Saturday, March 19, 2011

spring cleaning

My kids were home from school on Friday, so naturally I took advantage of the extra hands and put them to work!  That's just the kind of awesome mom I am.  We're trying to get our house ready to sell (which means getting it ready to show to potential buyers), so I made this massive list of everything that has to be done in each room of the house.  I broke it down so the jobs were mostly small and simple, and my cute little team went from room to room working hard together. 

We had some scheduled breaks and eventually got so tired of working we stopped early for some ice cream before heading to the park for swings and soccer practice.  We really want to get our house on the market, so we tried to get as much done as we could and didn't stop to make dinner.  I was going to pick up a bag of Whoppers on the way home when I remembered the 5 lbs of ground beef I had just bought the day before.  So instead of spending a bunch on fast food, we went home and made our own.  It was a good choice.

Dinner Menu:
Carrots & ranch dressing

I mixed salt and pepper, onion powder, garlic powder, and BBQ sauce into the meat before forming the patties and cooking on the griddle.  When I pulled them off the heat, I topped each patty with sliced sharp cheddar cheese.  We had giant buns, so I used 2 of my 5 lbs and divided it into 8 patties.  They were huge and juicy and delicious.  On the side we had the usual lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, ketchup, mustard, mayo.  On my burger, I had tomatoes, lettuce, avocado, and ranch dressing.  Mmmmmm...

It was a simple meal, a huge hit, and easy to get on the table in just a few minutes.

Friday, March 18, 2011

kiss me, i'm irish

I love St. Patrick's Day.  No gifts required, just a bit of green fun.  I made green eggs for breakfast while the kids searched for just the right outfit.  Some like to display their green obviously to avoid any chance of pinches.  Others like to hide their green so they can enjoy the multiple revenge pinches those poor, unsuspecting classmates get when they unknowingly give them a pinch.  The baby likes to wear green every day because it's her favorite color.

Yesterday we had parent-teacher conferences at the elementary school.  Our assigned conference schedule is right during dinner time, so we needed something quick and easy that we could eat before we left.  Taco Salad to the rescue!  Or so I had planned.  Even that was too difficult a dinner to put together last night.  Instead, while I doctored the forehead gash that was the result of a head-on collision between my 3-year-old and a heavy door, (and resulted in bright red blood all over her favorite green shirt) the kids assembled their own bean and cheese quesadillas (or cheese crisps if you're from Arizona, like me).  I had set out a bunch of fruit for a snack before we left so they wouldn't think they were starving to death, and we still had it out for dinner.  It was definitely not the cute, festive green dinner I had planned to celebrate our Irish heritage, but we did have yummy green pistachio cupcakes for dessert.

Dinner Menu:
Fresh Fruit
Pistacio Cupcakes

Pistachio Cupcakes
1 box white cake mix
1 small box pistachio pudding
1 c oil (yes, an entire cup - no wonder they're not dry)
1 c 7-up/Sprite
3 eggs
Mix ingredients together for 3 minutes.  Pour into lined muffin tin; don't overfill.  Bake at 350 for 15-18 minutes.  Makes 24-30 cupcakes.  Cool completely before frosting.

1 small box pistachio pudding
1 c milk
8-13 oz Cool Whip (I usually go for the smaller size)
Mix pudding and milk until thickens.  Fold in Cool Whip.  Spoon or pipe frosting onto cupcakes.  Eat with napkins (this fluffy goodness always ends up on your nose).  If you're really feeling fancy you can add sprinkles like the photo above (not mine - I'm not that fancy).

This is my big brother's favorite cake and a definite favorite in my family when I was growing up.  I'm generally  not a huge fan of cupcakes.  They always seem to be dry and not worth the effort.  So I was thrilled when I  recently discovered these make excellent, moist and delicious cupcakes.  I often substitute other pudding flavors for variety.  In fact, in addition to the leftover pistacio cupcakes, I have chocolate and lemon in my kitchen right now.  Mmmmmm... yummy.

photo courtesy of kirbie

Thursday, March 17, 2011

crock pots can be torture

Staying in the house with the crock pot slowly cooking away.  Smells wafting through the rooms.  Mouth watering.  Tummy growling.  Anticipation growing.

Sound familiar?  That was my day yesterday.  I tried this new recipe for Meatball Stew.  Sounded like a simple, tasty meal = veggies, meatballs, soups all mixed together and set to cook on low all day - and it was.  A loaf of homemade wheat bread topped off the meal nicely.

The kiddos loved it.  The hubby raved.  The veggies were tender and tasty.  Even though the bread didn't raise very well, it was still tasty and delicious.  It was pretty humid yesterday, I mean, it rained, and my bread didn't like that one bit.  We'll definitely have to make this one again.

Dinner Menu:
Meatball Stew
Homemade Wheat Bread

Meatball Stew
3 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 pkg (16 oz) baby carrots, cut in half lengthwise
1 large onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, sliced
12 oz frozen meatballs
1 can condensed tomato soup
1 can beef gravy
1 c water
1 envelope onion soup mix
2 tsp beef bouillon granules

(1)  Place potatoes, carrots, onion, celery and meatballs in your slow cooker.  I used 4 potatoes because the carrots seemed to be overpowering the dish.  I also used 4 celery stalks because my celery was tiny and 4 seemed to be the size of 3 regular stalks.  I used about 26 meatballs, but we decided we would like a few more meatballs next time.

(2)  Mix soup, gravy, water, onion soup mix and bouillon in a bowl and pour over the veggie-meatball mixture.  The recipe called for a 10.5 oz can of gravy, but the one I bought was 14 oz.  I didn't particularly need 3.5 oz of gravy hanging around, so I added the whole thing.

(3)  Cover and cook on low for 9-10 hours or until the veggies are crisp tender.  My current crock pot cooks pretty quickly, so I never need to cook things for the entire time suggested in recipes.  However, I always give myself that much time just in case.  I started the stew cooking at 10-ish and turned it off around 5:00.

Wheat Bread
5 c hot water (115-120 degrees)
2 Tb Saf yeast
1/2 c honey
1/3 c oil
2 Tb salt
1 Tb liquid lecithin
1 tsp vitamin C powder
12 c whole wheat flour (more or less as needed)

(1)  Mix together everything except flour.  Liquid lecithin and vitamin C powder can be found at health food stores. The liquid lecithin is very sticky and doesn't wash out of your measuring spoon very well.  My advice is to measure it once to see what 1 Tb should look like, then eyeball it from then on.  Measure the oil and then pour it into the measuring cup you'll use for the honey; then pour it into the mixer. That way your honey cup is oiled and you won't have to mess with trying to scrape the honey out.

(2)  With your mixer set to medium speed, add flour one cup at a time. Mix 10 minutes; don't add more flour after the first 2 minutes. The feel of the dough matters more than exact measurements, so you may need more or less flour depending on the day. After you've made it a few times, you'll know what you like and what your dough should look and feel like. You don't need to knead the dough because the mixer did that for you.

(3)  Let dough rise until doubled. I have a big red bowl that was $1.50 at Walmart and is one of my favorite kitchen tools.  I set the dough in that bowl and let it rise until it's peeking up over the top. 

(4)  Smash the down down (great stress reliever) and divide into 4-5 equal parts. Shape into loaves and let rise in pans. When dough has risen 1-2 inches above the loaf pans, it's ready to bake. 

(5)  Bake at 350 for 35 minutes.

(6)  Use a pastry brush to brush butter over the tops of the loaves when they come out of the oven to make your loaves look shiny and pretty.  Let them rest in the pans for a few minutes before moving them to wire cooling racks.  If you put them in plastic bags while they're still warm, the condensation on the inside of the bag will make your loaves soggy.
stew photo courtesy of tasteofhome

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

day 1 and already off track

I generally plan a two-week menu but only shop a week at a time so fresh ingredients don't rot before we use them.  That said, I don't always follow the menu I have planned.  I like to cook what I feel like eating, but I also like variety and have a schedule that needs to be worked around.  Lately I follow my menu a lot more closely than I used to, and I don't end up with a bunch of meal options at the end of the week that I don't want to make!  But there are still days when I can't, or just don't want to, and this was one of those days.

Yesterday I wasn't home when I usually prepare and serve dinner.  I took my 2nd grader to dance and my 6th grader to soccer tryouts.  The meal I had planned needed to be prepared right before serving, and since that simply wasn't going to work, I made a last-minute change.  This is one of my "I need something fast and easy" meals, and it's yummy, too.  The recipe is pretty standard and probably one you've seen - probably even made yourself - before.  However, I do have a twist or two...

Dinner Menu:
Chicken Chalupas w/shredded lettuce & tortilla chips
Corn - straight from the can 'cuz we're fancy like that
Baby carrots
Dessert: NCAA Tournament brackets - we didn't eat them, we just filled them out.  We still haven't decided what the prize will be for the winner.  Any suggestions?

Chicken Chalupas
1 rotisserie chicken
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1 pint sour cream
1 can (4 oz) green chilies
1/2 c salsa
onions to taste (or smell)
1 lb. sharp cheddar cheese
8-10 flour tortillas
paprika (optional)
shredded lettuce
tortilla chips

(1) De-bone the chicken; chop the meat into bite-sized chunks and set aside.  You can use another kind of chicken, of course, like one you cook yourself, but grabbing a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store is one of the ways I get this dish into the oven in just a few minutes.

(2)  Mix soup, sour cream, chilies, salsa, onions, and about 3/4 of the cheese in a large bowl.  I dump in the green chilies and then fill the can with salsa and add that, too.  It gives the dish a little extra kick.  For the onions, I either grate a yellow onion or chop a few green onions.  I go by smell to know how many is right, so for now, just think small yellow onion or 3-5 green onions until you figure out your own balance.  If you don't like onions, you can substitute 1 tsp onion powder to get the flavor boost you get from onions without the actual onion taste.

(3)  Move half of your soup mixture to another bowl.  To the original bowl, add the chicken.  Use the chicken/soup mixture to fill your tortillas.  Place a large, heaping spoonful of goo onto the tortilla and roll it up.  Place in a 9x13 casserole dish.  I like to get the burrito size and smash the edges in to fit across the 9' side of the dish.  Or you can go a size down and not have to smash anything.  Repeat until you run out of goo.

(4)  Take your reserved soup mixture and spread over the top of the tortilla rolls.  Sprinkle with remaining chese.  Sprinkle with paprika, if desired.

(5)  Bake at 350 for 45 minutes.

(6)  To serve, make a bed of shredded lettuce on the plate.  Scoop chalupas onto the lettuce.  Top with salsa, if desired, and eat with chips.  My favorite part of this meal when I was young was to use my chip as a spoon.  My kids love doing that, too.  I don't serve these like separate enchiladas.  Instead we serve it up like a casserole.  It's nice to not have to figure out how many enchiladas to make.

I didn't take a picture last night - because I hadn't had this brilliant blog idea yet - so when I was searching for a photo I could use, I remembered that the original recipe calls for olives, but I don't add them because I'm not a huge fan.  They are really great served with a side of guacamole, and I love tomatoes in just about everything, so I would make sure there are some tomatoes available the next time we serve them, too.

photo courtesy of thehungrywife

the grand scheme of things

I have this idea for a blog...

It's not that I think my weekly menus are earth shattering.  Nor do I believe everyone wants to eat like me and my family.  Still, I want to share our day to day dinners, our homestyle family meals that regular people eat.  We eat rather simply -- no five star gourmet dishes grace my dining room table -- but we do have a sit-down family dinner together almost every day of our lives. 

Over the years I have taught four picky eaters how to graciously try new foods and expand their palettes.  I'm still working on getting the fifth picky eater to eat more than hot dogs and white bread with butter.  I'll let you know if we ever get there. 

Making dinner (and lunch.. and breakfast...) every day of my life can get tedious, and even though I have always loved to cook, I still have to find ways to keep the day to day work of it all from getting too unbearable.  I frequently try new recipes to spice things up and keep it interesting for me.  We have found some great new favorites and some truly awful dishes that way. 

I have started another food blog or two, but I have a problem with the typical food blod.  There's just so much pressure to only post recipes that are so mouth-wateringly delicious they bring a tear to your eye. 

This isn't that blog. 

Don't get me wrong - there definitely will be some dishes so tasty they make you want to cry -- or at least have seconds -- but we'll probably have a few on the opposite end of the spectrum, too.  As I try new recipes, I'll post them and how they turn out and whether or not I believe the not-so-great ones are worth trying to save.  I will also share our old stand-bys and family favorites...  even the ones I'm not particularly fond of but my kids and/or husband love.

Basically, this is what we're eating for dinner, day to day, week to week, month to month, and hopefully we'll all find some new favorites together.  Please, please leave lots of comments and share some recipes of your own - I'm always looking for something new to try. 

So here's the plan: great food, great fun, great company.  Are you ready?  Ok, here we go!