Tuesday, October 30, 2012

photo dump!

Yeah . . . it's been a while since I've been able to sit down at the computer and get caught up posting all of the pictures of delicious foods I have stored up on my phone and camera!  Without further ado, here I go:

Instagrammed pizza #1:

Butternut Squash Pizza from Real Simple, made pretty much exactly as written, except with probably extra ricotta.  (I didn't measure.)  John and I both LOVED this, and I'll definitely be making it again and again!

Instagrammed pizza #2:

A 10-ounce package of frozen spinach mixed with 2 cups of "Italian blend" shredded cheese, with a can of well-drained diced tomatoes on top.  I have been trying to find small, subtle ways to replace fresh veggies with frozen, in my nearly constant attempt to keep the grocery bill down.  Frozen spinach works beautifully on pizza, in my opinion, as long as you squeeze it dry before using.  (Fresh spinach tends to make pizzas soggy, in my opinion!)

A simple pasta supper:

Whole-wheat rigatoni tossed with homemade marinara, white beans, and more spinach, topped with grated Asiago cheese.  I thought this was perfectly acceptable; John exclaimed he thought it was "really good" and went back for seconds.  Good news, as John hasn't been a huge fan of beans with pasta in the past!

Lunch Saturday:

I modified another Real Simple recipe this time -- I subbed sauteed mushrooms for the ham in Potato, Ham, and Spinach Frittata.  Delicious!  John and I each had a wedge with toast for lunch, saved some leftovers for work lunch for me, and then took the rest of the leftovers, cut into small triangles, to a Halloween party Saturday night.  Go eggs, go!  I love how versatile they are!   (P.S. MORE frozen spinach!  Woo!)

Sunday lunch was waiting for us in the Crock Pot when we got home from a walk:

Barley and Root Vegetable Soup transitioned effortlessly to the slow cooker, used up some barley, red lentils, carrots, and celery I had on hand, and made for a hearty, warming, and healthy lunch.  Plenty of leftovers to carry us through the week, too!

Lastly, here's my first attempt at homemade stovetop mac and cheese:

I started by using Cooking Light's Cheddar Cheese Sauce as a launching point, and folded it into some cooked whole-wheat shells and frozen broccoli.  (There I go with the frozen veggies again!  Frozen broccoli is another one I don't mind much.)  My sauce turned out runnier this time than last, which could be due to me possibly over-measuring the milk, possibly the sauce just doesn't double well.  Regardless, it was a good first try.

So, here are two questions for you . . .

1. Do you have a homemade stovetop mac and cheese recipe you love?  Do share.
2. What are some of your favorite uses for frozen veggies?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

why I think it's important to keep coconut milk on hand

Impromptu curry, anyone?

Ingredients: tofu, mushrooms, bean sprouts, green onions, carrots, cilantro, coconut milk, curry paste, sugar, and tamari.

Man, it feels good to clean out the fridge!

Monday, October 22, 2012

after the leftovers

For whatever reason, John and I ended up with a super-awesome stash of leftovers this weekend -- no one knows why!  Leftovers are handy because meals are ready FAST, but that also means I miss out on opportunities to make meals!  :(  After we finished the leftovers, I did squeak in a little cooking this weekend:

I promise, somewhere under that mountain of herbs, lie some savory broth, rice noodles, tofu, and bean sprouts!

I always follow this recipe for pho, subbing in vegetable broth and tofu for the turkey stock and shredded turkey, and reduced-sodium tamari for the fish sauce.  A great light, healthy, invigorating lunch or supper!

Oh.  Yeah.  More soup.  Do you sense a theme?

We still had some garden squash to use up, so John requested another batch of butternut soup.  I used more squash and less butter this time; no surprise John preferred the previous batch!  ;)  Heh.

Alongside our soup, we enjoyed a cutting board full of extras:

Rosemary bread, olive oil for dipping, sliced honeycrisp apple, and havarti.  Apples, cheese, bread, and soup just scream fall to me!

Time for more treats, too!

Another batch of Fluffy Sprinkle Sugar Cookies won't last long . . . I think John ate nearly half the batch yesterday straight out of the oven!

I am definitely on a soup kick lately . . . what are some of your favorite fall meals or go-to recipes?

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

snack attack!

So far, the weirdest quirk of my new job is this: I seem to be hungry ALL OF THE TIME.  I can't quite put my finger on why, but the last three nights, I've come home practically seeing red, I was so hungry!

I've decided I have to start being more planful about snacks, as I have plenty of (short) opportunities throughout my day to eat, but I don't think I've been packing the right sorts of things to get me through in better shape!  I wracked my brain, trying to come up with every snack I could think of that included at least a little protein, hit up the Wedge, and came home with the following:

In an effort to also avoid too many sweets, I tried to focus on snacks on the more savory side of the spectrum.  I thought of the following ideas . . .

Bagel w/cream cheese
hummus & veggies
pretzels with hummus or peanut butter
apple with peanut butter
wholegrain chips & salsa
ants on a log
cottage cheese
hard-boiled eggs
bars (KIND bars were on sale)
other fresh or dried fruits

Any other great healthy snack ideas for me?

Sunday, October 14, 2012

weekend eat-a-thon, again!

Recently, I described my weekend as an "eat-a-thon," as I tend to do most of my cooking over the weekends while John is around, and live off leftovers during the week.  This past weekend was no exception!

Our weekend started a little early this week, as I had some downtime between jobs.  I decided to plan a fun Thursday night dinner -- baked potato bar!  I ended up coming up with so many ideas for toppings, I had to split my potato in half and "theme" each one.

Potato #1 -- the "traditional"

Following a bit of butter and salt, I piled on sauteed mushrooms, steamed frozen broccoli, homemade sour cream, Coconut Bacon, and minced garden chives.  A note on the coconut bacon . . . I really liked it, John didn't.  He doesn't care for coconut, so that makes sense.  :)

Potato #2 -- the "southwestern"

Plenty of seasoned black beans, Cheddar Cheese Sauce, salsa, and garden green onions.  I was really happy with how this batch of beans turned out, and that cheese sauce?  Awesome.  I think this was the first time that I've made a cheese sauce that hasn't broken!  Woo!  The trick?  Let the sauce cool a LOT longer than you think it needs to before whisking in the cheese.  We both loved this sauce -- it was light, creamy, cheesy, totally easy to make, and a budget-friendly way to stretch a small amount of cheese out into several servings.  I think I'll make this sauce again soon, and add it to some hot cooked macaroni for a healthier version of stovetop mac and cheese!

John had a long day working outdoors in the cold on Friday, so I figured he needed a pretty hearty meal at the end of the day:

Nutloaf, homemade-buttermilk-garlic mashed potatoes, Quick Gravy, and oven-roasted green beans.  Nutloaf, while neither inexpensive nor terribly healthy, is terribly tasty.  :)  I recommend leftovers sliced, with ketchup, in-between two slices of good wholegrain bread.  We both really liked the gravy, too, (and it really was quick!) although I think I'd add an extra tsp of flour next time -- it was just a little too thin in my opinion.

Breakfast Saturday -- Carrot Cake Pancakes:

Who doesn't want to sneak in a serving of veggies at breakfast?  :)  I didn't have quite enough carrots this time 'round, so I ended up using about half shredded carrots and half shredded garden zucchini, with good results.  John was out of whole wheat flour, so I used all-purpose . . . and we both decided we preferred the hearty, nutty flavor of the whole-wheat flour in this recipe.  The AP pancakes were too sweet and too plain tasting, in our opinion!

A picnic lunch Saturday:

Homemade butternut squash soup, Kalamata Olive Bread with Oregano, sharp cheddar, and an apple.  The soup turned out really well, and I was excited to use some of the squash we grew in our garden this year!  I also really liked the olive bread -- it was dense without being heavy, savory but not too salty, and held up well during backpack transport.  (I also got to use some fresh oregano from our garden!)

Breakfast today:

Cheesy scrambled eggs, Buttermilk Waffles, orange juice, and coffee.  Have I mentioned lately how much I love buttermilk?  Yeah?  Well . . . these waffles were another excellent use of my new favorite ingredient.  Crispy, light, slightly tangy, offset by a sweet drizzle of syrup.  Waffle perfection!

Dinner tonight -- Festive Chickpea Tart:

This was quite tasty, and very easy to make in advance -- I prepped the filling on Friday afternoon, stuck it in the fridge, and spooned it into the pie shell tonight before baking.  Superfast dinner in the oven!  However, I did make a couple of changes to the original recipe, including adding more oil and a couple of well-beaten eggs to the base.  My filling looked so dry after I mixed everything together, I wasn't convinced it was going to set up at all, and didn't want a crumbly mess on my hands!  Adding the eggs and extra oil gave the tart a beautiful structure, although it was no longer vegan.  Thoughts?  I might try this again using hummus as the base, adding some whole chickpeas for texture, and keeping the other veggies and seasonings basically the same.  Flavor-wise, this was fantastic, and surprisingly filling!

Better get to bed -- big day at the new job tomorrow!

NEWS, and a new bag

News first -- I start a new job tomorrow!  I will still be teaching, but at different center, with slightly older kids, and adding the challenge of learning a new curriculum.  I'm excited for the change and new challenges, and am all packed up and ready to go tomorrow morning.  The only drawback?  I'm saying goodbye to my daily walk to and from work, and am looking at a significant daily bus commute, out to one of the inner-ring western suburbs.

Anyone who has ever commuted on the bus understands the value of a VERY good work bag.  :)  My old backpack, although not actually all that many years old, has started to show its age -- I had had it in for repairs once already, and it's starting to come apart again in the same place.  :(

Know what I think?  I think a new job calls for a new backpack!

I have been on the prowl for a new daypack for ages, and I finally found one -- I'm really excited about Timbuk2's Full-Cycle Amnesia!  I took it for a test-drive yesterday afternoon, on a longish and drizzly hike with John.  While I may never find the PERFECT backpack, this one is pretty close!

~ The entire pack (except for the zippers) is made out of 100% recycled materials, and still boasts Timbuk2's lifetime warranty
~ I love the pockets -- a side-zip external laptop compartment, a nicely large main compartment, one external water bottle holder, one good-sized flap pocket with an organizer, and that AWESOME small pouch across the top for all of those tiny odds and ends I need to carry around!  (Is it weird that I hate bags with too many pockets?)
~ Velcro straps to tie down a bike helmet! (This will be very important come springtime, as my new job is conveniently located right off of a bike trail)
~ Awesome padding and stability, including back ventilation and a sternum strap
~ Although the bag is pretty tall, it doesn't sit too low on my waist/hips (this is an issue for my short self and even shorter torso with most backpacks)
~ The bag is tall, which allows for three "levels" of packing (as opposed to 2 levels in most backpacks)
~ The bag has quite a low profile and hugs my back nicely, which will come in handy on crowded busses -- I don't think I'll ever risk knocking into someone when trying to turn around anymore!
~ While I wouldn't say it was actively raining but for a few minutes during our hike, the inner contents stayed nice and dry despite all of the mist and drizzle for several hours!

~ The sternum strap is detachable, and the snaps aren't strong enough.  They popped loose several times yesterday during our hike.  I plan on solving this problem by super-gluing the snaps closed, although this will mean they are no longer detachable.  Oh well!
~ The bag is so tall, I have a hard time seeing inside the bottom flap pocket when I swing it around to my frontside (this is also due to my super-short torso, I think)
~ Weirdly, (but kind of comically, too,) there is a built-in bottle opener.  Nice to know in case I have a root beer or ginger soda emergency sometime in the future?

What do you look for in a good bag?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

DIY: laundry detergent

Next on my list of DIY projects was homemade laundry detergent!  I had originally stumbled on a recipe for liquid detergent, but decided I'd take Eileen's advice and make a powdered detergent instead.

This was likely my easiest DIY project to date!  I did have a little bit of trouble finding washing soda, although I didn't really go out of my way to look for it; rather, I just kept checking at stores John and I frequent, and eventually found it.  Target?  No.  Cub?  Nope.  Wedge?  Nah.  Byerly's?  Yes!  Borax was easier to find, (Target, the Wedge, and Byerly's all carry it,) and bar soap -- well, all I had to do was check my bathroom for a spare bar.  :)

1 cup washing soda
1 cup Borax
1 bar castille soap, grated finely (I used Dr. Bronner's citrus scent)

Mix all of the ingredients together, and you're done!  Eileen suggests 1 tbsp per load, although I haven't had a chance to test this out yet.  I'll update when I do!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Meal planning gone awry

Do you ever have those moments when meal-planning goes a little awry? I have had the ingredients for this "Hoisin-Glazed Tempeh" from Vegetarian Times on hand for a couple of weeks now, and just got around to making it today. Although I'm not a huge fan of frozen veggies, this was definitely an acceptable use of frozen green beans. The sauce was good, but I'll likely add some sambal oelek next time. On the positive side? We always love tempeh, and I forget how much I love cashews in stir-fries. Another bonus? This is one speedy meal in preparation - awesome for a busy weeknight!

Here's the link to the recipe:

Monday, October 08, 2012

we're back!

Oh my, was that a long illness.  Just as soon as I started feeling better, John took a turn for the worse.  Consequently, I haven't been doing much cooking these past couple of weeks!  However, come Sunday, we both finally had appetites.  Hurry up, Catherine -- cook something!

Dinner Sunday night was a simple, nutritious, and flavorful lentil soup:

Is anyone else as obsessed with Real Simple's recipes as I am?  Winter Lentil Soup has made it onto my list of all-time favorite soups.  Check out this recipe, seriously . . . I know that it doesn't look like much, but sometimes simple is better, right?  John and I both love kale and sweet potatoes, John loves lentils, (although I'm not a fan, there aren't many in this soup, and they are not the dominant flavor,) and I've come to realize I don't cook with leeks nearly often enough.  I even skimped and used dried thyme instead of fresh, then tried to make up for that switch by using half vegetable broth and half water, instead of all water like the recipe called for.  Slurp!  Plenty of leftovers -- some for the fridge, some for the freezer!

On the side -- buttermilk biscuits!

Buttermilk might be my new favorite baking ingredient.  Every recipe I've used it in bakes up light, fluffy, and tender, and has just the slightest sour tang.  Yum!  If you are interested in learning how to serially culture buttermilk, let me know -- I'll do a post.  It's so easy it almost doesn't merit a post, but I'd be happy to oblige!

More baking . . .

Treats for John's house:

Peanut Butter Banana Bread
(By the way, I subbed sour cream for the yogurt called for in the recipe, as that was what John had on hand -- success!)  John doesn't much care for banana bread, but thought he might be able to enjoy it more if it was infused with peanut butter, one of his favorite flavors.  I think it's a hit, and I managed to use up all of the overripe bananas littering up his kitchen.  :)

And treats for my house:

Pumpkin Molasses Spice Cookies . . . thank you, Mama Pea, for introducing the world to the softest, doughiest, chewiest, best molasses cookie EVER . . . let's just say I'm glad this recipe only made 24 cookies, because they are incredibly addictive.  These may be making a repeat appearance around the holidays at my house!

Let's hope we are able to keep the germs at bay for a while!  More cooking, please!

Monday, October 01, 2012


It's been a weekend of sickness.  I've been harboring a cold for a week or so now, (just as soon as my allergies wrapped up, I caught the cold the kids at work have had,) woke up with back pain on Friday, and also came down with a bit of a tummy bug on Saturday.  Boo!  While I'm on the mend today, John's getting worse, so we haven't been eating much this weekend.  Or doing much of anything, besides sitting on the couch.  (We went to the Redbox yesterday, and I had to take a nap afterwards, it's that kind of sick.)

Here are a couple of pictures from before the germs took hold . . .

Chili and cornbread:

I made my plain/basic recipe, which is always a little bit different, but always contains onion, garlic, green peppers, minced mushrooms, beans, diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, and a little hot sauce.  This time, I also added a few spoonfulls of leftover refried beans and a few spoonfulls of leftover homemade salsa, in an effort to clean out the fridge.  :)  Topped with shredded cheese, green onions from the garden, and sour cream, this was a great, filling lunch.  Side of Buttermilk Cornbread (I cut the sugar in the original recipe down to 1/3 cup, by the way,) rounded things out nicely.

Since it's been chillier, I've been wanting oatmeal for breakfast lately.  I decided to switch things up and make baked oatmeal!

This is a relatively simple breakfast to make, and doesn't take too much prep time, although it does require about a half hour in the oven.  I'd consider making this the night before and popping the oatmeal in the oven just as soon as I wake up, or save slices to be reheated in the microwave as needed.  :)

1 1/2 cups oats
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup brown sugar (or much less . . . as prepared, this was too sweet for me -- I'd consider 1/3 cup next time)
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
pinch or two of salt
1 tsp vanilla

Directions: Combine everything well and pour into a greased 9-inch baking dish.  Bake at 350 for about a half hour, or until the oatmeal is set and beginning to brown around the edges.  Serve with milk or a drizzle of cream!

OK . . . back to the couch.  I'll be back to work tomorrow, so I better rest up!