Friday, August 27, 2010

Cheese Puffs: How to Replace Fish or Bunnies

If you have small children, you know of their immense love for those small, orange, fish shaped crackers. If you go the organic route, those crackers have "better" ingredients, are probably shaped like bunnies and cost a small fortune. I don't really like feeding my kids crackers simply because there is really no nutritional value at all in them (they are after all processed). But crackers hard to beat when a melt down is occurring and you are in public!

I ran across a recipe for "Cheese Shortbread" in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian (the book is absolute gold mine for healthy alternatives) that seemed to fit the bill to replace any crispy "cheesy" snack item.

I love these! My husband says they are just tiny cheese biscuits (he's right). My 4 year old didn't like them at all, but the cayenne is a tad spicy. If you are making these for picky eaters, skip the cayenne or at least halve it. I used 1 cup of sharp cheddar and 1 cup extra sharp cheddar and the paprika (mine is sweet Hungarian) on top is delicious.

These are super easy and fairly quick to make. My 4 year old did most of the ball shaping on her own. Now if I can get used to the gigantic mess she makes while "helping", we'll be all set.

Cheese Puffs (because kids don't eat "shortbread"!)

1 stick cold butter, cut in to cubes
1 1/2 cup flour
1 egg, slightly beaten
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups semi-hard cheese, grated (cheddar, Emmental, Gruyere)
Paprika (optional)

Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees. Put all ingredients except the paprika in to a food processor. Pulse to mix just until mixture resembles a coarse meal, but will stick together. You can also do this by hand with a pastry blender or fork in a large bowl. Roll dough in to 1 inch balls. Place on cookie sheet (you can place them fairly close together) and press down slightly. Bake for about 10 minutes or until puffed and golden brown. Remove to rack to cool. Sprinkle with paprika if desired.

From Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ziti with Tomatoes and Spinach in the Crock Pot

A few years ago a friend of mine brought this dish to our Bible study for dinner. I've posted the recipe before and it's one of our favorites. But when I went to make it tonight, I decided to see if it would work in the slow cooker. Oh, heavens, YES! Now we can have this during the dog days of summer.

I did change the ingredients and the process a bit from the original recipe and I think it is better this way, but certainly use the canned tomatoes and frozen spinach -- it still good that way!

Crock Pot Ziti with Tomatoes and Spinach
3 cups cooked pasta (it calls for ziti, I used rotini tonight)
3/4 pound hot Italian sausage, casing removed
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 cloves garlic, diced
1 large tomato, chopped (about 1 cup)
3-4 cups fresh baby spinach
1/4 cup pesto
1 cup mozzerella cheese
1 cup parmesan cheese

In a medium to large pot, saute onions, garlic and sausage breaking up sausage as it cooks, 5-10 minutes. Once sausage is cooked through, add tomato and cooking until thickened, about 10 minutes. Add in pesto and stir to combine. Remove from heat. Add in spinach and stir to wilt spinach. Add in mozzarella cheese and 1/3 cup Parmesan. Put pasta in to crock of slow cooker. Add sauce from pot and stir well to combine. Sprinkle 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese on top. Cover and cook on low for 2-3 hours. Add remaining Parmesan cheese and cover. Cook until cheese melts. Serve.

Learning How To Eat Better

This past weekend my husband and I decided to try out Netflix. One of the movies we were able to watch immediately was "Food, INC." I have read Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" so I knew what we were in for; however, this was my husband's first introduction to this type of food expose. We had just decided, earlier that week, not to join a CSA because it was "too expensive."

I sent in our check to the CSA within 48 hours of watching "Food, INC."

I think the most disturbing part of the movie for me (SPOILER ALERT) is the story of the mother whose 2 1/2 year old son died from being infected with E Coli found in ground beef he ate. My son is 21 months old and last week millions and millions of eggs were recalled for salmonella.

We decided it is time to change the way we eat.

Our first priority is to find as much local food as possible so we can know WHERE our food comes from. We joined a CSA (we are splitting a share with my sister), which will provide our produce and eggs and hopefully some other things, too. We already have a source for grass fed beef in Arizona (it's about 4 hours from us), but we're also going to check out a few local butchers. We are ordering our breakfast meats from a butcher in my hometown in Michigan (because I know the family personally).

Finding poultry is posing somewhat of an issue. Organic poultry is VERY expensive so we are coming to the realization that meat is going to be making less (and smaller) appearances on our plates. I picked up Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian at the library.

This is a huge step for us and I'm very excited that my husband is behind this 100%!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Make It Homemade: Tomato (Bisque) Soup

I recently discovered the delicious perfection of Nordstrom Cafe's Tomato Bisque Soup. They serve it with a crispy bread covered with melted Parmesan cheese. The combination is sublime. If you didn't know Nordstrom's has a cafe, you should definitely go! But be forewarned it's pricey so it is usually reserved for a Girl's Day with my mom and sister.

The first time I ate Nordstrom's soup, it reminded me of a tomato soup recipe I had made a few years ago when I was first married. I did not know at the time that my new husband was not a fan of tomato soup, or at least of tomato soup from a can. We both really liked the soup, but I did not like pour hot soup in to the blender! Luky for me, I have since purchased an immersion blender at a yard sale so I can now make this soup without the danger of dumping boiling liquid all over myself.

I made a double batch of the soup and cooked it through the blending phase. I then removed half the soup to cool and freeze. When I take it out of the freezer, I'll let it thaw, warm it up, add the milk or creamer and serve. Since I've not yet actually eaten the frozen portion, I can't vouch that it works, but I don't see why not!

I also think you could easily add in some pureed carrots for extra goodness and a pinch of nutmeg would be an interesting addition.

Tomato Bisque Soup
2 Tablespoons butter
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, diced (I really like shallots in this if you have any)
2 garlic cloves, diced or crushed
1 Tablespoon Sucanat (or brown sugar)
2 1/2 pounds of tomatoes, diced and seeds removed
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup of half and half, heavy cream, evaporated milk, or milk (or enough to make a "bisque")
Salt to taste

Melt butter and olive oil in a large pot over medium to medium high heat. Cook onions and garlic until soft and brown. This will take a while -- around 15 minutes or more. Add in sugar and allow to melt. Add tomatoes and broth and bring to a low boil. Turn down heat and allow to cook for 45 minutes or until tomatoes are soft. With an immersion blender, blend the soup (or transfer in batches to a blender or food processor). Add in milk product. Serve (it's super yummy with croutons and a bit of cheddar cheese on top).

Adapted from the book Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy

Monday, August 23, 2010

Make It Homemade: "Healtheier" Caramel Corn

Most days I feel like the ONLY thing I do is feed my kids. The two home with me full time are 4 and 1 and they pretty much eat NON-STOP. I often find myself at 2 o'clock in the afternoon trying to find another health snack for them. While caramel corn isn't exactly "healthy", it is lots of fiber and something I can make ahead of time and keep around.

I somewhat "healthified" this recipe by substituting sucanat for brown sugar and honey for corn syrup and it worked!

"Healthier" Caramel Corn
1 cup sucanat (or brown sugar)
1 stick butter
1/4 cup honey (or corn syrup)
pinch of salt
pinch of cream of tartar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
16 cups of popped popcorn

Put popcorn in a very, very large bowl. In a saucepan, bring the sucanat, butter and honey to a boil, stirring constantly. Once boiling, continue to stir for 5 minutes. Turn off heat and add baking soda, cream of tartar and salt. Pour mixture over the popcorn and stir well (and quickly). Pour popcorn on to a large baking sheet (I put parchment down in case the honey stuck). Bake at 200 degrees for 1 hour. Break apart -- it cools quickly so work fast.

This post is linked to Heavenly Homemaker's Recipe Parade!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Scones

Scones are quickly becoming one of my all time favorite things to make for breakfast. It also helps that everyone in my family loves scones! When I ran in to a recipe for bacon scones in a recent issue of Taste of Home magazine, I knew I could make my husband's day.

I'm not sure why, but these scones were the lightest, flakiest ones I've ever made. I've always wondered about instructions to make a well with dry ingredients and then add wet ingredients. Well, according to Alton Brown, the well makes it easier to mix the ingredients together resulting in a more tender dough. So I did it this time and perhaps that made the difference.

Bacon, Egg, & Cheese Scones

1 3/4 cup flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
14/ teaspoon pepper
2 eggs
1/3 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup cheese (or more!)
6 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled (or more!)
Optional: chopped onion

Combine 1st five ingredients in large bowl. Whisk to combine and make a well. In a small bowl whisk together egg and buttermilk. Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix only until moistened. Add in cheese and two-thirds of the bacon. Mix just to combine. Pat dough into a round disk on a parchment lined cookie sheet (I bake mine in my toaster oven). Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Cut in to 8 wedges and serve warm.

NOTE: This dough is very sticky so plop it on the cookie sheet and just pat down!

Adapted from Taste of Home magazine

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

How To Get A Great Deal on Prescription Glasses

On our last day in San Diego in July, the frames of my husband's glasses broke. Thankfully the lenses were fine so we used some tape and he hobbled along until we got home. I have been wanting to try out Zenni Optical since I first heard about it a few years, but we never had a reason to try them out. We are absolutely thrilled with Zenni and my husband's new glasses.
My husband is covered by vision insurance, but a pair of glasses and an exam will still cost us over $200 at the minimum. My husband went to the ophthalmologist and had an eye exam. He requested a copy of his prescription and made sure they wrote down his pupillary distance (PD on Zenni's website). We had checked Zenni's website before he went to make sure we had all the information we needed.
Once we had the prescription, we checked the inside of my husband's current glasses to check for the temple length (his is 140 mm). This is important so that the glasses are long enough to fit on your face! My husband went to work sorting through all the options -- it took him a good hour to narrow his choices down to about ten. He added a non-glare finish to his lenses and also ordered a polarized sun shade to make them in to sunglasses. These little extras can add up so be careful!
In total, we paid $22 with shipping. The glasses took almost two weeks to get to us, though.

I think he looks totally HOT, but I may be a little biased! We highly recommend Zenni!

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Last Week of Summer

It's finally here: our last week of summer. My husband goes back to school a week and a half earlier than required for band camp (anyone out there remember band camp?). I always have mixed feelings about the summer ending. On the one hand, I will miss having my husband (and our car) around and the lazy days. On the other hand, I look forward to getting back in to a routine and being more productive during the day.

Now I need to start prepping food for the school year. My husband takes breakfast and lunch with him to work everyday. I have a list of freezer cooking started, but the super hot weather has curtailed any plans for turning on the oven (we have had 46 straight days over 100 degrees! Most of those have up near 110.). But it's supposed to "cool off" this week so hopefully I'll get some baking done.

My daughter, Ella, turned 4 in July which prompted me to start investigating some pre-school ideas. I'm not really in any hurry to push her in to school. We're fairly certain that we're going to homeschool our kids, but we're still researching curriculum. To say that it has been overwhelming is the understatement of the century! Right now I'd just like Ella to learn her letters. Despite the fact that she can recite the entire Lord's Prayer (including the big words "temptation" and "trespasses") she still only recognizes a few letters by name and that really bugs me for some reason. So I'm thinking our goal for her will be to get the letters and numbers learned and maybe start some pre-writing.

My menu plans will be a regular post again starting next week and hopefully I'll get this blog under control and re-focused!

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Crock Pot French Dip Sandwiches

A few weeks ago my neighbor mentioned that her husband makes French Dip sandwiches in the their slow cooker using lunch meat roast beef and an envelope of au jus mix. The conversation got me craving a French Dip, but I am not a big fan of processed meat or mixes so I improvised. These sandwiches are delicious!

Crock Pot French Dip Sandwiches

3-5 lb roast (I used a chuck roast)
1/2 onion chopped, diced, or sliced (however you like it -- I diced mine)
2.5 cups beef broth
1/2 cup red wine (optional -- you can increase the water)
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon celery salt
pepper to taste
Crusty rolls
Cheese (provolone, swiss, mozzarella, white American)

Trim fat from roast. Heat oil in a large skillet. Season roast with salt and pepper. Sear roast in pan on both sides until browned. Put roast in slow cooker. Add onions and then all liquids (broth, wine, water). Add onion powder, garlic powder, pepper and celery salt and stir to dissolve. Cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5 hours or until meat is tender enough to shred.

Remove meat from slow cooker and shred. Place shredded beef on rolls and top with cheese. Broil sandwiches, open faced, until cheese is melted and bubbly. Dip top of rolls in to au jus in the slow cooker and place on top of the broiled bun. Serve sandwiches with a small dish of au jus for dipping.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

A Mini-Staycation in Las Vegas

One of the major pluses of living in Las Vegas are the "locals" deals. In the summer, those deals get incredibly cheap! We took advantage of a deal at the MGM for a night. We basically ended up paying $10 for a hotel room, breakfast, and an inner tube for the lazy river. I found the deal through MGMs Facebook page so I highly suggest you "like" all your favorite local and vacation spots on Facebook!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Christmas in July

After we got back from San Diego in mid-July, I decided on a whim that it would be fun to celebrate Christmas in July on July 25th. The girls were beyond excited about the idea, my sisters agreed to celebrate with us and my dear husband wholeheartedly pitched in to help out.

We put up a small, pre-lit tree, but left the decorations in the box. I wanted something quick and easy. This would be a great use for an clearance tree at the after Christmas sales.

We just did a few small gifts -- most of which I already had on hand.  My sisters found some fun items in Target's Dollar Spot.

After opening gifts, we baked gingerbread teddy bears in the toaster oven using a couple of kits I'd never gotten around to using.

We made gingerbread aprons -- kits I bought through Oriental Trading, again a few years ago that we just never got around to making!

I had a ham in the freezer that I bought when they were on sale for Easter. I didn't want to heat up the house so I borrowed my friend's electric roaster oven and cooked it outside! It worked perfectly and I now I really want one of those!

I loved celebrating Christmas in July! We got to do a lot of things that we just haven't had time for during the hustle and bustle of the "real" holiday season.  This will definitely be a new family tradition!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Family Golf Lessons

A golf course near our home is offering family golf lessons for FREE every Wednesday evening. My husband took our oldest, who is 10. When I asked her later if she liked she just kind of shrugged her shoulders... but then I saw these pictures her dad took! Look at the intensity!

Don't forget to check out your local golf courses when looking for free activities!

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