Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Lightened Gumbo

I vividly remember the first time I had gumbo. I was flying with my mom to Florida to visit my Grandma Kay. We were flying USAir and were given a choice for our lunch entree, one of which was chicken gumbo. Feeling adventurous, I tried and loved it.

Now, I ask you, what is the most amazing part of the above story?

1. We were served a hot meal on a short flight
2. I was young and chose to eat gumbo

Hmm, I believe it is a toss-up.

You see, I was a pretty picky eater as a child, but for some reason, perhaps being lured by the exotic idea of flying (a rarity as a child, we drove everywhere!) I did the daring and ordered the gumbo.

I've always had a soft spot in my heart for gumbo and this week in Columbus, it is perfect gumbo weather. My version uses an oven to toast the flour (a key component in any gumbo), rather than frying it in oil. The flavors are rich and hearty, but this dish is full of nutrition.
Lightened Gumbo

1/3 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 medium onion, diced
6 garlic cloves, minced
4 ounces light chorizo or andouille sausage, diced
1 - 28 ounce can petite diced tomatoes, undrained
1 quart chicken broth
15 okra pods, ends cut off, and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 cup brown rice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a oven safe dish, sprinkle the flour and bake for 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Meanwhile, in a large stock pot over medium high heat, heat the oil. Add the carrot, celery and onion, and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic, cook 1 minute. Add the sausage and cook 4-5 minutes, or until it browns slightly. Reduce the heat to medium low, and once the flour is ready, add the flour and stir well.

Once the flour is fully incorporated, add the tomatoes and chicken broth. Increase the heat to medium high, and stir well, to ensure no lumps form. Add the okra, pepper, thyme and oregano. Bring to a boil and then simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the brown rice and simmer for 35-40 minutes. *Alternatively, you can do the above steps in the morning, add the brown rice and cook on low for 8-10 hours in a slow cooker, 4-6 hours on high.*

Serve with crusty bread and hot sauce, if desired.

Serves 4-6

Feel free to alter the proteins in this dish to your heart's content: add chicken, shrimp or use only vegetables. Alter away!


Friday, September 24, 2010

Dinner for Breakfast, aka, the Football Quiche

We love brinner, aka, breakfast for dinner. It's a winning solution to the answer "what's for dinner?"--the boys are thrilled, it's usually pretty easy for mom to prepare and dad loves it too. But this week we had dinner for breakfast...

Last weekend I made quiche, and it was my manly-man husband that suggested it. I am not sure where the idea that "real men don't eat quiche" originated, but the men in my family love it. They love it so much, and are so secure in their manhood, they ate this quiche while listening to football coming in from the family room television. Hence, the name "Football Quiche" was born.

I served the leftover quiche for breakfast a few days later. R looked at his plate, then at me and said, "we're having dinner for breakfast?!"

Football Quiche

1 teaspoon olive oil
6-8 ounces ham, chopped
1/2 cup diced bell pepper
1 cup fresh spinach, packed
4 eggs
4 egg whites
1 - 12 ounce can evaporated skim milk
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
10 sheets filo dough
cooking spray
1 cup shredded gruyere cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large skillet, bring the oil to a medium warm heat and add the ham. Cook until the water has all evaporated and the ham begins to brown, about 4-5 minutes. Remove from the ham from the pan. Add the peppers and spinach and cook for about 3-4 minutes, or until the peppers and spinach are wilted a bit. Remove from the pan, mix with the ham.

Mix the eggs, egg whites, evaporated skim milk, salt, pepper, onion powder and nutmeg. Add the ham mixture to the eggs and mix well.

Place one sheet of filo in a pie pan. Spray with cooking spray. Lay the next filo sheet, spray with cooking spray. Each time you layer a new sheet of filo, make it at an angle to the prior sheet, to ensure full coverage. Once the filo is fully layered, add the eggs, and top with the gruyere cheese.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the middle is no longer jiggly. Let sit for 10 minutes before slicing to fully "set."

Serves 8, or 4 for dinner, then breakfast.

Have a sweet weekend!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The perfect autumn condiment

I love exposing the boys to new flavors and watch their palates expand and grow. Horseradish has such an interesting "kick" to it, without being hot and spicy. Both R and G got a kick out of tasting this kick-filled sauce.

We served it on green beans, but the sky's the limit.

Try it on:

baked potatoes
steamed broccoli
a soup as a drizzle
grilled chicken
roasted brussel sprouts
and the list could go on...

Click here for the recipe I posted today at familyeducation.com for horseradish sauce, the perfect autumn condiment!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Chipotle Taquitos

I was craving Mexican food, but wanted something a bit different. I gave a new idea a whirl, and I was glad I did!

R quickly deemed these, "a make again!"

Normally taquitos are fried, but these crisped up really nicely in a hot oven. Be sure to preheat your cookie sheet prior to adding the taquitos, so when you place them on the tray, they will crisp up on the bottom.

Chipotle Taquitos

2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided use
1 medium onion
4 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 banana pepper, deseeded and deveined, minced
1 chipotle pepper in adobo sauce, diced
1/4 cup salsa
1 - 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup light sour cream
20 corn tortillas
4 cups water
optional toppings: sour cream, salsa, guacamole

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place a cookie sheet in the oven to preheat too.

In a medium skillet, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat and add the onion. Cook for 2 minutes. Add the garlic, cook for 2 minutes. Add the oregano, salt, banana pepper and chipotle and cook for two minutes.

Add the salsa, black beans and water and bring to a simmer. Simmer 5-6 minutes or until the water has evaporated. Remove from heat.

With a pastry blender or the back of a large fork, mash the mixture slightly. Add the sour cream.

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil (can use the skillet for this too, even if it is slightly still dirty). One at a time, dip a corn tortilla into the water for 1 second.

(This allows the tortilla to be malleable enough to roll without breaking. However, if you leave it in the hot water for more than a second, it begins to fall apart)

Place the tortilla on a plate, top on one side with 1-2 tablespoons of the chipotle mixture, and roll up like a cigar. Place on a tray while you finish the rest of the tortillas.

Take the remaining one tablespoon of oil and brush it on the hot cookie tray with a pastry brush, or alternatively, use cooking spray. Place the taquitos on the tray and bake for 15 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown a bit.

I can picture myself making these for the boys for an "I'm so ravenous" after-school treat when they are teenagers. But for now, they make a really seriously tasty dinner.

Life is sweet,

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Roasted Sweet Potato Soup

Today is a soup day. For lunch, I savored every bite of some leftover White Chili I made this weekend for dinner. Need a new soup recipe? Try this savory, yet slightly sweet soup that features roasted sweet potatoes and a delicious drizzle of maple syrup. Click on over to familyeducation.com for my recipe.


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Great Lunchbox Conundrum

Okay, moms (and maybe some dads too, but in my experience, it is us moms who bear the weight of school lunch responsibilities), here you go, some new approaches to school lunch boxes. If you saw my post last week, you know I've been trying to come up with a list of new ideas for your kid's school lunch.

I've heard a lot from mom's via email, facebook and (get this!) face to face conversations. Packing school lunches can be a challenge, whether you have a "I want lunchables!" daughter or a "I only eat a crustless peanut butter and jelly" son.

I've broken these ideas down into categories below, and I bet you, you have some really great ideas to share too. So, after you read my start of ideas, please comment with anything else that comes to mind!

School Lunch Box Ideas:

(All of these ideas start with the same basic approach, a whole wheat or other tortilla, with something spread on it, topped and rolled and cut into 4-6 pieces)

Pizza: marinara sauce, toppings (try sliced olives, spinach, pepperoni and/or roasted peppers) and shredded mozzarella cheese
Taco: cream cheese and salsa mixture, toppings (try shredded lettuce, diced peppers, corn, black beans and/or sliced olives) and shredded cheddar cheese
Mediterranean: hummus, diced cucumber, sliced olives
Ranch: ranch dip (try adding a bit of ranch dressing to cream cheese), shredded carrot, diced chicken, shredded cheddar cheese
Barbecue: barbecue sauce, diced chicken, corn, shredded cabbage or lettuce and shredded cheddar cheese
Pesto: pesto and cream cheese mixture, feta cheese, roasted peppers, sliced olives
Hawaiian: cream cheese, drizzle of barbecue sauce, diced pineapple (squeeze all of the moisture out, or the roll-up will get soggy), diced ham
American: ranch dip, diced smoked turkey, sliced pickles (again, squeeze all of the moisture out), shredded cheddar cheese
Teriyaki: teriyaki sauce, diced chicken, shredded carrot, bell pepper slices, tiny broccoli florets

Homemade "Lunchables"

Cheese and Crackers: stacks of cheese, cut into cute shapes or squares the same size as your crackers, whole wheat crackers, sliced meat or pepperoni, cut up fruit
Make-Your-Own Pizzas: mini-pitas (we get ours from Trader Joe's, they are no bigger than 2-3 inches in diameter), mini-container of marinara, shredded cheese, pepperoni slices, sliced olives
Make-Your-Own Tacos: tortilla chip bowls (Tostitos makes these), shredded cheddar cheese, salsa
Make-Your-Own Pitas: mini pitas, cut in half, hummus, vegetables, feta cheese

Hummus with pita, sliced carrots, cucumber slices, or the vegetables of your choice

Peanut butter with whole wheat crackers, apple slices, celery sticks, pretzels

Barbecue sauce with chicken strips (thanks Jenn, great idea)

Vanilla yogurt with apple slices, crackers or pretzels, or served in a bowl with "toppings" to make a yogurt sundae, such as raisins, dried fruit, granola, coconut

Cottage cheese mixed with salt and pepper, whole wheat crackers, vegetables

Cream cheese (combined with a bit of ranch dressing to make it more easy to dip), vegetable sticks

Alouette (or soft pub cheese from Trader Joe's) cheese with whole wheat crackers, vegetables

Leftovers (this is a partial list of things we have tried or will try with our thermos funtainer food jar)

Tortellini with vegetables and a touch of olive oil
Vegetable Dumplings and edamame
Pasta Carbonara (really, any pasta)
Barbecue Pork or Chicken (Erin, do you have any extra of this in your house?)
Meatballs, noodles and broccoli
Spaghetti Os (make your own with tomato soup and pasta--super tip Katie)
Rice and Beans

Odds and Ends (other lunch ideas)

Smoothies in a thermos
Hard Boiled Eggs
Homemade Trail Mix (what a good thought Mayhem)

Last but not least, I try not to get on a high horse with food, but it is so important to read the labels of your food. Here, from Kraft's own website, is the ingredient list of one of their new "wholesome and nutritious" (their words, not mine) Lunchable options:


Our kids all suffer from I-want-junk-fooditis, I think it is part of being a kid. I am not trying to single out a certain type of food as "bad," but I think this ingredient list can serve as an example. I fall into the 90-10 camp with food with ingredient lists like the above...make sure you allow your kid to be a kid from time to time, but make sure the majority of their food has ingredient lists that you can pronounce!

Oh, and keep those ideas coming, I am always looking for new inspirations!


Monday, September 13, 2010



I've been wanting this simpler URL to "sweet peas and pumpkins dot blogspot dot com" for awhile.

I considered going with a "dot net," or even "dot biz," but knew that this URL was up for renewal in September 2010. So I waited...and waited and this weekend, SPH (our in-house tech support) surprised me with the news that it was mine.

So now, a simpler way to find the same blog, but the old URL will still work too.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Somewhere between sandwiches and edible art

There are two extremes in school lunch boxes: the traditional, run-of-the-mill sandwich-chips-fruit-treat camp and then the crazy cool, works of art bento box lunches.

Are your kids sandwich eaters? If so, say a quick word of "thanks," since I am convinced my lunch packing would be infinitely easier if R liked sandwiches. Not that I am complaining, in fact, in a curious way, I love the challenge of finding healthful, outside-the-(lunch)box ideas that R will eagerly eat. And yet, my creativity and desire to make art in my son's lunch box is lacking.


I am trying to bridge the gap between the sandwich doldrums and edible art, and I have a feeling some of you might be in the boat.

My friend Katie sent me a message to this end, and a few of us started brainstorming unique lunch ideas. I've used several of them, and R's been a pretty happy camper in the lunch department.

First, my equipment:

R requested a Star Wars lunch box this year, and since I have happy memories of my own character lunch boxes, we obliged with Thermos' lunch bag:

To this we added the Thermos Funtainer Drink Bottle:

and Thermos Funtainer Food Jar:

and a half dozen or so lock and lock food containers:

These containers are BPA free, airtight and super easy to use for little fingers. I love them.

Last, but not least, we use our SnackTAXIs for things like chips and crackers:

I love all of these items, but the Funtainer Food Jar is by far our most indispensable tool so far. Why? It keeps things warm for up to five hours, greatly expanding our list of lunch options.

So what have we been packing in R's lunches with all this great equipment? I listed my "Top Ten Outside the (Lunch)Box" ideas on FamilyEducation.com, but have a few more general ideas to add in the coming days...


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Spaghetti Lasagna

A while back I hosted a giveaway and asked for recipe requests in the comments. My friend Amy asked for a recipe combining pasta and chicken nuggets. So in the back of my mind I've been playing around with ideas that would fulfill her request, but balance it with a good dose of healthfulness too.

Below is a Sweet Pea original, Spaghetti Lasagna. You want to know the best part? This recipe started out as a traditional lasagna, but when I went to put the finishing touches on it this past week, I realized I was out of noodles. So I used the "necessity is the mother of invention" mentality and came up with a twist: using whole wheat spaghetti in lieu of traditional lasagna noodles.

You can easily omit the nuggets in this recipe or do the lasagna half and half, it is really up to you.

Spaghetti Lasagna

1 pound whole wheat spaghetti, cooked
1 head of broccoli, cut into small florets
1 - 28 ounce jar of marinara
1 - 16 ounce container, part-skim ricotta cheese
1 cup (packed) spinach leaves, chopped into small pieces
1 teaspoon garlic powder, divided use
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper
6 chicken nuggets, cut into fourths or small bite size pieces
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Cook the spaghetti according to the package directions. Once cooked, drain fully and set aside.

Place the broccoli florets on a cookie sheet and spray with cooking spray or olive oil and sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the broccoli is tender and slightly browned. Keep the oven on for baking the lasagna.

In a medium bowl, mix the ricotta cheese, spinach, garlic powder, salt and pepper.

In a 9x13 baking dish, spread 1/3 of the marinara sauce in the bottom of the pan. Top with half the noodles, then half the ricotta mixture, half the broccoli, half the nugget pieces and half the mozzarella cheese. Repeat, making sure the noodles are fully covered on top (if there are "exposed" noodles, they will get crunchy and tough to eat).

Bake for 20-30 minutes, or until it is bubbly and the cheese is fully melted on top.

Serves 8.

Side note: Amy's son has an egg allergy, so this is egg-free. Also, you can very easily make this the day before or in the morning for dinner in the evening.

Have a sweet Labor Day weekend all-