Monday 27 May 2013

Conserving Energy

You guys all know that I work hard at being frugal, right?  

I keep a budget,  try to eliminate waste in my kitchen and household, cook from scratch, walk instead of driving whenever I can, turn the thermostat down, unplug my electronics when I'm not using them.

Funny, then, that I can't apply the same principal to conserving my own energy.

A couple of years ago, I got very sick. I'm since recovered but my energy levels are not the same.  I tire more easily and yet - despite my doctor's cautions that this may be my new normal and I must learn to adapt - I continue to take on as many tasks as I did before I got sick, and I continue to expect myself to accomplish them with the same amount speed, and energy.  

Inevitably, a time comes when I have to pay for those high expectations.

Last week, after returning from our trip to visit my parents, I crashed and burned.  I had plans to use my remaining days off to clean house but, instead, ended up spending most of my time off sleeping.  

I returned to work still tired and struggled to make it through my work days and maintain my established routine and then I crashed and burned again this weekend.  I slept most of both days.

Clearly, my body is sending me a message.

I need to spend some time being kinder to myself.  

Although I'm often a mind-over-matter kind of person, determined to power through my low energy times, I think I need to slow down for a while.  I'll continue to blog, but less, and I'll continue to be on FB and Twitter, but post less often.  I'll continue to work, but work less.  

Eventually, I'll regain my stamina.  I hope you'll bear with me until I do because I do so enjoy my conversations with my on-line friends.

Thanks for hanging out with me.

Tuesday 21 May 2013

Nacho Average Joe

"Some nachos, a Sloppy Joe, and a pizza walk into a bar..."

Sounds like the start of a bad joke, right?  But this dish came together from almost as random a series of events.

I try to keep my kitchen organized, to plan my meals, and to make the best possible use of the ingredients I have on hand, but some days I'm just not lovin' kitchen duty:  I'm too lazy tired to cook,  or too lazy busy, or broke to go to the grocery store.  Other days what I've planned for supper just doesn't appeal to me when it comes time to make it.

It's at those times that the oddest dishes come of of my kitchen.

Like this one.

These nachos smelled so good when I took them out of the oven, and tasted so good when we ate them, that I had to share them with you, but they were such an oddball combination that I took no photos while making them.  I really hadn't intended to post the recipe. 

Here's how this dish happened:

I'd made Slightly Disheveled Joseph ahead of time and planned to serve it over biscuits for supper, but I was so tired when I got home that I just couldn't summon up the energy to make the biscuits.  We were out of hamburger buns and all the bread was frozen, so I decided to save Joseph for the next day and peruse the fridge to see what other options were available.

I had shredded mozzarella and edam, some cooked Italian sausage, onion, yellow bell pepper, pineapple chunks, and black olives.  Yeah! Pizza!

...But no pizza crusts left in the freezer.  Dang!

I went to the pantry and found a big bag of tortilla chips.  Hello Plan C!  Nachos!

I spread the tortilla chips in a pan, then topped them with the Slightly Disheveled Joseph mixture.

I chopped the onion and yellow pepper and sprinkled them over top.

I decided to keep the Italian sausage for another day, but I did add some pineapple and sliced black olives, because I like them both on my pizza.  I figured they'd taste fine with the slightly acidic flavour of the Slightly Disheveled Joseph.

I topped the whole thing with the shredded cheese and popped it in a 350F oven for about 30 minutes; until everything was heated through and the cheese was all melty.

We ate the whole dish in one sitting:  Definitely Nacho Average Sloppy Joe!   :^)

Thursday 9 May 2013

Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry in Garlic Ginger Sauce

Every time I plan to share a stir fry recipe, I end up changing my mind.  I tell myself that they're so simple no one needs instructions from me on how to put one together.

But we each make our stir fries a little differently,

And many people - like me - don't own woks or other specially designed equipment in which to make them,

So - no matter how simple it may seem to me - I'm sharing a stir fry recipe today.

I often have these ingredients on hand, so some variation of this dish makes a frequent appearance on our dinner table.  It's a quick, easy meal, and a great way to use up bits and bobs from the vegetable crisper.  You can add in any vegetables you like and the quantities are easily adjusted.

To make Beef and Vegetable Stir Fry in Garlic Ginger Sauce, you'll need:

  • 1-1/2 teaspoons cooking oil (I use sunflower oil)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 cup sliced onion
  • 1 Tablespoon minced garlic
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger (to taste)
  • 3 cups broccoli florets
  • 1 cup sliced carrot
  • 1 cup red pepper cut into strips
  • 2 -1/2 cups beef stock
  • 8 ounces leftover cooked steak, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tablespoon soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch
  • salt and pepper to taste

Heat the oils in a large, deep pot (I use a 6 quart Dutch Oven) until they are hot enough that the surface of the oil begins to ripple.  

Add in the onion and cook it, stirring constantly, until it's tender.

Add in the garlic and ginger and cook, stirring constantly, for a few seconds more.

Add in the broccoli florets, carrot, and red pepper.  Stir to distribute the onion, garlic, and ginger through the vegetables.

Add in 2 cups of the beef stock and bring it to a boil.  

Cook the vegetables until they're tender crisp.  About half of the stock will have evaporated.

Add in the beef and stir it through the ingredients.  

Continue cooking until the beef is heated through.  This won't take more than a minute or so.

While the beef is heating through, combine the rest of the beef stock with the soy sauce and cornstarch, stirring until the cornstarch is dissolved.

Add the cornstarch-beef stock slurry to the stir fry and stir it through until the sauce is thickened.  

If the sauce gets too thick, add a little more stock to the pot to thin it down.

Taste the finished dish and adjust the seasoning, adding salt and pepper if required.

Serve your beef vegetable stir fry immediately, over rice or noodles.  (I served this one over Secret Vegetable Ramen.)

If you have leftovers, you can reheat them in the microwave or you can use them to make a tasty soup.  

To make soup, cut the stir fry into smaller pieces, then stir in enough beef stock to thin it to the consistency you desire.  

Mix in a little more grated ginger.

Heat it to a boil, then stir in some cooked rice or noodles.  

I like to spice beef stir fry soup up a bit, so I serve sriracha sauce on the side.  

Cook's notes:
  • If you don't have leftover cooked steak, an equivalent amount of thinly sliced uncooked beef can be used.  The uncooked beef should be the first ingredient you add to the pot, stirring until it's almost cooked through before continuing on with the recipe.
  • Other proteins may be substituted for the beef.  If you choose to use poultry or pork, substitute chicken or vegetable stock for the beef stock called for in the recipe.  You can make a vegan version of this dish with marinated firm tofu and vegetable stock.

Monday 6 May 2013

Two Butts in a One Butt Kitchen

There's no denying it:  Our kitchen is small.  It's a well designed small space, but the floor space not occupied by cupboards and appliances is just 4.5 feet by 8.5 feet.  

It's fine when I'm working by myself in there, but when there are two of us, it feels very crowded.  My husband and I vary greatly in our approaches to cooking.  I'm working quite a lot lately and my guy is spending more and more time in the kitchen. With our differing approaches to kitchen management, there's a huge potential for friction. I imagine that we're not the only ones facing these challenges.

Every household's routines are different.  We have only the two of us to cook for.  Many of you have larger families.  Even so, some tips are universally applicable.

Divide your time, not your space:  

Since we quickly realized that the kitchen is too crowded for us to work comfortably in there together, we now divide our kitchen chores between us and work in the kitchen at different times.

Allot some time for cleaning and organization:  

Cooking in a small space is much easier if you know where to find your ingredients and cooking tools.  

My fella does the dishes, cleans the counters and stove, and washes the kitchen floor daily.  I budget part of my weekly cooking-ahead day for putting stuff away, cleaning the fridge, and cleaning, organizing, and taking inventory of the freezers and pantry.  

I keep an inventory list on the inside of the pantry door, and on each of my freezers.  We update it by hand every time we take something out or put something in, and I clean it up and update it on my computer once-monthly.

Cook ahead:  

My precooking for the week always includes baking.  I make our week's bread and, if I have time, some cookies or dessert.  

I make some things we can use for breakfast.  Muffins, pancakes, and waffles can be made ahead and stored in the freezer. Granola keeps well in an airtight container on the pantry shelf.

I also try to cook at least one large protein:  a roast, a whole chicken, a turkey, or perhaps a whole fish.  We plan on using the leftovers from this one protein in at least two or three meals throughout the week.

If I have enough ingredients on hand, I'll often can a small batch of soup, and - if I've made a good buy on meat of some sort - I may can a protein.  These jars on the shelf may seem a lot of extra work, but they're a wonderful convenience to have on hand on a busy work night.

Plan together and determine who's doing what, in advance

My guy is a competent cook so he has a lot of say in the planning process.  Each night, we plan the next day's meals and then decide which of the cooking chores he'll undertake while I'm at work, and which of the chores I'll undertake when I get home.  

My fella does a lot of prep.  He washes, chops, and shreds vegetables.  He makes dishes that require long cooking times. He helps with the preparation and restocking of staples, and he pre-cooks large batches of things like brown rice, that can portioned and frozen for use over time.  

I do most of the dish putting-away (because then I know where the dishes are), and I make most of the vegetable dishes.  I often come home from work and complete the final stages of a meal, pulling together the ingredients my husband has prepped, and making salads and salad dressings.  

After supper is done, my guy does the clean up and, then, - if it requires pre-cooking - I make dessert for the following day.  I also pack my lunch for the next day, usually from leftovers, and tidy the space again so that it's ready to go in the morning.

In the mornings I start the day's batch of soup stock in the slow cooker or on the back burner of the stove, and write out any specific cooking instructions that my guy has requested.  He drains and cools the soup stock later in the day, and works at the day's dinner chores.

It's a routine that works well for us.  

Planning this way and then sticking to our schedule can seem like a real effort, especially if we're tired or very busy, but over time we've found it well worth the work.  We spend less money on groceries, and we eat very well. Our suppers are more flavourful and certainly more healthy than food from the drive through.

Do you share your kitchen with your spouse or your children?  

What tips and tricks work best for you?  

I'd love to hear from you.  Please stop by my Facebook page or Twitter feed to share your tips.

Thursday 2 May 2013

My Big Fat Twice-Baked Greek Potatoes

Two random things you should know about me:

First, I hate to waste food. A great many of my recipes come about because I need to use stuff up.

Second, I love potatoes.  I mean, seriously. love. them.  I'd happily eat them at every single meal if my waistline would allow for it.

This particular recipe came to be because of both of those things.  I had a bunch of stuff in my fridge that needed using up, and I wanted potatoes for supper.  

It was clean-out-the fridge day at my house, and I needed to find a use for two, rather anemic looking, winter tomatoes.  To sweeten them up some and intensify the flavour, I decided to roast them.  

I cut the tomatoes into large pieces, tossed them in a little oil, spread them on a parchment lined pan and sprinkled them with some salt and pepper.  

I baked them in a 400F degree oven for about 20 minutes. 

When they were done, they looked like this:

While the tomatoes were cooking, I dug around in the fridge and found this stuff:

I combined the found stuff with the tomatoes in the following quantities:

  • 1 cup homemade ricotta (storebought will work fine too)
  • 1 cup feta
  • 3/4 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (left over from making Tacsagne)
  • 1/2 cup pitted, coarsely chopped Kalamata olives
  • 1 cup roasted tomatoes (I ran my knife through them to cut them into smaller pieces; about the same size as the chopped olive)
  • 1 Tablespoon Greek seasoning mix

and stirred them together until well combined.

I had two leftover baked potatoes in the fridge too, so I cut them in half and scooped out the insides.  

I placed the potato shells on a parchment lined pan.

I mashed the scooped potato with a fork, added in about half of the cheese and spinach mixture and stirred the two together. 

(I put the rest of the filling in the freezer to use another time.)

I spooned the mixed filling back into the potato shells, heaping it into mounds, 

and baked the stuffed potatoes at 350F, until they were heated through and had taken on some colour.

They weren't the prettiest girls at the dance, but - as many plain girls do - they had great substance and were really interesting.

I'll be making them again.