How to Sear Roasts and Stew Meat

– johanna | September 28th, 2010


Is pan searing meat really worth it? You bet cha! Pan searing is vital when cooking roasts or making beef stews. First the high heat creates a wonderful caramelized brown crust that gives the meat a nice texture. Second the left over burnt bits in the pan are scraped up using juice, broth or wine and then added to the roasting pan with the roast, soup pot or crock pot to increase the flavor.

You can sear just about any type of beef, poultry, pork or seafood. Searing is not meant to fully cook the meat. When searing beef and seafood steaks in addition to chicken breast and pork chops, it is important to note that you will need to finish cooking the item at a lower heat. You can sear steaks on a grill by creating a higher temperature on one side of the grill and a lower temperature on the opposite side. When the steak is caramelized move it to the other side to continue to slowly cook. This method for cooking beef steaks can be done on the stove by covering the pan with tinfoil or a lid and turning off the heat. For items such as chicken, pork or tuna steaks ideally you can turn the heat down or place the pan in a 350 degree heated oven for 5-8 minutes or until no longer pink. When using the stove to oven method make sure the pan you intend to use is oven proof. My favorite pan to use when grilling or searing is a cast iron skillet. Cast Iron skillets hold the heat in better and distribute it more evenly. Non-stick pans are not recommended as they are not meant to with stand the high heat required for searing.

This tutorial will guide you through the basics of pan searing a roast and stew meat.

— Remove the meat from the refrigerator and let sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

— Heat a skillet over high heat.

— Season the meat with salt and pepper or any desired seasoning. (For stew meat dredge seasoned meat in flour coating well.)

— Add enough butter or vegetable oil to lightly coat the bottom of the skillet. (Avoid olive oil because it smokes to much at high temperatures.) When the oil ripples and runs like water when the pan is tiled the pan is hot enough to add the meat.

— Let the meat sit in the pan for a few minutes to allow the meat to caramelize. When the meat is initially placed in the pan it will have a fast high pitched sizzle. Check the meat when you start to hear the sizzle slow down. If it looks caramelized, nice and browned, then it is time to turn it. Use tongs to turn the meat browning all the sides. (Sear stew meat in batches so as to not overcrowd the pan.)

— After the meat is removed turn the heat off. Carefully pour 1/2 cup to 1 cup liquid in pan. Deglaze the pan by scraping the bottom of the pan to get all the burnt bits off. Use the broth to flavor the roast or stew or as a sauce.

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Zucchini Patties

– johanna | September 24th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Appetizer, RECIPES - Sides

I love zucchini. I love roasting them, dicing them up in sauces and who cannot resist a tempting loaf of zucchini bread. But, I am bored with this little green courgette. I needed something new to use my last zucchini in. Ironically I was thinking about the fried zucchini my mom and enjoyed once but quickly moved on because I did not want anything fried and now here I am making fried zucchini patties. The daughter loved hers until she found out what was in them. I countered her saying “but you eat them in zucchini bread!” She would not budge. Zucchini Patties or fritters as I call them are really tasty with salsa or Spicy Dipping Sauce. Serve them as an h’orderve or as a side with a salad or grilled fish or chicken.

Source: Allrecipes
2 cups grated zucchini
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

In a medium bowl, combine the zucchini, eggs, onion, flour, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella cheese, and salt. Stir well enough to distribute ingredients evenly.

Heat a small amount of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Drop zucchini mixture by heaping tablespoonfuls, and cook for a few minutes on each side until golden.

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Family Togetherness: Say HooYah!

– johanna | September 21st, 2010


Photo: (info unknown)

One of the best ways to bring out positive behavior is to acknowledge it. Children and teenagers especially need our encouragement. They enjoy knowing good deeds have not gone unnoticed. One way we show recognition for the positive things done throughout the day is to give a big HooYah! at the end of a day or week. At the end of the day when we gather together before bed the high fives are dolled out. As each person is recognized we all take turns giving them a  high five.

This week for example our daughter got a HooYah for using a cutting board to cut her fruit on. Our oldest controlled his temper when the baby destroyed his Lego car. It also helps me focus more on remembering the positive moments during the day rather than the negative ones. The idea of applauding their successes has taught the children to feel genuinely happy for each other while learning how to help build one another up.

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Caramel Apple Brickle Dip

– johanna | September 17th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Appetizer, RECIPES - Snacks

Caramel apple dip was once one of my favorite sweet guilty pleasures. It was all the rave in my circle of friends. If there was a baby shower, birthday party or get together you can bet caramel apple dip was on the table. I have not had caramel apple dip for years now and thought it would make a lovely appetizer or after school snack using the delicious apple just coming in season.

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 package Heath Toffee Bits

Mix the cream cheese, sugars and vanilla until smooth. Stir in toffee bits. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Serve with a variety of sliced apples.

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September Resolution to Give

– johanna | September 14th, 2010


The Giving Tree by Lady Squall

With the onset of September also comes change. Children begin a new school year. College students move away. I no longer have to watch reruns of 30 Rock. New friendships will be made. Empty nesters will adjust to a quiet home. Lives are begun anew. Change can be difficult yet at the same time refreshing. This new beginning allows us to put our best foot forward.

I am not convinced that our resolutions are timed with the drop of the Ball on New Years Eve. I believe our desire to become a better person begins two months earlier. In November we celebrate all that we are thankful for. It is then that our hearts are touched by all the giving thanks; that iIn December we are compelled to reach out to those less fortunate allowing them to share in our bounty. By the time January 1st rolls around we have already felt the stirrings in our minds and in our hearts for change. What happens between February and November that causes us to loose momentum? We forget. We get busy. Playtime is over and it is back to the stresses and everyday battles.

The purpose of this year’s monthly resolutions provided a way to make a goal, stick with it for a month and if it was a success shout hooray and move on to a new goal the next month. On the other hand if success did not come about that month no worries. The slate is wiped clean. Instead of looking back at the weight I did not loose I can look to the future as I try to laugh more with the kids. There is no rule saying we cannot still try to work on the previous month’s resolution. The goal here is to gather the motivation to keep moving forward instead of giving up or feeling down because we could not do it; to focus more on our successes rather than our failures. As each month approaches it is like starting New Year’s Eve all over again.

Funny thing about this month’s resolution is I wanted to skip it all together because I felt so overloaded. Ironically isn’t GIVING all about forgetting our wants while focusing on others needs? As it is already the second week of the month I can tell you I was not as overloaded as I thought. When a friend’s dog died in a car accident this month I offered my condolences. When my daughter cried because a friend told her she no longer wanted to be her friend I gave her a listening ear. The act of Giving is more abundant in December. As I am trying to keep that spirit with me all year September seemed to be the perfect time to focus more on giving my heart, time and talents.

Ways Give:

  • Give more time to each of my children. (Spend 15-20 minutes day of devoted alone time)
  • Give more time to my husband. (Plan a weekly or bi-weekly date. Picnic in the park, walk around the lake, bowling, portable DVD movie in the car, dance in the moonlight on the back porch)
  • Give more time for myself. (Exercise, read a book, spend time with a friend, learn something new, practice talent for 15-10 mins)
  • Volunteer at the hospital.
  • Hold preemies in hospital.
  • Read to the elderly.
  • Read the books “The Giver” by Lois Lowry and “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.
  • Focus service on a family with an active son or daughter in the military.
  • Make cookies for a neighbor.
  • Take dinner to someone who just had a baby, surgery or a family in need.
  • Secretly mow your neighbor’s yard.Give unused items to someone who needs them.
  • Give gratitude.
  • Give up unsavory habits (gossiping, drinking, smoking, addictions)
  • Give up gossiping
  • Give blood.
  • Give recognition to those serving our community. (firefighters, police, nurses, doctors, farmers, teachers, wait staff, crossing guards)
  • Share a talent.  (make canned jams to share, scrapbook, photography, quilting, sewing, crafts, car maintenance, math tutoring, ect.)

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Vanilla Peach Pork Chops

– johanna | September 10th, 2010

Filed under: RECIPES - Main Dish

The kids and I waited all spring and early summer for the nectarines to ripen on the the tree in the backyard. Finally our patience paid off. One day while making our routine check of the fruit we found several ripe ones. The nectarines tasted so sweet and juicy. We ate them raw, we sliced them for salads, used them in scones and canned the rest. This recipe for vanilla pork chops tasted like we were eating dessert for dinner. I would have never thought to use vanilla with pork but when paired with the brown sugary nectarines and mustard sauce it was a tasty treat even the kids could not pass up.

Source: Better Homes and Gardens
4 boneless pork loin chops, cut 3/4 to 1 inch thick (about 1 pound)
1 cup water
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp packed brown sugar
2 large peaches or nectarines, halved and pitted
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp peach preserves
1 tbsp horseradish mustard
1/2 tsp vanilla

Preheat a grill to medium heat or oven to 350 degrees.

In a large ziplock bag combine the water, salt, sugar and 2 teaspoons vanilla. Seal the bag. Mix liquid until salt and sugar are dissolved. Add the pork chops to the bag; turn to coat. Let sit at least 30 minutes or refrigerate up to 24 hours.

Pat brown sugar onto cut sides of peach halves. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. In small bowl combine preserves, mustard and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Drain chops, discarding brine. Pat chops dry with paper towels. Spread preserves mixture on both sides of chops. Grill peaches and pork chops until the peaches are tender and the pork chops are no longer pink inside.

Makes 4 servings.

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September Website Reviews: Love2Learn2Day, PreschoolExpress, NTFFC

– johanna | September 7th, 2010


Last school year a few friends of mine and I decided to host a preschool for our four year old’s. We designed the preschool curriculum and drafted a schedule. There were four kids who thankfully got along well together. We met three days a week (Monday through Wednesday) for three hours. Each mom took turns hosting preschool at their house one week each month. The kids had a blast learning their letters and forming lasting friendships. My daughter just barely missed the cut off for Kindergarten this year. Unfortunately all her friends, she has meet since we moved, are going to school. Meaning she will be home with me and little brother. In my search to come up with fresh ideas to make a new ABC book I found No Time For Flash Cards.

If you have little ones at home and are looking for fun fantastic learning ideas for preschoolers from activities to crafts and book recommendations NTFFC is an easy place to start. Allison McDonald is the founder of No Time For Flash Cards. Allison has a degree in Elementary Education and spent 10 years working with preschoolers and parents teaching crafts. In 2008, after the birth of her son she left the classroom to be home with her son. Her passion for teaching children inspired her to share her ideas online. Thus, No Time For Flash Cards was created. You will find tons of books, themes and alphabet crafts to teach your toddler and preschooler.

Favorite NTFFC Links:
Toothpick Sea Urchins
Paper Plate Animals
Fine Art Museum
Venus Fly Trap

Preschool Express is a free on-line educational resource for children ages 1-5. Jean Warren is the founder of Preschool Express and the previous owner of Totline Publications. She is best known for her songs, rhymes and stories which can be found in popular books such as; Piggyback © Song books, 1*2*3 Art , Theme-a-saurus and the Totline Teaching Tales children’s book series. Jean created the Preschool Express Website as a way to give back to the world. Her hope is to provide every parent and grandparent the resources they need to create a natural learning atmosphere.

There is so much to explore on the Preschool Express. The calendar station offers teachers or parents a calender with chosen themes for each week. There are calenders for preschoolers and toddlers with a daily activity to do together. Plan a party at the party station. Learn to make snacks, read stories and discover.

If you have a child who loves math Love2Learn2Day offers loads of fun games and manipulative ideas that are K-12 math orientated. The creator of Love2Learn2Day is an educational consultant working with both kids and teachers. The website is all about learning to have fun with math.

Favorite Love2Learn2Day Links:
Mapping a Farm
Play dough Maps
Incan Quipu Math (place value, history)
Math in the Movies

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Potato Gnocchi

– johanna | September 3rd, 2010

Filed under: BUDGET MEALS, RECIPES - Sides

Whenever I am in the mood to cook Italian I always turn to my favorite Napa Valley Chef, Micheal Chiarello. His recipes are always clean and full of flavor. This recipe for Potato Gnocchi does not disappoint. Gnocchi [pronounced ‘Nyoke-ee’] is a type of dumpling made from semolina or wheat flours or starchy potatoes or sweet potatoes. It is not uncommon to find recipes that mix part potato with squash or spinach. Gnocchi are to the Italians what french fries are to the Americans. Everyone loves them. The dough is so light and fluffy it is like biting into a cloud; they practically melt in your mouth. Gnocchi was first introduced by Roman Legions during the expansion into Europe. It was a quick cheap side dish favored mostly in Northern Italy but now is enjoyed throughout the Middle East and South America.

Now, for the important part: the tips of trade for making perfect gnocchi. Michael prefers to bake the potatoes. It is perfectly fine to boil the potatoes however you must follow these important guidelines.

1. When boiling the potatoes for potato gnocchi you want to cook the potatoes WHOLE with SKINS ON. If you peel and cut the potatoes before boiling they will absorb too much water resulting in mush.

2. Do not over cook the potatoes. Test the potatoes by piercing one with a fork or knife. If it is hard then it needs to cook longer. A fork should be able to insert easily and the potato slowly slip off. (About 30-45 minutes) Lay the potatoes on a board or towel to cool slightly before peeling.

3. Use a potato ricer or push the cooked potato through a strainer. Mashing the potatoes creates mashed potatoes. Gnocchi begins as a light dough. Pushing the potatoes through a strainer or ricer is what gives the gnocchi the airy texture.

The dough should be gently handled similar to when making biscuits or pie crusts or even meatballs. Everything is folded in mixing until just blended. This is not a pasta or bread dough so avoid kneading the dough too much. Add the flour a little bit at a time until the dough holds together. Do not add too much flour. Once the dough is ready you can either cut the dough then cook or shape the cut pieces using the tines of a fork. The indentations created by rolling the dough on the fork is key to holding the sauce. The end result? Absolute heaven. There are many ways to serve gnocchi. Be sure to scroll to the bottom of the recipe for delicious ideas. Click here for a step by step tutorial from making the dough to rolling them.

Source: Michael Chiarello
Kosher salt
1 pound russet potatoes
3 to 4 large egg yolks,
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon gray salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting board and dough

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Spread a layer of kosher salt on a baking sheet and arrange the potatoes on top (see Cook’s Note). Bake until a bit overcooked, about 45 minutes. Let sit until cool enough to handle, cut in half, and scoop out the flesh. Reserve the potato skins, if desired, for another use. Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer or grate them on the large holes of a box grater. You should have about 2 cups.

Make a mound of potatoes on the counter or in a bowl with a well in the middle, add 3 of the egg yolks, the cheese, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix in the potatoes and mix well with hands. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the flour over the potatoes and, using your knuckles, press it into the potatoes. Fold the mass over on itself and press down again. Sprinkle on more flour, little by little, folding and pressing the dough until it just holds together, (try not to knead it.) Work any dough clinging to your fingers back into the dough.

If the mixture is too dry, add another egg yolk or a little water. The dough should give under slight pressure. It will feel firm but yielding. To test if the dough is the correct consistency, take a piece and roll it with your hands on a well-floured board into a rope 1/2-inch in diameter. If the dough holds together, it is ready. If not, add more flour, fold and press the dough several more times, and test again.

Keeping your work surface and the dough lightly floured, cut the dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a rope about 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut into 1/2-inch-long pieces. Lightly flour the gnocchi as you cut them.

To shape use a gnocchi board or the tines of a  fork turned upside down. Rest the bottom edge of the gnocchi board (or the back of a fork) on the work surface, then tilt it at about a 45 degree angle. Take each piece and squish it lightly with your thumb against the board while simultaneously pushing it away from you. As you shape the gnocchi, dust them lightly with flour.

When ready to cook, bring a large pot of water to a light boil and add salt. Drop in the gnocchi and cook for about 30 seconds from the time they rise to the surface. Remove the cooked gnocchi with a skimmer, shake off the excess water, and serve as desired.

Cook’s Note:
Baking potatoes on a layer of salt allows heat to circulate 360 degrees. Scrape the salt into a jar and reuse it again and again. If you do not have time to shape the gnocchi, you can freeze the dough, defrost it in the refrigerator, and then shape it. To freeze shaped gnocchi, line baking sheets with waxed paper and dust with flour. Spread the gnocchi on the prepared sheets and freeze until hard. Remove to individual-portion-size freezer bags. Store in the freezer for up to 1 month. To cook, drop the frozen gnocchi into boiling salted water. Cook for about 2 minutes after they rise to the surface.

Dazzledish Variations:
– Baked Gnocchi: Prepare gnocchi as directed above. Meanwhile heat 2 tablespoons butter in a saucepan over low heat. When melted stir in 2 tablespoons flour until smooth. Slowly add 1 cup milk whisking until smooth. Continue to heat sauce until slightly thickened about 5 minutes. Then add 3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese. Stir until blended. Season with salt and pepper. Place cooked gnocchi in a casserole dish. Pour sauce over gnocchi. Bake at 400 degrees for 10-12 minutes.
– Sprinkle gnocchi with 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan cheese then drizzle with 1/2 cup heavy cream. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 10-12 minutes.
– Simmer gnocchi in chicken stock with chopped celery and carrots to make dumpling soup. Garnish with chopped scallions.
– Heat 3 tablespoons butter over medium heat until slightly browned. Toss with gnocchi.
– Serve Gnocchi with marinara sauce.
– Use in the place of pasta.

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