Sunday, March 14, 2010

Weekend Culinary Adventures

Although the snow has stopped, it's not quite warm enough for me to be doing much in the garden. So, I spent much of this weekend doing some batch cooking for the freezer and meals this week.

Friday night was date night, so instead of pizza, we made a quiche. If you have a lot of eggs, this is a great way to use them, as well as odds and ends of veggies. We added mushrooms, some ends of cheeses, onion, and bacon to ours. Instead of the traditional pastry crust, we opted for the hashbrown crust described in this recipe from Rachel Ray. It was more prep time, but we enjoyed it and it was a little healthier than the traditional buttery crust. With a glass of wine and some Ben and Jerry's for dessert, it was a great date night meal! (And, it made plenty of leftovers for lunches this week.) We made extra hashbrowns and cooked them while the quiche was baking so that we could reheat them for breakfast in the morning. (Doing it this way meant that we cooked once and only had to wash the pan once, rather than putting the leftover shredded potatoes in the fridge to be cooked the next morning. Did ya catch that water and time conservation? :))

Yesterday, I made meatballs to put into the freezer, as well as for meatball subs. The meatball recipe I use is from Cheap. Fast. Good., a cookbook I've mentioned several times before. (Can you tell it's one of my "go-to's"?!) This time, instead of using two pounds of ground beef, I used a pound of beef and a pound of ground chicken. The beef and chicken were on sale at Harris Teeter last week, and the chicken had the bonus of being natural, free-range, vs. the hormone laden stuff. One of the reasons I like this meatball recipe is that you bake them on the broiler pan, rather than frying them, so they're healthier. (Usually, I hate bringing out the broiler pan because it's a pain to clean up... umm, rather, it's a pain for Benny to clean up (that's the deal, he does dishes... I do laundry... it works for us). But, I found out that you can use dryer sheets to release gunk from a pan. So I tried it, and low and behold, it worked like magic! There was virtually no scrubbing, aside from the light wiping to get stuff out of the grooves. So, I"m sold on this method!)

When I was already in the middle of the recipe, I realized that I didn't have any bread crumbs, so I made my own using some week old bread we had in the fridge. I simply buzzed it in the food processor and baked the crumbs for about 20 min. on a baking sheet to dry them out. (I stored the leftovers in an airtight container for later use.) I also found this method in the same cookbook as the meatball recipe.

I also made a large bowl of chicken salad yesterday, using some leftover grapes, an apple, some celery Benny had picked up at Costco, and the chicken I cooked in the crockpot last week. (Don't worry, the chicken had been in the freezer up until yesterday. It hadn't been hanging around in the fridge too long!) I added some salt, pepper, Miracle Whip (Benny's spread of choice), and poppy seeds I had in the fridge (store these and sesame seeds in the fridge and they'll last longer because the oils won't go bad as quickly). We had that on some homemade bread for lunch... yummy!

Today, I tried my hand at making some homemade hamburger and hotdog buns. I don't like paying full price for these at the store, but can hardly ever find the whole wheat ones on sale. I know that baking from scratch is generally cheaper, and definitely better for you, but I've always been a bit intimidated by yeast dough recipes until I met my friend the bread machine. (Actually, ours was gifted to us as a hand-me-down; thanks Maggie!) I found a recipe for the burger and dog buns in the Bread Machine Magic cookbook Benny got for me for Valentine's Day (I'd only checked the book out at the library about 10 times... it's about time I had my own used copy from Amazon!). The beauty of this recipe is that the machine makes the dough, meaning that my "human error" of always killing the yeast in yeast bread recipes was not a factor. (I always manage to get the water too hot, even with a thermometer.) It also meant that I could work on finishing organizing the office while the dough was kneaded and rose the first time. When the machine beeped, I simply turned the wheat dough out onto my floured countertop, rolled it into a log, and separated it into 12 portions. These I rolled into 6-inch long rolls, or formed into balls, which I flattened to get the hamburger or hotdog buns. Then, I let them rise in the warm oven for 40 minutes, and baked for 12 min. at 400 degrees. (I know it sounds like a lot of steps, but it was really a nice, relaxing way to spend the afternoon. And I could get my other stuff done, like laundry, helping Benny with the closet organizer install (more on that soon) and cleaning.) This was the end result... wheat hotdog and hamburger buns, bakery quality, with no preservatives. They were fantastic with our meatball sandwiches tonight! We're both swearing that we'll never pay for storebought burger or dog buns again... the taste and texture were worth all the "work"!

How about you? Did you have any fantastic culinary adventures this weekend? How do you work meals in around the edges, so that yous till have time to do what you want and need to do? Please share... I'd love to hear from you!

Sharin' the green love and savings!

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