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Friday, December 19, 2014

Recipe: Meatball Stroganoff

 Stroganoff was something my mom made a lot of...it was fairly inexpensive, filling and not to mention one of our favorite meals. She made it several different ways, but I think one of my favorites was "meatball stroganoff". Small meatballs drenched in yummy sauce...can't go wrong there!

I decided yesterday to re-create this oh so common comfort food. I started out by getting rid of the canned cream of mushroom and making my own, based on this recipe that I used for my homemade green bean casserole, minus the parmesan cheese, but that actually would have been really good. It turned out so good. Served with some roasted asparagus and broccoli and it was a perfect mid-week meal.


Meatball Stroganoff

Meatballs:
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
3-4 Tbs. bread crumbs
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. pepper
salt if you want
1/2-1 tsp. parsley

Mushroom Sauce:

2 Tbs. olive oil
8oz. mushrooms (I used the basic mushroom but you could be creative and use whatever)
3/4 tsp. pepper
1/2 tsp. salt
3 c. milk
2 c. half and half
2 garlic cloves, pressed
1 tbs. chicken bouillon
1 1/2 tsp. italian seasoning
4 1/2 tbs. butter
8 1/2 tbs. flour
3/4 c. grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp. soy sauce
pinch nutmeg
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves (I used dried)

Additional ingredients:

1/2-1 c. sour cream 
1 Tbs. worcestershire sauce (to taste)
2-3 Tbs. ketchup (optional...my mom never used this but a friend did and it does taste good)

Combine meatball ingredients. Roll in to small balls, maybe 1/2-1" diameter. Here is a great tip for cooking meatballs. No matter what the size, once rolled, place in muffin tins (I have a large mini muffin tin and used that for my small meatballs for this recipe). Place them in a 350 degree oven and cook till done (depends on size of meatballs), but probably anywhere from 15-30 minutes. 

While the meatballs cook, prepare your cream of mushroom soup.

1. Add olive oil to the pan along with the mushrooms, a pinch of salt and a pinch of the pepper. Cook until mushrooms are brown. Remove from pan and set aside. 

2. In a separate pan, combine milk, half and half, remaining pepper, remaining salt, garlic, bouillon and italian seasoning. Whisk gently to combine. Heat to a gentle simmer. 

3. Using your original pan, add butter and melt. Gently stir in flour and stir for 30 seconds or so, then begin slowly adding back in the hot milk, stirring constantly (I like to use a flat whisk when I do this). Continue to whisk being sure to get all the lumps out. Allow to simmer and thicken for another few minutes. Turn off heat.

4. Add back in the reserved mushrooms, grated parmesan cheese, soy sauce, nutmeg and thyme. Stir well. Place soup in a blender container and blend till smooth (or leave a little chunky if you'd like).

 Obviously you can use canned soup but the homemade is just so much richer and "healthier" because you know the ingredients that are in it.

Now that you have that all done, cook your noodles. I used mini-bow tie pasta. In a large pan combine 2 c. of the cream of mushroom soup, sour cream, worcestershire sauce and ketchup. Add in the pasta and meatballs and stir to combine. Heat through and serve. 
If it seemed a little dry, I just added more soup. Add extra seasoning if needed. 


With Joy UNquenchable,

Friday, December 5, 2014

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Wood Beverage Coasters

Do you remember when you first heard the phrase Reduce, Reuse, Recycle? I actually think I heard it on a kids show when my girls were little. But over the years in some degree or another I have tried to adapt this motto, not always successfully, but I have tried to be more aware of using what I have, reusing items and not wasting. Pinterest has been a wonderful resource for learning how to do this, since I'm not always overly creative if left to my own ideas. I usually need something visual to inspire me.

A little while back I saw some coasters on Pinterest that were made with round pieces of a tree limb. I remember thinking, "what a great idea". A few weeks after I, myself pinned the idea, a huge branch fell onto the driveway of the lady I work for. As I stood out there cutting it up (with a hand saw), I decided to save one of the thicker branches that seemed about the right size for a coaster with the intention of attempting this Pinterest idea, because we all know that some Pinterest ideas end up as failures.
My hubby was nice enough to cut it with one of his saws (probably because it sat on our porch for so long since I hadn't gotten around to cutting it myself) and brought me in a stack of 22 wood rounds. Now, I did mess up on one thing, in that I left them stacked in the house for several days, not thinking that maybe they were damp and might need to dry out. It was several days before I realized this and I think they started to get spotty, but I decided to use them anyways. It took several days for them to dry out once I had laid them out over my heating vents.

I decided it would be kind of neat to stencil them as well as stain them. We had stencils, we had paints, we had brushes, so all I needed to buy was a small can of clear varnish, which cost about $7.00 and sandpaper, which was another $7.00 but will last awhile. Not too shabby. We might have actually had sandpaper at home and some varnish, I just couldn't remember so I just bought some. 



Once I felt like they had dried out, I sanded them a bit with a coarse paper, then again with a fine grit paper. DO NOT sand the sides. Mine had moss on them and I left it there for character. 
The stencils I had were self sticking ones which was great since this kept the stencil from moving. 
  • Place stencil in center of wood being sure it is well adhered.

  • Using either a sponge brush or a regular artists paint brush lightly brush on your paint. 
  • Allow to set for a few minutes before removing stencil. I may not have let mine sit long enough because my edges of the words weren't very "sharp".




  • Once the stencils were done and dried, I applied the varnish.
  • Using a sponge brush or a regular paint brush, apply one coat at a time, letting it dry completely in between. I let them dry a day in between each one.
  • Mine took 3-4 coats of varnish.  



NOTES: 

  • I wish the rings would have stood out more like the ones in the website picture. 
  • I would have let the stencils sit a bit longer before removing them in hopes that the lines would have been cleaner.

I'll keep some for us and give some as gifts to others. What a fun way to recycle especially from nature. To me, homemade gifts are some of the best I can receive, and if they're made using items from around the home or found at garage sales, even better. 


With Joy UNquenchable,

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Italian Wedding Soup and Keeping Up Traditions

I love traditions, but I also realize that not all traditions  need to be nor can realistically be carried on. We get older, get married, and more traditions are introduced in to our lives, we have children and want to create our own traditions. It's not possible to keep every tradition going. That's when it becomes important to pick and choose which ones will work for your family and which ones had the most meaning to you personally. Sometimes we do things because "well, we've always done this in our family". But if we're honest with ourselves, we don't enjoy it. Why stress yourself or others out by carrying on something for the sake of tradition when it means nothing but irritation to you.

As the holidays approach, take time to re-think the things you do for the sake of tradition. Be willing to adjust your expectations so that it is a time of peace and not chaos, hustling to get everything in and do everything on the list in a certain amount of time. Keep the things that mean the most, get rid of the things that don't. Do something new and different. 

This year I'm in to "simple". Life has been a bit "un-normal" lately and adjusting to a "new normal" has been tricky. I decided that I needed to simplify things. I simplified decorations, got a smaller tree (less money and less decorations). I let go of expectations and just decided to go with the flow. I didn't even put out any fall decor. 


Growing up our family was full of traditions. My moms side of the family is Italian, my dads side Slavic and for awhile growing up in Ohio (we moved to the Northwest when I was in 4th grade), family was all around and traditions abounded (moreso on my moms side than my dads simply because the relationships were closer on that side of the family). When we moved to the Washington we brought some of those traditions with us and others we left behind. Some we tweaked to fit our family's needs. When we lived in Ohio we would visit grandparents on Christmas Eve (on my moms side of the family that meant EVERYONE visited grandparents and the house was full to capacity and included some relative dressed up like Santa). Once we moved to Washington we made a tradition of opening one present on Christmas Eve, often a gift that one of the grandparents had sent in the mail. My mom used to make Oyster Stew every Christmas Eve, but when I got married, my hubby didn't care for it, so I switched it up to making Clam Chowder. My sister and I, up until I was married and moved out used to sleep in each other's room on Christmas Eve and were not allowed to come out until my dad had his coffee and his cigarette. 

Once we had our own kids we began some of our own traditions. Every Christmas Eve we used to drive around and look at Christmas lights then come home and eat clam chowder served in bread bowls. Christmas morning I make Cinnamon rolls for breakfast. A few years ago (wish I had thought of it sooner) I started buying my girls ornaments and when they move out on their own, they will have a collection of ornaments to take. My mom used to buy them ornaments every year when they were little, so they'll take those along too. There are certain cookies we make each year. I also make caramel corn, and my youngest makes fudge. 

Take time to create meaningful traditions with your family, and if your kids grow up and don't carry them on, be okay with that. 

Are you sitting there wondering where the stinkin' recipe is? Okay, okay, I'll get to that now. A TRADITION in our family was the making of Italian Wedding Soup. It was served at many events in our family. Contrary to the name, it's origin did not come because it was served at weddings, but the name was "minestra maritata" which means "married soup", meaning the ingredients meld beautifully together. Here's a site that talks about it. There are many versions of this soup but there is one common thing....it bursts with amazing flavor. 

A few weeks ago I wasn't sure what to make for dinner. I had ground beef and I knew I had veggies, and for whatever reason, Wedding Soup came to my mind, so I got on my phone, called my grandma (Ma as she is known to us) to find out what the ingredients were and set off on a fun and reminiscent journey. 
I used my grandma's tips, a recipe from Giada DeLaurentis and from an old Italian cookbook a friend gave me years ago. From those three sources I was rewarded with a super yummy soup. 

I remember my mom telling a story of how her Nana DiLuciano had a large table in her basement (I think) and she would have the grand kids roll the meat in to tiny, perfect meatballs, and if they weren't the perfect size and shape she would smash them with her hand and they would have to start over. 

Ingredients:

Meatballs:
1 lb. ground beef
1 egg
1 slice bread grated finely
1 tsp. Garlic powder
1/2 tsp. Salt
1/4 tsp. Pepper
1/4 c. Parmesan Cheese
Parsley

Soup:
8 c. chicken broth (I was out so I used water with chicken bouillon)
1/2 onion chopped (more if you like onion)
3 carrots, sliced
3 stalks celery, sliced
a couple good handfuls of escarole, spinach or kale
some form of pasta, if desired. I used mini bowtie pasta
1 egg
1 Tbs. parmesan cheese

Instructions:

1. Combine all meatball ingredients. Form small meatballs, anywhere from 1/4"-1/2" in diameter and set aside on a plate.
2. Combine all soup ingredients except spinach, noodles, egg and parmesan cheese. Bring to a low boil. Drop meatballs in to soup simmer until meatballs are cooked through, about 8-10 minutes. 
3. Add spinach and pasta (or whatever green you chose).

4. In a separate bowl, combine egg and parmesan cheese. Stir the soup in a circular motion, slowly drizzling the egg mixture into the moving broth. Using a fork, continue to stir to cause thin strands of egg mixture to form. 

5. Season soup with additional salt and pepper if needed. 
I don't typically measure  my seasonings unless I'm using a recipe and it specifies...I normally go by taste so feel free to play around with the amounts.  
So as you approach the holiday's, stop to think about the traditions you have. If you don't have any, I encourage you to come up with a few, enlist the help of your family to do so. 

With Joy UNquenchable,

Monday, November 24, 2014

Secret Recipe Reveal: Swiss Chard and Lemon Ricotta Pasta

It is Secret Recipe Club time again....can I get a whoop whoop! One of the things I love about this group is it challenges me to try new recipes, and with the busyness of our lives lately, actually challenges me to cook...something new. Each month we are assigned a "secret blog" to stalk and find a recipe we want to make and reveal on our given day. It's really a lot of fun.

This month I had The Wimpy Vegetarian (don't you just love that name?). Susan is a beautiful woman who gave herself a gift after many years working in business and decided to enroll in cooking school (um, how cool is that..and how brave). Check out her about me page for more of the inside scoop into her life.

I pinned several recipes to try, but I'm a die hard pasta fan, (I am half Italian after all), so I chose one of those to make. Not only do I love pasta, but I LOVE ricotta cheese (remember the 1/2 Italian part), yah, I can eat the stuff out of the container. So...when I found a recipe that combined pasta, and ricotta, oh, and let's not forget BACON, I was sold!

Her recipe for Swiss Chard (which I also like) and Lemon and Ricotta Pasta was the winner-winner-chicken-dinner! My oldest was having her boyfriend over and as she considered what I was making said "maybe you can heat up some regular spaghetti sauce cuz I don't know if he'll eat this".....yah, he ate it, so I guess it was a hit. 

What I loved about this is that I really think it is very versatile...you could maybe add some other vegetable to it, or another meat option, but I loved it as it was. I made more of the sauce, because, well, I love sauce too. I wasn't sure how much this would serve so I just kind of winged it with some of the amounts (pasta), etc..to what I knew would make enough for everyone.

Okay, on to the recipe.

Swiss Chard and Lemon Ricotta Pasta
from The Wimpy Vegetarian

Ingredients:

3 c. raw swiss chard, sliced, chopped, whatever, stems included
2 handfuls dried spaghetti noodles
2 strips bacon cut in to 1/4" slices (optional)..why did she put bacon and optional in the same sentence..lol, and well, I used more than that.
1/2 large shallot minced
olive oil as needed
1/3 c. ricotta cheese
2 Tbs. parmesan cheese
zest from 1/2 a lemon
1/4 tsp. salt
pinch dried red pepper flakes...we put more in...it was spicy..haha.

Instructions:

1. Bring a pot of well-salted water to a boil over high heat. Blanch the Swiss chard for 5 minutes. I actually placed my chard in a steamer basket that fits on top of the pan I used for the pasta.

2. Scoop out the chard, and drain well, squeezing out as much of the water as possible. Chop again and set aside. Again, I just steamed it so I didn't need to ring it out.

3. Keep the pot of water boiling, and add the spaghetti noodles. Follow the directions on the packet for making the spaghetti. Drain and set aside, retaining about 1 cup of liquid from cooking the noodles.

4. Fry bacon until just crispy. Add the shallot and saute until soft, adding olive oil if needed.

5. Add the Swiss chard and toss well to break up the chard clumps.



6. Combine the ricotta and Parmesan cheeses in a small bowl, and add the lemon zest, salt, and red pepper flakes. 

7. Add to the Swiss chard mixture in the saute pan and mix well.


8. Add cooked spaghetti, and some of the pasta water as needed.


9. Serve warm



So good, and yummy and comforting. Serve with some crusty bread and a gorgeous salad, and you're set. 


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With Joy UNquenchable,

Friday, November 14, 2014

Recipe: Pumpkin Seeds

I have always loved pumpkin seeds, you, know, the kind you pull out of your halloween pumpkins each year and toast in the oven. I HATE the shell that surrounds the seed. Therefore my relationship with these popular October snacks has been a love/hate one. That is until several years ago when friends, who own a pumpkin patch, introduced me to a green pumpkin that forever changed my pumpkin seed making relationship. These pumpkins (I believe called Kakai) produce a hull-less seed just like you would buy in the store for cooking/baking. Say WHAT!!! I had to try them, and now I'm sold. 
I will say, it takes  A LOT of pumpkins to make a fair amount. It took me about 6+ pumpkins to fill a 4c. jar...and they don't last long, but they are so worth it. Snack on them, toss them on a salad, put in some chicken or tuna salad for an added crunch, sprinkle on top of a creamy soup...YUM.

I took my pumpkins, dropped them on the concrete of our porch to break them open (I didn't want to chance cutting the seeds). Then split them open and began removing the seeds...the bigger the pumpkin, usually the better. I had a few "younger" ones and the seeds were a little harder to remove. 


Ingredients:

2 c. pumpkin seeds
1 tsp. worcestershire sauce
1 1/4 tsp. kosher or sea salt
1 1/2 tbs. butter, melted

Instructions:

1. After removing seeds from pumpkins, rinse with cold water. I like to place mine on a clean dish towel and pat to remove excess water. 

2. Place in a bowl. Combine remaining ingredients and pour over seeds, stirring well.

3. Spread out on one or two large baking sheets. I don't like to overpack them on the pan so I use two pans. No need to grease. 

4. Bake in a 250 degree oven for 1-2 hours or until they are done. You are looking for them to puff up slightly and take on a darker color. 

With Joy UNquenchable,
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