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Warm Up on a Cold Day with Potato Leek Soup

It seems that it is pretty frigid just about everywhere across the United States today, and I know that it is below zero here with the wind chill this morning with predictions that it will get even colder here tonight and tomorrow. I hate the cold weather a great deal as it is so I do my best to stay inside, stay warm and make the best of it. Days like today are ideal for breaking out the soup recipes and I plan to make a few different soups over the next week or so, but here is a recipe for a family favorite that I actually made around the holidays for a potato leek soup. We love potato leek soup in my house and it goes pretty quickly around here so I try to make a lot of it so we can have it available for lunches as well. While this is a soup you can serve hot or cold, I always prefer it warm. I tried this simple recipe from Alton Brown this time out and it is pretty similar to ones I have tried in the past, though it has a slight change with a larger ratio of leeks to potatoes.

Potato Leek Soup

1 pound leeks, cleaned and dark green sections removed, about 4 to 5 medium

3 tablespoons butter

Heavy pinch kosher salt, plus additional for seasoning

14 ounces (about 3 or 4 small) Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and diced small

1 quart chicken or vegetable broth

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 teaspoon white pepper

1 tablespoon snipped chives

After thoroughly cleaning the leeks, chop the leeks into small pieces. In a 6-quart saucepan or Dutch oven set over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the leeks and a heavy pinch of the kosher salt and sweat the leeks for about 5 minutes. Decrease the heat to medium-low and cook until the leeks are tender, about 25 minutes, stirring the leeks occasionally.

Add the potatoes and the vegetable or chicken broth, increase the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover and gently simmer until the potatoes are soft, about 45 minutes.

Turn off the heat and puree the mixture with an immersion blender until the soup is smooth. Stir in the heavy cream, buttermilk and white pepper. Taste the soup and adjust the seasoning as needed. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately or chill and serve cold.

I love the creamy, silky texture of this soup and all of the great flavor you get from the potatoes and leeks, and this version has the leeks really shining through for some excellent flavor. You can make this vegetarian by using vegetable broth instead of chicken if you like and the combination of buttermilk and heavy cream is nice for this dish, though you could just use heavy cream if you prefer it that way. This soup makes an excellent first course for any meal or it can be a great meal on its own, which is how we often have it. Serve it with some homemade bread, rolls, or biscuits or even with sandwiches and you have a great dinner that is easy to make.

That’s all I have for today. Check back next time for another recipe. Until then, enjoy the rest of your day and enjoy your meal!

potatoleeksoup

 

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Repas de Saint-Valentin (Okay, A Valentine’s Day Meal)

Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone out there. There’s nothing more romantic than a quiet dinner with your sweetie, whether it’s out at a restaurant or at home.This dinner menu, which I got from Williams-Sonoma, is French-themed and requires a little more work than what we have cooked lately, but not much, and the rewards will be worth it. I have also included a dessert today, which I don’t normally do, but heck, it’s a special day, so why not?

The first course is a Riesling onion Soup with Herbed Croutons. It’s a variation on the classic French Onion Soup. It takes a little bit (about an hour in total) to prepare and cook, but it’s a nice touch to start off the meal and you could always make the soup a day ahead of time and re-heat it when you are ready to serve it for your meal.

Riesling Onion Soup with Herbed Croutons

3 tablespoons butter

4 large yellow onions, thinly sliced

2 leeks, including pale green tops, sliced

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon leaves, chopped

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

2 cups Riesling (use a dry Riesling, not “late harvest”) 6 cups chicken stock (I am using homemade, find my recipe here)

Salt and pepper, to taste

For the Herbed Croutons:

1/2 baguette, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons butter, melted

2 tablespoons mixed fresh herbs, such as tarragon, parsley, thyme or rosemary, in any combination 1/2 pound of Italian fontina cheese, cut into small cubes

In a large, wide saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onions, leeks, garlic and tarragon and cook, stirring often, until the onions are soft and golden, about 15 minutes. Sprinkle in the flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 3 minutes more. Pour in the wine, bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half, about 10 minutes. Pour in the stock and return to a simmer, reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered, until reduced slightly, about 45 minutes.

To make the herbed croutons, preheat an oven to 300 degrees. Arrange the baguette slices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, butter and herbs. Lightly coat each bread slice on both sides with the oil mixture. Toast the bread in the oven, turning occasionally, until crisp and golden brown, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. (The croutons can be made up to 24 hours in advance and stored, tightly covered, at room temperature.)

Preheat a broiler. Arrange individual ovenproof bowls on a baking sheet and ladle soup into the bowls. Top each serving with 2 or 3 croutons and an equal amount of the cheese. Place the baking sheet under the broiler 7 inches from the heat source and broil until the cheese melts, about 1 minute. Remove from the broiler and serve immediately.

This recipe is for a service of 6, so you may want to cut it 2/3 if you are only making it for 2.

For the entrée, I am making Steaks with Shallot-Red Wine Sauce. I have made this before and posted the recipe in an earlier blog, so if you want to check it out, just click here and you can see the recipe for it. It’s very tasty and the only difference this time is that I am using bone-in ribeyes instead of boneless, but you can whatever cut of steak you like best.

I am making two sides with tonight’s meal. The first is Sautéed Spinach with Pine Nuts. I am making a slight variation of this, as pine nuts are quite expensive and I won’t use them very often. A good, cheaper alternative is slivered almonds, so I am going with those instead.

Spinach Sautéed with Pine Nuts

1/4 cup pine nuts (I am using slivered almonds instead)

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

2 pounds spinach leaves, tough stems removed and leaves well rinsed (this sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Spinach cooks down significantly when you saute it)

Salt and pepper to taste

If desired, toast the pine nuts (or almonds) by heating them gently in a dry, small, heavy fry pan over medium heat, tossing them every so often as they become golden and fragrant, 2 to 4 minutes. Watch the nuts closely as they can burn very easily. When toasted, immediately pour them onto a plate.

In a fry pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion and saute lightly until golden, 5 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 1 minute more. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside.

Put the spinach with just the rinsing water clinging to the leaves in a saucepan over medium-high heat, cover, and cook until the spinach is bright green and wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain well in a colander, pressing the spinach with the back of a spoon to remove excess moisture. When the spinach is cool enough to handle, chop it coarsely.

Add the spinach and nuts to the onion and garlic in the fry pan and return to medium heat. Stir until the spinach and onion are heated through, 1 to 2 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot or at room temperature.

To go with the steak and spinach, I opted for Twice-Baked Potatoes tonight. You could easily go with roasted potatoes or mashed potatoes, but the twice-baked sounded like something different to try and you can use a variety of toppings, if you like.

Twice-Baked Potatoes

russet potatoes (7 to 8 ounces each), scrubbed, dried, and rubbed lightly with vegetable oil

2 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , shredded (about 1 cup)

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup milk

1 tablespoons butter , room temperature

2 medium scallions , white and green parts sliced thin

1/4 teaspoon salt

 Ground black pepper

 Put an oven rack to upper middle position and heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake the potatoes on foil-lined baking sheet until skin is crisp and deep brown and skewer easily pierces the flesh, about 1 hour. Setting the baking sheet aside, transfer the potatoes to a wire rack and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 10 minutes. Using an oven mitt or folded kitchen towel to handle the hot potatoes, cut each potato in half so that the blunt sides will rest on work surface. Using a small dinner spoon, scoop the flesh from each half into medium bowl, leaving a 1/8-inch to 1/4-inch thickness of flesh in each shell. Arrange the shells on a lined sheet and return to the oven until dry and slightly crisped, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mash the potato flesh with fork until smooth. Stir in remaining ingredients, including pepper to taste, until well combined.

Remove the shells from the oven and increase the oven setting to broil. Holding the shells steady on a pan with an oven mitt or towel-protected hand, spoon the mixture into crisped shells, mounding slightly at the center, and return to the oven. Broil until spotty brown and crisp on top, 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 10 minutes. Serve warm.

You can always use a different cheese instead of cheddar to change things up for yourself and the shells should come nice and crispy, not soggy, in this recipe.

Finally, on to dessert. I am not a dessert person and very rarely make them myself, but tonight I will give it a shot and this recipe is pretty easy to use and great for the chocolate lovers. You need to use a double boiler for this recipe, but if you don’t have one(and I don’t) you can use a makeshift one. Choose a saucepan and a heatproof bowl(preferably glass) that rests securely in the top. Fill the saucepan with water to a depth of about 1 to 2 inches. Once the bowl is placed atop the pan, the water must not touch it. Remember that boiling water bubbles up, so check the water level before setting the bowl in place. Bring the water to a boil, set the bowl in place, and reduce the heat so the water simmers gently. If the water bubbles up and is hitting the bowl, you’ll get condensation in the bowl, your chocolate will end up seizing, and you’ll end up having to start over.

Warm Molten Chocolate Cakes

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Pinch of salt

4 egg yolks

6 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons Dutch process cocoa powder, sifted

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest (optional)

3 egg whites, at room temperature

Preheat an oven to 400°F. Lightly butter six 3/4-cup ramekins and dust with cocoa powder. Set the ramekins on a small baking sheet.

In the top pan of a double boiler, combine the chocolate and butter. Set the pan over, but not touching, barely simmering water in the bottom pan and melt the chocolate and butter, then whisk until the mixture is glossy and smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla and salt. Set aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks, 3 tablespoons of the sugar, the cocoa powder and the orange zest on medium-high speed until thick. Spoon the chocolate mixture into the yolk mixture and beat until well blended. The mixture will be very thick.

In a bowl, using clean beaters, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they are very foamy and thick. Sprinkle in the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar and increase the speed to high. Continue beating until firm, glossy peaks form. Spoon half of the beaten whites onto the chocolate mixture and whisk in until just blended. Add the remaining whites and stir gently until just blended. Spoon into the prepared ramekins, dividing evenly.

Bake the cakes until they are puffed and the tops are cracked, about 13 minutes. The inside of the cracks will look very wet. Remove from the oven and serve immediately in the ramekins. Or run the tip of a small knife around the inside of each ramekin to loosen the cake, then invert the cakes onto individual plates.


You could serve these with a little dusting of powdered sugar and some raspberries or strawberries and maybe a dollop of whipped cream or creme anglaise (which I’m not adventurous enough to make, but some might be), or even a little vanilla ice cream with some shaved chocolate.

Okay, that’s it, my Valentine’s Day meal. It’s not as hard as it may seem, trust me. It’s just a matter of organizing your time and space so everything is done on time. You could even have everything set up to make the dessert and make it after you finish eating the dinner if you want. Enjoy your meal and your time with your special someone, have a nice glass of wine and snuggle by the fireplace. Tomorrow’s meal is back to simplicity with Cream of Cauliflower Soup. It’s our meat-free meal of the week so feel free to check it out. If you have any questions, comments, would like to let us know what you are making or eating tonight, please do! Have a great day everyone!

 

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Carnival Chicken Corn Chowder

 

It’s Winter Carnival day here in Saranac Lake. There was a little bit of snow last night, and it’s pretty cold here, but the kids are all having a good time and gearing up for the parade to start soon. I brought my Chicken Corn Chowder up for a meal today, and it will taste pretty good on this chilly day. For this recipe, I used the frozen corn kernels, since fresh corn this time of year is not nearly as good as the summertime. When using the frozen corn, you don’t need to use the flour in this recipe (which is good since I wanted this one to be gluten-free for my sister Kerry).

Chicken Corn Chowder

10 ears fresh corn, husks and silks removed, or 2 pounds frozen corn kernels

4 slices bacon, chopped fine

1 onion, minced

2 garlic cloves, minced

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour (if using frozen corn, omit this)

3 cups chicken broth

2 cups milk

3 medium red potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/4-inch cubes

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

1 cup heavy cream

 1 1/2 cups cooked, diced chicken

2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Salt and pepper

Standing the corn on one end inside a large bowl, cut the kernels from 4 ears using a paring knife. Grate the remaining 6 ears over the large holes of a box grater into a separate bowl. Using the back of a butter knife, scrape any remaining pulp from the cobs into the bowl with the grated corn. (If you’re using frozen corn, which I am, puree one pound of the corn in a blender with all the broth until smooth. You’ll omit the flour in the next step and use the pureed frozen corn in place of the grated corn).

Cook the bacon in a large Dutch oven over medium heat until crisp, about 8 minutes. Stir in the onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the flour (if using fresh corn; if using frozen, see above) and cook for 1 minute. Slowly stir in the broth and milk,scraping up any browned bits. Stir in the potatoes, bay leaves, thyme, and grated corn. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are almost tender, about 15 minutes.

Stir in the remaining corn kernels and cream. Continue to simmer until the corn kernels are tender yet still crunchy, about 5 minutes. Stir in the chicken and continue to simmer until the chicken is heated through, about 5 minutes. Discard the bay leaves. Stir in the parsley and season with salt and pepper to taste before serving.

You can easily make this a meat-free meal by eliminating the bacon and the chicken, and if you want it vegetarian, use vegetable stock instead of the chicken broth. It is a nice, hearty soup to warm you up on a cold winter day.

There’s not much more to add today, since we are getting ready to watch the parade. We’ll be on our way back home to Harriman tomorrow, and probably won’t get home until the afternoon, so I don’t know if I’ll be cooking tomorrow night or not, but I do know that we’ll be discussing the meal plan for next week, so I will definitely be writing about that tomorrow. until then, we’ll enjoy the Carnival and you enjoy your day!

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2012 in Cooking, Dinner, Poultry, Soups & Stews

 

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Savoring Some Vegetable Soup

It’s hard to believe that it’s actually February based on how the weather has been here in New York. It’s been a beautiful day here, but we’ll pretend it really is winter and make some soup today. This soup is from Giada De Laurentiis on the Food Network. It looked really good when she made it, so I thought I would give it a try and it fit nicely this week since we needed something for our meat-free meal this week. This recipe for Rustic Vegetable and Polenta Soup has few ingredients, only takes about 20 minutes to make, and only uses one pot. We’ll be having some crunchy dinner rolls from Rockland Bakery with our soup tonight. Anyone who lives in this area of New York (and many other places as well) knows how good the breads and rolls are at Rockland Bakery. The recipe calls for instant polenta in it, which only takes minutes to cook and it adds a nice, creamy texture to this soup.

Rustic Vegetable and Polenta Soup

3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces

1 medium onion, chopped

Salt and pepper

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme

3 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed or chopped

3 plum tomatoes, diced into 1/2-inch pieces

2 medium zucchini, diced into 1/2-inch pieces

4 cups chicken broth (I am using homemade [remember the chicken from Saturday?], but store-bought low sodium is fine)

1/3 cup instant polenta

3 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onions, 1 tablespoon of salt and 1 teaspoon of pepper. Cook, stirring frequently, until the onions begin to brown, about 6 minutes.

Add the parsley, thyme, garlic, tomatoes and zucchini, and cook for 3 minutes. Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Slowly stir in the polenta and cook until the soup thickens and the vegetables are tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in the butter and season with salt and pepper. Ladle into soup bowls and serve.

That’s a fast and easy meal (and it smells great by the way). This recipe is only for 4 servings, so if you want more, you could easily double the recipe to have extra for a bigger meal. With this meal, there is only 1 pot to clean, and the soup bowls, and that’s it, the meal is done, cleaned up and put away so you can go on with the rest of your evening.

I feel like I cheated today since there is hardly anything to write about with this recipe. Tomorrow’s recipe, another Sean choice, is Stir-Fried Pork with Peppers and Pineapple. I’ll be using pork loin for the meat and canned pineapple. The fresh pineapple just didn’t feel good, so I went with canned this time. Make sure you get the canned in juice and not syrup if you’re making this because you’ll need the juice as well. We’ll be making Fried Rice tomorrow night too to go with the meal. If you don’t want to make rice specifically for fried rice, if you have any leftovers from last night’s stir fry (or from any other meal you have had rice in), use that since it’s already cooked and chilled. If you have any questions, comments, suggestions or recipes you might like to see, please feel free to leave a comment and let me know. Enjoy the soup and all the extra free time you have since the meal cooks so quickly (I may get to read a bit tonight!) and check in tomorrow to see the next Sean meal!

 

 
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Posted by on February 7, 2012 in Soups & Stews, Uncategorized, Vegetables, Vegetarian

 

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Nothing Better Than Cooking a Meal Ahead of Time

Today I was really glad we had cooked tonight’s meal ahead of time. It was a crazy day and I haven’t had a lot of free time to do things like blog or cook. Luckily, we had made tonight’s dinner for the meal plan on Sunday night and refrigerated it, so it was just a matter of re-heating and serving. Tonight is Potato Soup with a side salad and some crusty bread. Nothing fancy tonight, and it is our meat-less night of the week and this one really hits the spot. Potato soup is one of my favorites and it is so easy to make. The prep time is simple and then it just cooks on the stove. It also freezes really well if you want to save some for another day or use for lunches (This is a good kid’s school lunch if you can send them with a thermos. This soup is one of Sean’s favorites).

Potato-Leek Soup

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) butter

2 large leeks, white and light green parts only, sliced and rinsed thoroughly

2 garlic cloves, minced

6 cups chicken broth (I use homemade, use that or store-bought. If you use store-bought, try to go low-sodium)

2-3 medium carrots, peeled and sliced

1 3/4 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (we used large russets this time and only used 3 or 4. Red potatoes also work well with this dish)

1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme or 1/4 teaspoon dried

2 bay leaves

Salt and pepper

Melt the butter in a large Dutch oven over medium-low heat. Stir in the leeks and the garlic. Cover and cook until the leeks are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the broth, carrots, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Smash some of the potatoes against the side of the pot to thicken the soup (or use an immersion blender or pour some of the soup into a food processor and puree, then return it to the pot with the rest of the soup). Discard the bay leaves and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Another quick entrée in the books. I like one pot meals from the clean up standpoint as well. A couple of notes about this soup. We usually let it cook longer, maybe an extra 15 minutes or so, because we like thicker soups. If you like more liquid, don’t thicken the potatoes or add a little milk or cream instead of thickening the potatoes. Also, if you have never prepared leeks before, leeks tend to be very dirty and gritty and need lots of rinsing. My best bet for preparing them: trim and discard the root and the green leaves. Slice the trimmed leek in half lengthwise, then cut it into 1/2-inch pieces. Then rinse the cut leeks thoroughly in a bowl of water to remove dirt and sand. Make sure you really sweat the leeks down before you add the liquid in this recipe. We use 2 large leeks, and they sweat down to next to nothing by the time they are done, so you could use even more if you want to, or even add an onion in for some extra flavor.

Wow, it seems like I am cheating since that is basically the whole meal tonight. The salad we are making is just mixed greens that I purchased in the bag and rinsed, added some English cucumber and shaved carrots and some black olives. You could use any dressing you like, or not at all. last week, I posted a recipe for Balsamic Vinaigrette. That’s a family favorite. We’re not using this vinaigrette today, but this Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette is tasty and simple to make.

Lemon-Shallot Vinaigrette

 3/4 cup olive oil

 1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 shallot, minced

2 teaspoons Dijon mustard

1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh thyme, or 1/2 teaspoon dried

1 garlic clove, minced

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon pepper

Shake all of the ingredients together in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days; bring it to room temperature and shake vigorously to re-combine before using.

Throw in a loaf of your favorite crusty bread (I love Ciabatta myself) and you are all set with a very easy meal. It’s hearty, it’s filling, it’s good for you and it’s great for a winter’s night, even if it is pretty warm for January here right now.

With my schedule being kind of hectic the last few days, I haven’t had a chance to get to the fish market yet, so we are moving the fish meal to Thursday and making one of my favorite meals tomorrow – Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes with Gravy, and Brussel Sprouts. I’ll go to the fish market Thursday and get something fresh to make. Any suggestions? I am pretty open-minded when it comes to fish and will try just about anything. I am trying not to break the bank though on the cost, so try to keep that in mind if you have any suggestions as far as the fish goes.

Other than that, I hope everyone has a great night and thanks for reading the blog. I am grateful for whatever visits I get here, and to have had over 200 in a short time to me is pretty good, so I thank you for following. If your planning on watching President Obama tonight, make yourself a nice cocktail and relax so you don’t get too agitated by what you may hear, one way or the other. Enjoy your evening and happy cooking!

 

 
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Posted by on January 24, 2012 in Dinner, Salad, Soups & Stews, Vegetables

 

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Planning Your Meals This Week (and Some School Lunches Too)

I didn’t cook today, but we did do our shopping for this week’s meal plan I really do find that the plan helps me in staying on budget as far as shopping. Sure, there are still impulse buys now and then (who can resist a treat now and then) and I do have to buy household items once in a while (garbage bags, storage bags, toothpaste, etc.), but for the most part we really do only buy what we need to make the meals for the week. We do a lot of our shopping at BJ’s Warehouse Club, so we do get essentials that last us for a while, but I have found we can also get good deals on things we use a lot of, like diced tomatoes, pasta and rice, but we also get good deals on meat and poultry and produce. I can buy ground beef or london broil and get enough to freeze for several more meals. The same can be said of poultry. I buy the larger packs of boneless chicken breasts and whole chickens there and we get many meals out of it and also use the chicken carcass to make stock later on for soups. I then supplement that with a short trip to the supermarket for things I can’t get at BJ’s (which isn’t too much) and a trip to Adam’s Farms in Newburgh, where I get our fish for the week and some local produce.

Anyway, for this coming week, this is the meal plan:

Monday – Turkey Meatball with sauce, baked potatoes, broccoli (this was Sean’s choice this week)

Tuesday – Baked Potato Soup (this was Michelle’s pick, and is our meatless meal of the week)

Wednesday – Fish. I didn’t get to the fish market today, but I will go Wednesday morning and pick something out after I see what looks good.

Thursday – Meat Loaf, Mashed Potatoes and corn (this one was my pick)

Friday – Warm Chicken Salad (Michelle picked this one)

Saturday – Peppered Steak, White Rice, Cauliflower and carrots (Michelle picked this one too)

None of the meals are difficult this week and all can be made in a short amount of time. As a matter of fact, we are making the potato soup tonight and refrigerating it for Tuesday. I didn’t have to buy anything out of the ordinary this week other than leeks that we are using in the soup and the peppers for the peppered steak. I bought meat loaf mix of beef, pork and veal that I buy either for meatloaf or meatballs. The London broil was 2 large steaks that I quartered and froze so I’ll only need one piece when I make the peppered steak on Saturday. The ground turkey I bought will be used for meatballs and a portion frozen to be used later on either for chili or turkey sausage (I do make my own for breakfast sausage; it tastes really good and I will be posting that recipe at some point when we make a “breakfast for dinner” one night). Other than that, the rest of the ingredients we will use this week are things we already have in the house, refrigerator or freezer.

Now that dinners are planned for the week, I thought I would spend a little bit of time writing about school lunches. School lunches can be a problem sometimes. Sean buys lunch from school about once a week or less often, mainly because the choices that they have for lunch are, well, less than desirable. It’s pretty rare that when I ask Sean if he wants to buy that he says yes, but I am sure he gets tired of eating either a cheese sandwich or peanut butter and jelly every day. We have thought about doing warm lunches for him in a thermos, but he eats lunch so late in the day that even the thermos wouldn’t keep it warm for him. For others of you, however, warm lunches may be a good option. There is a good blog out there right now called “The Mom With Moxie” by Bree Glenn and she has a good posting on some ideas for school lunch planning. Here is the blog if you want to check it out:http://www.themomwithmoxie.com/2011/11/04/8-resources-for-healthy-fun-school-lunch-box-planning/. She offers up a great list of sites here for some good school lunch ideas. I was able to pull a few ideas off of Good Housekeeping’s website from here also, but if you want to go to Good Housekeeping directly, here is their link:http://www.goodhousekeeping.com/recipes/healthy/ideas-kids-school-lunches. I thought the ideas of Turkey Meatball Pitas, Ham and Cheese Pitas, Chicken Noodle Soup and the Mozzarella and Tomato Sandwich were all good ideas for lunches. There are several other great links on Bree Glenn’s blog about the school lunches that I think will be very helpful in getting some ideas for things to pack for the kids. If anyone has any other great ideas for school lunches, please pass them along and comment here. I am always looking for something new to offer Sean and I am sure plenty of other Moms and Dads could use some ideas as well.

I think that covers everything for today. I hope to go into greater detail on school lunches and some good recipes of my own in a later blog. I want to do a little more research and try out some recipes with Sean first before I put anything up here for you to try. Tomorrow will be the recipes for Turkey Meatballs with sauce, Baked  Potatoes and broccoli. I know, we seem to eat a lot of broccoli, but Sean really likes it so he seems to pick that one all the time. I need to find a few more recipes to find some more interesting ways to cook it. If you have any thoughts on that, feel free to share! Enjoy what’s left of your weekend, and if you’re watching the Giants-49ers game, enjoy the game! (what will you be snacking on during the game? I already plan to post some things as we get closer to Super Bowl Sunday)

 
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Posted by on January 22, 2012 in Lunch, School Lunches

 

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Garam Masala? Isn’t He a Jazz Musician?

No, he’s not a jazz musician, but I hope it got your attention. You probably don’t need to have garam masala in your pantry (unless of course you make a lot of Indian or Asian food, in which case you might), but there are lots of other things that I think would go very well in your pantry. I am going to name a few things that I use on a regular basis that help me tremendously in the kitchen. Most of them you probably have around all the time, and if you do, it can help you create a meal on the fly for a quick weeknight dinner when you don’t want to put a lot of effort in, or for when you have unexpected guests drop by and need something quick to throw together. When it comes to items in your pantry, brand is a personal choice. Use what you and your family like best and has the best flavor for you. There are a few brands I will recommend that I really like using, but do what fits your taste and budget the best.

Everyone has their own list of things they like to keep around in the pantry based on what their family likes best. There are basics like flour, salt, sugar, pepper, butter and milk that most people have around in one variation or another, depending on what you like and what your dietary restrictions may be.These are a few things I always have in the house:

Rice – I always have whole grain rice, sometimes brown rice, but always whole grain. It doesn’t take long to cook and to me tastes better than any quick rice or minute rice.

Eggs – We always have a dozen eggs on head and use them for baking, breakfast, hard boiling to have for lunches or appetizers, or when we have “breakfast for dinner.”

Pasta – While I personally don’t eat it, we always have it in the house, usually in a couple of varieties. If I had the counter space, I would like to make my own, but since our kitchen is the size of a closet, we make do. If you have pasta around, you always have a meal. There are dozens of quick sauces to throw together, or just saute or roast some vegetables to go with it, and you’re done.

Oil – I always have vegetable oil on hand as well as olive oil. I probably use the vegetable oil more, but the olive oil is good for making dressings and sauces. I also keep some cooking spray on hand to use to keep things from sticking.

Vinegar – again, it’s good to have on hand for dressings for salad, and I usually keep white, red wine, balsamic and apple cider vinegar to use with various recipes.

Herbs & Spices – There are hundreds of different herbs and spices you could get (like garam masala), but I have found that I really only use about ten or so regularly. I try to use fresh parsley, thyme and basil, as there is a real taste difference over the dried versions. For dried spices, I use oregano, bay leaves, garlic powder, onion powder, red pepper flakes, paprika, chili powder and cumin. I have others, but rarely use them. Check you dried spices after about 6 months because they tend to lose their potency by then.

Tomatoes – Sadly, fresh tomatoes available in stores here in New York have been bad, to say the least. Unless you grow your own around here, I have found that the canned tomatoes are better. I buy diced tomatoes often to use for things like chili, and keep a couple of jars of crushed tomatoes around for sauce. I do love fresh tomatoes, and ripe ones give great flavor, we just haven’t had good ones in a while.

Broth – I make my own broths now.It may sound like a lot of work, but it really isn’t and it is so worth it. Homemade chicken stock tastes 100 times better than anything in a box or can and is very easy to make. The same goes for beef, fish or vegetable broth and you can freeze them to use whenever you need them (I plan to use a day of blogging to talk about stocks). If you don’t have the time to make your own, I have found that Swanson’s seems to taste the best among the chicken and beef broths available.

Beans – We always have some kind of beans on hand, either dried or canned. They are a great source of protein and can be used in a lot of side dishes, soups, stews and chili. I almost always have red kidney beans, white beans or black beans around to use.

Produce- If you are going to have produce around, you should always have carrots, celery and onions. Use those three and you can pretty much make anything. They are a great base for most sauces, soups, and stews or great for roasting with meat or poultry.I also regularly have white potatoes and garlic on hand to use as well. I try to use fresh produce for our vegetables every day, and when I can’t I do buy some frozen items to have on hand. I am not a fan of canned vegetables – they have a metallic taste to me, usually have too much salt in them to preserve them, and don’t seem to taste as good once cooked. I also always have some kind of fresh fruit on hand, depending on the season. Fresh fruit can be a simple and quick dessert anytime, a nice addition to breakfast, or a great afterschool snack.

Beyond that, there are things I buy from week to week, varying on what our meal plan for that week is going to be. I’ll get more into the meal plan itself tomorrow when I start writing about what’s cooking for the week, but the plan itself basically maps out my shopping list for the week so I know what I am going to buy. I try not to stray beyond that list, with the exceptions of items that may be household necessities that week (i.e. toilet paper, garbage bags, paper towels, Sean’s lunch snacks, etc.). It helps me budget our food shopping for the week and keeps me from buying empty calorie foods we don’t need or shouldn’t have.

So tomorrow we get started on the meal plan. I can tell you, tomorrow’s dinner is nothing fancy, it’s pretty straightforward and easy, but I think that works for a lot of weeknight meals. We don’t often have time for an elaborate meal during the week, so I do try to keep things simple. Get your equipment ready and your pantry set, and we’ll hit the kitchen tomorrow!

 
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Posted by on January 15, 2012 in Breakfast, Dinner, Lunch, Pasta, Produce, Soups & Stews, Spices

 

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Jennifer Probst

a little bit naughty a little bit nice

Laissez Faire

Letting Life Lead

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