Tuesday, September 20, 2011

My little bunnies

Sometimes I want to pull my hair out because my children refuse to eat most cooked vegetables.  Bailey will eat cooked corn, peas, and broccoli.  Bryce will literally gag on any and all cooked veggies.  I make him try, and then instantly regret it as he dry heaves on one bite of mushy zuchinni.  Can we say texture issues?

On the flip side, they do seem to be liking their veggies cold, crunchy, and served as an appetizer!  The two biggest hits are peppers and carrots.  I've discovered that they love raw, unpeeled carrots.  This particular night they ate 4 whole carrots each.  It's the small victories.  Odd little bunnies...

Crock Pot Stew

Delicious, simple, cooked-ahead-of-time recipe number 2!

Crock Pot Stew

The awesome part of this recipe was that it took me about 10 minutes to prepare on Saturday night, and it was ready to eat on Monday night with the flip of a switch!  Perfect for the working mom!

I began with frozen venison round steak.  You could also use a beef roast or beef stew meat instead.  However, I love venison in the crock pot because, rather than getting tough with overcooking as can happen with beef, venison just gets more tender and starts to fall apart.  Venison can be a tasty, healthy, and very natural meat if it is butchered and cooked correctly.  Anyhow....

I sprayed my crock pot with cooking spray and put the frozen meat at the bottom.  I then washed and sliced about at dozen small potatoes (from the bucket), no peeling required!  In addition I added (all from the bucket), sliced celery, onions, purple carrots, tomato chunks, and fresh sage.  I sprinkled in some Penzey's dehydrated garlic, salt, and ground black pepper.  I put the cover on, and put the crock pot into the fridge until Monday morning.  On Monday morning at 7:00, right before leaving for work, I turned the crock pot on low.

I got home around 5:00 to a delicious smelling house and dinner, ready to go.  I whipped up a jiffy mix of cornbread mini-muffins (which I topped with a dollop of real maple syrup before baking- yum!) and dinner was on the table before 6:00.  Super simple, easy, and full of veggies!

Garlic Tomato-Cream Spaghetti

I finally had a chance this weekend to tinker in the kitchen.  September is an INSANE month for me as a teacher, so with 50+ hours a week at school, cooking has been "on the back burner" so to speak.  There's a whole new challenge to getting home at quarter to five each night with two hungry, cranky kids.  Not a lot of time for experimentation or fussy recipes.

I had the bright idea to do some cooking ahead of time this weekend, and successfully created 2 newly tweaked classics.

Garlic Tomato-Cream Spaghetti

Vampires beware...

I started by putting 3 garlic cloves in the magic bullet and pureeing it into a paste.

Then, I began my traditional cream sauce- equal parts Earth Balance and Wondra Flour.  I added the pureed garlic into the flour/butter paste.  I then added roughly a cup of organic half and half and stirred until thick.

In the magic bullet, I added a variety of tomatoes.  I had so many tomatoes from my own plant as well as from the bucket these past two weeks.  I tossed all kinds-from grape, to roma, to cherry- into the magic bullet and pureed into liquid.  I don't know how many tomatoes I used, but I filled the large cup on the magic bullet twice.  I also added a few fresh basil leaves in with the tomatoes.

I stirred the liquified tomatoes into the thick cream sauce, brought it to a boil, and turned off the burner.

Here is the magic part------I did this on Saturday night.  I tasted it that night and it was so-so.  I left it to "brew" in the cast iron pan in the fridge until Tuesday at dinner time.  I simply warmed it up and served it over whole-wheat thin spaghetti noodles.  48 hours of fridge time changed it from so-so to so delicious!

In addition, I broiled up some chicken breasts with garlic salt and Penzey's Bicentennial Rub.  I scored the chicken at the co-op today.  It was fresh from a local farm and packaged just yesterday.  Fresh and delicious.  Once you go organic chicken, you can't go back.  It's a whole new level of chicken- juicy, tender, and so flavorful.  Add a side of steamed spinach and it was a perfect meal in about 25 minutes!

Bryce even ate the spaghetti, and he usually claims to like his pasta plain.  He complained for a minute, then cleaned his plate.  He gets a hefty serving of tomatoes, and I avoid another night of begging for "garlic noodles."  Win.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Possibly the Best Zuchini Ever and Croque Monsieur Light

Simple, easy, and oh, so tasty!

Best Zucchini Ever:

Make an aluminum foil packet with sliced zucchini, sliced tomatoes, sliced onions, and a pat of earth balance spread.  Cover with a generous sprinkling of Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle.

Place the pack on the grill and cook until the vegetables become soft and are beginning to brown.  For the last 5 minutes, top with a thick layer of Gruyere cheese.  Cook until melted.  Enjoy!  Best thing- nothing to clean up after!

I served this with grilled chicken breasts and pasta with marinara sauce.

Um, so what is Gruyere cheese?

Last week, we went out to eat and I chose a sandwich on the menu called a "Croque Monsieur."  If you ever have a chance, order one.  It's very cheesy, creamy, and tasty.  I wanted to recreate it at home, but with less calories and cream, so this is the Croque Monsieur Light:
  • one large french baguette, sliced lengthwise
  • one package of black forest ham (I like the Applegate Farms uncured ham)
  • about a cup of shredded Gruyere cheese
  • Earth Balance spread
I began by preheating the oven to 400 degrees.  I sliced the baguette lengthwise and laid it open faced on a cookie sheet.  I spread a thin layer of Earth Balance on top, then placed the bread in the oven for about 5 minutes until it was toasty.  I placed the ham slices on top of the bread, topped it with a layer of shredded Gruyere, and put it back into oven for a few minutes until the cheese began to melt.  I finished it off in the broiler for about a minute until the cheese began to bubble.

The kids ate and ate and ate.  I served it with chicken veggie soup (recipe to come), and apple-cherry sauce.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Baking? Who, me?

I'm not much of a baker.  I love baked goods, but don't get a lot of pleasure from baking for myself.  As I've mentioned, I don't really enjoy following recipes because it doesn't feel "creative" enough for me. 

But...I will admit that I have a teensy-weensy bit of the baking bug this summer.  Mainly it's out of necessity as it's difficult to find store-bought baked goods that don't have mile long, unpronounceable ingredient lists, and trans fats.

I have gotten better at adapting and changing recipes a wee bit to make them a little heartier and healthier.  Here are a few baking highlights that I wanted to share!

Chocolate-Chip Raspberry Muffins

I followed this basic muffin recipe:

But used 1 cup of whole wheat flour and one cup of white flour, a cup of fresh from the bucket raspberries, a handful of chocolate chips (gotta trick Bryce into eating them somehow!), and about 1/4 cup of ground flax seed.  The result?  Yum.  I can't wait to see if Bryce will actually eat them tomorrow morning!

Whole Wheat Pizza Crust

Basic recipe:

I substituted the white flour with all whole wheat flour.  I topped the pizza with a variety of fresh bucket veggies and three cheeses- fresh sliced mozzarella, crumbled feta, and fresh Parmesan.  The secret to a good pizza is fresh mozzarella- the slimy, wet looking stuff that comes in a ball.  Oh, and fresh basil!

I forgot to snap a picture before we demolished most of the pizza!

Strawberry-Raspberry Pie

Shhh...I cheated on this one by buying a Pillsbury pie crust and adapting a basic pie recipe I found online. 

The filling was quite simple, 
  • 4 1/2 cups of fresh berries.  I used a mix of strawberries and raspberries (from the bucket!).  But, I'm sure it would be good with some blueberries or blackberries, too!
  • 1/2 cup of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons of Penzey's Arrowroot Starch
Toss these ingredients into a large bowl until the berries are coated in the sugar starch mix.  Put the filling into the crust.  Cover the edges with aluminum foil and bake at 375 for 25 minutes.  Remove the foil and bake for another 25-30 minutes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Sausage Infused Egg Sandwiches

Last weekend I wanted to make breakfast for the family.  I'm always trying to figure out ways to get the kids to eat eggs.  This was my latest attempt!

Sausage Infused Egg Sandwiches:

I started by frying up ground pork breakfast sausage (I used the Seeds and Spores kind).  I added chopped kale, mushrooms, and onion to the sausage (all from the bucket).  I would've added more vegetables if I'd had more, but I was getting low!  This recipe would be even better with peppers, zucchini, tomatoes, etc added in!

In a separate bowl, I scrambled together 3 farm fresh eggs.  When the meat was fully cooked, I put a few spoonfuls of it into the eggs and added salt and pepper.  This mixture went into the magic bullet until the sausage was very finely chopped into the eggs. 

This is the fun part!

First, I got a small frying pan very hot and coated it with cooking spray.  As a mold, I used an all metal cookie cutter, sprayed with cooking spray.  I would've used a round one, but all I had was a gingerbread man-lol.   I poured the egg mixture into the cookie cutter and waited for it to form and egg patty.

Gingerbread egg boy- ha ha

I flipped it over halfway through to cook both sides.  The end result was a roundish, but not gingerbread shaped egg patty.

I served the egg patties on a toasted whole-grain bagel and topped with a slice of cheddar.  We served our breakfast sandwiches with fresh blueberries, raspberries, cherries, and watermelon from the farmer's market.  Not bad for a crazy experiment.

Lasagna a la Bucket

Sorry, it's been a long time since I posted a recipe!  I'll try to play catch-up this week.  Life's been a bit crazy, but we enjoyed a fantastic weekend as a family, renting out a cabin in the middle of nowhere!  Anyhow, here's tonight's dinner, Lasagna a la bucket!

Lasagna A La Bucket!

The Meat Sauce

In a large sauce pan, I added:
  • 2 small onions, chopped (from the bucket)
  • 1 clove of garlic, sliced (from the bucket)
  • 1 pound of pork Italian sausage- I used the kind from Seeds and Spores
  • splash of olive oil
I cooked these ingredients until the meat was fully cooked, then added:
  • 3 bunches of fresh spinach, chopped
  • 5 diced tomatoes (from the bucket)
  • chopped fresh basil (from the bucket)
  • 1 can of tomato paste
  • a half cup of chicken broth
  • a dash of Penzey's Black and Red and Italian Seasoning
  • a splash of white wine
This meat/sauce mixture boiled on the stove until the tomatoes became soft and mushy.
 Fresh ingredients make better food!
 The sauce, as it began to simmer

The Cheese Mixture:
In a separate bowl I combined:
  • 1 container of ricotta cheese
  • 1 bag of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • a generous sprinkle of grated Parmesan
  • 2 eggs
 The cheese mixture

Putting the Lasagna together:

I boiled a large pot of water on the stove and began by cooking the whole wheat lasagna noodles 6 at a time for about 5 minutes.  I lined the bottom of the baking dish with a thin layer of marinara sauce.  I used Organicville brand, which is the best jarred marinara I have found! 
 Step One

When the first batch of noodles was ready, I layered 4 across the bottom of the pan, then covered the noodles with a layer of the cheese mixture, then a layer of the meat/tomato sauce mixture. 
Step 2

Step 3

Step 4

I repeated these steps until all of the noodles were used up and then topped the whole thing with the rest of the jar of marinara.  I wouldn't have necessarily needed to use the marinara sauce and could've just used more of my homemade meat sauce, I was just trying to use up the open jar that we had left from our weekend "camping" adventure and was trying to avoid my lasagna being too meaty.

I can't even speak for the results yet, as everything is assembled, but nothing is cooked or eaten yet!  I'll have to update the deliciousness later.  I do plan to stick it in a 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes-hour, covered with tin foil.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Simple Summer Supper-with only 12 ingredients!

Tonight's supper was simple to cook and simple to clean up after!  I was busy around the house and didn't even realize it was 5:45 until my stomach started to growl.  By 6:20, we were enjoying our supper and by 7:00, we were cleaned up.

Broiled Porkchops:
  1. butterfly cut porkchops
  2. light sprinkling of garlic salt
  3. Penzey's Bicentennial Rub
Broil or grill until fully cooked and browned on both sides.  Flip halfway through cooking.

Brown Rice: 
(I hesitate to call it "brown rice" because it's really long grain white rice, browned with crisco.  Not exactly health food, but oh so tasty.  You could make this recipe with brown rice, it would just take a lot longer).
    4. 2 tablespoons of Crisco
    5. long grain rice
    6. chicken broth

Melt the Crisco in a frying pan and add the rice.  Fry the rice until it becomes light brown.  Do not overcook!  Add chicken broth, cover, and simmer.  You will need to check the rice frequently and add more chicken broth until the rice is fully cooked.

Sauteed Zucchini and Patty Pan Squash

    7. sliced zucchini and patty pan squash (from the bucket)
    8. sliced onions(from the bucket)
    9.  Earth Balance spread
   10. generous coating of Penzey's Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle

Cherry Applesauce - I always have to have applesauce with my porkchops!
    11.  sliced apples
    12.  cherries, chopped and pitted

A few weeks ago I had some apples and cherries that were starting to turn bad in the fridge.  I stuck them in the Magic Bullet until pureed.  I portioned it in the freezer and saved it for just the right meal!  Bailey ate TONS of it.  I had to cut her off.

!2 ingredients, 3 pans, and one simple, delicious, kid friendly meal!

Dessert was even simpler- ice cream cones at "The Big Cow," aka Jilberts!

Mexican Goulash

If you haven't noticed, most of my recipes end up with either a Mexican or Italian flair, and usually involve cheese.  This recipe combines the best of both worlds!

I have to credit my mom on this one, as it's a spin on a recipe she used to make for us growing up <3

Mexican Goulash

In a frying pan I cooked:
  • onions (from the bucket)
  • chopped chard (from the bucket)
  • 1 pound of grass-fed ground beef
When the meat was fully cooked, I added 4 spoonfuls of Penzey's Bold Taco seasoning and a few ounces of water.

In a separate pot I boiled a bag of whole wheat gobetti noodles, but, of course any shape would work fine.

While those things were cooking, in the casserole dish I added:
  • 2 (regular sized) cans of diced tomatoes
  • one can of corn
  • 3/4 of a bag of shredded cheddar
I then added the cooked meat mixture and the pasta into the casserole dish, stirred it well, and poured in about 2 cups of chicken broth.

I baked it, covered, at 350 degrees for about an hour.  10 minutes before it was ready, I uncovered the casserole and topped it with the rest of the shredded cheddar and crushed tortilla chips. 

Simple, very tasty, and the best part- it can be made ahead of time (ahem, nap time) and then tossed in the oven an hour before dinner!

Before cooking

Dinner's ready!

Monday, August 1, 2011

Tomato Cream Soup and Italian Chef's Salad

What better on a hot summer night than tomato soup, right?  Well...maybe not, but what else can you do with a bunch of tomatoes and carrots that have seen their better days?  So, here you have it (file it away until fall if you must), Tomato Cream Soup.

 the inspiration veggies

Tomato Cream Soup

I started by slicing and dicing some veggies that were in my fridge, and sauteing them together with a spoon of Earth Balance:
  • onions (from the bucket)
  • celery
  • garlic clove
  • carrots (from the bucket)
After the veggies were softening up, I added 4 tomatoes- diced with the skin on, and a handful of chopped basil leaves.  When the tomatoes began to get mushy, I added about 2 cups of chicken broth, a cup of half and half, and a splash of white wine.  I also added roughly a quarter cup of freshly grated Parmesan and Romano.  The seasonings were fairly simple, Penzey's Black and Red, Penzey's Italian Seasoning, salt, and ground black pepper.

I kept tasting the soup as it simmered, thinking that it needed a bit more flavor.  I kept adding salt a little at a time, but ended up with it too salty.  I think it became more flavorful as it simmered, so next time I would add less salt, but overall it was chunky, fresh, rich, and delicious!

 simmering on the stove

topped with fresh basil

And, because the meal needed a little more protein, I served it with a hearty salad

Italian Chef's Salad
  • mixed greens
  • sliced fresh mozzarella cheese
  • pepperoni
  • hard boiled egg
  • dressing- a simple mix of 1/3 salad vinegar to 2/3 olive oil seasoned with salt and fresh pepper

    The bread in the picture was a baguette (from Marquette Bakery) sliced lengthwise, topped with Earth Balance, garlic salt, and fresh parsley (from the bucket) and broiled in the oven until brown.  A tasty, light, but not exactly summery meal.

    Tuesday, July 26, 2011

    Chicken Parmesan Chicken Strips with Pesto Spaghetti

    I think this one is a real original- a bit of a messy process, but worth it!

    Chicken Parmesan Chicken Strips:

    The Recipe has 3 major components, the breading, the chicken/cheese, and the sauce.

    The Sauce
    I began by making a variation on my five-minute pasta sauce.  The only difference was that I added diced fresh scallion, tomato, garlic scapes, zucchini and patty pan squash (all from the bucket).  If you were making this recipe in a hurry, a regular jarred marinara would work too.

    Set aside a portion of the sauce in a separate bowl.

    The Breading
    In a large gallon-sized ziplock bag, I combined:
    • panko bread crumbs
    • ground flax seeds
    • fresh grated Romano and Parmesan
    • garlic salt
    • fresh ground pepper
    • Penzey's minced onions

    The Chicken and Cheese
    Then, I cut boneless, skinless chicken breasts into strips.  I also cut fresh mozzarella cheese into strips about half as big at the chicken strips.

    Working in assembly line style, I first pressed a strip of fresh mozzarella onto the strip of raw chicken.  Holding the chicken and cheese together, I rolled them first in the pasta sauce and then into the bread crumbs until the whole thing was covered.  The breaded strips went onto a greased cookie sheet, one at a time until all of the chicken was used.  I discarded any of the sauce and bread crumbs that touched the raw chicken.

    I baked the chicken strips on the convection setting at 350 degrees for about half an hour, turning the strips over halfway through. 

    When they were done, the chicken was moist and the cheese was wonderfully gooey.  We topped them with more of the pasta sauce (the portion that had not touched the raw chicken!).  So good- and the kids ate them too!

    I served the chicken strips with Pesto Spaghetti

    Pesto Spaghetti

    Combine in the food processor (roughly these portions because, of course, I didn't measure)
    • 2 cups of fresh basil
    • 1/3 cup of pine nuts
    • 2 chopped garlic scapes
    • 2 cloves of garlic
    • enough olive oil to keep the mixture moist
    I tried to put them all in at once, although in hindsight I would've done the pine nuts alone first.

    When those ingredients were well blended, I added about 2/3 of a cup of freshly grated Parmesan and Romano cheeses.  I blended everything together in the food processor, adding a little more oil, until the texture seemed right.

    Later, I boiled a mix of white and whole wheat spaghetti noodles and then tossed in about half of the pesto until the spaghetti was lightly coated in the pesto.  A perfect side dish!

    The final product

    I was trying to capture the cheesiness- not so much on the iphone ) :

     No complaints from Bailey

    Bryce, who refused to taste the pesto when I was making it, loved it on the spaghetti.  I still haven't told him what he ate.

    Monday, July 25, 2011

    Inconvenience Food

    Last night I screwed up white rice.  Yup, white rice- the kind that you measure, dump into boiling water, throw a cover on, and wait 5 minutes.  I also forgot to turn on the steamer to cook the snap peas.  All in all, dinner was terrible, and it wasn't completely my fault.

    As much as I love to cook, I do try to keep convenience food in the freezer for those nights when a fast meal is needed.  I had been out of town since Thursday afternoon, so it was slim pickings for dinner on Sunday night.  Cue the frozen fish sticks.  Ughh.  Who ever thought fish sticks were a good idea?  Truth be told, I used to be ok with fish sticks.  They were quick and they filled the hole when necessary.  However, since I've switched to eating mostly whole, fresh food, my tastes have changed considerably.  I thought that they were bland, salty, and well, just plain nasty.  To top it off, I grabbed a boxed rice mix from the depths of my cupboard.  It was an Uncle Ben's wild rice mix.  Sounded good.  However, I didn't realize that it was a "garlic and olive oil" blend.  To put it mildly, the vampires avoided our household last night- Peeeyuuuu.  And that's coming from someone who loves garlic.  That's why the white rice came into play, the mix smelled, well...inedible.  The white rice was backup.

    The irony of the whole meal was that I screwed it all up.  I had too little water in the instant rice and forgot to turn on the snap peas, which were the only saving grace of the whole meal.  So, why can I cook fairly complex dinners, yet screw up some crappy convenience foods?  Ownership.  Because there was nothing creative or interesting about the meal, I was so distracted and disinterested that I messed stuff up.

    I think I'll be steering clear of the frozen foods section for a while.

    So, if you're reading this, please add to the comments some convenience foods that you do like.  I'm interested to see some options that are better than fish sticks.  Go.

    Monday, July 18, 2011

    Whole-Wheat Wet Burritos with Kale

    When I was Bryce's age, I was obsessed with this little restaurant in Escanaba called The Station Bar that had the world's best burritos- saucy, greasy, cheesy, yummy!   Every now and then, I still get a hankering for a "wet burrito."  There is only one place here in Marquette (Vangos) that even comes close, but they only do them as a special on Tuesday nights. Tonight was not Tuesday, so what was I to do?  Make them myself!

    I won't lie and call this health food, although I tried to add my trademark healthy twist. 

    Whole-Wheat Wet Burritos with Kale:

    I started by browning the meat in a large pan.  I used a pound of local grass-fed ground beef.  When the meat was almost fully cooked, I added:
    • half of a sliced onion
    • a purple pepper (from the bucket)
    • chopped kale (from the bucket)
    • a dash of Penzey's Chili Powder
    • 4 tablespoons of Penzey's Bold Taco seasoning
    Then, I spread whole-wheat tortillas with refried beans and added some of the meat/veggie mixture. 

    I browned the stuffed tortillas, one at a time, in a frying pan with a bit of olive oil.  This just made them a bit brown and crispy, which really added to the texture of the final product.

    I placed the fried burritos in a glass baking dish with a small amount of enchilada sauce in the bottom.
    (I ended up with 10 burritos and used one 9x13 pan and one 8x8 pan).  I baked it at 350 for about 30 minutes, and then topped with shredded cheddar cheese and sliced jalapenos.  I baked it for about 7 more minutes to melt the cheese. 

    We topped our burritos with what we liked- I chose:
    • chopped lettuce (from the bucket)
    • sour cream
    • salsa
    • guacamole
    It was delicious!  You would never know that there was one healthy thing about this meal.  Sure beats Taco Bell!
     a pan of cheesy goodness
     how can this not make you hungry?
     Hmmmm...what is that?
     I guess it's pretty good

    I'd like to say that Bryce inherited my love for the perfect wet burrito.  Unfortunately this was not a huge hit for him.  I have a heck of a time getting him to try foods that are "mixed together."  Of course, it was at least ten thousand degrees in our house tonight and eating was not on his mind all day.  Oh well, the rest of us enjoyed our meal!

    Michigan French Toast

    I thought that my breakfast was noteworthy this morning as all the main ingredients were from Michigan.  In fact, the majority were from right up here in da UP.

    Michigan French Toast

    • 3 eggs (from a local farm)
    • a splash of vanilla almond milk
    • Penzey's Cinnamon and Vanilla Sugar
    • a splash of Penzey's Vanilla Extract
    • a few spoonfuls of ground flax seed
    Bread- cracked wheat bread from Marquette Bakery, thickly sliced

    Topped with:
    • strawberries (from the bucket)
    • black raspberries and blueberries- Michigan grown from the Farmer's Marquette
    • real maple syrup, made in the UP
    Soak the bread in the batter.  Spray a frying pan with cooking spray.  Add the bread to the heated pan and cook until golden brown.  Top and enjoy.  What a great way to start the day!

    Ooh-la-la, eh?

    Five Minute Pasta Sauce

    I know I can't be the only mother out there whose children are obsessed with plain pasta.  Well, in our case it isn't exactly plain, it's called "garlic noodles" because of the large quantity of garlic salt that tops it.  A blob of butter, garlic salt, and Parmesan cheese- and not fresh Parmesan, the tasty powdered stuff that comes in the green can (although I do admit liking to the stuff).  Yup.  Of all the delicious things I can cook, what do they always want?  Garlic noodles.  At least they will eat the whole wheat pasta, so I don't feel so bad feeding it to them as a meal. 

    On Saturday afternoon, the kids put in their usual request for a weekend lunch of garlic noodles.  Of course, they each devoured a bowlful.  After they were done eating, Lee and I looked at the pot of bland goodness on the stove and decided that it needed something.  It was too hot and I was too hungry to get creative- so I invented the super simple Five Minute Pasta Sauce.  And, hey, it was pretty darn good!

    Five Minute Pasta Sauce: (no chopping needed!)

    •  one can of diced tomatoes (I swear by Muir Glenn tomatoes for fresh taste!)
    • torn fresh basil, parsley, and oregano (from the bucket)
    • Penzey's dehydrated onions
    • a spoonful of jarred minced garlic
    • a generous sprinkling of Penzey's Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle
    • salt, pepper, and Penzey's Black and Red (to give it some kick)
    • a splash of white wine
    Bring to a gentle boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  Much tastier than plain old garlic noodles again. Saturday lunch may never be the same...

    Thursday, July 14, 2011

    Snap Judgements and Cookies

    Warning- this post has little to do with food, unless you count the fact that the incident that I'm about to describe took place at the bakery after picking up my produce bucket- ha ha.  It's just one of those ah-ha moments that I wish to share.

    Yesterday, after picking up my produce bucket, I decided to stop at the bakery.  I knew it was  bad idea.  I had just woken up both kids from their naps, because I didn't want them to sleep until suppertime  I was paying for it because both kids were in a rotten mood.  Bryce was especially grouchy and sullen. 

    That voice in the back of my head was saying, "Don't run an errand, don't run an errand, don't take these kids out of the car.  They are not fit for public." 

    But the other voice was saying, "The kids have been loving toast for breakfast, and we ran out of bread.  It's just one quick stop."

    The second voice won- followed by the promise of a cookie if we could survive without a fuss.  I should've listened to the first voice and saved myself a bit of grief.

    Anyhow, I went into the bakery, dragging one grouchy miserable kid in each hand.  I waited my turn at the counter, deciding what tasty bakery goodies I wanted to bring home today.  The kids sat down at a small child-sized table nearby.  I could do this.  Two minutes and out, right?  Well, a little battle about who was going to sit closest to the table began.  Bryce pulled it his way.  Bailey pulled it hers.  Bryce pulled it his way, and one of those ear-splitting, two-year old toddler screams broke through the quiet calm of the bakery.  I stepped over, gave them "the look" and continued with my selections.  Not 30 seconds later, the table battle ensued again.  Pull, tug, pull, tug, MIIIIIIINNNNNEEEEE.  I turned to break up the carnage, when the ladies behind me covered their ears dramatically as one said to the other, all while shooting me with eye-daggers, "I can't take it in here.  Let's go."

    I quickly apologized to lady at the counter for scaring away her customers.  She reassured me that it was ok and that those ladies were driving her just as crazy, complaining about how everything they wanted was sold out.  It pays to be a regular I guess.

    The whole affair really got me thinking, though.  I'd be lying if I said my kids were perfect.  They are by NO means perfect.  But, I am used to getting nothing but compliments in public.  We can go to any restaurant, grocery store, party, social gathering, park, etc and we rarely have an issue.  I always hear about how cute, polite, well behaved, smart, etc they are.  This was the first time ever that someone had looked at my children with utter disgust- and it hurt.

    I wish I could've been quicker with my reaction.  I wish I could've said something smart or sassy back to those ladies, but nothing came out of my mouth.  All the good ideas come hours later.  Grrrrrrrrr.

    The reason I write this is to remind people not to make snap judgements.  I've gotten so much better at this since I've had children of my own, but I certainly could do better.  When a kid is having a moment in public- a meltdown, a fit, an attitude- please don't automatically assume that the child is bratty or the parents are useless.  Maybe the child has special needs that you can't "see."  Maybe the child is going through a rough time at home- a divorce, illness, or death in the family.  Or, most likely, the child is just having a craptastic day.   Heck, we all have bad days- we've all grumbled at the waitress who messed up our order, became impatient with the slow cashier in training, or blurted a choice word at the driver who cut us off.  Adults have their moments and kids do too. 

    Instead think, is there anything small I can do to help?  Can I give the child a distracting compliment? (hey I really like your race car shirt!)  Can I hold the door for the struggling mom with a two year old, an infant seat, and 3 shopping bags?  Can I let the frazzled dad with the fussing preschooler step in front of me in the grocery line?  Even a sympathetic smile can make a big difference, and it is so much better than an eye roll and a look of disgust. 

    However one positive came out of this incident.  I got to withhold the cookies I bought (they certainly didn't deserve the treat), so I am currently enjoying a delicious, sweet, almondy, frog shaped cookie.  Yum.

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011

    All the food groups in one simple meal

    It was almost 7:00 tonight after a very busy day, when I realized I hadn't thought about supper yet- oops.  I had already been out for one walk (alongside Bryce riding his New Lightning McQueen bike), one bike ride adventure to Tourist Park with the kids in the bike trailer, and a nice evening walk with a friend-which the kids ran for half of.  We were definitely in need of some healthy food energy!  Here are the simple recipes:

    Breakfast Burritos:

    I scrambled together eggs, red and yellow peppers, and onions with salt, pepper, and Penzey's Black and Red.  Put the cooked egg mixture inside of soft burrito shells and add black beans, shredded cheddar, and salsa.  Top with guacamole and sour cream.  Super simple and packed with veggies, protein, and dairy.

    What is that tasty drink?  Why, it's the missing food group- fruit!

    Strawberry-Spinach Smoothie: 

    In the magic bullet, blend together:
    • frozen strawberry puree (I made this a few weeks ago when I had too many strawberries!)
    • frozen spinach puree
    • one fresh banana
    • a splash of almond milk
    • a few drops of vanilla extract
    • orange juice
     Hmmmm...what's she trying to trick me into?
     I like it!
     I guess I'll have some more!!

    Am I crazy to bring a two year old and a four year old, by myself, for a few mile ride on the bike, stop at a playground to play, and then go for a little hike in the woods to throw rocks?  Sometimes I worry that these crazy impromptu adventures are a disaster waiting to happen.   So am I crazy?  Maybe I am, but we usually have a great time!  Here's some pictures of why we were so hungry and tired tonight.
     Bryce tackles the big slide
     And Bailey tries the little one
     Cooling down after all that playing
     Tossing some rocks in what's left of the Dead River at Tourist Park
     Nice toss!
    Check out that form...and those cute shoes

    Monday, July 11, 2011

    Lasagna Soup

    Lasagna soup is a recipe that has been hanging around the tables in my family for quite a few years.  My aunt reminded me tonight that my dad cooked a batch of  lasagna soup for all the ladies at my baby shower with Bryce- so clearly, it's nothing new.  I make it fairly frequently for my family, but tonight's pot of lasagna soup was the best one ever!  It must've been all the farm fresh ingredients- yum.

    Lasagna Soup:

    Start with a pound of Italian sausage.  I used the whole hog Italian sausage from Seeds and Spores that I bought at the farmer's market a few weekends ago (don't worry, it's been in the freezer).  I browned up the sausage and added some minced garlic, a generous sprinkle of Penzey's Black and Red, and a dash of Penzey's Chili Powder.  We like our food a bit spicy!

    When the meat was almost done, I added a bowl of cut vegetables (many of which were from the bucket):
    • celery
    • onions
    • kale
    • fresh spinich
    • carrots
    • garlic scapes
    • basil and oregano
    • oyster mushrooms (I think I'm in love with these!)
    It's a lot of cutting and peeling with all these veggies, but when you have the cutest four-year-old little chef in town, it can actually be fun.  Most people would think I was insane letting Bryce use a knife to chop veggies, but I want my kids to be knowledgeable and comfortable in the kitchen starting at a young age.  I'd rather have him learn the right way to use tools with me right next to him then to find a knife or peeler when I'm not there, use it inappropriately, and get hurt.  As a bonus, I find that the more I include Bryce in meal preparation, the more interested he is in eating the food.  I can always sneak some vegetables into him, too, because he's much more willing to try new veggies when they are raw.

    Anyhow, enough of my tangent.  After the meat and veggies are together in the pot, I continued to saute them until the veggies began to get soft.  I then added:
    • One large can of diced tomatoes
    • One  box (16 oz) of organic chicken broth
    • Penzey's Italian Herbs
    • a bit more salt and pepper to taste
    I simmered the soup on low for about 3 hours, stirring occasionally.  When it was close to supper time, I boiled (in a separate pot) a half bag of whole wheat gobletti noodles.  Any noodles will do, though.  I like the recipe with bow ties, too!  You can cook the noodles directly in the broth to save a pot, but I find that I get carried away and add so many noodles that they suck up all the broth.  I am better controlled when I add precooked noodles a little at a time.  I simmered the soup for a few more minutes so that the noodles could pick up the flavor of the broth.

    Now here's the secret that makes it "lasagna soup."

    In the bottom of each soup bowl, I added 5 or 6 cubes of mozzarella cheese.  When the hot soup is poured on the cheese, it melts into tasty little surprises in your bowl- fun and kid friendly!

    So tasty served with garlic bread and a farm fresh salad!

    Sunday, July 10, 2011

    My Greek Chicken Casserole gamble

    I love to invent new meals.  But, as much as I say I "invent" recipes, I do usually base my ideas off something I've eaten, seen, read about, or, at the very least, can imagine what it might taste like.  There's always an end result in mind.

    Tonight I took a gamble.  I cooked something without any idea about how it would turn out.  I made it up completely as I went.  I started with some leftover cooked chicken and the idea of a casserole.  Did I want Mexican?  Italian?  American?  I couldn't decide.  So I went out on a limb and tried Greek because I'd never heard of a Greek casserole.  This is what I did.

    In a saute pan, I combined (all from the bucket, except the minced garlic and bacon)
    • sliced onions
    • sliced garlic scapes
    • oyster mushrooms
    • fresh spinich
    • parsley
    • oregano
    • basil
    • minced garlic
    • precooked bacon
    I sauteed all those ingredients with a pat of Earth Balance and added salt, pepper, Penzey's Black and Red, and a dash Penzey's Hot Mustard powder.

    I put the sauteed mixture into a casserole dish and added in the cooked, leftover chicken, cooked orzo pasta, a can of cream of onion soup, and a blob of cream cheese.  I cooked it, covered, at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes.  Then, I removed the cover and topped with crushed blue corn tortilla chips and crumbled feta, and then cooked it for another 10 minutes.

    I made no promises to my family.  Was it going to be good?  Horrible?  I honestly had no idea how this would turn out.

    First thing Lee said: This is good!

    He didn't even know that there were mushrooms in there- shhhhhh.

    Whew, I took a gamble and won!  The only thing I would do differently is to add only a half can of cream of onion because the casserole was a little too sticky- which can be a danger of orzo pasta.  Or, I might've used a different kind of small pasta.  Hmmm....might have to try this one again with a twist.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    Spaghetti Carbonara- a family affair

    Last weekend, over a family dinner at The Vila Capri, my brother John, my husband Lee, and I got into a conversation about spaghetti carbonara.  It's something that Lee's always enjoyed, but I'd never thought of cooking myself.  John, after dining on real carbonara in Italy a few years ago, explained that he'd been trying to perfect his carbonara technique.  Of course, I had to try to make it for myself a few days later.  And, of course, I needed to put my own healthy spin on it using ingredients from the bucket.

    I have to give John some credit in this recipe as he showed me how to assemble it all in the end.

    I'll call it- Magic Bullet Whole-Wheat Spaghetti Carbonara

    First I chopped finely these ingredients (one at a time) in the magic bullet:
    • 5 small onions- from the bucket
    • 6 leaves of basil and a few sprigs of oregano- from the bucket
    • 4 pieces of pre-cooked bacon
    I added these into a sautee pan with olive oil and minced garlic.  I also added 4 more slices of pre-cooked bacon ripped into larger chunks.  I sauteed it until brown, sprinkled it with Penzey's Black and Red and salt and set it aside.

    I then cooked a little over a pound of spaghetti noodles (a mix of 2/3 whole wheat pasta and 1/3 regular white).

    As the noodles cooked, we beat together 5 organic eggs and a half a cup of finely ground Parmesan cheese.  I grated the cheese by tossing a half a wedge of fresh Parmesan into the Magic Bullet and grinding it into a powder.

    This is the tricky part, and the part that I have to credit John's help!

    When the noodles were done cooking, we set about a cup of the hot water aside and drain.  Immediately, we returned the hot pasta to the pot and add the egg-cheese mixture.  John tossed the hot noodles and egg mixture using two spaghetti forks.  He added the hot water a little at a time until the noodles were coated.  It's important not to "scramble" the eggs, rather to stir and coat the noodles evenly.  When the noodles were covered, I added my bacon, garlic, onion, and herbs/spices mixture, and continued to toss it.

    In the end, it was really quite delicious!  The only changes that we decided that we'd do differently next time is- mix Romano cheese with the Parmesan for a little more kick, add a bit more garlic, and use another egg or two to make the sauce a bit creamier.  Interestingly enough, Lee and I went out to dinner at one of our favorite Italian restaurants  and he ordered the carbonara, for the sake of research.  We both agreed that the homemade version was better- lighter and more flavorful.  Score!

    The other thing on the plate is feta bread- slice a large baguette lengthwise, cover in a thick layer of Earth Balance Spread, sprinkle with garlic salt, and sprinkle with feta cheese.  Broil in the broiler (525 degrees) until brown-5-7 minutes.  I overcooked this piece a bit.

    In addition- I invented an amazing side dish using a bit of the extra bacon, onion, garlic mixture.

    Zucchini and Tomatoes:

    In a pan with hot olive oil, I added:
    • finely chopped onion- from the bucket
    • finely chopped bacon
    • finely chopped basil- from the bucket
    • minced garlic
    • 4 medium sliced zucchinis
    When the zucchinis were beginning to get soft, I added a half can of diced tomatoes, Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle, Italian Herbs, and a splash of white wine.  It was so good!  In fact, I wish I had some right now- Yum!  Sadly enough, I forgot to take a picture--so I may have to make this one again.

    Monday, July 4, 2011

    Pool Party Pizza

    I'm a little late to add this one.  The 4th of July weekend has been  busy, busy, busy!  But, I did have a chance to do a bit of cooking on Friday night.  It was pool party pizza night!

    On Friday nights I don't often cook.  We usually go out for pizza or some other type of tasty food.  There are so many incredible restaurants in Marquette, it's hard to choose.  But Friday night was different this week.  It was hot, I was comfortable sitting in my backyard, and we had a fridge full of cold beer.  Why go anywhere?

    I almost always have ingredients for pizza on hand because it's a relatively quick, healthy (really it is!), and kid friendly meal.  So here's pizza- my style:

    Pool Party Pizza:
    • One large pre-made whole wheat pizza crust.  For the locals, the co-op sells one that is excellent!
    • (and/or) 3 pieces of whole wheat pita bread
    I usually make one large adult pizza on the big crust, and make a mini pizza for each of the kids on a pita bread.  That way, the kids don't have to be subjected to our obsession with jalapeno peppers.  The third mini pizza is all mine for lunch the next day.

    Brush each of the crusts with a thin layer of olive oil and a sprinkling of Penzey's Brady Street Cheese Sprinkle and Italian Herbs. 

    Start with:
    • One large can of organic pizza sauce.  The large can is enough for all 4 pizzas.
    • 3 small onions-from the bucket
    • kale and braising greens- from the bucket (pre-steamed in the rice cooker)
    • sliced mushrooms
    • 1 package of pepperoni (I like Applegate Farms nitrate free)
    I purposely hide those things under the cheese so the kids don't see them and pick them off

    Then add one bag of shredded mozzarella cheese.  One bag is just the right amount for the pizzas.

    Top with:
    • sliced roma tomatoes
    • a few chopped leaves of fresh basil- from the bucket
    • crumbled feta cheese (this is what makes the pizza awesome!)
    • jalapeno peppers
    Bake at 425 degrees for about 12 minutes, or until the cheese is slightly browned.  Enjoy!

     Before Cooking

     The mini pizzas
    After (I wish you could smell it!  Mmmmmm!)

    So, there's the pizza.  Where's the pool party?  The pool party was in our backyard.  We didn't even sit down at the table!  We ate on the back porch while the kids cooled off in their kiddie pool.  Along with the pizza, we enjoyed a fresh salad with lettuce, sliced radishes, and buckwheat sprouts fresh from the bucket.  See the blog archives for the dressing recipe.  

     Eating outside is so much fun!
    The pizza was a hit with the kids, and the dog.

     Bryce is saving some for later.  Austin is trying to get in on the action.

    And, here's the pool party:


    Just because they're cute: