Friday, April 30, 2010

A Letter to Carino's Restaurant

Yesterday, my Bayberry got her braces put on and she looks adorable.

I wasn't able to cook, as we were out most of the afternoon, so we made plans to eat "dunch" as a family. We went to Carino's Italian Restaurant.

Our experience was terrible, and I want to share it with you. The tables were dirty, the staff was rude, the prices were high, and the food was bad. I had no time to speak with management about it, as Bayberry had to be at the orthodontist right away. I did email the company. I will definitely be letting my blog readers know if and when I get a response, and what the result is. Here's my letter:

Yesterday, my family and I visited your restaurant on ********** (removed for privacy). We were there around 1:45 p.m. for an early family dinner. I'm writing because we were dissatisfied with our experience.

The retaurant wasn't crowded, yet it took us 90 minutes to complete our meal. We ordered one chicken entree and three pizzas. One of the pizzas was made incorrectly (is was supposed to be extra cheese, sausage, and bacon, and was made with pepperoni instead). When we mentioned it, our server pulled out her notebook and said she had written down pepperoni, not bacon. Who cares what she wrote down, really? I'm sure it's not in your policy for your server to insist that the customer ordered incorrectly. Yet, the table behind ours had the same problem (server brought out the wrong pasta and checked her own notes and told the customer she had written such and such, not angel hair) with the same server. Basically, it leaves the feeling that the server is saying, "Tough luck, you ordered wrong." Please train your servers not to try to pin mistakes on their customers. Just fix it.

She offered to have the pizza remade, but we had no time for that. Besides, this particular customer was six years old. A six year old isn't going to be able to wait for an entirely new pizza while the rest of her family eats theirs. I asked her to bring out some bacon and we could add it to the pizza. She did.

My pizza (cheese and sundried tomatoes) had a soggy crust and smelled chemical. We had no time to correct these issues, as we had orthodontist and dentist appointments at 3:20 and we were served at 2:55. Had I had the time, I would have addressed these issues in the restaurant with the management.

Our drinks were not refilled aside from one refill for my husband. We ended up sharing what we had with the kids. We only saw our server when the food came out and then again when she delivered the bill.

The booth we were seated at had crumbs from the previous party's bread on it and a dirty kids' menu on the floor underneath.

Your prices are fairly high for the area, and as such, I expected a higher level of professionalism and service. Both were lacking.

I would love to give your establishment another chance, as we had intended it to be our go-to dinner location for the days when we have orthodontist appointments. However, I would need to be reassured that the problems we experienced yesterday are not the norm and have been corrected, as I have no intention of throwing $60+ at poor service and mediocre cuisine.
Readers, I encourage you to let owners and managers know when you have a great experience, and also when you have a poor one. Money talks. They want to please you. They just have to hear from their customers so they know what works and what doesn't. I also encourage you to use word of mouth. Tell your friends when a place is great. Tell them when a place is terrible. I didn't give Carino's my suggestions for what they ought to do to fix this wrong. I would like my meal refunded or a free lunch for the whole family next time we come in, and I'd like the management to speak to us at that time. Today, I decided to leave the ball in their court and let them offer to fix it, or not to offer to fix it. We'll see what they say, and I will let you know.
P.S. my kids are going well. Bayberry looks so cute in her braces, and hasn't had any pain so far. :)
Back to cooking tomorrow!

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Something Out of Nothing

Day 118.

Today's the last day of my grocery cycle. It's the bare bones day. It's the day when we're often eating weird food combinations that would normally go untouched. It's the wipe-out-the-fridge day. It's the "Mom, there's nothing to eat," day.

Except it's not.

I came up with an amazing meal that I wouldn't have ever considered. It's has its quirks, because we've run out of many ingredients. You can avoid my quirks and still make this dish wonderfully, but I'm writing these recipes exactly as I created them.

Tomorrow, Picky Eater gets two crowns and Bayberry gets braces. Prayers, good thoughts, and input are all very much welcome.

Oh, and what do you think of my photographs? Major improvement since I began this blog, no? I've started playing with Picnik. I love it!

Slow Cooker Pork Ribs in Red Wine-Garlic-Tomato Sauce

What You Need:
  • a rack of ribs
  • mayonnaise
  • sea salt to taste
  • 1 1/2 cups red wine
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • 15 oz can Rotel tomatoes and green chilis
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • cooked pasta
  • fresh parsley, chopped
How it's Done:
  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat.
  2. Spread ribs with mayonnaise. Sear in a hot pan on both sides. Move to slow cooker. Sprinkle with salt.
  3. Deglaze skillet with1/2 cup red wine. Add onions and garlic and cook and stir 2 minutes. Add remaining wine and all tomatoes. Pour this sauce over the ribs.
  4. Cover and cook on low 8 to 10 hours.
  5. Remove ribs from slow cooker and remove meat from bones. Return meat to the slow cooker and let it sit in the sauce until your pasta is cooked and ready to serve.
  6. Plate meat sauce over pasta and top with chopped parsley.
On the side, I served this lovely fruit crisp, because I had ONE apple and ONE cup of frozen raspberries.

Individual FAT-FREE Apple-Raspberry Crisps
makes 2 servings

What You Need:
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored, and diced
  • 1 cup frozen (or fresh) raspberries
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup rolled oats
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup
How it's Done:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two small baking dishes with non-stick cooking spray.
  2. Divide apple and raspberries between dishes. Sprinkle with brown sugar.
  3. Combine cinnamon, oats, and maple syrup in a small bowl. Divide over the top of the two dishes.
  4. Bake for 35 minutes. Serve hot.
For more slow cooker meal ideas, visist Dining with Debbie.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Okay, I Can Compromise. (aka Chicken Nuggets, Revisited)

Day 116.

Way back in January, I made some yummy chicken tenderloin "nuggets" with an almond crust. They were kid friendly and adult approved. They were a hit around here. But they aren't the most frugal thing I could have made, so it's time to revisit them. We are looking at a probable move by this time next year, probably to Germany! So I need to start stashing extra money away now. Anywhere I can cut corners, I will. And where's the easiest place to do that? In the kitchen.

I wanted to make chicken nuggets. They had to meet several criteria:
  1. They had to be wholesome.
  2. They had to taste delicious.
  3. They had to be made from what was sitting around the house, because it's "use it up" week and we're running out of things fast. That meant no egg, no dairy, no oil.
When I made the almond-crusted tenderloin, I was going for breaded chunks of chicken. This time, I was going for the texture of premade chicken nuggets. That meant lots of additives. Just Like Store-Bought! Except that you can pronounce all of MY additives. And they're all real foods.

Think of this recipe like a whole tray of tiny meatloaves. Tiny, chicken meatloaves. Just like meatloaf is only partially meat (lots of fillers), these are partially chicken. But completely wholesome.

One suggestion: If I had olive oil, I would have pan-fried them in it instead of oven-baking. They would be ten times tastier in olive oil. But they were delicious as written.

"Real" Chicken Nuggets

What You Need:

for the chicken mixture:
  • 2 lb cooked chicken, removed from bones and skin
  • 1 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
  • dash of hot sauce
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup oat flour (process oats in a food processor until they resemble flour)
  • 2 Tbsp corn meal
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/2 large onion, minced
  • 1/4 cup water or broth
for the breading:
  • 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal
  • 2 Tbsp dried minced onion
  • 1/2 cup oat flour
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/3 cup water
How it's Done:
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Dump all the chicken ingredients in the food processor and process until it looks like chicken paste. ;) If it frightens you to look at it, smell it. You'll feel better because it will smell very, very tasty.
  3. Set out two pie plates. In one, mix together the flour, cornmeal, dried minced onion, oat flour, sea salt, and parika. Whisk together the mayonnaise, tahini, and soy sauce until smooth. Stir in the water. Pour this into the other pie plate.
  4. Form the chicken paste (sorry, don't know what else to call it. You'll understand when you make them!) into nuggets. Dip them in the tahini-mayo mixture, then the breading mixture, coating both sides.
  5. Spray with olive oil cooking spray and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, turning the nuggets over after the first 15 minutes.
On the side, I served sliced kiwis, and mini cheese ravioli with sauteed butternut squash. Picky Eater ate EVER-EE-THING, and exclaimed that I had found the meal she loves. I was so pleased. :)
(P.S. I gave up the Diet Coke a while ago and have been doing really well without it. I weaned myself onto Iced Tea with sugar, then slowly reduced the amount of sugar in it until I was drinking unsweetened iced tea, and I find it refreshing now. I tried some Crystal Light yesterday for a change of pace and was unable to finish a glass. I found it sickly-sweet. No headaches, no withdrawal, since I switched to iced tea right away. And I love the money I'm saving!)

Menu Plan Monday 4/26 - 5/2


Apple Crisp
Wheat & Oat Apple Cinnamon Rolls
Eggs & Hash Browns
Blueberry Lemon Muffins
Veggie Scramble with toast

Lunches will mostly be fend for yourself/leftovers and kids eating at school until Thursday. Thursday is a big day at our house. Picky Eater is getting two crowns and Bayberry is getting braces. So before all that dental work, we're going out to eat as a family for "dunch" (a late lunch/early dinner). Weekend lunches will probably be:

Friday: I'll be eating at the school cafeteria (Yikes!) because it's the kids' field day and I'm going to help out. The Hubs has to work out at the range (he's a weapons instructor at a basic training post), so he'll fend for himself.

Saturday: I've planned mac & cheese for Saturday. The homemade sort, of course. Bayberry's braces, sore teeth and all, require soft foods for the weekend.

Sunday: fruit & cheese & bread.

Dinners. I'm trying to clean out my cupboard before grocery shopping mid-week, so Monday through Wednesday might look like this:

Pasta with Tahini sauce
Lentils & Rice with green beans
Crock Pot Pork Ribs with Pintos & Rice and Green Beans

Thursday, as written above, is going to be a very early dinner (eating at 2) and chips and queso at home for us adults to munch on, while Picky Eater will have access to lots of fruits and is welcome to a peanut butter and jam sandwich or some cereal. Bayberry might opt not to eat anything at all, but we'll have yogurt and pudding and sipping soup available for her.

Friday: Fake Stroganoff. Okay, it's not "fake," but it's made with that packet from the spice rack at the grocery store. It's the Hub's choice. Stroganoff made with a seasoning packet, ground beef, and dried egg noodles. And a load of sour cream. Personally, I like the real stroganoff, but it's his choice. Chocolate Ice Cream for dessert. From scratch.

Saturday: Grilled Steaks smothered in grilled onions, mushrooms, and sprinkled with melty cheese; baked potatoes, and corn on the cob. Soft stuff for Bayberry and her Picky Eater sister (since she won't eat the steak).

Sunday: Oat Burgers (made from), Sweet Potato Fries, and Chocolate Mousse for dessert

For more menu plans, visit orgjunkie. And come back here throughout the week for the recipes!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

It's Use it Up Week!

Day 115.

This is the last week of the month of April. That means it's my "clean out the kitchen" week. It's the week when I get really creative with my recipes, because I'm running out of things. I wanted to broaden my breakfast options (it was pretty much just oatmeal for the first half of this week until I decided to bake today). I'm out of eggs, which eliminates pancakes and waffles and muffins (I'm aware of many egg substitutes in those instances, but I don't have any available). I have just a spoonful of granulated sugar.  I'm low on my precious White Lily flour, which leaves out mile-high buttermilk biscuits. I'm out of cooking oils. I have butter. I have milk. I have oats. I have whole wheat flour. I have apples.


Until I saw the apples, I was planning a way to make a whole wheat version of this cinnamon roll, except that I have no eggs.

So I decided to play with the recipe a bit. And then a bit more. And a bit more. And before I knew it, I had an entirely new recipe, much larger so as to last a few days, and it's healthier and more filling than my usual rolls.

This recipe makes a ton of cinnamon rolls. If you're a fan of cooking for your freezer, this is the recipe for you. I made this recipe extra large so that we had rolls to last the week, for breakfast and/or snacks as my family desires.

Oat & Wheat Apple Cinnamon Rolls

What You Need:

for proofing your yeast:
  • 1 cup warm (120 degrees) milk
  • 2 Tbsp active dry yeast
  • 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
for the dough's liquid ingredients:
  • 2 1/2 cups milk
  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt
for the dry mixture:
  • approximately 7 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (you may use more or less, depending on lots of things including your area's humidity -- it's a very humid day here in western Georgia)
  • 1 cup white flour (I prefer White Lily but you can only find that in the South)
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats, processed to resemble flour
for the filling:
  • 2 cups peeled, cored, and diced apple pieces
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice (though I had none so I used lime juice instead)
  • 1 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp ground cinnamon
  • 2 Tbsp softened butter
for the icing:
  • 1/4 cup melted butter
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 2 to 3 cups confectioner's sugar
How it's Done:
  1. Okay. Proofing your yeast is not a requirement. However, I like certainties in my baking, plus I think it's really cool to watch the yeast bubble and grow. You can skip this step if you prefer. But, if you're like me, and want to make sure your yeast is alive & kicking, gently stir together, in a large mixing bowl, your warm milk, bit of sugar, and yeast, and let it sit there undisturbed for about ten minutes or so while you get more preparations completed. It should get bubbly and double in size by the ten minute mark. If it doesn't, scrap your mixture and start fresh with new yeast.
  2. While you're waiting for the yeast to proof, gently warm the 2 1/2 cups of milk with 1/2 cup of butter until the butter melts and the milk is approximately 120 degrees. Stir in 1/2 cup brown sugar and 1 Tbsp sea salt until dissolved. Add 1 Tbsp vanilla extract. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine your flours: 1 cup white flour, 2 cups oat "flour," and 6 cups whole wheat flour. Set the other 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour aside for later. I needed it for my dough, but you may not need it for yours.
  4. Add the liquid and dry ingredients to your proofed yeast mixture, alternating between liquid and dry. When all the ingredients have been added, your dough should be pulling away from the sides of the bowl, and only be mildly sticky. If not, add more flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until it's right.
  5. Knead for ten minutes. My KitchenAid stand mixer started smelling like it was working too hard on this mound of dough, so I did it by hand. I recommend you do it by hand, too. It's good exercise!
  6. Turn dough into a well-greased large mixing bowl and cover it with a towel or plastic wrap. Set it in a warm place and let it rise 90 minutes.
  7. Meanwhile, prepare your filling. Combine peeled, cored, and diced apples with lemon juice (or lime, in my case). Toss to coat all pieces. Add brown sugar and cinnamon, tossing once more. Stir in maple syrup. Set aside. I left mine, covered, in the fridge while wating for my dough to rise.
  8. After 90 minutes, the dough should have doubled in size. Punch it down and divide it in half. Set one half aside.
  9. Roll out half of the dough into a large rectangle between 1/4 and a 1/4" thick. Spread with half of the butter, then half of the filling to within 1 inch of the edges. Roll up, starting on a long side, and pinch the seams shut tightly. Cut into 3/4" thick slices and place on a greased baking dish. Continue until all the dough, both halves, have been rolled and sliced.
  10. Let rise, covered loosely, in a warm place for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  11. Bake for about 30 minutes.
  12. Meanwhile, prepare icing by mixing all ingredients together. Spread the icing on the cooked, hot cinnamon rolls. Serve immediately.

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Picky Eater Dilemma

Day 113.

If you've ever read my blog before today, you're well aware of my Picky Eater. Now, I'm seeking your ideas.

Every dinner table discussion with Picky Eater is a fight about how many bites she has to take, or how she thinks she's a vegetarian, or how she's not a vegetarian, but an omnivore ("Omnivores eat vegetables, too, sweetie,"), or how such-and-such burns her mouth, or, "Remember, Momma? I don't like this."

I refuse to serve "kid foods" at my house. I despise the notion that children should be raised on Gerber Stages and then on to Kid Cuisine and Lunchables. I think that kids can and should be served proper, home-cooked meals and be expected to try them and to eat them -- most of the time.

On a rare occasion, I make something I know Picky Eater won't eat for sure, but the rest of us enjoy it, so I make it anyway. On those occasions, I'm sure to provide adequate side dishes so that there's plenty she'll tolerate.

I don't know how she got to be so picky with a mom who's always experimenting in the kitchen (and seldom makes something that's not delicious to everyone else!).  What I do know is that I'm sick of fighting over food with her. It's been going on for four years now.

The Clean Plate Club doesn't hold its meetings at my house. I never require her to clean her plate. I don't reheat refused meals to serve at the next mealtime. I don't use foods as rewards or punishments. I do expect everyone to at least try what's put in front of them, and I demand respect at the table (no insulting the food or the cook), but I know that not everyone likes everything and that's okay.

What more can I do to ease the mealtime battles? Any advice? Here's a meal that she refused tonight. It was delicious. The sweet potatoes are the key ingredient in this dish. Definitely don't leave them out.

Black Bean Stuffed Bell Peppers
makes 6 peppers

What You Need:
  • 2 cups (or 1 can) cooked black beans (drained of any liquid)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 of a bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large sweet potato, cooked, peeled, and diced
  • 1/4 cup salsa
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 6 bell peppers, tops and seeds removed
How it's Done:
  1. Cook onion, diced pepper, and garlic in olive oil until soft. Stir in remaining ingredients.
  2. Stuff bell peppers until overflowing. Place in baking dish.
  3. Cook in a preheated 350 degree oven for one hour.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Day 112.

Yesterday, I planned to bake and present to you, dear readers, a delicious coconut custard pie. However, my daughter's teeth took center stage as we trotted off to the orthodontist for the first time yesterday. I had her scheduled for a consultation only. They took her X-rays, then the orthodontist (who looks just like Taye Diggs from Private Practice) examined her teeth. She needs her roof expanded (ouch), top and bottom braces, full bands, and (Bayberry, please forgive me for blogging this when you're my age) the thumb sucker device to help her stop sucking that thumb. Lots of work, and many years of orthodontia ahead.

So, we started right away. Yesterday's 1 hour appointment turned into nearly three hours, as they cast her teeth, photographed her teeth, mouth, and face, and inserted her spacers.

Pause: Have any of you ever had braces? I never did, though my two sisters did. One sister had to wear hideous headgear, and the other needed this roof expander like my Bayberry. I have enough knowledge that I could estimate her discomfort, but I was unprepared for her pain and tears last night. The orthodontist said to expect discomfort, and that it would pester her like having a piece of meat stuck between her teeth. But it took her taking two Excedrin and one Aleve to finally be comfortable. So I dread her monthly appointments!

The orthodontist told us to stuff her silly before her appointment to have the braces put on (our appointment for that is next Thursday) because she would be unable to eat anything at all for three hours after the appointment, and nothing with any texture at all for three days after that. I presume that's to allow the cement to settle? So mac & cheese, ice cream, milk shakes, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, refried beans, yogurt, and peanut butter & jelly sandwiches on that nasty white bread from the store will fill her days.

The last stop in the process of getting a kid set up for orthodontia is the finance office. Ugh. You don't want a kid to think they're breaking your bank with their crooked teeth, you know? My children are very thrifty and cost-conscious children. They bargain hunt and will refuse a toy or article of clothing if they feel like it costs too much money. We've instilled the value of a buck in them very well. But I never, ever, ever want them to think that their teeth should be bargained with. So I feel like I should have sent Bayberry on her way out to the waiting room to watch Animal Planet while I discussed the costs, options, and payment methods. But I was dizzy with information and wasn't thinking, so she stayed in the room with us.

Braces are expensive. For cost reasons, we chose metal braces rather than those nifty clear ones. I don't think it matters anyway, because the one thing that Bayberry is looking forward to in all of this is choosing her band colors each visit. So the clear ones wouldn't be clear anyway. We are also going to opt to put a permanent retainer on her after she gets her braces taken off, so that her teeth retain their straight positions all through her life.

I'm very thankful that we have dental insurance that will pay $1,500 of the bill. And the orthodontist offers a 20% military discount. That's a huge discount on braces! And the monthly payments are quite reasonable at only $89 a month. So all you parents with kids too young for braces, know this: it costs a small fortune. However, the payment plans are easy. And they don't charge interest. So braces aren't quite so painful on parents as I thought they'd be.

Now, if you have advice on making Bayberry's experience any better...any advice on pain reduction/management, food suggestions, anything, I'm all all eyes.

And now, the moment I've been waiting for all week: pie. Bayberry can eat the filling today, but not the crust. You go forth and bake a pie, and enjoy both filling and crust. See you soon!

Oh -- P.S. folks have been asking for me to make a button they can grab. Soon, I'll do a button exchange with you all. But I have to learn how, first. When I do, if you grab mine, I'll grab yours, too. :) I'll let you know!

Coconut Custard Pie
Slightly adapted from Bird's Eye

What You Need:
  • single pie crust, unbaked
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 Tbsp all-purpose flour
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 4 Tbsp butter, melted
  • 1 cup 1/2 & 1/2
  • 1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 6 oz pacakge frozen flaked coconut, thawed
How it's Done:
  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl, taking care to break up any lumps in the coconut.
  2. Pour into prepared pie shell.
  3. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to 55 minutes, until top is golden brown.
  4. Let cool completely before slicing.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fond Memories of Food and Family

Day 110.

The first cookbook ever given to me was Kids Cooking for Kids. I still have it, with all of my own notes and recipe written in my own penmanship.

Every time I look through the cookbook, it brings a smile to my face. Now, my own children look through it and choose recipes to try on their own.

My breakfast "recipes" from childhood

One of the very first recipes I made by myself. From Kids Cooking for Kids.

The two leading influences on my love of cooking are my mother and my grandmother.  Growing up, I was always served fresh, wholesome, cooked from scratch meals by my mother. We'd have garden-fresh vegetables, backyard-raised beef, homemade breads, and homemade desserts. Thanksgivings were mostly spent at my grandmother's house, where a feast would await us. Grammy spent weeks preparing for Thanksgiving, and would be up cooking and cleaning all night before the big day. But it never showed. She was always so loving and fun to be around.

For many years, the Army kept us away from Grammy's at Thanksgiving. This year, however, my family and I got to visit for Thanksgiving and my own children got to experience their very first Grammy Thanksgiving. Now, it wasn't the feast of Thanksgivings past... it was smaller, and partially catered. But a few favorite dishes graced us with their presence, and just being at Grammy's made it special.

One side dish that Grammy makes is turnips & carrots. It's very simple to do, but it's so delicious. Only five of us like it: My Grammy, my mother, my two children, and me. Maybe we can add you to that list.

Turnips & Carrots

What You Need:
  • 3 turnips, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 lb carrots, peeled and cut up
  • 1/4 cup butter
  • splash of milk
  • salt to taste
How it's Done:
  1. Boil turnips and carrots together until soft, about 20 to 30 minutes, then drain.
  2. Move to a mixing bowl and add milk, salt, and butter. Beat with an electric mixer until smooth.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Menu Plan Monday 4/19 - 4/25

With a big stretch and a lazy yawn, I proudly announce that there's nothing major going on this week. A few appointments lay ahead, as well as soccer practice and a game, but that's it. Nothing daunting this week. And that's just fine and dandy with me. I could use a little rest. I'm really looking forward to the kids' summer break. School weeks are a lot of work!

Here's what's going on in my kitchen this week...

For Breakfast

  • Homemade Granola with Greek yogurt and fresh fruit

  • Hot and cold cereals with milk

  • Breakfast Cookies with milk

  • Scrambled eggs with biscuits
For Lunch, it's always leftovers or packed lunchboxes.

For Dinner

  • Black Bean-Stuffed Bell Peppers with Sweet Potato Coins

  • Veggie Pockets (similar to Hot Pockets without all the chemicals!)

  • Pintos & Rice with taco sauce and cheese

  • Sauteed Butternut Squash with Garlic and Onions, Fried Green Tomatoes, Orzo Pilaf, and Garden Salad

  • Salisbury Steak, Turnips & Carrots, and Yeast Bread

  • Homemade Chicken Nuggets, pasta salad, and apple crisp
Sweets & Treats

  • Yummy Buggies (didn't get to these last week)

  • Mini Sweet Potato Pies (another thing I've been meaning to make)

  • Coconut Cream Pie
The other recipes will be posted on the days they're made. Please stop by throughout the week. Click "Follow" at the top of the page to make it easier to stay in the loop. =)

Thanks for stopping by! For more inspiring menu plans, stop by orgjunkie each Monday morning.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

My Thumb's Not Black After All!

Day 108.

This morning, as I was doing my gardening chores, I noticed tiny green orbs on my tomato plant. That's right! I have my first soon-to-be tomatoes! And then, The Hubs found tiny peppers gropwing on our bell, cayenne, and chili pepper plants! This is very exciting to me because this is the first time I've ever grown anything at all successfully. A few years ago, I tried to grow a bunch of things in the ground and none of them survived. I tilled and fertilized and planted and watered and they rotted and died. A few months ago, I tried growing herbs in one of those precious kitchen herb garden kits. They grew! And then they prompty turned brown and died.

My baby cherry tomatoes!

I decided that growing from seeds is too difficult for a beginner like me, so this year I opted to use seedlings instead. I'm so glad I did! We're already enjoying the sweetness of homegrown strawberries, and soon will be feasting on tomatoes and peppers, too. Hopefully, my squash won't be far behind that, followed by okra and potatoes.

Little bitty peppers!

What are you growing this year?

Home-grown strawberries would be so yummy paired with homemade granola. In fact, strawberries and granola are on the breakfast menu for tomorrow. So I'm making granola today. There are many fancy granola recipes that use tons of ingredients, but I'm staying pretty plain, using only oats, almonds, and sesame seeds for my crunchiness. You could add puffed rice, puffed wheat, wheat germ, more nuts, sunflower seeds, fruits, and more. The sweetener I chose to use was a combination of honey, maple syrup, and brown sugar. You could use anything: white sugar, agave nectar, apple juice concentrate, just to name a few. I used coconut oil in my recipe. You could use vegetable oil or butter. I added chopped chocolate to mine. You could add raisins, dried pineapple, dried blueberries, yogurt-covered raisins, or white chocolate chips, if you wanted.

Michelle's Chocolate Chip Cookie Granola
What You Need:
  • 2 cups old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup slivered almonds
  • 2 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup melted coconut oil, plus more for greasing pan
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips, ground into a lumpy powder

How it's Done:
  1. Preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Grease a baking sheet with raised sides.
  2. Combine oats, almonds, seeds, honey, maple syrup, and brown sugar in a large mixing bowl, stirring to coat all pieces evenly.
  3. Drizzle coconut oil over top, then stir again to coat all pieces. Pour ganola onto the baking sheet.
  4. Bake 30 minutes, turning over halfway through. Remove from oven and allow the granola to cool completely. It will harden as it cools.
  5. Once cool, mix in chocolate "powder." Store in covered containers or storage bags.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

I Get on Ingredient Kicks

Day 107.

Speaking of kicks, let's go off on a tangent for a minute. Kiddie soccer is brutal. I thought the ref was being a little too power hungry when she went around making sure all the kids were tucked in, wearing cleats instead of running shoes, and wearing knee pads. And making the goalee wear those silly Mickey Mouse gloves? What for? (the goalee is usually my Picky Eater. She likes that position best.) You think all those things until you've watched a few 5-6 year old league soccer games. Then you understand. Oh my! I'm glad I'm not on the field with those brutes!

(It used to be that the younger leagues were nothing more than a pack of children all running around trying to get a kick in. Then soccer moms were born, and kids started playing soccer in the womb, so they're pretty darn good by the time they reach first grade. For Picky Eater, this is her first season. So it's all new to us.)

Those kids foul each other intentionally. It's a strategy they use to stop forward progress of the ball! They push and shove. They kick and trip. They kick the ball as far out of bounds as they can. One little guy on our team growls every time he gets the ball. He's a little bit scary....if you're on the opposing team. Now, when you push someone, the ref blows the whistle and the kids on the offended team get posession of the ball again. I don't know all the rules of the game but that much is clear. Still, the kids push and kick to keep the ball away from my Picky Eater. By the time they're teenagers playing in high school, those kids are going to be so tough they'll be ready for rugby! Or hockey! Or tackle football!

Don't misunderstand me. I love going to those games. I get all excited and wound up and cheer and encourage and snap a gazillion pictures every single Saturday. I love every minute. The level of intensity just takes me by surprise.

Back to the real topic: I tend to get on ingredient "kicks." Do you? I'll go weeks at a time using green onions in everything. Then it'll be cream. Then I go on an oat bran kick. And a corn kick. Well, right now, I'm entering a coconut kick. Today, I made ice cream with it. Next week, I'm making cream pie with it. We use it to make popcorn (and I'll share that soon, I promise!). Lately, coconut is where it's my kitchen.

If you like coconut, you're likely to love this ice "cream." It was born out of a desire to be able to eat something cool and creamy this summer that doesn't make me feel icky. Dairy makes me congested. I love cream and cheese and butter. I won't stop using them, but I'm really trying to find some alternatives (not to the butter...I'll probably always use butter) that don't make me fell yucky afterward.

Coconut Milk Ice "Cream" with Bananas and Brown Sugar

What You Need:
  • 2 cans of coconut milk (roughly 3 cups)
  • 3 lage bananas, peeled, cut up and mashed (leave some chunks, though)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • an ice cream maker (and rock salt and ice if required)
How it's Done:
  • Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl and chill for several hours.
  • Add to ice cream maker and process per manufacturer's instructions. This ice cream will be very soft. It's best to freeze it for a few hours after processing, and then serve it.

Friday, April 16, 2010

To Market, To Market, To Buy a Fat...tomato???

Day 106.

I'm giddy with excitement over the spring season! Today, my husband and I visited our first farmer's market of the season, and it was brimming with fresh produce. We walked around, scoped out, sniffed, touched, and selected a bunch of things. I ended up spending nearly $60 more than my budget allows for mid-month groceries (yes, that's more than twice my mid-month budget), but I couldn't contain myself. Besides, I hadn't spent my early month $400-$500 anyway, so I am still at a savings.

This recipe uses some of the produce I bought at the farmer's market today. It's fresh and light, yet satisfying and filling. Paired with oat bran cornbread, this is a yummy springtime meal.

Baked Spaghetti with Black Beans
Makes 5 generous servings

What You Need:
  • 1/2 lb spaghetti, cooked according to package directions, drained, and tossed with 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, diced (or 1 can of diced tomatoes)
  • 3 Tbsp salsa
  • 1/4 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp white pepper
  • 8 oz shredded mozzarella cheese
  • sliced green onions for topping
How it's Done:
  1. Heat olive oil in saute pan. Add onions and saute for one minute.
  2. Add tomatoes, salsa, cumin, sea salt, and white pepper. Cook and stir for five minutes. Remove from heat. Gently stir in black beans.
  3. Combine pasta with sauce. Pour into an 8" square baking dish (coated with non-stick baking spray for easy cleanup). Cover with cheese. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.
  4. When done, sprinkle green onions over top and serve.
Oat Bran Cornbread
adapted from The Quaker Oat Bran Cookbook

What You Need:
  • 1 cup oat bran (uncooked)
  • 3/4 cup corn meal
  • 1/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 Tbsp plus 1 tsp baking pwoder
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup milk
How it's Done:
  1. Combine all ingredients in a mixing bowl. Pour into a greased 8" baking dish. Bake at 400 degrees for 25 minutes.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

What a Way to Start the Day -- An Award to Share!

Good Morning!

One of the first things I do in the morning is come to my blog and check on comments. This morning, there were several waiting for me (I love it when you all comment and talk with me...keep it up!), including one from Angie at Angie's Healthy Living Blog. She stopped by to let me know that I'd won an award! What a great way to start my day! So thank you, Angie! I'm honored!

As usual per blogger awards, there are some guidelines, and that means I get to honor other bloggers with the award. I also have to tell you some things about myself. I'll try to tell you new things that I haven't shared before. I said try.

Here are my seven things:
  1. The only concert I've ever been to was a Christina Aguilera concert many, many years ago. To give you an idea of how long it's been, the tickets were complimentary and Destiny's Child opened for Christina. I was more impressed with Destiny's Child than Christina Aguilera. I'm pretty sure Aguilera was lip syncing the whole concert except one very throaty song.
  2. I'm nervous about sending my daughter to middle school next year. I don't know if every other mom feels the same way as me or not. But I am quite nervous about it. I'm going to get her a mobile phone on our plan so that she can call home when needed after school or whatever. Yep, the kids here are allowed to carry phones, they just can't use them during school.
  3. I don't know how to properly apply makeup to my own face. I see people with gorgeous eye liner applied, and wish I could look like them. But I don't know how. So I don't wear much makeup.
  4. I want to write a novel. I have a plot brewing in my head. :)
  5. I don't eat French fies often, but when I do, I dip them in either mayonnaise or a chocolate milkshake.
  6. I use 1/4 of the manufacturers' recommended amounts of dishwasher detergent and laundry detergent. My dishes and clothes come out very clean and fresh, and I save 75% of the cost!
  7. I have all sorts of nice equipment in my kitchen: a KitchenAid stand mixer, a Cuisenart food processor, Cutco knives...but I lack basic necessities such as a good sieve, a sifter, and pie wedge.
Did you learn anything about me? =)

Now for the fun part: I get to give this award to other bloggers! Here are some fantastic blogger that I find very creative.

I'm going to try to award new blogs that I've not awarded in the past. To see even more blogs deserving of awards, check out my posts under the label "awards."

  1. Heather at Out of the Box Into the Kitchen for her delicious combinations of ingredients in her recipes.
  2. Anna at Anna Dishes for her bountiful use of fresh ingredients and colorful cuisine.
  3. Natalie at Natalie's Killer Cuisine for her photography!
  4. Amanda at Lunchbox Limbo for her creative lunches.
  5. Jennifer at Bankrupt Vegan. Just because I'm not vegan doesn't mean I can't enjoy her cooking! =)
  6. Liana at Tomatoes and Basil for her yummy Italian recipes.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Mid-Month Grocery List, Dehydration of Fruits and Humans, Gardening, and Messy Lasagna!

Day 104.

There are several things on my mind today, so I'll get right to them.

But first, Diego says hi. Or hola, as it were.
In all the chaos surrounding my in-laws' visit, I never did do a real grocery shop for the month of April. Rather, it was a couple weeks of shopping as need be. Thankfully, we didn't spend too much money on those trips. Here is what my mid-month trip list looks like. I'll update with prices tomorrow night:

  • apples (several pounds)
  • bananas
  • green onions
  • sweet potatoes
  • 5 bell peppers
  • onions
  • spinach
  • zucchini
  • cucumbers
  • tomatoes
  • potatoes
  • strawberries
  • lettuce
  • mozzarella
  • butter (2 pounds)
  • eggs (2- 18 packs)
  • milk
  • cheddar
  • greek yogurt
  • heavy cream
  • yeast
  • flour
  • confectioner's sugar
  • granulated sugar
  • peas
  • broccoli
  • cauliflower
  • canned tomatoes (4 cans)
  • quinoa
  • almond milk
  • black beans (4 cans)
That ought to do it until May.

Next I'd like to talk to you about dehydration. I decided to make some granola this week. I was going to pick up some dried fruits for the granola, but I thought it would be nice to dry them myself, instead. Since I have no food dehydrator at my disposal, I'll be using my oven set at the lowest temperature I can get it. All the instructions online that I can find recommend a temperature of about 140 degrees. My oven doesn't go that low, but I'm still going to give it a go at 170 degrees. I'm hoping it works out. If it doesn't, I've only invested 8 strawberries which I purchased on sale.

But wait! Didn't I mentions something about dehydration of humans in that subject line? Why, yes! Yes, I did! There's a bit of a clash of the wills going on within my mind right now. You see, I am determined to get my family living a healthier, more natural exisitence. And yet, at the same time, I fill my own tank daily with Diet Coke. Now, could I get any more processed than that? Plus, Diet Coke helps dehydrate me! I know I should give it up. I know I should. There are better alternatives. Coffee is a better choice. Tea is even better. Water, well, let's not push it yet.

I really am addicted to my Diet Coke. It's going to be really hard. But I think I'm ready to give it up. Not only will I feel better without that junk in my body, I'll also save my family even more money. Keep me in your thoughts as I kick this habit. I'll keep you posted on my progress.

Now that that's off my chest, can I share with you my total excitement over my little patio garden? I'm so thrilled about it. We're already getting sweet, bright red strawberries from our hanging container, and I'm already using my herbs. But here's what I have to look forward to in about two months:
  • sweet bell peppers (red, green, yellow)
  • sweet banana peppers
  • chili peppers
  • jalapeno peppers
  • cayenne peppers
  • cherry tomatoes
  • crookneck squash
  • broccoli
  • cucumbers
  • okra
I can't wait to start cooking with them and eating them! I took my Picky Eater-turned-Possible Vegetarian out back and asked her what she thought we should make with our veggies, and she wants to make lots of soup. Squash soup. Pepper soup. Cucumber soup. All possible, sure, but I am going to try to work on some alternate recipes with her in the near future.

Any ideas on all-natural pest control to get the buggies to stop eating my leaves?

And now, what you're here for...a recipe! Messy lasagna. I love lasagna. It's the ultimate in comfort food. But don't you hate it when you burn your fingertips on the hot, cooked noodles? And don't you have better things to do than to neatly and evenly spread the ricotta filling over the slippery noddles? And don't those pesky torn noodles just bug you? They bug me! Not to worry! This dish has all the flavors of lasagna with none of the hassle!

Messy Lasagna

What You Need:
  • 1/2 lb pasta (any variety will do, but I used mini wagon wheels today)
  • 1 lb ground beef
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 15 oz can diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 15 oz can tomato sauce
  • **SPICES AS DESIRED** If you skip this, your dish will be very, very bland. Spice it as you normally spice lasagna. I used fresh basil, fresh thyme, fresh parsley, fresh rosemary (not normally in lasagna, but it's fresh and I couldn't resist!), salt, and pepper
  • a sprinkling of sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, divided
How it's Done:
  1. Cook pasta al dente according to pacakge directions. Drain and reserve. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Meanwhile, brown ground beef with onion until no longer pink. Add tomatoes, sauce, garlic, sugar, and spices. Simmer 15 minutes.
  3. Combine sauce with pasta. In a separate bowl, mix ricotta, 1 cup mozzarella, and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. 
  4. Pour half of the pasta and sauce into a 9x11" baking dish.  Dot with mounds of the ricotta mixture. Don't try to be neat or even. It's messy lasagna. Cover with remaining pasta and sauce. Sprinkle the rest of the cheeses over top.
  5. Bake for 30 minutes.

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