08 July 2013

No need to buy when you can DIY (Part 2)

Well, it's taken forever, and I still haven't gotten around to making my own ketchup, but I do have a few wonderful things to share with my few, but mighty, followers!

After doing a little research on the whole DIY ketchup experience, I honestly decided hold off because A) We don't use a lot of ketchup in our house so my Simply Heinz made with no HFCS lasts quite some time, and B) A lot of the recipes I checked out noted that the homemade ketchup may not last very long in the fridge, which makes sense as it's usually full of fresh ingredients and not riddled with preservatives. Same goes for the mayo, though we use a lot more mayo than ketchup in our household. I will still be giving that one a go very soon.

So what am I posting now then? Well, today is about the comfort food DIY goodies I've been trying to focus on lately. I was walking the condiment aisle in the grocery store grabbing things like Worcestershire sauce, dijon mustard, and grabbed a packet of the country's favorite ranch dressing powder mix. I was about to toss it into my cart, but I looked down and saw the other groceries I was picking up, like buttermilk, smoked paprika, onions, and greek yogurt. Now, I had made my own ranch dressing before and it was very well received by both husband and son, but it's another one of those little convenience things that we don't pick up too often, but when we do, we go the package route a lot of the time. There is zero reason for this! It's not only easier and less messy to make your own my way, but you can customize it, you control the salt content and it takes all of 5 minutes to make. Again, there is no reason to skip making your own wonderfully creamy, flavorful ranch dressing to go on salads, sandwiches, burgers, used as veggie and chip dip or mixed with sour cream to go on a bagel!

In addition to the dressing recipe, and there will be more of those to come as I explore vinaigrettes, I am going to share my new favorite discovery: The one-pot pasta dish! I found my first, one done with chicken, mushrooms, chard, etc. on Pinterest and decided to see what I could come up with for my own take. Similar to what we often do in a slow cooker, these types of complete meals can be done and on the table in 20-30 minutes.

There are very few people in the country who have never eaten Hamburger Helper. Am I right? Well, I never had until I was about 19, about the same time I first tasted Velveeta. Yikes. While it did have a strange appeal among the flavors that first bite, because it was oddly sweet and tasted like something that could survive an atomic explosion, after reading the label, I immediately understood why it was something we never ate in my childhood. But there again was that convenience factor, and whispering "I'm so darn easy, and I'm yummy once in a while, right? Come on. You know you want to take me home..." Sure, it is incredibly tempting to grab some box-o-meals walking those aisles, and that there is another reason to stick to shopping the perimeter of your grocery store and mostly stay out of the evil, creamy, sodium, processed food center. The worst thing about so many of the boxed meals is not just the extreme sodium level, it is the fact that so many of them are full of hidden sugars!

Yes, there are days in all our shopping and cooking lives when we just need something we can make quickly on the stove top, that is hearty and comforting and won't make the kitchen look like the aforementioned atomic explosion did in fact happen. So now, I give you my interpretation of the classic boxed meal, which is great served with a salad of fresh greens, tomato, cucumber, carrot, radish, any other veg you like and topped with what will be your new favorite creamy buttermilk ranch dressing!

One Pot Super Supper!

In a large sauce pan or stock pot, brown:
1 pound lean or extra lean ground turkey, seasoning with a few dashes of worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper

Once turkey is browned, do not drain. Add in:
1 pound pkg. short noodles of your choice (I used tri-color rotini, or spaghetti noodles broken in half
2 cans diced tomatoes with the liquid
1 tablespoon anchovy paste
1 medium zucchini, diced
1/2 a medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups chicken stock (have another 1-2 cups on hand to add in case you need more liquid to finish the pasta to al dente)
1 tablespoon dry italian herb seasoning (or your favorite combination of rosemary, thyme, oregano, parsley) 
Sea salt and cracked pepper to taste

Bring everything to a boil and cover for about 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally and adding a little more liquid as needed to ensure properly cooked pasta.

Once the pasta is cooked to your liking, you're done! That's it! And the best part is you can really customize this. Add a cup of diced cremini mushrooms, a couple handfuls of spinach or any of your family's favorite veggies! Add some fresh parmesan just before serving, and enjoy! Makes 4-6 servings. 

(Could also be a great camping meal!)

Buttermilk Ranch Dressing

In a large mason jar, one that has a tight-fitting lid, combine:

1 cup low-fat buttermilk
1 cup light mayonnaise
2 dashes worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
1 level teaspoon fresh cracked pepper
1 level teaspoon each: garlic powder, onion powder, smoked paprika, dill
2-4 dashes of white wine vinegar, start with 2 and add more to taste

Put the lid on the jar, make sure it's tight, and shake what your mama gave you! 
For an extra fresh touch, take out the onion and garlic powders, and replace with one large clove of garlic, smashed, and a tablespoon of finely chopped scallions. Taste, and add salt or pepper as needed, and if you want a little spice, throw in a few dashes of your favorite hot sauce! 

For super ease, put all the dry ingredients together in small snack bags and all to milk, mayo and worcestershire when you're ready to make the dressing, or triple the dry ingredients, mix well in a small jar, and use about 2 tablespoons of the mix per batch. 

If you find your mix is a little too thick for dressing, you can add a bit of regular low-fat milk to thin for desired consistency. 

As always, I hope the loved ones you take time to feed enjoy these homemade classics as much as we do around my house! Back soon with some summer favorites, and my adventures in baking for those living gluten-free!

12 March 2013

Quickie Quinoa Dinner!

Not to worry, friends! The DIY condiment post is in the works, but must post tonight's dinner recipe now because I can't stop thinking about how wonderful it was, especially while eating with a table surrounded with family, and lots of laughter.

I've been looking at all the ways to use quinoa lately, and have noticed a lot of recipes for quinoa "mac and cheese" dishes. We love homemade mac and cheese in our house, but it's not something I make often due to the fat and carbohydrate content, so finding I could use quinoa and possibly achieve a great, healthy dish with all the goodness and comfort of the traditional baked pasta dish was wonderful news! Granted, I didn't really eliminate too much fat from this, but as the quinoa can create a sort of soft, creamy texture, the addition of excessive amounts of butter and cream were unnecessary. I looked at a lot of recipes and while some appeared very saucy and soupy, I decided to try for a creamy, cheesy, but not mushy, texture and was thrilled to accomplish exactly that. Better still, our entire meal which is perfect for MFM (Meat-free Mondays) was happily carnivore-approved! In addition to the quinoa mac, we enjoyed some sautéed red chard with garlic, salt and pepper, as well as roasted cauliflower.

Quinoa Mac and Cheese

Preheat oven to 350º

Bring to a gentle boil:
3 cups vegetable stock
and stir in
2 cups quinoa (found at any grocery store these days, and of course in the bulk foods at WinCo!)
Lower temperature to low, cover and cook until liquid is absorbed which takes about 15 minutes.

Remove from heat and gently fold in:
2 tablespoons butter
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (used medium cheddar tonight, but prefer sharp anytime)
1/4 cup cream 
1 large egg
1 tsp smoked paprika
a few dashes hot sauce
sea salt and pepper to taste

Pour mixture into greased 9x13 baking dish

Top with a sprinkle of cheddar cheese and a light layer of bread crumbs, plain or seasoned, to give it a nice bit of texture in the form of a thin, crispy crust!

Bake for 25 minutes

This recipe can easily be made vegan using dairy-free subs for the cream, butter, etc. and the egg can be eliminated, but makes for a good binder so maybe an egg substitute can be used there. Another note on the recipe is that I kept it quite simple this time as it was a first go with the recipe, but in the future I will definitely try adding in some other cheeses and will very likely get some veggies in there as well. I'm thinking mushrooms! Feel free to mix in some diced bell peppers, jalapeño, spinach, broccoli, tomato, whatever your family's favorite veggies, they'll make the recipe your own!

If you haven't used quinoa before, it's a great thing to have around. Aside from being very healthful and affordable, it's incredibly versatile like rice or pasta. It's a high-protein grain, very easy to find, comes in a few varieties and has endless possibilities for preparation that will please any tastebuds!

Well, that's it for this spur of the moment post, but please enjoy this recipe! I know we did!

16 January 2013

No need to buy when you can DIY! (Part 1)

Hello friends! My, oh my. It has been quite some time since our last post! I won't bore you with the details of the crazy goings on the past 6 months, but it's good to be back in the start of a fresh, new year and I look forward to providing you a crazy good lot of information, recipes, new exciting ingredients and ways to brighten up your menus, your health, and your keen kitchens!

You've seen mentions of WinCo in previous posts, and I would like to focus on WinCo and other grocery stores like it, which make it possible for all of us to take charge of what we feed our loved ones by offering amazing selections of bulk items that we can turn into condiments, sauces, breakfast meals, we would normally purchase ready made.

What comes to mind when you think of "Buying in Bulk?" What is considered "bulk" shopping? Most of us think Costco, Sam's Club and other warehouse or big box stores. However, if you were fortunate enough to grow up near a WinCo (formerly known in many areas as Waremart) you have experienced the bounty of a true bulk-purchasing department that doesn't require a yearly membership, or the strength of ten men to unload your shopping cart at the end of your trip. To buy in bulk, for many, means purchasing large quantities of merchandise for (hopefully) lower prices. WinCo, a 100% employee-owned company, has mastered the art and ideals of the bulk-buying patron, without putting a vibe of "bigger is better" out there. It's not about buying the most of something. It's about only buying what you need in quantities individualized for you and the needs of those for whom you are cooking and baking.

When you walk into a store like WinCo, you will notice a few things right off the bat. First of all, you WILL want to grab a cart. Next, you'll enter what they call "The Wall of Values" which is a huge floor to giant ceiling aisle of specially priced goods that are priced at extra savings above and beyond the everyday price. Then, depending on the layout of your local store, you will discover along the way a wonderfully stocked produce department, though they are usually lacking in organics, as well as many aisles of canned and dry goods, snacks, a fully stocked deli, meat and seafood department, dairy and freezer departments, a lovely bakery which produces fabulous doughnuts and pastries. The crown jewel of these stores, though, normally sits in a back quarter of the store on one side or the other and as you approach you'll notice bins of candies, wrapped treats, a honey dispenser and peanut butter/almond butter grinder and you'll know you've arrived in Bulk Foods. As you walk through the 2, 3 or 4 small aisles of bulk foods with big bins at waist level and many more above, you'll find everything from nuts to chocolates to every kind of bean, lentil or grain you can dream of and then you get to the dry goods. Whether you are gluten-free, sugar-free, all about whole-wheat or just looking for traditional bread flour, brown sugar, chocolate chips or rainbow sprinkles, you needn't look any further. Does your family go through cereal as if it were air? Guess what? You will now come to cereal in a number of varieties, granolas as far as the eye can see. Is there a spice you've been curious about, but aren't quite ready to hit your local specialty shop yet? WinCo has your back. They make it possible to make, create, combine, experiment, blend, challenge, taste, explore not only with our handed down cookbooks and favorite recipe websites, but our own palettes and tastebuds. And we can do this in a way that won't destroy to grocery budget or make it so we're stuck with a load of something that isn't very enjoyable, or something that our family just isn't loving.

Now that you have a glimpse of why I so enjoy, and discuss, WinCo and all its glorious savings and selections, it's time to put some of those wonderful ingredients and discoveries to use!

There are a few things we eat almost every day, or at least every week in our home. We do a lot of nut butter, and almost every Sunday we have homemade waffles with warm syrup. Peanut butter is something, like syrup, that we as american shoppers tend to purchase quite often, especially with kids in the house, or if we're on a ramen and pb&j budget for whatever reason. We grab the cheapest jar, we toss that bottle of corn syrup laden "maple" goo into the basket, and that pancake and waffle mix is just so handy, we can't resist grabbing the box or bag there, also. With the recipes I'm going to share with you today for these items, recipes that can be enhanced in a number of ways, not only will you potentially save a little coin, you will know exactly what is in your food, and can feel wonderful about sharing these homemade, simple delights with your loved ones who deserve the very best. One of the greatest things about these recipes is that they take very little time, which is so important because the less time we have to spend preparing healthful, tasty foods, the more time we have to share them with the people we enjoy the most! Here goes...

Peanut Butter

In the bowl of a food processor (at least 7 cup, fitted with standard chopping blade):
4 cups unsalted roasted peanuts 
(OR any combination of peanuts, almonds, cashews making sure they're unsalted, preferably roasted)
1/2 cup shelled and salted sunflower seeds (yep, salted is okay here)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
** Amended this recipe since the past few times I've made this, I have not added oil. I just let the food processor run longer and the smooth texture is achieved with very little fussing! 

Start processing the nuts and salt, slowly drizzling in the oil through the lid while running. (Every processor is different so mine has the hole where the pusher piece sits in the tube. Yours might be different.) You will have to stop and scrape the sides and blade every couple of minutes, and this is a loud process for sure, just to be prepared. 

Once you've finished processing you have the option to customize your nut butter! You can, to the whole batch, stir in some melted chocolate, some cinnamon, or honey. Or you can split the batch and play with a few different things! Once your butters are finished, put them in airtight containers and keep in the fridge. Not sure how long they last since we go through about a pound a week in our house, but they should last quite a while. Now, my favorite thing aside from the awesome taste and texture of this nut butter is that unlike other natural peanut butters, there is no separation of oil! You ill not need to stir before spreading because the processor emulsifies the oil so it won't be drawn out letting the nuts settle. It's great!

Sunday Breakfast Syrup

In a medium sauce pan on medium heat:
1 packed cup dark brown sugar
1/2 cup water
Dash of sea salt

That's it! Just whisk and simmer this mixture until it's reached your desired consistency, and if you like it a bit thinner, just add a touch more water at a time until it's just right for you. Now, obviously there's no maple in the recipe and that's because I'm not a maple fan at all, but again, you can customize! I've given you the base, but I also add a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract and a 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon to my own. So what else can you add? Play around! Try maple flavoring if you are a fan, or go for hazelnut, almond, chocolate, or even try orange oil or something a little more fresh and light. All you need to remember when adding these extracts is that a little goes a very long way, so start with just a couple of drops (yes, drops) and go from there. 

Store this syrup in a glass jar in your fridge and when it's time for breakfast, just put the jar in a bowl of hot water to warm it up (don't microwave!) and it's ready for waffles, pancakes, bacon or sausage dipping, or for anything where you'd normally use a store bought maple syrup.

Weekender Waffles 
(I make these in a classic round waffle iron (makes 6), this recipe wouldn't work for belgians, but can be used for pancakes!)

In a mixing bowl, whisk together:
2 cups all purpose flour (whole wheat pastry or regular unbleached)
1/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt 

Add to the whisked dry mixture:
2 cups buttermilk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Fold the wet ingredients in, careful not to over-mix. Just fold and stir until wet and dry are incorporated.

And now we play! This is the point where you make the recipe your own again! You can add your choice of flavor extracts, crumbled bacon, a handful of blueberries, a teaspoon or two of lemon or orange zest, some ground cinnamon, mini chocolate chips, etc. You can even try mixing a little nut butter into your batter! I did this last weekend and it was fantastic, and the idea of my nearly 6 year-old!

To make your waffles, just follow the instructions on your waffle iron, or make pancakes with this batter, then top with a little homemade nut butter and some warm syrup for a wonderful weekend fueled by homemade goodness! To keep warm and toasty while your waffles are being made, place finished ones directly on the rack of a warm oven. I heat mine to 170º while I'm prepping. Also, if you have any leftover waffles, just store them layered with wax paper in a Tupperware round container, or freezer bag, and heat in the toaster for a quick breakfast during the week! (Amendment! Do not put vintage Tupperware in your freezer! Sadly, this container cracked in half and the lid into a few pieces, when I was closing it after getting out a waffle. I think it just became too rigid in the cold of the freezer.) 

Now, you have the tools to explore your local bulk foods department, find your closest WinCo and give your family a few staples that are made with love, the family's favorite flavors and created in your very own keen kitchen!

Be on the lookout for the next post which will focus on homemade condiments! No need to buy ketchup and mayo, when you can DIY!