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 few...it 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.