Wednesday, February 29, 2012

How's Those Tastes Buds Workin' for Ya?


We have been asking ourselves a lot lately, why some people are picky eaters while other people will eat  anything. And, why is it that a child who was the pickiest eater ever decides he/ she could enjoy just about any food from any culture? These are both great questions. We have opinions, but nothing scientific to back up what we think the answers are. What we do know from experience is that our taste buds can change.

Americans have become accustomed to eating a lot of sugar and processed foods. We don’t know why we get addicted to processed foods. We are not sure if the problem is in our mind or our taste buds, but sugary, salty and fatty foods are addictive for many people. Ever crave a potato chip? Was it that commercial you just watched or is it your body telling you sodium please! Well, slap me silly on both sides and call me a pancake! we don’t know why, but we do know that our mind and our taste buds are the best of friends and the worst of enemies.

Like so many of you, We are trying to healthify our diet. We know that it takes a lot of desire, will power and stick-to-it-ness! Some experts say it takes about 3 weeks of sticking to a sugar free and reduced salt diet to change your taste buds. That means being on your guard all the time and that’s not easy!

So, what is the answer to eating better and learning to like foods that are good for you? We have to redefine our eating habits, reset our taste buds and use some determination. It has been our experience that changing our desire and taste for healthier food can happen. It can even be an exciting journey as we learn more about nutrition and search out recipes that have healthy alternatives and still taste delicious.

There are many healthy recipes floating out there. We bet you even have some. How about sharing with us by sending us a recipe or even write for our blog as a guest? When we share it helps us, help each other to make dinner hour happen in our homes.


Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Manners, Rice Cookers, and Olive Oil

Just some random thoughts today:

1) Yours might be the exception (and bravo to you because that's no accident--someone's doing their job!), but we're tellin' ya, children today are running amok--where have all the manners gone? For so many reasons, our adorable children aren't so adorable when they're out of our sight. At least this is what the reports say (and what we've personally experienced).

So what can be done? Let's turn the tide at the dinner table. This is the perfect place to talk about, teach, and practice manners. We could start with the definition: Manners--savoir faire (French for "to know what to do" in all sorts of situations); it's the fine art of thinking of someone besides ourselves; it's an awareness of the needs and feelings of others and then behaving accordingly. It wouldn't hurt children today if we expected more mannerly behavior from them. What do you say, shall we mount a campaign?

2) Now a less pointed subject--your rice cooker. Did you know you can use it to steam hot towels for an at-home spa experience. Just wet and wring out washcloths, fold in thirds, roll up, and steam in the cooker for about 5-6 minutes. You'll want to move the towels to a plate using tongs because they will be really HOT! (An at-home spa treatment might be just what we need after tackling the manners issue. Ha ha.)

3) And olive oil. This very versatile product can buff streaks out of stainless steel without dulling it. Use a little oil on a terry cloth rag, then shine with paper towels. You'll be happy with the results (just like we'll be when our children display better manners--am I beating a dead horse here?).

And in closing, back to the manners thing: We really ARE all in this together, you know. You help my children by expecting better behavior from them, I help your children by expecting better behavior from them, and the net result is that children soon get the message that they're capable of better and everyone expects it of them. So let's do mount that campaign and see what we can do about this as we sit to the table. Here's to family dinner made easy, then, as we tackle tough stuff, one meal at a time!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

GETTING SPICY WITH DAVE'S DUST

Jeanne's brother, Dave, is a great cook! He is sort of a male version of Rachael Ray. He doesn't spend much time measuring, but throws together some awesome meals! He seems to know what ingredients pair well with each other. It's also kind of fun to have a brother that you can swap recipe ideas with.

On one of Dave's visits, he took some time to go through Jeanne's spice cupboards and taught her how to make a Cajun spice. While doing this fun activity together, he also taught little sister how to make what we call "Dave's Dust." This also uncluttered the cupboard a bit!

So before you start throwing away your spices try giving them one more round by mixing some of them together to create a new taste. We love the Cajun spice but have the most fun with  "Dave's Dust." It tastes great on any kind of meat and it is awesome in some soups.

Dave's Dust
2 1/2 Tablespoon's Paprika
2 Tablespoons Salt
2 Tablespoons Garlic
1 Tablespoon Black Pepper
1 Tablespoon Onion Powder
1 Tablespoon Cayenne Pepper
1 Tablespoon dried Oregano
1 Tablespoon dried Thyme

Pour the spices into a bowl, mix well and find a cute jar to put it in. Let me tell you what one of our favorite things to do with this spice is.

Prepare angel hair pasta as directed on the package.

Use an Alfredo sauce mix package (prepare as directed on the package).


In a skillet over medium heat, add two tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon Dave's Dust.


In the heated skillet, add 12-14 precooked shrimp and heat until coated and warmed.


Place pasta on a large platter. Cover with Alfredo sauce and top with shrimp. This is so yummy and quick.

Think about the spices you have in your kitchen cupboard. What do you think would taste good together? Create your own "Specialty Spice," or just use one of Dave's.

For a Cajun spice add equal parts of the following:

Chili Powder
Cayenne Pepper
Ground Cumin
Oregano
Sweet Basil
Onion Powder
Pepper
Salt
Granulated garlic

This was so much fun to do with a brother that Jeanne wants to make this a tradition! Don't be afraid to experiment with spices. If you get your family involved, it just might make them feel creative in the kitchen. It's a good way to keep them coming to the dinner table.

Friday, February 24, 2012

EASY 20 MINUTE CHILI RECIPE SHARED BY MAUREEN KILGOUR

Wow! We love when family, friends and neighbors share. Thanks Maureen for the awesome, easy chili recipe. it's going to get cold this week, so this recipe will be perfect! I like that it is so fast and easy to to make. Maureen  also mentions that you can double or triple the recipe and that it freezes well. Sounds like a keeper to us!

MAUREEN'S 20 MINUTE CHILI

1 pound ground beef
1 - 16 ounce can chili beans (Bush's)
1 1/2 Cup water
16 ounce can tomato paste
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup chopped onion
2 garlic cloves (minced)
1 Tablespoon olive oil


Heat olive oil in a large pot, add onion, garlic and ground beef. Break up beef and cook until beef is nicely browned and shows no pink. Add a can of chili beans, tomato paste and chili powder. Stir until the tomato paste is melted and all ingredients are combined. Add water and bring to a boil, turn down to simmer and cook for ten minutes. You can make this in the morning and just reheat it for dinner. 

Serve with favorite rolls or bread. You can add sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese as toppings on the side. Add a green salad in a bag and you have a whole meal in about 20 minutes.

We love fast and easy! It's always good to have ingredients in your pantry for these kinds of meals. When days get crazy we can still have a delicious meal.

Thanks Maureen for sharing. Do you have a fast, easy, satisfying meal you can share with us? After all, we are all in this together, trying to make dinner happen in our homes.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Ideas for Teaching Kids to Cook

People say to us all the time, "I want to teach my children to cook, but where do I start?" There's probably no one right answer to this great question. But we do have an opinion on the subject, so let's talk:

First, there are some basic habits and skills that you'll want your children to have, and you can start teaching these as soon as your little ones are physically able. A good clue that children are ready for household chores (kitchen work, for instance) is seen in the development of the fine motor muscles in their hands--if children are cutting with safety scissors, manipulating crayons, etc., then they're ready to move on to bigger things. So two habits (that even 3-year-olds are capable of) to teach and insist on are:

1) washing hands before and after kitchen work

2) cleaning up after themselves, which includes wiping surfaces with a non-toxic cleaner (see our Feb. 11 post for this recipe) and putting things back where they found them

They may need help with these steps, and they'll need a safe step stool or sturdy chair to stand on, and of course, they'll need your time and patience. But down the road, your time and sacrifice will pay BIG dividends--there's not much better than independent children that can get a meal on the table for you.

OK, now that your children are practicing these two good habits, let's get down to work:

Toddlers can help unload the dishwasher, set the table, and clear the table. They also like washing any dishes or prep items by hand (standing on a stool and working in warm sudsy water is very therapeutic for "busy" hands!). Toddlers love cracking eggs, stirring, and placing cooled baked items (cookies, for instance) on serving platters.

Grade schoolers can do all that very well, and more. And here's where we really answer the above question about where to start children actually cooking (or meal prepping). We suggest starting with salads. Lettuces can be ripped with fingers, carrots can be shredded with a shredder or curled using a peeler, and most other ingredients cut with kitchen shears. If you're worried about knife safety, then you can cut the tough stuff (a tomato maybe).

Salads are a good place to start grade schoolers because there's no need to use a mixer (using a portable electric mixer takes some arm strength they may not have yet) and because there's no exposure to the hot stove or oven. The tools salads draw on are fairly simple to use and only need a little hand dexterity.

But maybe the best reason to start them out here is because of the artistic element that can be worked into the process. This is where you can teach them to garnish--those radish roses, curled green onions, melon balls, carrot curls, egg slices (from a wire egg slicer), or sprinkles of nuts and seeds--all can be arranged so creatively on the bed of greens they just prepared. When you can add an element of creativity to a job, it becomes fun and the doer develops a real affinity for it.

We also like to start children out making salads because they're healthy! It's just too easy for children to develop a sweet tooth, so why not introduce them to the tasty world of fruits and vegetables at a young age as a way to counteract the natural pull cookies and other sweets have? We sample and nibble at what we're making usually, so our kidlets may as well be nibbling cherry tomatoes and carrot curls from the git-go. AND, you'll find that what children make, or are invested in, they usually promote and tend to like themselves. Teaching them to make salads is your sneaky way of turning them on to the world of healthy food!

As we say, there are lots of answers to the question of where to start when teaching kids to cook, but establishing good habits and then introducing the delightful art of salad-making is a great place to begin. Now what are your thoughts on this topic, and what have been your experiences in teaching your children and grandchildren to cook? We'd love to hear them. In the meantime, here's to family dinner made easy as we involve our children in this wonderful family tradition!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

COTTAGE CHEESE, A GREAT WAY TO JUMP START YOUR DAY

Eating healthier can start today. No, we didn’t miss the deadline. Any day is a good day to eat healthy, even if we didn’t yesterday or even if we “pigged out” on our last meal. Each time we choose a healthier food alternative, we have helped our bodies and deserve to pat ourselves on the back.

So speaking of eating healthier, let’s look at cottage cheese—the cheese with a slightly tangy taste and lumpy curd. Truth be told, I love cottage cheese. Greater news is that it is good for us. Even if we don’t care for the taste of cottage cheese by itself, it can be added to many recipes, much like buttermilk or sour cream. It adds a creamy texture to recipes and it also contributes to our calcium and protein intake.

In fact, many people have a carton in their refrigerator this time of year as a weight loss tool. This is because cottage cheese is low in fat, low in calories and high in protein. One half cup of regular cottage cheese contains 110 calories, 12 grams of protein and 4.5 grams of fat. Low fat and non-fat varieties are also available. Non-fat cottage cheese has an even higher content of protein, a whoop’n 15 grams per half a cup, making it an even better choice for weight loss.

Cottage cheese also has lycopene, Vitamin A, C, D, K and many of the B vitamins as well. It is rich in minerals that include potassium, Calcium, Copper, Zink and Magnesium.

Now some of you are saying “I hate cottage cheese.” Well, it’s the same thing with buttermilk. Some people drink it by the glass-full but I’m guessing that most people can’t stand it by itself.  But use buttermilk in a recipe and virtually everyone will love what it can do for the texture and taste of a recipe.

Here are a few ideas on how to use cottage cheese to add flavor and nutrients to our recipes:

1.   The next time you make chili, add 1 cup of cottage cheese. It will not be lumpy but creamy. You might want to add ground turkey instead of hamburger making it even more low fat and healthy. (I’m serious about this!)

       The next time you scramble eggs, add a tablespoon or two while cooking. UMMM, creamy and delicious!

       Cottage cheese can be used in your blender when making your smoothie instead of yogurt for a bit of a change.

Cottage cheese pancakes are the bomb! High in protein and fiber! This is a great way to jump start your day.

                     
Mix in all listed ingredients in a blender except for the oatmeal. It’s just best to add the oatmeal last.


  1 cup cottage cheese              3 beaten eggs
  1 small bananas (mashed)     1 cup uncooked oatmeal
   ¼ teaspoon vanilla                  ¼ teaspoon cinnamon



This recipe is super easy and good for you. Cottage cheese is not expensive, adds protein to your meal and helps make dinner hour quick and healthy!



Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Unusual Uses for the Dishwasher!

In an old issue of the magazine, Real Simple, we found some very smart uses for our dishwasher. Who knew this don't-want-to-live-without appliance had so many lives?

For instance, it cleans so many more things besides dishes:

* Children's action figures (top rack, in a mesh laundry bag)

* Ceramic cabinet knobs (in basket)

* Fan grilles, switch plate covers, and vent covers (plastic, aluminum, steel)

* Flip flops (top rack); WHO KNEW?

* Hair brushes and combs (not wood or boar bristle, however)

* Knee pads, shin guards, and mouth guards (top rack)

* Light fixture covers (top rack; not painted, enameled, or antique)

* Rain boots (positioned horizontally, liners removed)

* Tools with metal or plastic handles; we're going to use this idea to sterilize our hand garden pruners!

And we have one more idea for the dishwasher. Come canning season, consider:

* Parboiling your ears of corn before freezing the kernels. Peel the cobs, remove as much silk as possible, then position them upright on the top and bottom racks. Set the washer for rinse using your hottest water. This rinse plus the steam produced will prepare the corn for perfect freezing!

This amazing appliance is a real blessing, isn't it? And we're wondering if YOU have any other ideas for dishwasher uses? Please share if you do--we're all in this together. So until next time, here's to family dinner made easy as we apply clever new uses to a tried and true kitchen friend!

Monday, February 20, 2012

MAKING DINNER HAPPEN CAN BE AS EASY AS MAKING A SALAD

Making Dinner happen can be as easy as a salad! Growing up in our families, a salad was something you had with your dinner – not what you had for dinner. We have grown fond of the idea of being able to put anything that suits our fancy on a bed of lettuce, serve it with a roll and call it the meal. 

Fruits, cheeses, nuts, seeds and salad dressings can greatly enhance the flavor of your salad. Unlike the salad, salad dressings are not as interchangeable and can change the whole essence of the salad. They can also greatly increase the caloric value. So to stay light, try using lighter dressings that are light but high in flavor.

A beautiful salad with light dressing, a piece of grilled chicken, steak or fish, a roll, and a tall glass of lemonade is what we call the perfect light dinner.

Vinaigrette

½ cup of white wine vinegar
½ cup of Canola oil
1 lemon or lime (squeezed)
2 Tablespoons powdered pectin
8 Tablespoons Splenda
1 teaspoon salt
Lots of freshly ground pepper
2 Tablespoons freshly chopped basil

Whisk all ingredients together and refrigerate.

 

Lemon Dressing

3 Tablespoons Lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
½ Teaspoon Italian seasoning
½ Teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Whisk all ingredients together and refrigerate.
 
Homemade Ranch


1 cup low fat buttermilk
1 Cup fat-free mayonnaise
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
½ tsp. dried dill
½ teaspoon dried basil
2 Tablespoons parsley flakes
2 Tablespoons chives
1 clove of garlic (minced)
1 Teaspoon cider vinegar
½ Teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch of sugar, salt and pepper to taste

Whisk all ingredients together and refrigerate.


Citrus Salad Dressing

1 Teaspoon flour
1 Tablespoon concentrated orange juice or a cup orange juice
2 Tablespoons sugar
½ Teaspoon salt
1 clove garlic
¾ cup skim milk
¾ Teaspoon poppy seeds
2 Tablespoons vinegar
1/8 Teaspoon pepper

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a small saucepan. Whisk in milk until the mixture is smooth. Add remaining ingredients. Cook and stir over medium-high heat until the mixture comes to a boil and thickens. Remove from heat. Let cool slightly if serving warm. Otherwise, store in a jar in the refrigerator until ready to serve. 



Making a salad can make dinner hour happen at your house. Who would have thought!




 


Friday, February 17, 2012

ONE-BATCH Cookie Baking Update

[Alice talking]: Folks, last night I made 3 different cookies doughs (chocolate chip, oatmeal and walnut, and peanut butter) and baked them all in 36 minutes!

Let's do the math on this: Each batch of cookies yields 3 dozen cookies. So that means I made 9 dozen cookies in 36 minutes!

More math: If each dozen takes about 8 minutes to bake individually, that's around 24 minutes of baking per batch of dough. So for 3 batches of dough (the 9 dozen cookies), that equals 1 hour and 12 minutes (72 minutes) to bake all three batches.

Still more math: SO, by baking all 3 batches, one at a time on my jelly roll pan (at 12 minutes baking for each baking session), I saved 36 minutes! Might not sound like much on the surface, but as we've said before, these dibs and dabs of time add up over the long haul.

PLUS, let's factor in the clean up--I did this all using ONE bowl. I didn't even need to wash it, or the mixing beaters, between batches because they all called for brown sugar, butter, and vanilla. There was no distinct flavor change to merit washing my tools between batches.

Now here's another tip: While the cookies are still warm from the oven, use your pizza cutter to slice into squares, rectangles, or diamonds. Or use a glass to cut into circles. Then you can lift them out of the pan using an off-set spatula. I tried turning the entire pan out onto my large cutting board, but it's too messy and time-consuming and there's no need for this.

So that's the ONE-BATCH cooking baking update. Have a blast with this idea and please report back with YOUR tips and successes. We're all in this together as together we make family dinner hour possible!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Use the Right Technique for FLUFFY Rice Everytime!

Do you struggle making perfect FLUFFY rice? This is a good thing to know how to do, since it's such a versatile food. It's also one most folks like. And finally, rice is LOW on the allergy scale and easy to digest, so it makes a good staple in any pantry.

You've heard the old saying, "A worker's only as good as his tools"? There's actually another part to that philosophy: "A  worker's only as good as his tools and techniques." The right tool is always important, but if you don't have the right technique--if you don't know HOW to use those tools, a perfect product can still elude you.

So speaking of cooking fluffy rice, There is a simple technique to it, and once you know it, your rice will be perfect every time. Let's say you want to make 2+ cups of rice, here's how:

1) Start with a dependable, long grain rice, such as Jasmine.

2) Heat a medium-size sauce pan (there's nothing in it at this point).

3) Measure 1 cup rice into pan.

4) Add about a half teaspoon butter. Stir rice well until all kernels are coated. Keep stirring until rice gets HOT (but not toasted or burnt--just HOT). You can pick up a few grains and you'll be able to tell when it's hot.

5) After rice is well and truly HOT, add 2 cups  COLD water. There's something important--almost magical that happens when the cold water comes in contact with the hot rice grain, that we're convinced contributes to the fluffiness factor.

6) Bring rice and water to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, then turn heat down, put lid on and simmer for 20 to 25 minutes. Depending on the kind of cookware  you use, you may even be able to just turn the heat off at this point. and let the rice sit. Jeanne can do this because she uses waterless cookware. But however you do it, give the rice that 20 to 25 minutes to absorb the water and plump up.

7) Just wait--no peeking. Keep the lid on and trust the process.

This technique works well with brown rice also. You'll just need a little more water. But as mentioned above, the real trick is in heating the rice before adding cold water. We hope you'll try this and let us know how your rice turns out. In the meantime, here's to family dinner made possible as we practice the right techniques to cooking our rice!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A QUICK FIX...A MUFFIN MIX


Although, you can get some screaming deals on box muffin mixes when they go on sale, they are not as cost effective as homemade. Some of you may be saying that buying the flour, sugar etc. is more expensive than a box mix. It may be initially but you will get so many more mixes from a few staples than you can ever imagine. Most of the ingredients will already be in your pantry.

Commercial dry mixes use dehydrated shortenings, eggs, butter and preservatives. We prefer fresh ingredients when at all possible. Like most of you, we have very little knowledge about the additives and preservatives that are added to store bought mixes. Yikes, we can’t even pronounce their names. We do know that we have good reason to be concerned about some additives and preservatives and that consumption of too many of them might be harmful to our bodies.

Having the dry ingredients mixed together a head of time will give you the convenience of a store box mix along with the satisfaction of being homemade. After making your own mix a few times, it will become second nature to you. You’ll be able to create fresh, warm muffins in no time at all.

Once you find a muffin recipe that you love and learn how easy it is to make substitutions, you’ll never be content with anything but the real deal.

The Basic Muffin Mix

9 cups of white flour
1 tbsp salt
2 ½ cups sugar
1 tbsp baking soda
3 tbsp baking powder
1 tbsp cinnamon
1 ¼ cups dry buttermilk or powdered instant milk

Mix the dry ingredients together by using a wire whisk. Store in an air tight container.

To bake a dozen muffins:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Spray muffin tin with cooking spray. Measure out 2 ¾ cups of the Basic Muffin Mix into a large bowl. In a small bowl, beat 2 eggs, 1 cup of water, ½ cup of canola oil or melted butter, 1 ½ teaspoons Vanilla (try Mexican vanilla). Add the wet ingredients to the dry mix. The batter will be lumpy (that’s okay, it’s suppose to be). Do not over mix. Fill each muffin tin ¾ of the way full. Bake for 16 – 18 minutes.

In the following recipes, as indicated, add or substitute the ingredients to the Basic Muffin Mix to create variations.

Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins

1 small package instant lemon pudding
1 tbsp poppy seeds
2 eggs
Substitute ½ cup of the water with lemon juice

Pumpkin Muffins

1 cup pumpkin (canned)
½ tsp pumpkin pie spice
½ cup mini choc chips

Sour Cream Muffins

Substitute ½ cup of water with ½ cup of sour cream

Chocolate Muffins

¼ cup of cocoa
½ cup sugar
1 cup chocolate chips

Carrot Muffins

1 cup grated carrots
½ cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

Zucchini Muffins

1 cup grated zucchini
½ cup raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
Pinch of nutmeg

For other variations, add either ½ cup of dried or fresh fruit, such as blueberries, apricots or try adding mashed bananas to the Basic Muffin Mix. 

This is just a smart way to use a basic recipe. The sky's the limit! Coming up with new variations is fun for the whole family. Muffins don't cost much to make and they sure can add to a breakfast meal or brunch. They also make a great snack. Do you have a favorite basic mix that you would share with us? We would love to hear from you. When we share recipes and tips it helps us all to keep the family coming to the dinner table.

Tips to Make Kitchen Life Easier!

Today we have a random list of tips you can use to make your kitchen life easier--collected over the years from places such as Real Simple Magazine, Good House Keeping Magazine, clever neighbors and wonderful aunts and grandmas. It's all about working smarter, and not harder:

1. When using a double boiler, add 3 or 4 marbles to the water. They'll rattle when the water gets low. This idea could've save us from ruining a couple really nice double boilers a few years ago!

2. You can make healthier crisp taco shells by draping flour tortillas over the bars of an oven rack so they form inverted U-shapes. Just bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until they harden. Remove them gently with tongs.

3. A couple cool things you can do with olive oil: a) Unstick a stuck zipper. Run an olive oil-dabbed cotton swab up and down the zipper teeth and voila! Works like new again. b) Use it instead of shaving cream for a closer shave! (Who'd of thought?)

4. HOT water will keep syrup or other viscous substances (honey, molasses, etc.) from sticking to the measuring spoons and cups. Run them under HOT water first, let linger in the water a moment to bring their temperature up (so they stay warm for a few seconds) and what you're measuring will slide off easily.

5. A sturdy gift box (either lid or bottom) makes a super cupcake transporter. Turn the container upside down and slice X's into it. Measure using your cupcake, so the space the X's create when pressed down will nicely accommodate the cupcake. Measure also so that each cupcake has enough room around it (to not touch another cupcake).

Life gets hectic and our energy is precious, so it's nice to know how to do things in a quicker and easier way. Do YOU have a tip you use that makes kitchen life easier? Please share--we love hearing from you. In the meantime, here's to family dinner made easier as kitchen life is made easier as well!

Monday, February 13, 2012

THE UN-KNOWN SNEAKY MOM

Unfortunately, even the freshest of vegetables can be under appreciated. I have even known a few individuals who actually loath veggies. I, for one, am an advocate of them. I believe that any vegetable treated with a little respect and the correct cooking technique can give a great deal of pleasure to one’s palate and let’s not forget that they are “good for you!


A few years ago, I realized that a new trend was in progress. Cookbooks were offering strategies on how to sneak vegetables into our children’s menu. These books began to surface in every cookbook aisle. Even though at first I concluded that this trickery might be the wrong thing to do, I was able to rationalize that while this practice might be a little underhanded it would all be done in the name of good health. After much deliberation, I thought the cover up was worth a try. If I could fool my husband, I could fool anyone.


It was late January, if memory serves me right, I took some squash, cauliflower and a green pepper and made sure I didn’t overcook them. Then when no one was looking, I blended them so that there was not a trace of what they actually were. Again making sure no one was looking; I quickly cast them into a pan along with my favorite spaghetti sauce. I made sure the sauce was thoroughly heated and then knowing it was too late to turn back, I put the undisclosed sauce on top of the cooked pasta.


I had to admit to myself the sauce looked beautiful! I wondered if he would be able to detect what I had done. I waited a minute, but it seemed like forever while he readied himself for his meal. In what seemed like slow motion, he took his first unsuspecting bite, chewed, swallowed, smiled and took a second bite. I waited as he took yet another bite wondering if there might be an aftertaste. He continued to consume the secret sauce, happily and contented. Wahla! It had worked! It actually worked, I duped him and he was none the wiser.


I have to confess that I am the world’s worse liar and I can’t for the life of me play a practical joke. I always crack. This time was no exception, it was only a matter of time, and soon my conscience began flaring again. I felt like I had been so deceitful. I couldn’t take it any longer, so I spilled the beans. Yes, I broke down and confessed! I told him in detail how I had deceived him. He gave me a scowl but kept eating.


Then a strange thing happened. Instead of crying and vowing not to ever do it again, I began giggling like a little girl, my mind already plotting my next deceitful episode of hiding even more vegetables into my hopefully unsuspecting husband’s food supply. It wasn’t long before I graduated from spaghetti sauce to secret meat loaf and then to an even stranger deception – beans in his brownies!


I’ll admit it, it’s like an addiction. The process becomes uncontrollable. I have even begun to wonder how I might sneak sauerkraut into his food. Please don’t judge me too harshly for this. Remember that, although honesty is the best policy, I do this all for a greater good “his health!” And, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.


Secret Meat Loaf


Combine using your hands, in a large bowl these ingredients:


1 lb lean ground beef
¼ lb Italian sausage
½ cup Italian dried bread crumbs
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 small can tomato paste
2 cloves of garlic finely chopped
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
½ cup shredded carrots
½ grated potato
¼ c finely chopped green pepper
1/8 medium onion


Shape the meat on a piece of waxed paper into a 9’X 13’ rectangle.
Sauté the carrots, green pepper, potato and onion in 1 Tablespoon of olive oil for 3 minutes. Spread this onto the meatloaf that has been shaped into a flat rectangle. Roll the meatloaf around in the vegetable mixture. Garnish the top the meatloaf with 3 Tablespoons of Ketchup and 1 Tablespoon dried parsley.


Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour.
REMEMBER MUM'S THE WORD! WERE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Getting Organized for Next Week

Don't you love Saturdays? This is the day to get prepared and organized for the coming week. And usually we NEED this time for just that.

Today (Saturday) we're going to do a little house cleaning (change and wash bed linens, iron a few shirts, do some dusting and vacuuming, and clean out the fridge) and then do some shopping. Sounds like a lot, doesn't it? But with Jeanne's "Give Me 20 Minutes" approach (see yesterday's post), it'll pretty much get done.

Of all on the above list, we think one of the most important chores is cleaning out the fridge. Because we need to do some grocery shopping, we need to know what we already have. And the only way to accurately know this is to clean out the fridge. Too many times we just run to the store and hope we remember what we need. And too many times we come home with stuff we already have plenty of! (It was hiding behind the leftovers on the 2nd shelf or buried under slimy produce in the crisper drawer, or...) You know the story.

So later today we'll empty out the fridge--wiping down the walls, shelves, drawers, etc. with our favorite disinfectant spray that we make:
  • 1 quart water
  • 25 drops grapefruit seed extract
  • 10 drops peppermint essential oil
  • 3-5 drops eucalyptus essential oil
There's no science to this concoction, so make it to please your nose (you'll adjust the amounts of essential oils). Just be sure to use the grapefruit seed extract--it's much more powerful than Clorox or other bleach and is non-toxic. Alice puts this extract in her morning green smoothies, that's how safe it is.

Then we go through everything we pulled out, hunting for the moldy, slimy, dead stuff (and dang, there usually is some). We combine dibs and dabs of this and that to save space. We toss things that have proven they just aren't used enough to merit space (the 9 month old Wasabi sauce is a good example). Then we reload the fridge, grouping and storing like items together. All leftovers go in one place, all dairy is grouped together and goes in one place, and so on. We think fridges serve us better if there's rhyme and reason as to how they're stocked.

NOW we can see what it is we are out of, what we have plenty of, and plan accordingly. The shopping goes so much easier and being organized feels so good! Do you have tips on how to clean or organize the fridge? We'd love to hear them, so please share. Meanwhile, here's to family dinner made easy as we get the 'ol fridge cleaned out and ready for a new week!

Friday, February 10, 2012

GIVE YOURSELF 20 MINUTES

There was a time not many generations ago that at the end of the day a woman could look back and see the fruits of her labors. If it was laundry day, that was the task at hand, if it was ironing day that's what she did. At the end of the day, she could look back and feel a sense of accomplishment.

We now live in a day when you are lucky to get the laundry even close to being done. Ironing is often a thing of the past and dinner preparation is often a daunting task. Our days are filled with work schedules, errands, children's activities, appointments and hundreds of other projects. By the end of the day, I have heard women say "I didn't get one thing done." In reality they were busy as beavers all day long. Evening comes and they still have to help children with  homework and other activities. The days come and go with many people feeling that they aren't accomplishing anything. On top of that, we have also been told that we need to take time for ourselves (big sigh!). Good luck with that one!

Let me tell you a story of how Jeanne learned the value of 20 minutes.

When she was a young mother of  five children, she was busy all day long caring for her babies. She was also experiencing some major health problems. And to make matters worse, she lived in a country far away from family. She was private about her health issues and, frankly, only a couple of  people knew she had any problems at all.


Let me share with you how she learned to use and appreciate 20 minutes.... It started with a timer that she would set for 20 minutes. In that 20 minutes she would do as much as possible, such as, cleaning a bedroom or bathroom. When the timer rang, she would lie down for a 10 to 20 minute break. This was repeated several times during the day. What  did she learn from this experience? You can accomplish much more in 20 minutes than you might think. 
Using a timer can also help children work a little faster. Trying to beat the timer can be kind of fun. If you have job charts for children, that is a great first step. But make sure they know how to accomplish the task and what is expected of them. For instance, our bathroom charts had "Shake the carpets ... Outside." Sure, it sounds funny, but more than once we have had carpets shaken in the bathroom

Our thought today is because we live in such a busy, on-the-road society maybe the 20 minute plan will help you.  Don't say "I can't do that because I only have 20 minutes." Instead, ask yourself what one thing can I do in 20 minutes and get it done. Then at the end of the day, when you still have much to do you can look back and say "I accomplished a lot in the small amount of time I had." These 20 minute intervals can create a different frame of mind about housework. And by the way, you can even have dinner on the table if you take that first 20 minutes and make a crock pot dinner. 

You may have an even better plan and we would love to hear from you. What works for you? After all we are all in this together.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Bake a Batch of Cookies FAST!

We're always asking each other, "Do you think they know about this?" "Do you think they know about that?" "Do you think they'd be interested in the other?" If we come to the conclusion that even a handful of you would like to know about a certain something, then we go for it.

Such is the case with today's topic: A FAST Way to Bake a Batch of Cookies. While we understand that probably lots of you know about this, we're thinking there may be a few of you younger moms out there that don't know this. So here goes:

When you're in a pinch, time-wise, but you need or just want some fresh cookies, mix up your dough and spread it out on a well greased jelly roll pan (nothing more than a cookie sheet of sorts, with an edge all around). You end up with cookie BARS. Folks naturally do this with a BAR recipe, but fact is, it can be done with any cookie recipe.

Plop the entire glob of dough onto the middle of the sheet and use  wetted fingers to spread it evenly out to the edges. Then just bake for maybe 1 or 2 minutes longer than your recipe calls for, to compensate for the increased volume on the pan.

When you remove it from the oven, and the dough is still warm, use your pizza cutter or your large kitchen knife to cut it into desired sizes and shapes. Allow the cookies to cool slightly before removing from pan to avoid crumbling (don't let cookies completely cool or they'll stick to the pan--ask us how we know...).

And speaking of sizes and shapes, Alice cuts VERY small cookies when she's making treats for the nursery-aged children she teaches on Sunday. And that's one of the nice features about baking cookies this way--teeny tiny cookie balls would easily over-bake and end up like little rocks. This way you can have small portions that are moist and chewy all around.

She also likes to slice the dough at an angle to get diamond cookies. Then she drizzles some thinned chocolate icing over them, and oh my--fancy smancy--her family is delighted when they get this treat! And once she cut the baked dough with her biscuit cutter so she'd have evenly sized rounds. She put the little triangley pieces that were left over, in her blender and made cookie crumbs. She then put those in a zippered freezer bag and saved them for later use as toppings on ice cream, fruit crisps, etc. Alice says, "I"ll do this again--it worked well."

We figure if we use a cookie recipe that makes 3 dozen cookies, baking the dough all at once saves around 15 minutes--maybe more. (You figure 7-8 minutes per batch to bake, and we baked all three batches at once.) Sure, 15 minutes isn't a ton of time, but those little dibs and dabs of time add up throughout a day, so it's smart to save where we can. (Also, think of the energy saved as well.) Now do YOU have cookie-making time-saving tips you can share? Please pass on your wisdom and experience, and until next time, here's to family dinner made easy as we save a little time in the cookie-making department!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

KEEPING HYDRATED AND THE WINNERS OF THE COOK'N SOFTWARE

Feeling dizzy or lightheaded? You’re probably dehydrated! According to some experts on the subject, however, the fact that you’re thirsty may mean you are already experiencing signs of dehydration.

For as long as we can remember, it’s been suggested that we should drink at least 8 glasses of water per day. Regardless of how much water we consume in a day, one thing is for sure – water is essential. People have been known to survive without food for several weeks, but we humans can only live without water a matter of days. Did you know that our bodies are 2/3 water?

Ever notice that when you have “cotton mouth” or you’re feeling parched, your body craves water? Nothing quenches thirst better. It’s refreshing and, get this, it has no calories.

Sports drinks do have their place. If you are exerting a lot of energy, energy drinks replenish salt and electrolytes while adding a boost of glucose. This means, of course, they are packed with sugar. They have their place but they don’t replace good ol’ water!  


Whether you prefer water straight from the faucet, bottled from a spring or purified, drinking plenty of water, particularly during the summer months, is a smart thing to do



We are sending you this reminder to drink plenty of water because we know how important it is to stay hydrated and we also know how difficult it is to remember to drink water throughout the day. Drinking water before a meal can actually keep you from eating to much. Something we are trying to remember as well as the importance of drinking that recommended 8 glasses.


Let's remember to drink our water and remind our family to do the same. And as a side note: nothing taste better with dinner than a cool glass of water! Happy Hydrating!


Our winners for the Cook'n Software are Jim Erlandson and Marcia McFarlene. Congratulations to both of you. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Smart Tip for Getting Dinner On

Do you sometimes feel like you're spread thinner than a drink of water? We do. Time is just racing by--where the heck did January go? And next week we'll be half through February, for crying out loud.

So with this TIME thing on our minds, we'd like to share a super smart tip for saving a little time (and a little money) in the getting-dinner-on department. It has to do with the shopping for dinners:

When getting your cuts of meat, ask your butcher for help. He'll pick out the best cuts of this and that. He'll let you in on when he marks things down and where he sits them in his meat cases. And he'll introduce you to things you may not have noticed he has available. For instance, did you know you can buy fresh chicken cordon bleu (with asparagus tucked inside), from your meat department? There's a time-saver for you. He'll even slice whatever you need sliced (another subtle time-saver for when you're home prepping your meal).

It occurred to us that what we always say at the end of this blog, "We're all in this together!" really IS true. In other words, we're not alone in our efforts to provide good meals each evening. We have the help of others, if only we'll ask for it.

And not just help from your butcher is available, but your produce manager wants to make life easier for you as well. Ours really understands the challenge we're facing what with the high cost of food now. So when the box of red-banded bananas is empty (the markdowns), he'll take a minute and comb through the rest of the bananas and find us more he can band for us. It's true they're on the ripe side, but they're perfect for banana bread, smoothies, mixing into yogurt, etc. And if he can't find any that seem a little too ripe, he'll band some for us anyway! So this thoughtful man saves us a little $ at the checkout stand. It's small things like this that make a big difference over the long haul, and make what we're trying to do a bit easier.

So that's today's tip: Let's not be afraid to ask for help. And isn't it wonderful when readers help each other--sharing their good recipes, sharing easy ways to cook this or that, or sharing quick methods to get the meal to the table? So that said, again we conclude with asking YOU for help: "What are some time-saving tips YOU have that can help us get the meal on quicker and easier?" We're all in this together you know! Until next time then, here's to family dinner made easy as we ask for help and generously share OUR tips and ideas!

Monday, February 6, 2012

YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT

Most of you have heard the saying "you are what you eat." We believe this is a true statement. Processed foods are full of preservatives that are hard to digest and, frankly, we don't know all the repercussions of eating processed foods long term. We do know that processed foods can lead to poor health and we are learning more about disease-causing products and additives.


We also know that it is almost impossible to stay completely away from all the foods that are tagged "bad for you." We live in a fast-paced world and we can't be thinking about food every minute of the day. We are, however, true believers that just one change can make a difference and that every time we make a better food choice we are helping our bodies. If, for instance, we decided today to drink more water and less soda, we have made a good choice. On the other hand, we may stop and pick up a hamburger today while on the run with errands. Let's try asking for a protein style burger wrapped in lettuce and if we have to have fries, let's make it a small order. Ideally it would be better to bring our own food from home.


We know from experience that over-indulging in unhealthy foods causes unhealthy food addictions and weight problems, both of which have a negative influence on our health.


It is not a crime to eat a piece of cake once in awhile, but it becomes a problem if we are craving it everyday. Training the mind to think about what's being eaten, and why it's being eaten is an ongoing process.


We believe one of the best steps we can take is to write down everything that goes into our mouths each day and what the portion size was. This helps us see and understand eating patterns. We think we know, but it is such a revelation when everything is written down. Again, we live in a real world and to think we or our children are never going to indulge in some unhealthy eating is not realistic for most people. So our advice is to use moderation, look for some healthy alternatives and take time to enjoy your food.


And when we slip, we can start over. For instance, Jeanne over-indulged during the Super Bowl yesterday and doesn't feel so great today. She knew better but did it anyway. Today she will have a mixed green salad with a light salad dressing, baked salmon and brown rice. This dinner will take about 10 minutes to make if the rice is done ahead of time.


As you think about your food choices and study out some easy alternatives, you will find little by little your food choices will change. So, enjoy thinking about what you can feed your body that will help keep it strong, keep your energy levels up, and keep a smile on your face!


Look for easy, healthy ideas that will keep the family coming to the dinner table--remember, we are all in this together.