Thursday, November 29, 2012

Holiday Ideas

It's nearly December and gift-giving as well as holiday cooking is on my mind.  I updated a post I wrote a couple years ago with homemade holiday gifts from the kitchen.  I added a few new items to the list.
I also have a Pinterest Board with some additional ideas.

Holiday Homemade Gift Ideas

And don't forget- if you are local to me, I am available to do baking for you.
Holiday Pies and Cheesecakes

Have a wonderful holiday season!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Fall Flavors

I love fall!

I intend to post a collection of Thanksgiving recipes, but before I do that, I had this post of recipes the reflect fall with the use of seasonal ingredients or just food that makes me thing of cooler days and nights.  I also intended to do some reading on nutrition related to some fall ingredients, but that didn't happen.  Sorry.  Just trust me, especially since I've probably written or shared articles about leafy greens like kale and winter squash like butternut and pumpkin before.  They are nutrient dense and therefore good for you.
I've been busy doing a lot of work with Mama Bootcamp and it's been very rewarding.  I've facilitated Make Ahead Meal Nights, which has been a lot of fun.  I also got to come along for the fun and appear on TV.  The clip of the segment can be found here preserved for eternity.  We demonstrated making this great spaghetti squash lasagna, which is a fantastic low carb and low calorie meal.  It freezes well and makes quite a bit.  I also made my own Marinara Sauce to use in the lasagna and have taught quite a few of the Mama Bootcampers to make too.
OK, enough of that business, let's get to the Flavors of Fall.

Here's the Pinterest Board- Fall Flavors

Butternut Squash (or pumpkin) Chili- Packed with veggies, this chili is perfect for a cool fall evening.  You can make this on the stove or use your slow cooker.

Turkey Pumpkin Chili- A really unique twist on chili, but pumpkin pairs well with chili spices to create a sweet and smoky chili. 

Baked Rigatoni with Sausage, Butternut Squash and Kale- Make it healthier by looking for a nitrite-free sausage, but this is a complete meal with vitamin rich squash and kale.

Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna- The combination of sage and butternut squash are so good!  Definitely use fresh or cooked store-bought noodles, don’t use the no-boil noodles.  Cut your prep time with using pre-cut squash.

Chicken Pot Pie- This is a rich and delicious comfort food recipe.  Not low calorie.  But very yummy. 

Turkey Meatball and Tortellini Soup-  I came up with this soup  just staring into my freezer.  I had ground turkey and a package of tortellini, some Trader Joe’s frozen green beans, a few other veggies and canned diced tomatoes.    My family loved it because it was actually a soup that was filling as a meal all on its own.  And every time I’ve made it, it’s been a little different just based on what vegetables I have.
Crock Pot Turkey, White Bean and Pumpkin Chili- Perfect for fall and so easy to make in the slow cooker.  It’s made with green chilies which goes so well with the pumpkin and turkey. This version has a different set of flavors than the other chili above.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchilada- Regular readers to this blog have seen me list this recipe more than once before.  Sweet potatoes and yams are plentiful and this recipe is such a great combination of flavors.  And the green sauce recipe included with this recipe really is easy to make.  But you can easily use a canned green sauce too.
Broccoli Crunch- Instead of a mayonnaise based dressing for the usual broccoli salad this one uses almond butter and the addition of apples and candied nuts make it the perfect fall weather salad.

Butternut Squash and Macaroni Casserole- Delicious meatless fall casserole that uses coconut milk instead of any heavy cream or cheese.

Quinoa Salad with Pears, Baby Spinach and Chick Peas with Maple Vinaigrette- A protein rich salad for the fall. 

Pumpkin Apple Streusel Muffin- The flavors of fall in a muffin.  YUM. 

Pumpkin Bread- This is the recipe I have used for years.  It’s very cake-like, but it’s a simple, moist pumpkin bread.  It makes A LOT.  I have the Pampered Chef stoneware loaf pan which is pretty big and then the rest of the batter goes into muffins.  You can split the sugar to be half white sugar, half brown sugar.  You can also reduce the oil to use applesauce if you want.  It’s also very easy to make for gifts using mini foil loaf pans. 

Crock Pot Apple Butter- I made this when I got a big box of Fuji apples.  It's delicious and so much easier than making it on the stove.
Kid Tested Pumpkin Muffins- These are vegan and healthy for you, but taste great!   They are packed with protein as well as iron.  Give them a try.  Easy to make on the weekend and then eat them all week for a quick but healthy breakfast. 

Pumpkin Pancakes- This recipe is perfect for if you purchased the large can of pumpkin and didn’t use it all as it only requires 6 tablespoons of pumpkin.  Or, just purchase a smaller 15oz can and then keep the extra in the fridge or freezer to make more another day.  Keep in mind with the pumpkin that if frozen or refrigerated a lot of moisture comes out and that’s ok, you should just squeeze the water out of it. 

Pumpkin Frozen Yogurt- If  you have an ice cream maker, this is so easy, just a couple of ingredients and low calorie; made with fat free Greek yogurt! 

Pumpkin Pie Wontons- Fun to make with kids, except for the frying part, you do that part, but let them assemble them. 

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Vegetarian Meals

So I've been on a theme-posting kick lately.  This week I wanted to bring you two articles I have on cooking vegetarian/vegan and why you might consider eating vegetarian or vegan.  I also wanted to provide a list of meatless meals so if you are vegetarian and looking for some recipes or looking to reduce your consumption of meat/animal products and want some ideas, this list of recipes and links to resources is for you.  October 1st was World Vegetarian Day, which also kicks off Vegetarian Awareness Month, I'm glad I thought to do this post in October.  :)

Why Vegetarian?
Basics of Vegetarian Cooking

Banana Muffins- A vegan muffin that is moist and delicious.  Sometimes when I make these I use brown sugar instead of regular white sugar.

Tortellini, Tomato and Spinach Soup- A hearty meatless soup that you can pack with nutrient rich veggies.  Try using whole wheat pasta that has more protein as well as other green veggies like broccoli and kale.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas - This is a great recipe, you can make your own green sauce as written in the recipe or look for a green sauce made without chicken broth and added preservatives.  I also suggest doubling this recipe as it only makes 8 as written.

Vegan Crockpot Lasagna- A rich and hearty lasagna you can easily have on a busy weeknight because you made it in the crockpot.

Healthy Bean Soup with Kale- Good fiber, good green kale and protein in this hearty soup.

10 Minute Tasty Asparagus and Brown Rice- This is an excellent side dish, but it can also be a filling main dish served with a salad or a saute of veggies.

Brown Rice Salad with Spinach and Tomatoes
- Another great side dish, but also a good option if you need some meatless options for a dinner or potluck.

Three Bean Salad with Quinoa-A great dish packed with protein and fiber.

Ravioli and Vegetable Soup- A good hearty soup.  Try to use a whole wheat pasta to add more protein.

Summer Squash and White Bean Sauté- This summer dish can be tossed w/ pasta or served over rice or quinoa.

Bulgar Taco Salad with Cilantro and Lime- Bulgar makes this a hearty meatless salad that is a great complete meal with good sources of protein plus fiber and iron.  

Veggie Tacos- This recipe is so adaptable.  Use whatever fresh vegetables you like then just follow the instructions for seasoning and preparing the tortillas.

Roasted Fall Vegetable and Ricotta Pizza- A hearty meatless pizza with great roasted vegetables like butternut squash, potatoes, carrots and plenty of garlic.

Butternut Squash and Macaroni Casserole- Delicious meatless fall casserole that uses coconut milk instead of any heavy cream or cheese. 

Butternut Squash and Sage Lasagna- The combination of sage and butternut squash are so good!  Definitely use fresh or cooked store-bought noodles, don’t use the no-boil noodles with this recipe.  Cut your prep time with using pre-cut squash. 

A few websites with good vegetarian recipes
101 Cookbooks
Oh She Glows
Fat Free Vegan
Skinny Taste

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Why Vegetarian?

 Another article from my friend Allison that provides some information and resources about eating vegetarian and/or vegan.  Even if you are just interested in reducing the amount of meat or animal products that you consume, she provides some very interesting statistics.

 Why Vegetarian

 By Allison Brewer,

There are probably as many reasons that people choose to be vegetarian as there are recipes for vegan mac and cheese. Whatever your reason for making the switch, you will reduce your carbon footprint, lower your cholesterol, increase your life expectancy, and stop participating in the business of factory farming of animals and animal products.
Whether you have chosen to transition to a plant-based diet or simply wish to reduce your intake of animal products, your choice to do so is a personal one. Regardless of others’ opinions, only you know what works for you, your family and your values.
Here are a few reasons why others have made this choice.

For Health
Switching to a vegetarian diet will lower your cholesterol and blood pressure and reduce your risk for type-2 diabetes and cancer. The top two causes of death for Americans are heart disease and cancer. Following a vegetarian diet will help to protect your body from both. Vegetarians are less likely to be obese than the general population. Vegans also eliminate their exposure to the antibiotics and hormones used in farm animals.

For the Animals
Farms aren’t what they used to be. The idyllic barnyard scenes in children’s books couldn’t be further from reality. Do you know how a cow on a farm became the burger that you ate for lunch or how the eggs in your refrigerator got to your grocery store? By purchasing those products, you are likely participating, as a consumer, in the business of factory farming. Factory farming processes are extremely cruel to animals (and, in some cases, farm employees).
For more information on the issue of animal cruelty in farming, watch this video (  (WARNING: use discretion when viewing this website and video as they include graphic images). 

For the Environment
Going vegetarian is the single most effective thing that you can do to reduce your carbon footprint. In fact, moving to a vegetarian diet will reduce your impact by about 1 ton (2 tons for a vegan diet). Here are some other facts to consider:
  • According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than a half-million cars off U.S. road.
  • A 2006 United Nations report found that the meat industry produces more greenhouse gasses than all the SUVs, cars, trucks, planes, and ships in the world combined.
  • The production of one pound of meat releases the same amount of greenhouse gasses as driving an SUV 40 miles.
  • Going vegan is 50% more effective at reducing greenhouse gas emissions than driving a hybrid car.
  • Factory farms contribute to pollution, soil erosion, and wasted resources such as water and fossil fuels.
In addition to eliminating the animal products from your diet, it is important to consider the impact of the non-animal foods as well. The average food product travels about 1500 miles to get to your grocery store and the transporting of food accounts for 30,800 tons of greenhouse gas emissions every year (source What should an environmentally conscious vegetarian do about this? Shop for local fruits and veggies at farmers’ markets ( when you can and consider joining a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), if available, in your area.

The China Study - A book containing research results demonstrating the link between consumption of animal proteins and cancer and heart disease.
Food Inc.- A movie about the business of food in the US.
GoVeg- PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) website for new vegetarians/vegans.
Local Harvest - Locate farmers’ markets near your home.
World Cancer Research Fund- Recommendations for preventing cancer.

Basics of Vegetarian Cooking

Before I was writing in this blog on a semi-regular basis, I had a email newsletter people subscribed too.  I realized that some of the articles I had in the newsletter have not be added to the blog.  I have two about eating vegetarian and vegan and wanted to be sure and post them here as it's long overdue.

Basics of Vegetarian Cooking
By Allison Brewer, read more from Allison at Get Natured.

Imagine this scenario:  your college roommate is in town and you haven’t seen her for years.  You have invited her and her family to dinner at your house and, after agreeing to come, she shares with you that she and her family are vegetarian*.
What do you do? 

First, don’t panic!  While you may not be able to serve your signature crowd-pleasing spaghetti Bolognese, there are a variety of delicious and easy-to-make vegetarian options.
So, where do you start?
You might begin by browsing recipes online or consider modifying one of your favorite dishes. 

Modifying or “vegan-izing” meat-based dishes

Modifying a meat-based meal to be vegetarian doesn’t always mean simply removing the meat from the dish.  In the case of the Bolognese sauce, that might work (using marinara instead) but you may also choose to add a meat substitute in place of the meat.  For vegans**, there are non-dairy “cheeses” available (make sure that what you use doesn’t contain casein- a common milk-based ingredient found in many non-dairy cheeses).  Here are a few vegetarian versions of common meals:
  • Vegetable pizza (use vegan or no cheese for vegans):  Try bell peppers, onions and mushrooms for toppings or get fancy with roasted fennel and caramelized shallots.  You may consider adding vegetarian sausage, pepperoni, or soy crumbles to make the pizza heartier.    
  • Pasta primavera:  Toss your favorite al dente pasta with sautéed broccoli, garlic, onions, spinach, and sundried tomatoes.  Use marinara or alfredo (use a non-dairy version for vegans) sauce or toss the pasta with extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper, and a squeeze of lemon.  You may add vegetarian “meatballs” or crumbles (ala ground beef) if you wish.
  • Enchiladas (use vegan or no cheese for vegans):  Vegetarian enchiladas can be made using your favorite traditional recipe as long as the sauce is vegetarian (not made with chicken broth).  For filling, try spinach, zucchini, corn, and onions.  You may add beans for extra protein, iron, and fiber. 
  • Macaroni and cheese:  Homemade macaroni and cheese is delicious and, usually, vegetarian.  For vegans, there are recipes available online that use sauces made with nutritional yeast or raw cashews.  The vegan versions don’t taste exactly like traditional macaroni and cheese, but they are delicious in their own way.
*Vegetarians do not eat meat but do include dairy products and eggs in their diet (lacto-ovo vegetarians).  Some people who only eat seafood and fish, but no other meat, may refer to themselves as pescetarians or pesco-vegetarians.
**Vegans (or strict vegetarians) do not consume any animal products (meat, dairy products, eggs, or honey).

Substitutes for common ingredients

A variety of soy-based meat substitutes are available to replace sliced lunch meats, sausage, ground meat, hot dogs, burgers, and more.  An alternative to soy is seitan (or “wheat meat”) made from high gluten flour.  Both the soy products and seitan contain a considerable amount of protein and they make for good substitutes for those who desire the heartiness and/or texture of meat in their meals.  Other protein sources, such as legumes or nuts, may be used in place of these meat-like substitutes as well.

There are many non-dairy cheeses available that are made from soy, rice, or nut milks.  They can be purchased in blocks, as slices, or pre-grated and come in a variety of flavors to simulate the flavor of dairy-based cheeses.

Beyond soymilk, you can find milks made from rice, almonds, oats, hazelnuts, hemp seeds, and more.  Many of these milks come in flavored versions such as chocolate, vanilla, or even “nog” during the winter holidays.  Soy creamer is also available for adding to coffee or tea or for replacing cream in recipes.  Unsweetened versions are available for some of these milks.   Soymilk is the highest in protein, followed by hemp milk.  Look for milk that is fortified (i.e. calcium, vitamin D, and vitamin B12 have been added).

Other dairy products:
Creamy sauces can be made using nutritional yeast, silken tofu, or raw cashews.  Raw cashews are a terrific way to create a cream-like texture- they can even be used to make vegan “ice cream”.  Tofu can be used in place of ricotta cheese.  Vegan yogurt and ice cream (usually made from soy, rice, or coconut milk) are delicious alternatives to the dairy versions.

Firm tofu can be used to make a tasty scramble.  For recipes where egg is not center-stage (e.g. for baked goods) there are a few different options including using silken tofu, flax seeds, or non-dairy yogurt.  See the resources section below (under “Other resources”) for a link to instructions for using these substitutes.

Agave nectar is a great alternative to honey. 

• Vegetarian Cooking For Everyone by Deborah Madison
• Vegan With a Vengeance and any other books by Isa Chandra Moskowitz
• Vegan Planet and other books by Robin Robertson
• The Joy of Vegan Baking and other books by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau
• Eat, Drink, and Be Vegan and other books by Dreena Burton
• Super Natural Cooking by Heidi Swanson
• Vegan Lunch Box by Jennifer McCann
Vegetarian Times
Recipe websites:
101 Cookbooks
Fat Free Vegan
Vegan Yum Yum
A few recipes to start with:
Tofu scramble
Gnocchi with Thyme Vinaigrette and Lemon Cashew Cream (vegan)
Mac ‘n’ Cheese (vegan)
Other resources:
Egg substitutes for vegan baking
What about soy?  Is it safe? or What’s going on with soy?
Where do you get your protein?
Raising a vegetarian or vegan family
Vegetarian nutrition

Friday, September 28, 2012

Budget Cooking and a Tour of Whole Foods Market

Awesome insulated bag I received at the tour full of great information!
The title of this post may be confusing to some.  How can budget cooking and Whole (aka Whole Paycheck) Foods Market  be together?  Well my friends, I recently learned some tips to make that possible.

This post has been a long time in the making.  OK, technically what I have wanted to write/do has been bouncing around in my brain for weeks and the actual writing and doing has taken place over the last few days, but I wanted to write a post focused on budget cooking for awhile so let’s pretend it’s been a long arduous process, K?  There are a lot of blogs out there devote to being frugal, using coupons and shopping for deals.  A LOT.  But it was perfect timing that a couple weeks ago my local Whole Foods posted on Facebook that they were offering a tour on how to value shop in their store.  I immediately responded and made a reservation to attend.  It was going to conflict with the soccer (such is how it goes in my life), but I was determined to go see what they had to say because in an effort to do my grocery shopping on a tighter budget, I had not been to Whole Foods for any shopping in a couple of months.  I took notes on my phone notepad hoping the team members giving the tour didn’t think I was texting someone the entire time.  The notes really helped me to remember important tips so I can plan future shopping trips and I wanted to share with you my notes.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Meals for the Week of August 20, 2012

This week I have decided to devote this post entirely to getting ahead of the game with freezer meals and once a month cooking.  With school started for some or starting soon for others, let's turn over a new leaf and get organized shall we? (I don't know about you, but things really go off the rails during the summer in our house, so for me, I have to get back to doing what I know I should be doing, but don't always stick to it.)

First I want to re-visit a previous post that I created with a list of Freezer Meals.  I have gone back and added more recipes to the list.  You could cook the whole list and have enough meals for half the month and maybe more depending on the size of your family and leftovers.

Other foods you may want to make ahead to freeze-
Breakfast Burritos- Doesn't take a whole lot to make a dozen or so of these. 
Banana Muffins- Healthy and delicious, they freeze well.
Raspberry and Jam Muffins-
These are super easy and actually can be anything you want, it's a basic muffin batter that you fold in any kind of jam you happen to have and a bit of frozen fruit.
Either make the mix you always use or this recipe I have linked (which I love), keep them separated with plastic wrap or waxed paper so they don't stick together in the freezer. You could do the same thing with waffles.
I make a big smoothie, then divide it between these great freezer jars.  You can always pop one in the fridge at night so it's still frozen but slushy in the morning or put it frozen in lunches and they are melted by lunch time.

These are some great items to have if you are freezing meals on a regular basis.

I have a Pinterest board (of course!) with some other freezer meals recipes or other lists of freezer recipes.

My freezer stocked with marinara sauce, smoothies and breakfast burritos
Smoothies ready for lunches!

Freezer meals all packed and ready for a client!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Meals for the Week of August 13, 2012

I'm keeping it short and sweet this week.  It's back to school.  I think parents mostly rejoice in having kids back to the routine, busy for most of the day and the end of what can sometimes be a costly time of year with summer camps and trips all leading up to the frenzy of back to school shopping.  I know I do.  I've spent some time over the past week building a new board on my Pinterest with ideas for packing lunch for school.  I also mentioned in my last post that I had cooked some meals to help with busy school nights and some food like calzones (aka pizza pockets) that can be packed in lunches or for after school snack.  I'm making more of those this week since everyone in my house felt they should eat what I made now and not wait for school.  :)
I also made this Buttermilk Banana Bread this week.  It's really good.  I actually followed the advice of one of the comments on the recipe and made a glaze that I poured all over it when it was still warm.  I've had a different banana bread recipe that I've used for years and a different and healthier banana muffin that I most often make.  But this one might be my new go-to for banana bread.  Just like chocolate chip cookies, banana bread recipes are very personal and highly subjective, you may have one you like and won't be trying another.  But if you want to try or haven't tried before, this one is very easy.  My 6 year old helped me.

Bad iPhone photo, I know.  But cute!

The list of dinner meals is short- just a few ideas to try this week since I was spending time looking at lunch ideas.

Pinterest- Packing Lunch

Meals for the Week of August 13, 2012

Grilled Chicken with Balsamic Glaze and Stir Fried Vegetables- Very easy, low fat grilled chicken getting it's flavor from the grill and a sweet reduction of balsamic vinegar.  You can also easy stir fry some veggies with the glaze in a pan on your grill.

Chili Taco Casserole- My kids love this and it's easy to assemble ahead of time and freeze to bake when you want to serve it. 

Classic Baked Ziti- Another recipe you could assemble and freeze to bake later.  Simple and easy.  This recipe includes making the tomato sauce portion, which if you like to use a jarred marinara sauce and want to skip that part of the cooking, feel free to do that.

Grilled Zucchini Pizza Slices- Need zucchini ideas?  Here you go.  Maybe this will get your kids to eat zucchini if they don't already.

Chicken Thighs with Artichoke Hearts- We eat dark meat in my house.  Actually, I tend to keep both boneless breasts and thighs in my freezer.  Thighs are cheaper, they are tasty but I do feel like I buy them more frequently because they are smaller and therefore when I cook some, I'm having to make a lot since everyone tends to eat more than one.  Anyway...this is a great combination of chicken and artichoke hearts with feta cheese.

Easy Green Chili Enchiladas- Open faced enchiladas.  Leave it to The Pioneer Woman to share an easy and no-fuss way to enjoy enchiladas.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Meals for the Week of August 6, 2012

Why does summer have to fly by so quickly?  Didn't I just write a post about making summer-time snacks/lunches for when the kids are home?  Oh yes, I did, it's one of the last times I actually posted something here.  :/  What happens every summer is the my dear hubby works in education and is off during the month of July, so then everyone  in our house is home and my ability to just sit for hours at the computer researching and writing is limited.  I do cook, and this summer I've spent plenty of time on Pinterest courtesy of my iPhone app.  But the other day, I treated my family like a client and spent about 5 hours prepping and cooking some breakfast, snacks and meals because they are heading back to work and school and I wanted to get ahead of the game.  I made some granola, breakfast burritos,  more calzones like I mentioned in a previous post, white chicken enchiladas (on the list this week), a big batch of spaghetti sauce, and I prepped some thin carne asada style steak (except I marinated Filipino style) and put a pork tenderloin in a honey Dijon mustard marinade.  In two short weeks my life returns to controlled chaos of driving to school, Daisy Scouts and soccer practice, plus regular Personal Chef sessions.  Not to mention I must take time to get myself back to attending regular Mama Bootcamp sessions to keep myself healthy and sane.  The added layer to this is my oldest starts high school, so I'm no longer just rushing to get to one school, but two kids to two different schools.  And they are not close to each other.  So I have to get my act together and not just take care of clients, but take some time to plan and cook ahead for us.

I figured I should share some of the kitchen fun I have had this summer.  You can follow me on Instagram, elh1015, to see not just kitchen fun. 

My husband's birthday cake, inspired by Pinterest- chocolate cake, peanut butter buttercream frosting, chopped Reese's peanut butter cups.

Home made cinnamon raisin bread, recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day

Homemade Tortillas that my oldest and I made.  I'm going to use this recipe in my kid's cooking class this year.

This week I came up with some recipes that are seasonal using veggies that you may find on sale or be enjoying in large quantities from your (or your friend's) garden.  I also have some crock pot recipes that can keep you out of the kitchen as well as keep the house cool.

Meals for the Week of August 6, 2012

Cold Sesame Noodles with Shredded Chicken- We all liked this in my house and I liked that it was quick to fix and didn't heat up the kitchen too much. 

Healthy baked Chicken Nuggets- I make these for a client on a regular basis; the adults and kids like them.  I always just make a much larger amount than the recipe calls for, after they bake and cool I place them on a plate or sheet pan in the freezer, then after they are frozen, transfer them to a zipper storage bag.  You can just re-heat as needed.  

Easy Grilled Tri Tip- It’s been awhile I think since I shared this recipe, which is my own that was published on All Recipes.  The purpose of this recipe was a quick method for grilling tri tip since it’s sliced and marinated, then grilled.  You could use the marinade on any cut of steak you want. 

Sausage Stuffed Zucchini Boats-Need recipes for using your bounty of garden zucchini?  Here’s a great one.  Lean sausage and part skim mozzarella cheese, filling, but not too fat and heavy. 
Grilled Steak with Tomatoes and Scallions- Simple and easy steak recipe, grilling the tomatoes slightly just to warm and give them a little smoky flavor.

Heirloom Tomato Tart in Parmesan Crust- A lovely way to use the abundance of tomatoes ripening in your garden.  If you wanted this as a side dish to grilled chicken or fish, that would work nicely.  But it can be a main dish with a salad on the side.  You can cut some corners using a pre-made crust if you want and follow the recipe directions for baking it and sprinkling with parmesan cheese.  I highly recommend Trader Joe’s brand, it’s in their freezer section.  But the extra step in the recipe that has you remove some of the tomato juice really helps keep this from being soggy.

Crock Pot Thai Pork with Peanut Sauce- I love that she makes a case for why you should consider the crock pot more when cooking in the summer.  And it’s true, it certainly is easier than heating up the oven or stove or standing over a hot grill.  And this is a delicious shredded pork to serve over rice and with some steamed broccoli.  Perfect. 

Easy Skillet Topped Chili Macaroni- Much better than from a box, this is an easy from scratch recipe for a great kid-friendly meal.  You can use lean beef or ground turkey and whole grain pasta to make it a little lower in fat and higher in fiber. 

Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken- This is not one of those crock pot recipes where you leave it all day while at work, but its the sort of thing you could do on a weekend; get it all prepped, set it to cook and come back to it a few hours later. 

White Chicken Enchiladas- Really easy to make, doesn’t use a canned cream of chicken soup and you can freeze either baked to reheat or put in the freezer unbaked and then defrost and bake when you want to eat it. 

Honey Balsamic Green Beans- And here's a side dish for you this week.  I’ve used this combination on other veggies and never thought to use it with green beans.  It’s great! 

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Meals for the Week of June 25, 2012

Last year around this time, I chose to not focus my post on the July 4th holiday.  This year I decided that I will provide some recipes that I think would be great for the holiday, but mixed in with other everyday recipes you might like for this season.
So I'm keeping this post short and sweet and getting down to the business at hand with the list of recipes for this week.  You can view the Pinterest board for these recipes here.  Have a fun and safe July 4th!

Meals for the Week of June 25, 2012

Chicken and Sun Dried Tomato Orzo- Orzo is like rice in shape, but pasta that is very quick cooking so this is a good meal you can have ready in 30 minutes. 

Grilled Lime Shrimp- Simple and delicious.  Use them as a basis for tacos or in a salad.  Eat them with brown rice and grilled veggies. 

Southwest Flank Steak Pinwheels- This is something you can make ahead; assemble and then freeze until you are ready to cook it.  The recipe provides instructions for cooking in a crock pot.  I have also grilled stuffed flank steaks before if you wanted to try that.

Hawaiian Pork Burger- A yummy change of pace from a beef burger. Topped with a pineapple ring and a slice of ham; such a great flavor combination.

Spinach and Chicken Tortilla Bake- This is spicy; it has salsa verde in it, but you can use less than it calls for if you need to.  It’s a quick and easy meal for a weeknight and leftovers are good for packing in your lunch. 

Southwestern Stuffed Peppers- Very easy and adaptable recipe for stuffed peppers.  A good thing you can bake ahead and re-heat if you need to. 

Crunchy Coconut Chicken- I have another recipe for coconut chicken tenders that I almost chose instead of this one, as it’s delicious.  But it’s fried, not baked like this one and the coating has a lot more fat and sugar in it.  So, this version is far better for something you can make on a more regular basis and it requires less active work to prepare.

Grilled Veggie Tostadas- This is great if you are going to have a taco bar for the holiday.  Grill up some chicken and veggies and then set it all out for everyone to build their own tacos or tostadas.
Turkey Burgers with Zucchini- Healthy burgers with some added nutrition with finely grated zucchini mixed in. 

Honey Lime Chicken Skewers- These grilled chicken skewers are sweet and spicy and are great to prep and marinate ahead of time.  Then all you do is thread them on skewers and grill. 

Peanut Noodle Salad- You can use a whole grain or brown rice pasta if you want, you could also add julienne carrot and chopped broccoli to increase the veggies.  A great side dish with grilled chicken.  Bring this to a bbq. 

Pasta Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables- Take this healthy option to a bbq party or make this for a weeknight dinner when you want to keep things cool.  You can grill the veggies ahead of time, or use leftovers from a previous meal. 

Red, White and Blueberry Trifle- This is a festive lower fat and lower sugar dessert for the July 4th holiday. 

Vanilla Raspberry Sundaes- Most of this recipe is for making the spoon-shaped cookies you can top the sundae with, so if you want to skip that, it’s simply a recipe to give you inspiration for making a patriotic sundae.  I love the combo of vanilla ice cream with the tangy raspberry sorbet. 

Friday, June 15, 2012

Meals for the Week of June 18, 2012

Another school year has come to an end.  For some reason I always think that it's easier when we're out of school to manage breakfast and lunches; in our house there's not the constant rush in the morning and having breakfast meals that is fast and portable and I don't have to pack lunches.  That means needing less food.  WRONG.  Finally, this summer, I feel like I've got a handle on stocking my kitchen for the summer.  It's early so I could still face some challenges, but I thought I would share what I've got started along with some ideas I found and hope to try.
If you are now faced with children at home all day or more often, get organized with snacks and lunch food and make it fun for them.  
  • If they are old enough, get sandwich thins bread or bagel thins and use those for making their own toaster oven pizzas.  
  • Quesadillas are so quick and versatile.  Keep tortillas and cheese stocked in the fridge.  
  • Grill or poach chicken that can be used for topping pizza or in quesadillas or just for eating with some fruit and cheese.   
  • We also love to make nachos for lunch.  It’s the perfect use for leftovers from a taco dinner.  Layer the chips and shredded cheese, add leftover meat, beans and rice, more cheese and pop it in the microwave for a few minutes.  It’s nice to take a break from working to sit at the table with the kids sharing a big pile of nachos.
  • Make or have older kids make No Bake Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Balls.  A protein packed snack that satisfies the sweet tooth but also provides energy, perfect for late afternoon or before sports.
  • Make the Double Grape Slushies.  Or come up with your own slushies.
  • Make popsicles- simply puree fruit and juice together.  Save your 8oz yogurt containers to use as popsicle molds.  Pour in the puree, cover with plastic wrap or foil, then poke popsicle sticks through and freeze.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Meals for the Week of June 11, 2012

Hello!  I know, long time since I posted.  It's amazing how the time flies, blah, blah.  Anyway, I'm here and posting and I have a couple things to share.

Awhile ago I shared that I planned to train with Mama Bootcamp to participate in a sprint distance triathlon.  This past weekend, I completed the triathlon.  I won't lie, it was really, really hard.  I'm proud to have gone through the training and to have finished the race and I'm alive to tell the tale.  I waver back and forth between thinking that I never want to do the swim portion ever again and wanting to enter another race and improve my time.  So I'm semi-crazy at this point. But there is something very satisfying to have completed a big goal like that.  In a life where I'm operating in organized chaos; children, dogs, constant driving all over the place, the stress of everyday life, I had something that was for me.  Training with a wonderful group of women, fantastic coaches, but also the quiet time of running or biking outdoors, somewhat alone with my thoughts has been so important to not only my physical but my mental health.  I've formed ideas for this blog, and for growing my business, as any busy mom knows, just the opportunity to have time for yourself is invaluable.  So I am VERY grateful to have the experience.

Now- onward and upward!  Finally a new set of recipes for you to use for planning your next meals.  The list is varied between some seasonal recipes perfect for summer grilling and easy meals to make ahead for the weeknight. 

Meals for the Week of June 11, 2012

*NEW* I decided I should utilize Pinterest to create a visual of the recipes each week.  So below is my usual list with my comments/tips and the link to the recipe, but then I have a board too so you can have a visual with the link and can easily re-pin for your own board or add to your Ziplist shopping list.  June 11 Board

Cheesy Skillet Chicken and Rice with Green Beans- This is a great one-pot meal.  It does instruct you to leave the chicken whole for serving, but I like slicing it up and mixing it back into the rice just before serving.  I think you stretch it to serve more people that way too. 

Cashew Chicken- Cheaper and faster than take out.  This is a great recipe that uses some very standard ingredients you don’t have to go to a special market for.  

Chipotle Chicken Taco Salad- A copy cat recipe that is filling, but also fairly low calorie and low fat. 
Penne with Roasted Asparagus and Balsamic Butter- Enjoy asparagus while it’s in season!  This can be a great side dish with grilled or roasted chicken or a meatless meal.  

Crock Pot Sausage, Beans and Greens- I know this seems odd for the summer, but the crock pot keeps the kitchen cool.  There is some initial prep on the stove for this recipe, but then you can get it the crock pot and get on with you day!  

Halal Cart-Style Chicken and Rice- This recipe is a replica of what popular Halal food carts found in Manhattan serve.  It’s a delicious comfort food and something you can make ahead and re-heat. 

Asian Chicken Lettuce Wraps- If you have a food processor, it’s easy to take boneless chicken and grind it up. If you need to cut the prep time, use ground turkey.  As the recipe suggests, make this a more filling meal with rice and combine the chicken with rice in your wrap. 

Thai Style Chicken Legs- Great recipe for grilled chicken.  Use a food processor or a chopper to blend up the marinade; it might be easier than pulling out your blender.

Cilantro Thai Grilled Chicken Breasts- Here is another option for a Thai-style chicken using lean breasts.  The marinade imparts a lot of flavor and moisture. 

Blood Orange Salad with Pecans, Gorgonzola and Baby Greens- This is actually a spring salad, but you can use naval oranges if you no longer have blood oranges in your market.  I love salads like these, and it includes a delicious dressing made with orange juice. 

Grilled Asparagus with Balsamic Syrup- I just love asparagus and just like she mentions in this recipe, I love the tips the most.  I especially love when they are slightly grilled and have the sweet tang of balsamic vinegar.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Healthy Meals List

So last week I posted a list I started with freezer friendly meals and this week I decided that since I have been working with Mama Bootcamp and helping the clients with meal plans and recipe lists, I should take that list of recipes and share it here.  And just like with the other list, I'll add to it as I find other recipes to add.  I am also building a Healthy Meals board on Pinterest, which you can follow here-
The recipes on this list basically are somewhat low calorie or low fat, and they are that way naturally with lean meats or meatless, there's nothing too processed to achieve being low fat.  But things like fat free or low fat dairy or fat free broth may be used to lighten up a traditionally high-calorie dish.  Some of the recipes contain nutrient-packed ingredients and are just plain good for you. 

Shepard’s Pie Lightened Up- The great thing about a dish like this is how you can pack it full of veggies.  And this recipe lightened up the fat in the mashed potatoes and in the filling. Use lean ground beef or try using ground turkey. 

Paprika Shrimp Green Bean Saute- Super easy to throw together on a weeknight since all of it cooks quickly.

Chicken Fajitas- The longer you can marinate this the more flavorful it will be.  The recipe includes a spicy cream sauce to garnish them with that is made with fat free Greek yogurt.

Tortellini, Tomato and Spinach Soup-Tortellini make this soup be more filling as a one-pot meal and you can pack full of other veggies in addition to the spinach.

Sweet Potato and Black Bean Enchiladas -  It’s meatless, it’s vegan-ish with just a small amount of cheese and if you aren’t up for making the enchilada sauce as provided in the recipe, you can just get a good canned green enchilada sauce. 

Chipotle Chicken Salad- Love this salad!  Prep all the elements ahead of time so all you have to do is assemble your salad.

Salsa Chicken Soup- A spicy twist on chicken soup. 

Minestrone Soup- Plenty of filling veggies and beans full of fiber and protein.

Vegan Crockpot Lasagna- Love lasagna in the crock pot!  What is traditionally a time consuming meal can be made on a weekday with less effort.  And this one uses delicious polenta instead of pasta.

Healthy Bean Soup with Kale- Make a big pot of this and you can have plenty for lunch every day.

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream Sauce- Love this recipe.  The sauce is great.  It uses chipotle chilis, which you can use as little or as much as you want depending on how hot you want. 

Baked Southwest Tilapia- This is very easy to put together.  I also think you could cut it into smaller pieces before cooking and then use the fish for tacos. 

Cheesy Chicken and Rice Bake- This is a good cheesy and filling casserole, but it uses pre cooked brown rice and Greek yogurt. 

Pan Sauteed Salmon over Mediterranean Vegetables- A great, heart-healthy dish. 

Beef, Cheese and Noodle Bake- Substitute with ground turkey and use whole grain elbow macaroni to lower the fat and increase the healthy carbs.

Cheap & Easy Turkey Stir Fry- Using lean turkey that is quick cooking, you can whip this up using whatever fresh or frozen veggies you have. 

Grilled Salmon with Basil Lemon Butter- Very simple and delicious way to fix salmon.  It uses just a little European style butter, which adds some delicious richness, but it’s still very low calorie.

Pineapple Chicken Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette- If you like a main dish salad for dinner, try this one.  It’s very easy to prep the parts in advance to put together when it’s time to eat. 

Chicken Enchilada Soup- The flavor of enchilada in the form of a soup.  Great for making ahead and re-heating during the week.

White Chicken Chili- Using lean chicken, white beans and green chili, this is perfect to make ahead and freeze, garnish with a little cheese if you want or none to keep the fat and calories lower.
Ravioli and Vegetable Soup- The pasta makes this meatless soup more of a meal and what’s great about it is how you can add any veggies you want or have on hand. 

Light Turkey Meatballs- This is a great basic recipe that you can do almost anything with.  I made them and froze them uncooked, which is why they are also on my Freezer Friendly List.   I later cooked them in marinara sauce.  But you could also cook them with stir fry style with veggies and terriyaki sauce.  Or cook them with bbq sauce and serve with steamed broccoli. 

Stir Fried Turkey in Lettuce Wraps- I like this because you can set all the elements out on the table and sit down together and have fun and conversation while assembling your wraps. 

Chopped Greek Salad with Chicken- Another good main dish salad or you may prefer to fix this to pack for lunches.

Side Dishes

10 Minute Tasty Asparagus and Brown Rice- This is a fantastic side dish and it’s so quick to make if you use leftover brown rice from another meal.  Or if you want, both Trader Joes and Whole Foods sell cooked brown rice.

Brown Rice Salad with Spinach and Tomatoes-  Another great side dish and something you can pack for lunch as well.  It goes great with grilled fish or chicken.

Three Bean Salad with Quinoa- This is probably better for the summer as it’s a great side dish for grilled chicken or fish and it calls for fresh green beans.  If you don’t find good green beans to use, skip them.  You could always add chopped broccoli or double the amount of  one of the other beans. 

Banana Muffins- These are a staple in my house and a special recipe I only make with my younger daughter.  I often substitute the sugar with brown sugar, the caramel/molasses flavor is perfect with the bannanas.

Pumpkin Muffins- Another great muffin recipe from Get Natured, tasty as well as packed with nutrition.
Pineapple Breakfast Sandwich- A nice combination of whole grain carbs and protein to start your day. 

Banana Oatmeal Smoothie- It seems strange, but I really love this smoothie.  You blend cooked oatmeal with frozen banana, almonds, Greek Yogurt and ice.  For me, this is a good way to fuel my morning for a workout.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Freezer Friendly Meals

I had a few requests for some ideas on meals to make ahead and freeze.  I often try to to include recipes that are freezer friendly on my weekly recipe lists and so it occurred to me that I should pull a list together and put it on the blog.  And as I come across others that I like, I'll just add them to this list.  If you are someone who is preparing for a new baby, a busy month or you just prefer to cook just a couple times in a month you could bookmark this page and come back to it when you are looking for inspiration.  I find that even though I love to make a scratch meal and serve it up fresh each night, the reality of my family's schedule is that I can't do that and remain sane.  Maybe 2 or 3 nights in a week there is time, but if I were to take the time to cook each night, I would be taking away time from something else that needs attention.  Like a baby.  Or children who need help with homework.  Or showering.  :-)

So here's my list that I will consider a work in progress.  Leave me comments if you have any recipes you would love to recommend.  And here is a handy template for labels for your meals.  You can print them on plain paper and just cut and tape them to containers or print on Avery labels 5164FREEZER LABELS

Freezer Friendly Meals

Light Turkey Meatballs- You can either cook these and then freeze these on a sheet pan, then transfer to a freezer bag or container.  Or leave them uncooked and freeze them so you can cook them when you want.  If you freeze them unbaked, my suggestion is to cook them by simmering in marinara sauce, it’s really flavorful that way. 

Freezer Friendly Chicken Enchiladas- Easy enchiladas that doesn’t use a canned sauce, it’s fairly easy to make the sauce from scratch.  Includes instructions for freezing unbaked and then how to bake them after freezing.  

Baked Polenta Pie- Assemble this in advance in a disposable foil pan, put in the freezer and save it for a busy night, just bake and eat.  Feel free to change up the sausages/meats to use whatever you prefer.

Beef, Cheese and Noodle Bake- Substitute with ground turkey and use whole grain elbow macaroni to lower the fat and increase the healthy carbs.  I suggest that you not let the sauce cook down as the recipe instructs, but keep it saucy since the noodles will absorb moisture.  You could freeze unbaked or completely baked.

Cilantro Lime Chicken Tacos- A bunch of cilantro is so inexpensive and this dish is easy.  She also provides instructions for making it as a freezer meal.

Classic Baked Ziti- Simple and easy.  This recipe includes making the tomato sauce portion, which if you like to use a jarred marinara sauce and want to skip that part of the cooking, feel free to do that.  Just assemble this as listed in the recipe, then freeze with a note on the baking instructions.  You could also bake it ahead of time and freeze after it cools so that all you have to do is thaw and re-heat servings.

Turkey Meatball and Tortellini Soup- With big meatballs and tortellini, this soup can be a meal.  I consider it a pantry/freezer meal, the ingredients are always available in my house and if something isn’t, I just improvise.  Great meal to make ahead or makes a lot for multiple meals.

Easy Ranch Chicken- This one is suggested to prep ahead and freeze uncooked. 

Taco Pasta- Cook as directed, once it’s cool, portion into freezer bags or containers and then freeze.  Re-heat in microwave or on stove top.  
Chicken Parmesan Meatloaf- Sort of the flavors of chicken parmesan but a meatloaf instead.  Includes directions and options for freezing.  

Chili Taco Casserole- Prepare this and then transfer to either a foil or freezer/oven safe pan with a note on the baking directions.  Then defrost and bake as directed.  Alternatively you could follow all the directions and after cooled, freeze and then defrost and re-heat as needed.

Sloppy Joes- This is a good recipe that doesn't use a seasoning packet, but the meat and veggies are cooked down with barbecue sauce and other spices.   Make a big batch and portion it out to freeze.

Crock Pot Carolina Pulled Pork- This is a Carolina style (meaning vinegar based) barbecue pulled pork you make in the crock pot.  You can make this and freeze it for later, or make a really big roast and freeze leftovers.

White Chicken Enchiladas- Really easy to make, doesn’t use a canned cream of chicken soup and you can freeze either baked to reheat or put in the freezer unbaked and then defrost and bake when you want to eat it. One change I made when I make this- I use 1/2 can green enchilada sauce instead of diced green chilies.  Then I freeze the rest of the sauce to save for the next time I make it.

Chicken Parmesan with Easy Marinara Sauce- This is my own recipe for Chicken Parmesan and a very quick homemade marinara sauce.  It's far from totally authentic, the origin of making it this way was to have a low carb version, so it's not breaded, it's just coated  in seasonings and grated Parmesan cheese.  For a freezer meal, I fully cook it, then when it's cooled it can be transferred to a freezer container for storage.  Then you just defrost and re-heat in the microwave.  You could also cook the chicken completely without sauce, freeze and then when you want to have it, cover the chicken with sauce and cheese and then bake.

Spaghetti Squash Lasagna- You can use my marinara sauce recipe above as it will make extra sauce to use in this recipe.  This is a great, healthy recipe you can portion into serving sizes or make one big one.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Meals for Week of March 5, 2012

So I'm making this short and sweet.  This week's list has several crock pot recipes and I have 2 recipes for shrimp, both with coconut, but yet they're not really the same.  The recipes this week are healthy and either easy for a weeknight or something you can make ahead and re-heat leftovers.

We had this in my house and loved it!

Meals for Week of March 5, 2012

Thai Coconut Curry Shrimp- Using light coconut milk still provides that great flavor combination with red chili paste, but reduces the calories and fat. 

Slow Cooker Lemon Garlic Chicken- This is recipe requires browning the chicken on the stove first, which really helps to sear in the flavor and keeps the chicken from cooking down into nothing.  It also is best cooked on high for 4 hours, so it’s not the sort of slow cooker recipe that you put out in the morning and leave all day.  But it is useful for a busy weekend where you can get it assembled and then leave it.  Or make it in advance and then just re-heat for another night. 

Skinny Coconut Shrimp- These are great as an appetizer with a dipping sauce or for a meal you can serve them with rice and a big vegetable stir fry.  I made one change to the recipe; I added the juice of one orange to the beaten egg.

Quick and Easy Zesty Sausage Pasta-  A fantastic sauce you can put over pasta, gnocchi, soft polenta or even over roasted vegetables for a low carb meal.  It’s quick to cook, but full of flavor.

Balsamic Roast Chicken- Delicious low fat method for roasting a chicken.  This recipe uses a whole chicken, but you could apply the same method to chicken parts.  Add sliced onions to the pan for caramelized onions to go with the chicken.

Slow Cooker Enchilada Chicken Chili- A slightly different flavor than your usual chili.  Really good!  The recipe suggests controlling the heat by cutting back on the chili powder if you’re using a spicy enchilada sauce.

Vegetable Bean Soup- Here is a meatless but filling soup that has many options for you to change it to suit your tastes.

Crock Pot Pasta Fagioli Soup- This is a beef, vegetable and pasta soup that is filling and you can make a large amount to eat all week or to feed a crowd. 

Peanut Butter Granola Balls- Really easy, a great snack for kids or to pack in their lunch.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Photo Shoot with His Life Magazine

We interrupt our usual programming to bring you some recipes and photos from our photo shoot with His Life Magazine.  This blog and my family are featured in the Spring issue and I wanted to share the recipes I made for the photo shoot. I also took some photos with my iPhone camera and with the Instagram app, so I'm sprinkling in a few of those here.

Photographer Tanea Devriend is the creative force behind His Life Magazine and she happens to take beautiful family photos of my family.  When she was looking to add blogs to partner with her magazine, I jumped at the chance and together she and I collaborated on a feature for the spring issue.  I put together a four course meal using the theme of love as inspiration.  The plan was that I would make a meal, with the help of my daughters for my husband.  It would be foods he loves, made by us, with love.

Link to download the magazine- His Life Magazine Spring 2012 Issue

First Course- Stuffed Mushrooms
There's a lot of great recipes for stuffed mushrooms out there.  My husband loves mushrooms, and the ones that I make are super simple.

Stuffed Mushrooms

1 doz mushrooms- large sized for stuffing, some stores sell pre-packaged "stuffers"
2-3 tbl. olive oil
2-3 small mushrooms, finely chopped
1 1/4 c. mozzarella cheese
1/4 c. shredded parmesan cheese
2 tbl. mayonnaise
3 tbl. butter
2 cloves garlic- crushed
1 tsp. cajun seasoning or Emeril's Essence
salt, pepper to taste
Pre-heat oven to 350
Wash stuffing mushrooms, remove stems and chop, then hollow them out a little (if possible) and save those bits to mix into the stuffing. Brush the insides and outsides with olive oil.
Melt butter in medium sauté pan, add garlic and begin to sauté, add chopped stems and insides. Cook for just a few minutes to soften mushrooms.
Mix together cheeses and mayo. Add the cooked garlic and mushrooms. Season with Cajun seasoning or Essence. OR experiment with other seasonings- herbs or more garlic, whatever you like. Add salt and pepper to your taste and mix this all together.
Place spoonfuls of the filling into the mushroom caps.
If your baking dish needs it, brush some olive oil or butter on the pan. Place the mushrooms on the pan and bake for about 10-15 minutes. Then turn the temp to BROIL and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes, watching closely.
A note about the cooking time: Larger mushrooms are going to need more time to get the stuffing heated and melted and the mushroom soft. So, cooking time will vary.

Here's another recipe, somewhat the same technique, little different flavors, but from one of my favorites, The Pioneer Woman.

Second Course- Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Balsamic Dressing
My husband is not a big salad eater, but he does love a good spinach salad.  This one is very easy.  I left it simple but like with any salad you can add anything you like.

1 bag baby spinach
2-3 slices of bacon
3 tablespoons good balsamic vinegar (I get mine in the bulk section at Whole Foods, it's a Fig Balsamic Vinegar)
Dried cranberries and sliced almonds (use however much you want)

In a small pan fry the bacon slices until crisp, then set aside on a plate and crumble them.  Then using the same pan, remove some of the bacon grease leaving about a tablespoon or so.  Put the pan on medium/high heat and then slowly pour in the vinegar.  Be careful as it can splatter, but you want it to bubble and boil so it can combine and reduce a little.  Prepare the salad; place spinach in desired serving dish, add the cranberries and almonds, pour the warm dressing over, gently toss everything together.  Serve immediately with some crumbled bacon on top.

Third Course- Buttermilk Roast Chicken with Mashed Potatoes and Collard Greens
My husband loves chicken prepared all sorts of ways.  I chose this recipe from the fabulous Deb of Smitten Kitchen because I felt like it was easy for everyday cooking, but yet also worthy of being served for a dinner party.  Delicious and yet inexpensive.
Smitten Kitchen Buttermilk Roast Chicken
As far as the mashed potatoes, you may have your own favorite method, on this day I did a basic version using red potatoes that the girls then smashed with a bit of butter, milk and salt.  But here's a fantastic version that I LOVE, it's what I consider "special occasion" mashed potatoes.
Mashed Potatoes with Browned Butter, Goat Cheese and Sage
For the collard greens, something my husband grew up eating and loves to have with chicken or ribs, I use a recipe from Paula Deen.  I just happen to omit the hot sauce and drizzle in a bit of balsamic vinegar toward the end of cooking, so it's got a smokey yet sweet and tangy taste to them.

It was really hard to wait for the ice cream to finish!

Fourth Course- Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream with Peanut Butter Hot Fudge Sauce and Chocolate Brownies
Homemade ice cream is fun and it's delicious and the recipe I used is featured in the magazine.  It's from Mark Bittman who writes for the New York Times, has published several books and has an iPhone app, which I happen to use quite a bit.
Peanut Butter Hot Fudge Sauce 
Using this Chocolate Sauce recipe from Martha Stewart, I adapt it to just make it in the microwave, heating it in 30 second intervals and stirring until it's all smooth and combined.  I added to that, 2 heaping tablespoons of smooth peanut butter, stirring and using the heat of the sauce to melt the peanut butter and if you need to, put it back in the microwave for 10 or so seconds.
For the brownies, I again use a simple recipe from Martha Stewart that I love and I haven't made brownies from a box mix ever since I discovered this recipe-  Fudgy Brownies

You can make a sundae with a brownie on the bottom, a scoop (or two) of ice cream, top it with the peanut butter hot fudge sauce and then whipped cream and chopped peanuts.  Or, what I did that day, I topped it with tiny chocolate peanut butter cups.

Sharing the ice cream sundae with Daddy

The aftermath!!