Friday, June 29, 2012

Frugal Frozen Dinner

I'm going to admit it. I am a tightwad. I am also a bit on the lazy side during the work week when it comes to cooking a healthy dinner. Many nights, I've been known to eat a fried egg and cheese sandwich or to microwave a potato. Let's face it, a potato only serves as a perfect carrier for butter and sour cream not for any nutrition of note.

The alternatives aren't much better. 

Cereal? I hate cereal. The cold quality of it makes me feel like I didn't eat. My meal needs to be hot to satiate my appetite.

Frozen dinners? I tried frozen meals from the grocery for a while. Some are certainly ok. Most are awful. I'm ALWAYS still hungry.

Since I already buy family packs at the grocery store, I decided to try my hand at making my own frozen meals. This was my first dish. It is surprisingly easy and tastes yummy when reheated. With these, I come home from work, pop the whole frozen concoction into a ceramic bowl out of the plastic and microwave for 5-6 minutes on med-high power. Done! a whole serving of veggies to boot.

What's in the Bowl?
1/2 cup of cooked brown rice
1 c heaping of frozen stir fry veggie mix
3 oz grilled chicken
Green curry "sauce"

Green Curry Sauce
1 can lite coconut milk
1 tb green curry paste
1tb heaping, corn starch

In a small sauce pan, blend half of the coconut mild with the paste over a med-low heat. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining coconut milk with corn starch. Keep stirring and add to the warming mixture. Cook while stirring for two-three minutes stirring constantly. 

You can certainly omit the corn starch if you'd like. Or use some alternative like arrowroot, tapioca etc. The purpose of the starch is as a binding agent fro the milk which tends to separate and look funky when overheated or reheated. The taste is the same regardless of the addition. 


Boxer-Rooney hates young obnoxious dogs. He relishes sun soaked naps, visiting the neighbors and rolling in the grass just after a bath. He also happens to love yogurt!

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Before there were leftovers....

I think I can be assured that the majority of us are on budgets these days. As a single gal, home owner and dog own budget is a little tight to say the least. Who knew those dang dogs woud be so expensive. It's a good thing he's so darn cute!

I live alone, but I buy the family packs of everything. Why pass up such a great deal? Isn't that what freezers are for?

I always cook myself something special on grocery day...or in this case the next day since I went shopping so late in the evening.

Above, Grilled chicken which I brined overnight (recipe below) served with caramelized onion strings, roasted garlic, fresh tomatoes, a chiffonade of baby spinach and basil over grilled polenta cakes and a honey balsamic glaze.

I can't tell you how much I laugh (on the inside of course) when I hear someone gushing about some fancy reduction or glaze or such. As if these things hold some magical sway and are completely out of reach of the average cook. Not so I tell you. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At a recent food show I saw a gentleman in what was probably a $150 chef coat. Fine pressed cotton twill, black piping, monkey fist buttons, custom tailoring, embroidery. It fit him like a glove and I'll admit, he did look quite impressive. His sale item? Ha! I nearly spit on him as I popped a pear slice in my mouth drizzled with his "make anything gourmet" sauce which was a "6 hour balsamic reduction". He was charging a ridiculous figure for a pathetically puny amount. I'm pretty sure I was mad at him for about an hour. Pulling the wool over these innocents! The nerve!

My friends, for those of you that don't already know, the only thing this guy did was dump a large quantity of balsamic vinegar into a pot and cook it until it was half the volume it began at. I made just such a concoction for the meal above. What did I do? I poured about a quarter cup of vinegar into a small sauce pan, added a tb of honey--just because my vinegar is particularly pungent and cooked it until it started to resemble a syrup. All told, maybe three minutes. Maybe.

The beauty of these sorts of reductions is that the possibilities are endless and like the guy in the chef coat said, they really do make any meal feel gourmet. Just don't pay that much for it! Instead splurge on the really nice balsamic and make your own!

Chicken Brine:
1/4 c salt, rice wine vinegar & honey (i used local buckwheat honey--a tad on the spicy side)
tsp each cayenne, black pepper, onion powder, garlic powder and mustard powder.
juice of a lemon and lime
whisk it all together, pour over chicken in a large bowl, add water until chicken is covered.
Allow to set in refrigerator overnight (24 hrs is best). Drain and grill 'em up!

If you've never brined poultry before, don't be alarmed at the almost cooked appearance of the chicken the next day. Acid "cooks" protein. It still needs to be properly cooked of course. Hope you enjoy!

Johnny says Woof!

Monday, June 25, 2012

The yellow rose bush that was....

I must confess!

Today, I killed my rosebush.

Beautiful yes? But I despise them in my yard. I'll take them in bouquets handed to me by suitors all day long. Please, please don't grow in my yard!

I can't seem to get within 10 feet of the thing without coming out with my clothes ripped, my skin set with the mark of a future scar, my pony tail pulled out and my temper flaring.

Today, it got the better of me. All I wanted to do was work a tad on scraping the old paint off my house for my slowly progressing renovations.

I did save the blooms. Sadly, these will be the last blooms from THIS yellow rose bush. For now, they will brighten up my kitchen.

Quicker Picker-upper

It seems most snacks are geared toward people with a sweet tooth. I've never had one. I'd choose a hearty pot roast heavily laden with horseradish over a chocolate cake any day of the week, and even on Christmas.

Here though, is a snack I can live with. Fresh, tart blueberries, vanilla yogurt (I like Tillamook's--not too sweet and local!) and a sprinkling of almonds.

Granola would probably go great in here, but I'm a tad bit picky on granola. I've yet to find a variety that I absolutely love. For now, simple almonds will do.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Lunch Time!

Grilled Chicken and Spinach Salad
My bout of spring cleaning left me a bit famished! I realized that I had gone the whole day with nothing more than a little 80's music on Pandora and an entire pot of coffee.

Time to eat!

With a little pondering in front of the refrigerator, I came up with this little joy and came out with a happy tummy and a pretty dang healthy meal. I am a big proponent of stocking a pantry with the essentials and making a meal out of what I have. It takes a bit of practice, but it gets easier with time.

I have always loved poppy seed dressing ever since my Mom took me to a little tea house in Sikeston, Missouri where they served a warm chicken and cashew salad drizzled with the delicious tangy house made poppy seed dressing. That salad was on my mind today as I set to it.

I'm sure this salad would be complete even without a tasty grilled hunk-o-chicken on top. Have you noticed how humongous the chicken breasts are in the market these days? They are very nearly the size of a Turkey! There's no way I can eat a whole one. Well, perhaps I could, but then there's that whole diet thing. Weight is getting a little harder to take off and a little too easy to put on these days. 

These are my five essential ingredients: salt, pepper, garlic, mustard powder and thyme. I like to dip my thyme stalks in olive oil and "baste" my chicken breast with it before I throw it on. Of course, I leave the thyme sitting neatly on top. Once I seared it on both sides on the grill, I sliced the to breast speed up the cooking and get even more of that wonderful grilled taste.

On to the salad, I piled my plate high with fresh spinach from Kruger's Farm Market in St. Johns topped it with slivered almonds, diced dried apricots, and a drizzle of my own poppyseed dressing.


Poppy Seed Dressing
1tb poppy seeds
1tb dijon mustard
1tsp mustard powder
1tsp salt
1/4 c honey
1/4 onion grated
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 to 3/4 olive oil (depending upon your taste for the tangy)

Dissolve salt in vinegar. Add all ingredients aside from oil together and whisk furiously. Slowly drizzle in your olive oil. Taste occasionally until you meet just the level of tangy you like.

But of course, eating on a small plate like that is just too difficult for me. This is what it looked like in my giant bowl after I cut up the chicken pieces and with plenty of room for tossing.

These are a few of my favorite things....

My Favorite Things

My list is long, as I am sure yours is. My list of favorite things written on a roll of receipt paper, would likely stretch around my house several times. And oh! the categories!

Today I found myself in the midst of a belated spring cleaning. Long overdue. It is not unlike a treasure hunt where I can find and remember the things nearest and dearest to me.

I pulled out my stack of cleaning towels and set to work on the heart of any home. The kitchen.

Most people take one look at my pitiful little well worn butchers knife and scoff. If that knife could only tell stories! That and the cast iron skillet that I use for nearly every meal were my Great Grandma Mimi's. She used them way back when to peel potatoes, cut up a freshly killed pullet and whip up a meal for the entire Punkin' Holler community in central Tennessee. It was passed on to my Meema who used it for the same tasks and even sometimes coupled it with a large fork to cut the shortening into the flour for a batch of her delicious biscuits.

That knife and that skillet were used to prepare nearly every meal of my childhood. The skillet was home to crisp crusted cornbread, sautéed string beans from the garden, fried green tomatoes and REAL creamed corn. (Stay tuned for that recipe)

Of course, the old is made better with just a touch of the new. Enter my best and most used knife. 8inches of gorgeous German Steel. Bolster-less but still perfectly balanced. Ironically, it is the lack of a bolster that I love best. This knife can be sharpened ad infinitum with no loss of contact on the cutting board toward the back of the knife. This little jewel of my culinary tool set is a perfect complement to the 100+ year old cast iron and the hickory handled knife handed down from my Mimi. I wonder where it will be in 100 years? Only 87 more to go!

Go here to see The best knife in the land!

And here for a modern version of the classic all purpose cast iron skillet