Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Where's the Beef?!

I am sure that is the cry of my husband and children in recent days. They are coming home to a lot of what we call "at home fast food." Basically, I bought it in a grocery store, but that doesn't mean there's anything particularly healthy or inviting about it.

We've hit one of those seasons, which should be over rather quickly, but in the mean time must be endured. It's the end of the year, and for a homeschool family, that means a lot of things. For this homeschool family, we had a whole lot of time-sensitive things fall into this week.

School Stuff:
~Final Report and Evaluations needed to be written and sent in with test results.
~Letter of Intent and Lesson Plans written and turned in for next year.
(I do it all at once so I'm done for the summer.)
~Noelle's transcripts updated
~Finish planning Seth's graduation party
~Finish prep/host Seth's graduation party

Non-School Stuff
~Moriah's wedding invitations finished, weighed, stamped and mailed
~Shower invitations and registry lists made, addressed, mailed
~Extra work hours since boss is out of town
~Summer Reading program kick off
~Kids are out of school so the library has been inundated with people
(Yes, this is a good thing, but it puts me on overload!)
~Friends visiting from CA (highlight of the week!)
~Orthodontist and Chiropractic appointments
~Baby shower at church

All that to say that sometimes, no matter how badly you might want to feed your family a gourmet organic dinner, they're getting corn dogs!

More importantly, it's ok. No one is going to die from one week of less-than-stellar meals. But you might die from stress if you try to keep up a schedule like I have this week and try to put a four-course meal on the table. Sometimes you just have to let it go and move on. Make the best choices you can, and call it good.

God willing, I'll be back next week with something wholesome and yummy!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Creole Seasoning

This weekend, I spent time with some of my favorite people having a meal at one of my favorite places. If you are not so blessed as to live in Western New York, I have possible good news for you. Dinosaur Bar-B-Que is expanding in leaps and bounds, and now has locations all over NY, as well as in NJ and CT. 

For the rest of you, there's always the cookbook, which is what I'm going to be sharing a little bit of. After having some Fried Green Tomatoes and Ribs, I had to come home and make some of the house dressing they use for a bunch of their items. It's a Cayenne Buttermilk Ranch, and it's simply wonderful. But more on that later, because before you can make the ranch, you're going to need some Creole Seasoning, so that's our focus today. 

I highly recommend that you buy the cookbook, and to convince you, I'll share a couple of recipes.

Leni's Notes:
~This seasoning is great for a meat rub also.
~Make a big batch and store it in a sealed container.
~Nice for adding a little kick to any recipe that you just want to liven up a bit!
~I am fairly certain this is the secret ingredient to the broccoli casserole we had at the restaurant a couple of times lately. ;o)

Dinosaur Bar-B-Que Creole Seasoning

1/2 C paprika
1/2 C granulated garlic
1/4 C granulated onion

1/4 C dried oregano
1/4 C dried thyme
3 Tbsp black pepper
2 Tbsp sugar
2 tsp white pepper
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp ground cumin

Mix it all up, store in sealed container. Makes 2 1/2 Cups.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Father's Day Ribs

I hope you all had a wonderful time yesterday, celebrating the fathers in your life. My own dad passed away seven years ago, and while still miss him like crazy, we had some great moments recounting happy memories of him.

Yesterday was all about my wonderful husband, and so we made a favorite meal for Steve. Orange Chipotle Ribs with corn on the cob and baked potatoes, ice cream for dessert. Really, it's the ideal dinner for Father's Day as I'm fairly certain that my hubby's blood is made of equal parts bbq sauce and ice cream. Technically, I can't call these chipotle ribs, because I don't use chipotle chili powder. I can't find the stuff!

Due to circumstances beyond my control, pie week had to be postponed for a bit. Scandalous, really. We first made the decision to put it off due to some medical restrictions on my part. But then I looked at the upcoming weather for the week and reflected on God's goodness in leading us to that choice. Who wants to bake pies when it's in the 90's? I don't want to do anything when it's that hot, much less cook. (Which reminds me that they are going to want to eat tonight...ugh.)

This is a great recipe that also happens to be gluten free. If you're looking for more great gluten free crock pot meals, check out A Year of Slow Cooking, where this recipe is adapted from.

Leni's Notes:

 ~I used my 18 qt Nesco roaster for this dish--2 full slabs of ribs fit perfectly on the bottom, although I have cooked more and let them overlap.
~I put a rack on top of the ribs, to hold the foil-wrapped baked potatoes.
~Great side dishes include baked potatoes or salt potatoes, corn on the cob, macaroni salad...let your imagination run wild!

The original Orange Chipotle Rib recipe can be found here. Here's the Leni-ized version of this recipe:


6 pounds ribs (we like pork)
1 cup tomato puree
1/2 cup orange marmalade (preferably without corn syrup)
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup Bragg's Liquid Aminos
1/4 cup raw sugar
1 tsp Indian hot chili powder (if you use regular chili powder, you'll want 4 tsp.)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground ginger
4 tsp crushed garlic in olive oil or water


Place thawed meat in greased cooker. (Frozen can be used, but you will need to adjust cook time.)

Combine all sauce ingredients, and pour evenly over the ribs. I like to flip the ribs around in there a bit to make sure they are covered well.

Cover and cook 250 for 7-8 hours, to have them falling-off-the-bone done. Sometimes we cook them for 5-6 hours, and then throw them on the grill to caramelize the sugar a bit.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Confession Time

I had a nice visit with a group of ladies from our church last night. We were at a cooking demonstration,  and my daughter asked a question about how much the demonstrator cooked from scratch. She mentioned that she makes all of her own spaghetti sauce. I casually commented that spaghetti sauce was something I had never managed to master. My friend sitting next to me gasped and looked at me in wide-eyed disbelief. "What? You don't make your own sauce? You?!"  Who knew that I would be the cause of such disillusionment? ;o) 

Yes, it's true. While I'm sure there are many, many things I do not know about cooking, there are two things I know for certain that I am not good at. Spaghetti sauce and beef broth.  

I have never made a beef broth that was in any way palatable. I have followed every recipe, researched the modern wisdom of every Food Network Chef that's out there...I just can't pull it off. Lucky for me, Rachael Ray has done it for me, and after she's gone to all that trouble, it would just be rude to leave it sitting on the shelf!

To be fair, I have managed to make a spaghetti sauce that the family assured me was great, but I didn't think it was spectacular. And for as much work as I had to put into it, it needed to be spectacular for me to want to do it again! I see spaghetti sauce as my back up plan on any given day. When my day suddenly goes out of control and there is no time to cook, I can always open a jar of sauce, boil a pot of water for pasta and take some browned meat or meatballs out of the freezer to make a hearty meal that requires virtually no work. It's my cheater meal. 

So now that my cat's out of the bag, what's your deep dark secret? What stumps you in the kitchen? Is it something you wish you could master, or like me, are you totally fine with never learning how to make it? Leave a comment, let me know I'm not the only one!

Here's hoping that my buddy can get past the shock and still love me. Maybe I'll cook her something to restore her faith in me. 

I would like to thank Classico spaghetti sauce for helping me through my toughest mom days. ;o)

Monday, June 11, 2012

Marinated Pasta Salad

Today in Western New York, it's decided to be summer again. 90 degrees and humid, which means no one will have much of an appetite, and when they do get hungry, they won't want anything hot. This calls for a pasta salad. 

There are so many different recipes for pasta salad, most of which contain mayonnaise. I'm not a big fan of mayo, so I prefer a salad that is marinated in a nice vinaigrette. My current favorite is Brianna's French Vinaigrette. Good stuff, no nasties! (Local friends, you can find it at Wegmans.)

Over the years I have changed up my salad recipe to make it a bit more wholesome, so I can say from experience that this salad tastes good with the cheaper ingredients and the more expensive healthy ingredients. Do whatever works for your pocketbook! When I'm cooking for a large crowd, I tone down the price without sacrificing good taste.

Leni's Notes:
~Nice side dish for grilled meats.
~Holds up well for parties and picnics.
~When you are done mixing, let it sit for a couple of hours in the fridge and then test it again to see if it needs more dressing.
~This makes a nice light lunch, also.

2 lbs whole wheat pasta of choice (Rotini for us this time)
1 large head of fresh broccoli, cut into small  spears
1 lb block cheese, cut into cubes (Colby-Jack is our favorite)
1 quart grape tomatoes, cut in half
1 (6 oz) package turkey pepperoni, sliced into quarters
1 bottle vinaigrette dressing
1/4 C grated parmesan cheese
Optional: Sliced black olives, chopped raw bell pepper, shredded raw onion

~Boil pasta according to directions. During the last minute of cooking, throw the broccoli in. Drain and rinse, and set aside to dry out a bit.
~When pasta is well drained, add in everything except dressing and parmesan.
~Mix well, and add about half the bottle of dressing, making sure to coat all of the pasta well. The dressing amount will vary according to taste, but it's better to go light at first.
~Add parmesan, cover and refrigerate.
~Before serving, taste to gauge the need for more dressing.

Be blessed!

Friday, June 08, 2012

Birthday Pie

Today's creation was Moriah's birthday pie for her fiancĂ©.  Strawberry Rhubarb looks good, doesn't it?
It is worth noting that she only made one, and we didn't get any of it. :o(  That is not what her momma taught her. I always make enough for an army!

Pie Week Cometh!

You read that right, Pie Week. It's a beautiful thing.

A number of years ago, Father's Day was approaching, and I had no money to speak of for a gift. My hubby wasn't demanding a gift or anything, but he's a great dad and I really wanted to do something to mark the occasion. Well, my man loves pie. An idea was born! And so we had our first annual Pie Week. Every day for one week, he got a different pie. He loved it, the kids loved it. Their friends loved it!

When we started Pie Week, I was a stay-at-home mom. It was not a tremendously big deal to make a pie every day (even though I HATE making pie crust!) One year, I even made two every day. One sweet, one savory. But then the job came along, and my kids started branching out and doing silly things like getting jobs and going to college. Having social lives. Suddenly, it got complicated to make a pie every day! I switched over to pre-made pie crusts, and that helped. Then hubby asked if we could pretty please space out the pies so he didn't go into a sugar-induced coma. Yep, I can make that happen too! So Pie Week has morphed a little bit over the years, but essentially it's still the same: 7 Pies in honor of Father's Day.

I'd love to tell you what is on the agenda for this year, but the Father In Question stalks my blog. I've got some surprises up my sleeve that I don't want him to know about yet! Suffice it to say, you're going to see a lot of pies in the coming weeks. I'm even going to attempt my own crusts again.

There will even be some bonus items, because my soon-to-be son-in-law has a birthday today! Of course, it might be another week before we can all get together to celebrate his birthday, but we shall do it in style when the time comes.

Welcome to the celebration zone!

Monday, June 04, 2012

Pioneer Woman's Iced Coffee

Ahhh, it's that time of year again. That's what I keep telling myself. Despite the high of 65 degrees today, and the black storm clouds that look suspiciously like snow clouds. But the calendar says it's June 4th, and so I am moving forward with my favorite summer treat. Pioneer Woman's Iced Coffee concentrate. 

This stuff is soooo good. Moriah and I are big fans of coffee in general, but especially iced coffee in the summer. With this recipe, all of the guess work is taken out of the coffee/ice ratio, and finally, I can have what I can't seem to get in any restaurant. Decaf iced coffee! Is that too much to ask? I love the coffee, but my heart does not love the caffeine. So I can have my decaf, Mo can have her flavored coffee, our wallets can keep their cash, everyone is happy.

You'll notice over there on the right that I have Pioneer Woman's site linked. I first came across Ree when someone told me about her blogging her story of meeting her husband and making the transition from city girl to ranch girl. I'm a sucker for a good love story, so I checked back every week to get the next installment, and while I was waiting, started exploring other parts of her blog. 

I have to say, as much as I love food and cooking, what really draws me is the personality of the writer. I can get a recipe anywhere, but I love to come across a writer that is just real, you know? I try to be myself in my writing, and hope that it's enough for whoever is reading. I've had my fill of trying to be all things to all people. It doesn't work and stresses you out. When I read Ree's writing, she just seemed genuine. All that to say, I came to her food as a secondary thing. 

Boy, am I glad I found her food! I have been incredibly pleased with all of her recipes that I've tried. One of them even made the cut for my daughter's wedding. ;o)  

Also, for someone who is trying to learn how to cook, Ree's format of photography is terrific! I love that after each step, she shows what it should look like at that point. Great idea for Kids in the Kitchen.

You'll be seeing more here from her in the future, but I'm trying to pace myself, lest I look like a stalker. 

I'm going to link Ree's recipe for Iced Coffee, because it's perfect. The only thing I changed a bit was the gear I used, which is pictured below.

Leni's Notes:
~ I went and bought a brand new dish pan that we only use for coffee.
~ When I first made this, there wasn't a single piece of cheesecloth to be found in four counties. So I bought some new kitchen wash cloths, and we use those for straining the grounds. They get packed up with the dish pan, so they are never used on anything else.
~ We found a nice container that fits in our fridge, Walmart had a ton to choose from.
~ Something you don't hear me say often...don't change anything! Follow her directions exactly!

Click here for Pioneer Woman's Perfect Iced Coffee ingredients and instructions. I'm listing the ingredients here just in case disaster strikes and the recipe disappears!  But if you don't go to her site, you'll miss out on her beautiful presentation.

1 pound Ground Coffee (good, Rich Roast)
8 quarts Cold Water

For Serving:
Half-and-half (healthy Splash Per Serving)
Sweetened Condensed Milk (2-3 Tablespoons Per Serving)
Note: Can Use Skim Milk, 2% Milk, Whole Milk, Sugar, Artificial Sweeteners, Syrups...adapt To Your Liking!

(Adapted from Imbibe Magazine)

In a large container, mix ground coffee with water. Cover and allow to sit at room temperature eight hours or overnight.

Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and set over a pitcher or other container. Pour coffee/water mixture through the strainer, allowing all liquid to run through. Discard grounds.

Place coffee liquid in the fridge and allow to cool. Use as needed.

To make iced coffee, pack a glass full of ice cubes. Fill glass 2/3 full with coffee liquid. Add healthy splash of half-and-half. Add 2-3 tablespoons sweetened condensed milk (can use plain sugar instead) and stir to combine. Taste and adjust half-and-half and/or sweetened condensed milk as needed.