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Saturday, January 30, 2010

I've Got the Sweets (and Sours)

This week, based on a previous posting, I was asked for my current favorite recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken.

This recipe is very simple, but has so much flavor. This is the recipe that I found in my very first cookbook that I ever purchased: "Betty Crocker's: Everything You Need To Know To Cook." I first made this meal the first year I was married ... probably the first month! It has been a favorite ever since (but I would not deem this as the perfect Sweet and Sour Chicken).

Sweet and Sour Chicken
Serves 5 (1 cup servings) Calories 240 per serving

15 1/2 oz can of pineapple chunks in juice (reserving 1/3 cup juice)
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
3 Tablespoons white vinegar
1 Tablespoon honey
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 Tablespoon vegetable oil (yes, this is a repeat)
1 medium green pepper, cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1 medium onion, sliced
2 medium carrots, coarsely shredded (approx. 1 1/4 cups)

Mix 1/3 cup pineapple juice, the cornstarch, vinegar and honey.

Heat wok over high. Add oil and stir-fry chicken until no longer pink. Remove chicken and keep warm. Add the remaining 1 Tablespoon of oil to the wok and stir-fry peppers and onion for about 1 minute. Add cornstarch mixture and carrots to wok. Cook and stir for about 1 minute until sauce thickens. (Tip, if you want your veggies softer, cook them all at the same time and cook until tender, then add the sauce mixture)

Stir in pineapple and chicken and heat thru.

*** I like to serve this over brown rice and with some mandarin oranges.


What's for Supper? Menu 2

I am passionate about cooking well-balanced, healthy meals for my family. It is one way that I express my love for them. I love looking at recipes and planning menus that I think will appeal to them.

This week, I have planned 5 meals for our menu. I never assign a specific meal for a specific day of the week. I like to decide what sounds good that day, and also some meals take less prep time, and I like to save those for our busiest days.

Meal #1:
Breakfast for Supper~
French Toast with Sauteed Bananas
Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits

Meal #2:
BBQ Bacon Cheeseburgers
Italian Seasoned Oven Fries
Garden Salad

Meal #3:
Three Meat Jambalaya
Garlicky Baked French Bread
Garden Salad

Meal #4:
Chicken Cordon Bleu
Garlicky Green Beans
Tomato Basil Salad

Meal #5:
Skinny Scampi (Matt's request)
Brown Rice
Oven Roasted Broccoli with Parmesan

Hope you all enjoy! Stay tuned for my Super Bowl Menu later.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Home-made is best.

I came home this week from work and entered the kitchen. My kitchen table had 4 large containers of oats on it. I looked at my husband, seeking an answer for this immense amount of grains that I did not purchase. He smiled and said he thought I should makes "something" with it.

Now, my family are cereal eaters. This may be the wrong term for their cereal eating behavior. My boys come by it honestly. My husband, in his bachelor years, used to consume 1-2 boxes of cereal in a 24 hour window of time. Just yesterday, my dear husband said that he and the boys had a cereal eating contest during breakfast. He proudly stated that Trevor consumed 6 bowls full of cereal. He said, Nicholas (my 4 year old) gave up after about 4 bowls of cereal. On a weekly basis, I can be found at the supermarket with a cart full of cereal.

When I am being sensible, I will make home-made granola for my family. This is just as easily consumed as the other cereals that I purchase for my guys (after all, I store all cereal out of the boxes in Tupperware cereal holders, so no one is the wiser!).

So, I believe that the four large containers of oats on the table may have been my husband trying to give me a subliminal message of "Please fix some granola for our family. We are in dire need of a healthier, more cost-effective breakfast." Do you think that is what he was trying to say?

A friend of mine asked me this week for a good, low-fat granola recipe. Since she specifically requested low-fat, I gave her one I got off of Cooking Light's website about a year ago. It is good ... but I have to say, I enjoy this recipe so much more. It is also the granola of choice of my family.
Goodness-Greatness Granola
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup light brown sugar
6 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1/3 cup wheat germ
1 Tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup of sliced almonds
1 cup of dried berries (your choice)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

Line 2 cookie sheets with aluminum foil. In a large bowl, combine honey, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and salt. Add the oats, wheat germ and stir until evenly blended.

Spread the granola out on the prepared sheets and bake about 20 minutes, stirring a few times to avoid burning and to achieve even baking. Remove pans from oven, stirring and then bake and additional 10 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Stir in the nuts and berries of your choice.


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Simply Soup

Simmering on the stove or served steaming hot in a bowl, I love soup! In the winter time, soup frequently appears on the menu. What I love about soup? I love the versatility of soup: You can take nearly any protein, any vegetable, any seasoning, any broth ... and when combined, results in the most delicious creation.

I am a firm believer in the healing powers of soup. There may be no medical studies supporting my theory ... but I know that whenever I feel like I have a cold or if I feel like I am getting sick, nothing is as good as a bowl of piping hot soup (especially my Mother's Chicken Rice Soup!)

The soup I made this week is my boys' favorite. It is Barley Vegetable Beef Stew (the title tells it all!). The good thing about this soup is that you can either use canned, fresh, or frozen vegetables, most of the ingredients can be found right in your pantry, and it is one of the simplest soups with the best flavor. I love to add corn, green beans, peas, and other vegetables to this recipe - pick your favorites. I have typed up the way I made the recipe this week. I hope you and your family will love it.

Barley Vegetable Beef Stew
Makes 8 servings at 203 calories per serving

1 1/2 to 2 pounds of beef stew meat or leftover beef roast
1 cup chopped celery (use the leaves too, as they really produce a wonderful flavor)
1 small onion, chopped
4-6 carrots, peeled and sliced
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
7 cups of beef broth (can substitute 7 cups of water with 4 beef bouillon cubes)
14 oz can of tomato sauce
1 1/2 tsp dried marjoram
3/4 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp black pepper
salt to taste
2/3 cup uncooked pearl barley
1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped

In a large non-stick skillet, brown the beef with the onion and garlic. When cooked thru, add remaining vegetables and all seasonings and cook and stir until they start to get tender. Add broth, tomato sauce, and barley and simmer over medium heat for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The longer it simmers, the more tender the beef will be. Before serving, add the chopped, fresh parsley to the stew and stir well.

***I like to serve this meal with my Crusty French Bread and a garden salad.


A Little Bit of Spice.

Every week, I try to plan a salad supper into our meal plan. I love salads for supper. There is so much that you can do - so many tasty options.

I love Mexican food. I love going to restaurants and indulging in queso and salsa with those still fresh from the oven tortilla chips (I like to pretend they are fresh from the oven, and not fresh from a vat of oil...) I love squeezing a little fresh lime over a taco. I adore the incredible variety of flavors that attack your taste buds. Deliciousness!

So ... needless to say, this week, I prepared one of my favorite salads: Black Bean Taco Salad.

Here is the line-up of ingredients: Spicy Taco Meat, corn, black beans, green pepper, avocado, green onions, and reduced-fat sharp cheddar cheese.

And here is the finished product!

My dressing consisted of one part light sour cream and one part salsa. It was perfect! I have also used a balsamic vinaigrette or just squeezed fresh lime juice over the top as my dressing. Whatever way you go, it is delicious. Another thing that is fun is to take spinach tortillas, slice them in thin strips and then toast them in the oven. They add a nice crunch to the salad, in case you are missing the carbs. The way I fixed it made enough salad for 6 servings at 279 calories per serving. My boys loved eating the meat, beans and corn on the side and I made cheesy quesadillas for them.

Here is the recipe for my Spicy Taco Meat that I used to make this salad:

Spicy Taco Meat
1 to 1 1/2 pounds of lean ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1 large jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped
2 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 pint of grape tomatoes, quartered
2 tsp cumin
1 Tablespoon chili powder
1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp salt
1/3 cup ketchup

Brown beef with jalapeno, garlic, and onion. Add seasonings. Cook until fragrant. Add the tomatoes and cook for another minute. Stir in ketchup and heat thru. Serve.

*** This meat makes wonderful tacos, enchiladas, or even nachos. The sky is the limit!


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Chicken Tonight...

I love chicken. I love using chicken in recipes. When I go to a restaurant, I love trying new and different creations with chicken. So, a very popular protein in the menus I create is chicken.

Tonight, I decided that we would have the Zesty Barbecue Chicken Breasts for supper. I made the sauce, poured it over my frozen (yes, FROZEN) chicken breasts and popped the whole mess into the oven in my stoneware casserole dish. Approximately 50 minutes later, supper was served. The boys just magically appeared from wherever they had previously been playing in the house and were very eager to have their supper (and SECONDS).

Zesty Barbecue Chicken Breasts (287 calories per serving)

4-6 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves (I used frozen, because I did not have them thawed)

3/4 cup ketchup

1/2 cup salsa

1/4 cup honey

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tsp chili powder

1/2 tsp cumin

Arrange chicken in a 9x13 casserole dish (sprayed with some non-stick cooking spray). Combine the remaining ingredients to make the sauce. Pour over the chicken, coating every piece. Bake at 400 degrees for approximately 50 minutes, or until chicken juices run clear. Serve immediately, with the sauce poured over top of the chicken.

*** We served this with some sweet potato pan fries and corn.

I hope that your family enjoys this meal as much as my family did!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

My Cuddle Bug...

My youngest. Blue eyes and blond hair. My Spiderman (this is who he compares himself to frequently). My cuddle bug. My slayer of dragons. My helper in the kitchen. My sweet talker... my second born is all of these things, and then some!

On the way home from work today, on the way to pick up big brother from school, my youngest son was definitely sweet talking his Momma. "Mommy, I love you. I love to buy you flowers. I love to cuddle with you. I love to buy you hamsters. (I am thinking, "What? We don't have any hamsters!)

After going on for about 5 minutes citing all of the things he loves to buy for and give to his Mommy, my sweet-talking child had a revelation. "Mommy, I know what you will love to buy for me ... a FERRET!"

Now, I am not sure exactly where he has seen a ferret ... or heard of a ferret ... or if he even knows exactly what a ferret is. However, one thing I am very certain of is that I am not buying him a ferret! I smiled and tactfully changed the subject, He soon forgot about the ferret and was ready to pick up big brother and have some clementines for an afternoon snack.

Simple pleasures .... I am blessed!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Lazy Days of Winter ...

So, today the boys and I enjoyed a day together. Matt's plane was delayed and so he will be home this evening (rather than afternoon). After a whole week without Daddy, the boys are looking forward to seeing him tonight ... even though, he will likely get back home after they are in bed.

We spent the afternoon cuddling up on the sofa and watching MacGyver episodes. I love it when my boys enjoy (or at least tolerate) things that I enjoyed as a child. It was a fun afternoon.
They boys were begging all day for Chinese food. I had a new recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken to try out - and my boys were claiming to be willing guinea pigs. I was intrigued by some of the new ingredients that comprised this recipe: Fresh ginger and garlic cooked with the chicken, and ketchup and chili powder in the sauce recipe? Now, I had a pretty good recipe for Sweet and Sour Chicken in my recipe file ... but the ever perfect recipe has alluded me. So, I decided to give this recipe a try.

Sweet & Sour Chicken
532 calories per serving

1 tsp olive oil
1 1/4 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into chunks
2 tsp grated ginger
1 -2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 1/2 cups green pepper, chopped in larger chunks
1 cup onion, chopped in larger chunks
4 large carrots, peeled and sliced
14 oz can pineapple chunks, undrained
1/4 cup ketchup
1/4 cup white vinegar or rice vinegar
3 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons reduced sodium soy sauce
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 tsp. chili powder
Hot rice

Heat oil in a wok. Add chicken, garlic and ginger root. Cook until chicken is cooked completely through and then remove from wok and keep warm. Add vegetables to wok and cook for about 5 minutes until tender.

For sauce, whisk together 1/2 cup pineapple juice, ketchup, vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, chili powder and cornstarch. Add sauce, pineapple and chicken to vegetables in wok and heat through until sauce is thickened and pineapple is warmed through. Serve over brown rice.

**I served this meal with steamed brown rice and Mandarin oranges.

My analysis of this recipe is as follows:
Flavor was good. I loved the meat that had the ginger-garlic flavor cooked into it. However, the sauce was lacking in flavor to me. I still prefer my other sauce recipe (although, it definitely has a higher calorie content). This is a good meal, but did not quite satisfy my Chinese craving ... and did not quite pass my boys' test taste. In the future, I will probably do a variation between this recipe and my other recipe... until I find my "perfect" version of Sweet and Sour Chicken.

What's for Supper?

I am passionate about cooking well-balanced, healthy meals for my family. It is one way that I express my love for them. I love looking at recipes and planning menus that I think will appeal to them.

This week, I have planned 6 meals for our menu. I never assign a specific meal for a specific day of the week. I like to decide what sounds good that day, and also some meals take less prep time, and I like to save those for our busiest days. I work a full-time job, have 2 children, and still love to make a home-cooked meal every night for my family.

Meal #1:
Zesty Barbecue Chicken Breasts
Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet Corn

Meal #2:
Unrolled Cabbage Rolls
Honey-Wheat Bread

Meal #3:
Garlic-Ginger Chicken Skewers
Brown Rice
Steamed Broccoli

Meal #4:
Barley Vegetable Beef Stew
Bread sticks
Garden Salad

Meal #5:
Sweet & Sour Chicken
Brown Rice
Mandarin Oranges

Meal #6:
Black Bean Taco Salad

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shrimp Gumbo Stew

There is nothing like a cold winter night to make you want to warm up with a hot supper.

I had some shrimp in my freezer just begging to be used... honestly, I really think that they were calling my name! My husband sees shrimp in the freezer and literally starts begging me to make my Skinny Scampi (a lower-fat version of Shrimp Scampi that I like to make). But I was in the mood for something more substantial ... so, I decided to try a new recipe for Shrimp Gumbo. My rationale was that 1) It is COLD outside; 2) Gumbo is a bit spicy ... so it would warm us up really quickly; and 3) I love Gumbo!

I started reading thru recipes for Gumbo and one of the major components in Gumbo is okra. Now, I know my family - and I don't think that a single one of my guys would ever eat okra. So, I decided that an alteration may be necessary.

Reviewing the recipe, I noted that I did not have all of the required ingredients to make the dish. Not wanting to take the time to travel to the grocery store ... I decided to improvise. Here, you will find my "improvisation" for the Shrimp Gumbo. It was delicious!

Shrimp Gumbo Stew
304 calories per serving

1/4 cup flour
1 Tablespoon butter
1 cup chopped onions
1 cup chopped celery
2/3 cup carrots, peeled and diced
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
3 cups chicken broth
14.5 oz Italian-style tomatoes
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp dried thyme
1/2 tsp dried oregano
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
1 pound uncooked large shrimp, peeled and roughly chopped

Brown rice, cooked (serve the gumbo stew over rice)

In a small dish, place the flour and toast in a 400 degree oven for approximately 15 minutes until golden brown. Stir a few times while toasting to avoid flour from scorching. Remove from oven and transfer to another bowl to allow the flour to cool.

Melt butter in a large skillet. Add onions, celery, garlic and carrots. Cook and stir until veggies begin to soften. Add seasonings to the veggies and stir to combine. Stir in toasted flour and cook for another minute. Add broth and mix well. Add tomatoes (with the juice) and the zucchini. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low. Simmer for about 20 minutes until vegetables are tender (but not mushy).

Add the shrimp to the pot and simmer for about 5-7 minutes (until the shrimp is cooked through). Serve the gumbo stew over a bowl of brown rice.

**I served the Shrimp Gumbo Stew over brown rice with crusty bread and a garden salad.

Bon Appetit!


Happily Ever Afters

This past weekend, I had the joy and priviledge of witnessing the marriage of my beautiful cousin Meghan. She is now (officially) Mrs. Jeremy Drane.

The wedding was beautiful. It was set in the Masonic Lodge in downtown Des Moines. The architecture was amazing - I found myself admiring the beautiful stained glass windows, the ornate ceilings, and all of the other beautiful elements of the newly remodeled building. I was amazed to hear that my cousin David had a hand in some of the work as he was the lead architect during the remodel (it was his first job).

The ceremony was memorable. Special moments include the ring bearers dropping the rings, my cousin Meghan's radiant smile lighting up the room, my cousin Laura's amazing duet - where she sang Andrea Boccelli's song, "The Prayer". That song, literally brought tears to my eyes (it was that lovely ... ) But then, I would get distracted by my youngest son's commentary on the wedding. "Is that 'sing' almost done yet?", "I really need a drink, Mommy." "Can I just go up there to play with those boys and that girl?" "Is it time to eat?" "My Leapster will quiet if I play it." Needless to say, a complete range of emotions was experienced ... from tears to laughter, from sweetness to embarrasment. And the best emotion was the relief... after the wedding had ended and multiple people said how well behaved my boys were during the wedding.

I loved being able to see family and friends that I have not talked to in years. The evening was much too short - and I did not get to talk to everyone that I wanted to. But, I definitely reflect back on all of the love I experienced that night. My cup overfloweth!

The Trevinator's Big Day

Trevor: My first-born. Nick-name of choice, "The Trevinator" (Seriously... he just told me that this is what I should call him last night at the supper table). Designer of incredible Lego creations. Illustrator of super-heroes.

Trevor had a very exciting Thursday of last week: He lost a tooth at school. When I picked him up from school, Trevor excitedly relayed this information to me. "Mommy, at school today, I did something that no one else has ever done in my class during school. I lost a tooth!" He said that his substitute teacher told him, "Congratulations" and then they went to the school nurse where he was able to pick out a "Tooth Treasure Chest" to put his tooth in for the duration of school that day. We set the tooth in the Tooth Treasure Chest in the special place where the Tooth Fairy looks for teeth that night before bedtime. The next morning, Trevor was excited to find his bounty, in the place where the Tooth Treasure Chest had rested just the night before. I loved watching him as he excitedly showed his brother, before putting his Tooth Fairy money into his safe. What unbridled joy my son has! I am so blessed to have him as my son.

As I reflect on the excitement Trevor had over his lost tooth, I pray that he never loses his innocence and that he will always treasure the simplest pleasures that life has to offer. I need to become better at celebrating these small moments that life offers up. I need to remember to count my blessings - both big and small - every one!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Full Plate

While I was debating on whether or not to start a blog, I asked some friends what to call my blog if I should ever start one. One friend, Matt (my favorite Math teacher), suggested "A Full Plate". It was catchy, it was accurate ... so, I decided that it may just be the perfect name for a blog.

I love to cook. I love perusing through cookbooks at the bookstores. I probably own one hundred ... who knows, I sure don't count them! I read cookbooks like some people read novels. It is true. I love picking out a "cookbook of the week" when I am menu planning, and trying out a couple of recipes from that cookbook during the upcoming week. I write little notes to myself in these cookbooks: Documenting the special occasion which we first enjoyed the recipe, writing my husband's "critique" of the meal, classifying the recipe for future reference.

You may be wondering what my cooking style is like. I have to say, I am Paula Deen's biggest fan. I have all of her cookbooks (and her sons' cookbooks too!) I love "down-home" style cooking. Meals like what I grew up with while living back home on the farm. "Comfort" food. I admit, I like to try new recipes too; to try to capture the same flavor and zest of dishes I have sampled in restaurants. You will see a wide variety of foods in my menus and recipe files.

Right now, my focus is to make healthier versions of my family's favorite types of food. I am trying out new "low-fat" recipes and experimenting a bit with some of my favorite recipes.

I have a little three ringed binder that my good friend Lori gave to me years ago. In this binder, I keep all of my "perfect" recipes. The recipes that are so good, I do not ever have to look for another version of that type of recipe. I have officially found "the perfect recipe" for Cinnamon Rolls, Chicken Pot Pie, Escalloped Potatoes, Blueberry Muffins ... (okay, I will not list them all right now).

One new addition to my "perfect recipe" binder is an Asian Sesame-Ginger Marinade. I used this fabulous marinade recipe to make Asian-Infused Sirloin Steaks last week. I served this savory steak with baked sweet potatoes (sprinkled with brown sugar) and garlicky green beans. My husband rated this meal as "perfection" (and has requested I make it once a week...)

Doesn't it look delicious?

Asian (Sesame-Ginger) Infused Sirloin Steak
262 calories per serving

1/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon reduced sodium soy sauce
Juice of 1/2 of a lime
3 Tablespoons Heinz 57 Steak Sauce
2 Tablespoons brown sugar
1 inch piece of ginger, shredded
2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1 tsp sesame oil
1/4 tsp black pepper

Mix well and pour over a 2 pound (nice and thick!) sirloin steak. Let this marinate overnight (or at least 4 hours). I usually just use a nice big plastic bag (resealable) to marinate the steak in.

In a grill pan that is preheated, add the steak and the marinade. Grill the steak over medium-high heat until desired "doneness" is reaches, brushing occasionally with the marinade. I cooked it for about 6 minutes per side and then transferred the whole pan (steak and all) into the oven for a few minutes to finish cooking.

Let meat rest for a few minutes before cutting into individual serving sizes (or you can slice it into thin slices if that is preferred). Serve immediately.

Hope you all enjoy!


Starting Out

Where do I begin? I am not even sure what to say...

For quite some time, I have debated on starting a blog. I have lots of interests, a wonderful husband and two adorable little boys, and family and friends that are spread all over the United States. I thought, "This would be a wonderful way to capture memories and share them with my family and friends."

Then again, I love photography. It is my passion, really. I love "capturing" those fleeting moments for all time. Nothing tells a story quite as well as a picture... especially some of the ones I have with my boys. Their expressions sometimes say a lot more than I would like...

I am an avid scrapbooker. I love to capture my precious memories in albums. It is so much fun to look at them with my boys - and help tell them the story of their lives (again and again ...) I also enjoy helping others' capture their memories as well. I have worked on a heritage album for my grandparents, completed an album for my Mother that had pictures of my brother, sister and I from our younger years, and, occasionally, I work on projects for clients.

Let me discuss yet another area of interest that I have. I love to cook and bake. I enjoy reading cookbooks and food magazines. I love menu planning. I love going into a restaurant and dissecting my favorite dishes to try to recreate them at home. My poor family has to try so many new recipes every week ~ but, I do also make some of the family favorites too. I was thinking that a blog would be neat to help capture some of these recipes: To document the successes and failures; to share these recipes with my family and friends.

Well... I guess, I have rambled on enough in this "introduction" post. I look forward to comments and suggestions as I have officially entered into the world of "blogging."