Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Happy Not Yet Thanksgiving!

My husband is head-over-heels for a full bore turkey dinner with all the trimmings.  Thankfully, so am I, because this meal is definitely time-consuming.  Once fall hits, it's hard not to make a big special meal outside of the holiday celebrations.  I have a big family, and my aunts and grandmothers are often the ones preparing the special dinners.  With the use of bone-in turkey pieces, however, I can make a real turkey dinner for just the three of us.

The technique I use for turkey was featured on America's Test Kitchen.  Go on over there and git yerself a membership.  It's well worth it!

The turkey preparation basically involves slow roasting a bone-in breast (plus thighs and drumsticks, for a larger crowd) on a rack over chopped veggies, herbs, and broth, followed by a resting period and then broiling for crispy skin.  The turkey-and-veggie infused broth from the roasting pan is then turned into the most singularly delicious gravy I've ever made.

On the side, I made some mashed potatoes, pumpkin pie with homemade whipped cream, steamed green beans, and cornbread dressing.  I also opened a can of jellied cranberry sauce, a great pantry stand-by if you aren't in the mood to make your own.

My cornbread dressing is the same that my late stepmother used to make, and it's not so much a recipe as it is a method.  It's easy, delicious, and makes great leftovers.

Cornbread Dressing
Serves 8

2 boxes Jiffy cornbread mix, prepared according to package directions, baked, and cooled (You can do this the night before and let it sit, covered, on the counter.)
1 lb. pork sausage, regular or sage flavored
1 cup white onion, diced
1 cup celery, diced
2-3 cups chicken broth
Garlic powder or granules
Poultry seasoning

Crumble the cooled cornbread into a large mixing bowl and break it up with your hands.  Heat a large skillet over medium-high, add the sausage, and cook until nearly browned through, breaking up pieces with a wooden spoon.  Add the diced onions and celery to the sausage.  Sprinkle on some garlic powder and poultry seasoning and stir well.  Add about a cup and a half of chicken broth and bring to a simmer.  Cook until the onions become translucent.  Taste and adjust seasoning with more garlic and poultry seasoning if needed.  Transfer the sausage mixture to the bowl with the cornbread and mix with a wooden spoon until moistened.  Add more broth as needed until the mixture is completely moistened and sticky.

Transfer to a 9" square baking dish, spreading with a spatula to level.  Bake, covered with foil, in a preheated 400º oven for about 20 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 20-30 minutes until the edges are browned.  Serve.

Turkey breast basted with melted butter and seasoned with salt and pepper.

Roasting pan of vegetables, herbs, and broth.

The turkey roasts skin-down for the first hour, then is flipped over until done.

Carving the boid.

I suck at making pretty pie edges, so I rolled the excess dough and used tiny cookie cutters to make the border.

I adhered the leaf shapes with a little water.

See?  Purty!

Whipped cream beaten into submission.



Saturday, October 9, 2010

Farmer's Market Haul, $40 Compost Bin!

I made the drive to downtown Broken Arrow, a lovely suburb of Tulsa, this morning to visit their farmer's market and take advantage of not only some tasty local produce, but a compost bin special offered by the Metropolitan Environmental Trust, the area group that heads up recycling and environmental education efforts.

I bought the Garden Gourmet compost bin for $40, nearly half price.  Wahoo!

Sadly, the farmer's market season in Oklahoma is pretty much over, but I got some very photogenic produce today- locally grown zucchini, red potatoes, green beans, jalapeños, and sweet green heirloom chiles that originated in Italy but I didn't catch the name of.  And, I sampled some yummy smelling hand lotion from Cheeky Munky Soap Company.

My drive home was filled with culinary inspiration brought upon by my purchases.

The zucchini will probably be sauteed as a side dish and possibly turned into bread or muffins.  The jalapeños will be used in some Mexican dishes, which I love to eat any day of the week.  I may even get a wild hair and make a batch of my Uncle Frank's special salsa.  The red potatoes will be roasted with the sweet chiles for a first attempt take on papas con chile.

The huge batch of green beans will be divided into two dishes- steamed, and as delicious homemade green bean casserole.  I've planned it in my head: béchamel sauce, lots of diced mushrooms, blanched green beans, shallots, garlic, and a little thyme, baked with a topping of buttery bread crumbs.  Yum!

Chicken Parmesan, Baked Ditalini, and Bruschetta

Chicken Parmesan is one of those dishes that so many Italian restaurants do poorly, but it's ridiculously simple.  I can't tell you how many times I've had one that's greasy, over-sauced, and dripping with too much melted cheese.  You can eat a breaded chicken breast that's not completely unhealthy!

Chicken Parmesan
Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, patted dry
1/2 cup dried bread crumbs
1 egg, beaten with a bit of milk
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese (PLEASE don't use the crap in the green can!)
1 Tbsp. dried Italian herbs, or 1 tsp. each dried basil, oregano, and marjoram
Kosher salt and fresh black pepper
Olive oil
Homemade or jarred pasta sauce, about 2 cups
Additional grated Parmesan cheese, if desired, for serving

Heat oven to 400º.  Drizzle olive oil into the bottom of a 9" x 13" baking dish to coat.

Place the flour on a dinner plate and season with salt and pepper.  Put the beaten egg and milk in a shallow bowl.  Mix the dried herbs and Parmesan cheese with the bread crumbs in a separate shallow bowl.

Working one at a time, dredge each chicken breast into the seasoned flour, shake off excess, dip in beaten egg, and roll in breadcrumb mixture, pressing to adhere.  Place each breaded breast in the prepared baking dish.

Bake until the edges and tops of the chicken are golden brown and juices run clear, about 20 minutes.  While the chicken is baking, simmer the pasta sauce in a small pan until slightly thickened.

Serve each chicken breast with some sauce spooned over, and sprinkle on additional grated Parmesan, if desired.

Chicken Parmesan and baked ditalini

On the side of chicken parm at restaurants is usually a pile of spaghetti marinara.  My husband asked for some baked ziti or something similar, and so I made this simple dish.  He prefers baked pasta that is not loaded down with cheese, and that is heavier on tomatoes.

Instead of ziti, I used ditalini, which are tube-shaped like ziti but much shorter, making them kid-friendly and good for soaking up all the sauce.  I simply boiled about a cup of dry pasta in salted water until it was *almost* done, mixed it in a shallow baking dish with a generous amount of pasta sauce, covered it with foil, and baked it alongside the chicken.  After it was hot and bubbling, I tossed some Parmesan on top.

For an appetizer, we went further with the crazy tomato goodness by having bruschetta on fresh French bread.

Bruschetta (say it correctly, please- broos-KET-uh, not broo-SHET-uh) is super simple and very customizable.  I diced 3 tomatoes, finely chopped 2 garlic cloves, and mixed in some freeze-dried basil, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a splash of balsamic vinegar.  After chilling briefly, the concoction is spooned over slices of crusty bread.  You can toast the slices first with a drizzle of olive oil, if desired.

Buon appetito!

Cashew Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

My adorable kitchen assistant, Eva, is sadly allergic to peanuts.  Fortunately, she is able to eat tree nuts.  She will eagerly scarf down pecans, cashews, walnuts, almonds- you name it.  I happened upon a marked down brand of salted cashews at the grocery store a couple of weeks ago and picked up 2 boxes.  One was eaten as snacks, and the other was destined to become cashew butter for cookies.

While cashew butter is often available on grocery store shelves, it's usually unsalted, and in my opinion, a bit bland.  I tossed the whole container into my food processor, held onto the handle (the processor has a tendency to dance around), and blended them until I got the smoothest consistency I could manage.  You could always stir in some chopped cashews after blending for a chunkier consistency.

I used my old standby peanut butter cookie recipe out of my red and white checked Betty Crocker cookbook and substituted an equal amount of cashew butter for the peanut.  I am impatient and was baking with an almost 4-year-old kid, so we skipped the dough chilling portion of the instructions.  I'd recommend you go ahead with it- the cookies will be pretty flat if you don't.

After scooping balls of dough, I flattened each one slightly with my fingers and let my kiddo push chocolate chips onto the top of them.

You could also substitute soy nut butter or almond butter. Delicious!

Betty Crocker Cookbook Peanut Butter Cookies

1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup peanut butter (or cashew butter)
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix sugars, peanut butter, butter, vanilla, and egg in large bowl. Stir in remaining ingredients. Cover and refrigerate about 2 hours or until firm.

Heat oven to 375ºF.

Shape dough into 1 1/4-inch balls. Place about 3 inches apart on ungreased cookie sheet. Flatten in crisscross pattern with fork dipped into sugar.

Bake 9 to 10 minutes or until light golden brown. Cool 5 minutes; remove from cookie sheet. Cool on wire rack.

Dough was portioned with a spring-handled ice cream scooper.

Sampling the dough for texture and consistency.

More quality checks.  She goes the extra mile to ensure that our cookies are the best!
The finished product.  Yummy!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Guest Blogging: Tulsa State Fair

The adorable and creative force behind the local blog Tasha Does Tulsa, Natasha Ball, asked me to do a guest blog post on my trip to the Tulsa State Fair, featuring the rides, the food, and the people.


Mmmm...corn dog.

Like mother, like daughter.
Sweet baby piglet trying to find the nipple he likes best.
Feeding exotic cattle in the petting zoo.
OMG...so cute!!!
Mommy-baby goat sweetness.

Her third and final trip on the Sky Ride.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The 30-Day Food Challenge: My focus

Yesterday I blogged about a 30-day food challenge to be more efficient in the kitchen: to buy more locally, eat more healthily, and be less wasteful overall.  My focus is a little different than the challenge creator over at Living On This Farm.  I'm using this as an impetus to go forth with buying local and eating better, but I'm also addressing some other issues I have.  Those issues are sticking to my grocery list, and making too much food to the point that I have to throw stuff away. 

I've been in the beneficial habit of making a weekly menu and an accompanying grocery list, but I always wind up coming home with stuff I didn't set out to buy.  My pantry is not bursting at the seams because of it, but my bill at checkout time is always higher than it should be.  I keep a notepad on the side of my fridge, and when I'm running low on an item, I write it down.  When I make my menu, I write down the recipe-specific items that I don't already have on hand.

I also wind up throwing away leftovers too often.  In our house, I'm usually the one who will be stuck eating leftovers and there are numerous times when I'd just rather eat something different, or I've made more than I'm willing to polish off by myself.  This needs to stop.  We are a family of three, and while my husband can pack it in when he's been playing a lot of hockey and my growth-spurt-having almost-4-year-old daughter can, too, there's no reason for me to have to toss food like I do now.

Here's the beginning of my challenge to myself.  I'll be posting my menu, my grocery list, and my overages from the grocery store trip.  Hopefully, putting this down in writing will help me, and you, to be more vigilant.

Everything on this list is made from scratch, except for the chips.  Also, the corned beef comes with a seasoning packet.

Menu for October 1-9
  • Chicken noodle soup (leftovers will be lunch)
  • Split pea soup (lunch for myself and my daughter)
  • Shepherd's pie
  • Corned beef and cabbage, potatoes and carrots
  • Chicken Parmesan, baked ditalini (like ziti, but smaller pieces), and balsamic vinegar-tomato bruschetta with ciabatta bread
  • Chicken Cordon Bleu (non-breaded experimental recipe), salad, steamed green beans
  • Wienerschnitzel, potato pancakes, homemade applesauce
  • Beef enchiladas with ranchera and chile verde sauces, papas con chile
  • Hamburgers, chips (lunch)
  • Ham steak, hash browns, pancakes with peach puree

Shopping List
Lunch meat- ham and turkey
Orange juice (We go through a lot of O.J.  It ain't cheap!)
Ham steak
Potatoes (I buy Yukon Golds.  They're much less starchy than Russets.)
Primatene inhaler refill
10% benzoyl peroxide gel
Ditalini pasta (Short little tubes)
Fresh green beans
Pork cutlets
Corned beef
Corn tortillas
Paper napkins
Queso fresco
Poblano chiles

I got everything on my list.  I was able to save $3.45 using coupons.  I've recently begun printing coupons off of a couple of different websites, and they're very handy.  You have to be careful with coupon usage- it's very tempting to buy something just because you have a coupon for it.  Remember that you're only saving money if you're buying an item you actually *need* already.

I also saved $0.50 by bringing my own grocery bags.  I have ten canvas tote bags that I keep in the trunk and bring for every single shopping trip.  My local store pays $0.05 for each reusable bag.

I wound up buying several items that were not on my list.

Non-List Items
Kraft Colby cheese (1 package) - $2.40
Justification: regular use, sale price

Hatch tomatoes and green chiles (2 cans) - $1.00
Justification: sale price

Frozen easy-peel tail-on shrimp (3 one-pound bags) - $8.97
Justification: deep discount (weekend seafood sale)

Turkey franks (1 package) - $2.67
Justification: We had leftover chili to eat them with and my husband and child like them.

Kiwi fruit (3 pieces) - $1.00
Justification: None.  Total impulse buy.  They were there, and they're delicious.

Bananas (1 bunch) - $1.28
Justification: regular use, low price for organic.

Butternut squash (1 piece) - $1.93
Justification: None.  Total impulse buy.  I've been wanting to try it as a side.

The sub-total for my non-list items was $19.44.  Local sales tax adds 8.917% for a total of $21.17.

I spent an EXTRA TWENTY BUCKS on stuff that was not on my list.  Sheesh.

Date night! (BONUS = Local chocolate!)

As we stay-at-home moms know all too well, it's not common enough that we can get out of the house for dinner with nice clothes, makeup, and good hair.  I treasure every single date night that my husband and I can manage.  Thankfully, I have awesome (childless) siblings who are always up for niece-sitting.  On this eve in particular, my sister was home without her business-tripping husband and graciously provided her services.

Our night out was fantastic.  We started off with dinner at a local Mexican joint, Compadres Mexican Grill and Cantina, where we scarfed down chips and queso before enjoying fajitas and carnitas tacos.  We polished it off with the best flan this side of the Pecos and a couple of sopapillas that were to die for.  Sure, the food was good, but our waiter was out of this world.  His name was Samuel, and if you ever make it to the south Tulsa location of Compadres, make sure you sit in his section!

After dinner, we took a drive, meandering north toward downtown.  A leisurely drive through the Brady Arts District took us past a glowing window that looked to me like a chocolatier.  Cody drove around the block for a second look, and sure enough, that's what I saw.  (Does this tummy have GPS or something?)

We walked into a charming small chocolate shop, Glacier Confection, with the most gorgeous hand-crafted candies I've ever seen- glossy jewel tones, domes of silky chocolate, intricately painted truffles, and artisan chocolate bars from exotic locales.

We wound up buying a selection of truffles and a dark chocolate bar.  The truffles were fantastic- my favorite was the amaretto.  And the lemon.  And the dark chocolate.  We scarfed down all nine of the truffles while standing in the dining room.

Owner and Chief Chocolate Officer Bill Copeland was wonderfully friendly and helpful, explaining all about the bean-to-bar chocolate he offers from Askinosie Chocolate.

Askinosie's mission is small batch chocolate making that allows the purchaser to know where the beans themselves came from- there's a photo of the farmer on the bar's package!  If you're looking to know more about the origins of your food, this chocolate is a good place to start.

All in all, this was a freaking awesome date night.

Friday, October 1, 2010

The 30-Day Food Challenge - A Cooperative Blogging Effort

This image is of a poster from the Depression, published by the U.S. Food Administration to encourage responsible eating during tough times.  These days, with so much overabundance and over-consumption, it's not a bad idea to return to the ideals embodied by the hard times endured by our grandparents and great-grandparents. 

A friend pointed me in the direction of a blog called Living On This Farm the other day.  The author, Lisa, is a self described "former restaurateur from Seattle who was abducted by aliens and placed on a farm in rural Oklahoma."  (That part made me giggle.)  She has issued a fun but meaningful challenge to her blog's readers to adhere to the 6 tenets of the poster pictured above for 30 days.   

My husband and I have had several recent discussions on the merits of locavorism, the practice of eating locally grown and produced foods whenever  possible.  I'm committing to join Lisa in her challenge and finally make the leap to buying food locally.

I'm hoping to join the Oklahoma Food Cooperative this weekend and start shopping online for anything that tickles my culinary fancy.  I've already mentally chosen free-range eggs, potatoes, spinach, and cherry tomatoes.  The list goes on.

I'm super excited and I hope you'll join us in this effort to eat in a way that nourishes our bodies, our state, and our community.