Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Hey, Macaroni!

As I was searching for the perfect "macaroni" picture to accompany this blog entry, I stumbled upon a pretty amusing website that really captures the title of this blog. You can view it here, but only if you promise to come back and finish reading. :)

Anyway, Pat and I ended up having somewhat of a last minute cook out at our house last Friday. Several of Pat's friends were here from out of town so 8 of them came over and I was in charge of the cooking. With my new found cooking enthusiasm, I was really excited about this! Of course I made the potato salad recipe (which I'm quite sick of now, by the way), spinach artichoke dip, cheese, crackers and pepperoni and I also made crock pot macaroni and cheese. It's a delicious recipe that I stumbled across last year and made a few times.

When I find recipes online, I don't print them out but rather just use them right from the computer screen. If I like them, that's when I hand write the recipe onto an index card, noting any modifications I made, etc. One thing I usually forget to write on the index card is how many people the recipe serves. I couldn't remember how many servings the macaroni and cheese recipe made last year and I couldn't find the same recipe online. So I decided to be safe, I better double it. Turns out the original recipe makes more than enough for 10 people. After I doubled it, I had enough macaroni and cheese to feed a small army (or the entire population on Sweetbriar Drive). We ate it for dinner on Friday at the cook out and had some for lunch on Saturday. We took it to the lake with us on Sunday to try to get rid of it, but no one ate any. So we brought the entire dish back with us. I packed it for lunch on Monday and Pat and I both ate it for dinner on Monday night. I packed it for lunch on Tuesday and Pat and I both ate it for dinner on Tuesday night. It is safe to say, I am sick of the macaroni and cheese!

As I said, the recipe is really yummy and I always get good reviews after I make it but you can only eat so much of something before you feel like you have it coming out of your ears. Not only am I sick of eating it, I also have a few complaints about the recipe. Obviously if it's made in the crock pot, it isn't a fast recipe. It takes at least 3 hours to cook and definitely more if you use the amount of milk the recipe calls for (which I learned the hard way not to do).

I also don't like the fact that it calls for Velveeta Cheese. I was searching all over the place for this cheese at the grocery store and couldn't find it anywhere. Why wouldn't it be with all the other cheeses? I asked someone where I could find it and they took me over to the isle with the boxed meals and canned soups. Duh. Why didn't I think of that? Cheese that doesn't even have to be refrigerated...now that is scary! Doesn't quite meet the standard I've been trying to set with eating healthy. BUT...all the other macaroni and cheese recipes I've made are dry and lacking flavor. Only the fake cheese turns out moist and flavorful. Go figure!

I almost forgot my biggest complaint with this recipe. THE CLEAN UP! Oh. My. Goodness. It took me 2 days of soaking the crock pot and no less than 30 minutes of scrubbing to get it clean. Not to mention all the dishes we dirtied storing and eating the stuff (remember - it was at least 5 meals between the two of us). I have about 6 dishes in the sink right now soaking in hot, soapy water. This fake cheese really sticks to dishes! (Yes - if you were counting the days in your head, I obviously haven't cleaned a single dish since Saturday...I've said it before and I'll say it again, Betty Homemaker I am NOT).

Well I think I've talked enough about macaroni and cheese. I had no idea I had so much to say about it!

One more thing: Does anyone have any good macaroni and cheese recipes they would like to pass along?

Tonight I'm trying a new recipe! Baked Garlic Parmesan Chicken with Penne Pasta on the side. I will most definitely let you know how it goes. Until then...

Monday, June 21, 2010

Get in the kitchen and make me some: Turkey, Bacon and Guacamole Wraps

Wrap up dinner in 15 minutes with a cool turkey, bacon and "guac" sandwich.
Prep Time: 15 min
Total Time: 15 min
Makes: 4 wraps
Ingredients
1ripe avocado, pitted, peeled and mashed
1tablespoon Old El Paso® taco sauce
1/4teaspoon garlic salt
4Old El Paso® flour tortillas for burritos (8 inch; from 11-oz package)
8oz thinly sliced cooked turkey
8slices packaged precooked bacon (from 2.2-oz package)
4leaves romaine lettuce
1/4
cup drained roasted red bell peppers (from 7-oz jar), large pieces cut up

Directions







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1.
In small bowl, mix avocado, taco sauce and garlic salt. Spread about 1 tablespoon on each tortilla.
2.
Top tortillas with turkey; spread with any remaining avocado mixture. Top with bacon, lettuce and bell peppers.
3.
Fold in sides of each tortilla; roll up. Cut each in half. Serve immediately, or wrap each sandwich in plastic wrap, then refrigerate until serving or up to 24 hours.
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Okay. So I've encountered this a few times before. The recipe claims it takes "15 minutes prep time" and "15 minutes total time." BUT.... when you dig a little deeper (or actually start to make the recipe) you will soon find out that this is somewhat deceiving.

The recipe assumes that the avocado has already been pitted peeled and mashed (well that doesn't happen on it's own... someone actually has to pit it, peel it and mash it and that person is ME). Already we've added 5 minutes to the recipe.

Next, it assumes your bacon is already cooked and crumbled. I didn't know they sold pre-cooked bacon (other than bacon bits), plus, I like to cook with turkey bacon. 65% less fat than pork bacon! Pat will be the first to tell you, it doesn't taste the same as regular bacon. BUT, for those of us who can't eat whatever we want and stay skinny (or eat healthy and still not even get skinny), it's a great alternative! Okay, so now we've cooked the bacon and added an additional 15 minutes to the recipe. (I cooked extra bacon because we're also having baked potatoes with this meal and you don't have to feel nearly as guilty topping your baked potato with fat free sour cream and turkey bacon).

Instead of using the red peppers (if I had a fresh one, I would have used that versus the canned peppers) but I had neither so I'm using a tomato instead. Sounds like a good substitute, right? My husband was kind enough to cook the bacon for me (he's such a helper!) so I chopped the tomato while the bacon was cooking.

After the bacon has cooled, it's time to crumble it. If you've cooked with turkey bacon before, you know that it doesn't really crumble all that easily. So I just settle for large chunks. I'm okay with it if you are. :)

It's a good thing that I asked Pat to pick up the tortillas on his way home from work. He got "sandwich wraps" instead of "taco wraps." I had no idea there was a difference. See, I'm such a rookie! I put the wraps in the microwave for 30-40 seconds between two damp paper towels, as indicated on the package, so that they wrap a little easier.

Where I saved calories and fat by using turkey bacon, I made up for them by adding shredded cheddar cheese to the wrap. I would do it again, too. It definitely added a lot (of taste that is, and calories and fat...)

I'm beginning to really understand the phrase "too many cooks in the kitchen." After his years of experience at the Old World Deli in Brunswick, Pat considers himself to be a true sandwich artist (I'm not saying I disagree) so he is a bit of a control freak when it comes to making sandwiches, wraps, tacos, etc. For this reason, I let him do the wrapping and I simply took notes (and pictures). I must say, he does fold a pretty mean wrap.

The baked potatoes didn't turn out quite the way I was hoping, but they were still pretty good. The crust wasn't as crispy as I had planned and even with the sour cream and bacon, they still tasted like they were missing something (like salt). Maybe I didn't poke enough holes in them (which by the way, was great therapy) or maybe I didn't leave them in long enough. I baked them for 45 minutes at 400 degrees.

The wraps on the other hand, were Delicious with a capital D! With a thumbs up and a roll of his eyes, Pat admitted that he loved the wraps even WITH the turkey bacon! He did quickly add that they would have been even better with real bacon. Nonetheless, we both HIGHLY recommend this recipe.

AND...the mashed avocado with taco sauce and garlic salt is actually a great, simple guacamole recipe. I've never made guacamole before so I have no idea what ingredients are normally included, but this was a really easy and quite tasty recipe. I wrote out a separate recipe card just for the guacamole dip.

Nothing like starting the week off with a new, delicious recipe!

Questions for the cooks:

Any suggestions for the perfect baked potato with a crispy crust and delicious inside?
How do you make your guacamole?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Life is short but sweet for certain"

It's a beautiful day today. Not nearly as hot as yesterday. The sun is shining and the birds are chirping. I'm sitting out on our deck (oh the joys of laptops and Wi-Fi) and literally, soaking it all in. The trees and flowers are in full bloom and all I see when I look around is bright green. Sometimes he's so quiet I forget he's there, but my loyal companion, Grady, is right here laying beside me.

Life has been so busy for us lately that I can't remember the last time I was able to just come outside, sit down and relax and really appreciate all the wonderful things in our life. We have such a big, beautiful backyard. It feels like our own little park. After all the houses we looked at in this area, I know a yard this size isn't common and we are so lucky to have it.

We spent yesterday with my Mom and Mark and had a wonderful time. We'll be spending this afternoon with Pat's family and my Dad. We are so lucky to have so many wonderful people in our lives. It's Father's Day and I feel lucky that I have two dad's and Pat has one. There are many who can't say the same. In fact, all three of our father's can't wish their dad a Happy Father's Day today.

After spending last weekend at a funeral of my friend's 29 year-old husband, I was reminded of how lucky I am that Pat and I are both healthy. My heart breaks for the wife he left behind who has to come to terms with the fact that she waited her whole life to meet him, fall in love with him and then spend the rest of her life with him but their lifetime together was taken away from them so abruptly due to cancer. I can't even imagine if that happened to Pat. One day he seems healthy, the next day he's in the ER finding out that he has cancer that has spread everywhere and doesn't have much time to live. A week and a half later, he is gone. How do you move on from that? When her one-year anniversary arrives in July and she is spending it alone, how does she cope with that pain? I guess like anything in life, you do it one day at a time. I pray for her every night. And as selfish as it sounds, I also pray for me. I pray that I never have to know what life without Pat would feel like. I know what life before Pat felt like and I know how wonderful life with Pat is and I can only imagine how painful life without Pat would be. I hope I never have to find out.

I wish I could stay in this moment forever. Where I'm not worrying about small, insignificant details in life. I'm not holding grudges or letting negativity fester inside of me. I'm looking at life from a much different angle, focusing only on what really matters: living and loving fully. Maybe it's by allowing yourself this time of silence and self-reflection that keeps you in this mindset. Whatever it is, I want to figure it out so I can spend more of my life like this. After all, we are reminded every day of how very short life can be. Let's live with no regrets.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Get in the kitchen and make me some: Potato Salad

"<span class=

"Healthified" Classic Potato Salad

53% fewer calories • 74% less fat • 75% less sat fat than the original recipe—see the comparison. Feel good about passing this slimmed salad at picnics and potlucks!


Prep Time: 30 min Total Time: 1 hr 30 min Servings: 8 servings (3/4 cup each)
Ingredients
  • Salad
  • 6 medium red potatoes (2 lb), unpeeled
  • 2 hard-cooked eggs, chopped
  • 2 medium stalks celery, thinly sliced (1 cup)
  • 1 medium onion, chopped (1/2 cup)
  • Dressing
  • 3/4 cup reduced-fat mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon yellow mustard
  • 1 teaspoon cider vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
Directions
  1. Place potatoes in 4-quart saucepan; add enough water just to cover potatoes. Heat to boiling. Reduce heat to low; cover and simmer 20 to 30 minutes or until tender. Drain; let stand until cool enough to handle. Cut potatoes into cubes.

  2. In large bowl, place potatoes, eggs, celery and onion; toss gently to mix. In small bowl, mix dressing ingredients until well blended.

  3. Add dressing to potato mixture; toss gently to coat. Cover; refrigerate at least 1 hour or until serving time.

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My first impression after making this recipe is that it takes waaaay too long. It took me an hour and a half! (Which, upon further review, is exactly how long the recipe said it would take). Going to the store and buying a cheap container of potato salad seems A LOT easier. But I digress....

Okay, first step: boil the redskin potatoes and the eggs. Not too difficult, if of course, you know how long you're supposed to boil eggs and I do not. So I have to google it. Source says put eggs in cold water, bring to a boil, reduce to low, simmer for 1 minute, remove from heat and cover for 10-12 minutes. That's what I did. To a T. And guess what? They aren't done! I'm pretty sure hard boiled eggs aren't supposed to be bright yellow. Oh well. I'm using them anyway!

While I'm letting the eggs and potatoes cool, I start chopping the celery. What knife should you use to cut celery? I always struggle with choosing the right knife. "Thinly sliced," the recipe says. Well that's kind of a subjective statement, don't you think? What exactly does thinly sliced mean? Mine doesn't even look sliced. It looks chopped.

Okay, so now I'm supposed to cut the potatoes into cubes. What sized cubes are we talking about? I'm trying to remember how big the potatoes usually are in potato salad, but I don't eat it that often because I hate onions (side note - the beauty of making homemade potato salad is that I can omit the onions). Okay, so the skin of the redskin potatoes is completely coming off as I'm "cubing." Is that normal?

Next I mix up the dressing. Impressive. I didn't screw it up! BUT... I came VERY close to just dumping the mayonnaise right into the potatoes instead of mixing it with the other sauce ingredients separately. Probably wouldn't have done too much damage, but another example of how I (almost) screw up following directions in recipes. Now I put it in the refrigerator for an hour and wait for my guinea pig, I mean my husband Pat, to get home and try it.

Questions for the Martha Stewart's out there:

How do you boil eggs?
What knife would you have used to cut the celery and/or potatoes?
How would you have cubed the redskin potatoes?

Pat's Review:

"It was awesome." And a big thumbs up! That's what I like to see.

My Review:

Definitely worth the time it took to make. You would NEVER know it was made with low fat/fat free ingredients. If you invite me to a picnic this summer...I will bring you some. :)

Thursday, June 10, 2010

I am a very goal oriented person, as some of you may know. In addition to the thrill I get out of planning, making lists and crossing things off, I also enjoy setting goals for myself and trying to obtain them. I've set a few goals recently that I'd like to share with you. Not only because you might find them interesting, but also because by actually writing them out and making them public, I know that I will hold myself more accountable for them. Also, many of the goals will in one way or another shape and impact the things I write about in this blog.

Goal #1: Make one new recipe each week

Sounds easy, right? In theory, it probably should be. But I make everything more complicated than it needs to be. I don't like to go to the grocery store more than once a week. Maybe you think that's weird or maybe you agree with me but regardless, when I make a trip to the grocery store, I want it to be a well thought-out trip that involves a detailed list of everything I know I'm going to need or want for the next week. That means I need to know every recipe I plan to make and the ingredients needed for each. This requires me to actually look through my recipe books (and my new favorite online community - BettyCrocker.com) and choose a new recipe to try (as well as choosing from my old recipes).

So once the new recipe is picked out, the grocery list is made and the items are purchased, making the new recipe is easy, right? Wrong. Again, it's my nature to make things complicated. Nine times out of ten, I screw up a recipe (new or old). Sometimes it's a big screw up to the point where even Pat doesn't even like the meal (and that's saying A LOT) and other times its a minor detail like putting 1 tablespoon of oregano into the sauce instead of 1 teaspoon - not life or death but might be a little on the spicy side (and let's be honest - those tablespoon and teaspoon symbols are confusing, seriously). Regardless of the mistake, I almost always make one. This is where goal #2 comes in...

Goal #2: Blog about my experience trying my new recipes

Maybe being in the kitchen with me wouldn't be as funny as it is in my head, but some crazy stuff happens when I try to cook. It's funny because I'm a great multi-tasker in many areas of my life (if I do say so myself), but cooking is not one of those areas. For each additional item I try to cook, while also cooking something else, the odds of my screwing up one or all of them increases dramatically. There will be no shortage of trials and tribulations to share with you after my attempt to cook one new recipe a week. Most of it goes on in my head, without ever sharing it with anyone, so it will be fun for me to actually put it on paper (or on virtual paper in this blog). This goal feeds (no pun intended) nicely into goal #3..

Goal #3: Do more blogging (and journaling)!

I have ALWAYS had a journal or diary for as long as I could write. Once I did away with the paper version of my journal, I started this blog to fill it's place. Well in all honesty, I probably need both. There are things that I would love to journal about but would never want to make public. But the reality is, I haven't been doing either. I haven't been expressing myself through my blog or a journal in months. Actually, before my last entry, it was an entire year that had gone by between blog entries. The lack of writing and self expression means I've probably been bottling up and holding in a lot of emotions, which is not healthy for anyone, but is definitely not healthy for me. I've always felt better about things after I've written about them. This is not to say there are things going on in my life that are bogging me down or holding me back, because I am in an extremely positive and happy place right now. But even happy people need an outlet.

Goal #4: Work hard to obtain a "good dog"

"Good dog" is obviously a subjective term so please let me explain what I mean. I have truly missed out on 11 months of good blogging material. Raising this puppy has been one heck of a roller coaster and we're not done yet. Every week, sometimes every day, has been filled with unique, and I do mean unique, puppy challenges. Before picking Grady up from the breeder, I read cover to cover, three puppy books and did hours of research online. The recipe for a perfect dog, right? Wrong. Nowhere in the puppy books did it address "what to do if your dog swallows your socks and underwear whole." They all had plenty of things to do when your dog jumps. We've done them all and then some and guess what? Our dog still jumps. But I can't completely blame him, who must have known I was "talking" bad about him because he just jumped off the couch to come lick me (suck up). Pat and I have to take a lot of the blame for his behavior. We're very inconsistent with our training and correction. Well not anymore! We are committed to having a good dog and are going to work hard to get him there. Like any parent, though, I still don't think he's that bad. After all, he's mine! :) Nonetheless, we again have some great blogging material just waiting to happen, I'm sure.

I have several other goals like saving more money and spending less, keeping a cleaner house, working out more, etc. I have a feeling those goals aren't going to change over the next 30 years or so. :) But I have no kids so I really don't have an excuse. If I feel broke now, I can't imagine how broke I am going to feel when I have kids. And if I can't find the time to fit a workout routine into my schedule now, B.C. (before children), I'm sure as heck not going to be able to work it in later. So if not now, then when?

My New Year's resolution was to count calories. Five months later and I'm still going strong. I've noticed a big difference in my eating habits, my body and my weight since I started. I've lost 8 pounds so far. Not too shabby, ay? Here's to 10 more!

I'm trying my new recipe of the week, "Healthified Potato Salad," so I better get off of this computer and focus or else my next entry is going to be about how I ruined the hard boiled eggs and the red skin potatoes because I left them on the stove too long. I'll let you know how it goes.