Monday, October 22, 2012

Dal round 2!

This Dal recipe comes to you via Sarah Hart via Girl's Gone Child. For some reason or another I had not made it. I had it at Sarah's several time and LOVED it. Last week when I was asking the kids for dinner suggestions, Lola said, "Ms. Sarah's Dal!!!!" Yes Please!
I had to go to the Indian grocery store for ghee. Make a special trip and go get the Ghee, it makes a difference.I love that place, I have been twice before both times just to get food from the cafe they have in the back. If you think going to Fiesta is stepping into another country, try going to an Indian grocery. It is awesome. I thought I would pick up the lentils and cumin seeds as long as I was there. Did you know there are like 100 different types of red lentils most of them have the word Dal on the package?  Another interesting thing, everything is in bulk. I have enough cumin seeds to last me till the end of time, and that was the small bag. You can get a very tiny bag at Fiesta or FoodTown in the Latin spice section.
This is so fun to make, and EASY and fast! Serve with a cold cucumber salad and naan if you are not gluten free. I also rubbed ghee on a sliced egg plant, put a little curry on top and grilled. (YUMMY)
The kids go CRAZY for it. Oh, this is one of those recipes that I doubled but had to skimp on the portions the next night. I am going to triple next time I make it. (Good thing I have 24 ounces of cumin seeds)

Lal Dal (Red Lentils)

1 cup red lentils, washed
4 cups water
½ t turmeric powder
1 t salt
2 T ghee
½ t cumin seeds
1 green chili, halved lengthwise, seeded and sliced (I use Anaheims)
1 small onion, chopped
½ t cayenne pepper
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 T fresh lemon juice
¼ cup fresh cilantro.

1. Place lentils in a medium-size saucepan with the water, turmeric powder, and salt. Bring to a boil on a high heat. Reduce heat as froth starts to build up. Remove froth from the surface as it builds up. When froth subsides, turn down heat to low. Partially cover and cook until they are soft and turn into a soup-like consistency, about 15-20 minutes
2. In a small frying pan, heat ghee on medium heat. When hot, add cumin seeds to ghee, soon followed by the chilies and onions. Cook until onions become soft. Add chili powder and tomatoes. Cook for another 3-4 minutes or until tomatoes are soft. Add to lentils and simmer for another 10 minutes.

3. Add lemon juice and garnish with cilantro. Serve hot.

French Chicken in a Pot

This is quite simply one of the best things I have ever cooked. It goes right every single time and tastes so delicious I have served it on many occasions to guests. So incredibly tender, it falls apart in your hands. This recipe is not exactly time fast, it just does not require much of your time. It does cook for a few hours, but I can hang with that. It would be a perfect recipe if you want to make a bit of a jump away from usual cooking methods. 
 EVERYONE likes this recipe. I usually serve with red potatoes sauted with a bit of olive oil and rosemary. The potatoes soak up the yummy sauce created from the chicken.

It comes from the ever tenacious, America's Test Kitchen. 

French Chicken in a Pot

1 (4 1/2-5 lb) whole roasting chickens, giblets removed and discarded, wings tucked under back
2 teaspoons kosher salt (use 1/2 the salt for a kosher chicken) or 1 teaspoon table salt (use 1/2 the salt for a kosher chicken)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped medium (about 1/2 cup)
1 small celery rib, chopped medium (about 1/4 cup)
6 medium garlic cloves, peeled and trimmed
1 bay leaf
1 medium fresh rosemary sprig (optional)
1/2-1 teaspoon lemon juice

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 250 degrees. Pat chicken dry with paper towels and season with salt and pepper.

2. Heat oil in large (5- to 8-quart) Dutch oven over medium heat until just smoking. Add chicken breast-side down; scatter onion, celery, garlic, bay leaf, and rosemary (if using) around chicken. Cook until breast is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Using a wooden spoon inserted into cavity of bird, flip chicken breast-side up and cook until chicken and vegetables are well browned, 6 to 8 minutes.

3. Remove Dutch oven from heat; place large sheet of foil over pot and cover tightly with lid. Transfer pot to oven and cook until instant-read thermometer registers 160 degrees when inserted in thickest part of breast and 175 degrees in thickest part of thigh, 80 to 110 minutes.

4. Transfer chicken to carving board, tent with foil, and rest 20 minutes. Meanwhile, strain chicken juices from pot through fine-mesh strainer into fat separator, pressing on solids to extract liquid; discard solids (you should have about 3/4 cup juices). Allow liquid to settle 5 minutes, then pour into saucepan and set over low heat.

5. Carve chicken, adding any accumulated juices to saucepan. Stir lemon juice into jus to taste. Serve chicken, passing jus at table

Real Life Vs. Creative

It is time, way past time to write another food post. I have been typically ignoring my blog over the past few months. I WANT to blog, but it takes quite a bit of time and mental energy. I am re-discovering how much space a two year old inhabits your brain, body and soul. It was right around when Moses was 21/2 that I stopped blogging altogether, for almost 5 years.
Fast forward to today and now I have school to tend with, and PTA and friends and REST! I like my rest. I am the best possible me when I have an hour or two to read, watch TV (no hatin! There are some fantastic shows out there), sleep, or just space out and think for a bit. This of course, is a luxury I treasure each day. As with most luxuries, they come at a price. The blog is one debtor the kitchen can be another.
As you already know, I love to cook. I love to cook long complicated in-depth dishes. This is seriously OUT of the question if I do not start prepping early in the day. Some days I do this. They are rare and usually are days where all the house (everything) was done the day before. So, that leaves cooking to "The Hellish Hour", "Twilight Hour","Kiddie Rodeo Hour", IE: the worst part of the day, 4-6 PM.  My only thought at this hour is, "how fast? how healthy? Please God let the dishwasher be empty!"
I never thought I would be alarmed at the idea of coming up with something new. I never imagined, on some days, just the site of the kitchen would send profound waves of exhaustion coursing through my body. It does happen, it is true. I am human like the rest of the world.
However, this crushing feeling of doom is cut in half when I have an arsenal of good and fast recipes at my disposal. My other mantra? Double-double-double, no afternoon is sweeter then left-over night. Sadly, due to the alarming amount of food my children eat, my "double" does not always extend to a full meal the following night. Not cool kids, not cool at all.
I also find that I pretty much have the capacity to make three things. A protein, brown rice or sweet potatoes, and a veggie. There are many days when we simply eat protein and veggies. That happens to be a popular diet choice, but I do it for connivance and my kids eat twice as many veggies.  I only mention this because there used to be days when I would make 4 or 5 different options. WHAT? These days they are lucky to get water if they don't get it themselves. (Oh the joys of older children!)
I have a few good recipes. Really-really-really good recipes that do not take much time, but render amazing results. I am going to post them separate. The first two are stolen, as is much of what I cook during the week. I am not sure if there are going to be more, but for today, it will be just the two.
I would love to hear your go-to dinner recipes for weeknights. I am always on the look-out for the next best thing.
Happy Hell Hour.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

To Die for Marinated Cheese Appetizer

It is somewhat disturbing how much I like to talk about food. I frequently find myself having inner dialogue when discussing my culinary passion. Example: "Oh my gosh, you have talked about that delicious goat cheese appetizer for 5 minutes, and an additional 15 min before hand about all the easy was to go gluten free. SHUT UP ABOUT FOOD ALREADY." Then I abruptly change the subject so fast the recipient of my food dialogue is confused and this leads to awkward coughs.

So, it is positively awesome to talk to someone who actually likes food like me. Not just like to eat it, no, they enjoy the tedious process from picking out the dish to the finished actual product. I here again must mention Sarah Hart. Cooking is a  very-very essential thing we have in common. In addition, we both like eating and making appetizers (not sweets) more then anything else.  I remember one conversation in particular,  her and I were chatting with a group of ladies. They started at us in wonder as we talked passionately for an extended amount of time about how enthusiastic we are about appetizers. To be fair, Sarah and I tend to rev each other up when talking about anything we are passionate about; appetizers, books, movies, why our daughters do what they do. We can work up a conversation sweat given the time and the right subject.

We also throw many parties together. I think this is in large part due to the fact we like making appetizers. Party+Food+Wine= Great conversations, or better said, we get to talk to our friends and eat good food.

We have had a good run of fantastic go-to appetizers.  Criteria? Not to expensive, fairly easy to prepare and have a wow factor that does not suggest either one of the first two criteria existed when we chose said appetizer.

We threw a Favorite Things party back in October with a few other woman. I have never, I mean NEVER seen food eaten that fast.  It was bizarre and exciting. 

After that highly successful party, Sarah and I decided to explore more appetizer recipes. Our faithful dishes were becoming boring, to us anyway. I found this KILLER cheese recipe on a few months back. Hello new perfect awesome appetizer that is going to cause me to have all sorts of outer chatter and all manner of inner beat-downs.

It is cheap, easy to make, and has a KILLER wow-factor. I mean KILLER. Make it. I don't care if you cannot boil water, you can make this and, prepare yourself, everyone will think you are a culinary genius.

Sarah and I hosted a baby shower this past weekend and served a variety of wonderful new dishes. The food was a HIT!!!!! I will post the rest of our deliciousness over the next few days.

The cheese is right above the crackers. It make a beautiful presentation.

 For today, To Die for Marinated Cheese Appetizer.

12 cup olive oil
14 cup white wine vinegar
14 cup fresh lime juice
7 ozs red peppers (roasted red peppers drained and diced)
3 green onions (chopped)
3 tbsps flat leaf parsley (fresh flat leaf parsley chopped)
3 tbsps fresh cilantro (chopped) 
1 tsp sugar
12 tsp salt
12 tsp pepper
8 ozs monterey jack cheese (colby)
8 ozs monterey jack (pepper cheese)
8-16 ozs cream cheese
1Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, and lime juice until blended.
2Stir in red peppers, green onions, parsley, cilantro, sugar, salt and pepper.
3Set marinade aside.
4Cut blocks of cheese in half lengthwise
5Cut into thin rectangular slices and then cube.
6Arrange cheese slices alternately into a pie dish or other shallow dish,
7Pour marinade over slices and spread work marinade with your hands until cheese is covered. I like to push the cheese down until almost covered.
8Cover and chill for 8 hours or overnight.

9Serve with crackers      

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Breakfast for Dinner. Always a Winner.

Why is it that kids are so obbessed with breakfast for dinner? It is like their realities are thrown so far off course, dinner becomes an adventure instead of a chore. I know the vast quantities of food the children are capable of eating on these nights. The funny thing is, they are, by far, the easiest dinner to prepare. I keep them guessing as to when BfD might happen, gotta keep the fun rollin on.

Everyone likes their eggs different so the menu, while diverse, is easy and produces smiles all a round.
2 boiled eggs - Moses
3 scrambled eggs - Lola
2 Fried eggs- Mark
2 Poached eggs over tomatoes, beans and corn tortillas - Mommy
Blue Berry, Oatmeal Pancakes - Everyone but me
Turkey Sausage Links - Family
Fruit - Family
Preps time
Blue Berry Oatmeal Pancake
She ate 3 eggs, 4 sausage links and two pancakes.
Usually his WORST time of day. All smiles and totally worth it.

Poor guys, looks tierd.

Smiley face katchup.

Doing the happy dance after dinner.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mediterranean/Italian Beef Scaloppini

 Scene One: Beef Scaloppini cuts on reduced for quick sale. Yep, never made it. I had never even heard of it in fact. Does that stop this savvy shopper and creative cook? I think not.         
Scene Two: Thawed beef and no earthy idea how to cook it. No worries, I have the internet. After reading about 6-7 recipes I quickly realized that almost all the recipes required mushrooms, white wine and capers, none of which I had. Did I break a sweat? What would be the use? I had thawed “reduced for quick sale” meat, there are very little options; cook it or throw it out. No worries. I had a kitchen full of good eats just waiting to be made into something amazing.
Scene Three: Hunt through fridge and pantry and come up with culinary genius dish. (Thank you very much)
Kids and husband LOVED!

Mediterranean/Italian Beef Scaloppini
1-2 lbs Beef Scaloppini Cuts
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion diced
1 Red Bell diced
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary or 2 tablespoon dried rosemary
1 Cup red wine
4 large garlic cloves crushed or diced fine
1 Can Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 Jar Marinated Mediterranean Vegetables in oil
Chopped fresh parsley for garnish
1 slice of Mozzarella cheese for each person.

  1. Salt and pepper beef. Heat oil on med/high heat in Dutch oven. Cook beef 3-5 minutes until almost done, set aside beef.
  2. Add onions, red bell and garlic and rosemary. Cook until almost done, about 7 minutes.
  3. Add wine and deglaze pan. Add tomato and Mediterranean Veggies.
  4. Return meat to pan and cover with veggies and sauce. Let cook on medium to low heat for about 10 minutes or until meat and veggies are completely cooked and well done.
  5. Plate one piece of beef on each person’s plate. Top with one slice of mozzarella cheese then top with hot veggies from pot. (it will melt cheese)

Yum. Enjoy. I served with steamed asparagus coated with olive oil, salt and fresh squeezed lemon juice. It was a perfect simple side to a complex and delicious main dish.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Meal Planning 101 with Guest Blogger: Sarah Hart

As some of you know, I am not the most organized person. This is not a fact I am necessarily proud or ashamed of. I have gotten much better at handling my many facets of much needed organization as I have gotten older and have learned how to run a house-hold efficiently as a laid back person. I do not want to be totally anal about how things are run or how they look. I know that while my house could look immaculate, I would go crazy brain. However, I greatly appreciate those that embrace organization and control; they are people to learn from. If my man-crush, Nate Berkus were to come in and organize my entire house, I would have no problem living within the confines of the cute boxes and extra storage shelves. Then we would sit at my kitchen table and eat fabulous appetizers while drinking wine and talk about design and art, and platoniclly flirt about my cute outfit…I think I have seriously digressed.
This brings me to meal planning. (Great seg-way, I know)
Sarah Hart is by far the most organized person I know in every area of her life. I so enjoy watching her turn her spices around to face forward, all set together in some weird perfect order. I love that about her. One time she said, “If someone took anything, and I mean ANYTHING out of my house, I would know it.” Whoooo hooo, hello Mayor McCrazy Town, I am pretty sure you could take half my furniture and I would think I had lost it. Recently, I conveniently started cleaning out my pantry knowing full well she was coming by for a visit. She organized my tiny pantry in a way that doubled my space and allowed me to access everything with just my eyes. It was AMAZING! It is not that I do not like organization or cannot follow rules of law, I just do not think that way and therefore I am daunted by the initial task. I LOVE my pantry now, and have kept it exactly the way she set it before me.  We are on two sides of the spectrum and we really-really enjoy being friends. Our commonality comes in our love for other things, wine, and books, analyzing ever aspect of Mad Men and Friday Night Lights. Talking and talking. and talking. Oh, and our children are best friends. 
The great thing is, she has a fantastic system for allot of things and I want to learn from her. So I asked her to write a guest spot on my blog. As you will see, she has a phenomenal meal planning/kitchen organization boot camp every week. I wanted her to write this for me, as well as you. While, I am pretty sure I will never be quite this organized, it is an amazing teaching tool. Enjoy and happy planning!

Meal Planning 101 - Sarah Hart

I am a very organized person.  My home is almost always tidy (though definitely not always clean, so don’t hate), my spices all face the same direction, and my coffee-table magazines are arrayed in a pleasing fan-shape.  I keep a day planner and am a rampant list-maker.  I am punctual.  I don’t say any of this to brag or to toot my own horn, because I KNOW that many of these behaviors can drive others crazy.  (My poor, poor husband, what with the demands of bathroom rug positioning.)  So there are plenty of drawbacks to being borderline OCD.  The inability to allow others to empty my dishwasher, say.  Or the hasty organizational frenzy in which I sometimes engage because I just can’t take the mess anymore that results in the accidental disposal of uh, a sizeable Starbucks gift card (that one still stings).  But I own my control issues, or try to, at least.  I don’t know why I have them, exactly, but I think I’ve just always been this way.   We could list the possibilities – I’m a classically-trained musician, or everyone in my family is the same, in varying degrees (both of which are true) – but the fact remains that this is just how I am. 

So that’s my long-winded explanation of why I’m probably a pretty good person to guest-blog here on meal planning.  I’m a meal planner, if you hadn’t guessed.  Jenny is not a meal planner, and I really think that this is why she’s become such an amazing cook – she has learned to create on-the-fly, with whatever’s lurking in the recesses of her pantry.  Conversely, I rarely need to exercise any creative culinary muscle, because I always have the necessary ingredients on hand (see above paragraph, re: list-making).  So in that way, meal planning is not always the perfect system, but it does have its positives.  Such as:  I rarely have to enter the grocery store more than once a week, and I only go to one food-type store per week.  Because of that, I usually stay on budget (both in terms of time and in terms of money) and there is almost no waste – we eat everything I buy, and it is rare that something goes bad.  And I get to cook the things I love, which makes my evening cooking time something I look forward to all day, and sincerely enjoy.

I’m going to try to lay out my method as specifically as possible.  Because I’m so used to doing this, it’s hard to know what is obvious, and what is useful…so I hope not to bore you.  Please skim to the parts that you need!   I’d love to hear your input, as well – what was uh…DUH, and what was new and helpful.  So here we go.

I grocery shop on Thursdays.  Every week.  This is just how things started aligning themselves after baby number one, so I stuck to it from then on (seven years ago, now).  This means I always make the master list one day before, on Wednesdays.  I spend far more time planning than I do at the store – another holdover from the days when I had two toddlers in the cart and a third tiny one in the Snugli, but honestly, I’ve really blocked much of that time out.  (Having PTSD flashback, please stand by.)  Okay, deep cleansing breath, and…moving on.  So.  When I make my list, I must be in my kitchen, and I need several things:

                1. paper & pen for the master list (this probably rates in the “uh…DUH” category)
                2. my starter list
                3. my weekly checklist
                4. my day planner
                5. my recipes & cookbooks

Here’s what I do.  I get out the starter list, which is like the rough draft (yes, people.  There are drafts.  Don’t be alarmed).  This is the list that I dash off of things we run out of throughout the week, as I think of them – deodorant!  Dog food!  Block cheddar cheese!  So, on the new master list, I make categories.  These are organized according to my route in my store, and they are:  produce, meat/deli, packaged goods, dairy, freezer, baby (though this one is fading into the ether…sob), pharmacy, and other.  I think that’s all, but you’ll just use whichever categories work for you.  I first enter all the things from my starter list into their proper categories.  Next, I think through meals, starting with our typical breakfasts, of which I have five standards (eggs and toast or crescent rolls, yogurt and cereal, oatmeal, frozen waffles, and bagels with cream cheese, all with fruit).  I check the refrigerator and pantry and list the things we’ve run out of for these meals, simple as that.  Then I do the same with lunches and snacks.  For breakfast, lunch, and snacks, I typically eat different things than the kids and my husband is gluten- and dairy-free, so I have to think through each person individually.  The kids eat school lunch twice a week, so I plan for that as well.  Also, don’t forget the drinks!  Milk, OJ, coffee, Diet Coke, whatever. 

A side note:  As I do this, I am reorganizing my pantry and fridge.  This is essential, because if you don’t, you don’t know what you have to work with.  Additionally, you need to clear out and rearrange the old stuff first, before you return with all your new groceries.  That Tupperware that is crammed to the back with two spoonfuls of peas in it?  Now is when it gets dumped.  The hubby’s last, expired slice of lunch meat?  Into the garbage.  That blackened banana?  Goodbye.  Also, this prevents me from EVER having to do a complete fridge clean-out – I wipe shelves and rearrange salad dressing bottles as I go.  This is a big time-saver.  Another plus:  it is rare for me to unearth smelly things from the shadowy corners.  They are dealt with before they enter the realm of utter nastiness. 

After all that is taken care of (and items entered into proper categories on the master list, don’t forget), I go through my weekly checklist.  I keep this taped to the cabinet and it was something that took me a while to develop, and it will be different for every family.  These are the things we CANNOT run out of.  If we did (God forbid), disaster would ensue.  There would be no butt-wiping, or no alcohol.  Or BOTH.  (Shudder.)  My weekly checklist consists of:

                1. toilet paper & paper towels
                2. diapers & wipes (also fading into aforementioned ether, but definitely no sobbing about that)
                3. dishwasher soap & dishwasher detergent
                4. bleach wipes
                5. laundry detergent
                6. sandwich baggies & kitchen trash bags
                7. wine

I really think that the weekly checklist is what keeps me on budget, more than anything.  It keeps me out of the store.  Because how many times have you run into Target for toilet paper and come out with the toilet paper, yes, but also fruit, wine (it was on sale!), trail mix, socks (super cute), a spatula (in orange!  It matches my tongs!), a birthday gift, nail polish (because I deserve it.  I deserve a splurge), US Weekly (it was the Kardashian wedding issue!  Who can argue with that?), and $10 worth of useless crap for the kids (damn those dollar aisles.  DAMN THEM) – none of which were needed?  Ah, Target.  The den of iniquities.

And…forward march.  Next I look over my day planner and make note of any “extras.”  For example, if one of the kids is going to a birthday party Saturday, a gift goes on the master list.  If I need to send Valentine napkins to the preschool, I need to write it down.  If we’re going to a party this weekend and I’m bringing a veggie tray, well, I need the fixings for that.  All of this goes on the master list, so I glance at each day through the following Thursday, since I’ll be at the store again at that time.  Also at this point I double check how many nights we’re staying home to eat.  Usually, we eat out one night a week and might eat at a friend’s house or order pizza another.  If we don’t do one of those things, then one of those nights becomes leftover nights, so I almost always plan dinners for five nights.   

(An aside:  the birthday gift thing.  Firstly, you need a good store.  If you do all your shopping at a basic grocery, this system won’t work.  You need an all-in-one – food, school supply aisle, pharmacy, booze, the list goes on.  Otherwise, you’re going to end up at more than one store per week, a practice also known as THE DANGER ZONE.  In addition, it might appear that buying all birthday gifts, Valentine napkins, etc., at your “all-in-one” would be more costly than say, stopping at the dollar store in addition to your grocery store…but I’ve found this largely not to be the case.  Remember, Target is a trap.  (The dollar store is too, for me at least.)  Ignore their siren songs and keep this mantra in mind:  “The fewer stores I enter, the less money I will spend.”)

Now we’re at the fun part.  Dinner planning.  I cook “big dinners” only two nights a week.  I define “big dinners” as meals that we can eat for two nights.  My family doesn’t mind leftovers, so this works for us.  If yours does, here’s where you might modify.  For me, five dinners means two big dinners and one “little dinner.”  I’ll get to the big dinners in a minute, but let me start with the little ones.  Little dinners are meals that will probably not supply any leftovers.  Usually, little dinners are where my staples come in.  These meals are always quick and easy, and the kids love them.  Here’s a list of mine, but of course you can tailor this however is needed for your family:

                1. Crispy tacos
                2. Indian curry from a pouch with rice
                3. Sloppy Joes
                4. Hot dogs
                5. Pasta with marinara sauce
                6. BLTs & tomato soup
                7. Eggs & pancakes (breakfast for dinner)
                8. Grilled cheese or quesadillas
                9. And, in a pinch: frozen pizza, mac & cheese, canned ravioli (all those terrible things we pretend we don’t feed our children but secretly always have on hand just in case)
                10. Also, a few canned or frozen veggies, baby carrots, cucumbers, grape tomatoes, red bell peppers, frozen edamame (to assuage our guilt about #9)

You get the picture.  At any point in time, I have many of the ingredients for the small dinners on hand.  That’s why I consider them staples.

For my big dinners, I go through my cookbooks and recipe file and add all needed ingredients to the master list, remembering to double, if necessary – I always check the yield at the end.  I have a huge file of recipes torn out from Cooking Light or printed from blogs in the breadbox on my counter, and I go through them and pick two new ones each week.  Sometimes, if we really love something, I’ll remake it, but usually I’m so excited to try a new recipe that I prefer experimentation to dinner repeats.  More often than not, I’ll make a huge pot of soup for one of my big dinners.  Soups are generally very healthy and cheap to make, because they frequently don’t need meat.  Plus, my kids typically like soup, the layering of flavors usually makes them even better the second night, and any extra will freeze well.  For the other dinner, I generally do a meat main course, varying between red meat, chicken, fish, pork, whatever, weekly.  This is where I get to splurge – by buying something fabulous, like mussels, or a great cut of steak, or some halibut fillets.  Also, for the master list, don’t forget to list your sides.  Most often, I get two nights’ worth of fresh veggie (steamed zucchini, or sautéed spinach, or salad) and plan on eating canned or frozen (again, from my arsenal of staples) for the remainder.

How long does this take?  Now that I’m used to it, about an hour.  If you are a couponer, it will take longer.  But the fact that I’m not dashing to the store throughout the week (or at 5:30, in a frenzy, because I forgot to get the split peas for the split pea soup that is on the stove NOW) more than makes up for this. 

Whew.  That was…a lot.  I hope to hear from you – let me know how it goes, and I welcome your questions and comments!  Good luck, and happy cooking!

-Thank you Sarah for sharing! Love, JenYummy.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Spicy Squash & Peanut Soup with Grilled Eggplant, Pesto, Tomato & Goat Cheese Stack

A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a magnificent food blog, Cara's Cravings. I have yet to find a recipe I would not make. The blog was appealing to me because she creates her dishes as I would. The dishes are simple, healthy and very much in keeping with what comes out of my kitchen. In short, I like her cooking style. I finally got to make my first recipe from her site, Spicy Squash & Peanut Soup. YUM.

So, here are a few notes. It is not spicy. The chipotle pepper adds a nice deepness to the soup without blowing your socks off, or even singeing them. Definitely kid friendly. My kids friendly. Your family may have an extra sensitive pallet. In that case, skip the pepper and add a 1 tablespoon of the adobo liquid. Second note, this recipe takes time. Peeling and chopping a butternut squash is time consuming. I started yesterday afternoon and I kept the squash out and peeled a bit at a time. I get board with tasks like that, so instead of abandoning ship, I gave myself the freedom to do a little at a time. It was brilliant!  Nothing in this recipe requires any more then the basic skill set. So if you give yourself plenty of time, it should be a cinch! Go to hyperlink for instructions. One more note, you do have to like food to eat this. What I mean is, this is not an average tasting dish. I feel you do have to like veggies to like this. 

What did I serve with it you ask???? Ha ha ha. (Diabolical laugh) Not sure why this has to be diabolical other then I am imagining strumming my fingers together like a mad scientist, gazing lovingly at my awesome eggplant creation.
I found this recipe, or a version of it and did not bookmark!!! I hate when that happens. I know the original was almost just like this one, so if I knew where it was I would give credit. The goat cheese was all me! Ok, so this is so good, it is going on my favorites list right away. It is easy, crazy Delicious and very easy to make. This makes enough for people to have one each. I would double if you are cooking for more.

I would have taken pictures, but I had a new friend over and, well, you know, taking pictures of your food is kinda weird. I need to ease her into my crazy.

Grilled Eggplant, Pesto, Tomato & Goat Cheese Stack

1 Eggplant
3 Beefsteak or Large Tomato cut into large rings
Pesto, home made or store bought.
Goat cheese softened

Cut eggplant into rings. Salt both sides and let sit for 30 minutes. This will draw out water and eliminate bitter flavor.

Put eggplant on grill on grill for about 5 minutes. Smear goat cheese on eggplant, smear a layer of pesto on top of that, add tomato, add another eggplant ring and repeat. Put a sheet of alluminum foil down on grill, put eggplant on and close grill for about 10 minutes or until tomatoes are soft and cheese is bubbly.
*I used a George Forman and did the final cooking in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. If my grill worked I would have used that.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

10 Tips on Cooking For Large Crowds

At the company where Mark and I met, a very smart lady, Adina Norris implemented a Lunch Bunch. Anyone could join as long as you committed to bringing lunch for everyone when it was your turn. Brilliant! At the time I did not know how to cook very well, and I certainly did not know how to cook for a crowd. I am certain I got it wrong on several occasions, but then so did everyone else. Through trial and error, I learned a very important life skill. One note, Adina taught me a ton about group cooking. She would often bring enough food to feed whomever wanted to eat, not just lunch bunch. She would concoct these enormous dishes of fried rice. When I asked he for the recipe she would say, "Recipe? I just put in whatever I had in the kitchen." Impressive skill cooking for 30+ people with nothing more then your kitchen items for ingredients. If you know Adina, this comes as no surprise.
In addition to learning how to cook for large groups of people, the friendships that were formed from eating together everyday were priceless.  Long after I quit working, and Mark was still there, I looked forward to coming up on the days we cooked and eating with all my old friends.
 My mother is another teacher in my journey to cooking. The single most valuable lesson she taught me in the kitchen was generosity. Her favorite saying, "We can always put another rock in the soup!” applies when cooking for a crowd.  We had very little money growing up, but we ALWAYS had enough to share our table. God always provided that "rock". I have more memories of our family dinners including other people then not. When cooking for a large crowd, you can be thrifty, but always have a mindset of generosity. 
We are now attending a Bible study, one family brings dinner every 6 weeks or so. It’s a breeze for me. Mark and I discuss our many options with no worries. I know there is a game plan that I need to follow in order to serve a successful stress free dinner. It most definitely is not perfect every-time, because I am still learning.
Cooking for large groups of people is a challenge. An expensive challenge if you do not know what you are doing. I thought I would give few tips, feel free to add more in the comments section.

1. The List: Make a list. On the right side of the page, list everything you are going to serve. I mean everything. Main dish, sides, veggies, shredded cheese for toppings, salad dressings. No item is too small if you are planning to serve it. On the left side of the page write a task list; thaw meat, chop veggies, shred cheese. I usually add other tasks that I need done, laundry, empty dishwasher, make the kids a snack. The purpose for this is so you can make an assessment of what things you are going to be doing as well as cooking. There is nothing like household stuff to derail your cooking time.
2. Start to Finish: Think through the entire process of a recipe. Do not arbitrarily choose to cook something and not think through to the finish.  Imagine your self doing all the steps, if you can see yourself on the other side, this MIGHT be the one.
3. Ingredients: Is this recipe expensive? Remember, you are going to double or even triple everything. When I cook for large groups I use two principle ingredients almost every-time: Dried Beans and Ground Turkey. The recipes available using those to ingredients as your base are endless. (If you want a few email me)  I don't always use both, but I almost always use one.
4. Food Allergies:  I like to, whenever possible, cook with the food allergy person in mind. You may choose not to. In that case, it is always thoughtful to add tons of extra salad.  If you have plenty, then that person will not feel they have taken another person’s share. Leave dressing and cheeses off salad anytime you cook for a crowd. If you cook with sauces bring the sauce or spice pack or whatever to the allergy person, they will appreciate it and feel comfortable eating your food.
5. Skill Level:  Don't pick a recipe you do not know how to cook. I made Gumbo for the first time for Lola's first birthday. If you don't know this, gumbo takes a long time to make and requires a certain skill. I had never even heard of rue before and I tried to make it from scratch for 43 people. Evaluate what you have to do from start to finish. I know I keep saying that, but it is key. You do not want to get half way through a recipe and realize you have never browned floured meat. (It does require some skill) Eliminate stress. It is stressful to feed large groups, don't add mess ups in the kitchen to that mix. Try new things, but make sure they are similar to things you have cooked before.
6. Time Frame: This has been, and continues to be, the hardest skill for me to master. If I lived by my rule, Start to Finish, I would never have a problem. Be careful when a recipe gives the time it takes to make. They do not always factor in the time it takes to chop. Chopping and prep usually takes the bulk of your time when cooking any dish, but it really takes a long time when tripled. If possible, chop all the veggies early, like in the morning. It feels great to just get in-front of the stove and have everything at your finger tips. Make desserts the day before. Make casseroles the day before if you can.
7. Crock V. Pot: My mom never used a crock pot. I never used a crock pot. Then my dear friend Laura bought me a crock pot. I use is as much as possible. When used with the right ingredients, food comes out amazing. However, if the crock pot recipe calls for a 4 hour cook time and you are unable to turn it off in 4 hours, skip it. Many times, if cooked to long, everything falls apart. Remember, crock pot recipes often call for large amounts of prep work. Be sure to take note when reading the recipe and think about your time constraints.
8. Over-plan: There is NOTHING worse then running out of food. Over plan by at least 4 people. You would be shocked at the amount of food the first few people will put on their plate. From their view they see all the food you cooked and think there is tons and tons, when in reality you have only cooked enough for everyone to have a normal portion. In large groups people eat TONS of food and more then 50% of your guests will want seconds. In addition, most large meals are buffet, so what you consider a normal portion, they may think is small.
9. Eat Last: Always be the last to eat. This gives you the ability to re-fill anything that might have run low, like cheese.  Eating last ensures that everyone of your guests gets foods.
10. Build Staples: Start building a library of staple recipes. You will find recipes you use over and over that are easy, inexpensive and crowd pleasers.

Enjoy yourself, have fun. Remember, no matter what you cook, everyone is grateful they are not cooking. Happy cooking.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lemon Veal Stew

Yum. I mean, yum-yum-yum. Wonderful, lovely and rich is an accurate description.  The flavors are elaborate and unusual. If you are a seasoned foodie this is the dish for you. If you are drawn to simple cuisine, this would be the perfect dish to step out of your comfort zone. It requires quite a few ingredients and, while not complex, does entail prep work.

It would be the perfect thing to serve to guests on a cold Saturday night.

Lemon Veal Stew
21/2-3 Pounds Veal Stew Meat
1/3 Cup Rice Flower (You can use regular as well)
2 Teaspoons Salt
1 Tablespoon Ground Black Pepper
1 Red Onion Chopped into strips
4 Cloves Garlic chopped
1 Tablespoon Chopped fresh Tarragon (2 Tablespoons dried)
1 Tablespoon Chopped fresh Rosemary (2 Tablespoon dried)
6 Red Potatoes Chopped into cubes
Juice of 4 Lemons
1 (8 oz) Can Artichoke Hearts
1 Bag Wild Mushrooms (You can use 1lb Button as well)
4 Cups Dry White Wine

Coat veal cubes with flour. Heat olive oil on medium in large dutch oven and add veal, cook long enough to brown on 2 sides, not long enough to cook through. Do not over crowd, work in several batches. You might have to turn down your heat as you cook as your pot will heat up in the process.

Add all other ingredients,  to the crock pot. Add veal when you are done browning. Cook on High for 6 hours.
Perfect served with a spicy greens salad. I would like to say that is what we did, but no, it was Ceaser from a bag.

*I did not take very good pictures this time, so I am playing around in Picasa to see what affects I like best.

Prepping the Meat
Sorry Mark, you lost out on the wine this go-round! Good thing, it was AWESOME!

Happy Eating.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Roll With it Baby...

So, there is a problem with recipe surfing. Sometimes, when you have surfed several recipes on an item, say veal stew meat, you get confused and forget cooking times. I spent a great deal of time yesterday perfecting the perfect combination of veal stew recipes. Cara’s Cravings would be the base, and I would add and subtract other stuff.
I really liked her use of lemon and not wine. I LOVE to cook with wine, Mark on the other hand, always the gracious husband will usually curl his nose and say, “Oh, you used wine.” Not the response I am looking for. I, on the other hand love to use wine when cooking. I love the tangy, rich and deep taste it adds to a dish. However, I am cooking for others not always myself.
I digress. So, today at 3:30 I went to look up the base recipe and low and behold it was a 6 hour crock pot version. Whoops. Veal is defrosted, what to do? Thank you HEB quick-sale beef pinwheels stuffed with feta and spinach.
Defrost beef: Check; Veggie: LOTS of fresh spinach; Starch? , I just happened to have purchased a box of Mac and Cheese for the kids at random. (Pantry staple)  HELLO SUPER MAMA!
Since Mac and Cheese from a box is NOT gluten free, I abstained. The kids on the other hand, thought it was Christmas dinner. Every once in a while, I find digression is fun.

HEB Beef Pinwheels Stuffed with Feta and Spinach
Grill on George Forman or regular grill. Babysit till done, about 5-7 minutes.

Sautéed Spinach
1 pound fresh spinach washed ends trimmed
3-4-5-6-7 garlic chopped (Stop chopping garlic when you get tired)
7-8 dried Japanese chilies chopped.
1 tablespoon sesame oil

Heat wok till searing hot. Add garlic and chilies; cook till crispy, about 3 minutes. Add spinach and sesame oil. Toss till spinach is wilted.  

Box Macaroni – Nuf said.

The end result of this shifting of dinners was GOLD. Everyone loved everything and I win. The kids did not eat the spinach. I did not offer it to them. There are some things I like spicy and do not want to alter for their delicate palate. They got raw chopped red bell. 

Veal stew tomorrow! I promise.

George Forman ROCKS!
Fresh Spinach
Cooking Garlic and Peppers
Helping Mom
Spinach Stir-fry
I LIKE dinner. (Usually hates dinner but eats)
I always eat whatever Mommy makes with a smile.

Coming Soon

Sarah Hart called me today and gave me some great feedback about the blog. Specifically, she gave me ideas for future posts. They were brilliant! I have a sneaking suspicion that the envelope, I wrote said ideas on, will travel from the desk, to the counter, to my bedroom, back to the desk and eventually end up in the trash or stashed into some random opening in my bookshelf. Instead I will write ideas on blog thereby killing two birds with one stone. I can dispose of agonizing envelope and hold myself accountable to writing future posts.

Please comment and let me know what YOU would like to read about.

Envelope Future Blog  ideas:

Good Bones - A discussion about how to pick recipes online or in cookbooks; How to tailor recipes to your ingredient list, cooking skill and time frame. 

Kitchen Staples - What consistent ingredients do I purchase every-time I run out, even if I do not have a specific recipe in mind?  What can you find on a daily basis in my freezer, refrigerator and pantry. What key ingredients do I think EVERY person needs in their kitchen to cook on the fly.

Leftover ReCreations - How to turn yesterdays leftovers into today's new creations.

Gluetn Free - A discussion about my journey; commercially the options are getting better, but the general public are still uneducated insensitive to food allergy ; how it is not as difficult or limiting as you might think!

How I Shop - My mind and budget in the grocery store. How do I feed my family on budget serving gourmet and gluten free.

Favorite Appetizers - I cannot WAIT to write this one, I will be gleaning from many sources, as this is my favorite thing to eat, period.

So, there you have it, the future. Let me know what interests you. These will all take time and some research, so in the meantime keep your eye out for how my veal stew turns out tonight.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Arise from the Dead and Make: Gluten Free/Dairy Free Italian Turkey Sausage Pasta with Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette

No big deal, it has been 5 years since my last post, lets just pick up where we left off.
Holy Mother of all things good to cook. I hit one out of the park. I thought this would be good, I had no idea it would GREAT, like no leftovers great. (I would have doubled had I known)
One of my very favorite things to do is purchase quick-sale or reduced meats. I know there are a few categories of people that find that practice abhorrent. I, on the other hand, have cooked many meals that I could not otherwise afford to eat using this method, and I can add other fun stuff when I get a deal on things I purchase all the time. We have never gotten sick, and I always cook by the date it recommends, even if that means cooking it that night. Germaphobe category people, avoid this practice.
The real reason I like it? The thrill of the hunt. I then go home, look up dozens of recipes online and proceed to mash them up into what I think is the best flavor combination and based on my ingredient list. What to look for when surfing? Recipes with good bones. Uber Meal Planners, another category of people, this practice may not be for you.
If the meat is super weird, and you are a HEB zealot like me, ask the chefs at the Cooking Connection. They always have great ideas and good tips.
Side note: I do have my limits to "super weird". Yesterday took a big, I mean BIG step away when the reduced for quick sale item was sweetbreads..

So, this brings us to dinner tonight. I bought Italian turkey sausage links for $2 yesterday at HEB. All HEB turkey sausage made in house is MSG-free. After much perusal, and very little options online, this is what I came up with.


Gluten Free Turkey Sausage Pasta

1 pound of Italian Turkey Sausage Links
3 Cups of Chicken Broth
1 Red Bell Pepper cut as strips
1/2 red onion cut as strips
4 cloves garlic crushed
3 heads of Broccoli, cut florets from stem
1 can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried basil (Fresh would be AMAZING too)
salt and pepper to taste, be generous.
1 box of gluten free pasta. (shells, rigatoni, macaroni shells) cooked to instructions.
1 cup Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette (Recipe to follow)

Place sausage in crock pot on high. Add enough chicken broth to cover. Slow cook for 4 hours. You can do this step ahead if needed.

When 4 hours are up, remove sausage and cut into rings. Reserve chicken broth for later use. Heat dutch oven with a few tablespoons of olive oil, when oil is hot add sausage rings. Cook until they are a nice crispy brown. Remove and set aside. You can eliminate step one and two and put sausage on grill. The added steps adds juice to the meat and insures no drying.

Add a bit more oil and add onion, garlic and red bell. Cook at a medium heat for about 15 minutes. You want them to cook slow and long so they are soft.

Add broccoli and turn up the heat. After you have sauteed the broccoli for a few minutes, 3-5, add a few tablespoons of chicken broth and a few tablespoons of Vinaigrette. Cover and let steam for 3-5 minutes. Remove and set aside.

Add canned tomatoes, oregano and basil. Deglaze pan and let simmer for 3 min. Add reserved veggies, meat and 1/2 cup of Vinaigrette. Toss and heat, add cooked noodles and toss more. Add more Vinaigrette if you feel you do not have enough sauce.
Yummy, cheap, gluten- and dairy-free, definitely NOT flavor free

Smoked Paprika Vinaigrette

1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup Cooking Sherry
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
Juice of 1 lime
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons smoked paprika
3 cloves garlic
1/2 finely chopped red onion
1 teaspoon oregano
1 pinch white sugar (optional)
1/2 cup olive oil
Blend the red wine vinegar, honey, mustard, lime juice, pepper, salt, paprika, garlic, onion, oregano, and sugar together in a blender until thoroughly mixed. Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture while blending on low. Chill at least 1 hour before serving

*This makes TONS. Use as marinade for fish, shrimp chicken or beef. Or, novel idea, salad dressing.