Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A Week of Firsts

And it's not all food!  This was back to school week for us.  Here are my newly minted 7th and 11th graders:

In honor of back to school, I have been trying really hard to COOK.  Monday we ate chuck eye steaks and a Bag & Season mix for potatoes, as well as a mix of asparagus, corn & carrots.  Tuesday was a first for me, I actually cooked salmon.  I used a McCormick marinade for it, then sauteed it in a pan, as I was making Crash Hot Potatoes in the oven.  I added a little cheese on top of the potatoes right at the end of the cooking time.  While the salmon was very well cooked (if I do say so myself), it wasn't my favorite.  I've never been a big fan, although the boys ATE IT UP.  We will definitely do that one again.

Tonite we repeated the Apple & Sage pork chops, and I made the Cool Cucumber Salad again but without the dill.  Again, there was very little left.  Duncan actually complained when his dad tried to eat the one piece of leftover salmon for lunch!!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Sunday Ramblings

I lost my oomph today, just wasn't feeling cooking.  I did start a pot of Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup before I went to bed, using a recipe mix for it.  Connor and I ate it for brunch this morning.  Again, as in our week's theme, it was... OK.  Flavors were right, but the chicken breast was super super dry, it didn't look appetizing, and there was no real presence of the vegetables.  I sliced them thinly as the directions indicated, but I think it would have been better a little thicker.  I honestly think the whole thing cooked too long, although I followed the directions.  I won't repeat this particular recipe starter, but I will look for a different recipe to try.

We ended up eating out, I just didn't feel like cooking.  I need to make the broccoli casserole again soon before the broccoli wilts, and I am craving a hearty potato side dish.   When Connor and I were out on Saturday finishing up back to school shopping at Wally World, I picked up some Tilapia & Salmon as Charles has been craving fish.  Not sure still what we'll have tomorrow, but I don't lack ingredients, just a direction.

Anyone else get stuck?

Friday, August 23, 2013

Open House Week Food

It's the week before school in these parts, and that means open houses at the kids' school.  Tuesday night everyone ate leftovers.  Wednesday, we took advantage of a 40% off coupon and ate out at Macaroni Grill before heading to high school open house.

Thursday I was still tired, but it's back on the home cooking wagon.  With my handy dandy new skillet, I tried the Fried Round Steak recipe again.  It turned out MUCH better.  We had just plain white rice to go with it.  Duncan actually ate his this time.  It still amazes me the difference a new pan can make. 

I was so good Thursday, I even cooked lunch.  I repeated the Chicken Crescent Rolls.  This time instead of cooking my own chicken, I popped a can of chicken intended for Chicken Salad.  Charles said he liked this better.  I'm still undecided, but the canned chicken made it much quicker and easier.

On to Friday!

Tonite was a new recipe, Crock Pot Pulled Pork.  I bought a 6.25 lb piece of Boston Butt.  I should have created the rub, and then frozen the pork with it and the onions according to the recipe, but I didn't plan far enough ahead.  Instead I defrosted the pork overnight, then rubbed it first thing this morning.  My recipe also called for 4-5 lbs of pork, but I certainly had PLENTY of rub.    When we went to pull the pork, we confirmed we had enough to put half in the freezer for another meal.  We drained off the juices, then I added the BBQ sauce and let it simmer for about 20 minutes while I made my side of Cool Cucumber Salad.  Again, I was not smart tonite, I should have made the salad ahead and let it chill.  Everyone but Duncan liked the salad, he wasn't fond of the dill.   Both are definitely recipes to repeat.  When we do the pork again, we expect to thaw it, put it in a pot with BBQ sauce and heat and serve on buns.

I'm not sure what we are eating next.  It's about time to try a chicken recipe again, and I have chuck eye steaks in the freezer as well, along with hamburger.  I have some recipes to use with small potatoes, and the boys are requesting the broccoli casserole again.  Suggestions?  Links to recipes you love?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Monday's Dinner & Catch Up Thoughts

I hope everyone reading realizes this is kind of a "public" diary for me.  I really enjoy going back and reading old posts, and a blog is the best kind of girlfriend -- it listens to whatever you have to say.

I also wanted to put down a few more thoughts about Pepper Plate.  I am really enjoying have an electronic cookbook.  I don't have to print or copy down recipes I want to try.  It's much easier to keep sticky finger prints off the recipe "cards", and with these 48 year old eyes, I can set the type so I can read it.  There is also a notes section, where I can comment on how the recipe went for me.    On the negative or wish list, I wish it auto-imported from more sites.  I wish it would auto grab the yield and time so I didn't have to enter it.  I'm also not sure I like active time and total time for fields.  Prep time, cook time... I am still undecided.

I also figured I needed to record what some of my tools looked like new, so I will recognize when the time to replace them comes around again.

Here is my new skillet, my prep bowls, my knife and some dishtowels.

On to tonite's dinner -- Easy Roast Pork Tenderloin and Apples!  I have some serious pork lovers in my house.  This recipe called for one pound of pork, so I pulled out my purchase and discovered I had 3.87 lbs.  Hmm, I thought 1 lb was too small, so I sliced the piece in half, and vacuum sealed the other half and put it back in the freezer.   Then I doubled the recipe.  As a fairly newbie cook, I have a complaint.  Don't cooking experts realize how broadly "a large, shallow pan" can be interpreted?  I got the shallow part ok, but define large?  Would it be so hard to tell me a 9x13 or an 8x8??  Rant over.  I didn't double the apples & onion the recipe called for, but I did have difficulty getting everything into the pan.   I put it in for the maximum recommended time, 30 minutes.  For sides I cooked Steamfresh Asparagus and Minute Rice.  Your house will smell WONDERFUL while this is cooking.   The loin came out a little pink in the middle, so I put it back in for 10 more minutes.  Juicy, flavorful, tender... YUMM.  All four family members enjoyed dinner, and I had a serving of pork and apples to put in the fridge for leftovers.  For reference later, I paid $2.99/lb for the loin.

Not sure what we are having for dinner tomorrow, it's Open House for middle school, so it won't be a good night to cook.  Charles & Connor are asking for the Broccoli Casserole again, so that means I need a main dish that doesn't use the stove -- this planning part is hard!  We have high school open house on Wednesday.   I could make the sour cream noodle bake fairly easy, but I just don't want that.  I have a frozen gallon ziplock of my spaghetti sauce.  But I don't want that either. 

If I can get off the computer, and run to the store, I could pick up the mozzarella cheese I am missing for a brunch casserole.  Does this happen to anyone else?  You do a good deed and start to cook more, only to find you are constantly missing an ingredient and heading to the store?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sunday Supper

After my conversation with mom yesterday, I headed out to Ollie's Outlet to shop for a new skillet.  Once I got to the cookware aisle, I was overwhelmed at the piled up pans.  I found two that I thought might be similar to the one mom mentioned, but finally gave in and called her to confirm the brand of the one she has (Faberware).  With that piece of information, I selected a 12" skillet with rounded sides, also useable in the oven to 400 degrees.  I also picked up 5 stainless steel prep bowls for 0.79 each. 

Tonite's dinner plan was to use another McCormick spice card for Chicken Cacciatore.  I'm getting smarter... I actually CAREFULLY read the whole recipe and did my prep before I turned the stove top on.  Diced my chicken into cubes, chopped my onion, my celery (a substitution for the green peppers), made my breading flour mixture, and opened all the pre-measured spices.  I goofed though, and put the pepper in the spice mix, instead of in the breading flour.  Charles commented that it was a little more peppery than he liked.  Ooops.  Then I put two tablespoons of olive oil into my new skillet, and quickly discovered that I should have replaced my skillet YEARS ago.  What a huge difference cooking.  Last night's cube steak could have used the new skillet.   I also had discovered during prep that I didn't have diced tomatoes, so I made use of some rotel and the last half of a tomato in our fridge, along with my new knife and cutting board.  Again, (are you sensing a theme) I need to stop being cheap and replace my tools sooner.

The verdict?  I managed to dish out Duncan's so he didn't get mushrooms, and he at least ate a serving.  Charles liked it, and Connor had a HUGE second helping.  I served it over broad egg noodles.    One I will repeat with tweaks, just not immediately.  In researching for this blog entry, I finally found the recipe cards on the McCormick website, along with a bunch of cool looking recipes.  I think I have found a new place to look for recipes!

The only thing I didn't like about McCormick is that the site isn't terribly compatible with the recipe app I am using, Pepper Plate.  So far I am really liking PP.  It has a widget like Pinterest that can grab recipes, allows me to add recipes to a shopping list, and in general is easy to navigate.  Does anyone else have a recipe app for their phone/tablet that they like?

Up next... Pork Loin!!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Saturday Shoppin' and Cookin'

Well, it has been a good culinary day for a rainy Saturday.  I decided to skip my trip to Charlotte for the CK Convention due to the rain.  I opted instead to go to Sam's Club and check out my options.  I saw some cookware options that I'll keep in mind, and picked up a pair of 7" Santoku knives.  I also grabbed a stack of 30 aluminum 12x10 pans to support some future freezer cooking for less than $6.  I found a good priced bag of boneless skinless chicken thighs, some sliced mushrooms for an upcoming recipe, noted ground beef prices ($3.19 /lb) and pondered, but passed on whole pork and beef loins.   Grabbed some Minute Rice (I was out after the Shrimp Creole), some Pam cooking spray, and garlic powder and onion powder.  I saw some good prices/quantities on things like baking potatoes, cheese, chicken breasts, milk, garlic (I almost bought the fresh garlic, but decided I couldn't use up 3 lbs worth by 9/23!), diced tomatoes, as well as various oils and spices.

I need to clean and reorganize my food cabinets if I keep stocking up like this!  I am starting to run out of room.  I bought yet more spices at Food Lion this week (rosemary, thyme, cayenne pepper, poultry spice, parsley) as well as a 1/2 pork loin, a pork butt roast, pork chops, cubed steak...

Today I repeated the Twice Baked Potatoes that were such a hit.  And they improved!  We made eight potatoes and froze four for later.  I also tried a new recipe, Fried Round Steak.  The steak was ok, but I think my pan-frying judgment needs some improvement. 

I really am feeling energized by this rebirth of home cooking at our house.  I still have a ways to go, and I need to start putting some stuff in the freezer for nights when I just don't feel like it.  I also think an investment in a better skillet is needed sooner than later.  The replacement cookware can wait, but the skillet not so much.  Mom pointed me in the direction of Ollie's Outlet so I am headed there tomorrow to look at one she's had for a while.  Pampered Chef and Tupperware are calling my name too to improve my tools.  We shall see!

Friday, August 16, 2013

Late Week Cooking Update

After the chicken casserole fiasco, I lost my footing a bit.  We ate out (planned) on Wednesday.  Thursday I went grocery shopping; $200 later I came home with more spices and lots of yummy ingredients for new recipes.  We ordered pizza, but I did try to make a Crock Pot Chex Mix.    We were not impressed.  It was soggy, plus somehow, we managed to burn it.  Another one bites the dust.

Tonite, I redeemed myself with my mother's Shrimp Creole.  I haven't had this in years!  Mom used a product called "Hunt's Tomato Sauce Special" which they don't make anymore, so I had to consult with her on a replacement.  Everyone ate TWO helpings.  My husband normally doesn't like spicy stuff, so I was tickled pink, plus this is a fast easy recipe.  SCORE!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Adventures in Cooking with Carolyn

Long time no write, right?

I have a new obsession... trying to cook again.  We have been really awful about eating at home in the last year or so.  If we eat at home, it's more heating food than cooking, unless it's straight out of a box and follow the 5-or-less steps.  I was also inspired by one of Charles' cousins.  She's a newlywed, and is trying out Once A Month Cooking.  Don't we all want company when we try something new?

Lately things seem to be breaking like crazy around our house.  TV, dishwasher... the list is getting LONG!  And where is the fluff in our budget?  In our eating out.  Hence the OCD.

So we are on week two of me trying to do something about that.  Yesterday I finally called it "Adventures in Cooking with Carolyn" and thought, hmmm, I need to blog about this.

My initial goal was to eat at home more consistently (5+ nights a week, I'd really like 6), and to try a new-to-me recipe at least once a week.  To catch you up, last week I tried a Sour Cream Noodle bake, Chicken Crescent rolls, and Twice Baked Potatoes.  If you don't count Duncan (my picky eater), all three were a hit.  All need tweaks due to user error, but definitely good!

Yesterday we tried a "spice card" I found in the store from McCormick, for Apple & Sage pork chops, and a broccoli casserole.  The pork chops were TO DIE FOR.  Juicy, flavorful... YUM. 

Tonite I tried a Chicken Casserole from the Food Network.  Meh.  I had accidentally dumped too much pepper in last night's broccoli casserole, so I was over cautious about salt and pepper tonite.  Even with that, none of us thought this one was a keeper.   It was quite a bit of work for nothing special.  I also didn't care for the bread crumb topping.  I also like precision in my recipes; "salt and pepper to taste" makes me nervous.  Ah well.

I have just one more package of chicken in my freezer, and a couple of mystery meats, and then I should have room to start fresh.  I really am stocked to start on a road to better eating!!