Thursday, January 29, 2009

Spices from Fr. Peter

Fr. Peter*, the priest who married my husband and me was born and raised in India. I'm still not quite sure how he came to serve in my small hometown. You can imagine the culture and environment shock for him to end up in a small rural town in the upper Midwest, not to mention the change for a pretty homogeneous group of rural farmers and small town dwellers who can sometimes be set in their ways!

My mom, being the welcoming sort, started to invite him out to family get-togethers right away. Over the years, he shared much with us and we learned so much from him. We still keep in touch at Christmas time and he continues to serve as a missionary priest in the U.S. - albeit in the warmer central states!

At some point, he shared this hand-typed list of spices with my mom, who then shared it with me. I enjoy reading the list every once in a while, and I keep it posted on the inside of a kitchen cabinet door. It reminds me of Fr. Peter, and it reminds me to pray for him.

  1. Bay Leaf -- Used in stews, soup and great with pot roast. Go easy. Bay leaves are strong, especially California bay leaves, which are the kind most grocery stores stock. I use 1/2 a leaf in my stews.
  2. Basil -- Ah, the taste of summer. who can resist fresh basil and tomatoes from the garden tossed with olive oil and garlic on a plate full of pasta? Dried, it's wonderful in soups, pasta dishes and chicken.
  3. Dill -- It's not just for pickles. Try some dill sprinkled on fish, chicken or even in a light cream soup.
  4. Garlic -- Nectar of the gods, well, bulb of the gods anyway. Garlic has a way of making the most ordinary food gourmet. Try sprinkling garlic powder (not garlic salt) into a prepared box of white cheddar macaroni and cheese. Surprise! It's pretty good. Fresh, though, is best. Squeeze it from a press into almost anything. Don't use with chocolate though.
  5. Ginger -- Sprinkle it in your stir-fry, try it on baked chicken breasts with a little soy sauce and garlic. For fun, get it fresh (it's that alien-looking root mass in the produce department) and freeze it. It will keep almost indefinitely when frozen. To use, hack off a piece, peel it and grate it into your recipe.
  6. Nutmeg -- I love nutmeg. If you can find nutmeg nuts and the itty, bitty grater that comes with it, buy it. Once you've had freshly grated nutmeg, the powdered stuff in the jar is beneath you. Obiously an ingredient in baking, it's also good grated on sauteed squash, green beans, and carrots.
  7. Oregano -- A staple in Italian cooking, it's also good in stews and salad dressings.
  8. Rosemary -- This beautiful plant grows wil in my garden and provides an intoxicating aroma to meats, stews and root veggies. Try some crumbled in your carrots for a change of pace.
  9. Tarragon -- An almost licorice flavor, this delicate herb takes front and center in vinaigrettes, as a delicious sprinkle on the top of baked or poached poultry and fish.
  10. Thyme -- Make time for thyme! It's strong and adds a hint of character to an otherwise pretty standard dish. Use it with chicken, soups and beef.

*I must mention that normally I wouldn't refer to a priest by his first name, out of respect. However, it was Fr's wish to be called such, and I didn't ask his permission to use his full name in this post anyway!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kids & Dips!

What is it about having a dip that will entice a kid to eat almost anything? If I add ranch dressing, au jus or ketchup to the meal, all of a sudden they'll finish the main course and ask for more raw veggies. My 5yo and 2yo will even proclaim that they LOVE celery. It just cracks me up!

Speaking of Eggplant...

...has anybody seen this movie??

It sounds intriguing. I wonder if it's available for rent somewhere. It's not expensive, if I were to purchase it, although I did not check the shipping on the website.

Chicken Potpie

When I was growing up, mom would occasionally buy the chicken and beef frozen potpies. My brothers and I thought they were so good, and I remember the flaky crust. Plus, we each got our own (I remember being very excited). Then, she stopped purchasing the potpies.... When I tried them again years later, I was very disappointed to find the potpies didn't live up to my expectations for taste, flakiness, or filling!

Well, I got up the courage to try a homemade chicken potpie, and it is definitely a keeper recipe. My whole family liked the flavor, filling, and flaky crust. The smell of the potpie baking brought all the kids into the kitchen at some point.

This recipe makes two pies. You can bake one and freeze one; or bake both, if you need more than six adult servings. The first time I made the recipe, I cut it in half because I didn't want to have extra, if it was a flop. This week, I made the full recipe and put one in the freezer. I'll update later to let you know if the frozen pie bakes up as nice.

TIP: You may want to bake the pie on a cookie sheet to catch drips. The first pie dribbled over the pie plate quite a bit and would have caused a burnt mess in the oven. The second batch was fine (which is good, because I forgot to put a cookie sheet under it!).

Yield: 12 Servings
Cook Time: 35-40 minutes

2 cups diced peeled potatoes
1 3/4 cups sliced carrots
2/3 cup chopped onion
1 cup butter or margarine
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons sea salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
3/4 teaspoon pepper
3 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups milk
4 cups cubed cooked chicken
1 cup frozen peas
1 cup frozen corn
4 pastry crusts for a 9 inch pie (2 crusts per pie)

1. Place potatoes and carrots in a large saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and set aside.

2. In a large skillet, saute onion in butter. Whisk in the flour, salt, thyme and pepper until blended.

3. Gradually whisk in broth and milk. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened. Add the chicken, peas, corn, potatoes and carrots; remove from the heat.

4. Line two 9-in. pie plates with bottom pastry. Fill pastry shells with chicken mixture.

5. Roll out remaining pastry to fit top of pies. Place over filling; pinch the edges of the bottom and top crusts together. Cut slits in top pastry to release steam. Cover the edge of the crust with foil to prevent over-browning.

6. Bake at 425 degrees F for 35-40 minutes or until crust is lightly browned. Remove the foil in the last 15 minutes of baking to let the edges brown. Let stand for 15 minutes before cutting (I did skimp on the ‘sitting still’ time).

We were all so hungry, I forgot to take a picture of a serving on a plate! We just dished up, prayed and ate. The crust is wonderfully flaky and the flavor is comforting. I'll definitely be adding this to the recipe list. For our family it's a 5 star recipe.
FREEZING INSTRUCTIONS: Cover the potpie with plastic wrap and then foil. Label the potpie and include baking instructions on the label.

BAKING THE FROZEN PIE: Cover the crust edges with foil and place on a baking sheet. Bake at 425 degrees F for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat to 350 degrees F; bake 70-80 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting

This is the yummy cake I made in the Mini-Cooking Session #2. This cake can be frozen whole or in pieces; whichever better suits your needs. I prefer to freeze it in pieces (that way I can go sneak one from the freezer without the kids knowing!). My husband's favorite flavor combination is chocolate and peanut butter, so he won't turn down any offer of this dessert and gives it a 5 star rating.

If you are experimenting with your main course, this dessert is a great "complaint preventer' because you can announce 'this dessert' will be served to whoever finishes up their main course without complaint. Most kids (especially mine) and husbands find that main courses taste better with this cake as the dessert. Yes, I am speaking from experience.

For fun, you can top it with a half (or a whole) mini peanut butter cup. Of course, if it's after supper you may want to forgo the extra sugar for the kids - my kids don't like to sleep after eating peanut butter cups, they'd rather run around the race-track they've made on our home's main floor. I also think shaved chocolate would look and taste great on top.

Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting
Yield: Approximately 16 servings

Chocolate Cake:
1 box Chocolate Cake Mix
1 ½ Tablespoon Unsweetened Cocoa powder
1 1/3 cup Milk
½ cup Vegetable Oil
3 Eggs
1 Teaspoon Vanilla

1 cup Creamy Peanut Butter
½ cup Butter, softened
2 cups Powdered Sugar
¼ cup Milk
2 Teaspoons Vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all the cake ingredients and beat together until smooth. Spray a 9x13 inch pan with cooking spray and pour in the cake batter. Bake for 40 minutes. Cake is done when center springs back at the touch and sides are just starting to pull away from the pan edge. Allow the cake to cool completely before frosting.

Frosting: Blend the peanut butter and butter. Add milk and vanilla; mix together. Add the powdered sugar and beat until frosting is fluffy. If the frosting seems too thick for your taste, add a bit more milk. Spread the frosting on thickly.

For Freezing: To freeze without cutting, flash freeze to set the frosting. Then, cover with plastic wrap and foil. Label and freeze the cake. Thaw completely to serve. To freeze in pieces, set the frosting in the frig. When set, cut into pieces (the size is your choice) and place in a covered container.

TIP: Some cakes, and especially brownies, are more easily cut with a plastic knife. I save a plastic knife in my baking drawer just for these occasions.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Rock, Paper, Scissors . . .

for the last 1/16 of the cheese pizza!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fast Food on the Prairie!

I can't stop at Little Ceasar's for pizza on the way home; I can't drive 5 blocks to Wendy's for happy meals & a combo; and Papa Murphy's isn't the same from the freezer! So, when I'm desperate, I check my freezer for 'faster' food from here. Sometimes, you need a break from cooking even when you like to cook.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Mini-Cooking Session #2

Last week, it was time for another mini-cooking session. This time around, I spread the cooking and preparation over the whole week. Our family was away from home on Wednesday and Friday, so I didn't want to overwork myself on the weekend. For this session, the following meals were included:

Suzie's Chicken Enchiladas (3 meals)
Chocolate Cake with Peanut Butter Frosting (1 to eat & 1 to freeze)
Chicken Rice Soup (2 meals)
Italian Sausage Soup (2 meals)
Taco Soup (2 meals)
Monday - Cooked and froze rice for Chicken Rice Soup.

Wednesday - Grocery shopping for the non-perishable ingredients.

Thursday - Prepared all the meat . . . cooked and diced or chopped the chicken and browned all the ground beef and Italian sausage. My oldest son shredded cheese for the enchiladas. Today, I also prepared the Chicken Rice Soup. It's the least time intensive of the recipes and thus has the fewest ingredients.

Chicken Rice Soup

Friday - Grocery shopping for the perishable ingredients.

Saturday - The day for cooking has arrived! My schedule went smoothly and I was done with clean-up just after our noon meal. The schedule below shows how Saturday morning went for me.

Almost all the ingredients for Saturday's Session

7:20a Assemble all the ingredients and start preparing Taco Soup

7:40a Taco Soup simmering on the cooktop & prepare ingredients for Italian Sausage Soup

8:00a Taco Soup cooling

8:20a Italian Sausage Soup in crock pot until 11:20a

Italian Sausage Soup in Crock Pot

8:45a Chicken & onion frying in the pan for enchiladas

Chopped Chicken and Onion

9:05a Enchiladas filled and rolled

My Enchilada-Filling Assembly Line (above) and Pre-rolled Enchiladas (below)

9:30a White sauce for enchiladas prepared and then poured over enchiladas

Topped with cheese and ready for a quick-freeze

9:40a Enchiladas in freezer - quick freeze before wrapping in plastic & foil

9:55a Taco Soup is double bagged & stored in freezer. Started mixing two chocolate cakes.

10:20a Chocolate cake is into the oven for 40min.

10:45a Peanut Butter frosting is ready to go

With this at the end, it makes the chaos worthwhile! Very Yummy!!

Watch for this recipe in an upcoming post - the frosting is sooo good.

11:48a Frost, cut and freeze one chocolate cake

12:00p Wrap & label frozen chicken enchilada meals

12:15p Eat lunch with the family & clean-up afterwards

1:00p Time to Rest!!

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

New Cookware!

My mom & dad gave me new cookware for Christmas; and I've been impatiently waiting to try it out. It's so shiny & clean that I really don't want to get it dirty. However, cookware is no good if it isn't used. Hopefully this new set (Food Network brand purchased from will last as long as my previous set.

The old set was purchased after I hosted a Pampered Chef party more than 10 years ago. The old set was Teflon coated and the Teflon was starting to get very scratched and pitted. Regardless, I was impressed with how the set held up over the many years of heavy use. The pieces used the most were the skillet, dutch oven, and 3.5 quart sauce pan. I plan to keep using the largest & smallest skillets, as well as two smaller sauce pans.

A few goals with the new set were to avoid Teflon and aluminum (I also own quite a few pieces of aluminum Calphalon). Finding a set of heavier cookware was also important. My sister did a bit of online research and helped my mom decide upon the Food Network™ Tri-Ply Stainless Steel line of cookware.

On Monday, we made grilled cheese sandwiches in the Sauteuse Pan. The browning was nice and even, and there wasn't any sticking, even though just a little butter was being used (Yes, butter. I do not like margarine & cooking sprays can leave a residue). This pan will serve as a skillet until I decide if I need a 'real' skillet.

Tuesday, I prepared Taco Soup in the Stock Pot. Now, I usually have to be so careful about burning when I'm reheating this particular soup. Today, reheating was easy. Three times I thought for sure I had neglected the pot long enough that I'd be 'recovering' my Taco Soup by pouring it into another pan. But, it didn't burn! I'm really starting to enjoy this new cookware.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Just the Two of Us

Tonight, the two older kids went to a basketball game with Grandma and Grandpa. My husband arrived home shortly before they left. In the midst of a great amount of commotion involving lots of running, swords, walkie talkies, and me covering my ears, the idea of a quiet dinner came to mind. I thought it would be a great night to have the two youngest kids eat first, and then treat them to a movie. Then, during the movie, their dad and I could have a relatively quiet and uninterrupted meal . . . Just the Two of Us.

To my surprise, it worked!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Menu Planning #2

This is the menu I’ll be (trying!) to use from January 4-17. There are a lot of sandwiches on the menu for these two weeks because of our travel schedule. We are trying to stick to our food budget by preparing our own lunches, and sandwiches keep the best when traveling.

When I posted my last menu, a friend commented on the number of times I use LEFTOVERS! I thought everyone used leftovers the same way. It is my opinion that leftovers loose their texture, taste, and desirability after more than two days, so we always try to eat leftovers within that time. Sometimes, I will freeze the remaining portion of a meal; however, not all meals can be frozen. That being said, I do like leftovers because it saves me time.

January 4-10
Dinner: French Toast & Venison sausage at Grandma and Grandpa’s
Supper: Something quick from the freezer!

Dinner: Tomato soup & grilled cheese sandwiches
Supper: Hamburger Stroganoff

Dinner: Leftover Hamburger Stroganoff
Supper: Taco Soup

Wednesday – Away from home
Dinner: Ham & Cheese Sandwiches
Supper: Ham & Cheese Sandwiches

Dinner: Leftover Taco Soup
Supper: Chicken & Rice

Friday – Away from home
Dinner: Tuna Sandwiches
Supper: Eat out or Tuna Sandwiches

Dinner: Leftover Chicken & Rice
Supper: Hamburgers & Oven-Baked Fries

January 11-17
Dinner: Waffles & Venison Sausage
Supper: Chicken Enchiladas

Dinner: Leftover Chicken Enchiladas
Supper: Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Dinner: Sandwiches or Leftover Spaghetti
Supper: Leftover Spaghetti

Dinner: Italian Sausage Soup
Supper: Leftover Italian Sausage Soup

Dinner: Hot Ham & Cheese Sandwiches
Supper: Pizza

Dinner: Egg Salad Sandwiches
Supper: Egg Salad Sandwiches

Dinner: BBQ Beef Sandwiches
Supper: Hot Beef Au Jus

Note: cornbread, biscuits, salad or veggies are added to the main dish to make a complete meal.