Monday, December 28, 2009

Wheat Flour

Do any of you out there grind your own wheat? I'm contemplating this, but it's definitely an investment (to get a good mill), and I want to be absolutely sure it's something I want to do before purchasing.

If you do, what machine do you use? Also, where do you buy your wheat in bulk? And, last question - what differences do you notice in baking?

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Changing the Way We Eat

Over the past year and a half or so, we've really been trying to eat healthier foods - less of the processed/pre-packaged stuff, more healthy vegetables/fruits/grains, and more local foods. We've been part of a fantastic CSA for the last 2 summers, and benefitted from some amazing produce. We had a small garden this past year, and plan to have a much larger one this coming spring.

I've heard a lot about eating locally, and the benefits for both myself and the community certainly outweigh any inconveniences. Our progress here has been gradual, but once the new year hits, I plan to go full steam ahead with it. Looking in my pantry and fridge, I've frequently sacrified quality for quantity or convenience, but at what cost? I would describe my health as fair-good - not phenomenal, but not awful. What can I do to improve my own health outcomes, as well as that of my family? More importantly, how do I develop a sense of healthy eating in my child, so that he craves fruits and vegetables, and not cookies or soft drinks?

Yesterday I received the book The Jungle Effect by Dr. Daphne Miller. 30 hours later, I've read it cover to cover, and it appears to be life-altering. Inspired by patients with chronic diseases, Dr. Miller traveled the world to visit disease cold spots - places where there were incredibly low incidences of the diseases we face in our modern world - heart disease, diabetes, various cancers, colon issues, etc... She found interesting things in the diets of all of these cultures, and shares them in this book. She shares recipes and tips for finding good quality products.

The best part? None of this sounds terrible. None of it sounds boring. In fact, the types of food are exciting and full of flavor and nutrients. I can't wait to start trying the recipes, and then working with the knowledge from this book to find other native recipes and to create our own recipes using these principles and ingredients. She also focuses on the importance of buying local products whenever possible and really reading those product labels to ensure what you're buying isn't full of chemicals.

All that to say - if you're interested in eating locally and eating quality food, this book is a fantastic jumping-off point. Next up - something by Michael Pollan, although I haven't decided what yet.

What do you do to buy locally? Especially in the winter when the Farmer's Markets aren't necessarily available. Also, if you're in the MidSouth area, where do you buy free-range meat?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Roasted Pork Tenderloin

I made a new pork tenderloin recipe tonight, loosely based on this recipe. It was super-tender and juicy, and the sauce was nicely balanced. I served it with creamy parmesan risotto and some steamed green beans. It was yummy! (The picture is awful - my battery went out right as I was trying to get a decent pic!)

Roasted Pork Tenderloin



2 lbs pork tenderloin
2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
kosher salt and pepper
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1/2 - 1 cup white wine
2 Tbsp apricot preserves
zest of 1 orange (I used a clementine, since it was what I had)
splash of balsamic vinegar



Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. In an oven-safe skillet, heat up 1 Tbsp of olive oil. Salt and pepper the tenderloin, transfer to skillet, and brown on all sides. Transfer the skillet to the oven and roast 15-20 minutes, or until meat is done (I heated mine to 150, but the powers that be recommend you heat it to at least 160). Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board/platter at this point.



Meanwhile, heat the remaining 2 1/2 Tbsp olive oil in another skillet on medium high heat. Add the sliced onions, and cook for a few minutes. Turn the heat down to medium low, and let the onions continue to cook for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat.



Once you have removed the tenderloin from the skillet, place the skillet over medium-high heat, and add the wine to deglaze the pan. Add the apricot preserves, onions, zest, and balsamic, and let cook on medium-low heat for 5-10 minutes (until sauce reaches desired consistency).



Slice tenderloin and top with sauce. Serve immediately.



Garden

This has been an insane year! We've been so incredibly busy with all kinds of projects and activities that I haven't had hardly any time to cook anything new. Hopefully things will slow down a bit once the holidays pass. I have vowed to try at least one new recipe every other week in the new year.

One thing we're doing now is planning next year's garden. We put together this year's garden rather haphazardly, and ended up with cantaloupe growing in the yard (still tasted great!). I've been watching the sun, logging hours in each spot of the yard, and figuring out what we could and couldn't logistically grow. I'm not sure we'll really have any yard left once all is said and done.

I received the most gorgeous seed catalog in the mail this week from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, and am really excited about the seeds I ordered. Assuming everything grows, we should have a fairly large garden with plenty of variety. I had to majorly reign myself in in the tomato section - I was astounded at the varieties! I could have an entire garden of just tomatoes.

If you're interested in planting heirloom, non-GMO seeds, they have a ton of beautiful veggies, fruits, herbs, and flowers to choose from, and many have interesting stories/histories. I can't wait to get everything in the ground!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Whew. It's been busy around here!

Things around my house have been absolutely crazy, with no signs of slowing down until about November. And then the holidays hit. Needless to say, there hasn't been any new cooking around here - I'm in survival mode, just making sure everyone eats every day.

We finally had to get rid of most of the garden - we had so much rain last month that the tomatoes just didn't do well from that point on. And we needed the yard back, so the cantaloupe had to go. We're making big plans for next year's garden, though, and I'm hoping we can implement most of them. I've already started reading seed catalogs for ideas.

One fun thing in the last couple of months is that I finally got a Zojirushi Home Bakery Supreme. The folks over at the King Arthur blog are always mentioning how great it is, and when the opportunity came to purchase one, I couldn't pass it up. I've loved it so far - I haven't bought a loaf of bread from the store in over a month, and I've also made the risotto recipe from the KA blog twice now.

I'm hoping to do some more cooking again as the holidays approach. I'm ready to get back to baking and enjoying homemade foods again!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Summer Fun

As I'm sure you can tell from the lack of posting these days, when it gets hot outside, I don't cook. If the heat index is 100 or higher, it's just not worth working in a hot kitchen. During the summer months, raw or quickly cooked veggies and the slow cooker are my friends. I did make squash casserole and fried okra tonight, but we're in the midst of a nice cool spell - it was only in the high 80s. That's downright chilly for this part of the country in July!

I have started a garden this year, and while it's not much, we've loved having the fresh peppers (bell, jalapeno, and anaheim) and tomatoes (mostly cherry, but some better boy, and we should have some Roma soon).

For a funnier side to my garden... when I was starting some of my seedlings this year, I noticed some chipmunk holes in our yard. For kicks, I threw various kinds of seeds in to see what would happen. Y'all - my yard has been taken over by cantaloupe. And since it's thriving, I really don't want to get rid of it. It's way too big to move now, so it's just growing in the grass. I went out tonight and put bricks under the melons that have started growing so that they don't mildew in the wet grass. Hopefully they'll do okay like that and be yummy! Next year, I will not go throwing seeds in the yard like that. I also have two tomato plants growing in the yard in other chipmunk holes. Other than the grass around them being ugly, they're doing great!




Saturday, July 11, 2009

Yummy Marinade

We had our cooking club meeting this past Monday, and our hostess grilled chicken using a marinade that was in the cookbook.  It was delish!   So, for dinner tonight, we're making the same thing!

According to the recipe, this is really supposed to go on beef, but we loved it on chicken, and I'm sure it would be fantastic on pork as well.  The portions below were enough for 5-6 chicken breasts.

Dewana's Great Grilling Sauce
adapted from Tables of Content

1 cup Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup strong black coffee 
3/4 cup ketchup
1 Tbsp sugar
1/2 Tbsp salt
3/4 Tbsp pepper
Onion powder and garlic powder, to taste

Mix it all together.  Marinate meat of choice in this for several hours or overnight, and bake/grill/roast as desired.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

CSA Time

Last year, we joined a CSA and loved it.  The quality and quantity of produce was unbeatable for $25/week.  We missed the spring round of the CSA this year, but joined back up from July - November, and today was our first pick-up day this year.

This week didn't disappoint.  We got a basket of cherry tomatoes, 5 huge tomatoes, 6 ears of corn, 6 red potatoes, 1 onion, a bunch of leeks, 2 squash, and a bunch of swiss chard.  The quality of the tomatoes alone is worth the money - they're so much better than the mealy things you get at the chain groceries, and the good tomatoes at smaller stores can cost an arm and a leg.  Everything else is excellent also.  Along with that, I know where my produce came from (just up the road a bit) and have met the farmers who grow and care for these veggies.  

You can go here to see if there's a CSA near you.  We're so glad we are participating.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Halibut with Lime Tomato Garlic Sauce

My favorite sauce at Bonefish Grill is the Lime Tomato Garlic Sauce.  It has all of my favorite flavors, and just tastes like summer.  It's very fresh, and atop a perfectly cooked piece of fish, it is divine.  

Since Bonefish isn't exactly the ideal place to take a toddler, I decided to see if there were any "copycat" recipes for this sauce on the web.  To my surprise, Bonefish has actually put the recipe out there on their website.  

I adapted mine slightly from what the recipe suggested.  One thing I'll definitely do differently next time is decrease the sugar - this was way too sweet for me.  I'd probably go with no more than 3 Tbsp next time.  I also like a lot of tomato flavor, so I added some more fresh tomato at the end - it worked well.  It did take quite a while for everything to reduce, and I didn't have time to let it completely thicken.  Budget at least 45 minutes of stovetop time if you want a thicker sauce (you don't have to babysit it, but it will need to be stirred regularly, especially once the cream is added).  

Also, knowing that this sauce could be so good on top of a good piece of fish, I splurged and got fresh halibut at Fresh Market (we're fairly landlocked here, so that's as good as I can get!).   I did not want to do all this work for a piece of mushy frozen fish (our normal fare).

Baked Halibut with Lime Tomato Garlic Sauce
adapted from Bonefish Grill

1/8 C roughly chopped sundried tomatoes
3/4 - 1 C roughly chopped fresh tomatoes
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/4 C fresh lime juice
1/4 C chopped garlic
1/2 C white wine
3 Tbsp sugar
3/4 C heavy cream
2 tsp salt
1 tsp white pepper (I used regular)
1 Tbsp cold butter, in small pieces
1 roma tomato, chopped
2-4 Servings of fresh halibut, baked or grilled

Combine first 7 ingredients in a saucepan over medium high heat (make sure flame is off when adding the wine).  Bring to a simmer, and reduce by half.  Once reduced, add the cream, salt, and pepper.  Reduce this again, until thickened.  Reduce heat to medium low, and add in the butter piece by piece, stirring until melted between additions.  Keep warm until ready to serve over fish.

Spoon over fish.  Add chopped roma tomato on top.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My Favorite Summer Veggie

Summer is quite possibly my favorite time all year long when it comes to food.  I never imagined I could crave vegetables, but I do!  Everything just tastes perfect, and as it should.  The tomatoes, the beans, the peas, the squash - it just doesn't get any better!

One of my very favorite summer dishes is squash casserole.  I do love me some simply cooked squash, but making it in casserole form makes it so yummy.  Everybody has their own variation of squash casserole.  (Some don't even have cheese!  The horror!)  This is mine.  And, it changes based on what I've got.  Sometimes I throw in a bell pepper.  Sometimes a different kind of cheese.  By about July, my perfect meal is fresh peas, lima beans, squash casserole, and sliced tomatoes with a little salt.  

Squash Casserole

5 medium yellow squash, cut up into bite-sized pieces
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/4 C butter, melted
1/4 C milk
1 1/2 C cheese (I usually use colby/jack/cheddar in some ratio)
2 eggs, beaten (you can use 1 if you don't want it as fluffy)
Salt and pepper to taste
About 1/2 C crushed up crackers (or corn flakes) - I like Cheez-Its or Ritz

In a medium saucepan, add enough water to cover squash.  Cook on medium for about 15 minutes, or until slightly mushy.  Drain squash and move to medium sized mixing bowl.  Mash up the squash with a potato masher or knife/fork.

Add the onion, butter, and milk, and stir.  Add a little of this mixture into the beaten egg (to temper it), and then add all of the egg into the bowl with the squash mixture and stir well.  Stir in cheese and salt and pepper to taste.  Top with crushed crackers.

Transfer to a greased 8x8 pan and bake at 350 for 30 - 40 minutes, or until brown on top and not soupy. Serve hot.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Garden and The Risotto

Life just doesn't slow down around here! Between meetings and traveling and just running the family, having time to cook new dishes has just vanished. I haven't even had much time to bake lately, and I'm so missing fresh bread! I have had time to water the things we've gotten planted, so I guess that's positive. :)

We had all these grand plans for a big garden this year, but really haven't had time to till up the plot (although it's the perfect spot!), so we have this one tiny area and then a bunch of containers. I'm so excited about the tomatoes - that's one of my very favorite things about summer, so I'm very ready for them to be ready to eat. We've also got some bell peppers growing, and lots of herbs. I just put some zucchini plants I had started in the ground, and have some squash and cantaloupe I need to get in the ground as well. I did happen to throw some cantaloupe seeds in a mole hole in our yard, and noticed some sprouts this week. I really didn't think they would grow, but they have, so I guess we'll have some cantaloupe in the middle of the yard.

Despite not having much time to make new dishes lately, I did try Pastor Ryan's Shrimp Risotto tonight, and it did not disappoint. If you haven't tried this yet, you should - it's fabulous!
On a funnier note, I attempted to make a cheesecake for cooking club last month. Yeah, this one I'll just leave to the bakeries, I think.




Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Beef Tips Over Noodles

So, what's the first thing that comes to your mind reading that title?  The middle school cafeteria?  Luby's?  Piccadilly?  Well, those are the first things that come to my mind.  

Despite this,  I was craving beef tips and noodles this week.  It's a craving I get once or twice a year, and usually hop to the local cafeteria to satisfy.  I got to thinking, though - this can't be that hard.  I mean, really - it's just beef chunks with some onions, mushrooms, and gravy over noodles.  And I got to searching.

There are all manner of recipes on the web for this dish, and all with the same basic components.  I decided to use my slow cooker because a) it's already hot here and I will be avoiding the use of the oven/stove as much as possible between now and October, and b) I'm lazy.   Throwing together what I had on hand after reading several of the recipes, this is what I came up with:

Beef and Noodles

2 lb beef roast, cut into 1 inch chunks
1/2 onion, diced (you could be fancy and use shallots also, but I'm cheap and like a lot of onion)
10 oz bag mushrooms 
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato paste
1 can cream of mushroom
1 packet of onion soup mix
2 Tbsp worchestershire sauce
1/2 cup red wine
1 can beef broth (or use the good homemade stuff if you've got it)
Water as needed
Salt and pepper to taste

I threw all this in the slow cooker and let it go on low for 8 hours.  You could also cook it on high for around 4 hours.  Served it over hot, buttered egg noodles.  

The meat was nice and tender, all the flavors had melded together, and it was a notch better than the cafeteria stuff.   This is not health food.  It truly gets me no closer to my goal of not eating processed food.  But, since it's a rare craving, I figure it's OK every once in a while.  And I was so ready to eat it that I totally forgot to take a picture.  Oh, well.  

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Stuffed Pork Tenderloin

It's been a busy few weeks around here, and I'm just now getting back into the swing of things! As I was trying to plan our menu for this week last Saturday, I happened to catch an episode of Jacques Pepin: More Fast Food My Way. I love that he makes cooking so incredibly simple, and his dishes are fantastic. He just happened to be making this stuffed pork tenderloin, and it sounded great.


I loved the flavors in this dish - it is all very simple. Basic ingredients - spinach, onions, pork, cheese (I used Swiss instead of cheddar), and tomatoes. I also hate wasting any of the cooked bits of stuff on the bottom of the pan, so I made a pan sauce to go with this - just threw in some garlic, white wine, chicken stock, and butter. I've now tried to butterfly tenderloin twice in the last week, and I still stink at it. Mine wasn't all pretty and rolled up, but it still tasted great!

Ingredients:
Pork:
4 tablespoons good olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 package (7 ounces) prewashed baby spinach
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large pork tenderloin (about 1 1/4 pounds)
3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 box grape tomatoes (about 1 1/2 pints)
Pan Sauce:
1 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup white wine (or can sub chicken stock)
1/2 - 1 cup chicken stock
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp butter

Directions:

Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the spinach, pushing it down into the skillet, and 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 1 1/2 minutes, until the spinach is wilted. Remove the lid and cook, uncovered, until the liquid from the spinach has evaporated. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

Trim the tenderloin of any fat and silverskin. To butterfly the tenderloin for stuffing, lay it flat on the cutting board so one end is close to you and the other end is near the top of the board. Holding your knife so the blade is parallel to the board, cut through the long side of the tenderloin, stopping when you are about 1/2 inch from the other side. Turn the tenderloin so the uncut side is closest to you and make another parallel cut below the first one, again stopping about 1/2 inch before you reach the other side. Open up the butterflied tenderloin and pound it a little to extend it to about 12 inches long by 7 inches wide.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange half the spinach mixture down the center of the butterflied tenderloin and top with the cheese. Add the rest of the spinach, fold in the sides, and roll the tenderloin back and forth to evenly distribute and encase the filling. Wrap 2 strips of aluminum foil, each 1 to 2 inches wide, around the tenderloin to secure the stuffing inside.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons oil in a large ovenproof nonstick skillet. Sprinkle the outside of the tenderloin with 1/4 teaspoon each of the salt and pepper. Place the tenderloin carefully in the skillet and brown it, turning occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the foil strips from the tenderloin and bake in the oven for 10 minutes, when it will be slightly pink in the center. Transfer the tenderloin to a plate, cover, and keep warm in the oven while you prepare the tomatoes & pan sauce (the pork will continue to cook as it sits).

In the same pan you roasted the pork in, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic and saute for a minute or so. Add in the wine, stock, and butter (turn off the gas burner while adding wine). Let it simmer to desired consistency.

Add the tomatoes and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper to the skillet and sauté over high heat for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes, until just softened.



Sunday, April 19, 2009

Ideas?

We're planning on going to pick strawberries this weekend (weather cooperating) and I'm hoping to pick enough to do some canning/preserving.  Most of the recipes follow the same basic outline, but what do you do when you preserve strawberries?  What is your favorite technique?  What other flavors do you add?

And, do you have any other ideas for saving berries through the year?  I don't have a ton of freezer space, so I'm trying to get creative.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

March Barefoot Bloggers

Better late than never, right?  It's been a crazy month, so I just got around to making both of these dishes tonight!

This month's recipes were Chicken Piccata, chosen by Lindsey of Noodle Nights and Muffin Mornings, and Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts, chosen by Anne of Anne Strawberry.  Both of their blogs are fabulous, so you should check them out!

First up is the chicken piccata.  I've never made my own at home, so I was excited to try the recipe.  All in all, it was fairly easy to make and tasted good, and will make it into the regular rotation.  The only thing I didn't like was just how lemony it was - it made my face pucker.  But, the sauce was good, so next time I make it, I'll just cut back on the lemon juice.  I also purposely did not wipe out the pan between browning the chicken and making the sauce - those little bits in the pan are too good to waste!  

The second recipe for the month was the Tomato and Goat Cheese Tarts.  Let's see... puff pastry, onions, cheese, tomatoes, and basil - what's not to love?  These were divine, and will definitely be a regular side dish or appetizer around here.  I think for Easter dinner, I'll use the mini pastry puff shells and just dice the tomato and onions to make mini-tarts.  The cheese added a creaminess that was lovely, the onions brought some great flavor to the table, and the parmesan, tomato, and basil were reminiscent of bruschetta.  Delicious!

For the recipes, just click on the links above.  Thanks to Lindsey and Anne for a couple of fantastic recipe choices!



Saturday, March 21, 2009

Look Ma - No Box!

For the past few months, I've been trying more and more to get away from processed/pre-made foods.  The stuff from scratch just tastes better and is better for you.  That said, I'm nowhere close to being totally free of processed foods, and doubt I'll ever be completely there.  However, I can replace a lot of the things I used to rely on a box for with the real things.

I was craving a chocolate cupcake today (no thanks to Barefoot Contessa's episode this morning), which then led me on a search for a good buttercream frosting.  In the process, I stumbled upon the blog of The Repressed Pastry Chef, and this recipe for Black Magic Cake.  I had everything on hand, and the ganache actually sounded better than buttercream to me today, so I decided to make this.

These cupcakes did not disappoint.  The addition of the coffee really brings out the richness of the chocolate, but it's not overly sweet.    It's the perfect combo of chocolate and sweetness, and I think these may become my go-to chocolate cupcakes/cake.  These were simple to make - so simple, that I have no excuse for pulling out a box again!

I was able to get 12 regular cupcakes, and 12 other little cakes (same size as cupcakes) out of this, and I baked them for 30 minutes.  I think it could easily be cut in half if you only wanted 12 at a time.  And, as mentioned on the original recipe, it makes 2 9-inch cakes or one 13x9x2 rectangular cake.  

On the ganache... well, I need to practice that a bit more.  My chocolate didn't all melt as well as I would have liked, so it wasn't nearly as smooth as it should have been.  I don't think I let the cream get hot enough.  It still tastes fantastic, though!  It is sweet, so if you're just wanting some chocolate, but not too much sweet, I'd just make the cupcakes and sprinkle a little powdered sugar on top, skipping any frosting altogether.    

Since my ganache didn't work so well, I didn't take any pictures, but the ones with the recipe speak for themselves.  Delicious!

For the recipe, go here.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Charlotte Rousse

We used to have the most fabulous little lunch spot in town - Cafe de France.  In addition to the delicious sandwiches and salads, they also had the most amazing desserts.  Not only did they taste out of this world, but they looked positively beautiful.

One thing I always ordered was the Charlotte Rousse.  It's basically a strawberry, gelatin, and whipped cream filling inside a ring of ladyfingers.  What's not to love?

I finally found a recipe, and just had to make it.  Guess what?  It's simple as can be.  So simple, in fact, that I might actually make homemade ladyfingers next time I make this.  The recipe is over at Diana's Desserts.


Crusty Italian Bread

I was up late last night, and got the baking bug. Seriously, at like 11:00 PM. I decided to make a waffle batter for this morning, and also figured it would be a great time to whip up a biga (starter) for some bread today. (The first photo below is the biga after about 14 hours.)

I whipped out my handy-dandy King Arthur Flour Baker's Companion to see what sounded good. I landed on the Crusty Italian Bread, the recipe for which also happens to be on their website. As with everything I've tried from them, this was straightforward and fairly idiot-proof. My kind of bread.

I did have to laugh at how it looked when I finished, though. It was my first attempt at a braid, and I realized as I was braiding that all of my strands weren't the same thickness. That's something I'll fix next time. I had also used all of my larger pans for the pirogs earlier in the day, so I had to use a smaller one. The loaf was a little bit too big for the pan, so it ended up somewhat curved. Note to self for next time: make sure a big enough pan is available.

This will become a fixture at our house. As much as I love pretty braided breads, I'll probably just make it into a couple of loaves next time, so that I can freeze one. It was perfectly crusty on the outside, a little chewy (but still soft) on the inside, and just the right amount of salt. I'm not a huge sesame seed fan, either, so I'll leave those off next time I make it. This one's definitely a keeper.

Pirogs

The first Christmas I spent with my husband's family, I kept hearing about these pirog things.  At the time, they sounded positively disgusting to me.  However, I finally tried one, and have loved them ever since.

My mother-in-law got this recipe in 1979 from a friend and neighbor of theirs who had come to the US from Latvia.  Her friend just knew how to make this - no measuring cups, no weighing - she just instinctively knew how to put it together.  My MIL spent a good bit of time with her making this recipe, carefully weighing and measuring ingredients so that she could also make these.  Since then, pirogs have been a Christmas Day tradition at their house.

I finally learned how to make these last year.  We like these so much, we don't just save them for Christmas.  That said, they are time-consuming to make, so I only do this every few months.  A big batch in the freezer will last us a while.  

I'd like to experiment with other fillings, but that might cause a revolt, so I haven't yet. :)

Pirogs

2 packages active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
water
1 stick butter or margarine, cut into pieces
1 Tablespoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups milk
5 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for workspace
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 medium-large onion, diced (or chopped in food processor)
1 lb bacon, diced (or chopped in food processor)
about 1 lb ham, cooked, diced
Pepper, to taste (the in-laws LOVE pepper... like, we're talking Tablespoons of it)
1 egg, beaten, to brush pierogs before baking

In a cup, combine 2 packets of yeast and 2 teaspoons of sugar.  Add just enough warm water to form a thick paste.  Stir, and set aside.

Scald the milk.  

Put butter, 1 T. salt, and 2 T. sugar into mixing bowl.  Add warm milk and stir to melt butter.  Add 3 cups flour, yeast mixture, and eggs to milk mixture in bowl, and stir to combine.  Add up to 2 more cups of flour, and knead with hand in bowl for 5 minutes, or in stand mixer for about 3 minutes.  The dough should be somewhat thin & sticky.  Cover bowl, and set aside to rise for about 1 - 1 1/2 hours.

While dough is rising, combine onion, bacon, and ham in a skillet, and cook on high for 5-10 minutes, until bacon is mostly cooked (it will cook more in the oven), stirring constantly.  Remove from heat, and let cool thoroughly.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

When dough has risen (doubled in size), take out a handful at a time, and form into a 1 1/2 diameter "worm" on a floured surface.  Slice off 1/2 inch pieces.  Work each piece into a circle, and fill with the meat.  Fold over, pinch edge and place pinched side down on a lightly greased cookie sheet.  Shape into a crescent.  Place pirogs about 1 inch apart. After sheet is full, let rest for 10 - 20 minutes.  Brush with beaten egg.   Makes about 60 pirogs.  (Sometimes we make them a little larger than this.)*

Bake at 400 degrees for 10-14 minutes, until golden brown.

Serve warm.  These are easily frozen and reheated in foil.

*I like more bread than meat with mine, so I tend to skimp a little on the meat filling.  I usually have enough filling left over to make at least another half batch of dough.  

Searching around the Web, it looks like these can be "pirogs," "pirags," or "piragis."  Not a clue which one is most appropriate.  Anyone else know?


I know.  I really need to get a decent camera.  It's just sad how bad these photos are.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Menu Friday

Schnuck's has a lot of meat on a great sale this week.  So, it's time to stock up again!  Their split chicken breasts, pork butt, and ham are $0.87/lb.  I'm going to get the ham to make pierogs (recipe to be posted later) and to have for lunch meat.  I'll stock up on chicken again to make stock and to have shredded chicken in the freezer.

Here's a great post over at $5 Dinners showing how to use all parts of the split chicken breast.  It's just so cheap to do it this way.

Saturday: Roasted chicken, asparagus, couscous
Sunday: BBQ pork (slow cooker does the work overnight on Saturday), corn, potatoes
Monday: Leftover chicken and veggies
Tuesday: Leftover BBQ, green beans, potatoes
Wednesday: Taco night
Thursday: Fish, peas, broccoli, brown rice
Friday: Spaghetti, leftover peas and broccoli

Looking at this list, it's a pretty boring week.  But, it's a cheap one!  I'm also planning on making cabbage soup for my lunches next week, since cabbage is extra-super-cheap this week with St. Patty's Day coming up.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Berry Muffins

As I was going through the fridge tonight, I realized I had some strawberries and blueberries rapidly approaching the end of their life spans.  What to do?  Make muffins, of course!  (I didn't have enough strawberries for cake, or else that so would have been the plan.)

I found a recipe for basic muffins, and adapted from there.  I've posted the recipe I used below, however, I didn't think they were sweet enough.  Next time I make them, I'll either add a little more sugar, or possibly just more vanilla.  They would also be great with a sugar/cinnamon topping of some sort.  

The source where I got the recipe also suggested some savory fillings/toppings.  I'm definitely going to try some cheesy herb muffins this weekend.  Also, I looked around the other recipes on Diana's Desserts - they look amazing!  If you're looking for a dessert idea, go check this site out. I made a list of all the things I want to try.

Berry Muffins

1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 Tbsp baking powder (that looked like a lot, but they were fine)
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp cinnamon, optional
3/4 cup milk
1 large egg
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 tsp vanilla
approx 1/3 cup each blueberries and strawberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare a muffin tin.

In a medium mixing bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon.  To this, add the milk, egg, applesauce, and vanilla.  Stir just until combined (don't want to overmix muffins).  Gently fold in berries. (I wanted blueberry muffins and strawberry muffins separately, so I just split my batter in half, and did blueberries in one and strawberries in the other.)  Transfer to prepared muffin tins.

Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.  Let cool, and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Banana Bread

About 6 months ago, I stumbled upon this banana bread recipe over at Simply Recipes.  I loved it because it tasted great and because I didn't have to break out the stand mixer.  We frequently have leftover bananas around here, so I make this at least once every other week, if not more.

The original recipe is fantastic, and I've also adapted it a bit to our tastes and needs.  I have to put some of this in the freezer, or else I'll eat it all in one night.  The kidlet loves it, too! 

Banana Bread

4 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
chopped walnuts to taste, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a medium mixing bowl, mash 4 bananas until most chunks are gone.  Add in the melted butter, stirring with a wooden spoon.  Add in the sugar, and stir until mixed.  Add in the egg, vanilla, and cinnamon, and stir to combine.

In a smaller bowl, combine the baking soda, salt, and flours.  Add this dry mixture to the banana mixture, and stir until combined.

Transfer batter to a prepared loaf pan or mini-loaf pans, and bake for 45 minutes - 1 hour for one loaf, or 30 - 40 minutes for mini-loaves.  They're done when a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from oven and let cool in pans for 5-10 minutes.  Remove from pan and finish cooling on a rack.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Quick Chicken and Dumplings

Let me just tell you up front: these are not the chicken and dumplings you remember fondly from your childhood that either your mother or grandmother made. They're not even as good as the ones at a certain famous chain restaurant. They are, however, quick and simple, and will work in a pinch. Such as when one has just gotten back in town after an 8-hour car trip with an unhappy 14 month old and there's not much at all in the pantry.

I threw this together tonight because I wanted some comfort food, but didn't have the time or energy to put into making these from "scratch." If you want the really good ones, they take time to make (but they're so, so worth it!). I had no homemade stock in the freezer, but I did have some shredded chicken and some frozen dumplings, so I was good to go.  Celery is also not a normal ingredient, but I like it, so I added it.

I was pleasantly surprised with these, considering they were made from frozen dumplings and canned stock.  Tasting these definitely made me want to make the good dumplings and stock soon, though!

Easy Chicken and Dumplings

3 quarts canned/carton chicken stock, low sodium
2-3 cups cooked & shredded chicken (rotisserie works well, also)
2 ribs celery, diced
Pepper and other seasonings to taste*

Bring the stock and seasonings to a boil. Add dumplings one at a time and stir frequently to prevent sticking. Let them simmer with the pot covered for 30-45 minutes, or until done. Add in the chicken meat and continue to cook for another 10-15 minutes or to desired consistency.

*I used parsley, poultry seasoning, sage, thyme, onion powder, and garlic powder, and of course, didn't measure a bit of it. If I were making the good stuff from scratch, I would have added the parsley, poultry seasoning, sage, thyme, and real onions, garlic, and carrots while making the stock.

Easy Beer Bread

I love quick breads - without all the kneading and rising, they're pretty simple, and you can have a loaf of bread in no time. One of my all-time favorites is beer bread - it's ready to go in under 5 minutes, and there are endless variations.

I tend to like the sweeter version, so I rarely stray from my basic recipe. However, you could cut back on the sugar, and add herbs and/or cheeses for a more savory recipe. Really, this one is up to your imagination. It's also an excellent breakfast toast.

Easy Beer Bread

3 cups self-rising flour*
1/2 cup sugar
1 16 oz bottle of beer of choice (Lazy Magnolia Southern Pecan is my current fave)
2 Tbsp melted butter, optional**

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and prepare a 9 x 5 loaf pan.

In a bowl, stir the flour, sugar, and beer until mixed (batter will be thick and lumpy). Transfer to the loaf pan, and pour melted butter over the top. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes, or until top is brown and knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool in pan for a few minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

*If you don't have self-rising flour, just add 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt for every cup of AP flour. Combine these before adding the other ingredients.

**You can also mix the butter right in with the batter. Or, if you want to skip the butter altogether, you can brush an egg wash on the top of the bread after it's been in the oven for about 30 minutes or so - basically once it has enough of a crust to take the egg wash.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Cooking Club - Month 2

We had our second cooking club dinner last night, and it was fabulous! The hostess chose a Tex-Mex theme, so what's not to love? Comforting and filling, the meal was excellent.

Our book for this year is Tables of Content from the Jr. League of Birmingham. Last night, we had an appetizer of Caribbean Salsa (p. 59), followed by Tortilla Soup (p. 164), and then Enchilada Casserole (p. 188), Black Bean Tart (p.254), Tomato Rice (p. 145), Mexican Corn Bread (p.129), Mocha Cake (p. 295), and White Sangria (p. 77).

I completely forgot to take a picture of the main meal or of the beautiful centerpiece. It was a fabulous meal, and all of the dishes are ones I'll make in the future. The soup and the tart were hearty enough to stand alone as lighter meals on their own, and the Caribbean Salsa will probably replace my usual trusty Dixie Caviar. It had a very crisp, clean, and refreshing taste to it. I liked the tomato rice a lot as well, and might even take the same recipe and translate it to couscous.



Next month's theme is Brunch! My favorite meal!

As an aside, the next time you're searching for a new cookbook, don't forget about those published by various Junior Leagues. I've never met a JL cookbook I didn't like, and you can know that proceeds are going towards strengthening that community. It's a win-win!

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Marinated Asparagus

Marinated asparagus is a lovely dish that can be served as an appetizer or a side dish, and it works for just about any meal (brunch, lunch, dinner). It's amazingly simple to put together, and easy to make for a crowd. The usual cautions with asparagus apply here - don't overcook it. It's so easy to do! In fact, for the batch I made last night, I think it was ever-so-slightly overcooked, and I was very conservative on my cooking time.

I generally make this the night before I'm serving it, so it has plenty of time to sit in the marinade.


Marinated Asparagus

Ingredients

2 lbs (about 2 bunches) fresh asparagus
Enough water to fill large pot 3/4 full
1 tsp salt
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup pecans (I use big pieces, but you can finely chop them also)
Directions

Clean and trim asparagus. If desired, scrape off the scales. Bring water and salt to a boil and add asparagus. Cook for until tender-crisp, or 4 to 6 minutes. Immediately remove from boiling water and place in an ice bath to stop the cooking. Drain the asparagus and place in gallon-size freezer bag.

While asparagus is cooking, mix vinegar, oil, soy sauce, and sugar in a bowl. Make sure it is well-mixed, and pour over the asparagus in the plastic bag. Add pecans in bag. Allow bag to sit on its side in the refrigerator for 8 hours or longer, turning it over once.

When ready to serve, arrange asparagus on the plate, drizzling a little of the marinade over it as desired. Retrieve the pecans from the bag and place on top of asparagus.

*You can also use a baking dish for the asparagus to sit in the marinade if you don't want to waste a plastic bag.

**If you can't find any good fresh asparagus or if it's too expensive, you can also substitute 3 10-oz packages of frozen asparagus. Just cook according to the package directions and then pick up with putting it in the bag and pouring marinade over it. I haven't tried this myself.

Wheat Rolls

I've been looking for a wheat roll recipe that's not too heavy, and finally decided to try this one today. It had received many good reviews, and looked pretty straightforward, so I gave it a shot.

These came out perfectly. They're light and fluffy, with just enough sweetness to keep them from being bland. They would be just as good next to a hefty steak as they would alongside a bowl of chicken noodle soup. I could imagine using a lovely herb butter just as easily as something sweeter such as honey or strawberry butter on these rolls.

I think this will become my wheat roll go-to for now. It also makes 24 rolls, so there are plenty to go in the freezer - I can make a batch one weekend, and with the other breads I make, they would likely last us at least 3 weeks before having to make them again.

Next up, I've been trying to find a good wheat bread recipe (and so is Nancy). Got any suggestions? Let us know!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

GAAHHHHH!

We break up monopolies in the name of customers and smaller competitors. We create laws so that businesses cannot take advantage of consumers. Companies are not allowed to falsely advertise in order to protect consumers. See a trend here? In many cases, the advantage goes to the consumer.

Not so with alcohol sales in the state of Tennessee, however. We have some of the most backwards laws in the country with respect to the juice of the vine, and none of them benefit the consumer. Not one. They all benefit the wholesale liquor lobby and liquor store owners, but they most certainly do nothing to protect the consumer.

I'm over 21 years of age. I'm legally able to purchase alcohol. With the caveat that I can only purchase that which is available at my local liquor stores. Do they supply wines from all those great little vineyards in Sonoma or France or Italy? No. Can I get something special ordered that isn't already available from their wholesalers? No.

There seems to be a simple solution to this problem, right? Just order it. Yeah, that doesn't work here. We're not allowed to receive or bring any alcohol across state lines. So, we're limited to what's available through the wholesalers. Pursuant to this interpretation of our current laws, we also can't send back any tokens from our travels, either.

This is wrong. It's not fair to the consumers, and it's certainly not fair to the small vineyard owners who don't have the same bargaining powers of the larger vineyards. They should be able to legally sell their products to those who are legally able to buy them, and not be stopped because of our wholesale lobby. It's also unfair to small wine producers here in TN - because of the Supreme Court's decision regarding shipping reciprocity, not allowing consumers in our state to order out of state wines means that our producers cannot ship theirs out, either.

I've heard arguments all over the place that this would make it easier for underage kids to get their hands on alcohol. Phooey. Don't even try to tell me that a grocery store clerk (who already checks IDs for beer) or UPS driver is any less qualified than a liquor store clerk to check IDs. They all have to go through training about fake IDs and the like. Also, most underage kids I remember were looking for instant gratification - not that fabulous pinot that they can only get through the mail or the wine of the month club. They're not going to wait for something to be delivered to them, and again, the delivery person should be required to check ID on any shipments of alcohol.

The arguments against changing the laws for the benefit of the consumer are hollow and not backed up by available data. If you're also fed up, check out two sites working to change things.

Free the Grapes
Red White and Food

Yes, I realize that there are more important things happening in our country than whether or not we have choice of where and from whom to purchase wine in TN. However, a change in the laws adds better price competition for consumers, gives our producers more places to send their product, and allows TN consumers to purchase from smaller producers who can't or won't go through the wholesalers.

Garlic Crackers

I love cheese and crackers - it's a pretty regular snack around here (no, I'm not still 5, but some things just carry on...).  It never crossed my mind to make crackers at home.  I guess I always assumed the Premium or Wheat Thins fairy just created them out of thin air.  At any rate, when I ran across a seemingly easy recipe in my trusty King Arthur Baker's Companion today, I decided I needed to try this.

Recipe is a pretty loose term here.  Basically, they give you the proportions that you need, and the only thing stopping you is your imagination.  I can tell this will be a fun recipe to make all kinds of goodies out of - herbed crackers, cheese crackers, herbed cheese crackers, wheat crackers, flaky buttery crackers, and so on.  Here's what I came up with today.

Garlic Crackers

2 cups all-purpose flour
6 Tbsp butter, chilled and cut into pieces (think: pie crust)
1 tsp salt, plus more for sprinkling 
1/8-1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
12 Tbsp milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a bowl, combine flour with salt, pepper, and garlic.   Cut butter into flour until the crumbs are pretty fine.   Add the milk 1 Tbsp at a time, just until dough holds together.

Place dough on lightly floured surface, and roll till a thickness of about 1/8 inch.  Poke all over with fork, and then cut into whatever shapes float your boat. (Cutting them into larger shapes makes the process of getting them onto the baking sheet go much faster.)

Place crackers on lightly greased or parchment lined cookie sheet, and sprinkle a little bit of extra salt over the tops if desired.   Bake for 20-25 minutes, just until they begin to brown.  

Place on wire racks - they'll crisp up as they cool.

Enjoy!



Saturday, February 21, 2009

Italian Bread Bowls

I love the recipe for Italian Bread Bowls that I found over at My Kitchen Cafe a while back. I keep some of these bread bowls in the freezer at all times - they're not only great for soup, but also great alone. This bread is nice and crusty, and a bit chewy, but a little more airy than French bread. We like to just pull out a "bowl" and eat it with dinner.

When I was making this today to replenish the freezer stock, I decided to make some mini-loaves as well. The only difference - instead of shaping bowls, I just made them into a loaf shape. I got 4 small-medium size bowls and 3 small loaves out of the recipe. The loaves probably should feed 3-4 people, but they're a perfect size for the 2 adults who live here (we eat way more bread than we should).

One other thing I do differently in this recipe is to allow the bread to bake for 10 minutes before brushing on the egg wash (and I only do one coat) - every time I tried to do it before the bread went into the oven, it would majorly deflate. I have no idea why. Anyone know? It still tastes fabulous, though!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Weekly Menu

Once again, I overplanned. We have food left, so we'll be eating that into the weekend. Also, I added in a night of roasted chicken this past week - it was just so cheap and looked so good. The couscous in the pantry was begging me to make the chicken instead of the pork last night.

I wasn't all that excited about sales this week, so I'll be going with stuff in the freezer as far as meat goes.

Saturday: Pulled pork sandwiches, baked beans, roasted new potatoes
Sunday: Tuscan Vegetable Soup, Harvest Grains Ciabatta
Monday: Chicken Marsala (cutting recipe in half), couscous, glazed carrots
Tuesday: Soup and bread leftovers
Wednesday: Vegetable stir-fry with brown rice
Thursday: Baked ziti, asparagus, green beans
Friday: Ziti leftovers, corn, peas

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Roasted Chicken, Part 2

Recently, I mentioned my issues with roasting chicken - my house would smell bad, the oven would get messy, and grease went everywhere. Stefanie suggested putting some veggies on the bottom of the pan to help soak up the grease. It worked like a charm!

For this chicken, I mixed a couple of teaspoons of olive oil with garlic powder, celery salt, pepper, italian seasoning, and thyme (none of this measured, of course) and then brushed this on top of the chicken. It roasted in a 475 degree oven for 35 minutes, until a thermometer in thickest part not touching bone registered 165 degrees. The carrots and onion on the bottom did a great job of absorbing the grease and added a nice oniony flavor.

Chicken and Rice Casserole

This qualifies as comfort food for me, in the same category with mac 'n' cheese, mashed potatoes, and Thanksgiving food. And it's most definitely a common food in the South (don't know about other parts of the country). It's not gourmet. It's not healthy. It's not rocket science. But it's ooey, gooey good. It's also cheap.

The recipe I use now is an adaptation and merging of several different recipes I've had over the years. Chicken and rice is one of those individual dishes - some people like it creamier, some with lots of butter, some with lots of chicken, some with more rice - there are endless variations. The general backbone is chicken, rice, some sort of cream, a little butter, and maybe some cheese.

This meal also freezes easily, so I usually make it in two 8 X 8 disposable pans - I can pull one out to take to a friend when needed, and it's great to have on hand for those nights that you just can't get a meal together but don't want to do takeout.

Chicken and Rice Casserole

Meat from 3-4 chicken breasts, or 1 rotisserie chicken
3 cups of minute rice (measured in uncooked rice)
1/4 C butter
2-3 ribs celery, diced
8 oz shredded cheddar or colby
1 can cream of mushroom
1 can cream of celery
up to 1 can chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Cook minute rice according to directions on package.
3. Once rice is cooked, combine all ingredients except stock in a large bowl and stir to combine. Gradually add stock until you get a gooey mixture, but not overly soupy. Keep any leftover stock in case the casserole gets dry while cooking (you can just pour a little over the top to bring it back to life before you take it out of the oven).
4. Transfer mixture to 2 8x8 pans or another casserole dish/cake pan that will hold all of the mixture.
5. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes, or until casserole is completely set.

Sorry that the directions aren't overly detailed - this is just how I do it every time I make it. Some people like to make them in bigger pans so that the casserole is thinner and a little drier. I tend to like it a little more on the gooey side, so I make it in a smaller pan so that it's thicker. This will yield 8-12 servings, depending on appetites and what else it's served with. Enjoy!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Weekly Menu

This weekend is busy for us, but at least I don't have to think about meal plans for those days! So, I only have to come up with 5 meals, which is nice. I also got behind a day or two because of extra leftovers this week, so I'm reusing the grilled chicken that didn't ever get made.

Pork butt is on sale at Schnucks for $.87/lb this week, so that's what we're having! And, by roasting it simply (seasoning with the basics - salt, pepper, onion, and garlic), it's versatile enough to use at least 3 different ways. Also, Schnucks has their split chicken breasts on sale for the same price, so I'll be picking up a couple of packages of those for the freezer.

Friday: Grilled chicken, baked potatoes, asparagus
Monday: Big chopped salads, garlic bread
Tuesday: brown rice pilaf with two mushrooms, roasted broccoli, steamed carrots
Wednesday: Roasted pork butt, green beans, bruschetta
Thursday: Pork tacos, spanish rice
Friday: BBQ sandwiches (using above pork), baked beans, corn

Barefoot Bloggers: Real Meatballs and Spaghetti


The first of this month's BB recipes was Real Meatballs and Spaghetti and was chosen by Rebecca of Ezra Pound Cake. Her blog is always entertaining and informative, so definitely check it out if you haven't already!

I had a hard time psyching myself up for this one because meatballs just gross me out for some reason (not a logical one, of course). I never really order them when we go out, and the thought of making them was just icky. However, since I knew I had control over all the ingredients that would be in these, I figured I'd give it a try, and would just have to get over the constant touching of the raw meat factor while I was forming them.

One thing I did do differently from the recipe was to bake them at 450 for 20 minutes or so (I liked a little bit of crunch on the bottom of them, though). There was just enough fat left in the pan that I didn't need any extra olive oil once I got to the step with the onions. I also cut the meatball part of the recipe in half because with only 2 of us, I knew we'd never eat all of them. I'm also a huge garlic fan, so I added about 50% more garlic than what the recipe called for in the sauce part.

This dish turned out well, but I still like my other tomato sauce recipes better (one is with meat, one is without). I might make it again if we have guests, because it does look nice. The time spent making the meatballs isn't worth it to me for our normal weeknight dinners, though. It was good to get out of my usual recipe rut and try something new!

Be sure to check out how this worked for everyone else over at Barefoot Bloggers. And, if you like Ina Garten's recipes, come play with us! It's only twice a month - we can all handle some extra calories twice a month, right?

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Easy Schnitzel


Earlier this week, I had two chicken breasts thawing in my fridge with no clue as to how I would prepare them. I almost fell back on the old grilling stand-by (which is great), but then I stumbled upon Easy Schnitzel over at Tomatoes and Bananas. I had everything I needed on hand, it wasn't difficult, and it was different from our normal fare.

This was delicious. I didn't really measure anything - nothing new for me - and mine had a bit more parmesan and an extra clove (or two) of garlic. I like the crispiness and flavor of the outside and it retained its juiciness, which is something I have trouble with when baking boneless, skinless chicken breasts. This one's a keeper! Next time I make it, I may try making some sort of pan sauce to go on top - there were so many good bits of stuff left in the bottom of the pan and I hated to waste them!

Any Ideas?

Last night's Provencal Chicken was delicious. There's just something about roasting chicken with the skin on - it's always moist and has so much flavor and I love the crispy skin (yes, I know it's bad for me). It's one of my favorite ways to have chicken.

But - and this drives me nuts - it always makes a huge mess of my oven and stinks up the house. You'd think I was frying chicken based on the smell. Grease gets all over the inside of the oven and it gets smoky.

So, any ideas on how to roast chicken so that it's less messy (and smelly)? I'm clueless!
*This is actually after we reheated the leftovers, but it was still amazingly juicy the next night. I reheated it on lower power in the microwave for about 5 minutes, then put it under the broiler for a couple of minutes to make the skin crispy again. And I have no self-control when it comes to twice-baked potatoes. I also had one for breakfast.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Weekly Menu

Time for the menu again this week! I find myself getting into such a rut - I can't come up with new stuff. I keep searching around, though!

Split chicken breasts are on sale at Kroger this week ($.97/lb), and I've already stocked up on some that I boiled and shredded for soups and casseroles. I'm going to get another package to make a recipe I found that looks divine. Other than that, since I'm trying not to buy too much processed food, it's hard to shop sales/coupons. Most of the good sales are for something out of a box.

Friday: Provencal Chicken (enough for 2 meals), zucchini, twice-baked potatoes
Saturday: Pizza (for lunch), grilled halibut, macaroni and cheese, roasted broccoli
Sunday: Taco soup (lunch), leftover chicken, twice-baked potatoes, green beans
Monday: Real Meatballs and Spaghetti, steamed asparagus, french bread
Tuesday: Leftovers
Wednesday: Grilled chicken, salad, corn
Thursday: Grilled chicken panini, salad

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Another New Find & Cooking Club

I stumbled upon another helpful website today - Foodieview. It's a great site where you can put in the name of a dish or the ingredients you have on hand or a kind of cuisine or a chef or... you get the idea. It's immensely helpful for the ingredient search. Allrecipes has this feature, but only for its site - Foodieview searches all over the web. I'm currently trying to empty my pantry of its contents, and so I've been using this feature quite a bit to find recipes that I can make with what I have on hand.

I'm also frustrated with myself - we had our first cooking club last night, and I completely forgot to take pictures for the blog! It's a surprise as far as what everyone is making, so you have no idea what you're going to get. We're currently working through the Jr. League of Birmingham's Tables of Content, and I think it's going to be a blast! Last night we had Hot Feta Cheese & Artichoke Dip (p 54), Edamame Salad (p 100), Grandmother's Texas Barbecued Brisket (p 184), Cheesy Beer Bread (p 130), Artichoke Broccoli Casserole (p 252), Butternut Squash with Apples and Bourbon (p 271), and Red Velvet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting (p 296). It was delicious! We have a Tex-Mex theme for next month - so excited!

Monday, January 26, 2009

French Onion Soup


French onion soup is a comfort food for me. It's warm and filling and all gooey with the bread and cheese. I learned how to make it in a Viking cooking class I took once, but haven't made it again because a) it takes forever to slice all those onions and b) the recipe I had called for a good amount of butter.

To solve the first problem, I now have a food processor, which made very quick work of all that slicing. For the second, I found this recipe that calls for olive oil rather than butter when caramelizing the onions.

For the stock, I used Better Than Bouillon - it's a better flavor than canned/carton beef stock and a good substitute when you just don't have time to make your own stock. It is fairly salty, though, so taste what you're making - you may not need to add any extra salt. All that said, homemade stock is the best if you have it on hand or have time to make it.

This came out fantastic - I couldn't tell much difference between what I order in a restaurant and what came out of my kitchen. I also added a little bit of sage to the pot. Just cause I like it. This one's a keeper.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies


A few weeks ago, I was perusing the web for chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. I have no idea what brought on this craving, but I wanted something with a little more depth than a regular chocolate chip cookie, but not too heavy.

I stumbled upon this recipe at Allrecipes.com. Most of the time, if a recipe is rated highly by a large number of people on Allrecipes, it's pretty good. This one was rated highly by a large number, and I had all the ingredients I needed on hand, so I gave it a try.

The first batch I made tasted good, but didn't really wow me. I had read through the comments and done some of the things suggested, which included adding extra flour, and I think that ended up making that batch somewhat dry. I made them again today and followed the recipe exactly, and they came out moist, chewy, and delicious - there's just enough chocolate to get a chocolate fix, but it's not overpowering. They're also not insanely sweet - I like sweets, but I can't stand cookies that just have too much sugar in them.

One thing I did have to do was cook them 16-18 minutes, rather than the recommended 12. I have an oven thermometer, so I know it was at 325 degrees, but they were still gooey when I checked on them at 12 minutes.

I did all of this in the stand mixer (even the chocolate chips and walnuts) with no problem. Using a regular spoon to drop them onto the cookie sheets, I got 33 cookies out of the batter.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Weekly Menu

I totally fell off the menu-planning bandwagon this week, and our budget shows it! I had to make several extra trips to the store for things I didn't have and it was a hectic, confused week. Back to structure. Back to a list. Back to controlling the spending. Back to pretending to eat healthy.

Saturday: Baked salmon, french onion soup, asparagus
Sunday: Stuffed Shells (subbing ground turkey), green beans, zucchini
Monday: Tacos
Tuesday: Mexican Pizza
Wednesday: Chicken Fried Rice
Thursday: Chicken and rice casserole, corn, lima beans
Friday: Chicken and rice casserole, peas, roasted carrots

Barefoot Bloggers: Easy Sticky Buns

This second of this month's BB recipes was Easy Sticky Buns chosen by Melissa of Made By Melissa. I had noticed these in my BC Back to Basics cookbook, so I was excited to finally try them!

These were super-easy to make (once my puff pastry FINALLY thawed enough to work with - it took forever). But, seriously, this doesn't require much more work than popping open a can, and it tastes so much better. They were light and flaky, sweet and buttery and cinnamony. Bliss on a Saturday morning.

Unfortunately, we had a slight emergency when the cinnamon rolls were coming out of the oven (let's just suffice it to say that hands should not touch oven doors when hot), and don't have a picture. We were in running to the doctor crazy mode, so pics didn't happen. But when we got home, those rolls were still waiting for us and helped us come down from the adrenaline high.

I'll definitely make them again. In fact, they're so easy that they might just become somewhat of a tradition around here!


Easy Sticky Buns
From Barefoot Contessa's Back To Basics

12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
1/2 cup pecans, chopped in very large pieces
1 package (17.3 ounces/2 sheets) frozen puff pastry, defrosted

for the filling
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2/3 cup light brown sugar, lightly packed
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup raisins

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a 12-cup standard muffin tin on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the 12 tablespoons butter and 1/3 cup brown sugar. Place 1 rounded tablespoon of the mixture in each of the 12 muffin cups. Distribute the pecans evenly among the 12 muffin cups on top of the butter and sugar mixture.

Lightly flour a wooden board or stone surface. Unfold one sheet of puff pastry with the folds going left to right. Brush the whole sheet with half of the melted butter. Leaving a 1-inch border on the puff pastry, sprinkle each sheet with 1/3 cup of the brown sugar, 1 1/2 teaspoons of the cinnamon, and 1/2 cup of the raisins. Starting with the end nearest you, roll the pastry up snugly like a jelly roll around the filling, finishing the roll with the seam side down.

Trim the ends of the roll about 1/2 inch and discard. Slice the roll in 6 equal pieces, each about 1 1/2 inches wide. Place each piece, spiral side up, in 6 of the muffin cups. Repeat with the second sheet of puff pastry to make 12 sticky buns.

Bake for 30 minutes, until the sticky buns are golden to dark brown on top and firm to the touch. Allow to cool for 5 minutes only, invert the buns onto the parchment paper (ease the filling and pecans out onto the buns with a spoon), and cool completely.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Recipe Website

One of my friends introduced me to Key Ingredient. It's a website where you can store your recipes, and also search others' recipes as well. I've enjoyed using it as I find dishes that I want to try in various places online. There's also the option to have your own cookbook printed for you, if you want these in print. There is no charge to use the site to store your recipes, and you control the privacy level of any content (i.e. - no one can see it, friends can see it, or everyone can see it).

This has been a very helpful tool for me - I no longer have to bookmark every recipe I find online, or store recipes on various sites (allrecipes, Food Network, Epicurious, etc...). I just copy and paste, and it's all stored in one place.

There's also a fantastic feature called the "Grocery List." Many food websites have this, but if you've saved recipes all over the web, you have to do this in several places. With this site, you just pick the recipes you want, they populate your grocery list, and then you can categorize them further if you wish. It's very handy.

Give it a try!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Beefy Bello Soup in Bread Bowls


We had a wonderfully comforting soup tonight - it actually tasted a lot like a Sunday roast beef, but in soup form. I made homemade bread bowls (soooooo easy) and it was fantastic.

Beefy Bello Soup

Ingredients:
2 lbs beef stew meat
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp olive oil, divided
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 C red wine*
32 oz carton of beef broth (use a good quality)
1 (10 oz) package sliced portobello mushrooms
1 Tbsp dried thyme (or 2 Tbsp if using fresh)
1 tsp salt (may need less depending on how salty the broth is)
1-2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan cheese, shredded, optional
Bread Bowl, optional (I used the Italian recipe)

Directions:

-Put meat and flour into a large zip-top bag, and shake to coat.
-Heat 1 Tbsp oil in large skillet over med-high heat, and add in half of the meat. Brown meat on all sides (about 4-6 minutes). When browned, remove to slow cooker. Heat another Tbsp of oil, and repeat with the other half of the meat.
-Heat remaining Tbsp oil and add in onions, celery, and garlic. Cook until almost tender, taking care not to burn garlic. When done, add onions, celery, and garlic to the meat in the slow cooker.
-Deglaze the pan with the wine and let it cook down a bit. Add to slow cooker.*
-Add the beef broth, mushrooms, thyme, salt, and pepper to the slow cooker. Cook on low for approximately 8 hours (until beef is tender).
-Serve in bread bowls and sprinkle with parmesan cheese.

*I did not actually do this step, so I can't promise how well it will work out. This soup was good, but I felt it needed another layer for a little more depth, and I thought the wine might add that. Regardless, I didn't deglaze (wasn't in the instructions and I was in a hurry), and I think it would be been good to keep all that good flavor from the beef and veggies. If you didn't want to use wine, you could use a little of the beef broth to do this.

I think you can also play around with the seasoning. I'm not sure what I'll add next time - maybe more thyme, maybe some rosemary - but I think there's lots of room to change this up, which I enjoy.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Weekly Menu

The pork tenderloin is still in my freezer, after being on the menu for two weeks in a row... For some reason, something happens on the nights we're supposed to have that. So, it's on the menu again this week. Hopefully, it will actually be eaten!

I'm also making a lot of things that aren't too spicy this week. A lot of what I tend to cook has a kick of some sort (or wine), and I really want to start feeding the kiddo from the same things we're eating. So, this is also stuff I can (try to, anyway) feed him. I'll probably be sticking with things like this for a while - or things where I can add the spice in at the end, so that I can take his portion out early.

Saturday: Dinner out. Without kiddo. Yippee!
Sunday: Beefy Bello Soup in homemade bread bowls (if I have time) or French bread, salad
Monday: Pork Tenderloin, potatoes, zucchini
Tuesday: Leftover tenderloin
Wednesday: Shredded BBQ chicken sandwiches, salad
Thursday: Leftovers
Friday: Homemade pizza

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Flour Tortillas


Oh. My. Goodness. These were amazing. One of the things I miss about living further west is the ability to get really good fresh tortillas. Few restaurants here make their own, and they're next to impossible to find anywhere else. I really don't like the ones in the grocery store (does anyone else notice an aftertaste with those??), so I was so glad to stumble across this recipe from the Homesick Texan.

You know if I've made it that it must be easy. And it is. Just mix, knead for a couple of minutes, let rest, shape, rest, and roll out. And, these cook quickly. I don't know that I'll ever be buying premade tortillas again. I could eat this entire batch with some queso. I did eat half the batch as I was making them.

Enjoy!

Barefoot Bloggers: Banana Sour Cream Pancakes


The first of this month's Barefoot Bloggers recipes was a hit at our house! We loved these banana sour cream pancakes, and will definitely be making them again. They were easy to make with ingredients mostly on hand. I served them up with cheese grits and scrambled eggs.
I've been reading other BB entries, and it looks like there are some good ways to lighten these up a bit. In the future, I'll try using yogurt instead of the sour cream and substitute at least some wheat flour for all-purpose.

Thanks to Karen of Something Sweet By Karen for choosing such a yummy recipe!

Banana Sour Cream Pancakes
Cookbook: 2003’s Barefoot Contessa Family Style
Show: Barefoot Contessa Episode: Back to School

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups flour
3 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp milk
2 extra-large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp grated lemon zest
unsalted butter
2 ripe bananas, diced, plus extra for serving
Pure maple syrup

Directions

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together the sour cream, milk, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest. Add the wet ingredients to the dry ones, mixing only until combined.

Melt 1 tablespoon of butter in a large skillet over medium-low heat until it bubbles. Ladle the pancake batter into the pan to make 3 or 4 pancakes. Distribute a rounded tablespoon of bananas on each pancake. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until bubbles appear on top and the underside is nicely browned. Flip the pancakes and then cook for another minute until browned. Wipe out the pan with a paper towel, add more butter to the pan, and continue cooking pancakes until all the batter is used. Serve with sliced bananas, butter and maple syrup.



Ignore the brown eggs. I'm freaky about not having any runniness in my scrambled eggs, so mine are always cooked to oblivion...