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Archive for July, 2016

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Raspberry Fool – Simple Summer Sweetness

If you’ve never heard of a fool – as in, a dessert, not a person who does foolish things – you are not alone. I’m guessing – and this is strictly speculation – sometime in the 1950s, the classic fool was replaced with Jell-o fluff, a concoction of whipped topping and flavored gelatin.

I found a cranberry fool in a cookbook, but never made it. However, a couple of years ago, I was looking for something to make on April Fool’s Day that would be fun and not prankish, and voila, I found a strawberry fool.

A real fool has REAL food in it. Three ingredients. THREE! And surprisingly little sugar – and I think you could easily reduce the sugar if you choose. I’ve made this recipe with strawberries. This time, I made it with raspberries, and it was a perfect summer dessert on a very hot day.

Raspberry (or Strawberry) Fool

  • 1 heaping cupped fresh or frozen berries, thawed (if large berries, like strawberries, chop them before measuring)
  • 3 Tbsps. sugar, or to taste.
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream

Puree berries and sugar in a food processor. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Beat whipping cream until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in berry puree until mostly blended, leaving some swirls. Serve chilled.

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Gazpacho Ingredients

Fresh strawberries, cucumbers, garlic, onion, pepper and tomatoes (not pictured) feature in this fantastic soup.

If you haven’t noticed, I’m always trying ways to get my family to eat more veggies. This cool soup is hit or miss with my kids. Sometimes they like it. Sometimes they don’t. But my husband and I both like it very much, and when you don’t want to heat up the kitchen, it’s a great side dish.

With fresh ingredients in season, this is perfect with grilled meats. The strawberries give the soup a lovely sweetness. And DO NOT skimp on the feta. The feta makes the soup. Buy good feta. 🙂

Gazpacho

A cup of gazpacho with feta on top. Yum!

Chunky Summer Gazpacho

  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 cup strawberries, chopped
  • 1 medium zucchini, chopped
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 cucumber, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 cup chopped onion (or one small shallot, chopped)
  • 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsps. white wine or cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsps. olive oil
  • 2 tsps. fresh thyme OR 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/2 tsp. paprika
  • 1/4 tsp pepper
  • crumbled feta cheese

Place the water and tomatoes in a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Add the remaining ingredients (except feta) and pulse to desired consistency.

Chill the gazpacho for two hours (recommended in the recipe. We tend to serve immediately.) Add water to thin, if desired. Sprinkle individual servings with feta as desired.

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stuffing for pineapple chicken fajitas

Pineapple chicken fajitas

In my weekly search for recipes, I ran across this one, in which I had written a note in the margin, “Good. Use more seasoning.”

I encourage you to make notes in your cookbooks. How else are you to know if you’ve already tried a recipe and hated it, or found it good, but not quite to your taste?  I always appreciate finding a frowny face or a “Yum!” next to a recipe I’d forgotten I’d tried. So get over your fear of breaking your teachers’ rule of not writing in your books. It took me years, but I finally did. (Here’s the book that did it.)

Making notes in your cookbooks allows you to rediscover and refashion recipes to your own liking. This fajita recipe is a perfect example. My notes said to use more seasoning than the 2 tablespoons originally indicated, and to use pineapple tidbits instead of chunks.

I was afraid the kids would reject it, the oldest always saying, “I don’t like cooked fruit! I don’t like peppers.”

girl eating fajita

Pineapple chicken fajitas

I made it anyway, and said daughter proclaimed it, “The best dinner ever!” much to my absolute amazement.

So here you go:

The Best Dinner Ever! Pineapple Chicken Fajitas

  • 2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into strips
  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • each medium green, red, and yellow bell peppers, julienned. (I used 1/2 of each because I only had 1.5 pounds chicken, and I chopped finely so my girls would be less likely to notice them.)
  • 1 medium onion, cut into thin wedges (Again, I cut very small.)
  • 5 Tbsps. fajita seasoning (Original recipe called for two tablespoons. My note said to use more seasoning, so I used a whole packet!)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 Tbsps. honey
  • 1 Tbsp. dried parsley flakes
  • 1 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 (8-ounce) can pineapple tidbits, drained
  • flour tortillas
  • Optional toppings: shredded lettuce, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese

In a large nonstick skillet, cook the chicken in oil for 4-5 minutes. Add peppers and onion; cook and stir 4-5 minutes longer. In a bowl, combine the seasoning mix and water; stir in the honey, parsley, garlic powder and salt. Stir into skillet.

Add pineapple. cook and stir for 1-2 minutes or until chicken juices run clear and vegetables are tender. Place chicken mixture in tortillas and fold or roll up, topping with desired toppings.

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Sometimes oldies are goodies. Here’s how this classic food found its way back to my table.

When I was a kid, my mom made tuna and noodles once in a blue moon. It wasn’t exactly a favorite of mine, and I hadn’t had it in YEARS.

Then I had a kid. A sort-of-picky kid. And in desperation, I dusted off this recipe (i.e. I asked Mom for it.) I tried it and it was a hit. I couldn’t believe it!

I quickly decided to change it up. The original recipe had only one small can of tuna, one can of cream of mushroom soup, and 3 cups egg noodles. It hardly seemed like a real meal. (Sorry, Mom!)

My new recipe has double tuna, and has added in vegetables. Frozen stir-fry veggies are one of my favorite go-to add-ins.

Tuna and noodles

Tuna and Noodles

 

Makeover Tuna & Noodles

  • 3 cups dry egg noodles
  • 1/2 of a 14-ounce bag of frozen stir fry veggies
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 2 (5-ounce) cans of tuna (I prefer albacore, but often do one albacore and one chunk-light to reduce cost.)
  • Lemon pepper and mesquite seasoning, to taste.
  1. In a large saucepan, boil noodles, adding veggies to the boiling water about 5-6 minutes before end of cook time. (I use kitchen shears to chop the veggies smaller after they’ve thawed in the boiling water, but this is optional.) Drain in colander.
  2. Add mushroom soup and tuna to pan. Heat on medium low heat for a few minutes, stirring regularly. Return noodles and veggies to pan, stirring until heated through.
  3. Serve with lemon pepper and/or mesquite seasoning. (We just put it on the table and sprinkle over our individual servings to our liking.)

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I’ve never been much for eggs, and when it comes to pancakes – generally speaking – give me waffles. I MUCH prefer waffles. But when my husband brought home Practical Paleo a few years ago, we discovered a tremendous pancake recipe that we all love.

pumpkinpancakes

Pumpkin pancakes make a great dinner or breakfast.

(If you aren’t familiar with a paleo diet, you’ve probably had your head stuck in a hole of the diet world for the last few years. My husband is a big proponent, while I tend to be a bit of an “all-things-in-moderation” sort of gal when it comes to nutrition.)

Anyway, I’ve tried very hard to reduce carbs in order to reach balance on our table so we ALL feel like we’re eating healthy while not making any foods taboo. These egg pancakes are fun, fast, and flavorful. I usually make a HUGE batch for dinner, and then freeze a bunch on cookie sheets to pull out one at a time and reheat for the kids’ breakfasts or an easy snack.

pumpkinpancakes

My big new electric griddle helps me make LOTS of pumpkin pancakes at once!

Pumpkin Pancakes from Practical Paleo

  • 4 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (optional – I rarely use this.)
  • 1 medium ripe banana (optional – I ALWAYS do this.)
  • 2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons butter or coconut oil (plus extra for frying. I use butter.)
  1. My method: With an electric mixer, beat the banana and pumpkin together. Add in spices and baking powder, beating until well combined. Add eggs and vanilla, beating until combined. 
    Original Method: 
    Whisk eggs, pumpkin, vanilla, and syrup together. Sift the pumpkin pie spice, cinnamon, and baking soda into the wet ingredients. (I had issues with the spices floating on top instead of mixing in well with this method, hence the change.)
  2. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Mix into the batter.
  3. Grease a skillet, griddle or electric griddle, and heat over medium heat; when hot spoon/pour batter into desired size to make pancakes. (I’ve found that smaller pancakes are much easier with this batter than large ones. About 4-inch pancakes work best.)  Cook until pancake is mostly set, and then flip over.
  4. Serve with butter, sliced bananas, jam, and/or maple syrup. Experiment with toppings. Which is your favorite?

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Before I start actually sharing my weekly meal plans, I think it is important for everyone to know that I think you should use whatever meal-planning process works for you. This is what works for me, and achieves the goals I have for why I do this.(See Part 1.)

How my planning process works:

  • Have a regular weekly shopping day. For me, it is a day I’m downtown near the grocery store anyway for a kid’s activity. My day changes as needed: during the school year, it was Wednesday; now it is Tuesday because the activity has shifted. But knowing when I’m going tells me when I need to have a list ready.

 

  • The day before I go shopping, I look at the calendar. I’m a consultant with Usborne Books & More, and if I have an evening party, or there is a special activity in the late afternoon/early evening, then I might select a super simple meal (like eggs) or a slow-cooker meal, or a meal that can be prepped ahead and just reheated. Or I might know we’re going out of town and don’t need to cook a meal on a certain day. Or there is a special picnic/potluck for which I need to cook something appropriate.

 

  • Plan one meal (usually supper) for every day a meal is needed during the week. If we’re expected to be home all seven days, I plan seven meals. If we’re only home four, I plan four meals. If I’m inspired, sometimes I’ll plan an extra. They come in handy. 

     

  • Try for variety. For example: Beef one night. Chicken the next. All-in-one casserole or pasta, and/or stand-alone meat with side dishes. Plan side dishes as necessary. (I’m bad at side dishes.)

 

  • Check my list of favorite meals. Thumb through cookbooks and magazine clippings. I usually pick at least one new recipe every one or two weeks. I’m always looking for the next family favorite.

 

  • Write my menu on my frig whiteboard.Dry Erase Calendar

 

  • Make my grocery list. Look at the recipes, then look at what I have in the pantry/frig/freezer. What am I missing? Write it on my ongoing list. Do I want to double something so we have leftovers, or so I can make a freezer meal? Plan appropriately. Then go shopping and buy it all.

That’s it. That’s my planning process in a nutshell.

What I don’t do: strictly stick to eating a specific meal on a certain day. If I plan vanilla pork chops for Wednesday, and then realize I forgot to brine them, I’ll make Thursday’s Sweet Potato Sausage Hash instead. Some meals won’t move because of specific dates. (See Look at the calendar.) The point is, I have ALL the ingredients to make everything on the plan and I don’t have to go shopping again.  Sometimes, we have so many leftovers in the frig we decide we don’t need to cook a day, and I’ve got an extra meal to jump-start the next week’s planning.

And I love it when that happens. 🙂

What do you like about my process? What won’t work for you? How does your process work? I’d love to hear it!

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Since starting this blog, I’ve had a few friends say, “I can’t make a weekly meal plan. I just can’t be that strict, to make X on Monday, and Y on Tuesday.” Guess what, folks? I’m not.

Nope. My weekly meal plan is not about knowing exactly what I’ll make and eat when. It’s about trying to simplify my life a little bit. And it starts with knowing what I want out of making a menu plan.

My Meal Planning Goals

First and foremost, I don’t want to make four trips to the store. Ugh. Grocery shopping with a three-year-old is NOT my favorite part of my life, and now that summer is here, having the seven-year-old along for the ride makes grocery shopping, well, SUCK.  (Example: This week, when the meat counter employee asked if I needed help while I was wrestling with both my kids, I answered that I needed a babysitter.) I want to go to the store with a list of everything I need to get through the week. I want to walk in, find what I need, pay, and get out. I don’t want to go back for things I missed or forgot. This requires a list. It is absolutely mandatory to have a list! And a good grocery list requires a list of meals that I’m making.

I want meals (or at least parts of meals) that my kids won’t complain about. This, right here, is why I HATE menu-planning day. Picky kids make the list of foods I can cook keep dwindling. But I keep making many of them anyway. Tough for them. I refuse to live off of only macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and the turkey burgers they love so much. So I keep trying new things and tweaking, but I keep a list of favorites so I don’t have to hear whining all the time.

I want leftovers. Two to three meals that make enough leftovers for my husband to take to work for lunch, and if at all possible, leave enough for lunches at home so I only have to really cook at suppertime.

I want meals that take life into account. Is it going to be terribly hot? Maybe not the best day for the oven to be on for an hour or to stand over the stove for 30 minutes. Do we have activities on the calendar that cut into meal prep or actual meal time? Might be time to pull out a slow-cooker or freezer meal. Are we out of town, and don’t have to cook? (WIN!)

I want nutrition. Now, I’m not perfect. We eat boxed macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, and other convenience foods. Sometimes, there are no vegetables on the table at all. And sometimes there are, but my kids won’t touch them.  But I try. And that’s what matters. I figure if I get it right at least part of the time, then I’m doing okay. So planning helps me think ahead and not grab something easy, like fast food.

Parents, hear me: it is okay NOT to be perfect. I wouldn’t touch spinach or salads of any kind when I was a kid. Did my parents fail me by not making me eat it? I don’t think so. They let me come into my own and discover my own likes after I left the nest. Remember that your children have many more than their first 18 years to realize that food can go beyond chicken nuggets. Keep trying, but don’t push too hard. They’ll get there. (At least, we hope.)

And even with my meal-planning, I forget things at the store; I get distracted by children and then forget the eggs and have to go back. Or I *think* I have spaghetti noodles when I actually don’t, or I do but don’t have enough. Or something crazy comes up unexpectedly (a bargain on a new desk for my husband! That we have to go pick up, and also take apart his old desk, put his new desk together…all of which eats into meal prep.) But I try! And that’s what matters. (See a theme here?)

So I ask: What are your menu-planning goals? What can you try that would make your life easier?

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