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How’s about a little Holiday Cheer? December 14, 2012

Posted by Toy Lady in Business, Cooking, most important meal of the day, random stuff.
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Yeah, I thought that would get your attention!

Back when Peeps and I ran our meal-prep business, we had hundreds of recipes that were designed to be prepped ahead of time, frozen, then cooked later on.  Several of those recipes, we developed ourselves, but many more were purchased from other similar businesses.

The great thing was that the recipes were simple enough for any non-cook to follow the directions in assembling, freezing, and then cooking the meals, and end up with a fairly decent (and healthy) result.

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Not necessarily a fantastic result, but certainly much, much better than, say, ordering from Domino’s.  Again.

To be honest, developing some of these recipes was hard!  Besides needing to be aware of how certain things would freeze and thaw, we also had to be sure the recipes were simple enough to be successfully cooked by people with little to no skill in the kitchen.

That can be hard.

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So it shouldn’t be too surprising if I tell you that, of the many, many recipes we bought for this business, there are only a handful that we’ve kept and actually still use.

This Eggnog French Toast is one of them, albeit a little tweaked to our tastes.

It starts with a good loaf of bread – we like Peeps’s semolina, since it holds up to a nice overnight soak.

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Slice your loaf of bread into 6 fairly thick slices – I’d say maybe 3/4 to 1 inch, and set those aside – either in a freezer bag if you want to freeze it, or into a bowl of some sort if you want to cook it in the next day or so.

By the way, this will serve three, or two if you’re really hungry.

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Then you’re going to whisk together (and this is so easy!):

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup eggnog (I told you this was Eggnog French Toast, right?)
  • 1/4 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. nutmeg

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Then just dump the enhanced eggnog (because, really, isn’t that pretty much what it is?) over the bread slices.

Make sure you get the liquid all between the slices – you want it to soak all the way in!

Then just let it sit.  Either let it set in the fridge for a few hours (overnight is even better) or stash in in the freezer to defrost for, say, Christmas morning.

Ah, there’s where the holiday cheer comes in!

And you thought it was suspicious-looking rum bottle.  That’s homemade vanilla.  Really.

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So when it’s time for breakfast (or breakfast-for-dinner ahem), you’ll just want to make sure, if you froze the bread, that everything is defrosted, and that it’s all good and sogged up.

Yes, that’s a technical culinary term.

Preheat your oven to 400, and spray a sheet pan.  Once the oven is hot, just toss the French toast on the sheet pan, and bake about 10-15 minutes, or until the bottoms are browned.

Flip the toasts and repeat.

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A little butter, some maple syrup (I’ll bet a cinnamon syrup would be good too) and, of course, a couple of strips of bacon, and you’re all set for a busy morning of playing Santa. . .

It’s soup night – NO it’s pasta night! November 16, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Business, Cooking, Food, random stuff, soupe du semaine.
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Regular readers of this blog will recall that, once upon a time, Peeps and I owned a meal-prep business.  In short, the idea was to “prep” a series of meals in advance, to be frozen, then defrosted and finished later.

Spending an hour or two in the kitchen pre-preparing our week’s meals is still a great time-saver, and we still dust off some of the recipes that we used back then, although we don’t necessarily follow them quite to the letter these days.

After all, we’re not trying to make a profit anymore (not that we did then either).

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So with the beginning of soup season, we thought it would be nice to revisit one of our then-favorites – a simple pasta and bean soup.

I believe our Italian friends would call it pasta e fagioli but we’re Swedish, so we just call it pasta and bean soup.

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As so many things do, we start with bacon – just a couple of slices, diced.

Start cooking that in a small Dutch oven, and once some of the fat starts to render, add a diced up onion, and cook over medium-ish heat until the onion starts to soften.

Stir in a tablespoon or so of tomato paste.   Then toss in two or three diced carrots, a clove or two of garlic, minced, some chopped rosemary and parsley, and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and black pepper – maybe a bit more pepper if that’s how you like to roll.

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Add a quart of chicken broth (that’s 4 cups if your broth doesn’t come in Mason jars) and let it simmer 20 minutes or so.  You want your carrots just softened – like they should be for soup – so I guess how long it needs to cook is going to depend on how big or small you dice your carrots.

At this point, you can just add your beans  (I used half a pound of dried cannellini beans, cooked.  Or you could use a couple of cans of canned beans.), let everything cool, and stick it in the fridge for later.

PhotobucketThat’s what we did.

So when it’s later, you’ll want to dump it back in the pot and add another 4 cups of liquid – water is fine.  If you happen to have, say, a partial jar of chicken stock in the fridge that needs to get used up, by all means, use that.

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Get the soup re-heated – it’ll actually get thicker, what with the beans and all in there – and bring it up to a boil.

Once the soup is slowly boiling, add 2 cups of small pasta.  We’re partial to ditalini, but that’s mostly because we have a bunch of it.  Barilla makes a line of piccolini pasta – itty bitty miniature pasta shapes – that would certainly make a fun choice.

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At any point until you add the pasta, you can also easily divide the soup in half and freeze half of it for later.  Just make a note of what still needs to be done – we divided it right before adding the ditalini, so all we’ll need to do is reheat and add a cup of pasta.

This is such a wonderfully easy, flavorful soup, made with a few basic staples.  Do give it a try and let me know what you think.

Oh Canada May 13, 2011

Posted by Peeps in Business, Cooking, Food, Information, random stuff, Rochester.
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This is my friend Liz.
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She works with me a couple days a week at The Ravioli Shop. She’s way more fun than Boss, and we make a pretty good team.
Liz is a major foodie. We spend a lot of time talking about cooking and techniques. She has several part time jobs in various capacities in the food business. Every so often, I bring her samples of stuff we’ve either just tried, or that we love to make over and over again, and she either really likes our food, or is incredibly polite.
But in addition to her seemingly dozen or so jobs, she recently started her own small business. She bought a food truck and now has a space at the Public Market making poutine.
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I had never heard of poutine, and promptly told her so. She explained that it’s a traditional French-Canadian dish, consisting of french fries, fresh cheese curds and gravy.
Now, please remember that I am from New Jersey. French fries with brown gravy are a late night diner staple. Cheese fries are a very close second. And while I will cheerfully eat either of these, the thought of combining them never once crossed my mind. And the sad part is, that I can’t for the life of me think of why.
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She does every one fresh to order. She cuts the potatoes in the truck and fries them fresh. The gravy is made every day the Market is open.
The cheese curds and as many ingredients she can manage come from local places.
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I showed up for Liz’s grand opening, and had poutine for the first time. It was fabulous. The fries were hot and perfect. The cheese was only just starting to melt, so there was a contrast of textures. The gravy was better than I’ve ever managed to accomplish. She adds a small pinch of fresh thyme on top, which is apparently not traditional. Okay, I’m good. I’d eat this again in a heartbeat.
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For now, the menu is very limited. And that’s fine. Doing a couple things really well is better than doing a bunch of things poorly.
After her opening day, I mentioned that both my wife and I thought that a poached egg would go nicely on top of this dish. She replied that she was planning on doing something like that in the future. With, perhaps, sausage gravy instead of her normal gravy. Dude! I am so all over that.
So, if you’re ever in Rochester, please try to make it a point to go see my friend Liz at the Market. If she’s not too busy, mention my name and chat with her. Then enjoy one of the greatest snacks I’ve ever had. I may have to stop making fun of Canada now. Well, I’ll try.
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Easy AND Cheesy March 3, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Business, Cooking, Freezer Meals.
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I’ve mentioned before that Saturday evenings around here have essentially become “pasta night.”  Not officially, like Wednesdays are “soup night” – more out of laziness and, well, lack of imagination, I guess.

That, and we really like pasta.

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Plus, pasta dishes are usually fast and cheap.  Sure, you can go with something a little more involved, but it’s certainly more than easy to make a quick dinner with pasta as the base, too.

So we’ve got some ideas for some quick – as well as not-so-quick – pasta meals.

Doesn’t everyone?

One of our favorites originated several years ago, from an Alton Brown recipe.

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We’ve done a bit of tweeking over the years, including adapting it as a “freezer meal” for our now-defunct meal-prep business.

And it occurred to us – we haven’t had our stovetop mac-and-cheese in, well, we couldn’t remember how long, which means it had been a while.

And since we had everything on hand, well, why not?

We started by shredding an 8-ounce package of cheddar.  I like the super- sharp cheddar, but then, I’m a Dairy State gal – I do love my cheese!  In this case, we went with Cabot’s Vermont White, I think.

Orange cheese works nicely too.

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The cheese gets set aside, while we beat together the bechamel ingredients:

  • 3/4 cup evaporated milk
  • 1/2 tsp. Tabasco
  • 1/2 tsp. each kosher salt and black pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. dried mustard
  • 2 eggs

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You’re going to want to whisk that together while your pasta is cooking – 1/2 lb. of elbow macaroni.

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Cook the pasta to just barely done, about 6-8 minutes for elbows.

Then drain and return to the pot, and toss a couple of tablespoons of butter into the macaroni to melt.

Once the butter is melted, and the pasta is slightly cooled, you can add the egg-and-evaporated milk mixture.

That way the egg won’t scramble in the pasta.

 

PhotobucketAnd once the egg mixture is combined with the pasta, turn the heat back on low, and, while cooking gently, add the cheese, a handful at a time, stirring and melting after each addition.

Now I’m going to admit – this is a lot of cheese for half a pound of pasta.  And decent cheese is not a low-fat food.  (Though it is dairy, and that’s a plus, right?)  Of course, you could add some steamed broccoli or something if you’re really worried about it.

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Or you could just relax and enjoy an occasional indulgence, and know that you’ve got enough left for lunch Monday, then it’s gone.

I  pick that.

Chicken and Stuffing is Easy Enough January 6, 2011

Posted by Toy Lady in Business, Freezer Meals, random stuff.
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You may (or may not) remember the couple of times Peeps and I have mentioned our prior business life – the one where we ran a meal-prep business.

What we  basically did was help people who otherwise probably wouldn’t have bothered with cooking step away from the Lean Cuisine and Domino’s for at least a spell.

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It was amazing to see grown women (mostly women – some men) who had never actually touched raw meat, or who were unfamiliar with the most basic of ingredients.

Yes, that’s what a chopped up onion looks like. . .

And honestly, these people were the reason we started this business.  People who needed someone to just help point them in the direction of home-cooking.

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One of our most popular meals (both among our customers and among us!) was a chicken and stuffing bake – originally designed to be baked in individual muffin tins (oh, how cute!), Peeps and I both agree that we prefer it baked all together in a single pan.

We start with the basic chicken (chopped into bite-sized pieces) and diced onions and celery, to which we add some chicken broth and seasoning (salt, pepper, poultry seasoning).

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When that all gets mixed together, you stir in a couple of cups of those stuffing croutons that, while they’re front and center in the supermarkets around the holidays, they’re still available if you look for them the rest of the year.

Everything gets stirred together, dumped into a greased pan (or muffin tin if that’s the way you want to roll) and baked.

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We use a loaf pan, but if you doubled the recipe, you’d use a square pan, and if you went the muffin tin route, you’d use six.

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Bake at 375 until the chicken part of the show is done (if you’re the thermometer type, look for 165-degrees) – it’s going to take, all told, 40-50 minutes.

And if you’re really in a holiday mood, roasting some squash while the chicken – stuffing is baking is certainly not a bad idea.  In fact, it’s not a bad idea even if you’re not in a holiday mood – it’s mighty darned good!

And here, for your mealtime pleasure, is a printable version right here.

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