Monthly Archives: September 2013

How To Jazz Up Canned Beef Stew

Sometimes you can’t, or just don’t want to, make comfort food from scratch.  You need and want a stick to your ribs meal that is quick and convenient, but still looks pretty on your plate.

This is eat-from-the-pantry-because-we-are-not-going-to-the-store week and our menu plan had “beef stew” on it for today’s lunch.  I popped open the can and you can see what it looked like, above.  Not very inspiring, huh?  It tastes good when it’s all warmed through and definitely sticks to the ribs, but it’s just not all that pretty.  No worries because I jazz up my pantry items.

Dice up 2 small carrots and sauté them for a few minutes.  Rinse some frozen peas in a strainer, then add them to the carrots with 1/4 cup of water.  Cover and boil for 2-3 minutes.  Now add in your canned beef stew, stir and heat through.

The result is not only pleasing to the eye, but the carrots and peas also add another layer of texture.  Perfect for a quick, fall meal when you’re busy or have unexpected guests drop by.  Enjoy!

Cheesy Mushroom Chili from The Mushroom Lady

We were on vacation last week on the Delmarva Peninsula.  It lies between the Chesapeake and Delaware Bays and consists of land belonging to Delaware, Maraland and Virginia.  On Tuesday afternoon, we visited the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware Farmers Market in Grove Park.  We arrived a bit early so B happily played in the playground while we waited.  At a couple of minutes to noon, a bagpiper walked from the end of the market to the beginning while he played.  Once he reached the beginning, a big bell rang, signally the start! What a wonderful variety of vendors!  In addition to the fruits, vegetables, fresh meats and local honey you expect to see at a farmers market there were homemade pastas, snacks, candles, wreaths, breads and sweets.  There were even vendors selling lunch items and the hubs had to drag me away from the tent making the best smelling grilled burgers!  (We did an excellent job sticking to our vacation budget, but I think my vacation would have been enriched by that burger!) At one of the vendors, Davidson Exotic Mushrooms, The Mushroom Lady was serving up free samples of her Cheesy Mushroom Chili and giving out copies of the recipe.  It was so good, I have not stopped thinking about it so I decided to make it for dinner tonight.  YUM-O!  Only 7 ingredients and cooked in 20 minutes.

The Mushroom Lady’s Cheesy Mushroom Chili

1 quart Crimini Mushrooms, chopped into bite-size pieces
2 tbsp Cumin
3 cups Salsa
1 cup Frozen Corn
1 can White Beans (16 oz), rinsed and drained
1.5 cups Monterey Jack Cheese, shredded

Saute mushrooms in oil a few minutes, then add Cumin and cook until mushrooms are soft.  Add salsa, corn and beans.  Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Remove from heat and stir in 1 cup of cheese.

Ladle into bowls, top with remaining cheese and serve with toppings of your choice.  Can also be served as a dip with tortilla chips.

I halved the recipe but still used the whole can of beans (didn’t want to waste it), replaced the olive oil with canola, and cut up a few Colby-Jack cheese sticks since that’s what I had on hand.  I made a batch of The Pioneer Woman’s Restaurant-Style Salsa because we looooove it in this house, but just use whatever fresh, canned or jarred one you like. The chili was done before 4pm so I went outside with B to talk with the neighborhood moms while the kids played.  We came in an hour and a half later and I heated the chili back up.  Just like The Mushroom Lady, I served it with sour cream and had to put a dollop of the homemade salsa on top. Since everything was eaten, cleaned and put away so easily, I decided to bake Money Saving Mom’s Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins for tomorrow’s breakfast.  I halved the recipe and got 18 muffins, using 1/3 whole wheat flour and 2/3 white flour.  I’m not the biggest fan of muffins because they tend to be dense and a little too dry for my taste, but not these!  They are light and moist and sooooo gooood!  They are a freezer cooking recipe and she provides instructions for freezing and thawing your muffins.  However I know for a fact, since I have already consumed 2 tonight, that these muffins will not last long enough to see a freezer. I hope you try both of these recipes and let me know how they turned out.

President in a Bag – George Washington

After reading about our first president, B chose 5 things to represent his life.

I receive The Idea Book for Educators, a free publication from A&E, History Channel, H2 and Biography.  Inside you’ll find study guides to assist us teachers with educating children through shows featured on the four sponsoring channels.  The guides include vocabulary, discussion questions, extended activities and additional resources.  My favorite section is “Creative Ideas From Our Teachers”.  Teachers write in and share ideas they’ve developed and used in their classrooms to get their students engaged in learning and have fun.  It is amazing to read their ideas!  The teachers whose ideas are published in the magazine each receive a $1,000 grant.

One of the winners in the Fall 2013 edition was Bethany Dabel of Grandview High School in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and her idea was President in a Bag: Exploring the Executive Office.  Each student was to explore the life of a former president and collect 5 objects in a bag to represented their president.  The students then made a presentation to the class, explaining the objects they chose.  Brilliant!  I love hands-on learning as well as tapping B’s creativity.

We are studying American History for the first time this year, including presidents of The United States.  When I read Ms. Dabel’s idea, I knew if would be a great addition to our lessons.  We’re starting at the beginning, and the picture, above, shows 5 of the 6 items B chose to represent George Washington.  He really insisted on adding a 6th one.  Last night, he presented his objects to the hubs and me and this is what and why he chose:

  1. B’s tricorne, the three-point hat he received during our trip the Williamsburg, Virginia earlier this year.  This hat reminds B of Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze’s oil painting Washington Crossing The Delaware.
  2. B’s toy flint-lock pistol he also received during our Williamsburg trip.  The pistol reminds B that General George Washington was the leader, the top dog, the big cheese of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War.
  3. A tape measure reminds B how unusually tall George Washington was for his time – 6′ 2″.
  4. The one dollar bill – not only does it have George Washington’s picture on it but he was also the first president.
  5. Our front door (not shown in picture) represents the fact that George Washington was always welcoming people into his house as long as they dressed nicely.  He even went outside to find people to come in and converse.
  6. A tea bag because all hosts offer their guests refreshments, even if they are a stranger you met on the street, and George Washington had to be a proper host.
I’m so thankful to Ms. Dabel and The Idea Book for Educators for sharing her idea!

Series: Cooking Around The World With My Son – Mexico

Inspired by Inner Child Food’s Kids’ Culinary Passport, we have added international cooking lessons to our 5th grade homeschool lessons.  Read about our first country, Italy, here. Today’s post is about Mexico.  Like Italy, Mexico cooking day fell during that last week of the pay period: suck-it-up-I’m-not-going-to-the-store week, so we used a recipe as a guide, but worked with what we had on hand.  I have been making my own tortillas this Summer using this recipe from Taste of Home and they are so easy! Ben made the dough and rolled out and cooked the 1st tortilla, but after that he was done.  At least he tried it!  I finished the rest of the batch.  But he did make the fajita filling.  We used The Pioneer Woman’s Beef Fajitas recipe.  I love her!  Scouring the fridge and freezer for ingredients I found a quarter of an orange pepper and half a yellow pepper, a tomato from the farmers market that was on the use-or-lose threshold, half a mason jar of homemade salsa and a frozen sirloin steak.  The rest of the ingredients, minus the sour cream, are alway present in my kitchen so B got to work.  

First he made the marinade and then he chopped the peppers and onions.  Although the hubs has supervised B at the cutting board many times, I’ve only done it once or twice and I’m such a Nervous Nelly!  I have been cooking for 33 years and I cut myself at least a few times a year.  Plus the hubs was at work and he is designated first aider in this house.  However, I need to get over it and B needs to get more practice, so I let him at it.  His favorite part was smashing to garlic cloves to make peeling the skin off a breeze.  He wasn’t strong enough to work a traditional garlic press and, since I refused his request to “…chop it up really fast like the professionals on Iron Chef!”, I had him use The Garlic Zoom.  He loved it!  Put a clove or two inside, close it up and run it back and forth like a Hot Wheels car.  He did great slicing the onion, peppers and chopping the tomato but I was a wreck.  (I chopped cilantro right before dinner was ready.)  Thank goodness the steak marinated as a whole because I was not ready for him to cut raw meat!

The meat and veggies were put in their separate marinade bags in the fridge right after lunch and at dinner time B cooked the veggies and steak.  I sliced the steak after it had rested and we made our fajitas.  The picture, above, is of mine.  Since the tomato had to be used, I put that on my fajita and kept the salsa on the side with some chips.  I didn’t even add cheese and these were muy bueno!

B pointed out Mexico on our world map and we talked about the origin of the fajita along the Mexican/Texas border.  Some of the Mexican cowboys were provided with “leftover” or less desirable pieces of beef, including the skirt steak, as part of their pay so they made fajitas.  “Faja” is Spanish for girdle (or belt or strip) and adding “ito” or “ita” to the end of a word in Spanish indicated affection or smallness.  We have not covered Mexico at all in our History studies, but we will later this year as we progress through American History.

Stay tuned for the country of our next cooking adventure, Japan…

Series: Cooking Around The World With My Son – Italy

Tortellini with Skinny Basil Pesto (left) and Marinara (right).

The evening of August 21, I was on my Pinterest “homepage” and saw a pin for Kids’ Culinary Passport from Inner Child Food.  I did not follow Inner Child Food on Pinterest, but another pinner that I do follow had pinned this culinary passport post.  Although I immediately loved the idea of cooking and crafting with your kids from different countries, I was not going to repin the post.  B was signed up to take a camp the following week that was doing just that – cooking new foods from around the world.  So, I moved on and continued to scroll through my Pinterest homepage.  But a voice inside me said, “Go back and pin that; you might need it”.  I disagreed with that voice, but I’ve learned through experience to listen to it, so I went back and pinned it.

The next day, I received an email form the camp counselor, reminding me about the camp the following week and expressing his excitement to get cooking with the kids.  Right before ending the email, he mentioned that common allergens would be used throughout the week and to please let him know if B had any.  I replied that B is allergic to peanuts and was told that 2 days during the week peanuts would be used.  I promptly removed B from the class and requested a refund.  I called the hubs to express my irritation that the allergy information had not been divulged to parents during registration as well as B’s disappointment.  He loves to cook and was looking forward to the class.  The hubs said, “That’s alright.  We’ll just make our own cooking camp at home.”  Then that voice popped up again, “See?  I told you you’d need pin.”  When I got off the phone, I found the pin, went to the Kids’ Culinary Passport and read the post – five countries, five crafts, five recipes.  B’s camp was 5 days.  This was perfect!  We would just cover each country from Inner Child Food’s the following week and B would get his week of cooking camp!

Hahaha!  “The best laid plans of mice and men…”  Oh, well.  So goes the life of homeschoolers.  We learn through life and somedays life takes us out of the house and we’re not home to cook.  Or the pantry does not have all the ingredients needed to cook a new dish and it’s that last week before payday when I refused to run to the store and just work with what is already in the house.  Over the past 2 weeks, B has cooked 6 days from the 5 countries in Kids’ Culinary Passport from Inner Child Food.  We did not do the crafts because we do plenty of those.  We did not use all the recipes from Kids’ Culinary Passport, either, because we didn’t have the ingredients on hand or we wanted to do something different.

The plan was just to do the 5 countries in Kids’ Culinary Passport, but then I got a text from a friend this morning.  She asked me if we had done Korea yet because she had found a cool recipe for us.  I decided right then that we’ve been having so much fun, why not continue our culinary trip around the world?  I asked her for the recipe and I’m looking forward to trying it!  I don’t know how many countries we’ll do nor how often we’ll cook from them, but I’ll share our journey with you and be very grateful to Inner Child Food for inspiring us.

**UPDATE**  Below, I’ve added the details about Italy we talked about as well as my marinara recipe.

Our first country was Italy because I had fresh tortellini in the fridge that was due to expire at the end of the week.  B made my homemade marinara sauce and Skinny Basil Pesto from  We eat marinara sauce all the time, but I had none on hand that day, so we needed to make a batch anyway.  It’s a staple I’ve been working with B to memorize.  If you can cook your own spaghetti sauce, you won’t go hungry and you’ll impress girls!  I chose the pesto recipe from Skinny Taste because I’ve enjoyed other recipes from that site and this recipe did not call for pine nuts.  I had no pine nuts and it was suck-it-up-I’m-not-going-to-the-store week.  Both sauces were delizioso!  Over dinner, the hubs talked to B about how the colors of the Italian flag remind us of tomatoes, Mozzarella and basil.  I had B point out Italy on our world map and asked him when we’d “visited” Italy during our 4th grade History lessons.  We covered The Middle Ages in 4th grade (July 2012 – May 2013) and B told me that Italy held the capital of The Holy Roman Empire as well as the Catholic Church.

A mom in B’s old playgroup kindly shared her dad’s spaghetti sauce recipe with me 6 or 7 years ago and I am forever grateful to her for that!  Here is the tweaked version that I make in my house:

Simple Marinara Sauce
1-2 tbsp Wegman’s Basting Oil (you can use olive oil, but I am allergic to it)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes (I stock up on Tuttorosso with Basil when they’re on sale; when they aren’t, I use Wegmans’ store brand)
heaping 1/4 cup brown sugar (adjust this to your taste, we like a sweeter sauce)
6 – 8 fresh basil leaves, minced

The simple version of directions: Heat oil in pan.  Add garlic and sauté, but don’t allow it to brown.  Add canned tomatoes, brown sugar and minced fresh basil.  Cover pot with lid most of the way – this keeps sauce from jumping out of your pan, but also lets steam escape so sauce isn’t watery.  Simmer for 1 hour.

The version that I do after many trials and errors: Get everything ready first, because this goes fast.  Mince your garlic, open up your cans of tomatoes and have them next to the pot, measure out your brown sugar and mince your fresh basil (or get out a heaping tsp of dried basil, Italian seasonings, salt & pepper or whatever you like or have on hand).

Heat oil in a large, non-metal pot with a lid; I use an enamel-coated cast iron pan.  Once oil is hot, add garlic and stir constantly.  You must keep it moving to prevent it from burning.  You don’t want the garlic to get brown, but you need it to cook enough so that it is no longer raw.  Smell your garlic when it 1st goes in the pan – it’s strong.  Keep the garlic moving and continue to smell it until the aroma has mellowed – no longer stings your eyes and nose.

Immediately add in about 1/3 of a can of tomatoes to stop the garlic from cooking further and stir quickly.  The pan is hot and those tomatoes will pop and bubble right out of you pan.  Stir them until they cool down the pan a little and stop bubbling, then stir in the rest of the tomatoes, the sugar and herbs.  Bring sauce up to a low boil (it bubbles on top), then reduce your flame as low as it can go.

Cover pot with lid most of the way – this keeps sauce from jumping out of your pan, but also lets steam escape so sauce isn’t watery.  Simmer for 1 hour, stirring every 10 minutes to make sure sauce on bottom does not burn.  Enjoy!

Stay tuned for the country of our next cooking adventure, Mexico

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