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Kat’s 2012 (Financial) Goals for the Kitchen

The start of the new year is a perfect time to start afresh. For me, sometimes the motivation to set goals and start changing things up happens well before January 1 and sometimes I lag behind. This is a lag behind year. I kinda blame it on being under the weather for the last two weeks of December. I certainly was not at all motivated over plans and goals for 2012 while I was sniffling and sneezing and had a headache on top of it all.

Alas, the cold has cleared and I’m starting to feel some warm, fuzzy vibes. I still don’t have much of an appetite so I really haven’t been cooking (hence the lack of healthy recipes this week) but I’m getting close. In the last couple of days, though, I’ve been mulling financial goals in the back of my head. On the heels of my overall eating goals for 2012, here are my specific plans for saving money in the kitchen.

Setting a Food BudgetConfession time! For a single person, I spend ridiculous amounts of money on food. Armed with a budget and a solid menu plan, I know I’ll end up saving money. Hopefully being more organized will help prevent me from throwing food away which, lets face it, is a total waste of money.

Couponing – I used to cut coupons religiously and know people who currently save tons of money at the checkout. I’m not really sure when or why I stopped. I also confess to being intrigued by programs like Coupon Sense. My goal is to start cutting coupons, use them responsibly on items I actually need and donate the rest of what I buy to charity or my church pantry or a homeless shelter. [Raises right hand:] I swear on my honor that I won’t go all OCD and take it to the extreme because who really needs a ton of crap just because you can get it for free.

Farmers market – For months now I’ve considered the benefits of buying local, seasonal produce at a farmers market. The two farmer’s co-ops I visited disappointed me; the produce seemed overly pricey. That changed today when I stopped at a local produce stand (pictured above). After a chat with a friendly clerk I learned that the owners source much of their food locally and try to price it under big box grocery stores. Score!! I will definitely be visiting them again.

Preserving food – My inner-Martha gets a bit of food envy when I read about ambitious women who grow their own food and then can or freeze it. Growing fresh herbs is within my reach but my postage-stamp sized yard isn’t big enough to grow more than a novelty’s worth of veggies. Back to the produce stand where I can buy cheap veggies in season and preserve them in some yet-to-be-determined form or fashion.

Bulk cooking – The other concept I’m hot on is freezer cooking. Years ago I dragged my sister to one of those “meals in minutes” places where you assemble ingredients and seasonings for meals to stick in your freezer. I ♥ the concept but I hated the prices and was always thinking “I could do this in my own kitchen.” Thanks to the menu plans at Once A Month Mom I’m on the verge of finally putting this into practice; ‘m teaming up with 3 ladies to do a bulk cooking day this weekend. By buying ingredients in bulk, we should save money.

There you have it. Shop smarter and spend less. Those are my financial food goals for 2012.

Have you thought about how to save money in your kitchen in 2012?

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Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Kitchen Basics, Kitchen Savings, Scratch cooking

 

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Kat’s 2012 Goals for the Kitchen

Kat's score from Sprouts

Happy New Year!

Setting goals is a powerful thing. Eleven years ago I sat at my dining room table and thoughtfully planned out goals for 5 areas of my life. Amazingly (and somewhat unknowingly) within three years I had accomplished much of what was on that list including moving across the country, landing a better job, fostering my passion for wine and visiting Europe for the first time.

I had a category for food goals which included focusing on balanced eating, consuming four to five smaller meals a day and cooking often. This year is no different. I have goals for 2012 and I will share them with you. I would love you to comment below on your goals, too.

Creating balanced meal plans is first and foremost. I aim for roughly 1500 calories a day with a nice mix of different fruits, veggies, grains and animal protein. See my “garanimal” style menu planning post for more details on this. Having a steady supply of pre-cooked meals in my freezer means I won’t be eating microwave popcorn for dinner every night.

Plant herbs and vegetables. Inspired by La Mama’s very successful backyard garden, last summer I planted an herb garden in one of my raised beds. I loved being able to snip fresh herbs to season my food. This year I intend to replant the herb garden and add a small vegetable garden on the other side of my yard.

Cook with seasonal food. This was a big breakthrough for me in 2011. Instead of picking menu items and spending a fortune on the necessary ingredients, I started buying produce in season and creating my meal plans around produce that was abundant and cheap. Changing up my menu with seasonal foods provided a noticeable dent in my grocery bill.

Focus on unprocessed. This past October I participated in Andrew Wilder’s October Unprocessed challenge. In keeping with another one of my overriding life goals not to be too obsessive about things, I took the challenge at my own pace. So, while I didn’t follow the challenge to the letter I did focus on bringing more and more unprocessed food into my daily meal plans.

Share the love. I smile now as I recall some of the great meals from 2011. The best memories have one thing in common; sharing great food with great people. From my Table for Six dinner to the Southwest Food Fiesta to wine and cheese with awesome appetizers, I enjoy food more when I’m sharing the experience.

Enough about me. What about you? What are your goals for 2012 and is there a way I can help?? Please use the comments section to share your goals with me.

 

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Happy New Year (and Migas)

Kat's favorite breakfast ever!

Thanks to some responsible drinking and good pacing on my part during the New Year’s Eve festivities (and four Advil before going to bed), I am starting 2012 without a hangover. Hooray!!

After having a great time last night and sleeping in this morning, I woke up starving. I decided to start 2012 with my number one favorite breakfast, migas. Ever since my former roommate turned me on to this easy-to-prepare breakfast, I’ve been hooked. I did splurge a bit and fry up some bacon. I then used a small amount of the bacon grease to cook up the dish.

I know that with the new year and with everyone’s ubiquitous resolutions I should be focusing on healthy food and not basking in bacon. Fear not, readers. Come Tuesday (tomorrow is a Federal holiday so I will be using it to get motivated and do some much needed grocery shopping) I’ll have a meal plan and some easy dishes posted to get us all started on better balanced eating.

I hope 2012 started off with a bang for you. My wish is that this is the best year ever for all of us!

Ingredients:

  • one tablespoon vegetable oil (or bacon grease if you’re feeling festive)
  • two or three corn tortillas cut into strips (I usually use kitchen shears)
  • two or three eggs, beaten
  • Garnishes

Directions:

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the tortilla strips and fry until golden on both sides. Pour the eggs in swirling them around until they make an omelet type layer in the pan. Gently flip the eggs so they fully cook.

Garnish with any combination of cheese, black olives, scallions, refried beans or crumbled bacon.

Cheers!

Kat

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2012 in Scratch cooking

 

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Kat’s Fantasy Elegant New Year’s Eve Dinner

individual beef wellington

Individual Beef Wellington

Alas, there will be no New Year’s Eve dinner for me this year. Things have been quiet in Kat’s kitchen, mainly because I’m still battling a cold and then have had a headache for four days on top of it. When I’m not feeling good I lose the desire to eat anything good for me (except, maybe soup) and gravitate to Christmas cookies and microwave popcorn. This may be a portent of things to come; I’ve heard that the sweet and salty taste buds are the last to go and that’s why elderly folk prefer sweet and salty food. It’s not a pretty thought, sigh!

Back to blogging and the dinner I wish I was cooking…actually I did cook this dinner a few years ago and it was then the culinary highlight of my cooking experience. As background, I joined a local group called Table for Six. The moderator cooked a five course meal for herself and five carefully chosen guests…but she only did this four times a year. I was blown away by the experience and offered to cook a dinner the following month. I’m flattered to say that this was the only time that her group dined outside her home. I still feel all warm and gushy when I think about it. However, after hosting a six course meal I can see why she only did this four times a year. I cooked all six courses from scratch and spent two full days in the kitchen. As a matter of fact, I was still whisking the gravy as the guests were pulling up. I also had to purchase and borrow extra dishes so that I could individually plate each course. Oh, but what a night!

In actuality if I were going to do it again, I would change a few things. Even though I spent weeks researching the perfect pairings, I’ve expanded my culinary repertoire so a few changes might be in order.

Champagne cocktail – I chose a dry champage which, ironically, tends to be slightly sweeter that Brut or Extra Brut. I dropped a raspberry in the bottom of each class for color instead of the lemon wedge.

Appetizer – Shrimp ceviche (served in martini glasses)

Soup – Cream of broccoli soup (served in Grandma’s crystal fruit cocktail bowls)

Salad – Tossed salad with artichoke-Parmesan crostini (served on salad plates)

Main course – Individual Beef Wellingtons, garlic mashed potatoes with green beans amandine to which I added a small amount of diced pimento for Christmas color (served on dinner plates) garnished with fresh rosemary sprigs

Dessert – Chocolate Cavity Maker cake with mint-infused whipped cream (served on dessert plates) garnished with fresh raspberry and mint leaves

Coffee with homemade Bailey’s Irish Cream and port. I had never been a huge fan of port until I had it alongside the coffee and chocolate cake.

It was a great night. Even though I won’t be cooking this year I enjoy reminiscing. Don’t feel too sorry for me though. I am going out tonight with friends where someone else will be serving me.

I hope your New Year’s Eve is filled with good food and good friends.

Cheers!

Kat

 

 

 

 

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Cream of Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

One would think I should have posted this recipe after Thanksgiving. Sadly, Santa left an unwanted gift for me this year in the form of a stubborn cold. I could eat soup all year long but I especially crave it when I’m not feeling good. I decided to recreate this tasty “soup du jour” from a recent dining-out experience I had while said cold was just starting to incubate. This recipe could easily be made with chicken and chicken stock. However, because I did cook two birds on Thanksgiving and have packages of leftovers and gallons of broth in the freezer, I used turkey instead. Being lactose intolerant, I’m not normally a huge fan of cream soups because they are usually laden with lots of dairy (duh), extra fat and questionable thickeners. In this case, the soup is thickened a bit with flour and then finished off with a touch of sour cream to give it a creamy texture.

The original recipe called for instant rice. I had a bag of Lundberg brand wild and whole grain brown rice blend in my cupboard (purchased at Sprouts) so I opted to cook it separately in a rice cooker. I started the rice first, estimating that by the time I chopped the veggies and sauteed them, the rice would be ready to add to the pot. I wasn’t that far off, actually.

I also subbed dried, and reconstituted, porcini mushrooms only because I was fresh out of fresh mushrooms and didn’t want to make a trip to the store. On a side note, I purchased a huge bag of dried mushrooms at one of those membership-only big box stores years ago. The bag lasts forever (I actually had one bag for an entire decade…but I didn’t cook as much then) in the pantry and allows me to keep a supply on hand for any mushroom-related emergencies that may come up, like today.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups mushrooms, sliced
  • 3/4 cup chopped celery
  • 3/4 cup chopped carrots
  • 1/4 cup chopped onions or shallots
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 4 cups chicken or turkey stock
  • 1 cup uncooked rice
  • 3 cups (roughly 12 ounces) shredded chicken or turkey
  • 1/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream

Directions:

  1. If using wild rice blend, begin cooking it separately according to the package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large stock pot. Add the onions, carrots, celery and mushrooms. Saute on medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add the flour, salt and pepper. Cook for two minutes, stirring constantly until the flour is entirely incorporated.
  3. SLOWLY add the broth one quarter cup at a time. Thoroughly mix each quarter cup of broth into the veggies until a paste forms. Scrape the bottom of the pan to remove any bits that might have stuck. Once you have a nice consistency in the bottom of the pan, pour in the remaining broth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium and cook for about five minutes.
  4. Add rice, meat and sour cream. Stir to combine. Adjust cooking time based on what kind of rice you are using (5 to 7 minutes for instant; 15 to 20 minutes for white rice). If rice has been pre-cooked, just gently heat through.

Serves four

Nutrition per serving (approximate)

354 calories; 9 g fat; 87 mg cholesterol; 27 g carbohydrates; 36 g protein;3 g fiber; 378 mg sodium; 577 mg potassium.

Adapted from: Eating Well

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2011 in Brown rice, Chicken, Low fat, One pot cooking, Soup, Turkey

 

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Grandpa’s Christmas Eve Spaghetti Sauce

Grandpa Joe

For as long as I can remember my family has happily eaten the same dinner on Christmas Eve; a meatless marinara sauce that lists Italian tuna fish packed in olive oil as the star ingredient. Because we grew up on it, my siblings and I never found the combination of marinara sauce and tuna fish odd. As a matter of fact, we would beg for the “Christmas sauce” on other special occasions as it was a rare treat for us. Over the years as we have added family members through either marriage or birth, some may have initially been reluctant to try the dish, but one-by-one they’ve been won over.

The ritual of a meatless Christmas Eve is popular in many parts of Italy and is certainly where the tradition of this dish originated. My mother’s grandparents immigrated from Italy through Canada. Mom recalls her grandfather, Bill, making the sauce. My Grandpa Joe (pictured) continued the ritual until his death in 1995. Mom made it every year I was growing up and continues to do so to this day. Now that my siblings and cousin are of sauce-making age, the recipe has truly been handed down through at least 4 generations.

I’ve made the sauce myself on a few occasions. There has only been one Christmas I haven’t been able to spend with my parents. Based on the splattered fax of the recipe my Dad sent me in December of 1996 that I just pulled out of my pantry, I’m guessing this was the year. I may have been in New Orleans, but Christmas just isn’t Christmas without the sauce!

I’m not certain that the sauce really needs to cook for so many hours. However, to honor the tradition I am posting the recipe true to the way it has been cooked in my family from time immemorial.

I would love to hear about any Christmas Eve traditions you have. Please post a comment for me!

Ingredients:

  • one small onion, finely chopped
  • three cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • one 6 oz can tomato paste
  • two 28 oz cans tomato sauce
  • 2 bay leaves
  • one tablespoon Italian herbs (basil or oregano or both)
  • 1/2 cup sturdy red wine (Chianti or burgundy)
  • 1/2 stick of butter
  • High quality grated cheese (Asiago, Parmesan or Romano)
  • One 6 oz can Tonno (tuna packed in olive oil), drained well

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large sauce pan or dutch oven until fragrant. Add onions and garlic; saute on medium heat for about five minutes. Add the tomato paste and mix well. Saute over low heat for about five minutes, stirring frequently so the bottom of the pan doesn’t burn.
  2. Add the tomato sauce and stir well. Cook over low heat for about 2 hours. Watch closely so that the sauce doesn’t burn.
  3. Add the wine, butter and a handful of the grated cheese. Stir often and continue cooking another hour or so.
  4. Add the tuna to the sauce and cook one more hour.
  5. Serve over a sturdy pasta like gemelli, fusilli or penne. Garnish amply with freshly grated cheese.

Serves four.

Kat’s tip: Double or triple the recipe for larger quantities and for leftovers. Seriously if you’re going to cook something for several hours you may as well. Freezes well.

 
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Posted by on December 24, 2011 in Holiday, One pot cooking, Scratch cooking

 

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Classic Tiramisu

We had an Italian-theme party last weekend for La Mama’s milestone birthday. Although we had the appetizers and main course catered by a family friend, my sister and I elected to do the desserts. My sister makes my mom cheesecake every year. This year she changed it up a bit and did mini cheesecake cupcakes with a strawberry topping. They were quite yummy and I’ll be posting them later this week when I get my hands on her recipe.

In an impulse moment I announced was going to make tiramisu from scratch. Once the commitment was out in the open, there was no turning back. I’d never made tiramisu before and I was a little nervous. I followed the directions on the back of the lady finger package (that took four clerks in my local grocery store to find) and immediately relaxed. I had a mild amount of anxiety over the whipping cream; I’m always nervous that it’s not actually going to whip. Someone told me that the trick is refrigerate the bowl and the beaters which seems to work.

Tiramisu and white russian

Tiramisu, as it turns out, is not really all that hard to make. I elected to build mine in a spring form pan. The good news is that the end result tasted great, my mom was thrilled The pictures honestly don’t do the dessert justice. In the midst of serving 40 people it was really hard to get good photos. Plus using lady fingers meant that the layers were not nice and crisp like they would have been had I used something akin to sponge cake.

I’ve already decided there will be a next time and that I am going to try using a sponge cake cut in half for more even layers. I may even double the amount of coffee liqeure.

Ingredients:

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 1/4 cups white sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups mascarpone cheese
  • 2 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream (divided)
  • 2 (3 ounce) packages ladyfingers
  • 1/3 cup coffee flavored liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder, for dusting
  • 1 (1 ounce) square semisweet chocolate
 Directions:
  1. Combine egg yolks and sugar; whip until thick and lemon colored, about one minute. Place in top of double boiler over boiling water. Reduce heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature, stirring frequently.
  2. Add mascarpone to whipped yolks. Beat until combined. In a separate bowl, whip *1-3/4 cup* cream to stiff peaks. Gently fold into yolk mixture and set aside.
  3. Split the lady fingers in half, and line the bottom and sides of a large glass bowl or spring-form pan. Brush with coffee liqueur. Spoon half of the cream filling over the lady fingers. Repeat ladyfingers, coffee liqueur and filling layers. Refrigerate several hours or overnight.
  4. Top with sweetened whipped cream. Combine 1/2 whipping cream, 1 tablespoon powdered sugar and 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract. Whip until stiff peaks form.
  5. Garnish with cocoa. Use a microplane grater or zester to get nice chocolate crumbles. You can also use a vegetable peeler or garlic slicer to shave the chocolate into curls.

Kat’s tip: Make the Tiramisu a day in advance so that it has time to set. I made mine the morning of the party and it 9 hours later it seemed a bit jiggly (although everyone loved it). Dust with cocoa immediately prior to serving for the prettiest presentation.

Kat’s second tip: Mascapone cheese is über expensive. As a substitute you can combine 8 ounces of cream cheese, 1/4 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons of whipping cream and then mix until blended and fluffy.

 
 

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