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52 Things I Learned In One Year – Part 2 of 3

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Ah, what was I thinking when I came up with the notion of writing about 52 lessons learned? One lesson per week of my challenge – that should be a piece of cake. Okay then maybe I just have a bad old case of writers block. I’ve challenged myself to write up my second list of 15-20 lessons over the past three weeks and I’ve come up dry. Getting out of the routine of cooking and blogging was not at all difficult to do. Even though I’m not filling my time with meal preparation like I was this time last year, my time is plenty full with large work projects, summer gardening, and all the great weather activities I feel I may have missed last year.

But when push came to shove, there really were more lessons there than I originally may have imagined. So on with the countdown…

37 – Planning meals around seasonal ingredients is a great way to be a bit more creative with what goes on the dinner table. While we had many a meal composed of the typical “protein, starch, and vegetable” – there were some terrific moments of creativity using seasonal vegetables. Check out the spring asparagus salad (if it’s not too late in your region) or plan for this corn salsa.

36 – Processing your own tomatoes into something like sauce can be economical. I learned that while it takes a heck of a lot of tomatoes to get to the end product, the end product was generally a better value than the price I would pay off the shelf. By the way, I used 52 pounds last year to yield 144 ounces of diced tomatoes, 96 ounces of tomato sauce, 80 ounces of pizza sauce, 54 ounces of pasta sauce, and 28 ounces of roasted tomatoes. Check out the post, 52 weeks by the numbers.

35 – Roma tomatoes make the best sauce and give the best yield. I was a bit fooled by the notion that any tomato is a good tomato to process. I was wrong. The Roma’s make all the difference in the world.

34 – I won’t again be fooled into thinking I can “thicken” a pasta sauce by blending up the tomatoes with an immersion blender. Good sauce takes time on the stove. Plan for long cooking time, 4-6 hours not only helps thicken the sauce but it really brings out the flavor.

33 – I swore that after this year, I would never again purchase granola. It’s been eleven weeks since I ended my year, and I have made about six pounds of granola during that time. Keeping true to this lesson, it’s so easy to do yourself and the benefits are that I control the flavor, the sweetness, and the amount of pecans I want in every bite! I will start a batch at 6:30 in the morning, and it’s ready to eat by 7:15.

32 – Homemade bagels are not all that easy to make, they take a bit of time to make, and the flavor is, well OUTSTANDING! Don’t be scared by the bagel is the lesson learned. Also eat them quickly, they really are the best the day you make ‘em.

31 – I figured out my slow cooker isn’t just for dinner. We made “Crock Pot oatmeal” which fills the house with a wonderful aroma, not to mention is ready when you get out of bed. And then there is Crock Pot yogurt, which is not only so simple it’s also a great value. Strain some yogurt in cheesecloth to make Greek yogurt, and you’ve saved even more money.

30 – Bison is better than beef. Don’t get me wrong, I l-o-v-e beef of many cuts and eat it often. However when I want to cut down on the fat and calories without losing any flavor, then bison is a surprisingly great choice.

29 – One can make cinnamon rolls without yeast. While they taste a bit more “biscuity” than yeasty, once you pour on the glaze it hardly makes a difference.

28 – I won’t go back to eating frozen pizza. Okay, I did break that promise this week as we were leaving our friend’s house after helping her move and it was already 7:30 pm and we hadn’t had dinner. A frozen pizza was easy, and quite honestly pretty tasteless by comparison. I won’t go back to eating frozen pizza!

27 – I now understand what little Miss Muffet was thinking, don’t discard the whey! I still regret making the first batch of cheese and tossing all of that whey goodness down the drain. Now I use it in place of milk when baking and it really does add some great flavor.

There you have it, and I have only 27 more lessons learned to write!

52+ Weeks of Recipes

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Breads, Pastry, Pasta

Bagels

Cinnamon Raisin English Muffin Bread

Cornmeal Crackers

Corn Tortillas

Croutons

Egg Noodles

Eggless Pasta

Flax Crackers

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Pie Crust (Curried Chicken Pot Pie)

Pizza Crust

Multi-Grain Sandwich Bread

Whole Wheat Flour Tortillas

Sweets & Breakfast Treats

Christmas Stollen

Chocolate Graham Crackers

Cinnamon Rolls Quick & Easy

Granola Number Five

Granola Bars

Whole Grain Pancakes

Beef

Bison Chili

Bison Stroganoff

chipotle meatloaf

Corned Beef & Cabbage

Lasagna

Pork

Frijoles Borrachos

Pork Carnitas

Posole

Tomatillo Pork Stew

Chicken or Turkey

Curried Chicken Pot Pie

Curried Turkey (or lamb) With Autumn Vegetables

Mediterranean Chicken with Potatoes

Tomatillo Chicken Dia de los Muertos

Vegetarian & Vegetables

Anasazi Bean Burgers

Corn Salsa

Rainbow Chard With White Beans

Refrigerator Kimchi

Roasted Tomatoes (oven dried)

Spring Asparagus Salad

Sushi

Super Lentil Dal

Sauces, Dressings & Condiments

Bechamel Sauce

Balsamic Salad Dressing

Buttermilk Ranch Salad Dressing

Coffee Bourbon BBQ Sauce

Marinara Sauce

Mustard

Pizza Sauce

Tomato Sauce

Tomatillo Salsa

Vita’s Pasta Sauce

Make It With Milk

Crock Pot Yogurt

Meyer Lemon Cheese

Week 45 – Hamburger Help Her (Recipe)

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Looking for an easy meal to make? Time to reach for your Hamburger Helper. Wrong answer – that’s a convenience food, and quite honestly I have never in my entire adult life used that product. So what’s a girl to do?

When you’re cooking everything from scratch the only “easy” meal to make when you get home late from work usually consists of a protein, vegetable and starch. I’ve been getting pretty tired of that kind of “easy” meal now 45 weeks into my challenge, as well as reverting to the same old frozen leftovers. So this week I was determined to look my arch nemesis straight in the… uhm… I was determined to overcome my fear of failure for the third time, making pasta from scratch. I decided on an easier topping for my pasta, one that could be made in about 20-30 minutes or so from start to finish. I don’t think I’ve had beef stroganoff for a couple of years now, ever since I began working on shedding a few pounds, so I wanted to make something that was lower in fat and calories.

Intimidating, me?

Bison, for those of you really afraid of the notion of using this meat, is very, very, need I say VERY similar to ground beef. The flavor is almost indistinguishable so get over that fear right now. The American Heart Association (and Outpost’s nutritionist Judy Mayer) recommends bison as a healthy alternative to beef, as it’s lower in fat and cholesterol. A three-ounce serving of bison is only 143 calories, compared with ground beef at 211, and has only 2.42 grams of fat, compared to 9.3 grams in ground beef. There, have I convinced you yet?

The other product I substituted in the original recipe (from Cooking Light) was non-fat strained yogurt in place of the sour cream. Straining it through cheesecloth for about 45 minutes (or overnight if you plan this meal ahead) gives you the thick consistency of sour cream without the calories (120 calories in a cup of nonfat yogurt compared to 280 calories in a cup of low-fat sour cream).

Now if you’re committed to make everything from scratch in this recipe, you’ll need to have some beef broth made ahead of time (frozen) and you really need to mix your pasta dough first before you do anything else. I finally found a dough recipe that works (thank you Gourmet) and the key I believe is to let the dough rest after kneading – which this recipe calls for resting for one hour. So that doesn’t make this a really quick meal now does it? Well it does if you make the pasta ahead of time since you can refrigerate it fresh for a few days or freeze it for later. Or if you’re like me, you plan on 1 ½ hours total, starting with the pasta dough, and while it’s resting you make the stroganoff. I let my dough rest for 45 minutes and it worked just fine.

Look at me, all proud of my pasta. This from the girl who has been resenting it since the last failed batch a few meals ago. In fact just this past week I made a “pasta salad” from some frozen rigatoni I had made a month or so ago using my pasta play dough maker. The pasta was rather gummy so the salad did not look at all appetizing, so I was embarrassed to eat it in front of my co-workers at the lunch table. How I got the courage to try again, I don’t know. But I’m really glad I did try again. In fact I was so proud of myself I had to take a small bowl of cooked pasta into work to show my co-workers that I wasn’t as lame as I looked last week eating my sad, sad pasta salad.

Okay, now it’s time for you to try. This is really delicious, so get out there and make yourself a truly rewarding dinner. Believe me, you’ll impress the heck out of your dinner companion (do make sure you have one for this meal as they will think you are a culinary celebrity).

Fresh Egg Noodles

Do not even think you can deviate from this recipe. The eggs give it the silky noodle texture you need.

1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I used 00 pasta flour)

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

2 tablespoons water

½ teaspoon salt

Place the flour on the surface of your table, preferably a wooden surface. Make a well in the center of the flour.

In the center of the well, add the salt and the eggs along with 1 tablespoon of the water. If you’re lucky, the eggs won’t break the wall of the well and start running towards the edge of the table like mine did. You’re lucky? Great, now gradually stir in enough flour into the eggs to begin to form a paste, pulling in flour closest to the egg mixture and being ever so careful not to make an opening in the outer wall of the well.

Knead the remaining flour into the mixture with your hands until it forms a ball, adding a few more drops of the remaining tablespoon of water at a time, until the dough softens. The dough should be firm but not sticky.

Knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Cover it with an inverted bowl and let it stand for about one hour. This is an important step because it will allow the dough to relax and be easier to work with.

Divide the dough into 4 pieces, and keep whatever dough you are not rolling out covered by the bowl. Roll the dough with a wooden rolling pin, or through a pasta roller until very thin. The dough will tend to stretch and then spring back a little, so I held onto one end of the dough with the palm of my hand while using the rolling pin to stretch it. Flip the dough over as you roll. I didn’t need any flour during this process but if your dough is a little sticky you will need a small amount of flour. Use as little flour on the counter as possible.

Cut thin egg noodle size strips and set them to the side while you finish rolling out all of your dough. Cook in boiling water for about 5 minutes. They cook very quickly so keep your eye on them.

Bison Stroganoff (My Hamburger Help Her)

1 pound ground bison (or extra-lean ground beef)

1 cup chopped onion

8 oz. sliced cremini mushrooms

4 small cloves garlic (2 teaspoons), minced

1 cup beef broth, fat-free and low sodium

¾ cup strained non-fat yogurt

OR ¾ cup low-fat sour cream

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt or less if you’re using canned stock

¼ teaspoon fresh thyme

2 tablespoons dry sherry

Pepper to taste

Chopped parsley to garnish

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the bison or ground beef, breaking up the meat into smaller pieces while it browns.

When the meat is brown, add the onions, garlic, and mushrooms and continue to cook for about 4 minutes, until most of the liquid evaporates. Stir this mixture frequently. Add the salt.

Next, sprinkle the flour over the meat and cook for about one minute, stirring constantly. Your mixture should thicken up nicely with the flour.

Stir in the beef broth and sherry and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, reduce the heat and let it simmer for a few more minutes. The broth will thicken up nicely at this point. Add pepper to taste.

Remove from the heat and stir in the yogurt or sour cream until combined.

Serve over homemade pasta, which you are incredible pleased that you made yourself and it turned out so perfectly!

Enjoy with your stroganoff because you made everything from scratch!

I had our nutritionist provide the nutritional breakdown on the stroganoff (per serving, recipe serves 6): 165 calories, 4 grams fat, 1 gram saturated fat, 9 grams carbohydrates, 21 grams protein, 607 mg. sodium, 1 gram fiber, 83 mg calcium. (Without noodles)