Tuesday, May 31, 2011

What’s in my pantry? Spaghetti Sauce

Whether your favorite brand in a jar, or the outstanding canned marinara from Trader Joe’s, spaghetti sauce can be for so much more than just pasta.  Use it to cover sautéed chicken breasts and/or eggplant slices for a parmigiana, top refrigerated pizza dough with it for a quick and easy pizza appetizer, or turn it into a hearty soup. Here’s my stand-by Italian Tortellini Soup…one run-through TJ’s and you have all the ingredients you need:

Italian Tortellini Soup
makes 12 servings
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
1 medium onion, chopped
2 t. olive oil
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz. can of Trader Joe’s Tuscano marinara sauce (or your favorite Marinara sauce)
1 28 oz. can tomato sauce
1 28 oz. can tomatoes
1 32 oz. container Vegetable or Chicken stock
½ c. dry red wine
2 T. Italian seasoning
1 large zucchini, quartered and slicked
2 bags Trader Joe’s dried tortellini (or your favorite frozen tortellini)
Saute sausage in a large stock pot over medium-high heat until cooked through, crumbling with the back of a spoon, about 10 minutes.  Transfer to bowl.  Meanwhile, in separate pot, cook tortellini until done, approximately 12 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  Add olive oil, onion and garlic to stock pot, saute until translucent over medium heat, about 3 minutes. Return sausage to pan.  Add all tomato products, stock, wine and seasoning.  Simmer 20 minutes.  Add zucchini, cook for 10 minutes.    Add cooked tortellini and simmer another 10 minutes.  Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
Friday, May 27, 2011

Beer Cocktails -- a delicious trend!

We had this idea for beer cocktails for Memorial Day weekend.  So we posted one of my faves (thanks Jill!) for beer margaritas on our Facebook site. 
This weekend and kick your brewski up a notch – 1 can frozen limeade, 1 bottle beer, 1 c. tequila, 1 ½ c. water. Mix, enjoy.
Flipping through the newest Sunset magazine, there were more!  For more recipes, get the newest Sunset mag. The recipes aren’t online yet, but they look tasty!
We must really be right on trend, because another great article about beer cocktails just showed up in the New York Times.  Check it out at


Thursday, May 26, 2011

Recipes for a Healthy Summer

If you’re trying to thin down for the summer, consider “thinning down” your recipes. Our friends at BJC’s Help for Your Health website sent out some tasty summer food recipes.  For more, visit the site at www.bjchealth.org, click on "Nutrition," then choose "Nutrition and Recipes" and click on the cover of the recipe book.

Citrus Grilled Pork Chops
Pork is a good source of protein and iron, and the broccoli adds a healthy 7 grams of fiber, as well as Vitamin C.
-- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
-- 1 teaspoon olive oil
-- 2 cloves garlic, minced
-- 1 packet sugar substitute
-- 12 ounces boneless pork loin chops
-- 6 cups broccoli, chopped
-- 10 sprays butter substitute spray
In 13x9x2-inch glass dish, mix lime juice, olive oil, garlic and sugar substitute. Add pork chops. Turn to coat. Cover. Refrigerate 6 hours or overnight. Heat gas grill to medium-high or prepare charcoal grill with medium-hot coals. In medium pot, heat water until boiling. Add chopped broccoli and boil or steam to al dente. Drain. Cover to keep warm. Set aside. Remove pork from marinade. Grill about 12 minutes, turning halfway through, or until internal temperature registers 155ÔøΩ F on thermometer. Divide broccoli and pork chops onto two plates. Top each serving of broccoli with 5 sprays of butter spray, salt and pepper to taste. Yield: 2 servings

Per serving:
-- 400 calories
-- 19 grams total fat
-- 5 grams saturated fat
-- 120 mg cholesterol
-- 170 mg sodium
-- 18 grams total carbohydrate
-- 7 grams dietary fiber
-- 42 grams protein

Recipe courtesy of Theresa Roe, 2010 St. Louis Children's Hospital Health Hall of Fame winner
Monday, May 23, 2011

A Quick and Easy Centerpiece

We hosted a barbeque yesterday for some of my husband’s former co-workers.  I wanted to have couple of centerpieces, but wasn’t in the mood for cut flowers.  So, I headed to my local discount garden center and picked out some attractive bedding plants that would work with my color scheme.  Burgundy salvia, some dusty miller, grasses, etc.

Then, I looked for an inexpensive container to place them in.  I found a rectangular vinyl tray for $7 or $8.  I just had to make sure it was deep enough to hide the plant containers. 

Next, I used some disposable storage containers to set in the tray to allow for some plants to sit higher than others.

Once I had filled the tray with all of my bedding plants, I filled in the gaps with some Spanish moss.
The result:  A beautiful centerpiece that I can take apart now and plant the plants in my garden or patio containers! 
Thursday, May 19, 2011

What’s in Our Pantries? Onions and Beans!

I’m never without some, and I love them in all their varieties – from shallots (which aren’t technically onions at all) to red onions to spring onions to sweet onions (LOVE Vidalias!), they each bring their own distinctive flavors to all sorts of dishes.  They add flavor to almost anything.  I use them a lot to make roasted potatoes.  I add diced shallots and red wine vinegar to sautéed green beans. 
One of my favorite ways to use onions is caramelizeonionsd.  Caramelizing onions brings out a whole new, mellow natural flavor from them.  I add them to sandwiches, meats (especially pork), homemade pizzas, and pastas.  You can caramelize any kind of onion. 

Caramelized Onions:
Heat up some oil to a medium-high temperature in a skillet or saucepan.  I usually use a few tablespoons of olive oil.  You can use butter, but don’t overheat your pan or it will burn.  You’ll know the oil is hot enough when you start to see it slightly ripple.  Slice your onion in half rings – thinner slices will cook faster.  Add the onions to the hot oil and stir until they are coated.  If you add a bit of salt to season the onions, that will speed up the caramelizing process, too.  Just don’t add too much salt! 

Some people add sugar to their mixture, but I usually don’t.  Keep stirring the onions.  After a minute or two they’ll start to stick to the bottom of the pan and turn darker in color.  Keep stirring and watch them get even darker. If the onions are sticking to the bottom of the pant too much, you can add a little bit of water, broth or even wine to the pan, stirring quickly to “deglaze” the onions.  The water will disappear right way, while loosening the onions from the bottom of the pan.   You pretty much follow these steps until the onions reach your desired taste and texture. 

I found a good website (http://whatscookingamerica.net/onion.htm) that has some great tips for storing and using onions, including:
-- A wet onion is easier to peel than a dry one.
-- If cutting onions ahead of time, pack them in a plastic zipper-lock freezer bag, squeezing all the air out, then enclose in a second plastic zipper-lock freezer bag and refrigerate.  Use cut portions within two days. 
-- When you only need a small portion of an onion, don’t peel the whole onion.  Cut off the size you need and peel it.  The remaining portion will keep longer with the skin on it in the refrigerator.

I always have a variety of beans in the pantry. Whether they are cannellini I heat up to serve with chicken and a salad, or black beans for a tacos, they are great staples to bulk up any meal.
Lately, I’ve been into the grains/bean/veggie composed salad kick…in fact, for Meatless Monday this week at our house, I made two – one for a luncheon, and one for our family dinner.  Feel free to mix up the ingredients I have listed – this is all about what you have and what you like.
Black Bean/Corn/Rice Salad
1 c. cooked riceblackbean
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 can white corn, drained
Large handful cilantro, chopped
2 T. ground cumin
1 T. ground coriander
½ T. garlic powder
½ T. onion powder
Juice of two limes
Salt and pepper
Mix together. Let sit for ½ hour and then re-taste to see if you want to add more lime juice or salt.
Garbanzo/Couscous/Artichoke Salad
1 box couscous, prepared
1 can garbanzo, rinsed
1 can artichoke quarters, rinsed
Juice of one lemon
Handful walnuts, toasted
4 oz. feta, crumbled
Mix together
Thursday, May 12, 2011

What’s in Chef's’ Pantries?

Our readers know that we’ve been highlighting favorite “go-to” items in our pantries each week.  So, we were delighted to come across this gem from Philly.com that gives you a glimpse into the home pantries of restaurant chefs.  While many Americans are apparently spending more and more bucks on artisan ingredients, chefs in the know turn to some of the most basic staples for their home cooking.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Prom Dinner on a Dime

It’s prom season, and if you have a teen, you know that prom isn’t the same as it was back in the day. Couples don’t go just bprom dinner 1y themselves anymore – they go in groups – packs of kids ranging from 10 to 40. Dresses can be long, or way short. Limos are almost an expectation, not a luxury. So, with all these crazy expenses, how can we help kids save their (our?) money? Dinner at home.

Now, just when you think your teen will roll their eyes, let me tell you about how we did it last weekend for our group of 18. One parent volunteered her home that had a big dining room/living room combo. We brought in a 6-ft. folding table, some folding chairs and had 10 kids at one table and 8 at the other. We borrowed linens, flatware and decos from other parents, relatives and friends. We went to discount stores to purchase candles to match the china prom dinner 3of the hostess. We used tulle to decorate the chairs and tables, floral arrangements from a friend’s wedding the week before to decorate the front walk. We made place cards using inexpensive photo frames from the craft store.

In order to plan the food, the host dad created an invite for each kid that had them select their main course – grilled salmon, or herb roasted lemon chicken. We listed the entire menu so kids could alert us of any allergies. We charged $10 per kid to help defray some costs. The RSVP and money were due the week before so we could plan accordingly.

The day of prom many hands made light work. Two dads put up the outdoor decorations while two moms decorated inside and set the tables. One mom made the chicken and brought it over. The host dad grilled the salmon and the broccoli. Host mom baked potato casserole and defrosted the cheesecake purchased at Sam’s Club. That evening, we had a team of parents dressed in black and white who served as waiters and “bartenders” (sparkling cider and lemonade purchased on sale at Safeway). We had charts and timelines, and everything went off without a hitch.

Best yet, one mom who is very handy with a camera came and took candid shots all evening. So, not only did the kids get a great meal in a relaxed atmosphere for the same price as a fast food meal, the kids now have a CD of photos from the evening…capturing the magic of the night.

Now, the $10/kid didn’t cover all our expenses, but it was less than we would have spent sending our kids out for a nice dinner. It was so fun to do for the kids, and they were so appreciative. Drop us a line if you want more details on how we did it, or want us to email you a copy of the invite or our timeline.
Thursday, May 5, 2011

Herb Garden Part II

You may recall in an earlier post that I had visions of growing my herb garden from seeds this year.  I planted the seeds back in early April and was delighted when they sprouted.  But, it’s been slow going since then, and last week, I caved.  I saw the beautiful herb seedlings at the garden center and I broke down and bought some.  You’ll understand why when you see the pictures. 
Yeah, the scrawny looking seedlings are the ones I’ve been growing.  The robust ones – I bought at the store.  If I dare to try this experiment again next year –which frankly is looking doubtful – apparently I’ll need to start on it quite a bit earlier than I did this year. 
Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Get Rid of the Picky Eater: New Lunch and Snack-time Ideas

Busy moms are always looking for new ideas for lunch and snacks.  We’ve all gotten into the PB&J, ham and cheese, chicken nugget rut.  So, after reading this great article from the Boston Globe http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/food/articles/2011/05/04/little_people_big_palates/
on how toddlers can be taught to eat more “interesting” foods, here are some fresh thoughts on lunch and snack time.  If you have a toddler, start them on this new culinary adventure now. If you have older kids, it may take a bit more time, but eventually they’ll grow to love some of these foods.

·         Greek yogurt with fruit
·         hummus with pita chips or pretzels, and carrot sticks
·         cucumber rounds with cream cheese
·         cherry tomatoes with mozza balls
·         turkey lunch meat rolled with muenster and baby spinach
·         salami rolled with cream cheese

 Be adventurous in your food selections for your kids….and make sure they see you eating interesting foods too, and you won’t have to cook another chicken nugget again.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What's in Your Pantry?

Okay, just because you think you don’t like anchovies, don’t go skipping down the page without reading this. If you like salt, you like anchovies. As Rachael Ray says, “cooked anchovies taste like toasted nuts.” I’m not going to make you eat the little fishies whole or on a pizza (though they are FABULOUS), but let me tell you, they add great dimension to some foods. The best Caesar salad dressings have them in it. And our pantry stand-by dish, Spaghetti Puttanesca, wouldn’t be the same without them. So, here is a dish I can make at any time as I always make sure I have the ingredients on hand.  (Oh, and puttanesca literally means “in the style of a prostitute” in Italian, as the legend states that the gals in the red-light district would cook up this quick and easy dish between visitors).

Spaghetti Puttanesca
Spaghetti Puttanesca from America's Test Kitchen
One pound dried spaghetti
2 T olive oil
2 -3 cloves garlic, sliced or minced (depending on how much you love garlic)
One tin anchovies, drained
¼ t. red pepper flake (or more if you’re spicy!)
1 28 oz. can diced, crushed or whole (that you then squish) tomatoes, juice drained but reserved
2-3 T. capers, drained (depending on how much you like capers)
½ c. pitted kalamata olives, diced
While pasta is cooking in a large pot of boiling, salted water, heat large skillet over medium-high heat.  Heat oil then add garlic, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add anchovies and mush them with your spatula until they are a paste. Add red pepper flake, and tomatoes. Stir and reduce heat to low. Right before pasta is done, add in capers and olives. Toss drained pasta into skillet, toss with ingredients and the reserved tomato juice. Serve in warm pasta bowls. Can be topped with grated Pecorino Romano cheese, if desired.

Arborio rice to make risotto.

Risotto?  You mean that concoction you have stand at the stove stirring for 20 minutes?  Yes – guilty as charged.  This is not the quickest thing in my pantry.  But it’s something I probably make at least once a week.  I’ve found that all that stirring is a great time to help my girls with their homework.  Picture the scene:  mom standing at the cooktop stirring a heavenly aromatic risotto and some kind of meat gently roasting in the oven,  while the kids sit at the counter doing their school work.  It’s like a scene out of Norman Rockwell … or something. 

For me, risotto is one of the ultimate comfort foods.  I buy mine at a local Italian grocery store when I have the chance.   But, you can find some at your local supermarket.  Risotto is something I can have some fun with.  Sometimes I make it with chicken stock; other times vegetable.  Have some aged parmesan in the fridge?  Shred it over the risotto just before serving.  Add pine nuts.  Add steamed asparagus.  Make it a main course by adding cooked sausage, prosciutto, cooked  shrimp, cooked chicken … the possibilities are endless, and that’s part of what makes it so much fun!

Never tried making risotto because it sounded intimidating to cook?  Fear not!

Here are some simple steps to follow:
  • It all starts with your broth.  If your using a prepared broth, make sure it’s low in sodium or you’ll end up with a really salty taste after much of the broth evaporates in cooking.  Heat your broth – a warmed broth cooks into the risotto more quickly and evenly.  You’ll need about 3x as much broth as rice.  So, a cup of rice will need 3 cups of broth.
  • While your broth is heating, sauté some diced onions or shallots in a tablespoon of olive oil in a thick-bottomed pan.  Once those are soft, add your Arborio rice to toast it in the pan.  You’ll know it’s ready when the edges of the rice start to turn translucent.
  • Next, start adding your stock about ½ a cup at a time.  Whenever the stock is absorbed into the risotto, add some more.  You just want to barely simmer it, so keep your burner turned low.  Stir frequently but you don’t have to stir constantly!  You can stop to help a child with a math problem.  You can prep the rest of your ingredients.  Stirring is important, because it releases the starch and forms the creamy sauce associated with risotto.   
  • Risotto is done when it’s just al dente – firm but not crunchy.  It should be fluid enough to spread when served on a plate.