Start of the Week Challenge

I threw myself a challenge on Monday.  I know.  Mondays are NOT the day for a challenge.  Especially not a self-induced one!  But there it was.  Just staring me in the face!  My friend Jonathan, who now lives in San Antonio, was driving through Waco around 5 pm on Monday on his way back home from a visit in Dallas.  Knowing that he was starting his new job with his dad’s construction company I figured that he would be short on time and energy this week as he was getting settled, beginning new routines and learning his new profession.  So I wanted to send him with a couple of meals for the week that he could eat then or freeze for later.  Seeing as how I came to this conclusion at 11:30am, the challenge was how many meals could I get ready that travel and hold/freeze well before 5 pm?  And what meals would he even like?  (He tends to be picky…)  At 12:15 I headed to the grocery store armed with a list of meals I know he likes to eat and a few ideas from meals we have shared together…

I got home at 1 pm and by 2:45 I had a surprising number of meals packaged and ready to go.  Homemade mac ‘n cheese, King Ranch Chicken Casserole, Smoked Sausage with baked apples, My lemon-olive vinaigrette, a sauce to make Reuben sandwiches with, Italian queso,  A giant pepperoni pizza with a homemade garlic herb whole wheat crust, and an apple pie!  (after all the 4th of July is coming up)  The kitchen was a WRECK!  I think I used every pot and pan I own.  But I was ready for that 5 pm pick up surprise with time to spare!

The mac ‘n cheese recipe is somewhere in the depths of this blog.  For his, I used sharp cheddar, white cheddar, Fontina and Monterrey jack cheeses.  I personalized the pasta to be wagon wheel pasta as part of an on-going joke we have, but wagon wheels are great mac ‘n cheese pasta actually!  They hold onto lots of yummy, gooey cheese sauce.

I made a super simple King Ranch Casserole.   I boiled chicken breasts while I was watching the cheese sauce, and let them cool.  I then shredded them into a bowl.  I added 1 can cream of mushroom soup, 1 can cream of chicken soup, 2 cans rotel, 2 Cups shredded cheddar cheese,  2 T chili powder, 1 T cumin, and pepper.  I stirred it all up and then added ½ bag of tortilla chips.  I sort of crunch them up as I stir.  Pour it all into a baking dish (in this case 3 small disposable aluminum pans so he can heat a small amount at a time), top it with a little more shredded cheddar and bake it at 350 till the cheese is golden and it is all hot and bubbly.  This casserole freezes well.  He just needs to let it thaw in the fridge while he is at work, then pop it in the oven 30 minutes before he is ready to eat.  Add a salad and he has a full meal ready with little effort.

Jonathan loves the toasty Reuben sandwich from McAlisters deli.  He gets it without sauerkraut. So, of course, I started making a version for him here at The Olive Branch.  (Look for it to be a sandwich of the month soon!)  We don’t have Russian dressing so I had to come up with my own version with leftovers we had lying around from different caterings.  It was declared a winner!  We don’t have corned beef either, but we often have salami handy.  So I assemble the sandwich with a liberal spread of my Reuben dressing, a slice of provolone, salami and roast beef.  We toast it all up on the griddle so it’s hot and melty.  I feel fairly certain that given the Reuben sauce, Jonathan will be able to make his own version of a sandwich he will like.  He will probably just put the sauce on hot dogs, but that would be OK too!  At least it would make a simple meal a little more special. I tacked the recipe on at the end of the post.

As for the pizza, I followed the recipe at this website – adding garlic salt and thyme to the flour mixture.  I turned the dough into 2 very thin, 16” pizza crusts.  His, I topped with homemade marinara sauce from the Olive Branch, a whole bag of pepperoni and lots of pizza cheese (mozzarella, provolone, and parmesan).  The other I topped with olive oil, my lemon-olive vinaigrette (the same dressing I made for him to take home), spinach, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese.  (That one was for me and my friends!)  They turned out delicious, crispy and flavorful.  The recipe for the vinaigrette is under “healthy dressing of summer love” in the recipe section of my blog.  I created it for a tuna salad, but it is good on pasta salad, Caesar salad and pizza!

I won’t bore you with the other recipes I threw together.  I just want to encourage you that given 2 hours, you too can have several meals put away for your friends and family, saving you countless hours and hot kitchens later in the week.  I know that Jonathan has already had the pizza.  He told me it was yummy.  I hope he enjoys the rest of the meals and fixins.  The pie is frozen and destined for a 4th of July celebration with his family this weekend.  As for your celebrations this weekend, don’t forget to call or come by The Olive Branch for brownie and cakeball trays.  Or order an apple pie for yourself.  I hope this start to July finds you enjoying yourself, your family and friends and not getting overheated in the kitchen!

“Reuben” Sauce

½ Cup chili sauce

3 T dill pickle relish

1 T Dijon mustard (I like the course grained one)

2 T mayonnaise

Stir this all up in a small bowl.  It’s great on sandwiches and even hot dogs and hamburgers!