29 September 2009

Comfort Food For Dreary Weather

We had my parents up for Sunday dinner and, as it was a wetgreyhorribleday, I made meatloaf. Not my mom's meatloaf, but a meatloaf based on Lipton Recipe Secrets's "Souperior Meatloaf." Nothing wrong with my mother's meatloaf (it remains the meatloaf by which I measure all other meatloaves), but I wanted to try something a little different and there was a box of onion soup mix in the back of a cupboard so ... "Souperior Meatloaf."

Of course, I had to go and try to healthify by the recipe by using 87% lean beef, no salt added seasoned bread crumbs, and no salt added ketchup. Then, because I am my mother's daughter and meatloaf isn't meatloaf without tomato gravy, I dumped a can of Muir Glen creamy tomato soup over the top of the meatloaf before popping it in the oven.

How did it taste? Good enough that everyone had "just a little more." The flavor was excellent -- beefy, tangy, tomato-y -- and the body was good -- tender and moist, but no so much that it fell apart when served.

We at this meatloaf with Cook's Illustrated's "Mashed Potatoes," corn, and tossed salad. (One can of soup made just enough gravy for a dollop on everyone's meatloaf and mash).

27 September 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week Twenty-Eight

Another Menu Plan Monday! It's really starting to feel like autumn here, so I'm itching to start making soup again. Whipped together an easy clam chowder from Taste of Home over the weekend which was hard to stop eating! Looking forward squash soup and pasta fagioli later this week.

Monday (work)
  • Leftover tortellini and roasted vegetable sauce with salad and Kashi crackers.

Tuesday (work)

  • Leftover "Creamy Clam Chowder" with oyster crackers, Cabot Seriously Sharp cheddar chunks, and banana.

Wednesday

  • Lipton Recipe Secrets "Lemon Garlic Chicken" on parsley rice with green beans. Ingredients: boneless chicken breasts (from freezer), lemon juice, soup mix, rice, chicken broth, parsley, frozen green beans.

Thursday (work)

  • "Express Lane Winter Squash Soup" with Cabot Seriously Sharp cheddar chunks, pretzel fish, and cantaloupe. Ingredients: squash purée, chicken broth, thyme, sage, onion.
Friday
  • "New England Specialty Food Day" at The Big E! (No, we are not going to try that freaky Craz-E Burger -- doughnuts and bacon cheeseburger should not mix!)

Saturday (work)

  • Kraft "Saucy Pepper Steak" with parsley rice and green beans. Ingredients: steak from freezer, farm stand peppers, onion, barbecue sauce, soy sauce, chicken broth, parsley, rice, frozen green beans.

Soupy Sunday

  • Pillsbury's "Easy Pasta e Fagioli" with salad and rolls. Ingredients: onion, garlic, cannellini beans, diced tomatoes, chicken broth, macaroni, Parmesan.

Quickie Clam Chowder

Was in the mood for chowder and had plenty of tinned clams on hand, but was feeling too lazy to make my favorite chowder -- "Light New England Clam Chowder" from The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook (also in The Best Light Recipe). Happily, Taste of Home had a recipe for "Creamy Clam Chowder" which looked like it would do in a pinch.

The recipe called for two cans of condensed cream of potato soup which I could not find a lighter version of so I settled for reducing the amount of fat in the soup by using three tablespoons of unsalted butter instead of the twelve called for. I could probably have omitted the butter altogether and used a little cooking spray instead, but I wanted to keep some of the richness butter brings. Otherwise, I made the recipe as directed.

Quickie Clam Chowder


How did it taste? Pretty good. Not as awesome as CI's, but much better than anything to ever come out of a can. This chowder is fast -- took about thirty minutes to make -- and very easy, which would make it an excellent last minute supper on those nights where I forget to plan ahead or am no longer thrilled by what I have planned.

22 September 2009

Squish Squash Tomato Pie

Finally got around to making a yummy tomato and squash pie last night. My version was inspired by recipes from Gooseberry Patch: Family Favorite Recipes ("Tomato Pie"), Taste of Home's "Summer Squash Pie" and Paula Deen's "Tomato Pie."

Squash & Tomato Pie

Squash & Tomato Pie

1 baked 9-inch pie shell (I use a refrigerated crust)
2 small crookneck squash, sliced into quarter-sized pieces
1 medium zucchini, sliced into quarter-sized pieces
1 small sweet onion, diced small
1 cup cooked corn
3 medium tomatoes, seeded and sliced
1 tsp Tastefully Simple's Garlic Garlic
½ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon paprika
1 cup shredded Cabots Hunter's/Seriously Sharp Cheddar
1 cup light mayonnaise
1/3 cup shredded Parmigiano-Reggiano

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Place the tomatoes in a colander. Sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 10 minutes.

While tomatoes drain, sauté squash, corn, and onion in a non-stick skillet until onion is translucent and squash is tender (not squishy).

Sprinkle a little cheddar and Parmigiano-Reggiano on the bottom of the pie crust. Pour squash, corn, and onion into crust. Sprinkle with seasonings. Top with sliced tomatoes.

Combine mayonnaise and cheddar. Spread over top of pie. Sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano. Bake for about 40 minutes or until topping is golden brown and delicious. Let sit about 15 minutes before serving.
The Husband flatly refused to have anything to do with this pie, but I thought it was quite delicious. I am perfectly happy to have the whole pie to myself!

21 September 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week Twenty-Seven

I am repeating some of my menu plan for last week as a I was uncomfortably achy for most of it and didn't do much cooking. Also, summer squash is quite cheap at the farm stand -- 84¢79¢ per pound! -- and I am cooking with it a lot, right now, so that I might miss it a little less in February.

Monday
  • Taste of Home's "Summer Squash Pie" with soup and salad. Ingredients: pie crust, summer squash, tomatoes, Cabot Hunter's Sharp cheddar, mayonnaise.

Tuesday (work)

  • Leftover tomato pie with pretzel fish and cantaloupe.

Wednesday

  • Lemon pepper pork chops with "Mrs. Turner's Squash Skillet" and parsley rice. Ingredients: chops from freezer, lemon pepper, random summer squash, onion, tomatoes, butter, sugar, parsley, chicken broth, rice.

Thursday (work)

  • Chicken soup from the freezer with Cabot Hunter's Sharp cheddar chunks, pretzel fish, and cantaloupe.
Friday
  • "Roasted Vegetable-Tomato Sauce" over refrigerated tortellini with salad. Ingredients: tortellini, bell pepper, onion, random summer squash, mushrooms, diced tomatoes.

Saturday

  • "Braised Steak with Guinness" with parsley rice and green beans. Ingredients: steak from freezer, onion, carrots, mushrooms, Guinness, brown sugar, chicken broth, parsley, rice, frozen green beans.

Sunday

  • "Chicken Paprikash" with "Caraway Egg Noodles" (Cook's Country October/November 2009) and peas. Ingredients: chicken, onion, red bell pepper, tomato pasta, paprika, chicken broth, egg noodles, butter, caraway seeds, dill weed, frozen peas.

18 September 2009

No Soggy Pizza Here

Apparently, my body decided to celebrate the last week of summer by contracting some vile ague which left me too tired and achy to make a cup of tea, let alone a proper meal.

The Husband, realizing he was going to be the source of all sustenance for days to come, went out and bought a huge chicken-tomato-onion-garlic pizza. Always yummy fresh from the pizza parlor, it becomes merely okay when rewarmed in the microwave ...

Ah, but in a 350F oven for ten minutes? The bottom crust re-crisps and it's (almost) like eating fresh pizza all over again.

16 September 2009

The Spice of Life

Many people have told me how awesome Penzeys spices are and I do love reading their catalogue -- it's a nice non-gimmicky blend of product info, advice, and recipes. A couple months ago, I noticed I was running low on thyme and paprika. Rather than add them to my weekly shopping, I thought I would be clever and see if Penzeys had a store in D.C. and do a little shopping on our hols ... for some reason it did not occur to me that Connecticut would have a store. Make that two stores!

As soon as I saw the Hartford listing, my little feet positively itched to run up and browse. Although I was running low on a bunch of things, I thought it best to hang on and do a big shop after D.C., when I would be tired out from our vay-kay and so be less likely to overspend at Penzeys.

Penzeys In My Pantry

Hah, bloody, hah.

Needed (and bought):
  • Four Peppercorn Blend
  • French Thyme
  • Penzeys Cinnamon (Brand new product -- "a jar full of smiles," indeed!)
  • Hungarian Paprika
  • Ground Cumin Seed
Also bought:
  • Buttermilk Ranch (salad dressing mix)
  • Green Goddess (salt free salad dressing mix)
  • Bold Taco Seasoning (sniffing this made my nose so happy!)
  • Parsley
Needless to say, I am madly in love with this store and can't wait to go back and sniff some more sample jars.

14 September 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week Twenty-Six

Yay! Another Menu Plan Monday! No fairs or festivals on this week, so I had to write a full menu for what feels like the first time in forever. Happily, I have a new issue of Cook's Country to help me out. Recipes in this issue are decidedly autumnal, but the weather is cooling and our local farm stand even has a couple pumpkins out!

Monday

  • Steak on the grill with the always popular "Mrs. Turner's Squash Skillet." Ingredients: zucchini, crookneck squash, onion, tomatoes, butter, sugar.

Tuesday (work)

  • About.com's "Fresh Tomato Soup" with Cabot Hunter's Sharp cheddar chunks, Kashi crackers, and mango. Ingredients: onion, celery, carrots, tomatoes, butter, rice, chicken broth.

Wednesday

Thursday (work)

  • Leftover soup with pineapple and Kashi crackers.
Friday
  • "Chicken Paprikash" with "Caraway Egg Noodles" (Cook's Country October/November 2009) and peas. Ingredients: chicken, onion, red bell pepper, tomato pasta, paprika, chicken broth, egg noodles, butter, caraway seeds, dill weed.

Saturday (work)

  • Refrigerated tortellini & pasta sauce (from freezer) with green beans.

Sunday

  • "Reduced Fat Sloppy Joes" (Cook's Country October/November 2009) on whole white buns with more salad. Ingredients: lean ground beef, onions, mushrooms, chili powder, tomato sauce, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, cider vinegar.

12 September 2009

Tomater Madness

That's it. I've made all the scratch sauce I can stand to make this year. There are still about ten nice-looking tomatoes left for tomato pie and soup -- the rest have been transformed into a gajillion quarts of lovely sauce. I forget how time-consuming sauce making is and it feels as if the entire day was taken up making sauce -- two batches on the stove and one in the slow cooker -- as well as some stewed tomatoes.

Happy Tomatoes

I streamlined my sauce making as much as possible -- I blanched, shocked, peeled, and seeded two thirds of the tomatoes in one go then minced all the the peppers/onions/garlic I thought would need. (Despite this being my third year of sauce making, I have not become any neater and there was tomato juice all over my kitchen by the time I was done).

Made my first batch of tomato sauce last night using the "Slow Cooker Tomato Sauce" recipe from Allrecipes, but with a few tweaks:
To slow cooker, I added:

1 small onion, diced fine
4 cloves garlic, pressed
2 teaspoons dried oregano, crushed
2 teaspoons dried basil, crushed
½ teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Pinch of cinnamon

Added in as many peeled, seeded, and crushed tomatoes as would comfortably fit in the slow cooker. Stirred well. Cooked on Low for eleven hours.Tasted. Adjusted seasonings as necessary (I found it terribly bland at this point and threw in a bunch of Garlic Garlic). Added a small can of tomato paste to thicken.
Today, for my second and third batch, I used the recipe for "Freezer Spaghetti Sauce" from Recipezaar. I used this recipe last year with excellent results, so doubled the quantities this time 'round (and threw in some Garlic Garlic). Really, this is a great sauce!

When all my sauces were cooked and cooled, I ran half of each batch through the food processor to create a less chunky (but never smooth) sauce. Then I poured the sauces into quart bags, laid them flat on jelly roll pans, and froze them. Frozen flat, they rack up quite nicely in the basket I bought to go at the bottom of the freezer.

11 September 2009

Freezer Fun

For months and months now, I'd been thinking about buying a freezer for the basement. We had a freezer in our old house (left by the previous owners and then freecycled before we moved) and it worked really well for storing bulk buys of meat and good sales sweeps. Our current fridge/freezer is a side-by-side and while I know it's a normal unit found in kitchens across America, I detest the freezer side of it. I hate playing Freezer Tetris whenever I come home from a particularly good grocery run or need to freeze a large batch of soup. And now that I'm tomato deep in Sauce Season ...

We went and bought a GE 5.0 cubic foot chest freezer (Model FCM5SUWW) on sale at Home Depot. I know, 5.0 cubic feet sounds tiny and the freezer certainly is smaller than our old upright, but it was hard to keep the old one full with there being only two of us. Freezers need to be full to run efficiently and I'd rather have a small freezer chock full of food than block a too-big freezer with water jugs.

We bought a chest freezer because the starting prices for uprights gave me palpitations. Organizationally speaking, I think an upright might be more convenient, but we will see what a cunning arrangement of shopping bags can do. (Also, it's high-time I got over my childhood loathing of chest freezers -- yes, mother, do send the extremely short child into the dark creepy basement to get something that is bound to be at the bottom of the chest freezer -- a freezer whose lid is propped up by an untrustworthy stick).

Yes, shopping bags are my starter organizational system. Kate over at Living the Frugal Life uses reusable shopping bags to store foods in her freezer. What a brilliant idea! The bags are light and sturdy (and tall enough I shouldn't have to fall into the freezer trying to snag a handle). I have about a dozen reusable shopping bags and the "least nice" of them can certainly go toward freezer storage.

So what's going to stay in the upstairs freezer, now that I have all this space? The things we use constantly like ice cream, frozen vegetables, pot pies, waffles, pizzas, and soup. Back-up items (you don't have back-up ice cream??), meats, and casseroles will go in the basement.

10 September 2009

Menu Plan Monday, Week Twenty-Five

Time for Menu Plan Monday ... on Thursday! Our hols finished Wednesday night and it's back to the safety of our old routine before we are utterly spoilt by all our footloose and fancy-free living. Cupboards are full of naught, of course, so a big shopping trip is in the offing. Thankfully, there seem to be some good sales on this week!

Thursday (work)
  • Salad with French loaf, Cabot Hunter's Sharp cheddar chunks, and pineapple.
Friday

Saturday

  • Going to the St. Stanislaus Dozynki Festival to eat yummy things like pirogi, golabki, kielbasa, and kapusta. Smaczne!

Sunday

08 September 2009

btw ... vay-kay picsies

Our trip to Washington, D.C. was fabulous -- brilliant weather, lovely city, and some nice food. Couldn't have asked for a better time, really.

Almost everything we did was free and we tried to arrange our schedule so that we saw the popular family stuff mid-week rather than Labor Day weekend. This worked pretty well everywhere, but at the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History where I felt overwhelmed in the Dinosaurs/Hall of Paleobiology by the sheer press of people and flirted with a panic attack.


But that was okay, because we just popped down the street to the National Gallery Sculpture Garden which had a really nice fountain and comfy benches. Next to the United States Botanic Garden, this was my favorite rest stop in D.C. (There are a surprisingly large number of parks and squares in D.C).



Didn't do a lot of U.S. History, because it's hard to take The Husband to history museums -- being a hoity-toity European, he gets a bit twitchy about how we present some of our history (particularly, the world wars). I thought surely he would love the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, but he complained it was too small (big building, not enough stuff) and too kiddie -- which was quite true. I had loved it as a child , but as an adult I just kept thinking "NASA and National Geographic news feeds are more interesting" which was sad. Total time spent at A&S: two hours.



The Smithsonian Institution National Museum of the American Indian (right next-door to A&S) was phenomenal. The exhibits ("Ramp It Up: Skateboard Culture in Native America" was excellent) and interactive displays were obviously put together with a great deal of thought and skill. Left me with new ideas and perspective -- which is all I expect from a museum. (Cafeteria was not to be missed -- I ate some seriously good noms in front of a beautiful waterfall).



The Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery were totally awesome and we lost an entire day to them. The collections are so well presented -- we weren't just looking at a nice piece of art, we also learned about each piece -- why it was created and how it was historically relevant. (I have difficulty with "art for art's sake" as art doesn't live in a bubble). It felt weird to be able to take pictures of pictures in the art museums we visited, but it was allowed and so I did. Lots of pictures of paintings by some of my favorite artists as well as portraits of some of my favorite people (Juliette Gordon Low, Dorothea Dix, Charlotte Perkins Gilman et al)!



Also, I must give a shout out to the National Postal Museum and United States Government National Archives and Records Administration -- two museums which deserve much better coverage in travel guides. The Postal Museum's "Alphabetilately" was highly enjoyable and a learned a lot about v-mail. As for NARA ... I know everyone goes there to see the Big Three (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Rights) but many of the exhibits were far more compelling. Charles P. Ingalls's application for a grant of 154 acres in the Dakota Territory under the 1863 Homestead Act was on display, for pete's sake!

Good Noms

Had a delicious time in Washington, DC! Too busy eating to get photos of all the tasty, but here are photos of some of the best:



I know a lot of people won't eat at museums, because they feel the food is overpriced and not very good, but I've had some excellent meals at museum cafeterias. In particular, the Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall, The Cascade Café at The National Gallery of Art, and the sushi station in the cafeteria at the Metropolitan Museum of Art are quite good.

04 September 2009

Cupcake Madness @ Red Velvet Cupcakery

Cupcake Madness @ Red Velvet Cupcakery

I said we needed four cupcakes, but he said six and he was flashing the money so:

Peanut Butter Cup
chocolate chocolate-chip cake
salted peanut butter frosting
salted peanut

B-day (2)
American yellow butter cake
milk chocolate ganache
sugar flowers

Vanilla Bean
vanilla-bean cake
Madagascar bourbon vanilla frosting

Key West
key lime cake
white chocolate buttercream
white chocolate curls

Southern Belle
red velvet cake
whipped cream cheese frosting
red sugar crystals

These cupcakes were so delicious! I have eaten many pretty cupcakes where the cake was excellent, but the frosting looked far better than it tasted -- not so with these! The salted peanut butter and Madagascar bourbon vanilla frostings were particularly tasty.






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01 September 2009

Vay-kay, dahlings

  • Harvested as many cherry and small tomatoes as I could before we left, washed them, dried them, froze them on trays, and then transferred them to freezer bags. This winter, I'll dump them whole into soups and stews.

  • Did the same thing to two dozen-ish 3-inch "Tangerine Dream" and "Golden Baby Belle" peppers. I think I'll use them in casseroles this winter, but who knows? The idea was just to get the peppers put away for later and not leave them "wasting" on the plant.

  • Have a nasty suspicion every single green "Golden Baby Belle" pepper is going to go yellow the minute we leave the driveway, but there is nothing I can do about that.


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