Friday, February 26, 2010

Oven Pancakes on a Stone

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The specks are the Walnuts that floated up

Okay, this sounds insane..but you can make pancakes in the oven on a large bar pan  baking stone.My last post was a day in the life of a bar pan and pretty cute.

I decided to do chocolate chip walnut buttermilk pancakes...

The direction's don't specify the amount of I just made the recipe below and dumped it in my bar pan, as is, did not grease it up first.

No buttermilk on!

Buttermilk Pancakes

2 C all-purpose flour
2-1/2 t baking powder
1 t baking soda
3/4 t salt
2 T sugar
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 C buttermilk * see substitution note
1/4 C vegetable oil (I used grapeseed)
maple syrup, or whatever topping you like...

I added chocolate chips and chopped walnuts. My kids will put bananas on theirs so I thought it would go well.

* Buttermilk Substitution for each C of buttermilk called for in a recipe add 1 T white vinegar to measure cup and then fill with milk to 1 C line. This recipe called for two cups so I used two T and then filled to two cup line.

Preheat oven to 350°
Combine first five ingredients;stir well. Combine eggs, buttermilk and oil in a bowl and add to flour mixture, stirring until just blended (this is where you would throw in blueberries, choc chips, apples, nuts, banana slices, whatever you want)

Pour batter into Pampered Chef Bar Pan baking stone. Bake at 350° for 15-30 mins or until done (my oven is 20 mins but a friend tried it out and it took 30 in her oven). Cut into squares and top with your favorite topping.

You can add what you like, banana with chocolate chips is great too, as is sausage, bacon, whatever you are in the mood for. 

Let just say, I won't be slaving over the frying pan for pancakes anymore like a short order cook. And think about how much healthier they are, no oil in the frying pan, no grease needed on the stone! Just the ingredients that goes into it.
Walnuts are the healthiest nut you can find...add some bananas or dark chocolate or apples or can make these healthy. I know a gal who uses Almond Flour in place of all purpose flour successfully for her gluten free diet.

Why bake on a Stone....

Tomato Basil Pie I made on my pizza stone (this recipe is in my archives)

-Pampered Chef Stones are superior, IMO...they are made in the USA.  To see their selection, click here. Baking Stones

Read on to learn to learn what is so great about baking stones!

Bakeries and pizzerias line their ovens with baking stones and bricks to absorb moisture and produce even heat. That's why their cookies, breads and pizzas always have that perfect golden color. YOU can enjoy the same perfect results at home with our exclusive Stoneware!
*Evenly distributes heat and draws moisture away from the surface
*Retains heat, so your just-out-of-the-oven foods stay hot longer
*No Presoaking needed before use
*Virtually nonporous, so it doesn't retain oils, odors or flavors
*Microwave-, freezer-, and conventional and convection oven-safe
For crispier pizza crusts, flakier pies, juicier roasts and tender chicken, use our Stoneware in your kitchen. Not sure which one's for you?
The Stoneware Fluted Pan will bake cakes to golden perfection but it’s also just what you need to roast a chicken in the oven. Just put the cavity of a whole chicken over the center post, rub the skin with oil, season as desired and place in the oven. The chicken will not only get golden brown on the outside, it will cook evenly from the inside. And all the fat drips away from the meat making it healthy as well!
The Stoneware Loaf Pan will make delicious banana bread but will also make the moistest meat loaf ever! And the same is true for the Mini Loaf Pan as well.
Trying to decide between Small, Medium and Large Bar Pan? The Small Bar Pan holds a Jiffy sized box of brownie mix; the Medium Bar Pan holds a regular box of brownie mix and the Large Bar Pan holds two boxes of brownie mix.
Did you know that 9” x 13” sized pans are the most purchased size pan in the United States? Remember, even if you have a glass or ceramic 9” x 13” baker everyone can use an extra Rectangular Baker because one is always in the freezer or refrigerator.
A Day in the Life of a Bar Pan
Bar Pan  talk:
This is the single most versatile piece of Stoneware that the Pampered Chef offers. Whether you love cooking or hate cooking, this stoneware is for you. To prove this point, let’s take the Bar Pan through a day in your kitchen.
Pancakes. Pour your batter into the bar pan and bake for 350º for 15-20 minutes. You will have a huge pancake that you can then cut into squares. You can even have your kids then use the Creative Cutters and make their own fun shaped pancakes. If you want to be fancy, use your Apple Peeler/Corer/Slicer and lay apple slices into the batter and you will have the best Apple Pancakes.
Waffles. Easy, Easy, Easy, prepare them, lay them in the Bar Pan and bake as above.
Bacon! Lay bacon strips into the Bar Pan and slide into a 400º oven for 15-20 minutes and not only will the bacon be cooked, it wont shrivel up to nothing. No greasy stovetop!!
Toasted Cheese Sandwiches. Prepare 6 sandwiches just like you were making regular grilled cheese sandwiches. Place them in the Bar Pan and bake for 350ºfor 15-20 minutes. Whatever is happening on a Bar Pan on the top is happening on the bottom, so you don’t need to flip. By the time the Campbell’s Soup is ready to serve, the sandwiches are ready to eat.
After School Snacks~
Pizza Pull Aparts. Pour spaghetti sauce on the bottom of the bar pan, sprinkle on some mozzarella cheese and then layer on Pillsbury Buttermilk Biscuits and bake for 350* for 10-15 minutes. Just flip them out onto a platter and enjoy.
Mexican Pull Aparts. Pour Salsa sauce on the bottom of the bar pan, sprinkle on some cheddar cheese and then layer on Pillsbury Buttermilk Biscuits and bake for 350* for 10-15 minutes. Just flip them out onto a platter and enjoy.
Meats, poultry, fish, you name it. Sprinkle on any of the seasonings or rubs, and cover with foil. If you have a rectangular stone, flip it upside down and use it as a lid. In about 40 minutes, you will have the most succulent meat you could ever imagine.
Again, treat yourself to any of the recipes on the Use and Care card, they are great! If you are looking for something different, bake a cake in your Bar Pan. The surface is larger than 9x13 and it makes a perfect base if you decorate cakes. By the way, prepare a Yellow Cake mix according to the box directions and add 2 Tablespoons of the Pampered Chef Cinnamon Plus and you will love the results. 2 boxes of brownie mix since there are never enough - divide into thirds and make 3 different toppings- Andres mint on top after coming out of the oven, peanut butter chips /chocolate, rocky road, marshmallows, chocolate chips, nuts.- Yum!
This Bar Pan is a must have in every kitchen!

Here is a breakfast pizza we made on my pizza stone!

We make our own pizza more often than we buy it at a pizzeria!

A Little More About Stones

Stoneware has been used for baking for thousands of years! The Stoneware pieces offered by Pampered Chef are produced in the United States using the most advanced technology available which results in durable and dependable stones.
Our stones are hand finished and fired at 2000oF. They heat evenly, so your food will too. Stones retain heat, keeping food at serving temperature for about 30 minutes after baking. Pampered Chef stones season themselves as oils from the foods you prepare adhere to the surface. After a few uses a stone develops a natural non-stick surface and very easy to clean.
Our stoneware differs from others on the market in several ways. Red clay stoneware (known as clay bakers) is fired at lower kiln temperatures and is therefore more porous. Red clay require soaking in water before cooking. Glazed red clay doesn't require pre-soaking, but the glazing takes away some of the crisping and non-stick qualities. Other gray clay stones on the market may be manufactured differently, and may require preheating before use or be suitable only for non-fat foods such as bread and pizza crust.
A new stone is easy to season - bake something with a high fat content or spray lightly with oil the first two or three times you use it. Each use will enhance the seasoning process. Over time your stone will develop a deep brown color, usually more along the edges - the "badge of honor" for an experienced stoneware user.
Baking with a stone allows excess moisture to bake away from the food, producing crisper crusts and firmer textures. Bends and curves in metal bakeware create hot spots, which is why the edges of food tend to overbake (think brownies). The curved areas on baking stones will heat to the same temperature as the rest of the stone, eliminating this problem. Excess oil under food baked in glass or thin metal can cause "oil burns" on the bottom of the food. This is why cookies and biscuits sometimes burn on the bottom and many frozen foods come with instructions to flip halfway through baking. The even heating of stoneware prevents oil burns, so cookies will bake evenly and flipping frozen foods is not necessary.
There is no need to preheat a Pampered Chef stone. Simply preheat the oven before baking. Baking times and temperatures do not need to be adjusted for stoneware, with the exception of short baking times (less than 15 minutes). For these recipes, add 2 minutes to the time to allow the stone to reach oven temperature. (If you’re baking in batches, only the first batch will require the extra 2 minutes.)
Cleaning a stone is easy. Allow it to cool to room temperature, wash with hot water, scrape away any baked-on food and excess oil with a Nylon Pan Scraper or Kitchen Brush, rinse and towel or air dry.
The most important "caution" to remember about using a baking stone is to avoid thermal shock. Thermal shock occurs when the stone is exposed to an extreme and sudden temperature change. The stone’s Use and Care cards give you all the details.
Also remember to match the size and amount of food to the appropriate stone. Rule of thumb: two thirds of the stone surface should be covered with food.
And did you know...
Stones are freezer and refrigerator safe. A cold stone will keep food cold the same way a hot stone keeps food hot! Frozen stones should be thawed to refrigerator temperature before baking.
When baking cookies, form the second and consecutive batches on parchment paper, cut to fit the shape of the stone. Simply slide the parchment, with the cookie dough, onto the hot, empty stone and bake. (Parchment paper will not change the texture or baking time of the cookies.)
Foil may be used to cover foods while baking in stoneware. Do not line the stone with foil before adding food, however, because the foil would affect the desired properties of the stone.
Stoneware is microwave safe too. Foods will not become as crisp or brown, but it's great for hot dips and sauces.
Knives and pizza cutters may be used directly on the stone without harming the surface.
The decorative glaze on many of our Stoneware pieces does not alter the baking properties of the stones, because the inside and base are still unglazed. The glaze is easily cleaned with a paste of baking soda and water, if necessary.
If your stone is accidentally cleaned with soap, the soap may adhere to the seasoning layer. Simply bake a high fat food, such as crescent roll dough, on as much of the surface as possible, and throw away. The soap will adhere to the baked dough.
The best position for a stone in the oven is the second rack from the bottom, near the center. When using two stones in the oven at once, you may need to rotate them during baking. (If you’re baking in batches and both stones are hot, you probably won’t have to rotate them.)
Quickie Stoneware Ideas
«Reheat restaurant leftovers, such as fries (really!) and pizza at 350oF for 10-15 minutes. You won’t believe how well they turn out!
«Crispy Chicken Fillets - dip chicken breasts in egg. Coat with corn flake crumbs and parmesan cheese. Bake at 375oF for 20 minutes.
«Low Fat Fries - Toss potato wedges in 2 tsp. oil and favorite seasoning. Bake 20 - 25 minutes at 400oF.
«Quesadillas - place flour tortilla on stone. Top with cheese, veggies, meat as desired. Top with another tortilla. Bake at 400oF for 7-10 minutes.
«To warm tortillas: place stack of tortillas in Deep Dish Baker. Cover loosely with wax paper or plastic wrap. Microwave for 1 minute. Stone will keep the tortillas warm throughout the meal.
«Low-fat chips - cut pita bread in half. Slice open. Cut into wedges. Bake 8 - 10 minutes at 400oF. Serve with salsa or lowfat dip.
«Low-fat cinnamon chips - Brush flour tortilla with water, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar. Cut into wedges. Bake at 400oF for 5 - 7 minutes.
«Pretzel Ring Bread - Form breadstick dough into pretzel shapes. Place on flat stone. Brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle with salt. Bake at 350oF for 15 - 18 minutes.
«Hot Sub Sandwiches - Bake a Pillsbury French Loaf as directed on package. Slice sub-wise while still hot and fill with meat, cheese, etc. For a circular "party sub" pinch two loaves together at ends to form a circle before baking. Bread may also be topped with fresh garlic, etc. before baking.

Just toss some tortilla chips on a stone, some taco meat and top it with cheese and bake for 6-8 mins for a great tv snack.

To buy baking stones...visit my website

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Taco Thursday > Vegetarian Style???

Okay, its Taco Thursday and my kids have been so good with eating my vegetarian food without complaints (not that they notice, we eat like this alot) that I made them beef tacos (i had it in the freezer, might as well use it)

In sticking with my weekday vegetarian diet...I made mine with TVP and black beans. figured maybe the spices will make the textured vegetable protein taste good and the beans, give it more body? I used black beans, which I pressure cooked.

I dehydrated the TVP according to the package using the boiling water (Bob's Red Mill brand). I then threw the TVP into a cast iron skillet with some oil, some black beans and some jalapeno..and my own taco seasoning that I am sorry I don't have to offer, its just a lot of spices I grab and throw in..cumin, chili powder, garlic etc.
I "snuck" a taste, it was sort of soggy? i cooked the heck out of it..until it got more like ground beef gets when ya brown it. Not bad....

The first one I ate, forgot to take a pic. I will make one later and take a was a hard shell taco...I am not sure why I both to make it like a taco and not just crush it up and make a salad always ends up being "unhand-able" and I need a fork anyways lol.

Here is my Taco on a soft shell..not too bad. Actually, I would have no problem eating it like this all of the time. Again, real cheese...lacto ova vegetarian. It looks just about the same as my meat tacos I have made myself in the past.

Here is the fixin set up..nothing fancy...just dress your taco and get outta my way!
(onion, lettuce, jalapeno, green sprouts, cheese and taco sauce)

The Meat Eater's taco meat.
My Vegetarian taco "meat".

I used Bob's Red Mill TVP (no fat, read the nutritional info..almost no sodium, no cholesterol, 4 g fiber) no wonder vegetarians are so thin.
I don't know if you know this or not, but he (bob's red mill owner) gave his company to his employees. He said they helped him make it big and he knows if they own it, they will work hard...he decided that was the best choice, rather than sell it to someone who might send it overseas.

Nutritional Information
Nutrient Facts
Serving Size: 1/4 cup (24g)
Servings Per Container: 11.00
Amount Per Serving % Daily


Calories from Fat

Total Fat
0.00 g
0 %
Saturated Fat
0.00 g
0 %
Trans Fat
0.00 g
0 %
0.00 mg
0 %
2.00 mg
0 %
Total Carbohydrate
7.00 g
2 %
Dietary Fiber
4.00 g
16 %
3.00 g
8 %
12.00 g
24 %

Vitamin A

0.00 %
Vitamin C

0.00 %

8.00 %

15.00 %

* Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on a 2000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.

Ingredients: Soy flour

One quick note for those who are thinking of giving up meat, but not sure they can do it.....I love the taste of sausage. I have subbed vegetarian sausage I found at the grocery store in a tube in the freezer section for sausage in my recipes and no one noticed! Its very good, tastes so much like sausage its unreal!

Here are a few links I happened upon today and enjoyed reading..sharing or pan down.

Here is a great link from Huffington Post Green about the grossestpackaged food ever.

Here is a cute link to info about sesame seeds (healthy info)

This is a blog that highlights Alicia Silverstone's diet.

Here are a few fun pics I found online....some food pyramids for vegetarians

Another food pyramid
Just for fun...figured I would throw in a hot chick for the men ( I need to find some sexy guy vegetarian pics wink)
Ah Chick fil fav fast food chain ...anyone know if they treat the chickens well? I do not eat there often, but that will be one of my weekend indulgences at least once every few months.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Coffee Press

My coffee maker took a dump on us during the last blizzard. Well, we can't go without coffee, so luckily we had a french press that was given to us by my father-in-law because he had two. We never used it before but we were willing to do anything for a cup of coffee.

We got it out, dusted it off (well really we washed it lol) and made coffee in it. WOW! It was incredible.
I will not be buying another coffee maker. In fact, I might purchase a second french press in case I crack this one, we are very good at breaking things in our cast iron enameled sink.

There are many names for this contraption, we call it the French Press but its also commonly known as Press Pot, Coffee Plunger, Cafetière, Bodum, and Coffee Press. I decided to look them up and here is some things I learned about them.

History of the Cafetiere

Cafetieres are probably the most commonly used method of brewing coffee. Many coffee lovers swear on the fact that the cafetiere is the best method, as it preserves the delicate flavours in the oils, giving a smooth, rich bodied coffee.
The exact history and origin of the cafetiere is not clear. Both the French and the Italians lay claims to its invention. What is known is that the first cafetieres appeared in France in the 1850s. These coffee pots were made of metal and fitted with a metal screen attached to a rod. The metal screen would be plunged down, using the rod, forcing the coffee grounds to the bottom of the pot.

One story of how the cafetiere was invented involves an old man from Provence. The story goes that the old man used to go for a walk up a hill everyday to get some peace and quiet from his nagging wife. No matter how bad the weather was, blistering heat or driving rain, the old man would make the journey. As he sought to escape his wife for as long a period as possible he would take with him a small amount of food, some firewood and his favourite old coffee pot. When he reached the top of the hill he would take an extended rest, taking time out to light a fire, eat his food and brew some coffee.
Now coffee back then was typically strong, bitter and tasted dreadful. It would be made by adding water and coffee grounds to a pot and then placing the pot on an open fire or stove until the water boiled. Little did they know back then that boiling water destroys the oil in coffee, from which coffee gains its flavour.
One day the old man was making his coffee as he always did. But this time he forgot to add his coffee grounds to his coffee pot. It was not until the water started boiling away in the pot that the old man realised his mistake. He quickly removed the pot from the flames and added in his coffee grounds. Of course the old man did not know that making his coffee this way would result in the coffee grounds floating to the top. Made the usual way, the coffee grounds would have sunk to the bottom of the pot by the time the water had boiled. The old man took one look at his coffee and thought, "I can't drink this!"
As if by chance, as the old man contemplated going without his coffee (he had only brought enough water and coffee grounds for one pot), an Italian travelling merchant appeared on the horizon. Among the many goods the merchant was carrying was a metal screen. The old man saw this screen and quickly hit upon an idea. He swiftly brought a section of this screen from the merchant and carefully fitted it over his coffee pot. Using a stick which lay nearby, he plunged the metal screen down to the bottom of the pot, thus trapping the coffee grounds. He then took a sip from his pot and immediately a big smile broke out across his face. The merchant, keen to find out why the old man was smiling, asked if he could try some of his coffee. After taking a big gulp from the pot, the merchant gave the old man a knowing look. This was the best coffee either of them had ever tasted!
The story goes on to say that after trying this fantastic coffee, the two men decided to open a small factory manufacturing their new invention: a coffee pot with a fitted plunger. Their cafetiere made them both a small fortune.
Stories aside, we know that the first registered patent for a cafetiere was lodged in 1929 by a Milanese man called Attilio Calimani. Over the years, Attilio refined his 'apparatus for the preparation of infusions of coffee' to quicken the filtration of the coffee.
The next significant step in the history of the cafetiere came in 1958, when another Italian, Faliero Bondanini, was granted a patent for his version of the cafetiere. Bondanini's version became very popular in France, and by the early 1960s it was seen as a must have item for every French home. It was around this time that a British company, Household Articles Ltd, realised the potential for the cafetiere and introduced their version, the 'Classic', to the UK. Drawing on the French influences on this coffee maker, they marketed it as 'La Cafetiere' (The Coffee Pot). This is where the generic term 'cafetiere' for French-press or 'plunge-filter' coffee maker comes from.
Here is a yummy recipe I found.

Spiced Coffee Popsicles

December 28, 2009 07:17 PM EST

Icy, spicy, sweet, caffeine-filled and creamy – this variation on a Vietnamese favorite is a fantastic coffee treat for sweltering afternoons in summer. Try it as a mid-afternoon energy boost, a barbecue dessert or a frozen alternative to your daily cuppa Joe.
* 2 cups water
* 1/3 cup freshly ground espresso coffee
* 2/3 cups sweetened condensed milk (less than one 14-oz. can)
* 3 whole cardamom pods
* 3 whole cloves
* 1 cinnamon stick
1. Brew the coffee in a French press for about ten minutes. It should be very strong when it’s done brewing.
2. Combine the sweetened condensed milk and the spices in a heat-safe bowl large enough to hold about 3 cups of liquid.
3. While stirring, slowly add the coffee. Mix well.
4. Cover with aluminum foil or plastic wrap, and refrigerate until cold.
5. Remove the spices and any remaining coffee grounds with a fine strainer.
6. Pour the chilled mixture into Popsicle molds, and then freeze for several hours. Serve within a week.
Makes about 8 popsicles.

I have recipes that call for extra strong coffee and now I know how I will get it!

Here is a link to some more recipes using coffee.

Now, I have an empty space on my counter where my old coffee maker used to sit..what new kitchen contraption do I want to put there!!!!???!!!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Part-Time Vegetarian

Tree Hugger's website has an article on being a part-time vegetarian.

Right now, my family does this...sort of. We eat one vegetarian meal a week. Sometimes two and my kids don't even really know it. They just get bean and veggie soups or portabella mushroom burgers for dinner and think nothing of it, never missing the meat.

I make mock crab cakes using zucchini (the recipe is on my blog in the archives). My husband's friends love when I make them and ask when I am making them again, and beg to be invited over for them.

I am not sure about 5 days straight of going Vegetarian, at least not cold turkey to start...maybe Pescatarian (fish eaters) but I will try to do every other day vegetarian and see how it goes. It not only is great for your health, but the health of our planet too.

My husband grills the greatest portabella mushroom "burgers" and the kids love when he is making them.

I hope to get chickens in the spring, then I will have more control over what goes into my eggs...because we eat alot of eggs in my house. (We currently have ducks and I do not like duck they are higher in cholesterol than chicken eggs). We do grow our own veggies all summer but I have to do more canning and freezing to try to get them to last longer.

for those who want to eat meat but want safe are a few links...or great for the part time vegetarian's weekend indulgences. if you want to find out more about eating locally... offers resources and encouragement for people trying to eat locally. lists local suppliers of grass-fed meat and dairy products. connects you with local farmers.

(Jamie Oliver)
go to the site for the full is just a trickle of it.

Chef Jamie Oliver is a TED Prize winner, and he's made a great wish: "I wish for your help to create a strong, sustainable movement to educate every child about food, inspire families to cook again and empower people everywhere to fight obesity." The plan is to create an organization that pushes forward a movement inspiring people to improve how they eat. We TreeHuggers are no strangers to the idea that we need a big change in how we raise and consume food - not only will the change improve our health, but it's a primary way of improving the health of the planet. Luckily, Graham Hill is at TED 2010, and gave a three minute talk on his concept for weekday vegetarianism - just such a concept that can go far in granting Oliver's wish.

The weekday vegetarian plan is simple: go vegetarian during the week, and reserve your meat intake for the weekends. BBQ, grill, broil and saute organic, sustainable meats all you want on Saturday and Sunday, but during the week, stick to meatless meals. This drastically cuts down your meat intake, and therefore drastically cuts down the amount of meat we as a country raise, the amount of pollution generated by factory farming, the amount of fossil fuel going into raising corn which goes into raising meat.

It's easy to follow.
It's non-binary.
It's significant (reduces impact by 70%).
It's not too restrictive.
It'll save you money.
It's good for your health.
You can start today.

Oliver's plan calls for, "The grassroots movement must also challenge corporate America to support meaningful programs that will change the culture of junk food." The weekday vegetarian concept helps to accomplish this very thing.

You can help Oliver achieve his wish by not only going veg during the week, but also by signing his petition for a food revolution.

More on Weekday Vegetariansim
Try a Weekday Vegetarian Diet: Eat Green Food without Taking the Plunge
Reduce the Meat in Your Diet: Become a Weekday Vegetarian
Eat a Vegetarian Diet, Reduce Your Carbon Footprint by a Ton

From Tree Hugger

Monday, February 15, 2010

Meal Planning

Okay, I totally stole this from another blog..... but I thought it was important enough to share with you all and I know some of you won't read the link I post, at least until you see her post here....SO I am forcing it on you. lol visit her link for menu planning printables.

I love to cook, so I meal plan every week.

There are times that I don't always stay true to it, yes...but I shopped for it and I have everything to make if I decide on a Monday I don't want chicken, I make the Tuesday meal.

It works. So here is this cute chick's blog it...and get to planning! It'll keep you outta the drive thru-!

...and don't forget Dessert!!!!!

********************************************************************** ( )

The idea of having a weekly menu plan seems like a real good one. That is, until you actually sit down to create one.

Week after week. Month after month. After awhile you're just staring at your blank piece of paper, wondering if driving through McDonald's every night wouldn't be so bad after all. What would you do if I told you that you could EASILY come up with a whole month's worth of dinner plans without burning up any of your precious brain cells?

Today, we will do it together and by the time we're done, you will be congratulating yourself for being so very clever.

Grab a cup of coffee, or some sweet nectar of your choice, and let's have some fun. First, take out a couple of pieces of paper.

Next, start writing down broad categories of meals (all you really need is 7):

Crockpot meals


Grilled Foods

Soup N Sandwich


Breakfast for Dinner


Try Something New Night

Eat Out Meals (yes, this is a category)

Paper Plate Meals (also a category)

Leftover Meals (a very important group)

Now, see if you can come up with at least 4 individual meals within each category.

For example: Ethnic: Tacos, Spaghetti, Pizza, Enchiladas, chicken stir-fry Breakfast for Dinner: Waffles, Pancakes, Breakfast Casserole, Bacon and Eggs

This is getting really cool because, if you just take the above categories, with 4 items each, you already have enough meals to cover almost two months!!

You're off to a great start. Now, here's how to start plugging the meals into your family calendar.

Take (or make) a blank calendar page.

First, you'll take a look at standing obligations that affect your family dinner: piano lessons on Tuesdays and Thursdays, Soccer on Fridays. Volunteer at the Homeless Shelter on Wednesdays. Etc. Write them in.

Next, working across the top of the calendar, begin assigning meal categories to days of the week. For example, If you are home all together on Monday nights, that would be a perfect night for a Sit Down Meal on Real Plates.

Write that category above Mondays. On Piano nights, I used to assign Crock Pot Night and Sandwich Night - both are quick and easy with little clean-up required.

On Sport Practice night, I might assign Drive Through (Oh. Yes.) It makes me feel better to plan this into my menu than to feel like a loser because I can't do any better than this. Saturday nights might be a perfect Breakfast for Dinner night.

My family would love it if I made waffles EVERY Saturday night, so no creativity is even required! Once you have a category for each day of the week, you will then work your way DOWN the calendar.

Take your four individual dinners and throw them under each category. So if Mondays are your Sit Down meals, you take your Baked Chicken and Rice, your Beef and Cabbage Rolls etc. and plug them into the individual Mondays.

Right now you are simply penciling in your ideas, so you don't have to be too picky until the next step. Once you have a meal penciled in per day, you can start to refine and perfect your masterpiece.

If I see that on the first Wednesday I am grilling chicken, I could grill up some EXTRA chicken for Thursday's Chicken Enchiladas. So I start moving the meals around into an order that makes the most sense

A huge pot roast on Sunday might make great BBQ sandwiches on Sandwich Night, so I'll put those two meals into the same week. If your family has several favorites, don't be afraid to repeat them often.

The idea that you have to magically come up with 30 different things each month is completely unnecessary. And you don't have to stick to your plan like a religious zealot.

A menu plan gives you options and TIME, because you'll have general ideas right at your fingertips.

How many meals did you come up with? Did you think of some interesting categories?


Thursday, February 11, 2010

Baked Onions with Gruyere

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I found this recipe in a pdf document last night and had to type it up to make it. Now, as soon as I can get myself to the grocery store after the second blizzard in a week hit us yesterday (is anyone open yet?)....I will get some Gruyere cheese so I can make this. (even snagged the pic)
Figured I would share it awhile.

Baked Onions with Gruyere
serves 10
Onions turn tender and juicy when baked; a little gruyere makes them rich and irresistible.
5 Medium sweet white onions such as Vidalia
2 tsp extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 C low sodium beef broth
2 tsp soy sauce
1 C finely shredded gruyere cheese
2 tsp finely chopped fresh sage

1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Coat large shallow baking dish with cooking spray. Baking dish should be large enough to hold 10 onion halves.

2. Trim about ¼ inch off bottom and top of onion so that onions sit flat on baking dish. Cut onion in half crosswise and peel onion. Arrange onions cut sides up on baking dish.

3. Brush exposed onion tops with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake about 35 minutes.

4. In a glass measuring cup, mix beef broth and soy sauce. Remove dish from oven and pour sauce over onions. Return to oven and continue baking about 1 hour, basting occasionally. If liquid evaporates, add a little water.

5. Remove dish from oven and sprinkle cheese and sage over onions evenly and return to oven for an additional 5-7 minutes, or until cheese melts.

Get quality Baking Stones here.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Starting Vegetables and Flowers from Seed

Starting seeds indoors makes a lot of sense in our part of the country. Setting out sturdy seedlings in late May or June will give you a head start on the growing season. In addition, you will find many more plant varieties available in seed packets, than can ever be carried on nursery shelves. Most importantly, you will have the satisfaction of growing exactly what you want and controlling at that happens to your young plants.

Seed starting is not difficult, once you understand the process and gather the needed supplies. It needn't be expensive, but some initial investments will pay off. It's ideal to have an artificial light source, as our winter sun exposure is not adequate to raise most seedlings. Two side by side 48-inch double tube shop light fixtures suspended over a table or counter top will provide enough light for several flats of seedlings. The fixtures can be fitted with two "cool white" and two "warm light" fluorescent bulbs alternated, or with full spectrum bulbs.

Heat mats under the seed flats will warm the soil and promote growth, but they are not critical to success. Start simple and see if you can catch the seed-starting bug!


To avoid damping off and other disease problems, use a commercial soil-less medium for seed starting. It's worth spending a little extra money for a quality mix labeled specifically for starting seeds. Do not spend money on a soil that includes fertilizers; each type of plant has different needs and timing for fertilizer and one size does not fit all.


You may start seeds in any container or flat or insert you choose. Many seedlings benefit from at least one transplanting. In general, seeds germinate best in a shallow tray or in small individual pots.


Labeling begins before the first seed goes into the planting medium. Record the complete name on a wooden or plastic stick to label each pot or each section of an open flat. A stick-on label may be used for entire flats or containers of a single variety. Also, record the plant date and any critical instructions such as "needs light to germinate" or "do not fertilize". Save original seed packet for future reference.


Each plant has a characteristic pattern of germination. Some germinate in only a few days; others need weeks. Some need light to germinate; others must be covered by soil. Some should be sown shallowly, others buried more deeply. Ideal germination temperatures may vary. Always read your seed packet carefully so that you can handle the seeds appropriately.


Once your seeds have germinated, you may find that the new sprouts are very crowded. Though its tempting to let all of the new tiny shoots grow, you will have better success if you thin them by removing as many as necessary to leave each remaining seedling with some elbow room. Seedlings in tight competition for space, water ans soil nutrients may survive, but they will not grow into vibrant plants. To avoid disturbing the roots, snip off competing seedlings at soil level with small sewing or craft scissors. Pulling them out will compromise the remaining seedlings.

Fertilizing your Seedlings

Once you see the second set of true leaves, you can begin to fertilize your plants. The easiest way is to use a soluble fertilizer (5-5-5 or 5-10-5) that you mix with water. Dilute the fertilizer to one-third strength, and use this solution to water the plants once a week. Don't overdo it; more is NOT better. Too much fertilizer, especially nitrogen, can harm plants and inhibit fruit development. Be careful not to get fertilizer directly on stems or foliage since it can burn delicate plant parts. Never apply a more concentrated solution than is recommended on the label.


When using artificial lights, keep the light source about an inch above the tips of the plants. Seedlings grow at different rates, so it can be a challenge to adjust the lights appropriately. If plants are in separate pots, shorter ones can be propped up to match the height of taller ones, or pots can be arranged in order of height under a slanted fluorescent tube. Seedlings will thrive on 12-14 hours of bright natural or artificial light per day, and 6-8 hours of darkness. This cycle is critical for some flowering ornamentals, but less so for vegetables.


Check the seed packets for suggested germination temperatures, which will usually be in the 70's to low 80's F. Following germination, daytime temperatures should be lowered to about 60-65 degrees F and night time temperatures to about 50-55 degrees F.


When seedlings have developed their first pair of true leaves (following the cotyledon "leaves"), they are ready to transplant to a deeper container. Prepare the new container and soil first so that tender roots are exposed to the air for the shortest possible time. Pre-water the new soil to uniform dampness.

Prick out each seedling with a narrow dull knife or similar tool. If possible, tease the roots gently free as a "root ball" rather than pulling them out of their soil. Hold the plants by their first leaves or cradle them plant and roots in your hand. Do not handle by the stem, which is easily damaged.

Settle the seedling into its new home, arranging the roots so that they spread without twisting or crimping. Firm the soil gently to seat them securely in the new container.

Leggy Seedlings

If your seedlings are looking leggy, with long stems between the nodes, they are probably suffering from inadequate light, excessively high temperatures or overcrowding. Try to correct the problem to produce shorter, stockier bushier plants.

Hardening off

Hardening off your seedlings is critical to their survival in the outdoor garden.

Hardening off is the process of slowly allowing greenhouse or indoor grown plants to adapt to outdoor sunlight, wind or cooler temperatures. Overexposure without gradual adaptation may result in damaged foliage and even death of the plant.

A few weeks before the proposed planting date (mid to late May in southeast PA), stop fertilization and being placing the seedlings outdoors in a protected area for a few hours a day. Early morning sun or light shade is optimal for the first few days. Avoid windy conditions. Bring the plants back indoors after a few hours exposure. If the weather turns unseasonably cold or windy, put off the hardening process until it is safe to continue.

Gradually increase daily exposure until the plants are accustomed to being outdoors for a full day, and be tolerate nighttime temperatures. Pay attention to water needs, as young plants can dry very quickly in outdoor air. Beware also of outdoor pests. Squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, cats and birds can damage tender new seedlings.

Special treatments

Scarifying is the process of scratching or nicking the surface of a seed to promote germination. Often scarifying is used in conjunction with soaking, as water at the wound site causes swelling and further breakdown of the hard seed coat.

Stratification is the process of chilling seeds to promote germination. This happens naturally to seeds of plants that grow in very cold climates, but can be mimicked with refrigeration.

Rinsing seeds before planting will benefit some plants like parsley, which contain compounds that inhibit germination. Rinse water must be discarded and not used for other seeds or plants.

Germination test

If you have seed packets that are a year old or older, a quick test for viability is worth doing. Seeds kept cool or dry should be viable for several years. Place 10 seeds from a packet on a moist paper towel, fold it up, place in a plastic bag and label it. One or two weeks later, open the paper towel and count the number of seeds that have germinated. If five or fewer seeds germinated, you may want to throw the packet of seeds out and purchase fresh seeds. If seven or fewer germinated, you may want to sow your seeds thicker than you normally would.

Seed Starting Calendar for 2010

Week of… Sew Seeds For…
Feb 21- Early March Hot peppers

Sweet peppers, basil, parsley
Tomatoes, cabbage
Cucumbers, squash, pumpkins
2-May Start hardening off seedlings for outdoor planting

Source: Seed Starting Workshop for Master Gardeners; Feb 1, 2007
Penn State Extension