28 February 2010

Lazy Weekend

This weekend we had some of the most beautiful weather we have had in months...but did I go outside and enjoy it?  No.  Because this was also the first weekend in months where we had absolutely ZERO commitments.  So, I chose to be lazy.  Yes, it was a conscious decision.  One that I reveled in. 

I didn't cook at all on Saturday - we ate leftovers for breakfast and lunch, and for dinner we ate out. That meant Sunday would be my cooking day for the weekend.  First, though, I had to plan out our meals for the week, make the grocery list and then actually do the grocery shopping (something I love).

Last post, I mentioned a granola bar recipe I had seen on Smitten Kitchen and wanted to try.  I have recently become so disgusted by all of the preservatives and chemicals in a lot of the foods that we eat.  Another thing that really bothers me is the amount of trash generated from all of the packaging from so many foods on the market.  In fact, that is one of the main reasons R and I have switched to packing our lunches in our new Laptop Lunches bento-ware

According to the literature that came with our bento-ware, the average elementary school student generates about 67 pounds of trash from their disposable school lunchws each year. YIKES!

But back to the granola bars...

One thing I really loved about this recipe  for Thick, Chewy Granola Bars was the fact that it's so easily customizable.  Although the 'batter' is pretty much set, it's the baker's choice as to what the 2 to 3 cups of nuts and dried fruits can be.  I ended up choosing pumpkin seeds, ground flaxseed, pecans, walnuts and dried cranberries to add to my first batch.

 (I would have loved to put some coconut in there too, but R can't stand it.  Maybe next time...)

I was a little nervous about how they would turn out, but I shouldn't have been.  The smell coming from the oven as they were cooking was soooo good.  And once they cooled and I was able to cut and taste the granola bars... well, let's just say I am NEVER buying granola bars again.  Nothing compares to these.

These are some dense little guys... very filling

This one has an appointment with me for tomorrow morning

Once I had the week's breakfasts taken care of it was time to move on to dinner.  Another Smitten Kitchen recipe - Baked Rigatoni with Tiny Meatballs

This is NOT a healthy dish. 

This dish is all about ooey-gooey-cheesey goodness.  Besides the obvious (pasta and cheese), there were several other things that attracted me to this recipe: 1) it required me to make a bechemel sauce, something I had not yet attempted and 2) it gave me the opportunity to use my dutch oven for frying, and I don't really fry anything... ever.  I liked that this recipe 'stretched' me. 

The bechemel sauce came out beautifully, although at one point early on I kind of freaked out because it was looking more like pate a choux than a sauce.  Luckily, I just kept going and things worked themselves out.  Parmesan cheese gets mixed in to the sauce right before it is mixed in with the rigatoni and meatballs.  The only thing I would do differently next time would be to throw in another sharp cheese as well for more 'bite'.  Maybe something like a Gruyere. 

I used ground pork (instead of beef) for the meatballs and was really pleased with that decision.  I'm not always a huge meatball fan.  In fact, I never order them in restaurants, so I was really surprised with how tasty the little boogers turned out to be.  These are about the size of raspberries and are lightly fried 'til golden brown.  Yum.  Oh, and the garlic, parsley and cheese in them help with the 'yum' part too!

Fresh out of the oven... the cheesey sauce was still bubblin' away

I love the crunchy, cheesey parts on top ...

and when the meatballs get covered in cheese too.  Who can resist that combo?

Apparently neither R nor I could!  We each ate more than our fair share tonight.

This is definitely not a dish to make every night, or even just once a week.  I would say it's more of a once a month  or special occasion kind of meal. 

Completely unhealthy, yet utterly delicious. 

And don't we all need that every once in awhile?

23 February 2010

I [heart] The Pioneer Woman

Made hlellem for dinner tonight and served some naan with it.

I do realize that naan is not Tunisian (or even North African), but ever since we started studying South Asia in class the other day I have had a hankerin' for it.

And I had no other bread in the house.

Absolutely none.

I look at it this way - I'm just doing my part to try to create harmony and understanding between cultures that might not otherwise mingle much.  Hey, it's more effective than what the UN does... maybe that's where they have gone wrong all of these years.  There hasn't really been a culinary component to their peace missions... well, besides that whole "Oil for Food Scandal Programme".  That one didn't go so well.  Oops. 

Moving on...

Since I had some time this afternoon to just play around while the hlellem was simmering, I mosey-ed on over to The Pioneer Woman's site to look for an easy dessert idea.  Ended up settling on Marlboro Man's favorite cookies - Oatmeal Crispies.  I really loved the fact that all of the ingredients were pantry staples. 

I think they might be the simplest, most wholesome tasting cookies I have ever made. 

That "wholesome" thing can be taken care of by pairing it with some Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla. 

This one, in particular, was calling my name.  

Next on my list of baked goods - Smitten Kitchen's thick, chewy granola bars.  I realized today during breakfast just how processed my store-bought granola bars taste. Yuck.  Definitely ready for something new. 

22 February 2010


I will begin this post by reiterating the fact that it always pays to have a plan. 

Each weekend I spend a little time with the food ads, my coupons and cookbooks planning the week's menu.  This allows me to make the most of my grocery shopping trips and save a ton of money.  Last Christmas my mom bought me the cutest perforated notepad  - it's a menu planner on the left and a grocery list on the right.  A true life-saver.  I use the heck out of the thing. 

Anyway, the plan for tonight was to have Hlellem again since we enjoyed it so much last time.  However, just like last time, I forgot to soak the beans while I was at work.  <*groan*>  As frustrating as it was, all was not lost.  I just scanned down the week's menu and decided to make Wednesday's meal instead: Rachel Ray's Shrimp Puttanesca.  It's super easy to make and amazingly tasty.  Again, another "Go-To Meal" for me.

To make the meal you need: pasta (penne works best, but I used farfalle tonight), anchovy filets (do NOT even think about leaving these out!), garlic (lots of garlic), red pepper flakes, olive oil, olives, capers, crushed tomatoes, shrimp and parsely.  These ingredients are all very strong, so it packs HUGE flavor punch.  Not sure I would make this for a first date. 

Anchovies before they melt down and garlic before it softens

The aroma at this point is heavenly... gotta loves those anchovies

Tomatoes, olives, capers and shrimp have been added.  Time to cover and cook.

The finished product 

Total time for the dish, start to finish, is about 20 minutes.  Can't be beat!

Oh, one more thing I forgot to mention about this dish.  Puttanesca sauces are historically linked to prostitutes.  The ladies would place the pots in their window sills and use the aromas to lure sailors to their place of business.  While I am not advocating prostitution, you have to admit, it's a pretty good marketing strategy...

21 February 2010

Catching Up

Lots to re-cap since the last post.  Life just got really busy - funny, it has a way of doing that sometimes.

First off, I conquered my fear of cooking with milk.  I have made custards and creams many times before, but for some reason have had this stupid fear of making sauces with milk.  Whatever.  I got over that one by making Anthony Bourdain's roti de porc au lait.  The sauce was out of this world.  Only thing I screwed up on was failing to give the pork loin roast enough of a sear before roasting it. 

Too bad computers don't transmit aromas.

Next, I (finally) hosted Dinner Divas the first week of February.  Ended up serving Anthony Bourdain's mignons de porc a' l'ail for the main course with Pioneer Woman's mashed potatoes and Karen's roasted broccoli as side dishes.  Made a triple-layer chocolate mousse for dessert. 

This is the aftermath of the mousse preparation.

Sadly, I was so stressed about Dinner Divas and so busy preparing that I forgot to take pictures of the food and table that night! Pretty bummed about that one.
However, while getting ready to host Dinner Divas I did find a couple of really cute items at Target...

Fabulous kitchen towels by Dwell

Fun kitty slippers...

that Ajax just had to check out.

Dinner Divas completely wiped me out, so later that week I ended up making my Mom's all-time "Go-To Meal" - TACOS!!!!  HEB had a deal where you had to buy 2 one pound packages of meat and you got everything else for the meal free.  Have I mentioned lately just how much I adore HEB?!?!

Growing up, we had this meal about once a week!

One of my favorite things about weekends is the fact that there is time to really cook a breakfast.  I try to do an egg dish one day and something sweet the other weekend day.  Today was obviously not egg day...

Lemon Poppyseed Quickbread w/ lemon glaze, served with lemon butter

I decided to make Pioneer Woman's Perfect Pot Roast for dinner tonight.  I had made it one other time last month and R and I both thought it was phenomenal!  It's perfect for a weekend since it take about 4 hours. 

The prep work

All ready to go in to the oven...

and now it's time to wait.  And wait.  And wait.

So worth the long wait.

Luckily, I had stashed some of PW's mashed potatoes (leftover from Dinner Divas) in the freezer.  I just thawed those and served them alongside the meat and veggies.  Dinner was delicious and there were plenty of leftovers to pack up in our new lunch boxes for tomorrow!  Mine is pink and R's is blue. 

I'm now a huge fan of Laptop Lunches... check them out.  Their slogan is "bento-ware for everywhere".  R and I learned about bento boxes while watching this past season's 'The Next Iron Chef'.  More posts to follow soon about them...