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October 30, 2012

Meatless Monday #1 - Roasted Acorn Squash and Couscous with Pine nuts and Craisins...

Wow. Been a while since I posted anything - blogger has gotten a little more user-friendly! Nice!

Anyway, back to the blog, as much as possible with 5 kids. I mean to keep up with this so Pipps has all my recipes some day but I have definitely skipped a LOT of them. She reminded me last night that the squash needed to go on the blog so here I am.

Last night we did our "first" meatless Monday. I say first only because we've done a ton of meatless dinners in the past but I'm trying to get a little more organized. Since A was born a year ago, my mind has been mush. There's always so much going on and I don't have a good system going. My goals are to get together a binder and try and sit down and plan as much as possible with the meals/shopping/etc. so we don't keep resorting to PB&J or popcorn/cheese/apple night. Don't get me wrong - those nights are nice sometimes, but I noticed a lot of junk food and take-out creeping into our house over the last year because it was easy, but it's expensive and not that healthy and so I'd like to phase that back out.

Pipps loves squash of pretty much any kind but especially the kind my mother makes filled with tons of butter and brown sugar and pecans. I've never been a huge fan but I started to not hate squash a couple years ago when I made this for the first time. Since then I've been a little more adventurous and have been open to trying it again so when it was on sale at the local market for .48/lb the other week, I grabbed a few different kind.

The acorn squash were the only ones that made it. The butternut squash got kicked through the kitchen after baby A pulled it onto the floor and then I didn't notice until a few days later that it had been punctured and was oozing out so I tossed it. It was probably ok but it sort of creeped me out. The other one I bought, I think a delicata? was mistaken for a pumpkin and brought to a party to get painted. That was actually sort of funny.

The 3 acorn squash that were left I roasted last night and they turned out great. I was originally going to stuff them with the couscous but we had a lot of last minute things going on last night so I ran out of time and just served it on the side and it was good. I made homemade veggie stock for the couscous because I had a bunch of veggie scraps in the freezer but you could sub a carton of veggie broth or even water, and if you don't care about being entirely meatless (I probably wouldn't), you could use chicken stock.

Roasted Acorn Squash with Garam Masala, Rosemary and Brown Sugar:
3 Acorn Squash, cut in half lengthwise and cleaned (scoop out the slime and the seeds)
3 Tbsp butter, cut into 6 pieces.
2 tsp Garam Masala
2 Tbsp fresh rosemary
6 tsp brown sugar
kosher salt
black pepper
olive oil for drizzling

Place the 6 acorn squash into a 9 x 13 pan. You have two options here...you can either mix together the rest of the ingredients together and evenly divide the mixture between the 6 halves of squash. OR...you can be lazy like I was and just stick a piece of butter adn a tsp of brown sugar into each half and then sprinkle the garam masala, rosemary, kosher salt and black pepper all over them.
Drizzle with a couple tsp of olive oil, cover with foil, and put in a 400 oven for 25 mn.
After 20 mn, remove the foil and baste the squash with the liquids. If the pan is too dry, you can add a little water to the bottom. I didn't need to do this, but you never know. Roast another 10 minutes or until the squash is soft enough to be pierced with a fork. When serving, make sure you grab a little of the juices that have accumulated on the bottom of the pan and drizzle over the squash.

Couscous Pilaf with Pine Nuts and Dried Cranberries
4 cups vegetable stock (or chicken stock or water)
3 cups couscous
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
2 Tbsp butter
1 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup dried cranberries
salt and pepper to taste

In a medium pot, melt the butter on med-high heat. Add the pine nuts and stir until they're toasted, careful not to burn the butter or the nuts. Add the stock, and spices and bring to a boil. Add the couscous and cranberries, stir, cover and remove from heat. Let rest for 15 minutes and then fluff with a fork when serving.

FYI - last night I realized halfway into this recipe that I only had about a cup of couscous. I thought I had more but that turned out to be polenta! SO - I actually started this with red quinoa and 10 mn brown rice I had (about 1/2 cup of each) and after 10 mn of simmering uncovered, added the couscous to the pot and covered and let rest. It turned out really well although my quinoa was a smide undercooked but nobody noticed except me :)

I have pictures on my phone - haven't figured out if I can integrate those somehow into here yet without searching for my usb cable...like I said before, I'm on a road to organization! It's a tough journey ;)


February 22, 2012

Roast Beef with Balsamic and Coffee

Roast Beef with Balsamic and Coffee

So... I was talking to my Mom on the phone yesterday morning and like it always does, the conversation turned to food. She described a roast they'd had the night before that she'd made with balsamic and espresso powder and I was intrigued...

At 6 this morning I was awake before the kids and facing 48 hours with no sight of my husband so figured it was as good a time as any to get my roast in the crock!

I cut a yellow onion in half and sliced it thin and sliced 3 big cloves of garlic and tossed them with a tsp of olive oil and threw them in the bottom of the crock pot. I laid the roast (not sure what kind - it was about 3 lbs and wrapped in twine, which I cut off before I stuck it in the pot) on top of that and sprinkled/rubbed the top of the roast with a tsp of dried thyme and a TON of black cracked pepper, poured about 1/3 cup of balsamic in and then couldn't remember what else I was supposed to do so tossed in a bay leaf for good measure.

Except now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure I didn't throw that bay leaf in after all...

It was 6 am. I have a newborn in the house. I don't sleep much. My brain is mush.

I turned the crock pot on low, left a message for my Mom and then completely forgot about it until about 8:30 when I was pouring my second large cup of coffee and realized I'd forgotten the espresso! So, since I didn't actually HAVE any espresso powder, I just poured some of my hot coffee (about half cup) into the crock pot and stuck the lid back on.

Fast forward to 5 pm tonight (that'd be about 10.5 hours of cooking if you're keeping track...), I pulled the roast out and made a slurry of flour and cold water (about 2 Tbsp flour and just enough water to make it slurry!) and started up my immersion blender and blended it into the liquids and the onions and the garlic.

I turned the crock pot onto high and stuck the meat back in and started some mashed potatoes and thought about making a veggie...but then forgot.

My "gravy" was pretty thick by the time the potatoes had finished boiling so I threw about a cup of that hot starchy water into my crock pot to get to the right consistency, thought about throwing a little bouillon in there (forgot) and mashed my taters. I realized I hadn't made a vegetable so we had mixed greens with just dressing on them straight out of the container and that was that.

Meals are a lot like this at our house, although the forgetful part is a pretty new concept since little A was born. My mind is never where I need it to be trying to keep track of all these kids with all their lives and my husband in school and working and...well, a newborn = no sleep so I'm FAR from coherent these days. This usually doesn't bode well for my cooking (we've actually had a few too many "just ok" meals lately), but it is what it is and I'm trying not to worry about anything other than what I absolutely have to!

So...for those of you that requested the recipe, there it is. Not really a recipe but it turned out REALLY well. Everyone even had seconds, something that rarely happens in this house with M hating dinner altogether and L being the pickiest eater this side of the mason dixon line...

Bon Apetit!

January 28, 2012

Strawberry Goat Cheese Salad

My daughter is spending this year abroad and is planning on cooking a special meal and wanted the recipe for my strawberry goat cheese salad - something that I usually save for special occasions, not because it's that fancy, but it's beautiful and refreshing to have alongside what usually amounts to heavier, richer dishes that we tend to enjoy at the holidays. While I don't have an EXACT recipe, (I just sort of toss it all together), here's the gist of it (and a crappy picture from another post 3 years ago)...

If you don't have access to the fresh herbs, you can just leave them out or if you have dried, you could mix them into your dressing. I have made the dressing without the herbs de provence and just used dried basil and mint when I haven't had anything else available. If you cant find the chevre with herbs, just use whatever soft goat cheese you can find.

Strawberry Goat Cheese Salad

1 - 8 oz package mixed greens (or use an assortment that you like - you could also just use baby spinach)
1 small package fresh basil, about 2 oz, very thinly sliced
1/2 small package fresh mint, about 1 oz, very thinly sliced
1 lb strawberries, hulled and sliced
1 - 4 oz log chevre goat cheese with herbs, crumbled
2/3 cup honey roasted pecans, chopped (recipe to follow)
Balsamic Dressing (recipe to follow)

Place salad in large serving bowl
Arrange strawberries on top of the salad - you can make them pretty or just throw them all on there
With a fork, crumble the cheese over the salad
Sprinkle with the chopped pecans over the salad

Sprinkle basil and mint over the salad
Pour dressing over the salad

Eat immediately

*Honey Roasted Pecans:

Preheat oven to 350. Combine pecans and 2 Tbsp honey, spread on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray and bake 10 minutes, stirring halfway through. Let them cool and then chop for the salad

*Balsamic Dressing:
In a small bowl whisk together 1/4 cup balsamic dressing, 2 Tbsp Olive Oil, 1 tsp honey, 1/2 tsp Herbs de Provence, kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste.

January 24, 2012

Cuban (err...Minnesota) Black Beans

I hated beans as a kid - thought they were disgusting, gross, yuck! A pot of chili? No thanks. I don't know if I ever had them any other way as a kid but I remember hating chili. I also hated tomato sauce, so there was that.

It's good to be an adult and try things again that I thought I didn't like and realize that I actually DO like them - love them even! Black beans, mustard, marinara, chili...the list goes on and on.

Anyway, my favorite thing is often a big pot of black beans - we'll have them plain one night alongside something from the grill. I'll mash up the leftovers with extra cumin and chili powder the next night and cover them with cheese and cilantro and onion for "chips and dip dinner", (my kids favorite). I can also freeze these and add them into a pot of rice or to a pot of jambalaya, since we like our jambalaya with black beans in it.

They're easy and versatile.

Feel free to adjust the heat or leave out the lime - cuban black beans usually use red wine vinegar or sherry. The nice thing about this recipe is that you can just use what you have. Sometimes I cover them with fresh chopped white onion, sometimes green - just depends on what I have in the fridge. I often make a double or triple batch so I can freeze some because a pound of these disappears pretty quick around here!

Ms. Pinks Minnesota Black Beans

1 lb dried black beans

6 cups water

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 sweet peppers, diced (you can use any combo - I typically use 1 red and 1 green)
2 jalapenos, minced (you can use just 1 or you can remove the seeds to reduce the heat or just leave them out altogether if you don't want any heat-  it's up to you!)

3 cloves garlic, smashed and minced with 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp black peppercorns in a mortar and pestle (if you don't have one, you can just mix them together but I find this way gets the most flavor)

1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
1 bay leaf

3 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp sugar
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste

2 Tbsp olive oil to drizzle over the beans

1. Cover the dry beans with water and let them stand covered overnight. Drain and discard the water.
2. Put the beans in a large pot, add the 6 cups of water and a Tbsp of olive oil. Bring the beans to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and cook until they're tender - about an hour.
3. When the beans are almost cooked, add the other Tbsp of olive oil in a large pan over medium heat - add the onion, peppers and jalapeno and cook until slightly tender, 3-5 mn. Add the garlic and cook another minute or until fragrant.
4. Add the cooked beans with 4 cups of the cooking water, oregano, cumin and bay leaf. Cover and simmer 20-30 mn, stirring occassionally, adding more of the reserved water as needed to reach your desired consistency.
5. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaf. Add the lime juice, sugar, salt and pepper and taste to adjust if needed. Drizzle with the 2 Tbsp olive oil and cover the pot, off the heat, for 5-10 minutes.
6. If you like a thicker pot of beans, take a cup or so of the mixture and mash it and then add it back to the pot of beans - when I make these the 2nd night, I usually take a few cups and mash them for our "dip".


January 12, 2012

Banana Walnut Muffins

I created this recipe one morning when we were out of both cereal and toast and the bananas hanging on the loop were more brown than yellow. The kids needed to have breakfast before a busy day and I wanted them to have something halfway healthy, so I made these.

The recipe makes 24 muffins so of course you could just halve it to make an even dozen, but I tend to make big batches here with all these boys. Even if by some miracle they're not all gone in two days, I can throw some in the freezer for later and toast them in the oven for a bit before breakfast one morning.

You could also fold in a handful or two of  blueberries into these and have them that way as well and sub out the nut or even just leave them out but I have a TON of walnuts left here and like my muffins nutty, so...

Banana Walnut Muffins

3 cups flour
2 cups oats
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1.2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp ginger
2 eggs
2 cups banana - or 3 medium sized ones, softened and smashed
1 cup dark brown sugar
8 Tbsp butter, melted and cooled
1.5 cups milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Mix together the first 8 ingredients in a large bowl and set aside.
In the bowl of your mixer, whisk together the egg, banana, and brown sugar on med-high until just mixed. Turn speed to low and add the butter, milk and vanilla until just incorporated.
Add the dry ingredients, a 1/2 cup at a time on low speed until the mixture just comes together.
Fold in the walnuts.

Divide batter into 24 muffin tins (I prefer nonstick that have been coated in cooking spray (we use olive oil) but you can also certainly use muffin wrappers. I just never have them and sort of like the crispy edge that results from not using them and they're less messy for preschoolers (and more green!).
Either way, wrapped or not, they'll be good.

Bake at 400 for 15-17 mn or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Eat warm with butter and honey for a real treat! Mmmmmm

January 9, 2012

A year of updates and some seriously good chicken...

Not too big on posting in 2011, I'm going to try and start up again - I originally started this blog to post updates about our family for those far away and it sort of morphed into a cooking blog when Pipps and I decided to start posting the "good recipes" that I made. We have a few things that make a rotation in our house but mostly it's just me experimenting with food and cooking things from magazines, books and online sites.

Last year brought a big surprise - this guy!

We weren't expecting to be parents again - thought for sure we were done with 4 but it looks like God had other plans for us. Our giant baby boy, who we affectionately call "Cheeks" was born on October 22nd and we all instantly fell madly in love with him. Even Pipps, who is spending a year abroad, loves him.

My pregnancy was long and hard, my labor ridiculously long and hard, and so I hadn't felt up to really being creative in the kitchen since almost a year ago. We ate a lot of take out and noodles with butter and Parmesan and I'm pretty sure we lived on PB&J's this summer. Thankfully my husband took up a big interest in grilling, so that was a life saver.

It's been 11 weeks since Cheeks was born and we're starting to get a handle on things. Sort of. Five kids is a tough gig and somewhat overwhelming at times but slowly and surely, we're figuring it out. My brain is constantly scattered, I start things and never finish them (that's not really new), I struggle to get us out of the house so we're not so cabin-feverish, I do my best. That's all I really can do.

My New Years Resolution, something I never ever do, was to simplify our lives, to slow down, to enjoy these little buggers while they're young and still think we're the most awesome people on the earth. Having a teenager, especially one living abroad, is bittersweet. I'm happy for her and her new experiences but I miss her being a baby and feel like it went by entirely way too fast.

With a newborn and 3 kids under 5 in the house, prepping meals and cooking is difficult. Finding the right window of time between when Daddy gets home, (IF he's home - between work and school we miss him a lot), Cheeks needs to nurse, big kids off to sports and activities...well, it's a small window. Especially if I want to actually sit down and eat with my family instead of nursing as soon as everyone eats (it happens a lot - that kid has impeccable timing!).

Part of simplifying our lives means no more complicated, "fancy", recipes. A short list of ingredients is nice, limited hands on time is a must. Crock pots are sometimes a nice idea, but since my 1970's one broke this fall and I bought a new one, nothing has turned out, so I've sort of ditched it for now...we've been eating a lot of soup. Not homemade. It's been slim pickings around here - lol.

I get a few cooking magazines every month and so I've been bookmarking those and vow to actually cook out of them. The chicken I made last night was AMAZING - and I made enough extra to serve as a base for 2 more meals this week. Plus, it was on sale last week! So Sunday dinner was roast chicken, tonight it's a curried chicken salad with rolls and for tomorrow - green chicken enchiladas with black beans. This recipe will go into our regular rotation although the leftover recipes may change, it was a big enough hit and easy enough that I'll make it every time breasts go on sale.

I adapted this finecooking.com recipe for what I had on hand and to minimize waste - sure, whole fruits are great but do I need to buy them when I already have the juice on hand? Probably not...fresh garlic is lovely too but I find that in roasting, it often burns and gives things a bad taste so I used powdered. Cutting up 2 whole chickens when breasts are on sale for half the price? Well...less work and less money = a very happy girl :) Plus, I really hate cutting up chicken. Yuck.

Anyway, here's my version of the recipe. I have a few more written down in my notebook that I'll be sharing over the next couple days as well - or as Cheeks permits - that little sucker is so sweet but also pretty colicky so I don't get much "hands free" time these days. And that notebook? That's also part of my resolution but I'll update more on that later so this doesn't get too wordy.

Citrus-marinated Roast Chicken Breasts

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
5 lbs bone-in, skin-on, chicken breasts (I had a family pack that was a little over 5lbs and had 5 breasts)
2/3 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup orange juice
1 Tbsp garlic powder
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1/4 cup soy sauce
1 Tbsp honey
1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

Pour olive oil roasting pan big enough to fit the breasts in a single layer.
Mix together the next 7 ingredients and pour over the chicken breasts, turning to coat.
Cover with plastic wrap and marinate in the refrigerator for 6-12 hours, turning every few hours.

Position rack in the center of the oven and bring to 425.
Turn chicken so they're all skin side up and sprinkle with kosher salt and black pepper.
Roast for 20 mn at 425 and then turn down the heat to 375 and roast 30 mn or until cooked through.

Remove the chicken to a platter and cover with foil to rest.
Meanwhile, pour the pan juice into a fat separator or pot and remove the excess fat - boil over med-high heat until reduced by half, about 1.5 cups, about 10 minutes.
Pour a little over the chicken and serve the rest of it at the table.

We had this with brown and wild rice cooked with chicken stock and saffron, and some Parmesan green beans. It was simple and it was delicious.