February 28, 2010

Tostados!

Tonight was Mexican.  But, I decided that tacos were too typical.  I must admit, I am not a big mexican fan  nor do I do much mexican cooking. My kids absolutely love it though and I thought I would try something new.  Which meant it could be a good dinner or we could be calling for pizza(or eating cereal) depending on how it went!  I am happy to report dinner was a success!  Everyone loved it, even though they weren't sure what it was.  It was my version of Chicken Tostados.  I wouldn't call it authentic but it was very simple and very tasty!  Probably wouldn't win any mexican cooking awards but an empty platter at dinner is a good thing! The one interesting component of the dinner was that I pan fried the corn tortillas.  They really were wonderful and so much better then those on the shelf.  Definitely worth the extra step. 

Chicken Tostados(serves 3)

6 corn tortillas
canola oil
1 lb Chicken cutlets, sliced thin for stir fry
Newman's Own Garden Salsa(lots of veggies)
2 small tomatoes, diced
cheddar cheese, freshly grated

For Tostado Shells:

Preheat oven to 225. Heat about 1/8 inch of oil in frying pan.  Heat oil to almost smoking. One at a time, fry corn tortillas in pan, turning when brown(approximately 1 minute on each side).  Place on paper towel lined plate and then put in oven to stay warm.



In clean non stick pan, saute chicken strips until browning, add a good amount of salsa and continue to cook. (Pan should be "saucy").  Cook for 4-5 minutes until chicken is cooked through.  Remove tostado shells from oven and turn oven dial to broil.  Assemble tostados:  divide chicken mixture on shells.  Add diced tomatoes and sprinkle with cheddar cheese.  Place in broiler for 2-3 minutes to just melt cheese.  




February 27, 2010

Who's coming to dinner?

Tonight I had to plan dinner, assuming the number eating was subject to change.  My kids had friends over and I wasn't sure who would be here and who wouldn't.  I decided to go with a kid friendly meal that would work for the masses but also be a great leftover. Stromboli was the dinner of choice.  My kids all love this and it couldn't be any easier. It's not really even a recipe, more a "pile it all on and roll it up" type of dinner.  On a Saturday night, nothing beats that ! (Except maybe a nice dinner out, but I am Cooking To Save!) Of course, as I was putting the Strombolis in the oven, 2 of the boys left for the movies.  It is all about them, as always!:)  So, it looks like we will have some leftovers for lunch tomorrow.  Definitely not a bad thing!

Stromboli(makes 2 large)

2 balls of dough (either store bought or your own) 
1/2 lb thin sliced ham(I like low salt)
1/3 lb Genoa Salami, sliced thin
1/3 lb pepperoni, sliced very thin
2-3 cups shredded mozzarella 
3-4tsp dried oregano
(optional:  red pepper flakes, to taste)
1egg lightly beaten
parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 425.
Roll out dough to cover cookie sheet.  Layer singles layer of slices of ham, salami, and pepperoni.  Sprinkle with mozzarella cheese and then oregano.  (Sprinkle very lightly with red pepper flakes, if desired). Roll dough, pinching ends and sealing seam on top.  Brush with beaten egg and lightly grate parmesan cheese on top.   Bake until brown on cookie sheet, approximately 20 minutes.  Let stand for 3-4 minutes and slice.

Dough rolled out and ingredients layered

Stromboli rolled up and ready for oven (sorry for bad lighting!)




The finished product!

February 26, 2010

Always getting tested....

Last night I was tested.  I just ran out of time to make dinner.  At 5:30 I was still running errands with my twins for some things they needed at school.  (Nothing like telling me at the last minute!)  Will had to be out of the house at 6:30.  As we passed Panera and then Cosi, I seriously debated running in and getting them a quick salad or sandwich.  The interesting part though, was that neither of them even asked. I think we have finally broken the habit.  Instead, we raced home and I offered grilled cheese and bacon or waffles.  Will came up with the idea of making his beloved tuna melt in the panini press and that became the plan.  At 6:00 I had their dinner on the table:  tuna melts, chips and salad.  It wasn't exciting but it got the job done. I am realizing I need to have a backup plan at all times if I am going to succeed at Cooking to Save!  As we head into spring(if it ever comes) I've decided I need a formal list of some quick easy last minute meals that can substitute when we are off schedule.  So, this weekend I am going to sit with the kids (husbands eat whatever, it's those finicky kids that kill you :))and come up with ideas that everyone likes, hang them up on my bulletin board and have them ready when needed.  I'll keep you posted.  This should be interesting. (I've already told them that ice cream is not a meal choice!)

February 25, 2010

Winter Meals

Yesterday was another snowy day in New England.  The kids were home from school and snow that had piled up had turned to rain.  It was one of those days where you just couldn't get warm.  I decided that soup would cure winter!  But what to make?  All the usual choices were vetoed. I decided to make Broccoli Cheddar Soup.  But as I looked in my cookbooks and online, about the only recipe I could find was a knockoff of Panera's.  Not exactly what I was looking for.  I decided I would come up with my own, making a cream of broccoli and adding cheese at the end.  It turned out great and was big hit.  The kids loved it and it was filling on its own.  Even though it was a cream soup, I only used 1/2 cup of half and half and it was plenty creamy. No one missed the extra fat! 

I just saw the forecast and it looks like the mid atlantic area is getting huge amounts of snow today.... this could be your answer of what to do for dinner.  We aren't getting snow, just rain, so I am assuming my soup did the trick!



Broccoli Cheddar Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
4 tblsp butter
1/4 cup flour
4 cups chicken stock or broth
1/8 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 head of broccoli, stalks peeled and sliced in 1/2 slices
1/2 cup half and half
1 cup freshly grated cheddar cheese
fresh ground pepper
salt(taste first, I did not need to add salt)

In large pot, saute onion in butter until soft and translucent.  Add flour, whisking in until smooth and bubbling.  Slowly add chicken stock, whisking constantly with heat on medium.  Stock will thicken as you whisk. Add pepper to taste (and salt if desired). Add nutmeg. Bring to a low boil and cook for 10 minutes, whisking frequently.  Add stalks of broccoli first and cook for 5 minutes.  Then add flowerets and cook broccoli on low until it is very soft, approximately 15-20 minutes.
Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes.  In small batches, blend in blender or food processor. Put batches into clean pot and return to heat.  Whisk in half and half.  Add more chicken broth if too thick.* Bring to a low boil and add cheese.  Remove from heat and serve, garnish with small amount of cheddar on top.  
*If you are making ahead, do not add cheese.  Refrigerate and after returning to heat to serve, add cheese then. 

February 24, 2010

Where dinner began and ended last night....

Last night I made Marcella Hazan's Simple Tomato Sauce(see sidebar for recipe).  As you may remember, last time I made this everyone went crazy for it.  So last night's meal was linguine with tomato sauce, italian bread and salad.  At least that was the plan.  A few of us actually ate that.  Unfortunately only those who ate early had that dinner.  I know you are thinking the early birds ate all the sauce, but this time I doubled the recipe(and did add a little less butter, but nobody knew) so there were even leftovers.  No, the problem for Brittany and I was the small sample we tried while the pasta was cooking:


One small taste led to another and another. Bread and that fabulous sauce, so rich and velvety.  We decided the pasta just didn't do it justice.  So, we sat dipping and eating. No one was looking , so we were double dipping.  And when we couldn't justify any more bread, we just ate the sauce.  Steaming so hot, we had to blow on it before we could eat it.  It was so delicious.  I think I finally found a way to eliminate pasta from my diet. :)  Unfortunately, it's been replaced by bread.  

February 23, 2010

Wasted Afternoon but Yummy Cookies!


Late this morning I decided that my kids needed a little home baked treat when they came home from school.  Cookies are always a big hit but I am sick of making the usual chocolate chip cookie (and sick of eating the dough before it goes in the oven!)  In light of the fact that it is going to snow here for the next 4 days I decided we needed a taste of spring.  Light, airy Orange Cookies were my choice.  Unfortunately, I wasted the entire afternoon making what was an easy, quick cookie.  I had some, shall we say, complications.  The original recipe I was using was too big so I halved it.  Unfortunately, I was talking on the phone as I was making the cookies and only managed to half parts of the recipe!! They came out like crepes.  :(  Not exactly what I was hoping for.  I made them again (and got off the phone) but thought they were too sweet.  So, I set about creating my own little recipe.  I think they turned out pretty darn good!  They are not too sweet with a mild orange flavor.  Nothing too intense, these would be perfect with a cup of tea.  I wouldn't know though, because my kids came home from school and whoosh, they were gone.  They informed me they are perfect with a glass of milk.  Do try them and maybe someday soon Spring will come !

Orange Cookies

1/2 cup butter, unsalted, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 cup flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup of milk, room temperature
1 small orange(or 1/2 large) zest and juice
1 tbsp butter, melted
Confectioners Sugar

Preheat oven to 375.
In mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugar until smooth.  Add egg and vanilla.  In another small bowl whisk flour and baking soda and powder. Zest orange and juice. Put aside 1 tblsp of juice and 1/2 tsp of zest for icing.  Add flour mixture and milk to sugar mixture alternating between the 2 as you add.  Then add remaining zest and juice.  Drop onto parchment lined cookie sheets by teaspoons.  Bake for 8 -10 until edges are lightly browning.  Transfer to cooling rack.  In the meantime, mix 1 tbslp melted butter, zest and orange juice that you put aside with confectioners sugar to make icing. While cookies are still warm, lightly ice.  Let cool completely.

February 22, 2010

Flunkie

Tonight was the flunk out night.  I had a dinner planned : Marcella Hazan's Simple Tomato Sauce, Salad, Bread.  Unfortunately, at 5pm it struck me that I had 25 people coming for a meeting and I couldn't bear to start cooking and making a mess in the kitchen.  So, I caved. I can't say I spent a lot of money but I did go out.  Out to get a pizza.  One half mashed potato, one half plain.  The kids were thrilled. You would have thought I had brought home the greatest dinner on earth.  It was almost special!  Of course, it was just pizza.  The kitchen stayed clean too.  I will say I feel quite guilty though.  It's just not fun to get takeout anymore.  And although the kids loved it, I really felt like it was a junky meal. Ok once in a great while, but I will be glad to get back to my cooking tomorrow. Yes, I realize that I am losing it. :)

February 21, 2010

The Best Intentions...

It was supposed to be healthy.  Honest!  My husband suggested we grill some steaks and have a salad. Sounded good to me. We haven't had steaks in a long time and I am "out chickened" right now.  When I was purging my freezer last week, I had found a really nice ribeye steak that I had frozen.  I had actually had freezer bags when I put it in the freezer so it was not only in good shape but identifiable!  Now I only needed one more steak.  From there I perused my refrigerator and found (taking up half the space in there) 17 pounds of fresh spinach that I bought last week.  Ok, it wasn't 17 pounds but it was still way more then we would eat.  Why I felt compelled to buy this, I don't know.  So, I had the enlightened idea to make a spinach salad.  Spinach salads are one of those salads that are not quite as healthy as you think it will be(but sooo good)!  To push the whole meal over the edge I decided to make twice baked potatoes for the boys.  2 teenage boys don't think it's dinner without major carbs.  It's been years since I made these potatoes(very retro!) but they were a big hit with the boys.  At least my husband and I refrained. :)  So, it wasn't the most healthy meal, but oh, it was so good. We actually grilled the steaks out on the charcoal grill instead of the gas grill and they were to die for:
 If you are wondering why there is so much steak, it's because I sent my husband out to buy 1 steak!  The man cannot buy meat in small portions!!! :) We had enough left over that everyone will be taking steak salads for lunch tomorrow.  The potatoes were gobbled down by the boys:
And, the salad was the best!  I looked at about 10 recipes and then just decided to "wing it".  There wasn't anything left in the salad bowl tonight.  Will has even decided that he likes mushrooms. We might have to have this again this week as I still have pounds of spinach in the fridge!!

Spinach Salad

8 oz baby spinach, rinsed
2 cups sliced mushrooms
8 slices center cut bacon (or thick sliced if you prefer)
3 hard boiled eggs, sliced

dressing:
3tblsp reserved bacon fat
3 tblsp cider vinegar
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp mustard 
pepper(to taste)

Cook bacon in pan until crisp. Reserve 3 tblsp bacon fat and put aside.(With center cut bacon, this is about what I had in the pan). Without wiping pan, saute mushrooms until tender.  Put aside. Crumble bacon.  In small saucepan, whisk all ingredients for dressing over low heat. To serve, place spinach in bowl with mushrooms and bacon.  Pour dressing over salad and place egg slices on top.  Serve immediately.




February 19, 2010

What to Make?

Friday nights are often pizza nights here.  Since this was healthy week I decided we needed to mix it up.  But who wants a typical weekday meal on Friday night? Definitely not me!  I wanted something fun, easy and different.  Mexican sounded like a good idea.  And swordfish fajitas came to mind.  We used to be obsessed with them but somehow I'd forgotten about them. You know how you make a certain dish all the time and then one day, you just stop?  And it just disappears?  That was what happened to the swordfish fajitas.  Of course, it's really a great summer meal, but since I had shoveled my path to the grill earlier in the week, I figured it was time to get grilling!  They were yummy! Homemade salsa, homemade guacamole and the delicious swordfish, plus peppers and onions.  So, so good and really easy.(Which could be the best part!) This is a great meal to have with company as well. It's fun to put out all the parts and let everyone make their own.  A little taste of Mexican summer... just what we need on a cold winter night! (Oh, and a margarita would be great, too!)


Swordfish Fajitas (serves 3-4)

Components:

Salsa- your favorite or see sidebar of recipes for mine
Pepper/Onion 
Guacamole
Swordfish 1pound
Flour Tortillas

Marinate swordfish for 20 minutes in 1 lime, juiced, 2 tblsp soy sauce.

Guacamole
3 ripe avacodos, mashed
1 lime, juiced
4 sprigs cilantro(or more to taste)
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup  fresh salsa
salt 
pepper

Mix together and refrigerate.  Can be made ahead.

Saute 2 red peppers and 1 green pepper julienned with 3 onions sliced, in a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add 2 tblsp soy sauce after onions and peppers have browned.  Cook for 2-3 more minutes. Set aside.

Grill swordfish approximately 5 minutes each side.  Julienne and cover to keep warm.  Assemble fajitas or place all ingredients on table for buffet.  (With kids, I also julienne some grilled chicken cutlets to serve alongside swordfish) 

February 18, 2010

This Meal Makes Me Happy....

I love to make Potted Chicken.  It is a great fraud recipe. :) It looks and tastes like you spent a long time cooking and in actuality, it takes very little preparation.    Today I walked in about 3:45 and thought that it would be great to make dinner early and then put it in the crockpot to stay warm until everyone wanted to eat.  Of course, I sat down and didn't move again until 4:45. I had a lot to do while I was sitting. Emails to check, news to read and then of course, I had to check and see if 1 million people were reading my blog yet. (Alas, no!)  At 4:45 I decided I'd better get moving since I had to go pick up kids at 5:00.  By 5:00 the entire meal was simmering and ready to cook on low heat for 1 hour!  This is why I love Potted Chicken.  The house smells wonderful, the dinner is so tasty and you really can pull it together in 15 minutes.  Here it is, ready to go:


All I did after this was put on lid on it and simmer! (If you are looking for the recipe see righthand recipe index) And, because I had a few extra minutes, I browned the noodles to go with the rice:




So, 20 minutes before dinner, I finished up the chicken and added the rice to the noodles to cook.  Dinner was ready.  

Note:  The noodle/rice mixture is a great addition to any meal instead of just rice.  I stole this recipe from my sister inlaw, Elaine, many years ago.  It tastes delicious and it looks so much nicer on a plate then  just white or brown rice.

Noodles and Rice

Handful of Vermicilli Noodles
1 cup Rice
2 1/4 water or low salt chicken broth

Brown noodles on low in non-stick pan. (Watch them closely, once they start to brown, they go to burnt quickly!) Add rice, water or chicken broth.  Cover and cook on low for 20 minutes.  Fluff with fork.  
Doesn't this look better then boring rice?!!!




February 17, 2010

The Burger and Fry Craving

Tonight I shoveled a path on my patio out to the grill. I wish I could say that I wanted the exercise or that I was such a devoted mother, I wanted to grill their burgers.  But truthfully, it was my laziness that got me shoveling.  I didn't want to have to clean the broiler pan!  Grills are the greatest gift!  I love closing the grill when I am done and walking away.  :)  So, out I went, in the dark and the snow to grill the burgers I was cooking.  Will has been asking for burgers (he wasn't here for Superbowl Sliders) and tonight was the night.  Keeping in my healthy theme, I used 90% lean grass fed beef. I also added a few chopped leeks to the meat.  They add a little very light onion flavor and dimension to the burger.  The kids had theirs on whole wheat buns and the grownups had theirs on whole wheat pita.  I also decided that I would make french fries.  If you've been reading my blog, you know I had a stressful time with the onion straws.  Frying is not for me!  A girl's got to know her limits.  I made tonight, what I think, and the kids even agree are the best healthy fries! They even ask me to make these.  They're baked but so crispy that you don't even realize it.  They have a lot more potato flavor then a fast food french fry but they are just as addictive.  ( I threw the few left down the disposal so I wouldn't be tempted!) Don't they look good?

And here's the more healthy version:


All in all, it was a good "fix" for a burger and fries craving.  I think I am even comfortable counting those potatoes as a vegetable!

French Fries(Healthy!)

Medium Russet Potatoes(I use 2 per person)
1/2 Tblsp Olive Oil per medium potato
Kosher Salt 
Pepper

Preheat oven to 425
Wash and slice potatoes. Don't peel - its good for you!  Slice the potatoes any way you'd like. I like to make them the size of typical french fries as my kids don't even miss the frying this way.  Dry the potatoes.(Dry them well, this step is crucial) I wrap them in paper towels and blot away.  Place in large bowl add olive oil, salt and pepper.  Be generous with the salt!  Toss well and place on cookie sheet.  (I use either foil, parchment or a silpat so I don't have to clean the pan.)  Bake for approximately 30 minutes, turning halfway through.  Serve immediately.


Do you love your freezer?

I believe  you are a freezer lover or a freezer hater.  I am a freezer hater.  Don't get me wrong, mine is packed full. (It is very small, though).  I have never done well with the freezer. I used to have a side by side refrigerator/freezer and I thought that was the problem.  Nothing ever fit and everything got lost in all the drawers.  It was a giant abyss.  A few years ago I bought the refrigerator of my dreams.  I can't even begin to tell you how happy this made me. (I know this is odd) The refrigerator part is up top, freezer down below, in a pull out drawer.  My refrigerator is cavernous and oh, does it fit things well! I can fit huge bowls, even a sheet cake in there.  And when you open it up, it's like everything is just waiting for you, eager to be picked.  Nothing seems lost in the back or stuffed in a drawer.  But then, the freezer. It is still not for me.  I just can't put meat in my freezer and ever use it.  It sits in there for months and then finally, I throw it out. I am always in awe of people who buy, say, a side of beef and freeze it all for future meals.   Today I did another purge. I've accepted that I am not meant to store much in my freezer.  My new resolution is that I will only buy what I want to cook in the next 2 days.  Sometimes inconvenient but accepting of my freezer failure.  I feel quite a bit better with my limited freezer storage now. I can actually see what is in there: frozen fruit, ravioli, ice cream, vitamuffins(my kids breakfast of choice) and the always needed but never found, ice packs.  No meat and that's the way I like it!  

February 16, 2010

One Dish Wonder...and Healthy, too!

As you will notice, this week, we are on a health kick.  How long it lasts,  who knows?  But keeping in my theme of healthiness, I decided to make a stir fry.  Truth be told, I would have liked beef but since it was ferociously snowing out and I had already risked my life to pick up my kids( I am a drama queen, you know), I decided it would be chicken, which was already in my house.  I had some broccoli, red peppers and a can of water chestnuts so I was set.  Will commented that it would have been great with some julienned carrots so I have added them to the recipe.  Nothing like improvising!  Anyway, everyone liked it  and no one even complained about all the broccoli.  :)

Chicken Stir Fry

1 1/2 lbs chicken, cut into pieces
2 tblsp canola oil
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 tsp minced ginger
1/2 cup julienned carrot
3/4 cup red pepper, sliced thin
1/2 cup water chestnuts
2 -3 cups broccoli(blanched)
1/4 soy sauce, low sodium
2 tsp sesame oil
1/2 cup chicken broth or stock
1 tblsp corn starch(mixed with a little water)
1/4 chopped peanuts

Heat oil in wok or large pan.Add ginger and garlic and cook for 1 minute.   Add chicken and cook 4-5 minutes until brown.  Add carrots and peppers. and cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add broccoli(it is not necessary to blanch, but i like my broccoli slightly tender).  Add soy sauce and sesame oil and cook for 2 minutes, stirring throughout.  Add chicken broth and bring to a boil.  Add corn starch mixed with water (stir until smooth before adding). Cook for 2-3 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened.  Sprinkle with chopped peanuts.  Serve over noodles or rice.





February 15, 2010

Salads of all Kinds...

When we go out to a restaurant that has a salad bar, my kids love it.  Granted for years, Will's idea of a salad was croutons and ranch dressing.  We've progressed and everyone has their likes and dislikes. Tonight I decided to recreate the salad bar at home. It was a huge hit and I'd like to have this meal on a weekly basis.  Everyone ate well, got lots of veggies and had a salad exactly of their choosing. There was no picking things out or pushing certain veggies to the side.  We had grilled chicken, breaded chicken cutlets and steamed shrimp for our protein(as well as some cheese and egg).  Lots of veggies - from carrots to snow peas to red peppers.  I had also picked up some crusty bread, thinking the boys would need their carbs. Only 1 piece went! The salad was perfect.   I think it was all in the presentation:


Brittany's salad, loaded with shrimp and veggies won the healthy award:

Will's, not so much:

Why is it so hard to find good food?

My kids are off from school this week so my schedule is not my own.  We are also going through food like crazy since everyone is around more.  I can't keep enough milk in the house! My(now) 14 year old son is in the midst of a growth spurt and just eats and eats.  I am in awe of how much he eats and how little he weighs!   Today I managed to talk them into going to Whole Foods with me.  It is not that close but I am in withdrawal since I haven't been there in almost a week.  I hate that I have to travel just to find fresh, bright colored vegetables and fruit. And I've found that if I don't have them in the house, we find other, "crummy stuff" to eat. I've tried the local grocery store, but this time of year there is not much selection.  I think I need to move south. :)  As much as I don't like the prices at Whole Foods, I love being greeted with wonderful, sunny fruits when I walk in the door.  Today we only shopped the perimeter.... vegetables, fruits, a few shrimp, chicken, milk and eggs.  The red butter leaf lettuce looked so good!  I couldn't wait to bring it all home.....  Here's what I came home with... (3 types of lettuce, spinach, carrots, snap peas, red peppers, green beans and Brittany's personal stash of blueberries)




February 14, 2010

Happy Valentine's Day!


Happy Valentine's Day.  Even Nikki is dressed for the holiday!  It has been an interesting weekend in the Cooking to Save family.  Yesterday my twins turned 14.   It was a chaotic but fun birthday.  We also had company as my sister had come to visit (and brought yummy treats!)  We broke from our dining in and dined out in honor of their birthday.  Unfortunately, we did not have the best time out and many times throughout the dinner I thought that we would have been happier to have stayed home.  We had a reservation at what was our favorite Italian restaurant.  While we were waiting for our table, a group of 6 (as were we) used our name and took our table!!!!  Can you imagine? We realized it immediately and told the manager.  Let's just say that they ended up at our great table and we ended up squished in the noisy bar!  The food was good but I don't think we'll be in any hurry to return there soon.  We did end up with a lot of leftovers though, so we will have them tonight and I will get back to my cooking tomorrow. :)

This morning my sister made sticky buns. The kids are crazy about them and I do think they are the very best sticky buns I have ever had. The house smelled so good!!They came out of the oven goey and soft; they didn't last long !




These are from Carole Walter's, Great Coffee Cakes, Sticky Buns, Muffins and More. Who could not like a cookbook with that title?  I looked through the book and I am definitely going to add this to my collection.  (Although not too soon, I think we all need to work off the weekend's goodies :)) 

February 12, 2010

Laziness...


Last night became the lazy night.  I had chicken out to make a great meal I had been planning(stay tuned for that next week).  Unfortunately, my family was dropping like flies!  Ryan was not coming home and my husband was not going to be home until late.  Will had overdosed earlier on 2 tuna melts and half the house. (He also grew an inch overnight but that is another story!)The chicken went into the freezer.  I decided that we didn't need much.  After perusing the freezer and the refrigerator I settled on open grilled cheese sandwiches.  When I was a child my mom made these a lot on Saturday nights.  I didn't realize it then, but I am sure she was just sick of cooking by Saturday!  For me, Saturday became Thursday. I tried to "healthy them up" with light multigrain english muffins(I only buy these now, nobody ever misses the white ones), tomato, cheese and a small piece of bacon.  A little spicy brown mustard for those who need a little something extra and we were set!  And, oh, to not have any dishes.... that might have been the best part!



February 11, 2010

I have a confession to make....

I have blog envy.   I spend a lot of time in the "blog world" looking for ideas, inspirations and sometimes just admiring other food blogs.  There are so many great blogs out there, with beautiful, gourmet dinners being prepared. I love to read them and look at the beautifully styled food.  Some of it is almost art.  The problem is, I love to look, but most of it I will never have time or inclination to make!  My life just doesn't allow for that right now.  And I've realized, after a great conversation with a friend yesterday, it doesn't matter.  I am good enough.  My goal is not to be the best chef or the most fabulous food sylist(although I wouldn't mind!) My goal in this year, on this day, at this moment, is to take care of my family to the best of my ability.  They couldn't care less about fancy meals or beautiful plates.  What they do love is comfortable, delicious meals on the table(or at the counter!) They know they are cared about and loved and those meals give us a chance each day to reconnect, even just for a few moments.   Sometimes, we don't even eat together but eating the same meal, even at different times, connects us.  We are a family and that really is what Cooking to Save is all about.  As we continue on our journey of "dining in " I hope that my meals will continue to be interesting, creative tweaks of some ordinary dinners;  gourmet, no, but delicious and family oriented, yes.   And today,  after watching my boy, who has been home sick , eat his tuna melt that I made him in the panini press, on the marble rye he likes so much,  good enough seems to be plenty for me.




February 10, 2010

Our Snowy Day Breakfast....

On snowy days everyone is out shoveling the driveway and walk and I like to have a nice warm breakfast ready when they come in.  Somehow, this pancake has become the standard (interpretation: expected) breakfast.  Today the kids are all home... we are having a "huge storm."  Of course, it is 10:20 and I haven't seen a flake! Why aren't they in school?  But, since there is snow in the forecast, Will was down this morning asking for the "pancake".  It is so good, honestly, everyone who has ever had it loves it.  I've served it for breakfast parties, kid's sleepovers, even Christmas morning.  I stole the recipe from my mom a long time ago and it has now become "mine". (Sorry, Mom!)  It is also great the next day, reheated. You can't go wrong!!




Pancake

1 1/2 cups Bisquick(I use the lowfat)
1 heaping Tblsp sugar
2 eggs
3/4 cup milk(any kind, I use skim)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1 1/2 cup cheddar cheese
10-12 slices cooked bacon, crumbled

Preheat oven to 425.  Grease/flour 9 x 13 pan. Beat bisquick, sugar, 1/2 cup cheese by hand.  Beat in milk, eggs and syrup.  Pour into prepared dish.  Bake uncovered 10-15minutes.  (pancake should not quite be done yet).  Sprinkle bacon and cheese and bake 3-5 minutes more.  Serve with a side of syrup.


Spaghetti Night....

Yesterday morning I decided I needed a make ahead meal for the night.  It was my book group night and I wanted to be able to make a quick exit once I got dinner on the table.  I decided that Spaghetti would be a nice change of pace.  I am not a huge red sauce/pasta fan so I don't make it that often.  Whenever I do, I always think, "Why do I ever buy jarred sauce?"  Homemade is so easy and so much tastier! Of course, I usually forget this when I am in a hurry and end up picking up a jar of some sauce. But, the new me is not doing that anymore!!! :)  Sauce is also one of those things you already have all the ingredients in the house.  So, within a couple of hours yesterday morning I had dinner made with enough leftover to store a vat of sauce in the freezer for another time.  Everyone loved it and with a salad and some bread it was the perfect winter meal.  



Spaghetti Sauce

2-3 Tblsp Olive Oil
1 Large Onion
2 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 pound lean ground beef
small piece of pork*
2 cans of crushed tomatoes 28 oz( I like to use 2 different kinds, last night I used San Marzano and Redpack)
1 large of Tomato Paste or 3 tblsp of double concentrate paste(I keep a tube in my fridge)
1/2 cup water
1 tblsp oregano dried
1 tsblsp basil dried
2 tsp salt
2tsp sugar

In large pan, heat oil and saute onion and garlic until onions are translucent.  Add beef and brown.  Drain fat.  Add remaining ingredients.  Bring to a slow boil and then simmer on low, covered, for 2-3 
hours, stirring occasionally.

*I like to add a small piece of pork to my sauce while it is cooking.  It gets very tender and adds a sweetness to the sauce.  

**If you prefer meatballs, omit meat and after sauce is put together, cook meatballs in sauce for 2-3 hours.

February 9, 2010

The Best Chicken Stock in the World...


And, I really  mean it! As I had mentioned before, I never seem to make chicken soup the same way twice.  A little different tweak, a little different emphasis on one flavor on another; I like them all. There's certainly no need to follow a recipe for Chicken Soup.  Throw everything into a pot and cook the heck out of it. :)  But yesterday I decided to break out my old, trusty Silver Palate Cookbook.  If you don't have this book, buy it! I have had it forever and although I forget about for months on end, I am always so happy when I open it up.  Like a trusty friend, this book never disappoints.  There is a recipe in the back of the book for Chicken Stock. I've changed it up a little over the years but it is, by far, the very best stock I have ever made.  So rich, and so flavorful.  The stock is not a pale yellow, but rather a deep gold.  So, with my desire to detox my family off of all the bad food from Superbowl Sunday, I set about making Chicken Soup yesterday.  I made the stock in the morning, let it cool(skimmed off the fat),  then put some in the freezer for future fabulousness and made Chicken Soup out of the rest.  It took some time(this is not just throw it all in the pot, stock) but oh, was it worth it.  So, so good!  

Chicken Stock(adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook)

2-3 Tblsp cooking oil(I used Olive)
3 pounds chicken breasts** 
4 cups chopped yellow onions
2 cups chopped carrots
handful of parsley sprigs
1 box reduced sodium chicken stock(I like Campbell's Chicken Stock)
water as needed
1 tblsp dried thyme
3 bay leaves

Pour oil into large soup pot. Heat oil and then add chicken to pot.  Cook, turning once until well browned.  Add onions and carrots and continue to cook until vegetables are beginning to brown lightly and are losing their crunch.  Add remaining ingredients and add water to cover chicken by 2 inches.  Boil for 15 minutes, skimming off all the scum(the yucky part:( ). Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 2 hours.  Cool slightly and then pour through a strainer set over a bowl, pressing hard on vegetables and chicken to get all of the flavor out(this is the important part, you want all the flavor!) Cover stock and refrigerate, then skim any fat off of top.  Freeze rations for future use or make Chicken Soup.

**If I was only making stock,  I would use necks and backs. Due to my laziness, when I am making soup and want meat, I use breasts.

Chicken Soup
Chicken stock from previous recipe
cut carrots
cut zucchini( I like them sliced and halved)
cut up chicken(from breasts in chicken stock)
noodles or rice

Add everything to the stock and boil until noodles are cooked and vegetables are tender! That's it!  Voila! Chicken Stock makes all things easy!!

February 8, 2010

Just in Case You Didn't Have Enough to Eat Last Night....


Dessert was actually a mellow affair last night.  The boys ate so much food that they didn't devour dessert.  Unfortunately that means I have quite  a bit left.  And we are in detox over here.  Too much rich food - even the 17 year old informed me that he was eating "clean" all day.  But just in case you need a chocolate fix or are in chocolate withdrawal,  Chocolate Marble Cake to the rescue.  Very good and not too sweet :) 


Chocolate Marble Cake

Marble:
1/3 cup sugar
1 8oz package softened cream cheese
1 egg

Cake Batter:
1 1/2 oz unsweetened chocolate squares
3/4 cup water
1/2 cup butter
2 cups flour
1 3/4 cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1tsp salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup sour cream
6 oz chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375.
For marble: combine softened cream cheese and sugar.  Beat until smooth then add egg and mix well. Set aside.  In small pot, melt butter, chocolate and water.  Bring to a boil and remove from heat.  In large bowl, combine flour and sugar.  Add chocolate /butter mixture and blend.  Add eggs, sour cream, baking soda and salt.  Mix well and then pour into greased and floured 15 1/2 x 10 dish. (Try to use a pan bigger then a 9 x 12, if you have it). Spoon cream cheese mixture on top of batter and cut thru with a knife to make a marble effect.  (Just run your knife up and down thru the cream cheese mixture) Sprinkle with chocolate chips.  Bake for 25 minutes.  Let cool and slice.




February 7, 2010

Superbowl +Ten 17 Year Old Boys = Exhaustion

Whew!! I am so tired, you would think I was in the Superbowl!  I don't think you can make food fast enough to keep up with ten 17 year old boys.  I made a lot of food today.  Actually, I was busy cooking and preparing all day.  Boys can sure eat a lot !  My son said the night was  a success and I think it's possible they may not need to eat again for a month, based on what they consumed here tonight.  Chips, Salsa, Chips, Dip, Cheesy Bread(so good), Mini Hot Dogs, Sausage Crescents (aka Bones), Caramel Popcorn, Wings and Sliders! I kept bringing it out and they kept on eating.... but such a happy group, who could complain?  The sliders, which were so simple were  a big hit.


Not the best picture, but what can you do when they're all clamoring to gobble the sliders down?  We went through 3 platters of these!  After these, everyone seemed quite satiated.  And the Saints started winning!!  I'll fill you in on dessert tomorrow....somehow they found room for that too....

Superbowl Sliders

3 pounds Ground Sirloin or Ground Round
18 brioche or dinner rolls
18 small slices cheese
18 dill pickle chips
1 tsp salt
11/2 tsp pepper
BBQ sauce

 Mix beef with salt and pepper and make into 18 small patties. (approximately 6 per pound). Grill on medium high charcoal or gas grill 2-3 minutes each side.  Warm buns on grill.  At last minute, add cheese on top to melt.  Transfer burgers to buns on large platter.  Garnish each slider with 1 dill pickle chip and spread BBQ sauce on each bun.  Serve with additional sauce on side. 

** If it is freezing out ( it is here right now) either broil burgers or look pitiful and hopefully someone will go out and grill them for you. (Like my husband did for me tonight :)) 

February 6, 2010

Popcorn anyone?

Today I am trying to get ready for Superbowl Sunday as my oldest is having some friends in for the game. Anytime there is a group of 17 year old boys, you need a lot of food!  Quantity is key.  I've learned over the years that you can never have enough.  I have a great recipe for Caramel Popcorn  and decided I would make it today(hopefully we won't have eaten it all before tomorrow).  Once you eat this, you will never want to eat the boxed or bagged caramel corn again!  It is so delicious and the sweet, buttery flavor combined with the crispy popcorn is addictive. The recipe makes a lot of popcorn, but trust me, it will be gone in a flash!  



Caramel Popcorn

2 sticks of butter
2 cup light brown sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 tsp baking soda
10 quarts popped corn

Melt the butter, corn syrup, brown sugar and cream of tartar on low heat until mixture come to a boil(stir frequently).  Boil the mixture for 5 minutes.  Remove from heat, then add baking soda.  (don't do this step while cooking)  Here's what the mixture will look like after you add the baking soda:

Pour over popcorn in 2 very large bowls.  Stir immediately to coat popcorn.   Pour coated popcorn onto 3 cookie sheets and bake in oven at 225 degrees for 60 minutes.   ( If I making this recipe for just a small group, I half it)


The Inmates Have Escaped!!!!

Our children all chose this weekend to run away.  We are "kidless" for the first time in about 17 years!  Ryan returns this evening (with a lot of dirty laundry, I am sure).  So, what were we to do?  Out, we went! We actually have been planning this night. With our kids schedules, finding a date night has not been easy. So, last night was the night.  I wondered if I would feel guilty, going out to eat instead of cooking?  No Way!  It was so nice to be out and we went to a great restaurant that we love and that has wonderful food.  It was money I was glad to spend. And that's really what this year is about:  mindful spending.  Spending thoughtfully, and really making a conscious decision that what we buy is worth it.  Making sure we are not just throwing our money away.  Junk food?No way.  Mediocre food? Not interested.  Excellent food,  a nice night out, nice ambiance?  Absolutely!  And, if you are wondering what was worth it, here it is:


Salmon, Green Beans and Mashed Potatoes!!  (Did I mention the mashed potatoes?  To die for) The bread was also excellent, but as you can see, I had already eaten it. :) Carb heaven!

This meal did get me thinking though... I like the presentation of the plates!  I think I know where I am headed today....   

February 5, 2010

Join Cooking to Save on Facebook!

Cooking to Save is now on Facebook!  Stay caught up and as we go, I'll be adding food product reviews as well as great recipes!  Visit our Fan Page here .  Come join the conversation!




It's the smallest gestures that mean the most....



This morning I woke up to an email from my neighbor, Jeanne.  "There's a small treat in your mailbox."  So, I bundled up(it's cold here) and Nikki and I walked out to the mailbox.  (This is what I am calling her walk for the day!)  Inside was a little cup, wrapped in foil..
This was a cup that I had brought to her the other day with some salsa that I had just made. (And, oh yes, I was borrowing some cheese)!  The cup had come back to me with a little sweet treat!! Can I say that this made my morning?  Sometimes, it is so nice to just know that someone was thinking of you :)  Our lives are so busy,  I think we forget how simple it is to connect with people.  A call, a note, an email and best of all, a sweet treat... it doesn't take a whole lot to make someone's day!    

And because you are all wondering, here's what was in the cup:



Cinnamon Chocolate Fudge!! Did anyone else see Giada make this?  So good!  Here's the link, if you want to try it for yourself.   The chocolate, the cinnamon and the salt make this the perfect Superbowl treat!!  ( There were 2 more pieces, but I ate them before I could take a picture!!! :))


February 4, 2010

Bones....

Tonight I want to share with you all a fabulous appetizer for the Super Bowl. (I am not cooking since no one in my family was home for dinner!  Eggs were the meal of choice here!) We call them "bones".  That doesn't sound so good, does it? Actually, they are Sausage Crescents. We call them bones because they kind of look like bones! They are without fail, the most popular hors d'oeuvre at any party.  And they are so easy!  The combination of ingredients totally works and this is truly a case where the sum of the parts is so much better then the individual ingredients! Try them! You won't be disappointed...

Sausage Crescents (Bones)

2 Packages Jones Precooked Sausages
2 Packages Crescent Rolls(I use the reduced fat, they have no trans fats)
2 tblsp butter melted
Oregano
Parmesan Cheese(freshly grated)


Open can of crescent rolls, separate into rectangles.(do not divide into triangles) With rolling pin or fingers, press out perforations for triangles and leave as a rectangle.(you will have 4 per can)  Working with 1 rectangle at a time, brush with melted butter, sprinkle generously with oregano and parm cheese.
 Place sausage line on end of crescent roll and cover with crescent. Cut crescent to fit each sausage link. Repeat until all crescents are used.  Slice each link/crescent into 5 pieces and place on cookie sheet.

Freeze for 1 hour (or put right in oven) and then place in freezer bags until needed.  When ready to bake place 1 inch apart on cookie sheet and bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes until golden brown.  Not only do these taste delicious, they smell wonderful!!   


Now do you see why we call them bones?!! :)

February 3, 2010

Stepping Back From the Edge.....

I almost did it today.....jumped off the restaurant cliff.  From the moment I got up this morning I have been running, running, running... to appointments, kids activities, etc.  By noon I knew I was in trouble.  A pizza.... that was my solution.  Just this once, I would order a pizza tonight ... no cooking, no clean up.  So easy.  But then, I thought about having to admit this on my blog tonight. (It's a little bit like Weight Watchers a little bit like AA).  So, I took a deep breath and a step back and perused the refrigerator for something I could make ahead and have ready for when we all walked in at 6pm.  I settled on Chicken Tetrazzini.  ( I didn't have any Turkey).  And so, I've saved myself for another night.  To be honest, what really saved me was the thought that I was going to blow it on a crummy pizza.  I've decided if I am going down, I'm going in a big way;  food worth jumping off for.   (More about that this weekend. :)  I'm dreaming of a special salmon!)  As I write this, it is 630 - I am still waiting for my casserole to come out of the oven but there's no pizza box to have to slink out to the garbage with tomorrow.  No remorse :) Here's my dinner at 12 noon(before baking it!):


Chicken Tetrazzini(adapted from The New Best Recipe)

1 package whole grain spaghetti
6 tblsp butter
2 cups white mushrooms,cleaned and sliced
1 large onion
1/4 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth
2 tblsp sherry
3/4 cup freshly ground parmesan
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 cups frozen peas
4-5 cups cooked chicken, cut into small pieces

breadcrumb topping:
1/2 fresh bread crumbs,
1 tblsp butter, melted
1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

First, combine bread crumbs and melted butter, place on pan in 350 oven for approximately 10 mins until brown. Remove, add parmesan cheese and set aside.
Bring large pot of water to boil, add spaghetti.  When done, drain, but reserve 1/4 cup liquid.  Place spaghetti back in pot with liquid. In large skillet, melt 2 tblsp butter, add chopped onion and mushrooms.  Stir frequently until onions are translucent and liquid has evaporated from mushrooms.  (Approx 10-15mins)  Transfer to small bowl and set aside.  Melt remaining butter in clean pan until foamy. Add flour and whisk until smooth and golden brown.  Whisking constantly, add chicken broth slowly.  Increase heat to medium high until mixture thickens.  Off the heat, whisk in sherry, parmesan, nutmeg, lemon juice, and 1/2 tsp salt.  Add the sauce, mushroom/onion mixture,peas and chicken  to the cooked pasta and mix.  Pour into buttered 13x9 pan, sprinkle with breadcrumb mixture and bake at 400 until warm and bubbly.  Serves 8-10 (generous portions)

I'm Famous!!

Well, not really!! :) But I got your attention!  Today my Chicken Salad is featured on a great new blog, I love Salads.  It is actually an offshoot of a blog I have been reading for inspiration and ideas,  Ordinary Recipes Made Gourmet. It's such a pretty place, please check it out!  A big thank you to Kim and Amanda!  

February 2, 2010

Bone Suckin'?

Well, that's what the label says!  Tonight was Pulled Pork Sandwiches and Broccoli Slaw.  My boys don't love broccoli but make into a slaw and they are happy as clams!  In my "keep it simple" mode,  I put the pork into the crock pot at 930 this morning.  I am not a big crock pot user, in fact this is about the only meal I make in it.  I always think everything comes out a little "mushy".  But of course, pulled pork is supposed to be soft and gooey.  My secret recipe couldn't be easier:  I use a lean pork roast(I usually ask the butcher to cut any fat away - I don't like to see the fat), put it in the crockpot on low, add 1/2 jar of Bone Suckin' Sauce(honest, that is what its called!).  I cover it and don't look at it again dinnertime!  Does it get any easier?  When we are ready to eat, I take out the pork, shred it with 2 forks and spoon some more sauce on top. Tonight I toasted some Multi-Grain Rolls. Dinner is served. :)  To add to the enjoyment, I throw together(literally) the broccoli slaw.  I buy the broccoli slaw in the grocery store - it is in the produce department with the packaged cole slaw. It is sliced up broccoli with a little sliced carrots and sliced red cabbage. Then I just add my ingredients and it is ready to go. A little crunchy, a little sweet, a little savory - the perfect side dish!  If you wanted to be really lazy, you could just add cole slaw dressing to it but I find it's easier to just mix my own.  Served on the side, it's a hit, but I've noticed that it usually ends up on top of the pulled pork.  A great combo!

Broccoli Slaw

1 10oz Package Broccoli Slaw(I use Nature's Promise Organic from Stop and Shop)
1/4 cup craisins
1/2 granny smith apple, cut into small pieces

Dressing:
1/4 cup mayonnaise
2 TBlsp white vinegar
1 Tblsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt

Mix dressing, pour over Broccoli, craisins and apple. Mix well and serve or refrigerate


February 1, 2010

No Taco Bell for Us!

Tonight was Taco Night.  Will's been asking for a while and I decided it worked in my "keep it simple" strategy.  Of course, while I was at Whole Foods I had to get my grass fed beef for the tacos.  For good or bad, I've become obsessed with what meat I buy. At the rate I am going, it's time to buy stock in Whole Foods.  I seem to be in there everyday and today the produce guy recognized me from Friday's trip.  I am not sure if this is good or bad!  
So, to compete with Taco Bell, I decided I would make my own salsa!  It is so easy and so good! There is huge difference between what you buy in a jar and what you make.  And, it literally takes about 10 minutes to put it all together.   

It was a huge hit - the kids were slurping it down with chips as I got dinner on the table.  I justified the chips with the healthy salsa!   As good as it was on the chips, it made the tacos!  Some of us had hard tacos, some taco salads and some had soft tacos.  Everyone was happy and what more can you ask for on a Monday(ugh!) night?

Salsa

3 large tomatoes(I used on the vine, as that is about the best you can find in the Northeast  right now)
1 clove garlic, minced
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1-2 green chili peppers, finely chopped
1-2 Tblsp Cilantro, chopped(more or less to taste)
1 lime  squeezed

Mix all ingredients together.  Serve immediately or refrigerate.

The Week of Easy...

This is a crazy week in our house - the kids are literally running in too many different directions.  I've decided that this week I am going to make simple, easy meals that everyone likes.  But... I am also going to work on having one extra fresh and healthy side dish to each meal. You know the ones that you buy in the store and then one day make yourself and think,"This is so much better then what I would have bought at the grocery store"! I just came back from Whole Foods to get some ingredients that I needed for tonight and tomorrow's dinner.  We'll see if the kids appreciate my effort (or even notice!)  Or, will this be like when you make the cupcakes and icing from scratch for your child's birthday party and none of the kids will eat them because they like the mix better?!!!