when it doesn’t work.

I have a passion for fresh food.  If you’ve been reading my blog, this is not news to you.  This summer I’ve been working on making dishes that are fresh, healthy, and delicious.  I believe that so many people think healthy food is too “hardcore” for them, but I so believe that we can all make healthy choices that fit in with our individual lifestyle.

This summer I’ve been experimenting some.  I’ve learned a few things.

1.  Evidently I think I’m more creative than I am.  I start out with nothing, thinking I can whip something up with no direction.  Doesn’t work.  Hardly ever.

2.  Just because you see the chefs on tv throw ingredients together and make it work, doesn’t mean you can.  And by you I mean me.

3.  I need recipes.

Last night I decided to pull all of our CSA vegetables that we had laying around that were about to go bad and make one big vegetable dinner with them.  FAIL.  A lack of a plan was my first problem, followed by lack of a recipe, and clearly no desire to eat edible food.

I started with this.

Tommy came in and saw the disaster about to take place.  This is how our conversation went.

T:  “what you making?”

L:  “i’m using all of these vegetables that are about to go bad.  it’s vegetarian night.”

T:  “oh, ok… what stuff are you going to make with them?”

L:  “i’m just going to wing it.”

T:  [long pause]  “are you putting all of it in one pot?”

L:  “no, of course i’m not putting all of it in one pot.  i want to make something good.”

Then I thought, “well, there goes my plan.”  Seriously I was going to put it all in one pot.  Good thing I didn’t because the 2 vegetables I put in the same pot didn’t turn out so good.  I mean we ate them, but it just tasted like cooked squash and cooked tomatoes.  Nothing special.  I struggle sometimes.

So here’s my thing…  when I fail at making a healthy dinner that people will eat I get discouraged and want to throw in the towel.  After all, what good does it do to make something that no one [including myself] likes and then we fill up on ice cream or cereal or something before we go to bed?  No good.
But I’m reminding myself  to allow room for grace in this process.  To allow room for mistakes and growth.  For without them, how will I learn?  So maybe last night my family didn’t eat a delicious dinner.  But tonight it was better [not perfect, or close to it, but better], and maybe tomorrow will be even better.

Here’s a quick recap of my failures, followed by a recipe that I hope you find helpful.

Failure #1

I read somewhere that someone used instant potato flakes as a breading for eggplant, and I thought I’d give it a try.  Apparently the box of instant potatoes that I just happened to have since I never use instant potatoes wasn’t so much flakes as rather large hard pieces.

Doesn’t look too bread-y, does it?  Anyway, they burned, so it’s a moot point [moo/moot, Seinfeld anyone?].

See that bowl up there in the top of the picture?  That, my friends, is failure #2.  I thought if I put squash and tomatoes in a pot in the oven for 30 minutes they would magically become one delicious dish.  Wrong.  They tasted exactly the same- like squash and like tomatoes.  Maybe if I’d had the sense to put them on a baking sheet things would have gone differently, who knows.

While last night had several failures there was also one success [well, 2 if you count mashed potatoes which are pretty hard to mess up].  Zucchini spears.  The only hope my dinner had was the presence of a Pioneer Woman recipe.  She is my hero, and when I saw her post this zucchini recipe the other day, I knew I had to try it.  You can find the recipe on her site here.  Her pictures are gorgeous, her narrative witty, and her food delicious, so if I were you I’d skip on over there now and forget this blog.

photo via 

So is anyone else with me on this?  Anybody have struggles with getting healthy dinners prepared that you actually enjoy?  Tell me I’m not alone. 

the casserole saga.

I’ve never been a big fan of casseroles.  In my mind I’ve always thought of casseroles as unhealthy, processed ingredients thrown together in a mush.  I don’t like any of those things.  For a long time I’ve preferred fresh, simple ingredients.  I’d take a simple meal with 3 ingredients  over a casserole any day of the week.

So I’ve been anti-casserole our entire marriage.  I don’t prepare anything that even remotely resembles a casserole.  I stay away from the condensed soups and, usually, recipes that require them.  When Tommy said he wanted to make squash casserole I was very skeptical.  The squash was fresh, yes, but the casserole part?  But he didn’t want to eat plain squash for another meal [we’ve had a lot of squash in our CSA] so badly that he was willing to make this squash dish.

Turns out I was wrong.  Shocking, I know.  Who knew there was such a thing as a healthy casserole?  Apparently my definition of casserole which includes butter, cream, condensed soups- isn’t right.  Some casseroles are like that but some are made up of very healthy ingredients.  What?  So this squash casserole rocked my world.  Also, Jack couldn’t have loved it more.  The kid ate his weight in squash.  Seriously.  And Tommy said it was really easy to make, too.  So I share with you today the casserole recipe that changed my mind and my heart.  And I apologize to my mama whose casseroles I would never eat.

And if you have kids who don’t like squash, try this.  I’m pretty sure– and Jack guarantees– they’ll be blown away.

Prep:  20 mins

Cooks:  30 mins

What you need:
4 cups sliced yellow squash
1/2 cup chopped onion
2 cups fresh bread crumbs [we used a fresh loaf of french bread from good ol’ Kroger and put part of it in the food processor to get fresh, soft bread crumbs]
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
2 eggs, beaten
3/4 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp salt
black pepper to taste
1 T butter

What to do:
1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2.  Put squash and onion in a large skillet.  Add 1/2 cup water and cover.  Cook for about 5 mins– until squash is tender.
3.  Drain squash/onion mixture well and put in large bowl.
4.  While squash is cooking on stove, prepare your bread crumbs.  We put our bread in the food processor to get the bread crumbs, then mixed with cheese.
5.  Add half of bread crumb mixture to squash and onion.  Mix together.  [Reserve other half of bread crumbs for topping]
6.  In small bowl mix together eggs and milk.  Then add to squash mixture.
7.  Add 1/4 cup melted butter to mixture.  Add salt and pepper for seasoning.  Give everything a good stir to get it all mixed together.
8.  Spray a 9×13 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
9.  Pour mixture into baking dish.
10.  Sprinkle remaining bread crumbs across the top of dish.  Dot with 1 T butter.
11.  Bake for 25 minutes, or until lightly browned.

Recipe adapted from All Recipes.  Their recipe called for crackers to be used as the breading, but we made bread crumbs.

Enjoy!

i am obsessed.

With the Olympics.  Always have been.  I think most people do get into the Olympic spirit.  How could you not?  It’s like for a brief time, we forget our struggles and unite as a country to dominate in the Olympics.  We have had the Olympics on all the time all week.  I love it!  Gymnastics and swimming are my favorites that have been on so far.  I very quickly became obsessed with the Fab 5.

Like most little girls, I dreamed of being an Olympic gymnast. Clearly I didn’t have the drive or talent these Olympians have.  These are seriously dedicated and disciplined people- I can’t even imagine.  But I did sacrifice for the sake of the Olympics.  I broke my arm for the US Gymnastics Team.  Well, really I didn’t do a thing for the team, but in my head, that’s how it played out.

What really happened is that I was doing a balance beam routine in my living room at the age of 10.  I was using the couch as the beam and all was going well until I got to my very difficult dismount.  As I did a cartwheel off the couch putting all of my body weight on my left arm, it snapped and I fell.  Obviously, I didn’t score high marks.  Arm broken, Olympic dream over.

I’ve also seen some fantastic food ideas for the Olympics.  I’m pretty excited to try some of these.

via

This is so stinkin’ cute!  I’m very obsessed with this.  I love that she used whole wheat mini bagels with low-fat cream cheese and fresh fruit to make an adorable breakfast.  You’ll find me copying this for sure.

via

This picture makes my mouth water.  I want to eat it all now, and I suddenly find myself cheering for Italy.

What about you?  Did you have any Olympic dreams?  Do you enjoy watching the Olympics?

what i did with cabbage.

In case I haven’t mentioned it before, this summer we became members of a CSA for the first time.  I am going to do a post some time this week that talks a little bit about a CSA– what it is, how it works, etc.  One of the blessings and challenges is getting produce that I normally wouldn’t pick out for my family.  I like the challenge.

Cabbage has been one of those things.  I have honestly never bought cabbage at the grocery store.  I like cole slaw– some kinds– but have never cared to make it.  I’ve done a couple of things with the cabbage we got, and this one turned out really good.

I got this recipe for Cabbage Roll Casserole from the farmer’s wife at our CSA’s farm.  I think she got it from Keeper of the Home’s blog.

Here’s how I did it [concise recipe below]:

1.  Heat olive oil and add onion.  Cook until soft, tender, and slightly brown.

2.  Add minced garlic.  Cook for about 1 minute.

3.  Add ground turkey and cook until browned.

4.  Meanwhile, cook rice according to directions on box.

5.  Once rice is cooked and turkey is browned, add rice to the turkey mixture.

6.  Add beaten egg to turkey and rice mixture and stir well.

7.  In a bowl, combine tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, & tomato paste.  Stir in apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, and chili powder or cayenne.

8.  Coarsely chop about 8 cups of cabbage.  This is about 1/2 to 1/3 of a large cabbage.

9.  Spray Pam in a large casserole dish.  Use at least 9×13 but bigger is even better.

10.  Begin to add layers in dish.  Layer like this

–  cabbage


–  meat and rice mixture


–  tomato sauce


–  cabbage
–  meat and rice mixture
–  tomato sauce
[if you have any left]
–  cabbage
–  tomato sauce

11.  Cover and bake for about one hour.

Recipe

Ingredients:

1 lb ground beef [I used ground turkey]

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 medium onion, chopped

1 egg, beaten

1-2 cups cooked brown rice

1 jar of spaghetti sauce

1 can of diced tomatoes

1 can tomato paste

1/3 cup apple cider vinegar

1 T honey

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp pepper

Dash of chili powder or cayenne pepper

8 cups coarsely chopped cabbage

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1.  Heat olive oil and add onion.  Cook until soft, tender, and slightly brown.

2.  Add minced garlic.  Cook for about 1 minute.

3.  Add ground turkey and cook until browned.

4.  Meanwhile, cook rice according to directions on box.

5.  Once rice is cooked and turkey is browned, add rice to the turkey mixture.

6.  Add beaten egg to turkey and rice mixture and stir well.

7.  In a bowl, combine tomato sauce, diced tomatoes, & tomato paste.  Stir in apple cider vinegar, honey, salt, pepper, and chili powder or cayenne.

8.  Coarsely chop about 8 cups of cabbage.  This is about 1/2 to 1/3 of a large cabbage.

9.  Spray Pam in a large casserole dish.  Use at least 9×13 but bigger is even better.

10.  Begin to add layers in dish.  Layer like this

–  cabbage
–  meat and rice mixture
–  tomato sauce
–  cabbage
–  meat and rice mixture
–  tomato sauce
[if you have any left]
–  cabbage
–  tomato sauce

11.  Cover and bake for about one hour.

–  This dish is really good with sour cream.  It’s healthier if you don’t do the sour cream, but I found the sour cream helped with the heaviness of this dish.

–  I wouldn’t ever choose this as my birthday meal, but as a way to use cabbage and have a healthy dinner for my family, it really was pretty good and easy to make.

Hope you enjoy!

confessions of a dietitian.

Sometimes you’re just not feelin’ it ya know?  I love eating healthy– I love fresh food but sometimes something gets a hold of me and I get off my track.

Confession #1:  I had saffron for breakfast twice last week.  Saffron.  I wrote back here that I try not to use saffron in my rice and beans recipe because it’s so high in sodium.  I had it for breakfast.  Really?

Here I wrote about the healthy breakfasts that Jack and I have.  It’s only honest for me to say I don’t always do that.  Usually, yes.  Always, no.  Enter our star – saffron.

Confession #2:  I’m eating a very unhealthy snack right now.  Club crackers + blue cheese dressing.  Just typing it sounds gross but it’s pretty good.  There is this fantastic restaurant called Ridgewood Barbecue in Bluff City, Tennessee.  It’s about 2 1/2 hours from where I live, but my late aunt lived in Bluff City.  When we would go visit her she would take us to Ridgewood, and I knew from a young age that it was something special.  They have the greatest bbq, baked beans, fries, and serve you an appetizer of crackers and their incredible homemade blue cheese dressing.  It’s a neat place, too, because you usually have to wait in line to get in and if it’s closing time and you’re still in line, they’ll shut the door in your face.  Of course, no one likes that but everyone understands it’s the way it is, and they try again another day.  It’s great.  Small little hole-in-the-wall place.  Try it.  It’s worth the drive.

Confession #3:  I  I got into a bad habit.  While I was pregnant with Jack I was sick throughout almost my whole pregnancy.  Since I couldn’t keep much down, I actually drank a pretty good amount of sodas to “settle” my stomach.  At the time, I was concerned about taking in junk for my baby, but I wasn’t concerned about calories since I needed more being pregnant.  After Jack was born I breastfed him and burned calories like nobody’s business.  Seriously, greatest diet EVER.  So I kept on drinking sodas, or what we in the South call Cokes.  [Down here everything’s a Coke.  Still drives Tommy crazy.]  You would think that I would be concerned about all of the junk that is and passing that on to my sweet child, and I was, some, but not enough to stop completely.  But now you know my dirty secret.

zucchini pizza.

This is a fantastic quick meal idea.  A great summertime lunch option when the kids are home during the day.  It is so healthy, so fun, and so delicious.  All of the important things.

Please get your kids in the kitchen on this one.  Seriously, let them do the whole thing – well, you do the knife work, let them do the rest.  I truly believe that kids will eat [or at least are way more likely to eat] what they help prepare.  Promise.  Talk to them about what you’re doing.  Why it’s healthy.  Why it tastes good.  And get their input.  What cheese should we use?  What toppings do you think would be good on our pizzas?  Do you like thin slices or thick slices?  Do you know how zucchini grows?  Is zucchini a vegetable or a fruit?  Why?  What color is zucchini?  How do you spell zucchini?

I ask Jack all of these questions.  And he answers them all.  He’s a genius.  Leave us alone.  [I misspelled genius and my auto-spell corrected it for me.]  But if I had a kid old enough to dialogue like this, I would.  Why spend all of that time and make something take at least twice as long by involving kids?  Because it’s worth it!  It’s worth it to spend time with them and it’s worth it to teach them and improve their health by improving their diets.

Anyway, on to the pizzas.

In this recipe you are replacing the dough with zucchini.  This works perfectly with 8-ball squash.  You can do it with a regular zucchini but it won’t be the cute little personal size pizza that you get with the 8-ball squash.

This is a great way to get veggies in without your kids really noticing.  We had this for dinner one day recently and we all loved it.  The english muffin pizzas are pretty popular right now and this is healthier than that, so give it a try!

Here’s the during at our house.  You can find the recipe below.

Cut the squash into slices about an inch thick.  [you can do thicker or thinner depending on your preference for how thick you want the crust]

Lay zucchini slices on baking sheet and cover with olive oil.  Then flip zucchini and cover the other side with olive oil, too.  Sprinkle with salt.

Bake for 20 minutes or until slightly brown and softer.

Remove from oven and pour marinara or pasta sauce on each slice.

Add cheese and toppings to each slice.  [this is a really fun part to let your kids do.  everyone gets to decorate their own pizza]

Put back in oven for 5-10 minutes.  [you want the cheese melted and everything nice and gooey]

Take out of oven and enjoy!

What you need:

–  8 ball squash [a round zucchini squash.]

–  Your favorite marinara or pasta sauce

–  Shredded cheese [we like mozzarella]

–  Your favorite pizza toppings [we like pepperoni, well Jack isn’t allowed pepperoni, but that’s what I like.  he likes cheese.  but don’t be afraid to get creative]

The how to:

1.  Wash the squash.  Give it a good hard scrub with a vegetable brush or your hands.

2.  Cut the squash into slices about an inch thick.  [you can do thicker or thinner depending on your preference for how thick you want the crust]

3.  Preheat over to 475 degrees.

4.  Lay zucchini slices on baking sheet and cover with olive oil.  Then flip zucchini and cover the other side with olive oil, too.  Sprinkle with salt.

5.  Bake for 20 minutes or until slightly brown and softer.

6.  Remove from oven and pour marinara or pasta sauce on each slice.

7.  Add cheese and toppings to each slice.  [this is a really fun part to let your kids do.  everyone gets to decorate their own pizza]

8.  Put back in oven for 5-10 minutes.  [you want the cheese melted and everything nice and gooey]

9.  Take out of oven and enjoy!

Jack ate 3 of these pizzas on his own.  He is a HUGE fan of them.  I thought I’d have a lot of leftovers but we ate this entire tray just the 3 of us in one dinner– the zucchini pizzas were that good.

you’ll be stuffed after this stuffed chicken.

This chicken is awesome.  This dish is so healthy and really pretty easy to do.  It’s a fun one to get the kids involved with too because they can learn about healthy ingredients and help put this dish together.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken cutlets
  • 1/2 c. finely chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1/2 c. crumbled feta cheese
  • 1 T chopped, flat leaf parsley

Directions:
1.  In small bowl mix together feta and roasted red peppers.
2.  Season chicken with 1/4 tsp salt and pepper on each cutlet.

3.  Divide the cheese/pepper mixture evenly in each cutlet [about 1 heaping tablespoon] & roll the chicken up.  Use a toothpick to hold the rolled up chicken in place.

4.  Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in skillet on medium-high heat.  Use an oven safe skillet to make this even easier!
5.  Cook chicken seam-side up until browned [about 3-4 mins].  Flip chicken and transfer skillet to top rack in oven.  Roast until cooked through [14-16 mins].

6.  Remove from oven when finished.  Check internal temperature.  Poultry should be 170 degrees F.

The healthy facts:

  • I love chicken as a protein.  Lean and a great choice.  A lot of people think chicken can’t be good, but this dish has so much flavor you won’t even remember red meat.
  • This dish is low in fat.  The flavoring comes from the roasted red peppers & feta cheese.
  • Choose low fat feta cheese to make this dish healthier.

A few things:

  • Don’t let your kids touch raw chicken.  That’s just wrong.
  • Don’t let your child use a knife.
  • Great roles for kids include measuring things out, mixing together ingredients, and monitoring the time on cooking.

*Recipe is from Real Simple and can be found here.

And this is seriously so delicious.  Enjoy!

a good take on rice and beans.

Sometimes I don’t have the time or energy to fix dinner.  I’m sure I’m the only one, right?  Truthfully, that sometimes is like 3-4 nights a week, but if we ate out every one of those times we’d be struggling with our weight more than we do and hurting in our bank account.  My Granny gave me this rice and beans recipe that is so simple, fast, and delicious [thanks Granny]!  I love it and so does Jack!  Turns out that boy loves his black beans.

The recipe calls for saffron, which is definitely tasty but so high in salt.  I made it with saffron the first time and loved it, but since then I’ve been trying to use brown rice or at least plain white rice.  It still tastes delicious.

Ingredients:
1 [5 oz.] package saffron
1 [15 oz.] can black beans
3 T lime juice [bottled is fine]
1 t chili powder
1/2 t cumin
2 T chopped fresh cilantro [divided]
Garnishes: sour cream, sliced green onions, fresh cilantro.

Directions:
1.  Cook rice according to package directions.  Keep warm.
2.  Drain beans, reserving 2 T liquid [what I refer to as the bean juice.
3.  Combine bean juice, lime juice, chili powder, and cumin in a saucepan & cook over medium heat until thoroughly heated.
4.  Stir in 1 T cilantro.  Serve beans over rice.  Sprinkle with remaining cilantro.
Garnish if you want.  I don’t except for more cilantro [the more the better].  If you do garnish with sour cream– go easy on it and go low fat.

Serves 3-4.  [or 1 1/2 if you’re me & Jack]

breakfast of champions.

To go all typical dietitian here, I’m going to do a post about how important breakfast is.  Aside for the cliche of breakfast is the most important meal of the day, it really is.  It’s so important for a bunch of reasons.  It kick starts our metabolism, gets the body going, and keeps us from binging later on.

Jack and I wanted to demonstrate a healthy breakfast.  My favorite thing for breakfast is plain yogurt.  I add in fresh fruit and a touch of honey to sweeten it, and it is oh.so.good.  I don’t need a lot in the mornings/don’t have time to sit and eat, so this is perfect for me.  Jack’s still going with the old standby– the classic oatmeal and milk.  He wanted me to mention that he has fruit, too.  Guess I failed at getting that in the picture.

My point with all this is breakfast doesn’t have to be a huge meal where you sit and eat for 30 minutes.  It can be quick, light if you wish, and healthy!  [This is comin’ from a former poptart lover.  The sweetness, the convenience.  Don’t judge me.]  Some mornings I would just have toast.  Would  being the operative word here, since I can’t use my toaster since it’s full of mouse poop.  And still sitting on my counter.  What’s wrong with me???]  Ok funny story here.  Tommy was still having toast, until I informed him the other day that I thought I saw mouse droppings down in there.  His response, “Well, let me go throw up and then I’ll throw the toaster out.”  Bless him.
*There’s mouse poop in our toaster because we left most of our stuff in Maryland when we moved to Tennessee, and we forgot to clean out the cereal cabinet before we moved.  Four months later, mice had done a lot of damage in our kitchen.  Although I had an incredibly tough first round inspection on EVERY SINGLE ITEM that came from that mouse house, apparently the toaster slipped through the cracks.  Doesn’ t this make you want to go eat now?

black bean jackpot

via

Last night our good friend Zach Morris was over.  Yes, this guy.

via

No, not really, but yes, we do have a friend named Zach Morris and that makes him just that much cooler.  He prefers to live a vegetarian lifestyle, and we like vegetables so it worked out well.  I’ve been wanting to make bean cakes for awhile, so I thought this was the perfect opportunity to give it a try.  After about 25 minutes in the kitchen, I explained it to Zach this way– we have good news and bad news…  the good news is that you like vegetables and we have a lot of those, the bad news is that our bean cakes failed.  He didn’t care.  Again, he’s pretty cool.

 I shouldn’t say they didn’t make it at all– because they kind of did, just not how Emeril said they should.  So I used this recipe that I watched Emeril make on his show while we were on vacation.  It was super easy!  And this is seriously so healthy!  Mine didn’t turn out quite right because of eggs.  I compiled all my ingredients and had everything going.  The last thing I needed to add was 1 egg.  I went into the fridge and pulled out the eggs only to find the expiration date was several weeks back.  I know some people use them for awhile after the expiration date and some don’t.  Some say it’s an “expiration date”, some a “sell by”.  I was tempted but ultimately decided not to use them because I didn’t want to make a baby and a guy leaving for Africa sick.  So I googled replacements for eggs and came up with some weird things and some interesting things.  Applesauce seemed like it could work with this recipe, so I added 1/4 cup of applesauce.  It didn’t ruin the flavors or anything, but it didn’t hold my bean cakes together like the egg would have.

So when I went to cook them on the skillet, they fell apart.

I hated to throw all of that yummy bean goodness out, so I plopped them on a cookie sheet and baked them at 375 for about 12 minutes.

It worked fine.  They weren’t crispy like they would have been on the stove, but they were still good.  And everyone liked them.

Tommy is not a fan of beans, but he loved these.  I think this would be a great meal to get the kids to help with, and one that they’ll like to eat, too!

*For some reason I couldn’t add a hyper link under Zach Morris’ picture, so the source for the picture is this:

http://mtv2.tumblr.com/post/26632582426/vintage-zach-morris-on-saved-by-the-bell-today