Monday, November 30, 2009

Some Alternative Christmas Gift Ideas....

I love shopping for other people. I enjoy shopping for my kids, my husband, friends and family. Christmas-giving is something very fun for me (except the wrapping). This year we have been in negotiations with Rob's side of the family to decide how we would approach gift-giving now that we are all single-income families. I know some families who exchange put a monetary limit on their gift-giving, some require the item to be handmade, and some choose to not exchange at all. My sister and I decided a number of years ago to only exchange gifts with each other during birthdays.

Rob and I try to keep our Christmas as simple as possible. I do most of the shopping, but we usually brainstorm beforehand, especially for the kids and usually for his dad and mine. We only buy gifts with cash. Sometimes that means that I buy a few things here and there, and that is what we have found to work for us. We do not own a credit card. We have always kept our kids expectations low in that they probably receive about five gifts from us and they are quite happy with that. I always buy them a full outfit to wear for Christmas day, a few small gifts, and their "big" gift. This year the big gift for Josh is a hunting rifle and I bought the girls some "school" supplies for when they teach their stuffed animals. We also donate to charities for our great-grandmothers, typically to a local charity or through Samaritan's Purse (they will send a card informing them of the gift).

I also try to make some homemade treats for several neighbors and friends. Another thing I have done since my kids have been in school is to prepare some food for their teachers. In the past I have done either a lunch for them to eat at school (usually a salad, a piece of quiche and some fresh fruit) or a breakfast that they can share with their family (blueberry coffee cake, fresh fruit, and a whole quiche). They have always responded with enthusiasm, but it will be interesting to add all of Josh's teachers to the mix (four main subjects).

I have been trying to creatively give this year. We decided to exchange names with Rob's side of the family and I am planning to give a four-part gift: a gift of service, a "re-gift", and a traditional gift, and a handmade gift. The gift of service means that I will give my time to someone....maybe to babysit, to help with small projects around their house (ie cleaning their refrigerator, helping to organize a garage, re-arrange and "house clean" a room, etc.) as a few examples. The "re-gifted" present is self-explanatory - I found something in my attic that I think will be perfect for my recipient. As for the handmade gift, has a great slideshow of gift ideas that can either be purchased or made.

I do a lot of shopping on Amazon. I will add things to my wish list all through the year, plus others can view the list simply by adding your email address.
When I shop on Amazon, reviews play a large part in my selections. I love finding "treasures" that other people have tried and love. An idea I had for gift-giving would be to give your recipient a basket of "your favorite things"- include items you use every day (mine would include magic erasers, dove deodorant, oil of olay face cream with spf 15, bigelow products from B&B works, etc.)

Here's an idea for the cook on your list: Give a gift of spices. Include all of your favorite spices and maybe a few recipes for use them for. Another suggestion is a copy of your favorite cookbook. Notice how my Betty Crocker is quite well-worn? She brought me through many a long day when I was newly married, lived five hours from home and my mom wasn't able to answer the phone!

Maybe you could start giving someone a collection of something. My friend, Whitney, has been giving me this collection. I have found it to be a very meaningful. You could even explain on the gift tag that this gift will be added to each year.

I put in a special request for whoever draws my name this year. I would like some new Christmas decorations. I am still using this table runner my mom made and used in her home since at least 1983. What I am asking for, however, is a "gift certificate" that my purchaser will shop for new decorations for me AFTER Christmas (when everything is 75-90% off).

One of the best gifts I have received is an address book from my mother-in-law. She bought the book and then filled it in my all of the addresses of far-away relatives! You could buy a basket and fill it with an adress book, envelopes, stamps, thank-you notes, a few occasional cards and envelopes, etc.

Maybe you have finished your shopping, or your list has already been decided. If not, I hope some of these ideas might inspire you!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

tan food always tastes best.....

Well, I had the best intentions today. I really wanted to add delicous, jewel-toned deliciousness to the Thanksgiving Table today. I created a gorgeous pomegranate and gorgonzola studded mixed greens salad, ruby-colored cranberry conserve, and roasted some fall vegetables. It was beautiful, healthy, full of antioxidants. It was totally lacking compared to all of the "tan food". Tan food, in my opinion, is delicious. It may not be as healthy as the fruit and vegetable-filled options, but once a year (at least) it is totally necessary. We had stuffing, mashed potatoes, baked corn, turkey, gravy, and rolls. All tan, and all mouthwatering.

We had a really nice day as a family. Besides the fact that I totally embarrassed myself by saying I was thankful for a non-clogged sink (hey, I have trouble expressing emotion!) everything went off without a hitch!

On the flip side, take a look at these colors. I do have to say that when I see all of these fruits and vegetables that He created for our pleasure, I am in awe of this life and how it is only a foretaste of eternity. Thank you, Lord for this day when our country expresses its gratitute, may it always bring glory to You!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Guinness Stew

I have been waiting to make this stew for weeks. Every time I opened my vegetable crisper, the celeriac was taunting me. Have you ever seen a celery root (or celeriac)? It's like a large, rooty earth-colored bulb. I had it for the first time last Christmas when my flexitarian sister suggested we combined it for celery-root/mashed potatoes. It's amazing how much it smells like celery (more than celery does, actually).

I had frozen some leftover lamb pieces a few weeks ago with the intention of making the stew. I liked the lamb, but I think the flavor of beef would be a bit more mellow and not overshadow the flavor of the other ingredients. The beef may not appear to be very tender if you start with "stew beef" but it will become tender after some decent cooking time.

I think that this stew is very versatile. A large number of ingredients could be added or removed, but two necessary ingredients are a heavy and dark beer (like Guinness or Sam Adams double boch) and mashed potatoes. I served our stew over mashed potatoes (made with buttermilk, mmmm...) and it was delectable. This is, for sure, a "carbo-licious" dinner, so if you're watching your starch intake, run for the hills. Because I had some great root vegetables on hand I added: sweet potatoes, onions, parsnips, celeriac, and carrots. I think you could probably also add regular potatoes, pearl onions, butternut squash, turnips, rutabagas, etc.

The verdict? I found it very satisfying, rich, and full-flavored. The kids were kinda split on their reviews. Our son really liked it, but he seems to have pretty mature tastes. If you're cooking for kids, maybe you could start with sweet potatoes, carrots, onions, and yukon gold or white potatoes.

Guinness Stew
4 T butter
3 medium carrots, coarsely chopped
1 sweet potatoes, sliced coarsely
1 small onion, sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and sliced
1 celery root, peeled and chopped
Stew pieces of beef
1/2 cup flour
1 bottle Guinness or dark beer
2 T tomato paste
1 can beef broth
mashed potatoes

1. In large saute pan, melt butter over medium-high heat. Add vegetables and brown for about 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Remove vegetables. In the same pan, add stew pieces (coated in flour) and brown briefly, about 3-5 minutes.
3. Deglaze pan with beer, tomato paste, and beef broth.
4. Place all ingredients (except mashed potatoes) into large stockpot and cook over low heat for at least 45 minutes to one hour.
5. In a large bowl, place mashed potatoes and cover with Guinness Stew.

Favourite Thing(s) Friday

**This is a re-post from last year, but I thought it was a good representation of my favourite things!**

I am not a typical "girl". I'm not much into makeup or jewelry, I don't like flowers, and I'm not what you would call "soft". Oh, there is lots of physical softness, trust me, but I'm just not all warm and fuzzy. I like lots of personal space and I feel much more comfortable "conversing" on a computer. I also despise "stuff". I hate clutter, I hate keeping anything I don't use. There is, however, another side to my sentimentality. I have a few things that I hold near and dear to my heart and not because they are worth anything in the monetary realm, but because they have been given to me by those I love.

First and foremost, my wedding ring is important to me [for two reasons]. When Rob and I married, we didn't have money for anything other than a band for each of us. I was quite content with that, but had casually mentioned that if I had my choice of any ring, I would love to have one similar to my Nanny's (my maternal grandmother). After we had been married for five years, he purchased the very ring from her and "proposed" with it. It was nearly the sweetest thing he's ever done for me. I am in love with this ring, because it's from him and because it used to be hers.

My other grandmother was likewise quite special to me. She passed almost exactly four years ago. To say she was a lady was an understatement. She and my grandfather did quite a bit of traveling and they bought many special things and did a wonderful job of bequeathing them to family members [after her passing]. These plates were purchased in Israel and every time I see them I think of her.

This is my dining room. This room holds all of my "special" things. It is the only room in my house that actually contains a full set of anything (furniture, china, glasses, silver). My silver was purchased for my "hope chest" at an estate sale, the "jelly glasses" were one of my Nanny's wedding presents [when she married], the china was bought by my dad in Japan when he was in the navy, and the furniture set was given to us by my Nanny when we purchased our home. I wish I could say that we used this room more, but that's also why these things have survived. My dad makes pottery in the winter and the vase on the buffet is one of ten things that he fired in a large outdoor kiln. I love the idea of a "hope chest": to slowly add special things to give your child on their wedding day. It is a bit of an antiquated idea, but very special all the same.

I hope you have special things in your life. Not because they are things, but because they remind you of people who love you.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It Never Fails.... and steamed shrimp

Why is it that whenever Rob is away we have a minor catastrophe? A few years ago we experienced a mouse epidemic. We caught nine mice in seven days (all in the same kitchen cabinet). Thankfully I could pay my son to dispose of the mice. Yesterday and today was bear camp. What is that you ask? Apparently it's when weird boys tromp around in the woods [in the rain] looking for a bear but only seeing squirrels instead. I'm trying to be supportive, really I am, but then we had a clogged pipe. So, anything that travels down the kitchen sink reappears in the laundry-room utility sink. I consider myself tough (I mean, come on, I had an 11lb 4oz baby). My toughness does not extend however, to rodents or clogged pipes. I have resorted to filling a bowl with the water and flushing it down the toilet. I'll be honest, I gagged quite a few times. (And I did try to call a plumber, but he was unwilling to "travel" 20 minutes, and I think I'll just let Rob fix know, cause I'm supportive!)

The one good thing about Rob being out of town is that I feel a little freer to try new recipes. Tonight we had steamed shrimp, leek bread pudding, and sauteed cabbage with butter beans. Unfortunately, the cabbage/beans were tasteless, and the bread pudding was underseasoned. The shrimp, on the other hand, were delicious. This recipe would be perfect for entertaining during the holiday season. I have been making steamed shrimp like this since I started cooking. I like to steam my own shrimp to ensure that they are perfectly done. It usually takes about 11-12 minutes to achieve a nice firm texture. This is my mom's recipe and it is super simple but delicious all the same. I always dip my shrimp in lots of cocktail sauce (equal parts horseradish and ketchup).

Steamed Shrimp
1 lb shell-on raw shrimp
1 lemon, quartered
1 stalk celery, halved
1 small onion, halved
2 cups water

steam the shrimp in the remaining ingredients until shrimp are firm and pink

Friday, November 20, 2009

Boys are Weird and one more side dish...

Two nights ago we were spending time together as a family. Okay, not really, but we were all in the living room together. Rob and Josh were side by side on the sofa on their respective laptops, I was in the armchair on my laptop, and the girls were playing school on the floor. The boys spent over two hours searching for the perfect air soft gun. The neighbor boys just bought a "sick" air-soft gun and Josh was desperate to find something equally painful. No kidding, one of the testimonials said that the gun was so powerful it made their friend cry. Moms of small boys, don't kid yourself - your little boy will not always be sweet and innocent. Don't get me wrong, Josh is a sweet kid, he is just a typical boy. For that I am thankful!

There is quite the difference, though, between our kids. The girls play library, school, they carry around babies and stuffed animals, and pretend to talk to their "boyfriends" on their cell phones. Josh arranges wars with the neighbors, stalks our resident chipmunk with his bb gun, and has one minute phone conversations with his best friend.

What I find hilarious is that we as adults are just as different. I love this story I'm about to tell you. I really couldn't find a better illustration if I tried. Anyone who knows me well will probably have already heard this story and I apologize. It's simply too perfect not to retell. A few years ago we had some visiting family from Colorado. They brought some recent family pictures from Christmas and a small vacation they'd taken with siblings, parents, cousins, etc. The women, of course, all excitedly flipped through the photos, oohing and aahing over the darling children and how fast they'd grown. There were pictures of each member of the extended family and the women stopped to comment on a picture of Rob's uncle. We noticed how he's gotten new glasses that "made him look younger", and "oh, my, his hair is really turning gray".

Well, believe it or not, the guys did want to look at the pictures, but not to ooh and ahh over the babies and Christmas decorations. They flipped immediately to the picture of Rob's uncle (not to point out his new glasses or grey hair). No, the reason they flipped to that picture is that said uncle was holding his new Christmas present. It was an AK-47 (a large automatic rifle for those of you who don't have husbands well-versed in our 2nd amendment). Okay, let me spell it out for you. Uncle C was holding a gun larger that life and the women didn't even notice! How different we all are and how thankful I am that we were made that way. :)

The recipe I want to share today is completely unrelated to this little story. But, I do love this recipe. It would be perfect on your Thanksgiving table, Christmas table, or even Easter. It is savory, creamy, and utterly delicious. My father-in-law about went crazy over it when I made it for Easter a few years ago. The original recipe calls for a condensed cream soup, but I've discovered a good white sauce can permanently replace these sodium-laden soups.

I hope you have the chance to make this in the next'll love it!

French Onions
2-3 large sliced onions
5T butter, divided
3T flour
1/2 lb swiss
3/4 cup milk
2T fresh thyme
salt, pepper (1/2 tsp each)
1 T soy sauce

1. Saute sliced onions in 2T butter until starting to soften. Pour into baking dish. Top with shredded cheese.
2. In same pan, melt additional 3T butter. Add 3T flour and stir until smooth. Slowly add milk until thick and smooth. Add salt and pepper. Add thyme.
3. Mix with soy sauce and pour over onions.
4. Top with croutons. I like the dark ones, but you could always make your own if you have some old french bread laying around.
5. Bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, for 35-45 minutes.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thanksgiving Sides

I am so excited for Thanksgiving! Not only do I love the food but this year my husband is going to work on making a playroom for the kids and finishing our master bathroom! (We've been without a master for over a year) Plus, I just bought the new version of Trivial Pursuit, and I'm hoping to play it sometime during the weekend. I am desperate to find an outlet for all of my random bits of information. We usually go to my in-laws for Thanksgiving, and always enjoy a similar menu. This year I decided to make roasted butternut squash and a fall salad with pomegranate seeds. I typically am the dessert maker, but I thought the veggies would add some extra color to the table. I'll probably also make some cranberry sauce, I used Ina Garden's recipe last year and it was perfect. I will include some other favorite recipes so you'll have some ideas to contribute to your Thanksgiving meal, even if you don't have a cool new game to play!

Barefoot Contessa Cranberry Fruit Conserve
1 (12-ounce) bag of fresh cranberries, cleaned
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and chopped
1 orange, zest grated and juiced
1 lemon, zest grated and juiced
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans (I omitted the nuts and raisins)

Cook the cranberries, sugar, and 1 cup of water in a saucepan over low heat for about 5 minutes, or until the skins pop open. Add the apple, zests, and juices and cook for 15 more minutes. Remove from the heat and add the raisins and nuts. Let cool, and serve chilled.

Baked Corn
2 cups corn, drained
2 T flour
3/4 tsp salt
2 eggs
3 T sugar
3 T butter, melted
3/4 cup milk
Mix ingredients together and bake at 375 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until set

1 large loaf cheap, white bread, cubed
2 sticks salted butter
1 large stalk celery, chopped
1 large onion, chopped coarsely
2 eggs
2/3 cup milk
large bunch fresh parsely, chopped
fresh ground black pepper

1. Cube bread and put into bowl overnight.
2. Melt butter into large saucepan. Add celery and onion and cook over medium heat until softened.
3. Mix all remaining ingredients with bread cubes and onion mixture.
4. Shape stuffing into baseball-sized balls and place into 9x13 pan -or- place mixture into greased 9x13 pan. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes. Uncover and bake for an additional 10 minutes.

Mixed Greens with Pomegranate Seeds, Gorgonzola, apples, and pine nuts
Mixed Greens
Pomegranate Seeds
Crumbled Gorgonzola
Toasted Pine Nuts
Chopped Apples
Chopped Chives

Layer above ingredients to create a colorful salad. Sprinkle equal parts olive oil and lemon juice over salad. Add freshly ground black pepper and serve.

My Kind of Meatloaf

I do not like ground beef. I'm pretty sure it's the smell of the beef while it's cooking. It's not that I don't like beef or even hamburgers, it's just the main ingredient that I don't like. After years of making Rob's favorite meal (meatloaf), I decided to improvise a little and see if we all liked it a little better (everyone but Rob liked it much better). I added half ground turkey, lots of veggies, and cheeses. The result is my kind of meatloaf: full of veggies and flavor to mask the ground beef. I still make Rob's meatloaf, I just usually make both kinds to satisfy everyone.

Italian-Style Meatloaf
1/2 lb ground beef
1/2 lb ground turkey
1 small zucchini
10 small button mushrooms
1/2 red pepper
1 small onion, chopped coarsely
2 garlic cloves, chopped finely
1 bag of spinach, frozen, completely thawed and drained
2 T olive oil
1/2 cup parmesan cheese
1/3 cup bread crumbs
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella
3/4 jar of marinara sauce (I use Barilla)

1. In a large saute pan, brown veggies in olive oil (zucchini, mushrooms, onion, garlic, pepper). The vegetables should be cut into similarly sized pieces to ensure even cooking time. Remove from heat and set aside when browned.
2. Mix meats, spinach, parmesan, bread crumbs, and eggs until well blended. Add veggies.
3. Put half of meat and veggie mixture on bottom of large loaf pan. Sprinkle half of the mozzarella and half of the marinara sauce and repeat the procedure.
4. Cover the loaf with aluminum foil and bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until cooked through and browned on top (at least 25 more minutes).

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Cherry Turnovers and Ina's Cole Slaw

I'm in kind of a rut. I've successfully either made totally disappointing dinners, or just simply made the same old stuff. Last week I prepared some food for my friend Whitney's store. She celebrated the anniversary of her store, Collage. My intention had been to take pictures of the results and all was going as planned until I realized that the camera we'd found was full of pictures (from this summer, believe it or not). So, two pictures later, I was done.

I was quite happy with the recipes I'd used for the party: artichoke and spinach dip with crudites, goat cheese stuffed mushrooms, cheese straws, bacon-wrapped dates, and lemon buttermilk baby cakes, cowboy cookies, and snickerdoodles. Everything turned out well, but I was a little disappointed in the flavor of the mushrooms [room temperature]. Alternately, I much preferred the bacon-wrapped dates in the room temperature version as opposed to still hot.

I feel like I always learn something with my cooking jobs. I think the most important thing that I learned last week was that I love puff pastry. I thought I hated it. I can't tell you how many times I've picked up the package in the freezer section and then put it back when I read the ingredients. I actually discovered that Giant has their own generic brand of puff pastry that, while it includes palm and coconut oil, does not include any partially hydrogenated oils. I'm not saying it's healthy, but it's kind of addicting in the simplicity. Since then, I've been thinking of ways to use it again. I found a recipe for apple turnovers and since I had cherries in the freezer I decided to do a little experimenting.

Last Wednesday my mom and I took the kids to Philadelphia to visit my sister and to do some educational touring. My mom really wanted to try the Tavern Inn for lunch, a historical inn that still serves colonial recipes. For lunch I had the white bean and cabbage soup. Supposedly, this is Thomas Jefferson's recipe (more likely it probably was a servant's recipe, I can't picture him making soup) and it was delicious. The recipe was totally vegetarian and I was desperate to recreate it. I've never made a vegetable stock before, but last night I set out to see what I could accomplish. Let's just say the result was less than delicious. My eleven-year-old actually loved the soup, but I found it very tasteless. I think if I ever make it again I would use a ham bone (screw the vegetarian thing...).

Tonight we had porchetta sandwiches (so delicious and salty). I had some leftover cabbage from the soup debacle, so I thought I'd make cole slaw. I remembered Ina Garten had a recipe for cole slaw with roquefort. I am in love with Ina. Her recipes are downright flawless, simple, delicious, and straightforward. What kind of kills me about her is that she always qulalifies her recipes in terms of, "good roquefort", "good chocolate", "good vanilla". I hope it's fine that I usually only have sub-par ingredients on hand. I just can't justify scharfen-berger chocolate or madagascar vanilla. What can I say, I'm just too frugal. Anyway, all that to say - I made the cole slaw, used crumbled gorgonzola (total cost, $2.49) and the result was totally mouthwatering. Oh, and I totally only had spicy brown mustard on hand, and it was fine. I think that's the mark of a good recipe, it's delicious no matter how it is adapted.

Cherry Turnovers
1 sheet puff pastry
sour cherries, thawed and fully drained
1/2 cup sugar
4-5 T cornstarch
3 T cold water
1 egg beaten
sugar for dusting

1. Roll out puff pastry with floured rolling pin until relatively thin.
2. Thicken cherries. In a large saucepan, mix cherries and sugar. Mix cornstarch and cold water in small cup until well blended. Pour into cherries and cook over medium heat until "juice" is clear and mixture is nicely thickened. Set aside mixture until cooled.
3. Cut pastry into squares. Brush outside "square" with egg wash. Place 2T cherry mixture in middle and fold diagonally.
4. Place onto cookie sheet, brush each turnover with egg wash and sprinkle with sugar.
5. Bake at 395 degree for 8-10 minutes or until brown.

Ina's Cole Slaw with Roquefort
1 small head cabbage, thinly sliced
2 carrots, scrubbed, peeled and grated
1 cup good mayonnaise (see what I mean?) :)
1/8 cup dijon
1 T whole-grain mustard
1 T apple cider vinegar
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
3/4 cup Roquefort cheese
1 apple, finely chopped

1. Mix ingredients and allow flavors to meld for at least 2 hours.
***I decided to add the apple for a little crunch. I'm sure you could add different types of cabbage, shredded sweet potatoes, shredded golden beets, etc.***

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

An Anniversary Party...

My friend and neighbor, Whitney, just bought the coolest little boutique here in York. She has asked me to prepare some food for her in the past and I am excited to be able to make some food for her tomorrow. The store is celebrating their twentieth anniversary. I absolutely love making appetizers and hors d'oeuvres. I like making meals for clients, too, but I just love being able to make creative and fancy(ish) foods.

Rob finally bought another camera, (I'm expecting to find our old one sometime later today!) so I will try to take pictures and post them. I sent her a few menu selections and here is what she chose: spinach and artichoke dip with crudites and crackers, cheese straws, goat-cheese stuffed mushrooms, bacon-wrapped dates, and a cookie tray (cowboy cookies, lemon-buttermilk baby cakes, and snickerdoodles). I am also going to make a cider punch and some sangria.

Unfortunately, I am not great with planning; My mom and I are taking the kids into Philadelphia to do touristy things and to visit my sister. I have done much of the food preparation ahead of time, but I still wish I could have scheduled this a little bit better. Oh, well, the kids do not have school today and I'm excited to do something fun and different with them.

If you live in the York area, come check out Collage tomorrow from 4pm-8pm. There will be great snacks and she has the store on sale. She has some really great lines that she's carrying, plus lots of handbags, cool handmade jewelry, and a great kids selection (seriously, her baby stuff is so cute it almost makes me want to have another one!).

Monday, November 9, 2009

Shredded Beef Enchiladas

We are a family of voracious meat-eaters. It is quite rare that we enjoy a meal without some type of meat. I feel like our diet is balanced, and my goal in meal preparation is to please the palate of our family while also incorporating a variety of nutritious components. That said, I know many people who have limited their red meat intake and experienced a beneficial result. We're just not there yet (I'm not sure we ever will be...sometimes I choose enjoyment over health).

One of our favorite meals is shredded beef enchiladas. For some reason, when we travel to our cabin I always make these. Because the kitchen is even smaller than the one in my home, it's easier to make meals ahead of time (plus, it's more enjoyable to be outside than to be slaving away in the kitchen). These enchiladas freeze well, travel well, and taste great even days after you've made them. The filling is very versatile and I've included yellow rice, black beans, lime zest, and various other ingredients and always liked the result. Aside from the cook time for the roast, this dish comes together very quickly.

I will share with you the basic recipe and you can improvise however you think your family would prefer. I usually buy an arm roast from my butcher shop. I really like how it shreds, but I'm sure you could easily substitute your favorite beef roast. I rarely use my crockpot, but I have, on occasion, used it to prepare the beef for this recipe. I definitely would cook the roast on high for most of the day in order to achieve full "shredding" potential. I require a tender and shredded result, I'm just not found of cubed near-tender meat [in this dish].

Shredded Beef Enchiladas
2 lb arm roast
1/2 jar salsa
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp ground black pepper
flour tortillas
4 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1 can refried beans (I use the vegetarian version)
1 can enchilada sauce
1/2 carton sour cream (or plain yogurt)

1. Place roast in a oven-proof dish and top with spices (cumin, paprika, garlic and onion powder, and black pepper). Pour salsa over roast. Bake at 350 degrees for at least 3 hrs, or until meat shreds easily.
2. Shred meat and place into large saute pan. Add 2 cups shredded cheddar and sour cream and cook over low heat until cheese is melted and consistency is smooth.
3. Assemble tortillas: On the middle of the tortilla layer refried beans, a small amount of cheese and meat mixture. Roll up and place, seam side down, on a large baking dish.
4. Continue assembling until pan is filled. Pour enchilada sauce over tortillas, top with remaining cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.
**An alternate way of assembling these is to spray the bottom of the pan with non-stick spray and overlap three tortilla shells. You can then layer: refried beans, tortillas, meat mixture, tortillas, cheese, tortillas, enchilada sauce and more cheese. Bake for the same amount of time. I have done this before and the bottom gets kind of crispy and it is just a different way to enjoy this basic recipe.**

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Chicken with Creamed Spinach

I try to make birthdays special for our kids. While we try not to spend too much on presents, we do have some other special traditions. I always buy them a new outfit to wear to their party, including shoes (and nail polish for the girls). I also allow them to pick whatever meal they would like to share with our extended family, including themed birthday cake. I am very, very far from a baking professional, but the kids are always so excited anyway. We have had many different meals over the years, including: ribs and sticky rice, turkey dinner, reuben sandwiches, flank steak with grilled corn, and chicken with creamed spinach. Kate, our middle daughter, (and unfortunately for her, my twin, born 25 years apart) loves this chicken with creamed spinach. Of course, she loves noodles, so for her I always serve it on top of egg noodles. I don't remember what else we served that night, but I always ask my Nanny to bring pickled beets and eggs (she makes the best), my mother-in-law usually brings a relish tray, my mom usually brings another main dish (she's a much better cook than me!), and we fill in with lots of good food. It's usually a lot of work, and gets kinda pricey, but it's a tradition that includes family and makes the kids feel special.

Chicken with Creamed Spinach
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, pounded thinly
bread crumbs
parmesan cheese
freshly ground black pepper
4 Tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, sliced
1 bag frozen spinach, thawed and drained
1/2 cup greek yogurt or sour cream
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup shredded cheddar

1. Mix bread crumbs and parmesan cheese (I would start with 1/2 cup of each). Dredge chicken breasts in crumb/parm mixture.
2. In a large saute pan, brown chicken breasts in olive oil. Remove breasts from pan once both sides are nicely browned and place into a baking dish.
3. In the same saute pan, add more oil if necessary and lightly brown garlic. Add spinach, yogurt, and remaining ingredients and cook over medium heat until cheese is melted and the rest of the ingredients are combined well.
4. Pour "cream" mixture over chicken breasts, sprinkle with additional crumbs and parmesan and bake at 375 for 45 minutes or until chicken breasts are cooked through and bread crumbs are golden.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Three Soups and Chocolate Pudding

Today was a cook day for a client. He ordered three meals and three soups: chili, clam chowder, and crab bisque. I have already shared the chili recipe in reference to the loaded baked potato, but today I'll share the other two recipes. Soups are a great way to quickly put dinner on the table and to also include as many healthful ingredients as possible.

Chocolate pudding was always a treat growing up and my mom always put the pudding in special crystal goblets. My sister and I would fight over the largest goblet and we very annoyingly expected my mom to remember whose turn it was. I'm not sure I've ever had instant pudding, but this is so easy it's worth the extra five minutes to prepare. I make pudding for us occasionally, and it's a great incentive for the kids to finish their dinner. I try to prepare a dessert every other day as a way to incentivize my kids and also to prevent us from eating too much candy. Don't get me wrong, we love candy - but there are several reasons why we try to avoid it, including our total lack of dental insurance.

Clam Chowder
1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp flour
1 bag frozen corn,thawed and divided
1 bottle clam juice
1 1/2 cups half and half
2 small cans chopped clams

1. In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Add carrot, celery, and onion. Cook over medium heat until vegetables are tender.
2. Sprinkle flour over vegetables and stir. Slowly add clam juice and stir until thickened. Add half and half.
3. Puree half of the thawed corn [in a blender]. Add pureed corn and the rest of the thawed corn to the soup.
4. Season with salt, pepper, and Old Bay, if desired.

Crab Bisque
1 small onion, finely chopped
3 Tbsp butter
4 Tbsp flour
1 can chicken broth
1 1/2 cups half and half
2 Tbsp fresh parsley, finely chopped
salt, pepper
8 oz "special" crabmeat*

1. In a medium saucepan, melt butter. Add onion and cook until translucent.
2. Sprinkle flour over onions and stir until smooth. Slowly add chicken broth and stir until thickened.
3. Add half and half and parsley. Season mixture with salt and pepper.
4. Add crabmeat and serve.
*I buy my crabmeat in the seafood section, I use "special" instead of claw or lump [for the soup]

Chocolate Pudding
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup cocoa
2 T cornstarch
1/8 tsp salt
2 cups milk
2 tsp vanilla

1. Mix sugar, cornstarch, and salt in 2-quart saucepan. Gradually stir in milk.
2. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens and boils.
3. Boil and stir one minute. Remove from heat.
4. Add vanilla, stir, and serve (top with fresh whipped cream, if desired).

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Kid in the Candy Store...

One of my favorite days of the week (okay, my favorite) is the day I go grocery shopping. Now, of course I'm not organized like my mom, so I just go grocery shopping when we're officially lacking: toothpaste, toilet paper, coffee filters, and dishwasher tabs (all necessary to my very existence). So, today was the day I headed to the store (dressed inappropriately in flip-flops - brrrr...). Even though it's wintertime we are very blessed to have a great selection of fruits and veggies at our local Price-Rite store. I can't say enough about "PR". By shopping there, I easily save 50% from our local grocery store. Even better, their produce selection is unrivaled. I mean, can you beat cheaper and better? In the wintertime, we usually eat 6lbs per week of clementines. The kids can peel the oranges themselves and the vitamin C is necessary this time of year. We also enjoy: grapefruit, pomegranates, local apples and pears, and [the usual] bananas and grapes. The veggies I typically buy in the winter include: cabbage, parsnips, brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, spinach, broccoli, squash, and cauliflower.

Today I was very excited to find celery root. I also found a gorgeous leg of lamb. My plan is to make the lamb roast for one dinner (to include lot of mint jelly) and to use the leftover cubed lamb to make a stew. Last year I made a stew with different root vegetables, lamb, and stout. It was so delicious and I am desperate to recreate it. I felt like a kid in a candy store when I brought home all of my groceries. It almost makes up for the tax check I have to drop off this afternoon and the fact that I feel miserable from my fourth cold since August. Grrr...

I'll keep you updated on the leg of lamb and guinness stew, but for tonight we're having fish. I bought rockfish and tilapia last week and I plan to grill them. I think we'll also have fettucine alfredo, steamed green beans and grilled pineapple with honeyed greek yogurt (can you tell I'm obsessed with Chobani?).

Grilled Rockfish
rockfish (1/2 lb per person)
olive oil
salt, pepper
juice and rind of two lemons
fresh herbs

1. Spray a grilling tray or heavy aluminum foil with non-stick vegetable spray. Place fish (skin side down) on tray.
2. Drizzle olive oil, lemon juice, rind and herbs over fish filet. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper.
3. Place butter pats on fish filet and grill until fish flakes easily. If using aluminum foil, poke holes in foil for the last two minutes of grilling to enjoy the barbeque flavor.

Grilled Pineapple

Grill large pineapple spears directly on grill until light char-marks appear. Serve warm with honeyed yogurt (mix 1T honey per cup of yogurt). Sprinkle with slivered mint if desired.