Friday, November 20, 2009

Relieving holiday panic with easy dinners!


Has it hit you yet?

You know, holiday panic.

It hits early for me - it actually hit me last week. I had to drop everything, and sit down in seclusion with my dayplanner, to try and get a grip on the next 5 weeks. There is always that moment of panic, then relief comes, once I sit down, pray, strategize, make various lists, and plan appropriate times to get it all done. Once I do that, I can breathe. All this is because I have one goal: to not get caught up in all the superficiality and lose my focus. Let's face it, we all have obligations to fulfill for Christmas -and they can be wonderful things- but collectively they can become a fatal distraction. Italic

Don't get me wrong. I am not a bah humbug! I love Christmas. I love the whole season, in fact. But, there is that very real pressure to get everything done. Decorate, cook, shop, wrap gifts, entertain...the list goes on. So, I panic. Every year I panic.

I sometimes wonder if this holiday panic is sort of a self-imposed panic, actually. There must be a name for it; I really am very phobic of being in the "holiday rush." Some people fly by the seat of their pants and shop days before Christmas, feeling no stress about it whatsoever, humming along to the piped in Christmas music. It is as if some people actually enjoy that! But, oh, not me. My worst nightmare would be my own poor planning and having to join the rest of the world, who apparently forgot that CHRISTMAS IS ALWAYS DECEMBER 25th, in a long line at Target. Therefore, I strive to shop early, menu plan early, even stock my freezer full of convenience items to ward off that busy day syndrome of "what is for dinner?" That last one is a biggie for me. If my world of food is under control, then I am.

The other day, the guy at Trader Joe's looked at my cart, piled high as the sky, and asked, "So, how long has it been since you've eaten?" Ha. I explained to him that stockpiling was one of the things I do to avoid holiday stress. He mumbled an answer something like, "Whatever works for you," but I'm pretty sure he wrote me off as a crazy woman. It wasn't even Thanksgiving yet, and here I had a dozen bottles of Sparkling cider and had wiped out most of the frozen section.

So, do the normal, everyday things such as making dinner cause you stress during the holidays? If so, here are a few suggestions for some of my favorite easy, fast meals this season from Trader Joe's. Most of these ideas are items that can be kept in the pantry or freezer, ready when you need them.

-Sauteed sausages (TJ's has many varieties - slice 'em for faster cooking) with fake, in the box (gasp!) mashed potatoes. Don't judge me - they are so fast and actually taste great. Trader Joe's sells garlic ones, and Costco has a great brand, too (Costco's are even all natural - nice). I dare you to buy fake mashed potatoes and try them. Once you get past the embarrassment of having them in your cart, you're home free.

-Think "soup and sandwich." If you mix up the selections, you can pull this meal off several times a week and your family will love it. TJ's has their "boxed" soups that are all great on their own or can be used as a base for additions. Grilled cheese & avocado on sourdough with creamy tomato soup is a winner at our home, or do a melt with turkey or ham and one of TJ's great cheeses.

-If you haven't discovered TJ's Frozen Orange Chicken, you haven't lived. It bakes up fast and is almost as good as Panda. Make some rice, and serve with steamed broccoli and you have a great meal much faster and cheaper than drive-thru. If you have a little more time, add TJ's potstickers to your meal. This is one of my standard easy dinners.

-Frozen meatballs are life-savers! Make your own and freeze for a busy day, or pick up a bag in the frozen section of TJ's. Just warm them up with some marinara sauce, (I like TJ's in the green can) and serve with pasta. Or, make hearty meatball sandwiches with crusty rolls and provolone cheese on top. TJ's frozen fries (garlic fries or sweet potato fries are awesome) are a great side to the meatball sandwich.

-I like to have frozen breaded chicken tenderloins on hand. You can make a quick Chicken Parm by baking off some chicken, topping it with marinara and some mozzarella and broiling the top. Just serve with a side of pasta. Another thing you can do with those chicken tenderloins is just make a fast and easy sandwich -to a nice roll, add avocado, lettuce and tomato with a little Ranch dressing - delish.

-Fish tacos. The ingredients are so simple: TJ's frozen breaded fish, corn tortillas, and shredded cabbage. I like to make a little sauce with sour cream and a little seasoning (I like to throw in some chipotle powder). Serve with a side of beans.

-Tri tip -get one of the marinated ones. Cook one or two up, depending on your family size - make enough to have leftovers. One night, serve slices with baked potatoes, and steamed veggies, then chop and use the leftovers to use with quesadillas another night. Try goat cheese in quesadillas - it's awesome. One combo I like is TJ's frozen roasted corn kernels, tri tip, and goat cheese. Be creative with whatever you have on hand. Just think beyond plain orange cheese!

Happy Holiday season!

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

WDW - My favorite Thankgiving sides

green bean

Um, NO - this is definitely NOT one of my favorite Thanksgiving sides. No offense if it's on your table. I'm highly allergic to cream of mushroom soup (well, that's not entirely true, it just grosses me out). We do like green beans, though. Keep reading. And scroll down quickly so you won't have to look at that picture! {shiver}

We have a pretty simple Thanksgiving in our family, with recipes that are traditional year after year. I think most people do the same dishes year after year, and our family is no exception. There is a stack of food magazines on my coffee table with all the latest Thanksgiving recipes in them, and I wouldn't consider for a minute trying any of them. I'm perfectly happy with what I eat, thank-you-very-much. I can't imagine, at this point, updating or changing anything. These are the dishes that I look forward to year after year.

Growing up, Rich and I had quite different Thanksgiving dinners at home. My way was turkey (which was always moist and perfect), stuffing (which in the early days was probably Stove Top, but when my dad took it over later on, it would be a different gourmet recipe that he found each year), canned gravy, sweet potatoes (mashed with crushed pineapple and topped with mini-marshmallows), Van de Kamp brown and serve rolls with "I can't believe it's not butter," and "can" berries as we called them - the jellied kind that pop out of the can looking exactly like the can they came in. I loved to slice those just so when I was a kid. And don't forget the Mrs. Smith frozen pumpkin pie with genuine Cool Whip.


Rich's way was turkey with his mom's legendary stuffing, cooked INSIDE the bird (scary), mashed potatoes with homemade gravy, homemade cranberry sauce (more like a relish with big chunks of cranberries in it), and NO sweet potatoes. There were the same brown and serve rolls, and there was plenty of REAL butter on the table, too, to be sure. The pumpkin pies were made from the recipe on the Libby's can with Pillsbury crust. But it wasn't just pumpkin pie, but pecan. And apple. And cheesecake (that was a weird one to me).

Rich, at our first Thanksgiving together, pretty much passed out cold when he realized my family didn't do mashed potatoes with our turkey dinner. And, when I went to his family's dinner, I couldn't believe they didn't eat sweet potatoes. We were both pretty shocked and dismayed.

But, you have to work your problems out when you're married. You have to sit down, and talk it over, you know.

It seemed simple enough to add sweet potatoes to his family and mashed potatoes to mine. And as much as I loved the homemade cranberry sauce, I still needed a can berry slice on my plate.

So, these days, though, we are pretty much a blended happy family.

Our menu now generally consists of turkey, which we deep-fry, Rich's mom's stuffing recipe, baked in the oven, mashed potatoes and gravy (the gravy has to come from Williams-Sonoma or Costco now, as deep-fried turkeys don't provide drippings), my sweet potatoes (changed a little from mom's day) homemade cranberry sauce and can berries. Since we don't do the above green bean dish, we have a refreshing cold green bean salad with blue cheese and walnuts. The pies are still Libby's recipe- but have been updated with homemade crust. We usually have an apple pie, too.

So, here are three of our family's blended favorites. Rich's mom's stuffing, my own recipe for sweet potatoes, and the green bean salad. The stuffing is my hands down favorite, and the sweet potatoes are so fluffy and that pecan/brown sugar topping....oh! The green bean salad is from my friend Pam - don't think mushy green beans as this one is crisp, flavorful, and really gourmet.

Now everything is in sweet harmony. Enjoy and have a blessed Thanksgiving.

Turkey Stuffing

1 cup butter, divided
1 ½ cups chopped celery
1 ½ cups chopped onion
1 eggplant, finely chopped
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 box (2 pouches) Mrs. Cubbison’s seasoned stuffing mix
½ box (1 pouch) Mrs. Cubbison’s cubed stuffing mix
1-2 cups chicken broth
2 cans water chestnuts, finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

In a large saucepan, melt ½ cup of the butter. Saute celery, onion, eggplant, and mushrooms until soft.

In an extra large mixing bowl, combine sautéed veggie mixture, stuffing mix, water chestnuts, garlic, and parsley. Melt remaining ½ cup butter and add to bowl. Mix well, adding chicken broth to desired moistness (you will need less moisture if cooking in the bird). Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Transfer to a shallow baking dish and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.


Yield: enough stuffing for a 15-20 lb. turkey.

***


Yam Souffle

½ cup melted butter
2 cans (29 oz each) yams, drained and mashed
1 cup milk
4 eggs
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups sugar
¼ tsp. salt

Topping:
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups chopped pecans
2/3 cup flour
½ cup melted butter

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine all ingredients (except topping) in a large mixing bowl. Mix well with an electric mixer. Process in batches in food processor or blender until smooth (important). Spread into a greased 9 x 13 pan (or two 9” pie plates).

Combine topping ingredients and spread on top. Bake uncovered for 30-40 minutes, or until thoroughly hot.

Note: This can be prepared up to two days in advance and refrigerated. Also, the recipe can be halved and baked in a 9” pie plate.




***

Green Bean Salad

Dressing:
3/4 cup oil
3 T. vinegar
3 T. lemon juice
1/2 t. garlic
2 t. salt
1/4 t. sugar
1/2 t. pepper
1/2 T. dried basil
1/4 cup chives (if desired)
4 oz. crumbled blue cheese

1 1/2 lbs. fresh green beans, trimmed and cut into 3” pieces, blanched
1 can olives, sliced
1 cup walnuts, toasted

To blanch the green beans, bring a pot of water to a boil. Put the green beans in and cook for 2-3 minutes (crisp-tender). Immediately drain and plunge into a bowl of ice water. Drain again.


Combine all dressing ingredients in a large shaker jar. Shake well. Dressing can be made up to 2 days ahead.

When ready to serve, toss green beans, olives, and walnuts with dressing.





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Monday, November 16, 2009

Good-Night Words

I was asked to give a short devotional at a baby shower last Sunday afternoon. As I thought about what I might do, many subjects crossed my mind: the importance of the husband/wife relationship, the ways a mother should train her children, what to expect as a new mother, and even to more recent thoughts I've had about my relationship to my children in the current phase of life I'm in. But, I didn't want to be elaborate; I wanted something simple that would bless the ladies but not be a sermon of sorts. So, I prayed about it and the Lord showed me something I think is very special.

Rich just finished teaching a 9-week parenting class at church, and one of the books he often quoted was H. Clay Trumbull's Hints on Child Training. Written in 1891 by Elisabeth Elliot's grandfather, this book is better than most contemporary offerings on the subject. The title is a bit humble - I would consider Trumbull's thoughts to be more than "hints." I have been re-reading it, and while the whole book is excellent, there were a few chapters that really made an impression on me. One of them, which ministered to me greatly, was "the power of a mother's love." I thought about speaking about that, and then another chapter that was titled "Good-Night Words," made an impression on me. It spoke of that tender time when we put our children to bed, and our opportunity to make a huge impression on our children at that time. The way and method of how we do such can touch their hearts in a very special way. Here is an exerpt from that chapter and what I shared at the shower. It's a bit long, so get yourself a nice cup of coffee or tea and enjoy these words of wisdom from over a hundred years ago!

If there is one time more than another when children ought to hear only loving words from their parents, and be helped to feel that theirs is a home of love and gladness, it is when they are going to bed at night. Good-night words to a child ought to be the best of words, as they are words of greatest potency. Yet not every parent realizes this important truth, nor does every child have the benefit of it.

The last waking thoughts of a child have a peculiar power over his mind and heart, and are influential in fixing his impressions and in shaping his character for all time. When he turns from play and playmates, and leaves the busy occupations of his little world, to lie down by himself to sleep, a child has a sense of loneliness and dependence which he does not feel at another time. Then he craves sympathy; he appreciates kindness; he is grieved by harshness or cold neglect.

How glad a true child is to kneel by his mother's knee to pray his evening prayer, or to have his father kneel with him as he prays! How he enjoys words of approval and encouragement when they precede the good-night kiss from either parent! With what warm and grateful affection his young heart glows as he feels the tender impress of his mother's hand or lips upon his forehead before he drops asleep. How bright and dear to him that home seems at such an hour! How sorry he is for every word or act of unkindness which he then recalls from his conduct of the day! How ready he is to confess his specific acts of misdoing, and all his remembered failures, and to make new resolves and purposes for better doing for the future!

There is perhaps no one thing in which parents generally more liable to err than in impatient or unloving words to their children when their little ones are going to bed. The parents are tired, and their stock of patience is at its lowest. If the children are not quiet and orderly and prompt as they should be, the parents rebuke them more sharply than they would for similar offenses during the day. Too often children go to bed smarting under a sense of injustice from their parents, and brood over their troubles as they try to quiet themselves down to sleep. Their pillows are often wet with their tears of sorrow, and their little hearts are, perhaps, embittered and calloused through the abiding impressions of the wrong they have suffered, or the harshness they have experienced, while they were most susceptible to parental influences for good or ill.

Even where there is no harshness or manner or severity of treatment on the part of the parents, there is often an unwise giving of prominence, just then, to a child's faults and failures, so as to sadden and depress the child unduly, and to cast a shade over that hour which ought to be the most hopeful and restful of all waking hours. Whatever is said by a parent in the line of instruction toward a better course, at such a time, should be in the way of holding up a standard to be reached out after, rather than of rebuking the child's misdoings and shortcomings in the irrevocable past. The latest waking impressions of every day, on every child, ought to be impressions of peace and joy and holy hope.

A wise parent will prize and will rightly use the hour of the children's bedtime. That is the golden hour for good impressions on the children's hearts. That is the parent's choicest opportunity for holy influence. There should be no severity then, no punishment at that time. Every word spoken in that hour should be a word of gentleness and affection. The words which are most likely to be borne in the mind by the children, in all their later years, as best illustrating the spirit and influence of their parents, are the good-night words of those parents. And it may be that those words are the last that the parents shall ever have the privilege of speaking to their children; for every night of sleep is a pregnant suggestion of the night of the last sleep. Let then, the good-night words of parents to their children be always those words by which the parents would be glad to be remembered when their voices are forever hushed; and which they themselves can gladly recall if their children's ears are never again open to good-night words from them.

Now, I know there are times when a child does need discipline at bedtime; I recall the many years of putting the children to bed and then hearing the pitter-patter of little feet coming towards the living room! But, this really speaks in general of making that time a profitable time as much as you can. Make bedtime special and be sure you are accessible and not distracted.

When children are very little, this may include an age appropriate bible story and prayer time, and of course snuggle time (kids love it when you climb in their bed and linger). As they get older, you can read straight from God's word, or even start a series, or read something like Pilgrim's Progress that provokes gospel conversation. I know it is a time when you are tired from the day and are most tempted to want to get them in bed as fast as possible, but if you are proactive in planning bedtime, it can be of rich benefit to your children. They will enjoy the time spent with you, no matter how you choose to do it.

I have to say this, too: Two of our children came to us at night to express concern over their spiritual state. This was after they were in bed, and they came to our room to pour out what was in their hearts. And even though Drew doesn't sleep here much anymore, when he does, he comes and sits on our bed and unloads on us (in a good way!) It just shows you what a special time of day that is! May God help you to redeem that special time.

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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

WDW - Roasted Winter Vegetables & Montrose food!

berolina

Last Saturday, Rich and I found ourselves alone for the day. We thought it would be fun to go out on a morning "date," so we headed down to Montrose and began with breakfast at Berolina Bakery. We shared a slice of quiche, a walnut sticky bun, some fresh squeezed OJ and I, of course had a caffe latte. It was so enjoyable to sit outside and bask in such a beautiful morning with great food (and my favorite person!). Berolina is the best bakery I've ever been to - seriously. When you walk in the door and that aroma hits you, your troubles melt like lemon drops! When you see the beautiful breads and pastries you will ooh and ahh, and nowadays they serve sandwiches, salads, and soups. I tell you the place is the bomb.

Foodies that we are, while we were eating at Berolina, we eyed a sign at the German deli next door, Schreiner's that there would be a parking lot barbecue that day. When we saw the sign that said "deep fried turkey sandwich with stuffing and gravy" there was no doubt in our minds that we would be coming back for lunch! So, we hit Sport Chalet and the Farmer's Market in La Canada for a while, and then returned for the anticipated sandwich. Mmm...was it good! Juicy white meat turkey piled atop soft white bread (probably from Berolina) with stuffing and gravy. Perfect. I was told that Schreiner's is doing this every Saturday now, so we'll be sure to be back!

OK, gotta tell you about Schreiner's. Both Rich and I have been going to this German deli pretty much all our lives and our kids grew up with Schreiner's. In fact the one secret ingredient for Rich's mom's spaghetti sauce comes from here (OK, it's their "au jus" for 50 cents in the freezer section. Kind of like a rich beef stock.). If you are ever in the area, stop in and get some goodies like veal bologna, black forest ham, and definitely some applesauce sausages.
Their sausages are just legendary! One of my favorite restaurants in the area (in La Canada) Dish, offers Schreiner's sausages on their menu, and they are appearing at Farmer's Markets around, as well. If it's lunchtime when you're there, get one of their sandwiches for a mere $3.50! And, do get a nice loaf of sliced french bread from Berolina to go with your Schreiner's purchase!

What else is great about Schreiner's is that it's a 3rd generation family owned place - it hasn't changed since we were kids and evokes a warm feeling when we go there. All the ladies that work there wear German dresses (some of the ladies have been there since we were kids) and offer bologna samples to the children. Our kids loved going there for that reason (and still love their bologna and "amazing" American cheese slices), and Mr. Schreiner (gone now) also used to give our children lollipops and an occasional silver dollar, too! Gotta love places like that. (Incidentally, Rich asked for a complimentary slice of bologna Saturday and got one. Still a kid at heart!)

Below is an old photo of Schreiner's and Berolina. When I saw this photo on the Schreiner's website, I was a little puzzled at first - Schreiner's is now located on the other side of Berolina! Berolina is now in the building on the far right (Mustang in front) and Schreiner's encompasses the two buildings on the left and has expanded into that empty space (where the short block wall is) so it is now next to Berolina. I know many of you find this completely uninteresting but I thought a couple of my blog readers like Lori B. and my sister would enjoy these. I love old photos of places I have lived near.

schreiner's and berolina

So, finally, on to the WDW! While at the Farmer's Market, I picked up some lovely baby fingerling potatoes and Bosc pears to make the following recipe that my friend Deidre served us recently. It's so simple- I've roasted potatoes and squash in the same fashion many times, but never thought to throw in some pears. Wow. This is an simple and delicious side dish for fall. Deidre served it with a pork roast and it was the perfect side dish, so I served mine with grilled pork chops that we picked up at Schreiner's.

I also picked up a butternut squash at the Farmer's Market. I peeled it, cubed it, tossed it in olive oil, salt and pepper and roasted it alongside this dish on a separate cookie sheet (it only took about 40 min.) I then dumped the squash into a small saucepot with about 3/4 box chicken broth, a little nutmeg and ginger, a drizzle of honey, and pureed it all with my stick blender. I added a little half & half and seasoned with more salt and voila....easy but fantastic soup. And so pretty! I just love butternut squash. It's so nice that you can buy it peeled and cubed at TJ's and Costco these days, too.

So how great is this? I not only give you a great and easy new recipe to try (well, actually two if you count my soup), but tips on two of my favorite places to eat in my part of town. Enjoy!

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Roasted Winter Vegetables and Pears

2 red onions, quartered
1 lb. small white potatoes, quartered
3 firm pears, cored and quartered
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper

Spray a shallow baking dish or cookie sheet with cooking spray. Add all ingredients and gently toss together.

Bake at 400 degrees for 60-70 minutes, stirring a couple times.

Schreiner's Fine Sausages 3417 Ocean View Blvd. Glendale, CA (closed Sundays)

Berolina Bakery 3421 Ocean View Blvd. Glendale, CA (closed Sundays and Mondays)


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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

AMAZING!

Sorry, no WDW today. BUT, here is something that will blow your mind.


Watch this. And then google Stephen Wiltshire. Fascinating!






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