Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Cranberry Currant Oatmeal Cookies

Summer time is my least favorite time for quick trips to the grocery store to pick up one item.  When the kids are in school, popping in to the shops is quick and easy, but when the kids are out of school it is a much more time consuming proposition.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Three Amazing No Bake Desserts to Make with the Kids

I love cooking with my kids.  I really enjoy letting them prepare dishes "all by themselves" and am constantly trying out new recipes that are either super easy to mix and bake, or don't require any baking at all.

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The latter is much preferred by the kiddies and gives them a greater sense of ownership of the final product.  Here's a few of our favorite no bake recipes that are easy to assemble, and even easier to eat!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Potato Salad Pointer

About a year ago as I was doing some errands in preparation for the 4th of July holiday, I was very lucky to catch a radio program on the local NPR station regarding classic Independence Day Cook Out dishes.  It's funny how one chance circumstance can change how you prepare a dish forever.  This was the day that my Potato Salad prep took a turn for the better.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Flat Coke Conundrum

It's a pest - especially for those of us who are recreational coke users. What do you do with the bit that's leftover from the party? That lingering bottle of flat Coca-Cola has been haunting me for days. I couldn't bring myself to throw it away. I couldn't bring myself to drink it. I've been caught staring off into space, deep in contemplation of how to put it to good use. I knew there would come an "AHA" moment where I would know just what to do with it.

Then it happened.  I actually had 2 moments that made me glad I hung on to that last bit of sugary caramel decadence. Now, I realize that neither of these ideas are exceptionally unique. There are probably reams of recipes out here in internet land that are similar, and possibly the same. These did, however, spring directly into my mind and were executed without consulting other sources.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Lemon Dill Barramundi with Panko crust

I was beginning to think that I had been cut from the ranks of the Frugal Antics Improv Challenge and was beginning to feel a bit insecure about my first entry last month.  So when this month's challenge arrived in my inbox I felt a sense of relief and excitement.  I have been thinking about doing a post about the Australian Sea Bass also known as Barramundi.

Barramundi fillet ready for inspiration.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Standing Ovation Roast Chicken

I started using stand up roasters for whole chickens when we were living in Australia.  The weather was often too hot to cook inside the house, so we adopted the classic Australian lifestyle of barbecuing.  I wound up purchasing three of these racks so we could utilize the full space of the grill.  Keeping a supply of frozen roasted chicken on hand in the freezer became a staple of our diet and made for easy additions to simple summer salads, as well as winter casseroles.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Eggless Spaghetti Pie

One of my favorite casserole recipes is Spaghetti Pie .  Now, I have always enjoyed eating casseroles, but as a cook, I couldn't understand the appeal of preparing a casserole as it seemed to create twice as many dishes. Dishes for making the pasta, cooking the meat if needed, preparing the sauce... maybe it's just me, but it seemed like a lot of extra work.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mom's Best Home Fries

I grew up in a household, and community, that ate breakfast. Big breakfast. The kind of breakfast that sticks with you until well after lunch time, unless breakfast was at 6 am and the hours in between were spent working on the chain gang that passed as pulling your own weight around the farm. Whether it was weeding, pulling brush, trimming whatever needed to be trimmed, mom's breakfasts were substantial enough that you could never complain of hunger and have a wisp of a chance at being taken seriously.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Simple Sweet Potato Fries

I love that my kids love Sweet Potato Fries.  I love it even more when I make them from scratch rather than buying the bag of frozen fries that are so temptingly easy to prepare.  The great thing is that my kids like the ones I make more.  I think it is totally amazingly fantastic whenever I hear them say to their friends that homemade is best!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day Blessings

I look out at the serenity of my world on this Sunday before Memorial Day and feel blessed.  Providence has brought me a life less ordinary and I feel blessed and thankful for those that have come before me and influenced my life's path.

Reflection is an important part of daily life for me, and it is even more important on these weekends that tend to become a whirlwind of activity.  Most of our weekend will be taken up with social events, household chores and some much needed R&R.  Memorial Day, however, is to be a time for reflection and an opportunity to honor those that have gone before us with the intent of making the world a better and safer place.  I am pleased that my kids will be taking part in a parade to honor this tradition, and it is a tradition that spans the globe.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Balsamic Strawberry Glace Pie

 When I was a child, the changing of the seasons was marked in part by the behavior of the adults in my community.  The early spring was marked by increasing anxiety and activity as one of the earlier crops that would come to market was the strawberry.  The name of the fruit comes in part from how it is grown.  Small tender plants that lie close to the ground, straw mounded over before the winter sets in to prevent them from being destroyed in the deep freeze of winter.  As winter turned to spring, many a child in the strawberry growers family remembers the days spent playing quietly while dad sleeps as his nights were devoted to watching the thermometer.  The farmer ready to go out into the frosty night to turn on the irrigation systems.  The water providing a coating of ice over the plants and flowers - a counter intuitive ploy that helps to insulate the plant from the freezing temperatures.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Fruit and Oat Squares

Woo hoo - here goes my first time participating in the Improv Challenge.  Thanks to Frugal Antics for inspiring me to give it a go.  This months recipe challenge was cinnamon and sugar.   Yum.  How could you go wrong trying to create a cinnamon and sugar entry into this challenge.  

Well - first off by missing the deadline!

My memory was that the posting deadline was today, but in reviewing the email it was actually yesterday, or EARLY today.  However, my efforts were such a success with my family, I'm going to try entering anyway.

Earlier this week I succeeded in preparing a couple of recipes involving dried fruit.  I also succeeded in burning up my blender, but the results of my efforts have proved very useful.  The fruit paste and natural laxative mixture worked great in my Smooth Move Black Bean Brownie recipe.  I was curious how it would work in an old favorite Fruit Square recipe that I haven't made in ages.

Super Simple Sugar Cookies

I love decorating things.

I love simplicity even more.

This week I needed to provide a sweet treat for a kid's pizza party.  I have been hoarding a couple of pouches of sugar cookie mix in the pantry, but wanted to prepare something a little more special than just plain sugar cookies.  I surveyed my pantry further and found some leftover sprinkles from a birthday party, and some pink sugar left over from Valentine's Day.  Bingo.  I love it when I can clear out some odds and ends that have been lingering in the cupboard.

Begin by making your favorite sugar cookie recipe,  cheat a little by using a box cookie mix, or cheat a lot by buying the refrigerated cookie dough logs.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Smooth Move Black Bean Brownies

As I disclosed yesterday, I am continually experimenting with recipes that are high in fiber and appealing to kids.  The Fruit Paste and Natural Laxative Mixture recipes that were given to me by my daughters GI doc are good on their own as a substitute for jam, but are especially useful when hidden in recipes, such as the Black Bean Brownies that I make to include in my daughters lunch box for school.

I began experimenting with Black Bean Brownies over a year ago and have tried out several different recipes.  There were aspects of each recipe that I liked, but I wound up creating a hybrid of 2 recipes.  The base recipe that I began with was one that I found at Allrecipes.  Their Black Bean Brownies Recipe was good, but lacked a bit of lightness for my taste.  The addition of instant coffee is brillian, however, as it does help to mask a bit of the bean taste.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

In pursuit of fiber...

Okay.  This post is a bit personal.  I am forever seeking out new and improved ways to sneak high fiber foods into my kids.  I feel like I have been fighting a 5 year battle against my child's gut and I am continually losing.  I want nothing more than to remove laxatives from our lives forever.

In pursuit of that goal, I attempted to make a couple of recipes this week that were included in an educational print out that was given to me by a GI doc.  Most of the pages listed the fiber content of everyday foods, but the last couple of pages included high fiber recipes.  I have been itching to give a couple of them a go and this week I took the chance.

The recipes are very similar and involve transforming dried fruits into a paste - somewhat thicker than a fruit butter.  I started out the morning at the grocery store picking out the ingredients, and hit a bit of sticker shock at the checkout counter.  I had picked up more than $70 worth of dried fruit.  That's  my first disclaimer in regard to these recipes.  Be prepared to shell out or find a less expensive source for dried fruit than the corner grocery store.  I'm thinking that I'll be checking out the dried fruit aisle on the next trip I make to the big box wholesale store.

The second disclaimer is that I burned up my blender in the process of attempting to blend up the sticky goo that resulted.  Granted, the blender was 10 years old, but it was one of those mid-range professional blenders, not a $30 poly carbonate type.  So now I'm in the market for a new blender - which actually makes me smile.  I love picking out new kitchen appliances!

So - for those who are not faint of hear and have a industrial strength blender, or a sturdy food grinder, the end result was worth all of the effort and clean up.  That's my third disclaimer - the resulting paste is a sticky gooey mess.  A yummy gooey mess, but a mess none the less.

Natural Laxative Mixture (from a nutritional hand out provided by the CHOP GI department)

Dried Fruit After Grinding
1 pound raisins
1 pound currents
1 pound prunes
1 pound figs
1 pound dates
1 28 oz container undiluted prune concentrate

Put dried fruit through a grinder.  Mix with prune concentrate in a blender or food processor - very thick.  
Can be frozen in smaller quantities as it makes a large amount.
Dried Fruit Mix After Blending

Note - I could not find undiluted prune concentrate at the corner grocery so used a blueberry pomegranate frozen juice concentrate (12 oz) and added an additional 16 ounces of water.  The resulting mix was very thick and began to do my blender in.  Had to nurse it along by blending in small batches.

Fruit Paste (from a nutritional hand out provided by the CHOP GI department)

2 cups water
10 senna tea bags
1 pound rasins
1 pound dates
1 pound prunes
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice.

Fruit Paste Ingredients After Simmering

Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add Senna Tea Bags.  Add next three ingredients to liquid and simmer 5 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Remove tea bags.  Add brown sugar and lemon juice to fruit and liquid.  Blend mixture together until pureed. Store in refrigerator.  Mixture can be frozen in smaller quantities as it produces a large amount of paste.  

Fruit Paste After Blending/Grinding
Now - I must add that I prepared the Natural Laxative Mixture first.  My blender had already begun overheating but I was hoping that I could nurse it along for a bit more to finish up this recipe.  The smell of burning insulation must have befuddled my brain for I forgot to add the brown sugar and lemon juice.  My blender gave up the ghost completely in mid puree.  I was left with a mix of partially pureed goo that would not suffice for my intended use in other recipes.  I ran the partially pureed mix through my Kitchen Aid food grinder with great success.  

So I now have $70 worth of dried fruit paste in my freezer, with a small portion set aside for use in a couple of recipes that I will be making later this week.  I am hoping that this will help us down the path to regularity.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dip Baby, Dip!

     Our family loves dips. Dips with chips, dips with veggies, even fruit dips. Over the years we have made a plethora of different dips, but our main go to for weekend noshing or impromptu parties are a quartet of dips that all originate from the same base ingredients.  This makes preparing a variety of dips a breeze when entertaining.

Base Dip:

I prepare a total of 4 cups of base when I'm going to make all 3 dips for a small gathering.  This makes a lot of dip, so reduce (or scale up) as needed.  Each type of dip requires 1 cup of base.

2 cups Mayonnaise
2 cups Sour Cream
1 tsp seasoned salt
Add all ingredients to bowl and mix well.

     The dip that I make the most often in our house is a very simple Avocado dip that we love with pita chips or crackers. It was inspired during our time in Australia when Avocados were a weekly part of our diet.

Avocado Dip

1 cup dip base
1 ripe avocado
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 clove pressed garlic, or 1 teaspoon garlic powder
Additional salt to taste (optional)
Dash pepper (optional)

Cut avocado in half.  Remove large pit.  Scoop flesh of avocado out of peel and place in bowl.  Add lemon juice and garlic.  Mash avocado to desired consistency using a fork or potato masher.  If this step is difficult, your avocado may not have been completely ripe.  I prefer my dip to be relatively lump free, but some may prefer a dip that has chunks of avocado remaining.

Stir prepared dip base into avocado.  Taste for seasoning and add additional salt if desired.  I also add a dash of black pepper.

     My daughter's creation is a Fried Onion dip that was born out of her love for fried onions that we used to purchase at the Ikea food shop. French's fried onions work equally well. It is a point of pride for her that it was born out of her own creativity.  

Fried Onion Dip

1 cup dip base
1/2 cup fried onions
Additional salt or pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients until blended.  Best if left to sit for in the fridge for an hour or more to let the onions soften.

     The dip that we love to pair with raw vegetables is a Dill Dip that my mother used to make in mass quantities for the large family gatherings that were so common in my childhood. I often prepare this for birthday parties and holidays when I'm feeling nostalgic.

Dill Dip

Note - the original recipe calls for Beau Monde Seasoning.  I substitute seasoned salt as I rarely have this seasoning in my pantry.  I did find a nifty recipe to make your own and may try it in the near future.

1 cup dip base
1/2 tablespoon parsley (dry)
1/2 tablespoon dill (dry)
1 clove garlic, pressed (or 1 teaspoon garlic powder)
Onion salt - to taste

Mix above ingredients until well blended.  Best if refrigerated overnight before serving.

     The final dip is inspired by our love for Indian food.  This creamy curry dip is fantastic for a variety of breads, vegetables and is even great for chicken tenders.

Creamy Curry Dip

1 cup dip base
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
Dash Cayenne pepper

Mix all ingredients thoroughly.  Best if refrigerated overnight before serving.

      There is nothing more satisfying for me than a casual gathering, whether it be our family gathered around the table on a Saturday afternoon or a great big party.  We have spent many an hour socializing while enjoying these delightfully simple dips. The lovely thing about this quad of dips is that they share the same base making them easy to prepare. 

I feel the whoop coming on...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Happy Australia Day!

Every nation has their day.  The day where the flag is proudly waved, backyards and beaches are full of revelers, and the night is capped off with good cheer and fireworks.  Australia is no exception to this, and the national day of revelry is held on January 26th.  Happy Australia Day to all those down under!

Having lived down under for approximately 4 years, we returned to the Northern Hemisphere just about a year and a half ago.  Last year was our first Australia Day spent in America, and although the chilly weather of winter makes us long for hot January days, we had a wonderful celebratory dinner last year to commemorate our time there.  The people of Australia are truly remarkable and we have many fond memories of good friends and good times.

Down under, no Australia Day would be complete without time spent in the backyard "undercover" area with the barbie fired up and a few snags ready to cook, along with a tantalizing assortment of cutlets, steaks and seafood.  Unfortunately, we have yet to replace the barbecue we had in Australia with a grill here in the USA.  The combination of cold weather and lack of equipment drives our celebratory meal to an indoor affair.  Our food tradition is developing into a meal centered around an Aussie Meat Pie with Lamingtons for dessert.  More of a winter meal for the Aussies, which works well for our cold January days.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

You got Chili in my Cornbread...

So it is Tuesday - one of the days that the schedule in our house requires that dinner be ready to go at 4pm - or else chaos reigns supreme after all the afternoon activities are wrapped up.  I wish I could say that I am always on top of things and my kids never eat dinner after 7pm, but alas, that is not always the case. Today I am determined that our life will follow the routine - for if it is so, life is so much easier.

When I am in the kitchen these days I find myself imagining what to write about next.  Today, I was in the midst of preparing a super simple, from a can, sort of dinner that often gets bumped into the Tuesday lineup.  I was thinking about the recipe and thinking that no way would this ever make it to the written page.  It's too easy.  It's too low brow.  It reeks of suburbia.  It involves canned chili.

Whole Food's One Pot Chili Casserole
The Whole Foods recipe app has led me to some spectacular recipes.  Some are spectacularly time consuming but amazingly delicious and nutritious.  Some - like their One Pot Chili Casserole - are a God send on Tuesdays.  The ingredients for this casserole are always in my cupboard.  Occasionally I'll have store bought cornbread on hand, but more often than not I just keep some cornbread mix around or make it from scratch using cornmeal.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Falafel... Tommy style!

My infatuation with falafel began at a long since forgotten restaurant in Michigan.  I was reintroduced to my lost love of this crispy delight by a dear friend after a late night in Washington D.C.   Quick Pita in Georgetown soon became a favored way to cap off a night on the town.

The Humble Chickpea

Then came another move and another loss of this flavorful treat - local eateries versions never really compared.  I suspect that most establishments rely on the dry powder version that can be found on most grocery store shelves.  What I longed for was the true blue prepared from scratch version I had fallen in love with...

Imagine my delight when I was listening to NPR at work one day and heard the story of NYC's own Tommy Tsatsaroni.  I was almost ready to plan a road trip to sample his wares when they announced at the end of the story that his recipe could be found on their website.


Friday, January 11, 2013

What to do with the Tempeh... Lasagna??

The one problem item lurking in my refrigerator is a package of tempeh.  It was purchased during my two month experiment leading up to the holidays.  My experiment with eating only organic foods, and maintaining a strictly vegetarian diet in an attempt to remove GMOs from our food supply.  The experiment that introduced a plethora of new recipes into our routine, with only one ingredient that my eldest can identify from a mile away.  Tempeh.  She developed a distinct dislike for tempeh and can identify it in any recipe - so the package of soy tempeh that I picked up with the wild rice tempeh for use in this amazing Whole Foods Tempeh and Mushroom Stroganoff recipe has lingered in the fridge - luckily it has a long shelf life...

So here I am during my January pantry purge looking at that lonely package of tempeh, wondering if I might be able to slip it in a favorite meal - Lasagna.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Pantry Purge

The blessings and bounty of the holiday season always pour over from the old into the new, cluttering my shelves as well as my imagination.  Every January I find myself reflecting on the excess that remains in my pantry.  The cookie ingredients that didn't get used, that extra side dish that I had in the corners of my mind and had to have on hand just in case, the appetizer that was never needed... these all roll over into the new year and I never feel a clear need to make that journey to the grocery store for a proper shop until I have done my best to purge the pantry.

This year my inspection of my cupboards, freezer and refrigerator revealed a bounty that has carried me from my preholiday shopping well into the New Year with nary a trip to the store for anything more than milk or eggs.  The ham bone hastily placed in a ziplock bag on Christmas Eve and pushed into my bursting freezer has already been consumed in a lovely split pea soup.  The extra ingredients for the Green Bean Casserole were hastily combined with some frozen meatballs which turned an easy side dish into a delicious Sunday night dinner served over grains.  The possibilities that remain in my larder are tantalizing - and hopefully help make the bite that the holidays took out of my food budget a little less startling.

My goal is to make January a food budget phenom - and refrain from purchasing any groceries other than the fresh food needed to keep our diet nutritious.  Milk as needed, fresh fruit and veg to keep our diet from turning into a carb/protein overload - but I'm on track to keep January the month where we clear out the cobwebs and have a successful New Year pantry purge!

Split Pea Soup

1 leftover ham bone hastily placed in ziplock and tossed in freezer on Christmas Eve - partially thawed
All leftover carrots, celery, onions and any other soup veggies leftover from holiday shopping binges
Bacon drippings collected during course of holiday cooking - if desired
2 pounds of split yellow or green peas (used yellow this year for first time - yum!)
Garlic (fresh or granulated)
2 Bay Leaves
1/2 cup flour
butter/bacon drippings

Sort and rinse split peas watching closely for stones.  Peas can be soaked overnight in water, or can be softened using a quick soak method by covering peas with ample amount of water and allowing to come to a boil.  Peas should be boiled for 2 minutes and then allowed to rest for 1 hour, covered.  Chop up onions and veg.  Place 2 to 4 tablespoons of bacon grease (butter or olive oil can also be used) in frying pan large enough to hold onions and celery.  Soften onions over low heat taking.  Once onions are soft and begin turning a golden brown color, add the celery.  Keeping the heat low, cover the celery/onion mixture and allow the celery to soften.  Stir this mixture occasionally.

Once the peas have soaked, turn heat on and bring to gentle simmer.  Add the partially thawed ham bone  and diced carrots to the soup and allow to cook for about an hour.  Add onion and celery mixture and allow to simmer for about 30 minutes longer.  Add garlic and bay leaves to taste, simmer for about 30 more minutes, or until peas are cooked to your preferred state of doneness.

In pan used to cook onions, stir together 2 to 4 tablespoons of bacon drippings (butter or olive oil can also be used) and 1/2 cup flour until roux is formed and golden brown in color.  Stir roux into soup to help bind the soup together.  Simmer gently for additional 30 minutes.

Enjoy with crackers leftover from those cheese trays or bread rolls remaining from holiday dinners.

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Green Bean and Meatball Casserole

The ubiquitous green bean casserole has many forms, so I will leave it up to each of you to either use your favorite or follow the recipe below.

1 pound frozen meatballs (I always keep a bag of these on hand during the Thanksgiving to New Years rush)

2 cans green beans
1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 cup french fried onions, divided
1 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange meatballs in a single layer in the bottom of a 9x13 pan.  Place in oven.

Meanwhile, mix condensed soup, soy sauce and milk using a whisk.  Gently stir in green beans and half of fried onions using a spoon.

Remove pan of meatballs from oven using oven mitts.  Carefully spoon green bean mixture over meatballs and smooth out.  Cover with foil and place back in oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

Remove foil and sprinkle remaining fried onions over top of casserole and return to oven for 15 minutes.

Enjoy over rice, noodles, cous cous or leftover mashed potatoes.

My favorite is to serve with a mixture of whole grains - such as brown rice, wild rice and millet.  Goes great with any combination of whole grains.

Happy New Year and here's to a pantry freed from the excesses of holidays past!

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