Rack of Lamb

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Like many families around the world, when it comes to holidays, we all have our traditions. Growing up for me, it was going out for Easter lunch with my mom’s side of the family and later that night dinner with my dad’s side. As we grew older it started to change to eating dinner at home with mom and dad then desert at my aunt’s house. Things change as the kids get older, but being with family is and always has been at the core of my family holidays.

Being far away from my family, the holidays can sometimes be a little sad, so my husband and children pretty much let me cook what ever I want. I stick with my tradition of honey ham for Christmas and Easter and my roasted turkey for Thanksgiving. Nothing crazy simple and elegant.

Well this year I decided to rock the boat. Crazy! Rack of Lamb! Yup, that’s right! I tried cooking rack of lamb for Easter lunch with no back-up plan, so if it sucked ,we were eating peanut butter and jelly.  I spent a week looking up recipes and watching videos to see how the pros do it. And let me tell you, that made it even worse. No two recipes were the same. Even the temperature and amount of time kept changing. How was I going to make this and have it come out perfect? Answer: do what I always do, combine recipes and hope for the best.

My son, who is usually done eating after round one, ate three lamb chops before finishing his mashed potatoes. And my girls who would normally trim every ounce of fat off their meat, ate everything without hesitation. I would say it was a hit. The lamb turned out medium-rare and tender. It just melted in our mouths, and the fresh herbs made a world a difference. We may have found our new Easter tradition.

Rack of Lamb

Ingredients:

  • 2 racks of lamb (1 1/2 lbs each)
  • 2 Tbs fresh chopped thyme
  • 2 Tbs fresh chopped rosemary
  • 1 Tbs fresh chopped basil
  • 1 Tbs fresh chopped parsley
  • 1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs, I used old french bread and pulsed it in a food processor
  • 1/2 cup brown mustard
  • 1/2 Tbs minced garlic
  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Pre-heat oven 375˚F.
  2. In a large skillet heat oil over medium-high heat.
  3. In a medium bowl mix freshly chopped herbs and breadcrumbs. Set to the side.
  4. Season each rack of lamb with salt and pepper on both sides. Then place lamb in skillet and brown on all sides. Remove from heat and place on cookie sheet. Repeat for this step for second rack of lamb. Remember in the words of Gordon Ramsey, “No color, no flavor!” 
  5. In a small bowl combine garlic and brown mustard. Using a pastry brush, brush all over both racks of lamb.
  6. Once coated with the mustard sprinkle the breadcrumb-herb mixture over the entire rack of lamb. Repeat for second rack of lamb.
  7. Cover the ribs of the lamb with aluminum foil to help prevent burning.
  8. Make sure to place your oven rack so your lamb sits directly in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping half way through. This will get you a medium-rare lamb. You can adjust the time to get the doneness you want, just be careful not to over cook the lamb.
  9. Remove from oven and wrap with a loose foil tent. Let rest for 15 minutes. This will help get the juices back into the meat.
  10. To serve the lamb chops, cut in between the bones.

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This was the finished lamb before the kids started eating. Look at the gorgeous pink center.

Chicken Cacciatore – “Hunter Stew”

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Cacciatore means “hunter” in Italian. In cuisine, alla cacciatora refers to a meal prepared “hunter-style” with tomatoes, onions, herbs, and sometimes wine. Cacciatore is popularly made with braised chicken (pollo alla cacciatora) or rabbit (coniglio alla cacciatora). Basically the hunters would use what they could gather in the woods, and use gamey meats like rabbit, venison, etc. I will have mine without Thumper and Bambi please.

I am not really sure of how chicken was introduced, though one story is that if the hunter returned home empty handed his wife would go out back and kill a chicken and add it to the vegetable stew.

Another story is that the chicken got into the hunter’s vegetables like carrots, onion, and celery. And when the hunter caught the chicken, he became the dinner for the hunter and his family.

There are so many different variations of this dish based upon ingredients available in specific regions. For example, in southern Italy, cacciatore often includes red wine, while northern Italian chefs might use white wine. Some variations include bell peppers and mushrooms mixed in with the vegetables. I wish I had mushrooms on hand when I made this meal, the sauce would have gone great with the flavors of the mushrooms.

Chicken Cacciatore – “Hunter Stew”

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 lbs chicken, I used boneless/skinless thighs and breasts
  • 2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 medium red onion, thinly sliced root to tip
  • 3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup white or red wine, I used red wine.
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 ts salt & pepper
  • 1 ts dry basil (or 2 teaspoons fresh, chopped)
  • 1 ts dry parsley (or 2 teaspoons fresh, chopped)
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3-4 large carrots, chopped
  • 2 celery stocks, chopped
  • 1 Tbs Italian seasoning

Directions:

  1. In a large heavy pan heat 2 tablespoons of oil.
  2. In a large bowl mix together flour, salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning. Once everything is combined coat chicken pieces on both sides. Place chicken in the hot oil and cook 5-6 minutes on both sides. Once chicken is done remove from pan.
  3. In the same pan that the chicken was cooked it add the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook until the onions are tender. Add the parsley and stir to combine.
  4. Slowly add the chicken stock to pan. Using a spatula deglaze the pan. Bring to a slow boil.
  5. Add in the 1/2 cup wine. Bring back to a boil. Boil on medium-high for 5 minutes.
  6. Return the chicken to the pan and continue to cook until the chicken is completely cooke all the way, about 30-40 minutes.

We served ours over white rice. You can serve it over pasta, rice or potatoes. I hope that you enjoyed this little trip to Italy as much as we did. What country will our taste buds take us to next time?

Skirt Steak wrapped in Swiss Cheese and Spinach

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Besides chocolate my other addiction is Pinterest. If you ever look at my boards they are filled with crafts, food, clothes, gardening, and whatever else hits my fancy late at night. LOL

During one of my late night scrolling I saw this recipe with a flank steak and feta cheese. I hate feta cheese, to me it smells like stinky feet. I am not eating anything that smells like stinky feet. And flank steak can be expensive when trying to feed a family of five. So I changed something’s and I think it looks even better then the original. I swapped the flank steak for a cheaper cut, and then I swapped the feta cheese for swiss cheese.

The Swiss cheese has a mild, sweet and nut-like flavor that is not over powering and tastes great with the spinach and steak. Plus it melts so smoothly inside the roll.

Skirt Steak wrapped in Swiss Cheese and  Spinach

Ingredients:

  • 2 lb skirt steak, trimmed
  • 5 sliced of swiss cheese
  • 8oz of fresh spinach, wilted down
  • salt and pepper

Directions:

  1. Remove as much of the fat as you can from the meat. Be careful not to remove the meat. This takes some time but the end results is worth the extra time.
  2. Sprinkle salt and pepper on both sides of the steak.
  3. Layer the swiss cheese the entire length of the steak. Then layer the wilted spinach on top.
  4. Starting at the small end of the steak roll up the steak. Using tooth picks to keep the steak roll closed.
  5. Pre-heat oven to 375˚ F. Place in a baking dish. Wrap with foil and place in oven and cook 45 minutes or until the desired temperature as been reached.

Note: Adding a sprinkle of fresh parsley on top before you cook really helps give it that little extra something. But then again something this yummy really doesn’t need it.

I served mine with brussels sprouts and cheesy mashed potatoes. Even my picky eats had no complaints. Before I could take a picture of the inside to show the swirls of steak, spinach, and cheese it was gone! My husband even asked if we were eating it again tomorrow. I think this meal was a hit 🙂

Ultimate Pasta Salad

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We have all had pasta salad in some way shape and form. Mine usually consisted of  pasta, dressing, and cherry tomatoes. Most people have had it this was and I love this way, it makes for a great side dish at a cook out. But when trying to figure out what to feed kids, it lacks something. It needed more to make it a complete meal and had to be healthy too.

I took the basic idea and added some more veggies and thin slices of ham. And I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t have some type of cheese in it. It needed to be a cheese that wouldn’t melt in the heat or have it’s flavor get lost with all the other flavors. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated was my answer. Cost just as much as the pre-shredded but doing it yourself gives it a better flavor. 🙂

Ultimate Pasta Salad

  • 1/4 cup thinly sliced ham
  • 1 box pasta,  I used rotini
  • 1 zucchini
  • 1 summer squash
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup Italian dressing
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. In a medium pot bring water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. Drain.
  2. Cut the zucchini and squash into 1/2 inch chunks and quarter them.
  3. Place tomatoes, zucchini, squash on a cookie sheet. Add the ham strips. Pour 2 tbs of Italian dressing over and mix until everything is coated.
  4. Cook over the grill or in the oven on 350˚ until the veggies are slightly tender but still have a crunch to them. You don’t want to over cook and have it become mush.
  5. In a large bowl mix together the pasta and cooked veggies. Add the Italian dressing and mix until everything is coated again.
  6. Sprinkle the parmesan cheese over and give a quick toss. Serve warm or chilled.

This makes for a great summer time meal that won’t wear you down or heat your kitchen. 🙂 My favorite part is that you can make it a head of time and have an easy afternoon playing with the kids instead of worrying about cooking dinner. Summer time = fun time 😀

Updated Classic Gingerbread Cookies

First post of 2014! I hope that everyone had a great holiday season and a very happy new year. I have been busy away in the kitchen as I am every holiday season. And I wouldn’t have it any other way! 🙂 It sounds strange but nothing relaxes me more, I just love being in the kitchen baking and cooking. I have some great new recipes I can not wait to share with you.

It seems during the holiday season you see lots of people with gingerbread cookies. I had made some a few weeks ago from a package that were okay but not great. This year I wanted to try making them from scratch, really just so I can say that I did. This one recipe makes over 60 cookies. For the price you pay in the store this is a steal. And to me nothing says I love you more than fresh goodies from the oven. 🙂

I have to admit though my cookie decorating skills need some work. But they did taste good!

Gingerbread Cookies

Ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup butter, softened
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons ground ginger
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground all spice
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Directions:

1) In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg and molasses. Combine the flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves and salt; gradually add to creamed mixture and mix
well.

2) Cover and refrigerate overnight. <- This is very important. This will help roll out the dough. 

3) On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to 1/8-in. thickness. Cut with floured 2-1/2-in. cookie cutters. Place 1 in. apart on ungreased baking sheets. <- I used parchment paper to make the cookies easy to remove. High recommend. 

4) Bake at 350° for 8-10 minutes or until edges are firm. Remove to wire racks to cool.

Options: If you want you can either frost these with royal icing or just gently dust them with powered sugar. I did the royal icing route. They taste great no matter which way you go. Enjoy.

Saving Time and Money

        I don’t know about most of you, but I am not rich and probably will never become rich. With the economy in the shape that it is in now, I do all I can to save money. And with having a full schedule with work, school, and extra-curricular activities, I just want to relax and have some extra time to unwind with the family. Especially during the holiday season, nothing is more important to me than family.

So, how do I do it and still have time and a little money? It took a lot of trial and error to figure out what works best for us as a family. I won’t lie. It did take some time to figure out, but at the day’s end, it was worth it. Not only can I feed my family of five great tasting food ,but I can do it without breaking the bank. Nothing is wasted.

I want to bring to you my eight ways to save time and money. Funny thing is with a little planning, saving time and money tend to go hand in hand.

1. PLAN. This sounds easy, but it is probably the hardest thing to do if you are not used to planning. Since we get paid bi-weekly, I go food shopping every other week. I plan what we are going to have for dinners for two to four weeks in advance. And I don’t do this alone. We do it as a family during dinner time–which is the perfect time to talk about food.

2. SHOPPING. When you head out to go food shopping, figure out if there are items on your list that you can buy in bulk and save. Usually the answer is yes. Items like cereal, rice, sugar, flour, grains, to name a few, are great for buying in bulk. Make sure to check the expiration date, I know that my kids will not go through cereal in two weeks especially during the school year. And buy your meat in bulk too. Separate and wrap it yourself and you save a bunch. This takes no time at all to do, either.

3. COOK. Again I know this sounds easy, but with everything being prepackaged and ready to eat, people forget that you can make the same thing at half the price and get twice as much.  An extra added bonus: when you cook with fresh ingredients you are not taking in all the preservatives that are in the prepackaged food. Learning to cook at home is learning to cook healthier. So not only is it budget friendly it is also body friendly. I call that a win-win. A great example of this is my maccaroni and cheese. I can get all the ingredients for $11 (that is with the bacon) and that make enough to feed 12 people. Making it less then $1 per serving. I can even show you how to make a steak dinner with asparagus and small red potatoes for $17 that will feed 5 people. Do the math, where can you get a steak dinner for under $4 per serving?

4. COUPONS. I know that everyone knows how to clip coupons. But did you know that you can save between $15-$30 on food shopping? Look for coupons that come in the Sunday, online coupons and even with apps. For example, with the app coupons and the item on sale, I only paid $6 for a 14lb turkey for Thanksgiving. Don’t go downloading every coupon app out there, just use the apps for the stores you would use the most.

5. BUY LOCAL. This is by far my favorite thing to do. Not only are the prices better but the flavor is the best. During the spring and summer months we visit our local farmer’s market and PYO (pick-your-own) places for some of the best tasting food. Not only are you getting a great buy, you are helping support your local farmers and community. And it is a great way to get some quality time in with the family.

6. QUALITY SPICES. I know it is easy to go to the store and buy what they have. I used to do that for years, then I found myspicesage.com, and I will not buy from anyone else ever again. They have the best selection that rivals any store. You get a large amount for the price you pay, and they give you free samples to try. The flavors are so rich, that you really only need to use half the normal amount a recipe calls for. Using less and getting more out of it, saves even more money.

7. WASTE NOTHING. This is something we do all the time. We compost all of our scrap fruits and veggies and use it for compost soil in the spring for our garden and flowers. We save a ton of money by using the compost for our flower and vegetable pots instead of purchasing soil from a store. If you have some heals of bread left–face it, it happens–don’t throw them away. Make croutons or bread crumbs. My favorite thing not to waste is egg yolks. I like my eggs without the yolks but instead of throwing out the yolks I save them to make vanilla or chocolate pudding.

8. CANNING. I love canning! I love making jelly, jams, marmalades, soups, sauces, syrups, lemonades and canning the fresh fruits and veggies from the summer. We haven’t purchased jelly from the store in over four years. I won’t lie, this one takes the most amount of time to do. But knowing that my family is eating healthier is the only reason I need to keep doing it. Plus canning soups and sauces make for quick easy meals after long days at work. I get 95% of my stuff from Ball. Added bonus: when you have finished a jar you don’t throw it away just put it in the dish washer and use it again. This does take a little money to get started but pays for itself in no time. Just remember to use fresh lids and replace rusty rings. 🙂

I am not saying that if you do these eight things you are going to see a ton of money left over. You may start to see you are able to buy better quality foods and make that budget stretch just a little bit more. Don’t get discouraged if it takes time to get into the rhythm of doing things. Anything worth doing takes time to do it right. And remember this works for me and my family everyone is different, find what works for your family and budget.