Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Tonight I tried out a recipe from A Year of Crockpotting for Broccoli Cheese Soup. I ended up using the same cheeses that Stephanie used, mainly because I already had them on hand. It was a very good soup. I pureed it a little with my immersion blender so that Carson could eat more of it - and I kind of wish I hadn't done the entire batch. Kevin and I both were missing the broccoli pieces, but it still had a great flavor and taste, just didn't care for the pureed texture too much. I'd make it again, just wouldn't puree it all next time.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

1 qt chicken or vegetable broth (I used some of my home-canned chicken stock)
2 cups milk (I used 2% organic milk)
2 10 oz bags of frozen broccoli florets
1/2 diced white onion (I added the whole thing since it was a small one, and I added a small shallot, too)
1/2 t black pepper
1/2 t kosher salt
1/2 t ground nutmeg
1 cup each of three different cheeses, I used jarlsberg, gruyere, and cheddar

Mince the onion into really small pieces. The onions are going to soften in the milk and the broth, and need to be quite small so you don't crunch on onion pieces when the soup is complete.

Add the onion to your crockpot, top with the milk, broth, and spices. Stir in the two frozen bags of broccoli.

Cook on low for 7-9 hours, or on high for 4-6. The broth is done when the onion is cooked nicely. (I had mine on high for 6 hours... I wouldn't recommend going that long on high with this soup. By the end of the cook time, it was starting to stick to the crockpot and get a curdled look to it. I was just careful not to scrape the sides or bottom of the crock while I was stirring, pureeing, and ladling.)

20 minutes or so before serving, shred all the cheese you are going to use, and stir it in. The cheese will be stringy and will stick to the broccoli florets---that's okay!

Serve with your favorite rolls or drop biscuits. (I had every intention of making a beer bread to go with this, but time got away from me and I never had the chance to make it.)

New Year's Resolutions/Goals

I don't generally make New Year's resolutions, but I figured I'd set some goals for myself for the new year. I hope that I'm successful on most of them and I figure that if I post them here I might hold myself more accountable and it will help to keep them. None of these are going to be immediate changes, more gradual changes so that I hopefully have more of a chance of succeeding. You'll see many of my goals are inter-related to lead a healthier lifestyle in general, but I've gone into detail on them all with how I hope to change. Anyway here's what I hope to accomplish by this time next year. They're in no particular order, just the order by which I have been thinking of them.

~ Get organized. I used to be so organized, but then I like to say I met Kevin who is soooo unorganized. :) His tendencies have rubbed off on me instead of the other way around. I make substantial efforts to get us more organized, but it never seems to stick. Mainly because Kevin isn't into it at all. Since Carson has been born, I feel like we're spinning out of control, being so unorganized. I feel like an unorganized house just leads to an unorganized life and it has really be frustrating me lately. I can't take it anymore. So I'm going to try my darnedest to get Kevin more motivated about staying organized with me. I figure even if I can break him of one or two of his habits that waste so much time, it'll be a huge improvement. I don't feel like its a totally lost cause anymore - I recently got him into the habit of hanging up his jacket/coat in the closet right when he takes it off rather than leaving it laying on one of the dining room chairs. I feel like this is a huge step in the right direction... especially since it only took my asking him to do it a few times before he started remembering... for those of you that know Kevin, you know that is huge! :) I know we can continue to make improvements - both of us can. And I know that making these improvements in our home will lead to a less stressful, less chaotic life.

~ Be more creative. I want to try making more time for creativity. I love doing crafts, scrapbooking, photography, gardening, etc. The only problem is that I rarely carve out the time for them. I want to make more of an effort to make the time for these types of things. Even if its just an hour or two a month at first. I need to catch up on my scrapbooking - and I need to put the finishing touches on my college and wedding scrapbooks still, too. I want to do a few scrapbooks for Carson - an ABC book to start with. I want to learn more photographic techniques and learn how to use the Adobe Creative Suite (i.e. Photoshop... right now I use the cheap version Photoshop Elements, but you can do so much more with the full-out Photoshop program). I also want to learn how to use my sewing machine. I bought it about a year and a half ago now and its still in the box. I had every intention of learning how to use it when I bought it to make some things for Carson... but it never happened.

~ Read more often. I've been reading quite regularly for the past months now, but I want to try to increase it a bit. Its great for my brain and for my sanity and I learn a lot of new things, too. I've been listening to books on CD on my commutes to and from work for years now, but I want to increase the books that I actually read with my eyes. I've been reading quite a few MOPS books lately and have been really enjoying them, so I'll continue reading more of them in 2009, as well as other fiction, nonfiction, and inspirational books. I'm also going to focus on reading the entire Bible this year. Its something I've never done and think it'll be a great book to read finally. I know I won't accomplish this entirely in 2009, but I want to read it regularly so that I can hopefully get through the entire thing in two years... maybe three.

~ Love authentically. You're probably thinking what the heck does that mean, right? Well, I've been reading a book called Love as a Way of Life by Gary Chapman. Its a great book that I think everyone should read because I think if we all took just one thing away from the book, the world would be a better, happier, more loving place. In order to love authentically, I need to work on the seven key elements discussed in Gary's book - Kindness, Patience, Forgiveness, Courtesy, Humility, Generosity, and Honesty. I have a lot of work to do on all seven of these elements. By making improvements in all of these seven key areas, I feel that I will become a better mother, wife, friend, daughter, sister, etc.

~ Get healthy. I know this is a vague, far-reaching goal. But its the simplest way to put it. Those of you that know me, know that I can stand to get my booty into shape. Its very difficult for me to look at myself the way I am now when I know what I used to look like 10 years ago. I know I wasn't healthy then either (some would consider me anorexic), and I don't want to be that thin again, but I do want to lose a good amount of weight (like 80+ pounds) so that I'm healthy (and also because I'll be fulfilling the Matron of Honor duties in my friend Sara's wedding in May and we'll be having my 10-year high school reunion this year and I want to look better than I do now). This means exercising and eating better. The goals below all refer to the eating better. I need to start exercising more regularly and keep with it. I'm very good at starting an exercise routine... but I'm not good at sticking with it. This is what I need to work on in 2009. Even if I just start with 10 minutes a day, or even every other day, then increasing it bit by bit so its not such a shock to my current schedule/routine.

~ Eat less processed food. Every time I read a food label and as I've been reading more and more about all of the nasty chemicals, genetically modified ingredients, and other junk that goes into so much of the food that we eat, I just get so frustrated and angry. It is maddening to me that food companies aren't required to provide quality products and be truthful on their packaging (i.e. letting us know if there are GMOs in their product). This will be a tough one to convince Kevin of - he doesn't read the things I do (and won't read them if I ask him to) and he doesn't think the ingredients/chemicals/GMOs are that bad for us... so this will be an uphill battle for me with him. But I don't want Carson ingesting so many chemicals, GMOs, and just plain old nasty stuff.

~ Make more homemade food. I'm talking crackers, graham crackers, marshmallows, canned beans, granola, cereals, pasta, grains, etc. I want to invest in a pasta roller and cutter attachments for my KitchenAid so that I can make my own pasta. I'd also like to invest in a grain mill so that I can possibly grow some of my own grains next summer and grind them myself. Or at the very least, buy local/organic grains that I then grind myself. I'll definitely be continuing my home canning next year - and I hope to do even more next year than I did this year. This will be another tough one to convince Kevin of the benefits. He doesn't believe that the time invested in making things homemade is worth it. I know it is, though.

~ Eat more organic/local food. I already do buy quite a bit of organic and local foods, but I know I can do better. I wish we had a Trader Joe's and a Whole Foods closer to us. I've been stopping at both stores in Rochester Hills on my way home from work meetings in Detroit, but I need to plan a little better from now on. I never think about what I'll be buying beforehand, its just shopping on a whim. I've found that Trader Joe's and Whole Foods have the best prices on organic foods, so I'll need to stock up on things we use a lot when I make my trips from now on. I like shopping at Horrocks in Lansing, but its more expensive than TJ and WF - so it'll be nice to just be able to fill in some random needs here and there at Horrocks, rather than doing a good majority of my shopping there (as I do now). I also want to buy more local/natural meat. With the new freezer, we actually have space to buy this type of meat in bulk. And we've already been doing a good job - buying a whole lamb and a good amount of pork... next summer I want to get some local/natural/grass-fed beef. And I need to find a good (and affordable) source for chicken, too.

~ Eat more vegetables. I want to work more veggies into our diets. Not only the veggies that we eat regularly as it is now, but I want to try out new veggies that we've never had before. I'm sure with some it'll take a few times eating them before we'll know how best to cook them, or if we even like them, but I really want to try to increase our intake and variety of veggies. I want Carson to grow up loving all different sorts of foods. It will be tough to convince Kevin to eat some of the veggies I'm thinking of, especially without complaining, but I do hope that he'll give it his best shot for my and Carson's sake... if Carson sees Kevin making faces and saying bad things about a food, then you know he'll pick up on it and won't want to try it either.

Well I think that's it for now. I know its a big list and all of the goals will take some time to implement. But I hope by this time next year I can look back and say that I've been successful on each of them.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sausage Smothered in Cabbage

Tonight I tried a new recipe for sausage smothered in cabbage from AllRecipes. This was very good and I'd make it again. I'm trying to decide what to grow in our garden next year and have been wanting to try out different dishes using cabbage to know if it'd be worth it to put in some cabbage plants. I think it'd be worth it to put in some plants, especially since cabbage keeps so well in cold storage, so we wouldn't necessarily have to eat a lot of cabbage dishes all at once.

Sausage Smothered in Cabbage

1 small head red cabbage, shredded (I used savoy cabbage and just chopped it)
1 apple, cored and diced (I didn't have an apple, so I just used about a quarter cup of applesauce instead)
3 teaspoons salt, divided (I only used 2 teaspoons, but next time would not put any in, or only a trace amount)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup water
1 tablespoon butter
1 small onion, chopped (I used a shallot)
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon wine vinegar (I used red wine vinegar)
1 pound kielbasa sausage, cut into 1 inch pieces

Place the cabbage in a large kettle, and add the diced apple, 2 teaspoons of the salt, lemon juice, and 1/2 cup water. Bring to a boil then simmer, covered, about 15 minutes stirring occasionally.

In hot butter, saute the onion until golden. Add the onion to the cabbage along with 1 teaspoon salt, pepper, vinegar and sausage. Cook, covered, 20 to 30 minutes, or until sausage is heated through.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Meal Plans

Can't believe it'll be 2009 this week. Wow. It'll be another busy week. Kevin and I are both home all week again, but Carson is sick again - the poor little guy. His little immune system just doesn't have a chance to recover before he gets something else right now, it seems. Lots of projects and we'll have a trip or two to the pediatrician, too. Hopefully the carpet will be done today so we can put the breezeway together and get the furniture and carpet steam cleaned during the week (Tuesday or Friday hopefully). Kevin didn't do much with the insulation last week, so he's planning to do a little more this week and really needs to finish it up if he can. I want to finish painting the doors in the hallway still and I'll have a lot of cleaning/sorting/throwing away to do with all of the junk from the breezeway (which is everywhere in our living and dining rooms right now).

I still need to update my posts from last week with pictures. Hopefully I'll get to uploading all of our pictures later on today or tonight.

Anyway, here's what I'm thinking as far as meals go..

Sunday ~ My parents are over - my Dad and Kevin are installing the carpet, the house is a wreck with everything from the breezeway everywhere, so I'll spend most of my time today cleaning/sorting/throwing out. We were supposed to go over to Kevin's parents' house for dinner and movie night, but I think we'll have to skip it with Carson being sick again. I think we'll probably just end up ordering pizza again ourselves, though, since the house is such a wreck.
Monday ~ let's try the sausage smothered in cabbage since I didn't make it last week
Tuesday ~ for the third or fourth week in a row... broccoli cheese soup. Let's hope I actually make it this time! :) I think I'll try making beer bread to go with it.
Wednesday ~ New Year's Eve! We're just hanging out around our house. Can't really go out too late with Carson anyway, so we'll have our own little party here at home this year. I think we'll do a taco and nacho bar.
Thursday ~ Happy New Year!! Jaime and Jeff are coming over. I'll be making a roast leg of lamb, roasted potatoes, carrots, and parsnips. Jaime is bringing a salad. And I still need to figure out something to make for dessert.
Friday ~ possibly just leftovers from throughout the week, otherwise something with pork since we picked up about 60 pounds of all-natural pork at Sara's house yesterday.
Saturday ~ tater tot casserole

Some morning this week, I'll be making a breakfast casserole with leftover ham from Christmas Eve. Just depends on how our plans pan out with doctors appointments, steam cleaners, and Kevin making a trip to South Bend with Danny to buy a new car (for Danny, not us).

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Fruit Salad

Tonight I made up a fruit salad for tomorrow's Christmas celebration with the Hollebooms. My Grandma B. has made this for as long as I can remember. Its simple, but still so good. And its a great fruit salad for winter when fresh fruit isn't so readily available (or tasty).

Fruit Salad

1 can chunk pineapple, save the juice
2 cans mandarin oranges, drained
1 jar maraschino cherries, drained
3 bananas, sliced
1 box cook 'n serve vanilla pudding

Use the juice from the pineapple plus some water to make 2 cups of liquid. Put this in a pan on the stovetop and bring to a boil. Add the vanilla pudding and stir. Chill for a bit.

Dump the fruit into a bowl - all except the bananas. Once pudding mixture is cooled a little, pour over fruit. Toss a little to mix it all up. Refrigerate overnight.

Just before serving the next day, slice the bananas, add, and stir.

(I don't have any bananas today and didn't feel like going to the store to get any, so ours won't have bananas tomorrow. I added a second can of pineapple to make up for it.)

Overnight French Toast Bake

Last night I prepped an overnight french toast bake to have for breakfast this morning. I got the recipe from Jaime's Aunt Pati. She made it for Jaime's and Jeff's day-after-the-wedding-day brunch and it was so good I asked her for the recipe. This is very simple to make and you don't even need syrup with it since the syrup bakes with it. I used a 13x9 inch pan as the recipe suggests, but next time I think I'll use an 11x17 inch pan so that the bread isn't overlapping as much. I'm guessing that's what Pati did since hers wasn't soggy at all... and mine was kind of soggy in the parts of the bread that were overlapped. Even with some sogginess, this was awesome to have on Christmas morning!

Overnight French Toast Bake

2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 cup butter
1 cup brown sugar
1 16oz. loaf white bread, unsliced (I used whole wheat since that's what I had)
1 1/2 cups milk
5 eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a pan on the stovetop, combine the light corn syrup, butter, and brown sugar. Simmer until syrup-like, about 7 minutes. Pour half of the mixture in the bottom of a 13x9 inch pan. Slice bread into 1-inch slices and place on top of mixture in pan. Pour remaining syrup mixture over top of bread slices.

Combine eggs, milk, salt, and vanilla. Beat until mixed well. Pour over bread.

Cover and refrigerate overnight. In the morning, uncover pan and bake at 350 for 40 minutes or until brown.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars

I'm trying out another new recipe from Baking Bites for Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars. They're baking in the oven as I type, so hopefully they turn out okay. They were very easy to throw together. And you don't have to worry about baking them in a water bath like you would a normal cheesecake. I thought they'd be a good treat to take to our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations along with the Oatmeal Carmelitas and possibly S'more Cookie Bars, too... we'll see on those still... how much time I end up having after I make the hot dogs in crescent rolls and get everything packed and ready for tonight's party.

Vanilla Bean Cheesecake Bars

1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup half & half/light cream (I used fat free half & half)
2 (8-oz) packages plain cream cheese, room temperature (I used 1/3 less fat)
3 large eggs, room temperature
1/2 vanilla bean or 2 tsp vanilla extract (I just used the extract)
1 tbsp all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 9×13-inch baking pan (or used the Baker’s Edge).

Begin by making the crust. In a large bowl, cream together sugar and butter, until smooth and fluffy. Working at a low speed, gradually beat in flour and salt until mixture is crumbly. Press evenly into prepared pan and bake for 15-17 minutes.

While the crust bakes, combine sugar, half & half and cream cheese in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add in eggs one at a time, waiting until each in incorporated before adding the next. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the mixture (or add extract) and add the flour. Pulse until smooth.

Pour the filling over the hot crust when it has finished baking. Return pan to oven and bake for 23-26 minutes, until the filling is set (baking time should be reduced slightly if using a 9×13-inch, as the filling will be slightly thinner) and not jiggly.

Cool completely before slicing (don’t be alarmed if the cheesecake appears to deflate somewhat as it cools), or refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 20-24 bars.

Oatmeal Carmelitas

I got this recipe from one of my bosses, Connie. She brings them in quite often and they're always a favorite of everyone's. This is a family recipe of hers from her Grandma, I believe. They are so yummy! I'm making them to bring to our Christmas Eve and Christmas Day celebrations. Kevin isn't a fan because he doesn't care for the crumbly texture on top, but I love them and hope you do, too!

Oatmeal Carmelitas

14 oz. package light candy caramels
1/2 cups evaporated milk
1 jar caramel ice cream topping
1/4 cup flour
(I used the ice cream topping and flour)

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter or margarine, melted
1 cup (6 oz. package) semi-sweet chocolate chips (I used about 2 cups, half milk chocolate and half semi-sweet)
1 cup chopped pecans (I left these out)

Preheat the oven to 350.

Melt caramels in evaporated milk in heavy saucepan over very low heat. Cool slightly. OR mix caramel ice cream topping and flour together in a small bowl.

In a large mixing bowl, combine remaining ingredients except chocolate and pecans. Press half of this mixture into the bottom of a greased 9x13 inch pan. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. (I would suggest using about 3/4 of the mixture in the bottom of the pan)

Remove from oven. Sprinkle with chocolate pieces and pecans. Spread carefully with caramel mixture. Sprinkle remaining crumb mixture on top. Bake 15-20 minutes or until golden brown. Chill 1-2 hours. Cut into squares to make bars.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Chicken, Brown Rice, and Veggie Soup

Tonight we had chicken, brown rice, and veggie soup in the crockpot. I basically just threw some stuff together. It turned out to be very good - all three of us loved it. So I figured I'd try to jot down what I did this time.

Chicken, Brown Rice & Veggie Soup

2 boxes chicken stock
2 cups water
1 teaspoon Better Than Boullion
6 carrots, chopped
2 parsnips, chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 cup brown rice, uncooked
2 chicken breasts, cooked and shredded
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste (after its cooked)

Dump all ingredients into a crockpot. Stir and cover. I cooked mine on high for about 4 hours, then on low for about 2 1/2 hours.

Sugar Cut-Out Cookies

I made up a batch of Christmas sugar cut-out cookies. I got this recipe from my friend, Michelle, at work. These are the best sugar cookies! They get so nice and "fluffy" as Kevin calls them. The best part is that they stay soft - they don't get crispy like so many sugar cookies do. (Maybe you like them crispy, but I don't.) Anyway, I know everyone has their "own" sugar cookie recipes, but I thought I'd post this one anyway since we think they're so good.

Sour Cream Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter/margarine
2 cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
4 1/2 cups flour

Cream the butter/margarine, sugar, and salt. Add eggs, sour cream, nutmeg, and vanilla; mix well. Add baking soda and powder with the flour, a little at a time and mix well. Let the dough stand in the refrigerator for a few hours for easier handling.

Roll out and cut. Or drop - make balls the size of a walnut and dip into colored sugars and press down.

Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, or until done. (They only took 9 minutes in my oven)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Meal Plans

Christmas week already?! Holy cow! Where did the year go? Seriously. This week will be a busy one. Lots of parties and get-togethers, lots of food to prepare, and still more baking to do. As well as finishing up some projects at the ranch - Kevin made good progress on the insulation last week, but he'll be working on it some more early in the week, as well as finishing trimming out the door in the breezeway (which by the way makes a HUGE difference in there, we were losing so much heat and gaining so much cold air from the old door). I'll be doing some painting of the doors in the hallway so we can FINALLY say the hallway is complete. My priority will be getting all of our gifts wrapped, though... I'm making good progress, but still have so many left to wrap!

Anyway, here's what I'm thinking for meals at the moment. I should have lots of recipes to share by the week's end. Some new recipes, some tried-and-true.

Sunday ~ Christmas celebration with my Grandma on my Dad's side, parents, sister, and her boyfriend. We're just ordering pizza, salads, and breadsticks. And I'm using up a box cake mix so I don't have to throw it away (not buying them anymore) to make cupcakes, as well as some chocolate pudding for desserts.
Monday ~ something with chicken... maybe Ethiopian chicken, or chicken curry, or chicken divan, or chicken and brown rice in the crockpot, or bbq chicken and cornbread casserole in the crockpot... and maybe we'll end up seeing Jaime and Jeff either today or tomorrow for a little Christmas celebration, so that will change things up a bit if we do. chicken, brown rice, veggie soup in the crockpot, hopefully with some homemade bread
Tuesday ~ I think maybe sausage smothered in cabbage... or broccoli cheese soup... or both, though they don't sound too good together, do they? :P homemade chicken nuggets baked in the oven with homemade french fries
Wednesday ~ Christmas Eve with my Mom's family in Fenton. I'm making hot dogs wrapped in crescent rolls and a dessert or two... either cheesecake bars, s'more cookie bars, or oatmeal carmelitas... and of course cookies! Everyone always brings lots of cookies to share, then we swap at the end of the night.
Thursday ~ Christmas morning with just our little family of 3+2 - I'm going to make an overnight french toast bake for breakfast. Then Christmas Day with Kevin's extended family in Grand Rapids in the afternoon. I'm bringing some form of dessert... either cheesecake bars, s'more cookie bars, or oatmeal carmelitas... or some of each maybe since I have the ingredients for all of them.
Friday ~ Christmas celebration with Kevin's family in Grand Blanc. I'm making a fruit salad and bringing cookies and maybe fudge if I get around to making any.
Saturday ~ Christmas celebration (kind of) with Sara and her fiance, Adam, in Saranac (near Grand Rapids). Sara's mom is making us a nice dinner and I'll probably bring dessert type items or appetizers. We'll talk more later in the week to figure it all out.

Apple Cheddar Turkey Meatballs

Last week, I made apple-cheddar-turkey meatballs from A Year of Crockpotting. I didn't take a picture of them - none of us liked them. Even Carson gagged on them... and he loves just about everything. I was disappointed, I thought we'd like them... or at least I would like them. My SIL, Mary, has made them and her family enjoyed them. So I thought we would, too. I even took her suggestions and used a larger apple and added extra cheese. But nope, we didn't like them. Needless to say, I won't be making them again. :)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chicken Florentine Artichoke Bake

Tonight I tried out another new recipe. This one came from our cousin, Melissa, for chicken florentine artichoke bake. I hadn't originally planned this for the week, but ended up having to ax the soup since I didn't have enough broccoli on hand and haven't been able to make it to Meijer yet this week. I had all the ingredients on hand for this casserole, so I thought we'd give it a try. I'm so glad we did! This was delicious!! Kevin, Carson, and I all absolutely loved it. Kevin thought it was the best new recipe I've tried in the last few months. Carson kept wanting more and more - he even liked the spinach and the artichokes! I'll definitely make this again sometime. I thought it came together pretty easily. I left out the onion to avoid the step of sauteing it, but otherwise it came together pretty quickly.

Chicken Florentine Artichoke Bake

8 oz dried bow tie pasta (I used tri-color rotini)
1 small onion, chopped (I left this out to save a step)
1 Tbsp butter (left this out)
2 eggs
1 1/4 cups milk (I added a little more than this)
1 tsp dried Italian seasoning
1/4-1/2 tsp crushed red pepper (opt.)
2 cups chopped cooked chicken
2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
1 14oz can artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1 10oz pkg frozen chopped spinach, thawed and well drained
1/2 cup oil-packed dried tomatoes, drained and chopped
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 cup soft bread crumbs (I left these off)
1/2 tsp paprika
1 Tbsp butter, melted (I left this out)

Preheat oven to 350. Cook pasta according to package. Drain. In medium skillet cook onion in 1 Tbsp butter for 5 min or until tender, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and set aside.

In bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, seasoning, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp black pepper, and crushed red pepper. Stir in chicken, Monterey cheese, artichokes, spinach, tomatoes, half the Parmesan, cooked pasta, and onion. Transfer to a 3 qt square baking dish.

Bake, covered, for 20 min. In small bowl, combine remaining Parmesan, bread crumbs, paprika, and melted butter. Sprinkle mixture over pasta. Bake uncovered, 10 minutes more or until golden. Makes 6-8 servings.

Chicken with Spinach and Feta

Last night I tried a new recipe that I came across on Kalofagas Greek Food & Beyond by Peter Minakis. This was so, so good! I'll definitely make this again. I prepped the chicken the night before with the spinach/ricotta/feta mixture, so it was ready to go when I got home from work last night. It requires a bit of cook time on the stove top, but it doesn't require baby-sitting, which is always nice, especially with a toddler running around now. The sauce was awesome, definitely need the sauce to make the dish complete, but the plain chicken was so good, too. I only made two chicken breasts, but they were huge, so I did the full sauce recipe, which I'm glad I did. I wish I'd have done four chicken breasts so we'd have had some leftovers, though. We just had it with green beans since I didn't feel like making rice.

Chicken With Spinach and Feta
(Κοτόπουλο με σπανάκι και φέτα)

Serves 4

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed of water
75 gr. crumbled Feta (about 1/3 cup)
75 gr. ricotta cheese (about 1/3 cup)
4 Tbsp. of chopped fresh chives
4 Tbsp. chopped fresh dill (I just used a little dried dill weed)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 pads of unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste
sweet paprika
2 Tbsp. of flour
1 clove of garlic, smashed (I actually did two cloves and chopped them up)
2 Tbsp. minced shallots (I just used one medium sized shallot)
1 cup chicken/vegetable stock
1 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

Trim your chicken breasts of any excess fat. Wash and pat dry and set aside. In a bowl, mix your spinach, chives, dill, Feta and ricotta and mix well with a fork. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt & pepper.

Using a sharp knife, carefully cut a pocket into the side of the chicken breast and fill with the spinach mixture. Secure with one or two toothpicks. Season both sides of the chicken with salt, pepper and some sweet paprika.

In a large non-stick skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium/high heat and brown side of the chicken, 3-4 minutes a side. Remove the chicken and reserve.

In the same skillet, add the wine to deglaze the tasty brown bits and reduce over medium heat for a couple of minutes, until the wine has nearly evaporated. Now add the shallots, garlic and flour and saute for another minute or so, just enough to cook the rawness out of the flour.

Now add your chicken stock along with the chicken breasts, bring to a boil and then cover and, reduce heat to a simmer and cook for about 25 minutes.

At this point your sauce should begin to coat a wooden spoon. Remove your breasts and keep warm. Add the cream to the sauce and simmer until the sauce is thick and you can draw a line into the skillet with your wooden spoon. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper and add the chopped fresh parsley.

Cut each breast into slices, fan onto the plate, serve with your favourite rice dish and spoon the cream sauce over the sliced chicken breast. Serve immediately.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Meal Plans

A little late on the meal planning again this week. I've had it figured out in my head, just haven't had the time to type them up yet. It's kind of a busy week, even though Kevin is off this week, but he's working on getting a lot of projects done at the ranch (insulation, new door from the breezeway to the garage, dri-loc painting the exercise room floor in the basement). I'm working full-time this week and won't have much spare time at home once Carson goes to bed - lots of gifts to wrap, Christmas cards to send out, etc. So here's what I'm thinking:

Sunday ~ pizza from Rocky's
Monday ~ stir-fry with chicken and veggies
Tuesday ~ leftovers
Wednesday ~ broccoli cheese soup in the crockpot chicken with spinach and feta
Thursday ~ chicken with spinach and feta chicken florentine artichoke bake
Friday ~ apple, cheddar, and turkey meatballs in the crockpot
Saturday ~ I'll be in Grand Rapids wedding dress shopping with Sara Ross, so Kevin will be on his own... probably leftovers for him.

I'm hoping to do at least two batches of cookies this week - regular chocolate chip for Kevin, and probably oatmeal raisin or monster cookies. We'll see if I get the Christmas cards finished up tonight or not.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies

I tried another new cookie recipe over the weekend for oatmeal butterscotch cookies. I saw the recipe on Baking Bites, a baking blog that I regularly follow. I guess this is actually a recipe that Cindy McCain had submitted to Good Housekeeping magazine as a favorite cookie recipe. I love oatmeal cookies and I love butterscotch, so I had been looking for a good oatmeal butterscotch cookie recipe. This is definitely a great one! I think they're awesome! Kevin doesn't care for oatmeal and he doesn't care for butterscotch, so he wouldn't even taste a bite of one. This will definitely be a keeper for me, though! Next time I might even add a few chocolate chips to change it up a bit. Though they're awesome as-is.

Oatmeal Butterscotch Cookies

3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
3/4 tsp salt
3 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups butterscotch chips

Preheat oven to 375F. Line a baking pan with parchment paper or silpat.

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars. Blend in eggs and vanilla until mixture is smooth.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt. Stir into butter mixture, then mix in the oats and butterscotch chips.

Drop rounded tablespoonfuls (large balls) of cookie down onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each cookie to allow for spread.

Bake for 10-11 minutes, until the edges begin to brown. (It only took about 9.5 minutes in my oven. You want to pull them out as soon as you see the edge turning light golden brown. The centers will set up while the sit on the hot baking sheet for a few minutes.)

Let cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before storing in an airtight container.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies. (I did a double recipe so I'd have plenty to bring into work on Wednesday and ended up getting about 10 dozen... so I'd say this recipe would produce about 5 dozen cookies with my cookie scoop anyway.)

Friday, December 12, 2008

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cookies

First of all, thanks to our cousin, Melissa, for the cookie button code! I'm not sure I'll be doing 12 consecutive days of cookies, or even 12 different cookies right now, but we'll see how it goes.

Tonight I made up a batch of chocolate chip cream cheese cookies. Kevin had requested "some form of chocolate chip cookie" - so this is what he got tonight since I wanted to try out a new recipe. I got this recipe from my college buddy and Phike sister, Ranae. These are very good! They got a thumbs up from Kevin and myself, even with the couple changes I made to them.

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Cookies

2 sticks butter, room temp
1 3 oz. package cream cheese, room temp (I actually used about 4 oz.)
1 cup sugar (I used half white sugar and half brown sugar)
2 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 12 oz. package chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate b/c that's what I like)
2 tsp orange zest (I left this out)
(I added 1 teaspoon baking powder)

Preheat oven to 350. Mix butter, cream cheese, and sugar until creamy. Add eggs and vanilla. Gradually mix in flour and salt until just blended. Fold in chocolate chips and orange zest. Place on ungreased cookie sheet (or parchment/silpat lined sheet) by rounded teaspoon. Bake 10-12 minutes. When they start to brown around the edges, they are done.

I ended up with 49 cookies.

Herb Cheese Bread

I tried a new recipe for herb cheese bread from AllRecipes to go with our lasagna on Tuesday. This was very good and was a great pairing with lasagna - and would be good with any italian dish, I think. Kevin, Carson, and I all really loved this. I'll definitely make this again. And best of all, the bread machine does all the work for you!

Herb Cheese Bread

1 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
3 cups bread flour
2 tablespoons dry milk powder
2 tablespoons white sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, softened
3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 1/2 teaspoons dried marjoram
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon active dry yeast

Place ingredients in bread machine pan in the order suggested by the manufacturer. Select the Basic or White Bread cycle, and press Start.

(Instead of adding the separate herbs, I just substituted with 5 teaspoons Mrs. Dash Italian Medley)


I made a lasagna for dinner on Tuesday night. I made a huge one so that we'd have plenty of leftovers - I froze a couple dinners' worth, plus had lunches for Kevin all week, and thought I had some for dinner during the week, too (but I ended up not being able to eat it b/c I came down with the flu). I never follow a recipe when I make lasagna and I don't think I ever make it exactly the same way twice. I'll try to write down what I did this week and make notes of things that I change up.


1 box lasagna noodles
1 container ricotta cheese
1 container cottage cheese
1 egg
parmesan cheese
2 jars pasta sauce (homemade, favorite store-bought, etc.)
1 pound ground meat (turkey, chicken, lamb, beef)
any veggies you have on hand, frozen or fresh
shredded mozzarella

I never boil my noodles first, but if you feel better by doing so then go for it.

Brown your ground meat, drain grease if necessary, and add pasta sauce.

Mix the ricotta cheese, cottage cheese, egg, and parmesan cheese in a bowl. You don't have to use both ricotta and cottage cheese, but I usually do because Kevin doesn't care for ricotta and I don't care for just cottage cheese - and we both seem to do ok when they're mixed. I just eye-ball the parmesan cheese, but I bet its about a cup.

Begin by spraying your pan/baking dish with cooking spray (I usually use a 9x13 baking dish or my huge enameled cast-iron lasagna pan - I used the lasagna pan this time). Then spread a thin layer of sauce on the bottom of your pan. Put down a layer of noodles. Next spread some of the cheese mixture on top of the noodles - probably about half of it on this layer. Next layer on some veggies - I have used spinach (usually a staple in my lasagnas), zucchini, summer squash, carrots, broccoli, peas, cauliflower, bell pepper, onions, mushrooms, celery, etc. Top the veggies with about a little less than a third of the meat sauce. I then sprinkle on a little parmesan cheese and mozzarella cheese. Repeat all of these steps again. After repeating the steps again, top the mozzarella/parmesan cheese with another layer of noodles. Spread remaining meat sauce on top of the noodles. You can then drop some more spinach on top of the sauce, or skip this and top with lots of mozzarella cheese and sprinkle some more parmesan on top of the mozzarella.

I know, its totally NOT healthy, but its so good! :)

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

A Few of My Favorite Things

Being the holiday gift-giving season, I thought it'd be fun to list a few of my favorite things - kitchen/cooking/baking specific. Please post your favorite things in the comments or on your own blog so that we can all get some ideas for some gift ideas either for others or for ourselves. :)

My favorite appliances would have to be my KitchenAid Stand Mixer (I have the 6-quart lift bowl model), my bread machine, and my immersion stick blender. Probably in that order. Even though the KitchenAid is large and heavy, I love how easy it is to use and the versatility of it. I've used it for mixing cookies and cakes, whipped/mashed potatoes, kneading bread dough. Plus there are so many fun attachments that make this a multi-purpose appliance - ice cream makers, pasta rollers/cutters, meat grinders, etc. I just love it. I love the time that my bread machine saves me. I haven't used it all that much yet this year, but I generally do use it quite often in the winter. I love just being able to dump in the ingredients and let the machine do the work. Plus, I know the bread I make with it is more healthy than the store-bought breads and I know exactly what is in mine. The immersion stick blender is another handy appliance. I have some different attachments that came with mine, so not only is it great for pureeing soups and other things, but I can use mine as a chopper and as a mini food processor.

My favorite kitchen gadgets would probably have to be my digital read thermometer, silpat baking sheets, and my santoku knives. My digital thermometer is very quick to register the temperature and also has a long cord so that you can have the thermometer in the meat in the oven and have the read-out screen on your counters. Its very handy for me when cooking new meats especially. And depending on how the meat is being cooked, it can be difficult to tell how done it is, so I use my thermometer quite often. I love the silpat baking sheet liners because clean-up is a breeze and the cookies never burn on the bottoms. A couple of my cookie sheets have a darker coating on them and have always burned the bottoms of the cookies, but not when I use the silpats. I love my santoku chopping knives. I have three different santokus, all different sizes and brands. I love them all.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Meal Plans

So I'm still not quite sure what we'll be eating this week. I've been dealing with a sick baby today (when I'd planned to think about my meals this week) so I still haven't thought much about dinner this week. I haven't even thought about today's dinner yet... and its already 4:30! Oops! Guess we'll be having leftovers. :) Anyway, here's an attempt... though I'll update later on, I'm sure.

Sunday ~ chicken cordon bleu in the crockpot, green beans
Monday ~ leftover chicken cordon bleu we decided to pull the enchilada bake out of the freezer that I made a couple months ago and have that for dinner so Kevin can take the chicken to work for lunch tomorrow
Tuesday ~ possibly lasagna, depending on how much time I have tonight (Monday) to prep it, hopefully some homemade bread, too
Wednesday ~ some kind of soup, maybe chicken and black bean or minestrone, or maybe a stew that I can use sweet potatoes in (still have some to use up)
Thursday ~ I'm going to have a sore tooth (I broke half of one of my molars off last week and am having work done today to prep for a crown), so probably leftover soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
Friday ~ TBD
Saturday ~ TBD

I'm planning to do some more cookie-baking next weekend. Probably some form of chocolate chip cookies for Kevin and maybe some oatmeal butterscotch (new recipe). I'd also like to do some prep ahead meals for the freezer. Heading into the winter, its so nice to have meals on hand in the freezer that can be quickly baked or warmed up. Especially since we never know how long our commutes are going to be if the roads get bad (last year we each had quite a few 3-hour-long commutes).

Crockpot Chicken Cordon Bleu

Yesterday I made chicken cordon bleu from A Year of Crockpotting. It was very good, Kevin and I both enjoyed it, so did Carson... well the chicken part anyway. Definitely another keeper! Its a little more work than most crockpot recipes tend to be, but its worth it every once in a while.

Chicken Cordon Bleu

4 chicken breast halves, pounded thin
4-8 slices of ham
4-8 slices of swiss cheese

1 can of your favorite cream-of-something soup + 2 T low fat milk
1 T butter
3 T flour
1/2 cup low-fat milk
1/2 cup chicken broth
1/4 t salt
1/4 t black pepper

Spray crockpot with cooking spray. (I forgot to do this... don't forget when you make it)

Pound chicken breasts flat. Put a slice of the ham and a slice of the swiss cheese on the chicken breast and roll it up. (I secured mine with toothpicks) Put it into the crockpot, seam side down. If desired, top with another piece of ham and cheese. Continue with the other pieces. It's okay to stagger-stack the chicken. It will still cook nicely for you.

If you are making your own "special soup," make a roux on the stovetop with the butter and flour, and whisk in the broth, milk, and spices. Pour on top of the chicken. (this is what I did since I'm not buying cream soups anymore)

OR open a can of cream-of-something soup. Pour into crockpot. Put the 2T of low fat milk into your empty can and swirl it around to get the remaining soup stuck inside the can.

Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 4-5. This is done when the chicken is cooked through and has begun to brown on top.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Banana Cookies

Let the Christmas baking season begin! Tonight I made a batch of banana drop cookies. Although, I doubt this batch will make it to Christmas - I'd have doubled or tripled the recipe tonight if I'd had the flour on hand. These are very easy cookies to make, especially using my KitchenAid mixer. :) My family has been making these cookies for many, many years. I'm not really sure where the recipe came from, but I believe we picked it up at a cookie exchange many years back. These are so good. Probably my favorite cookie - though there are some close ties. Kevin loves these cookies, too. They taste like banana bread, especially with no icing. I didn't ice them tonight because part of my reason for making this particular cookie is that I thought it'd be a good cookie for Carson. He was in bed for the night when I made them, so we'll have to see what he thinks of them tomorrow.

I'll update later with a picture.

Christmas Banana Drop Cookies

2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2/3 cup ripe banana, mashed (about 2 medium-sized bananas)

Preheat oven to 350.

Cream butter and slowly beat in sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well until mixed. Stir in vanilla. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt together. Add to butter mixture, alternating with banana, a little at a time. Mix well until smooth. Drop by the teaspoonful onto ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 8 minutes, or until light-golden brown around the edges. Makes about 48 cookies. (I do mine with my cookie scoop, which is probably about a tablespoonful, so I get 36 cookies per batch when I make them.)


1 1/2 cups confectioners sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon melted butter

Sift powdered sugar to avoid lumps. Add the vanilla and melted butter to the powdered sugar. Add enough milk to make the proper spreading consistency. Spread over banana cookies. Sprinkle with red and green sugar.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I made chicken tortilla soup in the crockpot (from A Year of Crockpotting) yesterday. YUM! This was fantastic! Definitely one of the better (if not the best) chicken tortilla soups I've had. Kevin and I both loved it. I made a huge batch - enough for leftovers, lunch, and some for the freezer. I'll definitely make this again.

I'll update later with a picture.

Chicken Tortilla Soup

3 cups of chicken broth, homemade or packaged (I used my homemade stock and probably about 4 cups)
1 1/2 cups cooked chicken (I used leftover roasted chicken that I had in the freezer and used about 3 cups)
1/2 onion (I used a whole medium onion)
1 cup frozen roasted corn (I threw in a whole bag)
2 green onions (left these out since I didn't have them)
28 oz can of tomatoes and juice (I used petite diced)
1 cup chopped up vegetables that you have on hand (I used celery, green pepper, carrots)
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (I left this out)
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used about 3/4 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon cumin (I added more than this... probably about 2 1/2 teaspoons)
salt to taste (I left this out)
(I also added 12 ounces vegetable juice (like V-8) and 1 can drained and rinsed black beans)

Chop all veggies into fine chunks. Dump everything into the crockpot. It's okay if you have frozen stuff. Totally okay to assemble the night before.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours, or high for 6 or so. (Mine cooked for about 11 hours on low)

Before serving, add whatever garnish you choose. We used some broken up tortilla chips, reduced fat sour cream, and 2% milk mexican blend shredded cheese.