Friday, September 19, 2014

Brushing Up on a Well Stocked Pantry

I have been shocked recently by a pretty obvious fact: the food at my house is getting eaten at an alarming rate. I buy the food and bring it home, most times I even put it in the pantry, but then something mysterious happens to it and it gets consumed.

So after quite a few (more than I am comfortable admitting) scenarios where I would attempt to make dinner only to discover that I was lacking a can of olives or pineapple or mandarin oranges I sat down to make a complete pantry inventory and do some serious restocking.

Food $ense has compiled an amazing list that you can refer to that will help get your started.

Well Stocked Pantry

Staple items you should have on hand to create meals on the fly. Mix and match these with fresh vegetables, meat and/or seafood
  • broth: veg, chicken, beef
  • butter
  • carrots
  • canned tomatoes ( I prefer to have all types - whole, diced, and both sauce and paste)
  • canned vegetables ( I don't buy a lot of canned vegs, but I think this list can include frozen)
  • celery
  • cereal (Be sure you are buying a whole grain)
  • coconut milk (unsweetened) - (I skipped this, I am not sure when I would ever use it)
  • corn meal
  • cream soups (If you prefer you can use the S.O.S. mix instead. It is ideal for this purpose!) 
  • cream
  • dried peppers
  • dry beans
  • dry herbs
  • dry pasta
  • dry spices
  • flours ( I always use a whole grain and an all purpose flour 1/2 and 1/2. If you use pastry, cake or bread flour, be sure you put it on your list)
  • grated cheese
  • grains: barley, quinoa
  • honey
  • jalapenos ( I don't know if this refers to diced green chilis in the can, but I always love to have those on hand)
  • lemon juice
  • maple syrup
  • mayo
  • molasses
  • mustard
  • nuts
  • oatmeal
  • oils
  • olive oil
  • olives
  • polenta
  • rice
  • salt & pepper
  • shredded cheese
  • soy sauce
  • spices
  • sriracha
  • sugar
  • tortillas: flour or corn
  • tomato sauce
  • vinegars
  • yogurt

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Layered Greek Dip

This is going to be my new go-to party dish! I made it go with the pitas and because I had some Greek Kalamata olives lingering on the fridge door that were begging to be used. Plus, a few fresh cucumbers and a couple of lingering tomatoes that were just screaming for me to eat them up. 

Layered Greek Dip
Serves 16
Prep time: 20 minutes
Chill time: 2 hours
• 8 ounce package reduced-fat cream cheese, softened
• 3 cloves garlic, minced
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
• 1 (10 ounce) container hummus (I used Sabra)
• 1/2 a medium cucumber (about 1 cup), diced small
• 2 Roma tomatoes, diced small
• 1 (2 ounce) can sliced black olives ( I used Green and Kalamata because I had jars of them in the fridge - if you have access to them - Use Them!)
• 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese
• 1 scallion stalk, chopped
• Pita chips (We used fresh Pita bread and when we ran out of that, we used plain tortilla chips.)
In medium bowl with an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese, garlic, lemon juice, and Italian seasoning until thoroughly combined and smooth.
Spread cream cheese mixture into a deep 9-inch pie plate (or shallow serving dish.) Evenly spread hummus on cream cheese layer. Top with cucumber, tomato, olives, feta cheese, and green onions. Cover and refrigerate for 2 to 24 hours. Serve with pita chips.

This takes quite a new twist on the old 7 Layer Dip stand by and it is incredible. Your family (and guests if they are lucky) will go bonkers over it.  You'll be asked to make it and bring to parties - who know! It may even get named after you. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Homemade Pita Bread

This recipe is a life changer! Prepare to be Wow-ed and Amazed by your own baking and creating skills.  Homemade pita will change your life and have your family thinking that you are magical in the kitchen. 

Traditional Greek Pita Bread.
Prep Time: 25 Minutes
Cook Time: 2 Minutes
Total Time: 1 Hour, 30 Minutes

Makes: 8 Pita Rounds

1 cup hot water, but not boiling
2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
2 1/2 - 3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil


Mix the water and yeast together in the bowl of a stand mixer (a large bowl will also work if you do not have a mixer), and let sit for about five minutes until the yeast is dissolved. 

Add 2 1/2 cups of the flour (saving the last half cup for kneading), salt, and olive oil. If using a stand mixer attach the dough and need the dough on medium speed for 8 minutes, adding more flour until you have a smooth dough. If using your hands sprinkle a little of the extra flour onto your clean work surface and turn out the dough. Knead the dough for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add more flour as needed to keep the dough from sticking to your hands or the work surface, but try to be sparing. It's better to use too little flour than too much. If you get tired, stop and let the dough rest for a few minutes before finishing kneading.

Clean the bowl you used to mix the dough and run it with a little olive oil. Set the dough in the bowl and turn it until it's coated with oil. Cover with a clean dishcloth or plastic wrap and let the dough rise until it's doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

At this point, you can refrigerate the pita dough until it is needed. You can also bake one or two pitas at a time, saving the rest of the dough in the fridge. The dough will keep refrigerated for about a week.
Gently deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and gently flatten each piece into a thick disk. Using a floured rolling pin, roll one of the pieces into a circle 8-9 inches wide and about a quarter inch thick. Lift and turn the dough frequently as you roll to make sure the dough isn't sticking to your counter. Sprinkle with a little extra flour if it starting to stick. If the dough starts to spring back, set it aside to rest for a few minutes, then continue rolling. Repeat with the other pieces of dough. (Once you get the hang of it you can be cooking one pita while rolling the next one out.)

Warm a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat (you want a hot pan). Drizzle a little oil in the pan and wipe off the excess.Lay a rolled-out pita on the skillet and bake for 30 seconds, until you see bubbles starting to form. Flip and cook for 1-2 minutes on the other side, until large toasted spots appear on the underside. Flip again and cook another 1-2 minutes to toast the other side. The pita should start to puff up during this time; if it doesn't or if only small pockets form, try pressing the surface of the pita gently with a clean towel. Keep cooked pitas covered with a clean dishtowel while cooking any remaining pitas.
These are best eaten fresh, but will keep in a ziplock bag for a few days or in the freezer.

You won't have to worry about saving them and keeping them fresh though, They will get gobbled up as fast you can get them off the grill. 

I know they might seem a little bit intimidating to be making, but they are so incredibly easy and the flavor of them is incredible.  I didn't double the recipe because it was a "test" recipe and I wasn't sure how well it was going to turn out (and whether it was going to be worth the work) But there were several people at my house that were wandering around the kitchen wondering if there were going to be more pitas coming their way. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

Picky Teen Eaters - The Chopped Champion

Are you aware of the popular competition cooking show where chef'-contestants are given a basket of mystery ingredients and then asked to make an amazing "creative" edible dish that is then judged and critiqued and then after a small session where the chefs are given their reviews one of them is sent packing and the next round starts. 

Does this sound like dinner every night at your house?  A pantry of mystery ingredients, strange foods from the back of your fridge and forgotten purchases at the grocery store and a panel of hungry "judges" ready to find fault with the plate put before them. "Is this what you call presentation?!!" 

I feed quite a variety of judges / diners everyday. I am lucky enough to have a child or two that appreciate everything. (or at least are willing to TRY everything). I have a toddler that is wary of new foods and I have a kindergartner that bases what he likes wholly on what his siblings think of the dinner offerings. (Which is why no one is allowed to say anything is "disgusting" no matter how much they personally don't like it). But the pickiest of all my children is my oldest. Feeding a picky teenager is going to seriously be the Death of Me!.

 Not only does he eat just a few things, but at time, I feel he prides himself on being such a picky eater. I have my fair share of teenage boys who are willing to eat anything and everything, but having a teenage picky eater can be a challenge all its own and there doesn't seem to be a lot of helpful ideas to overcome it like there are with toddlers and preschoolers.  

The very first thing you want to be aware of is that a lot of eating disorders can begin in the pre-teen and teenage years. Take a step back from the situation and look at what you are dealing with: is this basic fussy eating or something larger and perhaps more serious.  If your teenager suddenly loses a large amount of weight or criticizes her weight and appearance, she might have an eating disorder. Other symptoms of eating disorders include major changes in her eating and exercising habits and physical complaints, such as a headache or stomach ache, that can't be explained by other ailments. If your teen develops an eating disorder, make an appointment with her doctor to develop appropriate treatment options so her long-term health doesn't suffer.

If you feel like you are dealing with regular run-of-the-mill (but still very frustrating) picky eating, sit down and have a heart to heart talk with your child. You don't have to raise the white flag and give up, but open the conversation and really express how you feel. Explain why you feel like eating a balanced diet is so important (especially for growing bodies) Don't just surrender your position and allow your child to pursue an unhealthy diet. That won't do anyone any favors. At the same time, you cannot afford to make this discussion into a power struggle. Its possible to outlast an upset child, but a teen has a will and the energy to match your own. Furthermore, they are just discovering their independence. If you appear to be trying to stifle it, you'll lose.

Instead, you are going to have to meet your child half way and treat him or her like the rational adult that they are becoming. Begin by allowing your child to speak about the food issues. Really listen to what he or she is saying so that you can get down to the underlying issues that have caused this struggle.

Make sure that you insist on certain concessions even as you are preparing to negotiate. You are the parent and your concern for your child's health should trump frivolous grievances. Suggest that you will not force your child to eat food they find distasteful if they will commit to a balanced and nutritional diet made up of their favored foods. Also ask that the child continue to try new foods, suggest that they take at least one bite of everything served before they reject it.

These types of options allow you to serve both masters by addressing your teen's right to choose their food and still insisting on privileging their health. If your child is truly set against eating a balanced diet, consider suspending the conversation to take them to a doctor or nutritionist for help. If the two of you cannot communicate effectively about the issue, then consider asking a counselor for help navigating it. Do not engage in power games or attempt to lie about food to your teen as that will only erode the trust that you have worked to establish.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Classic Chicken and Rice Casserole

The thing about classic comfort foods is they became that way for a very good reason.  They are the little black dress of the culinary world - except made of sweat pants material. They are fabulous and perfect, everyone looks good in them and they are Sooooo Comfortable! This is actually turning into a terrible analogy that isn't working well at all, Thank Goodness this classic Chicken Casserole from the Food $ense Creates series is delicious enough to make up for all my terrible chatter. 

Potluck Chicken Casserole
• ½ cup chopped fresh mushrooms
• 3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
• 2 garlic cloves, minced
• 1 tablespoon canola oil
• 3 tablespoons flour
• 1¼ cups milk
• 4 cups cooked and cubed chicken ( I used some leftover chicken and a can of cooked chicken)
• 3 cups cooked rice
• 1 cup chopped celery
• 1 cup frozen peas, thawed ( I used a bag of mixed veggies instead of the celery and peas - mostly because I didn't have any celery or just plain frozen peas)
• 1 tablespoon lemon juice
• ½ teaspoon salt
• ½ teaspoon pepper
• ¾ cup crushed corn flakes or breadcrumbs

Sauté mushrooms, onion, and garlic in canola oil until tender. Stir in flour, then gradually add milk and bring to a boil. Cook and stir for 2 minutes or until mixture is thickened and bubbling. 

Remove from heat and add chicken, rice, celery, peas, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. 

Mix well and spoon into 9x13 baking dish.

 Sprinkle corn flakes or breadcrumbs over casserole. Bake uncovered at 350º F for 30 minutes or until bubbly.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Prepare to be amazed at the praise lavished on you from your family and friends. This one is a winner folks! 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Fresh Salsa is Heaven

I don't think my love of homemade salsa is a secret. I love to make it in the blender with canned tomatoes and chilies. I think it tastes absolutely so delicious and I like being able to make it as spicy or mild or garlicky (or cilantro-y) as I like. 

But there are few things I look forward to in the summer as much as I look forward to fresh garden tomatoes.  I would venture to say Nothing, NOTHING inspires home gardeners more than the quest to grow amazing tomatoes. I consider myself a super cheer-leader for this quest and very qualified taste-tester of all garden grown tomatoes.  Here is a little bit of free life advice - make friends with people who garden - they always grow more than they can eat! 

My dad has a gardening friend that like to share with him and gave him a bag of the biggest, juiciest, most ripe tomatoes I have seen all year. They were practically splitting with ripeness and  flavor. My parents had a busy week planned and so I got the tomatoes passed on to me. Am I the luckiest girl on the planet, or what?!  (It really helps to put the word out on the street that your door is open to all food offerings). 

So here at our house, we set out for a late night salsa making expedition.  Making fresh salsa at home, really just involves a lot of chopping. I suggest putting on some music, and getting a helper or two and just making a night of it. If this is your first time, all you need to remember is that good ingredients make for Great dishes. Food $ense has some amazing information available on helping to pick out the freshest and best tasting ingredients. 

Here is the information on Cilantro. And included with it is the blueprint that I use for all my fresh salsa. 

Here is the one for Jalapenos.  (remember to cut them wearing your gloves or wash your hands super super good after cutting them.!)

And two more: One for Limes and one for Tomatoes

So now, get out there! Get your chopping buddy and Get some fresh ingredients and get making and eating that fresh salsa.  Do you need some fresh ideas on what to eat it on - 

1. Hummus
2. Pizza (as a topping or condiment)
3. Fish 
4. Lettuce leaves (like a boat, or on a salad)
5. Eggs 
6. Meatloaf (in it or on it)
7. Potatoes: baked, mashed, roasted, hash 
8. Hot dogs 
9. Steak 
10. Noodles (cold or hot: angel hair, ramen) 
11. Soup (chicken, tortilla, corn chowder)
12. Cream Cheese (heated and mixed in) 
13. Grains (rice, farro, quinoa) 
14. Pancakes (instead of syrup or mixed in the batter)
15. Corn bread (just mix it in the batter)

Friday, September 5, 2014

Live Well Utah

I am always So excited to share amazing resources with you. Today I have one that I am especially excited to share.

Live Well Utah

It is an information blog / website that is produced by the USU Extension: Here is how they introduce themselves.

USU Extension's New “Live Well Utah” Blog
Utah State University Extension recently launched “Live Well Utah,” a new blog focused on providing Utah families with information on home, family, gardening and 4-H youth programs. Contributors are USU Extension specialists and agents from around the state who will provide tips and information on Extension programs and resources in a consumer-friendly manner.  The blog coordinates with the Live Well Utah monthly electronic newsletter that reaches more than 7,900 Utahns. 
Visit the blog at Connect with USU Extension online through @LiveWellUtah.

I have been frequenting the Live Well Utah blog for a while and I absolutely LOVE IT. 

Food $ense is a frequent contributor and has some great new information and articles to pass along to you.  And there are quite a few posts from the Food $ense instructors that contain some of the valuable information that Food $ense teaches their clients. 

But it isn't just a food website, there are articles on Family, Budgeting and resources that available to us as a community through the USU Extension. 

Pop on over to the website and spend some time there. There is absolutely something that you will find interesting, I guarantee it! 

Plus join the newsletter and follow them on social media. It is a really fun group to be a part of.