Sunday, February 28, 2010

Only On Guam


Today marks the 6th month anniversary of our arrival in Guam.  I can't believe how quickly time has gone by.  I mean there have been some days/weeks that I thought would never end, but overall it feels like we just got here yesterday.  Hopefully, the next 30 months (I think I like the sound of 2 1/2 years better) will go by as fast and be as pleasantly surprising as the first 6 months.

Almost daily, we have OOG moments.  OOG is short for, "only on Guam", it's a term we transplants use frequently to describe something that would probably happen only on Guam.  For instance tsunami warnings (which thankfully turned out to be a non-event), the inability to procure fresh chicken, a fondness for misspelled signs, really bad drivers, seeing no fewer than 6 people you know waiting for the same plane to arrive at the airport, an abundance of rainbows, amazing sunsets, feeling almost like you were on permanent vacation if not for reality creeping in on a daily basis.  It can be frustrating and challenging living here and it will always be far from family and friends, but it's probably one of the most unique places we will ever live.  And contrary to what some of my posts may indicate, I really do try and make the most out of our time here and remember that even on the really bad days, I'm more than likely going to get  a good story out of it at some point.

Here are some pics from a recent family photo shoot we had with one of Don's co-workers at Gun Beach.  We keep getting blessed by knowing budding photogs who need subjects to practice on...

The photo collage was made at Photovisi.com, a free on-line collage making website.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Waves

Well, the world is really a small place when an earthquake almost 10,000 miles away can put our little island under a tsunami warning.  I think this is the third tsunami related advisory we've been under the in almost 6 months we've been here.  Luckily, the previous watches/warning have all happened while I was sleeping and I woke up only to find out we had been under one and that it had been cancelled and we had no effects.  Tonight it's a little bit different...  We are under a warning and this warning comes with an estimated arrival time (1:00 tomorrow-Sunday-afternoon our time, so that's 9:00 Saturday night Central Standard Time) and cautions to avoid low lying areas.  We live high on a hill and any dreams of hitting the beach in the morning have been erased.  I am trying not to worry- after all it's not in my power and how is worrying a conducive way to spend the next 13 hours.  But, if you could throw up some prayers that Hawaii, Guam and all points in between are spared from a tsunami that would be great.  And if you could send up some extra ones for me to remember that there is nothing I can do and that there really is no sense in worrying, I'd really appreciate it.

So that's the news from our corner of the world.  I'll keep you posted!

Thanks

Today I am thankful for...
A glass of wine (or 3).  God being good.  My mom. Adult conversation.  My son.  The Heimlich Maneuver.  The way things work out. A kind husband.

Let me explain.  Price woke up with a really croupy cough today.  He's not a cougher and waking up before it was light outside to the sound of a baby seal barking was not a great way to start the day.  I started up a steam shower and sequestered us in the bathroom and the coughing abated.  However, my concern did not.  So, of course I called my mom.  She just listened to me (Don wasn't available, but he would normally be my sounding board).  I debated with myself about whether or not to call the doctor, but decided not to since the coughing had stopped and he was pretty much acting normal.  Plus, the base had a down day today as a reward for no alcohol related incidences for 36 days so the clinic was closed (have you found that the baby always gets sick when the doctor's office is closed? me too). We went about our day:  planning for dinner guests, eating lots of fruit for breakfast, Price not feeling well and getting punier by the minute.  I decided he should take a morning nap and he concurred (falling asleep on my bed at 10:00 in the morning is a sign of a tired kiddo).  But he woke up shortly after coughing that deep barking cough again.  And this time sweet, precious Price was gone and the kid that woke up was crying and clingy and wanted to be held.  I finally broke down and called my guests and cancelled dinner.  Then, I was bummed- I was sooooo looking forward to having another adult in the house to talk to.  I also called the doctor who told me as long as he wasn't having problems breathing (he wasn't, the cough went away as soon as he was up and about), I just needed to watch him.

Since Don's been gone and Price has been sick, our normal routine of sitting in the dining room to eat has kind of slipped.  I've been a lazy mom and we have been eating breakfast and lunch in the living room, in front of the TV (thank you PBS).  Anyway, today at lunch Price choked.  Not a little choke either.  He was standing right next to me and I was watching him and the next thing I know he was in serious trouble.  I literally thought he was going to die (reading those words, even though I have said them a few times, seeing them on "paper" makes this really real).  I almost felt like I left myself and was watching from afar.  I thought, "Oh my god, I don't know if I can save him, I don't have anyone here to help me, what am I going to do if I can't fix this."  They were literally the the saddest, scariest thoughts I think I have ever had in my life.  I grabbed him and threw him over my lap and started doing a modified Heimlich and got the food out.  The whole thing lasted maybe 30 seconds and he wasn't blue or anything, but it seemed like time was frozen.  He was so upset from being scared and not feeling well and being jostled that he lost it.  I lost it too, I was so upset from being scared and overwhelmed with being thankful.  It was at that very moment, that I felt the strongest bond of motherhood that I have ever felt, that I would do whatever it would take to make sure that my guy was OK.  We stood in front of the open freezer door sobbing.  Thank goodness for popsicles, because it got him to calm down and once he was clam, I was able to calm down too, but I definitely squeezed him harder and told him I loved him more than I normally do.

After we had both recovered and he went down for his nap, I started to regret canceling our dinner plans.  But I of course felt (because I am, from time to time, the most socially insecure person in the world) that I couldn't call my guests back and re-invite them to dinner.  But thankfully, when they called to tell me they had gotten the message, I told them I could really use the company and if they hadn't made other plans, I'd love for them to come to dinner.  And they did!  It was so nice to have adult conversation, have someone for Price to play with and have a glass of wine (or 3).

And yes, I am signing up ASAP to take a CPR class, I would encourage you to do the same (especially if you have children in your home, you never know when you may need it).

Thursday, February 25, 2010

On a Roll


I am recently obsessed with rolled food....   I mean food that looks like cinnamon rolls.  I am not sure where this obsession came from, but maybe it was this post from Cooking During Stolen Moments (Isn't that a great blog name?  It really speaks to me because I feel like that the time I get to cook is during stolen moments throughout the day.  Anyway, it's a great recipe blog for easy, family-friendly recipes).  Or the King Cakes I recently made. Or  these cookies (which I haven't made yet because I am  afraid I will eat every.single.one. all. by. myself.).

Anyway, I needed a pick me up and one of the best ways for me to get in a better mood is to get in the kitchen and do some cooking.  I also had a hungry, fussy kiddo and no real idea what to do for dinner.  Then I thought, what about pizza and why not experiment and do it in rolls?  So, completely ignoring the fact that Price was way beyond his normal melting point, I decided to dive in and go for it...

I used my Whole Wheat Pizza Crust recipe:
Whole Wheat Pizza Crust*
1 C warm water (needs to be between 110-120 degrees)
1 pkt yeast
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour, plus extra  (I use unbleached all-purpose flour in all of my baking)
1/4 C whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp each- basil, oregano

Preheat oven to 350.

In large mixing bowl add yeast and sugar to warm water.  Let stand for about 10 minutes until water is frothy from yeast.  Add flour, sugar, salt and spices.  Mix.  Add olive oil.  Continue to mix until all ingredients are combined.  If dough is very sticky, add a little more all purpose flour.  At this point, you can let the dough sit from 5 minutes up to an hour.  However, if you're in a hurry, like I always seem to be, you can roll dough immediately.  Knead dough until it is elastic and not too sticky, adding flour as necessary (you should be able to pick dough off counter with out it sticking).  

Dough after resting for about 20 minutes

If your hand looks like this after kneading dough, add more flour.

When your hand looks like this after kneading dough, you have achieved flour nirvana.

Instead of forming a circular crust on my pizza stone, I rolled my dough out into a rectangle
(rectangularish is ok in baking if not in geometry)

I then layered with sauce, SPINACH (this was a great way to sneak in the veggie, it practically disappeared during cooking), cheese and pepperoni.


I could have baked it just like this and had a pretty good pizza.  Instead, I thought it would be fun to roll it up ...
(If I had baked at this stage, it would have been a Stomboli)

... and sliced it like cinnamon rolls.


Since I haven't made anything like this before, I experimented with different pans to see which would work better.  All the while my sous chef was hanging out, critiquing my every move (between pouring out an entire can of Tony's and pointing out how many breakable knick knacks I have on my counter tops)


Ahh.. the things one must do to get dinner on the table during the "witching hour."

Alas- the finished product! (Warning- they aren't beautiful)



Baking like cinnamon rolls worked better than baking on pizza stone.  I think these could be great appetizers.  Next time, I will add more sauce, cheese and spinach.  I will roll tighter.  I will not make while dealing with a super fussy child so I can improve presentation.  I served with a side of extra sauce because the sauce  really cooked out and Price enjoys dipping his food into bright red stuff and smearing said bright red stuff all over his face.  The dough was amazing!  There is room for improvement here, but a pretty good first attempt.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

You Know You're Having a Good Week When...

1. Your body finally gives in to the Guam gunk and you have a sore throat, runny nose and cannot sleep.
2.  Your child starts having runny poo diapers, running a fever and teething.
3.  Your husband leaves for a week to go back to the States, and because he's having such a great time not being in Guam, he keeps saying things like, "I don't know why we didn't think about having you and Price come too."
4.  You go out to run errands, dressed like a candidate for  What Not to Wear, and realize upon your return home that your zipper has been down for the duration.

And it's only Wednesday....

Anyway, that's where I've been, well there are those things and I got busy keeping up with the Kardashians (OK, I just admitted to the world or at least all 12 of you who read this thing, that I watched that show and when I say watched, I mean watched the whole marathon on E!.  It's amazing what being cooped up inside with a sick toddler will do to you).  I've been too tired and too boring to write about anything.  So needless to say, sickness and cooking for one and a half kind of messed up the menu for this week.  But, it gives me a good chance to get caught up with recipes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Un-Friending Facebook for Lent

The hardest thing about being so far away from friends and family is being so far away from friends and family. Facebook is wonderful for helping me feel connected.  But in some ways, that connectivity comes with a price.  It's probably a pretty selfish price, but one that makes me feel left out.  I'm always genuinely happy to read about fun Super Bowl parties; family trips to Mardi Gras; cold, snowy weather.  But then I think, "That sounds like so much fun.  I wish I could have been there/done that."  And I forget to be grateful for our beautiful, sunny weather; family trips to the resorts downtown and all the other blessings in my life.  It's almost like I get so wrapped up in what's going on in everyone else's life, I forget to cherish my own life and get out there and live it.

So, this year for Lent, I've decided to take a break from Facebook.  It's not because I don't want to stay in touch with folks, I really do.  I just need to step back and realign my priorities and reassign how I spend my time.  I'm hoping by not being on Facebook as much, it will help me devote more time and energy to my family, myself, the blog, the house.  If you're coming to this blog via Facebook, I hope you'll stay in touch via email or comments left here.

What are you giving up for Lent this year?

PS-  even though there are going to be some posts dated before this one, this is officially my 100th blog post, if this blog were a sitcom, it'd be eligible for syndication.  I'm looking forward to writing the next hundred and hope it doesn't take as long (meaning hope I stay on track of making several posts a week instead of several posts every several months)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Crepes Florentine

One of our favorite places to go for brunch is Infusion Coffee and Tea.  They have really great crepes (both savory and sweet).  We go there often enough that we are due a free crepe next time we eat there.  That being said, when I find a food I really like, I try to duplicate it at home so if I ever have a craving, I can whip it up on the spot.

For some reason, I've been intimidated about making crepes (I thought I needed a special crepe maker like my grandmother had and that creperies use), but after watching Worst Cooks in America and seeing them make crepes I figured I could do it.  And with a little encouragement from a friend who successfully made some a few days before my attempt, I was off.

The crepe recipe is a basic recipe I found on the internet.  The filling and topping are my own concoctions.  Don said these turned out as well as what we get at Infusion.  They didn't take as long as I expected, but don't make it on a night when you are in a big rush.  This is NOT diet food.  Paula Deen would be proud!

Crepes:
1 C. flour
2 eggs (lightly beaten)
1/2 C milk
1/2 C water
1/4 tsp salt
2 tbsp melted butter

Combine flour and salt in small bowl.  In large bowl, combine eggs, milk, water, butter.  Using a hand mixer or blender, add dry ingredients to wet ingredients and beat until smooth.  To make crepes, use a non-stick pan. Heat pan on low and run a stick of butter all over the pan until coated.  Turn heat up slightly and pour about 1/3 cup of batter into pan.  You will need to move pan around to coat bottom with batter.  You should flip the crepe once the edges are bubbling.  Cook the crepe on the other side for about 2 more minutes remove from heat and fill with spinach mixture and top with cheese sauce (recipes below).

Filling:
6 slices of bacon
1 tbsp butter
1 16 oz. pkg of frozen spinach (thawed and drained)
1 small white onion, chopped
1 can cream of mushroom soup
salt
pepper
red pepper
garlic powder

Cook bacon in large skillet until crisp.  Remove, drain and crumble.  Reserve 1 tbsp of bacon drippings. Add 1 tbsp butter to reserved drippings in skillet.  Add onion and sautee until soft.  Add spinach, garlic powder, red pepper and black pepper (start with about a 1/2 tsp each), bacon crumbles and soup.  Combine well and taste, add salt and any additional seasoning as needed.

Topping:
3 tbsp butter
1/4 C flour
1 C milk
1/8 tsp nutmeg
2 oz cream cheese
1/4 grated parmesan cheese (use a hard cheese, not canned parm, you'll need a little elbow grease)
1/2 C shredded swiss cheese

In saucepan on medium high heat melt butter.  Add flour, stirring constantly- it will thicken up.  Slowly add milk, continue to stir constantly until gravy like.  Reduce heat, add nutmeg and cheeses.  Stir until melted, remove from heat.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Food for Thought

Ok, I know I was going to try and put my menus up every Sunday, but this weekend got away from me!  Don's element planned a family day at one of the local water parks (there are at least 3 water parks on Guam, which seems like a lot for how small this island is).  We spent Sunday at the Onward Beach Resort water park.  It was a really nice day!  It only rained twice, but when you're already wet from spending hour upon hour in the Lazy River who cares?  By the time we got home tired, sun kissed (in Don's case, sun crisped), and in no mood to cook, much less to think about the menu (or shopping list) to be compiled for the week ahead, I let it slide.

And then, I put it off again because I had the rare, but seriously much needed, chance to leave the boys at home and escape get out of the house for a few hours with a friend.  I apologize for the delay, but without further ado.. here's the menu (I know you're chomping at the bit)....

Sunday- Cook's Day Off
Monday- Crepes Florentine*
Tuesday- Michael Boys' Meatloaf*
Wednesday- Leftovers
Thursday- Salsa Chicken and rice

These are original recipes, a la me.  Yes KJ and KPH, I am actually WRITING recipes down.  I'll share them next week.

Oh, guess what??  Doing this menu thing continues to pay off, I am doing GREAT with the grocery budget this month!  It helps that it's a short month, but I have almost a quarter of the budget left.

Mole Rubbed Chicken with Mango/Avocado Salsa

I found this recipe in Southern Living's 2009 Annual Recipes Cookbook.  I LOVED it!!  Don and Price LOVED it!!  A total hit.  It is quick and easy and clean up was quick and easy too.  Don't let the cocoa scare you off- you honestly can't taste it.  I've added my input in italics.

2 tablespoons light brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder (next time I make this, I will use chipotle chili powder, I think the smokiness will add a nice touch)
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa (I may bump this amount up a little, you don't want the chocolate to overpower the recipe, but it was almost lost)
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 1/4 teaspoons salt, divided
1 1/2 pounds boneless/skinless chicken breasts
2 limes
2 teaspoons honey
HASS AVOCADO FROM MEXICO, chopped (I think Hoss sponsored this recipe, so use whatever kind of avocado you have on hand, I used 2 avocados because I am an avocado addict)
1 cup chopped fresh mango (I have no idea how to pick out a fresh, ripe mango or cut it.  I do however know how to find a bag of frozen stuff, run it under some water and it works great)
3/4 cup grape tomatoes, quartered (I had to omit this due to the tomatoes that were available were gross, and the salsa tasted good without them, just would have been nice to have the color)
finely chopped red onion
4 teaspoons chopped fresh cilantro
Garnishes: fresh cilantro sprigs, lime wedges

Preparation

1. Preheat grill to 350° to 400° (medium-high) heat. Stir together brown sugar, next 4 ingredients, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a small bowl. Rub chicken with sugar mixture, coating well. WASH YOUR HANDS AFTER TOUCHING RAW CHICKEN!

2. Grate zest from limes to equal 1 Tbsp.; squeeze juice from limes to equal 2 Tbsp. Whisk together honey, lime zest, and lime juice in a medium bowl. Add avocado, and toss to coat. Stir in mango, next 3 ingredients, and remaining 3/4 tsp. salt.

3. Grill chicken, covered with grill lid, 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until a meat thermometer inserted into thickest portion registers 165°. (I didn't feel like messing with the grill, so I did these in my grill pan and it worked fine) Serve with mango-avocado salsa. Garnish, if desired.

This meal is light and breezy, filling yet not overly so.  If you make extra, the chicken makes a great salad the next day.  Cut it into chunks add to any left over salsa and add a little mayo- great as a sandwich or on crackers.

Pulled Pork

Pulled Pork is one of my favorite things to make.  It's super easy and it makes a ton, so there's always leftovers or plenty if you decide to have folks for dinner. The first night we had pulled pork sandwiches and I made pulled pork quesadillas for our leftover night.  I love to put cole slaw on my pork sandwiches, but neither of my boys eat it, so I didn't make any this time.  The quesadillas were great the next night with a side of black beans and avocado.

This recipe is made in a slow cooker. However, if you don't have one you can do the same thing in in a dutch oven on the stove.

3-4 lb boneless pork butt or shoulder
1 Tbsp Tony Chachere's Creole Seasoning (the world's best combo of spices!  you can put it on anything. if you don't have any, get some.  now.  we can buy it here in Guam, so you can probably get it just about any where)
1/4 C firmly packed brown sugar
1 C of bbq sauce
1/2 can of dark soda
1/4 C garlic chili sauce
1 can of crushed pineapple (or 1 can of peaches)
2 tbsp spicy mustard

Combine the Tony's and brown sugar.  Rub all over pork.  Place pork in slow cooker.  Add rest of ingredients and any rub that was left over to slow cooker.  Set to high and cook for 5 hours.  Check at about 4 1/2 hours and shred using two forks.   If it doesn't shred easily, it needs to cook a while longer.  This recipe is a little on the spicy side, to reduce heat decrease chili sauce.

Pepperoni and Pineapple Pizza on Whole Wheat Crust

Pizza dough was the first yeast bread I tried making in Guam.  The first time I made it, it turned out pretty well.  Since pizza around here isn't really good (or fast, or reasonably priced) I've made pizza at least once a month since the first attempt.  Each crust tastes better than the last.  I'm finally comfortable enough with the process, that I was able to create my own crust using my own recipe.

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust*
1 C warm water (needs to be between 110-120 degrees)
1 pkt yeast
2 1/4 C all-purpose flour, plus extra  (I use unbleached all-purpose flour in all of my baking)
1/4 C whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp garlic salt
1/2 tsp each- basil, oregano

Preheat oven to 350.

In large mixing bowl add yeast and sugar to warm water.  Let stand for about 10 minutes until water is frothy from yeast.  Add flour, sugar, salt and spices.  Mix.  Add olive oil.  Continue to mix until all ingredients are combined.  If dough is very sticky, add a little more all purpose flour.  At this point, you can let the dough sit from 5 minutes up to an hour.  However, if you're in a hurry, like I always seem to be, you can roll dough immediately.  Knead dough until it is elastic and not too sticky, adding flour as necessary (you should be able to pick dough off counter with out it sticking).  Place on pizza pan and form to shape of pan.  Place in oven without toppings, for 7-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, while crust is baking, assemble your toppings.  I make my own pizza sauce by combing 1 can of tomato paste with either one can of diced tomatoes or 1 can of tomato sauce and then add seasonings such as oregano, thyme and basil as well as salt and pepper until sauce tastes the way I want.

Once the crust has been in the oven about 10 minutes,  I remove it from oven, immediately add toppings and pop it back in the oven for another 10 minutes or so until cheese is melted and outer edge of crust is lightly brown.

*if you don't want a whole wheat crust, substitute all purpose flour for whole wheat

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos

This is another recipe that I pulled out of the vault. It was recommended to me by my great friend KJ. I have made it once before. I try to cook (am not always successful) one meatless meal a week. Having made this recipe before and knowing the flavor combinations, I really didn't alter anything.

This recipe was taken from http://homecooking.about.com/od/vegetablerecipes/r/blv87.htm.

Ingredients
5 cups peeled cubed sweet potatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons canola or other vegetable oil
3-1/2 cups diced onions
4 large garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1 Tablespoon minced fresh green chile (I forgot to purchase, so I used canned chiles)
4 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoons ground coriander
4-1/2 cups cooked black beans (three 15-ounce cans, drained)
2/3 cup lightly packed cilantro leaves
2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon salt

8 eight-inch flour tortillas I made whole wheat tortillas instead

Fresh tomato salsa or jarred  (I meant to make salsa, but ran out of time, so served with avocado and sour cream instead)


Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place the sweet potatoes in a medium saucepan with the salt and water to cover. Cover and bring to a boil, then simmer until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.

While the sweet potatoes are cooking, warm the oil in a medium skillet or saucepan and add the onions, garlic, and chiles.  Cover and cook on medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender, about 7 minutes. Add the cumin and coriander and cook for 2 to 3 minutes longer, stirring frequently. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a food processor, combine the black beans, cilantro, lemon juice, salt, and cooked sweet potatoes and puree until smooth. (You can also mash the ingredients in a large bowl by hand using a potato masher. The result will be a less smooth but nicely textured filling.) Transfer the sweet potato mixture to a large mixing bowl and mix in the cooked onions and spices.

Lightly oil a large baking dish. Spoon about 2/3 to 3/4 cup of the filling in the center of each tortilla, roll it up, and place it, seam side down, in the baking dish. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about 30 minutes, until piping hot. Serve topped with salsa

When I made the recipe this time, I combined the beans and potatoes in my food processor.  It combined them too much.  Next time, I will just mast with my potato masher, because the potatoes got lost in the mixture, and this really tastes better when the sweet comes through more.   This recipe is labor intensive and takes a while to prepare.  I also want to come up with a sauce to use as a topping, because there really isn't much purpose in baking them without a sauce to add a little moisture to the dish.  The salsa is a must even if you chose not to bake.


I will keep this recipe in the rotation, Price and I both liked it.  A friend of mine shared it with us for lunch and said it was good, but I think she was being nice. Don isn't crazy about it, but he's not usually a fan of burritos unless they weigh a pound and come from Moe's.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Kids Love It Casserole

This recipe was taken from my River Roads Recipes II cookbook.  This book originally belonged to my grandmother, O'Peg.  I've written about it before, but it is my favorite cookbook because every time I use it, I  feel connected to her and my family.  This particular recipe has no special significance to me (most of the recipes I use from this book do because they are so entwined with memories of family get togethers).  What I love most about this book (and its sister, the original River Roads Recipes) are the notes my grandmother made in the margins and the recipe cards that fall out with recipes and her plans for parties she was throwing.  Whenever I catch a glance of her beautiful handwriting, I feel like she is in the kitchen with me.

So, it comes as little surprise to me that even though this was a pretty plain recipe, it was our favorite of the week.  Good old comfort food...

The items in italics are mine :)

Kids Love It Casserole (contributed by Mrs. Neel Garland, p. 112 River Roads Recipes II)

1 to 1.5 lbs ground beef
1 medium onion chopped
1 clove garlic chopped
1 tbsp salad oil (olive oil)
dry basil, oregano, salt, black pepper, red pepper to taste
1 ten ounce pkg, frozen chopped spinach
1 16 oz jar of spaghetti sauce with mushrooms (I used Ragu with a bunch of veggies in it)
1 8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 6 oz can of tomato paste
1 7 oz pkg shell macaroni, cooked according to directions on pkg (I used rotini instead of shells)
1 C. shredded sharp American cheese
1/2 C. soft bread crumbs (I was lazy and just used regular bread crumbs)
2 eggs, well beaten
1/4 C salad oil  (although the recipe called for it, I excluded from recipe, just added about a tbsp of olive oil to the pasta while boiling to keep it from sticking)


Brown beef, onion, garlic in oil.  Add spices to meat while browning (drain fat if necessary, I use super lean meat so I had didn't .  Meanwhile, cook spinach according to package directions.  Drain, reserving 1 cup of liquid (if necessary add water to make one cup).  Add liquid, spaghetti sauce, tomato sauce and tomato paste to meat, simmer for 10 minutes.  Combine spinach with macaroni, cheese, bread crumbs, eggs and salad oil.  Spread in 13x9x2 baking dish, cover with meat sauce.  Bake at 350 for 30 minutes.

Other than this being a good comfort food, it's really versatile.  You could totally make this meal with out the meat.  You could also cut out some of the steps and make it quicker- for instance, cook the spinach and the macaroni together.  Next time I make it, I am going to substitute ricotta for the cheddar and put mozzarella on top.  It also made A LOT!  I ended up throwing some of it out because after eating it for about 5 meals in a row (2 dinners and 3 lunches), we just couldn't handle it again.  but it's definitely a keeper.

Melissa D'Arabian's Flexible 4 Step Chicken and Five Minute Potato Gratins

This was my second time making this chicken recipe.  I originally saw it when Melissa won The Next Food Network Star.  I liked her throughout the competition and this recipe looked doable.  It was, it's actually a very simple dish to make, but looks like a lot of time and effort went into it.  I believe the reason flexible is in the title is because you can change up the seasoning quite easily.

As always, my editorial comments are in italics.

Ingredients

  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, sliced in half crossways (butterflied, cut all the way through) (We cannot, no matter how many chickens I see running around this island on a daily basis, get fresh chicken here. And I'm not ready to go out and get my own, so I must settle for the almost dreadful frozen boneless, skinless breasts in a bag.  Since these aren't thick enough to slice, I thaw them, place them in a ziploc baggie and pound the hell out of them.  This helps relieve any pent up stress I may have as well as all of my frustration about being unable to get fresh chicken in Guam)
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme, plus 1 small bunch fresh thyme, leaves chopped (trying to economize and use ingredients needed in several recipes for the week, I substitued fresh basil, left over from the Pastina for the fresh thyme)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 red onion, thinly sliced (red onions were unavailable, so I used yellow- red is definitely better for this recipe)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1/4 cup white wine, optional (I buy the cheapo airplane bottles of wine, that way I don't have to open a big bottle,for such a small amount, I save the big bottles of the good stuff for when I'm cooking with friends, then it makes sense to open the big bottle so we can cook and drink)
  • 1 cup chicken broth
  • 3 lemons, juiced (the first time I made this, I used 3 lemons, this time based on reviews, I used 2 lemons because I remembered the dish being VERY tangy the first time.  This time, it wasn't as tangy, even though I also added about a tsp of lemon zest)
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons butter

Directions

Season chicken with dried thyme and salt and pepper. Heat a large saute pan over medium heat and add the oil. Dredge the chicken in flour, add to the hot oil and saute until cooked through. Set chicken aside to rest on plate tented with foil.
Have I introduced you to the newest member of the family?  I am in LOVE!!!!!


In same saute pan, over low heat, add onions and fresh thyme basil, garlic, lemon zest and cook until aromatic.


In a measuring cup, measure out wine, if using, and broth, and add the lemon juice. Turn the heat up to high, and deglaze the pan with the broth mixture until starting to reduce. (I zoned out on this little piece and added each individually, starting with the wine.  Note to self- FOLLOW INSTRUCTIONS!!  It would have been much better and a true deglaze, getting all of the crumbly bits off the bottom of the pan, if I had combined all three liquids as instructed).
Remove the pan from the heat and finish the sauce by whisking in butter. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
I got distracted by this and forgot to take pictures of the rest of the process or the finished product...


Now for the potatoes....  

Recipe by Melissa D'Arabian, The Next Food Network Star Finale

5 Minute Potato Gratins

Ingredients

  • Vegetable spray
  • 2 large russet potatoes, roughly peeled and thinly sliced (do not use a food processor unless you have a super thin slicer attachment, which I DO NOT)
  • 1/2 cup grated Swiss cheese
  • 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream (common theme- no cream at the Commissary, so I had to make do.  Although, several trusted sources- both on-line and in cookbooks- stated that I could add melted butter to whole milk and get the same effect, it didn't really work out.  I got milky butter...)

Directions

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Spray 8 muffin tins with vegetable spray. Layer potato slices, cheese, and onions into each muffin cup. Season with salt and pepper and top each gratin with 1 or 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. Cover with foil and bake for 30 to 40 minutes, removing the foil halfway through cooking time. Invert gratins onto plate and serve.

There is absolutely nothing 5 minute about this recipe, unless you take 5 minutes to peel the potatoes or 5 minutes to shred the cheese or 5 minutes to slice the potatoes or 5 minutes to assemble the gratins (you get my point right?).  Anyway, I tried to take a shortcut and used my food processor to slice the potatoes, they ended up being too thick to do in individual tins.  I had to make as one large dish in a pie plate.  I probably won't attempt this dish again... too much work, not enough flavor. However, be on the lookout for another potato au gratin recipe in the next month or so.  I love potatoes in any form, but especially when loaded with cheese and cream, I'll be searching for the perfect recipe to try (if you have one, post it to my comments).

Giada's Pastina with Peas and Carrots

I happened to be flipping channels one day and stumbled across Giada De Laurentiis making a kidcentric meal.  So, although she's not my favorite Food Network personality, I stopped to watch.  After all, I have a kid, I like to cook, and figured it would probably be a pretty simple recipe.  The fact that the ingredients are three of Price's favorite foods didn't hurt.

From Giada at Home, my adaptations/substitutions/reviews are in italics

Ingredients

  • 1/2 pound (8 ounces) pastina or other small-shaped pasta, such as farfallini (guess what, the Commissary doesn't have teeny, tiny pasta, so I just used regular sized bow ties)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and diced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 cup low-sodium chicken stock
  • 1 cup frozen petite peas, thawed (I just used regular peas too)
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup (4 ounces) mascarpone cheese, at room temperature (another thing I couldn't find, so I googled and found I could use sour cream)
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves

Directions

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes. Drain, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water.
In a large nonstick skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 7 minutes. Add the carrots and stock and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peas to the pan and cook for 2 minutes until the peas are warmed through and the carrots are tender. Stir in the cooked pasta. Remove the pan from the heat and add the cheeses. Stir until the mixture is incorporated and forms a sauce. Season with salt, to taste. Transfer to a large serving bowl and garnish with chopped basil.


Overall, this recipe was just ok.  It took longer than I thought (because of poor planning and execution on my part- tried to make on a Sunday evening after returning from demoralizing trip to Commissary and with an impatient, cranky kiddo as my sous chef).  It really needs mascarpone cheese rather than sour cream, it was just kind of bland.  I also added some cooked chicken to the finished product, and neither hurt nor helped the taste.  This dish was actually better the second day for lunch.  I may make it again if I have the mascarpone cheese.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Houskeeping

Well, it's time for me to review my recipes from last week and share my menu for this week.  I'm trying to figure out the best way to do both of these things in a way that makes sense.  I also want the recipes/menus to be easy to access for all of my readers who I am sure are dying to see what I am cooking these days when I want to look back and create future menus or need reminders about recipes I want to try again.

The best way for me to do this (right now, according to my brain) is just to continue posting my menus every Sunday.  I will also (do my very best, but can't really guarantee) try to have all of my reviews up by Monday.  I'll post each recipe with review individually, but on the same day.  So, if cooking/menu planning isn't your thing, you can skip those posts.

Sorry for the boring post, but just wanted to let you know why there are so many new posts today.

In case you're wondering, this week's menu:

Sunday-  Beef  Ravioli (hold over from last week's menu)
Monday- Pepperoni & Pineapple Pizza on homemade whole wheat crust
Tuesday- Pulled Pork
Wednesday- leftovers
Thursday- Mole Rubbed Chicken with Mango/Avocado salsa

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hatchery

Yesterday evening, while cooking dinner, I felt warm.  I thought about it and realized I had been feeling hot all day.  Then I came to the conclusion that our AC must be on the fritz.  So I decided to open the windows and let the breeze in and cool down the house some.  I happened to glance down and see this...


No, those are not pearls.  Those my friends, are in fact, some type of reptile (probably gecko) egg. Empty, reptile eggs.  Laid in and apparently hatched from my window sill.

I closed the window and decided we could live without breeze.  I called Maintenance first thing this morning...

Monday, February 1, 2010

On the Menu

Grocery shopping is now one of my least favorite things to do.  I used to love it.  I would coupon clip, stalk sales and see how far our grocery budget could get us every month (I almost always had something left each month).  I also lived in the land of plenty where everything I wanted was readily available and if not at the original location, could be found at one of the other 30 grocery stores in my neighborhood, not to mention the specialty shops or  in the summer, my very favorite- Frank's Fruit Farm.

Now, I must battle a million people in a smallish store with aisles that would make a true claustrophobe cry.   I also have to try and schedule my shopping days against paydays and Sundays  because usually by the time I can get motivated enough to brave the Commissary, if I get there too late on the aforementioned days inevitably something that I want (meat, bread, butter, produce) will be gone.  Have I mentioned too that the store is closed on Mondays? And yes, I could shop on the economy, but the prices are way too high and even with COLA our grocery budget couldn't take that kind of hit, so I choose to be thankful that we are able to buy any groceries and just cross my fingers and try to avoid shopping on Sundays and pay days (unfortunately it doesn't always work out).

We've been here five months and I have only managed to stay within the constraints boundaries of the grocery budget once.  In all of the months we have lived here, I have been unable to make it more than 3 or 4 days at a time without having to go to the Commissary to get something that I needed for dinner.  So, I knew I needed to make a change and sat down and made a menu for the week.  I had been meaning to do this for some time, but just never got around to it.  My sister-in-law sent me an email from http://www.5dollardinners.com/.  I started looking around her site and got sucked into a few others (one of these days, I am going to post a list of all my favorite websites) and got serious about it.  Then, I found out my good buddy Rachel had taken on menu planning as one of her New Years Resolutions, so I felt even more motivated not just to give it a try but to keep up with it.  And guess what, it worked!  For the first time since moving to Guam, I came in under budget last month (by a whopping $7) and for the two weeks that I did menu planning, I only had to go to the store once a week.

I wish I could be as good as Rachel (who also started a cool group on Facebook for all of us meal planners to share recipe ideas, so I'm sure it'll be a great resource for me) and plan 13 meals at one time.  I also wish I had it in me to be like my friends Matt and Jenn and make all of my meals for the week in one day.  But then what I would do with my time?  Probably just sit around and eat bon-bons...

I've decided to start posting my menus here.  Although they aren't expensive, I'm not trying to make the world's cheapest dinner, and I can also promise they won't always be homemade (I heart Velveeta Shells and Cheese with a can of tuna and frozen peas tossed in).  And I'll be honest if something just doesn't work out.

This week's menu is:
Sunday- Pastina with Peas and Carrots
Monday-Flexible 4 Step Chicken (Rustic Chicken with Lemon and Onions), 5 Minute Individual Augratin and green beans of some sort
Tuesday- an old recipe I found in my River Roads cookbook- Casserole Kids Will Love (I'll let ya know if it works out)
Wednesday- leftovers, I am going out and leaving the boys at home
Thursday- supposed to be Black Bean and Sweet Potato Burritos with homemade tortillas and salsa (but the Comm didn't have sweet potatoes- they also didn't have bananas, which I must have.  So, I may go to the store to get bananas and pick up the sweet potatoes while I'm there.  So much for only going to the store once a week)
Friday or Saturday- Homemade beef ravioli with this incredibly, amazingly simple tomato sauce

So that's it, I'll review the recipes at the end of the week and let you know about any tweaks I make (for instance, the comm didn't have cream- do you see a trend- so for the potatoes au gratin, I had to make my own with milk and butter).
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