Sunday, January 26, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of Jan 19-Feb 1

I love to plan menus. When I plan meals it's easier to shop and it's easier to make sure I have something ready to fix for dinner. There was a time--when I had fewer kids and less going on--that I cooked almost every night. That's not where I am right now. I always plan in days where I know I won't be cooking (or we won't be eating left-overs). Even then, sometimes the week goes according to the plan and sometimes it doesn't, but that's just how life works, right? I try to be flexible and not worry too much when my well-planned dinner turns into take-out ;)

Here's our menu plan for this week, hopefully you'll find something that inspires your own plan :)
Week of Jan 26-Feb 1 
Sunday: Pressure-Cooker Beef with Veggies; Biscuits
Monday: Spinach Quiche; Salad
Tuesday: Left-overs
Wednesday: Tuna Cakes with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette, test #3 (didn't get to these last week); Fuit
Thursday: BLT Sandwiches (BLT Salad for my hubs); Cauliflower-Cheese Soup
Friday: Red Beans and Rice; Salad
Saturday: No dinner planned ('cause I'm going on a date!)

Happy planning!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Strawberry Sauce

This was my first time making strawberry sauce. I was helping with the dessert for a youth etiquette-night dinner this week and we wanted to have strawberry sauce with the ice cream and brownies. Since it's January and decent fresh strawberries are no where, I used sliced frozen berries. It seemed to come together OK until the end of the cooking time when I noticed that the strawberry pieces were really mushy and starting to fall apart. Not very pretty and not very delicious. Bah! I wasn't happy but I took it with me anyway.

While we were getting everything set up for the dinner I mentioned to one of the other leaders that I wasn't super-happy with how the sauce turned out, and she suggested that maybe we could puree it with an immersion blender. Such a good idea! My friends, this is what working with an amazing team of ladies is like! We blended it for about 60 seconds, and it was like magic...a "sort of OK", "maybe the kids won't notice the mushy pieces under the whipped cream and chocolate syrup" strawberry sauce turned into a fantastic, "ooooo-ahhhhh" strawberry sauce.

Redemption by immersion blender. Love it.

Use this sauce on ice cream, pound cake, cheese cake, mix it into plain yogurt...if you can think of it, this sauce can probably pull it off.

Strawberry Sauce
printable recipe

1 14- to 16-oz bag sliced, unsweetened strawberries
1/2 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
pinch kosher salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Combine the strawberries and water in a medium pot. Mix together the sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a small bowl. Add the sugar mixture to the pot and mix well. Heat over medium to medium-high heat, stirring often, until it starts to boil. Cook for 3 minutes, stirring gently and constantly. Add the lemon juice and cook for 1 more minute. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to warm before pureeing with an immersion blender, or before transferring to a blender to puree. Use warm, room temperature, or cold. Store unused sauce in the fridge.

Makes about 2 cups sauce.

Baking-Powder (no-yeast) Pizza Crust

My kids love pizza. They eat it a lot. Especially my middle child, who is 11, who takes it in her lunch more than half the time. She has a specific pallet, so school lunch doesn't go over very well (not that I'm complaining about that one), and many of the typical home-lunch options don't go over very well either. But cheese pizza is always a happy lunch. I used to buy a lot of Little Caesars for her (there's one of the skeletons in my closet for ya), because it was cheap and fairly decent for a kid who didn't know any better. But then Little Caesars suddenly took a nose-dive in quality (which was barely passable as it was) and I couldn't stand to buy it anymore.

I have a really good yeast pizza dough recipe, but there was no way I could make it often enough to keep her supplied. So I started looking for a pizza dough that didn't need to do all the rising, and found a whole bank of recipes for pizza dough made with baking powder. I didn't even know there was such a thing, but I was sure happy to find it. The recipes all had the same ingredients--flour, baking powder, salt, sugar, water, olive oil--just in differing amounts. I picked one of the recipes as a starting point and changed up the amounts of all the ingredients until I had a really nice dough that was easy, fast, and accepted on their plates ;)

Now, this is not a permanent replacement for my usual pizza dough, and it doesn't have the yummy yeasty flavor, but it is definitely a keeper, and for right now it's what I'm using most of the time.

When I make pizza I use a pizza stone and pizza peel. These are not expensive items and can be found at Walmart for less than $30 for both. If you don't have a stone or peel, you can turn a baking sheet upside down for a stone replacement and use a cutting board as a peel replacement. But if you're going to make a lot of pizza, a stone and peel really make the whole production easier.

I also use pizza sauce that I make myself--well, now my 11 year-old makes it because she can. After finding the recipe several years ago I've never gone back to store sauce. It's so easy to make, and if you have even a moderately stocked kitchen, you will probably have all the ingredients on hand. I love it because it helps me rotate my cupboard staples, tastes amazing, and it doesn't have any of the extra things that always seems to end up in commercially-made products. You can find the recipe for the sauce HERE.

Note: I weigh a lot of my baking ingredients, especially flour, baking cocoa, and powdered sugar because they settle and clump like crazy. This can make it really hard to get an accurate amount by using the "scoop method" which can leave you with different results every time you make the recipe. In case you don't have a kitchen scale, I've included an approximate scoop measurement (scoop, settle by tapping the top with a knife, and level with the knife). I also use my kitchen scale to divide the dough into two equal portions so the pizzas are the same size.

I should also say that I love to knead dough by hand (I like the feel of the dough and I have less to wash), so that's what I describe below. If you want to use a food processor with a dough blade, feel free.

Baking-Powder Pizza Crust 
Makes 2 12- to 14-inch pizzas, moderately thick crust

16 oz all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and rolling out (about 3 cups +2 tablespoons)
4 teaspoons baking powder
4 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1/3 cup olive oil
1 1/3 cups water

Update: I've started adding 1/3 cup Kraft Parmesan cheese to the dough (the kind in the green canister) and we love it!

for basic cheese pizza:
shredded mozzarella cheese

1. Adjust your oven rack to the 2nd lowest position and put your pizza stone on it. Preheat the oven to 425.

2. Combine the flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl; mix well. Add the olive oil and water, and mix with a rubber/silicone spatula until the dough holds together and mostly pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (If you measured your flour by scooping, and the dough seems obviously too wet or too dry, mix in a bit more flour or dribble of water.) Let the dough sit for 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Dump the dough out onto a lightly floured surface (I just use my counter) and knead for 5 minutes, adding a bit of flour if needed to keep it from sticking to your work surface and your hands. Shape the dough into a ball, cover with the mixing bowl, and let rest for 5 minutes. This resting part is really important. I don't know what's happening under the bowl, but after 5 minutes the dough will be soft and smooth and gorgeous, and much easier to roll and stretch out to a circle. 

4. Divide the dough into two equal portions. You can eyeball this, but I use my kitchen scale so they are as equal as possible (weigh the dough, then remove half and adjust by bits of dough until the portions are more-or-less equal). Form the two portions into balls, cover with the mixing bowl, and let rest for a few more minutes.

4. Dust your work surface with a bit more flour. Press, stretch, and roll one of the balls of dough out to a 12-inch circle. This takes a bit of patience as the dough likes to shrink back, but you'll eventually get there. Once you have your circle about the right size lay the dough on the pizza peel (dust with flour first to prevent sticking) and finish rolling it out. (I roll out the dough until it is at the very edges of my peel, which is about 13x14-inches because when I transfer it to my stone it always shrinks a little. My stone is 14-in in diameter, and I want to use as much of the space as I can.)

5. Spread pizza sauce and cheese on the dough and slide it onto the pre-heated pizza peel. You'll need to give the peel a few quick shakes and jiggles back and forth to make sure the dough isn't sticking, or you could have a mess when you try to slide it onto the stone (which is completely maddening). And I mean quick. Like you look like you're having some kind of seizure. And some of the cheese might shake off the edges on to the floor (which always makes my dogs happy). But don't skip this part. When I forget to make sure it's not sticking I'm always sorry.

6. Bake for 6-8 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and lightly browned, and the bottom of the crust is golden. Use your peel to remove the pizza from the oven and transfer it to a cutting board (I don't like to cut the pizza on my peel because it makes marks on the wood which I worry will ruin it over time. If you have a metal peel you are probably safe). Cut the pizza into wedges, squares, or whatever shape you want. Right now my kids like it cut into rectangles.

7. Repeat with the 2nd ball of pizza dough.

Makes 2 12- to 14-inch pizzas.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Homemade Pizza Sauce

I first posted this back in 2009 and it's still the only pizza sauce I use. It's so easy that it's my 11-year-old's job to mix it up (my oldest passed the pizza-sauce-making torch recently) I'm updating the original post with a new picture and the actual recipe, so you don't have to click through anymore. Enjoy it...we do all the time!

Homemade Pizza Sauce (very slightly adapted from The Cooking Photographer)
printable recipe

1 8-oz can tomato sauce
1 8-oz can tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt
fresh cracked pepper to taste
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon white vinegar

Combine all of the ingredients in a medium bowl or a jar and mix well until combined and smooth.

Makes about 1 3/4 cups sauce

---Original Post from 2009---

My family loves pizza. I love to make it from scratch (I can even "throw" it--I only almost dropped it on my daughter's head once), but pizza sauce has always eluded me. For years, my store-bought pizza sauce of choice has been Boboli; it's thick and very flavorful. But it's also almost $4 a package at my store. I paid the price because it was the only sauce worth buying, but I've really wanted to find a good recipe.

A couple days ago I was poking around on and saw a beautiful picture of pizza sauce with the caption, "Two minute pizza sauce made from pantry ingredients". I clicked on the picture and went to Laura Flowers' blog The Cooking Photographer. I read through the ingredients, and I had just about everything (remember I'm moving, and I've already packed up most of my kitchen). I borrowed some onion powder and paprika from a friend and then set my almost-13 year-old to making the sauce. (She sent me out of the kitchen while she made it. It was very hard to stay away...)

The sauce turned out beautifully...
We were rushing out the door to go work on the new house, so I made some quick individual cheese pizzas on flat bread (our favorite quicky pizza) and took them with us in the car (after taking pictures for the blog, of course). If you're looking for a super fast, easy pizza sauce that will blow all of the store-bought sauces out of the running (even my beloved Boboli), try Laura Flowers' sauce--delish!

The next time I make it this sauce I'm going to make a bunch so I can freeze it in little bags and have it on hand. And I'll use a little less garlic powder, but that's just my personal preference.
Enjoy, and thanks Laura!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Egg & Cabbage Tacos

The first time I made these I was desperate for something fast for lunch and when I opened the fridge I saw the eggs and cabbage and corn tortillas. I remembered my teenager loves the fish tacos (fish, cabbage, cheese, corn tortilla) from a local fast-food restaurant, so I decided to try making an egg & cabbage taco. To be honest, I wasn't expecting much, but it was surprisingly tasty. This morning I made these for breakfast and they were a warm, filling way to start off the day.

Egg & Cabbage Tacos

For four tacos:
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon milk
salt and pepper to taste
4 warmed corn tortillas
shredded cheese
thinly sliced green cabbage
hot sauce

Mix the eggs, milk, salt, and pepper together with a fork, and cook like you would for scrambled eggs. Divide the eggs evenly between the warmed corn tortillas, and top with cheese, cabbage, and hot sauce.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Menu Plan: Week of Jan 19-Jan 25

I love to plan menus. When I plan meals it's easier to shop and it's easier to make sure I have something ready to fix for dinner. There was a time--when I had fewer kids and less going on--that I cooked almost every night. That's not where I am right now. I always plan in days where I know I won't be cooking (or we won't be eating left-overs). Even then, sometimes the week goes according to the plan and sometimes it doesn't, but that's just how life works, right? I try to be flexible and not worry too much when my well-planned dinner turns into take-out ;)

Here's our menu plan for this week, hopefully you'll find something that inspires your own plan :)
Week of Jan 19-Jan 25 
Sunday: Chicken Curry with rice
Monday: Roast Beef Sandwiches with Peppers & Onions, and Au Jus; roasted sweet potatoes
Tuesday: Left-overs
Wednesday: no dinner planned
Thursday: Roasted Sesame Tofu, Carrots & Cauliflower; rice
Friday: Tuna Cakes with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette (test #3)
Saturday: Cilantro-Lime Chicken Tacos

Happy planning!

Friday, January 17, 2014

One-Pot Ravioli in Meat Sauce

The first time I made this I was 90% convinced it wouldn't actually work. The 10% hope I had was just because there was a picture of lovely-looking ravioli with the recipe posted by A Slice of Southern.

It totally worked. And it was very, very tasty. I did adapt it a bit to fit my families taste preferences: like no mushrooms (because my kids just don't understand how wonderful they are), and I added a couple other goodies for extra deliciousness. Something I really want to try is adding some spinach. So yum!

If you need dinners that are fast and easy, this should definitely be on your short list. And even though I've made this several times with the ravioli, I don't see why it wouldn't work with tortellini, my youngest is just on a ravioli kick right now. Also, normally I hate making ravioli because half of them always end up split open by the time I'm done boiling them, but when I make them this way they always stay whole and gorgeous. This recipe just scores point after point after point.

Note: This makes great left-overs. I have even portioned out left-overs into zip-top bags and tucked them away in the freezer for lunches or dinners later.

One-Pot Ravioli in Meat Sauce (adapted from A Slice of Southern)
printable recipe

1 pound lean ground beef (I used beefalo because that's what's filling my freezer right now)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fennel seed, crushed
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 24-oz jars of Classico (or other brand) Tomato-Basil sauce (or 1 giant 44-oz jar)
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 cup water
1 20-oz package refrigerated cheese ravioli
shredded Parmesan cheese for serving

1. In a large pot over medium heat, brown and crumble the ground beef until it's no longer pink. Use a folded paper towel and tongs to soak up most of the grease. Add the onion, garlic, fennel seed, basil, oregano, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until the onion is tender, about 5 minutes.

2. Add the tomato-basil sauce, Worcestershire sauce, and water. Increase the heat and bring to a boil.

3. Add the ravioli and bring it back to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to maintain a simmer, and cook, stirring occasionally to prevent the raviolis from sticking to the bottom of the pan and to each other, until the ravioli is tender, 8-10 minutes. Serve with Parmesan cheese.

Makes about 6 2-cup servings.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Creamy Chicken-Tarragon Soup

I make a lot of soup. It's so easy and so filling, and on cold winter days it is so, so satisfying. It's a bonus that all but one in my family likes soup. I'm still holding out hope for her.

This soup comes from a past botched attempt to make my own chicken pot pie recipe. On one hand, it's pretty sad when you don't look at your own recipe and then you mess it up. On the other hand, sometimes it works out and you end up with something new and very tasty. Now this soup is a regular on our dinner table.

Note: As I made this latest pot, it occurred to me that I could probably use less flour if I made the soup the same way I make my Clam Chowder (cook flour, butter, and milk in a separate pot until really thick, then add to the pot with veggies and broth). We have cut our total carbohydrates to support my amazing husband as he works to get his blood sugar under control (he is very fit, but his genetics have failed him, and he does not want to take insulin), so I'm constantly looking for ways to shave off any extra carbs I can without it getting ridiculous. I'm going to try it and I'll post an update for everyone.

Creamy Chicken-Tarragon Soup
printable recipe

2 teaspoons olive oil
2 large carrots, scraped and diced
2 large ribs celery, diced
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoons dried tarragon
1 teaspoon dried thyme
few shakes cayenne pepper, optional
1/4 cup butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 32-oz cartons chicken broth (8 cups)
2 cups 2% or whole milk
2 small russet potatoes, peeled and diced
2 cups cooked, diced chicken

1. Heat the oil over medium heat until hot. Add the carrots, celery, onion, and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 3-4 minutes. Add the tarragon, thyme, and cayenne pepper. Continue cooking and stirring until the vegetables are tender and starting to brown, about 5 more minutes. You will notice brown stuff sticking to the bottom of the pan. This is fond. Fond is good. The more browning you have, the deeper the flavor and darker the color of the finished soup.

2. Add the butter and let it melt. Add the flour and stir until everything is coated. Cook, stirring often for 3-4 more minutes.

3. Being very careful of the steam, add one of the cartons of chicken broth, scraping the bottom of the pot with a wooden spatula to get up all the browned bits. Add the remaining carton of broth and the milk, and stir well to dissolve all of the flour (sometimes I need to use a whisk to loosen up everything). Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a low boil, stirring often.

4. Add the potatoes and adjust the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are tender and the soup has thickened, 5-8 minutes. Add the chicken and simmer for a few more minutes to heat it through.

Makes about 3 quarts of soup.
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