Friday, April 30, 2010

Pork or Chicken in Peanut Sauce

I'm not going to lie. This is one of my all time favorite freezer meals. It's freezer Friday and I have been holding out on you. It's one I share with a lot of friends and family members when they have need of meals, because it is essentially so simple to make, and full of ingredients that I don't have to find at special Gourmet shops. In fact, the vegetables I chose are totally domestic easy to find vegetables that I am usually chopping for other freezer meals anyway, so it also fits easily into a cooking session when I am making several freezer meals at once. It takes a very short time to make as a regular meal...and also doubles as a freezer meal. I often make a meal for dinner that will double as a freezer meal. It's a great way to build up your arsenal by simply cooking dinner and setting aside half to go in the freezer for a meal later. This meal is called a "topper". My husband Ace used to call people "toppers". You know who they are. A topper is someone you tell a story to, and they "top" you by telling you a bigger grander story that they have done. Ace could almost always be a topper when it comes to car stories...and very often when people are telling him about some feat they've done in cars, he will listen and ask them questions about their car...and they have no idea who he is or what he's done with cars. It makes me happy that he just builds people up. It's rare in a person. It's rare in a dinner. But that's exactly what these "topper" dinners do...they make your rice or pasta better, without boasting of themselves. They won't need to boast, you can tell by how they taste. Refreshing isn't it? The only preparation on this meal that takes a little time, is the chopping...but my kids love to chop and so it turns into a family project.

Tess' Pork or Chicken in Peanut Sauce
(yield 12 3/4 cup servings rice topper)

5 lb boneless skinless pork loin, cut into cubes (chicken boneless skinless thigh meat works)
1 cup soy sauce
1 cup rice vinegar
1/2 cup sliced garlic
1/2 cup peanut butter
1T sesame oil
1T chile paste or hot sauce
3 large onions, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped

Directions: Get all your stuff together. Yes, I know it's technical, but if you don't you will inevitably be out of vinegar...or peanut butter.

In a large 12 inch skillet, on high heat, add the sesame oil to the pan. Add the pork and cook stirring frequently 5-7 minutes until browned nicely.

Add the bulky veggies. My onion was a little young when I took it from the garden...but it worked fine to use the bottom ends. You can also use green onions, if you use the light ends.
Cook the vegetables with the pork, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic. Yes, it sounds like a lot of garlic, but if I eat that much garlic then the Cullen's won't come to dinner...and you Twilight people will finally get some alone time with Edward. I know how important that is. Again...dude, he's a fictional character and he will never love you. I'm just saying. Eat garlic. Move on.
Oh...and when the garlic is nice and tender, add the peanut butter and remaining ingredients to the pan. 87 year old FIL, Mr. Putt Putt, likes to keep peanut butter in his bedroom next to his easy chair. I'm not sure what that has to do with anything. Yes, he putts around with spoons like this upcoming picture. Another random fact...did you know that mice like peanut butter?
Ask me how I figured that out. wasn't when I was making this dinner. Jerry the mouse did not run across the kitchen floor, peanut butter spoon in hand, and in a almost frenzied speed of escape knock himself cold while watching me chase him with a broom. That didn't happen...but it would make a good cartoon.

Once the sauce has simmered with the meat and vegetables about 2 minutes, add the chopped cilantro.

Divide into 3 dinners for a family of 4, or two for a family of 6. Or 6 meals for a family of 2 with very small children. You can serve one for dinner over rice, or just put them all in the freezer. We usually serve one of the dinners that night. It's also very good over rice noodles.

To freeze: Place meat mixture in Three One quart freezer bags when it has cooled enough to scoop without melting bags. Seal bags very well. You might want to double the bags if you are worried about spilling. Bags need to be labeled before adding the mixture, or it will be hard to write on them, and also easy to puncture with writing utensils.
Lay bags in the fridge out flat to cool. Never cool at room temperature and then transfer to the freezer, you risk food born illness. When cool transfer to the freezer. Keep the freezer cold. Check the meals after two hours to be sure they are freezing. Never stack warm meals on top of each other. Only stack once frozen.
Label clearly: "defrost in the fridge 24 hours or out of bag, in the microwave 3-5 minutes on 50% power. To serve, heat 3-5 minutes on high in the microwave or 5-7 minutes on the stove in a skillet. I usually cook the rice while I heat the topper. It's very quick.

There you go.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Auntie Em's Birthday...Random Thoughts

Oh my Sunshine Twin Auntie Em had a birthday today. Yes, the girl who always got luscious strawberry shortcake for her birthday. April. It must be nice to have had berries in season. My birthday in November usually meant...spaghetti. I'm not complaining, it's still my favorite meal. It's just not this...
So, to her glorious credit, after a lifetime of being my sister, I can still call her my best friend. Even after those brutal 80's. Gosh what was with the frizzy hair? Or my brother the professor looking more like a surfer than a dorky-smartie-pants-know-it-all? Not that he was...everyday. This post is about Em though...who I shared a room with, fought over sweaters with, cried with...and survived. Happy Birthday. Life wouldn't be tolerable without you sis'ta.

That's all I have to say about that. Oh...and my mom is the same age in this picture as I am now. No comment.

Storking the Freezer Party and Baby Shower 101

I wanted to post this blog entry on how to have a baby shower for expectant mothers where guest focus on cooking freezer meals. It's something I have enjoyed doing and I know I have seen a lot of new mothers find a little bit of sanity.My amazing friend Kendra has an outstanding blog and I am excited to be a guest writer on My insanity. The full story should be up on her blog in about a week, but as I imagine there will be a lot of new visits to this blog as there often is after a new segment hits Fox 10, I thought I would post it here as well.

I remember how naive I was when expecting my first baby. I didn't know what I was in for, and that may be better. As a chef and a mother, one of my favorite services to offer is that of making freezer meals for expecting and new mothers. I don't know how anyone else's has done with motherhood, but for me it has been, by and far, one of the most challenging, passionate, and sometimes nerve racking experiences of my life. I never expected to be stretched (in sooo many ways...) and sleep so very little. For many, the first few weeks and months of having a new baby in the home are the most incredible...and eye opening. It wasn't a vacation, though having a new one around is a blessing. It doesn't go without work, most of which is unseen by others. Keeping that in mind, offering a baby shower to a brand new-new mom is always wonderful. What about baby showers for those mothers who are expecting their third, fourth...or tenth baby. What about the joy and sometimes fear that accompanies that new child? One solution I have found is offering a "Stork the Freezer" Party and Baby Shower.

When I call the expecting mom, the first thing I do, is introduce the idea of freezer meals to the mom and ask if that is something she would be excited about. Usually there is a few questions I like to ask:
  • Would the mom to be prefer to have the cooking party at her home or someone else?If they have it somewhere else besides their home (which is always nice) be sure the location will have adequate space in a large capacity freezer to accommodate the meals until the time the meals can be transferred to the mom-to-be's home.
  • How many children in the family? Age specific.
  • Are there any restrictions in their diet? (ie allergies, vegetarian and so forth)
  • Do they have a large storage freezer or just a standard freezer? This will determine how many dinners and what size you can offer her.
Present some menu choices. I tell her to pick 5-7 meals. She gets a nice printed menu to pick her meals off of, as well as an idea of side dishes she could or would need to make if you are offering those.
Try to fill her menu with several different meals that you know you can cook. Try cooking the menu choices yourself before the shower, or at the very least, be confident you know how to put it together. Another option is to assign "meal captains" to head up each meal during the cooking procedure. This will ease the burden on the hostess from having to supervise all the cooking.
Offer meals that would most appeal to her family.
If the family is not in any way "gourmet" then offering the French chicken wouldn't seem right. If they have kids that go to school and need lunches, offer items that can also double as quick lunch grabs for the kiddos (like pizza muffins and homemade hot pockets).

I list menu choices from here:
Freezer Friday
Chef Tess Bakeresse: Freezer Meal Ideas meat
freezer meal ideas pasta toppers
Freezer Meal Ideas Pizza
freezer meal ideas Quiche
freezer meal ideas potatoes
freezer meal ideas rice topper
freezer meal ideas stews

This is how she "registers" for what she would like. This is done about a month before the baby shower. When I send out invitations, I present the menu in the actual invitation. I also mention it is still okay to bring other baby items for the new mom. Obviously she will need essentials along with meals, however I emphasize that the main goal of this shower is to take some pressure off mom-to-be so she can focus on the "family-at-larger". Guests wishing to shop for the menu registry are invited to call me (or email me) for a list of ingredients they can pick from. OR they can feel free to just bring a pre-made frozen dinner that they made or purchased (in this way it really expands what the mom receives and how long the meals last).

Make a Master Recipe Book:
See: How to Make a Freezer File Master Recipe Book
I use a three ring binder that pages can easily be removed from. This is almost like a scrap book with each recipe on a separate page, with ingredients listed as well as clear cooking instructions. Each page should be put in a page protector to avoid spills from damaging the pages the mom will need. This will be presented to the mom after the shower and serve as her reference should something go wrong and she needs to see the cooking instructions. This is also fun to do a week or so after the shower and insert pictures of people helping make this meal.

Long before I expect calls or emails, I break down the ingredients for each recipe and each guest is assigned an ingredient or two to bring, depending on what they can do. In this way, everyone is not only involved in the preparing of the food, but in the cost of the meals. They feel a great desire to show up for the shower because they are bringing a key ingredient as well. Be sure to mention how excited we are to offer this cooking service to our expecting mom and that we love and appreciate the guest's willingness to assist. Be very specific that though we love having little helpers along, that this shower is going to involve a lot of knives, hot objects and cooking and to only bring older children who can assist. This will help the hostess avoid any unnecessary liability. If someone does bring a smaller child, be gentle. This may be the only way the guest can come to the shower. Use tact, love and appreciation...always.
Sometimes people can't stay and cook, but they can bring ingredients. Some guests don't consider themselves "cooks" but they don't mind cutting vegetables or helping to label freezer bags or containers. I always have a few back up spices just in case some of these small details are forgotten...

The day of the shower, I set up specific cooking stations in the home:

Station 1: One large table for cutting, peeling, and chopping vegetables for the recipes I call it "The Chopping Block". Specify that only adults are allowed to use knives.
I have 3-5 large cutting boards, knives, and a list of all the items that need to be cut, and how big or small. I have several bowls there, one for each kind of vegetable that needs cut. If a few of the recipes call for chopped onions, I have the full amount for all recipes get cut at the chopping block."

Station 2*: One large table for prepping freezer containers

"The Glue Kids on the Block":
This table has freezer bags (quart and gallon size) and the number of bags needed for each dinner. Some meals are casseroles and they will also have the containers there for those. If you don't print labels on your computer (I suggest it), then the people here have to hand write all the cooking directions on the bags/containers. It's a much better idea to just have the labels done and ready to stick. I also suggest getting clear packaging tape to cover seal over the printed labels once they are on the bags and containers, as this will keep the ink from bleeding in the freezer due to moisture.
*This station is optional if the hostess prefers to label and organize all the containers before the day of the shower and have more time for guests to cook.

Station 3: the kitchen: "The Fire Station"
In the Fridge:
The day of the shower, be sure there is ample space in the freezer by removing bags of ice, boxes of ice cream...whatever is not totally necessary for survival of the freezer dinners. Also, clear several shelves in the fridge for the cooked food to chill before putting it in the freezer. It will be 100% necessary for all food, once cooked and put in freezer size containers, to be chilled before freezing. This lowers the chance of your expectant mom's family getting food born illness from improperly cooled foods. I always set the freezer for the coldest setting the day of the shower...and let the mom know that she can set it back to it's normal setting 24 hours later. It is very very unwise to stack warm bags of freezer meals on top of each other in the freezer, as this will make a horrible breeding ground for bacteria. Use caution and judgement when stacking the freezer.
In the kitchen:
Have all counters clean, sanitized, and clear of any unnecessary clutter. You will need several large frying pans, stock pans, baking sheets, containers with measuring spoons, cups and cooking utensils. I also stock several stacks of clean kitchen towels, wash clothes, and "sanitizing buckets". A sanitizing bucket will ensure that cooking surfaces stay clean. They are made with one gallon of hot water and a tablespoon of bleach in them. After food comes in contact with counters, be sure to wipe them down freely with the sanitizing solution. Note:*If small children do show up to the shower, use extreme caution in having sanitizing buckets out. The little ones can drown in a very small amount of water.

Cooking begins as soon as the ingredients arrive to make the items. If for instance, there are three chicken dishes, and they all have just different sauces, it is easy to bake all the chicken at once, then divide the meat in different bags and add the sauce to the bags. For more detailed instructions see:Chef Tess Bakeresse: Freezer Chick...
As the shower winds down or as the need for refreshments arise, I usually bake several pans of the Freezer to Oven Ready Cinnamon Rolls or offer them as another freezer option for the expectant mom. It is nice to have a few random breakfast items as well. The nights ahead will be long.

At the end of the party, the expectant mom is given a list of all the meals that are in the freezer. I've seen a lot of cute magnets attached to lists for these presentations. The list is placed on the door of the freezer and gives a wonderful reference of what is in the freezer. The only secret is to be sure as meals are taken from the freezer, they are crossed off the list. This will save a lot of time and brain power, those precious commodities that seem to escape new moms when sleep deprivation sets in.

Party favors for guests usually consist of jars of spices to take home with a cute raffia ribbon and the note attached:
"Thank you for helping with the new "seasoning" of my life.
There you go.
About the author:
Chef Stephanie Petersen is a mom, cooking instructor, food blogger, and enthusiastic encourager of all she meets. She can be found at

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Upcoming on Fox 10

I just wanted to update everyone and let them know that on Monday, May 3rd @ 9:45 AM I will be on Fox 10 Phoenix doing a cooking segment with Andrea Robinson. The morning host is expecting her first little baby boy. I'm, of course, offering her my services and we are going to be talking about some wonderful things mothers-to-be and friends of these expectant mothers can do to help with freezer meals. More specifically...we'll be talking about having a baby shower that focusing "Storking" the freezer! If you don't live in the valley, I'll be sure to post a link here on the blog shortly following the show, as well as having a full blog entry on the exact logistics of hosting such a baby shower for a friend in need. It's all about supporting one another and empowering each other in this grand adventure called...motherhood. Whether you have a new little baby or just a hungry family to feed, we'll have all kinds of great tips! I hope you'll watch the show.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

How to Make a Freezer File Master Recipe Book

I've had a lot of requests to see the actual freezer file recipe book that I've made for my family. It's full of well over 400 recipes that we rotate through and it's taken me about five years to finally filter through a ton of recipes and find ones that are not only freezer friendly, but also, ones my family will eat. It only takes trying a new recipe once a week for a few years on end, and you'll get to this point. I'm almost embarrassed to show how really practical it is. It's not all type written and several recipes have an inordinate number of notes under the original recipe. Even in their practical state, I have managed to keep them in page protectors. I keep track of the actual amount of money I spent on the recipe, as well as any tips for myself in the future. There is a number of divided sections. There are Pork, Chicken, Beef, Casseroles, Pasta Toppers, Rice Toppers, Pizza, Hot Pockets, Vegetarian, and breakfast sections.
I'm not a scrap book queen either. I imagine later in life when the children are grown, I will have scads of time to just sit and gingerly flip through my book and add embellishments. In the meantime...the stickers that almost look like fancy frills, will have to do.

I keep all my original paperwork from the first freezer meal class I took in my folder. I keep all my personal handouts in my folder.
When I write down a full menu, I will take the individual page out from the note book and put all the menu recipes in the front of my notebook. In this way, I keep track of the recipes I used the month before, and avoid repeating meals too often. I write down a menu list, I will put the menu on one side column of a piece of card stock(again, not always typed out...)

For that list of recipes, I will make a note of all the seasonings I need to have on hand.
I will then go through each recipe and add all the ingredients to the shopping list.

Another thing I have started keeping track of, is how much it cost to make a particular menu, how many meals it made, and if they all fit in my freezer or if I needed to use a supplemental freezer.
Each gets a three hole punch on the side of the page and put in the notebook for future reference, if I don't want to go through the trouble again of figuring out a shopping list. Pick a menu. It's done. I also have a section for menus I have used for friends. This helps me know, if they call with questions, what exactly they ordered.
Again, it's not a fancy system, but it works for me. Hopefully this helps you in your efforts to cook meals for your family and save money.
There you go.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sugar Free Personal Ginger Apple Cobbler

Hello my lovelies! If you happened to see this posting without a recipe...I apologize. It may be the first time in the history of this cute little blog that I hit "post" instead of "save", while composing. In all honesty, I am one hundred percent sure you already know that I am human...but now there's proof. I've worked with a lot of people...culinary world and beyond, who would rather die than admit they had the capability of making a mistake. Oh I'm not that way. I actually find it perfectly refreshing to let everyone know...perhaps even shout it from the rooftops...that I am far from anything perfect. Sigh. That confession feels good. It makes me feel like a free woman. Don't get yourself all bent out of shape. I'm not burning my bra. I'm just saying...If you want to find acceptance based solely on who you are at your've come to the right place. No judgement...just lots of smooches and cheer coming your way. So , welcome.

I live with a zany lady, AKA my MIL. We call her Cussing Granny here on Chef Tess, for a good reason. She's freaky-sassy. I couldn't have asked for a more divine soul (minus the cussing) to be my mom friend. Living here has been an interesting fusion of two different generational families. Granny, for instance, irons stuff. She has "laundry days". Believe me when I say husband has never looked so polished. I have a negative sense of laundry. It eludes me. I know I've mentioned folding fitted sheets before. Yet , Granny has a gift. I love walking in from a long day and seeing sweet little piles of folded socks on my bed. It may seem small to her...but to me, it speaks volumes. In fact, I'm going to stop typing right now and go hug her.

So, with Granny's diabetic needs, I thought I would try in a small way to give something back now and then. She craves goodies now and then. Let's face it, who doesn't? If you don't...don't tell me. You are a super-freak. I mean...a "very disciplined and health conscious nut case". am I most of the time. I'm only saying, it's good for Granny to have a sweet something now and then. So here's one.

Ginger Cobbler Mix (yield 12 3/4 cup portions)

1 1/2 cups baking mix
1/2 cup sugar free sweetener like Splenda or Xylitol
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/4 tsp dehydrated lemon zest

To Serve:
2 medium Granny Smith Apples, peeled, cut, cored, and heated 3-4 minutes in the microwave.
1 egg
1/2 cup water

1 tsp sugar free caramel sauce OR molasses (per cup)

Combine the baking mix with sweetener and spices. Save in a sealed container until ready to make cobblers.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix cobbler mix with the egg and water, only until combined. It will be lumpy. In a muffin tin or in paper souffle cups, scoop 1/4 cup cobbler batter. Push two apple slices into the batter. Bake 20-22 minutes. Remove from the oven and drizzle each portion with a teaspoon of molasses or sugar free caramel sauce. Serve with whip cream or chopped nuts if desired.

They freeze beautifully, are right for breakfast, or a nice tidbit of dessert for the sweet tooth near you.

There you go.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Bread of Life Section...Watering Cans.

Sunday is the day I share a little bit of my soul, enjoy.
With all the challenges of life come glimpses of Eternity. I think they come in sparks of inspiration at some of the most common moment. That is how the Spirit works. I'm sure of it. This article: “And upon the Handmaids in Those Days Will I Pour Out My Spirit” , brought to mind this watering can and my son. It was one of those moments that would easily pass by as just another common place event, if I didn't listen to that Divine whisper into my heart.
Those familiar with our many adventures may be aware of the fact that we have been working on a family garden this year...from seeds. There are some members of the family that pay "fleeting" attention to the job, and others who have become passionate about the work. My seven year old, nicknamed Face, in particular has found a distinct personal inclination to pay unwavering attention to the project. I've found it spectacular, that one so young would take it so seriously. His little arms are hardly strong enough to hold the full watering can and yet he prefers to fill it and with much effort, raise it over the tender young plants. This he will do without fail until the last plant has had it's life giving liquid. Why not use a sprinkler? Why not just walk with the water hose?
I asked him only once why he did it this way. His reply, "I'm making rain for Heavenly Father". He didn't want the water to fall too hard. He didn't want it to flood them. He wanted to do what he imagined a loving Father would do for his young growing seeds. Flow, ever so sweetly, so they could absorb and appreciate it. Each one according to it's needs got personal attention. Isn't that how it should be? God doesn't pour down blanket answers to His children...he hand delivers healing waters tenderly to each one, according to our needs. It may not be what we want or understand at the time, but it is always exactly made for us to learn and grow. Someday you may have to ask the Lord yourself why he did it this way. I just know His watering can...will never be empty, or cold, or leave us withering to die. It will always heal us, lift us, and help us reach our fullest potential. Julie B. Beck said it best, "Because personal revelation is a constantly renewable source of strength, it is possible to feel bathed in help even during turbulent times."
The Spirit is a watering can for your soul.
That's all I have to say about that.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The First Gleaning

Hazaahhh! I never in a million years would have thought that I,the all together gal, would trickle a tear down my cheek at the sight of a zucchini growing. Alas, today, due to no unbalanced hormones whatsoever...(who am I kidding), I totally cried with joy at the sight of your new baby vegetables. A pea pod joined us as well.
A divine vine... berries yet, but I have to do a shameless shout out to the folks at Spring Hill Nurseries for this blackberry twig of glory...that actually sprouted and has some cool looking growth! I'm so excited!! Yes, I am hopelessly addicted to blackberries and have been known to walk around looking like a burn victim after a good encounter with some of these devils. Oh I love them...until I'm stained black and blue.

Now...this is where we gasp.
Ready? GASP. Our first meal from the garden we planted from seeds...spinach salad!

My son was giddy and somewhat awestruck. It was one of those moments I will never forget.
He planted the seeds, watered, weeded, prayed...and now look...
I don't think I've ever appreciated a meal as much as I did this one. Thank you Face...for making my gardening experiences so incredibly sweet. If I live to an old age...I will never look at spinach again without thinking of your dancing eyes when you picked those leaves today.
That's all I have to say about that. Oh...and LIFE is good!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Freezer Meal Friday Hawaiian Hay Stacks

I have a lot of Polynesian friends. This is not one of their recipes. Not even close. Now I preface this post on that note because many of you have probably seen the segment from Fox 10 Arizona morning with me and Sione Fa from The Biggest Loser making freezer meals. To call this freezer meal today a "Hawaiian" haystack, is like well...American Sweet and Sour Chicken... "Chinese" food...both are very far from the real cuisine of the land. However, slang that it is, it is a well loved dish around my home. One that makes a great freezer meal because I can make the homemade chicken sauce in advance and freeze it in a quart size freezer bag. On the day of the dinner I just have to heat the sauce and make the rice. Usually my biggest challenge with this freezer meal, is keeping these dang fried chow mien noodles around my house! My kids love them! Love!

My solution has been hiding the canister behind the cans of black eyed peas. It works like a charm.

True confessions: I don't like cream of chicken soup from a can. I don't. I've never made a sauce for Hawaiian hay stacks using a can of cream of bla-bla-bla. In a pinch I've used my condensed soup mix which is very cheap to make. However for this one today I like a nice homemade sauce. It's quick and a lot less expensive than several cans of soup needed to feed a growing family. I like the flavor better. If I want more seasonings...I add them. I know exactly what is in this stuff. No MSG or preservatives either. Nice isn't it? This one is what I call, "middle of the road" meaning it appeals to a lot of different people. It's home style. I'm home style most of the time. I can do gourmet if I have to. I can. Today however, it doesn't hurt to learn a new basic skill right?

Hawaiian Haystack Sauce:
4 cups low fat milk (or soy milk-unflavored)
2 cups light coconut milk ( or just 1 15 oz can)
1/2 cup flour
2 tsp granulated onion
1 tsp granulated garlic
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast
In a soup bowl, combine the flour and 1 cup milk with a whisk. In a one gallon heavy bottom pot, combine the remaining 3 cups milk, coconut milk seasoning and chicken. Bring to a boil. With a whisk, slowly stir in the milk/flour combination and stir until well incorporated. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to your liking. Some like more...some like less.
This will make about 8 cups of sauce. Allow sauce to cool 10 minutes. I divide it between 2 quart size freezer bags, labeled "Hawaiian Haystack sauce". Lay flat in the fridge to chill quickly. When cool, transfer to the freezer. Do not stack warm gravy on top of each other. We want it to cool and freeze quickly to avoid food born illness.
I put the frozen bag of sauce in a larger gallon size bag along with several sandwich size freezer bags full of toppings for the hay stacks that we like. It just makes it easier on the night of the dinner to have everything together. Topping ideas: pineapple, corn, shredded cheese, shredded coconut, slivered almonds, hot peanuts, Mandarin oranges, peas. We also have fresh topping that my kids chop on the day of the dinner: we include chopped celery, green onions, and bell peppers depending on what we have in the fridge. Isn't that nice?
To serve: Defrost sauce 24 hours in fridge, or in microwave safe 2 quart bowl (out of the bag) on defrost setting 5-7 minutes. Sauce will appear curdled. Don't be alarmed. It will return to it's nice smooth consistency when heated on the stove in a pan for 5-7 minutes, stirring every few minutes.
Cook 2 cups of rice. This is enough for my family of six for haystacks. Mind you, my boys are not yet teenagers.
I did a tutorial on How to cook rice on the stove 101 . I know there are more than a few who have never cooked rice without a rice cooker or instant rice. It's a good skill to have. For brown rice, allow that it will take 45 minutes to cook and more water, as opposed to white rice which is right around 20 minutes.

To serve: Put 3/4 cup rice on a plate and top with a scoop of chicken sauce.
Put toppings in bowls and allow family to pick whatever they want most on their own haystacks.
This also works really well for larger family gatherings.

To each his own.
There you go.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spiced Blueberry-Amaretto Jam

I've seen that girl on in Willy-Wonka's factory get rolled away as a giant blueberry. What was her name? I'm not There was a time however, as a child, that I perhaps thought it was real and that the little orange men with funny shoes and goofy songs would turn me on my side for chewing too much gum and loving blueberries more than should be mortally allowed. However, as an adult, I have come to terms with that experience...and I rarely huddle in my closet and hug my teddy bear while sucking my thumb and chanting happy thoughts. Notice I didn't say "I never huddle in my closet..." I may as a mother sometimes hide from my kids. Is that okay to admit without being arrested? Back to the blueberries. At one time I've been know to eat several pints of fresh blueberries. They are evil little fruity nuggets. If you squeeze them between your fingers, I imagine it would be a demented way of pretending to squeeze Smurf heads. However, I won't be demented today. Haaa! Instead, I'll just make jam. Not just any old lame blueberry jam, but jam worthy of adoration and love. Umpa-Lumpa kind of jam. Yes. I know. I like the chocolate river best too...

Spiced Blueberry-Amaretto Jam
2 1/2 pints ripe blueberries
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1tsp high grade cinnamon (or Wise Woman of The East Spice Blend)
5 1/2 cups sugar
3/4 cup water
1 box (1 3/4 ounces) powdered pectin
1 tsp almond extract

Wash and thoroughly crush blueberries, one layer at a time, in a saucepan(or for smoother jam, puree in a food processor). Add lemon juice, spice and water. Stir in pectin and bring to a full, rolling boil over high heat, stirring frequently. Add the sugar and return to a full rolling boil. Boil hard for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract, quickly skim off foam and fill hot, sterile jars, leaving - 1/2 inch head space. Wipe jar rims. Adjust lids and process for 10 minutes in boiling water bath. In case you missed the long speech on this subject, check it out Home Canning Safety 101

Makes 5 half-pint jars (it is not a good idea to double batches-- just make several in a row)

There you go.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sugar Free Classic Orange Marmalade with Vanilla Bean

I am blessed to have orange trees growing right in the back yard. Arizona is good for that. I feel badly even going outside barefoot in the spring here, because I guess a lot of folks around the country are still really in the thick of cold weather. I may even feel guilty at ripping this gorgeous little orange from it's tender home. Alas, I took my heartless-wench gloves out...and I ripped away.
Now, at one time a little while back I did two full very detailed blog entries on how to make lemon marmalade. Included in those details I even showed cool pictures of how to home can the liquid sunshine in cute little jars. So, forgive me, but I may refer you to those posts at some point. Just because it seems silly to re-do something I already did. Is that fair? Yes. It will suck you into my evil blog...and I pray you will always return and bring friends. That's the only way we'll all grow. I learn so much from my readers. I do. Smooches. What was I talking about? Oh yes...ripping fruit from it's natural habitat. Poor babies. Do you see that birdie turd on the right hand side of the fruit in question? Yikes. I've spared no expense in the making of this blog entry. Be impressed.
It only takes eight little lovelies to make a full batch of marmalade.
8 oranges
4 cups sugar (if you use sugar. I used the low/no sugar pectin and 12 packets of powdered stevia)
1 box low sugar/no sugar needed Sure Jell (in the pink box)
1/8 tsp baking soda
1 tsp LorAnn vanilla bean paste
3/4 cup water (2 cups water if you use real sugar)
The box said it wouldn't set if I used the sugar free stuff. It also said that it would take up to two weeks for marmalade to set. I used the sugar free stuff anyway. That being said, I put mine in the fridge since we are big fans of sugar free jam. It set within a few hours. I've made regular sugar filled orange marmalade many times and it has set perfectly. If you use the sugar, it will set. I swear.
The skin is what I really want you to pay close attention to. Isn't that one of the ratings they use in Hollywood? How much skin fills the screen at one time determines if it gets a bad rating or not. Well people. This must be evil then.
When I washed them...I even saw their navels. Oh...navel oranges. You are so flirty in that bubble bath. remember that birdie deposit. It has to be washed off. I use dish soap. It's not just for dishes. Now, what will I do? Wait...I know. I'll humiliate them completely.

Peeling their skin off. That will do it. OH the humanity! Poor poor oranges. Vegetable peelers work really well here.

I'll chop their skin to make my jam. Almost reminds me of an old nursery rhyme...only I believe in that one it was grinding bones to make bread. Either's kind of yucky sounding. It is bright and colorful to look at.

Now, lob the ends off. Now I say lob...but I mean for everyone to be dainty about it. I don't want to be held responsible for any orange carnage (or un-dainty marmalade ladies). See the brains. Wait...I think the word is "membranes". Those are the things that separate the sections of the orange. You want to cut off the white puffy part and cut the sections out.

Here's where it gets tricky.

White part...gone.
The gorgeous-darling fruit is exposed and ready to be sliced away from the membranes. Set the fruit aside.
Now. We put the skins and baking soda in a large heavy pot and boil them with 3/4 cup of water for 20 minutes. I let mine sit overnight. That's totally optional, but it seems to make the peels less bitter. Now, Add the fruit, sugar or sugar substitute, and vanilla bean paste and boil an additional 10 minutes.

Add the contents of the Sure Jell. Stir really well with a whisk. Boil exactly one minute. One.

Ladle into steril hot canning jars. In case you missed the long speach on this subject, check it out Home Canning Safety 101 . The only exception would be if you are going to put the jam in the fridge and use it within the next month or so.

Look at the posts on lemon marmalade for the complete details on how to process the jars of marmalade. I know you'll want to see it done. This recipe yields 5 cups sugar free jam or 8 cups of lower sugar jam if you use the sugar.
It's a nice soft set.

There you go.