Thursday, May 30, 2013

May Reads

I have been seriously slacking on books lately, I didn't even complete one full book for the month of April. I couldn't get into anything I read and probably spent way too much time flipping through cookbooks and magazines instead.

I did however manage to read through two books this month and they both were fantastic. I'm excited to tell you a little bit about them. So let's get started!

This is the first book of Michael Pollan's I've ever read. It's really short and quick to the point, which I liked. His philosophy when it comes to food is summed up in just three short statements- Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. There you go, can't get any easier than that! 

I'd like to share just a few of the listed "rules" that I particularly liked throughout the book. Don't eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn't recognize as food.  Loved this one, common sense but one that we all struggle with. 

Shop the peripheries of the supermarket and stay out of the middle. This is how I've always done most of my grocery shopping, we try really hard to limit the amount of processed foods we buy. Not only are they not good for our health but they're also expensive and we simply can't afford that in our budget.

The whiter the bread, the sooner you'll be dead. I'm still working on this one, I love my white bread, not so much store bought but homemade. I'm slowly incorporating more whole grains into our favorite recipes and I'm actually loving the flavor just as much.

I've wanted to read this particular book for awhile now, it's been sitting on my shelf patiently waiting for me. During our little weekend trip to Arkansas it was the perfect opportunity to start diving in. 

I'd like to think my own girls are pretty good eaters, not too picky and we certainly do not let them live on traditional kid's foods like chicken nuggets and macaroni and cheese. After finishing this book though I'm not sure they would enjoy most of the traditional french dishes listed, it's true, french kids really do eat everything! 

Oh and snacks, yeah those don't happen in France like they do over in the United States. Typically one snack is served after school about 4:30 (they also eat dinner at 7:30, much later than I'm sure most of us do). I try really hard not to let my girls snack too often because I want them to actually be hungry for their meals. I've noticed some parents let their kiddos snack so often throughout the day that when it's time for meals, they're not even hungry. 

After moving back to her husband's hometown in France and being challenged by pretty much everyone there including her own in-law's; author Karen Le Billon decides to tackle her own two daughters' picky eating habits. Quickly discovering this wasn't going to such an easy task, she comes up with her own version of food rules to help make this transition easier. The real challenge would be moving back home to Vancouver and carrying out these newly learned "rules". 

I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of this book, if you're a foodie like myself I know you'll love it just as much. I also think it's a great read for parents in general, what parent doesn't want their children to eat a healthy variety of foods each day? Le Billon's story is entertaining and I think you'll find her strategies helpful in your own quest to conquer picky eating.

At the very end of the book you'll also find a collection of nutritious recipes that her own family and especially children enjoy today. Of course I'm most tempted to try her chocolate mousse but the cauliflower casserole sounds pretty tasty too!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Honey Roasted Peanut Butter

I love making my own nut butters, whether it be almond butter or a peanut butter like this one. I'm not against purchasing a jar from the store but I really do think it tastes so much better homemade.

It's really quite one of the easiest things ever too. By simply dumping one to two cups of nuts in a food processor (or I bet a blender will work just fine) and grinding them up for several minutes will result in this wonderful concoction. Get the kids involved too, they will love watching!

Speaking of kids, they will also love these little apple sandwiches. We've been making these for snacks around here, I even like them myself. I'm not big on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but something about slathering some peanut butter in between apples is just delicious!

They're really easy to make, you'll just need to slice the apple into circles, you should be able to get 2 whole sandwiches out of one apple. Take either a very small round cookie cutter or use a knife to remove the core in the middle. Then spread with your desired nut butter and sandwich the two apples together. You can also add raisins if you'd like.

Honey Roasted Peanut Butter

2 cups dry roasted peanuts
2 tbsp honey
Pinch of salt (optional)

Add peanuts, honey and salt to food processor; secure with lid. Process for several minutes until peanut butter reaches your desired consistency.

I had mine going for about 10 mins, it's really creamy. If you like yours thicker then 5-6 mins might be all you'll process it for. Play around with it and see what you like best.

Makes about 2 cups. Store in an air tight container and keep in fridge, should keep for about 2 months.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Smokey Gouda BBQ Pizza

What a yucky Saturday it's been! Nothing but rain and wind all day long. It made for a very long morning at the farmers' market, we finally got the okay to pack up and leave around 10:30, which never happens.  Looks like I'll be going around to various family members homes to deliver baked goods.

This experience definitely makes me appreciate farmers that much more. I think of all the work I put into my baked treats to bring each Saturday and they work 10x harder than I do. When the weather doesn't cooperate with our time down there it's frustrating for all vendors.

Now this pizza, where do I start? I love pizza and this was unbelievably good. Diced chicken tossed with BBQ sauce and garlic, topped with sweet bell peppers, mozzarella cheese and smoked Gouda cheese. Delish! I think I could eat a slice everyday.

Smokey Gouda BBQ Pizza

Pizza dough
1 c diced, cooked chicken
1/2 c BBQ sauce (I used Sweet Baby Ray's)
1 garlic clove, minced
3/4 c diced bell pepper
1-1/2 c shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2-3/4 c grated smoked Gouda cheese
Olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees, place stone in oven at same time. Meanwhile roll out pizza dough into a large circle. When ready, transfer crust to hot stone. In a bowl, mix together diced chicken, BBQ sauce and garlic.
Brush crust with olive oil, spread half of chicken mixture over crust. Sprinkle diced peppers and mozzarella cheese on top. Add remaining chicken and finish off with smoked Gouda cheese.

Bake for 12-15 mins. or until cheese is melted and crust is golden brown.


Any big plans for the long weekend? We're hanging around home for the most part. The hubby and I will be going out tonight for a bit though, to celebrate our anniversary. It's been way too long since we've had a night away from the kiddos and I'm super excited to see the new Fast and Furious movie!

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Pesto-Chicken Pasta

This recipe comes from one of my daycare moms and friend, Denise. She made this during our latest freezer swap. I had actually thawed it out to make on Monday night for a quick dinner, but Josh decided he wanted to grill steaks and eat later than planned. Instead I served up half of this for lunch yesterday for the kiddos and sent the other half home with another daycare mom. Her hubby is out of town for a few days on work and I thought she'd appreciate a little help getting dinner on the table.

I'm usually pretty willing to try just about anything when it comes to food, but sometimes I'm better off not knowing what ingredients are used. I'm not a big fan of Alfredo sauce, I don't know what it is, maybe it's just the fact that it's a white creamy sauce and we never ate chicken Alfredo growing up...ever.

I was really surprised to find Alfredo sauce as one of the ingredients, but it's okay because I loved this dish! The kids ate really well for lunch so I knew they enjoyed it too. We can also feel good about sneaking some extra greens in their bellies.

When preparing this recipe you can make one bigger 9x13 pan or two smaller 8x8 pans. Denise actually threw the mixture in a gallon sized freezer bag when we exchanged our meals and it froze wonderfully.

Pesto-Chicken Pasta

1 lb. penne pasta
2-3 diced, cooked chicken breasts
16 oz. shredded Italian cheese blend
3 c fresh baby spinach
15 oz. crushed tomatoes
15 oz. jar Alfredo sauce
1-1/2 c milk
8.1 oz. jar prepared pesto
1/2 c Italian seasoned breadcrumbs
1/2 c grated Parmesan cheese
1 tbsp olive oil

Cook pasta according to package directions. While that's cooking, in a large bowl combine chicken, cheese blend, spinach, tomatoes, Alfredo sauce, milk and pesto. Drain pasta and add to chicken mixture. Toss together well to coat.

Transfer to two greased 8x8-inch baking pans. In a small bowl, combine breadcrumbs, Parmesan cheese and oil. Sprinkle over dishes. Bake at 350 for about 30-35 mins or until heated through.

If freezing, let cool completely and then cover and place in freezer. When ready to use, thaw in fridge overnight and bake.

Each casserole should serve 6 people

Monday, May 20, 2013

DIY Ranch Dip

We had a super busy weekend! Friday morning we left for Arkansas to see watch my husband's cousin graduate high school, there were 850 graduates in her class, but they did a great job keeping the ceremony moving so we weren't there all day. We came back yesterday, it's a good 8 hour drive from Iowa so we spent most of our weekend in the van.

The kiddos were so well behaved considering we don't travel much. I think our longest drive with all three of them would be 5 hours. They loved seeing their cousins and it was great to see all our family, even if it was only for a short time.

It also happens to be our wedding anniversary today! Seven years married and 15 together, we started dating in 8th grade. Crazy! We won't be celebrating today, we've got dance and softball for the girls so instead we'll wait and have a little date night this weekend. I can't wait, dinner and a movie always seems to be our choice and they don't happen often enough.

Back to the dip. One of our favorite snacks happens to be fresh veggies and ranch dip, my kids eat bell peppers like they're candy. I love it! I don't particularly like all the extra additives in standard dips. I've been reading labels a little more than usual and it's mind boggling how many ingredients are in some of our everyday foods we eat.

Aside from the fact that you can feel better knowing what's going into your ranch dip, this is really delicious! It's also quicker to mix up than driving to the store and purchasing a container. Oh and I bet it's also cheaper. See....what's not to love?

DIY Ranch Dip

2 tbsp dried parsley
1 tsp dried dill
1 tsp garlic powder
3/4 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp dried basil
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 cup sour cream

In a small bowl mix together dried herbs. In another bowl add 1 cup of sour cream, sprinkle in seasoning and mix together well. Serve immediately or store in fridge.

Adapted from: 100 Days of Real Food

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Frozen Chocolate Delight

It sure feels like a hot summer day here in Iowa, my computer says it's 91 outside right now. The kids and I spent most of our morning outside and we'll be heading back out as soon as they wake up from naps. I love days like this!

This dessert was my contribution to Mother's Day dinner on Sunday. I spotted it in my newest issue of Simple & Delicious, actually Gracie spotted it first and said I needed to make it.

I love easy, no-bake desserts during the summer and this is another one I can add to my files. I'm sorry if you're not a fan of chocolate, Josh isn't either so he missed out too.

I did really like the combination of crushed saltines and graham crackers in the crust, it gives the dessert a nice sweet and salty flavor. The middle layer is made up of both chocolate and vanilla pudding mixed in with cookies and cream ice cream. When mixing this portion up I found using my potato masher helped me get any lumps out of the ice cream, that way the mixture was nice and creamy.

Butterfinger was my choice of candy bar to sprinkle on top, the original recipe called for Heath. I think just about any sort of chocolate would be wonderful so feel free to use whatever is your favorite!

Frozen Chocolate Delight

1 c crushed saltine crackers
1/2 c graham cracker crumbs
5 tbsp butter, melted
2 c milk
3.4 oz. instant chocolate pudding mix
3.4 oz. instant vanilla pudding mix
1-1/2 qt. cookies and cream ice cream, softened
8 oz. carton whipped topping, thawed
1 large Butterfinger candy bar, crushed

In a small bowl, combine saltine crackers, graham cracker crumbs and butter. Mix together well and press into bottom of a lightly greased 9x13-inch baking dish. Place in fridge for 15 mins.

In a large bowl, whisk together both pudding mixes and milk for 2 minutes. Fold in ice cream (use your potato masher if needed to help make this mixture smooth). Spread over crust. Top with thawed whipped topping, sprinkle with crushed candy bar.

Cover and freeze until firm. I was only able to freeze mine for about 3 1/2-4 hours and the ice cream layer was firm yet not completely frozen. We really enjoyed it. If you want it to be completely frozen I would recommend freezing overnight or at least 6-8 hours. Remove from freezer 30 minutes before serving.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Tex-Mex Chicken Spaghetti

Happy Mother's Day to all of you hard-working mama's out there! I sure hope you got spoiled today and took some time just for yourself...we deserve it!

We had a pretty low key day. Spent time with both of our families, took the girls shopping for summer clothes and did a little bit of housework. Speaking of shopping with kids, this whole ordeal is starting to stress me out. Seriously, I can't even imagine what it will be like when they get older! They're all well behaved but to try to do some major shopping all at once is just too much. We're also getting to the point where mom's fashion sense is not cool I guess. Talk about feeling old!

We enjoyed this for dinner one night this past week. The kids always love anything with pasta, this was a nice change up from traditional spaghetti with red sauce.

As we're heading into warmer weather this will be a great meal to prepare since it's cooked on the stovetop and not baked in the oven like some pasta dishes. I also love the fact that this dish uses real ingredients and not canned cream soups. Anything with a creamy cheddar sauce is always welcomed in my book.

Tex-Mex Chicken Spaghetti

3/4 lb. spaghetti
2 tbsp butter
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 c chopped bell pepper
2 tbsp flour
1 c chicken broth
1 c milk
1/2 c sour cream
8 oz. grated marbled cheddar and Monterrey jack cheese (feel free to use any kind of cheese you like)
10 oz. can Rotel, undrained
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
Salt and pepper to taste
1-1/2 c cooked, shredded chicken

Cook pasta according to package directions. In a large skillet melt butter, add in garlic cloves and bell pepper. Let cook for a few mins., stir in flour well and let cook for 2 mins. Slowly whisk in broth, milk and sour cream. Increase heat just a bit to allow sauce to thicken.

Add in grated cheese while stirring constantly until cheese is melted through. Stir in rotel, spices, chicken and cooked spaghetti. Toss together to evenly coat, serve immediately.

Adapted from: Cassie Craves

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Yogurt Bites

I'm probably the last person to finally try these, better late than never. I've been serving these to the kiddos for snacks lately and they just love them. Both my own and daycare kids are big yogurt eaters so I knew these would go over well and they're such a fun twist on regular yogurt.

If there is any downfall to these, it would that they melt fast. They'll be perfect though for snacks outside this spring and summer and the mess will be minimal.

Another great snack idea for warm weather: frozen fruit. I still have a gallon sized bag of raspberries that I froze from last summer that they've been devouring. Instead of popsicles I can serve frozen fruit, same concept but only healthier.

With the weather getting warmer and school ending in another few weeks, what are some of your favorite healthy snacks to serve? We do a lot of fresh fruit and veggies, these yogurt bites, string cheese and smoothies. I'm always looking for fun new things to serve so I'd love to hear some of your ideas!

Yogurt Bites

Your choice of yogurt
Plastic baggie
Cookie sheet lined with parchment paper

Add yogurt to a sandwich sized baggie, snip bottom corner. Drop small amounts of yogurt onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Place in freezer for 2 hours or until frozen. Remove from cookie sheet and serve. Store remaining bites in the freezer.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Farmers' Market

My weeks seem to go from one extreme to the next. One week will be so relaxing and not much going on and then the next one will have me baking, filling orders multiple days, busy with the kid's activities, etc. Last week was one of those.

We started softball for our oldest, Marissa. Gracie still has dance for another month. I had a pretty big order for our friend's dad's retirement party Friday night, a graduation order, Marissa had a bake sale and it was the start of farmers' market season. To top it off I had a nasty cold all week and not much of a voice either. Today is the first day I'm starting to feel a little better.

It was an extremely busy week regardless but I was super excited to be back at our downtown Saturday morning market. I took last year off because I found myself too busy with regular cake/cupcake orders plus I had quite a few large weddings to do as well. This year I've teamed up with a friend of mine, we used to be neighbors and our daughters have been friends since kindergarten. She's recently started her own gourmet popcorn business and is opening up a storefront in town. Local readers check out her facebook page, Here's What's Poppin. She'll have a store in downtown Cedar Falls right on Main Street and is anticipating on opening in June.

Our weather was really crappy last week, it started off really nice but by Wednesday we had cold temps and even snow! With my busy schedule and the weather I decided against bringing cupcakes to the first day, I didn't want to be stuck with dozens of leftovers and have to try to get rid of them. I generally bring about four other items with me, baked goods of course and usually a mixture between breakfast items, cookies, bars, pies or just whatever I feel like baking that week.

Here's a peek at the goodies I had at my booth:

Cinnamon rolls are always popular. I love to bring them every week and I think customers like to grab one and enjoy as they browse.

Muffins are another good seller for me. My sister-in-law loves these baked pumpkin doughnut holes, I made these with her in mind.

Another reason I love being a vendor is I get a chance to try out lots of recipes during our six-month season. I found this through Pinterest and thought it would be a fun cookie for kids. These jello cookies were sure fun to make but unfortunately were not a good seller for me. Maybe once school's out and more kids are in attendance...I don't know.

Oh my were these good! Of course I had to sample just a little. This was another new recipe I tried out. I can see these caramel snickers 7-layer bars making a regular appearance, I only brought home one little container and everyone seemed to love them. These are definitely one of the most decadent bars I've ever made.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Taco Burgers

How is it that I avoided getting sick for the most part throughout all of winter, but now when the weather is warm and beautiful my body wants to shut down? I haven't had much of a voice since Sunday evening and just feel kind of yucky. I'd love nothing more than to spend a day in bed but unfortunately that's just not going to happen.

Life goes on.

Yesterday we had temps in the 80s, it was perfect summer weather. The kids got to play outside most of the day and I made these burgers for dinner.

I gave our burgers a little twist last night, we love tacos but it was too nice out not to grill. So we improvised and made taco burgers instead. I simply added taco seasoning to my ground beef mixture along with some crushed Frito chips and that was it. We topped them lettuce, slices of tomatoes and fresh salsa and they were so good!

You'll want to make sure you make these at least once this summer!

Taco Burgers

1.5 lbs. ground beef
1 envelope taco seasoning
3/4 c crushed Frito chips
1 egg
Sliced cheddar cheese
Desired toppings such as: lettuce, tomato, avocado, salsa
Hamburger buns

Add ground beef, taco seasoning, crushed chips and egg to a medium-large bowl. Mix together well and form into patties. I got 7 patties out of my mixture. Grill patties until cooked through, about 7 mins. on each side. Add a slice of cheese to each hamburger at the end, and cook just until melted. Serve on buns with desired toppings.
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