Balsamic Pork Chops with Tomatoes and Feta

– johanna | May 31st, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish

Balsamic Pork Chops with Tomatoes and Feta

I try to be frugal when it comes to shopping for groceries. I shop around for the best deal and lately I have come home with mostly store brand items. However, the few pre-packaged items I refuse to skimp on are cheeses and Balsamic vinegar. Store brand cheeses tend to be salty and the cream cheese has an off flavor. The high-end vinegar has a silky smooth texture and flavor that turns a dish from a box version into gourmet. Definitely worth the splurge.

Source: Lovecooking
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 large onion, halved and thinly sliced
4 pork loin chops, 1 inch thick
Salt and Pepper
Garlic powder (optional)
1/2 pint red grape tomatoes, halved
1/2 pint yellow grape tomatoes, halved
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon dried basil
2 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Season pork chops well with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Heat 1 tablespoon in a large skillet over medium-high heat until glossy. Place the pork chops in the skillet cooking 2-3 minutes per side. Remove from heat and cover with tin foil.

Add the onions and garlic; cook until tender and slightly caramelized over medium heat. Stir in tomatoes and basil; continue cooking about 3 minutes, until tomatoes are tender. Stir in the balsamic vinegar and season with salt and pepper. To serve top pork chops with the onion and tomato mixture then sprinkle with feta cheese and a splash of Balsamic vinegar (optional).

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Apple Tart Cake Recipe

– johanna | May 30th, 2009

Filed under: RECIPES - Treats

Apple Tart Cake

I was finally able to salvage enough apples to make this apple tart cake. Fruit does not last very long around here. You know the saying, “If you have not used it in a year then toss it?” I can’t remember the last time I used my apple corer/slicer but by sheer luck it went undetected when I was gathering items for the garage sale. The narrow escape ensures it will remain in the drawer for at least another year.

I was really hesitant about the icing. It tasted too bland and too much like powdered sugar. On the cake it seemed to melt away not contributing any extra dimension of flavor. I recommend leaving it off or using another recipe for orange icing.

Slice of Apple Tart Cake

1 1/2 cups bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
5 granny smith apples (peeled, corded and sliced thin )
1 cup powdered sugar
3-4 tablespoons orange juice

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 11-inch tart pan with shortening or cooking spray and a little flour.

Sift the flour, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into a small bowl.

In a large bowl beat eggs and sugar until thick, white and satiny. Add the vanilla to the slightly warm melted butter; mix into egg mixture until well blended. Stir in the sliced apples; tossing until completely coated. Fold in the sifted dry ingredients until just incorporated.

Pour into the prepared tart pan and bake for 50-55 minutes. Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

Mix the powdered sugar and orange juice until well blended. Drizzle over cooled cake.

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The Many Uses of Flour

– johanna | May 29th, 2009


When the economy started it’s downward spiral the commodity most talked about was rice and flour. I started to write down all the many uses of flour. When used in baking it binds the ingredients together and supports the batter to prevent nuts and berries from sinking to the bottom of the pan. When used in cooking, it thickens sauces, creams and pie fillings.

The types of flour available seems practically endless: barley, buckwheat, chickpea, corn, oats, potato, rice, rye, soy, wheat, cake, self rising, bread and all-purpose. The choice of flour used will ultimately affect the finished product. Here is a short lesson on the science of flour. Flour contains protein. When the protein comes in contact with water and heat it produces gluten. Gluten is what gives elasticity and strength to baked goods. Different types of flour contain different amounts of protein. Therefore varying  from what is called for in a recipe will alter the outcome of the baked good.

Cake Flour: The most common variance I can think of is using regular all-purpose flour in the place of cake flour. Cake flour has a protein base of 6-8%.  It is used to produce a delicate tender crumb. Using all-purpose flour to make biscuits or cake will produce a dense texture rather than a light and airy one. Make your own by adding 2 tablespoons cornstarch to 3/4 cups sifted all-purpose flour. To substitute cake flour for all-purpose use 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons cake flour for every cup of all-purpose flour.

Bread Flour: Bread flour has a protein base of 12-14% and is used to make yeast breads.

All-Purpose: All-Purpose Flour has a protein base of 10-12% and is used to make traditional sweets like cakes, cookies, quick breads, and pastries.

Pastry Flour: Pastry flour is similar to cake flour, with an 8-10% protein base. To make two cups of pastry flour, combine 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour with 2/3 cup cake flour.

Self-Rising Flour: Self-Rising Flour has a low protein base with salt and leavening already added. Combine 1 cup all-purpose, 1 1/2 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.

Bleached Flour: Bleached flour has less protein than unbleached. Bleached is best for delicate baked goods such as yeast bread, pastries, pie crusts, cookies, quick breads, pancakes and popovers.

Whole Wheat Flour: Whole wheat is made from the whole kernel and is higher in dietary fiber than white flours. Whole wheat does not produce as much gluten, so it is often mixed with all-purpose or bread flour to give a better rise. The protein base depends on the type of wheat used. Hard red wheat has a higher protein level than hard white wheat. Hard white wheat when ground is much like all-purpose flour and can be used in much the same way. Red wheat berries can be cooked and added to soups, casseroles or lasagna, eaten like oatmeal or ground and made into bread.

Other Types of Flour: barley, buckwheat, chickpea, corn, oats, potato, rice, rye, soy and flaxseed are sometimes combined with all-purpose or wheat to give added flavor and nutrients. These flours can be used in pasta, yeast bread and some quick breads.

The Use of Flour:

Proper measuring of flour is extremely important. Too much flour will result in a tough and heavy baked good. When measuring flour always fluff the flour then spoon the flour into a measuring cup and level off with a knife. Do not pack it down or scoop the cup into the flour.

Sifting flour removes lumps and aerates it so that when combined with the liquid the batter mixes easily. If a recipe calls for 1 cup sifted flour this means you sift the flour before measuring. If the recipe calls for 1 cup flour, sifted this means you sift the flour after measuring.

Store flour in a cool dry place for up to six months. To prevent insects you can store flour in the refrigerator or freezer, bring to room temperature before using.

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Grill Night Basic Seasoned Hamburgers

– johanna | May 28th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish


Food tastes so much better when cooked on a grill. From meats to vegetables and fruits the flavors just burst with excitement. Unfortunately, we do not have a grill, yet. But, we are still able to enjoy typical BBQ fare roasted in the oven or seared on a skillet.

For marinades and seasoning I tend to turn to my brother Todd, he is always experimenting with spices. I am not as creative so I usually use Montreal Steak Seasoning or a blend my sister-n-law sent me or Emeril’s Chicken seasoning. My friend Kate gave me another fast tip last summer when she was describing how easy and fast it was to pull together a meal on the grill after work. Before work she throws a couple chicken breasts in a zip-loc bag along with generous amount of Italian salad dressing. The chicken is marinaded and ready to plop on the grill as soon as she gets home. Salt and pepper or BBQ sauce are great simple alternatives to marinades.

Another tip I have learned about grilling is to always bring the meat to room temperature. If the meat is cold it takes longer to cook and the meat tends to boil in it’s own juices rather than grill. Resulting in completely a different taste. Lastly, meat continues to cook after it is removed from the heat. So watch the cooking time.

Hamburger Patties

1-2 pounds ground beef
1 pound ground chuck
1-2 tbsp seasoning blend
1 tbsp oil

In a large bowl mix the ground beef, seasoning and oil. Scoop a palm full of the mixture and roll into a loose ball, flatten gently to avoid compressing the mixture too much. Make hamburger patties slightly larger than desired size as they shrink during cooking.

Heat a large skillet on medium-high. Cook patties about three minutes on each side or until desired doneness.

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Cheap and Tasty: Super Quick Minestrone

– johanna | May 27th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Soup / Salad

I really jumped on the eating fresh band wagon years ago when I spotted Michael Chiarello on the Food Network. His dishes looked amazing. He made making gnocchi and tomato puree look so simple.

In some recipes that call for pancetta I will go ahead and substitute thick bacon. But in this recipe I suggest stopping by the deli to purchase the real thing. One alternative to using bacon in the place of pancetta would be to cook the bacon in the pot but remove before adding the rest of the ingredients then crumble the bacon and sprinkle over the soup ladled in individual bowls before serving.

Source: Michael Chiarello

1 cup (4 ounces) tubetti pasta, or other small pasta shape
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 cups chicken stock
1/4 pound pancetta, cut into 3 pieces
6 medium garlic cloves, each cut in 1/2 lengthwise
2 cups finely chopped yellow onions (2 small onions)
1 cup small-diced celery (2 medium stalks)
1 cup small-diced carrots (2 to 3 medium carrots)
1 tablespoon finely chopped rosemary or thyme leaves
1 (14-ounce) can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
4 cups small-diced zucchini (green/yellow) (5 small zucchini)
2 cups small-diced, peeled russet potatoes (1 large russet)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to package directions until al dente. Drain and transfer the pasta to a baking sheet. Toss the pasta with a little olive oil to prevent sticking.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, warm the chicken stock.

In another large saucepan over high heat, heat 1/4 cup oil. When the oil is hot but not smoking, add the pancetta and cook until it begins to brown, 3 to 4 minutes, turning occasionally. Add the garlic and cook until it begins to brown, about 1 minute, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat to medium and add the onions, celery, and carrots.

Cook until the vegetables are soft, 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent browning. Add the chopped herbs. Raise the heat to high. Add the beans, tomatoes, zucchini, and potatoes. Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then bring it down to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, 12 to 15 minutes, skimming any foam off the top of the soup. Season generously with pepper. Add salt, to taste. Just a few minutes before serving, add the cooked tubetti pasta. Serve warm with Parmesan and olive oil passed at the table.

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Italian Sausage and Pasta in a Cream Tomato Sauce

– johanna | May 26th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish

Italian Sausage and pasta in a cream tomato sauce

Tonight’s menu called for spaghetti but I really did not feel like spaghetti. A variation of stroganoff with the use of sausage came to mind. I used mild Italian sausage but feel free to pump up the heat with medium or hot sausage. The great thing about cream sauce is there are several ways to go about making it. The first is using a rue of butter, flour and milk, the second is using cream and the third way is a can of cream of soup. Tonight I used a can of cream of mushroom soup plus a half can of milk.

8-10 ounces pasta
1 tbsp olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 (28 oz) can Italian-style plum tomatoes, drained and coarsely chopped
Fresh parsley, chopped

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain.

In a large skillet heat oil over medium heat. Add sausage, stirring occasionally to break up large clumps. Cook until completely browned. Stir in onion, garlic and red pepper, cooking until tender. Stir in tomatoes, soup and milk. Simmer until mixture thickens, 5 minutes.

Stir cooked pasta into sauce and heat through. Sprinkle with parsley.

In the place of the cream of mushroom soup and milk use 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons flour, 1 cup milk and 1/2 tsp salt. Or use 1 1/2 cups cream and 1/2 tsp salt.
Add some chopped carrots or zucchini with the onions.
Add kale or spinach with the tomatoes.
Substitute Bulgar wheat, barley, potatoes or roasted vegetables in place of the pasta.

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Mediterranean Roasted Vegetables with Bulgar Wheat

– johanna | May 25th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Sides

I love roasted vegetables. The are the most delicious slightly charred and seasoned lightly with kosher salt. You can make them in the oven as stated in this recipe or in a skillet over medium-high heat. I usually use Bulgar wheat for breakfast cereal sort of like an oatmeal. Tonight however I ventured to try a recipe pairing the wheat and vegetables. The verdict was a unanimous two thumbs up. I feel a little guilty letting the crowd believe the Bulgar wheat was couscous. They liked it so why spoil it, right?

I use a product called better than bullion in the place of broth. It is basically concentrated broth that has to be refrigerated. It calls for 1 teaspoon per 1 cup hot water. I forgot to measure how much water I put in the bowl with the wheat but 1 teaspoon of the bullion and a pinch of salt was enough to give the wheat sufficient flavor. Serve with grilled salmon, chicken, steaks or seared tuna steaks.

Source: The Good Mood Food Blog
Serves 4-5 generous portions
200g (about 1 1/3 cups) of Bulgar wheat
1 tsp of vegetable bouillon powder
1 aubergine (eggplant) chopped into bite size pieces
2 courgettes (zucchini) chopped into bite size pieces
2 red onions chopped into bite size pieces
1 sweet red pepper chopped into bite size pieces
2 tbsp olive oil
A good pinch of sea salt and ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Place the Bulgar wheat in a large bowl and cover with boiling water. Stir through the vegetable bouillon powder, cover with a cloth or cling film and allow to sit for about 30 minutes or until all the water is soaked up.

Add all the prepared vegetables to a large bowl or baggy and toss with the oil, salt and black pepper. Arrange the vegetables on a large non-stick low sided roasting tray, making sure not to overcrowd it, as this will make the vegetables become soft. Roast for approximately 30-40 minutes or until the vegetables become slightly scorched on the edges. Remove the tray from the oven and allow to cool. Add the roasted vegetables to the Bulgar wheat and stir gently to combine. If needed, season with a little extra sea salt and black pepper.

-Use any type of hearty vegetable such as carrots, beetroot, asparagus, potatoes or corn.
-Use chicken or vegetable broth in the place of water and the bullion powder.

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Pasta with Shrimp and Peas

– johanna | May 24th, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish

This is basically a lighter version of shrimp scampi. The lemon zest adds a fresh twist without becoming too overbearing. I like to use cooked shrimp tossing it in with the pasta and parsley. I do not have to worry about over cooked rubbery shrimp. As for the pasta use what ever pasta you have on hand.

Source: Adapted from
1 tbsp olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper
1 cup chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt
1 (10 oz) package frozen peas
1 tsp grated lemon zest
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add garlic, cook for 1 minute. Add red pepper, onion and salt; cook until onion is soft and translucent, about 7 minutes. Add broth; bring to boil. Reduce to simmer; cover and cook 5 minutes.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add pasta and cook until tender according to package directions; drain.

Add the shrimp, peas and zest to the skillet. Cover and cook 6 minutes or until shrimp are just cooked through. Toss with pasta, lemon juice and parsley.

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Kids Choice: Cheesy Scrambled Eggs with Bacon and Toast

– johanna | May 23rd, 2009

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Main Dish

Cheesy Scrambled Eggs with Bacon and Toast

Tonight is movie night. The featured showing: “Finding Nemo”. I love Pixar movies because the scripts are genuinely well done and they always feature beautiful music in their films. Movie night is also kids choice. The kids decide what we eat for dinner. Mason, our five year old, decided to make cheesy scrambled eggs with bacon and toast.

Large Eggs, about 2 eggs per person
Shredded cheddar cheese
Bacon slices, 1 slice per person
Slices of bread, 1 slice per person
Butter and Jam, optional
Salsa, optional

Heat a skillet over medium heat. In a large bowl whisk the eggs until well blended, even in color and slightly frothy, about 2 minutes. Melt a little butter in the pan or spray with cooking spray. Pour egg mixture into heated skillet. Let the eggs begin to set. Use a spatula to gently lift and push the eggs from the edge of the pan to the center; tilting the pan to evenly distribute the runny parts. Continue pushing the eggs toward the center until the eggs are set. Turn off the heat. Carefully flip the eggs over to cook until no longer wet. Sprinkle with shredded cheese.

Meanwhile, cook bacon until the fat is no longer translucent and the bubbling grease turns foamy. Toast bread in a toaster until golden brown. Slather with butter and jam, if using.

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Making Time for the Family: Dinnertime Fun

– johanna | May 22nd, 2009


In the book His Needs Her Needs the concept of the love Bank is introduced. Throughout our lives we are constantly adding and subtracting from the love bank. The goal is to have a surplus of love credits so that the bank never falls empty. Theoretically, when we meet someone the way they treat us or speak to us determines if love points are deposited or not. The more points that person deposits the closer we begin to feel toward them. Makes sense. If someone hates us, says derogatory remarks or is abusive then surely we are not going to want to be around that person. The book refers to married couples but I suspect the theory could also be applied to friends and family.

Dinnertime is the one part of the day to sit down as a family and communicate, discuss the events of the day or week, solve problems or situations at school or work, and share stories and goals. Use the time to express your love and gratitude, teach about sex, drugs, drinking, and nutrition, go over the rules of the house, discuss manners, how to manage finances, help build one another, or plan a vacation. The purpose is to get to know each other by lingering a little longer around the table. This is how your kids will learn how to communicate, show affection, learn to trust, share feelings and feel loved. These are all ways to add points to our child’s love bank. They will learn they can trust us because we truly care about them. The relationships between siblings will be strengthened as well.

A number of studies show that children who eat dinner with their families regularly (at least 5 nights a week) are less likely to get involved with drugs and alcohol than those who do not. They get better grades, exhibit less stress and eat healthier. The studies also indicate that teenage girls are less likely to become pregnant or experience an eating disorder. A Harvard study revealed family dinners are more beneficial than play and story time in the development of vocabulary in young children. Studies have also shown that family mealtime reduces the stress level of working moms. An article in the June 2006 Time magazine reported “among those who eat together three or fewer times a week, 45% say the TV is on during meals (as opposed to 37% of all households), and nearly one-third say there isn’t much conversation. Such kids are also more than twice as likely as those who have frequent family meals to say there is a great deal of tension among family members, and they are much less likely to think their parents are proud of them.”

Now that we know the importance of family meal time lets tackle reality. Sadly in many households the kitchen is void of family members and dinner. The art of making homemade meals is non-existent in many homes today. In some homes a bag of fast food is quickly divided among the family members with respected persons walking off in different directions. For those who attempt to have family meals few are met with a great deal of resistance and too soon dismiss the practice feeling defeated.

Start the building process by getting everyone involved in preparing the meal. Learn how to make a menu and prepare three easy meals and rotate them each week. Carry the chatter to the dinner table as you sit down to enjoy a meal everyone had a part in making. Gordon Ramsey, chef and host of Kitchen Nightmares and Hell’s Kitchen understands the importance of sharing a meal together. In his home Sunday lunch is mandatory family time.

In past generations family stories were passed around the dinner table. The children got to know their uncles and grandparents listening to those stories. Stephen’s dad carried on a tradition started by his father of asking trivia questions during dinner as a means of conversation. Amanda Blake Soule author of Creative Family uses dinnertime as a time to reflect on what they are most grateful for. Dinnertime at the White House remains the same for the Obama family. An interview in the March 2009 issue of People revealed the Obama family takes turns sharing their “rose and thorn” for the day.

Eating dinner together is no cure-all however it is the means to providing stability and strength to the family. Our kids realized they could be part of the conversation and now Mason enjoys telling us wild stories and both Mason and Adelin have fun answering the questions Stephen asks of us. All it takes is a commitment to turn off the phones, TV and the racing mind. Statistics prove it is worth every battle in the end.

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