Food and Garden Dailies started as a way to record my family's favorite recipes. It has come in handy many times when I'm asked for a recipe. I simply email a link to the blog! But I couldn't just stick to recipes. The kitchen is tied to the garden in so many ways...and so I let you into my ever changing garden as well.

If you're interested in my all-time favorite recipes, check out this post first: My Favorite Recipes

Thursday, July 19, 2012

My Favorite Recipes

Pin It These are my tried and true favorites...the recipes I turn to when company is coming and I need a "sure thing" on the table.  These are the recipes that have been made over and over...some I've made for over 20 years. Try a few...and let me know what you think!

Chicken:  Barbecued Herb-Mustard Chicken

In the late 1980s my mother in law introduced me to this recipe from Sunset magazine.  She made it frequently for family get-togethers and Brian and I continue to make it on a regular basis. In fact, when I make it, I quadruple the recipe and fill up the freezer for easy-to-make meals at a later date.

Something else I should mention, is that it's worth trying even if you don't like mustard.  I HATE mustard.  Hate it. I don't even scrape it off of things...I simply won't eat mustard-y foods.   Yet I LOVE this recipe.  And speaking of mustard, the type/brand of mustard you use does matter. I've mentioned two easy-to-find national brands that work well with this.  But I've had it with other mustards and it's just not the same. 

Beef:  Marinated Flank Steak

This recipe really needs a better name because "marinated" doesn't describe the soy-ginger-garlicy goodness that leaves you drooling.  There are many similar marinades out there with different names, and I'm sure they're all good.  But I have no need to even try them because this one is so damn good.   And while the title says "flank" steak, it also works well with sirloins.  The flank is best, but for the budget dinners, it does wonders to a cheap sirloin.

Make sure to use fresh ingredients...onions, ginger, garlic.  None of that dried stuff, please.   

Pie:  Old-Fashioned Apple Pie

This recipe came from the McCalls cookbook we got for a wedding gift 21 years ago.  I've been making it ever since.  You can pretty much count on it for Thanksgiving and Christmas at my house.  Even if I make another pie, I still make the apple.  It's not a holiday meal without my apple pie.  When we have benefit pie auctions, my apple pie brings in a solid bid each time.  What can be better than that?  Pies for charity!!

When I first began making this I used the Pilsbury refrigerated pie crusts.  Now I make my own crust, but if you're looking for a short-cut, get the Pilsbury crusts.

Cake:  Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Incredibly moist carrot cake and the creamiest cream cheese frosting ever.  Make sure you thaw out the cream cheese before mixing so it's not lumpy.  Since the shredded carrots are the most time-consuming part of this recipe, I've found a short-cut:  I buy a bag of carrots and shred all of them in the food processor (using the fine shredding blade).  Then I bag them up in 4 cup servings, and freeze them!  I usually have a few bags of shredded carrots in my freezer.  When I need (or want!) to make this cake it's super easy to grab a bag of don't even need to defrost them...just dump them in the mixing bowl.

Stir-Fry: Kung Pao Chicken

This is another recipe we've been making for 20 some years.  The only downside is that I haven't found a way to freeze parts of it for a make ahead meal....something to work on this summer!  Anyway, I just love the flavors in this much better than any jarred/premade sauces you can pick up at the grocery store.  And, you can add just about any veggie to make it to your liking.  Shrimp or tofu is easily added or substituted for the chicken too.

Cookies:  Van's Chocolate Chip Cookies

The first thing you may notice is that these aren't so chocolate-y.  Don't let that stop you.  I'm not a fan of a lot of chocolate, and prefer to use about half the recommend chocolate chips in my cookies.  The linked recipe will give you a generous amount of chocolate!

This recipe comes from a woman named Van, whom I met when we lived in Indiana. These were the first home-made chocolate chip cookies that I fell in love with.  They just always turn out perfectly.    Van said the key was the Fleishmann's margarine and the Gold Medal brand flour.  I don't mess with perfection, so I always make them as she did.

Pudding:  Rice Pudding

The ultimate comfort food.   This version is baked in a water bath, leaving a creamy rice mixture on the bottom with custard on top.  Soooooooooo good!!

PastaBaked Macaroni and Cheese

This is one of my newer favorites, as I've only been making it for 5 years.  I love the creaminess. Cook's Illustrated insists it's because of the colby cheese...which I've had difficulty finding at times.  It seems it used to be more readily available, but now I just find colby-jack, which is not what you want.   So go on a colby hunt. It's worth it!

Another's just as easy to quadruple the recipe and make up a bunch of pans to freeze.  I LOVE having this on hand in the freezer for some quick comfort food. When someone's in need and meals are being arranged, I can always volunteer immediately because this is stocked in my freezer.  It's kid-family friendly, vegetarian, and not spicy...all great pluses when you're cooking for someone recovering from an illness.

Alcoholic Beverage:  Minty Mojitos

Refreshing and light...perfect for a warm summer evening.  Kids seem to like the virgin versions of these too...just leave out the rum for theirs!  When you make this recipe, leave some room at the top.  That way you can adjust the taste....adding a bit more simple sugar, rum, or lime.  I tend to like a bit more lime!

Potato Dish:  Smoky Scalloped Potatoes

Another more recent favorite from Cook's Illustrated.  This is just soooooo darn good.  Creamy and cheesy.  It's a little time consuming and not anywhere near calorie-conscious so it gets made once a year for Thanksgiving or Christmas.  It fits in nicely with my holiday meal schedule, as it needs a 425 degree oven which is exactly the same as my cornbread and apple the three of them can cook up right after the turkey comes out of the oven.  Oh, and it can be assembled the day before, which helps with holiday stresses!

Appetizer:  Herbed Puffs

Hot little mouth-watering morsels of cheesy-herby goodness.  Can be made ahead and frozen. Enough said!

Dip:  Cilantro Dip

The best party dip.  Pour over a block of cream cheese and serve with water crackers. This one's been making the rounds within my circle of friends for several years.  You can make it as hot or mild as you like (just add the jalapenos a little at a time until it's just right for you). 

Holiday Meal Plan

When it comes to Thanksgiving and Christmas, I pretty much make the same dishes each year.  While that might seem boring, most of these dishes are only made for the holidays, so we look forward to them each year.

My holiday meals usually include the following dishes, which are all freshly home-made:
  • Apple Streusel Coffeecake (morning)
  • Turkey
  • Tofurky
  • Gravy
  • Mashed Potatoes (or Scalloped Potatoes)
  • Cornbread
  • Broccoli with Garlic Butter and Cashews
  • Green Beens with Pecans
  • Sausage Stuffing
  • Vegetarian Stuffing
  • Apple Pie
  • Turkey Pot Pie (for the day after)
The prep work and timing for these dishes could be overwhelming if I didn't do a lot of work the week before.  In this meal plan you'll find the shopping list, recipes, and a schedule for all the prep work.

The beauty behind this plan is the prep bowl chart.  I line up all my bowls, number them, and get out the ingredients. Then I fill the bowls assembly-line style.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Man-Pleasing Chicken?

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So, this one image has been on my "Chicken Recipes To Try" Pinterest board F-O-R-E-V-E-R.  I keep looking at it thinking it's just got to be amazing...or not.  Now, I'm not a mustard fan, but my all-time favorite chicken recipe (Barbecued Herb-Mustard Chicken) uses mustard in its marinade, and I LOVE it.  So I kept an open mind.  My husband loves mustard, and since this is called "Man-Pleasing Chicken" he was really my target wow him.

On the difficulty scale this ranks a 1 out of 10.  You mix three ingredients in a pan. Sprinkle salt and pepper over your chicken, spoon the sauce over the chicken and bake.  EASY.  I had all the ingredients on hand too, so that was a plus.

The first thing I noticed was that my sauce was pretty watery.  And not as smooth.  The original recipe said it used Dijon mustard.  And there are OODLES of consistencies with Dijon mustard.  But since the recipe was adapted from a Trader Joe's one, I figured I was safe with my Trader Joe's brand which was simply called, "Dijon Mustard".    As you can see, mine looks NOTHING like the picture from Pinterest.  But I was willing to look past that, as taste is what it's all about.

So, here's the recipe:

Man-Pleasing Chicken
(Witty in the City)

Pre-heat your oven to 450 degrees.

Mix together in a bowl (or directly in the pan):
     1/2 C dijon mustard
     1/4 C maple syrup
     1 TB rice wine vinegar

Place 1 1/2 lbs. of chicken thighs* in the baking dish and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

Pour or spoon the sauce over the chicken, turning the pieces until all are coated.

Bake for about 40 minutes** or until cooked through.

Garnish with fresh rosemary bits.

*OK...I didn't use thighs; I used boneless-skinless chicken breasts.  Still, that wouldn't alter the taste test of the dish...just the tenderness of the chicken itself.

**40 minutes would have killed my boneless skinless breasts.  Mine were done in about 15 minutes.

The results:  I asked Brian to rate them on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the above-mentioned Barbecued Herb-Mustard chicken, and a 1 being the horrible chicken I made years ago that we dubbed "Hot Dog Chicken" because the chicken ended up tasting like a hot dog!!   He gave it a 5.  I gave it a 2.  Now, in all fairness, I am not a mustard fan, and with mustard being the main ingredient out of 3 ingredients, it's very mustard-y!   But man-pleasing it wasn't.  With so many great recipes out there, there's no way I'm going to spend my time on a recipe with a combined score of 3.5/10.

****BUT**** this recipe wouldn't be getting so much attention on Pinterest if others didn't like it.  Here are some of the (very mixed) reviews I found for this recipe:

Made this last night...def a man pleaser!

This is seriously ridiculously amazing. I made it a couple weeks ago and HAVE to make again real soon, so so so goooood!

I tried this recipe to the letter, and I want to caution that if you don't LOVE the very strong taste of mustard this recipe isn't for you. My whole family said it was unedible. The picture is so misleading!!

I like mustard but you have to love it to like this chicken-- just put mine in fridge hoping I could find someone who will eat it so I'm not wasting food! This didn't please my man or my children- when all of them will eat mustard- this is the third recipe I've tried when people say it is the "best" and I have learned everyone has extremely different tastes!

Overpowering dijon mustard. tried it. not a fan

I made this for dinner the other night and my family hated it. Even my "I'll eat anything" husband. I like mustard...I thought it was ok. First recipe I've found on Pinterest that was a flop. :/

I made this and my husband actually like it and he is not much on chicken

Made this and it was amazing...used honey mustard.

My boyfriend loved it!

Made this last night...really gross

I thought it was pretty gross too. My husband didn't like it either, I'll never make it again.

Just was not that good. We ate it, but hubby asked me not to cook it again. lol!! That's the truth.

I made this for my 25 year old son - He Loved IT!!! Very good and very easy...It's a keeper! 

This recipe is AWESOME! My husband and I loved it!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Fruit Sparklers (aka Fruit Kebabs)

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I made these for our annual 4th of July cul-de-sac potluck dinner.  The fruit was a HIT!  The stick fruit definitely went faster than the fruit salad in a bowl...which was the same exact fruit.  Cuteness matters!  (Blueberries, watermelon, strawberries, and pineapple.)

Just as we were starting to light up the (real) sparklers and fireworks, I passed these goodies out.  The top star is a Rice Krispy treat.  YUM!! (Blueberries, strawberries, marshmallows, and Rice Krispy treats.)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Grilled Rosemary Chicken Kebabs with Sweet and Sour Orange Dipping Sauce

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Tonight I selected grilled recipe #5 to try for the summer.  I'm requiring myself to make a new grilled recipe each week.  I've had two good ones, one great one, one so-so one so far.  Tonight was another great one!

I was pleasantly surprised by the flavoring from the chicken...even without the sauce.  It could definitely stand on its own.  And, I was actually really hesitant about the sauce because I'm not a huge fan of really sweet (and orange flavored) sauces.  But this was delicious!  I did find the original sauce a bit too sweet for my taste.  Nothing a dash of Siracha couldn't cure though!

Grilled Rosemary Chicken Kebabs 
with Sweet and Sour Orange Dipping Sauce
(adapted from Tracey's Culinary Adventures)

In a medium bowl mix together:
     1 1/2  teaspoons minced fresh rosemary     1 teaspoon dark brown sugar
     1 teaspoon kosher salt
     1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
     1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
     1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Cut up 4-6 boneless skinless chicken breasts into 1" pieces.  Place the chicken pieces in the bowl and evenly coat with the mixture.

In a small pan, combine:
      1/4 cup orange marmalade
      1 tablespoon rice vinegar
      1/2 tsp minced fresh rosemary
      1/4 tsp Siracha hot sauce (can leave out if you want it mild)

Heat on low and then pour into a small serving bowl.

Place the chicken pieces on skewers, and grill on both sides until the chicken is done.

Remove from the skewers and serve with the dipping sauce. 

To make ahead and freeze:  Place the chicken mixture in a freezer bag, sucking out all the air (or use a FoodSaver).  Defrost and prepare the sauce while the chicken is defrosting.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Honey-Lime Chicken...With a Kick!

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4th of July was yesterday.  We brought burgers and marinated chicken to our neighborhood potluck and I must admit I was secretly thrilled that the grill-chef cooked up these chicken breasts dead-last. That meant that by the time they came off the grill, the other folks were already stuffed with burgers, BBQ chicken, and loads of other side dishes.  I knew these were coming and made sure to save room for them.  They were worth the wait!  (And, because they were virtually ignored by the others, there are lots of leftovers!!...WHOHOOO!!!)

The honey-lime-cilantro-garlic flavors came shining through with a kick from the Siracha.  Loved the spicy zest from the Siracha and pepper flakes.  Flavorful AND SPICY (but really, not too spicy!).

And, and added bonus, is that these are great for making ahead and freezing.  Just put the chicken and marinade in a freezer bag, suck out all the air (or use a FoodSaver), and pop in the freezer.  Defrost and grill!

This recipe is a keeper and will be stocked year-round in Beauty, my favorite freezer.  (No, I've never named my cars, but I did name my freezer!)

Honey-Lime Chicken...With a Kick!
(Kitchen Meets...Girl)

Mix together in a bowl:
     3 TB soy sauce
     2 TB honey
     1 TB vegetable/canola oil
     1 juiced lime
     2 minced garlic cloves
     2 tsp Siracha
     2 TB chopped cilantro

Add and combine thoroughly:
     1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts

Marinate for at least an hour, and then grill until done, about 6-8 min. on each side. 

(On "Kitchen Meets...Girl" she made them into shish kebabs.  Either way works!)

Monday, July 2, 2012

Brick Edging For the Lawn

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Before (Sod had already been removed.)
I'm in the midst of a huge (for me) landscaping project.  We grew up in Arizona and are not lawn people.  We just aren't that great with the upkeep and didn't get that gene passed down to us.  We never had lawns growing up!  But we have a tiny front patch, and a fairly small back lawn.  In the past ten years, the lawn had grown lumpy-bumpy and uneven.  It was full of weeds (that kept reseeding and spreading like crazy).  I HATED it and for several years have considered having it ripped out so we could start fresh.

This summer I did just that.  I hired a couple guys to rip it out and replace it with lush grass.  On a flat surface.  That was the easy part.  I simply wrote a check and a week later I had a new lawn!

The hard part was the second step.  I've always wanted some kind of barrier between the lawn and the help keep the lawn on its side.  What I liked best was a flat brick border.  But that meant digging a trench around the lawn, laying down sand, and putting it in brick by brick.

In early June we had 4 solid days of rain and the ground was perfect for digging.  I hired the neighborhood boys to come and dig out a trench.  The best $30 I ever spent.  I thought it was a bargain...their mom thought it was too much.  So now that the trench was ready,  I bought the sand and bricks.

I put down the first 30 bricks and was cruising along when an injury set in...lateral epicondylitis, or tennis elbow.  (The injury was from a car accident at the end of May when I gripped the steering wheel with all my might.)  With 70% of the yard left to do, I thought it would never get done.  I thought about hiring someone to finish the job, but Brian got out there yesterday, and put down another 30 bricks.  I figure we're about 65% done...whohoo!!

Newspaper and boxes covering stray grass

Once we had a nice stretch of brick edging in place, I started to put down newspaper on the garden side, to smother the stray grass/weeds.  For the past couple weeks, as soon as we're finished with the newspaper, I've been taking it outside as a method of passive weeding.  The newspaper smothers the weeds and  breaks down naturally. 

Yesterday I got so excited that some areas were sooooooo close to completion.  All they needed was some good soil smoothed out on top of the newspaper.  Thankfully, I happened to have an entire bin full of completed compost!  So I started filling one little bucket at a time and pouring it on top of the newspaper. I did a small section yesterday, and then finished a bit more today.  The end result...WOW!!  I absolutely LOVE the border and can't wait until the rest is in place.  I'm hoping the small completed section will be motivation to finish up the rest of the project.  I can't wait!!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Hearty Lentil Soup

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For my ladies' quarterly dinner group, we've started a soup swap.  We each bring a quart of homemade soup to exchange after dinner.  This time I came home with Strawberry Soup (like a smoothie!), Cold Curried Carrot and Cocunut Milk, Potato Leek, and Mushroom Soup.  I made Hearty Lentil Soup from Cook's Illustrated.

Hearty Lentil Soup
Cook's Illustrated

From the Cook's Illustrated website: Lentils du Puy, sometimes called French green lentils, are our first choice for this recipe, but brown, black, or regular green lentils are fine, too. Note that cooking times will vary depending on the type of lentils used. Lentils lose flavor with age, and because most packaged lentils do not have expiration dates, try to buy them from a store that specializes in natural foods and grains. Before use, rinse and then carefully sort through the lentils to remove small stones and pebbles. The soup can be made in advance. After adding the vinegar in step 2, cool the soup to room temperature and refrigerate it in an airtight container for up to 2 days. To serve, heat it over medium-low until hot, then stir in the parsley.

In a large stockpot or Dutch oven cook until crispy:
      3 slices bacon, cut into 1/4-inch pieces (about 3 ounces) 

Add to the pot, and stir occasionally until they soften (about 2 min.):
      1 large onion, chopped fine (about 1 1/2 cups) 
      2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped medium (about 1 cup) 

Add and cook until fragrant (about 30 seconds):
     3 medium cloves garlic, minced 

Stir in and cook for another 30 seconds:
     1 (14 1/2 ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
     1 bay leaf 
     1 teaspoon minced fresh thyme leaves

Stir in:
      1 cup lentils, rinsed and picked over (7 ounces) 
      1 teaspoon table salt 
      ground black pepper to taste

Cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  Cook until vegetables are softened and lentils have darkened (about 8-10 minutes).

Uncover, increase heat to high, and add:
     1/2 cup dry white wine

Bring to a simmer and then add:
     4 1/2 cups low sodium chicken broth 
     1 1/2 cups water

Bring to a boil, cover partially, and reduce heat to low.  Simmer until the lentils are tender but still hold their shape (30-35 min.).  Discard the bay leaf.

Puree 3 cups of soup in the blender until smooth*, then return to the pot.  Stir in:
      1 1/2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar 

Heat soup over medium-low heat until hot, about 5 minutes.  

Stir in:
     2 TB fresh chopped parsley 

Serve and garnish each bowl with some parsley sprigs.

*The original recipe calls for some of the soup to be pureed at the end, but my family (as well as the dinner group ladies) liked the texture and taste of the soup without pureeing.  I also think it looks better as is.  Go ahead and puree if you'd like, but it's not necessary.