A Family Meal

I absolutely live for making big family meals. There is something so deliciously wonderful about eating good food with people you care about. Anyone who knows me, knows that I love to love with food.

I've never been much of a Giada de Laurentiis fan. She's beautiful, but as I watched her show I would be somewhat distracted by her huge head and short arms (think: T-Rex).

Yeah...she scares me a little, too.

I also get annoyed at the excessive amount of cleavage showing in every episode (which may account for the large male fan base she has acquired). Furthermore, I get confused by the way she talks. One minute, she is talking like you and me. The next minute, she is pronouncing Italian ingredients like she lives in a Tuscan villa on the Mediterranean coast. Just say Parmesan and marscarpone cheese like a normal person...you grew up in California. Anyway.

I got her Giada's Family Dinners cookbook for Christmas and began to try her recipes. Um, wow. Every single thing I've made from this cookbook has been completely mouthwatering. I'm sorry I called you a T-Rex, Giada, because your recipes are awesome.

I've made the following recipe three separate times since Christmas because it's a total crowd pleaser. It yields enough to make 6 hearty main course servings. If you're anything like me, I find sun-dried tomatoes to be a bit much sometimes. The way they are cooked in this recipe really mellows their flavor and they are delicious. I followed up this pasta dinner recently with a yummy dessert recipe I found in Southern Living Magazine.

Penne with Sausage, Artichokes, and Sun-Dried Tomatoes
~I use whole grain pasta to make this hearty one dish meal~

  • 3/4 cup drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced, 2 tbsp of oil reserved*
  • 1 lb Italian hot sausages, casings removed (I use hot Italian turkey sausage)
  • 2 (8 oz.) packages frozen artichoke hearts, thawed (I have yet to find frozen artichokes, so I use the canned kind in brine, not oil)
  • 2 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 3/4 cups reduced sodium-chicken broth
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • salt
  • 12 oz. penne (I use Barilla Whole Grain)
  • 1/2 cup freshly shredded Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1/4 chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 8 oz. fresh mozzarella, drained and cubed (she says this is optional, but I think it's essential)
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Heat the oil reserved from the tomatoes in a large, heavy frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until brown, breaking up the meat into bite-size pieces with a fork (about 8 minutes)
  2. Transfer sausage to a bowl. Add the artichokes and garlic to the same skillet, and saute over medium heat until the garlic is tender (about 2 minutes).
  3. Add the broth, wine, and sun-dried tomatoes. Boil over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the sauce reduces slightly (about 8 minutes).
  4. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the penne and cook, stirring often to prevent the pasta from sticking together, until tender but still firm to the bite (about 10 minutes). Drain, but do not rinse, the pasta.
  5. Add the pasta, sausage, 1/2 cup of Parmesan, basil, and parsley to the artichoke mixture. Toss until the sauce is almost absorbed by the pasta.
  6. Stir in the mozzarella and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese alongside.
*Those of you who are local: Jarred sun-dried tomatoes can be really pricey...especially the jars in the produce aisle. I actually found the Wegman's brand sun-dried tomatoes in oil (found in the pasta aisle) are the cheapest around.

Banana Bread Cobbler
~I wish I had gotten a picture of this...it was really good~
  • 1 cup self-rising flour (or 1 cup all purpose with 1 1/2 tsp baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 4 medium-size ripe bananas, sliced
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup self-rising flour (or 1/2 cup all purpose with 3/4 tsp baking power and 1/4 tsp salt)
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup uncooked regular oats
  • 1/2 chopped pecans
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Whisk together 1 cup flour, sugar, and milk until just blended. Whisk in melted butter and pour batter into a lightly greased 11 x 7 inch baking dish.
  2. Top with banana slices.
  3. Combine Streusel ingredients (brown sugar, 1/2 cup flour, and butter) until crumbly, using a fork. Stir oats and pecans into the Streusel mixture.
  4. Top the banana slices with the Streusel mixture and bake for 40-45 minutes or until golden and bubbly. Serve with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream (I loved it with vanilla ice cream).
Family get togethers should not force you to be in the kitchen all day. Make simple and delicious meals like this and then spend your time doing what matters...being with the people you love.


Chicken Three Ways

When money is tight, I try to be creative with one cheap ingredient. This week chicken was on sale at Giant. I got one value pack for the week and got one to stick in the freezer for another week to come. I picked up a few odds and ends and walked out with enough food to make three good meals and part of a fourth.

This week is also a busy one. I've got plans Tuesday night, grad class Wednesday night, and Bible study Thursday night. I felt that it was appropriate to bring out an appliance with which I have a love-hate relationship....my slow cooker (a.k.a Crock Pot).

I know that there are countless people out there who are absolutely in love with their slow cookers. I want to be...but I've had some unfortunate experiences with mine. First of all, I don't eat beef. Many slow cooker recipes center around beef because it's the type of meat that is really good when cooked for a long time. Second of all, I've tried several chicken recipes that have resulted in overcooked dry chicken. Third of all, I've tried a couple breakfast recipes that involved eggs...which I'm quite certain should not be slow cooked (at least the ones that I made!). Finally, I am out of the house for a loooong time on most days. The 6-8 hour recipes usually end up overcooked by the time I get home. A recipe that would work for me would need to cook at least 8 hours (more like 10 on most days) and still be edible.

Here's where the love part comes in...I've found some slow cooker recipes that actually work for me!! So I pulled out two of them and got to plannin'.

On Sunday, I went to the store and made Bang Bang Chicken for dinner. I took all of 10 minutes to prep my ingredients needed for Chicken Tortilla Soup on Monday. Since all my recipes for the week required the chicken to be cut into small pieces, I went ahead and cut up the whole value pack and sectioned the appropriate portion for each recipe into plastic bags. I also grabbed a package of hot Italian turkey sausage that I had stashed in the freezer (from a buy one, get one free week at Giant) and stuck it in the fridge to thaw.

On Monday, I dumped all my prepped ingredients into my slow cooker in the morning and came home to a house smelling of delicious Chicken Tortilla soup.

On Monday night, I prepped my ingredients for Tuesday...which, again, took about 10 minutes. It's really easy when you make little meal kits like this:

On Tuesday, I'll dump all my prepped ingredients into my slow cooker in the morning and come home to Spanish Chicken and rice.

On Wednesday, I'll come home from grad class and eat left-overs.

On Thursday, I'll throw together a quick Sausage Soup with Mushrooms, Zucchini, and Chickpeas.

Here's how the magic happens:

Bang Bang Chicken over Rice
~This authentic Chinese recipe is simple and delicious~

  • 1 chicken breast, cut into strips or 1 inch pieces (I used about 1 1/2 chicken breasts)
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 tsp grated ginger root
  • 1 scallion, chopped into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp peanut butter
  • 1 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 2 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 cucumber sliced
  • Prepared rice
  1. Heat a wok or frying pan for a good 3-4 minutes while you prep your ingredients.
  2. Add 1-2 tbsp oil (I used peanut) to the hot pan and then stir-fry the chicken, garlic, ginger, and scallion until the chicken is cooked through. This took me only a few minutes.
  3. Add the water, soy sauce, peanut butter, and vinegar to the pan (stirring to coat the chicken with the liquid) and simmer 5 minutes.
  4. Finally, add the broccoli and cucumber and cook until the vegetables are tender (about 7 minutes). During this time, the liquid added in step 3 will reduce and make a nice saucy coating on the chicken and vegetables.
  5. Serve over rice.
The above recipe was taken from a book called Extending the Table. My husband bought it for me from 10,000 Villages (a really awesome free-trade store). It has authentic recipes from all over the world and tons of other interesting cultural information. It's definitely the kind of cookbook that you can actually read (alright, fine...I've been known to curl up with a good cookbook at bed time...even when it's just recipes).

Chicken Tortilla Soup
~This soup smells so wonderful when you walk in the door~
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
  • 1 can (28 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 carton (32 oz) chicken broth (4 cups)
  • 4 corn tortillas (6 inch) cut into one inch pieces
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro (I used Italian parsley because I detest cilantro)
Possible garnishes:
  • Shredded Cheddar cheese
  • Sour Cream
  • Tortilla chips on top
  • Chopped scallions
  1. Spray 3 1/2 to 4 quart slow cooker with cooking spray. In cooker, mix all soup ingredients except cilantro (or parsley).
  2. Cover; cook on Low heat setting 6 to 8 hours (I cooked it 8-10 hours)
  3. Stir in cilantro (or parsley). Increase heat setting to High. Cover; cook 15 minutes longer.
  4. Garnish each serving with cheese and sour cream (and tortilla chips).
My sister in law gave me this recipe which she got from a Pillsbury Slow Cooker recipe book ( ya know, the kind you see in the aisle of the grocery store). It turns out so well...the chicken is moist and the tortillas dissolve a bit into the soup making it creamy and thick.

Spanish Chicken
~Haven't tried this yet, but it looks like a winner~Recipe courtesy of the Pillsbury website
  • 1 3/4 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 lb Italian turkey sausage links, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28 oz.) can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1 (6 oz.) can tomato paste
  • 1 cup uncooked rice (or 2 cups cooked)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can (14 oz.) quartered artichoke hearts, drained
  • 1 can (3.8 oz) sliced ripe olives, drained (we skipped these...don't like olives)
  1. Spray slow cooker with cooking spray. In cooker, mix chicken, sausage, bell pepper, onion, garlic, oregano, pepper flakes, tomatoes and tomato paste.
  2. Cover; cook on low heat setting 6-8 hours (mine will cook a bit more than 8 hours)
  3. About 25 minutes before serving, cook rice in 2 cups water as directed on package (or use left over rice). Just before serving, stir artichoke hearts and olives into chicken mixture.
  4. Cover; cook until hot. Serve chicken mixture with rice.
This recipe was also taken from the Pillsbury recipe book. I think it has all the componants of a yummy sounding meal. I actually made a double batch of rice on Sunday (when I made the Bang Bang Chicken) so that I wouldn't have to cook rice again for this meal.

Sausage Soup with Mushrooms, Zucchini, and Chickpeas
~Very simple, very delicious, and freezes beautifully~
  • 2 tbsp vegetable or olive oil
  • 1 medium onoin, choped
  • 1/2 lb sliced mushrooms
  • 1 medium (8 oz) zucchini cut into a medium dice
  • 1 lb mild or hot Italian sausage (or you can use already cooked andouille sausage for an even easier soup!)
  • 2 (16 oz) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 cup canned crushed tomatoes (can be optional...but I put it in)
  • 32 oz low sodium chicken broth
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Heat oil in a Dutch oven or soup kettle. Add the onions and mushrooms and saute to soften slightly (about 2 minutes). Add the zucchini, sausage, chickpeas, tomatoes, chicken broth, and cumin.
  2. Partially cover and simmer until vegetables are tender and flavors have blended (about 20 minutes). Season with salt and pepper to taste and then serve.
This simple recipe is from a cookbook called How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson. It's literally rocking my cooking world and I can't wait to post more about her awesome way of cooking.

So there you have it...several meals made from an eight dollar package of chicken, some items from my pantry and freezer, and some fresh produce.


Year 1

I have been thinking a lot about this blog that past couple of days. Partly because I have so many ideas that I'd like to post, but just haven't had the chance yet. But I am also approaching the one year anniversary of when I started this blog. I'm not really into the whole "Blogiversary" thing, but I have done some reflecting on my experience as a "blogger" over the past year.

About a year ago, I was at a New Year's Eve party and was talking all about my cooking and new recipes and how excited I was to share them with my friends. I said that maybe I would put together some sort of packet of my recipes to share with everyone. One of my friends told me I should start a blog. I immediately dismissed the idea, thinking that I wouldn't be able to do it. I don't really consider myself a writer and thought I would just sound dumb.

We came home from the party and my husband began encouraging me to do it. He thought blogging was a great idea and said it would be a great place for me to keep my favorite recipes. With his prompting, I finally went on to blogger and set up this little blog. Since then, I've been blogging (sometimes often, sometimes not so often) about everything food related...recipes, food shopping, meal planning, cooking tools and gadgets, and even my own journey with food. I've found blogging to be such a wonderful hobby for me. It makes me feel productive and creative and it helps me communicate my love of food with others.

So there you have it...I love my blog. I've been pretty relaxed about posting the last few months, but maybe I'll get started up again during these cold winter months when I tend to hibernate. Even if I don't get to blogging as often as I'd like, I know this little blog will wait for me to pick right back up wherever I left off.

And for those of you who read my little piece of the internet...thanks for visiting :)


The Most Forgotten Meal of the Day

Even though everyone says that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, there are so many people who skip it. I always eat breakfast (unless I sleep in until 10:00 while on winter break...then I eat lunchfast). Usually, it's not a lot but I always try to eat something.

I know that eating isn't exactly the first thing you want to do when you wake up, but it's so important to get your body going in the morning. It's like putting fuel in your body to get you cruising until lunchtime. It also tells your body that you are planning to eat today and it can burn up what's in your belly, instead of hang on to it for dear life. I don't often feel well in the morning, but I feel even worse when I don't eat anything.

I'm not a morning person at all...so please don't picture me flipping pancakes and making omelets in the morning while whistling a cheerful tune. Picture me pressing snooze three times and then whimpering under the covers until my husband finally succeeds in convincing me to get up and go to work. So, needless to say, I need something quick and easy in the morning.

I almost always combine some sort of fruit with some sort of bread. Sometimes it's a banana and an English muffin with a bit of butter and honey on it. Sometimes it's apple slices and a piece of toast with raspberry jam. This morning I tried something different and absolutely loved it!

I got the idea from Everyday Food Magazine and tweaked it a bit.

First I bought some of this: Then I got these things out:

I toasted up a slice of bread and then spread the plain Greek yogurt on it. I added a heaping teaspoon of honey and some chopped walnuts. Wow! The creamy tangy flavor of the yogurt was sweetened by the honey and the nuts added a nutritious crunch. Everyday Food Magazine suggests adding pistachios, but I didn't have any on hand. I drank a few sips of orange juice and then got my coffee to head off to work.

This quick little breakfast idea is healthy, filling, and delicious. It kept me going all morning long until I got out my delicious soup for lunch. More on the soup in a future post! :)


New Year, New Directions

I was visiting a friend's blog and read through her list of goals for 2010. I was struck by how many of them resembled my own. She, like me, is not wild and crazy about the whole "New Year's Resolution" idea. I don't like to put that much pressure on myself. But I do have some overall goals for this year that I'd like to work toward. Will I achieve them all? Maybe, but probably not. I'm a-ok with that. So, without further ado, here are my goals for 2010:

1. I'd like to become much more familiar with how to cook without a recipe. I'd like to open up my cabinets and say "I'll put this and this and this together and then add a little of this for dinner". I got a wonderful book called How to Cook Without a Book by Pam Anderson.

Not this Pam Anderson...

This Pam Anderson...

She's a great cookbook author and food journalist. Her book is really challenging me to stop depending on recipes so much and put my own knowledge and instincts into my cooking.

2. Consider planting a garden. I chose the word "consider" because I kill all plants. I try so hard to keep them alive, but always fail. I really do mean always. Herbs in the windowsill...dead. Poinsettia plants given to me for Christmas...dead. All flowers planted in the back yard...dead. In fact, last year I never got around to bringing in my flowerpots before winter came and they all froze. Which means the soil inside of them expanded and they all exploded. Only one survived and I'm looking at it right now from my window and wondering when it will also freeze and explode. My gardening skills are so bad that the previous owner of our house came back to visit the neighbors and weeded our flower beds (which was somewhat alarming because she didn't ask permission first...but at least the weeds were gone!)


I'd like to clear out all the flowers and such from the little garden off of my patio and plant a vegetable and herb garden. My neighbor, who just happens to be the former head of the Philadelphia Horticultural Society, said that she would help me. We shall see.

3. I'd like to pursue a healthier lifestyle for both myself and the environment. I've been learning a lot about the food industry lately and feel more and more compelled to buy more organic and sustainable foods. I need to figure out a way to work these higher priced items into my shopping budget, but I think it's a challenge worth taking. I want to eat more seasonally and locally. I'm excited for the weather to warm up (in, what feels like, a thousand months from now) so that I can explore some local farmers markets and produce stands.

I also want to be more active. I want to strengthen my core so that I have less lower back pain. I also want to increase my energy level. Ironically, I'm heading over to the gym today. You may think that's not ironic at all...but I'm going there to quit. I'm quiting so that we can use that money for a Netflix subscription. Sounds like I'm getting closer to my goal of being more active by the minute! All kidding aside, I don't enjoy working out in a gym setting and have been working out more at home.

4. A minor, but important, goal of mine is to wear an apron when I cook! Seems like a no brainer, but I never remember to put one on and then I get stains on all of my clothes. I have so many grease spots on various shirts from splattering olive oil or smudges from juicy fruits and veggies. It's such a silly thing to forget, so my goal is to remember to grab it before turning the burners on.

5. My last goal is to open up our home more to friends and family. We do a fair amount of entertaining, but I want our house to be the kind of place where we can invite people over spontaneously. I want it to be a place that I'm not embarrassed by if someone stops over unexpectedly. This means that I need to pick up regularly and keep a well stocked fridge and pantry. The idea is that we can bump into people and invite them for dinner without me going into a total panic over what to serve them and where to stash all the random things lying around.

So there they are. Those are my goals for 2010. At this moment, my clothes are all over the bedroom floor, the fridge is empty, and I'm quitting the gym...it looks like I have a lot of work to do!