Greek Yogurt Based Ranch Dressing & Café Rio Creamy Tomatillo Dressing

IMG_1325

I really, really, really love ranch dressing. It’s probably one of my greatest food weaknesses.  And I really don’t care for low-fat or low-calorie ranch dressing, it’s gotta be the real stuff.  One day it occurred to me that it was probably pretty easy to make and that I might feel a whole lot better about eating it if I knew what was going into it. Not only did it turn out to be super easy to make, but after a few experiments with Greek yogurt I came up with a recipe that’s mostly yogurt-based instead of mostly mayo-based.

I win! Pass the carrots and let’s start dipping!

The great thing about this is that you can make it dip consistency or salad dressing consistency, just by adding milk to it.  I keep this recipe hung up inside my spice pantry door now so I can refer to it quickly and easily.  All the herbs as dried, but if you had any fresh on hand I bet it’d make it even tastier! After consulting a few different recipes that were already out there, here is what I’ve come up with:

  • 1 container of plain Greek Yogurt (some are 8-oz, some are 6-oz… to be honest, it doesn’t really matter)
  • 1/2 cup mayo
  • 1/2 t chives
  • 1/2 t parsley
  • 1/2 t dill
  • 1/4 t garlic powder
  • 1/4 t onion powder
  • 1/8 t salt
  • 1/8 t pepper
  • Skim milk*, to desired consistency

The easiest way to make this is to put it in a container with a lid and just shake, shake, shake.

If you stopped right before the skim milk, it’s a great consistency to serve as a dip. If you want to use it as a salad dressing, just add a few tablespoons of milk at a time and keep shaking it up until it’s as runny as you’d like it to be.

IMG_1326

IMG_1327

IMG_1328

I’ve been making my ranch this way for about a year now and I’m totally addicted. Today, I discovered that it also works great as the base for one of my other favorite dressings, Café Rio Creamy Tomatillo Dressing. My CSA box came with a whole bunch of tomatillos this week and I immediately knew it was time to make a batch of creamy tomatillo dressing.

Now to be perfectly fair, a Café Rio purist will not find this to be spot on. There’s a lot of great copycat recipes out there for the tomatillo dressing and the ones I’ve had the most success with use the Hidden Valley ranch package. Since most of them are basically starting with a ranch dressing base, I decided to experiment with my Greek yogurt ranch and see how it turned out.

(Spoiler alert: Delicious. Now I need me some pork barbacoa burrito to go with it!)

Again, I just looked at a couple recipes and kind of went with the common theme of what most of them were doing.  I mixed it all in the food processor, which made it super easy and creamy.

  • Greek Yogurt ranch dressing
  • 2-3 tomatillos, quartered
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 jalapeno, chopped & seeded
  • juice from 1/2 lime
  • 1/2 bunch of cilantro, rough chopped

If you started with a dip-consistency ranch dressing, you’ll probably want to add the milk to make it a bit runnier and more like a salad dressing. You also don’t need to chop things up really good if you’re tossing it all into the food processor (or a blender) which makes it super easy to make. 

My grocery store sells tomatillos over by the tomatoes. You remove the outer husk before chopping. The smaller they are, the sweeter they are. I still have a few leftover from my CSA this week so I think I’m going to have to try my hand at making some salsa verde next!

IMG_2005

IMG_2010

Cook Once, Eat All Week–Round 2

When I sat down to meal plan this week, I realized it was going to be one of those weeks where Matt and I wouldn’t cross paths for dinner one single time night this week between our work schedules.  We’re also about to be traveling out of a town a bunch over the next couple weekends and I wanted to try and minimize eating out while we were actually at home, so I decided to fall back on the ol’ cook-once-eat-all-week plan.  I’ve only done it one other time, despite the fact that when I first switched to working 4-10 hour days I swore it was going to be my weekly ritual.  And actually like doing it – it really only takes about half a day to do and then you’re set for the whole week, but it seems to require a lot of prep and mental gearing myself up to do it so I just hadn’t returned to it again.

Here’s the recipes from the first time around I did – they are very chicken-centric but they worked out well as far as using a lot of the same ingredients together.  This time I was lazier – I didn’t want to brainstorm 5 overlapping recipes so I just did a google search to see who had already done this I could just copy.  There were so many options out there – not recreating the wheel was DEFINITELY the way to go and makes me more inclined to continue doing this.

I ended up using a link from Self Magazine.  Here’s the link to the recipes – I won’t retype them here but I’ll just add a few pointers from my experience today in case you {or future me} wants to recreate this.

Here’s what the meal plan includes {and note how little my food actually looks like the photos from the recipes.  Ha.)

Adobo Chipotle Mini Meatloaves – to be served w/ a side green salad or quick bag of steamer veggies

IMG_1303

Spicy Thai Soup with Lime Shrimp

IMG_1302

Cheesy Beans & Shrimp Enchiladas

IMG_1305

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie (Definitely looks nothing like the photo…in fact, I really hope this one tastes better than it looks.)

IMG_1307

Vegetable & Chickpea Ragout w/ Penne*

*I purposefully made this one more saucy because I knew Matt would rather have a pasta-sauce type dish than a dish that looked more like pasta and veggies.  I didn’t combine them either b/c I didn’t know at one point during the week would eat them, but I did cook the noodles ahead of time.  (Also, I had to google “ragout” – apparently it is french for stew.  Who knew!)

IMG_1306

I can’t speak to how anything tastes yet except the shrimp soup which was very yummy.  My fingers are crossed that the rest turned out as good!  But either way, it beats Lean Cuisines or pick up.

Some pointers:

Start with a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher.  Get everything out on the counter to start with, including the bowls you’ll need and dishes you’ll put the final dish in.  Clean as you go.  I cannot highlight that step strongly enough!

IMG_1278

I know it’s not green but I print the recipes out before hand – it’s just easier for me to have physical pieces of paper when my hands get messy instead of using my iPad to look at the recipes.  I also read through each of them before I started cooking so I had an idea in my mind what I was going to be doing at each step.

I love listening to an audiobook when I’ve got a long task to do like any housework or long cooking prep.  Right now I’m listening to Steve Job’s biography which could seriously last me through cooking about 6 weeks worth of dishes.  Listening seems to make the time go faster and tasks feel less chore-like.  (Oh and the dog treat was to keep Buddy out of my way while I cooked.  It only lasted for about 5 minutes.)

(And in case it’s not obvious, that is water in my wine glass.)

IMG_1277

The nice thing about these recipes was the included grocery list and the directions included what order to cook things in.  When I did this the last time I was using my own recipes, so a pre-cooking step was (obviously) to write down all the groceries ahead of time and also to write down the order to cook things in.  There are lots of times when a sauce is simmering or a dish is the oven that you can start it on the next dish.

These dishes also had directions for how to freeze if you weren’t going to use right away.  I just cooked them all and put them in the fridge, because Matt’s more likely to microwave something than put it in the oven when he gets off a shift at midnight.  (Understandably so.)

The whole thing from start to finish only took me three hours.  Really!  And because I forced myself to stick to the clean-as-you-go rule, it was three hours from start to really and truly finished.  This is what my kitchen looked like when the last timer went off.

IMG_1310

Hurrah!  And now we have meals for the week.  I’ll try to remember to update as we taste test just in case something doesn’t make the cut – but considering these were published in a magazine, I’m guessing if anything goes wrong it’s operator error.

I must admit though – even though it only took half the morning, it’s still a tiring process.  Even my assistant was wiped out!

IMG_1300

Cook Once, Eat All Week–Round 2

When I sat down to meal plan this week, I realized it was going to be one of those weeks where Matt and I wouldn’t cross paths for dinner one single time night this week between our work schedules.  We’re also about to be traveling out of a town a bunch over the next couple weekends and I didn’t really want to fall back on doing a lot of pick up or out to eat this week, so I decided to fall back on the ol’ cook-once-eat-all-week plan.  I’ve only done it one other time, despite the fact that when I first switched to working 4-10 hour days I swore it was going to be my weekly ritual.  I actually quite like doing it – it really only takes about half a day to do and then you’re set for the whole week, but it seems to require a lot of prep and mental gearing myself up to do it so I just had returned to it again.

Here’s the recipes from the first time around I did – they are very chicken-centric but they worked out well as far as using a lot of the same ingredients together.  This time I was lazier – I didn’t want to brainstorm 5 overlapping recipes so I just did a google search to see who had already done this I could just copy.  There were so many options out there – not recreating the wheel was DEFINITELY the way to go and makes more inclined to continue doing this.

I ended up using a link from Self Magazine that I’m pretty sure I either pinned or physically tore out of the magazine once upon a time because the recipes looked really familiar.  Here’s the link to the recipes – I won’t retype them here but I’ll just add a few pointers from my experience today in case you {or future me} wants to recreate this.

Here’s what the meal plan includes {and note how little my food actually looks like the photos from the recipes.  Ha.)

Adobo Chipotle Mini Meatloaves – to be served w/ a side green salad or quick bag of steamer veggies

IMG_1303

Spicy Thai Soup with Lime Shrimp

IMG_1302

Cheesy Beans & Shrimp Enchiladas

IMG_1305

Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie (Definitely looks nothing like the photo…in fact, I really hope this one tastes better than it looks.)

IMG_1307

Vegetable & Chickpea Ragout w/ Penne*

*I purposefully made this one more saucy because I knew Matt would rather have a pasta-sauce type dish than a dish that looked more like pasta and veggies.  I didn’t combine them either b/c I didn’t know at one point during the week would eat them, but I did cook the noodles ahead of time.

IMG_1306

I can’t speak to how anything tastes yet except the shrimp soup which was yummy.  My fingers are crossed that the rest turned out as good!  But either way, it beats Lean Cuisines or pick up.

Some notes from my prep:

Start with a clean kitchen and an empty dishwasher.  Get everything out on the counter to start with, including the bowls you’ll need and dishes you’ll put the final dish in.  Clean as you go.  I cannot highlight that step strongly enough!

IMG_1278

I know it’s not green but I print the recipes out before hand – it’s just easier for me to have physical pieces of paper when my hands get messy instead of using my iPad to look at the recipes.  I also read through each of them before I started cooking so I had an idea in my mind what I was going to be doing at each step.

I love listening to a book on tape when I’ve got a long task to do like any housework or long cooking prep.  I’m listening to Steve Job’s biography which could seriously last me through cooking about 6 weeks worth of dishes.  Listening seems to make the time go faster and tasks feel less chore-like.  (Oh and the dog treat was to keep Buddy out of my way while I cooked.  It only lasted for about 5 minutes.)

(And in case it’s not obvious, that is water in my wine glass.)

IMG_1277

The nice thing about these recipes were that it told you the groceries you needed and the order you would prep things in.  When I did this the last time I was using my own recipes, so a pre-cooking step was (obviously) to write down all your groceries ahead of time and make sure you have everything before you begin but also to write down the order you are going to cook things in.  There are lots of times when a sauce is simmering or a dish is the oven that you can start it on the next dish.

These dishes also had directions for how to freeze if you weren’t going to use right away.  I just cooked them all and put them in the fridge, because Matt’s more likely to microwave something than put it in the oven when he gets off a shift at midnight.  (Understandably so.)

The whole thing from start to finish only took me three hours.  Really!  And because I forced myself to stick to the clean-as-you-go rule, it was three hours from start to really and truly finished.  This is what my kitchen looked like when the last timer went off.

IMG_1310

Hurrah!  And now we have meals for the week.  I’ll try to remember to update as we taste test just in case something doesn’t make the cut – but considering these were published in a magazine, I’m guessing if anything goes wrong it’s operator error.

I must admit though – even though it only took half the morning, it’s still a tiring process.  Even my assistant was wiped out!

IMG_1300

Baileywick Black Bean Salsa

I haven’t posted a recipe in a long time but this one was too easy and delicious to pass up.  It actually came from a cookbook that my friend Jenny gave me that was put together by parents in the school she teaches in.  (The school is called Baileywick, which is why I call it Baileywick Black Bean Salsa.  I like the alliteration.) 

IMG_0968

It is easy- there’s some chopping involved, but it took me about 15 minutes to put together.

It’s delicious. 

It’s healthy.

What’s not to love?  Make it and serve it with some scoops as a dip, or else use it to accompany tacos as a side dish or topping.   It probably goes great with margaritas or a Corona.  I’ll find out in a few months.  So enjoy and thank Jenny when you’re done for passing this cookbook along to me with this little gem in it.  Oh and while I’m bragging on her, let me just mention she was teacher of the year this year at her school.  Because it’s my blog and I can brag if I want to. 

IMG_4700

Now chop, chill and eat!

Ingredients

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed + drained
  • 1 can white shoepeg corn, drained
  • 1 chopped red pepper
  • 1 chopped red onion
  • fresh cilantro to taste
  • jalapeno, chopped (added to taste)
  • juice of 1 lg lime
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 1/2 T Adobo brand seasoning*
  • 4 T olive oil

Mix all and chill for 1-2 hours (up to overnight.)

IMG_0967

*I actually didn’t use the Adobo brand seasoning.  I just used salt and pepper.  But I was shopping in Wally world the other day and was in the international aisle and passed right by it – so it does exist and is easy to find!

IMG_4850

And, as a side note…this is the secret best place to buy spices instead of buying them from the baking aisle. 

IMG_4851

They don’t have every spice but they have a lot of the common ones – paprika, garlic, onion, parsley, cumin, chili pepper – and they less than a dollar for each bag.  You get a smaller amount, but that’s okay – does anyone ever use the spices in those jars before they go stale anyways??

So, that’s my hidden tip for today.  You’re welcome.  Now, go eat.

Cuban Toasties

This is a recipe straight from the one and only Rachel Ray, that my mom started making as her go-to appetizer and since momma always knows best, I’ve adapted it as one of mine now.  I first served it for my Christmas party, then Jamie asked me to do a repeat performance for Akanksha’s baby shower. 

It’s a pretty simple recipe to follow and, of course, it’s very tasty! I usually double it for parties and the chili sauce I use is Srichachi sauce, so I don’t use quite as much as they call for.  Maybe one teaspoon per batch?  I have also done half mayo and half greek yogurt, just to healthify things up a tiny bit.  There’s absolutely no difference in taste when I do that.  Also, I buy the pickles pre-sliced in coins which makes things a whole lot easier.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 ounces boiled deli ham slices, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
  • 3 ounces shredded Swiss cheese (3/4 cup)
  • 1/3 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons chili sauce
  • 1 teaspoon yellow mustard
  • 1 baguette, cut into 1/3-inch-thick slices, or 5 slices of white sandwich bread, quartered
  • 2 – 3 crisp dill pickles, thinly sliced

The How To:

  1. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees . In a small bowl, stir together the ham, cheese, mayonnaise, onion, chili sauce and mustard.
  2. Arrange the bread slices on a foil-lined baking sheet. Place 2 pickle slices on each slice of bread, then spread about 1 tablespoon of the ham mixture on top. Bake the toasties for 8 to 10 minutes, until golden and bubbly. Cool for a few minutes before serving.

IMG_0613

Chopped Ham

IMG_0615

Making a big mess

IMG_0616

All in…

IMG_0617

It’s not a particularly attractive recipe…

IMG_0622

Ready for toppings!

IMG_0624

Into the broiler they go!

(What’s that you say?  You’d like a photo of the finished product…. well, I whisked them off to the party and forgot to photograph them!  Blogger no-no.  But trust me, they look tasty!)

Maple & Sea Salt Pecans

I am way, way overdue in posting this but I wanted to share a recipe/tutorial from something I made for Christmas.  (Yes, Christmas – you should see how far back my “to be blogged” folder goes.  Oye.)  Anyways, I wanted to make a food gift to give to the wonderful people at my puppy dog’s daycare who love on him oh so much.  And then recipe turned out to be so good I gave a batch to my father-in-law and I think maybe my brother too.  I lost track of who I gave it to – it was nuts.

Get it?  Nuts?

Okay, sorry.  Onwards!  This was a big hit, and if you want something different from cookies or other sweets to give at the holidays, I’d highly suggest this.

Or to just make for your own eating pleasure. 

The recipe came from Food & Wine magazine.  Here’s the original link but I’ll post directions here too.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups pecans
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg white, at room temperature

IMG_0236

The How To:

  • Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the pecans on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast until they are fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let the pecans cool. Lower the oven temperature to 250°.
  • Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, toss the pecans with the maple syrup, butter, salt, cayenne and black pepper. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white until frothy. Add the egg white to the pecans and toss well.
  • Spread the pecans on the lined baking sheets in a single layer. Bake for 40 minutes, until the nuts are golden brown. Immediately loosen the pecans from the paper with a spatula. Let cool completely on the baking sheets before serving.

They can be stored in an airtight container for up to 1 week – if you can resist them that long.

IMG_0237IMG_0251

(Glass jars from IKEA)

Dinner at the Goat Lady Dairy

A lot of my dinners start off with chickens.

But never have I had a dinner that started off … meeting chickens.

IMG_7802

My friend Kate found about the dinner at Goat Lady Dairy, and told us about it and as soon as I read about it on the website, I was in.  Actually, all I had to read was “goat cheese truffles” and I was in.  So last night, Kate and Charlie, Anne and I (husbands were working, sadly) and Anne & Kate’s parents, Linda and Eddie, packed ourselves into the car and made the 50 minute drive out into the country (and it was indeed) to have dinner at the Goat Lady Dairy.

IMG_7798

Our evening started off, as I mentioned, in the chicken coop.  Steve Tate, one of the owners of the 15-year old goat farm, assured us that we would be better off not looking down at our feet while he chatted.  We happily complied.  Steve gave us a little history of how Goat Lady Dairy came to be, but more near and dear to my heart, he waxed poetic about sustainable farming.

If you’ve seen Food Inc, you know we’re in a tad bit of trouble – food wise – in this country.  And I’m not just talking about the stuff that I usually talk about – weight loss, obesity, health.  We’ve got totally disconnected from where our food comes from… and what our food is – and what that is doing to all of usThere’s a whole heckuva lotta stuff in the grocery store that your great-grandma wouldn’t even know how to identify, and I don’t think that’s a good thing.  Cheap food comes at a great cost.

Oops, guess who else can wax poetic about sustainable farming?  Sorry, I’ll just to keep myself in check here… Anyways, the point I was going to make is – I liked Food, Inc.  I thought it was informative.  But it was also a little bit IN YOUR FACE, YO and I know a lot of people had a hard time stomaching the film.  Steve was pretty much the opposite, but with the same message.  He spoke from a place of passion and purpose.  Here we all were to have a delicious farm fresh meal, and he had recognized an opportunity to minister to a captive audience about a simple idea: “Food is the problem, but food can be the solution.” (His direct quote, but I loved it.)   And we were a captive audience – indeed, we were in the chicken coop.  See if a bunch of us city folks can figure out how to work that pen latch.

Genius.  But genius delivered with a side of earnest, heartfelt truth about our food.

Oh and the food!  The food we had for dinner last night was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life.  Everything served came from the farm we were on, or a nearby local one.  Considering March isn’t exactly known to be the most generous garden month of the year, I was a little curious as to what we would be served up.  Here’s the blow by blow:

IMG_7821

A cheese tasting platter, all the cheese coming from the goats on the farm.  (They are, after all, a goat dairy.  Their cheeses can be found at Reynolda Farm Market year round, as well as I think the Krankies market in the summer.) 

The top cheese was a chevre mixed with carrots and a little bit of, I think dill?  It was called the “spring garden goat cheese.”  Amazing.  And then the next one was called “Farmer’s Cheese” – a bit similar to a feta.  The bottom one was called the “Smoked Round” which I will be buying in mass quantities to dollop generously on top of a tomato-basil-salad.  I bit into that piece of cheese and my mind went “mmmm, summer.”  The fourth one was a sweet chevre with honey and fig, and could pretty much have been dessert.

IMG_7824

Course two was a roasted sweet potato soup with a hint of thyme.  I hadn’t had enough wine to throw my manners out the window yet, or I’m certain I would have tipped the entire ramekin up and slurped it clean. 

IMG_7825

The third course was a cold kale (although previously sautéed?) salad with a sundried tomato lemon vinaigrette.  This wasn’t my all time favorite, but that’s because I’m still learning to like greens.  Not being a natural born Southerner, my palate still doesn’t quite know what to make of collards, kale and turnips.  But I want to like them – hello, nutritional powerhouse – and this was certainly a step in the right direction.  Fortunately Anne, Southern born and bred, finished off my plate for me.  I informed her that she had gotten her fair share of vitamin K and her blood would be clotting well.  “Uh huh, okay, but did you try the flower?  It tastes like PURPLE!” was her response.

It did, surprisingly, taste like purple.  (And yes, we checked.  It was okay to eat them.) 

IMG_7830

The main event was venison and pork ragu served over a bed of polenta.  Funny enough, we often had venison at my family Thanksgivings thanks to uncles who were handy with a shotgun and had a few too many Bambi’s in their backyard.  It amuses me that I now see venison on some nicer restaurant menus as a “delicacy.”  But, you can’t argue with good tasting meat right?  Right. 

IMG_7832

The next course (I know, right?!) was the infamous goat cheese truffles.  Oh my souls.  Goat cheese and chocolate?  Amazing. 

And then finally….

IMG_7834

Pound cake with dark chocolate sauce and an orange whipped cream.  I was too full at this point to actually eat much of the dessert, but I do love me some real whipped cream.  I now pledge this: I shall forever add orange zest to my whipped cream. 

The food was amazing.  I wish I could go back weekly, because the menu changes each week with whatever is in season.  The setting was perfection – simple, rustic and wholesome.  It’s obvious that everyone who works there believes in what they’re doing and why they are they, and it shows.

IMG_7796

And the goats!

IMG_7818

How could I forget to tell you about the goats?  Well, for starters, they were all pregnant.  Like, due any day now pregnant!  After our session in the chicken coop, we were introduced to the goats.

IMG_7811

I am quite certain Locke is going to have to buy his wife a goat this summer or else she is just not going to ever be happy again. 

Although, I believe she said she’d be okay with a few chickens, too.

SO!  If you live in Winston-Salem or Greensboro, make yourself a date with some goats and chickens and truly amazing meals.  Gather up some friends, bring a couple bottles of wine (it’s BYOW) and don’t wear your favorite shoes.

If you don’t live here, read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle.  Watch Food, Inc.  Find a Farmer’s Market.  Cook seasonal.  Get a goat.  Do what you can do – I think a lot of people get stuck because they feel like if they’re not going to go 100% organic, local, whatever, then they shouldn’t do it at all.  I’m a far cry from eating “ideally” all the time (I’m certain the “Pirate’s Booty” I’m eating as I write this is neither local nor organic nor…gasp… nutritious…) but whatever small steps you can make towards eating in a way that supports your health and yup, the planet’s health, count. 

And I mean, if eating sustainably means eating goat cheese truffles for dessert from time to time, well I’m sorry, that’s just the price you’ll have to pay. 

IMG_7839 

Happy diners – Kate, me, Anne.

5 Onions, 8 Pounds of Chicken and 2 Dishwasher Loads.

Just your typical Sunday afternoon, right?

I’ve known a couple people who do the “cook all your meals on Sunday” thing and I’ve always had a mixture of apprehension and hesitation about it.  It seems like a tremendous amount of work (is it really a time saving?) and that it would be difficult to make healthy meals, as I’ve always pictured casseroles and other dense heavy meals sitting in the freezer.

But lo and behold, here I find myself with 4 recipes on the counter, along with 5 onions, 8 pounds of chicken, and just about pot and pan in my cupboard out, ready to be put to work.  I genuinely love cooking, and furthermore, believe that most of the time, home cooked meals are healthier than restaurants meals.  (They are, certainly, exceptions to this.  Especially in the South.)  BUT, as of March, I’m going to be switching to a 4-day work week and the 10 hour days, combined with a 40 minute commute both ways means I’ll be getting home pretty late most nights.  Add a trip to the gym or an errand after work, and I could already forsee it was going to become quite tricky to assume I’d be cooking on a regular basis at night.  Lest we become on first name basis with the folks at Jersey Mike’s down the street, I decided to tackle the Sunday cook-a-thon – since I will now have a 3rd day off every week (woohoo!), I figure it could very well be a good time investment. 

IMG_7676

I gave it a test run this weekend, and while it didn’t go perfectly, it was overall pretty successful.  I cooked for 7 hours, used every pot and pan I own, chopped enough onions to give watching Stepmom a run for the cryfest title, and had to run the dishwasher twice.  I didn’t quite pick out enough variety in my meals (all chicken, oops) and they weren’t the healthiest things in my repertoire BUT….

When all is said and done, I had 5 meals with 4 servings (10 meals for 2) PLUS I was able to take 3 2 servings meals to my next door neighbors, who just had a baby.  So, 16 meals in 7 hours?  Not bad.

IMG_7685

Kitchen: After…. Oh dear.

It’s going to take me a while to perfect this strategy, but overall I think it’s going to work and I’m pleased with the solution instead of subjecting us to takeout or quick heat meals because “we’re busy.” 

Here’s what I made:

IMG_7720

IMG_7722

IMG_7723

Since it was the Sunday before Valentine’s Day, part of my prep was also making our Valentine’s Day dinner: seared steaks, roasted asparagus with proscuitto, twice baked potatoes and this delicious chocolate espresso cheesecake that was made mostly of cottage cheese.  Not kidding.  And I’m telling you that now, because my hubby has already eaten it and now he can know.  Hi, honey! 

IMG_7725

All in all, this actually ended up being about 2 week’s worth of food, because we’re starting the 2nd week and we still haven’t finished it all up.  I’ve even taking it for a lunch a few times, and it’s been a nice change of pace from my usual winter meal, turkey sandwiches. 

The key to being able to do this, I think, is to be okay with eating the same thing a few times during the week.  (Or making smaller portions, or freezing 1/2 of each dish.)  I have no problem eating the same meal a few days in a row, but I’ve definitely talked to a few people about this strategy who were horrified at the idea of having chicken tetrazzini more than once in a week.  *Shrugs*.  If you’ve got the time to cook every night and have that variety, then there’s probably no need to attempt this.  I never did, until I was faced with the alternative of not having time to cook and knowing that we would get into the habit of picking up meals or relying on quick and easy, more processed foods. 

IMG_7700

Some tips if you attempt this:

  • Plan ahead: Pick your recipes ahead of time, and look for things that have overlapping ingredients.  I definitely took this one a bit too far with all chicken recipes, but besides that the ones I picked out also all had green peppers, chicken broth and onion in them.  This allowed me to use up ingredients among the recipes easier. 
  • Start with an empty dishwasher: Keep it open and load as you go.  This helps keep clutter off the counter and it will make clean up less daunting.
  • Batch task: I learned this skill when I worked at GapKids and it has helped me in so many situations!  Group like tasks together.  For example, pull out all ingredients first.  Measure out dry ingredients.  Chop all vegetables at once.  Then prep all meat.  When you have a break (when something is cooking or simmering) wash dishes as you go. 
  • Prep snacks and other meals too.  You’ve already got the kitchen duty.  Now is a perfect time to pre-chop veggies or salad mix.  I bought a 3 pack of a peppers and only needed the green pepper and half the red pepper for my meals.  The yellow and other half of the red ended up in strips to go with hummus for snacks later.
  • Listen to music!  Whenever I have a long task to do, like cleaning the house or walking the dog or cooking, my iPod has been my saving grace.  A little music, or even a book on tape can distract me enough that the hours fly by and the job gets done.  I spent the first hour of my cooking bonanza listening to a church sermon, the middle 3 listening to Pandora radio (“Club Can’t Handle Me Right Now” station – hello, dancing in the kitchen) and the last 3 listening to the book “The Help.”  I also like to download (free!) lectures from iTunes University or interesting podcasts.  But that’s just me.  But whatever you do: dont watch TV and cook.  I have learned this over and over again.  Well, again, maybe this is just me – but I get so distracted by the show, I end up working slower and it takes me twice as long to do everything.
  • Have an assistant.  Even a furry one.

IMG_7698

Keep your eyes on the prize.  Even though I wasn’t working later yet this week, it was still so nice to do things after work and know that there was still a home cooked meal to be had that night.  On Monday and Thursday, I went for a run.  On Tuesday, I did my last Christmas return and went to dance class with Jamie and Anne.  On Wednesday, I worked til 8 and on Friday, I crashed with a DVRed How I Met Your Mother and some crafting.  Tonight, we’ll probably go out for dinner… because we want to.  Not because we have to.  And that’s exactly how I’d hope it would be.

White Bean Chicken Chili

This is another recipe from my Aunt Jennifer’s recipe book.  I really like white chilis, and this one looked like it packed a little heat.  It actually made a ton of soup, too.  We had about 4 servings that I put in the fridge, 3 servings in the freezer and 3 to give to my neighbor.  (I’m approximating a 1 cup serving.)

Here’s the how to.  I don’t have any funny inside jokes about chili yet… so feel free to share yours if you’ve got one.  No “beans, beans, they’re good for your heart” please.

I think you probably could use the pre-cooked shredded chicken for this, but I ended up dicing and cooking the chicken so it would get the flavor of the onions and garlic while it cooked.

The recipe also called for cumin, which I left out because, eww.  That’s how I feel about cumin.  If you like it, add a shake in.  I think it was 1/2 tsp. 

Aunt Jennifer’s White Chicken Chili
3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 med onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 14 oz can chicken broth
2 15 oz cans cannellini beans
1 4.5 oz can green chile peppers
1 tsp salt
3/4 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1 dash cloves
1 dash ground pepper

1. Saute onions and garlic in olive oil. 
2. Add chicken to brown and season.
3. Add all ingredients to a large pot.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.
4. Serve w/ sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese. 
If you’re going to freeze, allow it to cool first.  Pour into glass jars or tupperware and leave room for it to expand.

IMG_7689

Diced chicken to cook.  (Sometimes I use scissors to dice.  It’s faster and I’m lazy.)

IMG_7688

Chicken, onion and garlic cooking in the back – the pot I cooked it all in front.

IMG_7722

Cooling before it goes into the plastic tupperware.

I would serve this with a small side salad, or maybe a nice crusty whole grain roll.  Between the chicken and the beans, it’s got protein and fiber galore so it should be super filling.   Everything seems to settle a bit, so it will need a good stir before serving if you’re reheating.

Chicken Tetrazzini

I dun no whud she do wit her chicken tetrazzini….

I’m gonna go ahead and apologize, because I have yet another recipe that triggers an immediate inside joke… ‘cept this one is between me and anyone who watched the soup in 2010.  If you’re one of those people, I’m willing to guess you couldn’t help but hear this in your head when you read this title:

I’m not going to link the longer clip (just look up “chicken tetrazzini” on youtube if you’d like), but be warned it’s NSFW.  Or children.  Or your sanity.

chick-en-tet-ra-zzini.

So, where were we?  Oh yes, chicken… chicken tetrazzini.  Despite the fact that The Soup has pretty much made this dish a joke in our household, it is DELICIOUS.  And it’s easy to make ahead of time, freezes nicely and travels well.  The recipe came from Wino Emily and she’s made it for us on many occasions.  When I was getting married, I had a kitchen/recipe shower and this was the recipe she gave me. 

It makes a lot – you could do either one big lasagna dish or 2 small 9×9 dishes.  I did 2 small ones, so we could eat one and give one away.  I again used my big serving of pre-cooked shredded chicken for this one.

IMG_7699

 
4 cooked chicken breasts, shredded
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 can cream of celery soup
16 oz sour cream
chopped pimientos, drained and rinsed
small container of fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 small box of spaghetti noodles
2 c shredded cheddar cheese
1 onion chopped
1 green pepper chopped

IMG_7693

1. Cook and shred chicken.
2. Cook noodles according to box’s directions.
3. Mix soups, sour cream, and salt and pepper.
4. Saute onion and green peppers.  Add mushrooms. 
5. Add noodles to soup mixture.  Stir/toss (it will be very thick.)  Add sauteed veggies and chicken.  Pimientos are added last so they don’t color the sauce.
6. Place in a greased dish.  Top with cheese.
7. Bake uncovered at 350 for 1 hour or freeze uncooked to be baked later.

I actually made a double batch to have some more for our freezer, and it was so big I had to get out my giant salad bowl to mix it in.

IMG_7712

Unless you’re feeding a crowd, you don’t have to double it.  We’ve got chicken tetrazzini to spare.  (Luckily, it freezes beautifully!)

I forgot to take a finished product picture, but to be honest – it’s not the prettiest dish.  You’re just going to have to trust me that it’s a crowd pleaser and easy to boot.  It’s obviously a pretty calorie dense meal, but a small serving goes a long way.  Pair it with a simple side salad, and you’ve got dinner – for a few nights or for a big group.

Or, to seduce your best friend’s boyfriend.

The next few day’s posts will be featured in one post at the end of the week explaining how I cooked *all* these meals in one day.  Yea, I’m superwoman.  No big deal.