Monday, January 31, 2011

February Meal Plan

It seems to me that I am always caught surprised at the end of the month, I never seem to notice it passing.  For February, I had fully intended on creating a meal plan that exercised strict frugality.  I had plans of comparing ingredient prices in recipes and creating an incredibly budget friendly menu for the month, including breakfasts, lunches and snacks.

Unfortunately, misery in the form of weeks of the flu followed by a stomach bug has invaded the household (we are not yet in the clear) and I was unable to sit down with a calculator as I had hoped.  Instead, February's meal plan is a reflection of meals that I think are inexpensive.  I suppose as we enter into a new and hopefully healthier month we will see how near the mark I am in my assumptions.  A few of the meals you may notice are "repeat offenders" which in most cases means that they were skipped over last month.  Perhaps they will find more favor in February.

Mon. Tues. Wed. Thur. Fri. Sat. Sun.

Pancakes & Sausage Cream of Tomato Soup, Cheese Sandwiches Chicken Pot Pie Potato Soup Pesto Stuffed Shells Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Veggie Burgers, Baked Sweet Potato Fries Rice, Refried Beans, and Cheese Casserole Fried Fish Sandwiches Salisbury Steak, Potatoes, Peas Sweet Potatoes with Warm Black Bean Salad General Tso's Chicken Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Egg Nests Cabbage Rolls Fusilli with Wild Mushroom Cream Sauce Chicken Noodle Soup Chili w/Cornbread Chicken Marsala, Garlic Mashed Potatoes, Roast Carrots Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Pesto Chicken Pasta Sausage, Peppers & Potatoes Salmon Patties Samosas Lentil, Chickpea, and Rice Dish Roast Chicken, Stuffing, Corn Salmon Salad Sandwiches
Corny Mashed Potato Bowls

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Daring Bakers Make Biscuit Joconde Imprimes, part One

The January 2011 Daring Bakers’ challenge was hosted by Astheroshe of the blog accro. She chose to challenge everyone to make a Biscuit Joconde Imprime to wrap around an Entremets dessert.  Now, when that was announced I had absolutely no idea what it was.  All I knew was that it sounded fancy, and complicated, and, well...challenging.  Back to the challenge aspect of the group.  However, since I like desserts I was not in the least concerned about liking it, just about managing to get it completed while corralling two kiddoes.  When I read the challenge further I discovered what we were making and found out that we were suppose to come up with our own fillings.  I knew without a doubt what I was going to be making.

The very first "fancy" dessert that I ever made was a three layer chocolate mousse cake, the recipe for which I got, ironically, from a King Arthur Flour Cookbook.  I say ironic because the original recipe didn't have any flour in it, strange coming from a company that distributes flour.  The bottom was a dark chocolate flourless cake, the middle layer a milk chocolate mousse, and the top was a white chocolate-raspberry mousse.  It is one of the few recipes I have made several times because it has always pleased the crowd. 

I was all set to make and fill my Biscuit Joconde but had no idea what sort of design I was going to attempt to implement.  After a lot of consideration I went with random squiggles, which didn't quite turn out as clearly as I had hoped, but since I didn't end up with a burnt or cracking mess I figured for a first attempt it went well.  Continuing on, I assembled my milk chocolate mousse and poured it into the pan with the jaconde molded around the edge.  Uh oh!  My estimates were way off since the mousse only came to about a third of the way up the side.  I was going to need to come up with another layer. 

After some searching through various saved recipes I decided on adapting one for a caramel mousse.  Throughout the entire process it was this step that gave me the most trouble.  I needed to make a caramel sauce from scratch since I wasn't about to to go out in our very strange lightning blizzard and that was the trouble.  I have attempted caramel once before and while it was edible, it was grainy and a bit bitter/burnt and unfortunately the first batch I made for the mousse came out the same way.  I was not going to ruin a beautiful dessert by using the subpar caramel I had just produced, so I did some quick research and decided to try again.

One of the suggestions for keeping the caramel from burning was to submerge the bottom of the pan into cold water to stop the cooking process.  This sounded plausible and so I did so only to be quite dismayed when my beautiful caramelized sugar seized in the bottom of the pan and turned into rock hard candy.  Not knowing how else to remove the sugary mass from the bottom of my pan, I decided to try and melt it off over a low heat.  Eventually, the mess began to melt back into beautiful caramel and although it was a time consuming process I was able to use it for the middle layer, a delicious caramel mousse.

It wasn't until after I made the caramel mousse that it occurred to me that the caramel mousse and the white chocolate mousse were going to have a similar flavor profile.  Proceeding on with the white chocolate mousse would probably have been fine, but I decided to alter it and turn it into white chocolate-mocha.  Judging from the bits I tasted that were leftover in the bowl, I believe it was an excellent decision.

(see that clump? that is the caramel mess starting to melt again)

The mousse is currently setting in my fridge.  There are as of yet no interior pictures since we will be eating it this weekend as we celebrate two family birthdays.  I still wanted to post today since it is reveal day, and since I already had so much to blabber about I will save the interior pictures to post with the recipe later this weekend or early next week.  I thoroughly enjoyed this challenge and must thank Astheroshe for introducing a new dessert presentation to me.  Be sure to visit some of the other incredible desserts that other Daring Bakers have produced this month.  If you wish to try the recipe for the Joconde, you will find the one we used here on the Daring Kitchen website.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


It has been a little quiet on this blog the past month or two.  First the holidays were demanding their fair share of my attention, then recovering from said holidays took precedence, and finally the family succumbing one by one to some awful sickness took up much more energy then I would have liked.  The win for most pathetic patient would have to go to the Storm Sprite.  Poor little thing still has no idea what hit her.  As I was sick myself, I took no insult when she wanted comfort from Daddy instead of me.  Instead, I just handed her hysterically sobbing for Daa-Daa self off to Hey, Babe (who wasn't thoroughly convinced she knew what she was saying until she instantly quieted on being taken into his arms) and tried to get more sleep.  We are still suffering the after shock, what with sniffly noses and fits of coughing still echoing in our house, but the fact that I don't have two children super glued to my person at all times is an indication that they are actually feeling better.  I might even be to cook with my camera again (hard to do when one hand is already holding a clingy, sniffly baby).

Meanwhile, I have been working on planning my first garden for the spring.  Buying started plants for everything I'm interested in growing would be cost-prohibitive (as well as less of a learning experience) so instead I ordered seed catalogs from several supposedly reliable, safe companies and figured I was on my way to figuring out what to plant.  Then all the catalogs started to come in.  I had NO idea that there was going to be so many selections (all of which look tasty) and was beginning to be quite overwhelmed. 

Fortunately, I discovered that one of the companies, Bountiful Gardens, was offering seed mixes of several of the vegetable varieties I wanted to grow.  Perhaps it will turn out to be a mistake when I can't figure out what the heck I planted that we enjoyed (or hated) so much for future reference, but I am hoping it will give me a starting point.  Aside from that, I don't think I am particularly picky and after buying partially ripe tomatoes in the grocery store for the past several years I am pretty sure that anything I grow will be an improvement.  I will also be attempting to grow a few herbs since the cost of one seed packet with 200 seeds is less than the cost of buying them fresh in the store.  Now as long as my thumb has even a moderate shade of green I think I'll be alright.

The last thing that has been taking up so much of my recent time is trees.  Fruit trees to be more specific.  I am interested in starting a mini home orchard with several types and varieties of dwarf fruit trees.  For my birthday that comes later this year, I am suppose to pick out trees now for spring planting.  My only trouble is trying to figure out what the heck to plant!  There is even more pressure (self inflicted) to chose the right variety when it comes to tress for several reasons.  Trees are significantly more expensive (seeds $1-3, trees $30-40 and don't even get me started on shipping), they are a huge time commitment before you see any fruit (up to three years instead of a few weeks), and because of the way I am planning on planting them (high density planting or four trees to a hole), I need to commit to four varieties at a time and hope that they all thrive because if one dies, I'm not sure if or how it can be replaced.  I have to remind myself that this self induced pressure is a luxury, but I still want to pick the right ones. 

Though I would eventually like to have apples, cherries, peaches, plums, pears and nectarines all growing here (perhaps I'm a little over-ambitious), I think I am accepting that I will have to start with just apples or cherries this year.  Now if only I could figure out what varieties to plant!  My intent is to use the apples for apple butter, apple pies, and eating out of hand.  I don't like mealy apples (like Red Delicious) and apples like Golden Delicious, Pink Lady, and Granny Smith are all readily available for reasonable prices around here so it doesn't make sense to grow my own.  Any suggestions for incredible apples that you have used for apple butter or pie and absolutely loved?  Any recommendations or even warnings will be welcome!  I need to chose soon before they run out of selections.  I apparently should have ordered in the fall, who knew? 

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Tex-Mex Sheet Pan Pizza

We eat a lot of pizza in this house.  When Hey, Babe and I first got married our apartment was across the street from a delicious pizzeria.  It just so happened that they ran a special on their pizzas the same night we would host game night with my brothers.  While we lived there we had a steady supply of delicious pizza.  Unfortunately, when we moved a few towns over the unthinkable happened.  We couldn't find a consistently good pizzeria near us.  Not only that but the pizzas near us were significantly more expensive.  That meant we would be paying more for pizzas that we liked less.  Not happy with that prospect, I started to make them myself.

Since then I have tried a lot of different recipes for pizza doughs.  Thin crust, thick crust, personal pan (a la Pizza Hut), sheet pan, quick, complicated, etc.  Most of them I have made several times and they will probably all eventually work their way on here, however, when I want to feed a crowd (and in a relatively short time) I nearly always go with my recipe for sheet pan pizza.

One of the things I love so much about pizza is the versatility of the toppings.  For this particular pizza I chose to make it nice and hearty by going Tex-Mex.  With a can or two of black beans along with some cumin, chili powder, veggies and a mix of cheeses it is sure to make each slice more filling, and more tasty.  I personally like to have some salsa, guacamole, or sour cream on the side when I make this pizza, but that is just me.  You can even change it up and still keep it along a Southwestern theme by making it spicy or adding some ground beef.  However you decide to make it, just be sure to make enough.

Sheet Pan Pizza Dough
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 3/4 cups water heated to 110 degrees
1 tablespoon sugar
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 envelopes instant or rapid-rise yeast (4 1/2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons salt

Preheat oven to 200°F and turn it off, this is where we will be allowing the pizza dough to rise.  Lightly grease a large bowl and set it aside.

In your mixing bowl, add your flour, yeast, sugar, and salt.  Give it a quick stir to combine.  Attach your dough hook and then turn mixer speed to medium-low and slowly adding the water and oil until dough, about 3 minutes. Put dough into greased bowl and cover with either a damp towel or plastic and allow to rise in the previously preheated oven until it is double (around 30 minutes).

While dough is finishing rising, liberally grease a 18x13-inch sheet pan (mine is a bit smaller so I use 2) with a few tablespoons of oil.  Once dough has risen to desired size, remove it to a floured work surface and roll it into the correct size for your pan.  Transfer dough to prepared pan and stretch and press the dough until it reaches the sides and corners.  If you are having a tough time getting it to stay stretched out and in the corners, I find that dimpling it seems to help.  Allow dough to rest about 20 minutes while you prepare your pizza toppings. During this time start preheating your oven to 450°F.

When dough has finished resting and rising, spread your selected topping evenly over the surface and bake 15-20 minutes or until cheese is melted.

For our Tex-Mex version of this pizza I topped it with the following:

1 rinsed can of black or pinto beans
liberal sprinkle of cumin and chili powder
diced tomatoes
chopped bell peppers
minced onion
frozen corn
cheddar cheese
mozzarella cheese

Pizza is too inexact for me to measure the toppings, it amounts to how much I feel like or what is ready on hand.  Some people might be interested adding cooked meat to this or hot peppers.  Just as a side note, I usually add mozzarella on top of the cheddar because it is less prone to burning  Also, be sure that your beans are covered in other toppings (like cheese) because if they are exposed to the heat of the oven for too long they will end up splitting open and getting dry and crispy.  My pans are a bit smaller than the requested size so rather than end up with very thick crust, I choose to split the dough between two pans for a thinner crust (but still not nearly thin enough for thin crust).  This means I almost never have to pre-bake my crusts.  That call is totally up to you.  Enjoy!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Daring Cooks make Cassoulet

Our January 2011 Challenge comes from Jenni of The Gingered Whisk and Lisa from Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives. They have challenged the Daring Cooks to learn how to make a confit and use it within the traditional French dish of Cassoulet. They have chosen a traditional recipe from Anthony Bourdain and Michael Ruhlman.

This is an involved recipe and you can find it here on the Daring Kitchen site.  I'm not sure how to describe how I felt about the challenge when it was announced.  Apprehensive is probably the best fit. Duck, Duck Fat, Sausages, Pork Belly...what had I gotten myself into?

I have to admit that since I wasn't really excited I kept putting off doing the challenge.  Earlier this week it occurred to me that the challenge of cooking outside our comfort zone is exactly what this group is about.  Now that it was down to the wire I decided that I needed to just get my butt in gear and find out exactly what I was so worried about. 

When we were doing our monthly grocery trip earlier in the month I was unable to find certain ingredients.  Since I put off attempting the challenge until the last minute, there was no time to go hunting other stores to find them so emergency substitutions needed to be made.  To top it off, while I was trying to get the recipe down so that I could start the process, my computer went all wonky on me.  I was now making this from (sketchy) memory, without the correct ingredients, two days before the challenge was do.  (And what will my procrastinating self learn from this? Nothing).

In light of everything I changed, I sure hope that this still counts as a completed challenge.  For my chicken confit I salted the chicken, sprinkled on an herb mix that I assembled my bread dip, and slow cooked it in the oven at 250°F for only 4 hours (faulty memory got it wrong) but it was so delicious!  I could have just eaten the chicken by itself.  I couldn't remember what veggies (if any) went into the given recipe so I decided to simply quarter some mushrooms and toss them with some of the used olive oil as well as a tablespoon of lemon juice and roast them in the oven for about 20 minutes. At that time I added a rough chopped onion and let them all continue to roast another 10 minutes.  When they were done I added the beans, some leftover homemade Ham and Potato soup (instead of the pork belly, close enough, right?),  the sausage and chicken and tossed it all back into the oven to cook together for a while.

After all that nervous apprehension I am thrilled to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the way this turned out.  Was it the given recipe? Not even hardly.  Looking at the recipe now I wonder how I missed some of the steps.  I will probably leave out the sausage next time, they really didn't add much as far as I was concerned.  The chicken? Awesome.  I will make it again to eat by itself, with the rest of the ingredients, with another sauce/ingredient combo all together, you name it.  I'm sold, it was good.  Other than the chicken, the part I am most thrilled with were the mushrooms and onion.  Oh my goodness, they were incredible.  I will be roasting them together like that again to top something, anything.  I never realized how much I liked mushrooms before.  In light of all that, I can say that I am glad that I completed this challenge, allowing it to stretch me a bit and show me that some things that sound odd can be really quite delightful.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

BBQ Chicken Braid

Remember that no knead bread recipe that I (along with many others) posted a while back?  I have found so many uses for it, as a base for pizza, english muffin style, stuffed, dipped, for sandwiches.  I think I am going to have to go out and buy a designated bread rising container because I could use some of it pretty much every day, especially in Little Man's practically daily PB&J!  My sister has been reminding me that I need to make it as pizzas again (and take pictures this time) so that I can post about what a wonder it is to behold, but I'm not going to just yet.  Instead I'm going to share with you how awesome it was stuffed with BBQ Chicken. 

I can't recall where I first heard of such awesomeness, but if I were to take a wild stab in the dark I'd guess it was probably at a Pampered Chef party.  The recipe probably called for packaged biscuit dough.  Actually, now that I think of it that sounds spot on, I believe it actually called for croissant dough and was somehow shaped into a wreath.  I am certain that it called for several specific Pampered Chef kitchen tools in the recipe, which I always find rather amusing.  (I may mock, but I like a lot of their things.)

All that is besides the point.  You don't need any particular brand tool for this recipe or brand name ingredients for that matter.  This can be made from scratch or totally assembled from grocery store convenience products (or some happy middle ground, your call).  All you need to make it is some dough, cooked chicken, BBQ Sauce, shredded cheese and whatever veggies you think are calling out your name to be tossed into the mix. 

I am pretty sure that you really can't mess this one up.  Whether you decide to make it for a snack, an appetizer, or the entire meal, odds are that you and whomever you have joining you will be thoroughly satisfied.  Unless you don't like chicken.  Or BBQ sauce.  Or Cheese.  But if you didn't like those you probably wouldn't eat it in the first place, so those are kind of moot points.  Next time, I might add some bacon.  Or mushrooms.  Or a splash of Chipotle Tabasco.  Have you ever tried that stuff?  It is so good on pizza!  But now I'm off topic.  Just try it.  (I meant the Chicken Braid, but that could go for the Chipotle Tabasco also). 

BBQ Chicken Braid
Dough- package of croissant dough, 1/2 lb store bought pizza dough, or about 1/3 of the no knead bread recipe
1 cup your favorite BBQ sauce or more to taste
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken, shredded or chopped
1/2 red onion, sliced thin
1/2 bell pepper, chopped
2 cups shredded cheese- I used a combo of mozzarella and cheddar but you can use whatever you'd like

Preheat oven to 400°F. 

On a piece of parchment paper, roll your chosen dough into a rectangle, roughly about 12" x 20".  Using either a pizza cutter or a sharp knife, cut into the dough a fringe of 4" x 1" strips over the two long  sides and the top of the rectangle.  Be careful not to completely remove them or disturb the middle portion of the dough. 

Transfer the parchment paper and dough onto a baking sheet.  Over the middle of the dough, spread the BBQ sauce and then top with the chicken, cheeses, and veggies.  The ratio of filling is completely up to you, if you want, top the filling with a little more BBQ sauce.

Starting at the top, begin to fold over strips of dough, alternating side to side, until you have braided down the entire length.  With the remaining ends of the dough strips, twist and tuck them under until the loaf is sealed.  Allow the entire thing to rest for about 10 minutes before baking for 20 minutes or until golden brown.  Allow to cool a few minutes before slicing.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Excerpts from Little Man

In the course of one dinner, Little Man entertained us with the following:

"Little Man, don't forget to eat your noodles."
"I'm not allowed to."
"What? Of course you are.  Eat your noodles."
"No, I'm not, I have carrots."


After taking another bite of carrots Little Man bursts into tears.  I assume that he has once again bit either his tongue or cheek and so I ask him if that is what happened and if he is okay.  Through his distressed tears he manages to tell me, "No! I bit my own finger!"


Little Man has recovered from the self inflicted trauma to his finger and is now merrily eating more of his carrots when he turns to me and tells me, "I have doggies in my mouth."
Taken a little off guard I assure him that he doesn't and to finish his dinner.
"Oh, yes I do!" he contradicts, then leaning toward me with eyebrows wiggling he says conspiratorially, "and they are barking."

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