The Importance of Noodles

For my son's third birthday I made a lot of food and served 16 people a full meal (including 4 happy kids!)
This doesn't really require a post as I just warmed pre-cooked Italian beef from Sam's, corn and green beans in crockpots to serve.  I forgot the three bags of salad sitting in my fridge (so we're having salad this week!), but I did make some fettucini alfredo in my biggest, 6 qt crockpot.  I literally boiled 2.5 lbs of dry egg noodles and threw them in with jarred alfredo sauce.  It was quite excellent, but I am left faced with a bit of a dilemma...
Because I wasn't sure how far a 5 lb bag of dry noodles would stretch, I purchased them blindly from Sam's along with the #10 cans of veggies and beef.  Needless to say, I only used HALF the bag for 16 people and there were a ton of leftovers.
Now I'm faced with a question - what do I do with 2.5 pounds of dry pasta for a household of only 2.5 people (myself, my fiance, and my son)?
My first idea came from my son - he was disappointed that the sauce wasn't marinara and that there were no meatballs involved with the noodles, so I think I'll make a baked meatball and noodle dish for one meal.
There are always the standard chicken soup recipes to throw them in (I prefer a Thai version with chopped leeks, fish sauce, and cabbage included.)
When I was a kid, we used to get a main meat, a vegetable, and a side of garlic salted, butter noodles. Still sounds delicious to me, but maybe a bit mature for my son.
So as I was racking my brain for noodly options, I decided to hit the 'net to see what billions of people had to say. I pushed aside the 101 versions of tuna casserole and was disappointed to mainly see the ideas I had already come up with; noodles as a side, noodles under saucy meatballs of various types, and noodles in soup.
There was one little thing I hadn't considered...
Noodles as a dessert. There is a Jewish dish called Kugel that combines leftover noodles with sweet ingredients to make a sort of noodly pudding.  As you'll see, the ingredients basically amount to a heavily dairy-based custard.  The version I list below can be found at http://allrecipes.com/recipe/kugel-2/detail.aspx, but I have made a few alterations to it based on the reviewers' suggestions. I also think that instead of serving it as a dessert, I'll see what people think of it for breakfast.
I'm going to give this recipe for a spin and see what comes of it! I'll let you know, fair bloggers!
1 (8 ounce) package large egg noodles
6 tablespoons butter, sliced
6 egg whites
1/2 cup white sugar
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
4 tablespoons sour cream
1 (16 ounce) package cottage cheese, creamed
1 pinch salt
1/2 C. raisins soaked in hot water, drained
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1/4 cup white sugar
1 Tbsp cinnamon
1/3 cup graham cracker crumbs


Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9x13 inch glass baking dish. (One reviewer suggest you cook this in a casserole dish for a thicker sliced end-result.)
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add pasta and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until al dente; drain and stir in 6 tablespoons sliced butter.
In a medium bowl beat egg yolks with sugar and cream cheese; stir into noodles and add sour cream, cottage cheese and salt. (These can be combined in the food processor for a smoother texture.) Beat egg whites until stiff and fold into mixture. Add drained raisins.  Transfer mixture to prepared dish.
In a small bowl combine melted butter, 1/4 cup sugar, cinnamon, and graham cracker crumbs. Sprinkle over noodle mixture.
Bake in preheated oven for 1 hour.
And finally, for those curious - here is the wiki for Kugel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kugel.


Crab Chowder

I promise to never promise that I'll be too busy to post again. Now that I clarified that, here I am posting sooner than I thought I would be!
My goal with this move is to have to pack as few perishables to carry to my new apartment as possible.  One way to do this, of course, is to pitch anything with a questionable expiration date or barely recognizable composition. (Threw away two bunches of celery - shameful! Expect a post in the future about 101 uses for celery. LOL)
Another way to keep the move minimal is to cook using only items in my fridge, freezer, and pantry.  Granted I've had to supplement with an item from the store here or there, but I consider this type of cooking a personal and pleasurable challenge!  There was a time, just after I had my son that I had to make some hard decisions with money - that was my first exposure to pantry cooking.  When my ex and I had two incomes, I did like many American families do and just bought things that looked good as I grocery shopped.  I wasn't too concerned with budget then. My pantry and freezer were pretty well stocked.. Things only got interesting as my budget shrank to less than a quarter of what I had before and I started to whittle away the standards like spaghetti with jarred sauce and stood looking at dried beans, rice, and dwindling meat supplies.  At that time, the experience was not a good one - I could only stow away the panicked feelings by ensuring I always had enough formula, baby food/cereal, and diapers for my little one.  Because we were on WIC at the time, I was getting help with milk, cheese, cereal, beans/peas, and a few other goods.  I had to learn to create with what I had, plus live on a budget of about $15 a week in groceries.  I've since considered creating a cookbook on using state aid items to cook well, but it felt a bit controversial.
I discovered some things about budget cooking.  Soups are incredibly budget friendly, as are casseroles.  I also learned that flexibility in ingredients is key and that a one-time small investment in a fair amount of spices will save you money over time because you can make satisfying meals with cheaper, raw ingredients as opposed to pre-seasoned convenience items.
*Zip* back to the present!  While my family grocery budget is still relatively small, I've become so frugal that I can afford to buy the things we like to eat on a regular basis without having to always dig deep into the pantry to save a few bucks.  Last night I came to a crossroads with my goal to not move much food from place to place.  The contents of my fridge are looking like something a bachelor would defend and my freezer has no convenience foods left save the obligatory chicken nuggets for my picky-to-the-starving-point three year old. We're down to eggs, bread, minimal meat, frozen veggies, beans, remnants of tortilla shells, american cheese slices (not even any shredded cheddar!), milk, water and a slew of condiments. The canned goods are literally down to one jar of lonely spaghetti sauce (no pasta!), a container of bread crumbs, a few cans of tuna, a can of beef and can of chicken broth, some Ramen, and a can of soup that I don't know why I bought because it looks totally unappetizing to me. Oh hey - I do have like 10 packets of instant mashed potatoes, though, for some reason!
My original meal plan last night was tuna burgers. As you can imagine, this consisted of flaked tuna, bread crumbs, an egg and some dill - pan fried and put on some thin buns we had leftover from burger night.  This felt like more work than I wanted to do with no promise of leftovers for lunch, so I went the soup route instead.
One pixie-sized can of condensed cream of potato soup stared at me from the back of the pantry shelf.  I pulled it out and rolled it around in my palm for a few minutes trying to think how I could give it a new life when I came up with the recipe below. (Now if I just would've realized that the expiration date for the imitation crab was May 27 and not June 27 I wouldn't have had to throw this delicious dish out after just a few test bites.  It was wonderful tasting despite the scary expiration and probably would've been fine, but I wasn't taking chances.)
Crab Chowder
1/2 lb imitation crab, broken up into bite sized pieces
2 C. milk
1 can condensed cream of potato soup
1 C. chicken stock
1 1/2 C. frozen corn
1/2 lb frozen diced potatoes (hash browns)
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp of pepper
Combine all ingredients in a pot and bring to a boil, stirring often. Immediately reduce heat and simmer until soup is thick like gravy.  Serve with crackers and pickles on the side for a nice contrast in flavor.
I hope you enjoy this quick, easy meal. Tonight we're having breakfast for dinner to use up some refrigerator biscuits and pre-cooked turkey sausages.  Paired with an egg and cheese omelet, we're in for another great evening!


Summer Fun!

The rest of my weekends in June are booked solid!
I say this with the biggest smile on my face because there is nothing I like more than a gathering of friends and family with plenty of food and ice cold drinks.  This weekend and the last weekend of the month I'll be going with my boyfriend to a couple of his family reunions; next weekend the rocking birthday party of a dear friend of mine.  She has requested dinner and dancing!
Then, there's the wonderful celebration of my baby boy turning three years old!  He achieves this milestone mid-month, but we're celebrating the last Sunday so more family can be present.  I'm sure that will produce a few new recipes for me to share.
As is par for the course, a couple of these gatherings are pot-luck style. I never mind contributing since my main reason for attending is the people.  Plus, I'm a much bigger fan of all the personality shown through food variety, than tepid buffet warmers full of catered food.  Don't get me wrong, I can put a serious hurt on some fried chicken and "muskacholi" as they call it here in the St. Louis area (it's mastacioli - penne noodles with meat sauce), but I'd rather fill my plate with the wonderful add-on dishes each family member or friend brings to beef up the buffet line.  And I can NEVER get enough fresh salad with house dressing on a hot summer day.
Since my blog has sort of become a narrated cookbook, I'm sure you have already guessed that I'm now going to pass on a fabulous recipe of some sort that would be pot-luck appropriate.  Ding ding ding!  You're right!
I'm not even going to TRY to claim this as my own recipe, but I no longer remember where I got it from.  There are many versions of it out on the interwebs. I could never have been so clever as to come up with something like this, but I have changed things just a bit to fit into a busy mom's schedule and budget.  This dish is fresh and delicious, bursting with flavor.  It is a bit high in sodium, but the shredded cabbage mixture cuts that a little and you only have to feel half guilty about seconds with this recipe.  (In fact, at particularly low-attendance barbeques in the past, this has been the main part of my meal next to a bun-less brat.)
I'm taking this on a two hour  trip, so even though I'll probably mix this up the night before, I'll wait to add the noodles just as I'm leaving the house so that they retain a bit of crispness to them, but still get infused with flavor.
And now for the most elegant pot-luck dish of the century...
Ramen Noodle Salad!
Hey...don't be fooled by the $.33 sold-in-a-brick-shape base for this salad. It is truly refreshing and a delight. The coleslaw mix can usually be found alongside the pre-bagged salad.  Still not convinced?  There's no cooking involved...feeling it now, aren't ya?
1 package Beef Ramen Noodles, broken into small pieces
1 bag pre-chopped coleslaw (no dressing!)
1/2 Cup slivered almonds, toasted
1/2 Cup sunflower seeds
3 green onions chopped
Dressing ingredients
1/2 Cup olive oil
Ramen noodle flavor packet
3 Tbsp vinegar (white, rice, or apple cider vinegar are all ok)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp sugar
Directions: Whisk together dressing in the bottom of your container/bowl (whatever you're going to serve out of).  If you're serving soon after making this, go ahead and put all the rest of the ingredients into the bowl also. If you are making this ahead to let the flavors meld, wait to add your Ramen until just a few hours before you serve. I like to just close the lid on my container and shake this up really well, maybe stir it a few times to be sure that the dressing coats everything. Or you can use salad tongs to mix this up. Stir again before serving. Serve chilled!
TIP: Make and bring to the party in an inexpensive plastic-ware dish and dollar-store serving spoon. You won't have to worry about clean up or carrying anything home!  Don't worry, someone will be happy to inherit it or it can be recycled.
So, for now, I wish you all a fun summer in the sun (apply sunscreen!) I'm currently relocating my residence so it may be a bit before I have the energy to post something creative again, but keep an eye out - I'm always trying new recipes and creating some of my own!