I am currently blogging about everything. Jump in where you are and thanks for coming by!

Friday, July 31, 2009

Happy Accidents

Tonight's dinner was a snap decision. I was looking at a single quick-thaw chicken breast, onions and garlic, some bacon, leftover spaghetti noodles, some mushrooms and a can of artichoke hearts. I knew there was a good dinner here, I just needed to find it.

When in doubt, fry bacon. I put three strips in the pan. My oldest wandered up and said, "Mommy can you not cut up my bacon? I want a slice all for my own." I love this kid. I told her the chopped bacon would be in everyone's dinner. She then asked for a slice of bacon for dessert! I took the bacon out and put it on a plate lined with a paper towel to drain. I added the chopped onions and garlic to the sizzling bacon fat. The kitchen was starting to smell really good now. I suddenly remembered the quickly decomposing half a lemon I had in the back of the fridge and I ran to get it. Ducking into the fridge I spotted the lemon and an open bottle of white wine. Grabbing these I ran back and deglazed the pan with lemon juice and a dash of the wine. To this I added my chopped mushrooms and then the opened, drained can of artichoke hearts. I threw in the leftover spaghetti and fearing a lack of fat I added a tablespoon or so of butter as I sauteed. By now the chicken breast was thawed, I seasoned it all over with lemon pepper and placed it in a hot pan with olive oil. When it was cooking I added some more lemon juice from my now husk of a lemon rind. I removed the chicken to plate, cut into bite size pieces and added it to the other pan with all my now yummy sauteed ingredients I heated them all together till I was positive the chicken was cooked through. I cut up my bacon strips with kitchen shears and added them in at this point. At the last moment I covered it all in salt and pepper and a generous helping of parmesan cheese.

When I first started cooking on my own, I read a lot of recipes, and I still do. However I was never afraid of using a recipe as a jumping off point, or trying an "experiment" just to see how things came out. At this point after cooking for my family for 9 years I trust myself and my ability to match flavors. This has actually made me enjoy cooking more, as it frees me from the burden of much measuring or studious gathering and sourcing of ingredients. I see what I have on hand and start from there. I waste less food this way (see my lemon carcass above) and I make fewer trips to the store for a single ingredient. I do rely on recipes for a number of things; I am not baker enough to whip up my own improvised bread dough for instance. But I hope some day I could be!

So how did this crazy mess come out? Wel,l I did use three different kinds of fat, for those of you keeping score at home, that had to improve my odds. Frankly, this might have been the yummiest thing I have ever made for myself. After the first bite I was secretly hoping the kids would decide it was "yucky" and let me eat theirs while I made them hotdogs; but it was not to be. These ingredients made exactly 4 bowlfuls, parcelled out three bears style, with the baby getting a tiny bowl, Sarah getting a small bowl, Mama getting a medium bowl and Daddy getting a big bowl. And it was all juuuuusssst right!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Seasoning Savvy

Seasoning Savvy: How to Cook With Herbs, Spices, and Other Flavorings Seasoning Savvy: How to Cook With Herbs, Spices, and Other Flavorings by Alice Arndt

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This book has the research and information of an encyclopedia, the detail of a quirky travelogue, and a lovely companion in the voice of the author. Speaking of rosewater Alice Arndt writes, "The classic Persian combination of rose water and saffron is so luscious that it's almost embarrassing."

The scope of this work is to synthesize information on herbs, spices and flavorings from around the world and throughout history. It reads like a novel; I find myself returning to it again and again to peruse the entries as though leafing through a beloved story.

View all my reviews >>

Monday, July 13, 2009

Variation on a theme of Meatloaf

Meatloaf is something I make pretty much once a month. But I never make it the same way twice. It changes with the seasons or my whims or by what's on sale at the market. My grandmother's recipe called for a blend of ground pork and ground beef. I usually use a blend of ground turkey and ground chicken. I sometimes still use beef if it is on sale; my next experiment will be using ground cooked lentils which I have heard works well in some ground meat recipes.

Meatloaf Variation 1: Just like Mom used to make
Mix ground meats together (about 1.5 pounds total) add chopped onion, garlic, and celery. (These veggies, especially in concert have proven anti-cancer properties). I then add montreal steak seasoning and worcestershire sauce, some seasoned bread crumbs, and 2 beaten eggs. Place in a well greased loaf pan (or one lined in foil) and bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

Variation 2: Use this super-straightforward type of meatloaf as a base and use any or all of these ways to trick it out. Include different veggies, such as carrots (well diced), chopped tomatoes, shredded zucchini, or anything else you have on hand. This is a great food to "hide" extra nutrition in as the ground beef is super kid friendly and the tiny bits will not be noticed. You can use oatmeal instead of bread crumbs. I have even used smashed blueberries in meatloaf with none the wiser. Some ground cold pressed flax seed will just disappear in here as well.

Meatloaf Variation 3: Make either type of meatloaf (or your own mystical blend) and pack meatloaf into individual well greased cupcake/muffin pans. These cook quicker than a whole loaf, maybe 40 minutes? Turn them out onto a plate when baked. Everybody gets their own individual meatloaf. My daughter once requested a cupcake for dinner, frosted with macaroni and cheese and topped with a propellor. I made these meatloaf cupcakes, "frosted" with super cheesy sticky mac and cheese and sliced bacon into thin strips to create the propellors. What can I say? She had gotten a GREAT report card and I did say she could have anything she wanted for dinner.

A list of things I make for dinner

We subsisted on leftovers this weekend, but I did cook all week. I also posted on Facebook about a couple of my baking projects. I got a lot of oohs and ahhs over the homemade pizza I made, and a lot of comments about the bread I baked (Farmhouse White from the Year In Bread Blog).  Dana asked if I would post what I make for dinner because she "makes the same things over and over".

The thing is, I think I do too! And furthermore, I think it's a really good idea to do it. If you have some good go-to recipes it can take a lot of the headaches out of food prep, you can buy in bulk for certain items that you make all the time, and you have a good base of foods for experimenting.

Things I make all the damn time:

Roasted whole chicken
Black bean and chicken burritos
Chicken soup
Vegetable soups
Mac and Cheese
Baked fish
homemade pizza
stir fry/fajitas
beans and rice
dinner salad

I will start with one easy-peasy menu for a quick but impressive dinner:

Tastes-like Homemade Tomato soup
1 can tomato soup
1 can diced tomatoes
1 package french onion soup mix
1 pt. heavy whipping cream

Heat up soup in sauce pan, add can of undrained tomatoes, stir in onion soup mix, when all is heated and bubbly, turn down heat and add heavy whipping cream.

Now, I have made this soup with sauteed diced fresh onions, a dash of beef bullion, and some milk when I lacked other ingredients. I have used the Italian diced tomatoes, never tried the mexican style diced tomatoes, but I bet it would be good too. The thing is when diced tomatoes go on sale for buy one get one, I stock up! Same thing goes for soup; I try to have these ingredients on hand all the time. My husband's half and half that he likes for coffee also works well in this recipe, we buy it in the largest size available and use it for coffee and cooking and baking.

Next for dinner: Simple salad:

Freshest greens you have
homemade vinaigrette dressing:
use a 3-1 ratio of oil to vinegar
add a dab of good mustard
mix all in a lidded container and shake to combine. 3 - 1 ratio can be anything from tablespoons to gallons, just depends on how much you want to make. Use the same measure for both and you cannot go wrong. But what oil? What vinegar? I dunno. What do you have on hand? About the only thing I can say is don't use regular white distilled. Rice wine works well, balsamic, apple, red wine whatever. Olive, vegetable, sunflower oils all work fine. If you have sad kind of wilt-y salad greens, you can soak them in a sink of ice water with a slug of the cheap distilled vinegar and get back that lost turgor pressure! Crispy greens in 20 minutes!

Beggar's Purses: believe it or not a Martha Stewart Recipe
1 can of croissants
1 bag of baby bel cheese
dijon mustard
chopped nuts

Pop the can of croissant dough. Instead of separating into triangles pinch closed the seam and make squares. In center of each square add 1 unwrapped baby bel cheese, 1 dab of dijon mustard, and a few chopped nuts. Pull dough closed at the top and pinch shut. It will kind of look like a little bag. (Martha ties her with ribbon and tops with an egg wash, I skip that step) Bake according to package directions in oven. YUMMY goodness in like 12 minutes.

If you don't have croissant dough, take leftover bread (even bread ends) spread with butter and top with cheese and put under the broiler until cheese is golden brown and bubbly.

These three dishes have never failed to impress the heck out of guests, family, my landlord, neighbors. Thanks to my MIL Deana for the tomato soup and beggar's purse recipes.