Sunday, February 27, 2011

Get Me To The Church On Time

I won't lie.  Cooking from scratch and feeding your family whole foods can be difficult.  It's time consuming.  It takes planning and work and discipline.  In the end, it is so worth it.

Sunday mornings have proved to be especially challenging for my family because we need to make and serve both breakfast and lunch with very little prep time. 

These days can bring out the worst in us.  We wake up, race around the house trying to make everyone clean, well-dressed, and well-fed so we can get out the door in time for church. 

We pray, feel good, and love each other...until we get home. 

Then we rush around, changing clothes, making lunch, fighting off naps and tired kids, snapping at each other out of stress.  Crazy stuff.  Something had to give. 

Planning our breakfast and lunch for Sunday has been a big stress-reliever.  I'm sharing some tips here with the hope they can help you with some healthy food in the midst of chaos, whether you are heading to church on a Sunday morning, story time on Wednesday, or basketball practice on Saturday. 

If you have some tips, please leave them in the comments so we can all benefit!

Use Your Kitchen Wisely
  • Oven: After 3+ years, I just figured out that my oven has a "Delay Start" option.  I can set the time I want it to turn on so it is pre-heated when I walk in the door from church or wake up in the morning. 
  • Slow Cooker: Crock Pots are for more than just roasts!  You can make oatmeal, egg casserole, and even pancakes in your slow cooker.  Search the internet for recipe options or check out A Year of Slow Cooking for some tried and true recipes.
  • Toaster: Make large batches of homemade waffles or pancakes and freeze them.  When you need a quick breakfast, pop one in the toaster.  You have all the convenience of a packaged, frozen meal from the grocery store without all of the yucky stuff in it.
  • Freezer: When you bake muffins, make quiche, or generally have any leftovers around, freeze them.  There will be a morning when you can pull out two slices of frozen quiche and feel that it saves your entire day.

Cook Now, Eat Later
  • Waffles & Fruit: My husband makes a big batch of homemade waffles on Saturday nights after the kids go to bed.  I like to make a warm compote or puree using fruit from the freezer.  In the morning, we toast the waffles and top them with fruit.  Our whole family LOVES these waffles; they are healthy but taste like a fabulous treat. 
  • Something in a Casserole Dish: Last I made Vegetarian Brunch Taquitos using scrambled eggs and leftover veggies.  You can enjoy the same flavors using my recipe for enchiladas.  If you have other leftovers hanging around, put them in a 9x13 glass baking dish, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate.  Pop the entire dish in the oven to reheat.  This takes less hands-on time than using the microwave to heat several dishes and usually produces a nicer result. 
  • Muffin Tin Breakfast: Use the muffin tin idea and apply it to breakfast!  Fill up the tins the night before with fresh fruit, yogurt, or cottage cheese.  In the morning, toast a piece of wheat bread, spread peanut butter on it, and cut the toast into sticks for easy eating.

Let Go
  • Cold Cereal/Granola: Allow one of the meals to be something easy that can be thrown on the table in one minute or less.  In our house, this is usually my homemade granola on top of yogurt or Cheerios with bananas. 
  • Restaurant: Sometimes I surrender and we head to a favorite local restaurant for brunch.  Andrew eats pancakes (surely made without whole wheat flour *gasp*) and Mike drinks Pepsi.  Yet we find ourselves with full tummies and more time with people we love.  Totally worth it.
  • PB&J: Do you agree that peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are great around the clock?  I love them with coffee.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Big Flavors for Little Palates: Muffin Tin Meals

Lunches frustrate me.  I get bored, the food gets monotonous, and the kids get whiny.  Let's also factor in that creating a fresh, healthy lunch in the middle of the day requires us to stop our fun activities and focus on food.  They're hungry and impatient.  I am too.

So last summer when I finally stumbled across Muffin Tin Mom, I embraced the idea to invigorate our lunchtime routines.  Armed with two pans of 6-cup muffin tins (undoubtedly inherited from my grandma), I made my first "Dippy Lunch" for Andrew.  He loved it!  These little ones love to dip things and mommas love when they eat lots of healthy it was win-win for everyone!

Left: Andrew's Dippy Lunch
Right: Anna's Munchy Lunch
How to Make a Dippy Lunch for Hungry Munchkins
  1. Start with a muffin tin.  I like to use the ones with 6 cups, but you can use anything!  Find fun shapes top fit the season, fill 12 cups with smaller portions, or fill some mini-tins with tiny portions. 
  2. Choose your dip.  For the lunch pictured above, we used Ranch dressing.  Other favorites include hummus and yogurt.
  3. Chop your veggies.  This is a great time to introduce a new veggie because the presentation is fun and they might be distracted.  I like to make a salad for my own lunch and then use those same ingredients in the muffin tin to make a "deconstructed salad" for Andrew.  To make it friendly for older babies & younger toddlers, simply steam those veggies to soften them a bit.
  4. Add something fun.  For this lunch, it was an assortment of yummy berries.  Other ideas include yogurt, apple slices, pitas, or wheat crackers.
Muffin tins can add some flair to any meal, including breakfast! My kids were happy to take a break from our typical rotation of oatmeal, granola, pancakes, oatmeal, granola....

Valentine's Day Breakfast
On this particular morning, they both enjoyed blueberries, bananas, and whole wheat cinnamon raisin toast. Andrew's toast was cut into sticks and Anna's as cut into bite-size quares.

One of our great go-to lunches in a muffin tin is:
  • Hummus on whole wheat pitas (Andrew gets triangles; Anna has small bite-size squares)
  • Carrots (Sticks for Andrew and steamed chunks for Anna)
  • Apples (Slices for Andrew and steamed chucks for Anna)
A few reasons why I love making meals (especially lunches) in muffin tins:

  • Variety - We all get stuck in food ruts.  The kids get bored eating the same foods in the same ways and we get bored when we continue to make the same things for them to eat.  Lunch is an especially difficult meal for me to execute with the kids, but the tins get my creative juices flowing again.
  • Serving sizes - Each cup is somewhere near a serving size for a toddler, give or take a little.  This forces you to think earnestly about the fruit & veggies that are going into those little tummies.
  • Quick preparation - You can easily line up a couple muffin tins to drop in little lunch bites.  This is a great place to use up the last bits of fruit, veggies, cheese, & yogurt that are hanging out in the refrigerator.  Does it seem too small for a full meal?  That little piece of leftover chicken might be the perfect size to fill a muffin cup!
  • Holiday themes - Add it to your holiday festivities by purchasing the silicon muffin tins in shapes: hearts, stars, shamrocks, trees, etc.  (My Valentine's Day heart pans came from the dollar bins at Target for only $2.50 each.)
The next time you are tired of your regular meal routines with the little ones, try using a muffin tin.  You might be surprised how your creative juices begin to flow!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Personal Chef Service: 5x4 Package

There are many great options that I offer to my customers.  Everything from freezer meals to fresh service, from catered parties to cooking demonstrations. 

One of the most popular services is what I call a 5x4 Package: The client benefits from 5 entrees/side dishes, with 4 servings of each selection.  (That is a total of 20 meals, in case you are counting!)

Each one of those meals is packaged, labelled, and tucked into their freezer.  After a busy day, my clients can come home, heat up a homemade meal, and relax.  No messy kitchen.  No pots to wash.  Virtually stress-free.

Last week I cooked for one of my newest clients and thought you might enjoy a quick peek into my day.

First, there was a car there to help me.  On this particular day, Andrew selected Flo (from the movie "Cars") to be my special helper. 

I never turn on the TV when I cook because it is too distracting.  However, this was shaping up to be a long day I yearned for a few distractions.  Imagine my glee when I found Colin Cowherd's radio show on TV!  I love listening to this guy. It's not because I have a clue what he's talking about or even an opinion on the subject; I enjoy his conviction, his wit, and his voice.  Loved it.

After a loooong day of cooking, here was the result:

5x4 Package = 20 Meals
  • Classic Meatloaf with Honey Dijon Carrots and Spinach & Wild Rice Casserole
  • Mexican Tortilla Casserole with Jalapeno Cornbread
  • Shepherd's Pie
  • Flank Steak Roll-Ups with Bacon, Roasted Green Beans, and Garlic Mashed Potatoes
  • Vegetarian Lasagna with Mediterranean Salad
I hope you enjoyed another peek into my day as a personal chef!  It's not just the cooking that I love; it's the people.  I can provide healthy, homecooked meals (and more TIME!) for people.  Truly, it is an awesome way to spend my days.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Welcome to Community Supported Agriculture!

A little note arrived in my inbox last weekend.  It held so much promise and I was just bursting to say "Yes!" as soon as I saw it. 

The email came from my favorite farmer and he invited us to buy a share in his farm's CSA.  I love the romantic notion of supporting local farmers but I also love the hint that spring could be right around the corner.  This note assures me that someone is thinking about how many crops to plant and chickens to feed.  In the middle of another gloomy and gray winter week, I am desperate to hang onto this hope for warmth and sunshine.

Right now you might be asking....

What is Community Supported Agriculture? 
"Over the last 20 years, Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) has become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer. Here are the basics: a farmer offers a certain number of "shares" to the public. Typically the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share (aka a "membership" or a "subscription") and in return receive a box (bag, basket) of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season." Source

Lovely.  Count me in.  We decided to purchase the large share from TerraVita Farms.  The box feeds 3-4 people and the average weekly cost will be $27.50.  (The full amount is due at the beginning of the season.) Last summer, I budgeted $20 for each trip to the farmer's market and then filled in gaps with additional purchases at the grocery store.  Even though $550 paid up front feels like a lot of money, it really does fall in line with our typical grocery budget for fresh veggies in the summer.

Think about the excitement every week (for 20 weeks!) when I stop by the Granville Farmer's Market to pick up our box of vegetables, eggs, honey, and flowers.  We eat tons of vegetables and we love the adventure of trying new ones, so the spirit of the unknown is quite exciting.

I love the notion of knowing that my food was grown 5 miles from my house.  Organic?  Local? Natural?  Check! Check! Check! 

Take action my friends!
Are you interested in finding your own CSA?  Please visit to find the options available in your area.  You can enter your zip code to select farms near your home.  Browse through the farms' website, learn about their farming practices, and select the right price range for you.  If you live locally and are interested in TerraVita Farms, please see their website for all of the information.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Homemade Play Dough

There is an ad on TV now that says something like: "Valentine's Day isn't about saying 'I love you,' it's about saying 'I love us.'"  I love that idea.  I love that idea more than I love a lot of the hoopla around today.

To kick off our Valentine's Day celebrations, I made Play Dough with the kids...because I love us all together.  We have tons of the store-bought kind tucked in bins and cuddled next to mini-cutters of all shapes. But that experience pales in comparison to mixing it yourself...

And selecting the perfect color...

Then squishing your hands into the warm dough...

Nothing compares. 

I still remember the smell and warmth of the Play Dough that Nana and I created in her kitchen when I was little.  It's so important that my kids have memories like that too.

Benefits of making your own Play Dough:
  • It's fun
  • Kids like to choose their own colors and add in textures like glitter or sprinkles
  • Customize the colors for the holiday or event you are celebrating
  • Avoid allergens or artificial coloring found in manufactured Play Dough
  • Last, but not least....the warm squishy dough when you knead it yourself.  Can't be beat!
Play Dough Recipe
3/4 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 1/2 teaspoons alum
1 1/2 teaspoons vegetable ooil
1/2 cup coiling water
food color, sprinkles, glitter, scents, etc (optional)

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, salt, and alum.  Add the oil and boiling water; stir until blended.  Roll the dough out onto a flat surface and knead in the color, if desired.  Cool and store in an air-tight container. 

(Note: I doubled the recipe to make enough Play Dough for the three of us to share.)

Nana's Recipe Card for Play Dough

Try the recipe, have some fun with it, and let me know what you loved most about it!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cooking with Beau & Bella

I'm cooking weekly for a new client who appreciates fresh vegetables, fine food, and healthy living.  There are new recipes to try, fabulous grocery stores to frequent, and fishmongers to befriend.  I certainly can't do this alone.  Luckily, they even supply me with some trusty sous chefs to get the job done.  Meet Beau and Bella...

They love to snack on vegetables and they come running when they smell rice.  Their inquisitive little noses make me smile throughout the day. 

Each week, I develop a new menu drawn largely from the Canyon Ranch recipe collection.  This is proving to be a fun way to expand my "usual" recipes and continue exploring healthy food options.  We have agreed on three dinners and some snacks/lunch items.  This week's menu included:
  • Turkey Medallions with Honey Chipotle Sauce, Sauteed Kale, and Potato Medley
  • Maple Glazed Sea Bass with Root Vegetables; Couscous; Arugula Salad with Walnut Vinaigrette
  • Japanese Stir-Fry Vegetables with Edamame; Mongolian BBQ Sauce
  • Pumpkin Crunch (roasted pumpkin seeds with dried cranberries...amazing!)
  • Granola
  • Winter Fruit Salad
At the end of the day, all of the food was tucked in the refrigerator and labelled with heating/serving instructions:

It's great fun to start each week with a trip to Whole Foods (out of my way and yet incredibly worth the drive!) and a day cooking in a beautiful kitchen.  Oh, and don't forget my sous chefs, Beau and Bella...they make me smile all day long!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Winter Storm Food

There is a big snow and ice storm inching its way across the Midwest right now.  My lights were flickering earlier in the evening, prompting us to search out extra flashlights and candles.  My husband asked if we should brew some coffee and keep it warm in a thermal carafe for the morning. 

Mike was half-kidding about the coffee, but it got me thinking...If the power goes out in the middle of the night, I would LOVE to have a nice hot meal to feed the kids for breakfast.  There would be enough stress trying to figure out our Plan B: packing to stay at my parents' house (they have a generator), manually opening the garage door, ensuring our pipes don't freeze, navigating the icy driveway, etc. 

Food is always on my mind, so here is my suggestion for an easy, warm meal just in case the power goes out:

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal in the Crock Pot

4 cups milk/water (I like to use 2 cups soymilk and 2 cups water)
2 cups oats
1 cup canned pumpkin puree
1/2 cup raisins
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mix all ingredients together in the Crock Pot and turn on low.  That's it.  So easy, right?

Please note...I am not a big fan of oatmeal made in the Crock Pot.  However, I absolutely love my recipe for "Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal" (we eat it all the time!) and I love the idea of a nice hot breakfast in the middle of a nasty ice storm. 

I hope this note finds you warm, safe, and nourished!


Today is my Chloe's 8th birthday!  Chloe has been through a lot and we are grateful for every birthday we get to celebrate with her. 

This is one of our favorite pictures of Chloe when she was younger.  We call it her "Senior Picture" because she is posing with her sports equipment, just like a high senior.

She picked me out right away when we first met.  When I brought her home, her tiny collar was too big for her little neck.  She was scared to leave the patio; she cried at night and I held her in my arms.  She is a friend, a playmate, a kisser of boo-boos, and a healer of sad hearts.  She is thrilled to see us everyday when we come home, she is patient when we are busy, and she is excellent at taking naps. 

To show Chloe how much we love her, I baked her a very special cake.  The primary flavor is peanut butter - her favorite.  There are also some carrots for vitamins, honey for sweetness, and vanilla for flavor.  (Any person would love to eat this cake, I am sure!) The warm peanut butter smell took over our entire kitchen and smelled so amazing. 

Here is the recipe I use for Chloe's birthday cake:

Chloe's Peanut Butter Carrot Cake

1 cup whole wheat
1 t baking soda
1/4 c peanut butter
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 c shredded carrots
1 t vanilla
1/3 cup honey
1 egg

Mix flour and baking soda in a medium bowl.  Add the remaining ingredients and stir until the batter is moistened.  Pour the batter into the cake pan.  Bake for 30 minutes.  Remove cake from pan and cool on a wire rack. 

Serving Suggestions
  • Place the cake in the dog bowl and watch their tails wag!
  • Cut into wedges and serve a little each day as a treat
  • Cut a small piece and serve with a cup of Frosty Paws
  • Use a large round cookie cutter to cut circles out of the cake, thus making smaller "Pupcakes"
  • Drizzle plain yogurt on top for the "icing" and garnish with diced bell peppers or tomatoes

Another reason why we love Chloe so much...she loves us!  Here she is giving Andrew a big ol' kiss when he was just a little guy.  Happy birthday Chloe!