Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Creamy Sweet Potato Orzo with Sage

My love affair with the sweet potato is a relatively new one.

You see, until Mr. Gooch and I started dating I had never actually eaten a sweet potato. And my first exposure was not what I would call love at first taste. You see, I love the savory dish and Mr. Gooch served a baked sweet potato with brown sugar.

So until I found recipes for baked sweet potato fries seasoned with sea salt and pepper then baked sweet potatoes seasoned with thyme, I was a little sweet potato shy. But, as you can see from this blog, those recipes turned out fabulously and now I have an ongoing love affair with the bumpy orange tube. But those recipes were prepared in a more traditional straight forward way, baked in the oven.

Now it is time to branch out to something even more adventurous. I hope you take the time to try this recipe for Creamy Sweet Potato Orzo and Sage.

Creamy Sweet Potato Orzo with Sage
(Source: the depths of my brain)
1 large (or 2 medium) sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 cups vegetable stock
2 cup water
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1/4 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup orzo
1 teaspoon ground sage
Kosher Salt
Fresh ground pepper

Place vegetable stock and water into a large saucepan and bring to a boil. (I used my dutch oven)
Add cubed sweet potato and reduce heat to a simmer.
Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until soft.
Remove cooked sweet potato from liquid and place in a large bowl.
Add orzo to potato cooking liquid and cook until liquid is absorbed. (approximately 15 minutes)
While the orzo is cooking, add salt and pepper to taste, skim milk and ground sage to the cooked sweet potato and mash with a fork, leaving some chunks.
Once orzo is cooked, add mashed potato mixture back into the saucepan and mix to combine, adding ricotta and Parmesan cheese.
Place mixture in a serving bowl and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.


I have submitted this recipe to the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission Bloggers’ Recipe Challenge.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Getting Down to the Wire

This week is up in the air. I say that because I am not sure what my hours will be for the US Census project. So I am planning on having some nights where I won't be able to cook, so this means making double batches of things so we have something for Forage in the Fridge (FITF) nights.

Here is the week's plan.

Sunday: Chipotle Burritos (Yum!)
Monday: Cheddar Chicken (based on this recipe).
Tuesday: FITF and last try to perfect recipes for cooking contest submissions - beef and sweet potato dishes (will post after we submit them)
Wednesday: Chicken (seasoned with smoked paprika and Northwoods Fire seasoning) in the crockpot with Yukon Gold potatoes and carrots
Thursday: FITF
Friday: Out for dinner using a gift card
Saturday: FITF

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - It a Crockpot Week

This week things are going to work a little different in the Gooch household.

You see, I am in training all week from 8:30 am to 5:00 pm to train to be a US Census worker. That means that Mr. Gooch will be on his own for dinner for most of the week since he leaves for work before I will get home. The other bummer is that we won't really see each other again until Thursday evening. This is what happens when one spouse works days and the other works nights. We will be like 2 ships passing in the night.

So the plan is to use the crock pot for all the meals he will be eating before I get home since I can turn it on when I leave and he can eat when he needs to. He can then turn it to low and I will eat when I get home a couple of hours later. Though this does mean he will be on his own for sides. But I think he can handle it. I guess I will find out when I get home each night.

Sunday: Forage in the Fridge (FITF)
Monday: Crockpot Chicken seasoned with Northwoods Fire Seasoning from Penzeys. Mr. Gooch is off the hook with sides on this one since I am going to throw some potatoes and carrots into the pot as well.
Tuesday: FITF
Wednesday: BBQ Chicken in the crockpot (My favorite since no recipe is needed, just throw chicken and BBQ sauce in the pot and cook, shredding when done.)
Thursday: Crockpot Ranch Pork Chops
Friday: Gooch Test Kitchen (steak and sweet potato recipes)
Saturday: FITF (or out for dinner)

Here's hoping your week is full of tasty dishes.

If you are still trying to figure out your week's menu, visit www.orgjunkie.com to see what others have planned.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Flowers in the Garden - March Edition

The first day of Spring was yesterday. Wahoo!! Flowers are starting to grow and soon I will not need pictures to remind me of nature's beauty.

But just in case Spring has not sprung in your area yet, here is a blossom from a Rose of Sharon tree in my the back yard. Enjoy!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - A Tasty Week Planned

Last week we were about 75% on making our planned meals. We are moving Birria (Mexican-style pot roast) in the crock pot to this week and we made a Taco Bake instead of Spaghetti Pie just because I was hankering the Mexican seasoning versus the Italian spices of the Spaghetti Pie.

I am hoping that the two new recipes on this week's menu plan taste as good as they sound. And since I have training for a temp job with the US Census on Wednesday, Mr. Gooch will be alone for dinner. Thus the crockpot used for that day's dinner.

Sunday: Out for dinner. We again had some late afternoon showings.
Monday: Parmesan Ranch Chicken
Tuesday: Taco Bake. I split the dish from last week into two 9x9 pans.
Wednesday: Birria (Mexican-style pot roast) in the crock pot
Thursday: Gooch Test Kitchen. We will be trying out several recipes to submit to cooking contests. Including a grilled beef dish and a sweet potato dish.
Friday: FITF (Forage in the Fridge)
Saturday: FITF or grilling (depending on the weather and the number of leftovers in the fridge).

As always, we will be having a romaine salad and a veggie with every dinner.

I will report back next week on how the recipes turned out.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Balsamic-Rosemary Grilled Pork Chops

Another winning Weight Watchers recipe here. The recipe is originally written calls for a pork tenderloin. However, since pork chops were on sale, I substituted them instead.

The original recipe is found in a Weight Watchers cookbook but it can also be found online at www.recipegirl.com. I did make some slight changes to the recipe and have included those below.

The photo may not be the greatest, but I can tell you the house smelled amazing and the chops had a taste to match. We definitely will be making this recipe again. The fact that it is WW friendly is an added bonus.

Balsamic-Rosemary Grilled Pork Chops
(Source: WW cookbook and www.recipegirl.com)
4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
4 cloves crushed garlic
2 teaspoon dried chopped rosemary
¼ cup lemon juice
1 Tablespoon fresh ground black pepper
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
4 3/4 inch pork chops

Combine all ingredients except pork chops in a large Ziploc bag.
Add pork chops, making sure all pieces are coated in marinade.
Place bag in the refrigerator for at least 6 hour turning occasionally. (It is best to let chops marinate overnight, if possible.)
About 30 minutes before you are going to grill the chops, remove the bag from the refrigerator and let it warm to room temp.
Preheat stovetop grill pan to medium high heat.
Spray with nonstick cooking spray.
Remove pork from marinade and arrange on grill pan.
Brown on all sides and cook through (firm to the touch), 8 to 12 minutes total, or until internal temperature in center reaches 150°F.
Remove chops from the heat and allow to rest 5 minutes before slicing.

WW Points 5.5 per serving

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Braised Herb Chicken Thighs With Potatoes

I love one pot cooking. I especially love cooking in a pot that cleans up easily, like my dutch oven.

I love it even better when the dish you are cooking in your one pot turns out to be good and something you wold make again. You know what I am taking about. You see a recipe, all the ingredients are things you like, the preparation isn't that complicated, it smells fabulous as it is cooking, but it tastes bleh or blah or worse blech. This isn't one of those dishes.

I found this recipe on cookingcache.com. Based on what we had in the pantry I made some adjustments which are to be found in the recipe below.

Braised Herb Chicken Thighs With Potatoes
(Source: cookingcache.com)
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons Italian herb blend
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
8 chicken thighs (about 2 pounds), skinned
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 cups baby carrots
1 large onion, cut into 16 wedges (cut into 8 wedges, then cut those wedges in half)
1 1/2 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 1/2 pounds fingerling potatoes

Combine first 5 ingredients in a large zip-top plastic bag.
Add the chicken, seal the bag and shake to coat.
Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium heat.
Add the chicken and remaining flour mixture to the dutch oven.
cook for 3 minutes on each side or until the chicken is lightly brown.
Add the carrot and onions; cook for another 3 minutes, stirring frequently.
Add chicken broth, vinegar, water and potatoes, bringing entire mixture to a boil.
Reduce heat and cover, simmering for 35 minutes or until chicken is done and vegetables are tender.

Yield: 4 servings (serving size: 2 thighs and about 1 1/3 cups vegetable mixture)

Friday, March 13, 2009

Easy Pesto Pinwheels

Joelen of Joelen's Culinary Adventures is amazing. I know that word is thrown around a lot on the interwebs but this case it is totally deserved. Her site is a one stop source for dinner party inspiration and recipes to match. So make sure to check our her site. Every recipe I have found on her site and then tried has been better than expected.

Even better, it is a source for inspiration.

Take this recipe for Pesto Pinwheels. I loved the idea but didn't have the exact ingredients in my pantry as it was written, so I adapted it a bit for our purposes. The result: Yum!!

I will often make these to serve with dinner instead of a roll or a slice of bread.

Pesto Pinwheels
(Source: Pillsbury by way of Joelen's Culinary Adventures)
1 cup prepared pesto
1 tube package of crescent rolls
4 teaspoons grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350.
Line your baking sheet with parchment. If you don't have parchment, an nonstick baking sheet will do.

Remove the crescent roll dough from the packaging and unroll. Separate the dough into 4 rectangles (made up of 2 perforated triangles). Press the dough on the perforated edges to seal.

On each rectangle of dough, spread 1/4 of your prepared pesto and sprinkle with a teaspoon of the grated Parmesan cheese.

Taking the short side of the rectangle, roll the dough to create a log.

Once all 4 logs are rolled, place in the refrigerator for 10-15 minutes to harden slightly. This will make the cutting easier.

Cut the log into 1/2" slices and place on the prepared baking sheet.

Repeat with the remaining rectangles of dough.

Bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, rotating your pan after 5 minutes for even baking.

Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly before serving warm.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Favorite Travel Photos

I don't usually put photos of either Mr. Gooch or me in my blog. Internet safety and all that jazz.

But I figure that since I have sunglasses in this photo and it is not the clearest picture of my face, only people who actually know what I look like may be able to pick me out of a line up.

But back to the photo, this is taken while I am in a favorite place on the bow of my parent's boat heading down the channel from Lake Michigan to Lake Charlevoix.

Look at those gorgeous blue skies and water.

I can't wait until the weather turns warm and summer if finally here.

Yummy Glazed Carrots

I love carrots. I could eat them every day and often I do. Usually I make dilled carrots to accompany our dinners but was serving a dish where dill wasn't quite the flavor I was looking for.

When searching my Google Reader for possible recipes, I came across a recipe for glazed carrots on Skinny Food by Amy. These would fit the bill perfectly. The fact that the recipe is Weight Watchers friendly is even better.

Easy, tasty and good for you. Does a recipe get any better?

Glazed Carrots
(Source: Real Simple)
1 lb baby carrots
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon sugar
Kosher salt

Place the carrots in a large skillet.
Dot with the butter and sprinkle with the sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Add enough cold water to come halfway up the sides of the carrots.
Simmer, partially covered, until the carrots are tender and the liquid has reduced to a glaze, about 20 minutes.
Note: If the carrots are done before this point, transfer them to a bowl, increase heat to high, and cook the liquid, uncovered, until reduced. Return the carrots to the pan and toss.

Makes 6 servings of 1 point per serving.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Have You Heard About Earth Hour?

What are you doing the evening of March 28?

For the third year in a row, people across the globe will be turning off their lights from 8:30 to 9:30 pm (local time) to take a stand against global warming. Mr. Gooch and I participated last year and will do so again this year. And just like last year, we will be eating a late dinner by candlelight. How romantic!

This year's theme is "Vote Earth," with a goal of 1,000,000,000 (that one billion) votes to show the leaders of the world that the inhabitants of this planet want them to take action against global warming. Each person who participates will be casting one vote so it is important to sign up now. To do so, visit www.earthhour.org or click here to go right to the sign up page.

Even better, the results of the Earth Hour "Vote Earth" election will be presented at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009.

Last year, over 50 million people participated. Major metro areas turned off landmarks like the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, Rome’s Colosseum, the Sydney Opera House and the Coca Cola billboard in Times Square. They all stood in darkness for Earth Hour.

Here in Chicago, the our famous skyline went dark with the Wrigley Building, Navy Pier, the Sears Tower, Millennium Park, the Theatre District, the Magnificent Mile among others all turning out the lights for one hour. An amazing sight, I have to tell you. According to the Earth Hour website, the impact of the darkening of those lights as well as the lights of the the 2.7 million other participants in Chicagoland region resulted in an electricity savings of 7 percent - the carbon emissions equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road for one hour or planting 158 acres of trees.

This year, why not join Mr. Gooch and I, along with people living in 930 cities in 80 countries who will be voting Yes in an effort to fight global warming by turning out their lights for the hour between 8:30 and 9:30 pm on Saturday, March 28? And while you are at it, why not plan your own romantic candlelit dinner?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

WW Chicken Cooked with Grapes

I have always wondered about the taste of chicken and grapes recipes. Especially this one, since the seasonings are pretty minimal. But the low point count and the ease of the recipe overrode my concerns and the recipe made it into the menu plan.

I was pleasantly surprised at the results. The simmering of the grapes made them so soft and sweet. The seasoning was a bit lighter than I liked but Mr. Gooch thought that it tasted great. Great enough to ask that I make it again. In my book, that is success!!

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as Mr. Gooch did.

Weight Watchers Chicken Cooked with Grapes
(Source: WW My Turnaround Program Cookbook)
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 1 1/2 lbs total weight)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly gound pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 cup reduced-sodium chicken broth
1/2 pound seedless grapes, removed from the stem

Rinse and dry the chicken breasts.
Heat canola oil over medium heat in large nonstick skillet.
Season chicken with salt and pepper.
Add chicken to the skillet and cook until browned on each side, approximately 5-7 minutes on each side.
Once browned, add chicken broth to the skillet bringing to a boil.
Once boiling, reduce heat and simmer until chicken finishes cooking. Approximately 10-12 minutes.
Add grapes to skillet, cover and cook for another 2-3 minutes.
Once cooked, remove the chicken and grapes from the broth mixture, place on a platter and serve.

Servings: 4
Points: 5 per serving

Monday, March 9, 2009

Blake Bakes Giveaway - Cherrybrook Kitchen

Many many many moons ago (back in October), Blake Bakes had a give away for a box of Cherrybrook Kitchen's cake mix and frosting. I was one of the lucky ones to sign up to receive what turned out to be a tasty tasty treat.

I used the mix and frosting to make a couple of things: cupcakes and petite fours. We served them as dessert at a lunch we hosted at out house. I thought that this would be a great opportunity to get opinions from others on the taste.

In terms of putting things together, it was easy peasy. The frosting needed to be warmed a bit in the microwave to make spreading easier but once that was accomplished, it went on so smoothly.

When the votes were tallied, everyone gave Cherrybrook Kitchen a HUGE thumbs up. No one could believe that this was nut free, egg free and dairy free. The cake was so moist and the frosting is so chocolaty.

I can say that if I run across this brand again, or if I need to make cupcakes for school or any other event where nuts are a concern.

Hmmm, writing this post makes me think that I need to get baking again.

Have You Ever Entered a Cooking Contest?

Mr. Gooch and I, as part of our expanding love of cooking and baking have been thinking about entering some cooking and baking contests in the coming months.

We, and by that I mean me, have achieved a level of comfort in the kitchen that is moving away from just the basics. With this comes the desire to try to create some recipes of our own from the depths of our brains. That and it is a fun activity for us to work on together. Just the other night we were brainstorming beef recipes over dinner -talking flavors, spices, herbs, preparations and possible accompaniments. It was definitely a fun dinner.

We have some tasty (or so we hope) ideas so watch for recipes from the Gooch Test Kitchen in the coming months. We will be posting both our successes and failures.

First up, some beef recipes. The 2009 National Beef Cook-Off recipes are due at the end of the month.

To be followed by the North Carolina Sweet Potato Commission Bloggers’ Recipe Challenge, also due by the end of March.

Wish us luck!

Menu Plan Monday - and a Review of Last Week

I have decided that menu planning is a great thing. It takes the stress out of the frantic question "what's for dinner?" which usually comes up about an hour before you plan on eating.

For us the best part of menu planning is that while we have a plan, we don't feel like we have to follow it to the letter. Particular recipes may get moved to the next week, we may end up eating out or having more leftovers than planned. But it is all OK.

Now back to the review of last week. We did pretty good. We ended up skipping the dinner planned for Wednesday: Braised Herb Chicken Thighs With Potatoes Recipe with frozen crinkle carrots, romaine salad and garlic bread. We still had lots of leftovers.

Saturday Mr. Gooch went to visit friends so I just had a Lean Cuisine and some snacks.

We did pretty good at the grocery store. I did get more things than planned since there were some really good prices on chicken breasts and ground sirloin.

So this week our menu plan is as follows.
Sunday: Out for dinner as we have a house showing. Yummy Chipotle!!
Monday: Braised Herb Chicken Thighs With Potatoes Recipe with frozen crinkle carrots, romaine salad, fruit salad and garlic bread
Tuesday: FITF
Wednesday: Creamy Chicken Enchiladas with corn, romaine salad, fruit salad and cornbread muffins.
Thursday: Spaghetti Pie with romaine salad, carrots and garlic bread.
Friday: FITF
Saturday: Birria (Mexican-style pot roast) in the crock pot. A recipe I picked up at Penzeys this past weekend. We will serve it with romaine salad, corn and the leftover corn bread muffins.

I also plan to make mac and cheese with spicy sausage, spaghetti pie and lasagna to freeze ahead in preparation for the kids visiting for Spring Break.

Don't forget to visit orgjunkie.com to see what others are planning this week.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Menu Plan Monday - Pantry Eating

This is an eating out of the fridge/freezer/pantry week.

Why you ask? Well, Mr. Gooch is always complaining that we have too much food so I decided to see if we could do all of our meals from those three places. The plan is to just buy a few perishable items like lettuce for salads, fruit and yogurt for snacks and lunches, a loaf of fresh Italian bread and a couple of gallons of milk for our coffee/shakes/etc.

Unfortunately after pulling together the menu plan, Mr. Gooch did have a point. We did have a ton of stuff in the fridge/freezer/pantry and it was very easy to pull off the menu plan

Sunday: Late lunch with Mr. Gooch's mom at Big Bowl (one of my FAV restaurants in the area) so we did the Forage in the Fridge (FITF) when we got hungry later.
Monday: FITF (we still had some leftovers from late last week)
Tuesday: WW Southern "Oven Fried" Chicken per request from Mr. Gooch, canned corn, romaine salad and garlic bread
Wednesday: Braised Herb Chicken Thighs With Potatoes Recipe with frozen crinkle carrots, romaine salad and garlic bread
Thursday: FITF
Friday: Sandra Lee's Old No. 7 Tri-Tip with canned corn, fingerling potatoes, romaine salad and toasted Italian bread
Saturday: Chinese Night - Pot Stickers, Egg Rolls and Orange Chicken (from the frozen section at Costco) with steamed rice and romaine salad

Wow, turns out we have lots of tasty stuff in our house.

And the weekly grocery budget is going to like it too.


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