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

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Veggie Oven Omelet and Honey Biscuits

Veggie Oven Omelet


Beat 2 eggs per (adult) person in a bowl with a small amount of cream or half and half or milk (proportional to the eggs). Saute some sliced mushrooms, onions and garlic in olive oil. Grate zucchini and salt it, let it stand a few minutes and then wring it out in cheesecloth or several thicknesses of paper towels. Season the sauteed veggies with salt, pepper and basil. Add parmesan and mozzarella to the eggs,or whatever cheeses suit you. Then add all the veggies to the eggs. Place everything in a greased 8 inch round cake pan and bake it at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

Homemade Honey Biscuits

2 c. white wheat flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. butter/shortening
1/2 c. honey
3/4 c. milk
1 egg

Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in oil, honey, milk and egg. Mix enough to moisten dry ingredients completely. Drop by large spoonfuls onto a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees on a lightly greased baking sheet 10-12 minutes until golden brown.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Pinch-hitting and Penny Pinching

We get paid once a month. And by "we" I mean my husband gets paid once a month. I am a stay at home Mom. I live in an area where with my background and education I would have to work more than full time to make enough to justify childcare expenses for my 2 kids. And that is only IF such a job were available, there isn't one. I also happen to live in one of the most expensive places in the U.S. This goes a lot toward explaining why I have taught myself to really cook and bake over the last few years. I did the math and a decent loaf of bread where I live is about $2.50 - $3. I can make a loaf of bread for less than a dollar. Pictured here is an Irish Soda bread that literally contains flour, baking soda, salt, and soured milk.

We have to budget everything, and consider every purchase. An unexpected trip out of town means canceling anything even slightly optional, from doctor's appointments to a once every three years hair cut. And of course if there is anything like a big expense in a month that means squeezing out every penny from every non-fixed expense. My food budget is one of the few areas where I have some discretion.

My tips for eating well when you have a lean month?

*Eat vegetarian, cheaper pound for pound and often food that has a long shelf life. If you see dry beans on sale 10/$10 you jump on that. Same thing with dried pastas, jarred sauces, canned tomatoes, all the staples.

*Stockpile some versatile frozen veggies for weeks you come up short.

* You can freeze milk, FYI, just pour some out first and put it in the freezer. It will thaw overnight in the fridge just fine, just shake and serve.

*Make your own pizza dough and make it in double batches, make one, freeze one. Makes a fast economical dinner.

*Breakfast for dinner, cheap and tasty! Scrambled eggs, pancakes, french toast (great way to use up stale bread), juice and milk.

*Buy in bulk when you can. Things like peanut butter, jelly, olive oil, vegetable oil, oatmeal, cornmeal. I actually could write a whole post about all the things you can make with cornmeal. Corn bread, corn bread muffins, polenta, grits, use it to bake pizza dough on, corn meal waffles, LOTS of uses.

*Use leftovers for lunch the next day. My husband works 5 days a week, the cheapest lunch near him would cost $6/day, that's $30 per week right there!

*Use your leftovers in interesting ways. Leftover spaghetti sauce makes a great pizza or calzone sauce. Leftover chili can be made into a chili casserole, become taco filling or turned into chii mac. A roast chicken one night can become chicken salad, chicken enchiladas, or chicken soup!

*Bake your own bread, google some no-knead bread recipes, you can make bread in 5 minutes per day (not including bake time).

*Share deals with your friends. If you know someone who has a warehouse club membership offer to split the cost of some larger quantities of vegetables, especially stuff that can last for awhile like onions, garlic, hard squashes, potatoes. Or buy stuff that can be easily made into other things, like berries into sauce or pie and tomatoes into sauce, salsas, or soups.

*Save everything. When you cut the tops off of carrots and onions and other veggies put them in a freezer bag and stash them in the freezer to make vegetable or chicken stocks. Stale bread can be made into bread pudding, bread crumbs, bruschetta, stuffing, dressing. Leftover bacon grease can be refrigerated in a clean jar and used to season vegetables, brown meats, fry eggs, or flavor beans.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Meatless Monday: Pasta Alfred-OH!

So today is Meatless Monday and I thought, we have some nice rotini, some broccoli and cauliflower, let's make some Alfredo sauce and call it a night. And then I went to the refrigerator. We were out of butter.

I HATE going to the store for one ingredient, don't you? And I have no excuse; I was at the store yesterday, I should have gotten some butter then. I forgot. So here's what I did. I melted half a cup of Smart Balance spread over low heat in a pan, then I smashed and minced 2 cloves of garlic and added them to the spread with a generous sprinkle of salt. As that was getting warm and fragrant I added 1 1/2 C of half and half to the pan and then began to grate some fresh parmesan and added it slowly to the milk/faux butter mixture. I kept adding and whisking, and testing for thickening. Then I decided to add some grated mozzarella as well, a small handful at a time, pretty much continually whisking.

It just wasn't thickening up. I began to get desperate. I added a bit of cornstarch and water slurry to the mixture as well, then raised the heat slightly as the pasta was almost done and the broccoli and cauliflower florets finished steaming in the microwave. I think I added altogether about 2 C of cheese between the parmesan and the mozzarella and about 3 tsp of the cornstarch and water slurry. I turned the heat off the the sauce as I served the bowls. The additional time of just sitting there finished the thickening process. I put pasta and vegetables into each bowl and then topped them with the Alfredo. It was without a doubt the BEST homemade Alfredo sauce I have ever made. Clingy, thick, and cheesy, the sauce coated the rotini and the veggies beautifully. The kids asked for seconds AFTER they had already had a slice of vanilla cake. A success snatched from the jaws of certain defeat.

My menu for the week;

Meatless Monday: Alfredo rotini with cauliflower and broccoli
Tuesday: Beef Brisket with vegetables
Weird Wednesday: Veggie and Cheese Oven Omelet with salad and homemade honey biscuits
Thursday: Chicken and Rice Casserole
Fish Friday: Smoked Fish (and something else, not sure what yet)
Saturday: Homemade Pizza (I owe you a review of Upside Down Pizza)
Sunday: Roasted Chicken with dressing and mashed potatoes

Pot Roast ala Gina

Sunday night my friends invited me over for dinner, I made cherry pie and we also prepared the Chocolate Fountain of Delight (™ Me) and dipped grapes, strawberries, pretzel sticks, marshmallows and graham crackers. Gina made the most delicious slow cooker pot roast.

Pot Roast ala Gina

1 onion, chopped
4 small red potatoes, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 turnip, peeled and chopped
1 rutabaga, peeled and chopped
1 sweet potato, cubed
1 parsnip, peeled and chopped
1 (3-pound) brisket
Salt and ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons flour
1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 can (15 oz) of beef broth
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon mustard powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Arrange onion, potatoes, carrots, turnip, parsnip, sweet potato and rutabaga in bottom of slow cooker. Season beef all over with salt and black pepper. Rub flour all over beef. Place roast on top of vegetables in slow cooker.

Whisk together tomato sauce, beef broth, chili powder, cumin, mustard powder, and garlic powder. Pour mixture over beef. Cover and cook on LOW for 12 hours or on HIGH for 8 hours.

This recipe uses a lot of wonderful root vegetables and the blend is fantastic! Great size for a party or if you have a large family.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I drove 10 out of the last 24 hours

My best friend's father died. He was a good, kind man that loved his family, adored his wife and cherished his siblings. He had grandchildren and a dry sense of humor. When he went on business trips he always brought back lots of chocolate from Switzerland. He tolerated and even liked his daughter's crazy friends. He was at my wedding. He was at my best friend's wedding. He couldn't make it to his second daughter's wedding because he had been hit by a drunk driver while bicycling to work. He succumbed this week to his numerous injuries after fighting for five years to stay with the people he loved.

If you drive after drinking you are taking a foolish, insane chance of killing yourself or someone else. If you drive "buzzed" you are driving drunk. If you drive after "having a couple of drinks" you are playing fast and loose with your life and the lives of others. It doesn't matter if nothing has ever happened to you before; that's the kind of logic that would make playing Russian Roulette seem like a good idea. If you see someone who is going to drink and drive, offer to drive, take the keys, call them a cab, be a jerk about it. Save someone's life.

Yesterday was my birthday. As I was driving back from visiting my best pal I directed my husband in the preparation of Arroz con Pollo (chicken in rice) and sauteed and steamed zucchini and summer squash. Directed is too strong a word, he had some questions and I answered them. It was nice to come home to a delicious meal and see my older daughter and husband. They had cards for my birthday. It was the kind of normal, happy domestic scene that everyone takes for granted. It was the best meal I have ever eaten

Arroz con Pollo (my version)

Chicken pieces (best to use bone-in skin-on)
1 can of cut up tomato pieces
chopped carrots
onion (chopped)

Season chicken pieces with adobo. Heat oil in a heavy skillet and brown chicken on all sides. Drain can of tomato pieces into a measuring cup and then add water to make up enough fluid for the rice. Heat the water in the microwave. Remove chicken from pan and pour in rice in a thin layer into the hot dry pan, allow to toast and then use a large spatula to *flip* the rice as best you can. Add the hot water and all the vegetables and then put the chicken pieces on top, cover with a lid and reduce heat to simmer according to rice directions. Serve with sauteed vegetables, black beans and salad.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Chicken Sausage in Red Sauce over Penne Pasta

Tonight's recipe is from my friend K, a super easy week night meal full of flavor and vegetables.

Chicken sausage
1 TB olive oil
1 green bell pepper
1/2 large onion
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can of tomatoes (or tomato sauce)
Italian herbs
1 box of penne pasta

Saute the vegetables in the olive oil, add the chicken sausage (removed from casing). When those items are browned add the can of tomatoes or sauce and about 1 tsp of Italian herbs. Let the sauce simmer. Meanwhile, make the pasta according to package directions. When pasta is done you can add it to the sauce directly and mix together. Can be topped with a bit of grated parmesan cheese. K's tips are to only make 1/2 of a 1 pound box of pasta so that you have equal amounts of sauce and pasta, a little less carby that way and a nice balance of sauce to pasta, and to always add salt to your pasta boiling water.

This can be a one dish meal or you can make a green salad or a nice side of steamed and seasoned zucchini.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Whoopsie Wednesday

Went to get the ground beef out of the oven today to make meatloaf cupcakes and lo and behold. No ground beef. Hmm.

I had some frozen meatballs, which I cooked in the microwave (according to package directions) meanwhile I sauteed onion, garlic and sliced mushrooms in a pan with some olive oil. I added the meatballs to the pan with the veggies, a can of tomato sauce, and a good sprinkle of oregano and some House Blend (tm Paula Deen). While this was all simmering I baked some frozen bread rolls and made a tossed salad. I served the meatballs on the rolls with a sprinkle of mozzarella and a big side of salad.

I will be out of town for the next two days as there has been a family emergency. I will post back when I can.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

French Style Stove-top Chicken

2 chicken breasts cut in half (vertically)
1 TB oil
1 head of garlic, broken into individual cloves
1/2 tsp of oregano
1 tsp of basil or marjoram
1/2 C of broth or water
1/2 C of white wine
1 TB lemon juice

Pound chicken breast pieces into a uniform thickness so that they cook evenly. Heat the oil in a skillet over medium high heat, season chicken breast pieces with salt and pepper, place in pan with individual cloves of garlic. Cook chicken for 2-3 minutes on each side. Then pour over it liquid ingredients, herbs and lemon juice. Bring the liquid up to a boil, then reduce heat, cover and cook on low heat for6- 8 minutes more (or until chicken is no longer pink). While chicken is cooking place an oven proof plate or serving dish into the oven on warm. When chicken is cooked through remove the chicken and garlic and put it on warmed plate in the oven. Stir a slurry of a TB of cornstarch and 2-3 TB of water (or white wine or more broth) into the pan juices and bring up to a boil and cook for at least a minute as it thickens. Serve over rice (I made brown rice in the pressure cooker.) and spoon sauce over all. A nice side dish would be steamed green beans or broccoli.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New format!

I am only going to do in-depth posts on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I will have much shorter posts on Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday.

Okay here is my menu for the week:

Meatless Monday: Black Bean nachos, made with refried black beans, shredded cheese, shredded romaine lettuce, and mild salsa fresco.

Tuesday: French farmhouse style baked chicken breasts, sauteed green beans, brown rice, glazed carrot coins.

Wild, weird or wacky Wednesday: Individual meatloaf "cupcakes", steamed broccoli and cauliflower, macaroni and cheese.

Thursday: chicken and sausage couscous with vegetables

Fish Friday: Probably yellow tail snapper (gotta call my fish guy), steamed snow pea pods and Asian peanut-sauce broccoli slaw.

Saturday: Homemade Pizza and salad

Sunday: Roast beast with potatoes, onions and carrots

Tonight's dinner was GREAT. I made some black beans a few weeks ago and had extra, so I froze them. Today I popped them out of the plastic container and reheated/defrosted them in a pan on the stove-top with a little olive oil. When I cook my beans they are very lightly seasoned so I can use them in a variety of dishes or ways. To these beans I added some cumin and adobo seasoning and when they were nice and bubbly I mashed them with a potato masher; making essentially refried black beans. I put some corn chips on a cookie sheet and spread the black beans over the top and then added a couple generous handfuls of grated cheese. I baked them in the oven at 425 degrees for maybe 5 minutes (long enough for the cheese to melt and everything else to crisp. I cut the nachos into small wedges with a large kitchen knife and put them on plates. I topped each serving with some lettuce, some defrosted corn kernels and some salsa fresca. A good serving of vegetables, lots of nice lean protein, and some whole grain chips made this a tasty and pretty nutritionally sound meal. If your family likes you could also add some cubed avocado or guacamole to the proceedings and get a pretty nice essential fatty acid serving as well.

Mondays are still a hard night for us because of our older daughter's dance class, so this would be a great quick meal for any busy evening. You can even "re-fry" canned black beans. Simply get some sort of fat sizzling in a pan, add your beans and a little of the water they came in, stir, season and mash. These are much better for you than canned refried beans which are very high in fat and sodium and they go together almost as quickly.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

For the record I did end up making sauteed red beans on wednesday, but I never got around to blogging about due to falling asleep in a great heap as soon as I got the kids to bed that night. Walking over 10 miles whilst toting strollers, bags and toddlers will wear a girl out!

Today is St. Patrick's Day and since I am blessed with just a wee bit of the blarney (and an even wee-er amount of Irish ancestry) I am celebrating tonight. The kids and I wore green all day, and for dinner tonight we are making corned beef with carrots, potatoes, cabbage and onions and I am making a loaf of very simple Irish Soda bread.

First the bread, a very easy and economical loaf, simply use 3 1/2 C of cake or all purpose flour, 1 tsp salt, 1 tsp of sugar, 1 C (or a bit more) of buttermilk or "soured" milk (made by adding lemon juice or vinegar to regular milk), and a 1 tsp of baking soda. MIx the dry ingredients up, make a well in the center and add the buttermilk, soured milk or even clabbered milk and mix it quickly. Form the dough into a rough, roundish mass, and make 2 sharp slashes across the top to make a "cross". These slashes should be fairly deep (half way or so?) so that the dough can rise properly. This will not be smooth and elastic like yeast dough and you must work quickly so the carbon dioxide bubbles can work with the heat and steam of the dough to make it rise.

The corned beef is made simply by covering the roast with water, and boiling with added onion and garlic and cooking until done. Add the potatoes and carrots to the pan of water and boil for 10 minutes and then add the cabbage and boil for another 10 minutes or so until all is done. Serve with warm soda bread and a Guinness.

Today we went to the Air and Space Museum in the morning and did the whole first floor and then we came home to meet a friend here in Alexandria for lunch and tour the historic sites of old town Alexandria. We saw the COOLEST apothecary shop that had been in continuous business from the late 1700's until it closed in the 1930's. Then only the downstairs had ever been opened and used as a museum for 65 years until in 2009 the entirety of the building was finally opened. They discovered jars and boxes still on shelves just where they had been for 65 years. Bottles, bills of sale, recipe books for making medicines, kits for "cupping and bleeding" apothecary drawers labelled "dragon's blood" and "unicorn's horn" and other "herbal" treatments like "opium", "cocaine" and of course "cannabais". Unreal! You can read more about it here.

Hope you all have a wonderful day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Back Up Plans

So today I was supposed to make red beans and polenta, but we had a VERY long day and we were all starving, so we moved our Wednesday Breakfast For Dinner idea to tonight. We made some awesome homemade pancakes, from a recipe at Deep South Dish, a website I am coming to LOVE! The only change I have ever made to her pancake recipe (which is nearly as easy and foolproof as Bisquick pancakes) it to use curdled milk (milk with some white vinegar or lemon added to it) instead of buttermilk. I never have any buttermilk on hand so I just curdle some and it adds the necessary acidity and tang to the dish.

I am making the red beans tonight since we have already eaten and now I can just let them simmer until bedtime. If I can summon up the energy I might go get the polenta started as well and then just make fried polenta tomorrow with the cooled squares.

We rounded out our breakfast for dinner with milk and juice to drink and fresh fruit; we had our choices of strawberries, pears, apples or green grapes.

Today we went to the American History Museum, but we got a late start and then we needed to meet a friend at noon, so all we managed to see was Julia Child's kitchen, the dresses of the First Ladies and a children's exhibit about the nature of the inventing process called Spark Lab. We spent the rest of our time after lunch at the National Museum of Natural History. There we saw the famous dinosaur exhibit and their latest exhibit called Ocean Portal! It was very interesting and they had a neat part of the exhibit that blended art and science, called the Hyperbolic Crochet where using the traditional crochet form, hyperbolic geometry and some unconventional materials (crocheting plastic bags anyone?) they create a gorgeous model of an ocean reef. Today must have been our lucky day too, because the docent at the coral reef exhibit informed us that the Butterfly Pavilion was free today, you just had to get your free time stamped tickets to get inside. We saw dozens of varieties of strange and beautiful butterflies in the lovely display, all flying around and sampling the fruit and the flowers. I think the girl's favorite part of the day though was going to the Discovery Center. Definitely another full day of activity. Looking forward to going BACK to the American History museum tomorrow to see all the other exhibits we missed today.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Meatless Monday: Vegetarian Sloppy Joes, oven baked onion rings and mac and cheese

Today was a long though lovely and sunny day here in D.C. We all had cereal for breakfast and headed out to the Metro to get to the National Zoo (which is part of the Smithsonian, who knew?) We had a wonderful day seeing all of the animals and visiting the exhibits. We saw a lot of animals considering the morning started out so cool and nippy, but they were front and center in many of the enclosures. We saw the most amazing otters, a fishercat, red pandas, giant pandas, elephants, birds of all kinds! By 12 noon we were all starving so we went to the Panda Cafe in the park to have some lunch. The kids meals could be purchased in a cute reusable, insulated lunch bag and came with an entree, french fries, apple sauce and an HonestKids apple juice for $8.95. When we considered the cost of buying the lunch a la carte and getting the kids a souvenir we could clearly see it was a deal. The rest of the day was spent looking at the big cats and the great apes. AMAZING time was had by all.

Got home tonight and made a box of Vegetarian Sloppy Joes by Fantastic Would Foods. I have only used their mix before to make falafel so I was taking a chance on their sloppy joes. I somehow misread the box and didn't realize it called for 3 oz. of tomato paste. Fortunately while we were out today I picked up some extra ketchup packets at lunch to sub in for it. I also used some melted butter instead of the oil the mix called for rather than try and skim some olive oil out the the salad dressing. The mix was very easy to make, the butter and ketchup didn't seem to affect the taste or the texture. We served the sloppy joe mix on the whole grain sandwich bread we bought. All in all very yummy.

I also made some oven baked onion rings, a very easy recipe. Just get two egg whites and season them with salt and pepper, dip your sliced rings of onion in the egg whites. Then roll and cover the rings in bread crumbs, put on a baking dish and bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees. Here's where I made my mistake... I cut the onion rings too thin! Some of them burned to a crisp! If I had made the rings a standard 1/4 inch thick they would have been fine. The ones that didn't burn were great. :)

I also made a box of Annie's Macaroni and Cheese, something I knew the kids would eat regardless. They were lukewarm on the onion rings, okay with the sloppy joes and of course ecstatic over the mac and cheese.

Tomorrow we are hitting the American History Museum, and the Natural History Museum... we've already hit the National archive, the Old Post Office, the Mall and the Washington Monument. Any other places we should go while we are here?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Hotel Room Dinner

With very young kids, going out to a restaurant is sometimes NOT the easiest or cheapest option so when I get the chance to stay in a place with a full kitchen I looove to do that. My in-laws got us a week at the Wyndham resort (a vacation rental) and it comes with a full kitchen! THRILLED!

We got into Alexandria today at 1 p.m. and as soon as we got into the hotel we unpacked, made a bag of popcorn (complimentary, love it!) and then we went to the grocery store. The Whole Foods in Alexandria is an experience! I loved the free samples. There was a person making samples of corn beef, onions, potatoes and carrots all slow cooked together. My whole family fell on this like ravenous dogs. I think we scared the sample guy. They were also serving samples of Guinness with it! The hubs and I really took a shine to some artisanal cheese sample we tried. It was an Italian cheese sort of like a softer parmesan, lovely nutty flavor. They were cinnamon raisin bread samples to try in the bakery and a "bake your own bagels" sample to try near the registers. I have ever really had much of an opportunity to shop at WF before so it was neat seeing all the locally grown, organic and fair trade options. But since we are only going to be here for a week (with one dinner out at a relative's house) I had to do some serious menu planning.

Today is Saturday March 12th, Got a frozen pizza and a bag of 3 hearts of romaine lettuces, so tonight was pizza and salad with lettuce and baby carrots.

Tomorrow, Sunday March 13th is dinner at our cousin's house!

Monday the 14th (Meatless Monday), a box of vegetarian sloppy joe mix (just add water, tomato sauce, and oil). I plan on using a small can of muir glen organic tomato sauce and olive oil siphoned from the top of the salad dressing bottle and this goes with some homemade baked onion rings (egg whites, dry bread crumbs from the loaf of bread we bought, salt and pepper came with the hotel room) and a box of Annie's Organics Mac and Cheese (whole wheat variety).

Tuesday the 15th Red beans sauteed with onions and garlic in a tomato sauce over homemade polenta. (Bag of dried red beans, bag of onions, 1 small garlic, 1 small can of Muir Glen organic tomato sauce, butter, bag of cornmeal, all flavored with a squirt of Italian dressing, salt and pepper)

Wednesday the 16th (Weird Wednesday) Breakfast for dinner! Everything is backwards! Up is down, black is white, franks are beans! Yeah, I know, "brinner" as I like to call it has been out of the bag for awhile now, but some people are still missing out on the fabulousness. I will not stop until everyone tries pancakes for dinner at least once. We splurged on a small bottle of real maple syrup, which I plan to use to sweeten a batch of homemade oatmeal cookies as well.

Thursday the 17th Got the world's tiniest corned beef (For St. Patrick's Day of course) for $14.28, plus a couple dollars worth of potatoes, a tiny head of cabbage ($0.94) and I can use some more of the baby carrots.

Friday the 18th (Fish Friday) Husband got a small freezer pack containing 2 Swordfish fillets, going to have a box of rice pilaf with that and some steamed broccoli!

Saturday the 19th, we fly home!

We got a dozen eggs, a 1 pound bag of flour, a small bulk bag of oatmeal (for cookies and breakfasts) and a pound of butter. We also got 2 loaves of bread, a small jar of peanut butter, small jar of strawberry jelly, and a gallon of milk, some apple juice and 2 boxes of cereal. Hopefully we can keep "eating out" to a bare minimum.

I will of course have more detailed recipes, impressions of D.C. and Virginia and tips for cooking while traveling all along the way. Do you have any good ideas for me for keeping this an economical vacation? I already told the kids about "free souveniers" e.g. colorful paper maps, brochures, any hand outs. Already they've scored extra peanuts, some Twix bars from first class and some coloring books and crayons from the front desk just for being their awesome selves. Mommy's little freebie-grabbers, (tears up) I am so proud! (sniffle)

Friday, March 11, 2011

I'm leaving on a jet plane!

Tomorrow starts our Spring Break sojourn in Washington D.C. I am so excited! I have never been to Washington (or Virginia for that matter) before. We have a huge list of sights to see and things to do and if we end up getting to only half of them we will have an amazing time!

Our hotel has rooms with full kitchens, so on day one we will be going out and getting some groceries and we plan on making all breakfasts and most dinners in our room. Our kids are young so we will be heading home for the night around dinner time. Maybe if I am really ambitious we can pack some lunches too.

Tonight we are trying to leave everything here as clean as possible so in that spirit I can tell you freely and without reservation the BEST dinner to make at home the night before a trip. Frozen pot pies! Think about it, protein and veggies all in one crisp wrapper and they cook in their own plate! You just have to throw the forks in dishwasher and run it.

Next time I update this I will be in Virginia! Have a good weekend everyone!

Family Emergency

I have a family emergency. I am out of town because my grandfather is in the hospital. As much as I would want to there hasn't been any cooking going on.

My thoughts and prayers for the people of Japan, Hawaii and the Pacific. If you feel moved to donate to the Red Cross relief effort please click here.

When the earthquake hit in Haiti I decided to make some Haitian traditional foods as a form of culinary solidarity, to keep their plight in my mind and as a sort of mindful living ritual. Here is a list of 100 Japanese foods everyone should try at the blog JustHungry. and a great post on Japanese basics.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Happy Mardi Gras!

Tonight I broke out my Emeril Lagasse cookbook to find something to make. I figured I could find something good and BOY did I. My goal was to not go to the store for anything, so of course I made some minor adaptations to it. Here is the recipe.

From Emeril's New New Orleans Cooking by Emeril Lagasse and Jessie Tirsch

Chicken Fricassee and Fried Polenta

Fried Polenta
3 TB olive oil
1/4 C chopped onions
1 TB chopped garlic
2 TB chopped fresh basil (I used a tsp of dried rosemary)
1/2 tsp salt
3 turns freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 C milk (running low on milk used 1 C milk and 1/2 C water)
1/4 C freshly grated Cheddar cheese (used 4 Cheese Mexican Blend from a bag)
1/4 C coarsely grated Parmesan cheese
3/4 C yellow cornmeal

Recipe calls for a greased 9" tart pan with a removable bottom. I greased a 9" cake pan. Heat 2 TB of olive oil in a good-sized sauce pan over high heat, when the oil is ht add the onions, garlic and basil (rosemary) and saute for 30 seconds. Add the salt, pepper and saute for another 30 seconds. Stir in the milk and bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and whisk in the cheeses, just until the cheeses melt. Whisk in the cornmeal slowly, a little at a time until the mixture os the consistency of thick roux. Remove from the heat and working quickly pour and pack the polenta into the prepared pan. Refrigerate for one hour.

If you were not inclined to wait an hour or to make fried polenta, you could serve it as soft set polenta right from the pan. They are like the best, fanciest cheese grits you ever did see. I did refrigerate mine for an hour and while it was setting up I made the chicken fricassee.

Chicken Fricassee

1/2 pound skinned and boned chicken breasts, cut into thin strips. (I had a 1 pound package of chicken tenderloins.)
1 TB of Emeril's Creole Seasoning (I had a jar of Emeril's Southwest seasoning and used that.)
1/4 C olive oil
1 onion cut in half and sliced vertically. (I used half of a giant onion)
1 TB minced garlic
1/2 C peeled, seeded and chopped Italian plum tomatoes (I used a can of chopped tomatoes.)
2 TB chopped fresh basil (1 tsp dried oregano)
2 TB chopped fresh sage (1 tsp dried rosemary)
1/2 tsp salt
3 turns freshly ground pepper
1/2 C of Basic Chicken Stock (I didn't end up using any.)
1/2 C Parmesan cheese (Didn't use this either)

In a bowl toss the chicken pieces with the seasoning, coat it well. Heat the oil in a medium non-reactive skillet over medium high heat. Add the seasoned chicken and saute, stirring for 2 minutes. Add the onion, garlic, tomatoes and spices and saute for 3 minutes. Add the salt, pepper and stock (I skipped that because I accidentally added the canned tomatoes WITH their juice.) and heat until you see bubbles around the edge. Remove from heat and keep warm. Makes 2 cups (made a lot more because I accidentally used 2x the meat!)

Finish the fried polenta

I ran a rubber spatula around the edge of the polenta pan and turned it out onto a plate. I cut it into 8 wedges and then placed the wedges a few at a time in my heavy iron skillet with 3 TB of olive oil. When they were golden brown (about a minute per side) I put them on plates. They were then topped with chicken fricassee and served. You can top each serving with more freshly grated parmesan if you like.

This was FANTASTIC! A great dish and very economical, but still FULL of flavor and felt decadent enough for Mardi Gras.

As soon as dinner was over I threw my plates into the dishwasher, cleaned up the stove a bit and went to work on my dessert.

Before dinner I had chopped up 3 pints of strawberries and let them macerate with 3/4 tsp of almond extract and the juice from half a lemon and 1 C of granulated sugar. I put the macerated berries in a sauce pan and let them cook (breaking them up further with a wooden spoon) for about 5 minutes. Then I put the berries and their juice in the blender and let them get completely liquified. The resulting strawberry sauce can be used in smoothies, salad dressings, to add to fruit salads, to garnish grilled fish, as an ice cream topping or as a terrific sauce for BEIGNETS!

I have had the pleasure of sitting in the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans eating with gusto their famous hot fresh beignets. Each little pillow of fried dough is literally obsured by a cloud of powdered sugar and washed down with a strong cup of cafe au lait. I haven't been in years, but when I thought of celebrating Mardi Gras it only seemed right!

I tracked down a wonderful recipe here at Deep South Dish and she even has a version that you make by frying canned biscuit dough! I made the from scratch yeast dough and it was not very difficult at all. I do not own a deep fryer (probably a good thing) but I did pour about 3 inches of oil into an iron skillet and heat it up over medium to medium high heat. After I rolled out the dough to my best approximation of a large square I cut off the little squiggly sides and tried those one piece at a time to see if the oil was hot enough. After awhile they began doing the trademark "puff" that lets you know they are ready to turn. I made a dozen for our down the street neighbors (after trying some test beignets myself, of course) and half a dozen for the couple next door. My family and I WIPED OUT the rest of them, but I think all in all the dough made about 2 1/2 dozen small beignets. If you make the recipe be prepared to share!

My family dipped them in the still warm strawberry sauce and it was quite an experience. Let the good times roll! HAPPY MARDI GRAS!

Monday, March 7, 2011

Lundi Gras! Fat Meatless Monday -- UPDATE

So it is Fat Monday which calls out for some sort of toothsome feast, but it is also Meatless Monday, so I wanted to make something delicious and delightful but still adhering to my Meatless Monday ethos. I mean we call it Fat Monday and Fat Tuesday of course, but the feeling that the end of the carnival season evokes shouldn't necessarily be literal fat (though, mmmmm FAT!) but a feeling of abundance and pleasure in food! This recipe is spicy and rich and even vegan! I am adapting it from the blog FatFree Vegan Kitchen by preparing it with my pressure cooker AKA the appliance I love more than even ruby-red nail polish. Which is to say, A LOT!

I am also making a roasted butternut squash soup, and right now I am caramelizing some onions to go on top of that.

I peeled and chopped up the butternut squash and then put it on a baking tray and sprayed the squash with olive oil and sprinkled it with salt. I let it roast at 350 degrees for half an hour, then flipped them with a spatula, then let the roast another 30 minutes. I will toss the cooked cubes with some fresh ground pepper, cinnamon and rosemary. Then I will toss them in a stock pot with some homemade vegetable stock and combine them with an immersion blender and then stir in some sour cream. I serve the soup topped with caramelized onions.

SO, things don't always turn out the way you hoped it seems. The soup came out fantastic! I made some "poppin fresh" breadsticks to go with that portion of the meal, by taking a package of breadsticks and brushing them with a combination of melted butter, oregano and grated parmesan cheese before baking. These were wonderful. My brown rice cooked perfectly and tasted great. My beans SMELLED wonderful! However after an hour of pressure cooking and simmering they were hard as a dang rock. It happened. I got some bad beans. I am so disappointed!! If your beans are too old they can be very tough and may never soften. I left the beans on simmer while I took the girls out for chicken nuggets because at this point it was nearing bed-time and they were still hungry despite squash soup and breadsticks, OH, also my lettuce had frozen (got put in the wrong drawer!) and so there was no salad. Anyway, check the dates on your beans before you buy them and choose the freshest ones. I forgot to do that and I paid the price today.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Fun Day!

8 a.m. block party
9:30 a.m. Church Ministry Fair and Sunday School
11 a.m. Children's Mass
12:30 Lunch
2:00 Final Basketball Game (a tie!)
3:00 Award Ceremony
3:45 Splash park
4:45 Shopping for dinner ingredients
5:30 HOME

I may collapse in a heap at any moment. It was all fun really, at the Ministry Fair I got to talk up two of my favorite events Stone Soup (check out this version of the familiar fairy tale) on Ash Wednesday and Las Posadas (illustrated with this lovely book). Anyhow, I meant to start a roast or something but time got away from us.

By the time we were finally headed home my husband was craving egg rolls. I have decided I am never NOT craving egg rolls at least a little, so this was fine with me. The only hitch in my giddy up was the fact that I have never made an egg roll before. After last month's very successful experiment with pot-stickers though, I was game for the challenge. I bought some egg roll wrappers in the produce section of the store and then went about figuring out the veggies I needed for the filling, the usual suspects bean sprouts, cabbage, carrots, green onion. I had the onion and cabbage at home, plus some squeezy ginger in a little tube so I got what I still needed and headed over to the fish counter. There I bought some vegetarian sushi (the kids' favorite) and some California rolls (the only other kind of sushi I'd buy at our local grocery store). I also bought a package of edamame.

I got home and defrosted some ground pork and mixed it with my veggies, ginger and some soy sauce and garlic powder. Then I wrapped it in the little wrappers and sealed all the edges with beaten egg (the only egg in an egg roll it seems). Then the Hubs and I dropped them one by one into the pan with hot vegetable oil. The first one we tried was sort of horrifyingly raw in the middle so we nuked it in the microwave oven and then let the next egg roll sit a bit longer in the oil. The next one was less raw, but not entirely cooked. I won't say HOW many I ruined up before I decided to just quickly stir fry the filling and use cooked pork, but I am sure YOU would have figured it out much sooner. The cooked filling egg rolls went together in a snap. Very easy to make and delicious. I recommend making them a bit on the thinner side regardless just because the thinner rolls seemed to be more firmly wrapped.

We cut some egg rolls in half to cool, plopped them on the plates with some veggie sushi and edamame (came with it's own microwave tray, super easy) and called it dinner. A lot of vegetables per serving really! No one was really in the mood for a heavy dinner so it was a great choice.

Tomorrow is Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) aka the day before Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) basically the last 2 days before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season. I have a recipe to try to make homemade beignets. I love beignets and I have had them at the Cafe du Monde in New Orleans. My Mom used to send away for their beignet mix back before you could order stuff on the internet. Nowadays I can even find the beignet mix in the store sometimes, but I think making the whole kit and caboodle from scratch might be fun. Might also be a big sugary pain in the neck, but we shall see. I also plan on getting a LOT of chocolate in me before Ash Wednesday because I am giving up the stuff for the duration of Lent, 40 days, ending as I dive ravenously on a chocolate bunny on Easter Morning. :)

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Grilled chicken and 3 sides

I like Mojo marinade on chicken, you basically let chicken pieces sit in your mojo marinade turning from time to time and then grill it. YAY! Simple. If you don't have mojo on hand then combine whatever citrus juices you've got, a splash of white wine vinegar and season your chicken with adobo (or salt, pepper, and garlic) and let the pieces sit in that mixture until time to grill. Never baste with marinade that the chicken was sitting in and never heat up marinade and use that for dipping sauce. You could get salmonella and die. Seriously. My uncle nearly lost his life from some tainted chicken. I should also mention that you never thaw chicken or any other meat on the countertop. Safest way to defrost is to put the meat in a bowl or baking dish in the fridge in the morning and let it defrost all day. Microwave is a safe defrost method as well, but I hate it when it starts to "cook" the food around the edges, gross!

I also steamed some frozen corn niblets, seasoned them with House Blend (Paula Deen) and added some butter. I made broccoli slaw, and I made some cheesy mac and cheese. The kids cleaned their plates and asked for seconds.

Tomorrow will be the busiest day I have had in a long time. Thankfully today we got our bags packed for our trip to Washington D.C. next week. Tomorrow we go to our neighborhood's big party at 8 a.m. We leave the party by 8:45 to get to church where I am hosting a booth at our Ministry Fair (way more fun than it sounds, trust me) then 11 a.m. mass where my Darling Girl will be reading one of the prayers of the faithful and then home for lunch (leftovers) then on to her final basketball game and award ceremony and then MAYBE go to the open house at the Dolphin Research Center to see their new "Spray-ground" one of those splash parks where there are fountains and shallow pools and squirters. Should be a HOOT! And then dinner of course. I am thinking I might put a roast in the crockpot on low and then come home and make some rice and some frozen veggies.

Next week's menus will all be on a theme of "how do we use up all the fresh food in the house" so we can leave our fridge clean and emoty for our trip. Another highlight of the week ahead, next Tuesday is Fat Tuesday! I am going to try and make some Cajun/Creole food, or failing that some beignets and then on Ash Wednesday I am going to be making a vegetarian vegetable soup for my church to share. Each year we kick off Lent with a church supper called Stone Soup. In fact I will be at the Ministry Fair tomorrow making a pitch to all the parishoners to come and join us that night.

I hope you all are having a good weekend, hug your family tight and thanks for reading.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Fish Fridays: Shrimp Alfredo

Shrimp are wonderful for the busy cook, they are completely done in less than 3 minutes! They are low in saturated fat and are a good source of niacin, iron, phosphorus and zinc, and a very good source of protein, vitamin B12 and selenium. Shrimp is fairly high in cholesterol, but still a great option for a quick dinner.

My tips; always check your shrimp or any other seafood using the Monterrey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website. They even have a smart-phone app so you can check WHILE you are at the store or restaurant. Always ask where your seafood is coming from, if a restaurant doesn't know or seems cagey about answering that is NOT the place you want to buy seafood, I promise you. When cleaning fresh shrimp, take the shells off from the bottom of the shrimp where the scales part naturally, the legs will come right off too. You can take tails off or leave them for cooking (I prefer to remove them). Take a small sharp paring knife and slice down the top/back of the shrimp and then use the knife tip to lift out the vein. I usually give all of the shrimp a quick blast of cold water in a colander and then dry them with a paper towel before cooking. Then I sprinkle them with a bit of sea salt and a dash of pepper.

I cook shrimp in a heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat; for instance my iron skillet. Make sure you cook in some sort of fat as well, olive oil, butter, bacon grease, something. Once the fish turn pink and curl they are done! Remove them from the heat immediately or they will over cook and become tough. And I don't mean remove the pan from the heat (though you should do that too) I mean get those shrimp out of the pan! They will continue to cook in the residual heat.

I usually prepare the Shrimp Alfredo in this order, prepare the pasta/cook the vegetables, make the alfredo sauce and then cook the shrimp, then I combine all of my ingredients on the plate. Toss together to coat everything with the nice creamy alfredo and you are good to go, maybe add a little garnish of fresh parsley.

My friend Aaron Zook's documentary Poly-[ ] (poly-blank)

This actually, tangentially has something to do with food. One of the many things that Aaron and I have in common despite our very different backgrounds and belief systems is that we believe in the sacredness of the dinner table, of preparing and sharing food with those we love. Also, and he doesn't remember this, but I totally was the one that introduced him to the Dar Williams song he uses in the closing credits.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Don't be a Mexican't, be a Mexi-CAN! (I am Mexican BTW)

I am not a food snob. I think I proved that yesterday by cooking with Coca-Cola. I will try anything at least once and more if I like it. Sure, I was forcibly held down in a teppanyaki place by my two best friends (Hi Kayla and Kat!) and forced to try sushi while I literally cried. But I was only 18 and when I tasted it I could only think, "Hey! Delicious!" but I've come a long way since then. I've learned to appreciate many different flavors and textures. Heck, I'll even eat raw tomatoes now thanks to working one summer in a Lebanese restaurant (Hi Milad and Rosie!) and I wouldn't touch them when I was a kid.

But today I was forced to confront my one area of food superiority complex... today I was forced to make genuine Mexican food and stuff it in a Pillsbury crescent roll. My husband had found this recipe online and wanted me to make it.

Let that sink in, will you? I lovingly prepared homemade taco meat only to have it desecrated by being wrapped in the whitest of all white breads. Somewhere off in the distance, I heard insane high pitched giggling as if from an unbaked demon being repeatedly poked in the belly. Surely all of my Mexican ancestors were looking down on me in horror and confusion!

I have cooked with crescent rolls before, in fact they are excellent wrapped around some good chocolate and a dash of cinnamon and then baked; makes a fast and impressive dessert or even breakfast pastry. Or my favorite hearty appetizer "Beggar's Purses" where you take the triangles of dough and press them together into a rectangle and then stuff them with a Mini-Babybel cheese a dab of grainy mustard and a few chopped walnuts. Pull the dough together to close and bake according to package directions. Fabulous! See? Not a snob. But this recipe called for me to take ground beef and mix it with taco seasoning. Blasphemy! I made my own taco meat recipe, simply sautee together a small onion, 1 pound of ground beef, 1/4 of a green pepper (chopped) and season it all with ground cumin, adobo seasoning and a bit of chili powder. I drained it well and added it to the croissants. The croissant dough itself had to be made to stretch to fit all of the meat. I had read the recipe wrong and only gotten 1 can of dough, it required 2. You basically take two triangles and lay them together with long points facing away from each other, then you pinch the seam well so the two parts don't fall apart. Add the taco meat and the cheese to the center, close and bake. Well, the other thing was the recipe called for me to add everything you would put on a taco... including lettuce. Yeah, no dice. I just added meat and cheese and served the lettuce, salsa, and sour cream on the side. Not all of the meat fit, but that could also be served on the side or even on top. The taco-croissants or croissantos as we took to calling them were done in 15 minutes.

My husband and kids devoured them and I have to admit they were very tasty, but I don't think I will be giving up tamales any time soon! :)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Weird Wednesday: "Coke" au Vin and Chocolate Coke Cake

So, I had an excellent suggestion (thanks Carina!) to make Wednesday's theme "Weird" Wednesday. I started googling for "weird" foods and I saw several lists that contained okra, collard greens and fried green tomatoes. Um, how are those weird foods? I was literally raised on all of that. On the same list I saw kimchee, a traditional Korean dish made with the exotic vegetable CABBAGE. I've had kimchee, it was tasty. I came to the conclusion that somebody's "weird" food was somebody else's home-cooking; classing those things as "weird" seems disrespectful.

My next idea was to simply showcase unusual uses and treatments of familiar foods. In that vein I present to you, "Coke au Vin"! (I know, coq means rooster and all but since Coca Cola is sometimes called the house wine of the south I thought it was still pretty funny!)

I simply sauteed some seasoned (salt and paprika) chicken tenderloins in a few ounces of coca-cola. The sugar caramelized and turned the chicken tenderloins a nice brown color and kept everything very moist. For side dishes I steamed some frozen corn and tossed together some broccoli slaw. My go-to coleslaw sauce is super simple, a tablespoon of honey in a bowl whisked with a bit of apple cider vinegar and then add salt, pepper and mayonnaise until you reach the desired consistency. (It takes me about 3/4 C of mayo but I like my coleslaw on the dry side.)

I also made a Chocolate Coke Cake, something that used to be my specialty when I first started baking in grade school. I even won the baking contest at church when I was in 5th grade. The recipe is everywhere on the internet, but basically you add 1 C of coca- cola, 1/2 C buttermilk, 2 eggs, and a tsp of almond extract to a box of chocolate cake mix and mix it up. I top the batter with a few handfuls of chocolate chips. They sink down and melt into the cake as you bake it in a greased 13 x 9 inch pan for 40 minutes at 350 degrees. Then you make chocolate cola frosting. 1 stick of butter, 4 TB of unsweetened cocoa powder, melted together over medium heat, then add in 1/3 C of coca cola, when it JUST starts to bubble mix it with 4 C of sifted powdered sugar. Whip it all together and spread/pour it over warm cake and then let both cool for 20-30 minutes on a rack. YUM!

If you have any good ideas for me for Weird Wednesdays please leave me a comment! Thanks!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Egg Drop Soup and Moo Goo Gai Pan

Dinner was tasty, I will post links to recipes and insight tomorrow (like leave out the white pepper next time) but I am battling a KILLER headache so I will do a full-post tomorrow. Sorry!