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Don’t have a heart attack or anything. I know this blog has been seriously neglected lately and this is day one of beginning to remedy that problem. Although it is still frigid here in Utah, I know Spring has sprung elsewhere. Don’t let that stop you from making this soup! Although it is a hearty soup, suitable for the coldest winter evening, it has a fresh flavor that make it just as appropriate for a light spring supper — especially if paired with a green salad, but it is just as good paired with a thick slice of bread topped with butter and honey. Besides, what else are you going to do with all that leftover Easter ham?

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 chopped medium onion
  • 4 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme leaves
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 1 bag (16 ounces) green split peas
  •  2 cups diced leftover ham
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  1. In a  large, heavy pot with a lid, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion, carrots,  and thyme; season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until vegetables begin to soften, 5 to 8 minutes.
  2. Add broth, split peas, and 6 cups water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium, and partially cover; simmer until peas are soft, 30 to 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Once peas are softened and carrots are cooked through, use a potato masher to gently mash the peas to the desired consistency. (I like the texture of the soup when it is not too finely processed. If you prefer a smoother texture, you can use an immersion blender or remove half of the soup to a blender to puree.)
  4.  Add ham cubes, and simmer until heated through. If necessary, thin with water. Add salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste.
If you still have leftover ham, dice it up, seal it in a freezer bag in 2-cup portions, and freeze for future use.  If you have ham on hand, this soup comes together quickly with staples from the pantry.
Added bonus: split peas are very high in iron, protein, and fiber and relatively low in calories!
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This is yet another Everyday Food recipe that has been a go-to for a quick meal for many years now — the entire meal comes together in well under 30 minutes. This is a recipe even my husband has perfected!  I have slightly modified the original recipe to suit my family’s tastes.  We like this best when served with a green veggie, like steamed broccoli. When cooking broccoli, don’t toss the stalks! Slice them thinly and toss them in with the florets to steam until everything is bright green and fork-tender.

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for baking sheet
  • 2 slices bread *
  • 4 thick cut boneless pork chops
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 4 TBSP apricot jam

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Cover a baking sheet with foil and brush lightly with oil. Place pork chops on pan.
  2. Tear bread into large pieces; place in food processor. Pulse until large crumbs form. Drizzle with oil; pulse once or twice, just until crumbs are moistened (you should have about 1 1/2 cups crumbs).
  3. Season pork chops generously with salt and pepper; spread one side of each chop with 1 TBSP jam. Dividing evenly, sprinkle breadcrumbs over jam, and pat them on gently.
  4. Bake until crust is golden and pork is opaque throughout, 14 to 16 minutes. Serve immediately.

*I use whatever bread we have on hand — it’s a great use for slightly dry or stale bread as well as the heels of the loaf.

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When cooking homemade meals most nights, it is inevitable that there will be leftovers. Sometimes I’m able to incorporate them into another dish, and sometimes my husband is happy to take them as lunch later in the week, but often, despite the best intentions, I’m left with a fridge full of odds and ends. When this happens, we make lemonade from the proverbial lemons and serve them up diner-style.

I assemble all the edible leftovers in their containers on the countertop and survey what I have. If I’m feeling particularly spunky, I’ll write some quick menus. Often, this task is tackled spontaneously by one of the kids, complete with drawings for each entrée. I announce that tonight is “Diner Night” and make everyone take a seat. I hand out or recite the menu, then take drink orders. By the time I return with drinks, everyone is ready to order. Depending on the day, we sometimes offer smaller “side orders” of certain items, or make new items (sandwiches or hash) with what we already have on hand. My husband and I work together to play short-order cook, and everyone gets what they want.

Other ideas:

  • Think up a name for your family Diner and always refer to it by name.
  • If the kids are old enough to use the microwave and dish up food, switch roles and let them run the diner.
  • Splurge a little  and buy a ready-made dessert for a surprise ending.
  • Have your little customers pay for dinner by helping bus and wipe of the table at meal’s end.

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This is one of our family favorites, and has been ever since my son (now 9) was about 2. I love it because it’s light, healthy, and is one of those rare meals that seems well- suited for cold and warm weather alike. If you don’t like feta cheese, don’t let that deter you from trying this recipe. Feta, when cooked, takes on a much milder, mellow flavor and blends perfectly with the rest of the ingredients. Best of all, you can throw this together in 15 minutes and then bake it in under 30 minutes. This dish really is a crowd-pleaser, is nice enough to make for company, and might even get your kids to eat spinach greens.

  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • ¼ cup dry breadcrumbs
  • Salt and pepper
  • ¼ cup feta cheese with basil and tomato, crumbled (can substitute plain)
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 T olive oil
  • 4 cups baby spinach leaves
  • ½ cup torn fresh basil (optional)*
  • 2 T balsamic vinegar
  • 1 T olive oil
  • pinch of salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 400.  Place chicken breasts in Ziploc bag and pound to ¼ “ thickness, cut in half diagonally.  Season breadcrumbs with salt and pepper and dredge chicken in crumbs.  Spoon 1 heaping TBSP cheese onto each piece of chicken and fold in half.  Place chicken in an 8-inch square baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray.  Drizzle olive oil over chicken.  Bake, uncovered, for 25 minutes or until chicken is done.  Combine spinach and basil (if using)  in a bowl, set aside.  Combine vinegar, oil, and pepper and shake well.  Place ¼ of spinach salad on each plate and top with a chicken breast.  Drizzle the vinegar mixture over the top.

*We love to use fresh basil in the summer when we have it on hand, but in the winter, usually opt to leave it out.

This dish is fantastic accompanied by Uncle Ben’s Wild Rice. Sometimes we even cut the chicken up, and toss it, with the rice and spinach to make a warm salad.

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Recently I have heard (read?) a lot of women lamenting the fact that they struggle with planning meals for their families, including one dear friend (and fantastic cook, by the way) who posted on my Facebook Wall: “I command you to send me your weekly menu plan along with all subsequent recipes so I don’t have to do it myself. And cuz the stuff you make is always better than what I make.”

Let’s break that down:

#1 It was, after all, a command, so I complied.

#2 By saying “so I don’t have to do it myself”, she admitted to what, exactly? Incapability? Distaste for the chore? Laziness? We may never know, but I have a confession: I don’t really like doing it myself.

#3 Saying that the stuff I make is better is just a flat-out lie. But I think we all tend to get into cooking ruts from time to time resulting in getting bored with meal planning and cooking in general. Face it, if all you can come up with for dinner is something you also had last week and the week before that…anything else anyone else is making is going to seem like an improvement.

You may be wondering: “What was the point of that little story?” and “When do we get to the meal planning part?” Well, the point is, everyone can get into a rut when it comes to meal planning, even if you are a fantastic cook who cranks out french cuisine like it’s a walk in the park. And the meal planning stuff starts now.

Brainstorm: Start by just making a list of meals. I typically shoot for about 12-14 because I prefer to make one big grocery trip, but if that seems overwhelming, shoot for 6-7. I don’t ever pre-assign meals to days of the week. I prefer to look at my list and see what sounds good and do-able each day. Try to make most of your meals on the list follow the 1-hour rule. (Can this entire meal be prepared from start to finish in about an hour?) Most of my menu items follow this rule — the exception is Sunday dinner or if we have dinner guests. In those cases, I still try to limit hands-on time to about an hour. List 1-2 meals that are no-brainers for those nights that are busy or you just can’t face cooking a more involved meal. These can be old standbys like tacos or spaghetti.  Another good use of your brainstorming time is to think of ways to add interest to “boring” meals.  For example, make shredded pork or chicken tacos instead of beef, or add a new veggie into a casserole or soup.

Look for Inspiration: I do this in a few different ways. I am a huge Everyday Food fan, and have subscribed to the magazine for over 5 years now. It never disappoints, and I find the majority of my meals here. I like it because the meals are simple, use fresh, seasonal ingredients, and usually abide by the 1-hour rule. Each month, when the new issue arrives, I sit down and look at every single recipe. I dog-ear the corners of any that look really good. When I am making my menu, it’s really easy to grab a current or past issue and look for those folded corners. Sometimes as I flip through a second time, new recipes appeal to me, and I mark those too. It’s also a great idea to flip through your cookbooks periodically and see if anything jumps out at you.

My mom is a huge fan of looking through the weekly supermarket ad, noting what is on sale, and then planning her menu that way. I am working on incorporating this into my process, but am not great at it yet. I do however, keep my eyes open while shopping and stock up on staples that are on sale, and sometimes modify my menu on the spot — either by substituting one item for another or by changing a meal entirely in favor of something more economical.

The last way that I find inspiration for my menu is by keeping a document on my computer entitled “MENU” to which I add each week’s menu, (when I remember to) organized by month. I can look back, for example, and see what I was cooking in February of 2007.  Sometimes I will re-discover a long-forgotten favorite this way or find something that I only made once, but remember it being delish.

Finally, check your pantry, fridge and freezer to see what you already have on hand, and try to incorporate those items into your menu.

Make a List: I write my grocery list on the back of the paper that my menu is on. That way, if I think I’ve forgotten something, I can refer back to the menu list and (hopefully) jog my memory. I also like to write my shopping list in the order in which I will find the items in the store. If you are not 100% familiar with your store, this won’t work, but you can sort by category: produce, canned goods, baked goods, dairy, etc. This makes your trip through the store much more efficient and prevents you from forgetting an item while shopping.

If I need multiples of any items, I write how many I need next to that item on the list. I also use this time to check my freezer, cellar, and pantry (if I haven’t already) to make sure I won’t be buying items I already have on hand. When I get home, I rotate items as I put them away. If I have bread in the freezer, I pull it out to thaw and put the new loaves in to freeze, etc. Finally, I post my menu list on the fridge so I can refer to it easily throughout the week.

I don’t know that there has been anything in this post that is ground-breaking in any way, but I do hope that it will inspire you to plan your meals and grocery trips with more mindfulness and to get away from feeling uninspired in the kitchen. If you have a favorite meal-planning tip, please share it in the comments section!

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This recipe is the perfect quick weeknight meal: it goes together in a snap and uses a lot of storage-friendly items like canned goods and tortillas. It is also versatile enough that you can easily change things around or make substitutions when needed. I’ve also managed to pack 6 different veggies into this dish: tomato, avocado, corn, black beans, green chiles, and onion, so eat up! This recipe is as healthy as it is delicious!

  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1/2 of an onion, diced
  • 1 can green chiles
  • 1 can black beans, drain off 1/2  of the liquid
  • 1 cup frozen sweet corn
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 cooked chicken breast, diced into 1/4″ pieces (optional)
  • 1 can enchilada sauce*
  • 8 corn or flour tortillas
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated

Lightly oil a 9×11 glass casserole dish with a little olive oil. Heat the remainder in a heavy pot, over medium-high heat. Toss in the onion and saute 1-2 minutes. Stir in the green chiles and cook until onion begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Add beans, corn, cumin, & garlic and stir to combine. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then stir in diced chicken. Remove from heat.

Pour 1/3 of the enchilada sauce into the bottom of the casserole dish. Fill each tortilla with bean filling and roll up. Place in casserole dish seam side down. If you have any leftover topping, sprinkle it over the top of the enchiladas. Pour the remaining sauce over the top. Sprinkle with cheddar cheese and bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes, until lightly browned and bubbling.

*If you don’t have a can of enchilada sauce, use a can of tomato sauce and season to taste with cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. If you would like to add a little more heat to the dish, you could add cayenne pepper to the bean mixture or substitute a can of jalapeno peppers for the green chiles.

Serve the enchiladas on a bed of Mexican-style rice and top with shredded lettuce, sour cream, salsa, and diced avocados.

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This meal is quick to throw together and tastes best if you make it early in the day and then re-heat it when it’s time to eat. This will allow the flavors to blend together nicely. It is great served hot on a cold day and just as good at room temperature. The only necessary accompaniment is steamed Basmati rice. Bonus: all my kids scarfed this up last night, but maybe they are just weird kids. This recipe is modified from the book A Homemade Life, by Molly Wizenberg.

  • scant 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, cut into quarters and sliced
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 ground ginger
  • 1 tsp garam masala*
  • 3 green cardamom pods, lightly crushed under the side of a knife
  • 1 tsp salt, or to taste
  • water
  • 2 14-0z cans of petite diced tomatoes
  • 1 TBSP coarsely chopped cilantro or dried cilantro
  • pinch of cayenne or red pepper flakes, or to taste
  • 2 15-oz cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • lemon wedges & fresh cilantro, for serving (optional)
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt (optional)

Pour the olive oil into a heavy pot or dutch oven and warm it over medium heat. Add the onion, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is deeply caramelized. Be patient.

Reduce the heat to low; add garlic, cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, garam masala, cardamom pods, and salt and cook, stirring constantly until fragrant and toasty, about 1 minute. Add 1/4 cup water and stir to scrape up any brown bits from the bottom of the pan. Cook until all the water is absorbed. Pour in the tomatoes, and stir well.

Raise the heat to medium, and bring the pot to a gentle boil. Adjust the heat to maintain a simmer, add the cilantro and cayenne, and continue to cook gently, stirring occasionally, until the mixture reduces and thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the chickpeas, stirring well, and cook over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add about 2 TBSP water and cook for another 5 minutes, until water is absorbed. Add another 2 TBSP of water and cook a few minutes more. This process of adding and cooking off water helps to concentrate the sauce’s flavor and makes the chickpeas more tender and toothsome. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

This chana masala can be served in two different styles: with some yogurt stirred in to smooth and soften the flavors, OR served with a squeeze of lemon. Either way, serve over Basmati rice and garnish with some freshly chopped cilantro.

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