Monday, February 28, 2011

After last week, I started thinking about our budget, and I decided to increase the amount I allow for groceries. We're not going to turn into spendthrifts overnight, but that extra $20 a week is a needed increase right now, and I think it'll make grocery shopping a little easier. I also have a dear friend (hi Tammy!) that has 3 grown sons of her own. She said a few kind words this week that encouraged me and reminded me that these little boys really do grow and need me to remember that in my budget. So, I'm feeling better about grocery shopping already (and if you've ever been to the store with 3 little helpers, you know that anything that makes you feel better about the process is a good thing indeed!).

Last week, I realized I had been nursing a cold for over a month! Funny how it sneaks up on you, you know? So, I started hitting it hard with some medication plus a homeopathic remedy, and by Thursday, I was feeling dramatically better. I took it easy the whole week, and I'm really amazed by how much more energy I have this week. It snuck up on me, and I didn't realize how under-the-weather I had been feeling. I'm excited to be back to normal (or what passes for normal in the peculiar household).

All that said, let's get to the menu, shall we?

Friday--Thai spring rolls with peanut butter dipping sauce

Saturday--hummus, carrot sticks, and pita (lunch), chicken sandwiches, Texas caviar (supper)

Sunday--Italian wedding soup (lunch), taco salads (supper)

Monday--pumpkin, sausage, and basil pasta, salad

Tuesday--chicken and sausage etouffee over rice(from last week), coleslaw

Wednesday--golden bowl from a beloved vegetarian restaurant in my hometown--a bowl of delicious 80's-ish health foodie tasting goodness (but in a good way)

Thursday--chicken fried rice

As always, I'm linked to Menu Plan Monday over at Orgjunkie. Lots of great ideas over there. Check it out.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Meal Plan Monday

Grocery prices where I live have been climbing recently. It's time for me to consider increasing my grocery budget, but I haven't done it yet. So, for now, lots and lots of low-meat and bean based meals. Luckily, my kids count beans as their favorite foods (I know! I consider this very lucky as well), so we have them frequently without complaint. And, as always, meal planning lets me look ahead at the week, make sure I have everything I need, then make adjustments ahead of time to keep within my budget. Cause no one wants to eat steak on the first day of the pay period and ramen on the last!

Friday--homemade pepperoni pizza
Saturday--frito chili pie (lunch), chicken tettrazini, salad (supper)
Sunday--omelets, biscuits, sausage, potato pancakes (lunch), gumbo (supper)
Monday--red chilaquiles with chicken and avocado, refried beans
Tuesday--burritos with pinto beans, sweet potatoes, and collards
Wednesday--chicken and sausage etouffee, rice, salad
Thursday--salmon croquettes, rice, butter beans

As always, I'm linked to Meal Plan Monday at orgjunkie. Lots of great ideas over there!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Chicken Marbella Pasta

I have an acquaintance that keeps kosher. This intrigues and inspires me for a lot of reasons, and I'm forever trying to copy what she cooks. Especially now that I'm dairy free. But, also because she eats every single meal at home. That's a lot of dedication, and that takes a lot of creativity to not lose your mind with boredom and repitition.

So, she recently showed off a picture of the classic dish from The Silver Palate cookbook, chicken marbella. Yum. It had been years since I'd made it, but that picture planted a seed in my head. I knew I had to have it soon.

It started with a package of bone-in chicken breasts. I did not thaw them in time, so I poached the whole four pounds. I ended up with way too much chicken, and next time, I'll cut this down a little. But, hey, you gotta work with what you have.

I sauteed onions and garlic (as every good recipe begins), then added white wine to deglaze the pan.
Let that cook until the wine is almost completely evaporated.
Then, I added chicken broth. Just because cooking is weird like that. First you cook out the liquid, then you add more. Whatever. I just know that it tasted good.
I added chopped green olives, oregano, a little brown sugar, and chopped prunes.
After that whole lot simmered for quite a while, I added the cooked chicken. Don't add the chicken too early, cause you don't want it to be dry and over cooked. Too late, though, and the flavors won't have time to mingle. It's a goldilocks moment.

I served this over fettucini, and it was a winner. I'll definitely make it again. All thanks to that sweet kosher friend. Thanks for the idea, Michelle!

Chicken Marbella pasta
adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook

2-4 bone in chicken breasts (I used 4; next time will use 2)
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, finely minced
1/2 cup pitted prunes
1/4 cup pitted Spanish green olives
1/4 cup capers with a bit of juice
2 bay leaves
2 T brown sugar
2 T oregano
1/2 cup white wine
3 T red wine or balsamic vinegar
cooked fettucini

Poach chicken breasts in enough water to cover. When chicken is done (about 30 minutes), remove from broth, shred meat, and reserve chicken broth.

Saute onion and garlic in 1 T olive oil. Deglaze pan with white wine. Allow mixture to simmer until liquid is almost all evaporated. Add about 2 cups chicken broth to skillet, along with prunes, olives, capers, bay leaves, oregano, and brown sugar. Allow mixture to simmer for 30 minutes uncovered.

Add chicken to pan, along with vinegar. Add more chicken broth if needed to get mixture to saucy consistency, around 1/2-1 cup. Add cooked fettucini to pan, toss with sauce, and serve immediately.

I'm linked to Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam. Lots of good ideas there!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Valentine's Date

We are huge homebodies at heart, and sometimes this works to our advantage. When we were dating, Mike could easily convince me to have special dinners at home. When we got engaged, we splurged on a lobster and cooked it at home. Our first few Valentine's days? At home, of course.

These days, that works to our advantage, because our warm fuzzy memories are of cozy dinners at home, just the two of us, and that's what we want more than anything.

So, this year, as always, we added another cozy memory to the bank.

We started with an appetizer that hasn't shown up for quite a while. Little toasts, topped with thin slices of cucumber and cold smoked salmon. These are fantastic. Initially, the idea came from a Barefoot Contessa episode on the Food Network. So good.

My mom and I lucked up on some marked down Meyer lemons last week. I had big plans to do something fancy with them, but they ended up becoming sparkling Meyer lemonade. I told myself that I was just appreciating the flavor. Let's face it. Lazy is as lazy does. But, this lazy tasted really good, and we did appreciate the unique flavor.

And, a classic. Grilled tenderloin, with roasted sweet potatoes (topped with garlic infused kosher salt). It's classic for a reason. So good.

A funny story about my amaretto. I love, love, love some amaretto. And I wanted it to pour over my strawberries this year (which were awesome, by the way). So, I stopped by the liquor store to buy a mini bottle (which is what fit into the budget this week). We live close to a university, so the kid in front of me presented his ID and the cashier scrutinized it for. ever. Then, when it was my turn, he didn't even ask. I walked away all defeated. Do I really look that old? Am I losing my coolness? And, then, I realized. Dude, I was buying a mini bottle. No underage kid would be interested in that. I had given away my age completely. And I reassured myself that I still had it.

Of course.

The strawberries were fabulous, in all their out of season glory. Yum.

And a night with my Valentine? Better than anything else. I love that man with everything I've got. Thanks for making me better at being me, honey. You're the best.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Family valentines

Growing up, we always celebrated Valentine's Day in some way. My mom always did something special, some years a meal or a dessert, and once I remember a special shirt with hearts all over it. I think it's her favorite holiday. So, it seems odd to let the day pass by. And, I do love some Valentine's Day, so this year, we tried to celebrate all day long. Over the past week, we have worked on memorizing an appropriate Bible verse, and that was our overriding theme this year.

Love one another.
1 John 3:14

I started the day by packing a special lunch for Mike. Isn't this sparkling cider so cute? I found it at Kroger, and I knew that I had to have it for his lunch box.

Our oatmeal got special treatment.

These hearts have been used for many, many years, all through the house on Valentine's Day (I think the first year was 2003). They still bring a smile.

Valentine's presents for three special little boys.

Even the peanut butter got in on the action.

We spent the morning making Valentine's.

Our beloved mascot.

Our table all decorated for a Valentine's supper.

I brought out the special red glasses for this night. The boys were delighted to drink our special drink (which, in all honesty, was Kool Aid. Don't be a hater).

My sideboard decorated for the day as well.

With a sweet picture of two very, very young love birds. This was early in our dating life. I never would have predicted 3 little boys, a house about 3 miles from the apartment we were standing in, and a whole lot of great memories in the meantime.

And, of course, everyone's favorite part....brownies for dessert!

I hope your family's celebration of Valentine's Day was fantastic as well.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Friday, February 4, 2011

Moo Shu Chicken

For Christmas, I got the cookbook, Cheap.Fast.Good! It's a really great cookbook for my everyday, needs to be ready in 30 minutes, no funny ingredients, sort of cooking style. Now, I love tackling a big, complicated recipe as much as the next girl. In fact, maybe more. But, on a Tuesday night when my kids didn't take naps, the dog won't stop barking, and my living room needs to be vacuumed again. Well, on those days, I'm not busting out Gourmet. Thirty minutes will have to do.

I also appreciate that the authors of this book cook with a slant towards southern food. When my mom made gravy, it was brown. Not white like those mountain folks. Not red like those odd birds in the northeast. Brown. And it usually came alongside fried chicken. So, those are the flavors that speak to my soul. I was thinking just the other day that it's no wonder our ancestors fried so often. It's so darn easy and fast and good. And, then I thought to myself, okay, that probably totally gives away my roots.

But I digress.

This is a quick, easy meal that everyone liked. Couldn't be better.

It starts with a couple of convenience foods. Bagged coleslaw mix and hoisin sauce. I bought this at the Asian market (hence the writing that I can't read), but you can get it anywhere.

And, it ends beautifully, in what we told our boys were "Chinese tacos". Hey, whatever works, right? I served them alongside store-bought (Trader Joes) egg rolls.

Mu Shu Chicken
adapted from Cheap Fast Good by Beverly Mills
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast
8 oz mushrooms, coarsely chopped
16 oz bag coleslaw mix
1 T oil
1/4 cup hoisin sauce
2 t dark sesame oil
12 small flour tortillas
extra hoisin sauce for the tortillas

Chop chicken breasts into bite size pieces. Heat the oil in an extra deep skillet over medium heat. Add the chicklen to the skillet and cook, until browned and almost cooked through, about 6-8 minutes. Add the mushrooms to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until they just begin to brown. Meanwhile, mix the hoisin sauce, sesame oil, and 1/4 cup water in a small bowl. Add the hoisin mixture and coleslaw mix to the skillet. Stir well, cover, and cook for about 3 minutes. Heat the tortillas in the microwave or a cast iron skillet. Spread a little extra hoisin sauce in the center of each tortilla. Using a slotted spoon, place about 1/2 cup of the chicken mixture in the center of each tortilla. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Pork Roast

It's the dead of winter. Which means one thing. We want what we can't have. Of course. In my house, we love some barbecue. Smoked all day, until it's tender and falling apart. Really, nothing could be better. And my husband does a fine job of it. But, for us, barbecuing season is over around Christmas. January and February just prove to be a little cold to tend a fire for several hours. Come spring, we (who am I kidding? Mike) will be back out there barbecuing with the best of them. But, for right now, we make due with this great recipe from the Lee Bros.

It starts with a heavy pot with a well fitting lid. I use this beloved pot from Le Creuset. It's a bouillabaise pot, and it's perfect for everything you can think of. I use it to stir fry, to deep fry, to braise in the oven. I use it for stews and soups, for boiling peanuts. You name it. I've cooked it in this pot. It's my favorite kitchen equipment, and I'm glad that Mike splurged on it one year for Christmas.

But, I digress. First you get a pot.

Brown the pork butt on all sides. This takes about 8-10 minutes per side, so it's not quick. But, it's well worth it for the flavor it brings to the table. This is a really big butt. I think it was about 7 pounds or so.

Once all sides are browned, place the butt so that the fatty side is up. This will help baste the meat during cooking, keeping it moist and flavorful. I pour flavored vinegar in as the braising liquid.

And now the tedious part. Baste. And baste some more. Cooked low and slow, basted forever and a day. The meat will turn out like this. Beautiful brown and crispy on the top, moist and flavorful inside. It will shred with 2 forks, very, very easily.

Serve with your favorite sauce. Winter barbecue. It'll put a little summer on your table, even with nastiness outside.

Oven Roasted Pork Butt
The Lee Bros Southern Cookbook
One large (at least 3-3.5 pound) pork butt, skin on, bone in
1 teaspoon oil
2 cups vinegar barbecue sauce
1 T cane syrup or sorhum (optional, but good)
1/2 cup chicken broth (optional again)
1/2 cup apple cider (optional)

Remove butt from fridge 2 hours prior to cooking to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Sear each side of the butt until golden brown, about 8-10 minutes per side, in a hot pan with the oil.
Pour the barbecue sauce over the meat, and heat until the sauce simmers. Transfer to the oven, cover, and bake, basting every 15 minutes, until a meat thermometer registers 175 degrees, about 3.5 hours.
Optional part: transfer 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid to a saucepan. Add the molasses, broth, and cider, and bring to a simmer. Simmer vigorously about 6 minutes, until reduced by half. Baste the shoulder the the syrup, return to the oven, and turn the heat up to 425. Cook uncovered for 15 minutes more.
Lazy girl option: uncover the pork, turn the heat up to 425, and cook for 15 more minutes.
Remove the pork from the oven, let it rest for 10 minutes. Carve or pull the pork, and serve with your favorite sauce.

Vinegar sauce
2 cups white vinegar
2 T chili powder (use whatever you like; I like ancho for this)
1 t pepper
1 T salt
1 t sugar

In a jar with a tight fitting lid, put all the ingredients. Shake until well combined. This sauce will keep forever in the fridge.

This post is linked to Tasty Tuesday over at Balancing Beauty and Bedlam. Lots of great ideas there.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Bowl of yum

I am in love with the flavors of spicy, bitter, and sweet. Yum. I can't get enough.

As it frequently does, this recipe started with beautiful greens. I'm normally not a fan of kale, but this was really pretty at the market, and it was better than usual. Although, really? How can anything go wrong when quickly cooked in olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes? That would make a shoe taste good.

I marinated some pork in chipotle (just boneless pork loin, sliced thin, rubbed with a mashed chipotle, and allowed to sit for a couple of hours). I pan fried this in a tablespoon or so of oil.

Oven roasted some sweet potato cubes. I let these go just a hair long, but they were fine. Just chop, toss with a little oil, salt, and pepper, then roast at 400 for 30 minutes or so.

We mixed all this together, topped with hot sauce, cilantro, onion, and chopped jalapenos. A burrito in a bowl, if you will, with cheap, in season ingredients.

This combination totally works. You must try it soon. So good.

Today, I'm linked to Balancing Beauty and Bedlam's Tasty Tuesday. Check it out.