Saturday, January 31, 2009

Meal Plans

Posting a little early since we're going to be pretty busy tomorrow.

Lots of prep. work going on this week for the big birthday bash for Carson in two weeks. We still have some doors to paint in our hallway and some trim work to do around the door to the garage, as well as a few other small projects - so hopefully we can make some progress on those. But if we don't, its not the end of the world. I'm planning to get most of the deep cleaning done this week, so we'll just have some touch-up cleaning to do next week. So I'm planning relatively easy meals this week. A couple of new recipes still, though.

Sunday ~ we'll be eating a late lunch/early dinner at my Aunt Sharon's for my cousin Charlie's birthday; we'll have misc. leftovers if we're hungry during the Superbowl; I'll be prepping the dough for my homemade artisan bread
Meatless Monday ~ baked potato soup, homemade artisan bread
Tuesday ~ grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on leftover artisan bread, leftover soup sweet pea risotto... couldn't resist it when I saw it posted in the RR menu planner...especially when I already have all the ingredients!
Wednesday ~ possibly chicken cheese-steak wraps, romaine salad, possibly homemade french fries if I'm ambitious... or maybe pancakes since they're so quick and easy... just depends on what time I get home from work and picking up Carson organic tri-color farfalle with homemade (frozen) pesto, roasted cauliflower
Thursday ~ baked BBQ chicken, roasted veggies
Friday ~ Julie's soup in the crockpot, homemade artisan bread
Saturday ~ going to GR for a Calvin basketball game and dinner at Mary's for Bruce's birthday, I believe we're having a taco/nacho bar... and I'm bringing the fruit salad I made at Christmas

I recently purchased Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day after seeing so many raves and reviews about it. It really does sound intriguing - and sooooo easy! This week I'll be giving it a try for the first time, so we'll see how it goes.

I'm also getting to work on my exercise goal finally. Last week I decided it was time to get going on that, or else I never will. I set a few goals for myself to get me started. My goal will be to drop 2 pant sizes by Sara's wedding on May 9th. More than 2 sizes would be welcomed, but I figure I should start with something more attainable so I don't give up. To start out with, I'll just be trying to get a few workouts a week in - I will do a 20-minute Winsor Pilates DVD workout at least once (hopefully twice) a week and I will do a Tae-Bo video workout once a week. I will also take at least one 10-minute walk every other day at work. If I can do two walks a day, or walk every day, that will be great, but it will all depend on my work/meeting schedule since every day is different. This week, I highly doubt I'll be able to get any walks in on Wednesday or Thursday, but we'll see how it goes. I'll do this routine for a few weeks, then will gradually try to fit in a little more. I just don't want to try to do too much at once when I'm so limited on my time at home as it is - I know I'll just end up frustrated and give up on it. Its going to be a major challenge for me to fit in regular workouts when I really only have about 2 1/2 hours a day to do them... and that time is already filled with making dinner, playtime with Carson, bathtime for Carson, putting Carson to bed, preparing food for Carson and his diaper bag for the next day, misc. chores like laundry or some cleaning project, and wind-down time just before we go to bed (which is usually between 9:00-9:30pm - yes, I know that is early, but we get up for the day at 4:00am and are up with Carson at least once, oftentimes twice, during the night).

Whole Grain Pancakes

Tonight we had whole grain pancakes for dinner with my home-canned blueberry syrup. YUM! They were soooo good! I think this will be our staple pancake recipe from now on. I found the recipe in my Whole Grains for Busy People cookbook. Very simple, very fast to throw together, and very good tasting! The trifecta! :) The mix makes up enough for 3 batches of pancakes, so the next time we make them, it'll be an even quicker meal, too. These pancakes have a touch of sweetness, a little texture/crunch from the oats, and are more filling than normal pancakes due to the whole grains. All three of us really loved them and we're all looking forward to having them again sometime soon. The flour, oats, egg, milk, butter, and vanilla were all organic.

I'll update with a picture later on.

Whole Grain Pancake Mix

2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt

In a large zipper bag, combine the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda. and salt. Seal the bag and shake gently until thoroughly mixed. Label and date the bag.

Refrigerate for up to 3 months. Shake gently to aerate the mix before each use.

Other ideas: Use spelt flour instead of whole wheat pastry flour. (I do plan to try this out sometime, too)

Makes 3 3/4 cups, enough for 3 batches of pancakes

Wheat and Oat Pancakes

1 large egg
1 cup well-shaken buttermilk, plus more if needed (I used powdered buttermilk mixed with milk)
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups Whole Grain Pancake Mix

Optional additions:
1/2 cup dried currants or blueberries
1/3 cup shelled, unsalted sunflower or pumpkin seeds
Grated zest of 1 lemon or orange
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

If you plan to keep the pancakes warm so that you can serve them all at once, preheat the oven to 200 degrees.

In a large bowl, lightly beat the egg. Blend in the buttermilk, butter, and vanilla.

Fold in the pancake mix and any option ingredients just until the flour is absorbed. Avoid overmixing.

Heat a large griddle or skillet over medium heat. Lightly coat the surface with oil or cooking spray. When a drop of water thrown onto the griddle sizzles, it is ready. Pour 1/8 cup batter per pancake, allowing space for batter to spread.

When the pancakes are dry around the edges and the bottoms are nicely browned, 2-3 minutes, flip them. Cook until browned on the second side, 1-2 minutes. Lower the heat if the pancakes are browning too quickly, leaving the center uncooked.

Serve each batch as soon as its done, or place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place in the warm oven.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Southwestern Chicken Pileups

Tonight I made southwestern chicken pileups from my Biggest Loser Cookbook. Over the past three years or so that I've had this cookbook, I've made quite a few recipes and they've all either been excellent or very good - definitely recommend the cookbook to everyone! Anyway, back to dinner. This was the first time I'd made these. They were basically mexican pizzas. So good! Kevin and I both loved them. Carson ate some plain chicken and other random things - I didn't think this was the greatest meal for him to try to eat. They're messy, but I think its fun to eat messy food every once in a while. These are very filling, too. The recipe says one of these is a serving - well its a big serving! Half of one would have been perfect - I ate 3/4 of it and was absolutely stuffed and couldn't eat the 4th piece. I should have stopped at the half-way point. Next time I'll know. The beans, onions, pita were organic - the rest conventional.

I'll update later on with a picture.

Southwestern Chicken Pileups
Makes 1 serving

1 teaspoon salt-free Mexican or Southwest seasoning
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1 small boneless, skinless chicken breast, trimmed of visible fat (I just used some of the grilled tenderloins I prepped ahead on Sunday)
1 whole wheat pita
2 Tablespoons hummus, preferably red-pepper flavor (I just used regular hummus that is made fresh daily from one of my fav. middle eastern restaurants)
2 Tablespoons no salt added canned black beans, drained and rinsed
Several red onion strips (I used yellow onion)
Several red bell pepper strips (I didn't have any)
2 Tablespoons chopped tomato (I just used some salsa)
2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (didn't have any)
2 Tablespoons finely shredded Cabot 75% Light Cheddar Cheese (I've looked for this so many times and can never find it - I just used 2% Cheddar Cheese)
4 teaspoons guacamole or fat free sour cream

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Preheat a grill pan to high heat.

Sprinkle the seasoning and garlic powder over the chicken. Place on the grill pan. Reduce the heat to medium. Grill for 3-5 minutes per side, or until no longer pink and the juices run clear. Transfer to a cutting board and let stand 5 minutes. Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place a pita on the grill. Cook for 1-2 minutes per side, or until lightly toasted. (I didn't do this, it crisped up nicely even skipping this.) Place the pita on a nonstick baking sheet. Spread with hummus. Top evenly in layers with the beans, chicken, onion, pepper, tomato, cilantro, and cheese.

Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Let stand for 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving plate. Slice into 4 wedges. Top each wedge with guacamole or sour cream, if desired.

Baked Falafel

Last night we tried out an Ellie Krieger recipe for baked falafel. I don't know if I did something wrong, or what, but we didn't really care for them much. I'm not even going to post the recipe, but if you're interested you can use the link. I read through the reviews on FoodNetwork and some people were having problems with them being too dry - ours were the opposite. They were falling apart, they were so moist. Maybe I mis-measured (or mis-eyeballed) something, who knows. The flavor of the falafel was pretty good, though. The tahini was another story. I'm going to have to do some research into tahini sauces because this was totally not what I'm used to (and love). I added garlic since the tahini sauces I love all taste like garlic, but that didn't even help it. It was quite gross. Kevin and I both thought so. We ate the falafel on romaine salads with ranch dressing instead. That was actually ok tasting.

I think I'm going to give up on Ellie Krieger. I've tried lots of her recipes in the past (pre-recipe blog) and we haven't liked very many of them. I love, love, love middle eastern foods, so I was quite disappointed with this recipe. I'm hoping I can find some other middle eastern recipes to try out though. My favorite is chicken shawarma. I've seen a couple recipes for it, but neither of them seemed quite right. I'd also love to find a recipe for shish tawook. And some other things, too. So hopefully we'll see some more middle eastern recipes here in the future.

UPDATE: I think I may have found the solution to my tahini sauce disaster... greek yogurt! I figured it had to be yogurt or sour cream or something like that.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Chicken with Spinach Pesto

Last night, we tried out a Giada DeLaurentiis recipe for Chicken with Spinach and Pine Nut Pesto. I've had it on my list of recipes to try forever and can't believe it took me so long to make. It is such an easy recipe. It comes together so fast and it'd be a great work-night meal. I absolutely loved it! I've never had spinach pesto, and I really liked it. Kevin didn't care for the pesto at all. We ended up just having some whole wheat angel hair pasta with it, so Kevin ate his chicken and pasta plain, while I had pesto on both my chicken and my pasta. So yummy! I had plenty leftover to freeze in cubes, too. So it'll be an even quicker work-night meal in the future. The spinach, garlic, and pasta were the only organic ingredients.

Grilled Chicken with Spinach and Pine Nut Pesto

2 boneless chicken breasts (I used tenderloins and grilled up a ton of them to have for this meal, plus two others during the week)
2 cups lightly packed baby spinach leaves
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons grated lemon peel
1/3 cup plus 2 teaspoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan (I don't think I used this much)
(I also added two small cloves of garlic)

Heat a grill pan on medium high heat. Lightly oil the grill pan. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper. Grill the chicken until cooked through, about 5 minutes per side.

Combine the spinach, pine nuts, lemon juice, and lemon peel in a processor. Lightly pulse. With the machine running, gradually add 1/3 cup of the oil, blending until the mixture is creamy. Add salt and pulse. Put half of the pesto into ice cube trays and store in the freezer for future use.

Transfer the rest of the spinach mixture to a medium bowl. Stir in the Parmesan. Season the pesto with salt and pepper, to taste.

Spread the pesto over each piece of chicken and serve.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Meal Plans

Already time to plan the menu for the week already? It feels like I just did this yesterday - this last week just flew on by. Its been a really busy week at work, so that always makes the weeks fly by. Anyway, on with the meal plans...

So, we didn't have breakfast for dinner last week, but I think we will this week. I'm hoping to have that be a regular thing, too. Maybe once every two weeks or something. I figure having breakfast for dinner on a regular basis is another good way to save some money. Plus, Carson is able to eat most breakfast items that I'd make.

I don't think we'll have any new veggies this week, just still trying to get into the habit of working more of them into our diet. I did taste a few brussels sprouts last night at Mary's and Justin's house - they were really good! I think I'll have to work them into some of our meals soon. We'll continue to have side salads with several dinners again this week. I'll be working in some whole grains again this week, too - no new ones though.

We will be traveling (through food) quite a bit this week - to the Middle East, to the Southwest, and to Spain. I'm excited to see how the dishes turn out!

Sunday ~ chicken with spinach pesto, romaine salad, baked potatoes, peas and carrots
Meatless Monday ~ baked falafel salads/sandwiches (never made them a couple weeks ago), roasted veggies
Tuesday ~ southwestern chicken pileups, romaine salad
Wednesday ~ quinoa paella with chicken and chorizo, romaine salad - we had leftovers with salad instead
Thursday ~ leftovers
Friday ~ whole grain pancakes with blueberry syrup dinner at my parents' house
Saturday ~ TBD depending on what our plans end up looking like, but possibly a baked ham, baked potatoes, green beans quinoa paella with chicken and chorizo

Friday, January 23, 2009

Strawberry Pretzel Delight

We're taking a trip out to Grand Rapids tomorrow afternoon to visit Kevin's grandparents, then we'll head over to my SIL/BIL's house for dinner and playtime with the little ones. So tonight, I made up a jello salad/dessert dish to take to Mary's and Justin's tomorrow. This is a recipe that my cousin Becky N. makes quite often. Its so good! This was the first time I've made it, so I hope it tastes as good as Becky's always does tomorrow! I used organic whole grain spelt pretzels and organic cream cheese. The rest of the ingredients are conventional - who would have thought it'd be so hard to find organic frozen strawberries, whipped cream, and strawberry gelatin?? I looked in three different stores (2 of which were health food stores) and never came across any of them.

Strawberry Pretzel Delight

2 cups crushed pretzels (not only were they organic whole grain spelt, but they had no salt on them either)
3 Tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup melted butter (I used about 3 Tablespoons and few squirts of butter spray)

8 ounces cream cheese (I used the neuchatel 1/3 less fat cheese)
small container cool whip (I used fat free)
1 cup sugar

6 ounces strawberry gelatin (I used sugar free)
2 cups boiling water
2 10-ounce containers frozen strawberries

Mix crust ingredients. Press into a 9x13 pan. Bake for 8 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool completely.

Beat together the ingredients for the cream cheese layer. Spread over cooled pretzel crust.

Dissolve gelatin into boiling water. Add strawberries. Let stand for 10 minutes. Then pour over cream cheese layer. Refrigerate overnight.

Top with cool whip and chopped nuts if desired. (I left this layer off)

Panko Crusted Pork Chops & Scalloped Broccoli and Corn

I came across this meal on Taste and Tell and thought it sounded like a good one to try. According to the original post, the pork chop recipe is from the October 2008 Cooking Light and the scalloped broccoli and corn is from Allrecipes. This was a very easy meal to throw together. It takes a little planning, with the veggies having to bake for an hour, but that's no big deal. It tasted awesome, too. Both the pork chops and the scalloped broccoli and corn. Definitely a keeper! We got our first taste of the all-natural pork that one of my best bud's (Sara R.) brother raised. Very tasty! And its a great feeling to know we're not eating all the hormones and who knows what else in conventional pork.

I'll update later on with a picture.

Panko-Crusted Pork Chops with Creamy Herb Dressing

Makes 2 servings

2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 teaspoon low-sodium soy sauce
1 large egg white
1/3 cup panko
2 (4-ounce) boneless center-cut loin pork chops (about 1/2 inch thick)
1 teaspoon canola oil
cooking spray

1 tablespoon chopped green onions
1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 tablespoon milk
1 tablespoon reduced-fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

To prepare pork, preheat oven to 450°.

Combine first 6 ingredients in a shallow dish. Combine soy sauce and egg white in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Place panko in a shallow dish.

Dredge pork in flour mixture; dip in egg mixture. Dredge in panko. Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork to pan; cook 1 minute on each side. Place pork on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Bake at 450° for 6 minutes or until done.

To prepare dressing, combine onions and the remaining ingredients. Serve dressing with pork.

Scalloped Corn and Broccoli

Makes about 4 servings

1 (15 ounce) can creamed corn
2 eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
5 ounces frozen chopped broccoli

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

Mix together the corn, eggs, sugar, flour and salt. Add the cheese and broccoli, mix well and pour into a 2 quart casserole dish. Bake for 1 hour.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Southwestern Quinoa Stew

I've had a total change of meal plans this week. We ended up having a lot of leftovers to use up, so we ate those on Tuesday. Then last night we ate baked chicken and potatoes at my parents' house. Tonight I tried another new meatless recipe that I came across in one of my new cookbooks - Whole Grains for Busy People: Fast, Flavor-Packed Meals and More for Everyone - for a southwestern quinoa stew. It was pretty good. Kevin liked it, which kind of surprised me, honestly, but that's a good thing! I found myself wishing it had more veggies, so next time I'd add more veggies. I'd also tone down the spice a bit - my mouth was burning a little by the time I finished my bowl. It had a really good flavor, though. It was the first time either one of us had tried quinoa. We both liked it alright, so I'll be trying out more recipes with this whole grain in the future. The quinoa, black beans, corn, chicken broth, shallot, garlic, and winter squash were all organic.

Southwestern Quinoa Stew with Squash, Black Beans, and Corn

1 Tablespoon olive oil (I just used a little spray)
2 teaspoons minced dried onion (I used a fresh shallot)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic (I used fresh garlic)
1 quart low-sodium chicken or veggie stock
1 cup quinoa (don't forget to rinse it)
1 teaspoon chipotle in adobo, mashed or chopped
1 package (10 ounces) frozen winter squash
1 can (15 ounces) black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn (I added a whole bag b/c we like corn)
1/3 cup diced fire-roasted red bell pepper (I left this out)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro (I left this out)

In a heavy 3-quart Dutch oven, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Stir in the onion, oregano, and garlic, and cook for 10 seconds.

Add the broth and 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add the quinoa and boil uncovered over medium-high heat for 10 minutes.

Stir in chipotle in adobo, and add the block of squash. Turn the heat to high, cover, and continue cooking until you can break up the squash and stir it into the stew, 3-4 minutes.

Stir in the beans. Reduce the heat to medium. Continue cooking until there is no solid white dot of starch at the center of the quinoa, 1-3 minutes longer. Stir in the corn, roasted red pepper, cilantro, and salt to taste. Cook uncovered, just until the corn is defrosted, another minute or so.

Ladle into soup bowls.

Serves 4-6

The Rural Agenda

I've been browsing President Obama's agendas for the last week or two and wanted to point out his Rural Agenda in particular. I am quite excited about many of his agendas, but I thought this one would be appropriate to post about here, since it will affect our food supply. I was quite impressed with this, as I'd been reading various sources over the last six months or so that have led me to believe he was pretty lukewarm on issues such as these. I think this should bring much hope and excitement to rural communities, which always get overlooked due to the focus on the inner-cities, even though they face many of the same problems that the inner-cities do. Of course, it is partially our responsibility to help President Obama accomplish these initiatives - if we believe in them at least. Most of these will require some action by Congress. It is always important for us, as American citizens, to contact our Congressional delegation on the issues we feel are important (whether in support or not). It is our right to have our voices heard - contacting your Congressional delegation is one very important way of being heard. I encourage anyone reading this, that feels these issues are important, to contact your Congresspeople expressing your views and requesting their support (or not) on these initiatives. And if you are one that sits back and does nothing, just waiting for things to happen, and then find yourself unhappy with the results... then I hope you don't sit around and complain about this or that... because you had your chance to help make a difference, you just have chosen not to.

I've just copied and pasted the agenda below.


Rural communities face numerous challenges but also economic opportunities unlike anything we have witnessed in modern history. President Obama and Vice President Biden believe that together we can ensure a bright future for rural America. They will help family famers and rural small businesses find profitability in the marketplace and success in the global economy.

Ensure Economic Opportunity for Family Farmers

~ Strong Safety Net for Family Farmers: Fight for farm programs that provide family farmers with stability and predictability. Implement a $250,000 payment limitation so we help family farmers -- not large corporate agribusiness. Close the loopholes that allow mega farms to get around payment limits.

~ Prevent Anticompetitive Behavior Against Family Farms: Pass a packer ban. When meatpackers own livestock they can manipulate prices and discriminate against independent farmers. Strengthen anti-monopoly laws and strengthen producer protections to ensure independent farmers have fair access to markets, control over their production decisions, and transparency in prices.

~ Regulate CAFOs: Strictly regulate pollution from large factory livestock farms, with fines for those that violate tough standards. Support meaningful local control.

~ Establish Country of Origin Labeling: Implement Country of Origin Labeling so that American producers can distinguish their products from imported ones.

~ Encourage Organic and Local Agriculture: Help organic farmers afford to certify their crops and reform crop insurance to not penalize organic farmers. Promote regional food systems.

~ Encourage Young People to Become Farmers: Establish a new program to identify and train the next generation of farmers. Provide tax incentives to make it easier for new farmers to afford their first farm.

~ Partner with Landowners to Conserve Private Lands: Increase incentives for farmers and private landowners to conduct sustainable agriculture and protect wetlands, grasslands, and forests.

Support Rural Economic Development

~ Support Small Business Development: Provide capital for farmers to create value-added enterprises, like cooperative marketing initiatives and farmer-owned processing plants. Establish a small business and micro-enterprise initiative for rural America.

~ Connect Rural America: Modernize an FCC program that supports rural phone service so that it promotes affordable broadband coverage across rural America as well.

~ Promote Leadership in Renewable Energy: Ensure that our rural areas continue their leadership in the renewable fuels movement.

Improve Rural Quality Of Life

~ Combat Methamphetamine: Continue the fight to rid our communities of meth and offer support to help addicts heal.

~ Improve Healthcare: Work to ensure a more equitable Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement structure that often gives rural healthcare providers less money for the very same procedure performed in urban areas. Attract providers to rural America by creating a loan forgiveness program for doctors and nurses who work in underserved rural areas. Promote health information technologies like telemedicine.

~ Improve Rural Education: Provide incentives for talented individuals to enter the teaching profession, including increased pay for teachers who work in rural areas. Create a Rural Revitalization Program to attract young people to rural America and retain them. Increase research and educational funding for Land Grant colleges.

~ Upgrade Rural Infrastructure: Invest in the core infrastructure -- roads, bridges, locks, dams, water systems and essential air service -- that rural communities need.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Artichoke Pie

Last night we had artichoke pie from Greek Food and Beyond by Peter Minakis for our Meatless Monday meal. I thought it was very good! Kevin thought it was just good. I added my leftover roasted veggies (organic carrots, leeks, onions, garlic, and parsnips; and conventional bell pepper and zucchini) from making the veggie lasagna on Sunday and Kevin isn't a fan of roasted parsnips. He thinks they're too sweet, while I think they're becoming one of my favorite veggies. He thought the bites without the parsnips were pretty good, but the bites with the parsnips were gross. He said he'd also have preferred some mozzarella cheese on top instead of all gruyere. This makes a lot. I cut the recipe in half, but still ended up having to use my 8x10 pan.

Artichoke Pie
(Ταβερνίσια αγκιναρόπιτα της Τήνου)

a buttered 13X9X2" bakiing dish
1/4 cup olive oil
3 large onions, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large loaf of rustic bread, crust removed & cut into thick slices
2 tsp. of fresh thyme
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
approx. dozen artichoke hearts, cut into bite-sized pieces, poached if fresh (I used the canned ones)
1 1/2 grated Graviera cheese (Gruyere is fine)
3 cups of Bechamel Sauce (or 1/2 of Peter's recipe - see below)
thyme sprigs for garnish

Melt the olive oil in a large skillet and add your onions and garlic and saute over medium-low heat for about 20-30 minutes or until soft and translucent. Add your fresh thyme and season with salt and pepper. Allow to cool and set aside.

Pre-heat your oven to 400F. Now make your Bechamel sauce as per my instructions with the 1 cup of grated Graviera and set aside and keep warm.

Spoon some Bechamel Sauce on the bottom of the baking dish and lay your first layer of bread slices. Now spoon half of your sauteed onions over the bread, followed by half the artichoke pieces, some Bechamel sauce and some grated cheese. Repeat with the remaining ingredients in the same order.

Bake until tender and the top is golden-brown, about 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool slightly, slice into portioned squares and serve.

Bechamel Sauce

1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup flour
5 cups of warm milk, no lighter than 2%
4 eggs
3/4 cup of Kefalotiri or Romano cheese (I used parmesan b/c that's what I had)
salt to taste
pinch of grated nutmeg

Put the butter in a pot to melt. Add the flour, stirring quickly with a wooden spoon to prevent lumps from forming. Stir & cook the flour/butter mixture to a golden color.

Pour in the milk while stirring and then and salt to taste, stirring the mixture constantly. When it thickens, turn off the heat and add your cheese and slowly pour in your eggs, continue stirring.

Add your nutmeg and stir.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Roasted Garlic Balsamic Vinaigrette and Spelt Pasta

I whipped up a batch of homemade salad dressing for the first time this afternoon. One of my best buds Jaime posted the recipe on her blog last week. She found it in Self magazine. It sounded delish and in my attempts at making more of our food from scratch and buying less processed foods, I decided to give it a try. (I'll also be giving the second recipe in her post a try, so look for that in the weeks to come.) I roasted the garlic while I was roasting my veggies for my veggie lasagna for Carson's birthday party. Then once the garlic had cooled awhile, I threw everything into the food processor and voila! Homemade salad dressing! I stuck it in the refrigerator for a bit until dinnertime when I could try it out on my salad of organic baby greens/carrots/cucumber/feta and conventional bell pepper. It was fabulous! A warning, though, you don't need a lot of it, as it's pretty strong. I put a little too much on my salad and had a slightly burning nose by the end of dinner. :) The bites with just a touch of dressing on it were great, though. Definitely a keeper and something I'll make on a regular basis! I used some organic balsamic vinegar that I picked up at Better Health, and organic garlic and honey.

Roasted Garlic–Balsamic Vinaigrette
From the November 2008 Issue of Self
Makes 1/2 cup

1/2 head garlic
1/2 teaspoon honey mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra light olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Heat oven to 400°. Slice 1 inch off top of garlic, exposing cloves; wrap in foil and roast until soft and fragrant, 40 to 45 minutes. Cool slightly. Squeeze cloves into a mini-chopper or food processor. Add remaining ingredients and 2 tbsp warm water; blend until smooth. Refrigerate up to 7 days.

The skinny: 43 calories per tbsp, 3.4 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 3.2 g carbs, 0.1 g fiber, 0.2 g protein

Spelt Pasta

I picked up some organic VitaSpelt whole grain spelt penne at Better Health last week. I've never tried spelt pasta, but had heard that it is good. So I decided to give it a try to further my attempt at working more whole grains into our diet by having it with some of my homemade meat sauce. And even better, VitaSpelt pasta is made right in Okemos, so its a local food, too! This was a very good pasta. We didn't really notice a different taste or texture or anything. It held up well during the cooking process, too. Definitely an easy way to work in more whole grains.

Meat Sauce

This afternoon, I made up a huge batch (double recipe) of meat sauce. This recipe is one that my family has used for as long as I can remember. Its super simple and really good - not too sweet, not too spicy. The regular recipe (below) makes a ton of sauce. We usually make it up, use whatever we're going to fresh, then freeze the rest. Today I reserved enough for my veggie lasagna before I added the meat, then made my two meat lasagnas and pressure canned the rest. I now have 3 quarts and 6 pints of canned meat sauce.

Meat Sauce

2 pounds ground beef (I used all-natural, lean)
4 (28 oz) large cans tomato sauce
1 can tomato paste
1 cup dried parsley
2 Tablespoons garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon oregano
salt and pepper to taste

Brown the meat, drain the grease. Add all the ingredients together. Bring to a boil and simmer for one hour.

To pressure can it, fill the jars leaving a 1-inch headspace. Then process at 10 pounds of pressure for 75 minutes (only need 60 minutes for pints, but I did the entire batch at once, so did mine all for 75 minutes).

Millet Muffins

I baked a batch of millet muffins this morning. I got the recipe from my friend, Lina, at work - she got it from Allrecipes. She brought these in to work a few months ago and I've been wanting to make them ever since. They're so good! And healthy, too! And a perfect way to work in more whole grains and fiber. The original recipe on Allrecipes is for 16 muffins, I reset it for 24 muffins because I wanted to make a larger batch to freeze a good portion of them. Carson has tried them and really liked them - though I've only allowed him a small piece of one so far since I'm not sure how these whole grains will react in his little system. Kevin tried one and thinks they're ok, but he'd rather have regular ol' blueberry. :) He wasn't all that crazy about the crunch from the millet - which is my favorite part! As I'm just posting this recipe now, I realize I am a total ditz! I totally left out the egg - oops! I was wondering why there were no eggs in the muffins when I was making them, but totally missed them on my list of ingredients. They still turned out really good, even without the egg! I used mostly organic ingredients - flour, millet, milk (that I mixed with conventional powdered buttermilk), agave nectar, cherries, and raisins. The others were conventional.

Millet Muffins
Yield: 24 muffins

3 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup millet (I used about a cup)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 1/2 egg, lightly beaten (I missed this)
3/4 cup vegetable oil (I used 1/4 cup canola oil and 1/2 cup applesauce)
3/4 cup honey (I used agave nectar)
(I also added 1 cup dried fruit (cherries and raisins) - I'll add 1 1/2 cups next time)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease muffin cups (I just used liners).

In a large bowl, mix the whole wheat flour, millet, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl, mix the buttermilk, egg, vegetable oil, and honey. Stir buttermilk mixture into the flour mixture just until evenly moist. Transfer batter to the prepared muffin cups.

Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a muffin comes out clean.

(To increase the fiber even more, you can substitute some of the whole wheat flour for wheat bran or wheat germ.)

Meal Plans

Another new week already. These weeks are going by so quickly.

This week, I'm going to try to work in some more salads as side dishes at dinner to increase our veggie intake. We don't eat salads with our dinner often enough. I'm going to try out some homemade dressing recipes that Jaime has posted on her blog, which I'm very excited to try out - I hope they're as good as they sound! The more that I can make from scratch at home, the better! I've also planned a Meatless Monday meal this week. I'm going to try to have a Meatless Monday every week from now on. This will also help increase our veggie intake and will save us some money, too. With the economy the way it is and the uncertainty of the auto industry (and therefore Kevin's job), I'm looking for all sorts of ways to save money nowadays since we just never know what the next day will bring.

Sunday ~ whole grain spelt pasta with meat sauce, green beans, baby greens salad, garlic toast
Meatless Monday ~ either roasted veggie soup (if I have enough veggies leftover from prepping the lasagna) or artichoke pie, baby greens salad
Tuesday ~ salmon cakes, romaine salad, baked potato, peas
Wednesday ~ lamb stew in the crockpot, romaine salad
Thursday ~ leftovers, or else pancakes with blueberry syrup if I get the mix made
Friday ~ panko crusted pork chops with scalloped corn and broccoli, romaine salad if we have lettuce left
Saturday ~ going to Grand Rapids as long as the weather is good

As far as extras this week in line with my healthy eating goals, I'm going to make millet muffins hopefully today, otherwise tomorrow for sure (I'm off for MLK Jr. Day). If I'm ambitious, I'm also going to make up some whole grain pancake mix to have on hand so that I'll be more likely to make some pancakes on the weekends (or for dinner) so we can finally try my home-canned blueberry syrup.

I'm also planning to make up some homemade meat sauce and do up the meat lasagnas for Carson's birthday party next month. I'm going to pressure can the leftover meat sauce. I usually just freeze it, but it'll be nice to have it canned instead. No waiting for it to thaw and it saves on my freezer space. I'll also be prepping the veggie lasagna for the birthday party, as well.

I never had time to do the homemade hot fudge last week, so maybe I'll make some up this week. I just want to do as much in advance as I can for Carson's party. It'll save me lots of grief the week of the party. We also need to try out another homemade ice cream flavor so that we can figure out what types of ice cream we're going to make for the party. We'll do those the week of the party so that they're nice and fresh.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Bday Party Prep Ahead

I'm trying to do as much as I can in advance of Carson's 1st birthday party next month so that I won't have so much to stress out about the week/day of the party. There will be 34-38 people there (including the kids), so I've got to prepare quite a feast. I've decided to go with an italian menu. Definitely a veggie lasagna in my huge lasagna pan, and two meat lasagnas in my smaller 9x13 pans. Hopefully that will give everyone at least one slice of lasagna. I keep thinking I should make a fourth... but think that might be a little overboard. I might possibly do a baked ziti or baked spaghetti pie to supplement - not totally sure on that yet. I'll definitely do up a huge salad with lettuce, cherry tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, bell peppers, plus hard-boiled eggs, shredded cheese, parm. cheese, and croutons on the side. And some garlic bread or breadsticks, too. What else could I add to the menu?? I had originally been thinking about doing a minestrone soup in the crockpot, but again, is that overboard? Probably. I'll have some hors d'ouevres, too, of course. Probably a raw veggie tray with dip, chips and dip, and maybe spinach artichoke dip if I'm ambitious. So what do you think? Do I need more?

So anyway, I'm going to make up the lasagnas this weekend and freeze them. I went shopping at the new Meijer in Davison today on my lunch hour for the ingredients. I was not looking forward to the produce shopping for the veggie lasagna at a Meijer, but I was pleasantly surprised by this Meijer's produce area. It was so much better than the other Meijer stores I've been to. I ended up being able to get mostly organic veggies for the lasagna - spinach, purple kale, carrots, broccoli, leeks, mushrooms, and peas (frozen) - although some of the veggies are conventional - zucchini and bell pepper. But much better than I've done at Meijer in the past. I think I'm going to roast the veggies first, too. I've never done this before using them in lasagna, usually just put them in raw. But roasted veggies are just much tastier than they are regular, so I think it'll be really good. Maybe I shouldn't try something new for a party, though...

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Did you know?

I wouldn't normally post things like this here on this blog, but this was just too amazing not to post. Its a video of a presentation given to the Sony BMG executives in June 2008. Its about five minutes long, but its very interesting. You don't need your sound up, just can read everything as it appears.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

2009 Garden

So I finally have finished up my seed and plant orders for our 2009 veggie garden! It took me longer because I ended up switching companies. This year I'm using Fedco. I really liked their policies - none of their seeds are genetically engineered or treated with fungicides and about a third of their seeds are organic. Plus, they had many different varieties of the veggies than the company I was going to use... including the Purple Haze Broccoli, which I didn't see in many companies (its an all-edible broccoli plant with normal broccoli shoots and leaves like kale that you eat as a green - how cool is that?). A good part of our garden this year will actually be truly organic - I'm excited about that! I changed up some of the things I'd originally planned, too. I'll post an updated list for those that are interested. I'd also love to hear feedback from those of you that have grown any of the varieties I've chosen or have any advice.

Basil - Sweet
Beans - I went with Organic Golden Rocky (yellow snap), Organic Blue Lake (green snap), Masai Bush Haricots Verts (french filet green bean), Cannellini (dry), Midnight Black Turtle Bean (dry)
Broccoli - Organic Purple Peacock (broccoli and kale in one plant), Piracicaba (half-way between broccoli and broccoli raab)
Cabbage - Melissa Savoy
Carrots - Scarlet Nantes, Organic Yaya, White Satin, Purple Haze
Cauliflower - Snow Crown
Celeriac - Diamante
Celery - Golden Self-Blanching
Chard - Argentata
Corn - Organic Luscious Bi-Color Sweet Corn
Dill - Fernleaf
Leeks - Lincoln, Organic King Seig
Melons - Halona Muskmelon, Organic Sweet Dakota Rose Watermelon
Okra - Organic Cajun Jewel
Parsley - Gigante d’Italia
Parsnips - Andover
Peas - Oregon Giant Snow Pea, Mammoth Melting Sugar Snow Pea
Peppers - Organic Klari Baby Cheese Sweet Pepper, Organic Chocolate Sweet Pepper, Organic Peacework Sweet Pepper
Potatoes - I ended up ordering several varieties - Kennebec, Red Pontiac, Butte, and German Butterball - all of them except the Red Pontiacs are organic
Shallots - Piccasso
Spinach - Olympia, Space
Fall/Winter Squash - Organic Uncle David’s Dakota Dessert (buttercup)
Zucchini - Jackpot (green), Sebring (yellow), Organic Costata Romanesca (green)

And I already have some Organic San Marzano Tomatoes, organic Buttercrunch Lettuce, and organic Sumter Cucumbers.

I'll also have my perennial herbs that I planted last year - Chives, Oregano, Thyme

Black Bean Burrito Bake

I tried out a recipe from Cooking Light last night for black bean burritos. They were so good - a definite keeper! It is a quick and easy meal, plus its very affordable. The original recipe doesn't contain meat, but you could very easily add some shredded chicken, pork, or beef if you didn't want a meatless meal. I'll make a few changes the next time I make them to give them some more flavor, but they were great as-is. Very filling! I made a double batch because Kevin tends to be a big eater and I'd wanted some leftovers for lunches. One of these burritos is definitely very filling, though. I didn't have time to make the mexican rice I'd planned to make with them, but that worked out okay since these were so satisfying. Next time, I'll add even more seasoning to the bean-corn-sour cream mixture. I added cumin and chili powder this time, about 1/2 teaspoon of each, I'll double that at least next time. And I'll have to remember to add the chipotle pepper with the adobo sauce next time, too - I totally forgot about that since I was going off of memory on the recipe when I threw it together last night. I think I'll add the salsa and cheese into the bean mixture, too, rather than having it on top. I think it'd be even better that way. I used my home-canned organic black turtle beans; and my home-canned salsa which isn't technicaly organic since my tomato, pepper, and jalapeno plants weren't from organic seeds, but I'd say its all-natural.

I'll update with a picture later in the week.

Black Bean Burrito Bake

1 (7-ounce) can chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (I totally forgot to add this!)
1/2 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 (15-ounce) can black beans, rinsed, drained, and divided
1 cup frozen whole-kernel corn, thawed
4 (8-inch) flour tortillas
Cooking spray
1 cup bottled salsa
1/2 cup (2 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
(I also added about 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin and chili powder)

Preheat oven to 350°.

Remove one chile from can. Chop chile. Reserve remaining adobo sauce and chiles for another use. Combine sour cream and chile in a medium bowl; let stand 10 minutes.

Place half of beans in a food processor; process until finely chopped. Add chopped beans, remaining beans, and corn to sour cream mixture.

Spoon 1/2 cup bean mixture down the center of each tortilla. Roll up tortillas; place, seam side down, in an 11 x 7-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Spread salsa over tortillas; sprinkle with cheese. Cover and bake at 350° for 20 minutes or until thoroughly heated.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Whole Grains

I've been doing some research on whole grains lately, reading about all the health benefits of eating more of them. I'm going to try sneaking more of them into our meals. Kevin tends to not like many whole grains, but I'm hoping we can change that if I find some good recipes to incorporate them. As I mentioned in my meal plans post, I have some cracked bulgur that I'm looking for uses for (which I've found tons of recipes that sound so good since my post!). I've also picked up some quinoa, buckwheat, and millet. I've eaten things containing these whole grains, but have never cooked with them myself. And of course, I always have brown rice and generally try to use whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour whenever I can. I'm hoping to use these whole grains in our meals in the coming weeks, then expand into some new ones for us - barley, rye, and spelt to start with.

I picked up some recipe books at the library on using whole grains. One, in particular, seems like a fabulous cookbook and I think I'll have to order it for myself because there are just so many recipes that I want to try in it. It's The New Whole Grains Cookbook - Terrific Recipes Using Farro, Quinoa, Brown Rice, Barley, and Many Other Delicious and Nutritious Grains. I haven't made any of the recipes in it yet, but from what I can tell, they sound great and look delicious in the pictures! The recipes don't seem overly complicated, either, which is always good. If any of you are looking for a new cookbook to add to your collection, I think this would be a great one!

Moroccan Lentil Stoup

I tried out another recipe from A Year of Crockpotting for Moroccan Lentil Soup. Although, its a pretty thick soup, not quite a stew. I think Rachael Ray would call it a stoup, so that's what I've called it in my post. It was good - it reminded Kevin and I of a chili without meat. It was kind of spicy for me. The spice from the cayenne pepper built up in my mouth after eating about half of my bowl and I had to take a break for awhile. Kevin, on the other hand, didn't think it was spicy at all and didn't understand why I thought it was. He said that if I can eat the medium salsa verde at Qdoba, I shouldn't have a problem with this (I don't think Qdoba's salsa verde is spicy, but he does - weird I know). Kevin didn't like the lentils - but I love them. I'm not super crazy about garbanzo beans when they're in soups, but then Kevin really likes them. Next time, I'd put less cayenne pepper and probably substitute the garbanzo beans for black beans or another can of pinto beans. I used Eden Organic garbanzos and pintos - they're the only canned bean that doesn't have BPA in their cans, plus the company is here in Michigan! I also used organic onions, garlic, celery, carrots, veggie broth, cayenne pepper, and ginger.

Crockpot Moroccan Lentil Stoup

1 cup dried lentils (I used green lentils)
1 can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped carrots
28 oz can of diced tomatoes and juice
4 cups vegetable broth
1 1/2 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 inch ginger, peeled and grated (I just used ground ginger)

Chop up all of your vegetables and add them to the crockpot. Drain and rinse off the beans, add to the pot. Add the dried lentils. Grate your ginger, and add it along with the dried spices. Stir in the vegetable broth and tomatoes.

Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours (ours cooked for 10 hours on low and then switched to Keep Warm for a couple of hours till we got home from work). Soup tastes best the longer you cook it, and it is even better the next day.

Before serving, use an immersible blender and pulse to blend some of the vegetables and beans together. This isn't necessary, but it really improves the texture of the soup and melds the flavors nicely. (I didn't do this)

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Greek Chicken Pasta

Tonight I tried out a recipe I found on AllRecipes for greek chicken pasta. I had some feta that needed to be used up and this sounded good and easy. Plus I had all of the ingredients in my pantry or freezer - so even better. This was really good. Kevin, Carson, and I all really liked this. Its very light-tasting and is pretty healthy, too. I was kind of surprised Kevin liked it so much since he's usually not too crazy about pastas that don't have some sort of tomato sauce on them. The pasta, garlic, onion, tomatoes, and feta were organic ingredients.

(Also note, I updated pictures back to the corn dogs.)

Greek Chicken Pasta

1 pound uncooked pasta (I used Trader Joe's Organic Whole Wheat Penne)
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed (I chopped mine finely)
1/2 cup chopped red onion (I used a whole yellow onion, medium-sized)
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast meat - cut into bite-size pieces (I just used some pre-cooked chicken breasts I'd cubed and frozen a few weeks ago)
1 (14 ounce) can marinated artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 large tomato, chopped (I used a can of diced tomatoes)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (I used dried)
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 teaspoons dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 lemons, wedged, for garnish (I skipped this)

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente; drain.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and onion, and saute for 2 minutes. Stir in the chicken. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Reduce heat to medium-low, and add the artichoke hearts, tomato, feta cheese, parsley, lemon juice, oregano and cooked pasta. Stir until heated through, about 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper, and garnish with lemon wedges.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Meal Plans, Cracked Bulgur?

So as you can see I ended up doing more extras this past week than I thought I would. That's how it goes, though. I just never really know how much time I'm going to have on my hands - or what sales I just won't be able to resist. :) I'm hoping to do some more extras tomorrow. I still have the homemade graham crackers and homemade wheat thins on my list of things to try, so I'm really hoping to try one of them tomorrow afternoon. At some point in the next few weeks, I also need to do up some more hot fudge. Probably a couple of jars so I can have it if folks want it at Carson's birthday party. I can't believe he'll be a year old in just over a month now! I still haven't completely decided on the menu for his party - either mexican or italian - but I'm going to try to do up as much as I can in advance. If you have any yummy mexican or italian recipes that freeze well, let me know!

Anyway, back to the menu for this week. Here's what I'm thinking at the moment. I have the majority of all the ingredients on hand - I'm trying to use up my stockpiles. But a few of the recipes will require a trip to the store this week, so hopefully I'll have a chance to run out on my lunch hour at some point. Otherwise, I'll be changing it up a little.

Sunday ~ greek chicken pasta since we ended up just eating leftovers last night
Monday ~ moroccan lentil soup/stew, homemade cornbread from the freezer
Tuesday ~ black bean burrito bake, mexi-rice
Wednesday ~ chicken veggie stir fry
Thursday ~ leftovers
Friday ~ if I get the dough made beforehand, maybe we'll do some homemade pizza, otherwise maybe lobster ravioli and green beans
Saturday ~ I'll be at my cousin Jorie's baby shower during the day, but I'm hoping to try the baked falafel pitas for dinner since I didn't do them last week

I totally didn't plan this, but looking over my meals for the week, I notice I've got three meatless meals on the menu (Monday, Tuesday, Saturday). Shhh! Don't tell Kevin! ;-P We'll see if everything pans out and I end up doing all three (i.e. if I remember to get some tahini at the store for the falafel).

I'll be making up a huge batch of meatballs this week - I'm taking swedish meatballs to the baby shower. I'm planning to make up a ton of meatballs, bake them, and freeze a good portion of them, though.

I have some cracked bulgur that I need to find some new uses for. Any ideas anyone?? I've only ever used it in my veggie burgers and in tabbouleh. But since I still have some veggie burgers in the freezer and I'll be waiting until I have fresh parsley again next summer to do tabbouleh, I need some new ideas.

Chocolate Ice Cream

Tonight I prepped a batch of homemade chocolate ice cream. It'll cool in the refrigerator overnight and I'll be able to pop it in the ice cream maker in the morning. I'm excited to see how it turns out. The recipe came from my Complete Idiot's Guide to Homemade Ice Cream. UPDATE: We couldn't wait for it to set up completely, so we ate it at more of a soft-serve consistency. This was really good! Very rich, though. I think next time I'll use just three squares of chocolate and see how that goes over. We didn't seem to notice a difference with using the 2% milk instead of the heavy cream, either. So that is good! Carson loved this - he kept coming back for a little more and got mad when we told him he couldn't have anymore!

Chocolate Ice Cream

4 squares unsweetened chocolate
3 cups half-and-half
3 cups heavy cream (I decided to try substituting 2% milk instead)
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon vanilla
pinch of salt

Melt the grated chocolate in a double boiler over low heat (simmering water) - do not boil. Add 1 cup half-and-half very slowly to the mixture. Mix until smooth and creamy. Remove from heat.

In a separate bowl, mix the rest of the half-and-half, heavy cream (milk), sugar, vanilla, and salt. Stir until sugar has dissolved. Add the melted chocolate mixture and mix.

Cool mixture to 40 degrees in your refrigerator.

Transfer cold formula to ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. (which for the KitchenAid is roughly 15-20 minutes)

Breakfast Casserole

I decided against the pork chops for dinner last night and decided to finally make the breakfast casserole I'd been planning to do on New Year's Day morning. I got the recipe from RecipeZaar. Kevin really liked this. I ate it, but I'd rather have a more egg-y casserole with very few potatoes and more veggies and cheese. I think I'll make it again, just with some changes to help me like it a little more than I did. Carson hasn't tried any yet, he'll have it for lunch today to see what he thinks. I bet he'll like it, though.

Breakfast Casserole Supreme

1/4 cup margarine
1 small sweet onion, chopped
1 small green pepper, chopped
2-3 medium tomatoes, chopped
(I just used a frozen veggie medley with mushrooms, green peppers, onions, broccoli, carrots, and green beans)
1 (24 ounce) bag frozen hash brown potatoes
12 eggs, beaten
1/2 lb cubed ham or thin sliced ham or cooked crumbled bacon or sausage (I used ham)
3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

Melt margarine and place in the bottom of 9" by 13" baking pan.

Spread potatoes (still frozen is okay) in bottom of the pan.

Sprinkle chopped vegetables over potatoes.

Add salt and pepper to taste.

Sprinkle meat over potatoes and vegetables.

Note: At this point you may continue or casserole may be refrigerated overnight.

Pour beaten eggs over potatoes.

Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. (Mine took about an hour before it was set up well enough)

Remove from oven and sprinkle cheese evenly over top.

Bake another 5-10 minutes or until cheese is hot and bubbly.

Remove from oven and let set for approximately 5 minutes.

Cut into 2.5"-3" squares and serve with a spatula.

Canned Mushrooms

I used the remaining 3.5 pounds of the organic baby bella and white mushrooms to can as normal, sliced mushrooms. I ended up with two pints and two half-pints. The next time I see organic mushrooms on sale at Meijer, I'll pick some more up to can into half-pints probably. I figure that will be the best size for most things, but I know I'll be able to use the pints, too. Canning mushrooms is super easy, too. Just saute the mushrooms up till they're brown, meanwhile have a small pot of water coming to a boil. Fill your jars with the mushrooms to within a half-inch, then cover with the boiling water to within a half-inch. Put the lids on and put them in your pressure canner. They need to be canned at 10 pounds of pressure for 45 minutes.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Cream of Mushroom Soup

I know I said I wasn't doing any extras this week, but I didn't know Meijer had organic mushrooms on sale when I said that. I picked up 5.5 pounds of mushrooms yesterday - organic baby bellas and organic white mushrooms. I used 2 pounds tonight to make this soup and I'll be canning up the remaining 3.5 pounds tomorrow as sliced mushrooms. I got the recipe for this soup from one of the canning boards I follow. It was very easy and came together very quickly. Including processing time, I was in the kitchen from the start of prepping to the end of processing and a clean kitchen for about an hour and a half (45 minutes of that was the processing time). I'm excited to have this on hand for use in casseroles or whatever. I made a double recipe and ended up with 10 pints. Most of the ingredients are organic - the mushrooms, the butter, the Better than Boullion. The ClearJel and the lemon juice are not organic.

Cream of Mushroom Soup

1/3 cup butter
1 pound mushrooms, chopped or sliced
3/4 cup ClearJel
2 quarts meat stock (I used water with Beef Better than Boullion to make the stock)
1 Tablespoons salt (I left this out)
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Melt the butter in a large stockpot. Add mushrooms and saute until brown.

Add meat stock, saving enough to mix with the ClearJel. Make a paste with meat stock and ClearJel. Mix all ingredients and heat until it boils.

(In my case, I used the stockpot to first bring the water to a boil, then added the Better than Boullion. I scooped out about 2 cups of the stock to mix with the ClearJel. I sauteed the mushrooms in a large saute pan. Then just dumped everything into the stock.)

Put into pint jars and process in pressure canner for 45 minutes at 10 lb.pressure.

When opening to use, add equal amount of milk and soup.

Makes 5 pints.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tater Tot Casserole

We're having this for dinner tomorrow night, but I cooked the meat and prepped it all this afternoon while Carson was napping so that its ready to go right in the oven when we get home tomorrow night. Kevin has been asking for some "normal" recipes lately... i.e. something that he's used to, not something new. I found two last cans of cream soup when I cleaned out my pantry this past week and figured I'd better use them up soon since I've decided not to buy them anymore (I'm going to try making my own cream of mushroom and cream of celery soup). So I decided to make tater tot casserole. Its a recipe that I got from Kevin's mom, he loves it, I love it, and I'm betting that Carson will love it, too. I don't make it too often (twice a year, if that) because its not very healthy, but it is very good if you like casseroles.

Tater Tot Casserole

1 pound ground beef (I used all-natural/grass-fed/hormone-free lean ground beef this time, but I've used a mixture of half beef/half turkey in the past and it was good)
1 can cream of mushroom soup (I used the 98% fat free stuff. I've used cream of celery in the past and it was good.)
1 can peas (salt-free)
cheese slices (I used 2% milk Kraft American)
1 pound bag of frozen tater tots

Brown the meat, drain the grease, and pour the meat into a casserole dish. Top with cream soup. Then top with peas, then cheese slices, and finally tater tots.

Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 for one hour. Remove foil during the last 15 minutes of baking.

Oven-Baked Corn Dogs

We had oven-baked corn dogs for dinner tonight (an early dinner). I got the recipe from my SIL Mary - it was a Rachael Ray recipe in one of her cookbooks, I believe. I didn't have the Jiffy corn muffin mix, so I substituted with the cornbread recipe I'd made a few months ago. I thought they were pretty good. I've never had a corn dog, so I didn't really have much to compare them to. Kevin wasn't impressed - but then again he couldn't get over the fact that they weren't on skewers and that these were baked and not fried. I used organic flour, organic cornmeal, an organic free-range egg, and organic milk. Here's the original recipe from Mary's blog and my changes/substitutions in parentheses. I only made half a recipe, too. So my substitutions are for only half a recipe.

I'll update with a picture later in the week.

Oven Baked Corn Dogs

2 (8oz.) boxes corn muffin mix (I used 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour, 1 cup cornmeal, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 4 teaspoons baking powder)
2 eggs (I used 1 egg since I was doing half a recipe)
1 1/4 - 1 1/3 cups milk (I still used just shy of 1 cup of milk)
4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (I left this out)
1 Tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons hot sauce (I left this out)
2 scallions, finely chopped (I left these out)
8 hot dogs (I still used 8 hot dogs with a half-batch of batter and had a ton of batter leftover)

(Preheat the oven to 400 - Mary, I'm not sure if this is the temp. you used or not, but I didn't see the temp on your blog. All of the cornbread recipes I have use a 400 degree oven, so that's what I went with.)

In a shallow dish combine corn muffin mix with eggs, milk and melted butter (you may want to add the milk gradually and stop before it gets too runny). Season mix with chili powder, cumin, hot sauce and scallions. The batter will be thick like a wet dough.

Place the dogs on skewers (if you want them on sticks). Place each dog into the bowl of batter, swish it around to coat, remove the coated dog to a nonstick cookie sheet, and use your fingers to spread the batter on any exposed dog spots. Don't coat it too thickly, just shy of half an inch should do the trick. If it is too thick the batter will slide off while baking. Repeat until all hot dogs are coated. Bake 12 minutes, or until evenly deep brown all over.

(I used less milk to make the batter thicker, but it still slid off the hot dogs while they baked.)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Meal Plans, Rutabaga & Kohlrabi

Tomorrow will probably be kind of busy getting ready for going back to work on Monday... which I'm NOT looking forward to at all. So I figured I'd post our meal plans a little early since I'm not sure how much time I'll have tomorrow.

At dinner the other night with Jaime and Jeff, we were talking about strange vegetables. Rutabagas came up. I've never had them, but have heard from lots of people that they're good. I want to work them into our meals probably next week maybe - as part of my goals to eat more/new veggies. If you have any recipes or methods of preparing rutabagas, I'd love to hear them since I really don't know where to start with them! Another veggie I'd like to work in sometime is Kohlrabi - so the same goes for that, if you have any recipes or methods of preparing it, please let me know!

Sunday ~ depends on how our plans work out, but probably a pork roast oven-baked corn dogs, homemade french fries, green beans
Monday ~ tater tot casserole (since we didn't have it on Saturday because we went out for my bday instead)
Tuesday ~ leftovers for Kevin and Carson since I'll be going to MOPS
Wednesday ~ some kind of soup in the crockpot... maybe chicken and black bean
Thursday ~ leftover soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
Friday ~ pork chops... I can't make up my mind between crispy pork chops with sage cream gravy, pan-fried pork with blueberries, or stuffed pork chop saltimbocca with seared kale... I have the ingredients for all of them already (except the kale, but I could use spinach instead), I just don't know which one sounds best to me right now... breakfast casserole
Saturday ~ maybe we'll try baked falafel sandwiches greek chicken pasta

Probably little to no extras this week. We'll have enough going just getting back into the groove of working again... did I mention how much I'm not looking forward to leaving Carson and going back to work?? :) If anything, I might try out another homemade ice cream recipe. I think I'm going to try making all homemade ice cream for Carson's 1st birthday party in February, so I've got to do some trial-and-error now. I want to see how light I can get it (i.e. more milk than heavy cream or half-and-half) with it still tasting good. Plus, I need to try out some different flavors.

Friday, January 2, 2009

2009 Veggie Garden Planning

For many of us that have home gardens, this time of year we're all receiving all sorts of seed catalogs encouraging us to begin thinking about our 2009 vegetable gardens. I took some time today to sit down and browse through the catalogs I've received (9 of them all from different companies!) and do some quick sketches of some possible garden plans. I'll be putting in my orders here soon - hopefully over the weekend - since I've been hearing and reading a lot of rumors of a potential seed shortage for home gardeners this year... with the tough economy, more people are turning to growing their own food. Just a small heads-up to those of you faithful gardeners out there... don't wait too long to order your seeds, just in case.

I'd still consider myself a novice veggie gardener - 2008 was my first real veggie garden and it was a small one (about 12'x12'). I've had many different container gardens on the patios of my different apartments in college, but I don't really count those. We're fortunate to have quite a bit of space for gardens (and lots of other different things, too). We have about five and a half acres, three of which we maintain. For those familiar with our property, we'll be putting the garden out behind the fenced part of the yard, kind of out by the home orchard. We have lots of open space back there, so the garden will get pretty much full sun all day long. Having so much space is very tempting to go all out (which after reading through my post, to some our plans may seem all-out, but we really have scaled them back a lot), but I'm trying to keep it limited to something that I think I can (hopefully) maintain. I think that my Grandpa is letting us keep his small rototiller over here again this year, so we'll just be planning for wider row spacing so the tiller can do a good majority of the weeding work for me this year. :)

As you may know, we're not totally sure how long we'll actually be living in the area - Kevin still hasn't heard anything definite on a job transfer, but is supposed to hear something in January possibly. So this past fall, I wasn't even sure I'd have a garden in 2009. Even though everything is still up in the air, I'm pretty sure we won't be selling our house before the end of the harvest next fall. The market just isn't right for it right now. We had originally planned to invest in a few blueberry bushes and a strawberry patch this spring, but with all of the uncertainty over where we'll be living in the years to come, I'm going to hold off on that till we hear something more on Kevin's job situation.

This year I'll be trying lots of new veggies - at least new to me anyway. Last year, I just had the basics - tomatoes, green beans, green zucchini, butternut squash, green peppers, jalapenos, romaine/buttercrunch/mesclun lettuces, cucumbers, scallions, onions, and herbs (chives, oregano, parsley, basil, sage, rosemary, thyme, cilantro). So I'll be expanding my horizons as far as veggies go this year. Here's what I'll be planting in 2009:

Potatoes - We'll have one 25'x4' garden just for the potatoes. It'll be my first time growing any potatoes. I'm going to do Yukon Golds and Red Pontiacs. I decided against doing sweet potatoes this year. Just seems like potato overload to me, especially when only Carson and I like them.

Sweet Corn - We'll have one 25'x4' garden just for the sweet corn. This will be my first time growing any corn.

We'll have another large garden (haven't figured out the total dimensions, but most likely it'll be somewhere between 24'x24' and 30'x30') with the following:
Cabbage - three different mini-head types (red, green, savoy)
Carrots - two different types (nantes and a rainbow hybrid trio)
Lettuce - just doing Buttercrunch this year since it was our favorite last year.
Onions - some sweet white ones
Peppers - green bell peppers, jalapeno peppers, and banana peppers
Tomatoes - I've decided to just do Roma tomatoes (San Marzanos) since I had such good luck with them last year and we don't really eat many fresh tomatoes, just use them for sauces, so Romas are the way to go for that.
Cucumbers - some slicing cukes and some pickling cukes
Beans - yellow wax and green snap beans, as well as some beans to dry (black turtles for sure, probably some sort of pinto, and possibly cannelini)... the beans to dry will possibly go in their own separate garden, probably another 25'x4' space.
Zucchini - both yellow and green ones
Squash - either butternut or delicata, haven't decided yet
Melons - cantaloupes and watermelons
Herbs - basil, parsley, thyme, sage, rosemary, chives, oregano

I am also exploring the idea of growing some of my own grains this year - millet is a strong possibility, not sure on the others yet since I haven't had a lot of time to look into it.

So there's my list. It might seem like a ton of stuff to some, but everything in the large garden will be limited in the space we are allocating for that particular veggie. Some veggies we don't need a ton of plants - like cabbage... we can only eat so much cabbage, so a 4'x4' area for the cabbage will be sufficient for us.

Anyway, I'd love to hear what your garden plans are - if you've begun thinking of them. Also whether you've grown some of the veggies I'll be growing for the first time this year and what you thought of them... and especially if you've grown your own grains!

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Herb Roasted Lamb with Roasted Veggies

Our good friends, Jeff and Jaime, came over for dinner tonight. I made a roasted leg of lamb and roasted veggies. It was all soooo good! I think we all went back for seconds (and some even for thirds and fourths!). I used a Barefoot Contessa recipe for Herb Roasted Lamb. It was very tasty and definitely a keeper for future legs of lamb. I just roasted veggies in the same pan as the lamb - potatoes, carrots, parsnips, and garlic. I had been a little nervous about making a leg of lamb for the first time - and making it for guests - but it was actually very easy and turned out very well! I cooked it a little longer than the recipe says to - none of us like our meat bloody. This was a little pink in the middle still, probably would be considered medium-well. It was so tender and flavorful - so yummy! I also should note that the lamb is all-natural, hormone-free, grass-fed. I also used organic carrots, parsnips, and garlic (not potatoes, though).

Herb-Roasted Leg of Lamb with Roasted Vegetables

12 large unpeeled garlic cloves, divided
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves (I just used my home-dried rosemary from my garden)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted (I totally forgot this part!)
1 (6-pound) boneless leg of lamb, trimmed and tied
4 to 5 pounds small unpeeled potatoes (I used probably 8-9 medium-sized russet potatoes)
2 tablespoons good olive oil
(I also added 5 parsnips, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces and about 8 carrots, peeled and chopped into 2-inch pieces.)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Place the oven rack in the lower third of the oven so the lamb will sit in the middle of the oven.

Peel 6 of the cloves of garlic and place them in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the rosemary, 1 tablespoon salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and butter. Process until the garlic and rosemary are finely minced. Thoroughly coat the top and sides of the lamb with the rosemary mixture. Allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour.

Toss the potatoes and remaining unpeeled garlic in a bowl with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in the bottom of a large roasting pan. Place the lamb on top of the potatoes and roast for 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 hours, or until the internal temperature of the lamb is 135 degrees (rare) or 145 degrees (medium). (I cooked mine for just about 2 hours total and it registered a heat of about 154 degrees for medium-well.) Remove from the oven and put the lamb on a platter; cover tightly with aluminum foil. Allow the lamb to rest for about 20 minutes. Slice and serve with the potatoes.

Cookie Monsters

Figured I'd post a picture and the method for the cookie monsters. The name comes from a dessert at Cheddar's restaurant. Basically, just a chocolate chip cookie, vanilla ice cream, and hot fudge. I think Cheddar's might add whipped cream and a cherry, but I didn't have any, so we didn't have them (much to Jeff's and Kevin's chagrin). :) The picture isn't the best because the hot fudge slides off the ice cream and melts it on its way, but they are sooooo good! Especially knowing that everything is homemade! Jaime made the chocolate chip cookies, which we warmed up in the microwave, then topped them with my homemade vanilla ice cream and hot fudge! A perfect end to a yummy meal!

Hot Fudge

I made up a batch of homemade hot fudge this morning to go with our Cookie Monster desserts tonight. I got the recipe from my SIL, Mary. I've had it before and know its a very good hot fudge recipe. I'm excited to have it tonight!

Hot Fudge

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
2 Tablespoon flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup boiling water
1 Tablespoon butter
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

Blend sugar, cocoa, flour and salt in sauce pan. Turn on heat and add boiling water. Bring to a boil. Cook, stirring constantly, until thick, about 10-12 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in butter and vanilla. Store in refrigerator.

Makes about one pint.

French Vanilla Ice Cream

So I decided a little too late what I was going to do for dessert for today's New Year's Day dinner with Jeff and Jaime. I decided to do homemade Cookie Monsters. If you've eaten at the restaurant Cheddar's, you know what I'm talking about - chocolate chip cookie, vanilla ice cream, and hot fudge. I say I decided a little too late because I decided I wanted to try out my ice cream maker finally and make homemade ice cream - but I was limited to the ingredients I had on hand. I did find a recipe in my Complete Idiot's Guide to Homemade Ice Cream for french vanilla ice cream that I was able to do with just a tiny swap. We'll see how it turns out. I can't start making it till 12:30 since I had to let my bowl chill for at least 15 hours. So I'll update later with our verdict, as well as pictures of the whole spread.

So I have to say that this ice cream was soooo good. When it first came out of the ice cream maker, I tasted it as when I transferred it into the freezer container and it was quite sweet. But after sitting in the freezer for a few hours, it tasted perfect. Definitely a recipe I'll make again. Jeff and Jaime thought it was really good, too. They'd made one or two different vanilla ice creams that were so rich and sweet you couldn't eat much of them. Jeff and Kevin both went back for seconds and thirds if that tells you anything. :)

French Vanilla Ice Cream

5 egg yolks
2 cups half-and-half (I used 2 1/2 cups to make up for only having 1 1/2 cups cream)
1 1/3 cups table sugar
2 cups heavy cream (I only had 1 1/2 cups left in my carton)
2 teaspoons vanilla

Beat the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. I used my KitchenAid.

In a double boiler, over medium heat, add half-and-half and the egg mixture. Stir constantly until temperature reaches 160 degrees or coats the back of a spoon. Do not boil.

Remove from heat, add heavy cream and vanilla. Mix well.

Place a piece of plastic wrap over bowl so you don't have a film build-up.

Cool mixture to 40 degrees in your refrigerator.

Transfer cold formula to an ice cream freezer and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions.

Taco/Nacho Bar

Happy New Year to everyone!! I hope everyone had a fun, but safe NYE last night. We just stayed home this year. We had a taco/nacho bar for dinner. Just taco meat, whole wheat flour tortillas, guacamole, sour cream, taco sauce, and homemade tortilla chips... I forgot to get some lettuce for Kevin. I used all-natural, hormone-free, grass-fed lean beef for the tacos, though nothing else was natural or organic in this meal. Nothing too special with just a taco/nacho bar, really, and I normally wouldn't post about it, or a picture of it, but I thought I would this time with the homemade tortilla chips. I didn't actually make these chips, my Aunt Sharon's boyfriend, Reno, made them. Reno and my aunt make them all the time - they're soooo good! So much better than store-bought tortilla chips. They're much crispier than store-bought chips and they have more flavor. I'm going to start making our own homemade tortilla chips as part of my goals to make more things homemade. They're very simple to make, here's just a quick run-down for you.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

corn tortillas (White or yellow, whatever you prefer. Reno uses yellow. And make sure they're the soft ones, not the ones that have already been fried up for tostadas and things)
oil (one that is good for frying. Reno uses peanut oil, I think. Canola would be good, too.)

Use a pizza wheel to cut the tortillas into chips - usually fourths is a good size. Heat your oil up till its ready to fry (flick a little water at it and see if it sizzles). Drop in the tortillas - do them in batches, not all at once. They'll puff up and start to turn a little brown. Once they look done, scoop them out and onto paper plates covered with paper towels. Sprinkle with a tiny bit a salt and a lot of paprika just after removing them from the oil. Let cool and store in a large paper bag folded down and clipped.

You can also make your own tostadas - just don't cut the tortillas up.

I'm going to try baking these sometime to see how they are when baked... though I don't think they'll be nearly the same.