Friday, July 31

May Be Foodless Friday: Baked Potatoes

Welcome to May Be Foodless Friday. Today we'll be discussing Baked Potatoes, which are easy, but time consuming - after all you have to let them cook in the oven for about an hour because we all know that microwaved potatoes are not that great, or do we? Time to rethink the microwaved potato.

For Christmas 2 years ago, my mother-in-law gave us a baked potato bag for the microwave. This wonderful home-made potato bag has made baked potatoes one of our 'quick' meals.

So how to get one of these wonderful potato bags? You can buy one (search for baked potato bag or sack), or make it yourself (or ask someone you know who loves to sew to make one for you). I have made a few and find that they are quite easy once you get going. When we get into a larger place and I get my sewing desk and machine back I will post pictures of how to make them. Until then if you have questions please feel free to contact me, there are also many places to find instructions online, each varies - just search for baked potato bag or baked potato sack.

How to make a Baked Potato Bag
Note: I am a beginner with a sewing machine so these won't be the most technical directions. I purposefully do not give dimensions as you can make them as large or small as you want to. I would hesitate to make it to too large (more than four potatoes at a time) though because I'm not sure how the potatoes would cook.

What you need

Sewing Machine
100% cotton Thread
100% Cotton fabric

*A couple of notes on batting, it would be best to get 100% cotton batting, however it is not necessary.
Also when buying the batting, if you buy low or medium loft you will need twice the amount. You will need to stitch the batting together to make it thicker.

You will need one piece of cotton fabric that is twice as tall as the piece of batting. Place the batting on the wrong side of the cotton fabric, line up the edges on three sides. Fold down the top of the fabric to cover the batting (you should only see the design on the fabric now.) Sew the three edges . Fold in half so the sewn edges are together. Sew the two edges that have been sewn together and surge(I just use the zig-zag stitch). Turn bag so stitching is on the inside and you have a potato bag.
View of inside the bags. FYI I made green one and my mother-in-law made the red one.
I've seen some where they actually quilt the whole thing, which may not be a bad idea to keep the batting in place, because after quite a few uses it starts to slip down in the bag. Another way to counter this would be to use two pieces of fabric and stitch the batting to all the edges.

Another thing I have seen is having a lip to close the potatoes in the bag. I don't think it is necessary, as our potatoes cook just fine without it, but it does look nicer.

To use:
Wash & Dry Potato, DO NOT PRICK (you can wrap the potato in a paper towel if desired),
Place in Bag, Microwave using your microwave’s potato setting (if you don’t have one, start with 4 minutes). You want to squeeze the potato while still in the sack, if it is soft then it is done. Some potatoes may need additional time. If more time is needed continue using 1 minute increments until done.
Tip: to get your potatoes nice and fluffy, take your potato when it is still nice and hot. Bang* it on a clean surface (counter, cutting board, etc) a couple of times, it will split open after the second or third time. Place on a plate, open split more and fluff with a fork.

Caution: You may need to use a hot-pad to hold the hot potato while banging it.

*Seriously Bang it on the counter! Take out your frustrations on the potato, it works great! Doesn't that potato look nice and fluffy?

Additional Uses: Day old rolls, Acorn Squash, Carrots, String Beans

Wrap the following in a paper towel
Sweet Corn; Remove Husk
Sweet Potatoes

100% Cotton – Machine Washable – Cold
****** Microwaves ovens may vary do not leave bags unattended when using – you should not leave the potatoes in the bag as they will steam and get it wet. Not recommended for use in microwaves without a working turntable.

Wednesday, July 29

Layered Beef and Bean Dip

So I was about to make nachos for dinner one night, but decided to do a layered dip instead. It worked well (I suggest if you want to use it more than once to layer the beans, hamburger and cheese separately so you can heat it up later (because cold hamburger - ew!)

Layered Beef and Bean Dip

1 can (15 oz) pinto beans
1/2 tsp garlic powder
2 Tbsp oil (I used olive oil, but it would be more flavorful if you used bacon drippings, or if you had a layer of fat from drippings after cooking a ham/chicken, etc)

0.5 lb Hamburger
1/2 cup onion
Taco seasoning

2 Cups Cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup salsa
3/4 cup sour cream
1/2 cup sliced olives
2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup green onion, sliced
Tortilla chips/strips

In saucepan, place beans, garlic powder and oil. Mash the beans with a potato masher or fork. Cook on medium-low until heated through, stirring occasionally.
While beans are cooking, cook hamburger and onion until hamburger is browned. Add taco seasoning to hamburger.

In a 8-in square glass pan (or other dish - it could be fun to do individual dishes as well) arrange in the following layer:
1 cup cheese*
Sour Cream
1 cup cheese*
Green onion

Serve with tortilla chips or strips. Enjoy

*I separate the cheese because I really like the gooey cheese (the hot hamburger melts it). I also like the not melted cheese so this gives me the best of both worlds. You can put all of it on the hamburger to melt it, or all on top of the sour cream.

Fried Rice

This recipe is adapted from about 3 other recipes. I take what I like from them and add it together. One recipe called for green beans (green beans in Fried Rice?), another called for peas (I only like fresh peas straight from the garden, so that was a no go), mushrooms (hubby says no to), and bamboo shoots (I never have those), and another said to beat the eggs and soy sauce together (huh?). I actually tried the eggs and soy sauce thing, not so great. I never felt like the eggs got cooked enough (I am really don't deal well with eating raw eggs - yeah, no homemade eggnog for me!) I usually try to just use one pan for this so I cook the eggs before I saute the other ingredients. The ham I usually have left over from cooking a half-ham, which I usually buy when it goes on sale for $0.99 per pound. Tip: When buying ham, buy the butt portion not the shank (butt portion usually has smaller bones and more meat).

Fried Rice

3 cups Rice
2 Carrots, cubed or shredded (these should be as thick as matchstick carrots or they will turn mushy)
3 Eggs, scrambled and crumbled, unseasoned
1/2 cup Green Onions, sliced
1 clove Garlic, minced
2 cups Ham, cubed
1 tsp Sesame Oil (if you do not have this you can omit)
2 Tbsp Olive Oil
2 Tbsp Soy Sauce (I use reduced sodium)

Using the Sesame and Olive oils, saute the carrots, green onions, ham and garlic in large frying pan or wok until carrots are crisp tender. Stir in rice and eggs. Add soy sauce. Serve while hot.

Strawberry and Blackberry Smoothie

This is a great refresher in the summer. I love smoothies and have tried a bunch of recipes (with yogurt, frozen yogurt, sorbet, sherbet, etc.) but I find this basic recipe works with most types of fruit to create a delicious smoothie. The amount of sugar needs to be adjusted with different types of fruit and according to individual preference. Honestly my weakness is using blueberries, it makes the most delicious smoothie ever!

Strawberry and Blackberry Smoothie
We got a bunch of bags of Strawberry and Blackberry frozen mix when they were on sale for $0.98 per bag. I also find that if I freeze strawberries that are too ripe to eat but not rotten that they add great flavor to smoothies.

2-3 Cups Milk*
2-4 Tbsp Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla*
1/4 - 1/3 Cup Wheat Germ, optional
1 pkg (12 oz) Strawberry and Blackberry frozen mix**

Mix milk, sugar, vanilla and wheat germ in blender, add fruit a few pieces at a time. Blend until there are no more fruit chunks.

* 1 Cup Vanilla Ice Cream can be used in place of 1 cup milk and the vanilla, you will also want to use less sugar.

**You can substitute 2-3 cups of any frozen fruit in place of the strawberries/blackberries. Some of the fruits we us a lot are blueberries, strawberries, and peaches. Blueberries are my ultimate favorite though.

Monday, July 27

Meals - July 20-26

This past week we had:

Monday: Fried Rice, cantelope
Tuesday: Chicken Taco Salad with tortilla bowl
Wednesday: Chicken Taco Salad
Thursday: Baked Potatoes with broccoli, Strawberry and Blackberry Smoothie
Friday: This day we ate out for our weekly date
Saturday: Tortilla chips with Layered Hamburger and Bean Dip, cantelope
Sunday: Tortilla chips with Layered Hamburger and Bean Dip, cantelope

We had so much cantelope because we got it on sale two weeks in a row. I won't be able to post pictures of the recipes that I made this past week, but should in the future as my kitchen is mostly put together (we recently moved into a smaller apartment for a few months and the kitchen is WAY too small for my liking. I will have to post a picture of it so you can see what I have to work with...) The recipes will be posted on Wednesday.

Friday, July 24

My Most Recent Success

So I have been trying to be more frugal in my food spending. We've basically stopped eating out and
I've been cooking more (I hadn't been cooking as much due to a new baby - I did make some freezer meals before he was born though). So what have I done that is so great? Well, I'll tell you. The other week Hubby and I bought a 5 lb chicken (on sale for $0.99 per pound). I cooked it in our crock pot and we had Lime & Herb Chicken and salad for dinner two nights in a row. I chopped up the left over chicken to use in Pineapple Chicken Quesadillas. We had those for two nights as well. There was still some left over chicken, so I put it in the freezer to use later. This week I decided to use the chicken to make Chicken Taco salad and we had that for two nights. Then we ran out of lettuce and knowing I still needed to use the chicken (because I dared not refreze it), I made Chicken Taco Soup which we had for lunch yesterday and there is enough for either Hubby or I today for lunch. So out of one chicken (that fit in a 3.5 qt crock pot) we had a total of 7.5 meals for two people. Recipes follow. However if you use the recipes you will need more chicken as I used the chicken mixture from the chicken taco salad to make the chicken taco soup (I only used 1-15 oz can of tomatoes for the soup).

In the future I will try to post pictures of all my recipes, but these were done while I was still trying to organize my kitchen after a move.

Lime & Herb Slow Cooker Chicken

This recipe was adapted from a recipe in Grandma's Best Loved Recipes. I was trying to make a cooked chicken and I wanted to try a new flavor. I had limes (not lemons like the recipe called for) and only dried herbs (not fresh like the recipe called for) and I did not have a few of the other spices, but I think it turned out great - there was just enough flavor, but not overpowering. Which was good because I made other recipes with the chicken.

Lime & Herb Slow Cooker Chicken

1 whole chicken (up to 5 lbs)

1 lime, cut into eights
2 tbsp parsley, dried
1 tbsp rosemary, dried
1 tsp thyme, dried
1/2 tsp black pepper
1 can (14 oz) chicken broth
1 small onion, cut into eights

4-8 cloves garlic

Rinse chicken, fill cavity with lime and herbs and about half of the onion and garlic. Close cavity with toothpicks or tie the chicken legs together. Place chicken in slow cooker, place garlic and onion around chicken. Pour chicken broth over chicken.
Cook chicken on low setting for 8 hours, or 4 hours on high setting or until done (meat thermometer reading 180 degrees Farenheit).

Pineapple Chicken Quesadillas

So I got this idea from a recipe card in a grocery store (it called for deli turkey, canned pineapple, and their store brand of some type of hot pineapple grilling sauce that I could never find - maybe they discontinued it?) Real chicken/turkey and fresh pineapple work best. As far as the sauce I've tried it with jalapenos and chipolte sauce, but the green chilies really make it (hence you don't see it calling for jalapenos and chipolte sauce).

Pineapple Chicken Quesadillas

I usually vary the amount of chicken and pineapple I use each time I make these, but I tried to give approximate amounts as a guide.

Chicken, precooked and cut or shredded - can also use turkey (about 1/4 cup per quesadilla)
Cheese, I use mozzarella (about 1/2 cup per quesadilla)
Pineapple, fresh is best - thinly sliced, but you can use canned (If using canned, you will want to either use crushed or cut the chunks or slices into smaller pieces. You will also want to drain the pineapple.)

8-in flour tortillas (2 per quesadilla)

Pineapple Sauce for Quesadillas (about 1 Tbsp per quesadilla) - recipe below

Spread pineapple sauce on tortilla, place in large nonstick skillet sauce side up. Layer with chicken, cheese and pineapple. Top with remaining tortilla. Heat over medium heat until hot. Cook each quesadilla 4 minutes or until light golden brown and cheese is melted; turning once.

Pineapple sauce for Quesadillas

Numbers are ratio - so I put twice as much pineapple as I do bell pepper and I put as much bell pepper as I do red onion - I don't actually measure ingredients for this, I may one day so I can make it more consistent.

2 Pineapple

1 Green Bell Pepper
1 Red Onion

2 Green Chilies

Chili Garlic Sauce (add to taste - I'm a wimp with hot stuff so I don't add more than 1/8 tsp)

Blend ingredients for Pineapple Sauce in blender or food processor until there are no chunks left.

Chicken Taco Salad

Summertime and salads just go together. I really love salads. I really do not eat them enough considering how happy they make me when I do. I thought I'd try a little different spin on a taco salad (I really love the taco salads at Mexican places where they use chopped chicken). The dressing for this salad is simply a 1:1 mixture of salsa and sour cream, it works wonderfully well!

Chicken Taco Salad

2 Cups chicken, shredded

1 (15 oz) can kidney beans
1 (15 oz) can corn
Taco seasoning to taste
water (1/2 - 1 cup)
9 cups Lettuce

2 tomatoes, chopped

1 can olives, sliced

salsa (your choice, I use mild)
sour cream

3 cups cheddar cheese, shredded

Tortilla chips or Tortilla bowl

In a saucepan over medium heat, combine chicken, beans, corn taco seasoning and water. Cook until heated through stirring occasionally (you may need to add more water as it cooks to keep it from becoming dry). While chicken is heating, rinse and tear lettuce for the salad (I use baby spinach, romaine or red leaf lettuce). Mix the salsa and sour cream at a 1:1 ratio, this will be the salad dressing.

Once the chicken mixture is finished, assemble salads (in tortilla bowls if using) with 1-1/2 cups lettuce, 3/4 cup chicken mixture, 1/2 cup cheddar cheese, olives and tomatoes to taste. Top with salsa-sour cream mixture. Serve with tortilla chips if not using tortilla bowls. Enjoy!

Chicken Taco Soup

So I really love Taco Soup, I had forgotten this until my baby was born and a friend brought over some so I wouldn't have to make dinner (thanks Lisa). I love soups and I also really love tortilla chips, so this is a great combination. I do not know if I'd ever really done a Chicken Taco Soup though, so I thought I'd try it with some leftover chicken mixture from a Chicken Taco Salad that we'd had (we didn't have any more lettuce...) It worked great!

Chicken Taco Soup

2 Cups chicken, shredded
1 (15 oz) can kidney beans
1 (15 oz) can corn
Taco Seasoning (doubled recipe)
1 can (29 oz) crushed tomatoes
1 can (15 oz) diced tomatoes

tortilla chips
shredded cheese
sour cream

In a large saucepan combine chicken, beans, corn, taco seasoning, and tomatoes. Simmer for 30 minutes to allow flavors to blend, stirring occasionally. Serve with tortilla chips, shredded cheese and sour cream.

Taco Seasoning Mix

So I use taco seasoning a lot... and I was sick of buying it at the stores because I knew it is a little overpriced (as all pre-made seasoning mixes are). I toyed around with the amounts of the ingredients, until I found this combination, that works great. I have also found buying Cumin in the ethnic section of the grocery store is another great way to save money!

Taco Seasoning Mix

1 Tbsp milk powder
(can use 1/2 Tbsp corn starch)
1 Tbsp chopped onion
½ Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp paprika
¼ tsp salt (optional – do not use if the chili powder has salt)
¼ tsp garlic powder
¼ tsp cumin powder
¼ tsp oregano
1/8 tsp black pepper

Combine ingredients in a spice grinder*, process until smooth. Add 2/3 cup water and mixture to 1 lb cooked ground beef, drained of fat. Bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and cook, uncovered 5-10 minutes, until thickened, stirring occasionally.

I also make a lot of this at a time and keep in a bottle in my spice cabinet.

*I use an inexpensive electric coffee grinder (if you do this do not use it to grind coffee as well - I don't have this problem as I do not drink coffee. :)

Monday, July 20

Welcome to my kitchen

About me:
I love to cook and create new things in my kitchen. I enjoy eating good food as well as making it. I try to be frugal, however, I do tend to splurge on some items now and again to try new things. Desserts are my downfall - I love making them. As there are just two of us eating currently, we do eat leftovers (or as we like to call them - planned-overs) quite frequently, or we use them for lunches. I try to be good about not wasting food, but I err on the side of caution when it comes to food I'm not sure about.

Currently I'm living in an apartment with a tiny kitchen, but that does not stop me from making lots of food (I may just have a few more mishaps - like melting a bowl on the stove...) I have been married for 3 and 1/2 years. My husband and I just had a baby boy in March, and he is the joy of our lives.

With the exception of this first week or so, I will try to post with the following schedule:
Monday - Meals for the week past
Each Monday I plan to post the meals we ate during the past week. Why the past week and not for the coming week like most blogs? I don't always stick to my 'planned' menus. Thus if I post what we actually ate, I know that it won't change with my whims (I assume some other people also have those days when they really do not want to eat what is planned for that day).
Wednesday - Recipes for the week, each recipe will be in a separate post so the number of posts each Wednesday will vary.
I will try to post pictures of the recipes, but that will depend on how busy I am with my life in general. The first few recipes will not have pictures until I make them again, mainly because I just started this blog and didn't take pictures of those.
Friday - Random post about cooking, mishaps in the kitchen, other hobbies, Motherhood, etc.
These can include shortcuts, substitutions, my obsession with boardgames or birdwatching, or just random ramblings.