Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Flying high

Sorry I've neglected the blog....but we've been busy having fun.  Here's the proof.  Good-bye, my Iowa friends....I am never coming back home! 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Stretched and Challenged: A HEALTHY POST

The title says it all.  I've been challenged this week.  But, I've been stretched, too.  I'm entering into unchartered waters.... Sure, I'm okay at cooking yummy meals.  Sure, I know how to make meals ahead of time.  I can even combine the two and make yummy meals ahead of time.  But, some dear special friends have been dealing with some health challenges and I am humbly assisting with a project to make meals for this family.  So, that means a) Yummy; b) Make ahead; c) Super-healthy.  This is HARD.  But it is SO WORTH IT.  You gotta realize that I am without doubt the pickiest eater in the world.  I know a lot of people claim that title, but I REALLY have won it.  (I don't like veggies {except corn and potatoes...which some people call "starches"}, fruit - none, not one single fruit, fish...oh, this list is embarrassing...I gotta stop.)  So, I am up for the challenge.  I have a tangible way to tell a great family that they have friends/family that love them, I'm learning A LOT, and I hope to start adding one uber-healthy meal to my rotation a week.  Now, don't get me wrong - we don't eat horribly at my house, but lentils, prunes and kasha aren't on my normal grocery list.  Here are some healthy facts I've been learning as I research specific dietary needs.  For the research, major kudos go to my amazing sister-in-law, Rachel...a dietician/nutrionist/tall/skinny/curly-haired/beautiful/runner...yep, we have NOTHING in common, but I love her, and in spite of my flaws, she still likes me!

Some basic tips for making your favorite recipes healthier include:

  • One thing I have started to do is, anytime I make a ground beef dish, I replace half the meat with black beans...-waaaaaay better for you.
  • Decrease the meat and increase the vegetables called for in stews and casseroles.
  • Choose whole-grain versions of pasta and bread; substitute whole-wheat flour for bleached white flour when you bake. 
  • Serve imaginative whole-grain side dishes like bulgur or kasha instead of white rice or pasta.
Cook with less fat by using non-stick skillets. 
  • Blot all fried meats on paper towels. Or better yet, try baking instead of frying.
  • Avoid cooking with soy or Worcestershire sauce and products that contain monosodium glutamate (MSG).
  • Use garlic or onion powder instead of garlic or onion salt, and use unsalted or low-salt vegetable broths and products.
  • Buy reduced-fat cheese or use mozzarella, which is naturally lower in fat.
  • In recipes calling for milk or cream, substitute reduced fat versions or try using other “milks” such as rice milk, nut milks or soy milk. Also use low-fat cream cheese, yogurt, and mayo.
  • Unhealthy fats like certain oils, butter, or margarines can usually be cut by 1/3 to 1/2 in recipes. At first try a small cut-back and then use less and less over time; you'll hardly notice the difference. 
  • You can also use fat substitutes like prune purees and applesauce in baked goods.
  • Use fresh-frozen fruit without added sugar if fresh is unavailable.
  • Cut the sugar called for in most recipes by 1/3 to 1/2.
  • Sweeten waffles and quick breads with cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla or almond extracts in order to cut the sugar content.
  • Try salsa on a baked potato or salad rather than high-fat dressing or butter.

 Happy (Healthy) Cooking!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Sometimes we are just too cool for school

School is out! (Finally, now that June is half over.)  Today starts the first day of summer vacation...and I just couldn't help myself:  these kids are too cool.

Have a great summer!  Stay C.O.O.L.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pictures of pictures

We had some pictures taken of our boys recently.  This super girl took some great shots.  So I had fun and turned some of our favorites into this:

What a cheap and fun way to spice up our family room.  Wow, if we ever have to move and prepare our house to be sold....and have to "neutralize" the place to remove "personal items"...we will have A LOT of work to do.  Oh well, our house is OUR house right now....and hopefully it will be for a long time.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Freezer Frenzy

7 Steps to Freezer Cooking

Step 1 – Pick a day.
This is a day that you can devote just to cooking. Think through a day when you will have the least interruptions and least amount of commitments. Don’t forget to make room in the freezer, as freezer cooking will fill it up quickly!

Step 2 – Gather grocery store flyers.
The purpose of the flyers is to plan your freezer meals around what is on sale. Many grocery stores also put their flyers on their web page so if you aren’t sure what is on sale you can look online.

Here is a very general rule of thumb that I use for buying meat. I try to never pay more than $2.00 per pound for meat. Of course there are special occasions that I will pay more but I try to use this number as a top end. Boneless chicken breasts can often be found for under $2.00. Whole chickens, drumsticks and thighs can be found for under $1.00 per pound. For ground beef I try not to pay more than $1.50 per pound. Pork and fish tend to be pricier but I still try to buy them for less than $2.00 a pound.

Many people have a Sam’s or Costco membership. I have found that buying meat in bulk at a wholesale club is a great way to get the low prices per pound. And when you are doing bulk freezer cooking, buying in bulk is not a problem – it’s a good thing. We come home and divide it up into freezer bags or vacuum sealed wraps. Speaking of vacuum sealing, it is really the best way to go.

Step 3 – Plan your meals.
Get organized and plan your meals. Use Microsoft office online calendar templates for downloadable and editable calendars. Or, you can use a regular calendar or a sheet of paper to plan your meals.  Or see my earlier freezer frenzy post for other meal planning ideas.
Step 4 – Make your Shopping List
Don’t forget to add freezer bags, freezer wrap and aluminum foil to your list!

If you have your freezer recipes already written on cards, and your ingredients on the back - this is done!

Step 5 – Go Shopping
This is best done, if possible, before your actual cooking day. The reason is that shopping for an entire week or month can take time (especially if you are visiting different stores to get the best prices.) You want to be able to focus on just cooking when it is cooking day. This is especially true if you are buying meat in bulk and need to cut it up. We usually buy 2+ weeks of groceries and a month of meat at once.

Step 6 – Cooking!!!
If you don’t feel comfortable with combining steps then just do one recipe at a time. This can be very easy especially if you’ve opted to make double or triple batches.

Step 7 – Freezing Food
There are different methods for freezing food that you may use depending upon what you have cooked.

• Freezer Bags – I purchase bags that are specifically freezer bags. I press out as much air as possible before sealing. I use this method primarily for meals that have a lot of liquids. When I freeze them I put them directly on the freezer shelf until their frozen form has been established. I can then stack them on top of one another without worrying about them freezing together.
• Foil and Plastic Wrap – Do not use this method until your foods have cooled down! I use this method of freezing when I am freezing things such as meatloaf or lasagna. It is for items that use a particular pan and need to keep a particular shape. To use this freezer method you must begin by lining a pan first with foil. Then put a layer of plastic wrap on top of the foil. Make sure that you use enough wrap to cover the entire dish. Put the food item into the dish and seal all the foil and wrap securely. You don’t want to allow any air to get to the food. Place the food, in the dish, into the freezer. Leave it in there for a couple of hours or until the food is frozen enough to hold the shape of the dish. Remove the dish from your freezer and leave the food in the freezer. Now when you are ready to cook you can thaw the food slightly, remove the foil and plastic wrap and place in the baking dish to finish thawing. This is a great method because you don’t tie up all your baking dishes in the freezer and your food fits perfectly into the baking dish when it is time to cook!
• Vacuum Sealer - you don't need a big fancy one; just the Ziploc one (always coupons for this online or in the paper!)

And here are some recipes you should try soon:
Teriyaki Chicken - There are 2 ways you can make this very easy dish. The first is to buy a pre-made Teriyaki sauce to marinade the raw chicken in. The second method is to make your own Teriyaki Sauce.

Ingredients for Cooking Day:
• Chicken – you can use any chicken parts that you like for this recipe: breast, legs, thighs, wings or a mixture!
• 1/4 cup water
• 1 small piece of fresh ginger, crushed
• 1 tsp. garlic salt
• 1 cup soy sauce
• 1/4 cup brown sugar
• 1/4 cup white wine (cooking wine)

Directions for Cooking Day: Put raw chicken in a freezer bag. Combine rest of ingredients and pour over chicken. Freeze.

Ingredients for Serving Day:
• Sesame seeds to taste

Directions for Serving Day: Defrost chicken mixture. Cook this any way that works best for you. Sometimes during the summer we will grill the chicken and other times I will cook it in the oven. Sprinkle with sesame seeds before cooking. I usually do about 30 minutes at 425. Cook until chicken is completely cooked through.

Honey Baked Pork Chops
Ingredients for Cooking Day:
• 6 boneless pork chops
• 1/2 cup honey
• 1/4 cup cider vinegar
• 1/4 t. ground ginger
• 1 clove minced garlic
• 2 Tbsp. soy sauce

Directions for Cooking Day: Place honey, vinegar, ginger, garlic and soy sauce in blender and mix well. Place uncooked pork chops and honey mixture in a freezer bag and freeze.

Directions for Serving Day: Thaw completely. Place pork chops and honey mixture in a baking dish. Bake for 350 degrees for 1 hour or until pork chops are cooked. Turn pork chops occasionally while baking.

And a few more kitchen time-saving tips:
• If you want to remove fat from soup or stew but can't wait for it to chill and congeal, drag a slice of bread across the surface of the broth to soak up as much grease as possible.
• Before party guests arrive, scoop ice cream into muffin tins lined with cupcake liners and refreeze. You won't have to fuss later when serving cake.
• Transfer jelly to a small plastic squeeze bottle. Less mess and no sticky jars or spoons! This also works well for homemade salad dressings.
• Use a cooking spray or oil the measuring cup next time you need to measure honey. No more messy process of scraping the cup, as the honey slides out easily.
• An empty salt shaker makes a great container to dust a little powdered sugar over baked goods.
• To make dusting a pan with flour easy and convenient, place some flour in a salt shaker and keep it stored in the freezer.
• When a recipe calls for sifting, it works just as well to put all dry ingredients in the mixing bowl and stir with a whisk.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Happy Birthday, my sweet son!

Happy birthday Ryan,
My firstborn:

You're so happy:

You've got big beautiful eyes:

You are the pride of Daddy's heart:

You're all boy:

You love your doggy:

You find fun in everything you do:

You find naughtiness, too:

You have fun, playful days:

You have not-so-fun days:

You love your brother/best friend:

You're following in Daddy's footsteps:

And you're just growing up so fast.  I love you, Ryan, my dear 3 year old.  Happy birthday!