Sunday, November 30, 2008

Pantry Project, Week 3

(Scroll down for a recipe for Amish Chicken Casserole.)

The Pantry Project was tabled this week for Thanksgiving. I brought some food to share to my BIL's house, and thought he and the family wouldn't really appreciate the thrown together nature of something from the pantry, so I shopped.

Monday we did eat chicken stir fry on steamed rice. But then Tuesday my hubby was helping to butcher two deer the family killed last weekend, and when they butcher they always fry up pieces of the venison in a skillet as they cut, so that covered him. (I ate ramen noodles from the pantry.) Wednesday we went out to eat as usual. Then Thursday the holiday. Friday I went to the Grand Opening of Black Sheep Vineyards, and Saturday I cooked a turkey here so we'd have leftovers at our own house. Today we'll have those leftovers, of course. And that completes Week 3.

The dish I took to share (in addition to my traditional Dutch Apple pie) was Amish chicken casserole-- a new recipe I tried just for the holiday, but will make again soon!

Amish Chicken Casserole

1/2 cup butter
8 ounces sliced fresh mushrooms
1/3 cup flour
2 cups chicken broth (I used Organic free range)
1 cup whole milk
8 ounces noodles, cooked (I used Kluski)
2 cups chopped or shredded cooked chicken
salt, pepper, sage and poultry seasoning to taste (not too much-- the flavor sahould be subtle)
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Melt the butter in a large skillet or saucepan. Saute the sliced mushrooms in the butter until they begin to brown. Add the flour and stir to combine until the flour and butter form a smooth paste. Add the chicken broth and milk and cook until thick and bubbly (about the consistency of gravy)

Add the chicken and the noodles, and the seasonings. Pour into a large casserole dish and sprinkle with the cheese. Bake uncovered 30 minutes.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Daring Bakers Caramel Cake

This month's Daring Bakers' Challenge is a caramel cake from Shuna Fish Lydon of Eggbeater ( ). You can find the recipe here . Hosting this month are Dolores of Chronicles in Culinary Curiosity ( Alex (Brownie of Blondie and Brownie) (, and Jenny of Foray into Food (

As you can see from the recipe, before you can begin to make the cake or the frosting, you need to make the caramel syrup. Making caramel syrup is so simple (though a little nerve-wracking with a lot of splattering going on) that I wonder that I've never tried it before. I will definitely make that part of the recipe again.

I made the caramel syrup and let it cool. Then I used a little bit of the caramel syrup (1/3 cup) to make the cake. If you check out the accompanying picture from Shuna's recipe you'll see that she used the cake as one layer and the frosting just on the top. I sliced the cake in half and used the frosting in the middle and all around-- I had just enough to finish it.

The cake was a little dry at first and stuck a little to the baking pan, but once it was frosted and sat overnight covered, it absorbed a little moisture from the frosting and was great!

The frosting was tasty, very sweet but not really smooth-- a little sugary for me. But definitely delicious.

The remaining caramel syrup (1/3 cup was used for the cake and 4 Tbsp for the frosting, leaving 1 cup of syrup for another use) could be used if we wanted to make caramels or caramel topping. Instead, I used it to flavor a batch of homemade caramel pecan ice cream.

Caramel Pecan Ice Cream

2 cups half and half
2 cups heavy cream
1/3 cup sugar
3/4 cup caramel syrup
a pinch of kosher salt
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup coarsely chopped toasted pecans

Combine the half and half, cream, sugar, caramel syrup and salt. Add the vanilla extract. Chill the mixture 3 hours or overnight. Freeze according to your ice cream freezer directions, adding the toasted pecans about 2 minutes before the machine is done. Makes about 5 cups.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Pantry Project, Week 2

A quick summary of how the "project" is going:
Monday: Dr Joe's homemade kielbasi, fried cabbage and noodles.
Tuesday: Chicken curry on brown rice.
Wednesday: Out to dinner as usual.
Thursday: Smoked sausage, sauerkraut and mashed potatoes.
Friday: Steak, baked potatoes and salad.
Saturday: Chicken chili and bread, with homemade caramel cake for dessert.
Sunday: Out to dinner.
Grocery purchases for the week? A gallon of milk, a box of cereal, a pound of butter, a bunch of romain and a cucumber for salad, and a loaf of bread to go with the soup. (I would have made bread, but making soup and a cake and bread on Saturday would have been a bit too much.)

Meals are still pretty balanced and interesting-- not too much problem yet.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pantry Project, Day 5

Yesterday we enjoyed some homemade vegetable soup from my crock pot and some crunchy oatmeal bread from my bread machine.

We went out to the home of a friend to play cards and I brought some cheese spread to snack on, and had to buy some snack crackers to go with it. And with that, the first week of the project comes to an end. (We're going out to dinner tonight.)

The sum total of my grocery purchases this week? A jar of green olives, some fresh Brussels sprouts, a head of cabbage, a box of breakfast cereal, a box of crackers and a gallon of milk. The goal of this project was never about saving money, but rather to see how long we could eat just from the pantry and freezer, and to use things up that I've been hoarding there. The money saving is a nice side benefit, though!

Oatmeal Bread
3/4 Cup water
2 Cups white bread flour
1 Tbsp dry milk
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp butter, softened
1 Tbsp honey
1/4 Cup oatmeal (old fashioned or quick, not instant)
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
In the bread machine, put the ingredients in the order your machine recommends. (The only important part is that the yeast and the water don't come in contact right away if you are using the "delay" cycle.) Turn the machine to regular (or delay) cycle and medium crust setting. Remove from machine promptly when done. For extra crunch, hold the oatmeal until the add fruit/nuts beep signal is heard.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Pantry Project, Day 4

Today we enjoyed a meal of baked pork chops, squash seasoned with butter, brown sugar and maple syrup, and a saute of fresh brussels sprouts, onions, and toasted almonds, drizzled with fesh lemon juice. With it, a Beyond 2007 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa. (I had to buy the fresh brussels sprouts.)

So far the meals are not too bad-- good flavor combinations and a pretty good presentation. Let's hope it continues that way for a while. Tomorrow I'm going to stay home and clean, so I'll put soup in the crock pot and make a loaf of homemade bread to go with it. (I had to buy cabbage for the soup.)

Sauteed Brussels Sprouts

3/4 pound fresh Brussels sprouts
1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
4 Tbsp butter
1/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted almonds
1 tsp fresh lemon juice

Trim the brussels sprouts and cut a shallow X in the stem ends. Boil for about 5 minutes, until crisp tender. The sprout will just give with a little pressure when tested with a fork. Don't overcook-- you'll be cooking them a little more in a minute. (If the sprouts are various sizes, remove the smaller ones as they become done, letting the others cook.) Cool them in a bath of ice water to stop the cooking, then slice each one in half.

Melt the butter in a skillet, and cook the onions until soft, but not browned. Add the sprouts and saute 2-3 minutes. Add half the almonds and the lemon juice and saute another minute to combine the flavors. Remove from heat and add the remaining almonds. Serve.

Serves 4 (or 2 generously.)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Pantry Project, Day 3

Today is Day 3 of my "Pantry Project." (Yesterday we went out to eat at Carabbas in Canton.) We were both out and about most of the afternoon, so we finished off the Black Forest bacon we bought at Whole Foods in Pittsburgh, with toast and some eggs from my friend, Melanie's chickens. I know that fresh eggs can't really be as much better than grocery eggs as they seem-- I think the idea of them being fresher has a lot to do with our perception of the flavor. But they certainly were good!

I'm not much of a heavy bacon-and-eggs breakfast eater. A bowl of cereal and some fruit is more my speed. But breakfast for dinner? That I like a lot!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pantry Project, Day 2

Continuing with the pantry project, today we had tilapia Veracruz (I had to buy green olives), orzo, and broccoli with lemon and butter, with a nice 2007 Mirassou Pinot Grigio.

Tilapia Veracruz

1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes with green chilies
2 T sliced green olives
1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
4 tilapia fillets, patted dry
2 tsp olive oil

Mix the tomatoes, olives, lemon juice and garlic in a small bowl and set aside.

Season the tilapia with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Heat a skillet and add the olive oil. Saute the tilapia in the olive oil for 3 minutes on the first side. Flip the fish over and add the tomato mixture. Cook 4-5 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve over orzo (or brown rice) to absorb all the wonderful flavors of the sauce.

Serves 4 (or two generously.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Pantry Project

I was following links from some of my favorite food blogs when I came across an entry that described a shopping trip the author had taken in which she had spent well over $140 dollars and had very little to show for it. The experience caused her to think that she could live for quite a while from the contents of her pantry, supplemented with fresh fruits and veggies and perishables like milk and eggs.

Her blog entry got me to thinking, and to cleaning, reorganizing and logging the contents of my pantry, as well as my freezer. My own "pantry project" began today. I made a list of all the food I had on hand, and I got my husband on board with the idea. (There is a lot of rice-- brown rice, white rice, basmati rice, arborio rice-- pasta and other grains, and my hubby is really basically a "meat and potatoes" kind of guy.) The combinations may get a little strange as we go, but that's the challenge part of the project, yes?

My pantry held all kinds of surprises, from two cans of artichoke hearts (one marinated, one not) to two cans of water chestnuts. (I also found a third can of artichoke hearts that had seepd out of the bottom of the can and turned black on the pantry shelf. Why can't they just put an understandable date code on the can so we can tell how old something is?)

That said, tonight we feasted on garlic/rosemary chicken legs, parmesan flavored couscous, and steamed peas with mushrooms. Not a bad start...

Meal Time Magic or Just Dumb Luck?

Eating dinner the other night, my husband said, "Oh, these flavors go really well together." Well, of course they do, I thought. Do you think this is all just luck?

When I am planning a meal, I play a litle sensory tape in my head of the foods hitting my tongue in combination, and decide whether the flavors go together. I've become pretty good at it, over time. Assuming there isn't an untried food or recipe in the mix I can usually know what vegetable to serve with what main dish and so on. I'm trying to get experienced enough with wines that I can pick out a wine the same way. Sometimes I'm right on, other times not so much. But, oh! The fun learning!

In college I majored in Nutrition (it was called "Dietetics" where I went) for two years before making the brilliant choice to change to Sociology. Eek! (Note to all college students who really don't have a clue what they want to be when they grow up: start out with an undergraduate degree in Business, then do graduate study in whatever real major you want.) I did learn a thing or two about food. Most importantly I learned that I didn't want to spend the rest of my working life in a hospital dietary department. I didn't have a clue that there were a few more useful options for a degree in Nutrition even then, and much more so now that the food awareness explosion has taken place.