Friday, August 28, 2009

Mid- week still doing well

Wednesday is taco day.
Really it sounds better when it’s Tuesday Taco Day, but we are busy on Tuesdays and so it’s easier for us to do it on Wednesdays. So last night I made use of 1 lb of the 5 lbs of ground beef I have and fixed tacos. We also had a few of these great flour tortillas I had purchased from Costco earlier in the month. They are uncooked; all you do is heat them in a pan to cook. But we also like crispy shells, so I made some of those using corn tortillas. When the tortillas come out of the frying pan, I sprinkle them with grated parmesan cheese. It closely resembles one of our favorite taco places, Jim Boy’s. Not nearly as good, but it’s pretty good. Many nights I cook dinner solo, but on Taco Night I have my oldest help me, this time she cooked the flour tortillas and she sprinkled the cheese on the corn shells, plus she helped set out the table when we were ready to eat. Other times she has grated cheese or watched over the taco meat. She has even helped with frying the shells and has done a good job with that. I used up 2 of the 10 avocados I have making guacamole and I’m happy that all the others are still semi-firm (the fridge is so helpful for delaying the ripeness) and not going bad yet. All I did was put 2 out on Monday and they were nice and ready by Wednesday morning, so I put them back in the fridge and they were chilled for the guacamole that evening. I remembered to take photos of our tacos after we ate and my attempt at taking photos of what was left turned out ugly, so I will spare you. I used leftover meat and cheese to pack for lunches for my girls. They each had some in containers and then my older one packed a bag of leftover tortilla chips and a container of salsa, plus a leftover taco shell. The little one I packed the meat and cheese and a baggie of chips. For the older one, I popped her thermos in the microwave in the morning and it stayed warm until lunch (she said the taco shell isn't as yummy the next day) and for the toddler, her preschool heats up lunches that need it.

For Thursday (another busy night) I fixed teriyaki chicken wings and a salad. Plus there was leftover chicken soup which my kids ate and my husband had a little helping as well since a pile of wings and salad wasn’t quite enough after a long day of work where he barely ate all day. Chicken wings in the oven often work well for us on busy nights because they don’t take a lot of tending to and allow me to multi-task. I check them periodically to be sure they get mixed around and properly coated, but then I can leave them and set the oven to just turn off, which allows me to leave the house to pick up from soccer practice and when we come back they’re ready to eat. The crock pot can certainly play the same role, but I don’t know that it provides the same sticky-crispy results that I get with the oven. I’m happy that my romaine hearts are staying fresh in my crisper, and I had 1 pear left from my CSA delivery last week, so our salad was composed of romaine, chopped pear, feta cheese, crumbled bacon (I have a big bag of pre-crumbled real bacon purchased at Costco), corn kernels (frozen), avocado with a strawberry vinaigrette.
Here’s my recipe and a photo.

Teriyaki Chicken Wings
1.5 lbs chicken wings
Drizzle of olive or vegetable oil
Drizzle of sesame oil
¼ cup teriyaki sauce (prefer Aloha brand)
2 tbl soy sauce (prefer Aloha brand low sodium)
¼ cup pineapple juice (mine came from the juice I saved from a can of pineapple chunks)
Garlic powder or any garlic seasoning (fresh crushed garlic is great too if you’ve got it)

Heat oven to 425 degrees.
I did not defrost the wings. I take the frozen wings, place them in a baking dish (I like my Pampered Chef deep dish round stoneware baker) and place them in the oven while it’s still pre-heating. After about 10 minutes I then season them with the garlic, drizzle them with the oils and mix them around to get evenly coated. Then I put them back in for about 10 more minutes. Meanwhile mix the teriyaki sauce, soy sauce and pineapple juice. Pour all of this over the chicken and mix to coat. For me, in my pan when combined with the liquid being created by the cooking chicken, it was quite a bit of sauce but the long cooking at the high heat will cook it down into a sticky glaze.

This is the point when moved the dish from being in the middle of the oven to the rack on the bottom to be closer to the heat and then I set my oven to shut off in 15 minutes. They sat in the hot oven after it turned off for about 10 more minutes.

I think they turned out very pretty. And rather yummy. I didn't count, but I think I had about 20 or so wings and I still have quite a lot left in the enormous Costco bag of wings.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Freezer Pantry Challenge- the early days

So, my introductory post was yesterday but I had conducted my inventory and wrote it on Sunday. Today I am bringing things up to date with my progress for meals for Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.

When I did inventory we had 1/2 a gallon of milk, no flour, no brown sugar and no half and half. So I did spend about $10 because they are some key ingredients for things I want to make coming weeks. (Plus, we always need to have milk to drink)

Sunday I barbecued chicken that my older daughter has declared a favorite of hers. It's basted with a simple balsamic vinegar glaze. We also had brown rice, canned green beans (the only version my kids eat) and sliced one of the heirloom tomatoes from our CSA that I drizzled with extra balsamic glaze. Here's the recipe for the chicken.

Grilled Chicken with Balsamic Glaze
4 Chicken breasts (boneless, skinless) or whatever chicken portion you prefer
Salt and pepper
2 Tablespoons honey
¼ c. balsamic vinegar
Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper to preferred taste.
Prepare grill and be sure grates are oiled.
Heat the honey in a small sauce pan over medium heat until it becomes thin. Add balsamic vinegar and let boil and reduce for 3-5 minutes. Be careful, it can splatter while boiling; keep a close eye on it. Remove from heat.
Place chicken on hot grill, grill for about 4 minutes until grill marks have formed, and then flip over. Baste with glaze and grill for another 4 minutes. Flip over and baste again, the flip one more time and apply more glaze. Be sure they are cooked through, then remove from grill and let rest for 5 minutes.

On Monday I channeled my inner Southern self. (I have lived in CA all my life) and grilled bone-in pork chops that I basted with orange apricot preserves toward the end of cooking. I also had the craving for deep fried zucchini. I mixed an egg with milk to dip the slices in first. Then I made up a flour and cornmeal coating that included garlic powder and some seasoning salt. I was lazy and did not pull out my fryer and just used a regular frying pan. I also intended to fix a salad but instead just left the meal at the pork chop and zucchini. The zucchini was great. But isn't everything fried great?

Fried Zucchini

On Tuesday I decided to make use of a whole roasted chicken in the freezer and although its August and still rather hot here, I made chicken soup. Again feeling a bit Southern I decided to make dumplings for the soup. I've made them before but I was disappointed with how they turned out. One dumpling was fluffy inside the others were solid. I could swear it's the same recipe I used last time (from The Joy of Cooking) however I am now convinced that last time I must have used Bisquick and the recipe from the package. I am also sure that the texture of the dough and how it came together was wrong and I had a feeling it was when I was making it. I am pretty sure it was operator error. But it was easy enough to just scoop them out when I was saving the leftovers. A waste, which I hate, but at least it didn't spoil the rest of the dish. This soup was simple, I sauteed one of my many onions (which I'm saving to make French onion soup) and a couple of carrots with celery salt (because I don't have fresh celery) and the whole chicken. Then I add some water, to not quite cover the chicken and cooked it all down. The chicken was from Costco and so the skin provided a lot of flavor. Cooking it down to reduce the liquid also concentrated the flavor. I pulled out all the bones and then added more water, turned up the heat to bring it up to a boil and added a bunch of Trader Joe's frozen green beans. In the back of my head I was sort of keeping this more stew-like than a brothy soup. But when it was time to eat I mixed the dumplings and decided to add about 2 cups of chicken broth to have enough liquid to cook them.
Dumpling disappointment aside, the soup is pretty tasty. I like making it because I can multi-task while it simmers, and using a store-bought roasted chicken cuts corners on seasoning. I will still make my usual homemade chicken soup which is a longer labor of love (and a recipe I have started to write out and will post someday soon) but this made enough for me to pack a generous portion for my husband's lunch as well as a little serving for my toddler to have a preschool and there is still some more for about 2 more servings.

For Wednesday, I'm making beef tacos. I've always got tortillas and I happen to have quite a few avocados that I bought over a week ago for a party and when it came time to make guacamole they were still hard as rocks. My mistake for putting them in the fridge after just one day on the counter, I love that the fridge can extend the life of avocados, but sometimes there's an art to timing them to ripen when you need. So I put several out the other day, they are now perfectly ripe and back in the fridge ready to become delicious guacamole.

More on that tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Taking Stock

I don’t know about other people but for me there is always some point in the year (if not all year) that you have more than your normal monthly expenditures. Our second half of the year is always like this. With all the birthdays in our family and holidays all taking place from July until December, the final six months of the year are always fun but yet stressful. Add both cars registration due and various other expenses and it’s a doozy to manage.
So I was mulling all this over, berating myself for once again not being as prepared for this as I vowed I would be last year, when I started to think about where and how to save some money. My first thought was to start with unnecessary expenditures, eating out being one of them. Which in spite of my business, we still eat out sometimes because we like to eat out and also sometimes out of convenience and schedule. But I also looked at my extra freezer and in my pantry and decided that with the shopping I had done at the start of August I had no real reason to do any large shopping for quite some time. So I issued a challenge to myself to see how I could make use of all the food I had in the house without going to the store. Or at least without replenishing a few items like milk and/or eggs. I don’t even have a real need for produce because I have a variety of frozen vegetables that I can go to after the produce I do have is gone.
So I took a pad and pen and stood in front of my freezer, my pantry and my refrigerator/freezer and took inventory and then I took that and typed it all in an Excel sheet so I could organize it by category and now I have a “shopping list” in which I can work from to create our meals. It sort of reminds me of that great Food Network show, "Door Knock Dinners". I wish they still had that on, it was fun to watch.
I took a few photos to start my challenge off. I guess like a little "before".
Stay tuned, I plan to update on my progress.

The fridge

The produce drawer

The freezer in the garage