Friday, March 24, 2017

Easy Layered Lasagna


I think that Lasagna is one of the greatest of all the comfort foods. I love it, my family loves it, but it is just too darn much work.  You have to make the meat sauce, make the cheese mixture, cook the pasta (which I always mess up) - then you still have to assemble the lasagna and Then bake it. 

And don't even get me started on the frozen stuff.  How does it even call itself lasagna. 


so here is this fantastic recipe for quick lasagna. I used the Very Veggie pasta sauce from the freezer, so all I did was mix the cheese up and cook the pasta. I made pretty authentic tasting lasagna in the time it took to boil the shells (11 minutes). 


Ingredients : 

16 oz. small shell pasta

1 package Very Veggie spaghetti sauce

24 oz. container cottage cheese
4 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
2 Tbsp Italian seasoning



Directions :

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Cook the pasta to al dente, about 9 minutes. 

In the meantime, put a bag of your frozen pasta sauce in the sink or a bowl of warm water to thaw. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine cottage cheese, the shredded mozzarella cheese, Parmesan cheese, and Italian seasoning.

Now warm up your pasta sauce, you can do it on the stove top, or in the microwave. 

When you are ready to serve it, assemble it with pasta on the plate, then top with a scoop of the cheese mixture and then pour the hot pasta sauce over the top. (the hot sauce will make the cheese all melty and delicious)

You can add more parmesan cheese on the top and you are all set to eat the masterpiece that is lasagna. 


Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cinnamon Biscuits with Strawberries


When we went to Las Vegas ((Vegas, Baby!!)) for our anniversary last month, on the last morning there we ate the cutest little hipster breakfast place.  Only served breakfast, Full of hipsters. 

Joseph had the most fantastic huevos rancheros type of something ( it has PEAS in it!) and it was really good. I read the restaurant reviews and everyone said to get their cinnamon biscuits with strawberry compote. 

As much as I like to thing that I do things differently than the crowd, I have also realized that when people say something is delicious, it most like IS!


And they were good, they were really good. If I went again, I would totally get the huevos rancheros, but that is only because I tried making these at home, and turns out. They are just as delicious at home. 

They are so EASY and you have got to make them. Don't be scared of the words "Strawberry Compote"  it really just means cooked strawberries.  These also remind me of my very favorite Strawberry Shortcake, which is made with a sweet drop biscuit and then topped with strawberries and a little bit of honey.  I don't like angel food cake, it is just too sweet and fluffy and yuck. 

Not to be bossy, but you need to make these. And strawberries are just coming into season.  


I used the new Frozen Biscuit dough, because it was so easy and I really like the evenness in how they turn out. 


Ingredients: 

Biscuits
2.5 cups all-purpose flour (plus a little bit for dusting)
1 tsp salt
2 Tbsp sugar
4 tsp baking powder
1 Tbsp Cinnamon
1 pint heavy whipping cream ( Yes, this can seem like a very expensive ingredient - but it replaces and expensive ingredient - butter. And does a much better job of being evenly distributed.

Compote
3 cups very ripe diced strawberries
2 tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
2-3 tbsp sugar



Instructions:

To start your biscuits:

Preheat the oven to 400ºF.

In a large bowl, stir together the flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder until well combined.

Pour in the heavy cream and stir until a sticky ball of dough forms. Sprinkle the dough generously with flour and then turn the dough out onto a floured surface.

Gently knead the dough 2-3 times, or just until the dough feels mixed and has enough flour that it is no longer sticky. Avoid over working the dough.

Gently pat the dough down into a 6x8 rectangle, then fold it in half. Repeat this two more times. Folding the dough in this manner helps create layers within the biscuits.

After folding, pat the dough down into a 6x8 rectangle one final time. The dough should be about one inch thick. Cut the dough into 12 squares.

To bake the biscuits, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment.

Once the oven is preheated, bake the biscuits until puffed up tall and deep golden brown on top. Depending on your oven and size of the biscuits, it should take about 16-20 minutes.

While your Biscuits are baking, make your compote:

Place the strawberries, lemon juice, and 2 tbsp. of the sugar in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.

Use a potato masher to smash them a bit and release some of their juices. Bring them to a simmer, then cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Taste, adding a little more sugar if necessary.  Let cool as long as it takes for you biscuits to finish baking.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

5 Habits of Healthy Eaters


I loved it when I turned 30, I said "Good-Bye" to the insecurities and frantic feelings of my 20 and embraced the fact that I had made it through trying to survive my entry into adulthood. 

When I turned 40 last year, I felt the exact same way. I loved leaving the pressure to be "The Perfect ____" anything and really gave myself to enjoying the process and the journey that life is. I figured half my life was over and it was time to really start enjoying every single day. 

But I'll be honest with you, I really do wish that I learned the power of good habits sooner.  I wish that I had set into place the habits that would make things that I struggle with now a little bit easier (like going to be early, or taking walk when I feel moody, or writing thank you notes)

I especially wish that I had started my healthy food habits earlier.  I don't want to say that I "regret" because I don't.  I wouldn't be who I am, or have the strong convictions that I do without the life experiences that got me here. And although that doesn't make sense really, I do want to share with you some habits that I am working on now, that will hopefully make me happier and healthier in the future and give my family and my kids a great foundation to build a healthy happy future on. 

1. Eat Real Food : In our modern US society, the rate of obesity and the rise of chronic disease have increased at the same rate that our consumption of processed food.  I am going to let you make you own assumptions after that. 

So probably not a one of us could honestly say that we think Cheetos are "good for you", but what exactly IS "real food". 

Michael Pollan (an advocate for healthy eating) recommends that you don't eat anything that your great-grandparents wouldn't recognize as food.  But that means that my great-grandparents who lived their whole lives in the high Rocky Mountains, probably wouldn't recognize sushi or my beloved curry, perhaps even everyday fruits like bananas. That seems extremely restricting considering lots of our great-grandparents only ate what was grown locally and in season. My husband would miss seafood so badly. 

So what can we say is "Real Food".  Some people say anything that you can buy in its natural state, and some say anything without an ingredients list, and others say, foods with less than 5 ingredients. 

I prefer to just say, buy as good of food as you can afford.  If you can't afford peaches in the middle of winter, but you love them desperately, then buy frozen.  If you want to use butternut squash in a recipe instead of buying the pre-cut (and preserved) kind, buy a whole one and prepare it yourself. 

If you are just making the transition to rice, and you kids find it super strange, then buy the white rice, then mix it 1/2 and 1/2 and then use brown rice. Healthy food is only good for you if you actually Eat it. 

So go as "Real" as you can. Try to limit how food has been processed and preserved and just don't worry about the rest. It is better to do the best than you can, than to do nothing at all because you can't be perfect. 

2. Develop Good Shopping Habits:  Retail therapy has got to be the absolute worst anti-therapy out there. Yes, stores are designed to make you walk although through them to get to the milk and the eggs. Flashy displays, enticing placement, and the seasonal candy front and center as you walk in, make it very hard not to just throw things into your cart and they cry at home later. 

I have spent more shopping trips that I would care to admit to, filling my cart with junk food and impulse buys only to realize when I got home that I had spent twice as much money as I should have and now we are going to have to make cuts in the budget to be able to pay for the other bills. That is absolutely no way to have "therapy". 

But if you are going to be preparing and eating healthy food at home, you need to actually go to the store and buy food.  Our family has a system that works for us.  I browse the store ads and make a menu plan and grocery list. Then early on Saturday morning Joseph does all the grocery shopping. He always buys everything on the list, he never buys things like the cupcakes they put right in front of the milk case, and he actually is really speedy, but I think that is just because he is a speedy walker. 

Find a system that works for you. Maybe shopping late at night after you kids are in bed and the store is nice and quiet.  Maybe doing a grocery store pick-up keeps you on budget. Make a plan when you aren't hungry, aren't in the store, and aren't under any pressure and stick to it. Then assess how adjust your plan to what isn't working and what might better. Pretty soon you'll end up with an amazing shopping habit, that will provide you with the fresh healthy ingredients that you need and will be friendly to your budget. 

and YES!! a husband that does all the grocery shopping IS the best thing in the world! 

3. Eat Good Carbs: You body needs fuel to run and that is exactly what carbs are. They don't make you fat, they aren't the devil and they aren't going to make you die. But they are probably the easiest thing to eat that is bad for you. Chips! Processed Cookies! Soda Pop! Cake! Candy! - Yeah, you probably shouldn't be eating those things. 

But putting them in the same group as whole grain bread, brown rice, oats, nuts, beans is just bonkers. 

The word carbohydrate is really the measurement of your body burning fuel for energy. And just saying that any food that provides carbs is bad, is confusing, mislead and frankly just wrong. 

Eat more good carbs and eat less bad carbs.  Not sure which is which... read your nutrition label.  Look at fiber, sugars and nutrients, it will also list carbs, but keep in mind that the carbohydrates in a apple and a twinky are Not the same. 

4. Eat Good Fats: Good fats help your body absorb and process all those nutrient rich foods. They also have good nutrients in them as well.  I remember growing up that I loved avocados. We didn't buy them very often because they were so expensive and food money was tight. But I remember my mom saying, "that's okay, they are full of fat and you shouldn't eat them very often anyway." 

We have been so brain-washed by the low-fat, no fat media that we can't imagine any fat, not making us.. well, "Fat". 

Fats contribute to the feeling of being satisfied after you have eaten. Let's be honest, they make lots of things take so darn good.  Take for example - Popcorn. I fed my kids bags and bag of microwave popcorn for years. It was a snack they could make themselves and it was pretty cheap. As I learned more from Food $ense, I became really uncomfortable with all the chemicals in something as simple as popcorn. So I bought a microwave air popper, It is really just a bowl with a loose fitting lid, and when my kids make popcorn, I let them melt a little butter and put salt on it.  What?! How dare I add butter AND salt to my air popped most natural popcorn. Because it tastes good, that's why. And allowing my kids (and myself) to make a bowl of popcorn and adding a bit of butter and salt (we've had to talk about how much) is way better than a bag of chips, better than movie theater butter microwave popcorn and it really is just as delicious. In this case, eating a fat makes things a lot better. 

5. Mindful Eating: This one came about because of our 14 year old.  He is a bigger kid and he loves food. He loves to try everything and things taste so good to him.  He is totally my kid and we love to eat.  But as we were sitting down to dinner, both Joseph and I noticed that he would eat a plate of food, dish himself up again and be done with a second before most of us were done with our first.  He was eating so fast, bent over his plate just moving his fork as fast as he could. 

I got a lot of help from Joseph on this one, since he had this problem himself. We are working on helping our son, put his fork down between bites, taking time to engage in the dinner table conversation, and chew his bite completely before he takes another one. 

This is not exactly all there is to Mindful Eating, so I am going to share a post with that my friend Candi wrote for her Eat Well Utah blog.  It is all about mindful eating, why it is SO important and how you can get started doing it. 


Some of these may be habits you already have, so might be ones you can never imagine being able to do. Perhaps take one and begin to incorporate it for a month, then add another. Maybe take one that you feel will have the biggest impact in your life and begin with that one. Remember there are not bad steps forward, and we are all going to slip, but it is all about keeping trying because even one good choice is better than doing nothing at all.  

Friday, March 17, 2017

Power Packed Fruit and Veggie Muffins


I have been wanting to make these muffins for a while, but Let's be honest, you have to work up a certain amount of bravery to put broccoli in a blender and then add it to a muffin. 

Turns out there was nothing to be afraid of!  These were so delicious.  I doubled the recipe when I made it, because so many of the ingredients called for a half of this, or a half of that. My kids ate the first 18 muffins right when they came out of the oven. Joseph was so impressed he took a plate over to his parent's house and the next day was Sunday, and that finished them up. 36 muffins in a day and a half. That has GOT to be a new record, even for us. 


I am going to post this recipe a bit different. I am going to list all the ingredients here - and then walk you through some photos of me making the muffins.  Then add the end, I'll post the recipe with ingredients and instructions in its entirety. That way, you can see my blender broccoli and not be totally freaked out when you see yours. 


Ingredients : 
1 cup flour, whole wheat
1 cup flour, all-purpose
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoon butter, unsalted
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup broccoli, florets
1 medium zucchini
1 1/2 medium carrot
1/2 medium apple
1 medium banana
1/8 cup apple juice
1/4 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/4 cup yogurt, plain




I started out by getting all my ingredients out on the counter. I like to bake this way, instead of getting each one out as I need it. I shredded my carrots with my tiniest shredder and I peeled the zucchini before I shredded it.


Next it was time to mix the dry ingredients together. I did this in my largest bowl, since this is the place that everything gets added to at the end.  I also always mix my dry ingredients together. I think it is really important to mix all the spices evenly through the flour mixture and also to get you baking agents like soda or powder to be evenly distributed so your muffins will rise equally. 


This is my sugar, eggs, vanilla and butter. I used a hand mixer for this because I think it really makes a difference in the texture of the eggs and butter to have them beaten light and bubbly. Be sure your butter is nice and soft - get is as soft as you can without getting it too melty. It is important as part of the liquid balance in the muffins. 


For those of you that make Popeye Smoothies this is probably a totally normal sight. But I was prepared to completely grossed out by it. Actually it just smelled like apples and tasted like banana. And the only sign there was broccoli was in it was the tiny little flowers that looked like dots. If you ask me, that is lots less scary that strips of unpeeled zucchini.  I decided this was nothing that I should have been worried about at all. 

You add your blender to your wet ingredients, stir and then add those wet ingredients to your dry. Stir just until incorporated and bake. 

Ready for the recipe? 
 

Ingredients :
1 cup flour, whole wheat
1 cup flour, all-purpose
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 cup sugar
4 tablespoon butter, unsalted
2 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup broccoli, florets
1 medium zucchini
1 1/2 medium carrot
1/2 medium apple
1 medium banana
1/8 cup apple juice
1/4 cup applesauce, unsweetened
1/4 cup yogurt, plain


Instructions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

In a large bowl, mix together flours, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon. Set aside.

Soften butter. (remember, soft, but not melty)

In a smaller bowl, with your hand mixer (or your strong arms) mix the sugar, butter, eggs and vanilla.
Beat well.

In a food processor, combine steamed broccoli, zucchini, apple, banana, apple juice, and applesauce.

Pulse until thoroughly mixed. (Don't make it a smoothie - just so it is all "smooth" that makes no sense until you try it)

Shred carrots.  If you don’t want the shreds in your muffin, combine your carrots with the rest of the fruits and veggies in the food processor. I added my carrots to the wet mixture so they would stay in shreds, my kids are really familiar with carrots in muffins (and cake) so it was very normal to them, if your kids might be timid, go ahead and blend them.

Combine the fruit and veggies, carrots, and yogurt, into the wet ingredient mixture sugar/butter/eggs) and beat until mixed.

Finally, add the dry ingredients and mix just until combined and wet.

In a muffin tin, place muffin papers or spray with cooking spray.

Scoop the mixture into a prepared muffin pan.  Fill each spot about 3/4 of the way full.

** For mini muffins: Bake in a 350 oven for 15-20 minutes for mini-muffins

**For regular size muffins: Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes.

Bake until the tops are slightly brown and a toothpick comes out clean or they bounce back when you touch them with your finger.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Very Veggie Spaghetti Sauce


One of the first things that I gave up when I became a Food $ense devotee, was store bought spaghetti sauce. I use spaghetti sauce quite a bit, it is my go-to meal whenever something goes amiss or I need a night off, or I really just want to make something that all the kids will eat without fussing at me. 

When I read the ingredients on my store bought sauce, I was so disappointed in all the sugar and preservatives in it. I thought I was buying tomatoes and spices.  I felt a little bit betrayed by the Italian Grandma on the jar. (just kidding, we always buy the cheap stuff in the can!) 

So I set out to make my own spaghetti sauce and it was so easy and successful, I haven't bought the store stuff ever again. 

When I decided to try adding more veggies to the sauce, I also wanted to make it in bigger batches, so that I could put it in the freezer and have a whole bunch on hand.  You guys are going to love this. The sauce is even more amazing that my original sauce, and I stuffed so many veggies in this, and no one said a single word.  They Loved IT!! - Now spaghetti night becomes not only easy and fast, but super super good for you. Need I say, "WIN!!" 



First thing you are going to need is the recipe for my original spaghetti sauce.  Here it is. 

But I am also going to include the recipe here, so that we have it all in one convenient place. 

 Ingredients for Original Sauce:

1 tablespoon butter1 tablespoon olive oil2 cloves minced garlic1 (10 ounce) can diced tomatoes with green chilies (Ro-Tel)2 (15 ounce) cans tomato sauce2 tablespoons sugar (please adjust to your taste)1/2 teaspoon basil1/2 teaspoon oregano1/2 teaspoon black pepper1/2 teaspoon salt1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (please adjust to your taste)

Ingredients to Add for Very Veggie Sauce: 

1 lb. ground beef, browned
½ small white onion, chopped
2 carrot sticks, peeled and grated

1 small zucchini, grated
1 bell pepper diced into very small cubes
10 white button mushrooms - diced small



Instructions:

In a large skillet  add both your butter and your olive oil, after that has warmed a few seconds, add the garlic and the onion and cook it for a few minutes. When they start to get really fragrant, add your ground beef and cook it until is is browned and cook all the way though. If needed, drain your ground beef and get ready to make your sauce. 

Transfer your ground beef to a large stock pot and add your cans of tomato sauce and your can of diced chilies and tomatoes. 

Then add your spices, and all your chopped veggies. It is good to prep these before hand if you are in a hurry or you can let your sauce simmer gently on the stove while you prep your veggies. 

Once you add your veggies you are going to want to simmer your sauce at least 15 minutes depending on the size of your chopped veggies. You really want them to be tender and not crunchy carrot sticks when you eat your sauce - it should all be "saucy" 


** if you are going to freeze some of this - which I highly recommend - let your sauce cool on the stove for a half hour or so, and then scoop the servings into individual freezer bags to cool down the rest of the way. They will cool much faster if they are separated.  Be sure you label your bags and put dates on them 

The sauce will keep wonderfully for 6 months in your freezer.  or up to 12 months if you have a deep freeze.  

When you are ready to use it, thaw it over night in your fridge, or if you are wanting something quick, put it in a bowl of warm water for 20 minutes and then heat up on the stove or in the microwave.