Category Archives: Food

The BEST Mexican Rice – gluten free

Grilled pork chop, salad, mexican rice

I grew up in San Diego. I was spoiled by ready access to some of the best Mexican food north of the border. About every third block sports a Mexican food shop. Alberto’s, Adelberto’s, Roberto’s, Marietta’s, Mariachi’s, etc. The rice at these shops is yummy. It varies slightly from place to place, but is light, fluffy, flavorful and addicting!

I decided that I needed to learn how to make this delicious food for myself.

I asked one of my dearest friends, Google, to tell me how to make “red rice like taco shops in San Diego”. This yielded a LOT of hits. I looked through many recipes and selected a few that looked promising. Then I started trying recipes and making my own modifications.

This recipe is the end result of my trials. It is gluten free, which is an important consideration in our family. It’s delicious. So amazing that I have never tired of it. I’ve received many requests for the recipe as it seems that everyone who tries it shares my love.

For my mega family, I quadruple this recipe. That works nicely because then I can just use one 15-ounce can of tomato sauce (close enough to two cups to suit my cooking style) and one quart of chicken broth (either homemade or one of the aseptic boxes).

It keeps and reheats well, so even if you don’t have a mega family, I suggest up sizing this recipe for yummy leftovers. Sometimes I turn it into a main dish by adding sausage, chicken or beef.

Mexican Rice
Mexican rice ingredients3 T vegetable oil (canola or lard)
1 cup uncooked long grain rice (I use Calrose)
1 tsp garlic salt
½ tsp ground cumin
1 T dried minced onion
½ cup tomato sauce
2 cups chicken broth (I use homemade)

 

Rice, puffed and goldenHeat oil/lard in saucepan over medium heat and add rice. Cook, stirring constantly, until rice is puffed and golden.

Stirring in the tomato sauceWhile rice is cooking, sprinkle with garlic salt and cumin. Stir in minced onion, tomato sauce and broth. (Watch out, there will be lots of steam and spitting from the pot).

Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 20 minutes. Fluff with a fork.

Rice might look a bit wet at first, but the liquid will be absorbed as it sits.Mexican rice

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The very best gluten-free chocolate chip cookies

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Our food allergy story began almost twelve years ago, after the birth of our ninth child. I’ll share more of that story in another post. The short version is that, after a five-day hospital stay, he was diagnosed with MSPI (milk-soy protein intolerance).

It took over ten months and an insanely strict elimination diet (for ME since I was his sole source of nutrition) to figure out the rest of his food allergies. Wheat/gluten was one of the many.

Since I’ve always enjoyed baking, this was a tough blow. No more yummy treats coming out of my kitchen…. Yeah, that didn’t last long. Twelve years ago, today’s glut of gluten-free information and help did not exist. There were only a few cookbooks available; but, thankfully, there was a helpful community at egroups (yep, it was an age ago!) of parents of food-allergic kids who willingly shared anything helpful they came across.

From there, I found a group called SillyYaks, and I was back in the baking business.

The inspiration for this recipe came from the SillyYaks group.

The Very BEST Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

4½ cups gluten free flour mix (you can either make up your own mix or buy a pre-made GF flour mix. I will share the blend I use below) ***
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1 tsp xanthan gum (unless the mix you purchase includes this binder)
2 cups shortening (Crisco®, or palm shortening — NO substitutes)
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 small packages vanilla instant pudding mix (3.4oz each)
2 T vanilla extract
4 eggs
2 cups (12 oz) semi sweet chocolate chips.

In a medium bowl combine flour blend, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum.

In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugars until well blended and smooth. Add vanilla and pudding mix. Add eggs. Mix well.

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Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture and blend well until no flour is visible.

Mix in chocolate chips.

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Drop by teaspoons full onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven when cookies are only BARELY browned around the edges. Cool for 1-2 minutes on baking sheet before removing to clean counter top (not cooling racks) to finish cooling.

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Enjoy warm from the oven, room temp up to 2 days OR freeze for longer term freshness. They are very yummy to eat straight from the freezer.

This recipe lends itself well to variations. Instead of vanilla pudding mix and semi sweet chocolate chips, try the following:

  • Chocolate pudding mix and white chocolate chips
  • Butterscotch pudding and caramel bits
  • Butterscotch pudding and toasted nuts or butter brickle pieces
  • Lemon pudding and poppy seeds (I would use all white sugar for a pale, delicate cookie, and use lemon extract instead of vanilla extract)

Really the flavor variations are limited only by your imagination.

The gluten-free flour mix that I usually use for these cookies is a brown rice flour, tapioca starch and potato starch blend in the following ratio:

6 cups brown rice flour
2 cups potato starch
1 cup tapioca starch

(Prepare as much of this mixture as you think you’ll use in three months, and store it in a canister or jar.)

PDF version is here.

 

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The very best chocolate chip cookie

Chocolate chip cookies

These are, hands down, the best chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever eaten. And, judging by the number of requests I’ve had for the recipe, I get the feeling I’m not alone.

I started baking at a young age…. my earliest memories of baking begin when I was about age 10. It was one of the many things my mother taught me to do. I found I could almost never go wrong if I brought freshly baked goodies to a gathering. And, freshly baked cookies and cinnamon rolls are how I snagged the world’s best husband! True story.

My mom actually deserves most of the credit for this recipe since it is the one she baked for us kids when we grew up.

I have made one modification to her original recipe: I add a lot more vanilla. But, the 2-tablespoon amount is really a guesstimate…. I’m really bad about measuring. I always just dump from the bottle.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

4½ c all purpose flour
2 t baking soda
1 t salt
2 c shortening (i.e. Crisco® or palm shortening; leaf lard will also work, if you have access to the unprocessed stuff. Aside from that, no substitutes!)
1½ c sugar
1½ c brown sugar
4 eggs
2 T vanilla
2 c (12-oz. bag) semi-sweet chocolate chips.

In a medium sized bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a large bowl, cream shortening and sugars until well blended and smooth. Add eggs and vanilla. Mix well.

Add flour mixture to the creamed mixture. Stir until well blended and no flour is visible.

Mix in chocolate chips.

Drop by teaspoons full onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350°F for 9-10 minutes. Remove from oven when cookies are only BARELY browned around the edges. Cool for 1-2 minutes on baking sheet before removing to clean counter top (not cooling racks) to finish cooling.

(Click here for a PDF version of this recipe.)

Enjoy warm from the oven, room temp up to two days OR freeze for longer term freshness. They are very yummy to eat straight from the freezer. And when they are thawed, they taste as good as fresh.

 

Click here for a gluten-free version of this recipe that tastes just as good!

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Mega meal prep for the mega family

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(Read the first two parts of this series here and here.)

The real work starts when I get home from grocery shopping. I’ve hauled home between 200 and 300 pounds of meat, tons of fresh produce, and dairy products. It won’t all fit in my refrigerators; yet, if I freeze it as-is, I’ll have to be thawing it in 40-pound increments, which is WAY more than even a mega family will need to use for a meal. So, we get to work prepping. It’s mega cooking day!

 

I start with ground beef. I take out my biggest pots. I refer to my menu plan (see previous post) for all my scheduled meals that use ground beef. 2014-09-dsc_4788In each pot I will cook all the beef for each different ground beef based meal. In order to keep it all straight in the chaos that will ensue, I make a little chart for myself that contains the following information: How much ground beef goes into each pot, which dish it is for, what else needs to be added to the pot, and how many meals I will divide it into when I’m done cooking the beef.

mega-beef

Using the above chart as my example, I see that I will weigh out 8 pounds of ground beef in one pot for spaghetti, 9 pounds of beef for sloppy joes, 6 pounds for taco meat, 5 pounds for goulash, and 8 pounds for chili. I usually get started portioning out the meat and assign some of the kids the job of peeling onions, washing peppers, and peeling the cloves of garlic. We put the veggies through the food processor and then add to the pots of beef on the stove.

2014-09-dsc_4800Once those are all cooking away, we take the 12 pounds of beef destined for meatloaf and mix it up in a huge bowl with bread crumbs, eggs, ketchup, onion soup mix and water. Clean hands are the best mixing tool. When it is well mixed, we shape into four loaves and place in half-size foil steam table trays, which we then cover and mark with contents, weight and date. That is usually the first thing done and into the freezer.

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By this time, the pots of ground beef are usually finished cooking. I use a huge commercial potato masher to make sure the ground beef is in small uniform-sized pieces. We drain off the fat and then portion each meal into freezer bags. I use a two-cup glass measure, and just put equal amounts of the beefy mixtures into each labeled bag. Before I seal and put them in the freezer, I add all seasonings and tomato products IF I have purchased #10 cans that will be divided across multiple meals. If I will be opening individual smaller-sized tomato products on serving day, I don’t bother with adding them to the bag. I take the time to add any cooking instructions to the bags, which saves me lots of time on cooking day. It’s usually just abbreviations, but it’s enough so that I don’t have to find the recipe again.

While I or one of the older kids is bagging up the ground beef meals, someone else gets started on the boneless chicken meals. Again, I make a chart.

mega-chicken

Using the above chart as my example, I see that I have five different menu selections that will use boneless, skinless chicken breasts. We trim any fat off the chicken breasts and cut them into portion sized pieces. (A single breast is often close to ½ pound.) I try to make sure they are all a relatively even thickness for ease of grilling. Or if I’m making fajitas, I’ll cut all the chicken into strips. If a stir fry, it gets cut into chunks. I weigh out all the chicken into Ziploc freezer bags. The easiest way I’ve found to do this is to put a Ziploc bag into a large mixing bowl on my scale and zero it. Then add the trimmed pieces to the bag until my desired weight is reached. I label all my bags before I fill them, which is much easier than trying to write on the bags after they’re filled.

While one (or more) person is trimming chicken, another will get started on mixing the marinades. In they go into the Ziploc bags with the chicken pieces. I make most of the marinades up assembly line style. Adding the ingredients called for directly into the bag and “mixing” by just smooshing it around in the bag with the chicken.

When the chicken is all cut up and bagged (or when that job is winding down and someone is free and needs a new job), it’s time to cut up the large pieces of beef. I buy it in 12-15 pound pieces. I then cut it into cubes for stew, strips for teriayki steak and some nice roasts. Everything goes into well labeled Ziploc bags.

When I buy whole chickens, I take the neck and guts out and save it separately in a bag, for making stock, and freeze the chicken in a Ziploc bag. This makes my life so much simpler when I’m trying to put a whole (still somewhat or completely frozen) chicken into the crock pot.

If I buy chicken legs that are not already cut into drums/thighs, I do that, and bag the chicken in meal-sized portions either by piece or by weight. We generally eat either drums or thighs at a meal, not whole legs. It’s just a preference.

At this point, I’m pretty much done for the day. All the perishables are safely in the freezer. On shopping/cooking days, I always plan a simple meal that doesn’t take any significant effort — maybe a couple of rotisserie chickens from Costco, bagged salad and chips. Something like that. I have no energy to cook after all that work. My kitchen is a wreck, but I don’t always clean it up right away. Sometimes I don’t have the energy until the next day. The beauty of this system is that you get one day of a horribly messy disaster of a kitchen, but then almost every other day, the cleanup is minimal.

 

Tips for packaging:

Always, always, always use good quality bags. Ziploc is my brand of choice. There’s not much worse than going to all this effort, only to have your bag fail you, and your food ruined.

Fold down the tops of the Ziploc bags before filling, to avoid getting food stuck in the zipper top.2014-09-dsc_4808

Freeze flat. It’s easier to thaw the food.

After the bags are frozen, stand them up like file folders, in a dishpan or cardboard box. Makes it easy to flip through and find what you want.

 

Now for how I use all that food. Each week, using my meal plan and my calendar, I schedule meals for the week. I take into account a variety of factors when planning my meals. Will I be super busy or gone all day? Then I’ll plan something fast to throw together or something that can be thrown in the crock pot. Will I have guests? What sort of dietary needs do they have? What meals are crowd-pleasers? Which meals do not require a lot of last-minute fuss, so that I’m actually free to visit with our guests? Are we expecting a warm day? Let’s grill! Or cool weather? Let’s have soup and homemade bread. Do we have to go out? What travels well?

I schedule my meals on a simple blank form that my husband created for me (click to download a PDF). This goes on my refrigerator where all those responsible for cooking can see what meals are scheduled. If I remember, we take out anything frozen the night before, so it has time to thaw. When this (often) doesn’t happen, I just pop the bag of food in a sink of water to speed the process along. As I use the meals, I make a tally mark on my meal plan so that I know it has been used. This enables me to know exactly what is in my freezer at any time without having to go on an Arctic expedition. 🙂

I label my menu plans and calendars with the dates used. I store them in a binder for future reference. In theory, you could just repeat the exact same menu plan. We don’t. But I do refer to the previous meal plans for ideas and to get my ingredients list without having to haul out all my cookbooks and recipes again when I do the next cycle.

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Mega shopping for the mega family.

Mega cooking

 

(Note: This is post two of a three-part series. Click here for part one, or here for part three.)

In preparation for shopping day, I like to clean out the pantry, refrigerators and freezers, and get them organized. We have two refrigerators and two separate freezers, but this is not necessary to mega meal plan, shop and cook — we have a few other factors that make it important for us. One is that we have dairy goats and can have up to 20 gallons of milk at a time in one refrigerator. Another is that we raise animals for meat and need the larger capacity at butchering time.

Once the space is prepared to receive the glut of food I’ll be bringing home, it’s time to shop. I bring several older teens and try to leave the little ones at home. My stores of choice are Costco, Smart & Final, Trader Joe’s, Sprouts and Walmart. Very occasionally, I will stop in at a traditional grocery store… particularly if the sales on meat are extraordinary. But more often than not, I can get excellent prices on meat at the Costco Business Center in San Diego, and I don’t bother with stopping at grocery stores to take advantage of their loss-leader sales.

I also shop at a few non-traditional places. This practice began because of our family’s struggles with food allergies. It’s SUCH a pain to go to store after store and stand in the aisles reading labels to be sure an item is safe for my food-allergic kids. Or to hear of a brand that is “safe” for their allergies, and schlep all over town looking for the product, only to return empty-handed. Buying online saves me time and hassle.

Online: Amazon.com – Here I buy specialty groceries and allergy-friendly items that are probably available locally, but which would take some hunting; and I find it much easier to just compare prices and buy online. Examples of this are coconut products, energy bars, protein powder, oils for soap making, gelatin, gluten free pastas, xanthan gum, sunflower seed butter, small packets of almond butter, healthy breakfast cereal. I also buy cosmetics, toiletries and personal care items. Using Amazon Prime and their Subscribe and Save service saves me money and gets my items to me fast.

Vitacost.com – Here I buy mostly vitamins, but am increasingly drawn to them for specialty food items. They have free shipping on orders over $49, and they ship fast. I usually get my items within two days.

doTerra – I buy some personal care products here. I’m sensitive to artificial scents. Essential oils have been a wonderful thing for me. I especially love the “On Guard” hand soap and toothpaste.

Co-op: Azure Standard – Here I buy bulk items, wheat, rice flour, tapioca flour, potato starch, quinoa, millet flour, lentils, split peas, beans. Pretty much anything you could find in a health food store can be purchased here at a discount. I’m a part of a local group that orders once a month. There are groups all over the country. Visit their website to locate a group near you.

Local: Ethnic markets. I like 99 Ranch and Balboa Market in San Diego. Both are about 30 miles from my home, but are near where my parents live so I’m in the area often. Here I purchase sweet rice flour, rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch, coconut milk, coconut cream, rice noodles, produce. And many other fun ingredients. It’s an adventure to shop in an ethnic market. Fun!

Before I leave, I remove 2-3 seats from the back of my 15 passenger van to make room for all the food. (You need a heavy-duty vehicle for this level of food haul.) I put coolers in the van and some heavy-duty blankets to insulate the cold food.

I start as early in the morning as I can manage. Costco is where I buy the bulk of the food items. I go there first. The Costco Business Center opens early. They sell meat at great prices but you have to buy by the case. This is no problem since I am, after all, buying eight weeks worth of food for a mega family. I generally purchase about 160 pounds of chicken and 100 pounds of beef. I buy select cuts of pork, but since we raise our own pork, I usually have a good supply in the freezer already.

Cheese of all types can be purchased in bulk (5-pound blocks). Large packages of butter, lunch meats, 15 dozen eggs, 3-pound blocks of cream cheese, 20-pound boxes of tomatoes, etc. They also sell the most amazing 14-inch tortillas. One of those babies, when filled, will satisfy even my hollow-legged teen and young adult kids.

I go through my list and purchase everything I possibly can at Costco.

Boneless chicken breasts, boneless chicken thighs, whole chickens, chicken drums and thighs, and ground beef by the case. Large packages of beef to be cut into steaks, stew meat or whatever my recipes require. 50-pound bags of rice, beans, sugar, flour, brown sugar, potatoes and onions. 20-pound boxes of spaghetti, rigatoni and other pastas, #10 cans of tomato sauce, tomato paste, crushed tomatoes, tomato puree, ketchup. Half-gallon and gallon jugs of canola and olive oils, mayonnaise, mustard, barbecue sauce. Big packages of chocolate chips, nuts, vanilla, peanut butter. Lots of bags of coffee beans, many blocks of cheese, sour cream, heavy cream, spices, tuna, tortillas, butter, cocoa powder. Large boxes and bags of fresh tomatoes, lettuce, lemons, garlic. Frozen veggies in 5-pound bags, plastic wrap, aluminum foil.

Some items carried at the regular Costco are not available at the Business Center, so I make a stop at the regular Costco too for things like almond butter, potato chips, some personal care items and some nuts.

Then I hit Trader Joe’s for sparkling water, gluten-free pastas and a few other must haves like chocolate :).

Sprouts is where I buy a lot of produce, Boar’s Head deli meats and oats in bulk (50 pounds).

In Smart & Final I pick up toilet paper, some bulk items that I can’t find in Costco, frozen french fries (when I buy them), pet items, and bread bags for our homemade bread.

Walmart is usually the last stop, and is sometimes postponed for another day since I mostly buy toiletries, cleaning supplies and pet items there. These can wait.

The reality is that I don’t always have to hit all these stores on shopping day. I sometimes just get the bulk of it — all the things needed for the food prep/mega cooking session that is following — and go out another day for the rest. It depends on how pressed for time I feel.

Also, I do buy all the cheese and other dairy products I need for my two-months cycle. The use-by dates are generally at least that far out, and I have not had trouble with spoilage. We keep dairy goats, and have a steady supply of fresh milk. We have chickens which provide us with fresh eggs, and a garden to supply us with (some of) our produce. There is no way, however, that I have space for ALL the produce I would need for eight weeks, even if it could stay fresh that long. So, I buy the stuff that keeps well (cabbages, potatoes, onions, garlic), the stuff I need on my mega cooking day (i.e., immediately) and the produce I will need for the first 7-10 days of meals. As I need more fresh produce, I stop at one of several produce stands/stores near my home, or I’ll stop in at Sprouts or another convenient store when I’m out on my weekly errand/lesson day.

This huge shopping trip usually costs me between $1,500 and $1,800. Remember though, that is lasting for two months, and it is for three meals a day for 10-12 people — some of whom are teenagers. It also includes paper products, toiletries, cleaning supplies, laundry detergent and pet products. If I add in the cost of the produce I purchase each week that number goes up a few hundred dollars. So, that’s about $1,000 per month, or roughly $100 per month per person.

So, how do I budget for such a large expense? Well, we divide the work in our finances. I have a budget, and get a certain amount every month. I take care of food, household expenses, school-related stuff, clothing. My husband pays the rest of the bills. I have to keep money in reserve for the big expense. I know it’s coming. So, I hold back about $1,000 each month of the money I manage and then I have what I need when I need it.

When I get home with all this food, it’s a family affair to get it all hauled into the house. I mostly don’t bother putting away the non-perishables at first. It stays near the entry way of my home. (Please be careful if you visit us during this time. It’s a hazardous environment and I might just put you to work!) The dairy products go straight to the fridge. Many items, like tortillas and sausages, can go straight into the freezer because they are already packaged in a way that is consistent with how I will use them. The bulk meats, however are not. We get right to work on that as we move directly into…

a Mega Cooking session.

(Click here for part 3: Mega meal prep for the mega family.)

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Mega meal planning for the mega family

Meal planning

 

(Note: This is the first post of a three-part series. Read parts two and three here and here.)

Cooking is a job I’m OK with. Yeah, sometimes it’s challenging with the various allergies we juggle and all the other demands on my time. Sometimes I just want a break. But, for the most part, food prep for my family is not a job I hate.

Planning what to cook, on the other hand, is a chore I detest. Especially when I’m trying to think of it as my crazy day spins out of control. Knowing that, with every hour that passes, my options become more limited as I no longer have time to thaw that roast or make that slow cooker stew. I tick through the items in the freezer and/or refrigerator. What can I make with these raw ingredients? Do I have all the necessary pantry items to complete the meal? Sometimes, more often that I like to remember, the answer was no.

Ugh. All this food and I can’t think of a single meal to throw together. So we might end up eating pancakes. Or hot dogs. Again.

I’d look at the meal planning systems that other moms used. I checked out apps, computer programs, books, printable forms. None of them were intuitive for me. Every system I’ve seen tries too hard to be clever; inevitably, they don’t mesh well with the way my mind works.

I had to blaze my own trail, creating a system that made sense to me. I needed something to help me overcome my hatred of the planning aspect and the unprepared aspect of always lacking ONE thing from every recipe I wanted to create. I had to get all the planning out of the way and plan everything down to the last can of tomatoes I might need before I shopped again.

This is my system.

First, I decide how many weeks I want to shop for. I aim for a minimum of four weeks, but I prefer eight. Remember I hate the planning and it feels so freeing to just do it all at once and have it DONE!

When planning how many meals to make, I consider things like, How many times do we expect to eat out during this time? How often are we likely to have guests over for a meal? How many “extra” meals do I want to have available to bring to a family in need?

We eat nearly every meal at home. We frequently have guests, and I like to be prepared to minister to others, so I always figure extra into my food plan to accommodate this reality.

Next, I select recipes. I choose by season, mostly. Asparagus in the spring, pumpkin in the fall. Grilling in the hot months, soups, stews and baked meals in the cooler months, etc. I decide how many times we will have each meal. There are certain meals our family loves, and eats often. I plan to have these meals multiple times within my menu plan time frame.

I plan accompaniments for the recipes I choose. Spaghetti? I plan a salad and bread along with it. Marinated grilled chicken, I might serve with roasted potatoes and broccoli, or maybe red rice and a salad. Each combination is written down as a separate meal option even if the main dish is the same.

For breakfast, I list all the things that we might make.

Oatmeal, crockpot risotto, multi-grain hot cereal, German pancake, Baked oatmeal, eggs/muffins, eggs/toast.

Lunch, same thing:

Baked potatoes with toppings, hot dogs, sandwiches (egg salad, tuna, lunch meat, peanut butter & jelly, grilled cheese), leftovers.

I multiply recipes until they are enough to serve all the people consistently eating at our home on a day-to-day basis. Then I multiply that recipe by the number of times I expect to serve that meal in the time period for which I am shopping. I write the corresponding grocery list next to my menu selections.

__ pounds chicken, __ cups of rice, __ onions, __ pounds of potatoes, __ pounds of cheese, etc.

I do this for every recipe I will include in the lineup. Then I go through all the grocery list sections and compile a master shopping list. I write the items on the list in categories (meat, dairy, produce, breads, canned/boxed/dry) and then tally the number of pounds or cups of items (depending on how I will encounter if for sale at the store — i.e., I buy cheese by the pound, so I make any conversions necessary to translate recipes that call for cups of shredded cheese to pounds). Beans, rice and other dry items are generally sold by the pound, so I translate cups to pounds. Some recipes call for a certain number of cans of tomatoes, since I’m making mega amounts, I generally multiply the pounds and ounces and see whether I can buy the ingredient in a larger size to save money. (Hello, #10 can!!!) I work my way down my list of planned meals until everything is accounted for on my master list.

For breakfasts and lunches I do the same thing; but since the meals are simpler, I do the multiplication in my head and include it in the master list.

Then I consider my baking. I do a lot of baking. Including a lot of gluten-free baking. I don’t want to plan out exactly what I will bake when. The “fun” of baking for me is the ability to make what sounds good at the moment. Enter the pantry list.

I went through my pantry and listed everything that I purchase on a consistent basis. Things I would replace when I run out. My list is more extensive than some, because I maintain a whole arsenal of gluten free flours in addition to regular wheat flour. I also use a lot of different beans and a variety of grains.

I evaluated each item and figured out the approximate rate at which I use it. How long does it take me to go through a gallon of olive oil? a 25-pound bag of flour? a pint of vanilla? ten pounds of chocolate chips? The rate will vary, so I’m going for an average. Some things I didn’t know; I started dating packages when I opened them, so when I ran out, I would get a better feel for our rate of consumption. Once I had this information written down, I was able to determine how much I needed to buy to last through my shopping period. I add all these pantry items to my master shopping list.

The last categories to add to my shopping list: personal care, cleaning supplies and pet items. Again, I pay attention to how quickly we go through a tube of toothpaste, a bar of soap, a package of toilet paper, cleanser, dishwasher detergent, laundry soap, etc. I add to my list the amounts needed to get us through the shopping period.

Now I’m almost ready to go shopping. The final step is to go through the stock on hand and revise my shopping list to reflect the difference between that and what is on the shopping list already. I take my messy, handwritten, marked up notebook papers to the computer and collate all the information into a neat list that’s ready to take to the store!

(Click here for part 2: Mega shopping for the mega family.)

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Lemon Cheese Braid

Lemon Cheese Braid

This sweet, yeast bread is a real treat. It’s more labor intensive than some other breads I make, so I don’t make it often. When I do, it is gobbled up that same day. No leftovers. It’s that good. Make. Enjoy. Double the recipe and make two, so you have one to gift to someone who needs some cheering.

[recipe title=”Lemon Cheese Braid” servings=12-14 difficulty=”moderate”]
Bread

  • 1 package (¼ oz or 2½ tsp) active dry yeast
  • 3 T warm water (110° to 115°F)
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ⅓ cup milk
  • ¼ cup butter or margarine, melted
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 3 – 3½ cups all-purpose flour

Filling

  • 2 packages (one 8 oz, one 3 oz) cream cheese, softened
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp grated lemon peel

Icing

  • ½ cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 2-3 tsp milk
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract

In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water; let stand for 5 minutes. Add sugar, milk, butter, eggs, salt and 2 cups flour; beat on low speed for 3 minutes.

Stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough. Knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes.

Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Meanwhile, beat filling ingredients in a mixing bowl until fluffy; set aside. Punch dough down.

On a floured surface, roll into a 14″ x 12″ rectangle. Place on a greased baking sheet.

Spread filling down center third of rectangle. On each long side, cut 1″ wide strips, 3″ into center.

Starting at one end, fold alternating strips at an angle across filling. Seal end.

Cover and let rise for 30 minutes.

Bake at 375°F for 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. Cool.

Combine icing ingredients; drizzle over bread. Yield 12-14 servings

[/recipe]

Here’s a video that shows the process of rolling out the dough, spreading the filling, cutting the strips, and braiding.

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Hawaiian Grilled Chicken and Coconut Rice

Hawaiian Grilled Chicken

I cook a lot. Food-related tasks probably take more of my time than anything else I do. From planning and shopping, to cooking, it’s a big job. I’m always looking for ways to streamline the process. (More on how I streamline the menu planning, shopping and meal prep in a later post.)

Seeking recipes that are quick and easy to put together is an ongoing process for me. Finding recipes that are budget friendly — without sacrificing taste or resorting to using sub-par ingredients or methods — adds to the challenge. I especially seek prep-ahead crowd-pleasers that facilitate hospitality, rather than stifle it. This is a lesson I learned early on…. It’s no fun for anyone when the hostess spends the entire time in the kitchen, cooking, and barely has time to interact with guests. I want meals that can be mostly ready before guests arrive.

This is one such meal. We can make it year-round here in sunny Southern California. It’s ideal for a hot summer day, because it keeps the heat of cooking out of the house. If I’m serving this to guests, I usually make a big green salad to accompany it, simply because I can make that ahead and it holds up well. I regularly serve it with broccoli or zucchini if it’s just our family.

[recipe title=”Hawaiian Grilled Chicken” servings=12 difficulty=”easy”]

  • 3 lbs boneless skinless chicken thighs (This is very important! Do NOT use chicken breasts. They will not yield the same moist, tender result.)
  • 2 cups low sodium soy sauce
  • 2 cups water
  • 1½ cups brown sugar
  • 1 bunch of green onions, chopped
  • ¼ cup chopped white onion
  • ½ tsp minced garlic
  • 1 tsp sesame oil
  • 1 (13.5oz) can coconut milk

Remove visible fat from chicken thighs. Mix the rest of the ingredients together and combine with chicken thighs in a large bowl. Marinate chicken for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Grill chicken for 5-7 minutes per side (or until done) at a low heat so that the marinade does not burn.

Garnish with chopped green onion, if desired.

Serve with Coconut Rice.
[/recipe]

[recipe title=”Coconut Rice” difficulty=”easy”]

  • 1 (13.5) oz can coconut milk
  • 1¼ cups water
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1½ cups uncooked rice (I use Calrose rice. The original recipe called for Jasmine rice.)

In a saucepan, combine first four ingredients. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Stir in rice. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Cover, reduce heat and simmer 18-20 minutes, until rice is tender.
[/recipe]

When I make this for our family, I use 6 pounds of chicken, but use the same amount of marinade. From my experience, I think you could halve the marinade and still use 3 pounds of chicken.

Everyone loves this, so there aren’t usually any leftovers. The few times that there were, I found that the chicken reheated well, whether refrigerated or frozen.

For the rice: I have a wonderful rice cooker. I usually just adjust the amounts to fit the volume of my rice cooker and walk away. I have made it on the stove top a few times, and it works well that way too.

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Adventures in Cheesemaking:
Queso Blanco

Queso Blanco

Six or seven years ago, We got Nubian dairy goats from a friend who had a doe and a wether, 6-month-old siblings, that she was offering for free. This was a huge blessing.

We had been wanting to get goats for milk since our son, James, was diagnosed with allergies to cow milk, and many other foods, a few years prior. I was so clueless about goat care when I replied to her offer, that I didn’t even know what I didn’t know.

We didn’t (and still don’t) have a livestock trailer, so we took seats out of our 15-passenger van and hauled the goats home in that. They were bellowing all the way home. We felt very “country”, which was pretty unusual for this city raised girl. We put them in a dog run that our dog was no longer using, cobbled together a feeder, and bought a water bowl.

Things have improved since then.

I asked questions at the feed store. Got myself a good basic goat book and climbed right up that steep learning curve. And talked to other “goat people”. We didn’t breed that first year, mostly because I didn’t know anyone who had a buck.

Daisy

Daisy

The next year we were ready. I’d met a friend who also had dairy goats, and who offered free “stud service” for our doe, Azalea. Five months later we welcomed a single kid, a doe we named “Daisy”, to our herd. A few weeks after Daisy was born, the friend who had given us Azalea, offered us her doe, in milk, with two doelings and a buck. For free. This was another amazing blessing.

The single goat could not provide enough milk for the needs of our huge family. Each goat gives about one gallon of milk per day at peak production, but the average over the year is probably more like three-quarters of a gallon per day. Now we had two goats giving milk.

Goats have come and gone since then, but we still have Azalea, Daisy and Trinity, one of the doelings that arrived that day. All three are in milk and at nearly full production. That’s about three gallons of milk per day. That’s a LOT of milk, even for a family our size.Lots of milk And now, I find myself in the situation where some of our older children have moved out, and we are struggling to use up all the milk.

I’ve gotten adventurous. And I’ve started making cheese. I bought supplies and a book about making goat cheese. I followed the directions closely.

My first attempt was a dismal failure. This discouraged me from trying again for about a year.

But I didn’t let it keep me down forever. Since I know that I’m usually good with recipes and making things from scratch, I eventually realized the problem was probably with my book. I read more online, and I read reviews for various cheesemaking books; ultimately I decided to purchase this one. I could not be happier with it. It is thoroughly detailed without being boring. It is fascinating. All the chemistry involved is explained. Which is something I wanted to understand. The book is not specific to goat cheese — any milk will work — but I was glad to note that the author has experience with goats. Goat milk has one very distinct difference from cow milk: the milk is naturally homogenized; the cream does not separate to the top.

So, I started with the simplest cheese ever: Queso Blanco. This cheese goes by other names throughout the world:

  • Brousse in France
  • Mizithra in Greece
  • Paneer or Panir in India and Middle Eastern countries

To make this cheese, you need:

  • a large stainless steel pot with a heavy bottom
  • a thermometer (It’s easiest if the thermometer can clip onto the side of the pan like this one.)
  • a colander or strainer of some sort
  • muslin cheesecloth or flour-sack type towel (Don’t bother with the cheap cheesecloth from the grocery store. In a pinch, use a clean, white cotton t-shirt.)
  • bowl
  • spoon

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 gallon milk
  • ½–¾ cup lemon juice or vinegar (acid)
  • ½ tsp salt

Hot milkPour 1 gallon of milk into the large pot. Heat milk until the temperature is between 195 and 200°F, stirring frequently to prevent scorching as milk gets close to target temperature .

Remove from heat and allow the milk to cool to 190°F.

curds formingWhen the milk reaches 190°F, begin adding vinegar/lemon juice 1 T at at time, stirring well after each addition, until the curd separates. You will be able to tell when this occurs. It is plainly obvious. You will see little white blobs (the cheese) and a yellowish liquid (the whey). At this point, stop adding your acid.

Leave the pot alone for 20 minutes. While you are waiting, place a colander/strainer over (or in) a bowl and line it with the cheesecloth.

Ladling the curdsAfter the 20 minute wait, begin ladling the curd into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. I have trouble getting all the curds out from the whey, so after I’ve scooped out as much as comes readily, I begin to scoop out the whey and ladle it into a large jar. When not much whey remains, I pour the remaining curds and whey through my strainer.

There are two options to finish the cheese: pressed and unpressed. I nearly always go with unpressed because it is easier. Simply leave the curds in the colander to drain for 60 minutes. Then add the salt and refrigerate.

If you want to do the pressed version, you only drain for 20 minutes, add salt and then gather the corners of the cheese cloth and force the curds into a compressed mass. Place the ball of curds on a flat surface and flatten into a disc shape about 1½” thick. Open the cloth and carefully refold the cloth over the disc as smoothly as possible. Place the disc on an inverted plate that is in a large bowl/container. Place another upside-down plate on top of the packet and put weight on top of the upper plate. Go for about 3 pounds of weight. (A cast iron skillet or canned food works well.) After 10 minutes, add 3 more pounds of weight. Press for a total of one hour. If, after an hour the cheese is not firm, or if whey escapes when you touch it, press longer.

Enjoy your cheese.

All that whey that you generated can be used in smoothies or fed to animals. They love it.

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Fig Jam

Fig Jam

We were blessed this week by a friend who gave us a bucket of figs. I decided to make jam with this windfall. It’s very easy — only 4 ingredients needed:

  • 2 Quarts of chopped fresh figs (approximately 5 lbs)
  • 6 cups sugar
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¼ cup lemon juice.

Weigh out five pounds of figs (or measure out two quarts, if you don’t have a kitchen scale). Place in a heat proof bowl or pot and cover with boiling water. Let stand ten minutes. Drain, stem and chop the figs. (Abby did the stemming, Naomi did the chopping.)

Combine chopped figs, sugar and ¾ cup of water in a large sauce pot. (I used a six-quart pot.) Bring slowly to a boil, stirring until sugar dissolves. Then cook rapidly until thick. Stir frequently to prevent sticking. Add lemon juice and cook one minute longer.

Pour the hot jam into hot jars leaving ¼” head space. Wipe jar rims and place heated lids on jars. Process in boiling water bath canner for fifteen minutes. My yield was six pints.

I love making jams because it’s the one food that I am able to can that will not disappear in a single sitting! I also love jam making because I can control the ingredients. Since I am able to avoid using pectin unless it is truly necessary, my jams have a more concentrated fruit flavor. Also, I use real sugar, not corn syrup, which is a very common ingredient in commercially prepared jams.

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