Archive | March, 2013

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Tracey’s Muffin Tin Mini Lasagnas

27 Mar
A new favorite meal for us!

A new favorite healthy meal for us!

My mom found me a new blog and I really like it. It’s called Tracey’s Culinary Adventures and the very first link she forwarded to me was today’s recipe. She sent it to me last Thursday, saying she thought we’d like these,  and I wrote back and said, “I am going to make them tonight, they sound so good!”

Then I realized I’d eaten all the ricotta cheese as my chocolate fix the night before, so I had to go out and get that. And the wonton wrappers. But other than that, I had everything on hand and this sounded really good to me!

The recipe is a simple, easy one, and although it does have a few steps they are not hard steps and they are much easier than making a “real” lasagna. I liked that these were multi-layered, just as a lasagna would be, and I loved even more that they baked in ten minutes. They got four out of five thumbs up at our house, with only Alex not liking them. She liked the inside but not the wrappers. But overall, they were very well received and I’d most definitely make them again.

I am going to post Tracey’s recipe here, and any modifications I made, there weren’t many, but I encourage you to visit her blog because she really goes step by step in her description and it’s really well laid out. Additionally, she has some fabulous recipes on there, so check it out! My lasagnas were slightly more plain than hers as my family doesn’t love a lot of “stuff” in their meat layer, but you can really throw in anything that you like just as you would a regular lasagna.

TRACEY’S MUFFIN TIN MINI LASAGNAS

Dinner prep time often coincides with homework help time. On this night, I was listening to Alex read aloud, everything I always wanted to know about the state of Hawaii. Thank goodness for simple recipes!

Dinner prep time often coincides with homework help time. On this night, I was listening to Alex read aloud, everything I always wanted to know about the state of Hawaii. Thank goodness for simple recipes!

INGREDIENTS

12 oz ground turkey
1 medium onion, chopped (I skipped this.)
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms (I skipped this.)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano, divided
pinch red pepper flakes (I skipped this.)
1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese (I used fat free.)
1/2 teaspoon dried basil
24 wonton wrappers
1 1/2 cups shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese (I used fat free.)

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 F. Spray a 12-cup muffin tin generously with nonstick cooking spray.

Add the ground turkey, onions, mushrooms, salt, and pepper to a large skillet set over medium to medium-high heat. Using a wooden spoon, break the turkey up into small crumbles and cook for about 10 minutes, or until the turkey has browned. Stir in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds to 1 minute, just until fragrant. Add the tomato sauce, 1 teaspoon of the oregano, and the red pepper flakes, and stir to combine. Taste and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Bring the sauce to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

In a medium bowl, stir together the ricotta, the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of oregano, the basil, and a pinch each of salt and pepper.

To assemble: Press 1 wonton wrapper into each well of the muffin pan – be sure to press them into the bottom and sides of the pan. Working with half of the ricotta mixture, divide it among the wells of the pan evenly, pressing the ricotta into an even layer. Working with half of the tomato sauce, divide it among the wells of the pan, spreading in an even layer rather than mounding. Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of the mozzarella over the top of each mini lasagna. Press a second wonton wrapper onto each mini lasagna then repeat the process of layering using the second half of the ricotta mixture, the remaining half of the tomato sauce and finally two more teaspoons of the mozzarella per cup.

Bake the mini lasagnas for 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly. Remove the muffin pan to a wire rack and let the mini lasagnas cool for a few minutes before removing them. Garnish with fresh basil before serving, if desired.

Makes 12

Two apiece were plenty for us. I did find these softened up when they were left over, but they still tasted good.

Two apiece were plenty for us. I did find these softened up when they were left over, but they still tasted good.

Monday Musings: A Saint Joseph’s Day to Remember

25 Mar
This St. Joseph's Day was one I won't soon forget.

This St. Joseph’s Day was one I won’t soon forget.

If you’ve been a longtime reader, you know I love my sweets. If you’ve been reading even for a short time, you probably know I love my sweets.

And if so, then you also know how much I love my zeppole on St. Joseph’s Day. So much so that I was literally counting down the hours this year. I could not wait for the day to arrive.

I had a whole plan in my head: Tuesday was St. Joseph’s Day and it’s also the day I normally type all my stories for the Cranston Herald. My plan was to get up and ready like a normal day and as.soon.as the kids got on the bus, I’d get right in the car, go and get a zeppole, and come home and savor it, all alone while I typed the morning away.

Sounds like a very good plan, right?

Right.

Wrong.

6:50 am Tuesday morning I go in to wake Child #1, who lifts her head and says, “Oooh I don’t feel good at all. My head hurts, my stomach hurts, my throat hurts.”

Yikes. I talk her into going in. I knew she’d be missing another day that week due to some oral surgery coming up and her attendance record has been less than stellar already. She’s had a tough year. So I gave her some Advil for the headache and she dragged herself out the door.

7:20 am I wake up Child #2, who lifts her head and says, “Ooooh I don’t feel good. My head hurts, my stomach hurts, my throat hurts.”

No. No, no, no, no.

No way.

7:22 am…I’m sure you can guess. Child #3. Same wake up. Literally, she said the same thing.

I see my zeppole dreams fading. Fast.

By 7:45 am, I had one kid in tears and one kid heading in that direction.

I let them stay home, knowing full well that it meant no zeppole for me and also meant one pretty mad oldest kid when she got home and realized all the other sickies got to stay home and she didn’t.

By 8:00 am I had started my typing. It was snowing, sleeting, raining. Miserable day out. Two sick kids in and NO zeppole for me.

This was not what I had planned at all.

As I typed, I shared on Facebook that I had sick kids, that I had no zeppole, that I was eating Apple Jacks while I typed.

I was so sad.

And I never let on to my kids that it was St. Joseph’s Day. I didn’t want them to feel bad about being sick.

Suddenly though, a Facebook friend, another mom from our elementary school put a comment under one of my pathetic status updates:  Do you want me to bring you a zeppole?

Well, yes. Actually I do. I would love for someone to do that for me.

But do I say yes?

I did. I said yes. I wanted one so badly. But then I said to her she didn’t have to because she didn’t really live close by, probably 10 minutes away and it was nasty out. Raining, snowing. I didn’t want her dragging her kids out, going to the bakery, in and out, coming here, all just for me.

But she did.

She did that just for me. Just so I could have a zeppole.

I was so incredibly touched.

In a world where there’s such terrible news out there: murders and missing people and fires and robberies, joblessness and more and more and more, there are some truly very nice people out there too.

A zeppole may not seem like a lot to some people, but to me on Tuesday it was huge, and it was such a downer to be missing out on that.

Not only did I get my zeppole, I got a boost in my confidence in people overall.

It was a St. Joseph’s Day I won’t soon forget.

Thank you Angela!

My box of zeppole. My name is on the box and everything. And, you can see by all the raindrops how nasty it was outside.

My box of zeppole. My name is on the box and everything. And, you can see by all the raindrops how nasty it was outside.

Strawberry Compote for your next breakfast or brunch

22 Mar
We've made this twice already since finding the recipe in a magazine.

We’ve made this twice already since finding the recipe in a magazine.

Being a breakfast/brunch fanatic, when I saw this compote in a FamilyFun magazine recently, I knew I had to try it.  I love compotes of all kinds.  We already have a great recipe for a blueberry compote and one for a peach compote, but I’d yet to try a strawberry compote.

It was shown over crepes, which we love, but right away I could picture it over homemade waffles, over pancakes, french toast and even as a topping for our healthy mini cheesecakes.

The first time I made it, it was a hit right away. I served it with the mini cheesecakes as a dessert, but I spotted a cute little girl who shall remain nameless to protect her identity, eating it right out of a bowl with whipped topping, spoon in hand, no cheesecake in sight.

It was that good.

The second time we made it, it was for crepes, which we are actually having for dinner. We put out a variety of fillings and toppings, (remember our crepes buffet from a past post?) and this strawberry compote was a perfect topper and even a perfect filler, for strawberry banana crepes. I had a combination of fresh strawberries and bananas along with the compote in mine.

Heavenly.

So, with many people choosing the brunch option for the upcoming Easter holiday meal, I thought I’d post this recipe today, in case you decide to include it in your menu. The recipe is delicious, fast and easy, a check plus in my book. I keep a variety of frozen fruits on hand so we used a one pound bag of frozen strawberries from Aldi’s for this recipe.

STRAWBERRY COMPOTE *from FamilyFun, February 2013
INGREDIENTS

1 pound fresh or frozen strawberries, quartered plus more for garnish if desired. (I did not quarter them, as they were frozen.)

1/4 cup sugar

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 tablespoon lemon juice

Super-easy directions make this a great recipe for a busy day.

Super-easy directions make this a great recipe for a busy day.

DIRECTIONS

1.) In a medium saucepan, stir the strawberries and sugar together. Let the mixture stand until the fruit’s juices release, about 30 minutes. (If you are using frozen strawberries, heat them with the sugar over medium heat until they’re defrosted, about 2 minutes *mine took longer.*)

2.) In a small bowl, whisk together the cornstarch and lemon juice. Combine them with the strawberry mixture. Simmer the sauce on medium-low until it thickens, about 10 minutes, then set aside.

See what kinds of things you can think of to serve this with!

Again, mine took a little longer to thicken, but here is what it looks like when it's done, so cook until it is thickened. You'll be able to tell.

Again, mine took a little longer to thicken, but here is what it looks like when it’s getting thicker, so cook until it is thickened. You’ll be able to tell.

What’s For Dinner Wednesday: Light Vegetable Fried Rice

20 Mar
This Vegetable Fried Rice was a huge hit!

This Vegetable Fried Rice was a huge hit!

We all love Chinese food, but it’s not something we get very often. I was thrilled when I recently found a recipe on the Red Barn Blog for a homemade version that was healthy. I actually believe the post was a guest post on the Red Barn Blog by the Budget Gourmet Mom, a blog I also follow.

I decided to try it a couple of weeks ago, although not following the recipe exactly, but rather using it as a guide when making ours. It was such a huge hit, I’ve already made it again. Five thumbs up, both times.

I like this recipe because you can use whatever vegetables you have on hand and throw them in. I can foresee using sugar snap peas or pea pods when I have them next, or throwing in zucchini when I make it again.

Here is the recipe as it’s written by the Budget Gourmet Mom on the Red Barn Blog. I’ve made a note of any changes I made. This was great served with Duck Sauce or with Sweet and Sour Sauce on the side, both of which are nonfat.

This Chinese Fried Rice is great as a side dish for any meal. We last used it when we had pork chops.

This Chinese Fried Rice is great as a side dish for any meal. We last used it when we had pork chops.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups cooked cold white or brown rice
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil  (We used olive oil.)
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cups fresh vegetables, I used broccoli and carrots
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten (We used egg substitute.)
  • 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • DIRECTIONS
  1. In a large skillet preheat oil over medium-high heat.
  2. Add in the rice and fry, tossing carefully with wooden spoon. Add the vegetables and continue to cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Push the rice off to the side of the pan and place the beaten eggs next to the rice. Cook, stirring the eggs until firm. Fold into the rice.  (I cooked my eggs in a separate frying pan.)
  4. Add the soy sauce, toss, and serve.

Thanks to the Red Barn Blog and the Budget Gourmet Mom for sharing this delicious dish!

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

19 Mar

Are you ready for some Zeppole?

ORIGINALLY POSTED ON MARCH 19, 2012

Are you wearing your red today? I am!

It’s March 19 and that means it’s one of my most favorite dessert holidays ever!

Happy St. Joseph’s Day to you!!

I’d personally skip right over St. Patrick’s Day and go right to St. Joseph’s Day because if it’s St. Joseph’s Day then it means……zeppole!!!

You might ask: What on earth is a zeppole??

My answer is: It’s the most wonderful cream filled, fried dough dessert in the world; kind of a cross between a donut and a cream puff I guess, although from what I understand, they have changed in nature over the years. However, the way you see them here is the way I’ve always known them to be and the way that I love, love, love them.

More than a decade ago, when we were first married, we lived in another state for a few years. That first year we were there,  St. Joseph’s Day rolled around. We went out that day, searching for a zeppole, and had the hardest time finding them. When we did, they weren’t even all that great. I was so disappointed. We’d only been there three months and I already knew we were going to have to come back. There was no way I was going to live in a place where there weren’t any good zeppole to be had.

Near us you can get a zeppole almost any time of the year, but we never, ever do, except on St. Joseph’s Day. It just wouldn’t be the same. It probably wouldn’t even TASTE the same!

I’m sure it’s no coincidence either, that my daughter Alex was due to be born on St. Joseph’s Day. She wasn’t, but still, there’s something significant in that, I just know it.

Being in city where there are just zillions of Italians, it means that there are also zillions of fantastic Italian bakeries in the area, so you can take your pick as to where you want to get your zeppole from. Everyone seems to have their favorite spot where they go each year.

Our family has gotten their St. Joseph’s Day zeppole at Solitro’s for decades and it thrills me to share this tradition with my kids.

To me it’s a really big deal to go and get them. I go to the same bakery where my family has gone forever and ever to get them. The first time I took my children there with me, I almost cried, I was so overwhelmed with the emotion I felt. I remember waiting with them in a line that stretched from the bakery counter to the door. I remember lifting them up so they could see into the back where the zeppole were being made; it looked like what I’d imagine Italy itself to look like. I remember pointing to the shelves that held trays upon trays upon trays of zeppole, all lined up in rows. It’s even magical to me how they put them into the white bakery box and tie it with string. There’s nothing like it. The zeppole taste wonderful, but the tradition and memories that go with it are such a big part of the day for me as well.

The case was full, both baked and fried zeppole, and this was only the day *before* St. Joseph’s Day.

And so, today I will again have my zeppole. My family doesn’t love them as much as I do, and I have to say, I’m glad. It means all the more for me.

I hope you’re able to get a zeppole today too! If not, I’ll be thinking of you all as I indulge.

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!

I hope you get your zeppole fix today too!

Monday Musings: Seize Every Opportunity

18 Mar
Hearing Olivia Culpo speak in July 2012 had a lasting impact on our girls.

Hearing Olivia Culpo speak in July 2012 had a lasting impact on our girls.

Last summer, we had the opportunity to meet Ms. Olivia Culpo, who was then Miss USA and is now Miss Universe, also an alum from my high school. The girls and I went to hear her speak, they stood with me while I interviewed her for the newspaper, and then we  stood in line for an hour for a quick meet and greet and an autograph.

On the way home, we talked about what we’d just experienced and the girls talked to me about which parts of her speech had an impact on them, as she was such a candid, animated speaker. They laughed about some of her funny stories, but we talked more seriously about one of her messages: don’t be afraid to take a risk.

Having never been a “pageant person” before, Olivia entered Miss USA despite her family’s hesitations, and won on her first time out there. A year later, she was winning Miss Universe too, and it was all because she wasn’t afraid to try something, to be a leader, to take a risk.

One of my favorite photos from our day: Caroline meeting and shaking hands with President Obama.

One of my favorite photos from our day: Caroline meeting and shaking hands with President Obama.

At the time, we didn’t know if Caroline was going to win the Healthy Lunchtime Challenge contest. We were awaiting notification, due the following week. What we did know however, was that Caroline had hesitated in entering because her sister was entering also, and she knew that only one of the two of them, if either of them, could win, and she was afraid of that. We talked that day after meeting Olivia about the fact that this too was a risk, and we’d wait and see what happened, but that at least she’d put herself out there, taken that risk.

And it turns out, she won.

With that, she’s had some of the most amazing experiences of her life, all in the past year, all because she wasn’t afraid to take a risk, to go out of her comfort zone.

She often gets asked to speak to groups of people, both adults and kids, and two of the messages that she always makes sure to emphasize when she speaks, are not to be afraid to take a risk and to always put in 100% effort into all you do.

After she won, a friend said to me,  “Your motto should be ‘Seize Every Opportunity’ because you’re always trying everything. If there’s something out there to do, you’ll do it.”

And she’s right. I think it’s important to reach for the stars, even if you miss on occasion. Most likely you won’t miss every time.

When I was in high school, with my parents’ help, I applied for a grant. I put in a proposal to go to New Zealand to study reading instruction. At the time, New Zealand was tops; on the forefront of reading and language instruction. It was a big risk, a scary thing to apply for, and ultimately, I did not get the grant. But, I’ll never forget applying for it, and receiving that letter stating that even though my proposal wasn’t chosen, it was a strong one, and one of the runners up. That gave me confidence to try again, to take a risk when another future opportunity arose.

Since that high school grant opportunity, I’ve taken on many challenges, reinventing myself in my careers again and again. Sometimes those challenges came through in my favor, and sometimes they didn’t, but each risk and result has made me stronger and more confident. As a journalist, each time I’ve won a New England or Rhode Island Press Association award, I’ve had to take a risk by submitting what I think is my best work, to be judged by others. It’s risky putting myself out there, and sometimes I win and sometimes I don’t. But I never say, “Oooh that’s too scary, I’m not even going to try,” or even “Yikes! That’s a lot of extra effort.”

This week we received notification that a grant Elizabeth had applied for, the Disney Friends For Change grant, a proposal she’d submitted on behalf of her class, was not going to be given to them. She was so disappointed. She and several friends had started a school newspaper, and this grant was going to improve what they’d begun, take it to the next level. However, the notification didn’t just say that she didn’t get it, it said that her efforts and dedication in applying for the grant were to be commended and that she shouldn’t give up on her particular project.

It was positive reinforcement, recognizing the fact that she took a risk, went the extra mile, seized an opportunity that not many would take the time to do. The very first thing she said was, “I think there’s another one. We can try again.”

I love that.

Congratulations to Alexandra. She took a risk, entered a contest and came in second place!

Congratulations to Alexandra. She took a risk, entered a contest and came in second place!

On Wednesday night, Alexandra competed in a cooking contest of her own. She had entered the recipe for her Sunshine Salad into the Sodexo Future Chefs competition in our city. Out of 17 elementary schools, ten students were chosen to compete, making their salads and having them judged by real chefs from our community.

She took the risk, entered the recipe in February and was chosen to compete in March.

She competed Wednesday night and took Second Place. Second, out of ten, in our whole city, at seven years old.

That’s taking a risk. That’s seizing an opportunity.

And that’s a memory she, and we, will never forget.

Childhood is a journey, as is parenthood. I hope that we are teaching our kids to be confident, to be leaders, to try everything and to take risks. I hope that the bursts of success that they experience  when they take the risks will encourage them to keep going and trying again when they don’t necessarily see that success. I hope that they learn that putting in the extra effort, taking the extra time, going the extra mile, really does all pay off in the end.

Seize.Every.Opportunity.

Springtime Smoothies

15 Mar
A healthy springtime snack!

A healthy springtime snack!

Just the other day I wrote about some of the signs of spring’s arrival that I look forward to: things like the weather changing, longer days and the chance to play outside.

Another thing that happens when the seasons change is that our menu changes a bit too. As the weather warms up our snacks are often cool and refreshing rather than warm and toasty.  Our dinners are often cooked outside and then eaten outside too.

One snack in particular that my kids love is smoothies. I make them at home in the blender all the time, but most especially as the weather gets warmer.

Just the other day I got a request to go through the McDonalds drive through for one of their Shamrock Shakes. Unfortunately, that request had to be denied. However, I knew that at home, I could recreate the same sort of shake in the form of a green smoothie, and it’d be much cheaper and much healthier.

With some Aldi’s Nonfat Vanilla Yogurt, skim milk, ice and some green food coloring, (you could also add in some mint extract for flavoring if you wanted) I was able to create a snack that was lower in fat, calories, sugar and carbs than what the original request had been.

A quick couple of minutes in the blender and you've got your healthy after school snack!

A quick couple of minutes in the blender and you’ve got your healthy after school snack!

To give you some quick comparisons:

One cup of Aldi’s nonfat Vanilla yogurt:

140 calories

0 Fat
0 Saturated Fat

0 Trans Fat

1% cholesterol (5mg)

9% carbohydrates (27g)

22g sugar

13% protein (7g)

(don’t forget to add in your skim milk and if you’d like, some mint flavored extract and fat free whipped cream!)

One McDonald’s Shamrock Shake 11.3 oz. (nutrition information taken from Livestrong.com)

416 calories

15%  Total Fat (9.8 g)

30% Saturated Fat (6g)

12% cholesterol (38 mg)

24% carbohydrates (72.4 g)

18% Protein (9.4 g)

61.5 g sugar

So next time you get a request for that special fast food shake, see if you can recreate something similar at home too! It’s cheaper (especially times three or four people) and it’s better for you!

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