Archive for the ‘Recipe’ Category

Peanut and I had a pretty full day of errands yesterday. When we got home, I discovered the water in our town had been shut off for maintenance. Nice of them to let us know ahead of time, right? The radio said it could be anywhere from one hour to a day. Outstanding. 

I made a quick trip to the small grocery store to buy jugs of water. Apparently everyone had already been there because they were sold out. Lucikly we had a few bottles of water in our camper so I brought that in and decided we’d try to get by with that until it came back. The only other option was to drive 30 minutes back to the next closest store and, with gas at nearly $4/gallon, I wanted to avoid that if at all possible.

I was relieved when I realized that the dish I’d planned for supper required no water. It was a cinch to mix up and pop in the oven. Shortly before it was ready, I got started on making the rice.

Rice requires water.


I really didn’t want to use any of the bottled water because I knew we’d want it for drinking and teeth brushing if the water stayed out all evening. That’s when I remembered that we had these:

I don’t normally buy a lot of convenience foods like this because a) they’re almost always higher in sodium and b) rice really isn’t that hard or time-consuming to make so I hate paying extra for them. The only reason I’d picked them up was because they were on sale and I had a coupon, actually making them less expensive than the equivalent quantity of regular brown rice.

A quick 1 minute zap in the microwave and they were ready. I could definitely taste the added salt, but overall it was still pretty good. It made a good accompaniment for our main course, Poppy Seed Chicken.

I found several versions of this recipe online and morphed them all together to create my own.

Poppy Seed Chicken

makes 6 servings

1 1/2 cups cooked, cubed chicken (I used boneless, skinless breasts)
1 can reduced-fat, reduced-sodium cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
3 teaspoons poppy seeds, divided
3 tablespoons reduced-calorie butter, melted (I used Country Crock Light)
25 reduced-fat butter crackers, such as Ritz
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spray an 8×8 inch baking dish with non-stick spray.

2. Melt the butter in the microwave. Crush 20 of the crackers and mix into the melted butter. Set aside.

3. Stir together the chicken, soup, sour cream and 1 teaspoon of the poppy seeds. Crush the remaining 5 crackers and stir them in. Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread into an even layer.

4. Spread the cracker/butter topping evenly across the top of the chicken mixture.

5. Sprinkle with the remaining 2 teaspoons of poppy seeds and the cheese.

6. Bake 20-25 minutes, until bubbly and heated through.

This was a HUGE hit in our house! My husband isn’t a huge fan of casseroles, but he raved about it and went back for seconds. He liked that it was creamy without being too heavy. Peanut ate a large spoonful and then asked for more. It was great comfort food on a cold, rainy day.

The water did finally come back on around 8pm, but we were under a boil advisory so we made do with our rations of bottled water through the night and into this morning. I didn’t realize how much I rely on water until I didn’t have any

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In other news, I’m taking part in the FitBlog Chats PLANKS Challenge!

FitBlog Chats

I’ve been doing plank as part of my New Rules of Lifting for Women Stage 2 workouts so I have a benchmark. Right now, I’m at 2 sets of 60 seconds on my elbows. This is what I did yesterday for Day 1 of the challenge.

Rather than increasing my time, I’m going to aim to try out new plank variations, like some of those Susan posted on Morgan’s blog today. I’m going to do a different variation each week. The first day of that week will be a benchmark. Then, I’ll add time during each effort at that variation. Here are the variations I want to try:

  • Week 1: Plank on Elbows
  • Week 2: High Plank
  • Week 3: Plank with Alternating Leg Lift
  • Week 4: Plank, Elbows on Ball
  • Week 5: Plank, Feet on Ball, Elbows on Floor
  • Week 6: Plank, Feet on Bench, Elbows on Stability Ball

I do realize that some of these are pretty dag on tough and my time at the end of each week may not be very long. Still, it’s all about improving so as long as I can go longer than I did on the first day, I’ll call it a success.

I’m really excited to follow along with everyone’s progress and to post my own as I go.

Let’s get plankin’!


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That’s what my husband said about dinner last night.

I don’t know if I’d go that far, but it was a very tasty, less expensive and extremely easy version of one of our favorite dining-out experiences. Definitely not a replacement, but not too shabby either.

HUGE bonus that we didn’t have to turn on the oven in yesterday’s sudden burst of summer. 93 degrees when I looked at the thermometer around 3pm. Apparently we’ve skipped spring completely and gone straight to summer.

Not Quite Chipotle

~1/4 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
~1/2 cup fresh tomato, chopped (I used one large Roma.)
~1/4 cup canned black beans, rinsed and drained
~1/4 cup chunky salsa
~2 teaspoons fresh cilantro, chopped
~1/2 teaspoon garlic, minced
~sprinkle of chili powder (to your liking)

Dump all the ingredients in a microwave-safe bowl.

Cover with plastic wrap. Cut 2 slits to vent. Microwave on HIGH 1 1/2 minutes or until the mixture is heated through. Stir and serve over rice.

I also added a bit of shredded 2% cheddar cheese and a dollop of sour cream, but I waited until after I took the picture so it didn’t cover everything up.

I’m surprised that my husband so willingly agreed to a meatless meal and was even more shocked that he was so enthusiastic about the result. If you did want to bulk it up a bit (or please a meat lover in your house), I think shredded chicken seasoned with taco seasoning would be a great addition.

Have you ever tried to recreate a favorite restaurant dish? What was it and how did your version turn out?

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Cinco de My-Oh-My

 Happy (belated) Cinco de Mayo! It’s a great reason to party, but have you ever stopped to wonder what you’re actually celebrating?

    • Cinco de Mayo is NOT Mexican Independence Day. That’s celebrated on September 16th.


    • Cinco de Mayo actually marks the 1892 victory of a small, rag-tag Mexican army of about 4,500 soldiers over an 8,000 man French force led by Napoleon III. It’s called the Battle of Puebla. While Mexico won this particular battle, they still lost the war


    • If the French had won the Battle of Puebla, they would have sided with the South in the American Civil War and could have drastically influenced the results of the war.


    • Cinco de Mayo is not a national holiday in Mexico. Puebla de Zaragoza, where the battle took place, is where the real celebrating happens. 


    • Cinco de Mayo is the busiest day of the year for Mexican restaurants in the United States.

That concludes your nerdy fact lecture for the day. I studied Spanish in high school and college, forming a huge love of history and culture in Spanish-speaking countries. Any excuse I have share a little of that love, I’ll take it. 🙂

The celebration in our house was pretty tame. Peanut and I listened to some Mexican tunes in the morning while I got ready and…that’s about it. Until dinner, of course. This dish was sort of a happy accident. My husband spotted it and said it looked good. I wanted something Mexican for the occasion and it fit. Looking at the recipe I didn’t expect it to be anything extraordinary. However, it turned out much more delicious than I’d expected. (I love when that happens!) Another bonus was it being super quick and easy to throw together.

Tex-Mex Tostadas

(makes 4 servings)

  • 4 (8-inch) tortillas (I used whole grain.)
  • Nonstick cooking spray
  • 1 bell pepper, diced (green will make it prettier)
  • 1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 cup chunky salsa, divided
  • 1/3 cup green onions, sliced
  • 1 cup fat-free canned refried beans
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • sour cream (optional; I used reduced-fat.

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Spray both sides of the tortillas with cooking spray and place on a baking sheet. Bake 3 minutes or until lightly browned and crisp. Remove from oven and set aside.

2. Spray a large nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Add the bell pepper and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, for about 4 minutes.

3. Add the chicken, garlic, chili powder, cumin. Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

4. Add 1/4 cup of the salsa and the green onions. Cook and stir for one minute. Remove from heat and set aside.

5. Combine refried beans and remaining 1/4 cup of salsa in a microwave-safe container. Heat on HIGH for 1 minute, stir and heat an additional 1 minute on HIGH or until beans are heated through.

6. Spread the bean mixture evenly over each tortilla. Spoon the chicken mixture over the bean mixture. Top with tomato and sour cream, if desired.

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My evening was supposed to conclude with a special Cinco de Mayo Zumba class followed by margaritas at a friend’s house. Unfortunately, my husband ended up having to work pretty late. Peanut has been a bit under the weather so I decided to stay home with her instead of scrambling for a last-minute sitter. It was a bummer to miss because  I’ve been excited about the class for weeks, but priorities decided otherwise. Besides, baby snuggles and rocking out to Raffi on the iTouch more than made up for missing out on the party.  🙂

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Rural Hummus

I didn’t grow up in a big city, but it’s a booming metropolis compared to the area where I live now. While I love living in the country, sometimes it can make finding specialty ingredients pretty difficult. By specialty, I mean anything much more exotic than cumin.

I’ve been wanting to make my own hummus for quite a while. None of the grocery stores within a 30-minute radius carry tahini and I never seem to remember to pick some up when I travel to a bigger city.

I was really happy when I found a recipe that listed the tahini as optional. After making it a few times and tweaking the amounts, I’ve finally found a tried-and-true alternative to buying pre-packaged hummus. It’s WAAAAAAY less expensive and in my opinion, tastes a lot better. Best of all, everything on the ingredient list can be found at the grocery where I regularly do my shopping.

Rural Hummus

  • One can chickpeas (15oz.), rinsed and drained well
  • 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 Tablespoons lemon juice (fresh is best, but bottled works, too)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 4 teaspoons minced garlic (3-4 cloves)
  • 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 Tablespoon water

Dump all ingredients in a food processor or blender. Blend until it is as smooth as you like.

Serve with crudites, pita chips, tortilla chips or just a spoon. Also delicious as a sandwich spread.

NOTE: If you do have access to tahini, you can add 1/2 teaspoon to the mix.

What’s the most difficult ingredient you’ve ever tried to find?

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Last night, Morgan from Life After Bagels moderated a fabulous #FitBlog chat called Health: Is It All About the Benjamins? There were loads of participants offering great suggestions on ways we can eat healthy and exercise on a budget. Cooking at home was one money-saving tip mentioned time and time again during the chat.

This concept plays a huge part in our household food budget. We usually only dine out about once a week, some weeks not at all. The vast majority of our dinners are prepared at home. For lunches,  my husband takes a packed fare every day rather than buying fast food. I usually eat leftovers or prepare a large batch of something at the beginning of the week to eat for lunches the rest of the week. Budget is a the main reason for our dine-in lifestyle, but I also think it’s a healthier option. I like being able to control the ingredients and how they’re prepared.

I had a helper in the kitchen last night.

She stood there and helped (read: ate pieces of bell pepper) for a really long time. We were all fine and good until she discovered the butcher block of Cutco knives you see back there. She was  fascinated with pulling them out so she was immediately relegated back to ground level.

Italian Sausage Sandwiches

I wish I’d snapped a photo of my ingredients before I started and more throughout the process, but this dish is really simple so I think you can handle it without those. 🙂

~1 package Italian turkey sausage links (hot or mild), sliced into rounds

~1 tablespoon teaspoon extra virgin olive oil, divided

~3 garlic cloves, minced

~2 small onions, sliced into strips

~2 bell peppers, any color, sliced into strips

~2 teaspoons dried oregano

~ground black pepper to taste

~your favorite kind of sandwich bread (I like wraps. My husband likes wheat hoagie buns.)

~sliced or shredded cheese, variety of your choice (optional)

1. Heat 2 teaspoons of the oil in a large skillet or wok over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, just until fragrant.

2. Add the onions, peppers, oregano and black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, just until the veggies are tender. Place the mixture in a bowl and cover to keep warm.

3. Heat the remaining 1 teaspoon of oil in the same wok or skillet. Add in the sausage rounds. Cook, stirring occasionally until they are done all the way through.

4. Add the peppers & onions back to the wok or skillet and toss the mixture together.

5. Spoon the mixture into your wrap, roll or bun

6. Top with cheese if you wish. If you’re using a wrap, this is where you want to roll it up.

All wrapped up with a salad of mixed greens, fat free feta cheese & tomato vinagrette:

The total cost for this main dish comes in at just under $10. It makes quite a bit and reheats very well. In addition to one dinner, we’ll get at least 4 lunches out of the leftovers. My meat-and-potatoes husband LOVES this one as much as I do.


What’s your favorite low-cost meal to make at home?

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One thing I almost always do on Mondays is to  fix up a big batch of something and portion it out as lunches for the week. I usually make something I like, but that my husband doesn’t enjoy. I don’t get bored easily with leftovers so it works out okay for me to be the only one eating it.

I’ve been craving pad thai lately, but didn’t have all of the ingredients to make any of my go-to recipes for this dish. I decided to create my own which was a little scary. I’m great at following recipes exactly or tweaking an existing recipe, but I don’t just wing it very often. This one actually turned out to be delicious! I like to call it:

What-I-Have-In-My-Fridge Tofu Pad Thai

(makes 5 very generous servings; could make 6-8 smaller servings as desired)

  • 8oz uncooked rice noodles (You could also use thin spagetti or angel hair pasta, preferably whole wheat.)
  • 14oz. extra firm tofu, cut into cubes
  • 2 bunches of broccoli, about 4 cups
  • 1 medium carrot or about 12 baby carrots
  • 4 teaspoons peanut oil
  • 1/4 cup fish sauce or soy sauce (I used reduced sodium.)
  • 3 Tablespoons lime juice
  • 3 Tablespoons water
  • 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • pinch sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons jalapeno peppers or green chile peppers, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 cups bean sprouts
  • fresh herbs such as cilantro or parsley (whatever you have handy)

Soak the rice noodles in hot water for about 1 hour or according to package directions. Drain well. (If you’re using thin spagetti or angel hair pasta, cook it according to the package directions.)

Press the moisture out of your tofu. Many people do this using paper towels. I prefer microfiber towels. I think they’re more absorbent and less wasteful.

First, lay your tofu on the towel in a single layer.

Top with another towel.

Top the whole thing with something flat and pretty heavy. (That’s a full tea kettle.)

Let stand until you’ve removed as much liquid as possible from the tofu. Then, transfter the tofu to a dish, drizzle with 1 Tablespoon fish sauce or soy sauce and let it marinate.

Steam the broccoli and carrots until tender-crisp, about 8 minutes. I’m a big fan of the Ziploc steamer bags for making 1-2 portions of steamed veggies, but I like to break out my Calphalon steamer pot for big jobs like this.

While your tofu marinates and your veggies steam, mix up your sauce. In a small bowl, whisk together 3 Tablespoons of your fish sauce or soy sauce, 3 Tablespoons water, 3 Tablespoons lime juice, 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard and the pinch of sugar. (NOTE: I don’t really like my pad thai to be very sweet. If you do, adjust the amount of sugar according to your taste.)

Place a wok or large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 teaspoons of the peanut oil. Add your tofu and cook until heated through. You’ll want to turn your tofu so it cooks evenly, but be gentle so it doesn’t fall apart. Once it’s done, move it to a bowl, cover to keep warm and set aside.

Heat the other 2 teaspoons in your wok or skillet. Add the garlic and jalapeno or chile peppers. Heat just until they release their flavors, about 30 seconds.

Add in the noodles, then the sauce, then the veggies and tofu.

Cook, stirring to combine all of the layers, until all of the liquid is absorbed, about 4 minutes. Gently toss in the bean sprouts.

Remove from heat and serve garnished with torn, fresh herbs.

I packaged up the leftovers, let them cool a little on the counter and then popped them in the fridge.

Cook once. Eat lunch all week. Good deal.

Do you ever cook ahead? What’s your strategy? What are your favorite things to make ahead?

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Hellllooooo 2011!!!

So what if I’m 4 days late. 🙂

Normally I don’t find New Years’ to be especially exciting. Sure, there’s the bash to watch the ball drop and welcome in the new year, but to me January 1st has always been just another day. Until this year. While I don’t make New Years’ resolutions, I’m feeling completely refreshed. It’s like a mental “airing-out” that’s made me really motivated in all areas of my life, food & fitness included. I don’t know what brought this on, but I like it!

My husband went back to work yesterday after a two-week holiday vacation. It was bittersweet. I’m going to miss having him around every day, but it felt really good to fall back into a normal routine.

I started off the day the same way I’ve started every day since Christmas. With this amazing specimen of coffee-making genius:

This Keurig may seriously be the best Christmas gift my husband has ever bought for me. It’s changed my life. You laugh, but I’m not kidding. Okay, I’m only kind of kidding. It makes the most delicious cup of coffee I’ve ever tasted, coffeehouse or otherwise. The funny thing is, I’ve always sworn that I didn’t want one. I thought those little K-cups would be too expensive to keep up with my caffeine habit. My mother-in-law mentioned that she saw that you can now buy a little contraption (that grey thing in the top row of the carousel) to brew your own coffee grounds. Once I learned that, I wanted one. When I told my husband, he said maybe we’d pool our Christmas money and get it. Sneaky little booger. Turns out, he’d already bought it for me and stashed it at his sister’s house. It’s been so much fun to try all the different varieties. I try to limit myself to one or two K-cups per day and then use my own grounds beyond that. So far, the Emeril’s Big Easy Bold has been my favorite.


I sipped my coffee and read my book for about an hour, just enjoying the quiet. It was glorious. I love spending time with family and friends during the holiday season, but I also love my down time. That’s something I haven’t had much of lately and it was nice for my first “normal” day to start that way. Another great part of the morning was sharing a leisurely breakfast with Peanut when she woke up. After that, it was time to get down to business. Peanut had serious playing to do and I was ready to exercise.

The last few months of 2010 I felt like a hamster on a wheel when it came to fitness. My workouts were half-hearted at best. I knew that the exercise was good for me and I was doing it as often as I could, but I wasn’t excited about it. The switch didn’t really flip in my brain until January 2nd when I made myself accept my sister-in-law’s invitation to go to Zumba. I had all kinds of excuses running through my head for reasons why I couldn’t go, but I didn’t let myself bail. I went and, when those endorphins kicked in, all of the reasons I love exercise came flooding back to me. Suddenly I was excited about getting back into the swing of things. I came right home and jotted down a workout plan for the rest of the week. This is something I used to do every week. Unconsciously, I’d started to let it slip sometime around Thanksgiving and by Christmas I’d quit doing it altogether.

Yesterday reinforced to me how wonderful having that plan can be. I knew exactly which DVD I needed to grab: the original Power 90 with Tony Horton. I did the Sweat session followed by Ab Ripper 100. Definitely got my blood pumping and geared me up for the rest of the day. It also made me hungry.

I’ve found several recipes lately which sounded delicious to me, but that garnered an upturned nose from my husband when I showed them to him. I put those back as possible lunch options when it’s just me at home. Using this original recipe from Real Simple magazine as my inspiration, I made several modifications and came up with a lightened-up, simplified version based on what I had in the pantry.

Rotini with Arichokes and White Beans

(makes 4 servings)

  • 5 ounces whole wheat rotini
  • 2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 15.5-ounce can great northern beans, rinsed & drained
  • 1 14-ounce can artichoke hearts, quartered, rinsed & drained
  • salt & pepper to taste
  1. Cook the pasta according to package directions. Reserve ½ cup of the cooking water. Drain the pasta and return it to the pot.
  2. Meanwhile, heat the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring regularly to keep the garlic from burning.
  3. Add the beans, artichokes, salt & pepper to the saucepan. Cook until heated through, approximately 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the reserved water and artichoke/bean mixture to the pasta and toss.

In keeping with my attempts at eating more veggies, I plated mine with some torn romaine lettuce which I stirred in after I snapped the picture.

I portioned out the leftovers and popped them in the fridge. Now my lunches for the rest of the week are no-brainers which really helps me stay on track. 

After lunch I cleaned. And cleaned some more. And cleaned even more while catching up on DVR’d shows. We got a last minute invitation to go out to dinner with some church friends and accepted. The food was mediocre (I’m talking to you, Tumbleweed.), but the company & conversation were fantastic. It was a great end to a great day.

So far, it’s been a great beginning to a great year. Bring it, 2011!


What has been the best part of your 2011 so far?

Oh, and one more thing…




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