Just Precious

Easy Chicken Roast

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin' by Julie Meyers Pron on November 8, 2009

The plan was to have Whitney and kids over for dinner a few nights ago. But with Big sick 2 days before, it was forgotten. Still, on my menu plan was a chicken roast with enough to feed 8. So I now have lots of leftovers.

Ingredients:

Chicken pieces (enough for full group)
2 lbs carrots, cut into bite size pieces (or a bag of baby carrots)
3 stalks of celery, cut into small moons
1/2 cup Kalamatta pitted olives (more if you have lots of olive fans)
1/2  – 1 white onion, diced
2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 lemon,  cut into wedges
1/2-3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon pepper
1-2 teaspoons paprika

Get Cookin’

1. Precut and combine all ingredients (except the chicken and paprika) in advance. (I did this in the morning while Little was sleeping).
2. Set oven for 425.
3. Place chicken pieces in a baking or roasting pan. Top with carrots and other ingredients. Sprinkle paprika on top (especially on top of chicken).
4. Roast for about 45 minutes, until chicken is cooked through.

Star Power Rating: I love easy dinners like this. It could have been prepared in the morning in the crockpot, but its just as easy to stick it in the oven if you aren’t going to be out the hour before dinner. The roast was decent but would have been better with more flavor had infused the chicken more.Rating: NUMBER 2.5 of 5 stars. A good, easy meal but not much flavor.

Notes for next time:  I’m thinking if I had cooked it in a little orange juice it would have added more flavor to the chicken. The olives were a really nice touch. Whitney’s DS2 LOVES olives. I am SO making this again when Whitney and family are here, but figuring out a way to add the flavor. By-the-way, the dinner was much better as leftovers.

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Cooking up a staple: Salsa Beef Tacos

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin' by Julie Meyers Pron on November 3, 2009

taco

Tacos are a staple around here. I learned to make them before I was married, and for several years made them at least once a week. Because they were easy. Back then, I used a kit, which likely wasted a little money and didn’t allow for much experimentation or adjustments to make them yummy for me. Recently, I realized that if I drop the premade taco sauce or powder, I could add a little extra of what I like, and leave out what I don’t.

Making your own tacos is as simple as figuring out which salsa is your favorite. My husband likes to make salsa from scratch, so if we have some of that stocked up I can make tacos with Steve’s Salsa (I’d include a recipe, but I don’t think he’s ever written one down.) When I don’t have Steve’s stocked in my fridge, I like to use Wegman’s Food You Feel Good About in Medium or Santa Fe. (Though I’d love suggestions on other salsas. What’s your favorite?)

Here’s the very simple recipe. It takes about 15 minutes to make, not including chopping time.

Ingredients

  • 1/2 iceberg lettuce (cut to shreds)
  • 3 roma tomatoes (cut into small pieces)
  • 1 bag mexican shredded cheese
  • 1 1/4 lbs ground beef
  • 1 to 2 cups favorite salsa
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • olive oil
  • 8-12 taco shells, warmed in oven

Start cooking:

Heat olive oil with medium heat. Add ground beef; stir and cook until brown. Drain oils and fat. Put beef back into skillet. Add 1 cup salsa, cumin and salt. Cook about 2-3 minutes, until cooked evenly, stirring.

Place shredded cheese on the bottom of the taco shell (this allows the cheese to melt below the meat). Spoon beef on top, then add pieces of lettuce, tomatoes and more salsa, as needed.

Star Power Rating: Considering Big is sick with a 101 fever and hadn’t eaten anything all day, I wasn’t surprised when he told me he didn’t want dinner, just toast. What did surprise me was that as soon as he sat down, he requested a taco, and proceded to eat the entire thing. 5 out of 5 stars. Its so much better without the powder seasoning!

Notes for next time: I always have extra everything leftover when I make tacos. So, lunch today I put some meat into a bowl, added extra salsa and cheese and enjoyed lunch. Had my husband not tossed the lettuce and tomatoes I would have enjoyed a yummy mexican salad. Instead, it was like a taco-style Chili.

Making my own Mexicky Chicken

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin' by Julie Meyers Pron on October 29, 2009

In my first post about meal planning I shared that you’ll learn to adapt and cook on your own, with a lot of practice. And after 3 years I’m still pretty proud when I come up with my own recipe, inspired by others.

For tonight’s chicken dinner I simply took ingredients I’ve learned to love and seasoned them onto breasts of chicken, then took a few of the same seasoning and added it to the vegetables so that the meal meshed.

Ingredients:

Chicken

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon Paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried cilantro
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

Vegetables

1 red bell pepper
1 pkg white whole mushrooms
1 bag baby spinach
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 teaspoons lime juice
1 tablespoon olive oil

Get Cooking:

1. heat oven to 350, then turn off to stay warm
2. wash chicken and pound with a meat tenderizer to thin
3. heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet
4. season chicken with paprika, salt, pepper and cilantro
5. cook chicken in oil 5-7 minutes each side, or until cooked through
6. move to dish and place in oven to keep warm

In same skillet,

7.  heat 1 tablespoon oil
8. cook mushrooms and peppers 3-5 minutes to soften, stirring occasionally
9. add 1/2 cup water, pepper, salt and lime juice. Stir in spinach leaves slowly (they will wilt and allow more room)
10. Serve immediately with chicken

Star rating: there’s nothing better than hearing your husband say, “wow, this is good chicken!” even though you serve chicken about twice a week. And seeing your kids eat all the chicken on their plates is fantastic. The mushrooms, sadly, weren’t quite the hit, but the addition of lime to both parts of the meal blended it together and gave the peppers and spinach a little extra something good. Rating: 4 out of 5 (because no one but me likes mushrooms.)

Note for Next Time: You still need the mushrooms for the water and flavor as they cook, but add a 2nd red pepper. And cook more chicken. This is probably the first time I didn’t prepare enough.

And the family says “yum”: Ravioli with Apples & Walnuts

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin' by Julie Meyers Pron on October 27, 2009

As we sat down to dinner tonight, the huz reminded the boys, “you at least have to try it” as he does every night. I quickly responded that, tonight, this wouldn’t be necessary. For dinner this evening we had Ravioli with Apples and Walnuts, which was direct from Real Simple (yes, I love Real Simple for their recipes and much more.)

This dinner was EASY to make, especially if you buy pre-chopped walnuts and cut the apples in the day time. Just be sure to add some lemon juice to the apples before putting them in the fridge. It’ll keep them from browning.

Star power? Seeing as how every.single.ingredient in this recipe is a family favorite (yes, we love walnuts), this one gets a 5 out of 5. A very well-loved dinner that I will definitely make again. It took me no more than 20 minutes. Probably less.

Notes for next time: Follow the recipe directions exactly and everyone will be happy.

Making dinners easier, Step 1: Sign up with a Menu Planner

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin', Uncategorized by Julie Meyers Pron on October 22, 2009

As I said before, I didn’t always know how to cook. And I’m certainly not a chef. But a few handy helpers have made a huge difference in my abilities.

One of my initial problems with cooking was always the planning. 2 pm would roll around and I would have nothing planned. So I’d go with a stand-by, usually tacos or Shake & Bake. But that would always require a trip out to the store for last minute lettuce. If not, I’d just bake a piece of chicken with dressing drizzled on top, which never works unless you marinate it and let it sit for at least 4 hours and toss any canned veggie in the microwave two minutes before we sat down. Dinner was getting later and later. Less and less original. And more and more unhealthy. I recall my husband saying, “I think when I was younger my mom always had at least a meat, a starch and a vegetable on the plate.”

On a very random search for a last minute meal plan, I came across DinnerPlanner, a resource that became my cooking guide for the next year. Yes, an entire year. I didn’t hesitate to sign up for their newsletters (there’s a nominal fee, which is totally worth it because in the end you’ll learn to plan meals, you’ll teach yourself how to cook and adapt and you can create a year long cookbook dinners if you print out each week of meals ).

Each Thursday in 2006 a newsletter landed in my mailbox with 7 suggested meals, a color-coded shopping list and a menu–for the week. I printed it out immediately. Over the weekend I would select 4 or 5 meals*, depending on the week ahead. Following selecting, I pulled out the shopping list and crossed off the items from the recipes I didn’t need. (Of course, I also added my staples). Every Monday morning (and this is key because part of meal planning is living by routine) I took my list to the grocery store, bought exactly what I needed and left. My weekly grocery shop was lower than everyone I knew. And I only went on Mondays, no more wasting an hour every other day to pick up lettuce. And each day I knew exactly what I was going to make, not just that night, but the next night, too.

The meals at most menu planning sites are simple enough to make in less than an hour, often around 20 minutes (though that doesn’t include chopping–we’ll get to that in a few weeks.) But make sure you read the instructions ahead of time. You may need to marinate overnight. Or your dinner could be a roast or to make in crockpot which will take a bit longer. It took me more than two months to remember to check for marinades and messed up my dinner plans way too often.

There are plenty of menu planning websites and cookbooks. Most important for you is to select one and stick with it. Make sure you subscribe with an active e-mail. Trust me, you won’t motivate remember to visit the site weekly.  Give it a few weeks to get used to it and make it your new routine. Then come back here and look for Step 2: Adapting your meals and picking favorites.

*Never plan for 7 days, you’re certain to waste food. Plan for at least one night of leftovers.In addition, I like to plan a pizza night and/or a night out.

Shrimp with Rice

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin' by Julie Meyers Pron on October 12, 2009

First, I need to tell you that my kids LOVE Popcorn Shrimp. Which, you can pull off really easily at a lot of restaurants. Especially when you get Chinese (order Sweet & Sour Shrimp with sauce on the side.) So, tonight, I ventured out a little. I convinced them that Shrimp with out the popcorn is still Shrimp. And they’ll like it just as well.

Tonight’s dinner is a very big adaptation from Real Simple October 2009’s Creamy Rice with Roasted Shrimp. In fact, they may be annoyed that I’m linking to them. Because I made a lot of changes. Biggest adaptations: get rid of the Arborio rice because I just simply saw no point in spending $6+ on a fancy box of rice. And delete the garlic. Because I don’t cook with garlic. Of course, you can toss some in and cook with the onions if you want to. Oh, and the RS recipe calls for cooking the rice with white wine. I only have red in my house right now. (It was a fun weekend.)

Ingredients:

1.5 cups uncooked rice (I used Minute Brown Rice)
1/2 large Mayan onion
1.5 cups water
1 lb bag cooked, peeled, deveined frozen shrimp (thawed)
2 pts grape tomatoes
about 1 teaspoon each celery salt, basil
about 1/2 teaspoon salt, pepper
1 Tablespoons EVOO

Get Cookin’:

In a sauce pan:

  • chop onion and saute in 1 Tablespoon oil (about 5 minutes)
  • add water and bring to a boil
  • stir in rice, then reboil. Simmer for approx. 5 minutes
  • After cooked, the rice will be a little dry. I added about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water, stirred and replaced the lid. If you want more flavor, add chicken or veggie broth instead of water.

In a large rimmed cookie sheet:

  • toss (gently) tomatoes, shrimp, 1 tablespoon EVOO and seasonings. I eyeballed it and did a sniff test. (yes, sniff-testing works around here).
  • Place in the oven for 20 minutes
  • Serve over the rice.

Star power?   Upon smelling (about 10 minutes before dinner) Middle announced: “Yum! I’m gonna love this dinner!” (Gosh, I love this kid. He’s a miracle for my self esteem). The kids loved the shrimp. We’re talking 4th helpings. I probably should have used 2 pounds instead of 1. The tomatoes literally bombed with Middle. When they “exploded” in his mouth, his mouth opened. You can imagine. Big was cool with them. He only liked the ones that “explode in your mouth.” The rice, of course, was a hit. The huz and I liked dinner. The tomatoes and shrimped mixed nicely.  3.5 stars out of 5. (I couldn’t give it a 4 due to Middle’s response to the tomatoes.)

Note for next time: Add a few more shakes of the seasonings. And take the 20 minutes to go to the store for a bottle of cheap white wine.

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Just Precious Starts Cookin’

Posted in Just Precious is Cookin' by Julie Meyers Pron on October 12, 2009

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See, I have plans for this blog. I love what I’ve started, and now its going to get bigger. For some time now I’ve been toying with an idea.

I love cooking. And, if you knew me when, you’re mouth might’ve just dropped. Creating a hole in the floor. Especially if you were my cooking partner in 7th grade Home Ec. Right Nikki and Mel? Because back then, Stir Fry was difficult for us. And a cream sauce. Oh. The cream sauce. That’s when I realized there’s a difference between 2 cups of salt and 2 tablespoons. Home Ec didn’t go well for me.

And in college, well, thankfully, the sorority houses at SMU include cooks. Several. Oh, how I loved Dorothy and Effie. So, yeah, I didn’t learn to cook in college. Unless you count the spiral pasta with ranch dressing Kris taught me to make in our kitchen on South Padre Island over Spring Break. That was about all we ate. The whole time. Could be because we were barfing up McD’s fries. You’ve been there, right?

But I digress. See. I became a mom. A mom who desperately wanted to cook healthy and creatively for her children. So, I subscribed to a few menu lists and started to learn. And in the past 5 years I’ve placed desperate phone calls to my mom asking where to find rice vinegar in the grocery store. Another time I called my college roommate and asked if I could substitute parsley for cilantro because WTH is cilantro? Yeah, that would have been a terrible salsa, right?

So, why start a cooking column? Because in 5 years I’ve learned more than the fact that cilantro is a necessity in salsa. I’ve learned to substitute, estimate and create. I’ve learned how to plan meals for a week. And I’ve learned how to create meals my kids will eat, some. I’m not using any fancy tactics a la Jessica Seinfeld or The Sneaky Chef.  My kids eat the meals I make them because, 5 years ago, and even today, there was, is, no choice. If its on your plate, you eat it. Period. And then you tell me if you like it.

That’s right. We (We? Who’s We?) I make one meal per night. That’s it. You eat it. Or you wait ‘til breakfast.

Okay, so the plan. Start looking for my new Just Precious Is Cookin’ posts. There will be several each week. Some will address organization. Others will talk about products and foods. But, mostly, they’ll feature recipes I’m using and how my kids, my husband and I like them. And how easy or hard it was to cook them.

Enjoy!