Monday, January 28, 2013

Homemade Yogurt - Easiest Recipe Ever

I'm probably the six hundred thousandth person to put down a recipe for homemade yogurt. But here's the thing - it's really so much easier than you'd think. So, I'm going to write the directions as simply as possible, and then give a few more details.

Homemade Yogurt

4 cups milk
1-2 Tbs plain yogurt 
Glass jars that seal 
Candy thermometer 
A spoon

1. Pour 4 cups milk into a pot
2. Bring it to a boil, and stir until it reaches 180F.
3. Remove from the heat and let cool until 110F.
4. Put 1 -2 Tbs yogurt in a small bowl and add 1/2 c milk (or however much you want, the point is a little bit) and whisk together.
5. Add the mixture from step #4 to the rest of the milk.
6. Pour into the glass jars and seal.
7. Keep moderately warm for 8-12 hours (some people just wrap their jars in a blanket and set in a warm place).
8.  Remove jars from their warm place.
9. Put in the fridge.
10. Eat.

That's it. Seriously. I mean - IT.

Here's the science of it:
yogurt contains live bacteria (the container calls them 'cultures' cause that's somehow more appropriate to eat....?). Milk also contains bacteria but some of it can go bad quicker than the bacteria in yogurt/won't make yogurt - thus step #2 (kills all the potentially bad stuff). The little bacteria in yogurt can't quite handle that heat either, so you need to let the milk cool to a temperature bacteria loves - 110F. That little bacteria is just going to grow and grow, thus step #7.

Bacteria will continue growing if it's warm - thus step #8. If you want more tart yogurt, leave it out closer to 12 hours.

Here are a couple tips:
1. Use whole milk.

2. If you have a crock pot, fill it with water and set the temperature to it's lowest setting (on mine, that's warm). Once you've filled your jars with your soon-to-be-yogurt (and sealed them), put them in the crockpot and leave covered. I've found this is the perfect way to keep my yogurt warm. If I'm going to bed and the yogurt has sat in the warm water for 3-4 hours, I just switch of the crock pot and the bacteria growth begins to slow until I bring it to a halt in the morning when I put it in the fridge.

3. Your yogurt will firm up a bit after it goes in the fridge, so don't worry if it seems a bit runny.

4. Want Greek Yogurt? Pour the finished product yogurt (as in, after step #8) into a sieve lined with a cheesecloth and press out the whey (note - whey can be used in a variety of cooking endeavors, so don't toss it. it's also apparently lactose free! What?!?!?!) There you go, Greek Yogurt.

5. Want flavored yogurt? I've put frozen berries on the bottom of the empty jars between steps #5 & #6, and just continued as usual. The end product is a bit more runny, but absolutely delicious. Fresh fruit would also work. For flavored (as in vanilla) - add 1 tsp vanilla and 3 Tbs honey to the milk when it is coming to a boil (or however much you want depending on what flavor you're going for). The end product is not noticeably different from plain yogurt.

6. Need sour cream? Just use Greek Yogurt - seriously. No reason not to. None at all. And your heart thanks you, and so does your urinary tract.

Enjoy!!!!! And let me know if you come up with any other amazing yogurt recipes (or if my science lesson is off :) It's my summary of about 15 different recipes I looked at...

Blueberry Poppyseed Muffins

This recipe is an absolute favorite! My mom has been making this recipe for years, and her muffins still come out much better than mine - though I'm blaming it on the fact she lives in Kenya and therefore gets more pure ingredients in terms of butter, sugar, and flour (probably altitude, too)...well, that's what I'd like to think it is. She's really just got me beat on this one.

Nevertheless - here's the recipe, straight from her kitchen :) (except she usually uses strawberry yogurt instead of blueberry)

Poppyseed Muffins

2 eggs
1/2 c butter
1 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla 
1 cup yogurt (fruit of your choice - if you want Lemon Poppyseed Muffins, use lemon yogurt)
1/4 tsp baking soda 
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbs poppyseeds
2 c flour 

Preheat the oven to 375F. 
In a mixing bowl, cream together the butter and sugar. Add the eggs 1 at a time. Add the vanilla and yogurt. 

(note: most recipes will tell you to combine your dry ingredients in a separate bowl. Curse you extra dishes! The only reason you are asked to do this in a standard baking recipe, where all the dry ingredients are added at once, is to make sure you don't get clumps of baking soda or salt in your finished product. To make 1 less dish, I pour my flour right on top of my wet ingredients and my baking soda, salt, etc right on top of the flour. I do a quick surface level stir of the dry ingredients while they are on top of the wet ingredients, and then mix it all together. I've never had a clump of distasteful salt in my baking). 

Add the dry ingredients and mix thoroughly. Grease a muffin tin and fill tins 3/4 full. Bake until a toothpick/knife can be inserted into the middle of a muffin and come out clean - approx 15-20 minutes. 

Best served warm. 

The best thing about these muffins is they are an Everytime Food - great with dinner, awesome as breakfast, perfect as a snack. Love that.

** to make this recipe vegan, though I've never done it, you can apparently substitute flaxseed for eggs, oil for butter, and soy yogurt for dairy yogurt. If any of you try this - I'd love to know how it turns out!

Soy Sauce Chicken

Again - pictures to come later. So sorry!

This meal is an absolute favorite and is always a major hit with guests.

Soy Sauce Chicken 

1 chicken, in pieces (if you want to buy a whole chicken and cut it up yourself - go for it! And don't forget to make Chicken Stock with the remaining bits of the carcass).
2 cups soy sauce (don't have a heart attack - you're not actually consuming 2 cups of soy sauce. That said - get a less dark soy sauce if you can) 
2 cups sugar
1 cup oil (the healthiest you can find) 
4 star anise seeds
4 cloves garlic, sliced
1/2 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced 

Combine all ingredients expect the chicken in a large pot and stir well. Add the chicken, making sure the chicken is mostly covered by the sauce. If it isn't, try a smaller pot. If it's still not mostly covered, consider doing 1.5 times the recipe. Turn on the heat until the sauce comes to a boil. Caution: this sauce will boil over quickly, so keep an eye on this until it reaches a boil

Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer and allow to simmer until completely  cooked - usually approx 30 minutes.

To make sure your chicken is done, take the largest piece (usually the breast) and make a deep cut. If the meat is completely white, the chicken is done. Pink meat should be cooked a bit longer. It is fine (and actually good) if some juices still come out of the meat - this means your chicken is still moist! 

I recommend serving with brown or white rice, stirfried veggies of your choosing, and Poppyseed Muffins. 

Couple notes on this recipe: 
* The sauce is delicious poured over rice and stirfried veggies - be sure to fill a little creamer with some sauce and serve it alongside dinner. 
* The sauce also freezes marvelously and can be used in the future when repeating this recipe. As a bonus, all the oil and fat rises to the top once the sauce has chilled or frozen and can be easily scraped off - which is what I do. The sauce just gets healthier! 
* It may be easier to find Anise seeds instead of the Star Anise - in this case, substitute 2 tsp crushed anise seed for what is called for in this recipe. The link above gives more substitution options, as well. 


Week #3 Meal Plan

I made some pretty drastic re-arranges to last week's meal plan, and will probably do the same this week. So, instead of doing day by day, I'm just going to give you a list of the meals on the docket for the week and let you decide when you want to make them based on how each day goes. Cause, that's really what is sometimes more realistic. And the entire goal of this blog is to encourage and model attainable, yummy cooking.

The last couple weeks of new recipes has left me culinarily exhausted, so we're returning to some comfort foods this week. You'll see these A LOT over the next year.

With no further-ado, the meals for this week:

Chicken Divan
* A creamy chicken and broccoli casserole served over rice. This week, I'm trying to make my own sour cream and mayonnaise in order to make this Mid West comfort food a little more healthy.

Salad Night: Spinach Salad
* A bed of baby spinach topped with cranberries, walnut pieces, red onion, hardboiled egg and feta cheese served with a Pear Vinaigrette

Vegetarian Night: Enchilladas
* This week's version will be with homemade tortillas, homemade refried beans, homemade enchillada sauce, homemade salsa, and cheese (not homemade)

New York Style Hotdogs and Sweet Potato Fries
* Needing a comfort night - this should do the trick.

Taco Night
* This recipe will also use homemade tortillas, homemade refried beans, and homemade salsa. We'll do all the work of homemade tortillas and refried beans in one day (with probably an extra contingent to go in the freezer for upcoming weeks) and will subsequently save ourselves a lot of time in the future.

Note - I'm also going to start doing one big Ingredients List, and just * the items I have in my kitchen. My point in *ing the items in my kitchen is to illustrate how a well-stocked kitchen makes for less work when meal planning and grocery shopping. And to illustrate how many non-perishable items can be on hand in order to save you time when shopping. The cost is bigger up front, but as you go through items at different paces, you'll do fewer "big" grocery runs and more "weekly stock ups".

Ingredients List (sorted in order of above listed recipe)
1 lb chicken
1/2 - 1lb broccoli
cheddar cheese
* cream of chicken soup (if you have flour, butter, and chicken stock on hand - I'll do a recipe on making homemade cream of chicken soup)
sour cream (unless you also want to make your own)
mayonnaise (unless you also want to make your own)
* rice 
* cranberries
* walnuts
* feta cheese
* salad dressing of your choice
* flour
* salt
1 large can of canned whole tomatoes
1 bag dry kidney beans
* homemade salsa/ingredients for homemade salsa
* taco seasoning
* ground beef
* chili powder
* hot dogs
If you want to make your own sour cream (I'm actually making Greek yogurt in lieu of sour cream):
* milk
* plain yogurt
If you want to make your own mayonnaise: 
* white vinegar
* egg
* oil
* salt
* salt
* pepper

There you have it, there you go - this week's grocery plan and list. We have fewer meals this week because I did a couple nights of make shift dinner last week (cereal one night, scrambled eggs another). We just moved to Seattle a few weeks ago, really, and sometimes settling in gets the best of me and dinner plans go out the window. Dinner plans will probably go out the window year round, but for this month - I have a very valid excuse.

Happy shopping!

ps - don't forget to get yourself a couple comfort items!

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Potato Bacon Chowder

Chowder is relatively easy - take your favorite veggies, cook them til they are soft, add some milk, blend it all up and you have a chowder. Toss some saltine crackers on top or some seafood in the mix? You'll look like a pro.

The difference between cream of whatever vegetable soup and chowder is a little vague, and wikipedia was of no help. So, you can call this soup what you like - but Potato Bacon Chowder sounds yummy, and this was yummy. Enough said.

Potato Bacon Chowder 

4 cups potatoes, diced (peels left on) cooked or uncooked*
1 c chopped onion
2 Tbs butter (use oil to make vegan)
2 c Chicken Stock or milk (use veggie stock to make vegan)
(3-4 cups water if potatoes are uncooked)
6 strips of bacon, cooked and crumbled like bacon bits (omit to make vegan)

In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the onion and saute. If the potatoes are uncooked, add and stir for 1 minute. Add 3 cups water (possibly more) until potatoes are covered. Let simmer for 15 minutes, check periodically to make sure potatoes are still covered by water.

Add 2 cups Chicken stock or milk (milk will make for a creamier soup, and arguably make this more of a chowder). Using an immersion blender, blend your soup until it is creamy. Add the crumbled bacon. Serve immediately with warm bread.

Couple Notes:
* I used leftover potatoes (and incidentally a few carrots and bits of garlic) from the Roast Chicken with Root Veggies. I also had some leftover mashed potatoes from a bagel recipe (which I'll post soon) and some leftover baked potato and sweet potato from a meal a couple weeks ago that my kids just wouldn't eat. I had just tossed the leftovers into a ziploc bag and into the freezer. You'll find if you save bits of leftovers like these, you'll quickly come up with enough for a whole meal - no reason to throw away a whole meal just because it presents itself in pieces.

*  If you are making this vegan, add some salt and potentially some more veggies - carrots, garlic, sweet potato to give the soup some more flavor. The longer you saute them, the more flavor you'll have. Potatoes and veggie stock won't create the same result on their own. If you like veggie bacon, add that, too.

* If the soup is too thick, add some more liquid - milk, water, or chicken stock. If it's too thin, add some more raw veggies and let them cook. Blend again. I just don't recommend blending bacon - bacon is meant to be eaten in recognizable form.


Roast Tomato & Red Pepper Risotto with Spicy Sausage

So, I did a terrible job posting this week - but we still ate. You can expect a flurry of retro-active posts in the next 24 hours.

I also decided to put up recipes right now, and add pictures when I make the recipe again. Anyone who has done a cooking blog knows the pictures are the most time-consuming part, and anyone who has read a cooking blog know the pictures are the most time-saving part. We'll meet in the middle - I'll give you pictures, but later. And going forward, I'll try and be better about taking pictures.

Here's one of my top favorite meals for the moment (and with a few changes, it can be a gluten-free vegan meal.):

Roast Tomato and Red Pepper Risotto with Spicy Sausage 

2 c Risotto/Arborio Rice
2 Tbs butter
2-4 c Homemade Chicken Stock 
4 c Roast Tomato & Red Pepper Base
1/2 lb of your favorite sausage (spicy is recommended, though not required) (omit to make dish vegetarian. Omit butter, and instead use olive oil, to make the dish vegan)

In a skillet, cook the sausage. Set aside for later.

In a deep saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the risotto to the butter and stir continuously for 1-2 minutes.

Add 1 cup of the Tomato and Red Pepper Base. Stir continuously. When the sauce is absorbed by the rice, add 1 cup of the Chicken Stock. Again, stir continuously until all liquid is absorbed.

Repeat until the rice is done, alternating between 1 cup Tomato Base and 1 cup Chicken Stock. Add the sausage and let sit for 15 min before serving.

There you go - it really is that simple. A couple notes on Risotto:

* You may need more or less liquid than is called here, Risotto is a bit of an experiment in terms of exact ratios. The general principle is to add liquid 1 cup at a time until the Risotto is done. If you use less than what is called for here - no problem. If you need more than what is called for here, but have run out of Stock and Base, just use water or milk - still 1 cup at a time. Water will turn out a fairly similar product (unless you have to use 3cups or more) and milk will make a creamier, richer end product. 

* Yes, you do need to buy special rice to make risotto. Risotto grains are shorter and fatter, which makes for a fluffier and more moist finished produce. Regular rice cooked this way may turn out softer but will definitely not have the creamy texture risotto is known (and loved) for.  Look for Risotto Rice or Arborio. Most major grocery stores will have one or the other.

*  Risotto has such a nice texture because the liquid is added so gradually. I know it's tempting to dump all that liquid in at once and leave it. Don't. Stand there patiently at the stove, stirring almost constantly, and adding liquid 1 cup at a time. It is VERY worth the wait, and a cup of pre-dinner red wine makes it arguably enjoyable. Have toddlers? Now's the time for those precious 30 min of TV.

* Risotto is done when the rice is soft. If your sauce is opaque enough, you may be able to see the grains become more see-through instead of white. If your sauce is more thick, a simple taste should do the trick. In my opinion, the softer the better - no one likes a crunchy risotto.

* Risotto tastes better over time. It's great to let your Risotto sit for 15 min before serving to allow the flavors time to blend together. I use a stainless steel pot when making risotto, and put the covered pot in a pre-warmed over after the risotto is done (warmed, not hot). It's totally not necessary to let your risotto sit, but if you need to/can, it will taste even better. If it's a bit dried out, add a bit more liquid and stir - should do the trick.

* For a creamier version of this recipe, use milk in place of half the chicken stock.

* Yummy add-ons include fresh garlic, basil, or cream. 

* You can really add the cooked sausage to the risotto at any time, the earlier you add it, the stronger the sausage flavor will be. I think it's nice to let the spicy sausage be a complement to the Roast Tomato and Red Pepper flavor, not dominating the dish - but some of you sausage lovers may prefer more sausage flavor. Sausage away. 


Monday, January 21, 2013

It's a flop!

A note to readers - this entry is meant to encourage those of you who think "I'm a terrible cook". Sometimes, so am I.

Sometimes great things happen in my kitchen. This weekend alone, the Greek Fruit and Nut Pastries were a hit, homemade bagels (using a new recipe) turned out stupendously, a homemade pizza night with friends solicited a "this is the best homemade pizza I've ever had" from a person who works at a pizza place, and my first attempt at homemade yogurt was gobbled up by the kids and hubby. All recipes of aforementioned yummies to follow.

However, dinner tonight was a flop. I mean, fat man in a Speedo from the high dive flop. 100% splat.

I'm including this recipe as a warning - don't ever make this. Ok, if you love blue cheese, then you might like this. But otherwise, don't do it.

The quote from the husband after dinner (when I offered him the salad I hadn't eaten - which was about half of it) "that's ok, I'm full. It was good though." me: "oh, ok, do you want it in your lunch tomorrow?" Hubs: "no, it wasn't that good. I mean, I wouldn't ever want to eat this salad again in this form. Maybe if you changed some of the ingredients." (in which case it wouldn't be the same salad). Point made. Not a repeat.

Here's the salad to make if you don't like your dinner guests and don't want them to ever ask to come over again:

Roast Pear and Blue Cheese Salad 
1 pear, sliced 
2 tsp honey
2 tsp olive oil 
1/2 tsp coriander (this should've been my warning sign - coriander and blue cheese?)
salt & pepper to taste
4 oz blue cheese, crumbled
3 oz assorted lettuce 
1/8 c walnut pieces

Preheat the oven to 450F. 

In a bowl, toss the sliced pear in the honey, olive oil, coriander, and salt and pepper. Pour on a baking sheet and bake until golden, approx 10 minutes.

While the pear is roasting, place the lettuce in salad bowls (or your serving mechanism of choice) and drizzle with 1 tsp olive oil and 1 tsp lime juice. Add the walnut pieces and toss lightly. 

Remove the roast pears from the oven, distribute evenly over the salad, sprinkle the salad with blue cheese and any remaining juices from the roast pear pan (terrible descriptor - too tired to change it). Serve immediately. 

I mean, march your arse to the table immediately - cause that lettuce is gonna wilt faster than you can take a bite. On second thought, don't waste time walking to the table. Eat immediately. 

There you have it, there you go - the worst salad I've ever made. And yes, I based it on a recipe in a great cookbook. I'm not taking full credit for this terrible idea, the blame is shared. 

A special thanks to my husband for finishing his salad, and for waiting a polite hour before telling me he was still hungry and would like a bagel...I hope all cooks have as gracious an eater around when their cooking flops.

Here's to hoping tomorrow nights soup is much, much better than tonight's salad.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Roast Tomato & Red Pepper Base

I first started doing this little recipe when I wanted to make a soup, and it was a massive success. Potentially the yummiest invented thing to come from my kitchen yet. After the soup was such a success, I thought I'd experiment with what else this recipe was good for - risotto was a massive hit.

Within the next couple weeks, I'm sure we'll make the Roast Red Pepper and Tomato Soup, but for right now I just wanted to give you the base recipe since I'm using it this week to make a risotto.

Roast Red Pepper and Tomato Base 

2 Red peppers, de-seeded and quartered
5 lbs tomatoes, halved
1 bulb garlic, head shaved off (in other words, just cut a bit off the top of the entire bulb so you can see into some of the individual cloves)
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450F.

Spread the red peppers and tomatoes closely on a 9x13 cookie sheet with sides (alternatively, you could use a roasting pan or 9x13 baking dish- really anything that is oven proof and will hold about 1/2' deep of liquid). Drizzle with olive oil.

Drizzle the bulb of garlic with olive oil and wrap tightly in foil - make sure the garlic can't be seen, feel free to go a bit overboard on the foil wrapping here. Place the foil-wrapped bulb of garlic on the baking sheet with the peppers and tomatoes.

Place the baking sheet in the oven. Leave for 2hours approximately, or until tomatoes and red peppers have sufficiently roasted. You'll be able to tell because they'll be quite soft, shriveled, and maybe even a bit blackened on the edges (no problem!)

Remove from the oven and, if not using immediately, allow to cool.

Unwrap the garlic and squeeze the garlic from the shell into a deep bowl. The garlic should be a soft paste, and will have a very warm garlic smell without the bite often associated with fresh garlic.

Add the tomatoes, peppers, and any juice/oil remaining on the baking pan to the deep bowl. Use your immersion blender to blend the concoction to a smooth soup consistency. If you don't have an immersion blender - see my entry on Sweet Potato and Chili Soup if you're interested in my opinion on immersion blenders. In summary - worth a purchase.

Use immediately in any desired recipe or store in airtight containers in the freezer for up to 6 weeks.

Sourdough Starter

Sourdough bread is delicious, and purportedly not too difficult to make. I've never actually done it, so you're getting invited in on the ground level of this project. I researched a few recipes, and here's what you'll need:

Sourdough Starter 
* 1 Tbs active dry yeast
* 2 c warm water (110-115F)
* 2 c wheat flour

Combine all ingredients in a non-metal/non-plastic bowl or container (large mason jar, ceramic bowl, etc). Mix well. Cover with a towel and put in a draft-free, not too cold place for 48 hours. Stir down occasionally (in other words, if it's working right, it'll puff up and you'll need to stir it to keep it from bubbling over to the counter).

There you go, you've started your starter. In 48 hours, seal it and move it to the fridge. We're using it in 48 hours for Sourdough Bread, and I'll post a recipe then with further instructions. Good job :)

Week #2 Meal Plan

Well, we made it through Week #1. Let's see how Week #2 goes. After a week of doing this, I have a few thoughts:
* this is going to save a lot of money. Total grocery bill for last week came to about $80. A little higher than my target goal, but there were quite a few things I bought last week in bulk and those items are going to be used next week. After doing my grocery shopping for this week, the total looks like it will be around $60 - though I'm sure a milk run will need to happen at some point.
* If you are cooking along with me - do it a week behind. It's just going to be easier as I sometimes change meal plans last minute, remember ingredients I forgot, or experience a terrible recipe that you won't want to waste your time repeating.

This weeks meal plan:

Sunday - Salad Night
* Pear and Blue Cheese Salad

Monday -
* Roast Tomato and Sausage Risotto (to do your prep in advance - up to 1 month in advance, read Roast Tomato & Red Pepper Base)

Tuesday - Soup Night
* Potato and Bacon Chowder
* Homemade Sourdough Bread (Starter should be made 2 days in advance)

Wednesday - Veggie Night
* Beans and Rice (leftovers from a couple weeks ago) 

Thursday night
* Soy Sauce Chicken, Blueberry Poppyseed Muffins, Carrots

Friday - Leftovers

Saturday - no plan

* Banana Bread
* Homemade Donuts
* Homemade yogurt and granola

* leftovers
* mac n cheese (it's a weekly staple - my kids love it. It's easy. It's cheap. It's massively unhealthy. Love it.)
* mini pizzas with failed homemade pitas as the crust

Grab Bag
* homemade yogurt
* homemade donuts & banana bread
* crackers & hummus
* maybe, maybe homemade mozzarella or string cheese?

The grocery list:
[Key: *already have it in my kitchen]

Milk - 2 gallons
Butter - 4 cups
Bananas - 8
Blue Cheese
Pears - 3
Mixed lettuce

Chicken (can be whole or already cut)*
Yogurt - natural *
Potatoes* - I'm using the leftovers from the Roast Chicken
Soy Sauce*
Star Aniseseed*
Baking soda*
Olive Oil *
Whole Wheat Flour*
Oat bran*
Pizza Sauce*
Baking soda*
Baking powder* 

I think that's it - though I often go back through and realize I've forgotten something on this list; another reason to do this a week behind.

Last night we did homemade pizza night, I'll post a recipe soon, but for now I'm just going to refer you to this amazing no rise pizza dough recipe. The listed recipe is for a 12" pizza, so to make 4 large pizzas last night I made 6x the recipe, and actually used part wheat flour to give it a bit more character and nutritious value. I haven't tried it yet, but this dough should freeze fairly well - maybe we'll try that next week.

Anyway - hope you're looking forward to the meals of the week! I know I am.

If you're going to do this week in full, you'll need to go ahead and make your sour dough starter for your soup Tuesday night. It needs about 48 hours to sit. It takes about 5 minutes to make your starter, so there's no real cooking required today but do make sure you make the starter today if you want to have sourdough bread with soup on Tuesday.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Chicken Tikka and Homemade Pitas

I did it again - I changed the meal plan. A quick glance in the freezer revealed there wasn't as much leftover pasta and sauce I thought there was - so the hubby got it in his lunch for today and I came up with a quick plan B: Chicken Tikka and Homemade Pita Bread.

Part of being a great cook is knowing what ingredients you have on hand to make a last minute meal. Meal planning is ideal, and that's the goal of this whole Year of Cooking - but sometimes life happens and the plan goes out the window. On these nights, bad day back-ups are a good idea, as is take out. But if you're not up for either, being familiar with your kitchen and pantry will make all the difference in the world.

So, here's the skinny on tonight's dinner.

I was going to use a pita recipe from a cookbook, til I read it through and realized it was terrible - water to flour ratios were all wrong, the pitas were fried instead of baked - yuck, yuck, yuck. (I mean, maybe yum on some level, but not what I was looking for). Unfortunately, I read the recipe after I'd started the yeast. So, I decided it was time to do my first experimental baking project. The result? 25% absolute success - 2 out of the 8 pitas turned out perfectly, and the others are good. My conclusion - I have a great recipe and just need to tweak a couple details (which I include in the recipe below).

Homemade Pitas
1 1/2 c warm water (approx 110F)
1 Tbs active dry yeast
1 Tbs sugar
1 Tbs olive oil
3 cup flour (any combination of white and whole wheat - I did 2 white, 1 whole wheat. The more whole wheat you do, the heavier the pitas will be.)
1 Tbs salt

Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in a bowl. See my entry on Bagels if you have questions about how to active yeast. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, until the yeast activates.

Add the oil, flour, and salt - mix well. You'll probably want to use your hands, pita is a bread after all. Your result should be a soft, not-too-sticky dough. If your dough is too dry, add extra water (1tsp at a time). If your dough is too sticky, add flour - a little bit at a time. Once your dough has reached the described consistency, divide it into 8 equal pieces.

Set the pieces on a baking sheet covered in parchment paper. Cover with a tea towel and let sit for 1 hour in a warm place.

Preheat the oven to 450F. If you have a baking stone, now is the time to use it. If you don't - it's worth investing in if you want to do much bread or pizza making. Just as with stainless steel pots and pans, buy your baking stone from a restaurant depot store near you - much cheaper. Place the baking stone in the oven near the center of the oven. If you aren't using a baking stone, just use a cookie sheet.

On a well-floured surface, roll out each pita to approx 7" diameter. Do not stack, as they will rise a little bit more while you roll out the rest.

Once your oven is warmed, place the pitas in the oven 2-3 at a time (more or less depending on the size of your baking stone) for approx 3 minutes. The pitas should each get massive air bubbles inside of them - like turn into one giant air bubble. If it's been longer than 4 minutes, your pita probably isn't going to puff - congratulations, you have a mini pizza crust ready for another time. As soon as your pita puffs all the way up, it'll sigh (literally looks like it's sighing) and then it's ready to come out of the oven.

Remove the pita, place on a plate, and cover with a cloth. Repeat with your remaining pitas. Clarification for the clueless cook - you can stack all the pitas on top of each other on the same plate.

Viola - your pitas are finished! Serve warm or let cool to use at a later time.

This is essentially the same recipe we did the other night when we made Chicken Tikka Masala - except I left out the lime (because I was out) and we aren't going to do the Masala part. So, follow the Chicken Tikka recipe only.

I'm using the left over chicken from the Roast Chicken on Sunday night, and mixed it up earlier this afternoon so the flavors could blend nicely.

I'll be serving it with lettuce and a yogurt sauce made from natural yogurt, chopped fresh tomatoes, and a pinch of cumin.

There you have it, there you! Quick fix dinner - and it should be delicious!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sweet Potato & Chilies Soup

Soup night of week #1. I chose Sweet Potato soup since I knew I would have extra sweet potatoes after Roast Root Veggie Salad night.

After eating it, I would rate it as a good soup - but not a great one. We'll make it again later this winter, but I think I may try it with roast walnuts and nutmeg instead of chilies. With that said, this is a good soup recipe, and definitely has a unique, sweet & spicy flavor. Definitely worth a try.

Sweet Potato & Chilies Soup 

1/2 yellow onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (more or less depending on desired spiciness)
1 tsp paprika
5 cups sweet potatoes, diced
4 cups chicken stock
* alternatively, you could use vegetable stock to make this a vegetarian meal

In a soup pot, saute the onion, garlic, red pepper, and paprika until slowly browned. Add the diced sweet potato and saute until slightly browned. In my opinion, the longer you let the sweet potatoes saute, the nicer flavor you'll have. Think sweet potato fries turned into soup - um, yummy.

When the sweet potatoes are nicely browned (or whenever you want, really) add the 4 cups stock. Reduce heat to low and allow soup to simmer for approx 20 minutes, or until sweet potatoes are soft. Using an immersion blender, blend the soup to a creamy consistency.  Alternatively, if you don't have an immersion blender - turn off the soup, get in your car, and go buy one. Come home, turn the soup back on, use your new immersion blender. Stand in wonder at the fact you ever made homemade soup without an immersion blender.

Ok, in all seriousness - making creamy soups without an immersion blender is possible, but definitely more laborious and messy. However, if you don't have an immersion blender or don't want one, just transfer the soup to the blender in batches, blend, and then return to the stove once it's all blended.

Once your soup is blended, in whatever way you chose to blend - it is ready to serve. It's delicious with warm bread, sourdough would be amazing.

There you go - pretty easy. Also a great recipe for a quick meal at home.

Make ahead tips:
* do all your chopping anytime within 24 hours before you make the soup, put the sweet potatoes in water if you are chopping them more than an hour before use.

Let me know what you think, and I'll let you know when we do it again with roasted walnuts and nutmeg! I think it'll be like Christmas in a bowl...

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Chicken Stock

This post should have gone up yesterday, but here it is today. I guarantee making your own chicken stock will have multiple benefits:
- you'll save lots of money
- your chicken stock will taste better
- your cooking options will expand
- your guests will be impressed
- you'll feel satisfied knowing you didn't let anything go to waste

Now, remember that Roast Chicken from earlier in the week? Time to use it (and really you should do this step within 24 hours of making the Roast Chicken.) Take the leftover chicken and remove as much meat from the bones as you possibly can. Depending on how many people you fed/how much you ate when you first made the Roast Chicken, you will get anywhere between 1-4 cups of chicken.

Put the chicken in a sealed container in a cold part of the fridge, we're using it in a couple nights for Indian Food - Chicken Tikka Masala, to be exact. If you have more chicken leftover than what is called for in that dinner, put it in a ziplock bag and place it in the freezer. We'll use it within the next couple weeks.

Now, all the non-meat bits of the chicken? Yes ALL of them - toss them in a pot. If your Roast Chicken turned out the same way mine did, you should have several cups of broth left in the bottom of your stock pot. Add the non-meat chicken bits to that broth. You can literally add everything - the bones, any innards, any skin, any leftover garlic/carrots/potatoes clinging to the chicken. Add approximately 8 cups of water and place on the stove on medium heat, once it reaches a bowl, reduce heat to low and let stock simmer for about an hour.

Turn off the stove and let the stock cool to room temperature. Pour the stock into containers with tight sealing lids (preferably glass - being sure to leave an inch or two at the top for expansion, otherwise your jars will explode in the freezer. Bummer) and place in the freezer. I find it useful to freeze the stock in jars of various sizes so I can thaw an appropriate amount for the right recipe. Canning jars work incredibly well, as do any glass jars. I also sometimes use washed out juice cartons (plastic ones) to store a larger quantity of stock.

From this chicken, I pulled enough chicken for 3 meals and made 12 cups of stock.

Now that is a well used $6 chicken.

As a side note - feel free to add any other veggies or seasoning to your stock. Popular options include celery (or celery leaves), carrots, onions, garlic, salt, and/or pepper. Have fun!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Palak Paneer, Naan, & Chicken Tikka Masala

Here's why you should follow this a week behind me, and not try and do this on the same timeline - I changed the meal plan tonight.

I followed one piece of my own advice (cook to what you have in your kitchen) because I didn't follow all of my other advice, and didn't have all the ingredients on hand I needed :) Oops.

The result of the change was fantastic, though, and we'll do butter chicken another time.

Ok, here's the deal - this entry could take me hours. I mean, hours. But I'm not up for hours of writing, so here's what I'll do - I'm including the 5 recipes you need to make this meal, and a couple pics. If/when I make this again, I'll clean this entry up a bit, and add some more pictures.

These recipes are inspired by Shubhra Ramineni's Entice with Spice . If you're looking to get into Indian cooking - this is the cookbook to start with. My other sister-in-law got this cookbook for me that Christmas I was telling you's a great book.

Do ahead prep specific for this meal
* all your chopping - garlic, onions, ginger. Chop it as much as a day before
* spice measuring - when making Indian food, I often get a little bowl and measure out all the spices needed for each dish. Label them - no, seriously - label them, and then when you're actually combining your ingredients, you can just pick up your bowl of spices and toss them in. This saves an immense amount of time when you're actually cooking, because you aren't messing with bottles and bottles of spice.
* The Naan dough needs 5 hours to sit - you can cook them ahead of time and rewarm them, so if you work/won't be home until just before dinner time, consider making them ahead of time.
* Indian food reheats incredibly well - don't be afraid to make any of these dishes in their entirety 24 hours before you need them. They'll just taste better.

With no further ado - your recipes (in order of most efficient cooking if making them all at once) - 


{I doubled this entire recipe, as the actual rolling/baking part is short, and the other dishes produce leftovers.}

1 1/4 c flour
1/4 tsp dry active yeast
1/4 tsp salt
2 tsp plain yogurt
1 Tbs oil, plus extra for brushing
1/4 c- 1/2 c warm water

Combine dry ingredients in a bowl, then add the wet ingredients. Knead thoroughly until all ingredients are mixed well.

Form dough into a ball and put in a greased container. Cover and put in a warm place for 5 hours to allow to rise - dough should almost double in size.

Once the dough has risen, place a baking sheet (preferably a baking stone) on the top shelf of the oven, and preheat oven to 500F. If you are using a baking stone, I recommend covering with foil to help protect your baking stone.

Remove the dough from a bowl and separate into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece out into an oval shape - approx 8 in by 4 in.

Remove the baking sheet from the oven (if you're using a baking stone - I recommend just pulling the rack part way out of the oven - you don't want to risk dropping a hot baking stone on the floor, or in my case - a 2yr old) and place the rolled out naans on the sheet. The naan will puff up about 2 inches, but won't spread out, so you can put them close together.

Turn the oven from bake to broil and close the oven. Bake for about 3 minutes, though it could be dramatically less depending on the closeness of your top rack to your broiler, heat of your oven, thickness of your naan, etc - watch carefully to avoid burning.

Remove the naan from the oven, spread with oil or butter (and a little garlic if you like), wrap in foil until dinner is ready to serve.

Don't worry if your naan are a bit crunchy when they come out of the oven, they'll soften with the added butter/oil and being wrapped in foil.


Palak Paneer 

This recipe is fantastic, but requires some pre-work - making cheese. It's incredibly easy, here you go (again from Entice with Spice)


4 c whole milk
2 tsp lime or lemon juice
{that's your ingredients list - still intimidated?}

Pour the milk into a large saucepan, making sure pan is not too full as milk will bubble up.

Bring the milk to a boil, watching carefully to make sure milk doesn't boil over out of the saucepan. Once the milk reaches a boil, add the lemon juice, reduce the heat, and stir until the milk separates. 
Remember hearing about 'curds and whey'? Here they are! The curds are the chunky bits, the whey is the watery bit left behind. The lemon/lime juice (vinegar is a good substitute, if necessary) cause the milk to curdle, separating the two - amazing!

**If you have toddlers, this is an excellent process for them to watch!

Once the curds and whey have separated, remove the saucepan from the stove. Line a strainer/colander with cheesecloth or a thin tea towel (flour sack tea towels work beautifully and are an amazing addition to a kitchen in general). Pour all of the contents of the saucepan into the lined colander/strainer - catching the curds as the whey goes through. Let the liquid continue to drain out for about a minute.

Gather the cloth around the cheese, and press against the side of the colander to press out any extra liquid. Unwrap the cheese and shape into a neat block - square or circle, doesn't matter, just tuck in all the loose bits. Rewrap with the cheese cloth and set on a plate, with some weight on top (a heavy bowl, perhaps?) to drain out any extra weigh - leave for 1-2 hours.

Remove cheese from the cloth and put in the fridge in an airtight container until you need it. For the recipe we're making, I recommend cutting the cheese into cubes, and pan-frying it in a skillet until browned.

Sauce for Palak Paneer 

1 large bag baby spinach
2 ripe tomatoes, diced
1/2 small sweet onion, diced
1/2 tsp turmeric
1/8 tsp cayenne epper
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
3Tbs butter
1 1/2 tsp grated giner
1/2 c plain yogurt (you can use heavy cream, but yogurt makes this recipe healthier)
1/2 tsp masala (you can omit this, if you like)

In a skillet, saute the spinach, onions, and tomatoes in 1Tbs oil. Stir until the tomatoes have cooked down and are quite soft. Remove from heat and put in a blender (or, if you have an immersion blender, transfer to a stainless steel sauce pan). Add ginger and all other spices. Blend until you have a thick paste/sauce. If needed, transfer to a sauce pan - return saucepan to the stove and place over medium heat. Add 3 Tbs butter and 1/2 c plain yogurt. Stir well in order to blend all the ingredients. Add cheese you made earlier and mix well - taking care not to break up the cheese. Serve immediately or remove from heat and store in the fridge for up to 2 days. Yummy!

Chicken Tikka Masala

Alright - this dish is amazing. I mean amazing. Wanna know what's even more amazing? We're using the chicken from earlier this week. That's right, I never told you what to do with the rest of that chicken did I? Well, I'll put in an entry tomorrow on Chicken Stock - but bottom line is this - remove all the meat from your leftover roast chicken and keep it in the fridge, we're using it tonight!

4 Tbs olive oil
2 clove garlic
2 tsp lime juice
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground coriander
3/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp cayenne
3/4 tsp salt
4 Tbs plain yogurt
2 cups chicken, cut into bite size

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mix well and let marinate for 2-12 hours (depending on your schedule and availability - yeah for flexibility!). Remove and put on baking sheet lined with foil or baking rack. Heat oven to 400F, pour chicken onto baking sheet and spread out evenly - place in oven and cook for 15minutes, until slightly browned.

Masala Sauce 

3Tbs vegetable oil
2 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
1 medium sweet onion, finely chopped
1 ripe tomato, chopped

Combine in a small bowl:
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1 tsp parika
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
3/4 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp cinnamon

Remove the sauteed onion, ginger, and tomato from the stove and blend - using a traditional blender or an immersion blender. Return sauce to saucepan, add spices.

Add to above sauce:
3Tbs butter
1/4 c plain yogurt
2 cups chicken mentioned above.

Mix thoroughly. Heat to simmering.

Serve immediately, or store in an airtight container in the fridge until you're ready to use it. It should keep for 3-5 days.


So - there you go - Indian cooking at its finest. This really is a delicious meal, and makes great leftovers! I also served this with some plain rice, which is a nice addition to any sauce-based meals.

One tip for cooking this meal -
Prep the Palak Paneer and Chicken Tikka Masala as much as possible in advance; the naan take a lot of focus when they actually go in the oven, and frantically running around trying to finish all 4 dishes at once will be pretty stressful. Try and get the first two dishes done, and your rice started, before you start baking the naan. Then - when your naan is done, dinner can just be transferred to the table, hopefully reducing your stress.

I'd love to hear how this goes! Let me know if you give this a shot - I'm sure it'll be fabulous! If you're intimated by attempting the whole meal - find your favorite Indian place, order take-out (minus one of your regular dishes), and make just one of these dishes.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad with Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette

Whew! Last nights post exhausted me, I mean - exhausted me. So, tonight's will be much shorter.

Tonight is salad night, and I picked a new salad recipe from The Rodale Wholefood Cookbook and made a few changes. It's an amazing cookbook, given to me a few years ago when I asked for cookbooks for Christmas (warning, if you ask for cookbooks for Christmas, they will come - I think I got 12 cookbooks that year. All great cookbooks, but still - 12 cookbooks.) If you're looking for one cookbook to round out your whole kitchen, Rodale Wholefood Cookbook is for you.

Alright - here's the recipe:

Roasted Root Vegetable Salad 

6 baby carrots, cut into matchsticks (2 grown up carrots)
1 russet potato, cubed
2 sweet potatoes, cut into matchsticks
4 shallots, halved (1/4 yellow onion, sliced thinly & separated)
1 Tbs olive oil
3 cups arugula (mixed greens - no arugula at the store, sad)
Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette
Salt & Pepper
1/2 c crumbled feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 475F

In a large bowl, combine the carrots, potatoes, parsnips, and shallots. Drizzle with the oil and toss well to coat. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, or until tender. Let cool to room temperature.

In a salad bowl, toss the arugula and root vegetables with the dressing. Seasons with salt and pepper to taste. Serve sprinkled with feta.

Ok - before you say "ok, that is totally not the same recipe - almost every major ingredient was substituted with something else" - let me say, You're right, it is. And here's my point - I substituted with what I had on hand, what was most accessible at my nearest market, and what was closest to the original recipe out of those options. Now, if I had used green beans and beets in this salad, it would absolutely not be the same (though I think roast beets would be a great addition...).

Tips for Cooking! Part of being a great cook is being comfortable substituting in your available/preferred ingredients in lieu of an ingredient listed in the original recipe. Cooking exactly to the recipe is a great way to spend lots of extra money making that one dish with those 6 random, absurdly expensive ingredients, or a lot of extra time hunting down arugula when you live in Tinyville. A happy cook, a financially stable cook, is a good cook (or at least a better one than their alternative).

Alright - back to the Salad Dressing, recipe based on Rodale.

Lemon-Dijon Vinaigrette
Makes generous 1/4 cup

2 Tbs lemon juice
1/2 Tbs apple cider vinegar
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/4 tsp coarse salt
6 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil (I think my olive oil is less virgin than some...but, I'm not judging)

In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Slowly whisk in the oil.

And there you have it, there you go. From the nibbles I've had (waiting for the kids to go to bed so the hubby and I can have an "in date night" after he put in a 12 hour work 'weekend' this past weekend) this salad is amazing! We'll probably repeat it later this year with some other roasted yummies on top (beets and walnuts, anyone?)

Alright, off to post this so I can tuck in my babies and be with the hubs. Enjoy!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Roast Chicken with Root Veggies

This meal is one of my favorites - it will impress your guests to no end, and takes almost no effort (I just finished writing the post - 'no effort' is a lie, but 'less effort than you think' might be true...). Before you start thinking "it looks like mini-Thanksgiving!" let me reassure you, chicken is much easier to cook than a Thanksgiving bird - namely because of the size. It doesn't take nearly as long to prep or bake and is much less cumbersome.

So - let's get started! Before we do, let me explain one thing about this Year of Cooking - I think one reason a lot of people don't like to cook is not because they don't like to eat, not because it takes too much time, and not because they can't find or follow a recipe. I think people don't like to cook largely because it takes them so much time, and always creates such a mess. I hate that about cooking, too! Subsequently, throughout this series, I'll give tips for quicker, neater cooking - being a good cook is not just about the dish you produce, it's also about the way you run your kitchen. A well run kitchen makes cooking enjoyable! Immensely!

Tip for quick cooking - get all of your ingredients gathered before you start cooking. More importantly, and yes seriously, more importantly - start with a clean kitchen. Mess on top of mess adds to stress, accidents, and slow-downs when that perfect spoon is still dirty from yesterday. And, if you feel so inclined, try to clean as you go - dirty dishes straight in the sink, ingredients put away as they are used, etc - it makes the clean up easier, and your cooking process less cluttered. At least - that's what I've found.

A couple pre-cooking tips specific for this recipe:
* take the chicken out of the fridge a couple hours before you're ready to put it in the oven, (no more than 2hrs before - poultry diseases are nothing to mess around with). An hour or two will help the meat come to room temperature, which will make it more pleasant to work with, and reduce cooking time.
* chop the potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic anytime within 12 hours before you're ready to cook. If it's going to be more than 30 min before you actually put the dish together, submerge the chopped veggies in water (if more than an hour, put them in the fridge). They'll stay fresh, and chopping ahead of time will dramatically reduce your work later (aka - make this recipe attainable for those of you who work or have toddlers) - as it's really the most time consuming bit of the prep.
*Prep your area prior to working with the chicken. Raw chicken is no child's toy, so make sure you have out all of the aforementioned gear and ingredients before you start cutting.

note - size of veggies at approx 1 inch

Roast Chicken with Root Veggies

1 med size chicken, whole including giblets (the innards - yuck!)
3 large potatoes (any kind is fine, I used Russet because they're cheaper - red, yellow, or yukon would also be perfect. Fingerling potatoes would be A+ for presentation, taste great, and minimize your cook time) 
4 med size carrots (again, baby carrots would be fine, and no chopping required) 
1/2 large onion 
4-6 cloves fresh garlic
salt (approx 3Tbs) 
olive oil (approx 4Tbs) 
rosemary (optional)

Gear needed
* Stove-top/Oven-proof pan with lid - If you don't have one, a skillet and a 9x13 baking dish will work just fine. But if you have a stainless steel stock pot, or a Dutch oven - now is your time!
* Knife
* Plate/small bowl for giblets/excess chicken (to save for making stock later)
* Large plate for prepping chicken

Preheat the oven to 400F.


Remove the chicken from it's packaging. Remove the giblets and any large excess portions of fat from the chicken, set aside. Note - depending on what kind of chicken you buy, the giblets may be nicely pre-packaged in a separate little bag, or alternatively, may be inside the chest cavity of the chicken. If this is the case, remove the giblets by reaching inside the back-end of the chicken. If your chicken has any residual feathers or dirt (which it shouldn't, but occasionally happens) just rinse the whole thing off under the tap for a minute - not to worry! 

 Set the chicken on a large plate and begin pulling the skin back from the meat - gently. The goal is to create space between the skin and the meat but do not remove the skin from the chicken completely. You don't need the skin sagging away from the meat, just open enough to slide in some garlic gloves, salt, and if you have it on hand - rosemary.

Make sure you separate the skin from the meat on both sides of the chicken, and around the wings and legs as much as possible. Once the skin is separated, but not removed, slide some sliced garlic, salt, and any other herbs of your choice under the skin. You don't want to stuff the area between the skin and the meat - just put some little bits of flavor inside.


Why are we doing this? Well, because it's delicious. The skin helps hold in the natural moisture of the meat (dried out chicken is terrible), and adds a nice little bit of extra flavor because of the amount of fat in the skin. The garlic, salt, and other herbs of your choice will help infuse the meat with a nice flavor - but because we didn't put in too much, won't overpower it.

Ok - if you made it this far and you're still interested in doing this meal - stop for a minute. Pat yourself on the back, go pour yourself a glass of wine (even if it's only 3pm) - you're an amazing cook. Anyone who's willing to do this, is an amazing cook. Even if you ruin it your first try :)

If you're not willing to do this, and you're still reading - go pour yourself a glass of wine, drink it. Pour yourself another. Now read this again, and try!! You can do it, and if you fail on the skin separating bit, you can still toss the chicken in the oven with the veggies for a couple hours and create an amazing meal!

Alright - back to the recipe.
So pretty!

Take some of your chopped root veggies (and any remaining garlic), and put them inside the cavity of the chicken. It doesn't need to be stuffed, but full - these will also help create a wonderful sweet flavor in your chicken. Extra onion inside the chicken is a great idea.

Put 1-2 Tbs of olive oil in the bottom of your stockpot and pre-heat on the stove top. Place the chicken directly in the pot and allow the bottom side to brown for approx 30seconds. Using your hands (as the chicken shouldn't be too hot yet), grab the legs of the chicken and gently pull the chicken up from the pot, turn over, and place back in the pot in order to brown the other side. Again, brown for about 30 seconds.

Un-browned side

After the flip - browned.

Note 1 - if you are doing this without a stove-top/oven friendly pot, brown the chicken in a skillet, then transfer to your baking dish. Nothing else is different.

Note 2 - if the above step sounds too hard, skip it. Put the olive oil in the bottom of the pot, pour in the veggies, and plop the chicken on top. Drizzle it all with a little bit of extra olive oil, salt, and (if you have it) fresh ground black pepper. Continue with the below directions.

Turn off the heat, using a long wooden spoon (or utensil of your choice) slightly lift the chicken from the pot and put some of the root veggies underneath. Let the chicken rest on top of the root veggies, and pour any remaining veggies over the chicken.

Once your chicken and veggies are all in the stock pot, cover the pot tightly (preferably with a lid, though if you don't have a lid, foil will suffice - be generous)

Place the pot/Dutch oven/baking dish in the oven (towards the middle, if possible) and let cook for approx 2 hours (depending on the size of your bird, it may be closer to 1 1/2 hours).

While I waited, we made some of those delicious chocolate chip oatmeal cookies I promised to make this week. Recipe here. Then we ate some. A lot. Yum. Only complaint on this recipe - dough is so stiff!!! Next time, I may melt the butter, or dramatically soften it. (note - I made them again and melted the better. Totally different cookie. Much chewier, much less crunchy. Still delicious.) Also - 1hr 5min time includes all the baking time - which isn't really active prep time, in my opinion...

Anyway - while you're eating cookies...Check the chicken every 30 min or so, being sure there is some liquid in the bottom and nothing is burning. The chicken and veggies (combined with the olive oil) should produce enough liquid on their own. However, if your pot looks really dry on the bottom, add 1/2 c water, recover tightly, and check again in 15 min.

After about an hour - hour and a half, check to see if the chicken is done. You can either use a meat thermometer inserted into the breast (poultry is done at 180F, though some say 160F), or you can just use a paring knife to cut into the breast and check the color of the meat. You want white meat, not pink, but some juices are fine - great, actually.

If your chicken isn't as brown on top as you'd like it to be, uncover it, and cook again for 5-10 min - that should the trick, and not dry out your chicken.

It's finished!!!

Once the chicken is done, remove the pot from the oven and let cool for a few minutes. Using a meat fork (or salad fork) and some other sturdy utensil, lift the chicken from the pot and place on a platter - carefully. Pour the veggies around it, and viola - you're a professional chef!

If you like - garnish with some fresh rosemary and fresh ground pepper.

Enjoy with white wine (if you like white wine - I much prefer red), artisan bread (meaning, not sandwich bread), and side salad. We're having Rosemary Bread (bought at the store) and spinach salad (which I'll do a recipe for later).

Now, even though this is incredibly long - this is important as a last note.

Please, please read the upcoming entry on Chicken Stock before you clean up from this meal. You can absolutely use every single bit of that chicken you bought, and fairly effortlessly. If you've made it this far, you owe it to yourself (and that chicken) to do a little bit more work and make the most delicious chicken stock you've ever made.

When we do Roast Red Pepper and Tomato Risotto with Spicy Sausage next week, you'll be glad you did. The Chicken Stock made from this chicken absolutely makes it.

Alright - happy eating and impressing!

Ps - if you wanted a smaller version of this, or an individually plate-able dinner, try this same recipe but with cornish game hens. I've never done it, but the results would be fabulous. Definitely use fingerling potatoes, baby carrots, and pearl onions if you do.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Homemade Granola

Granola is delicious. Homemade granola is even better, and it costs next to nothing to make. For about $2, you can have 2-3 boxes worth of store bought granola. And, it's incredibly hard to mess up.

Here's your recipe:

Homemade Granola

Preheat the oven to 350F & butter/grease a 9x13 baking dish

In a large bowl combine:
10c outmeal 
1c wheat germ 
1/2c flax seed 
3 Tbs cinnamon
2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp allspice

Mix thoroughly.

In a small saucepan combine: 
1 stick/c butter
1 1/2 c brown sugar (you could do less if you wanted less sweet granola) 
1/4 c honey 
2 tsp vanilla (the vanilla will cause the mixture to bubble a bit, so be sure you're using a big enough saucepan, or have a spoon ready to stir)

Heat, stirring often, until ingredients are melted into a thick syrup. Pour over dry ingredients. Stir thoroughly until the dry ingredients are equally coated with the sauce. 

Pour into a buttered 9x13 baking dish. Place in the oven, towards the middle of the oven, for 45 min - stirring every 15 min. If the granola starts to look too brown, or burn on the bottom, turn down the heat or remove the granola from the oven. 

Let the granola cool completely before transferring to an airtight container. 

Note: if you want chunkier granola, don't stir at all after removing from the oven after baking. Let cool completely, then break apart as you transfer to a container/ziploc bag. If you want un-chunky (smooth?) granola - stir thoroughly during the cooling process.

Serving suggestions:
With milk
With yogurt and fresh fruit (my kiddos favorite)

Add dried fruits or nuts before or after the baking process
Add any dried flour/grain with the dry ingredients/in place of some of the dried ingredients- flaxseed, wheat germ, wheat bran, bran flakes, leftover cornflakes, crushed Weetabix. The beautiful thing about granola is you can switch out/add ingredients without much cause for alarm or fear of disaster. I often finish up all those annoying bits of leftover cereals (even raisin bran and rice crispies) in my granola - really the sauce is the most important bit. And with enough cinnamon, honey, and butter - who can go wrong?!

If you come up with a great variation, I'd love to hear about it!

Enjoy :)

Meal Planning 101

If we're really going to do this year of meal planning thing, I should give you a couple pointers on meal planning, and a bit of an insight into my 'creative process'.

Firstly - don't bite off more than you can chew. If you work full time, figure out ways to do crock pot meals, meals in advance, prep in advance, etc. Definitely have those 'bad day back-up' options. If you have little kids, figure out the best time of day to do your meal prep. In our house - predinner hour is children witching hour and so I do as much of my dinner prep during morning 'happy hours' as possible. I also find I can do a lot of prep during lunch time. For my own sanity, I try not to be in the kitchen during nap time - nap time is my time (to watch shows on hulu, eat a lunch in peace and quiet, take a nap, work out, etc).

Secondly - make sure you have all the necessary ingredients in the house before you start cooking. Nothing derails a good meal like not having the ingredients. On a similar note - familiarize yourself with good substitutes (applesauce for oil in baking, for example) so if you do find yourself missing an item you aren't paralyzed with fear/threatened with a shopping trip while the family sits hungry. Lastly - make it a goal to eventually be able to tell which ingredients are crucial to a recipe. Lots of recipes have lists and lists of ingredients, but some of them can be left out without dramatically changing the final product too much (obscure seasonings fall into this category quite often, though definitely not always). This will also save you last minute shopping trips to pick up sesame oil or dried fennel.

Thirdly - plan meals that have ingredients in common. If you're feeling like it's a week for potatoes - embrace the potato theme (homemade french fries, baked potatoes with toppings, mashed potatoes, potato soup, etc). Things are cheaper in bulk, so if you can plan a week of meals with similar ingredients it will save you space, money, and time.

Fourthly - leave a night or two blank. Stuff always comes up, some days cooking is just out of the picture and going out/pizza delivery is an absolute must, there are always more leftovers than you think there will be...there is absolutely no reason to plan 7 meals for 7 days. 4-5 meals for a week (for a family of 4 that hosts others a couple times a week) is perfectly adequate.

One note, before I introduce you to this week's meal plan and shopping list - I usually cook enough for 4-8 adults. Why? I love leftovers. Not always the next day (though my kids get them for lunch, and the hubby takes them to work) but because enough leftovers means another weapon in my arsenal of 'bad day back-ups'. While it may take 20% more time to make a bigger batch, it saves you the other 80% you would spend if you made the same meal twice.

This week's meal excited!!! 

Theme: chicken & root veggies (potatoes, carrots, sweet potatoes, onions, parsnips)

Sunday - Roast Chicken
(this meal will be the base/provide ingredients for several other meals, don't skip it)
* Roast chicken with potatoes, onions, carrots
* Rosemary Bread (Cosco sells an amazing rosemary bread - and while I've made some good ones, this week we'll use, it, like everything at Cosco, comes in a pack of 2 and stays in the freezer quite well for a month or two)

Monday - Salad Night
* Roasted Root Veggie Salad with honey-dijon mustard dressing (salad on Monday night because I'm doing my shopping over the weekend, and don't want the fresh greens to go bad)
* Rosemary Bread (we won't finish the loaf on Sunday night - let's use it again!)

Tuesday - Indian Food 
* Palak Paneer (creamed, spiced spinach with homemade cheese - yup, we're making cheese. You won't believe how easy it is. I mean, it's stupid easy)
* Chicken Tikka Masala (we're using leftover chicken from Sunday night) 
* Naan (I'm making mine this week, but if you want to buy some - Trader Joe's sells great ones. Avoid frozen ones, if you can. The non-frozen ones will stay good on the shelf for a week or so, and in the fridge for a couple weeks, I think)

Wed - Leftovers

Thursday - Soup Night!
* Sweet Potato & Chili (we're using chicken stock we'll make from Sunday night's chicken)
* Rosemary Bread - we'll still have some leftover, but if you don't, just use whatever bread you prefer

Friday - Freezer Meal 
* Pasta with white sauce, artichoke heats, and bacon 
(If you don't already have this in your freezer...which you probably don't, just make sure you get the ** items on the grocery list. I'll put the recipe up for it on Friday to have in our arsenal for later) 

Saturday - Open Night

Non-Meal/Staple Items

Homemade Granola
Greek Fruit and Nut Pastries
Chicken Stock 
Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies

Our Breakfasts
Bagels & cream cheese

Our Lunches
Mac N Cheese
I have no idea what else...I hate lunches

It's a big week, but it should be so much fun! And while you may feel intimidated - this won't take you more than an hour a day to make. I promise. Promise. I dare you. Try it. (most days will probably only be 30 min max)

Shopping List:
# - items not required for this week's dinners, but good to have on hand for other meals/staples

Produce (I do my produce chopping at cheap produce markets, not at mainstream grocery stores where the prices are much higher. Do a yelp search for the nearest produce market near you) - 
Carrots (4)
Ginger (3" piece. I use mine in teas and other things, so you could get much less)
Spinach (large bag)
Arugula or other mixed greens (3c worth - approx)
Shallots (4) (if you have other onions on hand, those will do just fine)
Sweet potatoes (3)
Potatoes (3)
White onion (1)
Red onion (1)
Tomatoes (4)
# Lemon (2 large)
# Pears (6) # (4 of them are for just munching, 2 are for the soup)
# Apples (6)

Whole chicken (yes, you need one with the bones and guts. Be brave!)
Bread (some yummy bread to go with soups)
Whole milk
Cheese Cloth (can be hard to find - try your local grocer, Michaels, or an international food store)
Flour (# if you're buying Naan)
Oatmeal (#if you don't want to make granola)
Bagels #
Yogurt - natural and vanilla (#vanilla is optional - my kids LOVE vanilla yogurt. You need the natural)
Confectioners Sugar (# if you don't want to do the Greek Fruit & Nut Pastries)
Eggs #
Chocolate Chips # (if you don't want to make the Oatmeal Choco Chip Cookies)

Already in my house (these really don't go bad, and add a lot to your kitchen's diversity/ability to meal plan & cook easy. Just like any art, cooking is a bit of an initial buy-in. But it's well worth it. Spices are cheapest at international food stores, and so far - I haven't found a big difference in quality between recognized name brands, and off brands. cheap is good. Buy honey and olive oil in bulk.):

Staples List: 
Olive Oil
Baking soda
Baking powder
Wheat Germ
Cayenne Pepper

 If you're doing the initial buy-in, your groceries are going to exceed the $50-$75 we're going for this week...but I think the dinner specific items are well within the realm of reasonable for that budget. Of course if you go all organic, your bill will be more.

So...there you go! If you have requests on how I organize the meals/shopping list, let me know. I'm just getting started on this so nothing is set in stone.

If you decide to cook along with me, I'd love to know! And I'd love to know how your experience goes. A lot of my recipes will appeal more to confident cooks, but even if you're not a confident cook - I really think you can do it!

Off to get dressed and go to the grocery store!