Sunday, February 23, 2014

What We Had For Dinner

Our dinners this week followed a squash/soup theme, not on purpose, but because those are the types of ingredients that ended up in our grocery cart. I tried some new recipes as well as an old favorite. I didn't get a picture of the night Jeremy cooked dinner (baked chicken and mixed veggies), because I worked late that night, and didn't even think to take a picture of it. It sure was nice of him, though :)
This scored low points in the kid department, but Jeremy and I both finished off the entire batch for dinner/late night snack. It is such an easy, delicious, belly warming recipe.

Monday:  Fish with "poor man's pesto" and broccoli.
When I don't have the right ingredients for real pesto, I just throw whatever green veggie I have (in this case, kale) into the food processor with garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. I always substitute sunflower seeds for the pine nuts, because pine nuts are expensive, and the sunflower seeds add a similar nutty flavor and texture. Typical pesto also calls for parmesan, but Jeremy can no longer eat dairy, so I just left it out. I roasted the fish with the pesto and had steamed broccoli on the side.
Kid rating: The kids ate their fish without the pesto, but cleaned their plates of fish and broccoli and then had seconds.
Tuesday: Chili with yummy fixins

Tuesday was Jeremy's birthday, but we had a busy evening, so I needed a quick recipe. I had some already browned deer meat with onions and garlic in the freezer leftover from a meal last week, so I threw that in a pan with kidney beans, tomatoes, and seasoning. We topped it with pepper jack cheese and sour cream. Jeremy has his own dairy free version of cheese and sour cream. It hit the spot.
Kid Rating: The boys ate it all up!

Wednesday: Jeremy cooked baked chicken and mixed veggies.

Thursday: Homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese and turkey bacon sandwiches

I wanted tomato soup and grilled cheese this week, but when we read the ingredients on the canned soup at the store (something we have to do now since Jeremy's intolerant to wheat, dairy, and eggs), we realized that tomato soup has wheat flour in it. I also couldn't find a good recipe that didn't include cream, so I decided to make up my own. It was really good and hearty, but tasted a little like marinara sauce. I will have to play with it a little more before I publish it here.
Kid rating: Loved the sandwiches, ate about 1/2 the soup.
Friday: Leftovers
Saturday: Pan fried pork chops, spaghetti sauce and pesto, and balsamic brussel sprouts.

I roasted the spaghetti squash, then used a fork to get the squash out. I just tossed it without about 3 tablespoons of store bought pesto. It was so good. With the brussel sprouts, I cut them in halves, drizzled with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and roasted them. The pork chops are just seasoned with salt and pepper. We drove 45 minutes to get them at the most popular meat market around here, and they were well worth it.
Kid rating: Both of them devoured their pork chops and tried the squash and brussel sprouts. Lex ate more of the squash, and Eli ate more of the sprouts (maybe because we gave him ranch as dipping sauce?)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup


You know those kinds of winter days where you want to just sip away on a bowl of steamy hot soup? We often have those days and I always love a new soup recipe. Before last fall, I had never done anything with a butternut squash, but we were feeling adventurous and bought one anyway. We found this recipe and it was better than I could have imagined. I never thought of myself as a huge fan of squash, but this is one of those soups that warm you from the inside out, is incredibly easy, and also healthy. I could eat an entire batch in a day, one yummy mug at a time.
The Ingredients
One large butternut squash
1 Large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
Drizzle of olive oil
Sea Salt and ground black pepper to taste
4 Cups chicken or vegetable broth (I used chicken)
Directions: For me, the hardest part of this recipe is getting from this
To This
Using a sharp knife, I first cut it half to make it easier to work with, sliced off each end, then cut off the peeling. It is incredibly difficult to get through it. If there's an easier way, someone please tell. I didn't show pictures of this process because, well, it wasn't pretty. After this, the rest of the recipe is super, super easy.
Cut the squash into about 1 inch pieces. They don't have to be perfect because you're going to blend them later. Place them on a foil lined cookie sheet.

Dice the onion and garlic and stir it in with the squash. Drizzle olive oil over the veggies, and toss with your hands to make sure everything is covered. Sprinkle with sea salt and ground pepper.

Bake in the oven at 400 degrees for between 30-45 minutes, until squash begins to brown. Stir it around every 15 minutes or so. They should be soft and carmelized when they come out. Mmmmm!
Stir the veggies from the pan into a pot and stir in the chicken broth. Those black things are some onions that got a little crispy. I just took them out with a slotted spoon.
Cook over medium heat until heated through. Now, let me introduce you to my little friend, the immersion blender. If you don't have one, I highly, highly recommend you get one. I use this thing almost every time I make soup to help thicken it up, for sauces, pesto, smoothies, etc. It makes the job so easy. If you don't have one for this recipe, then just transfer portions to a blender or food processor to smooth it all out. 


 The end result, is a thick, creamy soup with amazing texture. Pour yourself a big bowl, or if you're like me, just put it in a mug so you can drink it. Don't be afraid of the butternut squash. Embrace it! Try it! I bet you'll like it.





Wednesday, February 19, 2014

7 Things I Love About My Kitchen

My favorite place to be in my house is my kitchen. I love to cook in it, I love to clean it, and I love the whole idea of a room with the sole purpose of preparing meals and gathering together. It truly is the heart of the home. I cook all the time and I often hear people say that the reason they don't cook is because they don't want to be stuck in the kitchen all the time. I completely disagree. I love being "stuck" in the kitchen. I grew up helping in the kitchen in not only my house, but both of my grandmothers. Now my boys love to help in the kitchen too. They will often (excitedly) drop whatever they are doing if I ask them to come help make breakfast or dinner. There is no t.v. to disrupt conversation, there is always something for everyone to do, and we make good things to eat there. Who wouldn't love that? Here are 7 of my favorite things in my kitchen. Prepare for a long post. 

 1.)    The white cabinets. I am a log home lover. I love dark, cozy rooms. But there was something about the white cabinets in my kitchen that I fell in love with the first time we saw our house. They are not fancy, and I’m not very fond of the hardware, but I love how bright they are. I spend a ton of time in my kitchen, and the brightness of the room makes me want to be there more. When I pin kitchen ideas on Pinterest, I still like to look at the log cabin-y ones, but I love, love, love the kitchens with white cabinets.  

2.)    My cookbook collection. I couldn’t cook when I got married. I was a young bride, and could barely boil water (actually, that’s overstating it – I didn’t know how to boil it at all. Not even a little bit). I cooked my first ham with the plastic still on it. Completely covered with spices and sauces, but with the plastic still on. Fail. When we moved to Germany 3 years later, I didn’t find a job right away, and found comfort in reading cookbooks to learn how to cook. I started with the easy recipes with ingredients I recognized, but I soon tried more difficult ones, and came to love cooking. After years of trying new recipes, I finally became comfortable enough in the kitchen to develop my own recipes, just throwing in a little of this and that, and easily substituting what I didn’t have. I still love looking at cookbooks, but now, I use the recipes as inspiration instead of copying exactly what they say. That’s why when I post recipes, I am not always specific in the measurements. I rarely measure anything anymore unless I'm baking bread or cookies. My cookbooks tell the history of my cooking experience. I have the cookbooks I received as wedding gifts which hold my "go-to" soup recipes, I have the cookbook my mom got from her wedding that survived our house fire when I was little. I have the cookbook we got when we really got into grilling, and the cookbook Jeremy got me this year that’s all about making cheese. Every cookbook has a story and I wouldn’t trade any of them.
The cookbook that survived a fire
3.)    My kitchen window. As simple as it sounds, one of the things on my wish list when we started looking for a house was a window over my kitchen sink. We’ve lived in many places, and none of them have had a window over the sink. I remember standing at my grandma’s kitchen window when I was young. You could see the garden, cherry trees, the church where I learned to ride my bike, and the shed with an upstairs that seemed to be full of hidden treasures. It made doing dishes so much more pleasant when you had something to look at. Now, I can keep an eye on my boys in the back yard, watch the woodpecker pecking away at the dead tree, see my garden grow, or daydream the time away as I wash dishes. Here is what I have on my window sill that make me smile.

v  A cobalt blue jar, which I wish were part of a bigger collection

v  A glass clock that we bought in Moreno, Italy, an island just a boat ride away from Venice

v  A miniature Colts mug that my husband got as a gift from an employee. It’s pretty kitschy, but I think it’s funny to offer it to guests when they request a cup of coffee.

v  A “home” sign that we bought downtown while we were waiting to close on our first house.

v  A little bird my nephew gave me the last time I saw him.

v  A glass jar with beads glued on it. I made it over Christmas break when I was feeling crafty…but not that crafty (anyone can glue beads on a jar, right?)

v  A picture of Moreno, Italy, taken from the Venetian coast.
4.)    My Spice Cupboard. It doesn’t always look like this, but I love it when it does. Just a few weeks ago, my spices were stored on a low shelf in a pantry cabinet, but I recently did some rearranging so I could have them right beside my stove. They are categorized by type: salts, garlic and onion seasonings, spicy spices, herbs, ethnic spices, random spices, not otherwise specified. It’s all so neat and organized. Ask me for anything, and I can find it immediately. Love. It.

5.)    My cutting board and rolling pin. These were both gifts from my Gran before she passed away. She was known for her baking, specifically apple pies. I don’t remember ever being in her house when it wasn’t filled with the scent of her cooking. These were 2 tools that she used all the time and I cherish them greatly. Just the other day, I used the rolling pin to roll out cookie dough. I thought of my Gran the whole time.

6.)    My bread maker. Jeremy surprised me with this a few years ago, and it’s one of my favorite gifts he’s ever given me. If you like freshly baked bread, then seriously, you should get one. I can prep a loaf of bread in less than 5 minutes, and in the 3 hours it takes to mix, raise, and bake, the house fills with the most comforting smell. And the taste is so fresh that you can just eat it right off the loaf with a little olive oil. The ingredients are so inexpensive, last for a long time, and honestly, you can throw it together with a minute’s notice.

 7.)    Our map of Schweinfurt. This hangs over our kitchen table. It was a gift from our really good friends with whom we traveled all over western Europe together. We moved back to the states before them and this was their parting gift to us. Schweinfurt is where Jeremy was stationed and this map shows both army bases in the city, as well as several surrounding villages we frequently visited. It also shows the little town where we lived, Poppenhausen, in the upper left corner. You can even see our street name, Frankenstrasse on the very edge of the picture. I like looking at this every day because it reminds me of the 3 1/2 years we spent there and how it shaped us as individuals and as a couple. The boys like looking at it too, and will point to things, and ask, "What's this?" We can say, "That's where mommy and daddy used to live. We'll take you there when you get bigger," and be proud to share that part of our lives with them. It hasn't always hung in our kitchen, but for now, I like it there.
 So that's my tour of my 7 favorite things in my kitchen. Do you have a favorite thing in your kitchen? Feel free to share! 

Monday, February 17, 2014

What We Had for Dinner

I thought I’d share what we had for dinner this past week. We managed to sit down and eat together every single night, although one night, we did sit together in front of the Olympics while we ate delivered pizza. Other than that, we did pretty well and I was able to cook every single night.  
Sunday: Haystacks

Monday: Italian pork (no picture) and homemade fries
Fries: Cut potatoes into shoe string size fries, drizzle with olive oil and seasoned salt. Bake in a single layer at 450 F for about 35 minutes. 
Tuesday: BBQ chicken, corn on the cob, and pineapple

Wednesday: Pasta with meat sauce and salad
We use rice pasta now since Jeremy can't have wheat. Let me tell you, this brand is just as good, if not better than regular pasta. It's a little more expensive, but at least he gets to eat a pasta-like dinner every once in a while.

Thursday: Take out night – Pizza
Friday: Rotisserie chicken and mixed veggies
World's fastest dinner: Rotisserie chicken, shredded + frozen Asian veggies, + a dash of soy sauce = yummy Asian chicken and veggies. 1 skillet, less than 15 minutes and it's a filling meal with leftovers for lunch. What did you have for dinner this week?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Haystacks (aka Walking Tacos)


 This recipe is good for serving a crowd, great for parties, or a family dinner. It is easy, and can be made ahead.  

Meat Mixture

3 lbs hamburger
1 green pepper chopped
1 large onion, diced
2 pkgs. Taco seasoning + 2 cups diced water
2 cans chili beans (mild)

1 cup ketchup
1 cup vinegar
1 cup canola oil
2 cups sugar (you can use less)
4 t. Worcestershire
2 t. paprika
2 t. salt
2 t. dry mustard
2 t. celery seed

Step 1: Brown beef in large skillet.

I used ground deer meat, because, well, that’s what our freezer is full of right now. I just thought I’d mention it in case you thought the ground beef looked funny.
Step 2: Add onion, pepper, taco seasoning and water and cook until vegetables are cooked.
At this point, I added all of my ingredients to the crockpot, because I wanted it to cook for several hours.

You can just as easily do it all in the skillet for a faster cooking time. In the crockpot, you do have to continue to stir it occasionally, so it’s not one of those fix it and forget it type of crockpot meals. I also used homemade taco seasoning and used less water. I still had to pour off some liquid at the end, so you might want to eyeball the added water amount based on the kind of meat you use.

Step 3: Before serving, stir in chili beans and cook for about 10 minutes.

You can also save the beans to serve on top if you want, but I like them mixed into the meat mixture.

Step 4: Combine all sauce ingredients.
You may be tempted to just use taco sauce or something that doesn’t require mixing anything, but trust me when I say that this sauce is totally worth it and really does pull the whole dish together. Try it at least once.  

To Prepare

Put corn ships on the bottom, and layer beef mixture, lettuce, tomato, cheese, sour cream, guacamole, and sauce. It’s sometimes called walking tacos because there’s one version where you just open up a single serve size bag of corn chips, add all of the extra ingredients, and then eat it right out of the bag. For a party, just set out all the ingredients and let guests build their own.  This is a hit for grown-ups and kids as well.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Sugar Cookies

Sugar Cookies

I wanted to do some baking during our snowcation, so I searched (Via Pinterest) for a sugar cookie recipe. I came across this little gem of a blog, which touted the “Best Sugar Cookie Recipe.” I whipped them up with ingredients I already had (I love it when recipes are simple).
Mine turned out as beautiful as the cookies in the pictures on the original blog, and for the first time ever, they didn’t even get a little bit brown on the bottom.  I will say that mine didn’t turn out as soft as the recipe suggested. They reminded me more of like a biscuit/pecan sandy. But, a really, really yummy biscuit/pecan sandy.  It was a really mild taste, and not at all too sweet. I do think that if I had taken them out just 30 seconds earlier, they would have been softer, so hopefully better luck next time. That aside, I do plan to make these my go-to sugar cookie recipe.
Step 1: Mix 1 cup butter, softened with 1 cup granulated white sugar.
Step 2: Mix in 1 tsp. vanilla extract, ½ t. almond extract and 1 egg.
Step 3: In separate bowl, combine 2 t. baking powder and 3 cups all-purpose flour

Step 4: Slowly mix dry mixture into the sugar mixture. I was able to mix in about half the flour before it became too stiff and I had to mix it by hand on the countertop.

Helpful Hint from original recipe:  The dough rolls out best at room temperature, so if you need to refrigerate, give it a few minutes before you start to roll it out.

Step 5: Roll out the dough to a ¼ inch thickness on a floured surface.

Bake at 350 for 6-8 minutes. (I took mine out at 7 minutes, because at 6 they seemed too soft. Next time, I’ll take them out at 6 min. 30 seconds.)

Step 6: Cool

Don't they look perfect?

Glaze: I don’t like a lot of icing, so I use a glaze made of milk and powdered sugar. I just add a little of each until it has the right consistency, then spread it over the cookie before adding sprinkles. I like the simplicity of the glaze, but thicker icing would hold up just fine on the cookies as well.
Original recipe and images © In Katrina's Kitchen