Archive | February, 2011

Super-Fast Friday: The Warehouse Club

11 Feb

Most of us joined a warehouse club (Cosco, Sam’s, BJ’s, etc.) to save money. Buy more, save more. Makes sense. But the warehouse club can also save us a ton of time.

I usually visit a number of stores every week to get all the groceries and paper/cleaning goods and basics my family needs. There’s the grocery store for fresh foods, Target or Wal-Mart for pantry goods, frozen foods, and supplies, and usually a stop at Trader Joe’s (This Fig Walked Into a Bar…mmmmm) and the drugstore thrown in there.

A few months ago, I kept a running list of the things I was buying every week–the stuff we use the most. The staples of our family. They’re different for each of us, depending on your family’s favorites and habits, but we all have those items we buy over and over, because life gets ugly if they’re not in the house. Once my lists were made, I realized how much time I could save by buying some of those things in bulk.

Buying in bulk only makes sense if you’re actually going to use up those big containers. I shy away from fresh veggies or fruit only because I know us, and we’re not going to eat through three pounds of asparagus in a few days (I do buy oranges and apples, because they last longer, but the fragile stuff generally ends up trashed). So it’s important to be realistic and know what you’ll use and what you won’t. And we all have limited storage space, so it’s also helpful to only really stock up on the stuff you’ll use. None of us has the space for extra boxes to just sit.

Since I started making the most of my warehouse club membership, I’m only visiting the Target/Wal Mart/drugstore type places once a month or so, and not every week as I had been. That’s a huge time saver. Huge.

This is my list–yours will be different, but it gives you an idea of the kinds of things that might make sense for you to buy when you’re stocking up. I go about once a month. And I usually buy:

  • Paper goods: paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, Ziploc bags (every few months).
  • Cleaning supplies: Windex, mop refills, dishwasher detergent, laundry detergent, Clorox wipes.
  • Frozen foods: Chicken breasts, salmon filets, hot dogs (they freeze really well).
  • Refrigerated foods: yogurt, milk, butter, half & half, cheese slices.
  • Canned goods: diced tomatoes, tomato paste, beans, canned fruit
  • Lunchbox food: peanut butter (SO much cheaper!), chips, raisins, dried fruits, juice boxes,
  • Office supplies: printer paper, printer ink, envelopes.
  • Personal items: toothpaste, toothbrushes, deodorant, vitamins
  • Pantry: pasta, crackers, nuts/trail mix, chocolate chips, rice

So tell me: How do you make the most of your club membership to save both time and money?

 

Garlic Roasted Baby Potatoes

10 Feb

Everybody has a recipe for these delicious morsels of goodness. So this is more about a trick than an actual recipe.

I used Ina Garten’s recipe for garlic-roasted potatoes for years, and it was good. Well, it was mostly good. The problem with that recipe was that I always ended up with perfect potatoes and burned bits of garlic (I’m sure it was operator error–no way that recipe has spread so far and wide by burning garlic). Burned garlic is bitter and nasty, and not something we garlic lovers appreciate.

I am a garlic addict. Love the stuff. I make my turkey sandwiches with garlic hummus instead of mayo or mustard. I toss whole cloves into chickens. It goes into my chili, my pasta, and onto bread if I’ve though ahead enough to roast some on its own with a little olive oil. Garlic rocks my world. And that’s why I had to find a new way to make these potatoes–I wanted real garlic, not bitter bits of crunchy brownness.

The first change you’ll notice is in the potatoes. I use baby yukon golds. They’re firm and waxy and buttery on their own, so you don’t need as much oil to roast them, and they offer fantastic mouth feel.

The second is the method. I infuse the oil with the garlic before combining it with the spuds (that’s way easier than it sounds–don’t get scared), which gives me a little hint of yummy with every bite. And using garlic that’s practically pureed means no burned bits when the pan comes out of the oven.

This is among my favorite side dishes, and it’s been known to serve as a main dish when I’m eating by my lonesome for whatever reason. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

You’ll need:

1 pound baby yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled

3 cloves of garlic, chopped and mashed with a knife (or just use three frozen Dorot cubes as they are)

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

salt or No-Salt seasoning

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray it with nonstick spray or olive oil.

Half or quarter the potatoes to get uniform bite-sized pieces.

Combine the oil and garlic in a large Pyrex bowl. Cover it with wax paper and microwave it on high for about 15 – 20 seconds. Let it sit for a minute, and then take it out and stir it. This imparts all the garlic flavor into the oil itself, and that is a very good thing.

Place the potato pieces into the garlic and oil mixture. Toss gently. Lay on the baking sheet in a single layer, with cut sides down on the foil (that’ll give you a great crunch later). Sprinkle with salt. Roast 40 minutes, turning the potatoes over halfway through.

(For a little extra freshness, sprinkle the roasted spuds with a little dill at the end. YUM!)

Tomato Sauce with Mushrooms

9 Feb

I had every intention of making chicken cacciatore in my slow cooker yesterday and then telling you all about it today. But the day got crazy fast and a head cold hit (I’m waiting for the Day Quill to kick in as I type) and the chicken was in the freezer, and before I knew it, lunchtime had passed and thawing and chopping and cooking to done was just too much to think about.

You know those days? It honestly might have been a pizza day except that I had a gorgeous package of sliced mushrooms in my fridge, and I knew they’d be icky if I didn’t cook them.

This all came together in the time it took to boil a pot of pasta. The kids did homework, I made noodles and sauce, and dinner was ready in what felt like no time, with zero real effort. DH deemed the sauce “awesome.” DS ate it without comment, which is a victory in my book. And DD doesn’t like tomato sauce **eye roll** so she had her pasta with butter. We’ll definitely have this again.

To make it, you’ll need:

2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 an onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced (I used three frozen Dorot garlic cubes)

8 oz mushrooms, sliced

1/3 cup red wine (cooking wine is fine if that’s what you have)

28 oz crushed tomatoes

2 tbsp sugar

2 tsp dried basil

1 tsp dried oregano

pinch each of salt and pepper

16 oz box of pasta, your choice

Boil a large pot of water, cook your pasta to al dente, and drain it.

While that’s happening, heat the olive oil over medium heat in a medium saucepan. Saute the onion with the salt and pepper until the onion turns translucent and soft–about 3 minutes.

Stir in the garlic and onion and cook about 4 minutes, until the mushrooms have started to brown up a bit.

Stir in the red wine and cook about 3 minutes. Then stir in the tomatoes, sugar, and spices, bring to a boil, and simmer the whole mixture until the pasta is finished. Sprinkle with Parmesan if desired, and enjoy.

Winner Winner Chicken Dinner!

7 Feb

And LOTS of other dinners too! The Facebook fan who’s getting a shiny new copy of Aviva Goldfarb’s “SOS: The Six O’Clock Scramble To the Rescue” is Kimberly Bloebaum!! Yay! (Awesome name you have, too, Kimberly!).

We’ll have another giveaway soon. Thanks to everybody who entered–I’m so happy to see you on on Facebook and I love reading your ideas and thoughts over on our wall. Kimberly, email me your mailing address (mywriter at gmail dot com) and I’ll have the book sent to you. Congratulations again!

So what did everybody make for Superbowl? We ended up with burgers on the indoor grill, by popular vote (my barbecue chicken was voted out by a landslide…sniff, sniff!), with pancakes earlier in the day. It was a great food day.

More ideas for you later in the week, gang. Happy Monday!

Super-Fast Friday: Twins in the Kitchen

4 Feb

No, not children!! Twin pieces of equipment!

I know. Sounds expensive. But I’m not talking about twin ovens (tho I dream of that, yes I do) or entire mixers.

Today’s tip is this: There are certain things that it makes sense to buy two of, because you’ll save so much time and effort over time.

Take today. Today, I am baking a cake for our Cub Scout pack’s Blue & Gold Banquet. The cake is going to be a Pinewood Derby track with a few cars racing down the ramp. To do this, I need, among other things, two sheet cakes.

Thankfully, I have two bowls for my KitchenAid mixer, so I dump the ingredients into both, mix one, mix the other, and have two bowls of batter ready in five minutes. I also have two sheet pans. Pour, pour, bake them at the same time, and voila. Two sheet cakes in about 45 minutes (instead of the two hours it would take me to make one, wash everything, and make another), because I have twins in my baking cabinets.

Other things I recommend stocking up on are food processor bowls (2), 9 x 13″ casserole dishes (2 or 3, and then make two pans of ziti or two lasagnas or two whatevers and freeze one for another week), silicone spatulas or spoonulas (I have four and frequently use all of them in a day. I don’t recommend the ones with wood handles, tho, as they can’t go in the dishwasher), metal spatulas (2), beating blades for your KitchenAid or sets of beaters for your hand mixer (2), bread pans (3), cookie sheets (4), Pyrex measuring cups (I have two 2-cup measures and one one-cupper), sets of metal measuring cups (2), sets of measuring spoons (3), large Pyrex mixing bowls (2), cutting boards (I have one big wood one and three smaller plastic boards) and chef’s knives (2).

Sounds like a lot, but it’s really not much at all. And you won’t believe the time savings.

Did I forget anything? Tell me in the comments–what else do you need extras of?

Mostly Crockpot Coq au Vin

3 Feb

AKA The Best Crockpot Dinner Ever

Those of you who’ve put up with me for awhile know I have an almost unhealthy obsession with my slow cooker. I love that thing–I own three and put everything from steel-cut oats to lasagna in them. They come out for parties. They come out on Christmas. One comes out once or twice a week at least. And when I broke one earlier this year (RIP pretty stainless steel baby), I waited all of three days before breaking down to buy a new one (hello shiny red model!).

Long and short, I’ve been Crockpot cooking for a long time. So you should take this next bit to heart:

This recipe is the best thing that has ever come out of my slow cooker.

Seriously. Amazing, amazing food. It smelled so good that I hurried up and put together a pizza for the kids–more yumminess for me, short people (Mother of the Year again, ladies–back off)! I have every intention of eating the leftovers for both lunch and dinner today, and we are going to have this one soon. Like, maybe this weekend.

All that said: this is not a simple dice-and-dump. You need about 20 minutes of hands-on stove time before the slow cooker can work its magic. I’m not normally a fan of that, but this one is worth it. To make life easier, you can do the prep work the night before, put everything into the crock of your cooker, refrigerate it overnight, and just let the Crockpot do its work the next day. Or you can do what I did, and do the stovetop work in the morning and then let it slow cook during work time, and then pop it on warm at the end of the day until dinnertime. But do not skip the stove step. You’ll miss out on a world of flavor and you’ll mess with the texture of the meat, which would be very sad.

This calls for wine. I’ll tell you a secret: I used cooking wine.

**faint**

Know what? Slow cooking makes simple flavors very complex. So using a non-alcoholic cooking wine from the grocery store is perfectly fine when you’re cooking in a Crockpot. Go ahead this time. You won’t be able to tell the difference. Of course, you can use the good stuff if you want, but I am cheap and I value my wine in a glass, and chose not to this time. Still the best thing ever out of my Crockpot. And I would have no problem giving it to my kids with the cooking wine in it (tho I’m not sharing this time). It’s also gluten-free as-is–no conversions for those with a GF lifestyle (also casien-free!).

DH ate this over rice and liked everything but the pearl onions (he’s wrong, by the way–those babies soak up all the yummy sauce and were like little balls of pure heaven in my dish, where all of his landed–more for me!!). I poured mine in a bowl almost like a stew and enjoyed it that way.

Take the few extra minutes and try this recipe. You will LOVE it. I promise. You need:

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (my package had 3; I cut them in half to make 6 portions)

salt

pepper

4 slices thick-cut bacon, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

8 oz mushrooms, sliced (I’m going to double this next time and use a full pound–they were goooood)

1 1/2 cup frozen pearl onions

1/2 regular onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup red wine

2 1/2 tbsp tomato paste

1 bay leaf

1/2 cup chicken broth

Spray a large skillet with olive oil or cooking spray and heat over medium-high heat. Once it’s hot, brown your bacon, stirring frequently. Once it’s crispy, remove it to a stack of paper towels, drain, wrap it up and put it in the refrigerator for later.

Salt and pepper both sides of your chicken (I use No-Salt and it works beautifully). Carefully lay it in the hot skillet/bacon drippings and cook about 5 minutes, until nice and brown on one side. Flip and brown the second side.

While the chicken is browning, coat your Crockpot with cooking spray, turn it on low, and stir the mushrooms and frozen pearl onions together in it.

When the chicken is brown on both sides, use a slotted spoon to remove it from the pan and lay it on top of the veggies in the Crockpot.

Pour the drippings out of your skillet and put it back on the stove, lowering the heat to medium. Saute your diced onions until they start to soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and keep it moving for a minute (so it doesn’t burn). Stir in the wine and tomato paste, using a whisk to incorporate the paste in fully. Stir in the bay leaf. Bring it to a boil and simmer about 3 minutes.

Pour red wine mixture over chicken and veggies in the crock, and then pour in the chicken broth. Cover–do not stir (trust me). Cook on low 8 hours. About 15 minutes before you want to eat, turn the Crockpot off and remove the lid and let it sit to thicken a bit. Plate it and sprinkle it with the bacon you cooked earlier.

Enjoy.

I have a picture to add to this post later. As soon as I’m home from the mechanic with my car (long story) I’ll add it. Promise.

Last Week to Enter my Giveaway!

There’s a new button over there on the right (you’ll have to click through if you’re on email subscription, Kindle, or a blog reader–sorry!)? That’s for Playing With My Dinner’s brand-spanking new Facebook page, where our readers are already chatting, sharing ideas, and getting the inside scoop on the blog.

To celebrate its launch, I’m giving away a copy of Aviva Goldfarb’s newest cookbook, “SOS! The Six O’ Clock Scramble To The Rescue.” It’s all about making healthy, Earth-friendly meals your kids will love, and you’re going to love it.

One lucky reader will find a copy in his or her mailbox, and all you have to do to enter is “like” the blog over on Facebook before February 5. I’ll use a random number generator to pick our winner.

So c’mon over! Visit the page, hit that “like” button, and join in the conversation on the wall. See you there!!

Easy Chicken and Pepper Curry

1 Feb

Here’s the problem with “light” recipes for anything like curry or stir-fry. There’s never enough sauce.

Part of that, I’m sure, is that in their goal to cut calories, recipe developers try to balance sauce flavor vs. “lightness” of the recipe. But if it doesn’t taste good, I’m not going to want to eat it. And that’s a sure-fire recipe for ordering a pizza an hour after dinner was supposedly served.

I cut the original version of this recipe out of Cooking Light a few months back and pulled it out yesterday. Loved the idea, loved the simplicity, and could tell just by reading it that it was going to be very light on the sauce. It called for one cup of light coconut milk which reduces while it’s cooking. (Second issue: Light coconut milk comes in 14-oz cans, which means that a recipe calling for a cup wastes quite a bit. I hate wasting food. Pouring that down the drain pains me, and we don’t cook with it often enough for me to save it safely.)

I re-did this to use the whole can of milk, upped the spices accordingly, and used more peppers than the original recipe called for to boost its nutritional value; the original also called for pre-cut peppers, which seems like an absurd waste of money to me. It takes, what, 20 seconds to cut up a pepper? Oy.

DH and I enjoyed this–I served it over basmati rice, which soaked up the sauce beautifully. The kids ate the chicken, which is a great first step for something like curry. We’ll have leftovers tonight and will definitely eat this again.

By the way, for those who aren’t curry eaters, it’s not hot! Don’t fear it. It’s a complex blend of spices that’s really delicious, and won’t cause fire-breath. I promise.

To make this, you’ll need:

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts

3 large bell peppers, cut into strips (I used two red and one green)

1 14-oz can light coconut milk

2 1/2 tsp curry powder, divided

1 lime

Salt and pepper

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. While it’s getting hot, trim the chicken of any fat and sprinkle it on both sides with 1 tsp of the curry powder and a touch of salt and pepper. Use the palm of your hand to press the spices into the chicken, so they stick.

Once the pan is hot, coat it with olive oil and lay the chicken down in it. Let it cook about 5 minutes on each side, until a nice brown crust develops on both sides and the chicken is cooked through (my pieces were thick, so I let them cook 5 minutes on each side and then lowered the burner to medium, popped a lid on the pan, and let them go another 3 minutes or so to finish cooking through). Remove chicken to cutting board and let rest.

In the same pan, stir together the peppers and remaining curry powder. Stir-fry for about a minute. Pour in coconut milk, bring to boil, and lower heat to simmer. Simmer the mixture for about 4 minutes, or until it thickens slightly.

Cut lime in half and squeeze juice into pepper/milk mixture. Lower the burner to low heat.

Thinly slice the chicken across the grain (cut it across the narrow side of the breast, not the long way). Stir it into the peppers and milk. Serve over rice.

(Now that I’m thinking about this, a tablespoon or two of mango chutney might be really good in the sauce. If anyone’s feeling adventurous!)

 

Last Week to Enter my Giveaway!

There’s a new button over there on the right (you’ll have to click through if you’re on email subscription, Kindle, or a blog reader–sorry!)? That’s for Playing With My Dinner’s brand-spanking new Facebook page, where our readers are already chatting, sharing ideas, and getting the inside scoop on the blog.

To celebrate its launch, I’m giving away a copy of Aviva Goldfarb’s newest cookbook, “SOS! The Six O’ Clock Scramble To The Rescue.” It’s all about making healthy, Earth-friendly meals your kids will love, and you’re going to love it.

One lucky reader will find a copy in his or her mailbox, and all you have to do to enter is “like” the blog over on Facebook before February 5. I’ll use a random number generator to pick our winner.

So c’mon over! Visit the page, hit that “like” button, and join in the conversation on the wall. See you there!!

 

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