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the haas machine: January 2013

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with Goat Cheese, Spinach, & Balsamic

There's really nothing like a crispy, cheesy, veggie-loaded, melty sandwich. Especially when said sandwich is made with a new (to us) sweet grill pan that came with a weighted glass press (I'm sure there's a more technical name, but that's what we're calling it, or "sweet new pan" for short). We found this baby at one of our many Salvation Army outings & it has already owned a good comfy spot in our pots & pan cupboard.
This pan has all the beauty of a Foreman grill, but with less clean-up & hassle. It's not quite as exciting as a panini grill, but it still (nearly) does the trick. If you know me well at all, yes, this is in fact Gillian Haas... the former hater of all things kitchen appliancey. I just wanted to let you know that I've changed my silly, stubborn ways (well, some of them). I now no longer can count all of the appliances I own on one hand & I actually kind of enjoy it. Heck, I just bought a manual lemon juicer the other day (what's happening to me?) I guess one day I just woke up & realized how not worth it it was to hand mix anything. My eyes were completely opened with my Kitchen Aid & now I'm diving in big time.

Back to the sandwich. There's nothing soggy or unsatisfying about this bundle of joy. The roasted vegetables are just barely crispy & bursting with flavor, the goat cheese & balsamic are the perfect double date, & the crispy ciabatta is the deal sealer. This sandwich can be made on the grill (with a veggie pan, which is in my "favorite things" on the right side), in a pan like our sweet new one, or you could simply bake the bread, roast the veggies, & then assemble, however grilling or pressing comes highly recommended.
Roasted Vegetable Sandwich with Goat Cheese, Spinach, & Balsamic
1/2 ciabatta demi baguette
1/2 small log of goat cheese
1 sweet bell peppers
1 zucchini, sliced into rounds (fairly thin, but not paper thin or they will burn)
1/2 pack of mushrooms, sliced
1/2 a red onion, sliced or white onions cut into petals
A splash of balsamic vinegar
Salt & pepper

Pre-heat the broiler on your oven. Cut the pepper in half length-wise & remove the seeds. Place them skin side up, on a baking sheet covered in parchment or aluminum foil. Place under the broiler until the skin is bubbly & quite browned (10-15 minutes). Remove from the oven & place in the fridge for a few minutes but leave the broiler on.

Meanwhile, slice your onions, zucchini, & mushrooms. On a baking sheet, arrange the zucchini & mushroom slices in a single layer & sprinkle the onions on top. Sprinkle with a bit of salt & freshly ground pepper. Place under the broiler until the zucchini has dried & shriveled, but not browned too much (about 8-12 minutes). Remove from the oven & leave on the baking sheet to cool.

Take the peppers from the fridge & using the sharp edge of a knife, peel off the charred skin & discard. Place the peppers onto a paper towel & dry the surface off a bit.

Prepare your sandwiches: Cut the ciabatta into 2 pieces, then cut your ciabatta loaf pieces in half from the side & butter both sides. On the bottom half, place a generous layer of spinach. Top with a single layer of roasted pepper, then a layer of the zucchini & mushroom slices & a few onion pieces. Drizzle with some balsamic vinegar. Top with crumbled goat cheese, then place the top of the bun on top. Warm the entire sandwich in a panini press, on the grill, or if you're as fortunate as we were to find a sweet pan at the goodwill, use that!

Recipe adapted from Seasons And Summers


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate Jan. 21-27, 2013"

I've been thinking a lot about why meal planning is worth the trouble. Before I got married & especially before we had a kid, I hardly ever planned a meal in advance. I would usually go to the grocery store once or twice a month & pick up a whole bunch of items that I enjoyed & then came home to find that I hardly had any satisfying or wholesome meal options. I would run out of veggies within a week, but would carelessly choose to not go back to the store to replentish them. I'm definitely not saying that I'm the picture of wellness now, but I was absolutely far from it then.

Here's s small list of why meal planning is worth the extra effort (& when I say "effort" it's a total of a few hours of researching recipes, putting them on our calendar & shopping weekly):
  1. It's usually healthier (of course this depends on what you cook-- if you make fried chicken at home, obviously it's not just healthier because you didn't eat it in fast food joint).
  2. You can streamline what's in your food. This is especially important if you have any allergies, choosey eaters, or are looking to lose weight.
  3. It's cheaper. Our food budget for 2 adults & 1 toddler is $50 a week. We buy only organic meat, organic vegetables & fruits that are on the dirty dozen list, items in bulk whenever we can, & we stay away from most things "boxed" that I could make instead (my current fav. is homemade graham crackers). $50 is definitely a challenge every week, but that gives us 7 dinners, 7 lunches, & 7 breakfasts. It would give us probably 2 dinners if we dinned out.
  4. It can be fun. I'm really lucky to have a husband who enjoys cooking, so it's something that we can occassionally do together. I usually cook dinner during the week, but when we have a little more time to explore all things culinary on the weekend, it's something that we can share. Plus, Ruby is getting to be the age where she can help do simple things like mixing or picking up all the onion peels from the ground (her personal favorite).
  5. It keeps you out of a rut. When I don't plan meals in advance, I hardly ever make something new or exciting, which isn't a priority all of the time of course, but I do want to eat food we enjoy most of the time.
  6. Left-overs. This is pretty obvious, but when you're planning your meals, you can allow for recipes to be doubled & eaten later if you know you'll have a busier week ahead of you. I love having left-overs for lunch the next day.
  7. If you're like me, meal planning eliminates stress. It's actually a burden for me to think up a meal every single night, so if I can spend an hour or so planning it all at once, I save myself the headache of doing it nightly.
  8. It helps kids eat their veggies. Although this is something I have yet to experience, I've heard that if you involve your kids in the planning/shopping/cooking of healthy foods, they are more likely to eat them or at least try them. I can't wait to let Ruby in on the fun!
  9. You will shop more efficiently & actually save time, energy, & money. If you are able to make one or two trips to the store a week for all of your items, this saves you from running back to the store because you forgot a few ingredients. There's nothing more annoying than running out of flour when you're making a mound of pancakes...
  10. You can eat seasonally. This is something that we are trying to do more, but it can be challening because we have so much available in our produce sections. Have you ever noticed how much better a summer tomato tastes verses a winter one? When you're meal planning, you can choose to avoid some of those foods that aren't as tasty out of season.
What are your reasons for meal planning?
Tuesday's dinner: balsamic grilled tofu salads (mixed greens, quinoa, chickpeas, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, & balsamic-marinated extra firm tofu)

What We Ate Jan. 21-27, 2013
Monday: Chicken tostadas
Tuesday: Balsamic grilled tofu salads
Wednesday: Roasted vegetable lasagna with mixed green salad
Thursday: Left-over roasted vegetable lasagna
Friday: Pecan crusted tilapia with cheesy broccoli quinoa
Saturday: Spinach & feta turn-overs with Greek salad
Sunday: Confetti mac 'n' cheese

I also made 2 batches of these blueberry muffins this week.


Monday, January 28, 2013

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna

Lasagna is the ultimate comfort food. It's obviously comforting while you eat it because of all the melty, bubbly cheese & other goodies that might be layered between the mounds of noodles. But I also tend to think that it's a comforting food to make. As much as some people don't like the amount of time that it takes to prepare, I actually enjoy the ritual of lasagna-making. I just make sure that it's prepared on a night when a little less is going on in our lives so I can enjoy creating it.

Ironically, I use no-boil lasagna when I make lasagna, unless they are lasagna roll-ups. I know, I know... I just have a terrible relationship with lasagna noodles that need boiling. The situation usually ends up like this: boil water, insert noodles, accidentally break a few, forget to put down parchment paper until the last second, boil noodles for too long because I was distracted by something menial, flop down noodles & huff as they stick together, then yell. Because I want to continue loving to make lasagna, I just go the easy route & save myself the stress of cooking the noodles.

This recipe is stolen from my friend Lindsay who has a very well-respected blog (The Live-In Kitchen). I completely enjoy all of the recipes that she posts because they're so easy to follow & down-to-earth. She inspires me to keep cooking wholesome, satisfying foods in the midst of having a busy life (she has 3 very young kiddos & still manages to whip up super creative dinners!) so make sure you check out her blog.
 Roasted Vegetable Lasagna served with a mixed green salad with balsamic vineigrette

Roasted Vegetable Lasagna
3 cups tomato sauce
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
2 medium zucchini
1 pack of mushrooms
3 small yellow onions
2 shredded carrots
a few handfuls of fresh spinach
1/2 cup olive oil
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
9 ounces no boil lasagna noodles
15 ounces ricotta cheese
2 large eggs
Parchment paper

Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Coat a 9x13 inch baking pan with butter. Cut the zucchini in half lengthwise, then into 1/2 inch slices. Slice the mushrooms (including stems). Peel & cut the onions into petals (first in half, then into thirds). 

Put all these vegetables into a bowl & toss with olive oil. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the vegetables in a single layer on the parchment-covered baking sheet, making sure they are in a single layer. Salt & pepper the vegetables & roast them for 15 minutes. Toss & continue to roast, about 15 minutes more or until brown & soft. Remove from the oven & reduce the oven temperature to 375ºF.

In a medium bowl, mix ricotta, eggs, shredded carrots, & salt & pepper to taste until well combined.

Spread a thin layer of sauce in the bottom of the prepared pan. Cover with a layer of pasta. Spread with one-third of the ricotta mixture & a thin layer of spinach. Sprinkle one-quarter of the mozzarella & spoon one-third of the roasted vegetables on top & then 1/2 cup sauce. Add another layer of pasta & continue layering until you have 4 layers of pasta & 3 layers of filling. Spread the remaining sauce on top & sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella. Cover the pan with aluminum foil & bake for 30 minutes. Uncover & continue to bake until golden and bubbly, about 15 minutes more (you may need to broil for a few minutes to achieve a nice golden brown). Let stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Recipe adapted from The Live-In Kitchen


Saturday, January 26, 2013

Blueberry Muffins (&silicone baking cups)

No, this is not a "gender reveal" muffin post. I'm not even pregnant, so don't even think about asking (see my last post re: gaining weight in the winter). When did having a "gender reveal" party even become popular? Did I miss something?
Babies were all I could think about when I was using these new silicone baking cups. I mean, they are pink & blue for crying out loud! Besides all the baby thoughts, I was trying to contain my excitement over these new cups I splurged on. We are definitely a muffin family. I love having a simple, handy snack or breakfast when we need to be somewhere before 9:00 (have you ever witnessed how slowly my kid eats?) And if we're going to treat ourselves with muffins, I just make sure they're not "too" much of a treat. I really don't like the overly-sweet muffins that most people looove. Don't get me wrong, every once in awhile, they're fine, but they're definitely not something I want lurking around our house constantly. When I make muffins,  I make them full of as many nutrients as possible. I fill them with things like bananas, blueberries, whole wheat flour, usually 1/2 the sugar (honey), applesauce, wheat germ, flax & yes, even vegetables get tossed in there (especially sweet potatoes, zucchini, & squash!) And no one ever complains... at least to my face (these whole wheat, pumpkin, walnut & chocolate chip muffin & whole wheat carrot walnut muffin recipes are two of our current favs).

My friend Angela is a fantastic baker, so I asked her about using silicone baking cups before I bought them. Although she had never tried silicone cups, she suggested going with the Wilton brand (a link is over in my "Favorite Things" widget on the right) & I definitely have not been disappointed. One of the reasons why I wanted to go with silicone is because I make so many muffins & to be honest, I'm just so sick of buying muffin liners & throwing them away. It seems like such a waste of money! But if you start reading reviews, you will see them all over the board. Some people love them, some just can't conform.

But I'm a believer. All I did to "prep" these bad boys was wash them in warm, soapy water & let them air dry. Some people suggest doing an additional step of spraying them with vegetable oil the first time you use them, but I didn't & had no troubles. I also popped the muffins out immediately after I took them out of the oven & they came out quite easily. Some people will tell you to wait until they have cooled, but I had luck with the hot muffins (just be careful to not burn yourself on all of the gooey hot blueberriness).

What are your favorite muffins or go-to items for a quick, nutritious snack?

Blueberry Muffins
1 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup old fashioned oatmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup ground flax seed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup agave nectar (you could also use honey, but maybe a bit more than 1/3 cup)
2 tablespoons grapeseed, vegetable, or canola oil
1 1/2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 3 medium)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1 3/4 cups blueberries

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line your muffin pan with liners (try silicone!)

In a small bowl, combine whole wheat flour, oatmeal, baking powder, baking soda, ground flax seed, cinnamon, nutmeg, & salt & stir to combine. In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat together agave nectar, oil, bananas, eggs, & yogurt until smooth. Mix in dry ingredients just until combined. Gently stir in blueberries. Divide mixture between the prepared muffins cups, filling each one until almost full.

Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean. If using silicone baking cups, take the muffins out immediately & let cool at least 5 minutes.

Recipe adapted from: Cherionice.com

(This post contains an affiliate link, which means that if you purchase something from amazon, I will get a small compensation).


Thursday, January 24, 2013

Magnetic Chalkboards For Kiddos

I'm having an exceptionally challenging time not sharing about the incredible homemade kitchen that John has made for Ruby. It's nearing completion, but I know better than to share pics just yet... don't worry, you'll all the juicy details soon enough! In the meantime, check out this fun little chalkboard that I made for Ruby. I made it to distract her from the horrendously long trip we took down to Missouri over Christmas. OK, so it was only about 11 hours, but this kid is notorious for having a challenging ride up to Duluth (about 4.5 hours), so I figured this trip would be bad news. John & I decided to drive through the night so that she would (fingers crossed) sleep the entire time, but just in case, I wanted to have all kinds of fun, new things to distract her & this was one of them.

I was so thrilled that she slept the nearly the whole way, so we didn't even bust this board out until we were home & I needed some much needed alone time in the kitchen. She now really enjoys happily marking the board up with the calk & cleaning it off with a rag & repeating the process like 456 times (btw, I can't wait to try out this homemade sidewalk chalk recipe this summer!)
This was the tray that I bought from Goodwill for $1.99. I doubled-checked to make sure that it was magnetic before purchasing

Here's the finished board. I used Krylon's spray chalkboard paint & it worked wonderfully. I sprayed 3 very thin layers of the paint & let it dry overnight (let it dry for 15-20 minutes in between each layer). Then I used the chalk to cover the entire board & then wiped it off before using it for the first time.
Some little felt magnets that I made out of scraps left over from her bird mobile. I just hot glued the felt on to little magnets I found at Hobby Lobby. I hot glued a larger piece of felt on the back of the board to make it less slippery on her lap.
I made some additional letter magnets for the fridge (selfishly, so I wouldn't have to look at/constantly pick up those annoying plastic ones that every child somehow gets)
We let Ruby unwrap these magnets for one of her few Christmas presents this year & she loved them!

How do you keep your kids entertained while traveling? I'm hoping this board will come on many traveling adventures to come!

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate Jan.14-20, 2013"

Yeah, it's really cold out there (but that doesn't stop my crazy husband from biking to work every.single.day). It seems like this time of year, it's something a lot of people tend to dwell on & I admit, it's hard not to. There's something in me that loves this weather though. I really get into the thrill of "dangerous" weather conditions (I love driving through snow storms, especially in our little volkwagen & I find the frenzy of an impending storm amusing-especially at the grocery store). Maybe it's my true northern upbringing (I remember countless days that school was canceled because it was "too cold") but I do kind of enjoy this still, frozen time of winter. You know, days of holing up at home, baking all day "just to keep the house warm," & serving more hearty, cheesy, rich foods that you just can't get away with in the summer. Around here, it's quite normal to gain a few pounds in the winter, but it's totally for survival purposes. At least that's what I tell myself with when I'm forking down a bowl full of creamy chicken alfredo.

My inspiration for creating posts on "What We Ate" has come from a few other fellow bloggers who share their weekly menus. I thoroughly enjoy reading about recipes that other people (read: real people) have tried & perfected. I love getting fresh, creative ideas for healthy meals that my kid will eat & simultaneously won't break the bank or lead me to shop online for the ingredients. I decided that since our lives change spontaneously & our food calendar doesn't always stay the same, that I would share what we actually ate instead of what I planned for (for example, Tuesday I hadn't planned to add a rotisserie chicken to our menu, but I walked into a Festival Foods, only to find out that every Tuesday they have them for $5. I can hardly resist them anyways, but at that great of a price, I was totally suckered into grabbing one).

I love hearing about what you're eating & I can always use a little more healthy food-centered motivation in my life. Please, please, please feel free to comment below on what you're eating or have eaten this week & in the meantime, enjoy a little inspiration from our little kitchen.
Thursday's dinner: grilled lime butter salmon, almond tossed green beans, & baked sweet potato

What We Ate Jan. 14-20, 2013
Monday: Chicken, chickpea, & pesto salad with whole wheat pita bread
Tuesday: Rotisserie chicken & southwest stuffed peppers
Wednesday: Grilled lime butter salmon, almond tossed green beans, & baked sweet potato
Thursday: Tuna spirals with a side of whole wheat bread
Friday: My dad & step mom were in town for the weekend, so we ate out this night (pizza)
Saturday: We also ate out this night (Mexican)
Sunday: Corn chowder, french bread, & fresh green salad (lettuce, spinach, carrots, cucumbers, sprouts, soy nuts, sunflower seeds, & dressing)


Monday, January 21, 2013

Falafel Salad

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to go to Greece for a J-term study abroad. I've always loved traveling, but being able to take a course (Greek Mythology & Ancient Art), call it college credit, & travel? Now that's what I'm talking about! The trip was, without a doubt, one of my very favorite jaunts I've ever taken. I was able to meet some incredible people that I am still connected to, I was able to experience a breathtakingly beautiful culture, & of course, I was able to feast upon authentic Greek cuisine.

Nearly every evening, we dined like kings & queens. We had dessert at every single meal. We sipped Greek coffee & splurged on Coca Lights (um, Diet Coke). We ate gyros like they were peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. Amazing doesn't begin to describe the trip, let alone the food that we consumed.

So when John & I got married, my first choice for a honeymoon was Greece. He had never been overseas before, & with all the raving that I had done over this country, he agreed that he needed to experience it. 

We were able to stay in Greece for about 2 weeks & this trip topped even my first. We went after we were married for about 5 months, so life had slowed down a bit. Plus, it was February & if you're from Wisconsin, you just know what I'm talking about... what a perfect time to travel! John & I had a blast, getting lost in places where 99% of the people only spoke Greek (I think it was coincedence), trying to work our way around massive cities (Athens), learning where to get the good Greek food, & trying to fit in with their  s l o w  way of doing nearly everything.

The first restaurant we ate at, we were borderline upset with our server. I remember he came to bring us our food, & then left. That was literally the last time we saw him. We had no water refills, he didn't ask us how the food was, nor if we wanted more. And dessert? It wasn't even offered. This was quite the different trip from when I went in college, but I learned that this was way more accurate. See, the first trip I took, they totally catered to us American students. They knew we would slam down glasses of water like we were in a contest. They knew if we didn't have portions the size of our faces, we would be grumpy. They just seemed to know us very accurately, which was kinda freaky.

So on our honeymoon, we really learned how to unwind in a really profound way. After we got used to this pace, man did we live it up! We would sit at a cafe near a seaside for hours & just stare at the water, people watch, & sip a Coca Light or coffee. It was incredible. I had never been so relaxed or satisfied in my life. This pace just felt right (previous to our honeymoon, I had sold my house in Duluth, John bought our house & got busy fixing it up before I moved down, I had been working 60+ hours a week, I moved to La Crosse, & oh yeah, we got married). Talk about a different pace of life.

So Greek food is really special to us. Sometimes when we're making something Greece-inspired, it just takes me back to the warmth & smell of the sea (we visited Athens, but mostly stayed in a town called Nafplio) & the overall contentment that we had with life. So here's a little special salad that I made on my birthday. I celebrated my 23rd birthday in Greece (on my first trip) & I guess I just needed to re-live that memory.
 John & I exploring the wonders of Athens
 A typical Greek hotel breakfast (note the Fage!)
 Nafplio, Greece
 Gyros & a Greek salad
Apples with honey & cinnamon

Oh, when can we go back to Greece? In the meantime, I guess we'll just have to feast upon some of our favorite Greek foods & visit Gracie's as much as we possibly can. What food from other countries inspires you to cook?

Falafel Salad
Ingredients for salad
falafel mix (I chose to buy a mix that I found in the natural section at Woodmans, but you can definitely make your own)
Romane lettuce, chopped
1 cucumber (with skin on), chopped
cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 red onion, sliced

Ingredients for dressing
(makes a little more than 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup oil (canola, olive, safflower, or grapeseed)
2 tbsp lemon juice or 1 small lemon
1/4 cup yogurt
1 tsp sugar
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Make the falafel according to the package or directions you find. In a mason jar or any jar with a lid, add all of the dressing ingredients. Shake until combined. To assemble the salad, add the lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, & onion to a plate. Place a few falafels on top & drizzle with the dressing. The dressing will serve 4 people, so if you have more guests, double the recipe. Falafels are best eaten the same day, but if you happen to have leftovers, store them in the fridge for no more than 1 additional day.

Recipe adapted from flourishingfoodie.com

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Saturday, January 19, 2013

Memory Calendar

I'm not the most sentimental person in the world. It doesn't mean that I don't savor things or like to re-live memories or anything like that. I just really, really, really don't like clutter or when I feel like we aren't using things that are in our house. Sure I might enjoy how cute some of my toys from my childhood were, but if my kid doesn't play with them, then they are gone (sorry Mom). I will say that I have gotten better at not just immediately getting rid of things. For example, the other day I was going through my jewelry, thinking, "ugh, I never wear this," "woah, that's ugly in not the right way," & "I need to get rid of some of this stuff!" And then it dawned on me that one day Ruby is totally going to want to play with all this horrendous jewelry. I need to save that moment for her.

So I'm getting better. When I was younger, I wasn't ever a complete pack rat, but I did use to save all of my wall calendars & planners from year to year. For some strange reason, it was hard for me to even throw away my checkbook balance sheet. I still don't get that. But with the calendar, it was an accumulation of what I really did that year. It was what I valued... it was how I spent my time & it felt weird throwing that away.

I've been able to break through that with an online calendar now, but I still sort of wanted something that I could write down memories on. I don't have a baby book for Ruby (way too much pressure), but what I do have is this collection of memories for each day of the year.

I got this idea online, of course. What I did was cut out 366 piece of golden rod paper & then used our typewriter to type out each day of the year. You could get all creative & use more interesting paper or fonts or something, but I really liked to keep this project kind of simple. My hope & goal is that I will write a highlight of our day or something memorable every day & each year will be represented until I run out of space. I can't wait to read memories like "hiked on Hass trail on November 10th-- it was 70 degrees" or "Ruby gave me her first willing kiss." It will be re-living beautiful moments over & over again, & I can't wait to fill up those little sheets of paper. Now of course, some days aren't as exciting as others, but hey, that's our life. I can still find something good about our day to write down, even if it's as simple as "I had a cup of tea while Ruby napped."

Here's my memory calendar. Behind the calendar is a small notebook that I record Ruby's "firsts" as well as funny things she says or does. The calendar is more family-centered & this notebook is just for special little Ruby moments. Sometimes there is overlap, but if it's that good to write twice, why not read it twice?


Friday, January 18, 2013

Chicken, Chickpea, & Pesto Salad

I'm always on the look-out for a simple & satisfying salad. Salad is usually like soup in our house... sure we eat it every now & again, but if it's not packed with protein, we usually wind up lurking around in the kitchen before you know it. Well, this one did the trick. With all the chickpeas & chicken, it was quite the filling meal. This salad was also very quick to prepare & I imagine that it would be the perfect "I don't want to cook at all" meal for those long, hot summer days.
I was able to use up some of the basil pesto that I prepared & froze this summer for this recipe. For some reason, my basil plant went into high productivity mode & I was trying to use up as much as I could. Turns out, when you pick basil leaves, it just makes them produce even more! But it has been quite the blessing because pesto is sometimes very expensive (especially if you want to use the non-powdered mixes). I was able to use this recipe & freeze it into ice cube trays & then once it was frozen, I put it in a glass jar in my freezer. Now, every time I need to use it, I just take out a few cubes the night before & viola! Pesto!

I especially like to use pesto on grilled cheese & tomato sandwiches, on pasta, & now on this salad. What are your favorite uses for pesto? What salads have you found that satisfy your family's appetite?

Chicken, Chickpea, & Pesto Salad
2 cooked chicken breasts, chopped
1 clove minced garlic
Olive oil
1/2 large cucumber, thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
15 ounces chickpeas
1/3 cup Basic Basil Pesto
Coarse salt & ground pepper

Cook the chicken breasts in a bit of olive oil & garlic. Once the chicken is mostly cooked, add the pesto until well-mixed. In a bowl, mix together chicken/pesto mixture, cucumber, celery, & chickpeas. Add a squeeze of lemon. Season with salt & pepper. John liked this best served warm, but I liked it both at room temperature & warm.

Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart

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Southwest Stuffed Peppers

Did you get in on the stuffed pepper craze that was going around this summer? I tried making stuffed peppers for the first time when looking for a way to use the gazillions of peppers that I grew in my garden & I was so pleased to find something that we could really enjoy. 
This recipe calls for using ground turkey, but you could most definitely make them vegetarian & omit the turkey. I'd just add some more seasonings & maybe some more beans to make up the difference (or try experimenting with sauteed mushrooms or zucchini). And contrary to popular belief, it isn't strange at all to eat an entire pepper (I was a little worried, especially with the green ones!) Because they are painted with oil & baked for awhile alone, they get all roasty & delicious. 
And you know what? They are downright delicious! They are hearty & filling & suuuuuper satisfying. We had a BBQ at our house the other night & I made up a bunch of these babies (I made them ahead of time & then we warmed them on the grill) as a side. We had a few left & my (anti-left-over) husband volunteered to take them for lunch the next day. Boom!
My favorite way to top these is with a heap of cilantro, but you can also top them with a slice or two of avocado, sour cream, or really anything else you have your little heart set on. And if you're still a little weirded out by eating a big chunk of a pepper, check out this recipe for crispy quinoa bake, which is pretty much the same thing, just more incorporated.

Southwest Stuffed Peppers
Olive oil
1/2 lb lean ground turkey (or 1 small chopped zucchini & 1/2 pack of chopped mushrooms, sauteed)
1 cup chopped onions
1 heaping tbsp of homemade taco seasoning
2 cups of cooked rice (we used a combo of white & brown)
4 bell peppers, halved & seeds removed
16 ounces of black beans
1 cup of frozen corn
1 (15 -16 ounce) jar of salsa
Shredded cheddar cheese
Fresh cilantro, avocado slices, &/or sour cream to top

Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Lightly coat the peppers with olive oil (I use a designated paint brush, hence my "painting" reference above) & roast in a baking dish about 20-25 minutes just until cooked through. Remove the peppers from the oven & allow to cool until you can handle them.

Cook your rice according to the package. Meanwhile, cook the turkey until it is just browned (if using zucchini & mushrooms instead or in addition, saute them in a little bit of olive oil). Add the onions & cook until they are translucent. In a bowl, add the taco seasoning, cooked ground turkey, onions, black beans, corn & rice. Add in the salsa & mix well.

Carefully spoon the mixture into each half of the bell peppers & place back into the baking dish. Cook the peppers for another 15-20 minutes or until the peppers are cooked all the way through. Before removing from the oven sprinkle the tops of each pepper with shredded cheddar cheese. Place back into the oven & broil until the cheese is melty, bubbly, crusty, & delicious!

Remove from the oven and top with fresh cilantro, avocado slices &/or sour cream just before serving.

Recipe adapted from Simply Love Food

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Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wednesday's "What We Ate Jan. 7-13, 2013"

For some strange reason, I really enjoy planning. If we're going on a trip or throwing a party, I just love thinking intentionally about how to do it really well. There's just so much satisfaction in a job well planned, & there's no exception when it comes to the meals we eat.

When John & I got married, we had two totally different schools of thought for how to go about getting dinner in our bellies:
My way went something like this: What can I make for dinner this week that will be healthy & tasty? When can I go grocery shopping for all or most of those items? What nights do we need a quick meal? When can we take the extra time to cook something more complicated? 
John's way went something like this: What do I want to eat tonight? OK, let me go buy it.
One way isn't necessarily right or wrong, but if you're trying to stick to a budget, my way usually wins (sorry, honey). Plus, since I'm the one who takes care of the grocery shopping & meal planning (we both cook), I've created a system that works wonderfully for all of that. On Sunday afternoons (usually while Ruby is sleeping so I can be 100% focused), I start perusing all our recipes. I look on Pinterest, through some cookbooks I have, food blogs I envy, & this massive binder of other recipes that I've collected through the years. I look through our cupboards, our fridge, & freezer inventory (yep, I'm that dorky) to see what we need to eat up. I look through our calendar to see what our week is going to be like. I also make sure that we're not eating meat every night (usually we eat chicken once a week, fish once or twice, & any other meat maybe once a week) or pasta twice in a row or something like that (not that that would be a bad thing...)

My inspiration for creating posts on "What We Ate" has come from a few other fellow bloggers who share their weekly menus. I thoroughly enjoy reading about recipes that other people (read: real people) have tried & perfected. I love getting fresh, creative ideas for healthy meals that my kid will eat & simultaneously won't break the bank or cause me to have to shop online for the ingredients. I decided that since our lives change spontaneously & our food calendar doesn't always stay the same, that I would share what we actually ate instead of what I planned for.

Some people may think it's a little silly to write about what we've been eating, but chances are if you're still reading this, that you're gonna enjoy this. I love hearing about what you're eating & I can always use a little more healthy food-centered motivation in my life. Please, please, please feel free to comment below on what you're eating or have eaten this week & in the meantime, enjoy a little inspiration from our little kitchen.
Sunday's dinner: frozen Annie's cheese pizza with added mushrooms, spinach, & Roma tomatoes

What We Ate Jan. 7-13, 2013
Monday: Salmon burgers with sweet potato fries
Tuesday: Vegetable fajitas
Wednesday: Spinach & goat cheese-stuffed chicken with roasted mushroom quinoa
Thursday: Falafel salad with whole wheat pitas & coconut chocolate pie for dessert (it was my bday!)
Friday: Dined at Kate's On State for my bday (I ate the seafood & wild mushroom ravioli=heaven!)
Saturday: French onion soup & salad
Sunday: Frozen cheese pizza with added mushrooms, spinach, & Roma tomatoes


Monday, January 14, 2013

French Onion Soup

I'm not a big soup person. Sure, it's nice on a exceptionally chilly Wisconsin evening, but unless there's tons of crusty bread to go with it, I usually end up hungry in a few short hours. I like a meal that can make you delightfully pleased, but at the same time not feel like you're about to explode, so that's why I'm drawn to the concept of soup. I've made my fair shares of "meh" soups lately, but this one is nowhere near that category.

Every time I make this soup, I am reminded of a quaint French-themed party my friends & I hosted when I lived in Duluth, MN (my hometown). I had this massive deck on the back of my house, with pretty lattice & all kinds of flowering plants. We decorated it with little white lights, & antique linens. We set out candles everywhere, sipped our fancy red wines & prettied ourselves up in classy black. We even made little invitations with a hand-drawn Eiffel Tower on them & the details were actually typed out on a type writer. But most importantly, we feasted upon a very fine feast (cheese! bread! wine!) Yeah, we used to throw some pretty stellar parties

So this soup is more than a tasty treat for me, it's almost like a healing dose of comfort when I'm missing the closeness of my friends. This soup takes awhile, so it just begs you to pause & consider life a little more than your average soup. Plus, cutting up so many onions encourages a little crying, so you can hide it pretty easily if you need to (actually, John cut up all the onions for me. What a man!)

This is quite a simple soup, but the flavor is incredible. I served it with a fresh green salad of romaine lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, sprouts, hard boiled egg, cucumbers, soy nuts, & homemade balsamic vinaigrette. What are your favorite soups?

French Onion Soup
6 large red or yellow onions, peeled & thinly sliced (I used yellow)
Olive oil
1/4 teaspoon of sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 cups of beef stock, chicken stock, or a combination of the two (traditionally the soup is made with beef stock)
1/2 cup of dry vermouth or dry white wine
1 bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon of dry thyme
Salt & pepper
8 slices of toasted French bread
1 1/2 cups of grated Swiss Gruyere with a little grated Parmesan cheese

In a large saucepan, sauté the onions in the olive oil on medium high heat until well browned, but not burned, about 30-40 minutes (or longer). Add the sugar about 10 minutes into the process to help with the carmelization.

Add garlic & sauté for 1 minute. Add the stock, vermouth or wine, bay leaf, & thyme. Cover partially & simmer until the flavors are well blended, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Discard the bay leaf.

To serve you can either use individual oven-proof soup bowls or one large casserole dish. Ladle the soup into the bowls or casserole dish. Cover with the toast & sprinkle with cheese. Put into the broiler for 10 minutes at 350 degrees F, or until the cheese bubbles and is slightly browned. Serve immediately.

Recipe taken from SimplyRecipes.com

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

Coconut Chocolate Pie

It was my birthday last week. Yep, the big 3-0 & although I really don't have much of a problem with being 30, it still makes me giggle a little bit when I think of saying that I'm actually 30 (surely I am supposed to be way more mature than I am...) Plus, John's only 29 & it is somehow amusing to me that we're a "year" apart (actually 3 months).

Anyway, birthdays to me are always special. Mostly because that means there's a fancy dinner & scrumptious dessert around the corner. Growing up, my mom always let us pick what we were to have for dinner & what flavor cake she would bake for us. I usually always picked something chicken-oriented for dinner & always, always, always picked chocolate cake with chocolate frosting & chocolate ice cream. To me, a dessert just isn't quite dessert unless there's chocolate.

I've also kind of been obsessed with coconut lately, especially coconut oil (did you bake these yet?!) so when I found a recipe for coconut chocolate pie, I was sold. I was also pretty thrilled that the recipe calls for 5 ingredients. How simple is that? 
 All the ingredients needed for this pie: heavy cream, butter, unsweetened coconut, sugar (I used demerara) & chocolate
 Coconut chocolate pie
1/4 cup plus 1 tbsp unsalted butter
11 ounces unsweetened coconut
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup heavy cream
8 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate, finely chopped

Make the crust: Preheat the oven to 350°F. In a food processor, process butter & one-third of coconut & sugar until mixture forms a ball or starts to stick together, 1 to 2 minutes (next time I would pulse the coconut by itself first to make it into more of a powder). Transfer to a medium bowl. Combine this mixture with the remaining two-thirds coconut using your hands to bring together.

Press coconut mixture into bottom & up sides of pan to form crust, leaving top edges loose & fluffy. Cover the crust lightly with tin foil over the edges, & cut a hole in the center. Keeping the edges covered to prevent burning. Bake until center begins to brown, 10 to 15 minutes; remove foil & bake until edges are browned, 4 to 5 minutes more. Transfer crust to a wire rack to cool completely.

Make the filling: In a small sauce pan bring cream just to a boil. While cream is heating up, place chopped chocolate into a medium heatproof bowl. Pour the cream over the chocolate & let sit for 10 minutes to allow chocolate to melt. Stir to combine & melt remaining chocolate. The mixture should be smooth & completely melted. Pour into coconut crust. Refrigerate until filling is set, 1 hour or up to 1 day.

*I'm not sure if I did something wrong, but I ended up having maybe 2 cups more crust mixture than I could fit into my pie pan, so I happily used it in some trail mix that I made. Next time I make this pie (oh, there's gonna be a next time!) I plan to pulse the coconut a bit more before I add the butter & sugar so it's more powder-like & I plan to maybe add more butter because when we cut into the pie, the coconut was a bit too crumbly (yummy, but not as neat as my Type A personality would like).

Recipe adapted from Sweet Twist of Blogging


Wednesday, January 9, 2013

What to do with all your holiday cards

One of my absolute favorite things about Christmas time is all of the beautiful holiday cards that we get in the mail. I love seeing how your kids are growing (especially when they start to lose teeth!) or how adorable your dogs still are. I get really excited & inspired by all of the creativity that pours in & even though we haven't sent an "actual" holiday card (we choose to do it the frugal or, um, green way & send it electronically... did you see it posted here?) for a few years, I still really enjoy sending out something because it just feels right.
Ever since we've been married, I've saved the cards we've received every year. I'm not sure why... I'm really not that sentimental of a person. I guess I just couldn't bring myself to throwing all these special moments away. So this year, I decided enough was enough! I wasn't going to just look at this stack of unorganized cards any longer. It took me maybe 5 minutes to punch a little hole in each card, string a bit of yarn through them & make a little booklet for every year. Then, because I think our kid is the cutest, I put our Christmas card on top (this also helps me to remember what year the cards are from).
I'm really excited to have these little books to put out around the holidays & I'm really looking forward to adding to our collection every year. Thank you so much to those of you who sent us cards-- it really is something special to me & my family. See, Ruby just looooves your pictures!

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Naan Thai Chicken Pizza

Have I ever told you how much we loooove peanut butter in this house? We seriously scarf up jars of this nutty little butter faster than you can say "dang it Vikings, how come you can't ever make it to the Super Bowl?" OK, so I'm not even that big of a football fan, I just happen to be from Minnesota, & we gotta represent every once in awhile. There.

Back to the peanut butter.
So, we love it. For breakfast. For lunch. And when I can get away with serving it for dinner, we love it for dinner. And we also love anything ethnic-inspired, so this recipe was a no brainer. I knew we'd all be full & content after this meal.
Naan Thai Chicken Pizza
1/3 cup chunky style peanut butter (we adore Smuckers Natural)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon chile sauce (we used Siracha)
2-3 green onions, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lime zest
1 tablespoon lime juice
4 small skinless, boneless chicken breasts, grilled & shredded (we chopped)
4 pieces garlic naan bread
1 tsp melted butter
1 cup mozzarella cheese, grated
1 shallot, finely chopped
2 tablespoons cilantro, chopped

Heat oven to 400F degrees. Mix all the sauce ingredients together (peanut butter through lime juice) in a saucepan. Cook over low heat until peanut butter melts. Simmer for 10 minutes. If the sauce gets too thick, thin with a little water or chicken stock.

Brush the naan with melted butter. Top each with the mozzarella, chicken, scallion, & sauce (the recipe says to also put the cilantro on before you bake the pizza, but I don't like how cooked cilantro loses its flavor, so I put it on right before I served it). Place on a baking sheet in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until cheese has melted. Serve immediately.
Recipe adapted from adventuresinthekitchen.com