Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Sixth Annual Fall Feast

This Saturday I am hosting our sixth annual fall feast. It is a special dinner I like to give for my closest friends and family where they can come and eat a nice meal without having to worry about cooking it or paying for it. It’s a small thing, but it’s something tangible I can do to express love to them.

This year, I am making braised beef short ribs, mashed potatoes, polenta, acorn squash, roasted asparagus, and pumpkin cheesecake.

Interestingly, when I called Cub to see about the short ribs, the butcher told me they haven’t sold beef short ribs since sometime last year, and he also said most Twin Cities grocery stores don’t carry them. That got me nervous. But after calling around to a couple other places, I found that the “nicer” or more specialty stores do carry them. Lunds/Byerly’s does, but they cost quite a bit more (almost double) than where I have ultimately decided to buy them: Widmer’s in St. Paul. The butcher I talked to was very knowledgeable and the price was right at $4.99/lb. He said he’d cut them how I wanted when I go and pick them up. Great service.

Here is the recipe I’m planning to use (scroll down for the recipe): I’m making the ribs gluten free by using rice flour for dredging the meat so my dear friend Jamie can eat a gluten free meal.

All of the recipes I’m using seem to be fairly simple, and that’s on purpose. I am 18 weeks pregnant and still not feeling the greatest, so I’m trying to make the meal a little simpler than usual. I am also using paper plates this year. They are nice looking and heavy duty, and I think they’ll hold up just fine. But that is 16 less plates to wash! I’ll probably do the same for dessert plates and save myself another 16 plates worth of dishes.

Here are links to the other recipes I’m using.

I’ve never made polenta before, and I may decide not to make it for the feast. I’ll see how the day goes.

Acorn Squash
I am trying to decide whether to make this recipe as is or modify it to make a squash puree instead.

Roasted Asparagus
Simple but, I’m sure, delicious. I love asparagus.

Pumpkin Cheesecake
I made this cheesecake one other time and it was very good. I will make a Maple Pecan drizzle to go over the top using the top commenter’s recipe. Yum.

I'll be posting details about the party next week, including a cost breakdown and how each recipe turned out!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Chicken and Pasta in Creamy Pesto Sauce

For dinner last night, I made a really yummy meal based on this one. It made a lot of food, probably a total of 6 generous servings. Here is the recipe with my modifications.

Chicken and Pasta in Creamy Pesto Sauce
1 cup chicken broth
1 cup white wine
2 T dried basil
2 t dried oregano
2 cloves of garlic, minced
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1/2" strips
1 package tri-colored rotini pasta
4 T olive oil, divided
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 large onion, diced
1 T sugar
Sun dried tomatoes
1 carrot, grated
1/2 cup prepared pesto
1 cup whole milk

  1. Prepare marinade by combining the first 5 ingredients in a bowl. Add chicken strips.
  2. Bring pot of water to a boil; add salt and pasta. Cook until al dente, about 8 minutes. Drain and rinse under cold water. Toss with 2 Tablespoons olive oil and the Parmesan cheese. Set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, add 2 Tablespoons of olive oil to a pan. Add onion and sprinkle onion with sugar. Cook until the onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Add sun dried tomatoes, carrot, and the chicken in its marinade. Simmer chicken pieces, stirring occasionally, about 8 minutes. 
  4. Add pasta, pesto and broccoli to the skillet. Stir in the milk and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 10 minutes. Adjust salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve with freshly grated Parmesan and a thick slice of warm bread.  
The great thing about this recipe is that you can add whatever veggies you like. I think it would taste great with artichokes, summer squash, zucchini or fresh cherry tomatoes.This is a recipe that will be in regular rotation at our house, and our 17 month old liked it, too!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Pound cake with peaches and yogurt whipped cream

I've been away from home for a few days recovering from an appendectomy and have a lot of leftover ingredients in the fridge that needed to be used up. We had a big party here on the fourth and I had leftover pound cake I had purchased from Costco, and I also had leftover heavy cream from the whipped cream I made to go with the pound cake and strawberries over the fourth. So I decided to whip up a quick dessert/snack for Matt and me this afternoon.

First, I whipped the cream, adding about a teaspoon of sugar as it came together, and then folded in some vanilla yogurt for a little more sweetness and tang. While the cream was beating in the mixer, sliced up the pound cake. I had a jar of peaches I canned in the fridge, so I pulled that out. Then I just layered the dessert into two bowls: 1 slice of pound cake, a dollop of yogurt whipped cream, about 6 peach slices, another slice of pound cake, and another dollop of whipped cream. Voila! In 5 minutes, I made a very simple, yummy treat using whatever ingredients I had on hand to use up.

What creative dishes have you made using up leftovers?

Friday, June 18, 2010

Dijon-Tarragon Cream Chicken with Veggie Saute

Ever since we moved, I've been struggling to get decent dinners on the table. I think I must still be overwhelmed and don't feel like I have it together yet. For dinner tonight, I took a look at my All Recipes recipe box and decided to make this Dijon Tarragon Cream Chicken recipe again.

I have not been good at getting a variety of veggies incorporated into our meals either. To accompany the chicken, I made a veggie saute of asparagus, yellow squash, and red potatoes.

Both turned out great! I made a couple modifications to the chicken recipe: I added some white wine to deglaze the pan, and I didn't have fresh tarragon so I used a teaspoon of dried tarragon instead. From start to finish, it took 30 minutes.
Veggie Saute
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic
Baby red potatoes, diced
Asparagus, cut into 1 inch pieces
Yellow squash, sliced
  1. Heat olive oil in frying pan. Add garlic and potatoes and saute over medium heat for 10-15 minutes or until tender.
  2. Add asparagus and squash. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and saute for 3 minutes.
This veggie saute is very flavorful. I loved it!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Ravioli with Tomato Artichoke Sauce

Monday was a long day and I needed a quick and easy meal. One of my favorite go-to meals for days like this is ravioli -- the stuff in the refrigerator section of the grocery store. I happen to get mine at Costco and love their Chicken and Mozzarella Ravioli. I usually just do a jarred sauce when I make it, but I decided it was time to make my own sauce from scratch. So I did! It tasted great -- I am really pleased with how it turned out, and from here on out, I'll be using fresh romas or cans of tomatoes to make my own sauce.

It seriously only took maybe 5 extra minutes of hands on time, and the sauce was ready by the time the water for the ravioli came to a boil and I cooked the pasta. Served with salad greens, this was a great and balanced meal!

Ravioli with Tomato Artichoke Sauce
1 Family size container of refrigerated ravioli
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 8 oz can tomato sauce (such as Hunts)
2 cups roma tomatoes, chopped, or same equivalent in canned tomatoes
1 T Italian seasoning
2 t dried basil
1 t onion powder
1/2 can artichoke hearts, chopped
1-2 T fresh basil, chopped
  1. Heat pot of water for ravioli and bring to a boil.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil and add minced garlic. Saute for a minute or two over medium heat. 
  3. Add the tomato sauce, tomatoes, Italian seasoning, and dried basil. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer.
  4. When the water is boiling, add some coarse ground salt and then add ravioli. Cook according to package directions.
  5. Meanwhile, add the artichoke hearts to the sauce and cook through.
  6. Plate and serve with fresh basil on top.
Notes: I added some shredded carrots to the sauce as well to sneak in some extra veggies. Try using whatever you have around -- carrots, zucchini, onion, etc. I love the taste of fresh herbs. I cut down on the cost of them by growing a mini herb garden in my kitchen window sill!

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Homemade grenadine

Tonight I made homemade grenadine -- you know the stuff, the "cherry" flavor they add to a Coke at a restaurant, the red stuff in a Shirley Temple and numerous alcoholic drinks. The kind you can buy at the store is basically corn syrup with red food coloring in it. Not exactly the most appetizing.

Why did I decide to make grenadine in the first place? Well, it's kind of silly. I really like Cherry Coke. I LOVE Cherry Coke. However, I don't tolerate caffeine very well. So I came up with the idea of buying caffeine free Coke at the store, and then adding my own grenadine to it to make it a Cherry Coke!

Funny fact: real grenadine is made from pomegranate juice! No lie! So that's what I used to make it: POM and sugar. You simply boil the POM juice down to about half, then add sugar and dissolve. That's it! two parts POM, 1 part sugar. I used a 16 oz bottle of POM and 1 cup of sugar.

I may try this with cherry juice in the future and see how that tastes compared to the pomegranate juice.

The result? Great! I haven't done a side-by-side taste test, but it tastes good to me!

Saturday, May 29, 2010


I recently bought the book How to Cook Everything by Mark Bittman. I started reading it today -- yes, reading a cookbook starting at the beginning (I am a nerd!) -- and ended up making mayonnaise tonight from scratch when I realized I didn't have enough of the storebought stuff for the coleslaw I was making for tomorrow's picnic. I can't believe how easy it was and how great it turned out!

After making it and knowing the few ingredients I used, I decided to take a look at the label on the storebought stuff I had. It is Kraft Mayo with olive oil. Here's the comparison.

  • Water
  • Olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Soybean oil
  • Vinegar
  • Modified Food Starch
  • Sugar
  • Maltodextrin
  • Eggs
  • And contains less than 2% of salt, mustard flour, dried onions, dried garlic, natural flavor, enzyme modified egg yolk, beta carotene (color), lactic acid, potassium sorbate, and calcium disodium EDTA as preservatives, phosphoric acid.
Including the less than 2% items, that totals 20 ingredients. 20! 8 of which are non-natural ingredients.

Want to know what I put in my homemade mayonnaise?

  • Egg yolk
  • Dijon mustard
  • Canola oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Lemon juice
Six ingredients, one of which was pre-prepared (storebought) -- the Dijon mustard, the rest of which are natural. Unfortunately, according to Bittman, Dijon is impossible to make with the equipment the home cook has, storebought is a necessity.

A nice thing about homemade mayo is that you can make it with whatever kind of oil you want: olive oil, grapeseed oil, sesame oil -- really whatever you want. You can also make it with a few different kinds of acid to suit the dish your making or your taste. I chose to use lemon juice and canola oil. It turned out great!

It took about 5 minutes to make and was really simple. I used my stand mixer, but you can use a food processor or wire whisk, too. The method involves slowly adding oil to the yolk/Dijon mixture, then finishing with the salt, pepper and lemon juice.

Try it! You won't be disappointed. In fact, I don't plan to eve buy mayonnaise again!

P.S. In case you're interested, this is the coleslaw I made -- it turned out great!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Great post on helping kids make healthy eating choices

I just came across a great post by Lisa at The Well Grounded Life about how to make eating healthy foods more fun for kids. I thought it had some really great ideas.

Check it out here and let me know what you think. Do you have other ideas on how to promote healthy eating?

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Evan's birthday menu

It's hard to believe, but the day is here: my baby boy is one year old today! This year has flown by so fast, and we are so blessed to have Evan in our lives. I can barely remember what it was like before Evan.

So what's the plan for his birthday? Family over at 1 for dinner, with extended family/friends for cake at 2:30. His party will be pretty laid back -- nothing too scheduled. Just playing with toys, opening gifts, eating cake, and making memories.

For dinner, I am serving one of my favorite things: Penne Rossa. Matt and I love to go to Zelo, a Neo-Italian restaurant downtown, for special occasions. My favorite dish there is Tortiligioni Rossa, a pasta dish with a tomato-cream sauce, crumbled Italian sausage, peas and red peppers. I love it so much I decided to try to recreate it at home, and I think I did it pretty well. I will be serving it with fresh baked artisan bread and a mixed greens salad with a honey garlic vinaigrette.

For dessert, I ordered a cake from Byerly's -- they offer a free birthday cake when your baby turns one. In addition, I am also making two other cakes. We are expecting 30-40 people! I am basing the recipe for the two cakes on this one, with some modifications. I'm doing one cake with vanilla pudding and strawberries, and the other with chocolate pudding with bananas.

Penne Rossa
Yield: 4 servings

1/2 lb mild Italian sausage
4 cups diced tomatoes (or 2 15 oz cans, undrained)
2 tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp garlic, minced
4 scallions with tops, minced
2 Tbsp basil
1 tsp oregano
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 box penne pasta
1 cup baby green peas
1/2 red bell pepper, julienned
Parmesan cheese
Black pepper

In a frying pan, crumble and cook Italian sausage. Drain fat and set aside.
In a large saucepan, saute garlic and scallions in olive oil over medium heat. Add diced tomatoes, basil and oregano. Bring to a boil; reduce heat and simmer.
Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil for the pasta and add pasta once it's boiling. Cook for 8-10 minutes.
Remove sauce from heat. Blend in blender for a smoother sauce (or don't blend for a chunkier sauce). Stir in cream. Put back on stove and add the red pepper, peas and cooked Italian sausage to the sauce. Simmer at least 10 minutes.
Drain pasta and toss with the sauce.
Sprinkle with shredded parmesan cheese and black pepper.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Dinner tonight: Chicken Piccata

I thought making a little sunny, lemony Chicken Piccata would be the perfect thing to bring a little sunshine to my kitchen tonight. After a fabulous time in Arizona, it's back to my winter reality in
Minnesota. Today is actually a warm day -- a balmy 33 degrees and mostly sunny!

I'll be serving the chicken piccata with angel hair pasta and sugar snap peas tonight. A relatively quick and simple meal with tasty results! Because the chicken is pounded so thin, it cooks up very fast, frying quickly with only 2 minutes per side. The whole meal should be ready in less than 20 minutes!

I am using Ina Garten's recipe, found here:

I don't have seasoned breadcrumbs on hand, so I'll make my own:

Combine the following:
1 c plain breadcrumbs (I will use the food processor to turn some getting-stale bread into crumbs)
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
2 teaspoons parsley flakes
1 teaspoon dried onion
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Bon Appetit!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Goodbye winter, hello sunshine!

Matt and I are headed to Phoenix early tomorrow morning for a long-overdue vacation. Evan will be staying with my parents for the week while Matt and I enjoy some hiking, kayaking, movie going, southwest eating, Grand Canyon gazing and cave exploring in Phoenix and the surrounding area.

We are going from 20 degree weather to 60-70 degree weather, and I cannot wait! See you next week...

Monday, February 1, 2010

Helpful Tip: Onions

I have a love-hate relationship with onions. I love to cook with onions, but boy do I hate chopping them up! My eyes are ultra sensitive and tear up the second I make my first cut into an onion. My hands smell like onion for days, even when I've tried the different tricks that are supposed to work.

But, I've finally been doing something that really works for me! On Saturday, I chopped and froze 7 lbs of onions. My hands are onion-smell free and I didn't shed a tear! My method? Well, it involves the following:
  • Swimming goggles
  • Disposable gloves
  • Vidalia Onion Chopper
Yes, you read right. I wear a snug pair of Speedo swimming goggles over my eyes to protect them from the sting of the onions. And on my hands are a pair of non-latex disposable gloves. And the Vidalia Chop Wizard? Amazing. I can chop onions so fast with that thing with a lot less hands-on time with the onions. Incidentally, I use the chopper for many things other than onions: carrots and celery for soup, diced potatoes for hashbrowns, the list goes on. 

 I'll admit, my onion chopping method may not be the most fashionable look on the block, but it's what works for me! Maybe it'll work for you too.

I have to share an almost oops that happened when I was cleaning up. I had taken off my wedding ring and set it on the counter. By the time I got done chopping all those onions, my goggles were slightly fogged. I was sweeping the onion skins and ends into the garbage and then -- you probably guessed it -- I couldn't find my ring! I was looking and feeling around for it and was starting to panic slightly. Luckily it was still in a pile of onion skins I hadn't swept into the trash yet, so Matt rescued it for me. Note to self: keep ring away from discarded materials destined for trash!!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rachel's Taco Soup

So many of the foods we eat have so many additives -- preservatives, sodium, the list is long. Now that my little boy is eating table food, it's become increasingly important to me for our family to eat foods with as little added non-food stuff as possible while keeping my sanity. Not always an easy task!

I've adapted one of my favorite winter go-to recipes to be built on more whole foods versus foods from a can, which usually have added sodium and preservatives. It turned out great and wasn't even that much more work. And considering this meal makes enough for a good four servings of leftovers, I'd say the extra time is really nothing to me. This soup is chock full of good for you, filling foods. It's a recipe you can feel good about serving your family!

I used whole tomatoes frozen from my garden, and kidney and black beans that I soaked, cooked, and froze for later use myself.

Tip: Freeze beans in can-sized servings (about 2 cups). When a recipe calls for canned beans, substitute your frozen ones!

So, without further ado, here is my recipe for Taco Soup.

Rachel's Taco Soup

1 medium onion, chopped
1 T olive oil
1 lb ground beef
Taco seasoning and water, to your taste (I use a lot :))

2 c soaked and cooked black beans
2 c soaked and cooked kidney beans
2 c tomatoes with juices, chopped
1 small can diced green chilies, undrained
1 c corn (I use frozen)
8 oz tomato sauce
1/2 c water

Saute onions in olive oil for 1 minute. Add ground beef to the pan and brown. Drain off fat. Add taco seasoning and water (just as you would for regular taco meat) and combine. Simmer for a few minutes.

Add the taco meat and the rest of the ingredients to your slow cooker. Give it a stir and let it cook on low for at least 5 hours.

Give it a taste. If you want more heat, you can add salsa, taco sauce or hot sauce. Or, better yet, add a halved, seeded hot pepper to the slow cooker to cook with the soup. If you want more depth, add some cumin and chili powder.

Serve with a dollop of sour cream, fresh grated cheese, chopped cilantro and/or corn chips. Enjoy!

Yield: 8 generous servings

Rachel's notes
Beans: I slightly defrosted my frozen beans by submerging the bags into warm water for a few minutes. They were still slightly frozen when I added them to the soup.
Tomatoes: I used about 8 Roma tomatoes that I froze last summer from my garden. I soaked them for a couple minutes in warm water, slid the skins off, and chopped them up.