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.