Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Menu Plan - Week of November 28th

Here's what we've got going on this week! Enjoy!

Monday: Baked Chicken Breast, Dilled Carrots, Brown Short Grain Rice Risotto with Mushrooms

Tuesday: Steaks with Mushrooms and Blue Cheese, Quinoa with Bell Peppers, Onions & Garlic, Steamed Broccoli

Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie (from scratch with the leftover chicken from Monday) & Green

Thursday: Shrimp Enchiladas, Black Beans and Green Salad

Friday: Holiday Party - no cooking for me! Word is, that we are having Swiss Steak (mushroom gravy kind), Mashed Potatoes, Veggies and Rolls - sounds good to me!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Harvest Pork Stew

Have you ever looked at a recipe and said - "I'm pretty sure we're not going to really like that" and then been completely, utterly surprised to find out that you made a delicious dish after you gave it a try? That's what happened with this pork stew. It is really. really. good. REALLY.

I have to admit the good reviews on Allrecipes.com are what helped me make the decision to actually make this meal. I did make a few tweaks, so I'll rewrite the recipe here. Feel free to tweak it for your family as well. Only don't leave out the apple completely as I was tempted to do. It adds a sweet note behind the savory that works beautifully.

Harvest Pork Stew
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless pork, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 fresh rosemary, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1 teaspoon rubbed sage
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 3 cups, cubed butternut squash (I used half a large one)
  • 1 apple, cored and cubed
  • 2 large potatoes, peeled and cubed (optional)
  • Kosher salt and pepper, to taste

In a dutch oven, melt butter. Add cubed pork and brown evenly, seasoning with salt and pepper. Add onion and garlic, saute for a couple of minutes until softened. Add the herbs, including bay leaf and saute for another minute. Now, add the chicken broth, working to bring up any of the brown bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the butternut squash, apple, and potatoes. Bring the mixture to a simmer.

Cover and bake in 300 degree preheated oven for 2 hours (give or take!). Take the stew out and if you'd like it thicker (as I usually do), make a rue of 2 Tablespoons cornstarch with 2-3 Tablespoons water and stir it in. Cook until thickened to the consistency that you like.

I made an herbed whole wheat biscuit to go with this but a nice slab of peasant bread, heavily buttered, would also be great on the side. You're going to want to mop up every last bit of this stew!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Menu Plan Monday 11/14/11

It's been awhile since I posted and I'm hoping I can get back into the habit. It's been a wonderful fall this year, full of busy activities and great weather. Shocking to think, though, that Thanksgiving is next week! There is much for me to be thankful for :)

This week's menu:

Monday: Sausage with Zucchini Cakes and Green Beans
Tuesday: Tatertot Hotdish (does it get more Midwest?) and a Green Salad (still getting lettuce from the garden!)
Wednesday: Chicken Parmesan and a Green Salad
Thursday: Sweet & Spicy Broiled Salmon, Seasoned Brown Rice and Peas
Friday: Chili and Peppery Cornbread

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another Menu Plan

It's been quite awhile since I've shared a menu plan with you all. So on this rainy day, I'd thought I'd go ahead and post what we've got going on this week.

Monday: Mike brought home pizza. Honestly, I knew it was going to be a hectic day and very hectic right around supper time - the pizza was well worth it!

Tuesday: Broccoli, Potato and Cheddar Soup with Ham. I'm making it up as I go! Actually, I'm going to scrap the potato part since I need to dig them out and it's all muddy out there right now...

Wednesday: Sage Pork Chops, Green Beans and Baked Apples

Thursday: Chicken Parmesan & Salad - it's going to be a hot one this day, I may have to revisit this plan. Although, Mike wants Italian....with a lot of melted cheese.....

Friday: Grilled Blue Cheese Steaks, Mashed Potatoes - in the pressure cooker, Salad (yes, we melt blue cheese on top of our steaks, please do not knock it until you try it),

Monday, August 15, 2011

FUSION - by way of me ;)

Do you remember when the hip word in the "foodie" world was "fusion"? Or maybe it is still hip? Or maybe it's just mainstream and that's what is expected. Well, not always in my house.

Now, I know a LOT of you think I'm pretty bold (or shall I say, exotic?) in my menu choices for our little family. And granted, sometimes I am. But the other night, I hit an extreme - even for me. In fact, the meal was so out there that I was giggling as I was making it and thinking - what on earth am I doing here?

It all kind of started on Tuesday night when I went to a potluck (or jackpot as Luke mistakenly calls it) and I brought a freshly made-from-the-garden salad. It had sliced cucumbers, sliced plum tomatoes, red onions, kalamata olives and feta in it. Now, I could have made my own dressing (and have in the past) but I have this bottled Greek vinaigrette that I really like so I went ahead and splashed that on and called it good. The salad went over really well! When does a healthy salad go over well at a potluck? And there were some excellent choices there too! It went over so well that someone asked me what was in the dressing. Busted! Just call me Miss Sandra Lee! Slightly embarrassed, I informed her of the dressing brand and variety. She was surprised ;)

So the next night, I was bent on redeeming myself. Well, that's how it turned out anyway. Here's what I made:

Pork Soulvaki
Naan with Red Onions & Cilantro (an Indian flatbread if you are not familiar with it)
Baba Ghanoush - An eggplant dip similar to hummus - hey! I had eggplant to use

Now, the soulvaki is Greek. The Naan is Indian. And the baba ganoush is Middle-Eastern from what I can tell. And melded all together, it was delicious. :)

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Tomato Florida Weave

Sounds like a great dance, huh? Or maybe a really red hair accessory? Nope! It is the way I've been staking my tomatoes for a couple of years. This year I've fallen in love with it!

So here is how you do it. You'll need:

6 foot t-posts
6 foot 1x2 wooden stakes
Twine (I prefer sisal, but there is such a thing as tomato rope out there)
Tomato plants (at least 4 - if you have less, another strategy might be more effective?)

Pound in the 6 foot t-posts at the end of your tomato rows. Every two tomato plants, drive a 6 foot 1x2 wooden stake. When you tomato plants are a little over a foot tall, start weaving!

You tie the twine to the t-post, and run it along one side of the tomato plants. When you get to the wooden stake, go around it several times, making sure your twine it taunt. Go along the next set of tomato plants on the same side as the previous set of plants. When you get to the end of the row, go around the t-post - making sure the twine is again very taunt, and do the same thing only going around the other side of the plants. To end, tie the twine on the beginning t-post. As the plants grow, you keep adding lengths of twine higher up on the posts. Sometimes I tuck in the growing branches to already strung twine.

Anyway, here are some pictures of how it looks in late July!

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Puts-Hair-On-Your-Chest Salsa

So a couple of weeks ago, before my tomatoes were ripening in larger quantities, I had loads of peppers. The nice thing about peppers is that you can use them when they are immature (why did that statement make me think of junior high kids?). Anyway! Yes, almost all peppers will turn another color when they are ripe but they are still usable in many different ways. In fact, it is often desirable to use an green pepper as opposed to a fully ripe one.

Take my jalapeños. I prefer them green just as I do my Anaheim peppers, Anaheim peppers are just like the diced, roasted chillies that you buy in the little cans in the Mexican aisle at your grocery store. So coming across a recipe for jalapeño salsa pricked my interest. The bulk of this recipe is using peppers, not tomatoes or tomatillos. Great for when your tomato harvest isn't quite ready yet but you still want some fresh salsa. Here's my variation.

5 Jalapenos, roasted then seeded and chopped
3 Anaheim peppers, roasted then seeded and chopped
1/3 cup diced tomato
1 small red onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
Juice of one lime
Salt to taste

To roast the peppers, I simply grilled them on the grill over med-high heat, turning them as the blackened. I removed most of the blackened skin, took out the seeds and gave them a rough chop. Then I threw them into a food processor with the onion, garlic, tomato, cilantro, and lime juice. And let it whirl! Then I added salt to taste.

This salsa has the potential to put some hair on your chest (hence the name). But it's not an unbearable heat. And it all really depends on the heat of your peppers. Jalapeños are notorious for not having the same heat level across the board. If it ends up being too spicy, then stir it into some sour cream. Or make a queso dip with some melted cheese. I have the feeling that this would make an excellent base for an enchilada sauce - simply add it to a simple white sauce and poor it over some chicken enchiladas. If you try it, let me know how it turns out for you!

Monday, July 11, 2011

An Abbreviated Menu Plan

Why is this week short? Because we're going to a baseball game Friday night. Our supper will be courtesy of the of Mike's employer via the stadium. Gotta love free food!

So what have we been eating? I've tried some new recipes here and there. One winner was Grilled Honey Lime Chicken that came from one of the cookbooks that Mike gave me for my birthday. I'll be posting it after the menu plan. Another honey chicken grilled dinner that was a winner was: Yummy Honey Chicken Kabobs. While Mike enjoyed that one more than I did, it was still pretty good. Oh, and I made my first Chimichurri sauce this last week. Argentinian in essence, it really goes with a grilled beef steak (which is how we used it). But I can see it used in a numerous ways, including on fish. If you've got herbs out in your garden, give it a whirl! The recipe I used can be found here.

Monday: Zippy Summer Shrimp, Grilled Red Potatoes, & Salad
Tuesday: Crockpot Chicken, Rice Pilaf, and Dilled Peas
Wednesday: Sloppy Joes, Oven Fries, Veggies & Dip
Thursday: Hoisin Pork Stir Fry and Egg Rolls
Friday: Kernels Game!

and here is the recipe for the Honey Lime Chicken
from More Don't Panic Dinner's in the Freezer

4 boneless chicken breasts
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons chopped jalapeño pepper

Mix together lime juice, olive oil, honey, cilantro, garlic, and jalapeno pepper. Place chicken breasts in freezer bag. Pour marinade over chicken breasts. Freeze.

On Serving Day. Thaw chicken completely. Grill over medium heat until chicken is tender and juices run clear. Great on salad or in a southwestern wrap!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Cheddar Jalapeno Pretzels

They are a winner! Well "almost." :)

I haven't entered into many recipe contests lately. Life has just been busy with the kids and all their activities. But when I saw this contest come up again, The National Festival of Breads, that I actually was a finalist in 2009, I had to give it another shot. The Kansas Wheat Commission does a great job hosting this event and King Arthur Flour and Fleischmann's are wonderful sponsors.

So here is this year's entry. I am not a finalist this go around but really, if you can develop a good recipe that your family loves, then you already are a winner. I did find out when opening this weekend's mail, that my recipe was chosen for an Honorable Mention and thus I got sent a packet full of goodies from the Sponsors. Thanks!

Cheddar Jalapeño Pretzels

This recipe combines two of my favorite things: luscious, warm pretzels and Tex-Mex food. One day, while eating a hot, buttery pretzel from a mall shop, I was struck with the thought that it would be so great to have the spicy cheese flavor already baked inside the pretzel than to have to dip it into some less than healthy sauce. So, tinkering in my kitchen, this recipe was developed. It is fairly quick and easy. Your family will be asking you to make these again! Although they do include pickled jalapeños the flavor is not overtly spicy.


4 Cups King Arthur Bread Flour

2 ¼ teaspoon Fleishmann’s Rapid Rise Yeast

1 teaspoon Salt

1 ½ Cups Water, 130° F

1 Tablespoon Honey

2 Tablespoons Pickled Jalapeños, finely chopped

1 Cup Sharp Cheddar Cheese, finely grated

2 Cups Boiling Water

¼ Cup Baking Soda

3 Tablespoons Melted Butter

Kosher Salt for sprinkling


In a bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook, combine 2 cups flour, yeast and salt. Stir in the warm water until well combined with dry ingredients. With the mixer on low, add the honey, jalapeños and cheddar cheese. Continue to add up to two more cups of flour, until a soft dough is produced, kneading the dough in the mixer for about 8 minutes. Remove dough from the mixer and place in an oiled bowl and cover with damp towel and allow to raise for one hour, roughly doubling the dough.

Preheat oven to 450ºF. After dough is risen, push it in to deflate it. Divide into 12 equal sized portions. Boil 2 cups water. In a shallow bowl, measure out baking soda. Pour the boiling water over the baking soda and stir until the baking soda is completely dissolved. Set soda water aside.

Line two 10 x 15 baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll out dough portions into 2 ½ to 3 foot lengths (about a ¼ to ½ inch in diameter) and twist into pretzel shapes. Dip each pretzel into the baking soda water and place on a baking sheet. Allow to raise for 15 to 20 minutes and then place in oven. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes. Take pretzels out of the oven and transfer them to wire racks. Lightly brush with melted butter and sprinkle with salt. Best enjoyed warm but they are still great when completely cooled as well.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Versatile Homemade Granola

Granola. The very word alone brings to mind Birkenstock footwear and hemp necklaces. Or maybe for you, it is hiking boots and a forest trail. Whatever conjures in your mind at the sound of this word, it probably has something to do with nature or being natural.

And, in essence, granola is very unrefined. What is it? Some whole grains, a sweetener and maybe some dried fruit or perhaps even some nuts all mixed together. There are recipes for stove top granola and oven baked granola. I bet there is even a recipe for a crock pot granola! Maybe a dehydrator recipe? Yep, I can see it happening. I've tried both stove top and oven recipes and I by far prefer the oven recipe so that's what I'm going to share with you here.

But the nice thing about granola is that it can easily be personalized. You can add what you like. Some people dig raisins and others dried cranberries. How about dried apricots, bananas, currants or cherries? Some people like almonds or sunflower seeds but why not pumpkin seeds? Or coconut? I like to use honey as the sweetener but brown sugar could also be used - maybe even maple syrup (now I've got another idea....)

So switch it up - here's a basic starter recipe - make it your own by filling in the gaps:

Basic Granola

3-4 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup chopped nuts (you pick)
1 cup dried fruit (you pick)
1/2 cup sweetener (honey is great, or brown sugar)
1/2 cup butter (some recipes even use canola oil)
1-3 tsp flavor additive (think vanilla extract, lemon extract, almond extract or even a citrus zested plus some of the juice!)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees F. Line a rimmed cookie sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl combine oats, nuts and fruit. On a stove top (or even in a microwave!), heat butter and sweetener together until butter is melted and it is well combined. Take off the heat and stir in the "flavor additive." Pour the butter mixture over the oat mixture and stir until all is equally wet. Spread out wet granola on the parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes, stirring every 5 - 10 minutes. Take out and allow to cool. Store in an air tight container in the pantry.

So with this recipe, I made lemon cranberry granola with sunflower seeds and almonds. But before I've made vanilla coconut date granola. And before that I made raisin cinnamon granola. The possibilities are really endless! Make what your family likes and enjoy it.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Embracing Your Inner Granola

The title of this post is what I did yesterday. Now, it may have something to do with Mike fixing the breaks on the van. Which he did a great job on, by the way, even despite running into a few problems (which we think caused them to need to be fixed....). Anyway, Mike was running around town most of the day looking for bolts and parts and what not and I was home with the kids - without a vehicle.

First, thing that happened is I realized we were totally out of bread for sandwiches. Thankfully, I noticed this early on and had time to make bread. Of course, I was nearly out of all my whole wheat and bread flours but I did find some rye flour in the pantry. So I made rye bread, or made up my own recipe for it, since I figured I also use up the white whole wheat and the bread flours too. Abby helped and she has informed me that it is the best bread. Frankly, I think she's a little biased and she also liked the idea of of the cocoa powder we added to give it a darker color.

Then, I realized we were pretty much out of snacks. Are you sensing a theme here? So I decided to make some granola. Why? Cause it is cheap, easy, and the kids like it on yogurt. I'll get to the yogurt part soon enough. So I made some cranberry lemon flavored granola.

Now, having been inspired by several blog posts on making homemade ricotta cheese, I had picked up a gallon of full fat milk (we usually drink one percent here) last week during my weekly shopping trip. Yesterday was the "best by" date so I figured I better use it up. But what I didn't realize is that I didn't really need a full gallon of milk to make the ricotta so I also decided to make yogurt in the crockpot. Also something I hadn't done before.

Making the ricotta cheese was so fun!!! And easy! Here's what I did:

1/2 gallon (8 cups) full fat milk
1/3 cup of white distilled vinegar
1 tsp of kosher salt (I might even add more if I knew the ricotta was bound for a savory dish)

Heat the milk on the stove top in a non-reactive pot. Heat to about 180 degrees over medium heat. If you don't have a thermometer then heat it just to the point where it starts to simmer. From what I've read though, anywhere from 165 to 185 degrees is just fine. You may want to stir as it is heating if you don't have solidly built pans as you do not want the milk to scorch! Turn off the heat, gently stir in the vinegar. Stir for about a minute. You'll see curds start to form right away. Use a slotted spoon or I have a small enough wire mesh colander that I simply used that to scoop the curds out of the whey. Have a colander lined with paper towels over another bowl, and place the curds on the paper towels to drain. Oila! Ricotta cheese! It tastes whey, I mean way, better than the stuff from the store. Refrigerate and use in the next 7 days. Save the whey, there are lots of uses for that nutritional liquid (including using it like buttermilk in recipes!).

So, after making the cheese, I still had another half gallon of milk so I started making yogurt. I have no fancy yogurt machine and frankly, bacteria, for the most part scare me. But after reading this blog post, I decided I had to give it a try. It was very simple. I let it drain again in paper towel line colander in the fridge (so I have more whey!) and gave some to the kids today for a snack. I served it with homemade strawberry/rhubarb jam, topped with homemade granola. I'm feeling my "inner granola" big time. :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Raspberry Update & a Menu Plan

It's been over a month since I posted. What have I been up to? Hmmmmm - yep! You guessed it: yard and garden work. In fact I have a strong urge to go out right now and weed that onion patch (my dill is overtaking my garden), plant some eggplant starts that I bought on impulse and prep the last area for the squash seeds that I'm thinking should go in before the rain that's coming. But I'm not. Instead I've decided to finally update you all.

About a week and a half ago, I noticed that the raspberry bare root plants I planted are indeed alive and doing well! Can I hear a praise God and an amen to that? :) Now to think about protecting them from those nasty, NASTY Japanese beetles....

Menu Plan:

Monday: Crock Pot Roast with Dilled Carrots, Dinner Rolls
Tuesday: Vietnamese Chicken Meatballs & Asian Sesame Ginger Salad
Wednesday: French Dip Sandwiches, Oven Fries, Fresh Veggies
Thursday: Spinach & Artichoke Pasta and ? maybe bread? fresh fruit for dessert?
Friday: Homemade Individual Pizzas (choose your own toppings!)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

God's Grace in Planting Raspberries

Last week I was brimming with excitement. The raspberries that I had researched and thought about and eventually purchased on-line were coming in the mail. From Maine (or was it Massachusetts?)! Yes, I purchased bare root canes of a variety called Polana and I was bound and determined that these little bare-root-nothing-to-them plants were going to make it.

You see, I've failed. And failed miserably in the area of raspberries. I've wanted them so long and have tried planting them a few times before. In fact a couple of years ago, I spotted a raspberry plant on clearance and planted it. Oh was I excited when I got it to grow! And then last year, we had berries! Only they weren't that sweet. Or at least they weren't until I let them turn a dark, dark color - yep - my "raspberry" plant really was a blackberry. Sigh. No wonder it's growth habit was different than what all the books were telling me it was supposed to be like!

So this time, I was going to do everything right. First, I decided what kind of raspberry to get (summer or ever bearing - I chose ever bearing). Then I picked a variety that would do well here and give me the kind of crop I wanted. Then I researched companies to see who would actually sell me a plant that was really going to survive (this is a crucial step!). On Monday, I got the e-mail that they were on their way, so I busily prepared the area for them. I took out all the grass that had crept in, put in a better grass barrier, added compost and tilled it all in. I was ready to go.

Wednesday dawned and I knew God was looking out for me. The weather was perfect, ideal weather to be working outside. But it gradually became warmer and warmer. And then I started fretting about it being TOO sunny and TOO hot - that the roots would dry out and then they would be goners (again, this is from the research that I had done). So I (read I) prepared myself for making sure everything was perfect - a bucket of water handy to go, so they could soak as I quickly dug the trench. I had looked at the forecast; the weather was supposed to turn really nasty the next day - cold, windy, and wet. Planting had to happen on Wednesday.

But the day drug on. No Fed Ex truck was in sight. I carried on with what I needed to do. It was about time to start supper and I had been doing other yard chores as I waited. Then, the sky gently clouded over. The temperature slightly dropped. The wind died down completely. And the Fed Ex truck pulled in front of our house. Quickly, I got the raspberries, and planted them per the instructions of the company. After I had them watered the sun broke out in full force and it warmed right back up.

You see I WAS prepared. BUT God, in His grace, even amongst the dumb, lame things of my life, provided for me abundantly in His timing. I was ready and He provided the ideal situation (the Fed Ex truck coming just as it cooled down and clouded up) in which to plant these things that for some silly reason, I really wanted. My timing would have had that truck come way earlier, even in the heat of the day and I would have planted those raspberries as I fretted about the sun and warm wind. You see, He knows my wants and my needs and He's sovereign over all the mundane and exciting situations and timings in my life. I find it thrilling to have a God that cares about me (and you) that much. I found myself saying Jehovah-jireh - the LORD provides...

Oh, and I hope to post about all the yummy raspberries I'm going to get this or next year, late summer.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Menu Plan Monday 4/4/11

April is here! Warmer weather is here! Yea!

Last Friday with the knowledge that some rain was expected this weekend, I was able to plant turnips and onions (after I tilled in some compost). Then on Saturday, I planted some Kennebec potatoes along the west side of the house. We'll see how they do there since it only gets full sun from about noon on in the summer - and then it is a HOT afternoon sun. I'm still hoping to get another bed on the east side of the house done but it looks like the cable company is going to be digging there anyway due to something being broke underground (which I could care less about since it hasn't affected any of our television. I'm hoping a small retaining wall that's over the cable line remains intact. I'll wait until they are done and see what needs to be done.

Here's this week's menu:

Monday: Shrimp Scampi with Whole Wheat Angel Hair Pasta & Salad
Tuesday: Aussie Chicken & Roasted Asparagus
Wednesday: Fish Sandwiches, Veggies with Dip, & Chips
Thursday: Beef Enchiladas with Red Sauce, Beans, Chips and Salsa
Friday: Caribbean Jerk Roast Pork Loin, Sweet Potatoes, Salad

Monday, March 28, 2011

Menu Plan Monday 2/28/11

The first birthday season of the year is here! My sweet little Libby is turning 4 on Wednesday (and 4 seems hardly possible!) and someone else has a birthday on Sunday. Okay, it's me. But really, turning 4 is SO MUCH more exciting then the number I'm turning ;) I asked Libby if she could just stay 3 and she told me no. That "I need to be 4 so I can cut paper and be like a parent." Yep, 4 is a pretty magical year. To this knowledge, you can see what the birthday girl picked out for her birthday supper on Wednesday.

Monday: Quick and Easy Fish Tacos, Black Beans, & Salad
Tuesday: Roasted Chicken & Spinach Salad
Wednesday: Hot Dogs, Mac-N-Cheese & Cinnamon Apples
Thursday: Chicken Soup with Stars and Spinach
Friday: Cheeseburgers, Fruit & Chips

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Spring! And This Week's Menu

The vernal equinox has occurred and it is now officially spring. Yesterday, I went out into the yard and bemoaned all the work I have to do. Well, not really because I love working outside. Have you ever found that you need to learn to enjoy the process as much as the result? It's kinda like the saying "Life is in the journey, not just the destination."

Here's what going on in my spring garden. In my cold frames, I have bok choi, Little Gem lettuce, spinach and cilantro. The spinach and cilantro are both overwintered. Also, the garlic I planted last fall is about 6 or 8 inches up now. Downstairs in my seed starting area, I have more lettuce and bok choi that's almost ready to be hardened off as well as violas. Planted but not fully germinated is my four different types of peppers: California Wonder, Anaheim, Serrano and Jalapenos. Today or tomorrow, I'll start my tomatoes and petunias, maybe some culinary sage and then in a week, some basil.

Soon, I'll plant my onion sets (red and yellow), peas, radishes, turnips and some beets directly in the garden. I don't like beets but I got some seed free with an order - maybe the kids will like it? This is my first year for planting turnips. I've dreams of them roasted while still young with olive oil and rosemary. Mmmmmm......I think it sounds good!

There are tons of other duties to do - like cutting (or I should say mowing) down the ornamental grasses, digging the grass out of the beds and hopefully installing a brick edging around the same perennial beds. I also would like to put in another bed on the east side of the house - I'm thinking it would be a good place for some extra vegetables.

But it's windy as all get out and the rain is drizzling so none of the outside stuff is going to happen today and that's okay. The more I think about it, the more motivated I'll become.

So, here's this week's menu!

Monday: Roasted Chicken Breast with Roasted Asparagus and Mushroom Risotto
Tuesday: Sauteed Pork Chops, Apple, Onion & Celery Dressing, and Green Beans
Wednesday: Chicken Tortilla Soup (with Monday's left over chicken)
Thursday: Baked Fleishkuechle, Dilled Carrots & Roasted Potatoes
Friday: Pizza & Salad

Monday, February 28, 2011

Menu Plan Monday 2/28/11

My good God has the sun shining full force today even if the temperature is not too warm. He always knows just what I need. And apparently, He knows I need this raging head cold too. I'll take both because I know I'm being "perfected" and "encouraged" at the same time.

So, what will the family be eating this week? As soon as the Sudafed kicks in....

Monday: Spaghetti Puttanesca with Bacon & a Green Salad

Tuesday: Tom Ga Kai & Egg Rolls (the frozen variety - I'll tackle homemade when my bok choy is ready)

Wednesday: Sloppy Joes & Homemade Sweet Potato Fries

Thursday: Broiled Sweet & Spicy Salmon and Pineapple with Cilantro Lime Rice

Friday: Homemade Chicken Nuggets (Buffalo Style) & Deluxe Style Salads (you know, green salads with a lot of chopped veggies, cheese, sunflower seeds, croûtons, and hard boiled eggs?)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

How To Menu Plan

Recently, I was speaking with a mentor of mine. She's helping to put together a "how to" menu plan session for some younger women. This mentoring group was formed to help fulfill the Titus 2 passage where older women are to teach the younger women. They speak on both spiritual walk topics and on practical how-to topics. What a great idea! I'm not part of the group but I've heard wonderful things about it...

Anyway, she encouraged me to write a blog post about how to menu plan. Now, in some regards, I feel that menu planning is a very personal thing. You know what you like to eat, what your family likes to eat, HOW your family should be eating, what you have time to make and what you can afford. All of these various ideas roll into each week's menu plan.

I've been menu planning for 2 1/2 years. Some weeks I'm full of inspiration and it takes me 5 minutes to plan all the week's dinners. Other weeks, I sit with a blank face and stare at the computer screen (where I keep track of the menu) and ask anyone who walks by or happens to call or come to the door - what do you think we should eat next week?

Okay, let's get into it. First, you need to decide a few items.

1. What meals do you want to plan for? I plan solely and specifically for dinner. Yes, we eat other meals AND snacks, but I don't plan for them. Why? Well, my wonderful husband isn't home during the week for them and I like to keep them simple. For instance, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese sandwiches, quesadillas, meat & cheese with crackers and leftovers compose the bulk of our lunches. They are quick and simple, easy to prepare and the kids love them. If I see something like fish sticks or taquitos go on sale, I'll buy them and throw them into the mix. This may not work for you. You may want to plan out breakfast, lunch and dinner along with snacks. You'll be amazingly organized but it will take extra time.
2. How many days do you want to eat at home? I know this is perhaps a silly question but it really does help. I plan for 5 nights and this is why: one night can be leftovers (or something pulled from the freezer) and one night can be take out or take and bake pizza. I don't really like to cook on Sundays, so if all else fails, we eat popcorn and cheese. :)
3. How are you going to keep track? I keep my menu plan on Google calendar. There are other free calendar websites that you can use too. We do this for a couple of reasons. 1. My husband can access it at work and see what's going on. 2. We also keep our activity calendar on the same application. So, when I plan, I can easily see - Oh! We are going to have to head out to practice or go to AWANA or such and such has invited us over and adjust the meal for that night accordingly. If something comes up for an evening, I take that planned meal on the calendar and drag it to another day. No scribbles, no crossing things out. Some other ideas would be just to hand write it on a basic calendar. Use a dry erase board that you keep on your refrigerator. Pin up a sheet on a cork board - and then throw darts at it to determine the order of the meals :)

Now for the next part, choosing the actual meals. Are you still with me?

My family likes variety. Or I should, say, I like variety. And since, I'm the cook - guess what we get? To help get variety in your meals try these tips.

1. Make variations of things you like. For instance, your family likes hamburgers so try making: Greek style burgers (with Feta cheese and olives in the mix), Taco Burgers (add taco seasoning to meat), Pizza burgers (top with sauce and cheese and other various toppings), Cuban style burgers (with deli ham and swiss cheese, wrapped in foil and pressed). If your family likes pizza, try things like a pesto based sauce, BBQ chicken pizza, a Thai-style chicken pizza, differing toppings. Or try making a calzone instead! Don't be afraid to experiment. Keep a simple side so people will have something to eat even if the star of the event isn't their cup of tea.

2. Think ethnically diverse. One night is Italian night, one is Asian inspired, and one is good ole retro American (like meatloaf!), one is Southwest, and the next is Mexican. I try not to do 5 Mexican inspired meals in a week. The result of the beans alone is harbinger of why that's not a good idea.

3. Visit cooking blogs or check out cooking magazines. If you are reading this blog, then you have internet access of some sort. People are SO creative. And many are SUCH good writers! If I find a blog that makes me giggle and makes me hungry, I go back. Pioneer Woman is one that will do that. A site called Seriouseats.com has recently gotten my attention and I'm loving it! Orgjunkie.com hosts a Menu Plan Monday event every Monday where people post their menu's for the week. In fact, that's why I started posting my menus on this blog. I've since stopped participating but it is still a good place to find inspiration.

4. I try to use a method where I don't use the same variety of meat more than twice a week and sometimes I incorporate meatless dishes. So, I'll do one or two beef, one or two chicken, pork, fish and/or a legume. Just using a variety of protein sources will help you get variation in your meals.

Okay, so you are thinking variations, now what?

1. Start with what you already have in your pantry. I like to keep a well stocked pantry and it serves as the foundation of most of my meals. My pantry maybe more varied than yours, or maybe not! But look at what you got - most likely it is the basis for what you most like to eat. And don't be afraid to experiment with some new pantry items - try different grains such as different types of rice. Add a new bean into the mix (we stick to pinto, black and Great Northern but aren't afraid of something new).

2. Now you know what ingredients you have on hand already, go to the sales flyers. What's on sale? Is it time to stock up on a great deal on pork loin? Cook some for a meal in the next couple of days and then freeze the rest. So one meal is going to have pork as the main protein - it goes like that. What veggies are on sale? Eggplant? How about eggplant parmesan? Asparagus? Cream of aspargus soup or roasted asparagus to go with those loin pork chops. An outrageous deal on potatoes? Why not make a potato soup? Along with that, I try to buy fruits and vegetables seasonally. Mostly because a). they're ususally cheaper and b). they usually taste better. Once I was fooled into buying a cantaloupe this winter. Never. Again. Ick.

3. Plan your easiest meals for your most hectic days. I like to do crockpot meals on Wednesdays because that day has the craziest evening for us. On Fridays, I've got more time in the afternoons so I might put a little more effort into those meals and make something a little more complex.
4. So you see that pork is on sale and you have items a, b, and c in your pantry. You think they can go together but you're not sure how. Check out allrecipes.com's ingredient search or even just google your ingredients followed by "recipe" and you are sure to get some hits.

Lastly, make the time to do it. It is SO worth it. You'll save money, you'll save time and you'll save yourself a lot of frustration. My dear husband told me that I became a much better cook when I started menu planning. Interesting, huh? Menu planning with the follow through is when inspiration meets motivation - you end up with good results and good eats. I'm hoping this blog is helpful to you. If you have any questions, please feel free to post them in the comment section under this post.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Menu Plan Monday 2/21/11

Warm weather then cold again. It is the hallmark of spring! I was glad to have one day in the 60's without having to drive to Florida (in February) and I know that around the proverbial corner, much warm weather is ready to pounce.

After rereading my opening paragraph, I am beginning to think that reading Jane Austen novels is affecting my speech. :)

A quick update on our Valentine's meal: after much deliberation and input, I decided on Grilled Steaks with Sautéed Mushrooms, Baked Sweet Potatoes and Roasted Asparagus. By far the asparagus was the star of the meal. Bring on the spring vegetables! One other help in the decision making process was that it was warm enough to grill - that clenched it.

Okay, now onto this week's menu. There was not much inspiration from the sales ads, but this is what I've come up with:

Monday: Ritz Chicken (also commonly called Poppyseed Chicken) & Green Beans with Butter and Almonds
Tuesday: Chesapeake Bay Pork Chops, Baked Beans & Salad
Wednesday: Beef Pot Roast with Potatoes & Carrots
Thursday: Philly Cheese Steak Sandwiches (with leftover pot roast) & Oven Fries
Friday: Crab Cakes, Rice Pilaf & Salad

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Menu Plan & Valentine Day Poll

Tardy, yet still here is this week's menu. Anyone up for grilling season yet?

Monday: Broccoli Cheese Soup (but I ended up adding a lot of other veggies so we'll instead call it Vegetable Cheese Chowder)
Tuesday: Sautéed Chicken, Garlic Mashed Potatoes & Green Beans
Wednesday: Tater Tot Hotdish (from scratch!) & Green Salad
Thursday: Baked Salmon, Brown Rice, & Dilled Peas
Friday: General Tso's Pork, Egg Rolls, & Egg Drop Soup

Now, here is the poll! What should I make for our Valentine's Day Dinner (not necessarily held on the actual day)?

A). Steak with Sautéed Mushrooms, Baked Sweet Potatoes, and Salad
B). Crab Cakes, Spinach & Artichoke Dip with Crackers & Veggies, Mozzarella Sticks with Marinara Sauce
C). Baked Red & White Manicotti with Caesar Salad

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Venison Empandas

For this year's Wild Game Feast, I made some venison empanadas. If you are looking for some game day food, then I would suggest these. In fact, I think you can make almost anything into an empanada and come out with some yummy food - isn't everything better when wrapped in pie dough?

The original recipe came from this site here. I made it as directed the first time but felt some changes were needed - just my preference - feel free to work off of my variation of this recipe too. Cooking is all about what YOU like to eat.

One recipe for pie dough (two 9 inch pie circles worth). I used this recipe here and really liked it for this dish. One, because it was super easy. Two, because of the protein from the egg, it had a stronger structure to the dough - good for when you need to fold the dough in half. It is not so fun to have your pie dough cracking! Of course, you can always buy refrigerated pie dough at your local grocery store and it will certainly save you time (but it will increase the over all cost of the dish). *Note that the above linked recipe will give you enough for one and a half need for the filling recipe (or just make a cream pie to go along with the meal) ;)

Venison Filling :

1 lb ground vension
1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
1 Tablespoon paprika (I actually got a "Spanish" one from the bulk section of Hy-Vee super cheap)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 cup Spanish olives, chopped (you know, the green ones stuffed with pimentos?)
1 8 oz. can tomato sauce
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (I actually think it is okay if you omit this - try it and see)
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium/high heat. Add the venison and brown well. Add the onion and celery and cook until softened. Add the chili powder and garlic powder cook to start waking up their flavors (about a minute). Add the olives, tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 15 minutes on low/medium heat.

Roll out your pie dough to a usual pie dough thickness. For the WGF, I cut 3 1/2 inch circles. Why? Because I had some tubberware that size - lol. Most recipes call for 5 inch circles, a little too big for sample size BUT the bigger you make them the faster the process will go. Now, for the smaller size that I made I suggest filling them like this (listen up because it took me some trial and error). Hold the pie dough round in your hand, slightly cup it so it looks like a "taco." Scoop in your filling - about a tablespoon's worth, then starting at one end, start pressing the edge together. If the filling starts coming out a little, just use a finger to press it back in and maybe adjust your filling amount for the next empanada.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Enjoy!

Now, some prepping tips, you can make the pie dough in advance. You can make the filling at least a day in advance. In fact, I found it easier to use cooled filling - no melting of the pie dough! You can assemble the empandas a day in advance and then store covered in the refrigerator. Bake as previously noted. AND I haven't tried it but I do think you can make and then freeze these. I think allowing to thaw in a single layer in the fridge and then reheated in a 350 degree oven would be your best bet.


Monday, January 24, 2011

Menu Plan Monday 1/24/11

Here's the menu for this week! Enjoy the cold weather while it lasts ;)

Monday: Moo Shu Pork and Egg Drop Soup
Tuesday: Chicken Parmesan with Whole Grain Pasta & Salad
Wednesday: Beef Stew & Whole Wheat Biscuits
Thursday: Shrimp Alfredo & Salad
Friday: Italian Wedding Soup

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Microwave Popcorn - Why did no one tell me?

No, this isn't a rant about the ills of microwave popcorn. This post is meant to inform you and to help you save some money and time. Now, get this:

I'm reading in a cookbook (Mark Bittman's Food Matters, actually) and I see a recipe for popcorn. Who needs a recipe for that? We usually make it on the stovetop and an indeed that's what Bittman recommends but he says you can also make it in the microwave. Oh really?

So I did what he suggested:

1/4 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1 brown paper (or whatever color you got) lunch bag
Melted butter

Take the popcorn and salt and put them in the opened bag. Fold the top down several times (like an inch each time). Place in microwave, let it go for 2 to 3 minutes (listen for the popping to slow to an almost stop just like you always do when making popcorn). Take out, open being careful of the steam! Pour into a bowl and toss with butter (if you like) and seasonings of your choice. We usually go for just salt but we tried Old Bay seasoning and that was a hit.

Easy peasey lemon squeezey - as my daughter would say.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Menu Plan Monday 1/10/11

Mondays are stinking busy days here at our house. Perhaps I need to give you some information about my personality in order to explain.

I hate procrastinating.

Always have, always will. The hanging threat of tasks that need to be completed wear on my conscience. So I end up doing a bulk of my weekly cleaning the first two days of the week. Then I let it slide - I'm not against letting things slide a little - as long as I know they haven't been totally neglected. Yes, I was the girl in college that had her homework done before 5pm. Yes, I never once pulled an all-night'r studying for an exam - just not my style.

So, today I'm going to be doing laundry, baking bread, baking bible study snacks for tomorrow morning, vacuuming (and normally mopping but I did that yesterday due to having people over) and a whole list of other tasks that may include having someone over for a playdate this afternoon. But I wanted to post this week's menu. I've been faithfully menu planning just not posting it as I should.

Here it is!

Monday: BBQ Pulled Pork, Baked Potatoes, & Cinnamon Apples
Tuesday: Roasted Chicken, Festive Brown Rice, & Green Beans
Wednesday: Chicken Enchiladas, Refried Beans, Chips & Homemade Salsa
Thursday: Asian Salmon & Green Salad
Friday: Black Bean Soup & Salad