Cooking and Other Things I’m Mediocre At Doing

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Okay, I’m only mediocre at one thing, to start off. But the title was too catchy not to use. If you want to me to make up some other things I am mediocre at I can: I am mediocre at cage fighting, bull riding and clipping m children’s toenails. Everything else I’m pretty awesome or pretty awful at.

Here at Shortcut Girl, well, we take shortcuts. So that sometimes means that to get dinner on the table, there’s often more “heating” than there is “cooking.” I lack creativity and planning skills necessary to plan a menu for an entire week and oftentimes when I tell my husband what my planned meal is, I get the, “maybe I better just have a hot dog” kind of look.

I’m a mediocre cook, at best.

And it’s taken me a long time to say this out loud. But I am just not all that interested in being in the kitchen. Now, if I had the biggest, brightest kitchen ever, I might become a Barefoot-Sandra-Lee- Contessa on speed, but until then, it’s just something I do in short, (very short) spurts. You see, Shortcut Girl is a girl who has a sort of project ADD. If it doesn’t happen in about 45 minutes or less, I ain’t doing it. So there.

This has been a struggle for me to admit to myself, I guess, because my Mom is like the best cook ever. She will make tupperwares upon tupperwares of food to give away to neighbors. She cooks for an army no matter what the crowd. She is amazed by my shortcuts sometimes but also emanates the sentiment of, “why not just do it from scratch?”

Because, Mom. Just because.

But, even so, I am here to give good, bad and mediocre cooks like me some good recipes for your summer gatherings. Some I blogged last summer, some are new. But all of the recipes below are crowd tested and approved. So enjoy!

Potato Salad with Capers
Curry Chicken Salad
Bread Dip
Pesto Pasta Salad
Blueberry Dump Cake
Fruit pizza

Firecracker cookies

1 package French vanilla cake mix
1 cup sprinkles, any color
½ Vegetable oil
2 eggs

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 minutes.

Ambrosia salad

1 can of crushed pineapple
1 container mini marshmallows
1 container Cool Whip
1 package pistachio pudding mix

Mix all together. Chill and serve.

Enjoy being the hit of the party– and not mediocre at all!!

Foodie Friday: Shortcut Low Carb Dinner

So I’m not going to bore you with “it’s the New Year and I’m on a diet” type of post that you might just skim through. I’ll be honest. I love food; especially foods offered at holiday time and went off the rails the last two weeks of December. But that’s over now and it’s time to get serious so I don’t get a random person asking me in a hushed voice, “Are you pregnant again?”

A year ago my husband got back some pretty bad cholesterol results saying his triglycerides were through the roof. Soon after, he had his gall bladder out, recovered and we went on a low carb diet together (something we have always done to stay healthy). When he went back to his doctor and got blood work done, his triglycerides were drastically down, so much the doctor could not even believe it. She said he should pretty much always stay on a low carb diet and never let his weight fluctuate too much.

So, we have made a life choice to eat low carb pretty much 70% of the time. Once you make the change, it’s not as sad and terrible as you think. You get used to the low carb options, get ridiculously excited for sugar free Jell-O and just overall eat more vegetables and less sugar and carbs.

This is a challenging way of eating when you have children. Very often we make two dinners because I can’t get Parker to eat an all-vegetable and meat dinner. But, sometimes we have two different dinners and that’s okay. It’s getting easier to resist the temptation of taking a bite out of their grilled cheese or pasta. Especially when I have such yummy options myself.

We just discovered low carb gluten free pasta and love it. It cooks up quick—no boiling needed— and absorbs flavors delectably. Making different stir fry’s with this type of pasta helps us have the low carb dinner without feeling like we were eating like birds. Quite the opposite.

So this week I made sausage, mushroom, spinach and pesto over pasta. Here’s the “recipe” if you could call it that.

  • Sweet sausage not in casings from the butcher
  • Fresh spinach
  • Chopped mushrooms
  • Jarred pesto
  • ¼ cup heavy cream (cream has no carbs while milk has sugar and is full of carbs)
  • Low carb pasta as shown here

Start with cooking the sausage on medium high heat in olive oil until browned. Then add the vegetables until spinach is wilted. Add pesto and cream to make a little sauce. Add the pasta last and stir together until it is heated through.

Even if you eat carbs, this is truly a shortcut dinner worth making. I had it on the table in 20 minutes and was so proud of myself I took a picture. My husband, the usual cook in the house, laughed at me. But then he ate up all that goodness so that there wasn’t even anything for leftovers!

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Eating in the Workweek: Packing Lunch

 

Joseph’s pita and wraps. They’re sooooo good!

Does you have a collection of travel coffee cups on your desk at work? Abandoned and stained by the hot coffee that used to occupy them-perched, just glaring at you from the desk because you forgot(read: ignored because you were too lazy) to bring them home. Those poor cups–all lonely, used and dirty.

How about lunches that you just don’t feel like eating? They just spoil in the fridge while you venture our with your workplace buds for something a little more exciting. Do you end up being the person who left their lunchbox in the fridge and it now has something growing inside of it? Shunned by your co-workers? Made fun of by your cronies?

What? Are you looking at me?

Okay, you caught me.

I don’t know why but packing a lunch every day, remembering to bring it home and then returning to work the next day with the same lunchbox freshly packed just does not happen for me. (Is this really a surprise folks?) I can’t plan that well and hate having leftovers for lunch (I avoid anything too filling because I will turn into a sloth all afternoon).

So, I thought I’d tell you what my workweek lunch grocery list entails. This will only work for people with access to a fridge and microwave at work (and a water cooler!). This assures you for lots of meal combinations (as long as you don’t mind having the same thing everyday— which I don’t).  But you can revise as needed.

  1. Joseph’s pita bread-the low carb kind with flax or Flatout Wraps
  2. A bag of Eggland’s Best hard boiled eggs 2.99 for 6
  3. Mayonnaise (obviously I don’t have to buy this every week)
  4. Annie’s sesame shiitake salad dressing Salad greens- I like Spring mix
  5. Pickling cucumbers
  6. Grape tomatoes
  7. A package of Boca Burger chick’n patties
  8. 1 container hummus
  9. Mio drink flavoring (I like Fruit Punch)

Not that I actually throw all of this back in one week but I have plenty for lunch and for snacking. I cut the cucumbers and tomatoes and eat the with salt. I use the eggs to make egg salad (egg and mayo only) and either have it on the pita bread or on top of a salad.

If I am watching sugar and carbs: no pita, no Boca burger, no tomatoes, no hummus. But everything else stays. I use chocolate dusted almonds and diet soda runs (shout out to my friend Katie here) for “sweets.”

I try to keep my dirty cups to a minimum, bring them home for a washing once in a while and above all, I try to make sure I never end up at work with an empty fridge. Because, no matter what, shortcut girl has gotta eat.

Foodie Friday: Thai Chicken Pizza

This is so easy, it is hurting me to write it all out!!!

1. Buy pizza dough from the grocery store. Roll it out nice and thin and oil it up. The bigger and the thinner it is, the crispier it will be!

2. Get some bottled satay sauce or peanut sauce in the Asian section of the market. Sometimes it needs a little more peanut butter to thicken it.

3. Buy a rotisserie chicken or even grill your own chicken and pull it apart yourself. Toss the chicken in a bowl with the sauce and place it on top of the pizza. Make sure you have enough sauce to keep it a little wet.

4. Use Jalapeno Jack Cheddar on top of the chicken for a little spice. Of course, you could add some crushed red pepper to the satay if you wanted to give it some bite.

5. Bake in a 400-450 degree oven or until crispy. It is so good, you won’t want to share!

I apologize for not having a picture here- but in order to combat my post baby belly, I have been eating low carb. This is a shortcut that I am not a fan of:)

Foodie Friday: You’re such a cheeseball

I created this football shaped cheeseball for a superbowl party. The writing is green food coloring mixed with mayonnaise. We are Eagle fans here at Chez Shortcut Girl.

Ever since I wrote this post, I have been thinking about how many shortcuts I actually glean from from my girlfriends. So today I have for you installment #2 of our “My friends are so awesome they write posts for my blog” series here at Shortcut Girl and I think you will enjoy it. My good friend Arlene passes along her recipe of the best cheeseball you ever did taste. I have made it a couple times myself and it is always a hit. She’s definitely a qualified shortcutter. Have a read. You will love it!

Being my grandmother’s namesake is not a bad thing. However, when that name is Arlene and you can’t find barrettes, pencils, bicycle license plates, etc., with your name on them, you sometimes become bitter about your “old lady” name. As a girl, I wished night after night that I could change my name or that I would develop some cool nickname. Illogically, one of my preferred options was Snowflake. I really, really, really, wanted to change my name to Snowflake. I’m not sure how I thought this would solve the barrette/pencil/bicycle license plate issue, but I knew for certain it was MUCH cooler than Arlene. Fast forward several (*sigh*) Snowflake-free years later, I have an extensive list of nicknames that are both too embarrassing and inappropriate to mention here. Although I made peace with my name several years ago as a tribute to my grandmother, I still love when an opportunity comes along for a new nickname. As of a text I received from my good friend Shortcut Girl at 6:20 this morning requesting this post, I immediately began referring to myself as Shortcut Friend- but you can call me SF for short. (Did you see what I did there?)

I was super-excited when Bridgette asked me if I wanted to contribute to Foodie Friday. I’m pretty sure anyone who knows me would certainly consider me a foodie. I love to cook and am usually pretty successful throwing together dishes that get quickly cleaned out at gatherings and are then requested on later occasions.

So, at her request, here is my contribution to this week’s post: a homemade cheeseball recipe. Yes, you read that right- a homemade cheeseball. This is not an oxymoron and I promise if you give it a try, you’ll be pleasantly surprised.

First of all, is cheeseball one word or two? According to spell check, it’s definitely not one word. But I feel it should be, and so it will be for this post.

Secondly, you might wonder, how is it a “shortcut” to make your own cheeseball when they can be so readily purchased at the grocery store? Well, strictly speaking, it isn’t. But seriously, who’s going to be impressed if you come to a party bearing one of those salty, day-glow orange, paste-like consistency balls covered in chewy, half-stale almond slices? I think this homemade version is a shortcut-esque way to throw together a delicious snack with minimal time and effort that is sure to impress. And, if your mindset is bigger is better (men), you can always make the cheeseball as big as the head of a small child. Any appetizer that big is sure to command attention and comments.

“Wow, what’s that?”

“Oh, I just brought a cheeseball.”

“That whole thing is cheese? Whoa!”

“Yeah, it’s great.”

You get the idea.

Here’s the “original” recipe…a friend’s adaptation of another recipe, then adapted by me, then adapted by Shortcut Girl herself. This recipe is your third cousin once removed, but it’s a freaking delicious one at that.

With the potential of countless simple variations, it can be customized to suit anyone’s particular food mood of the day, or even to fit the occasion (such as adding a few drops of green food coloring for a ghoulish looking treat at Halloween).

The Goods:

  • 16 oz. veggie cream cheese
  • 2 cups shredded pepper jack cheese
  • Minced veggies

(Sorry- I don’t have exact amounts, but probably a couple tablespoons or so of each is a good estimate.)

  • green and red bell peppers
  • onions/scallions
  • carrots
  • celery

Season with 4 to 5 shakes of Worcestershire sauce, and a couple dashes of garlic powder and cayenne pepper

I usually mix all the ingredients together, but reserve about a half cup of the cheese. Form the mixture into a ball and then roll it in the reserved cheese. Refrigerate for a half hour or more. I recommend serving it with a variety of crackers. My personal favorites are in the Pepperidge Farm Quartet that includes wheat, toasted sesame, butter, and water crackers. Mmmmmmm.

And that, my friends, is how to jazz up your standard cheese and crackers hors d’oeuvre with a simple hand-crafted cheeseball.

One Final Tip This cheeseball can be particularly satisfying to have on hand when an emergency snacking situation strikes. For instance, spending a girls’ getaway weekend with college friends in a remote ski cottage off season and unsuccessfully making late night calls to pizza places in hopes of convincing them to deliver outside their standard delivery zones. I remember vividly Shortcut Girl trying to bargain with the delivery guys, possibly offering a little help from Thomas Jefferson to change their mind. They just wouldn’t budge. At least we had the cheeseball, and for that, we are eternally grateful.

-SF

Other Posts like Foodie Friday : Shortcut Appetizers , Shortcut Happy Hour, Homemade Baby Food

Shortcut Girl Loves: The New Price Chopper Limited!!!

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Last night I went to our local market– when I say local, I mean two blocks away. If you are like me and LOVE Trader Joe’s or if you were Central New York born and raised and love Wegmans, then you will sure love this “lite” version of Price Chopper- Golub calls it Price Chopper Limited. Ooooo. How regal.

This is a HUGE step up for the West side of Saratoga (which is where I live– if you saw me, I would be flashing a gang symbol right now). The Price Chopper that used to stand where this building is now located was not-so-affectionately called “Ghetto Chopper.” So, if you have put two and two together, I have just admitted that I actually live in the ghetto. Or used to. Yes, it’s true.

I originally planned to take the kids there on a little field trip but it was raining, so I stopped in on my way home solo (a special treat- shopping by yourself!) to pick up some stuff for dinner. I saw no less than four former students of mine working there and was ever so impressed by the personal service and attention you got at every turn. Workers were going around straightening shelves and offering help finding items- it was like I had been beamed to some New York City fancy schmancy neighborhood for a minute. It feels like a city market- small carts, low shelves, high ceilings. The floors were not your typical grocery-store-tile-white and there were not displays with eye-catching (I’m so distract-able) prices blocking the aisles. It felt quaint, sweet, hometowney. I was in love.

If you are like me (lazy and forgetful- a bad combination), your biggest pet peeve is when you get all the way to the dairy section on your marathon of a shopping trip and realize you forgot something in produce. In Price Chopper Limited, that is no proble20120511-060011.jpgm at all- just take the little hop, skip and jump back over!

My favorite PC Limited feature is the cup holder. Our bigger PC tried this but for Moms it’s annoying, your child can reach the drink and keeps trying to open it. This one, as pictured is featured in the basket, far away from grabby hands.

Now my husband’s worry is that smaller and limited might mean less variety and more expense. I have no idea about prices but I do know for all the basics, they still have their generic Price Chopper brand there for you to buy, so the cheapest item is always available. The variety is typically the more “botique-y” foods- organic, all natural, etc. but I would say some of your run of the mill favorites are always there as well. I would anticipate more sales at PC Limited because they have less room and have to move their inventory in order to keep the space they need. Like, I saw bread for buy one get two free. I also got three pints of grape tomatoes (as seen in the cart) for $5, which, since I have become obsessed with grape tomatoes as of late, this was an amazing deal to me.

And for captital district readers– we’re going to get our Trader Joe’s soon I hear!!! Not local enough, but it’s a stepping stone! And for Saratoga folks, the Vermont version of Whole Foods, Healthy Living Market is coming soon to the old JC Penney’s at the mall.

New grocery stores excite me. Small ones especially. How else can you shortcut a grocery trip and still get all you want?

Happy shopping!

Cheesecake Dip- The Dessert-y Appetizer!

I joke that my husband is Shortcut Boy but he argues that he often does things the long way. However, I have him to thank for this post. His innovation and ability to mimic recipes that he tastes is uncanny. For parties, he always has something up his sleeve that he wants to make and it ALWAYS goes off without a hitch. My mother visited this weekend and kept saying, “You guys, you guys are just so gourmet.” Michael has the ability to make an awesome dish in little or no time and impress the masses. So, thank you Michael for the loads of material you give me for Shortcut Girl. I don’t know what I would do without you!

The place this recipe made its debut was our engagement party in 2007. We did a party at the racetrack and then had everyone back to our house after. I have the best memories of my family circulating the party with the platter and people getting excited over the dish. We have made it dozens of times since and it’s always a hit.

Here’s the situation: You want an awesome dessert for a party and hope to impress everyone with your Betty Crocker prowess. You want something that isn’t too fancy but will be great no matter the crowd: young, old, big, small. What you want is this version of “Dessert Dip.”

It’s easier than easy. Here’s your ingredients.

  • Philadelphia prepared cheesecake filling (not the mix, they sell tubs of actual cheesecake next to the cream cheese)
  • Frozen berries
  • Stacy’s cinnamon and sugar Pita Chips (or make your own pita chips with Joseph’s pitas– sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar) If you couldn’t find these chips then graham crackers or Nilla wafers would definitely work.

You thaw the berries and serve them on top of the cheesecake filling with the chips. Any sweet treat will probably taste good dipped in this and any fruit on top will work as well. Be ready for the compliments and try to figure out a way to make the dish sound a little harder. Maybe berries from the Farmer’s market? Warm the chips? Make Nilla wafer cheesecake sandwiches? Now’s the time for some innovation to show your own ability to shortcut the heck out of something.

Extra Tip:One time I could not find the tub of cheesecake filling and just made a no-bake cheesecake mix instead, it worked just the same.

Enjoy this little slice of short cutting- one yummy cinnamon chip at a time.