Sunday, January 31, 2010

Meal plans and the week ahead

Today we were supposed to be heading down to Brighton to my cousin Becky's house for my cousin Charlie's birthday party, but Charlie is sick with a cold, so the party is postponed until next Sunday so the rest of us aren't exposed to the cold germs and can't see my grandma. So instead, we're going to go visit my grandparents for a short while this morning. Then we'll be heading home to either work in the 3rd bedroom or outside in the orchard. Tomorrow Kevin will be in Lafayette, Indiana. Tuesday I start an evening Zumba class. Thursday I'll be in Detroit all day for some meetings. Friday is my flex day and Carson's and my first day of Kindermusik! Saturday we'll be heading to the west side for a Calvin basketball game and dinner with the fam to celebrate my father's-in-law birthday.

For extras this week... I'm not planning much because I have no idea how late I'll be working again this week. So I've got some easy extras this week... things that don't require a lot of active time, anyway. I'm planning to can tomato soup on Thursday evening - we'll see how much the recipe makes, but I'm hoping to get at least 4 or 5 pints after we've eaten some for dinner. I'm also planning to cook cannellini beans (from our garden!) in the crockpot on Friday and can them that evening. I'll be working on some advance stuff for Carson's birthday parties - games, gift bags, wrapping gifts, etc. And I would really like to get an apple tree or two pruned in the orchard today (if it doesn't happen today, it won't happen all week, so we'll see).

I'm also trying to get in the habit of making some sort of breakfast for us, every morning, but on work mornings, especially. Normally we just run out the door without eating - Carson eats at the sitter's, but Kevin and I just skip and eat at lunch. If I have any hope of continuing to lose weight, I need to get in the habit of actually having something for breakfast - no skipping meals. Kevin and Carson love eating cereal, but I can only eat it once a week, if that... it's just not my favorite thing. I bought a new blender last week so we can make smoothies again. You can make smoothies so healthy and full of vitamins and nutrients - they're a great way to start your day! So the plan this week is to make a smoothie every work morning so that we can all take it with us in the car. We started this morning, making them to go along with our eggs and toast. Carson absolutely LOVES smoothies and is always super excited when we're having them. We haven't had them in awhile now, though, since our blender had broken. So they are going to be a nice treat again. I may also make up some breakfast burritos and/or oatmeal casserole this afternoon to freeze for an easy microwave breakfast to go. We'll see how much time I have this afternoon, though.

Anyway, here's our menu for dinners... another meat-limited week...

Sunday - beef ravioli from the freezer; sauteed zucchini and green beans in garlic and EVOO; thawed blueberries and strawberries from the farmers' markets

Meatless Monday - we'll try this again since I didn't have time to make it last week... german-style warm potato salad; fresh oranges or clementines

Tuesday - meatless again... zucchini crab cakes; green beans sauteed in garlic and EVOO; applesauce

Wednesday - quiche with spinach, broccoli, carrots, diced ham, cheddar and swiss

Thursday - meatless again... grilled cheese sandwiches; tomato soup in the crockpot; sliced apples with peanut butter

Friday - Flex Day! since I didn't have a chance to make it last week... let's try this meatless meal again... miso soup; romaine salad with homemade ginger salad dressing; veggie stir-fry with edamame, mushrooms, peppers, onions, broccoli, and pea pods

Saturday - Grand Rapids for basketball game and FIL's birthday party at my SIL's house... we're having a taco bar

Biggest Loser, Weeks 8 and 9

I'm combining last week and this week into one because I don't really have time to post about this right now. Work has been crazy and I've been working long, late hours (I had to work a full day on my day off and I didn't get home until 7:45 one night this past week and 7:00 another night... normally I'm home between 6-6:30). We have full weekends from now through part of March. There's a lot going on in my family. And I'm just super stressed out. So don't expect much in terms of weight loss until things settle down, unfortunately. I haven't worked out since Tuesday because I have not had a spare 5 minutes at home, even. I was the same weight last week - at least I'm not gaining. And I expect the same for weigh-in this Tuesday. Zumba starts on Tuesday night, so hopefully I can actually make it to class in time from work. I'm excited for the class - even though I know I'll make a fool out of myself. :-P But it will still be fun, I hope!

Anyway, that's all for now. Time to get moving if we're to accomplish everything we need to today!

Monday, January 25, 2010

Homestyle Whole Wheat Bread

I tried another recipe from The Bread Machine Bible: More Than 100 Recipes for Delicious Home Baking with Your Bread Machine! By Anne Sheasby for our bread this week. This time for homestyle whole wheat bread. This recipe is slightly different from most wheat bread recipes as it doesn't call for dry milk powder. Again, this was a very moist bread with a great crumb and a good, nutty flavor. I have a lot of dry milk powder right now, so I doubt I'll make this one again anytime very soon, but I'll definitely be using this as my recipe once I'm out of the dry milk powder!

As a side note, I am totally loving this weekly homemade bread - never have to buy the stuff from the store again goal! Using the bread machine is super easy - effortless really... so is using the KitchenAid... which I'll be doing more of in the near future. There really is no excuse for not doing this sooner! We don't really eat a lot of bread - and rarely finish an entire loaf in a week... but I've been making homemade bread crumbs and storing them in the freezer with the inch or so of remaining loaf each week. I'm saving tons of money, not having to buy bread anymore, and even more now that I will never have to buy bread crumbs again!! It may not be a huge savings on a weekly basis, but it sure does add up fast! As my bread crumb stock continues to grow, I'll be using more leftovers to make homemade croutons for our salads. If you have any other suggestions, please let me know! I've wondered if I could slice and freeze the ends and pull them out when I get enough to make a french toast bake or strata or something else calling for day-old bread or the like.

I'll update later with a picture... I'm very behind at uploading pics from the camera right now...

Homestyle Whole Wheat Bread

1 1/2 cups water
3 cups whole wheat flour
Heaped 3/4 cup bread flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, diced
1 teaspoon instant dry yeast

Pour the water into the bread pan. Sprinkle each type of flour over in turn, covering the water completely. Place the salt, sugar, and butter in separate corners of the pan. Make a small indent in the middle of the flour and add the yeast.

Close the lid and set machine to Whole Wheat or Multigrain cycle, then select loaf size and crust type. Press start.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Meal plans and the week ahead

This week, I'll be getting ready for my cousin Michelle's baby shower on Saturday, mostly. Today, we're most likely going to see my grandparents since my Grandma is home from the hospital and I made another batch of bean soup to take over to them. I'm taking Friday off to make sure everything is ready for the shower. I'll be doing lots of cleaning and food prep during the week. So I'm aiming for very easy meals this week to allow time for working out, cleaning, prepping, and the normal day-to-day stuff.

In addition, I might can some mandarin oranges in light syrup one night this week. We'll see how it goes, though. I'd really like to get the cannellini beans canned one night, too, but I think that will probably have to wait till next week.

Here's the menu... its a very meat-limited week...

Sunday - spaghetti with home-canned meat sauce; garlic bread; romaine/spinach side salads

Meatless Monday - german-style warm potato salad; fresh oranges scrambled eggs; toast; jam

Tuesday - sausage and veggie medley in the crockpot; pear sauce

Wednesday - another meatless night... romaine salads with cukes, broccoli, peppers, and hard-boiled eggs with homemade ranch salad dressing; zucchini yeast rolls from the freezer; fresh oranges

Thursday - leftovers

Friday - meatless again... if I can get to the Asian Market during the week, I'm going to make miso soup; romaine salad with homemade ginger salad dressing; veggie stir-fry with edamame, mushrooms, peppers, onions, broccoli, and pea pods probably ordering pizza

Saturday - baby shower... pineapple cheese ball/crackers; pickles/olives tray; fresh veggies and homemade ranch dip; sub sandwich; swedish meatballs; nacho cheese dip/chips; potato chips/dip; English 7-layer salad; orange cream fruit salad; cake; baby blue punch; coffee; water

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Chicken Fajitas

I tried another recipe from My Kitchen Cafe for the best chicken fajitas earlier this week. They really were awesome! They had a fantastic flavor - we all loved them, including my brother-in-law who ate with us that night. Definitely a keeper! I've decided to have these on the buffet at one of Carson's birthday parties coming up in a few weeks, too, so I'm glad I tried them now.

The Best Chicken Fajitas
Serves 4-5

Note: liquid smoke may seem like an unnecessary, optional ingredient but I promise it adds an irreplaceable flavor and smokiness.

¼ cup fresh lime juice (about 3-4 limes)
1/3 cup water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons apple cider or red wine vinegar
2 easpoons soy sauce
½ teaspoons chili powder
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
½ teaspoon liquid smoke
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon onion powder

1 1/2 pounds chicken breasts (about 3 large chicken breasts)
1 yellow onion, cut into thin strips
1 green pepper, cut into thin strips
1 red (or orange) pepper, cut into thin strips (I just used all green peppers)
8 ounces fresh mushrooms, quartered
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons water
½ teaspoon fresh lime juice (a quick squeeze of a cut lime)
dash of salt and pepper

Combine all marinade ingredients in a small bowl. Place chicken in a ziploc bag and pour the marinade ingredients over the top. Seal the bag and place in the refrigerator and let marinate for 2-3 hours. (mine marinated for more than 24 hours)

After marinading, take chicken out of the bag and discard the marinade. Grill or broil the chicken 4-5 minutes per side. Remove from pan and tent with foil to keep warm.

In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat and add the onion, mushrooms and peppers. Stir fry until softened but still crisp tender. Add soy sauce, water, lime juice and salt and pepper. Cook another 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently. Slice chicken thinly on the diagonal and toss with the vegetables in the skillet. Serve immediately with flour tortillas and top with tomatoes, lettuce, guacamole, cheese, sour cream...the options are endless!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Crockpot Taco Soup

I made another recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking on Tuesday - for taco soup. This was excellent! It seemed like a chili to us, though - not sure why mine got so thick... I even added some water to make up for the liquid I didn't add from using canned corn (I used home-frozen)... and with the kidney beans in there, it reminded us of chili with a taco flavor. No complaints from anyone, though - all three of us loved it! Definitely another keeper recipe! I made a half recipe and it was more than enough for dinner and several lunches.

Taco Soup in the Crockpot

2 cans of kindey beans
2 cans of pinto beans
2 cans of corn (I used home-frozen, so I added about 2 cups of water to replace the liquid in the cans of corn)
1 large can of diced tomatoes
1 can tomatoes and chiles
1 packet taco seasoning
1 packet ranch dressing mix (I used 2 Tablespoons of my homemade mix)
1 lb browned ground turkey or hamburger (optional)
shredded cheese and sour cream for embelishment (optional)

Brown meat if you are going to use it. Drain fat and add to crockpot stoneware insert (the meat. not the fat.) Sprinkle seasoning packets on top of meat. Drain and rinse the beans and add to the crock. Add the ENTIRE contents of the corn and tomato cans. Stir. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5.

Stir well before serving and serve with a handful of shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream. (I just used a small dollop of sour cream)

Ranch Dressing Mix

I made some ranch dressing mix over the weekend. I've been wanting to make it for quite some time, just haven't gotten around to it. But when I decided to make taco soup this week, I figured I'd better get on it and mix it up quick so I could use some for that recipe. This is super simple to throw together - it takes less than a minute. I found the recipe on Heavenly Homemakers awhile back. I'm anxious to make some dressing or veggie dip with the mix - I'll update this post with my thoughts when I get around to that in the next week or two. I'll update with a picture later on, as well.

UPDATE 2/1/10: The ranch dip was awesome!! Very similar, yet much better, than the stuff you buy at the store.

Ranch Dressing Mix

5 Tablespoons dried minced onions
7 teaspoons parsley flakes
4 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder

Mix together and store in an air tight container.

For dressing: Mix 2 Tablespoons dry mix with 1 cup mayonnaise and 1 cup buttermilk or sour cream.

For dip: Mix 2 Tablespoons dry mix with 2 cups sour cream or kreme fresh.

Mix up a few hours before serving, so the flavors all blend nicely.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Biggest Loser, Week 7

No weigh-in today since I stayed home from work to attend a funeral. So, we'll have to see what the scale says next week. I'm not too hopeful I did very well this past week, though. I didn't exercise at all on Sunday and only did a short workout Saturday... and I fell back into drinking some pop on Saturday and Sunday, as well. Not good. I can totally tell just by looking at my tummy, too. Pop makes it so bloated, I've figured that out now. I don't know why I even drank the stuff - all it does it make me feel crummy... both for giving in to the temptation and it really makes my tummy all unsettled and upsets my intestines majorly. I guess its just a vice that I turn to when I'm super stressed and sad. Any pointers on how to turn that vice into working out?? :) At least I don't eat more when I'm stressed out, I guess.

I am really trying to get back up on the bandwagon again this week. I did fairly well yesterday - 20 minutes of pilates, the 30-Day Shred (Level 1), and 10 minutes on the bike. Today I did 20 minutes of kettlebells, 10 minutes on the bike, and I'm planning to do power yoga this evening still. I'm not really sticking with the schedule I posted last week yet since I haven't started the 5K training. But we're picking up the new treadmill tomorrow night, so I'll be able to get started! I'm super excited about that and I can't wait to get started! I am planning to sign up for both the May 2nd and June 9th 5K races this week sometime... the only reason I haven't signed up yet is because I don't know what size t-shirt to order. I know that seems silly, but I don't want it to be too tight and I don't want it to be overly huge, either. So I still haven't really figured out what I'm going to order, but I need to make the commitment to the races and get signed up.

This week's tip is something I've known for ages, but I think it is often overlooked. It is something that is stressed in the 60-Day Kettlebell Challenge and I think it's great to remember... Train at different intensities every day. If you train at 100% today, don't do it tomorrow. For the 60-day challenge, the 7-day pattern seems to be 100%, 70%, 50%, 100%, 70%, 50%, Rest... and the pattern repeats. On the 50% days, we actually do not do kettlebells, rather we focus on other forms of strength training, joint mobility, and recreational exercise. Its really a good way to train. You will actually make greater gains in the long run, if you cycle the intensity of your workouts. This helps to avoid overuse injuries, eliminate monotony, and constantly changes training routines up (which is a major bonus for me, since I have a hard time keeping focus when I'm bored).

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Pinto Beans

I canned pinto beans this morning. 14 pints. That should get us through the year, I think. At least, in combination with all the other beans I've done, or plan to do. This brings the tally to 49 pints of beans canned in a 42-hour time frame. Kinda crazy... but I've been wanting to work on beans for months now... and I'm figuring out that I turn to canning, cooking, and cleaning (you should see how far our basement has come in the last two days!!) to keep my mind off things when they're crappy... and this is most definitely a very crappy time right now... Anyway, I'd like to do some cannellinis tonight, but we'll see if I make it out to the store to get more wide-mouth lids and I probably should pick up some more jars while I'm at it, too, since I'm down to only about 15 pints left and I don't want to do beans in quarts or half-pints.

Anyway, I used the crockpot to make these beans to save on the humidity in the kitchen when making them on the stovetop. I filled my 6-quart crockpot about half-way with beans last night. Then filled the other half with water - right up to the rim. Then I turned it on low and let them cook all night while we slept. I filled my 4-quart with beans, as well. I ended up with 10 pints from the 6-quart crockpot and 4 from the 4-quart pot (could have fit more in both, but that's all I had). From the crockpot, I used a slotted spoon to fill the jars with beans - make sure you tap the jars down to compact the beans. Then use a ladle to fill with the cooking liquid. Leave a 1" headspace and pressure can at 10 pounds of pressure for 75 minutes.

Meal plans and the week ahead

A new week and we're half-way through January already! Its been a productive first half of the month, at least, between home and kitchen projects. The fitness room is finally done! We've also been doing a lot of cleaning, purging, and organizing of stuff in the basement. I did a bit more canning over the weekend, as I've posted about already... 15 pints of baked beans and 20 pints of great northern beans... I'm done with both for the year now. I'll be canning pinto beans today... and maybe I'll get to the cannellini beans from our garden later tonight or tomorrow. I've been looking for a refried beans recipe to can, but haven't been successful and after thinking about it, I doubt they're safe to can at home - too thick/dense. So I guess I'll be using home-canned pinto beans to make homemade refried beans when we want/need them.... or just continue to buy them from the store for awhile longer.

This week is turning out to be quite busy. Today we're going to the family service at Faith Lutheran and then we'll be going to visit my grandparents - its my Grandma's 82nd birthday today. We'll also be doing some more work in the basement - organizing and cleaning. I'm off tomorrow for MLK Jr. Day... Carson and I may go back over to my grandparents' house to visit again, depending on how my Grandma is feeling after her treatment in the morning. Otherwise, we'll go visit my other Grandma. I also want to spend some more time in the basement and maybe canning some more beans if I don't get to them today. We may end up at the funeral home at some point, as well... we're waiting to hear what the plans end up being for my BFF's grandfather who passed away on Friday. Tuesday will likely be the funeral, so I'll be going to that. Wednesday I'll be in Detroit for meetings and we'll be picking up the new treadmill in the evening. Friday is my flex day! Carson and I will be going over to my grandparents' house again. And Saturday is TBD... we might be doing something with my old college roommate, Tiffany, and her husband and boys, Mark, Evan, and Tyson... otherwise, we'll either make a trip to the Flint Children's Museum or to the open gym time at GB Gymnastics. And since its prime time to do the fruit tree pruning, I'd like to get two of the pear trees pruned in the orchard... and I'm talking MAJOR pruning! :)

In addition, I'll be finishing up my veggie seed selections from Fedco and submitting my order this week. I'll also be getting a head start on some of the deeper cleaning in preparation for my cousin's shower on the 30th. And I'll be double-checking all of the supplies and other fun stuff I've picked up for the shower to make sure I'm not missing anything.

On to the menu... I've got a few new recipes coming up again this week... Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday...

Sunday - TBD... we'll see where we're at come dinnertime... grandparents' house, funeral home, or home... if we're home, we'll probably just have leftover white bean and ham soup

Meatless Monday - MLK Jr. Day! herbed baked eggs; steamed frozen broccoli; fresh oranges

Tuesday - taco soup in the crockpot; homemade bread; home-canned peaches

Wednesday - chicken fajitas; fresh mangoes

Thursday - leftovers

Friday - Flex Day! italian tortellini soup in the crockpot; fresh oranges

Saturday - TBD... maybe out to eat to use one of our gift certificates... or maybe ordering Rocky's pizza

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Farmhouse Loaf

Yet another new bread machine recipe. This one comes from The Bread Machine Bible: More Than 100 Recipes for Delicious Home Baking with Your Bread Machine, by Anne Sheasby. This is another tasty bread. We're having a hard time figuring out which is our favorite of the new recipes I've tried these last couple of months. But its been fun having slightly different bread each week. I still have an arsenal of new recipes that I want to try, so this trend of having a new bread every week will continue for quite awhile. Anyway, this bread has a great crumb. Its nice, soft, and moist inside with a slightly sweet flavor from the brown sugar. And I liked that the sides didn't get super crisp and dark brown like most other loaves seem to if I let them cook the full time.

Farmhouse Loaf

1 1/2 cups water
2 3/4 cups plus 2 Tablespoons bread flour
3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons whole wheat bread flour
1 Tablespoon skim milk powder
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons soft light brown sugar
2 Tablespoons butter, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons instant dry yeast

Pour the water in the bread pan. Sprinkle each type of flour over, in turn, covering water completely. Sprinkle milk powder over flour. Place salt, sugar, and butter in different corners of the pan. Make a small indent in the flour and place the yeast there.

Select Basic White cycle, select loaf size and crust. Press start.

If possible, 10 minutes before the baking cycle starts, brush the top of the loaf with water and dust with flour. Using a sharp knife, cut a slash, about 1/2 inch deep, along the length of the loaf.

White Bean and Ham Soup

My grandma makes bean soup quite often. I've never been a huge fan... mainly because I just didn't think I liked soups. But since I've been expanding my soup tastes, I like bean soup now. Kevin loves it and Carson really loves it. I had some great northern beans leftover from canning this morning, so I decided to make a batch of this soup. There isn't really recipe that we have written down, its basically just throwing things together in the quantities that look good to you. But I've tried to capture it below.

White Bean and Ham Soup

2 cans great northern beans - (or about 2 cups dried - you'll want to increase the amount of water you use if you're using dried)
1 - 2 cups diced carrots
1 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced onion
2 - 3 cups diced, cooked ham
2 - 3 bay leaves
salt and pepper to taste
water, just to cover... maybe about 2 cups? (be sure to cover by about an inch if you're using dry beans)
1 teaspoon organic Better than Boullion Veggie base

Throw all ingredients into your crockpot. Cover and cook on low all day.

Great Northern Beans

I canned a batch of great northern beans this morning - they're still processing in the canner right now. I bought a bunch of organic dry great northerns at the health food store last week so I could make the baked beans, can a couple batches, and make white bean and ham soup (post coming later). I'm going to do another batch of baked beans today and can another batch of plain great northerns later on, as well... and I'll be done with them this year. I made 10 pints in this batch - and I'll do another 10 pints later on.

I used the same process I posted last year when I made black beans. First I soaked the beans in water overnight (about 12-18 hours). Then drained them, rinsed them, and put the first batch into my largest stockpot (a 12-quart) and covered them with water by about an inch. You then bring them up to a boil for 30 minutes and remove from heat. Using a slotted spoon, fill the jars with the beans, then use a ladle to add the cooking liquid, leaving a 1-inch headspace. (I used my pasta stockpot this time with the insert in so I just raised the beans out in the insert and left the cooking water in the pot... much easier!) Then I processed the beans for 75 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure. And voila! Home-canned great northern beans... with no additives, salt, preservatives, etc.! Not only does this save some money (using the organic beans, it ended up being about 35 cents per pint), but it will limit our exposure to BPA tremendously since the beans only touched the metal lid during the processing time.

I'll update with a picture once I take them out of the canner.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Crockpot Fish Chowder

I made crockpot fish chowder from A Year of Slow Cooking earlier in the week... I don't have a picture and I'm not going to post the recipe... we didn't care for it at all. I was super disappointed since we love seafood chowder normally... but this just did not do it for us at all. It got great reviews on the A Year of Slow Cooking blog, but it just wasn't for us.

Crockpot Baked Beans

I made baked beans today - they're currently pressure canning. I found a recipe that sounded good on AllRecipes. It utilized the crockpot, so I thought it was perfect - I could let them cook all day while I was working and then could finish them up, taste them, and can them when I got home. These were super easy! And they tasted great! Very similar to the Bush's canned beans. Although I made several changes to the recipe, so I guess I don't know what the original recipe tastes like... :). I made a double recipe of the one posted below and ended up with 7 pints.

Crockpot Baked Beans

2 cups dry kidney beans (I used Great Northerns)
5 cups water
1 onion, diced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
4 ounces cured pork (I used turkey bacon)
1/4 cup molasses (I used 1/4 cup for a double recipe)
4 tablespoons brown sugar (I used 1/2 cup, plus a few spoonfuls, to taste, for the double recipe)
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 cup ketchup

In a slow cooker place beans, water, onion, salt and pork. Cover the pot and cook on low for 9 to 10 hours. (Mine were plenty done after 8 hours)

Drain beans, saving the liquid. Add molasses, brown sugar, dry mustard, ketchup and 1 cup of the bean liquid. Cover and cook on low for 1 hour.

(If you are canning the beans, cook them for 8-9 hours and do not cook them the extra hour after adding the sauce... they'll get too mushy otherwise. To can them, you'll want to leave 1-inch headspace and can for 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure.)

Crockpot Pork Cacciatore

I tried out a crockpot recipe that I found on AllRecipes for pork cacciatore for dinner last night. It was delicious! We all loved it! The chops were super tender and everything had such great flavor. I simplified the prep - see my notes in parentheses below - to make it super simple to prepare. This is a definite keeper that will go into our regular rotation of meals. The picture isn't the greatest because the meat just falls apart, its so tender.

Crockpot Pork Cacciatore

2 tablespoons olive oil (didn't use this)
1 onion, sliced
4 boneless pork chops (mine had bones)
1 (28 ounce) jar pasta sauce (I used home-canned sauce)
1 (28 ounce) can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted)
1 green bell pepper, seeded and sliced into strips
1 (8 ounce) package fresh mushrooms, sliced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 cup dry white wine (I used BTB chicken mixed with water)
4 slices mozzarella cheese (we didn't put cheese on ours)

In a large skillet, brown chops over medium-high heat. Transfer to slow cooker. In the same pan, cook onion in oil over medium heat until browned. Stir in mushrooms and bell pepper, and cook until these vegetables are soft. Mix in pasta sauce, diced tomatoes, and white wine. Season with Italian seasoning, basil, and garlic. Pour over pork chops in slow cooker. Cook on Low for 7 to 8 hours. To serve, place a slice of cheese over each chop, and cover with sauce. (I didn't use cheese... to save on some calories... it was still delicious... but cheese always makes things even better, so I'm sure it'd be awesome with it.)

(I put the onions on the bottom of the crock. Then the pork, then mushrooms and peppers. Then I poured the sauce, tomatoes, broth, and seasonings over top. Much simpler.)

Pad Thai

I made pad thai for dinner earlier in the week. We love thai food - even Carson does! I've made pad thai this way before, but have never posted it. Its super easy, since you just use a packet seasoning. I've been looking to make the seasoning on my own, but haven't been successful in finding a recipe yet. I made this meatless this week, but it is very good with chicken or tofu. This is a super quick work night meal, filling, and tasty!

Pad Thai

Pad Thai seasoning packet
1/2 cup water
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
Rice noodles
Fresh veggies of your choice (I used broccoli, green peppers, carrots, mushrooms this time)
1 egg

Chop veggies - or skip this step and use frozen vegetable mix... I like fresh veggies best, though.

Boil a large pot of water. Throw in the rice noodles, cover, and take off the heat..

Saute the veggies in a pan with some oil or water (I use water). When the veggies are almost done, push them to the edges of the pan. Crack an egg into the center of the pan and stir until scrambled.

Add the Pad Thai packet, water, and soy sauce (or whatever is recommended on the packet of seasoning that you use). Drain the noodles and add them to the frying pan, coating them with sauce. Toss everything together and serve hot.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Biggest Loser, Week 6

This week brings a new exercise program. It is going to be challenging for me to carve out more time to dedicate to exercise, but I just plain have to do it right now. Not only to get myself healthy, but to win this Biggest Loser Challenge!! :)

First off, I started the kettlebell 60-Day Challenge on Saturday. Its a 60-day program that uses the Busy Woman's Cardio & Fat Burning DVD. I thought it would be a good thing for me to sign up for the challenge, rather than just exercise to the video on my own. I get daily emails with tips and guidelines for the workouts. Each day involves a 15-30 minute kettlebell workout... right now they're only about 15 minutes and they'll increase in length as I progress through the challenge. Three days into it and I'm loving it! I sure am sore, though! :)

Secondly, I had planned to start my "Couch to 5K" training program on Sunday. But... we've had a few more snafoos with the fitness room. I went to help Kevin put the carpet in on Sunday evening... and it is about a foot too small on both sides! We were just using a remnant from my aunt, but we thought it was going to fit... nope. So we went out last night and bought some carpet at a local carpet dealer... it is being installed on Thursday. The carpet was the easy one, though... we went to move the treadmill into the room on Sunday evening and realized the safety key is missing! I know its around our house SOMEwhere... but we don't have the time to tear everything apart looking for it. So I ordered a new one online... and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will, indeed, fit when it arrives! Our treadmill was given to us my some of my family, so its an older model and its not easy to know if the key is actually the right one... So, as soon as the key arrives in the mail (assuming it fits and works!), I'll be starting up my 5K training. I'll be following the 9-week schedule from CoolRunning. Only I will be doubling and maybe tripling up the weeks... I'll do the week 1 schedule for two weeks in a row so that I am getting into it even more gradually. Basically, I'll move on to the next week when I feel like I am ready. Most of the program consists of walk/run intervals. This will burn more calories and fat and actually make me faster and increase stamina more than just straight running would do. I'll be doing my 5K training on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays for the time being (will have to change once Zumba starts in a few weeks). I will do three 20-minute workouts during week 1... each consisting of a brisk five-minute warmup walk, followed by alternating 60 seconds of jogging and 90 seconds of walking for a total of 20 minutes.

In addition, I continue to do yoga or pilates one day a week. I'm also continuing to do at least one 15-minute walk during the work days with my friends, Lina and Lisa - sometimes we are able to fit in two walks, but we are pretty good at getting in one at least. I also make sure to do the stairs at least once a day, but usually I'm able to do them two or three times. I very rarely take the elevator when going to meetings anymore - I almost always opt for the stairs now. I've also been getting some pedaling in while I'm reading reports. My SIL let me borrow her pedal exerciser to try out and see how I like it. Its nice to get a little more movement into my day. Thanks, Mary!

So here's what my current exercise schedule looks like (I am including the 5K training since that will start later this week, as soon as the key arrives.) You'll see I haven't factored in a day of rest yet... I may or may not change that if I feel like I need it.

Sunday - 15-30 minutes of kettlebells; 5K training; 15 minutes of stretching

Monday - 15-minute walk; stairs; 10-15 minutes pedaling; 15-30 minutes of kettlebells

Tuesday - 15-minute walk; stairs; 10-15 minutes pedaling; 15-30 minutes of kettlebells; 5K training

Wednesday - 15-minute walk; stairs; 10-15 minutes pedaling; yoga or pilates

Thursday - 15-minute walk; stairs; 10-15 minutes pedaling; 15-30 minutes of kettlebells; 5K training

Friday - 15-minute walk; stairs; 10-15 minutes pedaling; 15-30 minutes of kettlebells; 15 minutes of stretching

Saturday - 15-30 minutes of kettlebells; 15 minutes brisk walk on treadmill; 15 minutes stationary bike

I'm really focusing on keeping a positive attitude towards all this additional exercise. Its the only way I'll make it! :) I am kind of looking forward to it all, actually... or at least to seeing the results! I already feel so much better than I have in awhile. So anyway, on to the numbers...

This week's weight loss = a big fat zero. I am so bummed out about that! I've been extra good about eating this past week and have been working my butt off exercising! Although, I have read that when you do start pushing your muscles more than you were (which I have been these last three days especially), your muscles will retain a lot of water as they repair themselves... but they will shed that water retention as they get used to it. I hope that's the case and I see big results next week!

And in closing... I've been doing lots of reading lately... on the web, in books, and in magazines. I've come across lots of great info and I want to share some of the tips I find... mostly for new things I learn that could benefit everyone. First up is a stretch that I came across in the Women's Health Big Book of Exercises...

Doorway Stretch -
What it does: Loosens your pectoralis minor. Almost everyone who works at a desk has stiff pectoralis minor muscles. When they are stiff, they pull your shoulder blades forward, which makes you appear hunched instead of tall and straight.
How to do it: Bend your right arm 90 degrees into the high-five position. Place your forearm against a door frame. Step through the doorway with your right foot until you feel a comfortable stretch in your chest and front of your shoulder. Switch arms and legs and repeat for your other side. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds on each side. Repeat for a total of three sets. Do this daily, up to three times a day if you are really tight.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Steakhouse Wheat Bread

I tried another new bread machine recipe for steakhouse wheat bread. I found this one on AllRecipes. This bread is delicious!! It really does taste just like the bread you get in some of the popular chain steakhouses. Whip up a small batch of cinnamon or honey butter and it'd be exactly like eating it at a steakhouse! Mine didn't rise much, but I'm not sure its supposed to since there isn't a lot of flour in it... and it still more than doubled in size, so I think its just how this bread is. It had a great crumb and didn't seem dense or anything like bread does when it doesn't rise enough. So I'm not sure. I'm going to make it again this week, so we'll see how it does then.

Steakhouse Wheat Bread

3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/4 cup honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 cup bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/4 teaspoons bread machine yeast

Place the warm water, butter, honey, salt, coffee, cocoa, sugar, bread flour, whole wheat flour, and bread machine yeast in the pan of a bread machine in the order listed. Put on regular or basic cycle with light crust.

Apple Strudel

I made this for dessert for our dinner with my grandparents and parents this afternoon. I was going to make turnovers, but thought this would be much easier/less time-consuming to make. This was super easy and fast to prepare. Can't really get much simpler for a dessert. And it tastes so yummy! Everyone loved it! Kevin said he could eat a whole one by himself - he ate half of one tonight and could have kept going. He loves apple pie, though, and that's basically what this tastes like. What's not to love? :)

Easy Apple Strudel

1 sheet Puff Pastry
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1 (21 ounce) can apple pie filling (I used my home-canned apple pie filling)

Thaw pastry sheet at room temperature 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Mix egg and water.

Unfold pastry on lightly floured surface. Roll into 16x12-inch rectangle. With short side facing you, spoon pie filling on bottom half of pastry to within 1 inch of edges. Starting at short side, roll up like a jelly roll. Place seam-side down on baking sheet. Tuck ends under to seal. Brush with egg mixture. Cut several 2-inch slits about 2 inches apart on top.

Bake 35 minutes or until golden. Cool on baking sheet on wire rack 30 minutes. Slice and serve warm.

Meal plans and the week ahead

This week is going to be very low-key. Today my grandparents and parents are coming over... assuming my grandma feels up to it, at least. Hopefully she will so she can get her mind off of things. Carson always perks her up, too. So it'd be good for her - and everyone. She goes tomorrow for some bone marrow testing to find out if she has leukemia... We don't really have any other plans all week. I have to work on Friday... first Friday in about four months. We're tentatively planning to go to the shooting range with my cousin, Kristin, and her boyfriend, Eric, on Saturday... it will just depend on whether we can get a sitter for Carson. We want to also take Carson up to Great Lakes Power Sports to look at snowmobiles and dirt bikes on Saturday.

I will be focusing on exercise again this week - switching up the program... more on that on Tuesday. I will also be doing some major baby shower planning for my cousin's shower on the 30th - games, prizes, gifts, food. I have some ideas for everything, just need to finalize things. I'm also going to try making baked beans. I found a recipe that sounds really good on AllRecipes that I'm going to try - if its good, I'll then can it in pints. I hope its good. I will also be working on cleaning up the area under Carson's room in the basement. We need to clear it out so we can make a play area. That will probably keep me busy this week... but if I need something else to do, I want to organize the front coat closet and take our comforter to the laundromat.

Here's what's on the menu... several new recipes this week...

Sunday - pork roast with fruit; roasted potatoes; corn casserole; green beans; steakhouse wheat bread; apple strudel

Meatless Monday - rice, greens, and eggs; applesauce

Tuesday - crockpot fish chowder; whole wheat soft pretzels

Wednesday - pad thai; fresh oranges

Thursday - pork cacciatore in the crockpot; steamed green beans; fresh oranges

Friday - leftovers, baked beans in the crockpot

Saturday - TBD

Friday, January 8, 2010

Crockpot Salsa Chicken and Black Bean Soup

Another recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking. I just love Stephanie's blog - I think I've tried more recipes from her slow cooking blog than I have from any other blog. I just like using my crockpot - its so nice to come home from work and having our dinner ready to go. I'm gone a minimum of 12 hours in the day between commuting, working, and picking up Carson, so I don't always feel like cooking when I get home, either. So the crockpot solves everything... well almost! :) Anyway, we tried salsa chicken and black bean soup earlier this week. It was so, so good!! Great flavor - but I love soups like this. We all loved it and I'll definitely make it again! It turned out more like a chili than a soup for me, though. But that's ok - it was still delicious!

I'm so glad I've broadened my tastes for soups over the last year. That was kind of an unspoken goal of mine over the last year. I never used to like soup... and I still don't really like broth. The only soup I would really eat before were broccoli cheese, baked potato, and seafood chowder... I liked them if they were thick and creamy. But I steered clear of any thin-broth soups. I think I've done pretty well in broadening my tastes for soups... this will be my 21st soup recipe to post on my blog... and I've enjoyed almost all of them! Now I love soup! I'm glad, because its just so easy and nutritious! Well most soups, anyway. :)

I'll update later with a picture.

Crockpot Salsa Chicken and Black Bean Soup

1 pound chicken
1 cup dried black beans (or 2 cans, drained and rinsed... but I used dried)
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup sliced mushrooms
1 cup frozen corn
1 jar prepared salsa (16 oz)
1 1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 cup sour cream (to stir in at the end)
shredded cheddar cheese, avocado slices, cilantro (all optional)

I used a 6 quart crockpot. You will need a 4 quart or larger.

If you know you are going to make this the night before soak the black beans in enough water to cover and another 2 inches overnight. In the morning, drain the water and rinse the beans.

If you don't have super hard water or live in a super high altitude, you can quick soak the beans by pouring boiling water over them and let them sit for an hour or two.

Drain and rinse the beans. Add to the crockpot. Put in the chicken, and add the broth and salsa. Pour in the corn and mushrooms, and add the cumin. Stir, but don't disturb the beans - let them stay at the bottom of the pot, closest to the heating element.

Cover and cook on high for 9 hours. Yes, High. For 9 hours. It took a crazy long time for the beans to soften, but they did.

If you are using beans you soaked overnight, canned beans, or pre-cooked beans, you can cook on low for 6-8 hours, or on high for 4-5 -similar to normal soup-cooking time.

If you'd like to thicken the broth, you can use your immersible blender to blend a bit of the beans and chicken. If you don't have one, scoop out 2 cups of the soup and carefully blend in your traditional blender. Stir the mixture back into the crockpot. (I did not do this, ours was plenty thick!)

Stir in the 1/2 cup of sour cream before serving (I just used a small scoop on top of each bowl, rather than stirring it in), and garnish with shredded cheese and avocado slices (did not use either, but was wishing I'd had some avocadoes!).

Polenta and Pinto Bean Pie

I've been trying to make an effort to look through more of my cookbooks more often and try some new dishes from them. I made polenta and pinto bean pie on Monday night. This recipe comes from Quick Fix Vegetarian by Robin Robertson. This is a great cookbook filled with healthy vegetarian meals that you can make in 30 minutes or less. Perfect for work nights for us! I have many recipes flagged to try, so I'm sure you'll be seeing lots more recipes from this cookbook. This dish was very good. Very flavorful and filling. And super quick and easy to make! We all really liked it. This was our first time trying polenta - it was good in the dish. I look forward to trying it in other ways in the future.

Polenta and Pinto Bean Pie

1 (16-oz) package pre-cooked polenta (I used garlic-basil polenta)
1 (16-oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 (16-oz) jar tomato salsa or picante sauce (I used my home-canned zucchini salsa)
1 (4-oz) can mild green chilies, drained
1 Tablespoon chili powder (I added a little extra b/c we love chili powder)
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup shredded cheese (I used co-jack)
1/2 cup crushed tortilla chips (I used blue corn tortilla chips)

Preheat the oven to 350. Cut the polenta into 1/2-inch thick slices. Arrange on the bottom of a lightly oiled 9 or 10 inch square baking dish. Set aside.

In a bowl, combine the pinto beans, salsa, chilies, and chili powder. Stir to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread over polenta.

(I sliced my polenta thinner and made a layer of polenta, then half the bean-salsa mix, then another layer of polenta, then bean-salsa mix.)

Top with the shredded cheese and tortilla chips. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and bake for 10 minutes more to lightly brown the top.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Biggest Loser, Week 5

Another week complete... though I'm afraid I fell off the wagon a bit while I was on vacation. Not too bad, but I did miss a few workouts over the last 2 weeks... and I did have a glass of pop three different times... but I still managed to eat less than I used to and I figure that doing the majority of my workouts is better than what I used to do! :)

The fitness room at home will soon be completely done - we're behind a couple more days due to some issues painting the ceiling. But it really should be done this week!! I'll be painting the big Spartan "S" tonight and I may have to do a second coat tomorrow - plus hang up the mirrors and other stuff. I cannot wait! I'm very anxious to start doing walk/jog interval training on the treadmill. I'm doing a Couch to 5k training program (more on that next week when I start it). Now I have a few firm goals to work towards... and this just changed yesterday when I heard about this race... but I think my first 5k run will be the Heart of a Spartan race on May 2nd. You finish the race by running through the football tunnel and the finish line is the 50-yard line on the football field!! That would be SO cool, being that I bleed green! :) I'm definitely going to do a 5k race in Flushing on June 9th!! My BFF Jaime is going to be home from Phoenix, AZ and is going to run it with me!! A 5k is nothing for her - she's a triathlete, but she wants to support me. How awesome of a friend is she?? Love her!! Thanks so much, Jaim!! :) Jaim's mom, Bev, and my cousin, Mandy, may also run it with us!! Yeah!!

In other fitness news... I got a couple magazine subscriptions for my birthday... Health and Women's Health, so those will be some good resources to read through each month. I ordered this kettlebell DVD so I can start up the 60-Day challenge as soon as it arrives! I also picked up some new kettlebells last week - a 15-lb and a 20-lb bell. And I ordered P90X. Kevin has been wanting it for months and months now, so its kind of a late Christmas gift to him, but I'm looking forward to checking it out, too. I also made some plans with my old college roommate, Tiffany, to take the Zumba class that is coming to our home town on February 2nd. Some old high school friends, Laura, Mary, and Robin may be taking it, too. I'll make a fool of myself, but it'll be a lot of fun!

So I have a few very exciting (and probably quite painful) months ahead of me, but I am super stoked about everything! I already have been noticing differences. This may seem foreign to you if you've never been heavy... but I can sit comfortably on the floor and play with Carson for longer periods of time and can get up much, much easier than I used to! Mostly because I am gaining some strength and flexibility, especially in my knees. I've dropped a solid two pant sizes, which I figured out over vacation when I cleaned out my closet and tried on my next-size-down pants and they were still too big and I had to get out my pants that were another size down! Its nice to have "too big" piles of clothes now! So I guess that tells me my booty is shrinking... even though I can't visually tell yet still. (I've GOT to take some measurements this week so I can track how many inches I end up losing.) I wish I could reduce my belly pooch... then maybe I'd notice something. But I know we can't control where we lose the pounds... and it'll go down with time.

So anyway, on to another week!

I'll update later with the results of weigh-in. I think I might be up a couple pounds this week over two weeks ago, though. I'm super bloated today - a combination of eating a lot of salt yesterday (I know - shame, shame) and PMSing. Its pretty typical for me to always be up a couple pounds when I'm PMSing, though. But we'll see what the scale says.


Weight loss this week = 1... for a total of 11 pounds. Better than I thought!

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 Goals

I'm a little late, but here is just a quick recap and reflection on how I did with my 2009 goals...

- Get organized... we've made many small improvements throughout the year. I bought and hung a few of these Daily System organizers from Pottery Barn in our kitchen, which has helped a lot in keeping our monthly calendar in order, our bills all in the same place, and a place to throw random mail, magazines, etc. The addition of two new china cabinets in the dining room just after Christmas has helped a lot, too. I was able to get my kitchen cabinets organized again (rather than feeling over-filled and overflowing) by moving some stuff to the china cabinets, as well as unpacking many boxes in the basement with different serving pieces, crystal, real silver, etc. So that is one step in the right direction in helping to get the basement more organized.

- Be more creative... I did tons of crafts with Carson and did get some of my flower gardens designed out and re-done this year. I also have been learning new techniques for photo editing, though I haven't had as much time to play around with photos as I'd like to. I never did learn to use my sewing machine, though. And I only did a very small amount of scrapbooking.

- Read more often... I've read many, many books this year. These last couple of months, I've had less time to devote to it with Kevin being gone and then the holidays, but I've already been getting back into my old routine of reading for about a half hour before going to bed each night.

- Love authentically... Kindness, Patience, Forgiveness, Courtesy, Humility, Generosity, and Honesty... I have been working on each of these qualities and do feel I've made improvements, but I want to continue to make improvements.

- Get healthy... it was a slow process through most of the year, only losing 16 pounds... then I joined the Biggest Loser Challenge at work and have been lighting a fire under it to lose another 10 pounds during December.

- Eat less processed foods/make more homemade food... I canned some new things in '09 - black beans, mushrooms, cream of mushroom soup - that helped to eliminate some of the canned and processed foods. I don't by frozen meals anymore, or frozen chicken nuggets or anything like that. If I buy chips, crackers, cookies, or something that on the rare occasions... they're always either organic or all-natural with no GMOs/HFCS. So we're doing a lot better.

- Eat more organic/local food... Probably about 95% of my pantry/freezer/fridge is organic. Maybe even a little higher percentage. I buy very few conventional items anymore. I rarely shop at Meijer or the other big-box grocery stores anymore. I do about 99% of my shopping at farmers' markets, Horrocks, Trader Joes, and Whole Foods Market. All of the meat and chicken that I buy is locally raised (we consider GR local still - that's where our beef is from).

- Eat more vegetables... We have at least one meatless meal per week. I want to increase this to two meals per week this year. And we eat a lot of veggies. Carson loves his veggies and eats them very well.

So, all in all, I think I did pretty well in '09 with achieving the things I hoped for. Here's what I'd like to do in 2010... divided into Kitchen and Personal goals.

2010 Kitchen Goals:
- make homemade sausage, english muffins, vanilla wafers, cheese crackers, wheat thins, tortillas, pita bread, buns, pasta
- buy another locally raised, organic/natural lamb
- buy a Nutrimill grain mill and start grinding my own fresh flour
- bake fresh bread weekly (or as often as we need it), stop buying bread from the store completely
- can more beans - black, pinto, cannellini, baked, chili/ranch-style, great northern
- can more cream soups - mushroom, celery, chicken, broccoli
- can homemade pickles
- can more condiments - ketchup, mustard, chili sauce
- try making some homemade cheese

2010 Personal Goals:
- lose 30-50 pounds by March 30th and win the BL Challenge at work!
- continue to lose a total of 75-100 pounds by the end of the year
- run my first 5k on June 9, 2010 in Flushing, MI
- run in the Crim in Flint on August 28, 2010 (5k, 8k, or maybe even the 10mi... we'll see how it goes)
- run a 5k for Breast Cancer - gotta look one up still
- buy a nice cross-training bike (for both road and off-road use)
- start training for a sprint triathalon in the late summer/fall (or duathlon if I can't train for the swimming)
- continue to read at least one book a month
- continue making progress on reading the entire Bible
- continue to get organized - get the basement situated and organized, throw away or donate stuff I don't need
- learn to use my sewing machine
- do more scrapbooking
- and most importantly... be the best mom I can be for Carson!! And the best wife I can be to Kevin... And the best friend and family member I can be.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Banana Bread

This recipe is from my mother-in-law. Its the best banana bread ever! Super easy and quick to make, super moist and yummy to eat! It turns out every time! I have made this so many times, I can't believe I haven't posted the recipe yet. I made this batch this morning and will do another batch or two this afternoon with Carson. I made two medium-sized loaves this morning. Carson and I will probably do a bunch of mini loaves this afternoon. This bread freezes and thaws really well, so they're great to have on hand. I'll also be taking one of the larger loaves along to my friend and her family this Friday.

Banana Bread

3/4 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1/2 cup butter
2 eggs
5 Tablespoons sour milk (4 T milk + 1 T vinegar)
1 cup mashed bananas
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder

Cream together sugar, butter, and eggs. Add baking powder, soda, flour, sour milk, bananas, and salt. Mix. Put in two greased 9-inch bread pans. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes.

Meal plans and the week ahead

Back to work this week. :( I'm really going to miss all of our family time and being with my little man all day. It makes it even harder for me, mentally, because my Plan A expired just after Christmas... so now its back to working 80 hours a pay period instead of 64. While it will be really nice to have a full pay check again... especially considering that we'll probably have to pay for a new roof this summer and the difference in pay between now and then will cover that cost... its just that I value my time spent with Carson more highly... and I am really going to miss that. At least I can go back to a Flex schedule, so I will be off every other Friday. Guess I have to look on the bright side and keep that in mind. :) And maybe I'll be able to do Plan A again soon. We'll see.

This week is a fairly quiet week, aside from going back to work. We actually have very few plans during the week at least. Today is my birthday, but it's often overlooked and we never really do anything for it anymore (unless I plan it, which I don't think is right). Though, my parents did call last night to see if we'd go to breakfast with them this morning, so we'll be doing that... and I'm hoping, since we'll be in Grand Blanc already, that we can just head over to Faith Lutheran and go to the family service after breakfast. Thursday I'll be in Windsor all day for work. My friend, Melissa, is having her 3rd daughter on Tuesday and I'm going to take them dinner on Friday. And on Saturday, we'll be doing one of our monthly childrens' museum visits with our friends, the Chapmans. This month we're going to Grand Rapids. We'll head there in the morning, have lunch together, and then head our separate ways. Kevin, Carson, and I are going to head over to the Calvin bookstore to pick up some Calvin gear for Carson to wear to an upcoming basketball game that we'll be going to. And then we'll probably just head home after that.

Any spare time this week will be spent working out, putting the finishing touches on the fitness room (I'll post some pics soon), canning another batch of black beans (did one yesterday), baking banana bread (lots of it since I have quite a few bananas to use up), making up a batch of ABin5 dough, doing some veggie garden planning and start filling out my Fedco seeds order forms, reading through my new Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book, and our master bedroom is a mess again, after all the holiday hub-bub, so I also want to get that thoroughly cleaned once again.

So here's what's on the menu this week...

Sunday - TBD... maybe out to eat to use one of our gift cards, or maybe just making homemade pizza; side salads; mandarin oranges

Meatless Monday - polenta and pinto bean pie; side salads; peaches

Tuesday - salsa chicken and black bean soup; side salads; zucchini yeast rolls from the freezer

Wednesday - leftovers

Thursday - baked BBQ chicken breasts; roasted cauliflower and brussels sprouts; apple slices

Friday - its my Flex day! chicken florentine artichoke bake; homemade bread (I'm making one of each for both Melissa's family and ours)

Saturday - TBD, just depends on when we decide to leave Grand Rapids... whether we eat out there, on the road, or make something easy at home.

Crockpot Philly Cheesesteak Soup

I tried out another recipe from A Year of Slow Cooking last night for Philly Cheesesteak Soup... only I used leftover lamb since we have quite a bit leftover from our NYD dinner. This was really good! We all really liked it a lot. The broth had an awesome flavor (and I normally don't like the broth of soups). I added some carrots for some extra veggies and I cut the recipe in half, which was enough for our dinner last night with a small amount leftover for a lunch for Carson (Kevin was super hungry though and had two huge bowls).

Crockpot Philly Cheesesteak Soup

1 pound thinly cut beef strips (I used leftover lamb)
4 cups beef broth
2 cups skim or 2% milk
1 T butter (I left this out)
1 yellow onion, cut in chunks
2 bell peppers
2 t gluten free Worcestershire sauce
3 cloves chopped garlic
1/2 t black pepper
1 t kosher salt
8oz provolone cheese (to add at the very end)

Add the 1 tablespoon of butter to your crockpot and turn it on high to melt. Cut up your meat and add it to the crock, swirling it into the butter to coat. Add the chopped peppers, onion, and garlic. Add the Worcestershire, salt and pepper. Stir in the beef broth and milk.

Cover and cook on low for 7-9 hours, or on high for 5-6. The soup is done when the meat has reached the desired tenderness.

Before serving, stir in the provolone cheese. It will melt in stringy chunks---yum. (I just shredded up some provolone to sprinkle on top of our bowls.)

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Mexican White Lasagna

I used to make this mexican white lasagna quite often before I got married. I'm not really sure why I haven't made it since I've been married, though... since Kevin always loved it before. I guess I had forgotten about it. My SIL mentioned mexican lasagna last week and it sparked my memory, though. I've made several different styles of mexican lasagna in the past, this just being the one I haven't made in the longest time. Its a Weight Watchers recipe, but don't let that run you off because it is so good! The recipe below makes a large pan of lasagna... I usually cut the recipe in half.

I do have a picture, but its on my point-and-shoot camera... so you'll have to wait till I get around to uploading those pictures. :)

Mexican White Lasagna

1 sprays olive oil cooking spray
2 pounds uncooked boneless, skinless chicken breast (I usually just use some leftover cooked chicken I have in the freezer or something)
30 oz canned black beans, rinsed and drained
3 cups fat-free sour cream
2 cups shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese, divided
8 oz chopped green chilies, two 4-oz cans
2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp black pepper
12 medium corn tortillas, cut into 2-inch strips
1 cups salsa, mild, medium or hot

Preheat oven to 350ºF. Coat a lasagna pan with cooking spray.

Place chicken in medium saucepan and fill with enough cold water just to cover chicken. Set pan over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and simmer until chicken is cooked through, about 10 to 15 minutes; drain. When chicken is cool enough to handle, cut into 1-inch pieces. (I just use chicken that I've cooked and frozen to save some time).

Transfer chicken to a large bowl and add beans, sour cream, 1 cup of shredded cheese, chilies, cumin, and pepper; mix well and set aside.

Arrange half of tortillas in bottom of prepared lasagna pan, overlapping pieces to cover surface. Top tortillas with half of chicken mixture, layer with remaining tortillas and then top with remaining chicken mixture. Sprinkle with remaining cup of cheese.

Bake until filling is bubbly and cheese is melted, about 30 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before slicing into 12 pieces. Serve with salsa on the side.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Crockpot Leg of Lamb

I made another leg of lamb for our New Years Day dinner this year, like I did last year. I think this may become our tradition - making a leg of lamb and having our friends over for dinner on NYD every year - its a lot of fun! :) I used the method on the A Year of Slow Cooking blog for making it this time. This was sooooo good! Super tender, super moist, super delicious!! Everyone loved it! This is definitely going to be my go-to way for making any future legs of lamb! Its good roasted in the oven, but it seriously doesn't even compare to being cooked in the crockpot all day! Stephanie from A Year of Slowcooking uses the frozen leg of lamb from Trader Joe's - I might have to try that sometime since this was our last leg of lamb (cut into two halves) from the lamb we bought last year. We're running very low on our lamb supply - only a few more things to use up. I'll have to make sure we get a lamb again this year since I missed the timing for them last year.

Crockpot Leg of Lamb

leg of lamb
1/2 cup of water

If you are using a frozen leg of lamb, run hot water over the frozen lamb package, just so it thaws enough that you can cut open the package and peel it away from the meat. Plop it into your crockpot. Add a half cup of water. Cover and cook on low for 7-9 hours.

If you are using fresh (or thawed, as was my case) leg of lamb, mix the rosemary, salt, and pepper together to make a dry rub. Cover the lamb with the dry rub, patting it in well. Place lamb in the crockpot. Pour in 1/2 cup of water and cook on high for 4-6 hours. (Mine cooked for 5 hours)

** You can also add your favorite veggies right into the crockpot, as well. I didn't do that this time, I just roasted some red potatoes, asparagus, and brussels sprouts in the oven.