Climb up into our Treehouse and join us for another round of things we make when we don't want to spend all day cooking. Stay for dinner too, maybe Mr. Fixit will make cabbage rolls. They're very good with:
Herbed Beer Bread (no yeast, doesn't have to rise)
The Squirrels’ recipe is identical to this one. [2012 Update: try this link instead.] It works fine with de-alcoholized beer; bring the can of beer to room temperature first. Mama Squirrel has baked it in both a loaf pan and in an 8 inch square pan; in the square pan, she can use the toaster oven and it doesn't heat up the house.
Mushroom Steak Bake
To do this, you need either a package of fairly thin steak pieces, or a small roast that you’ve sliced into steak-sized pieces. The Squirrels have tried it both ways, depending on what was on sale that week. Put the pieces of beef into a casserole and cover with a can of condensed mushroom soup and either a can of mushrooms (drained) or some fresh mushrooms (or both). Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour and a half (depending on the thickness and amount of meat). Thicken the sauce at the end if you really need to (with flour or cornstarch).
Beef and Salsa Burritos (National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Beef Board)
This is a good quick dinner if you've remembered to thaw the beef and the spinach. Somebody can grate cheese while you brown the meat, and you're all set.
1 to 1 1/4 pounds ground beef (the recipe says 1 1/4 pounds, but whoever buys exactly that much? We just use a pound-size package.)
1 ½ tbsp. chili powder (we use only 1 tbsp.)
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper (op.)
1 pkg (10 oz) frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained (or you can use fresh chopped)
1 to 1 1/4 cup prepared chunky salsa
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
8 medium flour tortillas, warmed (we use whole wheat)
In large nonstick skillet, brown ground beef, and drain if necessary. Add seasonings; stir in spinach and salsa; heat through. Remove from heat, stir in cheese. Wrap in tortillas and serve. (We usually cook a pot of rice to go along with these.)
Ground Chicken Skillet, or Evan’s Mom would Never Recognize This
We adapted this recipe from Jill Bond’s book Dinner’s In the Freezer. She called it Evan’s Mom’s Casserole, but our version’s no longer a casserole and we changed the seasoning from dill to curry (since Mr. Fixit does not like dill much. He wishes Mama Squirrel would also leave the dill out of the Beer Bread, but Mama Squirrel is willing to go only so far.)
1 lb. ground chicken
1 onion, chopped
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 can green beans (or use fresh ones)
1 can mushrooms (op.)
1 tsp. curry powder or to taste
Something to serve it over (rice or noodles)
Brown the chicken and onion in a skillet. Add the remaining ingredients and heat through. Serve over rice or noodles, passing hot sauce for anyone who thinks 1 teaspoon of curry powder doesn’t have much pow.
Everybody has a recipe for this, but this is Mama Squirrel’s easy way. The Squirrels like the canned pasta sauces that come in different flavours; one variety is tomato-onion, which saves chopping onions when you’re in a hurry; and another one has a strong garlic flavour that’s very good with chicken. Either one will work with this recipe, and regular spaghetti sauce would be fine too.
So: put one pound of boneless, skinless chicken breasts in a small greased casserole; add about half a 680 ml can of pasta sauce (one of those tall ones, for the Americans). (The chicken will give off some liquid as well, so you probably don’t want to use the whole can unless you’re doubling the recipe.) Add anything you like to cook along with the chicken–chopped peppers, mushrooms, canned chickpeas, chopped zucchini (although mushrooms and zucchini could also be added later so they don’t get mushy). Cover and bake for an hour to an hour and a half, depending on how thick the chicken is. When the chicken’s cooked through, you may want to thicken the sauce with either a small can of tomato paste or some cornstarch mixed with cold water. Serve on pasta (preferably whole wheat). You can cook this dinner in the crockpot too.
Frozen Tortoni Dessert (adapted from The Goldbecks’ Short-Order Cookbook, by Nikki & David Goldbeck)
If you can make popsicles, you can make this–it’s just a bit dressier.
You need: 1 2-cup container ricotta cheese (light is fine); 1/4 cup honey; 1 tsp. almond extract; 8 tsp. finely ground almonds (we don’t use this, see below)
Whip ricotta, honey and almond extract with an electric beater or in the food processor, till it’s smooth, light and fluffy. Line a muffin tin with 8 paper liners and fill with mixture. Sprinkle each with 1 tsp. ground almonds, or other toppings. Freeze. When solid, remove from tin and wrap in freezer bags or foil (if you’re going to do them ahead). Let stand for a few minutes at room temperature to soften slightly before serving.
The Squirrels don’t usually have ground almonds around (funny thing), so we have tried this with other toppings: a few chocolate chips, a ring of pineapple, a ring of pineapple with chocolate chips in the middle...at Christmas time, we made these and decorated them with white chocolate chips and red candied cherries. They’re quite small, so you might want to allow two per person unless they’re very small people. (And if you have small people and use chocolate chips, warn them to watch their teeth, unless they're little squirrels: frozen chips can get pretty hard.) Or freeze twice as much in four little dishes instead of eight muffin papers.
Summer Shortcake (from Food that Really Schmecks, by Edna Staebler)
Mr. Fixit does not have a sweet tooth and does not care for those little yellow spongy cakes that are sold to make strawberry shortcake with. But he does like this version, which is more like a pan of biscuits than a cake. Mama Squirrel has cut it in half from Edna’s original version, but you can double it back again and bake it in a 9 x 13 pan.
2 cups flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ cup sugar, plus a spoonful for sprinkling
½ tsp. salt
½ cup oil or shortening
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk
If you’re making your own sour milk, add 1 tbsp. vinegar to a cup of milk and let it sit for about five minutes while you mix the rest. Mis the dry ingredients and the oil or shortening until the mixture is crumbly. Add the sour milk and mix just enough to make sure the dry part is moistened. Spread the dough in a greased 8 or 9 inch pan. Sprinkle a spoonful of white sugar over the top, unless that idea really turns you off, and bake in a 400-degree oven for about 20 minutes, or a bit longer–prick the centre to be sure it’s done (especially in hot muggy weather). Serve warm and smothered with strawberries, blueberries or slice peaches, plus some vanilla yogurt or tofu topping or whatever other topping you like. I usually cut it in squares and then split a square on each serving plate, dollop some yogurt on, and cover with fruit.
This one is really simple–even Crayons can help make it. In each dessert bowl, stack two canned pineapple rings. Stuff the hole in the middle with canned mandarin oranges (be generous but not messy). Chill well before serving. The Squirrels think this dessert looks like summer sunshine in the winter.