Monday, December 27, 2010

Holiday Hibernation

It's no excuse really, but I'm going to blame my lack of blogging on the fact that the husband and I have been sort of hibernating lately. Last week being Christmas and all, we just hung out around the house with the dog man. And I haven't been cooking much lately because the in-laws sent us an 11-pound box of Christmas goodies. (For the record, I've lost all willpower lately and look forward to starting fresh in 2011!) So far, I think we've both eaten about five pounds each of Christmas cookies, homemade Chex mix and Lord knows what else. The husband actually told me I was going to turn into a crispette this morning. If I could tell you what that is, I would. All I know is that they're these knotted Italian somethings that the husband's grandma makes and I enjoy dipping them into my morning coffee. They're amazing. But I look forward to the day we (OK, let's be honest, I) finish the bag and can put them out of my mind till next year. And when I say next year, I really mean next December.

I honestly can't believe we're already looking at 2011 come next week. It seems like the last year went by so quickly. Two years ago the husband asked me to be his wife. Already the wedding has come and gone. Before we know it we'll be eating our wedding cake again! (And seriously, who thought year-old wedding cake would be a good tradition?)

So, as we prepare to put 2010 behind us, I plan to take the next week and continue this hibernation with the husband. We've both taken time off from work for our belated honeymoon. And that means my lack of cooking - and blogging - will have to continue for another week. I can promise you, though, that I'll be back in the kitchen as soon as the new year hits.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Totally Vegetarian Tuesday? Check.

falafel balls
Baked Falafel Balls

Having failed so miserably at my shot at Meatless Monday this week, I was determined to make up for it today. And I'm proud to say it was a totally vegetarian Tuesday for me. The husband didn't quite make it a meat-free day - he ate leftover sausage patties for breakfast and chicken salad for lunch. But there's always next week, right? At least he's on the right path: He was more than willing to try falafel balls for dinner, and we even ended the evening with a quick yoga session. Though I've wondered maybe we should have waited until after the holidays to adopt this new outlook on eating - and life - but I think we're doing alright. We'll just take it one week at a time.

Baked Falafel Balls
15 ounces garbanzo beans
1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F, and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Mix all of the ingredients in a food processor until everything is combined.

Roll the mixture into balls - I got 22 - and bake till lightly brown. (I think we baked our falafel balls for about 18 minutes.)

Dinner wasn't that bad, but I think this recipe definitely has some room for improvement. I think it needs a little more spice or something, but it filled us up, so I can't complain. I served our falafel balls on tortillas (corn for me and flour for the husband) with lettuce, tomatoes and cucumbers. I thought they were great topped with fat free plain yogurt, but once the husband heard I'd used cumin, he reached for the taco sauce. 

Servings Per Recipe: 2
Amount Per Sering: Calories 299.9, Total Fat 2.8 g, Total Carbohydrate 58.2 g, Dietary Fiber 10.9 g, Protein 12 g

Monday, December 20, 2010

Old Habits Die Hard

As soon as our dog wakes up in the morning, he starts whining, he paces, and he follows the husband around until the husband will walk him down the hill behind our house. The dog man has a schedule, and we've learned not to mess with his schedule - that is, unless we want him directly under our feet while we're making coffee, lunches and everything else that's part of the morning routine. I can't blame the guy, though. I like my schedule, too, and call me OCD if you want, but if one part of my routine is off-kilter, it can set my whole day off. So, what was I thinking with Meatless Mondays? I eat meat almost every single day without giving it any thought. What in the world made me think I could just change up this habit and turn my Mondays meat-free? 

I realized I'd failed - for the second week in a row - as I sat eating my turkey sandwich at my desk today. It's Monday, I thought. And then I remembered I packed the husband a bowl of chicken tortilla soup for his lunch. Apparently I'd been so focused on planning a meatless dinner that I'd forgotten our meat-free commitment should last the whole day. Alright, well, we can still end the day on a meatless note, I thought. I had full intentions of making baked falafel balls, a big garden salad and carrot fries. It all sounded so good! 

But as the day went on, more and more assignments piled up, and I realized I'd be working late. As much as I love to put a good meal on the table for myself and the husband, the last thing I want to do after almost a 10-hour day and a 40-minute commute is cook a big dinner. I e-mailed the husband and we agreed on leftovers. The husband likes to laugh and say: "I know, I know. I married a treehugger." I. Hate. Being. Wasteful. I made a big pot of chili and sour cream biscuits yesterday, so that's what we ate again tonight; we even had some left to freeze! 

Our meat-free day this week can wait until tomorrow. As much as I want to be a part of this movement and work this change into our weekly routine, I have to be a little lenient and make adjustments when necessary. I shouldn't consider today a failure. Leftovers happen. And I'm happy knowing we made use of good food instead of cooking up another dinner and creating even more food that'd ultimately result in waste. Perhaps for now I should just focus on working a meatless day our weekly routine.

Love Actually Is All Around

Dark Chocolate Bark

All I really need is love, but a little chocolate now and then doesn't hurt!
- Lucy Van Pelt in Peanuts by Charles M. Schulz

Once I realized I hadn't made all of the husband's dreams come true with four dozen gingerbread cookies, I made it up to him with a batch of Dark Chocolate Bark. For the record, I think I redeemed myself.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Bake, Drink and Be Merry

gingerbread cookies
Cutout Gingerbread Cookies
While decorating for Christmas a couple of weeks ago, the husband unpacked a bucket of cookie cutters and asked what I planned to do with them. I wasn't sure what I wanted to use them for (crafting? cookies?), but I left them on the counter and they sat there, tempting me.

Finally, I asked the husband if he liked gingerbread. "I love gingerbread," he told me. Not that the man isn't appreciative, but even when I make him a really great meal, he usually tells me it's good, he likes it and I can make it again. So when he told me of his love for gingerbread, I was very excited to get the cookie cutters going.

Cutout Gingerbread Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
a dash of apple pie spice (I've yet to buy nutmeg and allspice)
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 cup molasses
1 large egg white

Combine the flour through salt in a bowl, and set aside.

Combine granulated sugar and butter and beat at medium speed in a mixer for 5 minutes. (I thought this was a bit excessive, and actually only meat the sugar and butter for about 3 minutes.)

Add molasses and egg white; beat well.

Add flour mixture to sugar mixture; beat at low speed until well-blended.

Divide dough in half, and shape each half into a ball, and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill the dough for 1 hour. (I used this time to put away the clothes I'd been ignoring all week.)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Working with 1 half of dough at a time (keep remaining half chilled until ready to use), roll the dough to a 1/8-inch thickness on a heavily floured surface; cut with cookie cutters. (I found the dough to be a bit crumbly, so the rolling process took quite a bit of patience.)

I almost gave up at this point ...

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Scratch-Made Sweet Potato & Chicken Pot Pie

I gave the husband a choice of four dinners one night last week, three of which were casserole or comfort-food meals; the fourth was a peanut-sauce-covered chicken and rice dish. Well, he told me they all sounded good and to pick one. Feeling adventurous, I chose the chicken and peanut butter dish. Oh, what a mistake that was. I'm not sharing the details because it was a complete failure and I quickly lost the recipe, but basically it was tasteless. Somehow it didn't even taste like peanut butter - it was just a brown bowl of chicken and rice covered with a gritty sauce. 

So, after our unappealing dinner was served, the husband admitted he'd secretly hoped I'd pick one of those other casserole-type dishes. (That'll teach him to be indecisive!) But I felt bad after serving him such a bunch of slop, so I thought I'd make it up to him this week with a big chicken pot pie. Unfortunately, we were fresh out of celery and green beans (seriously?) so our pie ended up being quite orange, but it was still pretty tasty.

chicken pot pie

Scratch-Made Sweet Potato & Chicken Pot Pie
7 ounces skinless, boneless chicken breasts, chopped
1 cup onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 cup fat-free chicken broth
2 cups sweet potatoes, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups carrots, chopped
3/4 cup reduced-fat sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
a dash of poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Whole Wheat Crust:
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon sage
2 tablespoons reduced fat margarine
1/3 cup 1% low-fat milk (or whatever you've got in the fridge)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

First Semi-Meatless Monday Down

When I first mentioned Meatless Mondays to the husband I expected him to give me that I-love-you-but-you've-got-to-be-kidding-me look. You know what I'm talking about. It's the look I often get when I suggest we stop off at Hobby Lobby for a quick second after going to Lowe's on a Saturday afternoon. To my surprise, the husband said Meatless Mondays didn't sound like a bad idea. "So we'll have pasta on Mondays," he said. Oh, no, my friend. He had no idea what I had up my sleeve. But I decided to take it easy on him our first week.

I made Pepper and Tomato Soup Sunday night, so I thought: "Great idea! Leftover soup and we're on our way to our first - complete - Meatless Monday meal." Unfortunately I need some more practice at this whole going meatless thing because I made the soup with chicken broth. What was I thinking?! Apparently some habits are hard to break. I did, however, make caramelized onion and grilled cheese sandwiches - on leftover Hearty Whole Wheat Beer Bread - to go with our soup. It was the perfect way to warm up on a very cold evening here in the Southeast.

So, I'm still considering Monday our first attempt at going meatless. I can't call it complete failure because we really did make an effort to cut the meat out of our daily routine, and neither of us missed it. (I even packed the husband PB&J in his lunch; I had sweet potatoes and cottage cheese. Who needs a turkey sandwich?)

Already I have a few ideas in mind for next week. I'm a huge fan of lentils and would love to get the husband to eat a lentil casserole. Or, if he won't go for that idea I guess we can always have chickpea burgers. Surprisingly, he actually likes those!

Does anyone else have ideas on to how to ease two carnivores into going meatless? 

Monday, December 13, 2010

Pepper and Tomato Soup

Pepper and Tomato Soup 
Adapted from a recipe in Jane Pettigrew's "Souped Up"

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
1 orange pepper, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
3 tomatoes, chopped
3 tablespoons crushed tomatoes
2 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
thyme (I used my "dash" measuring spoon and that was too much, so shake lightly!)
salt, to taste
ground pepper, to taste
basil, to taste
2 cups 99% fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Hearty Whole Wheat Beer Bread

Beer Bread
Hearty Whole Wheat Beer Bread

Hearty Whole Wheat Beer Bread

2 1/2 cups flour (sifted)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (sifted)
3 teaspoons baking powder (omit if using self-rising flour)
1 teaspoon salt (omit if using self-rising flour)
1/4 cup sugar
1 (12 ounce) bottle dark beer (I used a bottle of porter, but you can use any beer you prefer.)
2 tablespoons butter (melted)

Sift the flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl; add the sugar.

Stir the ale into the dry mixture. This will look a bit wet, but don't worry: Everything will be OK. While mixing the beer and dry mixture together, melt the butter.

Pour the dough into a bread pan, and pour the butter over the dough. (I thought this looked pretty awful, but it ended up alright in the end. The result was a very nice crusty bread. The original recipe said if you'd prefer a bread with a softer crust to add the butter directly to the dough mixture. It's your call.) 

Bake at 375 degrees F for one hour or until the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

Servings Per Loaf: 8
Amount Per Serving: Calories 236.4, Total Fat 3.4 g, Total Carbohydrate 43.4 g, Dietary Fiber 1.9 g7, Sugars 6.3 g, Protein 5.2 g

Celebrating a National Holiday

I promise once the new year hits I'll develop a better system and won't post quite so sporadically. Till then, it's anyone's guess. This does mark two Sundays in a row, though, doesn't it?

Anywho, I hope everyone enjoyed National Lager Day last Friday. The husband and I celebrated by spending the night watching a local Tom Petty cover band at a local biker bar. No, we aren't bikers, but if you offer free music, food or beer, the husband and I will most likely be there. And when it comes to free music, food AND beer, the husband and I will definitely be there. So we stayed up past our bedtime and, man, was it worth it. Sorry to offend all of you die-hard Petty fans out there, but I've seen the guy, and this group was better. The lead singer of Blackberry Smoke absolutely rocked. We had the best night.  

The husband's home brew, October 2010

But enough about music. Our Lager-Day celebration didn't end Friday. We continued today with Hearty Whole Wheat Beer Bread. I spend a lot of time reading recipes on, so I thought I'd check there first for a beer bread. And when I found Gerald Norman's recipe, I stopped looking.  As usual, I tweaked the ingredients a little, but I'm sure the original is just as good.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

No More Hamburger Helper in This House

Healthier-For-You Hamburger Helper

While searching for my weekly challenge Monday night, the husband surprised me by suggesting he pick the recipe. Was I hearing him correctly? Yes! He was really beginning to show some interest in this little project. I quickly handed over my stack of cookbooks and told him to to take his pick. 

Surprisingly, the husband chose a rather low-cal meal. I'm not sure if it was  the nutritional information that caught his attention - in all honesty, it was probably the Hamburger Helper-like directions - but I had to give him credit for helping. And since he picked a nutritious one-pot meal, I couldn't complain.

It's true: I was a bit hesitant while our dinner was simmering. I was so worried the big skillet of slop I'd created was going to taste awful.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Yes, Chickpeas

Seasoned Chickpeas

While trying to break the husband of his need to have pre-packaged cheese and crackers in his lunch every day, it was nice to see him prep for the week and cook up his own batch of roasted chickpeas today. There's hope after all. 

It's a Dutch Oven Sunday

It may sound silly, but there's something about Sunday that makes me want to pull out the Dutch oven. I don't know, maybe it has something to do with my momma boiling a bit pot of gravy on Sunday afternoon, but whatever it is, I'm always looking for an excuse to pull my very heavy Dutch oven off the shelf - or asking the husband to! - and warming it low and slow on a Sunday afternoon.

So, you can only imagine my excitement when the husband told me on our regular Sunday-morning grocery trip that he'd like white chili for dinner. I know, it's December, and we should be used to the cold, seeing as how we are "Norhterners." But it has been COLD the last couple of days, and I could think of nothing better than a big bowl of chili to warm us up on this 35-degree day.

Ellie's White Chili

The dish smelled amazing while it was cooking and the husband and I were full after dinner, but neither of us thought it was that amazing. For that reason, I'm not going to post the recipe. But it was a healthy, filling dish - made with ground turkey, 99% fat free chicken broth, corn and not a whole lot else - but it was just lacking that "wow" factor. It turned out to be a lot more like soup than chili. 

Oh, well. I'm not going to consider this dinner a loss. I'm just not going to consider it a home run, either. Apparently my search for a white chili continues ...

Cran-Pumpkin Bars

Cran-Pumpkin Bars

As you know, I had to buy whole berry cranberry sauce so I could make the husband's prized cranberry butter. However, he has absolutely no desire to eat the stuff unless it is mixed with butter. What was I to do? Google it. Thanks to Baking Bites, the whole berry sauce didn't go to waste.

Cran-Pumpkin Bars

1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 salt
3 tablespoons unsweetened applesauce
5 tablespoons butter, melted and brought back to room temp
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon ginger
1 dash apple pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg
1 cup pumpkin
2/3 cup whole berry cranberry sauce

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, and spray a 9"x13" baking pan with cooking spray.

2. Sift together the flours, baking soda and salt into a small bowl. 

3. In a separate, large bowl, mix together the applesauce, butter, sugars, spices and vanilla. Add in the egg. Stir the pumpkin mixture until well combined.

4. Add the flour mixture to the large bowl and stir until combined.

5. Spread the batter into the pan, using a spatula to make sure it spreads evenly. Drop small scoops of the cranberry sauce on top of the batter. (You may use a knife to swirl the cranberry sauce if it looks like it is clumping in areas.)

6. Bake for 30 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack and cut into 12 servings.

Amount Per Serving 12:
Amount Per Serving: Calories 197.8, Total Fat 5.0 g, Total Carbohydrate 38.2 g, Dietary Fiber 1.1 g, Sugars 29 g, Protein 1.4 g

BTW ...

Thanksgiving dinner is served.
Thanksgiving was a success!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Lightened Up Banana Bread

After years of making my great-grandmother's banana bread, I decided to put my own spin on the recipe. What the husband doesn't know just makes him healthier.

Lightened Up 
Banana Bread
2 bananas, mashed
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon unsweetened applesauce

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mash the bananas and sugar until combined.

Sift and add the flours, soda and salt.

Stir in the oil and applesauce, and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.

Servings Per Recipe: 8
Amount Per Serving: Calories 211.9, Total Fat 3.7 g, 5, Trans Fat 0.0 g, 0%Cholesterol 0.0 mg, Sodium 449.0 mg, Potassium 154.5 mg, Total Carbohydrate 43.0 g, Dietary Fiber 2.1 g, Sugars 22.4 g, Protein 2.9 g

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Is It a Dessert or a Side Dish?

Mama's Pink Stuff
Pink stuff comes but once a year. I'm not sure why, but we never seem to make it except for at Thanksgiving. And although the dish only makes an appearance in November, the husband and I always have the same debate: Should the pink stuff be served with the main meal or as a dessert? It's always been served as a side dish in my family - we throw it on our plates right next to the potatoes and turkey. But the husband isn't so fond of this idea and says he'd be more comfortable with this jiggly dish if it were served as a dessert. Whether you serve it as a side or a sweet ending is up to you. Either way, pink stuff lovers can rejoice: I've solved the separation mystery! Perhaps I'll be more inclined to serve it more often now.

Mama's Pink Stuff
2 cups boiling water
2 (4-serving) packages strawberry Jell-O (regular or sugar free will do)
2 cups softened vanilla ice cream
3/4 cup strawberry juice

Put on a teapot. While you're waiting for the water to boil, measure your ice cream and let it soften in a bowl.

Dissolve the gelatin in the boiling water and let it cool so it is no longer steaming. Once the Jell-O mixture has cooled a bit, slowly whisk (or beat) in the ice cream and juice. Stir until the ice cream melts. You can even stir for a couple more minutes just to be sure the mixture won't separate. 

Chill the pink stuff in the fridge until ready to serve.

Servings Per Recipe: 8
Amount Per Serving: Calories 148.4, Total Fat 4.9, Total Carbohydrate 24.2 g, Dietary Fiber 0.2 g, Protein 2 g

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

"My Grandma Always Makes It"

Cranberry Butter
Husband: "You forgot the cranberry butter."
Me: "You're right. I'll have to look up a recipe."
Husband: "OK, but don't be offended when I tell you it's not as good as my grandmother's." 

That was us, going over our Thanksgiving menu a couple of weeks ago. I didn't know what the big deal was at first. I could look up a recipe for cranberry butter and save Thanksgiving, couldn't I? According to my husband, apparently not. So, I sucked it up, e-mailed his grandma and now hold the key to cranberry butter. I must admit I was a bit scared at first. I mixed it in the KitchenAid and all of the butter got sucked into the whisk attachment when I started mixing it (note to self: just use beaters next year). In the end, though, I think it came out alright. I licked a little off my finger last night and it tasted pretty good to me. Hopefully the husband agrees.

And while I wait to see what he thinks about his cranberry butter, I'll be worrying about my pink stuff - my grandmother's family tradition. 

Mama's Pink Stuff
2 cups boiling water
2 (4-serving) packages strawberry Jell-O
2 cups softened vanilla ice cream
3/4 cup strawberry juice

Dissolve gelatin in water, add ice cream and juice; stir until ice cream melts. Chill until ready to serve.

It's as simple as that! I mean, it sounds simple, doesn't it? Unfortunately, this side dish has been known to separate on me, when it's supposed to stay a perfectly solid, uniform bowl of pink stuff. Any ideas on how to keep this family tradition from flopping?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sneak Peek

Whole Wheat Dinner Rolls, on the rise
I have to make a confession: I've been dreaming about Thanksgiving for weeks. I've been testing pie crust recipes, mashing potatoes with olive oil and reading recipes when I should be doing laundry. (For the record, I'm pretty sure there's a hamper full of laundry I should be putting away this very minute, but it can wait.)

This year marks the third Thanksgiving the husband and I have spent 12 hours away from our family. Sure, we'd love to have them all here, but in this three-bedroom, one-bath house, that just isn't happening. So we've learned to make the best of this situation and realized quiet holidays at home can be some of the best. This will be our second year celebrating with just one house guest: my cousin who is going to school a couple of hours away but can't make the trip home for the holiday.  

We're creating our very own memories that don't involve running from one grandparent's house to another aunt's house back to someone's mom's house, all with me having an asthma attach in between from someone's cat. Do you see where I'm going with this? Yes, we love a good long hug from from a grandmother we haven't seen in months and a little brother's teasing, but Thanksgiving was never a holiday either of us looking forward to - that is, until now. 

I've been planning our Thanksgiving menu for weeks, so much so that I just couldn't help myself: I started prepping Sunday afternoon with whole wheat dinner rolls. I'll fill you in on the rest of my first solo-Thanksgiving adventure as the days progress. On the agenda for tomorrow? Pies and pink stuff. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Let the Search Begin

Honey-Glazed Sweet Potatoes
I ask my husband all the time, "Do you think this will be my thing?" His answer is usually something along the lines of: "I'm not sure, babe. It's good. When you find your thing, you'll know it." See, my grandmother on my dad's side is known for her cookies. There's always a container filled with cookies on her counter - chocolate chip, oatmeal, even those chocolate cake-like ones with the white frosting that I really don't like, but I'll eat them anyway. My grandmother on my momma's side can roll pie crust thinner than your grandmother, and it's perfect every single time. My stepmother's pot roast made my then 5-year-old brother title her "a very good cooker." My momma? Maybe I can't name her thing, but you can ask around and people will tell you: Her bread is amazing, her eggplant parm is something I request whenever I'm in town, her rice balls are one-of-a-kind, and she makes awesome gravy - which is especially impressive because she doesn't have an ounce of Italian blood in her. 

So, as I enter my first year of marriage, I also find myself embarking on the search for my thing. The husband has challenged me to try a new recipe a week, and I've accepted this challenge with open arms. So far he has learned he loves chicken curry, enjoyed homemade gnocchi and asked me to please never make pepper-and-cheese-stuffed chicken breasts again. I guess you could say things are going well so far. 

This week, though, I'm not just cooking for the husband. This week, I had to make a dish for the husband to pass at his company's Thanksgiving gathering. Last year I made a sweet potato dish. I'm ashamed to say I took the easy route again this year and told him to sign me up for sweet potatoes. I've tried a new recipe, though, and will be crossing my fingers until he gets home from work. I really hope they go over well. And that alone would make me happy. I'm sure these cubed sweet potatoes won't be my thing, but I'll settle for having the husband whose wife makes the really awesome sweet potatoes every year at Thanksgiving. Maybe these sweet potatoes will be one of my things.


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