Food From Home

Cooking at home for fun, health and frugality!

Sunday Fun Day: 3/6/16

When I was growing up my family subscribed to two newspapers. On Sunday morning they arrived on the porch with a thud… heavy with store ads and special supplement sections. One of those special sections was the color comics or as we called them the funny papers. It was the first and sometimes only part of the newspaper I read.
There were old regular comic strips like Peanuts, Beetle Bailey, or Dick Tracey and newer ones like Baby Blues or Calvin and Hobbes. Reading the comics section was a fun Sunday ritual.
I have always loved comics and animated cartoons. Hagbard turned me on to Japanese manga and anime after we married. Loved it! When Amethesto was a baby we would watch Slayers. I was impressed with the strong female sorceress character. As she got older we watched the Studio Ghibli films as a family like My Neighbor Totorro. I was a weepy mess the first time I saw that. Later I would watch Ranma 1/2, Sgt Frog, Fruits Basket, Azumanga Daioh, Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell…lots of great stuff. Today there are sites like Crunchyroll where you can watch free anime and Batoto where you can read manga of all kinds. There are even manga about food!
This week I watched Space Dandy and Lupin the Third: Castle of Cagliostro on dvd. They are both kind of over the top with characters who are somewhat unheroic heroes although Lupin is probably more of hero than Space Dandy.
Here is a great car chase from Lupin the Third to wrap this up. I just love that little car!
Have a fun day!

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Beef Stir Fry & History

I grew up in Council Bluffs, IA (population 62,000ish) right across the Missouri River from Omaha, Ne (population almost 430,000). For Iowa and Nebraska these are  the 7th largest and the 1st largest cities in their respective states. The reason why these cities are bigger is location and history.  Council Bluffs and Omaha are on the river so goods and people could be transported from other places along the Missouri river by barges and steamboats. The Lewis and Clark expedition went through and met with tribes in the area- the reason why it is named Council Bluffs. This area was the originating point of the Mormon trail. The eastern terminus of transcontinental railroad was in Council Bluffs  and Omaha became the location of the Union Pacific Railroad headquarters. Council Bluffs was a center for grain storage and had massive grain storage elevators. When I was in elementary school there was an explosion at one of the elevators. I think I was at school at the time and the school shook and we could see the smoke from there.  There was a huge stockyard in Omaha and was in the 1950’s the largest livestock market and meat packing center in the country. People came here. Things happened here. End of history lesson.
So, I guess my point is that the central United States is not all scattered farms and living in the Council Bluffs and Omaha area we had stores and restaurants aplenty. My family just didn’t eat out often but when we went out to eat it was burgers, pizza, or steak. I had never eaten food from a Chinese restaurant until I went to college in a small Nebraska town even though there were certainly Chinese restaurants where I grew up. Crab rangoon and egg rolls eaten while sitting on my dorm room floor with friends was kind of a revelation. What was with sitting on the floor to eat at that age? I remember eating nachos and pizza sitting on the floor too. There was furniture. It may have just been more delicious that way.
Okay. Coming back to Chinese food. I know U.S. Chinese food is different from food in China. A fascinating documentary about Chinese immigration and restaurants is The Search for General Tso. It explains why even a small town of 1,500 people in Kansas has a Chinese restaurant and is serving up the same dishes as in restaurants in every other US city.
My mom- of British heritage married to man of German heritage- often made a “stir fry” at home with ground beef and cabbage that is very similar to what I’m making today. It is kind of fake Chinese food. It is economical though which is probably what she was aiming for with having to feed a family of five. My mom died several years ago and I hadn’t eaten this in maybe 20 years but last year I was thinking about it and went looking for a recipe.
The closest one I found was . My mom’s stir fry definitely did not have mushrooms or ginger but I like those additions. I use some sesame oil, minced garlic, pepper and more soy sauce. My version is not as allergy friendly so if you have allergies you might want to use the version I linked to.
If you have extra fresh cabbage you can actually freeze it and use it in recipes like stir fry, soup, or homemade Runzas. I know because Hagbard purchased a couple of huge cabbages a couple of months ago when I only needed one small one so I shredded it in my food processor and froze the extra in plastic baggies. I’m using up the last bag of that cabbage today. Yay for gaining more freezer room! I have thawed the cabbage a bit in my refrigerator so it isn’t one hard chunk.
I don’t have any mushrooms today which I will miss a bit because I love mushrooms. It is fine without them though.
This is a faster recipe to prepare especially if you use pre-cut or shredded vegetables. If you can cut vegetables and brown meat you can make this.
You can have it with or without rice.

Ground Beef Stir Fry
1 tsp sesame oil
1 T peanut oil
1  lb ground beef
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 lb thinly sliced mushrooms
1/2 c shredded carrot
1-2 c shredded cabbage
1/4 c soy sauce
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp ground ginger

Brown ground beef in a big skillet with sesame oil. Remove from pan and set aside. Add 1 T peanut oil to pan . Add carrots and onion and cook over medium high heat until onions are translucent. Add mushrooms and cook until browned. Add cabbage and cook until until it wilts a bit- 2-3 minutes. Mix together soy sauce, garlic, pepper and ginger. Add beef and soy sauce mixture to cabbage mixture and cook a few more minutes. Add a tablespoon or so of water if it looks dry.

One last piece of trivia: Council Bluffs is part of the Loess Hills geological formation. The only comparable depth of deposits of loess soil like this is in China.  I played in this dirt as a child. It is a yellowish color and the eroded soil feels fine and soft like flour.

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Greek Potatoes and Salad

Tonight’s dinner was lemony-garlic roasted potatoes accompanied by a Greek inspired salad. My recipe developed from several sources over time.
We have had these potatoes alone, with chicken, hummus and pita chips, baked feta cheese or eggs. They take just a few minutes to prep for the oven and are very filling.

Greek Potatoes
2-3 white potatoes- cubed or cut in wedges
1 onion- diced or sliced
1/4 c olive oil
2 cloves garlic- minced
1/3 c water
1 tsp dried oregano
1/3 c lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Put onion and potato in an 8″x8″ baking dish. Mix together the remaining ingredients, pour over potatoes and stir.
Put in 425°F oven. Bake 20 minutes, stir and return to oven for 20 more minutes or until potatoes are tender and most of the liquid is gone.

Our salad tonight was baby spinach with black olives, tomato, feta cheese, hard boiled egg, red pepper flakes and a balsamic vinaigrette.

Some time ago a read a tip on the internet that if you chew gum while chopping onions your eyes won’t water. I happened to be chewing mint gum tonight and my eyes did not tear up at all. So this tip is worth a try I guess.

Happy Friday!

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Broccoli Cheddar Casserole

I found the recipe for this comforting broccoli cheddar casserole some time ago on the Budget Bytes blog. I was interested in a casserole with rice to switch things up from pasta or potatoes. I have made it as it was originally posted but also have added things like leftover ham or chicken. My family cleans their plates when we have this dish!
Budget Bytes is a great blog with budget conscious but tasty food. We have enjoyed many recipes so I feel confident recommending the site to anyone looking for great meal ideas. I love her baked oatmeal recipes! The author does not post nutrition information but I generally don’t have any trouble fitting the dishes into my calorie goal when I log them on My Fitness Pal.
Speaking of My Fitness Pal, before making dinner tonight I looked at my food diary and noticed I could use a bit more protein in my day. We had some turkey in the freezer so I pulled it out. I mixed 14 oz of cubed turkey with the casserole. That is my only change to the original recipe today.
This is totally something you could prep in advance and pop in the oven when you get home from work.

I was thinking about a tip for cooks trying to cut down on nibbling and tasting too much. I started chewing mint gum while cooking and it works really well for me. Give it a try!

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Memories: Home Economics

I was thinking about what I want to do with this blog. I don’t really want to just post recipes and nothing personal. Lately I’ve started listening to podcasts while working in the kitchen and one that is really interesting to me is The JV Club with Janet Varney. On the podcast Janet talks with a female guest usually about their teen-early adult years. It has really made me think about my teenage experiences, my teenage daughter’s experiences and life in general.  Check it out.

Inspired by that podcast, I’d like to post about some of my memories occasionally. I was a quiet, introverted, shy, artsy, nerdy girl growing up. Art, reading and cooking were my big interests. I also liked roller skating. I was convinced I’d have rocket powered roller skates as an adult instead of cars. As an adult I concede that cars are more practical and probably safer.

If you read the About Me section you know that although I was interested in cooking from a young age and the results were not always very good. I don’t think my mom appreciated me making a mess in the kitchen. I recall her saying more than once that I could help best by leaving her alone while she cooked. She also wanted me to do silly things sometimes like put my book down and go play outside. I think she was most comfortable with me in the kitchen as I became a teenager… or she just gave up!

Home economics was still a thing taught at schools when I was growing up. I don’t think it is now. I was in junior high in 1986-1988. My  junior high school offered a home economics class. Most girls and a few boys took it. For one section of the class you learned to sew and the other section was cooking. In 7th grade the sewing project for everyone was an apron. In 8th grade you had to choose a clothing pattern. I chose a skirt and learned to hate sewing a zipper in and the seam ripper. The sewing teacher told us stories about someone getting their hand caught in a machine. I still think of that and shudder every time I sew. I don’t remember anything we cooked in the cooking section. I remember being lectured on stuff like food safety and cleaning but not actually cooking. Maybe we made toast.

In high school (1988-1992) the home economics classes were divided up. You could take Foods, Sewing, and Personal Development I believe. Personal Development was a class where kids got to carry around a bag of flour or an egg for a pretend baby. I didn’t take that or sewing. I took Foods every year. In my freshman year the first thing we were going to cook was a pudding pie. I was really anxious as I had only made instant pudding. I begged my mom to practice making a cooked pudding at home before the class. Class day came and I was feeling more confident.  The pudding pie turned out to be instant pudding in a graham cracker crust. I felt kind of dumb and let down. We did eventually cook actual foods using an actual stove. Time limits were something of a problem. We learned to read through our recipe before cooking. We had to copy the recipe out onto an index card. We had to make a shopping list for every recipe. We learned to put dishes in a sink full of soapy water and clean up as we cooked.

The Foods class was a bit like a club. A lot of people took it year after year. We interacted more than other classes so it was fun. One time we had kind of an open house for other students and teachers to come sample snacks we had made. My partner and I made cheese straws for that.

I think it was my junior year that one of the boys in my class killed himself. He had been drunk and was playing around with a gun and shot himself. It was the first time a kid I knew died. Many kids were drinking and stuff and it didn’t seem like a big deal. He had always been a really lively, jokester person in the class. It was very shocking… maybe that is why I still don’t like drinking, drugs or guns. The school counselor came and talked to our class and I remember people crying and just feeling kind of sick and hollow.

Well, that got serious and sad.

My mom was working at a store when I was in high school and my dad worked 2 jobs. My older brother and sister had jobs. I started cooking dinners for the five of us. I would read cookbooks but mostly made what my mom told me to make- meat, potato, canned vegetable. It was not a meal without a potato! I think timing, anxiety, and perfectionism were problems for me to overcome in the kitchen. I don’t know if home economic classes made me a better cook than I would have been without them but definitely left me with some ideas and habits that I carry with me still.



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Smokestack BBQ/Tandoori Style Chicken Inspiration

I had chicken thighs to cook for dinner tonight with sweet potato and corn on the side. This morning I was thinking about what to do to the chicken. I took inspiration from two recipes. The first was a recipe for chicken wings that first appeared in Saveur magazine in their June/July 2011 issue. I’ve never actually made the recipe for wings  but have used the spice combination on grilled chicken breasts before. The second inspiration recipe is for Tandoori Style chicken.  Hagbard and I love this chicken but Amethesto doesn’t like Indian food.  I still make it of course.

My chicken mixture:

1/4 c plain yogurt

1T peanut oil

1T lemon juice

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp paprika

1/2 tsp garlic powder

1/2 tsp dried thyme

1/2 tsp dried oregano

1/4 tsp black pepper

1/4 tsp ground sage

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

1-2 lbs chicken thighs (I had bone in thighs with skin on today)

I jabbed the chicken with a sharp knife all over. I put the thighs and yogurt in a plastic baggie and put it in the refrigerator to marinate all day. I would say let it sit in the mixture 4-10 hours before cooking. Dump it out in a baking dish when you are ready to cook. Put it in a 425 F oven for 40-45 minutes. Walk away until it is done. That’s it.


Ready to go in the oven.

I put one sweet potato and one white potato in the oven along side the chicken. They took about 20 minutes longer because that sweet potato was big! I didn’t do anything special to prepare the potatoes- just washed them and poked holes in them.

While things were cooking I did a workout. When things were almost done in the oven, I  came back and put a couple of frozen mini corn cobs in a pot on the stove. I followed the package instructions and brought it to a boil and then reduced the heat slightly and cooked covered for about 10 minutes.

When the sweet potato was finally done I took the skin off and sliced it. I topped these medallions with some butter, salt and pepper. I split that sweet potato between Hagbard and myself.  The white potato was for Amethesto.  The corn cobs got some butter and salt and were shoved on thick skewers because all but one of our corn holders went missing. Corn-on-a-stick is kind of fun though.

The verdict from everyone was that the food was tasty tonight. I think the sweet potatoes were a good side dish to the chicken. A crispy salad of some kind would probably be great with this also.

A question that is pretty common on weight loss forums is how you can eat with your family when you are the only one watching your calories so I took pictures of all of our plates tonight. I skipped the corn tonight and had less butter on my sweet potato.

Not drastically different tonight. It fit my calorie goal and filled me up.

If you are watching sodium you could cut the salt down or try it without. If you wanted to use chicken breasts  you might need to adjust the time you cook this.


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Bonkers for Banana Bread


In our house something strange happens to bananas. We buy them and people eat them… except they stop when there are 2 or 3 left every time. The bananas just sit there getting browner and sadder waiting for something to happen to them. Monsters!  Those poor bananas. I have to save them from the trash by putting them in banana bread.
It took me awhile to notice that the banana consumption pattern was no accident. Hagbard loves banana bread. Brown bananas make the best banana bread. This is a plot to get banana bread!
This week 6 bananas were left to get brown so I set out to make 2 loaves. Clever fiend!
My trusty basic banana bread recipe is from the Better Homes and Gardens New Cookbook published in 1996. That is the year I graduated college and this was the second cookbook I ever owned. I have tried other banana bread recipes but this is Hagbard’s favorite.
This is quick and easy to mix up but takes 40-50 minutes to bake. Your house will smell great about 20 minutes in!
I used half all purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. I put in 1/2 tsp lemon juice instead of the optional lemon peel. Hagbard hates nuts in banana bread so no nuts in my loaves.

Banana Bread
1 1/2 c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1 c mashed banana (3 medium)
3/4 c sugar
1/4 c cooking oil
1 tsp finely shredded lemon peel or 1/2 tsp lemon juice (optional)
1/2 chopped walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease the bottom and 1/2″ up the sides of an 8″x4″x2″ loaf pan. (I use cooking spray for this.)
In a medium bowl combine flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon. Set aside.
In another bowl combine egg, mashed banana, sugar, cooking oil, and lemon peel/juice.
Add banana mixture to flour mixture and stir until just moistened. Fold in nuts.
Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan. Bake 40-50 minutes or until a wooden toothpick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool in pans for 10 minutes. Remove from pans and cool on wire rack completely. Wrap and store overnight before slicing. Makes 1 loaf.


As you can see your banana bread will crack on top and be a medium brown when done. You will want to eat it right away. Don’t do it man! Seriously, let the banana bread cool down and sit several hours or overnight before cutting it. It is hard to wait but it is even better if you do that.
When I make two loaves like this I usually put one in the freezer after it cools. When we want it I just thaw it at room temperature and it is good to go. This time Hagbard is taking a loaf to share at work. He’ll probably share it.
We enjoy eating our slice of banana bread plain, with butter, with honey or even spread with some peanut butter. I saw an idea once for a banana bread sandwich with peanut butter and bacon but that is going too bonkers for me. If you are a bacon lover you might try it though.

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