Menu – Week ending June 28, 2015

So I haven’t posted in a while but I am going to try to do better. Starting with posting this week’s menu so you know what to look forward to.

This is the last full week that T3 will be at home. He is leaving next Sunday for camp where he will be working in the kitchen for 7 weeks. I love that he gets to go to camp for several weeks for many reasons. It is a really good growth experience for him, he is learning new skills, he has a job all summer and I save a lot of money because I don’t have to feed him.

T3 loooooovvvvvveeeeeesssss pasta. He says “Pasta is life” whenever we have it. So when I was putting together the menu I decided to make it pasta heavy.

  • Sunday – Lasagna with Garlic Sugar Snap Peas
  • Monday – Grilled Chicken over Tomato Alfredo Pasta
  • Tuesday – Parmesan Garlic Noodles with Ranch Chicken
  • Wednesday – Best Ever Pulled Pork Sandwiches with Caprese Pasta Salad
  • Thursday – Daddy Burgers with Baked Beans
  • Friday – Pot Luck (need to figure out what to bring)
  • Saturday – Pork Chops with Bacon Cheddar Risotto
  • Sunday – Chicken Tender Wraps with Mexican Corn Salad

Today is Father’s day and my Humbly wanted to smoke some big meat but yesterday he spent all morning pouring concrete with the kids (for my outdoor pizza oven) and he took his father to the car races about an hour away from home. All of this means he was not going to be up to cooking.

Also, we had a new addition at our church and several of us decided to feed the new parents this week. All this together means I was making lasagna and the only difference between making one lasagna and making two is the cost of ingredients. It is no more work.

I have mentioned in the past that I get vegetables delivered to my work and that it is helping me to expand my vegetable repertoire. Last week we got Sugar Snap Peas in the bag. I made an awesome Beef with Pea Pods dish that I will have to show you some other time but it was way yummy.

That being said, I have made sugar snap peas three times this week. Today I took 1 1/2 cups of peas and fried it in about a tablespoon of bacon grease for about 5 minutes. Salt and pepper to taste and in the last minute add minced garlic being very careful not to burn it.

We finished the day off with Lemon Pie.

 

Wendy’s Ghost Pepper Fries

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While racing back to work after a stop at Sam’s Club I stopped at Wendy’s to pick up a salad to eat at my desk. First, let me say you should NEVER go to Sam’s Club hungry. However I did pretty good and only bought their multigrain ciabata bread. I was very proud of myself for not stopping at their concession stand for a slice of pizza.

I was proud of myself for choosing a salad. Then I drove up to the drive through and was confronted by this.Ghost-Pepper-Fries

I love spicy food and have heard all about the ghost pepper from my friends at Chopped and the Kitchen on Food Network. The pull was too strong. It was just for a limited time. What’s a girl to do?!

I caved.

I was underwhelmed when I opened the container. The picture at the top of the post was not mine. I was so hungry that I devoured mine before ever thinking about getting a picture. Mine had less than half the cheese shown in the top picture. The taste of the dish overall was not bad.

The fries were not what I was expecting. I have not had fries from Wendy’s in a while but I was expecting the thicker cut fries. These were closer to McDonald’s size without the awesome taste.

The cheese sauce was very good.  I loved the diced jalapenos sprinkled liberally over the top. The heat level was perfect. Hot enough to know I was eating jalapenos and ghost peppers, but not so hot that I was scrambling for my water. (By the way if you really need to get rid of the heat try a teaspoon of honey. Thanks Jeff Mauro!)

Unfortunately I ended up wearing it.

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So Cold

It is the end of March and still it snows in upstate New York. Most of the snow has melted, it is warm enough outside to start taking walks again but the forecast is still saying snow. I have taken my electric blanket off the bed and put it back on about five times this month. So what is a girl to do?

Beef Stew! I was in desperate need of warming, stick-to-your-ribs food. Meat and potatoes and veggies, oh my!

For Christmas my Humbly bought me a cast iron Dutch Oven. I have not been a big fan of cast iron. It is heavy and shouldn’t be washed with soap. It is the same problem that I have with stoneware. However both are modern miracles. I am converted and believe that the inconvenience is far outweighed by the exceptional food that is produced.

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Before
Beef Stew
After, also after we served ourselves. I couldn’t wait for a picture

I have made this recipe many times and it is one of my absolute favorites. You dice up your meat and veggies and mix it up with seasonings, wine, diced tomatoes and quick cooking tapioca, yes you read that right. Pop it in the oven and serve with a nice sopping bread. Warm on the inside and outside.

Normally I make this in my Pampered Chef Rectangle Baker covered with aluminum foil and it takes about an hour and a half to get the vegetables nice and hot. This time I did it in my Dutch Oven and it was done in less than an hour and 15 minutes.

 

Baked Beef Stew

Ingredients:
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
3/4 cup water
1/4 cup red wine or beef broth
3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca
2 teaspoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons seasoned salt
1 teaspoon browning sauce, optional
1/2 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 pounds lean beef stew meat, cut into 1-inch cubes
5 small red potatoes, quartered
4 medium carrots, cut into 1-inch chunks (or half a bag of baby carrots cut in half)
3 celery ribs, cut into 3/4-inch chunks
2 medium onion, cut into chunks
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs
1 can peas

Directions:
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, water, wine or broth, tapioca, sugar, seasoned salt, browning sauce if desired, marjoram and pepper. Let stand for 15 minutes. Add the meat, potatoes, carrots, celery, onion and bread crumbs.
Pour into a greased 13-in. x 9-in. x 2-in. baking dish or a dutch oven. Cover and bake at 375° for 1-1/4 hours. Uncover; stir in peas. Bake 15-20 minutes longer or until meat and vegetables are tender.

Yield: 6-8 servings.

Hits and Misses

I tend to experiment a lot in the kitchen. Not so much making up new things but trying out other people’s recipes. Generally there are more hits than misses but it goes in waves. And I am in a bit of a slump right now. Which is part of why I haven’t posted in over a week.

To make things worse, I remember to take pictures when the food is bad but my successes I forget to photograph.

The Misses

Last week I made two Pampered Chef recipes. During my Pampered Chef shows I have been known to say “I have never met a bad Pampered Chef recipe.” Up until this week every recipe that I got off the Pampered Chef website was a home run. I made the Easy Tortellini Toss and the Chicken Caesar Salad Skillet and I would not make them again. To be fair I didn’t have enough of the Crushed Peppercorn and Garlic Rub to make the first dish so I substituted but I think it would have been too hot if I would have had enough. The Chicken Caesar Salad Skillet might not have been too bad but I didn’t get the romaine lettuce in a warm dish.

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Tortellini Toss

 

Caesar Salad Skillet
Caesar Salad Skillet

Early this week I made Philly Cheesesteaks in the slow cooker.  Yet another disappointment. After these mini disasters (yes, I tend to take it personally when I put out sucky food) I got less adventurous. Taco night and BBQ chicken from a local church. I just couldn’t take more disappointment.

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Look at those beautiful thin sliced meat for the Philly Cheesesteaks
Taco night
Taco night

 

The Hits

To be fair, it wasn’t all bad. We had leftover fajita meat and veggies which made an AWESOME fajita salad. I could eat that every day. Yes, I said that about a salad.

AMAZING salad
AMAZING salad

This Monday I made Salisbury Steak and white rice (a personal favorite of mine) but it is an old stand-by, nothing new. And, no pictures. I will post the recipe soon.

Yesterday I baked up some pork chops and made a delicious potato salad (even DD raved about it). No pictures. Rats!

Today

So today I remembered to take pictures again and, that’s right, another dinner disappointment. I didn’t even finish it.

But I got lots of pictures.

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*sigh*

Tuesday Tips – Onions & Garlic

When I was growing up my mother only used granulated garlic and onion, never the real thing. I was so deprived. When I became a Pampered Chef consultant I started using more fresh ingredients and learned what real flavor is. Not that I don’t use the granulated garlic and onion but when possible fresh is best.

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Unfortunately, using fresh onions and garlic comes with new issues such as crying from onion fumes, the smell on your hands, the smell in your refrigerator and getting those skins off the garlic. I am going to give you some ideas that have worked for me in to minimize these issues.

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Crying
I rarely have issues cutting onions (it is my understanding that this is because I wear contact lenses which create a barrier between the onion vapors and my eyes). I know that many people, however, are reduced to tears. Humbly and DD both hate cutting onions to the point that Humbly bought onion goggles which make him look silly but keep him from crying like a little girl when he cooks.

There are many helpful hints on how you can keep the tears at bay such as chopping on the stove with your overhead vent on or lighting a candle while you are chopping but these all have mixed reviews. The ones that I have heard that work best are using the overhead vent, cutting under running water (sounds dangerous) and soaking your onion in water for 15 minutes before cutting (just lop off ends and peel first) but those last two will result in a milder tasting onion. To me this is an undesirable result. I like my onions potent.

So then what do I recommend? Put a fan in your kitchen that blows from behind you so that the fumes are blown away from you. Turn it on before you start, turn it off when you are finished. Voila! No more tears.

Smell on your hands
After working with onions and garlic you may notice that for days afterward your hands carry the memory of the vegetables that gave their lives so your dinner could be flavorful. Now I like the smell of onion and garlic but after a day or so it starts smelling sour. So what do you do to get the smell off? When I am cutting onions for salsa I make sure to squeeze the lime in at the end and I do it by hand (instead of my Citrus Press). The acid in the lime (or lemon) will wash the smell right off.

When I am not going to be using any citrus I wash my hands well after my chopping and then rub them on the stainless steel faucet of the sink which does the same thing. It removes that smell. Added bonus, you clean the faucet as well. Once you are done just give it a quick dry and it is all shiny.

They do make stainless steel soap, and I have bought one. It lasts forever and works like a champ.

smell

Smell in your fridge
If you cut up more onion than you need and put the rest in the refrigerator then every time you open the fridge all you will smell is onion. The best way I have found to prevent this is to put the cut onion into a mason jar. The smell stays captured in the jar. There are two disadvantages to this. First, you need to use up the onions quicker because they do over ripen very quickly this way. And second, prepare yourself when you go to open the jar. Because the smell is captured it becomes quite remarkable when you do open the jar. This would be a good time to light a candle or turn on that fan.

Taking the skin off the garlic
If you need a lot of garlic the best thing to do is whack the garlic with the heal of your hand to break it into cloves and then put it into a quart mason jar. Put the lid on and shake vigorously (it will be noisy but this is great exercise). After maybe 30 seconds, open the jar and pour out the peeled garlic and all the garlic paper.

If you only need a couple of cloves then I highly recommend the Pampered Chef Garlic Peeler.  This little piece of silicone is magic. All you have to do is pop a few cloves into the Garlic Peeler and roll it back and forth over a hard surface until you hear a crinkly sound. Then dump it back out and the peels are removed.

Meatful Monday – Awesome Beef Fajitas

We took the best of two recipes and made an amazing recipe for fajitas. We took the onion recipe from the Lodge Fajita Set and the beef recipe from Jeff Mauro’s recipe for Skirt Steak Fajita Pita with Chimichurri, which is an amazing recipe which I highly recommend. So, the night before you slice two large onions and put them in a zip top baggie. Then mix 1 cup of water, with 4 bouillon cubes, 1/2 cup soy sauce and 2 finely diced jalapenos. Then put the bag into a second bag (just in case the first one leaks). Refrigerate overnight.

Three hours before dinner make the beef marinade. Combine soy sauce, lime juice (always use fresh), honey, cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic, salt and pepper (see quantities below). Add beef to marinade and refrigerate 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Cut up a pepper while you heat up a large frying pan and a 2 burner griddle to a medium-high heat.

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Fajitas 002 I also made Goya Yellow Rice which reminds me of my mom’s rice

Fry up the meat and onions separately for 10-12 minutes. We like our meat pretty well done. If you like it less cooked then adjust accordingly.

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Serve it up with sour cream, cheese, taco sauce or anything else that makes you happy.

Awesome Beef Fajitas with Onions

Onion Marinade

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 4 beef bouillon cubes, disolved
  • 2 jalapenos, finely diced
  • 2 large onions, sliced in rings

In gallon sized zip top bag, combine first 4 ingredients. Separate onions into rings; add to marinade making sure onions are under liquid. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.

Beef Fajita Marinade

  • 1/2 cup soy-sauce
  • 1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)
  • 2 tbl honey
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, smashed
  • Salt & freshly cracked pepper to taste
  • 2 lbs skirt steak (or stir-fry beef), sliced into 2″ x 1/2″ strips

Whisk the soy sauce, lime juice, honey, cumin, cayenne, garlic, salt & pepper in a bowl. Place the steak in a large freezer bag and pour the marinade over it. Marinade the steak for at least 30 minutes and up to 3 hours in the refrigerator.

Fajitas

  • 16-20 6-inch flour tortillas
  • tomato slices
  • marinaded onions
  • marinated beef

Preheat 2 frying pans (or griddles) on medium-high heat. Fry up the meat and onions separately for 10-12 minutes.

To assemble, place flour tortillas (heated in oven for about 10 minutes on 350 degrees) on a plate; place some beef strips down the center of tortilla with marinated onions. Add condiments as desired.

The Best Lasagna EVER!

 

I have been making this lasagna for nearly 30 years and I have perfected it. Everyone who has eaten this has proclaimed it as the best lasagna that they have ever eaten. It is NOT good for you. There are 3 lbs or more of cheese in it but I do not boil the noodles so it is pretty easy to make.

I brown a pound of ground beef and then pour in 48 oz of spaghetti sauce. Put just a little of the meat sauce at the bottom of your pan. Then layer with uncooked lasagna noodles. Instead of ricotta I use cottage cheese, so put that on top of the noodles. Then mozzarella and cheddar cheese. Then put just a little sauce on top, barely any. Repeat layers ending with noodles on top.

You should have a lot of sauce left, pour it over the lasagna making absolutely sure that all of the noodles are covered with sauce. You will have hard noodles if they aren’t covered. Top with mozzarella.

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Cover the pan with aluminum foil and here is something that I have just learned. Spray the aluminum foil with non-stick cooking spray. This prevents the cheese from sticking to the foil when you take it off.

Bake for 1 hour on 350 degrees (or put in fridge overnight or freezer for up to 3 months), increase baking time by 20 minutes if you are cooking it directly from the fridge and if you freeze it make sure you defrost it completely before cooking.

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You know it is ready when you start smelling it and the cheese in the center has melted.

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See no cheese stuck to the foil

Take it out of the oven and start your garlic bread. The lasagna should rest for at least 15 minutes or you will never get it cut. It will just be a saucy mess. A delicious one but still a mess.

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Cathy’s No-Boil Lasagna

  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 48 oz spaghetti sauce
  • lasagna noodles (doesn’t need to be no-boil noodles)
  • 16+ oz cottage cheese
  • 16+ oz mozzarella cheese
  • 8+ oz sharp cheddar cheese
  • 8+ oz mild or medium cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Brown ground beef then add spaghetti sauce. Put a couple of tablespoons of meat sauce in the bottom of a 9″ x 11″ pan. Put a layer of uncooked noodles over the sauce. Put a thin layer of cottage cheese on the noodles (about 1 heaping tbl per noodle). Sprinkle with cheeses. Put a thin layer of sauce over the noodles (maybe another tbl per noodle).

Repeat layers ending with noodles. Pour the rest of the sauce over the noodles making sure that all noodles are covered. Top with mozzarella cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for an hour.

Let lasagna rest for at least 15 minutes before slicing.

Don’t Be Irrational – It’s Pi Day

According to Wikipedia, “Pi Day is an annual celebration of the mathematical constant π (pi). Pi Day is observed on March 14, (3/14 in the month/day date format since 3, 1, and 4 are the first three significant digits of π..” Today we celebrate Pi to the 10th digit so 3.141592653 which translates to 3/14/15 9:26:53. So in celebration of the one time in the century that we experience Pi to 10 digits I am commemorating the day with the easiest pie in the world and one of Humbly’s favorites.

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I got the recipe for this pie from Plain Chicken and I made it in the time that it took me to make a frozen pizza. It only has 4 ingredients and that includes the crust. I gathered my ingredients and started preheating the oven for the frozen pizza.

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First zest 2 lemons into a bowl. This one is one of the Multicolor Bamboo Fiber Bowls which is beautiful and light.

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Then take the lemons and roll them under your palm against the counter this is supposed to help you get more juice out of the lemons when you squeeze it. I don’t know if it works or not but I always do it.

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Then I used my Citrus Press, one of my very favorite tools, to juice the lemons. Two lemons makes about 1/2 a cup of juice.

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How’s that for perfect?
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These lemons gave up their lives so we could eat pie

 

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Plop in the lemon juice, a can of condensed milk and a 8 ounce tub of whipped topping, and stir.

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Dump it into the crust.

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And refrigerate for a few hours.

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Look at that I had time to spare

 

 

What’s for Dinner?

For a few years now I have been doing a weekly menu. I print it out along with any recipes and I post it on my refrigerator. This, of course, does not keep the teenagers from asking multiple times each day the age old question. Mom, what’s for dinner?

002Before I started this practice that question could send me into a panic. In those pre-menu days I didn’t really think about dinner until around 4 pm and the answer was usually something like Hamburger Helper. Not that there is anything wrong with Hamburger Helper. It has saved the sanity of many a working mom but my Zesty Ravioli Skillet or Beefy Pasta Skillet are almost as easy, don’t take much longer to make and are miles ahead flavor-wise.

The worst part about deciding about dinner a mere hour before you want to eat is that you usually don’t have what you need on hand to make what you want so you end up settling or going to the grocery store far too often and making impulse purchases that put an unneeded dent in your wallet.

I will admit that creating the menu takes me longer than one might think but that is because I am a recipe hound. I collect recipes like politicians collect money (I mean campaign funding). So, when deciding what is for dinner I usually spend about an hour on Pinterest before I put a single thing down on my menu. Each recipe needs to be reviewed for ingredients that everyone likes, time to prepare and ease of preparation, especially if I am not the one who is going to be doing the cooking.

Then I have to consider thinks like I don’t want to do two pasta dishes in a row, even though T3 would eat pasta every day because “pasta is life.” Yes that is an actual phrase that he said.

Now making a menu doesn’t have to be this complicated. All you really have to do is decide on your protein and search your mental database for something that fits. Monday – ground beef – let’s make tacos; Tuesday – chicken – how about grilled buffalo chicken sandwiches with roasted vegetables; etc.

Once the menu is finished go right to the grocery list. Start with the first day and figure out all the ingredients and amounts that you need and list them all, even the things you are pretty sure you have because unless you live alone someone else might have finished it. Move through the days and don’t forget to add things like a bread or salad to go with the meal. If an ingredient is repeated then find it on the list and add it to the one that is already there. So like milk, you may need quarter cup for one recipe and a half cup for another. So change your list to reflect 3/4 cup milk (this is why I do it on the computer, changes like this are easy.)

Then print the list and check the pantry and fridge for ingredients checking off what you already have as you go. Then it is back to the computer to modify the list with only what you need. I make sure to put the list in the order that it appears at the grocery store so that I am not backtracking.

After shopping you know you have everything you need and when the kids ask what’s for dinner you can direct them to the fridge door where the menu resides.

 

Books & Vegetables

It occurred to me today that I should have named my website something like OCCB Diva, but that would have been too far from the whole OCD joke. I enjoy cooking, I like crafting but I love reading.

I haven’t gotten around to doing a post on crafting yet but mostly I knit. Right now I am working on a shawl/scarf for my DD, darling daughter, who is going to be 19 in June. I will definitely do a posting on that if it gets done. I have just started the hard part of the pattern, the lace edging. And I have threatened several times to rip the whole thing out. But that is for later.

In 2014 I read a total of 85 books including two that were over 1000 pages (thank you Stephen King). This year my goal is another 85 but according to Goodreads I am 4 books behind schedule at the moment. I blame this on the fact that I spent most of January listening to the radio on the way to and from work. I am back to listening to audio books on my daily commute of about 45 minutes each way.

Right now I am listening to The Help by Kathryn Stockett and reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. Both books are not the type that I would normally read but I am enjoying both immensely. I just told Humbly this morning that I don’t get emotionally involved in books because I don’t tend to read drama.

The Help is about how black women were treated in the South in the 1960s and Station Eleven is a dystopian novel that focuses more on the thoughts and emotions of people who survived than on how they survived. So, light reading. Right.

Moving on to vegetables. It is no secret, dear reader, even if you only met me on Sunday when I started my blog, that I have no love of vegetables. However, once a week, right at my work, I am able to get farm fresh fruits and vegetables through a company called Field Goods. What is really neat about this is that I get to try out new things that I would never consider buying at the grocery store.

Last week one of the items I got was celeriac (no not celiac which is a gluten intolerance). Celeriac is celery root (I don’t think it is the root of what we typically buy as celery at the store but a cousin of it). A really ugly cousin.

celeriac

 

I mean it kinda looks like brain, doesn’t it?

Well, you may have noticed that we made homemade french fries on Monday to go with our French Dip sandwiches. When I was researching what to do with celeriac one of the options was to french fry it and I always say that anything tastes good fried so that is what we decided to do. We sliced up some potatoes using my Pampered Chef fry cutter (sorry its been discontinued) and I sliced up the celeriac with a knife (because it is harder than a potato).

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Oh did I mention that I am a Pampered Chef consultant?

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So anyway, we have never made homemade french fries before so we asked Google how to do it. The Internets said that you should fry your fries twice, so we did.

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But we only fried the celeriac once.

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Pampered Chef Bar Board and Forged Cutlery 7″ Santoku Knife are still very much available.

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I gotta be honest. The fries were pretty meh. I mean, not bad for a first try but definitely not awesome. The celeriac tasted like a celery french fry. It had the texture of a french fry but just the slightest taste of celery. The menfolk thought it was edible. I had one and decided that was enough. Oh well, at least I am trying.