Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Fresh and Fast Puttanesca Sauce

Right now I'm trying to take advantage of summer's bounty while I still can.  I'm lucky enough to live in middle Tennessee where we have long growing seasons; this means I am still able to buy thing ranging from leeks to beautiful tomatoes to peaches, plums and potatoes.
Tonight's dinner was a fresh and fast Puttanesca style sauce (as with everything I took some license with the traditional recipe).

This sauce whips up in a jiff and can be multiplied to feed a crowd.

Summer Puttanesca--Serves 2 with leftovers or 4 with none

  • 2 tomatoes (I used Lemon Boys), peeled and diced
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
  • 1/4 cup chiffanoned basil
  • 2 green onions diced
  • 3 pieces of Prosciutto sliced
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Pecarino
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • salt and pepper
  • 3/4 lb cooked short cut pasta (penne or rotini is best)
  • 1/2 cup reserved pasta water

Cook the pasta and set aside.

Heat the olive oil over medium high heat.  Saute the Prosciutto and garlic for 30-60 seconds; until you can smell the garlic cooking.  Add the diced fresh tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes begin to break down; about 2-3 minutes. Add in the remaining ingredients, except the reserved pasta water.  Toss all the ingredients to combine.  Taste for seasoning.  If the sauce appears dry add in the pasta water a tablespoon at a time until the sauce is moist and coats the pasta.

The last step is, as always, to enjoy.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sloppy Joes

Sloppy Joes are an all American meal if there ever was one!  This is the kind of meal that you can throw together quickly and walk away from.  It's even better if you make it ahead of time.
It also freezes really well.  I frequently make a double batch and freeze the rest in Ziploc containers.  They make a convenient grab and go meal for lunches or a quick dinner.

Sloppy Joes
Makes 8 servings.


1 lb ground turkey
1 cup diced bell pepper
1 cup diced onion
1/2 cup diced celery
1 cloves finely diced garlic
1 14.5 oz can tomato sauce or crushed tomato
1/2 cup catsup
1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
1/4 TSP cayenne
salt and pepper to taste


Cook the turkey, bell pepper, onion, celery and garlic over medium high heat.  I typically use a dutch oven, but any heavy bottomed pot will do.  Once the meat has cooked through (about 10 min) add in the remaining ingredients.  Stir thoroughly to combine.  Reduce the heat to medium low and cook for 20 minutes at a low simmer.
Serve over toasted hamburger buns and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Favorite Things: Salt

Once a week I'll be bringing you a 'favorite thing' from my kitchen!
This week let's talk salt!  I am, admittedly, a salt fiend.  I think most dishes flop because they lack one of two things...salt or acid.
In recent years there's been a lot of talk about fancy sea salts, Himalayan rock salt, pink salts, smoked salts and even bacon salt, have been showing up on restaurant menus, cooking shows, magazines, recipes and upscale grocery store shelves.
I can't say I've used a lot of the odd ball, fancy or exotic salts.  For me Kosher salt is where it's at.  It's the easiest to control for seasoning purposes (much easier to grab a pinch of kosher than of iodized).  It also gives food a delicious crunchy, salty taste explosion when put on food just before eating.
Kosher salt isn't any more expensive than iodized, is available at every grocery store and typically can be used in anything you'd use iodized salt in.  I still use iodized or fine ground sea salt for baking because it integrates easier, but for everything else I keep it Kosher ;).

Monday, March 12, 2012

$50 a Week Challenge

Starting at the beginning of the year I gave myself a $50 a week grocery budget.  I felt, after reading others testimonials and blogs, that this was reasonable for a family of three.  Easier said than done.  My love of cooking and salty snacks can really tack onto a grocery bill as the week goes on, so I said no more...time to trim the fat. 
It's been a struggle.  I've gone over budget twice in nine weeks.  It's forced me to get creative, use what I have, coupon, scour the sales papers and to re-evaluate what's important.  Sticking to a budget has had one unexpected benefit; I'm healthier.  I've lost 4 lbs since this started and the scale is dropping consistently.  When the fattening junk food isn't in the house you can't eat it!  I'm also making fewer trips to the store (and saving gas in the process).  Whereas I used to run to the store 4-5 times in a week I now go 2-3 times and one of those is typically to just get milk for my daughter.
So, how can you save money on your grocery bill?  I'm so glad you asked.  Below I'm highlighting some of my money saving techniques.  In later weeks we'll examine some of these ideas a little closer.
  1. Set a budget and keep it realistic.
  2. Think about why your saving...it will make it more important to you.
  3. Decide what' important to you.  Odds are you won't fit everything you want into your new budget.  Would you rather get the convenient lunch meat at a higher price or roast some yourself for half the cost?
  4. Notice the prices.  Sounds simple huh?  Notice the unit price...that's what really counts.  Don't put anything in your cart before asking yourself 'Is this a good deal?'  If it's not maybe it can wait until you can get a good deal on it
  5. Buy on sale and store it.  Items such as pasta sauce, pasta, frozen pizza, vacuum sealed cheeses, crackers etc...have long shelf lives.  Buy what you'll use in 2-3 months and store it.
  6. Use the store circulars or money saving websites.  The circulars can help you compare prices and plan your trip.  I really like money saving websites like Southern Savers to help me find the best deals...they do the work and you get the benefits!
  7. Use coupons and promotions.  Admittedly I use coupons more for toiletries than groceries, but I have saved a substantial amount on groceries as well. 
  8. Plant a garden or use your farmer's market.  I froze at least 20lbs of peppers, tomatoes, garlic, blueberries, strawberries, peaches and more from the summers bounty.  This has saved me money and time.  I always BUY LOCAL if I can. 
That's it.  Yes I've given up a few luxuries.  Do I miss them?  Not really.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

15 Minute Mac and Cheese

Mac and Cheese is a food that warms the soul and is one of my family's favorites.  I have several recipes for Mac and Cheese ranging from the 15 cheddar cheese version featured here today to the elaborate chicken and prosciutto version I break out for a special occasion.
I used to make the blue box Mac and Cheese weekly, but I've recently discovered making it from scratch takes only a few minutes more!  This recipe whips up quickly with just 15 minutes of work time.  In total it will probably take you anywhere from 30-45 minutes depending on whether or not you bake it.

8 oz elbow macaroni, rotini or penne pasta
2 cups cheddar (or a combination of cheddar, mozz, swiss...any easy melting cheese)
2 cups milk
1/2 cup diced onion
1 clove minced garlic
1 TBSP dijon mustard
1/4 TSP cayenne pepper
4 TBSP butter
4 TBSP flour
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (optional)
1/4 cup bread crumbs (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

In a 5 qt, or large, pot cook off the pasta to the package directions.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees if you plan on the oven finish.  Drain the pasta and set aside.  Using the same pot* saute the garlic, onion and 1/2 tsp salt in the butter over medium heat.  Once softened sprinkle in the flour and stir it in.  Cook until all the flour has dissolved and slowly stream in the milk constantly stirring (you can use a whisk for this if you prefer).  Once combined add in the dijon, cayenne.
When the mixture comes to a bubble (this should take 3-5 minutes) start adding the cheese, 1/2 cup at a time.  Stir or whisk in each addition until is has completely melted before adding the next.  Season sauce to taste.  Take the cheese sauce off the heat and stir in the cooked pasta.
At this point you can serve it up** or continue to the oven finish. 
Oven finish.  Pour the Mac and Cheese into a 3 qt glass or stone baking dish.  Top with breadcrumbs and Parmesan cheese.  Bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes.  Allow to cool for 5 minutes before serving and enjoying!

Monday, March 5, 2012

5, 5 minute meals for under $5

If you're anything like me Monday's are busy.  There never seems like enough time to do everything, let alone make dinner.  Here are some of my solutions to 'Manic Monday' syndrome. 
  1. Ravioli.  I purchased a large bag (11, 1 cup servings) of Mona's Cheese Ravioli for $2.99 (making each serving just 00.27) at Publix and have been surprised at how good it is.  Serve up some Ravioli in red sauce from your freezer or from a jar.  Boiling ravioli typically only takes about 3 minutes, making dinner in a flash!
  2. Pita pizzas.  The flatbreads you can buy at the grocery store make a wonderful canvas for pizzas!  I can get the pitas for as little as 0.30 a piece.  Top them with BBQ sauce, cheese and pineapple or red sauce, mozzarella and pepperoni.  You can pretty much put anything left over on top with some cheese and the kids will eat it up!
  3. BLTs.  Need I say more?
  4. Beenie-Weenies.  Ok, maybe this isn't the most gourmet option, but I have found few people who don't enjoy this on occasion.  I buy large cans of vegetarian baked beans and add chopped turkey dogs to it.  You can serve this meal up for 4 for just $3 if you buy the items while they're on sale!
  5. Tuna salad.  Make up a batch of your favorite recipe...or mine featured here.  Put this in a pita pocket, wheat toast or on a salad.  I can usually make tuna salad for about 0.60 a serving.
You could serve up a Caesar salad made of 1 chopped heart of romaine, croutons, kalamata olives and Caesar dressing to round out any of these meal options.
I admit I sometimes just have to go with takeout because I'm too busy, too tired etc..., but I've really been challenging myself to put dinner on the table and save the money we would have spent eating out.
On average you'll spend $20 for 2 for takeout.  If you make a 5 minute meal just once, instead of eating out, you'll save $15 a month.  If you do it four times you'll save $60!  Now that's food for thought!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Sophie's Menu

I think that feeding a toddler (or baby) can be a little intimidating.  Weather you're feeding them jarred food or fresh it takes some research and planning to be sure you're toddler is getting a well balanced diet. 
I am huge proponent of making your own baby/toddler food for a few reasons.
  1. You'll save money.  On average I estimate I save 50% by making Sophie's food myself.
  2. It's eco-friendly.  I use small Ziploc containers to store her food in.  When you buy there are so many containers that need to be disposed of (hopefully if you buy you're food you recycle them!).
  3. I know what she's eating.  There's not a whole lot of guess work in baby food ingredients, but I still feel better knowing I control the quality of food she eats.
  4. You can introduce unlimited textures and flavors.  Let's face it, there aren't a lot of options in flavors of baby food.  By making you're own food your child can eat what you do; this will make the transition to table food that much easier.
I originally decided to make my own baby food to save money, but I quickly got excited about making it for reasons 2-4 as well!
Below is an example of what Sophie eats for BLD (breakfast, lunch and dinner) and snacks.  You should of course, always talk to your pediatrician about what nutrients your child needs.

Baby Oatmeal w/Peach Puree, 6oz milk x5
Scrambled Egg, Kiwi, 6oz milk
Blueberry Yogurt*, Kiwi, 6oz milk

Baked Sweet Potato Chunks, Peach Applesauce x4
Corn Casserole,1/2 Hard boiled Egg, Pear or Peach Cubes** x3 

Annie's Cheddar Bunnies, 6oz milk x2
Cheese Cubes, 6oz milk x2
Grapes, 6oz milk x3

Ricotta Peas, Grilled Chicken, Kiwi x4
Stars in Spaghetti Sauce, Kiwi Applesauce
Corn Casserole, 1/2 Hard boiled Egg, Kiwi Applesauce x2

I usually make my toddler food twice a week and to make it easy on me it's all stored on one shelf in my fridge.  I sort it into three categories, fruit, yogurt and proteins & veggies.  
I hope that this takes a little of the mystery out of what to feed your toddler this week.  Stay tuned for more toddler food recipes and a new menu plans!

*I buy the Stoneyfield organic baby yogurt.
**I buy the Dole fruit in JUICE.  You don't want anything with sweeteners in it, artificial or otherwise.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Sweet Potato Risotto (toddler recipe)

As my daughter Sophie is getting bigger I'm being constantly challenged to come up with new ways to challenge her pallet, introduce her to new flavors and provide her with a well balanced meal.  I've been making her sweet potato mash since she was 3 1/2 months old, so she's an old hand at polishing off large bowls of the sweet stuff.
In an effort to give her something more interesting both flavor wise and texturally I made her Risotto Style Sweet Potatoes.
 This recipe would be a great way to introduce flavors like onion and garlic to your toddler.  The earlier you introduce these common flavors to your child the easier it will be to transition them to table food.

1 large sweet potato, peeled and diced into baby bite sized pieces
1 tbsp olive oil or butter
2-3 cups of water or chicken stock
1/2 yellow onion diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 small pinch chili powder or cayenne (optional)
2 tbsp Parmesan cheese

In a small sauce pot warm your stock or water.  Hold over low heat.
In a medium sauce pot saute the onion and garlic over medium heat until soft.  Add in the sweet potatoes and a ladle of liquid.  Stir with a a rubber spatula or wooden spoon.  Once the liquid is absorbed add another ladle or two of liquid and repeat until sweet potatoes are cooked through.  Add in your nutmeg, chili and cheese and stir thoroughly.
Portion into single serving containers and your toddler is ready to enjoy!

If you have a younger toddler whose jaw muscles aren't as developed you can puree half of this mixture with some extra liquid (try milk or formula) and fold it into the sweet potatoes pieces.  This makes for an excellent transition food.
You could substitute half the liquid for milk (which I usually do) it adds great vitamins and flavor.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Baby Broccoli and Cheese

  • 1 12oz bag of frozen broccoli
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese
  • 1-1 1/2 cup water

Cook the broccoli and 1 cup of water over medium heat until tender, somewhere between 5-8 minutes.  Pour the broccoli and water into a blender or food processor and pulse until pureed.  Add in the cheese and pulse until combined.  If it doesn't come together add in the remaining 1/2 cup of water.

I prefer to divide the baby food into small, single serving Ziploc containers.  This makes 5 four-five ounce portions.

Sophie prefers her broccoli with the cheese...she really ENJOYs it!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Tasty Tuna Salad

Last night time got away from me, so I turned to trusty ole' tuna salad to bail me out of my dinner dilemma.  Tuna has gotten moderately expensive in recent years, so I buy mine in bulk from Sam's club (I think there's 8 cans to a pack).  This recipe makes 4 servings.

3 cans of tuna in water, drained well
4 TBSP fat free mayo
1/4 c. sweet relish
1/4 c. diced celery
2 TBSP diced roasted red pepper
1/4 c. diced yellow or red onion
1/8 c. diced green olives w/pimento
pepper to taste

Put ingredients in bowl and stir!  I recommend making this a few hours ahead to let the flavors marry.  All together I think this takes about 10 minutes to make; that's one of the reasons I always keep a few cans of tuna in the pantry!  Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Meringue Clouds

On New Year's Eve I made molten chocolate lava cakes and this left me the proud owner of some lonely egg whites.  Since most people are trying to cut back to lose those holiday pounds Santa gifted us with I thought I'd start the new year right by giving you a light and low cal cookie recipe!
These little beauties are light, crispy and sweet.  They allow you to fulfill that sweets craving without blowing your calorie counting for the day--these cookies ring in at about 10 calories a cookie.  That means for 100 calories you could eat 10 of these--take that boring, chemical laden 100 calorie cookie packs!

2 large egg whites
1/8 tsp cream of tarter
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 c. plus 2 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp REAL vanilla extract

Preheat your oven to 250.
Whip the egg whites, cream of tarter and salt with a hand mixer on medium high until soft peaks form.  Add in 1/4 cup of sugar and beat until stiff peaks form, once this happens mix in the vanilla (they should stand up without falling over on themselves).  With a rubber spatula fold in the remaining sugar. 
Load this mix into a large pastry bag (or gallon Ziploc bag) and cut the tip off to give you approx a 1/2" opening.  Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper and pipe 1" circles approx 1/2" apart from each other.  You should be able to get all of these on one sheet, but if needed you can use a second sheet.
Put these in the oven and turn the heat down to 200 and bake them for 1 hour.  Rotate your sheets and bake for an additional 45 minutes (that's 1 hr 45 min. total).  Turn your oven off and crack the door, cool them for 30 min. in the oven and remove to the counter to finish cooling.

These will keep well for a week in an air tight container, though I don't believe they've ever lasted that long at my house! Enjoy these cookies while feeling guilt free!