Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Steel cut oats in the rice cooker!

I've been hearing about this method of cooking your steel cut oats in the rice cooker for a while now and I finally remembered to try it last night! I say that because even though this recipe is super, super easy ... you do have to remember to put your oatmeal and water into the rice cooker the night before so the oats can soak. If you can remember to do that, you'll enjoy this so-simple-it's-crazy breakfast TOMORROW!

Night before:
Add one cup of oats (this recipe is specifically for steel cut Irish oats. If you are trying another kind, please google ANOTHER recipe, ha ha!) and 2 cups plus 3 oz. water to your rice cooker.

Morning of:
Plug in/turn on your rice cooker. Foil the baby in her attempts to climb the bookcase and pound on your Macbook.

15 minutes later ... EAT!

I topped my oats with a tablespoon of brown sugar, a handful of blueberries, a few sliced almonds, and some fat free half-and-half. And I have leftovers to microwave for tomorrow! This recipe is going into heavy rotation at our house. It's a lot better than eating leftover Halloween candy for breakfast!

Friday, October 16, 2009

The hippie strikes again: Composting

The other day I walked out in our backyard to get the hose and I stumbled across this:

No, we don't suddenly have chickens roosting in our backyard. My husband has taken to "composting" egg shells in what's left of his tomato patch back there. Being the sweet wife I am, I informed him that his little experiment wouldn't work unless he actually worked the egg shells into the soil. My husband is an experienced gardener, and HE KNOWS THIS. But time is of the essence lately and we don't have no stinkin' time.

It did get me thinking, though. And as I peeled apples over the kitchen sink today it occurred to me that they were compostable and would probably really help replenish the soil in the garden.

When I was a kid my grandmother always had a little container with a lid set out on the counter next to the sink. She would save and reuse produce bags from the grocery store to line it. In would go coffee grounds, vegetable and fruit peelings, anything that could be thrown into my grandfather's extensive garden out back. My grandfather could grow anything. As a kid I wandered through his garden helping him pick out cucumbers, peppers, and tomatoes. Nothing tasted quite so good as food grown in my grandparents' Virginia back yard.

Today I became a little more like Grandmother. I think she would be proud.

And let's hope it's rewarded with gigantic tomatoes next summer!

Great recipe finds

Lately I've been stumbling upon the most AMAZING, easy recipes that have been real crowd pleasers. I wanted to provide the links here so you can print them for your own recipe books (I don't have any photos because most of the results disappeared VERY quickly.

Simple Sesame Noodles (These are so good, and when I went to purchase the oils I needed it only cost about $10 ... and it's Los Angeles so you have a good shot at it being cheaper where you live! Very, very good).

Green Enchiladas (These are a huge, tremendous hit every time. I substitute onions for the celery, though. So easy to make!)

Corn and Bean Summer Salad (YUM! We eat this like salsa with tortilla chips. It is very satisfying)

And in the oven right now with some modifications ... Breakfast Apple Granola Crisp

(I'll let you know how this one turns out).

Happy cooking!

And on the list to try! Hummus!

The best brownie mix!

Sometimes when I need to stress eat, nothing can satisfy me like a good warm brownie. On a stressful night a few weeks ago I half-jokingly replied to a resident of my house who asked me if I needed anything that I needed a very specific box of brownie mix. That person is AWESOME and soon returned with my fave, Ghirardelli Caramel Turtle Brownie mix. IT IS THE BEST. Try it for yourself, you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Another one bites the dust

My garbage disposal has been the death of many kitchen tools - spoons, chopsticks, breast pump accessories, you name it and it's been ground to a pulp - at our house. The latest victim? My favorite tablespoon measure. Dangit. I loved this thing!

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

What's cookin' today:

Lunch: Mediterranean Pepper Salad ala Smitten Kitchen

(We've already eaten half of this today. It's SO SO GOOD OH MY GOODNESS).

Dinner: Green Enchiladas ala Secret Agent Josephine

(Smells good so far. Gotta love Crock Pot cooking!)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pasta primavera (puttanesca style!)

Have you ever seen that movie A Series of Unfortunate Events? In the movie at one point the kids have to make dinner for their evil uncle (played by Jim Carrey) and they make something they call "pasta puttanesca" which the oldest sister defines as a pasta dish that you make with whatever ingredients are available. Wikipedia, however, defines pasta alla puttanesca as "whore's pasta" and as it turns out it originally WAS a dish made from whatever was lying around but now there's a specific recipe for it, blah, blah, blah. Check out the link here. (And by the way I can't wait to answer the question, "Mom, what's for dinner?!" with the response, "WHORE'S PASTA!" ha ha!)

I bring all this up because sometimes I make a dish that in my head I call "pasta puttanesca" and define it as making a pasta dish with whatever I can find! Usually, though, my dish looks a lot more like pasta primavera because I make it with whatever vegetables I can find in my fridge and freezer.

Last night I made this dish for John and it turned out great!

First I salted and boiled the water for the pasta and got that going (did you know that adding salt to the water makes it boil faster? Something about it changes the molecular structure of the water. I got a B in chemistry in high school so that's the best explanation I can give you. It DOES work!). I used farfalle (bow tie) pasta. Penne or any other short pasta works great for this. While the pasta was going I heated a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large pan with a lid. Then I added two small diced onions, carrots, a bag of frozen broccoli, and frozen mushrooms and let this cook for a while over med-high heat. After the veggies had defrosted and the carrots had softened a bit I added fresh tomatoes, garlic salt, ground black pepper, and stirred. Let this cook until the tomatoes are warm.

At the very end I added some chicken breast I had in the fridge (left over from a Crock Pot experiment I'll tell you about one day) plus more olive oil. After this was all heated, the pasta was done! I drained the pasta, returned it to the pot, then added the veggies. A few dashes of parm and we were ready to go!

And then? We chowed down. YUM.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

I think I can handle fro-yo, so long as it's blended with ice cream

Let me just start this by saying that I HATE FROZEN YOGURT. I figure that if I'm going to eat ice cream I may as well just eat ice cream. I compromise and usually get "light" ice cream, but lately? The only frozen treat I allow myself are Weight Watchers Giant Cookies and Cream bars. More on those another time.

Yesterday in a complete stupor I accidentally put a carton of Dreyer's Slow Churned Yogurt Blend ice cream in my cart. I actually meant to put the No Sugar Added vanilla in my cart but since Sydney had completely worn me out all day yesterday and the night before ... like I said, STUPOR. I realized my mistake by the time I got to the checkout but I didn't care. This had basically the same nutritional info as the reduced sugar, just ten more calories per serving (come to think of it, I didn't check serving sizes to compare. I wonder...). I figured I'd give it a shot with my balsamic strawberries. Anyway, for a 1/2 cup serving it's two Weight Watchers points ... not too bad! I had about a cup serving last night I think (two scoops). It tasted good to me ... it definitely had that yogurt-y flavor in there but it was very mild and as far as texture goes it wasn't as rock-hard as the no sugar added vanilla (I hate that).

Thumbs up! The rest of the container is in trouble at this house!

Strawberries with balsamic vinegar

Strawberries are in season right now, and at Costco they have these HUGE 5-lb containers of strawberries for about $6. Needless to say, I always have to buy one when I'm there. My intentions are always the best ... I tell myself that I'm going to have fresh strawberries until they're coming out my ears because they're good for me and they're not a lot of WW points. HA!

Yesterday I picked up a new container, thinking that the strawberries in my fridge from last time had probably gone bad. When I got home and went to exchange the old for the new, I found that my "old" container of strawberries was still in good shape and suddenly? I've got TEN pounds of strawberries!

Luckily a blogger buddy of mine recently posted that she'd put balsamic vinegar on her strawberries as a way to flavor and preserve them. HUH? I was just as confused as I was intrigued by this. Don't get me wrong, I love strawberries and I ALSO love balsamic vinegar. The combination just seemed to weird to be good. I googled a recipe (sure enough it's the Italian way to eat strawberries! Mangia! I'm an uncultured redneck!) and used this one as a template for my own little experiment. Hey! I had strawberries to burn and if I didn't end up liking it what did I have to lose?

First I hulled and cut up the strawberries and then gave them a quick rinse. I set aside a smaller bowl to make balsamic strawberries and just sprinkled sugar over the rest in another container to preserve them for later. Then to my bowl I added an easy tablespoon of the balsamic vinegar (I was scared!) and a tablespoon of sugar. The recipe also called for pepper, which I omitted. Then I left the covered bowl on the counter until I could get around to dessert later (it took three hours).
Later when Sydney was sleeping and after I'd eaten my dinner, I spaded a few scoops of ice cream into the bowl and took a tentative bite.

I was pleasantly surprised! I was expecting the sharp taste of vinegar, but instead the strawberries just tasted flat out DELICIOUS! They weren't too sweet or too bitter ... perfection. The marination was the key: the vinegar absorbed into the berries and married the sugar beautifully. I will probably be making this again tonight for my husband when he gets home from his trip (and then making it again and again all summer long!).

Must-have kitchen tool: Ice cream spade

If you're like me, you LOVE ice cream. Especially when pregnant. When my husband and I first got married it was soon decided (by me) that if I was going to do most of the cooking, he was going to be responsible for making the coffee and scooping the ice cream. He did all right with the coffee-making (despite making an unholy mess every time he did it, ha!) but the ice cream scooping? The man turned out to be a complete WIMP! I have never heard so much whining about ice cream IN MY LIFE! You'd think a man who can bench press more than 200 pounds wouldn't have trouble with a tub of ice cream, but you'd be WRONG. He struggled terribly with the cheap traditional scoops we'd received as wedding gifts. And he WHINED.

Lucky for him I found this little beauty at TJ Maxx Homegoods: a KitchenAid ice cream spade. This spade is much like the scoop of my childhood (my mother is ice cream's #1 fan and has been known to take out an entire half gallon container BY HERSELF in two sittings. I am NOT exaggerating. Anyway, she has one of those old-school all-metal spades like they have at Coldstone or Marble Slab and it's the way we scooped ice cream every night at my house for my ENTIRE LIFE) only better! It slices through ice cream like butter, and has a very comfortable handle. I will never "scoop" ice cream again!

I used our spade for the first time in a long time (thanks to Weight Watchers I'm not eating so much ice cream anymore. Sigh) and I was reminded of how awesome it is! Hopefully I can find an ice cream that won't cost me too many points so it can go back on duty this summer!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Surviving Weight Watchers, Vol. 3: Fiber One Bars

My friend Joy is a Weight Watchers point-wringing expert and told me that the more fiber a food has, the less points it costs ... something about high fiber balances out fat and calories. I don't know how this magic works out but I don't care ... gimme FIBER! So one day I was perusing my grocery store for packable foodstuffs for in-a-hurry emergencies. I had my iPhone with me (do you have the mobile application, by the way? GENIUS!!), so I entered the nutrition info for these granola bars in the points calculator and guess what? TWO POINTS!! I was even more excited when I actually ate one of these ... they are REALLY good. Lots of chocolate and very tasty.

So? Go to Costco and buy these - in the oats & chocolate flavor - in bulk. Station in your purse/diaper bag/car. SURVIVE.

xoxo, Manda

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Disneyland's Cafe Orleans (YUM!)

My husband grew up going to Disneyland with his family. I went for the first time in 2002 (but I'd been to Disney World as a kid). Yesterday we ate lunch at Cafe Orleans (near the Pirates of the Caribbean ride) and John and his family kept commenting that the food at Disneyland is awesome compared to what it used to be! We feasted on ratatouille with corn cakes and asparagus, frites with garlic and parmesan and spicy aioli, a monte cristo with raspberry preserves that would make you WEEP, French onion soup ... it was AMAZING! Despite the crowds we were seated relatively quickly and ate until we were stuffed for about $40 per couple. If you're at Disneyland any time soon, don't miss out on Cafe Orleans!!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Surviving Weight Watchers, Vol 2: Breakfast muffin

This is one of the EASIEST things you can make to save yourself from the DOOM of HUNGER!! The key? These amazing Oroweat Double Fiber English Muffins. They should be available at most grocery stores, but I usually grab a few packs when I go to Target (I don't have a Super Target, just a regular one with a limited grocery section). The muffins are ONE POINT for the entire thing!! I often use them instead of a bun for a veggie/turkey burger as a way to shave off a few points. THEY ARE SO AWESOME! I also occasionally spread some The Laughing Cow Light cheese on one if I need a filling snack. It is a great substitute for cream cheese or butter (and as a side note, I HATE SWISS CHEESE! This cheese is very mild and tastes nothing like regular Swiss).

So, here's the recipe, a mere THREE points:

Breakfast Muffin (3 points)

1 Oroweat Double Fiber English muffin, toasted - 1 point
1 serving (1/4ish cup) Quick Egg Whites - 1 point
1 wedge The Laughing Cow Light spreadable swiss cheese - 1 point

I learned a trick about scrambled eggs when I used to work at a bagel shop in college that served sammys on bagels. Use a small microwavable bowl ... plastic or glass will work fine. Spray it with Pam, then pour in your egg mix. Microwave for 2-3 minutes, until you can see that the eggs are cooked on the bottom of the container you're using (there shouldn't be any liquid hanging around in there, unless you LIKE that sort of thing. In which case? GROSS). It might appear that your eggs are going to overflow at some point because they get REALLY puffy in the micro, but don't panic, they go back down and I've never had an accident. When you're done you have PERFECT scrambled eggs already shaped in a circle and you can just flip it onto your sandwich!! No mess, no pans on the stove, no overly dry eggs! I actually prefer to eat scrambled eggs this way, even when NOT on a sandwich!!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Surviving Weight Watchers, Vol. 1: Yogurt with fiber

Lately I eat based on getting the maximum food for the minimum amount of points on Weight Watchers. I'm going to try and share a few of the recipes I've come up with and foods I've discovered that have helped me lose 21.5 pounds so far! These combinations are filling, taste good and are healthy even if you're NOT on Weight Watchers!! :)

Yogurt with fiber = 3 points

8 oz. Fage Greek Total 0% Yogurt (plain) -2 points
1 tbs. Honey - 1 point
1/2 cup Fiber One cereal - 0 points
1 cup fresh strawberries - 0 points

I often eat this for breakfast or as an afternoon snack when I'm really struggling. Does the job! Strawberries are in season right now so I'm always looking for ways to get through the huge containers I buy at Costco. It's one fruit you can eat a lot of and it hardly costs you anything! YAY!

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hey look! There's FOOD in my food!

Things are getting all Weight-Watchery around here this week, and since I've been presented with a new eating challenge my creative cook juices have been really flowing! I went walking with a friend on Tuesday who is also on Weight Watchers and she gave me some great tips on how to totally MAX out the amount of food you can cram into your points. Fine by me ... if I didn't love to eat so much I probably wouldn't have to be on WW in the first place! Anyway, she told me that if you make regular oatmeal instead of instant, you get MORE. Also? You can add a tablespoon of brown sugar (1 point) and berries or other fruit. I made myself a bowl this morning and it was only 3.5 points (to give you a comparison, I also ate a 6 oz. container of Yoplait yogurt and that was 4 points. Probably not worth it!)!! The best part was that I was totally FULL after I finished and I didn't have to sacrifice any flavor whatsoever.

I used steel cut Irish oatmeal that I found at Trader Joe's. It takes about 30 mins to cook but MAN was it good! My husband has eaten the leftovers for lunch two days in a row now. It means I have to cook a new batch each morning but I don't mind sharing! :)

After the oatmeal was done, I added 4 tbs. of flax meal. This works out to 1 tb. per serving and added .5 pts. to the meal. It also added Omega-3, lignans, extra fiber and a subtle nutty flavor!!
When it was all mixed together I topped it with the brown sugar and a handful of rinsed blueberries and a handful of pared strawberries (I was curious about how much one of my "handfuls" would be and it was 1/4 cup exactly for each berry. Fun!). And then, I scarfed it all down because my baby was getting antsy!!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Fun finds at Target

Lately my cooking has been, well, sparse. Instant oatmeal, cold cereal, and fried egg sandwiches usually round out the menu during the first half of my day (and if I get in two meals by 2 p.m. I'm in great shape!). Since I now have a little one in tow, I sometimes try and combine my shopping trips as much as I can, which in recent history has included trying to get all my grocery shopping done at my local (NON-Super) Target. At my standard Target, there is a limited selection of cold foods and a few aisles of dry goods. I usually pick up a gallon of milk, sometimes some half-and-half, sodas ... just regular pantry staples to save myself a trip to Trader Joe's or the uber-expensive Ralph's in our neighborhood (we live near a major airport so our prices are very inflated).

In the last few weeks I've made a marvellous discovery!! Archer Farms Macaroni and Cheese. I picked up a box in the Four Cheese Florentine flavor because the only necessary ingredient was water. I can handle that! You add all the ingredients at once, simmer for 12 minutes, then eat. I made the box while totally and completely distracted by baby, ate half, and fed my husband the other half. SO GOOD!

The next time I went back I picked up the Creamy Tomato flavor, which we loved topped with shaved Parmesan cheese, and also the Porcini Mushroom flavor that we have yet to try. This is a nice alternative to traditional "blue box" mac and cheese (which I'm not a fan of AT ALL but weirdly craved while pregnant). I like Annie's Homegrown organic mac and cheese a lot so if you like that, you might like to try Archer Farms! Fun!