Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sheet Pan Dinners: Where Have You BEEN All My (Adult) Life????

I've recently discovered the ease of "sheet pan dinners" - recipes where you cook your protein and veggies on a sheet pan in the oven.

These could quite possibly be even easier than slow-cooker meals for fairly quick (defined by me as "ready in 30 minutes or less") and have even less cleanup if you line your sheet pan with foil.

Recently, our family tried two sheet-pan recipes - one to use up pork chops I'd had in the freezer for several months and another to switch up the routine for "Taco Tuesday" so we could have steak for Valentine's Day.

While the munchkin wouldn't taste the steak, she quite enjoyed the pork.

Summaries of both will be posted by next week.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

"Hiatus? What Hiatus?" and a Few Words About Meal Planning

It's been a strange couple of years here in the Fridays household, so my original plan to cook a new recipe from my collection of cookbooks each week was a bit of a fail.

However, I just got two new books that I'm dying to read through, flag, and set up a trial schedule so I'll get back on track and continue to ensure that my writing skills haven't completely rusted.

In addition to the need to pull things back on track, I'd like to talk about meal planning.

Not only does planning your week's (or two weeks'!) worth of meals help to ensure you're not wasting food, but it also helps you write your grocery list, eat more healthfully, and use all your resources.

Our general week's meal plan is by category, which allows a bit more flexibility in each week's menu while still allowing us to lead our lives.

Monday is Slow Cooker Night - the munchkin started Girl Scouts in November, and her meetings are after school on Mondays. If dinner's already in the slow cooker, we can eat as soon as we walk in the door from meeting pickup, rather than taking an extra 30-odd minutes to prep & cook something. This is especially helpful in getting the munchkin to bed on time, and has helped improve her ability to focus in class the next day.

Tuesday is Taco Tuesday - by request, the munchkin asked that every Tuesday be declared "Taco Tuesday." So, that's what we do. Usually it's packaged seasoning mix and a box of taco shells, but even within the Taco Tuesday theme, there are many delicious variations. (We might do steak fajitas, for example, for Valentine's Day 2017. Steak on Valentine's Day is always a welcome change of pace!)

We usually plan one night per week as "Leftover Night." This week, it's Wednesday, but I might bump it to Thursday next week because there's a new recipe I'd like to try on Wednesday.

Starting this month, we're going to add Fish Friday, because I'm not always in the mood to eat meat or grilled cheese. 

Oddly enough, this adds enough flexibility to our menu plan that we can be creative and still make sure we're using our resources wisely, which is incredibly important when you're trying to do more with less!

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Stews Around the World

I had to take the kid to the doctor's last week to check if her cough was just a cough ... or if it was something more serious.

There's a magazine at doctors' offices around these parts called Chop Chop and it's kind of like Cooking Light for children and their parents/caregivers.

We picked up the latest issue because (1) the kid loves helping in the kitchen and (2) we needed something to read in the exam room before we saw the doc.

Anyway, the most recent issue includes recipes for stews from various world cultures.

We read the recipes together and talked about the kinds of things our family eats and enjoys.

Then, we decided which of the stews we'd like to try.

Today, I'm making Chop Chop's take on French Cassoulet.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Taking Stock

When the weather 'round these parts starts getting cooler, we make soup and stew and chili and all kinds of comfort foods.

One of the primary components of soup is a good stock.

These days, you can buy decent stock in aseptic cartons at the grocery store, but if you're properly motivated, you can make it yourself.

Me, I've been fairly motivated, but I didn't have the appropriate equipment to try Alton Brown's recipe, although I've had the requisite chicken carcasses, vegetables, and herbs in the house at various points this year. 

My mother, generous soul that she is, offered me the loan of her stockpot so I could actually clear the carcasses out of my freezer and turn them into stock.

Shopping List

  • fresh parsley
  • fresh thyme
I already had the 4lbs of chicken carcasses, leek, onion, carrots, and celery ribs prepped in the freezer and I always have bay leaves and peppercorns in the pantry.

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation

This is very easy, but you do absolutely need the correct size stockpot. AB calls for a 12qt pot for stock-making, which is the size I borrowed from Mom. (My largest stockpot is 5qt.)

Collecting the carcasses is also time-consuming, but the munchkin had taken quite well to roast chicken for dinner over the last year, so I had plenty.

My sister could certainly do this if she put her mind to it.

Specialty equipment required?


In addition to the stockpot, you need a strainer - to remove the solids from your stock - and a smaller stockpot or large bowl to hold the stock you make. (Wouldn't want your 12 hours' work to literally go down the drain, would you?)

It's also suggested that a vegetable steamer be used to help keep the vegetables and chicken parts submerged, though I don't know if this is completely necessary. It is quite helpful, though.


Well, this is kind of sticky. 

It's not an every day or even an every week rotation type of recipe, but that's mostly because I haven't got chicken parts every day. I've got several quarts of stock in my freezer, which should get me through the winter without having to buy box stock (yay!) but haven't had occasion to make soup yet.

I did use some of it in a slow-cooker pulled pork recipe (16oz frozen stock, 1-2 thinly sliced onions, 2lbs bone-in pork shoulder, 1c apple cider; cook on LOW for 8-10hrs, drain, pull, mix with favorite BBQ sauce & serve) and it turned out nicely, so that portion of this batch was a win.

We'll see how it goes as the season progresses. 

Monday, September 21, 2015

Welcome Fall!

OK, so it's a bit early and it certainly still feels a good bit like summer 'round these parts, but fall is assuredly on its way in the northern hemisphere.

The children have gone back to school, the New Jersey State Forests Facebook account reassures me that, in many of the inland and northern counties of New Jersey, the leaves have begun turning.

It's also pumpkin and "pumpkin spice" season. 

The latter has been subject to a bit of (nonsensical, in my opinion) debate about whether something that I think clearly highlights the spice and the subsequent evocation of pumpkin pie. Because, when push comes to shove, pumpkin as we know it today in the US is pretty flavorless. (NB: I'm seeing more and more this property of food being described as "tasteless," which bothers me. "Tasteless," in my opinion, refers not to the senses but the sensibilities. So, you'll see "flavorless" here.)

That's not to say I object to the use of pumpkin in other applications. Even if it's not particularly tasty by itself, it's fairly nutritious, and its lack of flavor allows it to be incorporated into everything from chili (purists may disagree) to pasta sauces and various desserts.

Anyway, today's use of pumpkin is in a dessert - the "Pumpkin Pane Pudding" published in the Fall 2015 issue of Wegmans Menu magazine.

Shopping List

This one was easy - all I needed was the fresh bread and whole milk!

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation


I do think, however, I cut the bread cubes a bit too large - it calls for half-inch cubes.

My sister might be able to do this

Specialty Equipment Required?

Yes. Cubing fresh bread is much easier with a serrated bread knife. 
That's not to say one couldn't make this if one didn't have a bread knife, but it's certainly a lot easier.

Regular Rotation-Worthy?


I didn't realize the husband didn't like bread pudding, and the kid hasn't tried it.

But I like it fine. Special occasions only, then. 

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The Pizza Cone Experiment

Yesterday, I was out of ideas and needed a dinner solution that was quick and relatively inexpensive.

So, lured by the siren song of the "pizza cone" video making the rounds on Facebook, I attempted my own.

Shopping List

  • 1 tube refrigerated pizza dough (I used Pillsbury brand)
  • 1 jar pizza sauce
  • 1 block mozzarella cheese (I used store brand, part-skim)
  • meat topping (like pre-cooked meatballs, sausage, or pepperoni; I opted for frozen, pre-cooked turkey meatballs, in a 1" dice)

Recipe Review

Ease of Preparation


My sister could do this, but she might want a bit of help.

Specialty Equipment Required?


First, you need to figure out a form for your dough-cones. I used heavy-duty aluminum foil; most videos will show wrapping a small paper cone cup (like the kind one might find near a water cooler) in foil. 

Second, it helps if you have a rolling pin, because you do want to roll your dough a bit thinner than it comes out of the can. Yes, OK, Pillsbury makes a "thin crust" pizza crust in a can, but I don't know that it would be worth it to use in this application. (I used a ginger beer bottle)

Third, parchment paper is a MUST unless you're big on greasing pans (I'm not.)

Last, many videos use oven-safe mugs for the post-filling melting step; the linked one uses a popover pan. I didn't and don't feel like there's anything missing - my fillings stayed inside the cone just fine, as the cones themselves were a bit misshapen, so there was a flat side. 

Regular Rotation-Worthy?

Yes, with a slight modification - I'll use less sauce inside the cone and provide (warmed) sauce for dipping.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Recipe Construction: Or, How Not to Put Red Sauce on Pasta ...

There are a lot of options for saucing pasta, but my "quick dinner" go-to is using marinara from a jar. 

We pause to allow the screams of horror from my Italian friends to echo fully in the vacuum caused by deigning to use something I didn't spend all Sunday tending on the stovetop.

I've said it before, and it bears repeating, I am not Italian. 

So, when tasked with making pasta "without red sauce" and remembering my husband could take or leave pesto, I found myself at a quandary.

But then the lightbulb switched on as I remembered a recipe for orichette with sausage & broccoli rabe that was lightened up by a celebrity chef ages ago on Food Network.

Broccoli rabe isn't my favorite vegetable to prepare at home (I find I need to blanch & shock it before sauteeing to leach out some of the bitterness) so I looked elsewhere in the same family to come up with ... spinach.

So, that's what I tapped into Google: pasta sausage spinach.

I read a few recipes and formulated a grocery list. All I needed to transform my lowly box of farfalle (a/k/a "bow tie" pasta) into a gourmet-inspired dish was a package of turkey sausage (casing removed, mild Italian seasoning), cheese, and spinach.

I keep garlic and olive oil on hand at all times. Pantry staples, so to speak.

While you boil the water for your pasta, break up the sausage into bite-sized pieces (should be roughly the size of apricot pits) and brown/render fat in a nonstick pan. Be sure to choose a pan with a well-fitting lid.

Scoop the sausage out with a slotted spoon & set aside. 

Drop heat to medium-low, add 1 Tbsp. olive oil to the pan with 1 clove of chopped garlic. Saute 'til garlic is fragrant (less than a minute on my stove; YMMV) and reduce heat to low. 

Add spinach (mine was in 9oz pre-washed packages; I used 2 pkgs, for 18oz), use tongs to coat in oil/sausage drippings/garlic mix at bottom of the pan. Add 1-3 Tbsp of water to the greens and cover.

While the pasta cooks, the greens should wilt. When the greens are wilted, add the sausage and 1/2 cup of shredded/grated Italian cheese (whatever you like; I used pecorino Romano.)

Cook pasta according to package directions for "al dente" or a little less. Before draining, reserve 1/2 cup pasta water.

Drain pasta, toss with greens, sausage, reserved pasta liquid, and cheese. Sauce won't be super-thick, but it will thicken a bit on standing as the pasta absorbs some of the liquid.

While the kid turned up her nose at it, the husband ate 2 portions.

OK then.