Tuesday, October 7, 2008

A hurry-up and Eat dinner (Potato & hamburger fry up)

I try to eat well on weeknights, really I do.

But some nights it's not just my pantry that's against me.

I came home exhausted and never quite did get that nap I wanted. Instead I settled down before the TV with my computer before me. As I did some mindless data entry, I watched home improvement shows. Surprisingly (or maybe not) this combination seems to sap my will to leave the room, go to the kitchen, and cook.

I love cooking, but often figuring out what to cook is the biggest challenge. I'd been out all weekend (coming home only to recharge my computer, load up more books, shower and ... oh yeah, sleep). So I'd not refilled my pantry yet and was getting low on a few staples. In addition, the hamburger I took out on Saturday night had not been eaten; and so had to be used tonight.

So, I had a pound of lean hamburger and no bread, no pasta, no sour cream, no lettuce, and no cheese. This removed the options of: BBQ hamburgers, tacos, enchiladas, or even taco salad. I couldn't use the oven (it's broken), so that took away meatloaf or lasagna. I couldn't make meatballs (no bread, remember?), or bolonaise sauce (no pasta). The beans were either dried or frozen, and I already had 3 cups of chicken chili frozen in the freezer. Frozen being the key word here. I had enough ingredients for hamburger soup, but that tastes best if left in the crockpot for 3+ hours.

The funny thing is - my pantry is almost full and both my fridge and freezer are in a similar state. I try to cook with what I have without buying special things, but I still end up with a fridge full of little bottles and oddities.

Searching through my freezer and pantry, I was able to scrounge a few things. Turning to the Food blog search for inspiration, I found a few similar recipes that mixed up potatoes, hamburger and some spice. They all sounded good, but what I could do was extremely limited by what I had on hand combined with the fact that I only had about 30 minutes to make dinner. Any longer and someone would be ordering pizza. Whether it would be me or my significant other was anyone's guess.


  • 5 potato hash browns, frozen
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 cup hot homemade salsa (or salsa of your preference)
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 2 tsp oregano (dried)
  • 2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1/2 bag of mixed Californian vegetables (or any frozen vegetables of choice)
  • 2 tsp butter, divided (optional)
  • Ground black pepper, to taste
  1. Thaw the hash browns in a microwave (5-7 minutes on high). Then set them aside on a towel to drain. Note that they must be completely thawed.
  2. Meanwhile, fry up the hamburger and toss all the dried herbs and spices over the cooking meat. Brake the meat up into little chunks and stir often.
  3. Once cooked thoroughly, drained the meat well.
  4. Dump the hash browns into a big glass bowl and mashed them up with a fork.
  5. Add the Worcestershire sauce and the salsa to the mix, and stir well to combine.
  6. Add the drained meat to the mix and mix again.
  7. Put 1/2 the bag of mixed Californian vegetables into a bowl with a little water and a pat of butter. Cover it. Microwave the bowl for 5 minutes on high or until the butter is melted and the vegetables are warm to the touch and free of frost.
  8. Pour the hamburger-and-potato mix back into the frying pan with the rest of the butter. Fry it until everything is warm and somewhat steamy.
  9. Add fresh ground black pepper to taste.
  10. Serve the hamburger-and-potoato mix with the steamed Californian vegetables while hot.

We both liked it.
It was hot, filling, and spicy. It was almost too spicy for me (but that's because I went nuts when I made the salsa and made it super-hot). The meal was well-rounded-ish and would probably be better with more vegetables added to the fry up. It would have tasted a lot better too if I'd shredded my own potatoes and added a shredded onion to it instead of starting with ready-made hash browns.

I didn't add enough fats or liquids to make it stick together when I fried it the second time--so it was a bit awkward to eat; rather like a plateful of peas.  Tasty, but it takes time.

Half my plate was filled with vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower and a few slices of carrot); while the other half was filled with the fry up, and I still have enough left-over for lunch today.

This is something I'll definitely make again (with only a few minor changes).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Cooking question

How do you learn to cook.
Where do you start?

I started by calling my mother (I'd just moved out into my first shared apartment) and asking her how to broil a potato. I knew how to do it, I even had books that could tell me the details, but I felt uninspired and homesick. So I called.

I learned to cook from my mother and my grandmother; but if you'd asked me if I cooked before I moved out -- I'd have said no. I baked, but I didn't cook. Not really. Not meals.

It took years before I realized that I do like to cook, and I do know how to cook -- I'm just often uninspired. The realization came when I got into the habit of cooking for others (which is still my preference). I, like so many others, dislike cooking for just myself.

So, what do I say to friends/family who want to lean to cook? Usually something pithy like "Cooking is easy. You already know how." Great help I am, eh?

But, for those learning to cook, I recommend the following:
  1. Get a cook book. Not one of the fancy ones, but something that promises to teach you the basics. I learned a lot from reading the Joy of Cooking. Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything is equally good. But there are others. Googling "Beginner cooking" turns up 3,100,000 hits; and as many of those seem to be articles as they are cookbooks.

  2. Get started. Pick a recipe, read it all the way through, and then try to make it. Don't be put off by long recipes that take time.

  3. Make a list of the recipes you want to make. Assign one to each night you'll be home and have the time and energy to cook. Make a list of their ingredients and take it with you when you shop. Congratulations! You've just made a menu plan and a shopping list.

  4. Equipment. Be minimalistic. Buy only what you absolutely need at first. Kitchen equipment is like most gadgetry -- there's a ton out there and most is specialized for one or two things.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Recipes to try

Here's the list of recipes I've marked on del.icio.us today:
I'm lucky, I'll be making one or two of these recipes this week. I've
got over 127 recipes bookmarked on del.icio.us so far; my intention is
always to try them and add them to my cookbook and then remove them
from del.icio.us. As you can probably tell, I'm not doing much on this
project of late.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Menu of March 8, 2008

Meat loaf & steamed veggiesDinner out.
Chicken and soba noodle soupBBQ Easy Asian chicken parts & hash-browns with cornBroiled lemon-pepper fish and steamed cornTake out: Souvlaki pita and salad

I did a lot of cooking Saturday.
I made a double-batch of Mark Bittman's meat loaves. I shape them in individual portions. Then I froze two for later. I also made chicken broth (for use later in the week, and oatmeal cookies (from the Joy of Cooking). It was a busy day.

The Gygax-memorial was just a small gathering of friends. The cookies I baked the day before were well-received, but Beverely's anytime salsa stole the show. It's a simple layered dip that keeps well for about 3 days in the fridge. There was lots of food at the memorial; so we didn't really have a proper dinner.

Chicken and soba noodle soup
It was a bit strong in the flavorings, but overall delicious.

BBQ Easy Asian chicken parts & hash-browns with corn is one of my all-time favorite meals. We usually cook it on the barbecue. The hash-browns were a simple dish of par-boiled potatoes (diced & sliced) then pan fried with a bit of butter and a couple cups of corn. My hash-browns are white and never really golden with very few crispy bits; but there were no leftovers.

Broiled lemon-pepper fish and steamed corn. A classic in my kitchen--it's made exactly like it sounds: fish topped with lemon zest and pepper, broiled until done and served with a side of lightly steamed corn.

Monday, May 19, 2008

"Guilt-Free" Cinnamon Rolls

These are quick and easy cinnamon rolls. While they are about 1/2 the calories of the more traditional recipes, I wouldn't actually call them completely "Guilt-Free"; they're still really sweet. I've made them twice with good results. I got the recipe from Cooks Illustrated's Cooking Light magazine (Spring 2008).

The recipe calls for a lot of equipment, fortunately I keep a pan of hot soapy water to hand whenever I bake.

Once my counter was clean (and the previously standing dishes washed), I changed the washing water, and dug out the ingredients.

The dough ingredients were mostly familiar, but I hoped the strangers amongst them would be easily warmed. The microwave made quick work of melting the butter and bringing the skim milk up to 110 degrees. They initially mixed well, but kept separating every time I put the large measuring cup down to tend to other things. The maple syrup did little to help these familiar ingredients keep mixed.

Using the dough hook of my Kitchen Aid mixer, I mixed the four, yeast, and salt together. Then, turning the machine to low, and giving the liquid an extra wisk to get it to at least pretend to be mixed, I drizzled the liquids into the dry ingredients as the Kitchen Aid slowly turned the mixture over and over again.

I had a few problems figuring out when the dough was ready. The recipe calls to allow the dough to be mixed until it's shiny and smooth. It was sticky, but I don't have the experience to know if that was OK. I guessed it was, and turned it out onto a floured silicone baking sheet.

The recipe calls for the dough to be shaped into a ball. But it came out of the Kitchen Aid mixer in a fairly ball-shaped lump. I worked it over for a minute or two (adding flour so it wouldn't all stick to my hands), then dumped it in a metal bowl that was well greased.

I then put the metal bowl in a warm oven, covered with a towl.

After washing my hands (and my equipment), I got to work on the filling. This meant melting more butter. I mixed the butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt together in the same large measuring cup I used previously.

When the dough came out of the oven, it hadn't risen much. I put it back on the lightly floured silicone sheet, and rolled the dough out to the size of the sheet. I sprinkled the sugar and cinnamon mixture over the dough, but ended up using the backside of a spoon to press it all in. I think I rolled the dough out too big because I had a devil of a time trying to get the sugar mixture as even as it looked in the picture.

Rolling was easy enough, but it took some practice to roll the dough tightly enough so that when I cut it, the dough roll didn't fall apart.

The cut dough then went into a 13x9 inch baking dish that was liberally lubed. I covered the dish with plastic rap, then the dish went into a warm oven for 40 minutes while I did up the dishes and tried to scrub the flour off the counter, and the floor.

After 40 minutes, the rolls had puffed up a little. I took them out and set the oven to heat to 350. When it was ready, I took off the plastic covering and set the rolls into the oven to cook. I then went back to finding more errant flour in the cubbards, on doors and in drawers in my kitchen.

When the timer went off, I returned to the kitchen and took out the rolls. They were soft and smelled strongly of cinnamon. I made the icing as the rolls cooled on a wire rack, then poured icing over the rolls. Note to self: next time line the counter with some parchment paper before icing the rolls.

They tasted great. The icing was gooy and the rolls soft and delicious.

Cinnamon Rolls

A lighter version of the more traditional rolls, these are quick and easy to make. They taste best if fresh from the oven, but can be stored overnight if they are frosted first.

Categories: Desert, Rolls, Yeast
Cuisine: American
Serving: 1 roll.
Yeild: 12 rolls.
Time to make: 45 minutes.
Cooking time: 1 hour 15 minutes (includes rising time)
Author: Katie Henderson,
Source: Cooks Illustrated Cooking Light (Spring 2008)
Copyright: Cooks Illusrated
Sering ideas: Great for breakfast, or as a snack in a meeting.


For the dough:

Nonstick cooking spray
1 1/3 cupsskim milk, warmed to 110 degrees
3 tablespoonsmaple syrup
2 tablespoonsunsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cupsunbleached, all-purpose flour, plus extra for the work surface
1 packagerapid rise, or instant yeast
1 teaspoontable salt
1/2 cupdark brown sugar, packed
1/4 cupsgranulated sugar
2 teaspoonsground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoontable salt
1 tablespoonunsalted butter, melted
1 cupconfectioners' sugar
4 tablespoonslight cream cheese
1 tablespoonskim milk
1/2 teaspoonvanilla extract


  1. Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 200 degrees.
  2. Lightly grease a large bowl and a 13 by 9-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray.
  3. When the oven reaches 200 degrees, turn it off.
  4. Combine the milk, syrup and melted butter together in a large measuring cup.
  5. Combine the flour, yeast, and salt together in the bowl of a stand mixer, fitted with a dough hook.
  6. Turn the machine to low speed and slowly add the milk mixture.
  7. After the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and mxi until shiny and smooth (4-6 minutes).
  8. If the dough is wet and not forming a ball, add up to 1/4 cup more flour as needed, and knead the dough for 2 more minutes.
  9. Turn the dough onto a heavily floured work surface, shape it into a ball and put it in the greased bowl.
  10. Cover, and let the dough rest in the warm oven for 10 minutes.
  11. While the dough is resting, mix the filling together.
  12. When the 10 minutes are up, put the dough on a lightly flowered work surface and roll it out into an 18x12-inch rectangle.
  13. Sprinkle the surface with the filling and press it evenly into the dough. Leave a 1/2-inch border along the edges.
  14. Starting at the long edge nearest you, roll up the dough into a cylinder.
  15. Brush he border with water and press to seal.
  16. Using a chef's knife, slice the dough into 12 rounds.
  17. Place them in the prepared pan, with the cut side up. Cover the pan with plastic wrap coated with nonstick cooking spray, and return them to the warm oven until the rolls have nearly doubled in size 30-40 minutes.
  18. Remove the pan from the oven, and heat the oven to 350 degrees. the rolls will continue to rise on the counter as you wait for the oven to heat.
  19. Remove the plastic wrap and bake the rolls until they are a deep brown, 20-25 minutes. Rotate the pan from back to front 1/2 way through baking.
  20. When the rolls are done, make the icing by whisking the ingredients together until smooth.
  21. Remove the pan from the oven, and turn the rolls out on to a cooling rack. Remember to put a piece of parchment paper, or a pan beneath the rack!
  22. Cool 10 minutes, then spread the icing over the rolls.


The color and size of the rolls are more important than the times given in this recipe. If the rolls have not doubled in size after the second rise, give them 10-15 minutes more time and turn the oven back on to 200 degrees. When the oven is at that temperature, turn it off immediately.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Best Light Lemon Bundt Cake

I recently purchased Cook's Illustrated Light Recipes (Spring 2008). The first recipe I tried was their "Best Light Lemon Bundt Cake" by Julia Collin Davidson.

I was pretty nervous and time was fleeting.
Gathering my ingredients together, I gave them (and my kitchen aid mixer) a pep talk. Thinking to save time, I filled a tub with hot soapy water and did the dishes before starting.

Reading down the list of ingredients, the recipe seemed straightforward. All the ingredients were old friends. I thought it should be fairly straightforward.

With the kitchen straightened, and the floor swept, I set to work. I lined up the ingredients with military precision. I measured out the dry ingredients (2 cups sugar, zest of 3 large lemons, pinch of salt, and 1 teaspoon baking powder) and let the kitchen aide mixer run them through the obstacle course. By the time they were done, they were a unit.

I set out another bowl and whisked the wet ingredients together (1 cup 2% milk, 3 large egg yokes, 1/4 cup olive oil, 4 tablespoons melted butter, and 1 tablespoon vanilla).

After cleaning out the kitchen aide mixer bowl, I whipped three egg whites up into a froth. A pinch of cream of tartar and 1/2 a cup of sugar made the eggs stand up straight and stay at attention.

I then mixed the wet mixture with 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, then mixed the wet mixture with the dry. Once they merged, I added the egg whites. It was then that I noticed the 3 1/2 cups of flour at 1/2 teaspoon baking soda were AWOL. I gingerly added the ingredients to the already mixed cake, and the egg whites began to sag. It was at that time that I noticed I should have only added 1 1/2 cups of sugar to the cake, not 2 cups. Ack!

Resigned to my mistakes, I poured the batter into a pan coated with a paste, made from 1 tablespoon melted butter and 1 tablespoon flour. The cake went into a hot (350 degree F) oven, and I set the timer for 45 minutes.

When it was done, and cooling, I made up the glaze (1 cup confectioners' sugar, 1 tablespoon lemon zest and 5 teaspoons lemon juice).

Just before leaving, I poured the glaze over the cake and let it sit for 10 minutes, then I wrapped it in plastic and left.

The cake was really well received; a bit heavier than the recipe said it would be (but then with the egg whites deflated, the texture of the cake made sense). I'm definitely going to have to try this again - with the proper recipe.

Lemon Bundt Cake

A light and lemony cake that is designed to please. The unique form of a bundt pan makes this cake perfect for glazing with either a lemon sugar glaze, or even just plain old confectioner's sugar. The lemon flavor is quite strong and offsets the sweetness of the cake.

Makes 16 servings.
Time: 1 hour + cooling time (1-2 hours).

3 cups cake flour + 1 tablespoon (for dusting the pan)
2 cups sugar, divided (1 1/2 cups and 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup lemon zest, finely grated
2 tablespoons lemon juice (from 4 lemons)
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
3 large eggs, yokes and whites divided
1/4 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter + 1 tablespoon (for the pan), melted
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
Lemon glaze (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. The oven rack should be in the lower-middle position.
  2. Lightly coat the bundt pan with a paste made from 1 tablespoon flour and 1 tablespoon butter.
  3. Whisk the remaining flour, 1 1/2 cups sugar, lemon zest, salt, baking powder, and baking soda together in a large bowl. Set aside.
  4. In a second bowl, wisk together the milk, yokes, oil, butter, and vanilla together.
  5. In a third bowl whisk the egg whites with an electric mixer. When the eggs are broken and foamy, add a pinch of cream of tartar and increase the speed of your mixer.
  6. Continue to whisk the egg whites, adding the remaining sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time. When all the sugar is added, continue to beat until the egg whites are shiny and foam stiff peaks.
  7. Slowly whisk the milk mixture and lemon juice into the flour mixture until the mix is smooth.
  8. Fold one third of beaten egg whites into the batter until combined.
  9. Fold remaining two thirds into the batter until combined.
  10. Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan and smooth the top. Clean the edges of the pan.
  11. Bake until deep golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes. A toothpick should come out with a few moist crumbs attached. Halfway through baking, rotate the pan.
  12. Cool the cake on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes before inversing the pan.
  13. Leave the cake for 1-2 hours to cool it. When cool, either dust with confectioner's sugar, or drizzle with glaze.

Lemon Glaze

Makes 1 generous cup, enough to glaze 1 cake.
Time: 5 minutes.

1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 tablespoon lemon zest, finely grated
5 teaspoons lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon table salt


  1. Whisk all ingredients together in a medium-sized bowl.
  2. Move the cake to a cooling rack over top of a piece of parchment paper.
  3. Drizzle cake with glaze and let it set for 15 minutes before serving.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Leftover chicken

I love roast chicken. It's become our new quick meal as roast chickens in this city are pretty cheap when purchased fresh from a deli. The birds are fairly small, but they are more than enough for a meal for two plus leftovers. This has, unfortunately, led me to throw away or freeze far too many chicken parts. To try and reduce waste, I've compiled a list of recipes for what to do when you have cooked chicken.
  1. Stir fry with chicken. Whenever it comes to Chinese recipes, I always turn to the Tigers and Strawberries blog. Her recipe is amazing. My modifications - leave out the cornstarch, use 1/2 the amount of dark soy sauce, and add in more vegetables (bell peppers, celery, water chestnuts, ...pretty much whatever I've got).
  2. Chicken fried rice. This low calorie version tastes pretty good to me. I add ginger (about 1/2 an inch, peeled & diced) and sometimes replace the peas and carrots with a bag of frozen oriental or Thai mix.
  3. Chicken pot pie. Sandi Richard's book, Cooking for the Rushed, has the simplest and most tasty chicken pot pie recipe. I typically make it without the biscuits on top, preferring to make standard buttermilk or baking soda biscuits to serve alongside it.
  4. Easy Chicken Enchiladas. This is a new recipe for me, but it's very similar to one I regularly make. What I really like about this one is that it came with a recipe for Fast Enchilada Sauce; so now I can make my own.
  5. Chicken Fajitas. I leave out the salt and the cornstarch and only occasionally add the lime juice. I replace the onion powder with a diced scallion, and the garlic powder with a minced clove (or two) of fresh garlic.
  6. Jambalaya. This tasty version appeared in Cooking Light (Jan 2000). It's far more simple than most versions I've found and the shrimp can easily be replaced with cooked shredded chicken.
  7. Kung Pao Chicken with Ho Fun Noodles. Another Chinese dish that works as well with cooked chicken as raw. I don't use the cornstarch, but otherwise don't modify the recipe much. I like it with all the optional ingredients; but I don't always have them on hand.
  8. Pizza Calzones. The recipe doubles easily and is great to make ahead and freeze. Making the bread does take some time, but if made in advance and kept frozen, it takes about 30 minutes to warm up and cook.
  9. Chicken a la king. This can optionally be made with peas and carrots.
  10. Spicy chicken with poblano peppers and cheese. A great spicy fall dinner. I usually serve it with just a salad. The recipe itself is very forgiving and I don't usually roast the skins off the peppers.
  11. Stock. As a last resort, I'll throw the skin, bones and carcass into a crock pot with an onion (roughly cut and not peeled), a carrot (washed but not peeled) and a stalk of celery. Fill with water to cover and set it on low for a day.

So what do you do with your leftover chicken?

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Meal plan, April 5th, 2007

otissery chicken, bagged salad Crockpot hamburger soup for 3 Marinated butcher's blcok steak, baked potato/sweet potato & steamed vegetables Sauté chicken with lemon sauce, mixed green salad Mexican pie & kale for 6 Spagetti & meatballs BBQ salmon (or trout) and steamed vegetables

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Meal plan for April 23, 2008

B: 1/3c raw oatmeal, bananas, cinnamon, 1/2c skim milk, 1c fruit salad
L: No-sugar bagel, light cream cheese, 1/2 a diet snapple
D: Out with a friend.
B: Egg sandwich on an english muffin with sausage, lettuce & cheese
L: Soup, small roll, diet coke, small fruit
D: Steak sandwiches on good bread, cheese. Fruit salad
B: 2/3 cup cereal, 1/2 cup skim milk, strawberries
L: Pasta marinara, diet coke, small fruit
D: Lemon Trout, wild rice, steamed mixed beans
B: 1/3 c pre-cooked oatmeal, bananas, cinnamon, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Soup & small roll, medium fruit
D: Soft-shelled tacos with salad and salsa
B: 2/3 cup cereal, 1/2 cup skim milk, strawberries
L: Wraps or leftovers
D: Ravioli & marinara sauce, salad with soy nuts & lemon poppyseed dressing
B: 1/3 pre-cooked oatmeal, bananas, cinnamon, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Wraps
D: BBQ chicken in mustard sauce, mashed potatoes, large green salad with soy nuts. Lemon-poppyseed dressing
B: 2/3 cup cereal, 1/2 cup skim milk, strawberries
L: Wrap or leftovers
D: Sheppard's pie (Pax Tharda)

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Vegetable basket

A friend delivered my first "Medium" vegetable basket. It's got a lot of goodies in it.
  • 1 head celery (now I've got three in the fridge. I'll have to figure out something other than celery sticks for snacks to do with it).
  • 1 head lettuce (looks like a curly leaf variety).
  • 4 heads of garlic (yay! I love garlic.)
  • 4 oranges
  • 4 potatoes
  • 1 pound of carrots (I've already got 2 pounds in the fridge. So now I'll have lots of carrot sticks to go with my celery)
  • 1 pound of onions (I was out of onions).
  • 1 honey dew melon (With the oranges and the pineapple I have at home - I'm thinking fruit salad)
  • 1 pound of beets (what do I do with this?)
  • 1 seedless cucumber (salads)
  • 1 zucchini (salads, snacks ... guess I'd best get to making hummus).

So this definitely will define what I'm eating next week. Anyone have some good beet recipes? I've found two so far: Roasted Beets and Balsamic marinated beets. I'll probably be trying both next week.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Menu plan for April 18th, 2008

B: 1 egg, 1 egg white, 2 potato hashbrowns
L: 1 cup tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwhich
D: Whole-wheat Ravioli and tomato sauce with Parmesan and salad for 5

B: Cinnamon and strawberry pancakes, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Tuna wrap with lettuce, radish, and greens.
D: Curried Potato and vegetable soup for 5

B: 1/3 c raw oatmeal, bananas, cinnamon, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Soup, small roll, diet coke, small fruit
D: BBQ chicken in mustard sauce, large green salad with soy nuts. Lemon-poppyseed dressing

B: 2/3 cup cereal, 1/2 cup skim milk, strawberries
L: Pasta marinara, diet coke, small fruit
D: BBQ Trout, wild rice, steamed mixed beans

B: 1/2 c light yogurt+flax seed, 1 small fruit, 1/2 c skim milk
L: Wrap (Tuna or leftover meat) with vegetables, yogurt + flax
D: Crockpot pea soup or Chicken parts (for Easy Asian chicken)

B: 1/3 c raw oatmeal, bananas, cinnamon, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Pasta maranara, diet coke, small fruit
D: BBQ Hamburgers with light cheese on whole wheat, with lettuce, tomatoes and mustard

B: 1/3 c raw oatmeal, bananas, cinnamon, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Wrap (Tuna or leftover meat) with lots of vegetables, yogurt + flax
D: Dinner out

Goldfish & small fruit
150 ml light yogurt + flax seed
Protein bar
Large fruit
Baked tortilla bits & salsa

Minor edits to what I ate and removed the overly-squashed and ugly table.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Menu Plan April 12, 2008

B: 1 egg, 1 egg white, 2 potato
L: 1 cup tomato soup, grilled cheese sandwhich
D: Whole-wheat Ravioli and tomato sauce with Parmesan and salad for 5

B: Cinnamon and strawberry pancakes, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Tuna wrap with lettuce, radish, and greens.
D: Curried Potato and vegetable soup for 5

B: 1/3 c raw oatmeal, bananas, cinnamon, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Soup, small roll, diet coke, small fruit
D: BBQ chicken in mustard sauce, large green salad with soy nuts. Lemon-poppyseed dressing

B: 2/3 cup cereal, 1/2 cup skim milk, strawberries
L: Pasta marinara, diet coke, small fruit
D: BBQ Trout, wild rice, steamed mixed beans

B: 1/2 c light yogurt+flax seed, 1 small fruit, 1/2 c skim milk
L: Wrap (Tuna or leftover meat) with vegetables, yogurt + flax
D: Crockpot pea soup or Chicken parts (for Easy Asian chicken)

B: 1/3 c raw oatmeal, bananas, cinnamon, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Pasta maranara, diet coke, small fruit
D: BBQ Hamburgers with light cheese on whole wheat, with lettuce, tomatoes and mustard

B: 1/3 c raw oatmeal, bananas, cinnamon, 1/2 cup skim milk
L: Wrap (Tuna or leftover meat) with lots of vegetables, yogurt + flax
D: Dinner out

Goldfish & small fruit
150 ml light yogurt + flax seed
Protein bar
Large fruit
Baked tortilla bits & salsa

Minor edits to what I ate and removed the overly-squashed and ugly table.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Mexican Pie

Taken from a Live Journal’s Recipe Maven post. Posted by neokibo on the 6th of December, 2005. This is a variation on shepherd’s pie. It’s far more flavorful and downright messy to cook.

Serves: 4
Preparation time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

Cilantro is optional, as to some it has an unpleasant taste. Remember to put a baking sheet beneath your casserole dish as Mexican Pie tends to overflow the container. The batter bakes best if the casserole dish remains uncovered.

Mexican cheese is just a pre-shredded mix of cheddar, Monterey jack, bits of jalapeño and often a mild cheese (like Emmentaler). Feel free to make your own. I recommend equal portions of jalapeño-flavored cheese (Havarti, Gouda or even Monterey jack), cheddar and Colby.


  • Measuring spoons & cups
  • Paring knife & cutting board
  • Non-stick skillet
  • Baking sheet
  • Casserole dish

Corn bread batter

1 cupflour
1 cupcornmeal
1/4 cupsugar
3/4 teaspoonsalt
3 teaspoonsbaking powder
1/4 cupoil
2eggslightly beaten
1 cupmilk
1jalapeños, minced (optional)
1/2 cup"Mexican mix" cheeses, shredded (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoonslemon juice

For the meat mixture:

1 to 1.5 poundshamburger
2 tablespoonsoil
1 mediumonion, roughly chopped
2-3garlic cloves, minced
1 canwhole tomatoes, crushed
1 cupfrozen corn kernels, thawed
1 tablespoonchili powder
1 teaspoonoregano
1 teaspooncumin
½ teaspoonground black pepper

cilantro, roughly chopped
2-3 cups"Mexican mix" cheese, shredded


  1. Preheat oven to 350° F (176° C) degrees. In a medium-hot skillet sauté the onion in oil for 5-7 minutes
  2. Add garlic and saute for 1 minute.
  3. Add hamburger, chili powder, oregano, cumin, and fresh cracked pepper and saute until hamburger is browned through.
  4. Add corn and crushed tomatoes with juice and cook until warmed.
  5. Add cilantro and cheese (as well as optional ingredients as you desire) and mix until incorporated.
  6. Pour a thin layer of batter on the bottom of a 2-quart oven-proof casserole dish.
  7. Add the meat mixture.
  8. Top with corn bread batter.
  9. Bake for 30-45 minutes

Crockpot Hamburger Soup

Taken from: Recipe*Zaar. Recipe #133649. Posted by Kittencal; and Shirley Downey. Both recipes had good points to them, so I’ve combined them.


  • Measuring spoons and cups.
  • Paring knife and cutting board.
  • Can opener.
  • Skillet (to brown the meat).
  • Plate with paper towel (to drain the meat).

I keep consomme in my freezer whenever I can, store-brought broth can be used instead. Fresh tomatoes can be used, but you’ll have to dip them in boiling water to remove their skins before adding them to the recipe. I prefer to cut up my tomatoes before adding them.


2 lbshamburger
2 tablespoonsgarlic, minced
1 largeonion, chopped finely
1 (28 ounce) cantomatoes (undrained)
1 ¾ cupswater
30 ouncesbeef consomme, undiluted
1-2 tablespoonsworcestershire sauce
10 ouncessalsa
5-6carrots, chopped
5-6 stalkscelery, chopped
1-2bay leaf
1/2 teaspoonEach: thyme, oregano, rosemary, and basil

black pepper, to taste

grated Parmesan cheese, optional, to taste


  1. Brown the hamburger with the onion and garlic. Drain well.
  2. Add in all remaining ingredients except the Parmesan cheese, and turn the crockpot on low for 6 hours (or high for 3).
  3. Ladle into serving bowls and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese and fresh ground black pepper just before serving.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

1960's cookbooks & potato chips

The Wise Irresistible Recipes cookbook cover

The Irresistible Recipes with Wise potato chips is a tiny cookbook (the images are actual size) that I found at the bottom of a bag of old clippings and cutouts, cookbooks and recipe cards in my closet. I've always meant to put them on the web somewhere.

I always figured I should try to make some of these recipes; but if I did - could I resist not trying to reduce the fat, or change the ingredients? I remember dishes with crumbled chip toppings, but I don't remember my Mother ever putting chips in brownies.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Meal Plan: March 29, 2008

Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thrusday Friday
White Chili Chicken stew and buttermilk biscuits (for 4-6) Soft-shelled beef tacos with salad and homemade salsa Chicken wings and salad Mustard chicken and steamed vegetables White beans and barley with ham (slow cooker recipe) Horseradish and herb-crusted beef roast, roasted potatoes and mixed romaine salad (for 6)

Lunch: Chicken soup (leftovers)
Dinner I was supposed to make this last Friday. Instead I'll load the crockpot and set it to slow cook for the day. It's a chicken-based chili with white beans. It came out OK, but surprisingly bland. My spices aren't dead, but I should have doubled them.

Dinner: My guests canceled and I didn't feel like making dinner, so I ended up having a PBJ & a glass of skim milk. But hey - it was a fancy meal. I had the milk in a wine glass.

Lunch: Vegetarian cassoulet (from the freezer)
Dinner: Chicken wings and salad. Not healthy, but sooo tasty.

Lunch: Adonis' Small Old Fashioned Gyro Platter with salad (no fries, no rice). I went out to dinner with a friend.
Dinner: Soft-shelled beef tacos with salad and homemade salsa. This is one of my favorite meals. I used the Taco mix recipe I posted here previously (made fresh). The spices were a bit strong. The homemade salsa was a quick salsa verde. And I have enough leftovers for a small serving of nachos.

Lunch: Boccacino's Monteray wrap (grilled chicken with cheddar, bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomatoes and their spicy mayonnaises. Served with salsa and a huge green salad. I brought 1/2 of it home for later in the week. It's a delicious sandwhich.
Dinner: Mustard chicken and steamed vegetables. Dreg the chicken in flour, sauté in a mix of 2:1 olive oil to butter. Do not flip often. When both sides are browned, place in a pre-heated oven. To the sauce add: 1/2 cup white wine, allow to boil down by 1/2. Then add 1/2 cup chicken broth, allow again to boil down by 1/2. Stir often. When the mixture will coat the back of a spoon add 1 portion butter, 1 portion dijon mustard. Stir well. Serve over chicken with a side of steamed vegetables.

Lunch: Out to Eggspectations with the team.
Dinner: White beans and barley with ham (slow cooker recipe). I found this on RecipeZaar and it picked my interest. The overall recipe was ... missing something. After discussing it with my guests - we settled on tomatoes.

Lunch: The other 1/2 of the Boccacino's Monteray wrap with a dozen blue organic taco chips (to finish off the salsa that came with the wrap)
Dinner: Horseradish and herb-crusted shoulder roast, roasted potatoes and mixed romaine salad (for 6). The roast is small enough that it should be done by 7pm tonight for dinner. I hope to use the leftover drippings to make beef consumer.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Meal Plan: March 22, 2008

Saturday Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thrusday Friday
Roast turkey (unstuffed) au jus with roast potatoes Roast turkey (stuffed), baked turnip, green beans, mashed potatoes Meat loaf and steamed green beans and carrots Cheeseburgers, all dressed Chicken soup Wings Dinner out

Lunch: Split pea soup
Dinner: Roast turkey (unstuffed) au jus with roast potatoes
I don't often roast a turkey; and I blame a sudden fit of madness for trying it on Saturday. I spent all afternoon making chicken broth then most of the evening finishing off a turkey that caused so much steam my fire alarm went off twice. It was, however, succulent and very delicious.

Lunch: Late brunch of eggs and toast.
Dinner: We went over to a sibling's house and had the traditional holiday meal (TM). It was, as per usual, so much better than mine. I did, however, feel better when I walked in and noticed her fire alarm was disconnected.

Lunch: Turkey wraps
Dinner: I made meatloaf a few weeks back and froze a double-serving. I reheated them and served them with green beans and carrots. It was a quick and tasty meal.

Lunch: Out with a friend.
Dinner: Cheeseburgers, all dressed. I had something else planned but by the time I got home I had completely forgotten what it was supposed to be. The hamburger was thawed, so that's what I made. BTW we don't normally eat so much hamburger but (a) it was on sale, and (b) after two days of turkey, we needed a break from poultry in general.

Lunch: Vegetarian cassoulet (from the freezer)
Dinner: With friends coming over, a fridge full of broth and poultry, and rainy weather on the forecast -- making Chicken soup seems perfectly reasonable to me. Besides, I need a couple of servings for future lunches as my freezer's getting low on ready-meals.
The soup was well appreciated and not just because I added lots of ginger and garlic to the fennel, carrots, celery and onion I usually add; but I'm sure it helped.

Lunch: Chicken soup (from last night), and whole wheat crackers
Dinner: Southewestern chicken. No, not really. I wimped out and had boxed-frozen medium-spice buffalo wings. Yes, I know they were bad for me. I had them with a side of air-popped popcorn and a big glass of milk (not for the health, but just to scrape the spice out of my mouth. The wings were good, but I am a spice-wimp. I did cook up the white kidney beans though (soaked them overnight and then put them in the crockpot to cook with a big handfull of dried sage leaves and enough water to cover).

Lunch: Vegetarian cassoulet, the last of it.
Dinner: Out -- no clue where, it's his choice (although I suspect we'll be going to one of the rotissery restaurants in Montreal. Rotissery chicken is a really big thing here -- every restaurant seems to offer it; but only one or two do it right (note to self - review the restaurant and the meal).

- Updated Friday, 28-Mar-2008 with Thursday and Friday info. Added a More tag.

Easy Asian Grilled Drumsticks

Taken from RecipeZaar Posted by Kittencal. The sauce is sufficient for 10 drumsticks, but can easily be doubled.

Version: 2.0Preparation time: 10 minutes + 8 hours marinade time.
Serves: 5 (2 pc each)Cooking time: 35-45 minutes.


  • Mixing bowl and wire wisk
  • Measuring cups and spoons.
  • Cutting board and knife.
  • Barbecue or baking sheet lined with tinfoil.
  • Tongs.

This is a great recipe. I halved the amount of honey, and chili flakes and it was still good. I've removed the oil, salt, and lemon juice from the original recipe due to health concerns. This works well with legs with thighs, as well as drumsticks.
Unless I'm barbecuing, I skin the legs before cooking, and divide the thigh from the leg at the joint before marinating. If using boneless, skinless chicken breasts - I suggest pan frying as the cooking time is very different.

This meal goes great with a large salad or a steamed vegetable side-dish.


1/4 cupsodium reduced soy sauce
1/3 cuplemon juice
1/4 cuphoney
1/4 cupsesame oil
2 tablespoonsgarlic, crushed and finely diced
2 tablespoonsginger, crushed and finelydiced
2 teaspoonschili flakes (optional)

black pepper
10chicken drumsticks, or other parts.


  1. In a bowl whisk together the first 8 ingredients.
  2. Place the chicken parts in one or more large resealable bags.
  3. Pour the marinade into the bag(s) and seal; turn to coat evenly.
  4. Refrigerate for up to 8 hours, turning occasionally.
  5. Set grill to medium heat, or oven to 375 F.
  6. Remove the chicken and discard the marinade.
  7. Place the chicken on the grill (if a barbecue) or on a baking sheet.
  8. Grill or bake, turning chicken until crispy and golden brown and the chicken is thoroughly cooked.
  9. Turn once (if baking) or often (if on a barbecue)
  10. If baking - turn the oven to broil for a few minutes at the end to crisp the skin.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Meal Plan: Leftovers

For the first time in a long time - we didn't go shopping on the weekend. I've always got a few weeks of food stored, so we shouldn't starve. Choosing to do this does, however, greatly limit my experimentation. It also means I'm using a some prepared foods (Hamburger helper, and the taco mix) that have sat in the house for a long time. The funny thing is - after this week I'll still have plenty of food in the house.


Chicken Fajitas
Take out: BBQ chicken, french fries & cold slaw
Marinated butcher-block steak, romaine salad with red wine vinagrette
Hamburger helper, carrots & celery sticks
Chicken provincial and steamed green beans over brown rice
Chicken fried rice
Vegetarian cassoulet for 6

Lunch: Chicken and hummus sandwich with romaine lettuce on a whole-wheat bagel.

Dinner: I went to a friend's house to cook. Fortunately (for me) he had olive oil as I forgot to bring mine. I fried up the trimmed chicken thighs in a bit of olive oil, then added the strips of bell pepper and 1/2 the onion to the pan. When the onion was translucent I added the seasoning and 1/4 cup of water. When the mix was incorporated, I added 3 tablespoons of medium salsa and stirred well. Then I took the pan off the heat. The mix was served on flat-bread with more medium salsa, cheese and sour cream.

Lunch: Leftover Chicken Soba soup.

Dinner: It was a quiet day and neither of us felt like making dinner - so we ordered in. A local place does an amazing rotisserie chicken and it's almost as cheap as buying it from the grocery store. The meal was good, and as I said - we were lazy.

Lunch: Out with a friend.

Dinner: The butcher-block steak had been marinating since last night. It was sitting in a mix of 1 cup red wine, 1/2 cup olive oil, 3 tablespoons steak spice and 1 tablespoon thyme. We barbecued it until it was no longer red in the middle. It was served with a salad of romaine lettuce, a yellow bell pepper, and 2 oz cheese. The dressing was 3 tablespoons red wine vinagrette, 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil, 3 shakes of pepper.

Surprisingly there's enough steak left for a sandwich or two.

Lunch: Lentil-barely stew (from the freezer)

Dinner: Hamburger helper.
Other than a few minor changes (smaller portions, extra-lean ground beef, more careful in removing the fat) -- this is the same orange box I cooked from when I first moved out. I served it with a crisp spinach and romaine salad and a tart vinagrette to try and round out the meal.

Lunch: Lentil-barely stew (from the freezer)

Dinner: Chicken provincial and steamed green beans over brown rice.
This recipe is surprisingly simple and quick. Other than taking a pulsing hand blender to the sauce (to make it creamy instead of chunky), I make no changes to the recipe. Often the main course is done just before the rice. If I have enough, I like to cook the brown rice in homemade fat-free chicken broth as I find it greatly improves the taste.

Lunch: 1/2 Chicken breast Parmesan with extra sauce (from the freezer) and small salad

Dinner:Chicken fried rice
This, for me, is the penultimate way to get rid of leftover cooked chicken. I often double the amount of chicken that the recipe calls for. My frying man is an absolute mess when I'm done, but it tastes so good. We miss the salt, so I've begun adding a bit of Chinese 5-spice powder on top.

Lunch: PBJ, yogurt, and fruit

Dinner: Vegetarian cassoulet
There wasn't much left of this one - so I'm calling it a success. It's not quite a cassoulet (no meat, and it took only a bit over an hour to cook); but it is easy and very tasty. We served it with fresh belgian bread and additional paremsan cheese. I've got some garlic crutons left over; wo I'll have good things for salads next week.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Meal outlaw: Test

Meal Outlaw, a review

Meal outlaw is a good example of a web 2.0 site.

It relies completely on user-entered data; providing only a format in which to display your data, and ways to distribute it. There are several such services, but the others tend to associate with large databases of recipes. This one does not.

I discovered Meal outlaw through a link provided in the comments of a post about menu planning. To use Meal outlaw, you have to join. You can either sign up with your facebook account, or create a Meal outlaw account. The creation is a simple process, akin to all the other web 2.0 signups, except it asks for a security question and answer for password retrieval.

According to the about page, the idea for Meal outlaw came from Matthew Amster-Burton's blog Roots & Grubs. Mr. Matthew Amster-Burto is a food writer living in Seattle. In the article that inspired Meal outlaw, explains the inspiration for listing what he's eating this week as:

Aside from the purely voyeuristic element, hearing about what other people are making for dinner gives me ideas for what to cook myself.

When I entered my first week of menus, I went to the calendar, clicked on a day, clicked on "add a meal to this day" then entered the information. It was a lot of clicking for adding a title, some tags, a link and any notes. But when it was done, I had a week-long calendar of meals that I could print either from the screen or into PDF. There is a quicker way to add data - right from the front page in fewer page-refreshes and clicks.

Overall the service is a nice one. It allows you to subscribe to your calendar of meals - or anyone else's via RSS or iCal. You can also add comments and photos to your meals, and comments to everyone else's.

The creator of the service, J.R. Tipton, welcomes suggestions and even provides his own email address on the about page. I completely concur with Mr. Tipton's statement that there is a wide proliferation of threads, web sites, and blog posts about what to make for dinner. I'm glad I found Meal outlaw, but it made me wonder about all the other ones out there.

Menu for the week of March 1, 2008

Meatball soup (for 6) Beans and rice (for 6) Pork chops & salad Chicken Piccata & salad Steak sandwiches with spicy cheese on fresh baguettes & tomato soup Broiled lemon-pepper fish and steamed corn Vegetarian cassoulet (for 6)

Updates from the week that is

The meatball soup was well received. Everyone enjoyed it and I even had enough left-over for the following day's lunch.

Beans and rice. It was actually bland. All those aromatics and it was bland. I cooked all the aromatics with the white kidney beans. I used 2 serrano peppers and I suspect my cayenne pepper is dead. Everyone liked it, but several folk reached for the african-heat spice shaker to try and give it more of a kick. Next time I'll go for the stronger smoked ham, a fattier ham-hock, possibly spicy sausages and/or more chilies.

The pork chops I bought shrunk quite a bit when cooking; but overall tasted very good. There really is no recipe for this - I sprinkle the chops with pepper and throw them into a grilled pan to cook a few minutes on each side. They were served with a fresh romaine and grape tomato salad with a red wine and olive oil vinagrette. Simple, fast, and delicious.

The meal didn't get made. I grabbed something from the freezer and heated that instead.

Steak sandwiches on fresh bread with sharp cheddar cheese and jalapeños Monterey jack cheese. Yum.

Broiled lemon-pepper fish and steamed corn

The gang canceled, so once again I relied upon the contents of my freezer. I pulled out a pound of hamburger and made ... well ... hamburgers. :)

17-March-2008: Updated with the day-by-day results of my eating.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Meatball soup

Originally from the Relish! menu planning website, I modified the recipe to reduce the salt. I picked the recipe originally because it seemed straightforward and probably could be modified to work with the crock-pot. My first test of the recipe was a resounding success.

Version: 2.0
Serves: 6 (1 1/2 cups each)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes


  • Measuring cups & spoons.
  • Cutting board & knife.
  • Dutch Oven.
  • Ladle.
  • Stirring spoon.

The original recipe used canned beef broth and onion soup mix. Both taste good, but I wanted something lower in salt. So, I switched to chicken broth and real onion. I also reduced the amount of butter down to a tablespoon (from 2). I had 2 cups of rice (cooked in chicken broth) in my fridge - so I added it to the soup to positive effect.


  • 38-ounces frozen meatballs
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 carrot(s), thinly sliced
  • 2 stalks celery, thinly sliced
  • 26-ounces (6 cups) chicken broth, fat removed, low-sodium
  • 28-ounce can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 3 tablespoons Italian parsley, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon dried basil (or 1/2 teaspoon fresh)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • coarse salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, freshly grated


  1. In a Dutch oven over medium heat, melt 1/2 the butter.
  2. Sauté the onion until the onion begins to become translucent.
  3. Add the carrots and celery, and continue to sauté for 4-5 minutes or until softened.
  4. Add all the other ingredients except the meatballs and the cheese.
  5. Bring to a boil.
  6. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 20 minutes.
  7. Add meatballs; cover and simmer meatball soup 10 minutes longer.
  8. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
  9. Serve topped with freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Taco seasoning mix in a jar

I found this recipe on a website about Gifts in a Jar. It’s a nice mix that keeps well for 6 months or longer if stored in a well-sealed mason jar. This mix can also be made fresh.

Version 2.0
Serves: 5 (Yields about 2 cups)
Preparation time: 5 minutes.
Cooking Time: None.

Equipment required:

  • Mason jar and funnel
  • Measuring cups & spoons

Add pasta to create Hamburger helper.
Chili mix seasoning is slightly different, but I like the taste of this mix so much that I often use it instead.
The original recipe called for 1/4 cup of salt. I removed it and found the recipe tasted a lot better.


  • 3/4 cup dried minced onion
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch or whole wheat flour.
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin


  1. Pour the ingredients into the mason jar.
  2. Mix well.
  3. To use: Add 2 - 3 tablespoons of the mix to 1-3/4 pounds hamburger and 1/2 cup water for tacos.

Fresh version
This takes longer, so I only make it this way when I have time and a good reason (like people coming over for dinner).


  • 1 onion, finely minced
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • 1/2 tablespoon oregano, fresh minced
  • 2 tablespoons whole wheat flour.
  • 2 tablespoons red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin


  1. In a hot skillet, with a little bit of olive oil, cook the onions until they are translucent. Stir frequently. If the skillet smokes, reduce the heat.
  2. Add the garlic and stir. Cook only until the garlic is fragrant.
  3. Add the spices, and stir to incorporate.
  4. Add the flour, and continue to stir.
  5. Remove the mix from the pan, and set aside. Cook your meat in the pan, and drain it well.
  6. When the meat is cooked, and drained, return the mixture to the pan, and add 1/2 cup of water. Stir well.
  7. Cook until the liquid is mostly incorporated, then remove the pan from the heat. The mixture will thicken as it cools.

Updated. Modified the recipe according to John Eddy's comments.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Plan B. Improving what I eat

So, it seems I'd best try planning out all three recipes a day to try and reduce all the extras.

Last weekend's grocery receipt (compared against a few older ones) shows a few things I regularly get.

  • Baguettes.
  • Hot cereal mixes.
  • Snack bars.
  • Instant meals.
  • Flavored yogurt.
  • Drinks (chocolate milk, juices, sodas, etc).
  • Taco mix, or sauce.
  • Junk food.

Most of these things I can either make at home or just do without. Breaking the soda habit is a hard one. We're going to try to wean ourselves off both soda and junk food. This is not going to be easy; and to help I have to come up with interesting snacks for daily consumption that are portable.

Step 1. Sauces
I have a great recipe for taco mix. I need to make that up this weekend. Fortunately I have most of the ingredients.

I'll have to make more chicken broth next week (as this Friday's meal will probably take all I have). And I should make up some Diabetic vegetable stock as I'm all out.

Step 2. Snacks
I read somewhere that you should always reward yourself. When trying to stay healthy - that does limit my choices.

Snacks for this week:

  • 100mL sugar-free fruit yogurt + ground flax seed
  • 1/4 cup frozen berries + 1/3 cup cottage cheese - just me
  • 1 oz Cheese + small fruit
  • 2 sticks Celery + 1 tbsp natural peanut butter
  • 4 Carrot sticks
  • 1/2 cup Fruit salad (apples, pears, bananas, grapefruit, melon)

Menu plan
Check out Meal Outlaw for my menu plan.

I barely know which way to go to get to the kitchen in the morning; so instead of setting a specific meal for a specific day, I'll just list the options here in three categories: Planned (must prepare the night before or get up early), backup (used most often when I sleep in), Quick (for when we're running late).

  • Planned: Eggs and chicken bacon
  • Planned: Cream of wheat & cinnamon sugar & fruit salad
  • Backup: Oatmeal & fruit salad
  • Quick: Cold cereal, milk & bananas
  • Quick: Toast, natural peanut butter & bananas

Same categories as for breakfast. Most lunches are planned, but we don't always have leftovers (even if I plan for them), so sometimes I need to use a backup and sometimes there's not even time for the backup.

  • Planned: Leftovers, small salad, 15ml dressing, fruit, 257mL diet soda
  • Backup: 1/2 Chicken sandwich (on whole wheat with light mayo, pepper & lettuce), carrots & celery, soup
  • Quick: PB&J, carrots & celery, 257mL diet soda

Grocery list

  • Celery (snacks)
  • Pears (snacks)
  • Bananas (snacks)
  • Melon (snacks
  • 2 green bell peppers or red bell peppers (Mexican pie)
  • 1 jalapeño pepper (Mexican pie)
  • 1 Parsnips (Vegetable stock)
  • 2 Leeks (Vegetable stock)
  • 1 Celery root (Vegetable stock)
  • 1 (10 ounce) package red pearl onions or white pearl onions (Vegetarian stew)
  • 5 large sweet potatoes (Vegetarian stew)
  • 1 head cauliflower (Vegetarian stew)
  • 0.67 lbs (0.30 kg) ground chicken (Mexican pie)
  • Sugar-free fruit yogurt (snacks)
  • Cottage cheese (snacks)
  • Eggs (breakfast, Mexican pie)
  • Buttermilk (Mexican pie)
  • 1 can low-salt tomato sauce (Mexican pie)


  • Chicken bacon
  • 1 pk chicken thighs (Chicken stew)
  • 1 roasting chicken (Sunday)
  • 1 pk chicken breasts (Chicken Provencal)


  • Cheese (snacks)
  • Dried minced onion (Taco mix)
  • Chili powder (Taco mix)
  • 1/3 cup (80 mL) black olives (Chicken Provencal)

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Using what I bought - II Putting it into Practice

Friday I updated my pantry index, and it got me thinking. I do this pretty regularly -- but I still base my menu on what I see on websites, blogs and in magazines and not what's in my pantry.

Vegetables still go bad in my rotter, and milk products go bad in their containers in my fridge. So this week I'm going to try and put my idea into practice.

Using the data
So, I have my hastily written list in my planner. Now I have to use the data. Here it is thrown into a table - without much thought or planning, it is at least a start.

DayServingsTypeCooking Method
Saturday6Dinner out
Sunday3.5Cooked chickenRoast/Easy
Monday2Black beansEasy
Tuesday2Soy-Ginger steakEasy
Thursday2cooked pork loinEasy
Friday6Meatball soupCrock-pot

The above is all stuff I have in my fridge/freezer. Now, using that along with the salad, potatoes, frozen vegetables, and rice I have in my pantry--I now have to come up with a menu.

I used google and SuperCook to find recipes that would use the leftovers and limit the other ingredients I have to buy. All told it took about 2 hours. Ug!

DayServingsTypeCooking Method
Saturday6Dinner out
Sunday3.5Sante Fey Chicken and salad with vinagrette
Monday2Supper Huevos Rancheros, salad & vinagretteEasy
Tuesday2Soy-Ginger steak & baked potato wedgesEasy
Wednesday6Lentil patties Baked Trout and steamed vegetables
Thursday2Pork BurritosEasy
Friday6Meatball soupQuick

Last, but not least is the grocery list. If I did this right I won't need to buy much.

Grocery List

  • Taco sauce (Sunday:Sante Fey Chicken)
  • Sour cream (Sunday:Sante Fey Chicken, Thursday:Pork Burritos)
    Tortillas (Thursday:Pork Burritos)
  • Monteray Jack cheese (Monday:Super Huevos Rancheros, Thursday:Pork Burritos)
  • Romain lettuce (1 head)
  • 6 pieces of Fruit (lunches)
  • 1 tin diced tomatoes (Friday, Meatball Soup)
  • 1 lb mixed Dried fruit (To make oatmeal bars)
  • Skim milk
  • 2% milk

What worked & what didn't
I'll update this (somehow) through the week.
I blew my budget. Seems I'll have to pay more attention to the snacks and extras I pick up when I go shopping.

  • Sante Fey Chicken - too much acid. I need to modify the recipe somehow (use less salsa and more taco seasoning). The recipe is a great casserole for using up leftover chicken. It's easy to make and smells terrific when baking.
  • Huevos Rancheros. Seved them open faced (to the other) and rolled like a burrito to me. I scrambled the eggs and made fresh salsa and black bean sauce to go with the meal. Unfortunately the avocado's were well past saving, so I couldn't make guacamole. It worked very well; then again breakfast for dinner usually does.
  • Tuesday. Forgot to take the steak out to thaw. Had La Commensale's vegetarian pea soup instead. It's a deli soup (bought in plastic, ready to heat and serve). Served it with whole wheat baguette. It made a great dinner for a cold night.
  • Baked trout and lentil cakes. Maybe it's just the nature of lentil cakes--but these came out really dry. I added salsa to the mix to give them some taste and served them with a red curry sauce and no-fat sour cream. The sauce was way too hot for even the sour cream to tame. I put a dijon mustard and thyme coating over the fish. Smelled divine, but I put too much coating on and most of it was scraped off at dinner. Looked really good though. I'm definitely doing this one again (but with less sauce on the fish, and a better lentil cake recipe).

21 Feb 2008. Updated: The What worked & what didn't section for the week.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Using what I bought

It sounds so simple: if you buy it, you must use it.

But it's a philosophy I've never quite managed to master. Often I end up buying something for a new menu and either (a) I don't like it or (b) it goes bad before I can find another recipe that uses it. Not that either of these reasons stop me from trying something new.

This week (and part of next) I'm trying recipes from the sample menu from Relish! The weekend's meals (Saturday: Penne with Creamy Mushroom Sauce served with a classic Italian salad, and Sunday: Soy and Ginger Flank Steak served with an Asian spinach salad) were very tasty. Naturally I've managed to buy more than the recipe's call for; either because the smallest bottles/jars/etc I could find are double (or more) what the recipes ask for, or because I have a devil of a time converting imperial to metric. So to use up all the food I bought, I'm also trying to prepare the dishes and freeze as many servings as I can just before cooking. It's not quite OAMC (Once A Month Cooking), but it is similar in philosophy and hopefully this will stop me from ordering out as often as well as help me follow the new mantra.

I love to cook, but it always seems to bring out new challenges. In some cases (like where I bought two bunches of Asparagus when I needed less than one -- they were on sale!), I'll cook them up and use them for lunches. In others, like the extra spinach (the salad only used 1/2 the bag), I'll sneak it into other salads this week (and maybe even bring salads for lunch). I hate buying bottled sauces though; unlike fresh fruit & vegetables you can't just toss them into a meal and be certain no one will notice the difference. Mac & Cheese & tahini anyone? How about Thai red chili paste instead? OK, those actually sound kind-of yummy, but hopefully you see my point.

I still have 2+ liters of black beans to decant (they're in my fridge in a big pot), and my fridge's freezer has lots of chili still from two weeks ago. And yet the new menu doesn't use black beans anywhere. I'll freeze the beans, serve bean dip this week when friends come over, and try to use them as a staple next week.

Saturdays my fridge's freezer is full and my fridge's shelves are groaning (OK - the fridge is only so full you can't see what's in the back; which is a major cause for spoilage in my family). By Friday night, usually both are pretty much empty and all the drinks and grab-and-go stuff is usually gone by Friday morning (cheese, fresh fruit, yogurt, etc).

Next week, when the "Relish!" menu peters out, I'll have to make a new inventory of what I have and try and figure out how little I can get away with buying to eek out a week's worth of meals. If I'm very careful, I might be able to use up everything I have without buying many tins, sauces, and dried goods. It's a rather work-intensive (but tasty) way of trying to recoup the added expenses from this week.

BTW - if you're reading this (and apparently some folk are) - do leave me a comment. How successful are you at using up all of what you bought?

Minor edit: Added a couple of links to the post.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Grocery Shopping, is there a better way?

So, following my usual round-about route, I ended up reading an article on the Real Simple website describing 6 menu-planning services. It's a good article, and naturally, I spent some time last night trying the free previews of each. Some are more focused on kid-friendly meals, a few have options for vegetarians, and low-carb meals; but none quite meet my needs.

Thinking that I might be too picky, I asked a few friends if (a) they'd be willing to pay a service to send them meal ideas and (b) how much. The answers were surprisingly mixed. What follows is a completely un-scientific survey and was only based on a few conversations.

Friends with kids said they would be willing to pay between 10-20 CDN$ a month for the service on three conditions: i) that the recipes can be either removed or repeated upon the user's request, ii) that there are a large number of dinner ideas to choose from, and iii) that special dietary requirements (allergies, intolerances, or medical problems) are always taken into account before a menu is offered.

Made sense to me.

Some friends without kids said they'd be willing to pay, but only 5-10$ a month. They had no conditions other than that they could be assured certain ("icky") foods would not be part of the menu.

Good limitations all, but my problem with the services is something else entirely. At least once a week I serve 5+ people dinner. Most nights I only serve 2-3 people (myself included). So I need to be able to scale each recipe depending on the night that I serve it. For the group meal I prefer to use the crockpot; but it's not mandatory.

Every week I make my own menu and shopping list using an Excel spreadsheet. It takes a few hours of browsing various websites to get a handful of recipes, from which I dutifully scale and copy down the amount of required ingredients. I try to plan 7 nights of food, and I usually cook about 5, sometimes 6 nights. The seventh night is typically either restaurant fair, a meal with another family, or something I can pull from the freezer and cook in minutes (soups, stews, and the occasional 2nd batch I made of something tasty, etc.).

I keep trying to find cost-saving and time-saving measures to make this task easier. Some weeks I don't make a menu and we do just fine. The sky doesn't fall, the world doesn't end ... but it does make the hour before dinner a bit more hectic, and I do end up going to the store more, and often eating out more and paying more overall.

Some weeks I make a menu and can't stick to it. Friends come over (they're very welcome, but dinner gets modified so I can feed everyone), or we go out, or we just order out (or pull something from the freezer) because I don't feel like cooking (gasp!). Hey, it happens.

So, if I do this so regularly and I'm comfortable with what I do - why am I looking to change it? I guess I'm just looking. I like to see how other people do things, and hopefully improve my own methods. In my house almost *everyone* I cook for always stands before the fridge and reads my menu for the week. Sometimes they comment and sometimes they take notes!

Other sites of interest:

  • The Ultimate Grocery List. Contains a six-column, 1 page list of anything you might casually step out to buy on one sheet. The site itself collects grocery lists.
  • SuperCook. The Intelligent Recipe Search. I noticed it was querying Recipe*Zaar as I entered ingredients into its interface. SuperCook lets you save the list of what's in your pantry to help you find recipes for what you already have. That's something the Recipe*Zaar search sifter doesn't do--but SuperCook also doesn't let you pick your recipes based on 'Zaar's categories.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Not all experiments succeed

Over the weekend I tried a few new recipes.

These included: Lentil chili and festive diabetic cornbread; both were good - but neither could be called a complete success.

The lentil chili was really good - but I botched the recipe (using a 28 oz can of tomatoes instead of a 14 oz can). So it was lentil soup. To thicken it I added a cup of barley. It thickened a bit too much, but still tasted OK. Unfortunately the thickness lent itself to be eaten with a fork and there was no broth to sop up with the festive diabetic cornbread. The lentil cornbread was OK; but would probably taste better if I had added a ton of spices; and without any liquid in the chili - the cornbread was just too dry to eat alone.

The chili was really good but no one wanted a second piece of cornbread.

Tonight it's 4-Alarm Salsa Chicken; another experiment.

Menu January 19th-25th

Hey, hi and howdy - and a belated new year to everyone.
SaturdayLunch: Chicken sandwich with hummus & romaine
Diabetic festive cornbread & Lentil Chili
SundayBreakfast: Lightened Scrambled Egg Muffins
Lunch: Soup & sandwich
Dinner: Hamburgers on multi grain with romaine lettuce
Monday4-Alarm Salsa Chicken & mixed romaine salad
Spicy Ginger beef & rice
WednesdayBalsamic chicken & cheddar mash with steamed green beans
ThursdayLemon pepper fish, steamed corn and mixed Italian salad
FridayMexican pie & romaine salad