Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Tonight's Dinner: July 23, 2014

Tonight was another easy one.  I used my Vitamix to blend up an onion, whole head of garlic, and a whole bundle of cilantro.  In retrospect, it may have been overkill on the cilantro, but at least it wasn't lacking in flavor.  I added this mixture to ground turkey and left over rice.  I smooshed this mixture into halved red bell peppers and put them in the oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  I drizzled EVOO on top to help keep it a little bit moist.  I also baked a small acorn squash to go with the turkey stuffed bell peppers.  I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the squash and how filling it was.  I seasoned liberally with salt, pepper and EVOO.

It doesn't look like much, but I couldn't finish it all because it was super filling.

Tonight I also made mini cheesecakes with cherry topping.  I've been wanting to try out this recipe that I found on Pinterest for a while.  It was extremely easy and my office gobbled them all up.  I think I brought about 36 of the mini cakes in and they finished them in a day.  There are only ten of us in the office and two of those people were off site that day.  So I would definitely recommend this recipe.  The only thing I'm weary of is the cherry pie filling.  Some people said that they found pits in the cherries still.  I bought the Duncan Hines brand so it's not like I got some no-name brand.  Next time I will get blueberry or strawberry filling so that there isn't a risk of pits.  I think having to pit all the cherries to make your own filling is too much of a pain, but if I did do cherry again I would make the filling myself for quality control. 

Tonight's Dinner: July 22, 2014

Tonight I made a really quick dinner of Mapo Tofu from a package.  I had three packs of sauce left that I wanted to use up.  All I had to do was cook the rice and meat.  I also decided to add some squash because it needed to be used up before it went bad.  I'm really pleased that my packaged food stock pile is really starting to get used up.  I know that I've been saying this for months now, but it really is starting to deplete.  I had stocked up on a lot of things in the past and boy is it taking a long time to use up.  If I did my own canning it would be a completely different story, but since I can't pronounce half of the ingredients in the canned soups that I would buy, I've been trying to not use them so often. Every once in a while is okay, but I don't want those chemicals in our systems everyday.  I've even decreased the Taco Bell runs and Coors Light that I enjoy so much.

Tonight's Dinner: July 21, 2014

Last night while preparing the Philly Cheese Steak Stew I had started to marinate a slab of flank steak for fajitas.  I find that this is the easiest way to get dinner made.  There is less temptation to order out if I know that all we have to do is throw something on the grill or in the oven.  Even if I buy a full week's worth of food sometimes we will do takeout and toss the meat into the freezer.  While I don't always have time or energy to start something marinating for the week ahead, it does help on those weekends that I have time.  It really only takes a few minutes anyway.  For this marinade I used a soy sauce and garlic powder blend with a full bottle of New Castle Summer Ale.  I had opened the bottle a few nights before, but didn't like the flavor very much.  I wrapped the top with Saran Wrap and put it back in the fridge.  This is a trick I use for when I don't finish a drink that has a lot of flavor.  Often times I don't want to drink it, but it can be really good for marinades at a later date.  The meat came out tender from the beer and very well flavored.  It actually smelled like beer, so if you are cooking for children I'd leave the beer out.

Along side the steak fajitas, I made a Spanish Rice.  I didn't have any salsa like the recipe called for so I made my own out of tomato paste, one jalapeno, and onion, garlic, cilantro, lime juice, and chicken stock.  I put all of the ingredients in a jar and shook it up. If you know me well, you'll know that I save old sauce jars.  I like to use them for mixing dressings or for disposable containers when I'm hydrating before a road race.  I like them best for dressings though because all you have to do is put in your ingredients and shake the heck out of it to emulsify.  I did this for my substitute salsa.  It turned out really well for this purpose.  I wouldn't, however, use it as a standard salsa for chips since it was very watery and had no whole tomatoes.  I threw the lime peels (I always wash before slicing) into the rice for added flavor and removed them once the rice was fully cooked. 

Sour cream and Tapitio sauce
The beginnings of my Spanish Rice. 

I threw the grilled peppers into a large ziplock to let the steam release the skins. 

Nick used the gas grill to quickly cook the fajita meat.

Tonight's Dinner: July 20, 2014

Even thought it's been really quite hot in our area I really wanted to try out a Philly Cheese Steak Stew that I saw on Pinterest.  While I used this recipe as a guide, I took my own liberties and changed it up a bit. I followed the recipe up until the cheese section.  Instead of provolone, I used shredded pepper jack. Since I couldn't find bread bowls, laid the bread slices on top French Onion Soup style. This is something I learned from Julia Child's cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking Volume 1.  After I served the stew into a bowl, I put about half a cup of cheese in the soup.  On top of that went the onion, bread, and then more cheese. I sautéed an extra onion to lay on top of the stew, but under the bread.  I stuck the bowls under the broiler for about 5 minutes or until the cheese on top melted.   It was actually not very complicated to make when following The Cozy Apron's recipe.  I also used fewer mushrooms than the original recipe called for since I am allergic to them. It was so delicious, but out Asian bellies couldn't handle all the dairy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Tonight's Dinner: July 18, 2014

Nick and I are lucky ducks.  Tonight we spent the evening with my parents.  Two great meals with family in a row.  My Mom tempted us with Korean ribs and I brought over Bourbon chicken wings from Safeway.  Again, my Dad did all the grilling so there isn't really much for me to say except that it was delicious and all we had to do was clean up after.  I'm fine with that exchange.

Some of the chicken wings got a little blackened, but they were still really tasty. 

Chinese gai lan

Yes, I ate it ALL.

Tonight's Dinner: July 17, 2014

Tonight I was planning on making a tofu dish over rice, but when my Father-in-law asked us if we wanted to come over for grilled shrimp and lamb after work there was no way I was passing up that opportunity.  My Mother-in-law actually did all of the cooking so we just hung around and helped with dishes afterwards.  So there isn't much to explain since I wasn't involved in the cooking process, but I sure can show the pictures.

Garlic and lemon salmon

Sauteed mushrooms

Grilled lamb

These prawns were so big I had to compare them to the size of a standard fork. 

Tonight's Dinner: July 16, 2014

So I'm only a week behind... not too bad.  Tonight for dinner we were finishing up the last of our whole chicken.  The experiment worked really well, but now we're getting tired of chicken and I'm running out of ideas.  We were able to stretch a medium sized whole chicken for three, almost four days.  If you've been reading my blog for a while,  you'll know that I usually don't cook on Fridays and weekends are usually spent with our families.  When Nick got home, he grilled up the Sichuan Noodle Sauce chicken that I had in the fridge marinating.  Seriously, I think that I had bought the Sichuan Noodle Sauce by mistake once because I thought it was another one of the Kum Lee's other sauces in the same packaging.  It has becoming my number one go-to for easy chicken marinades.  If I'm feeling fancy I'll add garlic power and red pepper chili flakes, but usually I just add water and let it sit over night in the fridge.  So simple and so delicious.  It's not spicy at all if you're sensitive to spice.  I think you can even get this sauce at big box grocery stores nowadays.

To go with the chicken we also made sautéed spinach with garlic and grilled summer squash.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Star Trek Command Desk

A couple of months ago a friend of mine asked me to make her sons something to play with after she saw my posts of repurposed furniture.  I've been on the hunt for the perfect items to stay within her $40.00 budget.  After our move we ended up with an old student's desk that wasn't being used.  It was perfect for the Star Trek themed desk that I wanted to make for them.  Not only did the desk allow for two chairs to sit comfortably because there were no drawers, but I had gotten it free from my old office when they were upgrading their desks.  The brainstorming for this project has taken a few months with all the other projects I have jumbled in my head and the big move.  I wanted to get it done before summer was over so that they had time to play with it. I believe they are five and six year old boys, but they both love Star Trek because their mother is a Trekky and has it on the TV all of the time.  Growing up watching with my Dad, I had a good idea what to do.  I used the original Command Center set as my inspiration since it actually had buttons to push and not the futuristic computer screens.  My family and I had also gone to a Star Trek exhibit a few years back and seen a replica of the original set, which helped me picture what the desk would look like.

If you know me well, you'll know that I'm a pack rat.  Quite a few of the things I used for this desk were a one-off because I had them around the house.  This is an original masterpiece!  The items that I did end up buying I got mostly from the Dollar Store.  I got everything for $20.00!  The best part about making this desk is how excited the boys were to play with it.  To me it was fun putting it together, but I was a little apprehensive that they would like to play with it since it's very homemade.  But as they say, "Home(made) is where the heart is."

I made the Communicators out of foam from the Dollar store and a safety pin.  I put a little bit of hot glue on the back of the Communicator to attach the safety pin.  I had also just gotten a whole roll of Velcro that retails for $19.99 for $2.00 at a garage sale so I put a little piece on the back also so that it could be attached and detached from the desk.

Christopher used to be really into painting models so I borrowed a bunch of his paints and brushes.  I actually had to buy some paints also since he didn't have very many bright colors.  Using one of this fine tip rubber brushes (I'd consider it a pencil brush if it were a makeup brush) I wrote the boy's names on each side of the desk.  The "phasers" are actually just Dollar Store nurf guns that I took the foam darts out of.  I added Velcro to these also so that they could be detached.  I gave the foam darts to their Mom, but I don't think they even realized that there is anything to shoot out...except for laser beam, of course. 

This is the whole desk.  You can fit two dining chairs in comfortably.  

This was the fun part where I had to get creative with what I was going to put down as buttons.  Again, the Star Trek insignia was made of foam.  The large red and blue buttons were actually dresser pulls that I got off of a dresser I got free for a different project.  I didn't need the knobs anymore so I painted them and glued them on.  I considered drilling them in so that they could spin, but that was getting a little complicated.  The squares are just small pieces of wood that I got from Joann's.  The yellow buttons are pencil top erasers from the Dollar Store.  They were originally basketball, baseball, and soccer ball designed erasers that I painted yellow.  I chose these because they had a different texture than the red and blue wooden knobs.  The erasers are a little squishy, but not too squishy.  The colorful circles are actually those grippy tubes that you put on a pencil to help you hold the pencil better.  I just cut them into little rings and glued them on individually.  These had the most squish factor to feel like you are actually pushing a button.   These were my best idea for the whole project because I was able to take up a lot of desk real estate with $2.00 worth of pencil grippers.  I also added on individual calculators for extra button pushing.  At the very top on the lefthand portion of the frame is a bicycle bell.  This has nothing to do with Star Trek, but I wanted to add something with sound.  Minus the green squares and paint from Joann's the rest was from the Dollar Store!  My Dad actually had the idea to put in an old cell phone too.  He said "flip phone".  Well I didn't have a traditional flip phone anymore, but I did have an old slider that would work just as well.  

DIY reusable grocery bag

I can't take credit for this crafty idea, but I'll sure spread the word on how easy it is.  I'm terrible at sewing, but I was able to get this done in just a few minutes.  I spend way too much time on Pinterest.  It's a nice pastime while Nick and I are plopped in front of the TV after dinner.  My attention span isn't long enough to just sit and watch a show.  During one of my many, many searches, I found this great idea to turn an old t-shirt into a reusable grocery bag.  In this tutorial it doesn't look like they sewed up where the arm holes are cut.  I wash my reusable bags in the washing machine weekly so I wanted to ensure that the one I made wouldn't unravel at the sleeves.  My shirt was already a pretty wide-necked top so I didn't need to cute the neck hole larger. I basically made the t-shirt into a tank top and then sewed the bottom.

Over the weekend I was staining some Ikea spice shelves for a nail polish storage project that I'm working on.  I was wearing a favorite shirt while doing this.  Of course, I managed to get the dark wood stain on myself in a couple of different places.  I cannot tell you how many shirts I've ruined by being too lazy to change into an "at home shirt".  I washed the shirt in hopes that the stain would come out.  A couple did, but there was a pretty clear splotch of stain.  It was still a perfectly good shirt and I still really enjoyed the pattern, but realistically speaking, I'm a shopaholic and have too many t-shirts as it is.  So instead of hitting the donation pile, I tried out this crafty project.  It just so happened that my sewing machine was out with the right color thread put in because I was getting ready to make our bedroom curtains.  A few quick zips through the sewing machine and the shirt turned bag was done in less than 10 minutes.  It's a nifty trick if you're not ready to get rid of an old shirt.

It's difficult to see the stain, but it is in the lower left corner. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Tonight's Dinner: July 15, 2014

Tonight dinner was pretty easy.  Generally, jook is really simple anyway as it's just boiling rice in water for hours upon hours.  I started the jook on Monday night when I had broken down our whole chicken. I just stuck the carcass in the pot with about a cup and a half of washed rice and six cups of water.  I let it boil for two hours while I made Monday night's dinner.  At this point the jook was partially done.  We let it cool and then stuck it in the refrigerator until we were ready to finish.  So tonight all I had to do was add three more cups of water (it thickened up)  and let it boil for another two hours.  Once the jook was fully cooked, I added baby spinach directly to the bowl with the hot jook and added a lot of white pepper.  I accidentally added way too much pepper, but it was actually really good.  To add some protein because there wasn't any meat left on the chicken, I cooked up a couple of eggs.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Tonight's Dinner: July 14, 2014

With my full marathon only two weeks away I decided that it was time for me to get my legs back moving.  It's far too late for me now to have any type of high expectations, but as I've said all along, I just want to finish.  Since the big move and the hot weather, I haven't been on a run since before our last Spartan race.  Tonight was rough.  Really rough.  It was extremely hot and humid which totally exacerbates the problem.  There were even a few sprinkles, which is practically unheard of in California during July.  It's like living back in New York all over again.  After coming home in a sweaty mess, even Emmy looked too hot to go any further, I settled on some kettle bell swings and high pulls.  I broke down and bought my own kettle bell because I just haven't had the motivation to go back to Crossfit after the wedding and kettle bells can be a full body workout if you know how to do it. Luckily, I spent enough time being a meat head to pick up a few tricks of the trade.  Aside from being a gymnast and swimmer in my youth, I was in the best shape of my adult life when I was Crossfitting regularly.

After the work out, I started on dinner.  Since we have more waste than I'd like to admit (a problem we've struggled with for a long time), this week I went really bare bones.  I got two giant heads of broccoli, an acorn squash, and cilantro in the vegetable department and a whole chicken and some chicken drumsticks in the protein.  Normally, I would get twice the amount.  Where a whole chicken would make one meal for us with a lot of left overs, tonight I cut it up into parts to separate for the week.  I'm currently marinating the quarters and wings in a diluted Sichuan marinade and started a pot of jook going with the chicken carcass.  For dinner tonight we made a spinach pasta with plenty of veggies and the chicken breasts.  I'm hoping that we will be seeing our refrigerator clear out more than it gets jam packed of Tupperware. One can only hope.  We'll see if one chicken for three days will work for us.  It appears that I only know how to cook for an army.  Even with transitioning to full-time raw feeding Emmy, my tab only came out to $21.00 for the whole week.

Before I move on to the actual dinner, I'd like to say that I've used up most of my canned goods.  This is something that I'm particularly pleased with.  I've been working for months to get away from canned food.  Being that we both come home exhausted and have had nothing to do but unpack or craft (I know, totally optional but still tiring) dinners have been made with quite a few Cream o' Mushroom soups as a base.  I am very pleased to get back into healthy, whole food eating.  Now I just need to kick my nasty Taco Bell habit.

What was going to be a simple meal of chicken and garlic noodles, turned into a full blown dinner process.  This is not something I really wanted to do after getting a late start.  On top of that, since I was making the jook for tomorrow night on one burner, I didn't want to have a bunch of pots dirty so I kept this meal as a one-potter.

I had some wine that we opened on Friday when a friend came to check out our place.  I didn't want to drink it myself so I poured it into the pan with the chicken.  I had originally planned to make a garlic oil and toss the spinach noodles, but with the wine in the pan I added the garlic and cilantro to help with the cooking flavor. 

Once the chicken was cooked through, I added two fresh tomatoes (seeds in).

I let those cook down and added a teaspoon of butter and a drizzle of olive oil.  I normally don't use butter, but it really does make a big difference in flavor and I kept it to a minimum. 

Next up was to add the noodles and broccoli to toss. 

An hour later we had our one-pot chicken with vegetables and noodles.