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If the way my boys eat now is any indication of how they will eat in the future, I fear for what my grocery bill will be 10 years from now with three very hungry boys. Getting them to actually sit down and eat a meal in its entirety is challenging, but what I find instead is that they graze all day long.

It’s so easy to fall into the packaged snacks trap. I’m definitely guilty of doling out the squeeze applesauce, Goldfish, and graham crackers out of sheer ease and convenience. I don’t plan on stopping that any time soon, but it’s certainly nice to have some easy, healthy, homemade options too.

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Sometime last year I stumbled across a recipe for muffins with very few and very natural ingredients. They seemed perfect for breakfast, or an afternoon snack, and were very portable. I made them once and enjoyed them a lot. I made them again with a few adjustments and was hooked forever.

These muffins are really tasty. They’re moist and versatile, and we almost always have all the ingredients on hand. They’re also gluten-free, if that’s important to you, and VERY kid-friendly. The boys ask for and devour them regularly.

Oatmeal Banana Muffins
Adapted from Green Lite Bites

  • 3 mashed bananas, the riper the better.
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 3 cups old fashion or rolled oats (not quick cooking oats)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar* (optional)
  • 1/4-1/2 cup raisins, dried cranberries, chocolate chips, chopped nuts, etc., etc., etc. The possibilities are endless.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

Mix all ingredients together except the raisins (or whichever addition you choose), and let sit while you prepare the muffin pans. (*In regards to the brown sugar: the original recipe is sugar-free. I have made them both ways and enjoy each, but I find that unless the bananas are SUPER over-ripe, they lack a little sweetness. Go in whichever direction your prefer.)

Spray a muffin pan with non-stick spray.

Stir the raisins into the oatmeal batter.

Divide batter into muffin cups. They should be just about filled. Mine have yielded 12 muffins every time, but yours may vary based on the size of your tin.

Bake 20-30 minutes until the edges just start to brown and the muffins are firm to the touch.

The muffins may stick when hot but are removed easily when cooled for a bit.Mine usually come out clean after cooling for 10 minutes. When fully cool, store in an air-tight container or zip-top bag. They never last more than two days in our house!

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I really like cheese. REEEAAALLLY like cheese. In my early post-college years my body developed a major dairy aversion and I suddenly found myself unable to eat cheese without majorly regretting it soon after. It was a sad, sad time. Oddly, when I became pregnant with Owen the lactose sensitivity disappeared. Yay, hormones! Suddenly I was back in the cheese in a big way and I haven’t looked back since.

I’m usually really good about keeping a weekly meal plan, but occasionally I find myself staring at a white board with last week’s menu and no idea what to make that night. Enter the Skillet Lasagna. Quick, easy, yummy….cheesy.

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This dish couldn’t be quicker or more versatile. Below is the recipe for the basic cheese skillet lasagna, but you can customize it in so many ways.

Skillet Lasagna
Serves 4-5

Ingredients:

– 6-8 no-bake lasagna noodles, broken to fit the skillet
– 1 jar of your favorite tomato sauce (or homemade!)
– 1/2 -3/4 cup ricotta cheese
– 1 – 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
– 1 tbs garlic powder
– 1 tbs dried oregano
– 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
– salt and pepper to taste

*Optional ingredients: cooked ground beef, sausage, chicken, etc. and any vegetables you like. Great way to use up leftovers!

Directions:

– Preheat oven to 350*

– In small bowl, combine ricotta cheese and all the spices. Adjust to your taste.

– Spread a small amount of tomato sauce in a deep skillet. (If your skillet has a plastic or rubber handle, wrap it in foil to avoid heat damage.)

– Place your first layer of noodles, breaking into pieces to cover the bottom as best you can. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

– Add another layer of sauce, followed by ricotta mixture, (then optional ingredients, if any), then mozzarella.

– Repeat layering process until you have reached the top of the skillet, ending with the mozzarella.

– Bake uncovered for 25-30 minutes until brown and bubbly.

 

That’s it! Serve with a side salad and you have a tasty dinner that took no time at all and cooked in one dish. Boom. I should note that I tend to go heavy on the spices, so feel free to start with less and adjust to your taste. I wouldn’t say this is a substitute for a true deep-dish lasagna, but it certainly works in a pinch.

Enjoy!

I long for the day I wake up and find myself one of those women whose house is uncluttered and beautifully organized. I suspect that won’t happen until the kids are grown, or at the very least, when their attention span for toys isn’t that of a gnat.

Home organization I don’t quite have down, but dinner? I’ve figured that one out. I look forward to sitting down each week with my white board, pen and paper and figuring out our meal plan for the week. Not only has it eliminated the end-of-the-day what am I supposed to make for dinner??? panic, it’s streamlined both my shopping trips and food budget.

Below you will find all the meals we ate this past month. There were some repeats of our favorites, and occasionally we get a take-out pizza because…well, I love take-out pizza! I also make a lot of salads because it’s an easy way to get veggies in. You can put almost anything in a salad! I’ve gotten into the habit of snapping quick photos of a lot of our meals, but I will work on getting the recipes written out in the next few weeks and link back to them.

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Week 1

– Calzones, salad
– Cheeseburgers, sweet potato fries, broccoli
– Garlic noodles, salad
– Asian sticky rice bowls
– Leftovers
– Roast chicken, sweet potato crisps
– Take-out pizza

Week 2

– Chicken Enchiladas
– Mini meatloaves, acorn squash, broccoli
– Chicken soup, homemade bread
– Chicken ranch calzones, salad
– Dinner out with friends
– Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic bread, salad
– Leftovers

Week 3

– Chicken bites, spinach, roasted carrots
– Taco salad
– Homemade pizza, salad
– Baked potato soup, homemade bread
Sweet potato quinoa chili
– Leftover soup, salad,
– Burritos

Week 4

– Chicken and vegetable stir fry, rice
– Slow cooker shredded beef tacos
– Chicken soup, homemade bread
– Quinoa mac n cheese, broccoli
– Leftovers
– Homemade pizza, salad
– Mini turkey meatloaves, mashed sweet potatoes, peas

And here’s what we’re eating this week:

Week 5

– Philly Cheesesteaks with peppers and onions
– Skillet lasagna, broccoli
– Roasted chicken, sweet potatoes, peas
– Taco salad
– Chicken tamale pie, salad
– Leftovers
– Spaghetti, chicken meatballs, salad

I like to make at least one dessert a week, too. But maybe that’s a post for another time…

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Y’all. This pie.

Some friends and I had a girls’ night a few weeks ago where we stuffed our faces with calorie-heavy food and wine. Stretchy pants were mandatory, obviously. My contribution was ham and cheese-stuffed pretzel bites (recipe to come!) and this peanut butter chocolate chip pie.

It was a big hit. Friends raved about its light texture and delicious flavor and I was impressed at how easily it came together. Best of all, it’s a refrigerator pie, so after it was all mixed up all I had to do was toss it in the fridge for a few hours.

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The original recipe calls from a homemade graham cracker crust, which is probably pretty good. I happened to have a pre-made shortbread crust on hand, so I used that instead. Truth be told, I think I probably would like it better that way. Peanut butter and graham cracker makes me think of toddler food.

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Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pie
Adapted from Growing Up Gabel

Ingredients:

  • 1 ready made shortbread pie crust
  • 8 ounces softened cream cheese
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 oz. heavy cream
  • ¾ cups mini chocolate chips
Directions:
  1. In a large bowl, mix together cream cheese, peanut butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract using a hand held beater. Set aside.
  2. In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat heavy cream until soft peaks form.
  3. Add whipped cream to peanut butter mixture, folding in gently until combined.
  4. Gently stir in chocolate chips.
  5. Spread peanut butter mixture into crust. Allow to chill for at least 4 hours before serving.

The pie is rich in flavor, yet light in texture. It’s decadent enough to feed a bunch, too, since we all found one slice was more than enough. It’s equally delicious in the morning (not that I would know or anything…)

Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Pie. Owen tested AND approved.

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Enjoy!

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A few nights ago I was planning on making calzones for dinner. Typically when I do this, I purchase a bag of dough from a local bakery. I make my own bread, but I find this dough works the best for calzones.

Anyway, I had bought two bags at once a while back and not used one, so I pulled the second bag out of the fridge. Only, something was not right. The dough was gray-ish and wet and had a really strong smell of alcohol. My best guess was something was going on with the yeast, and I should probably throw it away. Of course, first I turned to Twitter and asked what others thought. I mean, what’s Twitter for if not saving you from potential salmonella-induced gastrointestinal pain?  Twitter agreed with me — throw it away.

I did, but then I was faced with a problem. I make and stick to a pretty firm meal plan each week (I can’t tell you how helpful this has been, both in time and budget), but my remaining options required defrosting meat, and it was already late in the evening. What was I going to do?

Then I remembered a little recipe I have in my back pocket. I use it all the time, and realized tonight was the perfect time to pull it out.

Oh Crap, What’s For Dinner? — 15 Minute Pizza Dough
Adapted from Little Space to Fill


Ingredients

1 packet yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
cornmeal or extra olive oil

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F. In a large bowl, combine the yeast and warm water and stir until the yeast dissolves. Add the flour, salt, sugar and olive oil; stir to combine using first a wooden spoon then your hands. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.

Sprinkle baking sheet or pizza stone with cornmeal, or coat dough lightly with olive oil (I’ve had better success with the olive oil, personally), and press dough into it to your desired thickness.

Top with your toppings and bake for about 25-30 minutes, checking on your pizza in the last five minutes. The more toppings you use, the longer it will take for the middle of the pizza to cook through.

Look how yummy it came out!

This dough is really so, so fast, and I always have the ingredients in the house. I’ve made so many different versions of pizza using it — roasted garlic, chicken buffalo with shredded zucchini and carrots and cheddar cheese, Thai peanut…the list goes on. On this particular night, I turned the calzone inside out and used ricotta with herbs, sauce, mozzarella and veggies. As per usual, it was delicious.

(Note: this is a sticky dough and works best being pressed into your desired pan. I attempted calzones with it once, but it didn’t work so well.)

Add this quick dough to your arsenal. You won’t be sorry!

I’ve completed my first grocery shopping (complete with coupons and a meal plan!) after getting serious about our food budget, and now I’m excited to share the first Cooking Deliciously on a Budget recipe with you. As promised, I will share the recipe, then break it down dollar for dollar to prove that eating healthy and deliciously CAN be done without breaking your budget.

(I hope!)

A while back, a reader (Hi, Kerri!) sent me a phenomenal chicken and dumpling recipe. Tyler’s Ultimate Chicken and Dumplings. The first time I made it, Michael paused mid-bite, looked up at me and said, “This? Is delicious.” It’s a keeper, guys!

The recipe is super long and I want to go over some minutia about the budget breakdown, so this time I’m just going to link to the recipe HERE. But here’s the tweaks I made to the original:

– I omit the bay leaves, because I never have them on hand, and it didn’t seem to miss it.

– I also use half a large yellow onion (diced) in place on the pearl onions. Just saute them with your vegetables.

– If you’re looking to make this recipe super fast, you can of course substitute making your own stock with store bought, as well as use a rotisserie chicken. If you have the time though, I HIGHLY recommend making your own stock. It only takes an hour and is SUPER delicious. Plus, you’ll save money doing it yourself and you know exactly what goes into it.

– The dumpling batter makes more than can fit at one time in the dutch oven. To accommodate for this, make your first batch, scoop out the dumplings when cooked, and let the second batch cook while you eat.

Budget Breakdown:

* For all recipes from here on out, some ingredients that I always have on hand and rarely have to buy will be considered freebies, or zero dollars.

 This list includes: salt, pepper, dried spices (unless it’s unusual and had to be bought specifically for a recipe), olive oil, butter, flour and sugar, baking soda and baking powder (unless they are used in very large quantities). *

– 3.5 lb roasting chicken – on sale for $5.68
– fresh thyme – $1.99/about 30 cents worth used
– 1 head of garlic – $0.92/used half at 46 cents
– eggs – $1.69 for 6/2 for 56 cents
– chives – $1.99/about 50 cents per 1/4 cup
– buttermilk – $1.99 for a quart/50 cents per cup
– carrots – $0.99 lb/2 used at 50 cents
– celery – $1.99/about 53 cents for 4 stalks
– frozen peas – on sale for $1.00/about 40 cents per cup
– yellow onion – $0.82/half at 41 cents
– heavy cream – $1.69/1/4 cup at 42 cents

Total for purchased ingredients (all which will be used for multiple recipes, except for the chicken): $20.75

Total cost of ingredients JUST used in chicken and dumplings: $10.26

Total cost of dinner per person (serves six): $1.71. ONE dollar and SEVENTY-ONE CENTS!

This is super filling so one bowl is plenty. We will eat it for leftovers the next night, plus have at least two more servings left over for lunch during the week. It’s the ultimate comfort food, with little guilt. What’s better than that?

Under five dollars for dinner? I’ll take it!

I’ve been meaning to sit down and write this post for a while, but when I was asked on Formspring about being a stay-at-home mom and maintaining a budget, I thought it was about time.

Living on one income means living on a budget. It’s not about how much we have, it’s about how far we can stretch it. How much we can do with what comes in every month in terms of our lives. There are of course non-negotiable expenses. Bills that have to be paid each month. But after that, we need to do our best with what’s left: food, home, savings.

I’ll admit, we haven’t been doing as well as we could be. We’re fine, but we’re not saving like we should be. And this is the time in our lives to do it! We recently sat down and decided, enough — it was time to get serious about where our money was going. We sat down and looked at what was coming in and what was going out, or more specifically, where it was going out to.

And the number one biggest expense? Food.

Between running to the store whenever, lunches on the go and multiple — multiple — trips to Starbucks and the like, we were spending far more than necessary and it was a wake up call.

So I hatched a plan: in order to get serious about our food budget, I was going to be honest about it here. On the blog. On the internet. I’m setting a monthly limit and am going to hold myself accountable on these pages. Both for me, and also for anyone else looking to do the same for their budget.

Here’s my plan for spending:

* Each month I will set a $400 food budget. I know this may sound high to some (or low to others), but based on what we were spending, I think this is an attainable goal. My long-term goal is to spend less than $400, but I feel this is a good start for us. This $400 includes groceries and home supplies/toiletries.

* Coffee purchases will be made from an account which requires us to use 10 debits a month to maintain a high interest rate return. We have to make 10 purchases, so they might as well be small. That allows us for on average two a week, making it more of a treat and less of a “need”.

*Each week I will go through the grocery circulars that come in the mail and plan my shopping list around them. I will make meal plans. I will use coupons when available and in addition, shop at local farmers’ markets.

Here’s my plan for staying accountable/helping others hoping to do the same for their budget:

* Once a week, I will share a recipe I made while cooking on a budget. I will do this while continuing to eat fresh produce and meat, organic whenever possible. (We don’t eat a lot of processed food now, and I see no reason to start just to save money. I believe you CAN eat healthy and deliciously on a budget!)

* I will break down that recipe dollar for dollar, sharing with you the total dollar amount per serving.

* At the end of the month, I will share my total spending for the month; both with my successes and my stumbles. I will share tips I have learned and invite others to do the same. If you would like to join me on this journey, you can share your successes and stumbles at the end of the month too.

I firmly believe it’s not about doing without, it’s about doing MORE with what you HAVE. Whatever your budget, there are ways to make it stretch and that’s a good thing, no matter how many zeros are in your paycheck.

I’m excited about this journey and I hope you’ll find it interesting/helpful as well!

So guess what? The quiche was a hit! Not only did Michael embrace the idea of eating it for dinner (he caught me off guard right after I wrote the post by asking what was for dinner. “Ummm…quiche?” I answered. He was surprised, but didn’t complain.), but we both really enjoyed how delicious it was. I made it with a side salad and felt full, but not heavy afterwards. And it was even better the next day!

Below is the recipe and photos. I highly suggest making it, and what’s more, it’s so versatile that you can really customize it to your tastes. Although, this version is super delicious, if I do say so myself. Also, I’ve been looking to add some cooking-related feature to the blog semi-regularly, and I think I’ve come up with it. I’m kind of excited in a dorky way about it. Stay tuned for more info starting in March!

Spinach Bacon Quiche
Adapted from this recipe on Allrecipes.com (are you familiar with this site? I love it and think the comment section on each recipe is SO  helpful. They are what inspired me to change things up for the original.)

Ingredients:

– 5 eggs
– 1 cup milk
– 1 1/2 – 2 cups shredded cheese (I used sharp cheddar and mozzarella because that’s what I had on hand)
– half one large yellow onion, chopped
– 2 cloves garlic, diced
– 4-6 bacon strips, cooked
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– heaping 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
– heaping 1/2 teaspoon paprika
– 1 package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted (7 mins in the microwave works great) and squeezed dry (use a kitchen towel) to remove excess liquid
– one frozen deep dish 9-inch pie crust (make sure you get the deep dish, as mine filled right to the top)

Directions:

– Preheat oven to 400 degrees

– In a large saute pan, cook bacon until crispy. Remove from pan and place on paper towels to drain.

– In the same pan, cook onions in the bacon grease (YES) until translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add spinach and garlic and cook for another 5 minutes or so. Break bacon into small pieces and stir into spinach mixture.

– In large bowl, beat eggs. Whisk in milk, 1-1 1/2 cups cheese, salt, mustard and paprika. Add in spinach mixture and stir to combine.

– Pour into pie shell and cover with remaining cheese.

– Bake on foil-lined baking sheet for 40 minutes, or until a knife comes out clean from the center.

That’s it! So easy, so yummy. Here it is (phone picture because I couldn’t wait to eat) straight out of the oven:

And reheated the next day. YUM!!

You guys, I can’t even deal with how funny the comments on the last post were. I love that we are all cheesy pop fans at heart. And so many great new blogs for me to check out! Thanks for saying hi!

So, I decided not to do that Rachel Ray recipe thing, because as one person pointed out, once you’ve subscribed to her magazine for a year, it basically repeats itself and who needs 500 burger recipes? So I guess instead, on occasion, I’ll just post about a recipe I tried from wherever. Lately I’ve been trying really hard to cook using only what I have on hand (a.k.a. cleaning out the freezer), and I think I’ve come up with a couple good meals lately. It’s so satisfying when that happens!

Tonight, I’m making a quiche. Only I’m calling it “spinach pie” in attempt to redirect Michael’s attention so he doesn’t notice that it is, in fact, a quiche. Michael doesn’t like quiche. He does like spinach pie, however, so I’m hoping maybe he’ll gloss right over the fact that there is — you know — eggs in it, and focus on the spinach. Although, maybe there are eggs in spinach pie? I actually have no idea because me? I don’t like spinach pie. Confused yet?

It’s just one of those things. You have something once — in this example quiche — and you don’t like it. So on that note, you don’t like any quiche ever, despite what’s in it or how it’s made. That’s where Michael is and up until recently, I was in that boat too. But on a visit to my mom’s house, she made a spinach quiche and I’ll be damned, it was delicious. And since I was looking to jazz up my dinner routine, I bought some frozen spinach and a pie crust…and forgot all about them.

Until this whole “use what you have on hand” thing became my mission, and I decided to make the damn quiche already. Some searching on my favorite recipe site came up with a yummy sounding one that has many things that make me mmmm (mainly, bacon. And cheese. Mmmmm.), and I figure with a side salad, Michael might just gloss over the fact that it is technically the Q-word and enjoy it. He’s also not really into breakfast for dinner (I know. I KNOW.), so we may have more than one hurdle to cross.

However, I’m the cook in this house, so what I say goes.

I’m also hoping that maybe he doesn’t check to see if I’ve posted until after dinner so I can be spared the inevitable “we’re having quiche???

Wish me luck.

It’s suggested that while pregnant, you avoid lunch meat in case it’s carrying Listeria — a type of bacteria that can cause problems in pregnancy. If you really, really want a lunch meat sandwich, it’s said that you can heat the meat through to kill the bacteria. I’ve never been a huge lunch meat person (and the idea of microwaving the meat kind of skeeved me out), so giving it up for nine months wasn’t a big deal.

Until all of the sudden, I wanted a roast beef sandwich. Like, right now.

It became all I could think about. All consuming. Who was this woman lusting over a sandwich, of all things?

I pushed the thought out of my head the best I could and continued about my life, until I caught an episode of Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network, and Ina Garten answered my prayers with a recipe for a homemade steak sandwich. Sold!

I went out that day and bought the ingredients I didn’t already have, which included New York strip steak, bread and fresh thyme. The steak, which can often be expensive, was actually on sale that day, $11 for two steaks, and since I only used one steak for both Michael and myself, the dinner was pretty affordable.

And delicious. OH SO delicious. I made a few changes to the recipe which I’ll share with you (in bold), but I bet the original is equally as good.

Steak Sandwich
Adapted from Ina Garten’s Barefoot Contessa recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 (12-ounce) 1-inch thick New York strip boneless beef top loin steak
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Olive oil
  • 2 yellow onions, sliced in rings (I used one small onion and it was plenty.)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 recipe Mustard Mayo (I did not make the mayo, but if you’re interested, it’s in the original recipe linked above.)
  • 2 mini focaccia buns, sliced in 1/2 (I used French bread, because I picked it up freshly baked. Mmmm.)
  • 1/2 cup baby arugula (I had romaine on hand.)
  • Molly’s addition: enough shredded good cheddar to top sandwich to your liking
  • Directions:

    Season the steak liberally with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a medium saute pan over high heat until it’s almost smoking, then sear the steak on each side for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low and cook the steak for about 7 to 10 minutes, turning once, until very rare in the middle. (I’m not a fan of super rare, so I cooked the beef a total of 14 minutes, turning once. It turned out a nice medium.) Remove to a plate, cover tightly with aluminum foil, and allow to sit for 10 minutes. Slice the steak into strips.

    Using the same saute pan, heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and thyme and saute for 10 minutes, until the onions are brown and caramelized, stirring occasionally.

    To assemble the sandwiches, spread a tablespoon of Mustard Mayo (if you made it) on the bottom half of each bun. Place a layer the steak strips on top of the mayo, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and top with the caramelized onion rings. Place the baby arugula on top of the onion rings, and cover the sandwiches with the top half of the buns.

    Molly’s notes: I’m not a big fan of a mayo/mustard combo, so I decided to make a modified garlic bread instead. I sliced the french bread, buttered each half and put them under the broiler until toasty — about 5 minutes. (Keep and eye on them so they don’t burn.) When they came out, I rubbed each half with a piece of garlic. Mmmmm. After I assembled the sandwich, I topped them with grated cheddar (I had Cabot sharp cheddar on hand) because I love cheese. When I make them again (because I will!) I will pop them under the broiler for just enough time to melt the cheese, instead of leaving it cold.

    Michael and I were both really impressed by how much flavor came out of so few ingredients, especially since I didn’t make the mayo. I think the star here is the caramelized onion and thyme combo.

    I’m definitely making this one again! (And by the way, it totally blew a regular roast beef sandwich out of the water.)

    (Photo from the Food Network website, but I think it looked better in real life.)