Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mushroom, Carrot and Turkey Meat Loaf muffins ($)(*)

This is a recipe that I got from Womansday.com/menus and tweaked a bit.

They have this great monthly calendar for dinners.  The recipies are all pretty healthy and easy to prepare.  I tweaked the recipe a bit and here it is.  One adjustment I made to the recipe that I really loved is putting it into muffin tins instead of forming a loaf.  That way it is so much easier to measure out an individual portion; you just plop a couple of "Meat Loaf Muffins" on your plate and don't have to worry about slicing it up in equal portions.  I thought it was really good.  Chris didn't think it was awesome, but he ate it all, so he couldn't have thought it was that bad.  I used ground chicken instead of turkey because it was on sale. 

Mushroom, Carrot and Turkey Meat Loaf Muffins
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 tablespoon(s) Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves 
  • Kosher salt and pepper
  • 2 slice(s) whole-wheat sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
  • 8 ounce(s) mushrooms, thinly sliced
  • 1 large shallot, minced (you could use onion)
  • 1 medium carrot, grated
  • 1.75 pound(s) ground turkey or chicken

Directions
  1. Heat oven to 375°F.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, mustard, thyme, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper; stir in the bread. Add the mushrooms, scallions and carrot, and mix to combine (some of the mushrooms will break).
  3. Add the turkey and mix just until incorporated.  If desired, lightly spray muffin tins with cooking spray. Fill muffin tins with mixture and press down with the back of a spoon.  Tins should be filled almost all the way. Bake until the internal temperature registers 160°F (180 for Chicken), 20 to 25 minutes.
Makes 7 servings (2 "Muffins" per serving)
We served with plain couscous and a large salad.  Next time I'll try the whole wheat couscous.

Back on the Health wagon

I'm baaack!  I haven't had any time for posting with all the Christmas stuff going on.  We had a wonderful holiday; got to see my family and Mia had an absolute ball.  She was so excited about the gifts and Santa.  And I love that she knows and remembers that it is really one big birthday party for Jesus. 

Unfortunately, I gained about four pounds over the holidays.  I had maintained my marathon weight up until around Thanksgiving, even though I wasn't doing much running at all.  But I'm back up to a weight that I'm just not comfortable with.  Also, we have our Disney vacation (!!!) coming up in a few weeks, so I want to make sure I've shed these extra pounds by then. 

So I'm back on the diet wagon full force.  It's not so much about dieting as it is about eating healthy foods that make you feel good and provide your body with the proper fuel it needs to function properly. 

I'll be cutting out pretty much all processed sugars.  I know that sugar affects me horribly, almost like an allergy.  I get itchy, swollen, and really irritable when I eat high-sugar foods.  Today I cut out refined sugar altogether (with the exception of a teaspoon in my coffee) and I feel soo much better already. 

Lots of vegetables, lots of running and other excercise.  I went out for three miles with Chris today.  My first run in at least a week.  I definitely could feel those extra four pounds.  It was a tough run and my thighs are killing me tonight.  But all in all I'm feeling awesome.  So much better than yesterday.  So we're off to a good start!  The best part is that after eating healthy all day, I'm having no cravings and I don't feel hungry at all!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Chicken or Turkey Soup

Chicken or Turkey Soup
  • 1 leftover turkey carcass
  • 3 medium onions, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 1 cup butter, cubed
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups half-and-half cream
  • 1 cup uncooked long grain rice
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon chicken bouillon granules
  • 3/4 teaspoon pepper

Directions

  1. Place turkey carcass in a soup kettle or Dutch oven and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 1 hour. Remove carcass; cool. Set aside 3 qt. broth. Remove turkey from bones and cut into bite-size pieces; set aside.
  2. In a soup kettle or Dutch oven, saute the onions, carrots and celery in butter until tender. Reduce heat; stir in flour until blended. Gradually add 1 qt. of reserved broth. Bring to a boil; cook and stir for 2 minutes or until thickened.
  3. Add cream, rice, salt, bouillon, pepper, remaining broth and reserved turkey. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until rice is tender.

Buttermilk Biscuits

Buttermilk Biscuits
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 dash salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C).
  2. In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar. Cut in 1/2 cup butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the buttermilk. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead 2 minutes. Transfer to an ungreased baking sheet, roll into a 6x6 inch square, and cut into 12 even sections. Do not separate.
  3. Bake 15 minutes in the preheated oven, until a knife inserted in the center of the square comes out clean. Separate into biscuits, and serve hot.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

French Onion Dip - Guy Fietti

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 2 Vidalia onions, sliced into 1/4-inch rings (about 4 cups)
  • 2 large shallots, sliced into 1/8-inch rings (about 1/2 cup)
  • 2 cups sour cream
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Directions

In a large saute pan over medium high heat, add oil and butter. When butter is melted, add onions and saute stirring occasionally until golden brown and caramelized, about 35 minutes. Add shallots and saute for 15 minutes more until onions and shallots are dark brown. Remove from heat and let cool for 5 to 6 minutes, then chop into 1/4-inch pieces. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, combine sour cream, mayonnaise, celery salt, Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Fold in onion mixture. Chill at least 1 hour or overnight, prior to serving.
Cook's Note: Dip can be pureed until creamy. If too thick, add milk to get desired consistency.

Pomegranate Mimosas

Pomegranate Mimosas

  • 2 cups chilled pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup chilled fresh orange juice
  • 1/2 cup orange-flavored liqueur (preferably Cointreau)
  • 1 (750-ml) bottle well-chilled Cava or demi-sec Champagne

Preparation

Combine juices and liqueur in a large pitcher. Slowly add sparkling wine and stir.

Cran-Raspberry Sauce

  • 2 cans (14 oz. each) jellied cranberry sauce
  • 1 bag (10 oz.) unsweetened frozen raspberries

Directions:

  1. Combine the cranberry sauce and frozen raspberries in a microwavable bowl. Microwave on high power, stirring occasionally, until the cranberry sauce has melted, about 8 minutes. Let the mixture cool to room temperature. Strain, if desired, to remove any seeds. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.

Autumn Medley

Autumn Medley
 
8 ounces parsnips, peeled and cut into thin bite-size strips (2-1/4 cups)
8 ounces carrots, peeled and cut into thin bite-size strips (2-1/4 cups)
  • 3/4 cup orange juice
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 2 firm ripe pears, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1/3 cup pecan halves
  • 3 tablespoonsbrown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons margarine or butter
Directions
1. In a large nonstick skillet combine parsnips, carrots, orange juice, dried cranberries, and ginger. Bring to boiling; reduce heat to medium. Cook, uncovered, for 7 to 8 minutes or until vegetables are crisp-tender and most of the liquid has evaporated, stirring occasionally.
2. Add pears, pecans, brown sugar, and margarine or butter to mixture in skillet; stir. Cook, uncovered, for 2 to 3 minutes more or until vegetables are glazed. Makes 6 servings.

Make-Ahead Party Potatoes

Make-Ahead Party Potatoes
Martha Greenlaw, Recipes From a Very Small Island

6 medium-sized potatoes (about 4 pounds), peeled and quartered
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
¼ teaspoon paprika
Dash of cumin
Put the potatoes in a pot and add enough water to cover by an inch or two. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce the heat, and simmer for about 20 minutes, or until fork-tender. Drain and set aside.
Put the same pot back on the heat and melt the butter. Add the cream cheese an whisk until the mixture is smooth.
Force the potatoes through a ricer or food mill into the pot and mix with the butter-cream cheese mixture. Add the sour cream, salt, and pepper and stir until smooth.
Spread the potatoes evenly in a 9 x 13 baking dish and sprinkle with the paprika and cumin. Let the potatoes cool slightly, then cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until ready to cook. These will keep well overnight.
Preheat the oven to 350°. Remove the potatoes from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before baking. Bake the potatoes, uncovered, for 35 to 45 minutes, or until heated through and a slight crust forms on top. Serve immediately.
Serves 10-12.

Slow Cooker Sweet Potato Casserole

Ingredients
  • 2 (29 ounce) cans sweet potatoes, drained and mashed
  • 1/3 cup butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons butter, melted

Directions

  1. Lightly grease a slow cooker.
  2. In a large bowl, blend sweet potatoes, 1/3 cup butter, white sugar and 2 tablespoons brown sugar. Beat in orange juice, eggs and milk. Transfer this mixture to the prepared casserole dish.
  3. In a small bowl, combine pecans, 1/3 cup brown sugar, flour and 2 tablespoons butter. Spread the mixture over the sweet potatoes. Cover the slow cooker and cook on HIGH for 3 to 4 hours.

Creamed Onions with Crispy Bacon

Creamed Onions with Crispy Bacon (Emeril Lagasse)

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 to 2 pounds pearl onions
  • 3 strips apple smoked bacon, diced
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Essence, recipe follows (I left this out)
  • 2 tablespoons snipped chives (I left this out)

Directions

Fill a medium saucepan half full of water and bring to a boil. Add the pearl onions, cover, and set aside until onion skins are very soft and onions are easily peeled, about 10 minutes. Drain onions and refresh under cold running water or in an ice bath. When onions are cool enough to handle, use a paring knife peel away the tough outer skins. Set aside.

In a medium heavy pot render the bacon until crispy, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove bacon using a slotted spoon and transfer to paper towels to drain. Reserve and set aside.

Whisk the flour into the rendered bacon fat and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 to 3 minutes, until a blond roux is formed. Whisk in the chicken broth and cook, stirring, until mixture thickens. Add the heavy cream, thyme, salt, pepper, and Essence and cook until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the pearl onions and continue to cook at a low simmer, partially covered, until onions are very tender and sauce is very thick and flavorful, 45 minutes to 1 hour. When ready to serve, garnish the onions with the reserved crispy bacon and sprinkle the top with the chives

Emeril's ESSENCE Creole Seasoning (also referred to as Bayou Blast):

Combine all ingredients thoroughly.
Yield: 2/3 cup

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Kids Halloween Cutouts

A very simple but fun kids activity that I will post when I have a moment

Pork, Apple and Cheddar Meatballs with Egg Noodles


Okay, I know it's a little silly to post a picture of a magazine clipping, but:
  1. The pictures I take of food always look gross
  2. I forgot to take a picture
  3. I burned the meatballs
Other than me burning the meatballs, this was really, really good.  The meatballs were really great.  This is a really good, different recipe.  It has a real fall feel to it for some reason.  Must be the apples.
The girls didn't eat very much of it, but I think that might have something to do with the 1/4 pound of cheese they ate while I was preparing the meal.  I used a really sharp Vermont Cheddar.  I didn't think they would like the cheese itself, but they couldn't get enough of it.

1 pound ground pork
1 cup coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
3/4 cup breadcrumbs
1 tart apple, such as granny smith, peeled and grated
1/2 small onion, grated
1/2 cup chopped parsley (I left this out because I forgot to buy it)
1 egg, beaten
salt and pepper
One package egg noodles
4 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces (I didn't use the full 4 tablespoons...makes it really greasy if you ask me)

1. Preheat the broiler.  Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and grease with butter (I skipped this part and just put them on a nonstick pan...worked fine). 
In a large mixing bowl, combine the pork, cheese, breadcrumbs, apple, onion, 3 tbsp parsley, the egg, 1.5 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.  Shape into 16 meatballs and arrange on the baking sheet.
Broil the meatballs until golden and cooked through, about 10 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a pot of boiling, salted water, cook the noodles.  Drain, then return to the pot and toss with the butter and remaining 5 tablespoons of parsley.  Divide the noodles among 4 plates; top with 4 meatballs each.

Making Rock Candy

A fun kids activity that I will post when I have time and when I figure out if it actually worked (takes up to a week, but I don't see any crystals forming yet)

Quick and Easy Ravioli Lasagna

Great recipe that I will post when I have an extra moment

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Asian Noodle Salad with Tofu Bites

I got this recipe from the Disney Family Fun website.  Click here for a link to their page. 

I thought it was great.  It tasted like stuff from a real Chinese or Thai place..only a little better!  Chris did NOT like it.  AJ ate quite a bit of the noodles, and Mia picked away at it, and even had some bites of the tofu.  I think it's a keeper because:
#1 - I like it...Chris will just have to deal with it. 
#2 - It's healthy and pretty cheap

The one change I made to the recipe was to leave out the sesame seeds.  I'm sure the sesame seeds would have given it a great texture and taste, but sesame seeds were soooo expensive.  I really couldn't see myself spending $7 just on the sesame seeds.  But I did pan fry the tofu in the sesame oil, which gave it a nice flavor and crispiness.  Also, I didn't have any rice wine vinegar, so I substituted one part rice wine with one part white vinegar.  I think my favorite part of the dish was the soy sauce/honey/rice wine that you pour over the tofu at the end of cooking.  It makes this really yummy glaze on the tofu, but the tofu still remained crisp on the outside...yum. 

Ingredients
  • FOR THE SALAD
  • 1 (14-ounce) block extra-firm tofu, drained
  • 12 ounces linguini noodles
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and sliced into thin, 2-inch sticks
  • 1 cup sugar snap peas, trimmed and strings removed
  • 3 scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons lite soy sauce, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup sesame seeds (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil, 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • FOR THE DRESSING
  • 1/4 cup lite soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar, 1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon honey, 2 teaspoons peeled and minced fresh ginger
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Instructions
  1. Slice the tofu widthwise into quarters. Slice each quarter into four rectangles, then slice each rectangle diagonally into two triangles. Line a rimmed baking sheet with a double layer of paper towels and arrange the tofu on top in a single layer. Cover the tofu with another double layer of paper towels and place a baking sheet on top faceup, along with a weight, such as a heavy pot. Let the tofu drain for at least 5 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine all the ingredients for the dressing and set it aside. Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then cook the noodles according to the package directions. Rinse the noodles with cold water, drain them, and toss them with the dressing. Add the carrots, snap peas, scallions, and cilantro, and toss once more.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the soy sauce, honey, and rice vinegar and set the mixture aside. Place the sesame seeds on a small plate. Firmly press both sides of each tofu piece into the seeds. Heat the sesame and canola oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the tofu, frying each side until golden brown, about 5 minutes per side. Drizzle the soy mixture onto the tofu and continue cooking 1 minute more. To serve, fill each bowl with the noodle mixture, then top it with a few pieces of tofu.
Approximate cost:  $10.35
Cost per serving: $2.59
Nutritional Information:
Per serving (1/6 of recipe) Calories 378, Total Fat 15 g (24%), Saturated Fat 2 g (12%), Cholesterol 33 mg (12%), Sodium 1,107 mg (46%), Total Carbohydrate 41 g (14%), Fiber 7 g (29%), Sugars 7 g, Protein 19 g (39%), Vitamin A (115%), Iron (27%)



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Flinstone Slab Cookies

I clipped this recipe out of an old magazine.

 The recipe was called Marshmallow Pebbles Slabs and originally called for Marshmallow Pebbles for the cereal.  Well, I don't think that cereal is being made any more...at least I couldn't find it at my grocery store.  It's hard to tell from the picture if the cereal is kind of like lucky charms...it looks sort of like fruity pebbles, only white...kind of like Rice Krispies with marshmallows in it.  Anyhow...I substituted Cocoa pebbles and it came out great.  I think next time I'll try Lucky Charms.  I've renamed them Flinstone Slab Cookies...they are delicious.



Flinstone Slab Cookies
1 Cup Flour
1/2 tsp. Baking Soda
1/2 tsp. Salt
1 stick butter, softened
1/3 Cup packed Brown Sugar
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1 Egg
1 tsp. Vanilla
1/2 Cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used the mini chips)
4 cups Miniature Marshmallows
2 Cups Cocoa Pebbles or other cereal, divided

Heat oven to 350.  Combine Flour, Salt, and baking soda.  Beat butter and sugars until light and creamy.  Add egg and vanilla.  Gradually add flour mixture, beating well.  Stir in chocolate chips and 1 cup of the cereal.  Spread into greased 9 x 13 baking pan.

Bake on center rack for 18-20 minutes or until lightly golden.  Sprinkle evenly with marshmallows, return pan to oven.  Bake 2-3 minutes longer or until marshmallows are puffed.  Immediately sprinkle with remaining cereal.  Press lightly into marshmallows, using the back of a wooden or large spoon.  Cool in pan on wire rack.  Cut into slabs. 

YUM... I really was not in the mood for sweets this evening, but I wanted to try just a taste to see if the recipe was good enough to post on the blog...well, I had one bite, and then another, then another.....so good.

Taco Night

Okay, I know everyone knows how to make tacos.  I'm really just posting this to remind myself how easy it is to make tacos, and how budget-friendly and versatile it is.

On Tuesday we had chicken tacos (ground chicken was on sale).  I served it with sour cream, salsa, a bag of that steam-in-the-bag brown rice (I was going use regular and it probably would have been cheaper, but the steam in the bag stuff was on sale for 99 cents, so I figured you couldn't beat that), a can of spicy beans (I think they were those Bush Grillin' beans...really good), cheese, and a premade salad.

When dinner was over, I combined the leftover rice, beans, and chicken.  On Wednesday we had taco salads made with the remaining salad greens, topped with the leftover taco shells (broken into pieces), then some cheese, then the chicken/beans/rice mixture, then salsa and sour cream on top.  The taco salads were awesome!  This was such an easy meal to make, and not so bad health-wise...although the sodium content was probably not so great. 

I'm just doing a guess on some of these items, as I forgot to save the grocery receipt.

Ground Chicken:  On sale for $3.00
Taco Seasoning: $1.20
Taco Shells: $1.50
Cheese: $1.00
Salsa:  $1.25
Sour Cream: $.90
Bagged salad: On sale for $.99
Steam in bag rice: .99
Can of Spicy Beans: $2.75 (you can get beans a lot cheaper, but I think these grillin beans were worth the extra money!)

Grand Total (for two meals, four servings each): $13.58
Price per meal: $6.79
Price per serving:  $1.70

Aside from the fact that this is a really budget-friendly meal, it was soooo easy to prepare.  We all know how easy it is to make tacos.  And to make the taco salads, all I had to do was reheat one bowl and toss a few things together.  And it didn't feel like we were eating leftovers at all...it felt like a completely new meal.   And, there is essentially no waste.  All I have left is some cheese, salsa and sour cream, which we're going to use for a couple of quesadilla lunches this week.

 I hope I can remember to do this meal every two weeks or so.

Week One of Back to Normal

It's the first week after the marathon.  I am very happy to have completed the race, and now I'm excited to be able to focus more time on family, menu planning, cooking and craft projects with the girls. 

I'm back onto my grocery budget plan.  I can't remember if my budget goal was $125 or $150.  I think it was $125.  Well, I went a bit over this week, $150.  But still not too bad. 

Another project I'm working on is to go through all the magazines I've saved and clip out the recipes and ideas that I'd like to try, and toss the rest of the magazine (mostly advertisements anyhow).  This will get rid of some clutter in the attic and basement, and it is so much nicer to have little clippings organized in a notebook rather than looking through 20 magazines to find a decent recipe.  I've already used a lot of recipes and ideas from the magazines...and I never would have used them if those magazines were still boxed away taking up space. 

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pumpkin Painting

Just testing out my new wifi camera!  So exciting that I can post this without having to hook up the camera to the computer.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Cocktail Recipe: Citrus Martini

This is currently my favorite cocktail.  Chris and I discovered it on our cruise, part of a pick 4 mini martini tasting. 

2 ounces Grapefruit vodka (I use finlandia)
3/4 ounces Apple pucker
3/4 ounces lemonade mix
1/4 ounce simple syrup
2 ounces orange juice. 

Cocktail Recipe: Moscow Mule

2 measures vodka
juice of two limes
ginger beer (I used Bruce Cost Fresh Ginger Ale ....yummy)
4-5 cubes ice, crushed

Place ice, vodka and lime juice in shaker.  Shake until frost forms on outside of shaker.  Pour into highball glass with a few pieces of crushed ice.  Top off with ginger beer. 

The first couple of sips might seem a bit tart...but this one really grows on you...very refreshing.

Recipe: Unstuffed Peppers

This was great and so easy.  Both Mia and AJ kept saying, "Yum, yum.  This is yummy, mama." The recipe said it makes four servings, but I plated it with a large green salad, and is enough leftovers for another meal for our family. 

1 Cup long grain rice, cooked (I used white but next time I'll use brown)
1 pound mild italian sausage, casings removed (You could use turkey for a healthier dish)
2 green peppers, chopped
10 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 red onion, chopped
Olive Oil

Heat about 1 tablespoon olive oil in large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add sausage, break apart, and cook until lightly browned.  Remove sausage from skillet and add to cooked rice.  If there are browned bits on the skillet, you can add a couple splashes of beer, wine, or water to deglaze the pan.  This does two things; makes it easier to clean your pan and, more importantly, it will add TONS of flavor to the dish.  Add two teaspoons more oil to pan.  Add peppers, mushrooms, and onion, and season with salt and pepper.  Cook about five minutes.  Add rice and sausage back to skillet and stir to mix.

Recipe: Turkey Pumpkin Chili

I love this recipe.  It's a nice change from your regular chili.  The pumpkin gives it a subtle sweetness and a nice, creamy texture.  The beans are optional.  I throw them in because they bulk up the recipe and make it last for two meals. 

  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 1 Tablespoon Vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1 dash salt
  • 14.5 oz. can beans (kidney, black, or your choice - optional)
  • 1/2 cup shredded Cheddar cheese
  • 1/2 cup sour cream

  • Directions

    1. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat, and saute the onion, green bell pepper, yellow bell pepper, and garlic until tender. Stir in the turkey, and cook until evenly brown. Drain, and mix in tomatoes, pumpkin, and optional beans. Season with chili powder, pepper, and salt. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes. Serve topped with Cheddar cheese and sour cream.

    Collecting Magazine Clippings

    One thing I realized when I was doing the organizing project is that I have TONS of magazines.  Some of them, like the Martha Stewart Christmas and Thanksgiving editions, I'd like to keep.  However, I have tons of magazines that I keep around because there might be one or two recipes or projects I'd like to try.  But I never have time to search through the loads of magazines for the recipe or project I'm looking for.  So, for a long time I've been wanting to start a notebook of magazine clippings.  That way I can get rid of the piles of magazines and have all the ideas I want to try all in one place instead of spread out amongst loads of magazines.  So I was able to start that little project the other night.  I already have a good pile of stuff I want to try.  One of the recipes I made for dinner tonight and it came out really good.  I'll be posting that next. 

    My huge organizing project

    I think what suffered most during marathon training has been my house.  Although I've managed to keep it reasonably clean, it's become terribly unorganized.  All the closets in the house were a mess, and the spare bedroom had basically turned into a giant, very messy closet.  I could never find the things I wanted and felt like I spent half my time searching for things.  Two of the things I could never find were children's cough medicine, tape and scissors (I'll get back to this later on). 

    So I started on a pretty major organizing project.  I started with the medicine cabinets and bathroom closets.  There I found FOUR nearly full bottles of cold medicine that were hidden and jammed in various places.  Then I moved on to the hallway closets, and then the bedroom closets. 

    I packed up all the summer clothes and finally threw out anytyhing in my closet that hadn't been worn in at least two years.  My last project was the spare bedroom, which I was dreading most.  The closet was filled with stuff and plastic totes jammed with various items and junk, mostly crafting stuff that I never used because it was all so disorganized.  I set up a shelving unit in the basement and then went to work pulling everything out of the bins and out of the closet and attempting to get it into some semblance of order. 

    I got everything packed in individual bins and put labels on the outside listing the contents.  Back to the Tape and scissors that I can never find....I foune NINE rolls of tape and FIVE pairs of scissors that were hiding in all that mess!  So now I have a little bin dedicated to tape and scissors...clearly indicated on the outside of the box.  So any time I need tape, I'll just run down to the shelving unit in the basement, find the box that says TAPE/SCISSORS, and there!  No more searching all over.  I know it seems kind of simple and silly, but I can't explain how great it feels to have all this stuff organized!  I still have a little bit more work to do on the spare bedroom, and my next project is a mass organizing of the girls toys.

    Sunday, October 2, 2011

    Hello, Blog

    Hello, Blog....I'm still here and I haven't forgotten about you.  Marathoning has been taking up a lot of my time.  One of the things I told myself when I decided to start training for marathon was that I didn't want it to affect the family and home life.  I knew it was a pretty big time commitment, but I wanted to make sure that the rest of the family didn't suffer.  I was pretty successful in that up until the last month or so of training.  The mileage per week was high, and the amount of hours I needed to devote to the runs was taking a lot (most) of my free time.  But now that the race is nearly here, I'm hoping to have much more time to devote to family activities and cooking (and so more things to add to the blog!)

    Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    52 Treats: Dinosaur Food Cookies

    This was SO MUCH FUN! I really played up the ingredients, making a big deal about how yucky it was and how much the dinosaurs were going to love eating it. I think the girls actually thought the peanut butter was crushed bugs...AJ kept eating it and then saying YUCK!! and then making gagging sounds. When we were done I asked Mia if she wanted to eat some of the batter...she said, "do you think the dinosaurs will be mad if we eat their food?" We kept scaring eachother by saying, do you hear that?? It's the dinosaurs coming for their cookies! Then we took some of the finished cookies outside and pretended we could hear the dinosaurs coming.
    AJ tasting the crushed bugs
    Mia tasting the crushed bugs





    Dinosaur Food Cookies

    1/4 cup dirt (cocoa)
    1/2 cup swamp water (milk)
    2 cups crushed bones (sugar)
    1/2 cup fat (margarine or butter)
    3-1/2 cups grass (uncooked quick oats)
    1/2 cup squashed bugs (crunchy peanut butter)
    1 tsp. muddy water (vanilla)

    mix dirt, swamp water, crushed bones and fat.  Bring to a boil; boil for one minute.  Add grass, muddy water and squashed bugs.  Stir until bugs dissolve.  Drop on waxed paper, let cool.

    Recipe Budget Project: Week 3

    I was below the grocery budget this week...so far this project is going well.  Since I prepared a lot of healthy recipes last week, this week I'm focusing a bit less on health and more on taste.  Plus, since I have the 1/2 marathon coming up this weekend, I don't want to limit my carb intake. 

    This week's menu:

    Monday and Tuesday:  Fiesta Taco Salad
    Wednesday and Thursday:  Vegetable Lasagna
    Friday and Saturday:  Chicken Cacciatore

    Recipe: Fiesta Taco Casserole

    This was really good and easy to make.  I served it with a big salad. 

    Fiesta Taco Casserole

    1 pound ground chicken or turkey
    1 (15 oz.) can spicy chili beans in sauce, undrained
    1 cup salsa
    2 cups coarsley broken tortilla chips
    1/2 cup sour cream
    1 medium tomato, chopped
    1 cup cheddar or monterey jack cheese
    Salad greens, to serve

    Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook chicken in a skilled for 8-10 minutes over medium heat until no longer pink. Drain.  Stir in beans and salsa.  Heat to boiling, stirring occasionally.

    Place broken chips in 2 quart casserold (I used an 8x8).  Top with chicken mixture.  Spread sour cream over top.  Sprinkle tomato over sour cream.  Sprinkle cheese over top.  Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until hot and bubbly.  Serve with salad greens and additional sour cream and salsa, if desired.   Makes 6 servings.

    Approximate cost per serving:  $1.86


    Recipe Rating:
    Taste:  7/10
    Effort v. Payoff:  5/5
    Kid-Friendliness:  2/3
    Total rating:  14 points (four stars)

    Friday, August 19, 2011

    Decorating Cupcakes

    There's nothing exceptionally special or creative about this activity, but we had a lot of fun.  I thought I would share in case there are any moms out there desperate on a rainy day for something fun to do.  I just used a boxed cake mix and some frosting that I found in the cupboard, and we had the leftover candies from our krispie treat snowmen earlier in the week.  AJ had tons of fun helping to make the cupcakes while Mia was at preschool. 

    Cheap and healthy lunch ideas from eating well

    Cheap and healthy lunch ideas from Eating Well

    Recipe: Cinnamon Pork Tenderloin with Potatoes and Carrots

    1 Pork Tenderloin
    2 Sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
    2 large white potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
    1 lb. bag baby carrots
    1 Tablespoon cinnamon
    2 apples, peeled and cut into chunks
    1/4 cup Olive Oil
    2 Tablespoons butter
    1/4 Cup balsamic vinegar (optional)
    4 shallots (or 1 onion), diced

    Place all in dutch oven or heavy lidded pot and bake at 375 for 1.5 hours or until pork is cooked through.  Next time I might try adding a couple tablespoons of maple syrup.

    This is really easy recipe to make.  I'm thinking about taking out the balsamic next time and maybe substituting apple juice or just leave it out altogether. 

    The kids loved the pork and ate a couple of helpings each.  The potatoes are great fuel for my marathon training (15 mile long run this week!)

    Approximate cost:  $3.05 per serving

    Taste:  8/10
    Effort v. Payoff:  4/5
    Kid-Friendliness:  2/3
    Bonus health points: 1
    Total:  15 points (4 Stars ****)

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Apple Chicken with Vegetables

    4 Skinless, Boneless chicken breasts, cut into chunks (I used whole skinless thighs because I had some in the freezer)
    2 cloves garlic, minced
    2 Tbsp. minced ginger
    2 carrots, chopped
    1 red pepper, chopped
    1 zucchini, cut into chunks
    1 medium onion, diced
    1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
    1 Cup apple juice

    Place chicken in dutch oven or heavy lidded pot.  Drizzle with olive oil and toss in garlic and ginger.  Stir to coat chicken with oil, garlic and ginger.  Add vegetables.  Pour apple juice over all.  Bake at 375 degrees until chicken is cooked through. 
    If you are using diced breast it should only take about 30 minutes.  The chicken thighs too closer to an hour.

    Makes 4 servings

    I am so excited about this recipe.  Thanks to Gillian McKeith for the recipe idea.  www.gillianmckeith.info
    Mine has a few adjustments.  I left out a couple of ingredients that I didn't have and added zucchini because I had some on hand.   You can pretty much use whatever vegatables you have on hand.  The flavors of the apple juice, garlic and ginger really get into the chicken and veggies as it steams.  There is virtually no sodium in the recipe except for what small amount might be in the chicken already.  But the juice, garlic and ginger give it so much sweetness and flavor that you really don't miss any salt at all.  The juices make a great tasting broth.  You can really use whatever veggies you have on hand.  I wish I had taken a picture but we had gobbled it up before I remembered to get my camera out!

    Rating
    Taste: 8/10
    Effort v. Payoff: 5/5
    Kid-Friendliness:  1/3
    Bonus health points:  3
    Total:  17 points (four stars ****)

    Cost Breakdown
    Chicken thighs:  2.75 on sale
    Onion:  .35
    Carrot:  .25
    Broccoli: $1.00
    Red Pepper:  $1.64
    Zucchini:  .75 (mine was FREE from the garden!)
    Apple Juice:  .10
    Garlic and Ginger:  .15
    Olive oil:  .5
    Total cost:  $7.49
    Cost per Serving:  $1.88

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    Recipe: Chickpea Burger Salad

    Okay...I'm not going to lie to you and tell you that this is the world's most delicious meal....'cause it's not.  But it is super-healthy and really inexpensive to make.  I personally love the taste of the chickpea burgers, and AJ ate half of hers.  Mia didn't like it, but Chris was able to scarf down two of them. 

    Ingredients
    15 oz. can Chickpeas (low sodium)
    15 oz can Kidney Beans (low sodium)
    1 large carrot, grated
    1 small onion, finely chopped
    1 clove garlic, finely chopped
    1 large handful cilantro leaves, chopped
    1/2 vegetable or chicken boullion cube, crumbled (low sodium if available)
    1/4 Cup sunflower seeds
    2 Tbsp. Tahini **(Optional, see note below.)
    Mixed salad greens

    At the grocery store, I saw that a tub of Tahini was about $7.00.  I thought that was too much money to spend for something that will go bad before I use it up, so I decided against buying the Tahini.  I have made this recipe without the tahini before, but I wanted to think if possible substitutions.  If your grocery store sells nuts and seeds in bulk, you could just buy a small amount of sesame seeds and make your own tahini.  But the store I was at didn't offer sesame seeds by the pound.  I figured that cashew or almond butter would be okay, but those were also really expensive.  Then I remembered that I had some trail mix at home...walnuts, cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds....so when I got home I picked out the fruit and tossed a couple of handfuls of nuts into my coffee grinder.   I had to process it a couple times and stir it up, but after a couple of minutes it was nut butter (tasted pretty good and actually kind of close to tahini.)  So I used that as a substitute in this recipe.  But as I said before, I've made it before leaving this out altogether, and it was still fine. 

    Directions:
    Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly grease two cookie sheets.  Mix all ingredients together.  Process with food processor or handheld blender until blended but still fairly coarse.  Form into patties approximately 3 inches across and 1/2 inch thick.  I used a 3 tbsp ice cream scoop to measure.  Bake in preheated oven for approximately 18 minutes. 

    Place patties over salad, and add desired dressing. 

    Makes six servings.

    Cost Breakdown: 
    Kidney Beans:  .75
    Chickpeas:  .75
    Carrot:  .15
    Onion:  .35
    Cilantro:  .50
    Boullion:  .30
    Tahini or nut butter:  .40
    Salad greens:  2.00
    Salad Dressing:  .35
    Total cost:  $5.55
    Cost per serving:  $0.93

    Rating:
    Taste:  5/10
    Effort v. Payoff:  4/5
    Kid-friendliness:  1/3
    Bonus health points:  3
    Total rating:  13 - (***)

    Monday Activity: Krispie Treat Snowmen

    Today was too rainy to go to the park, so for a fun project we decided to make Krispie Treat Snowmen.  I'm not sure if this was just an excuse to buy fun candies to decorate them or not...but we did have fun.


    Just make the Krispie Treats per the normal recipe, but instead of spreading it into a pan, form it into ball shapes.  I used my ice cream scoop.  After they cool off a bit they might look more like saggy lumps than balls, so you might need to roll them back into ball shapes.  Once cool they will maintain their round shape. 

    Stack three balls to make a snowman figure and let the kids decorate with candies. 


    We had so much fun making (and eating) these. 

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    This week's menu

    Monday - Chickpea burgers with Spinach and cabbage salad with low-fat dressing
    Tuesday-leftovers from Monday
    Wednesday-Steamed Apple Chicken
    Thursday and Friday - Braised Balsamic Pork Tenderloin with apples and potatoes

    Also, I only spent $93 at the grocery store this week!  I think it will get us through the week, but I might need to make another small trip for lunch items. 

    Saturday, August 13, 2011

    Busy week

    So this week has been kind of crazy...The new puppy and a trip to Story Land has kept us pretty busy.  The puppy is doing great.  He likes to nip and chase the girls a little bit, but I'm hoping he'll grow out of it.  He is doing GREAT with his housetraining.  He's only had a couple accidents in the house.  On Thursday he was home alone for 8 hours and he held it the whole time!  He is such a little darling (when he's not chewing on something.)

    And Mia has been too big for her toddler bed for quite awhile now.  She is constantly rolling out of it.  We'll find her laying fast asleep with her head on the ground and her feet still up in the bed.  I wanted to get a bunk bed so when AJ is big enough she can sleep on the bottom and it will save a lot of space in their room.  I found a great deal at Big Lots...$250 for the bunk bed and only $100 for the mattress.  It's a really nice bed, too.  And it's tax-free weekend here in Massachusetts, so we saved on the sales tax.  Chris is upstairs assembling it right now and Mia is overseeing his work and is very excited to sleep in her new bed tonight. 

    Tuesday, August 9, 2011

    Panko Breaded Pork with Vegetable and Black Bean Ragout

    I got the base idea for tonight's dinner from brokeandhealthy.com.  A link to the original recipe below:
    http://www.brokeandhealthy.com/panko-breaded-pork-with-lime-over-black-beans-rice-96

    I changed it up quite a bit.  My variation follows.  I thought it was pretty good.  The vegetable bean ragout definitely gets bonus points for health.  I really liked it but the husband and kids thought it was just okay.  Everyone liked the pork.  I got corn on the cob instead of rice because it looked really good at our local farm stand.  One thing I didn't like about the recipe was the pan frying of the pork.  It used a lot of oil and was pretty messy.  Next time I would do it in the oven...maybe put the pork on a baking rack over a cookie sheet or something to avoid sticking without using oil.

    Panko Breaded pork medallions

    1 pork tenderloin, cut into medallions (I used tenderloin because it was on sale, but you could use chops)
    1.5 Cups Panko Bread Crumbs
    Oil
    Vegetable Bean Ragout
    1 zucchini, diced
    1 summer squash, diced
    1 green pepper, diced
    1 can low sodium black beans
    1/2 jar of your favorite salsa (I used a peach-pineapple...my favorite)
    small amount of oil

    Cooked brown rice, for serving.

    For vegetable bean ragout:  Heat a teaspoon or two of oil in a medium pot.  Add zucchini and squash.  Cook until it just begins to soften...don't over cook.  Add drained can of beans and salsa.  Cook until just heated through.  Cover and keep warm while preparing pork.

    For Pork:  Cut tenderloin into medallions.  Coat well with panko crumbs, pressing down so it sticks.  Toss in heated and well oiled pan and cook for a couple minutes on each side (depending on how thick it's cut...if you're using chops you'll need to cook it longer.).  Should be golden brown.  Again...next time I'm going to try oven cooking it to cut out some fat.. 

    Makes six servings.

    Taste:  5/10
    Effort vs. Payoff:  3/5
    Kid friendliness:  2/3
    Health bonus points:  3/3
    Total rating:  3 Stars ***

    I'll re-evaluate after oven cooking the pork next time. 

    Cost Breakdown: 
    Tenderloin:  $4.95 on sale
    Zucchini:  .60
    Squash:  .60
    Pepper:  .70
    Corn on the cob:  $3.00  (would be even less if I'd used rice)
    Panko Bread Crumbs:  .75
    Oil:  .25
    Cost per serving:  $1.81


    Sunday, August 7, 2011

    Trying to offset rising grocery prices, week 1: Recap

    So it has been a week since my grocery shopping trip.  I am pleased to say that I came very close to sticking to the $125 grocery budget.  More importantly, we used just about everything, so there was very little waste.  It felt so good to go through the refrigerator tonight and see that pretty much everything was eaten up.  All I had to throw away was a little bit of leftover coleslaw and a pork chop.  

    52 Treats: Banana Bread

    So I know banana bread recipes come a dime a dozen...so why bother posting this one?  The problem is that between my cookbooks, recipe clippings and websites, I've probably made at least ten variations of the recipe, each slightly different.  Some are good and some not so good.  The problem is that each time I go to find the "good" recipe, I can't remember which one is the right one.  This one has got to be one of the best, so I want to make sure I post it so I'll know next time which recipe is the best one. 

    Mia was great help making this, and she ate a big piece after dinner.
    Banana Bread

    Ingredients
    • 2 cups all-purpose flour
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/4 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 cup butter
    • 3/4 cup brown sugar
    • 2 eggs, beaten
    • 2 1/3 cups mashed overripe bananas

    Directions

    1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease a 9x5 inch loaf pan.
    2. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. In a separate bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar. Stir in eggs and mashed bananas until well blended. Stir banana mixture into flour mixture; stir just to moisten. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
    3. Bake in preheated oven for 60 to 65 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into center of the loaf comes out clean. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack.

    Taste:  8/10
    Effort vs. Payoff:  4/5
    Kid-friendliness:  3/3
    Overall Rating:  4 out of 4 stars ****

      Recipe: Pork Chops with Pineapple Salsa and Spicy Sweet Potatoes

      Pork Chops with Pineapple Salsa and Spicy and Sweet Potatoes


      Okay, I know this isn't the greatest picture.  But it looked much better in person and it tasted great.

      Thanks to www.brokeandhealthy.com for the recipe idea.
      A link to the recipe here.

      4 thin boneless pork chops (the ones I got were about an inch thick so I sliced them in half)
      1.5 cups chopped pineapple (I used fresh because it was on sale...but you could use canned.)
      1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
      1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped or grated
      2 cloves of garlic
      juice of 1 lime
      Olive Oil

      Heat about two teaspoons olive oil in small pan over medium-high heat. Add pepper, garlic and ginger. Saute until soft and fragrant...about three minutes or so?? Toss in the pineapple and lime juice. Heat until boiling. Then reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

      Brush pork chops with oil and season with salt and pepper. Cook in grill pan over high heat until cooked through. I'm not good gauging cook times...maybe about 4-5 minutes per side, depending on thickness.

      Spicy Sweet Potatoes -- I LOVED this recipe.
      2 sweet potatoes
      1 tablespoon olive oil
      2 teaspoons brown sugar
      1.5 tablespoons paprika
      1 teaspoon garlic powder
      little bit of salt and pepper.

      Preheat oven to 425. Toss potato cubes with olive oil and seasonings. Spread in baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through cook time.
      I served this with an arugula salad. It was AWESOME!

      Cost breakdown:
      1/2 a pineapple: $1.25
      Pork Chops: $2.88
      Lime: .34
      Arugula: 1.10
      Sweet Potatoes: $2.00
      Olive Oil: .30
      Spices, Jalapeno, Garlic, Ginger: .25 estimated

      Total cost: $8.12
      Cost per serving: $2.03


      Rating:
      Taste:  7/10
      Effort v. Payoff:  5/5
      kid-friendliness:  2/3
      Health bonus points: 2/3
      Star rating:  Four Stars ****

      Saturday, August 6, 2011

      Field Trip Wednesdays: McCray's Farm

      This week's "Field Trip" was to McCray's farm in South Hadley.  We went with our friends Kim and Emma.  Kim  is a great friend.  I don't think I would have lasted this long out here away from Maine if it weren't for her.  She is always giving me great advice and tips.  She is a great resource when it comes to kids activities and places to go.  And Emma is just a doll and so much fun to be around.  Mia adores her.  McCray's farm has some farm animals...ducks, goats, cows, a horse, peacocks, pigs, rabbits.  The girls had lots of fun checking out the animals and playing on the old tractor.  Then we went in to have some ice cream (Banana fudge for me, Moose Tracks for the girls).  After the ice cream we had another visit with the animals.  We were there for at least two hours and had a blast.  So nice to be able to have some "adult" conversation while the girls played. 

      I know there quite a few places like McCray's around New England -- ice cream shop/petting zoo.  Gran-Val Scoop in Granville, MA, Smiling Hill Farm in Westbrook, ME.  It's great low-cost entertainment.  We got over two hours of fun for the cost of an ice cream cone.

      Friday, August 5, 2011

      Trying to offset rising grocery prices Week 1: Skillet Spaghetti

      Friday's Dinner -- Skillet Spaghetti. Thanks to Marcia @ frugalhealthysimple.blogspot.com for this recipe. It was much better (and easier) than just plain spaghetti topped with sauce. My little girls loved it, and my picky eater ate two big plates! It's also perfect fuel for my 13 mile run tomorrow! This will definitely be going into regular rotation in our house.

      Here is a link to the original recipe:
      http://frugalhealthysimple.blogspot.com/2010/06/skillet-spaghetti.html
      I tweaked it a little bit...I didn't have any artichokes

      Skillet Spaghetti
      2 teaspoons olive oil (.10)
      1 onion, diced (.40)
      2 cloves garlic, finely chopped (.10)
      28 ounce jar spaghetti sauce (1.50)
      1 pound spaghetti (1.00)
      handful of chopped sun dried tomatoes (optional) (.75)
      3 cups water

      Served with green salad (1.25)
      Heat olive oil in skillet and add onion. Cook over medium-high heat until begins to brown. Add garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add pasta, sauce and water. Cover and bring to boil.  Cover, lower heat and simmer for 20-25 minutes. Toss in sun dried tomatoes during last few minutes.

      Makes six servings.
      Cost per serving: $0.85!

      Monday, August 1, 2011

      Stanley Park Mondays - Week 1: Collecting leaf specimens

      Another of my goals is to incorporate some educational activities that don't require a lot of material items or money.  Now that AJ is big enough to participate in this type of activities, I think it's important for us to get out and start learning lots of new things, and to really learn to appreciate the world around us. 

      A few weeks ago we started "Field Trip Wednesdays".  Not only is it a day for the kids to get out and do something exciting, it's also a day off of housecleaning for me :-).  It has been a huge success so far, so I wanted to add another specialty day to the mix. 

      Stanley Park is a great place and a truly wonderful resource for our community.  I am so grateful to have it so close to home.  The kids love the playground there, and AJ has been asking constantly to go to the playground.  So I thought we would head out to the playground for a while and then head into some of the nature trails to collect nature specimens.  I thought today we could start out collecting different kinds of leaves, and then later on we could use the internet to identify them and then either press them in wax paper, label them, color them, or do cutout shapes of the different leaves.

      We had a wonderful time.  We started out at the playground, found some kids to play with, then headed out to the trails.  The girls had such fun in the woods.  They were completely filthy when we were done.  I am a firm believer that the amount of dirt and grime a child picks up is directly relative to the amount of fun had. 

      We collected quite a few leaf specimens, and we also spotted squirrel, chipmunk, and a woodpecker -- I think it was a Downy Woodpecker.  We ended the walk at the duck pond where we saw frogs, goldfish, swan, ducks and geese.

      After naptime, we started on identifying our specimens.  We found a few really good websites to help identify the leaves.  These are a couple.  There are lots others, too.  Just do a Google search for Leaf Identification.

      http://www.oplin.org/tree/
      http://www.ag.auburn.edu/hort/landscape/leafid/index.php


      Now the kids started to lose interest after awhile and were more into destroying the house and making messes than in making labels for the specimens...so I finished up making the labels. 
      Then we arranged the leaves on one sheet of wax paper, inserted the label, and placed another sheet of wax paper on top.  Place a towel or cloth diaper over the wax paper and iron with a dry iron at medium heat.  This kind creates a seal...although it's not an especially tight seal.  The leaves and label do wiggle around in there a bit.  So we finished four of these until the kids were bouncing off the walls and it was time to start cooking dinner.  We have a few remaining specimens.  for those I think we will just glue them on pretty paper and label them instead of doing the wax paper.  It's more hands on for the kids that way.  So we'll finish off this project tomorrow.

      Trying to offset rising grocery prices: Week 1

      I've become increasingly disgusted with the price of groceries and my constantly rising grocery bill.  It's also disheartening to see the amount of food we throw away.  I'm making an attempt this week to find healthy, low-cost recipes and to stick to a grocery budget.  Our family is very lucky that we have not been affected financially by current economic problems, but I'm always looking for ways to save money and live on less.  I would love to be able to save up enough money through cutting weekly spending to go to Disney again this winter. 

      Finding meals to suit the taste and health needs of the family is easier said than done, especially with a picky eater and a husband with high-blood pressure. 

      My goal for weekly groceries is $125.00. I came very close to that on my shopping trip yesteday, although I still need to stop at the farm stand for $15.00 or so worth of vegetables. 

      WARNING -- post under construction...I'm still trying to figure out how I want to format this stuff...just wish I had more time...

      -------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Dinner #1:
      So the first meal this week was mini pizzas, cucumbers, fresh strawberries and cherries.  Okay, the pizza was definitely NOT healthy (320 calories, 14g fat, 3.5 sat fat, 700 mg sodium!), but they were on sale for 50 cents per pizza...can't beat that.  Hopefully some of the un-healthy factor was offset by the fresh fruits and vegetables?
      Mini pizza:  .50 per serving
      Cucumber .25 per serving
      Strawberries: .25 per serving
      Cherries:  .25 per serving
      Total cost:  $1.25 per serving

      All in all I consider the meal a success with the exception of the naughty mini pizza. The cost was low and everyone enjoyed it. I would like to try next week to do a healthier, homemade version of mini pizzas and attempt to freeze them
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Breakfast #1
      The kids had strawberries lightly dusted with sugar.  I know it doesn't sound like much, but I have a lot of trouble getting them to eat ANYTHING in the morning, so I was happy with them each finishing a bowl of strawberries...I guess it's better than a bowl of fruity pebbles.

      Strawberries: .50 per serving
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Lunch #2
      Doritos:  .25
      String cheese: .33
      Apple: .50
      Sliced turkey: .35
      Leftover mini pizzas from last night:  FREE!
      Carrots:  .10
      Cost per serving:  $1.53
      As for me, I just gobbled up the remainder of what the kids didn't eat.  So lunch for all three of us was about $3.00...that really changes the way I think about the $15.00 Mcdonalds lunch we had last week!
      ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Dinner #2
      I got the recipe idea from www.brokeandhealthy.com.  A lot of good recipes here. 

      Pork Chops with Pineapple Salsa and Spicy and Sweet Potatoes
      4 thin boneless pork chops (the ones I got were about an inch thick so I sliced them in half)
      1.5 cups chopped pineapple (I used fresh because it was on sale...but you could use canned.)
      1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely diced
      1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped or grated
      2 cloves of garlic
      juice of 1 lime
      Olive Oil

      Heat about two teaspoons olive oil in small pan over medium-high heat.  Add pepper, garlic and ginger.  Saute until soft and fragrant...about three minutes or so??  Toss in the pineapple and lime juice.  Heat until boiling.  Then reduce heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes.

      Brush pork chops with oil and season with salt and pepper.  Cook in grill pan over high heat until cooked through.  I'm not good gauging cook times...maybe about 4-5 minutes per side, depending on thickness. 

      Spicy Sweet Potatoes   -- I LOVED this recipe.
      2 sweet potatoes
      1 tablespoon olive oil
      2 teaspoons brown sugar
      1.5 tablespoons paprika
      1 teaspoon garlic powder
      little bit of salt and pepper.

      Preheat oven to 425.  Toss potato cubes with olive oil and seasonings.  Spread in baking pan.  Bake for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through cook time. 
      I served this with an arugula salad.  It was AWESOME!
      Cost breakdown:
      1/2 a pineapple:  $1.25
      Pork Chops:  $2.88
      Lime:  .34
      Arugula:  1.10
      Sweet Potatoes: $2.00
      Olive Oil:  .30
      Spices, Jalapeno, Garlic, Ginger:  .25 estimated

      Total cost:  $8.12
      Cost per serving: $2.03
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Breakfast #2
      Oatmeal and Fresh Strawberries:  Total cost:  .65 per serving
      ---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Lunch #3
      Oops it's been a long day and I absolutely cannot remember what was on the menu for lunch today! 
      --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Dinner #3
      Pork Chops:  $2.88
      Arugula:  $1.00
      Carrots:  .75
      Brown Rice:  $.40
      Pineapple:  $1.00

      total cost:  $6.03
      Cost per serving:  $1.51
      ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
      Thursday's Dinner
       - A surprising success.  The kids absolutely loved the cole slaw.  Such an easy meal to prepare.

      BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with Healthier Cole Slaw

      Sandwiches
      5 chicken thighs  ($4.33)
      1 cup BBQ sauce  (.50)
      4 hot dog buns  (.50)

      Put thighs in crockpot with a splash of water or BBQ sauce
      Cook about four hours on low
      Remove skin and bone from meat, cut or shred meat into medium-ish chunks.
      Add desired amount of BBQ sauce, stir to combine.
      Serve meat in Hot dog buns or hamburger rolls

      Healthier Cole Slaw
      16 Ounces cole slaw mix  ($1.79)
      1/2 cup Plain Greek Yogurt (low or nonfat) ($1.00)
      1/4 cup Mayonnaise  (.32)
      1/4 cup cider vinegar (.10)
      1 Tablespoon Honey (.10)
      1/2 teaspoon salt
      Pepper to taste

      Toss everything but the cabbage into large bowl.  Stir to combine.  Add cole slaw mix and stir to coat.  That's it!
      Cost per serving for meal:  $2.16
      -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

      Friday, August 4 - So I'm finding that I haven't had time keep track of every meal, particularly breakfasts and lunches...but they've all been pretty much in line with the previous days...oatmeal and fruits for breakfast, sandwiches, cheese and veggies for lunches.  Except for today...I forgot that I had an appointment with my rheumatologist this morning so I didn't have a babysitter lined up.  So I had to drag the kids to the doctor's office where we had to wait an HOUR for the doctor to see me.  Needless to say I was frazzled by the time we left and we stopped at Wendy's for lunch:  16 dollars!  and all that sodium made me swell up like you wouldn't believe.

      Monday, July 11, 2011

      Roasted Chicken

      I was talking to my sister – who is a much more talented cook than I – about brining chickens.  Now, I very rarely cook a whole chicken unless I’m smoking it.  I suppose it’s because it seems like an awful lot of work, it takes a long time to cook, I never know quite how long to cook it for, and there’s something I don’t like about pulling that bag of slimy stuff out of the cavity.  Tackling a whole bird seems somewhat intimidating, all in all. 

      My sister argued that roasting a chicken is actually really easy and mentioned how delicious and homey the smell of roasting chicken is.  I began to wonder why I’ve been so scared of roasting a chicken…It’s inexpensive and there are myriad meals you can create with the leftovers…chicken sandwiches, chicken chili, chicken enchiladas, chicken salad…the list goes on and on. 

      On our monthly trip to Costco I warily eyed the whole chickens.  They seemed to be mocking me…daring me…I gingerly reached out to grab a pair of birds, sure that their salmonella-infused juices were going to drip all over me.  But I managed to wrangle the birds into my cart without too much ado, and we were off. 

      I paid $9.40 for two 5.25 pound chickens…quite a bargain.  I’ll be able to get at least three meals out of each chicken.  So far this experiement is going well. 

      This afternoon I began to get nervous as I looked at the clock…hmmm it’s 2:00 now.  When do I need to get this chicken started to be ready for dinner at 6:00??  I pulled out my trusty Betty Crocker cookbook which told me to cook it at 325 degrees for a 3-3.5 pound bird…but mine was 5 pounds…so how long to cook it for??  I decided to plan on 2.5 hours and then reevaluate as necessary. 

      Since I wasn’t quite sure how long the chicken was going to take to cook, I planned some simple sides.  Instant mashed potatoes (not my preference but a lifesaver) and fresh green beans cooked in the microwave. 

      I managed to get the chicken out of its wrapping and pulled out the slimy stuff.  I almost gagged but I got through it.  Mia was very curious and wanted to help.  Normally I wouldn’t consider a recipe containing raw chicken to be kid-friendly, but I suppose it’s never too early to teach your children about food safety (My sister Jenny and my Grandma Jessie – a home economics teacher -  would be so proud of me).  So we went out to the garden to pick some fresh herbs…sage, rosemary and fennel.  I stuffed the herbs inside the chicken and allowed Mia to sprinkle the inside with salt and a bit of pepper.  Mia was still very curious and wanted to help, so we pulled up her stool.  I gave her the pastry brush and a cup of melted butter to brush over the chicken.  She did a great job.  She kept saying as she was brushing the chicken, “It’s okay, little fella, we’ll take good care of you.  Mom, I’m taking good care of my pet chicken!”  Then she kept asking me after it went in the oven how her pet chick was doing. 

      All in all it was a relatively painless experience.  The chicken was cooked perfectly after 2.5 hours.  I allowed it to rest for 15 minutes, which gave me just enough time to prepare the sides.   I love the fact that the bulk of the cooking and prep work and cleaning up was done well ahead of time, so there was no mad rush at 5:30 to get dinner ready. 

      The chicken came out perfect.  The kids loved it – they were gobbling it up faster than I could get it on their plates.  Thanks Hannah for the suggestion.  I am officially over my fear of oven-cooking a whole chicken.  Maybe I’ll even try a turkey next!