Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chicken 201 - Salads

I did not get a chance to make a blog post last night, and for this I am very sorry but I was stuck in @#$%^^&*!! traffic due to the torrential downpours yesterday.  It took me over an hour to get home and get my daughter, and I live 20 minutes away from my workplace.

And now, today, it’s 25 degrees again. For extra added fun, it snowed last night. Yeah, after the day before was 75 degrees. Welcome to NJ in the springtime. Not.

On to the chicken blog – chicken breast is ideal to use in salads. I am not a fan of buying the prepackaged, precooked breast strips because they are overpriced and contain far too much sodium. I  stock up on raw boneless breasts by shopping the sales circulars and cooking them myself– often they have ½ price sales and I stock up, since freezing is not a problem.... because....

You can keep frozen chicken breasts for up to 9 months (!) as long as you keep your freezer at 0 degrees or below. Look at us, budget friendly AND cooking chicken!

Since I didn't blog last night, I’m including two chicken salad recipes that are fast and easy and don’t involve a lot of prep. 

Note when you’re cooking the breasts to use in salads:
Use boneless breasts, pound them down to about ½” thickness, and spray lightly on both sides with cooking spray. Bake them on a cookie sheet for 30 minutes at 400 degrees, and set aside to cool for about 15 minutes, then shred or dice or slice and toss them into the salad of your choice.

Here are the recipes:

Honey Mustard Chicken Salad
12 ounce broiled or baked chicken breasts
3 large celery stalks
1 small onion
1 1/3 tbsp lite mayonnaise
4 ½ tsp honey mustard **
9 cups mixed salad greens
6 tbsp Balsamic vinegar and olive oil dressing ***

**Honey mustard:  2 ¼ tsp honey plus 2 ¼ tsp mustard, and whisk – if you want more, increase the quantities on both items in equal parts and go for it – I don’t like a lot of it, especially with the balsamic but it’s your call.

***Dressing: 3 tbsp Balsamic vinegar and 3 tbsp olive oil and whisk

Shred chicken, dice celery and onion and combine with mayo in small bowl.  Toss the salad greens with the dressing and serve with chicken salad on top.

Quick and Easy Chicken and Italian Dressing salad
This one is my attempt to recreate a salad I always used to get at our favorite restaurant when dining out. It is very, good if I do say so myself J
12 ounces broiled or baked chicken breasts
1 packet Good Season’s Italian Dressing mix, fully prepared with oil and vinegar
9 cups mixed salad greens of your choice
½ red onion, sliced and quartered
2 hard boiled eggs, crumbled*
1 cup shredded light cheese of your choice
Roasted shell-less pumpkin seeds or alfalfa, or even some chopped pecans
4 slices cooked turkey bacon crumbles

Pound the chicken breasts to ½” thickness and put them in a Tupperware container. Marinate them in the entire dressing mixture for at least 1 hour in the refrigerator. Pull them out and you can either bake them at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, or grill them if you want that nice charcoal flavor.

Cool and slice into strips. Toss the salad with the cheese, the seeds, red onion and bacon bits and top with chicken and hard boiled egg.

If you have never hard boiled an egg before, here is my tried and true method.

Put the eggs in a pot and just cover with COLD water. Put the pan over medium heat and bring it to a rolling boil. Turn OFF the heat and cover with a lid and let sit for 10 minutes. Voila!– hard boiled eggs.

Enjoy the salads, and tomorrow I will post some recipes that I use all the time at home with shredded chicken as the main event.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Chicken 101 -

For my dear friend in Nevada, who is learning the ropes - here is some of my chicken knowledge for you.

I am skilled at making it since it's pretty much the only protein that Le Fussy Spouse will eat on a regular basis with a minimum of complaint.

Two things to keep in mind when you're making chicken:

* Breasts and wings will require more moisture and less cooking time before they are done and will dry out faster - so be careful with them;
* Legs, and thighs will require less moisture and more cooking time before they are done.

What's the difference? Fat content. That's why you always find healthy cooking recipes featuring breasts, and also why they are more expensive. You can, however, make some pretty tasty dishes featuring thighs and I'll include some later on this week.

The best thing about chicken, though, is how versatile it is. You can broil it, bake it, fry it, saute it, braise it, boil it, make it into soups or stock, barbeque it, make chicken meatballs, chicken burgers, feature it in Middle Eastern dishes, shred it and put it in tacos or enchiladas or chimichangas, grill it and eat it on a sandwich... and the list goes on. I feel like that guy in the Forrest Gump movie talking about all the different ways to cook shrimp.

I think I'm going to make this Chicken Week on my blog - and I'll give some techniques for things like cutting up and boning a whole chicken, which is easier than you think - to stuffing a chicken breast or pounding it to make roulades. And posting recipes.

Today,  the easiest way to cook a chicken, and my family's favorite: Roasting.

I usually buy a whole oven stuffer roaster and rinse it well, removing all the giblets (freezing them in a Ziploc bag for stock later).  I pat it dry with paper towels and set it on a rack that was lightly sprayed with cooking spray.

It's important to use a rack (I learned this in cooking class) when you are roasting anything, because the rack allows the hot air to circulate around your meat, cooking it more evenly and also avoiding that horrible stuck- to-the-pan-by-the-burnt-spot on one side of your meat that can happen if you don't use a rack.

My other cheat is that I have a ready supply of McCormick's poultry seasoning blend on hand. Once I pat the bird dry, I rub it all over with the poultry seasoning, and also separate the skin from the breast to insert some seasoning directly on the breast meat by carefully inserting a wooden spoon in between the skin and the breast - but if you choose to do this, be slow and careful to avoid puncturing the skin.

I do not remove the skin because the fat on the skin allows the meat to remain moist while roasting. If you don't want to eat the skin, you can always remove it once the chicken is completely roasted.

The way we like it:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, make sure the oven rack is in the middle and roast for 20 minutes per pound.  Here's some Cooking Math: 20 minutes per pound for a 10 pound chicken = 200 minutes / 60 minutes to calculate hours =  3 1/3 hours.

I'm telling you now- your house will smell AMAZING while the chicken is cooking and the best thing about it is that whole chickens are usually cheaper to buy than individual parts. And you can use the leftovers in lots of interesting ways: sandwiches, soups, shred and use in other things, salad toppers, you name it. And did I mention - stocks? :-)

Uuse a meat thermometer to check the chicken to make sure it's cooked - and the thigh should be at 165 or a little below - and a little below when you pull it from the oven is actually preferred because:

When you pull the chicken out, you need to LET IT SIT for 15 minutes. Why? Because it will keep cooking once you pull it out of the oven and you do not want to lose all the juicy goodness. To cut up the chicken for serving, (after it sits, of course) I recommend following the directions in this video:

Do not forget to save the bones for stock later! (freeze them with your giblets in a Ziploc bag!)

More tomorrow - let's see if I can blog every day this week.

Monday, April 7, 2014

What I Learned in Cooking Class - Stocks

I've been away for far too long again, but my excuse is that I have been attending gourmet cooking school at night, as well as working at a new job so things have been a bit hectic.

I thought I might as well share some really good tips I learned about while in cooking class, so here you go:

Lesson 1: Stocks

The difference between stocks and broths are how they are made. Stocks are made using the bones from the carcass, and bits and pieces of the other parts and some meat. Broths are made from the meat only.

There are two different types of stock: brown stock and "white" stock, for lack of a better term. Brown stock is made by browning the bones and bits before you start making the stock, to draw out the flavors. White stock is made without pre-browning. Fish stock is another animal, as it's usually made from the leftover shells of sea creatures, like lobster and shrimp - so if you have those at home, start saving the shells to make fish stock later on. I can post a recipe for it, and I made a lovely shrimp bisque during class using fish stock that I made in under an hour, if you are interested.

My family thinks I am crazy because now every time we have a roast chicken or turkey, I am trimming the carcass,  hacking it up with a meat cleaver, and putting the bones in a freezer bag until I have enough to make a fresh batch of stock.

Making stock at home is surprisingly easy - and adding it to the things you are cooking enhances the heck out of the flavor profile without adding a lot of fat to your dish. So without further ado, I give you a simple recipe to make chicken stock.

You will need:

Approximately 2 quarts of chicken bones and scraps (usually two roast chickens will yield this nicely) - chopped into 1" bits
Enough water to cover by 1"
2 tsp salt

And your mirepoix (a fancy French name for mixed flavorful vegetables, I guess). But I love to say it: Mirepoix. Mirepoix. Mirepoix. Say it three times, fast :-)

(Mirepoix is 1/2 cup each chopped onion, carrot, and celery)

Throw in a bay leaf and some fresh parsley if you so desire.

Step 1: Put the bones in a large pot and cover them with water, and add the salt. Bring it to a simmer.
Step 2: Skim the scum - some gray scum will rise to the surface for several minutes. Skim it off until it stops rising.
Step 3: Add your mirepoix and optional seasonings.
Step 4: Cover the pot loosely and let it simmer for about 1 1/2 hours - add more water if you see that enough has evaporated so that the ingredients are exposed.
Step 5: Strain into a bowl, separating the stock from the flavorings and discard the flavorings. Or keep them in some of the stock and make soup.
Step 6: Cool the bowl and refrigerate/freeze the stock.

My tip: Buy yourself some ice cube trays and fill them with the stock to freeze. When you're cooking, it makes it very easy to pop some stock out of the tray and into whatever you are making. Each ice cube is about 1 1/2 oz of stock. Just don't confuse them with ice cubes for drinks - that may end up being quite a surprise for someone.

You can use the same recipe for turkey stock (same thing, just turkey bones/carcass) around Thanksgiving.

Beef stock is a little more complicated as the bones are huge and you'd need a bone saw to cut them down, so the cooking class instructor recommended buying an ingredient that you can find next to the bouillon in your grocery store - called base. It's a little pricey at around $4 a jar, but you only use 1 tsp of it to 8 oz of water to create instant beef stock, and it's really, super delicious.

OK that's enough of that - I'm using stock now to make black beans and rice for dinner, and I believe it's almost completely reduced.

Until next time :-)

Monday, March 3, 2014


Life has gotten in the way, so I haven’t been able to update lately with any new and delicious finds.

However, I want to begin subscribing to a cooking magazine recommended by my Gourmet Cooking class instructor – it’s called “Cook’s Magazine”. I really like it, as it not only includes some great recipes, but it also includes tips and tricks – in the issue I currently hold, they tried experimenting with frozen sour cream, they tested some products in there, and they give you the “why” on certain cooking techniques. I need to start subscribing to it – because I made this Tex Mex Enchilada recipe from it, and this was To.Die.For.

I am a slight bit annoyed as I just went to their website to link to the recipe, but I’m not allowed to view it unless I sign up for a 14-day “free trial” and I have to fork over my credit card. I hate that and I never follow through when I see sites with this on there. They are counting on the fact that you will forget to cancel after the 14 day trial ends and they can start charging your card.

Back to the recipe, though: I think the secret was in the gravy. This was not low-fat by any means, and I added some fat free refried beans to ours and cut the cheese in ½ because I didn’t want to die from Cheese Overload. Also, I think they would have been fine without the chopped onions, but your mileage may vary on these points.

My entire family loved them. DH took them to work for lunches the next few days, so you know when that happens, they are a hit. Here is the recipe – the original plus my changes to it:

Tex-Mex Cheese Enchiladas (serves 6)

2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed, seeded and torn into ½” pieces (I substituted 2 tsp. chili powder)
1 tbsp cumin seeds (I substituted ¾ tbsp. ground cumin)
1 tbsp garlic powder
2 tsp dried oregano
3 tbsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp all purpose flour
Salt & pepper to taste
2 cups chicken broth
2 tsp distilled white vinegar

12 (6 inch) corn tortillas
1 ½ tbsp. vegetable oil
8 ounces (2 cups) shredded Monterey Jack cheese
6 ounces (1 ½ cups) shredded cheddar cheese
1 small onion, finely diced
Optional: 1 can fat free refried beans and cut above the cheeses in half

Make the gravy first. Toast the chiles and cumin in a skillet over med-low heat for about 2 minutes, then preheat the oil in a skillet and take the chiles and remainder of spices and grind them in a food processor/spice grinder. Add the flour, ½ tsp salt, ½ tsp pepper and spice mixes to the skillet and cook for about a minute. Slowly whisk in the broth and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and whisk frequently until the gravy is thicker and reduced to about 1 ½ cups total volume. Whisk in vinegar last and season with salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees, and make sure your rack is in the middle of the oven. Brush both sides of tortillas with oil, and stack on a microwave safe plate. Cover with damp paper towel and microwave about 1 minute.

Spread ½ cup gravy in the bottom of a 13 x 9 baking dish. Combine the cheeses in a bowl and mix. If you are using the beans place 1 tbsp beans, 1/8 cup cheese mix and 1 tbsp onion on each tortilla and roll tightly, facing seam side down in baking dish. Cover the finished enchiladas with the remainder of the gravy and remaining cheese on top.

Cover dish with foil and bake in the 450 oven for about 15 minutes, and let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


I am happy to report, that during this week of Project Incorporate More Whole Grains into our Diets, that the chicken tabbouleh was a smashing success. And I had some serious doubts about making it because:
1) The flavor profile is distinctly Middle Eastern, and my family is not used to that;
2) It involved couscous, which my spouse complains about every time I make it. I don’t know why – it’s quite flavorful but it’s not the same texture as rice, so he’s not used to it. Perhaps that’s why.
Link to the recipe is here:
Mind you, there were some modifications I made to the recipe as follows:
·         I couldn’t find Bulgur in ShopRite at all, not even in the organic food aisle, so I used couscous instead.
·         I cooked the couscous in chicken broth instead of the water the recipe indicates to give it a flavor boost.
·         I omitted the mint (couldn’t find that either) and the yogurt (cause I know, again, hubby not on board with that).
·         And, instead of making it as a cold salad, I prepped the couscous by itself, cooked the chicken and shredded it separately, and combined the remaining ingredients in a large skillet and brought it to a simmer, adding the tahini right before serving.
We plated family style, so everyone got to put the amounts of couscous, chicken and sauce in a bowl and eat whatever proportion they liked.
It got RAVE reviews – my daughter went back for seconds, which very rarely happens unless there is fish involved. And my husband LICKED HIS PLATE (! … that’s all I have to say… just !) and has been bringing in the leftovers for work lunch. He keeps telling me how surprised he is that couscous can taste so good with the chicken and the sauce.
Best part is, I did the calorie count on my Bodymedia Fit and the meal itself is less than 400 calories.
I have a ton of leftover tahini, so I want to make some homemade hummus – but I need to find my mini chopper, which is – guess where? Storage.
This recipe will be added to my ongoing repertoire for sure – I used canned chopped tomatoes, which gave it a taste I didn’t like much, so next time around I will be sure to use fresh.
Until next time…. Tonight is turkey taco night and I’ll be trying an enchilada recipe later on in the week using whole wheat tortillas – hopefully, no one will notice.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Garlic Stuffed Roast and Other Tidbits

So, tonight for dinner - we had a garlic stuffed roast. It was incredibly easy to make. I don't remember where I found this recipe, but I think it was back in '07 or '08 and I hadn't made it since then. We aren't big beef eaters in my house, but when it keeps snowing and it's cold and it's Sunday, it's a nice comforting thing to make. And it smells great all day.

All I had to do was get a 2.5 lb roast, a can of cream of mushroom soup, a packet of onion soup mix, 2 tbsp of Worcestershire, and 10 garlic cloves (peeled and cut in half). I trimmed the fat, cut slits into the roast and inserted the half cloves all through it - then I threw everything in an oven bag, sealed it, and let it bake in a 250 degree oven for 8 hours.

The roast fell apart when I tried to extract it from the bag - it was tender, moist, had a wonderful flavor, and I also made sure I took the cloves out before we ate so we didn't get big bites of garlic. The drippings, I poured into a saucepan and added a little water to dilute - it made a heavenly gravy.

We are doing better with Project Add Whole Grains to our diet, and we have the following line up this week:

Chicken Tabblouleh with couscous (I didn't get a chance to make it last week);
Taco night
Chicken enchiladas with wheat tortillas
Garlic stuffed roast (which we had tonight)
Vegetable beef soup with biscuits
Salmon cakes with red beans and rice

I know the salmon cakes have been listed for the past couple of weeks - I'm putting it off because the recipe calls for canned salmon and I'm not sure that's going to be a tasty thing. And I had to give Spouse a little break from the fish.

Lots of changes going on at work this week, so let's see how that plays out. I'm very excited to announce that there is a Baker's Convention going on in Atlantic City at the end of March and I'm going! Also, this week in cooking class, we will be learning about vegetables.

We learned about emulsions this past week, which wasn't very thrilling to me. We made a lot of cold salads (not the lettuce and tomato kind, but the potato, tomato, and Chinese cabbage kind). They all used an emulsion of one kind or another and they all tasted pretty good -the problem is, the cooking school instructor seems to keep using food that is close to expiration or has expired and the salads made me very sick the next day.

I'll try to update more frequently this week,especially after I do the tabbloueh because I think that's going to cause the most issues with my family.

Have a great week!

Monday, February 3, 2014

I Have Had Enough Snow, Thankyouerymuch

Yes, it's snowing. It has been non-stop since 5:30AM. It is currently 1PM and this crap shows no signs of slowing down or stopping. We have a foot at my house. It was 50 degrees yesterday, so if Mother Nature could knock this shit off, I'd appreciate it.

The cold weather IS making me glad I made my homemade turkey chili this weekend, though. I discovered a new way to knock the flavor out of the park with it, by the way - beef base.

Beef base is a concoction that is made from boiling beef bones with meat to make a concentrate. It is a great substitute for bouillon - if you recall adding those hard cubes to boiling water many years ago - and it has much less salt. My teacher recommended it in cooking class last week and I saw it in ShopRite so I grabbed a jar - it cost $5, but you only use 1 teaspoon of the concentrate to 8 ounces of boiling water to make it, so it will last us for quite awhile.

I added 16 ounces to the chili recipe I make, and it rounded out the flavors and gave it a depth it previously lacked.

I like it as it's one of those hearty winter meals with no fat and some good beans for protein, and you can use it to top baked potatoes, or serve over rice, or incorporate it into another meal. My family sucked it down on Saturday night and I still have enough left over for the week's lunches. Now that it has sat in the fridge for a day, it tastes even better as the flavors have had more time to get to know each other in the pot.

I am sitting here at home, having just finished working out, eating hot chili and watching the goddamned snow fall from the sky.  But at least I'm enjoying my chili.

This is a recipe I came up with on my own. It's fairly simple, and mostly comes out of cans - but it is easy to make, it always comes out tasty, and it makes massive quantities which you can freeze or use for lunches.

Mootzie's Turkey Chili:

1 pound ground turkey breast
1 cup chopped onion
2 tbsp olive oil
1 whole green pepper, chopped and seeds removed
2 cans red kidney beans
2 large cans crushed tomatoes
1 packet of McCormick's chili seasoning mix
16 ounces beef stock, or better - the beef base above

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat and add the onion and pepper to the pan - saute until the onions are translucent. Add the turkey breast, mixing and chopping with the spatula until the meat is browned. Add the chili seasoning mix, then the kidney beans, crushed tomatoes, and stock/base, and combine. Bring to a boil. Simmer for 45-1 hour to give it time to reduce. If you like it a bit thicker, add a slurry of 1 tbsp cornstarch mixed with 2 tbsp water while it's boiling.

Really quite good - healthy and rib sticking. I'm not one of those people from Texas who claim "Real chili has no beans in it" - I don't care if it qualifies as "real" chili - I enjoy it this way, and I'm sure you will too, even if you hail from the Lone Star State.

Hopefully, we can dig out of this mess before the next big storm hits on Wednesday, as it is scheduled to do.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Don't Forget to Tip Your Cook....

I'm here to report on the results for January's healthy habits challenge, talk about February's, and give you this week's lineup.

Project Eat at Least 5 Meals at Home per Week was a stellar success, not only from the standpoint of our health and my waistline, but our wallet is now fatter. I track our monthly spending on a spreadsheet. During the month of December, we spent $600 dining out. In January, we spent $249.82. And that $249.82 included the school hot lunch account deposits for my daughter, my work lunches, and my morning coffee. That was a savings of $350.00 in one month! That, my friends, is pretty freaking awesome.  We all feel better physically and have more energy. You can't put a price on that. This is a habit we will most definitely continue.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have Project Incorporate Fish into Our Diets. This was not a phenomenal success. At the request of my husband, I have reduced the fish meals to once a week, as trying to make someone eat something he is honestly disgusted by isn't fair to him. If we can have one fish meal per week, that is a compromise I can live with - I still get fish, and he doesn't get exposed to as much fish.

For the month of February, Project Incorporate More Whole Grains into our diet is going into operation. I'm not sure how this is going to play out, because there is resistance to whole grain from both of my family members. I love whole grains, and would happily eat as many as I could get. With that spirit in mind, here are this week's recipes. I'm going heavy on the crockpot this week.

Turkey chili
Chicken Fried Rice
Vegetable Beef Soup
Chicken tabbouleh with couscous (prepare for the whining to commence on this one)
Salmon cakes with red beans and rice (which I never got to make, so it's our fish meal this week)

I'm pre-soaking the lentils in a pot of water today and plan on making them in the crockpot tomorrow morning. The recipe calls  for 11 hour cook time on low, so I have to get up early tomorrow. The turkey chili recipe is one I invented and the chicken fried rice and chicken tabblouleh are from the Cooking Light Healthy Habits cookbook, as are the salmon cakes.

Also this week, I had cooking class on Thursday night, where we learned everything there is to know about soups, stocks, and sauces - I have picked up some useful pointers regarding these items as well as some fine knife skills, and I can now tell you the difference between white stock, brown stock, bases, and broths. I can also define mirepoix (a mixture of 50% onion, 25% carrots, 25% celery that you use to flavor stocks).

Thursday was our first live lab, where we had to partner up and choose a soup to make. I chose seafood bisque, because I adore it and it also involved skill sets I don't use every day. I'm not there to do things I already know how to do - and it was game on. My partner and I learned how to make stock out of lobster and shrimp shells, prepare a roux, and add a little flambe to the pan when sauteeing the stock mix with brandy. It was a lot of fun - and at the end of class, we had a tasting for everyone's dishes. People brought in containers to take soups home - and the bisque was the first to go, so I am proud of that.

I am glad I signed up for this class, because it is making me realize I have a lot of very good skills in the kitchen that I do not give myself enough credit for, while still being able to hone other skills and learn some new tricks.

Have a great week - and I will report back on how week one of project whole grains goes. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Take My Spouse.... Please!

I have both good news and bad news on this week’s food selections.

The good news: the Char Siu pork came out very well. It was succulent, it was moist, it was breaking apart into beautiful shreds all by itself before the cooking time was done.

I would, in the future, change a few things, both from the recipe and during cooking. There was a slightly bitter aftertaste, which we didn't care for. Also, because my crockpot is on the larger side, the marinade wasn’t enough to cover the roast during the cooking process, so I was turning the roast every 90 minutes to make sure the top side didn't dry out.

Finally, my crock pot cooked it in less time than the 8 hours the recipe specified – it was supposed to take 8 hours, and it was done in 6 on low. I made sure the roast matched what was in the recipe, so I’m thinking that maybe I have an Industrial Strength crock pot that just cooks things Gangnam Style.

Link to Char Siu pork recipe:

Mine came out identical to the picture. I served it complimented by a vegetable fried rice created by combining a bag of frozen stir fry veggies and brown rice in the skillet in with some oil and soy sauce. Daughter was not a fan of the pork roast, but Husband (of all people! Mr. Anti Pork) and I enjoyed it – and we used the leftovers to make pulled pork sandwiches for lunch during the week. I think I will make it again, and reduce the ginger to try and ferret out the bitterness in the aftertaste.

Now for the bad news: Fish night. I know I mentioned in my last post that my husband is digging in his heels pretty firmly and complaining quite vociferously about the fish in our diet. I made the salmon burgers for dinner last night:

And it was a Disaster, for many reasons.

1) I didn't read the recipe through in advance, and only realized my food processor is still sitting in storage AFTER I started to make the recipe. So I got to finely shred salmon with a knife as best I could.

2) The salmon wouldn't stick together properly after I had chopped it to within inches of its life, so I ended up adding an egg to it in order to get the stuff to adhere to the mix-ins and resemble burger meat.

3) It was very onion-y, due to the shallots, which overpowered the meat. Daughter called me on that one, too, because she can spot an onion a mile away.

4) The Whining of the Spouse. To summarize:

“First, you ruined my tacos, and now you are making me eat THIS! And it’s not a burger, it smells like FISH! It’s FISH! Why are you trying to get me to eat FISH after the day I had?!”
Anyone envisioning a toddler here? – Wahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh but I don’t liiiiiike fiiiiiishhhhh…..and YOU CAN'T MAKE ME EAT IT!

And he proceeded to drown it in ketchup, mustard, sliced cheese, and Parmesan cheese! Oh, the humanity! Only then would he deign to try it, and only because, "Now it's more like a burger and I can hardly taste the fish."

So I guess it’s pretty safe to say I won’t be making salmon burgers again anytime soon. At least the arugula salad and oven fries harmonized nicely with them, and both Daughter and I enjoyed them (other than the shallots).

I’ll let you know about the remainder of the week when I get another chance to write some more. First gourmet cooking class tonight, (I signed up for 6 weeks' worth of lessons at the local college) and I’m very excited to go. Wish me luck!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Saturday Weekly Update

I will start out this entry by telling you that this week was Hell Week at work, both for me and husband. That's not an excuse, but we were completely wiped out by the time we walked in the front door.

I caved - for one night this week. Here is my justification:

Wednesday night, I pick up Daughter from the after school program. It is at that point she notifies me that she has a Chorus concert on Thursday night and her music teacher is insisting that they all wear a "formal" outfit. If you know my Goth/Grunge child, you will know that her wardrobe consists almost exclusively of t-shirts, flannel shirts, jeans, boots with chunky heels, and items from Hot Topic containing Invader Zim and GIR.

My head exploded. After the day I had at work, going shopping for a formal outfit at 6PM was not the way that I wanted to roll. I just wanted to come home, eat, collapse and twitch for awhile. Luckily for me, we found a really nice outfit that we could agree on at the first store we visited, so we were done within 20 minutes and I was able to cook our meal as normal without hitting the drive through - a minor victory.

However, Thursday night was the night of the concert, and the concert started at 6:30PM. Thanks a lot, Daughter's School, for giving me NO TIME to leave work, sit in traffic, pick her up and sit in more traffic, get her home and dressed and over to the venue for the concert in time. So unfortunately, Thursday night was McDonald's Drive Through night. We scarfed down our dinner in the car - and that's not the way anyone should eat.

But I still maintain that we did well - and I'm really loving the pre-chopping. I can't recommend it enough. It's a small investment of time on the weekend that pays off so much during those stressful weeknights for me. If I could recommend one tip to people who want to try and cook at home more often, this is it. Followed by number two: get buy-in from your family by letting them each choose a weeknight meal.

This week, we ate:

Monday - Turkey Tacos
Tuesday - Shrimp Fettucine
Wednesday - Breakfast for dinner (so we all had cereal - which wasn't unhealthy)
Thursday - McDonald's drive through
Friday - Homemade pizza night

Because we were "off" for two nights, I'm doing the char siu pork roast in the crock pot for this evening, and the pasta puttanesca tomorrow night.

This week's meal plan consists of:

Spinach ravioli
Black beans & rice (Daughter's request)
Salmon cakes with red beans and vegetable medley
Salmon burgers with arugula and oven fries
Pizza (Husband's request) - I make my dough in the bread machine, so I control the ingredients and make it half whole-wheat flour crust so he can't tell.... shhhhh.....

The husband has requested lentils for next week. I haven't made those yet, so I'm going to research the cookbooks to see if I can find any recipes. I'm sure his mother made them some special way that I don't know about, so I may ask her, too.

The hit this week? Shrimp fettucine. Husband will disagree with this, as he is now having an aversion to shrimp. I will also note here that my plan to incorporate fish in husband-friendly ways is not working, as he saw the menu planner on the fridge and said, "You are ruining all of my favorite types of food by making them with fish. First, tacos, now BURGERS?"

I swear to all things holy, it's like going through the phase I went through when my daughter was 4 or 5 and she refused to eat anything other than Cheerios or mac n' cheese. However, she passed through this phase. I don't think my husband ever will. He's going to be a permanent toddler when it comes to eating fish.

I guess I can't force someone to like something they don't like - but honestly, I am choosing the least fishy fish I can find and making sure it's firm and not mushy. He did actually enjoy the tilapia I made with the tacos, because he took the leftover fish to work for lunch this week, so maybe it's not too-too bad.

Anyway, if anyone would like to try the shrimp fettucine, it's super easy. Use a vegetable or whole wheat pasta for the fettucine, and the dish is loaded with spinach. We (Daughter and I) LOVE it.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Fish tacos and next week

Quick update on the fish tacos -

Super easy to make with very little investment of cooking time.
Actually got hubby to eat fish and lick the plate.

The fish wasn't salty enough for me - it was kind of bland, to be honest.
I didn't much care for the sauce that was with the recipe either - it was just bleh.
The fish cost $11.00 to feed the three of us, which is usually twice what I spend on meat for a meal.

However, daughter wants me to definitely make them again, and husband liked them well enough to give it a thumbs up so while not my personal favorite, we can use the recipe  in a pinch.

Link to the recipe follows, for anyone who wants to give them a shot. Please add more salt than what the recipe calls for - double it (seriously) in the seasoning on the fish when you go to pan fry.

Also, wanted to post the lineup for this week, and I'm tired so this blog entry will be short & sweet. We all got to pick one favorite this week, so that all of us are represented in the menu. Remember, any day can be any meal, although I am leaning toward making the char siu for Friday.

Spinach Ravioli
Shrimp Fettucine (daughter's pick) - fish #1
Turkey taco night (hubby's pick)
Pizza night (my pick - and I'm making the dough in the bread machine, yay)
Pasta Puttanesca (fish #2 from cooking light cookbook)
Char Siu pork roast from the cooking light crockpot book. I plan on making that with some brown rice cooked in chicken stock and then sauteed in some light oil with stir fry veggies and soy sauce. Should be delish.

Since the words are looking blurry and I keep making typos, that's it for tonight. I'll update more when I start cooking this week's meals.

I also made a loaf of cinnamon raisin bread today, and a gingerbread cake, which is one of my favorites.

Friday, January 10, 2014

How did we do this week?

You may ask this question, if you are keeping up with the blog - and -

It was a tough week, I'll be honest. But we made it! And although I was sorely tempted to hit that drive through, I am happy to report that I didn't do it all week long and we ate at home every single night this week.

The lineup ended up being:

Monday: Black beans & rice
Tuesday: Sauerbraten
Wednesday: Tuna pasta salad
Thursday: Turkey meat sloppy joes & corn
Friday: Blackened baja fish tacos (which I am making for dinner tonight)

Stress at work has been driving me insane. By Wednesday, I was ready to cave, plus my car had a seizure (NO OIL due to a leaky oil filter... thanks, Fram, for almost totalling my beautiful truck) so the stress levels were high on both me and my husband. And the additional $300 it cost to get my car towed and fixed isn't helping anything this month. Hubby would have fixed, but this apartment doesn't have much of a garage, so it was off to the mechanic.

I can say that the pre-chopping really saved me, as all I had to do was come home and just throw stuff in a pan and we had dinners within 20 minutes. Which was amazing. And not only healthier for us, but better on our budget.

While the blackened fish tacos are still an unknown quantity, I can say that the sauerbraten is a recipe we won't be trying again any time soon. While no one in the family HATED it, no one loved it, either. And it's very weird to me to eat a roast that is sweet - thanks to the ginger snaps in the marinade/gravy.  Although they both consumed it and said it was OK, I was the one that ended up eating sauerbraten for lunch for the rest of this week. And I'm pretty much over it for quite some time.

The big stars this week were the black beans & rice (which I posted earlier) and the sloppy joes. They want me to make these more often. So this is the recipe I am posting for your enjoyment. The total cook time is only 20 minutes, and you can serve them on whole wheat buns, add cheese, or even serve them over baked potatoes. I will admit, it was really quite good and another nice warm comforting meal to come home to when it's 1 degree outside and the wind chills are 30 below zero, as happened to us this week.

I already did the meal planning and food shopping for next week, and I'll post that lineup later on.

In the meantime, here is the sloppy joe recipe (serves 4)

1 lb ground turkey breast
1/2 cup diced green pepper
1/2 cup diced vidalia onion
1 tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp mustard
1 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
1/2 cup ketchup
1 tbsp white vinegar
 8 ounces tomato sauce (I like to use Classico tomato & basil)
and buns, of course!

Combine the meat, peppers, and onions in a large skillet over medium heat. Brown and drain fat. Add remainder of ingredients. Cover, and reduce heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

That's it - pretty darn easy recipe and very, very tasty.

And now, I'm off to twitch for awhile while I watch my guilty pleasure show, Mob Wives. 

Monday, January 6, 2014

This Week and the Plan

So in the true spirit of eating meals at home and incorporating two fish meals into our diet this week, I sat down this weekend and pre-planned the meals. This week's dinners are:

Spinach ravioli (low fat cheese ravioli in a spinach-tomato sauce)
Black beans and rice (Cuban style, over brown rice)
Ground turkey sloppy joes with corn
Slow cooker sauerbraten with spaetzle and green beans
Tuna noodle casserole (at DH's request)
Blackened Tilapia Baja tacos

The tuna casserole is to ease DH into fish this week. He requested it, so I figured if I could keep him happy by making him something he wanted, then I could get him to eat the fish tacos later on ....

I like pre-planning the meals this way and making the grocery list with the cookbooks on hand, so we don't buy anything extra, and I don't have it planned by day by day, so I can still make what I feel like making when I get home, as long as I stick with the overall meal plan for the week. Flexible, yet planned. I love it!

Another thing that I think will help immensely is that I did all the prep on Sunday afternoon. I previewed the recipes and pre-chopped everything ahead of time and stored them all in the fridge, so now when I get home I can just grab the ingredients and cook. The prospect of having to chop when I get home at 6PM is off-putting and sends me to the drive through more often than not. Now, this required about an hour of my weekend time, but I think it will be worth it in the end.

I had a huge "derp" moment, though - I was going to do the sauerbraten in the crock pot while I was at work today, but it didn't dawn on me that it only needed to cook for 5 hours on low setting. I pre-read the recipe, and noticed that the meat had to marinate for 24 hours and I took care of that, but why the 5 hours cooking time did not compute, I couldn't say. I leave for bus stop drops/commute to work at 7:15AM, and I don't get home much before 6PM, and I was not comfortable leaving the crock pot on and unattended for that long. Plus, the roast is just going to dry out if it sits there for 11 hours, even on "keep warm" setting.

So, change of plan: I'm doing the sauerbraten tonight in the slow cooker for tomorrow night's dinner, and all I will need to do is reheat it and cook the spaetzle when I get home.

This evening's dinner, by request from DD, was black beans and rice. The pre-chopped ingredients worked like a charm, and I'll let you in on a little secret: I use homemade chicken stock when I cook the brown rice to give it a flavor boost. Here is the recipe, which was given to me by my mother in law and which I tweaked, just a bit:

2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely diced onion
2 tsp minced garlic
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tsp oregano
1 packet Goya Sazon
1 tbsp wine (white or zinfandel works best, and if you don't have wine, it's OK to use a wine vinegar)
4 slices turkey bacon, pre-cooked and chopped
16 ounces (2 cups) chicken stock

Cook in a separate pot:
Brown rice (I use Minute Rice and make around 2 cups yield, using chicken stock in place of water)

Heat the olive oil over medium heat, and add the onions and garlic. Saute until onions are translucent. Add seasonings, wine, and bacon, then black beans. Stir in chicken stock last. Bring to a boil, then decrease heat and let mixture reduce until liquid is absorbed (about 30 minutes or so).  Serve over separately cooked brown rice (about 1/2 cup rice to about 1/2 cup black bean mixture). This recipe serves 4.

I'll let you know how the sauerbraten is, tomorrow evening. They are forecasting temps at 15 below zero for tomorrow so I think that's a good warm choice for dinner.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The 12 Healthy Habits Challenge

A new year, yet another New Year's resolution to get fit, lose weight, and move on with my life.
I have been on so many diets over the course of my life I really should be writing a book on them. Lord knows, I've tried them all: NutriSystem, Opti Fast, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and all sorts of fad diets that I've found in Cosmo and women's magazines. When all is said and done, one year after I start the diet, I end up 30 pounds heavier and hundreds of dollars poorer. Because all of those different "programs" never teach me how to eat or change what I'm doing. Scratch that - Weight Watchers does - to a point. But ever since they changed the plan into the points system, I find it very hard to follow. And I already have enough going on in my life without having to sit down and perform calculus on every morsel I put into my mouth.

It should be simple - you need to burn more calories than you take in. Yeah, yeah, I get it. Putting it into practice with emotional eating is another kettle of fish, so to speak. But I really do get it. I swear.

So this year, I'm trying to look at things differently. I'm going to be monitoring my activity on the Bodymedia FIT that DH kindly bought me for Christmas, and I'm going to be following the Cooking Light Food Lover's Healthy Habits challenge. I have been wearing the Bodymedia FIT band for the past two days to get a baseline on where I am and what's going on with me, and I can already see that I need to bump up the workouts, and cut the high calorie dinners and snacks.

I like the Healthy Habits challenge, because it's not a "plan", per se - but a guideline to make real life changes that you can incorporate into your daily existence and get them to "stick" -  into habits.

For January's Healthy Habits, I've decided to tackle two:

  • Cook at least 3 more meals at home each week
  • Eat more fish (make fish the centerpiece of at least 2 meals per week)
I chose the above, because they are the most glaringly obvious changes we need to make. If I can plan right and make it work, these will benefit my entire family immensely.

Because I'm working and I get stuck in traffic after I pick DD up from the after school program, by the time I get home at night I'm starving and just too worn out to deal with figuring out what to put on the table. We resort to fast food far too often. And the only fast food place that is local to us is McDonald's - the Fat, Calorie, and Sodium fest. Which isn't good for any of us. And DH's schedule is just so hellish I never know what time he's going to get home at night, so the meal planning is entirely in my hands.

The fish piece should be a particular challenge for us, because as you know if you've been reading this blog, my spouse is of the Picky persuasion. And I'm certain that the bitching and beefing will be heard as far as California, even though we currently reside in New Jersey.

However, I am hoping I can get him on board by making less fishy fish, and putting it into foods he already loves - just need to add fish as the meat component - so things like fish tacos, salmon burgers, and mixing it with pasta and tomato sauce. And I need to stay away from the "slimy" fish like oysters and clams. I may be able to get him to eat scallops, but I'm not sure. The good thing is, he agreed to do this to help me and to help lower his cholesterol.

DD will not be a problem at all, as she loves anything that swims, as do I.

Tomorrow, I'll be doing the meal planning for the next week, and I will post the results of the recipes I find on here, as well as review our progress in incorporating the habits into our daily routine.

And if I didn't mention this before, I am starting a gourmet cooking class on January 21, so I am hoping that it will help me bump up some good options for us going forward, and help me hone my skills.

Wish me luck - and Happy New Year!