Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Menu planning, part 2

So far this fall I'm doing a lot better menu planning. Our schedule is different and I think it's actually better than is has been the last couple of years. It's really helped to sit down on Saturday or Sunday and plan out the menus for the week. The girls also have been making notes on my menu of things they'd like to see on the menu the following week so that's really making things easier. They both still cook one night a week, alternating weeks. Now I just need to figure out when to get to the grocery store and we'll be set.

One thing we're doing this year is having family breakfasts instead of dinner which is requiring me to menu plan a bit better for breakfast. We still have days when it's GYO - get your own, but I fix something most mornings. Years ago when I was working, a friend said that he and his (live-in) girlfriend were menu planning. Their plan was something like pasta on Mondays, taco Tuesdays, fish on Fridays, etc., this gave them the broad outline and they'd fill in the details weekly. At the time I thought that was weird, why would you want pasta every Monday? Now I see the light, at least for breakfast, so Dean, I apologize for thinking you were weird for doing this.

So our breakfast plan is something like this (as always, subject to change):

Sunday - GYO (I always have eggs and toast on Sundays, habit from growing up)
Monday - muffins or coffee cake
Tuesday - GYO
Wednesday - eggs and potatoes (I've got lots of recipes that I want to try pinned at Pinterest)
Thursday - pancakes (plain, chocolate chip, blueberry, whatever strikes our fancy)
Friday - not sure what's going to go here
Saturday - waffles, French toast, or ??

As we get further into winter, I'll probably have days I know I'm cooking in the crockpot (Wednesday and Thursday) just because I'll be away at dinner time and need to leave food for the family that's home. So I sort of follow a generic plan but not really.

Monday, September 24, 2012


We went apple picking on Saturday, made it just in time! Apple season is just about over here; they had some apples left on the trees but not many and not the perfect, eating apples you see earlier in the season. I didn't care too much how they looked since they're going to be used for cooking - pies, applesauce, apple butter, crisp, apple cake and muffins. Lots of good stuff, but the apples don't need to look pretty.

This recipe is mostly from my Joy of Cooking cookbook but modified for what I have on hand today. I really didn't measure anything except the sugar so just adjust to the apples you have (more or less water, lemon juice, and spices) and your tastes.

about 2 pints

about 12-15 medium sized apples, a couple of varieties if you have them
1 - 2 cups of water, apple juice, or apple cider (depends on how juicy the apples are)
1 Tbsp lemon juice
1 piece of cinnamon stick
big dash of nutmeg
scant 1/2 c sugar

Peel, core, and slice the apples (I've got a counter top peeler, corer, slicer and it makes things SO much easier!). Put into a large pot with the water, lemon juice, and cinnamon stick. If you don't have a cinnamon stick, never fear, you'll be ok without. Bring to a boil, then let simmer for 10-15 minutes or until apples are soft and easily broken up. If you used the cinnamon stick, take it out. Use a potato masher to mash the apples to get a mostly smooth, but still a bit chunky sauce. If you want it chunkier, use a wooden spoon to just break up the apples; if you want it smooth, use a food mill to process the apples. If you didn't use a cinnamon stick, add about 1 heaping Tbsp of ground cinnamon along with the nutmeg and sugar. Stir, taste, and adjust the spices. Let cool, then either put up in jars, or prepare it to freeze.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Grits

Have I mentioned before how much I love it when my family is gone for dinner and I have time to cook? I usually take advantage and fix something for myself that I know they won't like. Tonight that something was shrimp and grits. I saw this recipe on Food Network a while back, pinned it on Pinterest, and knew I'd make it one night when they were gone. It's really easy, pretty quick, and delicious. Sure wish I had remembered to take a picture, it looked really pretty on the plate.

The recipe serves 4 so I made half and will have the leftovers for supper tomorrow night. And don't do as I did; I quick skimmed the recipe and missed the part where it says "peeled and deveined" about the shrimp. Mine were deveined, but had the shells on; it still turned out fine, I just had to peel them after I put them onto my plate.

Lemon-Garlic Shrimp and Grits
serves 4; from The Food Network

3/4 c quick grits
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c grated Parmesan cheese
3 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 1/4 lbs medium shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails intact
2 large cloves garlic, minced
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)
juice of 1/2 lemon

Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan over high heat. Slowly whisk in the grits, 1 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Reduce the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, until thickened, about 7 minutes. Stir in the Parmesan and 1 Tbsp butter. Remove from the heat and season with salt and pepper. Cover to keep warm.

Meanwhile, season the shrimp with salt and pepper. Melt the remaining 2 Tbsp butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp, garlic, and cayenne, if using, and cook, tossing until the shrimp are pink, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the heat and add 2 Tbsp water and the lemon juice; stir to coat the shrimp with the sauce.

Divide the grits among shallow bowls and top with the shrimp and sauce.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Anniversary dinner, part 2 (marinade and zucchini)

We really enjoyed our dinner yesterday. I had planned to use our "usual" marinade for the steak but I was out (usually have plenty of McCormick's meat marinade on hand); I found this one that we liked. The zucchini sticks were from a recipe that I found on Pinterest (that came from the King Arthur Flour website). They also had a sweet onion dip with them that I didn't make but was told I need to make the next time I make the zucchini sticks. Maybe for a football afternoon snack.

Meat Marinade
marinades 2 lbs(ish) of meat

1/2 c vegetable oil
1/4 c soy sauce
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp lemon juice
1 Tbsp + 1 1/2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp Dijon mustard
2 cloves garlic, minced

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Use to marinade any cut of beef.

Baked Zucchini Sticks
about 3 dozen sticks

3 medium zucchini, unpeeled, cut into 3" long ticks
1 Tbsp salt
1 c panko bread crumbs
scant 1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 Tbsp Italian seasoning
2 large eggs, lightly beaten

Place the zucchini in a colander over a bowl and sprinkle with the salt. Let the zucchini drain for at least an hour; rinse and pat dry.

Preheat the oven to 425* and line a couple of baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the panko, Parmesan, and Italian seasoning on a large plate. Have the eggs in a bowl (suitable for dredging the zucchini sticks). Dredge the zucchini sticks a few at a time in the egg, then roll in the crumb mixture. Place the sticks on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Serve immediately.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

It's our anniversary!

Today's our anniversary (23 years!!). We thought about going out to dinner, but trying to get in somewhere at lunchtime on a Sunday in a timely manner just isn't happening around here. We decided that I'd grill and fix something here instead. Grilled steak and asparagus, baked zucchini sticks, and bread from the farmer's market. More details tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Sweet Rolls

For a second "first day of school" treat I decided to make sweet rolls. We actually started school last week, but after the holiday weekend I figured a yummy breakfast would be good. The basics of this recipe are from the Pioneer Woman. When I make these rolls I use half her recipe (no need for 4 pans of them hanging around!). I tend to vary the fillings, using her chocolate chip cookie one (modified) or sometimes a cinnamon-sugar filling or a gooey pecan filling. Today we made two pans, one chocolate chip (which makes for a great snack or dessert) and one cinnamon-sugar/walnut. The cinnamon-sugar ones had frosting on them but the others didn't; both were really good. The frosting recipe comes from my Fannie Farmer breakfast cookbook.

Sweet Rolls
makes 24

2 c whole milk
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c oil
4 1/2 c flour
1 pkg yeast (or 2 1/4 tsp)
1/2 Tbsp salt
scant 1/2 tsp baking soda
heaping 1/2 tsp baking powder

Fillings (for 12 rolls, double for 24):
Chocolate chip cookie: heaping 1/4 c each chopped walnuts and mini chocolate chips, 1/2 c brown sugar, 1/2 tsp salt, 2 Tbsp melted butter with 1 tsp vanilla
Cinnamon-sugar/walnut:  1/8 c cinnamon sugar, 1/4 c chopped walnuts, 2 Tbsp melted butter

1 1/2 c powdered sugar
2 Tbsp softened butter
1 tsp vanilla
water (about 1 Tbsp)

For the rolls, mix milk, sugar, and oil in a pot. You need to use a large pot since the dough will be rising in it later. Heat until very warm but not boiling. Allow to cool until slightly warmer than lukewarm. Sprinkle yeast over the surface of the liquid, then add in 4 cups of flour. Stir gently until totally combined. Mixture will be very wet and sticky. Cover with a tea towel, keep in a draft-free place and allow to sit for 1 hour.

After 1 hour, add in the other 1/2 cup flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. Mix until combined. Refrigerate dough, covered until you need it (helps make it easier to handle).

Spread some melted butter in the bottom of 2 pie pans, cake pans, or a 9 x 13 pan. Divide the dough in half (cover the half you're not using). Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and roll out into a large rectangle, about 12 x 10. Drizzle the melted butter over the surface and brush to cover. For the chocolate chip cookie rolls, mix the brown sugar and salt together then sprinkle evenly over the butter. Follow with the chocolate chips and walnuts. For the cinnamon-sugar/walnut rolls: sprinkle the cinnamon sugar over the butter, then top with the walnuts.

 chocolate chip cookie rolls being rolled

Preheat the oven to 375*. Beginning at the far, longer side, roll the dough toward you until it's a log. Pinch the edges to seal. Slice a tiny bit off the ends (they don't have any of the yumminess in them), then slice into 12 rolls. Lay the rolls cut side down in the baking dish. Allow to rise for 20 minutes, then place in oven and bake for 15-20 minutes or until deep golden brown on top. Turn out onto a serving plate.

For the frosting, put the confectioners' sugar in a small bowl then beat in the butter, vanilla, and 2 tsp of water until smooth. You may need a bit more water depending on how thick or thin you like your frosting (more water will give you more of a glaze rather than a frosting). If you frost while the rolls are still warm, the frosting will melt a bit all over them.

what was left after breakfast