Friday, July 1, 2016

Making A List

I've been asked before about how I make out my grocery list, or similarly, how I do menu planning. Typically, I don't have a highly organized list or plan, andI keep most of what I need to know right there in my noggin. Frankly, that's not a super-reliable place to keep information. That thing's like a sieve!

The best advice I give myself all the time is: Write It Down! Sometimes I have to force myself to stop what I'm doing so I can grab a pen or my phone or whatever I need to record my profound thoughts. Things like, "toothpaste" and "make cookies for Jeff's office". Important items I need to remember for my shopping trip. There's nothing more irritating than arriving home only to realize I've forgotten a particular ingredient or event to which I'm supposed to bring food. Recording what I need is preferable to finding myself muttering, "mascara, mascara, mascara" while my teen-aged daughter eyes me warily.

That said, here is how my twice-monthly list-making generally starts out:

Notebook paper (because I've long since outgrown the index card I used to use).
My favorite pen. (Unless I can't find it.)
My day planner.
My phone. (This basically doubles my day planner - but I have to make sure they sync up because I may have written a note in one and not the other. And yes, I need both. Handwritten > digital. But digital is admittedly more convenient at times.)
And not pictured, though it's directly to the left, my laptop - for Pinterest.

So I look over my calendar and see what's coming up over the next couple of weeks. Am I making dinner for anyone? Are the kids going to be gone at some point? Are we having company? Any birthdays or other special events?

I ask for requests. (Why I bother I don't know: Spaghetti. Tacos. Hamburgers. Lather, rinse, repeat.)

I check Pinterest for old favorites and new recipes I'd like to try.

What am I in the mood to make? What haven't we had in a while? 

I glance through my pantry and fridge to see what staples I may be low on. 

I factor all of that in, then write down my menu on the right-hand side of the page. If necessary, I make a note of where the recipe is - cookbook/magazine/Pinterest, etc. On the left, I list out the ingredients I need to buy. I generally list "odd" items - things I don't buy often and will probably only find at Publix/Kroger - in the middle.

I don't use coupons. Practically nothing I buy even has coupons that apply, anyway. I'll hit up three stores on my quest to keep these people fed. Aldi is one of the three stores I go to - it's cheaper there than a regular store with coupons. Bulk purchasing and Aldi are so much easier than dealing with coupons, in my experience and calculations. Plus, ain't nobody got time for that.

I don't write an exhaustive list. Of course I need milk and bread, so I never list out those staples that find their way into my cart every trip.

This is just what works for me! I think the key is to plan ahead which saves time and money, and that's important for any family.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Black Bean Turkey Tacos

This is my go-to taco filling recipe! I use this for soft tacos, burritos, taco salad, rice bowls and casseroles. It makes a substantial amount which I usually divide into three meal-sized portions - one for the current meal and two for the freezer. I love having two quick meals ready to go for another day! Especially if you store the meat flat in a freezer bag, it defrosts in no time at all.

I think it's important to keep easy freezer meals handy for several reasons.

1. Buying in bulk is cheaper.
2. Doubling or tripling a recipe doesn't take much longer to do than a single recipe.
3. You never know what may come up on a given day. Having a frozen back-up plan is much cheaper and healthier than falling back on eating out in a restaurant.
4. When someone you know is in need, you have a meal ready to share!

Black Bean Turkey Tacos

3 pounds lean ground turkey
1 small onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
5-6 teaspoons chili powder (to your taste)
3 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
1 - 10 oz can tomatoes with green chilies
2  - 15.5 oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained.

In a tablespoon of olive oil, saute the onion and garlic until softened, then add in the turkey. Continue to saute until the meat is browned through, breaking it up as it cooks. Sprinkle with the seasonings and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes longer. Stir in the tomatoes and black beans. Cook until heated through.


Thursday, June 9, 2016

Creamy Taco Salad

When I was a kid (and let's face it, even now!) I wasn't a big fan of vegetables. One way my mom got us to eat more was by offering them raw. I loved them that way! Carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, celery ... my diet was vastly improved by raw veggies. I don't even remember dipping them in anything, except that we ate peanut butter with our celery. Anyway, these days I have to be creative with salads because I'm still picky about what veggies I like. Often, a good dressing makes all the difference! I like to make my own because I can cut fat, calories and chemicals that way. Cool, tangy Cilantro-Garlic Sauce from Mama Loves Food is the perfect complement in this case. (I modified her recipe a little to suit my taste.) This salad is an easy fix with leftover taco meat. Often, taco salads have corn but I use carrot here to boost the nutrition yet still have that little sweet crunch corn would provide.



Creamy Taco Salad

2 cups romaine lettuce
1 cup iceberg lettuce

1/2 cup prepared taco meat (heated)
1/4 cup black beans
1 small carrot, peeled and diced
1/4 cup shredded cheddar (or pepper jack)

Cilantro-Lime Sauce

8 ounces reduced-fat (neufchatel) cream cheese
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/4 cup milk
Juice from 2 limes (about 2-3 tablespoons)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup cilantro leaves, loosely packed

In a blender, combine all ingredients except cilantro until smooth. Add in cilantro and blend until smooth again. Keep refrigerated.

For the salad:

In a bowl, layer the lettuces. Top with the carrots, taco meat, beans, and cheese. Drizzle with desired amount of cilantro dressing (reserve extra for another time). Serve!




Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Strawberry-Lemon Trifle

One of my family's favorite flavor combinations is citrus and berries. For this particular dessert, I was inspired by that flavorful duo and Tiramisu - another favorite. The blend here results in a creamy, tangy, tart, sweet, cool dessert that is perfect for hot summer days!


Strawberry-Lemon Trifle

2 cups sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup water

12 oz lemon curd
12 oz cream cheese, softened (I use reduced-fat "neufchatel")
2 cups heavy whipping cream
6 tablespoons powdered sugar, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla, divided

1 package lady fingers (These are usually found in the bakery section of your grocery store.)

Your first step is to make the strawberry puree (while singing "strawberry puree" to the tune of "Raspberry Beret", because that's how I do it). In a small saucepan, bring the strawberries, sugar and water to a simmer, and cook for 5-6 minutes until the berries begin to break down. Set aside to cool. After it cools, puree the mixture; strain it and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a well-chilled metal bowl, whisk the whipping cream until bubbles form. Add in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 3 tablespoons powdered sugar; continue whisking until the cream thickens and forms soft peaks. Set aside; keep chilled.

In a mixing bowl, blend the cream cheese until well softened. Add in the lemon curd, 3 tablespoons powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla. Blend until completely smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into this mixture.

In a clear glass trifle or punch bowl, place a layer of ladyfingers. Top with about a third of the strawberry puree ("the kind you find in a second-hand store...") and a third of the lemon curd mixture. Repeat layers twice more. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 4 hours or more, until ready to serve.




Sunday, June 5, 2016

Waldorf Chicken Wellington

With my oldest daughter going away to camp for a week, I asked her what she'd like for special meals before she left. Her first request was this chicken! It's tender and packed full of flavor, making it totally worth the little bit of extra effort. It was inspired by a dish my brother-in-law made for my in-laws' 30th wedding anniversary - 17 years ago.


Waldorf Chicken Wellington

In a small mixing bowl, combine the filling ingredients:

1 apple, cored and finely diced (any variety, though I like Honeycrisp)
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1 stalk celery (leaves included), finely diced
1 green onion, diced
1 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning (I love Savory Spice Shop's blend.)
4 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese

This picture is washed out, but the mixture is actually pretty colorful.
3 sheets puff pastry, thawed

1 egg + 1 tablespoon water, beaten
2 chicken breasts, cut into six pieces
additional lemon-pepper seasoning

Preheat the oven to 400°. Working with one sheet of pastry at a time, roll it out slightly. Cut in half and brush with the egg wash. Season the chicken on both sides with lemon-pepper. Place one piece of chicken at a short end of each rectangle (leaving about an inch border); top with about 1/4 cup of the apple mixture. Fold the pastry over and tuck in the edges, using more egg wash to seal if needed. Repeat with the other sheets of pastry, moving the bundles to a greased baking sheets. Brush the tops with the remaining egg wash. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until the pastry is golden and beginning to brown at the edges.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Jeni's Summer Cake

I developed this recipe several summers ago when I wanted a fairly light dessert. At first I used a boxed cake mix, but a scratch cake makes all the difference! When I made the cake today, I used  this one-bowl yellow cake recipe, with just a few modifications - though you can use whatever your favorite is, even if it's from a box!

With the fresh citrus flavor, cool whipped cream topping and the fact that it's stored in the refrigerator, this cake is perfectly refreshing as a summer dessert!



Jeni's Summer Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 cups sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt 
zest from one orange
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
Preheat oven to 325º. Grease a 9x13 baking dish; set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, orange zest and salt. Add in butter, buttermilk and vanilla. Mix for 3-4 minutes; add in eggs and continue to beat for another 3 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake at 325º for 30-35 minutes, until golden and a toothpick inserted near the middle comes out clean. Cool in pan on a wire rack.

Meanwhile, in a small saucepan on the stovetop, combine the following ingredients:

zest of one orange
3/4 cup orange juice (I use the two oranges I zested, plus prepared OJ if needed to equal 3/4 cup.)
1/2 cup sugar

Bring to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer for 10-15 minutes until reduced and thickened. Remove from heat and let cool.

After the syrup has cooled a bit, poke holes all over your cake - I use a sharp steak knife. Carefully pour the simple syrup over every inch of the cake, letting it soak in. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until well-chilled, about 2 hours. When you're ready to serve it, top with homemade whipped cream!

Homemade Whipped Cream

2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar

In a well-chilled metal bowl, whisk the whipping cream until bubbles form. Add in the vanilla and powdered sugar and continue whisking until the cream thickens and forms soft peaks. As I told you when I shared my Cinnamon Cream Fruit Dip recipe: I use my stand mixer and it takes just a couple of minutes. If you whisk it by hand it will take a little longer, and it will feel like forever!










Sunday, May 29, 2016

Sausage & Cheese Muffins


I am not much of a sweet breakfast person ... or a breakfast person in general. A typical breakfast for me is a cup of coffee, followed by a green smoothie a few hours later. But when I do eat, I much prefer something savory, like grits and eggs and/or bacon. One thing I like to do is make a batch of savory muffins to keep in the freezer/fridge. I can pop one in the microwave and in no time at all have a warm breakfast! I really enjoy these Ham and Cheese Corn Muffins, though I modify the recipe a bit, and I recently changed it up by using sausage instead. (Respectable Southern women do NOT put sugar in their cornbread! Bacon fat, yes, sugar, no.)

Sausage & Cheese Muffins

1¼ cups flour
¾ cup yellow cornmeal
½ tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
⅓ cup canola oil
1 cup cooked, crumbled breakfast sausage
½ cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
2 chopped green onions

Preheat oven to 375. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, salt and baking powder. In a separate bowl, whisk together buttermilk, eggs and oil. Stir into the dry ingredients just until combined (still lots of lumps); fold in sausage, cheese and green onions. Spoon the mixture into greased muffin cups, three-quarters full. Bake for 15-18 minutes. Yield: 18 muffins (Store in the refrigerator.)

I reheat these in the microwave for about one minute on 50% power. Your microwave may vary.