Monday, December 20, 2010

Overnight Coffee Cake

My sister Trish took this pic. Ain't it festive? 
I owe everything about this recipe to my sister Trish.  She found this gem of a Paula Deen recipe and shared it with the rest of my family.  It's gooey, and caramel-y, and gooey, and buttery, and gooey.  Did I mention it's gooey? Seriously, this is the coffee cake to make all other coffee cakes swoon.  It's sort of a cross between cinnamon rolls and monkey bread, and yet it's better than either of those. 

The best part of this recipe is that it is incredibly easy to make.  You assemble the ingredients the night before without breaking a sweat, and let it rise overnight.  The  next morning, you simply stumble out of bed, pour yourself some coffee (Important:  Do NOT skip the coffee step), preheat the oven, and bake the coffee cake. 

I can't rave enough about how this is the perfect balance between decadent treat and amazingly simple.  Your family and friends will assume you slaved over it, but you'll know that it took mere minutes.  That is, of course, until they ask you for the recipe.  But do everyone a favor and share the recipe.  You never know when someone will make this for you out of sheer gratitude. 

I will be serving this on Christmas morning in my house.  It's the perfect holiday splurge.  That's right, I said SPLURGE. Don't think for a minute that this is a "light" recipe.  It's a real, honest-to-goodness, lip-smacking holiday recipe that you pull out for special occasions.  I fully believe that in order to maintain a healthy eating plan, you need to indulge.  It will keep you sane and you'll be glad you did! 

In the words of my sister when she emailed me the pictures, "I want coffee cake." 

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Me, My Blog, and Weight Watchers

If you're a current Weight Watchers member, you already know the "big" news: they unveiled an updated program for weight loss called the Points Plus program.  It's based on the latest science behind weight loss and there are some major changes to the program.  The first thing is that they have changed the way points are calculated.  In keeping with this new method, most foods have increased in points values, except fruits and vegetables: most of those are now 0 points.  Awesome! The daily points target has increased, as have the weekly flex points you get.  In my opinion, the most important change is that Weight Watchers is encouraging members to eat more whole, unprocessed foods, and lean meats (what they are calling "Power Foods") rather than filling our bellies with junk while staying within the points range.  A piece of fruit is a better choice than a 100 calorie snack pack, and now the points values will finally reflect that. 

So...what does that mean for this mom?

A while back, over the summer, I decided that I needed to shake things up regarding my eating plan.  I decided to stop actively tracking my points each day, since I have the system pretty well ingrained into my very being, but instead I would focus on eating an overall healthy plan.  I continue to use points values as a reference for what is a healthy choice or not.  However, I don't track religiously, and I [deep breath] cancelled my Weight Watchers membership. 

That being said, I really don't want to have to learn a new system. I don't want to have to go back to Weight Watchers and pay again to learn a new weight loss system in order to maintain my weight loss.  For that reason, I am going to continue to use the old points system personally.  Should I ever need to lose more than 10-15 pounds again, I will certainly go right back to Weight Watchers and learn the new system.  But for now, the old one works great for me.

So...what does that mean for this blog?

As for the blog, I have decided that I will offer nutritional data on each recipe and let you decide how you use that information.  I will slowly be updating my old posts as well.  I will continue to use this nutritional data to calculate the old points.  Feel free to use the new Points Plus system, or track your calories, or do nothing at all.  Whatever suits you best. 

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Sweet Potato, Corn and Black Bean Hash

I originally tried this recipe last winter and loved it.  It has the perfect balance of the creamy sweetness from the sweet potatoes, and the smoky and spicy adobo sauce, and the tangy zip of lime juice.  It's excellent to feed any vegetarians you might have running around the house.  Or how about instituting one meal a week where you eat a vegetarian meal in order to save on the household grocery budget?  This dish is the perfect one to try and win the family over on that idea. 

I served this on a bed of torn baby spinach leaves, extra lime wedges to squeeze over everything, and a dollop of light sour cream on top.  Fantastic! There's really not much more to say about this, other than that it's delicious and healthy.  Life doesn't get much better than that.  On to the recipe!

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Pumpkin Pasta with Sausage, Spinach, and Sage

I am a Food Network fanatic.  You're not surpised? Huh.  Well, I know all of the stars on a first name basis.  We're all very tight.  Rachael Ray and I especially go a long way back.  Years ago, when I was living in Los Angeles, her show was on during the time that I would make dinner, so Rach and I cooked together.  We'd chop, stir, and saute together.  It was a wonderful friendship.  Although, to be honest, I have not even ONCE managed to make one of her dishes in 30 minutes.  Go figure. 

One of my all-time favorite pasta dishes is her Pasta with Sausage and Wild Mushroom, from her book 365: No Repeats.  (It's a follow-the-recipe-to-the-letter kind of good.)  I usually make it sometime between Thanksgiving and Christmas, sort of as a splurge dish.  It's rich, creamy, and amazing.  So when I saw that my one of my favorite bloggers, Roni Noone, recently posted a lightened up version of the dish on her website, I heard the heavens open up and the angels sing!  OK, maybe not.  But I knew I would be trying it.  

Of course, being true to myself, I fiddled with Roni's recipe, making it a little bit more aligned with Rachael's recipe.  And I added a few things to suit my own taste.  First, I used fresh sage, rather than the ground sage Roni suggested, because the knew how much of a flavor punch it adds.  It's woodsy and earthy and delicious.  However, if you want to make this dish tonight, go right ahead and use dried sage.  No harm done.  Secondly, I added celery.  I wanted to bulk up the veggie content of the dish, and searched my fridge for something mild and unassuming.  Celery jumped right out at me.  It's adds a mild herbal-ness, that almost turns sweet when it's cooked.  It was the perfect addition. 

ABOUT THE GREEK YOGURT:  Instead of the heavy cream that Rachael uses, Roni substituted non-fat greek yogurt.  But alas, I had only plain non-fat yogurt, not greek style, in my fridge.  My version turned out well enough.  However, greek yogurt is thicker than regular yogurt.  I have a hunch that if you use greek yogurt, you might end up with a more velvety, creamy sauce.  It's just a hunch though.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Broccoli Casserole

This dish has replaced the much beloved green bean casserole on my family's holiday table.  It is super easy to prepare, cheesy and gooey to eat, and versatile, in that you can cook it in the oven or the crockpot.  Since the oven at my house is BEYOND tiny, that's an added bonus.  My mom got this recipe from a coworker.  All I can say is: God bless that coworker!

No, it's not very healthy.  But hey, it's the holidays.  I won't apologize for this dish, and neither should you.  It's not something you eat all the time.  But every once in a while, it's a real treat.

This recipe feeds many.  It makes a 13 x 9 pan FULL of goodness, and a little bit goes a long way.  If you feel this is too much, feel free to halve the recipe and make it in an 8 x 8 pan. But in my house, there has to be enough to feed the family, and then supply two households with leftovers.  So we always go with the big pan. 

Enough chit chat, though.  On to the recipe.  It's almost Thanksgiving, and we've got cooking to do!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Thanksgiving Plan (and bonus Sweet Potato Puff recipe)

FYI: This is NOT my table. 
Before I had my son, holidays were a fun time to plan a daring meal and enjoy lots of time in the kitchen with family members.  Now that kids are in the picture, holidays have changed a bit.  I prefer to be in the kitchen less, and spending more time with the kids.  So that means that my menus have had to adapt and change as well. 

This year for Thanksgiving I am focusing on getting as much cooking and prep done ahead of time. Since I have the day before Thanksgiving off from work, I will probably use that day to leisurely do my prepping.  The meal will be simple (for me, that is) but full of the flavors that myself and my family enjoy. 

I'm going to provide links to some recipes (and one actual recipe courtesy of my sister Trish), but I am writing this post more to give you an idea of my plan of attack, rather than my specific recipes.  Every family has their own traditional recipes, and I'm not about to mess with yours! But here's the plan for mine:

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Nigella's Pasta with Spinach and Feta

Confession #1: I have a culinary crush.  Her name is Nigella Lawson. I discovered her cooking shows on the Style network almost a decade ago and I was hooked.  What I love about her is how she unapologetically enjoys food--all aspects of food: the cooking AND the eating.  In fact, she was one of the people who helped me get over my fear of failing in the kitchen...[Insert scratching record noise here.] 

Confession #2:  That's right.  I said it.  I haven't always liked cooking.  In fact, for a long, long time I preferred watching cooking shows instead of actually cooking.  The reason for the disconnect was that I was able to enjoy the cooking process when watching someone else cook, but once I got into the kitchen, I felt paralyzed by the fear that I would mess things up. 

Nigella to the rescue! Through her cooking shows and cookbooks, I discovered the secret:  JUST RELAX.  If I relax in the kitchen and focus on enjoying the food, rather than impending doom and failure, I can be a happy and contented cook.  I learned to focus on what I love about cooking: the textures, the sounds, and the aromas.  Now I allow myself to enjoy every step of the process.  Nigella helped me to figure that out. 

Ten years later, I own every single one of her cookbooks, and read them like bedtime stories.  There's something about the way she writes about food that brings it alive on the page.  I also watch every new cooking show she comes out with. Thanks, Nigella, for helping me to RELAX AND ENJOY THE FOOD!

In honor of her, I'm posting a recipe from her latest book, Kitchen: Recipes From the Heart of the Home, all 487 pages of it.  I got it a couple weeks ago and have already read it cover to cover. One chapter, entitled "Off The Cuff," is dedicated to recipes that can be made with kitchen staples (or Nigella's kitchen staples.)  Since she's British, some of her staples aren't as easily available in the U.S, but I was excited when I saw a recipe for Curly Pasta with Feta, Spinach, and Pine Nuts.  Except for the pine nuts, this recipe was full of things I regularly keep on hand.  I did fiddle with the recipe a bit, but not too much.  This is still a very Nigella recipe.

About the feta: Feta cheese is a greek cheese that is wonderfully sharp and salty.  A little bit goes a long way, and it keeps forever in your refrigerator.  Seriously.  I've never seen feta go bad yet.  I'm sure it does at some point, but in my fridge it keeps fresh for months.  I buy a LARGE tub of it at Costco because it's MUCH more economical to buy it in bulk.  I highly recommend it.  The beauty of feta is that it adds the perfect punch of taste for just a point or two.  I love it.  I add a bit to a salad, in a frittata, on top of pasta.  Anywhere and everywhere.

Enough chat.  On with the recipe! 

Monday, November 8, 2010

Busy Mom's Arsenal: Jambalaya

I was making this "recipe" this summer, and wondered out loud to my Dad if this was a post-worthy dish.  After all, I said, it's pretty much a boxed rice mix that I just jazz up to suit my taste.  Is this really good enough to be posted? I asked.  He reminded me about the purpose of my blog in the first place:  A BUSY MOM COOKS.  He said that this sort of "recipe" is exactly what people are looking for-a way to jazz up quick items to make them seem homemade and delicious. 

As usual, Dad was right.  I want you to have a glimpse of what I cook on a busy night, when I'm in a pinch, and seriously can't fathom another salad for dinner.  What do I do? I reach for a boxed jambalaya mix and jazz it up.  I usually use the brand that's on sale.  Sometimes it's Zatarain's, sometimes it's Aldi's brand.  It just depends.  I usually stock up on 3 or 4 boxes at a time, so that the makings of an easy dinner is always in my cupboard. 

About the veggies: As with all of my recipes, the veggies that I have listed are ones that I had in my fridge at the time I made the dish and photographed it.  Please don't let my list of veggies stop you from using what you have in your fridge.  That's the whole point of easy cooking: use what you have on hand.  I've made this with onions and peppers only.  Sometimes I add zucchini or summer squash.  If I'm in a super pinch for time, I might just roughly chop an onion and then add a bag of frozen veggies.  Or canned.  It's so easy.  What you're looking for is a way to bulk up the recipe, stretch it so that it goes further, and simultaneously add to the nutritional value of the dish for you and your family's sakes. 

About the sausage: I used a chicken andouille sausage called Sausage by Amy.  I get it in a 3-pack at Costco.  I keep the packages in the freezer, pull a package out right before I need it, and pop the sausages (still in the wrappers) in a bowl of cold water, with more cold water running over it.  They defrost in about the time it takes for me to chop the veggies.  If for some reason the sausages are still solid inside, I'll pop them in the microwave quickly to finish the thaw. 

About the picture:  This recipe keeps well for a while and also freezes well.  Do what I did in the picture and store your leftovers in small, one-serving containers.  Keep them in the fridge for a few days and reheat for lunches.  Freeze what you don't eat in a few days. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

2 Recipes in One: Hoisin Burgers and Korean-style Lettuce Cups

I've made this recipe twice now.  It's a hit each time.  The burgers are full of flavor.  Gingery and garlicky and yummilicious.  (Yes, it's a word.  My own special word.)  But the clincher is the "special" ketchup.  It's simply a mixture of hoisin sauce and ketchup.  However, when you combine those two ingredients, you suddenly get an out-of-this-world combination that you can't resist dipping anything in.  Veggies.  Fries.  Your fingers. 

So, let's talk about the star ingredient:  hoisin sauce.  Never heard of it?  That's OK.  Just look in the Asian section of your grocery store.  I guarantee it will be there.  It's basically an Asian barbecue sauce.  A little bit packs a savory yet sweet punch, so you don't need much.  Add it to your stir fry and you'll want to kiss my feet.  Seriously.  In the words of my son's favorite show, Yo Gabba Gabba:  "Try it.  You'll like it." 

I adapted this recipe from a Weight Watcher's cookbook called Now & Later.  I love the concept of cooking something once and eating it twice, in different ways.  Let's face it, I really enjoy cooking in large batches.  But having leftovers that are exactly the same all week gets BORING! These two recipes are anything but boring.  In fact, the burgers themselves are so good, you may have to discipline yourself to save a few to make the next recipe.  But trust me.  Do it.  Save a few.  Make the next recipe.  It's like going to P.F. Chang's and getting the lettuce wraps.  Without the tip. 

So here goes.  Two recipes in one post.  Let me know if you love them as much as my family did.  In fact, I think I might make them again this week.  Hmmmm. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Busy Mom's Journal: Menu Planning

In my house there are three adults and one toddler.  We have sort of a multi-generational arrangement that works quite well for us.  It's my parents, myself and my son.  I am in charge of the food.  Those of you who know me aren't surprised at all by that fact.  I do the grocery shopping, plan the meals, and cook.  It's one way that I can earn my keep and give back to my fantastically generous parents.  So, since I started back to work in August after having the summer off, it's been more and more important for me to have a menu plan for the week.  I'd like to show you what I do.  [Disclaimer: I am NOT a super organized person.  One peek at my bedroom is proof of this fact.  So if I can do this, so can you.]

The Menu
Menu planning is sort of my Friday night ritual.  I think about the week ahead, what we all have planned, and I write out a plan for the meals for the upcoming week.  Here's an example for last week:
  • Saturday: Bubble-up Casserole
  • Sunday: Leftovers
  • Monday: Crockpot Swiss Chicken
  • Tuesday: Leftovers
  • Wednesday:  Apricot Pork Loin
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: Eat out or Order in
When I'm making my meal plan, I try to keep in mind what sorts of protein I have on hand in the freezer, so that I'm not buying things that I already have.  I also don't include side dishes in my menu plans, because...I guess that would feel a bit TOO planned for me.  But you can do whatever makes you happy.

The Shopping
That leads me to the inevitable grocery list.  Once I've figured out the menu for the upcoming week, I make a grocery list.  When you are trying to eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, it's really important to shop each week.  Fresh stuff just doesn't last as long.  I do my best to make a list of everything I need, and stick to the list.  The more impulse buys I make, the less healthy they are and the more expensive. 

I also try and stick to the outside aisles of the grocery store.  I learned in Weight Watchers that when you shop the perimeter of the store and stay away from the middle aisles, you are more likely to fill your cart with healthy food and less likely to fill it with processed junk.  Don't get me wrong, though.  I love me some Golden Grahams, Cocoa Krispies, and ice cream.  But my cart isn't full of these items.  They're just treats.     

The Sales
I check out the grocery circulars every week to see which store has the best sales on what I need and then go to the store with the best deals.  Something that I've learned in my quest to save money is that food goes on sale in cycles.  Things usually go on sale every 3 months or so.  Unfortunately, when it comes to meats, the healthier they are, the more expensive they are.  So, when pork loin was on a crazy sale for $1.49/lb a few weeks ago at my grocery store, I bought a bunch.  My hope was to buy enough so that I wouldn't need any more until the next time it goes on incredible sale.  The same goes with lean ground turkey and beef.  When they're on sale for $1.99/lb or less, I stock up.  This way I am able to feed my family healthy meats at a minimal price.  I don't stock up on a meat unless it's a great sale.  If I run out, I buy small amounts and wait until the next super sale.  

The Bottom Line
Does that sound like a lot of work? It really isn't.  I think it actually saves me time and money because I don't have to agonize each night over what to make for dinner, since it's already planned out.  I also don't make a lot of mid-week trips to the grocery store, since I made a careful list for the weekend shopping.  A few minutes of planning each week are one way that this busy mom is able to work, and still feed my family healthy meals. 

So, now that I've spilled the beans on my strategy for sanity, what's yours? Leave comments.  Discuss. 

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Sloppy Joes (with Attitude)

I've got a bone to pick with Lean Cuisine.  They have an add campaign going on right now, where they talk about food myths and then impress upon us the idea that Lean Cuisine breaks those myths.  That's great.  But one of their most recent food myths is this: "Chopping and peeling can be kind of relaxing at the end of a long day." And then the announcer says, "For who?"  I say: ME!!!! I love to come home after a long day at work, as long as my kid isn't screaming, and spend a few (I repeat, a FEW) minutes chopping and peeling.  It doesn't take thought.  Or skill.  Or much of anything.  Just a cutting board, a knife, and some veggies.  This recipe was created on one of those days where I just wanted to make something simple and do a little bit of chopping therapy.  Some women do "shopping therapy," I prefer "chopping therapy."  

As I was searching in the fridge for something else to jazz up the concoction, I stumbled upon steak sauce.  That's when the true inspiration hit.  Now, steak sauce and sloppy joes might sound like an odd pairing.  Let me explain.  I love to make Rachael Ray's Caution Flag Chili. It gets it's flavor base from steak sauce and it's a huuuge hit every time I make it.  So it only made sense to flavor the sloppy joes similarly. 

And like the chili that went before it, the sloppy joes were out of this world.  Savory.  Deep.  A hint of tang.  Perfect!  I've made the recipe two or three times since, and I make sure to follow my original recipe every time, so as to replicate the tastes exactly.  It's that good.  And if you know me, you know that I only reserve actual recipe following for those super dooper special recipes that are so amazing that I can't imagine doing it any other way.  This is one of those recipes.  

A quick note about veggies: The veggies in this recipe were ones that I had on hand in my fridge that day.  I have made this since with other veggies.  Don't make a special trip to the store for this recipe.  That defeats the purpose.  Just use what you have on hand. 

Monday, July 19, 2010

Julie's Cucumber and Tomato Salad

My sister Julie spent a summer in Slovenia on a missions trip a while back.  While she was there, she was introduced to a wonderful summer dish that her host family made.  It was a simple cucumber, tomato, and corn salad with a vinegary dressing.  The family would eat this vegetarian meal with a large loaf of crusty bread to soak up all the sharp juices.  What a great summertime treat! A little bit like the tuna salad-stuffed tomatoes my mom used to make when I was a kid.  Nothing to cook and delicious.  

So, Julie brought home the idea and has replicated the recipe as best she could.  She leaves out the corn, since it's a little bit higher in starch (and points) and she uses a bottled light balsamic vinaigrette for the dressing.  Whenever I go to her house during the spring and summer, there's usually this salad in the fridge.  

When I made it, I kept forgetting to  buy the balsamic vinaigrette at the store.  So I ended up making my own "dressing" with white wine vinegar and extra virgin olive oil.  It was great.  You can use store-bought vinaigrette to make the recipe even easier, or top with my version.  Also, feel free to add any sort of fresh herb to the salad.  Perhaps basil or flat leaf parsley.  

Friday, July 9, 2010

Baked Chicken Dijon with Swiss Cheese

Growing up, the rule in my house was that you ate everything that was put in front of you.  "I don't like this food," was not an excuse.  Except for one food.  Each of us was allowed to have one food which we said we would never eat.  For Julie, it was eggs.  For Trish, it was tomatoes.  For me, well, I begged for it to be chicken.  My mother said no.  Frankly, she couldn't afford for me to not eat chicken, since it was a staple of our menu and relatively cheap.  

For as long as I can remember, I've had a dicey relationship with chicken.  I am still not wild about chicken on the bone.  Especially dark meat.  Blech.  I like chicken breasts, but the sight of them raw is enough to send me running the other way.  There's something about raw chicken that grosses me out.  But I've resolved to overcome this!  So I bought a cookbook called The Big Book of Chicken. What better way to immerse myself in the world of chicken than with a gigantic cookbook dedicated to the ingredient?

The following recipe was the first on my journey to accept chicken as my culinary friend, and it was a resounding success.  My family raved about it.  And it was amazingly simple to create.  Much to my delight, I didn't have to touch the raw chicken too much.  Bonus!  The creamy sauce is flavorful but subtle, and the Swiss cheese on top is buttery, gooey, and delicious.  

The beauty of this recipe is that the sauce is 0 points, so the only thing that will cost you any points is the cheese.  You can adjust the amount of Swiss cheese to the points you want to spend.  If you're feeling decadent, use the entire 2 cups.  If you're feeling a bit more austere, limit the cheese.  It will still be a glorious dish.  

When I served this dish, I knew that the cheese topping was a bit decadent, so I made some sauteed peppers and onions, and steamed broccoli to go alongside it, instead of a starch.  I spooned a bit of the flavorful saucy-broth from the bottom of the baking dish on top of the veggies to serve it.  Don't waste it.  It's fantastic! 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins

Recently my sister Tricia opened my eyes to the glories of muffin baking.  In her quest to fill her and her son's belly with whole foods, she makes a batch of some sort of whole wheat muffin so that she always has a healthy snack within reach.  

I've got to tell you that there is beauty and serenity in the art of muffin baking.  Sounds crazy, I know.  But consider this:  you don't need any fancy equipment.  Two bowls, a wooden spoon, and an ice cream scoop.  That's as fancy as it gets.  The repetitive but mindless activity of filling each well in the muffin tin with thick, fluffy batter is so gratifying!  I LOVE MAKING MUFFINS!  

Think you're too busy to make muffins?  Not a baker?  I tell you you're too busy NOT to make them!  Why don't you stop for a moment and sample what life might be like if you were June Cleaver? Where else in your hectic life do you get the chance to have a Betty Crocker moment in a Lean Cuisine world?  I'm telling you, freshly baked muffins are the ticket!  Besides, after you've made them, your normal life will be waiting right where you left it, but you'll have fantastic muffins to eat for the next few days.  Bonus!

Before I give you the recipe, I must say a few words about the ingredients.  There are a few specialty items that are needed, but once you have them on-hand, the muffin possibilities are endless!  Simply go to Pinch My Salt and search the recipes there for whole grain muffins.  Make a new batch of muffins each week, trying out different recipes.  You'll already have most of the hard-to-find ingredients. You'll be so glad you did. 
  1. Bananas:  These aren't exactly hard to find, but you do need to understand one important thing:  the blacker the banana, the better the muffin.  Trust me.  You might be scared to let your bananas ripen to the point of blackness, but believe me, once you taste the muffins made from them, you will kiss my feet.  I buy a bag of discounted, over-ripe bananas from my grocery store and I leave them out for a week or two extra, until they are black all over.  If you want to help this process along, pop them in the fridge.  Store unused bananas in the freezer in bags (just the flesh, not the peels). Thaw them in short bursts in the microwave for your baking delight.
  2. White Whole Wheat Flour:  I found this in the baking section of my grocery store.  Hyvee, to be exact.  It is a special type of whole wheat flour that is supposed to be a little bit lighter than regular whole wheat flour.  
  3. Low-Fat Buttermilk:  Did you know that buttermilk is naturally low in fat?  Cool, huh?  I now keep a large container of buttermilk in my fridge and use it as needed, mostly for muffins.  It lasts forever.  My sister uses dried buttermilk, which she found next to the powdered milk in her grocery store.   
  4. Wheat Bran:  I found this in the health food section of Hyvee.  It was approximately $2. 
  5. Flax Seed Meal:  Not called for in this recipe, but used in a lot of other Pinch My Salt muffin recipes.  It is also called ground flax seed and is approximately $2.  Store this in a freezer bag in the freezer, for optimum freshness.
I adapted this recipe from the banana muffin recipe on Pinch My Salt.  My sister suggested that the muffins were too big for a snack, so she recommended dividing the batter to make smaller muffins.  I also increased the quantity of banana, because I like a little more banana punch.  The original recipe calls for pecan meal, which is essentially very finely ground pecans.  Sounds fantastic, but it was so expensive, I decided not to try it.  Instead, I use 1/2 cup of chopped pecans.  Sometimes I just break them up roughly with my hands, or pop them in a bag and give 'em a good whack with something heavy.  This time around I also added some miniature chocolate chips for a chocolate kick.  Feel free to leave them out if you'd like.  Finally, I added some vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg to the batter because I can't fathom a muffin without said ingredients.  If you disagree, leave them out.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ace's Angel Food Dessert

Last summer, my Dad created this dessert.  He's always had a "thing" for pound cake covered in strawberries.   In an effort to lighten that up, he traded the pound cake for angel food cake, added a few bells and whistles, and we've never looked back.  This is our go-to dessert at spring and summer family gatherings.

This post is light on words and heavy on pictures because it was the easiest way to explain how to assemble this recipe.  You'll note some very masculine-looking hands in the photos:  they're my Dad's.  I did a photo shoot with him as the star.  He was in heaven!  In case you were wondering, my Dad's nickname is Ace.  Hence, the title of this recipe.   

Enough chit chat.  On with the recipe...

What you'll need:
  • One 8 oz angel food cake loaf.  (If you can't find a loaf, go with the regular ring-style cake)  Pop the cake in the freezer for at least 12 hours before you are ready to make the dessert.  The cake will be a bit more firm, which will help you slice through the cake more easily.    
  • 3 lbs of strawberries, hulled and sliced into quarters.  Add 1 tablespoon of sugar to the sliced strawberries and stir them up.  This will allow some "juice" to form.  Set the berries aside while you assemble the cake. 
  • Optional:  1 small container of blueberries (sorry, I don't know the size).  These add a bit of color. 
  • Lemon curd.  You'll find this in the jelly aisle of the grocery store.  If you've never tasted lemon curd before, it's a creamy and tart lemon custard.  It's absolutely delicious.  In this particular recipe, it enhances the brightness of the strawberries, rather than tasting overly lemony.  This ingredient is the key to this recipe.  DON'T SKIP IT.  
  • Strawberry preserves.  My Dad prefers Smucker's Simply Fruit.    
  • Cool Whip Light.  For dolloping on top.  
  • An electric knife.  The electric knife will help you cut through the angel food cake without smooshing it.  (That's a technical term.  Smoosh.) If you don't have an electric knife, just go with a very sharp, serrated knife. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Tex-Mex Beef Sammies

Yay! I'm officially back.  The test is done.  I've been celebrating my freedom from studying by trying out some new recipes and revisiting some old ones.  There's tons to post about.  

I'll start with my latest and greatest crock pot discovery:  Tex-Mex Beef Sammies.  This dish is essentially one of the best shredded beef sandwiches I've had: subtly spiced with smokey tex-mex flavors, and topped with an array of fresh garnishes, like guacamole, cheese, and red onion.  Yum!  

What caught my eye about this particular recipe was the use of...wait for it...cocoa powder.  Keep reading now!!  Cocoa powder and/or chocolate is actually an authentically Mexican ingredient.  It adds to the depth of flavor, rather than tasting like meat-flavored hot chocolate.  However, if you have any squeamish family members, I highly recommend that you keep the cocoa powder a secret until you are sure they like the dish.  

I made this recipe for Father's Day.  In fact, I cooked it overnight the night before and kept the crock pot on the warm setting for the rest of the morning.  I figured, what could be better than celebrating the men in my life with a large crock pot full of meat?  To my relief, the family agreed.  This was definitely a winner.  It seemed to suit everyone's taste, since the spice factor is subtle rather than powerful.  If you desire a powerful kick, just chop up a chipotle pepper or two and add to the crock pot before cooking.  It'll be beautiful.  

A note about serving: Make sure you utilize the savory broth (as in beef "au jus") that the meat cooks in when constructing your sandwiches.  In order to do that, I got hoagie rolls from my grocery store's bakery section that could stand up to being dipped into the juices without disintegrating, but weren't so hard that all the meat would gush out the other end of the sandwich with the first bite.  I HIGHLY recommend that you do the same.  Regular hamburger or hot dog rolls will not cut it.  Go for high quality rolls that are slightly chewy on the outside and softer on the inside.  

A final note about points:  I had a bit of trouble calculating the points per serving with my normal on-line points calculator.  When that happens I usually just make an educated guess.  Just know that chuck roast is fattier than leaner cuts (that's why it practically melts in your mouth.)  A 3 oz portion of cooked chuck roast is about 7 points.  Hopefully that will help you gauge your "pointage" for the day.   

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Pesto Chicken Pasta

I'm back.  Sort of...

You may have noticed my absence from the blogosphere lately.  Well, there's a reason.  I've been on a self-imposed blog exile (a blogxile, if you will) while preparing for a teaching certification test I will take mid-June.  I've been studying like crazy, and not doing much cooking.  All my free time has gone to study.  In order to stay focused, I have restricted my blogging so that I don't get caught up in the fun of posting recipes when I should really be studying.  But in a few weeks, I'll be done with the test and I'll be back! 

In the meantime, here's a recipe that I've been holding on to, but can't wait any longer to share... 

I recently got a new cookbook by Robin Miller, who hosts Quick Fix Meals on the Food Network.  In her section about pasta, she talks about how one of her children gets up at the crack of dawn, so that's when you will find her boiling up pasta to use for the week.  "Eureka!" thought I.  The reason why I don't make more pasta throughout the week: the big pot that I don't want to have to clean up mid-week.  But if I were to do it when I had a little bit of extra time, and keep the pasta in the fridge for a few days until I'm ready to use it...well, that's just brilliant.  So that's exactly what I did.  The pasta was made during lunch one day, ahead of time, and waited in the fridge until I was ready to make the dish.

Robin also employs a strategy that says cook it once, use it twice.  For example, if she's making chicken breasts for dinner one day, she will make a double batch and set the extra ones aside to use later on in the week in another recipe.  "Genius!" said I.  So the chicken breasts were extra that I made from a dinner earlier in the week.  I love it when I'm ahead of the game.

When it came down to making the actual dish, the main components were ready and waiting for me.  All I had to do was heat up a few things and assemble it all.  Easy! 

About this dish: 
  • It is delicious hot or cold.  It would make a great pasta salad to take to a picnic (perhaps minus the chicken).   
  • Artichokes would also be an excellent addition to this.  Just chop up a can of drained artichoke hearts (not marinated) and toss them in the pan before the pasta goes in. 
  • Finally, feta cheese was a great addition to the dish when I ate it cold.  It really brightened up all the flavors. 
  • Oh and by the way...don't skip the salt in this recipe.  I tasted the final dish and thought, "Eh.  Not bad."  Then I salted the dish, tasted again, and thought, "Yowsa! That's a great dish!"  OK, perhaps I didn't say yowsa.  But maybe I did think it.  A little.  Don't laugh!   

Friday, April 16, 2010

Busy Mom's Food Find: Jello Mousse Temptations

I'm a huge fan of snacking on sugar free Jello pudding cups.  Yes, I realize they're made of chemicals.  However, I love that they satisfy my chocolate cravings for only 1 point, so I tend to look the other way.  Pudding is a staple in my "arsenal" of food finds.  So when Jello came out with a new product earlier this year, I HAD to try it.  It's a mousse, but it still only has 1 point for each little pre-packaged cup. 

My verdict? FANTASTIC! This mousse feels decadent and light, all at the same time.  My personal favorite is the "Dark Chocolate Decadence" flavor.  The name says it all.  

One little note about sugar free puddings:  all flavors are not created equal.  I have found, during my extensive love affair with these sweet little gelatinous wonders that there is something about the chocolate flavor that hides the chemical taste of the sweeteners better than the vanilla varieties.  At least for my taste buds, the vanilla-based flavors of sugar free puddings taste metallic and fake, where the chocolate-based flavors do not.  For all of you who are strictly against man-made sweeteners, I've probably just reconfirmed all your worst fears and solidified your determination.  For those of you who aren't as worried, stick with the chocolate! You'll thank me for it. 

One final note:  Jello has not paid me to write positive things about their products, or supplied me with free product of any sort. In fact, Jello has no idea who I am. I am writing this post purely on my own volition.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Deconstructed Crockpot Stuffed Cabbage

I'm beginning to notice a trend:  Everything I make, when photographed, looks like a big, red, gloppy mess.  Perhaps I have a taste for such concoctions?  I don't know. 

What I DO know is that this cabbage dish is divine.  It was born from two different recipes.  One gave me the idea of using the flavors of stuffed cabbage, without actually going to the trouble of stuffing the meat in the leaves.  That's EXACTLY how I roll!  Or don't roll.  Get it?!?!  Anyway, I had to try it.  Another recipe suggested better flavors than the first, so I went with that one for taste purposes. 

Cabbage is something I don't cook with much, but it's actually super cheap.  One head of cabbage ended up giving me 8 cups of chopped cabbage.  That's a lot!  Do keep in mind that it cooks down a lot, so what looks like a mountain of cabbage will actually reduce to a very manageable pile after applying a bit of heat. 

My family and I gobbled a whole crockpot of this up in the span of a few nights.  However, the next time I make it I am going to reduce the sugar content by AT LEAST HALF.  If not more.  It was too sweet for my taste.  But even with the extra sweetness, it was still a magical dish. 

NOTE: You may be wondering why I am still putting out crockpot recipes when the weather is decidedly warmer. Here's the deal: I believe that the crockpot is actually a warm weather friend. Aside from browning the meat in the beginning of the recipe, you don't need to slave over a hot stove. And most of the time, the stove-work will be done earlier in the day, when your kitchen is much cooler. I am a HUGE fan of crockpot cooking all year round.

This is the perfect dish to make on a weekend, when you have a little bit of extra time to do some light chopping (nothing too taxing) and to let the crockpot do it's thing.  It keeps well in the fridge and improves with each day it sits.  So feel free to make this on a weekend and serve it during the week, merely reheating what you need.  I served this on top of instant brown rice.  My Dad informed me that egg noodles are the traditionally appropriate side dish to go with such a meal.  I actually thought the rice was perfect, because it soaked up the yummy juices.  Go ahead and serve whatever makes you happy.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Busy Mom's Journal: Kid Food

My Fridays are nothing short of boring.  I don't really have much of a social life.  And honestly, I don't mind it one bit.  On a Friday evening, all I really want to do is play with my kid, put him to bed, and curl up with a book or watch some TV.  So in my quest to shirk all social responsibilities, I've stumbled upon "Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution" on ABC's Friday night line-up.  

This is the basic premise: Jamie Oliver (a cuter-than-cute British chef ) comes to America to tackle the obesity problem in one West Virginia town. His central place of intervention so far: the school cafeterias.  Both he and plenty of health experts believe that the enormous amount of processed food American children eat is leading to a rise in childhood obesity.  Being a teacher myself, I can attest to the fact that school food is some of the most processed stuff around.  Jamie's solution is to introduce the town to the idea of cooking with fresh ingredients.  Real pieces of chicken, instead of chicken nuggets.  Fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of french fries.  

I like that idea.  I think it's noble and good.  But I must say that it hits close to home and pings my "Mommy-Guilt meter".  More importantly, it hits close to my refrigerator.  I'll be the first one to admit that the easiest food to feed my son is full of processed ingredients.  At the end of the day, it's just too easy to heat up a turkey hot dog and some Easy Mac in order to get his dinner on the table fast.  That way he's happy and I can focus on making a healthier dinner for myself. 

What a double standard!  I feed my kid chicken nuggets regularly, but wouldn't make a steady diet of them myself.  In my mind, they're "kid food":  things we eat as children, but try not to eat too much of as adults.  What I feed my son is born out of ease and finding things that a toddler will eat.  [MOMMY-GUILT-INDUCED DISCLAIMER: Before you call Child Services on me, bear in mind that he loves to eat veggies and fruit, so there are plenty of those mixed in.  I also don't feed him very many sweets at all.  Animal crackers and yogurt are about it.  There.  I feel better.]  But even still, he eats plenty of processed food, especially in the protein department. 

So two nights ago in my endeavor to feed more "real" food to my son, he waited (with the aid of a few animal crackers to tide him over) while I made dinner: a healthy frittata made with leftover Easter ham and veggies.  We all sat around the dinner table and ate dinner together.  It was good.   

Can I do that every night?  Sure.  Will I do that every night? Probably not.  But I will definitely keep in mind that I am teaching my son healthy eating habits that will last his whole lifetime.  I will focus on finding easy recipes that both he and I can eat, made from healthy, whole ingredients without too much processing.  That way he can enjoy pure, healthy food and I can eat it too.  I'm not saying goodbye to kid food forever.  No way.  I think moderation is the key. 

So tell me about your family?  What do you feed your kids?  How do you feel about "kid food"?  Leave comments.  Discuss. 

Monday, April 5, 2010

Crockpot Tex-Mex Chicken

This taco changed my life.  OK. Maybe not.  But it was pretty darn awesome.  What it did do was transport me back to a time when I lived in downtown Los Angeles.  There was a lovely little tacqueria next to my apartment building.  On nights when I didn't feel like cooking, I would go downstairs to the lovely hole-in-the-wall establishment and get a chicken combo plate.  The chicken was juicy pieces of shredded chicken in a zesty sauce.  Each plate would come with rice, refried beans, warmed corn tortillas, a lovely chopped mixture of cilantro and green onion, and as many wedges of lime as I desired.  It was a beautiful thing.  I would take the plate back up to my apartment, sit on the floor and build my own soft tacos.  Glorious. 

Recently, I put a call out on Facebook for crockpot chicken recipes, and my friend Meg responded with this one.  She originally got the recipe from a Prevention Slow Cooker cookbook.  I've changed it just a tiny bit because that's what I usually do. 

Let me extol the virtues of this chicken dish by telling you it has many lives:  
  • You can use it as taco meat. 
  • You can make nachos with it.  
  • You can freeze it for use later.  
  • You can make tortilla/taco soup by adding some chicken stock or broth to it. 
  • You can put this over baked potatoes and melt some jack cheese over top. 
This is my kind of recipe.  Lots of options! 

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Simple Entertaining Meal

With Easter just around the corner, I thought I'd share a little bit about what our family will be having for a simple but special meal (emphasis on simple).  Here's a sneak peak.  It's a repeat of a meal my sister Julz made to entertain with awhile back.  Read on...

Recently my sister Julz decided to have a bunch of people over for Sunday lunch after church.  Well, it wasn't just a was actually closer to 20 people.  I know.  I know.  Crazy!  But really, it wasn't.  Somehow she managed to pull off a delicious meal that was easy to make, a cinch to clean up, and all while being 4 months pregnant and having a 9 month old daughter hanging on her hip.  "Is she super woman?" you ask.   No.  But she was smart about her menu.  Here's what she did:

Friday, March 26, 2010

Busy Mom's Arsenal: Country Breakfast

Breakfast for dinner.  Growing up in my house, it was a special treat.  Country breakfast was one of those treats.  Eggs, potatoes and onions.  That's it.  Easy peasy.  What I didn't know until later in life was that country breakfast was a budget stretching meal.  You see, we didn't have much money when I was growing up, so we had to be frugal about our meals.  Country breakfast was cheap.  So my mom, the crafty woman that she is, turned it into a special treat.  Now, when I'm stressed or too tired to think about what to make for dinner, I usually make this dish.  Trust me.  You NEED Country Breakfast in your arsenal for dinner on busy nights. 

But who wants to crack a bunch of eggs at the end of a long day?  I sure don't.  So here's my secret to making this dish even easier and with less points/calories:  Egg Beaters.  Never tried them? You should, my friend.  You'll find them next to the eggs in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.  Here's the one disclaimer:  don't expect the normal richness of an egg.  They are lower in fat, being made of mostly egg whites, so they end up lacking some of the richness that the yolk brings to a traditional egg dish.  But that's quite alright if you are going to put other ingredients in them.  However, if you are craving a fried egg, Egg Beaters will not suffice.  Any other time, though, they are great.  I've made country breakfast with regular eggs and Egg Beaters.  I must say that I prefer the Egg Beaters version, becuase you get more volume for less points.  Try 'em. 

One word about the potatoes.  I usually make country breakfast when there are leftover baked potatoes in the fridge.  I just pop a few extra potatoes in to cook the night before, in the hopes that we'll do country breakfast the next night.  However, if you don't have any cooked potatoes, never fear.  Just nuke them.  Prick them a couple times with a fork and nuke them for 3-5 minutes at a time, until they are tender.  Doesn't take long at all. 

So, let me show you a blueprint of the basic dish.  I made this for two, but you can add more or less.  You can also add whatever you want to it.  It only gets better.  Trust me.   

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Bonus Recipe: Bubble Up Casserole with Leftover Meat Sauce

You may have noticed that I've been absent for the past couple of weeks.  Rest assured, I'm still here!  I've just been SUPER busy studying for an certification exam for my job.  I have been cooking a few things here and there...a girl's gotta eat.  So look forward to some goodies coming soon!  But here's a sort of bonus recipe.  This is to show you one of the ways I use leftovers in my house.   Hopefully it will give you inspiration for your own leftovers. 

A few weekends ago I made a LARGE pot of Slow Simmered Meat Sauce to put over spaghetti noodles.  It was pretty darn good.  But the next day, I didn't want to have the same dinner again.  I knew there were leftover noodles, and I would get to them eventually, but I wanted to make something different with the sauce.   

You see, I have an issue with leftovers.  I can take them to work for lunch.  No problem.  But to eat the same thing for dinner day after day, it just wears on me.  I like to change up my leftovers so that they look different somehow from the original dish.  So what did I do?  I made a Bubble Up Casserole using the leftover meat sauce as the base.  It was great!  Exactly what I was wanting, with very little work involved, other than snipping the biscuits into quarters.  Here's what I did:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Slow Simmered Meat Sauce

The inspiration for this recipe was two fold:  first, I have a brand new set of GORGEOUS Pampered Chef Knives in my kitchen that I was dying to use.  Second, the day before, I had seen this post about spaghetti sauce made in the crockpot with all the spices of Italian sausage, minus the actual sausage.  Intriguing.  

So I found myself at home on Friday with a semi-sick child.  Not so sick that he needed constant tending, but sick enough to stay home.  Around noon, my thoughts wandered to the kitchen and all the lovely food I could chop with my new knives.   I decided to use the recipe I had seen the day before as my inspiration and make a spaghetti sauce that simmered slowly on the stove top all afternoon.  This is how I remember my mom making sauce when I was a child.  She would start it in the early afternoon, and torture us with the lovely smells until dinner time.  

The finished product was excellent.  It really did taste of Italian sausage, even though I'd only used ground turkey.  The kick from the red peppers was perfect.  Just a bit of warmth, not fire.  The chopped vegetables retained some body, which was surprisingly satisfying: sweet carrots, and softened (but not mushy) bell peppers in every bite. 

NOTE: The sauce had a little too much liquid for my taste, so I've changed the final recipe to remedy this.  I also would recommend, for those who aren't worried about watching points, that you use chicken stock instead of broth.  The gelatin in the stock, which comes from simmering the bones, serves as a thickening agent for whatever you are making.  However, that same gelatin adds calories that I wasn't willing to "spend," especially when it comes to an already calorie-laden dish like spaghetti with meat sauce.  

FINAL NOTE: Ground fennel seed is what is supposed to give this dish it's sausage flavor, but I didn't have any, so I substituted some rosemary herb seasoning (a blend) for it.  It ended up still tasting like sausage, but just use what you have in your cabinet (think Italian herbs like oregano, thyme, or basil.)  No need to make a special trip to the store and complicate your life even further.   

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Busy Mom's Journal: Back to Basics

With all the difficulties I've been experiencing, and my admitted tendency toward emotional eating, it's been a tough month to keep on the healthy eating plan.  I'm about 10 pounds away from my goal, but with the internal struggle I'm experiencing, it might as well be 50.  It surely seems like it.  

So I've been trying to go back to the basics of what I've learned from my time with Weight Watchers.  They've got a slogan that says, "Diets don't work.  Weight Watchers does."  Well, what ABOUT it works?  Here are the healthy eating gems that I've learned.  They are applicable to everyone, no matter what your plan for health.  It helps me to be reminded of these basics.  Sometimes I complicate things in my mind, so outlining the simple things makes life look a little bit easier, and my goal seem a little bit more attainable.

The Basics
  1. Write down what you eat.  Every bite.  I know. I know. That sounds tedious, but it's crucial for me.  I am very good at mindlessly putting food in my mouth, without thinking about it.  If I know that I have to write down that little bite of my son's hot dog, and count the points (i.e. calories) for it, I will be less likely to take that bite.  It makes me conscious of what I'm eating.
  2. Eat your fruits and vegetables.  Simple, I know.  But true.  Fruits and veggies are full of nutrients and are just plain good for your body.  I try and add a veggie or fruit into every meal, as a snack, and always sneak extra veggies into recipes.  The best thing about fruits and veggies for me:  THEY KEEP YOU FEELING FULLER, LONGER.  That's key for me.     
  3. Plan ahead.  I've had people comment about how big my lunch bag is.  There's a reason for that.  I always bring more food to work than I will probably eat.  My bag keeps everything cold, and what doesn't get eaten goes back into the fridge for the next day's lunch.  I plan ahead for all of my meals and snacks, so that I don't get caught off guard.  I've even started planning my dinner menus ahead of time.  That way there is no standing in front of an open refrigerator door, staring blankly, wondering what I will scrounge up for dinner.   All this planning makes my life simpler to execute.  Less last minute decision making.   
  4. This one is the most important for me right now: One poor food choice is just that- one choice.  It doesn't mean that there has to be a second.  Take last Wednesday, for example.  I had a cookie.  Not the end of the world.  It was a fabulous cookie.  White chocolate macadamia nut.  Really good.  Not a big deal, you say?  True.  But I had already had Burger King for lunch, so there were no points left for the cookie, and I didn't want to dip into what I call my "weekend" extra points.  In the past, I would have said, "Oh well.  I blew it with the cookie, so I might as well blow it for dinner too.  I'll start fresh tomorrow."  Instead, I've learned that it's better to just let the one poor choice be just that- one choice.  I don't need to follow the one cookie with another, and another.  I can pick up right where I left off, dust myself off, and get back to the plan.  No need to beat myself up.  Just get back to the plan. 
  5. Indulge, but plan for it.  I really don't do well depriving myself of the things I love the most.   Like chocolate.  What I try and do is make sure that I plan for my indulgences.  Any healthy eating plan worth its salt will allow you to have a bank of extra points or calories during the week to spend however you see fit.  This is where I treat myself to good things.  I don't go wild and crazy.  There's still a limit.  But nothing is forbidden.  Trust me, if it's forbidden then I want it all the more. 
So that's my list of basics that have gotten me through the first 40 lbs.  I know they can take me through the next 10, and help me to keep it all off long term. 

So what about you?  What are your basics?  What have you learned that you never want to forget?  Comment.  Discuss. 

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chipotle Barbecue Pulled Pork

This recipe is BEYOND easy.  It's ridiculously easy.  Just throw everything in the crockpot in the morning.  Turn it on.  Dinner's done.  'Nuff said.  The meat is flavorful: barbecue sweetness with a kick of peppers to spice it up.  Delicious. 

This was a team effort between my mother and mother and me...whatever.  I overslept on the morning I was supposed to put this in the crockpot, so I asked her to do it instead.  The meat was straight out of the freezer.  Frozen hard as a rock.  By the end of the day, it was gorgeous. 

About the meat:  Pork tenderloin.  This is an incredibly versatile, low-fat cut of meat.  Therefore, you get more meat per point.  To me, more is more.  Not the opposite.  I usually get my tenderloins at Costco.  They come packaged in 2 lb packs, I think.  Don't quote me on the size.  Just wing it.  They freeze easily and can be cooked in a crockpot from the frozen state.  Beautiful.  Brings tears to my eyes. 

About the chipotles:  If you've never ventured into the Hispanic or Mexican foods aisle of your grocery store, please do.  Great and wonderful things await you there.  One of those gems is chipotles in adobo.  Basically they are roasted jalapeno peppers, packed in a vinegary tomato sauce called adobo. They are glorious, but very spicy.  A little goes a long way.  

Which brings about the question...once you've opened a can, what do you do with the leftovers?  If you're anything like me, they usually end up as one of the UFOs (Unidentified Fuzzy Objects) in the back of your refrigerator.  So here's the plan to be less wasteful.  I do the same thing for my tomato paste, as well: 

Once you open up a can of chipotles, use what you need, and then freeze the remainder in a freezer bag (labeled, of course, or it will just end up as another UFO:  Unidentified FROZEN Object!)  Then, when you need more chipotles pull the frozen block 'o chilies out of the freezer and cut off a chunk to use.  No need to defrost.  Just add the frozen hunk right into your pan.  The heat of your cooking vessel will defrost them.  It's a lovely plan.  Just lovely.  Brings order to the universe.  

Enough talk.  On with the meat!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Southwest Ranch Turkey Burgers

Both of my sisters have their own "original" takes on turkey burgers.  My sister Trish makes them Southwest-style.  She got the recipe from Rachael Ray.  Well...not literally, get what I'm saying.   I request them every time I visit her in Atlanta.  My sister Julz makes turkey burgers with a packet of ranch dressing or onion soup mix in them.  It's amazing how much flavor you get from one little packet of spices.  This recipe is my attempt at melding the two ideas together into one glorious burger.  The results were pretty darn good. 

NOTE:  If you are watching your points, be sure and check your package of turkey.  Not all ground turkey is created equal.  Make sure it is lean.  Turkey, just like beef, is often mixed with a little bit of fat or dark meat to add flavor.  I look for 93% lean ground turkey breast.  

ANOTHER NOTE:  Check the package to make sure you have 16 ounces of meat.  For some reason, it is pretty common for ground turkey to be packaged in sizes larger than a standard pound.  If you happen to get one of the larger sized packages, divide the meat into 5 burgers instead of 4.  You want your burgers to be 4 ounces each. 

Enough talk.  Now to the burgers!!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Busy Mom's Journal: Emotional Eating

The past few weeks have been very difficult for me regarding my quest for healthy eating.  I've had two tragic deaths in the family within one week.  For this reason, I've been reaching for comfort food. 

In my head I know that food will not fix grief.  But there's a primitive part of me that seems to take over and says that a trip to Burger King will certainly make the pain a little bit easier to take.  Like the way a good buzz from a few glasses of wine dulls the senses and deadens the painful stab in your heart.  At least for the moment.

After losing almost 40 pounds over the past year, I've wrestled with my tendency to turn to food during difficult times.  I've had to continually establish new boundaries around what is healthy for me regarding food and what is not.  I am more aware of when I am looking to food to fill a hole that it can't and I am more adept at finding new ways of filling those holes. 

Disclaimer:  I do not now, nor will I ever, subscribe to the school of thought that says you should eat to live, rather than live to eat.  I am and always will be a "foodie":  someone who loves all things related to food.  I love, love, love the Food Network.  It's my number one channel.  I read cookbooks before bedtime, just to get inspired.  I enjoy the sights, smells, and textures of planning, preparing, and eating a home-cooked meal.  These things will always be a large part of who I am as a person.

However, I am still learning to shape a more healthy relationship with food.  Getting lost in all of the above mentioned activities will not bring fulfillment to my life, or fix my problems.  It will not bring peace to my heart. And it certainly won't take away any pain.  When these activities move beyond the realm of hobby or interest and into the territory of something that I find myself clinging to for survival, then I've crossed the line into an unhealthy food relationship.    

The past few weeks have shown me that I'm still learning, one step at a time. 

Tell me about your relationship with food.  Healthy?  Not?  Or somewhere in between? Leave comments.  Discuss.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Mexican Chicken Lasagna

Before we start:  Please don't judge this book by it's cover.  This casserole may not win any casserole beauty pageants, but didn't your mother ever tell you that looks are deceiving? 

I'll admit it.  I was skeptical when I first saw this recipe.  A casserole cooked in the microwave?  Impossible!  Surely the finished product must come out mushy or hard as a rock.  Keep reading...

I recently went to a Pampered Chef cooking show and the consultant said that she regularly uses her stoneware in the microwave.  Now, having been a PC consultant myself at one time, I knew that stoneware is microwave safe, but I really only thought it applied to reheating things.  Not cooking from scratch.  Boy was I wrong!  I was pleasantly surprised with how this turned out, and after only 15 minutes of cooking in the microwave. 

My sister Julz was with me while I made this...she watched the kiddos while I assembled dinner.  Perfect partnership!  Here's what she had to say about the finished product:

I thought it was like getting a healthier version of restaurant style dish at home.  If we had a side of refried beans and fresh salsa, I would have been in heaven.  Mexican heaven.  Except Mexican Heaven has a quite a bit more gas!
Leave it to Julz to tell it like it is!  Anyway, I need to explain a bit about the cooking vessel:  it is the Pampered Chef Deep  Covered Baker.  See how pretty and shiny it is?

If you don't have one of these, try any microwave-safe stoneware baking dish.  (Perhaps an 8 x 8 or a 9 x 13.)  What? No stoneware? Don't worry!  Just use any 8 x 8 or 9 x 13 baking dish you have.  However, if you are making this in a regular pan, I would skip the microwave altogether.  To be on the safe side, I would just pop it in the oven at 350 until it is hot and bubbly all the way through.  But that's just my opinion.  Feel free to walk on the wild side, if you wish. 

Another thing:  since this is a lasagna, it takes a little time to prep and put together. It took me about 35 minutes from start to finish to chop everything and put it all together.  When I do it again, I will probably put it together on a Saturday or Sunday and keep it in the fridge until later in the week when I decide to bake it.  The prep is a tad bit too involved for me to put together for a weeknight meal.  But it's definitely worth doing ahead of time.  Note:  if you are going to refrigerate it, expect to add extra time to the cooking.  Or, better yet, pull it out of the fridge a few hours early to let it all come to room temp. 

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Basic Flatout Pizzas

This is my simple blueprint for low points pizza.  It makes a great go-to meal when I don't want to bother with dinner, but I still want something that tastes like I went to some trouble.   I frequently make these while my little one is eating his dinner.  In the amount of time it takes for the oven to preheat, I can have two or three of these constructed.  One pizza is plenty for me.  With the addition of a nice green salad, and it makes a great meal. 

Here's another secret about this's perfect when you need to make a small amount of protein stretch to feed two or three people.  In this instance, I had one chicken breast, and I wanted to make it stretch to feed two people.  Really, it could have stretched to feed three and no one would have felt protein-deprived.  It's a great way to fool people who feel they need large amounts of protein to be satisfied, i.e. men.  

First, a word about the "crust" of the pizza:  behold, the Flatout Wrap.  They come in variety of flavors, but I usually get a 3-pack of the Multi-Grain kind at Costco.  I store the extra 2 packs of wraps that I'm not using in the freezer.  Each wrap is 1 point.  When you pair them with big flavors, they are pretty darn good. However, I don't recommend you eat them all by their lonesomes.  You might be a bit disappointed. 

NOTE:  I also use these to make mock-quesedillas, since they are so low in points.  Perhaps I'll post that blueprint one day.  So many recipes to post, so little time.