Sunday, May 11, 2008

Best Kids in the World

My (our) kids are the spice in my life. They make it more sweet and savory than any other thing/person I know. I just said to my sister, Janelle, "Do you remember what you did before there were little ones running around your house?" I honestly, don't really remember what I did with my "free" time. Even then, I felt that I didn't have enough of it. Now, when I have free time, or a day alone, I get lonesome for my kids. This is a good thing.

Here they are:

Jeffrey: who likes to be called by his full name, not "Jeff". He's 9 and loves all knock-knock jokes, even the ones he makes up. He is just starting to think tooting is funny. His 6 year old brother is catching on to that more quick than I would like. The little sister is also starting to follow. Holy cow...what's next? Jeff likes to pretend to be in a scene from a movie/cartoon. He loves acting. We, the parents, are trying to navigate through the thespian world to plug him into appropriate venues for his talents. I am not counting on fame and fortune, but would like him to hone his talents as they fit him. This has been one of my dearest prayers for my children, that we would be able to recognize our children's talents and open doors for them to do what they were created to do.

Maximus, who goes by Max or Maxer: he's a bodacious 6 year old boy. He needs to be in wrestling and football. He will tackle anyone who looks like they should be tackled. As you can imagine, this has gotten him into hot water from time to time. But, mostly, it's a good thing. He likes to write stories and poems and draw pictures. He hates changing what he's currently doing and really hates to dress up. He has a twin, his cousin, Connor who is 4 years younger than him. They look similar, have the same likes and dislikes and pretty near the same personality. Both are a joy. Max will give hugs and cuddle any time of the day. He's hard to discipline because he gets this twinkle in his eye, and I have to stifle a smile. He is a happy boy. He loves life.

Emma goes by Em or Emmer: she is 4.5 going on 9. She likes to be the boss and is the family watch dog. Little Jesus, is what I call her. She even knows when I'm driving too fast. It's kind of a bummer at times. More mommy guilt. She is a cuddler and a sweet heart. She loves babies. Doll variety, animals or the real deal. She's very excited to have a new cousin, who should be here any day now. She loves to dance and sing, color, play catch, bounce a basketball and ride her bike. She will clean anything for me. And she just threw up, so I have to log off. Kind of a funny ending to a wonderful Mother's Day. See you later!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Making Rachael Ray Cheap

Some of my family and friends know of my love for Rachael Ray. I don't consider myself a "crazed" fan yet, as I have not traveled farther than my back yard to meet her, and I've only met her once. But, I did bring my magazine to my hair dresser and she cut my hair like Rachael's in the picture. Having said that, I consider myself a Rachael Ray Expert, since I now have 9 of her cookbooks, a magazine subscription (that was renewed as a Christmas present from my friend Tricia), and I Tivo her 30 Minute Meals and talk show, although, I don't even come close to watching all of the episodes. I don't mind her tv personality either.

Her style of cooking works for me and my family. I love to cook and bake. I don't mind the measuring cups, but she's right, measuring things in your hand is super quick and there are less things to wash at the end of the meal.

Her list of ingredients can get pricey. I find that the more $$ she has, the more her idea of "cost friendly" recipes changes. Being the grounded person I am (a stay at home mom with a teacher husband), our bottom line doesn't change much and I've had to "tweak" some of her recipes to fit into our budget. Below are some tried and true ideas that make "Rachaeling" a way of life for me.
* I only pick one or two "Rachel" recipes per week to save money. But, I only cook three to five times a week, depending on schedules.

* When I make my list, I get as much as I can at my favorite discount grocery store, ALDI, then go to a big box grocery store to get the rest. Sometimes, although seldom, I go to a gourmet grocery store to get one or two odd items (some strange cheese, or Italian meat/salami).

*Being from the upper Midwest, we don't have access to the fruits and vegetables she claims are in our "local" market on the East coast (West coast has lots of fresh, odd veggies too). One of which is broccoli rabe. This is baby broccoli. She's right, it has a mild taste compared to "adult" broccoli, but when I don't want to spend $2.99 per bunch, I use regular broccoli and cut it up small or just cut it up regular. Maybe I've drank too much overly hot coffee in my day, but the taste isn't that different. In Minnesota, a bunch of broccoli is often $1 or so, depending on the time of year. I am lucky, my in-laws plant a bunch and I get to freeze broccoli in the fall. Frozen broccoli works too and is often not mushy either.

*Fresh herbs are expensive here, except in the summer when I can get a giant bunch of basil at the farmer's market for $1. Other herbs are available and as the summer. Summer in Minnesota is pretty short. This is a bummer, since, fresh anything tastes heavenly, and makes canned anything taste fresh. The rest of the year, a tiny bunch of fresh herbs go for $2.99 or $2.49 on sale. When Rachel Ray has two or three "fresh" herbs in a dish, this is more expensive than the slab of meat in the dish. When I can (and I refuse to spend b00koo bucks), I use dried herbs. They truly flavor the dish as well. The dried herbs I use a lot are thyme, oregano, & basil.

*Chicken tenders/breasts. OK, I'm getting cheaper and more frugal by the second, so popping for a package of 1 pound fresh boneless, skinless, chicken breast or tenders, I will buy the frozen variety, when they are on sale, or I'm desperate. Otherwise, my favorite "trick" is to buy whole chickens, roast them, cool, de-bone and make stock out of the rest. I freeze the chunked chicken in 2 cup portions and the stock in 2 cup or 4 cup portions. I freeze the stock flat, so I can fit more stuff in my freezer. When a dish of Rachel's calls for fresh chicken anything, I thaw my bag of chicken and cook it how she does, i.e. "heat the EVOO, add the garlic until it speaks and add the salted, cubed chicken and saute..." This trick will saves me 5-6 minutes on the cooking end, but I need to take time on the prep end to thaw my chicken. If I think ahead (this is rare), I get out my frozen bag of chicken or stock in the a.m. Otherwise, they take a trip to the microwave for "defrost". If I could hug the guy that invented the microwave...

*Chicken stock. OK, you can probably guess, I don't buy the stuff labeled "stock". Holy cow, this is $3.99 a quart. What gives? If I don't have my pre-made "stock" in my freezer, I use canned broth. And I rarely use the name brand stuff. I go generic all the way. At my discount grocery store, a 15 oz. can of broth is .44. Can you stand it? I can make a pot of her fast chicken soup for $2.00 tops.

*Veal. I substitute regular steak. I would like to say that it's because of the veal/cruelty thing, but it's really because I'm cheap and I have steak from the bulk beef my in-laws give us a Christmas present every year. By the way, if parents or relatives that have the means, ask you what to get you and yours for Christmas, go with the 1/4 beef. Saves time and lots of $$$, it's practical and it's easy to find a place for it.

*Fish. I use tilapia for many things, since to me, fish is fish. Halibut is very expensive here. I don't know that I would know the difference. Might be the burnt taste buds thing. There is one thing I've upped in the fish category. In her "30 Minute Comfort Foods", she has a fish and chips recipe. I use salmon. It's divine if you like salmon. Not so good if you don't. This last time I made it, I bought a piece of frozen salmon from ALDI, but a slab of cod from the butcher at our big box store. The cod was on sale, so I had little to no guilt.

*Ground chicken. I use ground turkey, since it's .99 for a one pound package at ALDI. Hurrah. This is good for meatballs and burgers. Yes, I know chicken and turkey are different, but when you throw it in a bowl with a bunch of spices and stuff, does it really matter?

*Ground pork. If we buy a pig and have it processed, this is very economical. Pork is one thing that hasn't been touched by the economy thing, for the most part. If I don't have Porky in the freezer, I use ground turkey or ground beef. Cheap, cheap cheap (my mantra).

*Tomatoes. Canned are pretty cheap, however, back to me being lucky with my in-laws with the enormous garden, I get buckets of tomatoes in the fall, to which I seed and freeze in one quart bags with the skins on. When I need to use some (one bag = a 28 oz can), run the tomatoes under warm water. The skins come right off. I put the tomatoes in a bowl, nuke them to thaw, and then run a stick blender in the bowl to puree or chop them up small, so my husband doesn't hurl at dinner.

As a whole, when I try one of Rachel Ray's recipes for the first time, I do make them exactly as they're written with the exception of the spicy stuff and chunky tomatoes. The crushed red pepper is too much for my young children and my hubby gags on cooked, chunky tomatoes. Sometimes, when she has some odd things (Super Smashed BLT Spuds from her Just In Time cookbook), I will vary the recipe some with ingredients on the side for individuals to add as they wish.

Below are some of our families favorites:

Weeknight Spaghetti-30 Minute Comfort Meals
Super Smashed BLT Spuds, leave the watercress and tomatoes on the side
Worms and Eyeballs, Cooking Rocks
TV Dinner (I double for the fam), 30 Minute Meals 2 (one of her best)
Carbonara, Cooking Around the Clock

Definition: Racheling ray-chell-in-g: To cook a 30 minute meal. By telling my husband that I'm "racheling", he knows he has 30 minutes or less and dinner will be ready and waiting (A nice way to say"Get your butt home so dinner doesn't get cold!" )

Check back for more tips and favorite Rachel Ray recipes.

Here you go, Gram. Rolling a pie crust with a wine bottle (I wish this was my kitchen)