Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Jack O'Lantern Eureka!

We carved our pumpkins yesterday, since the boys had a scheduled day off from school that was too cold, windy and wet to play outside.

R and G love drawing their Jack O'Lantern ideas on their pumpkins, but they often change their mind and want to do something different.

This year, I had a eureka! moment:  we used a dry erase marker to draw on the pumpkin--this made it easy to draw...

...erase our ideas...

...and redraw...

In the end, G settled on no nose and triangle eyes, but less teeth.

 And Mr. Jack O'Lantern wiped up clean!

Life is sweet,

Monday, October 29, 2012

Slow Cooker Senate Bean Soup

Have you noticed how all the talk about the election has seemed to grind to a halt with Frankenstorm, aka Hurricane Sandy bearing down on the East Coast?

With the storm momentarily taking the focus off the upcoming election, I thought I'd post my version of the most famous recipe from my former work place, Senate Bean Soup.  No one really knows for certain how the recipe developed, but it is served daily on Capitol Hill.  It is the Soup du Jour, every day.

My version can be made with or without bacon, but I do prefer the smokiness of a little bacon, smoked turkey, smoked sausage or ham hock in this soup.  I also add greens, to up the healthfulness of the recipe.  

This easy soup cooks all day in your slow cooker, giving you a warm, filling, yet healthy meal to come home to after a long day!

Slow Cooker Senate Bean Soup

3 - 15 ounce cans Navy beans, drained -OR- 5 cups cooked Navy beans
2 celery ribs, diced
1 medium onion, diced
1 medium russet potato, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced
6 cups water
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon ground pepper
1 teaspoon dried parsley
3 slices bacon, crumbled -OR- ½ cup diced smoked turkey or sausage (optional)
cooked greens (optional)

Place all ingredients in the slow cooker.  Close the lid.

Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours, HIGH 4-5 hours.

Serve with bread and enjoy the hearty goodness!

Serves 6-8.

Life is sweet,

Friday, October 26, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan Friday: Trick or Treat Week

Man, I wish Halloween had been this week, since our gorgeous weather has made for one last Indian Summer.  As it is, we're heading out for the candy-o-rama next Wednesday.

(Side note: to all my family and friends on the East Coast, hoping that Sandy doesn't put a damper on your Halloween fun!)

And our meals for the week full of candy?  Extra healthy in an effort to curb the guilt...

Next Week's Healthy Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:  Tortellini Soup, Fresh Pear Slices

Chana Masala, Quinoa, Mango

Chicken Taco Soup (our Halloween tradition!) and toppings

Baked Burritos, Roasted Salsa, Brown Rice, Pineapple

Caramel Shrimp and Vegetable Stir-fry, Rice Noodles, Apple Slices

Northstar Burgers, Roasted Sweet Potatoes, Coleslaw, Clementines

Have a sweet weekend, and try and stay dry my East Coast loved ones!!

Life is sweet,

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

English Muffin Egg Pizza Breakfast Sandwiches

"A hearty breakfast." 
That's what I would label these open-faced breakfast sandwiches, except when you usually consider something hearty, the word "unhealthy" can be synonymous...not so with this easy breakfast pizza. 

How can you make a hearty breakfast healthy?  A couple ways...

First, use whole wheat English Muffins to up the fiber and whole grains.  Next, add some tomato marinara (vegetables as a part of breakfast!).  Third, add some sauteed vegetables, if you think this will fly with your kids (R did kale, G did no veggies).  If you're concerned about cholesterol, use egg whites.  Then, top with just a touch of low-fat shredded cheese.  Last, serve with some fresh fruit.

Voila!  Hearty into healthy.  Easy breezy.

English Muffin Egg Pizza Breakfast Sandwiches

3 whole wheat English Muffins
1/2 cup tomato marinara or spaghetti sauce
sauteed vegetables (mushrooms, greens, zucchini, peppers and broccoli would all work), if desired
4 eggs or 8 egg whites
pinch of salt and pepper
1/2 cup low-fat shredded mozzarella cheese, if desired

First, toast the English Muffins and place on a oven-safe baking sheet.

Preheat the oven broiler.

Top each English Muffin with a generous 1 tablespoon of marinara, and top with vegetables, if desired.

Scramble the eggs in a saute pan, sprinkling with a dash of salt and pepper, and then top each English Muffin with 1/6 of the eggs and then a generous tablespoon of cheese, if using.

Place under the oven broiler for 3-4 minutes or until the cheese is melted.  Serve with fruit and breakfast is served!


You just served yourself or your family a breakfast* to start your day off right!

Life is sweet,

*Also wonderful when "breakfast for dinner" is on the menu.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan Friday: Go Dad!

Recently the Sweet Pea Family traveled back to my hometown for my high school reunion.  It also happened to be my dad's birthday weekend, and as we later found out, the Friday night football game would feature some special former players being honored during the game, my dad included:

Turns out my dad was on a championship team when he was in high school, yes, the *same* high school from which I graduated.

A good time was had by all, and I had more than a couple smiles as I reunited with some of my BFFs from high school. 

Now, let's plan out some meals for next week!

Next Week's Healthy Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:  Caramelized Onion Calzones, Red Grapes

Big Greek Salad with Feta, Bell Peppers, Olives, Tomatoes, Artichoke Hearts, etc. and Mango Cubes

Chicken and Vegetable Tetrazzini, Green Beans, Sliced Fresh Pear

Sweet Potato Enchiladas, Refried Beans, Fresh Pineapple

Make-it-your-Own Baked Penne Pasta, Broccoli, Apples

Pastrami Style Pork Tenderloin, Mashed Potatoes, Peas, Plums


Have a great weekend!

Life is sweet,

Thursday, October 18, 2012

8 Great Pumpkin Recipes

My friend H and I were talking at the bus stop last week about how we can't get enough of pumpkin things this time of the year.  Perhaps it is the pumpkins gracing nearly every home, subliminally saying "mmm...pumpkins."  Perhaps it is back-to-back holidays that share a pumpkin decoration.  Nope, I just think it is that pumpkin tastes good.

I mean, how many foods fall under this description:  a "power food" vegetable, full of vitamins and fiber, great in sweet foods, but also savory too, and tastes darn delicious?  Not many.

I heart pumpkin.

Here are my...

8 Great Pumpkin Recipes:

Pumpkin Cookies:  Use canned pumpkin to naturally color this frosting and give it a great flavor:

Perfectly Roasted Pumpkins Seeds: Ok, not pumpkin flavored, but my favorite part of carving pumpkins!

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie:  My newest, and current favorite, I can't get enough of these!

Pumpkin Pasta Sauce: Penne pasta served with a savory pumpkin sauce.  You can definitely use sausage rather than the mushrooms, especially if have an anti-mushroomite in your house.

Pumpkin Butter, Slow Cooker:  Spread it on toast or crackers, or my favorite, stir it into your oatmeal!

Pumpkin Dip:  Mixed with yogurt and spices, plus a little honey, this dip is great for Graham Crackers, apple slices or pretzels!

Pumpkin Seed Brittle: Something different with the pumpkin seeds!

Black Bean Soup, Slow Cooker:  Surprise!  There's nearly two cups of pureed pumpkin in this tasty soup!


Happy Pumpkin Eating!

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

One Last Hurrah: Tomato and Basil Salad

Our weather has been flirting with a night-time hard freeze, off and on, for about a week now.  If not for the flannel plant coverings my mom shared with me, I think we'd have lost all our basil by now.  

Sadly, our vegetable garden is rapidly waning, but for lunch today, I call this my One Last Hurrah Salad, simply fresh tomatoes, fresh basil, sprinkled in a shallow bowl:

Aren't they gorgeous?

 Then I drizzle them with a bit of kosher salt, fresh ground pepper and the best extra virgin olive oil I can find:

The olive oil gracing today's lunch is my new favorite, an amazingly fruity, fresh (thanks to the packaging, it can stay fresh longer) and handy New Zealand produced The Village Press Olive Oil:  

I think the only thing better than relishing this fresh salad on a late-October day is the inaugural fresh-from-my-garden tomato and basil salad I'll eat next summer.

Thank you, my summer garden, for all the bounty, wonderful meals and memories you provided.  We'll see you again next year!

Life is sweet,

Monday, October 15, 2012

Oatmeal, Flax and Apple Breakfast Cookies

The boys, SPH and I went apple picking two weekends ago on our way up to visit my parents for the weekend.  Rain was threatening but we traipsed out to the orchards nonetheless, and picked some sweet, fresh apples.  The moment we started the car to continue our journey, the rain began.  The apple picking had been timed perfectly!

With an abundance of apples and a double batch of homemade Slow Cooker Applesauce already produced, I started thinking of other ways to use our apples.  I came up with this recipe after looking at several ideas online...

Many breakfast cookie, muffin and oatmeal recipes have so much added sugar you will be giving your little sweet pea a sugar rush before he or she starts the day.  These breakfast cookies have a mere teaspoon per cookie, or only 4 grams of added sugar.

Plus, these cookies are full of fiber, with all whole-grain flour, oats and flax.  In other words, there cookies pack a powerful punch!

Oatmeal, Flax and Apple Breakfast Cookies

1 cup oats
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup ground flax seed (aka, flax meal)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1 egg
2 unpeeled apples, shredded (to measure about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins (or other dried fruit)--optional

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients (oats through ginger) and stir until combined..  In a medium bowl, combine the wet ingredients (egg through vanilla extract) and stir until combined. 

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients, stirring until just combined.  Add the raisins, if using.

Drop the cookie mixture by heaping tablespoon, onto cookie sheets.  Bake 10-12 minutes or until the cookies are slightly browned.

Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies.

Breakfast cookies--but also great for after-school or snack time!

Life is sweet!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan Friday: TGIF

It's been a busy week, so tonight I am looking forward to a little movie night with G.  R and SPH have plans, so it will be fun to spend some time with my little man.

Here's to a great, hopefully relaxing, and fun weekend to you and yours!

Next week's Healthy Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:   Gnocchi with Zucchini and Roasted Peppers in a Goat Cheese Sauce, Clementines

Slow Cooker Chicken Pot Pie (**Can also be made chicken-less), Baked Apples


Olive Bar Fish, Steamed Green Beans, Parmesan Grits, Fresh Pear Slices

Pumpkin Pasta, Simple Greens, Grapes

Breakfast for Dinner:  Scrambled Eggs, Toast, Meatless Sausage (Trader Joe's), Mango

Barbecue Chicken Meatloaf, Smashed Avocado,  Roasted Tomatoes

Life is sweet!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Homemade Dark Chocolate and Almond Butter Cups (aka Healthy Reese's Cups)

With Halloween just around the corner, I went with G to purchase gobs and gobs of candy for the neighborhood trick-or-treaters.  Without a doubt one of my favorite candies are Reese's Cups.  So I was beyond excited when I went to a local grocery store cooking demo that featured Vegan Nut Butter Cups. 

I took the recipe and replaced the peanut butter (but by all means, you can use peanut butter!) with almond butter.  Oh.  my.  goodness.  So good, so easy and really, pretty guilt-free when you consider the nutritionally powerful dark chocolate and almonds.

Still a treat, but one way, way more healthful than a traditional peanut butter cup.

Dark Chocolate and Almond Butter Cups

1 cup dark chocolate chips (to make this vegan, use vegan dark chocolate chips)
1/4 cup natural almond butter
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast (helps make the nut butter a wee bit "gritty" like a traditional peanut butter cup, and adds good B vitamins and protein)
12 mini-muffin cups

Melt the chocolate in a pyrex or microwave-safe dish.  Cook on HIGH for 45 seconds, stirring, then repeating until all the chocolate is melted.

Spoon a wee bit (about 1/2 teaspoon) of the melted chocolate on the bottom of each muffin cup:

Tap gently so it covers the bottom and a wee bit on the sides:

Repeat with the 12 other mini-muffin cups.  Pop the cups in the freezer so they can harden slightly.

Meanwhile, mix the almond or peanut butter with the nutritional yeast:

Remove the cups from the freezer and press about 1 teaspoon of the butter mixture on top of the chocolate:

Reheat the chocolate in the microwave for 20 seconds on HIGH or until it is fully melted and spoon some on top of each nut butter mound:

With the back of a spoon, spread it so it fully coats the nut butter and comes down the sides:

Again, you can tap the cups so the chocolate "settles" in the cups:

Freeze for 15 minutes and they're ready:

Now try not to eat them all!

Makes 12 cups.

Life is sweet!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte, er, Smoothie

I've been on a bit of a smoothie kick lately, so it seemed like a fun idea to develop a Pumpkin Spice Smoothie recipe.  I came up with this last week, and just like a Pumpkin Spice Latte, this recipe for a Pumpkin Spice Smoothie is addictive!

With very little added sugar, I use fruit to sweeten this recipe, along with all the deliciously warm spices you would expect in a pumpkin-y smoothie.  Use soy or almond milk to keep this recipe vegan, but dairy milk works well too.

Pumpkin Spice Smoothie

1 cup canned pumpkin (about half of one 15oz can--just eyeball it)
1 medium banana -OR-1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup +  soy, almond or dairy milk

Place all ingredients in a blender.  Blend for 1 minute.  Scrape sides and add more milk if you wish to make it thinner, and blend again.

Can you say "yum?"  With the warm spices, vegetable and fruit, this is one powerful way to begin your day!!

Life is sweet,

Friday, October 5, 2012

Healthy Meal Plan Friday: Weather your whether be...

For my central Ohio friends--wasn't yesterday just a perfect day?  Blue skies, gentle breezes, leaves falling, color exploding on the trees and warm, but crisp too...a perfect autumn day.

This weekend is expected to get c-o-l-d-e-r, so I am heading outdoors soon to soak in the sun.

Weather your whether be cold, rainy, warm or otherwise, have a wonderful weekend and here is some recipe planning inspiration!!

Next week's Healthy Meal Plan:

Meatless Monday:  Slow Cooker Lentil Soup, Bread, Clementines

Mexicali Pie, Mango and Refried Beans

 Caramel Shrimp Stirfry, Quinoa (or Rice), Fresh Pear Slices

 Chana Masala (Spiced Indian Chickpeas), Store-bought Naan, Frozen Peaches

Pizza Soup, Steamed Green Beans, Cinnamon Applesauce

Chicken Sausage, Peppadew and Feta Pasta, Salad, Red Grapes

Life is sweet,

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Slow Cooker Chicken Sausage and Sauerkrat

Want to say "hello" to your new, go-to easy dinner?  

10 minutes in the morning and dinner will be waiting for you by the day's end...

When R and SPH go camping with the local Cub Scouts, they always make "dump cake," as in, you just "dump" all the ingredients into a dutch oven and voila, almost as if by magic, out comes dinner.

This recipe is like dump cake; just place all the ingredients into your slow cooker and voila, a very-autumny, very-German, very Oktoberfest dinner comes out.  Unlike most sausage and sauerkrat recipes, we use lean chicken sausage and vegetables, but you can use traditional kielbasa or brats and it would taste great too. 

Slow Cooker Chicken Sausage and Sauerkrat

1 -28oz (or similar size) Sauerkrat
1 cup water
1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)
1 apple, cored and sliced
1-2 russet potatoes, cut into approximately 3/4 inch pieces
1 pound fresh green beans
2 pounds chicken sausages
1-2 teaspoons paprika

Pour the Sauerkrat into the bottom of the slow cooker.  Add the water, caraway seeds (if using), apple, potatoes, green beans and chicken sausages.  Sprinkle with paprika.

Cook on LOW for 8-10 hours, HIGH for 4-5 hours, or until the green beans and potatoes are tender, but not mushy.

Serves 8.

Life is sweet,

Monday, October 1, 2012

Homemade Microwave Popcorn

With the cooler weather I am sure many of you have shifted from salads to soups; smoothies to oatmeal; and basically lots of warm weather dishes to comfort, warm-you-up foods.

This is the time of the year I find myself craving popcorn for a healthy snack.  But instead of relying on store-bought microwave popcorn (you can read here about the risks of store-bought microwave popcorn), I have long done my own DIY microwave popcorn, and it couldn’t be easier.

I discovered this easy trick to homemade microwave popcorn years ago, but I wanted to repost the easy peasy instructions along with some pictures to demonstrate how simple healthy microwave popcorn can be!

First, the supplies, brown paper lunch bags, unpopped popcorn kernels and a 1/4 cup measuring cup:

Next, pour ¼ cup of the popcorn kernels into the brown paper bag and fold over 3-4 times, folding about ¼-1/2 inch each time:

Place in your microwave for about 2 minutes, and just like regular popcorn, hit “stop” when the pops:

Pour in a bowl and enjoy!:

Who knew it was so easy to make healthy air-popped popcorn??

Life is sweet!