Thursday, February 9, 2012

Sick children and new plans

I haven't posted in a while because our menus have gotten all messed up lately.  Between sick children, sick mommies, and again more sick children, my meals have been very strange lately.  We've just been using up what was in the fridge and freezer as best we can.

I've decided to try something new.  My husband and I are really into watching Diners Drive-ins and Dives with Guy Fieri.  I'm not sure if its because Guy is a dead-ringer for my brother-in-law (when my brother-in-law used to dye his hair) or if its just checking out cool ideas for menus and foods.  I have to say I was quite disappointed in one recent episode that included a New England diner, but that's beside the point. The items they chose to show from that diner really were nothing special (though the baked beans looked pretty good).  I mention this because while watching an episode last night, they showed someone in New York making soft pretzels and I decided I really wanted to try making some.

I've decided I need a bucket list of foods to master.  Recently I've been baking lots of bread.  I have a bread machine, and I like that for mixing and rising the dough, but not so much for the baking.  I have one recipe that I love to make a large sized loaf of and then bake it more like an Italian bread in the oven.  Its been great for sandwiches.  I also recently tried an artisan bread recipe that I found online that you just lightly mix and then let rise in the fridge.  It was great, but now I want to try out some variations on that recipe... maybe rosemary and olive oil, or Parmesan, or asiago cheese bread.

I also have an ice cream maker, and I love to try new twists on making ice cream as well.  I've made some great recipes and my family loves coming up with new concoctions.

Now, I'm feeling the desire to come up with a "bucket list" of foods I want to master preparing!  I love soft pretzels and bagels, so those are next.  I've never made a souffle (well, that's not entirely true, I made one souffle in a cooking class with my mom).  I've never made a great meringue PIE.  I've made meringue cookies, which are all well and good, but the one meringue pie I tried to make I burned the top and the bottom was just soupy.

I'd love to hear from my friends on the types of foods you'd like to see yourself mastering.  What are you afraid to try?  Please, nothing with mayonnaise in it!  :)

Bon Appetit!

Monday, January 2, 2012

Back to the regularly scheduled Program!

So, I never meal planned for the month of December and I HATED not knowing what we were going to eat for dinner each night!  I felt that our family suffered because I wasn't prepared for breakfast or dinner the way I normally am.  This weekend we went out to breakfast (a rare treat, but only because I needed to go grocery shopping) and as a family we discussed the meals we wanted to see on the menu for the month.  Well, its planned and up on my google calendar.  I am truly a better mom when I've planned in advance.

So, on to the new year's resolutions, and boy do I have quite a few... and they fall into distinct categories.

First, and foremost, I need to get back to working on my health.  Our eating habits have definitely taken their toll, on my energy and waistline.  I plan to reduce my coffee consumption(which will be toughest part), increase my consumption of fruits and vegetables and get moving a bit more.  Regular exercise has truly fallen by the wayside this year, and I NEED to get back to work.  Now, to find something I like to do.  I am also trying to be more conscious of what all of the kids are eating and i'm using the food pyramid game from to see if we can, as a family, eat more of what we should be eating.  (As an aside, the website is really cool, with some wonderful articles and tools.  I found it by accident, but will be making it a regularly visited site.)

Second, I need to get my house in order.  This involves cleaning, organizing, and monitoring.  We're cleaning out the excess, buying only what we truly need, monitoring the behaviors of the kids (making them pick up their stuff... more on that in a minute) and keeping on some semblance of a schedule and routine.  This also is looking at my behavior and keeping some consistency in my reactions.  I've already had discussions with the kids and time-outs have resumed (for all age levels... not taken well either).  One thing I've instituted, and is already going well, is the ransom box.  The kids are now given ONE warning to pick up an item and put it away.  If it is not put away, it goes into mommy's ransom box.  In order to get that item back, they must pull a stick from the chore jar and perform it.  Holly is finding herself doing lots of chores, but I think she's also learning more about cleanup.  This is not an original idea... its a combination from two ideas found on pinterest. I am also going to try out this calendar for getting my house organized as well.

And finally, my spiritual side is trying desperately to get back to basics, with reading the Bible daily and spending quiet prayerful reflection time each day.  I will be following the 90 day Bible plan as closely as I can.

And so, in a nutshell, there is a lot in the works, and I'll write about some of it.  What are some of your resolutions this year?

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Some great meals have been had

So, we've been eating well, but there are some meals that are less memorable.  I never made the tomato ravioli soup, but I also cannot remember WHAT I made instead either.  I think its the holidays.  I've been very focused on Advent this week.  I'm finding LOTS of good ways to spend my time that do NOT involve cleaning my house.  However, there are quite a few meals I remember, and some are more memorable than others.

The chili rubbed pork roast was wonderful, but also VERY memorable.  The quiche pan that I used to cook it in split in two in my oven mid roast, leaking the olive oil mixture it was rubbed with ALL over my oven.  This led to extreme smoke and having to open the windows on a rather cold night.  The meal was great, and I highly recommend the recipe, just watch out for ceramic pans.

I used the leftovers to make quesidillas  with noodle soup.  It was a quick meal night, no real recipes because my kids had dance and movie night at the school.

We also had a wonderful meal of sweet and spicy steak salad.  My kids did not necessarily use the sauce that should be the dressing, but they couldn't get enough of it.  The dressing is out of this world and worth bottling!   Sorry, as I just found the camera, I didn't get any photos!

The Orange Balsamic Chicken with Lemon Risotto is one of my favorite meals from Rachel Ray's look and cook cookbook.  My kids really like the chicken and the risotto but there is not one child that likes both.  The flavor of both the orange and the balsamic are light, and complement each other extremely well.  That paired with the light lemon flavor of the risotto and topped with arugula lends itself well to a full meal in one bowl.

Last night we had another one of my favorite of her recipes.  The sausage and fish one pot is not a good name for this recipe.  This should be called a one-pot of deliciousness.  The white wine used in cooking this, combined with the tomatoes, onions and garlic really creates a wonderful broth.  I have two children who will not eat fish, and I am okay with them eating just the rest of it as its own meal.  Make sure to have some crusty bread or rolls to sop up the broth afterwards.  It is more of a stew with steamed fish on top.  It is totally out of this world.  This is one that my husband and I give 5 stars.

As I type I have mom's sauce simmering on the stove.   Here's the recipe:
2 lbs ground beef
1 large yellow onion
3 cloves of garlic
3 28 oz cans of tomato sauce
6 small cans of tomato paste
1/2 cup romano cheese
1 can of water
Oregano, basil and parsley
Brown the ground beef with the onions and garlic.  My family does not like onions, so I use the food processor to cut them up really small.  Once browned, ad dthe sauce, paste and water and mix until the paste is not a big lump anymore.  Then add the cheese and mix in.  For the spices, our rule of thumb is to taste, but we like to cover the top of the sauce completely with each of the spices and mix in.  Simmer for  while.  This will create enough for at least 3 meals and freezes VERY well.  Tonight we are having this with spaghetti and meatballs (not stuffed this time).  This will serve us for at least 3 meals and will be used in the next week or two.

I hope everyone has a wonderful Thanksgiving.  We are not hosting this year, that is my mom's holiday.  I am bringing homemade cranberry sauce, chocolate cream pie, apple pie, and homemade vanilla and coffee ice creams.  I will post about our holiday and black Friday shopping experience on Saturday.  Friday night is our high school reunion (how is that possible, didn't we JUST graduate?).  I will not have time to blog between now and then, but i'll be sure to post some great recipes on Saturday, as we enjoy our leftovers and decorate our tree.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sausage Cacciatore, Chicken Ragu, Sausage and Tortellini Soup

Okay, so some of our weeks menu has changed.  I overloaded us with pasta!

Sunday night we had Sausage cacciatore over rotini.  The cacciatore was made in the crockpot.  Here's the recipe.  It was wonderful:
Sweet Italian Sausage, semi-frozen, sliced into chunks
1 red bell pepper, also chunked (big pieces)
1 green bell pepper
1 large onion
1 small zucchini
1 small summer squash
1 large can crushed tomatoes
1 T basil, 1 T oregano, 1 T parsley
Throw all the ingredients into the crockpot and cook on low for about 5 hours.  Serve over pasta (or polenta).  It was wonderful, and I served some crusty rolls on the side.

Monday night we had chicken ragu.  It was wonderful.  I did use chicken breasts instead.  I wish I got a picture, but I still have no located the camera I took from the baby and hid (I guess I chose too good a hiding place).  The reviews from the family were wonderful, and I will make this again.  It truly is a quick, easy and healthy meal, though a bit too much pasta for one week.

That said, Tuesday night we changed to coconut shrimp with roasted potatoes because we had way too much pasta this week.  I had large cooked and peeled shrimp to work with.
Coconut Shrimp:
2 cups bisquik mix
1 cup milk (a little more if not thin enough)
1 bag coconut
Pat the shrimp dry, dip into the mixed pancake batter, and then dip into the coconut.  Fry until lightly golden.  My kids don't like coconut, so we do some without and they taste just as good... more of a tempura batter.  We served this with roasted potatoes (potatoes, cut into bite sized pieces, tossed in a few tablespoons olive oil and baked in a 400* oven for about 30 minutes).

Tortellini and Sausage soup
This one also got rave reviews.  I used the cacciatore leftovers for extra veggies.  I browned up about 2/3 lb sausage meat, 1 large carrot chopped, and 2 stalks of celery chopped. I tossed in the leftover cacciatore and 1 carton turkey stock (I couldn't get chicken).  I also added 1 28oz can whole tomatoes, that I crushed as I added to the pan.  It was a bit thick, so I added about 2 cups of water.  When the soup has come up to a boil, I added 1 1/2 bags of frozen cheese tortellini and turned it down to a simmer.  Brian and Shannon took the leftovers for lunch today.

So, now I find myself in an awkward place.  We've created a budget for our family, which has been needed for quite some time.  I'm trying to feed a family of 6 on less than before, and to use all of our leftovers as much as possible.  I have not done this for quite some time.  I think cutting our grocery bill will be challenging, but its definitely doable and will be a good thing for all of us in the long run.  So, I put this out to all of you, what do you find you can do without in your weekly grocery shopping to cut down your bill?

I also am finding myself wanting to cook more from scratch (baking cookies and making my own breads with my bread machine).  I also really want to be one of those moms who has it all together... clean house, kids that behave, laundry done, kids that follow the schedule, but i'm not sure how to do everything I want in the time frame I have daily.  I know it CAN be done, but its going to require some effort on my part.  So, my goal over the next few weeks is to get my act together.  Of course, advent starts next weekend, and I really do not want the season to be one of craziness.  I want to have that welcoming, calming force on the family.  I want to have my shopping done and wrapped by then (not going to happen) and be able to make cookies and ornaments with the kids.  We have a crazy schedule normally, so I usually have these WONDERFUL intentions, but they don't happen, as life happens during that time too.

So, my other question for you is  what is your favorite holiday tradition that you want to incorporate into your holiday season this year?  Our favorite is to light our advent candles and do a reading nightly during dinner.  Finding those readings is not always easy, but we have a plan (more like I have a plan) and we'll see where it goes.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Beef Stew, Caesar Spagetti, Pork Chops with Smooshy Applesauce and more

Life seems to have gotten in the way of the posting lately.  So here are some updates:

Beef stew was WONDERFUL and super easy.  This is my personal recipe that has been adapted from a recipe I pulled from Better Homes and Gardens before I got married (which is now over 10 years ago) called Ike's beef stew.  However, I've since adapted it to our family's tastes and the ease of the crockpot.

Family Friendly Beef Stew
2 lbs beef roast on sale (I usually use a chuck roast) cut into 1 1/2 inch cubes
2 large carrots, peeled and cut into rounds
5 large potatoes (I love Yukon gold, but any will do), washed and cut into 1 inch cubes
1 package button mushrooms, stems removed
3 Roma Tomatoes, diced
1 large onion, chopped
2 cartons beef stock(kitchen basics brand is the best)
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce

Toss the first 6 ingredients into the crock pot.  Then mix about 1 cup of the beef stock with the cornstarch and add that and the rest of the ingredients into the crock-pot.  Simmer on low all day, or start on high and turn to low.  Serve with crusty bread.  The cornstarch will thicken the stock into a thinner gravy consistency.  The tomatoes will cook down a bit and add some more flavor to the broth and the worcestershire sauce is MY secret ingredient to all gravy!  Brian said this one of the best batches I have ever made, and it was quite good.    I promise to add some pictures later when I figure out where I stashed the camera so the baby wouldn't play with it.

Caesar Spaghetti:
I also made the Caesar spaghetti last week from Rachel Ray's Look and Cook cookbook.  It was rather good.  It was rather a cross between carbonara and Caesar salad.  A few things I did not like about it.... when I was cooking the anchovies, they broke up, but I could still see pieces of it.  Next time I might use anchovy paste, because I really didn't like the look of the little pieces of it, though I'm the only one that noticed it.  Also, cooking the escarole does NOT take that long, so start that only after the pasta has gone in and is almost ready.  Ours was a little more wilted than I would have liked.  We did add some pine nuts for a little crunch too.  This recipe did have a great flavor and everyone liked it, though none of us ate a ton of it.  The kids and I had just come back from a rather cold afternoon at the playground, and my mom sprung for hot chocolate and munchkins, so no one was very hungry(we also ate earlier than normal because Brian was home from work early... water main break at his office).  I WOULD recommend this recipe, but if the anchovies would freak you out too, use some paste instead.

Pork Chops with Smooshy Apple Sauce:
Again, this was another recipe from Rachel Ray.  It was a little sweet but pretty good.  I also found that the apple sauce was not very cooked by the time the rest was done, so I took a potato masher to break it up a bit before serving.  I experimented with this recipe and set a timer to see how long it took to make.  It took me exactly 27 minutes from putting the water on to boil for my side dish of Orzo (I'll post that recipe next) to plating it up (another picture to follow later today).  This time included about 7 minutes of searching for my brown sugar in the pantry(which had fallen off the shelf and was in a box someplace on the floor) and a bathroom break, so really, it would have taken less time.  My kids liked it, but picked out the raisins, which they really don't like.  However, with the sweetness and my pairing of the orzo, the entire meal was a bit sweet.

Here is the orzo recipe (which is really good, but because of the extra sweet apples, would have been better with something else).

1 1/2 cups of orzo, boiled in water according to package directions.
2 Tablespoons of Butter
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 Tablespoon Cinnamon

Drain the pasta.  Brown the butter in a skillet, add the cooked and drained orzo, cinnamon and nutmeg and toss until well coated.  Easy peasy.  In this case, I did indeed add some peas.

My son doused this in balsamic vinegar, which he does EVERYTHING, just to get the peas down... he hates peas.  My daughters both loved this orzo.  I think it does a better job accompanying other meals... next time i'd make this again, but use less brown sugar in the apple sauce.

I'll try to post later today about the chicken ragu and sausage cacciatore (also both wonderful).  Tonight is shrimp scampi... however... that might change.  I have discovered that this week is heavy on Italian and pasta(not well planned apparently) so some rearranging might be necessary.

In the meantime, I have found a VERY cool craft idea from another blogger related to monthly menu planning.  If you have a set of recipes you like to use over and over again, this would make planning and grocery shopping QUITE easy.  Someday I hope to create software that would do this for me (as I've not found a good set yet), but here is the link:

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Pork Mole - Ole... worth the wait?

So, we did have our roasted pork with mole sauce on Sunday night.  It was good, or I should say, the sauce was good... the meat left something to be desired.  I used a pork butt, and cooked it in the oven for 2 hours, which should have been plenty of time, but it really wasn't.  Next time, I will put the pork in the crockpot with the sauce, and use it shredded for pork tacos.  That would have been a much better use of the meat.  I served the pork roast with baked potatoes, corn and rolls.

Monday night, we had lasagna roll-ups.  Much like a traditional lasagna, I used noodles that I boiled, and then mixed ricotta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and Romano cheese together, and slathered in on the noodles and rolled them up.  I topped these with jarred sauce.  I did intend to use the leftover mom's sauce from last week, however, due to the power outage, it was lost and not replaced, as of yet.  The lasagna was good, but a little bland... it needed more sauce.  It was served with a Caesar salad.

Tuesday night was homemade crab cakes.  They really are truly easy to make.  I mixed a large can of frozen lump crab meat with 1 cup of seasoned bread crumbs, 1 tablespoon of old bay seasoning and 2 eggs, beaten with two tablespoons of olive oil.  I then mixed it all together with my hands and formed 2 inch patties that I baked in a 350 degree oven on a cookie sheet, sprayed with Pam for about 10 - 15 minutes.  These were served with couscous, and a mixture of zucchini and summer squash, sauteed with some tomato sauce.  I also served a salad alongside, made with fresh roma tomatoes, fresh mozzarella cheese, romaine lettuce and some basil chiffonade.  I tossed this with a tiny bit of Ken's Steak House light balsamic vinaigrette.  This meal got rave reviews from Brian and Shannon.  However, Timothy and Holly refuse to eat crab cakes, and were made bagel pizzas instead.  This is NOT my normal practice, but I had bagels(already toasted) leftover from breakfast, so it was costing me nothing to make.

Tonight is my favorite beef stew in the crock pot.  It smells great, and I cannot wait to enjoy it.  Its crock pot night due to a crazy schedule with dance pickup right at dinner time.  I will post pictures of this meal in my review tomorrow.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Why I plan... and why the best laid plans sometimes go awry.

So, why do I plan?  Because the best laid plans often go awry.  Yesterday I planned on making that roast pork with mole sauce, but I also had a baby shower to go to.  I planned to prep that pork before I left and have it ready to cook while I was gone.  However, because of all of the damage and downed branches in the yard, I decided to take some photos in case we needed them for the homeowner's insurance.  Once I uploaded those photos, I headed back outside to help my husband clean up the branches, as best I could, and well, all of a sudden it was time to pick my daughter up at dance class and leave for the shower.

So, many people would see that as an excuse to order out or go out.  Our family doesn't think that way.  With four children, eating out and ordering out are often much more expensive than eating in as a family.  I looked at my menu plan for the week and realized that making one of my other meals would take far less time.  Instead of having the pork I've been looking forward to for 2 weeks now, I pulled out 2 individually wrapped packages of chicken and put the pork in the refrigerator and left.  Yes, the best laid plans may go awry, but there is always a backup plan.  We ate a very wonderful meal of Orange BBQ Cashew Chicken.

This recipe is from Rachel Ray's Look and Cook Cookbook which I highly recommend.  Many people complain that her meals take way more than 30 minutes, but I can HONESTLY say that I came in to start cooking at 5:26 and we were eating at 5:55.  I pulled out the jasmati rice that I keep in the pantry and put the water on to boil to go with it.  With that started (it takes 20 minutes), I started pulling out my cutting boards, veggies and chicken.  I added some celery and mushrooms to the recipe that is not currently in it, because the cashew chicken we get from our local place usually has those in it.  I quickly chopped up the celery, mushrooms, red pepper and onion.  Then moved on to the chicken.  I had the veggies cut up in a just a couple of minutes, and start stir frying the chicken.  While it was cooking, I grabbed my hoisin sauce, orange marmalade, chicken stock and soy sauce.  Swapped the chicken batches, then measured out the sauce ingredients while the second batch cooked.  With the chicken cooked, I popped in the veggies, stir fried them quickly, re-added the chicken and sauce and we were good to go.  Actually, looking at the time on my picture which was taken as we sat down, it was 5:50pm.  

If you plan ahead your meals, with a variety of meats and cooking times, and shop for the groceries by the week, you can save money and time by being able to quickly change your meals at a moments notice.  

One more thing... when I shop, I shop on Thursdays.  However, I always have the ingredients on hand for Thursday and Friday's meals.  I do this just in case something happens, like I have a sick child on Thursday and need to shop Friday instead.  Or, if on Wednesday something changes my plans, I can always switch the meal day with either Thursday or Friday's meal.  

Having planned for and shopped for a week's worth of groceries before the snowstorm, I was also able to grab my meats from the freezer, along with the ingredients from the meals and transport them to my mom's for the week as well.  I do occasionally have to run out for ingredients I forgot... in fact, this week I will definitely have to do that.  I forgot my grocery list when I went shopping, but I was able to call to my husband at work and say, "what's on my menu this week?" and he was able come here, read it off and I went from memory of the recipes.  I forgot the anchovies and escarole for the caesar spaghetti, and the all important straws for my daughter's science project this week, but I can always pop in to pick up one or two items without spending a fortune.  

We're going to try the pork mole today... wish me luck, we have faith formation and trick or treat... but I really want that pork.

Bon Appetit.