Pork and Green-Bean Stir-Fry

– johanna | January 30th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish

I have been putting off the inevitable. During my last Costco shopping trip, I bought a platter of pork chops. Somehow, they ended up in the freezer without being divided and bagged. I finally pulled them out of the freezer to thaw, but we will be eating pork for the next week.

Source: Martha Stewart
1 (about 3/4 pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed of excess fat
Coarse salt
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
3 teaspoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons minced, peeled peeled fresh ginger
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon red-pepper flakes
1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
1 red bell pepper, ribs and seeds removed, cut into thin strips
1/3 cup dry-roasted peanuts, chopped
Cooked white rice, for serving (optional)

Cut pork diagonally into 1/4-inch thick slices; cut each slice lengthwise in half. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt.

In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, vinegar, and sugar; set sauce aside.

Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high. Add half the ginger, pepper flakes, and pork; cook, stirring, until pork is no longer pink, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Repeat, cooking remaining ginger, pepper flakes, and pork in another teaspoon oil; transfer to plate.

Meanwhile, cook green beans in a medium pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain; dry with paper towels.

Add remaining teaspoon oil to the skillet. Add beans, bell pepper, and 2 tablespoons water; cook over high heat, stirring often, until peppers are tender, about 2 minutes. Add peanuts, pork mixture, and reserved sauce. Cook, stirring, until pork is coated, about 1 minute. Serve immediately, over rice, if desired.

If using frozen green beans skip simmering them in water. Just thaw and move on to sauteing them in the skillet.
Make sure to use freshly grated ginger. The ground stuff is not the same.

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The Diary of a Novice Gardener: Survey the Spot

– johanna | January 29th, 2009

Filed under: THE GARDEN

We have lived in this house for three years now and still no garden. This year, I am determined to take the time to start one. My friends and family, who are experts on the subject, have clammed up forcing me to do my own research. First things first…find a place. That was easy. The minute we saw the house, I claimed the north east side of the yard for my own. The area gets the most sun during the summer and seemed like the natural place to plant a garden.

Next, I have to figure out what goes where. I have made several sketches of the garden, however, every time I compare it with the actual space, I stand there dumbfounded. I know I want to plant a “companion” garden utilizing containers. The theory of companion vegetable gardens is allowing Mother Nature to do what she does best. Pairing vegetables that grow deep in the soil with those that require a shallow bed, blending in plants that ward off pesty insects with those that invite creatures that are beneficial to producing a successful garden. We have plenty of birds, but I have not seen frogs since the first year we moved in. But, if I need frogs, birds and snakes so be it. We will create a nice little village for them.

Working with the sun, I will need to plant from North to south ensuring that every plant gets it’s share of the sun. Starting along the back fence, I have raspberries and blackberries. Originally, I planned on raising blueberries, but they are not as resilient and tend to be a bit more finicky than their cousins. (A tip when planting blueberries: plant two or more different varieties.) I will use sunflowers to separate the two and garlic as a border. Sunflowers attract bees and garlic is supposed to fight of bugs.

They say tomatoes are best when planted with basil, basil being a natural ward against pests. I plan on growing my tomatoes in containers with basil and parsley nestled right in the pot. Moving forward along the fence line with rows running East to West, I have peas, pots of tomatoes and potatoes. The next section will have green beans along the fence, squash (summer and zucchini) and cans of mint (again, to ward off the bad bugs) all divided by marigolds and Nasturtiums.

Continuing on along the fence, I have cucumbers in pots with a trellis, onions, thyme and carrots. Then peppers, cabbage, dill, lettuce and celery. Finally my herb garden consisting of basil, oregano, parsley, Nasturtium, asparagus, cilantro and marigolds and chives around the base of fruit trees. Flowers, Nasturtium and Marigolds thickly dotting where they will fit and strawberry plants as ground cover out front along the entry. I think that about covers it.

The fun part is tilling the earth. I need about 12 inches depth. The ground is clay and will become a nice home for my seedlings once some nutrient rich soil is mixed in and the earthworms move in. I have a ton of work ahead of me. I know in the end it will all be worth it.

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Magic Magnets Science

– johanna | January 28th, 2009


One day while I was at Target, I picked up some Cars, the movie, magnets from the dollar bin. Mason and Everett went nuts over them allowing me to get dinner finished and on the table.

To play Magnets :
– Collect different types and sizes of magnets.
– How many places in the kitchen will the magnets stick.
– Discuss how magnets work- Magnets are attracted to magnetic properties such as iron or steel.

(Use caution with little kids. As they can pose a choking hazard and a more serious threat if swallowed)

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Crock Pot Pork Chops with Tomatoes and Vegetables

– johanna | January 28th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish

I have some wonderful bone-in pork chops waiting to be transformed into something spectacular and yummy.  It is the end of the month so the pantry and refrigerator are pretty bare, leaving me with not much to work with. The recipe I decided to try comes from a group I joined over on Cafe Mom, all about crock pot cooking.

It reminded me of the chicken cacciatore my mom used to make. The chops were delicately tender and juicy. The ketchup was a little much. Maybe next time omit the ketchup and perhaps substitute a small amount of paste or puree. I only used 1 large onion, half the green pepper and diced tomatoes. We skipped the rice and ate ours with steamed veggies flavored with butter and garlic.

Source: “Yummy Chops”
4 pork chops, each about 1/2 inch thick
2 medium onions, chopped
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 large green pepper, sliced
1 (14 1/2 ounce) can stewed tomatoes
1/2 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 beef bouillon cube
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons water

Salt and pepper pork chops if desired.
Add all ingredients except water and cornstarch to the crock pot. Cook on low for 5 1/2 hours.
Mix cornstarch and water together and stir into crock pot. Cook 30 minutes more.
Serve over rice.

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Beef – Is on the Menu….All Week!

– johanna | January 27th, 2009


Earlier in the month I bought a package of steaks and pork chops. Somehow the packages ended up in the freezer before they were divided up and sealed. Needless to say they had to be used before frost bite set in. I had four huge steaks thawing in the refrigerator and here is what I made with them. On Taco Tuesday we had steak fajitas. Asian style Friday was Broccoli Beef Stir-fry. The next night Salad Saturday a  steak salad with grilled vegetables. Lunch the next day, steak sandwiches.

My steak and potato boys definately had their fill. It is not often that we have beef. What a shame it had to be consumed all in one week.

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Teriyaki Pork Tenderloin

– johanna | January 26th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

Source: The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger
1/2 cup Teriyaki sauce recipe follows)
1 (1 1/4 pound) pork tenderloin, trimmed of all visible fat and silverskin

Put the teriyaki sauce and pork in a sealable plastic bag. Seal the bag and marinate in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes or up to four hours.

Preheat the broiler. Remove the pork from the bag and discard marinade. Place the pork on a roasting pan and broil until an instant-read thermometer reads 155 degrees, about 15 minutes, turning once. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing.

Teriyaki Sauce:
1/4 cup low-sodium soy sauce
2 tbsp firmly packed dark brown sugar
2 tbsp dry sherry
2 tbsp rice vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh grated ginger
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes

Combine all the ingredients in a small bowl, stirring until the sugar dissolves.

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Chinese Year of the Ox

– johanna | January 26th, 2009


Happy New Year!

Today we celebrated Chinese New Year. This week we worked on making Chinese Lanterns and masks.

Today the kids thought it would be fun to make fortune cookies. Adelin made all the fortunes to hide inside.

For dinner we had Teriyaki Pork with noodles (for long life) and steamed broccoli and carrots. We had fortune cookies and orange slices (for a sweet life) for dessert.

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Fortune Cookies for Chinese New Year

– johanna | January 26th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

For Chinese New Year we decided to make our own fortune cookies. They proved to be harder than anticipated. Fortunately we were able to make one really good one for show while the rest, well… in Mason’s words, “Where are all the cookies?”

I started out with 6 cookies on a baking sheet. The first batch I baked for 13 minutes. I was able to remove one really good one and then the rest pretty much became scraps or misshapen. The next batch I decided to use waxed paper and baked them for 12 minutes. The waxed paper turned out to be a disaster. If I thought trying to scrape the cookies off a baking sheet was hard the waxed paper was worse. The baking time was too short producing gooey cookies while the 13 minutes produced crispy cookies. The flavor was wonderful. The amount of almond was perfect. I would suggest greasing the pan really well and baking fewer cookies per pan.

Once the baking sheet is removed from the over it is critical to remove all the cookies as fast as possible. I found that if I concentrated on removing the cookies first I still had time to go back and shape them. However, the shorter baking time resulted in a soft cookie that did not hold it’s shape well. It is equally important to make sure the batter is evenly spread out into circles on the baking sheets. The recipe suggested rotating the pan slightly rather than using the back of a spoon. I did not have much luck with rotating the pan. It seemed to work better dropping the batter from the spoon as you would when pouring pancake batter.

2 large egg whites
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
8 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 teaspoons water

Preheat oven to 300 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease 2 (9-X-13 inch) baking sheets.

In a medium bowl, lightly beat the egg white, vanilla, almond and vegetable oil until frothy, but not stiff. Sift flour, cornstarch, salt and sugar into a separate bowl. Stir in the water. Add the flour mixture into the egg mixture and stir until smooth. The batter should not be runny, but should drop easily off a wooden spoon.

Place level tablespoons of batter onto the cookie sheet, spacing them at least 3 inches apart. Gently tilt the baking sheet back and forth and from side to side so that each tablespoon of batter forms into a circle 4 inches in diameter. Bake until the outer 1/2-inch of each cookie turns golden brown and they are easy to remove from the baking sheet with a spatula, about 14 to 15 minutes.

Working quickly, remove the cookie with a spatula and flip it over in your hand. Place a fortune in the middle of a cookie. To form the fortune cookie shape, fold the cookie in half, then gently pull the edges downward. Place the finished cookie in the cup of the muffin tin so that it keeps its shape. Continue with the rest of the cookies.

On our flight to Hawaii they served us chocolate covered fortune cookies. Dip fortune cookies in melted chocolate.

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The Diary of a Novice Gardener

– johanna | January 25th, 2009

Filed under: THE GARDEN

When I was very little, our family would take a drive out west of town to pick the wild blueberries that grew along the fence by the highway. Once we got them home mom busied herself in the kitchen washing the berries and boiling the water to make jars of homemade jam. I have always envisioned a homestead with raised gardens, dotted with fruit trees of every kind. It was no surprise decades later the first thing I wanted to do when Stephen and I bought our first home was plant a garden in the back yard. I wanted to enjoy the satisfaction of growing my own fruits and vegetables.

We had little money as newlyweds just starting out and I savored the thought of having a healthy vegetable and herb garden. I worked for hours hoeing the hard dirt to make it soft enough to mix in the nutrients it lacked. Then finally, with great anticipation, I planted the seedlings. The hard work paid off in the weeks that followed. It was exhilarating to walk out back and pick herbs for our morning omelet. Or to fill my apron with the green beans, tomatoes, zucchini and summer squash. However I was unhappy with my meager supply. Grated the squash and especially the zucchini took off and grew to considerable size. Still the tomatoes green beans and herbs were lacking.

Growing vegetables is like baking bread, every gardener has their own opinion. Some say you can grow green beans next to corn while others insist it is impossible since corn needs nitrogen which in turn will harm the beans. Still in a book I read recently they say green beans need nitrogen too and the author suggested growing green beans next to corn. It is enough to give any novice like myself a headache. I just want to plant, water and wah-la, have great tasting and abundant fresh fruits and vegetables.

My dad grew up on a farm. But never did I think to ask him about the tricks of the trade. It was not until after I started my own family that I began to think about my childhood and the memories that I want to create with my children. So while visiting this summer I sat down with the master farmer to pick his brain and get all the insider tips.

My dad did not say much. Instead he gave me a brochure for an Aero-garden and told me to go experiment with the rest. My mom came in the room and reminded my dad of when he planted a hydroponics garden. Apparently all you do is dig a trench or use a vented planter. Fill the trench or planter with wood shavings or chips. Not bark. Next plant you plant in the wood chips. You can grow tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers to name a few. Finally give the plant a good drink with a mixture of liquid fertilizer and water. Sounded simple enough, yet I was still searching for the secrets behind a Martha Stewart worthy garden.

A few days later I went to visit my Great Aunt and my Grandmother, dad’s mom and aunt. They both grew up on a farm. Grandma Penny is the person who taught my dad. So it figured I would get some help there. They told me the same thing. You have to experiment. They added the most important key to gardening is adequate water and food. Then they suggested I visit the local feed store or garden center and ask someone there who knows the area and is knowledgeable about gardening. It was clear I was going to have to put in my own work and figure it all out by myself.

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Broccoli Beef Stir-Fry

– johanna | January 24th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish

This is my favorite recipe for broccoli beef. I like to eat it on a bed of cabbage or lettuce. The kids like with Chinese noodles.

3 tbsp soy sauce
1/4 cup beef broth
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sugar
3 cloves garlic , minced
1/4 tsp ground pepper
1 1/4 pounds flank steak, cut diagonally across the grain into 1/2-inch-by-3-inch strips
Canola oil
1 tbsp cornstarch
1 head broccoli, stems trimmed, peeled, and cut, florets separated into bite-size pieces
1 carrot, cut in thin strips
1/2 cup plus 3 tbsp water
Coarse salt

In a small bowl, mix soy sauce, broth, vinegar, sugar, garlic, and pepper. Place meat in a bowl or Ziploc bag; add marinade. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a nonstick skillet over high heat. Reserving marinade, cook meat in two batches until lightly browned, turning once, about 2-3 minutes per batch. Remove meat. Add 1/2 cup water to pan; stir up browned bits with a wooden spoon. Pour into marinade; whisk in cornstarch. Remove from pan.

In the same skillet, toss broccoli and carrots in 1 teaspoon oil over high heat until crisp. Add remaining 3 tablespoons water; cook until broccoli and carrots are tender but still have a bite, 6 to 8 minutes.
Stir in marinade, cook until thickened, 30 seconds. Return meat to pan; toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper.

For a little kick add red pepper flakes or chopped red chili pepper.
Sometimes I like to sprinkle the dish with toasted sesame seeds.

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