Thursday, January 31, 2013

Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

A rotisserie chicken was the inspiration for this meal. I was at the grocery store around 5 pm trying to get groceries for tonight's meal (never a fun predicament to be in) when a saw the cooked rotisserie chicken calling my name. I really should cook with this chicken more often. They are reasonably priced, convenient as can be, super tasty and so versatile. I used most of the meat in this soup, and then made chicken salad out of the rest of it which will be great in tomorrow's lunch. As for the soup, it was a nice change of pace from the chicken wild rice and chicken dumpling soup I usually make. I love anytime I can cook with fresh ginger - I think it makes this soup. Asian Chicken Noodle Soup was warm and satisfying on this bitter cold day.


Asian Chicken Noodle Soup

1/2 tsp oil
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp black pepper
2-3 carrots, peeled and cut into thin strips 
1 bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger

2 c shredded, cooked chicken
2 Tbsp soy sauce
2 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 c water
32 oz chicken stock
1 pkg ramen noodles*
1/2 c chopped green onions
cilantro (optional) for garnish

In a soup pot, heat oil, salt, pepper, carrots, bell pepper, garlic and ginger over medium-high heat for 5-10 minutes. Add chicken, soy sauce, rice vinegar, water and chicken stock and simmer for 10 minutes. Break ramen noodles in half and add to simmering pot. Add green onions and cook for 5 minutes more. Serve with additional green onions or cilantro for a garnish.
*I only used the noodles and threw away the seasoning packet but you could certainly add part of it to give the soup a stronger flavor.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Buttermilk Bran Muffins

If your kids are like mine, they could probably snack their way through the entire day and skip meals altogether. We reached the height of our bad snacking habits a couple of months (part of the reason I started blogging again) and realized the snacks that Vaida was eating every day had up to 20 ingredients listed on them. I took a step back and realized the food she was choosing to eat was overly processed and it was my fault since I bought the foods. Now our goal for the day is to eat a big breakfast - no morning snack - lunch - a healthy snack around 3-4:00 - dinner at 6:00. Instead of buying our "snack foods" in the cracker and cereal isles at the grocery store I have been trying to make them at home. For our afternoon snack we do a lot of yogurt, fruit, banana bread, pumpkin bread, blueberry muffins, and today's recipe: bran muffins. I love this recipe! They are super moist from the buttermilk and very filling since they are made with All Bran cereal. Vaida loves that they are mini sized (and also that she can spread her favorite food, butter, on them) and I love that they are a snack that I can pronounce all of the ingredients to.

Buttermilk Bran Muffins

1 c boiling water
2 c All Bran cereal
1/4 c butter
1/4 c unsweetened applesauce
1 c sugar
2 eggs
2 c buttermilk
2 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 c all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1 c All Bran cereal

Mix boiling water and 2 cups All Bran cereal in a bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl combine butter, sugar, applesauce and eggs. Add buttermilk. Next add baking soda, flours, and salt. Add the All Bran/boiling water mixture. Lastly, stir in 1 cup of dry All Bran cereal. Fill your greased mini-muffin tin 3/4 of the way with batter and bake at 400 for 10 minutes. Freeze leftovers. : ) 
Recipe from

Monday, January 28, 2013

Italian Sausage & Tortellini Soup

Soup, honestly, has to be the most comforting food there is. It is no secret that it is my favorite meal! I think what makes soup so appealing is that you can be creative and take chances. You can also taste along the way and make adjustments to suit your taste. If you like a thin soup - add more broth; thick soup - add potatoes or flour. If you want to try a new vegetable out on your family, soup is a great place to introduce it. The first time I had rutabaga and kale it was by adding it to a soup. This soup has my name all over it. I just put all of my favorites in the pot: a lightly creamy base, spicy Italian sausage, tomato, spinach, garlic, Parmesan cheese and pasta. What's not to like?

Italian Sausage & Tortellini Soup

1 lb hot Italian sausage
1 Tbls olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper
32 oz chicken broth
14 oz diced tomato
1 chicken bullion cube
3-4 sprigs fresh thyme
1/4 c Parmesan cheese, shredded (plus additional for garnish)
1 c half & half
2 c baby spinach
2 1/2 c frozen or fresh cheese tortellini

In a stock pot, brown Italian sausage. Drain the grease and set sausage aside. Add olive oil, onion, garlic, salt and pepper to stock pot and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes stirring occasionally. Add chicken broth, tomato, bullion cube and thyme and simmer on low for 10-15 minutes. Add sausage back to the soup along with Parmesan cheese, half & half and spinach. Bring soup back up to a simmer before adding tortellini. Simmer soup for an additional 5-10 minutes or until tortellini is cooked through. Serve with additional Parmesan cheese on top.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Golden Wheat Pancakes

For the past year our daughter's favorite meal has been pancakes. At first I was thrilled to find a meal she would devour. Then I realized there were very few nutrients in the basic pancakes I was making and it didn't sit well with me. I started getting creative and tweaking the recipe every week. First of all, I switched the all-purpose flour to whole wheat flour. I also switched to pure maple syrup instead of the corn syrup based ones I had been buying (without even realizing they didn't contain actual maple syrup).  Next I substituted unsweetened applesauce for the vegetable oil. I use a buttermilk recipe and have found I can substitute regular milk and Greek yogurt, when I have some on hand, for extra protein. I've successfully added pureed pumpkin and beets; flax seed, walnuts, pecans, apples with cinnamon, bananas and blueberries. Use the recipe below as a starting point and get creative. You will be surprised how healthy of a meal pancakes can be!

Golden Wheat Pancakes

(Double the recipe below and stock your freezer with leftover pancakes.)

1 egg, beaten
1 c buttermilk*
2 Tbls unsweetened applesauce
1 c whole wheat flour
1 Tbls sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt

Whisk the wet ingredients in one bowl and the dry ingredients in another. Pour the dry ingredients into the wet and whisk until combined. (Batter may still be lumpy).

 - At this point you can add in any of the following ingredients:
  • 1/2 c. pureed pumpkin + 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 c. pureed beets
  • 1-2 Tbls of ground flax seed
  • 1 mashed banana (omit the sugar if you add this)
  • 1/2 apple, peeled and diced + 1 tsp cinnamon
Topped with frozen wild blueberries
Let batter sit 5-10 minutes before ladling onto a hot griddle.
(If you are adding chopped nuts or blueberries, I pour about 3/4 c. of batter onto my griddle and then sprinkle each pancake with nuts or blueberries.)
Wait for pancakes to form bubbles and then flip to cook the other side.

 *If you do not have buttermilk you can substitute 1 cup milk + dash of lemon juice. I have also substituted the buttermilk with a 1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt + 1/2 cup milk .

Tip: For pancakes with a beautiful golden color, use a nonstick griddle with NO butter or grease on it. The pancakes pictured below on the left are an example of NOT using butter while the pancakes on the right were cooked on a buttered surface.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Beef & Bok Choy Lettuce Wraps

I am sure I had never heard of a lettuce wrap, let alone try one, until I moved to the twin cities area as a young adult. When I first saw people eating them as an appetizer at a restaurant I was so confused. Eating meat-filled lettuce with your hands? You have to admit, it would seem a bit odd to a "meat and potatoes" raised, farm girl. Well fast forward 10 years and here I a am feeding lettuce wraps to my family. We love them! Crisp lettuce, flavorful meat and nutrient packed vegetables all rolled up in one meal. We served this as a meal but it could be an appetizer or a side dish. If you don't have bok choy at your grocery store, you can substitute green or red cabbage. Really, any vegetables your family likes can be added to the filling.

Beef & Bok Choy Lettuce Wraps

1 lb ground beef
salt & pepper
4 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
1 baby bok choy, cut in thin strips
2 c carrots, peeled into thin strips or shredded
8 oz water chestnuts, cut into strips
1 c green onion, chopped
4 white mushrooms, cut into strips
1/3 c soy sauce
2 Tbls hoisin sauce, stir fry sauce OR sweet & sour sauce
iceberg lettuce

Start by preparing all vegetables. Clean and cut the bok choy, carrots, water chestnuts, onion, garlic and mushroom and set aside.
In a large saute pan, brown beef with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Drain excess grease Add vegetables and cook over medium-high heat for about 5 mintutes. Add soy sauce and stir fry sauce and simmer for 2-3 minutes. Serve in lettuce wraps with additional soy or sweet & sour sauce for dipping.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Whole Wheat Banana Nut Waffles

There is nothing better than a lazy weekend morning that gives me a little time in the kitchen. This morning I tried a new waffle recipe that was a hit. These are whole wheat waffles with a crisp exterior and a fluffy interior. I only added one banana and a small about of walnuts so the "banana nut" flavor was subtle but sweet enough that they didn't require a bunch of maple syrup. I know this is a hearty, fill-you-up kind of meal since Vaida didn't ask for a morning snack today (small victory)! The best part of this recipe is that it makes a large batch. I put the leftovers in the freezer where we can pull out our healthy version of "Eggos" during the week. Enjoy!

Whole Wheat Banana Nut Waffles

2 1/4 c whole wheat flour
1 c all purpose flour
5 tsp baking powder
2 tsp salt
4 Tbls sugar
3/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/2 c finely chopped walnuts

1 ripe banana, mashed
4 eggs, beaten
3 c milk
1/2 c veg oil (I only had a 1/4 cup of oil left, so I used that plus 1/4 c unsweetened applesauce)
2 tsp vanilla

Combine all dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk together wet ingredients and then combine wet and dry just until incorporated. Batter will be a bit lumpy. Cook in waffle iron. Freeze leftovers.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Homemade Butternut Squash Ravioli

Beautiful ravioli in brown butter sage sauce
In my quest to serve healthier foods to my family I have been following an awesome blog "100 days of Real Food". While scanning her recipe index I came across this recipe. I thought to myself, "Hey, I have a butternut squash that needs to be used...and I have a pasta machine that hasn't been used in two years...this is the perfect recipe for me to make tonight." Bad idea. The recipe itself is not bad at all, in fact, I would have considered the whole thing a fun experience back when I could easily spend a couple of hours care free in the kitchen. Tonight was not the case. I had a sick husband on the couch and a hungry toddler who wanted to "help" me in every way. Picture rolling out pasta while your toddler is adding flour to the dough and to the butternut squash filling (that requires no flour)! Then I had to fill and seal the raviolis one-by-one with my single ravioli press. I only had the patience to get about 8 ravioli made before calling it good . I whipped up the brown butter sage sauce (yum!) and called my family together to see the small bowl representing my efforts. Turns out, Ryan was too sick to try even one bite and Vaida refused to let one piece on her plate! I ate my meal alone and decided I wouldn't take on such a challenge again! On a positive note, I pulled out the pasta and filling after Vaida went to sleep and rolled out a bunch of raviolis which are now in my freezer. This recipe really was delicious and I can't wait to serve it again, only this time it will only take 10 minutes to make from my freezer as opposed to an hour and a half!!
Not so beautiful (but still yummy) ravioli for the freezer

If you decide to take on this recipe please follow the link to 100 Days of Real Food (I normally wouldn't provide a link to another persons site but this is pretty detailed and I followed her instructions exactly).

Sweet & Sour Chicken

I love Chinese food. I always feel torn since I cannot bring myself to ever order Chinese as take out (I am squeamish about kitchen cleanliness in general, and if a restaurant's exterior is a dive, I assume the kitchen is too).
Anyhow, when I saw this easy recipe on Pinterest I knew I had to give it a try. You probably have all these ingredients in your pantry already and could put this together as quick as you could order take-out!
Tip: when working with chicken I always wear disposable food-safe gloves. I buy them in bulk from Costco and they make cleanup a breeze after breading the chicken in the egg mixture.

Sweet and Sour Chicken
1 lb boneless chicken breast
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1 c cornstarch
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 c veg oil
2/3 c sugar
4 Tbls ketchup
1/2 c white vinegar
1 tsp garlic salt
1 1/2 Tbls soy sauce

Cut chicken into 1" cubes. In a large ziploc bag, combine salt, pepper, garlic powder, ginger and cornstarch. Add chicken and shake to evenly coat chicken. Heat oil in large sauté pan. Drop chicken in beaten eggs and add to pan, cooking over medium high heat until brown on each side. Remove chicken and place on a sheet pan.
Whisk remaining 5 ingredients in a small bowl and pour over chicken. Bake at 350 for 30 min, flipping the chicken halfway. Serve with rice and steamed vegetables.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sweet Potato Fries

I always like to keep sweet potatoes on hand for this easy recipe. Our whole family loves sweet potato fries and these are not actually fried, but roasted in olive oil, so there is no guilt involved while enjoying them. The hardest part of making this vegetable is remembering to start them an hour before you are ready to eat.
Note: your baking times will vary depending on how thick you cut your fries.









Sweet Potato Fries

Fries before cooking
1-2 sweet potatoes or yams
2-3 Tbls extra virgin olive oil
Penzeys California Pepper (a blend of pepper, garlic and dried bell peppers) or pepper
Peel and cut potatoes into uniform fries. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper and spread potatoes out evenly. Drizzle generously with olive oil, salt and pepper and using tongs, toss to coat. Bake at 375 for 45-55 minules flipping once.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Good Lasagna

Growing up my mom had a recipe for "Good Spaghetti". I remember thinking it was a ridiculous name for a recipe. Of course it was "good" or else it wouldn't be in her recipe box. Well, here I am trying to come up with a catchy name for my lasagna and "Good Lasagna" is the best way I can describe it. I make this meal for company since it can all be put together before hand; I make it for friends who just had a baby since it can be put in the freezer for a couple of months; and I make it just for us when I want good leftovers, because after all this lasagna is just so good! The secret to lasagna success is using good sauce (no tomato puree in the jar) and good cheese (I use whole milk mozzarella).  I do use a prepared sauce but add diced tomatoes to it so it tastes homemade. Enjoy.

Good Lasagna

1 lb ground beef
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
salt and pepper
1 jar (approx 2 cups) good prepared marinara sauce (I use Barilla Tomato & Sweet Basil)
1 - 14 oz can diced tomatoes
3 c mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 c cottage cheese
1 1/2 c Parmesan cheese, shredded
1 c monterey jack or provolone, shredded
1 1/2 Tbls Italian seasoning or Penzey's Pasta Sprinkle
10-12 lasagna noodles

In a large saute pan, brown ground beef and drain. Add onion, garlic, salt and pepper to the pan and cook 3-5 minutes. Add beef back to the pan and add tomato sauce and tomatoes. Simmer on low for 10-15 minutes. Meanwhile, in a large stock pot filled with water boil pasta for 6 minutes or until al dente. In a medium size bowl, mix cottage cheese, Parmesan cheese and Italian seasoning. In a separate bowl, combine mozzarella and monterey/provolone cheese.
Spray a 9x13 pan with Pam. Layer half of the pasta on the bottom of the pan - half of the beef mixture - half of the cottage cheese - half of the mozzarella blend. Layer in the same order again. Bake at 350 for 1 hour. Let sit 15 minutes before cutting and serving.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Awesome Chicken Nuggets

Finished product - yum!
About three years ago I saw how fast-food chicken nuggets were made and I have not been able to touch one since. That is why I am so excited to share this recipe with you. These nuggets have a crispy whole wheat exterior and are are made with organic chicken breasts. Our whole family loved them, especially when dipped in homemade honey mustard (equal parts mayo, mustard, honey). I served these nuggets with sweet potato fries - a perfect combo!

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

1 lb  organic boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 egg, beaten
Ingredients prepped and ready to go.
1 c seasoned whole wheat bread crumbs
1/3 c shredded parmesan cheese/
1/2 tsp garlic powder
salt and pepper
olive oil 

In a large fry pan, heat about 1/4" oil over medium low heat. Cube chicken in 1-2" pieces and set aside. In a shallow bowl, combine bread crumbs, seasonings and cheese. Place nuggets of chicken in egg mixture and then in the breadcrumb mixture and then transfer into hot pan. Cook over medium low heat 4-5 minutes per side flipping occasionaly until golden brown and the center is no longer pink. (Cooking time will depend on the size of your chicken so check the first couple you do before serving.)

Breaded chicken before cooking.
Recipe adapted from Lisa Leake

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Broccoli Cheese Soup (version 2)

I made broccoli cheese soup for dinner last night and now that I am sitting at my computer I realized that I already posted a recipe for broccoli cheese a couple of years ago. I was going to just skip the post all together but I realized this recipe is a little different from the first one. Soup is by far my favorite food to make and enjoy and I rarely follow a recipe. What makes this version special is that is more nutrient packed since I "snuck in" pureed squash. A couple of months ago I read Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. It is a smart book - puree a bunch of vegetables and then add them to regular recipes. I can't say I loved all of her recipes (chocolate chip cookies with garbanzo beans was an epic fail!) but I still like her concept. I have a freezer full of vegetable purees now and add the spinach to my marinara sauce, beets to our pancakes, squash to our macaroni and cheese, etc. I'm not going to lie, my picky toddler only ate two bites of the soup, but the three adults at the table loved it so I am declaring it a success!

Broccoli Cheese Soup

2 bunches of organic broccoli, trimmed to 1" pieces
1 onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
4 Tbls butter
1 can chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 cup pureed squash
1 block cheddar cheese, shredded*
1/2 cup mozzarella, shredded
1 1/2 cups half & half
2 Tbls flour
3/4 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1 splash of worchestershire sauce

In a sauce pan, melt butter and add onions, garlic, salt and pepper and cook over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Add chicken stock and squash and bring to a bowl. Add broccoli and cover to simmer for 5 minutes. In a small bowl or cup add the flour and 1/2 cup of the half & half and whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture to the soup, stirring to prevent clumps. Add cheese and worchestershire sauce and continue to cook for another 5 minutes. Serve with additional shredded cheddar cheese if desired.

*I recommend using a block of cheese since the pre-shredded has a powdery coating which can prevent smooth melting for this soup.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Homemade Granola

I have been playing around with homemade granola for the past couple of months and I think it will be a new staple in our household. Vaida loves the crunchy oats, nuts and dried fruit as an afternoon snack and I love pouring milk over a bowl of it for a hearty breakfast that really sticks with you. I have added flax seed and dried blueberries when I had them on hand. You could also add pumpkin seeds and any kind of nut that you like. When I was out of honey, I substituted real maple syrup which added great flavor.
I hope you enjoy this granola as much as we do!

Homemade Granola

4 c old-fashioned rolled oats
2 c shredded coconut (I like the large flakes)
2 c slivered raw almond (I use Trader Joe's brand)
3/4 c raw sunflower seeds
3/4 c vegetable oil or olive oil
1/2 c good honey
1 c dried cherries
1 c jumbo organic raisins
1 c dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Toss the oats, coconut, almonds, & sunflower seeds in a bowl. Whisk together oil & honey and pour over oat mixture. Stir until all the oats and nuts are coated. Pour on a half sheet pan and bake 45-55 minutes until golden brown, stirring occasionally. Cool granola and stirring occasionally to prevent sticking to pan. Add the dried fruit and store in an airtight container.