Friday, January 27, 2012

Easy Beef Bourguignon

I got distracted and missed putting in the bay leaf, thyme, parsley, and allspice (nice huh...)... It still tasted great- a nice thick beef stew.  I'll try it again (maybe even with the spices next time).

From: Utah Deal Diva

Easy Beef Bourguignon

6 oz bacon, fried and crumbled
4 TBSP olive oil
2 tsp minced garlic
2 lbs trimmed beef chuck, cut into 2-inch cubes, patted dry with paper towels
Salt and freshly ground pepper
about 1/4 cup of flour
1 medium onion, chopped
1 cup sliced carrots
1 1/2 cups of red cooking wine**
2 cups beef stock or canned beef broth
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 bay leaf
1/2  tsp dried thyme
1 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp allspice
 8-oz container of sliced mushrooms

**In lieu of cooking wine, you can use grape juice, apple juice or instead, use a total of 3 1/2 cups beef broth. 


1. Fry the bacon pieces until they're crispy. While the bacon is cooking, cut the beef up into 2" cubes and lightly pat dry with paper towels. Put 1/4 cup of flour in a small bowl and add a few shakes of both salt and pepper. Coat the beef pieces in the flour and set aside until the bacon is done cooking. 
2. Once the bacon is crispy, set it aside on a paper towel. Leave the bacon fat in the pan and add an additional 2 TBSP olive oil. Once the oil is hot, add the beef and brown all sides. Meat doesn't have to be cooked completely, but you want the sides to get nicely browned. 

3. Dice onions and slice carrots. Crumble the bacon slices. 

4. Once meat is browned, transfer it to a bowl. Don't wash out the pan or feel like you have to scrape the pan out each time. Add another 2 TBSP olive oil and warm that up over medium heat. Once the oil is hot, add the diced garlic, onions and carrots. Toss the vegetables and cook for about 5 minutes. Add the beef back into the pan, along with the bacon. 
5. Add remaining ingredients, except for the mushrooms. Start with the cooking wine, adding it in all at once and allowing it to boil slightly before adding in anything else. 

6. Stir stew to combine spices with the other ingredients. Cover and simmer for 2-3 hours, stirring once every hour or so. Remove the lid for the last hour of simmering, to allow the stew to thicken. 
7. About 15 minutes prior to serving, add the mushrooms. 

8. Serve as a main dish alone, or atop mashed potatoes. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

How to Host a Spy Party

A turned 8, which meant this is a "Friend Party" year.  He wanted to have a spy party, so I started thinking about what kind of a cake I could make.  Most years I do pretty neat cakes (although we've bought the last few since we had either just moved or just had a baby...).  I also started looking online for ideas of what we could do at the party.  I found a few ideas for party games and began to piece the party together.  My most genius idea was the fake cake.

I decided that we'd start the party first thing with the cake.  It looked like this:

This is how I put it together:

Yes, that is a giant marshmallow (I cut a little off the bottom to make it not so tall) and then I cut a slice into it to put the licorice in).  It's amazing how much easier it is to frost a piece of foam than a real cake. 

The kids were all really excited about the cake (I was too- it looked really cool).  The foam was harder to cut than I thought it would be, so I actually ended up just cutting the two pieces apart- so I recommend using two half circles otherwise you'd need an electric knife or something to cut a piece of cake.  

Once we had the cake cut in half, we acted shocked.  "What in the world?  What happened to the cake?"  Even A had no idea.  This note was hidden inside of the cake:

 First thing we did was fingerprint all of the children to make sure none of them matched the print on the note- we had to rule them out as the cake thief.  Next I handed out cards with several fingerprints on them (fingerprints labeled with names of "known criminals").  Once we had confirmed that the thief really was Dr. Caker, we were able to head to his secret headquarters.  

Unfortunately Dr. Caker was a step ahead of us, and had abandoned his hideout.  We did discover a bomb and had to diffuse it before we could search the building (our playroom) for clues.  The bomb was a special "chocolate bomb", and had to be diffused by putting on special gloves (socks) and unwrapping and cutting it up with two butter knives- and then eating the pieces- all without touching it.  The kids sat in a circle and rolled dice, everytime someone got doubles they got to have a chance to diffuse the bomb, when someone else rolled doubles, they had to hand their tools to the next person.  (this is The Candy Bar Game that I used to play at parties when I was a kid).

Once the bomb was totally eaten/diffused, we searched the room for clues and found a note from Dr. Caker congratulating them on being better secret agents than he thought they would be, but that he was not going to get caught, so he had moved on to a room "more suited to living".  The kids figured out pretty quick that they had to go downstairs to the living room, which was now full of balloons.  More bombs- these couldn't be diffused, so they had to be detonated.  The kids sat and stomped until the bombs were all popped.  They discovered that several bombs had encrypted notes inside.  We pulled out the decoder lenses (pieces of red cellophane).  I had typed the notes in blues and greens, alternating letters, then added red yellow and orange letters in between so that you couldn't read the note until the red cellophane blocked out the red yellow and orange.  

That final clue led to the room where the real cake was hidden.  Cupcakes baked inside of ice cream cones.  I need to improve my technique with frosting them, but the kids liked them.  

We also had bowls of ice cream, opened presents, then the kids watched a couple episodes of Phineas and Ferb since we had some time to kill (those kids finished the clues faster than I thought they would).  If we had had a little more time, we could have watched a Spy Kids movie or something (they all really seem to like The Spy Next Door at this age).  

As kids left, we handed out goody bags:

Inside was a mini spy kit that I found at the dollar store, some disguise glasses, a magnifying glass and a candy bar.  I also used a similar bag to hold supplies for each game:

Monday, January 09, 2012

In the Bleak Mid Winter

Since we barely got our first decent snowstorm of the winter, it seems a little inappropriate to say it's mid-winter, but I'm ready for spring.  My favorite seed catalog came in the mail, so I'm dealing with the winter blues by planning my garden.  There are some fun online tools that you can use to make a really fancy plan, or you can get out the pencils and graph paper.  Raised bed gardens are meant to pack a lot into a small space, so it's best to plan ahead so you don't end up cramming things in after your trip to the garden store got a little out of hand.  Plus, planning now allows you to start your own seeds...

I tried out this free trial garden planner.  It's fairly easy to use, although to make all the vegetables the correct size takes a little more work- for me it wasn't a big deal- I know how many tomato plants will fit in my space, so I can just make notes of the exact number and use the cute icons to just mark what area of the garden will be filled with each plant.

My quick test run of the garden planner software had a few minor kinks, but nothing major, and I do like to see things in color...

15 is a zucchini plant or two- on the assumption that my artichoke is not going to survive the winter because the windstorm blew away all the leaves and straw I had insulated it with, and now it's probably dead.  If by some miracle it survives, I'll have to find somewhere else to plant my zucchini.

18 and 19 are green beans. Mel Bartholemew's book Square Foot Gardening has a great section that goes over spacing.  I use his suggestions, for the most part. His suggestion for bush beans are one seed every 4 square inches.  I've had more success by just digging little trenches and filling them with bean seeds- maybe I'm over crowding my plants, but they seem to figure things out, and I get more beans.

17 is a hot pepper plant, and 16 will be as many bell and anaheim pepper plants as I can fit in.

14 are tomatoes, mostly paste, but one cherry and one beefsteak type as well.

7 and 8 are garlic- this past fall was my first attempt at planting garlic, so we'll see how that goes.

12 and 13 are strawberries- this bed started out as about 1/2 strawberries, and they've taken over.  The kids love sitting and eating the strawberries, so it's hard to get any to keep, but last year we did manage to eat plenty and even freeze some for smoothies.

9 is peas, which will be followed by 20, a cucumber plant.

10 and 11 are my experiment for 2012 is the potato box.  I've tried potatoes in a bucket and didn't have much success, putting the "bucket" (or box) inside the garden bed would fix my watering problems since my garden is watered on an automatic sprinkling system.  I may not need as much space as I've allocated, and if that's the case, I'll plant more peas.

6 is asparagus.  This is the 3rd year, so I should be able to harvest spears this year.

Normally we do corn (if the raccoons don't eat it all) and green beans (enough to can and eat for the year) and pumpkins and squash in the big garden, but we're going to be building a house on that lot this year, so the garden would get run over by construction equipment.  Hopefully we can find somewhere to do some squash and pumpkins.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Butternut Squash Ravioli with Balsamic Browned Butter Sauce

I've been craving butternut squash ravioli for awhile now, and since we have church at 9am this year, it gives us plenty of time to make fancier dinners (if we feel like making them).

I had some leftover butternut soup but no eggs...

I found a recipe for eggless pasta that I thought would work for ravioli here, the recipe made a lot of pasta, we got tired of making ravioli and turned the last few pieces into thin noodles, which we'll use for dinner tomorrow maybe*.  

My Mister ran the pasta roller while I took the leftover butternut squash soup, which had thickened quite a bit during it's week as leftovers, and added a bunch of parmesan cheese.  My 4-year old wanted to help too, so I set him up cutting the strips of pasta into little rectangles.  I spooned teaspoonish amounts onto the little rectangles of pasta, wet the edges, and crimped around the edges with a fork (on both sides).  

When we were about ready to eat, I boiled the ravioli for 3-4 minutes, until they looked cooked, and as my mister was setting the table and draining the ravioli, I made the best part of the dinner.  

Online, the suggested sauce to serve with butternut squash ravioli is sage browned butter sauce.  I don't like sage, so I looked around a bit and decided to go with a balsamic browned butter sauce instead.  I figured I've made a butternut squash dish that had balsamic vinegar in it before, so how could I go wrong? (Usually, when I say that to myself it doesn't end well, but this time it worked out.)  

Balsamic Browned Butter Sauce
6 TBSP unsalted butter
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar

The complete recipe can be found here, but I decided I wasn't in the mood for nuts, so I called it good.  I melted the butter, and watched and stirred.  Of course the second you look away, it will turn brown, so don't get distracted.  As soon as it turns brown, remove from heat and stir in the vinegar- be careful it shoots little sparks of hot liquid at you when you do that.  

Immediately spoon over your ravioli, add a little salt and pepper and parmesan cheese, and you're good to eat. 

*The pasta turned out more like wonton wrapper than pasta.  Next time I think I'll need to get the right kind of flour, or make our regular egg noodle pasta, or maybe we rolled it too thin.  I'm not a pasta expert, so if anyone has any suggestions, I'm open to ideas.

Over all, it turned out really good.  I've thought about what I would use for filling if I didn't have the butternut squash soup, and I think it would be fine (or even better- mine was pretty soft consistency, and I think a little texture would be nice) to just bake a squash and mash it up with some butter and salt and parmesan cheese (and brown sugar if you want it sweet).  It would just be one more step that you'd have to do before you could fill the pasta.  I loved the browned butter sauce- I didn't measure, and I don't think I put enough balsamic vinegar into the butter, but the flavor was wonderful.  Next time I'll make sure to pre measure the vinegar so I don't miss out on the full flavor.   With a better pasta recipe, this would really be an amazing make-it-yourself dinner.  If you wanted to make it even easier, you could buy the ravioli and just make the sauce- it was really good.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Butternut Squash Soup

The other day I remembered the shelf full of squash that is out in the garage and decided we'd better start eating more squash so none of them end up wasted.  I've been wanting to try butternut squash soup for awhile, and since we didn't have any other ideas for Sunday dinner, butternut squash soup it was.

My Mister was skeptical, but once he tasted it, he was converted.  It wasn't quite as good as the carrot soup we had at The Farm in Park City, but it wasn't too far behind in taste.  I may try the recipe with less squash and more carrots sometime...

I used this recipe from with a few alterations based on what I had and the reviews which suggested adding some things to make it not-so-bland.  Not-bland soup seems like a good thing.

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, cubed
  • 1 medium butternut squash - peeled, seeded, and cubed
  • 1 (32 fluid ounce) container chicken stock

Melt butter in soup pot.  Add chopped onion and celery (unless you're using dried onions and celery, in which case, you can just add them at the same time as all the other vegetables.  Also, my addition- add 1-2 cloves of garlic, minced.  Chop and peel carrot, potatoes, and squash (it would probably be easier to cook the squash first, but you have to cook the carrot and potatoes anyway, and peeling the squash with the potato peeler wasn't that bad).  Add chopped veggies to pot, cook on high stirring constantly until the veggies are browned slightly (I didn't cook mine that long- I waited until they started sticking to the pot, then decided to just go ahead and add the chicken stock- which in my case was chicken base and water).  The recipe says to add just enough broth to cover the veggies, but it took all of it for me- I guess my squash was bigger than "medium".  I also sprinkled a shake or two of curry powder.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer on low for 40 minutes.  (after 25-30 the veggies looked soft enough to me, so I didn't keep cooking them).  Next, you blend portions in the blender (or a stick blender would work, right in the pot) until it's all blended.  

Serve with salt and pepper, and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese, and crunch bread.   You could use vegetable broth if you want to make it vegetarian.  My kids actually ate it without complaining- too much.  I was surprised.  It turned out to be a very nice consistency and the curry wasn't overpowering- I didn't add much, but I could just taste a hint of it.  I like butternut squash when it's not covered in brown sugar (I like it sweet too, but this was a nice savory change).

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Spend Nothing Month

Sort of.

I like the idea of a spend nothing month- figuring out how to make do with what I have, and really thinking about what a necessity is.  Of course, it's not really practical (or possible, depending on your situation) to spend absolutely no money, bills will come, and we have to eat, but for the month of january we're going to spend as little as possible.  We'll get our milk delivery, and set aside a small amount of cash for groceries that we need- and once it's gone, it's gone.  The idea is to really consider where you're spending your money, and whether it is improving your life enough to be worth the cost.

There's one SIL weekend planned that I'm not counting (though I'm going to be careful with expenses that weekend).

Kind of a cleanse for the budget and the influx of stuff (most of it wonderful and much loved) at Christmas.

Anyone want to try it too?