Taco Week!

Harrell's nice old pick-up.

Harrell’s nice old pick-up.

When you let the kitchen helpers plan the menu for the week, and they choose meals they have been craving instead of meals that kind of make sense together, you might start noticing a certain trend forming by the time you get to Wednesday.  In our case, for this week, the girls were feeling very taco-ish, and every single dinner features – you guessed it – homemade tortillas.  For a family our size, that means we’ll be making something like 150 tortillas this afternoon.  Now, normally, I would have adjusted their suggestions to make for a bit more variety, but sometimes it’s just fun to run with it.

I’ve been planning monthly for several years now, but I’m trying to go back to a weekly schedule, just stocking up on pantry essentials and frozen veggies once a month, and doing all the rest of the marketing on Fridays.  And, because this is the sort of thing we women shared back in the old days of blogging (ten years is a lifetime on the internet!), I’m sharing my menu plan.  :-)

Socializing

Socializing

First, we’ll need lots of homemade tortillas, which we’ll make all at once today.

Saturday: potluck picnic at the neighbors’ 4th of July party
Sunday: Chicken Enchiladas
Monday: Chicken Tacos
Tuesday: Chinese Burritos
Wednesday: Greek-Style Burritos (recipe coming)
Thursday: Ordinary Tacos (recipe probably coming)

Most of these will be tripled for making freezer meals.  I’ve used all of mine up and I miss them!  Also, there’s no sense in making just one pan of enchiladas.  They’re too much work and mess to waste the effort.

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Crowd Pleasin’ Chicken Tacos

This recipe came to me from Kristy B. through Facebook and boy was it good! She calls it Crockpot Chicken Taco Meat.

I served the chicken on homemade tortillas with a dollop of sour cream and the children loved it, even going so far as to mention it in the same sentence as their all-time favorite meal of enchiladas. Somebody said, “We never like crockpot dinners, but this is really good!” Even Rosie, who is firmly entrenched in the picky-eater stage, gobbled her taco right up. “Make this again!” somebody else called out.

Of course, whether a meal gets repeated or not – or at least how often – depends pretty heavily on the opinion of the Man of the House. He’s not a real emotional guy and did not express the same enthusiasm as the rest of the family. He just nodded and said, “You can make this again.” Then he had seconds.

Ingredients

1 whole chicken 1 can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chicken broth 2-4 tbsp diced jalapenos; to taste
3 tbsp taco seasoning

Preparation

Pour the tomatoes and jalapenos into the bottom of the crockpot and top with the chicken. Dissolve the taco seasoning in the chicken broth and pour over all. Cook on low for 6-8 hours. About an hour before dinner, shred the chicken with two forks and return to the sauce for soaking. Serve on tortillas with cheese and sour cream.

Chinese Burritos

A recipe from 2005!

I made these chinese burritos tonight and they were absolutely delicious! (At least I thought so…the kids were somewhat divided!) I got this recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens New Dieter Cookbook.

Chinese Burritos

18 oz boneless skinless chicken breast, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
3 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp dry sherry
Nonstick spray (I used a little oil)
1 medium onion, cut into wedges
2 medium green or red peppers, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups sliced fresh mushrooms (I used one can)
1 Tbsp cooking oil
1 tsp fresh grated gingerroot (I used about 1/4 tsp dried ground ginger)
1 8 oz can bamboo shoots (I skipped this altogether, as I didn’t have any)
1/4 cup chicken broth (all out–I used water)
1 tsp cornstarch
1/2 cup plum preserves

Mix chicken, soy sauce and sherry in a bowl and let marinate for 30 minutes. Spray a cold wok or heavy skillet with nonstick spray and heat on medium high. Add onion; stir fry 2 min. Add pepper; stir fry 1 minute. Add mushrooms; stir fry 1 minute. Remove vegetables to a bowl. Drain chicken, reserving marinade. Add oil to wok. Add gingerroot and stir fry 15 seconds. Add half the chicken and stir fry 3-4 minutes till no longer pink. Put the chicken with the veggies, and repeat with remaining chicken. Return everything plus bamboo shoots to skillet. Stir broth, cornstarch and reserved marinade together and add to skillet. Cook and stir till slightly thickened and all is coated with sauce.

Now for the finishing touch! For the burritos, add 1/2 cup plum preserves. Heat through. (Preserves will melt!) Serve in warmed tortilla shells.

Notes: Mine came out a little runny…I’d add more cornstarch next time. Also, I didn’t have any leftover marinade. And it made ALOT! I froze half of it for another time.

The Best Tuna Salad Recipe

That’s what I googled to find this recipe!  I love, love, love it, and – even better – my two tuna haters like it, too!

tuna 1

4 cans of tuna, drained*
Mayonnaise
1 large, firm apple, peeled, cored and diced
1/2 small sweet onion, finely diced
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and diced
1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

Mix all ingredients together with just enough mayo to hold it all together. Spread on good bread, and enjoy!

*I usually buy water-packed tuna. Oil-packed tastes better, but it’s packed in soy or canola, and I don’t feel either is a healthful option, so water-packed it is.

Also, make sure everything is cut pretty small, otherwise those chunks of apple fall out of your sandwich when you’re not looking! Also excellent stuffed into homemade pitas.

tuna 2

Blueberries and Other Things

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This is the summer I can’t hardly abide being at home.  And home is my favorite place in the whole wide world!  But go out, we must, and go out, we do.  We have access to two libraries, both of which have fun summer reading programs and lots of attendant performances by folks with varying degrees of talent.  One week, we saw a show by a pair called Impossible Magic.  It was a great show!  The next week, we saw a different magic show by Mr. Moustache.  Even the two year old was disappointed.  Silly gimmicks don’t impress us; we want to see some real magic!  Last week, we saw a fun folk storyteller and a strange little puppet show. It’s hit-or-miss, but it’s a free Something To Do, and the children are enjoying it.

(Did you know my dad could rub an eagle through a quarter?  Or turn three sticks into rocks?  I was a rock collector, so that was a handy trick, and he always made the best rocks.  I particularly recall a nice, smooth, pink one.)

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Blueberry picking is one of our regular summer activities.  We pick a whole year’s worth in about an hour, and then go home for blueberry pancakes.  These photos were taken toward the end our picking time, and Delaney was taking a break by throwing blueberries at me.  She said she was aiming for my pail, but I am doubtful, as most hit me right in the chest.

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Boo needed a break, too, so while I nursed the baby, he snacked on his pickings.  I got scolded for snacking on mine, but, fortunately, Delaney threw enough at me that I didn’t suffer too much.

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Big kids and outings. I have found that to be one of the hardest things about them growing up. I want them to come, too, but one or the other is always out! I’m sorry to say I’ve given up. I just put things on my schedule and go with anyone who is available and interested. The little ones and I are having much more fun this way. 

How are you spending your summer? Reading? Traveling? Library programs? 

Ordinary, Everyday Images

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This last one, my two sleepers, this is my favorite.

You know, I’ve started and quit a Project 365 several times now.  I just couldn’t maintain enough interest to go for more than a couple of weeks.  Why am I doing this, I’d ask myself.  I had no motivation, no reason to keep going with it, no purpose in the daily struggle to find something image-worthy.  But I think I’ve finally found my 365 style, a look and a way of seeing that speaks to something deep within me, and, hopefully, to other people, too.  I’m no longer looking for anything special; I’m looking for the most ordinary things, and that’s where most of our lives are lived, right in the midst of the ordinary.

Now, I’m not saying I’m actually doing a year-long photography project or anything, but I am looking for an image every day, one that strikes me as both artistic and real, and almost every day, I find one.  This is something I want to keep doing.  This is something that matters to me.

Domestic Lizards and Michelle’s Strawberry Pie

Three different people – none of them me, of course – have spied a lizard in my bedroom. It is green with red stripes, and Evie is calling it “Spiky”. I’m pretty happy the little guy is in there, actually, because I’m pretty sure lizards eat spiders, and we have a lot of spiders at this time of year. I’d rather have a lizard under my bed than a wolf spider. On the other hand, I don’t know what it says about my housekeeping abilities at this point in time.

pie

In other, tastier news, Michelle mentioned strawberry pie in a comment the other day and sent a link to a recipe very like the one she uses. I’ve never had or made a strawberry pie, but it sounded delicious. Since it was the summer solstice, and the full “strawberry” moon, and the berries were on sale anyway, I made two for dessert, and they were absolutely wonderful. Just the right thing for a hot summer evening.

The original recipe called for one quart of strawberries, but my 9″ pie pan is fairly deep, and one quart was not quite enough. I also had to pay my strawberry hullers – in berries, of course. The recipe did not call for slicing the berries, either, but mine were pretty big, so I halved or quartered them, depending on size. Michelle says she uses extra cream cheese, and it is a very good foil to the sweet berry sauce. I made two pies, so I used half of an 8 oz package in the bottom of each, but you can use more, if you like. Happy summer!

Strawberry Pie

1 8- or 9 inch pie crust of your choice, baked and cooled
1 to 1 1/2 quarts fresh strawberries
1 c. water, divided
3/4 c. sugar
3 tbsp. cornstarch
4-6 oz cream cheese, softened

Wash, drain and hull the strawberries. Save some of the prettier ones for garnishing later, if you like. Cut smaller berries in half, and quarter the larger ones. In a medium saucepan, simmer one cup of the berries (measured loosely in a regular dry scoop) and 2/3 of a cup of the water for 3 minutes. Mix together the sugar and the cornstarch, then stir that and the remaining 1/3 cup of water into the sauce. Boil for one minute, stirring constantly, till the milky color turns a pretty berry-red. Let it cool.

Spread softened cream cheese over the bottom of the cooled pie shell. Arrange 2 1/2 cups of berries atop the cream cheese, then pour the cooled sauce over all. (Or, if you’re impatient like me, just pour the not-boiling-but-definitely-not-cool sauce over all.) Refrigerate for at least two hours. To serve, top with whipped cream and those garnish berries.

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Baked Oatmeal (A Recipe)

We’ve got most of this large family’s household chores nicely distributed according to aptitude and interest, if possible, and Delaney is the one who usually makes breakfast.  For the past year, though, she’s had a class away from home on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, which kind of left me holding the bag.  (I’m not sure why we weren’t able to flex that to another child; a training gap, I guess!)  Because I had to be out in the barn milking cows, taking care of Evie – and now Henry, too – and making breakfast in the same time slot, I’ve favored dishes I can prep sometime the day before, refrigerate, and just pop into the oven in the morning.  I’m usually able to get Delaney fed before she has to leave, and then the meal can wait in a low temperature oven until the rest of the family wakes.  (Oh, that’s why!  She needed to be fed a whole hour before the rest of the family, and I’m the only one awake!)

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Baked oatmeal is one of our favorites.  It comes out creamier than the stove-top version, and you can vary the fruits by season and preference.  The other day, I made an apple-cranberry version that was our favorite so far!  Today, it’s peach-walnut, using canned peaches, because I have a bunch I want to use up.  It mixes up quickly, so you don’t have to mix it the night before, but it’s kind of nice to have it all ready to go.

4 cups rolled oats
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup honey
4 cups milk
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2-3 cups chopped fruit and/or nuts, any combination

Mix together the oats, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and brown sugar. (I like to use my hands. I tell curious onlookers that I’m breaking up the brown sugar clumps, but I really just like how it feels.) Add the honey, milk, eggs, and vanilla and stir thoroughly. (I use a spoon for this part. Sometimes.) Stir in your choice of fruits and nuts. Pour the mixture into a 9 x 13 casserole pan, cover with plastic wrap, and store in the refrigerator overnight.

In the morning, take the oatmeal out of the refrigerator and remove the plastic wrap. Bake for 40 minutes in a 375° oven. Serve warm with your choice of traditional oatmeal toppings. Cream and a little drizzle of extra honey are always nice.

Down With Food Waste!

“I fixed the refrigerator,” I announced.

“What was wrong with it?” a daughter asked.

“Well, you know how we buy more vegetables than we can fit in the drawers, and so we put them on the shelf, but then they kind of start getting pushed to the back where we can’t see them or reach them, and then, after a while, they turn into this disgusting puddle of smelly brown goo?”

“Yes,” said another. “I’m well acquainted with what happens to vegetables in the back of the refrigerator.”

“So,” said the first, “we need to get rid of the back of the refrigerator!”

“Yes, ” I replied, ignoring her sarcastic tone.  “Exactly.  I got rid of the back of the refrigerator.”

They both looked at me skeptically, until I explained my solution: two more “drawers” to put the veggies in!

That bottom shelf cracked ages ago, under the weight of milk jars, I think.  Eight gallons of milk in glass jars is heavy!  The crack makes that one drawer hard to open.

That bottom shelf cracked ages ago, under the weight of milk jars, I think. Eight gallons of milk in glass jars is heavy! The crack makes that one drawer hard to open.

See?  Two extra drawers!  The one on the left is for greens and things, the one on the right for other sundry soft and quickly-turns-to-goo veggies like tomatoes, cucumbers, and mushrooms.  The built in drawers are for root vegetables on the left and, on the right, sturdier veggies, like cabbage and peppers.  Because you have to pull the whole basket out to access the veggies, there is no longer a back-of-the-refrigerator.  At least not on this shelf.  So, presumably, the vegetables will get used instead of lost, cutting down on my frustration level when I can’t find something I know is in there.  I mean, cutting down on food waste.

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In other news, I made chicken broth in my crock pot this morning.  I made roasted chicken last night, because my friend Barbara said she had trouble getting hers to brown in her roaster oven.  Mine were browning all right (at 350°) but I had them too crowded, so I had to cut them apart and finish them in the oven.  Next time, I’ll cook them directly in the roaster pan instead of wedging them in a casserole.  We eat three chickens at a time and I think they’ll be okay if they aren’t touching.  The rotisserie on the grill, though, is faster, even if you do have to watch it the whole time.  And I could cook six at a time, if I wanted!  Which I don’t, usually, but you never know.  It’s good to have a plan.

Anyway, I was surprised that those three carcasses, plus two uneaten leg quarters, actually fit in the crock pot!  It’s an 8-quart model, which is bigger than I thought; there was even room for the appropriate broth-making veggies and a gallon of water.  And it tastes great.  So, more unwasted food.

Now, if I could only figure out how to keep the bread from going moldy atop the fridge, I’d be all set.

How about you?  Any kitchen wins at your house this week?

*I’ve been reading this book, which didn’t exactly include the basket-drawer idea, but it did inspire to me to think about our food losses and how I might reduce those.  It’s a pretty good book, and one I might add to our homemaking library.  I borrowed my copy from the library.