Monday, November 10, 2008

Easy Crock Pot Chicken Noodle Soup with Vegetables

The wintry weather has arrived in Chicago. Our outside thermometer showed 28 degrees at 7:30am. Time to haul out the crock pot and start heating up the kitchen with the sweet smells of dinner.

My first dinner of the cold weather season: Chicken Noodle Soup. This was so easy and so quick to do. I had just about everything in the house. I got the idea from Fix-It & Forget-It Lightly: Healthy Low-Fat Recipes for Your Slow Cooker by Phyllis Pellman Good. This is a good standard cookbook to get if you have a crock pot.

This recipe is pretty low in fat if you use skinless chicken breasts. Adjust the salt to your liking. I used 1 tablespoon and thought it was plenty. My kids don't like black pepper, so I didn't include it. However, you know your family's tastes best. Also, you can either add uncooked noodles 1 hr before you serve the soup or you can cook the noodles separately and add them to the soup just before you serve it. I use whole wheat noodles to make it an even healthier dinner. Everyone thought it was delicious.

Chicken Noodle Soup with Vegetables
Adapted from Fix-It and Forget-It Lightly

2 onions, chopped
2 cups carrots, sliced
2 cups celery, sliced
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp dried thyme
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
6 cups water
2 lbs bone-in chicken breasts with as much skin removed as possible
cooked noodles of whatever shape you prefer

1. Put everything the crock pot except the noodles.
2. Cover and cook on high 4-6 hours.
3. 30 min before serving, remove chicken. Cut meat from bones then cut the meat into bite size pieces. Toss the bones and add chicken back to soup.
4. Cover and continue cooking until you're ready to eat.
5. Add the cooked noodles to the pot just before serving.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

2 Pounds of Green Beans

A few years ago, the highlight of my family's weekend was shopping at Costco. We would spend way too much time going up and down every aisle amazed at the goods available. We would try every sample numerous times whether we liked them or not. C'mon, it was free food! Afterwards we would sit at the food stand sharing hot dogs and pizza and marvel at all the people, wondering what they had in their carts.

Now, there is a Costco much closer to our home and instead of each shopping trip being an adventure it has become one of many errands I run while the kids are at school. If I don't have any kids with me, I can be in and out of there in less than 15 minutes.

Recently I bought a 2 pound bag of french green beans. At the local grocery store, I would have bought 1/2 a pound of green beans, but this is Costco and they don't sell anything in such small quantities. I originally planned on making the standard green bean casserole.

When I got home, I realized 1) I didn't have any fried onions in the house and 2) I didn't have the 40 minutes to let the thing bake.

Plan B - I found a fast recipe on line that looked yummy. With some tweaks it would be perfect. How convenient that the green beans come in a steam bag. After I microwaved them, I did the math. How was my little family of 5 going to eat 2 lbs of green beans?

Here is the recipe I used:

Orange Marmalade Glazed Green Beans

1 lb fresh green beans, cut into 3 inch pieces
3/4 cup orange marmalade
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Steam the green beans.
2. Either on the stove top or in the microwave, melt the orange marmalade and butter and salt together. Stir until smooth. Transfer green beans into a serving bowl; add orange marmalade mixture and toss to coat.

I thought it was yummy, dh thought it was yummy. The kids thought it was too sweet and chose to eat the leftover plain green beans with a sprinkle of sea salt. Proving once again that I really shouldn't bother looking up recipes and cooking. I should just steam veggies, give them a dash of salt and serve.

Having not learned my lesson...The next night, I chopped up the remainder of the 2 lb bag of green beans. I added left over steamed broccoli and made that green bean casserole I had originally planned on doing. However, instead of cream of mushroom soup, I used cream of chicken soup.

It didn't matter. My kids said they would rather of had the green beans and broccoli plain without all the other stuff.

The amazing part is that we ate the 2 lb bag of green beans in 3 meals (we had left over casserole for another night).

I don't think I would buy the bag again from Costco. Just too much of a good thing.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fine Dining with Children

It started out as a good idea...Not even my idea.

Cookie Magazine and Gourmet Magazine created Kid's Restaurant Week at a number of Chicago area restaurants. As a self proclaimed foodie who is trying to raise her kids to have discriminating palates (they think Gouda cheese is very good-a and truffle cheese ROCKS) I thought this was an opportunity I couldn't miss.

Plus, they added a great incentive. The kids pay their age for their meal and adults pay $20.08. Before we left, I tried to convince my 5 year old she was 3 (to save $2), but she would have none of it.

After 2 of my kids had long days out in the sun at camp and then 2 of my kids just came back from 2+ hours at the pool (it's a logic problem since I only have 3 kids), I come up with the great idea of us going to a really nice restaurant for dinner.

We chose Prairie Grass Cafe because 1) it's near by and 2) we've eaten there many times before and enjoy the food.

This was my first time seeing PGC's kid's menu. There's great stuff not on your ordinary kid's menu (which is why we went out). However, we told the waiter we wanted the Kid's week special deal. He said it is a three course meal. Starting with a mixed salad then locally raised chicken and potatoes for an entree and strawberries and cream for dessert. The price for the 5 of us would have been: 2+5+7+20.08+20.08 for a total of $54.16 before tax and tip. However, the 3 kids wouldn't have eaten the salad and we really didn't want chicken (I could have made that at home for 5 people). And dh doesn't like strawberries.

Instead, we ordered off the menu. In the end it was $88 before tax and tip. That include a glass of wine for dh. For a Monday night, it's a little steep.

All of our food was delicious. I was very happy with the quality, quantity and service. However, we probably would have saved the $88 dinner for a special occasion or a weekend night. I think being able to choose from a few different items on a "special menu" for kid's week would have been a better experience. Also, in our family, no two people are allowed to order the same thing in a restaurant. We all share.

This is what we had tonight:

2 year old: Combo plate: sliced apples, carrots, bananas, chunks of cheese and cucumbers and celery for $4.00. The best part was the caramelized bananas. Well worth the $4.

5 year old: Breaded chicken cutlet and mashed potatoes and broccoli for $6.00. This was a huge piece of chicken and the mashed potatoes were great. We took half of the chicken home and will probably fight over it tomorrow night at dinner.

7 year old: 4 oz Petite Fillet with half a twice baked potato and broccoli for $14.50. All I can say is I didn't even get to try the fillet because she chowed the whole thing down so fast. It was the best children's menu steak we have seen in a long time.

Mom: Moussaka with Layers of Tender Braised Lamb and Tomato, Potato, Eggplant and Golden Crusted Bechamel for $16.00. Yum, yum, yum. I usually only eat this at Greek restaurants. I forget how delicious this can be when cooked with high quality ingredients.

Dad: Ancho Marinated Skirt Steak over Mushroom Ragout with Caramelized Onions for $20.00. Also very good. And we took half home to fight over at dinner tomorrow night. The only complaint was that it didn't come with a potato or starch (where the kid's meal did).

Oops, forgot to mention...I also had the Caeser's salad to start (with the 2 year old eating all of my shaved Parm cheese and croutons covered in dressing... this kid loves his garlic), dh had the soup of the day, cannoloni bean soup with turkey sausage in a broth. We just had a taste because the 3 kids ate most of it. Dh and I split the vegetable asian spring rolls. There was something spicy in it that made it wonderful for us but a little too flavorful for the kids.

I applaud the idea of having a special week to encourage families to try non-family oriented restaurants. However, I would have liked more variety in the menu for the "special week"

Everynight in my home, I tell my children the same thing at dinnertime, "This is what I am serving for dinner. This is not a restaurant, you can't pick and choose what you want. Eat it or get out." After all, I'm not a short order cook, right. Once you start taking orders in the never ends.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Skillet Chicken with Spinach

I have officially entered a Chicago Winter Cooking Rut. Since New Year's Day, everything I have cooked for dinner that hasn't come from a blue box claiming it's "the cheesiest!" has gotten less than stellar reviews. It's beginning to affect my self esteem. And since deep down inside I'm really a quitter, it's hard for me to keep going.

I dug out my copy of Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely. I decided that I'm spending too much time thinking about what I should cook. All this effort on my part: finding a recipe, shopping, washing and cleaning vegetables, chopping, cooking, ducking the rotten tomatoes thrown my way after the meal has been eaten and rejected, then cleaning up the kitchen afterwards. It just doesn't seem worth it.

I needed help.

Saving Dinner is divided up by seasons. Each season has eight weeks. Each week includes recipes and a weekly shopping list for 6 meals (with the assumption that every family orders pizza in one night a week). This seemed like a no brainer plan that I could work with.

After I went to the store and bought groceries for this week's dinners, I got started on tonight's meal.

This is how the cooking went:

I chopped the butternut squash into 5 very uneven pieces. I hate to cut squash because I care more about my knives than I do the squash and therefore do a very poor job. I rubbed olive oil on the pieces and put them in the oven for 40 minutes at 400 degrees. After they came out of the oven soft and steaming hot, I scooped out the flesh and mixed it with maple syrup.

The broccolli was simply chopped and steamed with chicken stock, butter and sea salt in the microwave for 4 minutes.

Tonight's chicken recipe sent me to drink (good thing I had to open a bottle of wine to make it).

The chicken came out so bland, I used BBQ sauce when I ate it but my children loved it. For them, the blander the better. The potatoes and onions, per the recipe, were barely cooked. I ended up cooking them much longer and burned my pan. It did help them taste better. The spinach was warm raw spinach. Bleh.

Here is the recipe from Saving Dinner by Leanne Ely, revised by me so you might be more successful:

Skillet Chicken with Spinach

1 tablespoon olive oil
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I used 3)
2 onions, chopped
1 pound red potatoes, cut into 2-inch cubes
1 cup chicken broth
1/3 cup white wine
1 teaspoon thyme
Salt and pepper to taste
3 cups of spinach

I pound my chicken breasts (between 2 pieces of wax paper) so they are the same thickness all over. That way they cook faster and more evenly.

In a skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add chicken and cook until browned on both sides. Add onions, potatoes, chicken broth, wine, thyme and lots of salt and pepper. Lower heat, cover and simmer for 10 minutes or until chicken in cooked. Remove chicken to a plate and cover. Add the spinach to the potatoes and onions, turn the heat up and cover. Let cook another 10 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Check on the potatoes (not your children and their Webkinz like me!) to make sure they don't burn.

In the end, my 7 yr old Diva ate everything but the squash and onions (she actually begged for broccolli so she wouldn't have to eat the squash), my almost 5 yr old Chicken Patty lover had to do everything her big sister did (extra broccoli, no squash please) and she loved the chicken with ketchup. We told my 2 year old Squirt that the squash was called fargen. He said, "Mmmm" and ate it up but wouldn't touch the potatoes or chicken and only ate the broccoli off his father's plate.

Tomorrow night I'm making Cube Stead Stroganoff. Wish me luck.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Wasn't it just New Year's Eve?

I'm not sure if I have a single New Year's resolution that I haven't broken. Let's, shot...exercise, avoided...blogging once a week, oops!

I keep coming up with topics and meals I want to write about, but I know I can't do anything until I write about our New Year's Eve dinner.

For the last 6 years, my family has hosted an all night party. It started as 8 adults ( 2 of them pregnant), 2 little girls who wouldn't go to sleep and a baby and has grown to 8 adults, 5 girls, 4 boys and a babysitter. There are the 3 core families who come every year and a 4th family I call the Defense Against The Dark Arts position since it is a revolving position that adds something new to the party each year.

We begin by feeding the kids and then banishing them to the basement with a sitter. After, the adults start eating, drinking and cooking non stop until the clock strikes 12.

After the fourth or fifth year, we realized we should have been keeping a journal of what we ate and drank. We'll just have to start with NYE 2007 and go from there.

First: The food

Just about everything is home made. We all love to cook (and eat) and spend the entire year gathering recipes we want to serve at New Years.


I brought the cheese tray (I am very very sorry that I did not write down which cheeses I purchased, however, they were all obtained at Whole Foods in case you are looking to create a lovely cheese tray of your own).
I also made my super easy and yet totally delicious Stuffed Dates wrapped with Bacon. This year I got the girls to help me stuff the dates before hand. It's so easy, a pre-school er can do it!
The family S made a tuna tapenade, olive tapenade, guacamole, tomatoes stuffed with guacamole, ceviche, bruschetta with Gorgonzola and pear and Grapes encrusted with blue cheese and pistachios (from a recipe they found in a Costco flier). The grapes were outstanding, however they took hours to prepare and we will probably not see them again. The family F brought some spanikopita, which were not home made. However, this was their first year joining us, so we made an exception and devoured them anyway.

Tomatoes stuffed with Guacamole

Grapes encrusted with Blue Cheese and Pistachios

Soup and Salad

For a change, the family Z made a lobster bisque for a first course. Another idea that sounds great but takes so much effort. There was pre-cooking the soup, pre-cooking the lobster, shelling the lobster, re-heating the soup and then serving it to the crowd that had been eating appetizers for 2 1/2 hours. While the creaminess of the soup and the divine taste of perfectly cooked lobster was well received, it was hard to appreciate it on a full stomach. (We have this problem every year!).

Lobster Bisque

Next was a Caesar salad tossed by the family F. A nice refresher before the main course.

Main Course

Mr C (my DH) spends a week or two before New Year's researching recipes on the Net. Usually he has something in mind, based on a good meal eaten during the year at a great restaurant in Chicago. Last year it was prime rib roast. Another year it was pistachio crusted rack of lamb. This year he chose to make beef tenderloin with a roasted shallot sauce accompanied by Parmesan and morel risotto (with a little truffle oil mixed in for good luck :). My next favorite meal is New Year's Day when we eat the leftovers! There was also broccoli with balsamic vinaigrette.


This year was a chocolate cake and a huge basket of chocolates that I had received as a holiday gift. I am so happy that I had 18 people help me eat them. Otherwise I would still be nibbling on raspberry bon-bons while avoiding the treadmill.

Next: Drink

We have learned over the years to use wine glass tags since it is hard to keep track of whose is which glass over the course of 6 hours. This year, I wrote down what each bottle was but I am not sure which order we drank them in. The last two are the only ones that we didn't knock off.

Bodega Norton Reserve from Argentina
Malbec 2004

Gloria Ferrer from Sonoma County
Sonoma Brut Sparkling Wine

La Crema from Sonoma Coast
Pinot Noir 2006

Mansfield from Napa Valley
Merlot 2004

Jacquesson France
Cuvee n 731 Champagne Brut 2003 Harvest

Gascon Argentina
Malbec 2006

Chateau St Jean from Kenwood, CA
Merlot 2002

Las Brisas Spain (still in my fridge!)
Blanc 2006

Acacia from Napa Valley (finished the next weekend)
Pinot Noir 2005

That sums up New Year's Eve. If you would like any of the recipes listed above, please post a comment and I will oblige.