Thursday, March 28, 2013

Balsamic Chicken w/ Quinoa

I love balsamic vinegar!  I don't know if it's due to my Italian heritage or not, but I could practically drink the stuff.  My husband is the complete opposite.  He doesn't care for tomatoes, or anything too acidic.  Makes me wonder about my pH levels...  Anyway, we both love this dish.  It does a great job of uniting all taste-buds ;)

Adapted from Dishing with Leslie

  • 2 T. oil (olive/coconut)
  • 6-8 chicken thighs/breasts
  • 1 T. brown sugar
  • 1 T. Italian seasoning
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. pepper
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced OR 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 2 handfuls of spinach, chopped
  • 1 can of diced tomatoes
  • 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar
  • 2 t. chicken bouillon
  • 1 c. quinoa
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  1. Add oil to crock pot and place chicken on top.  Combine spices and sprinkle over chicken.
  2. Top chicken with minced garlic, sliced onion, chopped spinach and can of tomatoes.
  3. Combine chicken bouillon w/ balsamic vinegar, and pour on top.
  4. Cover and cook on high for 3.5 hours.  Reduce heat to low and cook for another 30 minutes.
  5. While chicken cooks, prepare quinoa:  Bring chicken broth and quinoa to a boil in a medium saucepan; reduce heat and simmer until liquid is absorbed and quinoa is fluffy.
  6. Serve chicken over prepared quinoa.  Enjoy!
This makes a lot of sauce, and the quinoa does a great job of soaking it up.  I like to save any remaining sauce and freeze it to use as a thin pasta sauce later.  I'm sure it would be an awesome addition to soup, too (think minestrone).   Or if you're like me, you could always just drink it.  *B

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

to cut, or not to cut

I know we've talked about coupons before...  And I know a lot of people who love couponing and have simple to elaborate systems that really work for them.  My suggestion is to only use coupons on food(s) you’ll actually eat, otherwise you’re wasting your money/time.  A better option is to use coupons that save you money after you spend a certain amount.  It motivates you to shop less throughout the week for single items, while saving those coupons for a real shopping trip.  *B

Monday, March 25, 2013

Meal Plan: 3/25 - 3/31

Mexican Monday: tortilla soup
Oriental Tuesday: Hawaiin haystacks
Twisted Wednesday: chili baked potatoes
Authentic Thursday: baked "cheesey" noodle medley
Super Saturday: DATE NIGHT
Special Sunday: TBD

Upcoming recipe: balsamic chicken.  A super easy, super delicious crockpot meal.  One of my current faves!  *B

Friday, March 22, 2013

eco ike

The first time I heard about eco ike was five years ago.  They wanted me to design a cute logo for their eco friendly children's clothing...  Ever since then, I've kept tabs on them to see how they're doing and where they're going.  I never saw my design come to fruition, but I have seen them grow and expand.  They have a great blog where they share tips and tricks on how to go green, along with some great recipes.  They even have a cookbook, where 91% of the recipes are vegetarian friendly...  So check out their site for some fun ideas for the whole family!  *B

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sweet & Savory Green Beans

We eat these all the time!  They're a great side dish for coq sans vin, pot roast, and/or Cornish game hens.  I've been making these for years, but it wasn't until recently that I buckled down and wrote out a recipe...  That's just how I roll ;)

  • 4 c. frozen green beans
  • 7 strips of bacon
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/8 t. pepper
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 T. mustard

  1. Preheat medium-sized skillet over medium heat.  Cut bacon into strips/bits.
  2. Add bacon to pan and cook until crispy.  Remove from pan and set aside.
  3. Add green beans to pan and stir.  Add water and salt and cook for 10 minutes.
  4. When the water starts to look low, add remaining ingredients and stir until well combined.
  5. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently so as to keep the honey from burning.
  6. Remove from heat.  Add bacon, stir and serve.
Just a little note: I use microwave bacon, because it's easier to handle (aka. less gross), and also because I like the way it crisps up and how little grease it produces.  If you choose to use real bacon, you might want to drain some of the grease out of the pan before adding the green beans.  I also make these with ham, and they taste just as good!  Just add a little butter in place of bacon grease.  Or, you could simply boil the green beans in some water as a low-fat alternative.  I like the subtle smokiness of the bacon, but it's really the honey-mustard combo that makes this dish so tasty...  So feel free to make them according to your taste, and enjoy!  *B

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

master shopper

Make an inventory of your freezer, pantry and food storage before sitting down to draft your shopping list.  Then review your recipes and meal plan to create a list based off of what you have and what you need.  After a while, you’ll be able to create a master shopping list that you can refer to before every shopping trip.  Feel free to use my list (above) as a guide to help you create your own (below).  Just right-click, open in new tab/window, zoom, save, and print :)
Never go to the grocery store hungry, or without a list!  *B

Monday, March 18, 2013

Meal Plan: 3/18 - 3/24

Mexican Monday: Spicy Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup w/ corn muffins
Oriental Tuesday: PiƱa Colada shrimp w/ brown rice & steamed veggies
Twisted Wednesday: leftover pot roast w/ sweet & savory green beans
Authentic Thursday: balsamic chicken w/ quinoa & roasted broccoli
TGIFriday: BBQ meatballs w/ stuffed potatoes
Super Saturday: DATE NIGHT
Special Sunday: chicken/eggplant parmigiana w/ my marinara

Upcoming recipe: sweet & savory green beans.  So good!  So be excited.  Be very excited.  *B

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ancient Harvest Gluten Free Organic Pasta

Nowadays there's a plethora of gluten free products available at your typical grocery store.  Except Target.  I don't know what their problem is...  Anyway, I've tried quite a few different pastas out there and the Ancient Harvest Gluten Free Organic Pasta is by far our favorite.  I recommend it to anyone and everyone, whether or not you're gluten intolerant.  It's that good!  *B

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Freedom Pasta (cheese-free macaroni)

I have to admit that I'm quite proud of this recipe: it's tasty and versatile.  We've found that butter doesn't seem to bother us as much as cheese or milk... but if you're sensitive to dairy of any sort, simply substitute your favorite vegan spread and you're dairy free!  And while you're at it, swap out the chicken broth and replace it with vegetable broth and you've got yourself a vegan meal!  Serve over gluten free pasta and you've got yourself a peace treaty ;)

  • 1 stick of butter, cubed (1/2 c.)
  • 1 c. pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 c. hummus
  • 1 c. chicken broth
  • 1/4 c. rice milk
  • 1/4 t. garlic powder
  • salt & pepper, to taste
  • couple dashes of nutmeg
  • 4 c. unprepared macaroni (or any noodle pasta)
  1. Heat a medium sized saucepan over medium heat.  Add butter to pan and melt.
  2. When butter starts to bubble, add the pumpkin puree and stir until well combined.  For added depth/flavor, (if you want) you could wait until the butter starts to brown before adding the puree.  Just be careful not to let it burn!
  3. Simmer the pumpkin for a couple of minutes before adding the hummus.  Stir well and simmer for another minute.
  4. Carefully whisk in chicken broth and bring sauce to a simmer.
  5. Add rice milk and seasonings and whisk well.  Allow sauce to simmer until desired thickness/consistency.  Remove from heat and cover.
  6. While sauce simmers, fill a large stockpot full of water.  Add enough salt until water tastes salty.  Bring pot to a rolling boil.  Add pasta and a couple tablespoons of olive oil and stir.  Reduce heat to a gentle boil and cook pasta until done, but still firm.  Stir and taste noodles every few minutes for doneness.
  7. Remove from heat.  Drain cooked pasta and return to pot.  Add sauce and stir until well combined.  Serve warm.
If you're using gluten free pasta, be careful not to overcook or you'll end up with super mushy noodles that fall apart easily and end up resembling polenta.  But also be careful not to undercook the pasta, or else you'll have a crunchy bowl of noodles to munch.  Growing up in an Italian household, I've never prepared pasta according to the package.  I prefer to taste-test my noodles for doneness, and I always end up with perfect noodles, regardless its gluten content.  If your noodles are done before your sauce is, you can add them back to the pot and add a little more oil so they don't clump together.  Once your sauce starts to cool, you'll notice it thickens up real fast.  This is why it's best served warm; not because it tastes better or worse, it's simply a matter of thickness preference.

I've made this a few times now, and both free and captive (?) eaters love it!  We typically pan-fry some chicken sausage to throw in with the pasta, too...  And just FYI, my mother-in-law raved about this dish when she had it, even going so far as to say it's one of the best mac & cheese dish she's ever had.  And there's not even cheese in it!  It really is a satisfying dish full of flavor that everyone can enjoy!  *B

PS- This makes a HUGE batch of pasta, enough for four adults and two children (and maybe seconds for some).  So feel free to halve the recipe.  Or instead of tossing the sauce and pasta together you can spoon the sauce over individual servings of pasta.  Or make the sauce as is and freeze any sauce that you don't use and save it for next time!  Like I said, it's versatile ;)

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

snack time, fun time

Make snacks fun: Create a snack wheel and when you’re ready for a snack, spin the dial and see what the dial lands on!  Make a simple spinner with a paper clip for a dial.  Feel free to use my snack wheel (above) as a guide to help you create/color your own (below).  Just right-click, open in new tab/window, zoom, save, and print :)

Another idea: make a list of snacks and then roll dice to figure out what to eat!  I like to keep a list of snacks on my weekly calendar to refer to.  And keep in mind that while snacks should be filling enough to curb hunger, a snack is not a meal.  It's easy to fill up on empty calories, so use snack time as a way to fill in any gaps of what might be missing in your meals.  It's also the perfect time to introduce your kids to new foods, too.

My personal favorite snack is a banana with a spoonful of peanut butter, and maybe some chocolate chips.  What are some of your favorites?  *B

Monday, March 11, 2013

Meal Plan: 3/11 - 3/17

Mexican Monday: Rainforest Cafe (bday dinner)
Oriental Tuesday: crockpot Terriyaki w/ brown rice
Twisted Wednesday: split pea soup w/ GF cornbread
Authentic Thursday: "cheesey" pasta w/ German sausage
TGIFriday: BLT's w/ spiced fries
Super Saturday: DATE NIGHT
Special Sunday: pot roast w/ mashed potatoes

Upcoming recipe: "cheesey" pasta.  As in pasta without cheese.  Dairy free pasta, that also happens to be gluten free.  Maybe I should just call it free pasta...  *B

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Coq Sans Vin

When I was newly married I would happily go through my Betty Crocker cookbook (a wedding gift), select a recipe and experiment on my new husband.  This dish was one of the first I tried in our itty bitty kitchen, and I've been cooking it ever since.  Whenever we had people over for dinner, we served this.  Whenever I wanted to impress the in-laws, I'd make this.  I've tweaked it a bit each time, getting closer and closer to perfection...  And I am happy to report that it is has indeed been perfected :)

Adapted from Betty Crocker

  • 6-8 chicken thighs, rinsed and dried
  • 1 c. flour (make it GF by using equal parts sorghum, tapioca and brown rice flour)
  • 2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. pepper
  • 1/2 onion, chopped/sliced
  • 6 carrots, scrubbed & cut into fourths (baby carrots work great, too)
  • 4 - 8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
  • 8 slices of bacon OR 2 chicken sausage links, diced
  • 2 c. chicken broth
  • 2 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1/2 t. dried thyme
  • 1/2 t. dried parsley (opt)
  • 1 bay leaf (opt)
  1. Combine flour, 2 t. salt and 1/2 t. pepper into a large ziplock bag.  Add chicken and coat evenly in flour mixture.  Remove chicken and set aside.  And throw that nasty bag away!
  2. Heat a large cast iron pot over medium heat.  Cook bacon/sausage until done.  Remove from pot and set aside.
  3. Allow pot to get nice and hot and add the dredged chicken in single layers.  Cook for two minutes per side, or until brown.  Remove chicken from pot and set aside.
  4. Add onions, carrots and mushrooms to pot.  Cook for one minute, add garlic and cook for a minute longer.
  5. Add chicken broth, apple cider vinegar, 1/2 t. salt and thyme.  Stir well.
  6. Place chicken on top and sprinkle with bacon.  Remove from heat.  Cover pot and place in a 275 degree oven.
  7. For every pound of chicken, cook for 1 - 1.5 hours.  So if you have 3 pounds of chicken, cook for 3 - 4.5 hours.
  8. Remove from oven and serve with mashed potatoes.  You can use the liquid straight from the pot, or you can make a killer gravy with it.
  9. Another option is to let it sit overnight in the fridge and serve it the next day.  This allows the fat to raise to the service and solidify, making it easier to remove before reheating.  That is, if you want to...

The original recipe is called "Coq Au Vin" which is French for "chicken with wine".  As you may have noticed, my recipe does not use wine.  That's where the extra cup of chicken broth, plus the apple cider vinegar, comes from.  That's my secret wine substitute.  And I will have you know that both of my parents speak French, one lived in Quebec while the other lived in France, and both think this dish is awesome!  So there.  *B

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

how to meal plan

I love planning meals!  But then again, I'm a list-maker (not to be confused with a list-follower).  I've been consistently planning meals for our family for years, and I forget how daunting it can seem for others.  I've planned meals for more people than I can count, and I've even considered starting a meal planning business...  But who knows if/when that will ever happen!  So in the meantime, I thought I'd put together a list (!) of how I go about planning, in hopes of helping anyone out there who might be interested:

1.  List as many of your family favorite meals off the top of your head.

2.  Go through cookbooks and websites to help jog your memory and/or come up with meals you’d like to try.

3.  Organize your meals into seven categories.  For example: Mexican, Italian, Vegetarian, Soups, Salads, etc.

4.  Decide on your food-related goals: Eat fish once a week, have a leftovers night, incorporate more meatless meals, take-out, etc.

5.  Create theme nights based off of steps 3 and 4.  Assign each day of the week with a type of meal to plan around.  Use silly names to make it fun and exciting: Mexican Monday, Oriental Tuesday, Twisted Wednesday (recycled leftovers), Authentic Thursday, TGIFriday, Super Simple Saturday, Special Sunday.

6.  Refer back to your list of meals from steps 1 and 2.  Start plugging meal ideas into your theme nights, while keeping your nutritional goals in mind: Fish once a week = fish tacos for Mexican Monday one week, and shrimp scampi for Authentic Thursday the following week.

7.  Make sure to schedule date nights and intersperse difficult/experimental meals with fast/easy meals.  Save the fancy stuff for the weekends, when you have more time.  Make new meals out of old ones (leftovers), so you're left with minimal prep work while diversifying your meals: Leftover pot roast from Sunday will make for a great beef stew on Wednesday.

8.  Start with scheduling 1-2 weeks at a time.  Gradually build up to a month’s worth of meals, then four months.  Repeat your rotation of meals every three months and before you know it you’ll have a year’s worth of meals planned!

9.  Print out your year’s worth of meals and file away in a binder.  Include a calendar for each month, with its corresponding recipes and shopping lists for future use.  Keep pages in clear sheet protectors to protect them from spills and such.  OR if you’d rather have your meal plan in a digital format, look into ZipList or RecipeBox.  There are a lot of websites and apps available that help keep your meals organized, which makes it readily accessible if you keep a smart phone or tablet with you.

10.  Print out a weekly calendar and display it on the fridge to ward off the dreaded “What’s for breakfast/lunch/dinner?” question(s).  This way kids know what they’re eating and when they’re eating it.

11.  Make it easy: Keep breakfasts, lunches and snacks simple so you’re not burned out come dinner time.

12.  The other way to plan meals is to plan around your grocery store’s current deals, or after you visit your local farmer’s market, or CSA pick-up.  This makes planning a year’s worth of meals more difficult, but you should be able to think ahead and plan around the seasons’ harvest.  Or better yet, use your meal plan to help rotate through your food storage!

And that's that!  Do you like planning meals?  I would love to hear what works for you!  Feel free to use my weekly calendar (above) as a guide to help you create your own (below).  Just right-click, open in new tab/window, zoom, save, and print :)

Happy planning!  *B

Monday, March 04, 2013

Meal Plan: 3/4 - 3/10

Gasp!  A meal plan?  Yes, yes it is.  This is me attempting to get back in the swing of things...

Mexican Monday: awesome meatless chili w/ cornbread
Oriental Tuesday: maple-glazed salmon w/ brown rice & roasted veggies
Twisted Wednesday: skillet hash OR quiche
Authentic Thursday: baked chicken w/ butternut squash sauce & grilled veggie quinoa
TGIFriday: swedish meatballs w/ mashed potatoes
Super Saturday: DATE NIGHT
Special Sunday: potato soup w/ mighty muffins

Upcoming recipe: The much anticipated and long-time coming Coq Sans Vin.  That's French for "chicken without wine".  And let me tell you, it's amazing!  *B

Friday, March 01, 2013

free eating

Our decision to go gluten free started a year ago.  To be honest, it really started years ago, before me and the hub were even married.  Brad has always been sensitive to wheat, so we've never really been wheat fiends.  And we still eat wheat on occasion.  No, we do not have celiac disease.  But we are all gluten intolerant.  It not only bothers our tummies when eaten in large amounts, but it also effects our moods and behavior.

Will was really struggling in school.  Not academically, but socially and emotionally.  He was starting to have some serious breakdowns that were beginning to affect his work.  And then one day, he got this crazy rash around his eyes.  We hadn't switched laundry soap and it wasn't seasonal allergies.  So my thoughts turned to food, as usual ;)

I'd like to think we eat pretty healthy.  We're wary of food dyes, high fructose corn syrup, and MSG.  And now I've added wheat and dairy to our watch list.  The rash cleared up and has never returned.  We made a few other changes at home (like limiting screen time), and Will's behavior has improved.  He stopped acting out and shutting down.  He's always been an intense child, has a hard time focusing, and gets distracted easily.  But he's a boy, and instead of labeling him as something he's not (ADHD), we've worked on improving our diet and I've seen a noticeable change.

We still limit our wheat and dairy intake, and anytime I get lax on it Will reacts almost immediately.  It's usually after a difficult week at home/school that I'll start to look back on what we've been eating.  That slice of birthday cake, the cookie at church, and the crackers at school start to add up and it shows.  I've also noticed that the kids are more tired, ornery and have dark circles under their eyes whenever we eat too much wheat/dairy.

Actually, we're all sick and tired after a wheat/dairy binge.  So it's best to just save it for special occasions.  Besides, I think most people can afford to eat less wheat.  I love the challenge going gluten free has presented me with.  Did you know that there are 19 whole grains?  NINETEEN!!!  If anything, eat less wheat so you can eat more (other) grains.  Think of all the nutrients and flavors you might be missing out on!

I understand how intimidating it might be to change your eating habits.  But it is entirely possible and not nearly as impossible as you might think!  I know that going gluten free is viewed as the latest food fad, but feel free to use that to your advantage.  There are so many more foods readily available.  It's never been easier to experiment with more grains than it is today.  Just remember that the less processed you eat, the better.

Also, going gluten free is not necessarily a weight-loss miracle cure. Some people can, and do, lose weight by going gluten free because they start eating a more whole-food diet.  It's great that you can find so many gluten free snacks and treats nowadays, but again, save those for special occasions.  Instead, eat more fruits and vegetables.  And please, eat more grains.  Experiment, and have fun.  And enjoy food again.

Because it's not about what you can't eat, it's about what you can eat!  *B