Thursday, April 28, 2011

Homemade Skillet Cornbread

Homemade Skillet Cornbread with 15-Bean Soup
I've been recyling my non-stick cookware and replacing it with some vintage cast iron over the past year. (I still have 2 pots and 1 pan that I need to replace!) I've enjoyed learning to cook with cast iron, including this recipe for cornbread that I adapted from a package of Arrowhead Mills corn meal. I used to make conrbread in a glass pie plate, but it never turned out as well as it does in the cast iron pan!

The down side of this recipe? It's dish-intensive, and requires two mixing bowls to prepare.


for the pan:
2 Tablespoons shortening

for a large mixing bowl:
1 cup white flour (or 1/2 cup white, 1/2 cup whole wheat)
1 cup corn meal
1 T baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt

for a smaller mixing bowl:
2 eggs
1 cup milk (or buttermilk, or any dairy product that you need to use up)
2 T butter, melted or very soft
4 T honey (or less--I like my cornbread sweet!)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place 2 tablespoons shortening in 8 inch cast iron pan and place in oven during preheating time.
2. Meanwhile, combine flours, baking powder and salt in large mixing bowl, mixing well.
3. Combine eggs, milk, butter, and honey in small mixing bowl
4. When oven is preheated, pour liquid mixture into the flour mixture and stir gently until *barely* combined. Remove hot pan from oven (use mitts!) and carefully pour the batter into the pan. It will sizzle when it comes into contact with the melted shortening, resulting in a crunchy, delicious crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes. Makes 8 large slices.

Some like to add chiles, cheese, or jalapenos to cornbread, but for now I am sticking to this simple version so that my kids will continue to eat it.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Growing Potatoes in a Garbage Bag: An Experiment

I wanted to try growing potatoes this year, and one popular way to do this is to grow them in a growing bag. When I mentioned my plans to a friend of mine, she told me that she grew potatoes in heavy duty garbage bags last year, which is much cheaper, especially if you have a husband who saves clean yet used garbage bags.

Why grow potatoes in a bag rather than the ground, you ask? Well, for one, apparently potatoes don't like to get too wet (which can happen in my area, we have heavy clay soil). In additiona, wen you are growing potatoes and you want to increase your potato yield, you add soil to cover the lower branches of the plant every few weeks as the plant grows, and this is quite easy to do when you have sides of a bag to raise up as the season progresses. My friend tells me that the lower branches will then turn into roots and grow more potatoes!

Thirdly, potatoes can be easily damaged by a shovel when you go to dig them up. If you grow them in a bag, you can either dump the bag into a wheelbarrow to uncover the potatoes, or you can simply rip the bag open to get to your harvest.

In order to see if all of this fun stuff will actually happen, I went ahead and planted some potato seedlings this week.

Materials needed:

Large heavy duty black trash bag--if it has a few small holes already, even better
Potting soil--good for vegetables
Potato seedlings (don't use eating potatoes, instead use seed potatoes) I picked Red Potatoes

1. Place 8-10 inches of soil in the bottom of the trash bag. Poke plenty of small holes in the bottom and sides of the bag for drainage--I used the point of my heavy duty scissors. I made lots of holes. Scrunch or roll the sides of the bag down/out of the way.

2. Plant the potato seedlings approximately 4-6 inches under the soil line. Water well, and place in a sunny spot.

I hope this works for me! I'll report periodically througout the summer.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Menu Plan Monday April 25th, 2011

Spring Break is over and we are back to the routine... time to come up with a list of quick, easy meals that can be made while my kids are running all over the neighborhood in this beautiful weather! We all need to burn off the chocolate and Lemon Curd Mousse Cake.

Find more meal planning inspiration at!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

10 Things I Wish I had time to Write About

I think about sharing stuff on my blog every day, but for the past few months none of those thoughts have made it into an actual blog post. This is a shame, because I have a lot of fun stuff going on!

1. I planted a terrarium. My grandmother gave me a Wardian Case for my birthday last fall, and I am finally got around to planting some tiny plants in it after reading a beautiful book called The New Terrarium: Creating Beautiful Displays for Plants and Nature and reading this very helpful blog post by the same author, Tovah Martin. My terrarium is not be as stunning as those pictured in the book (I dumped the dirt all over the leaves on the tiny African Violet!), but I will enjoy my tiny little plants just the same.

2. I made Lemon Lavender Butter Cookies, yet another recipe from Fix, Freeze, Feast: The Delicious, Money-Saving Way to Feed Your Family. To make the cookies, I first had to make lavender sugar with some culinary lavender. These cookies are lavender-scented! Because it is a freezer cooking recipe, I have several dozen more balls of cookie dough stashed in the freezer to bake when I feel the urge.

3. I'm planning a cutting garden. I love having fresh flowers in the house, and I will occasionally buy a $5 bouquet of flowers from the grocery store for my table or mantelpiece. Last summer I kept seeing these beautiful bouquets at the farmer's market--like this--which I didn't buy because they were quite costly, but the flowers were beautiful! I finally realized I was looking at zinnias, which are actually quite easy to grow in my area, so I bought some pretty zinnia seeds and planted them. I will add a few more types of flowers to the cutting garden and hopefully I'll have a nice selection of flowers for vases throughout the summer and into the fall.

4. I'm slacking off in the organizing department. I came up with a list of organizing projects at the beginning of the year, and I planned to post about a project each week. I haven't finished any of them, nor posted anything about them. I need to get motivated and knock some of these projects out.

5. I'm also slacking in the decluttering department. The spring consignment sale went on without me. I haven't sold anything on Ebay yet this year. I did manage to donate some summer clothes to collection drive for an orphanage in South America... but otherwise, nothing. All my efforts from last year will be undone if I don't stay on top of this neverending project!

6. I have been using the Motivated Moms half size chore planner to get a handle on what needs to be done and how often around my house. I also use it to track my menu plans and workout schedule, including calories burned per workout. I'll be honest--I never get everything on the chore list done, but at least some things get done and I am gaining a more realistic idea of how often things need to be done in my household. (Never often enough!)

7. We are planting a raised vegetable garden this summer.We planted a small amount of things last year, and it was so much fun we decided to get more serious about it. Like for the flower cutting garden, I've planted some seeds and we'll see how things develop. I am using this handy site here to plan a square foot garden. For now it's recreational, but I am looking forward to having a prolific supply of vegetables.

8. After many years of studying the room arrangements in The Washington Post's House Calls, I'm finally rearranging the furniture in my living room. This was the room that finally convinced me that I had enough information to improve the layout. This room was also an inspiration. We just need to paint and have the new couch delivered...

9. A friend of mine has convinced me to try growing potatoes in a garbage bag. Apparently potatoes can be easily damaged when you go to dig them up, so if you grow them in a bag, you can carefull empty the bag open at the end of the growing season (or slit your garbage bag open, which is what I'm planning1), dump the soil in a wheel barrow or container, and pull out the potatoes without using a shovel.

10. I did some freezer cooking last week! And I got around to posting about it. Hopefully I will be able to post updates on these other projects, too.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: April 18th

Rosemary, Pear, and, Asiago Savory Scones
A friend of mine and I decided to try our hand at some savory scones last week.We also made Ham-and Swiss Scones (another variation of the same recipe) with some delicious mustard butter (mix softened butter and gourmet mustard to taste).

When I put my Freezer Cooking Day results in the freezer last week, I identified a few additional freezer meals that I need to use up, so that is my main goal this week. I'll also be making a Lemon Curd Mousse Cake for Easter Dinner, sans fancy toppings.

Here's the plan:
Find more meal planning inspiration at!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Roasted Chicken with Spinach-Rice Stuffing

I can't stretch a chicken into 5 meals as some people can, but I do enjoy a roasted bird once in a while. It's really so easy to throw a chicken into the oven and to make a 'stuffing' to accompany the delicious, juicy meat (I don't stuff the bird with stuffing, but I still call it stuffing... would dressing be a more appropriate term?)

My grandmother shared with me the following tips for roasting a chicken:
  • Salt the bird inside and outside.
  • Put half of a smaller onion, half a lemon, and a short celery stalk inside the bird's cavity.
  • Dot the skin of the chicken with pieces of cold butter, and sprinkle with desired dried or fresh herbs (a little rosemary goes a long way here...)
  • Roast at 400 degrees for 15 minutes per pound. After cooking for required time, tent breast meat with foil and continue to cook until the dark meat reaches an internal temp of at least 170 degrees and the juices run clear--no pink. (Chefs cook to 165, the recommended temp is 180. I find that to be a little on the dry side.)
  • Allow the chicken to rest in the pan for 10 minutes or so.
  • Remove the chicken from the roasting pan and place the pan over a stove burner, turn it on medium. Add water a little white cooking wine and scrape the bottom to deglaze the pan. Pour the pan juices into a bowl through a strainer. After the juices settle, you can use a baster to remove the clear layer from the top--this is the fat. Alternate you can place the bowl in the fridge and remove the solidified fat later. (In the above picture, I hadn't deglazed the pan yet.)
  • You can serve the glaze as 'gravy', add some glaze to the recipe below for flavor, AND save some for another recipe. (Why do just one option?)

In the mean time, prepare the Spinach-Rice stuffing, also a recipe from my grandmother. This was originally from an old cookbook called Sunset Favorite Recipes II, but Grandma replaced the water chestnuts with mushrooms (a wonderful substitution as I detest water chestnuts) and I made my own modifications.

  • 1 cup brown basmati rice (or if you have 2 cups cooked rice, you can skip Step 1)
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 1/2 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup diced celery
  • 8 oz package sliced mushrooms
  • 6-12 oz fresh spinach leaves (to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp dried rosemary
  • salt and pepper to taste
1. Cook rice separately as you normally would. (I like to cook mine in chicken broth or stock, and/or add a few tablespoons of the pan juices from the roasted chicken above). I remove a portion of cooked rice before continuing to serve to my kids, who despise this recipe.
2. Heat oil over medium heat in large skillet. Add onion and celery, cook several minutes. Add mushrooms, spreading them out to cook evenly. When mushrooms are browned, add spinach, stirring frequently, and remove pan from heat when spinach is wilted.
3. Add rice, rosemary, salt, and pepper to spinach mixture.

After serving the meal, debone and shred the remaining chicken meat, and perhaps use it for a nice chicken salad. Use the carcass to make Chicken Bone Soup--also a recipe from my grandmother.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Freezer Cooking Day Results 4-12-11

I'm pleased to report that our frreezer cooking day endeavor was a success. This photo shows just half of the meals we prepared yesterday, as my friend took her half home to her own freezer.

Here's the list of prepared food that I ended up with (Most of these recipes are from Fix, Freeze, Feast: The Delicious, Money-Saving Way to Feed Your Family):
  • Molasses Glazed Chicken Thighs (2 meals, 1.5 lbs each)
  • Cashew Chicken Stir Fry (3 meals, 2 lbs each)
  • Sweet Asian Chicken (3 meals, 2 lbs each: 2 meals of whole breasts for grilling, 1 meal of chunks for kebabs)
  • Mustard Oregano Pork Chops (this recipe made 12 chops, we each took 6, I will probably make them for 1 meal)
  • Turkish Pork Loin Chops with Bacon (6 chops, which I will probably use as 3 meals because they are quite large)
  • Shrimp Curry (2 meals)
  • Sesame Sirloin (2 meals)
  • Roasted Chicken-some carved, some shredded (2 meals)

 If I'm doing my math correctly, I have EIGHTEEN meals from about 6 hours of work--2.5 hours preparation, 3.5 hours for the actual freezer cooking event. Cutting and bagging all of the meat in advance was a huge time-saver and kept us very organized. I did mine right when I brought it home from the store, and it took up less space in the fridge than when it was in the (leaky) store packages.
Even more exciting is that my friend decided to package her meat in smaller one-pound portions, so in cases where I ended up with 3 two-pound meals, she ended up with 6 one-pound meals! (Her kids don't eat as much as mine do. I also make more because my husband loves to take leftovers to work the next day.)
In addition, I am using my carcass and neck from the roasted chicken to make Chicken Bone Soup today, and I also saved the juices and deglazed the roasting pan, so I will have a nice supply of chicken stock on hand.
And yes! Everything fits nicely into my freezer... along with all the other freezer meals I've been putting up here and there...

Monday, April 11, 2011

Menu Plan Monday: April 11th

Tuesday: Roast Chicken with Spinach-Rice Stuffing (Recipe to follow...)
It's Monday and I'm making a menu plan to go with my freezer cooking plan, and I'm taking the time to blog about it!

Find more meal planning inspiration at!

Freezer Cooking: Tips for Meat

Today I spent some time prepping the meat we are planning to use for tomorrow's freezer cooking day. I wish I could take credit for this bright idea! My friend suggested that we cut the meat and separate it into freezer cooking bags in advance. What you see here is approximately 15 pounds of chicken (my share) and 6 pounds of sirloin (which we are splitting in half). Tomorrow we'll add marinade to these cuts of meat and they will be ready to go in the freezer.

Some additional tips for cutting up large quantities of boneless skinless chicken breasts:
  • Open the packages and look at all the breasts before starting to cut. I prefer to reserve the smaller, neater breasts for the recipes that call for a whole breast to reduce portion size. To reduce size even further, I'll cut off the tenderloin. Identify the small breasts and bag them for the appropriate recipe.
  • Cut some of the chicken for the same recipe in different ways. For instance, after I reserved the smallest breasts whole, I cut some of the larger breasts into large chunks to make kebabs. Sometime I also cut chicken breasts into tenderloin/strip-size pieces, depending on the recipe and where I plan to cook it (grill or oven). Another cut is to slice the breast in half horizontally to make thin, flat pieces, which are good for broiling or stove-top cooking. Marinating these different 'cuts' of chicken in the same marinade is easy, and you will end up with more variety when serving the meats for dinner.
  • This 'messy' double breast is at least ten ounces, and has little pieces hanging off the underside all over. Best to cut it up!
  • Save the largest, 'messiest' pieces for cutting into bite size pieces for stir-fry. Somehow my packages of chicken always contain at least one piece that is either falling apart or has shreds of meat hanging off in every direction. These pieces would be tough to grill, slice, or chunk into even-size pieces, so they work best as bite-size pieces for a stir-fry.
I bagged everything up and stored it all together in a large plastic container. Now I just need to dice some onion and grate some fresh ginger to finish preparing for the big day.

Freezer Cooking Day: Meat Marinades

Freezer Cooking January Inventory
My friend and I are planning a big, exciting freezer cooking session for tomorrow, using a number of recipes from Fix, Freeze, Feast: The Delicious, Money-Saving Way to Feed Your Family. Our focus is on marinated meats, and we expect to assemble 16-18 meals apiece. This supply will keep us grilling for the next two months!

We decided to focus on meat so that we could make bulk purchases and do a lot of meat processing all at once. If we eat 2-3 of these meals per week, they'll last for 6-8 weeks, and we can focus on preparing side dishes and fresh vegetables. I'll most likely focus more on vegetarian meals for other nights of the week, and perhaps do some vegetarian freezer cooking when the freezer starts to clear out a bit.

Here are the recipes we've selected:

  • Molasses Glazed Chicken Thighs (2 meals per family)
  • Cashew Chicken Stir Fry (3 meals per family)
  • Sweet Asian Chicken (3 meals per family)
  • Mustard Oregano Pork Chops (1-2 meals per family)
  • Turkish Pork Loin Chops with Bacon (1-2 meals per family)
  • Shrimp Curry (2 meals per family)
  • Sesame Sirloin (2-3 meals per family)
  • Roasted Chicken-some carved, some shredded (1-2 meals per family)
Here is our game plan:

1. Roast Chickens (2 in one pan, one per family) (Carve and shred after cooling.)
2. Make sauce for Shrimp Curry--allow to cool before assembling with cooked frozen shrimp.
3. Prepare 3 marinades for the three chicken recipes. Because of advance prep work, all that is left to do is pour/measure the mixtures over the chicken, which is already bagged. Freeze.
4. Prep marinade for Mustard Oregano Pork recipe. Bag and freeze.
5. Wrap bacon around boneless chops for Turkish Pork Loin Chops. Prep marinade. Bag and freeze.
6. Prep marinade for Sesame Sirloin, which is already bagged. Freeze.
7. Assemble Shrimp Curry.
8. Carve roasted chickens as desired, then shred remaining meat. Bag and refrigerate/freeze for future use, or serve some for dinner.
9. Reserve chicken carcasses and vegetable trimming from recipes to make Bone Soup (if there is any room left in the freezer!) This will be done after the freezer cooking session.

Can we do all of this in the three hours and live to tell about it?