Friday, June 29, 2012

This Week's Menu

I think this week coming up is a perfect sampling of the "here, there, and everywhere" we have going on this summer.

At least I know that if we're here, we're eating well.
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: DATE NIGHT!!!  My in-law's are coming up to take over Pizza and Movie Night for the boys.
  • Saturday: Grilled brats, corn on the cob (grilled too if I can remember to shuck it in time), tossed salad.
  • Sunday: Heading out to enjoy the splendor of Summerfest!
  • Tuesday: New Recipe!  Beer Salmon, rice, and a veggie
  • Wednesday:  HAPPY 4TH OF JULY!  We'll be out celebrating potluck-style with friends. :)

 Happy planning!!
Pin It

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Lemon Spaghetti

Just when I think the busiest part of summer is behind me, a new week starts.  And with that new week usually comes a fresh batch of activities, events, visits from friends, more visits to family, festival season... and the list goes on.  Oy!

Honestly, I think it's harder to keep a family well-fed during these busy summer months than the fall and winter.  We are so busy with soaking in every ounce of the good weather while we can, that food can often take a back seat.  And normally Wisconsin doesn't get too insanely hot.  Not this year though.  It. Is. HOT.


Anyway, when it gets this hot, the LAST thing I want to do is heat up my kitchen with my oven, or even using the stove top for too long.  Rob isn't too thrilled about firing up the grill either.  What's a Family Cook to do in this kind of situation?

Make this, that's what.

Lemon Spaghetti
Recipe adapted from Giada De Laurentiis

2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3-2/3 cup grated Parmesan [NOTE: Use more Parmesan if you're not using another cheese in this]
1/2 cup lemon juice
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil OR 1 tsp dried basil
1 wedge of Laughing Cow Garlic-Herb cheese, optional
1 tbsp lemon zest

1.  In a large bowl, whisk together the oil, Parmesan, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  If you are using dried basil, add it now.  Set aside to let the flavors combine while you cook the pasta; you can also make this up to 8 hours ahead of time. 
Yes, you really should make this while sipping some wine.  ;)

2.  Cook the pasta in a large pot of boiling salted water according to package directions.  Drain the pasta, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid.

3.  Toss the pasta with the lemon sauce, along with the wedge of cheese, and the reserved cooking liquid, adding 1/4 cup at a time as needed to moisten. Garnish with lemon zest and chopped fresh basil, if using instead of dried.
Keep tossing the hot pasta around until it soaks up all that sauce.  Add hot pasta water if it gets too dry.

I loooooove this dish, and for so many reasons!  Oh where to begin...

  • Gotta love a No-Cook sauce!  The only cooking involved is the mere minutes it takes to boil water and cook pasta; about 10-15 minutes total.
  • Making the sauce in the same dish I'm serving the pasta in just makes me do a little "Less Dishes to Wash Happy Dance."
  • I have an obsession with intense lemon flavors.  I find that tart flavor immensely refreshing and satisfying.
  • As much as I adore fresh basil, there's no shame in using a good quality dried basil.  Using dried herbs means I could also make this any time of the year I want to.  
  • Who says I have to use basil?  Thyme, rosemary, oregano...fresh or dried, whatever floats my boat that day!
  • This is tasty hot or room temperature.  
  • Oh the leftover options!!  Add whatever protein sounds good (roasted shrimp, grilled chicken, flaked tuna), maybe toss in a few veggies (carrots, red pepper, broccoli) and voila! A one-dish lunch or dinner!
Pin It

Thursday, June 21, 2012

This Week's Menu

I love visiting family. The last week has been so much fun...days filled with yoga (for this Mama, that's a MUST), Vacation Bible School activities for Gavin, shoppingshoppingshopping, afternoons in the wading pool, games, movies, and good conversation. And what kind of week off would it be for me without INSANELY GOOD FOOD? ;)  I may not have yet played with my mom's food processor, but I am collecting a number of yummy recipes to try.  Oh, and Dad promised to show me how to make his TRULY AMAZING peach-blueberry pie this afternoon.  Y-U-M!!!!!

But with every week away, you always know you have to go back to the norm at some point.  And I refuse to go back clueless about what to make my family for dinner:
  • Thursday: At my folks for another few days.  Mom said something about grilling pork chops tonight.  I saw the meat she pulled out....pretty sure those chops are as big as Kieran's head.
  • Friday: Gotta keep up with Friday Night Pizza and Movie, even on vacation.
  • Saturday: Last full day here...*sniff*
  • Sunday: I'll be driving all afternoon so I want to keep this EASY, and preferably argument-free.  In my house, that's Chicken Piccata with rice and steamed peas.
  • Monday: Taco Night!
  • Tuesday: New Recipe!  Lemon Spaghetti with garlic bread and tossed salad
  • Wednesday: Some kind of quiche...either a quiche lorraine with bacon or I may raid some of the Easter ham I know I have hiding in the freezer.  Either way, it'll be tasty!

 Happy planning!!  I'm off to bake a pie. :)
Pin It

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Camp Zuzu

I am off for the next week!  The boys and I are headed down to my parents house, for what I hope will become an annual event as I've lovingly termed it Camp Zuzu.  Zuzu is what all the grandkids call my mom.

So while my wee ones enjoy the activities my parents have planned, hopefully I'll have a chance to rest a bit.  Maybe if I ask really really really nicely my mom will let me play with her new food processor. ;)

But rest assured I'll be back later next week with my meal plan.  This is me we're talking about, so you know I'm going to come home knowing exactly what to cook for the next few days.
Pin It

Some things I learned about canning...

Canning three batches of jam was quite an experience.  Throughout the entire day, I kept making mental notes of things I learned, and that hopefully I would do differently the next time.  So of course I thought I'd write them down and share them with you.

So from one Canning Novice to another:

  • Be prepared to spend pretty much the whole day working on this.  From making the jam in the morning, to canning it in the afternoon.
  • BE GOOD TO YOUR FEET. Unless you have some of those fancy gel mats or thick throw rugs in your kitchen, your feet are going to ache after a while.  Give yourself a break and wear your most comfortable shoes.  There's a reason you see so many chefs wearing Crocs.
  • Even if you dislike planning meals in general, have a meal plan for the day.  Make a casserole for dinner before you get started so all you'll have to do at dinner time is pull it out and stick it in the oven or microwave.  Likewise, order in some takeout for lunch. Or vice versa if you like.
  • No matter what the weather is outside.  No matter how many windows you have open and how many fans you have going, you will get hot.  Stirring hot pots of bubbling jam is sweaty work.  Sticking close to a mammoth pot of boiling water, and then pulling jars out of rapidly boiling water is sweaty work.  Just accept this simple fact and plan accordingly.
  • Since you've accepted you'll get hot, dress appropriately.  Wear lightweight and loose (but not too loose) fitting clothing.
  • Wear an apron.  I don't care how old your t-shirt is.  Wear one anyway.
  • Skim the foam off the jam while it's still hot and loose.  Waiting until it's cooled makes skimming practically impossible.
  • Do not over tighten the jars before processing in boiling water.  Bad things can happen if you do.

Lucky me: only one broke. The whole thing could have shattered and taken out other jars.

  • If a jar breaks during the processing, do not panic. I found a couple helpful tips here and here.
  • Unless you really need to tone your arms, use a food processor to "crush" your fruit instead of a potato masher.  More dishes?  Yes.  Lots less hassle?  For me OH YES. Especially since I was looking at "crushing" about 12 quarts of berries.
Pin It

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Strawberry Jam

I was going to show this off as a Make It Monday recipe, but honestly, Gavin didn't really do anything with this one. Except watch.  Not much I could have him do since making jam requires sharp knives and stirring frighteningly hot, bubbling liquids over a blazing stove.  He did count the scoops of sugar for me so that's something!

Anyway, last week we went out and picked strawberries.  A lot of strawberries.  Dare I say a CRAP-TON of strawberries.  I'm looking at my refrigerator now and really questioning my sanity.  But this is what I wanted, I remind myself.  I have one son who inhales PB&J sandwiches like they're candy, and another who will probably be the same or pretty close.  I need to start stockpiling.

Strawberry Jam
Recipe from the box of Sure-Jell

About 8 cups whole strawberries, washed and hulled
4 cups sugar
1 box Sure-Jell OR 6 tbsp fruit pectin

NOTE: This is the canning version.  If you don't have canning equipment please do NOT let that stop you from making your own jam!!  Sure-Jell also has recipes and instructions to make freezer jam, which I've done before and it's AMAZING.
To just make a batch or two, buy a box.  To make more jam, get a jar of pectin.

1.   First thing to do is crush the strawberries.  You can either do this with a potato masher, 1 cup at a time, or with a food processor.  If you use the food processor, pulse the berries a few times, making sure to not overdo it.  You want a few chunks in your jam.  Your goal is to end up with 6 cups of crushed berries.
I like lots of berry chunks in my jam.

2.  Carefully measure out the sugar into a bowl.  Scoop 1/4 cup of that sugar into a separate, smaller bowl and mix in the pectin.  [NOTE: Yes, you do want to measure out the sugar into a bowl, ready to go, and not have to waste time scoop it in later when you need it fast.]
Left, pectin mixture. Right, just sugar.

3.  In a large stockpot, combine the berries, and sugar/pectin mixture.  Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring constantly.

4.  Once the jam reaches a rapid boil (yes, while still stirring), quickly pour in the remaining 3 3/4 cups sugar.  Stir to combine and boil for exactly one minute more.  Remove the jam from the heat and skim the foam off the surface.

Not quite so foamy.

See?  That's not so bad is it?  Making jam is totally doable.  And you can store it in a variety of ways: freezer containers or by canning.  Freezer jam is easier to make, but canned jam is easier to store.  So, if you feel up to learning to can, keep reading:

1.  Fill your canning pot with enough water that once your jars are submerged, they will be covered by 1-2 inches.  Cover and bring to a boil.  FYI, this could take 30-60 minutes depending on the size of your pot.

2.  Make sure your jars are sterilized.  You can do this by dipping them in the boiling canning water OR by running them through the dishwasher, especially if you have a Sanitize setting.  SIDE NOTE: If you are going to put the jam in the glass jars immediately after making it, make sure to sterilize the jars right before filling them.  Putting a hot substance into cold glass containers is a recipe for disaster.

3.  Fill each jar to within 1/4" to 1/8" of the top.  Wipe the rims with a damp cloth before topping with a two-piece lid (that's the flat circle thingy and the separate metal rim).  Screw the rim down to just gently tighten.  No, you don't want jam to escape or water to get in, but you also want air to escape from the jar.  Trust me, bad things happen if you tighten the lids too much before processing.  More about that tomorrow.

4.  Stack the jars around the rack and submerge.  Boil the jars for 10 minutes, adding more time as necessary based on your elevation.

5.  Carefully remove the jars from the pot with tongs and put on either a wooden cutting board or towel-covered cabinet.  Again, we're trying to avoid a scenario of an extreme temperature change with these glass jars.  Let the jars sit out for 24 hours.  Then tap the button in the middle of each lid.  If it stays down, CONGRATULATIONS!  You did it!!  If the button pops back up, YAY you get to eat jam right now!!  Or you can toss those jars in the freezer.  Either way is fine.

The canned jam will keep for up to one year on the shelf.  Frozen jam will keep for about the same amount of time.

Now, let's talk about what reasons you may have for NOT making jam:
  • I have no need to make so much jam.  No problem!  They make little packets of pectin that result in only a couple jars worth of jam.

  • I am NOT spending my precious time standing over a hot stove and stirring!  Two words for you: instant pectin.  Also, you may want to consider using smaller fruit that requires less prepping to make your jam.  OR you could take some time to prep your fruit one day, and make the jam the next.

  • Ok so I have a little bit of time, but no way do I have an entire day's worth to can.  Nobody said you have to can the same day you make the jam.  I promise you will not spend an eternity in Jam Hell for making the jam one day, pouring it in a bowl, and canning it a day or two later.  It really is ok!

  • I'm too intimidated to can, but I still want to make enough jam for the coming months.  Two years ago I was terrified of canning.  Then my mother-in-law told me about freezer jam.  So I got my little box of Sure-Jell, crushed my berries, sterilized my Ziploc containers in the dishwasher, and was popping my jam into the freezer a mere two hours after I started.  
And if you're still not convinced enough to make jam, well, show this post to some of your foodie friends.  A person can only benefit from being friends with someone who loves to make, and share, jam. ;)
Pin It

Thursday, June 7, 2012

This Week's Menu

Summer travels start this coming weekend.  But it'll be helpful to know that, when we get home, the groceries I need are ready & waiting and meals already planned.  I'll just need to throw dinners together and go.  No thought required! This is why I love to plan ahead.
  • Thursday: On own. Rob's working late and I know I've got all kinds of food ready-to-eat in this house. Why cook when I really don't have to?
  • Friday: Our Friday night usual!
  • Saturday: I'm on the road with my boys!
  • Sunday: Still traveling!
  • Monday: Back home and back to normal.  After a morning of driving, I want to keep things simple with breakfast for dinner.  
  • Tuesday: Just when I get home, Rob hits the road for work.  So this is my chance to make the things I love but he doesn't. Like tuna casserole.
  • Wednesday: You know what you do with the grocery store has limes on sale 10 for $1?  You make things like Key West Chicken with rice and some steamed veggies.

 Happy planning!!
Pin It

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Tator Tot Casserole

I think it's pretty safe to say that most kids grew up with some variation of this casserole on their dinner table.  Well, I didn't but that's beside the point.  Anyway, whether you like yours with veggies mixed in or topped with cheese, this is just a good, comforting, simple casserole.

 I like simple.

Tator Tot Casserole
Recipe from my mother-in-law

1 lb ground beef
1 small onion, chopped
1 can cream of mushroom soup
16 oz frozen tator tots

UPDATE (10/12): Kieran isn't big so far on eating vegetables, so I ground up one container of cremini mushrooms and added that to the browning meat and onions.  I also added 1/4 cup pureed broccoli in with the cream soup.  OMG the flavor combination was AMAZING!! And yes, Kieran inhaled this. :)

1.  Preheat oven to 375.  Heat a medium-ish skillet over medium-high heat.

2.  Crumble and brown the ground beef in the skillet.  Add the onions and cook until the onions are translucent.  Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Love, love, love the scent of meat and onions cooking together.

3.  Turn off the heat and stir in the cream of mushroom soup.  Pour mixture into a casserole dish and smooth to an even layer.  Top with frozen tator tots.
Even simple casseroles can be made in pretty dishes!

4.  Bake 40-45 minutes until the casserole is bubbling and the tots (hehehehe!) are golden.
Try to cover as much of the beef mixture as possible with tator tots.

Meat.  Potatoes.  Doesn't really get any simpler than that does it?

I've seen recipe variations where you stir in some frozen or canned vegetables with the meat and cream soup.  I've also seen the ones where you top the potatoes with cheese.  Personally, I like this version, and I'm not just saying that because my mother-in-law gave me the recipe.  I like that it's basic meat-and-potatoes and I can do whatever side dish veggie I want with it, depending on my mood.  I also like that crispy crunch that tator tots get when baked, so I stay away from a cheese topping.

Another thing, this recipe is SO simple, that you can play it up any way you like.  If you want the veggies, stir in a cup or so!  Like cheese?  Sprinkle some on top OR stir cubes of cheese in with the beef mixture.  And if you really want to go crazy, make your own cream of mushroom soup instead of using the canned kind.  Feel free to use ground chicken or turkey instead of beef, if that's your thing.  Whatever YOU like!!
Pin It

Monday, June 4, 2012

Make It Monday - Peanut Butter Cookies

I guess I could call this a new summer series of posts I'm starting.  I tend to think of it as the food portion of the summer camp style of entertainment I have planned for my boys this summer.  Well, mostly it's for Gavin.  Kieran just crawls around our feet and shrieks a running commentary.

So yeah, every Monday (or as many Mondays as I can manage around our travel plans), Gavin and I will hit the kitchen and come up with some concoction.  And yes, I've dubbed it Make It Monday (I wish I could say I came up with that on my own.  Alas, I stole the name idea from my sister-in-law's friend.  Thanks friend!).

Anyway, it was really important to me that for our first Make It Monday, we do something that was near and dear to my heart.  Something that I made as a child.  Something sweet.  Something awesome.  Something that maybe I won a blue ribbon for at the local 4-H fair.

Nope, not kidding.

Peanut Butter Cookies
Recipe from Kids in the Kitchen

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt

1.  In a large mixing bowl, cream together the shortening, peanut butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and egg.
Some basic cookie ingredients

2.  In a medium bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the peanut butter mixture and blend to combine.
Ready for the fridge!

3.  Cover the bowl and chill in the fridge at least 1 hour.

4.  Preheat oven to 350.

5.  Using either a tablespoon or cookie scoop/melon baller, scoop relatively even amount of dough and roll into balls.  Place the balls about 3 inches apart on a lightly greased baking sheet.  Flatten the cookies crisscross style with a fork dipped in flour.  Bake 10-12 minutes.

Gavin demonstrates making the crisscross

When we lived in Maryland, I participated in 4-H for a couple years.  One year, I'm not sure what possessed me but I entered these cookies in the local fair.  I was terrified.  I still remember meeting with the judge, her taking that first bite, and talking to me about my cookies.  I also remember walking over to the display table later and seeing that blue ribbon.  It's been close to 20 years but I still remember it.

So yeah, these TOTALLY hit the "near and dear to my heart" qualification.  And now I have some new memories of these cookies, making them with my son. :)
Pin It