Sunday, February 28, 2010

Week 4, Day 3: Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, and Parsley

Tonight I made our dinner from Wednesday, which is a recipe from the Williams-Sonoma: Casual Entertaining cookbook Anne gave me. Just for kicks, here's the recipe and review.

Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, and Parsley

2 tbsp flour
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, about 1/2 lb each
3-5 cloves garlic
3/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1 tbsp finely chopped lemon zest (I grated mine with a cheese grater)
2 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper
3/4 cup chicken stock or broth
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice (juice of 3-4 lemons)
1/2 cup dry white wine (I just used more chicken broth)

1. Spread the flour on a plate, then lightly coat both sides of each chicken breast half with the flour, shakin goff the excess. Finely chop 2 or 3 garlic cloves, then mince 1 or 2 additional cloves. Set aside the chopped garlic. In a small bowl, stir together the minced garlic to taste, the parsley, and lemon zest.
2. In a frying pan over high heat (I would do medium high next time), warm the olive oil. Add the chicken breasts and saute, turning once, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes on each side. Transfer to a platter, season to taste with salt and pepper, and set aside.
3. Pour off all but 2 tbsp of the fat from the pan. Add the finely chopped garlic to taste to the pan and saute over high heat until softened, about 20 seconds. Add the stock, lemon juice, and wine and deglaze the pan, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the pan bottom. Bring to a boil and cook until slightly reduced, about 3 minutes.
4. Return the chicken to the pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook until the chicken is opaque throughout and the juices run clear when a breast half is pierced with a knife, about 10 minutes. (I ended up adding a few tablespoons of chicken broth during this because it was getting dry and the chicken hadn't cooked completely.) Using tongs, transfer the chicken to a warmed serving platter.
5. Raise the heat to high and boil the pan sauce until reduced to about 1/4 cup, about 5 minutes (I skipped this step because the sauce had already reduced considerably). Pour the sauce evenly over the chicken and sprinle the parsley-garlic mixture evenly over the top. Serve at once.

The Verdict: 2 thumbs up, 3 thumbs medium. The chicken was super moist, but the lemon flavor was too strong for Adam and the kids. I will use this method of cooking again (browning, then cooking in broth), but with different flavors.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

And the winners are . . .

Tonight I post the results of and wrap up the dinner challenge (although I will probably make the chicken I missed Wednesday tomorrow and post about it). Deep breath, here goes!

The top four dinners, with 5 thumbs up each, are:
Asian Black Bean Soup (Becky McCollaum)
Peanut Noodles (Anne Curry)
Korean Short Ribs (Becky McCollaum)
Chicken Posole (Melissa Yoder)

Which means Becky, Anne, and Melissa are our winners!

Just to give you an idea of how we judged, I only took dinner recipes (not dessert) into consideration, but those who submitted dessert recipes that got 5 thumbs up won anyway. No, Max doesn't really give a literal thumbs up, I based his vote on how well he ate and whether he fussed about eating it--and if he nodded when I asked if he liked it. If there was only one thumbs up on the meal, it just may have been his. I think he only gave one or two "thumbs medium" during the whole challenge. If I "fudged" the voting, I clearly stated it when I posted about it, but none of the winning dinners were fudged.

Here's is what our winners will receive:

I hand-picked this cookbook with certain criteria in mind. It may not be the slickest, fanciest one out there, but here is what I like about it: I learned to really love the crock pot this month. It can really make your life easier, but it also can produce delicious (not just blob-like) food. I thought it might be nice to pay tribute to that. It has real life recipes, made from ingredients you can pronounce (and probably already buy), and they are mostly dishes that are familiar but interesting. Everyone needs easy recipes to fall back on, and that's why I really like the section of 4-ingredient recipes: because they are so simple but can produce great results. There are pictures of the recipes (okay, not all the recipes, I was a bit disappointed when I realized that, there are with most), so you can get an idea of what it should come out like. This helps me tremendously. It also is spiral bound, so it will lay flat on your counter as you refer to it. But most of all, it was something I would buy for myself. I hope you like it, winners!

To wrap up the dinner challenge, here are some things I came away with:
  • Looking at the winning recipes, it's obvious our preference for Asian food. I love that because I feel it's a reflection on Adam and his influence on our dining choices. I think he really just likes Chinese food, but he also served a mission in the Philippines and I think that affects it, too. I feel like he's doing a good job to pass a bit of culture on to our children.
  • I already mentioned this, but the crock pot can be a great tool. It's been fun to really learn how to use it.
  • I have become much more confident in trusting my instincts when cooking. It's really important to follow a recipe, but it's also important to know when it isn't going to work, or how to make it better or tailor it to fit your family. This is something I generally suck at, but by the end, I was getting it down. "Oh, that's way too much onion (or garlic, or chili powder) for us." Or, "this definitely should have a bit more of this or that."
  • My kids can, and will, eat new things. And particularly vegetables. We have much less whining than we used to (with the exeption of one night where Isaiah sat at the table for 2 hours), and my kids are beginning to choose healthy foods. Katie was floored to learn that chips aren't healthy, but it is no surprise to her what is: things that don't taste greasy, and brightly colored fruits and vegetables.
  • It was so fun to teach the kids about new cultures. This was a totally unexpected side effect of this whole thing. I was looking things up to tell them about, and even printed a picture of the palace in Thailand so they could get an idea of what it looked like there. It became second nature for one of the kids to run for the map so we could show them where our dinner that night came from.
  • I really have much more of an idea how much preparation it takes to eat something new every night, and appreciate having familiar recipes handy that I can make from what's already in the pantry and fridge. However, having a plan does take the guesswork out of what we are cooking and eating every night. It's good to have a plan.
  • Most of all, I'm so grateful for you contributing your favorites, and subjecting yourselves to being judged. I'm also very grateful for my family for putting up with my neurotic need to try new things. I have such wonderful people in my life, and I'm very grateful.

Lastly, here is what I'll be adding to my recipe box, things that we will continue to make and why:

  • Of course, all four of our winning dinners. Everyone liked them! I may try the ribs in the crock pot next time. And of course there may be some tweaking going on with all the recipes, but that's part of making them your own.
  • Crock Pot Thai Curry It was so amazing how the vegetables kind of "melted" into the sauce and made it tasty without being all "vegetable-y." It had a great unique flavor and was much more interesting than our usual stir-fry.
  • Crispy Orange Chicken Skillet I won't use the sauce from this recipe, but I will use the breading, and the almond rice pilaf recipe I linked to in the post. We have orange chicken a lot, and love the Panda Express Orange Chicken sauce.
  • We all loooooved the Refried Black Beans and Spanish Rice Melissa submitted. They are new staples for our Mexican meals. I'm actually planning on buying a case of black beans to add to our food storage because of our experiences this month!
  • Cafe Rio Pork Salad Okay, maybe this is unfair to actually share, but I have to say it: this was my favorite dinner to eat of the whole month. I could have had fourths if there had been any left (I did have seconds and thirds). It was also hands-down the most labor-intensive to make, so I won't be making it often. But I will be making it!
  • Baked Chicken Chimichangas and Sweet Potato Burritos I probably won't be making either of these recipes as they are. However, through these recipes I learned an awesome new trick that my family does like: brushing the tortillas with olive oil before baking. They make the tortillas so crispy and good! I will use this for burritos in the future.
  • Pizza Margherita I probably won't make this one exactly as is, either, but probably with tomato sauce instead of tomatoes. However, I am actually planning to try this dough with a make-it-yourself personal pizza bar in the near future. I think it will be fun for the kids to pick out their own toppings and make them exactly the way they like.
  • Swedish Meatballs Really enjoyed the flavor of these meatballs.
  • Sloppy Joes Isaiah begged me to make this again, so I'll tweak the sauce a bit and try it again.
  • Farmer's Market Chili If our ward (congregation) has another chili cookoff this year, I may bring this recipe. It is really tasty and would stand out among the others.
  • Fried Chicken with Herbs, Creamy Tex-Mex Corn with Lime, and Cheddar Biscuits I will file the chicken and biscuit recipes because they were awesome, and as I mentioned yesterday, I'll consider seasoning corn similarly (but without the sauce) again.

Thank you all for reading and playing along! And winners, your prize will be in the mail!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Week 4, Day 5: Fried Chicken with Herbs, Creamy Tex-Mex Corn with Lime, and Cheddar Biscuits

I saved something special for our last dinner. Although I picked the recipes, the credit goes to my sister, Anne, who gave me the Williams-Sonoma: Casual Entertaining cookbook that the bulk of it came from.

Fried Chicken with Herbs, Creamy Tex-Mex Corn with Lime, and Cheddar Biscuits

Fried Chicken with Herbs
2 chickens, about 2 1/2 lb, cut into 8 pieces (I did a bulk package of drumsticks instead)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 egg
3/4 cup dried bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh basil
1 tbsp finely chopped fresh marjoram (I used 1/4 tsp dried)
1 tsp paprika
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
canola oil for frying
2 tbsp chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley (I forgot this)

1. Place the chicken pieces in a bowl with 1 cup of the buttermilk. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 18 hours.
2. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees (this actually could wait until step 3). In a shallow bowl, beat the egg until blended, then beat in the remaining 1/2 cup buttermilk. On a plate, mix together the flour, bread crumbs, garlic, basil, marjoram, paprika, salt and pepper (I would use a gallon-sized Ziploc bag next time).
3. Using tongs, lift the chicken pieces from the buttermilk, one at a time, and dip first into the flour mixture, coating evenly, and then into the egg mixture. Dip each piece again into the flour mixture and set aside on a baking sheet. When all the chicken pieces are coated, refrigerate them for 15 minutes while the oil heats.
4. In a deep frying pan over high heat, pour in oil to a depth of 1 inch. Heat the oil until it reaches 350 degrees on a deep-frying thermometer, or until the corner of a piece of chicken dipped into the hot oil sizzles immediately upon contact. Working in batches, fry the chicken pieces, turning as needed, until well browned on all sides, about 10 minutes total. Do not crowd the pan. As soon as the pieces are browned, transfer them to a clean baking sheet (tip: line the pan with foil).
5. When all of the pieces are browned, place them in the oven and bake until opaque throughout and the juices run clear, 20-30 minutes (I should have done it for 15, I think, but I was busy making other dishes and trusted the time--they were a little darker than I would have liked). As the pieces are done transfer them to a plate. Arrange all the pieces on a warmed serving platter and serve warm or at room temperature, garnished with the chopped parsley.

The Verdict: 4 thumbs up, 1 thumb medium. Very good fried chicken, I really enjoyed it, and fried chicken is not my favorite thing. Apparently, Isaiah doesn't love getting his hands messy either. We had dinner guests, and got good reviews from the majority of them, as well.

Creamy Tex-Mex Corn with Lime
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cups corn kernels (I used frozen)
1 large shallot, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp chili powder
1 cup whole milk
2 tbsp fresh goat cheese (I substituted cream cheese, since I forgot to pick this up.)
1 1/2 tsp minced lime zest, plus zest strips for garnish
1/4 cup snipped fresh chives, plus more for garnish
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. In a large, nonstick frying pan over medium heat, warm the oil. Add the corn, shallot, garlic, cumin, and chili powder and saute until the corn starts to soften, about 4 minutes.
2. Stir in the milk and cheese and simmer, uncovered, until the liquid thickens, about 4 minutes. Mix in the lime zest and chives and season to taste with salt and pepper.
3. Transfer to a warmed serving bowl (this is essential, as it cools quickly--ours got cold too fast), garnish with the zest strips and snipped chives, and serve at once.

The Verdict: 1 thumb up, 1 thumb medium, 3 thumbs down. The seasoning in this was actually pretty good, I think, but the texture wasn't everyone's favorite. I think that was mostly because it got cold too fast. I probably won't make it again, sadly. But I might think about using chili powder, chives and lime to flavor corn when going for a Tex-Mex flavor as a side dish.

Red Lobster's Cheddar Biscuits
(This recipe comes from America's Most Wanted Recipes, and it says it makes 10 biscuits)
2 cups biscuit mix (I used 3 cups)
1/2 cup shredded mild Cheddar cheese (I used 3/4 cup)
2/3 cup milk (I used 1 cup)
4 tbsp butter (this was waaaay too much, and I made a larger batch)
1/4 tsp garlic powder
Parsley flakes, for sprinkling

1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Grease cookie sheet.
2. Stir together the biscuit mix, Cheddar, and milk until a soft dough forms. Beat with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds.
3. Spoon onto a greased cookie sheet. Smooth down the tops to prevent hard points from forming.
4. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, until the tops are brown.
5. While the biscuits are baking, melt the butter in a pan (I did it in the microwave) and stir in the garlic powder.
6. Once the biscuits are done, brush the butter on the tops, sprinkle with parsley flakes, and serve hot.

The Verdict: 5 thumbs up, but only when spread with butter. I will definitely make these again because they were easy to whip up, but much better than your average biscuit.

Tomorrow I'll post the winners and their prize, along with a recap of the last month. Thanks again, for playing along!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Week 4, Day 4: Farmer's Market Chili and Broccoli Bread

Tonight's dinner, Farmer's Market Chili (this links to the original recipe, which I would check out because she has pics and tips I don't), comes from Christina. By the way, Christina, thank you for the last-minute tips! I was so glad I didn't add all the water because we like our chili thick.

Farmer's Market Chili

2 Tbs canola/vegetable oil
2-3 onions, small, chopped
1 1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp Adobo seasoning with peppers, optional (I didn't use this)
1-2 Tbs chili powder (I used 1)
1/4 tsp dried basil
1/2 tsp cumin
2 cups zucchini, diced
3-4 carrots, peeled and diced
2 14.5 oz cans diced tomatoes
1 15 oz can white beans- cannelini, drained and rinsed
1 15 oz can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 can water (I did less, maybe 2/3 or 3/4 of this?)

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat and saute onion until soft and tender. Add carrots and saute until softened. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer 35 minutes. If the chili is took thick for your preference, you can add a can of tomato sauce and a small amount of water towards the end of the cook time.

The next recipe is one I've made before, from a neighbor, Tina Christian. The voting tonight will only be based on the chili and not the bread, but I wanted to include the recipe since I took pictures this time.

Broccoli Bread

1 box Jiffy corn muffin mix
2 eggs
1 med chopped onion (I did much less, about a quarter onion)
1 box frozen chopped broccoli, thawed and drained (I used fresh, also worked great)
1 cup shredded cheddar
1 stick butter, melted

Mix together. Pour in greased loaf pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes.

The Verdict: 1 thumb up, 1 thumb medium, 3 thumbs down. This is one of those times that I'm tempted to fudge the voting because we had a dinner guest (one of Adam's employees), and he loved it. So, take that for consideration. It was a really good, thick chili with a great flavor, but I think my family would have preferred meat in place of zucchini (big surprise). One of these days they are going to start liking vegetables.*

*Actually, I think these dinners have helped this immensely. Katie has started to love broccoli (the broccoli bread she wouldn't touch months ago became a treat tonight), and both kids like green beans now that I've convinced them to eat them first, while they're still hot (who likes cold green beans?!). Then there is Isaiah, who has fallen in love with edamame, so we are definitely making strides.

Week 4, Day 3

Last night's dinner was brought to you by . . . Five Guys Burgers and Fries. Oh, wait! That wasn't on the schedule! Whoops!

Sorry to disappoint, but there were extenuating circumstances last night that brought us to a choice, and ultimately it came down to going out for dinner. To be clear, the recipe was one I found in my Williams-Sonoma cookbook, not submitted by one of my dear readers. And I will make it, and I'll post about it, just not tonight.

In case you were wondering, The Verdict: 5 thumbs up!

*Full disclosure: the picture is one I found on the Internet. I didn't take it myself.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Week 4, Day 2: Sloppy Joes, Bread and Butter Pickles, and Butternut Squash Slaw

Tonight's dinner comes from someone very special, someone who probably has influenced my cooking (well, everything in my life) more than anyone: my mom. She is an amazingly strong woman who raised me mostly on her own, and is just as wonderful a grandma as she is a mom. My kids love her and look forward to spending time with her, and I'm so grateful for all she does for us and with us. Love you, Mom!

Sloppy Joes, Bread and Butter Pickles, and Butternut Squash Slaw

Homemade Bread and Butter Pickles

5 pickling cucumbers (about 4 inches long)
4 slices fresh horseradish, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
1 C white vinegar
1 C sugar
3 C water
4 cloves garlic, peeled
2 tbsp pickling spice
2 tsp turmeric
salt and pepper
one quart mason jar, sterilized (I think two is more like it! I found 5 cucumbers and the amount of brine are way too much for one mason jar. But the pickles are addicting!) *Rachel's note: I halved this recipe and fit it into one jar.

Wash cucumbers, slice into 1/4 inch thick rounds, and place in a heated, sterilized mason jar with horseradish and fresh dill weed. Set a large pot over medium heat and add vinegar, sugar, water, garlic and pickling spices. bring the brine to a boil then pour over cucumbers and horseradish in still-hot mason jar and seal lid. Allow to cool to room temperature before refrigerating. You can serve once chilled, but for best flavor serve after the pickles have been left overnight, at least.

Butternut Squash Coleslaw with Honey Goat Cheese Dressing

4 oz creamy goat cheese, room temperature
1-1/2 tbsp honey
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/2 lemon, juiced
salt and pepper
1 medium butternut squash
1/2 C dried cranberries
1/2 C toasted walnuts
2 tbsp chopped parsley leaves
special equipment: mandolin (I think a shredder makes the coleslaw easier to eat)

In a large mixing bowl, combine goat cheese, honey, olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and season with salt and plenty of pepper. Stir well with a whisk until fully combined and creamy. Cut off the top narrow portion of the butternut squash (**Rachel's note: below is a recipe to use this portion, which I haven't tested, but sounds delish). Peel and remove seeds inside of the bulb portion. Then using a mandolin or sharp knife, cut the peeled portion into fine, long matchstick (julienne). (I shredded it with a cheese grater and it worked wonderfully, except being awkward to hold.) This should yield about 4 cups. (Mom, do you remember me complaining that I didn't know how much it was supposed to make? If I wasn't blind I would have known!) Fold into the cheese dressing along with dried cranberries, walnuts and chopped parsley.

Ultimate Sloppy Joes

Olive oil
1 large onion, diced
1-1/2 lbs ground turkey
salt and pepper
2 C ketchup
1/4 C mustard
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
Parker house rolls
Bread and butter pickles (can add them on the buns or on the side)

Set a heavy-based pot over medium-high heat and add a 3-count of olive oil. Add onions and sauté for 2-3 minutes until translucent. Add ground turkey, season well with salt and pepper and brown well all over, breaking it up with a wooden spoon (about 7-10 minutes). Add ketchup, mustard, cayenne, brown sugar and tomato paste. Reduce heat and simmer for 10-12 minutes. Finish with a splash of red wine vinegar and season it once more before serving.

The Verdict: 2 thumbs up, 3 thumbs medium. You can tell what a good grandma my mom is by the kid-friendliness of the recipe (what kid doesn't like sloppy joes!). The kids liked the sloppy joes, but they were a bit spicy. Next time I would tone them down a bit by halving the mustard. I really liked the dressing on the coleslaw, but next time I would do it with cabbage; the squash had a texture that wasn't my favorite. The pickles . . . well, surprisingly, since we all know how much our family loves vegetables (!), the pickles were not a hit. It may have been my own failings, though since I didn't have dill weed and I only chilled them for a few hours instead of overnight. I kind of liked them, and it's intrigued me enough to consider pickling when I put up jam, etc, this year. But I won't do more than a jar or so for myself.

**Crispy Parmesan Butternut Squash Chips

1 medium butternut squash
Vegetable oil for deep-frying
2 springs rosemary
2 sprigs sage
1/4 C grated parmigiano-reggiano (I just used grated Parmesan cheese)
Special equipment: deep-fryer, thermometer, mandolin

Remove the top cylinder portion of the butternut squash and peel. Using a mandolin, finely slide round ships from the peeled cylinder and hold in ice water for 30 minutes to chill. Preheat 2-3 inches of oil in a heavy-based pot to 320 degrees F. Add the fresh herbs and fry until they stop sizzling. Remove from oil and drain on paper towels. Dry chips between paper towels, then fry in small batches for 2 to 3 minutes until golden and crispy. Season with salt and shower with fresh grated Parmesan and crumbled herbs.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Week 4, Day 1: Roti

Tonight was our last international meal, sent in by Becky. She is applying for a job in Grenada (as far as I know, she's still waiting to hear back), and this recipe comes from there. Grenada is known for it's spices, and this recipe definitely has some kick! I was so disappointed not to find plantains to make fried plantains with it. Oh, well.

Chicken Roti

1/2 c oil
1 1/2 large onion, very finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger (I've used ginger powder occasionally & it works too)
2 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp garam masala (its a spice, most Smith's stores have it)
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 1/2 c water
4 med tomatoes, chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds boneless chicken, cut into bite sized pieces (you can substitute equal amounts of lamb, beef, firm white fish, or vegetables for the chicken if you would like to)
3/4 pound potatoes, peeled and diced (about 1 3/4 c)
8 Roti wrappers (I don't have access to an easy Roti recipe, so I have used the non-baked large tortillas, and baked them before adding the curry mix to them)
chopped fresh cilantro

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and cook for 15-20 min, or until deep brown. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for 1 min, or until fragrant. Add the coriander and stir for 1 min to blend. Reduce the heat to low, add the turmeric, cumin, garam masala, and cayenne and cook for 10 min. Increase the heat to med-high, add 1 c of the water, and cook for 10 min, or until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the tomatoes, stir well, and cook for 5 min. Season to taste with the salt and pepper.

Add the chicken and cook, stirring, for 3 min, or until coated with the onion mixture. Add the potatoes and the remaining 1 1/2 c water. Cook for about 10 min, or until the chicken is no longer pink inside and the potatoes are tender.

To heat the wrappers, heat a griddle or large skillet over high heat. Working one at a time, brush both sides of the wrappers lightly with vegetable oil and cook until browned on both sides. As each wrapper is done, transfer to a greaseproof paper.

To assemble the dish, spook equal portions of curry onto the wrappers, garnish with the cilantro, and fold over (I do it envelope style). Serve hot.

Just for fun, here's what the filling looked like when it was finished cooking:

The Verdict: 2 thumbs up, 1 thumb medium, 2 thumbs down. This was so flavorful and the cooking process was so different than most dishes I've cooked, in a way it was exciting to see it take shape. I was certain that the onions were just going to be burned to a crisp, and honestly, I didn't cook them for 15 minutes, or even 10. I really enjoyed learning more about Grenada, too, so I could tell the family about it. I was surprised that my girl who doesn't love spice really loved this!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Last Week!

Here's the lineup for our last week of the challenge!

Week 4: American (and Grenada) Week
Monday: Chicken Roti
Tuesday: Sloppy Joes with Butternut Squash Slaw and Bread and Butter Pickles
Wednesday: Chicken with Lemon, Garlic, and Parsley
Thursday: Farmer's Market Chili and Broccoli Bread
Friday: Fried Chicken, Creamy Tex-Mex Corn, and Cheddar Biscuits

And here's the shopping list:

May Have On Hand
olive oil
vegetable/canola oil
apple cider vinegar
red wine vinegar
cayenne pepper
freshly ground pepper
garlic powder
chili powder
brown sugar
2 cups ketchup
1/4 cup mustard
1 egg
1 cup whole milk
2/3 cup milk
minced garlic

May Need To Buy
1-1/2 cups buttermilk
4 oz plus 2 tbsp creamy goat cheese
1 lb cheddar
garam masala
whole cloves
whole allspice berries
rum flavoring
pickling spice
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 tbsp toasted walnuts
1 pkg Jiffy cornbread mix
2 cups biscuit mix
tomato paste
2 14.5oz cans diced tomatoes
1 15oz can white beans
1 15oz can kidney beans
1-1/4 cup chicken broth
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2 chickens, about 2-1/2 lb, cut into 8 pieces (or chicken drumsticks or pieces)
2 pounds boneless chicken
1-1/2 lbs ground turkey
8 Roti wrappers or non-baked large tortillas
3 cups corn kernels (frozen)
1 large shallot
4 onions
4 medium tomatoes
3/4 pounds potatoes
ginger root
2 lbs fresh sorrel
3 pickling cucumbers (about 4 inches long)
1 lemon
1 lime
1 medium butternut squash
4 cloves garlic
flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
1/2 cup lemon juice (2 lemons?)
2 cups diced zucchini (2 zucchinis? depending on size)
3-4 carrots
1 head broccoli
fresh basil
fresh marjoram
fresh chives (1/4 cup)
Parker house rolls

Looking forward to another fun week!

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Week 3, Day 5: Swedish Meatballs With Mashed Potatoes (and lingonberries)

I just have to take a minute to thank all of you who take the time to come and read and those of you to comment. It makes my day to read your comments. Thank you for your support! I'm working on the perfect gift to send out to our winners, I'll reveal it next week. Then we'll take the final vote and let you know who gets a prize!

Tonight was another great European recipe from my dear friend, Becky! I have to apologize a bit for this one, because I didn't make it exactly to the recipe. You see, I couldn't find lingonberries. I have no idea where I might find them, but I also looked for lingonberry preserves, to no avail. And I couldn't find mince. Since the recipe stated it was 3 parts beef to 1 part pork, I just mixed my own with ground beef and ground pork, hoping that was what it was meant to be since it's meatballs. However, I don't think I ended up with a full pound of meat (I was approximating a bit), and my meatball mixture was a bit wet, leaving me with melting meat blobs instead of beautiful meatballs.

I'll post the recipe as it is meant to be, but keep that in mind when you see my lovely picture and it's not quite what it should be.

Meatballs with Mashed Potatoes and Lingonberries


150 ml (generous 1/2 c) milk
50g (scant 1/2 c) breadcrumbs
1 small onion
500 g (1.1 lb) mince (3 parts beef, 1 part pork)
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground white pepper
1 tsp sugar
1-2 tsp Dijon mustard
2 eggs
2 tbsp butter
50 ml (3 1/2 tbsp) carbonated mineral water - make sure it is mineral water not tonic water or club soda. the sodium content varies & mineral water usu has less sodium.
butter + rapeseed oil for frying

Pour the milk over the breadcrumbs and leave to swell 5-10 min. Chop the onion and fry it golden brown in a little butter. Mix into the mince: salt, white pepper, sugar, and mustard. Add the egg, milk mixture and onion. Mix until smooth. Splash on some mineral water. Test-fry a teaspoonful and add more seasoning if needed. Roll into large cherry-size and fry in butter and a little oil. Serve with mashed potatoes and instant lingonberry preserve.

Potato Mash

500 g (1.1 lb) peeled potato, ideally a floury sort like King Edward
2 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar
150 ml (generous 1/2 c) milk
75 g (2 3/4 oz) butter
freshly ground white pepper
grated nutmeg (optional)

Boil the potatoes until soft. Pour off the water and let the potatoes steam in the saucepan. Add salt, white pepper, sugar, butter, milk, and optionally, nutmeg. Mash with a potato masher. Add more milk if needed to make the mash smooth. Taste and season more if desired..

Instant Lingonberry Preserve

500 g (1.1 lb) lingonberries
80 g (scant 1/2 c) sugar

Mix the lingonberries and sugar by hand and stir until the sugar dissolves.

The Verdict: 4 thumbs up, 1 thumb medium. The meatballs were delicious, and very flavorful. The potatoes were tasty, and very similar to our traditional recipe (which is good when serving young children!). I have to admit I was a bit relieved I didn't have to serve it with the lingonberry preserves. But it also meant that I didn't make IHOP's Swedish pancakes (since I chose it because I thought it would be a good use for the leftover preserves). Instead, we just went to IHOP last night.

We didn't make this, but I loved the history Becky sent with it so much that I had to share it, so consider this a bonus!

Rice Porridge

A mainstay of the Swedish Christmas Smorgasbord. Also, good for breakfast with fruit (craisins, blueberries, etc). Traditionally, Swedish families hide an almond in the porridge and whoever gets it gets a special task for the day. In the old days, if a single young man or young woman found the nut, it was a sign that the coming year would bring true love.

40 g (4.7 oz) of pudding rice or short-grain rice
300 ml (1 1/4 c) water
3/4 tsp salt
600-700 (2 1/2-3 c) milk
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp butter

Serve with cinnamon (and sugar, optional) and one almond and fruit (optional).

Boil rice, water and salt. Let boil quietly under cover for 10 minutes. Add milk and the cinnamon stick and stir well. cover again and let the porridge swell for 30 minutes at very low heat. Don't uncover or stir. Remove from the heat and leave for another 10 minutes. Then add the sugar and butter. Hide an almond in the porridge. Serve with cold milk and ground cinnamon.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Week 3, Day 4: Pizza Margherita

Another yummy Italian recipe from Becky! Pizza Margherita is famous in Naples (or so she says, I've never been), and we had the real thing.

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Dough

(original recipe - makes enough for 4 large pizzas)

1 oz fresh yeast
2 c warm water
2 1/4 lb all-purpose flour or tipo 0 flour
pinch of salt

How I converted and reduced it to make one pizza:
1 1/2 tsp yeast
1/2 cup warm water
about 2 cups flour
pinch of salt

Dissolve the yeast in a little of the warm water. Sprinkle in a handful of the flour and mix well. Shape into a small ball and leave to rise in a dry place for 30 min. Make a well in the center of the flour and add the yeast mixture, remaining warm water, and a pinch of salt. Knead vigorously on a floured work surface for about 10 min, adding some warm water a little at a time until the dough is smooth but not sticky. Place on an oiled baking sheet and flatten out the dough with your hands, then cover with the topping of your choice. You can freeze this dough to use later, but it is at its best when fresh.

To make 2 large pizzas: (Okay, I'll be honest, I used this amount of everything on one pizza, and mine was a medium-sized pan, I think.)

1/2 quantity of above pizza dough
14 oz canned peeled plum tomatoes
Salt for taste
2-3 tbsp olive oil
5 oz fresh cherry tomatoes
5-7 oz fresh mozzarella, drained and sliced

Take pizza dough and shape into rounds. Using your knuckles, lightly press down around the edge of the dough about 1 1/4 inches in from the edge, to make a slight rim. Drain canned plum tomatoes in a colander, pressing down gently to remove any excess juice. Roughly chop, then spread the tomato evenly over the dough, leaving a border of about 1 inch. Season with salt and drizzle generously with olive oil. Spread over 5 oz halved cherry tomatoes and mozzarella cheese. Scatter basil leaves over the pizzas. Sprinkle with a little grated Parmesan, to taste. Slide onto an unglazed terracotta tile, pizza stone, pizza pan, or baking sheet, and bake in the center of a preheated oven at 450- 475 degrees for 8-10 min, or until crisp.

The Verdict: 2 thumbs up, 2 thumbs medium, 1 thumb down. I really enjoyed learning a new method for pizza dough, and it's a very different dough than the soft one I usually make: crisp, and authentic. Despite my insistence that they are essentially the same, Isaiah was adamant that tomatoes have a different taste than tomato sauce, though. I think it would be really fun to use the dough recipe to make mini individual pizzas and let everyone put on their own toppings.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Week 3, Day 3: Sweet Potato Burritos

Tonight's recipe comes from a dear friend . . . that I've never met. Yes, you read that right. Christina is one of a tight group of women that I've known for about 8 years (I think). We met on the Martha Stewart Baby message boards back when a bunch of us were planning to become pregnant and having babies. We lovingly refer to each other as "imaginary friends," and secretly hope to all meet (on Oprah, so she can pay for us to get together) someday.

Christina is an amazing mom of four boys, two of whom are twins. They are adorable, and they keep her busy, but not too busy to constantly be working on crafty projects. She taught school, so I feel like she's a kindred spirit, and she inspires me with her faith and energy. I am so glad she passed some recipes on to me because she has some awesome food hanging out in Crafty's Cafe. Check it out!

Just so you know, I do know that burritos aren't European. And I did declare this European Week, but I had a couple of recipes that had to be squeezed in where I had spaces. There wasn't any room left in Mexican Week, and I had this perfectly free day here, so this is where it ended up. Here's the original recipe, complete with step-by-step pictures, which really did help me.

Addictive Sweet Potato Burritos

1 can refried black beans
2 large sweet potatoes (or more depending on who you're feeding)
8 oz shredded Monterrey jack cheese
10-12 burrito size tortillas

1. Roast your sweet potatoes until they start to ooze, split open and are easily pierced with a knife. Peel and mash up those potatoes until nice and smooth. Get a baking sheet ready with foil and a little cooking spray on it. (NOTE: since this step takes a good hour +, it works well to make it ahead, even the day before.) *Rachel's note: it took me 65 minutes at 425 degrees*
2. Get your ingredients ready assembly line style: refried beans and spreader, mashed sweets, shredded cheese, tortillas.
3. Heat up a couple tortillas in the microwave to help make them soft and malleable- spread on a little refried beans- keep them away from the edges. I usually spread enough to make an oval shape in the middle of my tortilla- remember you're rolling them up and you don't want them to ooze out on the baking sheet. Then spoon a couple tablespoons of sweet potatoes. Lastly, sprinkle on some Monterrey jack cheese.
4. Roll 'em up and line 'em up on your baking sheet. Keep going until you have enough or you're out of ingredients.
5. Bake at 375 until hot- about 12-15 minutes. I rub a little olive oil on top of the tortillas to crisp them up and b/c it tastes good!

The Verdict: 2 thumbs up, 1 thumb medium, 2 thumbs down. I guess it just goes to show, no matter how many times I keep trying the sweet potatoes, they just aren't a favorite at our house. Next time I'll probably use less sweet potatoes and more beans, or add a bit of meat of some kind, and see if they go over better. This was such an easy, filling meal, and surprising in how delicious it is, so I recommend you try it before you take my kids' votes to heart.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Week 3, Day 2: Spaghetti and Meatballs with Fried Mozzarella

The main dish tonight came from my own recipe files, and the fried mozzarella came from America's Most Wanted Recipes, the cookbook Katie gave me for my birthday.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

Okay, I'm going to tell you a secret. The spaghetti sauce was Ragu. Yeah, I cheated. Honestly, I rarely use canned spaghetti sauce normally. I love to make my own sauce, but tonight I was in a huge rush, and I am getting a little burned out on cooking. So when I was rushing around, stressed as I tried to make everything before Isaiah went to karate for the first time and with a couple of extra kids in the house, I saw the bottle of Ragu in the pantry and I took the shortcut. So, there you go. I give you permission to do it, too.

Rachel's Meatballs (adapted from a Martha Stewart recipe)

1 lb lean ground beef
2 slices bacon, finely chopped
1 tbsp dried parsley
2 tsp minced garlic
3 tbsp grated Parmesan
1 tbsp dried breadcrumbs
1 large egg
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
coarse salt and ground pepper

1. Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Shape mixture into meatballs using a tablespoon to measure (36-40 meatballs).
2. (This step is optional, the recipe uses about twice what we eat in a dinner, so I always make the full batch and freeze half. Or a make a double batch to freeze when I find ground beef for a great deal.) Arrange in a single layer on a baking sheet, freeze 1 hour. Once frozen, transfer to an airtight container (I like to double bag them in gallon-sized freezer bags).
3. Place meatballs on a rimmed baking dish lined with foil. Bake in a 400 degree oven, 10-15 minutes if fresh, 15-20 if frozen. Drain on paper towels before adding to sauce or soup.
*Frozen meatballs can also be cooked right in the soup or sauce: Simmer meatballs, covered, in liquid until cooked through, about 10 minutes. (I prefer to drain the grease, however.)

Olive Garden's Fried Mozzarella

1 lb block mozzarella cheese
2 eggs
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 cups Italian bread crumbs
1/2 tsp garlic salt
1 tsp Italian seasoning
2/3 cup flour
1/3 cup cornstarch
vegetable oil, for deep-frying
2 cups homemade or store-bough marinara sauce (we used our spaghetti sauce)

1. Cut the mozzarella into either sticks or triangles.
2. Beat the eggs with the water and set aside.
3. Mix the bread crumbs, garlic salt, and Italian seasoning and set aside.
4. Blend the flour with the cornstarch and set aside.
5. Heat 2 inches of vegetable oil in a deep-fryer to 360 degrees (I did it on the stove).
6. Dip each cheese stick in the flour mixture, then in the egg wash, and then coat with the prepared bread crumbs.
7. In batches of 4, place carefully in the hot oil and fry until golden; this takes just a few seconds, so watch carefully. (I undercooked them at 5-6 seconds each. I'd try 8-10 seconds next time.)
8. When golden, remove the sticks from the hot oil and drain on paper towels.
9. Serve with the marinara sauce, for dipping.

The Verdict: (We voted on the mozzarella sticks, since the spaghetti and meatballs was a normal dinner.) 3 thumbs up, 1 thumb sideways, 2 thumbs down. Oh, dang, I can't count again! Actually, things were a little hectic because Isaiah was getting ready to go, and I think I missed his vote. But we had two 5-year-old visitors, so I took their votes instead. I undercooked them a bit, so I think they would have gotten better reviews if the cheese was entirely melted. I will definitely try them again, though, since Adam likes them and they were a good version overall.

Week 3, Day 1: Parmigiana Di Melanzane

Buongiorno! Last night's dinner recipe came from Becky McCollaum. It's a bona fide Italian recipe, as her Aunt and Uncle are stationed in Naples. She has all the connections! (Click here to read all about Becky and what I love about her.)

Parmigiana Di Melanzane

2 1/3 lb large eggplants
olive oil for cooking
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
2 1/4 lb ripe tomatoes, preferably plum, peeled and chopped (*see note*)
10 oz mozzarella cheese
2-3 oz Parmesan cheese, grated
3 or 4 large fresh basil leaves, finely sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut the eggplants into thick slices. Sprinkle with salt and leave in a colander, preferably overnight, to draw out the excess water. Rinse and pat dry with paper towels. Heat enough light olive oil for shallow-frying in a pan over medium-high heat and add the eggplant slices in a single layer. Shallow-fry on both sides for a few minutes until the slices start to brown slightly. Make sure that the oil is hot before adding the eggplants to the pan, so that they do not absorb too much oil. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Make a tomato sauce by heating a little oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until soft and transparent, before adding the tomatoes and basil. Season with salt and black pepper. Cook for 10 min until the tomatoes have broken up and reduced into a pulpy sauce.

As soon as the sauce is ready, arrange alternate layers of eggplant, tomato sauce, slices of mozzarella, and Parmesan in a greased baking dish. Make sure that you press down the ingredients well, so that you end up with compacted layers. Finish off with a layer of sauce and a sprinkling of Parmesan. Bake in the preheated oven for about 40 min. Let stand for a few min to allow the ingredients to set slightly, then cut into individual portions while still in the dish. Carefully slide out onto serving plates using a spatula, and serve hot.

*Note on peeling tomatoes: It is not such an onerous task, peeling fresh tomatoes. Simply score the skin slightly with a sharp knife, blanch in boiling water for 10 seconds or so until the skin starts to soften and split, then refresh in cold water. This makes it far easier to use a sharp knife to peel away the skin. (I did it and it worked like a charm!)

The Verdict: 2 thumbs up, 1 thumb medium , 1 thumb down (one vote missing, as Isaiah was out with a friend). Not our favorite meal, but definitely not the worst, either. I was really worried serving essentially eggplant parmigiana to my non-vegetable loving family, but we all fared just fine. I assumed it was to be served over pasta, so I'm not sure if it was actually served correctly. (Sorry, Beck, we didn't have mineral water with it, either.) I actually cleaned my plate. But instead of a second helping, I filled up on garlic bread (which I made with the garlic butter from last week).

And dessert, also from Becky:

Zeppole Di San Giuseppe

9 oz butter
pinch of salt
14 oz Italian tipo 00 flour or all-purpose flour
12 large egg yolks
3 large egg whites
vegetable oil for deep-frying
confectioners' sugar for dusting
2 cups milk
7 oz sugar
1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
9 oz black cherry jam, to decorate

Put 2 c water, butter, and a pinch of salt into a pan and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in the flour, stirring continuously until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan. Allow to cool a little, then beat in 9 of the egg yolks and the 3 egg whites using a wooden spoon. transfer the mixture to a pastry bag and, using a large piping nozzle, pipe small ring-shaped doughnuts onto wax paper or similar.

Heat enough oil for deep-frying in a heavy deep-sided saucepan over med-high heat. To test whether the oil is hot enough, carefully slide one of the pastries into the pan using a metal spatula - it should sizzle right away. Cooking in batches, deep-fry the pastries for 5 minutes, until golden. Remove from the oil using a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Cool slightly, then dust liberally with confectioners' sugar.

Meanwhile, to make the crema pasticciera (custard cream), combine the milk, sugar, the remaining 3 egg yolks, and the vanilla in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over gentle heat, stirring until thickened. Use to decorate the zeppole, piping a little custard cream into the center of each one. Dot a teaspoonful of black cherry jam on top of the custard cream, and serve the zeppole warm or cold.
I have to admit that I was really tired last night (that's why this post didn't get done until tonight), and so I was already out of steam by the time I started the desert. Apparently, I wasn't the only one, as both Max and Isaiah fell asleep before I finished making it. And, since I was so tired I didn't take the time to pay attention to the conversions of the ounces to cups as I measured out the ingredients on the food scale. So, you get it in ounces, too.
The pastries turned out really well, although the recipe said it serves 4, and we guessed it was more like 4 dozen. Once they were fried up and dusted with powdered sugar, they were delicious! But the custard never set up. I'm not sure what I could have done wrong. We cooked and stirred for nearly an hour before we gave up. After sitting in the fridge overnight it was a thick liquid, and tasted like a delicious custard, though. We didn't vote on it since it didn't turn out and half of us were asleep (or nearly so) before we finished.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Halfway through!

Here's the lineup for this week.

Week 3: European Week (Italian, Swedish, and misc.)
Monday: Parmigiana Di Melanzane
*Zeppole Di San Guiseppe for dessert
Tuesday: Spaghetti and Meatballs with Fried Mozzarella
Wednesday: Sweet Potato Burritos
Thursday: Pizza Margherita
Friday: Swedish Meatballs with Mashed Potatoes
*Swedish Pancakes for dessert

Here's the shopping list:

May Have On Hand
olive oil
vegetable oil
freshly ground pepper
white pepper
garlic salt
powdered sugar
1-1/2 cups Italian bread crumbs
Dijon mustard
4 eggs
minced garlic
12 oz butter
3 cups milk

May Need To Buy
carbonated mineral water (3 tbsp)
12 eggs
2 lb mozzarella cheese
2-3 oz grated Parmesan cheese
8 oz Monterrey jack cheese
Italian seasoning
Italian breadcrumbs
4 8oz cans tomato sauce
1 can refried black beans
black cherry jam
1 lb ground beef
1 lb mincemeat (3 parts beef, 1 part pork)
10-12 burrito-size tortillas
2 1/3 lb large eggplants
2 1/4 lb ripe tomatoes
3 or 4 large fresh basil leaves
14 oz can peeled plum tomatoes
5 oz cherry tomatoes
1 onion
1 1/2 lbs potatoes (King Edward, if possible)
1 lb lingonberries
2 large sweet potatoes

I'm running out of steam, but we're getting over the hump this week, right?

Happy Valentine's Day!

Week 2, Day 4: Green Chili Chicken Posole

Here's what I was supposed to make Thursday, it's Melissa's recipe. (Weird, I just looked at her picture, and hers looks green, while mine looks red . . . .)

Green Chili Chicken Posole

1 cup finely diced red onion
1 29 oz. can posole (hominy), drained
3 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (about 1 1/4 lbs.), cut into 1/2 inch cubes (I only used two, and still had tons)
2 teaspoons minced garlic
3 cups water
2 cups chicken broth
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 4 oz. can diced green chilies
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
salt and pepper, to taste
diced avocado, sour cream, grated Monterey jack cheese and fresh chopped cilantro, for garnish.

Place onion, posole and chicken in slow cooker. Add garlic, water and chicken broth. Add oregano, chili powder, salt, green chilies, black beans and cumin; stir. Cover and cook on low for 8 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Serves 8-10.

The Verdict: 5 thumbs up! This was way yummier than Adam and the kids expected. I served it with corn muffins, and it was a great dinner all around (and perfect for Sunday--read: easy).

Now for a recipe I was also supposed to make Thursday, but made Friday instead, to go with our Cafe Rio salad. Also Melissa's. She always has such yummy stuff . . . (unfortunately, I missed taking a picture before it took on some "unsightly oxidation").

Melissa's Muy Bueno Guacamole

3 or 4 ripe avocados
1/4 cup diced tomato
2-3 tablespoons red onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Combine in medium bowl and mash with fork, potato masher, or pastry blender to desired consistency. Serve with tortilla chips. Refrigerate leftovers and place plastic wrap directly on the top of the guacamole to prevent unsightly oxidation.

We didn't take an official vote on this one, but I have to say it was absolutely fabulous!! I was so proud of myself for having perfectly ripe avocados. I bought them when they were mostly hard on Monday and left them in a paper bag on the counter until Friday, and they were gorgeous when I went to make the guacamole. It was easily the yummiest I've ever had.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Week 2, Day 5: Cafe Rio Pork Salad

The recipes that comprise tonight's dinner come from my sister-in-law, Shelli Campbell (since I can't link to her private blog, you can find the original recipes here--they are adapted a bit, though). I don't think I can say enough good about Shelli. She is Adam's sister, Katie's preschool teacher, an amazing leader, and talented in many ways, especially creative. But most of all, for the last few years she has been my best friend. She motivates me to do what I should when I'm grouchy and rebellious, she walks with me in the mornings even though I slow her down, and she is the authority I go to when I have questions about all things motherhood, education, and gospel. I love spending time with her and I love that our kids also love each other.

Shelli's one of my tougher critics when I make food, so it was nice to have her help tonight as I cooked one of her favorites. (It's always nice to have extra hands in the kitchen, but with this dinner especially.) I hope she doesn't mind that I'm writing the recipe as we made it, and not exactly as she gave it to me.

Cafe Rio Pork Salad

Tortillas (we used about 6 uncooked tortillas and fried them ourselves)
Cafe Rio Rice (below)
Refried Black Beans (the recipe I made earlier this week, also on Melissa's blog)
Cafe Rio Sweet Pork (below)
Lettuce (NOT iceberg, use leafy green or Romaine)
Pico de gallo (below)
Guacamole (Melissa's recipe, which I was going to make last night, but will save to have this weekend, too. I'll post it then.)
Sour cream (whoops! I forgot this)
Tortilla Strips (can be found by the produce section at Smith's)
Cafe Rio Cilantro Ranch (below)

Using the deep-dish aluminum pans (you can buy them at the grocery store--they look just like Cafe Rio pans; I just used regular disposable cake pans that I had already), place a tortilla in each pan, sprinkle with cheese and bake in the oven at 375 degrees for a couple of minutes until the cheese melts. Remove from the oven and add rice, pork, beans, lettuce, Pico De Gallo, sour cream, guacamole, tortilla strips and top with cilantro dressing (garnish with a few cilantro leaves if desired).

Sweet Pork

2 pounds pork
1 can Coke (NOT diet-I used one of those little 8 oz cans and it was perfect)
1 can sliced green chilies
3/4 can RED enchilada sauce (I used Old El Paso brand, medium spiciness)
1 c. brown sugar

Put pork into crock pot and cook for 3-4 hours on high. I had never done this with no liquids or seasonings and I was a little nervous, so I added 1 cup water (it worked perfectly and absorbed as I shredded the pork). Shred pork.

In a food processor or blender, blend 1/2-2/3 can Coke, chilies, enchilada sauce and 1 cup brown sugar (I actually did a little less, but add to your own taste). If it looks too thick, add more Coke little by little.

Put shredded pork and sauce in crock pot and cook on low for 2 hours.

Cilantro Ranch

1 packet TRADITIONAL Hidden Valley Ranch mix (not BUTTERMILK)
1 c. mayonnaise
1 c. buttermilk
2 tomatillos, remove husk, diced
1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic
juice of 1 lime
1 jalapeno (if you like it SPICY so keep the seeds in it, if you like it mild, just remove the seeds)
(Shelli told me that in place of a jalapeno, you can also use green Tabasco sauce.)

Mix all ingredients together in the blender.

Cilantro-Lime Rice

1 c. uncooked rice
1 tsp. butter or margarine
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
1 can (15 oz) chicken broth
1 cup water
1 Tbsp. freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tsp. sugar
3 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro

In a saucepan combine rice, butter, garlic, 1 tsp. lime, chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil. Cover and cook on low 15-20 minutes, until rice is tender. Remove from heat. In a small bowl combine lime juice, sugar and cilantro. Pour over hot cooked rice and mix in as you fluff the rice.

Pico De Gallo (Rachel's recipe, concocted tonight)
1 tomato, seeded and diced
about 2 tbsp diced onion
about 1-2 tbsp chopped cilantro
about 1 tsp lime juice

The Verdict: 4 thumbs up, 2 thumbs down. (Yeah, I know it looks like I can't count . . . I'm weighting the voting for fairness.) Oh, it was sooooo good. Yummy. The only reason I won't make this every week is because I think I spent about 4 or 5 hours in the kitchen today. There are just so many components that make this what it is, and going halfway just wouldn't do it justice. There is no part of the meal I could leave out without affecting the whole meal.

Now, to explain the weird voting. The only reason we have thumbs down is not because my children didn't like it, but because they felt like they had a choice . . . so they didn't give it a fair chance. See, their cousins were eating spaghetti in the same room, so they weren't about to let that go. We'll try it again under normal circumstances and see. I'm 99% positive we would have had one thumb medium and one thumb up instead of those thumbs down, so I counted Kaden's vote (our 8-year-old nephew). I would have counted Shelli's vote, but that seemed like a conflict of interest.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Public Service Announcement

Due to unforseen (and even fun) conditions, Thursday's dinner has been rescheduled. Stay tuned for Cafe Rio Pork tomorrow, and Chicken Posole over the weekend.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Week 2, Day 3: Chi-Chi's Baked Chicken Chimichangas

This recipe comes from America's Most Wanted Recipes: Delicious Recipes From Your Family's Favorite Restaurants, the recipe book Katie gave me for my birthday.

Chi-Chi's Baked Chicken Chimichangas

1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup chili powder
1 16oz jar Chi-Chi's salsa (I used Pace)
1/4 cup water
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 lb cooked boneless, skinless chicken breasts, shredded
6 10in flour tortillas, warmed
1 cup Chi-Chi's refried beans
olive oil
sour cream

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grease a rimmed 15x10 inch baking pan.
2. In a large saucepan, saute the onion and garlic in the oil until tender. Stir in the chili powder, 2/3 jar salsa, water, cumin, and cinnamon. Pour the mixture into a blender or a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process until smooth. Pour back into the saucepan; stir in the chicken. Add salt to taste.
3. Working with one tortilla at a time, spoon a heaping tablespoon of the refried beans down the center of each tortilla. Top with about 1/2 cup of the chicken mixture.
4. Place the chimichangas in the greased baking pan, seam-side down. Brush all the sides with oil.
5. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown and crisp, turning every 5 minutes.
6. Serve with the remaining salsa, sour cream, and guacamole.

The Verdict: 4 thumbs medium, 1 thumb up. Flavor was okay, had an okay texture, good with the condiments. I may make it again. But as Adam said, I wouldn't go out of my way to make it.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Week 2, Day 2: Cafe Rio Pork Burritos, Spanish Rice, and Frijoles Negros Refritos

Special disclaimer for tonight's dinner: I wasn't going for recreating the Cafe Rio experience tonight. I will do that on Friday when we make the Cafe Rio Pork Salad, but even then, remember that it's probably been over a year (or even two!) since I've been to Cafe Rio, so it's just not going to be the same since I can't even remember exactly what it's like.
Another recipe from Melissa Yoder tonight. (I'm trying to link to the original recipe on her blog, but I'm having trouble because Blogger is very slow and temperamental tonight. I just keep reminding myself that Blogger is free, so I shouldn't complain.)

Cafe Rio Pork

5-6 lb pork roast (I did a 3 lb roast)
1 tbsp cumin
1 cup brown sugar
20 oz bottle Coke or Sprite (I used a generic Sprite)
12 oz bottle red taco sauce

Place roast in crock pot. Combine taco sauce, soda, brown sugar, and cumin. Pour over roast. Cover and cook on low for 18 hours. Take out roast and shred; add back to liquid. Serve on tortillas. (This makes a LOT. Freeze the extra.)

I had all kinds of trouble with this recipe. I halved everything to start, but after about 9 hours, the liquid was quickly disappearing, so I added more. And then at 18 hours, the meat was so dry. I added more again. So in the end, I halved the size of the roast, but nothing else.

Spanish Rice
canola oil
1 cup rice
1/4 of an onion, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced (I would mince next time)
1 8oz can tomato sauce
1-2 cups chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste

Put about 3 tablespoons of oil in a hot skillet. Add onions, garlic and rice. Stir until most of the rice is browned. Lower the heat and add tomato sauce and 1 1/2 cups broth. Bring to a simmer. Salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let simmer on low until water is gone. If rice appears dry before it is fully cooked, add a little broth at a time until rice is done--about 20 minutes. (High altitude needs to cook for 30-40 minutes. Unless you like crunchy rice.)

Frijoles Negros Refritos (Refried Black Beans)

1 15oz can black beans (undrained)
1 clove minced garlic
1 tbsp canola oil

Heat skillet on med-high heat. Add canola oil and garlic--let garlic cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Add entire can of beans, including liquid. Mash to desired consistency while in the pan with a potato masher. Serve while hot.

*These thicken up as they cool and gradually turn rather gloppy and unappetizing, so eat them while they're fresh and hot. You can add a little water back into them if you do need to reheat the leftovers.

The Verdict: 3 thumbs up, 2 thumbs medium. The big hit was the Spanish rice since I've been trying to make a good version of that for years, and had given up to Rice-a-Roni. The pork . . . not a huge favorite. But the rice and beans redeemed the dinner. Here's our most satisfied diner:

Monday, February 8, 2010

Photog Practice

The photography class I took last week was phenomenal. You can go here and here to check out the instructors' work. I've taken a class before, but I learned more in one hour with Stacia and Kellie than I did in my whole 4-week community ed course.

Today was a beautiful day, so I knew I had to get out and practice using what I learned before I forgot it. Here are my favorite shots from the afternoon.

ISO 1600, f/5, 1/2500 second

ISO 200, f/4.2, 1/800 second

ISO 1250, f/20, 1/250 second
Look at that gorgeous sky! And the beautiful mountain . . . I am so blessed to live in such a beautiful place.
P.S. For some seriously awesome photography inspiration, check out my friend, Cynthia's blog. I look forward to each new post!

Week 2, Day 1: Chicken Fajitas

Tonight's dinner was an adaptation of a recipe from a new book my sweet sister, Anne, gave me for my birthday, Williams-Sonoma Casual Entertaining. As I was getting things ready to cook, I thought, "I want to make this and that like I usually do fajitas." But there were some additions from the new recipe that really made this dinner better, so it's a little of both. I'm going to share with you my hybrid recipe.

Chicken Fajitas

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts cut into slices (or bite-sized pieces if you have small kids like me)
1/2 red bell pepper, sliced
1/2 green bell pepper, sliced
1/4 onion, sliced
1 Roma tomato, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp fajita seasoning (I made my own a while back, I'll try to find the recipe . . . I have so much of it, I may never need to make it again!)
1/2-1 tbsp fresh lime juice
8 6-inch tortillas
guacamole, salsa and sour cream if desired

1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees. Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil, and place in oven to warm.
2. Cook the chicken breasts in a little oil in a large skillet until opaque and turning golden. Add vegetables and seasonings and saute until the vegetables are tender (they have a nice aroma and turn brighter in color) and until the juices from the tomato are reduced. Squeeze lime juice over meat mixture just before serving.
3. Spoon into warmed tortillas and serve with guacamole, salsa, and sour cream as desired.

The Verdict: 5 thumbs up. We love fajitas, and tonight's were especially good in my opinion. This method of warming the tortillas and adding tomatoes and garlic really upped the flavor and texture. I'll be making these changes permanent. But I'll continue to use my own seasoning and lime juice.

It's family night, so dessert is pretty much a requisite. Tonight we made Melissa Yoder's cherry tart, and I'm blatantly stealing her picture of it because the ones I took were so unappetizing that I would never try this recipe if I saw them. And you'll want to try this recipe.

Cherry Tart

2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup butter
1 tsp. almond extract (optional)
8 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 tub (8 oz.) Cool Whip, thawed
1/4 cup powdered sugar
2 cans (21 oz.) cherry pie filling

Cut together flour, sugar, butter and almond extract with a pastry blender to mix and cut butter into small pieces. Spread lightly in 13x9 baking dish. Bake at 400º F for 15-20 minutes or until browning on sides and top. Crumble while warm and pat into pan; cool.

Mix together cream cheese, powdered sugar and Cool Whip. Spread over cooled crust and spoon on cherry pie filling. Chill and serve. To halve, use 9x9 pan. (I halved it and used an 8x8 pan, and I think it worked well, too.)

The Verdict: 5 thumbs up (okay, 4. Max was in bed, but there is no way he wouldn't love it). So yummy! I am so full, I think I'm going to burst.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Another week! (and a bonus)

I'm switching things around a bit this week because circumstances this weekend (my photography class all day yesterday and being sick) make it impossible to shop Saturday night, which was necessary to execute tomorrow's planned dinner. Also, I have several things going on Wednesday, so I need to be able to make dessert a different night. Here's how the schedule's going to go:

Week 2: Mexican Week
Monday: Chicken Fajitas
*Cherry Tart for Dessert
Tuesday: Cafe Rio Pork Burritos, Spanish Rice, and Frijoles Negros Refritos
Wednesday: Baked Chicken Chimichangas
Thursday: Chicken Posole with Tortilla Chips and Guacamole
Friday: Cafe Rio Pork Salad (with rice, beans, and dressing)

Here's the shopping list:

May Have On Hand
canola oil
olive oil
chili powder
salt and pepper
garlic salt
almond extract
brown sugar
powdered sugar
minced garlic
butter or margarine
1 cup mayonnaise

May Need To Buy
20 oz bottle Sprite
3 cans Coke
1 cup buttermilk
sour cream
8oz cream cheese
monterey jack cheese
1 cans cherry pie filling
1 29 oz can posole (hominy)
6 cups chicken broth
1 can tomato sauce
3-15 oz can black beans
16 oz jar Chi-Chi's salsa
1 jar salsa
1 cup Chi-Chi's refried beans
1 can sliced green chilies
1 can red enchilada sauce
1 1/3 cups tomato juice
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
2.5-3 lb pork roast
2 lb pork
12 oz bottle red taco sauce
1 packet traditional Hidden Valley Ranch Mix (not buttermilk)
2-4 oz cans green chilies
18-10in tortillas
1 tub whipped topping
1 red onion
2 yellow onions
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
2 bunches cilantro
3 or 4 ripe avocados
2 Roma tomatoes
1 tomato
1 lime
2 tomatillos

And as a bonus, I made a new dinner tonight, too! I have been loving crock pot dinners with our 1:00 pm church schedule, and Melissa sent me a couple more crock pot recipes I couldn't wait to try. Here's what we had.

Zesty Italian Chicken Fettuccini

4 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 package zesty Italian dry salad dressing mix
1 can cream of chicken soup
8 oz. sour cream
8 oz. cream cheese
½ medium red onion
1 cup sliced mushrooms, optional
1 (12 oz.) package fettuccini

1. Cut chicken into bite sized pieces. Dice onion. Place chicken in crock pot with Italian dressing mix, onion, sliced mushrooms, and cream of chicken soup. Stir to coat; cook on high for 3 ½ hours.
2. Meanwhile, mix softened cream cheese and sour cream together until smooth. Place in refrigerator. After all the other ingredients have cooked, add the cream cheese/sour cream mixture a half hour before serving. Serve over cooked fettuccine.

This was so yummy! (6 thumbs up, including my mom who ate with us.) Next time I will make it with half the amount of chicken, though. It was sooooo much chicken!

Pasta requires garlic bread of some kind in my opinion, and I had been looking for an excuse to make this (another of Melissa's recipes), so I made Rhoades rolls and this: (click on the name to see it on Melissa's blog)

Roasted Garlic Butter

1 large head of garlic
olive oil
2 sticks salted butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Using a sharp knife, lay head of garlic on its side and slice off the top quarter--exposing cloves (as pictured above). Place on top of square of aluminum foil; bunch foil up around the sides, leaving the top open. Drizzle about 2 T olive oil over the cloves--then cinch the foil shut. Place in a small baking dish and put in oven to roast for 1 hour.

Open foil to let garlic cool. Put softened butter in small bowl. Pick up cooled garlic head and squeeze out the cloves into the butter. Mash together with a fork.

This butter was so yummy on our rolls, I couldn't even believe it, and my mouth had been watering just reading the recipe. We went through 14 rolls just at dinner (for 6 of us, including my mom), and it wasn't because we weren't eating everything else. Yummmm . . .

Anyway, stay tuned for some more yummy stuff this week!

P.S. Since I was making another crock pot recipe today, I did a little research about the Reynold's slow cooker liners, just to see if they do leech chemicals into the food. I found this article, and while not conducted by some experts at a university, it was enough to put my mind at ease when using liners.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Week 1, Day 5: Korean Short Ribs

We've been anticipating the dinner we had tonight for a while. And it did not disappoint. The recipe came from Becky (click here to see who she is and what I love about her).

Korean Short Ribs

1/2 tbsp sesame oil
1/2 tbsp crushed garlic
6 tbsp soy sauce
5 tbsp sugar
dash of black pepper
8-10 flanken-style short ribs (thin cut, 1/4-1/2 inch thick) or boneless ribs (I used boneless)

Rinse the ribs under water to remove the tiny bone granules/splinters from the meat. Mix the sesame oil, crushed garlic, soy sauce, sugar, and black pepper. Pour over short ribs and marinate for 4 hours. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes, or until bone is dark and the meat around the bone is curling up. Serve with sticky rice and edamame.

Sticky Rice

Using short-grain or "sushi" rice, measure amount desired and rinse thoroughly with water 3-4 times. Soak rice in hot water 20-30 minutes, until tender. Rinse rice. Add recommended amount of water to rice cooker pan, and a small amount of rice wine vinegar. Set rice cooker to "cook." After cooking, leave in rice cooker for a few (about 10) minutes.

I actually managed to follow the recipe this time! And I didn't delete my pictures! The ribs smelled really good as they were cooking, and the sticky rice was really easy to make. The only edamame we could find was frozen in the pods, in individual microwaveable pouches. It's not the way I would normally have wanted to make it, but it worked out nicely tonight.

The Verdict: 4 thumbs up (Katie was at Grandma's for dinner, so we will count it as 5 thumbs up, since I know she would have liked it). Everyone loved it! The ribs were delicious, such a nice flavor, and all the dishes in the meal complemented each other. Surprisingly, Isaiah liked taking the edamame out of the pods. He ate all that I gave him and took seconds, declaring it his favorite vegetable (I think it was the "play with your food to eat it" factor, but I won't knock it!). We will definitely make the meal again.

My ingenious plan to have the recipe cards available to you through a convenient link failed. But, if you would like this week's recipes formatted in 4x6 cards, all ready to print, email me (rachel at ellishome dot org), and I will send you a Word document. I can also send it as a rich text file.

Week 1, Day 4: Peanut Noodles

Last night's dinner recipe was a hybrid of two recipes my sister, Anne, sent me. Anne has been my hero for many years, and as most little sisters feel of their big sisters, I want to grow up to be just like her. She's intelligent, funny, and creative in a million ways. She loves to travel and soaks in culture like a sponge. But most of all, she has this way of caring about other people, and knowing what they need, and helping to fill that need. She's my favorite person to have around when I'm working on a project or (especially) when I'm cooking because she does everything that needs doing without being obtrusive in any way. When I'm done I feel like I've done something amazing, but when I think back I know it's all due to her!

In fact, I really wish I'd had her with me last night because I couldn't remember all her suggestions as I was cooking, and I realized later what I had missed and that dinner wasn't as good for it. Still, it was tasty and got good reviews from the family.

Sadly, I accidentally erased the pictures I took of dinner. I started a photography class last night and learned how to format my SD card. Which conveniently erases everything on it. So, you'll have to use your imagination.

Peanut Noodles

12 oz spaghetti
2 tbsp sesame oil (or peanut oil)
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into thin slices
1/2 bell pepper, sliced
1/2 onion, sliced
1/4 cup hot water (I used 1/2 cup chicken broth)
1/3 cup peanut butter
2 tbsp rice vinegar
1/2-1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated (or 1/2 tsp ground ginger)--I forgot this
1/4 tsp red pepper--and I forgot this
chopped green onions, for garnish

1. Cook pasta in a large pot of boiling water until done.
2. Meanwhile, heat oil in large skillet or wok. Add the chicken and garlic and stir-fry until chicken is no longer pink. Add veggies, water or broth, peanut butter, and vinegar. Stir-fry an additional 3-5 minutes until chicken is cooked through and vegetables are tender.
3. Drain spaghetti; return to pan. Add chicken mixture and toss. Serve with green onions sprinkled on top as garnish.

I really enjoy stir-frying. It's the one thing I learned to do in our Chinese cooking class, and while I may not do it perfectly, I do enjoy doing it. Maybe that's why this dinner appealed to me. And anything with peanutbutter is a big hit for my family.

The Verdict: 5 thumbs up. I was so disappointed that I forgot the ginger and red pepper because they would have added some flavor. But really, the flavor was good without them. I think next time I won't cook it quite as long and would add the ginger and pepper flakes, but I wouldn't change anything else.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Week 1, Day 3: Crock Pot Thai Curry

So far, so good. Three days down, not a major complaint about any dinner, and we've spent time as a family while we eat talking about different cultures and geography.

Tonight's dinner comes from my good friend, Colleen. Adam and her husband, Pete, have been best friends since middle school, and Colleen and Pete were married the week Adam and I met so we've always been friends as couples and families. I love spending time with them, and Colleen is such an inspiration to me in achieving great things. She's an intelligent woman, talented videographer, crafty genius, amazing athlete, supportive wife, and all-around awesome mom (check out her blog to see what she's up to today, it always inspires me). Frequently, she'll post a recipe on Facebook (usually from here, I'm becoming a big fan), and I'm always dying to try them, only to be shot down by Adam because he's not much for vegetables or healthy stuff in general. I got my way this time. Here's what it looked like when I got it into the crock pot this afternoon:

As it was cooking, Adam was rubbing his head a lot, and I asked him if he was tired. He said, "No, I've got a headache from smelling the vegetables." In the end, though, even he gave it a thumbs up! Here's a link to the original recipe.

Crock Pot Thai Curry

13.5 oz can coconut milk
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp Thai red or green chili paste, or more to taste (I used 1 1/2 tbsp)
1 tsp fish sauce (optional-I didn't use this)
1 yellow onion, chopped (I used about 2/3)
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 red bell pepper (I used about 2/3)
1 green bell pepper (I used about 2/3)
1/2 large eggplant
1 sweet potato
5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (I used 4)
1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated

1. Combine the sauce ingredients: coconut milk, soy sauce, brown sugar, chili paste, and fish sauce in the bottom of your crock pot stoneware. Taste. If you think you need more chili paste, add some carefully. (It's hot stuff!)
2. Add the chicken pieces to the sauce, flipping them over a few times so they get nice and saucy.
3. Wash and cut the vegetables, and add to the crock.
4. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 4-6. This is done when the chicken is fully cooked and the vegetables have reached desired tenderness. (I cooked it for 4 hours on high and the chicken and vegetables were plenty done.) Serve over white rice.

I don't know why it takes me so long to chop vegetables, probably because I'm clumsy and nearly cut off fingers every night, but it took me a long time to prep this because of it. Also because I had skin-on, bone-in thighs, and spent time removing the skin and bones. Either way, give yourself some time to get it ready. I cooked it 4 hours on high, and my chicken was falling apart and the sweet potatoes and eggplant were extremely soft. Which actually turned out to be great!

The Verdict: 4 thumbs up, 1 thumb down. We really liked the texture and the flavor, although Adam and I both had to add salt, which we very rarely do with Asian food. We usually add soy sauce and it just didn't do it for us this time, but the salt did great. Adam didn't feel like he was eating a plate full of vegetables, because it became a nice creamy sauce, and the peppers and onions were chopped fairly small. Max was shoveling handfuls into his mouth. I'll definitely make it again, probably with just a bit more Thai chili paste to add a bit more kick.