Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Kitchen Update

Our summer has been a crazy busy mixture of appointments, swim practices (both Eli AND Itty Bitty), and changes around the house (including a KonMari style clean out)!  Still, I'm trying to keep up my goal for 20-30 recipes in the kitchen!

At this point, I think I might make it to 20 recipes - I don't know if I will make it to 30 or not...but am still hoping.  The best news is that since we've been cooking at home instead of eating out, the kids are actually eating more and gaining a healthy amount of weight, while P and I are losing some weight.  Eli is actually really building a lot of muscles in his stomach, shoulders, and back from so much swimming!

We've had couple recipes completely flop - but the few I've listed here went well.  I'm picking up with recipe #6, since I listed the first five in a previous post.

6) Zoodle Lasagna

For this one, I simply swapped lasagna noodles for zucchini strips. I made my regular meat sauce (that we often use for spaghetti squash) and mixed in a lots of diced, cooked veggies with the ricotta cheese.  The veggies were super convenient because they were leftover from a veggie quesadilla the night before :). It was a little zucchini heavy, but was delicious. I've seen other people use butternut squash slices for this one, so we may try that, too.

7)  Fake-Out Chipotle Barbacoa

There are a ton of these recipes all over the internet, lol. I think the one we used was okay - but it wasn't exactly like Chipotle's version and was more time consuming than I'd like.  I can't see making this one often when we have a Chipotle nearby.

8) Chinese-style beef and broccoli

This one was a definite winner! We used garlic and ginger to taste, then used equal parts Tamari sauce, brown sugar and water. We added cornstarch as a thickener. This was super simple to do and delicious.  This ended up being a little saltier than we wanted, so I'll cut back some on the Tamari next time - I will also probably add snow peas since we love those, too!

9) Brie and Artichoke Chicken Bake

This was a great way to use leftover chicken breast. I put large pieces of two already cooked (leftover) chicken breasts in a casserole dish, covered it in a can of diced tomatoes, some diced chiles, half of a thinly sliced onion, half of a large jar of marinated artichokes with a few tablespoons of the artichoke marinade, then topped the whole thing off with some Brie cheese and a handful or two of shredded Gouda cheese.  YUM!  This is a new favorite and another we will DEFINITELY want to use through fall.

10) Fake Brownies

We saw a recipe for vegan, dairy and grain free brownies on YouTube that we decided to try. UNfortunately, I forgot the name of the chef! The brownies have a date and almond meal base and are delicious!  They are chocolately, though they don't *really* taste like the real thing. Still, they are rich and satisfying - and they definitely settle a chocolate craving :).

I've picked out the next few recipes we are going to try, and am very excited about them. I'm not a big soup eater (though I do love plain chicken broth), but several of the upcoming recipes may be soups.  I am a little frustrated that I haven't found many freezer meals that we would like.  I may change my freezer strategy for the school year, concentrating on already cooked (home cooked and shredded) meat, fruit and vegetables.  This could give us a little more flexibility in the long run, though I'm not sure it would save much time on a busy weeknight.

As always, I'm open to recipe suggestions!

Saturday, June 3, 2017

In the Kitchen

Okay, okay...this is definitely *not* a food blog...but in the last two years, we've really been in a rut for cooking and eating. This summer, we've decided to try to something new.

Before Eli, P and I used to write out a cooking/food list for the MONTH, watch for coupons, and hit sales for various items to cook/freeze.  This really helped bring down our food costs, while still eating great food. After Eli came home, we went through a period of adjustment when we decided FED was best...and then settled into a routine of making cooking/food lists for a maximum of a week or two, while I salivated over the idea of having a large freezer to freeze more recipes. At the time, the only meals that I was froze were the chili that I made/make every October (I usually make several gallons at once) and chicken pot pie (which I probably haven't made in at least four years, since it's not a favorite).

When we became a foster family two years ago, cooking from scratch became less of a priority and we miss it. Because I have food allergies, we simply began to rely on the same basic meals over and over, even though we were actually given a large freezer (YAY!) when P's parents decided to upgrade theirs (thanks guys!). 

Now that things have settled down a TON and it's just the four of us, it's time to go back to what was working so well!  A lot of the recipes I used to use are lost or need some freshening up - and quite frankly, our tastes have changed and broadened quite a lot.  I think we're in a place to begin really stocking up the freezer for the busier school months and planning ahead for at least two weeks at a time.

So, this summer, I've committed to trying out a variety of new recipes - my current goal is to hit somewhere between 20 and 30 recipes this summer that are either quick/easy or freezable in large enough batches AND delicious. After beginning this journey, I found that I kept forgetting what we'd already cooked, so I decided to blog about what we're doing. This way, I can search for what we did when I'm looking for ideas :).  I'm definitely open to suggestions for easy, gluten free recipes.

So far, we've had five really good recipes! 

1. Paneer Tikka Masala

I tried this dish recently in a restaurant, loved it, and have been desperately looking for a way to make it at home. I finally found a great brand of paneer, which is like a pressed cottage cheese that doesn't fall apart or melt when simmered. We used a jarred sauce (Maya Kaimal) because I wanted to save some time; while we did try other sauces, this was the most delicious one we tried. We added some veggies (peas and onions) and a little white rice to round it out.  We loved it so much that I bought two more jars of the sauce just to keep in the pantry for when we want it!  It would also be fantastic with chicken when I don't have time to drive to a specialty market for paneer. Steaming the rice was the longest part of making this dish. I think it *could* be frozen, but there's not much point when it's so quick to make.

2. Crab Stick Omelettes

This recipe is from Chef Julie Yoon (from the YouTube show Bits & Pieces) and it's super quick to make.  Several of our recipes have been ones that I learned from her on YouTube, and this one is deceptively simple to be so delicious.  I did do a couple of things differently than she did, though. I used real crab claw meat, as it's hard to find gluten free crab sticks. I also gently sautéed the thinly sliced onion until it was just barely softened before mixing it with the crab, as I'm the only one in my family that really loves raw onion.  I'm now experimenting with adding other thinly sliced or spiralized vegetables and such, but so far, the original recipe is our favorite!

3. Korean Noodles with Black Bean Sauce

Okay - this one was WAY harder than I thought it would be because gluten free black bean sauce doesn't exist in any market that I've found.  My Korean friends though it was a little icky that I would even *try* to make a gluten free version.

The recipe I used was based on another recipe from Chef Julie Yoon. I ended up using a salty, fermented, Japanese soybean paste. It did work, though it was definitely NOT black in the end!  I do think it wasn't as sweet, perhaps, as the original dish is supposed to be, but the sauce was velvety smooth and a good balance of flavor. We used round rice noodles for serving. We tried it as leftovers the next day for lunch, but it was simply not as good as the day before (I'd hoped it would be better after a night in the fridge, as many recipes often are).  This one is definitely worth trying again; for the next attempt, I actually found the whole fermented black beans and will try to make a homemade black bean paste.

The only downside to this recipe is that it is more work-intensive than I'd like. A lot of the work comes in from extra steps to avoid gluten, though.  Still, I don't think it would freeze well, so it may just be a special-occasion type dish. If I can create a freezable homemade black bean paste, this one would be much easier to make.

4. Massaman Curry

Everyone who knows me knows that I adore curries - and that Massaman is definitely my favorite. I used to get my Massaman curry from a local restauarant that is owned by a friend who understands my dietary restrictions.  Unfortunately, she had a long-term family emergency and left her restaurant in the hands of her (adult) children who don't cook nearly as well as she did :(. So, I decided to find a way to cook one of my favorites at home. It took a while (and at least 3 somewhat decent tries in between), but I finally think I've made a great replica!  I used Maesri Massaman Curry Paste, and started cooking with the recipe on the back of the can. I subbed in good chicken stock for about 1/3 of the coconut milk that is called for, I doubled the amount of potato and chicken, and added in bell pepper. I served it with steamed vegetables (carrot, zuchinni, broccoli, and cauliflower) and white rice. There were no leftovers, as everyone pretty much had seconds (or thirds). I'm about to stock my pantry with several of these cans and several cans of coconut milk - at least until I decide to tackle making my own curry paste (not ready yet!).  It does take a while to prep/simmer everything - but it's beyond worth it!

5. Green Papaya Salad

Another favorite from my friend's restaurant was green papaya salad. In her absence, the restaurant wasn't selling enough of this dish, so they temporarily removed it from the menu. I had a definite craving for this, and picked up a green papaya to try my hand at it.

I was thrilled to find out that it's very easy and super quick to make!  All of the recipes that I found on the internet basically started with garlic and chili pepper mushed together to make a paste. Then, lime juice, palm sugar, and fish sauce (and sometimes peanuts or dried shrimp) were added to make the dressing. Last, shredded green papaya, and sometimes other veggies (especially tomatoes) are added and lightly mushed into the dressing.

Everyone here loved my version, and I enjoyed making it.  I definitely wouldn't serve this as a main course, but it goes well with a lot of other favorites around here - especially crab cakes or salmon croquets.Though it's not freezeable, it comes together in about 10 minutes from start to finish.

So, here we are so far...hopefully, the rest of this summer food challenge will be as delicious as the start!