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Monday, November 9, 2009

Meals for Days

I hope you like leftovers, because these recipes will definitely deliver! My life right now is too hectic to plan and cook a different meal every night. Ok, Ok, you got me. Its not really too hectic, but I just don't have the energy and would much rather spend spend some quality time with Clint and Amelia. We had started getting into a rut of ordering in too many nights of the week, and I had to find a solution to break that habit. My wallet and my waist were not happy with me. Now, of course, the night I decide to try and come up with something, is a night when my pantry seems bare because I haven't been to the grocery store in about 2 weeks. (!!!!) I had cans of beans and tomatoes galore, so I envisioned a taco soup of sorts. Everyone likes taco soup, right?

Taco Soup For Days

1 lb extra lean ground beef or lean ground turkey
1 medium yellow onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can corn, rinsed and drained
1 can mexican green chilies (There are 2 sizes of cans. I use the larger one)
1 can mexican style tomatoes
1 can stewed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1 packet ranch seasoning
1 packet taco seasoning
1 box low sodium chicken stock

Preheat slow cooker on high. Brown ground meat and onion in skillet until meat is cooked through. Drain. Pour ground meat mixture and the rest of the ingredients into slow cooker, except for the stock. Stir and add enough stock to give you the soup consistency you like. I like my soups not so soupy, so I add maybe 3/4 of the box. Cover and walk away. Enjoy the time you don't have to spend cooking dinner. This soup gets better the longer it simmers, but if you can't wait any longer, (like Clint) it will be ready as soon as it is heated through.

I serve this with a big dollop of fat free sour cream and graham cracker cornbread. The slight sweetness of the cornbread is a perfect compliment to the zesty soup. Feel free to experiment with different beans and different types of tomatoes. I change the recipe every time I make it based on what I have. This recipe is simply a delicious starting point.

Graham Cracker Cornbread

1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
1 egg
skim milk - enough to make a thick but pour-able batter. Mine is a little thicker than pancake batter.

Mix all together and pour into a muffin pan sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Bake on 350 for 12-15 minutes.

This next little gem is one part comfort food and one part good for you food. Once again, I had a hodge podge of ingredients that needed to get used. I knew I had chicken and several cans of fat free condensed soups. I could almost taste Granny's chicken and rice casserole baking in my oven, but I did not want the fat that comes with it. A whole stick of butter? No, thanks! I also wanted to make something that Amelia would eat happily and I desperately had to find a way to sneak a good dose of vegetables in. She suddenly has started turning away from veggies and I'm trying anything to coax her back into eating them. I had a plan and I started mixing....

Baking Mommy's Chicken and Rice Veggie Casserole (for days)

3 chicken breasts, cubed into bite size pieces
1 cup Uncle Ben's instant brown rice
1 can fat free condensed cream of chicken soup
1 can fat free condensed cream of celery soup
1 can fat free condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 bag frozen broccoli
1 bag frozen corn
1 bag frozen green peas
1/2 cup shredded parmesan cheese
2 oz (appx) 2% Velveeta cubed (can be omitted)
1/4 to 1/2 cup skim milk
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350. Mix all ingredients in a large bowl, adding milk last. Start by adding 1/4 cup of the milk. If mixture seems a little dry, add another 1/4 cup. Pour into a 9 x 13 casserole dish that you've sprayed with cooking spray. Bake 40 minutes until bubbly and chicken is cooked through and rice is tender.

I served this with fresh asparagus. I trim the ends, spray with cooking spray and sprinkle slightly with salt. Depending on the thickness of the spears, I cook anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes. A salad would have also been a nice addition, if I had had lettuce!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Boosting Fiber in Baked Treats

Fall is starting and I have an overwhelming urge to bake, bake, bake! All I can think about is breads, pies, cakes, brownies and cookies. I love the warm, cozy, comforting smell my house has when there is something sweet in the oven. Baking is like meditation for me. There is a specific order and pace to it that cannot be rushed and I find that very soothing. I also enjoy the creative outlet that comes with experimenting with new ingredients and creating new recipes. I can't tell you how THRILLED I am when something I try turns out to be delicious. (Probably because it doesn't happen regularly!!) I have been dying to bake banana bread for days now. Patiently, I watched the bananas on my counter, counting the days until they were too ripe to eat, and just perfectly sweet for bread. Yesterday was that day. I was bored with my usual recipe, so I began searching the internet for something new. I found on Food Network a recipe from Flour's bakery in Boston that looked scrumptious, and I knew I had found a winner. I had a few reservations, however. I wanted desperately to bake, but didn't want a complete nutritional failure sitting in my kitchen, tempting me. I have finally lost my 30 pounds of baby weight after 14 months and have no desire to ever see it again. I don't deprive myself of sweets, because, let's face it, that would just be plain miserable. I needed a treat but needed one that wouldn't completely blow all of my hard work. My idea was to replace some of the white flour with whole wheat and replace some of the fat with yogurt and sour cream. The first recipe is the original version from www.foodnetwork.com. The second is mine.

Flour's Bakery Banana Bread

Ingredients
1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
3 1/2 bananas, very ripe, mashed
2 tablespoons creme fraiche or sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
Directions
Set oven to 350 degrees F. Line the bottom of a loaf pan with parchment paper.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Beat sugar and eggs with a whisk until light and fluffy, about 10 minutes. Drizzle in oil. Add mashed bananas, creme fraiche, and vanilla. Fold in dry ingredients and nuts. Pour into a lined loaf pan and bake for about 45 minutes to 1 hour.

Baking Mommy's Whole Wheat Banana Bread

1/2 plus 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 plus 1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup sugar
2 Tbls brown sugar
2 eggs
1/8 cup canola oil
1/8 cup fat free sour cream
1/4 cup low fat vanilla yogurt (I used Yoplait Fiber Plus Honey Vanilla)
3 large bananas, very ripe
2/3 toasted, chopped pecans

Follow directions from above recipe

I know there are alot of ingredients and alot of strange measurements, but the result is well worth it. You will never know that the fat is reduced and the fiber is increased. Its a sneaky treat!

Last night, I also got a little crazy and baked Chocolate Chip cookies. In my whole wheat kick, I added some in to those as well. The result was pretty good. They are a little grainy, but still delicious. Next time I will add a little less whole wheat flour, maybe half and half and see what happens. I will say though, one of these cookies, to me, was more filling and satisfying than two or even three (!) of the regular version. The recipes are below.

The Best EVER Chocolate Chip Cookie

Ingredients

2 sticks ‘cold and cubed’ unsalted butter
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar – not packed too hard. Just spoon it in the cup(s) and press down lightly when full, sweeping off any extra that runs over.
2 eggs
1 Tbls good quality vanilla extract
3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups AP flour – Spoon and Sweep method. (feel the dough, it should be moist, kind of like cold cookie dough in a tube.. but not super sticky, so you can portion the cookies with your hands)
3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
3/4-1 teaspoon baking powder ( I don’t fill the tsp fully, hence the 3/4 tsp)
1/4 tsp baking soda
2 cups good quality semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (I usually use half semisweet and half milk chocolate AND, a little birdy told me to use Guittard)

Directions
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

1. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugars until well blended and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time.. and beat until well incorporated. Add vanilla and mix until just incorporated.

2. Add flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and mix until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chunks and nuts.

3. Transfer dough to clean work surface and gently mix dough by hand to ensure even distribution of ingredients.

4. Scoop and bake for roughly 15 minutes. I like my cookies a little raw and gooey, so I take them out before. Just keep an eye on them and bake to your taste!

Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookie

I followed the above recipe, but used 2 cups whole wheat flour and 1 cup all purpose. The dough was a little stiff, so I's suggest using a few tablespoons shy of 2 cups on the whole wheat flour.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Party Perfect

Last weekend was my girl's first birthday party, and what a party it was! It was waaaay more party than any one year old should have. It was perfect. I chose a garden party theme. We had fresh sunflowers and daisies in pitchers and vases all over the house. Accents of playful, vibrant pinks and cheery, sunshine yellow warmed the mood and elevated the already jubilant outlook of the party. Balloons were everywhere, needless to say. Now to important part.... the food. Now, our family is one of which loves their food. Its the center of every celebration, every get together, well, everything. One of the best parts of preparing for this party was the planning and preparing the food. Its a miracle I don't weigh 1,000 pounds, really.
We had it all. Fresh tomato basil bruschetta with pesto. Greek (ish) pasta salad with arugula, fresh buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomato, feta and Greek dressing. Bison brisket sliders. Cheeseburger sliders. A mountain of fresh guacamole with gourmet tortilla chips. Cheesy spinach dip. Fruit skewers with juicy watermelon, fresh pineapple and California grapes. Oh, and let's not forget my sister's divine home made pizzas. The first was a classic margarita pie with aromatic basil, vibrant Roma tomatoes and handmade mozzarella from Central Market. Ange (my sister) is the pizza master. Her crust is light and airy and crusty and doughy all at once. Our recipe is simple, but she just has a magic way with dough. Our second pie was an unusually addicting pear and Havarti pizza. No sauce, just the red, juicy pears and the creamy Havarti. Its such an interesting and unexpected combination that everyone seems to immediately gravitate toward. Hungry yet? I know I am just remembering that spread. The great thing about it is that everything was at the peak of freshness, organic, and figure friendly. How, you ask, could such a delicious buffet be good for you? Fresh ingredients, no preservatives and we cut down on fat when we can. The key is knowing what you're eating. If you can't pronounce it or wouldn't want your young child eating it, then its not healthy. The burgers were made with 96% lean meat. The bison brisket is naturally low(er) in fat than its beef cousin, and I trimmed and trimmed until there was nothing left to trim. I also have to add, that this brisket is the easiest thing in the world to make. When we can sneak in a reduced fat ingredient, we do.
The party was a smashing success. Amelia was the bell of the ball and a total ham to the attention. She truly understood that the day was all about her, and she ate it up. I was initially worried that she'd be frightened of the crowd, or want to nurse the whole time, or just have a meltdown. None of those things happened. She toddled around, talking and playing with everyone. Basically, putting on the "Millie Show," as we like to call it. During the birthday song, I nearly lost it. I think at that moment it really hit me that my little baby wasn't a little baby anymore. I was seeing flashes of the early days with her tiny hands, balled into fists resting under her chin as she slept. I remembered the first time she smiled at me, the first time she sat up, first "mama," first "dada." I remembered crying as she first took off crawling, just as I was crying now. Tears of pure joy and pride for all she's accomplished. It seemed like yesterday she was ten months old and surprising Clint and I with her first steps. I have so many things to be thankful for and so many exciting things to look forward to. It was a great day, one that I will keep locked in my heart for the rest of my life.
Below are some of the stars of the show.


BRISKET SLIDERS
1 6 lb brisket
2 bottles of your favorite ready made bbq sauce
1 cup low sodium chicken stock
12-15 Hawaiian dinner rolls

Put the brisket in your slow cooker and set it to low. Pour one bottle of the sauce and the cup of chicken stock over the brisket. Cover and walk away! Go shopping, buy new shoes, take a bath, whatever. 6 hours later, turn off the slow cooker, remove the brisket and let cool down until it doesn't hurt your hands to touch. Dump out the contents of the cooker. Once the meat is shredded, return it to the cooker and pour second bottle of sauce over it. Mix it well with the shredded meat, cover and once again, walk away. Finish the rest of the meal by splitting the buns, whipping up a salad or baking some potatoes. Enjoy!

Variation: You can also make bbq brisket tacos by swapping the buns for tortillas. Top with cilantro, cheddar cheese and whatever else you deem fit! YUM.

GUACAMOLE
2-3 avocados
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1 tsp sea salt
2 Tbls finely chopped onion
zest of 1 lime
lime juice

Smash all together, chill and scoop with a giant chip and stuff into your mouth!
For the party, I multiplied this by 5.

Monday, July 20, 2009

What a Week

Last week Clint (the hubs), Amelia (the babe), and myself packed up and headed to Pensacola, Florida for our first official family vacation. Nobody told me that once you become a mom, "vacations" are a thing of the past. Well, actually, they did, but I refused to listen. We had a great time... I just wasn't prepared to need a vacation from my vacation! It was a whirlwind of a week, and it flew by faster than did the month of June. Our girl was a one (tiny) woman comedy show. She went from barely walking to almost running. She adopted a new love... her Cabbage Patch baby, and with that came her new ability to say "baby!" in that high pitched excited tone that only a newbie can reach (pronounced Bah-bee!) Speaking of speaking, I'd guess she added no less than 4 words to her budding vocabulary. Bird (bir), PawPaw!, SpongeBob (Spo-Bah), and NO! (accompanied by a vigorous head shake) are the ones that come to mind, and there are several others she's working on. When asked where someone was, she'd look around the room and either make eye contact or point them out. Keep in mind that there were 15 or so other family members on this trip with us. My big girl also went on her first boat ride was fascinated by the dolphins diving around us. I, however, was in mom panic mode at the thought of having my baby on a boat in the middle of the ocean. Once the initial panic started to subside, it was amazing to watch her discover everything around her. She was so excited to watch the birds and other boats buzz by. She even got to be the Captain and drive the boat for a few minutes!
The greatest surprise of the trip was that my girl was scared and completely freaked out by the beach! The first morning we were there, Clint and I spent nearly an hour laboring over her and ourselves, covering her from head to toe with sunblock, dressing her in SPF an onsie swimsuit, locating all the possible necessary supplies (rum and diet coke being one of them) and heading down to the Texas Flag tent, aka, the family's staked-out section of the beach. We were so excited to see her reaction. Amelia, however, had other thoughts. She wanted nothing to do with the sand. We tried to stand her in it and she'd lift up her legs and refuse to be put down. A fuss unlike any other warned us of further punishment should we try to proceed with the sand shenanigans. We tried sitting her down on her bottom and it was even worse. She'd sit and pick her feet up and just hold them in the air. The fuss would return. This pose is no easy feat to pull off. I attempt a similar one in pilates each week and it nearly kills me. She must have REALLY hated the sand to sit there like that. Back to the condo Millie and I head. The vacation is over for the afternoon. Day after day, we go through the same circus of getting ready and promptly heading back to the safety of the condo. I'd be lying if I said I was more than bummed that my little darling didn't immediately love the beach the way I passionately do.
Finally, on Friday (our last day on the beach) we decide to give it one last shot. Initially, the outlook wasn't so good. We started with the same sand sitting ordeal. Clint decides to try and walk her out into the surf. A little fuss ensues, but nothing we can't deal with. We ease her along, and then, suddenly, something clicks! She starts laughing as the tiny waves crash around her tiny feet. We hold her in her knee high water and she "jumps" the waves with our hands firmly around her. More giggling! She couldn't get enough. We then take one last stab at the whole sand thing, and low and behold, she loves it also! She's practically running up and down the beach, in and out of the surf. I cried a little. I was so proud of her overcoming her fear. She's so brave. My only regret is that we didn't have a few more days on the beach to let her play.
Everyone tells you that babies grow up way to fast, and that you should cherish every minute. That is the understatement of the year. Just in the span of a week, my angel baby went from my loving little baby to my brave, fearless biiiiiiiig girrrrrrl! I have such mixed feelings about all of this. I am thrilled and amazed that my daughter is growing up to be such a "Fun Fearless Female," as Cosmo would say (just don't tell her dad I said that!). I am also close to tears at every milestone she reaches, big or small. I guess its just part of the joys of motherhood. The mixed emotions are another thing no one tells you about (or another thing I chose not to listen to).
Relaxing, rejuvenating beach vacation? Not so much. Eye opening, thrilling, life changing week? Absolutely.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Road Warriors

My task this week:  Make goodies for a road trip to the Grand Canyon.  My parents and grandparents are packing up and heading to the Grand Canyon on Thursday.  I'm jealous of the trip, but not of the 16+ hours in the car!  My mission, should I choose to accept it (which, obviously, I did!) is to make filling, delicious, and healthy snacks for their ride.   I want to steer clear of junk food and empty calories, because, let's face it... long road trips and the digestive system are typically not best friends.  I don't want to be a contributor to anyone's inability to go number two.  Yep, I just said that!  We all know what I'm talking about, so don't pretend you don't!  

My first thought is to make a trail mix.  Nutty, sweet, salty, satisfying and fits perfectly with the theme of the vacation... a sure hit.  Now I just have to decide on the ingredients.  I'm thinking yogurt covered raisins, almonds, dried cranberries, and dark chocolate covered peanuts.  Antioxidants, check.  Yum factor, check.  Hunger conqueror, check.  Now, something's missing.... Ah yes!  I'll toss in some granola bites with flax and pumpkin seeds.  Omega 3's and DHA, check!  We're good to go.  (I'll list recipes at the end)
My second idea (well, my sister actually suggested this one) is a homemade granola bar.  I have never made granola bars, but my sis (the pastry chef) swears they are simple.  We'll see.  Since I have no experience with these, I've scoured the internet looking for recipes.   I've come up with one that appears simple and and delicious.  Hmmm, this could end in disaster.  It could also be fantastic.  I'll have to get back to ya on this one!

Trail Blazin' Trailmix
3 c. granola of choice
1 1/2 c. yogurt covered raisins
2 c. dark chocolate covered peanuts
1 10oz. can sea salt mixed nuts
1 6oz. pkg craisins 

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl and enjoy!  

Note:  I just finished making this recipe and its delicious!  So crunchy and sweet and salty...just what I was hoping it would be.  I divided it into two big ziplock bags and added a handful of toasted coconut to one batch, and I think its even better!

Homemade Granola Bar
2 c. rolled oats
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
1 c. sliced almonds
1/2 c. wheat germ
1/2 c. honey
1/2 c. packed dark brown sugar
1 ounce unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
8 oz dried fruit (cranberries, cherries, blueberries, or other of your choice)

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter or spray at 9 x 9 baking dish with cooking spray.
Spread oats, sunflower seeds, almonds and wheat germ onto a sheet pan.  Place in oven and toast for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  While you're waiting on the oat mixture to toast, combine the honey, brown sugar, butter, vanilla and salt in a medium saucepan and place over medium heat.  Cook until the brown sugar has completely dissolved.  Once the oat mixture is done, remove it from the oven and reduce the heat to 300 degrees.  Immediately add the oat mix to the liquid, and add the dried fruit and stir very well to combine.  Turn the mixture out onto the prepared 9 x 9 baking dish and press down.  Make sure the mixture is evenly spread and tightly pressed into the dish.  Return to the oven and bake for 25 minutes.  Remove and cool completely.  Cut into squares or bars and store in an airtight container or individually wrap in plastic wrap.  These will stay good for up to a week.  Enjoy your healthy snack!

Note:  Whew!  I just finished making these, and it WAS easy, as promised.  They turned out great.  Chewy, filling and just the right amount of fruit.  I think for my next batch, I may drizzle chocolate over some for a variation.  Hey, any excuse to justify eating more chocolate, and I'm all over it!



Thursday, June 18, 2009

Nice to meet you!

Hey everyone!  My name is Amanda and this is my happy little blog.  About me:  I'm 28 and for now I'm a stay at home mom with a 10 month old silly baby girl who is sitting, right now, surrounded in a pile of baby "cheetoe" snacks.  Note to self:  Don't give baby the WHOLE can of snacks.  

Before I was married and a mom, some might say I was a little bit of a party girl, but that's a whole other post in itself!  I lived two crazy years in NYC working for a fashion designer who I equate to Meryl Streep's character Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada....and No, I won't name names!  My roommate, Allison, and I spent our evenings "on the roof" as we called it (the bar on top of the Hotel Ganesvoort), overlooking the city.  SO, the life was fun, but the job kinda sucked and I missed my family, so I headed back to Dallas.  For nearly 3 years I worked with a photographer.  It was fun and  occasionally, I got to do the food styling for photo shoots, which I loved.  
In 2006, I met my husband.  He was a friend of a friend and we all met up at a bar after work.  We were all discussing what we had just eaten, (interesting, I know) and he chimes in with "two cheeseburgers."  Who eats TWO cheeseburgers??  I do, in my dreams!  I was sold.  This man would be mine.  Sure enough, a year and a half later, we were engaged.
Now the present.... and baby makes three.  We had our girl in August of 2008.  I think we've adjusted to being parents quite nicely.  She just fit perfectly into our life like a missing puzzle piece.  Since the cheetoe fiasco of 10 minutes ago, much has happened.  A cup of water was masterfully dumped all over my carpet and couch. Hey, its not easy learning to drink from a big girl cup, I get that.  My laundry was sorted and used to decorate my living room.  This took alot of planning and thought as it is clearly nothing short of an artistic masterpiece.  My girl is a mess and into everything.  I have heard rumors that both her dad and I were the same way as babies, so I suppose what goes around, comes around!  
So that's a little look into my life.  Come back and hang out any time!