Wednesday, August 25, 2010

My 10 Foodie Essentials

Helllo Everyone! I saw this on another blog and thought it was cute so thought I'd share mine as well.

10 Foodie Essentials
items that are ALWAYS in the kitchen

1. Ghirardelli Chocolate Chips
I won't buy any other my store they're only $0.04 more than Nestle, about $1 more than store brand but hey, good quality chocolate truly makes a difference

2. Real Parmesan Cheese
that stuff in the green can tastes nothing like Parmesan...I use this to add instant flavor to many dishes. It's well  worth the $10 a month price tag

3. Dried Beans and Tofu
As vegetarians...this is a must! I also keep a couple cans of beans around just in case I forget to soak them.

4. Whole Wheat Pasta
I'm so well stocked on this stuff that I only buy it when it's $0.20 or less a box. I can create SO many dishes with pasta...and I truly enjoy the taste of whole wheat.

5. Muir Glen Organic Tomato Sauce & Paste
Always enough to make a big batch of spaghetti sauce whenever I want.... :) and yes, organic does make a difference. I had some coupons for this one time and have become totally hooked! I buy more each time new coupons are released (and even when they're not) because it tastes SOO much better

6. Greek Yogurt
Normally my dear Chobani but Fage went on sale last week and it was pretty good as well!

7. Bell Peppers
Out of all of the produce, I always buy at least one bell pepper each week, whether I have a plan for it or not...I'll figure something out to do with that deliciousness! (I forgot to take a picture of my last bell pepper before using it for dinner last night! oh well, you'll see it soon...)

8. Kosher Salt
it tastes better and is easier to add with your fingers when you're in a "pinch" ;) haha

9. Canned Diced Tomatoes
because fresh tomatoes are not always cheap...or fresh

10. Cake/Cookie Mixes
GASP! I know, I know...but I'm only human. And sometimes I'm lazy. They're really easy to customize and make your own, just check out Picky Palate! She's made like 80 different cookies starting with yellow cake mix! Plus, when these go on sale and I have coupons, they are super cheap!

There ya go. The 10 items that you will always find in my kitchen (or pantry)...what are yours??

I got a new haircut this weekend. My hair was in desperate need of a cut and I had always wanted to try bangs but my face was so full they looked weird. Now that I've lost the pudge from my face...what do you think? :)

They can lay flat as well but it takes more work and they curl up by the end of the day anyway. Until next time! ♥

Friday, August 20, 2010

There's a Bride in my Shower!

For those of you who don't know, my sister is getting married in early October. Her bridal shower was the past weekend and although the day got of to a rainy and rocky start, I do believe it was a success! I was very relieved after it was all over, however, because this thing has been my baby for the past two months. I spent hours planning and created 3-4 excel spreadsheets to track guests, to-do lists, and budgets. It was exciting to see it all finally come together and all that hard work pay off! Plus, it's great to know that the bride-to-be enjoyed herself, which is really the most important part. :)

The decor was centered around these pink and orange gerbera daisies.

After tossing around several favor ideas, and pricing everything to make homemade soaps, bath salts and candles, I figured out that the cheapest and easiest option was to create flower pot pens. I think I made one of these for Mother's day a long time ago when I was little but I put a bit more effort into these ones ;) They turned out super cute, were very easy to make (just required several nights to do different steps), and easy on the wallet too! These babies were $1.69 ea...when I was shopping online for pre-made ones, the cheapest I could find were $3.50 ea! Definitely worth the time and effort.

Flower Pot Pens
  • Flowers
  • Mini pots (came in 6-packs at Hobby Lobby)
  • Pens
  • Plaster of Paris (dry - available at some craft stores and Home Depot)
  • Floral tape
  • Spanish moss
  • Hot glue gun and glue 
  • Tarp/cardboard to cover work area
  • Ribbon, favor tags, decorations, if desired

First, you have to make sure that the pots are clean.

Mine had little holes in the bottoms so I had to plug those holes. I'm sure the plaster would've plugged them since it's quick drying but I wasn't in the mood to take chances. I used the hot glue gun to cover the holes. After the glue had cooled enough to touch but it wasn't solid yet, I picked up each pot and squished the glue to ensure the entire hole was covered. I also checked to make sure too much didn't come out through the bottom so that it could still sit level.

Next, I snipped the extra hang on the pen top off. Be careful, these things love to fly everywhere!

The next step depends on what type of flowers you have. Mine had extremely thick stems so I had to use wire cutters to cut the entire stem off at the base. For flowers with a thin stem, like floral wire, they can probably be snipped with regular scissors and some of the stem (about 1/2") can be left for easier attachment to the pen. 

Since my flowers had to lose all of their stem, I had to hot glue the buds to the bottom of the pen and then wrap the rest of the pen with floral tape. If your flowers have some wire, you can line it up with the pen so that the bottom of the bud hits the bottom of the pen and wrap the pen with the wire next to it. Be sure to leave enough space so that the pen top can still fit!

Continue with all flowers.

I let my flower pens set overnight before messing with them more. I just found jars/cups that would let them sit without touching the base of the flower while it was setting.

While they were setting, I went ahead and did the pots so they could sit overnight as well. Mix 1 cup plaster of Paris with 1/2 cup water. Pour into pots until 2/3 full. Immediately push the pen tops into the middle of the plaster. This amount normally did 4-5 pots for me, which is an ideal number since you have to work so quickly. You may have to monitor them so that they don't lean. I had several leaning flowers because I just walked away and started a new group. Oh well, learned for next time. :)

After the flowers and pots have set overnight, you can put one flower pen into each pot. Then push Spanish moss around the pen and cap. I actually did that part before putting the pen in because it was easier for the pen to come out. I could have hot glued the moss down, which is a great idea but I was too tired...haha! For the tags, I just cut out circles and squares of orange and pink cardstock and smaller circles and squares of white cardstock and glued a white piece on top of each colored piece. I then wrote "thank you" on each tag and tied it to the opposite color favor and tied it to the pen with thin ribbon. Viola!

Super cute, right?? :)

I also got to bake (!!) for the shower. It was NICE as it had felt like forever since I'd been allowed to bake! I love baking for other people because I can get my baking urges under control while not ruining my waistline since I get to share the results ;) These were fabulous to make as well because I could literally not eat more than one...portion control included!

Chocolate-Peanut Butter Covered Brownie Bites
from Picky Palate
Makes 24 balls
  • 1 box brownie mix (my favorite is Ghirardelli but Pillsbury is a nice budget-friendly option) plus ingredients needed 
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips* (a 12 oz bag for most)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter*
*I can NEVER use the amount of chocolate these recipes always call for to cover things! And despite the chocoholic I am, I do not overcoat. I am sure to get as little as I can and leave them covered...needless to say, I did a double recipe, my husband and I probably ate 2-3 plain brownies before coating (tsk tsk!), and I needed 5 cups of chocolate chips (2.5 bags!) and the corresponding amounts of peanut butter (when I microwaved a cup of chips, it was 1/8 cup, etc...)

Prepare brownies according to package directions. Bake until a toothpick comes out mostly clean but still slightly undercooked (they will finish in the pan). Remove from the oven and let cool 15 minutes. 

When you are able to touch brownies comfortably (this was more like 25 minutes for me, and I'm not a wimp, I promise!), scoop brownies with a medium cookie scoop, roll tightly into a ball and place onto a wax paper lined baking sheet. I used an ice cream scoop instead because I found it easier. 

Continue rolling until all brownies are gone. Freeze brownies until very firm, a few hours or overnight. I froze mine overnight because of the crumbling problems I had with the cake balls.  

After brownies are firming set, melt the chocolate chips and peanut butter in the microwave or over a double boiler. Don't be nervous if your brownies are super hard. I learned later that freezing helps the brownies become chewier and it made for a fantastic end result! I microwaved for two 30 second intervals (for 2 cups), stirring in between.

After most chips are melted, stir the chocolate mixture as the heat from the chocolate will most likely melt the others. Stir until smooth. 

Dip (more like roll!) each brownie ball into the chocolate until completely covered. Let excess drip off and place on a wax paper lined baking sheet. I had no design for these babies and I think they came out better because I was just haphazardly letting the chocolate "fall." Leave on the counter to soft-set and then freeze until fully set, a few hours or overnight (makes a shinier coating). 

I let them thaw in the serving bowl before serving (about 20 minutes). It was hard to get a good picture of the inside, but you the chocolatey point. ;) I'm excited to try these again...but with a different coating. I was thinking leave out the peanut butter, and add peppermint extract to the chocolate. Or just coat them in melted Andes mints. Or take those new mint chips that come out during Christmas and do an initial green coating of mint and then dip in chocolate. YUM. Can you tell I love mint chocolate? :)

Most of the other food was frozen stuff from Costco which made it easy to set up. And you know I wouldn't leave you hangin without showing you the rest of the food, right??? Of course, right! :)

(And I had so much fun making those little placecards! It may have been a little overzealous but I did not hear one "what's that?" or "what is in those?" while people were getting their food!)

It was a really fun time...and I now know that we had entirely too much food! I enjoyed planning it and I enjoyed spending this special time with my sister! Congratulations, Kari!

My mom, the Bride-to-Be!, me and my other sister
Wedding festivities are just beginning! I have the bachelorette beach weekend to attend in a few weeks which is very exciting! I am not in charge of any of the planning (thank goodness! lol) but I was thinking about making a treat to take on the trip. Some kind of cookie...maybe some cake balls...the return of the S'mores cookie perhaps? :)

**UPDATE...I had to steal this picture from another guest because I completely forgot to take a picture of who was floating around in those centerpieces...Say hello to Stan...

Don't worry, Stan and his brother Steven both went to a very good home. :)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Budget Vegetarian

Since becoming a vegetarian, I have been looking high and low for easy meals to become my new staples. It's hard to find filling meals that taste good, don't take too long to prepare, are cheap and HEALTHY. I'm pretty hard to please :) This salad has quickly become one of my favorites. I am dying to try it with whole wheat tortellini but it's a little hard to find in the boondocks.

Tortellini Salad
from Vegetarian Times' Low Fat and Fast cookbook (I spent $3 on this cookbook and it is one of the best cookbook investments I have ever made!!)
Serves 4

  • 1 pkg frozen tortellini (16 oz)
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 2 green peppers, seeded and sliced
  • 1 cup carrots, sliced thin (or 2 cucumbers, sliced and quartered)
  • 1 cup fat free Italian salad dressing
  • Freshly grated Parmesan, if desired

Cook tortellini according to package directions.

Prepare vegetables. We tried it first with the carrots but thought they were too crunchy for the softness of the tortellini. We use cucumber instead and it works perfectly.

Combine tortellini, vegetables and dressing in a large bowl.

Top with Parmesan and serve.

See? EASY. This meal is so refreshing. After cooking the tortellini, I let it go down to room temperature so it's a nice salad that isn't hot. Since the pasta is so small, it doesn't take very long.

Vegetarian Dirty Rice with Beans
adapted from Vegetarian Times' Low Fat and Fast cookbook
Serves 4
  • 1 pkg veggie sausage, chopped (recipe says links but I used patties; Morningstar Farms makes the best!)
  • 1 cup frozen peppers and onions mix
  • 1 stalk celery, sliced
  • 2 bags Uncle Ben's Whole Grain Medley Ready Rice, Vegetable Harvest (original recipe uses more vegetables and brown rice but this is much faster!)
  • 1.5 cups Lima beans, equivalent to one 14.5 oz can, rinsed and drained (I used dried; soaked and cooked the night before)
  • 1-2 tsp creole seasoning

Spray a nonstick skillet with cooking spray. Add chopped up veggie sausage, celery and peppers and onions. Cook until sausage is warmed through and celery is soft but not mushy.

While cooking, cook Ready Rice in microwave for 90 seconds.

Add Lima beans, rice and desired amount of seasoning. Cook until Lima beans have warmed.

This one takes 15 minutes tops. It's fabulous. And it tastes pretty good too ;)

Veggie Fajitas
from my brain
Serves 2
  • 4 fajita size flour tortillas
  • 3 bell peppers, colors of your choosing, seeded and sliced
  • 1/2 onion, sliced
  • 1 Tb. canola oil
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 avocado, just ripe
  • Salsa, sour cream, etc.
Now, I am not going to pretend to have created this recipe. Because it's just fajitas. Buut I have made this recipe several times because it's one of my favorite things ever. So I got the technique down pretty well.

In a small bowl, combine peppers, onions, oil and seasonings. 

Heat a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add the peppers and onions. Now, here's the hard part, WALK AWAY

I used to be terrible at messing with things while they cook. TERRIBLE. Like a helicopter mommy. But then, one day about a year ago, I was recording Atonement from Starz onto a DVD and got enthralled while watching it on the couch and forgot about the pork chops on the stove. It had only been 5-6 minutes so they weren't burnt and I ran over to flip them. And I saw the most beautiful pork chop when I flipped that baby. They were fabulously juicy and flavorful. Sooo. My point is, sometimes it's better just to leave the food alone! :)

Slice the avocado while it's cooking and then return 5-6 minutes later to the skillet to see this...

Isn't it beautiful?? :)

Serve on warmed tortillas with salsa and sour cream. 

I realized there hasn't been much baking lately. Which makes me sad. Unfortunately, healthy eating isn't conducive to much baking. I've tried to lie to myself over the years and say that balance is possible! but's not. You just don't get to bake as much unless they are people to share it with :) Buuut I did get to bake for the bridal shower Something fabulous and worth tweaking. I will share that and my craftiness with you very soon! :)

Monday, August 16, 2010

Chicken and Chickpea Chili

Last we talked, I had just made the veggie decision. WI'm now going on a solid two months of vegetarianism. The only challenges I've faced is making sure to fill the leftover calories with food (not ice cream) and lunch. Portable, economical lunch is proving to be pretty difficult.  I'm working on the no ice cream thing right now but could use some help for the lunches. Any ideas??

It's been a while since this was made but I still wanted to share it because I loved the flavor of this stuff! I made it while trying to get rid of the meat so it has chicken in it but I will be recreating this once it gets cooler with tofu or some other kind of bean. So yummy!

Chicken and Chickpea Chili
from Weight Watcher's New Complete Cookbook
serves 4

4 tsp olive oil
1 each of green, red and yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped
1 onion, chopped
2 chicken breasts, diced
1 Tb. AP flour
1 Tb. chili powder
1 Tb. ground cumin
1 tsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (don't shy truly makes the dish!!)
1/8 tsp. cayenne powder
3 cans (14.5 oz) crushed tomatoes
2 Tb. balsamic vinegar
3/4 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained

Beautiful veggies before chopping! Am I the only one who loves the beautiful look of bell peppers?

Heat the oil in a large nonstick dutch oven. (I do not have a dutch oven so I had to use a large skillet followed by a large saucepan and the directions follow that procedure.) Sauté the bell peppers and onions until soft, about 5 minutes. Add chicken and cook completely.

Mix together the flour, chili powder, cumin, cocoa powder and cayenne.

Sprinkle the spice mixture on the peppers, onions and chicken; cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. (If using the skillet, transfer peppers, onions and chicken to the large saucepan and let sit.)

Add the tomatoes and vinegar to the pan and use the spoon to get the bits off the bottom of the skillet. I didn't have crushed tomatoes, just diced, so I crushed them myself with a potato masher.

Pour the tomatoes from the skillet to the saucepan. (This was to keep all of  that lovely cooking juices/spicy goodness on the bottom of the pan.) Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, stirring frequently, for 30-40 minutes, until thick. Stir in the chickpeas and simmer until heated, about 5 minutes.

Serve over brown rice or with cornbread.

I CANNOT WAIT FOR FALL. So I can make lovely dishes like this. So my hair doesn't go poof the second I walk out the door. So I can watch FOOTBALL! So I can put up my pumpkins and scarecrows. So I can get cheap, fresh apples. Anyone want to take a stab at my favorite season? :)

The reason I rarely blog these days is because it takes so long! I'm cutting down the recipes in each post so that hopefully I'll post more often and be able to share more recipes with you! :)

Hopefully I'll see you tomorrow....because I have MANY recipes I want to share!! :)

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