Weekly Recipes: Sweet and Sour Chicken

This recipe has been a family favorite for 6 years and is, by far, one of my kids’ most requested dinners. I originally found this recipe on Pinterest, and it was labeled as a baked sweet and sour chicken. While it is technically baked to finish it off, the chicken still gets fried in a little oil first. So, nice try, internet, but this recipe is not super healthy. Mind you, it’s not deep-fried, so it likely still is much healthier than it would be if you’d ordered it as take-out from your favorite local Chinese restaurant.

Since sweet and sour chicken is just darn delicious and crave-worthy, I’d rather have a version in my arsenal that can satisfy and be a bit better for all of us. Over the years I’ve adjusted it to suit our family’s tastes more specifically, but have still linked the original recipe at the bottom of this post. I hope you enjoy!

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Yield: 4-6 servings

Chicken-
2-3 large chicken breasts
1 C cornstarch
4-5 eggs (my eggs vary in size, but if you buy extra-large you may need only 3)
sea salt and fresh pepper
olive oil

Sauce-
1 to 1 1/2 C sugar (to taste)
1/2 C Simply Heinz Ketchup
1 C distilled white vinegar
2 T soy sauce (Tamari lower-sodium recommended)
2 t garlic powder

Instructions:
Chicken-
Heat 1/4 C olive oil in a wide-bottom skillet. Cut chicken into small pieces then season with salt and pepper, tossing them to combine. Crack eggs into a small bowl or tupperware and beat well with a fork. Put cornstarch into another small bowl or tupperware. Dip the chicken into the cornstarch to coat well, then place dipped chicken into the egg mixture until well-coated. Gently place into hot oil, only as many pieces as will comfortably fit with room for turning. Cook for 1-2 minutes, until golden brown, then use tongs and turn the pieces over, cooking another 1-2 minutes. Remove pieces to an 8×11 inch baking pan.

Sauce-
Combine everything with a wire whisk until well blended.

Assembly & Baking-
Preheat the oven to 325. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Use tongs to turn chicken over in the sauce and bake another 30 minutes. Serve over steamed basmati rice.

Adapted from the Life in the Lofthouse.



Garden Progress & Weekly Meal Plan: The Raised Bed Garden Reveal!

As I write this I am sitting, still in my pajamas, on our sofa overlooking the back patio. The door is open and I can hear all of the birds and wildlife. Overnight we had gentle, rolling thunderstorms that has blanketed the garden in dewy raindrops, and the sun, hidden behind the remaining clouds for most of the early morning, is just now starting to play peek-a-boo.

Yesterday we had, as expected, a very busy day in the garden. Temperatures reached almost 80 degrees Fahrenheit here in Central Indiana and it was gloriously and unapologetically sunny. Most of the plants I’d ordered for the butterfly perennial garden had arrived, and a few others were at a local store for pick-up, so yesterday was one of those brilliantly satisfying gardening days. You know, the day when all of the digging and wheelbarrowing you’ve done pays off in a big way; the kind of day when you start a day off with one view, and end with an entirely different one.

We’re still missing a few structural plants, such as boxwoods, and I haven’t gotten my spring bulbs in yet, but the bones are there. It’ll take time to grow-up, of course, but we are patient. The color palette is a mixture of soft purples and pinks with a few bright bursts of yellow and white, offset by green foliage in various textures and heights. Most plants in this border are either a butterfly/bee attractor, a medicinal herb, a tea-garden herb, or a culinary herb. I have a variety of spring and fall bulbs to fill-in gaps, and I will no doubt have too many plants for the space in a year or two, but can happily take some out and move them around the rest of the garden. That’s the utter joy of cottage-style planting.

We planted Fragrant Lavender Hedge Roses near the path and eating area, and are training an Amethyst Falls Wisteria to climb the pergola. Amethyst Falls has the same beautiful fragrant blooms as other wisterias but with a smaller footprint and a more controllable climb, making it perfect for this spot. We would love to keep the burning bush in the middle of the bed, but even after a good pruning he’s a little big. He may have to get transplanted to another bed. Two boxwood hedges will tuck in to the bare spots, mimicking the alignment on the other side of the path, and a meadow sage sits happily at the front with other perennials such as asters and daisies.

On the other side of the path is a Buddleia Buzz Skyblue butterfly bush, that, like it’s neighbors across the path, features a smaller footprint than other buddleias, making it easier to fit into our smaller border. The border is given structure by two varieties of boxwood hedges that will grow at different heights and mounding types through the center, allowing the long grasses, such as Mexican Feather and Lucerne Blue-Eyed to blow gently around them, and the perennials–purple and honeydew coneflowers, bee balms, and a happy mixture of bulbs I’ll describe in a later post–will pop in and out of the picture.

In the raised beds we have the Mediterranean herb bed at the front, in the sunniest spot. This bed features an almost 50-50 blend of pea gravel (what the Brits would call “horticultural grit”) and topsoil very lightly enriched with compost. Most Mediterranean herbs grow in rocky, poor soil with good drainage and a lot of sun, so it’s best to try to mimic those conditions in the garden. So far we have lavender, thyme, rosemary, marjoram, tarragon, and oregano. I plan to add a cooking sage (as opposed to the meadow sage in the perennial bed), and I’d love to get my hands on some winter savory, though I’m having a hard time finding seeds or starts. Oddly enough, basil will actually be happy near its tomato companions, and so I won’t include it in this bed, and I also sow cilantro/coriander and italian parsley in rows for a continual harvest, and have found those tolerate a richer, loamier soil so long as it has good drainage (which a raised bed does). I have also omitted mint, though I have several varieties, because those will be best kept in a pot to control their growth, as they tend to spread and take over. Other herbs I could add into this garden would be fennel, which I still might, and bay (though that tends to grow well as a small tree in a container if you can bring it indoors during winter).

The second raised bed is a second herb garden that has a topsoil/compost blend. It has two rows of cilantro/coriander and italian parsley, and then also features chives, lemon verbena, patchouli, and catnip. I’ve placed dill and chamomile in the perennial bed just below the raised bed, and have yet to get lemon balms and bee balms in the ground. Dill, fennel, and lemon balm all can get quite large, so I am trying them in the border. If they don’t do well, next year I’ll move them into the raised beds. I have space leftover in this bed right now and will find something, I’m sure, to fill it.

The third raised bed is the least filled as of yet. It has two cucumbers starting to poke-up at the back. This bed will feature our “kitchen garden” selection for easy grabbing while cooking–cucumbers, cherry/grape tomatoes, a pepper plant or two, and basil.

The final raised bed is our spring garden bed. It is sheltered from the heat of the afternoon sun, but gets ample morning light, which helps extend the season for spring crops such as peas and broccoli, and keeps our lettuces and other greens happy. Presently we have arugula/rocket, radishes, a small romaine-style head lettuce, spinach, and broccoli. Our peas are still under the grow light at the shop, but will be moved over to the homestead and planted out next weekend.

We have some odds and ends yet to do to have this new garden area be completely finished. I have to finish the edging all the way around, there’s still some staining on the pergola, and our brick edgers around our patio are still being set. In addition, we have our sights on the very old, not well-loved holly we inherited when we moved in. Given the formal structure of the raised beds, your eye goes straight to it as a focal point at the end of the garden, so we’d love to put a little more effort into that area. That may come next year, though. And, we are still on the hunt for a hot tub, but aren’t really wanting to spend a lot of money on one, so that may not happen this year (though I know the kids are hopeful). Each good deal we’ve encountered on Facebook Marketplace has featured a hot tub that is simply too large for our small space. We really only have room for a 3-4 person at most. If I had room for a 6-8 person hot tub, we’d already have one.

Next week is my birthday and Mother’s Day, and so we are ready to turn our attention to the main garden. It will get another good load of compost and we’ll be ready to start planting. Brian has a wonderful idea for the new fence, and we’re hoping he’ll do an arbor, as we have a climbing rose and clematis ready to go in that will help bring visual continuity to the two garden areas and also help attract pollinators to the fruit.

Not only is it my birthday, but it’s also May the 4th (be with you) and Cinco de Mayo. I have a surprise planned on May the 4th for the kids (so look for a post about that), and Mexican food is my absolute favorite kind of food, so despite not being of Mexican heritage, we like to celebrate a little by cooking and eating Mexican food (so delicious). I’ve got an easy meal planned for my birthday because–hey, it’s my birthday and I don’t want to have to cook something elaborate–and then for Mother’s Day I’ve planned an elaborate and hearty afternoon tea on the back patio. Here’s the rundown:

Weekly Meal Plan:
Monday = “Mama Melrose’s” — mozzarella sticks, italian-style salads, spring pea pasta
Tuesday = cilantro-lime chicken tacos, black beans, rice
Wednesday = tomato soup and BLTs
Thursday = leftovers
Friday = steak on the grill, sweet potato mash, big fat salads, cupcakes
Saturday = leftovers or maybe pizza?
Sunday = Mother’s Day tea — tea (obviously), chicken salad sandwiches, cucumber sandwiches, cheese and jam sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jam, bakewell tarts, and some kind of delicious cake (victoria sponge? lemon? strawberry-rose?). Dinner much later, after our afternoon tea — Santa Fe Salad.

Throw Back Thursday: Summery Ground Turkey Stroganoff

5/05/2013

Summery Ground Turkey Stroganoff

Ah Sunday dinner, that somewhat bygone tradition from yester-year, and one this family is trying to bring back.  You know Sunday Dinner, right? Cloth napkins, nice plates, candles, and a big family-style feast?  A time for everyone to reflect on the weekend, to talk about the upcoming week, and to spend one last family bonding moment before the hectic ways of modern life begin once more on Monday, where dinners may not be eaten all at once around the table, and where everyone may not even eat the same thing.

Yes.  So we’ve been bringing the Sunday dinner back – whether it’s here just the four of us or with my parents.  It’s a nice tradition, one that further grounds my kids to something more solid in life.  And that always makes me happy. 🙂

So, it’s Sunday evening right now, and as it happens, we just finished Sunday dinner.  Liam is presently and rather incessantly asking me for an apple, Chloe is outside riding her bike, and Brian is putting the finishing touches on our composter (FINALLY!! YAY!!).  I have cleaned the kitchen and put the food away and have found myself with a block of free time.

And here we are. 🙂  This recipe was yummy enough to share:

It’s turkey stroganoff! Stroganoff was all the rage in the 50s and 60s, then kind of faded away until Hamburger Helper picked it up in the 80s in box form.

Stroganoff is a very unpleasant food memory for me, so unpleasant that I only consumed it that ONE TIME, and indeed, it was the Hamburger Helper version of so many 90’s kids’ households. Suffice to say, it is not unpleasant because I didn’t like the taste. You can fill in the blanks, if you dare.

Alas, tonight I realized I had some nice mushrooms on their last legs and some fresh dill about to expire.  What’s a girl to do but decide to tackle her worst food memory and try to overcome it?

And overcome it I did!!  I googled several recipes, then pulled ingredients from other dishes of mine I enjoy with mushrooms, and voila! Eureka! An absolutely delicious stroganoff was made, and no one got sick.  Win!  Chloe liked it, Liam ate the noodles (which is why he wants an apple), and Brian and I pronounced it good enough to make again (which doesn’t always happen in this house). 🙂

I steered clear of the overly rich and heavy flavors of traditional stroganoff and took a lighter approach.  The result is something Brian labeled “summery,” so that’s the term we’ll go with. 🙂

Summery Ground Turkey Stroganoff
Yield: about 6 servings

1 1/2 pounds lean ground turkey
1/2 very large sweet onion, sliced thin
8 ounces of portabello mushroom caps, sliced thin
2 cloves garlic, chopped
3 T olive oil
3 T flour
2 t sea salt
1 t black pepper
1/2 t white pepper
2 T brandy
1 T dijon mustard
2 T worcestershire sauce
2 T soy sauce
1 T lemon juice
1 1/2 C beef stock or water
1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C cream cheese

2 C uncooked wide egg noodles
4 T salted butter
2 T chopped fresh dill
2 T chopped green onions

Heat the olive oil and butter in a wide and deep skillet over medium heat.  Add the onions and mushrooms and cook until soft.  Add the ground turkey and season with the sea salt and both peppers.  Cook until turkey is done.  Add the garlic and the brandy to deglaze the pan.  Let the brandy cook out.  Add the flour and stir it around the pan for 30 seconds, then add the beef stock and stir.  Add the dijon mustard, worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, and lemon juice.  Let this mixture bubble about 10 to 15 minutes, stirring, to let it thicken and let the starchy flavor of the flour cook out.  Stir in the sour cream and cream cheese.

Meanwhile, heat a pot of salted water to boiling.  Add the egg noodles and cook 5 to 6 minutes, just to al dente.  Drain well.  While draining, melt 4 T of butter in the pot.  Add the noddles and toss it all around, then add the fresh dill and green onions and stir well.

Serve the noodles under the stroganoff.  Garnish with  more chopped dill, if desired.

Weekly Recipes: Lemon Honey Chicken with Herb and Butter Noodles

Growing up one of my favorite meals my mother made was called Lime-Grilled Chicken, and believe it or not, it was a very old Weight Watchers recipe from the 1980’s. Chicken marinated in a heck of a lot of lime juice, a smashed clove of garlic, grilled, and topped with honey-butter (though I’m certain it was margarine in those days) – what’s not to like?

When I had my restaurant, I created a version of her chicken I titled Citrus-Honey Chicken, and that is actually what I served to guests at Brian and mine’s wedding (our reception was at my restaurant, naturally). Lime was still in there, but so was pineapple and orange.

Eventually that evolved again and I made a Tropical-Honey Chicken with mango and passion fruit flavors. Truly, the possibilities for fruit here are endless.

Today, in honor of my beautiful Meyer lemon tree I just had the pleasure of receiving (dream come true!), we’re making Lemon-Honey Chicken. Same method. Different citrus. Still delicious.

What is going on inside my living room? Ignore the far right edge of the photo please. 😉

You can mix-up the sides, naturally, but honestly, the reason I served this at our wedding is because this was one of the first meals I ever cooked for Brian. He ate everything on his plate, went back for seconds, and pronounced it, “the perfect meal.” Why mess with perfection?

Lemon-Honey Chicken
Yield: 6 servings

3 chicken breasts, 6-8 ounces each
sea salt and fresh pepper

Marinade-
1/4 C olive oil
1/2 C meyer lemon juice
1 T meyer lemon zest
3 cloves garlic, smashed open
2 T honey

Honey Sauce-
4 T melted butter
1/4 C honey (to taste)
1 T lemon juice
1/2 t lemon zest (optional)

Instructions:
Marinade-
Combine all ingredients with a wire whisk in a glass bowl large enough to accommodate the chicken breasts.

Chicken-
Your goal is to make 6 normal portions of chicken out of 3 supermarket sized breasts, which are usually larger than portion-size. To do this, halve the chicken in butterfly-fashion by cutting evenly across the middle of it lengthwise so that you can get two distinct breasts. You aren’t cutting slices across the top, but rather holding the top of it with the palm of your hand and running the knife underneath your hand evenly between the top and bottom portion of the chicken. This will give you two even breasts. Place your breasts into the marinade. Cover and refrigerate several hours, or overnight.

Honey Sauce-
Make the sauce while the chicken cooks by melting the butter in a pan, adding the honey and lemon juice, and whisking until well-combined.

Assembly & Cooking-
I recommend grilling the chicken, though in a pinch you can place it under the broiler of an oven. Cook until chicken is fully cooked. Serve with herb and butter noodles, steamed peas, and honey sauce for drizzling.

Herb and Butter Noodles
Yield: 6 servings

1/2 pound noodle of choice, I’ve used everything from thin spaghetti to egg noodles
4 T salted butter
3 green onions, chopped or 1 t dried chives
2 T fresh tarragon or about 2 t dried
3 T fresh italian flat-leaf parsley or about 3 t dried
sea salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:
Prepare noodles in boiling salted water, drain.  Set aside. Meanwhile, melt butter in skillet over medium-high heat.  Let brown slightly, just about 1 to 2 minutes.  Add fresh chopped parsley, tarragon and green onions and cook 1 minute.  Add cooked noodles, season, and toss to combine. I will often drizzle the honey-sauce over my noodles, too.

The last bit to this perfect meal is simple steamed, buttered peas.

Weekly Recipes: Refried Bean Burritos and Spaghetti

My family knows I absolutely love rice and beans; truly, it’s pretty much my favorite meal (stay tuned for my birthday meal!). My family tolerates this love, and even participates to a certain degree, though with varying degrees of enthusiasm based on person or bean-type. Baked beans are an adult-only delicacy (which I don’t understand because baked beans are amazing), black beans are tolerated as long as they come with plain, steamed white basmati rice. Refried beans, which for years had been side-lined as “utterly gross,” and “inedible” by my children, have been allowed back into the mix. Chloe really likes them mixed into a burrito. Liam tolerates a very small amount of them in his mainly rice and cheese burrito. Brian and I feast on the leftovers for easy lunches the rest of the week, so I call that a win.

Refried Bean Burritos
Yield: about 6 burritos

Beans-
1 C dried pinto beans
1/2 large sweet onion
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and diced
1 t smoked paprika
1 t cumin
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 t sea salt
1 t black pepper
3 1/2 – 4 C water
olive oil

Rice-
olive oil
1 C basmati rice
1/2 sweet onion, diced
1/2 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 jalapeno, seeded and diced
4 ounces tomato paste
1/2 t sugar
1 t ground cumin
1/4 t ground oregano
sea salt and pepper
2 C water

Burrito-
burrito-sized flour tortillas, warmed in a foil packet
cheese of choice
salsa (optional)
sour cream (optional)
guacamole (optional)

Instructions:

Beans-
In the Instant Pot, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil. Add the onions and soften for 3-5 minutes. Add the garlic, jalapeno, and spices and saute for 30 seconds. Turn off the saute function. Add the beans and water. Cook on Manual using medium pressure for 15 minutes. Let the pressure release naturally, or carefully release it, and use the slow-cooker function to keep beans going as long as you’d like. I like to do this in the morning and then circle back to them in the evening, but you don’t have to do this step. The beans should be cooked fully.

Using an immersion blender, blend the beans until they’re pasty. If it’s too liquidy for your taste, you can turn the saute function back on again and cock the lid askew and cook them down a little for 10-15 minutes.

Rice-
In a wide-bottomed skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Saute the onions and green bell peppers for 5 minutes. Add the jalapenos and garlic and rice and saute another 5 minutes, turning with a wooden spoon or spatula to keep the rice to brown and to keep the garlic from burning. Add the seasonings and turn to combine. Then add the tomato paste and water, stirring to dissipate the tomato paste. Cover and let simmer 20 minutes over medium-low heat, until rice is cooked through. If desired, you can stir some frozen corn in when rice is done and let set, covered, off the heat for a few minutes to thaw.

Assembly-
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Make a foil packet large enough to hold your flour tortillas. Sprinkle a little water onto the tortillas and seal in the packet. Heat in the oven 5 minutes. This will steam them up and make them pliable and delicious. Remove the steaming tortillas and fill: first rice, then beans, then toppings of choice. Seal-up by folding the tortilla up and over the fillings, tucking it a little with your fingertips under the toppings, then folding in the sides as you roll over and up. You may eat it now, or for added deliciousness, place the burrito back in the foil and heat 2 minutes, until cheese is extra melted.

Ah spaghetti. It’s a classic, and one I’ve made and tweaked a lot over the years as nutritional needs and tastes have evolved. For a few years I relished in making a “hidden veggie” version, where I would jam as many vegetables–carrots, celery, bell peppers, mushrooms, and spinach–into the pot as I could, simmer it all down with the sauce, and then puree it all with an immersion blender. This was very handy when the kids were young and going through that phase where they’re suspicious of all vegetables except cucumbers. Now that they’re older, they love vegetables and eat a lot of them, so I find I’m able to focus my efforts on a more traditional red sauce. I like this one because it’s made rich by the addition of plenty of wine (you can add even more than the recipe calls for if you’ve got a bottle on its last legs that needs using). I no longer puree the sauce smooth, either, preferring the chunks for more texture, but you can certainly still do that if you have picky eaters hoping for a more commercial-style sauce.

I recommend Cento brand tomatoes because they’re the best-tasting store-bought canned variety I’ve found, but they are expensive. Sometimes this is alright (say for a special occasion meal), but other times spaghetti should be a cheap and accessible meal. Get whatever canned tomatoes you like. Often, when there’s been a good garden year, these are my own home-canned tomatoes. I can’t wait to get canning for this year!

Spaghetti
Yield: 8-10 servings

Sauce-
olive oil
1 sweet onion, diced small
3 stalks celery, diced small
2 carrots, diced small
1/2 green bell pepper, diced small
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 28 ounce cans whole tomatoes (recommend Cento brand)
1 14 ounce can tomato sauce (recommend Cento brand)
1 6 ounce can tomato paste (recommend Cento brand)
1 C red wine
1/2 T dried parsley
1/2 T dried oregano
1/2 T dried basil
1 t dried marjoram
1/2 t ground fennel
1/2 t ground rosemary
2 bay leaves
a pinch of crushed red pepper
1/4 C sugar
sea salt and pepper

Others-
pasta of your choice, just remember to lightly salt the water
grated cheese of your choice for topping

Garlic Bread

Instructions:
Sauce-
Heat a few turns of the pan of olive oil in a large stock pot over medium heat. Saute all of the vegetables up to the garlic 3-5 minutes, until soft, seasoning lightly with salt and pepper. Add the garlic and all of the seasonings except sugar, and saute for 1 minute. Add everything else. Cover. Bring it all to a low boil and immediately reduce the heat to a gentle simmer on low heat. Simmer covered for at least 1 hour (though I often let this go all day in the slow-cooker). Remove cover and, using the back of a wooden spoon, break-up the whole tomatoes by scooting them to the side of the pan and pressing gently until they “pop.” Keep cover removed and simmer another 30 minutes, letting it thicken slightly. Remove bay leaves and stir.

Assembly-
Cook pasta until al dente in salted water, about 6 minutes (usually a minute or so less than the package states). Drain and, if waiting to serve, drizzle a little olive oil over the noddles and toss with tongs to coat to keep them from sticking together. Ladle the sauce over the noodles, top with grated parmesan cheese (if desired) and garlic bread (optional).

Garden Progress and the Weekly Meal Plan: April 27 – May 3rd

It’s been a rainy Sunday morning, which has created a very welcome lazy mood here at the Homestead. The kids are out hunting for morel mushrooms in the forest after a morning spent tending their Minecraft homesteads (they each have their own virtual homesteads with gardens and maker spaces and I am so tickled about it). Brian and I are on our second cup of coffee. We’ve tinkered with the to-do list and the garden plan, but the sun is starting to peek out, so we’ll likely get to work here shortly.

Speaking of work, yesterday we were so busy doing work I didn’t have time to do a garden update post, so I’m combining it with the weekly meal plan post today. We shoveled out and wheelbarrow-ed around two full truckloads of compost: one for our new butterfly and perennial garden and another for the raised bed garden we bought for my parents, who are first-time vegetable gardeners. It’s a 12×4 raised bed, so is deceptively large. It took the full truck load and, frankly, could have used two or three more wheelbarrows to top it off. They’ll be able to grow a good amount without it feeling overwhelming, and knowing they have source of fresh produce during all of the chaos of the world right now makes me feel better.

Chloe and Liam helped us shovel and fill the wheelbarrow for both truckloads and I was so proud of their ability to stick with it. It was hard, dirty work, and I’m glad they’re learning how much manual labor and planning goes in to a successful garden. They were far too young when we put in the main garden to be aware of anything, and since then have only benefited from the rewards of all of this hard work each season–the delicious food.

The perennial bed will need a little leaf mould forked in at planting time to help with drainage, but should be ready to receive the abundance of flowers and herbs I’ve got planned. The bed will be a cottage-style border, but will retain some structural shrubs for year-round interest, and should make a striking visual transition between lawn and the more formal raised bed garden area. I hope to provide ample food for bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies, as well as sprinkle in a few medicinal and tea herbs, mainly ones that I can’t squeeze in to the Mediterranean herb raised bed and/or cannot not expect to share the rich-soil of the other herb raised bed (but more on those two beds next week).

We will need at least one more load of compost for planting and mulching over as the season progresses because our own compost heap is not substantial enough for our expanded space (plans to make it substantial enough are in the works) but I do believe we’re nearing the end of unloading truckloads of things, which is very welcome, though my core is feeling a welcome burn from all the wheelbarrow-ing. 🙂

During the week, I worked on mainly cosmetic improvements such as staining and re-arranging on the patio. We were able to enjoy our first patio cup of coffee, which is our favorite spring, summer, and fall tradition. It just makes every morning a little bit better to be outside. But I did start more seeds in the greenhouse and the kids helped me plant-out some lettuce in our spring garden raised bed (so named because it will get some shade during the heat of the day, which will be good for more tender, cool-weather plants). This bed will be filled primarily with different lettuces, spinach, and arugula, but will also be home to our crop of peas for the year, which I’m hopeful do well in this location. They have always produced fairly well in the main garden, but for a very short time given how much sun the main garden gets (and heat, which gets trapped by the wall of forest and the house and seems to settle right on the garden. It’s marvelous for tomatoes, peppers, and chili’s, but less so for anything remotely tender). It’s an experiment and we won’t know the results until it’ll be too late to do anything about it this season, but that’s part of gardening–trial and error.

In just a few weeks we’ll be planting out everything else, and I can’t wait to begin the more restful garden work of weeding, pruning, mulching, and picking. I’ve already planned the menu for the biggest week of the year: May the 4th (be with you), Cinco de Mayo, my birthday, Mother’s Day, and Planting All the Things. Stay tuned for next week’s Weekly Meal post to hear more about that. 🙂

On the menu this week is more stuff I can make mostly with what we have on hand. I also placed an order through Market Wagon for some produce, so that should help. I told Brian that once we get our garden growing, thanks to the investment in infrastructure we’ve made this spring, the engine of the garden doesn’t have to stop. We can have our own fresh produce year-round now in a lovely cycle of harvest, propagation and/or starting seeds, greenhouse, and back again. It’s going to be glorious.

The Weekly Meal Plan:

Monday – roasted red pepper and sun-dried tomato pasta
Tuesday – meatloaf, mac n cheese, and peas
Wednesday – sweet n sour chicken
Thursday – spring minestrone soup and homemade rolls
Friday – burgers, baked beans, and homemade french fries
Saturday – leftovers
Sunday – salad bar night

Throwback Thursday: Sweet Potato and Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

4/21/2015

Sweet Potato and Turkey Shepherds Pie and About That Long Absence….

Another long hiatus from blogging, it would seem. And while I can’t guarantee this post is the start of a new, more frequent blogging trend, I *can* tell you with some certainty that I think the valley I’ve been walking through for some time is finally ending.

I’m not going to lie: this past year was hard. There have been a lot of breakthroughs, a lot of light, a lot of love, but in it, at the core of it all, was healing. And healing, if its true, always seems to make more hurt at the outset.

I still tap out my thoughts every now and again in a book. Perhaps one day I’ll publish it, for most of them are not thoughts I want to delve too deeply with here. But for now, let me tell you that most recently I learned that I had begun to guard my heart in an unhealthy way, as if by building up a wall around parts of it I could keep out more pain. It’s something I’ve never done before, as I’ve always shared and given freely of myself, even when it hurt me.

But this part of my heart I had been guarding had to do with Chloe. It’s hard for a mother to admit, but I was, with the help of our therapist, finally able to admit to myself that what Chloe and I have gone through these past four years was painful for me. I kept pushing it down, because I worried that focusing on what it did to me would take away what it was doing to her and how I could help her. And for awhile that was true. I had to hone in and use every ounce of my intuition to chase every possible answer and soothe in any way I could.

But once the answers started coming. And the professionals.  And she started kindergarten. I was left with a shocking emptiness filled only with painful memories. I felt cheated – robbed, really – of all the fun things I’d wanted to do with her while she was in preschool. Things we couldn’t do because of her issues. I felt exhausted, just worn so thin from the fight of it all, that it rubbed me raw. I felt isolated. So very alone in this painful emptiness. And then the bitterness set in and became a poor bedfellow.

And the worst part was that, because Brian and I, while both incredibly strong, are also incredibly different in our strengths, we have disagreed on how best to handle and help Chloe through all of this. And that disagreement gave birth to anxiety, stress, fear, anger, frustration, and hurt.

Recently I had to learn to let go of that wall around the big Chloe section of my heart. I didn’t want to. I fought tooth and nail to keep it, in fact. And tearing down that wall was, in a lot of ways, the absolute most painful thing I have ever had to do. In the end, it felt like I ripped out that part of my heart and offered it up on a silver platter.

Yet in tearing down those walls, I gained healing. And I know that was part of God’s desire in this all along. I can look back on Chloe’s preschool years and find the happy and the joy, I can see past the pain to all the good it has brought to us. And I can be, for the first time ever, thankful for this journey. I would not be the mother I am, and she would not be the kind, compassionate, amazing little girl she is, without it.

And because I was healing and hurting, my husband – my amazing and strong husband – finally got to see past his own frustration at being unable to “fix” my feelings for me, and unable to “fix” Chloe’s problems for her, and instead for the first time really started to try to understand it all. And in doing that, we healed years of communication struggles between us.

So here I am! Unguarded. Free. Healed. Whole. Loved and Loving. And I’m ready to write about our journey again.

On a brief bit of news, we have re-done Chloe’s bedroom now, having taken a brief hiatus from finishing our entire home remodel (yes the kitchen remodel became “let’s remodel the entire house all at once), so I will write a reveal post about that soon. And, believe it or not, we are coming to a close on the bulk of the remodel shortly and I can actually reveal that soon, as well.

But for now, a recipe. I continue to cook predominantly dairy-free, unless it’s a meal made special for just Brian and I, and this one is no exception.

Over the weekend it was rainy and gloomy, and we had been working ourselves ragged trying to finish-up the pantry, and so on a whim, I just decided we needed some good old-fashioned comfort food. And it was delicious. So delicious Brian had seconds. 🙂

Turkey and Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie:
Yield: 1 8×10 inch baking pan – enough for at least 6
Filling:
2 T olive oil
1 pound lean ground turkey
1 sweet onion, diced
6 medium cloves of garlic, minced
4 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 stalks celery, diced
1/2 C cut frozen green beans
1/2 C frozen peas
1 1/2 to 2 t sea salt (to taste)
1 t black pepper
1/4 to 1/2 t crushed red pepper (to taste)
1 t ground rosemary
1/2 C balsamic vinegar
4 ounces tomato paste
1 T worcestershire sauce
3 T brown sugar

Mash:
1 very large sweet potato, peeled and quartered
3 to 4 medium to large russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
4 to 5 green onions, green part only diced
1/4 C Earth Balance Soy-Free Vegan Buttery Spread*
1/4 C plain unsweetened coconut milk*
1/2 t white pepper
1 t sea salt
1/2 t black pepper

*You can eliminate both of these for a good chicken or vegetable stock if that’s your preference. Or, of course, you can also use real butter and real milk if you don’t need it to be dairy-free. 🙂

For the Filling: heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add all the diced raw vegetables (but not the frozen ones) and cook until nearly soft. Add the meat and all the seasonings (salt, both peppers, and the rosemary) and cook until the meat is nearly done. Add the green beans, peas, vinegar, tomato paste, worcestershire sauce, and brown sugar. Cook until all the green beans have softened a bit – about 4 or 5 minutes.

For the Mash: Add the potatoes to a pot of salted water and bring it to a boil. Boil for 10 to 15 minutes, until very fork tender (you don’t want a stiff mash for shepherd’s pie). Drain in a colander and return the potatoes to the hot pan over the hot burner for 30 seconds to finish evaporating any lingering water. Remove the hot pan to a heating pad. Add the green onions, butter, milk, and seasonings, and mash with the beaters of an electric mixer not turned on until it’s almost fully mashed. Then turn the beaters on and whip it until fluffy. Yes, even if you prefer lumps in your mashed potatoes, for shepherd’s pie – trust me – you need them to be whipped. They should also be lighter than what you’ want for plain old mashed potatoes. We’ll get to the why of that.

To Assemble: Dump the filling into the bottom of a glass baking dish. And here comes the special part: Add the potatoes to an empty pastry bag with no tip fitted. Squeeze bursts of potatoes out into blobs, similar to a cupcake, on top of the filling in rows. It’s great if you have little ice-cream-swirl-like tips on the top. The more the merrier. If you don’t have a pastry bag, take a rubber spatula and just kind of frost it on the top and make some spikes, kind of like frosting a messy cake. Then you’re going to stick this whole thing under the broiler on high for a good 5 to 10 minutes – until those little spikes start to brown and the filling bubbles a bit. This will make it delightfully crisp yet soft, the perfect texture. 🙂 Serve immediately and enjoy!!

Weekly Recipes: Italian and Ground Turkey Hobo Dinners

Italian Hobo Dinner
Yield: 6 servings

2 packages turkey smoked sausage
1 sweet onion, sliced thin
1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 red bell pepper, sliced into strips
4 sundried tomatoes in oil, sliced into strips
1 14 ounce can cannellini (white kidney) beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 recipe zesty italian dressing (recipe below)
3 T tomato paste
1/2 to 1 t sea salt (to taste)
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t dried ground rosemary
1 t dried basil
1 t dried parsley
dash crushed red pepper
freshly grated parmesan cheese for topping (optional)
garlic bread for serving (optional) (recipe below)

Zesty Italian Salad Dressing
Yield: 1 cup

1/4 C red wine vinegar
1/3 C water
1 t lemon juice
1/4 C sugar
1 T red bell pepper, finely minced
1 T sweet onion, finely minced
1 t fresh garlic, finely minced
1 t ground oregano
1 t dried basil
sea salt and pepper
about 1/3 C olive oil

Garlic Bread
Yield: enough for 8 servings

1 baguette, homemade or otherwise
about 1/3 C olive oil
sea salt and freshly cracked pepper
1 garlic clove, split

Instructions:
Dressing-
In a blender, add a piece of red bell pepper, onion, and garlic, then stop with everything else but the olive oil. Let the blender run, finely chopping the peppers and onions. At the end, open the pour spout and drizzle in the olive oil while the motor runs. Remove and store half in a container for up to 2 weeks in the fridge.

Assembly & Baking-
Preheat the oven to 375. In a mixing bowl, combine everything but the parmesan cheese and garlic bread and mix thoroughly. Spill out onto a baking sheet (you can place foil down, if you like) and then wrap foil to around the top, crimping the edges to seal. Bake sealed in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour. Remove the pan, carefully remove the foil, and let cool slightly. Serve with a spoon, including some of the tasty liquid into each portion, and top with parmesan cheese, if desired, and garlic bread to help mop-up the liquid.


Ground Turkey Hobo Dinner
Yield: 6 servings

Turkey Patty-
1 pound ground turkey
1/4 t sea salt
1/4 t fresh ground pepper
1/4 t garlic powder
2 T lemon juice (this helps the ground turkey stay moist)
1/4 t ground porcini mushroom powder (to add the savory umami flavor of beef)
1 T worcestershire sauce

Vegetables-
1 sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into cubes
1 russet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 sweet onion, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into cubes
1/2 C green onions, chopped
1 T dried parsley
1/2 to 1 t sea salt (to taste)
1/2 t fresh ground pepper
1/4 t ground white pepper
2 T olive oil
2 T butter, cut into cubes for dotting over the top

Instructions:
Vegetables-
Assemble everything in a mixing bowl up to the butter, and mix until thoroughly combined. Spill out onto a baking sheet (you can place foil underneath to form a packet, if you like).

Ground Turkey Patty-
Combine everything in a separate mixing bowl until well mixed. Use palm-sized amounts to form into a ball, then slap between your palms to form flat patties. You should get about 6.

Assembly & Baking-
Place the formed patties onto the prepared vegetables on the baking sheet. Dot the top lightly with small pats of butter all over. Season one last time lightly with sea salt and pepper, and then seal the foil over everything. Bake at 375 for 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and carefully remove foil. Serve with buttered rolls or bread.

Weekly Recipes: Pizza Night and Spring Pea Pasta

Happy Monday lovely people! I don’t want to spend too much time prefacing my recipe posts because, frankly, I find that super annoying on most blogs. *scrolling* *scrolling* *where’s the &*$# recipe?* You’ll find family story tidbits in the Weekly Meal Plan posts, and garden tidbits in garden posts. If I have something poignant to say, or a cute story to share, I may from time-to-time do that in recipe posts, but I promise to keep it brief.

To that end-here we go! We are big pizza fans in my household. We are under quarantine. While we can order delivery pizza, we all have conflicting feelings for lots of very good reasons ranging from ideological to economical. So, what’s a family to do that’s craving that delivery-style pie? Make it, of course! I love making pizzas and used to make them all the time. They were even a staple and diner-favorite on my old restaurant menu (though those pizzas were decidedly much fancier than these). If you’re missing delivery pizza, then this recipe nails our favorite local place. It makes for a fun Friday family movie or board game night. 🙂

Now, onto the food!

Homemade Delivery-Style Pizza
Yield: 2 large pizzas

Crust-
1/3 C olive oil
1 1/2 t sea salt
1 1/2 T sugar
1 1/2 T active dry yeast
1 1/2 C lukewarm water (about 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
about 4 C flour

Garlic Butter-
1/2 C salted butter
2-3 cloves garlic, minced

Sauce-
2 14 ounce cans fire-roasted diced tomatoes (preferred but regular works, as well)
1 14 ounce can tomato sauce
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t dried oregano
2 t dried basil
1/2 t dried ground rosemary
2 T sugar
1/4 t sea salt
1/2 t black pepper
dash crushed red pepper

Toppings-
mozzarella cheese
any other cheese you like
pepperoni
and more!

Instructions:

Crust-
Heat water to 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit. Pour into a glass measuring cup and add sugar and yeast. Let set for 5 minutes, or until foamy.

Meanwhile, in the bowl of a stand mixer, add the olive oil and sea salt. When yeast is ready, add to the bowl and mix in half the flour, using a rubber spatula (you can use the paddle, but the rubber spatula is just as simple for a quick mix and is easier to clean). When that’s incorporated, add the remaining flour, a cup at a time (you may need even more, depending on what flour you use), kneading it until the dough comes away from the sides and bottom of the bowl, but is still somewhat tacky to the touch.

Turn into a lightly oiled bowl and let rise, covered, at least 1 hour, or until doubled in size.

Punch down and use a rolling pin on a lightly floured surface to shape the dough. I do large ovals to fit into a rectangular baking sheet. You want about 1/4 inch thickness for a pan-style pizza crust, a little less for a thin-style pizza crust. Lightly oil the baking sheet and roll-up the crust onto the rolling pin to easily transfer it to the pan. Roll-up the edges of the crust to form the circular edge and pinch the seam down a little with a thumb or index finder. Prick the inner area of the crust with a fork several times to allow air bubbles to escape. Cover again and let rise slightly again, about 20 minutes.

Garlic Butter-
Melt the butter in a small skillet. Add the minced garlic and let saute 30 seconds. Remove from heat.

Sauce-
Combine everything into a bowl and set aside.

Assembly and Baking-
Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake the crust until almost done, about 10-15 minutes. If the center is not cooking to your desired crispiness, when it’s well-set you can remove it from the baking sheet and set it directly on the rack for a few minutes.

Remove from the oven and, using a pastry brush, brush the crust all over with the garlic butter. Sprinkle a little bit of sea salt and pepper over the garlic butter after you’ve brushed it on. Add your sauce to your desired level. Top with cheese and toppings of your choice.

Turn the oven onto broil on the high setting. Place the topped pizza into the oven and let broil for 2-3 minutes, then rotate it around and let it go another few minutes. Try not to let the crust burn. If this happens, you can move the pizza to the lower rack and reduce the broiler. You can also turn the oven off at a certain point and let the residual heat finish melting the cheese. You want melty, bubbly cheese and crackling pepperoni without, hopefully, overly burnt edges on your pizza.

Remove pizzas from the oven and use a spatula to take them off their baking sheets. Cut them into desired slices. Enjoy.

This recipe is actually a Throwback Thursday recipe that didn’t make it into a Throwback Thursday blog post. It hails from 2012! I love browned butter pasta recipes (guiltily because, of course, they’re not a bit good for you) and my kids adore peas. So, really, this was a no-brainer to throw together back then, and is just as simple to make and satisfying to eat now.

Spring Pea Pasta
Yield: 6 servings

1 C salted butter
1/4 C fresh lemon juice
1/2 C good balsamic vinegar
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t dried ground rosemary
1/2 t dried rubbed sage
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 to 3/4 pound linguini
1 C petite frozen peas
1/2 to 1 C parmigiano reggiano cheese, grated or shredded

Instructions:
Cook the linguini in salted boiling water until it’s just barely underdone – about 6 minutes.  Meanwhile, brown the butter in a wide bottom skillet by melting it until it foams and turns a golden rich brown.  Remove it from the burner and add the garlic, lemon juice, vinegar, rosemary, sage, and salt and pepper.  Stir around for 30 seconds. If your skillet is large enough to hold the pasta, add the linguini to the butter pan. Otherwise add the butter to the drained linguini. Add the peas and cover for 3 minutes (off the heat). Add the cheese and a little more salt and pepper and lightly toss to combine.  Serve.

The Weekly Meal Plan: April 20-26 2020

It’s a cloudy day in central Indiana and it’s making us all want to be lazy and nap. While there is a to-do list (there’s always a to-do list), I’m perfectly alright with us taking some rest and relaxation time. We may get to some garden chores yet this afternoon, or we may not. The amount of progress we’ve made in the last two weekends is amazing and I find myself walking outside often to just smile at everything.

We’re heading towards the end of April already, and that means it’ll be May soon–my birthday, Mother’s Day, and annual garden-planting day are right around the corner. Even though it looks as if the stay-at-home order may be lifted in time for my birthday (for the time being; though I think late May would be safer given current models), I’m still planning on celebrating it at home. I ordered myself a new ice cream maker (a nicer model than my old one) and plan to indulge myself while also planting flowers, herbs, and vegetables. It’ll be glorious.

This also means that we’re almost to the end of the academic year for my university, which means I’ll have two weeks “off” in between Spring Semester and Summer Session 1. “Off” is in quotations because this really means I will get caught-up on work from Spring just in time for it to start all over again. Such is life. 🙂 My university will be online all summer, as will most public universities, which induces a weird, anxious emotional mixture for me. There’s reasons I really treasure this time. Then there’s reasons I really dislike this time. I don’t think I’m alone in this, but I have been feeling it pretty intensely this week, and so indulge me a little as I try to reflect on that here.

Being at home more is honestly a dream come true. I had missed my very hands-on approach to household management. I had missed doing all of the homestead things I used to do. I had missed being so involved in my children’s lives. However, being at home more is increasingly making my job harder. Perhaps “harder” isn’t the right word. Fatiguing. It’s so darn fatiguing.

I have tried to draw boundaries around certain times of day where I am “at work,” but those lines get blurred the longer this continues, which makes me feel guilty, disconnected, ineffectual, and scared for the future of my position. Don’t get me wrong–I know how unbelievably lucky am I to have retained my position through all of this and be able to work 100% remotely–but it would be my hope that I could express some of the pitfalls of this time without it seeming as though I’m just complaining and am ungrateful, or worse, tone-deaf to my privilege. Me finding any enjoyment in this time at all is a monument to my privilege in all of this, and I know that. Seeing my privilege, I am still a person; and we as people have diverse and complicated feelings about all sorts of things regardless of our individual contexts and situations.

I think guiding my children through e-learning while also trying to do my job is the most fatiguing part of all of this, especially if I happen to be in Zoom trying to be present and engaged in a meeting when a child comes around the corner to ask for assistance with a math problem. Brian is at the shop 9-5pm each day, having decided it’s isolated (he only ever encounters one other person there) and that he could continue doing his design and fabrication work safely through the stay-at-home order. This is great news for our bank account and for his fledgling business, and it also means we get to leave seeds safely under the grow light while we continue to work on our greenhouse.

But, it also means that this *gestures around generally to my home* is all pretty much left to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a champ at this. I was the stay-at-home-parent for 8 years, which is why it was fairly easy for me to slide back into that life: design a schedule, manage expectations, keep kids healthy, happy, and safe. But I never was a stay-at-home-parent while also holding a leadership position of a unit that employs and teaches 35 students, some of whom may need emotional support or referral to important resources right now just as much as they need questions about sessions, schedules, projects, and payroll answered.

I don’t think I’m alone in feeling this way, so I try to not let it worry me. But, hey, I’m a person, and am not at all perfect–sometimes I worry. This week has been one of those weeks where it all feels a little more present, a little closer to the surface than in other weeks. I don’t think the awful freezing and snowy/sleety/rainy weather helped. I pretty much just wanted to hole-up and hide under a blanket in a quiet, warm room by myself, which I did for one whole day. It felt nice. 🙂

Yesterday the sun shone brightly. It was absolutely beautiful, and I spent almost all day outside. And now I’m on the high of seeing so much progress in the garden, the weather is turning back to spring again, and so I feel hopeful and excited about the coming week. Here’s to allowing yourself to be where you’re at emotionally, finding coping and self-care methods, and to the beginnings of new weeks.

Here’s what’s on the menu:

Weekly Meal Plan

Monday: fake-out take-out: sweet and sour chicken with vegetarian egg rolls
Tuesday: refried bean burritos
Wednesday: baked potato and salad bar
Thursday: cheeseburger pasta
Friday: fake-out take-out: pizza night
Saturday: leftovers
Sunday: lemon-honey grilled chicken with herb and butter pasta