Monday, July 23, 2012

Menu Plan Aug. 22-28

     We won't be using our oven this week! We'll be having easy to make, stove-top meals in hopes to keep our house a little cooler. This will probably help me with my goal to stop eating sugar (baking cookies) for a couple of weeks. I started thinking about this a couple of weeks ago when I saw this post. It's been in my mind since I read it. I started looking around the Internet for stories of other people who quit and how they felt. I think I have a problem, and it looks like I'm not the only one. I can't eat just one cookie or a tiny scoop of ice cream. I go all out. I need to learn to control it, or not have any at all. I want to feel good and not have an afternoon slump. So, for the next few weeks I won't be using sugar...though I will still use honey and maple syrup, and maybe I'll even find a way to use those molasses that I bought.
Creamy Parmesan Bacon Pasta

Dinners:
Black Bean Quesadillas and Brown Rice
Creamy Parmesan Bacon Macaroni and Broccoli
Rice and Black Beans
Tortellini and Salad
Dad's birthday!

Breakfasts:
Plain yogurt w/ fruit and honey
yogurt and fruit smoothies
Toast w/ butter and fruit spread
Oatmeal w/ honey and cinnamon

Linked up to OrgJunkie's Menu Plan Monday

Friday, July 20, 2012

Pinteresting Review: Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole

     I love Pinterest. It might even be a slight addiction. From reading your blogs, I know I'm not the only one with this problem. I try lots of the ideas that I find on Pinterest. Some work out, and some fail. By the way, have you seen the blog, Pintester? It's a hilarious look at the Pintester's testing of the pins she finds on Pinterest. While my intent with this new series, Pinteresting Reviews, is not humor, I do want to write about the pins I try.
     Last week, several of my friend pinned this Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole recipe. I thought it was worth a try, especially since it seemed to combine a couple of recipes that I really enjoy making and eating: Chicken Cordon Bleu Braid and Chicken Casserole. I was excited about how flavorful I thought this casserole would be. The cordon bleu braid is so simple, yet has a fantastic flavor. The chicken casserole we already make also uses stuffing on top for a crunchy topping, so I figured this would be pretty similar even though it called for chicken stuffing instead of cornbread stuffing. 
     I didn't exactly follow the directions as stated. Actually, the only thing I changed was the method for adding the stuffing on top. You see, I don't actually like stuffing. It's not really the flavor, it's the soggy texture. So, I just melted a stick of butter and mixed that with the dry stuffing mix (basically, I left out the water and added extra butter) to create a crunchy topping. This is the same method used for my chicken casserole

Pinteresting Review Rating: It was OK... It wasn't as flavorful as I had hoped it would be. I don't know if chicken stuffing isn't as flavorful as cornbread stuffing or if the amount of broccoli took away some of the flavor punch. If I make it again, I will serve the broccoli on the side and go back to cornbread stuffing to see if that makes a difference. You would think the addition of mustard and ham to my regular chicken casserole recipe would add more flavor dynamic, but in this case it didn't. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Meals to Go

     We have been blessed over the past few weeks. Our friends and family have been bringing us meals to help ease the transition into being a family of four. It has been great having a home cooked meal on the table while we were focusing on other things. Now  that our meals have stopped coming, I thought I'd compile a list to help you with ideas for taking meals to people.
     There are many reasons you might want to make a meal for someone. Usually our church provides meals when there is a death, birth, surgery, etc. One tool that our church uses that makes meal-bringing easier is a website called Take Them a Meal. This site lets you add a note about special dietary needs or whatever you need. It also has a place for a map and directions. Each person can sign up and the recipient gets an email notification for each upcoming meal. Another nice feature is that you can see what everyone is bringing. If you are the meal giver, this will help you plan so the receiver won't have a bunch of pasta dishes in a row. If you don't have time to make a meal, you could still help by taking them a gift card or picking up some take-out for them.
     Some thoughts before I begin the list: It's nice to give the recipient everything they will need for the meal, so be sure to include sides. If you send a salad, be sure to include dressing! It's also nice to include dessert or maybe muffins that can be eaten as a snack or breakfast the next day. One person even brought us a frozen dish in addition to the meal they had prepared. Finally, take the meal in disposable containers so the recipient doesn't have to worry about getting your dishes back to you.

Pasta
The typical "go-to" meal gift is pasta. I think this is because they are pretty easy, reheat well, and generally well-liked. Some simple side ideas to go with a pasta are garlic/french bread, salad (with dressing!), or a bag of frozen steam-able broccoli florets.

stuffed shells
lasagna
bruschetta pasta
spaghetti marinara or baked ziti
crock pot spaghetti Ask the recipient for their crock and fill it or make it and transfer to disposable dish
spaghetti with homemade sauce
deep dish spaghetti
basil pesto spaghetti
Bowties with Creamy Parmesan Sauce

Comfort Food
Sometimes, especially during transitions, you just want comfort food. It's called "comfort food" because it makes you feel better or reminds you of when you were younger. Some great pairings for comfort food are mashed potatoes, baked beans, corn on the cob, cornbread muffins,  apple pie, or chocolate chip cookies.
Best Ever Mac N' Cheese (with opt. meat and veggies)

Pot Roast
Beer Pepperoncini Pot Roast
Pulled Pork 
Chicken Pot Pie
Indiana Chili
Chili
White Bean Chicken Chili
Potato Soup
Mac N' Cheese (with Velveeta)
Baked Mac N' Cheese (with Cheddar)
Best Ever Mac N' Cheese (with Cheddar and Jack)
Hashbrown Casserole
Saucy Meatloaf
Stroganoff
Homemade Noodles (add beef, turkey, or chicken if desired)

Build your Own
We received two meals that were in a category all their own: Build your own. Sometimes, things will get soggy if you put it together ahead of time, so it's better to package each thing separately so the recipient can quickly put it together. Make sure, if you do this, that you are sending something that doesn't require much more work than reheating and combining! The point of taking a meal is to help out, not to create a project. Here are some ideas for this category:
Summer Salad

Taco Salad 
Tacos
Chicken, Mandarin, Feta Salad
Summer Salad
Chicken Caesar Salad w/Crumbles

Other 
I'm sure there are lots of ways to classify, but I just want to highlight a couple of recipes that are good recipes to reheat. You can take anything to someone, as long as you can reheat it and it still tastes good. Or maybe just take something that doesn't need to be reheated at all.

Cordon Bleu Braid
Chicken Casserole
Broccoli Chicken Casserole
Honey Pecan Chicken Salad
Veggie Tray Pizza
Peanut Butter Apple Wraps
Pizza Roll Ups
Taco Stuffed Shells
Southwest Lasagna
Red Beans and Rice


Muffins
We don't want to forget the most important meal of the day. Muffins are great for a quick breakfast or snack. Click here for a list of muffin recipes on my blog.
Add caption


Monday, July 16, 2012

Menu Plan July 15-21

     Happy Monday. We made it through our first week of preparing meals all on our own. I'm even taking a meal to a friend who had a baby. I'm also working on a post listing meal ideas that are easy to take to friends.
     This week, again, the focus is on simple meals. Mostly, the meals are familiar recipes that can be made without much work or time.
Cheesy Chicken Casserole-One of my favorites!

Dinners:
Cordon Bleu Bake, Salad
Breakfast Hash I meant to make this last week, but forgot to buy the potatoes!
Tortellini
Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, Frozen dinner rolls
Jerk Chicken on Foccacia, Broccoli
Chicken Casserole, Green Beans

Breakfasts:
Muffins (I made this recipe, with some changes)
Yogurt parfait
cereal
toast
Waffles

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday by OrgJunkie

Monday, July 9, 2012

I Don't Use Shampoo...

     There. I said it. My husband thought I had finally gone off the deep end when I suggested this. He totally thinks I'm a "hippie" anyways.  I'm pretty sure that he has been won over at this point. It's a good thing too, since I haven't bought shampoo in a couple of months. He was already won over to using oil to clean his face. By the way, I like what the oil face wash did for my face...I just didn't like that the hair right around my face always looked oily! That is why I use something else these days. Jonathon still uses the oil on his super oily face and he likes it.
     I'm sure you've heard of "no-poo" people. There are all kinds of posts about it if you search the internet. There are a lot of shampoo alternatives out there. I'm going to tell you about what I have been doing.
     I wasn't really looking to stop using shampoo. Really, I had just started to use Dr. Bronner's soap for my body because of some skin sensitivities that developed when I was pregnant. As I was reading more about the soap, I realized how many things you could use it for...18 in 1 all purpose soap! I can't say that I've tried all 18 uses...in fact, I'm sure there are more than 18 uses for this soap since you can use it to make a whole lot of cleaning products. Check out Clean House, Clean Planet (see link at the end of this post) for tons of homemade cleaning solutions that really work. Maybe another post will include some of my favorite cleaning methods.
     So, on to this "no poo" idea. I use Dr. Bronner's instead of shampoo. I either squirt a little directly from the bottle and use the shower water to lather or I use a diluted foam that I have made. I also use the foam to wash my face and body. To make the foam...
  • Go to the Dollar Tree and buy a foam hand soap
  • When you get home, throw out the cheap soap in the hand pump and rinse the container out. It's much cheaper to buy the $1 hand soap and throw it out, than to buy a hand soap pump at the store. Though, you can if you want to.
  • Fill the container about 3/4 full with water, then fill the rest of the way with Dr. Bronner's soap of your choice. Do the water first, then soap so you don't create a ton of bubbles!
Now, if you use Dr. Bronner's for your shampoo, you will want to use some sort of conditioner. The soap will make your hair stick out funky and not feel very soft. Dr. Bronner makes a conditioner that is Ph balanced to equalize the effects of the soap. I haven't tried it yet, because apparently Apple Cider Vinegar has the same Ph...and it's cheaper. I just pour the vinegar/water mixture over my hair, leave it for a couple of minutes, then rinse. You smell the vinegar, but once you rinse it out, you only smell the Bronner's soap you chose to use for "shampoo." I promise. When you are in the shower, the rinsed hair doesn't feel slimy and smooth like with traditional conditioners, but it's super easy to brush out and it's really soft. I don't know how it works, but it does! To make the vinegar rinse...
  • Pour water and apple cider vinegar into a squirt bottle. I played around with the ratios and usually prefer about 2/3 water to 1/3 vinegar.
There is a bit of an adjustment period when you switch to no shampoo. It took about a week of ponytails for me, but I don't think I will ever go back. I have always had super fine, flat hair and now my hair is shiny, easy to style, and full of volume. Using Bronner's for face wash is the first thing I've used that didn't result in a breakout on my face. 

What's in my shower?
And, here is a more recent picture of me...and my hair and face...



Menu Plan July8-14

     It's been three weeks since Ezra Jane was born. We are slowly adjusting the life as a family of four. We have been blessed with many meals from our church which has helped ease the transition. Because of this, I have done little cooking over that time. This week, we are pretty much on our own. I think I'm ready for this...Well, I did plan some pretty simple vittles to make it a little easier.
     Again, I'm trying to cut back on the sugars. Just about every person that brought us food, brought dessert too! Have you been wondering about my dad? He is the reason I started watching my sugars in the first place. He quit cold turkey a few months ago, and he has lost 50lbs! That is basically the only change in diet that he made, which tells me sugar must be awful for your body. I've been doing a little reading about quitting sugar, and I have to say I might be addicted. I want to feel good like you are rumored to feel if you stop...and I won't lie, I want to lose this baby weight too. This body is done having babies, so it is time! Here is my plan for this week. Hopefully, I'll be a more regular poster from here on out!

Dinners/leftovers for Lunch
Chicken Club Pizza
Chili Mac Jack
Hash
Black Bean Quesadilla
Tortellini w/ garlic and olive oil
Bacon wrapped filet with succotash

Breakfasts
Peanut butter and Jelly Pancake Taco
Bacon Egg and Cheese Sandwich
breakfast banana split
omelets
chocolate chip pancakes 

Linked up to Menu Plan Monday

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Brownies

     We came home from the hospital late on a Wednesday night. The next morning, my mom and I were watching the Today Show when we saw these brownies. Do you ever see a recipe that you just can't forget about? It just draws you in until you make it. That is how I felt about these brownies. It probably didn't help that I have all these post-pregnancy hormones raging through my body. I needed chocolate. Chocolate with peanut butter cups, to be exact.
     A few days later, I couldn't stand it any more. I had to make those brownies. I sent J to the store to get peanut butter cups. This isn't something we normally keep around. He wasn't complaining...until later when he found you had to let the brownies set in the fridge overnight! We found it was worth the wait. These brownies were so rich and fudge-y (I guess that isn't a word...). They were much thicker (or taller?) than I expected, and I probably should have only made a half recipe. We ended up taking some to a friends house so they could enjoy these delicious brownies too. What a perfect addition to your July 4th celebration!

Adapted from Connie Weis
11 oz mini peanut butter cups
12 oz butter
4-1/2 oz unsweetened baking chocolate (or 3/4 cup + 1-1/2 Tbl unsweetened cocoa plus 4-1/2 Tbl oil)
9 oz bittersweet chocolate chips
6 eggs, room temp
10-1/2 oz sugar
12 oz brown sugar
1 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
1-1/2 flour (Take out 3 Tbl if using whole wheat flour)
3/4 tsp baking powder

  • Unwrap peanut butter cups and set aside.
  • Cut up butter. In heavy saucepan, melt butter over lowest setting.
  • Meanwhile, chop unsweetened chocolate into small pieces and add to melting butter. Add chocolate chips too. Using a whisk, stir occasionally. When melted and smooth, turn off heat.
  • Set rack in middle of oven and preheat to 350*.
  • Grease 9x13 pan. Line with foil and grease foil too.
  • Whisk eggs by hand in mixing bowl.
  • Combine sugar, brown sugar, and salt. Add to eggs and stir until just combined.
  • Gradually whisk in chocolate mixture and vanilla.
  • Combine flour and baking powder. Sift and add to batter.
  • Pour batter into prepared pan.
  • Push peanut butter cups into the top of batter. Don't put any within half inch of the sides of the pan.
  • Bake for 34 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack and cool for 30 minutes. Refrigerate for 7-8 hours or overnight.
  • To remove slab, run a thin knife between the foil and the pan, then remove chilled brownie slab from pan. Peel off and discard foil and cut brownies into bars.....The foil removal didn't work for me. We just cut them in the pan and scooped them out. I guess my foil wasn't heavy duty enough!
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