Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts
Showing posts with label cooking. Show all posts

Friday, July 15, 2011

Birthday Breakfast

Today is an important day at our house.  We're celebrating Lily's birthday!  (You can read more about Lily and her birthdays here, here, and here.)  Lily's birthday celebration is traditionally planned by her siblings, Endeaver, Justone, and Superkid.  This year, they wanted to have a special breakfast, and requested a very yummy treat.
I made these chocolate crepes for the first time last week, when we were visiting my sister.  They were such a hit that we all wanted to have them again.  What better day than today? (Recipes are after the pictures, below.)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011


I have an anonymous quote on the front of my menu planning binder that reads, "Stressed is dessert spelled backwards.  Coincidence?  I think not!"

I'll give you a moment to ponder that one.

I grew up in a home where some form of dessert was served every night.  Dessert ranged from applesauce sprinkled with crushed graham crackers, to canned fruit in a pretty dish, to delicious made from scratch cakes.  Looking back, I'm impressed that my mom went to such effort.

I don't.  We don't eat dessert every night at our house, but when we do, we definitely enjoy it.  Here was a recent diet-day-off dessert that I invented.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Family Favorite Meal

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I'm playing in another round of the Game On Challenge this month.  As part of the challenge, we get to select one day off of the diet.  Sometimes is frightens me how much planning I put into my day off.  I tend to cook like a fiend on that day, because I can take tastes!  For my day off last week, I made one of my family's favorite meals that is decidedly not diet friendly, but it is easy.

We call this pasta dish Hay and Straw.
My friend Nicole introduced our family to Hay and Straw.  She came to take care of my children for a week during one of Lily's long hospitalizations.  My children loved this dish, and begged for it for months afterward.  At the time, it was so unusual for all of them to like any one food at the same time, that I was happy to oblige.  It continues to be a family favorite.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Dining Decadence on a Dime

In looking through some of my older posts, I found this one.  Since it is about one of my family's favorite meals--one that everyone loves, miraculously--I thought I'd recycle the original post with some simplified  instructions.  Enjoy!

People don't think of seafood as a cheap meal, unless they are thinking fish sticks.  When you prepare your seafood at home, however, you can get far more bang for your buck than if you ordered it at a restaurant!  This particular menu can be prepared with frozen seafood with excellent results.  At my favorite local grocery store (Aldi), frozen shrimp and frozen salmon fillets periodically go on sale for $2-3/lb.  I can buy it, put it in my freezer, and pull it out later to use in this special meal.  

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Comforting Soup Recipe

It's such a cold, yucky day outside my house today.  A perfect day for eating soup!  Today I'm sharing one of my favorite soups that is soooo delicious AND soooo easy to make.

Quick Garden Vegetable Soup

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Meal Planning and Organization

Last year, I shared my system for keeping track of menus and the recipes that I use frequently.  This has proved to be an invaluable tool for me, especially when I'm trying to focus on healthy eating habits.  Since I started the Game On! Challenge again last week, I thought I'd revisit last year's post and show you what works for me.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Whine and Dine

Ladies and....ladies, it has been a long week.  After finishing up a couple of projects at the end of last week, I looked around at the disaster that was my house and threw my hands up in despair.  Something just wasn't working (and that something was not me, because I filled the dishwasher three times on Friday alone), and something had to change.

I spent most of this week figuring out what had to change, how to change it, and changing it, but that is a story for another day, another blog post.

Today's story begins with me telling you, since Thanksgiving is around the corner and I'm in a mood to confess, that I don't make my own turkey gravy and that I really, really want a new dining room table.  And chairs.

Since we've lived in Indiana, we've celebrated every Thanksgiving with our friends, the Cleverlys (aka the Clevs), and assorted other friends and family.  It's always at my house, and Nicole and I always plan and prepare the bulk of the feast ourselves.  Often, my sister visits for Thanksgiving, and sometimes the Clevs have family visiting, and we always try to include other friends who don't have family in the area to join us.  We've become a good team when it comes to cooking a feast for a crowd.  Nicole has become quite the turkey specialist over the years, while I have attempted to specialize in pies.  (Still working on that one.)

The secret to Nicole's savory turkeys is that she brines them.  She brines them in the Williams-Sonoma Apple & Spices turkey brine.

Nicole either roasts the turkey at my house or brings it to finish cooking in my oven.  We make our final preparations for dinner while the children play and our husbands snitch appetizers. Just before dinner, Nicole and I make the gravy.....using the Williams-Sonoma Turkey Gravy Base.
Notice that Williams-Sonoma figures prominently in our Thanksgiving celebration?  Ironic, because Nicole and I are real sticklers when it comes to keeping the grocery budget low at all other times of the year.  Nicole is the queen of coupons and I make granola bars from scratch.   Believe me, we have tried to make our own brining solution and our own gravy in order to avoid the Williams-Sonoma price tag. 

We tried it, and we regretted it.  But this--this is worth it's weight in gold.  This is like the caviar of gravies.  You will want to eat this gravy by itself, with a spoon.  I'm not kidding.  I plunked down $10 per jar for this stuff without batting an eye this week.  And I bought three of them.  Two for Thanksgiving, and one for me to eat with a spoon. 

Nicole and I do not live down the street from Williams-Sonoma.  The nearest one is almost an hour away, at a swanky mall on the right side of town.  We only shop there for gravy and brine.  This year, it was my turn to make the trip to Williams-Sonoma.  Due to the fact that I don't frequent the swanky mall or Williams-Sonoma on a regular basis,  I accidentally entered the Williams-Sonoma home store, began searching for the gravy......and met my destiny.
This table.  It is the missing link to my kitchen, I swear.  Here is what it looks like in the Williams-Sonoma catalog.
Be still my heart, that table is destined for my kitchen.  It seats 12.  Granted, there are usually 16-20 at our Thanksgiving feasts, but since half of them are children, this table will do just fine.  I'm pretty sure a table for 20 won't fit in my kitchen, anyway.  It's a conventional 72 inches without the leaves.  And....
It's on *sale!
 *for $975, table only.
Ummm, did you read the fine print?  Unfortunately, that is about $900 more than what I have available to spend on a table.  But it is solid.  So very, very solid in all it's chunky painted white wood and distressed elm tabletop glory.  Believe me, I checked it out.  The Williams-Sonoma sales associate found me underneath the table, taking a good look.  She--elegant and refined as she was--seemed slightly shocked to find me down there.  I don't think the typical Williams-Sonoma customer lies on the floor beneath their products. 

Not to mention, I don't think I have spent that much money on a single piece of furniture ever before.  That kind of money is a lot of pressure for any one single object to live up to, don't you think?  I mean, I just don't think it is right for me to have to say, "Kids, come sit down for dinner, but don't touch the table!!!"  

Then again, that tabletop was a good three inches thick.  And it was already nicely distressed, so we could only improve upon that look.  There was not a single smidge of wobble in those table legs.  But that price doesn't include chairs.  And since my current dining chairs are all ready to fall apart, that is a problem.  

But Williams-Sonoma offers "In-home delivery with White Glove service".  I don't even know what White Glove service is, but I bet it's way better than what you get from the Sears Appliance delivery.  I want to experience White Glove service!

On the other hand, if I am going to shell out that kind of money for a piece of furniture, I'd better carry it around with my until my granddaughter's fight over it on my deathbed.  There are commitment issues here.  I have hardly any pictures that actually hang on my walls, because of decorating commitment issues.  

But my in-laws are coming for Thanksgiving dinner this year.  My in-laws!  And if I had this dining room table, my mother-in-law would surely think that her son and grandchildren were well-cared for by an outstanding homemaker with impeccable taste.  Right?

Now, I'm off to get some cheese to go along with my whine.  

Moral of the story?  Order your Williams-Sonoma gravy online this year.  A $6 shipping fee costs less than the $975 table you might be tempted to bring home if you go to the store. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Faux Sourdough

The other day, my lovely friend, Maren, shared some delightful news with me (CONGRATULATIONS BRAD and MAREN!!!) and was nice enough to say that she and her husband enjoyed my whole wheat pizza recipe.  Which reminded me.....wasn't I going to do a whole series on
Whole Wheat:
It's Not Just for Breakfast


Ahem.  So, we now....after a long, long, long time....return to the second edition of
Whole Wheat:
It's Not Just for Breakfast
with one of my all-time favorite recipes.
Hold it, right there!  Don't let the fact that this is a bread recipe intimidate you.  You make it in a bread machine....and it takes a whopping five minutes to assemble the ingredients and throw them into the machine.

All you do is put these ingredients into your bread machine pan, in the order they are listed:

2/3 cup lukewarm water
2 tablespoons white vinegar
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tablespoon white sugar
1-1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup whole wheat flour, finely ground (for more info on that, go here)
2 cups white flour
2-1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast

Once the ingredients are in the bread machine pan, put the pan in the machine and select the basic or white bread setting.  Bake according to your bread machine directions.  Check the dough after 5 minutes of initial mixing; add 1-2 tablespoons of water or flour if necessary.)

Here's the all-white variation: use 3 cups white flour (omit whole wheat) and use 2-1/4 teaspoons yeast.  Everything else stays the same.
Faux sourdough comes out of the pan looking a little more rounded than loaf shape.  It is very rustic looking.  I LOVE sourdough bread, and this is a way to get the sourdough taste without all the complications of using a sourdough starter.  The combination of vinegar and sourcream--though it may sound disgusting--really produces an authentic sourdough taste.  This recipe produces one 1.5 lb loaf.  My family of five can finish 2/3 - 3/4 of it in one meal.

I love to pop this bread into my machine a few hours before dinner, so that we have a hot loaf ready to eat.  It is the only proper accompaniment to soup.

The only downside to this recipe is that, because you make it in a bread machine, you can only make one loaf at a time.  If anyone out there knows how to adapt a bread machine recipe to a multi-loaf, baked in the oven bread recipe, please let me know!


Thursday, October 14, 2010

More Bentos

Just to prove to you that bentos aren't one of my many passing phases (yet), AND that they really aren't that tricky to put together, I'm going to show you Endeavor's lunch.
Of my three bento packing children, Endeavor is probably the one who enjoys and appreciates the bentos the most.  She loves hearing her friends ooh and ahh over them at lunchtime.  Justone, on the other hand, tolerates them, and Superkid seems to be completely uninterested.  Despite their malaise, they bring their bento boxes home empty, which is the point, so I still feel successful.

Anyway, these pics are to prove that bentos needn't be complex.
All that went into this bento were a few leftovers and some typical lunch items that went to the bento side via some plastic picks.

Clockwise from the upper left:  mini cupcake (leftover from the teeny-tiny party we had this weekend), fresh peach chunks, skewers of pepper jack cheese (the only cheese Endeavor will eat cold), skewers of thin sliced roast turkey breast, wheat crackers (I put extras in a ziplock bag, as well), and small celery sticks.  Every food group represented, boo-yah!
I whipped today's bentos up  in less that five minutes.  Now I have to work on making sure everyone gets their bento boxes unpacked and into the dishwasher every day after school, so I'm not scrambling to get things washed up before I can pack them in the morning.

I love that since I featured my first bentos, one of my sisters and one of my sister-in-laws have become really excited about them, too.  See?  It's not just me.  SIL Kris left me this comment:
Cue Angels singing and light streaming from heaven as the Bento lunches are illuminated from above! I have really struggled with my kids taking lunches because they always bring them back home with barely a nibble consumed. I think this could very well be our answer. I need to do some Bento shopping!
I, in turn, told Kris that if she ever made a bento, it was her civic duty to post a picture of it.  After all, she is a nationally award winning photographer.  Well, Kris has not only done her civic duty, she did it very well.  You can see her bento here (a Yoda sandwich!).  I'm not going to let my kids see it, because their cousins' bentos are officially way cooler than theirs.  If you stop by Kris's blog, don't leave without checking out the amazing costume shoots she does with children and families.  All I'm saying is, these ain't your mamas Halloween snapshots.

If you are jumping on the bento bandwagon, too, make sure you send me pictures!  I'm especially interested in creative ways to bento without breaking the bank-o.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Bento Lunch, Yet?

My children usually eat lunches that we pack at home.  While I'm fairly confident that our school lunch program tries to provide food that is healthier for the students than what they could get for the same price from McDonald's, it's still heavily processed food.  Not to mention, at an average price of $2.50/day per student, it would cost me about $150 each month to let my kids have school lunch every day.

I don't think so.

This year I have three children with widely varying tastes and appetites.  Superkid would eat PB&J for every meal, if I let her.  Justone would fill up on pudding and granola bars, if I let him.  And Endeavor is at the point where she has to learn to fill up her always empty stomach with things other than empty carbs.  I made a goal at the beginning of this school year to come up with lunches that would give them variety, healthy choices, be filling, and that they would be able to enjoy despite the tempting highly processed foods everyone around them eats at lunch time.

Easier said than done.  Until Kami of no biggie introduced me to the bento lunch.  I had never heard of bento.  I'm pretty sure no one else in my neighborhood has, either.  But the bento concept was an answer to my lunchtime prep prayers.  (Not to be dramatic, or anything.)  For those of you who--like me--are saying, "ben-whaaa?" right now, here's Wikipedia's description:

Bento (弁当 bentō) is a single-portion takeout or home-packed meal common in Japanese cuisine. A traditional bento consists of rice, fish or meat, and one or more pickled or cooked vegetables, usually in a box-shaped container. Containers range from disposable mass produced to hand crafted lacquerware. Although bento are readily available in many places throughout Japan, including convenience stores, bento shops (弁当屋 bentō-ya?), train stations, and department stores, it is still common for Japanese homemakers to spend time and energy for their spouse, child, or themselves producing a carefully prepared lunch box.
After visiting a few of the sites Kami recommended, I was hooked.  Bento lunches are just plain pretty.  I really felt like I could get both Superkid and Justone to eat more than 2 of 5 items placed in their lunches if they could see all their choices before them.  I was also pretty convinced that they would try more lunch options if those options were presented in a visually appealing way. 

Here are pictures from my first day of bentos:
 All the bentos, lined up in their snap-lock containers.
 Endeavor's bento:  baked whole-wheat crackers, thin-sliced roast beef, strawberries, tiny celery sticks, chocolate chips.
 Justone's bento: sliced strawberris, cubed colby-jack cheese, baked whole wheat crackers, chocolate chips, tiny celery sticks.
 Superkid's bento:  sliced strawberries, cubed colby-jack cheese, chocolate chips, 1/2 hotdog bun, tiny celery sticks.

After the first day, I was really pleased to hear the kids talk about how much they enjoyed lunch AND open their lunch boxes and find empty containers.  Success!  The kids did report that things "spilled" somewhat, so I tried to remedy that the next time around.  Here are some bentos from this week:
 Justone's bento: mini-mini carrots, tomato slices, pepperoni slices, baked whole-wheat crackers, shredded cheddar, marinara sauce.
Superkid's bento: mini-mini carrots, banana, pumkin-shaped swiss cheese on whole wheat sandwiches (2), popcorn

One really interesting benefit of the bento lunch at our house has been that the kids are getting really into the whole concept.  They are making suggestions of things that would fit into the bentos.  I don't have a picture of this one, but one day Endeavor was willing to try cold pizza for the first time at lunch, just because she could see that the mini slices I'd made would fit into her bento.  

It was relatively easy to assemble the non-food supplies for our bentos.
When I first read about bentos, I kind of anticipated buying a bunch of supplies to make this work.  But, when I looked around my house, I was able to find quite a few things I already had that would work.  
Snap-lock containers: I happened to find these at my local Aldi, in a nesting set of 10,
a week or so before I started bento-ing.  I bought a couple of sets for $7.99/each.
Plastic pics:  wooden toothpicks will work just fine, but I decided to get some plastic ones,
since I can wash and reuse them.  I found these in the picnic section of my grocery store
for about $2/box.
Cookie-cutters:  the hallmark of bentos seems to be shaped foods.  I could have spent 
money on fancy sandwich cutters, but I just used cutters I already had as a guide to cut
around the food I made with a knife.
Silicone baking cups: the one thing I decided I was willing to splurge on,
these are invaluable for their flexibility and reusability.  I got mine at JoAnn's,
in the cake decorating section, using my 50% off coupon.  A set of 12 is about $10. 

Are you wondering how much time this is taking me?  Surprisingly, not much more time than it was taking me to pack our former lunches of sandwich-veggies-chips-applesauce-pudding.  You might notice that each bento is slightly different, since I have a child that hates cheese, a child who hates crackers, and a child who will try just about anything once.  The extra time (about 5-10 minutes) required is mitigated by the fact that we're now buying and eating fewer processed foods, and that a lot of the prep I can do the night before.  Plus, I'm using up some leftovers!  And yes, I'm making sure that these bentos are packed with plenty of ice. 

Let me tell you, the extra time was worth it when Endeavor hopped in the car the other day after school and reported, "The girls at my lunch table couldn't stop talking about my lunch!  They said it was the prettiest food they'd ever seen.  One of the girls said it was like edible art.  They couldn't believe that my mom would make my lunch that way."  If packing her lunch like that helps my middle schooler feel special, that totally justifies the extra time and thought.
Here are some of the good bento resources I've been using for ideas.  And, thanks again to Kami for the original inspiration.

Let me know if you have any great lunch-packing ideas or resources, bento-style, or not!  By the way, Melissa at Another Lunch as the BEST recipe for homemade granola bars, here.  They were a hit with my entire family.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Whole Wheat: It's Not Just for Breakfast

Welcome to the very first edition of.....
Whole Wheat: 
It's Not Just for Breakfast

This is where I show and tell about how I incorporate whole grain wheat into my family's diet.  You can read more about my whole grain philosophy and practice here.   

Today, I'm going to share the recipe for what we had for dinner last night.
This is good, good stuff, folks!  Not only is it healthful, delicious, and easy to make, but pizza made with whole wheat is far more filling than a traditional crust.  You'll actually get more yummy mileage from a pan of this stuff--generous leftovers or enough to feed a crowd.

Here we go.  First, you need to assemble the ingredients for the crust.

Ingredients for Whole Wheat Pizza Crust:
* These amounts will make one large pizza crust.  When I make pizza, I double these amounts so that I can have two pizzas. 

1 rounded tablespoon yeast (my favorite is SAF instant)
1 teaspoon sugar
1 cup warm water
2 tablespoons cooking oil (I prefer canola)
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

Instructions for making whole wheat pizza crust:
Begin by dissolving the yeast in warm water with sugar.  Because I use instant yeast, I toss it into the sugar and water and just whisk them altogether.  The yeast dissolves very quickly, making the water cloudy.
Next, pour the oil into a mixing bowl.  (I used my Kitchenaid mixer.)  Gently tilt your bowl around in a circle, so that you coat the sides about halfway up with oil.

Once you've done that, you can pour in the yeast mixture.

Next, add about half of the flour and all of the salt.  It will look something like this.  You can read more about how I get the best whole wheat flour here.  
Now, you can turn on your mixer, or stir by hand, if you prefer.  It should blend together fairly quickly.  Go ahead and add the rest of the flour if you are using a mixer.  If you are stirring by hand, knead the rest of the flour into the dough.

At this point, feel free to pull out your pizza pan and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  

Once you've mixed in all the dry ingredients, your dough is going to look something like this.  It will be soft and sticky.  
Toss 1/4 cup of flour (white or wheat, your choice) onto your countertop or breadboard.  Take the dough out of the mixing bowl and drop it onto the flour.  Knead the flour and dough together for 1-2 minutes.   The dough will look like this before kneading:
After kneading, your dough will be less sticky and more smooth, more like this:
After kneading, pick up the dough ball and make sure there is a little flour underneath it before you set it back down.  This will keep it from sticking.  Let the dough rest for 5-10 minutes.

While the dough is resting, prepare your pizza pan and toppings.  I like to spray my pan with non-stick spray, then sprinkle a little cornmeal over that.  I have a pizza stone that I use sometimes, but I like using a large cookie sheet for pizza.  The rectangular size makes it easier to top sections of the pizza differently.

Most of the toppings I decided to use last night were already in my refrigerator or pantry:

Sauces - marinara (leftover from spaghetti night last week), alfredo sauce, barbeque sauce (Sweet Baby Ray's is THE BOMB)
Meats - pepperoni, grilled chicken breast strips
Veggies - zucchini (thinly sliced), red onion, mushrooms, sliced olives, fire-roasted red peppers (I really, really wanted fresh basil, but I don't have any in my garden, yet, and I couldn't find any at the store, either!)
Cheeses - mozzarella, parmesan

Assembling the toppings shouldn't take too long, but there will still be time while the crust starts to bake, so make sure you go back to that dough I told you to leave on the counter for 5-10 minutes.  Hopefully, it is still there!  Stretch and press it evenly across the bottom of the pan.  It will be thin, very thin.  (For now--it will rise while baking, giving a more substantial crust.)  Prick the crust several times with a fork before putting it into your preheated, 425 degree oven,  Let it bake without toppings for about 10 minutes.

Pull the crust out of the oven, and throw on your favorite toppings.  Put the topped pizza crust back into the oven for another 10-15 minutes, until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Last night, I tried these topping combos on our pizzas:

Traditional Pepperoni - marinara, pepperoni, mozzarella
Mushroom Pepperoni - same as above, with mushrooms
Traditional Vegetarian - marinara, zucchini, mushrooms, onions, olives, mozzarella
Italian White Pizza - alfredo sauce, grilled chicken, zucchini, onions, olives, parmesan, mozzarella
BBQ Chicken - BBQ sauce, grilled chicken, onions, mushrooms, mozzarella

When you finally pull your pizza out of the oven, it will look something like this: of those pizzas got a little too toasty, but it was still delicious!

Again, mmmm.  If you baked your pizza on a large sheet pan, you can slice it into small squares.   Like I said before, this is very filling pizza.  

Last night, we enjoyed our pizza with a fresh, green salad and some watermelon cubes.  Can you say "YUM?"  
Note:  Special thanks to two of my real-life friends, Amy G. and Joyce B.  for inspiring this recipe for Gourmet Whole Wheat Pizza.  The first time I tasted a whole wheat pizza with zucchini on it was at Amy's house.  I adapted Joyce's fail-proof pizza crust recipe to use whole wheat.  

Did you know I'm hosting my first-ever giveaway right now?  Click here to enter.  


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