Monday, February 28, 2011

Balsamic Chicken Wraps

I bought the Jessica Seinfeld "Double Delicious" cookbook a few weeks ago.  I like her practical, easy recipes that sneak in vegetables, I really do.  Her balsamic chicken was one of the first recipes that caught my eye and made me want to purchase the book.  I was inspired a lot by her first collection "Deceptively Delicious."  She helped me jumpstart the idea of pureeing vegetables into foods to make them more filling and to get us eating them too.  Maybe you're one of those people who just loves veggies but my family isn't like that.  So recipes like this one (posted below) where we can add them in really works well for us!

Balsamic Chicken Wraps
(Makes 6 wraps)

Adapted from Jessica Seinfeld's Double Delicious cookbook

Cooking spray
1 tbsp olive oil
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts thawed and cut into strips (or bites)
1 cup of all natural chicken broth
1/2 tsp of salt
1/4 tsp of pepper
1/4 cup of whole wheat flour (I use the white wheat kind)
1/2 cup of balsamic vinegar
6 tbsp brown sugar (I used light)
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup of broccoli - pureed or chopped very finely (Next time I make this I think I will add more!)
6 whole wheat tortilla wraps
3/4 cup of shredded cheese, reduced fat and any variety

Generously grease a skillet with cooking spray and warm it on the stove at medium heat.   Then add the tablespoon of olive oil.  Toss in the cut up chicken.  Sprinkle the pieces with salt, pepper and flour.  Stir them around until completely coated.  Add in the minced garlic.  Cook for about 10 minutes or until a knife can be inserted easily through the chicken.  Pour in the balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, chicken broth and pureed (or finely chopped) broccoli.  Stir and cook for another 10 minutes. 

Note: You shouldn't even really notice the pieces of broccoli in the sauce since the brown sugar and balsamic vinegar is so dark. 

Remove skillet from heat.  Set aside.  Warm your whole wheat flour tortillas in the microwave for about 20 seconds.  Then scoop out balsamic chicken into the center of each tortilla.  Top with shredded cheese.  Then fold over and tuck in sides so you have the chicken wrapped up inside. 

This was surprisingly easy, quick and very delicious!  My husband really enjoyed this.  My three year old took a few bites but she's a bit more picky.   We ate our wraps with sweet potato fries and a special dip recipe which I will share with you tomorrow!   These would also be great with a side salad, green beans or any other vegetable. 

Do you ever puree vegetables and put them in your foods?  I know many people have different opinions (negative and positive) on that style of cooking but when your family is super picky about meals (like mine is), purees are a very easy way to have my loved ones eating more of the good stuff! 

Sunday, February 27, 2011

What's Cookin' This Week (Feb 28 - Mar 6, 2011)?

Last week I stocked up on produce and meats.  My freezer is nearly full once again.   I also attended a session by a pediatrician and women's health specialist.  This doctor discussed foods that we can eat to have a healthier heart.  It was a very informative session and one I hope to keep in the back of my mind as I continue to cook in healthier ways and offer better alternatives in meal planning.

Some of the tips the doctor suggested is to eat your carbs in breakfast and lunch but skip them for dinner.  Well, that's really hard to do when my family loves pastas and breads.  This is something that I can slowly work toward doing more BUT I know I can't do this every night (not unless my life depended on it).  The doctor also recommended eating fruits with breakfast everyday.  I have already started doing that.  In fact I loaded up on oranges, strawberries and mangoes at the farmers market on Friday!  :-)

Here's what I have lined up for this week.  Note that the eat--less-carbs-for-dinner ISN'T happening for this week, LOL.  However I have a lot of fruit-inspired snacks and meals on the horizon.  One thing at a time, right?  ;-)  

Monday, Feb. 28 - Bacon and Parmesan Pasta - I will use whole wheat spaghetti that I have pre-cooked in the freezer.  I will serve this with a side salad and homemade bread

Tuesday, Mar. 1
- Mexican Brown Rice Casserole (vegetarian) - My mother-in-law shared this recipe with me and I want to try it out since she follows Weight Watchers.  I could make it for her in the future.

Wednesday, Mar 2 - - Swiss Chicken Puffs - I will probably put some pureed broccoli in these!  Serve this with Spinach salad with orange vinaigrette

Thursday, Mar. 3 - Leftovers

Friday, Mar. 4 - Beer Cheddar Soup in homemade bread bowls - This was my husband's request!

Saturday, Mar. 5 - Take out sushi - It's nice to have a night off from cooking!

Sunday, Mar. 6 -  Chicken Parmesan with honey mustard, side of green beans (recipe is from my cookbook)  

And here is what I have my eye on as far as snacks and desserts that I hope to make this week.  You'll notice that most of them are fruit-related since I have stocked up on so many fruits a few days ago:

(1) Lemon Angel Food Cake with fruit sauce - Fact: I've never made angel food cake.  I've always used the box mix.  So I want to give it a try!

(2) Banana Crumb Muffins - Perfect to try since I have a bunch of bananas to use up!  I'm really digging this Muncher Cruncher blog too  -- so fun and inspiring!

(3) Avocado, Mango and Tomato Salsa - I'm really into finding healthier dips these days and would like to try a new one each week if I can find one that seems appealing!  This one caught my eye!

(4) Baked Apple Chips - I picked up a great deal on Honeycrisp apples at the farmers market and am excited to try them with this recipe!   This is my good friend's sister's website and it's a wonderful blog for all things craft and food related!

What's cookin' in your house this week?  Any great meals lined up? 

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rolling Pancake

How many different ways can you change up your breakfast?  Lots of ways, thankfully.  I saw this German Pancake recipe a few weeks ago and bookmarked it so I could try it out.  I love recipes like this where you throw it all in a pan then into the oven and just let it bake uninterrupted.  So easy and you can focus on other things around the house!

There are many names for this recipe - German Pancake, Big Pancake, Baked Pancake, Fluffy Pancake, etc.  Call it what you want, I say.  I decided to entitle it "Rolling Pancake" because mine looked like it was slowly trying to roll out of the pan.  If I had baked it longer, perhaps it would have ended up at the bottom of my oven floor.  That would have been interesting.....NOT!  

I took the recipe I found and lightened it up where I could.  I also added some fruit and spice.  Next time I make it, I think I'll add even more.

Rolling Pancake
(Serves 4 - 5)

Adapted from Mandy's Recipe Box (not me Mandy, a different Mandy)

6 tbsp light butter
3/4 cup of unbleached flour (I used white wheat flour)
3/4 cup of reduced fat milk
6 eggs, beaten
1 mashed, ripe banana (optional but I really loved adding this in!)
1/2 tsp cinnamon (I added this extra spice)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place the butter in a 13x9 inch baking pan that has been coated with cooking spray.  Let the butter melt.  Meanwhile, in a medium size bowl, place all other ingredients.  Mix well with a hand mixer.  It will have some lumps. After the butter has melted, remove the baking pan from oven and pour in the batter.  It may sizzle or crackle in sound but that's normal. Bake for 20-25 minutes.  Enjoy seeing what kind of design or shape your pancake turns out to be.

Note that the consistency of this pancake is more like French toast than a buttermilk-type pancake.  It's very tasty though.  Plus, I love the idea of just putting it in the oven  (instead of my skillet) so I can sit down and drink my coffee or cook a side of bacon to go along with it! 

Here's what the pancake looked like half-way through the baking process:

Now here's what it looked like coming out from the oven:

Do you have a good pancake recipe that you make for your family?  I'm always on the lookout for new variations!  I love to enjoy pancakes or French toast at least once a week!

Have a great weekend!  I'll see you Sunday when I post my meal plan for the upcoming week!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Battle of the Breadmaker, an update

My bread machine and I have an interesting history.  We have a love-hate relationship.  Read all the past stories if you like.  They are quite comical. 

We've been on a path of mutual respect these days though, thankfully.  I try not to overwork him and in turn, he provides me with edible, delectable carbohydrate-rich bread. 

With each passing week, I become braver and bolder with what I'm willing to make.  I'm finally trying more than just loaves of bread.   Check out all the things I've recently made:

(1) Pizza crust:

I want to stop buying ready-made crusts now.  These are so easy to make and much more tasty than the store-bought kind!

(2) Calzones, although they were a bit messy to start off with (due to my overstuffing habits)! 

I have a greater appreciation for these hard-to-shape backwards pizzas!  I need some tips on how to make this smoother and less messy~!   At least I tried it though! 

(3) Bread bowls:

These fun bowls were surprisingly easy to make and shape.  I found this online video that did a wonderful job of demonstrating how to make them!  Pair them with homemade soup and you've got a winning, comfort food combination!

(4) Bagels:

I must admit these were a big pain to make.  I'm not sure when and if I'll attempt them again.  Of course I went a bit fancy with them and added raisins, cinnamon and shredded carrots to them:

I had trouble shaping them like true bagels but they did turn out tasting great.  Several of my friends and family members ate them and raved about them.  So I guess my efforts were appreciated!  :-)

(5) New breads of all sorts, like this beautiful one pictured below:

Some of the common and not so common flavors I've made are:

-Sour cream bread
-Dill weed cottage cheese bread
-Applesauce bread
-Granola bread
-Banana bread
-Cottage cheese and herb bread 
-And more! 

I love it when the bread comes out looking so lovely.  When I slice it, sometimes it looks even better.

The more I talk to folks, the more I realize that I'm not the only one who has bread machine problems and failures.  In fact, my good friend Jen Peters (who is a truly fabulous and even gourmet-style cook) even had a recent bread flop from her machine.  She emailed me this photo that she quickly took on her camera phone:

A Bread Failure Photo Sent In By My Friend Jen Peters:

I had to laugh when she sent me the above picture.  She knew that I could truly understand the humor and disappointment in these crab-leg like breads created by her bread machine.  Too bad I couldn't serve them with my turkey bird bread from over a month ago, hahahah! 

I don't know what kind of bread Jen made to achieve those kind of wild results.  But I understand how it can happen.  Those picky, pesky machines don't like to be neglected duing all kneading and rising processes.  If you turn your back away for too long, they just go crazy on you!  

Jen's photo did make me chuckle and feel better about my failures though.  We all experience it from time to time.  Thanks Jen for sending me this and brightening up my day.

Let's have a toast to all of us who deal with bread machines and other electronic kitchen devices! 

Love them, hate them,
use them or abuse them,
they do (for the most part)
make our lives easier
and at the very least, for me, more interesting!! 

Have you made bread recently?  Was it a success story?

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Loser Cook Award: Anyone for Ugly, Chalk-flavored Brownies?

WHO'S A LOSER?  That would be ME!  Again

I don't know why I can't stop tweaking my own recipes?  I have perfected a wonderful lightened up batch of brownies.  You can find the recipe in my cookbook.  Yet for some reason, I decided to "adapt" it further to see if I could get an even better consistency over a week ago. 

First I thought if I added just a touch more of baking powder and baking soda, that maybe they'd come out even larger and fluffier.   Then I wanted to add mint flavor to it so I placed a dash of peppermint extract to it.

Here is what it looked like coming from the oven:

It looks sick, doesn't it?  Like the brownies have cold sores and moles all over their "skin."  Just odd and ugly! 

But the worst part about these brownies is not how they look.... Sadly, it's how they taste!  Did you ever put chalk in your mouth as a kid when you were assigned "eraser duty" by your school teachers?  Well, it tastes like that!  Like nasty chalk.  No chocolate-y flavor.  No minty freshness.  Chalk from a chalkboard!   :-(

That fluffier consistency I was trying to achieve actually turned more into bread.  If I was baking chocolate bread, then that wouldn't be a problem.  But I wanted brownies.  So yeah..... not a good thing! 

Sigh!  I give myself this big fat loser award.  I especially deserve it this time because I fudged up my own brownie recipe-- the one I worked weeks at getting perfectly for my cookbook.  So why did I mess with the best? 

I sit here before you with my head hung low in disgust.  In fact, I built a BROWNIE TOWER OF SHAME (pictured below) to express my remorse:

Good-bye disgusting treats!  There was no way to salvage you!  Next time, I'll just simply follow the recipe as it is! 

What's the last mess-up you had in the kitchen?  Have you ever tried to tweak your own recipe and been disappointed at the results?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Baked Potato Pizza

Have you ever thought of combining the ingredients of a baked potato with a pizza?  I sure hadn't.  Not until I stumbled upon this recipe.  You just never know what new combination and set of flavors are out there waiting for you to try! 

The version I found, however, used instant potatoes and no tomato sauce.  I didn't like that notion at all.  So I changed it up to make it fit my particular taste buds.  I really liked the end result.  My husband thought it was "Eh, okay."  But I brought it to a Valentine's day party with a group of friends and they all loved it.  Several asked me for the recipe.  So here it is!  I strongly encourage you to try it.  I think you'll be pleasantly surprised at how delicious this is.

Mandy's Baked Potato Pizza
(Makes 8 slices)

1 pizza crust (I made my own using my bread machine)
1 and 1/2 cups of pizza or tomato sauce (I use half a jar of all natural Ragu or whatever I have on hand in my pantry from the last grocery sale and stockpile)
4 small to medium red potatoes - boiled, peeled and smashed (not quite mashed)
2 tbsp light butter
1/4 cup milk
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp oregano or Italian seasoning
dash of salt and pepper
3 oz of real bacon bits (I buy the small bags of it already cut up, also on sale at grocery)
1 bunch (about 1/3 cup) of green onions, diced
1 and 1/2 cups of shredded cheese, reduced fat cheddar and mozzerella variety

Make your own pizza crust or use a store bought, ready made kind.  (Note: I've done both.  There's no shame in that!)  Follow the instructions for pre-cooking or baking for several minutes.  Let the crust cool.  Spoon the pizza or tomato sauce over the crust.  Sprinkle with half the onion powder, garlic powder and oregano/Italian seasoning.  Set aside. 

Boil your four red potatoes in a medium size pot on the stove.  Potatoes should be completely covered by water.  They are done when you can smoothly insert a fork or knife into them.  Remove from heat and place in a colander in the sink.  Run cool water over them until they are easy to handle.  Peel pototoes then place in a large bowl.  Smash (or mash) them down into smooth but tiny chunks, like this (pictured below): 

If you want your potatoes creamy (like mashed potatoes), then you could probably put it in a food processor and liquify them.  I, however, wanted something to bite into on my pizza.  Add in the milk, butter and remaining seasonings - onion powder, garlic powder and oregano/Italian mix.  Stir well.  Taste.  If needed, add in a dash of salt and pepper. 

Spread the smashed, seasoned potato evenly over your pizza crust, on top of the tomato sauce.  It should look like this:

Sprinkle bacon bits, green onions and shredded cheese evenly over the potato.  I don't know about you but this is my favorite part - topping the pizza and covering it with lots of cheese!  :-)

Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Let it cool before slicing. 

You can even freeze this pizza and enjoy it again later.  It's very filling, just like any typical pizza or baked potato.   Enjoy!

What's the weirdest or strangest combination pizza you've ever eaten?  Until this one, I've had shrimp and crabmeat pizza, sloppy joe pizza with corn in it, muffuletta pizza, and taco pizza.  I wonder what I'll come up with or stumble upon next!  :-)

Monday, February 21, 2011

Triple A Cake - which stands for Absolutely, Amazing Apple Cake!!!

I made this Triple A Cake (the name and recipe is adapted from Lynda's Apple Cake) for my friend Jess M. who came to town to visit me a few weeks ago.  She loves apples.   So do I.  Although in the past, I have had trouble baking with them, like in this sour cream apple bars disaster.  (Hahaha!) 

Jess and I both really enjoyed this recipe.  After tasting it and eating on it for several days, I changed the name to Absolutely, Amazing Apple cake because that's just how good it is.  Just calling it "apple cake" didn't do this dish justice!   I cut my cake into 20 slices and even shared some with my friends Briony and Jen.  They both raved about it.  In fact, Briony has been bugging me for the recipe for weeks now!   Good things come to those who wait my friend~ ;-)

So here is the recipe and a few mouth-watering photos I took of it too.  You may notice that a small slice is missing from the photos.  That's because I couldn't wait to bite into it, not even for a two-second photo.  That's how great it is!   Now go on.... Amaze your friends and family with this wonderful dessert! 

Triple A Cake (or the absolutely, amazing apple cake!)
(Serves 20, or makes about 20 slices)

Adapted from Lynda's Recipe Box

4 medium apples, chopped into small pieces (any baking apple will do.  I used gala and delicious red)
1 and 1/2 cups of sugar (I used 1 cup of white and 1/2 cup of brown sugar)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup of oil
3/4 cup of applesauce
2 cups of unbleached flour (I used the white wheat kind by King Arthur)
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup of chopped nuts (I used almonds and I grinded them up into bits)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Generously grease a 13x9 inch baking pan with cooking spray.  Peel, core and chop your apple into bite size pieces.  Place them in a large bowl.  Add in the sugar.  In a separate large bowl, blend together the flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nuts.  (Note: I chose to grind up the almonds I used because my family isn't fond of them in whole form!)  Stir the apple-sugar mix.  Then add the applesauce, oil, eggs and vanilla extract.  Mix all liquid ingredients well.  Pour the liquid-apple mixture into the flour-salt dry mixture.  Blend well with your spoon until ingredients no longer have any dry spots.  The dough will be thick.   Spoon or pour out the batter into the 13x9 inch baking pan.  Bake for 40 to 50 minutes.  Mine was ready in 45 minutes.  Remove from the oven and begin making the caramel sauce to top the cake.

Here is what the cake looks like when it's finished baking, before the caramel topping is added:

Topping for cake: Caramel sauce
(Makes about 1.5 cups)

Also adapted from Lynda's Recipe Box

1/2 cup light butter
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup whipping cream (I used a fat-free cool-whip container that I had on hand)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract (optional but I purposely added this!)

In a medium sauce pan, melt the butter on the stove. Add in the brown sugar.  Cook on medium heat.  Stir frequently until the liquid begins to boil.  After sugar and butter liquid is boiling, remove from heat.  Add in the cream (or cool-whip like I used), vanilla and almond extracts.  Whisk until smooth.  I let the sauce cool down and thicken for about five minutes before pouring it over the cake.  You can do what you like.

Check out how wonderful it looks when the caramel is just oozing out the cake and off the top~!    Mmmmmmm......

Lick your lips and enjoy seconds on this one.  This cake becomes moister with each passing day.  I ate a slice every day for five days and it just seemed to get better and better~!  I also froze two pieces and ate them a week later.  I simply placed it in the fridge overnight to thaw.  This is very good and you'd never know it wasn't fresh from the oven!

Sooo, soooo good!  Enjoy this recipe!   I'll be sharing a Baked potato pizza recipe and some other fun posts this week!  Stay tuned! 

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What's Cookin' This Week (Feb 21 - 27, 2011)?

I'm just getting back from a road trip so I'm starting off simple this week so I can catch up on laundry and such.  Then I'll try a few new meals and snacks in the coming days.   Here's the plan:

Monday, Feb. 21 - Eat from freezer: Unstuffed Peppers Casserole (recipe is from my cookbook), side of corn

Tuesday, Feb. 22
- Six Can Refried Bean Soup, serve with guacamole and chips.   Also, take time to do some purees of broccoli, cauliflower and spinach!

Wednesday, Feb. 23
Balsamic Chicken Sandwiches with sweet potato fries

Thursday, Feb. 24 - Breakfast for dinner: Sausage and Biscuit Casserole with a side of grits

Friday, Feb. 25 - Eat from freezer: pepperoni and spinach pizza

Saturday, Feb. 26 -  Turkey-veggie meatloaf (recipe is from my cookbook), serve with field peas and side salad

Sunday, Feb. 27 - Slow Cooker Ham and Vegetables - serve with a side of homemade bread


Here are the snacks that I hope to make this week as well:

(1) Lime Meltaways

(2) Chocolate-Banana Muffins

(3) Feta and Herb Dip

(4) No-Bake Cookies - I'm going to change up this recipe and lighten it up!

What's on your meal plan this week?  In the coming days, I'll share more great recipes, another loser cook moment and an update on my breadmaker too!  Stay tuned for more fun!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Learn With Me: How To Rid Your Kitchen From Burnt Smells!

I can't be the only person who's ever burned something in the kitchen?!  However, recently was the only time I ever thought to take a stand on it and not let the odors overpower me! 

Therefore, I give you my third installment of "Learn With Me".  These are segments where I share tips that have helped me around the culinary table.

When I created my "I Love You Candy Bars" over the weekend, I made the mistake of microwaving the chocolate for a little bit longer than I intended.  The end result was a big chunk of burnt chocolate.  It looked like this:

Anyone for burnt chocolate?  Yeah.... I didn't think so!

The awful smell was immediate!  The odor followed you ALL over the house, no matter what room you entered.  It quickly began making me bonkers!   Instead of opening up the windows and turning on extra fans, I did several online searches on how I can remove the odor in a more natural fashion. 

Here are some suggestions that I discovered:

(1) Place vinegar and water together in bowls all over the kitchen and even in the microwave if the burnt episode happened there.  You can leave them out for several hours or even overnight!

(2) Lemon juice and water mixed together can also work, if you don't have vinegar on hand (or if you're just not a fan of the smell!)

(3) Several folks recommend just placing water with some cinnamon mixed in.  Cinnamon is a strong spice that can quickly overtake a room but in a good way!

(4) Put vanilla extract (or other extracts like lemon, almond, peppermint, etc.) on cotton balls and leave them out throughout the kitchen.

Or if you do NOT have cotton balls on hand (like I didn't) find something else that can absorb liquid just as well, like a maxi pad from your bathroom drawer:

Oh yes, I am serious!  I really did grab an un-used sanitary napkin to set it on display in my kitchen to absorb the burnt chocolate smell!  I figured that looking at a feminine product was still better than inhaling smoke-like fumes!

Yes I am crazy!  But wait, it gets better! 

This above photo is the second maxi pad I used.  For the first one, I poured vanilla extract over it.  So it looked like brown liquid was running off the sanitary napkin.  So yeah.... I didn't want to leave that out for several hours for my husband and any neighbors to see.  I threw that one away and pulled out another one to use.  This time I used my clear peppermint extract which left no "residue" on it making it much more pleasing to see..... well, as pleasing as a maxi pad can be sitting there in the middle of a kitchen counter I suppose.

Hey, whatever it takes right!  I tried all the above four suggestions on how to rid my kitchen of a burnt smell.  And I must be honest.... they all worked!  I used a combination of them all and left them out for 6-7 hours.  I even left the house to bring my daughter to the park.  When I walked back into my home, I never knew that I had burned anything! 

So I just had to share these tips and my experiences with you!  I hope you enjoyed them.  At the very least, I bet I gave you a chuckle or a head shake for the day!  :-)

I will try to be back here on Sunday but we'll be traveling so I'm not sure if it will happen like I want.  Therefore I may be late in posting my meal plan for next week.  I can tell you that it's going to be eating from the freezer for the first few days and then trying one or two new recipes at the end of the week.  So, have a great weekend everyone! 

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Tofu Sloppy Joes

Not long ago, I talked about scary foods and also my challenge to cook in new ways in 2011.  Tofu was on the list for both of those notions.  I've been afraid of it and I want to cook more vegetarian.  So I decided to conquer my fear.

Truthfully, tofu isn't scary looking.  It just sounds fearful because it's deemed healthy and something only vegetarians eat.  When you open up a box of it, tofu has no smell.  Mine looked like cubed pieces of chicken already cut up.  I saw a recipe online for tofu sloppy joes which gave me the idea for this recipe.  However, I followed the ingredients and method for sloppy joes listed in my cookbook instead.

After I made the tofu sloppy joes, I took a bite of it.  I let it sit in my throat for a bit, absorbing the flavor.  I thought to myself.... "Well, this isn't bad.  But it isn't outstanding either."  I swallowed it.  I set it aside and did a few chores.  I went back to it and tried it again.  "Better," I thought to myself.  I took four or so more bites and then decided, "Hey, I do like this after all!"  The tofu really soaked up the spices and flavorings of the all the vegetables I mixed in with it.  I hear that is what it does well.  Tofu itself doesn't have much taste but it truly adapts to whatever it is you're cooking it into or with!

The next day I had it for lunch and liked it even more!  Does this ever happen to you?  Or am I the only weird one like that!?   Each time I ate it, the flavor and idea of tofu grew on me.  So try it out and see if you like it too!

Tofu Sloppy Joes
(Serves 6)

Adapted from my own cookbook's Sloppy Joes recipe

8 oz extra firm, cubed tofu
1 green bell pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
1 cup salsa
1/2 cup shredded (or pureed) carrots
1/2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tsp oregano
1 tsp basil
dash of salt and pepper

Generously grease a large skillet with cooking spray.  Cook the onion, green bell pepper and carrots for about five minutes.

Remove the tofu from packaging and mash in a medium size bowl.  Add in the soy sauce, balsamic vinegar and salsa.  Mix well.  Then add the seasoned tofu to the skillet.  Sprinkle in your remaining seasonings = basil, oregano, salt and pepper.  Cook on medium heat for about fifteen to twenty minutes. 

Serve tofu sloppy joes on whole wheat buns or tucked inside whole wheat tortillas.  You can top with cheese or additional seasonings if you like. This recipe is packed with protein and healthy benefits.   Leftovers will keep in the fridge for up to three days.  You can also freeze them for up to two months and reheat in the microwave on or the stove. 

See if your family will eat it.  Tell them it's chicken!  :-)  I'm going to cook with tofu again soon.  In fact I found a wonderful silken tofu pudding recipe that sounds heavenly so I plan to make that in the coming weeks! 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Creamy Chicken and Butternut Squash Spaghetti

I love having leftover chicken from a barbecue.  I can always turn it into a fabulous new meal and forget that it was once grilled chicken that came from the outside pit.  After our non-Superbowl party, I had four chicken breasts that were not eaten.  So I diced them up and threw them into a chicken spaghetti recipe that I saw recently that sounded really tasty. 

Of course I had to put my own spin on it.  I felt compelled to throw in a vegetable.  Since I knew the sauce would be an orange-cheese color, I opted for some of my pureed butternut squash.  It blended in perfectly and the subtle, sweet flavor was completely overlooked by my husband and daughter.  I also added reduced fat cream cheese and cut the noodle amount in half because I like more sauce, less spaghetti.  I was really pleased with end result.  I think your family would really enjoy this one!

Creamy Chicken and Butternut Squash Spaghetti

(Serves 6 to 7)
Adapted from You Go Girl!

2 cups of pre-cooked, diced chicken (about 4 medium size boneless breasts) - I used leftover BBQ chicken
8 oz of whole wheat spaghetti noodles (half of a typical box size)
1 can of cream of chicken soup
1 can of cream of mushroom soup, fat-free
1 can of diced tomatoes with chilies (such as Ro-tel), drained
1/2 cup of pureed or finely chopped butternut squash
1/2 cup of chicken broth
4 oz (1/2 cup) of reduced fat cream cheese
1 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic
1/2 tsp salt
dash of pepper
1 cup of reduced fat shredded cheese (I used a combo of cheddar, mozzarella and Mexican flavors)
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cook your spaghetti according to package directions with a few dashes of salt in the water.  While pasta is cooking, generously grease a large skillet with cooking spray.  Toss in your pre-cooked, diced chicken, drained tomatoes with chilies, chicken broth, cream of mushroom soup, cream of chicken soup, butternut squash, cream cheese, garlic, salt and pepper.  Cook over medium heat and simmer for about 10-15 minutes. 

Meanwhile drain and set aside the spaghetti noodles.  Generously grease an 11x7 inch baking pan (or use an 8x8 size pan).   Set this aside. 

To your skillet sauce, add the 1 cup of shredded cheese until melted and blended.  Remove from heat.  Toss in your cooked spaghetti noodles stirring until coated well.  Pour spaghetti into the greased baking pan.  Top with the 1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese.  Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.  Remove and let the spaghetti cool for a few minutes before serving. 

We served our with seasoned green beans and garlic bread.  I froze 1/3 of it and we had enough for us all to eat for two nights in a row. 

I loved how the topping was a little bit crispy when you bit into it.  Such a nice touch!  Enjoy!

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Love You Candy Bars

Happy Valentine's Day and Happy Monday to you!  I felt a little bad about my lack of Valentine's Day spirit last week with my "Un-Valentine's Chocolate Broken Heart Treats" post.  Therefore I made up for this weekend.  I somehow got into the romantic spirit to make my loved ones the following treats - giant candy bars and red-swirl cupcakes. 

I even became a bit carried away and wrote "I Heart U" using dried fruit I had in my pantry.  If you like this idea, feel free to take it and make it for your loved ones today or later in the week.  It's very easy and requires only a few basic ingredients. 

Well I say it's easy when I actually burnt the white chocolate on my first try.  Have you ever had burned chocolate in your home before?  It's awful - just like any typical burnt smell in your house.  I did have fun with learning how to remove the terrible odor though and will share that tip later this week in a new "Learn With Me" segment. 

Anyway, here's the recipe for you:

I Love You Candy Bar
(Makes Two Giant Size Bars)

11 oz (1 bag) of chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli all natural white chocolate chips)
2 tbsp orange juice (optional)
1 tsp water
1/2 tsp almond extract
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
About 30 pieces of dried cranberries
2 large dried apricrots

Place parchment papers into two greased bread loaf (9 inch) pans.  Keep them close by. 

Line up your dried fruits on a piece of napkin or paper plate.  Write out the letters for "I" and "U."  Take the dried apricrot which is normally oval shaped and shape it into a heart.  Carefully use a knife to cut that apricot into a heart.  I made a small sliver down the top center and trimmed the edges at the bottom to form the triangle.  Set all the dried fruit pieces aside.

In a small sauce pan, pour the chocolate chips.  Melt the chips over medium-low heat, stirring frequently to prevent it from burning or sticking.  As the chocolate is mostly melted, add in the orange juice, water and extracts.  Continue stirring until completely smooth.

Pour the melted chocolate onto the parched baking pans.  Use a spatula to spread out the chocolate evenly, making it the size and shape of the bread pan (a rectangle - large candy bar size). 

Once the chocolate is spread, grab the dried fruit pieces.  Line them up to spell out your "I Love (Heart) You" message.  I made mine go verticle (downward), like this:

Repeat this for the second candy bar too. Place bars in the fridge for at least two hours to harden.  Then serve to your special someone. 

Candy bars should remain in the fridge until ready to serve.  Leftovers should be stored in an air-tight container.  Or you can freeze the chocolate for up to two months and eat again later.  Enjoy!

On Saturday, I also made a batch of marble swirl red velvet cupcakes as well.  They turned out very pretty so I took a photo of them:

I followed this recipe exactly to make them.  Try them out too!

Happy Valentine's Day to you!  Do you have anything special planned? 

I woke up early and made my husband a breakfast bagel (homemade I should add!) with scrambled egg and cheese.  Tonight he's bringing home dinner for me so I don't have to cook.  Not a bad trade-off, I think!  Enjoy your day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

What's Cookin' This Week (Feb 14 - 20, 2011)?

This week will be an easy one as far as meal planning goes.  I will be out of town in a few days so the cooking will be on someone else - hooray!  

Therefore, I will keep things simple and only try one new meal and two new snacks.  However, I'll still be posting great, new recipes for you to enjoy along with a hilarious learning tip too!   Here's how the calendar will go:

Monday, Feb. 14 - Valentine's Day: We're having takeout and eating dinner at home- either sushi or Greek food.  I will, however make my husband's favorite dessert for him - banana toffee squares (Recipe is in my cookbook).

Tuesday, Feb. 15
- My Homemade Slow Cooker Chili

Wednesday, Feb. 16
- Greek Chicken Gyros and Quinoa Salad - This is very NEW for me.  I've never cooked with quinoa or make my own tzatziki sauce before! 

Thursday, Feb. 17
- Traveling - will eat out

Friday, Feb. 18
- Family Dinner Outing

Saturday, Feb. 19
- Traveling - will eat out

Sunday, Feb. 20
- Traveling - will eat out

Monday, Feb. 21
- Eat from freezer - Unstuffed Peppers Casserole (Recipe is from my cookbook)


Here are the snacks that I will make before we do some traveling:

(1) Cranberry Oatmeal Bars - These look yummy.  Best of all, I have all the ingredients on hand!

(2) Dirt Cupcakes - I'm making these for a group of kids - for a playdate that I'm hosting on Wednesday

(3) No-Bake Granola Bars - If I have time I will make a new batch of these to bring with us while we travel over the weekend! 

Everyone have a wonderful week!  I am going to enjoy my time away from the kitchen and the opportunity to read for hours in the car!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

What Food Best Describes You?

This morning I woke up to a wonderful surprise - an email that a new friend sent to me thanking me for organizing a special event the other night.  I belong to a woman's group/ moms club where I occasionally plan activities for the members.  Tuesday night we had a spa social event where I found volunteer women (including one who is in our club) who gave us great information and luckily a few free samples of skin care products, facial lotions, oils for massages and more.  Everyone seemed to have a great time. 

One of the ladies who attended sent me a very kind email comparing me to food.  It may sound odd but I absolutely loved it.  Her words brought a huge smile to my face and I just HAD to share it here instead of the planned post I was going to upload.  No, I want to remember these words - my first comparison to food~  :)_

Here's what she told me:



I think if you were a food, a fitting analogy don't you think, you would be a lemon meringue pie!? I know, wait, I'll explain....

Certainly to look at from the outside (you're) an altogether pleasing package with a sweet, simple, feminine, light and easy start.  

But underneath all that meringue one discovers the more complex, unexpected contrast of the tart, intricate, rich flavors that leave one pleasantly surprised and delightfully satisfied by the encounter!

That's you, a Lemon Meringue Pie!

Food Regards,


Wow, I was practically speechless when I read her sweet words.  When my husband reads these lines later today, he may ask, "Umm, is she was flirting with you?"  No sweetie, that's just how we unique and special women are -- we can talk in a way that's sexy and beautiful and complimentary with no strings attached or no hidden agenda behind it (the way that men do).   Plus, you'd have to know this woman friend....  Every thing she says is interesting and poetic in some manner.  And she speaks in an accent making her even more wonderful to listen to.

So thank you to my friend for those sweet words.  It truly made my day! 

I'm so flattered and honored and RELIEVED that she didn't compare me to a Fruitcake OR a Nutty bar.  LOL!  :-P

Seriously though, I actually LOVE lemon-flavored desserts!  I just made my famous lemon bars last weekend for a barbecue.  I have never, ever made a lemon meringue pie though.  So now I MUST add it to my list of recipes to make this year!  You've inspired me girl, thank you! 

Have any of you ever made a lemon meringue pie?  Do you have a good recipe to share with me? 

If somone were to compare you (your style/personality) to a food item, what do you think it would be?  Or how do you compare yourself?  Come on' folks - don't be shy....  Let's dish about food! 

Here is a quick and fun food quiz I found online that you can take -  It asks you five questions then compares your results to a food item.  Let me know your quiz results in the comments section!

I'm taking tomorrow off to spend time with family so I will be back on Sunday with my meal plan for the week and fun things in store for the coming days.  I hope everyone has a great couple of days until my return!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Un-Valentine Dessert: Chocolate Broken Heart Treats

Valentine's Day is coming up on Monday the 14th but not everyone has a special someone.  Or perhaps you're just not in a loving, romantic mood this year.  Or maybe, just maybe.... you're sick of seeing all the fancy, cutesy, festive, decorative and beautiful-looking food out there because you know you can't make it or emulate it!!!  I know I can't!  I am NOT a neat and clean kind of baker or cook!  I will prove that with several example photos tomorrow actually. 

Therefore, when your attempts to make heart-shaped cereal treats fall apart, I mean LITERALLY fall apart.... don't get upset!  Just go with it!  In fact, do what I did.....  make a broken heart treat!  Be original.  Be different.  Be candid.  How many recipes will you see for an un-valentine?  Huh?  Huh?  Yeah, that's what I thought!

So don't go for the best looking desserts during this romantic season.... go for the most creative and simple instead.  Just tell your friends and family that your heart is broken and it's up to them to put it back together (or make you feel and look whole again)!   :-)

And please enjoy this recipe and idea of mine.  It doesn't get much easier than this which I why I love it and had to share it here!  :-)

Chocolate Broken Heart Treats

(Makes 15 - 18)

3 cups of rice cereal, such as Rice Krispies
1 bag (11 oz) of chocolate chips (I used Ghiradelli milk chocolate)
a heart shaped cookie cutter

Generously spray an 11x7 inch baking pan (or an 8x8 inch size pan) with cooking spray.  Set aside.  In a medium size sauce pan, melt the chocolate chips at medium heat on the stove.  Stir continually until smooth.  Remove from heat.  Add in the 3 cups of rice cereal.  Gently mix until all rice is incorporated and covered in the chocolate liquid.  Spoon out the chocolate rice cereal into the greased baking pan.  Press down firmly and evenly throughout the pan.  Place in the fridge for at least two hours before cutting. 

To make the broken hearts, I first cut the chocolate rice cereal into 15 squares.  I then used a heart-shaped cookie cutter to form a heart out of the square, like the below photo: 

Since the rice breaks apart easily, the "heart" may actually "break" on its own.  Or you can use a knife to cut a slit down the center and "break" it apart yourself. 

Have fun with this dessert and telling your friends and loved ones what they can do with it or how they can "fix" your "broken heart."!  Serve them with a knife or fork through them as well. 

Keep them chilled in the fridge until ready to eat so the chocolate won't begin to melt.  Or you can let them melt a little so they'll become really ugly and look like the heart is pooping or bleeding brown goop.  How's that for a Valentine?  ;-)

Enjoy!  And I hope your heart isn't breaking over how silly this recipe and my post is today!  :-)  Have a Happy Un-Valentine's Day or a regular Valentine's Day, whatever you choose to celebrate! 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sausage and Black Bean Soup

I was feeling sick for several days last week so I changed my meal plan to include a new soup recipe.  For convenience (and due to sheer lack of energy), I wanted to use my slow cooker so I could just throw in a bunch of items and not think about it for eight hours. 

So I looked in my pantry for foods I had on hand and decided to adapt this recipe I found for a black bean and sausage soup.  The original recipe called for andouille sausage which I didn't have.  However, I always have turkey sausage in my freezer.  So I pulled some out along with some pureed veggies for my own healthier and not-as-spicy soup.  I hoped that it would make my cough and stuffy nose go away.  It did help by the way.

I really enjoyed the soup. It reminded me of all the ingredients I use in my chili except this had a broth and lighter texture to it of course.  Since my husband Kirk doesn't really like or eat too many soups, I have tons of it leftover that I froze and will enjoy again in the future.  (Insert wicked, selfish laugh!)

Here is the recipe that I think is worth trying if you enjoy soups, sausage, beans and a combination of them all!

Sausage and Black Bean Soup
(Serves 10-12)

Adapted from
4 cups of chicken broth, all natural
2 cans (15 oz each) of black beans, drained but not rinsed
1 can (15 oz) light red kidney beans, drained but not rinsed
1 cup of pureed or shredded carrots
1/2 cup of pureed or chopped spinach (optional)
2 stalks of celery, diced
1 onion, diced
1 sweet red pepper, diced
1 can (14 oz) of diced Italian tomatoes, undrained
2 large links (1 lb) of sausage, whatever you like (I use turkey sausage)
1 tbsp grated Parmesan cheese
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp crushed bay leaves
salt and pepper - a dash of each

Turn on the heat to your slow cooker as you open up all the cans and your other ingredients.  Combine all ingredients and stir.  Cook on low for 8 to 10 hours or on high for 4 to 6 hours.  Taste and see if you need to add any additional seasonings.  Mine was perfect.   Note: I chose to cook mine on low for about 9 hours.

Does your family enjoy soups?  What is your favorite kind?