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Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Miracle of One Pound of Hamburger Meat

I often think that for most people instead of going totally meatless it maybe easier to go "less meat". Let me give you and example. I made one pound of hamburger meat the other day and seasoned it for tacos (cumin, chili powder, adobo). I mixed the meat with a couple tablespoons of salsa and we made tacos with meat, cheese, salsa, fresh tomatoes, lettuce and plain yogurt (instead of sour cream). We had beans and rice as a side dish. We did not finish the meat. The next day my husband took two tacos to work for lunch. That night I took the remaining meat and beans and mixed it with some freshly prepared penne pasta and made soup, topped with a little sprinkle of cheese and served with freshly baked bread. If you sub in more vegetables in place of meat you will be eating lighter, cheaper, and more healthfully. The trick is to think of meat as a seasoning or a flavoring device. It is not uncommon for us to eat a pot of collard greens flavored with a couple ounces of pork belly or bacon, a pot of black eyed peas and rice and a pan of corn bread. Is that vegetarian? Clearly not, but is it healthy and delicious and cheap? Certainly!

Another meal we are found of here is to make large backed potatoes, stuffed with cheese and bacon and broccoli, served with a large salad and some steamed green beans (perhaps flavored with bacon grease?) and dinner is ready and decadent. What about stuffed cabbage or stuffed peppers, mixing the meat with cooked rice was a way of stretching the meat for economy but the result is truly delicious food. Many hamburger patty, meatball and meatloaf recipes can be combined with bread crumbs, cooked lentils and/or shredded vegetables to add nutrition and flavor and use less meat as well. We often make a chicken stir fry or fajitas with just one chicken breast in it. Just add more peppers or bok choy or beans as needed. A chicken/rice/broccoli casserole is equally delicious with more broccoli and less chicken in it. Make a French onion soup with leftover chicken broth and top with baguette slice and cheese! The possibilities are nearly endless.

If you wish to go vegetarian because you don't want to eat animals then obviously this won't work for you, but if you'd like to consume less meat for your health, for economic reasons, to ease into full vegetarianism, or for the ecological impact then this might be a good technique for you to explore.

By the way, we are a family of 4, one grade schooler, 1 preschooler and 2 adults. If you are a family with three rapidly growing teenagers or hearty eaters or more just a lot more people then obviously you must adjust your amounts accordingly. :)

Enchilada Casserole or How I learned to stop worrying about stale tortillas

Here's the thing, to make proper enchiladas you need nice fresh corn tortillas. I check grocery store tortillas by bending them back and forth in the package and checking that they are pliable and not crumbly, but every once in awhile you still get home with a bad batch. This happened to me last week, as I prepared to briefly soak the tortillas in chili powder and water and then fry them in oil to make my normal enchiladas. These things were falling apart! So I did what any Mom pressed for time and trying to make dinner would do. I said some curse words under my breath and started throwing the tortillas into the 9 x 13 pan and scowling while I came up with a plan.

This is what I did. From left to right I placed a bowl of water mixed with a tablespoon (or so) of chili powder, for dipping the tortillas. Then on a hot burner I had some vegetable oil going over medium high heat, then on the counter next to that I had my 9 x 13 pan, one small bowl of chopped onions and a bag of Mexican shredded cheese. Dip tortillas into chili-water mixture and then let drip dry over bowl of water before adding to hot oil. Use tongs! Oil may splatter! Let it fry briefly and if you have nice fresh tortillas you can flip them over to cook on the other side before placing in pan and rolling up around filling of cheese and onions and placing the enchiladas seam side down and side by side in the pan. If you have crazily falling apart tortillas, press them down into the oil to cook all over and scoop them carefully out of the oil and into the pan, spreading them out to completely cover the bottom of the pan. When pan is covered with tortillas cover all with shredded cheese and chopped onions and add another layer of fried tortillas on top of that then add more cheese and onions and top all with a final layer of tortillas. Take one small can of your favorite chili and mix it with the leftover chili water, or use leftover chili, or use a can of hot dog chili. If you seem to have forgotten to get any chili even though you had specifically PLANNED to make enchiladas that night and had it written down and everything but apparently have LOST YOUR DAMN MIND, mix some cooked beans with what is left in a frozen seasoning packet that contained chopped onions, peppers and celery, saute that all together, open some tomato sauce and throw that in with the chili water and then some more chili powder and some salt for good measure. Pour that over top of the whole pan and then top with some more cheese. Cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes, then remove foil and let brown on top for 5 minutes. Pray for a miracle and serve with sauteed or steamed yellow squash and a small salad.

Eat! Be amazed this whole mess worked out well! Goggle as the kids actually ask for seconds, resolve to be more careful when purcahaing tortillas in the future.

Green bean casserole made right!

Take 3 pounds of fresh green beans, snip and string them and break them in half, placing them in a colander. When all are snipped and strung, rinse them with cool water and set one third of your beans in the bottom of a crockpot, then layer on 1/2 -1 can of roasted garlic cream of mushroom soup, then top that with 1/2 C of shredded 4 Cheese blend, some chopped fine onion (or french fried onion if you prefer) add the next 1/3 of beans and repeat layers, ending with soup and cheese on top. This can be made a day ahead and stored in the crockpot insert in the refrigerator. If cooking the same day turn slow cooker up to low and cook 8 hours or on high for 4-6 hours. When you are ready to serve I garnish with french fried onions and freshly sauteed quartered Baby Bella mushrooms.

Delicious, and by making it in a slow cooker you save yourself valuable oven space during Holiday cooking.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Kinky Turkey Three Way

For actual Thanksgiving day we made turkey 3 ways, injected with marinade and deep fried, brined and smoked and finally, roasted in the oven with 2 sticks of butter on it. Yes, TWO STICKS OF BUTTER, my mother-in-law could give Paula Deen a run for her money.

The fried turkey was probably the most fun to cook, honestly. My father-in-law had purchased a turkey fryer specifically to try it out for Thanksgiving and this was its maiden voyage. After getting the turkey completely defrosted and completely dry we got to play with syringes and marinade! We chose some cajun butter flavor and got to shooting that turkey up. It was completely ridiculously hilarious to jam the needle in and watch the saggy, cold turkey skin plump up as we pressed the plunger. There were copious jokes made about various Real Housewives of various places. Then we lowered the turkey into the preheated peanut oil and let it go.

The roasted turkeys were actually two boneless turkey breasts that my MIL cooked. She seasons her turkey parts the same way she seasons a whole bird, just salt and pepper and two very cold sticks of butter on top. She also cooks fat side up on the breast, just to add our voice to the debate of breast side up or down. As the turkey roasts the butter slowly melts on top and keeps things moist while adding delicious butter flavor to your pan drippings that will become turkey gravy.

The smoked turkey breast was our most labor intensive turkey variation. We brined the breast for 24 hours in a large, 2 gallon ziploc bag with a mixture of water, apple juice, salt and brown sugar and stored it all in the fridge. Thanksgiving morning we brought the turkey out to dry on the counter for an hour or so; covered it in poultry seasoning and then added it to the smoker. We smoked it over hickory pellets for about 3 1/2 hours or until the meat reached an internal temperature of 165.

I think the smoked turkey was everyone's favorite actually. I enjoyed my piece of fried turkey, because it was apparently immediately adjacent to the injection site. It was all juicy and flavorful and YUM! But the smoked turkey was deliciously seasoned and flavored all the way through. The roast turkey was fine, of course, tasted lovely especially with a bit of cranberry sauce.

Next post: SIDE DISHES: or My God, you really make Green Bean Casserole?!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Pork Shoulder Roast, Steamed Mixed Veggies, Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

I got a seasoned pork shoulder roast on sale some time ago and put it in the freezer for an easy dinner. I had a crazy day/night ahead of me so I thawed the roast and put it in a small pan in the fridge. Then when I finally got us all home from school/work it was basically time to go right back out to gymnastics class. That worked out well because the roast needed to cook for an hour.

When I got back I turned the oven off but let the roast stay in to stay warm. I wasn't afraid that it would dry out because it had been packed in a marinade and was very moist to begin with, so I knew it could take the heat. I steamed a veggie mix in the microwave and the chopped the larger sprouts in half and steamed them on the stove top. I got some olive oil hot in a saute pan and then added the semi-steamed sprouts. When they were getting good color on them (golden brown and even darker in spots) I added about half a cup of chicken broth and slammed a lid on them and kept them on the heat for a few minutes to continue cooking. All done!

We had the kids in the bath by 7:30 on a night when they are usually up till 9! *Does happy dance* Maybe working has been good for me, I have been getting much more done lately!

Quick Sauteed Chicken Breasts and Green Beans

You know how to cut your cooking time in half when making chicken breasts? Flatten those suckers! When it comes to chicken breasts, bigger is certainly not better. My preferred method for fast flattening is to cover the thawed breasts with plastic wrap and pound them with my hand held lemon juicer, the nice heft and round shape keep the meat from tearing (which is surprisingly easy to do with a traditional meat tenderizer.) Pound the thickest part of the breast till it is the same thickness as the thinnest part of the breast and you have a piece of meat that will cook quickly and evenly. I seasoned with meat with salt, pepper and just a sprinkle of BBQ rub and then heated some olive oil in a heavy bottomed skillet on medium high heat. I added the meat and let it sit undisturbed till it was nicely browned on one side. If the meat is sticking to the pan don't freak out! Go against your instincts and let it sit there till it comes away easily. Flip your chicken after 5 minutes or so and brown the other side. Meanwhile have some frozen green beans steaming in the microwave with a tablespoon or two of chicken broth and some salt and olive oil. When the other side of the meat is browned remove it from the pan and add about a tablespoon of butter, some minced onion, a teaspoon of dried Italian herbs and a bit of salt. When the onion is translucent add about a cup of chicken broth plus any juices that come from the resting breasts and cook all until reduced by half. Add the breasts back to the pan, turn down the heat and spoon the juices over the breasts repeatedly. I made a simple green salad to go with dinner and we were ready to eat in about 20 minutes all together.

The fish so nice they named it twice

Mahi mahi is sometimes known as "dolphin" has nothing to do with the underwater mammal. It is a nice light, white fleshed fish and it does deliciously well fried, grilled or baked as we have here in this recipe.

Baked Mahi Mahi

3-4 mahi mahi fillets
Salt, pepper
Soy sauce
1/4 C key lime juice
Spritz of olive oil

Salt and pepper fillets on both sides, mix together key lime juice and several shakes of soy sauce, stir to blend. Take an olive oil mister and spray oil all over the fillets on both sides, pour marinade over fish and allow to sit for an hour. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and add fish when heated. Bake fish for about 25 minutes or until fish is opaque and flakes easily with a fork.

While the fish was baking I made a pot of risotto and steamed some broccoli, pretty tasty stuff I must say. I am sort of having a love affair with risotto right now. I want to make my friend Kayla's recipe where she uses about 3 cups of mushrooms, cut into various thicknesses to make 1 cup (dry) of risotto. She minces the first cup and sautés it with butter and minced onion, then she adds some chopped sauteed mushrooms with the first cup of broth and then adds some quartered mushrooms with the second cup of broth and then adds one cup of white wine as the last cup of liquid. Then she cooks it all till creamy. She finishes it up with a bit of parmesan.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pantry Tomato Soup and Sandwiches

This is one of my favorite quick dinners, to make the tomato soup simply open two cans of soup and dilute with 2 cans of water, add one package of french onion soup mix and one can of diced tomatoes with the juice. Heat the soup over medium high heat and when it is hot finish the soup with half a can of cream or half and half. YUMMY and so fast and easy.

Meanwhile I set out sandwich fixings, people had their choice of sliced ham or chicken with cheese.

Tonight was busy because the kids had gymnastics so we didn't get home until after 6. Also I am preparing for the Veterans Day celebration at my school tomorrow so I had extra shopping to do. Great easy, busy night dinner.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Tonight's Dinner: Invented by Me Edition

So, I was having a less than inspired day today. My new afternoon class is full of kids who have a lot of very strong personalities and they require more finessing than your average bunch of preschoolers. So getting home and cleaning house and supervising homework and trying to do some research for an upcoming Veteran's Day celebration made dinner sort of a last minute affair here.

Cue the pressure cooker!

Actually cue the exact opposite of what I would normally do on a stressful night by making something new and sort of fussy. I decided to finally try and make risotto. I needed the zen calming of the constant stirring and besides the chicken was defrosting anyway, so what the heck, right? I had bought a jar of arborio rice a few months ago from a company called RiceSelect and I've been told by my BFF Kayla that risotto is pretty easy and I should just suck it up and try it. That's the kind of advice a best friend can give you, quit your whining and do your thing, girl.

So the instructions of the Arborio rice did not inspire confidence, I have to admit. Here they are in their entirety.

1 C uncooked Rice
2 Tb Olive Oil
2 TB butter
1/2 C chopped onion
3 C chicken stock or vegetable broth, salt and pepper optional

1. Saute onion in oil and butter for 3 minutes. (Out of butter, I used bacon grease and olive oil)
2. Add rice, stirring for about 2 minutes.
3. Stir in one cup of broth. Continue cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed.
4. Gradually stir in remaining broth one cup at a time, cooking and stirring until liquid is absorbed before adding the next cup.

Yields approximately 3 cups of cooked rice.

Here's my problem. How long does the rice need to cook? To what temperature should I turn the dial of my stove-top?

I sauteed my onion and gave it a whirl, continually stirring except for momentary breaks to turn the microwave back on during the defrost cycle or to quickly chop a tomato for the chicken, and once to throw the chicken pieces (drumsticks) into the pressure cooker. Once the rice appeared done I grated in some fresh parmesan cheese and then put a lid on the pot, placed it off the heat on a back burner and concentrated on my chicken.

I took my defrosted chicken pieces and salted, peppered and rosemaried them. I sprinkled them with Italian seasoning blend and then browned them in the pressure cooker. When they had some good color on them I added a whole chopped tomato and half of a chopped green pepper plus 2 teaspoons (or so) of tomato paste. I then added a half cup of water and a teaspoon of chicken bullion as well. I popped the lid on and cooked under high pressure for 6 minutes and then allowing it to come to natural pressure release.

I served the chicken over the rice, reduced the sauce in the pressure cooker by turning it up to simmer, and served it with a side of (the last of) the turnip greens. The kids also had some applesauce with their meal.

In the future when I make this again (and I will make this again) I will add some baby carrots to the pot and place the chicken on top, straining out the carrots to serve as a side dish.

Yeah, I owe you.

I owe you a whole bunch of recipes, but here's the thing. I started a new job Halloween week and I have been too busy and too darn exhausted to write. I have been making food though and I am proud of myself for at least keeping that up, plus making lunches and after school snacks as usual. I have also been making themed snacks for my new preschool class, goldfish and graham crackers and grapes for Letter G-Week for instance. :)

So instead of torturing myself trying to remember all of the meals I've made since I last posted I am starting fresh tonight.

Last night's dinner was sort of fun actually, something different. I made some a gorgeous city ham from Burger's Smokehouse (a gift from my in-laws) collard greens, black beans and cornbread over the weekend so I used the leftover greens to make one of my favorite vegetarian meals, grits and greens. I made some slow cooking old-fashioned grits, cooked them according to package directions with salt, pepper and minced onion. I cooked them in the microwave for about 10 minutes on maximum power. Then I mixed them with the chopped turnip greens and grated parmesan and shredded cheddar cheese and placed it in a lightly greased 8 x 8 baking pan. I poured a half cup of half and half over all and stirred it in along with 2 tablespoons of butter. I baked it at all at 350 degrees for another 15 minutes. Just dig in and serve with a side of black eyed peas, a glass of sweet tea and your dinner is done and divine!

I have no idea what I am making for dinner tonight. Any ideas?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Last Week's Recipe Wrap-up

Last week was strange. We had 5 straight days of rain so severe that schools and government buildings were closed for two days due to dangerous flooding and concerns about wind going over the bridges. The rain came up pretty high and we had a little trouble with one of our cars that sits very close to the ground. My husband was alert enough to the rising water that he moved the car to higher ground before it got flooded. Anyway, I hadn't gone grocery shopping in awhile so dinner got to be sort of challenging since I couldn't get to the store.

Meatless Monday was a treat though, I still had cabbage to use so I decided to let the "Joy of Cooking" give me some ideas. I made the "Bean Soup with Vegetables or Garbure" recipe because it called for cabbage as well as navy beans, potatoes, carrots, and onion all of which I had on hand but it also called for turnips, leeks and a ham bone, which I lacked. I subbed in some extra potatoes and carrots for the turnips and chopped up some green onion to replace the leeks. I added a bit of "Liquid Smoke" seasoning and extra salt to take the place of the hambone. The recipe calls for water as the soup base, but if you are making the vegetarian version of this recipe I highly recommend you use your best veggie broth for added flavor. The soup was delicious and hearty and made excellent leftovers for lunch for the next couple of days. Add some fresh cornbread muffins and this is a pretty kick-ass dinner and a healthy serving of veggies to boot.

Tuesday I took advantage of the coolness the house due to the rain and I roasted a chicken and made some veggies. I love roasted chicken! When I was a broke and starving actress in Los Angeles I would sometimes splurge on an entire rotisserie chicken at the local bargain grocery store. They were three dollars a piece so sometimes I would have to dig change out of the couch to make the money, but I would walk home with my warm chicken and just smell it and try not to drool on my shoes. Anyhow, when I make chicken myself (roasted or rotisserie) I always try to make it as delicious and juicy as that 20 year old found her precious little grocery store chicken. I remove any giblets from the chicken cavity and sprinkle the inside with salt and pepper, I rub seasoned butter under the skin over the breasts and salt and pepper the chicken all over. I usually place some vegetables or a pierced lemon in the cavity of the chicken prior to roasting for additional flavor. I also like to thickly slice some onions into rings and cover the bottom of a roasting pan with them. I then put the chicken on top of the onion rings and roast the chicken at 375 degrees until the drumstick moves freely and the thigh juices run clear when pierced. You can pour off the pan juices into a sauce pan and cook over medium high heat till it reduces to make a delicious sauce as well.

Wednesday, still trapped inside our house I made some fresh bread and we had leftover soup and chicken. It was all very tasty.

Thursday, the rain had slowed enough that we could get to the store, so we bought some ground beef and taco shells and my husband made a delicious homemade salsa from the book, "Salsa Cooking" by Marjie Lambert. It was very tasty and went together in about 20 minutes.

Friday was beautiful, the kids played outside from the time they got home from school until it was well after dark. We had breakfast for dinner and the kids had fruit and yogurt. Exhausted from a week of intensive family time, housecleaning, flood worries and extra cooking (I got a lot of baking done) I fell asleep at 8:30 and slept until 7 the next morning.

Saturday night we had a friend of our elder daughter's over for a sleep over. I made the kid-friendliest meal I could short of driving them all to Mickey D's, meatloaf, mashed potatoes, roasted acorn squash, and steamed corn niblets. To make the meal more kid-friendly I sliced the acorn squash in half, removed the seeds and then cut the halves into slices which I drizzled with maple syrup, a pat of butter, salt, pepper and a dash of cinnamon. I let it bake at the same time and temperature as the meatloaf. I tinted the mashed potatoes green with food coloring and let the kids taste it and see if they could identify it. Some squealing and cautious licking of forks later they started laughing and said, "It's mashed potatoes!" I countered that in late October it was actually Monster Mash. The meatloaf was pronounced "delicious" by our guest who ate it uncomplainingly even though it was stuffed with spinach, onions and carrot. All in all a success.

Sunday night we ate a very simple meal of hotdogs, baked beans and macaroni because I had neglected to defrost the roast I had planned on making. Maybe next Sunday!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Julia and Irma

I am a big fan of Julia Child, I admit it. I used to watch her cooking show on PBS as a child and I was fascinated by her height, her laugh and her inimitable voice. I remember thinking she must be English or maybe from France, since she could speak French so well. I watched her as a sort of performance artist with food, never even thinking about trying to cook her amazingly lyrical sounding food, crepe Suzette, Poulet Poele a l'Estragon, Salade Nicoise! In fact my first attempt at "cooking" I mixed together some ketchup with some leftover kidney beans to make "chili". I stood over the stove perched on a step stool and carefully heated my concoction and then fed it to my all too trusting babysitter. I couldn't have even been in kindergarten yet. Anyhow, I knew Julia was clearly way out of my league.

When I left home at 19 I had a few recipes in my repertoire, a meatloaf, nachos, orange chicken, baked fish. I could make rice and steam vegetables, I knew how many minutes to microwave a "baked" potato. I remember making dinner for a big group of college student friends one night, and I tried something "fancy": eggs cracked into and cooked in a cheese sauce and then served on toasted english muffins. I sweated over those eggs like a woman in labor. By the time everyone was ready to sit down and eat my hands were shaking from the tension of trying to keep the eggs from breaking into the sauce and getting the slippery things onto the damn muffins without falling apart. I can't even remember if I made a side dish. I do remember thinking cooking was just not my strong suit, but I maintained my fascination with cooking shows, and dear Julia, who by now was collaborating with special guest chefs; her voice still reedy and whimsical to me though her shoulders were stooped with age. I watched her like one watches an athlete or a dancer or anyone else who is doing something very well; with complete awe and reverence for her craft and no real hope of emulating it.

I started reading my roommate's cookbooks on the sly. She had been packed off to college with a pretty wide assortment, the Better Homes and Garden New Cookbook with its distinctive red-checkered cover, some thin books about Asian Food, and a huge plastic coil bound volume with a floppy cover called The Joy of Cooking. I read that book like a novel, learning new words like "barding a fowl" which meant to tie on pieces of fat or bacon onto the chicken or turkey to keep the breast meat from drying out. I had heard of turkey bacon, but BACON TURKEY? This was crazy! I wondered exactly who Irma Rombauer was and pictured some gray-haired little granny plucking her own chickens and making homemade fruit punches.

When I moved out of the apartment I stole my friend's Joy of Cooking cookbook. I flat-out stole it. I never had any intention of cooking anything out of it, I just loved reading it and looking at the nifty illustrations for how to dress a quail and such. It was a window into a world I never had any hope of entering; like Narnia, but with cleavers.

I grew up, met and married my husband and slowly expanded my list of acceptable dishes. I remember one disastrous early dinner party. I made an attempt at arroz con pollo with black beans, a dish I had seen my mother prepare a hundred times. I called my Mom to get all of the ingredients and check on cooking times. I decided to use canned black beans instead of making them fresh just because I wasn't sure how long you needed to cook dried beans. I had never cooked them before. I think I dirtied every pan in the house and I wrecked the kitchen and when we sat down to eat, the rice was crunchy and the beans were cold. Fortunately I had lots of sangria and witty conversation to distract from how crappy everything came out. I was so disappointed and flat-out mad at myself. I was raised by an amazing cook, my Mom could make dinner for 12 on a moment's notice with whatever she could find in the pantry and the freezer and here I couldn't make dinner with a roadmap and 4 hours to prep. My great-grandmother was a formidable Southern cook and once fixed my botched chocolate chip cookie dough by eyeballing the exact amount of flour it needed and beating it in with a spoon. My abuela (my dad's mother) had been an amazing cook as well, rarely using a complicated recipe, but always making the most of whatever she put on the table. I once wept at a Mexican restaurant because their rice tasted just like hers, rich and spicy and tomatoey. Since she had passed away it was the first time I had eaten rice and not felt bitterly disappointed. How could I have come from such a long line of food-lovers, chefs, cooks and hostesses and not FIGURED OUT HOW TO MAKE DINNER?! Was I destined to be the Salieri of the food world; a passionate appreciator but unable to make ethereal music of my own?

I decided then and there that someday I would be a good cook and someday I would make a Julia Child recipe.

Well, prompted by catching a re-run of her making it on "The French Chef" yesterday I made Julia Child's famous Boeuf Bourguignon Recipe and with it I made her Champignons Sauté au Beurre and the delectable Oignons Glacés á Brun. It took me most of the day, 3 cups of wine, 2 trips to the store and countless checking and re-checking of the laptop to make sure I didn't mess it up, but I did it. I served it with my Mom's recipe for parsley potatoes and some broccoli spears steamed in the microwave, just like Mom showed me back in 1990 or so. It was a triumph. It came out of the oven smelling better than a summer day in Heaven. It made my eyes tear up with how good it smelled. And then I tasted it and it was even BETTER. Ooof.

Today I decided I would round out the weekend with the other woman that persuaded me that someday maybe I could make dinner too; Miss Joy herself, Irma Rombauer. I made her pan fried (or sauteed) chicken dredged in seasoned cornmeal, a side of baked cabbage, and some simple seasoned rice. It was all good, all tasty, all done in 30 minutes. My butter softened copy of "Joy" lay next to the stove like an old friend telling me, "now add the olive oil" and "just a teaspoon of salt." I cleaned my plate, the kids wanted seconds, my husband was tucking into the cabbage (a veggie he is not overly fond of) with gusto. It was another triumphant meal from Irma, the Alpha to Julia's Omega, the Cervantes to Julia's Shakespeare. These amazing women have been the textbooks of my cooking education.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

A Week's Worth of Menus

Monday -- Boca burgers, roasted potatoes and steamed mixed veggies

We prepared the boca burgers according to package directions, personally I like to top the burgers with some salsa and shredded cheese, or vegetarian tomato sauce and cheese but they are just fine plain, or served on a bun with regular burger fixings. The kids really enjoyed them, a great quick serving of protein. I'd recommend them for any quick weeknight dinner. I also made the microwave roasted rosemary potatoes, just chop your potatoes into bite sized pieces, add 2 TB of butter, some salt and pepper and crushed rosemary and microwave them for 10-15 minutes.

Tuesday -- Whole Wheat Lasagna with Lots o' Meat Sauce, we used the Paula Deen lasagna recipe, and the sauce was lovely but the ricotta was sort of bland. My search for the perfect lasagna recipe continues. I want to try one that uses a bechamel sauce soon.

Wednesday -- Cabbage, Peppers and Onion with Kielbasa

My mom taught me to make this for dinner when I was about 12. Take some kielbasa and slice it into half inch rounds, put them in the bottom of a stock pot with a tablespoon of olive oil and let them cook over medium heat. Let them get good and brown on one side before stirring them. While kilebasa is cooking slice some cabbage into thick shreds, I also portioned out about a cup of frozen chopped mixed onion and peppers. When the kielbasa was nice and browned I tossed in the frozen veggies and stirred them about and let them cook for about 2 minutes. Then I add the cabbage and stir everything together, pop on a lid and let everything cook for about 10 minutes. Dinner can be ready in as little as 20 minutes. Taste the cabbage for flavor and see if it needs salt, but usually the kielbasa is usually salty enough. This can be served with roasted potatoes, but we did raw carrot strips and applesauce. I have made it with turkey kielbasa many times, but I'd like to try it with veggie sausage, there are some delicious ones out there.

Thursday -- Homemade penne and cheese sauce, turkey hotdogs, homemade coleslaw

My Mema (southern for Grandmother) makes the world's BEST macaroni and cheese, or as some of the family refers to it "gallbladder killer" because it has enough fat to, well, kill your gall bladder. I rarely make her version because it takes a lot of time, 4-5 different cheese and you have to cook it on the stove top and in the oven. Totally worth losing your gall bladder for though. I made a stove top version that was not as good, but easily twice as fast. First make a white sauce with 2 TB os butter, 2 TB of flour, some salt and about a cup of milk (or half and half). Melt the butter, add the salt and flour, let it cook for a minute or two and then thin it out with the milk, stirring constantly. To the white sauce add several handfuls of shredded cheese. I used a 4 cheese preshredded blend, about a cup to a cup and half. Stir in some squirts of mustard, a few dashes of worcestershire sauce and a shot or two of tabasco sauce. Stir until all smooth and then put on the back burner on warm until your pasta of choice is done cooking, then mix the pasta and the cheese sauce together, stir and serve. My homemade coleslaw is shredded cabbage and carrot mixed with my own coleslaw sauce. Use whatever sauce you like, but I like the one I invented. In a small bowl whisk together a tablespoon of honey and 2 tablespoons of apple cider vinegar until honey is dissolved. To this add 1/4 C of plain yogurt and 1/4 of mayonnaise and whisk until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste and then you can add poppy seeds or black sesame seeds if you like, though they are optional. Toss your cabbage and carrot mixture with the sauce and refrigerate till you are ready to serve. I find the dressing sweet and tart, creamy and acidic and it is a good compliment to the cabbage.

Friday -- Homemade Pizza using "Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day" dough, with turkey pepperoni and cheese.
I have bragged before about how awesome this book is, the authors were kind enough to give anyone with an internet connection access to their Master Loaf recipe so you can try this ingenious bread baking method. I took the plain master loaf and stretched it into about a 12 inch flat round and pricked it all over with a fork. I placed the circle of dough onto a cornmeal covered baking sheet and then topped it with sauce and turkey pepperoni and cheese. It baked for about 20 minutes and we had pizza! You could even give people individual portions of dough to shape and top as they like in personal pizza sizes with this easy recipe. It is awesome because you just have refrigerated dough on hand when you need it so pizza can still be the impromptu dinner it is probably meant to be.

Happy cooking!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

3 Days, 3 Menus

Monday was as usual our Meatless menu, the kids were sick and my husband had been very ill all weekend, we actually ended up in the ER on Sunday morning. We just fed the kids yogurt, bagels, cream cheese and bananas. DH and I were so tired we just went to bed.

Tuesday we I made some baked chicken breasts, steamed green beans, and "dressing", which is identical to stuffing except not actually stuffed into anything but baked separately in it's own pan. My take on baked chicken breasts is to place the raw breast in between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound the breast until the fatter side of the breast is the same thickness as the thinner end. I seasoned the breasts on both sides with cajun spice mix and some kosher salt and then lightly seared the chicken on both sides in a hot iron skillet. You could continue to cook the chicken on the stove top, but I just wanted to get some color on them before finishing them in the oven (350 degrees). I put a little bit of butter on each piece of chicken as well. While I was doing this I was also steaming my green beans with a bit of butter in the microwave.

To make my dressing I cubed some stale bread I had in the freezer and placed it in a buttered casserole dish. I minced 1 small onion and 1 large carrot and quickly sauteed them with a bit of butter in the same pan in which I had cooked the chicken. I added some rosemary as well. When it was nice and fragrant I tossed the veggies with the bread crumbs, I opened up a quart of chicken broth (you could easily use veggie broth) and tossed everything together, when it was nice and moist I topped the dressing with some dots of butter. I threw it into the oven to bake at the same time as the chicken breasts.

I took my steamed green beans and added them into the same pan with another splash of olive oil. I seasoned the beans with salt and pepper and let them cook over medium high heat until they got come nice brown color. I deglazed the pan with a bit of soy sauce and stirred them all around. If you have some fresh ginger you can add a teaspoon or so at this point and it makes the green beans even better, but I didn't have any; another nice addition to these beans is a bit of caramelized onion or some chopped cooked bacon.

Wednesday's dinner came out really well too actually. I made a meatloaf, just make whatever meatloaf you like but I can give you some tips from my Great Gramma who taught me to make them when I was about 10 years old. First of all, use enough egg, if you have trouble with your meatloaf falling apart add another egg and see how it goes. Secondly, mix your ingredients thoroughly but gently, use your fingertips and make sure everything is mixed in well. Thirdly, when you prepare the loaf either shaping it free hand or pack it into a bread pan pick the meat up, pat it together firmly and then whack it up and down into the mixing bowl. That way you remove any air bubbles and get a loaf that does not fall apart when you slice it. I placed tonight's loaf in the center of a glass baking dish and surrounded it with cut up carrot and onion pieces which I seasoned with salt and pepper and a bit of rosemary. When the meatloaf was close to being done I snapped and steamed some asparagus. I steamed the asparagus in a bit of chicken broth and some butter. When they were done steaming I salt and peppered them and then added a bit of freshly grated parmesan and then a squeeze of key lime over all. The asparagus was wonderful I will definitely make it again.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Last Week's Recipe Wrap-Up

Monday: Black bean burritos, lettuce, salsa, sour cream, and shredded cheese. I took freshly made black beans and "re-fried" them in olive oil and then seasoned them with adobo and cumin and mashed them with a potato masher.

Tuesday: Spinach egg strata, chilled pear halves. I diced two types of slightly stale bread, one a multi-grain artisan loaf and the other crusty french bread. I defrosted some spinach and layered it over the bread pieces. I put about 2 cups of cheese over the bread and spinach, I used a combination of grated mozzarella and parmesan cheese. I beat 8 eggs with 2 cups of milk, about 2 generous squirts of grainy mustard and a dash or two of tabasco sauce and poured that over all. I baked it at 350 degrees for about 35 minutes or until puffed and golden. You can make this the night before and leave it in the fridge and then bake it in the morning too.

Wednesday: Dirty Rice Mix with kielbasa sausage. I was at cheerleading camp with my daughters and hubby sauteed some onions and green peppers, added it to the dirty rice mix and then sauteed some kielbasa to go with it. Yum!

Thursday: Driving to my brother and sister-in-law's to see the world's cutest baby. We had to eat on the road. But we also received (just for showing up!) five fresh and delicious avocados from my amazing in-laws. My friend Kayla gave me a tip to try Avocado Chocolate Mousse, but only after you make guacamole, BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado sandwich), shrimp salad with avocado, and using the avocado to garnish spicy bowls of tortilla soup. I also had an Eggs Benedict Florentine made with slices of fresh tomato (in place of english muffins) fresh leaves of spinach and slices of avocado. YUM!!!

Friday: Football game, the kids were cheering at half time and dinner with my Mother-in-Law and Father-in-Law. They took us out to dinner where I had a pretty tasty beer cheese soup. This one had pieces of sausage in it, but the kind I make at home is vegetarian. Use a beer that you like to drink and one that you would pair naturally with any nice selection of cheeses. I make a mirepoix in the bottom of a stock pot in some butter or olive oil, then I add some flour and let it cook a bit and add a quart of veggie stock, several shakes of worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, a bit of cayenne pepper and a 12 oz beer and let it come to a boil. I reduce the heat and then add in handfuls of shredded cheeses (usually mostly cheddar cheese, but blended with monterrey jack, mozzarella, maybe colby if I have some) stirring constantly, then I finish it off with a bit of cream, but that is optional. Between you and me, my soup is waaay better than the soup I got at the restaurant.

Thanks for putting up with the paltry posting, in addition to traveling with my family this week, my husband's asthma flared up really badly and my older girl got a 48 hour fever. So it was a little bit hectic.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Nacho Mama's Nachos and Anniversary Dinner


So last Thursday I made some nachos from my leftover vegetarian chili and my leftover black beans, I combined the two and seasoned them with some adobo and cumin, then I cooked them down till the liquid was well reduced and then I added a cup and a half of frozen corn niblets. I layered this mixture over some corn chips and then added some shredded cheese to the top. I broiled the nachos till the cheese was melted and nicely browned. When I pulled them out of the oven I topped them with some chopped romaine lettuce and salsa and served them. A very nice, light and fast dinner for a hungry family!


Friday was my 11th wedding anniversary and it was great to make dinner with my husband. He is a wonderful guy, a great Dad to our kids and quite simply the best partner anyone could have. I had frozen some steaks (buy one get one free at the store last week) for this occasion. I took them out to defrost in the morning and marinated them in a combination of soy sauce, worcestershire sauce and Paula Deen's House Blend (Salt, pepper and garlic powder). When my husband got home he fired up the grill and got started on the sides. They were nothing special really, just some frozen veggies, one a combo of green beans and roasted peppers from Green Giant (pretty and the other some frozen corn that I buttered and seasoned. I also made a Caesar salad. The reason we picked September to get married was to avoid any other big holidays or birthdays, but in hindsight we picked a very expensive month to have an anniversary because all of the kids' school stuff seems to happen in September, school supplies, dance class tuition and registration, sports fees, back to school clothes, new shoes, so... this month we found ourselves kind of strapped for cash. But we were eating by candlelight on our porch with our two healthy and happy kids, enjoying the night air and the scent of night blooming jasmine. So really, really truly no complaints from us!

I also made a Depression era classic cake called Wacky Cake. There are recipes for this eggless cake all over the internet, but definitely look it up because you probably already have all the ingredients in your pantry right now! You mix your dry ingredients together, pour them into a greased 8 x8 pan and then make three holes in the dry ingredients, one for oil, one for vanilla and one for a teaspoon of vinegar. Mix these all together rapidly with 1 cup of cold water and put it in a preheated 350 degree oven for 35 minutes. When it comes out allow it to cool for only a few minutes and then serve warm with ice cream or as we had it with a thick sprinkling of powdered sugar. This cake stores well at room temperature on the counter top, and is even moister and sweeter the next day. Try it some time because you will love it!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wednesday Dinner

Add up 2 chicken breasts, plus 1 bag of frozen "soup veggies" plus a frozen quart of homemade chicken broth and that equals dinner tonight. I love bags of mixed vegetables, some are stir-fry style, some are for fajitas, some are soup or gumbo mixes like the one I am using tonight. They are already washed and cut up so they are very convenient and since I got these store brand veggies for Buy One Get One free so they are also inexpensive.

If you are what you eat then I am cheap and easy.

Well, that sounds wrong. I am hot and satisfying? I'm quick and tasty? You know, I'm just moving on now.

I only partially defrosted the chicken breasts, because if they are still slightly frozen in they are very easy to cut up. I seasoned them all over with adobo seasoning and threw the pieces in a stock pot with some olive oil and a tiny bit of leftover bacon drippings. When they got browned on all sides I added my frozen veggies and my defrosted chicken broth, added a bay leaf and let it simmer.

I almost always have some frozen chicken broth on hand because whenever I make bone-in chicken I boil the bones with carrots, onion, celery and garlic. I always have carrots, onion, celery and garlic on hand because when I cut off the ends of carrots or onions or the tops of celery I store those pieces in a plastic bag in the freezer. Any tiny cloves of garlic, the kind that are really too small for cooking, also get thrown into the bag. When the bag is full I make my stocks, either chicken, beef or plain veggie stock and then freeze it in tupperware containers. Easy peasy and super thrifty.

How was your dinner tonight?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Monday and Tuesday

Meatless Monday was a tasty veggie chili, I chopped an onion into a rather large dice, plus 3 carrots plus sauteed them in a little olive oil. I added 2 Tb of chili powder and some minced garlic and let that get fragrant and lovely. I opened a can of chopped tomatoes with green pepper added. Then I added 2 cups of freshly cooked red beans and 1 Cup of broth from the beans and and stirred it all together and let it simmer and reduce a bit. When it cooled off I had about a quart of chili to put in the fridge for Monday. When reheating it the next day you can add a cup or two of frozen corn niblets if you like.

Tasty Tuesday we made what I called Bacon and Egg Spaghetti for the kids, AKA Spaghetti Carbonara. You'll need fresh grated parmesan, raw eggs (one per person at least), some chopped and fried bacon, salt and pepper. I made some whole wheat angel hair and when it was done I drained it through a strainer I had positioned over a stainless steel mixing bowl. I let the boiling water heat up the bowl and then dumped it out. I tossed the pasta with fried bacon pieces, 2 TB of bacon fat, grated fresh parmesan cheese and 4 raw eggs. I stirred and tossed it all together till all the ingredients made a sort of sauce. Who knew carbonara was that easy? Anyhow take a taste of it and check and see if you need salt and pepper.

I have no idea what I am making for dinner tomorrow. Weird Wednesday... I am just not feeling very weird. Which is in itself sort of weird for me.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Weekly Wrap-Up

Monday we had dance class, first day of carpooling with a new kid, Open House and Parent Night at the new school (plus volunteering for the event feeding the kids pizza, water and homemade cookies and then cleaning up) so we just had cheese pizza with the other families. It was a late night for us and we didn't get home until 7:15.

Tuesday we had chicken divan with broccoli and cauliflower instead of just broccoli. There are a million and one recipes for chicken divan out there, it is a classic southern dish. In fact I can't imagine a potluck or family reunion without a warm casserole dish topped with breadcrumbs or even potato chips and containing this strangely addictive dish. Most recipes for chicken divan call for a can of cream of chicken or broccoli cheese soup, I used some leftover chicken gravy I had made over the weekend,. Most recipes also call for a certain amount of cream and cheese as well, so I used some leftover alfredo sauce. I know, I KNOW, right? But here's the thing. I am super frugal by nature and super broke most of the time by circumstances so I often make these kind of strange substitutions or even plan meals around what ever bits and bobs of food I have leftover in the refrigerator. In any case the dish came out just fine, very tasty, and I loved the addition of cauliflower to the usual broccoli in the casserole, or as my kids call it, broccoli and white broccoli.

Wednesday we had red beans and rice with smoked sausage, this was another frugal feast. I found both buy one get one boxes of red beans and rice and buy one get one smoked sausage this week, I knew instantly it would make a very nice dinner for a busy night. The kids and I don't get home from gymnastics until 6:30 on Wednesdays so this was ideal. My husband got it ready for us and we were able to wash up and eat as soon as we came in the door.

Thursday we just made some simple vegetarian pasta for dinner. I chopped up some tomatoes, onions and garlic and sauteed them in olive oil and then threw in some 4 Cheese tomato sauce. I made some multi-colored veggie pasta and tossed the noodles with the sauce and some freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Friday my husband brought home rotisserie chicken and I made homemade mashed potatoes steamed mixed vegetables. I found an organic frozen mix with broccoli, cauliflower, carrot and squash in it and it's great simply steamed and tossed with butter or maybe even some grated parmesan cheese. The leftover chicken served to make us a nice lunch of chicken salad today and I boiled the carcass with some ends of carrots and onion and a bay leaf to make some lovely broth which I freeze and then use whenever I need chicken stock. Which is like all the time, I use stock to cook vegetables, be a base for soups, make gravy, flavored mashed potatoes, cook rice, or a host of other things.

I tried to get a jump on this week's cooking by making some vegetarian chili for Monday night, today. I think chili tastes better the second day and so it will have all night and all day tomorrow to get flavorful. Tomorrow I will bake some fresh cornbread to go with the very veggie chili; it has tomatoes, green peppers, onion, garlic carrot and some cooked from scratch red beans that I made in the pressure cooker. I flavored it all with 2 TB of chili powder, salt, pepper and 1 TB of BBQ rub. I am making some black beans and rice plus a cuban picadillo for dinner tonight and I have some plans for a roasted whole chicken later in the week.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Meatless Monday

We had dance class, taking an extra kid to and from class, plus Open House and serving pizza at the Open House to get through. We ate cheese pizza with everyone else. In place of my usual dinner menu here are some meatless Monday afterschool snacks that we love here.

Warm cheese sticks: take a cheese stick, unwrap and place on a microwave safe plate, microwave for 6-8 seconds on high. Yummy, runny cheese like a friend mozzarella stick but no greasy breading. Yum.

Hummus and carrot sticks, delicious!

Boiled eggs with salt and pepper

Cottage cheese topped with canned pineapple chunks

Celery sticks stuffed with peanut butter and dotted with raisins or craisins or even chopped walnuts.

Apple smiles: Cut an apple into about 6 slices, put peanut butter in each slice (on one side only) top one side with mini marshmallows and then top it with the other apple slice, peanut butter side down to help hold the marshmallows. With red apples it looks like a smile with tiny teeth. :)

Tortilla roll ups: spread some cream cheese on a tortilla, top with some leftover cooked beans, corn and a dab of salsa and roll it up.

Hope you enjoy these as much as my family does!

Thursday, September 8, 2011


I am going to adapt Julia Child's Chicken Bouillabaisse recipe for the slow cooker! I have all the ingredients, but I don't want to heat up the house by cooking in my dutch oven, so into the crock pot it must go! I will update later when we have it done! Also, how great is it to have all the ingredients for a fancy-schmancy French dinner already in stock. Not to brag or anything, but it just makes me feel good. I rarely have anything all together, so I am savoring the moment. It will surely not last long.

Also, I forgot to say that last night's ribs were very tasty and delicious and possibly the most tender pork ribs I have ever eaten. The slow cooker allowed all those tough connective tissues to break down and melt all over the meat and they were juicy and flavorful. Also, since most recipes have you boiling the ribs for up to 45 minutes before grilling them, I'd say my recipe is quitea bit easier, and far less likely to heat up your kitchen.

UPDATE on Julia's Bouillabaisse, first lightly brown your chicken pieces in a separate pan and then throw them in the slow cooker, and then, only add a cup or so of broth instead of pouring broth in until it comes up to the sides of the chicken as Julia did. My chicken cooked almost apart and I nearly had chicken soup. However, this recipe was wonderful, tasty, delicious and cool. My husband gave it his ultimate compliment, "You can make that AGAIN." So there ya go. :)

Playing Catch Up

Monday's Menu was not meatless, but it was Labor Day and we all had the day off so I took the extra time to make fried chicken. I don't usually make it because it can be so time and labor intensive and basically I have never had fried chicken as good as my great grandmothers so it always seems pointless to me. But then I am thinking Gramma probably wasn't ALWAYS great at making chicken, it takes practice.

I soaked the chicken pieces (chicken thighs) in my own version of buttermilk, basically regular milk with some vinegar added to it, then I added a spoonful of dried Ranch dressing mix to it and thoroughly covered all the chicken pieces. I let them soak while I made a flour mixture in a plastic bag, basically 1 1/2 C of regular flour, salt, pepper and paprika about a teaspoon of each. I shook up each piece of chicken and laid them out while I got the oil heated. I usually shallow fry the chicken , but I had some leftover oil from making donuts last week so I decided to use my deep fryer. I have trouble making sure the chicken was cooked all the way to the bone on the first try so I thought maybe the deep fryer would help. I followed the cooking directions from Paula Deen's fried chicken recipe and cooked them for 13 minutes, but I guess my pieces were bigger or something because my first pieces were not completely cooked through. Maybe the oil needed longer to heat or something because the rest of the pieces came out fine.

We served the chicken with baked beans and coleslaw, it was a really nice way to end the day.

Tuesday my kid wanted some tacos, in fact my older daughter was singing in the car "It is ta-co Tues-day!" and my younger daughter started crying and said, "I don't want tacos on Tuesday, I want them TODAY!" So tacos for sure!

Brown your ground beef with some chopped onions and drain off any fat, season the beef with some cumin, salt, pepper and chili powder. We warmed up some crunchy corn shells in the oven and served the tacos with yellow rice, grated cheese, shredded romaine lettuce and some lovely salsa.

Wednesday was gymnastics, so I needed an easy dinner. I read some recipes online for slow cooker ribs so I decided to make my own recipe with what I had on hand. I rinsed the ribs and cut them into 2 and 3 rib chunks and placed them in the slow cooker, I sprinkled them all over with BBQ rub. Over the top I poured a can of tomatoes that had onions and garlic, I sprinkled 1/4 C of brown sugar over the top, and poured on about 1/3 of the tomato can filled with apple cider vinegar. I hit the whole thing with a few dashes of hot sauce, turned on the slow cooker on high and let it go till dinner time, took 1 rack of ribs about 3 1/2 hours to cook. We served it with applesauce, steamed mixed vegetables, and the leftover yellow rice from Taco Tuesday.

Tonight is Thirsty Thursday, because it is still hot here and I am alllll about the cold drinks right now, this is a simple one. We used to make these things called "Italian Sodas" when I worked at a coffee shop, we;d take flavored syrups, mix them with seltzer water and serve them over ice. My favorite UNSWEETENED version of that is simply adding your favorite juice to a glass with ice (I like a cranberry juice) and then topping it off with seltzer and a slice of lime. Super refreshing and lovely. You can do this with any juice, flavored syrup or even make fizzy lemonade. I have no idea what I am going to make for dinner but I think it will be pasta based.

Have you ever seen those microwave pasta cookers advertised on television? I have seen them but always eyed them with suspicion because WHY would you make pasta in the microwave? Then as I was standing over a pot of boiling water the other night to make penne for my family in my un-airconditioned kitchen I thought, I wish I had one of those dang pasta cookers! I picked one up at Beall's Outlet over the weekend and it had a pink dot on it, which apparently made it 95% off. So I get to try the pasta cooker and it only cost me .22¢!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Weird Wednesday and Thirsty Thursday

Last night's (Weird Wednesday) chicken did not go as planned. What was weird was that I got all riled up over a truly regrettable t-shirt I saw on JC Penney's website. Okay, me getting riled is not weird, me deciding to take time out of my day and throw a RIGHTEOUS AND UNHOLY FIT ABOUT IT is pretty weird. I mean, I usually am good to just write a sternly worded e-mail and then let it go, but something got to me about that shirt and unlocked a part of me I thought I tossed out with my last pair of Doc Martens, basically the part that doesn't worry about speaking up and speaking loudly even if it was over an idiotic t-shirt. I plan on exercising that part of me a little but more from now on. It felt good.

But in typical suburban Mom fashion I also had to take the kids to two different gymnastics classes, supervise homework and try and get dinner started and I had basically made a complete and utter mess of things because there I was at 3 o'clock in the afternoon with a wrecked kitchen and a frozen solid whole chicken. I needed to leave in half an hour. So, I threw the chicken in the microwave to defrost, and started unloading and loading the dishwasher. Seriously, if you are ever faced with a kitchen where things are so chaotic you don't know where to start, just do the dishes, everything else will fall into place. Once the dishwasher was running again I looked at the chicken and it wasn't completely defrosted. I was basically out of time by this point, so I placed it on top of thick slices of onion layered in the bottom of my crockpot, seasoned it all over with adobo, splashed on quite a bit of mojo criollo sauce and set it on high and left. When my husband got home he called me and I told him where the rice, yellow squash, and artichokes were. We decided to split the artichoke down the middle, baste it with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast it under the broiler, when I got home we also roasted the now cooked chicken under the broiler to crisp the skin and give it another layer of flavor, otherwise that would have been a pretty bland looking bird. We ate only the chicken quarters last night, drumsticks for the girls and the rest for us, steamed yellow squash circles, roasted artichoke and rice. Tonight I will take the rest of the chicken meat off the bone for reheating and serve it with a zucchini casserole recipe I just got from my grandmother.

Zucchini Casserole:

tomatoes (fresh or canned)
cracker crumbs

Simply take zucchini, cut it into rounds and layer it into the bottom of a lightly greased loaf pan, add diced tomato, chopped onion, dots of butter, salt and pepper and then repeat layers, on the top add mozzarella shreds and cracker crumbs dotted with more butter, bake covered for 30 minutes at 375, remove foil and bake until mozzarella is browned and melted, another 10-15 minutes.

Today I traded 6 pounds of starfruit off of our tree for a bunch of red bell peppers, red onion, gorgeous beefsteak tomatoes, an acorn squash and I promised to come back tomorrow with some key limes for the guy so I can get more goodies. Here's where I live, we can barter for fruits and vegetables, by the side of a major highway where the tiny miniature Key deer are nibbling delicately at a cantaloupe rind. Its like Little House on the Prairie mixed with a Carl Hiassen novel over here just about all the time so in honor of the amazing place where I live I offer this Key Limeade recipe for Thirsty Thursday!

Key Limeade:

Key limes
simple syrup

Squeeze your key limes into a small strainer set over a small bowl to catch the seeds. Add somewhere between an 1/8 of a cup to 1/4 C of key lime juice to an 8 ounce glass filled with ice. Add 2 oz. of simple syrup and then top off with water till glass is about 2/3 full. Mix and taste and adjust lime juice and syrup till you reach tart/sweetness you desire.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

So this is a thing in the world... UPDATE

JC Penney is selling a shirt that reads "I'm Too Pretty to do Homework So My Brother Does it For Me". JC Penney is a multimillion dollar corporation that depends on consumers, a fair number of who must be women and mothers, to buy their products. Well, they just lost me and I made sure to let them know about it at their e-mail address jcpcorpcomm@jcpenney.com and on their Facebook page.

JCPenney pulled the "Homework" t-shirt, but is still selling this little gem and it is just if not MORE offensive. Please let them know what you think of their condescending attitude towards our daughters.

Tuesday and Wednesday's Menus

When I finished my pot roast on Sunday I saved the beef broth from the pressure cooker in a separate container and saved the leftover beef and veggies as well. Yesterday I made a quick roux with butter and flour and then thinned it out with the reserved beef broth. I added my veggies to simmer and then cubed some of the leftover meat. When the veggies were warmed through and ready I added the cubed beef, heated through this made a quick and easy beef stew. I still had some beef leftover, so I wrapped it well in foil and put it in the freezer. I may use it later for another beef stew, or even shred it down and make BBQ beef, or some other reason. It was a super economical meal because I got two dinners out of the one roast plus 2 lunches and now I can even use it round out a third meal. It was also economical because I bought the roasts on a buy one get one sale at Winn Dixie, so I have another untouched roast in the freezer. I wasn't intending on buying beef that day but when I see a sale like that I have to jump on it.

For tonight's dinner I will be setting up my rotisserie and roasting a whole chicken. I will flavor it with lemon, salt, white pepper, and butter rubbed generously under the breast skin to keep things moist and flavorful. I am making a side of rice, some artichokes (just steamed with butter) and some yellow squash.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday and Monday

This morning I decided to take advantage of the relatively cool temperatures in the kitchen and go ahead and make my cheese enchiladas for Meatless Monday. To make cheese enchiladas you will need the following ingredients:

Corn tortillas
1 can of preferred chili (seriously, we usually use hot dog chili but today I made chili with a can of tomatoes, chopped onion and bell pepper, chili powder and adobo, I let it all simmer on the stove until it reduced.)
Chili powder
Cheese, grated colby jack, queso blanco, 4 cheese mexi blend, (Today I used colby jack and shredded mozzarella because that's what I had on hand.)
Chopped fine onion

Set up your stations like this, a wide shallow bowl with water and 2 tablespoons of chili powder in it next to that a heavy bottom pan with a half inch of oil over medium heat. A 9 x 12 baking pan. 2 small bowls, one with onion, one with shredded cheese near the baking pan. Dip a corn tortilla in the water and chili powder mixture, shake off the excess water and fry it briefly in the hot oil. Place the fried tortilla into the baking pan with tongs, add some cheese and onions to the tortilla roll it up and slide it up against the narrow edge of the baking pan. Keep adding tortillas this way till you have the pan filled. If using the hot dog chili method add some of the chili water mixture to it to thin it out, pour your chili over the top of your enchiladas and then top with cheese, you can place this in the freezer at this point or cover with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes, remove foil and bake an additional 5 minutes. Serve with salad and black beans and rice.

I made a pot roast today as well, I chopped up 3 potatoes and 3 carrots plus a good-sized onion and place them in the bottom of a slow cooker. I seasoned the vegetables with salt, pepper and dried rosemary. Meanwhile I salted and peppered my roast and browned it on all sides in an iron skillet, when it was done I placed it on top of the veggies and then sprinkled flour over the top and then seasoned the meat further with soy sauce, liquid smoke, and worcestershire sauce. I placed the lid on top of the slow cooker and put it on AUTO which in my slow cooker means it cooks on high for 2 hours and then switches to low, it will cook for 5 hours at this rate.

My plans for the rest of the week include "rubber chicken" and maybe a slow cooker broccoli potato soup.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hope everyone reading this is okay.

I mean, I always hope that, but today I am particularly hoping you have shelter and power and you are safe and dry and warm. I am a hurricane veteran at this point, but I know if you are not they can be very scary and disconcerting. Heck, they are still scary and disconcerting to me, but in a familiar type of way by this point.

As far as the weather here; it was so hot today, the kind of numbing, "NO! I am not doing ANYTHING today!" heat that makes cooking kind of a bummer. However I picked myself up and marched myself into the kitchen to make one of my favorite foods in the world, migas! Migas is an egg based dish, usually served at breakfast where you sauté a variety of vegetables (any combo of onion, bell peppers and chopped tomatoes) in oil, add beaten eggs, strips of fried corn tortillas and top with soft Mexican cheese. YUM! So good. And it cooks very quickly so a good dinner for tonight.

I checked the fridge... two eggs. TWO EGGS? We just bought 2 1/2 dozen eggs like last week! Lord, we have been eating eggs a lot recently. But eggs are so perfect aren't they? Gorgeous little proteins, they can be prepared a variety of ways, they cook quickly with little effort and they can be everything from a hearty breakfast to a decadent dessert (meringue cookies anyone?) So it was time to back up and punt.

I had already chopped some onion and bell pepper for my migas so I sauteed them with a dash of salt in some olive oil and decided to make some pasta sauce. I scoured the freezer for some likely source of protein and found some frozen turkey sausage patties, I chopped them up with my big kitchen knife, still frozen and threw them into the pan with my veggies and stirred them till they were brown and sizzling, then I added a jar of fancy basil pasta sauce I got from my MIL (mother in law).

I made a big pot of boiling salted water, cooked some whole wheat penne pasta and dinner was ready in about 20 minutes.

Stay safe, stay dry and see you later!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Easiest Dinners in the World

Some bonus posting today to make up for all the days I've missed due to moving, rats, kitchen appliance malfunction, electrical issues and family emergencies. YUP, it's been a month hasn't it?

Here are some of the fastest and easiest dinners I know how to make:

*Cheese quesadillas with a side of frozen or canned black beans and corn. If you have salsa or sofrito on hand you can toss some in with the black beans to give it some homemade flavor. A small Caesar salad would go great as well.

*Grilled cheese with tomato soup, salad and apple sauce.

*Macaroni and cheese with cut up all beef hotdogs, side of broccoli steamed in the microwave.

*Linguine and clam sauce, (a great pantry staples recipe!) Boil water for noodles, throw canned clams and canned tomatoes into a stock pot, hit it with some italian herbs, smashed clove of garlic and a slug of white wine. When the noodles are done, so is the sauce.

*Frozen cheese or meat raviolis with a side of sauteed green beans with garlic or onions.

*Frozen pot stickers prepared to package directions served with a bag of frozen stir-fry vegetables tossed with soy sauce or hoisin.

*Hamburger patty, done on the George Foreman grill or cooktop, side of cottage cheese and tossed salad.

*Chicken breast, pounded flat, cubed and cut up, season and sautee in a pan, toss with cooked hot rice or buttery noodles, serve with veggie of choice.

What are your go-to super fast suppers?

Fish Friday: Lobster Enchilado

Time to make you jealous again with my sweet, sweet fisherman friend hook-up. Here in Florida we are in the middle of lobster season, the Florida lobster (sometimes called the spiny lobster or Caribbean spiny lobster) is a crustacean that lacks the large claws of the Maine lobster but has sweet and succulent tail flesh. Oh my gosh do we love our "bugs" down here and we will eat them any way we can get them. Some of the favorites are lobster Ruebens, lobster linguine, lobster alfredo, steamed tails served with drawn butter, or even spicy tempura battered and fried lobster bites!

Here is a wonderful lobster recipe that we make with Florida lobster and I add Key West Pinks (a type of shrimp) to it as well, delicious and flavorful! Just be careful not to overcook the tails or the shrimp as they can become unpleasantly chewy and tough. Also, just eat it all in one night, reheated lobster is not great. I think pairing this with a nice bottle of white wine, maybe a Pinot Gris, would be a perfect end of summer dinner.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

BBQ Pork Sandwiches (Your Way)

I took the leftover pork roast and shredded it with two forks, mixed it with some high-fructose corn syrup free BBQ sauce and heated it all up briefly on the stove, meanwhile I took some frozen corn niblets, frozen green beans and microwave steamed them. I also served some store-bought potato salad and some crispy, crunchy coleslaw.

The secret to really crisp coleslaw is to salt your shredded cabbage and let it sit in a colander to drain for at least 20 minutes, then rinse it well and spin it in a salad spinner or wrap it in dishcloths and wring it out. Add your shredded carrot and maybe some shredded onion and thinly sliced green pepper too, but those are optional. I then like to toss my cabbage with a bit of olive oil and apple cider vinegar, before blending in some mayo (not too much) and salt, pepper, celery seed and a dab of dijon mustard. Then just combine well and chill until you are ready for dinner, but at least 15 minutes. I am not giving amounts because it truly depends on how much cabbage you are using, a whole head of cabbage versus a small bag of premixed slaw necessarily require different amounts. Also, I like my coleslaw very dry, more like a tossed salad than absolutely swimming in dressing, some people require a lot of dressing, all a matter of taste; but always add less than you think you need, you can always add more. You MUST taste your food as you are cooking, it helps you learn what you like and in what amounts and combinations you like it.

Now, my husband has got me eating cole slaw ON my pulled pork sandwiches instead of on the side and I think it is delicious! You may top your sandwich with pickle chips or cheese or both, or maybe add lettuce and tomato and thinly sliced onion.

The kids had pork sandwiches with cheese, all the sides and decided they wanted to eat some pickled okra too. We washed it all down with some ice cold lemonade!

Stay cool friends!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Weird Wednesday: Pork with Apples

Some people have not embraced cooking meats with fruit, so I have another awesome slow cooker recipe for you! Cut a good sized onion into quarters and place in the bottom of a slow cooker. Take an apple and cut it into quarters as well. Place a center cut pork roast and flip it fat side up and place it on top if the apples and onions. Season it all over with your favorite spice rub. I have a great BBQ style rub, but I am bound by law, blood oath and family commitment not to reveal the ingredients of it. You could make your own basic rub with the following:

Easy BBQ Rub
1/4 C paprika (or chili powder)
2 TB salt (or onion salt)
2 TB ground black pepper
2 TB crushed dried rosemary
1 TB dry mustard

Mix all together and store in a clean dry jar.

If you like you can cut small slits into the meat and fill that with slivers of garlic, though that's optional. Pour a cup of apple juice into the slow cooker and 2 TB of apple cider vinegar (lacking that you can substitute some white vinegar). Cover and cook on high for 2 hours and switch to low for 2-3 more hours or cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 4 hours. Serve this with crunchy coleslaw or creamy potato salad, or my favorite turnip greens!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

If you can't stand the heat, then get out of the kitchen!

One of the few challenges I actually KNEW I was going to be facing in this house was the fact that only the bedrooms are air conditioned. The living areas are dependent on ocean breezes and ceiling fans to keep it cool. So obviously cooking dinner is bit of a challenge because I want to prepare food without heating up the house unduly. Today I tried two new experiments in meal preparation and I feel like I was *mostly* successful. I tried making meatloaf in the pressure cooker and I tried making "oven roasted" rosemary potatoes in the microwave.

For the meatloaf recipe I read a lot of "pressure cooker meatloaf" recipes and sort of distilled their wisdom down into my own take on it. I made a meat loaf recipe, adding to 1 pound of ground beef 1/2 C of slow cook oatmeal moistened with several tablespoons of milk (keeps things moist), I added salt and pepper to taste, 1/2 of a large onion finely diced, about 1/2 TB of dried Italian seasonings, 2 eggs lightly beaten, and some worcestershire sauce. I mixed this all up and placed it into a plastic container somewhat smaller in circumference than my pressure cooker and then I placed it all into the freezer uncovered for 15 minutes. Meanwhile I helped my 3rd grader with her math homework and prepped the potatoes by scrubbing them clean and cutting them into approximately 1" cubes. When the timer went off I popped the now firmed up meatloaf into my pressure cooker and set it on the "browning" level and crisped the bottom of the meatloaf. While it was browning I brushed the top of the meat loaf with a mixture of ketchup and worcestershire sauce. I added a 1/2 C or so of water to the bottom of the cooker, topped it with the lid and set it to high pressure for 15 minutes. Well, after a few minutes it clicked off and I realized I had not added enough water. I let the pan come back down to pressure naturally (the meat will keep cooking during this stage) and then I added another 1/2 C of water mixed with worcestershire sauce for seasoning, popped the lid back on and cooked it for another 6 minutes.

While waiting for the meatloaf to cook I made preparations for the microwave oven potatoes. I have to admit I don't really cook much in my microwave, I use it to reheat things of course or make water for tea or melt butter or defrost meat, but actual cooking? Not so much. I was intrigued by the idea of using it to as it does not heat up the kitchen and it actually uses a lot less energy than cooking on a stove or in an oven. I smashed a clove of garlic and placed it into a glass bowl that was about 8 inches across. I added a few teaspoons of Smart Balance spread (maybe a tablespoon) because that is what I had on hand, you can use butter or olive oil I am sure. Then I added some salt and microwaved it for about 45 seconds, next I tossed in and mixed up the chopped potatoes (about 3-4 medium sized potatoes) and crushed some dried rosemary and tossed that in as well. Then I covered the potatoes with a microwave safe splatter guard and let them cook on high for 15 minutes. Now microwave times and powers will vary, so keep a CLOSE eye on your food when you try this, but it was totally worth the little extra worry, the potatoes come out great. You could smell the rosemary and they spuds had very good texture, a few of them even got a little brown around the edges! I quickly used the microwave to steam some cut up broccoli (official vegetable of the Dinner 365 Family) and we were ready to eat. (The kids also had a side of applesauce, "Because Mom if you have a dinner plate with 4 sections all 4 sections need some food in them!")

Anyhow, I made dinner; I stayed cool and comfortable and everything was ready very quickly, so a total WIN for us tonight.

Monday, August 22, 2011


It was a hectic, emotional day. First day of school for my 3rd grader and her baby sister, a PreK 3 year old. We are at a new house, a new school, they need to make new friends, get used to a new routine, and frankly the enormity of what I am asking them to do and do cheerfully hit me today.

My PreK kid went straight into her classroom, ready to play and ready to greet the day. Her older sister was explaining things to her in a calm soothing voice like you might use with a skittish animal, but the baby seemed content and happy to play with the toy shopping cart and baby dolls in the "dramatic play center". Finally it was time to take my 3rd grader to her classroom so we hugged baby sister good bye and let ourselves out. She never even looked back at us.

Walking in silence towards the 3rd grade class room I looked at my 8 year old, remembering the tears and frantic grabbing after me when she was the little one being left at daycare for the first time. Now she has a sassy little bob of hair and her feet are nearly as big as mine. I could tell by the guarded look on her face she was nervous so I started chatting about the girls she had met at "Meet the Teacher" day, subtly reminding her of their names. We realized that the 3rd graders were supposed to meet in the cafeteria, so we headed down the hallway with me still blithely blabbering and she, my little chatterbox, giving me one word answers.

I left her in the cafeteria with her class and seated between the two girls she knew and hoped for the best. She looked at me a little tremulously as I waved good-bye. In her eyes I could see the little toddler who begged me not to leave her 6 years ago. It hurt.

I went home and cleaned furiously, unpacked, broke down boxes with insane energy. I washed dishes, I organized shelves, I swept the floor, I vacuumed the rug, I wiped down counters and put away toys. I had set the timer for 2 1/2 hours to make sure I was on time to get the baby and I was out the door like a shot when it rang out. I grabbed my camera on impulse as I dashed out so i could maybe get a few cute shots of baby at closing circle time or hugging a new friend goodbye. I parked my car in the driveway a few minutes later and started toward the classroom. I was just climbing the steps to her portable I heard the sound that makes your hair stand up, a wailing bloodcurdling YELL from my preschooler. I peeked in the window and while the teacher was valiantly trying to sing Itsy Bitsy Spider with the other kids, over the deafening roar. My baby was in the back with the assistant SCREAMING HER HEAD OFF and what she was screaming was plaintive, powerful and persistent, "I WANT MY MOMMY!" The assistant caught my eye in the window and motioned me in frantically. I walked in and baby launched herself into my arms sobbing and hiccuping and she said to me, "I never want to go to school AGAIN!" The assistant told me she had been fine till some boys started crying for their Moms and it seemed to spread from there. I noticed two small boys were also sniffling and teary but neither of them had the insane window rattling fury of my bellicose beauty. I grabbed her bag and scooped her up and mouthed, "I'm sorry!" at the lead teacher as we hustled out the door.

Later, over some mac and cheese we discussed the day, she said, "School is terrible Mama!" When pressed she admitted she had fun at playground and centers and playing with other kids, but she suggested next time I just come with her. She also shook her head sadly and said, "I never even got to see Sister."

Yup. I forgot to tell her that 3rd grade and PreK aren't in the same class, heck they are not even in the same building. She was devastated. This made my misapprehension for my 8 year old even bigger. I set the timer again to leave and to go to my older child at a moment's notice. I kept my cell phone on my hip in case of a frantic phone call from her teacher or principal or possibly the police. My sunny gregarious toddler had crashed and burned in class, surely my sensitive artist/poet/singer/dancer would come home permanently curled in the fetal position and suffering dehydration from the copious crying.

The baby and I entered the cafeteria 3 hours later with great trepidation, me looking for a sad eyed brunette and she looking for roving preschool teachers who might come and separate us. When I finally saw my little tween she beckoned me over with an assertive "come here" gesture so I hustled to her, prepared to whisk her to the car before the inevitable tears could start. Before I could say a word she told me brusquely, "Come on! I have a lot of homework to do and SO DO YOU!" As we trotted off she was waving at new friends and yelling goodbye to her teacher and telling me in rapid fire detail about her day before announcing as she buckled herself into the car, "Today was the best day EVER!"

For dinner we had bacon, star fruit off our tree and scrambled eggs. They match my brain at this point.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

What I did Today: Museum Edition

I walked all over Key West today hauling kids who were alternately happy and murderous... walk with me will you?

Our first stop, the fully air conditioned and utterly delightful Florida Keys Eco Discovery Center which since it is located in a sort of janky end of town made me worried it would also be janky. But it was very well done and a great example of as our guide said, "our tax dollars at work" should you be in Key West I'd recommend it!

Then we walked to the awesome and inspiring Key West Lighthouse and Keeper's Quarters Museum, where I learned the fascinating fact that the lighthouse was tended three times in it's history by female lighthouse keepers, all of whom inherited the job from their husbands. The lighthouse is located directly across from the Hemingway House, which I found out later was built and lived in by the Tift family, who made their fortune in ship wreck salvage.

Then we decided to get some lunch at a delightful little bistro called Six Toed Cat, after the famous polydactyl cats that inhabit the Hemingway garden. I had a turkey bacon panini to share with the baby, my oldest had a garden salad, Lee got a burger and we all shared the shoe string french fries which were hot, crispy and had just the right amount of salt. There was fresh squeezed limeade on the menu (delicious!!) so I got a glass of that, but then hit the ice water pretty hard because it was HOT out there today and we had been sweating buckets. The kids were sucking down waters as well. The tables are shaped like 6-toed paws and it was inside in the a/c so very pleasant.

Then we marched down to The Key West Shipwreck Museum and climbed the 65 foot tall tower overlooking Key West and the reef and my oldest got to hold a 65 pound bar of Spanish silver that was lost at sea hundreds of years ago before being recovered in the late 80's.

Then we were off to The Museum of Art and History at the Custom House and saw some really cool interactive pieces of sculpture where an artist had created life sized 3-D renderings of some famous paintings and you were encouraged to climb into them and interact with them and even take pictures of yourself posing in them. Meanwhile cameras are trained on you and the images are displayed on video screens that are placed in picture frames along the staircase. Pretty neat! The 2nd floor was devoted to Keys history with a neat exhibit about Flagler's trains down to here. I didn't realize that the project cost 700 lives, millions of dollars, opened in 1935 and then was blown away in the Labor Day hurricane of 1935! Some of our existing car bridges are built on the very bones of Flagler's lost dream.

The kids were pretty hot and tired at this point so we made a quick stop at Mattheessen's Ice Cream for a little pick me up. I had strawberry, the kids got something called "Papa Smurf" which was blue and had tiny marshmallows in it. I am not sure they got the implications of EATING PAPA SMURF and that it puts them squarely into Gargamel territory, but it was like 112 degrees out there and I guess he was a smurfing good way to bring down their core temperatures.

And then our last stop of the day was Truman's Little White House and it was so freaking cool. The house is done with original furnishings from Truman's days there, if you have Florida relatives of a certain age you will KNOW what type of furnishings they had. Rattan furniture in tropical print fabric, geometric pottery style ash trays, mahogany wet bar, jalousie windows, the whole business. It was everyone's Miami grandma's condo from 1954 in there, I loved it! The one drawback was keeping a very tired toddler from trying to climb into Bess Truman's bed to take a nap. The BEST PART was the tour guide talking about all the bills and laws that Truman signed at his small living room desk there, and she said, "He was working in health care back then. He was trying to create Medicare and it was very unpopular, people were calling him a socialist and all kinds of things, he left office with a 22% approval rating, worse than Nixon! And yet I know that is a program that a lot of us here depend on TO THIS DAY!" I wanted to go up and hug that woman, I really did. Apparently when Johnson signed Medicare into law he signed it at the Truman library to honor the work Truman had done.

Then we went home. I meant to make a key lime pie for dessert but all I had energy for was to get the kids to pick the limes off our tree and then make them some scrambled eggs for dinner. Key Lime Pie with recipe TOMORROW!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Dinner is ready! I

I know, it's only 9:30 a.m. EST. But see I've been up since the wee hours of the morning being systematically tortured by thoughts of faulty wiring causing our house to burn to the ground and by the incessant kicking, headbutting and general bed- hogginess of our otherwise adorable 3 year old. Seriously, how can someone only 3 feet tall take up 90% of the space in a king-sized bed? Also my friend Mark brings up a great point with his theory that children actually grow extra arms and legs in the night because they flail around like beached octopi. But I was talking about dinner wasn't I? Yes, since I have literally been up since the crack of dawn it gave me a chance to start a crockpot meal.

Taco Crockpot Chicken

To the crockpot add 1 16 oz package of frozen corn
Over that place 1 can of rinsed and drained black beans
On top of that add boneless chicken(3 breasts, 4-5 thighs, tenders what have you)
Over that pour 1 16 oz container of salsa

Put the lid on and cook on low for 6-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours. You can shred the chicken with two forks and serve it as taco filling, or you can add a can or two of chicken broth and make a tasty soup.

This recipe has been making the rounds on a parenting website I frequent and I have no idea who to credit for it, but my friend Lisa passed it on to me.

What makes this recipe a winner to me is 1) the chicken can be added frozen and 2)slow cooker recipes are perfect because they do not heat up the house and they are not labor intensive at all. Enjoy!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Back in the Saddle Again

You know, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes you move into a house that was apparently built on an Indian burial ground or something. Yes, the new house has been a bit of a challenge (rats, snakes, broken refrigerators) and now some wonky electrical issues. My breakers keep flipping. I don't have anything plugged in aside from the usual kitchen appliances and also sometimes when I plug things in I hear a little sizzle-pop sound and see some sparks.

This is a wooden house and I feel like just maybe it will catch fire. Normally I would not indulge in such catastrophic thinking, but my track record with this house has not been good. I am going to call the landlord tomorrow.

Anyhow, I DID make dinner tonight, simple Spaghetti and Meatballs. I know today was technically Meatless Monday, but you could make this a meatless meal just by omitting the meatballs or by adding any good vegetarian meatballs or even adding something like a can of rinsed cannelini beans for a bit of protein and heartiness.

My basic method is to start my lightly salted water to boil in a stock pot with a lid on it. Then I sautee my vegetables in a bit of olive oil in a sauce pan, tonight I used minced garlic, diced onion and diced green pepper, adding the garlic last to make sure it doesn't scorch or burn. Other nights I might wilt some spinach or sautee some mushrooms as well, basically use anything you like, sometimes I even add some grated carrot if I think the kids need another serving of veggies. Once your veggies have softened a bit I add 1 small can of diced tomatoes and 1 small can of tomato sauce, plus some Italian seasoning. I let all of this simmer until the pasta is ready. If using meatballs you can let them simmer in the sauce until cooked, or cook them in a seperate pan and then add to the sauce at the end. I was using frozen meatballs today so I let them simmer in the sauce for 25 minutes. Our pasta tonight was whole wheat thin spaghetti. Dessert was no sugar added applesauce with an optional sprinkling of cinnamon.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Everything Will Kill You

So I grew up in the South making sun tea, we even had the special little glass jar with a spigot on the bottom just for making it. It was painted with little flowers and was super cheerful. Sun tea is so easy too, just add water, tea bags and let it sit in a sunny spot for a few hours. Then add sugar, lemon, or mint and you were done.

Now apparently, sun tea CAN KILL YOU!!! By not boiling the water you are allowing an environment where bacteria can grow and (it is implied) eat your face off, scare your dog and ruin your credit rating.

I live in a house without air conditioning, and boiling anything on my stove top add a certain humid heat that is unpleasant. I made some deviled eggs for the girls the other day and standing anywhere near the stove was what I imagine a wrinkled shirt feels like under the iron. I could make it in the microwave but I always forget it and then hours later I open the door to defrost something and BOOM there's a glass measuring cup full of cold tea staring at me.

What is a southern girl to do? Make some refrigerator tea, of course! Just add water and tea bags to a pitcher the night before and leave it in the fridge for 12 hours. The next day you will have fresh iced tea. To add sweetness to already cold tea, I simply make a cup or two of simple syrup and use it to sweeten individual glasses. Simple syrup is just 2 parts sugar to one part water, for instance if I boil up 2 cups of water, then I add in 4 C of sugar, stirring constantly. Once the sugar has dissolved I remove the water from the heat, let it sit and cool and thicken, then pour it into a clean mason jar and refrigerate it till I need it.

So there ya go. Of course you really need a refrigerator for this recipe and I won't have one until this weekend, but have a nice cold one for me!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

...and now the refrigerator broke!

Last night I made steak and chicken fajitas, watched my family eat peacefully at the dining room table. We were all watching the lizards running across the dining room windows eating bugs and I thought, "Yes, things are going to be alright here."

Today? Not so much. The refrigerator has not been acting right since we moved in, I called the repairman and he came out and said, basically, the whole fridge is shot to hell. Go get a new one. Well my landlord lives in another state from me, so coordinating a new fridge has fallen on my shoulders a bit. Then there are the vagaries of delivery when one lives on a small island. Saturday was my earliest delivery date. SATURDAY. Till then I am to what? Cool the milk in a sink filled with ice?

I remember there being a chest freezer in one of the backyard tool sheds. I haul it out, clean it up and plug it in to keep my freezer stuff, uh, frozen. Meanwhile I start a new load of laundry (one of the kids had an accident last night) so I am up to my ears in sheets and blankets. I come back half an hour later ready to put the clothes in the dryer and, lo, the washer is full of hot dirty water. What. the. hell????? I trudge to our outdoor breaker box, now conveniently located in ankle high weeds because the landlord's landscaping company did NOT come out and mow the yard. I saw a snake out there yesterday. A SNAKE. So I go to the breaker box and a fuse has blow. I flip the switch and go over and turn the washer back on.

Meanwhile I am trying to load all of my refrigerator stuff into some coolers with the last of the ice from the freezer. I decide after I get that packed up that I will go out and dry my laundry. HAHAHAHA! The washer has turned off again. Go back to the breaker box, flip the switch, go back and restart the clothes. Make more phone calls related to the refrigerator crisis. Wait for the exterminator to come and bring me a key to the landlord's cottage so I can load my fridge stuff into her tiny fridge. Try and unpack. Debate the wisdom of unpacking into a house already beset by rats, carpenter ants, a lousy fridge and now bad wiring. Cry a little. Hear tremendous thump where Preschool Child has flipped off of my raised bed and landed face first onto the floor. Her sister runs by sobbing, "I didn't push her!" The preschooler has a scrape on her head. Take to my bed with the baby and calm her down. Decide that I am definitely going out to dinner tonight and I may well have a drink or two with it.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dinner in the New House

Okay, despite the unpacking ordeal and the rat thing, I sucked it up and sanitized the dishes and made dinner for the last two nights. Night one involved everybody's favorite grocery store rotisserie chicken and some heat and eat side dishes, night two was hotdogs, mac and cheese and steamed broccoli spears. So yeah, no great culinary masterpieces, but we ate all together at the dining room table as a family. We couldn't find the table cloths so we put a giant sized beach towel over the table. I had the baby put the forks and paper towels by each plate that the 8 year old laid out, we all drank out of plastic cups gleaned from various casual dining restaurants and chatted; about the rat, about the kids new school, about my husband's new job, my hopes for putting in a late summer garden.

I know I haven't been too enthusiastic about this move but really the house (rat aside) is pretty awesome. It is an old style "conch cottage" and the woman who owns it is a horticulturalist, so it is all set up with raised garden beds, a compost tumbler and several mature fruit trees. I have carambolas (star fruit), key lime (of course!), and a freaking grove of banana trees. The banana trees are watered with the water that drains from the bathtubs! The washing machine waters another grove of banana trees. There is also an all-spice tree that grows tiny allspice berries. The leaves when crushed smell delightfully like pumpkin pie or egg nog or any number of spicy holiday treats. My landlord said she packs up her Christmas ornaments with fresh leaves so that when she opens them the following year they smell wonderful.

Going to finish putting the kitchen together tomorrow, I have been washing the cabinets out with ammonia and water and sanitizing dishes and trying to figure out where to put every thing. Also listening for the sudden snap of a rat trap, so you know... busy.

How was your week?