Friday, February 29, 2008

Panini Perfect

Fridays in Lent offer a great opportunity to explore meatless cuisine. If you and your family have not yet tried grilled Panini sandwiches, you are in for a treat. A Panini maker is a great investment and offers the opportunity to turn your mother’s grilled cheese sandwich into a culinary adventure. Your family will love it and making these delicious sandwiches on the Panini maker is a fun way to get the kids engaged in the dinner preparation. Challenge yourself to be creative. Certainly, the melted cheddar cheese sandwich is always a winner but consider some fun alternatives. Pair these options with a warm bowl of your favorite tomato soup and you have a delicious dinner that is destined to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. All grilled cheese sandwiches require bread, cheese and heat. The art is in the details. Always start with fresh ingredients and plenty of butter or olive oil for the grilling. We use the Hamilton Beach panini maker pictured. It has been reliable and is reasonably priced.

Here are some fun suggestions to liven up your grilled Panini!

1. Experiment with different breads.

French or Italian,
Whole wheat,

2. Try different cheeses and fillings

Brie with thinly sliced granny smith apples, or Brie with olive tapenade
Cremini mushrooms, pesto and Fontina cheese
Fontina, mozzarella and asiago topped with grated Parmesan and scallions
Sharp cheddar cheese, chopped fresh basil and sliced roasted red bell peppers
Asian Pear and Gouda cheese

Enjoy your Leap year panini Friday.

Menus tomorrow!



Thursday, February 28, 2008

Puppies and Pork chops

My good friend is expecting. In the course of a normal day this would be tremendous news but in this situation it is brilliant. My friend is expecting a litter of Bergamasco do we know?
The confirmation of the blessed event came from an ultrasound. If you do not know what a Bergamasco is check out the picture. They are the perfect family dog and are hypoallergenic. Great news for mothers who are tired of chasing dust bunnies, hair balls and dander. My best wishes for a safe and healthy delivery of these puppies ...I have signed on to be the midwoof, if they arrive on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday. If it is a weeknight, I may have to let nature take its course.
Tonight is our porkchop dinner. The twice baked sweet potatoes are delicious and so easy. Try setting the timer on your oven to start automatically baking the sweet potatoes. You can set the timer before you leave the house and the potatoes will be ready when you arrive home from work or running the kids to after school activities.

In our busy and hectic schedules, pets can provide us with a moment of unanticipated joy and happiness. Although, they often add to our already overburdened schedule of obligations, they do infuse a certain unexpected hilarity into the day and brighten our collective countenance.

Will keep you posted on the Bergamascos...there is a confirmatory xray on Monday...this way we will know how many puppies are coming.



Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Chuckwalla above the Backcounter

I did not make up this story! On a Friday night in August, I returned home after a long week at work with visions of a glass of wine and a simple appetizer dinner dancing in my head. I walked into the kitchen and noticed that the grate on the range hood was fractured and moving. I dismissed it as nothing and briefly thought about replacing it as I rationalized that it was catching a breeze from the air conditioning and creating an irritating flap. Imagine my hysteria when I realized that the grate was not moving randomly but rather with a definite and purposeful rhythm. At that point, all rational thought fled as I froze in fear and contemplation of the possibilities lurking in my range hood. Clearly, there was a living creature in there. Was it a rabid bat? A mouse? An insect? A kangaroo rat? Survival eclipsed fear and I regained conscious control of my extremities. I decided to face the creature and brought a flashlight to bear on my worst nightmare. As the light slowly arced through the cavity behind the grate, I began to make sense of the images imprinting themselves on my disbelieving brain. There was in fact something in the abyss and it was alive. I slowly focused my disbelief on the lazily blinking eye of the reptile. Against all odds, a Chuckwalla had found its way into the confines of my range hood.
Now you might ask, what exactly is a Chuckwalla? Well, it is the second largest lizard in the United States and it lives in the Sonoran Desert. It really looks a lot like a dinosaur, and is so large that it walks like an alligator instead of a lizard. Needless to say….our range hood is history and unfortunately, our Chuckwalla also met an untimely end despite our best efforts to pry him out and return him to the wild. The details will be left to your imagination. So, now I have a hole in the wall above the stove and our family has added another tale to the family lore…the Chuckwalla in the kitchen.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Let's make yogurt!

As promised...let's make yogurt. The ingredients are simple... milk and yogurt to use as a starter. You can use whole milk, 2% or non fat. Whole milk makes creamier yogurt. Start with 1/4 cup of plain yogurt. Here I use Dannon and 1/2 gallon of milk. I have measured out the yogurt into a measuring cup to demonstrate the amount.

Step 1: Measure out 1/4 cup of plain yogurt. Pour 1/2 gallon of milk into a pot. Heat the milk until it froths. Do not let it boil and try not to let it overflow ( a mess!)

Step 2: Let the milk cool down until it is a little warmer than baby bottle temperature

Step 3: Skim the skin off the top of the milk

Step 4: Mix some of the warm milk into 1/4 cup of the plain yogurt and whisk until smooth. This is now your starter.

Step 5: Mix starter into large pot of milk. Mix well

Step 6: Pour into container and cover. The yogurt needs to stay warm. I usually just put it in my oven and it stays warm enough overnight. You can also put it in a warm spot in your kitchen and wrap towels around the container but I don't like the mess on my counter so I put it in my oven mainly to keep it out of the way.

Step 7: Leave overnight. The longer you leave the yogurt out, the more tangy the taste.

Step 8: Pour off excess whey (watery liquid on top of yogurt)

Once you have the perfect taste, refrigerate. If you prefer thicker yogurt you can drain off some of the liquid by straining the yogurt through a coffee filter placed in a colander over a bowl in the refrigerator or through cheese cloth.

Step 8: Enjoy!

We have been making yogurt in our kitchen for more than twenty years. Don't be intimidated by this as yogurt has been made since ancient times and ancient people did not have electric yogurt makers. A great treat served with fresh or dried fruit. This is a very budget friendly endeavor.

Let me know how it goes for you...I look forward to reading your comments.



Monday, February 25, 2008


Yogurt is a perfect food to keep in the refrigerator for snacks, desserts, toppings and dressings. In the United States choices abound and the yogurt flavors available remind me of the Bertie bott's Every Flavor Beans from the Harry Potter series. The truth about yogurt is that the unadulterated plain yogurt flavor is the best flavor. The health benefits of yogurt are amazing and it is possible to substitute yogurt for sour cream as a topping on potatoes, tacos, or soups. My children love to put yogurt on their pilaf. I am linking to a site that has great information about the health benefits of yogurt and I would encourage you to take a look.

As a woman, the most important benefit is the calcium content. The current recommendation for women is to consume 1000-1500 mg of calcium per day. The average American diet contains 500 mg of Calcium. One cup of plain yogurt will provide 400 mg of Calcium. A bargain!

I am easing you into the yogurt idea. Be open minded and get ready...tomorrow we will learn how to make yogurt at home. No yogurt maker needed! I am not kidding ...this is the best kept secret in the kitchen. If I can make yogurt, so can you....



Sunday, February 24, 2008

Blogging Buzz

I am new to the blogging world and am exploring all aspects. I have found an interesting site called Snapbomb. This site is all about blog marketing. I am fascinated by this as it is all new to me. Advertisers post opportunities and bloggers are matched by interest to write about the topic. A first for me. It is exciting to learn new skills and to explore an area that is completely new to me. It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. I have a long way to go to become an expert blogger and I thank you for riding along with me as I learn. Take a look at Snapbomb and see if it interests you.
Let's create a buzz about the Backcounter Buffet! For this I need your help. Send the link to your friends and family and invite them to join us as we explore the heart and soul of the home at the Backcounter Buffet! You can also subscribe to the blog by providing your email!


Sick Day Chicken Soup

Well, I have a sick child today and that calls for every mothers best medicine: Chicken soup. Does chicken soup truly have medicinal qualities or is it a soothing, tasty placebo? Truly a moot point when there is a sick child asking for it!

This calls for an emergency change in my menu plan and I have just the remedy! Hearty Chicken Vegetable soup. Luckily, it is a Sunday and I have time to whip up a pot. I plan to add egg noodles for substance and comfort. So if you have a sick child on your hands, she/he will be begging for this delicious soup. Soup on Sunday is a wonderful way to ensure that you never run out of food when the week gets busy. I look forward to sharing some of the best soups I've found as I browse my favorite cooking sites and cookbooks. Whip up the Lentil soup today and you won't be disappointed. Today is also the day to make the Armenian noodles.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Menu Week 2

It is Saturday again and we have had the chance to get through one week of menus. I greatly appreciate your comments and have had a lot of fun organizing the first week of the Backcounter Buffet.

Here we go with the next week. Get your grocery ads out and let’s aim for a well planned approach to our dinnertime challenges. This week I have added a grocery list to help with your planning. I am sharing with you some recipes that are staples in our home. My husband is of Armenian descent and pilaf is the staff of life in this culture. Save this recipe as pilaf goes with everything and is an inexpensive side dish that can feed a herd of kids! The Baked potato hash is my kids favorite meal. Use the left over flank steak.

Remember, the weekend is the time to cook ahead so that during the week there is little to do. This week, we will use Sunday’s left over flank steak for Monday night and will make our Armenian noodles and soup on the weekend to make the weeknight meal prep much easier.
Make extra flank steak and grilled onions and peppers on Sunday to be used in the Monday meal. The pork chops can be browned in the morning before you go to work and stored in the refrigerator to be baked later.
Bake the sweet potatoes the night before and prepare the stuffing. Stuff and bake right before you serve. I'll remind you each day what needs to be done to keep things rolling along!

Plan well, cook smart, and enjoy!




Grilled Flank Steak

1-2 pound flank steak
3 T Worcestershire sauce
¼ cup soy sauce
¼ cup vegetable oil
3 T vinegar
2 T honey
2 cloves garlic crushed
1 green onion minced
Salt and pepper

Marinate flank steak for 3-4 hours in a ziplock bag in the refrigerator
Grill and slice on the diagonal

Grilled vegetables (zucchini, squash, red yellow and orange bell peppers, onions)

2 cups Uncle Ben’s Rice enriched parboiled rice (Buy at Smart and Final)
1 stick of Butter
4 cups Chicken broth (homemade or canned)
Vermicelli (broken into 1 inch pieces)

Melt butter in saucepan and add vermicelli. Stir until lightly browned. Add rice and brown the rice for 30-60 seconds in the butter. Add chicken broth and bring to a brisk boil. Lower heat to very low and cover. Pilaf will be done in about 20 minutes.

It takes a little practice to judge the time to completion for the pilaf but it is worth it. The rice is key. When we traveled to see relatives this summer I realized that my pilaf needed work. I switched to Uncle Ben’s rice and it made all the difference.


Flank Steak and Baked potato Hash


Armenian noodles

1 package thin or medium egg noodles
1 pound Monterey jack cheese grated
½ stick butter
1 bunch finely chopped parsley (without stems)
Lawry’s salt, pepper

Butter a 9x13 Pyrex dish
Cook noodles in boiling, salted water until tender
Drain noodles and layer half in the Pyrex dish
Mix parsley and jack cheese
Layer cheese mixture on top of noodles and cover with remaining noodles
Dot with butter salt and pepper
Bake at 350 degrees until browned on top usually about 30-35 minutes

This is a delicious casserole that can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for 1-2 days or in the freezer. Serve with a salad and bread and your family is very happy. This is also a great casserole to bring to a potluck.


Lentil soup with saffron yogurt
Green Salad
Crusty French bread

I have substituted chicken stock for the water and mint for the saffron. I know that lentils sound scary but they are delicious and very healthy. My children love this soup. This soup can be made on the weekend or Tuesday evening after dinner. Do not add greens until you are ready to serve. Then heat the soup up and add greens,cook for a minute and serve.


Pork Chops

Peas; Applesauce
Twice baked sweet potatoes

Scrub sweet potatoes well, pierce skin and bake in 400 degree oven until tender (30-45 minutes) Halve potatoes and scoop cooked flesh into a bowl, reserving shells. Mash with whipping cream and butter until smooth, stir in dried cranberries and orange zest to taste. Spoon back into shells and arrange in a shallow buttered pan. Top with chopped pecans; sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake in a 400 degree oven until nuts have browned (about 15 minutes). If I am out of time I just serve baked sweet potatoes with a dollop of butter. These are delicious

Friday (Lenten Friday)

Grilled cheese sandwiches (Panini)
Tomato soup
Carrot sticks and celery sticks


Pasta with Sundried Tomatoes, and artichoke hearts
Parmesan toast
Spinach salad

I prefer using artichoke hearts in olive oil. Make sure that the artichoke hearts are the Cara mia brand.

Grocery list

2 pints whipping cream
Monterey Jack cheese
Feta cheese
Cheddar cheese, muenster cheese or brie (for grilled cheese sandwiches)

Sweet Potatoes
1 bunch Kale or chard
2-3 heads Lettuce
4-6 Red, yellow, green, orange bell peppers
4 Onions
1 Green onion
2 Zucchini
2 Squash
2 Tomatoes
1 bunch Parsley
4-6 Baking potatoes
Fresh rosemary
Fresh basil
Spinach for salad
2 jalapeno chiles
Fresh marjoram (ok to use dried)

Pantry Items
Worcestershire sauce
Soy sauce
Vegetable oil
Olive oil
Lawry’s salt
Dried sage
Parmesan cheese
Dried cranberries
Saffron or mint

Meat and Poultry
1-2 lb flank steak
4-6 Pork Chops

Canned goods
4 cans Chicken stock
1 can Crushed tomatoes
1 jar Applesauce
1 jar Cara mia artichoke hearts
1 jar Sundried tomatoes in oil
1 can diced tomatoes
Favorite tomato soup

Dried Goods
1 bag Lentils
Uncle Ben’s rice
1 box or bag Vermicelli
1 bag medium egg noodles

Frozen Foods
1 bag Peas
1/3 cup Kalamata olives
2-3 loaves Crusty French Bread

Friday, February 22, 2008

Fish Fry

It is a rainy Friday in Lent. Time for the perfect solution to the dinnertime blues! The Knights of Columbus. In Catholic churches all across the United States, this Catholic Men's organization is feeding hordes of hungry churchgoers. Check out your local parish for details and get a scrumptious meal of fish and chips usually with coleslaw, a drink and dessert for a very reasonable price. We went two weeks ago to a parish near us and arrived just in time to see an engine company from the nearby fire station pull in to the church parking lot just in time for dinner. Firemen know where to get the good and reasonable eats. Always a fun time for the kids and a reasonable cost for great food and fun company. Enjoy your evening and your fish and chips. Don't forget another option is the delicious Italian tuna melts on ciabatta bread on the Backcounter Buffet menu .

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Dust never sleeps

I have always been fascinated by the unfathomable: infinity, God’s endless capacity for love and of course; the painting crews on the Golden Gate Bridge. Now don’t get me wrong, pondering infinity is a great contemplative exercise but it contributes nothing toward getting my house clean. My house is my personal Golden Gate Bridge. If rust never sleeps in San Francisco Bay, dust never sleeps in my house. I relate to the painting crews on that bridge. Our work never ends. Maybe if I paint the surfaces in my house International Orange I won’t notice the dust? I think a better idea would be to get a crew. There are 38 full time painters battling the rust on the Golden Gate….surely I deserve at least one full time dust buster?

I think I had better set the kitchen timer. I have found that I can do anything for two minutes. Two minute sprint toward a cleaner house...a great idea but don’t forget: Dust NEVER Sleeps!



Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Backcounter Buffet

So what exactly is the Backcounter Buffet? More than a title for my blog, it is truly a lifestyle. Food is important in our family and healthy meals are the mainstay of our kitchen. However, I am challenged everyday to get the meal to the table and feed my family before 9 p.m. (not kidding). The Backcounter Buffet has evolved over time and has become an essential method for streamlining our weeknight meals. The Backcounter Buffet is the way we serve our meals on weeknights to minimize the mess and the cleanup. It in no way takes away from the quality of the meal or the time we spend together but rather enhances the dinnertime experience for our family by reducing the stress of the meal preparation.

Every kitchen has a backcounter. This is the area on either side of the stove. It is a great spot to set up a buffet and with a little thought your family can move through the buffet line like they do in our kitchen. When my kids are told that we are having a Backcounter Buffet, they know that they need to grab a plate from the cabinet, serve themselves the food that is on the counter or stove, pick up silverware and a napkin from the silverware drawer and prepare a drink from the refrigerator. Everyone is responsible for getting themselves to the table and our precious time is spent giving thanks for our meal and enjoying each others company, great food and the stories from the day. Our meals are streamlined and our time is invested in each other rather than in the set up and tear down required for a true sit down supper.

Our children love the term “Backcounter Buffet” and have thrived with this model. We hope this works for you and look forward to your stories from the “Backcounter”!!!



Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Soul of the Home

The soul of the home emanates from the laughter of the children, the life affirming tinkle of the dog collar and the heartbeat of the routine tasks of daily living. There is definite comfort in the common ritual and rhythm of the seasons, holidays and family traditions. It is often the smallest of things that resonate with our children. The smell of brownies baking, the excitement of choosing the perfect valentines for the class or the chance to blow out the candle on the dinner table are woven into the tapestry of childhood memories. As mothers, we are often looking for the opportunity to make the perfect memory for our children and in the effort to achieve perfection miss the lesson of the ordinary. Our children need our reassurance and love; they do not need a production. Focus on simplicity and remember that the comfort of the evening meal is often one of the most special childhood memories we can make for our children. I still remember the meatloaf dinners lovingly prepared by my mother and to this day I attempt to recreate the same meal for my children using the recipe she graciously passed down. Take a step back and relax. The soul of the home is in your heart and your heart is often in the kitchen. Tonight is the one pot chicken dinner. Let the chicken bake and fill your home with comforting aromas and memories. I hope the weekly menu is working for you and helping to ease your stress.



Monday, February 18, 2008

Musings on Horses

Humans are a lot like horses. Watch horses in the wild or in a paddock. They stand together and closely link their actions to one another. The obvious benefit of this cohesiveness is protection from predators but closer analysis of their behavior has significant pertinence to humans. Horses will stand head to tail. Each horse will allow the other to brush the flies from their face with the other’s tail, a perfect example of cooperation and mutual benefit. They will also vigorously bite and scratch the others wither. Not by accident this is the one area that each horse cannot reach themselves. In our fast paced society and modern lives, we have gained the convenience of technology and the seduction of possessions but have lost the community, solace and protection of the herd. We live our lives in a flurry of activity with little time for the activities that nurture our soul and recharge our energy. Women are especially vulnerable to the toxicity of this isolation. Often, we are disconnected from our roots and we may live a long way from family and friends. Messages from the media are frequently directed to our vulnerabilities. We are challenged to look younger, be perfect and to do it all….alone.

As we look to the horse for inspiration, we should also reflect on the societal structure of ancient peoples and primitive people in today’s world. Survival in these settings is built on the protection of the herd. Women in these societies are supported by multiple generations of women around them as they complete the complex tasks necessary for survival. Child rearing, food preparation and maintenance of the household are all conducted within the context of the extended family and as a result, many of the stresses that we as women in the United States experience are defused and lessened. Maybe it is time to reflect on our isolation and work to build the community we so desperately need to support our daily lives, personal growth, spirituality and happiness. We too need the protection of the herd and must work to create it. Share these thoughts with women who are important to you and we can use our collective energy to improve our lives, lessen our isolation and decrease our stress. I am a horse, wild and free to be myself but secure in the knowledge that I have the safety, serenity and support of my herd.



Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday blues

There is something about Sunday afternoon that speaks to all working people. A blue cloud descends around three o'clock in the afternoon as we contemplate the return to the workday grind. Friday night only reveals the unlimited possibilities of the weekend stretching endlessly ahead while Saturday morning brings a burst of energy and excitement resulting from the release from the routine. Sunday is when the sobering reality of our obligations reaches near crisis.

Fear not...Monday will come and the rhythm of the week will settle in. Enjoy your Sunday night meal and take solace in the fact that this week, things will be different because we are working together to take some of the weariness out of the routine. As I write this, the aroma of my pork tenderloin is filling the house with hope, happiness and food for the heart and soul of my family.

Check out Rachel Ray's site for menu planning....well done and includes grocery lists.

Stay strong...



Saturday, February 16, 2008

Menu Week 1

Planning is the key to survival in a busy family. Homework, school projects, after school activities and work all collide during the crisis hours....the hours after work and before bedtime!Remember, there are only 168 hours each week. Dedicate one of those precious sixty minute intervals to planning for dinner and the rest of the time will be a little less stressful!

How to start!!!
  1. Start with the end in many meals should you plan for? In our family we try to plan for at least 5 meals a week with the understanding that leftovers can usually be found for one meal and we love to have pizza on Friday night.

  2. Use the grocery ads to find bargains in your area. In our city, grocery ads come in the mail on Tuesday or Wednesday and I find lots of inspiration in them to help me plan my meals

  3. Try to make a menu plan that has variety and meets the expectations of your crew. It makes no sense to try out risky new recipes during the busy week. Save those experiments for weekend leisure cooking or vacation days!

  4. Cook at least two meals on the Weekend for use later in the week. Save those meals in the freezer for the evenings when everyone gets home late and you have only minutes to get the food on the table.

  5. Sunday night dinner is a great chance to cook for two meals and save one for later.

  6. Dessert is always optional and not on the plan. We keep fruit and home made/store cookies or brownies on hand.

This Week's Line Up: 2/17- 2/23



with apologies to the recipe...use left over pork tenderloin from Sunday night

  • Green salad


  • One Pan Chicken Dinner

Chicken thighs, carrots, new potatoes onions. Layer vegetables on the bottom of a roasting pan and place rinsed and dried chicken thighs on top. Season with worcestershire, seasoned salt, pepper and basil. Roast at 350 degrees until done



Friday (Fish on Lenten Fridays)

Hope this helps with your week! Let me know how it goes. Links provided for inspiration and guidance!



The Backcounter Buffet is written to help guide you through the week with ideas for feeding your family healthy and budget friendly meals. The Backcounter Buffet is the name our family gives to the weeknight buffet meals that are the mainstay of our family menus. I also hope to share with you the wisdom about life and of being a woman that my time on the planet and work with other women has bestowed upon me.

If the kitchen is the heart of the home, food is the soul. In our two career family of five, we need simple solutions to the daunting task of meal planning and preparation.

The purpose of this blog is to organize the weekly journey and catalogue recipes, ideas and wisdom for other families who hope to use the opportunity of the evening meal to reconnect, slow down and enjoy the blessings of the day.

Thanks for reading and eating with us!



Friday, February 15, 2008