Greek Yogurt…..

I have used plain non fat yogurt in my recipes for years.  I enjoy the challenge of lightening mayonnaise laden salads, dressings, and dips with non fat Greek yogurt.   Light and Creamy Egg SaladCreamy Yogurt Ranch Dressing, Light and Creamy Bleu Cheese Dressing are some of my most favorites.  Additionally, yogurt makes for a delicious twist in  Vanilla Yogurt Whole Grain Pancakes,  and makes for a fantastic marinade in Yogurt and Rosemary Marinated Chicken.   I love artichoke dip, but 1 1/2 to 2 cups of mayonnaise don’t love me!  Try my Light Artichoke Dip, you won’t miss the fat!  If you love sour cream on your potatoes or tacos, why not mix half yogurt with half sour cream?  Half the fat and none of the funky ingredients you find in low fat sour cream. 

You probably have noticed that Greek yogurt has soared in popularity over the past couple of years.   There are many health benefits associated with yogurt.   You’ve probably heard the term “probiotic.”  These are active cultures found in yogurt that is a friendly bacteria to aid our stomachs in digestion.

Non fat Greek yogurt is rich and creamy because it is triple strained, most commercial yogurts are strained only twice.  This means that most of the watery whey is removed, resulting in it’s rich texture.  Greek yogurt is also higher in protein and lower in sodium than other commercial yogurts.

There are many brands to choose from.  My favorites are Chobani and Fage.  Stonyfield Farm Organic and Yoplait make nice Greek yogurts as well.

Have a great day!

Using Dried Beans….

When using dried beans one of the most important steps in the process is soaking.  Dried beans require an overnight soak to begin re-hydrating before the actual cooking process.  Below are a couple of examples of dried beans, before and after soaking.

These are red beans.  You can see that some of the beans on the right do not look like they’ve been soaked.  I soaked them overnight and what should have taken only about 40 minutes of cooking (per the recipe) took 5 hours!  It’s not the fault of the recipe.  The beans may have been on the shelf for a very long time.  The end result was very good, but would be most discouraging to someone trying for the first time. 

These are great northern beans.  I’ve always had good luck with this variety.  I’m thinking too, that it’s a very popular bean, so a much higher turnover than the red beans.  Anyway, these took between 45-60 minutes of cooking and they were perfect. 

Please remember that when using dried beans cooking times can greatly vary.  The next time I use dried red beans, I will soak them for 48 hours.

Look for one of my favorite old fashioned soups this week!

Have a great night!

Best Simple Pasta Side Dishes…Kids LOVE These!

Well, adults too!  What’s not to love about pasta?  It’s quick cooking, lends itself very well to flavorings and ingredients.  It’s offered in many varieties other than semolina wheat for those of you who have a dietary wheat restriction.  You can do a million things with it.  You can put it into soups, main vegetarian dishes, old world Italian pasta with meat dishes, and salads, just to name a few.  The beauty of so many different shapes and sizes of pasta would be that for the most part, their interchangeable in recipes.  My boys favor curly pastas as well as the mini ravioli or tortellini pasta.  It’s simply a FUN thing to eat.  I just love that!

In addition to soups and breads for upcoming posts, I want to also share some of my favorite simple and healthy pasta side dishes.   Try my Simple Garlic Spaghetti.  You will notice that it has very few ingredients.  I don’t know about you, but the fewer the ingredients the better for my guys.  The flavors here are very basic: tomato, garlic, and parmesan cheese….soooo delicious!  Serve with any simple roasted or grilled meat or enjoy as a vegetarian main dish and serve with a yummy salad with my Light and Creamy Yogurt Ranch Dressing.  I do not buy bottled dressings anymore, there are way to many ingredients in them I cannot pronounce.  There is no need in the human body for that.

Let us all strive to get back to whole, simple foods.  I strive each and every week to give you just that.

Healthy eating everyone:-)


Perfect Boiled Eggs….

Hard boiled eggs.  Simple right?  Not necessarily.  Ever had them come out greenish?  Not very appetizing!  My mother-in-law Patricia told me how to make them and I’ve done it her way ever since.  It’s very simple and easy to remember.

Place your eggs in a medium size pan that has a tight fitting lid.  Cover the eggs with cold water.  (do not cover the pan with the lid just yet)  Bring to a full boil.  Remove from heat and immediately cover with the lid.  Set the timer for 11 minutes.  When timer goes off pour water into sink and run cold water over the eggs.  Break shells and remove.  Wha-la!

Perfect eggs.

Stay warm!

A "Greener" Way To Enjoy Fruit Juice…..

For years I bought my fruit juices in half gallon plastic containers.  The boys drink them in no time at all, so we’d go through 4-5 of them a week.   I’d say an average cost of approximately $2.50/half gallon.  In addition to the cost,  that’s a lot of plastic in the recycling bin. 

I rediscovered frozen concentrated juices.  Read the labels, some contain high fructose corn syrup, but many do not.  I found orange juice, grape, and apple.  In addition to less plastic, they are much less expensive.  I bought this name brand grape juice at Target for $1.37, so it’s a great deal!

Lastly, most juices are far too sweet.  I add an additional can of water when mixing.  Less sugar and it goes farther.

So, less plastic in our precious environment, less money, and less sugar.  LOVE IT!

Have a wonderful weekend~

Holiday Baking Essentials….

Before I start posting recipes, I’d like to fill you in on my favorite baking equipment.  If you start with really good tools/equipment you will have a more favorable result.

1)  Cookie sheets.  T-fal Air Bake.  20″x15.5″.

This is absolutely the best baking sheet out there.  Why?  Number one, the size.  I can get about 20 good size chocolate chip cookies on this sheet without them touching.  When you’re making cut outs, you want to bake as many as possible at one time.  You see the one edge with a lip.  Great for oven removal.  No sides are terrific for easy cookie removal.  More on that momentarily.  I was practically skipping through Target when I found this cookie sheet!  They only had one, so I went home and immediately ordered on line…free shipping no less!  Click here for Target cookie sheet link!  They run $14.49.

2)  Parchment Paper.

Pick this up at just about any food retailer.  The box runs about $3.00.  The beauty of the size of the cookie sheet above and the parchment paper is that they are exactly the same width.  Simply cut a piece to fit the sheet.  Why use parchment paper?  When you bake the cookies on the paper and they come out of the oven, you can easily slide the hot cookies right onto the cooling rack.  They will cool much faster and no cookie residue is left on the pan.  You can use it over and over again for many batches of cookies.

3)  Cooling Racks.  20″ x 14.5″.

Perfect for cooling anything you bake on the mega size cookie sheet.   I found this exact size by Wilton.   They are $16.81.

Decorating Essentials….

I have a thing for small bowls.  I especially love these because they have lids.  They come in a set of six.  If memory serves, I think they were $22.00.   I often decorate in shifts so I love that I can simply pop the lid on and off without getting the bags/packages of decorations out over and over again.  Also great for prepping for any recipe.  I got these from Pampered Chef. 

Lastly, I love a good 12″ piping bag.  They run about $7.00.  The best tip size for piping gingerbread cookies would be the #5.  You can find these at any craft store.  (I got mine at Michaels)  The icing spatula is great for icing cookies, can’t live without it!

I wanted to give you a good base for my upcoming recipes.

Thank you for being patient with me!  I’m feeling more festive these days:-)

Have a great day!

Pie Crust Tips….

I suggested many pie recipes for your Thanksgiving finale but did not mention pie crust.  Try my step by step Butter Pie Crust recipe for any pie you might be making.  I love that it is made with a very short and real ingredient list.    And the taste!  I don’t have to tell you that the taste of real butter in anything is better.

Pie crust tips:

*Use a pastry blender to incorporate the butter into the flour.  The flour should resemble coarse cornmeal when it’s ready for the next step.
*Try not to referigerate for too long, it is unnecessary and will make the dough too cold to work with.  Optimal time is 30-60 minutes.
*Use cold butter and ice water.
*Limit the amount of time you handle the dough.  Try to knead the dough into a ball in 3-5 turns of the dough.
*There must be enough liquid to combine all the ingredients.  Use a fork when adding water to the flour/butter/salt mixture.

Have a wonderful weekend!

More Thanksgiving Ideas…..

Hello everyone-

I am a firm believer in getting as much done ahead as possible for this holiday feast.  Need turkey and prep ahead dinner tips?  Click here. 

Try my recipes for Cherry Crumb Pie, Traditional Pumpkin Pie, and Apple Crumb Pie….all my favorites for Thanksgiving!  Don’t feel like making a pie???  Try my Peach Crisp.  Use frozen peaches, this dessert will come together in a matter of minutes!  Make ahead and refrigerate.  About 20 minutes before dessert time, warm in 325′ oven for about 20 minutes….serve with real vanilla ice cream.  I cannot forget to mention Pumpkin Spice Bread Pudding, yet another easy dessert that can be made ahead and baked before serving.  What’s not to love about bread pudding??

If you’re having over night guests and would like a simple and delicious breakfast idea, why not try the Egg, Sausage, and Cheese Breakfast Bake.  You can prepare it the night before and simply pop it in the oven in the morning, so easy and delicious!  Try one of my delicious quick bread recipes such as Whole Wheat Pumpkin Spice Bread, Lemon Poppy Seed Cakes, or Blueberry Streusel Bread.  All freeze beautifully and thaw out quickly in the microwave on defrost for 2 minutes or for an hour on the kitchen counter.

I especially love this holiday where the main focus is on being with everyone we love and simply enjoying delicious foods together.


Brown Rice Tips….Perfect Brown Rice

Brown rice takes about 2x the cooking time as white rice.  That being said, I recommend making an entire five cup bag all at once and freezing into dinner size portions.   As always, label and date anything you put into the freezer.  Always use the FIFO method, first in, first out.  You can make some very quick dinners or side dishes out of thawed brown rice.  Try Vegetable Fried Brown Rice or add to soups, burritos, casseroles, meat loaf, and enchiladas, just to name a few.   See Quick Spanish Rice below for an excellent side to serve with tacos or to put into burritos.

*Quick tip*I cut back on the liquid when I make an entire bag of rice.  Whenever I add all of the liquid the recipe requires, I get mushy rice.  When I make a 5 cup bag of brown rice, I cut back the liquid by 1 cup.  Since the ratio is 2-1 water to rice, that would mean 9 cups total.  I do not completely cover the simmering rice, I leave the lid slightly ajar to allow moisture to escape while cooking. 

5 cups long grain brown rice
9 cups water
1 tablespoon kosher salt

1)  Add water and salt to pan over medium high heat and cover.  Once water is boiling, add rice.  Reduce heat to medium and cover with lid slightly ajar.  Cook for 35 minutes.  Cover completely, turn off the heat and allow to sit for an additional 5 minutes.  Uncover and use or begin the cooling process to store in freezer.
2)  Cool completely.  Rice is incredibly dense, so divide it up into several containers to allow the heat to escape.  Stir often while cooling.  Place in dated and labeled zip bags.  Remove as much air as possible and close bags.  Place in freezer apart from each other for the quickest freeze.  Makes 10 cups.

Dinner Plans……

I love this time of year.  Although it is a little sad to see summer go, there is so much to look forward to.  I love that everyone is on a schedule again.  That being said, our people will be expecting dinner at a more regulated time, every night.  What to make? 

Once again, I go back to that well stocked pantry.  It’s a great idea when cooking, to make extra and freeze.  It is much easier and energy efficient to make extra than to make that entire meal all over again,  it’s incredibly “green”.   It is a great relief when you’ve had a busy day to simply pull something delicious out of your freezer.  You will be so proud of yourself! (I will too!)

I find it very necessary to plan ahead.  No one wants to be thinking of what to make at 5 or 6:00 when everyone is starving!  This makes for expensive trips to the grocery store, take out, eating out, or drive through.   You will notice that each week I post a weekly menu.  That’s my plan for the week. I list what I’ll be making on the left side of my note book, then I make my shopping list down the right side.  I also do a quick inventory of what I have.  It only takes a few minutes and can save you money.   I also categorize my shopping list; dairy, meats, fresh produce, frozen.  This way you won’t be walking up and down the isles backtracking.  (I’ve been known to wander aimlessly!) This will save you valuable time. 

You will notice that I plan for four nights.  We usually will go out one night a week.  I may serve a leftover pasta with a salad or leftover chicken with a different side dish, like the Tomato Garlic Spaghetti.  Using up your leftovers is also very green.  I find it very painful to waste food, especially when there are so many who go without.  If you have something you’ve made and you have quite a bit leftover, freeze it!  If you don’t know what to do with something or want ideas, by all means, EMAIL ME!  I would be happy to help you.

When you sit down to plan your menu for the week, try not to overwhelm yourself with hugely complicated recipes.   If you have some favorites of your own, plan for those, they’re familiar and won’t take too much brain power.  Why not try something new once a week, if you love the recipe, put it into your rotation.  Some of my family fav’s are Parmesan Encrusted Chicken Breast, Simple Rigatoni with Meat Sauce, and Oven Fried Chicken, (listed in the right hand column under archived recipes) just to name a few.  The Parmesan Encrusted Chicken and the meat sauce for the rigatoni can both be frozen.  The following week you could just pull it out of the freezer:-)

I hope you are enjoying the beautiful weather.  I am ready to crank up the oven for baking…get ready to put your apron on !