Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chicken and Rice Casserole

So, I still have a bunch of chicken left from the two roasted chickens that we didn't eat over the weekend.  And I bought some rice.  So I decided on a casserole.  It is what passes for "winter" here in Cali.

Now, I generally don't buy white rice.  I can't remember the last time I bought white rice.  I only buy brown.  But I had a hankering, so I bought some jasmine.  Man, that is some pretty good stuff.  Everything in moderation, right?  (Says the girl who has been self-medicating with chocolate ice cream the last 2 nights.  Bad work days.)  I found this recipe on line, and it doesn't call for cream-of-something soup.  I doubled it and adjusted the add-ins.  I used fresh sauteed leeks and fresh broccoli.  No mushrooms, almonds, peppers, or anything else.  It was quite tasty.  My topping was fresh breadcrumbs mixed with olive oil and a teeny bit of parmesan.  I cooked the rice ahead of time, but it still took an hour to make this dinner.  And that was active prep time, plus 40 mins to cook.  Dinner was 15 mins late (we try to eat at 6:30 pm).

Added benefit is leftovers for several more days, especially since the spouse is traveling a couple of days this week.  So many of my pictures have been fuzzy and out of focus lately, and really, I'm too damn tired to figure out why.  So, sorry!  You want good recipes, I've got them.  You want good photography, there are MANY better blogs to read.  I love to read them myself.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Chicken Enchiladas and Strawberry Season!

Sunday night was a bit of enchilada-making, mostly the spouse making them (I had a killer headache) with my help here and there.

We bought a couple of roasted chickens on Friday, didn't eat them.  So I made chicken sandwiches and chicken enchiladas, and chicken and rice casserole (stay tuned for that one).  The rest of the chicken went into the freezer.

The enchiladas were pretty basic.  The filling was:
frozen mixed peppers
black beans
cream cheese (just a teeny bit)
chili powder

I used whole wheat tortillas.

I mixed some spicy enchilada sauce from the freezer with tomato sauce to cut the heat.  Didn't work.  Still too spicy for the kiddo.  Spread the sauce liberally and topped with cheese.  I had extra sauce leftover, which I tossed.  I've started to do that more, rather than try to work it in somewhere else.  Not frugal, but it beats leaving it in the fridge for 5 days and then tossing it.

Strawberry season is here!  Bought some at the farmer's market, and made a yummy salad with mixed greens, berries, and toasted walnuts.  Almonds would be better, but I had walnuts.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I finally cooked ... and banana chocolate chip bars

Well, after returning from a camping trip - which is stressful enough, with needing to put away camping gear - and worse in this case because we borrowed a bunch of camping gear - we were hit with head lice.  And by "we", I mean the kindergartener.  So that meant the week became LESS about putting away the camping gear and MORE about de-lousing the house.

This meant 2 trips to the laundromat to do four triple loads of laundry each (couch covers, every pillow and duvet we own, clothing, hats).  Needless to say, Domino's was on the menu.

But by Thursday, I had finally the energy to cook.  And what did I make?  The house staple, of course, skillet spaghetti.

This version had a variety of bits and pieces.  Spaghetti, marinara, chickpeas (that I'd previously cooked and put in the freezer), leeks, bell pepper, parsley, and spices.  It was yummy.  Sorry for the fuzzy photo.

From there, we had visitors over the weekend (um...close family...and we put them up in a hotel, just in case), so there was WAY too much eating out.  Bad me.  But I have a few more weeks to get back on track so I can avoid last month's "wow I've gained 10 lbs in the last 4 weeks, yikes".  In fact, last week I lost 0.2 lbs, but then again, the ENTIRE family got a haircut.

I also made banana chocolate chip bars.  These are a recipe from my mother-in-law.  I've never made them, but they seem to be a staple for birthdays when I'm back east.  Knowing that spouse's family loves them, and that I have frozen bananas (in the peel) on hand all the time, it seemed like a good thing to try.  I think mine were a little thick because of the organic butter.  Still tasty!  And as you can see by the pan, well-received.

Banana Chocolate Chip Bars
3/4 c. softened butter
2/3 c. sugar
2/3 c packed brown sugar.  Whoops. I forgot this entirely. Didn't even see it there on the recipe. They were still good.
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla
2 mashed bananas
2 c. flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips

Cream butter and sugars until fluffy.  Add egg and vanilla and beat well.  Stir in bananas.

Mix flour, baking powder and salt in a separate bowl and mix well into wet mixture.  Stir in chocolate chips. 

Spread in greased and floured 9x13 pan and bake at 350 for 25-30 min.  Cool and cut into bars.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Camping! Food and fun

So over the long holiday weekend, we drove to Joshua Tree National Park to go camping.  This is a 4 to 6 hour trip, depending on which way you go, the traffic, and the number of potty stops.  This is our 4th trip to go camping there.  Back in the late 90's, spouse and I took a driving tour of the southwest, which included a hotel night in Kingman, camping at the Grand Canyon, a B&B in Sedona, a friend's house in Santa Fe, a motel in Alamagordo, family's house in Tucson, and camping in Joshua Tree.

The last 3 trips have been the last 3 years with our friends and neighbors.  The first time, I felt like a newbie and relied on them a lot for guidance.  This last time, I felt like an old pro - in part because we went camping last summer to the Grand Canyon.  Practice does make perfect!

To start, my camping food tends to be cold or "just add water".  Simple things like PB&J, carrots and apples, granola bars, nuts, chocolate.  The just add water list includes instant oatmeal or cup o noodles (yes, I know they have MSG, but it's not a staple in my diet I swear).  People have different ideas of "camping food", and it will depend on your experience, location, and gear.  People who have campers, RV's or vans with stoves and fridges might have to make very few adjustments to their regular diet (only the amount they can store).  In fact, I'd wager that 1/2 of the campsites had RV's, and 90% of them did not even use the picnic table, grill, or campfire.  People who only  have a cooler and no way to cook, are going cold.

We fall in the middle.  We have a cooler, and a thermoelectric cooler (this was a new purchase).  And it was butt cold.  So this expanded our repertoire to other foods like eggs, bacon, milk, and cheese.  The fact that it was butt cold means that I could take potatoes and onions and bread, and they would keep well in the car (no cooler).  We also have a propane grill (very small one).

On this trip, we tried some new things.  I tried my hand at "foil packet cooking" over the campfire.  I must say that it turned out very well.  It helps that my husband had to camp out for work a few weeks before and had some tips.  I cooked up some potatoes, onions, rosemary, peppers, and tofurkey sausages, with spices.  Lots of olive oil.  Would have been better without the sausages.


After (with some cheese on top)

I also tried cooking bacon and eggs on the propane grill.  I learned that these cook better directly on the lower rack, but at a low temp.  This also goes for stovetop rice or noodles - which we cooked on the fire also.  I threw some fresh broccoli from the CSA in with the cheesy rice, and it was delish.

I also  made a lot of hot cocoa and hot tea, and discovered these instant packets of Starbucks coffee.  We had a night of noodles, veggies, and hot dogs (not for me, but for the rest).

All in all, it was quite a good experience, despite the upper 20's weather in a tent at night.  Camping can be a frugal and fun adventure.  This trip itself involved:

Gas: $81
Entrance to the park: $15
- 3 nights camping one site: $10x3
- 2 nights camping 2nd site: $10x2
- Minus cost of sharing: $20 (we shared our 2nd site with others the last 2 nights.  We needed a space to put the Taj Mahal tent for the visiting family - they needed a place to pop up a tent and the fire pit/table).
Total cost of 3 nights: $30.  Which is what it would cost if we went by ourselves.
Propane: $12
Water: $15 (you have to take in all your water in JT)
Firewood: $40 (definitely needed on this trip!)
Lunch on the way there: $20

Total: $213 for 4 days, 3 nights.  A pretty cheap vacation!

Sometime later, I hope to go over the summary of the "gear" that we have/used. We bought a few things in preparation for this trip.   I'll have to calculate "cost per use".  A quick back-of-the-envelope calculation shows we have spent about $1080 on camping gear (a lot of our gear came as gifts), and more than half of that is the Thule box/rack system for on top of our car.

Camping Update to Come!

We spent the long holiday weekend camping in Joshua Tree National Park.  I took a few pics and diligently wrote in my vacation journal, with the intent of discussing the food, fun, and frugality of camping.

Then my son got sent home with head lice.  Lovely.  So the last few days have been a flurry of vacuuming, laundry, and hair-checks.  And we are all sporting nice new 'dos (my son a buzzcut).  The parents have appeared to escape the little buggers, amazing since we were sandwiched in a tent for 3 nights.  Then again, I read that lice don't hatch in below 68F, and it was butt cold at JT - as in, 28F nighttime, 60F daytime.

On a side note, I think we're allergic to my sister in law's family.  Last time they visited was Pres Day 5 years ago...and we all had the stomach flu and put them up in a hotel instead of hosting.  This time...I'm thinking it might be better again to put them up in a hotel for the one night.  Or maybe Pres Day week is just a bad time to come visit!
So...stay tuned.  I'll get to it.  Promise.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Key Lime Bars and Homemade Rolls

So, the problem with me blogging a day or two after making something is that I'm too tired to actually type up the recipes.  I'm sorry.

On Saturday, I made an early V-day gift for my spouse (who hates chocolate) - key lime bars from last month's Taste of Home cookbook.  It's got a crust of vanilla wafers and nuts and butter, a first layer of cream cheese and sugar (and I added the zest of the limes), and then an egg/lime juice layer.  Very tasty, but could be a bit tarter.  I can't imagine what it would have been without the lime zest (which wasn't called for in the recipe).

Last night we had soup and rolls.  I was going to make Split Pea Soup, but had a bit of food poisoning or something from a bad burrito on Friday night.  Or maybe I just have a sensitive stomach.  But really, I generally have an iron stomach.  Instead I opted to make the rolls using the bread machine recipe and open up a carton of Imagine garden tomato soup (low sodium).  With kale chips.

Tonight I roasted a bunch of veggies...fennel, beets, brussels sprouts, and onions (can you guess what we got from the CSA?)  Turns out, my kid doesn't like fennel either.  Hub and I don't care for it either.  Served with rice pilaf from a box and frozen breaded chicken.  A working mom's best friend.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Black Bean Chili and Beer Bread and GREENS

Lots of greens this week from the farm.  And I had a head cold most of last week, so I wasn't feeling the green veggies.  So I'm playing catch up.  Salad for lunch with "spicy greens" - which my coworker said looked like lawn clippings.  Tasted a bit like it too. :)  Actually, there was probably a little dandelion in there.  I topped it with leftover tri-tip and some balsamic vinaigrette.  I keep some Trader Joe's dressing in my work fridge.
Broccoli and bok choy, with a cheese and tri-tip quesadilla

I've also been catching up on other greens.  Yesterday, it was kale chips (with the beer bread and black bean chili).  Today, it was stir-fried purple broccoli and bok choy (and leftover potato kale/cabbage soup).

Spicy greens, broccoli, kale, chard, red cabbage, bok choy.  I've been going nuts with the greens.

For the Super Bowl, I decided to make two recipes that came via email from Farmgirl Fare. They looked perfect.  I'm not a huge football fan (unless we're talking the Steelers), and truth be told, we turned the game on around half time (I was cooking dinner and said "is that MADONNA? What decade is it?", and started watching somewhere in the 4th quarter.  Spouse isn't a football fan either.

These recipes were delicious.  The beer bread was tasty (and is the only way I'm gonna get beer for awhile), and the chili was awesome too.  I added some roasted poblano peppers, because I found them in the freezer.  I get a ton of them over the summer at the farm, and roast and freeze, then forget about them.  Some are really spicy and some are not, and I'm leery of adding too many to my food because of the kid factor.  Me, I love spice.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Oven Roasted Tri tip

Now, I didn't remember to take a picture.  Dinner was running a bit late.  But you's tri tip.

I googled oven roasted tri tip, and got a few new recipes.  Wasn't sure where the old one was.  Most recipes call for roasting at 450F for a short period of time.  Brown on the outside, rare on the inside...yum yum.  Like on the grill.  2 problems with that:

1.  I'm pregnant.  Gotta make sure it's cooked through.
2.  If we cook meat in our oven at 450F, our smoke alarm goes off.  Every time.

So I found a new recipe on that called for low and slow and a dry rub.  350F for an hour.  I keep forgetting that my grassfed beef tri tip comes in a package of two.  You'd think I'd know that by now.  Anyway, I put on the rub on both and tossed it in the oven.

"Safe" is medium rare and 145F.  Medium is 160F.  Ours came out at 160F.  And you know?  It was tender and delicious.  I think.  Because I'm still congested.  And I can't taste anything.  But my boys gobbled it up.  And my son's not much of a meat eater (probably because I was mostly vegetarian when I was pregnant).  But he loved it.

Served with a winter favorite soup of potatoes and dark leafy greens.  Today spiced with parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme.  Couldn't taste it either.

Whole Foods Apple Berry Baked Oatmeal

I have been baking a lot lately. I'm not quite sure why.  For sure, I love fresh-baked goodness for breakfast, and it's nice to control your ingredients.  For example: my bread machine (Panasonic) has a sunflower cracked wheat bread recipe.  The recipe calls for 100% whole wheat flour, but I've always subbed about half bread flour, figuring that I wouldn't like the taste/consistency of the 100% whole wheat.  That has always been my experience.  But recently, we were out of bread flour, so I made it as intended, and it was DELICIOUS!  Score!

In any event, since I have energy to bake now, I've been trying lots of new things. One of my friends posted a link to this recipe on her facebook page, and I thought it sounded yummy enough to try.  And it was!  It's great warm with some Greek yogurt and a drizzle of maple syrup.

Here's to hoping my energy level stays for the rest of the pregnancy.  I'm hoping to have enough energy to fill my freezer with meals before I go out on mat leave.  First I have to get rid of this cold.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Frugal Healthy Simple + 1 - and my 600th post!

Well, if you were wondering why I had a string of months where I just wasn't posting that often and my meals seemed uninspired...there was a reason.

We are adding to our family this summer, and our dear kindergartener is getting a baby brother.  The first trimester really takes it out of you.  The second trimester has been MUCH better.  But now I have a cold.  Ah well.
Yikes!  Hold on tight, it's gonna be a crazy ride!