Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Will we see an end to GMOs?

I certainly hope so, though I know the road will be a long one with huge multi-national companies like Monsanto lobbying in D.C. Hopefully we'll see some improvements in our food labeling at the very least. I was reading a news article/blog post this morning about President Obama's food safety team that gives me some hope. Check out the article if you're interested in this stuff and be sure to click on all the links, too. There are some great articles that he links to. I am very happy to read that Mrs. Obama is planting the first veggie garden since Eleanor Roosevelt - and its going to be a big one, 1100 square feet! I knew that the First Lady had added local, healthful eating to her own agenda, but hadn't heard about the garden. Something else I learned from clicking the links in the original post totally freaked me out. You know GMOs are bad when the company behind the development of them (Monsanto) bans them from their own cafeterias! Now that is scary!! Let's hope we can see some turn-around from previous food safety policies with this new administration and team. Be sure to write your Congresspeople and the White House, whether you are for or against these new directions so that we can make a difference!

Monday, March 30, 2009

GF Blueberry Crisp

Yesterday we tried a new recipe from Karina's Kitchen for gluten free blueberry crisp. I picked up a GF flour baking mix (I think its made by Nemaste) last Friday from the East Lansing Food Co-op at the Lansing City Market so that I would be able to try this. I'm not really planning to buy specialty gluten-free products until we can tell if its making a difference or not, but I've been really wanting to use up some of my local frozen blueberries from last summer, so I figured I'd pick up a small bag of this mix. I'm glad I did, this crisp is yummy! Definitely something I'd make again!

GF Blueberry Crisp

2 pints fresh blueberries, or any berries, picked over, rinsed, drained
1 cup Pamela’s Ultimate Gluten-Free Baking & Pancake Mix, or non-dairy GF flour baking and pancake mix
3/4 cup organic light brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup softened butter, vegan Smart Balance, or Spectrum Organic Shortening (I used shortening)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Generously schmear an 8-inch pie plate or 8x8-inch baking dish with butter or oil.

Sprinkle a pinch or two of the GF baking or flour mix onto the blueberries and toss to coat. Pour the blueberries into the bottom of the dish.

In a mixing bowl, combine the 1 cup of the gluten-free baking and pancake mix with the brown sugar and cinnamon. Add in the butter or vegan shortening by hand; and rub the mixture between your fingers until it resembles sugary coarse crumbs.

Layer the crumbs over the blueberries. Bake in a preheated oven until bubbly – about 30 minutes.

Serve warm, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, frozen yogurt, or your favorite non-dairy frozen dessert, if desired.

Makes four generous servings.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

So far, so good...

Well, so far, so good on the indoor seed starting front! I'd say that I've been having about a 93% germination rate overall. Some things are much better than others. I'd probably be around 98% germination rate if the celery and celeriac would germinate better, but I know that is to be expected with some things. So far, my seedlings consist of: piracicaba broccoli, purple peacock broccoli, snow crown cauliflower, melissa savoy cabbage, diamante celeraic, golden self-blanching celery, lincoln leeks, organic king seig leeks, halona muskmelon, organic sweet dakota rose watermelon, and gigante d'italia parsley. I started some cajun delight okra, organic cajun jewel okra, oliver brussels sprouts, and some more melons today. Next weekend, I'll be starting some peppers and basil. Then I'll be about done with my seed starting indoors. I hope it dries up enough pretty soon so we can till up the garden. Before we know it, it will be time to plant the peas, spinach, and other cool season veggies in the garden! I can't wait!

Meal Plans & Goals Progress

I'm going to try doing double-duty with meals this week. Not only am I still continuing to focus on using up some things from the pantry and freezer, but we're also going to try going gluten-free. I don't think it'll be that difficult, honestly, but we'll see. I took a trip to Horrock's on my lunch hour on Friday to pick up some produce so I'll need to use it up this week before it goes bad. I bought lots of lettuce, so we'll be taking salads for a couple of our lunches and having some salads with our dinners again. I bought some fresh fruit - strawberries (surprisingly they are super sweet right now!), cantaloupe, grapes, lemons and limes (for me to squeeze into water), and bananas (which are a regular thing since Carson eats one a day and Kevin and I eat them every other day probably). I dehydrated some strawberries and most of the grapes this weekend. The strawberries will be good to throw into oatmeal or yogurt and the homemade raisins will be for snacking this week. I also picked up lots of veggies, which you'll see featured in our meals this week.

As far as extras go this week, I'll be making some homemade chicken stock on Saturday then canning it on Sunday. And depending on how the blueberry crisp turns out today, I might make another one next Saturday to take to my family party next Sunday.

Sunday ~ baked pork chops (to use some frozen pork), roasted asparagus and brussels sprouts (to use some fresh produce), blueberry crisp (to use some frozen blueberries)
Meatless Monday ~ crockpot black bean soup with sour cream and avocado toppings, salad
Tuesday ~ meatless again quinoa pasta with pesto for me and with tomato sauce for Kevin (to use some more frozen pesto and home-canned sauce), salad
Wednesday ~ chilupe (to use a frozen pork roast, some dried pinto beans and avocado)
Thursday ~ leftovers
Friday ~ crockpot rotisserie chicken (to use up last whole chicken from freezer), savory roasted root veggies
Saturday ~ tilapia with roasted corn (to use up some frozen tilapia fillets and frozen corn)

As far as my goals this week, I'm planning to do at least two cardio videos and one pilates video. And of course, my daily walks at work will continue. I'm also really really really going to try to drop my morning pop this week. I'm hoping the sliced lemons and limes will help with that if I put them in my water bottle. For creativity this week, we'll be making our Mother's Day gifts for my mom and Kevin's mom - we'll do that next Saturday when we're all home. I'm so excited for what we're going to do - I'll post pictures of them after Mother's Day so you all can see how it turns out. I'm still working on the spring cleaning this week again. Our master bedroom is almost done - just need to clear out what has become the junk corner and then dust all the baseboards and clean the windows and I should be done. I'll finish that up this week. I'd also like to start cleaning out some cupboards in the kitchen, but I think that will have to wait for another week.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tuna Casserole

We actually had this for dinner last night since I forgot to put the insert in the crockpot before I left for work yesterday. So I had to switch up the tuna casserole and chili. But anyway, I originally saw this recipe on our cousin Melissa's blog, then my SIL Mary made it, so I figured it was time I tried it, too. I've never had tuna casserole - tuna salads, but no tuna casserole. It was pretty good. Kevin and I both really liked it. Carson didn't have any (he was already sleeping by the time we ate). It was a great opportunity to use up some pasta, some random frozen veggies, my last can of creamed soup, and canned tuna. I'll make it again sometime since it was so easy to throw together and did taste quite good, too.

Tuna Casserole

3 cups cooked macaroni (I only used 2 cups, and used organic whole wheat fusilli batali)
1 (6 ounce) can tuna, drained (I used 2 cans)
1 (10.75 ounce) can condensed cream of chicken soup (I used 98% fat free cream of celery)
1 cup shredded Cheddar cheese (I used up what I had randomly in the fridge - co-jack, mild cheddar, and mozzarella... about 1/2-3/4 cup probably)
1 1/2 cups French fried onions (I did not use these - I don't like them)
(I also added about 1 1/2 cups frozen peas/carrot medley and 3/4 cup frozen broccoli)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

In a 9x13-inch baking dish (I used a 7x11 dish), combine the pasta, tuna, and soup (and veggies). Mix well, and then top with cheese.

Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for about 25 minutes, or until bubbly. Sprinkle with fried onions, and bake for another 5 minutes. Serve hot.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Risotto Primavera

Tonight, we tried Ina Garten's Risotto Primavera. I saw it on one of her shows over the weekend and thought it sounded tasty - and I actually had all the ingredients in the house! Perfect! This was so very good! Definitely a keeper. We've decided we just love risottos. Good thing they're generally gluten free if we do end up finding out Kevin has a gluten sensitivity! :) I didn't make too many changes from Ina's recipe, other than the recipe calls for fennel, which I left out because I don't like it. It helped me clean out some things from the fridge and pantry - leeks, asparagus, mascarpone, parmesan, and chicken stock.

Risotto Primavera

1 1/2 tablespoons good olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups chopped leeks, white and light green parts, about 2 leeks (I used 3)
1 cup chopped fennel (left it out)
1 1/2 cups Arborio rice
2/3 cup dry white wine (left this out)
4 to 5 cups simmering chicken stock, preferably homemade (I used about 5 cups of my homemade home-canned chicken stock)
1 pound thin asparagus (I used a little more than a pound)
10 ounces frozen peas, defrosted, or 1 1/2 cups shelled fresh peas
1 tablespoon freshly grated lemon zest, 2 lemons (left this out)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (left this out)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice (left this out)
1/3 cup mascarpone cheese, preferably Italian
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
3 tablespoons minced fresh chives, plus extra for serving (left this off)

Heat the olive oil and butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and fennel and saute for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Add the rice and stir for a minute to coat with the vegetables, oil, and butter. Add the white wine and simmer over low heat, stirring constantly, until most of the wine has been absorbed. Add the chicken stock, 2 ladles at a time, stirring almost constantly and waiting for the stock to be absorbed before adding more. This process should take 25 to 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, cut the asparagus diagonally in 1 1/2-inch lengths and discard the tough ends. Blanch in boiling salted water for 4 to 5 minutes, until al dente. Drain and cool immediately in ice water. If using fresh peas, blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes until the starchiness is gone. (I just threw in my asparagus after about 10 minutes of cooking - I didn't feel like dirtying another pan to blanch it - and it turned out great!)

When the risotto has been cooking for 15 minutes, drain the asparagus and add it to the risotto with the peas, lemon zest, 2 teaspoons salt, and 1 teaspoon pepper. Continue cooking and adding stock, stirring almost constantly, until the rice is tender but still firm.

Whisk the lemon juice and mascarpone together in a small bowl. When the risotto is done, turn off the heat and stir in the mascarpone mixture plus the Parmesan cheese and chives. Set aside, off the heat, for a few minutes, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve hot with a sprinkling of chives and more Parmesan cheese.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Meal Plans & Goals Progress

Again, still focusing on cleaning things out of the pantry and freezer this week. I am making progress, slowly but surely... but I still have waaaaay too much in there. I updated my inventory yesterday morning and its still just plain out of control.

Sunday ~ something with pork chops, still need to figure out what exactly, saving the pork for gluten-free days, instead I'm making a baked ziti with meat sauce (to use up pasta and frozen mozz. cheese), canned green beans (last one!), canned peaches
Meatless Monday ~ risotto primavera (to use up some more arborio rice and the rest of my fresh asparagus), leftover canned peaches from Sunday
Tuesday ~ chili (to use up lots of pantry items and some frozen ground meat), french baguettes from the freezer
Wednesday ~ tuna casserole (to use up some tuna and pasta)
Thursday ~ leftovers
Friday ~ chilupe (to use up some dry pinto beans, frozen pork roast, and diced green chiles) I decided to save that one for the gluten-free days. We'll have pasta instead - pesto pasta for me and pasta with tomato sauce for Kevin and Carson (to use up more frozen homemade pesto, home-canned tomato sauce, and pasta)
Saturday ~ possibly just leftovers, otherwise mexican lasagna. I'll also be baking something with blueberries (to use up some more of the frozen berries from last summer) - probably a blueberry cobbler and probably another batch of blueberry muffins

You're going to start seeing some changes in our meals - probably starting next week. I've been doing some reading on a number of different subjects - one of them being gluten sensitivities. I want to experiment with eating gluten-free meals for awhile to see if it helps Kevin at all. After reading all of the symptoms and correlations, I really wouldn't be surprised if he is intolerant of gluten. According to everything I've read, a good portion of the population is sensitive to gluten, but hasn't figured it out yet and is suffering from the many ailments caused by it. The problem is, from what I've read so far anyway, is that he'd have to be a true celiac (which I doubt he is) in order to be tested for the sensitivity. It sounds like the best way to test it is to adjust your diet for a month (30-40 days). I have to do a little more reading on that end of things, though.

I'm still not done with cleaning the master bedroom. With the beautiful weather earlier in the week last week, I didn't devote much time to the project. I'm almost done with the bridal shower pictures and should be uploading them all this afternoon/evening. I probably won't get to the bedroom today, as I'm hoping to actually get outside to do some raking and picking up branches in the front yard - make it look a little better. Kevin will be working on the Bonneville again - I think we have some guy coming to buy a door from it this afternoon. So hopefully I'll be able to finish up the bedroom sometime later in the week. We'll see, its a full work week for me (5 days - boo!) and I think the weather is supposed to be decent and I really want to be outside as much as possible.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Key Lime Pie

Yesterday, I made a key lime pie to have for dessert with our dinner last night. I found the recipe on AllRecipes when I was searching for sweetened condensed milk as an ingredient - I have quite a few cans to use up. So I decided to try it out. This is a very simple, easy to throw together recipe. It comes together very quickly. Its quite sweet, but its very good. I made an Oreo cookie crust for it, rather than the graham cracker crust that the recipe calls for because Kevin doesn't like graham cracker crusts. He loves key lime pie, though, and is always disappointed that it usually comes with graham crust - with the exception of our wedding key lime pie (we got married on the beach in Key West) that had the oreo crust. So now he's always looking for it with the oreo crust. Anyway, I'd make this again, just for how simple it was to throw together. But I think I'll try a different recipe next time just because this is so sweet.

Key Lime Pie

1 (9 inch) prepared graham cracker crust (I used crushed oreos and butter, then baked it for a few minutes)
3 cups sweetened condensed milk
1/2 cup sour cream
3/4 cup key lime juice
1 tablespoon grated lime zest

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

In a medium bowl, combine condensed milk, sour cream, lime juice, and lime rind. Mix well and pour into graham cracker crust.

Bake in preheated oven for 5 to 8 minutes, until tiny pinhole bubbles burst on the surface of pie. DO NOT BROWN! Chill pie thoroughly before serving. Garnish with lime slices and whipped cream if desired.

Honey Balsamic Lamb Chops

Last night, I tried a new Giada DeLaurentiis recipes for honey balsamic lamb chops. Very simple, very tasty! I used some of the hormone-free lamb I bought a few months back - they are rib chops, I just forgot to ask the processor to french them. These were very good! Definitely a recipe I'll make again. Even Kevin didn't mind the honey balsamic sauce - and he doesn't generally like balsamic-based things. I just grilled these on my grill pan on the stove top, but soon enough, we'll be grilling outside - can't wait! We had these with some roasted asparagus. It was a great spring-time meal!

Honey Balsamic Lamb Chops

1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
1 garlic clove
2 tablespoons honey
3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 small lamb chops
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the balsamic vinegar, garlic, and honey. Pulse until blended. With the machine running, slowly pour in the vegetable oil until the mixture is smooth and forms a thick sauce. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

Season the lamb chops with salt and pepper. Drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with rosemary. Grill the lamb chops for 2 to 3 minutes each side until medium-rare.

Arrange the lamb chops on a platter. Spoon the sauce over the top or serve the sauce on the side.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Dutch Split Pea Soup

Last night, I tried out a recipe reflecting Kevin's heritage for dutch split pea soup from Dutch Girl Cooking. It didn't really turn out looking like hers did in her blog, but it was still pretty good. I made it in the crockpot, rather than on the stovetop, so it'd probably be more similar to Dutch Girl Cooking's soup if I did it that way next time. Making it in the crockpot was a cinch - just throw everything in raw and cooked on low all day. It had very good flavor. I'm not a broth person and mine had quite a bit of broth, so I wasn't too crazy about that, but Kevin thought it was good like that. I've never cooked with split peas before and I was surprised they seemed to break down and I couldn't find them in the finished product. Anyway, definitely something I'll try again on the stovetop, I think.

Dutch Split Pea Soup

2 cups split peas
1 large carrot
2 leeks
2 onions
1/2 celeriac root
celery leaves
6 cups water
4oz bacon (I used some of my leftover ham instead of the bacon)
2 pork chops
5 pork ribs (I just used pork chops)
2 potatoes
Optional: smoked sausage (I left this out)

Rinse your split peas and drain. Cut up your meat into bite size pieces. Chop your carrots, potatoes, onions, leeks, celeriac, and celery leaves.

(This is when I just dumped everything into the crockpot... but here are Dutch Girl Cooking's instructions) Now there are lots of different ways to cook a split pea soup. It also depends on how crunchy you want your vegetables to be. In my soup, I don’t want them crunchy at all—they have to blend in with the soup. I also go for easy and fast. Crock-pot style layering. First add two heaping cups of split peas and simply place the meat on top of that.

Now in with the celeriac root, carrots, onions, leeks, potato and sprinkle the celery leaves all over.

Pour in 6 cups of water and I’ve added a few beef bouillon cubes. You can also do this with plain salt, of course. Does this look pretty or what? You know it’s bound to be a flavor bomb!

Now pop the lid on, bring everything to a boil, lower the heat and leave it be. Simmer over low heat for about an hour to 75 minutes. I usually don’t even open the lid until an hour has passed by. Show some restraint and don’t stir. C’mon, you know you want to :)

After about 75 minutes, I took a peek. It smelled so good by then, gave everything a stir and put the lid back on and gave it another hour.

After two and a half hours had passed I performed my meat check. If I can easily pull the meat off the bones with a fork, I consider the soup done. It came off so easily, so I took the ribs out, plucked the meat and put it back in.

Now this is a pretty rich soup as is, but I’m a Dutch girl cooking, so we’re not there yet! Oh no, we’re not. I thinly sliced a smoked sausage and popped it right in with the rest of his meaty buddies. That’s the Dutch way.

Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle a little more chopped celery leaves on top.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lamb Stock

After I cut off most of the lamb meat from the bones before making the Irish Lamb Stew, I decided I couldn't just throw them away. So I decided to throw the bones with the bits of meat left on them that I couldn't get off into my smaller crockpot with the trinity of veggies - celery, carrots, and onion - along with two bay leaves. I cooked it on low overnight (about 8 hours) and have a wonderful stock now. I'll be pressure canning it tonight after Carson goes to bed.

Irish Soda Bread

I found another recipe on AllRecipes to go with our irish-themed meal on Tuesday for irish soda bread. I'd never had soda bread before. It is sooo good! The buttermilk gives the bread a great flavor. Its awesome with some homemade jam or apple butter on it! This is a very simple, easy to throw together recipe that I'm sure I'll make every so often. I threw it all together and baked it in the morning before we left for work, that is how simple it is! I made a half-recipe and it was plenty for us - for our St. Patty's day meal, and for our dinners for a couple nights after.

Irish Soda Bread

4 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons white sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup margarine, softened
1 cup buttermilk
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted
1/4 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Lightly grease a large baking sheet.

In a large bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt and margarine. Stir in 1 cup of buttermilk and egg. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead slightly. Form dough into a round and place on prepared baking sheet. In a small bowl, combine melted butter with 1/4 cup buttermilk; brush loaf with this mixture. Use a sharp knife to cut an 'X' into the top of the loaf.

Bake in preheated oven for 45 to 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean, about 30 to 50 minutes. You may continue to brush the loaf with the butter mixture while it bakes. (I didn't do that. If you don't plan on doing this either, you won't need nearly as much buttermilk/butter to brush on... probably only need a Tablespoon of each and you'd be good to go.)

Irish Lamb Stew

With a little one now, Kevin and I aren't able to celebrate St. Patrick's Day the way we usually do - by going out and drinking green beer. In college, we used to start at the crack of dawn (literally at 6am) by eating green eggs and ham and drinking green beer at one of the East Lansing bars. Now that doesn't even sound appetizing. So this year, I decided to make an irish-themed dinner to celebrate the day. Kevin has absolutely no irish heritage (he's pretty much 100% dutch), but Carson and I have some irish in us, albeit just a smidgen. I found some recipes on AllRecipes that sounded pretty good. Since I don't like corned beef, I was limited in my choices, so I decided to try out an irish lamb stew. It was sooooo good! I only made a portion of the recipe, but now wish I'd have made more. All three of us loved it! I modified it a lot because I wanted to make it in the crockpot so it would be ready when we got home from work. I'll post the original recipe and then my changes.

Irish Lamb Stew

1 1/2 pounds thickly sliced bacon, diced (I left this out since I can't eat bacon)
6 pounds boneless lamb shoulder, cut into 2 inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 cup all-purpose flour (I didn't use this since I just threw the lamb in raw)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 cup water (left this out)
4 cups beef stock
2 teaspoons white sugar (left this out)
4 cups diced carrots
2 large onions, cut into bite-size pieces
3 potatoes
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 bay leaves
1 cup white wine (left this out)

Place bacon in a large, deep skillet. Cook over medium high heat until evenly brown. Drain, crumble, and set aside. (I skipped this step since I can't eat bacon)

Put lamb, salt, pepper, and flour in large mixing bowl. Toss to coat meat evenly. Brown meat in frying pan with bacon fat. (I skipped this step and just threw the lamb into the crockpot raw)

Place meat into stock pot (leave 1/4 cup of fat in frying pan). Add the garlic and yellow onion and saute till onion begins to become golden. Deglaze frying pan with 1/2 cup water and add the garlic-onion mixture to the stock pot with bacon pieces, beef stock, and sugar. Cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours.

Add carrots, onions, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves, and wine to pot. Reduce heat, and simmer covered for 20 minutes until vegetables are tender.

(I just threw everything into the crockpot raw and cooked on low for 10 hours, when it was programmed to switch to keep warm. It was on this setting for about an hour.)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Scalloped Potatoes

Our dinner tonight consisted of a baked ham (all-natural, hormone-free, basically organic if he was certified), organic scalloped potatoes, and conventional roasted asparagus (couldn't find organic). Everything turned out soooo good! We found out that Carson really likes asparagus, so that is great news! Anyway, I used my family's recipe for scalloped potatoes. It comes from my Auntie Lydie, I believe... she was my Grandma's sister. These are the best scalloped potatoes. Everyone in my family makes them on a regular basis, we all love them so much. They're also great as a one-dish meal if you throw in some ham or polish sausage (ring sausage).

Scalloped Potatoes

7 medium potatoes
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
salt (I like to use Lawry's seasoned salt)

Peel and slice the potatoes. Put them into a baking dish. Melt the butter in a saucepan, whisk in the flour. Cook for about a minute to cook off the flour taste. Whisk in the milk, stir until there are no lumps. Bring to a simmer. Once the sauce thickens, pour over potatoes. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes, or until top is browned in spots and potatoes are fork-tender.

Picnic Fruit Punch

I tried a new punch recipe yesterday that I found on AllRecipes. All of the punch recipes that I have either included some sort of gelatin that needed boiling just before making it, or the use of frozen concentrated juice. I didn't want to bother with either of those. I just wanted to be able to dump the ingredients in and be done with it. You wouldn't think it'd be that difficult to find a punch recipe like this... but it actually was. I had to go through so many punch recipes before I found this one. It had great ratings, so I figured we'd give it a try. I'm glad we did, it is so good! This will be my go-to punch recipe from now on, I think. It tastes great, and its super easy!

Picnic Fruit Punch

2 quarts cranberry juice
3 cups pineapple juice
3 cups orange juice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 liter ginger ale, chilled
1 navel orange, sliced

Combine the juices in a large container. Refrigerate. Just before serving, stir in ginger ale and orange slices.

Minestrone Soup

For the shower yesterday, we had a buffet of soup, salad, sandwiches, fruit, chips, spinach-cheese phyllo cups, sausage-cheese phyllo cups, figs wrapped with bacon (for the gluten-free guests), cheese and crackers. Everything was so yummy! I made the soup, a vegetarian minestrone, which I found on RecipeZaar. It was quite good. I made two versions of it, with and without pasta (for our gluten-free guests). Everyone seemed to like it. I wish I would have pre-cooked it a little longer, I just think soups taste even better the longer they cook, but it was still very good. I didn't really measure any of the ingredients, since I was making a larger quantity, so I just eyeballed everything. Whatever looked good to me, I threw that amount in. I've posted the recipe with its suggested quantities below, though. I also used my crockpots, so I didn't saute the veggies or anything, just dumped everything in and cooked on high for a few hours.

Vegetarian Minestrone

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup chopped onion
3 cups water
2 cups diced zucchini
1 cup diced carrot, peeled
1 cup canned cannellini beans or you may use other white beans
3/4 cup diced celery
1 teaspoon dried basil or 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon fresh coarse ground black pepper
28 fluid ounces canned plum tomatoes, dice and include liquid
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup uncooked ditalini or elbow macaroni

Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add chopped onion and saute for 4 minutes or until just lightly browned. Add water, zucchini, carrots, canellini beans, celery, basil, oregano salt, pepper, tomatoes and garlic. (I also added green beans from the freezer). Bring to boil; reduce heat, cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add macaroni, cover and cook an additional 10 minutes. Serve hot.

Meal Plans & Goals Progress

I'm still focusing on cleaning out the pantry and freezer this week, but I'll also be doing a little shopping for some fresh produce to use in some of the meals this week. I feel like all of our meals this week are "heavy" if you know what I mean, and I'd rather be eating lighter meals, especially with the weather starting to warm up a little, but I also want to get through some of this stuff, too. We'll have an irish-themed meal on Tuesday for St. Patty's Day. Since we won't be going out to drink any green beer like we normally would, I figured this will be the next best thing. At least we'll keep telling ourselves this. ;-P

Sunday ~ ham, scalloped potatoes (to use up one of the frozen all-natural, hormone-free (basically organic if he was certified anyway) hams from my friend Sara's brother - I'm anxious to see how it tastes!), leftover shower cake
Meatless Monday ~ I think we'll finish up the last few veggie burgers from the freezer, and use up my last can of green beans, leftover shower cake
Tuesday ~ St. Patty's Day! Irish lamb stew with irish soda bread (to use up some lamb meat from the freezer), leftover shower cake
Wednesday ~ Dutch split pea soup (to use leftover ham, some more frozen pork, and some split peas) with leftover soda bread
Thursday ~ I'll be in Romulus (by Metro airport) all day for meetings, so it'll be a late night for me, so probably leftover soup and some french baguettes from the freezer
Friday ~ Its my flex day. Hopefully Carson and I can play outside if the weather is nice! Honey balsamic lamb chops (never made them a few weeks back), roasted potatoes, carrots, and maybe parsnips if I pick some up at the store, and I think I'm going to make a Key Lime pie to use up some sweetened condensed milk
Saturday ~ I think we're going to the MSU Butterfly House and to the Home & Garden Show at the MSU Pavillion, so probably eating at some restaurant in Lansing - maybe P.F. Chang's since we didn't get to go last month... or maybe Bravo! since we have a gift card to use up.

I didn't get any extra cleaning done last week, or any extra exercising. My friend at work, Lina, and I did agree to become walking buddies, though. So that will be nice to have someone to chat with on the walks, instead of going on my own. This week, I'm hoping to do a couple cardio workouts, regular walks each day at work, and hopefully pilates at some point. I got off track with my pop drinking last week, too. So this week, I've got to focus on that again. And as far as extra cleaning this week - today I'll just be cleaning up from the bridal shower yesterday (washing dishes, freezing some food, putting things away, etc.). Although, my top priority today is to do our income taxes - federal and state at least, I still need to pick up my local tax forms, so I'll hopefully get those done later in the week. Then during the week, I'm going to focus on cleaning up our master bedroom. We have a corner of the room that has just become a place to pile things up - and our dressers have become that, too. So I want to get rid of the junk, organize it all, and clean it thoroughly. I'd also like to organize our closet, maybe move some of the heavier winter clothes (like sweaters) out and bring in some spring clothes... guess that means more laundry before I can do that, though. :) For a creative project this week, I'm going to be working on editing all of the pictures I took at Sara's bridal shower yesterday. I have some new programs/techniques/actions I want to try out. Working on the pictures and the extra cleaning will keep me very busy this week, so I doubt I'll be doing any extra cooking. Sometime in the next few of weeks, I'd like to can some pinto beans, though. I've had the dry beans for awhile now. I plan to can half of them as just normal canned pinto beans and the other half as chili (or ranch-style as some call them) beans. Maybe I'll get to it next weekend... or the next. We shall see.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Salmon Cakes

Tonight we had salmon cakes for dinner. I found the recipe a while back on RecipeZaar and have just finally gotten around to making them. They were soooo good! All three of us loved them! Carson ate almost an entire cake himself!! I only did a half recipe and there was enough for our dinner (5 cakes), but I'm looking forward to making these again sometime to use up my other can of salmon. I used dried herbs, so I didn't have the flecks of green like they have in the picture on RecipeZaar. I bet they'd be awesome with the fresh herbs!

Very Healthy Salmon Cakes

2 (240 g) cans red salmon
1/4 cup oats
1/2 cup fat-free ricotta cheese
2 egg whites
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (left this out)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh dill (I used dried, 1/2 Tablespoon)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro (coriander) (I used dried, 1/2 Tablespoon)
(I also added about a Tablespoon of Old Bay Seasoning)
kosher salt

Mix all ingredients together. If the mixture is too soft, add more oats. If the mixture is too dry add another egg white. Shape into cakes.

Spray non-stick frying pan and cook until golden on each side.

These are delicious hot or cold.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Crockpot Black Bean Soup

For our meatless meal tonight, we tried another recipe from A Year of Crockpotting for black bean soup. This was so, so good! Kevin and I both loved it. I cut the recipe back a lot and now wish I hadn't so we'd have some leftovers for my lunch tomorrow (I only made enough for dinner tonight - one helping for me, two for Kevin). I didn't puree it very thoroughly, only about four pulses of the immersion blender so that we had a good amount of texture/chunks left. And I didn't chop up the veggies before I added them - I just added them whole. I won't change a thing the next time I make it... well other than making more! This was super easy to throw together - I had it in the crockpot within five minutes, tops. We each stirred in a tablespoon of sour cream to ours and it was DE-lish!

Crockpot Black Bean Soup

3 cans of black beans (I used 2 pints of my organic home-canned black beans)
1 can of Itallian stewed tomatoes (I just used petite diced, about a cup)
2 cups of broth (I put in 1 cup water and 1 teaspoon organic Better than Boullion)
2 T taco sauce (I kept this the same for some spice)
1 1/2 cups chopped vegetables (I used about a cup, the remnants of a frozen mushroom/green bean/pepper/onion medley)

Chop up vegetables with a food processor or blender. (I don't think this is necessary when you're going to use an immersion blender at the end) Empty all cans into the crockpot. Do not rinse the beans or drain the tomatoes. Add broth and taco sauce. Mix with a spoon.

Cook on low for 8-10 hours or high for 5-6 (mine cooked on low for about 11 hours - it'll thicken the longer it cooks). Soups taste better the longer you cook it.

Before serving, use an immersion blender to soupify the beans and tomatoes. Serve with some shredded parmesan cheese and a dollop of sour cream. (We just used sour cream)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Seed Starting

Tonight I finally got around to starting some vegetable seeds. It'll be my first year starting seeds indoors, so we'll see how it goes. If it goes badly, I don't really have a lot invested in it and can always pick up some run-of-the-mill starter plants from the local nurseries, but if it goes well, I'll be saving a bundle and will be growing the varieties I want to grow! It doesn't seem that difficult to grow seeds indoors for a few months before transplanting, but from what I've read, it can be tricky. Hopefully I've done enough research to have a decent start this year. Only time will tell... but keep your fingers crossed! :)

I only started two trays tonight, which will have 50 plants each if all goes well. Tonight I planted 16 Organic King Seig Leeks, 16 Lincoln Leeks, 8 Diamante Celeriac, 16 Golden Self-Blanching Celery, 16 Piracicaba Broccoli, and 8 Snow Crown Cauliflower. I need to do some further research to see how much each plant will actually produce in terms of veggies before I figure out how many more of each I'll start during the week or next weekend. Any excess plants, I'm planning to try selling on Craigslist. But I'll definitely want enough for fresh-eating and freezing/canning/drying/etc. I'm planning to increase my preservation efforts at least tri-fold this year. I want to put up enough food so that next year we'll hopefully just be buying the basics during the winter (milk, eggs, etc.). I'll also be starting some melons later in the week. Then in a few weeks, I'll be planting many more veggies (can't remember all of them at the moment). Kevin thinks I'm crazy, adding one more thing to do right now, but we'll reap so many benefits from this (if it goes well anyway), that I think its totally worth it!


Tonight we had gumbo for dinner. I found the recipe on AllRecipes. This was so, so good! Kevin and I both loved it! Definitely something I'll make again. It'll be a great way to use up some okra from my garden this summer. Fresh okra would be much tastier than the frozen stuff, anyway. I was able to use up the other half of the ring sausage from the cowboy stew last week and a bag of frozen okra that has been in the freezer for quite a while. I also used up some frozen celery and bell peppers. I cut the recipe back quite a bit - only made about a third of the recipe. Made enough for our dinner (2 helpings for Kevin) and a lunch.

Sunday Gumbo

1 pound Italian sausage links, sliced (I just used half of a ring sausage)
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves - cubed
3 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used EVOO)
1 medium sweet red pepper, chopped (I used green)
1 medium onion, chopped
3 celery ribs, chopped
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 (14.5 ounce) cans chicken broth (I used water with Organic Better than Boullion)
2/3 cup uncooked brown rice
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 pound uncooked medium shrimp, peeled and deveined (I left this out b/c I didn't have any)
2 cups frozen sliced okra

In a Dutch oven, brown sausage and chicken in oil. Remove with a slotted spoon and keep warm. In the drippings, saute red pepper, onion and celery until tender. Stir in the seasonings; cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the broth, rice and sausage mixture; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes or until rice is tender. (I used long-grain brown rice and it took a good 45-50 minutes)

Stir in tomatoes, shrimp and okra; cook for 10 minutes or until shrimp turn pink, stirring occasionally.

Meal Plans & Goals Progress

This week is going to be quite busy. I'm throwing a bridal shower for one of my best buds, Sara, in Lowell on Saturday, so I'll be focused on making sure everything is ready to go for that. I did get a lot done yesterday and plan to finish some things up today. Pretty much everything will be packed up and ready to be loaded into the car on Friday evening by the end of the day today. I have a couple of last minute things that I'd overlooked to pick up still, but other than preparing the food, I think I'm about set to go.

Another week of meals focused on cleaning out things from the pantry and freezer. I used up quite a few things last week, but it hasn't even made a dent in my pantry yet. So hopefully I can use up quite a bit more this week. Its nice to not have to do any grocery shopping. Just quick trips for milk for Carson. This is a great way to save money - makes me really want to focus on stocking the pantry and freezer with locally grown goods (mostly from our garden) this summer so we can just eat from the pantry and freezer all winter next year. That's the plan, anyway. We'll be having a wide variety of cuisines this week... creole, latin, korean, mexican, and italian. I love traveling through our meals!

Sunday ~ gumbo (to use up the other half of the ring sausage from the cowboy stew and some frozen okra) and strawberry cheesecake milkshakes to use up some ice cream
Meatless Monday ~ black bean soup with biscuits from the freezer
Tuesday ~ Korean tak toritang (to use up the potatoes)
Wednesday ~ salmon cakes with green beans (to use up canned salmon and green beans from the freezer), strawberry cheesecake milkshakes to hopefully finish up another half-gallon of ice cream
Thursday ~ leftovers
Friday ~ I'll be off to get everything set for the bridal shower - prepping the soup, chopping the salad, and packing up the car, so I'll need something easy (and can't use crockpot b/c I'll be doing the soup in it). I think we'll have tacos (to use up some tortillas from the fridge and some ground lamb meat from the freezer).
Saturday ~ Bridal Shower Day! I'm making a meatless minestrone soup, romaine salad with cherry tomatoes/bell pepper/cukes/croutons, and we'll have a make-your-own sandwich station. Kevin and Carson will be on their own for whatever they can find/leftovers.

As far as exercising goes this week. I'll probably only have time to go on some walks on my breaks at work. Maybe I can squeeze in a cardio one evening, but probably not if I'm going to get everything done this week that I need to. I'll have to do the cleaning I'd normally do on Saturday mornings during the evenings after Carson goes to bed. And I'd also like to try to get some more spring cleaning done, too. I worked on the 3rd bedroom this past week - filed all our paperwork that had piled up, cleaned and organized the standing bookshelves, cleaned and organized the computer desk, and threw out a lot of just plain junk. Today I'll finish it up by cleaning and organizing the closet, and sorting through the junk that had piled up on the floor in front of the closet and on the bed. So that bedroom will be in pretty good shape by the end of the day. This week, I want to work on our master bedroom - cleaning off the dressers, organizing the closet, and getting rid of the junk that has piled up in one of the corners... we'll see how much time I have, though. This might have to wait until next Sunday.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Crockpot Broccoli Chicken

I modified a recipe I found on A Year of Crockpotting for broccoli beef and instead made broccoli chicken for dinner last night. I thought it was very good, though I'd probably use a tad less vinegar next time. Kevin didn't care for it, but he really doesn't like soy sauce at all and it is a dominant flavor. So I'll have to play around with the recipe and look for other suggestions to use next time so we can make our own takeout more often. I did get to use up all of the fresh broccoli I had on hand, so that is good. I modified the recipe and directions below to reflect what I did. Chicken cooks much more quickly than beef, so my cooking times below are way shorter than the original for the beef.

Crockpot Broccoli Chicken

3-4 medium sized boneless skinless chicken breasts, sliced thin
1/4 cup soy sauce (I used low sodium)
2 T white wine (I left this out)
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 T brown sugar
2 t sesame oil (I used toasted sesame oil)
2 cloves smashed and chopped garlic (I minced mine up)
1/2 t crushed red pepper flakes
1 bag thawed broccoli florets (I used 2 heads of fresh broccoli)

Add the liquid to the crockpot. Chop up your garlic, add to mixture. Stir in spices.

Slice meat into thin strips. Toss in the liquid and spice mixture to coat thoroughly.

Cook on low for about 3 hours. After 3 hours, add broccoli and stir, cover and cook on low for another hour or so.

Serve over steamed rice. (We had ours over steamed brown rice)

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Cowboy Stew

Tonight we tried a recipe from my SIL, Mary, for Cowboy Stew. Kevin loved it. I thought it was ok. I'm not a fan of baked beans and I thought I could overcome that with this stew, but I couldn't. It was the predominant smell and therefore taste for me. But this was totally up Kevin's alley. I guess its good to have some meals that he loves and I like, since it seems like its often the other way around. :) This used up some more pantry and freezer items. I still have some potatoes left, though. I guess I'll have to figure something out to use them up completely early next week.

I'll update with a picture later on.

Cowboy Stew

2-4 chicken breasts, cut up (I used 2 medium-sized ones)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pkg. turkey sausage (I only used half of a ring)
3 potatoes, cubed (I only used 1 large russet)
2 carrots, sliced (I used a frozen combo of peas and carrots, about half a bag)
1 can baked beans (I used the small can)
(I also added two stalks of celery to use them up from the fridge)

Layer all ingredients in crockpot. Stir. Cook on low 8 hours or high 4 hours.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Tamale Casserole

Last night I tried out a recipe that I saw on Taste and Tell for Chicken Tamale Casserole. She got the recipe from the November 2008 issue of Cooking Light. It was super easy to throw together and I thought it was quite good. I liked the contrast between the spicy enchilada sauce and the sweetness from the cornbread and creamed corn. Kevin thought it was a slightly odd combination, but thought it tasted good still. I didn't give any to Carson since the enchilada sauce is probably a little too spicy for him still. I was able to use up lots of items from my pantry that had been sitting around for quite a while - enchilada sauce, creamed corn, corn muffin mix, and diced green chilies; as well as use up some shredded meat from the freezer. I also added about a half of a pint jar of my home canned black beans that I had in the fridge. I substituted turkey for the chicken since I have quite a bit in the freezer still. I made a half-recipe and still got 6 good-sized servings out of it. I was going to make a new meal tonight, but I've decided we'll eat leftover tamale casserole (me) and shepherd's pie (Kevin) tonight instead and I'll do the cowboy stew tomorrow.

Chicken Tamale Casserole

Serves 8

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided (I used 2%)
1/3 cup milk (I used skim)
2 eggs
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper (I omitted this)
1 (14 3/4 ounce) can cream style corn
1 (8.5 ounce) box corn muffin mix
1 (4 ounce) can chopped green chilies, drained
cooking spray
1 (10 ounce) can red enchilada sauce
2 cups shredded cooked chicken breast (I substituted turkey)
1/2 cup sour cream (optional)
(I had some guacamole on mine, Kevin had sour cream)

Preheat oven to 400°.

Combine 1/4 cup cheese and next 7 ingredients (through chiles) in a large bowl, stirring just until moist. Pour mixture into a 13 x 9–inch baking dish coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until set. Pierce entire surface liberally with a fork; pour enchilada sauce over top. Top with chicken; sprinkle with remaining 3/4 cup cheese. Bake at 400° for 15 minutes or until cheese melts. Remove from oven; let stand 5 minutes. Cut into 8 pieces; top each serving with 1 tablespoon sour cream.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Meal Plans & Goals Progress

Is it really already March? This winter is going by so quickly. I hope March continues the trend (its my least-favorite month of the year b/c it just seems to drag on every year). I guess if we keep up with the busy weekends, it'll likely fly on by, too. So that will be a good thing. :) Last night, we had our good friends, Kati and Ben, over. We just hung out for a while, then went to eat at Red Robin, then came back to hang out some more. Its been a couple of months since we'd seen them, so we had lots of catching up to do! They got a big kick out of watching Carson run around, he's changed so much in the two and a half months it'd been since they'd seen him. Today I think we'll end up at my parents' house for dinner with my parents and grandparents. Hopefully I'll have some time to work on some stuff for my friend Sara's bridal shower, which I'm throwing for her and is coming up in two weeks! EEK!! I have so much to do still! So no extra cooking today. Maybe next weekend, we'll see.

Since spring starts this month, this means the spring cleaning starts this month, too. I'll be focusing on cleaning out lots of things from the pantry and freezer - have to get ready and make room for this summer's harvest and preservation season since I'm planning to do a ton! So you'll see that this goal will be dictating many of my meals. The amount of "stuff" we have in general is just really getting to me right now. And I have such a wonderfully over-stocked pantry and freezer, which yes I know I'm probably fortunate to have, but it is just starting to drive me nuts, too. So these next couple of weeks will involve clearing out a lot of the excess. We'll see how many extra cooking/baking projects I take on these next few weeks - probably won't be many, if any. I'll be focusing on Sara's shower and on spring cleaning - so much to clean out! (First stop, our 3rd bedroom which we use as an office, spare bedroom, and animals' room... which has also become our junk room, then I want to focus on the basement... there is way too much junk down there.) I'll still be posting lots of recipes, though, since I have lots of new recipes to try out still using the ingredients I have on hand already.

Sunday ~ I might make a taco avocado chili for lunch since I need to use up some avocadoes, then pot roast dinner at my parents' house.
Meatless Monday ~ meatless shepherd's pie (I have potatoes that need to be used up, plus some boca crumbles and other veggies from the freezer); chocolate milk shakes (to use up chocolate ice cream from Carson's bday)
Tuesday ~ chicken tamale casserole (cornbread, creamed corn, diced chilies and enchilada sauce that need to be used up, so this sounded like a good candidate... though I might make it a turkey tamale casserole instead to use up some of the shredded turkey I have in the freezer)
Wednesday ~ If I still have a few potatoes left after the shepherd's pie, I think we'll try my SIL's cowboy stew to finish up the potatoes and some carrots in the fridge, plus some other random veggies we have in the freezer. Otherwise, something else in the crockpot.
Thursday ~ I'll be in Windsor all day for work, so probably just leftovers and vanilla milkshakes (to use up vanilla ice cream from Carson's bday)
Friday ~ Its my flex day and I'll be working on stuff for Sara's shower (games, wrapping the prizes, final planning of the food, etc.), so I'd like something easy... i.e. crockpot meal. So we're going to try chicken with broccoli in the crockpot (lots of fresh broccoli to use up) with some of my homemade egg rolls from the freezer.
Saturday ~ Something with pasta, not quite sure yet. Probably pesto pasta for me to use up some pesto, and then use up some of my home-canned tomato sauce on pasta for Kevin and Carson. Served with some green beans from the freezer. I'll also probably bake some blueberry muffins for Carson to have during the week, plus to use up some of my frozen blueberries.

As far as exercise goals go this week, I'm hoping to fit in a cardio video this evening; two walks on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday; a cardio video on Friday. I'm still working on the pop thing. I haven't been able to cut out my morning pop entirely yet, but it is getting better. I don't miss my evening pops at all really, so I hope to eventually get to not missing my morning pop... and then my afternoon pop. Just have to keep working at it.

I'm so looking forward to the days when its warm enough (and dry enough) to just go outside and do some work. Working in the veggie gardens or flower gardens or just in the yard provides a good workout. I'm hoping we'll have a nice weekend at the end of the month so that I can work on mulching up a lot of the wood we have in the back from the trees we had cut down. I want to get a huge mulch pile going since I'm really wanting to work on the landscaping a lot more this year. The first landscaping project will be around Carson's playhouse, once I've decided where we'll put it, anyway. I'm going to landscape around it so it looks nicer and so it can be more of a permanent structure, rather than killing the grass here and there when we move it to mow the grass. I've also got to work on pruning the apple and pear trees sometime this month, too. I still have hopes of getting the orchard under control and producing some good, bug-free fruit! :) It takes years to get an overgrown orchard back under control from what I've read. Hopefully we'll see a small improvement this year over last in terms of fruit quality. We did see better fruit last year over the year before, so hopefully it continues.