Friday, February 26, 2010

Making Healthy Choices

Since I posted two desserts this week, I thought I would take the day off from posting recipes and post something a little different. The United States of America is in a crisis. We are a severely overweight population, myself included in that category. As a kid, I was very active. Always outside playing, or riding my bike. My imagination was a big part of my life as I was the only kid except for summer vacation and snow days when the granddaughter of a neighbor was down for the day. I didn't have video games or a computer so it was outside I went. It wasn't until I was a teenager that I took on that lazy persona. By the time I was 16, I had a computer, tv, sega gaming system and maybe even a playstation, in my bedroom. It was my own little world and I didn't leave it much.
Now as an adult, I see the error of my ways. I'm hoping to keep my kids active through out their lives, which means getting myself active again. My 15 month old daughter and I often have "races" in the house. She runs from squealing and I call after her that I'm gonna get you! It's a great time. Once it warms up and we can play outside, I'm not going to be doing much chasing. I'm currently pregnant and this baby will be born by c-section the end of June. It doesn't leave me much summer to really enjoy with my daughter, but I plan on doing my best.
Now a word on food. Growing up, you don't have much choice as to what to eat. It was whatever my very busy mom and dad brought home, or cooked up that night. It consisted of a lot of prepackaged food, can goods etc. Plus as a kid we always had "unexpected" guests for supper time. It would be nothing for our family to eat an entire 13x9 pan of lasagna. As I got older there were more and more leftovers but still portion control wasn't thought of in our house and I never quite learned what the correct size of meat, starch and veggies I should really be consuming.
I now know we had everything backwards. Starches and meats were consumed the most while veggies were often pushed to the side and sometimes forgotten all together. I certainly don't blame my mom for this. She was and still is a very busy woman and my sister wasn't much help. Now I'm not saying I was either, obviously. There is 10 years between my sister and I and by the time my mom started making more and more already prepared or packaged meals I was in school all day and working most nights. All of these things carried over with me into my adult life. When I was 23, I was an assistant manager for walmart, living in my own apartment and my then fiance was living about 5 hours away from me and attending college. It was the first time I was truly on my own. I lived about an hour or so from the walmart I worked at the time. Breakfast was a trip to Dunkin Donuts, lunch was at the pizza place next door or one of various restaurants around and dinner was often one of those places too. If I did eat out, then it was home and throwing either corn dog nuggets or french bread pizza in the oven and eating it most of the time, right before I went to sleep. Needless to say, because of this and the stress I was under, I gained some weight.
Shortly after leaving my job, I got married and decided we really needed to change the way we ate. It was a very slow process that started with throwing out our deep fryer. Yes I missed and still do miss nice crispy french fries, but on the occasion we go out to eat, I allow myself that treat. The next change was passing by the Mcdonalds or Dunkin Donuts instead of stopping. Those were two very big changes. The next came when I was pregnant. This has probably had the hugest impact on our life and is something I that I urge all of you to do. It comes in two parts. A) Buy organic when you can and B) leave the canned good, prepackaged foods, and ready to eat meals in the grocery store!!!
I'm a stay at home mom, which means we're on a fixed income that I do my best to budget every month.  This means I don't have the option to buy a whole lot of things that are organic because of their higher prices. I certainly can't afford to buy organic beef or chicken but when I buy things that are fresh, like lettuces, fruits and veggies, I do my best to buy their organic counter parts. Do I wish I could buy more organic products? Of course, but what I do instead, I feel, is pretty darn close, and that's to leave the cans on the shevles in the store. I buy very few canned goods. In most cases, its canned tomatoes and beans. If I can't buy it fresh, then I buy it frozen. This has cut so many nasty chemicals out of our bodies. I do my best to pay attention to whats on the ingredient list of the products I buy. I get real butter instead of margarine. It's those little thing that make a huge difference where our bodies and our health are concerned.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

PB & J Cookies

These are perhaps the simplest cookies you will ever make. There is a whole 5 ingredients and they make some gooey really good treats. My daughter and husband both love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches so when I made these cookies, they were gone in no time at all. It's a great snack for those of you who eat peanut butter right out of jar.

What You Need:

1 c peanut butter
1 c sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp baking soda
Your favorite jelly

What To Do:

In a large bowl, combine together the peanut butter, sugar, egg and baking soda on medium speed until all mixed. Place on cookies sheets that have been lined with parchment. I use a cookie scoop and if you did the scoop in water before each cookie, the very sticky dough will come right out. Take you thumb and dip it into water. Carefully make an indent into each of the cookie. Make sure you don't press down to deep or the jelly will actually melt through the cookie when it's baking. Place about 1/2 tsp of jelly in the indents and bake the cookies in a preheated 375 oven for about 10 mins. They cookies will brown slightly, puff up and look set.
Cool on sheets for 5 minutes before removing to a wire wrack to finish cooling. Serve with a tall glass of cold milk.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Caramel Apple Crisp

I live not very far from Apple Country USA! Every year, right around September, apples take over the grocery stores. Every type of apple you can think of is available. They are huge, round globes of crispy sweet goodness. Every other year, I purchase about 2 bushels of apples for apple sauce but on off years I still can not pass up these beauties and normally have a huge surplus of apples that I don't know what to do with. While scouring the internet, cook books, and the back of boxes for recipes, I found one for camel apple crisp. The original recipe came from a Nilla wafers box and while it was easy to make, it needed a couple specially purchased ingredients that I normally didn't have on hand. Then I found a recipe for caramel apple squares. I married the two recipes together. I make my own caramel sauce for it, but feel free to use caramel ice cream topping, combined with 1/4c of flour, heated over medium heat until thickened.

What You Need:
3/4 c butter
1 c packed brown sugar
1 c flour
1 c oats
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 c chopped pecans
3 c chopped apples (enough to completely cover the bottom of a 13x9 pan)
1/2 c butter
1/2 c packed brown sugar
1/4 c flour
1/4 c milk, cream OR half and half

What To Do:

Preheat oven to 350. Grease the bottom and sides of a 13x9 baking dish.
In a large bowl, beat together the butter and brown sugar on medium speed until very well mixed.

Beat in the flour, oats, cinnamon and nuts, until well blended and crumbly.

Press half the mixture into the bottom of the pan to make a bottom crust and cover with the chopped apples.
In a sauce pan, melt the butter for the topping. Once melted whisk in the brown sugar and flour. Turn the heat to high and keep whisking until the sugar has dissolved and the mixture boils and starts to thicken. Remove from heat and very very carefully add in the cream. The sugar will bubble and splatter when the cold cream is introduced so please be very careful. It should still be thick, but easy to pour out of the pan. If it's to thin, place back on the heat and bring to a boil until thickened. Drizzle over the apples. Sprinkle the remaining oat mixture over the top and back in the oven for 35-45 minutes or until the apples are soft and the top is golden brown. Let cool at least 30 minutes before serving.

*** Just a warring. When working with hot sugar be very very careful. It can cause some serious burns if it gets onto your skin because it will stick there. If you do happen to splatter some on you, immediately run it under very cold water to solidify the sugar before trying to remove it. Also to clean your pot easily, fill it with water and let it sit for a while. The sugar left in the pan will dissolve and you'll be able to clean it with no problems.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Pasta with Summer Squash

If you have every grown any type of summer squash you know by the end of the season you have quite the collection of these long green or yellow veggies. Zucchini is one of my favorite veggies and because of it's light flavor it's a very versatile vegetable. It can be shredded up and baked into a sweet quick bread, or hidden in pasta sauce and other dishes to get your kids to eat more veggies. In this dish it's combined with yellow summer squash and lots of garlic for a very quick meal. The skin is completely edible on summer squash, so just give it a light scrub and you're ready to eat it. The skin is not only packed with lots of vitamins and other good stuff but it also gives the dish some color. I really hope you enjoy this pasta dish. It's one of my favorite ways to use up some squash!

What You Need:

2 small zucchini, cut into chunks
2 small yellow squash, cut into chunks
4-5 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 c olive
1/4 c white wine
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1 box of penne rigate or rigatoni pasta
salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese

What To Do:

Fill a large pot of water and set over high to boil for the pasta. Once it boils add in a generous pinch of salt and the pasta. Cook till al dente.

While your waiting for the pasta, start the squash. Place a skillet over high heat. Add in the olive oil. Once it's hot, add in the garlic, and immediately add in the squash, giving it all a toss so that the garlic doesn't burn. Season with some salt and pepper. You want to sautee the squash so that it's a light golden brown. I know it seems like a lot of oil, but the squash will absorb some and the rest is used for the sauce. Once the squash is done, your pasta should be done, so drain it and return it to the pot. Add the white wine to the skillet with the squash and let it cook just a for a few minutes so that the alcohol cooks off and the wine reduces just a bit. Add in the oregano and give it a stir. Pour it all over the pasta and toss it well. Serve with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese on top. 

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Julia Child's Beouf Bourguignon

I have to say that Julia Child has to be the original goddess of cooking. She was an incredible woman both in the kitchen and in her life. French cooking has slowly become a favorite of mine. The only issue I have with it is that sometimes it can take forever to make something simple! Beouf Bourguignon is just such a dish. It took me about an hour to cook everything before it went into the oven for two and half hours. Was the payoff worth it? I think so. The meat was incredibly tender and so flavorful. I don't think I would recommend this as a week night meal. It is something you want to do on the weekends or when your having some guests over that you want to wow with a fancy meal. I decided that I wasn't going to type out this recipe, but instead give you the page directly from Julia Child herself. It's very easy to follow and I have included some pictures for you so you can see what she's talking about. I should note that I did skip a step or two. When it comes to the bacon, all I did was slice it up and fry it. I have included how to make the mushrooms and the onions at the end of the post so make sure you look for that too (just click on the words for the links). Well then, without anything futher from me, I present to you, Julia Child's Beouf Bourguignon!

Julia Child's Beouf Bourguignon from Mastering the Art of French Cooking

Browning the beef

Beef Browned

Ready for the oven

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Mushroom Pies with Pear Salad

Before I realized I was pregnant I was craving some strange things. Mushrooms, which I have never particularly liked, became something I wanted to eat every day at every meal. I found this recipe in a magazine and thought it sounded easy enough. It has a lot of flavor for something being pretty easy to make. Portobello mushrooms have a very meaty texture and are very versatile. You certainly don't miss the beef!

What you Need:
All-purpose flour, for dusting
1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
4 teaspoon dijon mustard
salt and pepper
4 large portobello mushroom caps
1/4 cup breadcrumbs
2 cups shredded cheddar
1 large egg, beaten
1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 1/2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 ounces mix baby lettuces, or your favorite greens
1 pear, thinly sliced

What to Do:

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper sprayed with cooking spray. 
On a lightly floured surface, carefully roll out the puff pasty to a 14 inch square and cut into 4 equal squared. The brush the center of each square with 1 teaspoon of Dijon mustard and season with salt and pepper. Place a mushroom, gill side up on the pastry and again season with salt and pepper.

Combined the breadcrumbs with cheese in a a bowl and sprinkle it evenly over each of the mushrooms. Fold up the pastry to cover the mushrooms completely, pressing to seal.

Brush both sides of the pastry with the beaten egg and place the pies seam side down on the baking sheet. 
Make a couple slits in the top and bake until golden brown and crisp. About 25 minutes. Let cool slightly while you make the pear salad.

To make th salad, combine the shallot, vinegar and some salt and pepper in a bowl, then slowly whisk in the olive oil. Toss the dressing with salad greens and sliced pears. Serve along side the mushroom pies. 

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Slow Cooker Spare Ribs

My husband and I love the spicy sweetness that is ribs. I make baby back rib often in the summer months out on our bbq grill but it's just to darn cold to do much grilling in the winter. This recipe uses country style ribs which are are very thick but also really cheap. You can also use spare ribs if you can't find the country style. I don't recommend using baby backs as they tend to be expensive and deserved to be done outside on a grill. This dish takes just a few minutes to put together before work in the morning and when you get home your house will be filled with the delicious smells of some great bbq ribs!!

What You Need:

1 rack of spare ribs or a couple pounds of country style ribs
Your favorite steak or bbq seasoning
1 bottle of your favorite bbq sauce (I love cattlemens)
2 tbs cider vinegar
2 tbs honey
1/4 brown sugar

What To Do:

If using spare ribs, cut them into 2 rib sections. Season the meat generously with steak or bbq seasoning. I use one that has brown sugar, garlic, salt, pepper, cayenne and a few other spices. I do not recommend using season salt because it is mostly salt and will yield a salty product. Once they are seasoned place them in the bottom of your crock-pot/slow cooker. In a bowl combine the bottle of the bbq sauce, use the cider vinegar to rinse the bottle out and get all of the sauce, the honey and the brown sugar. Pour over the ribs. Turn the slow cooker onto low and let cook for about 8 hours for some delicious saucy ribs, any time of the year.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Chicken Piccata

Chicken Piccata was one thing I never imagine eating, let alone making. Why? Because I hadn't the foggiest what capers, a main ingredient, were or even what they tasted like. So finally I just said what the heck and bought a couple lemmons and a jar of capers and went to work. I have to say it was really good. I thought it was time to find out what capers where. I had thought that they were simply a undried peppercorn but to my surprise they are actually a flower bud from a perennial spiny bush that is normally found in the Mediterranean region. They are picked and either salted or brined. I served the chicken with Parmesan Pepper spaghetti and roasted broccoli with garlic and I've included those recipes here as well.

What you need:

4 chicken cutlets or 2 larger chicken breast, butterflied, then cut in half and pounded semi-thin
salt and pepper
flour for dredging
4 tbs butter
6 tbs olive oil
1/3 c lemon juice
1/2 c white wine
1/4 c capers

What to do:

Season each piece of chicken with salt and pepper and dredge in flour. Melt 1 tbs of butter with 3 tbs olive oil. Once hot, cook chicken a few minutes on each side or until browned. Remove to a plate, add in another tbs of butter and remaining olive oil and finish cooking the rest of the chicken. Remove to plate. Whisk in lemon juice, wine and capers to deglaze the pan, scraping up any bit on the bottom. Return the chicken to the pan and let simmer in the sauce for about 5 minutes. Remove chicken to a serving platter and whisk the remaining two tbs of butter into your sauce, then pour it over the chicken.

Parmesan Pepper Spaghetti:

Bring a large pot of salted water to a bowl and cook 1 lb of spaghetti until al dente. Drain, saving about a cup of the cooking water. Toss the spaghetti with 1 tbs olive oil, 1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese and several grinds of fresh black pepper. Use the pasta water to help melt the cheese and get it to stick to the pasta.

Roasted Broccoli:

Take two boxes of frozen broccoli spears out and let them thaw. Place them on a baking pan. Drizzle with a good amount of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle two cloves of chopped garlic over it. Toss it all together with your hands and bake in the oven at 350 degree for about 45 or until the broccoli is cooked through and has started to brown.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Lemon Cake with Lavender Cream

It is hard to find the right words that describe this cake. It's light and tender, tart and sweet, but that doesn't even compare to the real taste of this cake. Lemon is such a crisp, fresh, clean flavor and I love it in lots of things but lemon in desserts just takes the cake! Then there is Lavender. Lavender to me, is more of a smell. One that is floral and very fragrant. Lavender buds are steeped in a mixture of heavy cream and honey and then whipped up light and fluffy to top off the cake. When you take a bite I swear you are smelling with your tongue. Neither flavor over powers the other which makes this the perfect dessert.

*** It is important to note that you do not get lavender blossoms from the craft section of your local walarmt because they contain fragrance oils which are not edible. You can find the blossoms in the herb/spice section of most health food stores, or on the internet.

What you need:
For Cake:
2 tbs unsalted butter, melted, for brushing pan
5 large eggs, separated
3/4 c sugar, divided
3/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
1 tbs grated  lemon zest, plus 3 tbs juice
1 c cake flour (not self rising)
1/2 tsp salt
For Filling:
1/2 c plus 1 tbs sugar
3 tbs flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp grated Meyer lemon zest plus 3/4 c juice (again can use regular lemon)
1 large egg yolk
1 tbs unsalted butter
For Lavender Cream:
1 1/2 c heavy cream
3 tbs mild honey
1/2 tbs dried lavendar blossoms
confectioners sugar

What to do:
Make cake:
Preheat oven to 325 f
Invert bottom of a springform pan and lock on side. Brush pan with melted butter, then chill 2 mins to set. Line bottom of pan with a round of parchment paper, then brush pan and parchment with another layer of melted butter and chill 2 mins more. Dust with flour, knocking out excess.
Beat together yolks and 1/2 c sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and thick, about 3 mins. At med speed, beat in oil and lemon zest and juice until just combined. Sift in flour and mix at low speed until just combined.
Beat whites with salt in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at med-high speed until foamy, then add remaining 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating and continue to beat until whites just hold soft peaks. Gently fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but throughly. Transfer batter to springform pan, smoothing top, and gently rap against counter once or twice to eliminate air bubbles. Bake until golden brown (top with crack slightly) and a wooden toothpick comes out clean. 40 to 50 mins. Cool in pan on a rack for 10 mins, then remove side of pan and cool cake to room temp. About 1 hour, sides will cave in a little.

Make Filling while cake cools:
Whisk together sugar, flour and salt in a small heavy sauce pan, then add lemon juice in a slow stream, whisking until combined. Bring to a boil, whisking constantly, then simmer, whisking, until thickened, about 3 mins. Remove from heat.
Whisk yolk in small bowl, then add about one fourth of lemon-juice mixture whisking virgiously (tempering the yolk) Whisk into remaining lemon juice mixture and gently boil, whisking 1 min. Remove from heat and stir in butter and zest. Transfer filling to a bowl and cover surface with buttered parchment paper. Chill until cool, at least 30 mins.

Lavender Cream:
Bring cream, honey and lavender blozzoms just to a boil in a small saucepan, then remove from heat and let steep, covered, 30 mins. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl, discarding solids and chill lavender cream, covered until cold.

Assemble Cake:
Invert cake and discard parchment. Cut cake horizontally into 3 even layers with a long serrated knife. Transfer 1 layer, cut side up to a cake plate. Lightly whisk filling to loosen, then spread half of filling evenly over cake layer on plate leaving 1/2 in border around edge. Place a second cake layer over filling in same manner. Top with remaining filling in same manner. Top with remaining cake layer, cut side down, pressing gently so that filling is spread to edge of cake.
Just before serving beat lavender cream with a whisk until it is thickened and barely holds soft peaks. Dust cake with confectioners sugar and serve with lavender cream.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Farfalle (bowtie) Pasta Salad

My daughter has troubles with foods that are high in acid, such as tomatoes. It's hard finding things for her to eat sometimes as we are a big pasta family. One week grocery shopping, I came across a jar of this green stuff with a layer of oil on top. It was basil pesto. Pesto was something I had never had growing up. My dad was very much a meat and potatoes man and "strange" or different things never really graced our table. So now in my adult, married with children life, I have vowed to try to new things. Pesto was one of the first things I tried. Originally I bought the jar so that my daughter could have something else on her pasta. Then of course I had to experiment with other dishes as well. Once a month my husband and I would try a different cheese and around the same time I bought the pesto, I bought some feta cheese. Feta has a tangy flavor and I felt it would go great with the flavors of the basil and garlic that pesto is made with. I cooked some pasta and while it was still nice and hot, I stirred in the pesto. The pasta soaked up all the flavors and was absolutely delicious! This pasta salad has become one that I make often, especially in the summer time when I do a lot of grilling. It takes minutes to make too which is another reason I love it.

What you need:
1lb box bowtie (farfalle) pasta
1/2  c basil pesto
1/2 feta cheese, crumbled
3 or 4 scallions, thinly sliced
1 pint of cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half

What to do:
Cook the pasta in a large pot of salted water, according to the package directions.  Drain and while it's still hot stir in the pesto until the pasta is coated. Then stir in the feta cheese, scallions and tomatoes. Refrigerate until cold. You can serve it with just about anything!

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Carne Asada

I love Mexican/Latin inspired food. I say inspired because well, I'm not Hispanic and only they can do it right. I miss living in my home town where there is a big Hispanic population. I miss the flavors, textures and smells from all the wonderful foods that the girls I worked with, would bring in to eat. Empanadas, rice and beans, and things that I could never even try to pronounce! I love the freshness and flavors in Carne Asada. The cilantro and lime juice really permeate the steak and give it an incredible taste. The lime juice also helps  to make the meat tender which is what makes using a flank steak in this recipe work so well. There are a lot of components to put together the entire dish, with all the fixings, and the meat itself has to marinate for at least 24 hours if not longer, but it is totally worth it in the end.

What you need: (this is the complete list of ingredients for the marinade, Pico de Gallo and Guacamole)

A nice sized flank or sirloin steak
olive oil
salt and pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Jalapeno peppers, minced
2 bunches cilantro
4 limes
2 tbs white vinegar
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sugar
3 medium tomatoes, finely diced
1 medium tomato, seeds and pulp removed, then diced
1 red onion, minced
3 ripe avocados

What to do:
In a medium bowl combine 4 cloves minced garlic, 1 minced jalapeno, the cumin, 1 bunch of cilantro leaves and steams chopped fine, a pinch of salt and pepper, the juice of 2 limes, the vinegar, sugar and 1/2 c olive oil. Whisk well. Place the steak into a resealable, ziptop bag and pour the marinade over the steak. Press the air out and seal it. Place on a plate and in the fridge for at least 24 hours, but I recommend marinating it for 48 hour, flipping the meat over half way through.

Pico De Gallo:
In a small bowl, combine the 3 diced tomatoes together with 1/2 of the diced red onion, 1 minced jalapeno (remove the seeds for less heat), the juice of 1 lime, a handful of cilantro leaves that have been finely chopped and some salt and pepper. Mix well and let sit for an hour before serving to allow the flavors to marry.

Remove the flesh from the avocados and place in a bowl. Squeeze the juice of the last lime over them and mash with a fork. This will not only give it some flavor but will also prevent the avocados from turning brown. Combine the avocado with the remaining half of red onion, the remaining jalapeno (seeds removed for less heat) 2 tbs of chopped cilantro, 1/2 tsp coarse salt, a pinch of pepper and if desired the tomato that has the pulp and seeds removed.

To finish your steak, preheat a grill to high. Once it's nice and hot, remove the steak from the marinade and scrape off the marinade if desired but I leave it on. Grill for a few minutes on each side for medium rare or cook to your desired done-ness level. Remove to a platter and let rest for 5 minutes before thinly slicing. Garnish with some chopped cilantro on top if desired.

To assemble:
Place a few pieces of the grilled steak onto a warmed flour tortilla. Then add some or all of the following:
Pico De Gallo
Sour Cream
Shredded cheddar or Mexican style cheese

You can serve refried beans and/or Mexican style rice (pictured left) along side or add it into your wrap.

H A P P Y  C O O K I N G !!
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