Friday, October 31, 2008

Birthday Burrito / Sausage and Beans

Qdoba sent me an email certificate for a free burrito on my birthday. I had one full week to use it, so we went last night. I love their burritos!!! So, so good. If you have more than one burrito in your order, they adopt Subway's sharpie idea, and write on the wrapper to differentiate. Apparently Johnny and I have hit a new milestone in our relationship. I'm happy to announce we have hit the point where burritos become "His and Hers."

Moving along.... Happy Halloween!!! I hope everybody had a fun and safe day. I wasn't needed at work today, so I was free to pass out treats to all the kiddies. Our town has a curfew, which is usually from 2-6 p.m. This year it was extended until 8 p.m. I'm not sure if it's just because it's Friday and they wanted to get a little wild, but I'm hoping it's permanent because that's not really a lot of time to trick or treat. Most kids are not out of school and home at 2. It's way too early! And who is able to get off work and be home that early to either pass out candy or walk their kids around? The past two years I had gotten off at 5, came home and had just under an hour to pass out candy. That's just depressing and not in the spirit (no pun intended) of the holiday! I had kids in a pretty steady stream from shortly after 4, until a rather unexpected 8:50. I was so taken aback that I didn't even realize until after I'd closed the door that a) the child was alone and b) he was wearing no costume. He had to have been only 9 or 10, too!

This is a picture of our passing out set-up. I filled that bowl twice through the night. I am a huge handful giver, which seems to excite all the kids and surprise a lot of the moms into exclaiming audible gasps. I make no joke about Halloween. I usually open the windows, put Comcast on channel 701 (the seasonal music station) and turn up the spooky tunes and sounds. Our black cat, camps in one of the front windows voluntarily, adding a great effect, much to my delight. This year I also passed out brochures for my work (scandelous, I know) and mini 4 packs of crayons. I've been so enlightened with allergies that I wanted something I know would be safe. All the candy we bought is whey free, but I don't know about strict dairy free, nut free, or even wheat and gluten free. Much less sugar free for any diabetics out there! So crayons are safe, and they have the company's website on them. The escaped lollipop is from the decorative cat, Poe. I can leave the bowl there all day and the dog doesn't go by it, doesn't steal anything, doesn't sniff around it. But, the cat - he goes crazy playing "soccer" with the lollipops. I had to shoo him away numerous times.

What's that you said? You wanted me to shamelessly promote the business to you, too?! Sure! Attention all Chicagoland people: There is a new, family owned and operated business in Homer Glen. We're called Oodles of Doodles and we're an arts and crafts studio for kids. In a nutshell, you can come in and do a variety of unfinished crafts or purchase an "open play" session to utilize all the stations set up around the store and just get creative. We also have birthday parties, Parent's Night out, Dinner Club nights, camps and classes. Any schools or boy/girl scout troops are welcome to schedule an outing there, too! More information on each is at our website. Tell all your friends with kids!

Last year, I remember cooking something for dinner while kids were coming to trick or treat and it was a huge nuisance. I kept having to grab a dish towel and run to the door while wiping off my hands to pass out the candy. I did not want a repeat of that this year, so I knew I wanted to just throw something in the crockpot and forget about it.

Last week, while we were in Utica, we stopped in at this adorable little organic shop we learned about last year. We drove forever and a day down this black, dark, lonely, scary road to get to a mystery Marina because we were desperate for dinner. Utica is quaint and adorable, I love it dearly, but it is tiny, and offers very little. The nice lady that waited on us asked us where we were staying. When we told her the name of the B&B she was excited that it was just next door to her and her husband's new business! We were intrigued, so made it over there the next day. It's an adorable shop in an old house. There's handmade gift cards, artwork, pottery, knittings, etc. for sale in a few small rooms in the front. When you go to the left there is a small grocery of all organic and home-grown items and jarred goods sold on consignment. Last year I got some awesome lettuce from his garden and some other things. Just a terrific place and both the husband and wife couldn't be sweeter. If you're ever in the area, you should check them out - they're right next to Lander's House B&B.

We picked up a few things last week. My selections were a bean soup jar mix and sinfully delicious pumpkin donuts that mysteriously disappeared. Tonight I made the bean soup. The instructions on the little label card were to rinse the beans well and add 12 cups of water and the spice pack. Some optional items to add included onion, ham, sausage, or diced tomatoes. I took the advice and threw in half of an onion and 3 stalks of celery. When adding the adorably wrapped up spice pack (to only 8 cups of water) I discovered two beef bouillion cubes hidden in there. Not knowing their origin, but knowing Johnny's trouble with bouillion, I threw them out and added two of my own (safe) cubes. I then thawed a pack of Johnsonville Brats under water just enough to separate the sausages and threw those in, too. I put the crock pot on high and it cooked for about 3 hours.

The result was a wonderful smelling, and tasting, hearty soup of mixed beans, tender onions and celery and that ever-so-good Johnsonville sausage. Those guys know their stuff. Deeeelicious!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Salad - in a pie plate?

Growing up in my parents' house we always had Correlle dinnerware. There's this weird dish in the middle there. Not quite as big as the dinner plate, but bigger than the bread/dessert plate. Nowhere near as deep as the soup bowl, but still could be considered a bowl. My brother and I always called them "bowl-plates."

Occasionally a meal would call for us to set the table with "bowl-plates" and we'd always check first, asking "Bowl-plates, right?" Sometimes we'd contemplate. Would a dinner plate do, or a bowl? Nah - just use the "bowl-plates." You get the idea.

I find it weird now, eating certain things in a house that only has a selection of a flat plate, or a very, very deep bowl. I'm used to eating gooey foods like homemade macaroni and cheese, along with hearty stews and soups in these shallow "bowl-plates."

Tonight I decided on making a huge salad. We have a big bin of mixed greens I don't want to turn bad, along with tons of veggies in the fridge. There's always a fine line between fresh veggies and those stale been-in-the-fridge-too-long ones. I like using them before they hit that mark.

I cut up red onion, green peppers, celery, carrots, broccoli and red apple to put on top of the bed of lettuce. To this I added a sprinkling of walnuts, sunflower seeds and cheese. For myself I chunked up extra sharp cheddar and for Johnny, Meunster. His love of Meunster cheese borderlines on a psychiatric disorder.

I added a splash of this really mild garlic Italian dressing (more for the olive oil part of it than anything), to a pan. A sprinkling of salt and pepper and then small cubes of 1 large and 1 small chicken breast. I hate when packages have such drastically different sizes, don't you? Cutting it up eliminates dealing with different cooking times and unequal portions. The cooked chicken debuted on top of the salad. Everything was covered in Drew's Raspberry salad dressing. Good stuff, you should try it.

Now I was faced with a lot of food and nothing to put it in. The bowl is just so crammed in and deep. I didn't want that annoying spill-over each time you stab something with your fork. The plate is just so big and flat, I knew everything would move outwards over the edge. Why must I be cursed with this knowledge of "bowl-plates" and their perfection in situations like this?

Then, it hit me. Pie plates. We have two. Perfect!!! Albeit, one has ridges around the edge for the crust and handles for easy oven handling, they worked awesomely. I found my "bowl-plate" substitute, finally. And, dishwasher safe, I might add. I'm a happy camper tonight.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Broccoli Crunch

I cannot get enough of 101 Cookbook's recipes lately! Everything she's posting looks amazing.

The ingredient list and instructions are Heidi's:

4 -5 cups tiny broccoli florets (and chopped stalks if you like)

1 garlic clove, smashed and chopped
scant 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/4 cup almond butter
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons hot water

2 small crisp apples, cut into bit-sized pieces (if you aren't going to use the apples immediately, let them sit in a bowl of water with the juice of 1/2 a lemon)

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup toasted or candied walnuts or almonds
1/3 cup pan-fried crunchy shallots*
chives (optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and salt as you would pasta water. Boil the broccoli just long enough to take the raw edge of - 10 or 15 seconds. Drain and immerse it in cold water (or let cold water run over it). At this point, I like to spin the broccoli in a salad spinner to get the water off, but a few good knocks against the sink in a strainer can do the trick pretty well. Set aside.

Make the dressing by sprinkling the salt over the clove of garlic. Smash the clove and chop, smash and chop - turning it into a paste. In a small bowl whisk the salty garlic paste with the almond butter, lemon juice, honey and olive oil. Add the hot water and whisk until light and creamy. Taste, make any adjustments and set aside.

In a large bowl gently toss the broccoli, apples, red onion, most of the shallots and nuts with a generous drizzle of the almond dressing. Turn out onto a platter and finish with the rest of the shallots and chives if you like. Serve family style.

Serves 4.

*Stir together the shallots, a splash of clarified butter (or olive oil) and big pinch of salt In a large skillet over medium heat. Stir every few minutes, you want the shallots to slowly brown over about fifteen minutes. Let them get dark, dark brown (but not burn), and if needed turn down the heat. Remove from skillet and onto a paper towel to cool in a single layer where they will crisp up a bit.


I made the salad smaller than this. Probably 3 cups of broccoli, 1/4 red onion and one apple. The rest of the things I made original size, but it all still worked out really delicious, just less volume. I also added one huge chicken breast that I chunked up because we had it for dinner.

A warning: This is not the recipe for a weary cook. There is a lot going on at once. You have to pan-fry the shallots, candy the nuts, cook the chicken if you decide to add it and cut up all of those veggies and blanch the broccoli. I was running wild all over the kitchen with my hands in three things at once, dirtying tons of pans, utensils and bowls.

The end result is AMAZING, though! I am now in love with these crunchy shallots. I want to put them on every dish I make in the future. There were SO many layers to this salad. Broccoli, tart apples, nutty sweetness, caramelized onion, raw onion bursts and tender chicken. All of these were married together by a hearty almond butter dressing that brought some warmth and smoothness to a lot of the crunchy items, but still had that pop of lemon juice to make it interesting.

I'd recommend it as a side dish (minus the chicken) for a dinner or even to bring to a potluck. Otherwise, add some meat (or tofu) and have it as the main course like we did last night!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Birthday and Caramel Apples

Thursday, October 23 was my 24th birthday.

I'm a huge fan of my own birthday. I get so excited when October rolls around and the 23rd nears. It's always right around the time of year when the last reminders of Summer are packing up and Fall is moving in, my favorite season. Stores are full of Halloween (my favorite holiday) items and candy. Starbucks starts selling yummy lattes like pumpkin spice and you are reminded of all the Fall and Winter recipes you love. The crock pot gets tons of use, pumkin and cinnamon are included in dessert variations. The front porch is decorated with Fall themed hay and pumpkins, and you snack on apples and pumpkin seeds instead of watermelon and chips.

In honor of my birthday, I always make the celebration into a multi-day event. This year was no different.

Johnny is a web developer and perpetual geek. This equals long hours on a computer, both at work and at home. I am also a computer addict, and we love watching an episode of a favorite show while eating dinner. One of my requests this past week was to ignore technology, except for necessary things. This allowed us to eat dinner up at the island and talk, as well as play Yahtzee or Rummy at night instead of zoning out.

Thursday, my actual birthday, I had to work. This always reminds me of Jim Gaffigan's stand-up routine where he says "I can't believe I'm going to work on my birthday," which is so true. After work Johnny took me out to dinner at 94 West. I enjoyed the lobster bisque, a house salad and grilled mahi mahi. My entree also came with grilled pineapple, a tropical fruit salsa and a side of grilled asparagus. Delicious and I was beyond stuffed, but still managed to sample some of Johnny's amazing NY strip and garlic mashed potatoes.

Friday we had Broadway in Chicago tickets to go see Dirty Dancing. My mom got them for me for my birthday present. I've always loved Dirty Dancing, probably watched it like 30 times. In middle school my Girl Scout troop even raised enough money to take our "camping" trip at Mountain Lake, the fictional "Kellerman's," where it was filmed. I just didn't realize there were people out there who loved it as much, even more, than me. It was CRAZY! Women were hooting and hollering like we were watching a Chippendale's show. We were all singing and clapping along. It was pretty much identical to the movie, word for word, except for some new scenes extending storylines from the movie.

Saturday was the day I planned for Johnny and me to spend together. Last year we stayed at a B&B in Utica, IL to explore Starved Rock State Park. It was so beautiful, just as the leaves were turning. We didn't get a chance to horseback ride, though, so we've always wanted to go back for that. This year we just went out for a day trip.

The first thing we did was ride on the LaSalle Canal Boat ride - where a mule pulls the Canal boat! It was something I wanted to try, because where else would a person get a chance to try this? Apparently Abe Lincoln rode the canal boat during his campaign, as part of the travel.

Next we were going to go to the Hegelar Carus Mansion. BUT they are forever tainted in my mind due to their idiocity. We called for reservations last week. They called us back. We get there and tours are cancelled for the day, due to some event. Um? So we went up to the door anyways and some guy let us in. We waited in a room while some buffet thing was going on. Eventually a woman came in and said she'd just called us -- you mean at our home an hour and half away literally minutes before our tour was meant to start? She let us know it was impossible to give a tour due to the annual event that always occurs on the same weekend. If it happens every year at the same time don't you think you'd be better at booking people's tours around it? Just maybe? Arrrgh.

So we went to the horse back riding place early and thankfully they let us on the 2 p.m. ride instead of the 4 p.m. ride we were booked on. My horse's name was Cheyenne and Johnny's was Sparky. :) It was an hour-long ride that was really enjoyable. Not as much actual trail riding as I'd like, but we still got to see 2 canyons and the beautiful Fall colors.

Saturday we also planned a cooking day together. I'd wanted to try and make 101 Cookbooks' caramel apples and treat myself to the secret family cheesecake. Both turned out delicious, but I can only share the caramel recipe with you! ;)

The ingredient list and instructions are Heidi's from 101 Cookbooks.

6 - 8 small apples, unwaxed, cold
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1 cup honey

Special equipment: candy thermometer, and lollipop sticks

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Push a lollipop or popsicle stick deep into each apple - in through the stem.
Fill a large bowl 1/2 full with ice water and set aside.

In a medium, thick-bottomed saucepan heat the cream and salt until tiny bubbles start forming where the milk touches the pan - just before a simmer. Stir in the honey. Bring the mixture to a boil. Now reduce the heat to an active simmer and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, for about 15-20 minutes minutes or until the mixture reaches about 255-260F degrees. To stop the caramel from cooking, very, very carefully set the bottom of the saucepan in the bowl of cold water you prepared earlier - taking special care not to get any of the water in the caramel mixture. Stir until caramel begins to thicken up - you want the caramel to be thin enough that it will easily coat your apples, but not so thin that it will run right off. If the caramel thickens too much simply put the pot back over the burner for 10 seconds or so to heat it up a bit.

I tilt my sauce pan so all the caramel forms a pool on one side, and use my other hand to dunk and twirl each apple until it is thoroughly coated with caramel. Place each apple on the parchment lined baking sheets and allow the caramel to cool and set.

Makes 6 - 8 caramel apples.

We rolled some of ours in crushed pecans. I also rolled together the extra caramel and pecans into little bite-sized treats. I had read in her comment section that if you use Sue-B or cheap honey it's too sweet and gross. So I shopped in the organic honey section and bought a milder jar.

In honor of turning 24, Johnny got me 24 roses. He accidentally broke the stem of one while putting them in the vase so I have the 23 in the bedroom and the 24th in the kitchen.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Less Expensive Cuts of Meat

I was browsing around financial woe tips to see if there was anything I haven't already been doing. I always get so excited when I see a list of "10 ways to save money in the store," but it always ends up being things that are common sense I've done my whole life. There's always the financial expert columnist who thinks they're saving your life because they point out that if you buy a $5 Starbucks drink everyday you're really spending almost $2,000 a year! (Really?! Thanks for enlightening us simpletons, Almighty Multiplier!)

Ok, enough busting of their chops. Today I really did find something useful.

I'm pretty scared of the meat section already. Especially the red meat. There's just hunks of beef everywhere, some bright red, some with the marbling. I never know what is going to turn out rubbery or chewy. What needs to be roasted or what needs to be stewed. It's all a mystery so I stick to dummy-proof things unless I google the hell out of a specific cut or recipe before going to the store. It's amazing the things you can google now-a-days, isn't it?

This list makes it a little less daunting, though. Now when I see an $8 slab of red meat next to a seemingly identical looking slab of $28 meat I won't assume the $8 one might as well be ground up and used for dog food.

Johnny looked it over and commented that it looks like most just need to be cooked really slowly. Bingo! Perfect crock-pot nights in our future!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Crock Pot Chicken

We seldomly buy meat during grocery trips. I buy meat once in awhile when it's on sale and keep it in the freezer to thaw when necessary. We haven't bought meat in awhile, and we're down to some slim-pickin's. Last night, while looking through I decided the only thing worth thawing were some chicken breasts.

With my work schedule, I either make dinner before I leave for work, or have something quicker that is convenient to cook once I get home. This morning, I leafed through my Crockpot cookbook to get an idea of something that could cook while I was at work and be done when we got home. It's another thrift store cookbook. This one was only $1.25 and is entitled "The Crockery Pot Cookbook" and put out by Nitty Gritty Productions. The inside is divided into meats in categories, and then other things you can cook in your crockpot like desserts, etc.

I flipped right to chicken, since that is what I had thawed. Of all the pages of chicken recipes only ONE called for the use of chicken breasts. The rest were all whole chickens. It was a Hawaiianish style chicken that called for pineapple and cooked on low.

I searched through the cabinets to see if I had anything on hand to make this, and sadly I did not. That's as far as the cookbook lead me, but I did remember eating a delicious tropical chicken and rice dish at last years "Taste of" our local town. Pairing the recipe's idea and the distant memory of that dish, I decided to come up with my own.

No pineapples on hand, but I did have a can of mandarin oranges. Close enough! I opened the can and dumped the contents, juice and all into the crock pot. Next, I chopped up a medium onion and a green pepper and threw both of those into the pot. I was paranoid that the minimal juice the oranges provided would steam out and my chicken would be dry. I knew the onions and peppers would cook down and give off juice of their own, but I was still paranoid.

I looked in the fridge and grabbed two individual serving, lunch-box style containers of plain apple sauce and dumped those in. Now I was afraid it'd be really sweet, so I threw in 2 or 3 tablespoons of lemon juice (the bottled kind) and a few teaspoons of pre-minced garlic. The result was a really, bright pot of ingredients I had faith in.

I trimmed the chicken breasts and laid them on top, making sure they were tucked down into the liquid, put it on low and left it until I came home.

Coming in the door I could smell it cooking and it wasn't bad, but not really tasty smelling, either. I lifted the lid to poke around and was kind of fearful at this point.

We cooked some rice on the stove and then dished it out onto plates and spooned the crockpot contents on top of the rice.

I quit after a few bites. I just couldn't eat anymore. It was really sweet and the oranges had broken up way too much, becoming mush. Johnny enjoyed it (?!) so kept eating and I ran to McDonald's to grab a quick burger for myself. I was bummed my creation turned out this way, so I just didn't have the desire to go cook something else. Plus- it's Monopoly game time! I might win the $1,000,000! One can always dream.

So why post a recipe I didn't like? Well- to be honest, the chicken itself was pretty awesome. The flavor of the sweetness gunk on it was not, but I was LOVING the juiciness. It was fork-cut tender. I'm not used to cooked poultry being like that and I've got to say I want to try it again.

Next time I will definitely not stray as far from any recipes in my substitutions. I have a feeling pineapple would hold up a lot better than mandarin oranges. Their flavor also is more citrusy and sour, not that syrup-cling flavor of mandarins. Plus, I think the restaurant's sample dish of chicken and rice had some form of coconut milk in the background. I would totally eliminate the apple sauce altogether. It did not need any extra moisture- the onions and peppers added more than enough. Everything was swimming by the time I got home. I'll know next time to not be so paranoid.

If you don't succeed the first time, try, try again! And I will!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Acorn Squash Soup

Heidi over at 101 Cookbooks has been making these amazing Fall-inspired squash recipes and it put me in the mood.

I buy a few acorn squash and have them in the pantry every now and then. They come in handy to cut in half and roast for each of us to have a half or sometimes I make them into a soup.

Last night I pulled one out and decided on squash soup for tonight's dinner. I wasn't going into work until later so I could make the soup in the morning and then just re-heat it at night.

I noticed the sticker only had microwave instructions. This seemed odd to me because usually foods list the microwave instructions second, or even third, on the list and this was solely microwave. I figured it had to be good if they didn't even attempt to get you to use your oven.

Boy, was I wrong. I know a lot of people microwave their squash, but it is not for me. I usually cut them in half and put them skin side down/flesh side up in a dish with some water. I plop some butter in the de-seeded hole and sprinkle some nutmeg or allspice and then cover the whole thing with foil. I let this bake for 40 minutes to an hour until it's tender. Then it's juicy, tender and falls off the skin easily.

Microwaving, I followed the little sticker's advice of 8-10 minutes about 3 times for each half and it was still really tough. The skin also turned really brittle and crisp, making it harder to separate the flesh from it. It wasn't even more convenient! I was constantly checking and having to pop it back in for more minutes. It took about 40 minutes between multiple, long microwave sessions and trying to free the flesh from the skin anyways. Ugh. I'll just stick to the oven-roasting from now on. It's more convenient, easier and I think makes for a better squash in the end.

After wrestling with that I threw the squash in a blender with 2 cups of water and one vegetable stock cube. Then into a pan and in the fridge with the cover on.

Sadly, I ended up not being able to go to work today after all. My eye swelled up last night and it was just sore and irritated on the lid, so I had serious reservations that it was any type of infection. Today I ran to the pharmacist to see if she could recommend anything but she just said the same things I'd been doing - an Ibuprofen now and then for pain/swelling and a cool compress. Maybe try benedryl to see if it was allergy related? So I complied. But, I'm working with the public now. Specifically parents and their children. I didn't think it would be a good idea at ALL for them to see me with a bright red, swollen eyelid. I know I'd be worried bringing children around that, so I can't blame others who would most likely feel the same way. In order to prevent that I let my boss know and she agreed so I stayed home. Blah.

When Johnny got home from work I re-heated the soup on the stove and, once it was up to temperature I decided it was a bit bland, so I added about a teaspoon of kosher salt and it did the trick. While this was coming up to temperature, I just made a quick batch of Bisquick's drop biscuits.

The soup turned out velvety smooth and delicious. A nice, warm Autumn feeling on this semi-drab, overcast October day. The biscuits, in all their simplicity, were the perfect compliment! Yum, yum.

I also baked the seeds in a 350° toaster oven with some salt sprinkled over them! Such a tasty little snack.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Chicken Noodle Soup

No, I didn't make chicken noodle soup for our dinner last night.

Campbell's did.

And they did a really, really bad job.

We've been buying Wolfgang Puck's canned soups for a few months now because they are all natural and organic. They are on sale every few weeks so I grab a bunch of cans and they taste good. Genuinely tasty stuff. If somebody served it to me in a blind taste test I wouldn't believe them it came from a can.

Despite all this, I had a craving for Campbell's chicken noodle soup. So we grabbed a few cans and had it last night for dinner.

Johnny dumped two cans and their respective canfuls of water into a pot and moved onto something else, leaving me in the kitchen to stir every few minutes.

So I'm stirring and I notice that each little chicken bit that the spoon brings to the surface is really disgusting looking. Like- pieces of fatty chunks. I start imagining that they're arteries and tendons and stuff (I'm disgusting like that) so I can't eat them. I show Johnny and we decide to pick them all out now so we don't have to be grossed out while we're eating.

I noticed their grossness was still present once they were out of the broth and in a paper towel so I decided we will take a picture and I will write a letter to Campbell's. Something along the lines of .. "Is this really the quality of chicken you expect your customers to eat or be willing to feed to their children?" I haven't officially written it yet, but it'll be good. I anticipate free coupons in my future.

I'll post the picture in tiny form because the big one just has too much detail - I don't want to gross out the thousands handful of readers I have.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Back on Track & Honey Mustard Chicken Tenders

I kind of feel like I'm getting back in the groove now that I know which way is up.

My problem is that if I don't plan ahead I end up making things that aren't the best meal (like throwing in a frozen pizza). That, or I opt for the easy way out and we get fast food or take out. These aren't only expensive, but they are unhealthy and are sometimes a risk if we don't know the restaurants' ingredients.

I think the falafel got me back on track because it was so quick and so easy. It also felt great to put a nice, fresh salad on the side. I felt inspired to keep up the good work.

I've caught this show, Quick Fix Meals with Robin Miller, a few times on The Food Network. While it's not the most interesting half hour program they offer, because it lacks Emeril's "Bams!"and Racheal Ray's cute recipe names, you sure do walk away with some knowledge.

Here's the blurb from their website about it:

Busy people everywhere face the same dilemma – how to get healthy weeknight dinners on the table with only minutes to spare. Cookbook author, nutritionist and food journalist Robin Miller guides us through the landmines of getting food on the table nightly with her stress-free meal-planning strategies. Her easy, day-by-day plans help even the novice cook master these quick and tasty recipes. Plus, each week's menu comes with its own shopping list so you only have to hit the store once. Problem solved!

Robin has this really interesting way of preparing meals. From what I've seen, she plans out like 3 or 4 meals in advance, does one big shopping trip for all of them and preps them all at the same time. Cooking two meals that both need carrots? She cuts them up at the same time! Only one cutting board and knife wash needed.

She then divides all the meals into ziplock bags or small tupperware containers and stacks them together with a label in the fridge. Then, when Tuesday's stir fry night rolls around, she just grabs out that container or bag and it's right there ready for her to toss in a pan or the oven.

Sure, the first night probably takes a lot extra time to plan and prep all that out- but the relaxation it provides and time it saves sure seems worth it!

I didn't plan as ahead or in depth as Robin, but realized that meals go a lot better when I have at least some idea of what I am going to cook, what the sides will be and if I make sure to thaw frozen items. That is probably my worst mistake- always forgetting to thaw.

Last night I took out a package of chicken breasts and a package of Jimmy Dean sausage links to thaw for tonight and tomorrow night's dinner.

Tonight, when I got home, I took out the chicken and cut it into strips. I dipped the strips in a honey mustard sauce I whipped up from scratch by combining yellow mustard, dijon mustard and honey. Then I coated them in the corn flake breadcrumbs that I seasoned with onion and garlic powder along with dried parsley and oregano flakes. I layed them on a foil-lined baking sheet and baked them the same time as some Ore-Ida french fries. While these baked I made another side salad for us, as well as some additional (untainted by raw chicken) honey mustard sauce.

I just had the two baking sheets to clean, which were easy because I lined them with foil. The honey mustard as a coating for the bread crumbs to stick to works out well because it not only adds flavor, but keeps the chicken moist. I like using coatings like these because they're not as fattening as other coating options I see a lot of other recipes using like melted butter or mayonnaise.

Tomorrow night I'm already planning ahead, too. I thawed the sausage to use for Friday night's dinner because that is the end of the work week. Johnny has been taking sandwiches to work and usually ends up with about half of a loaf of bread leftover. Sometimes we freeze it, or he'll use some up the beginning of the next week. A lot of times it starts to get old, though. So tomorrow I'm going to use the bread up and make french toast before that has a chance to happen! Add sides of scrambled eggs, sausage and some fresh fruit and it'll be a great dinner.

I love breakfast for dinner. We never have time for a big, hot breakfast during the work week. We both are night owls and hate mornings so we'd prefer to sleep in on weekends and not wake up to cook a breakfast, either. It works out great to have breakfast for dinner every once in awhile or else we'd probably never have a hot breakfast!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


I've noticed falafel as a meal option offered by NYC street vendors, but never tried it. I'm too busy trying to fulfill my chicken gyro craving.

My cousin recently told me her neighbor made falafel for them and it was really good. I'm always intrigued when people eat things I haven't tried before and found them to be good enough to share with me.

Let's face it- we get in food ruts and there are only so many times you can defrost a package of chicken breasts or put on a pot to cook rice. I'm always looking for ways to expand, but I also don't want to expand to include hard or difficult foods. There's a reason ground beef and chicken breasts are our go-to. They're easy and you're not going to replace easy with hard, no matter how much better it tastes.

After a quick google of falafel to learn what the heck it is, I learned (from Wikipedia) that it's a mixture of spiced, ground fava beans or chickpeas rolled in a ball and cooked. They're eaten like gyros typically - in pitas and with a yogurt sauce.

A couple grocery trips ago I noticed a Falafel mix next to the quinoa as I was grabbing it off the shelf. I scanned the ingredients and saw no whey listed (yes!) so I threw it in the cart.

It's been in the pantry, but last night I saw it and realized it could be a quick and easy weeknight dinner. I put it on the stovetop to remind me today that I already had a dinner idea and not to sweat it.

Once I got home from work I dumped the bag of dry mix into a bowl and added 1 1/4 cups of water and stirred around. You let that sit 10-15 minutes for the water to absorb into the mixture. It gets kind of gummy, like a firm batter.

While this was sitting I put a high-sided pan on the stove with 1/2 inch vegetable oil to heat up. You then roll the mixture into little balls and either pan fry in ball form, or flatten the balls a bit and broil them in the oven. I rarely fry stuff at home- I usually choose the bake option. Unless we're going to fast food I very seldomly eat fried food. I believe in "in moderation" -- frying stuff every once in awhile isn't going to kill me.

So, tonight I pan fried them which took a lot less time than I expected. They're so small that you can cram a bunch of these little balls in the pan, making for one big batch instead of the numerous smaller ones I anticipated.

While these were cooking I popped the pitas into the oven a few minutes to heat up. I also got out our plates and made small side salads with mixed greens, carrots, green peppers and a raspberry vinagrette.

Once the falafel balls were done I put them on a paper towel covered plate to drain and we put sour cream (I didn't have yogurt sauce) in the pitas, stuffed them with the falafel balls and dinner was ready!

Start to finish it was less than 30 minutes and we had a nutritious dinner at home with minimal clean up.

I've become a huge fan of browsing the organic and health aisles of grocery stores. Even if you are not a vegetarian or vegan, you can always incorporate a few of their dishes into your diet or have them as sides.

A lot of vegetarian and vegan options are lower in fat because they don't have milk, cheese or meat in them. You get a great dose of fiber and protein and they're also always loaded with tons of vitamins and minerals from the fruits, vegetables, nuts and beans they contain.

This box of falafel mix was from Fantastic World Foods (their site is and only $3-4. It fed two adults dinner, plus we have leftovers good for another 2 sandwiches!

That's a real bargain in my book!

I have a question for those of you living with a food allergy sufferer. Do you keep only "safe" foods in your home? Once in a blue moon I'll have a craving for something that doesn't pass the no whey requirement and I buy it for myself, warning Johnny that he can't have it, sometimes even putting a skull and crossbones label on it before putting it away. The problem is that I always end up feeling really guilty that I'm enjoying these treats that he can't have. Is this normal, to have "allergy guilt" that you can enjoy something that the sufferer can't?

Monday, October 6, 2008

Money Saver!

We just got back from a huge grocery trip and had $56.18 total savings.

$35.68 were "preferred" savings - the store's member card benefits and $20.50 were coupons I brought to the store! Woohoo!

I just started a new job over the weekend that is a new business so it's been a bit hectic working before and after closing and even today when we were supposed to be closed. I haven't been cooking much except a big pot of quinoa and mixed veggies I divided into a few meals. The rest have been take-out or microwave things when I had the time.

I need to get back into the groove of things and work out some form of a schedule. I tried to purchase a lot of friendly things that will aid making work-night dinners and lunches I can bring to work. I'm a big fan of bringing home-made meals to work. It's healthy and it's cheap. Otherwise I end up spending way too much money per day on food and drinks and my thighs start to show the adverse affects!

Friday, October 3, 2008


In my opinion, meatloaf is a grossly underestimated food. Growing up, my insanely picky brother* and I loved meatloaf! If friends were over and heard that was what we were having for dinner, they'd crinkle their noses. When it was on the school lunch menu, everybody would groan.

I didn't get it! My mom's meatloaf was so good. We'd have a thick slice at dinner and meatloaf sandwiches afterwards as leftovers.

Then, one day I tried everybody else's meatloaf. The typical ketchup baked on top and sometimes gravy served on top meatloaf. Gross. I got it now.

So why was my mom's so good?! Because, I guess, technically it isn't meatloaf! Have you ever heard anybody say they don't like meatballs? Me either- and my mom makes a big ole meatball in loaf form.

I used a pound of ground sirloin and added the usual meatball things- an egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, garlic and tons of Italian spices. I also added some worcestershire (yes, I did just look up how to spell that) sauce because I love the flavor it adds. Nothing has measurements, I can't explain it. You just know how much of each to put in. The only difference between my meatball and meatloaf recipes are to omit the worcestershire and add about double the amount of breadcrumbs for meatballs than I do with meatloaf.

With Johnny's whey allergy, I had to tweak a bit. Instead of traditional breadcrumbs, I've been using Kellogg's corn flake crumbs. I did just find panko breadcrumbs do not contain whey and bought a bag. I will be trying them in the future when the corn flake crumbs run out. No sense in opening two things at once.

He also has a problem with parmesan cheese, so I've been putting in a small handful of mozzarella that melts and gets ooey-gooey. Slim-Shoppin's Jennifer just posted about nutritional yeast in her blog and I am going to try this!! It is vegan, so wouldn't contain whey, and dairy-free eaters use it over pasta, popcorn and other snacks because it has a "cheesy" flavor. I'm hoping this has the potential to become my parmesan substitute!

Mix all the contents together, plop into the pan and form into a loaf. I usually use the extra space around the dish to put some potatoes and carrots, but today I did something a little different, leaving Mr. Meatloaf to bake solo for once.

I have potatoes and carrots on hand, but I also had celery and a half of an onion I wanted to use up. I thought I'd do a much bigger vegetable dish and use any leftovers in the near future. You can always find something to throw mixed veggies in - eggs, stir fry, etc. I just cut everything up into one or two bite chunk sizes and threw it in a casserole dish with a splash of olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic and onion powder. Mix it up a bit and you're ready to go!

I put foil on both and am baking in a 350° oven for about an hour. REALLY easy clean-up. I throw my cutting board and casserole dishes in the dishwasher so it was just: a knife!

Now, for some more entertaining parts of the dinner-making process:

While I was shaking all the spices into the meatloaf bowl Corky, the dog, decided to bark at me. My dog rarely barks, and if he does it's at something outside, but there he was- barking at me over and over. I couldn't take it, so I had to hook him outside for the duration of dinner prep. This is him really confused and wanting to come back in.

Then, I get back to work and feel somebody staring at me. It was the cat, Poe. Seems like both pets want to be uncooperative today. This is him perched on our dining room table. We rarely eat there, but I'd still prefer it not become a pet bed!!

And for your amusement, Johnny got these this summer. He's not nearly as comfortable in the kitchen as I am. He follows every recipe to the T, including setting the microwave timer to cook Ramen noodles and actually getting out a teaspoon to measure vanilla extract (just dump it in!). These were right up his alley and now he can make sure everything is accurate.

*more on him later.