Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What I've been up to

I've been a little busy. With apple Jelly....
Red wine jelly......
Pickled green beans....
Lemon ginger green tomato preserves.....
Pickled green tomatoes....
Grapes in syrup....
Dill pickle carrots.....
Brandied apples.....
Brandy apple syrup.....
Strawberry applesauce....
Apple slices in syrup....
Cinnamon pear applesauce...
There's something very satisfying about canning your own food. It takes a little trial and error and not everything is going to turn out perfect (my apple jelly is more like thick apple water) and yes, sometimes it means spending hours working on something that you could buy for $1.49 at the store but I still think it's worth it. Now if you'll excuse me, I just took some bread out of the breadmaker and it's begging me to slather it in butter and red wine jelly. I cannot resist.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Deep Fried Candy Bars

One thing I want to do here at Problem Girl Eats is give you little hints and tips for eating healthier and saving money on food. If that's the sort of thing you're interested in too you may want to go ahead and skip this entry.

For those of you sticking around, let me introduce to you the County Fair $5 Deep Fried Candy Bar.
The Deep Fried Candy Bar is a work of art. A candy bar (you can pick between Snickers, 3 Musketeers and Milky Way) is stuck on a stick and dipped in batter. Then the whole thing is dropped into a deep fryer. When the batter is golden brown it's taken out and put on a little paper plate. As the man who makes them sprinkles powdered sugar all over it he warns you to let it cool a bit before taking a bite because it's really hot. You think him but then wonder if he said that because you look like the sort of person who would shove a piping hot wad of chocolate and fried dough into your mouth three seconds after it came out of boiling hot oil.

It doesn't matter though because now you have your Deep Fried Candy Bar. You'll want to find a place to sit down before biting into it. That first bite is so amazingly, intensely good that if you take it while standing up you're likely to fall over.
If you ever find yourself at a fair or a carnival you're going to want to check and see if you can get one of these. And if you can't you're going to want to get a deep fryer for your own home and make these by the dozen. And if you do can you call me and let me know? These are far too good to be a once a year treat.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Fried Plantians

I've always been a little curious to try plantains but until very recently I was also a little wary of them. A banana that you fry? Sounds a little scary. Thank goodness I got over my fear and tried plantains with this simple, no fail method. Try it once and I promise you that you won't be sorry. In fact you'll probably find yourself making it again and again.

I started with two large, green plantains. Plantains get sweeter as they ripen and for this recipe you'll want them unripe and starchy.

Start by putting some oil in pan. You need just enough to coat the bottom of the pan. I used canola oil but I've heard peanut oil is good too. While the oil is heating to medium high heat cut both ends of the plantains off and then slit the skin all the way from the top to the bottom. Peel off the skin. If you're really talented you can get the skin off in one piece. I am not talented and my peel was in 14 pieces when I was done.

Slice the plantains into slices 1/2 to 1 inch thick. Precision doesn't matter here. Trust me.

Put the plantain slices into the pan and let them sit there frying for a minute or two. Depending on your pan size you may have to do this in several batches. After a couple of minutes check to see how the plantains look. You want a nice golden brown crust. When you have that flip them over.

After you have a golden brown crust on the other side start taking the plantain slices out one by one and putting them on a plate or other flat surface. With the bottom of a glass smash the plantain down so that all the soft stuff inside squishes out. See, that's why it doesn't matter if they're all the same thickness. If you have a really thick one you just smash it a little more. Try not to get your big meaty paws in the picture like I did.

Return the smashed slices back to the oil and let them brown a little bit more.

See that nice brown edge on the bottom? That's what you're aiming for. You won't ever get there though because by this point you'll have tasted one and you'll be so eager to eat more that you won't care if they're only half done. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Once the slices are nice and on the edges take them out of the pan and lay them on paper towels to drain. Or, if you don't have any paper towels use a decorative napkin that your mother-in-law made. Sprinkle the slices with kosher salt.

Cram them all into your mouth as fast as you can so that your husband and children don't get very many. Let them make their own darned plantains.

These were a hit with my entire family. They're like potato chips but thicker and better and with the tiniest hint of sweetness. Um, the plantains, not my family. Although I guess that description applies to my family too. I'm sorry, I can't think straight. There's a green plantain calling my names. Excuse me.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Empty the Pantry Challenge

Thank you to Andrea (aka MommyTime) for this awesome post. Andrea, you've inspired me!

Husband and I both love to cook. On our second date, I went to his house for dinner, and he made me a delicious Thai curry -- with sauce from scratch. We spent our years in graduate school cooking together, cooking for each other, having dinner parties, and generally enjoying food every chance we could get.

Fast forward 10 years, and we have two children, two full-time jobs, and far less time every day than we used to. We still love to cook, but on a daily basis, we tend to do what I think of as "cheater cooking." We'll throw rice in the rice cooker, chop up some chicken and veggies for a quick stir fry, and then pour on some delicious organic sauce from Trader Joe's. Or we'll rotisserie a chicken and just have steamed veggies on the side. On "ambitious" days, he'll make a big pot of Tortilla Soup, which involves mincing all the random bits of peppers, corn, onions, or other appropriate veggies we've got lying around, sauteeing some chicken, and tossing it all together with crushed tomatoes, water, spices, and (of course) tortilla bits. It's a very good soup, but hardly up to our previous standards of curried squash or whatever else we used to do that was more complicated.

Please understand, I'm not criticizing your cooking here, simply lamenting the falling off of our own creative outlet. We are both toss-and-taste cooks. Which means that although we like to read recipes a lot, when it comes time to cook, we do so by feel and taste more than by measurements (except when baking): we toss into the pot whatever seems right, simmer a while, taste, and adjust with more tosses.

What all of this has translated to lately is that we buy a lot of shortcut ingredients -- packages of Japanese curry sauce cubes, jars of Mojito Marinade, organic pasta sauce, bottles of plum chipotle dipping sauce, and so on. Ever on the lookout for things that will enable us to cook lots of different kinds of foods quickly, while not compromising our food standards (no hydrogenated oils, no high fructose corn syrup, no empty calories except as an occasional treat), we have a tendency to buy lots of interesting looking jars that slowly make their way to the back of the pantry or fridge as new jars full of interesting flavors get put up front.

So, our fridge and pantry (and freezer; we're always stocking up on promising cuts of meat / poultry / fish that are on sale) are full to bursting. It's annoying. They're so full we can't find anything, and then we just end up buying a fourth can of coconut milk -- and no one needs that much coconut milk with no specific plan to cook a single recipe that calls for coconut milk.

I know that the food organized among us recommend weekly meal plans to combat this wasteful purchasing. But toss-and-taste cooks, even ones who find it necessary to prepare an entire meal from scratch in under 20 minutes because the children are melting down before their very eyes, get all twitchy when you suggest making a weekly meal plan. It interferes with their cooking mojo, which depends on spontaneity. (Nevermind that the kids are eating eggs and tortillas for the second time this week because of lack of time to cook something more complex. The last shred of our former love-to-cook selves is contained in this illusion of spontaneity. Let us keep at least that.)

So, because we are also a bit controlling, and we both love a good bargain, I started an Empty-the-Pantry Challenge with myself. (Yes, I know you have to be pretty type A to enjoy a contest with yourself. Whatever. I'm an oldest child.) The best part of this challenge's design is that it fosters creative cooking while at the same time reducing the excessive grocery hoarding that plagues our cupboards. Here are the very simple rules:

(1) Grocery shopping happens only one day a week. (Previously, we'd stop by the store while out doing other errands at least three times a week. This led to a lot of impulse purchases.)

(2) The only items that may be purchased on grocery day are fresh fruits and vegetables, dairy products, and staples that have been emptied in the past week or won't make it till the following Monday (e.g. flour, soysauce, coffee). In all cases except staples, purchases should reflect quantities that can reasonably be eaten in a week. After all, it's not like we won't be back at the store next Monday.

(3) The purchase of any more sauces, marinades, simmer mixes, fabulous flavor bases or novelty ingredients (dates? a can of escargot? we have both in our pantry right now!) is completely forbidden until the ones we've got are used up, even if this takes until next January.

(4) The purchase of any more meat/poultry/fish of any kind is completely forbidden until every last shred of a given protein food currently in the freezer is gone. So, no buying hamburger if there's any other cut of beef in the freezer, even if the hamburger is gone.

(5) Meals will continue to be well-balanced.

Now: COOK!

It's amazing what has happened as a result. For six weeks, I bought not a single bit of meat, fish or poultry, not a single sauce. I cut our grocery bill in half every week. I can see the pantry shelves. And, we got creative again. It's become a fun challenge to see what I can rustle up using a box of corn muffin mix, black beans, one pork chop, and two huge ripe red peppers. (The answer? A cumin-spiced stew, that also contained onion, garlic, lime, and cilantro and tasted great with a side of cornbread.) Now that I've been doing this for a while, the grocery bill has climbed up a little, as I have to buy some meat and canned goods. To help avoid the impulse buys ("it's on sale, buy several!"), I'm trying hard to make the first grocery shop of the month be the one where I restock the freezer and canned goods; then all other shopping trips follow the rules above. This way, things don't languish in the freezer for months, and I don't overbuy every single week.

So, if your grocery bill is getting you down, or you're tired of those packages of unidentifyable meat that end up at the bottom of your freezer, or you have 8 packages of half-used pasta on your shelves (which we did at one point!), try this little challenge. You'll save on gas by not running constantly to the store; you'll save money by eating what you've already got; and you might even find yourself inspired to pull down a cookbook again in order to find a recipe that features some ingredient you forgot you ever had.

But don't say I didn't warn you if an unintended consequence of this is that you have to spend two hours scrubbing down the inside of your refrigerator once you can actually see it again. I'm not the one who let the apricot jam dribble down the back of the shelves behind 28 jars of pickled something and three half-eaten loaves of bread. Honest. I'm not.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Miss Maha's Spicy Mac and Cheese recipe

If I ran the world I would make Mac and Cheese the world's official food. I love it. I could eat it every day and not get sick of it. If there is anything in this world more lovely and perfect than the combination of noodles and cheese then I don't even want to know about it. Since I plan on taking over the world very soon you may want to start dusting off your old mac and cheese recipes so that you can appease your leader. When I do become leader Miss Maha will become my right hand man lady because of her mac and cheese recipe. Give it a try won't you?

1 medium onion
1 1/4 T minced garlic
1/2 T basil
1 T pepper
1.5 T diced red chili peppers
3 T butter or margarine
1/8 cup flour
1.5 cups milk
1 can diced tomatoes (drained)
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 pound macaroni (thicker noodles are great for this)
1/2 cup pounded croutons
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped green onions

In a large sauce pan, cook the onion, garlic, and chili peppers in butter. When soft, stir in flour. Cook for three minutes. Add milk and bring to a boil, stirring a lot. Stir in tomatoes. Simmer for two minutes. Add basil and pepper.

Boil noodles in separate pan. After draining, combine with the other mixture. Stir in cheddar cheese. Transfer everything to a baking dish. Add croutons, Parmesan, and onions on top. Bake for about 10-15 min at 375 F.

Cripes that looks good. So get on it people! Your leader demands it!

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Salsa Chicken

This recipe was given to me by Nicole. I tried it out and it is awesome. I loooove crock pot recipes. Thanks Nicole for sharing this!

Ingredients:-boneless skinless chicken breast (depends on the # of people you want to feed or if you want to freeze for later)
-1 16oz jar of salsa for every 3 LARGE chicken breasts
-Rice (even minute rice works fine for this)
-Shredded cheese
-any can of vegetables (usually black beans or corn go well)
-1 can of diced tomatoes with green chiles

Directions:-Throw all of the chicken into a crock pot on the high setting. It can even still be frozen; I don't care. It still works!
-Dump said salsa on top (about 1 16oz jar for every 3 pcs of chicken)
-Let cook until chicken is fairly done and can start to break into pieces....I generally use frozen chicken and start at noon and end at around 5:30 or 6:00.
-If you like it spicier, you can add the tomatoes with green chiles. It just adds to the flavor and makes more "salsa".
-Also, at this point you can add the additional vegetables if you choose to include them. They just need to heat through.
-Serve when chicken is able to shred thinly. Serve atop rice with shredded cheese.

Nicole says "So there you have it. SUPER easy, REALLY yummy (my husband will even eat it for lunch for a few days after we make it), and the little one will eat it too! The other thing we like to try is different kinds of salsa. Mango salsa is really good, too, and gives it a nice sweet flavor. I wouldn't recommend the extra vegetables with that, though."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Easy Garlic Tilapia

I have a confession. I'm intimidated by fish. I'll often leave pet stores sobbing in fear.

Oh wait. That's not what I meant (to confess). I mean I'm intimidate by cooking fish. I always overdo it because I'm scared that I'll under cook it and my whole family will die. I'm not over dramatic at all.

Thank goodness I came across this recipe for Easy Garlic Tilapia. I tweaked it a bit to work with what my family likes and I was really pleased with the results.

4-6 tilapia fillets
2 tablespoons butter
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp ground mustard seed
dash pepper
dash salt
pinch dried dillweed or parsley

In saucepan, combine butter, garlic, pepper, salt, dillweed, and mustard. Heat over medium heat until garlic has started to lightly brown. Remove from heat. Brush a little of the butter mixture in the bottom of a shallow baking dish (line baking dish with foil for easy clean up) then place tilapia fillets on the buttered area.

Brush top of each tilapia fillet with the seasoned butter mixture. (Or, if you're really daring pour the whole mixture over the top of the fish. That's what I do.) Bake at 350° for 12 to 15 minutes, until tilapia flakes easily with a fork.

It's so simple, you just can't go wrong. I'm sure this would work well with other kinds of fish too. The garlic mellows nicely and the mustard adds an interesting flavor. At my house this was a hit with all except the toddler who's not a fish fan. She often leaves pet stores sobbing in fear too.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Popcorn Salad

Ok, when you read this recipe you're going to think it sounds gross. All I can say is trust me. It's soooooo good. You might have to try it before you believe me but I promise that you won't be sorry. I first tried this when my aunt Sue brought it to a family get together. I took a little scoop just to be polite but before the meal was over I had taken seconds and thirds and maybe even fourths. But don't tell anyone that. I have my dainty image to maintain. Haha.

10 slices bacon
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 cup diced celery
1 1/4 cups shredded Cheddar cheese, divided
1/4 cup shredded carrots
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
6 cups popped popcorn

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble and set aside.
In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, celery, 1 cup of the cheese, 1/2 cup bacon, carrots and chives. Mix well. Add popcorn and stir to coat. Sprinkle with remaining cheese and bacon and serve immediately.

A couple of notes -
This salad does not travel well. If you're taking it with you somewhere (like to a potluck) you're better off doing all the prep work and then assembling it whenever you get where you're going.
The original recipe I found called for one 8 ounce can of sliced water chestnuts. I left them out because they're gross. It also called for 3/4 cup mayo but I thought that was a little much.
Green onions could be substitute for the chives, that's very good too.

What's that you say? This all sounds good but you don't have any popcorn? Well, you're in luck! I'm giving popcorn away to two lucky winners right now! What are you waiting for?

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Chocolate chip toffee shortbread bars

I had a recipe for shortbread cookies that I liked but I always hated the piddly step of rolling out each tiny little cookie. I eliminated that step and futzed with the recipe a bit to come up with this recipe for shortbread bars.

1 cup softened butter
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup toffee chips or crushed toffee

Preheat oven to 325.
Measure the butter, sugar, vanilla, flour and salt into large bowl. Work this all together until it forms a ball.
Add the chocolate chips and toffee chips. Work well into dough. Press dough evenly into a shallow baking pan. It will look about like this only you will have a nicer pan than I do.

Bake for 15-18 minutes, watching to make sure the edges don't burn.
Let cool for as long as you can possibly stand it and then cut into bars.

I wish I could show you what these look like when they're done but when I made last I cut up the pan and took them in to Jesse's office for him to share with his co-workers. Then I inhaled the two that I had left for myself. It wasn't until I was washing the last bite down with a cold glass of milk that I realized I never got a picture of the final product. I guess I'll just have to make them again sometime!

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Chicken in Creamy Pan Sauce

This recipe was given to me by my aunt Doreen. Only, I call her Beany because that's what everyone calls her and I was about 14 before I realized that's not really her name. So without further ado I present:

Beany's Chicken in Creamy Pan Sauce

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, pounded to about 1/2" thickness
1/4 cup flour
1/4 cup oil
1 cup chicken broth
4 oz. cream cheese
1 small onion, sliced
1 cup chopped frozen spinach
1/2 pound muenster Cheese, cubed

Heat oil in large skillet on medium heat. Dredge chicken in flour. Add the chicken and cook 5 to 6 minutes on each side or until cooked through. Remove chicken to separate plate, cover with foil to keep warm.
Cook onion in pan drippings until translucent. Add chicken broth, cream cheese, muenster cheese and spinach. Stir together until creamy. Return chicken to pan, turn over to coat both sides with sauce.

When Beany gave me this recipe she added the note "Don't let the spinach scare you off." I think she is seriously underestimating your love of spinach. Or at least my love of spinach. Or maybe she thinks I'm iron deficient. I should explain her her that my pale skin is just the unfortunate result of living in Minnesota and not a need for more leafy greens.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Super EZ Salsa

This recipe was sent in by reader AmyWildcat who does not have a blog but is none the less awesome and wild. And a cat. And named Amy.


Super EZ Salsa - Not for the Faint of heart

¾ lb Fresh Jalapenos
1 can whole tomatoes
Small onion
Minced garlic

1. Dice onion, about ¼ cup
2. Chop cilantro, less than ¼ cup (to preference)
3. Wrap jalapenos in moist paper towel and microwave for seven minutes
4. Remove stems from jalapenos and place in blender (Here’s the secret to the managing the heat; the seeds. I suggest removing the seeds/membrane in half the peppers (leave the seeds in other half and remove only the exterior stems). After the first try of this recipe, you’ll know to remove more or less seeds/membranes in future recipes based on your preference for heat.)
5. Add can of tomatoes to blender
6. Add onion and cilantro to blender
7. Add salt (approx 1 teaspoon) to blender
8. Add garlic (approx 1 tablespoon) to blender
9. BLEND (to choice, chunky or smooth)
10. Taste and modify to preference – if too hot add more canned tomatoes or fresh tomatoes to taste.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Red Sauce from Florence

This recipe was given to me by shyestviolet who has this to say:

Here is my favorite recipe; it came from a trip I took with a group to Italy my senior year of college, from our tour guide in Florence. It's my mission to pass this recipe along to as many people as possible, because I love it so much:

Red Rauce from Florence
(Ingredient amounts are not precise, as there may have been some translation issues. Seems to work alright.)

Ingredients (use fresh if possible; works alright with dried):
-- 2 Tbsp. butter, melted
-- 1 leaf sage
-- 3 leaves rosemary
-- pinch thyme
-- large pinch parsley
-- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
-- tomato sauce (about 32 oz? meh, however much you want)
-- salt/pepper to taste

Directions: melt butter in saucepan. add garlic. stir for about a minute. add tomato sauce and other ingredients; heat until bubbling.

This sauce is great when onions and fresh ground pork (or leftover chopped-up pork chops) are sauteed with the garlic (saute until onions are tender--about 10 minutes), before adding diced tomatoes and proceeding with the rest of the recipe. Makes a great chunky sauce that's good with smaller pastas like rotelle/rotini, farfalle, penne, or orecchiette.

And the winner is.....

I had lots of people submit lots of yummy content for my contest but I could only pick one winner. The winner for this contest (chosen at random from all the entries) is ...... (insert drumroll sound here) ..... shyestviolet who sent me a recipe that sounds super delicious.

Thank you to everyone who entered. It was lots of fun to see what evryone sent in and now I have lots of great stuff to share with all of you.

Did you enter but not win? Did you not enter but still wanted to win any way? Don't worry! I'll be having another contest soon so you'll get another chance.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The World's Easiest Beef Stew

If there's anything in the world easier than cooking in a crock pot then I don't want to know about it. I already feel sinfully lazy when using my crock pot as it is. I have a recipe for beef stew that you simply cannot screw up. You can make it with as little or as much meat as you want to (even none) and with just about any vegetables that you like. If you've never tried crock pot cooking before this recipe is a great place to start! You will need:

4-6 potatoes, any variety
2 small yams
3 cups of carrots
2 cups of beef stock
1/2 large onion, any variety
red wine
Worcestershire sauce
salt and pepper
bay leaf

Cut the potatoes into medium sized chunks. I prefer to leave the skin on but you could certainly peel them.
Peel the yams and chop them into medium chunks.
Peel the carrots and chop them into medium chunks. Or be lazy like me and buy a bag of baby carrots to toss in.
Chop up the onion into small pieces.
Add all the veggies to the pot. The veggies need to be on the bottom!
Cut up the beef (pretty much any kind will work) into small-medium pieces. Add it to the pot.
Pour in the beef stock, a splash of red wine, a splash of Worcestershire and a bay leaf.
Set crock pot on low and let simmer for 6 hours. Don't peek! Opening the crock pot causes it to lose the heat and adds to the cooking time.
After 6 hours open the crock pot (I know I just said not to) and pull out the bay leaf. Mix everything up and season with a generous amount of black pepper and just a pinch of salt.
Simmer for another two hours or so until everything looks "done".
Serve with buttered crusty bread for dipping.

Be sure to use your best chipped bowl when taking pictures of your stew.

The best part about this recipe is that you can change it up so much. Instead of beef stock you can use vegetable stock or water or even apple juice. You can use sweet potatoes in place of the yams or in addition to them. Sometimes when I make beef stew I throw in a handful or two of frozen peas just before serving. This stew is a great way to get veggies into a picky eater. Even my finicky Joseph just gobbles it up and that's really saying something.

For more crock pot recipes visit A Year of CrockPotting.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Chocolate chip banana bread

No matter how you slice it (a pun!) bread from a breadmaker is not very pretty to look at. It's the only way I make bread though because it's pretty much fool proof. Once you've got some basic recipes down you can experiment a little bit and come up with some yummy stuff. This is a recipe I came up with for Chocolate Chip Banana Bread. Note this recipe is for a 2 pound loaf but you could probably half it without any problems.

1 egg enough water to equal 1 cup
1 and 1/2 very ripe bananas
1 TBLS oil (can substitute 2 TBLS applesauce)
1 tsp lemon juice
2 TBLS milk
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
3 TBLS sugar
4 cups bread flour (or 3 cups bread flour and 1 cup whole wheat flour)
2-4 TBLS ground flax seed (optional)
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Add all the ingredients except the chocolate chips. Start your machine and wait for all the ingredients to combine. If you add the chocolate chips during the first kneading the chocolate will melt into the dough and your entire loaf of bread while have a chocolaty flavor. (This is the way I like to do it.) If you prefer that the chips stay intact then add them during the second kneading. Sit back and try to rip the bread out of the maker halfway through baking. Yes, it will smell good enough that you'll consider eating half-raw bread.

I like to add flax seed to most breads that I make. It doesn't really affect the texture and I don't think you can taste it at all but it boosts the health factor a bit.

You can see some swirls of chocolate. That's the result of adding the chocolate chips early in mixing process.

This is a great breakfast or snack bread. Unlike many breadmaker breads it does not form a thick, tough crust. It's very moist and dense. I think this bread tastes best with butter on it but peanut butter would also be good on it.