Thursday, April 28, 2011

Crock Pot Pintos

It's crazy how much my kids love these beans.   We like them, too!

Crock Pot Pintos

1 pound of dried pinto beans
1 ham hock/bone (I often leave this out if I don't have it)
1/4 onion, as a chunk
2 whole cloves of garlic
8 cups of water
8 beef bouillon cubes (you could also use beef broth if you have a thing against bouillon)

Rinse the dry beans (check for rocks) in the morning the day before you want to eat them, cover with water, and let them soak throughout the day.  That night, rinse them again and put them in the crock pot the with the remaining ingredients.  Make sure the water covers the beans by a couple of inches.  Cook on low all night and through the next day (about 20 hours).  Remove and discard the ham hock, onion and garlic.  Serve with shredded cheese, avocado, and a little fresh lime juice (sour cream, tomatoes, and green onions are all good on top, too).

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad

You're going to have to trust me that this salad is fabulous.  The picture looks kind of gross, I know. Like raw chicken....I made the salad and then some things came up and it had to sit in the fridge for about an hour.  The acid broke down the avocado and the grapefruit got mushed up.  But it was still so so good.  You won't let that happen.  We had it with Simple Salmon.

Grapefruit and Avocado Salad (Barefoot Contessa)
I halved this recipe.

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup good olive oil
4 ripe Hass avocados
2 large red grapefruits

Place the mustard, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Before serving, cut the avocados in 1/2, remove the seeds, and carefully peel off the skin. Cut each half into 4 thick slices. Toss the avocado slices in the vinaigrette to prevent them from turning brown. Use a large, sharp knife to slice the peel off the grapefruits (be sure to remove all the white pith), then cut between the membranes to release the grapefruit segments.  

Arrange the avocado slices around the edge of a large platter. Arrange the grapefruit segments in the center. Spoon the vinaigrette on top, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and serve.  I served it over lettuce since it didn't look perfect.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Glorious Stuffed Portobello Mushrooms

No food reminds me of the 80s more than stuffed mushrooms.  I loved them, so my mom made them a lot.  I don't remember what she put in them except bread crumbs, mushrooms, and cheese, but they were so good.  This is an updated recipe (for this century), and it's slightly healthier than most recipes for stuffed mushrooms because there is no cream cheese, there are some vegetables, and just a little sausage and cheese per serving (there are 2 servings in one mushroom cap).

Glorious Stuffed Mushrooms (how can you not like a recipe that claims to be glorious?) 
Adapted from The Tasty Kitchen Blog 

2 whole Portobello mushroom caps
1 small package of crimini mushrooms or white button mushrooms (for extra stuffing)
olive oil
1/4 pound bulk Italian sausage or ground breakfast sausage (I used breakfast sausage)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 a medium sized onion
1/4 red bell pepper 
1 stalk celery 
2 cloves garlic 
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary  
1/2 cup red wine (substitute chicken stock if you don't do wine)
1/2 cup Monterey jack cheese, shredded 
2 slices whole wheat sandwich bread, toasted and cubed
1 whole Egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 350F.
Wipe the portobellos clean with a paper towel and scrape out the gills with a spoon. Drizzle enough olive oil in the bottom of a glass baking dish to coat. Place portobello caps in the baking dish, top down, drizzle with oil, and set aside. 

Brown sausage in a large skillet with the crushed red pepper over medium high heat.
While the sausage is browning, remove stems from small mushrooms and chop them.  Dice the onion and bell pepper, chop the celery, and mince the garlic.

Remove the rosemary leaves from the stems and finely chop. Add the veggies and garlic and rosemary to the skillet and saute with the sausage until crisp-tender, about 5-7 minutes.

Add the wine to deglaze the pan and allow to cook for another 5 minutes or so.

Stir in the shredded cheese (reserve a little for the top) and bread cubes. The bread cubes should soak up whatever wine remains in the pan.

Taste it at this point, and add salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Stir in the beaten egg. The stuffing mixture should seem a little wet.

Mound stuffing mixture into portobello caps. It’s ok to pack it down a little bit to make sure that it stays in place.  There will be extra stuffing, so stuff the small mushrooms as leftover or for the kids.
Sprinkle with a little extra shredded cheese. Bake at 450F for 25-30 minutes, or until the portobello is tender and the stuffing is golden brown.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Santorini Salad with Roasted Shrimp

After a weekend of Cadbury eggs and Peeps, it was so nice to have a light salad for dinner.  It's basically a Greek salad sans olives (I don't like them so I leave them out), and with shrimp to add a little protein. 

Santorini Salad with Roasted Shrimp (modified from PW)

1 head romaine lettuce, chopped
4 whole tomatoes, chopped
1 English cucumber, chopped
6 ounces crumbled feta cheese
fresh oregano to taste
¼ cups olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 clove garlic, ground into a paste
salt and pepper
1 whole lemon, for squeezing


Add chopped lettuce, tomato wedges, cucumber chunks, half the feta, and oregano to a large bowl.

Combine olive oil, vinegar, sugar, garlic, salt, pepper, in a bowl. Whisk together until combined. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Pour dressing over salad ingredients, then add salt and pepper. Toss with tongs. Just before serving, top with additional feta and squeeze a little lemon juice over the top.

*To make garlic into a paste, peel and crush garlic clove, add a pinch of kosher salt and with the broad surface of your chef's knife at a 30degree angle, work the knife back and forth crushing as well as pushing the salt/garlic mix until it turns into a paste.

Roasted Shrimp

I buy frozen peeled and deveined shrimp with the tails on.  Thaw them under hot water, dry them well with a paper towel, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Roast at 400 for about 3-5 minutes, or until pink.  Don't overcook them.

Potato and Mushroom Frittata

Got a bunch of leftovers in the fridge?  Then it's the perfect night for a frittata.  You can put anything in it and it works, and it's really fast.  You can also serve a frittata for breakfast, lunch, or brunch, too. 

I made mine with leftover potatoes from a local restaurant, fresh mushrooms, rosemary, chives, and goat cheese. 

Basic Frittata

Preheat broiler to high.

Using a nonstick skillet, cook on medium high heat whatever raw veggies you have with a little olive oil until almost done.  Add any leftover meats, potatoes, or pasta and cook until warmed through.  Meanwhile, whisk 2 eggs per person (I use one whole egg and one egg white per person) with a little milk, salt and pepper, a dash of hot sauce, and any herbs you are using. Pour egg mixture into pan with meat and vegetables and stir.  Cook for 4-5 minutes until the egg mixture has set on the bottom and begins to set on top. Sprinkle top with any cheese you like.
Place pan under the broiler for a few minutes until lightly browned and fluffy. Watch it closely!
Serve by cutting like a pie and with a salad.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Easter Rolls

These rolls are such a neat (and very Duggar-y, I might add) way to tell the Easter Story to children.  And since we'd spent the evening hunting eggs and visiting the Easter Bunny, we thought it'd be a good way to remind us all why we celebrate Easter.

1 can of refrigerated crescent rolls
8 large marshmallows
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Separate crescent rolls and give one to each child.  In a small bowl, mix sugar and cinnamon together. Dip marshmallow into melted butter, then roll in the sugar mixture. Let each child put a marshmallow in center of a crescent dough triangle and wrap carefully, pinching at seams to seal tightly. Place on baking sheet and bake for 10-12 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool, break open and enjoy the empty center!!

Get it?  It's the tomb. It's empty.  You can tell them that the dough is the tomb and the marshmallow is Jesus, but then your 3 year old might get panicked and say, "I'm gonna cook Jesus?!" So you might want to leave that part out.  It's up to you. :)
He is risen, indeed! Happy Easter.

Thursday, April 21, 2011


Ok, this isn't dinner, but it's a super cute craft we made for our teachers today.  I'm not at all crafty, I don't scrapbook, my glue stick is dried up, and I don't even own a glue gun.  However,  I'll occasionally do a food craft for a gift.  This craft took about 10 minutes (which is extremely fast for the craft-impaired) and cost only $5 to make them for 5 teachers.

It is, of course, not my idea.  My brilliant friend introduced me to it, and she got the idea from here, where you can find detailed instructions.  Beta helped me (by eating the leftover peeps while I was cutting and taping) and Alpha is so excited to give one to her teacher tomorrow.   She has such a wonderful teacher this year!! The baby squeezed the ones for his teachers, but they are so seasoned teaching 3 year olds that they'll expect it and think it's cute, too.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Open Faced Roast Beef Sandwiches/SOS

Open Faced Roast Beef Sandwiches are my favorite leftover!  Gravy is typically reserved for Thanksgiving in our house, but sometimes you just need gravy.
Both my dad and John's dad were in the armed forces in the 60s, and tell of a special meal they were served called SOS.  SOS can stand for various things....same ol' stuff, stew on a shingle (toast), or what they crudely call it, sh$t on a shingle.  It's chipped beef with a white gravy served on toast. We were laughing that we ate SOS tonight!

Gravy 101

There are so many ways to make gravy.  Once you learn the basic technique, you make any kind of sauce! Here's how I do it:

Start with a roux (pronounced roo). Melt 2 tablespoons of butter with 2 tablespoons of flour.*  Cook over medium heat, stirring, until the roux is medium brown.   Add about 1/2 cup of leftover cooking liquid from the roast (or beef stock) and whisk until thick.  Add another cup of liquid, bring to a boil, and whisk out the lumps.  If it's lumpy, add some more liquid and keep whisking.  When it's as thick as you want it, you've got gravy.   Don't forget salt and pepper.

*Use the one to one ratio with any fat such as bacon fat, turkey drippings, breakfast sausage drippings, or olive oil.
*For the liquid, use chicken or beef stock, or milk to make white gravy for biscuits.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Roast Beef with Thyme and Sage Roasted Carrots

I made Slow Cooker Roast Beef , Thyme and Sage Roasted Carrots, and Smashed Potatoes with Chives for dinner.  I'm not a huge fan of cooked carrots, but I decided to give these a try.  The sage and thyme were perfect with the carrots! 

Thyme and Sage Roasted Carrots

Cut carrots into one inch hunks and drizzle with olive oil.  Add salt and pepper and roast at 450 until brown, about 10-15 minutes.  When you pull them out, toss again with a little salt if necessary, and add about a total of one tablespoon of fresh thyme and sage. 

Have I mentioned how glad I am it's spring so I have fresh herbs?!

Smashed Potatoes with Chives
Cut Yukon Gold potatoes into small pieces and boil until tender in salted water.  Drain, return potatoes to pan, add 2 tablespoons of butter and about 1/2 cup of milk and smash.   Add fresh chives

Slow Cooker Roast Beef
Pat roast dry with paper towels and season with salt, pepper, and steak seasoning (if you want it, but just watch the salt).  Place in crock pot and add one box of beef broth and water as needed to cover.  Split one onion in half and throw in in there, too.  Don't chop it because you'll want to take it out later.  Cook on low for 7-10 hours.  When it's finished, use a sieve to strain the liquid well and shred the beef.  Spoon the liquid on the roast to serve.  

Monday, April 18, 2011

The Best Chocolate Cake

Hershey's Chocolate Cake
This is my super secret favorite chocolate cake recipe.  So secret that it comes from the back of the Hershey's cocoa box.  It's almost as fast as a cake mix, but tastes so much better!  We added a cute bunny on the top since Easter is Sunday. 

2 cups sugar
1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1 cup milk
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup boiling water

Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.

Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water (batter will be thin). Pour batter into prepared pans.

Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with "PERFECTLY CHOCOLATE" CHOCOLATE FROSTING. 10 to 12 servings.

CUPCAKES: Line muffin cups (2-1/2 inches in diameter) with paper bake cups. Heat oven to 350°F. Fill cups 2/3 full with batter. Bake 22 to 25 minutes. Cool completely. Frost. About 30 cupcakes.

I double this recipe for a 2 layer cake.

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
2/3 cup HERSHEY'S Cocoa
3 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Melt butter. Stir in cocoa. Alternately add powdered sugar and milk, beating to spreading consistency.
Add small amount additional milk, if needed. Stir in vanilla. About 2 cups frosting.

Ham and Cheese Party Sandwiches

After coming home from a long weekend in Mexico with John, and after having eaten way too much guacamole, I probably should have cooked something really healthy.  But I didn't.  My girls wanted these sandwiches and a chocolate cake.  So that's what they got.

Ham and Cheese Party Sandwiches

There are tons of versions of these sandwiches.  This is how I like to make them.

small bakery rolls
deli ham
sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 stick of salted butter
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon seasoning salt

Melt butter and add seasonings.  Brush onto both inside sides of cut rolls.  Add slices of ham and cheese to each sandwich.  Bake at 400 covered with foil for 10-15 minutes or until hot.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Cranberry Apple Quinoa Salad

I was going to make a kind of Greek quinoa salad with tomatoes and cucumbers, but I totally forgot tomatoes at the store this week.  No way am I going back to Wal Mart for one thing!  You know I can't stand going there.  So I had to make up a recipe using some things I already had in the fridge.   It turned out better than great!

Cranberry Apple Quinoa Salad
1 cup dry quinoa
2 cups water
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
zest and juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1-2 teaspoons honey (to taste)
4 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1/4 cup fresh herbs (I used mint, basil, and chives. YAY for spring!! I've got herbs!)
1/4 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup walnuts
1 small apple, diced

Cook the quinoa according to the package directions.  Let it cool on a sheet pan while you make the dressing.

Add the vinegar, lemon juice and zest, mustard, salt, and pepper to a large bowl and whisk to combine with olive oil.  Add the cooled quinoa and mix.   Add in the herbs, cranberries, walnuts, and apple.  Cover with plastic wrap and store in fridge until ready to eat.  Eat it cold. 

We had sauteed tilapia seasoned only with salt and pepper to go with the salad, although, the salad is a meal on it's own.  I felt like John needed something to make him feel less like a girl while he was eating something called Cranberry Apple Quinoa Salad for dinner.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Lemon Pepper Salmon with Steamed Asparagus

This was such a quick and healthy dinner.  My legs are still recovering from the half marathon I ran yesterday, so I was happy to stand for only 22 minutes to cook dinner!!

Lemon Pepper Salmon with Steamed Asparagus

Sprinkle both sides of thawed, dried, salmon fillets generously with lemon pepper seasoning.  Heat nonstick skillet on high until it's HOT.  Once it's hot, put about a teaspoon of olive oil in the pan.  Put the salmon in the pan and cook on high until about an inch is cooked (look at the side of the fillet, probably about 5 minutes depending on the heat of your stove).  Flip the salmon, turn the heat down to medium high and cook for 3-5 minutes.  You're going to have to experiment to decide how well done you like your salmon.  Take the salmon out of the pan and let it rest.  It will continue to cook at bit.

I added 1/2 a tablespoon of salted butter to the pan, let it melt, and then squeezed in the juice of a whole lemon.  I poured the butter over the salmon. 

To steam the asparagus, add about 1/4 cup of water to a small saucepan.  Bring it to a boil, add the asparagus, cover, and cook for 3-5 minutes, or until almost tender.  Remove it from the pan and add salt and pepper.  It will continue to cook as it cools, so be sure to slightly undercook it. 

Friday, April 8, 2011

Tips for Healthy Eating Out

I love to go out to eat.  At least, I used to, before I had toddlers.  Eating out with a toddler is an experience I try to avoid at all costs...And Chuck E Cheese?  Well, I try to go there only when we are invited to birthday parties, and then I usually talk John into taking the invited child.   That place gives me a headache.

But as a reward for an excellent report card, I found myself there last night with my 3 kids, by myself.  I expected the worst, but they were perfectly behaved, very happy, and I had a $19.99 coupon for pizza, drinks, and enough tokens to last an hour.  And I discovered that Chuck's now got himself a decent salad bar!

Now, I'm no nutritional expert.  And I try to do the best I can with what I have as far as eating goes.
But the dietitians and doctors that work for the government are experts. They have finally updated that food pyramid we learned about in elementary school.  It makes sense.  And their website,, is great.  They put into print the things that healthy/skinny people seem to know intuitively. 

Here are my favorite of their tips for eating out. 

As a beverage choice, ask for water or other zero calorie beverage.  This is my ALWAYS rule.   Why drink unnecessary calories?

Ask for salad dressing to be served on the side. Dip your fork into the dressing, and then eat the lettuce.

Order an appetizer or side dish instead of an entrĂ©e.  This is my FAVORITE.  I almost never order an entree at a table service restaurant.  I would much rather have a salad, an app, and split a dessert.

Share a main dish with a friend.  Nicer restaurants will often plate them separately for you.  Be sure to tip your waiter as if you both ordered an entree, though!

In a restaurant, start your meal with a salad packed with veggies, to help control hunger and feel satisfied sooner.

Order an item from the menu instead heading for the “all-you-can-eat” buffet.  Better yet, don't go to buffets. Period. Nothing good can come from it!  And they are expensive. 

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Baked Lemon Pasta

Everything is better with lemon, right?  I sure think so.  You've got to try this pasta dish.  It's not exactly going to help you fit into those skinny jeans, but if you're training for a half marathon (what!), sometimes you just need a little pasta.

Baked Lemon Pasta 
1 pound pasta
4 Tablespoons Salted Butter
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
2 cloves Garlic, Minced
1 whole Lemon, Juiced And Zested
2 cups Sour Cream
½ teaspoons Kosher Salt, Or More To Taste
Plenty Of Grated Parmesan Cheese
parsley or chives for garnish

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cook pasta until al dente.

In a skillet, melt butter with olive oil over LOW HEAT. When butter is melted, add minced garlic. Squeeze lemon juice into the pan. Turn off heat.

Add sour cream and stir mixture together. Add lemon zest and salt. Taste, then add more salt if necessary. Pour mixture over drained pasta and stir together, then pour pasta into an oven safe dish.

Bake, covered, for 15 minutes. Then remove foil and bake for an additional 7 to 10 minutes. (Don’t bake too long or the pasta will dry out.)

When you remove it from the oven, squeeze a little more lemon juice over the top. Top generously with Parmesan cheese, then chopped parsley/chives. Give it a final squeeze of lemon juice at the end.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Oven Baked Potatoes

I love to make baked potatoes on a busy night because even though they take an hour to bake (you can also make them in the microwave, but the skin won't be crispy) they require zero effort.  Also, my children adore baked potatoes; and when my children are happy, I am happy. 

Anyway, we had baked potatoes for dinner with salads.  Do I need to print a recipe?  Bake potatoes in the oven for an hour.  Eat.  Oh, and if you live in my house, don't be the last one to get the bacon or your won't have much.  We like bacon around here.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Freezer Turkey Chili with White Beans

I had to spend the majority of the day steam cleaning the sofa (go-gurts don't just wipe off of upholstery come to find out), so I was so happy to have White Bean Turkey Chili in the freezer for dinner tonight.  I just thawed it in the microwave, then put it on the stove to simmer until we were ready to eat.  We added some shredded sharp cheddar cheese, sour cream, and a little cilantro to the serving bowls.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Chocolate Chip Strawberry Bars

My friend, Jen, made this awesome dessert and we all loved it, especially the kids.  And it's so EASY!  I'm thinking my 7 (going on 16) year old could do most of this by herself. 

Jen's Chocolate Chip Strawberry Bars

roll of cookie dough
1 brick of cream cheese
1/4 cup powder sugar
2 squares of white choc or vanilla almond bark
2 Tbsp of milk
1 cup Cool Whip
1 square of chocolate almond bark

Bake cookie dough in 9x13 pan, let cool.  Mix together cream cheese and powdered sugar.  Melt 2 squares of white choc or vanilla almond bark in 2 Tbsp of milk....about 40 sec in microwave. Stir it well so all bar is melted. Slowly add to cream cheese mixture while mixing on low speed. Add Cool Whip and stir together well. Spread onto cooled cookie dough. Add sliced fruit to top and then drizzle with the melted chocolate almond bark.

Homemade Spaghetti Sauce

I'm picky about spaghetti sauce (you can call it marinara or bolognese, but in Arkansas we just say spaghetti sauce to refer to any tomato sauce).  I've never mastered a sauce at home; they are always too watery, too sweet, or too bland.

My friend, Jill, invited us over for dinner last night and served this sauce with spaghetti.  I knew it would be really good since she made it, but it was the perfect sauce! Here's the recipe

Jill's Spaghetti Sauce
6 Tablespoons olive oil
6 medium garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 pound ground beef
1 (28 ounce) can whole tomatoes blended to destroy chunks
1 1/2 Tablespoons tomato paste
1/4 cup fresh chopped oregano
1/2 cup fresh chopped basil
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
dash of Cayenne Pepper
freshly ground pepper

In a large skillet or saucepan, heat the oil over moderate heat.  Add the garlic and onion; saute until tender, 2 to 3 minutes.

Add the beef and raise the heat slightly.  Saute the beef until it has lost all it's pink color, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomatoes.  Stir in the remaining ingredients and gently boil until thick, 15 to 20 minutes.

Serve over cooked pasta.

Serves 4-6