Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Chicken Parmesan Chicken Strips with Pesto Spaghetti

I think this one is a real original- a bit of a messy process, but worth it!

Chicken Parmesan Chicken Strips:

The Recipe has 3 major components, the breading, the chicken/cheese, and the sauce.

The Sauce
I began by making a variation on my five-minute pasta sauce.  The only difference was that I added diced fresh scallion, tomato, garlic scapes, zucchini and patty pan squash (all from the bucket).  If you were making this recipe in a hurry, a regular jarred marinara would work too.

Set aside a portion of the sauce in a separate bowl.

The Breading
In a large gallon-sized ziplock bag, I combined:
  • panko bread crumbs
  • ground flax seeds
  • fresh grated Romano and Parmesan
  • garlic salt
  • fresh ground pepper
  • Penzey's minced onions

The Chicken and Cheese
Then, I cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts into strips.  I also cut fresh mozzarella cheese into strips about half as big at the chicken strips.

Working in assembly line style, I first pressed a strip of fresh mozzarella onto the strip of raw chicken.  Holding the chicken and cheese together, I rolled them first in the pasta sauce and then into the bread crumbs until the whole thing was covered.  The breaded strips went onto a greased cookie sheet, one at a time until all of the chicken was used.  I discarded any of the sauce and bread crumbs that touched the raw chicken.

I baked the chicken strips on the convection setting at 350 degrees for about half an hour, turning the strips over halfway through. 

When they were done, the chicken was moist and the cheese was wonderfully gooey.  We topped them with more of the pasta sauce (the portion that had not touched the raw chicken!).  So good- and the kids ate them too!

I served the chicken strips with Pesto Spaghetti

Pesto Spaghetti

Combine in the food processor (roughly these portions because, of course, I didn't measure)
  • 2 cups of fresh basil
  • 1/3 cup of pine nuts
  • 2 chopped garlic scapes
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • enough olive oil to keep the mixture moist
I tried to put them all in at once, although in hindsight I would've done the pine nuts alone first.

When those ingredients were well blended, I added about 2/3 of a cup of freshly grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses.  I blended everything together in the food processor, adding a little more oil, until the texture seemed right.

Later, I boiled a mix of white and whole wheat spaghetti noodles and then tossed in about half of the pesto until the spaghetti was lightly coated in the pesto.  A perfect side dish!

The final product

I was trying to capture the cheesiness- not so much on the iphone ) :

 No complaints from Bailey

Bryce, who refused to taste the pesto when I was making it, loved it on the spaghetti.  I still haven't told him what he ate.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Inconvenience Food

Last night I screwed up white rice.  Yup, white rice- the kind that you measure, dump into boiling water, throw a cover on, and wait 5 minutes.  I also forgot to turn on the steamer to cook the snap peas.  All in all, dinner was terrible, and it wasn't completely my fault.

As much as I love to cook, I do try to keep convenience food in the freezer for those nights when a fast meal is needed.  I had been out of town since Thursday afternoon, so it was slim pickings for dinner on Sunday night.  Cue the frozen fish sticks.  Ughh.  Who ever thought fish sticks were a good idea?  Truth be told, I used to be ok with fish sticks.  They were quick and they filled the hole when necessary.  However, since I've switched to eating mostly whole, fresh food, my tastes have changed considerably.  I thought that they were bland, salty, and well, just plain nasty.  To top it off, I grabbed a boxed rice mix from the depths of my cupboard.  It was an Uncle Ben's wild rice mix.  Sounded good.  However, I didn't realize that it was a "garlic and olive oil" blend.  To put it mildly, the vampires avoided our household last night- Peeeyuuuu.  And that's coming from someone who loves garlic.  That's why the white rice came into play, the mix smelled, well...inedible.  The white rice was backup.

The irony of the whole meal was that I screwed it all up.  I had too little water in the instant rice and forgot to turn on the snap peas, which were the only saving grace of the whole meal.  So, why can I cook fairly complex dinners, yet screw up some crappy convenience foods?  Ownership.  Because there was nothing creative or interesting about the meal, I was so distracted and disinterested that I messed stuff up.

I think I'll be steering clear of the frozen foods section for a while.

So, if you're reading this, please add to the comments some convenience foods that you do like.  I'm interested to see some options that are better than fish sticks.  Go.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Whole-Wheat Wet Burritos with Kale

When I was Bryce's age, I was obsessed with this little restaurant in Escanaba called The Station Bar that had the world's best burritos- saucy, greasy, cheesy, yummy!   Every now and then, I still get a hankering for a "wet burrito."  There is only one place here in Marquette (Vangos) that even comes close, but they only do them as a special on Tuesday nights. Tonight was not Tuesday, so what was I to do?  Make them myself!

I won't lie and call this health food, although I tried to add my trademark healthy twist. 

Whole-Wheat Wet Burritos with Kale:

I started by browning the meat in a large pan.  I used a pound of local grass-fed ground beef.  When the meat was almost fully cooked, I added:
  • half of a sliced onion
  • a purple pepper (from the bucket)
  • chopped kale (from the bucket)
  • a dash of Penzey's Chili Powder
  • 4 tablespoons of Penzey's Bold Taco seasoning
Then, I spread whole-wheat tortillas with refried beans and added some of the meat/veggie mixture. 

I browned the stuffed tortillas, one at a time, in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil.  This just made them a bit brown and crispy, which really added to the texture of the final product.

I placed the fried burritos in a glass baking dish with a small amount of enchilada sauce in the bottom.
(I ended up with 10 burritos and used one 9x13 pan and one 8x8 pan).  I baked it at 350 for about 30 minutes, and then topped with shredded cheddar cheese and sliced jalapenos.  I baked it for about 7 more minutes to melt the cheese. 

We topped our burritos with what we liked- I chose:
  • chopped lettuce (from the bucket)
  • sour cream
  • salsa
  • guacamole
It was delicious!  You would never know that there was one healthy thing about this meal.  Sure beats Taco Bell!
 a pan of cheesy goodness
 how can this not make you hungry?
 Hmmmm...what is that?
 I guess it's pretty good

I'd like to say that Bryce inherited my love for the perfect wet burrito.  Unfortunately this was not a huge hit for him.  I have a heck of a time getting him to try foods that are "mixed together."  Of course, it was at least ten thousand degrees in our house tonight and eating was not on his mind all day.  Oh well, the rest of us enjoyed our meal!

Michigan French Toast

I thought that my breakfast was noteworthy this morning as all the main ingredients were from Michigan.  In fact, the majority were from right up here in da UP.

Michigan French Toast

  • 3 eggs (from a local farm)
  • a splash of vanilla almond milk
  • Penzey's Cinnamon and Vanilla Sugar
  • a splash of Penzey's Vanilla Extract
  • a few spoonfuls of ground flax seed
Bread- cracked wheat bread from Marquette Bakery, thickly sliced

Topped with:
  • strawberries (from the bucket)
  • black raspberries and blueberries- Michigan grown from the Farmer's Marquette
  • real maple syrup, made in the UP
Soak the bread in the batter.  Spray a frying pan with cooking spray.  Add the bread to the heated pan and cook until golden brown.  Top and enjoy.  What a great way to start the day!

Ooh-la-la, eh?

Five Minute Pasta Sauce

I know I can't be the only mother out there whose children are obsessed with plain pasta.  Well, in our case it isn't exactly plain, it's called "garlic noodles" because of the large quantity of garlic salt that tops it.  A blob of butter, garlic salt, and Parmesan cheese- and not fresh Parmesan, the tasty powdered stuff that comes in the green can (although I do admit liking to the stuff).  Yup.  Of all the delicious things I can cook, what do they always want?  Garlic noodles.  At least they will eat the whole wheat pasta, so I don't feel so bad feeding it to them as a meal. 

On Saturday afternoon, the kids put in their usual request for a weekend lunch of garlic noodles.  Of course, they each devoured a bowlful.  After they were done eating, Lee and I looked at the pot of bland goodness on the stove and decided that it needed something.  It was too hot and I was too hungry to get creative- so I invented the super simple Five Minute Pasta Sauce.  And, hey, it was pretty darn good!

Five Minute Pasta Sauce: (no chopping needed!)

  •  one can of diced tomatoes (I swear by Muir Glenn tomatoes for fresh taste!)
  • torn fresh basil, parsley, and oregano (from the bucket)
  • Penzey's dehydrated onions
  • a spoonful of jarred minced garlic
  • a generous sprinkling of Penzey's Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle
  • salt, pepper, and Penzey's Black and Red (to give it some kick)
  • a splash of white wine
Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Much tastier than plain old garlic noodles again. Saturday lunch may never be the same...

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Snap Judgements and Cookies

Warning- this post has little to do with food, unless you count the fact that the incident that I'm about to describe took place at the bakery after picking up my produce bucket- ha ha.  It's just one of those ah-ha moments that I wish to share.

Yesterday, after picking up my produce bucket, I decided to stop at the bakery.  I knew it was  bad idea.  I had just woken up both kids from their naps, because I didn't want them to sleep until suppertime  I was paying for it because both kids were in a rotten mood.  Bryce was especially grouchy and sullen. 

That voice in the back of my head was saying, "Don't run an errand, don't run an errand, don't take these kids out of the car.  They are not fit for public." 

But the other voice was saying, "The kids have been loving toast for breakfast, and we ran out of bread.  It's just one quick stop."

The second voice won- followed by the promise of a cookie if we could survive without a fuss.  I should've listened to the first voice and saved myself a bit of grief.

Anyhow, I went into the bakery, dragging one grouchy miserable kid in each hand.  I waited my turn at the counter, deciding what tasty bakery goodies I wanted to bring home today.  The kids sat down at a small child-sized table nearby.  I could do this.  Two minutes and out, right?  Well, a little battle about who was going to sit closest to the table began.  Bryce pulled it his way.  Bailey pulled it hers.  Bryce pulled it his way, and one of those ear-splitting, two-year old toddler screams broke through the quiet calm of the bakery.  I stepped over, gave them "the look" and continued with my selections.  Not 30 seconds later, the table battle ensued again.  Pull, tug, pull, tug, MIIIIIIINNNNNEEEEE.  I turned to break up the carnage, when the ladies behind me covered their ears dramatically as one said to the other, all while shooting me with eye-daggers, "I can't take it in here.  Let's go."

I quickly apologized to lady at the counter for scaring away her customers.  She reassured me that it was ok and that those ladies were driving her just as crazy, complaining about how everything they wanted was sold out.  It pays to be a regular I guess.

The whole affair really got me thinking, though.  I'd be lying if I said my kids were perfect.  They are by NO means perfect.  But, I am used to getting nothing but compliments in public.  We can go to any restaurant, grocery store, party, social gathering, park, etc and we rarely have an issue.  I always hear about how cute, polite, well behaved, smart, etc they are.  This was the first time ever that someone had looked at my children with utter disgust- and it hurt.

I wish I could've been quicker with my reaction.  I wish I could've said something smart or sassy back to those ladies, but nothing came out of my mouth.  All the good ideas come hours later.  Grrrrrrrrr.

The reason I write this is to remind people not to make snap judgements.  I've gotten so much better at this since I've had children of my own, but I certainly could do better.  When a kid is having a moment in public- a meltdown, a fit, an attitude- please don't automatically assume that the child is bratty or the parents are useless.  Maybe the child has special needs that you can't "see."  Maybe the child is going through a rough time at home- a divorce, illness, or death in the family.  Or, most likely, the child is just having a craptastic day.   Heck, we all have bad days- we've all grumbled at the waitress who messed up our order, became impatient with the slow cashier in training, or blurted a choice word at the driver who cut us off.  Adults have their moments and kids do too. 

Instead think, is there anything small I can do to help?  Can I give the child a distracting compliment? (hey I really like your race car shirt!)  Can I hold the door for the struggling mom with a two year old, an infant seat, and 3 shopping bags?  Can I let the frazzled dad with the fussing preschooler step in front of me in the grocery line?  Even a sympathetic smile can make a big difference, and it is so much better than an eye roll and a look of disgust. 

However one positive came out of this incident.  I got to withhold the cookies I bought (they certainly didn't deserve the treat), so I am currently enjoying a delicious, sweet, almondy, frog shaped cookie.  Yum.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

All the food groups in one simple meal

It was almost 7:00 tonight after a very busy day, when I realized I hadn't thought about supper yet- oops.  I had already been out for one walk (alongside Bryce riding his New Lightning McQueen bike), one bike ride adventure to Tourist Park with the kids in the bike trailer, and a nice evening walk with a friend-which the kids ran for half of.  We were definitely in need of some healthy food energy!  Here are the simple recipes:

Breakfast Burritos:

I scrambled together eggs, red and yellow peppers, and onions with salt, pepper, and Penzey's Black and Red.  Put the cooked egg mixture inside of soft burrito shells and add black beans, shredded cheddar, and salsa.  Top with guacamole and sour cream.  Super simple and packed with veggies, protein, and dairy.

What is that tasty drink?  Why, it's the missing food group- fruit!

Strawberry-Spinach Smoothie: 

In the magic bullet, blend together:
  • frozen strawberry puree (I made this a few weeks ago when I had too many strawberries!)
  • frozen spinach puree
  • one fresh banana
  • a splash of almond milk
  • a few drops of vanilla extract
  • orange juice
 Hmmmm...what's she trying to trick me into?
 I like it!
 I guess I'll have some more!!

Am I crazy to bring a two year old and a four year old, by myself, for a few mile ride on the bike, stop at a playground to play, and then go for a little hike in the woods to throw rocks?  Sometimes I worry that these crazy impromptu adventures are a disaster waiting to happen.   So am I crazy?  Maybe I am, but we usually have a great time!  Here's some pictures of why we were so hungry and tired tonight.
 Bryce tackles the big slide
 And Bailey tries the little one
 Cooling down after all that playing
 Tossing some rocks in what's left of the Dead River at Tourist Park
 Nice toss!
Check out that form...and those cute shoes

Monday, July 11, 2011

Lasagna Soup

Lasagna soup is a recipe that has been hanging around the tables in my family for quite a few years.  My aunt reminded me tonight that my dad cooked a batch of  lasagna soup for all the ladies at my baby shower with Bryce- so clearly, it's nothing new.  I make it fairly frequently for my family, but tonight's pot of lasagna soup was the best one ever!  It must've been all the farm fresh ingredients- yum.

Lasagna Soup:

Start with a pound of Italian sausage.  I used the whole hog Italian sausage from Seeds and Spores that I bought at the farmer's market a few weekends ago (don't worry, it's been in the freezer).  I browned up the sausage and added some minced garlic, a generous sprinkle of Penzey's Black and Red, and a dash of Penzey's Chili Powder.  We like our food a bit spicy!

When the meat was almost done, I added a bowl of cut vegetables (many of which were from the bucket):
  • celery
  • onions
  • kale
  • fresh spinich
  • carrots
  • garlic scapes
  • basil and oregano
  • oyster mushrooms (I think I'm in love with these!)
It's a lot of cutting and peeling with all these veggies, but when you have the cutest four-year-old little chef in town, it can actually be fun.  Most people would think I was insane letting Bryce use a knife to chop veggies, but I want my kids to be knowledgeable and comfortable in the kitchen starting at a young age.  I'd rather have him learn the right way to use tools with me right next to him then to find a knife or peeler when I'm not there, use it inappropriately, and get hurt.  As a bonus, I find that the more I include Bryce in meal preparation, the more interested he is in eating the food.  I can always sneak some vegetables into him, too, because he's much more willing to try new veggies when they are raw.

Anyhow, enough of my tangent.  After the meat and veggies are together in the pot, I continued to saute them until the veggies began to get soft.  I then added:
  • One large can of diced tomatoes
  • One  box (16 oz) of organic chicken broth
  • Penzey's Italian Herbs
  • a bit more salt and pepper to taste
I simmered the soup on low for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.  When it was close to supper time, I boiled (in a separate pot) a half bag of whole wheat gobletti noodles.  Any noodles will do, though.  I like the recipe with bow ties, too!  You can cook the noodles directly in the broth to save a pot, but I find that I get carried away and add so many noodles that they suck up all the broth.  I am better controlled when I add precooked noodles a little at a time.  I simmered the soup for a few more minutes so that the noodles could pick up the flavor of the broth.

Now here's the secret that makes it "lasagna soup."

In the bottom of each soup bowl, I added 5 or 6 cubes of mozzarella cheese.  When the hot soup is poured on the cheese, it melts into tasty little surprises in your bowl- fun and kid friendly!

So tasty served with garlic bread and a farm fresh salad!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

My Greek Chicken Casserole gamble

I love to invent new meals.  But, as much as I say I "invent" recipes, I do usually base my ideas off something I've eaten, seen, read about, or, at the very least, can imagine what it might taste like.  There's always an end result in mind.

Tonight I took a gamble.  I cooked something without any idea about how it would turn out.  I made it up completely as I went.  I started with some leftover cooked chicken and the idea of a casserole.  Did I want Mexican?  Italian?  American?  I couldn't decide.  So I went out on a limb and tried Greek because I'd never heard of a Greek casserole.  This is what I did.

In a saute pan, I combined (all from the bucket, except the minced garlic and bacon)
  • sliced onions
  • sliced garlic scapes
  • oyster mushrooms
  • fresh spinich
  • parsley
  • oregano
  • basil
  • minced garlic
  • precooked bacon
I sauteed all those ingredients with a pat of Earth Balance and added salt, pepper, Penzey's Black and Red, and a dash Penzey's Hot Mustard powder.

I put the sauteed mixture into a casserole dish and added in the cooked, leftover chicken, cooked orzo pasta, a can of cream of onion soup, and a blob of cream cheese.  I cooked it, covered, at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Then, I removed the cover and topped with crushed blue corn tortilla chips and crumbled feta, and then cooked it for another 10 minutes.

I made no promises to my family.  Was it going to be good?  Horrible?  I honestly had no idea how this would turn out.

First thing Lee said: This is good!

He didn't even know that there were mushrooms in there- shhhhhh.

Whew, I took a gamble and won!  The only thing I would do differently is to add only a half can of cream of onion because the casserole was a little too sticky- which can be a danger of orzo pasta.  Or, I might've used a different kind of small pasta.  Hmmm....might have to try this one again with a twist.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Spaghetti Carbonara- a family affair

Last weekend, over a family dinner at The Vila Capri, my brother John, my husband Lee, and I got into a conversation about spaghetti carbonara.  It's something that Lee's always enjoyed, but I'd never thought of cooking myself.  John, after dining on real carbonara in Italy a few years ago, explained that he'd been trying to perfect his carbonara technique.  Of course, I had to try to make it for myself a few days later.  And, of course, I needed to put my own healthy spin on it using ingredients from the bucket.

I have to give John some credit in this recipe as he showed me how to assemble it all in the end.

I'll call it- Magic Bullet Whole-Wheat Spaghetti Carbonara

First I chopped finely these ingredients (one at a time) in the magic bullet:
  • 5 small onions- from the bucket
  • 6 leaves of basil and a few sprigs of oregano- from the bucket
  • 4 pieces of pre-cooked bacon
I added these into a sautee pan with olive oil and minced garlic.  I also added 4 more slices of pre-cooked bacon ripped into larger chunks.  I sauteed it until brown, sprinkled it with Penzey's Black and Red and salt and set it aside.

I then cooked a little over a pound of spaghetti noodles (a mix of 2/3 whole wheat pasta and 1/3 regular white).

As the noodles cooked, we beat together 5 organic eggs and a half a cup of finely ground Parmesan cheese.  I grated the cheese by tossing a half a wedge of fresh Parmesan into the Magic Bullet and grinding it into a powder.

This is the tricky part, and the part that I have to credit John's help!

When the noodles were done cooking, we set about a cup of the hot water aside and drain.  Immediately, we returned the hot pasta to the pot and add the egg-cheese mixture.  John tossed the hot noodles and egg mixture using two spaghetti forks.  He added the hot water a little at a time until the noodles were coated.  It's important not to "scramble" the eggs, rather to stir and coat the noodles evenly.  When the noodles were covered, I added my bacon, garlic, onion, and herbs/spices mixture, and continued to toss it.

In the end, it was really quite delicious!  The only changes that we decided that we'd do differently next time is- mix Romano cheese with the Parmesan for a little more kick, add a bit more garlic, and use another egg or two to make the sauce a bit creamier.  Interestingly enough, Lee and I went out to dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants  and he ordered the carbonara, for the sake of research.  We both agreed that the homemade version was better- lighter and more flavorful.  Score!

The other thing on the plate is feta bread- slice a large baguette lengthwise, cover in a thick layer of Earth Balance Spread, sprinkle with garlic salt, and sprinkle with feta cheese.  Broil in the broiler (525 degrees) until brown-5-7 minutes.  I overcooked this piece a bit.

In addition- I invented an amazing side dish using a bit of the extra bacon, onion, garlic mixture.

Zucchini and Tomatoes:

In a pan with hot olive oil, I added:
  • finely chopped onion- from the bucket
  • finely chopped bacon
  • finely chopped basil- from the bucket
  • minced garlic
  • 4 medium sliced zucchinis
When the zucchinis were beginning to get soft, I added a half can of diced tomatoes, Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle, Italian Herbs, and a splash of white wine.  It was so good!  In fact, I wish I had some right now- Yum!  Sadly enough, I forgot to take a picture--so I may have to make this one again.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Pool Party Pizza

I'm a little late to add this one.  The 4th of July weekend has been  busy, busy, busy!  But, I did have a chance to do a bit of cooking on Friday night.  It was pool party pizza night!

On Friday nights I don't often cook.  We usually go out for pizza or some other type of tasty food.  There are so many incredible restaurants in Marquette, it's hard to choose.  But Friday night was different this week.  It was hot, I was comfortable sitting in my backyard, and we had a fridge full of cold beer.  Why go anywhere?

I almost always have ingredients for pizza on hand because it's a relatively quick, healthy (really it is!), and kid friendly meal.  So here's pizza- my style:

Pool Party Pizza:
  • One large pre-made whole wheat pizza crust.  For the locals, the co-op sells one that is excellent!
  • (and/or) 3 pieces of whole wheat pita bread
I usually make one large adult pizza on the big crust, and make a mini pizza for each of the kids on a pita bread.  That way, the kids don't have to be subjected to our obsession with jalapeno peppers.  The third mini pizza is all mine for lunch the next day.

Brush each of the crusts with a thin layer of olive oil and a sprinkling of Penzey's Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle and Italian Herbs. 

Start with:
  • One large can of organic pizza sauce.  The large can is enough for all 4 pizzas.
  • 3 small onions-from the bucket
  • kale and braising greens- from the bucket (pre-steamed in the rice cooker)
  • sliced mushrooms
  • 1 package of pepperoni (I like Applegate Farms nitrate free)
I purposely hide those things under the cheese so the kids don't see them and pick them off

Then add one bag of shredded mozzarella cheese.  One bag is just the right amount for the pizzas.

Top with:
  • sliced roma tomatoes
  • a few chopped leaves of fresh basil- from the bucket
  • crumbled feta cheese (this is what makes the pizza awesome!)
  • jalapeno peppers
Bake at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly browned.  Enjoy!

 Before Cooking

 The mini pizzas
After (I wish you could smell it!  Mmmmmm!)

So, there's the pizza.  Where's the pool party?  The pool party was in our backyard.  We didn't even sit down at the table!  We ate on the back porch while the kids cooled off in their kiddie pool.  Along with the pizza, we enjoyed a fresh salad with lettuce, sliced radishes, and buckwheat sprouts fresh from the bucket.  See the blog archives for the dressing recipe.  

 Eating outside is so much fun!
The pizza was a hit with the kids, and the dog.

 Bryce is saving some for later.  Austin is trying to get in on the action.

And, here's the pool party:


Just because they're cute: