Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two easy casseroles for busy school nights

When school starts back, it’s not just the kids who get a change in routine, it’s their parents as well.

We all want consistent bedtimes, a plan for school lunches and some ideas for easy dinners that accommodate soccer practice, dance lessons and school meetings.

I can’t help you much with the bedtimes, but I do have a few ideas for easy dinners that can make the school week go a little smoother and keep you out of the drive-thru line so often. And if you make enough food, then you’ll have leftovers for those lunch boxes!

I’m going to share two simple casseroles — one I’ve been making for years and have published here before, and the second a recipe that I tried earlier this month.

Soon after Reggie and I were married, I found a recipe for baked ziti that was easy enough for me to make. I had cooked some before I was married, but I still relied on simple dishes to get me through those early years of making my own meals.

This baked ziti recipe is as easy as it gets and has only four ingredients: a jar of spaghetti sauce, mozzarella cheese, ziti and Parmesan cheese. You can vary the recipe each time you make it by buying a different brand or variety of sauce or you could forget the ziti and try another pasta shape. Twists would be good in this recipe.

The baked ziti is quick to prepare when you get home from work or school or can be made the night before and refrigerated for baking the next day. It’s also an easy recipe to teach the young cooks in your house.

Team this easy dish with a loaf of fresh bread and a green salad or even a fruit salad, and you have a delicious and easy meal.

I considered making my easy baked ziti for an Italian dinner for Bible school workers a few weeks back, but after looking at the list of dishes my friends were making I decided to go with more of a white sauce for my dish just to offer some variety. The problem? I didn’t have a recipe. But I did see a jar of pasta sauce that caught my imagination — it’s Bertolli’s Four Cheese Rosa Sauce. (I love the word Rosa, by the way, because it was my paternal grandmother’s name.)

Rosa sauce is a creamy tomato sauce that’s a beautiful rosy color. Not quite the white sauce I had envisioned, but it was close enough.

I didn’t have a recipe to use with this rosa sauce, but I went to Bertolli’s website and found their recipe for oven-baked four cheese rigatoni pasta.

This recipe has a few more ingredients than the baked ziti, but it can all be ready to mix with the hot rigatoni after the hot pasta is drained. The egg and ricotta give this dish a nice creamy texture, and I loved it when the sauce got caught in the ziti and popped into my mouth when I bit it. Yum.

I really liked this sauce and the recipe and will make it again. I especially liked it at the dinner because it was a nice complement to the other dishes that were made with tomato sauce.

A salad and crunchy bread will complete this meatless meal as well.

And while you’re sitting at the dinner table, make sure to talk to your children about their day at school. You’d be surprised how much you can learn about your child over a plate of pasta!

Oven-Baked Four Cheese Rigatoni Rosa
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (about 8 oz.)
  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced fresh basil leaves
  • 1 egg, slightly beaten
  • 1/8 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 8 ounces rigatoni or large tube pasta, cooked, drained
  • 1 jar Bertolli® Four Cheese Rosa Sauce
  • 2 Tbsp. Italian seasoned dry bread crumbs
  • 2 Tbsp. grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine ricotta cheese, 11/2 cups mozzarella cheese, basil, egg and black pepper; set aside.

Toss hot rigatoni with sauce in large bowl. Stir in ricotta mixture. Turn into 11 x 7-inch baking dish, then sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese.

Bake covered 25 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 5 minutes or until bread crumbs are golden brown and cheese is melted.


Easy Baked Ziti
  • 1 (28 oz.) jar spaghetti sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese (6 ozs.)
  • 5 cups hot cooked ziti (about 3 cups uncooked)
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
In a large bowl combine spaghetti sauce, 1 cup mozzarella cheese and ziti, cooked according to box directions. Spoon into a 2-quart baking dish sprayed with Pam. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses.

Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until hot and bubbling. Can be made in advance, refrigerated and then cooked.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

10 years of sharing

For 10 years now, I’ve been sharing my recipes on these pages, and, in the process, sharing my life, I guess.

It all started in August 2001. My co-worker at the time, Heather Wilkerson, was on maternity leave, and for some reason I decided that was a good time to start a food column. Turns out I was right.

I called the column “Can I have that recipe,” and originally I asked readers to send in their recipes and I ran them on Wednesdays along with Associated Press food copy.

The column was a hit immediately. I didn’t get tons of recipes, but I did get positive feedback.

Soon after the first recipe for Cooker Chops appeared on Aug. 15, 2001, people started stopping me in the grocery store or at church or at my children’s school or anywhere else I went to say they read my column. That continues today. I am humbled every time a stranger at Walmart pulls up her cart and says, “Are you that girl who puts recipes in the paper?” Then the person goes on to tell me which recipes she’s tried and which one she’s trying next. Several times, the readers (both men and women) actually have a clipped copy of my recipe in hand, and they are at the store shopping for ingredients.

Once, at Harris-Teeter, a woman asked me where to find an ingredient from a vegetarian recipe of mine she was holding in her hand. I was all smiles the rest of the day. I love, love, love when readers try my recipes. And I love it when they e-mail and tell me how much their family enjoyed a dish.

Every now and then, I get a hand-written note. One was from a dear friend who told me how my mama’s Brunswick stew recipe, which Mama made every year on Christmas Eve, had become a tradition for her family as well. That note is tucked in a drawer in my desk. I pull it out sometimes when I feel discouraged and wonder if anyone reads my column.

Some readers tell me they have tried a recipe, and others say, “I don’t cook, but I cut out your recipes!” I love it when people tell me that because they often go on to elaborate that when they retire they are going to pull out the recipes I’ve published and start cooking!

When I realized a few weeks back that this month marked the 10th anniversary of my column, I started thinking about how the column has changed the way I cook and also tried to think of which recipes have been the most popular.

I’m always trying new recipes at home because that’s how I prefer to write the column now and I also want to make it myself so I can give suggestions on preparing it and so my daughter, Anna, can photograph it. I think her photography has been a positive addition to the column, and it’s also been a good experience for both of us working together.

Many of the recipes I’ve put in the paper have become part of the menu rotation at my house. And, as it turns out, some of our favorites have been reader favorites as well.

When I think of the most popular recipes, I think of the ones I’ve had calls about for reprinting. My recipes for meatloaf and microwave bread and butter pickles have probably been the most-requested as well as my chocolate chip pie. The meatloaf recipe first ran in June 2004. For a year or so after that, I kept copies of that recipe on my desk for people who requested it. My family dearly loves that meatloaf, and although it’s been seven years since it was in the paper, people frequently tell me they still make it.

Orange streusel loaves is another memorable one. I ran that recipe in an August 2005 column. Over the next few days I was flooded with calls from my readers who couldn’t find orange supreme cake mix, the main ingredient in the recipe! Turns out that not all stores stock it, and my readers headed to the ones that did and bought up what was there as soon as the recipe was in the paper. I still love this recipe and have made it many times to take to a family in need.

Other favorite food column recipes of mine and my family include chicken tettrazini, meatball soup, cornbread dressing, pasta salad for a crowd, creamy wild rice with chicken soup, sweet pickle peaches and turkey burgers. I make turkey burgers once a month, at least! Oh, and my husband and I look forward to leftovers so we can make veggie filled ham and cheese pie and to summertime when we can make tomato pie.

I’m hungry just writing this and keeping thinking of good things to go cook. Did I mention chocolate chip cake, turtles, yummy Oreo truffles, chocolate hearts and a delicious slow cooker roast?

Thanks for visiting my food column every Wednesday either in print, on our website (www.wilsontimes.com under Life) or on my blog, http://lisabatts.blogspot.com/.

Please keep reading and keep cooking.

I sincerely love the time I spend in the kitchen cooking for my family and making memories around the dinner table. It’s my hope that the recipes from my columns are met with success in your kitchen as well.

Veggie Filled Ham and Cheese Pie
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup fat-free half-and-half or milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 1/2 cup Cheddar cheese (divided)
  • 1 frozen pie crust (deep dish)
  • 1/2 to 1 cup fresh spinach
  • 1/4 cup mixed bell pepper cut into strips or diced
  • 1/4 cup diced onions
  • 1/2 cup fresh mushroom slices
  • 1 cup chopped ham
  • Olive oil for sauteeing
Cook pie crust for 5 minutes at temperature recommended on package. Set aside. Turn oven temperature to 350.

While crust is cooking, saute mushrooms, onions and peppers in a small amount of olive oil.

With a whisk, beat eggs, flour, salt and half-and-half until combined.

Sprinkle 1/4 cup cheese in bottom of partially cooked pie crust. Top with a generous layer of spinach leaves. Arrange sautéed vegetables to cover spinach. Pour egg mixture over all. Top with remaining cheese.

Bake in preheated 350 degree oven for 45 to 55 minutes or until top is golden.

Seasoned Turkey Burgers
  • 1 package ground turkey (the package I buy weights 1 1/3 pounds)
  • 1 tablespoon Lipton Onion Soup Mix
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
Mix all ingredients well, making sure to evenly distribute the soup mix. I start out with a spoon and then use my hands. Make into 4 patties.

Cook 3 minutes on one side; flip and cook about 3 minutes on the other side or until cooked through. (I cook mine on a George Foreman Grill.)

Serve on bun with favorite condiments. I use multi-gain sandwich thins.

If you have leftovers, reheat slowly in a skillet.

Lisa's Favorite Meat Loaf
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. ground round
  • 2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
Combine ground round, onion, eggs and salt. Mix together with ketchup, milk and bread crumbs. (I make bread crumbs with stale white bread shredded on a hand-held cheese grater.) Make sure the loaf is very moist, adding more milk and ketchup if necessary.

Form into a loose, long loaf that almost fills a 9X11-inch dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and drain fat with a spoon.

Spread mixture of ketchup and brown sugar and bake 10 more minutes until ketchup mixture is bubbly.

*Note: When making this meat loaf, I often vary amount of ingredients to make a larger or smaller loaf. I also make a little more sauce because we love it so much. This meatloaf is wonderful with mashed potatoes and field peas.

Read three of Lisa Batts' favorite food columns

Meatballs and soup a good mix

This column first ran in January 2007.

It’s been about a year now since I first clipped a recipe for Rachel Ray’s Spaghetti and Meatball Stoup.

The Food Network star featured the recipe on her “30 Minute Meals” show, and I later saw the recipe reprinted on a discussion group. “Sounds good,” I thought. But I never made it.

Then I got an e-mail from Food Network a few weeks ago highlighting soups, and the recipe popped up there. “Gotta make it,” I said. And I did.

Ray calls her recipe a stoup — “thicker than soup, thinner than stew.” Her version is delicious, I’m sure, but I made a few changes.

For instance, her recipe’s meatballs are made with a meatloaf mix of ground beef, pork and veal. I used ground turkey only. She also uses tomato sauce; I took the suggestion of several people who had reviewed her recipe and used a jar of spaghetti sauce. Instead of spaghetti, I used rotini pasta in my recipe so it would be easier to eat. And I cooked the pasta separately from the soup so the noodles wouldn’t expand too much and soak up the broth.

My version of meatball soup was a big hit at my house. We all loved it! The meatballs are flavorful and tender and make a good flavor combination on a spoon alongside pasta, veggies and a tangy sauce.

Just before Christmas, I mentioned how much I loved using my small cookie dough scoop. Well, I found a new use with this recipe. After I had mixed the meatball ingredients with a sturdy spoon, I just scooped up the mixture to make a meatball. I squeezed the handles on the scoop and dropped the meatballs one at a time into the simmering soup.

That’s just too easy. (And my hands stayed clean!)

My husband saved enough from the soup bowl for leftovers the next day. I put the noodles in a sandwich bag so he could add them separately.

Serve this soup with crusty bread, and you have a very satisfying meal.

Meatball Soup With Pasta
  • Small amount of olive oil for sauteeing
  • 1 to 2 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 2 small ribs of celery, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped (more to taste)
  • 1 26-oz. jar spaghetti sauce (I use Ragu Robusto Parmesan and Romano)
  • 2 14 oz. cans chicken broth (I use Swanson’s Natural Goodness with lower sodium and fat)
  • 1.3 lbs. ground turkey (that’s the set amount in the package I purchase)
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup Italian bread crumbs
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 pound pasta (I use whole wheat rotini or twists) cooked and drained
Warm soup pot to medium high heat and add enough olive oil to sautee; carrots, onions, celery and garlic. Sautee for 5 minutes. Add spaghetti sauce and chicken broth and cover pot. Bring to a boil and let simmer.

While soup cooks, make meatballs. Mix ground turkey with cheese, bread crumbs and egg. Roll into 11/2 to 2-inch balls or use small cookie dough scoop. Add meatballs to soup. Bring back to boil and let simmer for 10 minutes until meatballs are cooked through.

Add a serving of pasta to individual bowls and pour soup on top.

My favorite meatloaf

This column first ran in June 2004.

There were many favorite meals at my mama’s house, but there are few I enjoyed more than her meat loaf.

Mama’s meat loaf was always loosely formed, not packed tight like a hamburger, and was topped with tangy tomato sauce. She often added chunks of Irish potatoes or sweet potatoes around the edge of the pan that cooked alongside the meat loaf, mingling with the beef juices and tomato sauce. I loved this meal dearly.

As a child, I knew she was making meat loaf for supper when I saw slices of white bread on the table, getting stale enough to make bread crumbs. Later I’d watch her take off her wedding rings before she worked in the ground beef, milk, eggs and bread crumbs with her hands.

When Mama made meat loaf, she usually divided it into two parts, one small loaf made without green bell pepper for my sister, and one made with finely chopped bell pepper for the rest of us.

On lists of comfort foods, meat loaf is often at the top of the list, and I agree.

I often make meat loaf for my family after a tough week at work or school or during an especially cold spell in the winter. But it was Father’s Day that caused me to pull out my recipe most recently. In talking about how to celebrate the day, I asked my husband if meat loaf, mashed potatoes and his favorite green salad with mandarin oranges was a good idea for Sunday lunch. He heartily said yes.

My recipe is not much different from my mother’s. But because I could never make mine taste just like hers, I gave up trying and came up with my own, combining recipes from different places until I hit on our favorite combination. I also make sure not to pack it tight, but to make a loosely formed loaf, just like Mama’s.

My family’s favorite part of my meatloaf is the ketchup and brown sugar sauce I put on top. It’s wonderfully tangy and sweet at the same time. When making the recipe, I’ll often bump up the ingredients to have more sauce.

I have wonderful memories of eating meatloaf for Sunday lunch at Mama’s. I think that’s one reason why it’s so important to me to make it for my husband and children; I want them to have similar memories of that wonderful aroma and the taste treat of meat and potatoes.

Lisa’s Favorite Meat Loaf
  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs. ground round (I’ve also used ground chuck)
  • 2 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/3 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1 cup fresh white bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup ketchup
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar, packed
Combine ground round, onion, eggs and salt. Mix together with ketchup, milk and bread crumbs. (I make bread crumbs with stale white bread shredded on a hand-held cheese grater.) Make sure the loaf is plenty moist, adding more milk and ketchup if necessary.

Form into a loose, long loaf that almost fills a 9X11-inch dish.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes. Remove from oven and drain fat with a spoon.

Spread mixture of ketchup and brown sugar and bake 10 more minutes until ketchup mixture is bubbly.

*Note: When making this meat loaf, I often vary amount of ingredients to make a larger or smaller loaf. I also make a little more sauce because we love it so much. This meatloaf is wonderful with mashed potatoes and field peas.

Orange coffee cake a delicious treat

This column first ran in August 2005.

I’m always cutting recipes off cake mix boxes, pasta boxes and the paper insert of graham cracker crusts.

The recipes always look so tasty.

But after sampling a slice of orange streusel loaves made by my co-worker Thea Simpson last week, I was surprised to find she got the recipe from the side panel of a box of Duncan Hines orange supreme cake mix. I would have guessed the loaf was made from scratch.

Thea had made two loaves of the quick bread for a meeting at work. I quickly spotted the loaves — one made with nuts, one without — when I walked into the conference room and hoped I’d be offered a slice. And I was.

The bread had a wonderful, fresh orange taste and immediately perked up my taste buds and my spirits. I had a slice with the nut-laden streusel filling and knew, immediately, that I must make that recipe for my family — and, in turn, share it with my readers. I made my two loaves Monday night, and they were a hit with my family and the friends I shared with the next morning.

Thea said she’s been making orange streusel loaves for a long time and always keeps an orange supreme cake mix and box of vanilla instant pudding on hand so she can make the recipe whenever she wants.

The recipe suggests cooking it in two loaf pans, but Thea said it works just as well in one Bundt pan. When she makes it in a Bundt pan, she said she often pours half the batter in the pan, tops it with the streusel filling, then adds the remaining batter.

She’s also made the cake using Lemon Supreme cake mix and lemon juice in the drizzle, and says that variation is especially good in the summer.

The day after I sampled her orange loaf, I confessed to Thea that I had come close to going to the grocery store at 9 o’clock the night before to purchase the ingredients and bake my own orange streusel Loaves right then. I craved a slice that much. She laughed and told me that she had come close to coming back to work late that same night to retrieve the leftovers she had left at the office.

It’s that good.

Orange Streusel Loaves
  • 1 box Duncan Hines Moist Deluxe orange supreme cake mix, reserving 2 tablespoons of mix
  • 1 package (3.4 oz.) vanilla instant pudding and pie filling mix
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream (I use reduced fat)
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 2 tablespoons reserved cake mix
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon margarine or butter
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons milk or orange juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans.

For streusel topping, place 2 tablespoons cake mix, brown sugar, cinnamon and margarine in a medium bowl and mix with a fork until crumbly. Stir in pecans. Set aside.

For cake, combine remaining cake mix, pudding mix, eggs, sour cream and oil in large bowl. Beat at medium speed with electric mixer for 3 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pans.

Sprinkle with streusel mixture.

Bake at 350 degrees for 50 to 60 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 15 minutes. Loosen loaves from pans. Invert onto cooling rack. Turn right side up. Cool completely.

For glaze, combine powdered sugar and liquid (milk or orange juice) in small bowl. Stir until smooth. Drizzle over cooled loaves.

Makes 2 loaves.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Banana waffles

On more than one occasion this summer, my family has eaten waffles for supper. We love having breakfast foods for our evening meal, and waffles are a good choice for a hot summer day because the oven can stay turned off! And if you use microwave sausage and bacon like we often do, you don’t have to turn on the stovetop either.

This week, I tried a new waffle recipe that can break up the routine a little. The recipe uses two ripe bananas and no oil. The waffles are flavored with cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla extract.

We are big fans of banana nut bread at my house, and I was hoping the waffles would remind me of my favorite breakfast bread, and they did. I didn’t add pecans to my waffle batter, but I’m sure that would be a wonderful addition if you try them.

I adapted this simple recipe from one I’d seen online, mixing in 1⁄4 cup of whole wheat flour as well as some cinnamon, vanilla extract and a little brown sugar.

I have waffle iron issues at my house right now, so I made these twice in two days. The first time I made them in a cheap, new waffle iron that didn’t brown the waffles at all. In fact, I had to toast the batch of plain waffles I made in order to brown them and make them appealing enough to eat. I was not amused and took the waffle maker back to the store that afternoon.

The next day, I remade the banana waffles in my old waffle maker, the kind that flips. They browned beautifully, but they also stuck. I didn’t have that problem the day before with the new waffle iron. After the waffles started sticking, I re-sprayed the surface of the iron with cooking spray. That seemed to work.

These waffles are good to me without a topping, but you could also add any number of dressings from maple syrup and pecans to peanut butter.

Next time you have a couple of ripe bananas sitting on your counter, give this simple recipe a try.

Banana Waffles
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • Sprinkle of nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1 cup milk (I used skim)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
In large mixing bowl, mash bananas. Mix in nutmeg, cinnamon, vanilla, brown sugar, milk and egg until combined. Stir in self-rising and wheat flour until blended.

Cook in waffle iron prepared with cooking spray. If the waffles stick, reapply spray between each waffle.