Being Mrs. Pierce

Life as a wife, hiker, wanna-be chef, book-lover, traveler, and now, mom

Penne Beef Bake (New Recipe #81) October 20, 2013

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 2:46 PM
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Coincidence or not? For the second weekend in a row, I have logged into my blog account in order to write a post that I should have written two months ago, only to discover that the next recipe on my blog backlog was one that I was making again that very day! Last weekend it was Creamy Tomato Soup; this weekend it is the Penne Beef Bake casserole.


I snagged this recipe from a Taste of Home cookbook over the summer. The infusion of vegetables in the pasta casserole was attractive to me, and I am always on the lookout for beef recipes that are lean and healthy. I am your typical chicken-and-fish woman, but my husband is your typical red-meat man. While John will happily eat chicken and fish, even he has his limits.


This recipe makes a huge casserole – perfect for when you are wanting leftovers to last a few days (and the leftovers were even tastier the second day!). The casserole is divided into 8 servings, each of which is very filling. In fact, there is so much veggie-pasta-meat goodness in the dish that I overflowed my 3.5-quart Dutch oven the first time I made it! When I prepare the casserole again tonight, I plan to use my wok in place of the Dutch oven.


I served the casserole with a side green salad and garlic toast. John and I ranked the Penne Beef Bake a solid 3.5 stars. And considering that I am cooking it again tonight, we obviously liked it well enough to have a second time!


Penne Beef Bake

1 package (12 oz) whole wheat penne pasta
1 lb lean ground beef (90% lean)
2 medium zucchini, finely chopped
1 large green pepper, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 jar (24 oz) meatless spaghetti sauce (with less than 6 g sugar per serving)
1½ cups reduced-fat Alfredo sauce
1 cup (4 oz) shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese, divided
¼ tsp garlic powder

1. Cook penne according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, cook the beef, zucchini, pepper, and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Stir in the spaghetti sauce, Alfredo sauce, ½ cup mozzarella cheese, and garlic powder. Drain penne; stir into meat mixture.

2. Transfer to a 13-in. x 9-in. baking dish coated with cooking spray. Cover and bake at 375° for 20 minutes. Sprinkle with remaining mozzarella cheese. Bake, uncovered, 3-5 minutes longer or until cheese is melted.

Yield: 8 servings. Per serving, 10 PointsPlus.


Low-Fat Tangy Tomato Dressing (New Recipe #71) August 14, 2013

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 7:06 PM
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I have repeatedly read how homemade salad dressings are much healthier and tastier than store-bought ones. For the sake of convenience, I largely ignore these comments and continue to purchase my salad dressing from the grocery store. Yet this Taste of Home recipe caught my eye thanks to its brief list of ingredients and ease of preparation.


I blended up the dressing only an hour before serving it on side green salads to accompany my Greek Eggplant and Chicken Casserole. This was a mistake. It was not yet fully chilled and the flavors had not had time to incorporate. As a result, the dressing was much too vinegary for it to be enjoyable. I gave it 1 star.


The following day, however, I gave it another try. The vinegar taste had abated and the flavors from the Italian dressing mix were much more pronounced; I bumped my rating up to a 2. When it comes to tomato salad dressing, it turns out that I prefer mine sweet rather than tangy. For now, I will continue to happily buy my Lite Catalina dressing in its manufactured, bottled form.


Low-Fat Tangy Tomato Dressing

1 can (14.5 oz) no-salt-added diced tomatoes, undrained
1 envelope Italian salad dressing mix
1 TB cider vinegar
1 TB olive oil

Place all ingredients in a blender; cover and process until blended.

Yield: 2 cups (serving size: 2 TB). Per serving, 0 PointsPlus.


Honey-Orange Broccoli Slaw (New Recipe #67) August 10, 2013

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 6:06 PM
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Two nights ago, John and I attended a potluck cookout with the other 4th and 5th grade teachers at my school. Our hosts were supplying the meat, and the rest of us were to fill out the menu. I knew I wanted to take a vegetable side, but none of the ones in my repertoire sounded appealing. I decided to try out a new recipe from the Taste of Home Healthy Cooking Annual Recipes cookbook the night before, and if it was a winner, I’d make a second batch to take to the cookout.


If you have been following my blog from the beginning, you will know that I am a major fan of broccoli slaw. The remaining ingredients in this recipe–almonds, raisins, and honey, notably–are also favorites. I felt fairly confident the recipe would be an enjoyable one.


I plumped my raisins first, having just learned how to do so. While the raisins soaked, I zested and whisked together the dressing. I made the slaw one hour before dinner to allow it to fully chill. Immediately I noticed the large amount of liquid at the bottom of the bowl. I stirred the slaw again, but the pool remained. Taste-wise, the slaw was fresh and citrus-y. It was a definite winner! I granted it 3.5 stars, which John seconded.


I decided that the recipe was worthy of being taken to the cookout, but I tweaked the dressing when I made the second batch for the party. I cut the honey, olive oil, and orange juice to 1 TB each, and I reduced the orange zest to 1 tsp. I then added just a dash of salt rather than the ¼ tsp. This amount of dressing was just perfect. It still provided lots of flavor for the broccoli slaw without having the excess liquid. It also dropped the PointsPlus value down to 3 per serving. I would highly recommend making these adjustments, although I did provide the original recipe below, should you want to try it for yourself first.


Honey-Orange Broccoli Slaw

1 package (12 oz) broccoli coleslaw mix
1/3 cup sliced almonds
1/3 cup raisins
2 to 3 TB honey
2 TB olive oil
2 TB orange juice
4 tsp grated orange peel
¼ tsp salt

In a large bowl, combine the coleslaw mix, almonds, and raisins. In a small bowl, whisk the remaining ingredients. Pour over salad; toss to coat.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 2/3 cup).  Per serving, 4 PointsPlus.


Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Grits (New Recipe #61) August 5, 2013

Filed under: Cooking — skpierce12 @ 8:01 PM
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Grits is a food that, along with baked oatmeal, chess pie, and mashed turnips, I had never eaten until I encountered the Pierces. My mom never made grits when I was growing up, and I therefore never felt compelled to buy or make them myself because I was unsure whether I would even like them. As it turns out, I like them quite a lot. My in-laws have made them for me, and I have tried them at a couple of restaurants, as well. But until making this sausage, egg, and cheese grits recipe from the Taste of Home Healthy Cooking Annual Recipes cookbook, I had only ever eaten grits as a side at dinner – never for breakfast.


What appeared to be a fairly easy recipe turned out to be more of a hassle than I had bargained for, but that was primarily due to (a) my ineptness and (b) bad luck (also known as the Pierce curse), rather than a flaw in the recipe itself.


My troubles began with the turkey sausage links. I had initially purchased a package of the links a few weeks ago with this recipe in mind, but then I went on vacation before I could get to the recipe. Before taking off for Wyoming, I threw the links into the freezer. I had meant to set them in the fridge to thaw the night before making the grits, but I forgot. No problem, right? That’s what microwaves are for! Well, something happened in the microwave thawing process that made the casings nearly impossible to get off without also pulling off a ton of the sausage. It was a mess, and a lot of sausage was lost in the process.


Then I managed to dirty up not one, not two, but THREE of the burners on my stove while trying to complete the following step from the recipe: Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, bring water, salt, and remaining milk to a boil. First, I made the mistake of putting the lid on my Dutch oven in an attempt to speed up the boiling process, not thinking that the lid is heavy and sturdy enough to prevent steam escaping. Thus, I had no steam signal; I just had half of my liquid boil up and over the top of the Dutch oven before I could do anything about it. Burner #1 was now a mess.



My “do anything about it” plan was to move the pot onto the next burner. There was enough liquid still dripping down the sides of the Dutch oven when I moved it that now Burner #2 was also covered in water and milk.



I dumped out what remained in the Dutch oven, washed both the inside and outside of the pot with soap and water, and completely started over. This time, I at least knew enough to leave off the lid. What I didn’t consider was that I was using a Dutch oven, not a saucepan with a handle, so that when the water/milk mixture once again started to boil, it also started to rise–rapidly–in the pot. So rapidly, in fact, that I could not grab the potholders and lift the Dutch oven off of the heat until it was too late. Burner #3 was a goner, too.



Luckily, not near as much liquid escaped from the Dutch oven this time, so I went with what I had and added in the grits. I managed to make it through the rest of the recipe without additional hiccups and headaches (and dirtied burners).


Unluckily, the result of all of this trouble was a little disappointing. The grits were good, but not stellar. I gave them 3 stars, but John could only give them a 2.5. The egg mixed in with the grits gave us both pause, but him more than me. If I were to cook this again, which is still to be determined, I would completely omit the egg from the recipe and increase the amount of cheese.


Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Grits

4 oz breakfast turkey sausage links, casings removed
1½ cups egg substitute
1¼ cups whole milk, divided
3 cups water
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup quick-cooking grits
¾ cup shredded reduced-fat cheddar cheese, divided
2 green onions, chopped
1/8 tsp pepper

1. Crumble sausage into a large skillet; cook over medium heat until no longer pink. Remove to paper towels with a slotted spoon. Whisk egg substitute and ¼ cup milk; add to same skillet. Cook and stir until set; remove from the heat.

2. Meanwhile, in a Dutch oven, bring water, salt, and remaining milk to a boil. Slowly stir in grits. Reduce heat; cook and stir for 5-7 minutes or until thickened.

3. Stir in half of the cheese. Add the sausage, eggs, green onions, and pepper; heat through. Serve in bowls; sprinkle with remaining cheese.

Yield: 6 servings (serving size: 1 cup). Per serving, 6 PointsPlus.