Saturday, April 28, 2012

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Spring Risotto

I love risotto, and while it has a reputation of being a bit of a chore to make, this recipe is a simple weeknight meal.  Asparagus is in season, so be sure to use some fresh asparagus if that's up your alley.  If not, stick to sweet peas and you'll be happy.

Here's the link to the original recipe:  Spring Risotto

And here's the grocery list for this gorgeous and tasty dish:

1 onion
1 bunch asparagus (if desired--not in the original recipe, but I've been adding it lately)

1 - 15 oz can artichoke hearts
1 cup (uncooked) Arborio rice
1/4 cup dry white wine (or use additional broth)
1 quart vegetable broth

1/4 cup milk
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

1 cup frozen peas

olive oil

**If you wish to make this dish vegan, omit the cheese and milk and instead use about 1/2 cup cashew cream.  Click here for the cashew cream recipe.

Have a sweet weekend,

Thursday, April 26, 2012

A Next Step in the Journey

I am a bit foggy this morning due to a symphony of spring thunderstorms that passed through last night.  Thunderstorms, of the non-severe variety, actually appeal to me.  G disagrees, and since he was awake last night, so was this tired mama.

But I felt like I just had to get up and write a follow-up post to last night's "Important and Possible:  A Look at Healthy School Lunches" meeting at our local high school.

First off, Laurel, the high school senior who hosted the evening, once again impressed me with her poise and knowledge.  Laurel, I'm not sure if I could have done what you did when I was a teen.  You have a bright future!

After Laurel presented her research, Chuck Dilbone, from Granville local schools shared his school system's success in switching from a pretty typical school lunch program to a school food system that had three goals:

1.  Serve Nutritious Foods:  No Processed Foods, GMOs, HFCS or Preservatives...Organic when possible.

2.  Cook Fresh.

3.  Buy Local (40% of all foods bought locally is their current goal).  They buy their bread from a local baker, potatoes from a local Amish farmer and apples from Lynd's farm.  They actively pursue relationships with local farmers.

Granville has effectively made these changes, more students are buying school lunches and the program is profitable after only two years.

In short, change *is* possible, but as Chuck shared, you have to have a "passionate advocate" within the schools to lead the charge.

At last night's meeting, there were parents, a School Board Member, food services workers and our own school's Director of Business Services, which oversees the school lunch program.  It was a honest, and sometimes lively exchange of ideas and thoughts on our current school food program.

It seems as if everyone shared the goal of feeding kids healthy foods.  But how to get there...well, different folks have different ideas.  I walked away from the meeting feeling encouraged, but also questioning what will be the next best step.

And since I am still a little foggy this morning, I am not quite sure of the answer to this question yet, but I do know with the enthusiasm I saw last night, I woke up feeling very hopeful.

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

"Even a thousand mile journey starts with a single step."

(A continuation of a true story.  Read the first installment in the journey here:  Do Something)

An email came across my computer several weeks ago, forwarded to me from our PTO President.  There was a local high school student who had graduated from R's elementary school, who for her Senior Year project was studying the economic, academic and behavioral effect of healthier, from scratch, school lunches.

It was like Christmas in March.

A few of us from our school's Wellness Committee met with her and discovered several things lightning fast:

1.  She was bright, articulate and really knew her stuff.
2.  She was passionate about healthy school lunches.
3.  (and this was huge) She had already done tons of research on healthy school lunches.

Research on how actual school districts like ours could implement from scratch cooking in the lunchroom.

Research about the bottom-line, budgetary effects (not much) of healthy cooking.

Research on how students learn better, feel better and act better at school when their bellies are full of nutritious, whole-foods, instead of processed, from-cans and preservative-laden foods.


This was a huge step forward for the parents concerned about student health at our local schools.

So, tonight she is hosting a big forum:

Important and Possible:
A Look At Healthy School Lunches
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
UAHS West Cafeteria
6:30-8:00 PM

With nearly 40% of American children overweight, and
half of these children considered obese,
it's time we look for ways to solve the problem.
Healthier School Lunches

A lot of us like the idea of a healthier school lunch program,
but is it really possible?

Granville Exemplified School District runs a profitable program, with
All produce and meat grown locally,
All meals prepared from scratch in the schools,
and nutrition standards exceeding national minimum requirements

Come join senior, Laurel Freidenberg, and guest speaker,
Mr. Chuck Dilbone, Granville's Director of Business Operations, to
Learn the importance of school lunches to students' 
health and development, and
Find out how Granville made the ideal program possible.

Learn how you can support a healthier, fresher school lunch program.

It's a big step forward tonight.  If you're a local parent reading this, I hope you'll join in the discussion!

Life is sweet,

Monday, April 23, 2012

Zucchini Boats

After a weekend visiting some of my college roommates for the weekend, today is a day that rings greatly of "back to reality."  For three days I talked, laughed, shared and reminisced with friends with whom I walked through 4 amazing years at college.

Today, I folded laundry, placed a bandage on a little boy's "ouchie," went grocery shopping, made dinner, picked up the house and helped with some homework.  Yes, it's my life and I absolutely love it, but I can't help noticing the stark difference.

When I returned home yesterday afternoon, G pointed out that some of our sweet pea plants have buds on them.  Hooray!  Our garden is growing and it won't be long before we start harvesting.  Once we begin harvesting the peas, it won't be long before our other plants start producing too. 

Once summer arrives, our garden starts sprouting zucchini at an incredible pace. Here’s a fun recipe to try with zucchini, whether home-grown or store bought.  I took the components of bruschetta, an Italian appetizer that is essentially bread, with garlic, tomatoes, olive oil, salt and pepper and jazzed it up and stuffed the zucchini with them. 

Zucchini Boats

2 zucchini
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ cup onion, diced
1 large tomato, cored and diced
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper
1 cup fresh bread crumbs
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

Cut off the ends of each zucchini and cut in half lengthwise.  With a melon baller or small spoon, scoop out the inside flesh of the zucchini.  Scoop as much of the zucchini out as you can, without tearing the skin.  Take the flesh of the zucchini and chop roughly, setting aside.

Place the halved zucchini in a steamer and steam over boiling water for 3 minutes.  Alternatively, place in a microwave safe dish and cook on high for 1-2 minutes or until fork tender but not mushy.  Set aside.

Meanwhile in a medium skillet over medium high heat, add the olive oil.  Once warm, add the garlic and onion and cook for 3-4 minutes.  Add the tomato and reserved zucchini flesh.  Cook for an additional 3-4 minutes or until the zucchini flesh is very tender.  Add the salt and pepper and stir well.

In a bowl, combine the zucchini flesh mixture, bread crumbs, basil and cheese.  Stir well to fully incorporate.

Fill each zucchini with the bruschetta mixture:

Place under a broiler for 3-4 minutes, or until the top browns slightly.

Serves 4.

We call these yummy creations zucchini boats!

Life is sweet,

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Five Earth Friendly Favorites

Earth Day is coming soon and to celebrate, how about some easy homemade green products you can use to clean your home and keep your garden healthy?

1. The Ole' Stand-by: Vinegar and Water. We use roughly half water, half white vinegar for our go-to cleaner for mirrors, window and other surfaces. Yeah, it doesn't smell great, but once it is dry the smell is g-o-n-e, gone.

2. The New Favorite: Homemade Dishwasher Detergent.

Here's the new, easy recipe:

Homemade Dishwasher Detergent

1/2 cup Borax (Sold at Target)
1/2 cup Washing Soda (made by Arm and Hammer, I buy it at Meijer)
1/2 cup Citric Acid (Sold at Whole Foods, I bought some through in bulk)
1/4 cup Kosher Salt

Mix in an airtight container. Use 1 tablespoon per load of dishes.

Since our water is hard, this is the best cleaner for our dishes, earth-friendly or not. If you have soft water, you can use 1/4 cup citric acid.

3. My I-can't-believe-it-works-so-well-even-on-delicates: Homemade Laundry Detergent

Click on the link for the recipe, which was enough for our family for five months.

4. Kitchen Hero: Homemade Fruit and Vegetable Produce Wash

I use this seemingly all day long. Click on the link for a great way to remove pesticides, residue and other gunk from your fresh produce.

5. Greener Garden Helper:
Homemade Earth-Friendly Weed Preventer

It's spring and weeds are popping up along our patio, driveway and front walk. This weed killer has been a huge help! Bonus: R and G love using it which is a huge help.

There you have it; five ways you can celebrate Earth Day, everyday.

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream Sauce and Lime

There's a little Mexican restaurant not far from us that serves the best taqueria-style tacos. In fact, when the boys were sad about moving from our old house two years ago, one of the ways we enticed them into excitement about the new house was saying "but it's really close to your favorite taco place!"

Folks, we love tacos in Sweet Peaville. We have frequent taco nights at home and while we do tacos of all sorts, this recipe is my favorite.

You can easily bread and bake your own fish (tilapia, cod and orange roughy all do well), or you can buy pre-breaded fish at your local fish monger or even Trader Joe's frozen section (the tilapia filets are perfect!) and simply bake while you prepare the other ingredients.

Fish Tacos with Chipotle Cream Sauce and Lime

4 white-fish filets, breaded and baked (Click here for an easy recipe for homemade breaded fish)
2 cups shredded cabbage
2 limes
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, divided use
1/2 teaspoon salt, divided use
dash of pepper
1/2 cup greek yogurt
1 whole chipotle, diced*
1 cup fresh or frozen corn
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
8 corn tortillas

Bake the fish according to your favorite recipe or package instructions.

Meanwhile, prepare the cabbage: combine the cabbage, juice of 1 lime, vegetable oil, 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper in a bowl. Stir well to combine. Set aside (can be made ahead of time).

Prepare the chipotle cream sauce: combine the greek yogurt, chopped chipotle, remaining 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin, remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and juice of 1/2 lime in a bowl. Stir well and set aside (also can be made ahead of time).

Assemble your tacos: On each tortilla, place a couple strips of fish, some cabbage, corn, salsa and fresh cilantro. Drizzle with the chipotle cream sauce and bit of fresh lime juice on top.

Serves 4.

*Chipotle peppers come in a small can with adobo sauce. Use only one for this sauce, not the whole can. Save the remaining chipotles by freezing them like this:

Life is sweet,

Monday, April 16, 2012

Panzenella, aka Italian Bread Salad

Our family loves a good dish of leftovers.

Leftover chili? Tastes even better than the first time you eat it.
Leftover quinoa? The flavors have an extra day or two to marinate, heightening the flavors.

But leftover bread? Not so much.

There’s a reason that if you go to a bakery they sell day-old bread at half the price: old bread’s appeal fades quickly. But here's an Italian spin on what to do with leftover bread, using it in a bread salad or panzenella.

Panzenella is one of those brilliant peasant dishes, that uses an otherwise less-appealing food item, day-old bread, in a way that transforms it into deliciousness. When tossed with sauteed or grilled vegetables, a generous dressing and herbs, the day-old bread shines in a new way.

Italian Bread Salad

1 baguette or so of day-old bread, cut into bite sized pieces, about 3-4 cups
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 onion, sliced
1 zucchini, diced
½ bell pepper, sliced
1 eggplant, diced, sprinkled with a dash of salt and left in a colander to remove some liquid
¼ cup fresh basil, parsley or a combination of both

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon fresh ground pepper

Optional Toppings:
Sliced Olives
Sliced Proscuitto
Shredded Mozzarella

Dice the bread and place in a large bowl.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and onion, cook 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, bell pepper and eggplant. Saute for 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables are tender but not too mushy.

Add the vegetables to the bread and toss well. Sprinkle herbs on top and toss.

In a jar or medium bowl, mix the lemon juice, vinegar, oil, oregano, salt and pepper. Shake if using a jar or stir well, and pour over the salad. Toss well and let the salad sit for at least 15 minutes before eating, as this will allow the dressing to soak a bit into the bread.

If using, add the olives, proscuitto, and/or mozzarella.

Serves 4 as a main dish.

Here’ s my vegetarian version:

And SPH’s meatier option:

Either way, an Italian peasant dish fit for royalty!

If your little prince or princess is not into vegetables, this is the perfect recipe to adapt to their palate, allowing them to choose one or two vegetables as a start.

Have a sweet week,

PS--Our meals for the week:

Rainbow Quinoa
Seared Tuna Salad
Pad Thai (working on a Sweet Pea version)
Spinach and Feta Bake (ditto)
Chicken and Cashew Stirfry

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Meatless Monday Grocery List: Rainbow Quinoa

This week's Meatless Monday Healthy Eating Challenge will challenge you to try quinoa. Quinoa is all the trendy rage right now, but it couldn't be more ancient. Everything old is new again.

This week's recipe: Rainbow Quinoa

I love this recipe for all it's vibrant flavors: fresh ginger, juicy mango and orange juice, citrus-y cilantro and bell pepper combine for a little rainbow on your palate.

Ready to give quinoa a try? Great! Here's the grocery list:

2 navel oranges
1 thumb-size piece fresh ginger
1 small or medium red bell pepper
1 small or medium yellow bell pepper
2 mangoes
1 red onion
1 bunch cilantro

1 cup quinoa
1/2 cup rice or apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 - 15 oz can black beans


Life is sweet,

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Homemade Earth-Friendly Weed Preventer

I love when the weather warms and I find myself digging in the dirt of my garden again. And while in the early spring I can't yet plant most of our vegetables and herbs, I can weed.

While weeds in the dirt can usually be removed by a good grip and pull (this works especially well after it has rained), weeds in the cracks of our patio and driveway can be a real pain.

Enter this homemade weed killer. Made of simply white vinegar, lemon juice and dish soap, it does a wonderful job in making weed removal a cinch.

Homemade Earth-Friendly Weed Preventer

1/2 gallon white vinegar
juice of one lemon
1 tablespoon dish soap (*not* dishwasher detergent)

Gather all the ingredients:

Combine in a jug for a good shake and storage. You can write the ingredient list on the bottle for easy refilling:

Add to a squirt bottle or garden sprayer (if you invest in one with a pump it makes life easier, but a regular squirt bottle can work great too--just make sure no little lemon seeds get in the bottle!):

Spray the weed:

Wait an hour or so:

And pull away!

A couple notes:

**This concoction works best on a sunny, warm, preferably hot, day. But I've used it when it is only in the 60s and it still works. But the sun is key.

**Just like conventional weed killers, sometimes nasty weeds require two applications. But feel good that you're spraying something natural and earth-friendly, not a potentially harmful chemical.

**Kids love helping use this spray, and since there's nothing you don't already have in your kitchen, let them spray away!

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Strawberry-Pear Clafouti

Before I was a stay-at-home mom, there was a woman at my office who was always baking the most amazing creations. One day she shared that she had made a dessert called “clafouti,” and I wasn’t sure what she meant. I had never heard the word before in my life, yet alone baked or eaten one.

Fast forward to last year when I finally researched how to make one, and guess what--clafouti apparently is a French word that could be translated to mean “simple, easy dessert.” What a pleasant surprise.

You can use a variety of different fruits for this recipe, but I settled on strawberry and pear, since both looked fresh. The traditional recipe calls for cherries, but I found recipes for plum, blueberry and even apple clafouti. Since I now know this recipe is a simple, healthful dessert, I will be trying new renditions soon.

Strawberry Pear Clafouti

1 quart strawberries, rinsed, stems removed and sliced
1 large Bartlett pear, ripe, but still firm, deseeded and diced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3 eggs
1 1/3 cups skim milk
⅔ cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ cup white sugar
¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Grease a deep dish pie pan or a 9x9 glass pan.

Mix the strawberries, pear, lemon juice and brown sugar together in a bowl.

Pour into the bottom of the pie or glass pan.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs. Add the milk, flour, vanilla, white sugar and salt. Mix until smooth and pour oven the fruit.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

Serves 8.

Life is sweet,

PS--You might recognize this recipe from my former blog. I am in the process of moving some of the very best recipes to SP&P. Cheers!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Got (Hard-Boiled) Eggs?

(But first: The Vegan for Lent Challenge ended yesterday. I celebrated with a bit of ham, and some hard-boiled egg and cheese. Oh, and Trader Joe's Nacho Cheese Tortilla Chips, which had been calling my name for the last week from our snack shelf. I found the cheesiest one and it was good.

Vegans of the world, you have my utmost respect. While I walk away from Lent with some great lessons learned on reducing dairy from my diet, I embraced my cheese yesterday with a huge smile.)


So I am going to go out on a limb and say there is a fair chance you have some hard-boiled eggs in your fridge this very moment.

Am I right?

Even if you don't have leftover hard-boiled eggs, save this recipe for the next time you have a hankerin' for a really tasty, simple lunch or brunch dish. It is the mild, almost sweet flavor of the chives that sets this egg salad apart from its egg salad cousins. Oh, and the fact that I use only the whites of the eggs to reduce the fat, cholesterol and calories.

If you think you don't have chives on hand, a little quick forage around your yard might bring a pleasant surprise. Chives and wild onions proliferate in the wild this time of the year, so you just might stumble upon some. If you aren't sure, pick a few blades and give a quick smell. Your nose will let you know if you're in luck.

Simple Egg White Salad with Fresh Chives

6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled with most of the yoke removed
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives
2 tablespoons light mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Peel your hard-boiled eggs and remove the yokes (but don't sweat it if you have a little yoke in the egg). Chop and place in a bowl.

Add the fresh chives, mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Gently stir to combine.

Serve on whole wheat or other hearty bread points.

Serves 4-6 for lunch.

Life is sweet,

PS--Yeah, I know, I usually post my week's meals on Mondays...but I am still putting together our game plan after the busy Easter weekend!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Simply Roasted Asparagus with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

Simple. A beautiful word for busy nights and holidays.

Easter is in a few days, and with asparagus in season, you can heighten its sweetness by a simple 10 minute roast in your oven. Drizzle with a touch of olive oil and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt (or any salt will do) and pepper and you have a sublimely delicious, sophisticated side dish for any meal.

Roasted Asparagus with Olive Oil and Sea Salt

1 pound asparagus
1-2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt (or kosher, or regular)
pinch of ground pepper

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse asparagus and trim off any woody ends. Pat fully dry. Place on a cookie sheet, preferably with a rim to prevent rolling off.

Roast 8-12 minutes, depending on the thickness of asparagus*, or until tender and a touch of browning on the tip of the spears.

Remove from oven and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss gently.

Serves 4.

Life is sweet,

*Fun food fact: did you know there are male and female asparagus? The thick ones are female, the skinny, male.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Hollow Dyed Easter Eggs (Better the eggs than the chocolate bunny!)

Here's the problem I have with dyeing hard-boiled eggs: you decorate them beautifully and then they have to be shunned to the dark refrigerator to stay fresh.

Not so with these dyed eggs, which have their insides removed by a really quite simple technique, so they're perfectly safe to display.

Although it seems counter-intuitive, you can poke holes in either end of an egg without it shattering. Use a straight pin, thumb tack or anything thin and very sharp and insert in one end:

And then flip and do the other end. Jiggle the pin around a bit so you have a slightly larger hole in this end:

Then huff and puff through the tiny hole and the egg’s insides will come pouring out the other end. Collect the eggs in a bowl for a omelet, frittata or scrambled eggs.

Once the eggs are all hollow, rinse them lightly and then dye as usual.

Don’t have an Easter Egg dyeing kit handy? Simply use this homemade recipe for dyeing Easter Eggs.

I wanted more pastel-toned eggs, so I dyed these for just a short bit, using the egg carton for drying:

There you have it: an easy and perhaps new way to bring a little spring brightness into your home.

Life is sweet,

Monday, April 2, 2012

Counting the Days, Measuring the Heights

I'll start with latter, a project I finally finished to measure the heights to which the boys have grown, a giant wall ruler:

I picked up a 1x6 pine board and stained it to match the basement floor boards. Once dry, I marked off the inches and feet using a ruler, then drew in the numbers with a pencil:

Using a sharpie, I outlined the numbers and drew the hash marks for the inches and feet:

I filled in the numbers with black acrylic paint:

And had SPH help me nail it to the wall:

While we have no plans to move any time soon, this board could move with us if we go to another home, and we'll have a permanent reminder of the boys' growth each year!

And now that I'm done making the ruler to measure the heights, it's time for me to focus on counting the days, 6 to be exact, until Easter arrives and my Lenten Vegan Challenge is complete.

So without further adieu, my last week of vegan/flexitarian meals is here:

The Best Barbecue Veggie Burgers, Asparagus, Roasted, Parmesan Grits
Taco Lasagna with Cilantro Lime Cream Sauce
Sweet Potato Enchiladas, Cilantro-Lime Rice
Peanutty Stirfry
Eggplant Parmesan, minus the Parm for me, Big Salad

I'm already planning my Easter menu...and there will be cheese!

Have a sweet week,