Saturday, December 31, 2011

2012 Resolutions

Do you do New Years Resolutions? I don't.  I kind of do them all year long instead of making some big ones at the beginning of the year (and failing!).  Whether you make resolutions or you don't, I challenge you to get organized in your shopping and cooking for 2012.

If you are resolving to lose weight, cooking at home will help you do it.  If you are resolving to save money, being organized and making grocery lists will help you do that, too.  Here's how to do it:

1) Plan your meals.  Even if you plan sandwiches every night; make a list and stick to it.  Be flexible, of course, but don't buy 10 frozen pizzas just because they are on sale.   You don't need them! Really, you don't.

2) Have a list every time you go to the grocery store.

3) Eat at home; only eat out once or twice a week.

Here's the low tech list template I use at my Walmart Supercenter. I print it out and then write on it through the week and when I plan our meals.  I have a certain way I walk around the store, so I've organized the categories as such. I fold the paper in half so I can hold it easier while shopping.  I start on the Walmart side (that's what I call the side without the food), then head to the cleaning supplies, then to the snacks, and so forth, finishing with produce.
Confession:  I don't coupon.  I admire those ladies at the store with coupon binders and calculators who are passionate about saving money.  I just don't have it in me. 

I prefer to save money by meal planning and staying organized.  If you plan your meals, you won't waste food. If you have a list, you won't over-buy.  And if you HAVE to take children with you when shopping, a list will help you get out of the store without forgetting anything.

Use any list type that works for you; there are all kinds of free printables out there like this one and this extra cute one that has a chevron print.  If you like lists where you check off what you need,  this one is really good.  I've tried a cool list app on my phone, but I just ended up dropping my phone at the store (more than once!) so that didn't work for me.

You'll be happily surprised at how smoothly your shopping trip goes, how you save money, and have more time for Pinterest (um, I mean, your family)...

Friday, December 30, 2011

Burgundy Mushrooms

We had these mushrooms for Christmas dinner along with our Roast Beast (like in the Grinch, get it?).  Now typically, I don't cook anything that takes nine hours.  But these mushrooms, YES! Next time I'll have them as a main course...they are so delicious and almost beef-y.

Oh, and I didn't use Burgundy wine.  I used a Cabernet, but any red wine will do.  If you don't drink wine, get some for this dish; there is no substitution.  It doesn't have to be expensive (you need an entire liter), but it shouldn't be sweet at all.

Burgundy Mushrooms
4 pounds white button mushrooms
1 cup of butter
1 liter of red wine
4 beef bullion cubes
4 chicken bullion cubes
1 tsp dried rosemary
1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
5 garlic cloves
1 tsp black pepper
2 cups boiling water
2 tsp salt

Rinse the mushrooms and then add them to a stockpot with all other ingredients, except salt. Simmer covered for 6 hours. Then simmer with the lid off for 3 more hours. Salt at the end if desired.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Baked French Toast

Y'all, we've been eating around here.  A lot. So much, in fact, that I've been too busy eating to blog about it! I'm kind of stuffed.  But I want to tell you about a few recipes I made over Christmas that were extraordinary.  You may not want to cook these just now, since you're probably about ready to start that diet, but Pin them for later. You'll be glad you did! 

We had this Baked French Toast on Christmas morning after opening presents.  Yuumm.  Also, you can make it the night before you want to serve it, which is exactly how I prefer to "cook" breakfast.

Baked French Toast
1 loaf crusty sourdough bread
8 whole eggs
2 cups milk
1/2  cup whipping cream 
3/4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla

1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick cold butter, cut Into Pieces
Fresh Fruit (optional)
maple syrup 
soft butter for serving

Grease 9 x 13-inch baking pan with butter. Tear bread into chunks and put them in the pan.
Mix together eggs, milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla. Pour evenly over bread. Cover tightly and store in the fridge several hours or overnight.
In a separate bowl, mix flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add butter pieces and cut into the dry mixture until mixture resembles fine pebbles (use a pastry blender or a fork). Store in a Ziploc in the fridge.
When you’re ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Remove casserole from fridge and sprinkle crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 45 minutes for a softer, more bread pudding texture. Bake 1 hour or more for a firmer, less liquid texture.
Scoop out individual portions. Top with butter, fresh berries, and drizzle with maple syrup.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Sugar Cut Outs

There are a million different recipes for Sugar Cookies out there, I know.  What's special about this one, you ask?  Well, it doesn't have any secret ingredients or anything.  But it's a special recipe to us because it's the recipe John's mom always used at Christmas. And according to John, the cookies have to be pink and mint green, too, because that's how he remembers them from childhood (remember back in the 80s when all food coloring only made pastel colors?).   But I will tell you it's a solid sugar cookie recipe and they keep their shape well. 
Look at the cute ones the kids did....We make the candy canes into Js in our family...our last name is James, see....
Sugar Cut Outs

3/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

No instructions come with this recipe because it's an old one.  Here's how I make them:  cream butter (room temperature) and sugar together until fluffy.  Add eggs one at a time and mix until well combined.  Add vanilla.  Whisk together flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl.  Add dry ingredients gradually until just combined.  Separate dough into 2 flat circles, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill them at least one hour. 
Roll out dough to about 1/4 inch and cut with cutters.  Bake 8-10 minutes at 400 degrees. 

Sugar Cut Out Icing (please don't buy icing in a can, please)

2 tablespoons butter
4 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

Add milk to desired consistency. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Cranberry, Pistachio, and White Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

I made these for a cookie exchange party because they aren't too sweet and they are so festive with the red and green.  They are incredibly easy to make, too, not to mention unbelievably good.

Cranberry, Pistachio, and White Chocolate Shortbread Cookies
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup chopped dried cranberries
1 cup roughly chopped pistachios
1 cup white chocolate chips
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Mix in the vanilla extract. In a separate bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add the flour & salt to the butter mixture. Mix on low speed until it just starts to come together. Add the cranberries, pistachios, and white chocolate a little at a time until it's incorporated. Mix until the dough forms a ball. Roll into a log about 1 1/2 inch in diameter. Roll the log in parchment paper and chill it for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350F and line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Slice the log into 1/4 inch slices. Place the slices on the sheet pan. They don't spread much, so they can be pretty close together. Bake for 10-13 minutes, or until the edges are just starting to brown. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

How about a little Christmas gift for friends and neighbors that takes about 5 minutes to make?  These Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels are my new favorite thing.  Go ahead and double this recipe.  It's that good.  Package them in clear cellophane bags and tie with a pretty ribbon. 

Cinnamon Sugar Pretzels

1 16-18 oz. bag of pretzels
2/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar for sprinkling (mix your own according to your taste)
1 cup white chocolate chips

Whisk together oil, sugar, and cinnamon in a large measuring cup.
Pour pretzels into a microwave safe bowl and pour oil mixture in.  Stir until coated.
Microwave for 1 minute, remove and stir.  Microwave another minute.   
Spread pretzels evenly onto two cookie sheets covered in foil or parchment.
While still warm, sprinkle cinnamon sugar generously. 
Melt white chocolate in microwave (about 30-60 seconds) and drizzle over cooled pretzels. 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Cookie Mix in a Jar

I love to receive (hint, hint) and I also love to give gifts of food.  Barefoot Contessa once said that any gift for an adult should be, gift card, tickets, liquor....and I tend to agree.   NOTE TO HUSBANDS: By "adult", I mean friends/neighbors/teachers/hostesses, NOT SPOUSES. 

Here's what I made last year for our teachers and friends: Cowboy Cookie Mix.  If you're already behind with all the present wrapping and Christmas parties going on and you don't have anything yet for your kids' teachers, this is quick and cute. Oh, and cheap, too.  And the cookies, once they are baked, are really good. 
Christmas Jar Cookie Mix

1 1/3 cup all purpose flour, spooned into measuring cup & leveled
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup cooking oats
3/4 cup m&ms
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup white sugar

Basically, you just layer the ingredients in a jar.  But there are a few secrets to making it look perfect. 

1) Start with a 1 quart mason jar. I found these at Walmart. Cheap. Maybe $15 for 12 jars.  You also need a wide mouth canning funnel.  I found a plastic one right next to the mason jars for 50 cents. It's worth the investment to get the stuff into the jar!

2) Layer the ingredients in this order. 

First: flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt
Second: oats
Third: m&ms
Fourth: chocolate chips
Fifth: brown sugar
Sixth: white sugar

3)  After each layer, PACK down the ingredients with a wooden spoon.  Really pack it down, or else everything wont fit. 

4) Screw on the lid to the jar, add cute fabric to the top, and tie with a pretty ribbon.  Cut the fabric into 6 inch squares and the ribbon into 25 inch pieces. Place the fabric on top and tie ribbons around the lid to hold it in place.

5) Attach a tag with the baking instructions.  I just printed them out in a small font and taped it to the back of my gift tags with double sided tape.

1 slightly beaten egg
1/2 cup butter (melted slightly in the microwave)
1 teaspoon vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Roll the cookie dough into 1 1/2 in balls and bake about 10 minutes.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Spicy Tilapia with Fresh Pineapple Salsa

This flavors in this meal remind me of vacation.  And while I was just in the Caribbean 2 weeks ago, all this rainy, cold weather makes me feel like it's time to go back!

Spicy Tilapia with Fresh Pineapple Salsa

cajun seasoning (Tony's, y'all)
about a half of a fresh pineapple (NOT canned, not ever)
half a small red onion
a bunch of cilantro (I use a lot)
juice of a lime
salt to taste

Chop pineapple, red onion, and cilantro and add lime juice and salt. Salsa is done.

Thaw tilapia and pat dry with paper towel. Sprinkle with cajun seasoning. Cook in HOT nonstick skillet drizzled with olive oil on one side until it's brown, about 2-3 minutes. Flip fish and cook the other side, another 2-3 minutes. Serve with quinoa or rice and pineapple salsa.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Rice Bowl

I tried a variation of this recipe a while back, and I was not really a fan.  But THIS recipe I made for tonight was really, really, good.  I will certainly be making this again!  The easy to delicious ratio is high on this one!

Slow Cooker Chicken Taco Rice Bowl

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
16 oz. jar salsa
1 can ranch style black beans
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tbsp cumin
1/2 tbsp garlic powder 
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp pepper
2 cups brown rice, cooked
about a cup of sharp cheddar, shredded
1/2 bunch cilantro 
1/4 cup water
fresh lime
Get this: put chicken into the slow cooker. Top with salsa, beans, and spices.  Press low. Walk away.  After 6-8 hours, make some rice, shred some cheese, chop the cilantro, and throw it all in a bowl. Squeeze a lime over the top.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Gingerbread House Tips

Doing a gingerbread house is a tradition in our family. Up until this year, we've always done one of those kits from Sam's or Walmart.  Look at these cute little girls from 2006: they were 3 and 1.

Well, last year there was quite a bit of arguing involved between these 2 little sweeties (can you even believe it?) as they both worked on one gingerbread house, and little brother couldn't even get one gumdrop without a sister pushing him out of the way.  So I decided they'd each do their own graham cracker/gingerbread house this year.  It worked out much, much better.  And they turned out so cute!

I have a few tips for you on making the perfect individual gingerbread house. (go here to see detailed pics) 

1) Use melted white almond bark to assemble the house. Forget the royal icing, it takes too long to dry. Melt the bark in the microwave for a couple of minutes and then spoon it into Ziploc bags.  Cut a tiny bit off the corner of the bag and let the kids go to town "gluing" the house together.  It dries so fast and makes a really sturdy house.   You can use it to decorate as well. 

2) Use a plastic serrated knife to cut the graham crackers.  Like the kind you get with fast food.  A good quality serrated knife or steak knife will break the crackers.  A regular butter knife *might* work, but you should have an extra package of graham crackers on hand just in case.  

3) You need 6 full graham crackers per house.  Go look at these pics as to how you cut them to make a house.  It is so easy.  Why have I never thought of it??

Friday, December 9, 2011

Salted Caramel Pretzel Bark

If you're like me, you've got plenty of opportunities through the holidays to make sweets for parties and potlucks, or to give as gifts.  I made a batch of this Salted Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bark for my family as a try-out to possibly be our teacher gifts this year.  While it's one of the best candies I've EVER eaten, the finished product isn't exactly pretty enough to go to our very special teachers.  So we just gobbled it up and I'm on to plan B for the teachers...

Salted Chocolate Caramel Pretzel Bark (adapted from here)

1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 cup light brown sugar
about 1/2 bag of mini pretzels
12-oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
coarse sea salt

Wrap a baking sheet with tin foil.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. As it melts, cover the baking sheet in an even layer of mini pretzels.

Once the butter is melted, add the sugar and stir to incorporate. Allow the sugar and butter to softly simmer and bubble for 3 minutes.

After 3 minutes, pour the mixture evenly over the pretzels on the baking sheet. Bake the pretzel-caramel mixture in the oven for 5-7 minutes.

When the pretzels come out of the oven, sprinkle the entire bag of chocolate chips over the top. Wait for a minute, and then use a spatula to spread the melted chocolate.

Sprinkle sea salt evenly over the bark. Place it in the fridge to cool and harden for about an hour and then break into chunks.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Grown Up Grilled Cheese

The kids ate regular grilled cheese with cheddar, but John and I had Grown Up Grilled Cheese.  Yum.

Grown Up Grilled Cheese (serves 2)

4 slices rustic white bread or sourdough
2 tbsp butter
2 large sweet onions
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
1 large crisp apple (have you tried the Jazz apples? They are so apple-y they taste fake!)

Caramelize onions. Slice onions thinly and begin to cook in 1 tbsp butter over medium heat..  Add 1 tsp sugar and 1 tsp salt and cover.   Cook for 10 minutes with the lid on, and then take the lid off, reduce heat to low and cook, stirring only occasionally until caramelized, about 20 minutes.
Assemble sandwiches with caramelized onions, brie, and apple slices.  Use panini press to cook sandwiches, or just place sandwiches on a buttered skillet and weigh them down with something heavy like a saucepan.   Flip each sandwich and repeat on the other side.  Makes 2 sandwiches.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork

Brown Sugar and Balsamic Glazed Pork Tenderloin
1 package boneless pork tenderloins (2 come in a package, about 3 lbs. total)
1 teaspoon ground sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
olive oil

For the glaze:
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, sliced 
Drizzle tenderloins with olive oil and then sprinkle both sides with sage, salt, and pepper. Place in 420 degree oven for 20-30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the tenderloins (155 degrees internal temperature, and let it rest for 10 minutes and temp will rise to 160).   While the pork is cooking, combine ingredients for glaze in small sauce pan. Boil and stir until mixture thickens. Spoon glaze over tenderloins 2 or 3 times during the last 10 minutes of cooking. You can turn on the broiler for a couple of minutes at the end if you'd like the pork to be really brown on top.  Serve with remaining glaze on the side.  

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Quick Chicken Parmesan

I do love Chicken Parm....fried chicken with cheese and sauce on top....yum.  But really, you can't eat stuff like that everyday, ya know?  Here's my version.  It's quick, healthy, and even got this compliment from one of my children: "wow, Mom, this is actually good."  Hmph.

Quick Chicken Parmesan

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, thin sliced
salt, pepper, garlic powder
high quality jarred marinara
fresh mozzarella cheese, thinly sliced (the stuff that comes in round packages)
freshly grated Parmesan cheese (grate it fresh for this, it makes a difference, and even my Walmart carries it now)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Heat ovenproof skillet and add 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Salt, pepper, and garlic powder the chicken and brown it well on one side.  Flip chicken and add enough marinara to cover chicken.  Add thin slice of fresh mozzarella cheese to each chicken.  Place entire skillet in the oven until everything is hot and bubbly and chicken is cooked through (5-10 minutes depending on the thickness of the chicken).
When they are cooked through, sprinkle each with Parmesan cheese.  I served this with a little whole wheat pasta and roasted broccoli.  

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Perfect Bacon in the Oven

We love our bacon around here.  I only cook 2 pieces per person because we could eat an entire package, easy.  Moderation, right?  And here's the secret to perfect, flat, crunchy (who asks for chewy bacon, anyway??), mess-less bacon every time: the oven.  No splatters, no standing over a hot, greasy skillet flipping bacon, no smokey kitchen.  Perfect.

Tonight we FINALLY put up our Christmas tree, so breakfast for dinner was just right for a rainy night in.  Chocolate chip pancakes with bananas and real maple syrup and Perfect Bacon.  Yum.  Oh, and I truly believe in my heart that Bisquick makes the best pancakes.

Perfect Bacon (you'll want to write this down, it's complicated)
Here's what you need: 
Bacon (I like Petit Jean (Arkansas product) but it's kinda $$$, so I usually get Hormel Black Label)
cookie sheet

Place bacon on a cookie sheet. Place in oven and turn it on to 400. Cook 17-20 minutes or until it's as brown and crispy as you like.  Thicker bacon will take longer to cook.  When cooked, remove bacon to paper towels to drain.