Sunday looks like...

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This.


And this.



And this.



And this.




It's the smell of freshly baked bread. 
A little slathering of butter. 
A fine crumb and a sweet family to share it with.

Who needs sugar-laden, pre-packaged goods?

Not this family.

Pantry Meal

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I'm baaack.  This has got to be some kind of record for me, three posts in a row.  I'm on fire.  That, or I've been painfully cooped up in my house due to inclement midwest weather.

I'm going with the former.

Today's showcase is a mainstay in our home.  It's easy.  It's versatile.  It's foolproof.  It's tasty...am I missing anything?  Really, you can't go wrong with this one.  I've made it a million different ways, with different fillings/meats/carbs- like I said, not easy to mess up.  And it's three meals, made out of one set of ingredients.  What beats that?

I'm sure you've heard of this dish in one form or another and maybe you already make a version yourself.  Either way- it's a picture perfect meal of something you likely already have on hand and ya just didn't know it.

So what is this mystery dish?

Mexican Lasagna.

Or, I've also heard it called enchilada casserole, Mexican casserole, enchilada lasagna, layered tortilla casserole, again- the names are endless thus painting a perfect picture of the versatility this dish has.

How is it made?  Well, don't get irritated, but I really don't even have a recipe for it.  It's that easy.  Basically it's a lot of can opening, chopping, dumping, and layering.  That's really all the effort required.

I almost don't even want to put a recipe up for fear you may look at it and say "Oh, I don't have black beans, I can't make it!" (use pinto!  use cannellini!  use whatever you have!), or "oh, I don't have shredded chicken" (use ground beef, ground turkey, shredded pork, or, gasp, don't use meat at all!  It has enough beans to provide the protein element- we often make it devoid of any meat/poultry).  Or maybe you'll say, "I don't have a packet of taco seasoning" (so what!  make your own mix and taste as you go- some ideas include cumin, chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder, salt, pepper- just pull out your inner Martha!).

So- you are excuseless.

Really all you need are the following (seems like a lot but you'll be surprised at what you likely already have on hand):

-two  medium-sized cans of mexican-style diced tomatoes (with green chiles).  Or if you don't have these, regular diced canned tomatoes will do- but the chiles add Mexican flare
-two cans of beans, I like to use black or pinto, or refried, or a mix of a couple of the above. 
-a pound of your choice shredded or ground meat, cooked (or none at all!)
-two packages shredded cheese (use whatever floats your boat)
- a packet of taco seasoning (or create your own mix)
- one large diced onion and three minced garlic cloves (or 1 tsp garlic powder if you don't have fresh)
- 1/2 cup sour cream (or non-fat plain yogurt, what I like to use- tastes exactly the same)
- 15 oz container light ricotta cheese (totally optional but I'll explain why I like it in a sec)
- 1 egg (only use if you use the ricotta method)
-chopped cilantro (if you choose- it's optional)
- one package lasagna noodles (or flour tortillas- whatever you have!)
- a bit of canola oil
- salt and pepper
- small jar of your favorite salsa

How does it work?

Well, if you've ever made lasagna you are already a pro.  That's all it is, Mexican-style lasagna.  I like to take a basic lasagna recipe and then tweak it to include all of the above.  Here's my method/what I do:

1. Preheat oven to 350.  In a 9x13 pan or dish, spread 1/3 cup of salsa all over the bottom (prevents stickage); boil the lasagna noodles until a tad undercooked.  Not al dente, a little less cooked than that even.  Drain and set aside.  You also should have already pre-cooked your meat/poultry ahead of time.  I like to get four bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, place them on a cookie sheet and drizzle with olive oil, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and bake in a 350 degree oven for 45 min.  You can do this before prepping the lasagna or earlier in the day.  Either is fine.  You will NOT need all four of the breasts' meat.  You will only need two, so will have the other two for whatever you choose.  I like to shred all the meat at once, add half to the lasagna and freeze the other half for later.  The nice thing about this meal is it actually makes three meals in one.  You'll see later.

2. In a large, somewhat deep saucepan, saute the onion in the oil until tender.  Add the garlic and saute just a min longer.  Add the two cans of tomatoes, beans, and cooked meat.  If the mixture seems super thick, add a 1/2 cup water.  Stir to combine.  Add taco seasoning. Stir again.  Turn heat to low.

3. In a separate bowl, mix ricotta, 1/2 cup your choice shredded cheese, sour cream, egg, chopped cilantro (however much you like), salt and pepper.  Mix to combine all.

4.  Now get ready to do some layering.  In your 9x13, place a layer of noodles (or tortillas)- I like to cut mine up to fit well but you can do whatever.  Top the noodles with enough of the meat mixture to cover the noodles (not too much!  you will end up having a lot of sauce leftover and that's our plan here- don't stray from it!).  Top the meat layer with one half of the ricotta cheese mix.  Top that with a good dose of shredded cheese.  Repeat all, beginning with noodle layer, then meat, then ricotta, then shredded cheese.  Top with a third layer of noodles, salsa (not meat sauce!), and more shredded cheese.

5. Bake, covered with tinfoil, for 40 minutes.  When timer is up, take foil off and bake 10 minutes longer so cheese gets nice and melty.  Take out of oven and let sit 10 minutes to set up- this is important!  Don't cut before it's set.  You don't want it to runneth...it's not pretty.

There she is.  Perfect every time.  This photo obviously shows the dish not yet baked.  I forgot to take a "final" shot.  Forgive me.



Now, a few things.  You will have a LOT of meat mixture leftover.  That's perfect, my friends, because this will transform into another meal- use the mix in tacos, wraps, quesadillas, over rice/baked potato, as a base for chili, or some other thing of your choosing.  You have now made two meals in one.  Pour the meat mix in a tupperware, freeze & save for another meal.  Dinner #2 done.


In addition to Dinner #1 (The Mexican lasagna) and Dinner #2 (the leftover meat mixture for later use) you will also have Dinner option #3, the leftover chicken.  Use the leftover two shredded breasts for something else creative, such as a chicken salad, in a stew or soup, or stir fry.  The possibilities are endless.



Another thing to add
I said I would tell you why I like ricotta.  In traditional lasagna, you make the dish this way (meat sauce in a saucepan, ricotta mix in a separate bowl).  The ricotta & egg mix helps to bind the the layers and make the whole dish less runny.  Cottage cheese will work as a substitute but it still doesn't quite do the trick.  If you choose, you don't have to make the cheese mixture in a separate bowl, you can leave out the ricotta/egg, and mix the shredded cheese, sour cream, cilantro, salt and pepper (to taste) right into the meat mixture.  That works too but make sure to omit the egg.  Though, to be honest, my experience and method above works best to make a perfectly un-runny, easily sliced dish.  Go for the ricotta.


There you have it, my friends, three meals in one with stuff you likely already have under your roof.  How brilliant is that?  It makes my "making do" days a whole lot easier, that's for sure! 

Enjoy your weekend!

"Making Do" Week Continued...

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I have to admit, this whole "suriviving with what I've got" is really becoming quite fun.

But I have a little confession to make.

I still make weekly runs for fresh produce and dairy.  Because, well, if I went for even a day without veggies I might just hurt something and if Mr. K went for a millisecond without milk- he might leave me.

Just kidding.  Kind of. 

Some of my mainstays (things I purchase weekly) are: Skim milk (husband), whole milk (son), soy milk (for me and our family smoothies), plain non-fat Greek yogurt, berries, spinach, broccoli, red onion, and one other salad veggie that trips my trigger.  These are my core veggies- I couldn't live without spinach, broccoli, and red onion.  I. just. couldn't. 

I buy these exact items weekly.  Not gonna lie.  Though all of the above (pending I don't have leftovers of one from the week before) usually only totals about $15-20.  So $20 at the store/week is pretty darn good, I think!  My goal is to do three weeks of $20 runs and then my one big week to re-stock (which honestly usually totals around $100 or a touch more depending on what we need.  However our family saves a fair amount by only eating out once/week max, and not eating much meat (you will notice that many of the dishes on this blog are actually meatless- though I don't generally point this out because we don't consider it a big deal!).

We are NOT vegetarians.  At all.  Not a lick. 

But we try to limit our intake in order to save a bit of money and eat healthier.  Again, being honest, this is by my choice- my husband would eat steak and potatoes every night if he could.  But he doesn't complain at our daily fare- because, again, I don't make it a big deal and the dishes I do make are hearty and filling- mimicking the "meat" element.  I utilize things like fish, beans, and cheese (we do a lot of bean stews, cheese/veggie pizza, eggs, fish, etc).   Another great way to "add meaty flavor" while not actually spending much is to include crumbled, good (think smoked applewood) bacon into the meatless dish.  You spend a touch more for the higher quality stuff but a little goes a LONG way, thus allowing you to use it in many dishes.  When we do eat meat, it's something shredded or ground (generally chicken or turkey sausage) that can go far in a dish, as an accent to the meal rather than the main thing while allowing veggies to take center stage.  Examples?  Stir frys, soups, stews, casseroles, pasta dishes, quiche, etc.  It saves the waistline and the wallet!

So, back to my continued week of "making do".  I have a great one to highlight sometime in the next few days but for today I'm simply going to share my lunch fridge creation.

After scanning the paltry remnants of many random leftovers I found a few things that seemed to work.
I had:  1/2 cup of brown rice, 1/2 cup cannellini beans, and 1/3 cup chopped roasted chicken- all would work well together, so I pulled those out.  Because I always, I repeat, always need some sort of veggie to make me happy, I created a salad out of my weekly produce, which today included: fresh salad greens, slivered red onion, blueberries, cucumber, sliced white buttom mushrooms, and light basalmic vinaigrette. 

Yep, that should do it.

But what to make of the chicken, beans, and rice?  Easy.  I also have a lemon, olive oil, salt & pepper (all of the former make a perfect "drizzle", frozen peas, a tablespoon of capers, and some shredded parmesan.  Voila- a meal is made.  And I didn't even heat up the rice & chicken dish.  It was perfect mixed up, straight from the fridge.

Meal in a flash, my friends.  Here she is: 


I couldn't function without veggies.  They are my lifeline.
Pay no attention to the smudgy glass dish.
Boo for non-effective dishwasher detergent.


Satisfying.  Healthy.  Easy as pie.




A little fridge creation always brightens my spirits!

And saves a penny or two.

a little of this and that

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It is Monday.  And the start of "make-do week" in this household.  What does this mean exactly?  Well, it being the end of the month with my grocery budget gone, I always see what I can create from the things I have- which is actually quite a fun activity.

I'm easily pleased.

Lunches are most enjoyable because I have only myself (and the tyke) to worry about and thus can be a little more creative.  My love for these things has really helped get rid of a lot of random leftovers in my fridge:



Have you discovered them?  I do believe I've mentioned them a time or two in the past.  You can get 'em at any major grocery store these days.  They are simply wraps (though not tough like tortillas, these are softer and tastier).  They come in a variety of different flavors- my favorite is the multigrain but you can choose what you like.  Check 'em out here.

I not only like them for their texture and flavor- but also because they are low in calories (only 100-120 depending on which kind you get) they have loads of protein and fiber to boot.  A perfect package. 

I've been known to grab whatever is lying around in my fridge and wrap it up in a Flatout.  Ideas include but are not limited to:  leftover meatloaf, eggs/black beans/salsa/guacamole, turkey/spinach/dijon/provolone, chicken/artichokes/sun dried tomatoes, etc.  They are incredibly versatile.

Today- I had a hankering for egg salad and just so happened to hard boil some eggs last night so I thought, why not?  It was the perfect opp to use one of the wraps.  In my fridge I also had some spinach and leftover cabbage slaw so I threw 'em on the wrap first:


Then, after mixing up the egg salad (mine is simply 6 chopped hardboiled eggs, 1/4 cup mayo, 1/4 cup plain non-fat yogurt, some celery salt, pepper, a tablespoon of whole grain mustard, a tsp dry mustard, a dash of cayenne pepper, and some finely chopped celery), I realized I had a jar of these suckers chilling in my pantry:



My lovely Aunt Susie's divine clove-infused sweet pickles.  Mmmmmm.
Don't they look positively delectable?


They are absolutely wonderful in egg salad.  Thus, I chopped a few up and threw 'em into the mix.  They add lovely color and a hint of sweetness that was otherwise lacking.  BTW: sorry the photo below is sideways, it is my one peeve with Blogger- sometimes the photos don't do what I'd like them to.

Blogger- are you out there???

Fix this please.  Thanks.


Throw the egg salad on top of the greenery and cabbage.


And, if you're like me, nothing is complete without a nice dose of cheese.
Good cheese, that is.
Like this:


So top it off with a bit of Havarti with dill (or whatever you have).
Yes, that should do it.
Wrap it all up, slice in half, and enjoy.


Now...what will tomorrow's meal hold? 
Only time (and leftovers) will tell.

Happy February-in-closing!

Beans...the magical fruit.

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So, last week I embarked upon my own little blogging challenge (aren't there an array of "challenges" in the blogosphere right now??).  I've seen challenges in an array of different areas but this one deals with recipes and the infamous "cookbook" storage.

Yes, I am a lover of cookbooks.  Really I am a lover of books in every form.  I just like 'em around.  Honestly, if I hadn't married or had kids I would have been perfectly peachy to be surrounded by my book family.  Yes, they are my family.  No side comments.

I like to smell them, flip through their pages (you will never see this girl with a "Nook" or "Kindle" or any such thing- though those things are perfectly fine I just can't bring myself to partake).  No, I enjoy books' timeless ability to please and seduce, to engross and indulge, to mystify and intrigue.

And why not add cookbooks to this pasttime?  I don't see anything wrong with it.  Especially now that cookbooks are beginning to include fancy photos, personal anecdotes, and backstory to the recipes themselves.  Yes, cookbooks are becoming quite "readable" and not merely manuals to follow.

As a foodie, I've begun to collect them wherever I go: at library book sales, garage sales, travel destinations, and secondhand stores.  For some reason they call to me.  Beckon me.  They long to become a part of my family.  Kind of like when animal-lovers go to a pet store to pick up dog food and come home with three more pets?  Yeah, like that.  You know what I mean.  Don't hide.  This is a corporate support group, we are all friends.

Just say it after me:  "My name is _____ and I am a _____ addict."  It's okay, we understand.

But back to the premise.  Wow.  See?  You wouldn't indulge in this blog if it weren't for my tangents...we all love reading something!  Or maybe you are just irritated with me.  Don't answer that.

Anyway.  Thus my love for cookbooks, and my love for a particular food-maven (Ina Garten) has led me to select one of my favorite culinary anthologies (The Barefoot Contessa at Home) and try to make as many recipes as I can out of it, pending the chosen selection are suitable for my family's tastes, time, resources, and budget.  This week's recipe is certainly easy on the budget.

Last week I highlighted Ina's delightful Banana Bran Muffins, which have become a mainstay at my morning meal, mainly because a) they are tasty with a dollop of peanut butter and b) I am growing a baby and thus my digestive system needs some major help most days.  Don't dwell on the latter to much.

I beg you.

This week, I am showcasing another tried-and-true recipe, one that you might be turned off by at first simply for it's lack of carnivorous appeal- but oh does it fully satisfy.  Fully.  You will not even miss the meat.  However if you just. plain. need. it.  you can certainly add some bits of cooked ham, chicken, or even beef (not ground- I'd go with beef chunks).  But truly- it is hearty enough for even the manliest of men.  My husband laps it up.  And he is a very meat-and-potatoes kind of man.  In fact, he defines the term.  But not here- this is perfect all it's own.

The loot?  This stuff:



Lentils.  Particularly in stew-form.  So really, more like this:



Yeah.  Now don't immediately close your browser.  Seriously.  There have been many-a-lentil stews done wrong and this is not one of them.  It has full flavor, lacks in nothing, and gets better as it sits (so leftovers are a MUST).  It's delightful with homemade bread, or our choice, chapati (always a must with beany-stews 'round these parts), and will fill you up without additional sides to prepare.  It's that good.

Again- this blog exists to make you attempt new things, and show you how UN-intimidating foods truly are.  TRY IT.  You will be blown away by the flavor.

Here she is:

Ina's Lentil Stew

2 tsp olive oil
2 C large-diced yellow onions (2 onions)
2 C large-diced carrots (3 to 4 carrots)
1 Tbsp minced garlic (3 cloves)
1 (28oz) can crushed tomatoes
1 C dry lentils (please don't use canned)
2 C chicken stock (if you are vegetarian, feel free to substitute vegetable broth!)
2 tsp curry powder (don't leave this out!)
2 tsp dried (or fresh), crushed thyme leaves
2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1 Tbsp red wine vinegar

Instructions:

1. Heat the oil in a medium to large pot (not stockpot).  Add the onions and carrots and cook over medium-low heat for 8-10 minutes, until the onions start to brown.  Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute.  Meanwhile, rinse the lentils.

2. To the pot add the tomatoes, lentils, chicken broth, curry, thyme, salt, and pepper.  Raise the heat to bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer covered for about 40 minutes, until the lentils are tender.  Check occasionally to be sure the liquid is still simmering.

3. Remove from heat and allow the lentils to sit covered for another 10 minutes.  Add the vinegar, season to taste, and serve hot with some fresh bread to lap it up!



Truly, you cannot go wrong with this hearty dish.  It is the perfect chilly winter warming meal.  Or, honestly, I've had it cold- I don't discriminate.  The longer those flavors mingle in your fridge or freezer, the merrier they taste the second, third, and twentieth time around.  It. just. gets. better.  Make sure you have a good chunky piece of bread to soak up all that beautiful broth.

It's lovely.

So long for now until next week's recipe (or maybe this week?)...only time will tell!

Ina and Abbie?

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Okay so...my title doesn't flow like Julie and Julia.

Has anyone seen the above movie/read the book?  If not, don't read the book, it's awful, the movie is much better.  "Julie" is a little too vocal in political/sexual/and colorful language preferences in the written version- turned me off completely while reading but the movie is quite clean and endearing.  And I just love Meryl Streep.  She can do no wrong.

Which brings me to my title.  Again. 

Ina Garten, too, can do no wrong.  She cannot.

Noticing that I love her I own at least three of her cookbooks I've decided to try to "work my way through" each of them (or at least one) a la Julie & Julia.  Again, if you haven't seen the movie or read the book the premise deals with a typical modern blogger (Julie) who decides to blog and cook her way through Julia Child's two volumes of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  She has some major failures and successes- all of which contribute to the meat of her story.  I liked the idea itself and, like most people, I own far too many cookbooks that seem to gather more dust than wear n' tear.  So rather than let them grow yellow and musty, I've decided I'm going to put them to good use.

Thus the decision:  I am going to work my way through one of Ina's culinary anthologies.  Quite honestly- the reason I chose Ina is because:

a) She's a goddess.
b) I have never encountered a bad recipe of hers...they all turn out perfect.  Every. Time. 
c) She uses all fresh, easy-to-find ingredients except some of her odd-flavored liquors- but really, she makes me want to buy them simply because she knows her stuff and anything she says I will do.  Yes.  I am THAT person.  Don't deny it- you are too.  If you know and like her, that is.
d) Did I mention she's a goddess?

Okay.

So...I think I will choose Barefoot Contessa at Home:



Reason being?  I have a few tried and true recipes in here I return to constantly.  Therefore I know it's good- but was that really a question?  I may skip over a couple of recipes if they are incredibly impractical (warm duck salad?  Pretty sure I'm not going to make duck...just keepin' it real), or I know there is no way on this side of heaven my husband would eat it (Summer borscht? Otherwise known as beet soup- yeah, not gonna happen under this roof!) or I simply don't have the kitchen utensils needed (anything grilled- unfortunately we have a defective grill, I suppose I could always invest in a grill pan.  Hmm.).  But I'm going to try as many as I can.  However I may tweak a recipe to make it a touch healthier or to accomodate what I have on hand.  But Ina wouldn't disagree- it's what all real chefs do.  You have to be flex! 

So why choose Ina?

Because, like I said- Ina is my go-to chef.  She can do no wrong.  She isn't classically trained and yet she has more practical gastronomic knowledge than others who have made a life of cooking.  She is honest about her failures and simple in execution.  I adore her.

Can you tell?

So yes.  This is my new feat.  It may only be one or two recipes a week, tops.  But I will attempt it.

So here we go.  My first recipe is one I've perfected.  I've made these constantly over the past few weeks due to the dismal side effects of pregnancy- it does nasty things to your digestive system.  I will refrain from sharing more.  Trust me, you don't want to know.

Anyway.  Here she is!

(adapted from Barefoot Contessa at Home)



Ingredients:

2 cups unprocessed wheat bran
2 cups buttermilk, shaken
1/2 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup light brown sugar or other sweetener (these muffins are not super sweet so if you like them sweeter, add a bit more sugar, honey, or agave nectar- I'm not a too-sweet person!)
1 cup unsweetened applesauce*
4 extra-large eggs, at room temp
1/2 cup mild molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract
2.5 cups whole wheat flour*
1/3 cup wheat germ*
1/3 cup ground flaxseed*
1.5 tsp cinnamon*
1.5 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 cups mashed banana (2 bananas)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts (optional)
1 cup raisins (optional)

*These are all items I added/changed to make 'em a bit healthier!  You can certainly use the original recipe and leave them out!  Click on the above link to find the original recipe.

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Line muffin tins with paper liners or simply spray the wells.

2. Combine the bran and buttermilk and set aside.  Cream the butter, applesauce, and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until fully combined.  With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time.  Scrape the bowl and then add the molasses and vanilla.  Add the bran/buttermilk mixture and combine.

3. In a separate bowl, mix together the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, flaxseed meal, and wheat germ.  With mixer on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture to the batter and mix just until combined.  Don't overmix!

4. Fold in (with a spatula) the bananas, raisins, and nuts. 

5. With an ice cream scoop or large spoon, fill the muffin cups to 3/4 full and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean.  Cool in pans or on wire rack.

I like to cut mine in half and slather with peanut butter and honey.  SO tasty and satisfying!



They have this incredible ability to keep ya movin'.
Yeah.
Sorry, I'm done.