I’ve had quinoa in my pantry for almost a year and finally used it!

So, about a year ago, I decided to be super-efficient and organized and attacked monthly meal planning with a vengeance (by which I mean I dedicated a Pinterest board to recipes, made detailed grocery lists broken down by week, and was feeling so good about myself that I even created a 2nd Pinterest board for recipes I tried and liked because that’s way easier than just deleting pins that sucked, right?).

I had been reading so much about kale, quinoa, and their other super hero food friends, that I felt I must be missing out on something by not immediately adding them into our dinner rotation. The first week of meal plan implementation had several hiccups in that one or both of us had a meeting or event to attend that conflicted with dinner so the grand meal was foregone in favor of leftovers or pizza or something not on the insanely detailed master menu (in my case, usually a bowl of cereal). And then when I never got around to leaving the island on the weekend to go grocery shopping for week 2, well, it all just went to hell rather quickly from there as many of my pet projects tend to do.

So here we are almost a year later and I still had an unopened bag of quinoa in the pantry that I, in a moment of couponing-be-damned freedom spent $7 on (in my defense, I wasn’t fiscally reckless enough to justify the cost of organic quinoa). I decided to go back to my original Pinterest recipe for quinoa enchilada casserole (compliments of damndelicious.net) and give it a try. Although the cooking directions on the package suggested that I wash and strain the quinoa before cooking, I was having none of that busy work and just tossed a cup into a pot with 2 cups of water. Quinoa cooks pretty much like couscous and rice, with a 2:1 water to grain ratio and you let it all boil and then simmer covered and fluff. Super easy!

20151007_174540_HDR Ta-da! Cooked and fluffed. 

I harvested the last of our amazing chili pepper crop from the back yard, in a variety of shades from green to yellow to red and substituted them for the canned chiles in the original recipe. 

20151007_174544_HDR Paper plates make great cutting boards!

I added some garlic salt, chopped onions, and the rest of the suggested ingredients. Because Ty is a smart man and would quickly realize that this is a vegetarian recipe and immediately protest, I went ahead and added some shredded chicken to the mix.

When Tyler and I lived in KC many moons ago and were not yet parents but just a couple of carefree kids with plenty of disposable income and free time, we used to do things like go to the symphony, art fundraisers, the opera (ok, the opera was my 31st bday present to myself but we all got so hammered at the Young Friends of the Opera pre-party that we never made it to the performance-yes, even dressed the nines, we were classy like that), and book signings (yes, I also used to buy books as opposed to just checking them out from the library, life is funny like that).

On one particular occasion, my mom was visiting from out of town and I had purchased tickets for a book signing event with Anne Byrn, the so-called “Cake-Mix Doctor,” whose cook book for doctoring boxed cake mixes literally changed my mom’s life. Growing up, we never had a single homemade baked good in my home. Birthdays were a time for Pepperidge Farm cakes from the store (and usually a giant taper candle from the mantle to blow out–why waste money on cake-sized candles? It’s not like you had a year to plan for the occasion or anything).

pepperidge farm cake

Holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas meant French Silk and Banana Cream pies from Baker’s Square (admittedly, not a bad thing. I wish we had a similar place in Savannah). Mom’s specialties were fudge and rosettes (most of which were given away; again, not a bad thing. Rosettes are like fried dough with powdered sugar, which in the case of beignets is a good thing, but in the case of rosettes, not so much) but never did we enjoy a home-baked cake within the walls of 1531 King George Court. Imagine my surprise decades later when my mom proceeded to detail all of the cakes she had baked for any and every excuse under the sun based on her new cake bible. But I digress. Anne Byrn wrote a second cook book called the Dinner Doctor, which is the book signing mom and I went to. This book taught me how to poach and shred chicken for a plethora of recipes and it changed my life (or at least the way I cook chicken most of the time). So, long story long, I poached and shredded some chicken and added it to this otherwise vegetarian dish.

20151007_180450_HDR Mixin’ it all together…

20151007_182718_HDR  Puttin’ it in the pan…

Then I gratuitously sprinkled way more cheese than the recipe called for and baked it…I skipped the suggested mozzarella and stuck with just cheddar plus a liberal sprinkling of parmesan on top.

20151007_192211_HDR  mmm…cheesy goodness!

Final verdict? It was really delicious (and even better as leftovers for lunch today!), but after cooking and serving it up, I realized that I forgot to include the chopped cilantro (I blame the distraction of cooking/adding chicken), which I do think would have added a unique zip to the dish.

Tyler pronounced it a winner, noting that the “one thing that would really complement the flavors is diced avocado.” Because of course I forgot the frickin’ avocado (along with the cilantro, both of which were still on the counter). No Kitchen MacGyver points awarded but I highly recommend the recipe nonetheless.

Advertisements

A Clean Fridge is a Happy Fridge

So I decided to clean out the fridge, which inspired me to utilize the mish mash of random ingredients on hand before venturing out to re-stock the fridge and fill up all of that newly available shelf space. I even cleared away the forest-full of mostly obsolete schedules, expired coupons, and other paper items that have accumulated under our fridge magnet collection in the past couple of months.

And voila! Look at all of that empty space just begging to be filled up! Of course, I quickly realized that I put the drawers in wrong, so there is actually a small shelf now available under them, which I have decided to use for thawing meat items rather than go through the trouble of taking them out and correcting the situation.

clean fridge

And the super clean, brand-spanking-new-looking front! Of course, there are a number of important items that need to live in this location, so I simply moved them to the side of the fridge where they are a little less visible to kitchen visitors who perhaps don’t care about Jack’s karate class schedule or summer reading program rewards coupons.

clean fridge 2

I inventoried what I had against a stack of recipes I have been wanting to try, and made a list of just a few things I needed to make the most of what was on hand.

One of the first things I tried was Gwyneth Paltrow’s recipe for banana ice cream, as I am pretty much the only one in the house who eats bananas, banana ice cream, banana cream pie, you name it. It called for Almond Milk, which I have never tried, but decided to in this instance so I could make the recipe…besides, I had a coupon!

The additional topping  of chopped almonds mixed with maple syrup and sea salt really made this extra delicious…so good in fact that I decided to have a second helping, which was decidedly not a good idea when I went for a run an hour later with all of that sloshing around in my belly. Verdict: Absolutely easy once you have the supplies on hand (i.e., almond milk and sliced, frozen bananas), but you really should eat it as soon as it is made because it freezes too hard to eat later. Plus, the almond milk is really good on cereal, less calories than my usual skim milk, etc. Bonus!

Whenever we head downtown Savannah, my son loves to stop by River Street Sweets for a praline sample (or two, since I usually give him mine). If you’ve never had a praline, it is a butter-y, sugar-y, delightful little sugar-high-inducing treat. But at almost $3 per praline (they are sold by weight), and only 4 ingredients, all of which I had on hand, I decided I would try making some myself. Of course, I only had about a half cup of cream on hand, so I ended up having to do some math and half the recipe.

NOTE: This is the first of three attempts (more on the other two tries later) at cooking something that needed a candy thermometer that I thought I could wing without one. Apparently, recipes call for specific tools for a reason, as I have no idea what the “soft ball” stage of cooking is, but figured if it was bubbly and gooey and smelled delicious, I was getting close. I didn’t want to overcook or burn it, but apparently it wasn’t quite done. I dropped them onto waxed paper and let them cool. They were good, but they weren’t transcendental, like those made on site at River Street Sweets. And you’d better believe my candy snob son did not think they were a worthy substitute. I guess I will continue to pay the premium for someone else making them and hope that maybe Santa will being me a candy thermometer for Christmas.And, yes, I realize these pictures make them look ever less-appetizing, but they were all eaten before bedtime, so they weren’t all bad.

homemade pralinehomemade praline 1

Then I decided to get really creative and make ravioli! I had made pasta from scratch years ago in a cooking class at the museum where I planned such events for our members and knew it was pretty simple (again, 2 ingredients! How wrong can it go??). So I mixed up some flour and eggs and rolled it out:

homemade ravioli dough

Then I used up all of the random bits of stuff I had leftover: some ricotta cheese, some frozen spinach, some pine nuts, and parmesan cheese (in the green can, we are not fancy), and threw in some crushed red pepper because I just love that kick it gives everything.

homemade ravioli stuffing

homemade ravioli 2

They weren’t the prettiest pasta I’ve ever eaten, and in fact the dough was a little thick so I should have rolled it out even thinner, but overall, I was pretty impressed with myself!

homemade ravioli 1homemade ravioli

And of course, no pasta dinner is complete without freshly-baked bread! I used the bread machine cook book for the recipe and let the machine do the mixing, then rolled it out to proof, then simply baked it.

french bread 2    french breadfrench bread 1

The house smelled amazing, and I managed to not burn the bottom while having uncooked dough on the inside like I have in the past…it was delicious! The down side was that we were completely out of butter and is there anything better than bread hot from the over slathered with butter? I could’ve sworn I still had a pound of butter in the freezer from the boatload I picked up at Sam’s, but apparently not. Naturally, when I picked some up the next day, at the more expensive store than I usually stop because it was right next to karate so I didn’t have to make a detour en route home, I discovered the last pound of Sam’s Club butter in the freezer. Lesson learned? Cleaning out the fridge is great for organizing meals, but not when you skip the freezer and have an iffy grasp of what lurks in the frozen kitchen netherlands.

Next up, a fancy-dancy, ladies-who-lunch kind of salad reminiscent of one of my fave spots in KC, Eden Alley. I threw together the last of spring greens salad mix, leftover wild rice (crazy!), the remaining half of a peach that Jack vetoed, some blue cheese crumbles (I try to have blue cheese and Frank’s hot sauce on hand at all times for when I crave buffalo chicken, which is pretty often), the last of the pine nuts (I even took a minute to toast them since this was no ordinary lazy girl lunch but a fancy salad), and tossed it all with a little bit of peppery Greek dressing (bottled…I am the only one eating this salad, so no need to be a total overachiever and make it from scratch. Besides, the point is to clean out the fridge, so in using the bottled dressing, I am one step closer to finishing it off). The verdict? Amazing! I even took the time to sit at the table, with a napkin, and enjoy it, as opposed to many of my consumed standing up/in front of the tv/in my car meals.

toasting pine nuts for homemade raviolipeach salad with rice

While walking the dog, I happened upon a fig tree in a vacant lot, so naturally, I liberated a handful before the birds could get them. A little leftover French bread, a drizzle of olive oil, and the last of the blue cheese and I had a snack worthy of a chichi bistro with sky high prices!

fig feta bruschetta

Then I made a couple of recipes that I had pinned. No pics, mostly because mine wouldn’t be nearly as pretty as the original posts. The baked sweet and sour chicken was a little scary in the making…dredging chicken in corn starch and then dipping them in eggs is not as easy as it sounds and I had to stop and scrub all the gooey stuff off my hands a couple of times so I could actually use my fingers and the whole cooking-with-ketchup thing had me grossed out (I hate ketchup…love tomatoes, marinara sauce, salsa, cocktail sauce, but hate ketchup. When I worked at the Wheel at KU we had this big industrial bag of ketchup that I had to refill the individual ketchup bottles from and I don’t think I ever recovered from it.) but everything came together in the oven and was delicious! We had a friend over for dinner and he wasn’t sure if he should be pleased dinner was so good or worried that we served him an untested dish, essentially making him a guinea pig.

.ketchup dispenser

I also whipped up some Spicy White Bean Dip, which I actually bought sriracha sauce for because when I used to eat at Blue Koi in KC, they had amazing lettuce wraps and won tons and I would douse them in sriracha until I was practically crying from the heat. So I thought this would maybe be a little like that. Except it wasn’t. The sesame oil was too overwhelming…I think I might try it again but substitute Frank’s buffalo sauce for the chili sauce, skip the sesame oil, and top with blue cheese crumbles. I’ll keep you posted on how it works out.

Jack has a new favorite phrase, “rub some bacon on it.”

Mine would be “put some Frank’s buffalo sauce on it and add a little blue cheese. sriracha