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Posts Tagged ‘cooking tips’


I tried this recipe tonight because it looked simple and mushrooms feel like fall to me. I am ready for fall in every way. Bring on the boots, cold weather, jackets and pumpkins. I think the key here is to not overcook the chicken. Best part: it is ready in about 30 minutes.

I paired it with some honey-glazed carrots, but it would be good with green beans, broccoli, or over egg noodles with peas.

  • 1/4 cup flour
  • about 6 chicken cutlets*
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 TBSP butter
  • 1 TBSP dried thyme leaves or 2 TBSP fresh thyme
  • 1 pound button or baby bella mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth

1. Place flour in a shallow dish. Season chicken generously with salt & pepper and coat with flour, shaking off excess.

2. In a large skillet, heat oil and 1 TBSP butter over medium-high. Cook chicken until browned and cooked through, 3-5 minutes per side.  Transfer to a plate and loosely tent with foil.

3. Reduce heat to medium, add remaining butter, thyme, and mushrooms. Saute until softened.

4. Turn heat up to medium-high, add wine and broth and cook, stirring until a sauce forms and thickens slightly, (about 3-5 minutes). Return chicken to pan and toss with mushrooms and sauce.

*If you don’t have cutlets, cut large chicken breasts in half horizontally through the middle, leaving two thinner cuts. Trim to a smaller size if needed.

 

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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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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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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I recently moved! My sister recently moved as well (as in, yesterday). I went over to her new home last night to help her tackle the biggest move-in nightmare: unpacking the kitchen. It all went smoothly and pretty quickly thanks to a gorgeous new kitchen with a pantry and ample cabinet and drawer space, but it got me thinking about kitchen organization — particularly about how picky I am about it and how a well-organized kitchen can make cooking much more efficient and enjoyable. Here are some quick tips that will have you cranking out holiday baking with maximum speed:

  • Keep everyday dishes and glasses in the cabinet closest to the dishwasher.
  • Ditto for silverware — if you have a drawer close to the dishwasher and close to the table, all the better.
  • Keep cooking utensils near the stove.
  • Organize your pantry by food type. For example, establish separate areas for rice & pasta, canned vegetables, breakfast foods, etc.
  • Make sure all the boxes and cans in the pantry are facing forward so that you can see everything at a glance.
  • Keep baking supplies together. If you have a large stand mixer on your countertop, store all the baking supplies nearby: measuring cups & spoons, rolling pins, rubber spatulas, and food items used mainly for baking (vanilla, baking soda, and the like).
  • Use easy-to reach shelves for frequently used items.
  • Relegate less-used items to higher shelves or the back of a deep cabinet.
  • If you are an organization freak (like I am) consider alphabetizing your spices on a tiered rack. They are so much easier to find and put away that way.
  • Try keeping plastic storage containers in a deep drawer, not on a shelf. They can nest together and the lids are naturally contained.

Hopefully there are some new ideas here for you to try.  If there is nothing new here, congratulations on your well-organized kitchen! This is just a start — to get the maximum benefit, take a good objective look at your kitchen and try to re-organize it so items are stored near where they are most commonly used. Think about how you cook and where you do different tasks. Good luck, and happy holiday baking!

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Freezy is Easy: If this is your first time attempting homemade jam, go for the freezer jam, not the cooked jam. There are a number of reasons, but suffice it to say it’s quicker, it’s easier, and the taste is closest to fresh fruit.

Cut then Crush: Even though the instructions on most types of pectin say to “crush the berries with a potato masher”, it really isn’t feasible for strawberries.  It works well for softer and smaller berries, like raspberries and blueberries, but fresh, ripe strawberries are too firm and large to easily crush.  Instead,  roughly cut the berries into chunks and then crush away.  If you want to get the kids involved and avoid using a knife, you can alternately crush them first with a pastry blender — the type with blades, not wires.  After that, switch to the potato masher until they reach the desired consistency.

Spin Those Berries: Make washing the berries quick and easy by using your salad spinner.  Just cut off the tops, halve the berries, and then give them a good whirl in the spinner with cold water.  They will be clean and dry in minutes. Do not, however, cut the berries into smaller pieces prior to washing. They will begin to lose juice and may take on extra water, which will interfere with the setting of your jam.

Use What You Have: Some pectin brands recommend that you store your freezer jam in plastic containers, while others specify glass.  The truth is, it doesn’t really matter.  I prefer glass jars because I think they look nicer, and because I can re-purpose pretty jars that I’ve saved. If you don’t have jars and don’t want to buy new plastic containers just for jam-making, use clean sour-cream or cottage cheese containers.  They hold more, making quick work of the bottling, and the jam will taste just as nice.

Mix Things Up: Fold, rather than stir the pectin and fruit together. If the pectin is not evenly distributed, you will end up with one runny jar of jam that is mostly liquid and lacks fruit — I’ve fallen victim to this on more than one occasion! I find that using wide, flat salad spoons — one in each hand — to fold the mixture together results in a more even mixture.

Get Organized: Lay out and pre-measure everything you need. Have some hot, soapy water on hand to wipe up sticky drips and splatters. Read and re-read the directions before beginning to make sure you understand them completely. Every pectin brand has slightly different directions, and not following them to the letter can result in jam that won’t set. Most importantly, make sure you have enough time to complete the jam without interruptions — some parts of the jam-making process are time-sensitive and can’t be delayed.

Not So Fast: Even when you’re done, you’re not quite done.  Keep an eye on the jam as it sets — the most common recommended setting time is 24 hours.  If after a few hours, you notice all the fruit rising to the top, just flip the bottles over. As the fruit slowly begins to rise back up, the jam will continue to set, preventing the fruit from floating to the top again. Finally, remember to transfer your jam to the freezer after the recommended setting time!  You can also move a jar directly to the fridge, where it will be good for about 3 months — but don’t expect it to last nearly that long!

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