Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Staple Recipe: Garnished Sauerkraut

Here's another super simple and versatile recipe that's a staple in the winter time when you need a hearty meal.  Called Choucroute Garni in France, this garnished sauerkraut dish is both easy and delicious.  An best of all, like Vegetarian CousCous, you can make it with what you have on hand.  It's also easy to make into a vegetarian dish like we do.

I'm a huge fan of root vegetables and my husband is vegetarian now so we've made some changes to this recipe over the years and that's just fin!  There's no real wrong way to do it.  Use the items that you'r family prefers.   I did some Goggling, compared a bunch or recipes for garnished sauerkraut, and came up with the flexible formula below:


Canned, jarred or packaged sauerkraut
Any of the following components:

  • garlic sausage
  • hotdogs or veggie dogs
  • onion
  • carrot (peeled and cut into 1 inch chunks)
  • sweet potato (sliced 1/4 in thick)
  • new potatoes (peeled)
  • russet potato (peeled and cut into large chunks)
  • bratwurst
  • thick cut bacon
  • sliced ham
  • any sausage
  • pork ribs
  • corned beef
  • diced beef
  • pitted prunes
  • sliced apples (no need to peel)

Add any of the following to the sauerkraut for added flavor:

  • a dash of white wine
  • a couple glugs of your favorite beer
  • bouillon cube or broth
  • salt and pepper
  • peppercorns
  • a bay leaf
  • minced or whole garlic cloves
  • cherry tomato garnish
  • onion
  • garlic
  • juniper berries
  • caraway seeds
  • parsley
  • a spoonful of sugar
  • any leftover meat on the bone

Step 1: Put 1-2 cans or jars of sauerkraut in a large stock pan.  Drain and rinse first if you are not a fan of the brine flavor.  I don't drain.  Add whatever flavorings you want to simmer with the kraut.  Classic choices are wine, sugar, onion, garlic, broth salt and pepper.  But you can use whatever.  We always have beer so I usually use that.  

Step 2: Prepare the components.  Peel and dice or cut into chunks, all the veggies and fruit you want.  One of each is fine, the more vegetables you use, the bigger the batch will be.  Brown franks and sausages in a pan.  Slice large sausages or meats.  Tough vegetables and whole potatoes can be steamed in a steamer first to make the whole thing cook faster.  That's usually what I do.  

Step 3: Then pile all your meats, vegetables and fruits onto of the kraut and cover.  Simmer till you are ready to eat and all the items are tender to the fork.  Pile a bit of each onto a plate and garnish with a shake of parsley or a cherry tomato or two if desired.  Serve with mustard. Dijon and fig mustard are our favorites but any will do.  Some meats are better served cold.  We usually ate cold slices of garlic sausage with hot sauerkraut.

Optional: You can also make this in a crock pot.  If you do, add a bit more broth, wine and beer to properly steam all the vegetables.  Or pre steam and place all in crackpot to simmer.  

Ta Da!

Easy right?  You can make it on the stove top or throw it all into a crock pot for later.  Store leftovers in an airtight containers in the fridge.  Easy to reheat in the microwave and makes a great lunch to go.

Our recipe changes with the ingredients we have on hand but almost always has sauerkraut, potatoes, franks, and a mustard relish.  

So there you have it.  Not so much a recipe as a choose-your-own-adventure!  Have fun mixing and matching!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Staple Recipe: Vegetable Couscous

When my husband and I lived in France, vegetable couscous was a staple meal for us.  I loved it for several reasons: it was easy, there was no measuring involved (seriously, who measures flour by weight?!), I could use up vegetables we had on hand and it was delicious!!  Also, I was fascinated with turnips, a vegetable out of fairy tales about farmer's wives in far off countries, that I had never even thought about eating in the US and which I bought every time I saw them in the grocery store in France.  Purple tinted creamy white vegetable?  Yes please!

The best recipe I know for using turnips, and probably the only one, is vegetarian couscous.  I think I was inspired by a meal out at a Moroccan restaurant and tried to reproduce the results at home.  My recipe changed every time and that was okay with me!  There's no real wrong way to do it.  I did some Goggling, compared a bunch or recipes for vegetable couscous, and came up with the flexible formula below:


Dry Couscous
Any of the following components:

  • turnip
  • zucchini
  • onion
  • carrot
  • peas
  • garbanzo beans
  • golden raisins
  • butternut squash
  • sweet potatoes
  • yellow or red bell pepper
  • potatoes
  • tomatoes
  • canned crushed/diced tomatoes
  • dried apricots

Any of the following seasonings:

  • olive oil
  • garlic
  • bouillon cube or broth
  • salt and pepper
  • cinnamon
  • turmeric
  • coriander or coriander seeds
  • tomato paste
  • cilantro
  • a bay leaf
  • ras el hanout (Moroccan spice blend)

Step 1: Make up a batch of couscous and set aside.  Follow directions on the box.  I prefer making it with broth as opposed to water.  If you want, add golden raisins and cinnamon to the couscous before it begins to absorb the water.

Step 2: Prepare the components.  Peel and dice or cut into chunks, all the veggies you want.  One of each is fine, the more vegetables you use, the bigger the batch will be.  Add some dried fruit, peas or garbanzo beans.

Step 3: Cook it.  You can make this one of two ways.  As a hearty soup with plenty of liquid or as an ensemble of vegetables without the juice.  I prefer the latter, my husband the former but do whatever works for you. Couscous is kinda a dry grain and the soupy version may be best if you're unsure which way to go.  Just add water or broth to the vegetables to your desired consistency.  Steam or boil all the vegetables.  Steam the vegetables and combine them with canned or fresh diced tomatoes for a chunky stew or boil them in broth with 2 spoonfuls of tomato paste, give or take, and a bit of olive oil for a brothy soup.

Step 4: Season it.  Season the mixture to taste.  Use whatever you have on hand or like. Start with a small amount and taste it.  You can always add more of the flavor you like best.  After a while of making this dish, you'll get a feel of what you want to add a lot of (like cinnamon) and what you want to use sparingly (liker coriander seeds).

Step 5: Plate it up.  Put a pile of couscous on the plate and use the back of a spoon to spread it out and make a large hole or dip in the center of the couscous.  Ladle a couple scoops of vegetables and broth into the center and serve.

Ta Da!

Easy right?  You can make it on the stove top or throw it all (except for the couscous) into a crock pot for later.  Store leftover vegetable mix and couscous in separate containers in the fridge.  Easy to reheat in the microwave and makes a great lunch to go.

Our recipe changes with the ingredients we have on hand but almost always has cinnamon, golden raisins, turnips and garbanzo beans in a brothy soup with tomato paste.  I also really love the crunch of the coriander seeds and will usually sprinkle them directly into the couscous mixture.

So there you have it.  Not so much a recipe as a choose-your-own-adventure!  Have fun mixing and matching!

Extra Credit:  The appetizer at these restaurants was usual a cold steamed veggie mix.  I have no idea what it was exactly but you can make a simple version by mixing up some extra steamed carrot and potato chunks with some olive oil and a bit of ras el hanout or curry powder.  Sprinkle with fresh cilantro or parsley and serve cold in a small dish with toothpicks before the main dish.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Our Weekly Menu System

I'm really trying to install some rhythm to our days, especially when it come to meal time.  I like cooking and baking but hate thinking of a meal idea on the spot or planning shopping lists.  (We're the "walk down the aisles at Trader Joe's grabbing what we typically buy and anything that interests us" types.)  I don't know how many times we've gone out for bar food because neither of us wanted to think of what to make or verify if we had all the right ingredients for something.  Since I work from home managing a small family child care, I'm making meals and snacks several times a day and I wanted to make it more automatic and easy.

Here's the system I put in place that seems to be working for us so far:

Basic Grocery " Healthy Shopping List"
Dry Erase "Weekly Menu Planner"
Homemade Family "Menu" with variation ideas
Stash of "Staple Recipes" in a DIY cookbook

I'll show you what mine look like and let you know how you can do variations on these to make it suit your family.  I'll include the blank printables so you can cater to your family.

We don't have a basic Grocery List on paper yet, we just cruise the aisles and grab things.  We've done our research so this is easy for us, but if you need a place to start, this Healthy Grocery Shopping List from Fit Body, Full Life will get you started.  Add you favorite items on the blank lines and save a copy.

Currently we use the paper system.  I have two magnetic shopping list notepads from the dollar store on the fridge.  One is a running shopping list that I add to whenever I use the last of something.  The other is a list of meals to make and other shopping such as Target.  When I see that I have the ingredients to make something, I jot it down on this list so I don't forget.  I use it for staple items like banana bread and applesauce as well as meals ides.

I used this Weekly Menu Panner template from Dancing with my Father to design a two week flexible menu for the family and child care kids.  In general, the dinner from the previous night is our lunch the next day.  I have toddlers so this is perfect portions for us.  I put in 3 eat out times that we can skip if we want to (Date night, Friends night out and weekend brunch.)  Each lunch or dinner has two similar options like Quiche or Brunch (both egg based) or Soup or Stew (both stovetop or crock-pot options).  This gives me the flexibility of choosing either or.  I try to rotate the choice between the two options each week but if on-hand ingredients don't allow, I don't sweat it.  Here is the blank template here.  And here is a copy with my meal idea prompts in each box.  This helps me when I look in the fridge and think " I should remember to use up 'that' this week.  I just throw it on the planner on the correct day.  Usually I just wing it though.

To add more variety, I made a Family Menu, a double sided and laminated piece of cardstock that I keep by my cookbook with all our favorite options for meal listed (like various kinds of pizzas, quiches or salads.)  We eat vegetarian so these ides are catered to us and often use tofu crumbles.  You can use the same ideas and easily add chicken or ground beef to any of these ideas if you wanna be more of a meat eater.

Note: I know the yellow Wednesday is hard to read but I wanted to use the Waldorf weekly rhythm colors.  It's just a reminder to me as we use a Montessori/Waldorf inspired curriculum, and it helps inspire my food and color choices that day.

My husband is vegetarian but the kids and I are not so sometimes I add sliced ham or chicken to our meals but most often I just get my dose of meat when we eat out.  I think that's a perfect amount of animal protein for me and I have been much slimmer and healthier (with the help of the gym as well) since we started eating like this.  Here is a copy of that menu with my meal ideas removed.  You can fill in the blanks with your own ideas.  It's a word document so you will have to play around with the format as you add things to it so the titles will end up where you want them.  Or just print a blank copy and fill it in with pencil.

Note: I got the images off of a google image search for crocheted food.  If this is you crochet work, please let me know and I will link to your website.  Thanks!

And last but not least, a big list of my favorite staple recipes!  I put them in alphabetical order for you here.  I'll link them if I can, but for now just find your favorite recipe online.  I'll add to this list if I think of new great ideas.  But I highly recommend The Starving Students' Cookbook and the Starving Students' Vegetarian Cookbook both by Dede Hall as well as the recipe index at 100 Days of Real Food which is where I found many of my recipes.

Banana Bread, whole wheat (modified from The Starving Students' Handbook)
Banana "Ice Cream"
Breakfast Cookies
Breakfast Burritos
Brownies, dark chocolate whole wheat
Eggs, hard boiled, scrambled, over easy,
French Toast
Fruit Crisp/Crumble
Gin Fizz
Granola, homemade
Chili, cheatin' (The Starving Student's Cookbook)
Chocolate, dark freezer chocolate
Chocolate Chip Cookies, whole wheat
Chocolate Mousse
Custard, vanilla (Pudding)
Hot Chocolate
Hot Toddy
Hummus (The Starving Students' Vegetarian Cookbook)
Iced Tea
Iced Mocha
Lemonade (The Starving Student's Cookbook)
Oatmeal, Homemade Instant Mix
Pancakes/Puffins, Homemade Mix
Pesto Sauce (The Starving Student's Cookbook)
Pizza Crust, whole wheat
Salad Dressing, homemade vinaigrette
Savory Cake
Quiche Base, Blender Version, no crust needed (The Starving Students' Cookbook)
Risotto Base, stove top version (Betty Crocker)
Savory Cake Base
Vegetable Couscous
White Sauce (The Starving Student's Cookbook)
Whisky Ginger
Yogurt Cake or Muffins
Yogurt, frozen

I have them printed or hand written on various recipe cards and taped into a DIY cookbook (a blank notebook with thick pages).  I keep this on a stand on the kitchen counter.  I don't have any other cookbooks out. If I find a great recipe in another cookbook, I  put a copy of it in here.  I DO have other cookbooks, but I don't keep them out.  Too much visual clutter.  I recommend doing this too.  If you have a lot of recipes, a recipe box might be easier.  You can file them alphabetically or by food type (pizza, stews and crock pots, salads...).  I think, now that my recipe collection has grown, that I would have preferred the alphabetical option.

Another great idea is a three ring binder and page protectors.  This idea is great if you print a lot of recipes from the internet.  You can move the pages around and use tab dividers to separate the sections.  I think this is the method I will go to next, divided alphabetically.  There's lots of cut binders out there now!  And it will keep my recipe cards clean while I'm cooking.  This can get a bit heavy though.  To save page space, you can print several recipes on a page or tape multiple recipe cards on the same sheet.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Perfect Gift Baskets for All: Part 1

There's so much great stuff at the dollar store!  That said, there's also so much junk there!  It can be tricky weeding out the good stuff from the bad.  Here's some tips and then some inspiration of different gift baskets you can make quickly and cheaply that will be things people want!

Tips for finding the good stuff:

Ask yourself:

-What is it made of?  Is it wood, metal, dishwasher safe plastic?  These are good buys!  Is it cheap dent-able plastic, super thin fabric, easily breakable?  These are buys that won't last long. Look at the seams, the joins and any moving parts.  Look for tight seal on lids.

-Can I get this for the same price or cheaper elsewhere?  Even if it comes in a different size.  Travel size toiletries are not always a deal if you can buy the big versions for a little more.  Same goes for toilet paper and paper towels.  Beware, just because it's in the dollar store, doesn't mean that $1 is the best price for this!  This is especially true for food products that are often 69 or 79 cents in the grocery store under a trusted name.

-Is this unique, fun or one-of-a-kind? Often I happen across a tiny single item that I just think is too cool to pass up!  It's funny or clever and can serve as a gift for anyone anytime.  Like a chocolate bar wrapped up like a $100 bill, a sumo wrestler stress ball or a pack of Garbage Pail Kids trading cards (child of the 80's) These items make great present toppers, stocking stuffers, and add ons.  Resist the urge to stock up but a few on hand can be handy in your gift wrapping supplies!

-If I got this, would I use it often?  A happy birthday wine glass looks cool, but it sits on your shelf for most of the year.  Not a good buy.  But an elegant Martini glass filled with confetti and select candy serves the same purpose and has more life span.

-Consumables can be good!  Not everyone wants to load up on "stuff" each holiday or celebration.  In that case, things that get used up can be the best route.  Think meal baskets, planting kits or craft kits.  At the end, you use it up and there's noting to store!  Get clever with disposables, plastic cups and a ping pong ball=party drink game, a pack of toilet paper or two makes a fun bridal shower or halloween game.

-Does this go back to basics or serve a purpose? Sometimes the simplest things are the easiest to overlook.  Perfect gift for a new mom?  bubbles!  You may not think of it right away but it's hours of fun for mom and baby.  How about baking soda, vinegar and spray bottles paired with homemade cleaning recipes.  Practical and simple!

Now!  Browse the aisles!  Take your time.  Go up and down each aisle including the food aisles.  Look at everything and think what else you could do with that or what it would go well with.  If you find something too awesome to pass up, try to build a basket of things around it.  Keep in mind that most of the plastic bins or woven baskets at the dollar store are cheap or ugly.  Would you want that hanging around after the gift is unwrapped?  Look for practical containers like flower pots, plates, dish pans, tote bags, oven mitts, etc.  You can simply bag a bunch of stuff on a cardboard circle in a basket bag.  Presentation is everything so assemble it so you can see all items right away without taking anything out.  Add a bag, bow or stuffing/ shred if desired.

Have fun!

Friday, January 25, 2013

2013 Oscar Nominee Round-up

The Oscars are coming!  
The Oscars are coming!

The Oscars are coming Sunday February 24th (also my birthday : ) For cheapskates like me, here's where you can watch the 2013 Oscar Nominees for cheap or free as of Jan 25th:

Netflix Streaming 
(We don't have the DVD option and they would probably take too long to get anyways...)

  1. Costume Design: Mirror, Mirror
  2. Documentary Feature: 5 Broken Cameras
  3. Documentary Feature: How to Survive a Plague
  4. Documentary Feature: The Invisible War


  1. Best Picture Nominee & Actress: The Beasts of the Southern Wild
  2. Animated Feature Film: Frankenweenie
  3. Animated Feature Film: Brave
  4. Animated Feature Film: ParaNorman
  5. Animated Feature Film: The Pirates! Band of Misfits
  6. Costume Design & Visual Effects: Snow White and the Huntsman
  7. Visual Effects: Prometheus
  8. Documentary Feature: Searching for Sugar Man
  9. Original Song: "Everybody Needs a Best Friend" from Ted
  10. Writing- Original Screenplay: Moonrise Kingdom

You Tube 

  1. Animated Short: Fresh Guacamole:

And here's some other 2013 Oscar goodies:

  • Free Party Printables from Hostess with the Mostess (Updated from previous years for the 2013 Oscars)

Did I miss anything good?  Please leave a comment!

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Miniature Christmas Village

You may remember my September post on my Harry Potter Halloween Miniature Village?

My goal with my color choices was to be able to use the same little houses for a Christmas village after Halloween. Here's what I came up with:

I chose baby blue and bright red to compliment the navy blue for a retro Christmas feel.

I scattered mini green pine trees, people figurines and other architectural elements amongst the houses.

You can string a strand of white twinkle lights amongst the houses to light them up. (The Dollar Tree houses need a little poking in the window holes with a wooden skewer to open them up a bit more.)

I used a sheet of white glitter cotton batting as a base and used books and other random objects as risers.


Gnome Village: I love these plush mushroom ornaments at Target last year! Imagine a tiny Christmas gnome village with these mushrooms scattered amongst the houses. Those green mossy rocks from the Dollar Tree would be great additions. Lay a couple of twiggy branches in the background and add a couple of red cardinals form the Dollar Tree to the branches and tops of the little houses. Use boxes wrapped in birch wood scrapbook paper as risers topped with moss sheets or wood print paper. Sprinkle the rest of the risers and table top with flakey fake snow. For fun, add a few miniature garden tools, shoes or other gnome accessories as if the gnomes were just away for the moment from their homes on holiday errands.

Candy Land: Use flakey fake snow or glittered scrapbook paper as a base. Use some fake candy canes and lollipops stuck in lumps of modeling clay as a picket fence. Scatter other candy and cookie ornaments amongst the houses as decoration. Make paths with contrasting paper edged in real or decorative gumdrops. Use cookie tins as risers. Use real or ornament gingerbread men as village inhabitants. For fun, play homage to the the witch from Hanzel and Gretel by placing a small broom outside one of the houses edged by a fence of gingerbread men.

Fairy Christmas Village: Place the houses on glittered batting sheets or a scattering of flakey fake snow. Tuck silver or glittered Poinsettia blooms amongst the houses. Use foam cones or paper cones covered in pastel or white feathers to make feather 'pine' trees. have a few feather butterflies sitting on the trees or houses. If you have fairy ornaments. scatter them as village inhabitants. You can also make your own like these ones here. You can dangle glittered snowfakes ornaments above the village on fishing line.

Valentine Village: Use just the red houses (3 will do). Use white serving dishes like stemmed bowls, cake plates, etc as risers. Top them with fabric doilies from the Dollar Tree. Drape the risers with strings of pearls, white fluffy feathers and sparkly jewelry for a romantic look. You can also just place the three houses on inverted wine glasses with red roses placed underneath as a table centerpiece over a few overlapping doilies.

St Patrick's day Village: Use just the navy blue houses on sheets of green moss. Scatter mossy rocks amongst the houses. print a large rainbow and ticky tack to the wall behind the houses. Use little black cauldrons from halloween favors or black salsa dishes from Dollar Tree and fill them with plastic or chocolate gold coins. Use paper wrapped canisters as tall risers and prop tall little ladders made of hot glued twigs up to the houses. Spray paint a few stones or glass rocks gold and make a pile or two. Just for fun, fill one couldron with lucky charms (leprechaun food).

Skull Guest Soaps

I was inspired to make these little guest soaps from Dollar Store Crafts last year when the silicone skull ice cube trays came out.

I took my mold this year and a bar of Pears glycerin soap from the dollar store and got to work. It was super easy to do!

I placed a small glass bowl inside a pot of boiling water and using a knife, cut the bar of soap into small pieces. then stirred it continuously until it all melted.

Then using a pot holder, I quickly poured the melted soap into the mold. (The 1 bar filled the whole tray!) hen I popped the tray in to freezer to cool and then popped the skulls out of the mold. I broke off the little bits of extra around the edges. You can also smooth them with a wet finger.

Here they all are piled on a plate in my bathroom.

The clean-up was easy too. I just filled the bowl with water and let it sit in the sink overnight to loosed the soap residue.

I wanted to go one step further with my soaps with a cute container. I fount these printable coffins on this great site featuring printable Halloween toys, Ravensblight.

I assembled a few and put three soaps in each. You can label them as soap just so they don't get confused with all the candy boxes around this time of year!

I'm planning on leaving them out during the Halloween party and sending any unused ones home with guests.