Monday, January 31, 2011

One of the most comforting foods- Spaghetti and Meat Sauce

One of my most favorite meals is spaghetti and meat sauce. It's one of my favorite winter time meals because it's so hearty and can stand alone. Nothing beats a nice big bowl of pasta and meat sauce, coupled with some good quality crusty bread and a glass of red wine.
However, if it's done badly, i.e. too watery or not meaty enough, it's just plain bad. There is nothing worse than a puddle of watery tomato water under a pile of pasta. It's just gross. That's why I really don't like bottled sauces.
Over the years I've worked on my recipe and I've gotten it to the point that when I make it, my children get so excited for dinner, and my husband absolutely loves it.

It's super simple, but there are a few tricks to make sure it comes out just right. And there's no measuring.

1lb lean ground beef
2 cans plain tomato sauce
1 small can tomato paste
1 can petite diced tomatoes
1/2 can water
1 green pepper chopped
1 onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic (or garlic powder)
chopped fresh mushrooms or canned mushrooms (optional)
2 bay leaves
dried basil
dried oregano
dried thyme
1-2 Tbsp sugar

Brown beef in pot on stove
Meanwhile, chopped green pepper, onion, and garlic and set aside.
When meat is browned, drain the fat. I use a baster to do this. Usually I drain and rinse the beef, but I have found that just taking some of the fat out and not rinsing makes for a more meaty flavor.

Add veggies and let cook for 2-3 minutes.
Add 2 cans of tomato sauce, 1/2 cans of water, diced tomatoes, tomato paste. Stir well.
Add the spices- basil, oregano, thyme, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and finally sugar. Sugar is the key as it cuts the acid.

Stir well, and let simmer on low on the stove for 3-4 hours, stirring occasionally.

Let Them Eat Cake...

I have always wanted to bake my cakes from scratch and get completely away from box mixes. I already have to make my breads, muffins, cookies, pies, and granola bars from scratch since most store bought contain dairy, so a cake was the last big baking goal I had. Recently I have been asked to bake the cakes for a couple different special occasions so I figured now is a good time to practice. I made both the cake and the icing completely from scratch, and neither contain any dairy! The girls told me it was "the best cake ever" :-) Of course, they are kids, and it was chocolate cake made for no reason, so of course to them it was the best ever.

2 cups sugar
1 and 3/4 cup
3/4 cup Cocoa powder (I used Hershey's)
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 and 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

1.Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour two 9 in. baking pans.
2.Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil, and vanilla.

3.Beat on medium speed for 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (The batter will be thin).

4.Pour the batter into baking pans.

5.Bake for 30-35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.

6.Cool for 10 minutes in pans and then move to wire cooling racks. Cool completely before frosting.


1/2 cup non dairy margarine
2/3 cup Cocoa powder
3 cup powdered sugar
1/3 cup soy milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract.

Melt margarine in sauce pan over low heat.
Put into mixing bowl and stir in cocoa.
Alternate between adding milk and powdered sugar, beating it on medium speed. I added more than the 3 cups of powdered sugar in order to get the right consistency of the frosting. Stir in the vanilla.
Makes about 2 cups of frosting- enough for a layer cake or cupcakes.

I didn't spend any time decorating it, or really frosting it well since it was just a practice cake.


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Guest Chef- Rochelle's South African Stir Fry

Last summer my friend Rochelle made this dish and brought it to our house for dinner. It was stir fry- pretty simple- but so very different than any I had ever had. And so unbelievably good! She made it again a week before she moved back to S.A. and had us over for dinner and a movie. When she made it she took pictures for me, and gave me the recipe so I could share it on my blog.
So I will share it now, and if you make it let me know what you think!
Thanks Rochelle, for all the fabulous new recipes and your influence on my cooking!

All seasonings are to taste- there are no measurements. Make enough marinade to cover the meat. Use about a pound of each meats.
chicken - all 3 cut into strips
soy sauce
Mrs. Balls Original Recipe Chutney
Olive Oil
Sweet Chili Sauce
Sweet and Sour Sauce
minced garlic
coleslaw mix (or shredded cabbage)
carrots: julienned
broccoli slaw mix (optional)
onions- chopped
peppers- chopped
bacon bits (If desired)
Chinese noodles

1. Cut meat into strips. Marinate in soy sauce, Mrs. Balls Chutney, olive oil, sweet chili sauce, and minces garlic for a few hours. (In the fridge)

2. Fry coleslaw mix, carrots, broccoli slaw, onions, peppers, and minced garlic in a little olive oil. Add a little soy sauce while frying. Can also add the mushroom and bacon bits at this time if desired.

3. Remove veggies from pan. Fry the meat in the same pan in the marinade.
4. Meanwhile, boil Chinese noodles, drain, and set aside.
5. Add veggies to the meat and add some sweet and sour sauce.

6.Combine noodles with meat and veggie mixture and heat through.

Serve with a nice wine.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

I haven't forgotten...

I haven't posted this week like I wanted too. I actually have a few new recipes to post but just haven't had the time this week to devote to it. Our South African friends are moving back to Jo'Berg, S.A. tomorrow so we have been spending as much time as possible with them and their children. This next week I will be posting a Melktert (South African Milk Tart) recipe, Rochelle's stir fry recipe, and a jam muffin recipe. I have a product review to do as well. I also made oven roasted lamb shanks this week but I didn't take pictures, so I will make them again and post it then.
Sorry for the delays, but I will make up for it next week!
Until then, Happy Cooking!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

"As You Wish Jam Filled Muffins"

My daughters have always loved baked goods. They don't like the junk that comes out of a box- like Twinkies and the like- they want it homemade. Luckily for them, my Mom is a fabulous baker, and she taught me how to bake too. So the girls have grown up having homemade baked goods almost anytime they want.
These muffins are so easy and a huge hit with my girls! You can add any kind of fruit preserve you want to- mine like raspberry, strawberry, and blackberry in theirs. Also, I deviate from the recipe slightly- I add pureed sweet potato to the batter in order to add make it more moist, and to add some additional nutritional value. There is no change in the flavor at all- if anything my husband said it made them slightly fluffier.

Nonstick cooking spray
12 paper baking cups
1 and 3/4 cups white whole wheat flour
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon ( I always use a heaping teaspoon of cinnamon for better flavor)
1 egg
3/4 cup soy milk
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup pureed sweet potato or pumpkin (If desired but not needed)
1/4 cup fruit preserves

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and put paper baking cups into the muffin tin. Spray the cups lightly with nonstick cooking spray.
2. Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a medium bowl. Mix well.

Crack the egg in a separate bowl. Add the soy milk ( or non-dairy milk of your choice) and oil to the egg and beat well. Add 1/2 cup pureed sweet potato if desired.

3. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stir until all ingredients are wet. If too dry, you can add a tablespoon or two of extra milk.

4.Spoon 1 Tablespoon of batter into each muffin cup. Spoon 1 teaspoon of fruit on top of the batter.

Spoon the remaining batter over the fruit.

5. Bake for 15-18 minutes or until the tops are lightly browned. Let cool.

Makes 12 muffins.

*Recipe from the "Disney Magic Kitchen Cookbook"

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baked Cornish Game Hens with Green Beans and Tomatoes

We had a good friend over for dinner tonight since her Fiance is out of town. I wanted something that was relatively simple to make, but that was a little less "everyday". I decided on Cornish game hens stuffed with lemon, onion, and garlic, with roasted rosemary potatoes and green beans with tomatoes and garlic. None of this came from a cookbook.

Oven Baked Cornish Game Hens:
4 game hens
1 lemon
1 sweet onion
1 bulb garlic
olive oil
dried rosemary
salt and pepper to taste

It's hard to take picture of raw poultry when you're preparing it, so I took this about 15 minutes into cooking, after I cleaned up.

Slice a lemon and an onion each into quarters. Peel several cloves of garlic.
Wash hens and place breast side down on a rack in a roasting pan.
Squeeze the lemon wedges over the hens. Stuff one lemon wedge into each hen, along with a quarter of the onion, and a couple cloves of garlic.
Brush olive oil on top of each hen.
Sprinkle each hen with ground salt, ground pepper, and dried (.or fresh) rosemary
Cover with aluminum foil. Bake at 400 degrees. for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, remove foil. Continue cooking, allowing the skin to brown, until juices run clear.

Green Beans with Tomatoes and Garlic:
whole green beans- I used Traders Joes organic frozen green beans
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 cloves garlic, minced
teaspoon dried Thyme
teaspoon dried Rosemary. (In the summer I prefer to use fresh herbs)
Tablespoon Olive Oil.

Preheat oil in pan, add minced garlic, thyme, and rosemary and cook for about 30 seconds.
Add green beans, turn down the heat, and cover. Let cook until the beans thaw and are hot. If using fresh green beans (I do in the summertime when they are available) boil them to al dente then add to the pan.
Add about a teaspoon more oil if the pan is dry, and add tomatoes.
Cook until tomatoes are soft.

We served it with roasted red potatoes and rolls. For wine we paired it with a nice Reisling.

Rochelle's Beef and Root Vegetable Soup

... That's the name I invented for this dish that doesn't have an "official" name (as far as I know). It's my friend, Rochelle's, Mom's recipe. This is the very first meal Rochelle ever made for us, and it's the first meal we all shared as friends. I also happens to be one of my very favorite soups for several reasons. First- it's so easy! It cooks all day long and makes the house smell so good. Second- it makes enough to freeze a few meals worth. 3rd, it gets my kids to eat veggies they normally wouldn't eat, like parsnips and turnips. The only downside to this soup is the size pot you need to make it in (unless you downsize the recipe). I'm going to have to go find a pot soon, since I always borrow theirs to make this!

1 bone in roast (I like to use an arm roast, but Rochelle has also used bone in steaks before with a boneless roast- use what you can find)
4-6 carrots- grated
2-4 parsnips or white carrots- grated
1-2 turnips- grated
spring onion or 1-2 regular onions- grated
4 medium white potatoes grated, 4 medium white potatoes chopped
3 ribs of celery-chopped
Two Manischewitz vegetable soup mix packets( it contains dried barley, lentils, peas, mushrooms, etc.)This you find on the German food aisle at your local grocery store- it comes in a tube shaped packet. You can also use their Minestrone mix packets if you can't find the vegetable soup packs.

I used more veggies than are pictured.

I start cooking this at about 10-11am to have it ready by 6pm.
Rinse meat, put in the pot, add salt, cover with water and boil. Let simmer until par-cooked.
While meat is cooking, wash, peel, and grate the 4-6 carrots, 2-4 parsnips, 1-3turnips, 1-2 onions, and 4 medium potatoes. I have used a hand grater before, but I recommend using a food processor- it's much easier.
I like my soup to have a lot of veggies, so I use as much as I can of each. The more veggies, the thicker the broth will be.

When meat is par-cooked, add in the soup mix packets, and all the shredded veggies. Add more water as needed.
Let cook all day, simmering on low or the bottom with burn. Stir occasionally, and add salt and pepper as needed. The potatoes absorb a lot of the salt, so keep that in mind.

When the meat starts to fall apart, take it out of the soup and cut it into small pieces, and remove any bones and excess fat.

About an hour before you want to eat, add the chopped celery and some chopped potatoes.

Serve with a crusty artisan bread- we like the garlic infused breads- and a good, light red wine or a Merlot. Pairs very well with Jam Jar (A South African red wine.)

*Freeze the leftovers- if you make a large pot you will get at least 2 other full meals out of this recipe, plus lunch for 2 for the next day. We served it to 4 adults and 4 children last night- 4 of us had second helpings, and I still had enough leftover to send a full meals worth home with them, and keep a meals worth for us.*

**Recipe courtesy of Rochelle Vermeulen and her mother**

Monday, January 10, 2011

Vegetable Fried Noodles - from "The Food Matters Cookbook"

One of my Christmas gifts this year was "The Food Matters Cookbook" by Mark Bittman. Since recieving it we have already tried several of the recipes, and so far we have liked all that we have tried. I am looking forward to reading his book "Food Matters" ( as soon as I finish the one I am currentle reading)
This meal was one I had made once before and it was a hit with both the husband and the oldest daughter. My middle child was recently on a mac and cheese kick so she didn't try it last time I made it. But tonight even she loved it! I changed the recipe to personalize for our family a bit. I do that, I am always changing recipes. I will put both the original recipe and my susbtitutions on this blog.

8 ounces any rice, buckwheat (soba), or wheat noodles, preferably whole grain.
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (I always use olive oil)
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger (I have also used powdered ginger and it's worked great)
1 cup chopped scallions
2 large carrots (or 4 small) chopped, sliced, or julienned
3 celery stalks, chopped, sliced, or julienned
2 cups snow peas (I subbed broccoli slaw tonight0 the snow peas are hard for childrent to chew)
1/4 - 1/2 cup chicken stock or water (I used water)
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 egg, beaten (I used 2 for extra protein)
black pepper
1/4 cups chopped peanuts for garnish (I omitted these because they are a choking hazard for young children)
*I also added mushrooms this time. Last time I used cauliflower.

1.Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. Cook the noodles according to the directions on the package, but make sure they don't get mushy. Drain the noodles and rince under cold water. Toss them with sesame oil to prevent sticking.

2. Heatoil in a large, deep skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic, ginger, and scallions. Cook for about 15 seconds.

Add the carrots, celery, snow peas, and stock or water and turn the heat to high. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are tender, about 5-10 minutes. If the mixture gets too dry, add more liquid a tablespoon at a time.

3.Stir in soy sauce and beaten egg(s) and let the egg lightly scramble in the pan. Add the noodles, sprinkle with pepper, and toss well. Taste and adjust the seasoning. I have found that I needed more soy sauce. Garnish and serve.

Tonight I had fried tofu with mine. While I like tofu, my husband does not so he did not have any. Next time, I will add either chicken or beef to it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Roasted Butternut Chowder with Apples and Bacon

Tonight's new recipe was one that I have never made before. I went through my new Food Matters Cookbook, thought this one looked good and decided to try it. Well that, and my Mom got me an immersion blender for Christmas and I REALLY wanted to try it out.
Before I share the recipe, let me say it's better as an appetizer or lunch dish than dinner. It was very tasty, but not heavy enough to stand on it own. My husband suggested it would pair very well with paninis made with crusty sourdough bread. And it's more for adult tastes than kids' taste.

1 butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes
1 large onion, chopped
2 large apples, peeled, cored, and chopped
4 bacon slices, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
salt and black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh sage, or 1 teaspoon dried
1/2 cup dry white wine or water
6 cups vegetable or chicken stock.

1.Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spread the squash, onion, apples, bacon, and garlic in a deep roasting pan or on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with oil. Roast until the veggies are tender and the bacon is crisp. About 45 minutes.

2.Remove the roasting pan from oven. Transfer the contents of the pan to a large pot or Dutch oven. Add either the water or the wine, and the sage. Set it on medium heat.

3.Add the chicken stock, and break the veggies up some with a spoon. Cook until the soup begins to thicken.

Here's where I differed a little from the recipe: At the end, I used my immersion blender and blended it to be more like a bisque. When you serve it, you can sprinkle ground allspice or nutmeg on top. I used allspice, my husband used both.

It was a very tasty meal, but like I said before, better for lunch or as an appetizer to a dinner.

*Recipe from the Food Matters Cookbook by Mark Bittman*

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Comfort Food Dinner for a Cold Winter's Evening...Featuring Green Bean Casserole

I think one of the hardest parts to being dairy free is trying to find side dishes to go with meat main dishes. Mac and cheese is out (unless you want soy mac and cheese), and a lot of traditional veggies sides have either dairy or cream bases. Of course, that totally defeats the purpose of eating those healthy veggies.... but back to the topic... One I missed so much was green bean casserole. All that creamy, oniony goodness topped with more crunchy goodness. But after A LOT of searching, I found a really good (and EASY) green bean casserole that is so close to the "real thing" that even dairy eaters love it. We had friends over for dinner tonight so I made a pot roast in the oven (in my "magic" pot as my friend calls it) with homemade onion gravy, along with roasted red potatoes with garlic, roasted cauliflower and carrots, and the green bean casserole. I didn't take pictures of the pot roast, because originally I was only going to post the green bean casserole recipe. But I've decided to post the method for the roast and veggies also, sorry for the lack of pictures.

1 rump or sirloin tip roast (have used both with the same cooking method)
1 medium onion quartered, or 1/2 of a large onion. I have used white, yellow, and purple before. They all work well.
2-3 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil ( I prefer olive oil)
salt and pepper to taste.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Put meat in an oven safe pot (mine is cast iron). Place onions around the meat, pour on the oil, and salt and pepper. Cover and put in the oven. THAT'S ALL!

I like the red fingerling potatoes because they have almost a creamy texture, but you can use any red potatoes.
Cut them into the size you prefer. Keep in mind that the smaller they are the faster they cook.
I like to line my baking sheets with aluminum foil when roasting to save time cleaning up.
Spray the sheet with olive oil cooking spray.
Toss the potatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper, and garlic if you like. For nights when I am trying to be quick I will use dried garlic. I know, it's a cheap shortcut, but it works.
Put in the oven about 30-40 minutes before you want to eat.

This has become one of our families favorite side dishes. And it's so easy, fast, and healthy. A win win!
You need:
1 head cauliflower
4-5 carrots
salt and pepper
olive oil
and herbs you want to use- oregano, garlic, rosemary, basil, thyme
Same as with the potatoes- line your baking sheet with foil. Spray with cooking spray.
Cut veggies- I cut the carrots into sticks. Toss with olive oil, salt pepper, and what herbs you choose. Sometimes I don't use any, but if I am making rosemary chicken, I will add a little thyme or rosemary to make the flavors blend better.
Put in the oven 20-30 minutes before the meat is done.

1-1/2 cups soy milk
1 cube chicken bouillon
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 medium onion, diced
3/4 cup chopped mushrooms
1 carrot, diced
any of the following you want to add:
3 tablespoons cornstarch flour
2 or 3 tablespoons cold water
2 cans French cut green beans
1 can fried onion ( I prefer the Trader Joes brand, but I have also found that a Garlic Pepper flavored kind works great too)

1. In a saucepan, heat the soy milk and veggie bouillon.
2. Stir until bouillon cube disintegrates.Be careful to not scald the milk.

3. In a separate skillet heat 1-2 Tablespoons Olive Oil.
4. Add the onions, mushrooms, and carrots; saute until the onions are translucent.

5.Add the herbs and spices-basil, garlic, marjoram, oregano, pepper, sage, salt, and thyme.
6. Make a thickener by combining the flour and cold water, mixing well.
7.Pour into the milk-bouillon mixture. Stir well and often, because this will coagulate quickly once heated.
8. Combine the green beans, sauteed veggies, and half the fried onions. Then add the milk mixture, mixing well. Top with fried onions.
9. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 10 to 15 minutes, or until the French fried onions begin to brown.

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

A total comfort food dinner tonight- Pot roast, gravy, roasted veggies, and green bean casserole. Topped off with a great red wine. Perfect ending to a very busy day!