Monday, August 31, 2009

Help for the Hungries

I know this blog is where you come for new food ideas, but I’m in need of some help this time around. My son is starting a pre-K/young 5s program next week to which he will be taking his lunch every day of the week. In addition to that, I, in the role of Mom of Student, get the extreme privilege (as far are privileges resemble scheduled responsibilities) of providing a classroom snack a couple of times each month. Both of these requirements have caused my brain to turn completely off.

As far back as I can remember, my school lunches consisted of a triad of components: a sandwich (usually meat and condiment on white bread, unless I was graced with a cheese single in there as well, or PB&J), a bag of chips (the Frito Lay variety pack was big in our pantry, and am I the only person on earth who thinks nacho cheese Doritos are vile?), and a dessert (typically a Little Debbie selection, and boy howdy, so I still love me some Swiss rolls). Occasionally a warm thermos of something would make its way into the rotation, but this was the mainstay, at least on days when I didn’t bring my crumpled up dollars for my school’s Item of the Day. We didn’t have a cafeteria, so over the years, the school would contract a local eatery of sorts to provide items in bulk for our sustenance, should we choose to indulge. These included hamburgers, burritos, fried chicken, chicken fried steak, and cheese pizza, as well as hot dogs lovingly boiled, bunned, and packaged by an industrious group of moms on a weekly basis. So I don’t have a lot of experience in the lunch diversity department. I could use some quick and easy ideas, and extra points if they work in fruits or veggies without being messy or requiring super-defined motor skills (he’s 5, y’all).

Now, there aren’t a lot of restrictions on the classroom snacks, other than they be healthy and not include strawberries due to an allergy. OK, that’s more than enough restrictions. If it’s not store bought, I have to include a list of ingredients. So, if anybody out there has some tips or tricks for me to satisfy 12 little kids, please let me know. Thanks in advance for the inspiration.

I'll be back with some food thoughts of my own, as soon as I can find all of the utensils that have been spirited away from my kitchen by very short people.
-Julie

Friday, August 28, 2009

"Gourmet" Italian Crepes

Okay, so I'm not so good with the titles of my dishes sometimes. Tonight I got this inspiration in my head and totally went with it. I was slaving away in the kitchen for over an hour making wonderful smells (this isn't in the easy category!) When my husband calls out, "What are you making?" I thought about it and said, "GOURMET! You are having Gourmet for dinner tonight!" He wanted to know "gourmet, what?" So I said, "Gourmet Italian!" Whatever that means... basically I had the idea to make lasagna flavors in a crepe instead of a layered noodle casserole.. well I'll have to try that another day since I had like only 2 ingredients to make a traditional lasagna. So, I went vegetarian with this yummy veggie-cheese filling. And during all this inspiration I realized I had NO tomato sauce, not even store bought. So, I whipped up a simple bechamel to pour on top.... enjoy!

Gourmet Italian Crepes:
1 cup loosely packed basil
2 eggs
1/2 cup flour
1 tbsp olive oil
pinch of salt
1/8 cup flax seed meal (can be omitted)
about 1 cup of milk

Stuffing:
1/4 onion finely diced
1/2 pint of mushrooms, sliced
6 roma tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen spinach, or a couple handfuls of fresh
1/2 can (or more) of chopped artichoke hearts
1 cup cottage cheese (or ricotta)

Bechamel Cheese Sauce:
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1/2 cup grated italian cheeses
1 1/2 cups of milk
salt and pepper

To make the crepe batter, place basil and oil in a blender and pulse. Add eggs, flour, flax seed meal, and salt, pulse again. Slowly add milk until you have a thin batter, you may need less or more of the milk. Your batter will be pretty runny, a lot thinner than pancake batter.

To make crepes: In a pre-heated crepe pan or a small non-stick skillet ladel out about 1/4 cup of batter. Pick up the pan and swirl the batter around with the pan with a flick of your wrist. You want to coat the entire surface of the pan. Let cook on medium heat for about 45 sec. With a non-stick spatula, gently lift up the crepe and flip.Cook for an additional 45 seconds or so.

For stuffing: Saute onions and mushrooms in a skillet. Cube tomatoes and for extra flavor roast them in your oven. To do this, place them on a cookie sheet and coat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 450ยบ for 20 minutes or until they start to brown and dry out. (Substituting sundried tomatoes would work too!) I used my toaster oven to do this so I didn't have to turn on my big oven. Add the tomatoes to the onions and mushrooms. Add the spinach and artichoke hearts. Remove from heat and let cool a bit. Then add the cottage cheese (or ricotta.)

Bechamel Cheese Sauce:
Place the butter in a small pot and melt. Add flour and whisk, cooking the flour a bit. Add milk while stirring. You may need to add all of it or less, you want a good consistency that you are happy with. Add the cheese, salt and pepper and stir. I always make too much of this, but it is perfect on noodles the next day as homemade mac n cheese (just thin it with a bit more milk, it'll tighten over night.)

Assemble your crepes:
Put some stuffing down the center and roll like a burrito OR place some stuffing in one "corner" of the crepe, fold in half and then fold in half again to make a triangle shape. Drizzle a bit of the cheese sauce over the top. Enjoy! Serves 4.
-Amanda

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Oatmeal Cookies


These are the oatmeal cookies from the under the lid of the Quaker Oatmeal container. What makes this batch special is that my Twin Toddlers helped me make them. To hear about that read HERE.

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
(minus the raisins because we didn't have any)

1/2 pound of butter, softened
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon (I used 1 1/2 tsp)
1/2 tsp salt
3 cups Quaker Oats (quick or old fashioned, uncooked)
1 cup of raisins (which I omitted)

1. Heat oven to 350
2. Beat together butter and sugars until creamy
3. Add eggs and vanilla, beat well
4. Add combined flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt, mix well
5. Stir in oats and raisins, mix well
6. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheet
7. Bake 10-12 minutes or until golden brown
8. Cool 1 minuted on cookie sheet, remove to wire rack.
Makes about 4 dozen

Bar cookies: bake 30-35 min. in ungreased 13-9 inch metal baking pan
-Amanda

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Meatballs & Gravy


Nothing super original here, but a good tasty meal. The only problem was the time of year. This is definitely a cold weather meal, not a middle of August meal. I'm not sure what I was thinking but it was tasty! Oh, and it isn't exactly in the quick and easy category since it took well over an hour to make.

Meatballs and Gravy

1 lb of ground beef
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/2 cup of oatmeal (ground in magic bullet or food processor)
1 egg
salt & pepper
1 tsp dried (or fresh) tarragon
1 clove garlic finely minced

1 1/2 onion
2 cloves garlic
2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 cup flour
3 cups beef broth
1 jar of mushrooms
1/2 cup frozen peas

1 package egg noodles

Slice onion into half rounds. Put 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet and place onion in the oil. On a medium-low heat, cook onions for 30-40 min until brown and caramelized. Add chopped garlic towards the end of this cooking time.

Meanwhile, mix meatball ingredients: In a large bowl mix the ground beef, bread crumbs, tarragon, salt and pepper, egg, and ground oatmeal. Form into 1 inch meatballs and set aside on a cookie sheet.

When onions are finished, remove them from the skillet and into a bowl. Add more oil if needed, turn temperature up to high and place meatballs in skillet to brown. Turn them after a few minutes to brown the other side. Gently stir meatballs to brown all around. Remove meatballs from skillet, placing in the bowl with the reserved onions.

Sprinkle flour in the skillet over the pan drippings and any meatball crumbles. With a whisk, cook the flour for a minute or two, make sure skillet is on high heat then add beef broth all at once. Whisk to make sure there are no lumps and then add back in your meatballs and onions. Add a jar of mushrooms and peas. Set stove to low, cover and simmer meatballs for 20-30 minutes until cooked through.
-Amanda

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Fritter Medley



(Served here with cheese and apple slices)

Okay, trying to come of with a fancier way of saying "Leftover Balls" which my Mom informed me was not glamorous by any stretch of the imagination. This is a fun technique to stretch a serving of leftovers. Last night I made Easy Butter Dill Salmon with Roasted Asparagus and Zucchini Rice. Today I turned that into Fritters for lunch. You could do the same thing with a chicken breast, broccoli and rice from the night before too (or whatever).

1 leftover salmon filet
6-8 leftover roasted aspargus spears
1/2 cup leftover zucchini rice
1/2 -1 cup of chicken broth (or water)
2 tbsp mayonnaise (for binder)
1 piece of bread
1 cup panko bread crumbs
cooking spray

This what I had leftover, you can use what you have leftover and adjust the amounts. In a small food processor (I love my Magic Bullet!) Grind up a piece of bread. Put it a small mixing bowl. Blend fish, asparagus, rice and chicken broth in blender next. Pour in the mixing bowl with the bread crumbs. Add mayonnaise. Stir, should be thick enough to form small balls. You can add more bread crumbs to thicken or a bit more broth to loosen. Form balls, roll in panko crumbs and lay on a cookie sheet. Spray liberally with cooking spray. Broil on HI for 5 minutes, flip and broil for another 5 minutes until crispy and brown. The ingredients are all cooked, so you are just browning the bread. I made 12 balls. Which is several meals for my toddlers or one more meal for the family!

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Easy Butter Dill Salmon


This meal was clocked in under 30 minutes. Super easy and fast. Tasty too. Well, at least my husband and one of my daughters thought so. Izzie ate all of the fish off of her plate and begged me for my fish too! Maddie finally came around and ate it, but begrudgingly.

Easy Butter Dill Salmon
with Roasted Asparagus & Zucchini Rice


1 cup rice
2 cups of chicken broth
salt and pepper
1 small zucchini
3-4 sprigs fresh oregano (or other favorite herb) (you can use dried if you wish)
a bit of butter

1 bunch of asparagus
olive oil to coat
salt, pepper & garlic seasoning

4 salmon fillets
1 tbsp butter
salt, pepper
chopped fresh (or dried) dill
2 tsp lemon juice

Pour rice in small pot. Add chicken broth, salt and pepper. Put burner on high to bring to a boil. Cut zucchini into small squares. In the skillet that you will later cook the fish in (I used a cast iron skillet) saute the zucchini on high heat in a bit of butter. Try to brown the edges. Rice should just be at a boil. Add zucchini and cover. Lower to a simmer and cook for 15 min.

Prep asparagus by cutting or snapping off the tough ends. Place in one layer on a cookie sheet. If you have a toaster oven this is perfect so you don't have to heat up your big oven. Either works fine though. Drizzle olive oil over asparagus. Add salt, pepper and garlic seasoning. If you have a real lemon for the fish grated lemon zest is also great to add to the asparagus. Place in oven (or toaster oven) and cook for 15 minutes on 475.

Place 1 tablespoon of butter in reserved skillet. Place burner on med-high heat and let it get really hot, but don't burn the butter. Quickly salt, pepper and put dill on fish. Place skin side down in butter. Don't touch and poke at it! Let it get a crust. Salt, pepper and put dill on second side of fish while it is in the skillet. Cook for 3-4 minutes. Flip once and cook another 3-4 minutes or until done. Squirt lemon juice on fish and serve. (Serves 4)
-Amanda

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Homemade Bubbles


This is ridiculously easy and these bubbles were WAY better than store bought. They formed easier and they lasted longer. I don't think I'll ever go back. Currently I used a bubble wand from a store bought bubble jar to make these bubbles, but I am going to experiment with other bubble makers. I hear pipe cleaners work well, I'll have to try it out!

Homemade Bubbles:

1 cup of water
1/8 cup of dish washing soap
1 tablespoon of liquid glycerin (I bought at the craft store, near the soap making stuff)

Combine ingredients. Blow bubbles!
-Amanda

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Pesto


I love pesto. I try and make it every summer from the basil growing in my garden. This year, I've had an abundance of basil. I even started giving some away to friends to make pestos of their own this year! I know the basic concept, I've been making it for years, but I always forget the ratios of ingredients. So I got this recipe from Simply Recipes. I made mine a bit thicker (less oil) so that way I can use it as a spread on ciabata bread or thin it out with a bit more oil and use it on pasta. I've heard putting it in ice cube trays and freezing it works great, so that's what I'm doing with my leftovers. I have plans of pesto pizza, pesto chicken, pesto pasta... I think I'll be sick of it soon!

Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano or Romano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup pine nuts or walnuts
3 medium sized garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Special equipment needed: A food processor

Combine the basil in with the pine nuts, pulse a few times in a food processor. (If you are using walnuts instead of pine nuts and they are not already chopped, pulse them a few times first, before adding the basil.) Add the garlic, pulse a few times more.

Slowly add the olive oil in a constant stream while the food processor is on. Stop to scrape down the sides of the food processor with a rubber spatula. Add the grated cheese and pulse again until blended. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Makes 1 cup.

Serve with pasta, or over baked potatoes, or spread over toasted baguette slices.

-Amanda

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Homemade Tortillas & Mini Chicken Tacos





I've always wanted to make homemade tortillas. About a week ago I bought some Harina which is what you use to make tortillas. I thought about rolling them by hand or even trying to use a pasta machine to roll them, but today I found a tortilla press on sale and it was fate. I bought it and tonight I made the tortillas. They are so great. Nothing like pre-packaged tortillas at the grocery store. Slightly chewy, warm and delicious. I made chicken taco meat to go in them. The ones I made were tiny, only about 5 inches in diameter so I made mini chicken tacos.

Tortillas

2 cups harina
1/2 cup water

Mix together. Knead for 5 minutes. Divide into 12 balls. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for five minutes. Press with tortilla press. Pre-heat cast iron skillet on high heat. Place dough in skillet for 30-45 seconds per side. Serve warm.

Easy Chicken Taco Meat

2 cans of white chicken meat
1/2 can tomato paste
1 can fire roasted tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chili powder
squirt of ketchup
dash garlic powder

Drain chicken and rinse really well. Place all ingredients in skillet adjusting seasonings as needed. Break chicken up with spoon or a fork. Serve in tortillas with lettuce and cheese.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Coconut Shrimp Fritters


For anyone who does not like shrimp or they are trying to get their kids to eat shrimp, this is a great way to introduce the flavor, if not the texture. I wanted to make Coconut Shrimp for John and I for dinner, but in the past the only way the girls have eaten shrimp is if I mince it tiny and even then, not so much. These came out so great that I wish I had made them for John and I instead of the traditional coconut shrimp that I made for us. (My breading didn't stick. I'll have to work on it...) The only problem is that I was making these fritters up as I went along and I didn't pay attention to quantities. So I'll do my best to replicate, but please use some judgment on how much to use of any ingredient. I only made four of these for my twins (two each.)

Coconut Shrimp Fritters

6-8 small shrimp
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs + extra for rolling balls in
1/4 cup sweetened coconut flakes + extra for rolling balls in
dash of chili powder (I didn't use very much and it wasn't spicy)
salt & pepper
1 egg (or egg beaters)

In a small bowl beat egg. In a food processor or magic bullet process shrimp, panko crumbs, coconut crumbs, chili powder, plus egg (you may not need the whole egg.) The mixture should be gooey and sticky. You should be able to pinch off a bit. Perhaps a bit more than an inch wide. Too thick and they won't cook all the way through. In a second bowl mix some more of the bread crumbs with coconut flakes. Roll your sticky ball in the crumb & flake mixture. Place on a cookie sheet. Coat with cooking spray. Turn broiler on HI. Place cookie sheet in the middle of your oven. Cook 5 minutes one side, turn and cook an additional 5 minutes.

Homemade Sweet and Sour Dipping Sauce

1 small can of pineapples with juice
1 tsp soy sauce
1 small clove garlic
1/2 tsp grated fresh ginger (I store it in the freezer so I can grate as I need)
3-4 drops of sesame oil
1 tsp cornstarch

Place all ingredients in a food processor or magic bullet and process until smooth. Bring to a boil in a small pan. Serve as a side to Coconut Shrimp Fritters.
-Amanda

Friday, August 7, 2009

Fiesta Fish Sticks & Cheesy-Pepper Rice




This dish has been in my mind peculating all day. I wasn't sure how it would turn out, but I really like it! My toddlers loved it too. I gave them the rice without the peppers added, but didn't do anything different to the fish. Originally I was going to deep fry the fish, but realized at the last moment I had no oil, so I oven "fried" it instead. Any suggestions for a dipping sauce? We tried salsa last night with the fish and while it was good, some version of a mexican tartar sauce would be better... I'll have to think on it!

Fiesta Fish Sticks

3 cups of tortilla chips
1/4 cup flour
1/2 tbsp dried oregano
1/8 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin powder
1 egg
splash of milk
4 firm fish fillets such as haddock or cod
cooking spray

Grind tortilla chips using a food processor or magic bullet. (You could also put them in a large zip bag and roll over them with a rolling pin, but the finer texture you can get the better.) Place tortilla crumbs in a shallow bowl and mix in flour, oregano, chili powder, cumin, salt and pepper. In a separate shallow bowl beat an egg and add a splash of milk.

Set oven to HI broil. Cut fish into 1/2 inch wide strips or sticks. Spray a cookie sheet heavily with cooking spray. Dip fish first into egg mixture and then coat with tortilla chip dust mixture. Dust off extra crumbs. Place on cookie sheet. When all the fish is on cookie sheet spray heavily with cooking spray. Make sure that there is an inch or so between each fish stick. Put under the broiler, about 3-4 inches away, for 5 minutes. Turn cookie sheets and cook an additional 5-6 minutes. Serves 4.

Cheesey-Pepper Rice

1 cup of white rice
2 cups of chicken stock
1 cup of whole milk or cream
1/2 bell pepper
1/4 onion
1/2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 -1 hot pepper (I used part of a pepper called a "bomb")
1 cup mexican cheese
1/2 tsp cumin

Dice bell pepper and onion into 1/4 inch pieces. Mince hot pepper. In the pot you will cook the rice in saute onion and peppers in olive oil for a few minutes, just barely cooking, you still want a crunchy texture. Remove from pot and place in large bowl. Place rice and chicken stock in a pot. Cook according to package directions, about 15-20 minutes. When rice is finished add it to the onions and peppers. Stir. While the rice is still hot add milk, cumin and cheese. Stir until well mixed. Serves 4.
-Amanda

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Homemade Hamburger Helper


One of the first things I learned how to cook was a hamburger helper. When you are twelve or thirteen, learning how to brown meat is a big thing. Then you just sort of pour in the rest of the ingredients from the box, add water and viola! Dinner. With the powdered "flavor" you add to the dish you are also adding a myriad of preservatives and other un-pronounceable "ingredients." I'm not saying that I don't like Hamburger Helper, because I do (and I really love one of the Tuna Helper flavors) but honestly it isn't that hard to recreate all from scratch. And it just tastes Num Num Num as my twin toddlers say.

Homemade Hamburger Helper

1 package of ground beef or turkey (my package was 1.25lbs)
3-4 potatoes
1/2 onion
2-3 cloves garlic
5-6 large button mushrooms
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried thyme
2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 bay leaf
3 cups of beef broth
1/4 cup flour

*Other things that would be tasty additives would be peas, chopped zucchini or spinach

Dice onion very small and place in skillet that you've sprayed with non-stick spray. Set stove to medium heat. Mince mushrooms and add them to the onion. Chop and add garlic. Increase heat to medium high. Add meat and brown, breaking up with the back of a wooden spoon so it crumbles. Add seasonings: dried oregano, thyme, Worcestershire sauce and bay leaf (salt & pepper to taste.) While meat is browning, slice potato into very thin 1/8" or less slices. This is great application for your mandolin if you have one! Put the potato slices in the skillet with the meat and vegetables.

In a small bowl whisk together flour and beef broth until there are no lumps. Pour over meat and potatoes carefully stirring the dish to make sure that none of the potatoes stick together. Bring to a boil. Then reduce the heat, cover and let simmer for 45min or until potatoes are done.
-Amanda

Sneaky Spaghetti

This summer has been full of fun and running around. Having a food blog points out sometimes how some weeks we don't cook at home often, or just throw together something really quick that I think isn't worthy of posting. Some times though, those quick meals might be an idea for another Mom. This is one of those. I'm sure some of you might already do this, or have thought of it, but for those who haven't here's some sneaky Spaghetti, sorry, I forgot to take a photo of it.

Sneaky Spaghetti

8 oz Spaghetti noodles
1 jar of your favorite Spaghetti sauce (or homemade)
2 small carrots
1/2 cup of froze spinach or 1 cup fresh

Prepare spaghetti noodles according to package directions. Add salt to water before you add the noodles for more flavor!

Grate carrots using the smallest holes on your grater. Put the carrots in a small pot with spaghetti sauce. Chop spinach into tiny bits. (I found bag frozen spinach at Walmart that is awesome, because it's not a frozen block. You can pull out how much you need for any recipe and the rest stays in the bag. It's also easy to chop frozen so you don't have to defrost it) Add to sauce. Bring to a boil. Serve over noodles. Add cheese if you desire. For toddlers use a finger friendly pasta or chop your noodles into small pieces.
-Amanda
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