Friday, April 23, 2010

Jen vs. Cooking Light

Ok, so my plans for a nice dinner tonight got nuked. Big time. So, we had a fend for yourself night. I grabbed a baggie of stuffed pepper soup from the freezer that I made while I was pregnant with Zac and put it over the leftover rice from last night.

It was AWESOME!!! This is one of those meals that you can never believe that it is "diet food". Of course I probably couldn't pay my kids to eat it, but right now, that's ok. More for me. It was easy enough to make that I did it while pregnant. I do not do elaborate meals while pregnant. It also freezes amazingly well.

So, here it is! Stuffed Green Pepper Soup (from Cooking Light Nov. 2004)

1/2 lb. ground beef
2 c. chopped green bell pepper (I used frozen, 1 bag)
1 c. chopped onion (I used frozen)
1/4 tsp. black pepper
1 14 oz. can beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 10 3/4 oz. can condensed tomato soup
1 1/2 c. cooked white rice

Heat a small dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add beef, cook 3 minutes until browned, stirring to crumble. Add chopped bell pepper and onion, cook 8 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Stir in black pepper, beef broth, tomatoes, and tomato soup; bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 45 minutes. Serve over 1/4 c. cooked rice.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Red Beans and Rice

For those who speak Duncan Dining Hall, it would be artillery and maggots. This is what my kids call it and how the bags for the freezer get labeled. Yes, we are weird.

My family roots on my dad's side are about as Cajun as they come. My great grandparents owned half of Breaux Bridge, LA until the Great Depression took most of it. My grandma grew up playing the piano in the movie theater during the silent movies. I miss her. She's been gone for nearly 17 years, but it still seems like yesterday. She'd be proud of me for cooking the Cajun food, stretching a dollar, and most importantly, for taking care of my dad.

Tonight, we had red beans & rice for dinner. Traditionally, this would be made on Mondays while laundry was done (by hand, mind you). Now, we have this modern technology called a washer and dryer that greatly expedite the chore. Laundry day is not what it was back then. When I make this one, I double it so that there are leftovers for the freezer. If you double it, don't use more than 16 cups of liquid.

1/2 lb. ham or 1 lb. smoked sausage
1 onion, chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
cayenne pepper
bay leaves
1 lb. red beans
chicken stock
water (total 10 cups)

Chop ham or sausage. Cook through. Add in onion, celery, and garlic. For my double batch, I use an entire head of garlic. When the veggies are soft, add in seasonings (tobasco, cayenne pepper, bay leaves, and parsley). Add in beans that have been picked through and rinsed. Stir in chicken stock and water. I use half chicken stock, half water. Simmer for several hours. During the last hour or so of cooking, smash a few beans and stir. This helps to thicken the sauce.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Spaghetti Sauce

This is one of my most reliable recipes. Easy to do, relatively cheap, and makes a ton when necessary. It freezes amazingly well. It usually tastes better the next day. What's not to like here? So, whether you're cooking for just yourself or the Chinese army, then this is an easy, go to meal. Out of the freezer, it just takes the time to boil the pasta and nuke the sauce.

I can't remember the last time that I made a single batch of sauce. I fill my cast iron dutch oven. It's too yummy and too convenient to just make a single batch. Normally, I triple it. This feeds my crew for 4 nights at a minimum. One night fresh, then 3 more out of the freezer.

So, I give you spaghetti sauce!

1 lb. ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
Italian seasoning
ground red pepper
bay leaves
1 can tomato paste
red wine
worcestershire sauce (winchester)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato sauce

Brown beef and drain. Add in veggies and cook until soft. Add in spices to taste. Thoroughly stir in tomato sauce. Stir in wine, scraping the yummy bits off the bottom. Stir in winchester, diced tomatoes, and tomato sauce. You can also add in canned or sauteed mushrooms if that's what floats your boat. Simmer until happy. I usually simmer several hours.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Chicken Guesswhat

As previously mentioned, family recipes are the most special to me. These are the ones that are passed down from generation to generation. These are the ones that people remember from childhood. Chicken Guesswhat is one of those. It's my Grandma's creation. I ate this many many times as a kid. My kids have eaten this many times. I love this recipe! It's simple and doesn't take a whole lot of time (assuming that you have chicken stock and chicken on hand). If starting from scratch, it takes a little more time. I will post as if starting from scratch. It also freezes well if you leave out the potatoes. If you have frozen chicken and stock (which is a must in my kitchen), just skip to the soup part.

I have found with my kids that it works pretty well. For those who don't care for the veggies, they pick around and eat what they like (peas and carrots being avoided at all costs). If you're lucky, since the veggies basically taste like chicken, the kids will try the veggies. For a little one, it would probably pulverize in the food processor or blender pretty well for homemade baby food, although I have never tried it.

This is an "anything goes" recipe. If you don't care for a particular veggie, leave it out. If you really like it, add more. That is why I am not going to put amounts on much. It also works well with holiday turkey leftovers. Just use the carcass from the deboned turkey in place of the whole chicken and put your turkey meat in the soup at the end.

So, without further delay, I give you Chicken Guesswhat.

Chicken Guesswhat

Preparing chicken and stock:
1 whole chicken
1 onion (quartered)
1 stalk celery (in a few pieces)
1 carrot (in a few pieces)
1-2 cloves garlic (whole is fine)
pepper corns
pinch of salt
water to cover

Throw everything in pot and bring up to boil. Reduce heat to simmer and let it go at least until the chicken is cooked. Longer is fine.

After chicken is cooked, transfer to bowl. Strain stock into a pitcher or plastic container of some sort. Refrigerate. Skim the fat off the top once it's congealed.

To prepare soup:

Canola oil
Onion (chopped)
Celery (chopped)
Garlic (chopped)
Chicken stock (6-8 cups works well)
Carrots (sliced)
Potatoes (diced)
1 envelope chicken flavor noodles & sauce
peas (canned or frozen) or a can of peas and carrots
cooked chicken (start w/ dark meat)

Saute onion, celery, and garlic in oil until soft. Add stock and bring to boil. Add carrots and potatoes (if using fresh). Cook until nearly done. Add noodles & sauce and cook until the noodles are nearly done. Add in peas (and frozen carrots if you choose to use those instead of fresh) and bring back to boil. Add in cooked chicken. Taste test to double check seasoning and adjust as necessary with boullion, salt, or pepper.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Thank God for Holiday Specials!

Yesterday (since it's after midnight), I cooked and processed a 12 pound turkey. This turkey cost us nothing. One of our local stores does a sale at Thanksgiving and Christmas where if you buy the ham (bone in, half or whole), then you get a 12ish pound frozen turkey free. Now, this is just really awesome. The ham might get cooked up for 1 meal as is, then broken down for future use in jambalaya and beans & rice. 1 ham will be roughly 25 portions. Each portion is 1 dish. Then the bone is made into split pea soup. Then there's the free turkey. I just broke it down into 6 dishes. Total cost for all of that meat was roughly $30. Not bad. That breaks down to less than $1.00 per dish (assuming a single batch). Do it twice (Thanksgiving and Christmas) and that's one heck of a deal if I do say so myself!

Obviously one cannot accomplish this without a deep freeze. I just defrosted mine. At least I got to use my hair dryer for something! We got ours as a gift from a cousin who no longer needed it. However, even if we had to buy it, it would have been well worth the money considering how cheap it can be to cook when you can buy your meat like this.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Cooking with Leftovers

This has to be one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen (other than therapy, but that is another post in itself). This is why I make roast. It is so easy to recycle the leftover meat. It also tricks picky children into eating leftovers. It can be shepard's pie, beef stew, or hash very easily. Tonight it will be beef stew. This is a family recipe, which are my very favorites. It came from my grandma, Vera Costello. I love you Grandma!

Beef Stew a la Grandma

1 lb. stew meat or leftover roast beef
1 onion, chopped
celery, sliced
garlic, chopped
1 package frozen mixed veggies
potatoes (diced, if you aren't freezing leftovers)
1 can diced tomatoes
worcestershire sauce (winchester)
roughly 5 c. water
leftover gravy from said roast beef or 1 jar Franco American beef gravy

Season flour with salt and pepper (if using stew meat). Dredge meat in seasoned flour and brown. Add in everything else. Simmer until yummy. If you use leftover pot roast and it's too thin, then thicken with some cornstarch and water. (Mix cornstarch and water, then add to stew. If you just dump the cornstarch in, then you are asking for lumps.) Serve over rice.

This is one of those recipes that you can freeze the leftovers for busy nights if you leave out the potatoes.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Kidlet Cooking!

Lord help me, but today I turned over my kitchen to my 7 year old for the day. He is making pot roast for us in the crock pot for dinner this evening. It's very simple really, throw your roast into the crock pot with a packet of onion soup mix, can of cream of mushroom soup, and a cup of merlot for flavor. Turn on crock pot.

He will also be making smashed taters for us. This is where it will get interesting.

He is actually pretty good in the kitchen doing simple things. He can do pretty much anything in the microwave. I really only fix 1 meal a day for the kids (who are capable of fixing their own). Some may say I'm a horrible mama because I don't serve up every meal for them. I want them to be self-sufficient. I know that mamas are not allowed to get sick, however, it occasionally happens. I want to know that should I go down for the count, then they are able to take care of themselves. Even my almost 2 year old daughter is starting to select her own cereal in the mornings. Plus, they are not going to live with me forever. Eventually, they will grow up and move out. I don't want them to have to learn to fend for themselves on the fly.

Why do kids have to grow up so fast?

A Few of my Tricks

Ok, so I haven't cooked in nearly a week. The taco pasta toss lasted for like 3 days, then we've had kids with activities, so we've eaten out of the freezer. Tonight (since it's nearly 2:30 am), Kyle is going to make a roast for us. I will then take the leftovers and make beef stew. It's always nice to stretch a $10 roast into several days of dinners.

One of my biggest secrets is shopping the grocery ads for whole chickens on sale. I cannot claim this as original, as it's one of those that I learned from my mom (thanks Dude!). When I can find them for $0.79-$0.89 per pound, then we get a plethora of them and start boiling them up. I add an onion (quartered), a carrot (cut into a few pieces), a celery stalk (cut into a few pieces), garlic, pinch of salt, pepper corns, and parsley for flavor. This makes the BEST chicken stock. After cooking the chicken through (usually about 45 minutes to an hour), then cool the stock. I usually put it in a pitcher and cool overnight. This way the fat congeals on top. Spoon off and you have nearly fat free stock. The little amount of salt also makes sure that it's a low sodium stock as well. I measure it out and put 2 cups into freezer bags and freeze. I can't remember the last time I bought chicken stock. The meat is also frozen in 2 cup increments. This is used for those recipes that call for "chopped cooked chicken". If you really want to be anal, you can freeze the dark meat and breast meat separately and use the breast meat for sandwiches or a quick salad when last minute company comes over. Holiday ham gets the same treatment. Leftovers are sliced up and frozen in usable quantities so that when I make beans & rice or jambalaya, they are ready to pull out, cut up, and use. We get the bone in ham and make split pea soup as well. One of our local stores does a special at Thanksgiving and Christmas where if you buy the ham, you get the turkey for free. Turkey meat can be substituted for chicken in nearly any recipe.

Broccoli is an interesting case. I took a page from Rachael Ray's playbook on this one. After using the florets, I saved the stalks in a freezer bag and froze. After accumulating enough of them, I made soup. Not having to buy the broccoli made the soup cheap (since I had already gotten the broccoli for something else). All I really had to get was cream. The rest of the recipe was staple items.

There is also no excuse to ever throw away bananas. You can either send them to my daughter, who will gobble them down, or you can do any of a number of things with them. The ones that are almost black are great for banana nut bread or freezing for a smoothie. When I freeze them, I put them into a snack size ziplock bag.

There are lots of times where the frozen veggie aisle is my BFF. Some grocery stores now have chopped onion, chopped green bell peppers, and various blends of veggies to make life easy. I have used a package of chopped onion, celery, and carrot to make chicken stock. One of my local grocery stores also has an onion/celery/bell pepper blend that is very nice for my Cajun dishes. The stir fry options are also plentiful. Some come with sauce, some don't. I make my own sauce, so that part is irrelevant to me.

Well, it's now 3:15 in the morning. I really need some sleep! Hopefully some of these tricks will make your life easier. I'll do another post in the next few days about cooking with leftovers.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Jen vs. Rachael...Taco Pasta Toss

So for my first recipe post, I decided to take on the queen of the quick and easy meal, Rachael Ray. Her Taco Pasta Toss recipe looked easy, and kid friendly with a little picking around. I was right on both. The kids loved the pasta/meat combo after they picked off the toppings (lettuce, tomato, and onion). They rated this a 3 star recipe. Not something they'd ask for every day, but a big improvement over the frozen tv dinners at my dad's house. Rachel says this serves 4. Well, we ate our fill and there was still about half of it left. I don't think I want to know how huge her serving size is. Granted, most of it was lettuce. Jason compared it to the Taco Bell taco salad, only this tasted better. The only thing missing was the edible bowl (so I passed the tortilla chips).

This recipe was also very affordable. If we would have had to buy everything for it, including spices and beer, it would have cost $23.12 at HEB in College Station. Obviously prices may vary by store and where you live. I also splurged $1.95 for a jar of Joe T. Garcia's salsa (medium). This stuff is seriously good and will clean out your sinuses (a nice added bonus for allergy season).

So, now for what you've been waiting for...the recipe!

Taco Pasta Toss

1 lb. penne regate (can be whole grain, which is what I used)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. ground beef sirloin (I used 96/4)
1 large onion, chopped, divided
4 cloves garlic, chopped (I used 6 really big ones since one cannot overdo garlic)
1 large jalapeno, halved, seeded, and thinly sliced (I threw it into the food processor with the garlic to pulverize to sneak it past children)
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 1/2 Tbsp. cumin
1 1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 c. tomato paste
12 oz. bottle beer (I used Shiner Bock) or chicken stock
2 c. shredded cheddar, Monterrey Jack, or other semisoft Mexican cheese
1/4 head iceberg lettuce or 1/2 small heart of romaine lettuce, chopped
2 small plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped (I used Roma since plum could not be found)

Prepare pasta per package instructions. While pasta is cooking, brown meat in extra virgin olive oil. Add in 3/4 of onion, garlic, jalapeno, chili powder, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Stir until onion is soft. Stir in tomato paste and cook 1 minute. Stir in beer. Add sauce to pasta (after draining pasta). Toss and spoon into a casserole dish (I used a big rectangular pyrex). Cover with cheese and tent with foil to melt cheese. (I nuked it since I discovered that I was out of foil.) Cover with lettuce, tomato, and remainder of onion.

I just ate some of the leftovers for dinner since we are having a "clean out the fridge" night. It's even better today since the spices have had time to get happy!

Happy eating!