Saturday, January 31, 2009

With the grandparents

Today, my oil change ended up being an all day affair so my daughter ate her lunch of honey-roasted peanuts and raisins from the vending machine. We'll be headed to dinner soon with my wonderful parents. Not high cuisine, but the local diner.

Because the food at the diner is either good or makes you sick, I will not mention the name of the restaurant. If you eat often in the Poconos and need to know the name, email me. Or leave a comment. Last night I thought they had "chicken frances" as a special (that's what they call it.) But it was veal frances which I will not eat, so I made the last minute switch to an 8-0z NY strip steak. It was far from a great steak, but it was a low-end good, until I got home. I had steak and cheesecake and one of them did not agree with me.

My husband had their seafood, fettucine alfredo special. And he enjoyed it. Our daughter bypassed the kids' menu. She whips open the menu and points to a photo of fried fish. "I want that," she announces. Every time she selects something this way, she eats it. We explained the different fish and she chose shrimp in the basket. I also ordered cream of broccoli soup for her. At this diner, cream of broccoli soup also contains carrot.

Which brings me to a rant... As a baby, our daughter sat on my lap for all of our meals. It kept her happy to sit at the table and I learned to eat one-handed. At four months, she would steal my silverware. By five months, (thanksgiving to be exact), she learned to grab crumbs of food from my plate and put them in her month and eat them. The first time it happened, I was eating a broccoli omelette and she ate a bit of broccoli.  

Her first food post-cereal was puréed canned pumpkin I had leftover from a pie. Except for some vegetables (like green beans) I made all my own baby food... in crazy flavors. Like watermelon-orange-pineapple. Or spinach-carrot.

By seven months, we were chopping tiny bits of Chinese take-out or mild Indian food for her. Anyway, that's a topic for another day.

So the traditional kids menu of chicken nuggets and hamburgers does not interest my kid. But I never fed her these things so she doesn't know she's "supposed to" prefer them. My in-laws have my daughter convinced that chicken nuggets and French fries from Wendy's is her favorite meal. It's bull. My daughter believes this because she knows if she eats one chicken nugget and a couple fries (grrrr....) that my in-laws will give her a Frosty. (Which the chemical they use to make that synthetic milkshake crap causes cancer if you breath it. But it's safe to eat. I'm sorry but anything that fake, I'll pass. I like my milkshakes with... um, how about milk and ice cream? I hesitate to mention the name of the chemical because I only know it as the name it had at a place where I worked... They manufactured it and I got the "don't breathe it" lecture from a supervisor.)

End of month review

January certainly did not follow the typical pattern around here. I just reviewed the finances for January and unless I spend unforeseen amounts of money today, we ended up spending $162.53 on groceries and $151.01 on dining. Remember we had a house guest for close to three weeks, and that accounts for some of the cost. And last night I splurged and treated the family to dinner out. That was $37. The great thing is our pantry is not as depleted as usual. I even have enough beef in the freezer for a batch of stew. I have lots of frozen veggies (even artichoke hearts), lots of sauce and plenty of noodles. 

I did not bring the camera last night so you don't get to see the feast we enjoyed. We went to MexTex Trio, a fabulous restaurant in downtown Easton. We've been there four times now (and if our finances were better we would probably be there once or twice a month.) They have a kids menu that includes chicken breast and spanish rice, or quesadilla, or tacos/burritos. We tried the chicken breast. We've tried several of the option and our daughter prefers the Nachos de Rey off the appetizer menu. It's enough to feed an army, so we usually share.

Since MexTex had some technological issues, we had to pay with cash. That meant my husband had to walk to the MAC machine. And it meant there was no wiggle r
oom in the budget for the evening. We had $50.

My husband offered to share nachos with our daughter. I ordered a round of hot chocolate for us. It's $2.50 a cup but man is it incredible. And I teased it was dessert, and we were having it first. (And since my husband got to walk several blocks in the cold it seemed a nice treat to warm him.) I couldn't decide what I wanted so I ordered a chicken quesadilla with a side of spanish rice and a side of fried beans. Then we shared everything. The bill came to $3o.15. I added a $7 tip. We all left full.

I hate to do an entry without a photo, so this is a photo of the fritos and dip we had the other day. The dip was an organic ranch mix that you add to sour cream. It was the first time I tried it, and being me, I added It's a dilly to give it some zing. The family loved it. That little cup was all I made, just enough for a little snack for each of us.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Picnic Lunch: Tuna melts and orange-mango smoothies

You can always recognize a good cookbook in someone's kitchen. It's dirty, warped and maybe even unidentifiably sticky. I have Italian cookbooks, Chinese cookbooks, vegan cookbooks, vegetarian cookbooks, French cookbooks, chocolate cookbooks, casserole cookbooks, even a pasta cookbook.

Nava Atlas' The Vegetarian 5-ingredient cookbook is one of those tomes that is on its way to dirty stickiness. I don't actually use it that often, but after flipping through it looking for the orange creamsicle smoothie recipe this morning... Well, there are several recipes that piqued my interest that I had never noticed before. I love that every recipe is five ingredients (or less.) I think that speaks well to the harried nature of our lives and blends with a "this is what I've got on hand" situation.

I "got hungry" for Atlas' smoothie when I bought those YoBaby smoothies the other day and made the wisecrack that I knew I could make them at home. And they'd taste better. And I knew making them (with the blender, the blender!) would thrill my daughter. So, we made the smoothies and packed them with hot sandwiches for my daughter's picnic with Daddy. (I have class Tuesday and Thursday 11:00 to 12:15 p.m.)

Smoothies first...

Orange-Vanilla Creamsicle Smoothie
makes one to two servings (I automatically double.)
From Nava Atlas' 5-ingredient Vegetarian Gourmet

In blender combine (or stir if you want a lumpier consistency):
  1. 1 cup fresh orange juice
  2. 1/2 cup low fat vanilla yogurt
  3. 1/4 cup seltzer or sparkling water (optional)
  4. dash of vanilla extract (optional)
  5. ice (optional)

I did not have any "bubbles" on hand, so we skipped them. And I added probably less than 1/4 cup mango sorbet. And doubled the orange juice and yogurt. As expected, it was a hit.

For the entrée of this lunch, I toasted English muffins, added some cheddar cheese and melted it, and then piled on the tuna (which I make with Nayonnaise because I think mayonnaise is nasty). I popped the lid on and wrapped the hot little sandwiches in foil with the home of getting them to my husband warm. When I asked if I succeeded, he shrugged. An attempt at portable hot lunch, when you're on a tight schedule is not worth the effort and stress. But it was fun for today.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


This may look suspiciously similar to the Cashew Pork with Pea Pods/Pork with Apricots from the other night but it's not (quite). I made more of the orange juice-based sauce, made more veggies, and threw in the leftovers from the pork and the pineapple from our daughter's snack the other day. I served with mini egg rolls and while it was very similar to the original (Sunday) I used slightly different seasonings since I ran out of ginger. We had mango sorbet for dessert. My father-in-law had stuck the mango sorbet in the freezer a while ago...

Snow Day Cocoa

homemade granola, chocolate covered raisins and some rich mint cocoa, from Jill's Jams I think. One of these days I'll make my own. I have a fabulous and seductive recipe for hot chocolate that can also be served cold. The trick is buying good quality European bittersweet chocolate.

Artichoke and black olive pizza

With five inches of snow and rain getting it all wet, I surprised my family with a hot breakfast of scrambled eggs and English muffins when my husband came in from shoveling. My daughter had just gone out to play. My husband could not avoid going to work, as apparently he is essential these days since the students are still buying textbooks...

My daughter and I made black olive and artichoke heart pizza. The artichoke hearts were an impulse buy at Wegmans. I have already detailed my pizza making process (click on pizza below). I thought I'd treat my readers to some "how-to" style photos. My four-and-a-half year old is doing the work.  

This meal was originally intended as lunch tomorrow, but with the snow it gave us something to do. I also needed to use up some tomato sauce that had hung around my fridge too long.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Peorogies with spinach and feta & roasted red pepper tomato soup

My daughter had one of those hollow leg days, where she eats and eats and eats.

 When I had a yogurt, she ate half. She ate half her daddy's banana, then a ton of broccoli, then most of her peanut butter sandwich. When we got home, about an hour later, she ate half my leftover pork with apricots and one mini-egg roll.

Since my lunch had been pilfered, I poured some of this cajun trail mix I bought at Aldi. She ate half that too. I normally make my own trail mix (not as yummy as Gayle's), but this big bag was $3 and I liked that it was spicy, something different for the old taste buds.

During my site visit to Northeast Middle School, one of the girl's shared her potato chips with my daughter about half (if not more) of the single serving bag.

For dinner, I made Pacific Foods organic tomato and roasted red pepper soup with parmesan goldfish and Wegmans spinach and feta peorogies with sour cream. They were incredible!!!!!

Pineapple picnic

This house certainly operates on the feast or famine principle. This week will be the famine menu. It started yesterday with a breakfast meeting of the Northampton County Penn State Cooperative Extension advisory board, where my daughter and I each had an order of cinnamon raisin French toast. Of course, my daughter also had a banana before we left home.

After the meeting, my preschooler visited her grandparents while I went to work. I think my husband ate the last piece of quiche for lunch and I received the last of the macaroni and cheese which I didn't get to eat until 3 p.m. Yesterday was the first day of class for my new undergraduate degree (like I need a second one). So by the time we got home, I wasn't hungry so my husband and daughter had a simple dinner of nachos with refried beans and mango salsa.

Today my husband and I had my homemade oatmeal-almond-apple cookies for breakfast, but the child wanted a granola bar with her apple juice. We took my husband to work and came home where we then gave the tortoise a bath and gave her some fresh spring mix. She didn't touch it (only I could have a picky tortoise) so we offered her some canned chunk pineapple. That was a hit. My daughter joined the tortoise for a picnic on the dishwasher. Pineapple for everyone!

Today is day two of class, the first day of my senior history seminar at 11 a.m. My husband and daughter have lunch planned at Lafayette College's student center. He packed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and raw broccoli with blue cheese dressing. As for me, I know I have to eat but who knows what or when.

We're supposed to get snow today and I'm scheduled to do a site visit at one of my middle schools for work and then attend a board of trustees meeting for our local library. I'm thinking dinner may be leftover pork or maybe something like soup with the funky spinach and feta peorogies. I hope to make a pizza crust Thursday a.m. and bring hot artichoke heart/black olive pizza for my daughter and husband to munch on while I'm in class.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Another round of grocery shopping

We need food. We're not exactly in dire straits yet, but we seem to be one ingredient short of everything. For the month of January, we've spent about $100 on groceries and another $100 on dining. I didn't want to do a big order, since part of the premise of this blog was $250 a month to feed the family. So, I wanted to keep it under $50. $50 should be enough to fill in the gaps and get us through the week.

We went to Wegmans. I didn't have a list. I didn't have a plan. I had husband and child with me. This could end in disaster. I spent $65, but technically, $10 was the dryel starter kit. I thought I'd give it a shot to save some cash at the dry cleaner. And I let my husband have an impulse buy- $3.59 for frozen artichoke hearts. We're planning a black olive/artichoke pizza. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it, Shan?)

This is what I got:
  1. Two 8-0unce blocks of cheese, one Vermont cheddar and one mild cheddar, $1.99 each (same price as Aldi)
  2. Brummel and Brown margarine 
  3. Stonyfield Yogurt Organic YoBaby Drinkable Yogurt, four servings, $3.29 (This is an utter waste of money. But I'm addicted. And I start school this week, and I could use an on-the-go snack. And it has calcium. But I could have made my creamsicle-yogurt smoothies for a fraction of the cost.)
  4. Wegman's organic chocolate soy milk, half gallon, $2.79
  5. Coffeemate Chocolate Raspberry non-dairy creamer, 32-ounces, $2.99 (totally an indulgence. If we get really poor, the creamer AND the coffee will go and we'll drink tea. It's cheaper)
  6. Eggs
  7. Frozens veggies, wegmans brand, one each of cauliflower, corn and peas, 0.89 cents a bag. 
  8. Spinach and feta pierogies, box of 12 for $1.69. Again, the Wegmans brand. They had the plain, the onion and the cheddar. In the bottom of the case, they had three funky flavors, the spinach, sour cream and chive and some mushroom one. When spinach is an option I always nab it, because it turns out that like the ravioli trick, the pierogies with spinach also have more nutritional punch than the other flavors.
  9. the artichoke hearts
  10. Hong Kong stir fry vegetables, $2.19
  11. Ice Cream: one half-gallon of Wegmans brownie sundae $2.29
  12. Wegmans no-sugar added juices, apple with calcium ($1.89) and cherry blend ($2.39)
  13. Tortilla chips $2.50 (nachos at some point)
  14. snack bags, aluminum foil
  15. dryer sheets, color catcher dye catching sheets, one dryel starter kit
  16. moist wipes, $2.79. (Now, when my daughter was a baby, I used wash clothes to clean her bottom. I rarely bought baby wipes. Used them when she made a mess, if you know what I mean, but used wash clothes the rest of the time. We've had some issues with wiping well, so my husband suggested the wipes. For some extra training. I'm not convinced it's worth the money.)
  17. Wegmans Chunky Pizza Sauce, 2 bottles, $0.99 each (see my pizza entry for info on why Wegmans, briefly, more nutrition).
  18. Organic Bulk Spring Mix (for the tortoise) 
  19. broccoli crowns
  20. blueberries (which my daughter ate all by herself before dinner hit the table)

"Pork with Peaches"

I thawed out the two boneless pork chops I had left from the pork with apples last month and planned to make "pork with peaches" or Cashew Pork with Pea Pods. It's a recipe I got from my college roommate. 

Cashew Pork with
 Pea Pods
1 pound pork, lean and boneless
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup orange marmalade
2 tablespoons soy sauce 
1 tablespoon corn starch
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon oil
2 cups pea pods
1 can peaches chopped
1/2 cup cashews or peanuts

1. Slice pork.

2. Make the sauce: Mix
 the juice, soy sauce, marmalade, corn starch and ginger. Set aside.

3. Cook the pork with the tablespoon oil. When cooked, add pea pods and peaches. Cook long enough to warm the center of the peaches. Add sauce. Cook until bubbly and thicker. Add nuts.


4. Serve with rice.

Now, as usual, I deviated from the recipe. I doubled the sauce, used a quarter of the meat, and used Hong Kong Stir Fry veggies (frozen) instead of pea pods. I didn't use marmalade but substituted applesauce. And I skipped the nuts. Oh, and I used apricots instead of peaches.

Then, I made gourmet Asian noodles and stir-fried them so they were a mix of crispy and soft and served them instead of rice.

Fruit Salad

We have a pet tortoise. Tortoises eat a lot of leafy greens, fruit and the occasional protein source. They also loves peas and will usually devour tomatoes and bananas. My tortoise is picky. She loves meat and cheese, which is not typical for a tortoise; spring mix, bananas and peas. But she gets moody (and picky) and turns her nose up at even her favorite foods. Today I decided to make something different, both for my daughter and the tortoise. I sliced bananas, added maraschino cherries and canned apricot halves (packed in their own juice not syrup). I served some to both the child and the pet.

The tortoise walked away leaving the meal untouched. The child ate hers.

Ooey Gooeys

I came home from my writer's group meeting on a sugar high... having eaten too many doughnuts (one and several munchkins) and no real food. By 1:15 p.m. I was miserable, in a grumpy mood from sugar and caffeine crash. My husband made me this quick egg sandwich with lots and lots of monterey jack cheese and one of my favorite mustards (Inglehoffer Sweet Hot). Immediately, I seemed more like my usual self.

It was an ooey gooey egg sandwich. I suppose my husband did it on purpose to get extra protein into me. We like ooey gooeys in this house. Anything so full of stuffing it becomes drippy becomes an ooey gooey. We've had ooey gooey grilled cheese, ooey gooey egg sandwiches and, my daughter's favorite, ooey gooey peanut butter and jelly.

We didn't eat at home yesterday, because we spent the day with various relatives. This morning, my daughter had leftover pancakes and my husband had leftover omelette (which my daughter had ordered for dinner last night, a three-egg broccoli cheese omelette with homefries, rye toast and a side of Italian wedding soup). And somehow I ended up with the leftover doughnuts from the meeting so we each had a munchkin.


But then I hit a "self-righteous" spell. I put that in quotes because it's my husband's favorite terms and my attitude towards food can often make us bicker. We had an episode earlier this week where too much orange juice and not enough water irritated my daughter's skin. So my husband has been hesitant to let her have OJ. We don't have any other juice. We don't have the chocolate soy milk or chocolate organic milk we often buy for our daughter. My father-in-law and my mother had both purchased bottles of chocolate syrup this week and left them here, so my husband made chocolate milk.

I gave him a dirty look. And our daughter started pointing at me and copping attitude about where the chocolate syrup came from. So, I threw it all away. My husband became irritated that I did not support his parenting decision to give her the chocolate milk. I was angry with our daughter's attitude with me and felt he was projecting his dislike of plain milk onto our daughter. And then he added that I don't ever want her to have treats. (Munchkins for breakfast, that's all I'm saying.)

While he is correct that I spend too much time on my nutrition high horse, he does not see how much chocolate milk goes into this kid on a regular basis. She spends about 20-24 hours a week with her grandparents where they give her all the chocolate milk she wants, all the prepackaged high fructose corn syrup kind. And lollipops and tastykakes.

At my dad's last night, my daughter rooted through the refrigerator and asked if she could have a carrot. My dad washed it for her and handed it to her. Unpeeled. No dip. And she chomped it just like Bugs Bunny.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Food Today: Insta-dinner Mac N cheese

I worked unexpectedly long at the office today and came home exhausted. We had no fresh vegetables in the house and I was starved so my husband whipped up this specialty: Wegmans spiral macaroni and cheese dinner (2 boxes) with extra noodles, monterey jack cheese, garlic pepper, frozen broccoli and chopped morningstar vegetarian hot dogs. I washed it down with some instant vanilla nut cappucino and a few drops of cold pressed just cranberry juice diluted with water. We bought the juice the other day when we feared our daughter might have gotten a urinary tract infection, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Now I have a $9 bottle of super strong, no sugar cranberry juice.

I had toast for breakfast while my daughter had vanilla yogurt with homemade granola washed down with an oatmeal cookie from yesterday. I took two cookies as a morning snack and I ended up sharing with our new PR intern at the office. Then I had leftover quiche, while my husband had tuna on store-bought wheat with his mother's leftover stuffing. He plans quiche for his lunch tomorrow since he has to work.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Almond-Oatmeal-Apple Cookies

My four-year-old devours every drop of batter from the bowl as the oatmeal cookies bake in the oven. I didn't use eggs, so that makes it allowable for me to let her eat the raw sugar, oats and butter.

If you're looking for something with a traditional cookie batter I wouldn't recommend my adaptation... but the standard Betty Crocker Almond Oatmeal Cookie also looks good.

As Betty Crocker intended:
Almond-Oatmeal Cookies

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup butter softened
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1.5 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup ground toasted almonds
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sliced almonds

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Mix sugars, butter, vanilla and egg. Stir in oats, flour, ground almonds, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir in almonds. Drop by rounded teaspoons onto cookie sheet about two inches apart. Bake ten minutes or until light brown. About 3 dozen cookies. 80 calories per cookie.

My variation:
Almond-Oatmeal-Applesauce Cookies

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter
about 6 tablespoons applesauce (no sugar added)
1.5 cups oats (measured by a four-year-old)
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
a general dash of cinnamon (about one teaspoon)
1/2 + a bit toasted sliced almonds

See directions above and note that applesauce as an egg replacement in a cookie often leads to cookies that burn easily.

Mystery Curry Quiche

We started a quiche for lunch to use the leftover peas and carrots from my mother-in-law's dinner last night. We used a store-bought pie crust (and I often skip the crust as it's not really necessary). The recipe is a variation of the Betty Crocker's Quiche Lorraine and can be found under the Quiche link if not under Betty Crocker or French.

Today we pressed the crust into the dish, added the veggies and some grated parmesan and chunks of monterey jack (because it does not shred/grate). These were the only cheeses in the house. For spices, I added some four-pepper blend, about a teaspoon of garlic powder a dash of curry, and a dash of cumin. And I used 1.5 cups of half and half since I didn't have heavy cream. The recipe calls for two cups of the cream. I've found that other milk products can be substituted for the cream, but it will take longer to cook if you use the full amount they suggest.

This certainly turned out to be my prettiest quiche, and the curry added just the right flavor for the peas and carrots. 

Return to Normalcy: Granola

Shannon left yesterday and I returned to the office (and bought my textbooks for my next round of classes). Tonight has been a day of laundry, cooking and catching up. For dinner, my mother-in-law made another Sam's Club rotisserie chicken (it looked worse whole than it did in pieces last time), jarred turkey gravy, reheated boxed stuffing with extra celery and onions (remember I hate both), and extra soggy and buttery carrots and peas. Then they stayed to eat with us so it was hard to choke enough down to please her.

This morning my daughter had a bowl of yogurt and cheerios (and I'm wondering: Have I eaten at all? I don't think so) and now she has had some animal crackers, a small apple and a 1/2 teaspoon of honey. We made granola, so she begged for the honey as we used it on the oats and cheerios. Today's granola was relatively plain. We used sliced almonds for the nuts, just raisins for the fruit, and I used half molasses and half honey for the sauce. The formula can be found under the granola link. Versatile stuff.

Shan's visit impacted my budget severely, but not in groceries. Lately the budget for groceries has been $250. And traditionally the food bill includes dining out, take out and groceries. (When we both had good jobs we normally hit $5oo a month for these categories.) Shan's visit added another mouth to feed, but she contributed toward some of the costs. She gave money toward take-out and bought her own coffee for the most part. The total for January thus far is about $100 for groceries and another $100 under "dining" which is my category for dining out and take-out.

I also did the calculations for last year... And for the first half of the year we were not under the strict budget we are now. Last year we spent about $2500 total on groceries for our family of three and about $1700 on dining. Compare that to my records for 2007: we still had three people, but we also had lucrative employment. In 2007, we spent about $3200 on groceries and an addition $3000 on dining.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hamburger-stuffed bread

A long time ago, my husband found a recipe database software for $9 and it came with "10,000 recipes." The software was Soft Key Home Gourmet and it no longer worked with Mac OS 9, so this is going back a few years... But hamburger stuffed bread was one of the recipes I discovered in that program. A variation is zucchini stuffed with sausage. I used my homemade bread, and I saved the bread torn from the inside to make my own breadcrumbs. In addition, I served mine open-faced whereas in the original recipe these meat-filled boats have lids. On to the recipe...

The original recipe:
Hamburger Stuffed Bread

1 loaf French bread (unsliced)
1 pound ground beef *
1/2 green pepper diced
1 can cheddar cheese soup
3 slices American cheese
2 cups bread crumbs
1 tablespoon Worcestershire
1/2 cup celery, diced
salt and pepper to taste

1. Brown hamburger. Drain. Add celery, green pepper, salt, pepper, Worcestershire, and soup. Simmer for five minutes.

2. Slice a lid lengthwise off the bread and hollow the inside. (Save guts to make breadcrumbs later.) 

3. Remove meat mixture from heat. Stir in breadcrumbs.

4. Place hollowed out bread on sheet of aluminum foil (on cookie sheet). Fill with meat mixture. Top with cheese. Replace lid. Wrap in foil.

5. Bake 10 minutes at 325 degrees.

Now, if you want the filling cheesy and gooey, cut the breadcrumbs down to 1 cup. If you want to make it funky and add fun and more nutrition, this is the meal as featured in the photo:

Hamburger/Veggie/Cheetos Stuffed Bread:

Alter ingredients list as follows:
Homemade Baguette
About a 1/2 pound ground beef
several cups frozen California blend (cauliflower, carrots and broccoli)
1 can broccoli cheese soup
Several ounces ultra sharp cheddar
2 cups crushed cheetos (leftover from broccoli with cheetos)
About 2 teaspoons reduced sodium soy sauce
garlic pepper, sea salt and four pepper blend to taste

Monday, January 19, 2009

Apple Tarte Tartin

I made an Apple Tarte Tartin this morning... I started with Ina Garten's Plum Tartin recipe, and whereas I normally use pears instead today I used fresh apples. I added a bit of honey, probably about a teaspoon, to the sugar syrup as I boiled it. Then in place of confectioner's sugar I sprinkled a dust of cinnamon sugar on top. Yum!

For dinner last night we made spinach dip with carrots, and served homemade bread. Then today for lunch we had leftover black bean and ham hock soup, which we added cheddar cheese and garlic pepper to. 

Friday, January 16, 2009

Shan's Ham Hock and Black Bean Soup

Shann wanted to cook for us, specifically her super easy, fairly fast black bean and ham hock soup. We went to the store for dried black beans and ham hocks, surprised to find that the only dry black beans were in the international foods and the ham hocks only came in smoked.

Shan's Black Bean and Ham Hock Soup

Large stock pot
2 bags black beans
2 ham hocks, depending on size and how much meat, about a pound (or shanks)
garlic powder, to taste

Boil beans, garlic and ham hock (ham may be frozen does not need to be fresh/thawed) for 2 hours. When meat cooks thoroughly, carve meat from the bone and remove fat. Meat gets returned to pot. Get rid of bone (perfect for dogs). 

Also delicious with dumplings.

Yogurt with Bananas and Graham Crackers

Ten a.m. around here usually means a morning snack. Today I suddenly remembered that I had purchased Stonyfield Farms Lowfat Vanilla Yogurt at the store.

So, we mixed 
in crumbled graham crackers and sliced bananas. Good stuff. And the four-year-old loves to stir it up.

The Week in Food

The week has passed by in a blur of decadence. Sicilian with artichoke hearts and black olives, Guinness Roast Beef sandwiches at Granny McCarthy's tea room, and Green Eggs and Ham (spinach omelet and ham on a roll) at Billy's Downtown Diner.

Last night we stopped by Park Avenue Market and got 2.25 pounds of chicken, beef cubes, a lemon, broccoli and coffee ($21.90). I made chicken français for dinner, with a bottle of Vouvray. There might be 1/4 pound of the prepared chicken left.

This morning, my husband made me this cute little egg and cheese sandwich on one of my homemade brioche. The brioche is starting to dry out so to warm it and use it for a sandwich like this provides a perfect way to refresh it.

On Wednesday, my mother-in-law made dinner. She made "Dinner in one dish" and cherry crumb pie. I was out shopping with my guest. Dinner in one dish is great comfort food/ hamburger helper style stuff. My mother-in-law got the recipe in home ec class back in the dark ages.

Flipping through my book to provide the recipe, I came upon hamburger stuffed bread. That might be one to make soon... 

Dinner in One Dish

All measurements are approximate. 

1 pound hamburger browned
1 onion (optional) chopped and fried
1 pound macaroni, cooked
1 can tomato soup
1 can water
2 tablespoons brown sugar
4 slices American cheese
4 slices bread

Combine onion, hamburger and macaroni. Add soup and water, stir in brown sugar (my mother-in-law sometimes uses tomato sauce but I think that changes the flavor). Place in ovenproof dish. Cover with cheese and hunks of torn bread. Cook in oven until soup warms and cheese melts. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Brioche, part three

When I got up today and made it into the kitchen... (It was almost seven by then). I shaped and cooked the brioche.

I make my brioche small, so I get three loaves like the ones in the photo. The photo with Triple Fruit Jam is a loaf from the fall, and it's overcooked and not as fluffy as today's. Today's is the loaf with the Jammin' Organic Red Raspberry Jam. (Both from Wegmans.) Now, I would love some Brie with this warm brioche, but circumstances did not permit some Brie today. Sigh.

Shannon took a small, misshapen baguette with her to her grandmother's last night. It was her first attempt so it did not look French. But it tasted wonderful and from what I hear, her family devoured it. And they had chili, so it made a good compliment. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Brioche, part two

We finished the first portion of the brioche around 11:30, so at two-ish, we punched the dough down and put it in the fridge... Here's the rest of the recipe:

6. Punch dough down. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or at least 4 to 6 hours. It should double in size again. 

*At this point, the dough can be frozen. Punch in down, wrap tightly in plastic wrap, and store in freezer. Will keep for one month. Thaw it in the fridge, still wrapped, leaving it overnight and use directly from the fridge. 

7. Butter two rectangular bread pans and set them aside. (I use three.)

8. Divide the dough into twelve equal pieces. (I use fifteen.) Roll each tightly into a ball and play six side by side in each of the pans. (I do five per pan.) Cover with a clean cloth and let dough rise until doubled in bulk, about one to one-and-a-half hours.

9. preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Egg Wash

1 large egg, beaten
1 tablespoon cold water

10. After beating the egg wash, lightly brush the brioche with the egg wash. Working quickly with sharp scissors, snip the top of each brioche in a criss-cross. Place pans in the center of the oven. Bake until loaves are golden. (And if you have it: Bake until the inside of the dough is 200 degrees F according to a insta-read thermometer, I don't.) About 30 minutes. Remove from oven. Put pans on rack to cool. Turn loaves out once cool. 

Bread exhaustion (Brioche 1)

Shannon wanted to learn to how to make bread so we started baguettes AND brioche this morning. I am exhausted, and we're only half way through the process. The baguette recipe has already been posted, click on French or bread to find it.

My brioche recipe comes from The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells. When it gets done, we'll serve with jam and maybe get to the store for brie.

*Note: The recipe says to use a big old food processor with a wooden dough paddle. I don't have such equipment, so I have to do it all by hand. And it's hard work.


Part One: The Sponge (in photo)

1/3 cup whole milk, warmed
2 1/2 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups flour
1 large egg beaten

1. In the mixer bowl, combine the warm milk, sugar and yeast. Let stand about five minutes until foamy. Stir in one cup flour and the egg. The sponge should be sticky and fairly dry. Sprinkle with remaining 1 cup flour. Set aside to rest, uncovered, about 30 to 40 minutes. The sponge should erupt slightly, cracking the flour. 

Part Two: The Dough

1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
1.5 cups flour
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temp

2. Add the sugar, eggs and 1 cup of the flour. Mix, just until ingredients come together. Still mixing, mix in the remaining half cup flour. Increase mixer speed once flour is incorporated and beat for 15 minutes, scraping down the sides. 

3. To incorporate the butter, work it until it is the same consistency as the dough. Place the butter on a flat work surface and smear with a dough scraper, bit by bit across the surface. The butter is ready when it is smooth, soft and still cool.

4. With mixer on slow speed, add butter one tablespoon at a time. When all the butter has been added, increase speed to medium high for one minute. Then reduce speed to medium and beat for five minutes. The dough will be soft and sticky.

5. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 2.5 hours. 

To be continued...

Monday, January 12, 2009

Tuna Sandwiches and store bought bagged salad

Shannon, my daughter and I went shoe shopping this morning so we stopped at Giant for a few odds and ends... ($40) We decided to throw together tuna sandwiches and a store-bought bagged salad (Dole). We got Nature's Promise "sweet crunch" bread for convenience, Dole's Perfect Harvest salad (Apple Cider Dijon Vinaigrette, dried cranberries, diced almonds, shredded carrots and several lettuces: radicchio, romaine and endive). 

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Daddy's Breakfast Fry

My husband wanted something "hashbrowny" for breakfast. We only have two eggs, but lots of potatoes. So how did he transform this into breakfast for four?

He grated the potatoes, added three Morningstar sausage patties (again, selected because we had them) broken into teeny tiny pieces, and fried it into a scramble with the two eggs. Some oil, some soy sauce, some fresh parsley, and a little garlic pepper. He wanted to add peas, which we, in this family, would have loved, but our house guest hates peas. 

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Shannon Day One: Garlic French Bread Veggie Pizzas

For dinner last night, we threw together a plain old spaghetti. Then my girlfriend Shannon finally arrived around 11 p.m. With everyone else in bed, we shared glasses of Chartreuse (which she thought tasted heavily and solely like pine) and had our own private Christmas. It was lovely.

 This morning, my daughter went with my other friend Gayle to a Christmas tree composting event. They had a great time and got hot chocolate, hot dogs and lunch at Panera Bread. Shannon had suggested pizza for dinner, and offered to treat. 

We're in the middle of a mild storm (though the roads have frozen) and Shann has gone to visit her grandmother. I figure since she's out visiting family, the least I can do is cook a meal. We'll save the pizza for a day when we're cavorting and shopping all day. But pizza remains the inspiration. I took a loaf of my homemade French bread from the freezer and plan to make garlic bread vegetable pizzas. 

Today's ranch-cream sauce started with a tablespoon or so of butter, a couple tablespoons of light cream, a handful of fresh parsley, a couple tablespoons of olive oil, basil, Italian seasoning, about 1/4 cup of grated parmesan, some sprinkles of organic ranch mix and sliced garlic. I cooked all the vegetables in this sauce and spooned them onto the bread. Topped with cheddar. The garlic bread on the bottom, the vegetables in ranch-cream sauce in the middle and grated cheddar melted to join them. Shannon enjoyed and appreciated the complexity of flavors.

What makes this extra exciting is that I took Gayle's advice and started saving a baggy in the freezer for breadcrumbs.

Oh, and tonight I plan on making a garlic-ranch-cream sauce for the pizzas. That's different from the previous ones... Click on the pizza link below for more details.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Amy's Tofu Scramble

One of my dear girlfriends has invited me shopping, or perhaps she suggested lunch and I turned it into window shopping... Because I don't have any money. So, my daughter and I are splitting an Amy's Tofu Scramble. (And Dad gets one of his own. I only have two.) I think these are very yummy. "Made with organic tofu, red peppers and Shiitake mushrooms." Tons of sodium, but 11 g protein, 6 g fat (no sat), 20% RDA vit C, 4% vit A and calcium. So in a pinch, a tasty meal substitute.

Applesauce Cake

In the depths of my cold last night, I craved a cake. No matter how much I hounded my husband he would not indulge me and bake a cake. So, this morning I baked a cake which may or may not get done before he leaves for the office.

This cake is a great small cake that cooks quickly, and is simple. Unexpected guests? Then my first choice would be a microwave cobbler (I haven't made that since I started this blog) and my second choice would be this cake.

 Applesauce Snack Cake
From the Betty Crocker 25th Anniversary Cookbook
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (as usual, I mix wheat and white)
1 cup packed brown sugar
1.5 teaspoon all spice (I never use allspice. Sometimes I used ground cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon; sometimes I use oriental five spice)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chopped nuts (or raisins, both optional)
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vinegar (I use apple cider vinegar, it fits the 'theme.')

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix flour, brown sugar, spices, baking soda and salt with a fork, directly in an ungreased 8 x 8 x 2 baking pan. I use my brownie pan. Stir in remaining ingredients. Bake 35 to 40 minutes.

Now, if you're feeling ambitious, make the Apple Cider Sauce and serve with the cake.

Apple Cider Sauce
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup apple cider or orange juice (or in my case this morning, apple juice)
2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream (or in my case this morning, light cream)

Heat all ingredients to rolling boil, stirring constantly. Reduce heat. Boil three minutes. Refrigerate leftovers.

While we wait for the cake, we're having English muffins with butter and slices of apple. Which my daughter is washing down with her "morning coffee" (chocolate soy milk). We should have a protein source in there, but I'm too tired and half-sick to care.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Un-Chicken Melts

I made the ugly bean dip for lunch (and today I threw in some of the parsley from last week's beef burgundy) and served with blue tortilla chips (a find at Aldi). For dinner, I wanted Wonton or Italian Wedding Soup on account of my cold and we don't have anything of the sort. We almost ordered out... but couldn't agree on what and grilled cheese kept popping up as an option.

So I mimicked a Friendly's/Perkins/ whatever franchise chicken tender melt. Plus, my husband cut some potatoes into fries and we made our own chili-cheese fries using some more of the five alarm chili I made in December. Only one "vat" of that left in there.

The sandwiches were a bit of an experiment. We started with the store-bought wheat bread we bought for those peanut butter and jelly sandwiches we were craving last week. I buttered them up and added about two teaspoons blue cheese dressing to one side of each sandwich. I sliced some cheddar thin and but some on each side of the sandwich. In between, I added some sliced vegetarian chicken nuggets from Morningstar (and lots of Frank's Red Hot Sauce for me). They came out fairly good. I was looking for comfort food and it fit the bill.

Bob's and eggs

Car problems have delayed my friend Shannon (which is probably a good thing since we are recovering from icy conditions).

I have caught a cold. My husband has a delayed opening at work, so we started the day with some Bob's hot cereal with some maple syrup. 

But by 9 a.m., I was starving so my husband made me (at my request) an egg sandwich on an English muffin with cheddar and my French honey Dijon mustard. Egg sandwiches are one of my favorite comfort foods... which during my pregnancy and gestational diabetes diet translated into one egg on one slice of bread and mustard. Not the ooey gooey, cheese-laden mess I prefer.

As for the hot cereal, Bob's multigrain cereals are another favorite in this house. Not cheap, compared to oatmeal, but full of some many yummy grains and textures.

I took a photo of the fried egg because my husband did some a pretty job. During the preparation of this sandwich, my daughter had a snack of an apple, two slices of cheddar and a small piece of her great-grandmother's chocolate. She did not join me for eggs, neither did her father.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


I ended up working much longer than I intended yesterday in preparation for my vacation which starts after a staff training seminar today. My husband and I took the leftover beef burgundy for lunch and he used the leftover spinach dip to make macaroni and cheese for dinner. Today, we took some of the pumpkin muffins out of the freezer for breakfast and my daughter is having an apple for a snack now.

The seminar I have to attend is from 3 to 5:30 so Daddy will be in charge of dinner again. We're thinking the leftover mac and cheese and tuna sandwiches on store-bought wheat. I am in the midst of cleaning, since my best friend will arrive tomorrow to spend vacation with me, and we haven't spent any time together in two years... So, for lunch, we'll probably have Pacific Foods Savory White Bean soup and homemade molasses oat bread, and peanut butter if that doesn't fill the bottomless pits my family has for bellies. We have never had this soup before so this is a trial run.

And if my entries become light over the next few weeks, assume I'm cooking things I previously posted and having too much fun to write.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

And the bread comes out of the oven

As I feared, my daughter lost interest in the bread after two rounds of kneading. Because we made so many loaves, we experimented with some flavors. From left, parmesan cheese, herb and sesame seed, plain white; and the wheats: plain, molasses oat, and honey oat. We're still discussing which will have with my hot spinach dip for dinner.

Spice Girl

Maybe I just drank too much coffee but as I was loading the dishwasher my husband and I got an idea. We would clean the twirling spice rack he bought me about five years ago. He meant dust. I interpreted differently. I got the brainstorm to go through the little bottles and dispose of the ones we never opened (savory, bay leaves- I didn't even know we had bay leaves, celery salt, etc.) and run them through the dishwasher and refill them with fresh spices of the type we use. And relabel the lids. Some, like parsley and oregano, I either have fresh now or I grow in the garden come spring, so I need to figure out how to successfully dry my own. Others will be completely changed. Celery salt will become garlic pepper. Mustard seed will become ground mustard. I am way too excited about this project.

The spice rack now contains:
Chili powder, commercial blend (you know, the silly envelopes. My mother-in-law left it here)
Chili powder, Indian (very hot)
Curry powder
Garlic pepper
Italian Seasoning
It's a Dilly (primarily dill and lemon, with some red pepper I think
Oriental five spice
Ranch mix, organic (no msg)
Red pepper, crushed

Two empty bottles (the other spices left aren't used often enough to have a space)
And one missing bottle...

More bread

My husband and I slept in this morning. So we're sitting around drinking our coffee. My husband is quite smug that he got three containers of International Delight creamer for the cost of one large Coffeemate. I am less smug, because I think International Delight tastes nasty and he forgot the half-and-half. But that is far from important. I will deal...

My four-and-a-half-year old gazes up from playing with her new toys and asks, "Mommy, can we make bread?"

How can I say no? Especially since my good friend Shannon will be staying with us starting this week. And she survives on coffee and carbohydrates. Hence the need for half-and-half. I ask the family if they are all willing to help make a double batch, which is about EIGHT loaves of bread.

It requires the entire family's support because we'll need every surface for bowls and mixing and rolling. They agreed. So, we cleaned the kitchen until it sparkled and began our work. One batch is white, the other wheat. I sneaked some honey into the wheat base. Will update this post throughout the day... You can click on 'bread' or 'French' to find my other discussions of making bread.

It looks like I never posted the (original) recipe. Here it is:
French bread baguettes
4 cups flour
1 TBS dry yeast
1-2 tsp. salt
2 cups warm water

1. In a bowl, mix together the flour and salt.
2. In another bowl, combine yeast, warm water, and half the flour/salt mixture (I use more). Using your hands, mix until a dough forms. Cover with a dish cloth and let sit at room temperature for three hours. It should triple in size.
3. Gently incorporate the rest of the flour/salt using your hands.
4. Place on lightly flour surface and knead for ten minutes. It should be supple and elastic.
5. Lightly oil a bowl. Place dough in bowl. Cover with dishtowel. Let sit for one hour. It should double in size.
6. Preheat oven to 450. Knead again. Cut dough into three parts and form into baguettes. Place on a baking sheet. Let sit for at least twenty minutes.
7. Place a bowl of water in the oven. Bake baguettes for 15 minutes, remove bowl of water. Cook baguettes for ten minutes more, maybe less. *I often turn mine when I remove the water, helps the consistency of the crust.

Another note... Speaking of bread... My husband and daughter walked to CVS today. We had two dollars in CVS 'extra bucks' to spend and the walk gives them something to do outside. (The ExtraBucks came from an emergency trip to CVS when I needed bathroom supplies and had no grocery stores available.) To my surprise, CVS had the 12-pk of Thomas's English Muffins on sale for $1.99. So my husband bought them and treated our daughter to a cheap pack of stickers. The second six-pack went into the freezer.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Boeuf Bourgogne

For lunch today, we had PB&J on store-bought wheat. Something about PB&J requires store-bought bread. My friend Gayle says it requires Wonderbread. I think not. Today marked the first time my husband went to the grocery store in January. $30 for items like creamer, tomato sauce, bread, noodles, cooking wine, salad greens, apples, potatoes... I'm not sure what else. Hopefully parsley as I need that for my stew.

The potatoes were buy one get one free so my husband bought two, and sliced one bag into circles and fries to freeze in small portions so we can make our own French fries later. He must have been chopping potatoes for an hour!

Lunch featured a make-your-own PB&J bar. We had blueberry Trappist and organic red raspberry jellies, and apparently my daughter insisted on celery at the store. So she had PB & celery. Celery and onions are the two foods I detest. I even tossed in some Cool Ranch Doritoes. With a nice healthy stew for dinner, we can afford some decadence.

And dinner... Boeuf Bourgogne...
This recipe comes from the Internet, and I did not attribute its source. It was something to do with a particular wine, not a generic recipe site or a chef's site. It claims a pinot is the key to any beef burgundy... My French cookbooks have recipes for this dish, but they are more complex.

As copied from the 'Net:
Boeuf Bourgogne
3 to 4 pounds chuck roast is 2-inch cubes
1 bottle petite sirah (the wine folks developed the recipe remember)
2 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup flour
2 ribs celery (small dice)
2 medium red onions (one small dice, one chunked)
5 medium carrots (one fine dice, others 2-inch chunks)
2 lbs whole button mushrooms
6 cups beef stock
bouquet garni
salt & pepper

Their directions:
1. In a medium sauce pan, reduce beef stock by 50 percent. Reserve.
2. Add beef cubes to a large bowl. Salt and pepper generously. Dust with flour to coat.
3. Heat olive oil in stock pot or roaster with lid under medium-high heat. Add 1/3 of the beef and brown thoroughly (needs to be dark). Remove and do the same to remainder of beef. Remove beef.
4. Add diced celery, carrots and onion and two tablespoons flour. Cook stirring for five minutes.
5. Add wine, stock, bouquet, and put the beef back in. Reduce to simmer. Put lid partially on and simmer for three hours, stirring occasionally.
6. Add onion, carrots and mushrooms. Cook about 45 minutes, until these vegetables are tender and sauce thickens.

Like everything I cook I adapt this. I reduce the volume, for one. Today I used 1.2 pounds of stew beef from Wegmans. Normally I use beef cubes and then I cut them fairly small. I don't use beef stock, I use vegetable and add the drippings from cooking the beef. I used a handful of diced red onions today, instead of the amount the suggest. And I added them while I browned the beef. (I also threw about 3/4 cup browned hamburger into the vegetable stock while I reduced it. The hamburger was left over from the other day. I used 32 ounces of vegetable stock, which I cut with a cup of water. I used a small bottle of red cooking wine instead of sirah. One of these days, I hope to use real French wine, but I can't bring myself to cook with something I would rather drink. I do not use a bouquet garni, but a handful of fresh parsley. And instead of the celery and mushrooms, I use the more American cubes of potatoes. My family likes it, even if it isn't quite as French by the time I get done. So now it's stewing...

Pumpkin spice muffins

I decided to get experimental this morning. I haven't cooked in several days, primarily because my daughter has been out visiting relatives. We had a big lunch with Memmy and Pappy on New Years Day and then my mother took my daughter and still has her. We had my husband's pasta with hamburger for dinner that night, and yesterday I had to work so my husband and I survived on peanut butter crackers until after work. Then we went for pizza. We split a large pie. And ate it all. Four slices each.

So this morning, I have a friend coming to help me with a portfolio project. I said something about muffins. I have no muffin-apropos fruit, so I thought pumpkin... I have an old carrot cake recipe that I hope will adapt itself well. I got it from my neighbor when I was growing up.

Carrot Cake (about to become Pumpkin Spice muffins)
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
14 ounces carrot baby food
1.5 cups oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 eggs
1 cup walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350. grease and flour 13 x 9 pan. Mix flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and cinnamon. Sift. Blend in baby food. Then oil and salt. Beat two minutes. Blend in eggs, one at a time. Add walnuts if desired. Bake 50-55 minutes.

So I get to work and the recipe becomes:
2 cups white flour
1 cup wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
ground cloves
1 cup canola oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
8 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce*
(* 4 tablespoons applesauce generally equals one egg, this is the general formula of how I make a standard cake vegan.)
3/4 cup raisins
A tad more than a cup oats

They took about a half hour to cook. Until the spaghetti inserted in the muffin top came out clean. (I never have toothpicks.) Verdict: very yummy. Raisins were a good choice. Could have added more.