Monday, September 29, 2008

Menu Plan Monday 9/29/08

Woo Hoo! The weather is turning cooler and that means it is an awesome time to use the crock pot. Of course, I use it a lot in the summer too but it is so nice to be able to make those hot soups and other meals that stick to the ribs in the crock.

So, without further ado, here is this week's menu!

Monday: Penne with Ricotta and Basil Sauce and Salad
Tuesday: Beef stir-fry, Egg Drop Soup
Wednesday: Crockpot Chicken Chasseur and Basil Garlic Green Beans
Thursday: Smashed Potato Soup (recipe follows) and Salad
Friday: Sour Cream & Dill Chicken, Brown Rice (pressure cooker) & Salad
Saturday: Shrimp Tacos, Refried Beans (pressure cooker), Homemade Pico de Gallo and Chips

Smashed Potato Soup (adapted from BHG's Biggest Book of Slow Cooker Recipes)

3 1/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut into 1 inch cubes
1/2 cup chopped yellow or red sweet pepper
1 1/2 teaspoons bottled roasted garlic (I'll use my own homemade)
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 cups chicken broth
1 can evaporated milk
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup thinly sliced green onions (I'm going to use chives from the garden)

In a 4 to 6 quart slow cooker combine potatoes, sweet pepper, garlic and black pepper. Pour broth over all.

Cover; cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 10 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 5 hours.

Mash potatoes slightly with a potato masher. Sir in evaporated milk, the 1 cup shredded cheddar and green onions. Ladle and serve, top with sour cream and additional cheddar cheese if you'd like. Note: I'm going to top with some crispy bacon bits as well.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hot Sauce!

I love it when the garden and the kitchen collide. And this is the season when there is one collision after another. I've made pickles, salsa, tomato juice, peach butter and so on. Now I have three hot pepper plants loaded with peppers. So what's a girl to do? I was planning on pickling them (and I still may do that) but after watching Rick Bayless's "Mexico One Plate At A Time" I decided to make some hot sauce. I followed the recipe exactly as listed on his Frontera Kitchen website and have included it here. I guess the only difference is that I used a different hot pepper entitled "Little Boy" pepper (I've come to realize the joke intended by my darling husband's grandfather).

Habanero Hot Sauce

Makes about 2 cups


5 cloves garlic, unpeeled
½ cup peeled, roughly chopped carrot (you’ll need 1 medium carrot)
½ cup roughly chopped white onion (you’ll need about half of a small onion)
12 medium (about 5 ounces) orange habanero chiles, stemmed
1 cup apple cider vinegar
About 2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon sugar


Roast the garlic in a skillet over medium heat, turning regularly until soft and blackened in spots, 10 to 15 minutes. Cool and peel. In a small saucepan, combine the carrot, onion and habanero chiles with the vinegar and 1 cup water. Partially cover and simmer over medium-low heat until the carrots are thoroughly tender, about 10 minutes. Pour into a blender jar, add the roasted garlic, salt and sugar. Blend until smooth. Thin with a little additional water if you think your hot sauce is too thick. Taste and season with additional salt if you think necessary. Pour into jars or bottles and store in the refrigerator until you’re ready to add some dazzle to a dish.

Here is the lovely results and it is quite tasty. If you like that super hot punch-in-the-mouth type of flavor (which I do!).

As you can see, I did not purchase this bottle especially for this little project. I've been saving olive oil bottles, soy sauce bottles... you know the little bottles with the plastic regulator on top for items just as this. It is recycling at it's best in my book!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Let's talk Pressure Cookers

Pressure Cookers are a busy, forgetful mom's best friend. Well, right up there with a phone and pizza coupon that is. ;) So exactly what is pressure cooking?

Taken from the great source of all trivial knowledge, Wikipedia,
Pressure cooking is a method of cooking in a sealed vessel that does not permit air or liquids to escape below a preset pressure. Because water's boiling point increases as the pressure increases, the pressure built up inside the cooker allows the liquid in the pot to rise to a higher temperature before boiling.
This build up of heat and pressure allows you to cook much faster. Plus, the moisture is retained so the contents stay moist. Sounds dangerous, doesn't it? Well, I love flirting with danger (not really). Today's modern pressure cooker is very safe.

Here are some things I like about my pressure cooker.

  • I don't worry about bacteria growing from putting in frozen food like I do with my other favorite cooking device, the slow cooker. Because you cook food so fast, there is little time for the food to be in the "danger" zone. Think of putting in a solid frozen roast in your slow cooker. It takes a long time to defrost and then cook that roast (like, hours!). It would be done from start to finish in a pressure cooker in an hour.
  • I can cook vegetables uber-quick (probably not a word). For instance, dilled baby carrots were on this weeks menu. I cooked them, on the stove in under 10 minutes, that includes the time to bring the vessel up to pressure. And they tasted like they had been in the slow cooker all day.
  • I save money and time. For instance, all beans I make are now from dried beans. Love that! Even "refried" beans are now made from scratch. Although, one might argue that my refried bean recipe is actually a pureed bean recipe...Whatever, it tastes as good as the restaurant's! (I'll share this recipe next week).
  • I use it for: meats (all kinds), vegetables (think fast mashed potatoes!), rice (brown rice and wild!) and I know I can also make desserts in it. Soon I will try the cheesecake recipe Lorna Sass has in her book. Mmmmmmm......
Lorna Sass is the queen of pressure cooking. If you invest in a pressure cooker, then I highly, HIGHLY suggest buying one of her books. I own Pressure Perfect. There are many great recipes in it along with what I feel is invaluable information - the timing charts. She also explains in great detail the ins and outs of pressure cooking. And for any vegetarians out there, she has vegetarian specific cookbooks as well.

Once you get the idea of how it works, you can transform almost any recipe to be suited for the pressure cooker. That's what I did with the black bean soup recipe I made last week. So I say, give it a try! Learn something new! Save yourself some time! Invest money now to save money later.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

I LOVE Mexican food. Literally, I could eat it every day and never get tired of it. I'm a lot like Rick Bayless in that manner I would suppose. I mean, we are both as "gringo" as can be when it comes to our physical appearance and probably our heritage. But we both have fallen in love with the culture and cuisine that is all Mexican. Thus, with the rising cost of whole wheat tortillas (bought not for their authenticity but for their health benefits) I thought I would give my hand at trying to make some at home.

Here is the recipe I went off of to get an idea of what to do. Then, I futzed and came up with my own variation.

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

1 cup all purpose flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 tsp salt
1/3 cup canola oil
1 cup boiling hot water

Mix together flours and salt. Add oil and mix until the oil is equally mixed throughout the flour. Make a well in the center of the bowl and add the hot water. Mix together until a soft dough is formed. If dough is sticky then add a little flour until it is not. Likewise, if dough is too dry and will not pull together, add water teaspoons at a time until the right consistency is reached.

Roll into small balls. This picture is after they have rested for an hour covered.

Roll into tortillas between two sheets of parchment paper.

Or instead of rolling them out, purchase a Tortilla Press and use that. I thought I would be brilliant and use my cast iron skillet to press out the tortillas (very Alton Brown, I would say).

Well, if I had wanted my tortillas to be a 1/4 inch thick than that would have been a great solution. I did use the cast iron skillet to start out my flat disk and then I used a rolling pin to do the rest of the work. So, the result was not perfect round tortillas but maybe that will come with practice. Oh, and at first I tried to use wax paper and found out that it does not hold up very long and it is best to use parchment paper. Then you need to cook the tortillas. Everywhere I have read it seems you need to have one skillet at medium-high and another at high heat. So that's what I did. The pressed tortilla goes first onto the medium-high skillet for about 30 seconds and then onto the high heat to finish cooking.

Store these in an air tight container. I happen to be keeping mine in the fridge. You do need to warm them up to make them pliable again but hey, you need to do that with the store bought ones too! The kids loved them slathered with butter, cinnamon and sugar then rolled into little cigars. They made a good snack! All in all, I would say they were a success. However, I think they would be even better made with lard. I am going to get some masa mix at Aldi's and try that next time to make fresh corn tortillas. I'll report back with the findings.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Menu Plan Monday 9/22/08

Time to share the menu plan for this week! I have to admit, it was a hard week to come up with an interesting menu to share as the sales flyers were not at their best in my book. You can read that to say, not much was on sale that I really would like to buy. Meat seemed ultra expensive but maybe that's where we are at in these economic times? However, at orgjunkie's site, it is family favorites week so I was able to throw in some of our family favorites: stuffed pork chops (recipe to follow plan) and grilled salmon with orange cilantro rice.

Monday: Stuffed Pork Chops, Dressing, & Dilled Baby Carrots
Tuesday: Michelle's Coconut Curry Chicken
Wednesday: Spinach Stuffed Rigatoni & Salad (seasonal item at Aldi's - $2.99)
Thursday: Crispy Baked Chicken Quarters & Butternut Squash Risotto
Friday: Grilled Salmon with Pear Salsa, Orange Cilantro Rice
Saturday: Denver Omelet Quiche

Stuffed Pork Chops:

Quite simply, I take some stuffing mix (I usually use the cheap store brand chicken flavored ones) and add around 1/4 cup diced onion, 1/3 cup diced celery, & half an apple diced. Then I add either melted butter, olive oil, or apple sauce (or combination of the three) and chicken broth until it is the consistency I want it. Then I take the chop and make a incision on the side to make a little "pocket." Widen the pocket with my finger and take a Tbl or so of the stuffing mix and put it in - you can close with a toothpick but I don't know if it is totally necessary. Then I season the outside with salt & pepper and brown in some butter. Then I pop it in the oven, covered until done with some chicken broth in the pan. Or you could put the rest of the stuffing on the bottom of a baking dish and put the chops on them. That's it!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Black Bean Soup...mmmm...mmm...good!

On Thursday we had black bean soup for dinner. We started out this month spending a little more than we should on groceries. Thus, this last week I tried to keep costs down so the menu included some less expensive meals. You can buy a bag of dried black beans at Walmart for 1.14. I'm sure there are cheaper places as well. I would say that the bag cooked would produce about 4 cans worth of black beans. A can of black beans will range from fifty cents to a dollar. Not another bad option, as this recipe made enough for two meals for our family of 5 (three young children that is). And the kids loved it! I used my pressure cooker to cook the beans so, all in all, this recipe took me under an hour.


Black Bean Soup

10 slices bacon, finely chopped
2 medium onions, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
6 garlic cloves, pressed
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 1/2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon chili powder
4 (15 1/2-ounce) cans black beans, drained but not rinsed
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch cilantro
juice of 1/2 lime
Thinly sliced scallions, for garnish
Sour cream, for garnish
Grated cheddar, for garnish

Put the bacon into a large heavy pot and place it over medium heat. Cook until it starts to give up its fat, about 4 minutes. Stir in the onions and cook, stirring, until they start to turn translucent, about 4 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until you can smell it, about 1 minute. Add the broth, tomatoes, ketchup, Worcestershire, and chili powder. Stir in the beans, turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Adjust the heat so the soup is bubbling gently and cook 10 minutes. Season with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, pick off all the thick stems from the cilantro. Wash it and shake dry. Chop the cilantro coarsely and stir it into the soup when it has been simmering 10 minutes. cook until the soup is thickened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the lime juice. Serve with the garnishes.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Basic Pantry List

Menu planning runs much smoother when you have a well stocked pantry. In order for a pantry item to be on my list, it must be something that when it runs out or almost runs out, it goes directly on the grocery list located smack dab on the refrigerator. Here is an "almost" comprehensive list of my pantry items. If you are just getting started organizing your kitchen, don't be overwhelmed. Go from your recipes to pick out the pantry staples that are most urgent to purchase. They don't run out at once (although, some weeks it feels like it!), so these are not items you will be buying every week. But they will be purchased on a regular basis.

For Basic Cooking:

  • Olive Oil
  • Canola Oil
  • Vinegar (white, cider, & red)
  • Pasta (variety of shapes & sizes)
  • Bread crumbs
  • Onions
  • Garlic
  • Potatoes
  • Dried beans (great northern, pinto, black, etc)
  • Rice (brown, white, risotto & wild rice)
  • Stuffing Mix
  • Chicken Bouillon (or I use the refrigerated chicken base from Sam's Club)
  • Diced Tomatoes
  • Canned Tomato Sauce & Paste
  • Pasta Sauce
  • Worcestershire Sauce (kept in refrigerator)
  • Soy Sauce (kept in refrigerator)
  • Ketchup (kept in refrigerator)
  • Mustard (one or all your favorite kinds)
  • Oatmeal
  • Crackers of all sorts & kinds (whatever's on sale!)
  • Tortilla chips
  • Kosher Salt
  • Black Peppercorns (these last two could go on the spice list but I use them all the time!)

For Baking:

  • All Purpose Flour
  • Whole Wheat Flour
  • White Sugar
  • Brown Sugar
  • Cocoa Powder
  • Baking Powder
  • Baking Soda
  • Really, REALLY good chocolate chips (they're worth it!)
  • Milled Flax & Wheat Germ are staples in our house as well but they are not completely necessary.


  • Onion Powder
  • Garlic Powder
  • Cumin
  • Taco Seasoning
  • Italian Seasoning
  • Bay leaves
  • Chili Powder
  • Cayenne Pepper

Throw in your milk, eggs, and favorite meats and you can create many, many dishes.


Welcome to my newest blog. This blog has been created to provide readers with interesting tips and ideas to create family centered meals. Menu plans, recipes, and techniques will be all covered. As Dave Ramsey says, the quickest way to cut grocery cost is to have a plan and eat home. Now, I'm not claiming to be your "mental maid." But I will be sharing recipes, our very own menu plan, and grocery lists. So come back and come back often!