Cream Cheese Alfredo Farfalle Tuesday, Apr 22 2014 

Ok — so I am not always the amazing cook I like to think I am (GASP!). But. Some days I just want something quick and easy, that doesn’t mean I have spent absolutely forever in the kitchen. I mean, I like to play. But — who wants to always slave away in the kitchen when the sub-friggin freezing weather we’ve had has started to evolve into something resembling warm? I want to be out in the sun, at least a little. Plus, as far as cooking — it doesn’t help when your chef friend is elsewhere for the supper hour. (Oh how spoiled I have been!) The amazing thing though is that my children still appreciate my cooking…Oh yeah baby!!! And — thank God! I love to cook and thoroughly enjoy being in my kitchen a large portion of the time. But I am no restaurant — My philosophy is that if you don’t like it, we always have an abundant supply of peanut butter and (yes, homemade) jelly…No one has ever complained (much) about the alternative anyway. And I’m still providing the “food” portion of the whole food/clothing/shelter stuff, so we’re good — no need to call Children & Youth on me.

So last night was pasta night. It seems to be a “thing” on Mondays. Not only is it usually meatless, in keeping with the whole ‘Meatless Mondays’ movement (http://www.meatlessmonday.com/), but I find it to be fast and very simple, and — most importantly — a meal that stretches. Because I NEVER know who is coming for supper on a Monday. My oldest son has tons of friends who are members of the local fire department (which is really “local”…within obnoxious siren-hearing distance) and so over the years I’ve had many, many extras at my table on many a Monday. Usually my personal preference is a red tomato-based sauce, but let’s face it — some days monotony is absolutely BOR-ING! This past week I found a very simple cream cheese alfredo recipe that sounded pretty fool-proof, and it actually was pretty awesome. I can’t remember for the life of me where I found said recipe, so I apologize in advance for seemingly pilfering an amazing and tasteful dish.

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Here’s what I did:

* I used two 1 lb packages of farfalle noodles that I bought on sale (yay me!!!). Boil according to pacakge directions. I like mynoodles al dente, but not everyone does…Some like them mushy and some like them almost raw. 053

* In a saucepan heat 1 1/2 cups milk, 1 8-oz block of cream cheese and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan (do not skimp and buy the powdered stuff!!!) until the cream cheese is dissolved. This will take about 5 minutes.

* Add 1/2 tsp salt and some fresh ground pepper.

* Stir in 2 cups thawed frozen peas and immediately remove from heat.

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If you want to go crazy, maybe add some fresh herbs too (which I prefer this time of year when winter is giving way to some green…) This is one really rapidly pulled together and easy-peasy dish (no pun intended!). I hope you enjoy. Now go play in your kitchen!!!

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Spaghetti Lovers’ Soup Friday, Jan 25 2013 

It has been quite cold in my neck o’ the woods lately. It’s a balmy 18*F now — and snowing — with a high of 21*F at some point that I am not sure we have yet or will ever reach (have I mentioned it’s snowing?!) And to think — this morning I actually considered going for a 2 1/2 mile walk when it was a mere 12*F…I wonder if that qualifies me as “crazy”?? It wouldn’t surprise me. Maybe being certifiably crazy would even give me a slight break! Though I doubt it…which is why I am still here …lol.

Well, now I’m sitting around at 4:30 PM trying to figure out what exactly I want to throw together for supper, not feeling the least in a creative or playful mood because of the foul moods of 6+ children that are milling about complaining about chores – and the fact that I won’t let them go anywhere…I am such a mean mother! But back to the supper dilemma. Fortunately the other day that was not the case!

012 My mother and I have a standing date with a local butcher about once a month. In my quest to start to eat more healthfully, as well as save money, I confess that I don’t purchase as much meat as I used to. But when I do buy meat at all, I prefer to deal with the butcher rather than the meat section of a grocery store or Walmart…I find that the cuts are nicer, and that I can stretch the meat further because of the superior quality. Plus I now know the people who run the store. I can ask questions. Even from time to time garner recipes. So I cook meat for my family maybe 1-2 times a week — much different from my early marriage when we ate meat daily. That’s progress.

So I had about 1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef that was supposed to feed at least 11 people on a particular day. The odds could’ve been against me, but I had enough other ingredients on hand to throw together this lovely spaghetti lovers’ soup. I honestly don’t know where I first saw the recipe, but I used it once and then adjusted ingredients and amounts to suit my own tastes. I even did this before with a combination of ground beef and some TVP (textured vegetable protein) that I had a small amount of and wanted to use up. So I’m thinking the whole dish really could be adjusted to be vegan if you substitute vegetable broth for the beef broth originally called for. I haven’t attempted it yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t! Anyways, back to the recipe…

Here’s what I do:

* Brown 1 1/2 lbs ground beef (or more, or combine with TVP) in a pan. Season with salt and pepper. Drain and set aside.

* In a stockpot, saute one medium sweet onion (I use Vidalias) and 4 bell peppers (I used a mix of colors this time — one each of red, orange, yellow and green) chopped in 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil til tender. (You can also add garlic if you like — usually I add one clove minced, but I couldn’t find it…it’s on my list for next week!)

* Add ground beef to stockpot with one 6 oz. can tomato paste, one 8 oz. can tomato sauce, one 28 oz. can of diced tomatoes (with liquid), 4 cups beef stock (or vegetable if you prefer) and 2 cups water and bring to boil over high heat.

* When soup is starting to boil, reduce heat to medium and add 4-6 oz. spaghetti noodles, broken into thirds. (I will add more to stretch the dish when necessary).

* Reduce heat to a simmer and cook til noodles are done the way you like them — in my house they are always slightly al dente, but I know some people like them very soft.

* Serve with fresh chopped parsley and shredded Parmesan cheese for garnish. I was out of parsley, at least the fresh kind, so I used cilantro this time. I also set red pepper flakes on the table for those who prefer life a little on the spicy side.

013This dish comes together pretty quickly. It’s best served with garlic bread or a thick, crusty on the outside and soft on the inside real Italian bread. If you haven’t noticed, while I do like to get creative and play with complicated or unusual recipes, as a homeschooling mom with an incredibly large house to maintain and six children’s schedules to coordinate, it is really nice (read: convenient!) to have recipes that are easy and delicious, and I appreciate the way that I can stretch a meal in order to be in a position to offer hospitality to friends and family. So there ya go — quick, easy, delish!!! It’s a keeper in my house…I almost never have leftovers!!!

Curried Kamut and Corn Thursday, Jan 24 2013 

So the other day I was kind of bored with my usual lunch choices…I guess that is a creative license to play in the kitchen for sure, right?! I was not in the mood for ramen noodles again, we had exhausted the surplus of leftovers I usually heated up and the kids opted for canned beefaroni (it was on sale and yes, sometimes I cheat…at least for lunches!), which I was not in the mood for. At all. Well in my quest to (sometimes!) eat a little bit healthier, I had started to purchase more new-to-me whole grains, different dried fruits, new and untried (by us anyway) veggies, nuts, seeds…So there was plenty to experiment with. Yeah, I’m thinking “play in the kitchen”! And to top it off — I actually had a spare few moments!!!

kamutKamut is an interesting grain. I find I appreciate it’s chewy texture and it is a great stand-in for rice, especially with the recent arsenic scare. Not many people have heard of kamut yet. Here is a site that offers some good information on various ways to prepare kamut: http://chefinyou.com/2009/08/how-to-cook-kamut/   I am really grateful to have found a local store that sells not just the grain, but also kamut flakes (which will likely be featured in a coming breakfast post!).

turmericI have also been reading a lot about how turmeric is good for many health conditions. Whenever I think of turmeric I guess I think about curry, so I decided to make a quick curried kamut dish similar to a curried rice. To get an idea of how turmeric is beneficial, you may find this site helpful as well: http://www.ask.com/web?q=turmeric+health+benefits&askid=f46453d0-1219-4cf6-bfbe-0c06bea359cb-0-us_gsb&kv=sdb&gc=0&dqi=&qsrc=999&o=4416&l=dir

Sometimes I don’t always plan too well, but some happy accidents happen in the kitchen, don’t they? I had hoped to pair the kamut with some frozen peas, but I’d used them up in a pasta alfredo-like dish earlier in the week and I was not about to venture out into the cold to run to the store — so I dug around in the freezer and found some frozen corn, which I much prefer over canned. I found the natural sweetness of the corn complimented the entire dish, so I was not disappointed.

Have I mentioned that I am horrible about measuring when I’m “just experimenting”? You will no doubt need to adjust and tweak this to your personal taste, but here is what I did:

029* Boil 1 cup water. Add 1/3 cup kamut and then simmer, covered, til close to tender (about 35 minutes).

* Add 1/3 cup frozen corn, 1 tsp turmeric and 1-2 tsp curry powder and let steam on low heat til most of the liquid is absorbed.

* Season with salt to taste.

In the original dish, I ate it as recorded in the above recipe — but for leftovers the next day it occurred to me to add some craisins (we were out of raisins) and some cashews. It gave the dish more depth of flavor, and I will be adding it to my “try on the family next time” list!

Cabbage and Noodles Wednesday, Jan 23 2013 

I had been under the weather for more than a few days with a headcold. Then I set out to clean the attic and was beseiged by dust bunnies attacking from all directions…All in all, I was not too pretty a sight over the last several days. I really wanted to get into the kitchen and cook up something a little fabulous after perusing many recipes and discussing a few options with family and friends (I did try a Carrot, Ginger and Pear Soup which may show up on a post in the near future) — but since I wasn’t really feeling too creative I instead opted for quick, easy and comforting.

This is some sort of nod to my ethnic heritage, though I’m a mix of many different things and so I am not quite sure of the official name nor the origin of this particular dish. It’s just something that has always screamed “comfort” and “cheap meal” to me, especially this particular time of year. My mother used to make this dish for our expanded-via-foster-care family. At one point she was feeding herself, my father, my sister, myself and eight to ten extra children, all squeezed into a three bedroom rancher – so a cheap meal was a good thing!! [Secretly, I hated this as a child! I don’t know why…It’s one of my favorites now. Funny how the tastebuds evolve over time!]

I like to think that it was the influence of my parents doing foster care when I was younger that sparked a desire in me to be more compassionate and understanding about altered families and the children who are ultimately the ones that suffer. Les and I did foster care early on in our marriage, and I am so thankful that we had the opportunity to do it. Of course later we ended up adopting five children and though some of it was for the selfish reason that I wanted children and was told I would never have any, there is still a sense of having hopefully touched a child’s life for the better. I love all of my children and am happy to stay at home and watch them growing up. We still have the normal issues, and even some added adoption things, but we are very blessed just the same!

015Back to the dish…This recipe is so simple you almost don’t really need an actual recipe, but here is what I do:

* Saute 1 onion, sliced thin, in 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter. Add 1 medium head of cabbage, thinly sliced, and saute til wilted.

* Cook 16 oz. egg noodles per package directions. Drain.

* Toss noodles and cabbage together and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm.

Like I said, pretty simple. The picture to the left doesn’t show the finished dish — can you believe I forgot?! I guess I’m still learning, so please continue to bear with me!

Now, of course I like to play in the kitchen, so I can’t say this is always the same dish…For example, I like to carmalize the onions and cabbage slightly; but I have also served it just after the cabbage was slightly wilted such as in the picture. To make this dish stretch, I often buy a larger head of cabbage and maybe add an extra onion. I also wanted to note that earlier in life I could not stomach onions in any way. Now I can eat them cooked, so in they go!

By the way — this is an excellent way to make use of seasonal produce. Cabbage is pretty inexpensive around my way at the moment, and I am blessed to be able to still get some fresh cabbage at reasonable prices rather than have to rely on grocery store offerings.