Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chana Masala (Spiced Indian Chickpeas)

R is a chickpea man. He hearts chickpeas, be them whole, pureed in hummus or otherwise. I'm always on the lookout for fantastic chickpea recipes.

I started trying to find a good Chana Masala recipe. Chana Masala sounds fancy schmancy, but it is rather easy peasy to make. Chana is short for Chana Dal, the Indian word for "chickpea," and Masala is the Indian term for a tasty spice mixture.

In short, this recipe is for tasty, spicy cooked chickpeas.

If you've never cooked Indian food, this recipe would be a good place to start, since it is very similar to cooking a great spaghetti sauce: saute the onions, add garlic, add some salt and spices, let simmer...sound familiar?

Yes, you can make this dish!

Chana Masala

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cardamom pods, crushed slightly
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 cup water
1 -28 ounce can crushed tomatoes -OR- 4 cups fresh finely diced tomatoes
2 -15 ounce cans chickpeas, drained -OR- 3 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
1/3 cup low-fat Greek-style yogurt (optional)
1 lemon
3-4 tablespoons fresh chopped cilantro (optional)
Basmati Rice

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook about 10 minutes or until they are brown and begin to caramelize a bit. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.

Add a wee bit (1/2 teaspoon or so) extra oil if need be and add the spices (ground ginger through the garam masala).

Allow the spices to simmer for about 30 seconds or until they are very fragrant, but not burning.

Immediately add the water and gently deglaze (fancy word meaning: use your spoon to scrape the bottom of the pan to loosen all the very tasty bits) the pan. Allow the water to cook and evaporate as you stir.

Reduce heat to low and add the tomatoes. Stir well.

Add the chickpeas. Let simmer 15 minutes or until ready to eat.

You may add 1/4 cup of water* if necessary, each time the sauce seems to be too thick, while the sauce simmers. Just be sure that if you add water, it evaporates before you serve the dish so it isn't too runny.

Once you are ready to serve the dish, remove from heat, add the yogurt, if using, and stir well.

Serve over rice with a lemon wedge and some fresh cilantro, if using.

Serves 4-6 as a main dish.

*Adding water and allowing it to evaporate actually intensifies the flavors.

Life is sweet,

Monday, January 30, 2012

Pinewood Derby and why we will eat leftovers on Thursday

Moments ago, I closed the door after saying good-bye to my parents. They were here for the weekend, a sort of "Happy Birthday" last hurrah for the boys. A fun weekend to be sure, and a great weekend for me, since my parents are two very willing and able extra sets of hands with the boys.

The weekend started on a very special note too, as R had his Cub Scout Pack's big Pinewood Derby on Friday. SPH and R worked long and hard on shaping his car, which R named "Dark Shadow" and painted himself. It was a labor of love for both of them, which included a late night trip to the local 24-hour Postal Center to weigh the car to make sure it was the exact weight required (note to self: maybe that kitchen scale you've had your eye on would serve multiple purposes).

In the end, it was all worth it when R won this:

First Place Overall! It was a fun kick-off to a great weekend.

But now, the weekend is over and with SPH at work, the boys at school and my parents on the road back home, I'm easing into our new week and coming up with our meal plan:

Enchilada Rotini, Fruit
Spaghetti with Chicken Sausage, Pepperdews and Feta
Chicken and Orzo Soup, Perfectly Simple
Thai Peanutty Stir-fry
Leftovers (see below)

February is a mere two days away and on February 2, we'll celebrate Groundhog's Day.

(Here's how I know we've had a mild winter: I almost *hope* that we have 6 more weeks of winter to come, since we've hardly had any real winter yet. Usually at this point in the year, I am begging Punxsatawney Phil to please, please tell us that spring is imminent.)

To celebrate Groundhog's Day, try these fun ideas for your dinner:

*Serve pork sausage, ie, ground hog. On second thought, maybe keep this joke between the adults, since you may not want to conjure up such images at dinnertime.

*In the spirit of the movie, Groundhog's Day, you can serve leftovers.

*Other ideas: Twice-baked potatoes (need a recipe? I just posted one this morning on FamilyEducation.com), Refried Beans, etc

We're doing leftovers, since I will use just about any feasible excuse to have a night off in the kitchen!

Have a sweet week,

Friday, January 27, 2012

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Enchilada Rotini

Up next in our Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge: Enchilada Rotini.

A great warm Mexican pasta dinner, this recipe is one of those "as-your-family-likes-it" winners. You can read the original post, but basically when I make this dish, I line up some vegetables and have each of the boys pick at least three.

One way you can think of this dish if you're having a hard time with the idea of Italian-Mexican fusion is to think of it like a Burrito Bowl over pasta instead of rice!

Here's the easy grocery list:

several different vegetables (4-5 cups total--zucchini, corn, mushrooms, red onion, peppers, etc)
cilantro (optional)

1 -12 ounce jar red enchilada sauce
1 - 8 ounce tomato sauce
canned black beans (to use as one of your vegetables)
1 pound rotini or other pasta

shredded cheddar cheese (optional)

olive oil
ground cumin
ground oregano
cayenne pepper

Have a sweet weekend,

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Top Seven Cold Weather Soups

It's raining, cold and gray. Sound familiar? While meteorologically this has been a very mild winter, we live in Ohio, so even the mild winters feel cool, especially when it rains. Honestly, I think I would prefer snow to lots of cold, damp rain.

What's the perfect dinner on a cool, cold or downright frigid night? Soup! Here's my list of Top Seven Cold Weather Soups:

Seven Bean Soup
: An almost perfect blend of savory herbs and hearty beans. This recipe came from my friend Camille, a friend who has given me many sure-fire recipes. Bonus: it makes enough to share with a friend!

Perfectly Simple Chicken and Orzo Soup
: Almost as easy as opening a can of condensed soup, but far more transcendent in flavor. Good, solid soup that is a real crowd pleaser.

Butternut Squash and Carrot Soup
: Who knew soup could be slightly sweet? This soup is one of my boys' favorites, and I love that they get tons of good Vitamin A with each bite.

Make-it-your-own Chowder: A slow cooker soup that you can alter to your family's tastes. We love it with potatoes, cheese and crab, but to each their own!

Pizza Soup
: Tomato soup, all jazzed up and re-named to appeal to my boys. Again, you can make it whatever type of "pizza" you want, and top with your favorite flavors.

Creamy White Bean Soup
: A low-fat soup that tastes like a rich cream-based soup.

Slow Cooker Lentil Soup: My newest favorite soup. Full of vitamins, iron and most importantly, delicious flavor.

Choose one of these soups to warm up your cold winter night!

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Football Cupcakes (without any gunk)

For his birthday party this year, G chose a football theme. So for weeks I was on the hunt for football plates, napkins, and all the fun football things a 5 year old would enjoy for a party.

When it came to the cake, I asked G a rather open-ended question to which he answered rather specifically (note to self: open-ended questions aren't always the best route).

"G, what sort of cake do you want for your birthday party?"

(pause for thinking)

"Cupcakes. I want lots of cupcakes, decorated to look like the Green Bay helmet. I want the frosting to be lime flavored and the cake should be peach-y tasting."


I suggested vanilla football cupcakes, and since G is one of the most good-natured people I know, he happily obliged.

These were the best homemade birthday cupcakes I've ever made, thanks to my wonderful SP&P fan Jo, who suggested Anne Burrell's Sour Cream Cupcake Recipe. They turned out perfectly!

After the cupcakes were cooled, they need some decorations to get from plain to:

I've been trying to come up with gunk-free (read: no artificial colors or dyes) cookie and cake decorating methods for years. We've had great success with things like our Naturally Orange Frosting that uses canned pumpkin for color.

But this time I needed green, so I sized up my options and decided to use:


Spinach, steamed in water for several minutes and strained, to make about 3 tablespoons of spinach mush (culinary term, to be sure). I combined it with 2 tablespoons of vanilla soy milk (to add the vanilla flavor) and pureed it in my blender and then strained out the excess pulp:

I then combined the green spinach "dye," with 4 oz of light cream cheese, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon additional soy milk. I then blended it with about 1 1/2 - 2 cups confectioners sugar:

Sure, it is not kelly green, it is a light mint, but for our purposes, it suited G just great and (and this is important!) it did not taste like spinach.

A little chocolate frosting (1/4 cup melted chocolate added to 4 oz light cream cheese, a dash of vanilla and milk and 1 1/2 - 2 cups confectioners sugar) in the shape of a football with some white icing (about 2 tablespoons milk with 1/2 - 1 cup confectioners sugar) laces, and G was over the moon about his football cupcakes!

Try some if you are hosting a Super Bowl party or football birthday party yourself!

Life is sweet,

Monday, January 23, 2012

Meals for a Busy Birthday Week

Birthday Week is in full effect, with G's preschool friends birthday party yesterday and R's actual birthday this week. I've baked, frosted and decorated up a storm, so I am looking forward to a little breather later this week.

I've had help though from each brother as I prepare the other brother's birthday food:

(in case you doubted my comment that G is a huge Green Bay fan--yep, that's a custom-made Green Bay apron (thanks mom!), worn over his GB jersey)

Need some meal-time inspiration for your busy week? Here is my weekly dinner plan:

Egg Drop Soup with Vegetables
Breakfast for Dinner (always a favorite in the Sweet Pea home)
Caramelized Onion Calzones, Spinach Salad
Olive Bar Fish
Chana Masala, Brown Rice, Mango

Have a sweet week!

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Egg Drop Soup with Vegetables

Here's the grocery list for this coming Monday's Meatless Healthy Eating Challenge. This week I am suggesting the Egg Drop Soup with Vegetables recipe I just posted, since Monday is the Chinese New Year.

(Hint: using holidays and other celebrations from around the world, and sharing about the customs of said country or region, is a great way to encourage your child to try new foods!)

Grocery List:

a thumb size amount of fresh ginger
8 oz container of mushrooms
2-3 oz spinach or other greens
1 green onion

1 quart of good-quality vegetable stock

1 package extra-firm tofu (optional)
2 eggs

reduced-sodium soy sauce
corn starch

Have a sweet weekend,

Friday, January 20, 2012

And the Slow Cooker Cookbook Winnter is...

Remember this giveaway?

The lucky duck whose number was chosen by Random.org is:

#11 -- Kim Baker

Kim, email me your address at my email: sweetpeaeats@gmail.com.

Sorry I don't have one for everyone!

Life is sweet,

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Pancake Birthday Cake

It's birthday week once again in the Sweet Pea home. Both R and G celebrate their birthdays, a mere four days apart. A happy week indeed!

G is younger, but his birthday comes first. He actually arrived a few weeks before his due date, and we joke that he knew that if he was going to always be the little brother, at least if he came early, he could celebrate first.

And celebrate we do.

Is there any more special of day for a child, the day when you get to celebrate them: their life, their special, unique qualities and the blessings they bring to your life? I love birthdays.

This year we started early in the morning with a special cake made out FIVE pancakes, with FIVE candles. Can you guess how old G is now?

G was all sorts of excited about his special breakfast treat:

A little bit of strawberry jam helped "glue" it together, then once the candles were blown out, a dollop of cream:

Happy Birthday, sweet G!

Life is sweet,

**Tomorrow I will choose a winner in the Slow Cooker Cookbook Giveaway--enter here**

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Chinese New Year Egg Drop Soup with Vegetables

This coming Monday is the Chinese New Year, the Year of the Dragon. I forget what animal symbol represents my birth year, but I do remember the paper place mats that were at our local Chinese restaurant growing up, and being relieved I wasn't a rat or a pig.

If you want to celebrate the Chinese New Year with your family this year, I have an easy and very quick healthful version of Egg Drop Soup that you can make for your celebration. (Added bonus: if you are following this blog's weekly Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge, this soup will fit the bill!)

I added greens to the traditional version of Egg Drop Soup to make it more healthful. If either the greens, tofu or mushrooms in this soup won't fly with your family, use whatever vegetables you wish. Some other options include: peas, green beans, baby corn, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, carrots, water chestnuts.

Egg Drop Soup with Vegetables

1 quart good quality vegetable stock
2 cups water
2 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce
2 teaspoons corn starch
5 quarter-size slices of fresh ginger
8 ounce container, sliced mushrooms
1 cup (packed) sliced spinach or other green
1/2 cup tofu, diced (optional)
2 egg whites
1 tablespoon sliced green onions

In a medium stock pot, combine the stock, water, soy sauce, corn starch and ginger, stirring well to make sure the corn starch dissolves. Bring to a boil while stirring regularly, and then reduce to a steady simmer.

Add the mushrooms, spinach and tofu. Let simmer 5 minutes.

In a small bowl, whisk the egg whites until slightly frothy (about 30 seconds). Make sure the soup is still simmering, and slowly pour the egg whites into the soup.

They will cook as you add them, creating beautiful shapes in your soup!

Add the green onions and serve.

Serves 4-6 as a main course, 6-8 as an appetizer.

Life is sweet,

**Don't forget this week's Slow Cooker cookbook Giveaway, you have until Friday at high noon EST to enter!**

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Slow Cooker Cookbook Giveaway

My slow cooker kicks into overdrive around the start of school and doesn't start humming all year long. In other words, I've been using my slow cooker a lot lately. I'm guessing you just might be too.

I think a lot of folks have a sort of aversion to slow cookers, tending to think they are for bland, overcooked, or mushy foods. I have a cookbook that will change that perception!

The Vegan Slow Cooker touts, "Set It and Forget It with 150 Recipes for Intensely Flavorful, Fuss-Free Fare Everyone (Vegan or Not!) Will Devour!" I couldn't have written it better.

As a non-vegan, I found recipe after recipe that I wanted to try as I flipped through this cookbook. I loaned it to a friend, and a few days later she said, "I am buying this book, otherwise I will end up having this a very long time."

Here's just one example of The Vegan Slow Cooker's flavorful recipes, one that will send you on a dinnertime trip to the islands:

Caribbean Mango Black Beans
(from The Vegan Slow Cooker)

3 cloves garlic, minced
2-3 cups mango (from 2 mangoes), diced
4 - 15oz cans blacks beans, drained and rinsed -OR- 6 cups cooked dried black beans
1 cup water
2 tablespoons vegan chicken-flavored bouillon
3 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
2 teaspoons dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1/8 - 1/2 teaspoon hot sauce (optional)
salt and pepper to taste

Night prior:
Mince the garlic. Cut up the mango. Grate the ginger. Set in an airtight container for the morning.

In the Morning:
Oil the inside of your slow cooker. Add all the ingredients except the salt and pepper.

Cook on LOW for 6-8 hours. Once done, salt and pepper to taste.

Serves 8.

We served ours over brown rice, with a squeeze of lime, a couple dashes of hot sauce and a bit of cilantro:

Despite being quite chilly outside, inside we were playing reggae music (really) and being transported far away from the cold of Ohio!

If you want even more slow cooker inspiration, be sure to bookmark author Kathy Hester's blog: http://healthyslowcooking.com/

Her blog is full of great recipes, just like the ones in The Vegan Slow Cooker.


I am giving away one copy of this flavorful, creative and most of all, super convenient cookbook to one Sweet Peas and Pumpkins fan.

To enter:
Leave a comment on this blog post letting me know you have "liked" Sweet Peas and Pumpkins on Facebook. You can leave an additional comment letting me know you have become a "Follower" (see the right side bar) of this blog too. Two chances to win one cool cookbook!

I'll choose a winner this Friday at 12 noon EST.

Life is sweet,

Monday, January 16, 2012

Green (Bay) Chips and our Weekly Meal Plan

It was a big football weekend for R and G, who adopted the Patriots and Green Bay as their respective teams.

For R, it just happened that a couple years ago, he was watching football, liked what he saw, and sort of declared "I like the Patriots!"

For G, it was even easier: his favorite color has always been green and his name starts with a G. He saw the green helmets with a "G" on them, and became an instant Packers fan.

My boys are nothing if not scientific in their NFL allegiances.

Who can blame them? Since Mom and Dad cheer for the Browns and the Redskins, if they wanted to avoid the misery of losing lots of close games, they had to look elsewhere.

R's team was victorious, and while Green Bay won't be repeating as Super Bowl Champs, I told G that I had some "Green Bay" chips that I wanted him to try. It ended up being R who was a bigger fan of my green chips, but I think G appreciated their color, if not their taste.

Green (Bay) Chips

2-3 cups kale pieces, pulled off the stems
2 teaspoons canola oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl, pull the kale leaves into smaller bite-size pieces.

Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss well.

Place on a cookie sheet.

Bake for 8 minutes, then use a spatula to gently move the leaves around a bit, to ensure even baking.

Bake an additional 2-5 minutes, depending on the size of the leaves. You want them to be crisp, but not browned, as this adds bitterness.

Makes about 2-3 cups kale, er, Green (Bay) Chips.

It's a busy week in the Sweet Pea home, so we're doing a couple dives into our freezer to use some leftovers on busy nights. But here's what I am making too:

Black Bean Soup, Slow Cooker with Corn Bread
Taqueria Asada Tacos, Frijoles Refritos, Mango
Veggie Burgers, Sweet Potato Fries, Fruit
Hummus, I’ll-Never-Buy-Grocery-Store-Hummus-Again, Pita, Spinach Fatayer

Last but not least, I have a wonderful cookbook giveaway to announce tomorrow. Here's a hint: if you like your slow cooker, you will want to check it out!!

Have a sweet week,

Friday, January 13, 2012

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup

It's snowing as I type this and the boys couldn't be more excited.

R left for school this morning with plans for Big Snow Fun after school. I don't have the heart to tell them it is pretty hard to make a snowman with a mere 1 inch (if that) of snow on the ground, but maybe Old Man Winter will bring some more as the day progresses.

Snowy weather always makes me think of soup. For this coming Monday's Meatless Healthy Eating Challenge, here's a slow cooker soup that will warm you right up!

Added Bonus: there is pureed pumpkin in the soup, making this a pretty powerful bowl of soup! You can also use pureed sweet potato or winter squash (sold pureed in the frozen foods section of your grocery) in place of the pumpkin.

Grocery list for Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup

1 onion
2 cloves garlic
1 jalapeno
cilantro (if using)

3 -15 oz cans black beans -OR- 1 pound dried black beans
1 - 15 oz can tomatoes with green chilies
1 - 15 oz can pumpkin puree
1 quart vegetable broth
corn muffins -OR- corn muffin mix+ingredients to make the box

light sour cream (if using)
shredded cheddar (if using)

chili powder
ground cumin
dried oregano
hot sauce (if using)

LinkLife is sweet,

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Slow Cooker Chicken/Chicken-less Pot Pie

We are in prime "comfort food" time on the calendar, but also in the midst of everyone's big annual "New Year, New You!" healthy eating kick too. Often comfort food and healthy eating are at odds with one another, but here's a full-of-comfort meal that is healthful too!

You can make this dish with chicken as is traditionally done, or you can easily substitute Great Northern or white beans, and it is makes a very tasty vegetarian rendition.

Just take a gander at this tastiness:

Use your slow cooker to do most of the work and finish in your oven to bake up the low-fat biscuit topping.

Slow Cooker Chicken/Chicken-less Pot Pie

3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery ribs, diced
1 large potato, diced
7 cups water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken -OR- 2 - 15oz cans Great Northern beans (or 3 1/2 cups cooked beans)
2 cups frozen peas
1/2 cup corn starch
1/3 cup light sour cream

Topping (based on a recipe from Eating Well magazine):
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (or just use all-purpose flour)
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried thyme
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 cup buttermilk*

Make the filling:
Combine the carrots, celery, potato, water, salt, pepper, thyme, chicken (or white beans), and peas in the slow cooker. Cook on low for 8-10 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Strain the vegetables and chicken, being sure to collect all the broth in a stock pot. Ladle out about 2 cups of the broth in a bowl, and add the corn starch. Add the broth/corn starch mixture into the broth in the stock pot and heat to high, stirring until it boils. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 2-3 minutes, or until it thickens. Remove from the heat. Add the sour cream and stir well.

Meanwhile, if you are using chicken, remove the chicken from the strainer and shred with two forks.

Add the chicken (if using) and the vegetable mixture back into the thickened creamy broth. Stir well. Pour into a 9x13 or slightly larger pan.

Make the topping:
Combine the flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and thyme in a bowl. Add the butter, and using two butter knives or a pastry blender, "cut" the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pieces, no bigger than a small pebble.

Add the oil and buttermilk. Stir until just blended. Scoop in 2-3 tablespoon sized scoops on top of the creamy broth.

Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the biscuit top is slightly browned.

I don't know about you, but this screams "comfort food!" to me.

Life is sweet,

*don't have buttermilk? No problem! Just add 1 tablespoon vinegar or lemon juice to 1 cup milk, let sit for 5 minutes, and voila: homemade buttermilk.

Monday, January 9, 2012

On learning homonyms and our meal plan

Parents of young children, can you relate?:

Doesn't it seem that about 97.23% of the time your child gets sick/injured/needs serious medical attention it happens:

A. In the evening, after the pediatrician's office is closed
B. On a Sunday, when the pediatrician's office is closed
C. While celebrating a major holiday, when the pediatrician isn't even thinking about being open
D. When on vacation, when a reputable pediatrician is who-knows-where?

This weekend, G chose option B. A mildly runny nose without a single other symptom turned into a thrice-during the night wake-up routine, reaching its pinnacle at around 5AM when G was literally crying because "my ear hurts so bad!"

Thank goodness we were able to go to the local children's urgent care...along with (wait for it)....approximately two dozen other children, all in the queue before G.

I found it ironic because we've been talking about homonyms with R, so I tried to look on the bright side of having to wait hours for a doctor to briefly look into G's ear by and turn it into a teachable moment:

"G, you're showing great patience while we wait for the doctors to see the other patients."

It's all in the attitude, right? And the fact that they had a television didn't hurt either.

G is doing great since we caught the ear infection and he's been on antibiotics, so onward and upward this week!

Our meals:

Northstar Cafe Burgers, Pineapple, Oven Fries, Real Deal
Chili Lime Salmon, Asparagus, Roasted, Wild Rice with Cranberries
Black Bean and Avocado Tostadas, Mango
Italian Stuffed Shells (never got around to making these last week!)
Slow Cooker Vegetarian Chili

Life is sweet, even when it demands patience!

Friday, January 6, 2012

Meatless Monday: (Almost) Northstar Cafe Burgers

Did you think I had abandoned my weekly Meatless Monday Health Eating Challenge?

Um, no. The week of Christmas and New Year's I just figured you were a little distracted because, well, I was too.

So in case you forget, last autumn I started challenging my readers to eat vegetarian each Monday. There are countless health benefits to reducing the amount of meat you eat, some of which our family has experienced first-hand. But eating less meat is generally less expensive, better for the environment and can expand your cooking horizons, all good things in my book.

This week we're doing one of my favorite meatless recipes, (Almost) Northstar Cafe Burgers.

Here is your grocery list:

fresh beets (or use canned)
1 onion
3 cloves garlic

canned beets (or use fresh)
brown rice
1 - 15 oz can black beans -OR- dried beans, cooked
pickles (for the buns)

olive oil
balsamic vinegar
dried parsley
dried thyme
ground pepper
vegetable oil
toasted buns

hamburger buns

Have a sweet weekend!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Top Seven Healthy After-School (or Afternoon) Snacks

Throughout 2012 I plan to share some of my "Top ___" lists of different recipes. Since R started school this week, and since he always comes how ravenous, I thought I'd share our favorite after school snacks:

Apple Nachos
: Our perennial favorite. If you or yours have a peanut allergy, you can easily use another nut butter.

Pumpkin Muffins: Sure, you can eat for breakfast, but they make a quick after school snack too (bonus: you're getting your kids to eat a vegetable for a snack!)

Seven-Layer Greek Dip
: When I make this, it never lasts long. For the boys, I omit the red onion and tomato; you can customize it to your family's tastes! (PS--this recipe also uses my homemade hummus recipe, which is an easier, but equally tasty, after school snack)

Slow Cooker Applesauce: Have a busy day, mom? Then put all this in the slow cooker before you leave in the morning, and have a special treat waiting for your kids when they get home from school. Tastes waaaaaay better than applesauce, more like apple pie filling.

Homemade Microwave Popcorn: All you need is a brown paper lunch bag and some popcorn kernels...easy peasy and another Sweet Pea family favorite.

Super Granola Bars: An oldie, but a goodie (you can tell by the picture--I am no photographer now, but I've certainly learned a thing or two since this pic was snapped!), we've been making these for years. You can alter the fruit and other mix-ins to your heart's content.

Roasted Tomato Salsa: Sure, you can open a jar, but this is tastes so much better and takes very little effort!

All of these snacks are healthful and a great way to recharge your kid after a long day of school or play!

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Slow Cooker Accuracy

I had a bit of a changing of the guard ceremony in my kitchen after Christmas:

On the left, my first slow cooker, a gift from our wedding, nearly 12 (!) years ago. It served me well, but I noticed in early December that it wasn't cooking as fast or consist as it once had. Sniff, sniff, I had to come to terms with the fact that one of my "old standby" kitchen tools was needing to be replaced.

On the right, my new slow cooker, a soup-ed up version. I love it.

Once I started using my new slow cooker, I realized how "HIGH" on the new version was much, much warmer than my old-school model. So I wrote a post on FamilyEducation.com yesterday sharing some easy ways to see if your slow cooker is up to snuff.

Here are the highlights:

*Older slow cookers often cook lower than newer models. To test your slow cooker, place two quarts of water into it and cook on LOW for 8 hours. Test the water with thermometer and it should read 185-200 degrees.

*If your slow cooker is not cooking at least 185 degrees, it is unsafe to use, as it may not cook high enough in temperature or quickly enough to avoid food safety issues. Either replace your slow cooker or use merely as a warmer (we use our slow cooker on Thanksgiving to keep side dishes, such as mashed potatoes, warm).

*Newer slow cookers cook on HIGH at about 300 degrees and LOW at about 200 degrees.

*When using your slow cooker for the first time, be sure to use it while you are home to observe its speed and accuracy for cooking.

In the meantime, I am working on some great new slow cooker recipes with my fancy schmancy new slow cooker.

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Simple Lemon Pepper Flounder

If you are looking for a simple, quick and easy healthful dinner for your family, you can't go wrong with a mild white fish.

Fish cooks in next to no time, so it is the ultimate fast home-cooked food. This recipe is family-friendly since it uses baked potato chips as the crust, so they end up tasting similar to fish sticks but without all the extra fat or calories.

Side bonus: this recipe is gluten-free.

Simple Lemon Pepper Flounder

4 Flounder filets, or other mild white fish such as cod, tilapia, grouper or catfish
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1/2 cup baked potato chips, crushed

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a cookie sheet or other baking sheet with foil and spray with cooking spray.

In a shallow bowl, mix the oil, lemon juice, honey and ground pepper. In a separate bowl, add the crushed baked potato chips.

Take one fish filet at a time and gently dip in the bowl with the lemon mixture, using a pastry brush or the back of a spoon to ensure some of the lemon mixture is on each side. Then place the filet in the potato chips, gently pressing on one side, then flipping and then pressing on the other, to coat the fish with the chips.

Place the fish on the cookie sheet. Repeat with the other 3 filets.

Bake for 8-10 minutes*, or until the fish flakes when you gently press a thick part of the filet with a fork.

Serves 4.

*Cooking times will vary depending on the thickness of the fish filet.

My boys both love this recipe, I hope your sweet peas do too!

Life is sweet,

Monday, January 2, 2012

New Year, New Week, New Meal Plan

A short post today, just to check in and share our meal plan for the week. As I type this, we are getting our first real snow of the season. We saw a few flakes in December, but nothing that came close to sticking. But today:

Of course the irony is that today we're taking down all our decorations--the boys waited all December for a White Christmas that never came to be, and as we take down our tree, the snow arrived!

Tomorrow its back to work and school and back to reality. Our meals for the week:

Winter Pumpkin Pasta, Lemon Glazed Green Beans
A new Veggie Burger recipe, Perfect Oven Roasted Potatoes
Caribbean Mango Black Beans (new recipe), Brown Rice, Simple Greens
Slow Cooker Chicken Tikka Masala
(One of my Top 11 of '11)
Italian Stuffed Shells

Eat Well.
Feel Well.
Live Well.

Life is sweet,