Thursday, September 30, 2010

Ravioli inspired by Hell's Kitchen

     I love cooking shows and I very often I get excited at the thought of trying to prepare what I have seen the chefs create.  I was inspired by this week’s episode of Hells kitchen, specifically their ravioli task. 

     Ravioli does not have to be synonymous with hours of labor-intensive preparation. Today I am serving a home made ravioli with a Swiss chard ricotta and Parmesan cheese stuffing.

First I sauté the chard 
Chard from our garden
Oil & butter for the pan $.30
4 leaves Chard cut in ½ inch pieces 
(from the garden)
2 scrapes Lemon zest
2 cloves Garlic $.35

Saute the above then cool

When cool I added
1 cup ricotta $1.00
And ½ cup Parmesan and chill 
Then I make the pasta
1 cup AP flour $.25
1 egg  $.50
½ tsp salt
Enough water to get it into a ball 1/8- cup or so.

I tried the food processor this time to compare with hand rolling.
It worked wonderfully and being that I am short on time it was perfect.
I must admit that there is a joy in hand kneading the dough that I missed using the machine.

After the pasta rests for at least a half hour roll it out
Into a long strip place the filling as shown and cover with dough
I press down to get the air completely out
And brush the edges with water to seal
ready to top with dough
 I used a cute roller cutter for a decorative edge but that’s totally optional.

Then I cook quickly in boiling water and I finish in a pan sauce.
I had a wonderful time making this sauce. I added minced onion and sun dried tomatoes to tomato sauce and a bit of half and half as well. Then I tossed in a little wine and some red pepper flakes and went to town creating and playing. I think the sauce turned out well
Total Under $ 3.50 for the whole meal

TIP OF THE DAY: Don’t be afraid to create your own sauce. There will be times that your hunches do not work out, but by and by you will get a knack for what flavors pair well and work for you. I had such a wonderful time inventing this simple little sauce that I thought I’d share it as a tip. Enjoy…make sauce…

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

What is your food really costing you?

     The leftover gumbo is calling to us.We are going to add some more sausage and recreate gumbo night. I've been working like a longshoreman around the house today so the thought of leftovers is a welcome one. As you prepare dinner tonight I thought I'd share some thoughts about our food journey.


   For the past several years we have been putting a great deal of effort into making better food choices. These choices, we believe have led to our improved health and well-being.  Our transition to real food involved avoiding processed foods and shopping for the freshest produce and proteins possible. 


     In 2005 I opted to leave my retail management career and devote myself to preparing nourishing balanced meals as a homemaker. I've spent countless hours doing the research and legwork it takes to keep our menus delicious and varied. If this was to be a lifestyle change our meals had to be satisfying and fill not only our stomachs but also our souls. 


      These choices have become habits and really reflect our preferences. The results are evident in our yearly health reports.

      I suppose a natural progression of our wellness quest is the exploration of where the food we eat comes from. I recently saw a film called FOOD INC. and to say I was enlightened by the information I learned is an understatement. Seeing the film has made me understand that the proper selection of our produce and proteins and grains is vital to our long-term wellness. 

       In an effort to control what goes into our bodies my husband and I decided last   Valentines Day, that instead of flowers and candy we would increase the size of our home garden. We constructed several organic raised garden beds and planted our own crops. This was our way to nourish the health of the hearts we cherish.

      I often hear people speak about the cost of fresh food and the time it takes to put healthy meals on the table. I believe that with more education this argument could be put to rest. Firstly and most importantly the health costs of a poor diet far out weigh the cost of fresh food in the long term. It’s a matter of looking at the big picture. I also think with more education families could prepare healthier nutrition dense meals that would take less time and money than driving to a fast food establishment, or eating processed foods. We need to educate people about the uses of healthy nutrition dense foods like lentils, kale and quinoa. 


     There are many foods that people don’t use simply because they were never taught how. I believe we need to reeducate the next generation so they will have the knowledge to fight the myriad of preventable diseases our society is now faced with. We need more school gardens, more instruction for lower income families. If families get food stamps they should go hand in hand with nutrition classes. Schools should promote family cooking projects that are easy and nutritious. 

     Lets learn all we can about what we put into our bodies. Lets turn this unhealthy situation into an opportunity to grow literally and figuratively.

 TIP OF THE DAY: Enjoy leftovers on the days when you are super busy. Try to make and freeze extra batches of soups and stews you never know when they will come in handy!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Focaccia Veggie Pizza

     Focaccia is a wonderful thing. It can make a terrific sandwich, dipping bread or accompaniment for a classic Italian dinner. The recipe I have been using lately is from  king ArthurFlour  We love their flours and this recipe works very well. We have had the pleasure of visiting their main store in Vermont and it was a bakers paradise. If you are ever in the area I highly recommend a stop there to see the goodies.

     Tonight I'm using this recipe to create a Focaccia Veggie pizza. I love dishes you can prepare ahead of time and this one really fits the bill. This morning I added the bread ingredients to my kitchenaid bowl and mixed it, let it rise and baked it. In a different baking dish I also roasted part of my pizza toppings. This evening all I needed to do was assemble the pizza.
Ready for the rise
Artichokes $1.00
Red Onion $.60
Garlic bulb $.35
1/2  zucchini $35
pesto from my freezer

To prepare the pizza
I spread the sweet roasted garlic on the bread
spread the pesto on the pizza
topped with the roasted veg &
the artichokes & sun dried tomatoes $1.00
basil from the garden
shredded cheddar $.75
Ready to go in the oven
I then pop the pizza in the oven just long enough to get everything nice and hot
Couldn't be easier!
Total Under $5.00 for the entire meal 
Bubbly Deliciousness
TIP OF THE DAY: If you see a recipe you love use it many different ways. Put your signature on the dish and imagine the possibilities. Tonight I'm taking a great focaccia recipe to a new place and using ingredients I wouldn't generally be able to get at the local fast food pizza place. Ingredients like artichoke, red onion, cheddar & sun dried tomatoes let me make this dinner truly my own.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Sausage & Shrimp Gumbo : Letting The Good Times Roll

      In New Orleans they say “Laissez les bon temps roullez” or “Let the good times roll” and I agree. The folks down in the Big Easy work hard and they play hard. They have perfected the art of creating balance in life which is a talent that is getting rarer and more difficult to master these days.They have also mastered creating food that is both unique and delicious. Today I pay them tribute with a classic gumbo.
We bought this book on our last visit to New Orleans. Wonderful stories, photos & recipes
     When we visit New Orleans we go with a game plan. We generally eat every couple of hours, forgoing the big three-course meal opting for smaller meals scattered throughout many of out favorite places and a few new ones as well. Since the food is a highlight for us we want to try as many places as possible on any given visit. We have found that splitting an entrée at one restaurant and trying a couple of appetizers a few hours later in a different place gives us the most bang for our buck.

Today we pay tribute to New Orleans with a shrimp and sausage gumbo.
First I prepared a roux
½ cup combo vegetable oil and butter
¾ cup AP flour
I stir constantly with a whisk till it is the brown color I’m looking for
(Read up online about roux and you’ll see there is a wide variety of brown tone that all bring a different taste to the dish)
When the roux is ready
Roux in progress
I add
1 cup Diced Onion
2 Ribs Diced celery
1 cup Diced green pepper
This variation of the Mirepoix is often referred to as The holy trinity
2 fat garlic cloves (1 diced & 1 grated)

When this till the vegetables are soft
Adding the sausage to the vegetables and the roux
I added the sausage and cooked about five more minutes.

I then add 6 cups of my home made chicken stock one ladle at a time and incorporate it slowly Stirring constantly.

When it is all added in I bring it to a boil and then simmer for at least one hour.
During this time I add 1 28-ounce can of organic tomatoes
Louisiana hot sauce to taste (John likes a spicy gumbo so I am generous)
Cajun spices
Touch of sage
A bit of basil
Near the end of cooking I add shrimp cook till done  (fairly quickly)

This is a great recipe play with adding flavors as it cooks to suit your taste
Serve over rice
Total  Under $ 8.00 for the entire dish
TIP OF THE DAY: Explore the wide world of stews. Practically every country and region has its own version of a stew. It is usually based on what is available locally in great quantities and can be stretched to feed a crowd. The concept of a stew lends itself to a tremendous opportunity to explore your creativity.  Play with the ingredients and have some fun.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Pecan Crusted Mahi with Glazed Carrots and Kale

     Tonight we dream of being near the ocean. In our daydreams we are at a beachside table barefoot in the sand as the waves lap the shore near the tables edge. The sky has turned the beautiful sapphire color that happens shortly after sunset. There are hundreds of little candles everywhere mirroring the carpet of stars that are beginning to shine in the vast expanse of sky.

     What could fit this fantasy more perfectly than my pecan crusted Mahi Mahi.
It is Ridiculously simple to make with a  rich indulgent feeling

I simply prepare a dredge of flour
An egg wash
And a pecan crumb/ bread crumb mixture (with old bay, salt and cayenne)
(I used finely ground pecans) 

I’ll pan fry the fish in butter and a bit of olive oil
Till golden and crisp and fully cooked

Served with matchstick carrots brazed and glazed in orange juice
(with a touch of cayenne)

Also served with kale (from our garden) sautéed with onion a clove of diced garlic 

Total Under $9.00 for the entire meal

Tip of the Day: Your thoughts about preparing a meal can greatly influence your enjoyment of it. Our fried fish dinner tonight is more than just a plate of food it is a vision and a state of mind that makes the dinner an occasion to enjoy and a delight to prepare. Even simple everyday meals can be special when we treat them with care.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Queen City Cincinnati Chili for the King Of My Heart

Making fresh pasta for the chili tonight
     I learned many things about Cincinnati the first time my husband brought me back for a visit to his hometown. Cincinnati is a charming big city that has found a way to be modern and cosmopolitan without sacrificing it’s small town charm. There is a respect for tradition and history and it is evident in the civic pride the architecture and especially the food.

     One of the first things you learn about Cincinnatians is the love they have for their food traditions. When one asks a local for advice on what to do in town the answer will invariably be a list of the most amazing places to eat. These ice cream parlors, grocery shops, bakeries and butcher shops are described with pride and affection and are as much a part of their history as Riverfront stadium. A million memories of family, friends and growing up are tied to each one. When you see the smiles on their faces and the light in their eyes as they share these recollections you instantly understand who they are. It is the connection we all have to food memories and feelings and nowhere have I found it to be more evident than n Cincinnati.

    It was here I was first introduced to the glories of the delectable Cincinnati Chili. This is not the earthy sturdy Chili of Texas or New Mexico whose flavors fed the west. The Western Chili has a refined sophisticated Northern sister who has traveled the world picking up ingredients as souvenirs, hints of exotic flavors is so tantalizingly different that your palette is at once surprised and intrigued and you must have more.
This chili smells amazing

     Cincinnatians have rules about their chili. I learned very quickly that there was a specific way to order the chili (all served with Oyster crackers)

A three way is spaghetti topped with Chile and grated cheese
A four way adds  onions
A five way adds  beans

Tonight we serve the 5-way variety

     It is with much affection that I prepare Cincinnati chili for our dinner tonight. It’s a tribute to John’s hometown. We love the flavor of this dish and we love the Queen City. 
½                  Onion                $.59
1/2 lb            Ground beef       $2.30
3/4 Tbs         Chili powder
2                   Cloves garlic      $.30
1/2                Tsp allspice
3/4 tsp           Cinnamon
1/2 tsp           Cumin
1/4 tsp           Cayenne
1/4 oz            Chocolate         $.40
1/2 table        Cider vinegar
1/4 cup          Water
1/2 can          Tomato sauce   $1.00
1/2 table        Worcestershire
1                       Bay leaf
I sauté the onion beef till just about done
Add garlic & chili powder 
(I grated the garlic on a garlic grater)
My garlic grater

Add allspice cumin cayenne pepper salt chocolate
Tomato sauce cider vinegar &
Worcestershire sauce

I add a bay leaf (remove before serving)
Simmer for an hour
Put   the chili on top of a pile of Spaghetti 
Top  the chili with red beans  $.99
top   the Red Beans with diced onion
top   the onions with finely grated cheddar $1.50
Total $7.08 give or take a few cents

TIP OF THE DAY: When visiting a city that is known for a certain dish, make sure to try it. Part of any good trip is experiencing the regional cooking. There is usually a reason that the dish is celebrated so, embrace the experience. You may just wind up with a lifelong friend.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Taking Stock : Chicken Soup and Flatbread Pizzas

     I’ve been looking forward to tonight’s dinner all week. Earlier in the week I created a chicken soup with the stock I prepared on roast chicken night. I Love the comfort a traditional classic chicken soup brings to the table.
2 quarts stock $0.00 
(part of the chicken from another meal)
3 carrots $1.00
1 leek      $1.00
3 ribs celery $.50
2 mushrooms diced fine (they were leftover in thee fridge and I used them well)
Onion $.45

Fresh and hot chicken soup
I add a bay leaf, sage, S&P
With our soup I making flat bread pizzas using the lavash I baked the other day.
I’m caramelizing some red onion $.50
2    Tomatoes   pan roasted (Large dice) $.75
1    Small handful kale & Chard from Our garden (sautéed)
      Fresh basil
½ cup    Shredded Cheddar cheese                                     $.75
I put the cooked toppings on the flat bread and melt the cheese under the oven broiler, then top with the fresh basil.
It’s a crispy and fun alternative to accompany a bowl of soup
Total $4.95
TIP OF THE DAY: Why not look at pizza in a new light. Instead of take out pizza why not create your own. There are so many variations that it will never be boring. Think of the possibilities, pita flatbread home made crusts to name a few. Making and topping pizzas can be fun for the whole family and choosing your own toppings assures you of using the best freshest quality ingredients.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Soul Satisfying Risotto

      I have some beautiful leftover roast chicken in the fridge as well as a few of those beautiful leeks I have been using all week. I was interested in finding a way to use them both in our dinner tonight. I also wanted to incorporate some of the tasty chicken stock I made the other day. Some of the stock has gone into a soup for tomorrow’s dinner and some had been put in the freezer. Tonight I will use part of it to create a soul satisfying risotto. This meal is simple but does require about a half hour of your time. It must be stirred regularly and eaten promptly but the creamy goodness is so worth it.
           1      Tbs. Olive oil
           1      Tbs butter
           2      Tbs. Tarragon
           a few threads of saffron 
           (optional ~ I’m using a bit)
           3      Cups chicken stock
           ¾     of a sautéed leek
          1/4    Slice bacon
           ¾     Cup Arborio rice
          1/4    Cup dry white wine
          1/2    Cup grated Parmesan cheese
          6oz    Cooked leftover roast chicken
            Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

This is the rice I used for tonight's risotto.

I put 3 cups of chicken stock in a separate saucepan heat and to simmer

In the risotto pot:
  place butter & olive oil & 
the cleaned leek sliced thinly 
sauté till soft but not browned
(When I added the leek I also added ¼ of a slice of bacon)
The bacon was diced incredibly small (like bits size) 
when done:

Add the rice to coat it with the oil & butter
Add the tarragon 
Add the wine & cook about a minute
Add a ladle full of the simmering stock
(If you are using a few saffron threads you can put them in now)
Stir till its mostly absorbed 5 min or so,
(Till you can drag the wooden spoon across the pot bottom and not have it quickly run back)

Add salt & Pepper keep adding the stock till its absorbed in the same way as the first ladle full (add slowly will take about ½ hour)

When done I toss in the cooked chicken and the grated cheese & serve
Risotto can get gummy if it sits too long after cooking so serve it just as you are ready too eat it.
TIP OF THE DAY: Use bacon as a flavoring. I just love bacon and although I don’t have it very often I do enjoy the occasional BLT. Bacon can add deliciousness to a wide variety of recipes. Today I used a scant amount in my risotto. I didn’t use it as an ingredient but as a flavoring. I always keep a few slices of bacon in my freezer and that way I always have some on hand for a night like tonight when I didn’t want the bacon flavor to overtake the dish just to give it a tiny additional layer of flavor. Think about recipes that you love that could benefit from a sprinkling of bacon.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Pork Tenderloin Sandwiches with Tomato Salad and Kale Chips

     Tonight is sandwich night at our house. It's oh so easy and oh so delicious. I used the extra time today to bake a fresh loaf of bread for the sandwiches. How I love the smell of fresh bread baking in the oven. I feel a good sandwich has a great deal to do with the bread choice. Get a really good loaf of bread and your sandwich will become a feast. Baking bread is a lot easier than most people realize. Yes there are many intricate recipes that require practice and skill but there are also many easy recipes for novices. 
We are taking our leftover pork tenderloin traveling with the great flavors of a Cuban Mexican fusion.

Home made bread
Leftover pork tenderloin slices $5.00
2 Tbs of delicious Tomatillo salsa John made
(Recipe from our Mexican Everyday Rick Bayless cookbook  Tomatillo Salsa recipe per Bayless on Amazon)
                      Assemble the sandwich
I spread a little mayonnaise on the bread
Place pork slices
Top with salsa
A few tiny diced red onions
                                   A side salad
1/8     Diced Red Onion $.25 
      (rinsed and sprinkled over tomato)  
1    Roma Tomato $.35
      Topped with leftover honey basil dressing
           Served with Crispy Kale chips from our garden
Total$ 5.80 Give or take a few cents

TIP OF THE DAY: Don’t over look the sheer joy of sandwich night. If you are not doing a great deal of extensive preparation you may have time to bake a loaf of bread or two which can be enjoyed during the rest of the week or even frozen. Sandwich night is also a great way to marry little bits of leftover treats that have accumulated in the fridge. Use them before you lose them to spoilage. How much would we save if we used our leftovers in a timely and efficient way? 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Italian Wedding Soup: A Tribute to Those Amazing Italian Grandmas Everywhere

     Recently I made some meatballs and as I was rolling them for spaghetti decided to take part of the mixture roll several small meatballs and store them for tonight’s dinner.

     For quite some time I have wanted to make a version of Italian wedding soup and today was the day. I knew that meatballs would be an important part of the recipe and making them when I was already making meatballs for another dish would save me a great deal of time.

     Generally when I make soup I make a big pot and freeze some or use it for lunches. In this case I’m making enough for one meal because it works with the amount of small meatballs I had. If I had made a bigger batch of meatballs I might have made a larger quantity.

½    Onion $.35
½    Leek   $.50
1       Small Carrot $.25
1      Rib Celery $.10
2      Cloves Garlic $.25
3      Cups Stock $1.90 
        (I add a bit of water as well)
6     Meatballs $ o.oo 
1/4 Cup Whole Wheat Orzo $ 1.00
       (already accounted for in another meal)
Big handful of Kale from my garden (I just love my kale)
several sprigs Thyme
1 Bay leaf
1 tsp or so Italian seasonings 
S&P to taste
A few Parmesan curls on top   $.50
I’m serving this soup with fresh home made lavash (I might just melt some shredded cheddar on top)
Total $ 4.85 Give or take a few cents

TIP OF THE DAY: While making meatballs or even chicken try to think ahead about putting enough aside for a small soup or a little sandwich. A few ounces of chicken or meatballs may not look like much, but as part of a soup or a salad it can bring a great deal of protein and substance to the dish. 

Monday, September 20, 2010

The ever popular Roast Chicken dinner with Matchstick potatoes and Green Beans

     Tonight we are having a simple but perfect roast chicken. There are not many meals that are this satisfying and also this easy to prepare. I had so many things I wanted to get done in the house today & I needed a meal that would be terrific but not be too time consuming.

Chicken $11.00
(One roast chicken will usually give us two meals and maybe a lunch as well)
(I always make a stock from the bones. It is easy and nothing tastes like homemade stock) (Stock freezes very well)
When the meal is done John pulls the meat off the bone and I begin the stock
Fried Potato Hash with red onion and hatch pepper $.70 
(I was not completely thrilled with the hash and I will dice next time)
Green Beans in butter & crispy leeks $.75

     I rub the chicken with a combo of butter and oil, thyme, sage, a hint of lemon zest, S&P (Sometimes I use lots of garlic & lemon but not this time)
I lift the skin from breast meat (without tearing it) and insert several pieces of thyme,
sage & a part of the butter mixture on each side. 
     I cut the potatoes into matchsticks and pan fry in a cast iron skillet with red onion and a Hatch chili pepper till done.
     Served with green beans & leek cooked al dente in butter salt and pepper  
Total$ 12.45
TIP OF THE DAY: I like to have a few menus that I know are extremely easy for days when I have more on my plate than dinner. If you put together several ideas that work for those extra busy days it wont be so tempting to grab a bag full of processed take out food. Leftover Roasted chicken can provide a second meal in minutes with no fuss at all. Lastly do not forget to make a wonderful stock from the chicken bones which can be a delicious soup for meal number three.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Crab Cakes to Complement John's Pork Tenderloin

     We love to have friends over for dinner. To share good food and good times with friends is really what it's all about. 

     John is taking the lead tonight preparing on of his famous pork tenderloins on the grill.

Crab Cakes Sizzling in the pan
     I am putting a bit of a surf and turf twist on the dinner making one of my favorite dishes, crab cakes. I make this amount as a dinner for two or as a side dish for four.

     There are so many good crab cake recipes and I have several favorites.
Tonight I used a recipe with a two part preparation where I sauteed  the vegetables first & after I cooled them I added them to the crab mixture.

For the vegetables
I put butter & olive oil in my frying pan
 3/4  Small diced red onion  $.45
 2  Ribs diced Celery $.30
 ½ Roasted diced red pepper(jar) $1.00
(I normally use Fresh red bell pepper but tonight I had the roasted pepper so I used that instead)
  ½ tps Worcestershire sauce
  a few drops of Tabasco to taste
  ½ tsp Salt
  ½ tsp Pepper
  1 tsp Old Bay
Cook till soft & done about 20 minutes or so
This is a great thing to do early and have ready in advance.
I cool it and refrigerate.

Part two: The crab mixture
I put my crab $7.00 in a bowl
( I used lump crab for this)
Add 2 eggs $.50
1/2 cup Breadcrumbs $.50
(I mix regular and panko but either is just fine)

I’ll serve this with Johns Pork  $6.00 and 

A small shaved vegetable salad $1.00
(Topped with home made basil honey dressing)
Total $ $16.00 give or take a few cents 

Tip of the day: Take something you would normally serve as an entrée and adjust the portion size to make it perfect for a side dish. I’ve used this crab cake recipe to create wonderful bite sized appetizers and as cocktail party treats. It makes me want to get creative and think about what other main dishes I can turn into surprising sides.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Ratatouille for a late summer night

     Ratatouille is as much fun to make as it is to eat and to say.This is such a simple dish I don’t know why I don’t see it more often.

     I've been experimenting with baking petite fours today so I needed an easy dinner that I knew was going to turn out well with very little tending to.

     I love the taste of the roasted vegetables and I like this change from the usual of root vegetables I roast. It is a great dish to make as summer ends and you find such a beautiful selection of eggplant and peppers.

1  Eggplant $.88
1  Green pepper $.59
2  Zucchini    $.65
1 Summer squash $.35
3 Tomatoes $1.75
1 Red onion  $1.00

2 oz       Olive oil   $.20
1 Tbs    Dijon mustard $.20
1 oz      Balsamic vinegar $.50
 3         Fat Garlic cloves $.40
Basil     A small handful of fresh or a a teaspoon of dry
1 Tbs   Italian seasoning
Red pepper flakes a sprinkle to taste

Mix the vegetables with the sauce and place in a roasting pan
Place in a 425 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour 
(till they are tender and done).
I’m serving this with the lavash I baked earlier today.
 Total $6.52 give or take a few cents

 TIP OF THE DAY: Don’t overlook or rule out trying a dish because it sounds fancy or unfamiliar. It may turn out to be easier than you think. It also may become one of your all time favorite summer comfort foods.