out one of these recipes!  For more side dishes, check out the grains and the vegetables and fruit posts.

Baked Potato

Prep: 5 minutes Cook: 10-60 minutes Total: 15-65 minutes
Needed Equipment: rimmed baking sheet (optional)
Basic baked potato, cooked in either the oven or the microwave
Serves: 1

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 large Russet potato
  • ¼ tsp salt (optional)
  • ½ Tbsp olive oil (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Bake: Thoroughly clean the outside of the potatoes and dry. Poke holes all over the potatoes with a fork. Place them in a bowl and spread oil over them, and sprinkle with salt. Place them in a 350F oven directly on a rack in the middle of the oven; place a rimmed baking sheet underneath to catch anything that drips. Let cook for 45-60 minutes until the skin is crispy, and the flesh inside feels cooked.
Microwave: Thoroughly wash, dry, and poke holes in the potato as above. Cook the potatoes on high, 3 at a time, for 8-10 minutes.
Grill: Thoroughly wash, dry, poke holes in the potato, and add oil and salt as above. Wrap each potato in two pieces of heavy-duty aluminum foil, making sure the potato is completely covered. Place on a medium-hot grill for 30-45 minutes until soft. You can remove the aluminum foil and cook directly on the grill for the last 5 minutes to brown the skin if desired.

Garlic Mashed Potatoes (Dairy-Free)

Prep: 10 minutes Cook: 30 minutes Total: 40 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 4
Shepherd's Pie
Creamy mashed potatoes without the dairy! The mashed potato recipe is adapted from the Vegan Mashed Potatoes recipe at The Blender Girl.

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Peel and cut potatoes into large chunks

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Dash pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Cover the potatoes with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and boil for 20-30 minutes until very tender. Drain the potatoes.
  2. Return the potatoes to the dry saucepan and put back on medium heat. Cook the potatoes, stirring often to dry them out a bit (2-3 minutes). Add the remaining ingredients and continuing stirring until the potatoes are mashed. ou may need to add additional oil if it is not turning out creamy enough. If they are not mashing enough, use a potato masher or ricer to finish mashing them.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN

  • Substitute 1 lb parsnips or turnips for the potatoes

Sweet Potatoes

Prep: 0 minutes Inactive Cook: 0-8 hours Cook: 0-60 minutes Total: 5-65 minutes
Needed Equipment: Slow cooker or baking sheet
Serves: 1

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 sweet potato
  • Dash salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Bake: Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly. Poke the potatoes all over with a fork. On a rimmed, foil-lined baking sheet, bake at 400F for 45-60 minutes until tender. Serve with salt and pepper.
Slow Cook: Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly. Put them into the slow cooker (stack if you need to). Cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. To keep the potatoes from splitting, you can rotate the potatoes part-way through the cooking. Serve with salt and pepper.
Microwave: Wash the sweet potatoes thoroughly. Poke each potato several times with a fork. Microwave 7-9 minutes until they squish easily to the touch. Serve with salt and pepper.

Sweet Potato Fries

Prep: 20 minutes Cook: 25 minutes Total: 45 minutes
Needed Equipment: Baking sheet
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

-Cut sweet potatoes according to directions – use a large, sharp knife for this. You can do this ahead of time and store in a sealed container in the refrigerator for up to 3 days covered with a wet paper towel.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into spears (most sweet potatoes at the store are more than one serving)
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1/8 tsp pepper

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Toss the ingredients in the bowl until well combined. Put on a greased baking sheet and bake at 425F for about 25 minutes until lightly browned.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Substitute 1 lb rutabaga, turnips, parsnips, or cauliflower (cut into florets) for the sweet potatoes

Go-to Side Dishes: Grains

When you have an exciting main dish and you just want a basic side dish, check out one of these recipes!  For more side dishes, check out the potatoes and the vegetables and fruit posts.

Grits/Polenta

Prep: 0 minutes Cook: 20 minutes Total: 20 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 4
Notes: Grits/polenta is usually sold with the gluten-free foods or with the breakfast grains (like oatmeal). You want the kind that will cook inn about 5 minutes according to the directions. It may be labeled as grits or polenta and it may or may not say “quick cooking.” It looks like corn meal (but is coarser so do not substitute corn meal).
Pre-cooked polenta is usually sold with the gluten-free foods or the rice and beans. It is sold in a roll that looks like yellow sausage and does not need to be refrigerated until opened.

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup quick grits
  • Dash salt
  • 2 Tbsp butter

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Bring the milk to a simmer over medium high heat. Add the grits and the salt. Bring back to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, whisking often. Add the butter and whisk for 1 minute. Remove from heat and let stand for at least a couple of minutes before serving to thicken (you can cover to keep warm if it finishes before the rest of the food).

PRE-PACKAGED POLENTA:

  • 16 oz pre-cooked polenta
  • ¼ cup water
  1. In a microwave-safe bowl, stir together the water and polenta. Microwave uncovered for 3 minutes. Stir and microwave for another 2 minutes. If the polenta is too thick, add more water; stir polenta again if necessary; microwave more if necessary until desired thickness and temperature.

Quinoa

Prep: 0 minutes Cook: 15-20 minutes Total: 15-20 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan with a lid
Serves: 4

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 2 cups water or broth

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Rinse quinoa (if you need to – check the packaging) using a fine sieve or a paper towel in the bottom of a colander. In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the quinoa, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes until the water is absorbed. The quinoa is done when the “tails” appear to have come away from the middle of the quinoa.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Experiment with seasonings or frozen vegetables!Here is my Allspice Quinoa recipe (for 3 people) to get you started:
    • 3/4 cup quinoa
    • 1 1/2 cups water
    • 1 tsp basil
    • 1 tsp oregano
    • 1 tsp minced garlic (about 1 clove)
    • ½ tsp salt
    • ¼ tsp pepper
    • ¼ tsp allspice
  1. Rinse quinoa if you need to (check the packaging) using a fine sieve or a paper towel in the bottom of a colander. In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil. Add the quinoa and the seasonings, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes until the water is absorbed. The quinoa is done when the “tails” appear to have come away from the middle of the quinoa.

Quick Cooking Pasta

Prep: 0 minutes Cook: 15-20 minutes Total: 15-20 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan
Serves: 3

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • ½ lb pasta (use whichever kind is called for in the recipe)
  • Dash salt (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Use a regular size saucepan filled about half to three-quarters full of water, then add the pasta right away. Add salt as desired (it helps to improve the flavor but is not necessary). Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-high so that the water continues to boil well. The whole time stir often! (This is the key because the smaller amount of water tends to make the pasta stick together.) Continue cooking the pasta until it is done (for spaghetti, it takes another 5-8 minutes after the water starts boiling).

Rice

Prep: 0 minutes Cook: 20-60 minutes Total: 20-60 minutes
Needed Equipment: Saucepan with lid
Serves: 3
Spark Meals - Let's Make Family Meals Happen!

STARTING PREPARATION:

None

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup brown rice
  • 1 2/3 cup water

DIRECTIONS:

Stove top:
Brown Rice: Put rice and water (stove top amount) in a saucepan and cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer for 45 minutes (you really want it to simmer – just a little bit of bubbles). Remove from heat and let sit COVERED for 15 more minutes (this is the trick to making good brown rice – those extra few minutes steam the rice and it becomes really soft and fluffy like white rice but with more flavor and nutrition).
White Rice: Use the same amount of rice and water. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to low and simmer for 15-20 minutes (you really want it to simmer – just a little bit of bubbles) until all the water has been absorbed.
Pressure cooker:
Brown Rice: Rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer under running water until the water runs clean. Put the rice and water in the pressure cooker with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Bring the pressure to high over medium-high heat (see your owner’s manual for instructions). Maintain pressure over medium low heat for 12 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool and lower pressure for 15 minutes before releasing pressure according to instructions. Taste for doneness and simmer over medium heat until soft if needed. Drain before serving if needed.
White Rice: Use the same amount of rice and water. Rinse the rice in a fine mesh strainer under running water until the water runs clean. Put the rice and water (pressure cooker amount) in the pressure cooker with 1 Tbsp olive oil. Bring the pressure to high over medium-high heat (see your owner’s manual for instructions). Maintain pressure over medium low heat for 3 minutes. Release pressure according to instructions for a quick release. Taste for doneness and simmer over medium heat until soft if needed. Drain before serving if needed.

MAKE IT YOUR OWN:

  • Add seasonings to the finished rice, if desired.For cilantro rice, you can stir 1/2 tsp salt, 3 Tbsp fresh cilantro, minced, and ½ tsp apple cider vinegar into the cooked rice.