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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.