Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Female Mind on Meal Planning Delivers A Mexican Casserole

Gents:  for a limited time, this is your rare opportunity to see the inner workings of a woman's brain on how she ultimately plans a home cooked meal.   Ladies, I hope you don't mind I left the door open a crack; I promise I'll close the door when I finish this post!

And so, this how I came up with a fireside dinner one evening.

First, I need to address all of those typical thoughts floating around in my head:
  • What vegetables do I have on hand?
  • I'd love to make that recipe I saw (now where did I see it?)
  • Anything in the freezer I could use?
  • Oh yeah..I'm trying to lower my food bill
  • But is it going to be tasty?
  • Can I sell my meal idea to everyone else in the household?
  • I've got to do better about not wasting food
Now having tamed all the noise, I'm almost prepared to answer the age old question, "what's for dinner?"   How to do it and not drive myself into an overbooked, over spent and overtaxed frenzy?

Tamara Adler's book, An Everlasting Meal:  Cooking With Economy & Grace, has saved my sanity.  Her succinct observations have transformed my meal planning skills.   She didn't say anything terribly revolutionary; what she did do for me was eloquently write it down in one cohesive spot. 

While her book is part essay, it has inspired me more word for word than any other cookbook I own.  And therein lies it's beauty; it's not really loaded with recipes but with insight on how to summon great tasting meals from what I already have.  Cutting to the's your CliffsNotes:
"Great meals rely on the bones and peels and ends of meals before them." - Tamara Adler
What does that mean?  Roast a chicken on the weekend and save the carcass to make a chicken broth.  The chopped off ends of a carrot or celery you didn't use are still nutritionally valuable in making a broth.  Cook dried beans (much cheaper than canned) and freeze individual servings.  Make mash potatoes and use the leftovers to thicken a future soup.  Keep the rind from the Parmesan cheese you shredded; it will give you extra flavor in a vegetable soup.  Look how much money I just saved you by not having to buy additional ingredients to make a soup or having to buy pre-made broth.

My decision to make a Mexican Casserole is just one example of a scrumptious meal made possible by having a nicely stocked pantry and "ends of meals."  Enough meal planning insight.  On to making the casserole.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prep or mise en place all of the ingredients and this will come together in a snap.

Ingredients I had on hand: frozen corn from a previous shucking, pinto beans from another day's cooking session, corn tortillas,  salsa and Hatch enchilada sauce.

We also had leftover chicken from the previous night's roast.

Fresh vegetables I had in the fridge included a red bell pepper, half an onion and zucchini.

The only purchase I needed to make was this glorious hunk of creamy Manchego cheese.  Shred the whole thing.  Freeze the rind for a future meal.

Give a gentle warm up starting with sweating the chopped onions till they are translucent.  Add the bell pepper and cook for a minute.  Add in the zucchini, corn and pinto beans with an occasional stir for another 5 minutes.

Add in the enchilada sauce.  You can't go wrong if you are able to find Hatch.  Bring to a simmer on low heat.

Smear the salsa on the bottom of the casserole dish.  This will help eliminate the tortillas from sticking to the bottom.  

Start layering as you would a lasagna.   Salsa...tortillas...beans....chicken...cheese.  Repeat!
Bake for 30 minutes.  Garnish with fresh avocado and cilantro. 

Ole'!  I used mostly what I had and delivered at least one dinner and leftovers.  I'm now going to quietly close the door as I start pondering on our next home cooked meal.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Throwback Thursday - A Child's Tea Party

Looking for a way to do better in living in the moment?  Take a step back to your childhood and remember what made you joyful.  You just might be reminded of your true passions.  Here's mine!

Sly's Tea Party


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Does Your Kitchen Inspire Cooking?

Ever have a monologue with yourself?  You know the kind where you're talking out loud and are thankful no one caught you in the act of talking to yourself? My latest script goes something like this, "why am I not cooking more?"  I answer myself hastily "time of course."  When I'm more patient with myself, the answer changes to, "space." That's because I have a small kitchen.  Since I can't really change the time equation, what I can do is deal with design issues.  Think about it, design expresses how we feel about working in a space.  If you're not a big fan of cooking, perhaps it's because you're in not in an inspiring, workable space.

How to get your kitchen zen-on you ask?  First, know thyself.  If you can't easily lay your hands on the most basic of items, find a new home for it.  I loved this idea as it serves a double purpose with easy to reach solutions and is a window covering to boot.

If money were no object, this stove is an outstanding design statement just begging to be used.

If you have a heavy stand mixer buried in your cabinets, its weight for lifting it out of there may be just enough to deter you from you using it.  This one stands alone in its beauty as if its in a statue gallery.  Yet it's workable in the space where it is housed.  What's that above the attachments you ask? Controls for the drop down television of course.

Pizza is a major staple in our house.  Takeout is fine, but it tastes so much better if you can make it at home.  Cheaper and healthier too.  Make the pizza paddles wall art and never have the excuse again  for not making your own. 

Just having a happy color splashed in the kitchen makes you want to spend time here.

The idea of having this cozy little eat-in diner in the kitchen buys space for making scrumptious meals, invites guests to visit and also serves as a good homework station if you need it.

Robin-egg blue is my new favorite color.  I'd be quite content taking in a meal or two in this home.

Perhaps it's the company.  It's so necessary to have a companion!

All of these ideas came courtesy of last year's annual Kitchen Revival Tour hosted by Portland's (Oregon) Architectural Heritage Center.  John and I actually planned our 2013 spring break/vacation around this event which happens every spring.  You may remember we did all things foodie on that trip when we went on a food walking tour.

Feeling inspired and wish you had thought of going?  It's not too late.  Here is your next opportunity straight from their website:

2014 Kitchen Revival Tour

Saturday, April 12, 2014    10:00 am - 4:00 pm

The Architectural Heritage Center is a non-profit resource for historic preservation
Homeowners and their all-volunteer tour selection committee make it happen. This self-guided tour represents a range of approaches to renovating your kitchen in a manner that reflects the home's original design and style.
If you are considering taking on a kitchen renovation project yourself, homeowners and contractors will be on hand to provide tips and real-life experiences on everything from retaining original material to hiding (or disguising) appliances. The tour will convince even the biggest of skeptics that you can adapt an older home to a 21st century lifestyle while still retaining its historic character and charm.

This event is held in some of Portland, Oregon's finest historic neighborhoods.

Saturday, April 12, 2014      10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Members: $20    General Public: $25

Pre-registration is strongly suggested

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