0

Pink Pancakes!

valentines_headerHolidays make me feel young at heart. Cheeky cards, garland, lights, and decorations make me giddy. It’s probably all Pinterest’s and Target’s fault. But as much as I love making every holiday special for my kids (whether they want me to or not), Valentine’s Day sends me over the freaking edge. Yes, my boys love chocolate and candy and parties, but the pomp and circumstance of card exchanges and all-things-heart-shaped are lost of them. So I sat at the dining room table several nights in a row decorating shoe boxes and bags, addressing cards, and preparing gifts for teachers, aides, therapists, and bus drivers (so I don’t look like the only deadbeat parent in a sea of hyper PTA moms). Let me just add that general education class, autism classmates, speech therapists, occupational therapists, instructional aides… We went through a ton of valentines.

Okay, enough complaining.

First challenge this year was finding valentine cards my boys actually liked. They may be 9- and 7-years old, but developmentally they enjoy the same characters as their 2-year-old brother. They would be completely happy with Elmo or Thomas, but I feared passing those out in an elementary school classroom would be social suicide. It is hard to find unique valentines at the usual box stores, and I didn’t want to spend a fortune. Thank goodness for Etsy! Thing 2 loves Pete the Cat books, and I downloaded these valentine cards for him. Thing 1 agreed to these Star Wars cards. I was able to personalize both at no extra charge, then printed them on cardstock at Office Max.

etsy_valentines

My idea for pink pancakes for tonight’s dinner came from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious cookbook. She has some inspiring (and insanely complicated) ideas for sneaking vegetables into foods kids typically love, and I usually keep roasted butternut squash or carrot purees in the freezer to toss into pasta sauces and pancakes. While Seinfeld’s original recipe uses beet puree and ricotta combined with store-bought pancake mix, I used my standard oatmeal pancake recipe and added beet to it. Roasting beets is super simple… Just trim the leaves and scrub the beets clean, wrap in aluminum foil, and roast at 375 for approximately 45 minutes. Let them cool enough to handle, trim and peel, and then you can slice, dice, or puree. For creating the puree, add 1/2 to 1 cup water to create a smooth consistency. For easy use, I freeze small portions in an ice cube tray, then thaw (more like microwave) what I want to use.

beet_puree

Pink Oatmeal Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond or cashew milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup beet puree
  • butter, coconut oil, or cooking spray for the griddle

Combine all ingredients (except butter) in a blender and blend until smooth. Heat up your griddle and melt butter or oil of choice. Ladle approximately 1/4 cup batter onto that sizzling hot griddle, and cook for 2-3 minutes per side. Top with maple syrup, powdered sugar, fresh fruit, whipped cream, or all of the above.

img_8796

Okay, okay…I used my heart cookie cutter. I was only entertaining myself at this point. We also ate turkey bacon and grapes because there’s nothing more fabulous to my children than breakfast for dinner, especially when it comes with a side of powdered sugar.

Advertisements
1

Ode to the Instant Pot

This post contains affiliate links.

This machine is incredible…life changing…inspiring…time saving…and overall the best kitchen appliance ever purchased. I put it through a major workout over Thanksgiving break making gallons of bone broth (recipe below) and prepped 20 freezer meals that can be cooked in 20-30 minutes  from freezer to table. I basically cooked dinner for the rest of the year.

Even better, it’s a crazy good deal right now.

Before hearing about the Instant Pot, I did not even know how a pressure cooker worked. A slow cooker cooks food with heat over a long period of time, but in a pressure cooker, food and liquid are sealed and come to a boil. As steam/pressure builds, food cooks faster. The Instant Pot is an easy-to-use multi-functional cooker that works as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, warmer, and saute pan. There are preset programs for cooking soups, meat/stew, rice, beans/chili, porridge, poultry, multigrains, steaming, and slow cooking, as well as dual pressure settings. It is made of a 3-ply stainless steel cooking pot and comes with a steam rack, measuring cup, and serving utensils. Because I never used a pressure cooker before this one, it took some time getting used to the process. I looked to Pinterest for inspiration, converted my slow cooker favorites, and tested a few recipes from The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook. When I cooked perfect, easy-to-peel hard boiled eggs and in seven minutes, my mind was blown. Know what else took seven minutes? An entire spaghetti squash. Seriously. The Instant Pot was also great for cooking dinner on those hot summer days when I didn’t want to turn on the oven or stand over the grill. After spending a month with my Instant Pot, I sold my Crock-Pot.

Now we are heading into winter, and my Instant Pot made an amazing batch of bone broth. I bought a bag of beef marrow bones at Whole Foods for our dog shortly before she passed away, and that bag has been in the freezer since July. I threw those on a sheet pan and roasted the bones for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. This is optional, but roasting bones first helps create a broth with richer flavor.

Bone Broth:

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, halved
  • bones (marrow bones, soup bones, chicken/turkey carcass, whatever)
  • 2 tbs. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • water

Place vegetables and garlic in the Instant Pot first, then add the bones. Drizzle apple cider vinegar over the bones and let sit for 20-30 minutes; the acid helps extract minerals from the bones. Then fill the pot with enough water to cover the bones, but do not exceed the max fill line. Cover and seal the Instant Pot, select the “Soup” setting, and set the time at 120 minutes. After pressure cooking is done, turn off the Instant Pot and let it naturally release for 15 minutes before venting. Strain the broth and you’re done…maybe.

Instead of bagging and tagging my broth at this point, I returned the strained broth to the Instant Pot and hit the “Saute” button. This brought the pot to a boil and I reduced the broth by approximately 1/3 to create a concentrate. Then I let the broth cool, poured into ice cube trays, and froze to create individual portions that can be reconstituted with hot water through cold and flu season.

img_0177

Mic. Drop.

Bone broth contains easily absorbed minerals and amino acids, like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, arginine, glutamine, and glycine. It supports the immune system to inhibit infections caused by cold/flu viruses and fights inflammation. The gelatin supports proper digestion. It’s the super food my husband hates…but I don’t care, he is still going to drink it and shut up about his man cold.

I followed this same process using the Thanksgiving turkey carcass to make turkey and rice soup. I picked off and chopped what meat remained on the carcass, then used the bones to make stock. Once the stock was strained, I returned it to the Instant Pot and added diced carrots, celery, onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper, two bay leaves, and the turkey meat and simmered for 30 minutes. I added one cup of rice at the end and the entire pot produced three meals worth of soup (dinner for us, dinner for my parents, one for the freezer).

So how can the Instant Pot be improved? Well, I have my eye on accessories at this point…like the Glass Lid and Yogurt Cups. I have also been reading articles about using the Instant Pot for canning, but as much as I love mason jars, that may be too ambitious for me.

0

Suck It Up or Suck It In

This past spring, I was in a funk. It was frustration (seeing autism red flags in Thing 3), exhaustion (Thing 2 still not sleeping), and burn out (lethal mix of immature students and their psycho parents). When I am stressed, I do three things: eat, drink, shop. By the time July rolled around, I finally stopped eating my feelings and decided to get healthy–because I was tired of feeling lethargic, and raising three kids on the spectrum required more dedication to my own health.

Weight loss is about setting goals and maintaining control, and eating less is more important than exercising more. For me, I maintain control by streamlining and simplifying. My husband and I joined Weight Watchers in 2012 and had success with that program, so we started religiously tracking points again this summer. I returned to the habit of meal planning, creating a weekly calendar for breakfasts, snacks, lunches, and dinners and prepping those dinners in advance. Once a month I create at least 25 meals to stock our freezer. On Amazon Prime Day, I bought an Instant Pot for an amazing price so those dinners go from freezer to table in 20-30 minutes, and all I do is push a button, which keeps us from hitting a fast food drive-thru on busy weeknights. I also joined monthly accountability groups led by my high school friend (a Beachbody coach) for extra support. I check in daily and tell the group what I ate, how I exercised, and everyone shares meal planning tips and recipes. I tried Shakeology and loved it, and now those shakes are my breakfast. They are 130-160 calories depending on flavor, keep me full until lunch, and almost completely banished my sugar cravings. Only downside is they’re freaking expensive, so I had to break up with Starbucks to afford them… $4 for a latte versus $4 for my “daily dose of dense nutrition.” I’m on target some weeks more than others but lost 9.8 pounds so far, and my husband is down 13 pounds.

So what does meal planning look like? Cooking Light has a cool interactive dinner planner, and Organized Home provides tips and printables to get you started. I don’t really understand people who plan menus before shopping because I work in reverse. I buy meats on sale and plan menus from there, using Pinterest and my cookbooks for inspiration (I try one new recipe each week). We buy meats in bulk once a month, then visit the grocery store weekly for produce, milk, etc. So here are two sample days to show how I survive Weight Watchers and the new SmartPoints system…

Monday:

Breakfast: Shakeology (vanilla blended with coffee and ice — 3 SmartPoints)

Snack: Coffee with 1 tbs. creamer (1 SmartPoint), hard-boiled egg (2 SmartPoints)

Lunch: Leftover Chicken Piccata (3 SmartPoints) and 1/3 cup egg noodles (2 SmartPoints)

Snack: Banana (0 SmartPoints) and Babybel Light cheese (1 SmartPoint)

After-School Snack: Apple with PB2 (1 SmartPoint) OR Cheez-It crackers (5 SmartPoints)

Dinner: Low-carb wrap (2 SmartPoints) with romaine lettuce (0 SmartPoints) and homemade chicken salad (made with Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise — 2 SmartPoints)

Snack: 2 cups SkinnyPop popcorn (2 SmartPoints)

Tuesday:

Breakfast: Overnight oats (1/2 cups oats, 1/2 unsweetened cashew milk, 1/4 tsp. cinnamon, 1/4 cup diced apple — 4 SmartPoints)

Snack: Coffee with 1 tbs. creamer (1 SmartPoint) and Siggi’s strawberry yogurt (3 SmartPoints)

Lunch: Leftover red beans & rice with turkey sausage (6 SmartPoints)

Snack: Apple (0 SmartPoints)

After-School Snack: Larabar mini (4 SmartPoints)

Dinner: Homemade corn and potato chowder (6 SmartPoints)

Snack: 2 cups SkinnyPop popcorn (2 SmartPoints)

That leaves me enough wiggle room within my 30 daily points to enjoy a small second helping at dinner, or a slice of banana bread left in the copy room, or that piece of chocolate my coworker brings to a meeting, or a glass of wine after dinner (4 SmartPoints for a 5 oz. pour).

For me, though, diet alone is not enough. To tone this mombod, I need to work out 3-4 times every week. I pay $10/month for a gym membership and head there on weekends for a mix of cardio and strength training. I tackle cardio first and spend 30 minutes on the rower or elliptical. Then I opt for machine weights…or if I feel ambitious, I’ll grab a kettle bell and follow this routine. During the week, I complete a couple Focus T25 workouts. Even though his oblique knee push-ups make me want to cry, I try to follow Shaun T’s advice to not over-do it and work out at least every three days.

It is hard to push play after the Spanx come off at the end of a long day, so we try to get moving as a family. We take a lot of walks after dinner–either around our neighborhood or following the trails at a county park. My kids love these hikes, especially when they include rocks, bridges, and bodies of water. We let Thing 1 and Thing 2 set the pace, and often their skipping and prancing turns into running. I’ll gladly tackle a two-mile jog if it tires them out before bedtime!

nature_walks

Thing 2–the kid with endless amounts of enthusiasm and energy–usually quits with 1/2 mile left to go so he can commune with nature. While he rode on my back, he kept saying, “I speak for trees.”

img_7054

The family that sweats together (and recites The Lorax together), stays together.

img_7065

0

Not-Your-Grandma’s Chicken Casserole

It’s the question as old as time… What’s for dinner? I imagine Adam asked Eve this question in the Garden of Eden. It was muttered by cavemen. Shakespeare spoke it in eloquent iambic pentameter. And it comes out of my husband’s mouth almost daily, slightly less eloquently.

why-does-he-want-dinner-every-single-night-2f1fd

(Image source: someecards.com)

I had a few ingredients approaching expiration dates in the fridge, namely sour cream and a block of cheese, and thawed chicken to work with. I threw this casserole together on the fly, and it was pretty good. Two of my three kids ate it without too much duress, so that makes it share-worthy.

I used quinoa instead of rice in this casserole for extra keep-you-full protein because I really need to stop stuffing cookies in my face. And wine. And cheese. And potato chips. But I digress… I jumped on the quinoa bandwagon a couple years ago (thanks, Pinterest). Quinoa is a cool superfood as it’s high in protein and an excellent source of riboflavin. The grain is also alkaline-forming, antiseptic, gluten-free, and low on the glycemic index.

Let’s start with the “soup” part. You’ll need:

  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 3 tbs. flour
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • salt and pepper

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add flour to create a rue, and let that cook for 90 seconds. Whisk in chicken stock, and when that is combined and smooth, slowly whisk in milk. Let that cook for 4-5 minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste.

That there is my recipe for cream-of-anything soup. I use it for casseroles, chicken pot pie, and anything calling for a can of cream-of-crap.

I transferred that soup to a large mixing bowl and whisked in sour cream, 1 cup of the shredded cheese (I used Sargento’s Garlic & Herb Jack), and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Then I rinsed out my saucepan to cook the quinoa, which included:

  • 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Just like rice, you bring it to a boil, then simmer covered for around 15 minutes.

While the quinoa simmered, I got the chicken and broccoli ready. The final ingredients you need are:

  • Two chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
  • 10 oz. box chopped broccoli, thawed

I buy chicken in bulk, then freeze it in 2-breast or 3-thigh portions in a rub or marinade. For tonight’s dinner, I used two chicken breasts sprinkled with Wildtree’s Garlic Galore and Absolutely Onion blends; but you can roast plain chicken with salt and pepper, pull it off a rotisserie, or use leftovers. It really doesn’t matter. I microwaved my chicken in a Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker for 5 minutes, let them rest, and chopped them up.

Add the chicken, broccoli, and cooked quinoa to the soup and cheese mixture in the mixing bowl. Give it a good stir, add salt or pepper to your liking, then transfer to a greased baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup shredded Jack cheese on top.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 8 minutes.

Dinner. Done.

IMG_0042

I wish I did a topping with breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers. That would have been the piece de resistance. Turn it southwest by using black beans, diced tomatoes and corn, pepper jack cheese, and chicken seasoned with taco seasoning. Go Greek with feta cheese, olives, and chicken with garlic and herbs. Or order a pizza. I always vote for pizza.

1

The Overachieving Box of Jiffy

The October air is chilly, and the crisp weather tonight is perfect for chicken soup, cornbread, and pumpkin ale. Once you indulge in this Jiffy on steroids, there will be no going back. Trust me. This cornbread is moist and decadent and amazing because it all starts with a stick of butter. I scored the recipe from a card shark named Tanya who dropped off the face of the earth, so I guess she won’t mind me sharing it here. If you copy this recipe, I want you to use REAL butter and shut up about the calories or your diet. Don’t half the amount or sub yogurt or some nonsense like that. Just. Shut. Up. This is what your preheating oven should look like.

Jiffy_sourcream

You’ll thank me later.

Jiffy_sourcream

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick of butter, melted
  • 1 box of Jiffy corn muffin mix
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 8 oz. can cream corn

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. I put the stick of butter in my cast iron skillet to melt while the oven preheats. (Cast iron is preferred, but any baking dish will do).

Combine the Jiffy, eggs, sour cream, baking powder, and cream corn. Add that mixture to your hot skillet with the melted butter. Listen to the sizzle as the batter hits the pan and think, “Ooooohhh, yes.” Bake at 375 for 5 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 and bake for an additional 25 minutes.

Jiffy_sourcream

I’ve added cheddar cheese, jalapeños, cayenne, or paprika, but this original recipe is my favorite. It’s the perfect sidecar to a bowl of chili or soup. It is so good!

Jiffy_sourcream

0

Spinach Mini-Muffins

All because this lonely jar of baby food took up valuable pantry real estate for too long…

spinach muffins

I tried to donate it, but the food bank does not accept glass containers. I hated the wasteful idea of throwing it away. So into muffins it went.

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
  • 6 oz. baby food (I used the jar above, but any flavor/variety will work)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons coconut or vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease two mini-muffin tins.

In a stand mixer, combine applesauce, baby food, egg, vanilla, sugar, and oil. Separately sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the applesauce mixture and blend until just combined. Scoop the batter into greased mini muffin tins, filling each cup 2/3 of the way. Bake for 12 minutes. Allow to cool and serve to your hungry toddlers! Makes 24 mini muffins.

spinach muffins

Two thumbs up from Thing 3 and his cock-a-doodle-doo hair. The muffins were moist and pretty yummy, if I do say so myself. The dog stole three off the cooling rack when I wasn’t looking, so they are also greyhound-approved.

spinach_muffins

0

Easy Homemade Salsa

I love going to farmers’ markets, and I love that my father-in-law grows and cans tons of vegetables. Summer tomatoes are abundant now, but do you know that tomatoes are one of the most politicized crops ever? At the risk of sounding like a nerd, I’ve been interested in the sources of my tomatoes since I read this article in Gourmet magazine in 2009 that detailed wages and living conditions of Latino farm workers in Florida. Today CBS Sunday Morning showcased a story on the growing demand for “fair food,” and tomatoes are center-stage in this argument. Unless our tomatoes come from my father-in-law’s yard or are in season, we do not eat them. Despite the unholy and unnatural year-long growing season (stepping off my soapbox now), tomatoes do offer excellent health benefits. They are a fantastic source of Vitamins A and C, folic acid, and antioxidants like lycopene, choline, beta-carotene, and lutein.

But holy tomato, Batman, we had the red fruit coming out of our ears. With our last few tomatoes wallowing away in sadness on the counter, I made salsa.

Ingredients:

  • 6 tomatoes, quartered
  • 4 jalapeño peppers, halved (I removed seeds from two peppers)
  • 1/2 of a red onion, quartered
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic (that’s about three cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons Wildtree Chipotle Lime Rub
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cups fresh cilantro
  • Juice of half a lime

East Homemade Salsa

Add all the ingredients to the bowl of a food processor.  Pulse until all ingredients are diced and combined.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed (my husband said it needed more salt…whatever).

I love all things Wildtree, but if you don’t stock their line of seasonings like I do, you can substitute cumin.

Transfer the salsa to your favorite airtight vessel and store in the refrigerator.

East Homemade Salsa

Best enjoyed the next day!