Sunday, March 20, 2011

In the Kitchen With Kimberly

Disclaimer: This is a long post about food. If you are currently hungry and have no access to food- DO NOT READ.

Don't worry I am not starting one of those blogs where I talk about everything I may or may not really cook my kids each week (I often wonder if the people who write those blogs actually have time to cook the meals they post about), but I have been making some new meals lately and cooking more often so I thought I would share a few new ideas, recipes and tricks. Plus, I never really talk about what I'm doing and recently this has been about it. Yep, even the house has suffered since I've been spending extra time preparing meals... ok who am I kidding, my house is never clean anyhow, always sanitary, but never clean. I think they will appreciate and remember a home-cooked meal much more than a clean house!

I go through phases where I feel we are cooking and eating the same things over and over again. It works for awhile, but then I always end up searching for new recipe ideas. Usually I wind up back to the basics by pulling out my well-used Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. I usually prefer a cookbook to recipes on the web, mostly because I have this theory that the recipe MUST be good to be published in a book. Anyone can post anything on the web, even if it tastes like cardboard.

This time around I was searching for recipes that incorporated more veggies and stronger flavors. No offense to the Duggar mom, but Tater Tot Casserole just doesn't cut it in our house. We are tired of bland meals made primarily from "cream of _____ ", sour cream, or some other white creamy substance. I wanted meals that got flavor from the way veggies and fruits were cooked, not from preservatives and salt. I began to run into a few problems when trying to plan some new meals: we all eat differently- I like carbs, Scott likes meat, the girls like potatoes, Harbin doesn't, Scott likes green beans, I like peas, and the list goes on. The other dilemma I often run into is that I buy fresh veggies and then they go bad in the fridge because I forget about them or I don't have time to fix the meal I thought.

Well, this time I tried to set out and be organized. I happened to stumble across a great website with some awesome recipes (well at least they looked awesome in the pictures, so I thought it was worth a try). I admit, I was skeptical at was one of THOSE sites...the ones I mentioned above that list all these great meals they cook for their family each and every day and of course not only are the moms a good cook, but they manage to let the kids help in the kitchen, too (something I rarely do). I found a few recipes I wanted to try as well as some ideas for a few freezer snacks. So, I made a list of those recipes and then on my new, very handy, meal planning board (thanks Melissa), I wrote meals for two weeks. Harbin was bothered by the fact I crossed out the breakfast section to write another week of dinners, but I assured him there was no need to write "cereal" 5 days in a row (something I despise for breakfast, but my kids love). I tried to plan 4 meals per week- any more than that and we end up with too many leftovers or I over buy food and don't get around to making all the meals.

After I planned out the meals on the board, and I jotted down lunches too, just to be sure we didn't eat chicken nuggets for 3 days in a row, I made my grocery list. I decided that if I could do this every week, I would always know what I needed from the store that week, making my trips shorter and more frequent (which might fit my lifestyle a bit better these days). I still plan to coupon and stockpile on the items that I usually do, but making shorter trips each week instead of one big one every 3-4 weeks seemed like it would better suit the desire to have more fresh veggies and also knocks out the need to drop by the store for milk, bread and orange juice (items we run out of each week).

Last week I started making the meals and to my surprise, they were excellent and very flavorful and for the most part my kids ate them. Harbin enjoys being able to look at the board and see what's for lunch and I like knowing what's coming up for dinner. Having it planned out has allowed me to remember to move meats from the deep freezer to the fridge the night before and I can prep a few items like the pasta or rice or bread in the morning when the kids are doing school.

And, I am learning a lot of new things, like how to roast my own red peppers (really not that hard), make alfredo from cream cheese, butter, milk and parmesan, and make homeade hamburger buns which also double as yeast rolls or sandwich bread. I made Roasted Red Pepper Stuffed Chicken last week with Alfredo sauce and Peas over Bowtie Pasta. That was definitely one of our favorites. The kids will eat anything with Bowtie pasta! This week, I made flatbreads (actually sandwich flats) with spinach, caramelized onions, feta, and strips of steak (pictured above). I left the steak off of mine and should have left the onions off the kids (oh well, note to self for next time). These were DELICIOUS!! The onions gave it such great flavor and a touch of sweetness and who doesn't love FETA cheese! In hindsight, I would make these last two meals in the same week since I had to use a small amount of alfredo sauce for the flatbreads and making them in one week would save me from making the sauce twice, but live and learn, right?

Well, now I have ranted on for a long time and you are probably either getting bored or hungry, so I'll leave you with a few of my new kitchen tricks and the website where I found a few of these recipes. Please feel free to share any great recipes with me, too- I am always looking for new ones! Here's where I got a few new recipes

1.) Cook anything you can in the morning. My kids are much better at occupying themselves before lunch. Usually I clean up breakfast, sit them down for school and then work with them while my rice, pasta or bread cooks. I am not a master of running every eye on the stove at the same time, so this is just one less thing I have to think about after the "witching hour" (for those of you who don't know what this's the time just after 4pm when all the kids are waking up from naps, they are hungry, thirsty, whiny and in need of attention, and you are trying to get dinner ready, talk to the hubby on his drive home, and prepare whatever you need to get out the door after dinner for choir, practice, ladies night out, church, or whatever).
2.) When you begin cooking dinner, fill one side of the sink with hot water. This is a new trick I have just discovered. It allows me to put everything I use while cooking right into the hot water--this way nothing sticks or dries to the plate, fork, bowl, or other dish before I have time to get it in the dishwasher- usually after the kids go to bed many hours later.
3.) Measuring cups and spoons serve more than one my house, it's usually to entertain the 8 month old on the kitchen floor.
4.) Pull out all your ingredients and put them on the counter. This does 2 things- you know you have everything you need to make the meal and you don't have to make you 6 year old open the fridge and try to find something because you have turkey meat all over your hands.
5.) Buy and use the Bissell Sweep and Steam. Yep, you heard me, buy it, use it. I am not getting paid to say this, I just love mine. I bought it the other day and it is AMAZING. I can brush everything on the floor as I cook and then just use this to get up all the dry and wet stuff- crumbs, sugar, dripped water, oil splatter, etc.

The Chef-in-Disguise Mom.

(To all you mommies out there- I don't claim to have it all together. This is not a normal week in my house. I try to make routines and they always change. I am very far from getting my act together all the time, but I thought this week when I was on top of it, I'd share what I'd learned. Plus we should always brag a little when we get things right for once!)

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