31 March 2009

P.C.R.

betty crocker slow cooker lasagnaI try to use my slow cooker on the weekends when I know we'll be out a lot and the temptation to "just grab a bite" will be pretty high. Who wants to cook after a hard day of buying wine and replacement network switches? Not I! But I don't want to spend money on a meal out for no good reason, either. Being brain dead from Best Buy is not a valid reason.

I'd seen a lot of slow cooker lasagna recipes on the Internets and in cookbooks, so I guessed it was a pretty normal thing to make in a slow cooker. Recipe-wise, Betty Crocker's "Slow Cooker Lasagna" seemed like a safe bet (can't go wrong with Betty, can you?) and I had all the ingredients on hand. Easy-peasy, I thought.

And it was, really. Cooked the (thawed) sausage with onions and then stirred in the (thawed) sauce with a bit of basil. Combined the cheeses. Layered everything with noodles in the slow cooker. Let it cook for six hours. Ate.

It was ... eh. There was nothing precisely wrong with the dish -- it wasn't overcooked or under-seasoned -- it just wasn't lasagna. It was Crockpot Helper "lasagna." Nothing wrong with it, but it couldn't be compared to the real thing. Maybe, if we'd called it P.C.R. (pasta, cheese, red sauce) we would have liked it better?

So, I guess I chalk this up as a learning experience and have done. There's enough room in the freezer now to slot in a couple pans of The Best Make-Ahead Recipe (America's Test Kitchen, 2007) lasagna ... I can guess what I'll be making this weekend!

29 March 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week Five

Week Five! The Saga of the Freezer continues ... my freezer is full of food and one of the local grocery stores is having a huge sale on meat. Would love to pick up a bunch of family packs on the cheap and break them down for later use, but where could I put them? I almost regret freecycling our basement freezer before we moved. Almost, because it was old and inefficient and bigger than we needed. Where would we put a freezer in our new basement, anyway? Darn finished basement that's all pretty and twee and totally useless as we are not swingin' party types who need a finished basement to socialize in. So decidedly not swingin' party types.

But, hey! If my Dad gets laid off and my parents lose their house, well, they can always live in our basement! Isn't that handy!

Grr.

We saw my parents this weekend and my father quietly told us he had been (unofficially) informed that most of his department would laid off before the beginning of the next fiscal year (July). My father is fifty-seven and too darned old to start monkeying around construction sites, again. My mother is physically handicapped and draws disability. They have very little to fall back on.

Holy crap, people, the recession just hit home.

Anyway, let's eat more stuff out of the freezer in Week Five!
  • Monday: "My Favorite Roast" from March/April 2009 Cooking With Paula Deen. Uses a roast out of the freezer. Will serve with mashed potatoes and carrots. (Yes, this was supposed to be Sunday's dish, but got pushed back because we were visiting my parents).
  • Tuesday: Mr. Bento packed with leftover slow cooker lasagna, salad, and a homemade gelatin cup.
  • Wednesday: "Golden Pork Chops" from Taste of Home's The Busy Family Cookbook (Reiman Media, 2007) with peas. Uses pork chops out of the freezer, that can of creamed corn I can't remember the reason for buying, and cornbread stuffing mix leftover from Thanksgiving.
  • Thursday: Mr. Bento packed with Cabot Hunter's Sharp cheddar chunks, sea salt pita crackers, hummus, and soup.
  • Friday: Pasta with chicken sausage and tomato sauce from the freezer.
  • Saturday: Kashi frozen pizza and salad.
  • Simple Sunday: Roast chicken with mashed potatoes and steamed fresh green beans (or pan-roasted asparagus). Uses one of February's BOGO chickens.

27 March 2009

Four Ingredients: Soy Sauce Chicken

I must admit that I cannot photograph Another Cookbook Addict's "Soy Sauce Chicken" in a way which does not make this tasty dish look like total pants. Took, I kid you not, ten different photos of the same darn plate and what you see here was the best of the lot. And that's just sad. So you will just have to take me on my word when I tell you this was a really nice recipe and you should give it a go!

Soy Sauce Chicken

With only four ingredients, this recipe was dead easy to make and, with a few adjustments, probably fairly healthy. I used low sodium soy sauce, low-fat low-sodium cream of mushroom soup, light sour cream, and made sure the chicken breasts were very well trimmed.

The chicken came out incredibly moist and tender and the sauce was amazing (which was great, because the recipe makes a lot of sauce) -- it made me think of (and this sounds crazy) onion dip.

I served the chicken on a bed of parsley rice with peas and shredded pickled beets. Mashed potatoes would probably work just as well, but I'm pretty devoted to my rice cooker for week night meals. You know, if all my kitchen appliances would sing to me, I would never go to work but live in the kitchen all day.

Yes, that's really why I make rice -- so a small kitchen appliance will sing "twinkle twinkle little star" to me.

25 March 2009

Chuletas de Cerdo con Tomate Marchitas

I have no photos of Monday's supper, because in my hurry to consume deliciousness I could not be bothered fiddling with my digital camera.

And "Pork Chops with Golden Onions and Wilted Tomatoes" (Gourmet, September 2002) made a truly delicious supper. The recipe's ease of preparation and fail-proofness where also quite wonderful and it now vies with my "Italian Chicken Vegetable Bake" as a weeknight favorite. It is quite definitely one of those rare recipes I could prepare every week without us getting sick of it.

Of course, being me, I had to make some tweaks to the original recipe: I only prepared two pork chops using this recipe, but did I reduce the amount of tomatoes accordingly? No, indeed. I upped the tomatoes to two pints, because it is impossible to have too many tomatoes. Yes, that is one pint per chop.

Also, taking the advice of several commenters, I let the halved tomatoes marinate in balsamic vinegar while the chops cooked. I also tossed some minced basil in with the tomatoes when I "wilted" them.

And, because intestinal parasites give me the willies, I upped the cooking time on the chops as three minutes per side left them nowhere near "just cooked through."
Modified Chops With Wilted Tomatoes

1 large onion, cut into thin rings
2 1-inch thick boneless pork loin chops
2 pints red grape tomatoes, halved lengthwise
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons
(O Porto) balsamic vinegar
fresh ground salt & pepper, to taste
minced basil, to taste

Warm oven. Halve tomatoes and toss with two tablespoons balsamic vinegar. Set aside.
Heat two tablespoons oil in large skillet. Add onions and sauté until golden with some crispy brown edges (about eight minutes). Remove onion to oven. Season chops with salt and pepper. Sauté chops until golden brown and just cooked through, about 6 minutes on each side. Remove chops to oven. Increase heat to high. Return onions to skillet. Add tomatoes and juices plus two additional tablespoons of balsamic and minced basil (if desired). Cook, stirring gently, until tomatoes are slightly wilted and vinegar is largely evaporated (about 2 minutes). Plate chops and serve with wilted tomatoes.
I know it seems like I used too much balsamic, but it came out quite wonderfully. I served it on rice with a side of peas and it was so veryvery good that I wished I had made more. I'd fully expected leftover tomatoes to take as lunch the next day with a bit of rice, but there were no leftovers!

23 March 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week Four

Week Four ... will be full of penitence. I did my grocery shopping pretty late Saturday night and mucked it all up. Feeling that I had to rush through the shopping and just get-it-done-goshdarnit, I didn't recheck my list or the contents of my coupon envelope before I left home and so, overtired and irritable, made several poor purchase decisions. In other words, I got less for more and am annoyed with myself.

However, the freezer is full. Seriously full. Getting all my new purchases in the freezer involved pulling out a bunch of old ones and then slotting everything back in very carefully -- it was freezer Tetris and I must have won, because there was nothing left on the floor when I was done and yet the door closes.

Also, this means our grocery bills for the next two or three weeks should be pretty small as we will be eating from our freezer. Ideally, we should only need to pick up milk, bagels, and produce.
  • Monday: Gourmet's "Pork Chops With Golden Onions and Wilted Tomatoes." Uses pork chops out of the freezer and some of the many grape tomatoes punnets loitering in the fridge. Will serve with rice and green beans.
  • Tuesday: Mr. Bento packed with grapes and tiny oranges, salad, and leftover wilted tomatoes with rice.
  • Wednesday/Miercoles: Either random restaurant after Spanish class or Kashi frozen pizza and salad.
  • Thursday: Mr. Bento packed with grapes and tiny oranges, hummus with sea salt pita chips, and salad.
  • Friday: Another Cookbook Addict's "Soy Sauce Chicken." Uses chicken out of the freezer and leftover sour cream. Will serve with rice and peas. (I'll throw everything in a covered casserole before work and The Husband will pop it in the oven at 5pm).
  • Saturday: Betty Crocker's "Slow Cooker Lasagna." Uses sausage and homemade sauce from the freezer as well as the ricotta I bought (on sale) when I was feeling optimistic about making "pirogi" lasagna. Will serve with green beans.
  • Slow Cooker Sunday: "My Favorite Roast" from March/April 2009 Cooking With Paula Deen. Uses a roast out of the freezer. Will serve with mashed potatoes and carrots.

A Mess of Deliciousness

The Husband, he desired Eton Mess for his birthday. And proper Eton Mess at that. No bananas, lime zest, or (gasp) pomegranate juice in this mess. No, indeed. Just good old-fashioned meringue cookies, macerated strawberries, and cream. Lots and lots of cream.

KAF Angel (Meringue) Kisses

This was not my first Eton Mess – I made one for his birthday back in 2007, too. This was after we’d come back from our last trip to England and I was still drunk on the Eton Mess his uncle had served us. Not that it was alcoholic, mind you, but it was certainly ambrosial.

That first time I made Eton Mess, I followed the recipe from Joyofbaking.com and it worked out pretty well with a little interpretation. My meringues took longer to set up than expected and I ended up letting them sit overnight in the oven -- as suggested in the recipe and I had lovely meringues the next morning. The disaster befell us later when, stuffed with Eton Mess, I forgot to store the extra meringues away ... when I preheated the oven that evening, I toasted my meringues!

Eton Mess Ingredients

The kitchen smelt like toasted marshmallows, but the meringues were ruined. Poor us, we had to resort to unadulterated strawberries and cream!

This time, I made my meringues following King Arthur Flour’s recipe for "Angel Kisses" and made my cream in The Husband’s iSi Dessert Whip. The strawberry mixture and basic assembly instructions are still pretty much straight from Joyofbaking.com, though:
    Meringues: The night before The Husband’s birthday, I made my "Angel Kisses" and let them sit in the oven overnight. In the morning, I had thirty-two perfect meringues. Light, crisp, airy ... perfect, I tell you. And, this time I remembered to take them out of the oven!
    Purée & Berries: I made strawberry purée by running ten ounces of thawed frozen organic strawberries and a few tablespoons of sugar through my food processor. I then let the purée strain through a sieve while I chopped a punnet of really beautiful fresh (Whole Foods) strawberries into bite-size pieces.
    Cream: I made sweetened whipped cream in The Husband’s iSi cream whipper using one pint of heavy organic cream and one tablespoon of sugar.
    Assembly: I splodged a bit of cream in the bottom of two big wine glasses and then folded in a few crumbled-up meringue cookies, a handful of chopped strawberries, and a drizzle of purée. You could, of course, make it in a big bowl if you were serving a crowd.
How was it? My Eton Mess looks like something the cat threw up, I know, but it was pure deliciousness in a cup. You must go make some -- it will make the world seem like a better place and those you share it with will think you a marvellous cook when all you did was bosh together some meringues, strawberries, and cream.

How many will this Mess serve? Twenty-seven meringues, two pounds of strawberries, one-and-a-half pints of cream, and all the strawberry purée made ten servings of Eton Mess. We had it twice on The Husband's birthday, once with my parents on Saturday, and once again on Sunday. There are five meringues, another punnet of strawberries, and much cream left -- enough for us both to have some tonight if The Husband doesn't have it for lunch!

22 March 2009

Simple Sunday Supper

The recipe for tonight's supper came from Betty Crocker's Chicken Tonight (Wiley, 2007). The Betty Crocker website says this recipe is also in Betty Crocker's Diabetes Cookbook (Betty Crocker, 2003), but I will be darned if I can find it! I have been forward and back through my edition and do not find this recipe. "Parmesan-Dijon Chicken," yes. "Dijon Chicken Smothered with Mushrooms," no. Regardless of where you find it, this is a good fast recipe which combines kitchen staples in a tummy pleasing way and is definitely a favorite of mine.

Dijon Chicken Smothered in Mushrooms (Ingredients)


As I'm making this recipe for two, I usually only prepare two chicken breasts. Also, as we really like mushrooms, I use eight ounces of fresh sliced mushrooms. Because I use fresh mushrooms, it takes longer for them to cook so I have to increase the amount of broth when making the sauce ...
  • Preheat oven to its lowest setting.
  • Pound two chicken breasts between waxed paper until about a ¼-inch thick.
  • Combine ¼ cup flour, salt, and pepper in a food storage bag.
  • Add flattened chicken to bag and shake until chicken is evenly coated.
  • Heat canola oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
  • Add chicken and cook for about 7 minutes each side or until chicken is a nice golden brown and no pink remains (the original recipe says 6 to 8 minutes total, but this never works for me).
  • Plate chicken and pop in a warm oven.
  • Pour about ½ cup low-sodium chicken broth into the pan (the broth should boil as soon as it hits the pan -- if not, bring bring the pan to a boil).
  • Add the mushrooms and about two tablespoons of Dijon mustard and cook until mushrooms are tender and about half the liquid is evaporated (if the pan looks too dry before the mushrooms are done, add more broth).
  • Spoon sauce over chicken.
  • Eat.
I usually serve this dish on rice, but I imagine parsley noodles or spaetzle would work just as well.

19 March 2009

Cake of Welcome

It's probably hopelessly old-fashioned of me (and no doubt indicative of an unhealthy lifestyle), but I like to be able to feed people when they come to visit. I'm not talking about supper guests -- just people who ring up and say "hey, we might stop by this afternoon."

Well, if you're popping by, we'll probably make you a cup of tea. And, if you're going to have a cup, than there might as well be something nibbley to go with it.

So, if you visit our house, there will probably be cake waiting for you.

Chocolate Chip Angel Food Cake

(This isn't to suggest I get myself in a tizzy over feeding you -- cake, like bagels and bananas, is something of a staple in our house).

Our local Stonewall Kitchen has been running a nice clearance sale on overstocked and soon-to-expire (in 1-3 months from what I can tell) food items. Because I like Stonewall Kitchen products, but Stonewall Kitchen prices tend to make me cry, I was happy to pick up a whole basket of things at half off. Probably, I picked up much more than I needed, because the prices seemed so reasonable!

This included a Barefoot Contessa Pantry Black & White Angel Food Cake Mix which I made up pretty much as soon as we returned home. It's a good cake, but still horribly over-priced at half off as it is basically an average angel food cake with not enough chocolate chips mixed in and a heavy dark chocolate glaze atop (the glaze makes this cake, imho).

Methinks this cake would be easy to clone:

Make an angel food cake using a recipe you favor (or buy a mix), fold in ¾ cup chocolate chips, bake. Cool upside down. When the cake is cooled, put a cup of dark chocolate morsels in a microwave safe bowl with ½ cup of heavy cream. Microwave until chocolate is soft, then whisk until the chocolate and cream combine to make a thick smooth glaze. Pour over cooled cake. Eat with strawberries.

17 March 2009

Get Your Shamrock On

Since I work late on Tuesdays, we Irished up on Monday with Irish Salmon in Cream, champ, and tiny peas. The salmon recipe is really quite marvellous (if a trifle decadent) -- sprinkled a skinned salmon fillet with Garlic Garlic (dehydrated garlic and onion flakes with other seasonings) and minced fresh parsley, then squeeze half a lemon over it, poured white wine and cream over it, and then dotted it with butter, before covering the pan and baking it until the salmon was tender, moist, and delicious.

Really, I cannot recommend this recipe strongly enough. It was double plus good with knobs on, I kid you not. Also, it would be a great way to kill someone you loved ... all that lovely heart-healthy fish swimming in a creamy sea of yummy "bad" fats!

Just another schizophrenic supper at my house!

And, to go along with schizophrenic salmon, we had to have lovely champ swimming in butter and cream. And buttered peas! Hooray for buttered peas!

What is champ? Champ is mashed potatoes with chopped spring onion (scallions) stirred in. I made my potatoes using the The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook I love so much, but with a small twist -- I chopped up a bunch of spring onions and dumped them in the cream before I warmed it so that that onions became fragrant and just a wee bit tender. They were very good potatoes and reminded me that I haven't made celery mashed potatoes in ever so long ...
Celery mashed potatoes are dead easy: Just peel and cook some red potatoes until tender. Don't be too precise about the peeling if you don't mind a little skin. Drain potatoes. Melt a dab of butter in a skillet and sauté equal amounts of chopped celery and onion until tender. Mash the potatoes a bit. Add in milk, the onion/celery mix, salt and pepper, and maybe some extra butter. Mash until the potatoes reach whatever consistency you favor. Eat them up, yum.
We ate out salmon and praities in front of the telly while we watched that classic piece of Irish cinema, Breakfast on Pluto (best line: "So, if I wasn't a transvestite terrorist, would you marry me?")

16 March 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week Three

Week Three and I'm (mostly) still on track! This past weekend was a bit of a wash and I never did get around to making pirogi or mom's tuna loaf. Alas, this week is also going to be a bit of a wash as the end of the week is taken up by The Husband's Birthday Extravaganza and, aside from Eton Mess, I know not what I may cook on those days -- if anything. We tend to eat out a lot on birthday weekends ...
  • Monday: Irish Salmon in Cream with champ and salad for Saint Patrick's.
  • Tuesday: Mr. Bento will probably go green for Saint Patrick's Day (with a splodge of brown from maple baked beans).
  • Wednesday/Miercoles: Random restaurant after Spanish class.
  • Thursday: Mr. Bento packed with grapes, homemade mandarin orange gelatin cup, salad, and more maple baked beans.
  • Friday: Cheesecake Factory (?) and pre-Birthday Splenda Chocolate Cream Pie.
  • Saturday/The Husband's Birthday: Outback with my parents and lots of Eton Mess (recipe to follow).
  • Sunday: Betty Crocker Chicken Tonight Dijon Chicken Smothered in Mushrooms (Wiley, 2007) with baked potatoes, fresh green beans or asparagus, and more Eton Mess.
Breakfasts and Lunches? Well, I'm the only one who will eat the maple baked beans so ... baked beans w/ egg (scramble an egg until almost cooked through and mix beans into warm eggs, adding ketchup if desired), baked beans on toasted bagel, and (of course) baked beans and mini veggie corn dogs.

15 March 2009

What's for Tea, Darling?

Saturday we went to a maple sugaring festival at Sweet Wind Farm in East Hartland. We eyeballed the tapped trees and bought much maple deliciousness -- including a kit for maple baked beans. I have fond literary memories of baked beans from Laura Ingalls's books (especially Farmer Boy, for some reason) and have always wanted to try my hand at them.

Maple Baked Beans

... A steaming pan of baked beans with a crisp bit of fat pork in the crumbling brown crust ...

... In the pantry, Mother was filling the six-quart pan with boiled beans, putting in onions and peppers and the piece of fat pork, pouring scrolls of molasses overall ...


... He added a mound of baked beans and topped it with a quivering slice of fat pork. At the edge of the plate he piled dark-red beet pickles. And he handed the plate to Almanzo.
However, delicious as homemade baked beans may sound, all that soaking and rinsing and simmering have always seemed positively anxiety inducing. What happened if I didn't rinse my beans well? Or under-soaked them? Don't the manse girls in L.M. Montgomery's Rainbow Valley forget to soak the beans and almost kill themselves? (Or was that salt pork?)

Oh, noes!

Thus, Saturday night, I set my beans to soak with much trepidation and hand-wringing. I didn't know how much water they ought to be covered by, so I gave them about an inch and a half coverage. When I drained the beans in the morning, I was slightly panicked to see the amount of grit I washed out of those beans. Sure they couldn't ever be too clean, I triple rinsed and drained them.

When they looked as clean as they were going to get, I returned them to the dutch oven, covered them with water, and put them on the stove to simmer for about an hour (the instructions said "until the skins start to pop off the beans"). Then I drained them, reserving the murky black cooking liquid, and put them in a 325°F oven with:

  • 1½ cups cooking liquid
  • ¼ no salt added ketchup
  • ¼ barbecue sauce
  • 8 oz maple syrup
  • 1 packet of brown sugar
  • 1 spice packet (bay, mustard powder, ground ginger, black pepper, dried onion, and sea salt)
(I would have stirred in crumbled cooked bacon if I'd had any on hand -- heaven knows where you get "fat pork" these days).

Put the lid on the pot and let it bake for about three hours. Ladled in some more reserved cooking liquid and let it bake for another two hours.

And then the beans were done. Well ahead of schedule! The recipe said I should expect to cook the beans for about 8 hours, but I'm pretty sure I would have ended up with bean paste if I had let them go that long. I cooked the beans in a dark-colored hard-anodized aluminum dutch oven and perhaps it caused the beans to cook differently than if I'd used a covered stoneware casserole or an honest to goodness beanpot?

How do they taste? Much better than any tinned baked bean I've ever eaten. Maple-y, yes, but not nearly as sweet as I expected considering the amount of brown sugar and syrup that went into the pan. Will I make baked beans again? Yes, indeedy.

14 March 2009

Lost the Menu

This weekend is a wash, menu-wise. Friday's supper was eaten on the road as we drove down to my parents to see how well my mother was recovering from eye surgery. Not certain what the rest of the weekend might bring, I prepared the Tastefully Simple Hearty Lasagna Soup Mix this morning as a quick scarf-and-go meal option.

I prepared the box mix by browning a pound of sweet ground Italian sausage meat while I brought the soup mix packet and seven cups of water to boil in a dutch oven. While it simmered for 15 minutes, I drained the ground sausage in a paper towel-lined colander. Then I stirred the sausage, an undrained can of no-salt-added diced tomatoes, and the pasta packet into the soup. I let it cook until the pasta was tender (about 10 minutes) and then ladled it out into bowls. Feeling there weren't enough calories involved yet, I sprinkled the bowls with shredded Parmesan.

So how was the lasagna soup? Good. Salty, of course, and that was with two extra cups of water, but very tomato-y and filling. Would have been awesome with tossed salad and some crusty buttered bread.

I'm pretty sure I can make something similar (but lower sodium) pretty easily -- the internet is full of lasagne soup recipes -- the only difficult bit is finding mafalda pasta locally.

Also, you could vegetarianize this soup mix by substituting kidney or cannellini beans for the meat -- the mix is itself already vegetarian (but not vegan).

09 March 2009

Easy Italian Chicken Vegetable Bake

This is one of my favorite dishes and so, unsurprisingly, one I make a lot in the summer when squash and tomatoes are going cheap using salmon fillet or boneless, skinless chicken pieces. Pork would probably work as well, but I have not tried it. Of course, cooking time will vary depending on the density/thawedness of your meat -- when I made this tonight, the freakishly large chicken breasts I had thawed in the fridge were still a bit frozen so I cut them in half to help with cooking, but did not reduce the time or temperature as there were plenty of vegetable juices in the pan to keep the chicken all moist and delicious.

Italian Chicken Vegetable Bake
Italian Chicken Vegetable Bake

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
3 medium summer squash (crookneck, zucchini, patty pan, etc), halved and sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 can no-salt-added diced tomatoes, drained
6-8 oz sliced crimini mushrooms
1/2 cup low-fat Italian dressing

Preheat oven to 400. Lightly grease 13x9 baker. Place chicken in baker and top with diced tomatoes, diced peppers, sliced mushrooms, and Italian dressing. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes. Add in the sliced squash and give everything a good stir. Bake, uncovered, for another 30 minutes. Test chicken for doneness. Eat.
We usually eat this over rice with salad.

Menu Plan Monday, Week Two

While last week's menu plan went pretty well, Wednesday's supper was (despite being frozen pizza and salad) not really convenient as we had to bolt down the food as soon as I walked in the door in order to get to Spanish class on time. This week, we'll reckon Wednesday as restaurant night and save ourselves some indigestion! Mmm ... perhaps we will have Mexican and pretend it is homework?
  • Monday/Lunes: Chicken breasts baked with veggies (recipe to follow). Serve with rice and salad.
  • Tuesday/Martes: Mr. Bento packed with black/blue/strawberries, salad, and leftover chicken skillet.
  • Wednesday/Miercoles: Random restaurant after Spanish class (la semana pasada: los numeros y los dias de la semana; esta semana: las partes del cuerpo).
  • Thursday/Jueves: Mr. Bento packed with black/blue/strawberries, hummus and grape tomatoes, salad, and Kashi crackers with Cabot Extra Sharp cheddar chunks.
  • Friday/Viernes: Tastefully Simple Hearty Lasagna Soup Mix prepared with 1 lb. ground sausage and 14.5 oz. can low-sodium diced tomatoes. Serve with salad.
  • Saturday/Sabado: Sauerkraut and onion pierogi with pork chops, pickled shredded beets, and salad.
  • Sunday/Domingo: Nostalgia meal! Mom's tuna loaf (recipe to follow) with parsley potatoes and carrots.
And, again, I only planned suppers as breakfasts and lunches are just variations on these:
  • Breakfasts: Minute Maid Heartwise orange juice with either Kashi Golean hot cereal with blueberries/mashed bananas or Kashi Golean blueberry waffles with Morningstar Farms maple-flavored faux sausage patties.
  • Lunches: fruit, crackers, cheese or hummus, salad, and random freezer soup or leftovers.

08 March 2009

Oh, Fish Sticks!

Made these super simple fish stick roll-ups with salsa rice and tossed salad for supper and they made for a really fast, delicious work night supper.
Simple Sunday Supper 
Super Simple Fish Stick Roll-ups

Prepare eight (Dr. Praeger's) fish sticks as directed. Warm four small flour tortillas in a microwave as directed. Top each warmed tortilla with two fish sticks, lettuce (from salad bowl), chopped tomatoes (halved grape tomatoes), salsa and yoghurt or ranch dressing. Roll and eat. Serves 2.

Salsa Rice

Make rice in cooker. Stir in salsa and chopped parsley or cilantro to taste.

07 March 2009

Perfectly Potato

One of my co-workers hosted a Tastefully Simply party a few months ago and, while I couldn't attend because it conflicted with Beethoven (and Beethoven always wins, baby), I did order a few items. When they arrived, I put them away in various cupboards and promptly forgot about them until I joined on Menu Plan Monday. Weekly menu planning is always an excellent reason to have a good rummage around the kitchen and I rediscovered several purchases I have forgotten about, including two Tastefully Simple soup mixes.

Friday, I made up "Perfectly Potato Cheddar Soup Mix" for lunch using six cups of water, a can of corn (optional), a generous handful of parsley (optional), and lots of cracked pepper (optional). I simmered the soup, uncovered, for almost forty minutes and ended up with a very thick, creamy potato-corn chowder.

It was delicious and I would happily make it again except that the mix has an alarmingly long ingredients list and every serving contains a third of my daily value of sodium! A serving is a cup of soup and you can bet we ate at least one and a half (if not two) for lunch. That's simply too much sodium. As I knew it would be. I know better than to buy soup mixes, but they always sound delicious (and convenient) and my will is weak.

And they are delicious! And it's not fair!

Frankly, the only thing to do is to figure out how to make potato-corn chowder from scratch.

Surely, Cook's Illustrated has a recipe ...

06 March 2009

Cheap(er) Eats

Found this recipe scribbled on a tiny sticky note in The Giant File of Random Pieces of Paper I Don't Know What to do With and Dare Not Throw Out for Fear They Are Important. It looked pretty straight forward and I wanted Friday's supper to be a slow cooker recipe, anyway, so ...
Sticky Note Stew

1 lb stew meat, in bite-size chunks
1 can low-fat low-sodium cream of mushroom soup (Campbell's Healthy Request)
1 soup can of red wine (Beringer 2005 Founders' Estate Merlot)
10 oz package sliced baby portobello/crimini mushrooms
12 oz bag frozen mixed vegetables

Combine all in a slow cooker. Cover and cook 7 to 8 hours on LOW. Stir in a handful of minced parsley. Serve over rice or parsley egg noodles.
How did it taste? Hot, filling, beefy. Could have benefited from the inclusion of garlic and onion, I think. Also, was more liquid than I expected -- even with a cornstarch/broth slurry mixed in -- so I stirred the cooked rice in and let it sit a bit to absorb some of the excess broth. Still, would make it again.

Despite purchasing the beef, soup, and mushrooms expressly for this recipe (gasp), I still managed to do pretty well price-wise as the mushrooms and beef were on sale. Actually, I'm pretty chuffed with today's grocery bill! Spent 112.73 after a savings of 46.61!

112.73 for two people must seem a bit steep to the truly frugal among us, but I think it's pretty excellent considering I've filled my pantry with low-sodium canned goods and restocked my freezer with organic meat, Morningstar Farm soy meats, and Kashi products -- all on sale and/or backed by coupons:
  • My meat savings were pretty good -- bought organic boneless skinless chicken breasts and boneless pork chops which were not only on sale, but were sporting two-dollars off coupons because they were a day from "sell by." I broke up the meat into one pound packages and froze them for later.
  • The Morningstar Farm soy meats were all 2/7 and I had a store coupon for a dollar off two.
  • Most Kashi products were on sale so I picked up more crackers and waffles (both 2/5) plus two thin-crust pizzas. The pizzas were my most amusing savings -- I used my Kashi coupon to get a free-ish pizza. Kashi had sent me a coupon for one free box of any Kashi product (up to five dollars in value) as an apology for feeding me bad cookies. The pizzas were on sale 2/11 (5.50 each) so, with five dollars off, I only paid 50¢ for one pizza.
  • The organic fruits and vegetables, milk, can of soup, and wheat tortillas were the only products I bought at full price. I could not have priced down the soup -- there were no other brands as low in sodium or fat on the shelf -- but I know I could have priced down the tortillas if I'd been really motivated.
  • Also, eight dollars worth of groceries (5 boxes of pasta and two jars of sauce) are for the library's food collection (I know, it's less than ten percent of my total bill and thus not a fair tithe).
The point I'm trying to make, I guess, is that I made good savings on products we normally consume. I'm saving money on groceries where I can, but we're not at a point where thriftiness will inconvenience appetite. We have to go a long long way yet, before dried beans and store brand soy chicken become desirable products.

03 March 2009

Keeping the Vampires at Bay

Late last week, I transferred my last sale chicken from the freezer to the fridge to thaw. At the time, I planned on making "Lemony Chicken" from the April/May 2009 issue of Cook's Country magazine for Sunday's supper. I had lemons. I had chicken. I had a plan.

But.

But then we visited my parents on Saturday and I mentioned how I was looking for the "recipe for Lemon Lover's Cake" which I thought was in a 2008 Cook's Country. My mother, who has a pretty complete run, dragged out Ought Eight and we went to town looking for that cake recipe. And we found it ... photocopied and stuffed into February/March 2008. Where did the photocopy come from? It is a mystery. Search results suggest the recipe appeared in an April/May issue of Cook's Country magazine, but hers is not a magazine copy -- it came out of a book. Which book? Why?

And who really cares? For in that February/March 2008 issue appeared "Ultimate Garlic Roast Chicken." Forget "Lemony Chicken" for garlic will always win in my kitchen.

Ultimate Garlic Roast Chicken (Sunday Supper)

This chicken was quite fun to make. Oh, the recipe does call for a fair amount of fiddliness, but the results were well worth it. Yes, you could skip making your own garlic oil and buy a bottle in the condiment aisle. Yes, you could (probably) skip making your own garlic paste and buy the refrigerated stuff in a tube. But, then, why not buy a garlic-pepper rotisserie chicken and a tub of refrigerated garlic mashed potatoes and have done?

This was Sunday supper and Sunday supper requires extra fiddliness, goshdarnit.

Ultimate Garlic Roast Chicken

So, we peeled many garlic cloves (three heads worth = about 60 cloves of varying sizes). Then I cooked them in olive oil until they were softened and "straw colored." I set a bit of garlic oil aside and puréed the rest in my food processor until the garlic formed a thick (mostly smooth) paste. I flavored a bit of the paste with salt and pepper and smeared it under the skin of the breasts, thighs, and leg of the prepped chicken.

(I should note that the recipe calls for trussing up the chicken, but I could not find my kitchen string. No matter, the chicken was fine without the extra fuss).

After smearing the chicken, I popped it (breast down) into the 375 oven and let it roast until a beautiful gold. While the chicken roasted, I combined the rest of the garlic paste with Riesling and low-sodium chicken broth. Then I grabbed the chicken with a bunch of paper towels (this was the messiest bit) and flipped it over. Turned the oven up to 450, poured the broth mixture into the bottom of the roasting pan and let it go for about 40 minutes.

When the chicken was done, I let it sit for 20 minutes (as directed) while I made the mashed potatoes and pan sauce. The potatoes used the The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook recipe I love so much and were originally meant to have garlic in them, too, but I changed my mind at the last minute -- afraid it might actually be too much garlic. The tarragon pan sauce was, alas, a miss. Too buttery and not garlicky or chicken-y enough for me.

The pan sauce's failure was not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. The chicken was so moist and garlicky that it needed no sauce. Ditto the potatoes which were so perfectly buttered and creamed, I could have eaten them all by themselves. But, I didn't. No, I stirred my microwaved corn into them like any good six-year-old.

Would I make this chicken again? Yes. I would skip the pan sauce, but otherwise can think of no way this dish could be improved.

02 March 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week One

Decided to start posting my weekly menus again in attempt to make myself stick with it and not face plant in some take-away. I know menu planning gives me better economic, quality, and nutritional control and I always start the week with the best of intentions ... but around midweek, feeling wrung-out and careworn, I backslide and throw my menu out the window.

Happily, Organizing Junkie hosts a weekly menu planning round-up called Menu Plan Monday where 400+ participants post up their weekly menus. Nothing like the perception of peer censure to keep me on track!
  • Monday: Leftover-from-Friday "Tuscan Garlic Chicken Pasta" (Cook's Country, April/May 2009) with tossed salad.
  • Tuesday: Mr. Bento packed with black/blue/strawberries, salad, last of the Leftover-from-Friday Tuscan Garlic Chicken Pasta, and a banana.
  • Wednesday: (The Husband will make) frozen pizza with tossed salad (home @ 5:10 & Spanish class @ 6)
  • Thursday: Mr. Bento packed with black/blue/strawberries, salad, soup, and Kashi crackers with Cabot Extra Sharp cheddar chunks.
  • Friday: Slow cooker beef & mushrooms served over rice with carrots.
  • Saturday: Potato-mushroom pierogi with kielbasa, shredded pickled beets, and green beans.
  • Sunday: Fish stick soft tacos with salsa rice and corn.
I need to purchase beef stew meat, condensed cream of mushroom soup, mushrooms, and wheat tortillas to complete this menu. Everything else is already in my kitchen and most of it was on sale when purchased! (I'm kind-of interested in turning March into no-spend month where we only purchase necessities rather than desirables, but my will is weak and I will have that Vosges bacon chocolate bar ohyesIwillsmyprecious).

Only planned out suppers as breakfasts and lunches are pretty much an infinite loop of predictability:
  • Breakfasts: Minute Maid Heartwise orange juice with either Kashi Golean hot cereal with blueberries/mashed bananas or Kashi Golean blueberry waffles with Morningstar Farms maple-flavored faux sausage patties.
  • Lunches: fruit, crackers, cheese, salad, and random freezer soup or leftovers.

01 March 2009

Beautiful Blueberry Banana Bread

Oh, noes! So drunk on blood oranges that I neglected to eat my bananas last week! And the blueberries are starting to give me the eye! What to do? Make blueberry banana bread, of course!

I know I have a recipe for blueberry banana bread squirrelled away somewhere. I remember, it uses yoghurt and lemon zest. Can I find it? No. But that is why we have the internets. The internets has everything.

(Sometimes, even stuff you want).

Tarah has a beautiful blueberry banana bread recipe posted on Genesis of a Cook which, while lacking yoghurt and lemon, uses melted butter (no softening! huzzah!) and has a lovely oatmeal streusel crumb topping.

Yum!

I didn't have any buttermilk, so I subbed in sour milk (milk mixed with vinegar). Otherwise, I followed the recipe exactly as posted and the bread came out very well. Cake has a light fluffy crumb with blueberries studded throughout (rather than sunk to the bottom) and an excellent banana/cinnamon flavor

Beautiful Blueberry Banana Bread Ingredients

I saved myself a two-inch chunk, but the rest will go to work in the morning ... presuming the Great March Snow doesn't leave me housebound, of course.

Sicksicksicksick of winter.