Home Ec 101’s Weekly Menu a few weeks ago called for a Lentil Casserole for Meatless Monday, which is something I haven’t made before but am going to try out soon. I recently discovered I love lentils, so I am on the hunt for great lentil menu ideas.

Something I sometimes run into when trying out a new recipe is buying an ingredient just for that recipe.  I make the recipe, but it doesn’t use all of that ingredient.  So, what do you do with the remaining lentils in the bag you buy to make Heather’s dish?  Try making today’s recipe as a side dish during the week, or add to next week’s Meatless Monday meal – leaving out the bacon, of course.

This dish was inspired by the dish Sautéed Bacon, Mushrooms, and Lentils, which I recently tested for Leite’s Culinaria, and it was a big hit with myself and my husband.  Of the kids, our 2yo, the lover of all things bean, was the most impressed.

Step One: Cook Your Lentils

If you have never had lentils before, I will warn you they are not anything like a pinto or a navy bean.  They are just a bit more firm when fully cooked.  They do not get to that consistency of being able to easily mash them up with a fork so you can feed them to the baby.

Veggies on a Cutting Board

Some variations I have made:  I cook my lentils for about 45 minutes (the recommended time is about 30 minutes on the bag, but I like my lentils a bit softer), I use two onions and five cloves of garlic.  If I am cooking for our friend who has dairy allergies, I use olive oil instead of butter.  I also chop the mushrooms into tiny pieces, to hide them from the 17 and 4 year olds who don’t like the look of mushrooms and will not eat the dish if they see them.  I also sometimes will add diced carrots to the dish, to give it some colour. Sometimes I fry chopped chicken pieces (you can also use leftover chicken) with the bacon and add to the dish to make a whole meal.

Mushrooms Sweat, So Don't Be Alarmed When Your Veggies Get Watery, Just Keep Cooking Until Liquid Is Reabsorbed

Bacon gives extra flavor AND colour - A two-fer!

You get the idea, though, right?  Take a recipe, make it the way it is written, and then add your own flare(s)!  Make the recipe your own.  This is what cooks do, adapt to suit your own tastes.  Try recipes with ingredients you have never tried before, or haven’t had in a really long time.  Stretch your palate.  If you don’t like the ingredient, find a substitute, or leave it out entirely!  Bob and weave, bob and weave! And not all of your variations are going to be home runs.  You will have some strikeouts (we do not mention peanut sauce and noodles in this house without shuddering) and you may end up ordering pizza out instead of what you cooked, but don’t let those speed bumps stop you from trying!

Cooking doesn’t have to be elaborate, it doesn’t have to take hours of prep followed by hours of cook time.  I love spending time in the kitchen cooking, it relaxes me, takes away a lot of my daily stress.  But I still don’t like to spend more than 45 minutes to an hour on dinner (unless I am making Peruvian Roasted Chicken, cause then the extra time is totally worth it!)  I like to take my iPad in the kitchen with me, put on Pandora Radio (Eagles and Carole King are my two favorite stations to cook along with) and dance and chop and stir away the time – sometimes I even stream a tv show through Netflix while I’m doing the prep.

So, as Heather recommends, plan your menus around what activities will hinder your schedule.  This will determine the amount of time you have to prepare meals.  Consider this, and the amount of time you want to spend preparing a meal.  If you all about twenty to thirty minute meals, this is totally not a problem.  Hamburger Helper?  Brown your own meat, add your own spices and cheese, boil your own pasta and you have a hamburger helper meal without the preservatives in the same amount of time.  Kraft Mac and Cheese?  While your macaroni is boiling, make a rue with 1/4 tsp butter and 3 Tbsp of flour, cook on medium high about 3 minutes, add 2 1/2 cups of milk and cook until the rue is incorporated and the mixture is bubbling) and add the cheese (about 3 cups) to make the sauce (this only takes a max of three to four minutes!) and you have something that actually tastes BETTER in just a minute or two longer than the boxed version (add tuna or chicken and some peas or other boiled or steamed veggies and you have a whole meal free of preservatives!).  Change it up a bit, put this mixture in a casserole dish sprinkle shredded cheese and bread crumbs on the top and bake for 20 minutes at 375F.

Dinner does not have to be a four course event.  Casseroles are truly amazing things to behold.  One pot dishes you can make on the stove, oven or crockpot are nothing to sneeze at because they are simple.  One of my secrets is chopping veggies and meat ahead of time, usually on a Saturday when we get back from Sam’s Club with our bulk purchases of stew meat, carrots, etc.  I divvy up the spoils into meal sized portions (I use Ziplock gallon sized bags, due to the space limits of our freezer).  Veggies stay in the crisper drawer of our fridge, though.  I try to thaw out the protein in the fridge for a day or two before I know I am going to cook with them (this is where a weekly menu plan comes in handy).  I also try to keep some marinara sauce (or the ingredients for it) on hand, for those days I don’t feel like doing much of anything, so we can have spaghetti – or else I let Rogan loose in my kitchen.  Rogan is a good cook, especially Asian meals, even though people don’t seem to want to believe it – he makes a mean Tandoori Chicken!

Now it’s your turn.  What meals would you like make simpler (more simple?), or what is your simple go to meal?

Well, hello there, strangers!  I suppose you are now thinking one of two things – 1) Whoa, I forgot I had this blog on RSS/Email notification.  2) What happened to HER?!

I know, I know, I have been a very, very bad blog mom!  No updates, if you discount the Wordless Wednesday posts with no updates in them, since October.  I am still here, though!  The holidays, as usual, kicked my butt.  This was the second year since losing my beloved grandfather and I get in a funk.  Plus, life kicked me in the butt, it was crazy here the last few months with the two little ones and the oldest finally finished her 11th grade work and is now a SENIOR!!!  (How did she get this old without me noticing??)

We had another chicken go broody and hatched four eggs.  We lost all four chicks to the hawks around the area.  We have also lost a few of our hens, as well.  We are now down to eight chickens.  Rogan and I have decided when the weather turns warmer (it has been freezing almost every night since right before Christmas) we are going to fence in their coop and start keeping them in the pen and safe from the hawks and the neighborhood dogs (this is entirely the chickens’ fault, as they keep flying over our “jailhouse” fence -out from under the protection of the tree cover of our yard- and over to the neighbor’s yard and in an empty field across the road).  We may order some more chicks this spring.

I have started garden dreaming.  I have catalogs, both paper and virtual, I am going through and trying to decide on exactly what to plant this season.  I am planning on expanding our largish-small plot and maybe do greenhouse hoops we can cover in the winter and have a year round garden!  The little ones are getting old enough now that I can spend a bit more time on gardening – and I am planning a separate herb garden and a kid’s plot for them to learn how to work the earth.

I will confess to weakness and admit I have not been using my clothesline since it got cold.  Our laundry room is outside in an alcove off our carport and it takes all I have to just walk out there and do laundry.  So I have been succumbing to the luxury of using the dryer more and more.  We have to run a small heater in the room with the double doors shut so the water line does not freeze on us, but I still find myself having to run an empty load before I can start on the day’s laundry to clear out ice in the line (we do not have a hot water line, only the cold line).

We also discovered at the beginning of the month we need to replace our septic tank and field drains – they are original to the house, so are about fifty years old or so.  The field drains are being blocked by all of my precious trees’ root systems in that part of the yard.  We are looking at about three grand for that.

Plus, we bought the little ones some wooden blocks and building sets for the holidays.  Right before the septic tank issues one of them tossed a block and it hit our HUGE picture window in the living room and cracked it – we are talking about around two to three thousand if we replace it, as it is now structured (also original to the house and is only single pane and had spider cracks running through it already).  This is where I beg you for work, or to recommend me to anyone who needs administrative or bookkeeping work!

Paperwork and Headaches

Bills, Bills, Bills

So, it looks like any refund we get from the IRS is spoken for this year.  The house is starting to remind of two movies – the first obvious choice is The Money Pit and the second is Baby Boom – where the ad executive moves into this great old house in the country, only to discover everything is breaking down.  (Did I mention the kitchen floor also needs replacing, because the subfloor is starting to buckle?)

Oh, well.  I suppose this is the price you pay for living in an older house.  We have a project lined up to replace the two prong outlets with three prong ones (which requires a lot of rewiring).

 

House Falling Down

The Money Pit

 

Oh, and something no one really warns you about when you move from the big city to the country – and have a house surrounded by woods – is critters.  Yes, I theoretically knew there would be creepy crawlies, but was not prepared for my new arch enemy – MICE.  Apparently my chickens (and dogs and cat) suck at killing these things before they get into the house!  We have tried traps of all kinds and we keep the population from getting out of control, but we still seeing them scurrying around in the corners sometimes.  I have ordered a product from my favorite online store – Greenfeet – that is supposed to keep them from coming into the house, due to the odor of the herbs and cedar in the product not agreeing with their olfactory senses.  I should be getting it in this week and will let you know how it works.

Saturday Recipe will hopefully continue soon, but some posts may be teasers – I am now a recipe tester for one of my all time favorite recipe sites and will not be able to disclose the recipe for you until it is published on the site.  But I will show you some pics and give you some tips (like how to truss a chicken and how to chop chocolate blocks).

I hope you will not delete me from your feed and will continue on with me in this journey of learning homesteading and country living and homeschooling (oldest will be graduating soon, but the middle one will be starting kindergarten this fall!).  I will give you all the good AND the bad of it all (like mice!).  You will see me fall on my face and learn from mistakes.  So, stay tuned – same bat-ish time, same bat channel!!

I am going to cheat a bit today with my recipe and let you know you can get the original over at Smitten Kitchen.  My husband compares these to french toast from the oven.

I have doubled the recipe and, since I don’t have cut little individual cup containers to bake them in, I put them in two large cast iron skillets.

To keep the pancakes from sticking, I put in softened butter and spread thickly over the entire surface with a paper towel.

Two pans of yumminess ready for the oven.

Fresh from the oven!

Variations:  You can also add flavored extracts.  Vanilla is good, but don’t forget chocolate or almond!

Powdered sugar and some syrup and your family will beg you to make this every weekend!

Beginner Cookbook

Click to View Sample Pages at Amazon.com

Disclosure:  I received a copy of this cookbook and a spare, to giveaway on my blog, from the publishers.  However, I never agree to give anything but an honest review to my readers.  If I don’t like it, or if there are flaws, I tell you about them!

You can click on the photo on the side to go to Amazon to view pages inside the book.

I have been living with this cookbook for a good long while now.  I wanted to make sure the recipes were sound and that they were something my readers would be interested in trying to recreate in their own homes.  As a member of the Slow Food Revolution, I think food you create in your own home is on the top of the priority list, and the recipes you use factors into this importance.  If the recipe is bad, or impossible to follow, the recipe is no good – you will give up in frustration, hop in your car, and head to the nearest fast food place (or call in for delivery).  My goal is to give you good information and help you make a habit of cooking at home – and show to you it isn’t difficult to learn.

My long awaited cookbook conclusion?  I think ya’ll will love this book.  Plus, this is now on my list of gifts to give to friends and family.

Now, I have been cooking since I was teenager (no, I’m not telling you how long that has been, but it’s been a LONG TIME), so cooking and recipes are not something I need basic instructions for when it comes to most dishes.  However, there are things I do not make often enough to be really good at cooking or baking and this is when I need a little more than a lick and a promise when it comes to a recipe.

If you are new to cooking, or even if you have been cooking for years, I think you will like this book.  The recipes are easy to follow and they often include tips which will not talk down to your cooking intellect yet still helping the beginner.  My favorite recipe from desserts is a good example: Shortbread Cookies on page 403.  My mom loves these types of cookies, so I made her a whole tin from this recipe.  I had never made shortbread cookies before, even though I am no cookie n00b.  The tips were helpful and the recipe was delicious!  (Sorry, mom, but you didn’t get the whole batch – you can’t eat just one!)

Now, just to warn you, this is not The Joy of Cooking.  It will not go into every little detail and teach you new and amazing skills.  You will not learn how to butterfly a chicken breast, but you will learn how to roast a whole chicken, or even a leg of lamb…and the whole book probably calls for the same amounts of butter as The Joy of Cooking (Win!).  The chapters are broken down by food types, so you have breakfast items all in one spot and don’t need to hunt through the whole book for what you are looking for, and there is even a grilling and pasta chapter and a rice chapter.  It is not all beginner type food either – there is a Roasted Rack of Lamb with Garlic-Rosemary Sauce recipe on page 214, Herbed Chestnut Stuffing on page 180 and Chicken Etouffee on page 156; along with good beginners recipes like Scrambled Eggs on page 15, Chicken Noodle Soup on page 112 and Sweet Potato Casserole with Marshmallows on page 312.  There is something for everyone, at every stage of their cooking life, in this cookbook.

But, enough about the book, you want the contest details!


This contest ends Friday, September 10th. To qualify, comment below and tell me what your favorite recipe, breakfast, lunch, dinner, snack or dessert, is to prepare.  Additional entries for those who follow me on Twitter, if you have me on RSS feed and/or subscribe to the blog and if you tweet about the giveaway:

I registered for @MelindaHamby’s cookbook giveaway, see details at http://bit.ly/bV2TGP

Leave a comment below for each entry and GOOD LUCK!

Winner will be drawn via random.org and will be announced on Saturday, September 11th on this blog and via Twitter.  Winner will be contact via email (make sure it is correct when you leave a comment!).  If I do not hear from the person by Saturday, September 18th, a new winner will be chosen.  If your email is incorrect, I will leave a message on the blog and on Twitter for you to contact me.  If I have not heard from you by Saturday, September 18th, a new winner will be chosen.

This book is completely free to the winner.  I will never ask for shipping and handling for any item.

Congratulations to Susan Billie Taylor for being my first giveaway winner!!!