Thursday, September 30, 2010

Making Every Penny Count -- Slowcooker Chicken

My grocery store rotates what meats are on sale each week. As I'm shopping for what's on my grocery list, I always keep my eye out for the sales. Chicken is one thing that is expensive at full price, but goes on great sales. That's when I snap it up! Occasionally I put the packages in the freezer for later; more often I fire up my Crockpot.

I layer aromatic veggies, seasonings and the chicken together in the slow cooker and several hours later I have chicken fully cooked, ready to be shredded and placed in the freezer.

3-4 pounds chicken (I prefer bone-in, skin-on and a mix of dark and white meats)
1 onion, peeled and quartered
handful of baby carrots
a few celery ribs with leaves, cut into 3 inch sections
2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
salt and pepper to taste
1-2 cups of water/chicken broth
(seasoning of your choice, optional)

All this just goes in the slow cooker for  6-8 hours. Boneless, skinless breasts will cook faster and will require the use of low-sodium chicken broth instead of water. Depending on what I'll be using the chicken for, I sometimes add lemon-pepper seasoning or herbs, but mostly I just use S&P since the chicken is going in the freezer to use at a later date.

Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, de-bone it and shred it (or dice it) placing it in quart-sized freezer bags. Don't forget to label the bags with the contents and date! Allow the chicken to cool fully before placing the bags flat in the freezer. Keeping them flat makes for easier storage and faster thawing when it's time to use them.

Finally, you'll want to strain your broth and reserve that, too. Make sure it's cool, then pour it into labelled freezer bags and freeze it flat. 

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cinnamon Cream Fruit Dip

It's a proven fact that if you give kids something to dip their fruit into, they'll eat more fruit. At least it works for my kids, anyway! Here's the recipe for one of our very favorite fruit dips:

1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

This works best when you start with a chilled (ten minutes in the freezer) mixing bowl and whisk (or whisk attachment).

In a stainless steel mixing bowl, whisk the whipping cream until it begins to thicken. Add in the extract, sugar and cinnamon. Continue whisking until the cream reaches a "dippable" consistency and soft peaks begin to form. (Lift your whisk up out of the cream. If peaks stand up, you're set!) Serve cold with fruit for dipping. We love it with apples, but the flavor would work with nearly any fruit your family likes. 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!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Apple Thyme Chicken

I'm never sure about the combination of sweet and savory, fruits and meat, but it seems to be very popular. I needed something different to do with chicken breasts the other night, and since I had an apple leftover from another recipe, I thought I'd give it a shot! My family really liked the combination, so I figured it was worth sharing. And now that it finally feels like fall outside, this would be a great new autumn recipe to try.

In a gallon-sized resealable plastic bag, combine:
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves
1 garlic clove, smashed, peeled
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Marinate for at least 4 hours, or overnight.

In a shallow dish, combine:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon onion soup mix
1/4 teaspoon pepper
Remove chicken from marinade and dredge in the flour mixture.

Saute chicken in 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat for 5 minutes, while covered.  Remove cover, flip chicken and saute for 5 more minutes. Remove chicken to a dish, cover with foil and keep warm.

2 tablespoons butter
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon brown sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Granny Smith apple, cored and sliced
dash of cinnamon

In your skillet, melt the butter, then add in the broth, whisking to pick up all the browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Add in the apple slices and cinnamon. Simmer for a few minutes until the apples begin to soften. Add in the chicken, turning to coat in the sauce, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes until chicken is cooked through completely and apples are tender.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Making Every Penny Count

How many times have you stood in your kitchen staring into space, hoping a dinner menu will just appear out of nowhere? That you'll open the fridge and your dinner will be sitting on the top shelf just waiting to be popped into the oven. Well, that's probably never going to happen! But with a little planning ahead of time, it could come pretty close. I get asked a lot how to save money on meals, and how to pull it all together. This series of posts will be about how to do just that.

The key to making inexpensive, quick meals is two-part. First, you need to keep a stock of staples handy in your fridge, pantry, and freezer.  Two, you need to know how to use them! You can click on each of those words to see lists of what I keep stocked, but you'll need to adapt the list to your family's needs/tastes and your cooking style. Staples are generally inexpensive items that are the building blocks you use to make a healthy, tasty meal for your family. If your fridge, pantry and freezer are well-stocked you'll always know what you have and you won't be tempted to say, "Oh, I don't know what to have. We'll just go out to dinner tonight." Planning out several meals you'd like to make each week will save you time and money. If you know what you're going to make that week when you head to the grocery store, you're less likely to be tempted to make impulse purchases that you won't use anyway! That saves you money. I've shown you how I make my grocery list, and that's the process I go through each week. I write down main dishes, the side dishes to go with them, treats ... everything I'm planning to serve over the next several days. I don't buy anything I don't need, and I come home having everything I do need. (Usually!) That saves me time since I don't have to make anymore trips to the store later.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

White Sauce

I use a basic white sauce recipe as a basis for many other recipes. It's a great alternative to buying cream soups, with a lot less sodium and fillers and a lot more flavor. Depending on what you're using it for, you can add different cheeses, herbs and spices. It's very adaptable and extremely easy to adjust the amount you make. all you have to is use a ratio1-1-1 or 2-2-2, etc. Because it uses pantry and fridge staples, I can whip some up in no time at all.

I'll walk you through making a typical lunch for me. I eat this probably once a week because it's so easy and adaptable.

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1 cup reduced sodium chicken broth
(dash of cream) -- if I don't have cream, I use half broth and half milk.
salt and pepper to taste

In a small skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk in flour and cook, continuing to whisk, until the flour/butter mixture is golden. Whisk in broth/milk. Let cook for 2-3 minutes until thickened. Salt and pepper to taste.

That's the basic recipe! At this point, I usually add in about a teaspoon or so of fresh herbs like thyme or rosemary and a 1/4 cup or so of Parmesan or Havarti, or whatever cheese I have available.  While I'm cooking the sauce I have water boiling for angel hair pasta, which takes only 2-4 minutes to cook. Once the pasta is done, I drain it and toss it with the sauce. From start to finish, I can have lunch in less than 15 minutes!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Jeni's Pumpkin Bread

I've heard rumors that fall is on its way. I'll believe it when I see it! But a girl can dream, right? So I'll at least think about fall while sharing this recipe for my pumpkin bread. The recipe makes two loaves which means you can have one now and save the other one in the freezer for when it actually feels like autumn!
You can also make this bread into muffins! Just bake at 350° for 16-18 minutes.
 Jeni's Pumpkin Bread

1/2 cup butter
2 large eggs
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup chopped pecans

Remove the butter and the eggs from the refrigerator to allow them to come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350̊F and coat two 9" loaf pans with nonstick spray.

Place the butter in a mixing bowl and beat at high speed with an electric mixer for 30 seconds. Gradually add the sugar and continue to beat until the mixture is pale yellow and very fluffy. This takes a few minutes and you'll notice a definite difference in volume!

On low speed, add the eggs one at a time. Add the pumpkin puree and orange peel; mix again.

Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon together.

Fold in half of the flour mixture. Stir in the buttermilk and vanilla. Fold in the rest of the flour mixture and pecans. Be careful not to overmix.

Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake until the loaves are golden brown and set in the center, about 40 to 45 minutes. Check for doneness by inserting a paring knife into the center of each loaf; if the blade comes out dry, the bread is done. YIELD: 2 loaves

This is wonderful with Orange Pecan Butter – soften ½ cup butter, stir in 1 tablespoon grated orange peel, and ½ cup finely chopped pecans.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

A Tribute to White Beans

We love The Andy Griffith Show! And my sweetie certainly subscribes to Andy's theory here regarding dinner ... If he likes it, he eats it. If not, he doesn't! But he's learned to tell me, too, so if I can fix it I will. If not, I can always fix him a sandwich!

Aunt Bee Taylor: Did you like the white beans you had for supper?
Andy Taylor: Uh huh.
Aunt Bee: Well, you didn't say anything.
Andy: Well, I ate four bowls. If that ain't a tribute to white beans, I don't know what is.
Aunt Bee: Well...
Andy: Eating speaks louder than words.
Aunt Bee: You know, your education was worth every penny of it.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fondue Night!

I love fondue! It's so versatile. You can serve whatever you want to use as dippers and everyone can have something they like. You don't have to have a fondue pot to serve it, either, just keep it in a saucepan and reheat as necessary. Ours generally gets eaten so quickly that there's no need to heat it up!
Cheddar Cheese Fondue for dinner! Here, I served it with cubed chicken (seasoned and sauteed), baby carrots, roasted potatoes, and little rolls stuffed with spinach and cheese. It was all good, though I confess that the potatoes nearly caused strife when there were only a few left. Fortunately, no one was stabbed with a fondue fork, but it was a close call. :) I'm always amazed, too, at how many veggies the kids will eat when they can dip them in cheese sauce.

Roasted Rosemary Potatoes
3 potatoes, scrubbed and diced
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary

This is a very simple, to-your-taste recipe. Just toss the potatoes with the olive oil and seasonings. I don't actually measure anything for this, so the amounts are all approximate. Bake on a foil-lined baking sheet in a 400 degree oven for 20 minutes. Take out and stir around, flipping over the potatoes. Bake for an additional 15-20 minutes or until the potatoes are golden brown.

Dessert -- Double Chocolate Fondue. Wow. This is incredibly rich, but -- wow. Here's a link to the deliciousness. I served it here with marshmallows, apples, bananas (not pictured), and rolls stuffed with peanut butter and strawberry jam.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

This recipe is perfect for hiding veggies in your kiddos' spaghetti sauce. My kids eat this like it's going out of style, and who doesn't need more vegetables in their diet? 

1 green pepper
1 red pepper
3 Roma tomatoes

Broil these on a foil-lined baking sheet until the skin is blackened. Remove from oven and cover with aluminum foil. After 10-15 minutes, peel and seed and place in food processor. Blend until smooth.

3 tablespoons olive oil
3 celery ribs with leaves, chopped
3 carrots, scrubbed and chopped (no need to peel)
1 small onion, peeled and chopped
1 zucchini, chopped (no need to peel)
4 cloves garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
salt and pepper

While the peppers and tomatoes are broiling, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a stew pot over medium heat. Saute vegetables with seasoning for 10-15 minutes, until onion & celery are translucent and carrots are getting tender.

2-28 ounce cans crushed tomatoes (plain or with basil -- I use one of each)
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 cups beef broth (you may need more)
1/2 cup packed fresh herbs (I use a combination of parsley, rosemary, and oregano -- off the stem, but no need to chop)

Add tomatoes, paste, broth, herbs, and pepper puree to the pot. Simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Puree sauce in batches in the food processor. (I pour the sauce from the food processor to a large mixing bowl.) Salt and pepper again to taste. Add more broth if you like your sauce a bit thinner. Store in quart size freezer bags (about three cups per bag, you don't want to fill them too full). You'll end up with about 5 bags, so about a gallon of sauce. Lay the bags flat on baking sheets and freeze until firm. Remove them from the sheets and store in the freezer until you're ready for spaghetti!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Perfect Pairs

It's an easily overlooked classic, and you may not have had it since you were about 11 years old, but I find it a perfect solution for when I get a sweet tooth ...

Milk and Chocolate Drink Mix!

Mmm ... chocolate milk is relatively easy on the calories and makes me feel like I've had a treat. I love NesQuik for its chocolately, malty goodness.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Carrot Zucchini Fritters

I don't eat nearly the veggies I should. In the tradition of the South, however, I've found that if you batter and fry something it makes it delicious! Herewith, my recipe for Carrot Zucchini Fritters.

1 green onion, chopped
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 egg
1 medium zucchini, shredded and squeezed dry (no need to peel!)
1/2 cup shredded potato (or refrigerated hash browns)
1 large carrot, shredded (or 5-6 baby carrots)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper

Oil for frying

Stir together veggies, butter and egg. In a separate bowl, stir together dry ingredients. Add to veggies and stir just until combined. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat 1 inch oil over medium to medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, drop in 1 heaping tablespoon of batter at a time, flattening it slightly into a little patty as you go. Fry for 4-5 minutes until golden, then flip and cook another 3-4 minutes. (You don't want them to cook too quickly or the potatoes won't be done. You also don't want to make them too big or the centers won't cook.) Drain on paper towels.

You can dip these in your favorite salad dressing, don't dip them at all, or stir together my handy-dandy dipping sauce:

1/2 cup sour cream
juice and grated peel of 1/2 a lemon
2-3 tablespoons of your favorite herbs (oregano, parsley and green onion are a good combination)
dash of salt, dash of pepper

Saturday, September 18, 2010

All-Star Muffin Mix

I love to make muffins for my family! They're quick and easy and very versatile. They also freeze well, so I can make a big batch and keep them handy. I recently found a wonderful recipe for muffin mix that makes them even more convenient. The recipe makes enough mix for 4 batches of muffins. The fun part is coming up with different combinations of stuff to mix into the muffins!

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups brown sugar
1 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons salt
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
In a large bowl, combine the first eight ingredients. Store in airtight containers in a cool dry place or in the freezer for up to 6 months.

Additional ingredients:
1 egg
1 cup 2% milk
1/2 cup butter, melted

(Each batch of 12 muffins requires 2-3/4 cups of the muffin mix, plus the additional ingredients.)
To Prepare:
Place 2-3/4 cups muffin mix in a large bowl. (Fold in your choice of different ingredients here.) Whisk the egg, milk and butter; stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. (Do not over stir!) Fill paper-lined muffin cups three-fourths full. Bake at 400° for 16-20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack. Serve warm.

Here are some great options for different flavors of muffins:
1 cup mashed ripe bananas
1 cup mashed canned peaches
1 cup blueberries
1 cup miniature chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts
3/4 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup shredded apple
2 teaspoons instant coffee granules
1/2 cup dried cranberries
zest of one lemon or orange
replace half of the milk with orange juice
1/2 cup shredded zucchini

Use one or two of these options, trying different combinations to suit your family's tastes. Some of our favorites are apple and nuts, zucchini and orange, and chocolate chips and coffee.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Empty Fridge

One reason I'm good at repurposing leftovers and making the most of what I have on-hand is that I can't afford to buy whatever I want and then be wasteful with it. My budget each week for groceries and household items (cleaning supplies, paper products, toiletries) is pretty skinny compared to what I'm sure a lot of people spend, yet it's more than some have to work with. I make all our cleaning supplies (laundry detergent, all-purpose cleaner, dishwasher detergent, fabric softener, bathroom cleaner, etc.) and I use the cheapest quality brands I can for everything. I won't sacrifice quality for price if I don't have to! I trim from other areas in order to shop at a quality grocery store that I know will provide good, lasting, beautiful produce -- combined with great customer service. I use coupons, though I'm definitely not an expert.

But the purpose of this post is to show you what you can do with a little. I have the perfect example for you. This picture of my fridge is typical of what I have to work with by Thursday. (Grocery Day is Friday.)
Top shelf: applesauce, grits, corn on the cob
Drawers: deli meat, cheddar cheese, Laughing Cow cheese, 1 egg, 1 cheese stick, 2 sticks butter
Middle shelf: Mmm ... nothing!
Bottom shelf: whole wheat flour, 1% milk, BBQ sauce
Drawers: apples, lemon, spinach, green onions, 2 carrots

It's not too bad, though, because I do have more stuff in the door:
Pretty much all condiments, more butter, chicken broth, peaches.

It may look hopeless ... and it's certainly not inspiring, but right now it's just not in our budget to be able to bat my eyelashes at Sweetie and ask him to take us out to dinner. He would if he could, but he can't, so we won't! It just so happens that this sort of thing gets my creative cooking juices flowing!

Dinner last night was corn chowder with rolls. I'll post the recipe another time, but here's how it came together with my meager supplies ...

Cream: leftover from a cake on Monday
Cheddar: staple
Butter: staple
Garlic: staple
Corn: leftover
Broth: staple/leftover
Potatoes: staple
Green Onions: leftover
Carrots: leftover/staple
Prosciutto: freezer (bought on sale for $3.99/lb!)
Rolls: leftover (dough from the freezer)

Thursday, September 16, 2010


I wanted to take a few moments to show y'all a few things about the blog that you may not know.

On the left-hand side, you'll find a search option that will allow you to look for things specifically on this site. Below that is the blog archive. It goes back to the beginning of the posts, listed in chronological order. Below that is a handy list of labels. I have tagged each post with labels that can help you search for specific categories. Let's say you need a quick meal one night. Just click on the "30-minute meal" label and the blog will list out for you each post that is tagged with that label. Do you like a certain category of posts I'm doing like "Perfect Pairs"? Click on that label and you'll see every Perfect Pair post I've done.

In the middle are the posts. If you've found a post you really like, you can click on the title of the post and you will be on a page with just that post. You can bookmark it in your browser or e-mail someone the link, or post it on Facebook. The link will be specific to that post. At the bottom of each entry is the option to comment on posts with questions or to tell me if you did or didn't like the post, changes you made in a recipe when you tried it, anything you want! The labels are located below this.

In the right-hand column at the top is a neat vocabulary game that you can play. It donates rice to needy countries through the United Nations World Food Program. Below that is a list of links to other sites that I enjoy for their food-related topics. Under those you'll find a poll that changes frequently. I'd love to see your opinions there, so be sure to vote!

Perfect Pairs

Need a delicious, refreshing beverage? Look no further than:

Fresca and Orange Juice

I do about half and half ... and it's SO good!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Freezer Staples

A few days ago, I introduced you to some of the pantry staples that I consider essential. Here's a list of some freezer staples:

1.  Freezer Meals -- I usually have at least one casserole on hand in the freezer. They're great for "skinny weeks" when the grocery budget is thin, or for giving to someone in need.

2.  Bagged Vegetables -- I use these for Little One's homemade baby food, plus they're great for portioning out however much I need for a recipe or for rounding out a meal.

3.  Spaghetti Sauce -- I make my own, portion it and freeze it in bags!

4.  "Shake Popsicles" -- The kids love homemade smoothies. I make more than they need in one sitting and freeze the leftovers in popsicle molds. Instant healthy treat!

5.  Rolls -- Most recipes make batches of two dozen. I bake one dozen and flash freeze the other half for storage in the freezer. I can take out and bake as many as I want at once.

6.  Raw Meat -- Chicken, ground beef, some kind of pork are in my freezer most of the time. I buy when it's on sale and use it as I need it.

7.  Cooked Meat -- Using my slow cooker, I cook a big batch of chicken, then shred or chop it and portion it into meal sizes to store in the freezer. It thaws in a flash in the microwave or right in the pot for soup or sauce. Ground beef also freezes well.

8.  Chicken Broth -- I strain the broth from cooking the chicken in the Crock*Pot and store it in the freezer if I won't use it in the next few days.

9.  Pecans -- My sweetie and I love pecans in baked goods! The kids are ambivalent about them. Depending on how kind I feel that day, I may make both kinds. :)

10. Baby Food -- Right now, I keep homemade baby food at all times in the freezer. Each night I take out four containers to use the next day.

11. Fruit -- For use in smoothies and other recipes, mostly berries.

12. Breakfast Items -- My sweetie loves waffles and pancakes, and I freeze the leftovers for another meal. They reheat perfectly in the oven.  I also occasionally make breakfast burritos to keep in the freezer. They thaw quickly with great results in the microwave.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Leftovers for Lunch

For Sunday lunch this week, I made soft tacos. They're fast and easy which meant that within 30 minutes after getting home we were sitting at the table eating. Along with store-bought tortillas, I served up a pound of ground beef with seasonings, rice, corn, shredded cheese, sour cream, and salsa. (I usually have lettuce, too, but tacos were a last minute addition to the list after we'd already left the produce section.)

One great thing about these is that I can hide stuff in them that the kids won't normally eat. If I put rice and corn on a plate in front of The Boy, he wouldn't touch it. But if I roll it up in a tortilla, he'll eat every bite! I hide beans this way, too. At any rate, my kids love Mexican-style food.

After we finished lunch on Sunday, I simply piled all the leftover rice, corn and beef into one storage container. At this point, I could have put it in the freezer for another time, but I had a feeling we'd need it soon and into the fridge it went. Monday, I plopped the contents of the container into a pot and reheated it all together. I added a bit more seasoning (chili powder, salt and pepper) and salsa. (See how I snuck the salsa in there without the kids knowing? I'm good like that!) I was out of tortillas, so I whipped up a batch from scratch -- they're not nearly as hard as you might think! Lunch was ready in less than 30 minutes since all I had to do was make the tortillas, reheat the filling, and get the toppings from the fridge.

Amazingly, there was enough filling leftover that I can use it for yet another meal! And we didn't skimp on eating, either, I'm here to tell you. The first meal, my sweetie had three tacos and the kids and I each had two. The second meal, we each had two and were full since the homemade tortillas are so much more filling. It's really pretty cool how far leftovers from a meal can stretch when you get creative!

Homemade Taco Seasoning
1 pound lean ground beef (93%)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 teaspoons chili powder (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt

Brown the ground beef with the onion and garlic. Stir in chili powder, cumin, pepper and salt. Cook for a few minutes longer. This freezes really well so don't be afraid to double it if you've got enough beef.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

30-Minute Meal -- Simple Veggie Orzo

It's no wonder 30-minute meals are so popular, as busy as we are these days. With a seven-month old, homeschooling, and the two big kids in soccer I stay pretty busy myself. Here's a quick meal that's good for you, too! This is a set of recipes I've entered in a 30-minute meal contest sponsored by Taste of Home. I'll let you know if I hear anything back from them.

Balsamic Bread Dip
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground black pepper
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 loaf crusty bakery bread such as focaccia or French baguette

In a small bowl, whisk together the first four ingredients. Serve with bread for dipping. 

Simple Veggie Orzo
1 cup orzo pasta
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil 2 cloves chopped garlic
1 diced green onion
1/2 cup finely chopped carrots
2 cups fresh spinach chopped
Parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Saute the pasta, garlic, and green onion in olive oil for 5 minutes. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 8 minutes, then add in your vegetables. Stir briefly, cover and cook for another 2-3 minutes. The broth will absorb into the pasta, and the veggies will have steamed to perfectly crisp-tender. To finish, fold in grated Parmesan cheese.

Banana Parfait 
1 large ripe banana, sliced
2 cups vanilla yogurt
4 tablespoons caramel ice cream topping

Divide banana slices evenly into four ramekins. Top each with 1/2 cup vanilla yogurt. Drizzle each ramekin with 1 tablespoon caramel ice cream topping. Sprinkle with cinnamon.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Cowboy Soup

This is a great hearty soup! I love that the ingredients are things you can keep stored in the pantry all the time. I first had it when my friend Sherri made it for a homeschool get-together.  I'm going to give you the recipe as I've adapted it for my style of cooking.

1/2 pound lean ground beef (I always use 93% lean)
1 green onion, rinsed and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
1 teaspoon cumin
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
(*You can substitute a packet of taco seasoning for the previous six ingredients)
2 cans diced tomatoes with green chilies (pureed if you need to trick your kids into eating them)
1 can light red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can black beans
2 cans whole kernel corn, drained
1 packet Ranch dressing dry seasoning mix (spicy or original)
1 carton (32 ounces) beef broth

Brown ground beef in a stewpot with garlic and onion. Stir in cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper; cook for a minute longer. Stir in remaining ingredients. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Serve with sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. And cilantro if you're crazy about it like me.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Refrigerator Staples

My can't-cook-without-'em fridge staples ...

1. Yogurt -- Used in smoothies, quick snacks for the kids, and baked goods.

2. Butter -- I use the real stuff. I haven't bought margarine for years!

3. Milk -- This goes without saying, but I'm a rebel so I said it anyway.

4. Eggs -- Another no-brainer.

5.  Fresh Fruit -- Oldest Girl and The Boy naturally like completely different fruits, so I have to keep a variety. Peaches, kiwi, pineapple, apples, grapes, etc.

6.  Fresh Vegetables -- Baby carrots, celery, green onion, zucchini, green beans and spinach are among our favorites.

7.  Deli Meat -- My sweetie has to take sandwiches for lunch every day, so we always have turkey or chicken from the deli in the fridge. The big kids love turkey sandwiches for lunch now and then, too. And I use ham for a variety of quick lunches for myself.

8.  Sour Cream -- I always use reduced-fat so I can feel virtuous about the fact that I'm eating sour cream. It's great not only as a condiment, but for use in baked goods and casseroles, too.

9.  Yeast -- I buy the kind in the jar, since so many recipes call for varied amounts.

10. Ranch Dressing -- Apparently my children will eat most raw veggies if there's ranch dressing in which they can be dipped.

11. Cheese -- Sharp cheddar is the family favorite, and the kids also love "Monster" (Muenster) and "the cheese with the holes in it" (Swiss). Parmesan is another we can't live without, and I love Havarti.

12. Salsa -- Great as a condiment and for adding flavor to marinades, sauces, and so much more!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Cookbook Organization

I have a lot of cookbooks and magazines that I use as a resource for recipes. Frankly, they're probably the most organized thing in my house! Organization is not something that gives me thrills, but there is something satisfying about needing a recipe and having it right at my fingertips. 

I've been a subscriber to Taste of Home, Simple & Delicious, Healthy Cooking, and Southern Living off and on for pretty much my whole married life so I have a few magazines lying around. I've organized them by magazine type and date of issue on a shelf in my kitchen.

The good part about that is that I have a notebook that lists everything on the shelf. Under each publication's heading is a list of recipes I want to try that can be found within the pages, including which page number they are on.

When I make out my grocery list for the week, I use an index card. On the side with the lines, I list the recipes I want to make that week and the shorthand of where I can find them: Seasoned Potato Wedges TH03-55

The magazines are a little more complicated since there are so many. An example here would be: Saucy Italian Orzo SDJ/F10-12. I know I can find that recipe in Simple & Delicious magazine issue January/February of 2010 on page 12.

On the unlined side of the card, I list out all the ingredients I need to purchase for the recipes I'm going to make that week. I don't bother writing things like milk and eggs down on my list because I buy them every week anyway. I double-check ingredients to make certain I have enough of everything, too. Something like vanilla extract is easy to run out of because I don't use it as often and I'm forgetful! The index card works well because I have the list of recipes on one side, too. If I can't find an item on my list, or it's more expensive than I expected,  I can see at a glance what I needed the item for and whether a substitute will work just as well.

That's basically the process I go through each week to make out my list. I ask everyone in the family what they'd like to eat that week, though if I took their suggestions every time, we'd have spaghetti, hamburgers, fondue, sloppy joes and turkey sandwiches every single week. Nice.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Strawberry Scones

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
5 tablespoons cold butter
1-1/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream, divided
1 cup frozen unsweetened strawberries, chopped (I used fresh, chopped them and spread them out on waxed paper in the freezer for 20 minutes before adding them to the recipe. It works better if the berries are frozen before being incorporated into the batter.)

2 cups confectioners' sugar
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon butter, melted
1 tablespoon 2% milk

In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in 1-1/4 cups cream just until moistened. Fold in strawberries. Turn onto a floured surface; knead 10 times.

Pat into a 9-in. x 7-in. rectangle. Cut in half horizontally. Cut each half into four rectangles; separate and place on a greased baking sheet. Brush with remaining cream. Bake at 400° for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.

For glaze, in a small bowl, combine the confectioners' sugar, lemon juice, butter and milk; drizzle over warm scones.

This recipe is from Taste of Home, always a wonderful, reliable source for recipes.

Perfect Pairs

Another feature I'll have now and then is "Perfect Pairs". It's simply two different ingredients combined to make a delicious new flavor. Sometimes it'll be something that everyone already knows makes a great combination, and other times it'll be a pair that you've probably never tried before. I'll highlight some of my favorite products, and I'd love to hear what your favorite flavor combinations are!

Today I'm featuring: Nutella and Granny Smith apples.

If you don't know about Nutella, it's a chocolate-hazelnut spread that is rightfully gaining popularity in America. Just a couple of years ago it was really tough to find, but now most grocery stores carry it. It's usually in the peanut butter/jelly aisle. I love the tartness of the apples with the sweet, nutty spread -- divine!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Chicken and Dumplin's

This recipe seems a little intimidating at first, mainly because of the process of making everything from scratch. But it's really important to do that! I've tried simpler ways, and the result is just not anywhere near as good. Trust me on this. Mostly, this is a method more than a recipe (you'll notice that's a theme with me) and it may take some trial and error. It's a very forgiving method, though!

1 broiler/fryer chicken, cut up
1 onion, peeled and quartered
3 cloves garlic, crushed and peeled
3 stalks celery, including leaves, cut into 3-inch pieces
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 3-inch pieces (or a handful of baby carrots)
salt and pepper, to taste (I think it's important to use a good amount of each!)

Place the chicken in a stockpot along with the vegetables and seasoning. Add water to just cover the chicken and veggies. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove lid and lower heat to med-low. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour.

Remove chicken from the broth to a strainer over a large bowl. When cool enough to handle, de-bone chicken, removing skin as you go.  While you are waiting for the chicken to cool, skim the vegetables out of your broth and discard them. Cut up or shred the chicken, placing it back into the broth, adding the broth that's collected in the bowl. Taste the broth and adjust seasoning. Bring the broth back up to a low boil.

Meanwhile, it's time to make "dumplin's", not to be confused with "dumplings" which might be made by a Yankee. (No offense, Sandy!)

I never measure my ingredients for dumplin's because Granny never does, either. Take it up with her! But here's what you need:

self-rising flour
ice water, in an easy-to-pour container

Put the flour in a mixing bowl. With one hand, pour in the ice water a little at a time. With your other hand, (Yes: hand. Not spoon.) begin lightly mixing the flour and water. Keep going until the flour comes together with the water in a soft dough that is not sticky.  Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Knead it 4-5 times, until it's a firmer, "rollable" texture. Divide the dough in half and roll one portion out into a vague circle. The dumplin's will puff up a good deal in the broth, so keep them thin. Using a sharp knife, slice the dough vertically into strips no wider than about 2 inches. Slice the dough once horizontally in the middle so they're not too long.

While stirring the broth with one hand, drop the dumplin's in one at a time with the other hand. When finished, immediately place the lid on the pot. Repeat the process with the other half of the dough.

If you have too little dumplin's when you're done, it's a snap to mix up more dough. If you have too many, well, there's no such thing as too many dumplin's!

Reduce the heat under the pot and cook the chicken and dumplin's, covered (very important!), for about 20 minutes. You may need to stir them once to prevent sticking. Taste and adjust the seasoning again if necessary.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Perfect Example

The meal I prepared last night is a perfect example of what I consider a "pantry meal". I did not shop specifically for this meal, but I have everything I need right at my fingertips. I decided to make spaghetti and focaccia. The spaghetti sauce was from the freezer, part of a batch of homemade sauce I made about a month ago. I also had a half pound of lean (93%) ground beef in the freezer leftover from soup I made earlier in the week. (One way I save money is to use 1/2 the ground beef called for in most recipes.) I always keep angel hair pasta in the pantry, so no problem there! The focaccia is a super easy recipe I make nearly every time we have Italian food. It's a basic dough, and if I have what I need, I jazz it up differently each time. Yesterday was just the basics. I have used spinach, sauteed garlic and onion, feta cheese, mozzarella cheese, and herbs at one time or another.

I'll post about how I make my spaghetti sauce another time, but it's one of favorite things to make. It's well worth the extra time it takes!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Pantry Staples

There are a few dry goods I always have on hand in my pantry. These ingredients are items that I can use to put together (along with fridge/freezer staples) most of my go-to favorite no-recipe meals. They help prevent me from spending money I don't have on eating out! This list won't be exhaustive, but it's a start of what I consider essential. I do NOT run out of this stuff! Most of these items are fairly inexpensive, last for a long time, and can be used for many recipes.

1.  Dried Pasta -- My family prefers angel hair or vermicelli in spaghetti, so that's what we have. I also keep a box of shaped pasta like rotini or ziti.

2.  Olive Oil -- I use it all the time!

3.  Flour -- I keep all-purpose, bread, self-rising and whole wheat at all times. (Whole wheat is stored in the fridge.)

4.  Broth -- Reduced-sodium chicken and beef broths make recipes so much better!

5.  Potatoes -- The earth's most perfect food. Unless you're my oldest girl. She won't touch 'em.

6.  Whole Bean Coffee -- Is it really worth getting up in the morning without fresh-ground coffee?

7.  Peanut Butter -- I love crunchy, the kids love it smooth.I usually have both on-hand.

8.  Wheat Bread

9.  Rice -- side dish, casseroles, soups ... it's very versatile!

10. Oatmeal -- I mostly use old-fashioned, but I have quick-cooking, too. I use them for hot cereal, baked goods, pancakes, oat flour, etc.

11. Baking Staples -- baking soda, salt, baking powder, cocoa powder, yeast ... If I have these, I can whip up a last minute dessert or rolls or bread.

12. Soup -- Healthy or not, I usually keep some kind of just-add-water canned or boxed soup in the pantry. My guilty pleasure is Campbell's Chicken Noodle.

You'll probably notice the absence of a lot of packaged things, like rice/pasta mixes, sauces and seasoning mixes.  That's because I don't generally use them. I make my own based on my family's tastes and what I think will be good in a particular recipe. The salt content alone is enough to deter me from using them, added to the fact that I like mine better anyway.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Simply Six

This is the start to a category of posts that will feature recipes with six ingredients. In general, the ingredients are ones that I keep on hand at all times, or ingredients that I'll use in several recipes that week. To make things easier, water, salt and pepper won't count toward the six ingredient limit. Otherwise,  we'd end up with this every week:


Not a bad combo, but awfully plain! Besides, it's my game so I get to make the rules. First up, a favorite lunch of mine ...

Havarti Ham-wiches
4 slices shaved deli ham
1 English muffin, split
2 slices Havarti cheese
1 tablespoon mayonnaise (I always use olive oil mayo)
1 teaspoon honey mustard
1 teaspoon fresh thyme (use any herb you like, and use dried if it's all you have)
black pepper, to taste

Mix the mayo, mustard, thyme, and pepper in a small bowl. Spread on each muffin half. Layer on ham and cheese. Pop under the broiler for 5 minutes or so until the cheese is nice and bubbly. You're all set!

Barefoot in the Kitchen

The idea to begin a food blog took root when I was brainstorming about upcoming posts on my family blog. I quickly realized they were mostly related to food in some way. The more ideas I had, the more I thought that I really just needed to begin a new blog to indulge my obsession with food. I have a lot of requests for my recipes and frankly, most of those people don't have any interest whatsoever in what funny things my kids said that week. Which is basically what my other blog is, a virtual scrapbook to make up for the fact that my ten-year old's actual scrapbook has her suspended somewhere around kindergarten. 

So, here it is ... Barefoot in the Kitchen ... which pretty much describes me all the time, except when I'm barefoot in the laundry room or barefoot in the living room. But I'd much rather be cooking than anything else. Now if we could just afford to hire someone to wash all the dishes for me.