Tag Archives: cooking

Preserve and Protect

Preserve and Protect

So, my garden didn’t perform the way I had expected or necessarily hoped this year.  I’m the only person I know who can plant 12 zucchini plants and get 3 zucchini. My pickling cucumbers went nowhere, but the slicing ones went MAD.  Do you know how much use there is for slicing cukes?  Outside of a salad, not much. I got a couple of nice stir fries from the pea pods, and the carrots loved the new bed, but the winter squash were decimated by vine borers.  I have to get more aggressive next year.  All learning opportunities, right?

But as fall settles in, I get the urge to can.  I know it’s from watching my folks do it when I was a kid.  Even though half the time I didn’t like what was in those jars (dilly beans, bleah!), I just loved the way they looked.  And now that I have both a water bath and a pressure canner, I can can just about anything.

A couple of weeks ago, I did.  I think the cat was getting nervous that he would be next.

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It started with the end of my tomatoes.  They were looking scraggly and brown no matter how much I watered them, so I picked them all.  Even the green ones.  Honestly, the biggest reason I grow tomatoes is to be able to make green tomato relish.  But then we were running around to this and that, and by the time I got back to it, half the green ones had ripened and suddenly I didn’t have enough to make my relish!  Lucky for me, Jen in my running club was sick of her tomatoes and said I could help myself to green ones.  So I went over with a shopping bag and did just that.

I got a little carried away.

Turns out less than half of that would have been enough for a double batch of relish.  But never mind.  I had a long weekend, and I was going to put up food for the winter.

First I cleaned out the freezer and did a full freezer cook.  Well, I say cook.  Most of it was dump this, layer that.  I didn’t even cook the chicken I needed, instead buying precooked chickens from Costco. (They’ll be back in the story later).  I got about 30 dinners squared away in the freezer.  That was Saturday.  Sunday would be can all the things.

I started with my creole recipe.  This is the base for a shrimp creole recipe my mom gave me, and really it’s stupidly easy.  You chop up a lot of tomatoes, onions, green peppers and garlic and cook it all down, then can it.  Water bath canning seems to work fine for this, or at least I haven’t had any problems.  When it’s time to eat, heat it through, add a pound of shrimp and a tablespoon or two of Worcestershire sauce, heat until the shrimp is cooked, and serve over rice.  Easy peasy!  With all the tomatoes from my garden and some of the ones I’d gotten from Jen the ripened in the week since I got them, I got 18 pints.

Then I started on the green tomato relish.

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I doubled the recipe and got nine and a half pints, in full and half pint jars.  Happy!

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But I still had a lot of green tomatoes left.  I vaguely remembered from the Little House on the Prairie books Ma making a green tomato pie, so I grabbed my LHotP cookbook to look it up.  The filling was good for fresh tomatoes, but wouldn’t work for canning.  So I went to the internet and found over and over again the same recipe for green tomato and apple pie filling.  Okay, well, how bad could it be?  I got the apples and raisins and started peeling and chopping away.

By now, the fever had started to kick in.

Look at all those jars.  Aren’t they pretty?  Don’t they make you feel like you’ve done a good job taking care of your family?  (Who cares if they won’t actually eat the stuff.)  Surely there’s more that you could do.  I looked down at the apple peels and cores.  Hrm.  I bet I could make jelly out of this.  Do I have any half pint jars left?

I didn’t.  In a fit of sanity, instead of going out to buy MOAR JARS, I just put all the cores and peels in a freezer bag in the freezer.  Maybe later.

I got the dutch oven full of tomatoes, apples and raisins and was just starting to add the seasoning when it suddenly hit me.

I think this is my mom’s mincemeat recipe.

The mincemeat that I HATED as a kid.

And I had a vat of it.

I called my mother then and there to confirm.  She laughed.  Longer and louder than was probably necessary.

I ended up with 6 quarts of it.  (Although after the fact she said I only need a pint for a pie.  But all the recipes said can it up in quarts, so that’s what I did!)

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But I still wasn’t done!  Remember those chickens?  Yeah, they spent all day Sunday in the stockpot, and Sunday they got their turn in the canner, this time the pressure canner.  11 more quarts.  I would have liked to have done them up in pints, but by then I was out of jars.

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So now I have everything neatly stashed in my basement, just waiting to be used.  I may not be quite done.  I have beets in the garden yet that may or may not get big enough to do another batch of pickled beets with (I did the first back in July).  And if I can find cheap apples, I may do up some applesauce or apple pie filling.

But I’ll have to stock up on jars first.

Citizen of the World

Citizen of the World

20161008_095909We had an International dinner at church last night.  I’m a sucker for a church potluck, but this was especially fun because of the theme.  Hero and Karma came with me, although they mostly hid out in the youth room rather than have to make grownup conversation.  It was an interesting variety of food, from Korea, Colombia, Germany and Boston.  😉  Okay, some people stretched the International idea a little bit, but to be honest, I hadn’t realized how much I missed Boston brown bread!  My favorite was the Korean Chap Che, a beef and cellophane noodle dish that I really need to get the recipe for.

My contribution was zaalouk, an eggplant and tomato cooked salad from Morocco.  I do not like eggplant generally, but I love it in this.  It’s one of three salads that come on a salad platter at the Moroccan restaurant we like to go to, and I can now make all three of them.  For those who are interested, here’s the recipe I used.

Zaalouk

(Adapted from a recipe at about.com)

1 large eggplant
large tomatoes, seeded and chopped3-4 cloves of garlic, diced or smashed
1/2 c chopped fresh parsley (you can go halfsies with cilantro, but I hate cilantro, so…)
1 T paprika
1 T cumin
1 1/2 t salt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/3 cup water

First roast the eggplant.  Slice it in half, put the halves face down on a baking tray lined with parchement paper, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 30-45 minutes, or until the skin starts to collapse slightly.  Remove and cool, then scoop out the insides.  You can do this a day or two in advance, as you have time and the oven on anyway for something else.

Dump all the ingredients in a dutch oven or large sauce pan and bring to a boil, then turn back the heat and simmer for half an hour.  If the ingredients are too chunky at this point, mash them with a vegetable masher, but leave some texture.  Continue simmering until the mixture is thick enough to mound up in the middle of the pot.  This can take a while, but resist the urge to turn up the heat, as it will burn easily.  Long and slow gives the flavors time to develop.  Mine cooked almost 2 hours, but it was totally worth it.

This mixture freezes beautifully, so don’t be afraid to make extra.  I got two eggplants off the discount rack at the store for this and roasted them that day, keeping the pulp in the fridge until I was ready to make the salad.  There were plenty of leftovers, so I’ll pack them up in individual containers and bring one out any time I want to dress up a boring bit of chicken for dinner.  Or just for snacking!  It’s best eaten with pita, but any bread works, and I bet it would be great as a topping for roast chicken or kebabs!

In the Kitchen

In the Kitchen

It’s nesting season.  Too cold to go outside, so you hunker down in the house and putter.  We’ve been tidying the house up for our house guest, although no deep cleans yet.  That’s probably going to wait for spring.  I haven’t had a lot of enthusiasm for knitting, although the new Nerdopolis tourney has started, so that’s given me some motivation.

Which leaves the kitchen.

Even post surgery, I still love cooking.  It’s just very satisfying to put something nourishing and comforting together, even if your children don’t appreciate it.  I’ve found that unless it’s sweets, I have to feed them something 3 times before they come around to liking it.  And of course with three kids, I get three different opinions.  So I just cook what I want, and they can eat it or go hungry!

It also doesn’t help that I’ve been watching a LOT of the Great British Bake Off.  Watching 9-12 different bakes every other night gets into your head and starts planting IDEAS.  And IDEAS want to be realized.  So yeah, I’ve been baking.  I’ll save the epic projects for individual posts (they deserve it!), but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been trying smaller things.  Like my first Victoria sandwich.

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I wasn’t pleased with this.  Not the concept, because I still deeply love the premise of it.  Come on, cake, jam and whipped cream.  What could be better?  But the recipe I used (it was Mary’s, so I was a little shocked) used margarine instead of butter, and mixed it all together at once instead of creaming the butter and sugar first.  The cake tasted good enough, but it was more a cornbread consistency rather than the spongey texture you’d expect from a cake.  We also messed up the whipped cream a little bit.  I found the one situation where you don’t want really firm whipped cream, and we overdid the vanilla a bit.  Who knew that was possible?  But we redeemed it in a later bake.  More on that in another post!  But it did taste great, rather like strawberry shortcake. So I’ll definitely be trying this again.

I’ve also been trying to eat more from the freezer, which has required thinking harder about side dishes to jazz up what could potentially be a lot of boring casseroles.  I pulled out a jambalaya the other night, but the only veg I had was lettuce.  So salad it was to be.  But I’m so sick of the two salad dressings we have.  I had some avocado in the freezer, so I improvised an avocado dip/dressing that ended up being to die for.  Here’s the recipe.  I just hope I remembered all the ingredients!

Avocado Dressing/Dip

1-2 ripe avocados
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup mayo (any kind is fine)
1/4 cup plain greek yogurt
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1/4 cup onion
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
White wine or chicken broth

Put all ingredients except the salt and wine/broth in a food processer (I did this in the blender, which worked, but slowly, and it had a hard time chopping up the veg.)  Blitz until mixed, then slowly drizzle in wine/broth until the mix is the consistency you want (thicker for a dip, thinner for a dressing.)  Season to taste, and dig in!

Thicker this works GREAT as a guacamole replacement, either with chips or veggies.  Thin it down, and it makes a great salad dressing.  I tossed it with romaine and a handful of parmesan cheese, and it was perfect.

The kids need to eat it a few more times…

South Africa in my Kitchen

South Africa in my Kitchen

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Last night was the big South African dinner.  What a great experience!  Not everything met with universal approval, and there were a couple of bumps in the cooking, but it was fun, and I learned a lot!

The Menu:

Bobotie
Chicken potjiekos
Cape Malay curry
Sweetcorn bake
Chakalaka
Yellow rice
Miele pap
Blatjang
Milk tart
Malva pudding

(All these recipes and some others I found in my research are on my Pinterest board for South Africa.)

The Cooking:

This was a LOT of food, kind of like preparing for Thanksgiving.  But I’ve gotten really good at Thanksgiving, so I went at it with the same kind of organizational plan as I do for that:  Make as much as I can as far ahead as I can.  I actually probably could have started a little sooner than I did, but it all worked out.

I started on Thursday with the blatjang, which is a kind of fruit chutney served with meat dishes.  Several of the recipes I’d looked at called for it as a side, so I figured I’d better have some.  The recipe said it made 2 1/2 quarts, which was way more than I needed, so I halved it.  The only liquid in it is apple cider vinegar, which you cook down like you would a jam.  The only problem with that is that as it evaporates, the whole house smells like vinegar.  A couple of times the kids came into the kitchen and winced from the smell.

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Dried apricots and raisins soaking in the vinegar overnight

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Almonds and spices added, ready for the long, slow cook.

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After an hour

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Another 45 minutes later and it’s ready!

Even after cooking that all down, it still made more than a quart.  I’m going to have to run it through the canner.  I filled a pint jar and 7 half pints, so yeah, lots more than I needed!  I had expected it to be sweet, like a mango chutney, but while it had some sweetness, it’s still very acid.

Friday night was the chakalaka and milk tart.  I love chakalaka.  Mostly because it means I get to say “chakalaka”. Which is an awesome word.  Everyone should eat this stuff just because of the name.  And because it tastes good.  It’s basically carrots, peppers and black beans, but it has great flavor and a really nice mouth feel.  Which sounds pretentious, but honestly it does.  We all liked it warm, although the recipe says to serve it warm or cold.  I served it cold for dinner, but I think I like it better warm.  You could eat it as is, or throw some cooked chicken or pork on it to make a nice meal.

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The milk tart didn’t go as well.  The initial recipe wasn’t well written, with no instructions on how long to boil the custard mixture or even if you should, and the sequence of instructions wasn’t clear.  But I trusted it as best I could and ended up with this:

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Ugh.  Maybe it will set up over night, thought I.  I made the custard sauce for the Malva pudding and went to bed, hoping.

It didn’t.  *sigh*  Into the trash it went, and I scrambled to find a new recipe.  Found a good one on Allrecipes and banged out the crusts before I went to PT.  I didn’t get back from that until 10:30, and then it was full bore cooking until dinner at 5.

First off I finished the tarts.  This filling thickened up nicely and made two beautiful, smooth pies:

20151024_113243Then I did the Malva pudding, figuring I could add the syrup just before dessert.  Which worked out pretty well.

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I was a little worried at how full the dish was that it might overflow.

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But it worked out just about perfect!

I figured I’d do the bobotie next, as it was kind of like a meatloaf, so I could put it together and stick it in the fridge until it went in the oven.

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All the yummy bits

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All mixed together

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And in the casserole.

Oh yeah, that was a good choice.  All the lovely smells of onions and curry and turmeric were starting to fill the house.  Hero helped me with the knife work on this part until she forgot the difference between sliced and chopped.  Honestly, what do they teach kids in culinary school these days? 😉

So that went in the fridge while I made the pap.  I figured I could make that ahead and keep it in the crockpot on warm until dinner.

20151024_171217I don’t think I made it right.  It came out as more like a really dense dough than a polenta, and it was still really grainy, even though I added more water.  I think this is one of those situations you need to have had the real thing to know if you did it right.

The sweetcorn bake took no time to throw together and in the oven, although I was reminded again of the fact that I cannot cream butter by hand.  Thank you, Kitchenaid mixer!  Put that in the oven, set the time, then figured I’d do a clean up before the final push.  Loaded the dishwasher, wiped counters, pulled the plug to move the mixer back…and pulled the entire powerstrip out of the wall.  Which was fine, I just plugged it back in, completely forgetting that the microwave that had just been reset had had the timer for the sweetcorn bake.  Which I’d forgotten was in the oven.

Next up was the curry, as that had the longest cooking time.  Another round of sauteeing onions and garlic, veggies, meat, then adding in the tomatoes, fruit and spices.  Oh. My. God.  Before it had even had its stewing time, I wanted to crawl into the pot of this stuff and never come out.

20151024_152852Yes, you’re seeing right, those are banana slices in there.  And apricots, raisins, almonds, carrots, ginger, curry, turmeric, cardamom… Foodgasm doesn’t even come close.  I had been excited about this recipe even before this just because it seemed to have all the flavors of Indian food that I love without the heat that I can’t cope with.  But honestly?  You can’t really compare this two.  They’re just totally different creatures that share genes.  Very, very good genes.

That had to simmer for a couple of hours, so I put the bobotie in the oven…and found the sweetcorn bake.  Just in time!  It was perfectly done, despite my inattention, and looked yummy!

20151024_171331Then it was back to slicing up veggies for the potjiekos.  Potjiekos is Afrikaans for “little pots”, and basically it is a layered dish intended to be cooked in a cast iron pot over a fire.  For this one, we sauteed onions, garlic and chicken, then layered on potatoes, sweet potato, squash, carrots, green beans and mushrooms, then added cinnamon stick, bay leaves and pepper, put the lid on it and forgot about it.  On purpose this time.

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The recipe specifically says not to stir it, so I didn’t.  Much.  I just couldn’t see how the seasoning was going to get through everything!

Last up was the yellow rice, which, once you get it in the pot, is pretty hands off.

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From there I added the custard to the top of the bobotie and started laying out the table.

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Most of the custard slid down the sides, dang it!

 

The Dinner

 

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None of the adults I’d invited aside from Nikki were able to come, but most of Hero’s friends were there.  Have you tried feeding new foods to teenagers?  But I have to give them points for trying.  They all liked the potjiekos best, probably because it was a) chicken and 2) the least seasoned of everything.  To my surprise, they liked it with the pap, so maybe I didn’t go entirely wrong there.  My favorite was the curry with the yellow rice.  I was disappointed in the bobotie, which I had expected to really like.  But the flavor of the lamb just overwhelmed everything else in the dish.  the blatjang helped a little, but it wasn’t my favorite.  But that’s okay, because Morgan really liked it and wasn’t crazy about the curry.  Balance!

We had the main courses, then took a break to clean up a bit while I put the finishing touches on dessert.  Which I completely forgot to take pictures of.  Doh.  The milk tart was nice and refreshing, not too sweet.  Nikki and I agreed it would be really good with some fresh fruit or compote, or a nice sweet wine.  The Malva pudding was the opposite end of the spectrum, almost too sweet!  It’s like a dense bread pudding soaked in simple syrup.  It really needed the custard to cut the sugary sweetness, but it was still really good.  I think both of those are being added to the recipe collection.

The Aftermath

As I expected, there was a lot of food left over.  I had prepared by getting take out boxes from the dollar store, and packed up samplers for the folks who couldn’t make it.  The curry I packed up in single(ish) meal containers for me to take to work, and did the same with the bobotie for Morgan to have for his lunches.  The potjiekos I split into two containers to be the meat and veg base for a couple of last minute soups.  So not much went to waste.  Except the pap.

So all in all, a good experiment.  I’m looking forward to the next one!  The mother of one of Hero’s friends is Colombian and has offered to send us some dishes if we do a Colombian night, and I’m not about to say no to that.  Apparently she makes amazing cicerones.  But it will be a couple of months.  Next month I’m cooking actual Thanksgiving, so I’m not putting myself through two major meals in a month.  I think I’m going to take them out to a Japanese hibachi place instead.  It’s a kind of cooking I can’t do myself, and while they’ve had sushi, they haven’t had other kinds of Japanese food.  December will be crazy with getting ready for the holidays, so I thought we’d to something Scandinavian (cuz you know, that’s where Santa comes from), so I’m thinking fondue.  We do a home fondue for New Year’s Eve, but this way the kids can see just how bad I do at it!

So, farewell from South Africa!  I’ll report back with our next destination!  And if you have any questions about what we ate or how I made it, let me know!

The Whole Enchilada

The Whole Enchilada

One of the things I’ve been doing during my recovery is cooking.  A lot.  I’ve mostly mastered Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes and several variants, I made 3 different kinds of cookie dough for the freezer, and I roasted a chicken upside down.  Oops.  But I also have been easing into “throw it in a pot and see what happens” cooking.  See, I’m a strict by the recipe sort of cook.  I’ve never been one of those people who could see what’s in the fridge and pantry and whip up a meal.  But when you can’t go shopping and you’re running out of groceries, you start to get creative.  So first off, I took an old family standby my mom used to make us and goosed it a bit.  Spanish rice (which really isn’t very Spanish at all) was a cheap and filling meal we had pretty regularly.  It’s just browned hamburger, onions, green pepper, tomato sauce and rice seasoned with salt and pepper.  A lot of times we’d have it with American cheese on top.  I had all the ingredients in the house, so I made it for dinner.  But I also realized I had a can of whole corn and one of black beans which we were never likely to eat, as I don’t like black beans.  But they’re Spanish, right?  Ish?  So for grins, I threw them in (after calling to check this out with Mom.  When in doubt on cooking, I always call her.  Sorry, Mom.)

It was really good.

Good enough that I’m actually going to start keeping black beans and corn in the pantry for just such an occasion. The kids LOVED it.  Which, yay, because they don’t usually like rice.  They did leave enough for one or two more servings, though, so I bagged it up and put it in the freezer.

Another night, I thought I’d make enchiladas.  I had pork carnitas in the freezer, cheese and tortillas in the fridge.  All I needed was the enchilada sauce.  But a) Hero doesn’t like enchilada sauce and 2) I couldn’t fecking go out to GET enchilada sauce.  So I started poking around and found a quick hit sauce recipe.  It was mostly good, and I had all the ingredients, although most of the commenters said it didn’t make very much.  So I doubled it.  And then doubled it again, so I could make a second pan for the freezer.  I tweaked some of the ingredients (tomato puree instead of sauce, more cumin, less red pepper) and ended up with a wonderful thick red sauce that wasn’t too spicy but still flavorful and was just perfect.  Even Hero liked it!  And it made a ton, so I have 4 pints of it in the freezer for future dinners.

Then I remembered the leftover Spanish rice.  Wouldn’t that be the perfect filling for an enchilada?  Why yes.  Yes it would.  Some cheese, maybe some refried beans just as a binder.  Perfect.  So I made a pan!  Can’t wait to eat them!

So here you go.  Two recipes so you can have the whole enchilada as well!

Spanish Rice

1 lb. ground beef
1 large onion, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
1 28 oz. can tomato puree
1 can black beans, drained
1 can whole kernel corn, drained
Rice (I made 2 cups uncooked and used it all)

Sauté the onions and green pepper until starting to soften, then add the ground beef to brown.  Add the tomato puree, beans and corn and heat through.  Add the rice and stir through, then season with salt and pepper to taste.  Since there is no chili powder in this, be generous with the pepper or, you know, add chili powder to taste!

Enchilada Sauce

1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup chili powder
1 large can tomato puree
5 cups water
2 T ground cumin
1/2 T garlic powder
1/2 T onion powder
Salt to taste

In large, heavy bottomed sauce pan, heat oil.  Add flour and chili powder to make a slightly thickened roux.  Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer until desired thickness. Mine was about the thickness of a white sauce, but you could make it thinner or thicker to your tastes.  Makes a little over 10 cups.

Next time I might sauté minced onions and garlic instead of using the onion and garlic powder.  But for quick and dirty, this worked well!

(Sorry there are no pictures.  My cameras have all given up the ghost!)

Recipes

Recipes

A couple of goodies I’m mostly writing down so I don’t lose (Can’t put everything on Pinterest!)  Plus I know you’re dying to make what I do!

First up: DIY pot noodles!

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In desperation and low funds, I bought the kids some ramen packs to have for lunches.  And stole a couple of mouthfuls for myself.  I like ramen well enough, but I don’t like the seasoning packets, and they’re way too high in fat and carbs for me now.  So when I saw this great post on the Kitchn website for DIY ramen, I got a little excited!  I need to play with the recipes given, but I had an opportunity to get creative on Wednesday night.  We had leftover spaghetti and sauce from dinner, so I thought, why not try to do a minestrone bowl?  And it wasn’t bad.  I think I used to much beef paste, as it was REALLY salty, but otherwise it was yummy!

Minestrone Pot Noodles

1/2 T beef bouillon paste
1/4 c pasta sauce with meat (or without if you prefer)
1/4 c frozen mixed veggies
1/4 c frozen spinach
1-2 T canned white beans (I used garbanzos as that was what I had on hand.  Red beans would work, too)
1 c cooked spaghetti
1 T shredded fresh basil
1/2 scallion, sliced
1 T parmesan

Spread bouillon paste on bottom of a widemouth pint jar.  Layer pasta sauce, then frozen veggies and beans, then spaghetti, packing down tight.  Put basil and scallion in a snack size bag, roll up and tuck into jar.  Do the same with the parmesan.  When ready to use, remove the bags, fill jar to 1 inch from top with boiling water, stir, put lid on, wait 3 minutes, then add the basil, onion and parmesan, stir again and eat.

More of these as I try them!  But go to the Kitchn post for the basic method so you can try your own combos!

Another website find was homemade English muffins.  These may be my absolute downfall.  When I was in grad school, Thomas’ made these things called Australian toaster biscuits, which I LOVED.  Mom would get them for me every time I came home.  But then they stopped, and I was sad.  Fast forward way too many years.  I’ve started doing Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day off and on.  I know it sounds kind of gimmicky, but honestly, it’s an easy way to have great bread around.  Since I shouldn’t eat much bread these days, I like the bread I do have to be really good.  We make the brioche dough a lot, as it makes really good cinnamon rolls easily.  The only problem is that it makes a lot of dough in each batch, as a batch is intended to last up to two weeks.  I could have the dough, but that’s no fun!  So I was looking for ideas for other things to do with the dough, and found the English muffin post.  I had about a pound of dough left, so I figured I’d try it out.  OMG, they were SO good!  They remind me of those Australian toaster biscuits, dense and chewy without the bitterness of traditional English muffins that I don’t like.  I think I’m going to make a full batch of dough tonight to turn all of it into these for the freezer.  They came out very thick and broad, so I think for the next batch I’m going to cut it down to 2 ounces instead of 3.5 but still pat them out as wide.  And I only get to have a half a one at a time. I ate most of the six from the first batch, and I’m not ashamed of it, but the scale was a little unhappy this morning…  (I’m sorry there’s no pictures of these.  I ate them all.  As I said.  Still not ashamed.)

And finally, I owe you marinade recipes!  I used these on salmon, but they would work well on chicken or pork, too.  Hrm, or maybe grilled shrimp…

Maple Dijon

4 T maple syrup
2-4 T Dijon mustard (depending on how mustard-y you like things)
1 lb fish

Mix the syrup and mustard to combine.  Put fish or meat in a freezer safe zipper bag, pour in the sauce and seal.  Squish it around gentle to cover everything, then freeze flat.  Thaw to use, then broil or grill as you prefer

4 tablespoons of mustard was a little much for us, so next time I’ll halve that.  I may put some curry powder in it as well for variety.

Mustard Soy Marinade

1/2 c soy sauce
2 t red pepper flake
2 t whole grain or Dijon mustard
1 t garlic powder
1/3 c oil
1/3 c brown sugar
2 lb fish

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.  Put fish or meat in two freezer safe zipper bags, pour in the sauce and seal.  Squish it around gentle to cover everything, then freeze flat.  Thaw to use, then broil or grill as you prefer

We haven’t tried this one yet, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?

Balsamic Glaze

2/3 c balsamic vinegar
3 T brown sugar
2 T Dijon
2 lb fish

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl.  Put fish or meat in two freezer safe zipper bags, pour in the sauce and seal.  Squish it around gentle to cover everything, then freeze flat.  Thaw to use, then broil or grill as you prefer.

This is the one I’m most excited about!  I have a sacred bottle of orange cranberry balsamic vinegar as thick as molasses that we got in a shop in the Italian Market a year or two ago, which I love to use on pork, but this seemed an even better application of it!

There, I think that’s the lot of it for now!  Payday’s today, so once I pay all the bills, (ouch) I’ll see how much I can put towards expanding my pantry to keep ingredients for all these on hand!

Food Security

Food Security

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When my finances get tight, I worry about food.  For some reason, when the money runs low, I want to bake.  Not a great coping mechanism for someone who’s had weight loss surgery, but there you are.  Fortunately I have teenagers, so none of it lasts long.  But from a practical angle, it makes sense.  I try to keep a well stocked pantry so that even when the money’s tight, I can still feed everyone without breaking the bank.

But occasionally the pantry isn’t enough.  That’s when freezer cooking is my friend.  I don’t do it regularly (no Once a Month cooking for me), but when the urge and the income align, I spend a week planning and a weekend cooking.  This past weekend was that week.

It started with the list.  What did I want to put up?  I try to get a mix of proteins in.  Chicken recipes are easy to come by for the freezer, beef, pork and fish less so.  I try to do about 10 different recipes, figuring to get 2-3 meals out of each. I have some pinned on Pinterest, but I really need to start a dedicated binder just for freezer cooking recipes.  Although many of the recipes I do are just my regular everyday cooking that I package up and freeze.  Most things you cook anyway are freezable.  Just double the recipe when you cook and stash one away for later!  It’s not leftovers, it’s just frozen.  If you eat frozen pizza, you’ll be fine with freezer prep meals.

Next up is cleaning.  Trust me on this one.  You need to clean the fridge to have room for all the ingredients, and you need to purge your freezer(s) to have someplace to put the finished products.  Plus you want clear decks and an empty dishwasher for production day.  DO NOT SKIP THIS STEP.

Then there’s the shopping, which I do the day before the cook.  I make 3 stops.  First off is the dollar store.  Yup.  You know all those tinfoil pans you can get 3 for $3.50 at the grocery store?  Guess how much they are at the dollar store?  Aw, you cheated!  And they have both square and round ones with the waxed cardboard lids like you get from takeout places, which are perfect for freezer cooking.  So I got a dozen of the rectangular ones, and then off we went to Costco.

I love my Costco membership.  It pays for itself with three trips to get cheese, as long as I can resist buying any of the optional extras.  Ground beef is a lot cheaper, and the fresh salmon was $1.50 cheaper as well.  Even the chicken thighs were cheaper, although you had to buy a lot.  Not a problem.  We eat a lot of chicken.  And it’s vacuum sealed in 4 packs, which is perfect for us.  Add in three kinds of cheese and my protein bars (plus lunch for my shopping helper) and we did well.  $250 for 25 lbs of raw chicken, 12 lbs ground beef, 3.5 lbs salmon and 2 rotisserie chickens as well as 5 lbs each of cheddar and mozzarella, 2 lb of string cheese, 3 bottles of ketchup, the protein bars and parchment paper.  Oh, and Ziploc bags, although I goofed and got the regular kind instead of the freezer bags.

All the fragile stuff went into the cooler in the back of the car before we went to stop #3, the grocery store.  I like the local Giant, because the store brand is good quality and the prices are the best around me.  I’m not going to go to multiple stores to get stuff, as I’m already trashed from Costco, so Giant it is.  From there I get all the canned and dried stuff like pasta and tomatoes, plus anything else we need at home (why does milk cost more than a gallon of gas? And why do my kids drink so much of it?)  We spent about $70 there this time out.  Came home, unloaded it into the fridge and pantry and then I got the heck out of Dodge and went to spent the evening with Nikki and Deb.  I probably should have gotten to bed a teensy bit earlier.  Learn from my mistake.

Sunday morning, I got up at 8 and got to work.  Well.  I emptied the dishwasher and had breakfast.  I should have already had a strategy for how to go about this, but the weather was putting a damper on things.  It finally decided to go into the 90’s with massive humidity.  We had an excessive heat warning on for that afternoon, but by then I was committed.  Fortunately most of the things I had planned didn’t require actual cooking, so I figured I’d get the hot things out of the way first.

First thing I did, though, was throw half a dozen onions into the food processor.  80% of what I was cooking needed chopped onions, so I just got that out of the way, put them in a Tupperware on the counter and scooped from that whatever I needed.  Next I put dinner in the crockpot.  I found an interesting recipe for Jambalaya online, so that was dinner and three meals for the freezer. (If you make this, plan extra time for the rice to cook through)  I plugged the crockpot in in the laundry room so it wasn’t in my way on the kitchen counters.

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Then I got serious.

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Shepherd’s pie

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Lasagna rolls

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Stuffed shells

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Mini meatloaf

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Chicken cordon bleu casserole

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Cacciatori

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Mozzarella filled meatballs

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Chicken dump bags (called that because you dump stuff into the bags) in Caribbean, Cantonese, Sticky (peanut butter based), and “Sticky” (kind of barbecue) flavors, 2 bags each

By the time that was all done, it was 4:00 and I could barely stand, so the salmon waited until Monday, when I made three different marinades: Maple Dijon, Asian, and Balsamic that I snazzed up with my precious orange/cranberry balsamic. (I’ll share the recipes in another post.) Should make a really nice fish!

In the end, I had 33 meals in the freezers, and not much room left.  They were both working so hard, they were having a hard time of it.  Our popsicles all half melted, to the point that when Morgan took one and went to pull it out of the wrapper, all that came out was the stick!  And that was all from stuff that wasn’t even hot from cooking.

But now, as long as I don’t lose power, I’ll always have something to feed everyone.  I only cook outside the box 4 days a week (the box being mac & cheese on Mondays (which Morgan cooks), spaghetti on Wednesdays, and pizza on Fridays), and most of the time I don’t need something out of the freezer.  I’m only using one of these this menu cycle, or at least that’s all that’s planned.  But if we have another scorching day, at least I know that I can grab something and drop it in the crockpot, or if I want to bake, I don’t have to do that on top of making dinner.

Now I just need room in the freezer for ice cream so I can make these blueberry pie ice cream sandwiches I found…

D.C. (Doin’ it Cheap)

D.C. (Doin’ it Cheap)

Months ago I scored a cheap rate on a hotel room in DC, so decided to take the kids down for a long weekend.  The younger two have never been, and it’s been a long time since Morgan went.  Plus I just love DC.  Probably because it’s the first place I ever visited on my own, back when I was a senior in high school.  But as we got closer to the day, my finances got thinner and thinner.  I didn’t want to give up the trip, but I knew there was no way I’d be able to feed this crowd by eating out every night, especially not at DC prices.  Restaurants are always expensive, and there’s really no such thing as a cheap lunch.  Even bottles of water at the museums are overpriced. So I’ve gotten creative.

We’re eating hotel room picnic style.

Taking your own food when you’re staying in a hotel room is a lot different then when you’re camping.  For one thing, you don’t have easy access to a cooking source.  We just have a regular room, not a suite, so no kitchenette, which would have made this even easier.  And the hotel we’re staying at doesn’t do free breakfast.  They do have some microwaves that you can request for your room, and they have refrigerators at an extra fee.  Yeah, no.  I did request a microwave, but my cooler will do just fine.  It will be in an air conditioned hotel room, not the back of an overheated car for four days, so it will be fine.

Since this was a special trip (we NEVER stay in hotels), though, I didn’t want to just live off camping food.  Plus I couldn’t guarantee that we’d even get one of the microwaves.  I had to plan accordingly. So, nice-ish food, minimal dependence on micro, and easy to transport and clean up.  Here’s the menu I came up with:

Friday:
Dinner – Lasagna in jars, caprese skewers

Saturday:
Breakfast – mini-quiches, croissants
Lunch – Ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, fruit
Dinner – Out

Sunday:
Breakfast – Bagels
Lunch – Ham and cheese sandwiches, chips, fruit
Dinner – Chicken pasta Caesar salad

Monday:
Breakfast – Out (if possible)

So, not too bad.  Some prep work, but healthy, balanced, plenty of snacks for hungry teens and easily transportable.  Of course, I had to do all the prep in 90 degree, 85% humidity.  That was NOT fun.  But it will be worth it.

Tuesday after work I went to the store for everything.  Hell, I even bought bottled water.  I never buy bottled water, but it just seemed easier.  $137 for everything, which isn’t much more than going out once or twice would be.  Then I went home and started cooking.

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The lasagna in jars was actually pretty easy.  I cooked up egg noodles and tossed them with a little olive oil to keep them from sticking.  Browned hamburger, onion and green pepper, then added a can and a half of spaghetti sauce (yes, yes, sacrilege, I was on the clock).  In a separate bowl, mixed a container of ricotta, a cup of mozza and a couple handfuls of parm with some chopped parsley.  Then I got out six pint mason jars and started layering.  I would rather have done It in wide mouthed jars, but I didn’t have any, so I went with what I had.  Thankfully I did have a jar funnel, which made things easier.  I put a little sauce on the bottom of each jar, then noodles, sauce, cheese, repeat to the top, ending with a little sauce and cheese.  I added some extra mozzarella on top just for a little browning.  You might want to tamp down lightly as you fill it, but don’t pack it tight.  Leave a little head room at the top.  Then pop them in a 350 degree oven for 20-30 minutes until they melt and brown up a bit.  You can serve them directly if you want, or cool them, put lids on them and stick them in the freezer like I did.  They’ll keep longer and help keep the cooler cold!  This is the only meal that’s dependent on the microwave.  I think they’d be pretty nasty cold.

I wanted a vegetable to go with this, but we’re having salad as a meal that weekend, so another one seemed like overkill. Then I found these grape sized mozzarella balls at the grocery store and was inspired.  Got those, a box of grape tomatoes, some basil and toothpicks.  That night I’ll have the kids skewer them up and I’ll drizzle them with olive oil and balsamic that I mixed up ahead.  Voila, fancy veg!

Next up were the quiches.  Easy peasy.  Cooked up half a pound of bacon in the microwave (tick tock), chopped it up, grated 6 ounces of cheddar, chopped up some more parsley, then cracked 12 eggs, mixed them up with a cup of heavy cream, salt and pepper, added all the stuff and mixed it in.  I was worried they would stick too much to my old muffin tins, so I dropped in muffin papers and sprayed them with vegetable oil.  Then each one got about a third of a cup of the egg mixture.  I got 18 individual quiches out of that.  Put those in the same 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, and they came out perfectly.  We tested one, both to see if we liked them and if the papers would come off.  They did!  And the quiches were perfect.  Two or three of those with a croissant, butter, jam and some of the fruit, and we’ll have a pretty nice breakfast!

The chicken pasta Caesar is even easier.  Rotisserie chicken from the store sliced up, a package of shredded parmesan, package of croutons and a jar of our favorite Caesar dressing and we were good.  All I needed to do was pre-cook the pasta, half a box of farfalle that I tossed with olive oil and shoved in a ziploc in the fridge.  Boom, there’s dinner.  I just put a serving’s worth of everything in a large tupperware storage box, shake it up and dinner is served.  If we have the microwave, we can warm up the chicken, but if not, no biggie, it will still be good.  If we come across some nice bread in our travels, we can add that to the mix, but it’s a meal in itself, so we don’t really need extras.

Lunch is kind of prosaic, but portable.  And easy to put together in the hotel room  I bought a variety pack of chips, which they never get usually, so that adds some special, and then maybe we can stop somewhere for ice cream to up the fun. I also got those squeezable water enhancers, so they can just refill one water bottle all day and flavor it as they go.

So there we go.  Schmancy eating on a not so schmancy budget.  Expect reports from the field over the next 4 days (and possible a post on my attendance at a live Wait! Wait! Don’t Tell Me show tonight which threw my packing plans into chaos!)

Kitchen ennui

Kitchen ennui

(I know, I know.  I said I’d *try*, not that I’d manage it!)

I hate cooking at this time of year.  All the usual recipes are boring, and there’s no garden or farm market for interesting ingredients or to spark creativity.

There is, however, Pinterest.

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I’ve been a Pinterest hold-out for a long time.  From how I’d heard other people describe it, it was a huge time suck that I didn’t need, and a lot of it seemed too twee or Better Homes and Gardens to be of much use to me.  But another time suck (that I’d also resisted and ultimately succumbed to) brought me back to it.

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You wouldn’t think that a site predominantly directed to art and fandom would have much relevance to the Pinterest community.  I certainly didn’t.  But I follow a bunch of fannish people who are also really into food.  There were a lot of good recipes showing up on my dashboard.  After I’d favorited a dozen and then couldn’t find them amongst all the other stuff I’d favorited, I realized I needed a better way to keep track of these.  I hate printing out recipes that I’m not going to keep, as they just clutter up my already cluttered recipe box.

Pinterest boards seemed to be the solution. I’ve created boards for a bunch of different categories: the four basic meat groups, but also soups, sandwiches, “hand” foods, pasta, crockpot, even canning.  Then when I menu, I print out just the recipe(s) I’m going to try that cycle.  If we like them, they go into the recipe box.  If we don’t, they go into the recycling.

Then every menu cycle, I make sure to schedule at least two meals from new recipes.  It really helps with the winter doldrums.  My menu is pretty tightly structured, so I only have a couple of slots for the new things.  Monday is always spaghetti/pasta night, Wednesdays is always mac and cheese.  It used to be the other way around, but Morgan cooks the mac and cheese (better than I do now), and he has class on Monday night, so we swapped it.  Then Tuesdays are sandwich nights to work around Xander’s robotics team, and Friday is always homemade pizza and usually movie night (we’re working our way through the Marvel Cinematic Universe at the moment).  Sundays are soup days.  So I basically have Thursdays and Saturdays to try new big things, and sandwich experiments for Tuesdays.  Not a lot of room, but there’s some.

So far, we’ve tried crockpot cheesesteaks, a really good pork carnitas recipe (and I learned the magic of shredding meat in the Kitchenaid!), an a baked chicken and potatoes casserole.  There was also a really great Mongolian beef recipe that we snarfed through before I could get a picture.  But it was pretty.  And yummy.  The kids have gone crazy for lasagna roll-ups, which I need to make a ton of and freeze.  And the crockpot tikka masala was gorgeous.  Oh, and just for fun Hero and I tried making ice cream bread.

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(For the record, that was made with Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream.  Vanilla and chocolate ice cream with brownie AND cookie dough chunks.  REALLY good.)

It’s menuing time again, so I need to figure out what new thing I’ll try in the next two weeks.  I want to experiment with making (and hopefully canning) beef stock for the first time.  Not sure what else I’ll try.  Have to see what holes I need to fill in the beef/fish/chicken/pork rota as I build the menu.

I was joking with Nikki that I should start doing Pinteresting posts whenever I try something new.  Who knows, maybe I will.  I’m certainly using it enough to do it!

It’s What’s for (Thanksgiving) Dinner

It’s What’s for (Thanksgiving) Dinner

Tired of hearing me go on about my house cleaning?  How about a week of me cooking?  (I promise obsessive fandom is coming.  Only 27 days until The Hobbit!) Thanksgiving is actually one of my favorite holidays to host.  It’s just a meal.  And it’s not even that hard a meal, once you’ve done it a couple of times.  The menu is kind of pre-set based on your culture and experience.  People want the same things they’ve always had for Thanksgiving.  No surprises.  In our house that means:

  • Turkey
  • Celery butter stuffing
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Squash
  • Cinnamon rolls
  • boiled onions
  • glazed carrots
  • Apple, pumpkin and lemon meringue pie

The only places I get to be inventive is with the side dishes.  I usually try to do something green and something just different.  I’m sick of getting stuck with a ton of leftover Brussel sprouts, though, so this year I’m doing cauliflower.  Still trying to decide whether to do cheese cauliflower or roasted parmesan, though.  And I’m adding mashed sweet potatoes this year, just because they’re better for me.  And I get to be a bit creative in how I prepare things, so I’m tweaking the turkey prep this year (I’ll tell you about that on Monday). As it’s Saturday, I’m doing my weekly deep clean.  I’m off work on Wednesday, so I can spruce up any little things, but I want the bulk of it done today.  Which isn’t as bad as it has been in past years.  No shoving stuff in boxes to hide it until we can deal with it later this year.  I’m not going to get the front hall floor scrubbed, but we don’t hang out there, so I’m okay with that.  For now.  But there will be some mopping and a lot of dusting.  And dishes.  Lots and lots of dishes. So brace yourself.  I’m going to be blogging my Thanksgiving prep.  Could be fun.  There will be an axe involved, so there may even be bloodshed!  Stay tuned!