Monday, April 26, 2010

Amazing! They ate the minestrone.

This week marks a milestone in our family.  Or maybe it's a speedbump perhaps. I'll be working full time for a week, in training really, for the US Census. Grandmother is watching the toddler while I'm at work except for one day when Grandma is off volunteering.  At which point Emma will be playing at our Old Order Mennonite friend's farm. The children will be at the grandparents for a couple of hours until Dad gets off work, and then they'll follow my simplified instructions for making dinner, which I will have started earlier in the morning before leaving for work at 8:15.  My 13 year old son looks at me like it's the last supper, cooked by mom.

Working a four day shift compresses all the rest of my real work, as many working mothers nod sagely.  I prefer the more relaxed day I usually have.  I like time to shop for bargains, and to hang the laundry to dry on the line. Today I went shopping to several Mennonite markets with my friends Bertha and Jill and three children.  We sampled some delicious and varied bulk foods (sweet potato chips, bacon dip, sesame crackers, some yummy corn relish, and tortilla chips). I love to purchase the horseradish pickles they sell there - a national brand I'm sure. Nathan's horseradish pickles, delicious! In times of $4.00 gallon gasoline, I even sliced cucumbers and kept refilling the jar to make it stretch further.

But today, my favorite find and dinner inspiration, was the cheese at Zimmerman's Meat Market on Lovejoy Road near Penn Yan, NY.  It's just a wee little butchershop that now carries a few bulk foods as well. I didn't even see meat, but it was in the back and some pretty kapp wearing Mennonite teen girls wrapped and labeled my order for me with smiling efficiency.

I bought 4 lbs. of Farmer's cheese, some of which we used for dinner. But my favorite find was Extra Sharp, New York Cheddar cheese. The label says Cuba cheese, from Cuba, NY. I paid no more than $2.40/lb for the 10 lbs I had cut into manageable size pieces for our family of 7. I think it comes in 10 lbs. blocks, but that's too hefty for our bunch. They vacuum sealed it and labeled it for me, and gave me an order sheet for their fresh and frozen meat and fish, as well as the multitude of cheeses they sell.  I bought 6 lbs. of whiting fillets too, so that will be dinner another week.

Tonight - I wanted to do something substantial with Farmer's cheese. Now it tastes like Mozzarella to my tongue, but it's not as squeaky, and it doesn't melt smoothly like cheddar. 

For my wedding anniversary on Friday night we had dinner at a favorite steakhouse - and I started dinner with a lovely bowl of French Onion Soup. It was divine, and I savored every last drop of that rich brown broth, and the gruyere cheese I had to cut with a knife. That was my inspiration for this combination.

KelliSue Minestrone Soup - that they'll eat
1.5 lbs. of sweet Italian sausage (I used venison sausage)
1 diced sweet onion
1 can of mixed vegetables (like veg-all) including liquid
1 quart of home bottled tomatoes or a large can of diced tomatoes including liquid
1 quart of spaghetti sauce (I used Hunts' chunky vegetable which contained zucchini slices)
1 quart of water
1 can of garbanzo beans with liquid
1 cup of macaroni
Salt and pepper to taste
2 teaspoons of sweet basil
or mixed Italian seasoning
1 tablespoon of minced garlic (I used jarred)

Saute' the Italian sausage until no pink remains. You may need to add a little olive oil if it's as lean as ours is.  Set aside.

In a dutch oven sized pot, drizzle a little olive oil or use butter, and sautee the diced sweet onion until softened. Then add the can of mixed vegetables, liquid and all, and the quart of canned tomatoes.  Cook for 5 minutes and then using a stick blender, puree until mostly liquid with few solid bits remaining.  Add the spaghetti sauce, the quart of water, the can of beans with liquid, the precooked sausage, and bring to a rolling boil. Add the cup of macaroni, and simmer until tender, about 7 minutes. If it's too thick, thin with some water or broth. The sausage adds quite a bit of salt and flavor, so be cautious in using broth if it's salted.

Now add the spices and seasonings to taste, beginning with the amounts suggested.  Taste again for salt and pepper, and then ladle into large bowls.

We added a large handful of shredded farmer's cheese to each bowl, and topped it with a few oyster crackers, but saltines will go nicely too. The cheese melts to a stringy delight, and made the soup disappear like magic.

If you don't have available farmer's cheese, I'm told the classic is to use parmesan, shredded into the pot of soup, or you can add chopped parmesan cheese rinds to the pot early on in the cooking.  But we had great fun with our Farmer's cheese today.  Hat's off to farmer's and their cheesey goodness.

If you try this recipe, I hope you enjoy it like we did. Even the toddler ate it right up. If you prefer Vegetarian cooking, you can leave out the Italian sausage, and use a vegetable broth instead of the quart of water.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Honey Mustard Chicken

This is a family favorite. We make it sometimes with cut up fryers and sometimes with chicken breast or tenderloin pieces. There's even a vegetarian version! Whichever you try, I think you'll be pleasantly delighted with it.

And if you are vegetarian try this sauce recipe with some tofu that has been prepared to be more meatlike. I freeze Nori Nu Extra Firm tofu for a day or longer, then I thaw it in the refrigerator. This eliminates the jello/egg feel of the tofu. Open the package, drain it, slice it thickly and set in a colander. Put a plate on top of the tofu, and add a large can, let sit for half an hour to press the water out. This gives it a meatier texture. Now cut it into chicken strip sized fingers and cook in the oven on 400* with the honey sauce of this recipe until the tofu is browned and has soaked up the delicious juices.

Honey Mustard Chicken for Six

6 chicken breast sections (1/2 breast each), or cut up chicken pieces of your choice

1 tsp. salt or season salt of your choice
1 cup melted butter
1 cup honey
1/3 cup spicy brown or dijon mustard or grainy hearty mustard

Preheat oven to 400*. In a baking pan with sides, lay chicken portions, season with your salt and some pepper. Combine butter and honey and mustard in a microwave safe bowl, heat for 30 seconds until it stirs easily to combine. Pour over the top of the chicken breast pieces. Cook until the chicken pieces are done, (which could be as soon as 15 minutes) and meat temperatures register 160* with a meat thermometer, and the sauce has reduced a little. Remove the chicken from the oven, and let sit for a few minutes for the juices to settle back into the meat. This also raises the temperature to 170* internally. Spoon the sauce into a gravy boat or syrup pitcher and pass with the chicken.

Serve with risotto or mashed potatoes, and drizzle a little of the sauce over the top of your chicken and rice or potatoes.

This feeds my family of seven, because the children are little and don't eat a full adult sized serving of meat. Add or subtract how much meat your family will need.

P.S. I can often find boneless, skinless chicken breasts on sale for $1.40/lb. when bought in bulk, and leg/thigh combos for .69/lb. So we rotate these using this recipe.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Butternut Squash Risotto

1 medium butternut squash (about 1 pound whole or 12 ounces cut up) or 1 thawed pkg. frozen squash

24 sage leaves (or use 2 tsp. dried sage, or omit completely - which is what I do)
Salt and pepper
7 to 8 cups chicken or vegetable stock, I prefer low sodium
1 medium onion, finely minced
2 T olive oil
1 T real butter or margarine if you prefer
2 cups uncooked Arborio rice
Scant 1/2 cup apple or white grape juice, plus 1 T of white vinegar
1/2 cup parmesan or romano cheese, grated

1) Peel squash, then dice into very small (1/4- or 1/3-inch) cubes. Combine squash, a few sage leaves, 1 cup stock, and a little salt in a heavy-bottomed pot. Bring to a simmer and cook until just barely tender (but not too soft) about 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and reserve liquid, just in case.

2) Put the remainder of the stock into a sauce pan, add 1 cup of hot water, then bring to a simmer, and keep it just barely simmering or steaming.
3) In another, larger, heavy-bottomed dutch oven sized pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over med. high heat. Add sage 1/2 the sage leaves, and cook for 30 seconds until crispy. Remove, and set aside on a paper towel for the end of the recipe. To the same pan add onion, the other 1/2 the sage and cook until onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Turn heat to low, add rice and a pinch of salt and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often, until rice has turned slightly translucent. Turn the heat back up to medium, and add the juice and vinegar. Once the juice has been absorbed, add two-three ladles full of the simmering stock, just enough to reach the top of the rice. Stir well and reduce the heat back down to medium-low.

4) Gently simmer the rice, stirring occasionally, until stock is absorbed. Add another 1/2-to-3/4 cup warm stock, and stir occasionally until new stock is absorbed. Repeat the process until all the stock has been absorbed by the rice, and rice has a bit of a bite still, but is tender on the outside. You want just a little resistance in the middle, this is what separates risotto from American rice. If you run out of stock, add a cup of water it will be fine.
5) If you're using frozen squash, now is the time to heat it in the microwave until it's heated through. Otherwise, have a glass of apple juice and stir the rice occasionally.

6) When rice is mostly tender, add cooked squash, parmesan, and a tablespoon of butter. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, until dairy is melted and squash is heated through. Salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot, using sage leaves as garnish.

If you don't have butternut squash, you can also use canned carrot cubes, or shred raw carrots and saute' it with the onion. They're both delicious. And I usually dislike cooked carrots.

By the way, the second and third time I made this I used simple short grained rice from my food storage buckets, which reduces the price considerably. My family is lactose intolerant, and we find that we can use Sheep Milk Romano cheese (read the label) instead of parmesan and nobody gets a belly ache. During our milking season we also use a homemade parmesan cheese made with goat milk.

Risotto goes really well with Honey Mustard Chicken, home bottled green beans, and a smile.

Approximate Calories, Fat, Fiber, and Price Per Serving
371 calories, 10 g fat, 1.4 g fiber, $1.77 or less


Monday, January 25, 2010

Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowls

Yesterday was a grey, rainy winter day, suitable for melting the snowpiles we saw as we drove to church, but not for much else. I had some boneless, skinless chicken breast pieces that were thawed waiting for me to decide how to use them, waiting in the refrigerator when we returned. Here's what we came up with. Just to give you an idea of the response to this meal from my family - here's how it went.

Emma, 3, cleaned her bowl completely. Merina - asked for seconds on the rice and green beans and gleefully drizzled teriyaki sauce over her second bowl. The big kids (9, almost 12, and 12) all had seconds, and my husband said WOW! High praise from half my family who were raised on pizza and wings and canned ravioli before I married in.

So here's my new favorite, somewhat reduced sugar Teriyaki sauce. And following you'll find how we used it last night and ideas I have for the future. Because I ate the leftovers for breakfast at 5:30 this morning. I named it because in the cities where I lived in Washington there were teriyaki places in every strip mall. Nearly every place served their meals similarly, a scoop or two of rice, stir fried veggies including cabbage, garlic and broccoli, and a portion of grilled chicken thigh or breast with a nice glaze of teriyaki sauce.

I Miss Seattle Teriyaki Sauce

1 cup soy sauce
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup splenda (or substitute other low sugar sweetener)
1 cup of sugar free soft drink

*I used a generic of Crystal Light in peach, but have used Orange Early Rise previously too. You may also use Sugar Free Sprite, 7UP or other sugar free drink. You can substitute Pineapple juice, but then it's not suitable for diabetics, at all.

1 teaspoon grated ginger, very fine or use 1 hunk of candied or crystallized sugar ginger, like I did, minced
1 large garlic clove, minced or 1 tsp. jarred garlic
3 scallions, chopped fine - I skipped that, the refrigerator was out and we don't shop on Sunday

Bring the soy sauce and sugar free soft drink to a simmer in a sauce pan, add the ginger and garlic and add sweeteners and stir until it's dissolved. Add the scallions just before serving. Makes about 2 cups of teriyaki sauce.

Now where do you use this teriyaki sauce? Everywhere. Here is what we had for dinner last night:

Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl

1/2 cup of steamed white rice per person
1/4 lb. of sautee'd chicken breast or thigh (do not salt)
1/2 cup of steamed veggies of your choice - piping hot

In a bowl, mound 1/2 cup of steamed rice like an icecream scoop, arrange 1/2 cup or more of steamed veggies around this. We like broccoli, or a stir fry mix, but even canned green beans from last year's garden are really good this way.

Then drizzle Teriyaki sauce, to taste, over the top of each rice bowl. Reduce in size appropriate to the age of the eater.

How else can you use this delicious sauce? How about baking some chicken wings, sectioned, until crisp. Toss them in a bowl, drizzle with sauce and stir until well-glazed. Or, when your hamburger or turkey or venison burger is almost done to your liking, brush this teriyaki glaze on it for the last two minutes of cooking.

Teriyaki Beef from Leftovers:

In a large skillet, heat a tsp. or so of heart healthy oil on high heat. Add one or more sliced sweet onions and sautee' until just turning golden. Slice leftover steak or roast into bite sized portions, sautee' with the onions until warmed through. Now drizzle some teriyaki sauce over the meat, and turn the meat down a little so the sauce won't burn, and glaze the meat. Serve this teriyaki over a scoop of steamed rice with salad or a steamed or stir fried vegetable along side. And that will be the end of your leftovers, quickly.

If you're eating lower carbohydrate, you might consider serving the teriyaki over stir fried cabbage and zucchini and broccoli cut into thin slivers instead of rice. Vegetarians will find this is really good to use for a marinade for pressed tofu, and in fact makes a delightful sandwich with diced fried tofu, shredded veggies and lettuce stuffed into a pita.

It's bliss. What's your local food favorite? What do you find on nearly every corner, and at every strip mall in your community? It's one thing I just don't see any more... teriyaki restaurants. In rural upstate New York, it's pizza places, sub shops, and the occasional overcooked Chinese fast food.

Enjoy Mouthwater Mondays' Chicken Teriyaki Rice Bowl, in whatever version you try.