What’s Cooking, Good Lookin’?

Back in the day, when I was a single working girl, menu planning and cooking were rather low on my list of priorities. My roommates and I each cooked a meal for the house once a week, but beyond that, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the kitchen. I kept quick and easy lunch stuff handy for taking to school, and grazed or went out to eat when leftovers weren’t available. It wasn’t bad.

But marriage has brought a new perspective on my culinary habits, as it has with nearly every other area of my life. For some reason, my husband can’t survive on my (healthy and perfectly normal) grazing-style meals. An apple with cheese and crackers doesn’t count as a meal in his book, just like a half a bag of tortilla chips with salsa doesn’t count in mine. So to keep my husband happy and my baby healthy, I’m working to develop a new cooking routine.

Thankfully, my mother, with her characteristic foresight, presented me with a collection of family recipes when I graduated from college. I’ve often turned to this priceless gift for guidance when inspiration failed me. Many a night has our table been graced with the familiar flavors of Mom’s chili and corn casserole, or Aunt Elizabeth’s wild rice, chicken, and avocado salad or Grandma’s Sunday Chicken. Zach’s step-mom Vivian has given us a few booklets of favorite recipes she makes for guests at her lake-side resort and I’ve relied heavily on those collections as well. I can make her fruited chicken enchiladas without even looking at the recipe now!

Nothing can take the place of traditional family recipes, but I’m on the look out for new recipes to add to my repertoire these days. Economy, flavor, and practicality are key: I want to learn new ways to prepare lean meats and hearty vegetables.  I’ve mastered the roasted chicken (it’s cheaper) and made some headway in the pot roast department recently. I’ve even used the roasted chicken leftovers to make stock for homemade chicken soup! But my enthusiasm is a bit low these days.

What are some of your favorite dinner menus? Family recipes? Original compositions? If you post a recipe in the comments  box, I’ll write a review of the dish (complete with pictures) when I try it!

In the spirit of reciprocity, here are a few places where I’ve found culinary inspiration before: Enjoy!

Food Gawker: A visual feast, if nothing else, this site features the best looking food you’ll ever find. Due to the emphasis on food photography, the daily spread usually leans heavily towards the dessert menu (and they’re awfully tempting to try…). Just browsing the homepage is a culinary education: I’d never even heard of gougeres before! Their archives are extensive and searchable, so you’ll be able to find a picture-perfect recipe for whatever ingredients you have to work with. Be warned: not all recipes are available in English.

Cooking Light: This is my go-to site when dinner needs to be ready in two hours and I’m completely stumped. I like their articles on seasonal foods and their special holiday menus often inspire. Take their “Superfast” recipes with a grain of salt, though—often they require starting with pre-cooked or deli-bought meats and so the real-life preparation time is twice as long as advertised. The calorie counts at the bottom of each recipe can be helpful, too, so long as you pay close attention to their portion sizes, which are usually on the small side.

Dinner on a Dime: It doesn’t always live up to it’s thrifty name, but I appreciate the simplicity of this site’s design. The recipes are often on the simpler side, as well. You’re more likely to find good ideas for how to jazz up old staples than suggestions for preparing more exotic ingredients. (We can’t eat pomegranate seeds and endive all the time, you know).

On My Menu: This blogger does a lot of the research for you—most of her recipes are taken from Rachel Ray, Real Simple, and other popular sites. A mother of three with a love for both cooking and photography, she reliably posts one recipe a day and has a good breadth of variety in any given week. She usually choses recipes that require a reasonable amount of preparation time and reasonably priced ingredients.

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8 Comments

Filed under Domesticity

8 responses to “What’s Cooking, Good Lookin’?

  1. Anna W

    I’ve been enjoying your blog this month after stumbling across it 🙂

    Last night was snowy and cold here in Michigan, and I made a really hearty potato-bacon soup for my boyfriend and a couple guyfriends. It was a big hit, and gone very quickly since I had cut the recipe in half. Credit belongs to cookingbytheseatofmypants dot com, though I edited some instructions. I served the soup with white wine, salad, bread and olive oil, and cheesecake and vanilla ice cream for dessert. (These are 6’2, 21-year-old men, so they were hungry!) Here’s the full recipe; it should serve 5-6 men or up to 8 women/children, haha.

    Ingredients:
    1/2 lb (1/2 package) thick cut pepper bacon, cooked until crisp and chopped/crumbled
    2 – 3 tbsp. Bacon drippings
    1 large onion, chopped
    4 cloves garlic, minced
    5 lbs. russet or red potatoes, peeled and cut in half-inch cubes
    32 oz. chicken stock or broth (approximate) —but have more on hand, as the recipe with this ratio is almost as thick as mashed potatoes
    1/2 pint heavy cream
    1/8 lb (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
    Salt and pepper to taste

    Method:

    Cook bacon using preferred method until crisp. (Either fry as usual or, to make it stay flat, put it on a rack and baking sheet in the oven at 375 degrees for 10-15 minutes until light brown.) Allow to cool and chop or crumble into small pieces. Reserve several tablespoons of drippings. (Add more bacon drippings if onions look dry. This will depend on the size of your pot and particular onion.)

    Place a large soup pot or heavy casserole over low heat. Add 2 tbsp. bacon drippings and cook onions, stirring frequently, until translucent. (The onions scorch really quickly in bacon fat, so make sure your heat is low or you’ll be scraping burnt onions off the bottom of the pot.) Add garlic and cook another 2 minutes, stirring often.

    Add potatoes and cook, stirring occasionally for a few minutes. (If the pot is dry, add more bacon drippings.) When everything is sizzling nicely, add enough stock/broth to just cover potatoes. Increase heat, cover and simmer (and you’ll have to then lower the heat as necessary to prevent it from boiling off the broth and getting super thick) for approximately 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes are fork-tender.

    Mash potatoes roughly with a potato masher. [[[[This suggested step isn’t strictly necessary: Scoop out about half of the remaining mixture and puree in a blender (in batches!) or food processor. (Or if you’ve got an immersion blender, go for it with that.) Make sure to leave a good bit of the potatoes chunky, for texture.]]]]]]
    Anyway, don’t worry too much about getting the potatoes evenly mashed. If they refuse to mash, let them cook in the broth more and then try it. Once you’ve mashed the potatoes right…

    …Add butter and heavy cream. Stir to combine well. Taste for seasoning– namely salt and pepper– and add more stock/broth if soup is too thick for your liking, which it probably will be. When the consistency is right for you, stir in bacon and bring to just a bare simmer, stirring often.

    Serve hot. Garnish with additional crumbled bacon and some chives or green onions.

  2. Thanks for the recipe! It looks like Laurel has already added the ingredients to her shopping list. I’m sure you’ll get a full report of the results from both of us soon.

  3. Zach

    Did it again!

    Sorry – that was me, not Laurel speaking in the third person.

  4. Here is my favorite salad recipe (sorta mine, nothin’ fancy but really good): http://diemdame.wordpress.com/2010/12/30/watercress-in-my-magic-salad/

    Plus it has pretty pictures I took with my new super duper camera.

  5. Peter

    I made a fantastic white chili from “Simply in Season” (http://www.worldcommunitycookbook.org/season/index.html, a gift last year from Andy and Abby) this week. I don’t think it counts as “low-fat”/”high protein”… if you want the recipe I can get it to you.

  6. Dawn

    Hi Laurel! I’ve been enjoying your blog so much since I found it a couple of weeks ago.
    I have found some amazing recipes at The Nourishing Gourmet. She has great main dishes for $1, $5, and $10 and has wonderful, healthy tips.

    http://www.thenourishinggourmet.com/

  7. Anna, I made that soup last week (and even took pictures!) Will post a review soon, I hope. Thanks for the recipe.

    Hey Dawn! What a fabulous website! Thanks for the link. While I’m not ready to cut down to 8.5 grams of sweetener/day, I DO like a lot of her ideas. How did you find the blog?

  8. Anna W

    Great, I’m glad the soup worked out! Good luck in your continued recipe search.

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