Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pickles & Ice Cream

We are ice cream prudes. A couple years ago a quaint little ice cream shop opened up just around the corner from us. They had all fresh, home made ice cream and got as many of the ingredients as possible locally. This year when they opened up for the season it was under new ownership. Now they sell, gasp, Edy's.
If I wanted that crap I would walk across the street to the market. Its cheaper there too! But I cannot stomach the stuff. It tastes like chemicals rather than cream, sugar and milk.
Home ice cream makers have come a long way, baby. I found this little jewel at Sam's (aka- Satan's) Yes, I know. They are a horrid, terrible, evil axis of bulk but they sell appliances, underwear AND meat! Sometimes in the same isle. The box said it could make ice cream in 20-30 minutes. Sure. It did. Granted it wasn't hard ice cream like we like it but soft serve.
An afternoon in the deep freeze fixed that and last night we enjoyed bowls of fresh, home made, I know everything that's in it, ice cream. It was so good my eyes rolled back in my head and I heard angels singing. I would love to share pictures of the finished product with you but I couldn't put my spoon down long enough to snap the picture.
I also made pickles yesterday. Bread and Butter refrigerator pickles even. I used my Dad's recipe and it couldn't be easier. In fact, the hardest part of the recipe is finding pickling cucumbers. These babies are sweet and tart and crunchy. I've been known to sit down with a bowl of them and a fork and call it dinner. I ended up with six jars of them, five of which made the neighborhood rounds. The last one I'm cherishing like Grandma's china. The best part about this recipe is that you can just keep adding veggies to the brine so you never run out.
Here's the recipe:
Bread & Butter Fridge Pickles
About 1 gallon of pickling cucumbers
3-4 onions
1-2 green peppers (optional)
1/4 cup salt
4 cups sugar
4 cups apple cider vinegar
1 1/3 t turmeric
1 1/3 t celery seed
1 1/3 t mustard seed
Slice cucumbers, onions and peppers thick, but small enough to get out of the jar. Mix all other ingredients until dissolved. I did this in an old juice bottle and shook it until my left arm fell off. Put your veggies in a large airtight container, or in my case, several small ones. Pour the liquid over. Keep them in the fridge- always.
And no, there wasn't any specific reason I made pickles and ice cream.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Tim Gunn Special

I love to watch Project Runway. The host, Tim Gunn, walks around to these frenzied designers telling them that even though their dress is hideous they have to, "Make it work". I felt like one of those designers today when I opened the fridge to see what I could Frankenstein into dinner.
In the shows challenges they are given all these crazy things to make into a garment. My challenge consisted of: tomato pasta, zucchini, yellow squash, grape tomatoes and Red Lobster leftovers of shrimp scampi, baked scallops and halibut.
I must say that I won this challenge and should get immunity in the next one. It was sooo good it might make it onto the regular schedule subbing crab for the restaurant leftovers.
Here's the play by play:
1 1/2 T butter
1 1/2 T olive oil
1 zucchini, sliced
1 yellow squash, sliced
1 pkg. grape tomatoes, halved
2 tsp. chopped garlic
1 lb tomato pasta
1 1/2 cups Fat Free 1/2 & 1/2
1 T cornstarch
1 T dried onion flakes
1 T dried basil
1 T dried oregano
salt & pepper to taste
Oh, and few red pepper flakes!
First set the pot to boil for pasta. In a large, deep skillet melt the butter in the olive oil. Add the zucchini, squash and garlic, saute for a few minutes. Add the tomatoes and saute another minute. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Add the 1/2 & 1/2, reserving about a 1/4 cup. Use this to dissolve the cornstarch and set aside. Now add the herbs and the cornstarch mixture. Let thicken on medium low heat.
Drain the pasta and add it and the seafood to sauce when it's thick. I also added some chopped, fresh parsley at the very end.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Sure to please Mac-N-Cheese

My husband and I were down right addicted to Velveeta Shells and Cheese. I know, I know- shame. I made the mistake one day of reading the ingredients. I had my mission: make creamy, REAL mac-n-cheese. I tried a lot of recipes. Most were Ok and some were just gross. I realized the quality of cheese made a big difference. I only use Kraft pre-shredded cheese, the generics tended to get grainy. This can actually be a diet friendly recipe too if fat free half and half and cheese made from skim milk is used, which is what I do. Add in some broccoli, ham, tuna, peas, etc. and you have a great casserole.
Mac-N-Cheese (for a crowd)
1lb Pipette or shell pasta
1.5 cups fat free half and half
4 cups shredded cheese, I used the Kraft Mexian blend
1 egg, room temp and beaten
salt to taste
In a large pot cook pasta until just al dente, drain and return to pot. Add the 1/2 &1/2 and temper the egg and add to pasta. This will bind the cheese for freezing. If you're not going to freeze this you may omit the egg, but it does add a richness too. Adding a handful of cheese at a time, stir constantly until it desolves before adding more.
Serve, or...
Prepare to freeze by lining a baking dish with foil.
Fill the dish and wrap the foil over the top.
Freeze in the baking dish so it will retain its shape for reheating. Once frozen remove from dish and label a zip-top bag for it.
To reheat: Spray the baking dish with non stick spray, remove the mac-n-cheese from the foil and put in dish. Preheat oven to 350 and bake covered until hot (about 30-45 minutes). I sometimes add breadcrumbs to the top to make it crunchy, for this remove the lid during the last 10 minutes of cooking.
I usually serve this along side some fish sticks and lima beans for what our family lovingly refers to as School Lunch Night.
(My husband actually made fun of me for taking this picture of my son's dinner plate.)

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Manicotti on the spotty!

A couple months ago my brother, sister-in-law and their three kids came over. My brother and his boys are known for not eating 'green stuff'. The last time I fed them I had to keep from laughing out loud at the fact that they picked out all the bits of green pepper from the meatloaf. I mean really, just because it's green doesn't mean it's Soylent Green! Anyway, knowing that I had to feed a crowd I decided to make Manicotti the day before and freeze it.
Pasta freezes amazingly well, IF it's not cooked completely before freezing. Cheese freezes well, but it needs an egg to stabilize it. This holds true for mashed potatoes too. The egg doesn't add flavor, just a rich, creamy texture.
2 8oz boxes of manicotti noodles
24 oz small curd, low fat cottage cheese
2 eggs
2 cups low fat shredded cheese- I used Kraft Mexican blend
1/2 cup grated Parmesan- I used the Kraft Italian blend
2 T powdered garlic- No vampires in this house!
1 T oregano (dried)
1 T basil (dried)
1 10 oz box of frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of all excess water.
Cook the pasta half as long as recommended on the box. Drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process. Line a baking sheet with wax paper and lay the pasta in a single layer to cool. While it cools, in a large bowl mix the remaining ingredients and put about a third of the mix into a large zip-top bag. Cut one corner off the bag. Start with a small hole, you want it just big enough to fit in the end of the pasta. Its easier to cut a bigger hole later if needed than start over with another bag. Trust me on this one, I found out the hard way. Squeeze the filling into each manicotti shell. Add more filling when needed. If you put all of it in there it's too heavy to manage, at least for me.

Return to sheet in a single layer and freeze on sheet. This will freeze them individually so you can have one or the whole batch. It only took mine about 30 minutes to freeze before I could load them into a zip-top bag for storage.
I knew that I would be using these soon; otherwise, I would have wrapped each one in foil to preserve them before putting them into the bag.
To Bake:
1 jar of your favorite pasta sauce (or home made)
1 cup of shredded cheese
Preheat oven to 375. In a large baking dish spread a little of the sauce in the bottom. This will prevent the manicotti from sticking to the bottom. Lay in manicotti in a single layer and spoon the rest of the sauce over them. Sprinkle with cheese. Cover with foil and bake until the pasta is tender. This took me about 30 minutes.
Serve with a salad and voila!
My 'green stuff' hating brother and boys? They ate them up and didn't even pick out the spinach. I lied and told them it was just herbs! Bad, bad me. I fessed up when the plates were clean though.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

A Change In Scheduled Programming

Last night turned out to be a leftovers night. I used some Cajun chicken left over from a dinner out, green beans that needed to cooked or pitched and some pasta from our farmer's co op. The pasta was a tomato pasta that I tossed in a creamy garlic butter sauce. It was super good!
Here's my recipe for the pasta sauce:

2 T butter (not margarine)
2 t chopped garlic
3/4 cup fat free Half & Half
1 T oregano
2 t basil

Melt the butter in a sauce pan. Throw everything else in and let thicken over medium-low heat. Pour over pasta. Its also good if you melt in some Parmesan cheese.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Monday Menu Challenge!

Time to prepare that weekly menu. I've found that creating a menu doesn't just save the headache of deciding what's for dinner, it saves me money and time as well. I can get through the grocery store in 30 minutes when I know I only need things from a handful of isles. When I don't wander through aimlessly, I don't make that doomed trip down the snack food isles.

Monday: Grilled chicken, broccoli and tomato pasta in a garlic butter sauce
Tuesday: Meatloaf, baked potatoes and corn
Wednesday: Jambalaya and cornbread with salad

From here it gets a little tricky. We get our farmer's coop food on Wednesday's so the rest of the week will have to wait until then.

Sunday, June 8, 2008


We love Jambalaya. Looooove. We used to use the Zataran's mix, then they changed it and all I could taste was salt. Even their low sodium (which is a joke) tasted like a rice covered salt lick. I looked everywhere for an easy and quick Jambalaya recipe that I didn't have to drive to Louisiana for the ingredients to. Paula Deen saved me.
I love that Southern Belle. I haven't had a recipe of hers yet that wasn't the bees knees. They aren't exactly figure friendly but, dang if they ain't good. Besides, going to college in Tennessee gave me a love of Southern food that I still can't shake after over 15 years.
This recipe is a two part-er. First, there is the mix of dry ingredients that you can keep in an air tight container for just about ever. I believe one year for Christmas I actually packaged it up to give as gifts. Second, is the wet and meaty.
Jambalaya Mix
1 cup long grain rice
3 T dried minced onion
1 T dried parsley flakes
4 T beef bouillon cubes ( I omit this altogether and add a can of chicken stock and reduce the water to 1/2 cup)
1/2 t dried thyme
1/2 t garlic powder
1/2 t ground black pepper ( I omit this too )
1/4 t cayenne pepper ( I only use 1/8th because I have to feed it to my toddler son too)
1/4 t salt ( yup, I leave this out as well )
Combine it all together and store in an air tight container.
2 1/2 cups water (unless you aren't using the bouillon cube in the mix, then it's just 1/2 cup and a can of chicken broth)
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes & chilies
1 (8 oz) can tomato sauce
1 lb meat of your choice ( I generally use more though. My usual is 1 lb sausage and a 1/2 lb shrimp. I've used it with chicken, kiel basa and ground beef too)
In a Dutch oven or large pot cook any kind of meat you might be using, except seafood. Add everything else and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Cover and reduce heat to simmer and do not touch for 20 minutes. Add the shrimp at the end and cook until just pink. Let this sit for a few minutes until most, if not all the liquid is absorbed.
I serve this with, of course, cornbread!
Now, if you are looking to make dinner even easier... got a rice cooker? Throw the mix and liquids in the bottom and the cooked meats in the steamer basket. I tried this the other night and this is what I got: picture above.
It was awesome!
Want a faster version: use minute rice. Brown the meats, add the liquid and bring to a boil. Add the mix, cover and let sit for 5 minutes. That is all there is to it!
Want a vegetarian version: omit the bouillon and use the 2 1/2 cups water. Instead of meat, add black beans, pinto beans and corn.
Now how is that for versatile!

Saturday, June 7, 2008


I dedicate this blog to all hardworking people out there who sometimes dread having to make dinner every night. My husband and I used to argue about what was for dinner and sometimes who would cook it.
I solved this little dilemma by making a menu. At first, I made monthly ones, then semi-weekly ones and now I'm down to weekly. Mostly because I find them the easiest to do. We are also members of a local farmer's co op that delivers weekly and I never really know what I'm getting until I get it. Kind of like a grab bag of yummy stuff.
I love to cook. But I'm not up for it every night. When you're the parent of a toddler, aka ball of fire, you don't get a whole lot of time to cook. When I do get time I take full advantage of it. I cook double, triple, sometimes quadruple batches and freeze the extras in dinner sized portions. On the nights I can't find it in me to cook, I break out a frozen dinner, throw together a salad or a side and call it done.
Not all of my recipes are freezable but are easy, inexpensive and quick to prepare, but most of all delicious.

Frozen Pizza For Those About to Rock

Lives today are so chocked full of work, school activities and sport practices that sometimes the only option to fast food is frozen pizza. Frozen pizzas that don't taste like the box they come in are expensive and are still loaded with preservatives and hard to pronounce ingredients. My solution to this is to make my own. Its really not hard or time consuming, really.
Freezer Pizza (enough for two crusts)
3/4 cup warm water
2 T olive oil
2 c flour
1 t sugar
1/2 t salt
2 t bread machine yeast
Place ingredients in listed order in your bread machine and set for dough. Let it do its thing.
Now, lets contemplate toppings. I've used just about everything but the Chinese leftovers for this. Sausage, chicken, shrimp, ground beef, pepperoni, cheese and sauce. I usually use spaghetti sauce, most pizza sauces are too sweet for me. Veggies are a little more complicated. Onions get stronger when frozen, mushrooms get mushy, black olives, tomatoes and peppers don't freeze well either; however, there is a solution. Fresh veggies can be put on the pizza before popping it in the oven, just sprinkle a little extra cheese over them. I also wait until I'm ready to bake before sprinkling on seasonings such as basil, oregano, garlic and thyme, as herbs can turn bitter when frozen.
When the bread machine has done its duty, lightly flour your work surface. Pour out the dough and divide in half. Roll out.
Preheat your oven to 350 with a pizza stone in it. Use your fingers to press down the crust leaving the edges and giving that dough cute little dimples.
You don't have to prebake the crust but I find that it makes it crispier.
The secret to keeping the crust from getting soggy is in the order of the toppings. For this pizza, add the cheese first. The cheese keeps the sauce from soaking into the crust. Cheese then sauce then meat toppings, if you aren't going to freeze it the veggies can be added now, covered with a little more cheese then baked until the cheese is all melty and looks like this...
If you can hold the temptation off long enough to freeze there is no need to bake. Add your cheese, sauce and meat to the crust. Lay flat and freeze. Do not wrap before freezing otherwise your toppings will stick to the foil. Once frozen solid, remove, wrap in foil then in an airtight bag. You might want to make sure your pizzas will fit into the bags first.
To reheat the frozen pie there isn't even a need to defrost. After adding any veggies, pop it on a pizza stone in a 350 degree preheated oven until the cheese is melted.