Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Funny Food Poetry - An Ode To Bacon

I like to write poetry.  I can write out a few verses in just a matter of minutes.  Most of them are silly or goofy (just like I am).   In my cookbook, I share a dozen quirky poems on various foods - from broccoli stinking to how Mexican food gives me the runs.  See, I told you I'm not an ordinary cook!  :-P 

Going forward, I want to continue sharing my wacky poetic side.  So whenever the mood strikes me, I will bring in "Funny Food Poetry."  And it will look something like this:

This photo will then be followed by an original poem that I wrote.  Here is one I wrote about bacon this morning as I ate a breakfast burrito (recipe listed in my cookbook) that was filled with scrambled eggs and bacon.  The wonderful flavor inspired me to write these lines:

Mandy's Ode To Bacon

You come from a pig.
Your flavors are so big.

I enjoy you on your own
Or hidden inside a scone.

Paired with lettuce and tomato
Layered on top of a potato.

You can do no wrong in my eyes.
But please don't go straight to my thighs!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Chocolate Mint Cookies, a lightened up version

Continuing with my quest for holiday baking, I sought to find a mint flavored cookie recipe over the weekend.  I searched around on many sites and browsed through my own cookbooks.  This recipe looked really appealing but I didn't want to use two sticks of butter!  I took a chance and made quite a few substitutions.  I'm very pleased with my results.

My cookies might not be as sweet as the original version but they are still delicious on the palette with a lot less fat.  Who needs that extra holiday guilt anyway?  I even managed to add a bit of protein and fiber with my changes too.  Try it and see if your family enjoys it as much as mine did. 

Chocolate Mint Cookies, lightened up

Adapted from Fat girl in a skinny body - but let's face it I changed the recipe quite a bit!

(Makes four dozen cookies)

2 cups of unbleached flour (I used white wheat flour)
1 and 1/2 cups of brown sugar
1/2 cup of all natural sugar or sweetener alternative (I used Stevia)
1 stick (1/2 cup) of light butter, softened
2 large eggs
2/3 cup of cocoa powder (I used the Hershey's dark chocolate brand)
1/3 cup of fat-free yogurt (I used Greek vanilla flavor)
1/2 cup of applesauce
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp peppermint extract (This is the key ingredient to give it the minty flavor.  Don't skip it!) 
1 and 1/2 cups of chocolate chips (white, dark, milk chocolate, mint or any variety you like best)
*I used white chocolate chips because that is my husband's favorite 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Place parchment paper on four different cookie pans.

(Cook's Note: Parchment paper is the way to go with baking (see below photo)!  No sticking!  No scraping the pan!  Best of all, no mess to clean up!)

In a medium size bowl, sift the flour, baking soda and salt together.   In a separate larger bowl, use an electric mixer to cream the butter, brown sugar and natural sugar until fluffy.   Add in the eggs, applesauce and yogurt.  Blend for about two minutes.  Add in the peppermint extract and mix for another minute.   Then place the cocoa powder in the bowl and beat on high until blended.  Pour the flour mixture slowly into the wet mixture and continue beating on low until mixed and moistened.  Then gently fold in your chocoalte chips (or mint chips, peanut butter chips, toffee bits or whatever you have on hand).   I used white chocolate chips.

Drop the dough by spoonfuls onto the parchment paper.  (Cook's Note: An ice cream scooper works well for this).  Leave about an inch between cookies so they do not stick together.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let them cool for about five minutes before eating or handling.   Enjoy!

Since this makes four dozen cookies, I automatically froze half of them for a later time.  To do this, I placed them on a platter and inserted them directly into my freezer.  Let them freeze for about four hours.  Then remove them and place them in freezer safe plastic bags (such as Zip lock).  To defrost them, simply remove from the freezer, and place out on the kitchen counters still in the freezer safe bags overnight or for several hours until they reach room temperature.  Trust me, they still taste as if they were freshly baked in the oven!  Your guests won't know the difference. 

And this is a great method to use for when your spouse tells you at the last minute that he volunteered to bring something for the office Christmas party.  Yeah, I speak from experience!

(Mandy's Tip: I have begun replacing most recipes that call for plain yogurt with Greek vanilla flavored yogurt instead.  It gives the food additional protein and better flavoring. It has worked really well for me!)

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What's Cookin' This Week (Nov 28 - Dec 5)?

I plan out my meals for the week (or often for several weeks in advance) using a simple Excel spreadsheet at home.  I thought I'd start sharing my meal planning here on this blog as well. 

The meals are subject to change.  After all, you never know what unexpected suprises might arise or if any unexpected guests come over suddenly.  I do, however, try to follow it as best I can.

This is what I have lined up for dinner the week of Nov. 28 - Dec. 5, 2010:

(Note: For my family, breakfast is usually a rotation of oatmeal, muffins, pancakes, banana or other fruit, cereal or toast.  On weekends, I will sometimes cook breakfast such as french toast, egg casserole, a hash brown dish or more.  When I do, I'll share those here.  Lunch is usually leftovers, soup or sandwich.  Therefore in my weekly meal plans, I usually only concentrate on dinners and 2-3 snacks per week).

Sunday, Nov. 28 - Slow Cooker Pineapple Chicken, dirty rice, field peas

Monday, Nov. 29 - Sausage and Black Bean Cornbread Pie (recipe is from my cookbook) and salad

Tuesday, Nov. 30 - Turkey Burgers (recipe is from my cookbook) and sweet potato fries

Wednesday, Dec. 1 - Leftovers

Thursday, Dec. 2 - Barbecue Chicken Pizza with bacon, onions and ranch (recipe is from my cookbook)

Friday, Dec. 3 - Take out.  Will probably be out of town

Saturday, Dec. 4 - Take out.  Will probably be out of town

Sunday, Dec. 5 - Pasta dish from my freezer (Either chicken lasagna or pizza pasta casserole.  Both recipes are from my cookbook)

Snacks or desserts I will make this week:

Pumpkin bread mini loaves (recipe from my cookbook)

S'mores bars

I will also share the lightened up chocolate mint cookies I made over the weekend!

If my breadmaker comes in this week, I may try a new bread recipe and share it here as well!


I'll let you know if I change up my meal plan or make new things that are worth sharing here.  Have a great start to the week!

P.S. - If you meal plan and have a blog where you post your meals, feel free to list your link and ideas in the comments section!  I'd love to share more ideas with my friends and family members.  I am always on the lookout for new meals as well!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

What's In My Freezer And How I Track The Contents

Yesterday I took inventory of my freezer.  This can take me about an hour sometimes.  That is how much stuff I have stashed around my kitchen! 

However, when you become obsessed with your freezer the way I am, a tracking system can be so helpful!  Since I do have the storage room (I have a 7.2 cubic feet deep chest freezer and a side by side freezer next to my fridge), I must keep up with the contents. 

See what my freezers look like below:

As I reveal in my cookbook, I organize many of my freezer contents by types of food.  I store them in baskets, containers and storage bags.  I will place all my meats together.  All my dairy products are close in proximity.  The breads are placed near each other.  Prepared meals are within the same region too. 

This makes it much easier to find things in what could become a "black hole" inside your freezer.  See example photos of how I organize below:

I promise you - I'm not this organized in all aspects of my life!  I'm really not.  Just ask my husband about our "junk" drawer.  The top of my dresser is covered in clothes I haven't put away yet.  My pantry of dry goods isn't this systematic either.  However,  for some reason, I am very detailed when it comes to my freezer, my meal planning and my prep work for foods.

Here is the inventory of what can currently be found within my freezer (posted below).  I keep this typed sheet taped to my freezer.  I also keep an electronic version stored on my computer so I can update it every month. 

Check out my insane obsession and the kinds of food we eat (below)!


What’s In My Freezer? 
(Date: November 27, 2010)


• Chicken, bags of whole chicken (3)

• Chicken nuggets – 2 bags

• Ground Turkey - 8 pounds

• Diced ham – 1

• Bacon bit bags - 4

• Sausage – 6 packages

• Hotdog packs – 3

• Steaks - 2

Veggies and Fruits:

• Pureed spinach – 4 bags

• Pureed Carrots – 1 bag

• Pureed Broccoli – 2 bags

• Pureed Avocado – 6 bags

• Strawberries (2 cups)

• Blueberries (7 cups)

• Onions – 3

• Green onions – 3

• Celery – 3

• Bell peppers – 3 (1 each of red, orange and yellow)

• Sweet potato fries – 1 pack

• Sweet potato patties – 1 pack

• Hash brown – 1 bag


• Cool whip – 2

• Bags of shredded cheese – 6

• Sliced cheese – 2 (pepper jack and American)

• String cheese – 1 bag


• Pancakes - 12

• Pizza crusts - 3

• Muffins: PB Banana - 3

• Muffins: Gingerbread - 7

• Pita bread – 2

• Wheat bread – 1 loaf

• English muffins package – 1

• Thin buns – 1 pkg

Prepared Meals:

• Enchiladas - 3

• Soup: Crawfish & Crab Bisque – 8

• Soup: Gumbo – 8

• Soup: Sweet potato – 6

• Sausage and pumpkin pasta – 4

• Chili – 12

• Pizzas – 2, Sloppy Joe and BBQ Chicken flavors

• Chicken broccoli lasagna - 6

• Pizza pasta casserole – 4

• Jambalaya stew – 1

• Sloppy Joes – 1

Prepared Desserts/Snacks:

• Blueberry Pound Cake - 10

• Granola Bars - 7

• Brownies – 4

• Chocolate Mint Cookies – 2 dozen


Once I see all the things stored away in my freezer, I know that I can take a week off from cooking. Or I know I'm prepared to feed an entire army troop, if they ever come to my house!   Hahaha.

Seriously though, it's nice to have at least this one part of my life organized.  That way I can focus on having more fun with my family.  Plus I don't stress over prep work in the kitchen.  

How do you organize your freezer contents?  Do you meal plan or keep track of what your family eats? 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Gingerbread Cupcakes and Baking For The Holidays

I hope you had a great Thanksgiving!  Ours was very quiet and non-traditional.  Our family visitors canceled their trip to see us; therefore we spent a cozy day at home, just the three of us.  I made my slow cooker chili recipe and we watched movies most of the day. 

Now it's officially Christmas season!  Even though it's 80 degrees here in Florida still, I'm seeking great holiday recipes.  I hope that if I can cook in holiday spirit, maybe the weather will come around too.

To kick off the holiday baking season, I made a batch of gingerbread cupcakes. My dad really enjoys gingerbread flavors and gingersnap cookies so I had him in mind when I made them.  They came out even better than I anticipated.   Here is the great tasting result:

Gingerbread Cupcakes

(Makes 10 to 12 large cupcakes or 24 to 28 mini cupcakes)

2 and 1/4 cups of unbleached flour (I used the white wheat flour kind)
3 large eggs
2/3 cup of dark brown sugar
1/2 cup of molasses, unsulphured
1/2 cup (1 stick) of light butter
1/4 cup of water
2 tsp of ground ginger
1 and 1/2 tsp of baking powder
1 and 1/2 tsp of ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp of nutmeg
1/4 tsp of ground cloves
1/8 tsp of ground allspice

Lemon glaze topping (to place on the cupcakes):
2/3 cups of powdered sugar
2 tbsp of lemon juice (from 1 squeezed lemon)

Or make you own low fat frosting for the cupcakes, such as this one:

Low fat cream cheese frosting:
8 oz of reduced fat cream cheese
1 cup of powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract (or use a lemon extract)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease a 12-muffin pan with cooking spray.  Place your stick of butter and the 1/4 cup of water in a small bowl.  Melt them together in a microwave for about a minute.  Cover it with a napkin so it does not splatter everywhere. 

In a large bowl, beat together the brown sugar and molasses until smooth.  Add in the eggs and continue beating. 

In a separate large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, ginger salt, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves and allspice.  Pour the molasses-sugar-egg mixture into the flour bowl.  Add in the melted butter-water mixture.  Beat with a mixer until well combined. 

Your mix will look like this:

Yes, I realize that it looks similar to liquid dog poop but trust me, it tastes yummy! 

The batter may seem thick.  Add a tiny bit of water if you need to.  Then spoon out the mixture into the greased muffin pan.  Fill each muffin cup 1/2 or 3/4 full. 

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until a knife can be easily inserted into the cupcake and come out clean.  Allow cupcakes to cool for about ten minutes. 

While cooling, make your topping or frosting.  Whisk all the ingredients together until a smooth icing is formed.  Then spread over your cupcakes.

I chose to make the lemon glaze topping.  I whisked the lemon juice and powdered sugar until they were smooth.  Then I poured it over each cupcake.  The end result looked like this:

Yummy!  I was surprised at how great it tasted to be honest with you.  I guess I enjoy the gingerbread flavor just like my father does! 

I froze several of my muffins so that I can enjoy them again at Christmastime. I will defrost them in the fridge the day before we eat them.  Since I made the lemon glaze topping, I do not have to frost them later on.  If you want to use the cream cheese frosting, I'd suggest only covering the ones you intend to eat and freeze the rest as top-less.  You can always frost them later on.  Enjoy!

How do you feel about receving baked homemade goods as a holiday gift item?  What kind of food would you enjoy receiving as a Christmas present?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Purchase My Cookbook!

It's arrived!  The cookbook is here! 

Purchase Your Copy Here!

Today is definitely one of the top fives days of my entire life - up there with my wedding day and the birth of my daughter! 

I wrote a book from start to finish.  I completed a goal, a lifelong dream of mine! 

It feels really great!  I'm hoping to go out and celebrate with my family tonight!

If you purchase a copy, please let me know!  I'd like to send you a personal thank you note along with a few bonus recipes and poems I wrote!  Send me an email at learn.laugh.cook@gmail.com to let me know about the purchase. 

Also, please become a fan of "Learn, Laugh, Cook" on facebook where I will lead discussions on cooking and share great recipes, my culinary disasters and other findings that are newsworthy! 

Thanks!  Let's toast to a successful book and to one girl reaching her dreams!  :-) 

My "Big Easy" Chicken and Sausage Gumbo

I grew up an hour from New Orleans for the first eighteen years of my life.  Later, after college, I worked right in the heart of downtown NOLA and lived in the suburbs for three years. 

When you live near the "Big Easy," you pick up a few things about its culture.  Known best for its food, music and fun, the city is one of a kind.  Like the nickname suggests, in New Orleans typically everything is slower, simpler and easy-going. 

That's not the case, however for a busy mom or parent dealing with young children.  We don't always have time to cook and slave all day in the kitchen making a roux from scratch.  Moms like me can't just hop on the street car to head downtown for jazz music and second line dancing.  But I can play my Mardi Gras music and boogie down on my dirty floors while I make a "cheater" roux and let my slow cooker do the rest of the work for me.

Dat's right!  You heard me!  I made myself a cheater version of the good stuff! 

Here is my "Big Easy" (meaning "easy" for no-hassle) gumbo recipe:

Mandy's "Big Easy" Chicken and Sausage Gumbo
(Serves 8 to 10)

5 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, chopped into small pieces
1 pound (14 oz or two links) of precooked turkey sausage, chopped into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup of Instant Roux
3 cups of cool water
3 cups of chicken broth
1 can (10 oz) of tomato soup
1 can (10 oz) of diced tomatoes and green chilies (such as Rotel)
1/2 tbsp crushed bay leaves
1/2 tbsp thyme
1/2 tbsp oregano
1/2 tbsp garlic powder
1/2 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp Cajun seasoning (salt mixture)

(Cook's Note: For this recipe, you will need a large stove pot and a slow cooker.)

Generously grease a large pot with cooking spray.  Throw in your chopped onion, celery, bell pepper and garlic.  Sautee on medium high for about seven minutes or until veggies are soft and lightly browned.  Add in two cups of cool water and 1 cup of the instant roux mix.  Stir swiftly with a wooden spoon or whisk making sure all of the "roux" is dissolved and no longer lumpy.  Continue cooking on medium high for about fifteen minutes until the roux thickens, darkens and blends with the veggies.  Don't be afraid if it looks really dark, like this:

It looks like a scary dark color here but it will lighten up in color once you add the tomatoes, broth and other seasonings.  Don't worry!  Continue stirring it on occasion throughout that fifteen minutes, adding water if you need to so it doesn't stick to the pot.

While your roux is cooking and you're not stirring, chop up your chicken and sausage into small pieces.  Then place them into the bottom of a slow cooker.  Sprinkle your Cajun seasoning over the chicken and sausage pieces.  Once your roux has simmered for its course, add it to the slow cooker, on top of the meat. 

Pour in your chicken broth and additional 1 cup of water.  Add the tomato soup, diced tomatoes with chilies, bay leaves, thyme, oregano, garlic and onion powders.  Mix well.  Cover and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours or on high for 4 hours.  (Yesterday I cooked mine on high for two hours and low for two hours and it came out great!)

Check the consistency in case you need to thicken or liquify it more.  Taste it to see if has enough seasoning or spices for your family.  My husband called this recipe "very flavorful and full of spices without being too spicey."  I call that a perfect blend!  :-)

Serve hot over cooked rice in bowls.  Freeze any leftovers in heavy plastic containers for up to four months.  For best results, reheat on stove in a large pot, adding water if needed. 

(Cook's Note: A gumbo is a great mix of whatever you want to throw in it.  You start with that "roux" and then start placing different things in it.  I didn't have any seafood in my freezer so I went with chicken and sausage.  Try mixing it up and blending different flavors in your gumbo.  Let me know how it turns out! )

Monday, November 22, 2010

Cooking Disasters - Example # 1: Apple Bars

Well I can't just blow smoke up your butt having you think I'm this wonderfully awesome cook all the time!  Yeah right, far from it! 

I do okay most of the time but I still have failures and disasters.  That is why I entitled my cookbook, "Learn, Laugh, Cook."  Because let's face it, I'm still learning.  I make mistakes - at least one every few weeks.  But somehow I manage to laugh at myself (and my food); then I move on, determined to make something else that will be incredible and make me forget the vomit-looking apple bars that robbed me of an hour of my life!

In my cookbook, I share a few of my common mistakes with you.  I also include a few funny stories that happen to me as well.  This blog will also carry on that tradition of failures!  And I'll begin with this blog post!

Meet my latest cooking disaster - Sour cream apple lemon bars - or as I shall rename them - Bars that my dog wouldn't touch at first!

This is the second or third time I've tried making an apple dessert or apple bread where it turned into mush.  Maybe apples and I just don't mix!  Or don't mix with other things I should say.   I make a wonderful tasting apple crisp and apple crumble dessert but when I attempt to make something "fancier," this is what happens:

Mushy apples sitting on top of a thick, perfect crust. 

And when you get deeper into the dessert it looks like this:

You can just scrape the apple topping away from the crust.  FAIL! 

In fact, look what I can do!  I can pick up the entire crust and the apples just slide right off like a skateboard gliding down a ramp.

Oh well, it's not a total loss I suppose.  My dog will enjoy a special treat.

Wait, even he was afraid to try it at first!  That's really sad!

But once I convinced him that the apple bars were cat vomit mixed in with his own dog poop, he got on board very quickly!

Yummy I know!  But someone has to eat it! 

I could speculate on what went wrong and analyze my steps and ingredients (like the extra apple and lemon juice I placed in there), but why bother?  Why think about it any longer than it takes to throw it in the trash?  What's the point?  I can just start over or make something else.  And that is just what I will do!

So you see, this is why I refer to myself as an ordinary person learning how to cook.  Because that's what I am! 

Stay tuned for more of my cooking disasters and my comical kitchen adventures and other stories.... they are never-ending!  :-)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Sausage, Mushroom and Pumpkin Pasta

I stocked up on canned pumpkin and found myself wondering what I could cook with them besides desserts and breads.   On Saturday I found this sausage and pumpkin recipe in my Taste of Home Healthy Cooking magazine.  Since I wanted to use 2 cups (a whole can) of canned pumpkin, I decided to modify and double the recipe I discovered with a few changes and additives. 

Here is the tasty end result:

Sausage, Mushroom and Pumpkin Pasta
(Serves 10 to 12)

3 cups of pasta (I used elbow macaroni, whole wheat)
1 lb (14 oz) of pre-cooked turkey sausage, chopped into small pieces
2 cups of chicken broth
2 cans (10 oz) of cream of mushroom soup, fat free
1 can (15 oz) of pumpkin
1 cup of Parmesan cheese
1 large red onion
1/2 cup of cooking white wine
1/2 cup of reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tsp oregano
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp Cajun seasoning
1/2 tsp garlic powder
dashes of salt and pepper, to taste

Cook your pasta according to package directions.  While pasta is cooking, generously grease a large skillet with cooking spray.  Cook sausage onion, garlic and mushroom soup for about ten minutes.  Transfer the contents into a large pot that has been greased at the bottom.  (You'll need more room than a skillet for the next several steps).  

In the large pot, add in the chicken broth, white wine, canned pumpkin, Parmesan cheese, oregano, onion powder, Cajun seasoning, garlic powder, and a dash of salt and pepper.

Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until the mixture forms a sauce texture that looks like this:

Isn't this a beautiful color pasta sauce?  The orange from the pumpkin gives it a fun, festive fall feel.  (Say that three times in a row without fail, I dare you!) 

Drain your cooked pasta.  Then add it to the sausage-mushroom-pumpkin saunce once it looks similar to the above photo.   Mix the pasta well and add the 1/2 cup of cheddar cheese.

Serve in pasta bowls and enjoy. We ate ours with a side of green beans and garlic bread.  Yummy! 

This recipe makes A LOT!  You may want to consider cutting it in half or just freeze 2/3 of it like I did! 

To reheat, defrost in fridge overnight or in microwave.  Add additional chicken broth, water and cheeses if needed.

(Cook's note: This recipe has more of a mushroom and garlic flavor than a pumpkin taste.  I find the pumpkin to very subtle, more as an undertone.  You can however use less or more of any of the above ingredients to make it work for your family.  I bet your kids will try it, simply because it looks like macaroni and cheese.  It has a VERY different flavor though and much less fat!)

(Fun fact:
  Every year I forget whether pumpkin is considered to be a fruit or a vegetable.  I usually think of it as fruit because of it's sweet nature.   However, many other people call it a vegetable because it's a member of the squash family.  Web resources say the following: The pumpkin is a member of the squash family, and, though it is treated like a vegetable, it is technically a fruit. The reason a pumpkin is a fruit is because it grows on a vine and contains seeds.)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Cheater's Lemon Tea

Making tea with freshly squeezed lemons is a wonderful thing to do.  The taste is incredible if you do it.  But let's face it, we don't always have the time or the energy to make that happen.  So this is my no-frill's, super easy way to make your own fast lemon tea.  I've gotten a half-dozen compliments on it already at events I've hosted at my house where I served this.  Your guests won't know how you "cheated" them!  :-)

Cheater's Lemon Tea
(Makes 1 gallon)

4 tea bags (or enough packets for 4 quarts/1 gallon of tea)
2 cups of water
1-2 packets of lemonade on-the-go mix

Brew your tea the way you normally would.  I use an iced tea maker and follow the instructions that came with it which are to use about two cups of water and four tea bags.  After brewing, while still hot, I place enough ice to fill the tea container to the top line (about 1 gallon). 

The "cheater" ingredient is that I will sometimes add 1-2 packets of lemonade mix to my hot, freshly brewed tea.  By adding in something that looks like this (see photo below):

then I don't have to include any sugar or other sweeteners.  The lemonade mix does all the work for me.  I simply stir and taste until I have my desired sweetness.  If I were you, I'd start with one packet and then add a second if you want a stronger lemon flavor.

Don't stress or fuss about it not being completely homemade!  Just serve and enjoy.

Sloppy Joe and Veggie Pizza

We enjoy having pizza two or three times a month, usually on a Friday night.  I've made this sloppy joe version several times and I really liked it.  Last night I decided to tweak that particular recipe and sneak in more veggies.  I wanted to make it an even healthier, more filling pizza.  Thankfully I succeeded without compromising the amazing taste.  Below is the recipe.

Sloppy Joe and Veggie Pizza
(Makes two pizzas, 6 to 8 slices each)

2 whole wheat pizza crusts (I use the store bought kind and keep the packaging for freezing purposes)
1 pound of lean ground turkey
2 cups of of reduced fat shredded cheese, any variety
1 and 1/2 cups of barbecue sauce (whatever your favorite kind is)
1 can of corn, drained
1 large onion, chopped into small pieces
1/2 cup of green onion, diced
1/2 cup of pureed carrots
1/2 cup of pureed spinach
1/8 cup of Parmesan cheese
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp garlic powder
dashes of Cajun seasoning, salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bake your two pizza crusts for 8 to 10 minutes (on a greased pizza pan), until lightly browned.  Set crusts aside to cool while you make the pizza mixture.  Generously grease a large skillet with cooking spray. Cook your lean ground turkey in a greased skillet along with chopped onions.  Drain or blot away any grease or fat.  Add in the pureed carrots and spinach.  Simmer for about five minutes.  Pour in the drained corn.  Add in your barbecue sauce, 1/2 cup of shredded cheese, all of the Parmesan cheese, oregano, garlic powder and a dash each of salt and pepper.  Cook for about seven minutes.  Taste.  Add any additional seasonings or cheese, if needed. 

Scoop out half the sloppy joe mix onto one pizza crust.  Then scoop the remaining half on the second pizza crust.  Use a spatula or fork to spread evenly over each pizza.  If you think the pizzas need additional sauce, then you can gently pour a few teaspoons of barbecue sauce onto the sloppy joe and veggie topping to give it a wetter texture.  Top both pizzas with the remaining 1 and 1/2 cups of shredded cheese.  (Use more cheese if desired).  

(Cook's Note:  Don't worry about your kids seeing or finding out about the veggies you hid into the pizza.  Just like my picture shows (below), once you top it with cheese, you can't see what's in it.  You can't really taste it either with all the seasonings and the great barbecue sauce on it!  :-)

Bake for about 20 minutes in the oven.  I baked both of mine at the same time on different oven racks (see picture below but pay no attention to my dirty oven please!) 

Let pizzas cool for about five minutes before cutting into 6 or 8 slices each. 

We ate one for dinner and froze the other pizza for a future Friday night.  To freeze, I placed the whole pizza on the pan in my freezer overnight.  The next morning, I removed it from the pan and wrapped it in both seran wrap and aluminum foil.  I then placed it back in the original packaging it came in for safe keeping.  I will keep mine in the freezer for up to three months.  

When reheating pizza, I defrost mine in the fridge for a few hours then place back in the oven for about ten minutes at 400 degrees.  I usually top with additional, fresh cheese on top! 


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Getting Crafty With Foods - A Sweet Turkey Treat!

I belong to a local MOMS Club organization.  I volunteer a lot with this non-profit group.  They have many activities for moms and children to keep us all active and happy.  Today we had a meeting with our members where I was asked to demonstrate a holiday craft that parents could do with kids at home. 

I've never considered myself to be a real "crafty" person.  I will pull out play-doh to mold or paint for my three year old daughter to make a mess with but I am not artistic.  I can't sew.  I can't draw.  But as I'm discovering and revealing on this site (and in my upcoming cookbook), I can learn.  I can practice at being better.  With hard work and determination, I can improve at a skill or hobby.  After all, I only really began cooking within the past year.  So if I can do that and write a book about it, then I can do almost anything, right?  Right! 

Plus, I am resourceful at finding ideas for crafts and other fun things to do.  I came across this Oreo Turkey Treat posted on a food blog I love while browsing new recipes to try.  This kid-friendly treat looked perfect for my group.  Best of all, it seemed easy enough for even a novice like me to make.  All of the ingredients were easy to find too. 

I was right.  It was simple to make.  Fast too.  Perfect.  I'd definitely recommend it to you and others to try at home!  

Here is my sweet bird:

Don't laugh at it! (Okay, you can laugh, I won't know you're making fun of me anyway!)  My stuff isn't always the prettiest but it's still something that can be enjoyed and best of all, eaten!   Below is the recipe and instructions on how to make your own turkey treat.

Sweet Turkey Treat
(adapted from the Recipe Shoebox blog)

1 box of Oreo cakester cookies  (I like these better than regular Oreo cookies, less mess~!)

1 small package of candy corn
1 small package of whoppers malted candy
1and 1/2 tsp of white icing
1/4 tsp of red icing (or use white with red food coloring) OR use an edible red candy ornament

For each child participating, give him or her a plate.  Place 1 tsp of white cake icing in the center of the plate.  Instruct the kids to place the Oreo cakester upright into the center of the white icing.  Then place one whopper malted candy ball in front of the Oreo cakester so it looks like the head (face) of a turkey.  Gently twist the candy corn pieces into the creamy sides of the Oreo cakester until a full-feathered bird is shown.  Use your remaining white icing to make eyes on the face (whopper candy) of the turkey.  Then use red icing or whatever red ornament candy you have on hand to make the wattle (neck and throat) of the turkey. 

Make as many as you and your kids feel like using all the above ingredients.  Have fun with it!  Then gobble it up!  :-)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Story Behind My Cover Photo

I've been receiving a lot of compliments on the cover photo used on my book.  Of course, the praise is coming from people who know me and like me so they are a little biased.  Still I thought I'd share the truth behind my "close-up".  So you can see that I'm just an ordinary person on a mission.

Here's the truth - I took the above photo of myself all by myself.  I used a ten-second timer on my digital Cannon camera and would literally run into place and hold up that bowl and whisk in what I believed was the "center" of the lens. 

My husband wasn't around.  I didn't even have a friend over to assist me.  It was just me with Vivian or my dog occasionally trying to jump into the shot while I shoved them away.

To achieve that picture you'll see on the cover, I had to stack my camera on top of a wine rack and several of my cookbooks (I used the Five Dollar Dinner Mom and The Crockpot Lady's books for inspiration).  I stood in front of the only clean and bare wall in my entire house.  This was after failed attempts at taking "action" shots in my kitchen which contains too much clutter and not enough lighting for a decent photo.

At first to warm up to the silliness of taking an actual cover photo, I put on a viking hat and posed in goofy manners.  I even sent those pictures to a few friends who all promptly told me, "Don't use that for your cover!"   You gotta love their honesty! 

So you see, there is no glamourous nature behind my cover.  Just me and my own camera and my own determination that I could somehow manage to do it myself.  And I did. 

When I look at the photo, I cringe a bit.  Although it's engaging and fun, I see my roots, my gray hairs coming in, my wrinkles, how one eye is squinting more than the other and all the other imperfections on my face and body. 

But hey, that's me.  I have to embrace who I am.  I'm just your average person.  And I'm telling my stories and sharing my recipes.  I want them to be as "real" as possible.  So I also wanted my cover to be the "real" me too.  I achieved that.  Even though I don't look like a pin-up model, I'm happy overall with the end results.

There you have it folks.  The real story behind my simple cover photo.

However, I think the real credit should go to my friend Carrie who took my original cover design that looked like this (simple, plain and BOR-ING!):

But she turned it into this:

The vibrant colors and final "airbrush" touches are thanks to her.  Carrie, thank you for making little 'ol me look even better!  You're the best.  I hope my readers will like it too!  

And also a big thank you and shout-out to my very good friend Jen who personally hand-stitched that apron just for me!  She worked quickly to design the apron just for me so I could wear it and place it on my cover!  I love my apron.  Thanks Jen for making it for me!  I love it! 

Do you wear aprons in the kitchen?  Do you have aspirations of writing a cookbook or any kind of book?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

My "Mix-it-up Meat and Veggie Chili" Recipe

I've been testing out my new slow cooker these days.  I love soups, stews and chilis in the fall and winter months. 

This morning I had several of my cookbooks open to various chili recipes. Then I decided "The heck with that~!"  I can throw my own chili together using what I know and think should go in there. 

Most chilis don't have a lot veggies in them, besides beans that is.  I wanted to change that and include the carrots and spinach I pureed recently.  I threw in some turkey sausage and meat I had on hand as well. 

The end result turned out great - definitely worth sharing here!  I hope you enjoy it. 


Mix-it-up Meat and Veggie Chili
(Serves 10 to 12)

1 pound of ground turkey, uncooked and crumbled
1 and 1/2 links of turkey sausage (about 10 oz), chopped up into small pieces
2 cans of light red kidney beans, with juices
1 can (15 oz) Italian diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can (15 oz) regular petite diced tomatoes, with juice
1 can (15 oz) all natural tomato sauce
1 small can of diced tomatoes with chilis (such as Rotel), with juice
1 cup of pureed (or chopped) spinach
1 cup of pureed (or shredded) carrots
1 large onion, diced finely
1 large bell pepper, diced
2 tbsp of cooking white (or red) wine
1 tbsp garlic powder (or use about five cloves of fresh garlic, minced)
1 tsp chili powder (add more if you like it spicy)
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp basil
1 tsp of Cajun seasoning blend
1 tsp of salt

Grab your slow cooker (at least 5 quarts) and put it on the low setting.  Place your defrosted, uncooked ground turkey at the bottom of the slow cooker.  Chop your turkey sausage into small pieces, about the size of the beans.  Add the sausage to slow cooker.   Next, place your beans, tomatoes, spinach, carrots, onion, bell pepper and cooking wine inside.  Stir well.  Add all of the remaining spices and ingredients.  Cover and let the chili simmer in slow cooker for about 8 to 10 hours.  (Or try cooking on high for 4 to 6 hours).  Stir and taste.  Add additional chili pepper if you like it spicier.  For me, this chili recipe was flavorful without being too spicy. 

Note: The longer you let soups and chilis sit, the better they taste.  Therefore, if you can, throw it all together first thing in the moring and let it sit all day long.

Serve chili hot or warm in heavy bowls.  Often we like to put our chili over Frito chips and add cheese on top. 

Mommy's Cure For A Headache Hot Chocolate

After a long day of dealing with a three-year old, a mommy like me just needs to enjoy a drink.  In the cooler months of the year, I like having hot chocolate after dinner.  Throw in a little bit (or a lot) of alcohol and you've got yourself a cure for the headaches from the day.

Here is what I threw together the other night.  I'm calling it "Mommy's Cure for a Headache Hot Chocolate."  Note: This is not for the kids and probably not suitable for those under 21 years of age either!

hotchocolateandbaileys.jpg picture by vivrosemom

Mommy's Cure For A Headache Hot Chocolate
(Serves 1)

1 envelope of hot chocolate (I prefer the dark chocolate flavor)
1 cup (8 oz) of water or milk
2 tbsp of Bailey's Irish Cream liqueur (Note: This is = to 1 shot glass)
1/8 tsp of Almond extract
Marshmallows for topping

Pour 1 cup of milk or water into drinking mug.  Microwave on high for about one and a half minutes.  Pour your hot chocolate mix inside.  Stir quickly until all of the mixture has dissolved.  (I have to do mine over the sink because I'm messy!)  Add in the 2 tbsp of Bailey's Irish Cream liqueur and 1/8 tsp of almond extract.  Stir drink again several times.  Top with marshmallows.  Enjoy on the sofa or perhaps in a hot bath where no kids can find you!


Mmmm, nothing like a warm drink on a cold day to make you feel cozy, eh?  Let's have a toast!

Oh and do you say hot chocolate or hot cocoa?  I hear it both ways and was curious what you and your family call it.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Determined To Do It Myself

From the start of this cookbook, I have wanted to do everything myself.  I spent hours looking up sites that will design your book for you.  I could have had a team of consultants working with me to give me "expert" writing advice (at a price, of course).  But I didn't take on anyone's words of wisdom or consulting fees. 

I wanted full control of every word, every text box and every image inside my book.  When it came down to it, I said: "I can do this myself.  That's the only way it's going to come out the way I want it to be." 

So I did.  I painfully sat at my computer for hours and hours typing up every single recipe, inserting every page number, taking all of the photos included in the book, not to mention cropping and resizing them too.  I wrote my own dedication, my own copyright page, the acknowledgment page, the introduction, the closing and everything you see in between.  I even created my own index.  I spent three days jotting down all the main ingredients and compiling them into an "encyclopedia" for my cookbook.   I wanted the power to do it all.  (Raises fist in air in only a way that Lady Gaga would approve!)

I even took the cover photo myself.  I will share the funny story and truth behind that photo in an upcoming blog post, by the way.   I'm not a good photographer but I had my mind set to take my own picture anyway.  Every "cook's note" and "tip" that you'll see in the book is mine.  The way everything is aligned or distored is my handiwork.  Good or bad, professional or amateur-looking, the book contents are all of my doing.

I was obsessed over doing it completely on my terms.  And that's what I did.  I had friends help me proofread it but I only used the people who offered to help me.  I didn't want to bother anyone with my work, my vision and my dream.  (Can you say stubborn? I know I am!)

Now that the end is near and the process is almost over, I'm not sure it was the wisest decision.  But it has been the most humbling and rewarding.  I have a whole new appreciation for authors, agents (even though I don't have one) and frankly anyone who's ever been involved in the aspect of writing, editing, designing and publishing a book.  It takes a huge amount of time, effort and dedication to make it all come together.  Then you put it out there for the world (even though my world is a small one) to see. 

It's an incedible feeling.  Much like a new mother birthing a baby.  I'm about to give birth to my first book.  Let's see how it turns out.  I think she's going to be a fighter!

Coming Soon: My Cookbook!

I put the final touches on my cookbook manuscript today.  After renumbering pages, adjusting the margins,  embedding the fonts and graphics and uploading the entire PDF document for the twelfth time, I think I'm done.  I hope that I'm done. 

After several headaches and loud groans this morning, I nearly wanted to give up.  Yet I realize that most of the "technical difficulties" I was encountering are all my fault.  I didn't read the fine print about formatting. 

Do yourself a favor if you ever self-publish: read all the rules carefully beforehand!!!  Then read them again!  You'll save yourself the time and hassle of having to insert new pages and renumber your entire ten-page index that took you three days to create like I did. 

I have spent four to five hours nearly every day for the past month making these finishing edits, rewrites and notes.  As of now, I don't think I can make it any better than what it is. 

The next step is waiting for my wonderful friend Carrie to finish the cover design for me.  She is sprucing up my photo and adding in some vibrant colors to really grab attention.  After that, I make my manuscript into a "print ready file" and hit the "publish" button.  I'm going to order a copy for myself first and test the efficiency of the publisher's ordering and shipping process.  If I don't like it, I will find another site and distributor.

I've been so completely consumed by this book and writing it for over the past month (although the work behind it took a year to compile -- i.e., the recipes, stories, etc).  What will I do when it's all over with?  What will I obsess over then?

Soon will come the waiting.... that may be the hardest part just like Tom Petty says.  But the end is near.  The glorious light is at the end of the tunnel.

I've done it.  I've actually written a book and am going to publish it.  Even though it's a self-publish, I did it.  I've achieved a lifelong dream of mine.  I am overjoyed and thrilled!  The best is yet to come!  And it's coming soon.  Stay tuned....

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Low Fat Potato Salad For Twenty (Or Why My Hands Feel Like They've Been Through A Jillian Michaels Workout)

Aren't those hands pretty?  Sadly, they are not mine.  For starters, my nails are never that groomed or pretty.  Second, I don't wear lotion on them.   Ever.

My hands feel more like this below image though:

They hurt.  They are sore.  I feel like my thumb and wrist have been doing a Jillian Michaels workout.  I can just picture her in fitness crazed mode (with her horse-shaped face and ponytail) telling me not to quit.  Telling me not to be a loser when it comes to cooking and peeling fifteen boiled potatoes and eight boiled eggs. 

Because that is what I did yesterday.  I spent nearly two hours peforming prep work for a huge serving of my low fat potato salad for a neighborhood block party my street is having. Although 40 people are anticipated to attend, I prepared enough to feed 20 (or maybe 40 if everyone just takes a small bite or two).  I can't imagine having to prepare enough salad to feed 40 folks.  I spent thirty minutes (or more) just peeling the eggs and potatoes.  I have never used that muscle in my fingers and hand for that long or in that much repetition.  My hand was really bothering me afterwards and for several hours.  How do cooks and chefs do this labor intensive work day in and day out?   Gosh, I sure have a whole new respect for cooks now that I'm cooking from scratch! 

Anyway, hopefully my 'tater salad will be adored by all who attend our block party and taste it.  If anyone complains, I may just start a food fight.  I don't care if half my neighbors are senior citizens either.  I'll knock 72 year old Mr. Bob right in the kisser if he utters one ugly word against my hard work. 

Before the brawl begins, let me post the recipe for you.  Here is the recipe of my low fat (but you'd never know it because it's awesome) potato salad:

potatosaladfor20.jpg picture by vivrosemom

Low Fat Potato Salad
(Serves 20.  You can cut this recipe in half, feeding 8 to 10, which is what I normally do)

15 medium to large red potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
8 to 10 hard boiled eggs

2 small onions, chopped finely (optional)
1 and 3/4 cup of fat-free or reduced fat mayonnaise (Use more or less, if you like) 
2/3 cups of sweet pickle relish
1/2 cup of bacon bits (optional, but why not use them?)
7 tbsp of honey mustard
2 tbsp sugar
2 tsp salt
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp celery salt
1 tsp Cajun seasoning

Cook, peel and dice potatoes.  Combine the potatoes with chopped onions (if you use them) in medium size bowl.  Set aside.  Boil the eggs.  Cool them before handling.  Peel and separate the egg yolks from the egg whites.   In a small bowl, dice your egg whites.  In a separate bowl mash your egg yolks with honey mustard.  Stir the mayo, sugar, celery salt, onion powder, garlic powder, salt and Cajun seasoning into the egg yolk- mustard mixture. Pour egg whites and egg yolk mixture into potatoes.  Stir well.  Mix in the relish and bacon bits.  Taste it.  Add any additional seasonings, if needed.  The salad will keep in the refrigerator for up to seven days.  I would not recommend freezing this or eating it after seven days.


-  Does anyone know if I can have a spa treatment or massage done just on my hands?  Ouch!  I really need one.  Pleaase throw in a cute cabana boy to gently rub them too, will ya?  Thanks!

Take Off Your Shoes, Read And Stay Awhile!

Welcome!  I love visitors.  Even though I run myself crazy cleaning and preparing before I have guests over, I really love having people in my home.  I'm a natural hostess. I try to ensure everyone is comfortable. 

I hope this blog will offer the same feeling.... no loud music, obnoxious political discussions or overbearing perfume.  Instead, I intend to portray the sounds of laughter among friends and the smells of freshly baked bread, lasagna and chocolate chip cookies. 

Please grab a seat, take off your shoes and get cozy.  I'll pour you a cup of tea, a glass of lemonade (or a shot of vodka if that's what you want).  You name it, I'm stocked with it all. 

I'm excited to share with you my new outlet of creative cooking and kitchen adventures.  I have just written a cookbook with the same name as this blog - Learn, Laugh, Cook.  This book has inspired me to continue my culinary journey.  Here is where I will post occasional recipes, meal plans, funny stories, cooking disasters, my witty and silly poetry about food (and more), my love/hate relationship with kitchen appliances, and more!

My plan is to be informal, mostly simple and candid.  No fluff.  Great tasting but without all the fat and calories, at least most of the time anyway. 

Thanks for joining me!