A new spaghetti sauce

Some weeks just require something quick, easy and tasty. Those are generally the weeks I make spaghetti. I am always hunting for new sauces to try; ones from scratch and ones, like the one I’m about to share, that use a jarred sauce as its base. This trial, two weeks ago now, was good but I actually think I would leave out the meat next time (shocker for me; I do love meat) and add in more vegetables. I’m thinking some mushrooms and fresh tomatoes would make this sing. I’ll let you know how it goes next time I try it!

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Added bonus: big portions!

Spaghetti with Vegetable and Meat Sauce
Originally from Budget Bytes

Ingredients

1 Tbsp olive oil
½ lb. lean ground beef (I used ground sirloin as that was the leanest I could find)
1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1 zucchini (about ½ lb.)
2 carrots
½ tsp basil
½ tsp oregano
¼ tsp salt
Freshly cracked pepper
Pinch red pepper flakes (optional – I was out but I think this would make the sauce zing a bit more so I’ll try it next time!)
24 oz. jar pasta sauce (I used Prego Classic)
12 oz. whole wheat thin spaghetti

Directions

  1. Add the olive oil and ground beef to a large skillet. Brown the ground sirloin over medium heat until cooked through.
  2. While the beef is browning, finely dice the onion and mince the garlic. Once the beef has cooked through, add the onion and garlic to the skillet and continue to sauté until the onion is soft and transparent.
  3. While the onion and garlic are sautéing, shred the zucchini and carrots using a large-holed cheese grater [Note: I like my spaghetti sauce chunky so I diced these rather than shred.]. You should have about 1 to 1 1/2 cups of each once prepared.
  4. Add the zucchini and carrots to the skillet along with the basil, oregano, some freshly cracked pepper, salt, and a pinch of red pepper. Continue to sauté until the vegetables are tender (about 7-10 minutes).
  5. Add the pasta sauce and heat through. Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions, then drain. Return the drained spaghetti to the pot with the heat turned off. Add one cup of the prepared sauce to the pasta and stir to coat. Divide the pasta into serving bowls and top with additional sauce. [Note: I missed this final instruction and so added the whole jar to the mixture and then heated through. I’m not sure if there is a big difference but I did find that much sauce in the mixture made it a trifle runny so I would divide it out next time to see if that would help.]

If I Can’t Love Her

I am going down the Disney Broadway rabbit hole today after seeing Newsies in the movie theater last night. It makes me wonder why we don’t record and show musicals in theaters more often like that. Not all of us can make it to NYC. Heck, not all of us live in a city where traveling productions even come. They do, sort of, come here but there is no good place for them to perform. My nearest places are Tampa, Orlando and Atlanta for national tours of Broadway shows. So, when they come to my local movie theater or are something I can rent on line, I just start spending money like it’s going out of style.

But, I digress. I started this post to share with you all THE song I think of when I think Disney and Broadway. I first saw Beauty and the Beast performed on stage in Toronto on a surprise trip that Mom and Dad ended up having to tell us about because my sister refused to get in the car until they told her where we going (which pretty much sums up my sister as a kid). I was already a musical theater nerd by this point but I remember, to this day, the closing song of the first act of that exact show. I can still watch this song performed in my mind. How the stage moved, how the Beast acted and that song. That song is what you call a showstopper. It’s the sort of song that when performed well brings you both to your feet and to tears. I think I sat stunned after the curtain closed on the Beast standing over the rose but my dad jumped to his feet to head to the lobby and bought the recording of the show on the spot. It’s that kind of song.

I have since been lucky enough to see this show performed live many times but I still remember this first time I heard this song the best. So, for your Friday enjoyment, I give you “If I Can’t Love Her.”

Comfort Food

I am on a comfort food streak. It’s coinciding nicely with a cold and stormy spell we’re enjoying at the moment so I’m content to ride it out. It is also a symptom of what Publix has had on sale and what recipes are next on my list to try. So, overall it’s a win-win.

Up on the docket this week was Sage Chicken and Potatoes. This recipe was easy, quick, and involved only one pan to cook it in so less dishes! YAY! The sage and Worchester sauce gives the gravy a nice little kick so it’s not just a standard meat and potatoes dish. I also had it a few nights with sweet corn as a side. I think also in the future I would toss some roughly chopped onions in with the potatoes and carrots to give it a bit more..something. I also just love onions and will put them in pretty much anything.

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Originally from the Betty Crocker Win at Weight Loss Cookbook

Sage Chicken and Potatoes
Makes 4 servings (310 calories/serving)

Ingredients
4 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 lb)
3 medium unpeeled russet potatoes, cut into 3/4-inch pieces (3 cups)
1 1/2 cups baby-cut carrots
1 jar (12 oz.) home-style chicken gravy
2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp dried sage leaves
1/2 tsp garlic-pepper seasoning

Directions

  1. Heat oven to 400F. Spray 13×9-inch (3-quart) glass baking dish with cooking spray. Arrange chicken, potatoes and carrots in baking dish.
  2. In small bowl, mix gravy, Worcestershire sauce, sage and garlic-pepper seasoning; pour over chicken and vegetables.
  3. Spray sheet of foil with cooking spray. Cover baking dish with foil, sprayed side down.
  4. Bake 50 to 60 minutes or until vegetables are tender and juice of chicken is no longer pink when centers of thickest pieces are cut.

Beginning the Year with Austen and Tea

2016 was a lot of ups and downs for me. But on the whole, it was not one of my better years. So, 2017 is going to be about small steps and silver linings (it is; I have as my theme in my new planner). And honestly, 2016 needed one helluva chaser so it was time for some Austen. And tea.

Luckily, Austen fit in well with one of my reading goals. I need to empty my to-read drawer and two books are fit my need for an Austen chaser. I started with the annotated version of Pride & Prejudice that I picked up in the coolest bookstore I have even seen in an airport during my work trip to Milwaukee in November (a trip I’d otherwise happily never think of again as it was over election). It was too good a deal for the copy that I happily hauled the substantial volume back to Tallahassee. This annotated version is edited by David M. Shapard and I’ve seen added his other Austen annotated versions to my reading list. P&P of course can always stand on its own but add in lots of footnotes, explaining language, social customs, Austen’s own experiences as well as literary criticism and this Janeite is in a particularly fabulous nerdy heaven. I savored both re-visiting my second favorite Austen and learning more about all the world it inhabits historically and along the author’s timeline.

Which brought me neatly to a biography on Austen. I’ve read quite a few and honestly, unless someone stumbles across a hitherto unknown cache of Austen letters (swoon at the thought! Can you imagine?!), her story isn’t changing much these days. So finding a new take on her life story was a pleasant surprise. Paula Byrne’s The Real Jane Austen: A Life in Small Things is delightful. It looks at Jane through the window of different objects, big and small, that she either owned or would have interacted with often throughout the course of her life and then frames that chapter around the item and its significance. These range from her writing desk to a bobbin of lace. I have read Byrne’s excellent biography on the actress Mary Robinson so I knew she would do Jane justice and she does (and refrains from too much poetry this time around so gold star for that!). I particularly loved the chapters on her writing desk and her first check from her publisher John Murray. Jane is often presented through the framework of her family but she is at her best in my opinion when she is being presented on her own and shown as the genius she was, even if she deviates them from the usual Austen family memoir line.

These books were just what I needed. I have moved onto Phryne Fisher now (who could not let me down if she tried – she’s too fabulous) and I have a retelling of Beauty and the Beast in the wings so happy reading times ahead!

My first stir-fry (with steak too!)

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Well, I destroyed my kitchen and have decided in the future I will a) just buy the vegetable stir-fry kit and b) just buy the fresh ginger already grated and peeled at Public next time too. I fear peeling and then grating fresh ginger was not a success for me…But, it’s super tasty and delicious! I got this recipe out of a book (Good Housekeeping Light & Healthy Cooking, pg. 188) a while back because it was one of the easier sounding stir-fry recipes I’d seen and this was about as basic as it gets and fairly healthy. I tweaked the recipe here and there (I’ll be honest mostly out of laziness [so. much. chopping] and/or being thwarted by ginger root) but for the most part, I did OK and it was worth the clean-up!

I served it over brown rice per the instructions and it’s delicious. The servings are also huge which is a major bonus in my book! Enjoy!

Stir-Fried Steak and Vegetables
Serves 4

Ingredients:

1 beef top round steak (1 pound) [Note: I actually just got a pound of whatever steak was on sale at Publix this week and it worked just fine!]
1/3 cup reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 large garlic cloves, crushed with garlic press
1 medium yellow onion
1 medium red pepper
2 tsp vegetable oil
1 pkg (8 oz.) sliced cremini mushrooms
2 cups broccoli florets
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
3 oz. snow peas, trimmed and cut into thirds
2 Tbsp grated, peeled fresh ginger
3/4 cups water
1 pouch (8 1/2 oz.) precooked brown rice, heated as directed

Directions

1. With knife blade held in slated position, almost parallel to cutting surface, cut steak crosswise into 1/8-inch thick slices [Tip: put steak into freezer 15 minutes before cutting so that it’s firm to slice but will “thaw” by time you’re ready to cook].
2. In medium bowl, toss steak slices with 1 Tbsp soy sauce and 1 crashed garlic clove. Let stand for 5 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, cut onion in half then cut crosswise into thin slices. Cut red pepper into 1/4-inch thick slices. Set aside.
4. In deep nonstick 12-inch skillet, heat 1 tsp. oil over medium heat until very hot but not smoking. Add half the beef and stir frequently (stir-fry) just until beef is no longer pink (30-45 seconds). Transfer beef to plate. Without adding additional oil to skillet, repeat with remaining beef.
5. In same skillet, heat remaining 1 tsp oil until hot. Add mushrooms and onion; cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are browned, 3-4 minutes.
6. Add broccoli, carrots, snow peas, red pepper, ginger, water and remaining soy sauce and garlic to skillet. Stir-fry until vegetables are tender-crisp, 5-6 minutes. Remove skillet from heat; stir in beef with its juices.
7. Serve over rice.

Mom’s Beef Stew

There are some smells that will automatically take you back to childhood. Comfy nights after school when you’ve made it through the snow and wind to change into comfy pajama pants and watch a cheesy Christmas movie in the family room on a blissful night when everyone else is out (Mondays could give me this delicious alone time in high school). The smell of my mom’s beef stew always takes me back to nights like that. Also, good family times too. There is nothing like opening your apartment door and smelling home and this stew never fails me there.

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Leftovers on Monday; still looks delicious!

This recipe can be made in a crock pot or in a dutch oven. I had planned to try the oven for the first time this week but remembered I had to be out of my apartment for two hours on Sunday morning volunteering so the crock pot it was. That turned out to be a very good thing as later on Sunday, Tallahassee got hit by wicked thunderstorms that took out power all over the city (some only just got it back Tuesday afternoon/evening). If I’d been using my stove, the stew would not have been done yet and that would have been tragic. Luckily, it was pretty much finished in the crock pot and my biscuits were just done enough to eat when the power went out on me. I also managed to save all the leftovers in a cooler until the power was back on 4 hours later and the fridge could handle them. Win-win all around! Also a win, following the storm, we went back to much more seasonal weather around here so the stew (which makes for awesome, and lots of, leftovers) has been fabulous to come home to every night this week.

[Note: this is one of those recipes that Mom could really only give me the ingredients and cooking instructions, not how much of most things to put in. I have a smallish Crock Pot and these amounts for the ingredients fit perfectly (i.e. just barely and if I shove the top down hard). A more normal sized crock pot or a dutch oven would take more ingredients]

Mom’s Beef Stew
Serves: 6-7

Ingredients:
1.5 -2 lbs. Russet potatoes, skinned and cut into large pieces
1 lb. Carrots, skinned and cut into large pieces
1 med. Yellow Onion
1 lb. stew beef
1 can tomato soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup

Directions

  1. Chop and add all the vegetables to the crock pot
  2. Add meat over the vegetables
  3. Empty the soup cans over the meat. Do not mix!
  4. Place the Crock Pot on high for the first hour and then on low for the rest of the cooking time. Should take 7-8 hours of cooking for stew to be ready. [In the oven, Mom says she cooks it 8-9 hours at 200F]
  5. Serve over Bisquick Biscuits (follow recipe on Bisquick box, will take 9-10 minutes to bake)

A partial retreat from paperless

It seems there is nothing more satisfying that putting a line through a task on a piece of paper. I have tried.

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I got this last Tuesday so clearly my first week with it was productive.

Six years ago, I decided not to buy a paper planner. I had technology! So started a paperless experiment. I am calling it a partial failure.

For the most part, all my mail comes to me through email. I pay my bills online. I keep track of my finances online or in spreadsheets on my computer. My calendar is in iCal and Outlook (personal and professional respectively). My grocery lists and recipes are all in Evernote as is almost everything else of informational importance to me.

However, at the end of the day, I still just wanted a list of things to cross out. A place to jot notes to myself to look something up, add something to Evernote, actually bring check to this event or, heaven forbid, cash to that one. I am a major “jotter” of notes. I often have an array of post-its and index cards littering my desk, reminding me to do something, follow up on that thing, email this person about that. I have a digital counterpart (a much more organized and intense project mgt software that I also keep a work to-do list on) but that is for tracking the big things. I’ve never gotten over feeling slightly silly taking the time to type up “Call home” and setting an iCloud Reminder for it. I’ll write it down on paper no problem though.

So, I am trying a paper experiment now. I heard about a fabulous planner idea last year. I was too late for the Kickstarter at the time so I am joining the bandwagon now and I am adoring my VOLT planner so far. It lets me keep lists! Lists everywhere! A list for the year, a list for the month, a list for the week. It has a built in way for me to take on a month-long “challenge” which I’m hoping will help me knock off some multi-step projects this year (February is to finally finish all the metadata creation for my own digital photos. It is a personal digital archive fail at the moment).

So, may the trees forgive me and we’ll see how this goes!