Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Kitchen Tip #1

A couple of days ago I gave my son a banana for breakfast and threw the banana peel into the sink. I then forgot about and walked into my kitchen about an hour later with the banana peel in my sink covered with fruit gnats. I wanted to just share a quick tip on how to get rid of these annoying little insects as it also seems that they seem to appear in my kitchen this time of year.

To get rid of gnats, fill a glass with vinegar. A glass with a narrow opening is best, I usually use a wine glass. Any type of vinegar will work, though I have had the best results with apple cider vinegar. cover the opening of the glass with aluminum foil and secure with rubber band. Next, poke several small holes in the foil, a toothpick works best. Set the vinegar trap close to an area where the gnats like to gather like the sink, fruit basket, or garbage. The gnats are attracted to the vinegar smell and will crawl down the holes and then not be able to get back out. Eventually they will all fall into the vinegar and drown. I find that this trap doesnt take long to work, I usually only have to set it out for a day! Hope this trick works well for you too!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Food for Fit for a Picnic

To start out, I wanted to acknowledge the fact that Reading Cuisine has been light on posts lately. I really haven't been posting very regularly at all. There are a couple of reasons for that. First, my baby boy is not really a baby anymore, but a 16 month old toddler who is into anything and everything. I dont always have a lot of time to sit down and write a reflective or thoughtful post. I have another blog about our family for friends and relatives that I have trouble keeping up on! However, I am going to try harder at posting more frequently.

Secondly, however, I have just been uninspired in my cooking lately. I usually get in a cooking rut around this time. Our tomatoes are not ripe yet, so the recipes I have been saving for them can't be used just yet. I also am sick of hot weather by this time, although it has cooled down for a couple of days here in Columbus, Ohio, and am longing for fall. I can't wait until football season and the fun foods that go along with fall and football like Chili and the wide array of soup recipes and braising recipes I have been saving up. Chili and soup just dont go with summer.

Anyway, with all that said I decided to post one of my favorite recipes. I keep only the best recipes and transfer them to a program on my computer. The one I am posting is great for summer or fall! The recipe is for Chicken and Bacon wraps. They would be easy and great for a football game, but we have also made them for a picnic and they work great!! They can be serve hot or room temperature. I hope you enjoy them as well as we do. This recipe is from Cooking Light, but I have adapted a bit to our liking. The original recipe calls for fresh tarragon, but I use thyme since I grow it in our garden. I marinate and grill chicken tenders for the chicken, but you could use a rotisserie chicken from the grocery, or left over chicken from the night before.

Chicken and Bacon Wraps

½ cup reduced fat mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh tarragon, minced (I use thyme instead of tarragon)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
4 whole wheat flatbreads, such as Flatout
2 cups romaine lettuce, shredded
2 cups tomatoes, chopped
4 center cut bacon slices, cooked and drained
2 cups shredded skinless chicken

Combine mayonnaise, tarragon, and fresh lemon juice in a small bowl. Spread 2 tablespoons mayonnaise mixture over each flatbread. Top each with lettuce, tomato, 1 bacon slice, crumbled, and chicken. Roll up like a burrito or fajita wrap. Makes approx 4 wraps.

Note: This recipe would also work well with turkey, I am thinking left over Thanksgiving turkey.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Salmon with Lemon and Rosemary

I have made this recipe a couple of times and I do think it is one of my favorites. It is so easy to make and clean up! The salmon comes out perfectly cooked, nice and juicy with a lot of flavor! I have to give credit to where credit is due. This recipe is from Giada de Laurentis and the Food Network. This recipe serves 4, but can easy be decreased or increased in serving size. The recipe is as follows:

4 (6-ounce) salmon fillets
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary leaves
8 lemon slices (about 2 lemons)
1/4 cup lemon juice (about 1 lemon)
1/2 cup Marsala wine (or white wine)
4 teaspoons capers

4 pieces of aluminum foil

Brush top and bottom of salmon fillets with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and rosemary. Place each piece of seasoned salmon on a piece of foil large enough to fold over and seal. Top the each piece of salmon with 2 lemon slices, 1 tablespoon of lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of wine, and 1 teaspoon of capers. Wrap up salmon tightly in the foil packets.

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill. Place the foil packets on the hot grill and cook for 10 minutes for a 1-inch thick piece of salmon. Serve in the foil packets.

You can serve in the foil packets, but I serve it on a plate. The fish and other contents will easily slide off of the foil. I have served this with vegetables before, but it is also great on a bed of orzo or rice as there is a lot of juice left that can be poured over the rice or orzo. Really a winning recipe!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Saving Money on Groceries

Times are tough these days. The US economy seems to be in the midst of a recession even though many lawmakers do not want to use the R word. Many families are feeling the effects of rising gas and foods prices, among other things, while their salaries are staying the same, and their wallets shrinking. I have heard stories on different news outlets regarding Americans who are having to pick between buying food or filling up their gas tank to get to work. Americans who never thought they would be in need are turning to places like food pantries. Not everyone is in dire straits, but everyone could benefit from a little penny pinching. I have put together a list of tips and strategies on how to save some money on your grocery bill. I hope these tips can help you.

1. Prepare a list and stick to it.
Plan out your meals for the week and prepare a list based on only those items for the meals, along with any other household item you need and stick to it. I would be lost at the supermarket without a list. I know I would end up with a bunch of stuff I dont need and nothing to complete a meal. Sticking to the list is very important so you dont go overboard.

2. Buyer Beware.
Be aware of the way the grocery store is laid out. Remember that the grocery store is not there to do us a favor, it is there to make money and sell you stuff you dont need, just like any other store. You should know that typically your more expensive items are at eye level and the top shelf. Grocery stores know that most people are unwilling to bend over and look at the bottom shelf. The bottom shelf is where your off brand items and better priced items are going to be.

3. What's in a name?
Name brands in food products are like name brands in every thing else. Just because it is the name brand, doesnt always mean that it is the best. I often times buy the grocery store's own brand and cannot tell the difference in most cases. In some cases, I even like the store brand better! In fact, sometimes the store brand is actually made by the name brand at a cheaper cost or whatever. This is the case with some Costco items and Target stores (though Target does this more often with their clothing line).

4. Speaking of Costco...
Another way to cut down that grocery bill is to consider joining a warehouse club like Costco or Sam's Club. Buying in bulk is a great way to get a deal (usually). Just beware that warehouse clubs come with a price. There is an annual fee to shop there, but the savings can out weigh the cost if you shop there regularly. To be safe, go to one of these clubs and do some research. They will often times let you wander in and look around before you join, so look at those items you use often, like toilet paper, and do the math to compare the price to the price at the grocery. Also, be sure to always break out the price by per item or per pound or ounces. Dont just assume it is a better deal because it is in bulk. This isnt always the case. You should always take a calculator to the grocery store with you. Or use the calculator on your cell phone.

5. Dont shop when you are hungry.
Do I really need an explanation here? This should be common sense. If you are hungry while you are shopping for food, your defenses will be down and everything will look tasty. Eat before you go, or take a snack.

6. Clip Coupons.
The Sunday paper often has ads full of manufacturer's coupons. In fact, we subscribe to only the Sunday paper in order to get the coupons. The money you save will probably pay for the paper subscription itself. It has in my case. Also, look for a grocery store that doubles your coupons! That is bonus savings right there! Because I use coupons, I usually have at least $10 taken off the total bill every week!

7. Join the club. Grocery stores also have club cards, but they are free to join. In many grocery stores, you need the club card to get the weekly specials. Yeah, I know it is annoying signing up for another card, but they also mail you special coupons and savings based on the items you typically buy. The grocery store I use also has fuel perks attached to their club card. I have to buy food, and I have to buy gas, even at the price it is at. Why not get a little added bonus and get some money off my gas?

8. Why dont you do it yourself?
Most grocery stores have convenience items, especially in the produce section. This would be produce that is already washed and chopped. The convenience is great, but you are paying more for the convenience. Buying your produce and cleaning and chopping it yourself can really save you some money. Plus, lettuce that is already chopped usually goes south faster than lettuce that is still whole. Besides, have you ever stopped to thing about the pre-bagged stuff before? Yeah, the bag says it is washed, but do you know how well or number of times? How often do they change the water they are washing the produce in? I think with constant food recalls, we can never be too careful!
Produce, however, is not the only place the grocery store does this. Meat is another area where if you cut it up yourself, you will save some money. I have noticed at my grocery store that the first chicken breast you come to in the meat rack is the chicken breast that has the fat already trimmed, but if you walk down the counter, you will find chicken breast that is not trimmed of all it fat. The price difference I have noticed is about 30-40 cents per pound. Another thing you can do yourself is shred or slice your own cheese. This is another thing we buy for convenience, but again you are paying for it. I usually just buy a block of cheddar or mozzarella and just shred it as I need it. It really does not take much more time.
I know you are wondering when you are going to have the time to do all this stuff but you can always wash all your produce on grocery day. Ask your cashier to put all your produce together when he/she bags it. When you get home, fill up the sink with cool water and unpack the produce first and pop it in the water to give it a good wash while you are putting away your other groceries. Then put it in plastic bags or containers to store in the fridge or on the counter to ripen. When you need it, it is ready to go. Besides, the plastic bags that grocery stores use are not the best method to store your produce to keep it fresh.

9. Always keep your eyes on the screen.
You should always watch the cashier's screen as they ring up your items. Make sure that the items are coming up at the right price. The computer may not reflect the price on the shelf or weekly special because of a computer glitch or human error. Sometimes it is really worth it to watch. The grocery store I shop at gives you the item for free if it comes up at a different price than what is marked on the shelf. I once got a bottle of baby formula for free, which can get expensive. Also, cashier's dont always know their produce and so they could ring up your parsley as cilantro or orange as a tangerine. There can be price differences here so it is important to watch.

10. Shop alone...if you can.
Try to shop without your spouse, kids, roommate, or whoever may be a bad influence. I used to go grocery shopping with my husband and I was always amazed by the time we got to the cash register. He would always manage to sneak stuff into the cart when I wasnt looking, but if I asked him at home what he needed from the grocery, he wouldnt be able to come up with anything. The same is true with kids. If you can, go grocery shopping sans the kids. They are always going to spot that new cereal, cookies, or snack that they just have to have. Chances are you will give in to some of that just to get out of the grocery store. When it comes to kids and husbands, out of sight, out of mind seems to be true.

11. Shop locally.
During the summer months, try shopping at your local farmer's market or road side stand. You can often find better priced produce because it is in season and didnt have to be flown in from Brazil or where ever. Always price compare, but you may be able to find it for cheaper and fresher.

12. Grow it.
Not everyone is able or wants to do this. But growing some of your own produce is always a great idea. Pick a vegetable that you eat often in the summer and try growing it, or try growing your own herbs. Even if you live in an apartment or a place that doesnt have a garden, keep in mind that tomatoes and herbs grow well in pots too.

I hope this helps to give you some ideas on cutting your grocery bill. I would love to hear other ideas you have.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Best Ever Chocolate Cake

I found this recipe in the Kraft Foods magazine and it really is the best chocolate cake I think I have ever had. An added bonus to this recipe is that it is super easy! You can find the recipe here at the Kraft Foods website or I have it below.

1 pkg. (8 squares) BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate, divided
1 pkg. (2-layer size) chocolate cake mix
1 pkg. (4-serving size) JELL-O Chocolate Flavor Instant Pudding & Pie Filling
4 eggs
1 cup BREAKSTONE'S or KNUDSEN Sour Cream
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup water
1 tub (8 oz.) frozen COOL WHIP Whipped Topping
2 Tbsp. PLANTERS Sliced Almonds

PREHEAT oven to 350°F. Grease two 9-inch round baking pans. Chop 2 of the chocolate squares; set aside. Beat cake mix, dry pudding mix, eggs, sour cream, oil and water in large bowl with electric mixer on low speed just until moistened. Beat on medium speed 2 min. Stir in chopped chocolate. Spoon into prepared pans.

BAKE 30 to 35 min. or until wooden toothpick inserted in centers comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 min. Loosen cakes from sides of pans. Invert onto racks; gently remove pans. Cool cakes completely.

PLACE frozen whipped topping and remaining 6 chocolate squares in microwaveable bowl. Microwave on HIGH 1-1/2 min. or until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is smooth, stirring after 1 min. Let stand 15 min. to thicken. Place one cake layer on serving plate; top with one-fourth of the chocolate mixture and second cake layer. Spread top and side with remaining chocolate mixture. Garnish with almonds. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The 100 Mile Diet

My family and I have decided to follow the 100 mile diet this summer. The basic concept of this diet is eating locally grown or raised food all originating from within 100 miles of where you live.

There are many advantages to the 100 mile diet, but I thought I would mainly talk about the ones that played into our decision. First and for most, the possibility of saving money. Now this may or may not actually work. I understand that many local farmers are going to boast that there produce is organic and therefore may charge just as much as the grocery store or maybe even more. However, we also are hoping that with rising food prices that distributors have to pay that they then make the consumer pay for that maybe the local farmer will charge less. We will find out as we go. Also though, getting more for our money. Produce may be the same price, even a little more, but it will be fresher and thus being healthier and tasting better. Hey if my family will eat more of it because it tastes better, that is money well spent! Also I like the idea of knowing where it came from. If you have an opportunity to meet the grower or their employees I think this is great. You have opportunity to ask any questions about how something was grown. Lastly, I just think it is great to support the small business owner. Do we really want our country to be overrun with corporations? Well, I don't.

I am very excited about our plan to eat locally grown and raised foods. I know it will not be easy but I do have a strategy to tackle our lofty plans. Here are some strategies that anyone can use to follow the 100 mile diet.

Local Harvest. Out first major strategy is to shop the Farmer's Market every weekend. We have a great farmer's market in central Ohio in Worthington. Instead of planning the vegetables I want to make before I go to the store, I am going to see what is available and in season. Eating vegetables that are in season is a great way to save money. If I am uncertain with what to do with the vegetables I but I can always look up a recipe, or if all else fails throw it on the grill and see what happens! We also have the North Market here in Columbus that has food vendors that are local. There are a couple of meat vendors there so this is our approach to buying much of our meat. For information on local farmer's market or other local food vendors, Local Harvest is a great website.

Grow your own. Another great strategy to local eating is to grow stuff at home. We live in a condo with only a little room for a garden so we are going to grow our own herbs. Growing your own herbs is a great way to save money. If you have room, it is pretty simple to grow your own vegetables. Most of the time just a couple plants will you give you all the harvest you will need. You could also start a partnership with a neighbor. You can grow the tomatoes for instance, and have them grow another vegetable and then trade. You could even do this with several friends or neighbors you are close with to get several types of vegetables! Also, if you live in an apartment some vegetables will even grow in containers or pots. Tomatoes is an easy one that comes to mind, just make sure your plants get enough sunshine so that they ripen!

Ask around. You never know what people have extra of until you ask. I recently found out that my grandmother has a friend with many chickens who lay lots of eggs. This friend has more eggs than she knows what to do with and gives them away. Now we get free eggs from her!

Share. If you decide to grow your own produce and have too much share. My parents plant 30 tomato plants every year. These plants produce more tomatoes than my parents could ever eat. (Why they plant so many every year is still a mystery!) They take all of their extras to neighbors or coworkers. This not only helps out the recipients, but my parents usually get help and favors in return, like neighbors helping them cut down a tree or whatever.

Now I have to admit, I will probably not be able to limit the grocery store completely. I do have a 1 year who stills likes his snacks of Cheerios and Cheezits. I am not sure how to explain to a 1 year old that if Cheezits are not at the farmer's market then they are not found in our pantry either. Yeah, probably wont happen so we will make some grocery store runs but I hope to cut them to a minimum. I will of course keep you posted on how the 100 mile diet goes for us as the summer progresses! I hope you will try this venture with us!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Wines on the Cheap

I suspect most people are like me. I enjoy a glass of wine with my dinner and occasionally I'll find a wine I like enough to drink the whole bottle in one night, but I am by far a wine expert. I really only know what types of wine I like. I cannot describe wine in technical terms, but have my own words for describing wines. Therefore, when I do buy wine I do not want to spend a fortune on it. It always annoys me when I read an article in a Food Magazine highlighting tasty bargain wines that are priced at $30-50. I have even seen so called bargain wines that are listed at $100 for a bottle! To the wine connoissier this may be a great price, but not to average Joe wine drinker. Bargain to me is $15 tops.

That is why I love this website, Cheap Wine Reviews. They taste and review affordable wines. Most of the wines they taste are between $5-$10! I think that is great! Definitely more my speed! You can read the daily posts, or look up by wine types. I think this site is great and I can't wait to try some of their recommendations! Thanks Cheap Wine Reviews!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

All I Want for Mother's Day

Here is my list of what I am hoping to get for Mother's Day. I thought I would write this post in the hopes that my husband might read it. I also thought this might serve as good gift ideas for the cooking enthusiast.

First on my list is a pasta machine. The particular one pictured is an Imperia Pasta Machine sold exclusively at William Sonoma and made in Italy. I really want to try making my own pasta but I really really dont want to have to roll it out by hand. I have read some reviews and the Imperia had mainly good reviews. I am also making this easy on my husband as we have a gift card for William Sonoma!

The next on my list is the cookbook Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. This one seems to be the bible for Italian Cooking so I must have it. We definitely prefer Italian food. I love cooking it and my husband loves eating it. I have quite a few cookbooks that I use on a regular basis but quite frankly I am getting bored with some of them!

Third on my list is another cookbook. Mario Batali's Italian Grill looks like it would be a great addition and wonderful compliment to the books I already have! I have another of his books, Simple Italian Food, which I love, but I do want to add to my collection. Also, the nicer spring weather makes we want to grill but recently I have been having trouble finding interesting grilling recipes. I hope this book can help. Mario Batali also peaked my interest in this book when I caught him on Martha Stewart the other day, cooking some of his recipes. They looked great!

Last on my list, well as far as cooking stuff goes, is this nifty looking OXO Corn Stripper. It is shaped like a computer mouse and cuts the corn kernels off the cob quickly, easily, and safely. We like fried corn among other recipes that require you cut off the kernels. I usually use a knife and a cutting board but also feel awkward and clumsy, a great way to cut off a finger! This tool looks like it would take away at least the unsafe part of de-kerneling the cob!

Friday, April 18, 2008

More on the Kid-Friendly Front

I wanted to do a follow-up on a post I published a month or so ago. The topic was on kid-friendly or family-friendly restaurants that were nicer restaurants. Since that I post, I have been on the lookout for other restaurants that would fit this description and I found another one!

Cap City Diner, with 2 locations in Columbus, Ohio, is a Cameron Mitchell owned restaurant that takes your normal diner cuisine and makes it a lot better. A couple of our favorite items are their meatloaf, the pork chops are amazing, and my husband really likes the grilled cheese sandwich which has a friend egg on it. Anyway, we went there for dinner a few nights ago with my 1 year old (ok, he's 1 on the 21). I looked over the children's menu briefly to check out the offerings when something at the top caught my eye. There was a spot on the menu that said "Complimentary Baby Food Available". I asked the server about this, wondering if Cap City takes the time to make baby food or what. Turns out they have Gerber baby food that is available for free upon request. They had a nice selection of fruits and vegetables too. I was surprised that they had any, let alone 5 or 6 types to choose from! We ordered some for my son since he still only has 2 teeth, though 4 new ones are well on their way.

I think it is awesome and noteworthy that Cap City Diner has taken the time to consider their customers with small babies! Bravo! We will definitely be back!

Friday, April 11, 2008

Making Baby Food 101

My son is 11 months old and still only has a couple of teeth so we still feed him quite a bit of baby food. I have noticed that baby food can often tack on a lot of money at the grocery store. I have made some of my own baby food before and it is very easy. We go through a lot of applesauce because we mix it into my son's cereal so that he will eat it better. It is really simple to make applesauce for babies and really this same technique can be applied to a whole host of other fruits and vegetables. I have the book So Easy Baby Food, by Joan Ahlers and Cheryl Tallman which I use as a guide and is a great book to get you started.

First I quartered and peeled 4 Red Delicious apples. Put them in a microwave safe dish with about 1/4 cup or so of water, cover with plastic wrap and microwave. I microwaved these apples for 4 minutes total, checking them in between for doneness. You want to be able to easily pierce them with a fork. I let them cool under the plastic wrap for just a couple of minutes.

Put the apple slices in a food processor with some of the cooking water. Puree until smooth. You dont want to add all the cooking liquid at one time, start with a little and slowly add it until you get the right consistency. Also, dont forget to vent the food processor to allow steam to escape.

Once you puree the apples to the consistency you want, spoon it into ice cube trays and let cool. Cover the ice cube trays and freeze overnight. The next day you can pop them out of the trays and freeze in a large ziplock bag. This is so handy! You can defrost just as many cubes as you need! Four Red Delicious apples made about 20 ounces of applesauce. You can use different apples, but I like the red delicious because they are sweet. I made applesauce for my son using Golden Delicious apples and he did not like them as well. They are a little more tart.

I did some math to see if making my own applesauce would save me any money at the grocery. I found that I broke out about even, however, I made this batch in the springtime when apples are not in season. I could probably find better prices on apples in the fall time. If you made baby food from fruits and vegetables that are in season, you made find yourself saving some money making it instead of buying it. There are other benefits, however, besides just monetary benefits. If you make your own you know exactly what is in there. You are able to pick the freshest produce for your baby's food. When you buy baby food, you assume the manufacturer is using the highest quality, freshest ingredients, but you dont really know. When you make it yourself, you know. Other great benefit is that you can make combinations of fruits and vegetables that you may not be able to buy, for example, my next batch of baby food is going to be zucchini and yellow squash with a dash of dried basil. Another great benefit comes if you are able to buy certified organic produce or even produce from farmer's markets. In doing this you are able to reduce the amount of herbicides, pesticides, and other chemicals that may be in baby food (because it was used in the produce they are using). Lastly, it is a lot of fun! You can be creative and cater the food to your baby's taste and diet!

I hope you try making you baby's food and have fun in the process!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Fish Pockets

A couple of nights ago I made Giada de Laurentis's Italian Fish Pocket recipe. This recipe is available on the Food Network website. I thought this was a great recipe! The vegetables and fish are all cooked together wrapped in an aluminum foil pocket. This was a terrific recipe! The vegetables were done nicely and the trout had a wonderful flavor to it! The recipe calls for sugar snap peas which I substituted with snow peas instead because my husband prefers snow peas. The snow peas got a little over done, so I think the sugar snap peas may have worked better in this case. This type of recipe is a great solution for a busy parent! Everything is assembled in the foil and then wrapped up and baked. It is quick, easy and even quicker to clean up after dinner! I am planning on searching for more of these types of recipes and may even experiment on some of my own! This one is definitely a must try!

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

My Weekly Meal Plan

I am a stay at home mom with my 10 month old son, so I know it probably sounds like it should be easy to get a home cooked meal on the table every night. It is not so easy. Trying to balance taking care of my son, with doing housework and approaching my blog like it is a job instead of a hobby is not easy. I really am not sure how working moms do it! I do manage, however, to get a decent meal on the table almost every night and it can be done, even if you work a full time job. Actually, I did work full time while my husband stayed at home with my son, and I even then I managed to cook every night. Anyone can do it, all it takes is some planning ahead and I am here to show you how to do it!

Every weekend, usually on Sundays, I sit down my cookbooks and recipes and try to look at the week ahead. Ironically, I should be making a large meal on Sundays that would make great lunch leftovers, but we always seem to have too much going on during the weekends! I start with the week ahead. I open up my calendar and see if there are any nights that we have plans, dinner plans or something else that would keep me from cooking. Those nights seem to lend themselves well to leftovers or as my mom used to call it, “Fix it yourself night.”

After I have determined what nights I am going to cook, I open up my cookbooks. I have some favorite cookbooks I go to frequently and I also have a very large 3 ring binder that I keep recipes from magazines that I have ripped out. I know choosing recipes sounds like a daunting task and it can be at times, but once you have done it a couple of times, it gets easier. I usually remember recipes that I want to make, but havent had the opportunity yet. I try to keep it simple. Mondays are when I do my grocery shopping so those nights I try to keep it quick and easy. Friday nights are another night that I try to keep it simple and easy as everyone is usually tired by Friday, myself included.

So I take out a sheet of paper and going down the paper write Monday through Friday, leaving a couple of lines in between each to leave room to write what I am going to make. I write the days on the left side of the sheet and then on the right side I draw a line and start a grocery list. If there are nights that I am not making dinner, then I write that down so that I dont forget. Then I choose my recipes and write a list of groceries I need as I go.

So here is what a typical week of meals might look like

2 Cheese Tortilla pizzas with arugula salad (from Everyday Food)

Chicken and Ricotta pillows (Giada)
Crispy Baked Eggplant (Seriously Simple)

Parmesan and Chicken Casserole (Cooking Light)
Green beans with warm bacon dressing (Cooking Light)
Broiled Tomatoes (Rachel Ray)

Pacific Pork kebab with rice (Everyday Food)
Vegetable Saute

Herby Gnocchi with arugula and butter sauce (Jaime Oliver)

I also always write down where the recipe came from on the list so it is easy for me to find it later. For the recipes that came from magazines, I usually rip all of those out, put them in a plastic page protector and just leave them all together in the kitchen so that they are easy to find. I also hang the list of meals for the week on the refrigerator so that everyone knows what we are having that night.

Also, for a particularly hectic day, you could also keep a frozen pizza on hand and serve it with a salad. I highly recommend Cooking Light magazine and Everyday Food magazine as a great source for healthy, quick meals. Giada de Laurentis also has some easy, hassle free meals and ideas as well. She has several cookbooks, but you can also find a lot of her recipes on The Food Network website. I also like meals that have components that can be made the night ahead, or things that need to be marinated for several hours. Cooking light has several recipes that involve marinating meat and vegetable together for several hours in a plastic ziplock for up to 8 hours. These are great as you can just throw them on a grill or in the oven when you get home. I hope these hints help everyone cook a few nights a week rather ordering take out!

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Family-friendly Restaurants

The terms "Kid-friendly" or "Family-friendly" restaurant has always made me cringe. Before I had a baby of my own, this term always conjured up images of a restaurant that welcomed messy, bratty children either sitting in their high chair screaming or traipsing around the dining room while their parents continue to chow down on their meal, all the while being totally oblivious to the disruption their children are causing. Now as a parent, both terms still makes me cringe as I image places like Applebee's or Chuck E Cheese. Just because I have a child doesnt mean that I need to dumb down my palette so to speak. So when I talk about family-friendly or kid-friendly I may not be looking at the best restaurants (I dont expect a 5 or even 4 star restaurant to go out of its way to attract families), but I also hope to look at dining establishments that are at least a step above Applebee's. I also would like to add, however, that if I do choose to take my infant to a nice restaurant I would prefer not to get glares from the wait staff.

My son is currently 10 months old and so far only has 2 teeth. He doesn't seem to mind going to restaurants so we occasionally take him places with us. My son likes to watch my husband and I eat and try to eat with us, even if he has already had his dinner. However, with only 2 teeth, we have to be careful about what we give him to chew on. That is why I was quite pleased one Sunday when our little family went to Mimi's Cafe for breakfast. When we were seated they brought a complimentary "kids plate". They brought an appetizer plate full of goodies well beyond the normal fare. The plate consisted of a ramekin of Cheerios, an orange slice, crackers, and of course a kids menu full of activities and crayons. I found this to be very thoughtful! I can't really order off the kids' meal for him yet, so I think it is nice that someone in the company took a minute to think about families with little babies.

I have also been to the Cheesecake Factory when they have offered crackers and fruit! Why don't more restaurants do this? Though this would not be a major factor in my decision on where to dine, I would certain lean more towards a restaurant that took this kind of consideration!

It isn't complimentary Cheerios, but Bravo Cucina Italiana will often give kids a ball of raw pizza dough to play with. They will even bake it for children so make dough sculptures of shapes! What fun! My son had fun squeezing the dough which occupied him for a good 10 minutes!

I'm curious if there are other places out there that have similar services. If anyone knows of other restaurants that give complimentary snacks to babies and toddlers, please feel free to share similar experiences with other great restaurants.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Romantic Dinner

Ok, so I am a bit late on this one, but I thought I would share my Valentine's Day menu. I decided to cook a nice meal this year instead of going out to a restaurant. I was excited about the chance to make something that I woiuld not normally make!

This year's January/February issue of Cooking Light had a Valentine's menu consisting of rack of Lamb, truffled polenta, and a spicy sweet pepper relish so I decided to follow that. I added a side dish of peas sauteed with bacon, mainly because I wanted a bit more color .

The lamb chops were excellent, which was exciting as it was my first attempt with lamb! I started with chops right out of the refrigerator which may not have been the best idea. The chops were a little underdone after baking for 15 minutes, so I put them back in for a couple minutes. I think that 20 minutes of baking would have worked better, or letting my chops get to room temperature. Besides, this little setback, the lamb chops were very successful!

For the polenta, I made my own from scratch rather than using the Cooking Light recipe that used instant polenta. Polenta is really not hard to do and I started that first and then working on chopping the ingredients and preparing the lamb. The polenta worked really well as an accompaniment, especially since I get sick of mashed potatoes as an accompaniment. The spicy sweet pepper relish was not as big of a hit. I think it was a strange thing to pair with lamb and I didnt think it worked very well. I also just dont think I liked the recipe. I loved the peas and bacon! They were such a nice green! There is something about lamb and peas that makes me think of spring!

All in all, I think the meal was a hit. This lamb chop recipe is great as a romantic meal, but it would also be great for Easter or for entertaining! Again, the recipe is from Cooking Light and is as follows:

Fennel and Rosemary-Crusted Roasted Rack of Lamb:

1 tablespoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 garlic cloves, minced
1 (12 oz) French- cut rack of lamb, trimmed
Cooking spray
Rosemary sprigs (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees.
2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a small bowl. Rub lamb evenly with garlic mixture; place on a broiler pan coated with cooking spray. Bake at 475 degrees for 15 minutes or until a thermometer registers 145 degrees (medium-rare) to 160 degrees (medium). Garnish with rosemary sprigs if desired. Yield: 2 servings (serving size- 3ribs).

Friday, February 15, 2008

Molten Chocolate Surprise

As a cook, I look just about anywhere for a good recipes. As a mom, I like recipes that are easy. I usually make a variety of different types of recipes, some that are more time consuming than others. Yes, I am a stay at home mom so of course I am sure that many assume that I have time to make complex meals every night, but this is not the case. Anyway, I really like the Kraft Foods magazine. It is a free food magazine that arrives at my home every couple of months or so. It is free because it is, of course, an advertisement for Kraft foods. All of the recipes use at least one Kraft product, of course, you can always substitute for another product. This magazine is by no means gourmet. It is geared towards families and those who may be cooking for kids, but there are some nice, quick ideas in there.

A couple of nights ago, I made a dessert from the Kraft magazine, these little Chocolate Molten cakes. This was really a fun recipe to make! You start with a Chips Ahoy cookie in the bottom of a muffin cup and then cover it with a batter made of eggs, chocolate, butter, powdered sugar, and flour. As the cake bakes, it gets hard or solidifies at the edges and then slowly moves toward the center. Once the cakes are finished baking you invert them, take the cupcake liner off and this is what you have.
When you cut into it, you get this wonderful molten chocolate center! These cakes are not only fun to make, but they were delicious! Not to mention extremely easy! I think this recipe would be excellent for a potluck or family get together or even a wedding shower or baby shower. The only small problem I can, was that the cookies were a little big for by muffin pan, but I just shaved the edges of the cookies with a serrated knife.

The recipe is below. You can also get it by visiting the Kraft Foods website where you can also sign up for the free magazine or by visiting this link.

Molten Chocolate Surprise
by Kraft Foods

Prep Time:
15 min
Total Time:
28 min
1 doz. or 12 servings, one cake each
4 squares BAKER'S Semi-Sweet Baking Chocolate
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup flour
12 CHIPS AHOY! Real Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 cup thawed COOL WHIP Whipped Topping, if desired

PREHEAT oven to 425°F. Microwave chocolate and butter in large microwaveable bowl on HIGH 2 min. or until butter is melted. Stir with wire whisk until chocolate is completely melted and mixture is well blended. Beat whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar and flour with wire whisk until well blended. Gradually add to chocolate mixture, beating constantly until well blended.

LINE 12 medium muffin cups with paper liners; spray with cooking spray. Place 1 cookie, upside-down, on bottom of each cup; cover evenly with batter.

BAKE 8 min. or until cakes are firm around edges but still soft in centers. Let stand 1 min. Carefully remove cakes from muffin pan. Invert onto dessert dishes; remove paper liners. Serve with whipped topping if desired.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

History of Conversation Hearts

With Valentine's Day upon us, I thought it would be fun to post a short history on Valentine's Conversation hearts.

The Early American Colonists started the tradition of making homemade candies with love notes scratched into them. The New England Confectionary Company(Necco) expanded on this idea and created the conversation heart in the mid-1800s.

in 1860, Daniel Chase, brother of Necco founder Oliver Chase, invented the process to print motto candies. The candies were originally not in the shape of hearts, but in the shapes of cockles- small, scallop shaped candies wrpped in paper with sayings printed on the paper. In 1900, candies with sayings inscribed directly on them were invented, call Sweet Hearts. Originally the sayings were rather long, but over time they became shorter and more to the point, such as "Be Mine." Every year new saying are added to the candy mix.

Today, conversation hearts are one of the most popular Valentine's Day candy. They are especially popular with school children. This year, about 8 billion hearts will be produced. That's enough candy to stretch from Rome, Italy to Valentine, Arizona and back 20 times. The peak selling season of the conversation hearts only lasts about 6 weeks, but confectioners produce the candy for 11 months of the year!

I hope you enjoyed this brief history. This information is from the website www.candyusa.org/Candy/hearts.asp.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Chicken Piccata with Gnocchi

A few nights ago I made a Chicken Piccata recipe from Giada de Laurentis' book Everyday Italian and also available on the Food Network website. I served it over top of gnocchi. The piccata sauce is a very nice lemon sauce that went very well with the gnocchi. I used store bought gnocchi which was a bit too gooey. One of my next cooking adventures is going to be to make my own gnocchi. This is a great recipe and one of my favorites. I like it because it is easy and it really only takes about 20 to 30 minutes to make, which is great on a weeknight!

This is a great recipe and one you should definitely try!

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Crab and Ricotta Manicotti

Monday I wanted to make a dish that was a bit time consuming as my husband was home for MLK day and was able to watch our 9 month old. I was also looking for a recipe that would give us some leftovers that we could eat for lunch in the days to follow. I chose a Crab and Ricotta Manicotti recipe from Giada de Laurentis' book Everyday Pasta and can also be found on the Food Network website.

The recipe was fairly simple though a little time consuming because you have to make the Bechamel Sauce before anything else. However, as the book states , the sauce can be made a day or 2 in advance.

We enjoyed the creamy characteristics of this dish. I also liked that this manicotti is not heavy as your more tradional manicotti recipe. There was a nice crab to ricotta ratio in the filling. You get a nice amount of crab in every bite.

The only negative comments I would make about this recipe is, though I enjoyed the filling, I also felt that it fell a little flat. Granted this could be because I live in Columbus, Ohio and not in Maryland where I could get really fresh crabmeat. Or it could be that I am just not a big of Bechamel Sauce, I find it to be a little bland, unless there is something I am not doing correctly when I make it. Either way, I think the next time I make this recipe, and yes I will try it again, I am going to try adding a little spicy seafood seasoning to the filling. Also, the manicotti did not reheat as well as we would have liked, though I think this is more our error than the fault of the recipe. I should have known that crab may not be the best thing for leftovers.

All in all, we enjoyed this recipe. It really is pretty simple. I think if you really like crab, then you are going to love this!

Monday, January 21, 2008

A New Year, a New Blog!

I have decided to begin the new year a revamping of Reading Cuisine. This blog began as a blog devoted to reviewing restaurants primarily in the Central Ohio area and books. I have neglected the blog quite a bit this past year for many reasons. The most obvious reason is that I have an 8 month old son. It is sometimes difficult to get out and try new restaurants, and though I am still reading books, I am quite slow at finishing a book these days. What I am trying to say is I have not had enough material in the last year to write about.

The other reason I have neglected the blog and probably the more truthful reason is that I have just grown bored with the topic of books and restaurants. I still love reading and I still going out to eat, but writing about only these 2 topics has bored me recently. Therefore I am reformatting Reading Cuisine to what I hope will be a better and more interesting blog! I thought about scratching this blog and starting with something new, something fresh with a new name and everything, but after racking my brain over a name I realized that the name "Reading Cuisine" still fits into what I am trying to accomplish.

So now I am sure you are wondering what, exactly, do I plan on doing? Well I am changing to a blog that is about food, period. I have found myself cooking a lot more in the last year and something that I really enjoy! I plan on writing posts about things I have made, recipes I liked and posting the recipe. However, that is not all I plan on doing, because let's face it, that can get boring! I also plan on still keeping the restaurant part and will still do an occasion review about a restaurant. I also hope that this can be educational for my readers and I also plan on discussing different cooking techniques, tips, successes and failures I have had in the kitchen, food products or cooking utensils that I like, and I even plan on adding the occasional history of a particular food or dish, as I think it is interesting to learn the origins of dishes and cuisines. I also hope to have the occasional guest poster on topics like Beer pairing, Wine pairings, and other topics. I am by no means a professional cook or even a very experienced cook. I learned to cook my watching my mom and by trial and error. I believe that everyone can and should learn to cook and I hope that in sharing my own experience and little knowledge that I can help you become a cook, become a better cook, or maybe just entertain you for a few minutes each week!

I will always consider myself and my blog a work in progress so I always encourage feedback to help me be better. Thanks for stopping by! I hope you'll enjoy my blog!