Dude Dinner

Once a month we have my friend Tim over for dinner. Tim is really easy to cook for. He doesn’t cook, so everything I make impresses him. He is recently divorced and his wife didn’t cook either. I once made crock pot white chicken chili for him and he was impressed (the hardest thing about making that dish is chopping the onion). I love that the bar is low.

Today I decided to really wow him. I made Cook’s Illustrated’s version of Juicy Lucys. A juicy lucy is a cheeseburger with the cheese on the inside. You bite into the burger and cheese oozes out. It’s delicious. It’s also something so bad for us that I only make it once or twice a summer.

At 5 o’clock, as I was getting the kids their dinner I realized I had been so excited about the burgers I didn’t think about the sides. I had nothing planned. I was worried I was going to have to pull a vegetable out of the freezer and pretend it worked with burgers.

Amazingly, my refrigerator provided me with two sides! I had a salad in a bag forgotten in a drawer that somehow wasn’t spoiled (I buy a bagged salad almost every week, I also throw out a spoiled bagged salad almost every week. Will I ever learn?). 20180719_191313421691303129252299.jpg

I decided to throw together some Baja bean and cilantro salad. I have been living off of this all summer. In a shocking turn of events I had cilantro in my produce drawer. I also had 1/4 of a red onion in my fridge, the perfect amount for the salad (also the first time I’ve ever used all of a leftover onion instead of throwing it away a week later). 20180719_1913166680663210320592023.jpg

This salad is easy to throw together, and a great side to bring to a pot luck. It couldn’t be easier to make:

1 can chickpeas (rinsed and drained)
1 can red beans (rinsed and drained)
1 can black beans (rinsed and drained)
1/4 chopped red onion
2 T chopped pickled jalapeno peppers
1/4 c chopped cilantro
Mix that stuff all up. In a measuring cup mix together 1/3 c red wine vinegar and 3 T sugar. Pour it all over the salad. Put it in the refrigerator for 30 minutes to meld.
It is good for a week.

The sides were well received by Tim and John, but if I was really being honest I think they would have been fine with a big burger and a few glasses of wine.

Do you ever get so excited about a main dish you forget about the rest of the dinner?

Vanilla Extract

Are you a baker? Have you noticed how expensive vanilla extract has gotten? The vanilla crop in Madagascar failed causing a shortage of vanilla beans. The price of vanilla is now ten times what it was a few years ago.

I recently ran out of vanilla and picked some up at my local spice shop. An ingredient that I never considered the cost of now makes me gasp. I used over half of this bottle in two batches of cookies this morning.20180628_1112443852065551983353752.jpg

I am not going to switch to intimation vanilla extract. You can tell the difference in the final product. I was planning to buy the now $40 bottle of vanilla the next time I’m at Costco. It is a large bottle and should get me through a year of baking. I may still buy a bottle, but it is no longer immediately needed.

I remembered I had vanilla beans from Costco that I bought last fall. I also have vodka. Those two items are all you need to make your own vanilla extract.

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It couldn’t be easier. Slice some vanilla beans open (I also cut them in half so they would fit in a jelly jar). Put the open beans in a jar. 20180628_1111202140349684719578520.jpg

Cover the beans with vodka.

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Put a lid on the jar. Put it in your cupboard. Shake it a couple of times a day for two weeks. after that it should be ready to use. I’ll add vodka a few times, as there will be enough vanilla to infuse two or three times the amount of vodka in the jar.

After a few hours you can already see the change in the vodka.

Hopefully the vanilla crop recovers soon. Until then, I hope you find some forgotten vanilla beans in a drawer and vodka in your freezer and make some of your own extract.

Crock Pot Egg Bake

I love to cook, but I hate turning on my oven in the summer. I find myself cooking in the crock pot because it doesn’t heat up the whole house. Last night I decided to try something new in the crock pot – eggs.

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I browned half of a pound of breakfast sausage in a skillet and transferred it to my crockpot (which I sprayed with oil). I then used the same skillet, with a bit of vegetable oil (I wasn’t planning on needing that, but the sausage was very lean), to saute a green pepper, orange pepper, and half of a red onion.

Once that was soft I added it to the crock pot. I cracked a dozen eggs into a bowl and whisked them until they were mostly scrambled. I added salt, pepper, and a cup of shredded cheese. I then poured the eggs over the meat and vegetables and cooked it on low for about 2 hours. Once a knife stuck in the middle came out clean I cut it into 8 wedges and called it dinner.20180625_1956333589874408623931879.jpg

We both like this, so I’ll be making it again. I will be making a few changes. I’ll probably use soy chorizo instead of breakfast sausage. I used pork sausage from our egg lady. She has great eggs, but her sausage is pretty bland. I will probably make this without cheese next time, as it isn’t needed. I think a pinch of good cheese on top would be better than supermarket cheddar mixed in.

One of my favorite things about eggs for dinner is the leftovers the next day. I had this for breakfast covered in siracha. The kids had it for breakfast and ate it once it was called eggy pie. I microwaved slices for a minute. They reheated well and didn’t seem to dry out.

What do you cook when you don’t want to turn the oven on?

 

 

Lunch Improvements

I haven’t been meal planning lunches for the kids lately. I haven’t needed to. I think it just took three weeks of planning and trying new things to help me come up with creative menu ideas on the fly. We haven’t been eating chicken nuggets or fish sticks lately, which was my goal. The kids still aren’t eating many vegetables, but I’m trying.

Oh, I’m trying.

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Cucumber Spider

I have two meals that the kids will eat consistently. The easiest is English muffin pizzas. Toast an English muffin, top it with sauce and cheese, then broil it until the cheese melts. Add a vegetable and a fruit. Easy peasy.

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The meal that is most often requested is “cocktail party” dinner. Audrey asks for this for almost every meal. It is small bits on a plate, like you would eat at a cocktail party. Karen gave me the idea to put meat and cheese on a pretzel skewer, and it has been a huge hit. I try to do something fun to the plate every time, today it was mustard sunglasses for dipping the turkey.

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I am pleased that the kids are not eating as many chicken nuggets. Now that we’ve discovered cocktail party lunches I’m having fun changing them up. I’m always looking for new things to add to the rotation, so if you have any ideas send them my way.

Crazy Spaghetti

In an effort to find something that Audrey and Elliot would eat using only things we had in the house (because I didn’t want to go to the grocery store) I stumbled on to a dish that they both enjoyed: Crazy Spaghetti.

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Crazy Spaghetti is a mix of the leftover pasta we had at our house, some mini meatballs we had to use up, and a jar of pasta sauce. I just boiled up the pasta and dumped it in a 9 X 13 baking dish with a jar of pasta sauce and the meatballs. I topped it with a small amount of asiago and parmesan cheese (maybe 1/4 cup). I baked it at 350 for about 20 minutes (until it was hot) and served it to the kids

Shockingly they both loved it. I’m not sure if it was the mini meatballs, the two kinds of pasta, or the lie that I told them about it being Goofy’s favorite food. I don’t care why they decided to eat it, I’m just happy they ate a meal without complaining.

5 on Friday: More Aldi Finds

Last week I shared some of my favorite Aldi finds. This week I thought I would share five more things to check out at Aldi. Aldi has so many great products I want to tell you about – I couldn’t limit myself to one post.

Half & Half ($1.99)

20180503_162516892617623.jpgI take my coffee with cream. I drink a lot of coffee. This is a great price on an item I use daily.

 

 

 

 

 

Costal Cove Sauvignon Blanc ($6.99)

20180503_161950137089954.jpgSummer is white wine time in my house. It’s great for drinking on the patio. Most of the time I tell myself I’m going to drink a bottle over the course of the week, but I only have two glasses and the I pour the rest down the drain later that week.  At $6.99 this wine tastes like a $12 bottle (that is high praise in my book). I still feel bad pouring out wine that has gone bad, but when the whole bottle costs less than a glass when we go out to dinner it doesn’t sting as much.

 

Pane Turano Italian Bread ($3.69)

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Honestly, this bread alone is worth a trip to Aldi. My parents go to Aldi just for his bread. They are the ones that introduced me to this bread, which is why my kids call it crunchy Grandma Runchey bread. The bread is crunchy and makes the best toast I have ever had. It is a huge loaf. We usually freeze half of it. You can toast the frozen bread straight from the freezer. This bread also makes amazing grilled cheese and egg in the hole.

Fancy Cherry Tomatoes ($3.69)

20180503_1624592030155897.jpgI could not buy all of my produce at Aldi. The selection changes constantly and they never have all of the produce I am looking for. One thing that is consistently available and always good quality is their cherry tomatoes. I love cherry tomatoes. They are a great snack off the vine, and they are good sliced and added to sandwiches. My favorite way to eat them is to sautee them in some truffle oil with a handful of spinach, then scramble some eggs in with them and top that scramble with goat cheese.

 

Stir in Pastes (2.49 each)

20180503_1617181403889719.jpgI cook with ginger and garlic a lot. I usually use whole garlic cloves and grate my own ginger. There are times when I don’t have those on hand and I am not able to cook what I want to cook. It’s at those times that I reach for paste. Once opened, they keep for four weeks in your refrigerator. I don’t think these are going to replace fresh ingredients in my kitchen, but they are great to keep on hand for ingredient emergencies.

 

I get so excited talking about my love for Aldi. Do you have any stores that you get excited to talk about?