RECIPE: 1 Tuscan Chicken Slow Cooker Recipe, 2 Meals!

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As mentioned in previous posts, the slow cooker is an indispensable tool for our busy family. We came across a simple chicken stew dish that we tried last week. As I was packing the left overs, I was feeling bad about throwing away all the luscious juice/sauce that the stew made-after all, we are in a recession! Then I had an idea. Once I took out the left over chicken, I saved all the rest of the "sauce" in a separate container. The next night, I strained it and kicked up the flavor a little more and added pasta and TA DA! Dinner number 2 in a half hour! We will definitely keep this recipe in our weekly repertoire.

Slow Cooker Tuscan Chicken Legs

1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. black pepper
8 chicken legs, separated into thigh and drumsticks, skin removed
2 red onions, sliced
6-8 cloves garlic, halved
1 can (19 oz) chopped tomatoes, with juice
1 can or jar (2 oz) anchovy fillets, drained and minced
3 Tbsp chopped sun-dried tomatoes
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp. each parsley, thyme, basil, oregano
1/3 cup drained capers
2/3 cup pitted Gaeta olives

First mix the flour with the salt and pepper. In batches, dredge the chicken in the flour to coat and put in the slow cooker. Add all other ingredients except capers and olives. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until chicken juices run clear when pierced with a fork. Towards the end of cooking time, add capers and olives and cook on high 10-15 minutes before serving.

Reserve all left over vegetables and juices from the slow cooker and refrigerate until ready to use (do not keep longer than 3 days)

Tuscan Mushroom Pasta

Reserved slow cooker juice from above recipe, strained aggressively through a fine sieve (remnants discarded)
8-10 oz. button mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves crushed garlic
salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. linguine

In a medium sauce pan, heat olive oil and cook garlic until softened and starting to brown. Add the mushrooms and cook until releasing their juices and beginning to brown. Add strained juice and stir. Heat to a simmer. Adjust seasoning. Cook at a medium simmer until contents are reduced by a third and has thickened into a sauce. Meanwhile, cook pasta until al dente. Serve sauce over pasta.

* Note-Though I did not try this, you probably could shred the left over chicken from the legs and thighs and add them into the sauce in the middle of cooking to add a protein to the meal and use up the left over chicken.

WOMANHOOD: What this recession has taught me & my family

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We were at some friends of ours for dinner a few nights ago, and we got to talking about the economic climate and stress levels. It seems everyone I know is worried about doing twice the work with less staff, and many of our friends are out of work. Everyone, including myself, is just more tense and "short fused". But as we continued talking, I was surprised to hear myself saying "You know, maybe we needed this. Maybe many of us needed a reality check." I pondered this and decided to take a tally on this year and what this awful mess of an economy has done to change our family-not just the way we think about things but how we do things-for the better. Believe me, these have been hard lessons to learn. I just hope, as my family has made changes and learned some things, that our government and financial leaders will take stock and learn as well. So far, it doesn't look like it, but time will tell.

1: The difference between need versus want.

This is easier said than done. I usually can convince myself of a purchase if it's a good deal. And I am REALLY good at finding deals-but these days I definitely ask myself (and my daughter) when we see something that is remotely interesting at Target, and even if it's on sale, if we REALLY need it. 9 times out of 10, we don't, and we walk away. These have been great teaching moments for my daughter, which I hope will serve her well when she is all grown up with her own bank account. This has been a nice switch for us-and I think for many people. We have become such a consumable society. And now there is even stuff to help us condense and store stuff so we can BUY MORE STUFF. This climate has given many people, including myself, time to really evaluate, trim down, buy less and purge what we don't need. And lets face it, humans don't need much.

2: Going to the store for "girl's night" with my daughter can be better spent together at home.

My daughter and I typically get a girls night in once a week. All last year, our favorite thing to do was to go to Target, eat in the cafe, get a libation at the in-store Starbuck's, do a little shopping (just cause), go home and watch a movie in bed with her stuffed animals. Though this was fun, it was expensive. And really, when you strip it all away, the funnest part was the "being cozy with stuffed animals watching a movie". So now we make a little mac & cheese and goof off at home. We get more focused time together and we aren't tempted to buy STUFF we don't need. Hurray for mac & cheese!

3: Actually paying attention to my 401K and my investments is a good thing.

This was an expensive lesson to learn. For years, I pretty much took all my 401K statements from all my various jobs and put them in a pile to gather dust, unopened. My husband took the initiative to start looking at our retirement last year and thank GOD he made me move my money last October. I did not lose as much as I could have if I ignored it -but it opened my eyes to the importance of not letting your money just sit there, ignored. So this year my husband and I have been playing a very active role in our finances. We work hard for every dollar we make. Pay attention to your funds. Make them work for you, too. Don't be scared of bad news. Let the bad news put a fire under your ass to turn things around. With all the access to your accounts online, there is no reason to not move things and change things as you see fit for the market and your goals.

4: Appreciating and being thankful for my job.

This one I need to remind myself daily about-because there are days when I am sad and frustrated with it. We let good staff go in spring, and I have to do double the work with a third less staff. Clients are more demanding and less nice because of the same pressures they are under. I know I'm not the only one out there, either, feeling pressure. Many people are working very hard with less resources. SO its tough-whether you have a job or not. But hey, its the much needed paycheck I need to provide for my family. I work with & for kind, talented people. And I get to draw pictures some days and get paid for it, and that's cool!

5: Using leftovers and being creative with meals.

This one my husband is better at than I, but I have had to learn this year. I have had to eat left overs for lunch the next day, and we try and make a menu plan using left overs. For instance, if one night we Barbecue chicken, then we typically will plan a salad with left over chicken chopped up the next night-or chicken tacos. Before, I hated using and eating left overs. I have no idea why. But it is pretty spoiled of me-and this nice dose of reality has forced me to be less of a food snob when it comes to left overs. Waste not-want not; that's the truth.

6: Actually using what's in the freezer and pantry.

Being foodies, we love getting food and freezing things. What happens is that we get a back log of things in the pantry and freezer. In the past, when we menu planned on Sundays, we just planned against recipes we wanted to try or schedule constraints of the week. Now we plan specifically against what is already in the freezer and pantry FIRST before moving to anything new to purchase. We have saved a lot of money this year doing things this way, and I think that this is a great habit to continue doing when we plan the week's meals.

7: Bringing in lunch is healthy and cheap.

Years prior, buying lunch out was fun and exciting. Also, ordering lunch in when we were too busy to run out was also fun and convenient. 30 extra pounds later and $200 a month out-and I am wondering what went wrong! Last December, I made a new year's resolution to change my diet which meant bringing groceries to work and having the right food accessible to me when I needed it. I have saved thousands of dollars and have lost all the weight I gained from eating out. I do feel bad for restaurant owners, I know they are hurting. But until they give healthier, cheaper options, I, for one, am staying in from now on!

8: Finding other places to grocery shop (there actually are!)

This has been a great learning experience. Years prior, I never thought about which store I should go to-I just went to the huge local chain. I never questioned the prices or the quality. But now, the big grocery chains in the Midwest have seriously inflated their prices. They are keeping inventory longer and finding ways to sell old stuff. We have found local, independent stores in the area that have great pricing and wonderful quality. Stores like Valli, Caputo's (technically no relation), Stanley's, A&G (my personal favorite) and Tony's, are all better options. We feel great supporting a local business and typically local growers as well. And the best part-we save on average $50-$80 dollars a grocery trip. No joke. Also, we have found that if we go to a bigger chain, its gonna be Trader Joe's. Trader Joe's pricing is unbeatable for the quality and dinner options they provide for busy families. Do a little searching and see if you, too, can find a local grocery treasure and save money.

9: This year was a reason to give to the poor, clean out the closets as well as check out thrift shopping.

Kind of part of #1, this year has been a great "self evaluate" year for us and for many. We looked around and asked ourselves, "Do we need all this STUFF? I hate this clutter? Why do we need this? Why am I holding on to that?" So I have spent the latter half of this year purging and organizing. I am giving some things to my nieces, some to the poor, and some to sell. I'll save money in tax deductions and make some money on e-bay. Best of all, I am feeling good giving to others and improving the Feng Shui in the house.

Also this year, I am hitting the thrift store first before anywhere else if I am looking for new clothing or accessories. I found my new winter coat, practically brand new, for 15 bucks. Add a 10 dollar dry cleaning bill and I have a designer new coat! Thrift stores are really great. Don't be snobby, scared or grossed out. Everything can be cleaned, and with a lot of patience, you can find great stuff and save thousands of dollars. Plus, many of these stores have a charity affiliation so you are helping others as well as keeping stuff out of landfills. Thrift stores were a college thing for me back in the day, but I have rediscovered them and I am going to keep discovering them! (I picked up a barely worn Michael Kors skirt for $5 just last week! Hip Hip Hooray!)

10: Being more in tune and active with what is going on, politically and otherwise.

In previous years, I always took a laid back interest in politics, economics and the media. I mean-Its just little old me, what impact can I make? The truth is, a lot. The economy makes a direct impact to my life, so this year, I pay attention to lawmakers and financial leaders that are making decisions that are going to impact me. I read and listen to the news every day. It affects our decisions with our finances. And I write letters to my alderman and representatives when there is an issue of importance for us. I feel more a part of my community and an active participant in my future versus previous years. It's a nice change.

11: Being more empowered with my own health care.

I have learned the hard way how to empower myself when it comes to doctors. But as health care costs keep rising, the bills really hits us hard in the pocketbook. We do have health insurance, but they cover less and less and our premiums keep going up. But now, I know to ask about costs of tests, and which lab they send the tests to. A friend of mine who doesn't have health insurance told me that when she told a nurse her situation after getting blood work done, the nurse said she would call around and get the cheapest lab for the tests. They typically send the blood work to a lab that costs $300 (no questions asked), but the nurse found a lab for $150! So why doesn't this doctor send the labs to the $150 one all the time? Your guess is as good as mine. But ask, you may save money! I met with a GI who wanted to get a round of tests done and because I am feeling well enough, I told her I wanted them pushed until the first of the year when we could afford the expenses. Years prior, I would have just gone along with whatever the doctor said to do. Then I would have a slew of bills that would cause all kinds of waves in our finances. When you can control and plan, do. Obviously, if you are seriously ill, don't hesitate to get tests done and get yourself healthy. But if things are routine, ask the questions and push for what's affordable and what's going to work for you.

12: Being more industrious in all things home: Sewing, gardening with splittings and seedlings, freezing homegrown fruit, looking at what you have that you can use before going to the store and buying something.

This year has forced me to be more...scrappy and creative to get what I wanted to get done around our house. For me to do what I wanted with the garden, I grew seedlings. Instead of getting a new chair, I made a fitted slip cover. We use the freezer for saving many fruits, herbs and vegetables. And I try and use what's in the attic or basement to find what I might need before going to the store. For instance, I wanted to organize an area on the counter for all the various paperwork from my daughter's school. I found an old file organizer in the basement that I revived before going to the store. I used old baskets in the attic to help organize my daughter's closet before buying organizers at the store. Being scrappy keeps things out of landfills and is greener overall-and the money you save is great.



It has been a tough year, no doubt. But we are all resilient people. The changes we have had to make have been for the better and I think we will keep doing a lot of this even when things get better. If you have good tips to ease the pressures of the economy, please share!

RECIPE: Lemon Poppyseed Lady Cake

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This cake was in an old Martha Stewart magazine from 2003 featuring lemon recipes. It was shot beautifully, and enticed me to make it for my mother for her birthday. Now, embarking on a "Martha" recipe is brave. Her recipes are usually very time consuming. (I remember doing her Pistachio Charlotte one year and it too all weekend!) I considered doing one short cut for the lemon curd. I have seen lovely, preserved lemon curd at our European market that would have worked. I decided not to because of the amount of left over egg yolks I would have to throw away from the cake batter. If I wasn't being so frugal these days, I would have just bought the lemon curd, dumped the egg yolks and saved quite a few steps. That being said, homemade lemon curd is fresh and delicious, so if you have the time, go for it! I also added vanilla in the seven minute frosting. It was the first time I made this frosting, and it was like whipped heaven. I don't know why it is called "seven minute", it took longer than that. But it had a meringue-marshmallow fluff-like consistency that added to the dreaminess of this cake. It is quite a cake. But my mom is quite a mom and she deserved it!

Lemon Poppy-Seed Lady Cake:

2 sticks butter
PAM cooking spray
3 cups sifted cake flour
1 1/2 Tbsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Tbsp. poppy seeds, plus more for garnish
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
1 cup milk
8 large egg whites, room temp (conserve 6 egg yolks for the lemon curd if making homemade)
Pinch of cream of tartar
1 cup chilled heavy cream
Lemon Curd (recipe below)
Seven-Minute Frosting (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350˚. Spray 2 8x2 round cake pans and line with parchment paper. (I actually had enough to fill one extra round pan lower than the others, so I got one extra "layer" on my cake to make 5 layers) Set aside.

Into a medium bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt twice, set aside. (I did it once, no prob)

In a mixing bowl, beat the butter until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar, beat until fluffy (3 minutes). Beat in vanilla, poppy seeds and lemon zest. Turn mixer to a lower speed and add the flour mixture in two batches, alternating with the milk. Beat until thoroughly combined after each addition. Set aside.

In another mixing bowl, whisk egg whites with cream of tartar on low until foamy. Increase speed to medium-high and gradually add remaining 1/4 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in egg whites to the butter batter, but careful not to over mix.

Divide batter between pans, and bake until golden and a toothpick in the center comes out clean (about 40 minutes). Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. To get the cakes out, I invert the pan with the cooling rack right under it, pull the pan off, peel the parchment, and then flip them right side up using another cooling rack on top of it and flipping it gently.


To make the filling, whip the whipping cream in a chilled bowl until soft peaks form. Fold in lemon curd, cover with plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.


To assemble, use a serrated knife to evenly slice the cakes horizontally in half. If you were able to make a small "5th" layer, that layer will be the same size as the other 4 so that one will not need to be cut. Brush away any crumbs.


Place on layer on a cake plate and spread with roughly 1 cup of chilled lemon filling. Repeat until all layers are filled, finishing with a cake layer on top. Wrap in plastic and CAREFULLY and steadying it with your hands to keep the layers from sliding,  put cake in the refrigerator to set, about 2 hours.

When set, frost with Seven Minute Frosting and garnish with poppy seeds and sugar covered lemon rind curls. Gently place toothpicks in the cake to recover with plastic wrap again until serving time. Toothpicks keep the plastic from ruining the frosting.



Lemon Curd:

6 large egg yolks
3/4 cup sugar
1 Tbsp. finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 stick unsalted butter, cut into pieces

Combine yolks, lemon zest and juice in a medium saucepan. Cook over medium heat stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 8-10 minutes. Pass mixture through a fine mesh sieve into a medium bowl. Add butter pieces, stirring until butter is dissolved. Cover with plastic wrap, pressing it onto the surface so a "skin" doesn't form. Chill until firm, about 1 hour. Use as a great breakfast condiment or on fruit-or in the cake filling above.

Seven-Minute Frosting:

1 3/4 cup sugar
2 Tbsp. light corn syrup
1 tsp. vanilla
6 large egg whites


In a small sauce pan, combine sugar with corn syrup and 1/4 cup water. Place over medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar as dissolved. Raise the heat and bring to a boil, and cook for 5-7 minutes,or until a candy thermometer registers 230˚. Meanwhile, in a mixing bowl, whisk egg whites until soft peaks form, gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 cup sugar and 1 tsp vanilla. Reduce speed to medium low.


When syrup reaches 230˚, carefully pour the syrup into the egg whites in a steady stream. Beat until frosting is cool, thick and glossy (10 minutes). Use immediately.





RECIPE:Garden Tomato Sauce

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Now I know it has gotten chilly in the Midwest-but you still may have a lot of tomatoes you harvested sitting on your windowsill. This is a recipe that uses garden tomatoes in a very light, sweet sauce. 



My recipe uses an old fashioned Italian food mill to puree the tomatoes. You can also use a food processor or blender, then strain it through a fine sieve. I do urge you to get a food mill-it is so much easier to deal with than hauling out the big machinery. I found mine at a thrift store that looked like it was never used.

Ingredients:

28 oz. or so fresh garden tomatoes, roughly chopped (I mix them up-some plum, some bigger ones, some golden yellow ones, whatever the garden wants to provide)
4 cloves garlic total, crushed
1 onion (divided in half and chopped, each half reserved separately)
2 Tbsp. sweet white wine
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil total
1/4 tsp. salt and fresh ground pepper
sugar, 1 lump, optional
1/4 cup fresh chopped basil
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley
grated Parmesan cheese


Phase 1:
Saute 2 cloves chopped garlic and half the chopped onion in a saucepan in 1 Tbsp heated olive oil. Cook until soft. Add chopped tomatoes to the pan, add salt and pepper, and cook for 10 minutes at a simmer. Take off the heat and cool slightly. Run the tomatoes through a food mill over a large bowl. Reserve tomatoes, discard the skin and seeds.

Phase 2:
In the same saucepan, heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. olive oil. Add remaining chopped onion and 2 cloves crushed garlic and saute until softened and beginning to caramelize. Splash 1-2 Tbsp white wine to deglaze the pan. Cook for one more minute. Add pureed tomatoes, salt and pepper. Stir.

 

Add chopped herbs and cook for 10-15 minutes at a simmer. Adjust seasonings and add sugar if you want. Cook an additional 10-15 minutes-or until sauce has thickened and flavors come together. Serve over pasta with Parmesan cheese.


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