Cool Weather Calls for Chili

Just when I think I can’t HANDLE the truth regarding the change of seasons in Phoenix (cue Jack Nicholson voice); we get a cold front that upends us all and has us running from our cars into the already busy Starbucks to get some piping hot concoction that will make up 1/4 of our daily allotment of calories, (THANK YOU VERY MUCH EGG NOGG LATTE!). Wow, what a long sentence that was! I digress. It’s been cold here, and I actually kind of love it. I refuse to complain about it, I just wear more clothes on my morning runs. Every morning for the past week, the temp has started with a 3, as in 36, 38, 34, 33, etc. This morning, NYC and Phoenix were the same temperature, according to Syrie. Syrie is the new woman in my husband’s life. Syrie, if you don’t know and haven’t heard, is the voice of all authority and knowledge in the iphone, and lately, well she has been answering a lot of his questions. He kind of crushes on Syrie. I refuse to worry until she figures out how to make his favorite Penne alla Vodka, or until he starts wondering what she looks like “in real life.” Back off Syrie!

One of my favorite things to make, as it cools down, is an assortment of soups and chilis. I have some great white bean chili, some chicken chili and the like. But sometimes, nothing beats a good ole’ fashioned meat and bean chili with a little kick, and this one fits the bill. I also like to bake, pick up some fresh Sourdough bread for dipping, but you can go with whatever tickles your fancy, or just eat it plain. The kids will love it too. On a side note, it looks like you are adding a LOT of cayenne, but with the heartiness of the tomatoes and beans and meat, it doesn’t taste too spicy at all. I like to make mine with extra lean ground beef and turkey sausage, but again, whatever makes your skirt fly up is just fine. Start this chili early afternoon, let it simmer a bit, pop open some Zin or a hearty Cab, and voila! The stuff dreams are made of. Let’s get down to it.

ALL AMERICAN CHILI:

6 oz hot italian turkey sausage (I use 8)

2 cups chopped onion

1 cup chopped green bell pepper

8 garlic cloves (I know!! Yet it never tastes too garlicky)

1 lb lean ground beef

1 jalapeno, chopped

2 T Chili powder (large T is for Tablespoon, small t for teaspoon)

2 T Brown sugar

1 T ground Cumin

3 T Tomato paste

1 t dried oregano

1 t salt

1/2 t pepper

2 Bay leaves

1 and 1/4 cup Merlot or other fruity wine (See! Aren’t you glad you already have some open?)

2 28 oz cans diced tomatoes, undrained

2 15 oz cans kidney beans, drained

1/2 cup low fat or regular sharp cheddar cheese

Heat a large pot or Dutch oven over med high heat. Remove casings from sausage. Add sausage, onion, and the next 4 ingredients to pan; cook 8 mins or until sausage and beef are browned and crumbling. Add chili powder and the next 7 ingredients and cook for 1 min, stirring constantly. Stir in wine, tomatoes, and beans, bring to boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer one hour, stirring occasionally. Uncover and cook for 30 mins, stirring occasionally. Discard bay leaves (if you can find them:)) Sprinkle each serving with some cheese, low fat sour cream, and green onions.

Crock-pot White Bean Pumpkin Soup

It’s fall and nothing says it more so that some key ingredients that bring comfort into a meal.  The past few weeks I’ve been testing a lot of recipes with pumpkin as an ingredient… but most were desserts.  One night, I had 1 cup of pumpkin puree left over from a muffin recipe I had baked the day before.  On a whim, I decided to mix it into the white bean soup I was making.  The result, a delicious and comforting bowl of fall goodness.  This was so popular among my family that I packaged it the next day for lunch!

Ingredients: -makes 4-6 servings-

  • 1 Medium onion, chopped small
  • 1 TB Olive Oil
  • 2 Garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 Cup pumpkin puree
  • 1 15oz can white beans, drained and rinsed.
  • ¾ Cup diced carrots (4 medium carrots)
  • 4-6 Cups Vegetable stock (ok to sub. for chicken stock)
  • 1 tps oregano
  • ½ tps black pepper

Directions:

  1. Chop onions and garlic.
  2. Turn on crock-pot to a medium/low setting.
  3. Add all ingredients into crock-pot.  Stir to combine.
  4. Cook on medium/low 4hrs.
  5. You can leave it “chunky” as pictured, or puree to a smooth texture.

Enjoy!

Photo Courtesy of MOMables lunch menus.

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Lunch Indulgence: Grilled Pear & Brie Sandwich

There are a few indulgences that even a pregnant woman can’t resist.  Chocolate and Brie are my downfall.  Seriously, how can one resist the sweet deliciousness of French Brie?  I love it on toast, with crackers, in omelet, sandwiches… and the list goes on.

The other day, I was left to my own devices to prepare lunch when a business lunch meeting was cancelled (I usually pre-make my lunches ahead of time and have them ready).  It was a Friday and the fridge was empty of our lunch items and leftovers were scarce.  Good thing there was Brie!! The outcome as a sweet delicious grilled sandwich that will soon be placed in one of our MOMables menus (my kids loved this sandwich too).

Ingredients:

  • 2 Slices of bread
  • Sliced Brie
  • 1 pear, sliced thin
  • Butter/spray for grilling

Directions:

  1. Slice pear and Brie.
  2. Place sliced pear and brie on bread and close.
  3. Spread or spray butter on bread.
  4. Grill

Enjoy!

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Avocado and Shrimp Salad

I never get tired of eating avocados.  Their creamy texture helps this salad blend together without the saturated fats from cheese or dairy-based dressings.  They are rich in vitamins, protein and omega 3s… what is there not to like?  If you buy an avocado before it’s ready to eat, put it in a paper bag to speed up the ripening process.  Never throw them in the fridge unless you want to “pause” its ripening.

It’s fall, and apples are in full display at every supermarket and farmers market.  To add a little extra crunch, toss one in!

 

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 3 tarragon stems; 1 tablespoon chopped tarragon
  • 1/2 lemon, quartered
  • kosher salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 8 ounces large shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1 Granny Smith apple, halved and thinly sliced
  • 1/2 English cucumber, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, pitted, quartered, and thinly sliced

Directions:

  1. In a saucepan, bring 3 cups water, tarragon stems, lemon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and peppercorns to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat, add shrimp and poach until opaque, about 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer shrimp to a plate (discard everything else) and refrigerate to cool.
  3. In a bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, chives, tarragon, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and pepper to taste. Add shrimp, apple, and cucumber, and toss to coat.
  4. Divide salad between four bowls. Add avocado to the mixing bowl and toss with remaining dressing. Top each salad with a quarter of the avocado. Serve immediately.

Enjoy!

**Photo Credit

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A “Lighter” Blue Cheese Dressing

The facts: I love blue cheese dressing.  I don’t like preservatives or weird ingredients in my food.  I just realized how easy it is to make a lighter version of this heavenly dressing with the help of Greek yogurt! It was easy, delicious, and quick to make!

 

 

 

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 tsp. garlic salt
  • 1/2 tsp. white pepper
  • dash black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 c. milk
  • 2 tbsp. vinegar
  • 1 c. mayonnaise
  • 1 c. Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 c. crumbled blue cheese

Directions:

  1. In a bowl, mix dry spices then add the Worcestershire sauce.
  2. Add the milk then let it sit for a few minutes, to dissolve the spices.
  3. Add the vinegar to the milk mixture. It will start to curdle; this is normal.
  4. Add the mayonnaise and Greek yogurt and whisk together well. When blended, fold-in the Blue cheese crumbles.

The longer you let this refrigerate, the better the flavor will be. A must have for hot wings and salads!

You’ll never buy bottled dressing again once you taste this!

Makes 3 cups.


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Women Are Supposed to Cook, Right?

I’ve been married 10 years, I have two kids, but I am not a good cook.  I should be though, right?  If you are a wife and a mom you should cook.  That’s what I’ve always thought growing up.  It probably doesn’t help that my husband is a great cook.  He cooks and I clean.  I must admit, I clean well.  I like to clean.  It’s sick I know.  My friends call me Monica from the TV show Friends.

Anyway, I do want to cook more and cook better.  I just don’t know where to start.  I see these other women writing weekly shopping lists and planning out menus.  The only thing I ever really cook besides Mac N Cheese is anything you can throw in a Crock-Pot.  I have a recipe book for my Crock-Pot, so I can find ingredients and throw them together and push start.  I can do that!  And it tastes great when it’s done.  That’s the extent of my cooking though.

What menus are these women planning?  How are they so organized that they have coupons for each item?  I can’t even bring myself to use the FREE Soy Milk coupon that keeps printing out at Stop-N-Shop.  I suck at using coupons.  I wish I could be more like these awesome homemakers, but I just don’t know where to start???  Help anyone???

Please give me some tips!  I also want us to start eating healthier!  I picked up some yummy veggies at a local farm yesterday, and my husband (of course) made an awesome vegetable stir-fry with brown rice, so that was good.  We don’t always eat that healthy, though.  I try and have a fruit, veggie, and main meal for my kids each night, but it’s hard.  They also usually fight me on the veggies and leave them on their plates!  Any tips for that?

I just got a book called “The No-Cry Picky Eater Solution: Gentle Ways to Encourage Your Child to Eat – and Eat Healthy” by, Elizabeth Pantley.  I will let you know how it helps me and all about the book once I am done!  It should be a start and helpful for me!

I think it probably just comes down to making cooking a priority.  I may not ever be as talented as my husband who can just see ingredients and create his own dish, but I know I can follow directions/recipes if I really want to.  I do love to bake!  I bake cakes, cookies, muffins, etc., so I know how to follow directions correctly.  I just don’t cook.  Cooking is different than baking.

I guess it’s just easier being lazy sometimes.  It’s easier throwing a frozen lasagna in the oven than making it from scratch.  I will put my mind to it and try harder.  I think I will make it a point to cook at least 3 meals this week from fresh ingredients.  Post some easy recipes for me if you have any!  Thanks!

* Do you feel pressure to be a good cook because you’re a woman?

Kristin Wheeler

Lasagna in Less than 20 Minutes!

I’ve made homemade lasagna ONCE in my life.  It was actually pretty good, but expensive, and it took me forever!  It wasn’t your traditional dish though, this was healthy lasagna;  using half soy crumbles, half turkey.  You could definitely taste the difference.

My family is currently in Georgia right now, with my parents, and my dad is going through chemo and radiation for throat cancer.  We are constantly looking for foods that are full of flavor, but aren’t too spicy, as they hurt my dad’s throat.  I knew my Southern parents would not be fans of my “soy-lasagna”, so I was thrilled when I was asked to review Marie Callender’s Three Meat & Four Cheese Lasagna.

Marie Callender's Lasagna reviewMy mom, dad, and husband all doubted that it would be any good because their only experiences with frozen lasagna had not been favorable.  Burnt edges, lacking in flavor, not enough cheese.  I, however, remained optimistic.  After all, Marie Callender’s must know it has a pretty decent product if it’s willing to put a money back guarantee right on the box.  I love that!  Nothing is worse than spending your hard earned money on a product and not being satisfied with it. Just sayin’.

Marie Callender’s Three Meat and Four Cheese Lasagna comes in a special baking tray designed to prevent the edges from burning or the center from staying frozen – even in the microwave!  Generally speaking, I think food tastes better when prepared in the oven, but I wanted to test this “no-burn” claim and it was 6:30 and my 19 mos. old was getting hungry!  The lasagna can go from freezer to family dinner table in less than 20 minutes by zapping it in the microwave, so that’s exactly what we did.

The lasagna includes three Italian-style meats (sausage, ground beef and pepperoni), layered with four different cheeses (Ricotta, Mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano), in a hearty marinara sauce. Everyone loved it, even the baby.  Score!  Now, if only I can figure out a way to transfer it to a baking dish after it has been cooked–without it falling apart– I might just try to pass it off as my own…

Baby eating lasagnaHave you ever tried frozen lasagna?  What has your experience been?

Disclosure:  Marie Callender’s and TheMotherhood provided me with a coupon in order to facilitate this review and I was compensated for my time. Thoughts are my own and my family’s.

Homemade Pizza Pockets:Quick & Easy

We’ve all seen them in the frozen aisle.  Convenient, quick, and calorie filled.  Yes, I am talking about frozen pizza pockets.  While there are some healthier alternatives, I haven’t found any that I can put in the toaster in the morning and not have them be soggy or chewy by lunch. Since my daughter has phosphate and nitrate allergies….while her friends are eating cafeteria pizza on Fridays, she needs to bring her own.

Last week I decided to experiment with homemade pizza pockets. WOW!  They were super easy to make and delicious!  The most important thing is that they held up really well!  I warm them in the toaster in the morning and at lunch they have the perfect texture at room temperature.  I even got my almost 5 year old and avoid-cooking-at-all-costs-husband to help!

Ingredients:

  • 2 cans of biscuits
  • Tomato sauce
  • Grated cheese (we like Monterrey Jack)
  • Pepperoni (or turkey, ham, bacon)
  • Any other toppings you might want in your pizza like California black olives

Directions: Step-by-step pics:

Preheat oven to biscuit instructions 

  

 
 

#1: Stretch biscuit dough into a circle

#2: Fill with desired ingredients

#3: Fold over & pinch edges

#4: place on baking sheet and press edges with fork

#5 Bake according to biscuit directions -keep an eye on them, every oven is different

 

(Where the cheese is oozing out is because I didn’t pinch enough)

This is how Sofia got hers packed for lunch: with fruit, veggies, and a treat.

Enjoy!

 

 


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Homemade Vanilla Wafers: Easy & Delicious!

I am obsessed with feeding my kids wholesome, good food. I am a busy mom, and although I know my way around the kitchen very well, I work while my kids are in school.  I do most of my cooking, food prep, and baking at night or in a couple of hours on any given weekend.  I like to have homemade “snacks” and “treats” on hand so when the craving comes, we can have some.  My ultimate favorite recipes are those that can be made ahead of time, will last a week or more when stored, and that my picky kids will eat.

A favorite cookie around here is the vanilla wafer.  Who doesn’t like vanilla wafers?  They are perfectly sweet with a homemade taste that is very gratifying.  I’ve taken Alton Brown’s recipe and added a few nutritious twists.  Did I mention that I like my snacks and treats to be nutrition packed too? I’m sure you’ve figured that one out by now.  Below are the ingredients and recipe instructions.  If you have 3 minutes, watch the video and see how they are made from start to finish!

Ingredients:

  • 7 ounces all-purpose flour (almost a cup)
  • 3/4 teaspoon aluminum free baking powder
  • 1 Tablespoon ground golden flax (my own addition)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3 1/2 ounces vanilla sugar (regular will work too)
  • 1 large egg
  • 4 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon whole milk

Directions:

Position 1 oven rack in the top third of the oven and another in the bottom third. Heat the oven to 350 F.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and vanilla sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on medium speed for 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl after 1 minute. Add the egg and incorporate on medium speed for 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl. Add the vanilla extract and milk and blend on low speed for 15 seconds. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just to incorporate. Chill the batter in the refrigerator for at least 10 minutes before scooping.

Scoop the batter in teaspoon-sized balls and arrange them on 2 parchment paper-lined half sheet pans, approximately 35 cookies per pan. Use the heel of your hand to slightly flatten each ball. Bake, 2 pans at a time, rotating the pans halfway through the baking, until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the pans to a cooling rack to cool completely before removing the cookies from the pan.

Watch Alton’s 3min video and become a pro! These vanilla wafers are super easy and delicious!

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Rolled Elvis: A New Twist On PB&J (Great for kids!)

The stereotype of making lunch in a hurry is throwing a PB&J sandwich in the lunch bag along with a piece of fruit, snack and a drink.  Imagine little Timmy’s face when he sees that,  once again, he’s got a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Unfortunately, my kids don’t eat peanut butter,  but I do! I became addicted to that heavenly substance during my second pregnancy.  In order to not get bored, I make a variation of PB&J every morning.  One day, I was out of bread and all I had were whole wheat tortillas in the fridge.  That morning, the “rolled” Elvis was born.  The rolled Elvis is really easy to make; and this lighter version hits the spot without the bacon.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Flour tortilla -regular or whole wheat-
  • 1TB Peanut butter or any other nut butter
  • 1 tsp honey or agave nectar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 Banana

 

Directions:

1.  Spread peanut butter on tortilla. Drizzle the honey or agave nectar and sprinkle with cinnamon.

Step 1

 

2.  Lay banana on center of tortilla.

Step 2

 

3. Enclose banana from one end of tortilla and roll it out (Think banana burrito). Cut it in half, then proceed to cut each half into slices.

 

Serve & Enjoy! **

Laura’s tips: You can use any type of tortilla (even Ezekiel brand).  If you are preparing this ahead of time and packing it in a lunch box, you may want to lay them on top of a damp paper towel.  You can substitute peanut butter for any kind of ‘nut’ butter.  Remember to add a wet wipe for your child to wipe their hands after they eat it. They might have sticky fingers! -But well worth it!

**Photo Credit: Weelicious

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