Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dinner's on ...the pets?

Corky and Poe won October's Pet of the Month contest in our local newspaper!!! A narrow victory, by only 6 votes! The prize was a $40 gift certificate to Texas Roadhouse for the owners. Plus, they'll get to be contenders in the 2008 Pet of the Year contest next month!

Because our cabinets are running on empty, trying to use up the last of everything before our trip, it made perfect sense to go out to dinner tonight!

We ate, and ate, and ate, and ATE. As we were seated, the hostess brought along fresh, warm rolls and a delicious, creamy butter, along with a big ole bucket of peanuts. Next, we had an appetizer of an onion blossom. I then had a combo plate of ribeye steak and grilled shrimp with sides of a house salad and steak fries. Johnny had a 16 oz. NY strip steak with baked beans and steak fries as his sides. We washed everything down with glorious, authentic sweet tea. Hands down, my favorite beverage (when done right).

After I turned in our $40 gift certificate, the grand total for the meal (minus tip) came to $1.55!!! Cheap meal!

The funniest part of the evening was when our waiter brought us four boxes to wrap up our leftovers. One for the onion, one each for our individual meals, and the last for a whole fresh batch of warm rolls the waiter brought us for free to take home! We made out like bandits - first eating until we wanted to pop and then bringing all this home for <$2! So, thank you Corky and Poe, for buying your Mommy and Daddy a delicious dinner and awarding us with enough leftovers to eat a complete dinner tomorrow night, too!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Kris Kringle Cookies

I don't like to post recipes that I haven't personally made for two reasons. First, sometimes a recipe looks good on paper, but once you make it, it needs tweaking or isn't good. I like to explore first and taste it for myself before I pass the recipe on. That way I can give tips on substitutions, or a review of the taste. Second, blog posts are just more fun with pictures! If I haven't made the recipe, I'm not going to have pictures to show you the process and finished product, which I feel add to the post.

This year, things have been hectic with work, family, loads of snow and ice, negative temperatures, difficult commutes, shoveling, Christmas cards, mailing presents, and travel plans. Four wheeling it to the grocery store to pick up cookie supplies was pretty low on my list. I also have considerably less people this year to bake for, versus last year. Sadly, I ended up omitting the baking part of Christmas presents this year.

If I had made cookies this year, these are the ones I would have made, so I'm sharing them with you anyways! I made them last year and they are fantastic! The batch is HUGE - yields 72, so you can easily divide them up amongst several recipients and they look very Christmassy and festive. Last year I made two batches and split them up between my work and Johnny's closest co-workers. I think 6 people total, plus some for us to eat ourselves! We heard nothing but good reviews, even had some requests to pass on the recipe - something I always consider a compliment.

Big Batch Kris Kringle Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 (6 oz.) pkgs Baker's white baking chocolate, chopped
2 cups chopped pecans, toasted
2 cups dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Beat butter and sugars in large bowl with electric mixer on medium speed until light and fluffy. Blend in eggs and vanilla. Add flour, baking soda and salt; mix well. Stir in chocolate, pecans and cranberries. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls, 1-1/2 inches apart, onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake 9 to 11 min. or until lightly browned. Cool 3 min.; remove to wire racks. Cool completely. Store in tightly covered container at room temperature.

Yield: 72 servings

Like I said, I haven't made them since last year, so a lot isn't fresh in my memory. But, I do remember using white chocolate chips instead of chopped baker's chocolate. I vaguely remember cheating and just buying Fischer's pre-chopped pecans, too! Oh! And, I accidentally bought Craisins, the sweetened cranberries so the cookies had an extra layer of sweet. I found it to be a nice edition, but I think you're technically supposed to use plain, unsweetened dried cranberries.

Merry Christmas!

This is Johnny (aka Santa) and me (his elf) at one of work's three Christmas party events we did for the kids!

We'll be spending Wednesday with Johnny's family, who celebrates on Christmas Eve. This is pretty foreign to me, but it works out well since my family celebrates on Christmas Day. No battles over which house to spend Christmas at - they each traditionally celebrate separate days! This will be our third year of flying to see my family very early Christmas morning. This year Christmas is at my grandparents' house in Florida, instead of my parents' house in North Carolina! I'm looking forward to 80° weather so I can defrost! Then it's up to a mild North Carolina for a few days to see friends and my Dad's mom, Grammy, before heading back to the frozen tundra of Chicagoland.

I hope everybody has a wonderful, blessed Christmas with their family and friends. Stay safe and eat wonderful food!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Divvies winner!

NoWheyMama posted about a giveaway a couple of weeks ago, so I hurried my pretty, little (I wish) butt over to One Frugal Foodie's blog to enter.

Divvies was giving away gourmet treats and their facility is dairy/milk free, egg free, peanut free, tree nut free, and as a result, vegan and kosher! Score! A cool prize, and Johnny can safely pig out on the rewards with me. Sign me up!

I was one of the two winners and Alisa emailed to let me know, saying I would get a gourmet popcorn kit. Days later a package arrived and I'd completely forgotten about the contest and receiving a prize.

Until I opened the box!! Divvie's cupcakes! I'm not sure why or how I got cupcakes instead of popcorn, but yummy, yummy. If I wasn't informed ahead of time, or by the writing on the box I would have never guessed they were allergy-safe foods - they were super moist and decadent, missing nothing of a "regular" cupcake and frosting.

While a little too expensive (for us) to regularly purchase from Divvies, we're definitely hooked. I'm keeping them in mind for "safe" foods in the future, and possible ideas for Johnny's brother, who also has dairy and whey problems.

On an allergy note, we had our first dairy and wheat allergic child attend an event hosted at the store yesterday. Part of the Christmas event was to decorate your own cookie, so the mom thought ahead and provided her own dairy and wheat free cookies. She decided to stay at the event, which was intended to be drop off and go, but I reassured her it would be no problem to sit on our benches in the back while the event was going on. I thought of you, NoWheyMama, and your "hovering" story - so I knew she just wanted to make sure everything was fine and her daughter kept safe. I reassured her that my boyfriend has a whey allergy, so I have my own experience with cooking allergy-free foods so I understand the severity of contamination - to hopefully ease her mind that I wasn't taking her request lightly or brushing it aside. I also brought her all the sprinkles and cookie decorations so she could read the labels and make sure, for herself, that they were safe for her daughter. I'm so glad I've had some experience through the blog world of allergy mom's -- it really helped me out in this situation! Thanks guys!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chicken Stir Fry over Rice

Well, we're strapped in and awaiting the much anticipated storm. The ice has begun, and I guess after about a half of an inch of that has accumulated, the up to 12 inches of snow will fall. Thankfully, I don't have to go into work until a huge Christmas event in the afternoon, so they'll most likely have the roads plowed and salted by then. The past few after-snow mornings before they plowed was a little treacherous, to say the least. I own a Jeep and have no idea how people drive tiny compacts around all winter. Tuesday night, after about 8 inches of snow, I had to drive the whole way home with 4WD on and it took me 45 minutes to traverse my usual 8-10 minute route. I shouldn't complain though, it took Johnny two hours to commute his usual 30 minute drive home.

Tonight was another quick favorite. I took the remaining three thin chicken breasts and cut them up, along with a small onion, half of a green pepper and 1 large carrot.

Those were thrown in our stove-top wok with my new Hoisin sauce from Value City and some soy sauce to thin it out. While I stir-fried away, Johnny contributed to the meal by making instant rice. We do have the "real" stuff, but it was getting late and I didn't want to wait 20 minutes for it to simmer.

When the chicken and vegetables were almost done, I threw in a spoonful of pre-minced garlic and handful of roasted peanuts. Once the rice was done, that went down first and we scooped the stir fry mixture atop. I tried a little bit of the Hoisin sauce before adding it to the pan, to make sure I would like it before ruining a whole meal. It tasted good, but after mixing and cooking with the stir fry flavors, it tasted GREAT! I'm hooked!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

BSI: Carrot (Mixed Veggie Quinoa with Chicken)

I love carrots and always, always have them on hand. Baby carrots, or regular carrots - you'll find either in my fridge. I eat them raw as snacks with dip or hummus and I add them to a lot of dishes, not only for the taste, but the color. They're a great BSI choice, in my opinion!

Tonight's dinner is a simple one that we eat quite often, but I love mixing it up each time with different vegetables and marinades. Tonight, I made sure to include the BSI ingredient of the week - carrots!

I cut up the following vegetables and threw them in a medium saucepan:

1/2 onion
1/2 green pepper
1 stalk celery
1 small head of broccoli florets
1 large carrot
1 spoonful of pre-minced garlic
4 sun-dried tomatoes

I then added a 1 cup mixture of heirloom red quinoa and traditional quinoa, a splash of olive oil, dashes of onion and garlic powder, and 2 cups of water. This simmered for 15 minutes until the quinoa and vegetables were tender and the water was absorbed.

For the chicken, I used 2 Perdue thin sliced boneless, skinless chicken breasts. They're often buy one get one free and I prefer them over the regular chicken breasts. The thinner meat is easier to trim, cooks faster, and you usually get 5 or 6 pieces, versus a regular breast package that has 3 huge breasts. I can usually get two meals out of one thin sliced package. I mixed up about a tablespoon each of Annie's Goddess Dressing, lemon juice, and olive oil to marinate the chicken in. When the quinoa had about 5 minutes left, I sauteed the chicken breasts in a dry pan, over medium heat for 2 and a half minutes each side.

These two components paired together beautifully! I love the mixture of red and plain quinoa, they have a slight difference in taste, the red a little nuttier. Cooking the vegetables right in with the grains gives them great flavor - almost infused with vegetable broth and all the vitamins and minerals that otherwise would have steamed or boiled out of the veggies. The chicken was very juicy and tender, the Annie's dressing giving it a nice, flavorful kick. Just a bit of a background flavor, caused by the marinade, not too overpowering of the other flavors.

I also got another gift magazine subscription in the mail today! First, Guideposts from my grandmother, and now Taste of Home from my aunt! I've never gotten gift subscriptions before, so this is a nice treat! My old job in North Carolina used to have Taste of Home for people waiting at the office and I'd flip through and snag recipes every once in awhile. Now I have my own! I'm looking forward to getting a couple magazines on a regular basis. I haven't sat down to read it in depth yet, but I always love getting inspiration from nice, color pictures, which they definitely have.

Monday, December 15, 2008

12' of sandwich

Tonight was our Ribbon Cutting Ceremony and Grand Opening party! We technically opened in October, but didn't join the Chamber until November. They said if we didn't have a ribbon cutting yet, to go ahead and plan one for the press. So, we did.

Unfortunately, the weather took a turn for the worse today and it was only 10° tonight, with a windchill of -3°. Very, very cold and it rained all day yesterday, so it froze over. The roads were very icy and dangerous, so I don't blame people for not coming out, although I still wish they had! I also wish the city had put our tax dollars to use and spread some salt on the roads!

We had expected around 50 people, but I'd say we only ended up seeing about 20, so there were TONS of leftovers.

This great place, called Anthony's Pizzeria has been awesome to us. They staple our brochures on all of their take-out and delivery boxes and we recommend them to all of our birthday parties. For tonight's party we purchased two 6' subs and then he threw in two big salads for free! A yummy pasta salad and to-die-for Hawaiian salad. From what I could decipher, it had pineapple, grapes, mango, and oranges in this deliciously creamy dressing, topped with shredded coconut. I had three servings!

The two subs "before." Each had only about 2' gone for "after." The center picture shows our spread with all the necessities and salads. Our round, little project table worked out perfectly for a buffet-style precession.

Our humble, little "ceremony." (I made the bow!) Rob, Di's husband on the left, 2 women from the city council, Di in the purple and me in the green - that's my $7 Value City sweater.

With the low turn-out, we have tons of leftovers! The mini-fridge at work is piled high for us to eat lunch, my boss brought home 4' of sandwich and the serving platters (still 1/2 full) of pasta and Hawaiian salads. I brought home the second 4' of remaining sandwich and two big bowls of either salad.

I've been really busy getting Christmas stuff done. I finished all of our cards and got those out. (I've even heard from my friend in Holland that she got hers today - quick!) Then, finished my shopping, wrapped all of our presents, and also mailed them out to everybody. I'm waiting on 2 of Johnny's last presents to arrive and my Secret Santa present to arrive, then everything is officially complete. Johnny's family is so big, it'd be impossible to get presents for everybody, so we just throw names in a bowl, draw and gift exchange with one person for a $100 limit. We figure one, good present is better than like 10 rushed and budget-saving ones.

I haven't cooked in awhile - besides heating up a can of something, or microwaving leftovers. I didn't even get to participate in last week's BSI challenge, but am excited about this week's over at Catherine's blog - carrots! Everybody has those on hand, and I feel like the recipes submitted could be really helpful to me in the future. You could always use a new carrot dish!

I'm working all day tomorrow, but need to somehow plan a grocery trip in soon. We need to get some staples replenished so I can map out some sort of a meal plan.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Christmas Cards

I'm just finishing up a whole stack of Christmas cards for friends and family, as most of you probably are, too.

If you have any extra cards leftover this year, put them to good use by sending them to a soldier. They need to hear our appreciation and thanks this time of year, especially if they are spending yet another holiday away from their family and friends!

Holiday Mail for Heroes
P.O. Box 5456
Capitol Heights, MD 20791-5456

Cards sent to this address need to be postmarked no later than Dec. 10 and cannot include any inserts or photos.

This link will provide information for different programs, if you'd like to send a gift card or certificate to a soldier and their family.

This site gives you the ability to pick a program to send a care package to a soldier.

And, if you're down on cash (who isn't?) you can send an email, for free, here.

Regardless of your personal feelings about war, our troops still need America's support. These are just a few ways to show them that they are in our thoughts and prayers this holiday season!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Open-Faced Meatball Sandwich

I had taken out a pound of hamburger meat for the Golabki, in addition to the pound of ground turkey. Then, I noticed that they had a lot of meat leftover, so one pound would probably be enough. That left me with a pound of hamburger that needed to be used.

The only thing I could think of, and kept going back to, was meatballs! But I also really wanted the creamed cabbage again, so I didn't want to turn it into a huge pasta dinner.

I whipped up a batch of meatballs, very similiar to the meatloaf recipe I posted. While they were baking, I made the creamed cabbage again. Gosh, this dish is sooo good! I'm totally in love. This time I didn't have white wine on hand, so I threw in a couple tablespoons of watered down lemon juice and you couldn't even taste the difference. I guess it just needs a little bit of some bright burst in the background.

When the meatballs came out of the oven, I threw a piece of bread in the toaster oven for a couple of minutes. Once it was toasted up a little bit, I cut up two meatballs in slices and layed them out on top of the toast. I then poured some Prego on top, and a small sprinkling of mozzerella. I put this on foil and threw it back into the toaster oven until the cheese became melted.

Tonight Johnny had a late dentist appointment, so it was nice to just cook up two completely separate dishes that I wanted and watch my guilty pleasure shows he hates. (Jon and Kate Plus 8 and The Hills) I curled up on the couch and watched while our little tree glistened across the room.

We got an artificial one last year, at Menards, for only $5. This is my first artificial tree, but they're just so expensive out here. Plus, we go to visit with my family Christmas Day through New Year's each year and come home to a dried out tree that hasn't been watered in a week. The leaves have fallen everywhere and it's already time to take it down, on top of unpacking. This way is just easier.

He's a cute little 3' guy that we string with simple, white lights, my favorite. Johnny's favorite color is blue, mine is green. So we have 24 ornaments, 12 of each color. The star is an LED light that changes every 2 or 3 seconds between blue and green.

Because it's so little, I flip a box upside down and put the tree on top of it. Then, we have a tree skirt that covers the artificial bottom of the tree and drapes over the box, hiding the sides and front! I love our little tree! :)

Sunday, December 7, 2008

BSI: Ginger (Crustless Apple Pie w/ Ginger Topping)

I've been waiting for the perfect moment to jump into the BSI contest and this week's ingredient selection was perfect: ginger! I had made those ginger ribs about two weeks ago, and know (from the great Alton Brown) that ginger doesn't last indefinitely in the fridge. I still had some on hand I wanted to use up, so this was calling to me!

As with the ribs, I usually have only cooked with ginger in savory dishes. The ribs turned out great, I've added it to a lot of asian-inspired meals and stir-fry dishes. As I was looking around for inspiration, I realized that it can be found in many sweet things and I knew I wanted to go sweet, versus savory. At first, I was thinking of making a home-made ginger ale, or maybe a ginger infused tea, but I thought in the end it would be kind of a blah entry into a contest, even if the feat of making it from scratch was cool on my end. So, I settled on a crustless pie.

The past few times I've made pies, I've made them crustless. It started with some apples I wanted to use up, so I sliced them and threw them in a baking dish to cook alongside dinner with some cinammon and sugar. They were delicious baked apples, but fell short of a dessert. The next time, I made a simple crumble and baked it on top - perfect! Now, every once in awhile if I have extra apples, or even peaches, I do this crustless crumble pie. So - why not do that, but throw ginger in with the crumble? I thought it'd bake up really nicely and compliment some apples I had in the bottom bin, needing to be used up. Not to mention, smell really delicious in the oven!! Yummy, yummy!

For the filling, I cut up 5 apples, tossed them in the usual apple-pie mixture of lemon juice and sugar, and put them in a sprayed pie plate. Then, for the crumble topping I used about 1/3 cup of Cornflake crumbs (they're whey-free and can be used in sweet and savory dishes), 1/4 cup brown sugar, a couple spoonfuls of flour to hold it together, about 2 tablespoons of chopped, fresh ginger and about 2 tablespoons of melted Smart Balance 50/50. I tossed the crumble ingredients together in a small bowl, then sprinkled them across the apples in the pie dish. I baked at 400° for a half an hour, until the apples were tender and the top was crunchy. If you think apple pie smells good, just coming out of the oven - you should smell it with the added scent of ginger!

Friday, December 5, 2008


A few weeks ago a little magazine showed up in my mailbox. It had my full name and correct address, so I knew it was sent specifically for me and wasn't just some free offer or something.

Now, I'm not a big magazine person. I used to be. When I was a teenager, I received about 8 magazines a month. Cosmo and Vogue, music ones, gossip ones, etc. When I moved out of my parents' house and had to stretch my buck I realized that they were trivial and repeated the same rotation of articles in a circle. I cancelled all of them and haven't looked back since.

Until now. Guideposts is a religious-based magazine, their tagline "True Stories of Hope and Inspiration." The other night I read it cover to cover and LOVED it! My cousin teases me that I must be an old woman to enjoy it, but it's great! The stories are written by real people and there's recipes, too! The November issue featured Golabki, a traditional Polish dish of stuffed cabbage leaves. Johnny is 100% Polish, so I was instantly intrigued. Since moving to Chicagoland I've been introduced to Polish culture and the dishes that go with it. I never knew cabbage could be such a versatile vegetable and I've found myself really enjoying it.

Today, I received December's issue and the mystery continued... until I called their 1-800 number and found out my maternal Grandma ordered it to be sent to me! So, thanks Grandma - I love it and am putting the recipes to good use!

Their website is also great, too. They have this video series called The Healthy Cook, hosted by Rebecca Katz. They're just short video clips, but she goes through really interesting things like which oils you should be buying and how to make a great mineral-filled vegetable stock to have on hand. I highly recommend going and browsing around!

1 large head of cabbage
2 tsp canola oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
1/2 lb ground pork (or veal)
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 egg, beaten
sea salt and pepper to taste
2 cans condensed tomato soup
2 1/2 cups of water

Core cabbage and place in a large pot of rapidly boiling water; cover and cook 5 to 8 minutes until soft enough to pull off leaves; repeat until all large leaves are removed. Saute onion in oil until transparent. In a large bowl, mix meat, onion, rice, egg, salt and pepper. Place heaping tablespoon of meat mixture on each leaf. Tuck sides over filling while rolling leaf around filling. Chop remaining cabbage and place half on bottom of dutch oven. Layer cabbage rolls then cover with remaining chopped cabbage. Combine tomato soup with water, sitr until smooth, then pour over cabbage and rolls. Cover; bring to a boil then reduce heat and simmer 1 1/2 hours. Serves 6 to 8.

You'll notice I have no pictures to post. That is because today I have a little something different to show you the recipe!!

Guideposts has a video online to show you! Awesome idea!

Do not be afraid of this. Honestly, making lasagna from scratch is harder (in my opinion). It is so easy to roll the leaves and place them in the pot. The hardest part about this whole dish is trying to get a big, wet, scalding hot cabbage out of a deep pot once you've finished boiling it.

I noticed in the video that she had a lot of meat mixture leftover. I cut the recipe down and only used 1 lb of ground turkey and it was more than enough. My last 2 leaves (I was able to get 10 leaves off the cabbage) were stuffed with the mixture because there was so much left!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Christmas Spirit

Sarah, over at NoWheyMama has started a Christmas inspired survey to help beat the "craptastic" blues that seem to be settling over our lives right now. Everybody is tagged and encouraged to post on their own blogs. She's also entertaining requests for additional questions.

Favorite Christmas Carol: Little Drummer Boy
Favorite Christmas Cookie: My maternal grandmother cooks a whole arsonal, it'd be impossible to pick! Although, these strawberry-shaped date cookies are at the top of the list, as well as these marshmallow "stained glass" cookies.
Favorite Christmas Movie: Holiday Inn
Favorite Christmas Tradition: Cooking and seeing the handful of overly lit up houses back home.
Christmas Dinner: Turkey and ham
Best Childhood Christmas Present: A big girl bike, My Pretty Ballerina and some dog that walked itself and barked when you pushed buttons on its "leash."
What do you do with Christmas Cards? Stick them on the tree, or in a pile on the coffee table. At home my mom strings them in the dining room, but Johnny would die if I put a hole in the wall to do that!
Sitting on Santa's lap: fun or scary? FUN!
EDITED: New questions from MzEll!
What is the best gift you've given? My mom loved the OLD version of the game of Life, the one endorsed by Art Linkletter. I tracked down a brand new box on eBay that somebody had found in their grandmother's attic. The little life chips and people weren't even punched out yet!
What is your favorite Christmas book? We had a whole basket of them my mom would take out each year when we were little. None stick out, right now though.
When did you find out the truth about Santa? I think I was maybe in 4th grade, so maybe 8 or 9? My mom made this HUGE 4' tall dollhouse (that I still have to this day) for my Barbie's. My cousin and I loved it, and played with it daily - but we noticed that the wallpaper, carpet, and linoleum decorating the house were the same samples of what were in our own houses, or other relatives houses and pieced it together. Turns out my mom had just gathered scraps from everybody's leftover decor and made the house using them!
EDITED: New question from Christina
Where is your favorite place to celebrate Christmas? I like spending Christmas with family, either in a colder, Christmassy atmosphere (read: NYC), or at home in NC. This year we're going to FL, and while I'm excited about a break of warm weather, it just doesn't feel like it'll be Christmas, and I'll also miss out visiting people in NC I only get to see once a year.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Rigatoni with Eggplant Puree

Giada was making wintery recipes yesterday to warm up with. This looked delicious, and I knew it was something both Johnny and I would like - plus there's snow on the ground, so we needed the warming up! I was going to the store today anyways, so I just added the needed ingredients to my list!

1 medium eggplant, cut into 1 inch cubes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, whole
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 tsp red pepper flakes (I omitted, neither of us like spicey)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1 lb. rigatoni pasta
1/4 cup torn fresh mint leaves (I substituted parsley - mint sounded too.. desserty to me)
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan (I substituted mozzarella because Parmesan doesn't agree with Johnny)

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine the eggplant, cherry tomatoes, garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. (I just did this right on the baking sheet) Spread the vegetables out in an even layer on the baking sheet. Roast in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the eggplant is golden, about 35 minutes.

While the vegetables are roasting, place the pine nuts in a small baking dish (I used foil). Place in the oven on the rack below the vegetables. Roast until golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from the oven and reserve.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender, but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally. Drain pasta into a large bowl and reserve 1 1/2 cups of the cooking liquid. (I just filled a mug with it - a little trick I stole from Racheal Ray.)

Transfer the roasted vegetables to a food processor. Add the torn mint leaves and extra virgin olive oil. Puree the vegetables.

Transfer the pureed vegetables to the bowl with the pasta and add the Parmesan. Stir to combine, adding the pasta cooking liquid 1/2 cup at a time until the pasta is saucy. Sprinkle the pine nuts over the top and serve.

Because I knew I was going to omit the mint and not add the red pepper, I thought I was going to lose a lot of the flavor. To account for this, I roasted 4 garlic cloves, instead of 3. This ended up with a little too much of a garlic after-taste when the meal was done, so in the future I'll stick to the 3 because it was still full of flavor and really delicious. It had an unexpected flavor - I thought it would be sort of a soggy, steamed eggplant mush flavor. But, it wasn't - it was a hearty, rich roasted flavor.

In shopping news: I saved $20.23 with the preferred card and $8.85 from clipped coupons, for a grand total of $29.08 off my bill!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Shortcut Cubed Steak Stew

Growing up, my Dad would make cubed steak the same way, every time. Until today, I've never eaten cubed steak except sauteed in a pan with onions, and a gravy of ketchup, mustard and Worcestershire sauce. I've made it for Johnny a few times, and while he likes the overall flavor, he's not a big fan of cubed steak in general.

I'm still a fan of its price, though. So, a dilemma was born. Being the Googler that I am, I got to work fixing this little problem. Apparently, cubed steak goes well with mushrooms and Campbell's "cream of" soups. I loathe mushrooms and Campbell's is the world's biggest supporter of whey, making sure it graces practically all of their products, especially the "cream of" soups. Eliminating those two ingredients unfortunately eliminated about 99.98% of recipes I read. Until, I stumbled across a little something called "Shortcut Cubed Steak Stew."

Think: beef stew. Just cubed steak instead of chunked up hunks of quality beef. I took that idea and ran with it.

4 beef cubed steak, cut in bite sized pieces
3 Tbsp flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
3 Tbsp shortening

1 large onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 medium potatoes, chopped
28 oz. can of tomato puree/crushed tomatoes
1 bouillon cube
1 cup water
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
onion powder, garlic powder, oregano, and sage, to taste
1 Tbsp parsley
1 tsp Gravy Master
1 pkg (10 oz.) frozen green peas/mixed veggies
1/2 green pepper, chopped

2 1/2 cup Bisquick mix
2/3 cup milk

Combine the flour, salt, pepper. Coat the cubed steak pieces with the flour mixture. In a large skillet, melt the shortening over medium heat. Gently shake off the excess coating before dropping in the skillet. Cook the steak for at least three minutes on each side, or until it is golden brown. Add the onion, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, and salt. Simmer uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are al dente.

Add the peas, and the green pepper. Mix up a bowl of Bisquick with milk to make drop biscuits. Dallop little spoonfuls around the top of the pot, put the lid on and set the timer for 10 minutes. The soup should continue simmering away, cooking the potatoes the rest of the way and steaming the dumplings. After 10 minutes, this is what you'll see:

We couldn't wait to dig in!!! Two huge bowls were served up and we ate and ate until we couldn't eat anymore. It was like a rustic, minestrone type flavor.

There's also a huge container of leftovers that would probably serve another three bowls. Delicious!!! And all from a $4 package of cubed steaks, canned tomatoes, potatoes and some frozen veggies we had on hand!