Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Day Two

Day two, and I think I met my goal for a good, healthy, inexpensive dinner for this extra large family: Pepper steak over rice.

At the Food Lion the other day I ran into a package of six small center-cut round steaks marked down from $7.50 to $2.25, add to that a bag of Bird's Eye pepper stir fry, an extra onion, and a simple brown sauce and: Ta-Da.

Total cost: $8 -- or about 90 cents per serving (see Note below).

Six small center cut round steaks
1 package Bird's Eye pepper and onion stir fry
1 sweet onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
1 T olive oil
1-2 t crushed garlic
2 T flour
1 1/2 cup water
1 1/2 t beef base (See Note below)
1/2 cup red wine
1-2 T Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups white rice, prepared according to package directions

Par freeze steaks. Once semi-solid, slice thinly against the grain.

In a large saute pan, heat olive oil over medium, add garlic and saute until golden. Add onion and cook until begins to soften, about five minutes. Add frozen peppers and onion and continue to saute until softened, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove vegetables with tongs and pour off any excess liquid into a measuring cup and reserve.

Turn heat under pan up to high and add beef. Saute until cooked through. Remove from pan, add to vegetables and toss to combine.

Meanwhile, whisk flour into liquid in saute pan and cook briefly. Continuing to whisk, add wine and scrape the sides of the pan to remove any bits. Add reserved vegetable liquid, water, beef base and Worcestershire sauce, stirring constantly until sauce thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Pour sauce over meat/vegetables and stir.

Serve meat mixture over prepared rice.

NOTE: When I figure the costs, I do not include basic every day seasonings (garlic, herbs, spices) or fats (butt
er, olive oil), since these are things I always have on hand and in the small amounts I use don't add dramatically to the cost.

Other NOTE: You can find beef base in the soup aisle, usually near the bullion. One $6 jar makes 36 cups of beef stock, making it very economical. And, it's far less salty than bullion.

Monday, February 1, 2010


Call it a February resolution. I decided that for one month I will track every dollar we spend on food. Every receipt will go into an envelope, and I'll keep a running tally of how much I spend, and how much I save on coupons and in-store specials. At the end of the month, I'll know not just how much we spend, but how many gallons of milk we really go through, and whether we spend more on produce or salty snacks.

At the same time, I've been on a quest to make economical dinners for this family of nine. I'll admit I'm one of those people who gets thrilled when I put dinner on the table for $10 or $12 (or, on a really good day, even less).

Turns out February is a very good month to do this: I recently cleaned out the pantry and used up everything I could before stocking up on the things I like to cook with and we like to eat. Before that I used up
things that had been taking up shelf space for a while.

Like this large bottle of bourbon with just a little left in the bottom taking up way more space than it was worth on the shelf. It inspired tonight's bourbon chicken, which I served with roasted potatoes and sugar snap peas and onions. Total cost: less than $1 per serving.

Bourbon chicken (serves 8)
5 chicken leg quarters, skin and fat trimmed, legs separated from thighs (see Note)
1 cup bourbon
3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 T soy sauce
In a sauce pan, mix together bourbon, oil and soy. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until reaches the consistency of syrup. Preheat oven to 375 F. Wash and dry chicken. Place in a roasting pan and coat with glaze. Bake until cooked through, about 45 minutes, glazing with additional bourbon mixture every 10 to 15 minutes.
Note: The other day I thought I did a great job when I found a 5 lb. package of chicken leg quarters for $2. Then the very next day I was at Food Lion when they announced a "yard sale" and picked up a 10 lb. bag, which usually sells for $9, on sale for $3. Of course, it was due to expire that day, so we either had to eat it or freeze it. My only regret was that I don't yet have my spare freezer here, so I didn't have room to buy two bags.
Now, with leg quarters you do get a lot of waste in the bone, skin and fat. I usually figure 5 lbs. will feed our family of eight meat eaters.

Roasted potatoes
2 1/2 lbs. white potatoes, washed, dried and cut into bite-size pieces
1 package onion soup mix
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Mix together soup mix and olive oil. Add potatoes and toss to coat. Place in a baking dish large enough to spread out in one layer and place oven with chicken at 375 F. Stir, scraping potatoes from sides, every 15 to 20 minutes. Once chicken is done, boost heat to 425 F and continue cooking another 15 minutes.

Snow peas
1 sweet onion, cut in half and sliced thinly
1 bag frozen snow peas
2 T butter, divided
2 tsp soy sauce
Prepare snow peas in microwave according to package directions. Meanwhile, melt 1 T butter in a large saute pan and lightly saute onion. Add additional T butter, snow peas and soy sauce and toss to coat.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mexican chicken with rice/beans

Recently, the kids have been lining up to help cook. Of course, I'm not sure how much help it really is, since the mess I have to clean up is bigger and often I have to redo some of what I just asked them to do. But it does get them excited about trying new foods. Because if they helped make it, it must be good, right?

In this case, I'm pretty sure it was good.

Skillet salsa chicken
2 T extra virgin olive oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (or 1 lb. chicken tenders)
1/2 cup flour
1 cup salsa (mild, medium or hot)
1/2 cup sour cream

In a large skillet, heat olive oil over medium/high heat. Dredge chicken in flour, shake off excess and add to skillet. Brown chicken on both sides. Pour salsa over chicken, reduce heat, cover and simmer, turning several times until cooked through. Remove chicken and place on a warm platter. Add sour cream to sauce left in pan and stir. Cook until sauce thickens, about 5 to 10 minutes. Pour over chicken.

Baked rice and beans
1 box Rice A Roni Spanish style rice
2 T butter or olive oil
2 cups water
1 14-oz. can petit diced tomatoes
1 14-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
Shredded cheddar cheese
Preheat oven to 400 F. Melt butter (or heat olive oil) in a skillet. Add rice and toast until golden. In a baking dish, mix together rice, seasoning packet, water, tomatoes and black beans. Cover tightly and bake until rice is soft and liquid is gone, about 90 minutes, stirring every 1/2 hour. Top with cheese and return to oven until melted, about 2 to 5 minutes.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Tiger cake surprise

Over dessert last night, we played "name those mystery ingredients."

Mom was there when I made the cake, so she knew. And after a flurry of "you didn't put soy beans in here?" and other similar comments from everyone else around the table, I narrowed it down to a common spice and a common fat that I've never before used in sweet baking.

The spice was one of those things that was impossible to identify, and yet once you knew it was there, was impossible to ignore.

Pepper (the recipe called for white, but all I had was black).

The fat -- olive oil -- was very obvious from the smell of the uncooked batter. But once the cake came out of the oven, I'm not sure I would have identified it had I not known it was there.

The recipe was the cover recipe for The Best American Recipes cookbook I picked up in an after Christmas sale for $1. And believe it or not, other than substituting black pepper for white pepper, I followed the instructions. However next time I think I'll make a simple powdered sugar/milk glaze to drizzle over the hot cake before cooling.

Tiger Cake
3 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 cup natural cocoa powder
1/2 tsp pepper
1/3 cup water
5 cold large eggs
1 cup cold milk
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Oil and flour a bundt pan
Whisk together 1/2 cup sugar, cocoa and water. Set aside.
In another bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt.
In a large bowl of a mixer, beat remaining 2 cups sugar, oil, vanilla and pepper until blended. Add eggs, one at a time, and continue to beat mixture until thick and pale. Add 1/3 flour mixture, beat, add 1/2 milk, beat and continue until flour and milk is incorporated.
Pour 3 cups of batter into a large bowl and add cocoa mix.
Pour 1/3 of plain batter into prepared pan, top with 1/3 of chocolate batter, and continue pouring layers until batter is all used up. Don't worry about marbling the batters -- it happens "magically" during baking.
Bake until cake is done, about an hour and 10 minutes.
Remove from pan and allow to cool.

Happy New Table

With nine people in the family, dinners around the dining table were cozy.
Sad thing is, that isn't necessarily a good thing when seven of those people are engaged in sibling rivalry and a misplaced elbow can signal the start of the next world war.
So after Christmas, Scott got started on building us a new table top (he says we built the table, but really all I did was help lift it a few times and apply some of the finish).
He had to dismantle the old table, and for little while we lived on sandwiches eaten off of plastic plates in front of the TV. At the end of the week, the kids groaned at another finger food meal and said they missed the vegetables and the nightly blessing.
When the table was finally ready, I made a special sit down meal as per the kids' request. Sausage and sauerkraut is also a fairly traditional meal made to celebrate the new year.

Sausage and sauerkraut
(Serves 4-6)
1 lb. bratwurst, cut in half
1 lb. beef kielbasa, cut in chunks
4 small packages sauerkraut
1 granny smith apple, peeled and diced
1 onion, diced
1 T caraway seeds (3 tsp.), lightly crushed
1 beer

In the bottom of a crock pot, spread one bag of kraut. Top with 1/3 sausage, 1 bag of kraut, 1 tsp. seeds, 1/3 onion and apple. Repeat layers, ending with kraut. Add beer. Set crock to high, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer until cooked through, about six hours.

Serve with beer bread, sauteed onions and buttered egg noodles.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

New Year's Party

I remember New Year's Eve of 1989. I was living in Wilmington, DE, and my friends and I got dressed up and hit the city. We counted down to midnight, drank and danced until the band packed up and continues the festivities back at our apartment.

And while some things are the same 20 years later, many things have changed.

I'm back in Delaware, after 18 years in Virginia. But this year our New Year's celebration involved a homemade dinner with a dear friend from high school and his 5-year-old son who were visiting for the night. The kids were asleep by 9, and the only way we knew the calendar had switched to the beginning of a new decade was when we heard the neighbors outside counting down the last 5 seconds of 2009.

I think it was a change for the better!

For dinner I figured I'd try out a few new recipes, and I have to thank Tracy for this one.

New Year's Eve Potatoes
1 2-lb. package frozen shredded hash browns
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups sour cream
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 stick butter, melted and divided

Preheat oven to 350 F. Thaw potatoes enough to separate (see note). Mix together potatoes, cheese, sour cream, soup and 4 T butter. Spray a 13x9" pan with baking spray. Spread potato mixture evenly in pan. Drizzle with remaining melted butter, spread and bake until golden, about 1 1/2 hours.

Note: The store was all out of frozen shredded hash browns, so I substituted 1 1/2 bags of the fresh shredded potatoes that you can find in the refrigerator section.

Thursday, December 31, 2009


When I was growing up, Christmas
was about eating. But it wasn't about cooking.

In fact, my earliest memories of Christmas morning breakfast is of the fabulous cakes my mom would make weeks in advance and park in the freezer, marked "Do Not Open Until December 25."

Her first Christmas standard was a Danish Pastry Wreath, which came to be known as "Huber's Christmas Wreath." As mom notes in the family cookbook, it "fell out of favor ... since it is very time and labor intensive." So when mom started working full time, she began making this "Bubble Wreath." I added the pecans this year, since not even mom's tried and true recipe can escape my need to make it up as I go along.

Bubble Wreath
3 1/2 to 3 3/4 cups flour, divided
1 package active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups warm milk
1 tsp. salt
8 T butter, divided
2 T light corn syrup
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
1 egg
1/4 cup brown sugar
Cinnamon sugar
3/4 cup almonds, divided (optional)
In the large bowl of a stand mixer, combine 2 cups flour and yeast. Add 1 cup sugar to warm milk and salt and stir until dissolved. Add to flour mixture and begin mixing, scraping the bowl often. Add egg and slowly add remaining flour until it comes together in a ball (I used a total of 3 1/2 cups, but the amount will vary depending on your flour). Knead until dough is smooth. Spray a large bowl with cooking spray and let dough ball rise until doubled in volume (about two hours)

Heat oven to 350 F. Put 4 T butter in a tube or bundt cake pan and place in oven until melted. Add 1/2 cup brown sugar, corn syrup and pecans, if using.

Melt remaining butter. Cut do
ugh into walnut to golfball size pieces and roll into balls. Roll balls in butter, cinnamon sugar and then place in prepared pan. Let rise until dough fills the pan, about an hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake wreath until cooked through, about 35 to 45 minutes. Immediately turn out onto a plate and cool.

May be wrapped tightly and frozen.

If you are feeling ambitious, here's the recipe for the original "Huber Christmas Wreath." I've made it, and it is a labor of love. But well worth it, especially since it makes two
wreaths, and you can have the second one for New Year's.

It appears to me that the first part of the recipe is making your own puff pastry, and maybe one of these days I would consider substituting frozen.

1 1/2 cups butter, softened
3/4 cup milk
1 tsp. salt
2 packages active dry yeast
4 cups flour, divided
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup very warm water
1 egg

In a bowl, beat butter and 1/4 cup flour until smooth. Spread on wax paper into a 12x8 rectangle. Chill on a cookie sheet.

Heat milk, add sugar and stir to dissolve. Cool.

Put water into a large bowl, sprin
kle with yeast and stir to dissolve. Add milk mixture, egg and 3 cups flour. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Mix in remaining flour by hand until dough leaves the sides of the bowl. Cover dough and refrigerate 30 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a 16x12 rectangle. Place chilled butter mixture on half of the dough, remove wax paper, fold dough in half to cover and pinch to seal edges.

With fold at right, roll out from center to a 16x8 rectangle. From short side, fold in thirds. Seal edges and chill 1 hour. Repeat rolling and folding. If butter breaks through, brush with flour. Seal edges again and chill 30 minutes. Repeat, wrap in foil this time and chill 3 hours or overnight.

Cut dough in half. Cut each half into thirds.

2 cup almond paste
1 1/2 cup crushed zwieback (about 8 biscuits)
1 cup melted butter
2 egg
1 tsp almond extract
Mix together to make filling. Divide filling evenly and fill center of each dough strip with about 1/3 cup filling. Close edges and
seal. Take three strips and braid together. On a cookie sheet lined with parchment, form a wreath, 6" in diameter in the center (repeat with remaining three strips). Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Bake until cooked through, about 30 minutes. Cool slightly on rack.

2 cups powdered sugar
3-4 T milk
Mix together to form a glaze. Drizzle over breads.

Decorate with red and/or green sugar or candied red and green cherries (if desired).

I must admit, this year we took the"no cooking on Christmas" mantra to new heights. For lunch I put out cheese, meat and crackers. And for dinner, while friends of mine slaved over hams and turkeys and fixings all afternoon, we watched movies, took naps and feasted on frozen pizza....