Claes4

Claes4
Cheesing hardcore...the Claes4.

Monday, January 30, 2012

1/26/12 - Fennel and garlic roasted pork loin with potato hash medley


Looks and tastes like fall.

Fennel and garlic roasted pork loin with potato hash medley and kale chips. Soooo good. You have the right to be jealous.

For some reason I have fallen in love with the flavor of fennel seeds this pass year.  Don't know if I have actually eaten fennel bulb but I dig the flavor of the seeds.  Kind of an earthy, licorice taste.  The fact that it is a main ingredient in absinthe has nothing to do with it.

This meal started the night before as I put together a marinade for the pork loin.  Now a pork loin is perfectly lovely with salt and pepper but I wanted to be adventurous. I put together fennel seed (about a ¼ teaspoon), sea salt, black pepper, ground marjoram (for kicks), Steak au Poivre, and 4 garlic cloves along with some soy sauce, Worcestershire sauce, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinaigrette.  I added the pork loin and let it all become friendly overnight in a Ziploc bag placed in a bowl (always place stuff like this in a pan of some sort in case there is a leak).

The next day I browned the pork loin all over in a pan.  I made a bit of a mistake here…browning it was a good I idea but I had the heat too high and the sugars in the marinade browned too much.  It was fine but next time I will be aware of that possibility.  After that I added about ½ a cup of chicken broth, water or apple juice/cider would work too, to the same pan I browned the pork loin in, covered it and put it in a 350° oven.  I cooked it for about 25 minutes but this baby would have been good at 15 minutes + 10 minutes of resting.

With the marinade I poured it in a small saucepan and then just cranked up the heat to reduce it and kill any bacteria.  When it reduced by more than half I tasted it, adjusted the seasoning with some diced garlic, chicken broth and a splash more balsamic vinegar and then continued to let it thicken and simmer.

While the pork loin was cooking I shredded a few russet potatoes I need to use and cooked them quickly.  Pretty much hash brown style.  I then diced up a sweet potato I needed to use (poor carbs aren’t getting much love in our house right now) and cooked it for about 15 minutes in a skillet till the cubes were browned, soft and almost caramelized.

The last step was making the kale chips.  Easiest thing to do is just give you the recipe I used from allrecipes.com (http://allrecipes.com/recipe/baked-kale-chips/).  My suggestions, make sure the kale is rinsed and dried as much as possible, leave them in bite size or larger pieces and try to only have one layer of them.  I had to cook them a bit longer, like 2 minutes, so for that last bit I turned the oven up to 400° and finished them off.

When it was finally time to slice the pork loin it had rested a bit too long and was cooked more than I would have liked but it was fork tender.  Once I sliced it up I drizzled some of the reduced marinade (strained it first…just looked prettier that way) over it.

Verdict:  I thought this meal was great.  The fennel was a new flavor for my family.  Sean didn’t seem crazy over the flavor but the kids didn’t seem to mind it.  The potato hash was good and I liked the contrast with the sauce and the fennel taste. As for the kale chips, frankly the things are like crack.  So good and the kids were licking their fingers and practically the plate.  I will make this all again with some adjustments and remember to double the kale chips. 

1/20/12 - Beef & Veggie stir fry


I love our Frankoma plates!
I think of Sean's Grandma,
Helen Soja, every time we use them.
I miss that lady.

I had some veggies that I needed to use so I decided to make beef and veggie stir-fry.  I decided to serve it with brown rice and some Tai Pei chicken egg rolls that were rescued from the bottom of the deep freeze (http://taipeifood.com/products/ps_and_er/chicEggRoll_24oz.html).

To cook the brown rice I used the tried and true Alton Brown recipe I found last year (http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/baked-brown-rice-recipe/index.html).  Perfect rice every time, well except the time I doubled the recipe.  If you choose to double it use separate baking dishes (last time I used a 9” cake pan because it was closest).  Make sure to put the dish on a baking sheet before putting in the oven.  Makes it much easier to move the dish and saves your oven if some of the water splashes out.  As for the egg rolls I put them in at the end of the cooking time for the brown rice.  Since the cooking times were different I turned up the heat for a bit once the brown rice was done.  I found that cooking them at the low temp followed by the higher heat made them crispier.

Using the last of the thin cut meat I had bought from Walmart I very thinly sliced it and marinated it in soy sauce, fresh minced garlic and fresh grated ginger (first time using fresh ginger).  While the meat was marinating I chopped up the veggies I needed to use up…broccoli, button mushrooms, white onion and asparagus.  I sautéed the mushrooms alone so they could brown, once they were done I added the white onion and cooked till it was translucent.  Once that was done I quickly steamed the broccoli and asparagus halfway then stir-fried them till done.

When the veggies were done I quickly cooked the meat in two different batches.  Literally took 90 second per batch over medium high heat in a little olive oil.  To finish of the meat I sprinkled a liberal amount of sesame seed in the pan to brown a bit and then added the meat and back in to coat.  Last step was adding the veggies so everything could be evenly distributed.

Verdict:  This was crazy good.  I don’t know if it was the marinade that just brought it all together or the fact that everything was cooked just right and not rushed but I really loved this meal.  Since I was sick the weekend I made this I ate this like 4 times with a healthy dose of chili paste in it and some more soy sauce.  I can’t wait to make this again.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

1/17/12 - Pumpkin chili with sweet corn & flax seed cornbread


Thanks for the picture, honey.

Sorry for being out of touch lately but life caught up with me.  I have still been cooking but not nearly as much as I would like.

The first thing I cooked last week was pumpkin chili and sweet corn & flax seed cornbread.  Odd combination but so good.

First I browned 1 pound of ground turkey.  Once that was cooked I added 2 cloves fresh garlic and some rehydrated minced onion (trying to use up an impulse spice purchase).  Once that cooked up a bit I added chili powder, comino, sea salt, pepper and a little caldo de pollo.  After that was nicely mixed I added 1 can each of diced tomatoes and Bush’s chili beans, liquid and all (Marlee use to love these beans and I still have a few cans).  I then added about 5 cups of water, just enough to have about 1” of water above the chili. 

Now for the pumpkin!  During the fall my husband cooked and put up the innards from several pumpkins.  The pumpkin seeds were eaten long ago but I am so glad he put up the pumpkin pulp.  So, I defrosted the pumpkin overnight and once it was unfrozen I added half to the chili and then used my immersion blender to smooth out the rest.  Next time I will use the immersion blender on all of the pumpkin but it was fine the way I did it.

The pumpkin didn’t really alter the taste of the chili, maybe a bit sweeter, but it gave it good body and so many great vitamins like beta-carotene and Vitamin C.  To offset the sweetness I added a bit more chili powder and comino.

As for the cornbread, I just used a box of Jiffy cornbread mix and followed the recipe on the box but added a can of drained and rinsed sweet corn.  On top of that I added a few tablespoons of flax seed to give us some omega-3 essential fatty acids and more fiber.  I cooked it for the amount of time the box called for.

Verdict: We all liked this but I know next time to not serve the girls quite so much.  I put out shredded cheese and sour cream to top it off (next time I will add Tabasco sauce to mine).  The cornbread was awesome!!  So tender and sweet.  I will totally make this again.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

1/12/12 - Veggie Lasagna


Well, hello there!

Sean requested that I make veggie lasagna this week.  The last time I made it was on New Year's Day and it turned out really good.  I had a lot on my mind today so cooking really helped me forget it for a bit.

Lasagna is one of those dishes like soup or an omelet; you can use pretty much anything.  At least in my world.  This time I used:
- 1 zucchini, diced 
- 5 large button mushrooms, sliced and diced
- 1/4 onion, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, diced fine
- 1/2 package of spinach, chopped
- 3 carrots, chopped
- 1 can Del Monte spaghetti sauce (we like it and it is around 80¢ for a large can)
- 1/2 a bunch fresh broccoli, sliced
- 1 cup cottage cheese
- 2 cups mozzarella cheese
- salt, pepper and parsley to taste and for color
- 9-12 uncooked lasagna noodles

First I sauteed the mushrooms in a little cooking spray.  Just let them mellow out on medium to medium high for about 8 minutes, stir as needed.  Don't add seasoning, especially salt, until the mushrooms are golden brown and no liquid is coming out of them.  I then added the onion and garlic and turned it down to low or slightly higher.  You want the onions to become translucent but you don't want the garlic to burn. I let them cook for about 5 minutes before adding the zucchini, broccoli and spinach.  I just let them cook on low for about 4 minutes.  I wanted the green veggies crisp but still slightly cooked

While the veggies cooked I opened the spaghetti sauce and poured it in a blender and then added the chopped, uncooked carrots.  I blended till the carrots totally disappeared.  For some reason my kids do not like cooked carrots but I wanted them to have the vitamins and the bulk of carrots.  I also mixed the cottage cheese, 1 cup mozzarella cheese and parsley together at this time.  If it the finished product looks too dry I sometimes add 1 cup of water around the pan.

To assemble spray and large pan with cooking spray and put about 1/4 cup of the sauce on the bottom.  Lay down 3-4 lasagna noodles and top some cheese mixture and more sauce.  Repeat this for 2-3 layers making sure you make the top be noodles, sauce and the remaining cup of mozzarella cheese.  Cover tightly with foil that you have coated with cooking spray.  Cook at 350-375º for 45 minutes.  Uncover and cook an additional 15-20 minutes.  The main thing is you want to make sure the noodles are cooked but that the top layers of noodles are not crisp and hard.  When the noodles are cooked take it out of the over and let rest for 10-15 minutes so it cools and the flavors meld more.

I threw some Pillsbury biscuits in the oven at the end of cooking for cheap "garlic bread".

VERDICT:
Everyone liked it but the girls didn't eat as much as I would have liked.  I don't think they liked the spinach.  I also served them each a big piece.  Next lasagna I want to make is a Mexican one.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

1/11/12 - Chicken fajita tacos and bean & cheese nachos

Sure glad I like these green plates.
Tonight was another quick and easy meal.  The menu came together because we still had some crock pot beans from last week in the fridge.  Harper loves chalupas and bean & cheese nachos something fierce so I knew she would be happy.  Marlee loves chicken fajita tacos and avocado.  I knew I wouldn't have to face food rejection tonight.  It was a bad "Mommy" day so I'm glad something went right.


I couldn't find the fajita seasoning I like in our pantry (which is getting cleaned out tomorrow) so I just used salt, pepper and a little garlic salt.  Pan cooked the chicken till it was nice and golden and put them aside to "rest".  Since they were defrosted chicken breast tenders they didn't take long.  Maybe about 4 minutes be side.  With the nice caramelization left in the pan I sauteed some mushrooms and onions that needed to be used.


For the beans I just heated them up and used my immersion blender to make them smooth.  Then I just smeared tortilla chips with the beans and added a little Monterrey jack and cheddar cheese on top.  45 seconds in the microwave and bam!


Lettuce, tomatoes, smashed avocado, left over tomatillo sauce from Sunday, the remnants of some sliced pickled jalapenos, cream cheese substituted for sour cream since we have run out and dinner was served.


VERDICT:
It was good and this is one of weekly meals.  Everyone liked it and was satisfied.  While I don't know the calorie count this was surely better than taking a trip to The Palm, like we wanted.  No fuss which was not the norm for this evening.  Total cook time, about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

1/10/12 - Steak, baked potatoes and green beans

What a side looking plate.
Must work on plating.
I already had tonight's dinner planned in my mind yesterday.  I am grateful for the forethought because today was a doozy.  Work was stressful, as I am under a massive deadline and trying to meet our sales goal.  It was also much more complicated than needed to be.  Unfortunately, I contributed to that, which I am working on.


The main thing that really threw me is that I received the news that one of the "good ones" passed away last night.  Beverly "Woody" Wood.  Anybody who is confident and bold enough to go by Woody has to be someone special!  She was one of the group of older ladies at my church...my intergenerational friend, if you will.  She had a biting wit, a great laugh, a beautiful twinkle in eye and didn't want anyone to cause a fuss over her...ever.  So she would be pretty mad to know I am rambling on about her.  My God, my church and my church family mean so much to me, if you haven't figured that out by now.  I am so glad that my family got to spend time with Woody right before Christmas.  The night was a comedy of errors and I shall never forget how wonderful it all was.  I told her I loved her as I hugged her goodbye.  I don't know if she knew how often I thought of her but I know she knew I loved her.  There are also a long list of needs and concerns at my little church right now.  So if you could say a prayer for the fine folks of Kyle United Methodist Church (www.kyleumc.org/) I would appreciate it.


Soooo...I found 2 packages of thinly cut ribeyes on "Quick Sale" at Wal-Mart yesterday.  Normally I don't buy meat or produce at Wal-Mart but this looked really nice.  My only complaint is that they were super thin...maybe a 1/4 inch.  The good thing is that they only took about 45 seconds to cook on each side.  The bad thing is that was about 15-20 seconds to much. The residual cooking made them more well done than medium rare, as we like steak, but it was fine.  I seasoned one batch with just salt and pepper.  One with Adam's Reserve Steak au Poivre which I don't think they make anymore.  But the real winner...the steaks seasoned with Rubio Spice Company "Griller's Rub" (http://www.rubiospice.com/index.php/123/rubs/grillers-rub-10oz).  Amazing...you must get some!  Perfect on everything we grilled over the summer and just as nice with pan-fried steaks.  And the man behind the scene?  Our friend, Norm Rubio.  Woo hoo!


To finish the meal I made real baked potatoes in the oven.  Is there anything better than that?  1 hour at 425º to fluffy yumminess.  The last thing was one of the H-E-B Sauced Steamed Vegetables.  I believe it was Texas style green beans.  Not very good in my opinion.


Verdict:  It was an OK meal.  It was quick, so I am glad I bought a second package of those thin steaks.  They will be nice in a stir fry.  Yes, the potatoes took an hour to cook but literally took to 3 minutes to prep and the next 60 minutes were spent getting some of that nasty paying job work done.  The green beans, while funky, only took 5 minutes to make.

Monday, January 9, 2012

1/9/12 - Pork roast with potatoes and carrots

Home cookin'
Again, the crock pot is my friend.  I had a pork roast in the freezer and defrosted and prepped it yesterday.  Simple seasoning on the roast before I browned it: salt (out of sea salt), pepper, ground marjoram, dried onion flakes (super old but can't bear to throw away), fresh garlic.  Just browned it on all sides to get some color and to use some of the drippings.  I quickly scrubbed 3 potatoes and about 3 carrots (bottom of the bag so it was hard to tell how many because they were broke), cut them in equal chunks and put them on the bottom of the crock pot.  I didn't peel them or anything.  I then placed the roast on top.  Added about a 1-1 1/2 cups water along with a chicken bouillon cube to the pan drippings and scraped every last bit up before pouring in the crock pot over the roast and veggies.  Nothing too hard there.  From start to finish, other than defrosting, it took about 12 minutes.  Put the crock pot in the fridge overnight and then popped it in the crock pot base in the morning.  Cooked for 6 hours on low.  Note:  Carrots take a long time to cook in a crock pot, potatoes not so much.  Next time I will put the carrots on the bottom, then the pork roast with the potatoes on top.  I turned it up to high for about a little over an hour so the carrots would cook.

Now some observations:
- Buy quality meat when you can.  You don't need a super expensive cut for a roast but I did not choose well this time.  I don't see us becoming vegetarian so I would love to buy organic and/or better quality meat.  This pork roast still had the bone in it which I did not realize until I was browning it.  It was also very fatty with silver skin.  Pretty gross to look out but I went with it.  It tasted great once I deboned it and removed the fat and silver skin.
- Even though it was a fattier piece of meat I saved the crock pot liquid.  I had enough time to strain out the solids and to let the liquid cool in the fridge so I could remove the fat later.  Had to strain it several times with my wire mesh strainer.
- I totally under seasoned which is odd for me.  At least it was under seasoned for my taste.  Always better to do less and then add to but maybe since the meat was fattier I lost some of the salt.

I finished the roast by making a quick apricot based sauce.  I used:
- the liquid I had strained
- a bit more salt, pepper and fresh garlic
- Apricot Simply Fruit (probably about 1/2 cup)
- soy sauce (approx. 1 teaspoon)
- balsamic vinegar (approx. 1/2 teaspoon)
- Worcestershire sauce (splash)
- real maple syrup (splash)
- yellow mustard (approx. 1/2 teaspoon)
I couldn't get the flavors right at first because the under seasoning of the broth and because I wasn't being patient enough to let it reduce.  Reducing liquids is seriously under utilized.  Sean is not much of a combined flavor person, or so he says.  Doesn't care for mixed fruit juices, spicy/sweet things, salty/sweet things, and normally not a sweet/savory sauce to go with meat.  Since we have been eating differently he has been much more open to trying things.  This stuff was g-o-o-d!  Marlee was my sous chef and her comments, as we tasted it really helped. Next time I will take my time and not use the real maple syrup and probably not the soy sauce.  Still only took about 10 minutes.

Served this with fresh veggies that I chopped up yesterday and let the girls choose from.  Only rule on the veggies is that they have to eat what they take.  I am going to start making a veggie tray like this at least once a week because it saved so much time and sanity for me.  Made it and used it on Sunday and then today.  I also learned that while Marlee doesn't like cooked zucchini she loves raw zucchini.  Took about 15 minutes to peel and chop everything.

Verdict:
Marlee ate everything except for the sauce and a few potatoes and carrots.  Harper ate everything also except for most of the potatoes and carrots.  She even asked for seconds on the "chicken"...she thinks everything is chicken.  She really liked to mix the sauce with her ranch dressing.  Sean liked the sauce which makes me happy.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

1/8/12 – Pan seared tilapia with roasted tomatillo sauce

Pictures are getting prettier.
Today I made roasted tomatillo sauce for the first time. I basically followed this from Simply Recipes (http://simplyrecipes.com/recipes/tomatillo_salsa_verde/). I made a much smaller batch. No measurements just based it off of flavor. I roasted the tomatillos and added garlic. I did not add any serrano peppers but I did add a jalapeno to some I set aside. I added that to the pan I seared the tilapia in to get all the yummy bits and to reduce the sauce. From start to finish it took about 15 minutes to make this.

I had never cooked fish in my 13 years with Sean until the last 4 months. Now I cook tilapia about once a week. I just do a simple dredge with seasoned flour (sea salt, pepper, dried parsley, dried dill weed, lemon pepper with dill). Then I cook them in a medium to medium high skillet with a little olive for about 2-4 minutes per side. I then place them on a cookie sheet and put them in a 250° oven to keep them warm and finish cooking if need be. To cook 6 fillets it took about 15 minutes.

Since I had some cherry tomatoes I needed to use I made oven roasted tomatoes (yes, I realize I love to roast things...need a new word). I rinsed them, left them whole and but them in a small cooking dish. I topped them with a little olive oil, sea salt and pepper. They cooked for about 15 minutes at 350°. I then added a little fresh garlic and roasted for another 15 minutes at 250°. Delish! This is a good site for roasting tomatoes (http://smittenkitchen.com/2008/08/slow-roasted-tomatoes/)

I served it with:
- Roasted garlic and olive oil couscous (http://www.neareast.com/#products/roasted_garlic_olive_oil_couscous)
- HEB fresh steamable green beans

All of this took about 45 minutes to cook. If the fish were defrosted in advance it would have taken about 30 minutes. Everything can be cooked at the same time so that is a bonus.

Verdict:
The girls loved everything except for the tomatillo sauce. Just think it was too different for them. They also didn't eat the tomatoes but they did last time so no worries. They had seconds on everything else. It was sooooo good. I had to control myself to not have more because I was already full. But I really, really wanted more.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

1/5/12 - Chicken fajita tacos with pinto beans and rice

"Beans, Beans the Magical Fruit"
I love using my crock pot to make yummy things.  It is satisfying and fairly hard to mess up whatever you put in it (although I have made a few mistakes).  The main star of tonight's meal was my crock pot pinto beans.  Pinto beans are super easy to make in a crock pot, the only tricky part is making sure you leave enough room for water and the expansion of the beans.  A good ratio is about 1 cup of dried beans per quart of capacity in your crock pot.

What I do is buy bulk, dry pinto beans (usually in the produce section which I find odd).  Once you get them home sort through the ones you want to cook.  You are looking for rocks, dirt clods, sticks and nasty looking beans.  I usually sort them out on a large cookie sheet since I am clumsy.  Once they are sorted pour them into a strainer and rinse them really, really well with cold water.  Once they are clean add them to the crock pot and cover with cold water, make sure there is at least an inch of water over the beans.  From here I add my seasonings:  sea salt, cracked black pepper, fresh garlic and onions, a bay leaf, chili powder and comino were today’s culprits. When I am feeling cheeky I add diced pork salt. If you choose to use pork salt you can more than likely eliminate using any other salt.  B.C., before children, I also added a jalapeno and cilantro or chipotle with adobo.

For the first few hours I cook them on high.  After that time the bulk of the water has been absorbed so you should add HOT water now.  Again, enough to cover them by about an inch. I turn them down to medium or low at this time.

Everyone makes their beans differently.  What you add and how long you cook them is really up to you.  Find out what works for you and don’t be scared when you read about when to add salt and that you have to soak them in advance or drain off the liquid.  If you mess up the most you are out is a few dollars.  Sometimes when the beans are totally cooked I add a can of diced tomatoes.

As for the unpleasant side affects that beans cause some people, I find that we don't have the problem when I cook them in the crock pot.  I think because I cook them for so long...as long as a day and half.

The rest of the meal was rounded out with chicken fajita tacos, smashed avocado, white rice using today’s secret ingriedient of flax seed and lots of lime juice on the chicken and avocado.  Overall a huge success and probably one the girls top 3 favorite meals.