Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Next Step Towards Total Food-Snobbery

Homemade ketchup! The thought came to me yesterday while I was showering (I get lots of thinking done in the bathroom--it's my only alone time anymore). It was Monday and we didn't have any plans--no school, no camp, no doctors. Our friends were coming for a mid-morning swim but the rest of the day was ours.  Perfect to do a bit of kitchen experimenting...hmm, what to make...how about--SPIDER ON THE CONDITIONER BOTTLE! So now I'm playing "Naked and Afraid--the Home Edition" in the shower with a spider!  Every few seconds, I'm checking on the spider to be sure he's not moving. Wet my hair...there is the spider...wash my hair...there is the spider...use a different conditioner...there is the spider...wash my face...Where. Is. The. Spider???? Now it's "Naked and Afraid--the Deluxe Home Edition!" Don't shave the legs, time to get out of the shower! The biggest child will just have to deal with my (her words) "porcupine porky thighs" when she sits on my lap.

Back to The Plan...When we planted our garden, we planted two kinds of tomatoes.  I was hopeful that if the children grew them, they might eat them.  Hubby eats tomatoes infrequently and I only like them cooked.  I also figured that if we grew enough, we'd be able to make some salsa or homemade sauce.  My business partner's father used to make homemade ketchup every summer before he passed away. Last year, she resurrected the tradition and brought me a quart of it.  When I suggested ketchup to the children, they were all over it.

First we picked the tomatoes and peppers from the garden (we already had about 10 little tomatoes on the counter getting ripe).  Next, I put sharp knives *gasp!* in the hands of my children (no worries, I have taught my children kitchen safety years ago). A moment later, I scooted the littlest away from the biggest...I had put a righty on the left side of a lefty, and the righty talks with her hands. Even if there is a sharp knife in them.

The children cut up all the tomatoes and the peppers.  I cut the onion (if you've read my book, you'll know it's from experience).

Then we put everything into the cups of my nutri-bullet.  The littlest was very excited to make ketchup smoothies!

We did it in batches, so some of the puree was greener than others because of the amount of peppers in the batch. Everything was very pink when mixed all together.  Not to fret, as the mixture cooks and reduces, it gets a beautiful brick red color.

We boiled the puree for about 30 minutes until it was reduced by half then we added garlic, vinegar, ground mustard, cinnamon, cloves, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, salt and honey, and forgot to take pictures. Then I turned the stove to low and checked on it every 10-15 minutes for about 2 hours.  It tasted great, but still had a kind of mealy texture so I ran the immersion blender through it for about 7 minutes.  It got glossy and thick.

I didn't set out to make paleo-ketchup, but it is paleo. No thickeners, no sugar, and a bonus of very little salt. One taste and the hubby said "throw out the Heinz!" So I feel like this is one more step in total food-snobbery. That's just great, (insert sarcasm here) I've ruined store-bought ketchup for my entire family!

We ate it on burgers and smiley face fries for dinner (and chicken and bratwurst...we did some cooking on the grill to stock up the freezer and you just gotta sample everything).

This jar won't last long--it was full before dinner. Next summer, more tomato plants! We already have plans for balsamic ketchup, roasted jalapeno ketchup and maybe something herbaceous like thyme and oregano...any other suggestions? I'll let you know how it goes with the next tomato harvest.

Homemade Ketchup using Fresh Tomatoes

12-15 tomatoes (I think we planted romas)
2 smallish green peppers (we actually planted red, but too impatient to let them ripen)
1/2 white onion
3/4 tsp ground mustard powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp cloves
1/4 tsp smoked paprika
small pinch cayenne pepper
generous pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup honey (more or less to taste)

Chop then blend tomatoes, peppers and onion in a blender and pour into saucepan.  Boil over medium-high heat until reduced by half, about 30 minutes, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat to medium and add remaining ingredients.  Bring back to boil and turn to low, simmer on low for about 2 hours or more, until mixture is thickened.  If the mixture is "loose" or mealy after 2-3 hours, use an immersion blender to blend smooth.  Store in fridge or using proper canning methods to preserve.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Breakfast Stuffed Shells

I feel like I have to apologize for my absence. Sometimes I just feel like I can't get my feet under me. Then I have a wonderful day like today...both kids with me all day, had my annual physical (which had the girls waiting an hour and a half total), lunch at a restaurant (at their request), hair cuts for both of them (I had them cut 6 inches off the littlest's hair and worried that the hubby wouldn't let me back in the house), a shopping trip to Wegmans (where the biggest asked me to make stuffed shells, who am I to argue), then back home to do some batch cooking. And we all had a great time!  Ooh, and in the middle of cooking, the littlest decided that she wanted to swim with just the kick board and no life jacket, so I jumped in the pool with her and she took off.  Just two weeks ago she wouldn't let go of the ladder!  When I get done here, I'll be looking for some swim lessons and a swim team for her--she's a natural.

Knowing that I need to stock up the freezer for my mom, who is having shoulder surgery in a few weeks (if anyone has any ideas on good foods to freeze that can be heated and eaten one handed...please let me know), I cooked the whole box of shells. I made some traditional stuffed shells. Then ran out of ricotta cheese. So I had these left.

I didn't want to throw them out, but I couldn't find inspiration in my kitchen, so I turned to Pinterest.  Know what's not on Pinterest? Breakfast stuffed shells. There should be breakfast stuffed shells on Pinterest. Ahem. Somebody needs to pin this recipe. Had to send the hubby to the store for cream cheese, but I had the bacon, mushrooms, peppers (from my first garden ever!) eggs and cheese in the fridge. I'm sure anything you'd eat in an omelette will work.  Our friends make "crack dip" with breakfast sausage and cream cheese, that would be delicious.

Chop up your veggies and have them on-deck while you cook the bacon.  

Pull the bacon out of the pan and cook your veggies in the bacon grease.

After the veggies are softened, throw a brick of cream cheese in the pan and stir until everything is melty goodness. Then stir in the cooked bacon and pour into a bowl and set aside. 

In the same pan, soft-scramble some eggs. Then mix the cream cheese goop back in to the pan and lightly mix with the eggs.

Stuff into the already cooked shells.

Oops, no pictures, but make some cheese sauce while the bacon and veg are cooking. Pour the cheese sauce over the shells and bake at 350 til bubbly, about 20 minutes.

This is a great brunch dish, but it is a bit rich and needs something acidic. We ate it with a spoon, standing in front of the stove. If I was serving it to someone, I'd top it with something tomato-y (like a tomato and roasted red pepper sauce) or on the side of an arugula or frisee salad with a really lemony vinaigrette. 

Breakfast Stuffed Shells
For the shells:
12-16 jumbo shells, cooked according to package directions
8 oz bacon, chopped
8 oz mushrooms, chopped
1 cup green pepper, chopped
8 oz cream cheese
Olive oil to coat pan
6 eggs, beaten and seasoned with salt and hot sauce to taste

For the cheese sauce:
2 Tbs butter
2 Tbs flour
1 cup milk
4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, grated
1/2 tsp ground mustard
hot sauce to taste

Preheat oven to 350. 
Cook bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until crispy. Remove bacon to paper towels to drain, leaving the grease in the pan.  (Meanwhile, make cheese sauce--directions below) Add veggies to bacon grease and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add cream cheese and the cooked bacon to the skillet and stir until combined. Remove from the pan to a bowl and set aside.  Wipe out skillet and add olive oil.  Over medium heat, cook eggs just until soft-set.  Add cream cheese mixture back to pan and fold into eggs lightly.  Stuff the egg mixture into shells and line up in a 9x9 greased casserole dish.  Pour cheese sauce over shells and bake 20 minutes til bubbly and golden.  Serve with something acidic (like a tomato sauce or a salad with lemony vinaigrette).

Cheese sauce
Melt butter in small saucepan over medium-high heat.  Whisk in flour and cook for about 2 minutes.  Whisk in milk, mustard and hot sauce and add cheese.  Stir frequently until thickened and cheese is melted.  Set aside until you are ready for it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What I have learned so far...this week

Here is what I've learned so far this week (and it's only Tuesday)...

1.  Corned beef is pretty easy to make, it just takes a loooong time.
2.  When you prepare dinners ahead for the week, you get to do things like go to a free jazz concert at the library on a school night and still make it almost make it to bed on time.
3.  At a jazz concert at the library, when the adults have finished laughing at the wise-cracking guitar player, your 4-year-old will most likely say "That's HILarious" in her perfect little outside voice.
4.  Umbrellas do not make good toys on windy days.
5.  I am able to run (when my child is heart-broken...see #4), I just choose not to.
6.  When you haven't run for, well, ever, some part of your body will hurt at some point in the hours following the running event.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, Paleo-style...

Reuben in a Bowl

This was my first corned beef brisket ever.  I was sharing with a friend (as I sat in her kitchen watching some ribs in her oven) that meat intimidates me.  It's getting better since I have introduced a thermometer to my kitchen, and with practice I can now tell by touch when a steak or porkchop is done to my liking.  But I am still a bit intimidated--part of it is that meat is expensive and you don't want to mess it up.  This was a pretty big gamble on my part with this $10 brisket.

I cooked the corned beef for about 4 hours on Sunday while I prepped some other dishes for this week. I baked it in the oven at 350, covered with foil for about 2 1/2 hours then uncovered for about 1 hour more.  It still wasn't tender enough so I covered it again and baked it for 30 more minutes or so.  Then I packed a layer of brown sugar on top and broiled it until the sugar got crusty.  Whew, it worked--it's tender and moist.  It is pretty salty (but okay with the dressing and cabbage, it's not overpowering).  The next time I cook corned beef, I may boil it or soak it to get some of the salt out before roasting.

In case you are curious, here is what else is on the agenda this week...
Double Pork Stuffed Apples
Sweet Pepper Poppers
Baked Chicken with Spinach and Artichokes
Whisky Glazed Carrots (this is my absolute favorite recipe right now...you HAVE to try it!)

Oh, and a few more things we've learned...
7.  My children like raw carrots, not cooked (or over-cooked as the biggest insists on telling me. Repeatedly.)
8.  We learned that there is no answer but the truth when your super-smart-and-very-literal-six-year-old asks "Well, how do the baby rabbits get out of the mother's stomach if the doctor doesn't cut them out?"

What have you learned this week?

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Picnic Soup

Spring is definitely in the air, you can smell it!  And what do you do in Maryland when you feel spring in the air?  Why, you eat soup...outside...of course! What, you don't? So it's just us, then?

It's been a terribly cold February and a snowy start to March.  It was still kind of cold this weekend when I prepped some meals for the week.  I baked a handful of sweet potatoes (great for lunch with some almond butter or goat cheese and those roasted grapes I made on Friday), some Butter Chicken (I cheated and used a jarred sauce with chicken, peppers and onions.  And by the way, if you are eating Indian and don't have any Major Grey's chutney, peach jam plus a cinnamon spice blend makes a pretty good substitute!) and this soup...

Creamy Pumpkin, Sausage and Kale Soup

which reheats extremely well.  Sausage, onions, peppers, pumpkin, kale and some cream.  I made it the first time a few weeks ago and I had been jonesing for it again. Only I couldn't find baby kale again so I got spinach this time...still tasty but a bit slimy--stick with the kale.

We were a bit late leaving school tonight as I was conferencing with a parent, so I'm very glad I had prepped for the week.  And I am loovvving the time change and our new back yard!! The kids came through the house and straight out back when we got home.  While I was heating dinner, hubby and I did that eerie thing married couples do...he said "where are the lawn chairs" at just about the same time I said "grab a blanket, we should have a picnic."

This picture sums up our evening...

And because I prepped, even though we got home late, the kids got to play with chalk outside, we had dinner, the biggest girl got two nights of homework and reading done, the littlest got a bath and I actually cleaned the kitchen all before bedtime!  What a wonderful evening--we even got a cosmic high-five!!

Rock on!!

Friday, March 6, 2015

I'm Back!!!

So I've taken a bit of a hiatus for almost a year...it wasn't on purpose, it started because I was letting myself get bogged down in the minutiae of life and some really bad time management.  When I began to get my feet under me, things happened like an emergency appendectomy, the biggest girl starting Kindergarten, and moving to a new house (and into a smaller, poorly designed kitchen).  Meanwhile, we dove headfirst into the paleo lifestyle.  If you don't know what that is, in it's simplest terms, it is eating like a caveman--lean meats and vegetables mostly. After my appendectomy, we ate strict paleo for about a month in an attempt to heal my gut.  As a result, hubby and I both dropped some weight and felt enormously better (turns out carbs make me verrrry sleepy!)  We aren't so strict all the time now, but "paleo" dictates alot of our food decisions.  I'm not going to take this blog in a paleo direction intentionally, we are not strict enough for that.  I'm still going to stick to what works for us and what works for our kids, and what I am doing in my tiny kitchen.

Let's get to it...we've had two snow days in a row this week.  Snow days are meant to be spent in the kitchen.  Baby Girl wanted crepes for breakfast. No problem, but usually I stuff them with a sherry spiked cream cheese or nutella.  (BTW, we've tried paleo crepe recipes and none have worked so far...this is an instance where we are not strict paleo.  I'm not eating pancakes or french toast but an egg-heavy, flour-light crepe is okay by me)  So I started thinking about other things besides sugar laden yummy stuff to eat with my crepes, and what did I already have in the fridge, since it is a snow day.

Side-bar: If you like my "soft-focus" pictures and want to recreate them on your own, give your cell phone to your grubby pawed children for a bit, they'll smudge up the camera lens so that every picture looks like a close-up of Cybill Shepherd on Moonlighting.

Creamy mushrooms with thyme was up first, then when the kids started eating grapes, roasted grapes with thyme was born (and yes, I ate some of that too for second breakfast).  The grape recipe comes from here:


and I've made it about a half dozen times--love it on bread but try the grapes on pork, on a sweet potato with goat cheese or just drink the elixir from the bowl, it's delicious!  Not wanting bread, I thought that rolling the ricotta in the crepe and serving the grapes on top might be pretty good...I was right!

Crepes Two Ways
Crepes (makes about 8 8-inch crepes)
3 eggs
1 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
pinch salt
pinch sugar (optional)
2 Tbs melted butter

Mix all ingredients in a blender.  Let batter stand for about 15 minutes.  Cook in a very thin layer in a nonstick skillet or fancy crepe pan if you happen to have a mom who gives the best Christmas gifts ever!

Creamy Mushrooms with Thyme
1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbs butter
8 oz mushrooms, sliced (white or crimini)
3-4 stalks of thyme (no need to strip leaves)
salt and pepper
2 Tbs white wine
2 Tbs heavy cream

Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the mushrooms and thyme and saute for 5-7 minutes.  Season mushrooms with salt and pepper.  Add wine to the pan (on a snow day when you have white grape juice in the house and you don't feel right about opening a bottle of wine at 8:15 in the morning, you can sub the juice for the wine...it works although I'm sure it's much better with the wine).  Reduce almost completely.  Remove the thyme from the pan and add the cream and stir. Pour over folded crepes and serve immediately.

Roasted Grapes with Thyme
About 1 lb of red grapes, removed from stem, washed and dried (of the water, not made into raisins)
5-6 stalks of thyme (no need to strip the leaves)
2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbs honey, divided
sprinkle of kosher salt
1 cup ricotta cheese

Preheat oven to 425.  Toss grapes, thyme, oil and 1 Tbs honey on a sheet pan and roast in oven, stirring occasionally, until the grapes burst and give off juice, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, mix ricotta with remaining honey and spread on crepes and roll up.  When the grapes are done, spoon over rolled crepes and serve immediately.

I added some whipped cream on the grapes for the picture...what do you do with the leftover whipped cream? Give it to the littlest...