Christmas dinner was a success and raised my confidence in the kitchen to think I could cook dinner for twenty. I planned dinner for ten, but there was enough for twenty.
The best part was, I only spent $100. Though I did not make the ham. My step mom made a lovely ham and her sister made her family's recipe for baked mac and cheese.
My dad said next time I had to make either appetizers or the meal because he just didn't have enough room for everything.
My stepmom mentioned my pork with apples again, suggesting we replace the ham with that.
The final meal went something like this:
My stepmom had some cookies out. She made cucumber sandwiches. We started with some basic cold food. Garden vegetable wheat thin select crackers, roasted red pepper hummus from Aldi, harissa imported from Tunisia, kalamata olives (also from Aldi), and home canned pickle spears with dill from my garden.
Then I made my popcorn roasted cauliflower, cooked my already assembled stuffed dates, and heated some Archer Farms frozen appetizers (crab rangoon and puff pastry with Brie and cranberry). Everything was a hit.
While everyone chatted and nibbled, my husband and I gutted the baked potatoes and mixed the filling for twice baking.
The filling ended up being:
- broccoli florets chopped
- ranch dressing
- four color peppercorns
- Asiago cheese
My step mom started the ham.
About an hour before the meal, we added some of the potatoes to the oven with the mac and cheese.
About a half hour before the meal, I tossed the salad (arugula, spinach and spring mix) with my homemade berry vinaigrette and Jonagold apple slices.
I started the green beans almandine. French cut green beans. I toasted the almond slices in butter. I put the green beans in a casserole dish and tossed them with extra virgin olive oil. Put the almonds on top.
Served everything with my cornbread and two quarts of home-canned applesauce.
This week has been nuttier than I ever anticipated.
Funny things first.
My only days off this week (and until Christmas if you want to get technical) were Tuesday and today. My daughter had a snow day Tuesday and she decided to play restaurant and make me lunch.
She presented me with a menu and very quickly informed me that I should not worry about what we *actually* had in the house because she had a plan.
I ordered the nachos supreme and the olives, with the chocolate surprise for dessert.
My daughter is nine and a half. This becomes important to understand what happens next.
She realized we had no tortilla chips for nachos so she used some fancy water crackers, sprinkled them with finely shredded mozzarella cheese and put them in the microwave on high for six minutes.
Meanwhile, she took my fancy chocolate bar and placed a piece of it into a small plastic bowl. She placed the bowl in a saucepan and turned on the burner to create her own version of a double boiler. Except she forgot the water. Once the plastic began to melt, the smell made her panic and she called me into the kitchen.
I turned the nachos off (four minutes in) and explained to her how her theory was off on the double boiler. The saucepan and the plastic bowl went into the trash.
I added salsa to the "nachos" and are them like a good mom. She did manage to melt the chocolate in the microwave, and added a touch of coconut milk to it, to make a delicious hot fudge sauce for ice cream.
She was heartbroken seeing only her failure.
"I just wanted to take what we have and make a great meal like you always do."
I told her she did. Because she did. And she made just as many good choices as bad. I enjoyed giving her freedom and independence in the kitchen. And I think she learned a lot.
And I did enjoy the meal.
Now, the next challenge. I volunteered to make Christmas dinner for ten. I have no plan. I have no groceries. Must shop.
- dates stuffed with cream cheese
- vegetable mini pot pies
- spinach/dark greens salad with homemade berry vinegrette
- roasted "popcorn" cauliflower
- Brussel sprouts
- some sort if sweet potato dish with apples? Pecans?
Tonight we recycled more leftovers (my mother in law sent us carrots and ham). I am rather pleased with this one.
We made a big pile of couscous.
I boiled 3 cups water with about two tablespoons of raj el hanout. When the water boiled, I added 2 cups couscous and put the lid on for five minutes.
My husband diced the leftover carrots and ham. I also had him add the leftover sugar snap peas. I heated that up on the stove and added about two tablespoons parsley.
When we took the lid off the couscous, my husband fluffed it and we put some on each plate. (We have some leftover).
I drizzled some extra virgin olive oil on each pile, added the carrot/ham mix (and I know this is not halal), sprinkled with more raj el hanout, and served.
I keep harissa in the freezer, a few spoonfuls in fold-over sandwich bags all rolled up inside a freezer bag. I took one out and thawed it out in warm water like when you get sauces in processed frozen dishes.
Daughter had leftover mac and cheese, olives, homemade pickles, leftover fruit (pears, pineapple & papaya) and a hot dog served open-faced on the leftover spinach pizza dunker with pizza sauce instead of ketchup.
I had a hot dog on a jalapeño bagel with wasabi mustard, mozzarella, extra hot habanero salsa, jalapeño slices, and homemade dill pickles.
My daughter has a two hour delay this morning so I made us a fried egg and roasted red pepper sandwich on a toasted jalapeño bagel. I sliced that puppy in half and we shared... I had fried up two eggs so we got plenty of good stuff to start our cold day.
She also got a side of tropical fruit (various papaya and pineapple) and pears.
This weekend groceries are low and I threw my back out hand-washing pizza pans at work.
Last night my husband fried some hot dogs and tossed out some chips, made more palatable by special condiments like wasabi mustard and my own homemade pickles from dill that I grew in my own garden.
Tonight I made a sauce of garlic, sesame oil, honey and low sodium soy sauce for some frozen sugar snap peas. We served these with boxed mac and cheese made with coconut milk and adding bits of bacon leftover from a bacon-and-egg dinner Thursday night.
I went for a simple dinner tonight. I broke up some chicken breasts and mixed them with the leftover turkey. Served with some potatoes, home canned apples and cranberry clementine relish and a taste of store bought cranberry sauce for comparison.
My mother-in-law requested that I make either roasted cauliflower or my special mini vegetable pot pies for thanksgiving. I made both.
This year for the pot pies, I put about 16 ounces of fresh cauliflower, carrots and broccoli in the food processor.
I bought Pilsbury pie crust because I got it on sale at Target. I greased muffin tins with butter and cut the pie crusts into weird shapes to stuff into the muffin tin.
The filling started as a cheese sauce. Some butter melted in a saucepan, mixed with a teaspoon or so of flour and then slowly mix in, over medium-low heat, about a cup of milk. I used soy milk this year but coconut milk would have been awesome.
I think I added about a teaspoon of ground four color peppercorns.
Mixed in Colby jack and extra sharp cheddar until I liked the consistency. Then I mixed in the vegetables.
Poured the mix into the muffin cups. Topped with generous amounts of shredded Parmesan and then pinched closed.
My father spent a good portion of my childhood as a diesel mechanic. A talented mechanic. When I needed a car to get to my college internship (a dream come true to intern in the PR department of Crayola), he bought me a totaled 1984 Ford Escort. In 1996.
Someone he knew had hit a deer with it. I think he paid $50 for it. For months, he pieced that car back together with junkyard parts.
It had a bad carburator. Every time it rained he had to come clear the carburator so my car would start.
And he never brought tools. Only a screwdriver. Often a hanger and some duct tape. No matter what the problem.
He prefers to fix versus replace. He's spent more than one afternoon trying to fix my 50-year-old garage door. The tracks are bent and the pulleys keep jamming.
I've begged him to take my money and go buy new parts. But no, he hammers and bangs the old ones. Once there may have been a torch involved.
Why the resistance?
"Because any idiot can fix it with new parts," my dad says.
Well, I don't follow recipes. I rarely make the same dish twice. Any idiot can follow someone else's recipe or even their own recipe.
I prefer experimentation.
So, the coffers are low (fuel oil drop, new washing machine, extra car maintenance and I apparently ate my seven-month old implant crown), I'm using what I have.
- 1 1/2 cups corn meal
- 1/2 cup ground cashew
- 1/2 cup flax meal
- 1/4 cup sourgum flour
- 1/2 cup coconut flour
- pinch salt
- one big tablespoon baking powder (when did I run out of baking soda????)
- 1 cup soy milk
- about 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- less than 1/4 cup canola oil
- about 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
- 1 can cream-style corn (the dole version is cream-style-- not creamed, no dairy)
Mix quickly, portion into muffin tins. Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes.
Mine took forty.
I love these. They have a bit of a baking powder aftertaste, a tad of a grit to them (but much less than other coconut flour recipe I have tried). They are very moist on the inside. Very much a success.
We don't have much food left in the house. We made a family pack of chicken breasts last night. We froze some and my husband made some into stir fry for dinner.
Today I made some into a casserole.
My husband made some penne while I made a cheese sauce. I started with two tablespoons of butter on low heat with a tablespoon of flour. I mixed them with a rubber spatula and then added about two teaspoons chili powder and one teaspoon cumin.
When that incorporated nicely, I measured out 1 cup of soy milk, which I doled out a bit at a time mixing everything together. I gradually added about 3 ounces of extra sharp cheddar and the rest of a can of jalapeño-cheddar dip (about 2 1/2 tablespoons).
Next I added about 1/4 cup diced black olives and 1/2 cup mild salsa.
Then I added a block of frozen spinach I'd thawed.
We mixed the noodles and the sauce, added the chicken, stirred, covered and baked at 350 for 45 minutes.
Before serving I sprinkled with the crumbs from the bottom of a bag of Simply Balanced organic blue corn/flax chips.
This was very delightful. I could eat all of it. Wind chill is 4 degrees. It was a casserole kind of day.
I went into the freezer to find some vegetables and chicken for my dinner tomorrow and stuff started falling out. So I whipped up some processed mac and cheese and added some of the "falling out" stuff.
This one is for my friend, Jayne, who stopped to ask my husband if I were okay because I hadn't blogged in a while.
Haven't had anything to blog because our meals have been borrowing.
Earlier this week, my daughter had her ENT appointment. We would be getting her to school late and since I didn't have time nor groceries to pack, it was looking like she'd be stuck with peanut butter and jelly.
There's a Target next door to her doctor's office.
A BIG Target that has different stuff than our local Target.
We found an Archer Farm ready to eat pasta salad in the café. It came with pesto, roasted red pepper, kalamata olives, spinach and feta. Child loved it.
But it made me want to try it.
So tonight I had husband make rotini.
I poured some extra virgin olive oil in my skillet. I put the heat on low and added garlic powder and cracked peppercorn. I added organic fresh spinach, roasted red peppers, Spanish olives, and kalamata olives.
I put the topping on the noodles and sprinkled with Parmesan.
I served with a side of chicken bites because they were on clearance and I wasn't sure the pasta world be enough. I wish I hadn't included them.
Today I made a rather funky sandwich that I anticipate will taste great with th Pacific Foods soup (carrot cashew ginger bisque) that I'm making for lunch.
I started out with graham crackers as the bread and smeared them with peanut butter. I topped the peanut butter with ground roasted, unsalted cashews and drizzled with local raw honey before putting a graham cracker lid on.
I know I haven't blogged much but money has been tight-- leading to much pasta and ground beef-- and work has picked up and my hours have increased AND my grandmother-in-law has finally passed away after a long battle with cancer. She died at age 94, with my mother-in-law as her primary caregiver after taking to her bed in mid-July.
So as a family, we are relieved that her suffering has ended.
Today, my daughter and I participated in the Color Run-Lehigh Valley and somehow I got finagled into letting the child have a friend spend the night.
The friend is a super great kid who always minds her manners and brings something to contribute toward her meals. Her mom is a single parent with two kids and I know that her work schedule and budget concerns mean that our friend doesn't get many real home-cooked family meals.
So, I deposited my last few dollars into the bank to have the funds to take the girls to Target on a grocery run. I asked friend if there was anything she liked that she didn't get often at home and she asked for seafood.
I bought Simply Balanced tilapia filets and fresh carrots. Friend brought Country Time lemonade-iced tea mix, which normally I would veto but I know it's her attempt to contribute.
Tilapia in the cast iron skillet in lemon butter sauce with fresh parsley, with sides of ginger carrots and rice
How do I prepare ginger carrots?
For one pound carrots:
- 1 tablespoon melted butter
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon parsley
The girls loved their dinner and I'm realizing it was a very inexpensive meal.
- Simply balanced Tilapia 5-6 count (we had 7!!!) on sale for $7.50 plus $2 off coupon so even before my employee discount and my RedCard discount it was less than $1 per serving
- butter. I bought a pound at Target for $2.47 but I only used one stick
- lemon juice. I had a bottle but even if I had to buy a lemon it would have added less than a quarter to each person assuming I paid $1 for the lemon.
- parsley. In the garden.
- carrots, $1.49 for the pound before discounts
- ginger. Had a bottle that I got at Aldi really cheap but let's say for argument's sake it was $4 and added $1 per person
- steamed rice. No seasoning since the fish had juice. Rice is cheap. But again, for the sake of argument, let's say $2 per bag. 50 cents per person.
So per person the cost is $1 (fish) + 60 cents (butter) + 25 cents (lemon) + 40 cents (carrots) + $1 (ginger and parsley) + 50 cents (rice)= less than $4 per person and a damn fine meal!!! And that's BEFORE discounts and coupons! It's closer to $3 per person when you consider that!
And before you argue that my portions are small, I fed 4 people equal plates like the one in the photo THREE times. Because they are small girls and
I encourage them to start small and have more rather than waste.
I bought steaks last night. At Target. Two steaks, normally $8.99 for the pair. They had a use or freeze date of today, so they had a coupon for $3 off. Plus I found a cartwheel coupon for 5% off Sutton and Dodge steaks. That brought the price of my steaks down to $5.59. Subtract my team member discount (55 cents) and then the red card discount (another 25 cents!) and the price is down for $4.80.
My husband oiled my Le Creuset skillet with coconut oil and we slapped in the steaks. We covered them with fresh ground four color pepper.
I sliced a yellow pepper and added them to the pan. After the pan got hot, we added a tablespoon of butter.
As that cooked, we took some leftover plain white rice from the fridge. My husband warmed it, drizzled it with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkled parsley in it from my garden.
When the steaks were almost done, I poured triple sec all over them and turned up the heat to make a glaze. I added a pinch of nutmeg to keep the orange flavor from getting to strong.
This was so simple tasting and a refreshing blend of flavors.
Since our chicken sitting adventure began, we have received 31 eggs (I think) from our feathered friends.
We've had a round of fried egg sandwiches and then last night husband made chocolate chip cookies.
Tonight we got home from a long day at work and I had dinner all planned. Preheat oven to 400.
We toasted the last six slices of Pepperidge Farm rye bread and put some sweet potato fries on the cookie sheet.
We whisked about eight eggs (we lost count), added a little cold water and whisked some more. I got a 11x7 Pyrex pan and swiped it with some oil.
In the bottom of the pan I poured the remaining bruschetta we made a few days ago. I sprinkled lots of local broccoli on top. Poured the egg mix on top of that. Added some of last night's roasted peppers here and there.
Put it in the oven.
The fries needed to be flipped after 12 minutes. About five minutes after that, I pulled the omelet out of the oven and sprinkled some tiny pieces of extra sharp cheddar on the top and seasoned it all with fresh ground four-color pepper, a touch of garlic powder and some Italian seasoning. I returned it to the oven for five more minutes.
I ate my portion on the rye bread like a sandwich, complete with horseradish sauce.
The bruschetta really made the vegetables zesty and juicy. This was incredible.
I greased a baking sheet, put my oven on broil and prepped some peppers and tomatoes from the garden of the woman who owns the chickens we are watching.
I took one yellow and one red pepper and halved them, cleaning out the stems, seeds and pith. I laid them on the sheet. I also added some small tomatoes of various varieties.
I placed the cookie sheet on the middle oven rack and broiled for five minutes. I pulled the cookie sheet out and sprinkled the tomatoes with garlic powder and four color pepper. I flipped the peppers.
Put everything in again for another five minutes.
Shook the tomatoes around and flipped the peppers one last time.
Broiled a last five minutes and placed everything in my Pfaltzgraf casserole dish and covered for about 30 minutes. They will finish cooking and cool on the counter, no more heat, and then I'll peel the skin off.
I am happiest when I am cooking. I don't mean that when I cook I become happy, I mean that when I am happy I cook. And I do good stuff. Not the eat for survival stuff.
The chicken sitting adventure is going well. We got 18 eggs today and rushed home and made thick egg sandwiches on rye before school.
I whipped up some soft taco filling: ground beef, beans that I made today not from a can, the last batch of corn preserved from a local farm last year and diced pepper from the lady who owns the chickens.
Spices for the batch include paprika, cumin, chili powder, hot chili powder and garlic powder. I use a lot of each, to taste.
Like true farmers, we woke really early today and left the house at 6:45 to care for our temporary wards, the chickens. The chickens' "momma" left us broccoli, beets, squash, tomatoes and a rainbow of peppers for payment. Yum!
It's raining today. So that provided some fun as we fed and watered chickens and gathered eggs. We only found seven eggs today and one little lady was not getting up from her nest. Can't blame her. I don't want to get out of bed on a rainy Monday either.
Pictures probably tell the story better than words so...
I've been writing professionally since 1991 for a variety of weekly and daily newspapers. I've written on every topic imaginable from politics to education, prostate cancer to concrete houses. I am president of the board of trustees at my local library and 2008-09 and 2010-11 president of the Greater Lehigh Valley Writers Group.
If that's not enough, I am currently querying agents for my sexy paranormal trilogy based in the world of high fashion. And I'm working on a second bachelor's degree (in International Affairs), with hopes of a masters degree in some sort of French studies after that.