Sunday, December 30, 2012

Toddler Meal Idea

You know all those books and articles that tell you if you just feed your child plenty of vegetables when they are a baby they will develop a taste for them and want to eat them all the time? Well, I am convinced the authors of these pieces are not parents of toddlers, and might not have ever spent much time around children. They may not understand the fact that children seem to have a mind of their own. Although I have met a few children who prefer to snack on broccoli and carrots over anything else, the majority of children I have spent any time around do not share this sentiment. 

I began babysitting at the age of 12 and continued to do it off and on until the age of 28 (just before giving birth to my own son). I also spent three years as a teacher. Plus I have four nephews. And now I have a 22 month old child of my own. So, needless to say, I know my fair share of children. Although, before having Jack, I only knew children that were not my own. Some of these kids were fed fresh, healthy, all organic foods and some ate fast food almost everyday and most were somewhere in between.

So naturally, when I became a mom I thought I knew everything about children. And I believed all these people who wrote articles telling me if I fed my children chicken nuggets I was a bad mom and that if I would just start them early on fresh, healthy veggies they would be hooked for life. So I tried this. When Jack was a baby I made all of his baby food with fresh produce. It actually was much easier than I thought it would be, and was very inexpensive (you can read more about that here). For the most part, Jack liked the veggies, and I secretly was proud of myself for being such a good mom.

As Jack got older and began moving away from baby foods, he was less and less interested in vegetables. I tried feeding him different veggies and he usually just spit them out (sweet potatoes are the only vegetable I know he will always eat). He loves fruit, and would live on a diet of fruit alone if allowed. So when he is not eating fruit, we fill in with grilled cheese, mac and cheese, quesadillas, pizza, and chicken nuggets (I guess it was my turn to eat some humble pie). 

So I finally let go of my mama pride, and I have to admit, it was very freeing. But I am still trying to work in veggies when I can. I know that they are good for him, and I am hopeful that someday he will like them (and I must admit, I hated veggies as a child and did not chose to eat any of my own free will until the age of 20). And I know that the older he gets, the more I can make him eat them. It's hard when they are young and cannot understand you very well. 

Tonight was one of those nights when I made an attempt to get those veggies in. I had some russet baking potatoes, so I took one and microwaved it. I poked holes in it with a fork, used the baked potato button on my microwave. If you don't have a baked potato button it should take anywhere from 5-10 minutes. Just cook until the potato is soft. 

Once it was cooked, I cut it in half and scooped out the flesh with a large spoon. Then I put it in my mini food processor. I also had some leftover broccoli, so I reheated that for 25 seconds and added it to the food processor as well (you could also just heat up some frozen broccoli). I threw in a little butter (about 1/2 tablespoon), a little shredded cheese, and a little olive oil and salt.

Jack helped me push the button on the food processor and also helped stir it around. It's good to have such an experienced sous chef in the kitchen with me. As you'll notice in the picture of him, he has a spatula in one hand and a train in the other.

Blend them until they are smooth and serve. This was very easy. And I thought this would be a good option for Jack because I think his issue with many vegetables might be the texture. So making the food smooth rather than crunchy might help. The only problem was my broccoli did not blend all the way. I think next time I will steam it longer so that it is very soft or try frozen broccoli. So he didn't seem to like them too much, but I think it was for that reason. I was able to get him a little, then got a slice of bread, spread the potatoes across it, and folded it in half. He seemed to do okay with that.

Although this meal wasn't a complete home run, I will definitely try it again and continue to think of creative ways to feed him more veggies during these toddler years.

If your son is obsessed with trains like mine is, he might eat his potatoes with a Thomas the Train spoon.

And he might also try to play with his train in his potatoes.

Pinterest Favorite

If you're like me and love finding new recipes on Pinterest, there is a good chance you have seen this Mississippi Roast recipe floating around. I have mentioned it on here before, but it's so good (plus I have more pictures), that I thought I should mention it again.  My husband and I are both in love with this recipe. It's that good. Plus it's about the easiest thing you'll ever make. And you can keep most of the ingredients on hand so that you can make it anytime you're at a loss for dinner ideas (or lazy, as I often am).

You will need: pepperoncini peppers, one stick of butter (I know, not the healthiest of meals), one package of Au Jus gravy mix (I just buy the generic brand), one package of ranch dip mix (I buy Simply Organic brand because it's the least expensive at my Albertson's and organic which is a no brainer), and a chuck roast (it doesn't need to be a particular size). I try to only buy meats like roasts when they are on sale. Albertson's (and many other stores) often have deals like buy one get one free, so I try to stock up on them when they run those specials and keep them in my freezer.

Have you ever used Reynolds Slow Cooker Liners? I love these. My slow cooker is very nice, but it's also quite large, heavy, and not dishwasher safe. So these liners are wonderful. Just place it in your slow cooker, add the food, and when you are finished all you have to do is throw it away. No clean up required!

Place the roast in your slow cooker, sprinkle ranch mix and au jus mix over it, place the stick of butter on top, and top with pepperoncinis. The original recipe says five, but as you can see in the picture above, I prefer to use more. They add great flavor and just a hint of spice.

Cook on low for 8 hours. The nice thing about this roast is that if you are not ready to eat right when it's done, it will be fine sitting in the slow cooker a little longer. My slow cooker automatically turns to a "keep warm" setting once the cooking time is finished. I think this last time I ended up leaving it in there on that setting for another 30 minutes or an hour and it was still delicious.

When you are ready to serve it, you can just pull the meat apart with two forks. It should be very tender. You can do this in your slow cooker, but since I use the liner bags in mine, I prefer to place the roast in a large dish and ladle the gravy on top before shredding it. This is also good if you have guests and plan to serve it from the table.

When I made it this week I served it over mashed potatoes, which are great for soaking up all that delicious gravy. I also served it with steamed broccoli so that I could feel a little better about all that butter. I did not put anything on the broccoli knowing that the gravy would mingle with it on the plate giving it plenty of flavor (plus I knew I had most definitely exceeded my butter quota for the day).

Another wonderful thing about this roast (I promise, I will stop talking about it after this), is the option to make an amazing grilled sandwich with the leftovers. I did that tonight. I used my panini press and grilled it on wheat bread with sharp cheddar. When I have Trader Joe's Sourdough Artisan bread around I prefer to use that because it's amazing, but the wheat was just fine for tonight.

Getting Creative With Leftovers

One of the meals I made while I had family in town for Christmas (which I forgot to photograph originally) was slow cooker pulled pork. My grandmother gave me a copy of this recipe a few years ago, and it has become a regular in our house. It's easy and great for anytime we are entertaining and want something easy. I made it for Christmas Eve dinner and we served it on hamburger buns with different flavored Kettle Brand potato chips. Nothing fancy, but so simple, and it cooked on it's own all day while I was able to enjoy time with my family!

The day after Christmas my family all went home, and although the house was suddenly empty, my refrigerator was not. We had so many leftovers! One of which was the barbecue pulled pork. We were out of buns and I kind of felt like something different anyway. So I used the meat to make barbecue grilled tacos on my new panini press my grandmother gave me (thank you, Nana!). 

I began by heating up the leftover meat on the panini press.

Next I laid two flour tortillas on the panini press, sprinkled shredded cheese on them, a little meat, a little more cheese, and some barbecue sauce (Stubbs BBQ sauce to be exact, which is my favorite).

Then I folded the tortillas in half, shut the panini press for a few minutes until the cheese was all melted, and enjoyed them with some of my leftover chips. This was an easy way to make leftovers a little more interesting.

Bowling Alley Foodie

When you think of bowling alley food, the first things that pop into your brain are most likely cold pizza, hot dogs, nachos, and cheap beer. I am sure the last things you might think of are duck enchiladas, filet mignon, or lemon ricotta pancakes. However, if you visit Ezra's Place in the Lucky 66 Bowling Alley in Albuquerque, you would find all of these delicious items and more.

After reading a glowing review from trusted local food blogger, Gil Garduno and checking out Urbanspoon, I knew I had to give Ezra's Place a try. I finally got around to trying it yesterday. We had friends traveling through town and they were willing to give it a chance, even though they knew it was in a bowling alley (now those are great friends). 

The atmosphere at Ezra's place may not be what you would expect from a restaurant serving dishes like duck confit, but in many ways, the old booths and windows facing out into the bowling alley just gives it that much more character. And watching people bowl can be quite entertaining.

We went for a late lunch and had eaten a big breakfast that morning, so although all of the brunch options sounded incredible, we all chose lunch items instead. I ordered the steak sandwich after asking the waitress which dishes were her favorite. The meat was well cooked, not overdone, it had a little spice to it, and the guacamole was a great touch as well. You can choose a salad or fries with your sandwich and I went for the fries, which were incredible. Delicious, light and crispy shoestring good! I am very picky when it comes to french fries (don't even think about serving me bland, thick steak fries), and these are at the top of my list of my favorite fries ever. I took the picture above with my phone, which is not the best, but at least it can give you an idea. 

My friends both loved their food as well, especially Robert, who ordered the duck enchiladas. They had a tomatillo sauce which had a touch of sweetness to it. We also ordered chips and salsa for an appetizer. They were great too. The chips were fresh and definitely made on site, and although the salsa was not very spicy, it was still very good. 

There were so many things on the menu that sounded delicious and unique. I will be returning to Ezra's Place in the near future to give them a try as well! So if you live in Albuquerque, or are just visiting, check out Ezra's Place and your opinion of bowling alley cuisine will be forever changed. 

Ezra's Place on Urbanspoon 

Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Mexico Christmas

Because we live in New Mexico and all of our Christmas guests traveled from out of state, I found it only fitting that we take advantage of our state's incredible culinary traditions for Christmas dinner. So I chose to make red chile enchiladas, tamales, and salad. Before dinner I had my salsa and chips to snack on.

The red chile enchiladas I made are very easy. I bought Bueno Red Chile Sauce which can be found in the freezer section of many grocery stores throughout the southwest. The company is based here in Albuquerque. Check their website to see if their products are available in your area. I used 4 small containers of their mild red chile sauce (normally I go for hot or mix the two, but I didn't think most of my family would enjoy the spiciness as much as I do!). Make sure you place it in your refrigerator to thaw a few days before cooking. Then I followed the recipe on the container to make the sauce for the enchiladas.

After making the sauce, spray a lasagna pan (or 9 x 11 inch baking pan) with cooking spray. Heat chicken broth (or vegetable broth) over medium-low heat. Dip corn tortillas in broth one at a time (just enough to soften them a bit) then place in a single layer in pan. Spoon enchilada sauce over layer, sprinkle with cheese, and repeat until almost to the top of the pan, finishing with cheese. You will use anywhere from 20-30 tortillas depending on the size of your pan. I usually use a small amount of cheese on each layer, and once I get to the top I use a thicker layer of cheese.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 30 minutes until cheese is completely melted and bubbling. When finished, remove from oven, let sit for a few minutes, then serve with sour cream, avocaodo, cilantro, or covered with an egg over easy.

I make these enchiladas often. They are also a great meal to make ahead of time and keep in the refrigerator or freezer. Then they can be given to a friend in need of a meal or thrown in the oven when you have company. This is a great vegetarian meal option too (just make sure you use vegetable broth rather than chicken broth for softening the tortillas). 

Tamales are a traditional Mexican Christmas dish because when you unwrap the husk it's like opening a gift. Making them yourself is quite labor intensive, so I used a shortcut and took advantage of another Bueno Foods product. Their tamales can be purchased at the grocery store from the freezer section and steamed at home. So simple, and very tasty!

To make up for all the heavy (yet still delicious) food, I served a salad with dinner as well. I set up a salad bar so that each person could make their salad the way they like. I had baby spinach, chopped avocados, diced onion, cherry tomatoes, and a variety of dressings. 

For dessert I made a family favorite, ice cream pie (and perhaps one of the easiest home made pies ever). This dessert is not only delicious, it is so easy to make, and it can be made way ahead of time and left in the freezer.

To make my ice cream pie, you will need the following:

  • One store bought Oreo pie crust (you could make your own, but we're aiming for simple here)
  • Your favorite ice cream. Which, if your smart will be any flavor of Blue Bell ice cream. It's made in Texas and is the best ice cream you will ever put in your mouth. Seriously. It can be pricey, so I buy it when it's on sale and stock up. I made 2 pies, one with peppermint ice cream (because you've gotta have a little holiday spirit), and the other with coffee ice cream (because my family is a little obsessed with it...for good reason). 
  • One jar of hot fudge topping (usually by ice cream toppings in the store). You'll need one jar per pie.
Once you have these yummy ingredients, follow these easy steps:

  • Remove ice cream from fridge. Leave on counter for a few minutes to soften. 
  • Scoop ice cream into pie crust. Smooth around with a spoon or spatula. I used about 1/2 gallon. 
  • Place (covered, the crust should come with a plastic cover) in freezer for a few hours. Or a few days. Just long enough so that the ice cream sets. 
  • Pour entire jar of fudge (do not heat it) over pie and spread over ice cream. Place back in freezer until you are ready to serve it.
  • Remove from freezer a few minutes before serving to soften a little.
  • Enjoy!

Christmas Brunch

My family always made a big brunch Christmas morning, so I decided to carry on this tradition as I hosted for the first time this year. Rather than cooking pancakes, scrambled eggs, or other items that would take a lot of work the morning of, I went for dishes that could be prepared the night before and thrown in the oven in the morning. 

I knew I wanted to make some sort of French toast casserole, so after a little online research, I decided to try Paula Deen's recipe on the Food Network website. My sister helped me prepare it the night before and it was very easy. It's super rich (of course there is like a pound of butter like most Paula Deen recipes), but it was so good! The only thing we did differently was leave out the pecans.
I also knew I wanted to make some sort of egg casserole to add a savory dish to the meal. I looked at many different recipes online and adapted aspects from each of them to make my own. Here is my recipe:
  • Cook about 1 1/2 packages of bacon over medium-high heat in a pan until crisp (I add fresh cracked pepper to the bacon while cooking it). Crumble the bacon and set aside when all the bacon is finished. Pour most of grease out of pan, leaving about 1-2 tablespoons.
  • Add one diced yellow onion to pan with leftover grease, cook until tender and translucent.
  • Add 1-2 cloves of minced garlic and about half a bag of frozen shredded hash browns to onions in pan and continue to saute. Add oil if needed and salt and pepper. 
  • Spray canola oil spray (or whatever you have on hand) in the bottom of a 9 x 11 inch pan. Spread potato and onion mixture in the bottom of pan. 
  • Sprinkle bacon and shredded Mexican or cheddar cheese (just enough cheese to cover it) over potato mixture.
  • Cover and refrigerate overnight.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together 18 eggs and 1/2 cup of milk. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate overnight. 
  • In the morning, heat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Place pan with potatoes in the oven for about 5-10 minutes. This allows the potatoes to crisp up a bit. 
  • Remove pan from oven and pour egg mixture over potatoes. Place back in oven and bake 25-30 minutes or until eggs are set.
  • Sprinkle fresh chopped parsley over casserole and serve.

I also made cheese grits. It's a favorite of my mom and her parents, plus it takes almost no time to prepare. I use quick grits and follow the recipe on the container. Once they are cooked, I add a small handful of shredded sharp cheddar and a heavy pinch of shredded parmesan. I also add about a tablespoon of butter and salt and pepper to taste (this was for 6 servings, so you can adjust if making more or less).


This year we hosted Christmas at our house. It was the first time in our five year marriage that we have spent Christmas in our own home. It was so nice not to travel and have everyone come see us instead. Of course, I am sure an adorable toddler was enough to entice everyone to make the trip!

We had my sister, her husband, and their two sweet dogs, one of which is a St. Bernard named Freckles (isn't he adorable?) from Colorado and my grandparents and parents from Texas.

Because it was my first time hosting, I have a small kitchen, and I like spending time with my family rather than cooking, I tried to plan a holiday menu that would be simple and easy to prepare much of it ahead of time.

Everyone drove in late Sunday afternoon, so I decided to make chili because I could make it just before everyone arrived and let it simmer on the stove until we were all ready to eat. I chose a great chili recipe from Cooking Light, which you can find here. We had eight adults, so I tripled the recipe to ensure there would be enough and give us extra for leftovers. I split it between two pots and in one added a can of rinsed and drained black beans. Some of my family likes beans, and others do not, so this way everyone would be happy. The only other changes I made were adding one small can of tomato sauce to each pot to thicken the broth and using 85/15 ground beef instead of ground sirloin because I already had it in the freezer. I used mild diced tomatoes and green chiles so that it wouldn't be too spicy for those that don't like it spicy (although when I make it for just us I use medium). I set out fritos, cornbread, shredded Mexican cheese, sour cream, sliced jalapenos (from a jar), and tabasco sauce so that everyone could make their bowl the way they liked.

This is a great recipe. It's easy, healthy, and inexpensive. Everyone loved it too! I will post more of our Christmas meals soon...

Christmas Goodies

I love giving (and receiving) tasty treats around the holidays. Growing up, my mom would often make peppermint bark to hand out to friends, teachers, and neighbors. It is so simple to make, delicious, and pretty!

To make it, you will need one package of almond bark (also called vanilla-flavored candy coating). This can be found in the baking section of the grocery store, near chocolate chips. You will also need one bag (I think the one I used was 10 oz.) of peppermints. Begin by removing peppermints from wrappers and placing them in a large zip top bag. Using a meat mallet, hammer, or heavy rolling pin, crush the peppermints (while in the bag). Next, place almond bark in a large microwave safe bowl. Cook in microwave for 2 minutes, stir, then continue this process until it is completely melted. Pour crushed peppermints into bowl and stir. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or wax paper. Pour bark mixture into pan and spread out with a spatula. Let sit for a few hours or until completely dry. Brake apart into small pieces and enjoy!
Another Christmas favorite of mine is Chex Mix (well, I enjoy it all year, but Christmas is yet another excuse to eat it). I follow the Original Chex Party Mix Recipe and make changes as needed. For instance, I usually do not add bagel chips because they can be difficult to find in larger quantities and a little expensive. I also like to substitute cashews for the mixed nuts, but this year I refrained from using nuts at all. My son and some of our friends have peanut allergies, and other nuts can often trigger them. So. I just used the 3 different types of Chex cereal and pretzel sticks. I followed the recipe for everything else.
It's so good! And it also makes great road trip food for yourself or friends that may be traveling over the holidays.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tortilla Soup

I made my grandmother's chicken tortilla soup again on Sunday. It's so warm and comforting on a cold day. I changed it up a little this time. I decided to make it after church on Sunday, so we ran to the store on our way home and I did not bring a list which led to me forgetting the fresh tomatoes. So instead of fresh tomato juice I used canned tomato sauce (one 8 oz. can), and rather than a fresh tomato, I used one can of diced tomatoes and green chiles (undrained). I also used about 1/3 of a carton of chicken broth (rather than an entire carton) because it was all I had left and the liquid from the can of tomatoes and green chiles made up for it.

This modified version was still delicious and a little spicier with the addition of the diced tomatoes and green chiles. I used Rotel original, which is medium spicy, but you can buy mild and only use one jalapeno in the soup if you are not a big fan of spicy food.

Easy Pancakes

On Sunday morning we woke up to a beautiful blanket of snow at our house. I love it when it snows here. The mountains look gorgeous and nothing is cooler than snow in the desert! I took this picture with our iPad through the window and managed to catch a little reflection. This was not my attempt at artistic photography in case you were wondering. 

Inspired by the beautiful morning, I decided to make pancakes. I use to think you only made pancakes with box mix because homemade would be too much work. Now I know that making pancakes from scratch can be very simple. Plus, the ingredients are things you most likely have around your kitchen anyway. I just searched pancake recipes on the Food Network website and found this recipe.  The only ingredient I was missing was nutmeg, so I sprinkled in a little cinnamon instead. It would be just as good without either as well. 

These pancakes were very good, especially for something that can easily be thrown together at the last minute. You could also add to it like throwing in blueberries or mashed bananas. This is definitely something I will make again. 

My favorite pancake recipe is another Food Network one from Tyler Florence, his Ricotta Pancakes. But they are a little more time consuming and require ingredients you may not have on hand. So, they are my "special occasion" pancakes.

I have a feeling this pancake recipe will be one I will return to often, especially on those mornings (or evenings) when I can't figure out what to make! And by the way, Jack loved them. It's a perfect toddler breakfast. I didn't give him any syrup or butter. I figure I will keep those away from him until he's old enough to ask for it. If he's happy without the extra sugar and fat that's just fine with me (If only I was content to eat them that way)! 

Lemon Chicken Piccata

This past weekend my brother and his friend stayed the night with us on their way out to Utah. I love getting to see my younger brother, even if it is only for a short period of time! So, like any good big sister, I knew I needed to cook them a good meal.

I decided to go with one of my favorites, another Cooking Light recipe, this Meyer Lemon Chicken Piccata. I have made this many times and it is always good. Josh and I both love it. And for the most part, I can keep the ingredients on hand and make it almost any night. I like to serve it with angel hair pasta or thin spaghetti noodles. I pour the sauce over both the chicken and the pasta.

One of my favorite veggies to make with it is roasted asparagus. Trim the ends off your asparagus, place on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Bake at 375 degrees for about 15 minutes.

This is a great easy and light meal for any night!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Party

On Friday I hosted a Christmas party for my neighborhood play group. I love hosting. I always have plenty of ideas of things I would like to cook, cute decorations, activities, etc. However, I rarely end up turning many of those ideas into a reality. Thankfully, my friends are sweet and don't expect perfection.

This month's issue of Southern Living included a recipe for a basic cheese straw dough along with multiple variations. I thought I might make this to give to friends, but did not have my act together quite well enough for that. So, I figured I'd throw it together the day of the party to include with the snacks. Since this was my first time making it and also because I didn't feel like running to the store to find more ingredients, I just made the basic cheese straws. I also do not have any cookie cutters or a pastry wheel, so I just cut it into strips (not as fun and festive, but still delicious). These were really good, and super easy to make. I will definitely make them again and try the different variations! 
I also decided to make chocolate dipped candy canes. This is something very easy to do. Buy chocolate flavored almond bark (in the baking section of the grocery store usually near chocolate chips). Empty chocolate into large microwave safe bowl. Heat for about 1-2 minutes, stir, and repeat until completely melted. Remove candy canes from their wrappers. Lay out wax paper or parchment paper on your counter. Dip candy canes into melted chocolate then place on parchment paper. Leave out until chocolate hardens (about 2 hours).

After I dipped all the candy canes, I still had a lot of leftover chocolate. And you can't let chocolate go to waste. So I began looking around my kitchen for other things to dip in chocolate. Pretzels and orange slices were the winners. Both delicious. The oranges I put on a plate in the fridge instead of out on the counter to allow the chocolate to harden. 

We had a special holiday cocktail for all the moms. It helps us handle all the screaming toddlers with ease! A few years back we came across a recipe for this Grey Goose Peppermint Froth. We have made it every Christmas since then, so I thought it would be great for my party. We added my chocolate dipped candy canes for garnish. It's like Christmas in a cup.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

"Freezer" Dinner

Some nights it's difficult to find the energy to get a meal together, but I want something more than frozen pizza or take out. This week I put together a meal that takes almost no time to prepare, and all the elements can be stored in the freezer or fridge and will be ready to cook.

When my mom showed me Hormel pre-seasoned pork tenderloin and I saw how easy it was to cook, I knew I would have to give it a try. These come in a variety of flavors, and could not be easier to prepare. You simply remove them from the package, through them on a baking sheet and into the oven. They are a little pricey on their own, but my grocery store often does buy one get one free sales on these, plus I have found coupons for them on occasion, so combine that and you have a great deal! They can also be frozen in their package, so you can stock up on them when they are on sale.

In addition to our pork the other night, I pulled peas out of our freezer and garlic toast. This may not be the healthiest, prettiest, or freshest meal, but it was semi-homemade and easy!

Gorgonzola Grits

As I have mentioned before, I am a big fan of Cooking Light magazine. While perusing this month's issue, I came across this recipe for Skirt Steak with Gorgonzola Polenta. I thought I would give it a try because it is something different from what I normally cook yet still not too difficult. I could not find skirt steak at the grocery store and didn't have the time, energy, or desire to go to another store with a toddler, so I settled for flank steak, which I believed to be similar.

Well, the steak was not exactly a home run. It wasn't terrible, it was just a little tough, and after doing a little online research just now, I discovered that flank steak is generally a tougher cut of beef. The sauce, however, was pretty tasty, although a bit sweet for my personal taste (maybe if I left out the honey it might be better).

I gave the dish a southern spin by replacing the polenta with my own version of gorgonzola grits. I cooked instant grits according to the package directions, replacing the water with low sodium chicken broth. Once the grits were cooked, I stirred in about 1/4 cup of crumbled gorgonzola cheese. It melts into the grits giving them a creamy texture and a wonderful flavor. If you are unfamiliar with gorgonzola, it is an Italian blue cheese. So, if you don't like blue cheese, you may not like this. I don't eat blue cheese much on its own, but in a dish like this I enjoy it.

I also sauteed some fresh baby spinach in a little olive oil with salt and pepper. I placed this on top of the grits and they tasted great together. I will definitely be making these grits again. They would be great on their own, with crumbled bacon mixed in, or with another steak dish.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Juice, Toddler Food & Ranch Dinner

We are still trying to juice some, mostly in the mornings. The other day I used this combination of carrots, oranges, and spring mix/baby spinach. Pretty tasty! 

Preparing meals for toddlers can be difficult, and I often find myself in a rut of mac and cheese and grilled cheese. So, when I am a little more nutritionally minded, one of my favorite meals to cook for Jack is sauteed sweet potatoes. Just peel and chop sweet potatoes into bite size pieces then place in a bowl. Drizzle them with a little canola oil (or whatever oil you have on hand). I like to add chili powder and cumin and toss the potatoes around. Then saute them in a pan over medium high heat until they are a little crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. Jack loves these and sometimes I serve them alone, or as I did above, with black beans.

This dinner is not pretty. Looks a little too monochromatic for me, but our broccoli went bad and I didn't have anything pretty to garnish it with. However, it was pretty tasty. The chicken, not so much, so I will spare you the details, but the potatoes were definitely something I will make again. For the potatoes I peeled and chopped 2 russet potatoes, placed them on a baking sheet, then drizzled them with olive oil and about 1/4 packet of ranch dressing mix. I stirred them around then baked them at 375 degrees for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Just check them to see if you need to bake them longer. They should be lightly crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Meal for a Friend

Have you ever been through something like illness, the death of someone you love, or maybe something a little more exciting but still stressful like the arrival of a new baby or a move? I and/or my family have experienced all of the above throughout our lives, and one of the things I have appreciated most during these times is when our friends have organized meals for us. It is so nice to have one less thing to worry about! 

I have both given and received meals over the years, and from these experiences, I have come up with a few tips (some of these are my own ideas, and others I have picked up from friends:

  • Think about how your meal will taste if it sits for awhile or has to be reheated. In most cases, your friend will not be eating it the moment you walk into their home. So although a steak sounds like a great treat, it might not taste so good after sitting for an hour or especially if it has to go in the microwave later. 
  • Ask your friends about food allergies, dietary restrictions, and personal preference. They might be vegetarian or have a peanut allergy (as a mother of a child with a peanut allergy, this is very important to me), or they may not like mushrooms. You don't need to waste your time and theirs bringing them something they cannot or would rather not eat. 
  • Not a cook? Don't let this stop you from helping a friend. Ask them what their favorite take out restaurant is and what they usually order there. Or pick up a prepared dinner from a nice grocery store like Whole Foods. They will appreciate this more than you think!
  • If you are the one organizing the meals for a friend in need, try out a website like Take Them a Meal. This website (and others like it) are great for this. You can set up a schedule, include the preferences of the friend receiving the meals, their address and phone number, so that they can be contacted about times, etc. Then you can email it out to everyone (this is great for churches, playgroups, and co-workers), and each person can sign up for a meal on the day that works best for them. They type in the meal they plan on bringing, and that way your friend will not receive 10 lasagnas in a row (I love lasagna, but it can get old).
  • Bring all food in disposable containers or other containers your friend can keep. It's a pain to have to clean everyone's casserole dishes, remember which one belongs to which person, then bring it back to them. 
  • If they have children, consider including a few goodies for them, plus some food you know they will enjoy like fruit. 
  • Make double of everything, then you will have dinner ready for your family too. 
  • Give your friend some fresh flowers or a little gift like a candle along with the meal.
  • Some of my favorite meals to bring friends are tacos, fajitas, enchiladas (you can do everything ahead of time except the baking so that they can just put it in the oven when it's most convenient for them), chili or soups, pulled pork, and brisket.
A friend of mine recently gave birth to a sweet baby boy, so having received meals myself, I was happy to make one for she and her family.  I decided to do tacos this time. They are so easy, and one of my favorite meals. It's comfort food to me (I grew up in Texas, so Mexican food is comfort food there). I was always so happy when my mom made tacos, it made my night! It's one of the things she taught me to cook too, and I loved to help her with it, so it's one of the first meals I felt comfortable making on my own. Tacos are great for bringing to someone, because it tastes just as good reheated as it does fresh. I just buy a packet of taco seasoning at the store and follow the directions on it. My favorite is Lawry's brand, it's what my mom always used. It's usually around $1 per packet, but is often on sale for much less, so I try to stock up on it then and keep it on hand. You can use ground beef or ground turkey. Both are great, the turkey has less fat, but is usually more expensive. Or for vegetarians you could do a mixture of black beans and chopped or shredded veggies. Last night I used beef.

I made my homemade salsa to include with the meal. I have shared the recipe before, but I will do it again. If you have not tried making your own salsa before, you need to do it. It is so easy, less expensive, and delicious! Plus you can adjust the recipe to suit your own tastes. Here is the recipe for my salsa:

  • 1 28 oz. can whole peeled tomatoes, drained
  • 2 jalapenos, seeds and stems removed
  • 1 serrano pepper, seeds and stems removed
  • 3-5 roasted green chiles, seeds and stems removed (if you don't have fresh ones, you can find canned green chiles in most stores)
  • 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, pressed
  • Dash of salt (remember, the chips are usually salted, so taste with a chip to see how much you'll need)
  • Dash of cumin
Combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Pulse a few times or until you reach desired consistency. This usually stays fresh in the fridge for about a week or more. This recipe will make what I consider to be a medium spicy salsa. To make yours hotter or more mild, add or remove peppers. Serrano peppers are pretty spicy, so if you like more mild salsa, try making it without those. Also, green chiles can be purchased mild, medium, or hot. I use the hot ones. You could also add onion, I just prefer mine without.

I put the salsa in a mason jar. I also made my black bean and corn salsa which is: 1 can of black beans rinsed and drained, 1 can of corn, drained, 1 can of diced tomatoes and green chiles, drained and 1-2 chopped avocados. Then add a little salt to taste. I put all of the ingredients in a mason jar as well, without the avocado so that it didn't turn brown. So I just gave her an avocado to cut up when they were ready for it.
Above is a picture of everything I brought to my friend. The taco meat is in the plastic container, the salsas in mason jars, cheese to top the tacos in a zip top bag, an avocado, a box of taco shells, a bag of tortilla chips, and some bananas, cuties, and chocolate bunny grahams for her 3 year old to enjoy. This meal was easy to put together ahead of time and is a nice change from the usual pot roast or lasagna most people like to bring. And I made enough for us to enjoy for dinner as well.


Easy Pasta Sauce

Monday I was inspired by the Pioneer Woman to make her baked ziti. But by the time dinner rolled around, I wasn't sure that I wanted something quite that heavy with all of the cheese (truth is, I had way too much leftover pizza for lunch, so the baked ziti wasn't sounding so great). So, I decided to use much of the same ingredients (and a few different ones) to make my own pasta sauce to go with the penne I had at home.

I browned about 1/2 pound of hot Italian sausage (you may want to drain some of the grease afterward or wipe your pan a little with a paper towel), threw in a small diced onion and a couple of minced garlic cloves, and cooked until they were translucent.
Then I added a 16 oz. can of diced tomatoes and an 8 oz. can of tomato sauce. I added some salt and pepper as well as some Italian seasonings (you can use whatever you have and taste as you go), then let it simmer for a bit. Next I threw in about 8 oz. (half of a box) of cooked penne and tossed it together.
I topped it with a little parmesan cheese and would have added fresh basil, but I didn't have any. This made enough for Josh and I to eat it for dinner and have leftovers for lunch. This is a great easy weeknight meal. If you wanted to save even more time, you could make the sauce ahead of time, then just reheat it and throw in some fresh pasta.

P.S. Please forgive the poor lighting in these pictures. I didn't realize until afterward that I still had my camera on "sunset" mode. Plus, our 1970s house has terrible lighting. So it was a winning combination.