Monthly Archives: August 2013

Ragin’ Cajun Pasta

August 26, 2013

I’ve been on a spicy kick lately, so when andouille sausage went on sale at my local grocery store, I was pretty excited to cook up something new.  As it so happened, fresh bruschetta was also on sale, and I knew that with those two ingredients, I was on my way to a pretty tasty dish.  By throwing in a few more household staples, I had a great pasta meal in under 15 minutes from skillet to table!  Break out your Mardi Gras beads, because tonight we’re making Ragin’ Cajun Pasta!

Ragin’ Cajun Pasta
4 links pre-cooked cajun style andouille sausage links (I like Aidells)
1 small tub of fresh bruschetta
1/2 cup green peppers, diced
1 tbsp chili powder
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/4 cup grate parmesan
1 box penne or farfalle pasta

Cook pasta as directed. 
While pasta is cooking, combine diced peppers, bruschetta, and chili powder in a skillet over medium heat.  Stir and saute for 2-3 minutes.  Cut andouille sausage into “penny” slices and add to skillet.  Stir in 1/2 cup of chicken stock and simmer until pasta is cooked al-dente.  Drain the pasta and toss into the sauce mixture.  Top with fresh grated parmesan cheese, and enjoy!

Yep- that simple, kids!
Until next time- Happy Eating!!
J

Meatless Monday- Bruschetta Avocados

August 19, 2013

This is a quick and easy Meatless Monday meal.  Just like every other busy person, sometimes I want something really quick and really easy to throw on the table.  Tonight, these guys are it!  Perfect on their own, or paired up as a side to some grilled chicken or fish.  Give them a whirl!

Bruschetta Stuffed Avocados

(You know it’s easy when there aren’t measurements!)

You Need:

Avocados- enough to feed everyone.  Figure on 1 and 1/2 per person if they are a stand alone, or 1/2 of one if it’s a side.
Pre-made Fresh Bruschetta- check your deli or refrigerated produce section for this
Grated Parmesan and Asiago Cheese
Breadcrumbs
Olive Oil

                                                                                  
Now it gets tricky… Not really.

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees, and halve your avocados.  I usually make the pit “hole” a bit larger, so that more stuff fits in.  Then, spoon a few spoonfuls of bruschetta into each half.  Mix up some of the cheese with some breadcrumbs, and moisten with olive oil until it forms a paste like consistency.  Top each avocado half with the breadcrumb mixture and toss into the oven for 13-15 minutes.

Eat and enjoy!
See… wasn’t that easy?

Until next time…. give it a swirl!
J

Scrumptious Savory Crepes

August 15, 2013

 

….Because just calling crepes “really, really thin pancakes” doesn’t do them justice…

When Kevin and I started dating, we would frequently go on dates and explorations in West Reading, PA.- a cute stretch of town that had been given new life with boutiques, shops, and restaurants with a slightly hipster vibe.  Perfect for food junkies on culinary quests.  On one such morning, we stumbled upon a yellow and orange awning adorned building and into a French wonderland called “A Taste of Crepes”.

One look at the menu, and I all but came undone.  There were savory crepes and breakfast crepes; sweet crepes, and crepes with fruit.  Crepes with Nuetella, crepes with salmon- my God, the crepes!!  And they were all being prepared right before our eyes.

4 cups of coffee and 5 crepes later, we knew we’d found our favorite new spot for weekend breakfasts, cozy lunch dates, and dazzling dessert.  How could we resist?  We tried their ham crepe, spinach crepe, salmon crepe, fresh lemon crepe, and finally, their bananas foster crepe.  If you are ever in West Reading, PA or close by- Honestly, you need to go.  It’s an experience.

Then came the day where we up and moved-   We left our little apartment, in our little town, and our cozy little crepes place.  We were happy, but crepes were missing from our lives.  We tried a few places near by.  We tried a few places NOT so near by.  (Driving an hour for crepes on a Sunday morning, while delicious, would not become routine.)  We’d venture home to visit family, and use any excuse to head into town to get our crepes.  But in our new home on Sundays, we’d sit quietly with our eggs and coffee, mourning the loss of our delicious crepe life.  Something had to be done.

We’d all but given up on our dreams of Sunday crepes, when I entered Home Goods on that fateful day…and there it was, gleaming at me from its little hook in the cookware section.  Round, flat, and screaming my name…an $8 Crepe Pan.  The Gods had spoken, there wasn’t even a question about it- I had to become a crepe master, and this $8 pan was the key to crepe goodness.  I quickly added it to my already overflowing cart, and headed on home.  (It IS Home Goods, after all.  I mean, really.  Can you ever walk in there without needing a cart? I think not.)

The conversation upon returning home, went a little something like this:
“I BOUGHT THIS FOR YOU!” I exclaimed to my husband.
“What is it…”  he responded.
“A CREPES PAN!!!!”
“Is this going to be like the empanadas?” 

Such a comedian, isn’t he?

It turns out that actually making crepes, is pretty darn easy for the most part.  You get your batter  thinned out, scoop some on your sizzling pan, give the whole thing a swirl, and a minute or two later, flip and fill with tasty toppings.  Sure there are some tricks along the way that I’ll share, but I felt like a master on my first go around!  AND- It’s QUICK!  So, without further delay, here’s my recipe for the savory crepes base.  Essentially, anything that I would put into a panini, I’d probably put into a crepe.  I’ve also included my sweet crepe recipe, because every good meal deserves and equally tasty dessert.  Have fun playing! 

Savory Crepes:
2 eggs
1 Cup flour
1 Cup milk
1 TBSP melted butter
1/8 tsp salt

Mix up the batter with a wisk, or a hand mixer-  you want it to be free of lumps because, let’s face it, lumpy pancakes are gross.  Get your pan nice and hot.  If you don’t have a crepe pan, go get one at Home Goods.  (Kidding.  No, really…you should.)  Any skillet will work, but the flatter and smaller the “lip” the better.  Ladle in some of your batter- I use about 1/2 cup.  Once ladled, give your pan a little turn and tip, so that the batter covers the entire bottom of your pan in a thin little layer.  Watch until your edges start to get golden, and brown.  Give it 30 seconds longer than you think you should- Trust me, I’ve had quite a few ‘flops’ instead of flips.  I try to drag my crepe nearly 2/3 of the way off the edge of the pan before I flip it mighty quick.  If you lose a few in this process, it’s okay.  The first one ALWAYS goes badly for me.  like “oh, hell” badly.  No use crying over flopped batter though, and luckily, this makes a few of these bad boys, so flub up all you need to!    Once flipped, add whatever fillings you may want.  The possibilities are endless!  For our last ones, we used some leftover chicken that DH sliced up thin, sauted spinach and red onion, bacon, and mozzarella cheese.  Let that go for a minute or two until your cheese gets  bubbly, and then roll that sucker.  I take a flat silicone spatula to assist in the rolling.  Be advised- the more you stuff your crepe with fillings, the more difficult it is to roll.  I learned this the hard way.    Flatter is better.  Then, when it’s rolled onto a plate, garnish as desired, and eat it up!  If you haven’t tried a red pepper spread, I recommend giving it a whirl.  That’s the orange stuff drizzled across my crepe in the photo.  I spoon a bit into a little plastic bag and snip the tip off of it- it turns it into a make shift piping bag.  Great for drizzling.

Batter, all mixed up.

The Flip- please excuse my poor quality picture.

Stuffed with goodness

and now, for the sweet…

Sweet Crepes
1 and 1/2 Cups flour
1 TBSP sugar
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 Cups milk
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 TBSP melted  butter

Mix it all up- I sometimes use 1 tsp vanilla, simply because much like my mother, I like the flavor.
Again, fillings are a world of endless possibilities.  A personal favorite is Nuetella with sliced strawberries, garnished with some powdered sugar and chocolate sauce. 

Have fun playing and impressing your friends and family!
Until next time,
J

Meal Plan Monday!

August 12, 2013

A lot of posts on Pinterest are all about meal planning, and making your life easier.  I am ALL for meal planning, and here’s why:

1) It keeps me organized
2) It keeps us making healthier choices
3) It keeps us in our budget

There are probably a ton more reasons why I like meal planning, but those are my big three.  That being said, I started out planning a bit hap-hazard.  I’d write lists with the days of the week and start filling them in.  And that worked- sort of.  Then, I attempted to use other people’s templates, and I found that while there were parts that I liked, they just didn’t flow with my natural progression of meal planning.

So, today I am sharing my template with you, along with my thought process on why it is set up the way it is.  If you want to skip ahead, and just get the planner- by all means, scroll on down to the bottom!

I try to be a “twice- a- month” grocery shopper.  That means, we make our large shopping trips around our pay days. This works for us because the money is in the budget during those times, and generally speaking I can get everything we need for 2 weeks, except for fresh produce.  Money saving tip- when doing this “twice a month” plan, we buy a lot of our meat in the family value packs.  A lot of higher cuts of meat are more cost effective this way.  Once home, I portion them out into sets of 2 (since it is just darling husband and I) and put them into a small freezer bag.   Then, several of the small freezer bags containing the same type of meat go into a larger freezer bag.  I highly recommend the double freezer bag plan- your food will be protected from freezer burn, and it’s just easier to have it all contained in a nicely labeled bag.  **Editor’s note:   Darling husband decided to combine bags the other day- We ended up having meat medley for dinner because what we thought were 2 steaks turned out to be 1 steak and 1 pork chop.  oops!**  At any rate, it’s not unusual for me to come home with 10 chicken breasts and 14 pork chops.  This is magnified even more if there are BOGO deals.  Seriously- you may as well get 2, and freeze those suckers.  A lot of times, cashiers ask me if I’m having a party.  Oh honey, it’s always a party at my house!  

To answer what you must be wondering… “How big of a freezer do you have?”  UM, just a regular freezer in my side by side standard fridge.  BUT- when packing in freezer bags, those suckers are primarily flat.  and flat- STACKS.  We’re coming up on a pay period, so my freezer right now doesn’t show the justice of this statement, but I’ll take a picture after pay day to show my stacked and stocked freezer.

Anyway, back to business.  I start off my meal planning by filling out my “What’s on Hand” box.  For this box, I open up the freezer, the fridge, and the pantry and make note of what we have-  like I said, when you buy meat in bulk packs, you tend to have some around.  This makes up the base of my meal planning, but if you aren’t a stockpiler like me, look at your local grocery ads. “What’s on Sale” is an easy substitute for the “What’s on Hand” section.  I do this first, because that way, I know what I’m workin’ with. 


Next, I look at our weekly calendar.  I’ve found that this is crucial because I use to go to the trouble of planning out really great meals for the week, only to be totally derailed by a hectic schedule that ultimately resulted in us ordering a pizza.  Coming home after a busy day and seeing a meal requiring a lot of effort just isn’t going to happen, so plan

Then, I make my preliminary grocery list.  This is the list of items I KNOW WE NEED prior to even planning any meals.  Usually this includes fresh items that we constantly use, and constantly need.
accordingly.   Some weeks will be crazier than others.  During those weeks, I rely on tried and true 30 minute or less meals. 

Finally, I get down to the bottom section with the days of the week.  Generally, I will put a star or a note by those days that I mentioned in the Weekly Events section.  Just for a visual reminder.  A lot of this is pairing up my “what’s on hand” with what we’re in the mood to eat.  Sometimes there are some new creations, but a lot of times, we have “rotation” meals that frequent our kitchen once or twice ever 2 weeks.  I try to throw in a meatless meal when I think I can pull a fast one over on my sweet husband, but sometimes that just doesn’t work out.  Once meals are on the calendar, I think about the non-staple ingredients I’ll need to pick up at the store, and add it to the grocery list section!

And that’s it really!  The only other thing, is following through.  To help with that, I post the meal plan.  It keeps everyone in the house aware of the plan, and reminds us to thaw out any meat that we may need in the upcoming days.

I made my weekly meal board by using scrapbook paper, and a collage frame from A.C. Moore.  Best $20 craft ever. 

I hope you’ll find this useful, and start to add meal planning into your life!  After a few weeks of practice, you’ll be SO surprised with how much time and energy it saves you!

Weekly Meal Planner Document

Until Next Time,
J

Year Old Cake (in other words, Happy Anniversary)

August 10, 2013

There’s just something a little unnerving about the thought of eating a cake that’s been in the freezer  for a year.  I think my mother had it right and summed it up best.  When reflecting upon her and my father’s decision to for-go the tradition, and instead eat the top tier of their wedding cake on their honeymoon, she said “It just seemed like a waste of a perfectly good cake”.  And, after my experience, I’d have to say that I couldn’t agree more.

Still, we held up our end of the tradition and froze that sucker for a year.  It got me thinking though- where did all of this start?  So, I did a little Googling and found out that this whole thing started way back in the 19th century.  Long ago, (you know- when the Earth was still cooling and dinosaurs roamed the Earth- ok, well not THAT long ago, but you get the point.)  Long ago, they use to CRUMBLE CAKE OVER THE BRIDE’S HEAD to ensure fertility. Um, no thank you.  Eventually things shifted more and they moved to making elaborate cakes for the baby’s christening.  Then, THAT evolved to elaborate cakes for a wedding and saving  the top of the cake for the baby’s christening.  Since weddings and babies aren’t necessarily hand in hand any more, couples now eat their top tier on their first anniversary.  Hmm… Well, that was insightful.  At least I didn’t get cake crumbled over my head.

At any rate, we ate our year old cake a week early while at the shore.  That poor cake had already made a pilgrimage from Pennsylvania to Jersey, and we thought any further travel to VA just might be pushing our luck.  Plus, this way my in-laws got to partake in year old cake too, and really, who doesn’t want to do that, right??  It also meant we got to have a mini photo shoot out of the whole ordeal.


Just getting into this cake was a bit like breaching Fort Knox.  It was stored in a cardboard box, and inside our top tier had all but been bubble wrapped and duct taped!  After the cardboard box came a freezer bag, followed by 3 layers of plastic wrap, and finally a layer of press and seal wrap.  Seems like a whole lot of effort for year old cake, but I digress…

For a year old cake, it held up pretty well- right down to the swirls in the icing!  I was pretty impressed…

Please note the layers of Ft. Knox security.

And, it cut like butter- a good sign.

All in all, it was an interesting little adventure.  The cake itself was still moist and pretty delicious, along with the white truffle filling.  However, there is only one word that I can use to describe the year old outer layer of thick, defrosted, cream cheese icing- FUNKY.  I don’t recommend it.  After a bite or two, we all sort of scraped that part away from the rest of the cake.  Still, I’m glad we did it.  It was pretty quirky and fun. 

As for our actual anniversary tomorrow?  Well, we won’t have cake as tasty as on our actual wedding day….

             

…but Harris Teeter makes a mean Red Velvet with White Chocolate, and I’m sure that will do.
Until next time,
PS: Isn’t my husband super cute?  

Crab Stuffed Tilapia

August 2, 2013

My sweet husband often gets into a routine with recipes.  While I love that he loves the meals I prepare, sometimes I fear that he’ll burn out on some of our favorites.  So a few days ago, I took a chance and made a twist on our Parmesan Crusted Tilapia.  Instead, I stuffed the filets and crusted the top.  We may have a new favorite!

Crab Stuffed Tilapia

12 ounces lump crab meat, drained if needed.
1/4 cup whipped cream cheese with chives
1 egg
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1/4 cup grated parmesan, romano, and asiago cheese blend
1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
2 tilapia filets *see note*

Crusted Topping:
1/4 cup cheese blend
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tbsp olive oil

Combine your crab meat, cream cheese, egg, breadcrumbs, cheese, and seasoning.
Spread a fairly thick layer on each tilapia filet.
Slowly roll the filet, and transfer to a baking dish with the seam on the bottom.

Combine the ingredients for your crusted topping.  When combined, it will make a moist pastelike consistency.  Spread and press onto top of each tilapia roll.

Bake at 425 for 15 minutes. 

*Note- When I made this, it made 2 super stuffed filets.  For the future, I would probably divide the filling between 4 filets.*

Helpful tip:  If you’ve ever used stoneware when baking fish, you’ll know that the fish smell can linger.  To make your stoneware smell fresh again, here are a few things you can try. 
1) Create a paste of baking soda and lemon juice and spread over the stoneware.  As the paste dries, it will draw out and absorb the odors from the fish.

2) Keep a tube of cresent rolls on hand.  Spread the cresent roll dough over the surface of the stoneware and bake as directed.  Then, THROW THEM OUT- unless of course, you like fishy dough.

Happy Eating!
J