Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday: Chicken Tamale Casserole

Well real life is upon me. No time to cook and no time to blog. Good thing we cooked a lot of stuff on the weekend or we'd be in trouble. Manged to flog...errr.....provide a nutritious and delicious meal to my darling children (who are currently a couple of complainers!!!) of frozen mac'n'cheese which has been sitting in my freezer for such an emergency as today. Luckily we have enough roast, chicken, soup and pasta sauce made on the weekend to get us through until Friday.

Should I survive until Friday, I am thinking this recipe from Cooking Light looks good to use up whatever is left and a few things from the pantry and freezer:

Chicken Tamale Casserole - Serves 8


1 cup (4 ounces) preshredded 4-cheese Mexican blend cheese, divided
1/3 cup fat-free milk
1/4 cup egg substitute
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
1 (14 3/4-ounce) can cream-style corn
1 (8.5-ounce) box corn muffin mix (such as Martha White)
1 (4-ounce) can chopped green chiles, drained
Cooking spray
1 (10-ounce) can red enchilada sauce (such as Old El Paso)
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream

1. Preheat oven to 400°.

2. Combine 1/4 cup cheese and next 7 ingredients (through chiles) in a large bowl, stirring just until moist. Pour mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

3. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until set. Pierce entire surface liberally with a fork; pour enchilada sauce over top. Top with chicken; sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until cheese melts. Remove from oven; let stand 5 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces; top each serving with 1 tablespoon sour cream.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Monday - Chili and Chipotles to dispel the Chill

Where did the Indian Summer go in Toronto....  I guess it was Friday and that is all we are getting.  Oh well.  Just as well we made a big batch of chicken chili - with no blackbeans to offend T-Rex.  We really don`t have a is a taste and colour thing.  The best thing we have discovered in recent years that makes chili more than a bowl of love, is chipotle peppers.  You can buy chipotles as a powder, in adobo in a can or as whole dried chilis.

Chipotle peppers are basically smoked jalapeno peppers - and while definitely hot, it is their smoky flavour we crave.  It is said that the Aztecs smoked these particular peppers (no, not in a pipe or rolling paper) because their thick flesh was difficult to dry and often rotted.  By smoke drying the peppers, they were able to keep them in storage for a very long period of time.

 Also the dry smoking process allows for most of the natural heat of the jalapeno to be retained.  Typically it is between 5,000 to 10,000 Scoville Units. This is more or less a medium heat compared to other peppers.  Something like a habanero is about 350,000 to 580,000 depending on the species.   Because they are thick skinned, chipotles work best if added to a slow-cooked meal, such as a chili, soup or stew.

And nothing goes with a nice pot of chili as well as freshly baked bread.  Fortunately, we have a breadmaker.  His name is .....  well he`s the Omnivore.  A few years ago I asked for a breadmaker for Xmas.  Used it on Boxing Day to make some complicated beer cheddar bread and then it collected dust ever since.  Then the Omnivore took an interest and started making bread.  Yay!  Nothing better than a breadmaker that comes with ....uh...a breadmaker.  Ssshhhh.  That was my secret plan all along....don`t tell him tho!

Here`s what Om has to say about his favourite appliance:

``With the timer function, you can set the maker to come on at anytime during the day, allowing it to finish just before dinner.  The basic ingredients should be followed carefully, to avoid the bread being too dense, or not being able to rise correctly.  Our standard is the french style,and can be put together in less 5 minutes.  The basic ingredients are oil, sugar, salt and flour.  We used up one of the three partial bags left in the panty for this.  One thing that we do to make it a little different, is to add herbs.  Whatever strikes your fancy.  We added some fresh rosemary, left over from yesterday's roast.  We have also added basil, thyme, oregano, garlic etc. Not much though, or you will not taste the bread itself.  Because we are matching this with chili, you can add some shredded cheese over the top, about 15 minutes before it is finished, once the top crust has started to

There you have it.  So it is left over chili for lunch tomorrow for someone.....

Sunday, September 26, 2010

You can't beat beets

Here's a cool article on beets and an awesome sounding salad recipe ( alert - contains goat cheese). Maybe next weekend when I hit the market...|canada-toshiba|dl3|sec1_lnk3|172950

Roasted Beet Salad with Walnuts

4 medium red or golden beets (choose organic if possible), stems and leaves removed (don't discard)

1/3 cup walnuts, chopped
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
4 handfuls of arugula or spinach
2 ounces of goat cheese


Wash and cut beets into bite sized pieces. Bake the beets in your oven at 375F for 45 minutes in a covered baking dish, or steam until fork tender. (Avoid boiling them, you will leach out all the minerals). Once cooked, cool slightly. Toss the beets in a salad bowl with the walnuts, olive oil, vinegar, black pepper and greens. Crumble goat cheese over top, just before serving. 

Serves 2. Enjoy!

Apparently the Rex likes roasted beets. I love roasted beets. The Omnivore has recollections of harvard beets from a can as a child so I think he remains suspicious of these little nutritional marvels. Most recipes I see say to cook beets in their skins then put on rubber gloves to rub off the skin, but I really like to wash and peel them before I roast them so they get really crispy and caramelized.

The other easy recipe my BFF Ann makes is roasted beets with a bit of cumin, lime juice, honey (or agave nectar) and cilantro. Luv luv luv.

How long can you store food in the freezer?

The bordering on freezer burnt chicken breasts led me to wonder to myself how long it is actually advisable to store food in one's freezer.  I came across this chart which I thought I would share.

How long you can store food in the freezer?

Bacon and sausage
1 to 2
Meat, uncooked ground
3 to 4
2 to 3
Meat, cooked
2 to 3
Egg whites or egg substitutes
Poultry, uncooked whole
Frozen dinners and entrees
3 to 4
Poultry, uncooked parts
Gravy, meat or poultry
2 to 3
Poultry, uncooked giblets
3 to 4
Ham, hot dogs and lunchmeats
1 to 2
Poultry, cooked
Meat, uncooked roasts
4 to 12
Soups and stews
2 to 3
Meat, uncooked steaks or chops
4 to 12
Wild game, uncooked
8 to 12
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

We bought a vacuum sealer a couple of years ago when we got tired of the freezer bags leaking water into our food when we tried to defrost meat or chicken in water in the sink.  It was a great purchase and I think has saved us lots of money in terms of saving food from getting freezer burnt.  No snow in with the chicken or sausage :-)   Now I just have to figure out a system so that all the chicken we buy and package doesn't get pushed to the bottom of the chest freezer.  

Sunday: The Plan for Week 2...

is to have a plan!  Last week when I started writing this, I really had no idea what I was going to do with this blog or what I'd write about.  Still don't to some extent but I am sure it will evolve.  I have decided that this week these are the things I want to get rid of...I expect that whatever they turn into will just flow:

1 can pumpkin pie filling
1 can PC thai hot'n'sour soup
more english muffins than you could shake a stick at!
3 half used packages of small sized wraps
cans of refried beans
2 chicken breasts getting dangerously close to being freezer burnt
1 package chicken thighs
1 HUGE can of enchilada sauce
2 packages of peameal bacon
1 giant can plumb tomatoes

So, the chicken thighs we will run through my KitchenAid with the grinder attachment and make a chicken chili with kidney beans.  That will use some tomatoes.  We have lots of spices in the cupboard.  I also like to add in some soy protein grounds (we get those at MEC) to stretch the chili farther and no one notices.

A very large tomato sauce from the rest of the tomatoes - some cooked down more for pizza sauce, the rest to be put in a container for later in the week. Some will go into plastic bags and into the freezer for Naan pizzas next week.

So for the english muffins....quick dinner or lunch of tuna melts? english muffin pizzas?  any other ideas folks?

I am also seeing chicken and bean enchiladas in my future.

The pumpkin pie filling will go into a soup, probably with the thai soup and maybe some coconut milk, cilantro, and who knows what else.  But I will let you know - I don't have great faith in this one but it all has to go!


Notes:  The pumpkin pie filling- thai thing turned into a bit of a disaster.  Turned out too sweet for soup though the flavour was quite interesting once I added kaffir lime leaves to the soup.  Maybe regular pumpkin and unsweetened coconut milk might work.  There is something there to be explored.

Don't know what we did wrong but the grinding chicken thing tanked.  Not sure if we didn't assemble the grinding attachment properly but it just didn't work well at all.  Anyway, chili is in the crockpot.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Left-overs become Made-overs

The Omnivore is in MontrĂ©al for business today – probably noshing on smoked meat on rye from Schwartz’s Deli or bagels from St. Viateur as I write .  And sadly, even if he wanted to, he couldn’t bring me bagels due to the current challenge we have undertaken, as they’d have to go in the freezer to stay fresh. Woah is me.  We can get St. Viateur bagels at Metro in Toronto most times, but it is not the same as fresh out of the oven, same-day.

Lunches for the kids today are meatball marinar subs, using up part of a leftover bag of Ikea meatballs, small jar of pizza sauce and melted mozzarella cheese on sub buns;

We have pork roast left from last night, so I sliced up what was left, sprinked it with a little bit of taco seasoning and tossed it around in a fry pan – voilĂ  – pork tacos. We also grilled a few chicken breasts on Sunday that were marinated in jerk sauce that haven’t been used yet, so I’ll offer those up also to AdvTeen – too spicy for the Rex.  Whatever chicken is left will become lunch for someone– maybe jerk chicken wraps or jerk chicken ceasar salad.

Here’s what we used:

8-10 corn flour tortillas, warmed in foil in the oven
½ can refried beans (yay…now to do something with the other half  - 2 more cans to go)
Favourite taco toppings – lettuce, tomato, avocado, jalapeno peppers
Salsa fresca (opened a new bottle of Herdez from in the pantry!)

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What the hell is agave nectar?

I first heard of agave nectar from Gwyneth Paltrow. Yes, Gwynie and I are close – in fact she sends me an email every month with the cute pet name called GOOP. (It truly is a great website with great ideas for cooking, travel, reading and lifestyle

Anyway, Gwynie’s recipes kept calling for the use of agave nectar in baking and other foods but I had never seen it until recently.Agave nectar comes from Mexico and is sweet like honey, but not as thick, so I find it combines more easily in dressings and marinades. Wiki says…..."Agave nectars are sold in light, amber, dark, and raw varieties. Light agave nectar has a mild, almost neutral flavor, and is generally used in delicate tasting foods and drinks. Dark agave nectar has stronger caramel notes, is sometimes used "straight out of the bottle" as a topping for pancakes and waffles."

I also learned that it has a much lower glycemix index than honey (83) or corn syrup (89) at 27. This is quite important since the Adventurious Teen is a type 1 diabetic so we are encouraged to consumer foods lower in the glycemix index because they impact blood sugar levels differently. And because it is processed at a temperature below 118F, it is considered a “raw food”. Who knew!?!?

A few weeks ago when I was visiting mecca for food hoarders – Costco – and they had a 2 pack on for $7.39!! What a deal. So I bought it and then had to find a use for it. Hence it’s use in today’s sweet potato and black bean salad.This recipe is adapted from a video from the on-line NY Times that my friend Michelle from North Carolina, who I met in Belize, posted to her FB page a few months back. It has become a staple for me. I make it for lunch sometimes and just toss it on salad greens. It is pretty and kind of Hallowe’en-ie even.

Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad

400g sweet potatoes (peeled and chopped in a plastic box makes life easier)
1 cup cooked or canned black beans (rinse if they are canned)
2 tsp. agave nectar (you can substitute honey)1/2 -1 clove garlic, chopped (the stuff in the jar is fine)
Juice of 2 limes
1/2 of a red pepper and 1/2 a yellow pepper, sliced and chopped
1/3-1/2 cup chopped cilantro (depending on your taste)

Roast sweet potoatoes in the oven or toaster oven for about 45 min. Let cool slightly while you chop the vegetables. Combine agave nectar and lime juice in a bowl. Toss everything together and add salt and pepper to your taste!

We paired this with a pork roast from the freezer that we threw in the slow cooker still frozen this morning.  We were smart when we vac-sealed it as we poured in some PC marinade at the time.  While I have a slow cooker with a  timer, I prefer to use my old one with knobs for all day cooking – the secret is to plug it into a wall timer (yes that you’d use for your lights).  I have it come on 2 hours after I leave for work (roast is still pretty frozen), let it cook for 5 hrs, have it turn off, then I turn it on again when I get home.  Works perfectly and the meat doesn’t get dried out

Monday, September 20, 2010


Kids lunches today:

 - Left over turkey and bean chili from the freezer and a cheese bun+ fruit for T-Rex
- Sub sandwhich with lettuce and tomato, side caesar salad and grapes for the older one
- Leftovers from last night for us

Neat idea - I took out 2 extra buns and made up 2 more sandwiches, wrapped them tightly and froze them for next week.  Because the Adventurous Teen is diabetic, I just wrote his carb count on the plastic wrap with a sharpie.  Also he likes mayo and the Rex not so much.

Dinner:  Penne a la Vodka

Simple dinner tonight making use of a jar of prepared Tomato Vodka sauce I picked up in Target when we were in the U.S. last week, whole wheat penne (Costco) and a mixed green salad w balsamic dressing.  Cool thing we started to do was add herbs to our salads.  Tonight it will be fresh dill and a bit of parsley.

Before I left for work today, I put about 2 cups of black beans in to soak.  Cooked them in plain water for about 45 min. tonight.  Also picked up a box of peeled and chopped sweet potatoes on the weekend so I cooked them in my toaster oven (so as not to heat up the place too much). Just sprayed the tray and the tats and cooked at 375 for 40 minutes.  Tomorrow night they will be turned into...Sweet Potato Black Bean Salad (recipe to follow).

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Monday Dinner - Rustic Chicken Mushroom Stew

Just went in the oven...

Well the results are mediocre.  I guess that's what I get from picking a recipe from the Sobey's flyer but it looked good.

I ended up dumping in a glass of wine last night after I tried the cooked dish.  Really needed some help because "as is" it was bland.  I don't think I'll bother with this one again.

Used up:
1 frozen package chicken drumsticks
1 frozen package chicken thighs
misc. vegetables from the crisper
half used bag of farfalle pasta
misc. single and mismatched buns from the freezer

Monday School Lunch - Flatbread Pizza

Trying to get ahead of the game by making tomorrow's lunch today using left overs.....
Meat Lovers Pizza for T-rex Child and Tandoori Chicken Pizza for Adventurous Child

1 PC flatbread 
left over tomato sauce
left over turkey meatballs (for T-Rex)
left over chicken breast, roasted red pepper, cilantro and added tandoori powder to tomato sauce (for Adventure Child)
shredded cheese

Sunday Dinner: Mustard-Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb

This is the kind of Sunday dinner I enjoy. Something that looks difficult and tastes impressive, but is really fairly easy to make.

Mustard-Herb Crusted Rack of Lamb (Serves 4)

2-3 frenched racks of lamb
salt and pepper
3 tbsp dijon mustard
4-5 tbsp herbes du provence
1 tsp. garlic
1 tsp. olive oil

Trim any excess fat off lamb racks, and season with salt and pepper.  In a small bowl, combine dijon mustard, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper. Smear the mustard-herb mixture on both sides of lamb racks and return to fridge until ready to cook.  As an option you could gently pat about 1 cup of panko or regular bread crumbs over each rack.  This is nice for a bit of crunch, but not essential.

When ready to cook, put oven rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat  to 400 degrees. Stand lamb racks up on a their end, with the frenched bones entwined if possible. Roast in oven for approximately 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 130 degrees for medium rare. Remove from oven and let lamb racks rest for 5 minutes before cutting into individual chops for serving.

Goat Cheese Mashed Potatoes

3-5 lbs yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 cup milk
1 log goat cheese, cut into knobs

Cook potatoes in a large pot until tender, approximately 30 minutes.  Drain and return potatoes to pot.  Mash potatoes with a potato masher or run through a potato ricer (my preference for lump free mashies).  Warm milk in the microwave oven (or in a pot).  Slowly add in milk to mashed potatoes until desired texture is reached.  Add in knobs of goat cheese one at a time until entire log is incorporated.

This recipe can be prepared ahead up to 2 hours and they can sit in the pot at room temperature until you are ready to serve.  At that point, reheat over low heat stirring constantly until potatoes are heated through.

Roasted Asparagus

1-2 bundles asparagus (the thin kind is preferable for roasting)
2 tbsp. olive oil

Preheat oven to 425°F.  Break dried ends of asparagus (always break, never cut - the asparagus will naturally break where it remains fresh) and toss on a baking sheet.  Drizzle with 2 tbsp olive oil and toss.  Season with salt and pepper.  Ensure asparagus is spread in an even layer on the sheet. Roast in oven for approximately 10 minutes or under tender.  Serve right away.

Used up:

3 racks of lamb (yes these were in my freezer thanks to an exceptional sale at Loblaws)
5 lbs yukon gold potatoes (left overs from dinner to be frozen for later use)
1 log goat cheese

Challenge starts today

The purpose of this blog is to see if it is possible to cook from my pantry and freezer for 30 days.  This all started because I was looking for a can of pizza sauce today to make lunch for my kids for school tomorrow.  I hate the fact that there is a McDonalds on the corner of Bloor and Runnymede right by Adventurous Child's highschool so I want to send him cool but nutritious lunches that other grade 9s will envy.  I also have T-Rex child who likes vegetables and fish but would survive well in the world of the Flintsone's with brontosaurus ribs.  He is finally out of daycare where they used to provide a hot lunch, so it is down to us now.

When I opened the cupboard looking for the tiny can of pizza sauce I was overwhelmed with the amount of food in my pantry and decided it HAD to be organized.  Right then and there.  I could not believe what I had in there and how many of each.  Maybe I am expecting a big depression tomorrow (economically and globally not personally)...I don't know but right now I think I could personally feed many neighbours in the off chance of a disaster in west-Toronto.  And then there was the freezer. Correction - freezerS.  We have a chest freezer, a full sized fridge in the kitchen and slightly smaller one in the garage.  Both freezers are full also.  As is the upstairs fridge.  We are apparently condiment addicts also.

The Rules:

Please note these are subject to change in a small way as I work my way through the trials and tribulations of undertaking something like this on the spur of the moment.  The purchase of perishables will be permitted - milk, eggs, fruit and veg.  I will need some cheese and the occasional can of tomatoes since I realized I only have 1 of those giant ones from Costco to start.  I'll list what I buy as I go and promise not to view the purchase of a can of tomatoes as a total failure.  I hope I can help some of my friends start to use up that bag of dried lentils or black beans or that odd box of pearl couscous you bought with "intentions" but never got around to using.

Food used will be a combination of fresh cooking and the use of the odd pre-made dish I have in the freezer. For those of you who know me, you know I am not a fan of sodium rich, preservative packed pre-made foods and that I cook mostly from scratch, but in these days of running from work to tutor to tai kwon do to the gym blah blah blah, they become an occasional necessity.