Saturday, February 27, 2010

It's Saturday--Catch-up and Prep Day

Don't you wish we had two Saturdays? For me, there's never enough time or energy to match all that needs doing. Today I have to run to the bank, then to the post office. Gotta get a few groceries. When I get home I want to make a new menu for next week. How about you? What does your Saturday look like (I mean, besides all the laundry, cleaning, etc.)?

My dinner menu for last week looked like this:
  • Sun:   crockpot roast, spuds, carrots; salad; fruit cup
  • Mon:  7 Layer Casserole; salad, rolls
  • Tue:   Shepherd's Pie; salad; fruit cup
  • Wed:  Taco Soup; tortilla chips; Hearty Oat Cornbread
  • Thu:    Tomato Scallop Spuds (w/diced chicken); salad; fruit cup
  • Fri:     Dilled Potatoes and gravy (hopefully Rich will eat them if there's gravy--he says gravy is one of the cornerstones of life); salad; biscuits
One tip (maybe you already do this, but just in case you don't): on my menu I note beside the dish which cookbook and what page the recipe is on. Are you thinking "DUH!"? In the old days I used to just know which book to go to--not anymore. Too many books and too little memory. ha ha ha.

You see the pattern here--a little less meat and more fruits and vegetables. I'm still learning the once-a-month cooking thing and see great benefit to this habit--especially when Spring really hits and I need to be outside putting in the garden.

Saturday is a great day for experimenting with a new recipe or two and having fun with the family dinner. Carol, a grandma with a large family, likes to use one Saturday a month for a family birthday bash at her house. She tries to build her dinner around the birthday celebrant's favorite dishes. She says the meals stay fairly the same throughout the years. Once a guy loves "Funeral Potatoes," he always loves "Funeral Potatoes," for instance--she accommodates.

I like this idea and am thinking about trying it myself. In the meantime, here's a fun recipe for a Saturday experiment. And in closing, here's to making the most of this precious day, and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!

TWISTY BEEF BAKE (serves 4-6; ready to bake in 10 min.!)
2 C rotinin or elbow macaroni, cooked and drained
1 lb ground beef
1 can Durkee French Fried Onions, divided
1 C shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1 can (10 3/4 oz) condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 can (14 1/2 oz) whole tomatoes, undrained and cut up
1/4 C chopped green pepper
1/4 tsp seasoned salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In large skillet, brown ground beef; drain. Stir in hot macaroni, 1/2 can French Fried onions, 1/2 C cheese, the soup, tomatoes, green pepper and seasoned salt. Mix well. Pour into 2-quart casserole. Bake, covered, for 30 min, or until heated through. Top with remaining cheese and onions; bake, uncovered, 3 min. or until onions are golden brown.

(My Idea: If we wanted to make this and freeze for later use, couldn't we start with UNCOOKED macaroni and add say 2 C of tomato or V-8 juice? Then the macaroni wouldn't get mushy in the freezing and the extra liquid would be absorbed by it when baking. Just wondering...)

Friday, February 26, 2010

For Kids That Like to Cook: Puree of ANY Vegetable Soup!

We know that one of the best ways to get the family dinner on is to enlist the help of family. And it's been my experience that if the kitchen is user-friendly, family enjoy being part of this endeavor. So the next step then, is to plan some meals around recipes children are capable of making. 

While looking through my Aunt Annie's stash of old magazines, I found a doozy: Puree of ANY Vegetable Soup--perfect for older children to work with (teens especially). My background as a school teacher has taught me a few things about working with children: 1) a simplified process generally yields success, 2) children like a challenge, and 3) children rise to our expectations. 

Here's where this applies to the recipe: the process calls for a cutting board, food processor and large saucepan. The challenge ( and fun for them) is is learning to use a food processor (or blender--whichever you have). This is a recipe that you'll love turning over to your children, once you've taught them how to safely use the tools. With enough coaching and oversight from you, your children will more than rise to the occasion and enjoy success--it's an easy recipe with a fantastic end product! Here's the recipe and instructions:

2 Tbsp butter
1 small onion
1 medium potato, scrubbed well
2 cloves garlic, minced
Vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, zucchini, peas (enough so that when chopped, you have 3 cups)
4 C chicken broth
salt and pepper to taste (easy on the salt, unless using salt-free broth)
Additional chopped, cooked veggies for garnish (children love to garnish!)
*For cream variation, use 2 C chicken broth and 2 C cream)

In food processor (or blender), place onion, potato (with skin on), and garlic. Lightly chop. Melt butter in saucepan; add chopped veggies and saute over medium heat until onion is transparent but not brown.

In food processor, place all other veggies and lightly chop. Add these veggies to the saucepan (with the potato, onion, and garlic) and cook 3 minutes more. Add broth. Bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 8-10 minutes or until potatoes are tender.

Transfer soup back to the food processor (or blender); cover and process, in batches, until smooth. Return to saucepan and heat through. Season with additional salt and pepper, if desired. To serve, garnish with additional cooked veggies.

Cook as above, but use only 2 C broth. Then process, creating the puree; return to saucepan, add cream and stir well to mix through. Season with salt and pepper if desired. Heat through, serve and garnish!

Vegetable puree can be frozen for up to six months, by the way. To serve, thaw puree in the refrigerator; place in saucepan and then add the cream. Heat and serve. Yummy, any way you do it.

I love how recipes involving kitchen tools naturally draw the interest of children. All they need is thorough teaching and oversight from us and before we know it, we have a crew of eager and competent cooks in the house! Now, do YOU have a recipe your kids like to make? Please share--we're all in this together remember. And until next time, here's to training and enlisting help as we make family dinner hour possible!


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Bring Your Heritage to the Dinner Table

We all come from someone and somewhere. I come from the Swedish Jacobson family--Alma and Alice are my paternal grandparents. I also come from the English and Danish Crist family--William and Anne are my maternal grandparents. This rich Scandinavian background provides an interesting backdrop for my approach to family meals and cooking/baking in general.

My uncle Alma (my dad's oldest brother) owned and ran a bakery in Murray, Utah--the Vine Street bakery. He was famous for most everything he made, but especially his Bear Claws. To this day, when people find out "who I come from," they ask if I have THE Bear Claw recipe. While I don't have this recipe (how'd that happen?), I DO have a wide collection of other Swedish-specific recipes that are not just tasty, but fun to serve. 

My point in all this: who do YOU come from, and do you have recipes from your heritage that you are acquainting your family with? It's easy to see what great table talk a heritage-related recipe can make. How fun to chat about the light, butter-filled sponge cake, Sockerkaka, as we round out our dinner with dessert. What a nice thing to share family stories as you eat foods your ancestors enjoyed as well. Don't forget to pass on the value system and old family lore, too. I always loved to tell my kids our old Swedish proverb: Food tastes better made with butter and love!

Here then, are two favorite recipes "my people" loved to make and serve--and Uncle Alma's customers loved to get from his bakery--the aforementioned sponge cake, Sockerkaka, and the basis for all Swedish cookies, the Grundrecept For Mordegskakor (basic butter cookie dough).

Swedish cakes are often baked in a cast iron skillet, ideal for even baking. Old and well used skillets need only be buttered, the same goes for cake pans with nonstick finish. New skillets and aluminum pans without the special finish must be buttered and floured, or, as is common in Sweden, sprinkled with fine dry bread crumbs, which give a nice (and unexpected) crust to the cake.

SOCKERKAKA (light sponge cake; just saying it makes me smile)
3 eggs
1 C sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon or 1 Tbsp *vanilla sugar
1 1/3 C sifted flour
2 tsp baking powder (I prefer non-aluminum, Rumford's)
1 stick butter (1/2 C), melted
1/3 C warm water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 6-cup ring mold or bread pan with nonstick finish. Beat the eggs and sugar till thick and pale. Add desired flavoring (either lemon rind or vanilla sugar). Mix the flour and baking powder, stir into the batter together with melted butter. Add the water and blend well. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for 40-45 min., or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for two min. in the pan before inverting it onto a wire rack. Let cool covered with a towel. Wash the cake pan and wipe dry. Transfer the cake to a platter and store it covered with the pan.

Split a vanilla bean and bury it in a jar with one cup powdered sugar. Seal and set aside for 2 to 3 weeks. If you plan to use a lot of vanilla sugar in your baking, you'll want to make several cups of this. Swedes used (and still use) lots of vanilla beans!

Swedish butter cookies are almost as famous as Swedish smorgasbord. Grandma Jacobson taught me to never hesitate to work a cookie dough with my hands: it is the quickest way to a smooth, well blended dough. In the basic butter cookie dough recipe, the warmth of your hands is necessary to turn the mixture into a smooth dough.

GRUNDRECEPT FOR MORDEGSKAKOR (basic butter cookie dough)
2 sticks butter ("my people" liked to kid that we couldn't have too much money or too much butter)
1/2 C sugar
2 1/2 C sifted flour

In large mixing bowl, combine the ingredients. Use your hands and rub the butter into the flour and sugar. Work the crumbs between the palms of your hands; after a couple of minutes you will have a soft, well blended dough. Bake this or any variation at 350 degrees for about 10 min. (watch closely so they don't over bake). Now look at the variations of this recipe:

GAFFELKAKOR (fork cookies)
1 recipe basic butter cookie dough
2 Tbsp vanilla sugar

KORINTKAKOR (currant cookies)
1 recipe basic butter cookie dough
1/2 C currants

CHOKLADBOLLAR (chocolate balls)
1 recipe basic butter cookie dough
1 egg yolk
3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa
1 Tbsp vanilla sugar
1/2 C chopped semi-sweet chocolate morsels
Almond slivers (for garnish)

Prepare dough, adding egg, cocoa, vanilla sugar and chopped chocolate. Mix well. Shape the dough into small balls and place on baking sheet. Garnish each cookie with an almond sliver.

CITRONRINGAR (lemon rings)
1 recipe basic butter cookie dough
grated rind of 2 lemons
sugar (for garnish)

Prepare dough, adding lemon rind. Chill if dough is too soft to work with. Shape into long 1/4 inch thick strands; place them parallel with each other. Cut in 4-inch lengths. Form each length into a ring, dip in sugar and place on baking sheet. Bake these cookies only 8 to 10 min.

NOUGATKAKOR (praline cookies)
1 recipe basic butter cookie dough
1/2 C sugar
1/4 C chopped blanched almonds

To make the praline, melt the sugar in a skillet over low heat, constantly stirring. When light brown and syrupy, stir in the almonds. Pour the mixture onto buttered baking sheet and leave to cool and harden. Break into pieces and crush (in plastic bag and using a rolling pin). Work the crumbs into the cookie dough. Shape into two logs the size of a half dollar. Chill for 2 hours. When ready to bake, cut the logs in 1/4-inch slices and place on baking sheet. 

I hope you'll give some of these recipes a try, and explore those of "your people" too. Serve up not just a great meal, but some of your heritage and see what amazing and heart-warming conversations this sparks. And as always, please share a recipe or two from your family files--we're all in this together, remember. So until next time, here's to discovering our gastronomical heritage as we make family dinner hour possible!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

All Hail the King of Nuts!

In keeping with yesterday's theme of adding special "gourmet" touches to our meals, let's talk about nuts--almonds specifically. Don't you love 'em? They deserve our approbation--nutritionists say the almond is the "king of nuts" because of its many amazing properties:
  • high in protein
  • easily digested
  • great source of vitamin E
  • good source of magnesium, potassium, zinc, iron, and monounsaturated fat
  • eaten in moderation, almonds can help lower cholesterol, help prevent heart disease, and help with weight loss
  • considered brain and bone food, due to their high calcium content
Almonds have been a favorite food and cooking ingredient for thousands of years throughout the world. Don't you love anything with toasted, roasted or slivered almonds? They add such a special touch to what might otherwise be just another dish. It's not hard or time-consuming to toast or roast almonds--here's how:

To toast: Spread in single layer in shallow pan. Bake at 300 degrees for 15 min., stirring often, or until they begin to turn color. Don't wait for them to become golden brown. After removing from the oven, their residual heat will continue to toast them slightly.

To roast: (Same procedure, but with a fat added to the pan.) Spread about 1/2 tsp butter, peanut or extra virgin olive oil over surface of shallow pan. Add almonds in single layer. Roast, stirring often, at 300 degrees for about 15 min. until they begin to turn color.

It's helpful to know our Almond Arithmetic, for shopping purposes:
1 C sliced almonds = 3 1/4 oz
1 C slivered almonds = 4 1/2 oz
1 C whole (shelled) almonds = 5 oz
1 C (5 oz) blanched whole almonds will yield 1 1/4 C when ground in blender; 1 3/4 C in a nut-cheese grater; 1 C + 3 Tbsp in a food chopper

Now here are a couple recipes you and your family might like, that call for these toasted/roasted delicacies. (Can't you just see the fun you'll create when the family asks "What's for dinner?" and you casually respond, "Oh, let's have Pasta Almondine." ?)

PASTA ALMONDINE (serves 6-8)
1 pkg (12 oz) thin noodles
1 C sliced almonds, toasted
1/4 tsp minced garlic
1/2 C butter
1/4 C sliced green onion
 1/2 tsp basil, crushed
1/3 C grated Parmesan cheese

Cook noodles according to package directions. Meanwhile, in a skillet, slowly saute almonds and garlic in 1 Tbsp of the butter until garlic is tender, about 1 minute. Add remaining butter, the onion and basil. Cook slowly until butter is melted. Drain noodles well. Combine with almond-butter mixture and cheese. Toss and serve immediately. YUMMY!

1 pkg (10 oz) frozen Italian-style vegetables (2 cups)
1/2 C salted boiling water
1/2 C mayonnaise
1 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp Italian herb seasoning
1/4 tsp garlic salt
1 C slivered almonds, toasted
salt and pepper
4 large tomatoes
lettuce leaves

Cook vegetables in 1/2 C salted boiling water 2-3 min., until just tender-crisp. Drain; refresh under cold water; pat dry with paper towels. In a bowl combine mayonnaise, lemon juice, Italian herb seasoning, and garlic salt; add vegetables and almonds; salt and pepper to taste. Refrigerate at least half an hour. Core tomatoes and remove seeds. Sprinkle cavities lightly with salt and invert on paper towels to drain. Just before serving, spoon about 1/2 C vegetable mixture into each tomato cavity. Arrange tomatoes on lettuce leaves.

Finally, besides being good for us, it's convenient. No other nut comes in so many sizes and shapes. For instance: whole, chopped, sliced, blanched whole, blanched slivered, and even ground. Ground almonds are a key ingredient in many European cakes and pastries. And of course, there's almond butter--my personal favorite for dipping celery and carrot sticks!

Now do YOU have almond-using recipes or ideas for snazzing up a meal that you could share? Please do--we're all in this together, so let's spread the good stuff. And until next time, here's to enjoying the "king of nuts," and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Make Dinner Special with Simple Gourmet Touches

Meals needn't be plain just because we've assembled them in a hurry. Simple gourmet touches can make the simplest meal seem special. Consider these 8 "magic-makers" for instance:

  1. Flavorful additions to hot, cooked rice: a handful of toasted slivered almonds; grated Parmesan cheese and butter; a few sliced olives; chopped green onion, cooked in butter until tender; a little grated orange peel; seasoned salt and pepper.
  2. Fruit and cheese salad: toss equal amounts of diced apple, pear and Swiss cheese with mayonnaise and a few drops of milk.
  3. Oriental spinach: toss cooked, drained, frozen chopped spinach with a little soy sauce and sesame-seed oil or olive oil; garnish with toasted sesame seeds or slivered almonds.
  4. Pear cooler: fill fresh or canned pear halves with chopped oranges. Serve on lettuce cups as salad or sprinkle with chopped nuts and shredded coconut and serve as dessert.
  5. Instant Charlotte Russe: line sherbet glasses with ladyfingers; fill with thawed frozen pudding; decorate with a cherry, cherry preserves and a dollop of whipped cream (see idea in picture above).
  6. Special ways with cooked vegetables: sprinkle crumbled bacon on cabbage, spinach, carrots or broccoli; chopped hard-cooked eggs on spinach, asparagus, broccoli; add sliced, toasted almonds to peas, green beans, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts.
  7. Yogurt parfait: layer ice cream and fruit-flavored yogurt in freezer-proof parfait glasses. Serve as dessert.
  8. Ice cream cake: cut a packaged pound cake horizontally into 3 slices. Spread first layer with strawberry preserves; add second layer and cover with one pint slightly softened vanilla ice cream; top with third layer and top with another layer strawberry preserves. Freeze firm until ready to serve. Add a scoop of ice cream to each slice when serving.
It's the little touches we add to what we daily do that sends quiet messages to those we love--"you are loved, you are special, and you are so worth the effort!" is what family hears when we go to extra effort for them. I suspect I haven't begun to scratch the surface as to all the fun touches we can add to our meals. Do YOU have ideas you could share? Please do--we're all in this together, remember. And until next time, here's to adding a little splash as we make family dinner hour possible!

Monday, February 22, 2010

SMART Moms Work Their Way OUT of a Job!

When I think about my years as a mom (of seven) and grandma (of twelve +), I feel like a gunslinger with lots of notches on her belt. The experiences I've had, and the challenges I've faced, have given me a boatload of family things to talk about--I am so glad for this blog (it gives me someplace to go with all this!).

So anyway, I want to spread some of this hard-earned wisdom I've gained, and hopefully save YOU some trial and error along your way. First thing: Smart moms work their way OUT of a job! As soon as children are able to cut with scissors and manipulate crayons well, they are more than capable of helping you with work. For instance:
  • Toddlers can hand you wet laundry from the dryer
  • Toddlers can carry their folded laundry to their bedroom 
  • Toddlers can hold the dustpan when you are sweeping
  • Toddlers love to help push the vacuum
  • Toddlers can dust low surfaces (as long as they are clutter-free)
  • Toddlers can hand you items from the dishwasher
  • Toddlers can help you set the table
  • Toddlers can help you prepare meals (as long as the kitchen is kid-friendly, they have something safe to stand on, and the duties are age-appropriate); you can see how this approach to kid-management can make the goal of getting family dinner on the table each evening so much easier!
And this list could go on and on. You can see also, that if toddlers can do all this, older children can do these things and far more. This approach to toddlerhood solves the "terrible twos," by the way. Toddlers are in the business of learning and putting into action the skills they're developing. If they don't have opportunities to do this, they get frustrated and act out. Smart moms put that curiosity and energy to work.

The overall idea is this: Do less FOR your children so you can do more WITH them. The happiest moms are those whose children are working right along with them. I was chatting with my co-author, Jeanne Wolfley, about this idea and she concurred. "There's nothing that ticked me off quicker than working hard to get a meal on, for instance, and seeing my kids just sitting around!" I sure related to that one. If we don't put our children to work in the home, we're not only fostering laziness, we're setting ourselves up for frustration and fatigue!

The overall philosophy in our home was "Let's git 'er done so we have more time for the things we REALLY want to do." I wanted to sew, garden, read, write, bake, or take a nap. My kids wanted to play. And that leads me to the second thing:

Work can be pleasant, and often can be as much fun as play. If we, the moms, clear out the clutter (making it easier and more reasonable for kids to do their jobs), provide good tools for the jobs, spice it all up with some fun music (a little song and dance never hurt one dishwashing stint),  and offer genuine and abundant praise along the way, home chores are seen with acceptance at  worst and enthusiasm at best. 

Now I'm not going to lie to you--there were lots of times my family moaned and groaned about their chore lists. But I was firm, fair, and consistent. The work got done in a timely fashion and today I have kids other people love to hire (their work ethic is remarkable--I know, I sound like a mom here). I hope I've given you young moms out there some encouragement and validation for getting your clan organized and mobilized. Give it a shot, and you too can add some notches to YOUR belt. So to close, here's to working your way out of a job, and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Knowing and Pursuing What Matters Most!

I just hate missing a posting, and this thought brings me to the subject for today: Have you ever noticed how hard it is to consistently be what we say we are--to live what we know? Here's what I'm driving at:

Over twenty years ago, my friend, Pauline Hatch and I wrote the book (It's Here...Somewhere) on clutter management (streamlining) and living in an organized and simplified manner. We streamlined hundreds of homes and taught the principles in our seminar, "The Streamlined Advantage" for those same years. This past year I filmed a DVD called "It's Here Somewhere in the Kitchen," to help us make the best use of the space we have so getting the family dinner on the table is easier. In other words, I know backwards and forwards what I need to do to live effectively, simply, and sanely. And I suppose in fairness to myself, I have lived like this off and on over the years.

But this is my point--it's the off-and-on aspect of the living effectively, simply, and sanely. I gotta get consistent! I just really struggle to consistently be what I say I am and to live what I know. I'm working three jobs right now, my husband is out of work (an electrician whose job came to a close three weeks ago), I'm a mom and stepmom (all grown and gone now) and a grandma. I'm a community volunteer, a church worker, and... You get the idea--lots of expectations and lots of promises to keep.

My guess is that some of you out there might relate--we ALL have lots of roles to play and hats to wear. When I think of the many responsibilities implied in each role, I cringe--I'm not living up to expectations or keeping promises (a daily meaningful blog post being just one). I feel spread thinner than a drink of water and am simply floundering in the sea of life.

And what makes it all the more ironic, I'm actually reading a book right now by Hyrum Smith titled What Matters Most! Again, I'm full of the right information. I just need to put it into practice. SO, here's where I'm going with all this: 

Two things:
  1. Life calls for constant monitoring. We get bombarded with good, better, and best. Somehow we must decipher for ourselves which is which and then muster the courage to choose and discard. The goal is to fill life with what matters most, right? I intend to go through this very exercise this weekend. Something's gotta go. I'll report back as to what I've come up with.
  2. We need to teach this concept to our children--through precept and example. (It's too common: Parents today get sucked into a lot of good and better, and in the process let slip the best--what matters most--our kids. Our children see this and can sense they aren't at the top of the priority list.) This is where family dinner hour really comes into play--the example part. It sends a clear message family comes first. We're not just saying it, we're demonstrating it through the time, energy, and even sacrifice we put into this nightly event. The precept part of the teaching could be introduced in the evening table talk. Children and teens can struggle with being over-scheduled and over-whelmed as well. They need to learn how to discern between good, better, and best also. And like us, they need to know it's OK to say "No thank you" to the good and better if best might suffer. Dinner time is a good time to share experiences and personal philosophies with our children.  I can see conversations around this topic becoming frequent because of the insights, comfort, and encouragement they will bring. 
 Well thank you for listening--I feel a bit better just chatting with you! Now here's where I remind us we're all in this together, and ask for your help, ideas, tips, experiences, and so on. Am I the only one out there that's struggling with "gettin' it all done?" I would so love your perspective and input. If you have a minute (ha! who does?)--no change that--if you could take a minute, please do share. We'd especially be blessed to know how you teach the "Live Life Selectively" approach to YOUR children. And until next time then, here's to knowing and pursuing what matters most--making family dinner hour possible!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Two MOST POPULAR Recipes of the 1960s!

Did you know Chicken Divan was one of the most popular recipes made and served during the 1960's? So says the research found on several food history websites. I'm not surprised at this. Being a teenager in the 60's (graduated West Valley High School, Spokane, WA--rah!), I well remember my mom serving this and really enjoying it every time.

Being dedicated to quick and easy as this blog is, I thought I'd scour the books looking for an easy version of this recipe. I think I found one. Haven't tried it yet (planning to this coming Sunday), but the combination of ingredients sounds divine (albeit not that healthy, but oh well...). If you try this, let me know what you think. And as always, I'm always encouraging our readers to share their favorite recipes--do you have a Chicken Divan recipe you just love? Please do share!

Finally, the number two all-time favorite recipe from the 1960's is Beef Stroganoff. Reason on this one? It makes cheap cuts of meat simply sparkle (so say the food researchers). Again, I can see why this is the #2 pick--I also remember this meal and serve it today. Below is this recipe also. Please let me know what you think and do share YOUR favorite Stroganoff recipe. 

Wouldn't it be fun to survey our families to see what their favorite recipes are (not just our kids, but aunts, uncles, cousins, in-laws, etc.). In fact, the results could make the material for a wonderful Christmas present--a Family Favorites Cookbook! While we think this idea over, let's try these recipes, and until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible!
CHICKEN DIVAN (serves 6-8)
2 cups cooked chicken (sliced or large pieces)
2 pkgs. Frozen broccoli, cooked
1 pkg. onion soup mix
1 pt. sour cream
1 cup heavy cream, whipped
1 tbsp. Parmesan cheese
Arrange broccoli in single layer in shallow casserole. Blend sour cream and soup mix together and spoon half
this sauce over the broccoli. Cover with chicken. Whip the cream and fold in remaining sauce and spread over
chicken. Sprinkle cheese on top. Bake in 350 degree oven for 20 minutes. (Can be made ahead of time and baked cold.)

BEEF STROGANOFF (serves 6 hearty eaters)
2 lbs. thin slices beef
2 tbsp. butter (or more)
1 tbsp. minced onion
½ lb. mushroom caps
Salt and few grains of nutmeg
½ pt. sour cream
Beef fillet is traditional but round sirloin, etc. may be sued. Pound thin and cut in strips about 2 ½ X ½ inch or
even smaller if desired. Sauté mushrooms in butter and set aside. (Caps are sliced and stems saved for another
dish). Cook minced onion in melted butter (from which mushroom were removed) stiffing until onion is yellow.
Add strips of beef. Cook quickly about 5 minutes, turning pieces to brown on all sides. Season with salt and
pinch of nutmeg, then add sliced sautéed mushroom caps. Add ½ pint commercial sour cream and heat but do
not boil. Check seasoning. Serve with rice or wild rice, if available. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

More Once-a-Month Cooking Advice

If you've been following this blog for any length of time, you know I'm for once-a-month cooking. I think this is one of the smartest, most effective, and $-saving ways to make family dinner hour possible. This morning I found a handout from a class I'd taken years ago, "Helpful Hints to Once-a-Month Cooking" that was taken from Quick Cuisine by Carole Ellis. For those of you that are also wanting to master this craft, I thought you'd appreciate her direction--it's simple and straightforward:

  1. Decide which dishes your family likes and will eat. 
  2. Make a grocery list. (Don't forget labels and 1-gallon sized freezer bags)
  3. Do the shopping.
  4. The day before, boil chicken, separate and refrigerate.
  5. The night before, put a roast or brisket in your crock pot. (What a brilliant idea!) 

  1. Chop, grate, shred, slice, cube, brown and drain.
  2. If you make meatloaf and/or meatballs, remember to save out hamburger before you brown it all. 
  3. Take roast out of crock pot, shred and put in bags, label and freeze what you don't use in your entrees.
  4. Assemble dishes.
  5. Bag them, label and freeze. 
  • Gallon-sized bags will hold a 9x13 casserole, enough soup for a family of four, a meatloaf, etc.
  • Gallon-sized bags stack easily if mashed flat (flat-ish).
  • Cool food first in refrigerator before assembling, then assemble entrees and put in freezer. (This prevents excess condensation which can alter flavor and/or quality of meal.)
  • Slightly UNDERCOOK rice, pasta, noodles.
  • Adjust recipes to prevent soggy food by removing 1/2 cup of liquid.
  • USE WHAT YOU PREPARE. To help you do this, keep a monthly calendar of meals on the inside of a cupboard door or on the fridge door. Meals taste best if used within thirty days.
  • Know and avoid things that don't freeze well: mayonnaise, eggs, gelatine salads, cream pies, white or red potatoes that are not fresh.
  • Take cues from the frozen food section of the grocery store: If it's in a freezer case, it can be made and frozen at home!
Authors/cooks recommending this method of meal management all say one of their main motivators was saving money. They estimate they can save up to $200/month on their grocery bill. Who wouldn't like that? And for me, I'm pushing once-a-month cooking for the long-run convenience, which means we'll be more inclined to get meals on the table more consistently.

Now on another, but related note: I've added a blog to my "Blogs I Love" list: Farmgirl Gourmet. If you go there, you'll notice her Feb. 9 post was of a Tamale Pie she cooks in the slow cooker (what a nice follow-up to my slow-cooker stuff of yesterday)! Take a look at Heather's very pretty, reader-friendly blog and study this recipe. Let's try it and then talk about our results.
And until next time, here's to mastering once-a-month cooking, and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

When Time is Short: Slow Cooker to the Rescue

Even though I'm excited for the arrival of Spring, I get a little anxious over the idea of more daylight and warmer weather. It means added stuff to my TO DO list (gardening and yard work, for instance). I already feel like I'm spread thinner than a drink of water. I want to continue providing healthy and tasty family dinners, so how am I going to squeeze yet MORE into my busy days?

Behold the slow cooker: the busy cook's best friend! I went Internet sleuthing to see what others had to say about this necessity (I was especially interested to see the different ways folks were using it). And boy is there a ton of information out there. People are so creative. For example:
  • Soak beans in it overnight, then rinse and add new water and cook them all day on low and when you get home from work, you have beans ready to add to any meal you can think of. TIP: don't add any salt until you're ready to use them, as salt toughens legumes and slows the cooking process.
  • Start an incredible breakfast the night before: put oat groats (Irish or Scottish are the ones I've been able to find), along with raisins, craisins, coconut, chopped nuts, a little cinnamon, a dash of vanilla, and anything else you think would compliment the mixture, with enough water to cover. Cook on low all night and in the!
  • Vegetarian meals are wonderful--just toss everything in at once, cook on low for a few hours.
  •  Lots of slow cooker users recommended a digital timer. This gadget allows you to start the cooker a few hours after you've left, so the meal doesn't over cook and dry out (one common complaint). They say that with the use of this timer, any recipe can be adapted to a slow cooker.
All this said, I tried a batch of chicken enchiladas in my cooker. I greased the cooker, made the meal as I would have for a 9x13 dish, but I added extra sauce at the bottom of the cooker before placing the enchiladas in it. Then I added extra sauce on top. I cooked this for 6 hours on low, and when dinner time rolled around, it was absolutely perfect!

I found a traditional Chicken Cacciatore recipe that I'm going to try next. Here's the recipe, with my changes for slow cooking. Try it and let me know what you think. Remember, we're all in this together. And if you have any ideas or tips on how to help us continue getting dinner on as the days and TO DO lists grow longer, please share. I need your help. Meanwhile, here's to slow cooking, and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!


(91% less fat and 51% less sodium than traditional recipes)

1 Tbsp extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil
6 small (bone in) skinless chicken breasts (about 2 1/2 lbs total)
8 oz fresh, sliced mushrooms (about 3 cups, when sliced)
1 med. onion, sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 (14.5 oz) can no-salt added, diced tomatoes, undrained (Muir Glen is one brand)
1 (6 oz) can, no-salt added, tomato paste
1 1/2 dry white cooking wine (or just 1 1/2 C water)
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
2-3 fresh basil leaves
6 oz whole wheat or multi-grain fettucine or linguine

In large skillet, brown chicken on all sides in olive oil. Pour drippings into slow cooker pot. Place chicken. In mixing bowl, mix all other ingredients (except uncooked pasta) and pour over chicken in slow cooker. Cook on low for 6-7 hours. Serve over cooked pasta (cooked to al dente is our favorite).


Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Food Saver Can Be a Meal-Maker!

A while ago Holly Cowdell was telling me about a kitchen tool she says she just wouldn't live without--the FoodSaver. I went to its website to see why she felt this way and I found her enthusiasm was well-founded. This is kitchen accessory can save a lot of time, money, and waste and make getting the family dinner on the table much easier. Here's the scoop:

Their website says that with the FoodSaver system, you can save food and keep it fresh up to 5 times longer. In fact, they say we can save up to $600/year on wasted food! The food wasted by the average American in a year would feed another American for 35.5 days! Also, less money is spent on groceries because we can buy in bulk or buy on sale and vacuum package the food in desired portions without wasting food. And of course, this will mean fewer trips to the store, which means saving money on gasoline as well. 

I admit it, I do waste food. I throw a lot of frozen stuff away because of freezer burn. Air is the enemy of freshness. Air causes oxidation, which robs food of fresh taste and can create "off" flavors, textures and odors. Air also causes dehydration which can harden foods (especially meats) and cause freezer burn. Also, mold and bacteria can grow as a result of exposure to air and cause food spoilage.

Another thing Holly especially likes about the FoodSaver is how it saves her time:
  • You can cook ahead for the week and store properly. 

  • No more need to marinate meats overnight. Vacuum packaging opens up the pores of food so you can get good marinated flavors in minutes instead of hours.
  • Entertaining becomes easier too because special courses can be prepared in advance and frozen without any worry of freezer burn, etc.
The FoodSaver website also talked about storage of non-food things like silverware (no more tarnish issues), important documents, garden seeds, and even survival kits. I am impressed and want to figure out how to buy this system. I saw it at Walmart, and I'll compare prices on Internet sites, etc., but any way I go, it'll be on the spendy side. It's the long run picture I'm focused on though--the money saved on groceries and the time it'll save in meal prep.

I always hesitate to pitch a product, at the risk of sounding like an infomercial. But as mentioned in my very first post, my goal is to let you know about the great things out there that can save us time and energy and thus help us be more successsful in getting the family dinner on the table. The FoodSaver falls into this category I think. I'm wondering--do any of you know about this product, have you used it, what do YOU think? Please share your experience or any other suggestions you have for time/energy-saving kitchen tools. So until next time, here's to planning and preparing our meals ahead and of course, to making family dinner hour possible!

Monday, February 8, 2010

EASY EASY Potato Peeling!

I'm dedicated to making life easier in the kitchen. After all, if we can do things faster and easier, we'll be more inclined to commit to regular family dinners (the goal is at least 4 times per week). So I'm always on the watch for tips and tricks that will speed meal preparations. My good friend and neighbor, Holly Cowdell, sent me an email yesterday with an AMAZING idea for easy, easy, potato peeling. The gist of the idea is to start with boiled potatoes, not raw. Here's her email (and thank you over and over again, Holly!):

If you take the time to watch this, you will not only be glad you did, but you will forward this to all your daughters, sisters, moms, or whoever does the cooking...I wish I had learned this thirty years ago--especially in regards to making potato salad. Peeling those potatoes is for me the worst part of the job! So click on this YouTube video link and watch Dawn Wells peeling potatoes WITHOUT A PEELER!

I use this same principle when I want to peel tomatoes and pears for canning (minus the slit around the circumference of the food), but I had no idea it would apply to potatoes as well. Now let's pull out all our favorite potato recipes--scalloped, au gratin, soup, and so on--and have a hay day! 

Do YOU have a time-saving kitchen tip we ought to know about? Please share--we're all in this together, remember. You can email me ( or just comment below. Either way, I love your thoughts and am anxious to share what YOU know also. Meanwhile, here's to easy, easy potato peeling and of course, making family dinner hour possible!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Let's Do Something FUN and HEALTHY With Bread!

Have you discovered dipping sauces, otherwise known as dipping oils? They are a staple of many Italian-style restaurants. Instead of a basket full of bread, which is normally served along with foil packets of butter, a section or an entire loaf of Italian, French, or artisan bread is brought to the table. The bread is served along with a bottle of olive oil and a small dish of herbs. The restaurant patrons mix the oil, which is usually extra virgin, cold pressed olive oil, with the herbs. Pieces of bread are broken off from the loaf and then dipped into the herb and oil mixture.

Besides tasting really good, dipping great bread in olive oil is also a healthy thing to do. Olive oil is one of the most health-promoting types of oils available. It is rich in mono-unsaturated fat, a type of fat that researchers have found protects against chronic degenerative diseases (artherosclerosis, diabetes, asthma, colon cancer and arthritis) if used in place of animal  fats (butter, for instance). A diet that replaces animal, and other saturated fats, as well as trans fats, with olive oil is known as the Mediterranean Diet and the research that's resulted from the study of it offers these practical tips:
  • Instead of serving butter, fill a small condiment dish with extra virgin olive oil for use on bread, rolls, potatoes or other vegetables.
  • For even more flavor, add a few drops of balsamic vinegar or a sprinkling of your favorite spices to the olive oil.
  • To get the most health benefit and flavor from your olive oil, buy and store oil in opaque containers, and add olive oil to foods immediately after cooking.
I am so sold on the idea of going the olive-oil route, that I went searching for the best of the best--small batches, freshness-oriented, and integrity-based labels. Of course, there are boatloads of companies and product lines out there, so my deciding factor was personal/referral experience. My good friends, Dan and Kathy Oaks, recommended Debbie McKeown's Migliore Gourmet Foods (olive oils, balsamic vinegars, and spices). "Migliore" is Italian for "the best," by the way.

So at their suggestion, I checked her site, read her information/background and can see why Dan and Kathy like her products. You might want to take a look as well. Debbie's advice is to get extra virgin (first pressed), cold pressed oil. First pressed means that the fruit of the olive was crushed exactly one time. The "cold" refers to the temperature range of the fruit at the time it was crushed.

All this said, let's have some fun with all the wonderful artisan breads available today. Let's create some yummy herbed olive oil dip to use as a special added attraction to our family dinner hour. Here's a good recipe to try for just this purpose:

1 tsp dried basil
1 tsp dried thyme
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1/4 C Parmesan cheese
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

Add the basil, thyme, black pepper and Parmesan cheese to a small bowl, or shallow dish. Stir the herbs and cheese together until they are well blended. Pour the olive oil into a separate shallow dish. To use the dipping oil, first dip a piece of bread into the olive oil, then dip the bread into the herb and cheese mixture.

Here are some additional ingredients for bread dipping oil (not necessarily meant to be combined together):
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp peppercorn mix
And besides being used as a bread condiment, dipping oil can also be tossed with pasta or rice, used as a meat marinade, or tossed with grilled or steamed vegetables. The herb-enhanced oil can also be mixed with a bit of balsamic vinegar and/or lemon juice to make a delicious viniagrette type of salad dressing.

Do YOU have a dipping recipe you could share? We're all in this together remember, so please do comment with any recipes, tips, ideas, etc. you might have. And until next time, have a great weekend doing some fun and healthy things with good breads, and of course, here's to making family dinner hour possible!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Shirley J to the Rescue!

,We've been talking about what we can do to make it easier to consistently get the family dinner on the table--creating 30 meals in one day and cookbooks and websites to help, for instance. Today let's look at another resource to making family dinner hour possible.

A few months ago I told you about Shirley J and their Universal Sauce Mix. (Among other things, I mentioned the macaroni & cheese I made using this product.) Universal Sauce Mix is the key component in thousands of recipes. Here's why this is such a beloved product with a huge loyal following:

1) It's simple to use--you just add water and whisk away. 

2) It can be used to replace the white sauce (roux) called for in any recipe.

3) It doesn't curdle, break down or separate. It is so durable it can be reheated over and over again, AND it can sit in a slow cooker on any temperature, all day long. And it freezes well--unlike any other food with a dairy base, anything with Universal Sauce Mix in it can be thawed, reheated, and it tastes as fresh as the day you made it. THAT'S incredible. 

4) It's flavor is so mild (like any true white sauce), that it doesn't overpower anything you put with it. Universal Sauce is an amazing way to stretch leftovers.

5) It's healthy--no trans-fats. Heart-healthy sunflower oil is used instead. And there's no MSG and it's LOW in sodium!

6) It's economical--this product was specifically designed to stretch food budgets. It got its start in the commercial food industry (restaurants and cafeterias worldwide) whose bottom line is cost per serving. So this economical feature translates wonderfully well to the family food budget, where more and more, every penny counts.

7) It's delicious--which adds to the economy issue: When food tastes good, we eat it--there's no waste. In fact, you'll be lucky to ever HAVE leftovers!

8) It's foolproof--you just can't make a mistake with this product. In fact, it's so easy and mistake-proof that kids can whip up a dinner with it! And you know this is one of my mantras: get the entire family involved in the dinner preparations! Shirley J makes that easy too.

The folks at Shirley J like to say "The possibilities are endless. You are only limited by your imagination!" And I say "AMEN!" I've been using this stuff for several months now and it truly delivers. This is one resource you don't want to be without. It'll really make getting the family dinner on the table so much easier. (Forgive me for sounding like a gushing infomercial--I'm just reporting the facts and sharing a true love here.)

All this said, you might want to check it out yourself. Just go to Give them a call and let them tell you about it. Tell 'em Alice sent you--they know me--I'm asking questions all the time. 

In closing, here's my usual question: Do YOU have resources, tips, ideas you can share to help us with this great quest? Please comment--we're all in this together, remember, so let's spread the good stuff. And until next time, here's to making family dinner hour possible! NOW, how about that macaroni & cheese recipe I keep talking about?

INCREDIBLE MACARONI & CHEESE (serves 4-6, unless I'm at the table, then it serves 3)
1 C Shirley J Universal Sauce Mix
3 C water
1 lb elbow macaroni, cooked to al dente stage
3-4 C shredded Cheddar cheese (or any cheese of choice)
1/2 C chopped onion
2 tomatoes, diced
1 C grated Parmesan cheese (optional, but boy, what a touch!)
1/2 C bread crumbs

In large saucepan, mix Shirley J Universal Sauce Mix and water together (follow package directions). Add cheese and stir until it melts through. Add onions and tomatoes. Mix well. In
large mixing bowl, stir cooked macaroni and cheese mixture together. Pour all into 9x13 pan. Top with Parmesan cheese, if using, then sprinkle bread crumbs atop. Bake about 25 min. at 325 degrees. Watch closely, as you don't want to overbake. Before baking you can add more reconstituted Shirley J Sauce Mix if you want the dish more moist.

Here's a nutrition plus: We know tomatoes are so good for us, but the goodness is increased when we cook or bake them--the lycopene greatly increases, which is why I add fresh tomatoes to my macaroni & cheese.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Tips for Making 30 Meals in ONE DAY!

As you know, this blog is all about ways to make getting dinner on the table easier and so the last couple posts have been about the ultimate time-saving dinner-making technique, preparing several meals at once and freezing them for later use. In last Thursday's post, I referenced all the resources we can find on the Internet to help us with this quest--boatloads of blogs and websites dedicated to the subject.

So what a nice surprise, then, to get an email from my friend, Nola, telling me about just such a website and that we ought to check it out: "30 Meals In One Day." There's some very good help here. If you come across other sites, books, etc., would you please tell us about them? Like I keep saying, we're all in this together, so let's share--let's help each other along this path.

One other resource I wanted to share is the Make-a-Mix Cookery books (by Karine Eliason, Nevada Harward, and Madeline Westover). They've been out for over 25 years now, so you'll run across copies in used book stores, thrift shops, and of course, on I also like to take a day and whip up a batch of what they call their Master Mixes--all-purpose biscuit mix (they call it Quick Mix), cookie mix, casserole topping, muffin mix, hot roll mix, oatmeal mix, cornmeal mix, pancake mix, granola mix, and their various meat-mixes. Make-a-Mix Cookery has saved me a LOT of money over the years and their recipes are truly tasty.

And to conclude, I have to say, that one of the best habits I've implemented over the years was to keep my fridge, cupboards, and pantry clean and organized (I call it "centered"), because then I was ready for anything (holidays, unexpected company, daily life, or a day of making 30 meals at once!).

The bottom line is doing whatever we can to make it easy on ourselves and our families to getting into the groove of eating together at least 4 nights a week. Try these tips and share any others you may have. THIS is the year of making family dinner hour possible. Here's to it!