Sunday, October 23, 2011

Brussel Sprout ideas

Yes - I love brussel sprouts and I'm not afraid to say it.  If you've never had them in your adult life, I strongly encourage you to try them.  There is so many ways to make them, but below are a few of my favorites.  They are in season now, so next time you are looking for a green cruciferous vegetable, give them a try. 

Roasted Brussel Sprouts
Wash your brussel sprouts, cut off the bottom and remove the outer leaves.  Depending on the size, you may want to slice them in half the long way (along the mini-core).  Toss in olive oil and salt, and roast at 400 degrees for 25-40 min (depending on the size), turning them every 10 min.  Look for a golden brown color. 

Fast pan-roasted Brussel Sprouts
Not my recipe, but yummy just the same.


Hands-on time: 15 minutes
Time to table: 20 minutes
Serves 4

Water to cover plus an inch more, well salted (allow 1/2 tablespoon table salt for 4 cups of water)
1 pound fresh Brussels sprouts, trimmed and gnarly outer leaves removed, Xs cut into the cores with the tip of a knife

1 tablespoon butter,
1 clove garlic, smashed to remove the peel, otherwise left whole
Juice of half a lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
Salt & pepper to taste

Bring the salted water to a boil. Drop the sprouts in, cover and let cook for 3 to 5 minutes until mostly cooked. Drain. (If cooking ahead, drop the sprouts into ice water for a brief moment to stop the cooking and drain again.) Cut the sprouts in half lengthwise.

In a large skillet, heat the butter and garlic until shimmery on MEDIUM heat and let cook for about 3 minutes until the garlic flavor is infused into the butter. Remove the garlic clove and discard and increase the heat to MEDIUM HIGH. Add the Brussels sprouts and stir to coat with fat. Cook the sprouts, turning only every so often for you want the flat edges to darken, taking on almost a little 'burn' and that won't happen when stirring often. (It takes patience to not stir often but you can do it!) When the edges are browned to the desired level, sprinkle with lemon juice. Season with additional salt (if needed) and pepper (if needed). Savor and enjoy!

Slow Cooker Beef Shortribs with Red Wine Mushroom Risotto

The ultimate comfort food to me is meat that falls off the bone with the tastiest gravy and a creamy, starchy side to go along with it.  I serve it with one or two vegetables along the side, usually a combination of our favorite green veggies: broccoli, asparagus, salad, and/or brussel sprouts.  I cannot take credit for the short-rib recipe, but is the easiest recipe ever!  And don't be intimidated by the idea of making risotto at home - it is much easier than you think and cheaper than ordering it from the restaurant.  Enjoy!!!

Slow Cooker Short Ribs
I followed this recipe exactly, except that I seared the short ribs first.  I sprinkled the ribs with salt and pepper and seared each side in a hot frying pan with a little olive oil.  We found short ribs at BJ's for $3.69 a pound, versus $5.99 at the local grocery store, so you can get a great deal if you have time to shop around.  I have also refridgerated them overnight to skim off the fat, and eaten them the day of - just be sure to skim off as much fat from the top as you can.  It depends on how much of the "Gravy" you want to consume.  Either way, these are YUMMY!

Red Wine Braised Short Ribs of BeefFrom Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker CookbookServes 4

1 cup red wine [I used an Italian table wine]
2/3 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 pounds beef short ribs
2 medium-sized yellow onions, chopped

Combine first six ingredients (through black pepper) in the slow cooker and stir. Add the ribs, submerging them in the sauce. [In my oval, this required cutting the ribs into one-bone widths, then dunking each end in the sauce. I cooked them with the bones positioned upright.] Scatter the onions over the ribs, cover, and cook on low until the meat starts to separate from the bone, 7 to 9 hours.

If you can, refrigerate the ribs and sauce separately overnight. Not only will the flavor improve, but you’ll also be able to discard a shocking amount of congealed fat. If you must serve right away, I suggest pouring the sauce into a fat separatorfirst.

Red Wine and Mushroom Risotto
Typically risotto is made with white wine, but I made this version with red wine to go better with the flavors of the short rib recipe.  Feel free to play with the recipe:  white or red wine depending on your meal, different veggies (just pre-cook them and add them in the last 5 min of cooking), different proteins.   The last risotto I made was with roasted red peppers and asparagus and I served it along with herbed pan-seared chicken cutlets.  I've even added shrimp with the last dose of stock and let them cook along with the rice to make a shrimp, sundried tomato, and asparagus risotto.  Use your imagination and do anything your little heart desires.  Enjoy!!!

2 T olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup ARBORIO rice (must be arborio - its more expensive, but totally necessary)
1/2 cup wine (I used red with the mushrooms in this recipe, but I usually use white.  Just make sure it is a dry wine, not sweet, such as a pinio grigio or a cabernet savignon)
4-5 cups of hot stock, beef or chicken depending on your protein
1-2 cups vegetables  (I used one cup of chopped assorted mushrooms sauteed with 1 T butter)
1/4 parmasean cheese
salt and pepper to taste

Over a medium heat, heat olive oil and sautee onions until translucent.  Add rice and toss until coated in oil and heated through.  Add wine and stir until wine has absorbed into the rice.  Now comes the stock - add 1 cup at a time and stir often until absorbed.  This process is what creates a creamy risotto.  And its ok to step away from the stove, just keep an eye on it so it doesn't become too dry before you add your next load of stock.  After you've added the last dose of stock, add your veggies and wait until most of the liquid as absorbed or until your desired consistency.  Take the risotto off of the heat and add the parmasean cheese.  Salt and pepper to taste and serve!

A taste of fall

I love pumpkin anything:  pumpkin bread, muffins, coffee name it.  So I was in search of the perfect pumpkin muffin recipe that is moist yet simple to make.  Found it!!!  Some of you may have heard of The Pioneer Woman, she has an extensive website and is about to start her own show on the Food Network.  Below is the link to the recipe.  I skipped the cinnamon sugar topping and cream cheese frosting to make this a lower-sugar healthier breakfast and snack option.  I also skipped the raisins because I don't like raisins in muffins or cookies, but feel free to follow the original recipe as posted below.  I hope you enjoy it as much as we do!!!  Owen loves his cupcakes!

Moist Pumpkin Spice Muffins


  • Muffin Ingredients:
  • 1 cup All-purpose Flour
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon Salt
  • 4 Tablespoons Butter, cut into pieces
  • 1 cup (heaping) Pumpkin Puree
  • 1/2 cup Evaporated Milk
  • 1 whole Egg
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 1/2 cup Golden Raisins (optional!)
  • _____
  • Topping
  • 2 Tablespoons Sugar
  • 1 teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon Nutmeg
  • _____
  • 1/4 cup Softened Butter
  • 4 ounces, weight Cream Cheese
  • 1/2 pound Powdered Sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla

Preparation Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Generously grease 12 muffin tins.
Sift flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and salt. Cut in butter with two knives or a pastry blender until it is fully incorporated. In a separate bowl, mix together pumpkin, evaporated milk, egg, and vanilla. Pour pumpkin mixture into the flour mixture. Add raisins. Fold gently until mixture is just combined.
Pour into a greased muffin pan—batter hardly ever fills all twelve unless you keep it down to 1/2 full. Sprinkle with remaining cinnamon-sugar-nutmeg mixture over the top of each unbaked muffin.
Bake for 25 minutes. Allow to cool in pan for 15 minutes, then remove and allow to cool. Ice with cream cheese frosting.
To make the frosting, mix all ingredients on high until soft and whipped. Spread onto completely cooled muffins, or place into a large pastry bag with a large star tip and go crazy! Store in the fridge, as icing will soften at room temperature.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Toddler meal and snack ideas

My son just turned two and, as most toddlers, can be a picky eater at times.   I also find that there are nights when I make a dinner that is not kid friendly, and I need some quick alternatives to feed him.  "ABC soup", or homemade alphabet soup, has been a great one pot dish that is healthy but exciting for a him to eat.
 I also find that most days he loves fruit for a snack, but some times its a no go.  Of course he loves desserts, so I've come to call healthy breads and muffins I make "cake" and "cupcakes".  I also freeze yogurt and call it "ice cream".  He doesn't know the difference and everyone is happy.  I hope that you and your children enjoy these ideas as much as we do. 

ABC Soup
2 cups V-8 juice
2 cups chicken stock
2 cups your favorite fresh or frozen vegetables 
1/2 cup uncooked alphabet pasta, or other shape

In a medium sauce pan, bring the V-8 juice and chicken stock to a boil over medium/high heat.  Add the frozen veggies or fresh,  and allow them to cook for 10 minutes.  Add the pasta and cook an additional 10 min or until pasta is tender.  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 min or until you are ready to eat.  This is one of Owen's favorites!!!

Homemade "Ice-cream"
Owen used to eat yogurt for breakfast everyday, then one day he wanted nothing to do with it again.  Now he won't eat it, so I needed to find another way to feed it to him.  Why not frozen and call it icecream? 

1 large container of your child's favorite yogurt (I get whole milk french vanilla)
dixie cups
plastic spoons

Spoon yogurt into dixie cups about 3/4 way full.  Stand spoon up in each cup and place cups onto a cookie sheet.   Place in the freezer for a few hours or until hardened.  Cover in pastic wrap or place in freezer safe bags to last for weeks or even months.  When your ready to eat one, just take out of freezer and peel back the paper cup.  You can even throw it in the microwave for a few seconds to soften the "ice-cream" before serving to your child.  Enjoy!

Banana "cake"
Recipe from
Check on the bread after 60 min - mine was done but the recipe says 70 min
  • 2 eggs
  • 1¾ c. sifted flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • ¼ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1/3 c. vegetable oil
  • 2/3 c. sugar
  • 1 c. mashed bananas (about 3 bananas)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F (180° C).
  2. Beat eggs well in a small bowl.
  3. In a medium-size bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  4. In a large bowl, add the vegetable oil. Add the sugar a little bit at a time, and continue beating until the mixture is fluffy.
  5. Add the eggs to the mixture in the large bowl and beat well.
  6. Add some of the flour mixture to the large bowl and beat well. Then add some of the mashed bananas and beat some more. Continue adding flour, then bananas, then flour, then bananas, until everything is mixed in.
  7. Pour mixture into a greased baking pan. Bake for 70 minutes.
  8. Flip your banana bread out of the pan, let it cool for a bit, and cut it into slices to eat and share!

Healthy Carrot Muffins, or as I call them, Carrot "cupcakes"
This recipe is from the food network website, my usual go to site for all recipes.  SO delicious!!!
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2/3 cup dark brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons wheat germ
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch fine salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  • 4 medium carrots, grated (about 2 cups)
  • 1/2 cup canned crushed pineapple, drained
  • Special equipment: 12 cup muffin tin and paper liners


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line twelve 1/2-cup muffin cups with paper muffin liners.
Whisk the flours with the brown sugar, wheat germ, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. In another medium bowl lightly whisk the egg, then whisk in the vegetable oil, and vanilla extract.
Quickly and lightly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients with a rubber spatula. Stir in the carrots and pineapple just until evenly moist; the batter will be very thick. Divide the batter evenly among the muffin cups. Bake until golden and a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Turn muffins out of the tins and cool on a rack. Serve warm.

Cook's note:  I did not have any wheat germ, so I left it out.  I also freeze half the muffins for a later date to keep them fresher.  

French Onion Soup

I've always loved french onion soup, but for some reason have never really tried to make it at home.  Well today I did it for the first time and fell in love.  This recipe in no way is my own, but it is beyond easy and so yummy!  I made side notes of anything I did differently, but I highly recommend it.  Enjoy!
  • 2 lb medium onions, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced lengthwise
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme (I used 1 tsp dried thyme)
  • 2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California  (I just used 1 dried bay leaf)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups reduced-sodium beef broth (32 fl oz)
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 (1/2-inch-thick) diagonal slices of baguette
  • 1 (1/2-lb) piece Gruyère, Comte, or Emmental
  • 2 tablespoons finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
Cook onions, thyme, bay leaves, and salt in butter in a 4- to 5-quart heavy pot over moderate heat, uncovered, stirring frequently, until onions are very soft and deep golden brown, about 45 minutes. Add flour and cook, stirring, 1 minute. Stir in wine and cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Stir in broth, water, and pepper and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.
While soup simmers, put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F.
Arrange bread in 1 layer on a large baking sheet and toast, turning over once, until completely dry, about 15 minutes.
Remove croûtes from oven and preheat broiler. Put crocks in a shallow baking pan.
Discard bay leaves and thyme from soup and divide soup among crocks, then float a croûte in each. Slice enough Gruyère (about 6 ounces total) with cheese plane to cover tops of crocks, allowing ends of cheese to hang over rims of crocks, then sprinkle with Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Broil 4 to 5 inches from heat until cheese is melted and bubbly, 1 to 2 minutes.

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Cooks note:  I did not have those cheeses or bread at home when I made this soup, but I did have deli sliced swiss and some croutons.  I sprinkled the soup with croutons and placed a slice of swiss on top before broiling it and it came out great.  Just an alternative to the original recipe.

Football watch party ideas

If your house is anything like ours, most of our weekend is spent watching football.  College on Saturdays and NFL on Sundays, and we love to host watch parties at our place complete with a ton of food to snack on during the games.  Here are a few ideas from the past couple of weekends that I hope you enjoy.

Buffalo Chicken Wing Dip
Great way to use left over chicken breasts (I had some already cooked, diced, and in the freezer), plus this is a low-fat version of the dip and much healthier than the traditional buffalo chicken wing.
  • 2 cups of cooked chicken, shredded or finely chopped
  • 1/2 bottle (6 ounces) hot sauce (I used Red Hot, but you can also use less hot sauce if desired)
  • 1 (8 ounce) package of neufchatal cheese (reduced fat cream cheese), softened
  • 1 cup your favorite light bleu cheese or light ranch salad dressing (I used light Nature Fresh Bleu Cheese found in the produce section)
  • 2/3 cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded reduced fat cheddar or monterey (I used a combination of both, bu the key is reduced fat, made from 2% milk, makes the dip significantly less greasy than the traditional version) 
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Mix chicken, celery, and cheese in a large bowl and set aside.  In a microwave safe bowl, heat the neufchatel for 30-45 sec until easily stirred with a spoon.  Add the dressing to the softened cheese and mix until combined.  Add hot sauce and combine again.  Then add sauce/dressing mixture to the chicken/cheese/celery and mix until incorporated.  Pour into a 9x9 square pan and bake for 20-30 minutes until bubbly but not brown. 
Serve warm with carrots, celery, cucumbers, tortilla chips, and crackers.  Yummy!!!

Sausage Bites
1 pkg of hillshire farms kielbasa 
your favorite mustard (we have a favorite spicy german mustard I get from a german specialty store, but any deli mustard will do)

Preheat the grill or grill pan over medium high heat.  Cut the sausage into 3 link, and then again length wise so each link is split down the middle.  Grill on both sides until slightly charred.  Cut into bite size pieces and serve with the mustard & tooth picks.

Cheese Platter
You have total freedom here to combine your favorite meats, cheeses, and accompanying topping and crackers.  One time a presented manchego, brie, and a balsamic parmasean w/prosciutto and chorizo, flat bread crackers.  Another time it was a merlot parmesean w/ proscuitto, salami, bruschetta, olives, flatbread crackers and baguette.  Just be creative and get what looks good.  You can always ask your grocer for cheese recommendations and samples.   

Vegetable Platter w/ Dip
I always want some veggies when I'm eating meats, cheeses and dips at a football party.  I usually put out a huge plate of carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, sugar snap peas, and grape tomatoes with my favorite spinach dip (I make the spinach dip recipe on the back of the Knorr Vegetable soup mix - 1 pkg vegetable soup mix, 1 box of frozen spinach thawed and squeezed dry, 1 cup mayo, 1 cup sour cream.  I always use light sour cream to cut down on some calories but I can't stand the taste of light mayo).

Hot Spinach Artichoke Dip
This was adapted from Alton Brown's recipe from the food network.  Again, I substitute light sour cream and use neufchatal cheese (light cream cheese) to cut down on some fat and calories.
  • 1 pkg chopped frozen spinach, thawed, drained, and water squeezed out
  • 1 can artichoke hearts, drained and coarsely chopped
  • 6 ounces neufchatal cream cheese
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/3 cup grated Parmesan
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
 Heat cream cheese in microwave for 30 sec to 1 min or until soft.  Add sour cream and mayo and mix until smooth.  Stir in rest of ingredients and pour into a microwave safe dish.   Microwave on high 1 min at a time until hot and serve.  I like it with tortilla or pita chips, but also great with carrot sticks.  Keep in warm throughout the game by throwing it in your crockpot on warm.

Layered Taco Dip
A family favorite that is always a huge hit.  So simple yet such great flavors.
1 pkg cream cheese, softened (can use neufchatel again to lighten it up)
1 cup sour cream (option to use light again)
1 pkg taco seasoning mix
1 jar of your favorite salsa, the thicker the better
2 cups shredded iceberg lettuce (I usually buy the already shredded lettuce)
1 pkg of shredded cheddar or mexican blend cheese
1 small can of sliced black olives (optional)

In a medium sized bowl, blend cream cheese, sour cream and taco seasoning.  In a 9x9 or 13x9 inch baking pan, spread the cream cheese mixture evenly on the bottom.  Then spread the salsa on the top.  Then comes a layer of lettuce and cheese.  The olives go on top if you choose.  I usually serve the dip with tortilla chips but it also tastes great with celery sticks.