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The challenge is real: health and wellness vs. tradition

8 Dec
Red and green crinkle cookies were new for me this year and I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy them.

Red and green crinkle cookies were new for me this year and I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy them.

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 22, 2015

It seems to me that our family often has their “ah ha moment” in regards to what’s been bothering their stomachs *right* before the holidays, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s.

Although I’m always so happy we’ve figured it out and can help them, I always find it totally and completely overwhelming trying to figure out our traditional holiday meals versus their new health and wellness needs. I want everyone to feel good, and yet I want everyone to be able to partake in our usual favorites, whether it’s grilling and eating pumpkin bread in our pjs in front of the television on Thanksgiving morning, or whether it’s making and eating all our favorite Christmas cookies from recipes we’ve held near and dear through the years.

It’s very challenging.

Very.

With our new gluten free needs, I found myself completely overwhelmed, trying to immediately figure out what we needed for Thanksgiving, but while doing so, knowing that Christmas was literally right around the corner, and that holiday for us, had visions of flour and gluten dancing in my head. We normally bake dozens and dozens of our favorite Christmas cookies every year, and it’s a tradition I have held near and dear to my heart since growing up baking with my mother and it’s something I’ve passed on to my children as well. In addition to our old favorites, each year I also will often try out a new recipe and with that, I’ve added a few new favorites to our traditional list as well.

As I searched, scrolled and pinned, I tried to make heads or tails of what I was going to do. I saw many holiday cookie recipes online, and although they looked good enough, they weren’t *our* holiday cookie recipes and I knew that no matter how good they might be, it wouldn’t be good enough for us. I wanted everyone to be able to enjoy our old favorites and any new favorites we might find this year.

Winner, winner! This was the flour blend I decided to try for our cookies this year.

Winner, winner! This was the flour blend I decided to try for our cookies this year. I measured cup for cup as I would have in my regular recipes, as it said you could.

Finally, after avoiding the thought process for a while between Thanksgiving and Christmas, last week I decided to attempt to make our own recipes using gluten free flour. Specifically, I opted to use the Pillsbury gluten free flour blend which already included the various types of flour I’d seen in from-scratch recipes as well as the needed amounts of xanthan gum that is needed to hold the flours together.

I tried a new recipe for Grinch Crinkle cookies that I thought were adorable. I opted to use them for a cookie swap and instead of doing just green, I split the batter, which is made with a vanilla cake mix, and make red AND green. How cute is that??? Very, very cute. They were a big hit.

We'd already successfully used this for cupcakes, so I was willing to give it a go for Grinch Crinkle cookies too.

We’d already successfully used this for cupcakes, so I was willing to give it a go for Grinch Crinkle cookies too.

Luckily, I could make the red and green batch above to take with me Saturday night and use a gluten free cake mix from Betty Crocker for another set. Purple and sparkles were requested but I stayed with the Grinch Green theme. This time.

The cake mix worked out great, and these will be a keeper in our yearly baking for sure. I even see them as being red and blue with white chocolate chips around July 4. Wouldn’t that be adorable? It would. I’m sure of it.

These gluten free Grinch Crinkles were not mixed in with the red and green cookies above. They stayed at our house and got all thumbs up from everyone!

These gluten free Grinch Crinkles were not mixed in with the red and green cookies above. They stayed at our house and got all thumbs up from everyone!

And so, here it is, two days before Christmas Eve, and I’m on a roll. I’ve made a totally gluten free set of Grinch Crinkles, Snickerdoodles, Chocolate Chip Butterballs, Chocolate Thumbprints, Holiday Chex Mix, and I have more to come. A few more, anyway. You can find all the recipes by clicking on the titles and see if any of them work for your dietary needs! I use I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter to reduce the fat also, so they’re not too bad in that department either. Overall I find that the batters are coming out almost the same. Maybe a bit more crumbly but not awful by any means, and definitely workable 100% of the time. The cookies taste the same, I’ve made sure to taste plenty of them just to deliver a valid verdict for you!

I wish everyone who celebrates the upcoming holidays this week a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Blessings to you and yours for health and happiness always!

 

 

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Two weeks of meals before the holiday rush

4 Dec

It’s hard to believe, but it’s the first week of December already. There are exactly three weeks until Christmas. Although I’ve been behind in posting some weekly menus, I thought that now might be a good time to provide some meal inspiration as a way to get us through the next three weeks. I also know that in the next two weeks or so, my posts will be filled with Christmas cookie recipes, and although we’d like to just eat those for dinner, most nights we can’t.

This was one we hadn’t had in a while and we devoured it. Not a morsel left.

Below are some meal options to get you through the next few weeks, with links included for every single one, not necessarily even in the order we’ve had them on our menu but more of a list of our past weeks’ “best of” meals that will let you peruse and choose what works for you in any given week.

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

  1. Taco Bake
  2. Chicken, Broccoli, Cauliflower Casserole
  3. Kielbasa and Cabbage
  4. Parmesan Chicken Cutlets
  5. Instant Pot Chicken Marsala
  6. Beef and Broccoli
  7. Turkey Meatloaf Burgers
  8. Sweet and sour meatballs

    One of my favorite fall meals ever: Cranberry Chicken

  9. Shepherd’s Pie
  10. Instant Pot Macaroni and Cheese
  11. Chicken with White Wine and Mushrooms
  12. Cranberry Chicken
  13. Steak Lettuce Tacos
  14. Pork Tenderloin (instead of brisket) with applesauce and potato pancakes

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and a new recipe

25 Jan
Last time around, we utilized our crock pot three times in one week!

Last time around, we utilized our crock pot three times in one week!

It’s hard to believe another whole month has passed! It seems like I was just posting Christmas cookie recipes, but yet here we are in the final stretch of January!

It’s been a couple of weeks, and I have our Two Weeks of Meals for you, but I also have a new crock pot recipe for you that we tried out in the last round of meals. It was new, so I didn’t post the recipe last time, until we tried it. I promised to post it if it was good, and sure enough, it got all thumbs up from all five of us. It’s rare to find one thing that all of us like, especially with a picky eater and another eater who will eat very little meat, and this was beef to boot, so that’s a feat in itself.

The recipe we tried out is called Slow Cooker Mongolian Beef, and you can find it on the Recipe Critic’s site by clicking here. It was quick to prepare, easy because it was cooking while we were gone, and delicious! We used stew meat instead of flank steak and it was delicious.

Be sure to visit the Recipe Critic's site to try out her slow cooker Mongolian Beef recipe!

Be sure to visit the Recipe Critic’s site to try out her slow cooker Mongolian Beef recipe!

Without further ado, here is our two weeks of meals for you and links to the recipes I have posted in years past. I hope it helps you to plan your own budget-friendly meals for the next couple of weeks!

Saturday: Marinated London Broil with mushrooms and onions, with vegetables and red potatoes with fresh rosemary and olive oil

Sunday: Chicken stuffed with herbed cream cheese and broccoli with rice pilaf

Monday: Chicken Marsala over white rice

Tuesday: Pasta with tuna sauce

Wednesday: Leftovers

Thursday: Pork chops and homemade applesauce with broccoli and cauliflower

Friday: Homemade Pizzas (Hawaiian, Margherita, and BBQ chicken) and salad

Saturday: BBQ chicken breasts on the bone, on the grill and sugar snap peas

Sunday: Chicken Parmesan and pasta with salad

Monday: Beef Stir Fry with sweet and sour sauce and Asian vegetable mix

Tuesday: Ravioli with shrimp and tomatoes in a garlic and oil sauce

Wednesday: Pastena Soup and salad

Thursday: Breakfast for dinner

Friday: Nachos

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals for your new year

11 Jan

meals-1

Happy New Year!

We are already ten days into the new year and looking ahead to Martin Luther King Day now. It doesn’t seem possible that we’re already halfway through January.

That being said, after the new year, it was time for us to get back on track with our weekly meal plans. Through the holiday weeks we were off our schedules completely. When school started up again we had a one week meal plan, so this is our first two week plan.

With a new plan comes the usual “all-call” to the kids, asking if anyone has anything they’re craving or wanting over the next couple of weeks. We had one kid down for the count with a virus, so she did not weigh in this time around. However, the other two both sent me recipes they wished to try this time. I was happy to see some new recipes on the list, and I am happy to report that of the two we’ve tried already, they were both well received and something we would make again.

We made our list of meals and did our grocery shopping, and I wrote out the recipes for the two new meals and stuck them on my kitchen cabinet. Both were recipes the kids had seen online and one was a video. I will link to them in the list below. There are other ones we are trying out that I will feature in a future post if they are voted into the rotation.

Here is our current list of meals.

meals-2Sunday: Italian Antipasto (a huge salad of sorts containing various meats and cheeses, tuna and hard-boiled eggs)

Monday: Two soups: Normally I don’t make more than one meal, but I made an exception here. We had planned our typical Chicken Escarole Soup with gluten free pasta, but Liz wanted to try out a new soup. I knew some of us would like it and some wouldn’t, but I didn’t want to eliminate it just because not everyone would eat it. I had a sick kid that could use the chicken soup, so I opted to make both. One was a crockpot soup, and I’d totally make it again. You can find the recipe for it here. A photo is shown above as well.

Tuesday: Mongolian Beef (this is a new recipe we have not tried yet).

Wednesday: Spaghetti with Tuna Sauce (see recipe here)

Thursday: Zucchini Shrimp Scampi: This was a great new recipe submitted by Caroline and again, everyone loved it. We got to use a new grating tool for the zucchini that made long spaghetti-like noodles. You can see this recipe here. A photo is shown below as well. We did add tomatoes to ours, and for a family of our size we would use six zucchini next time, instead of four. It was that good, with very little left over.

meals-3

Friday: Hamburgers and hotdogs, Quinoa Salad on the side as a request from Caroline, see the recipe here.

Saturday: Out for dinner

Sunday: Red Wine Crockpot Roast: We tried this recipe a few menu cycles ago, and absolutely loved it. Everyone loved it, which is often rare. We are adding it back in this time around.

Monday: MLK Day: Roasted Chicken Dinner

Tuesday: Paninis

Wednesday: Chicken/Broccoli/Pasta Saute (we usually make Wednesday a pasta night at this time of year because all three kids have a Wednesday night commitment and it allows us to cook early, eat early and eat quickly before we go our separate ways.

Thursday: Breakfast for dinner: Pancakes (another busy night meal we often rely on)

Friday: TBA

Hopefully this two-week schedule of meals will help to inspire your own menu planning. What’s on your menu for the upcoming weeks?

-Jen

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and the importance of eating together

14 Jan
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Now that we’re back into our regular routines, we’re back to meal planning for the weeks ahead.

Over the holiday and vacation weeks we were eating out of the house so often, either at other people’s houses or at restaurants, that we had absolutely no meal plan at all, and practically nothing to even make a meal with. Once we got back into the routine, we had to sit down and start our preparations again.

One thing I had done over the vacation weeks however, was to keep a running list of the things the kids were asking for during the two weeks. When someone said, “Can we have Shepherd’s Pie for dinner tonight?” during those two weeks, for example, even though I’d have to say no because we were scheduled to eat wherever for whatever event, I’d go and write it down. Making our meal plan is tough because we have to come up with two full weeks of meals. Having a list of favorite requests made it that much easier the next week when we sat down. And, it was kind of nice that first week back to school (which felt as long as five weeks in a row, rather than just one), to announce at dinnertime whose special request produced that night’s dinner.

It’s also been nice to see the kids checking out the menu we post in the kitchen each week, looking forward to the dinner of choice for that night or a future night, especially when it’s something they requested. It makes me feel good to know that they like the routine of knowing what’s for dinner, and that even better, they look forward to certain nights of the week, just because it’s their favorite meal of the week. Our menus are nothing fancy, our meals are straightforward and our lists are posted on whatever piece of paper we have handy, and we cross off as we go, but it’s a routine we’ve established and it makes us all feel good….less stress, somewhat excited for dinner, and looking forward to eating together each night. That’s all good, and I’m glad we’re continuing to stay true to this routine of ours. I hope that in doing so, we ‘re creating good, healthy eating habits and family foundations for our family as we go so that once our kids are on their own, raising their own families,they’ve got a great foundation so that they can eat well and eat together.

I recently saw an article in the Washington Post about the importance of eating together as a family, and its many benefits. It definitely confirmed for us all that we already knew and believed about eating together as a family. If you’d like to read it, click here. We work incredibly hard to keep our schedules and meals consistent so that we can eat together as often as humanly possible, and although we’ve always seen the benefits, which far outweigh the effort it takes to pull it off, it’s nice to have our efforts validated every once in a while too! The article is well worth the read.

In the meantime, here’s two weeks of meals for you to get you started. I’ve even linked to a few of the recipes for you so that you don’t have to search the blog for them:

Sunday: Roasted Chicken Dinner

Monday: Shepherd’s Pie

Tuesday: Pulled pork sandwiches (crock pot meal)

Wednesday: Spaghetti tacos with meat sauce (could be eaten without taco shells or with)

Thursday: Paninis (we used the bbq pork leftovers in the paninis, SO delicious)

Friday: Homemade pizzas (we made three different kinds but here’s just one kind we’ve made before)

Saturday: leftovers

Sunday: Chili

Monday: Ravioli (some of us had butternut squash ravioli given to us by a friend, others of us had cheese ravioli)

Tuesday: Garlic chicken and wine

Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie

Thursday: Fish Tacos

Friday: Breakfast for dinner

Saturday: Hamburgers and hot dogs

Sunday: Lasagna

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Paula’s Pasta y Fagioli

8 Jan
Fast, easy and delicious! Perfect for a cold winter day.

Fast, easy and delicious! Perfect for a cold winter day.

My friend Paula has the most wonderful blog called My Soup For You, and I visit it often. Although it’s named for her delicious soups, it encompasses all of her cooking talents, not just soups. As she says, it’s “so much more” than just her delicious soups.

On one particular day she posted a recipe for a soup I just knew my family would love; a Pasta y Fagioli soup made in the crock pot.

Now, you know how I love my crock pot!

And with this cold, wintery weather, what would be better than a warm, simmering soup awaiting our arrival home one evening?

I only had to make two small changes to her super-easy recipe. The first change was that I didn’t have the pasta she recommended using, Ditalini. I used elbow pasta instead, which is a larger pasta, but still delicious. The second change was that I preferred to put cooked ground turkey into my recipe instead of ham or pancetta as Paula had done. Other than that, I followed her recipe to the T.

As I expected, this soup got all thumbs up from our family! We not only had it for dinner that evening, but there was enough left to send in thermoses for lunches the next day as well. It’s definitely a recipe I’d make again!

I have copied and pasted the recipe below, just as Paula has it on her blog, but I hope you’ll hop on over and visit her on My Soup For You and check out all she has to offer! She’s just recently updated and revamped her blog so there’s lots of great posts to explore!

Fast and Easy Pasta Y Fagioli
1 quart broth – I used chicken
6 oz can of tomato paste
2-3 cups pureed tomatoes
8 oz diced ham or pancetta – I used pancetta
1 can white beans – you can add more if you want a heartier soup
Garlic
Italian seasoning
salt and pepper
8 oz prepared ditalini pasta

1. Put everything but the pasta in a slow cooker.
2. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
3. Serve over the pasta.

Monday Musings: Practice what you preach AND a recipe!

4 Nov
My hot cider was a hit this past weekend!

My hot cider was a hit this past weekend!

This past weekend we had company over for dinner, drinks and dessert. We hadn’t seen them in some time, and we were really looking forward to it.

As I was getting my menu together and getting my house together, I started pulling out the things I’d need for setting my table.

I opened a new tablecloth we’d received from my mother-in-law for our anniversary, perfect for the fall season which is upon us.

I started to get out my dishes and silverware, my everyday stuff, and I remembered back to a post I’d written this past spring. It got me thinking, and I put away my everyday items, some of which didn’t match each other, replacing them with my “good” dishes and silverware.

Just as in the spring, I thought to myself, “If not today, then when?”

And once again, “If not today, why not?”

What are we waiting for?

So, in practicing what I preach, we used the good stuff on Saturday night, and I was glad we did. It’s nice to take it out and put it to use, and make the meal with friends that much more special, at least to me. I didn’t make a point of telling anyone or making mention of it. I just enjoyed knowing it myself.

I also thought I’d share a quick recipe with you today, since I was absent on Friday. It was just too busy a week for me last week and although I had fun on Friday, I couldn’t muster up a Fun Friday post.

Today I’ll make up for it, sharing the Hot Spiced Cider recipe I’ve used the past couple of occasions we’ve hosted. Everyone has loved it, and Elizabeth has called it “The best cider I’ve ever had.”

It’s from my Better Homes and Gardens “New Cookbook,” which is quite old, and one of my favorites.

I do, however, modify their recipe, so I’m putting it here as I make it, not as they say to do it. You just need a crock pot and the ingredients listed below.

The cider photo above is not one of my own, I cannot take credit for it. We were having so much fun, I didn’t think to take a photo.

Here is the recipe, perfect for fall. I throw it all in my crock pot and turn it on low for at least 4-6 hrs. before serving. The original recipe calls for a saucepan and putting the whole ingredients into a cheesecloth and cooking it that way, but that’s not how I do it.

Hot Spiced Cider

8 cups apple cider (I double this recipe and use a gallon for a crowd.)

1/4 to 1/2 cups packed brown sugar

6 inch stick cinnamon

1 tsp. whole allspice (I use ground allspice)

1 tsp. whole cloves (I use ground cloves)

8 orange wedges or slices (I slice)

8 whole cloves (optional and I skip them)

That’s it! I put the ingredients in, in order and turn it on. Six hours or so later, it’s hot and I guarantee it’ll warm your soul.
Enjoy!