Dear Annie's Homegrown,

Thank you so much for allowing me to doctor my kids' Shells & White Cheddar with pureed cauliflower, SmartBalance spread, Mexican cheese blend, extra skim milk, and TJ's organic ABC/123 pasta.

I really appreciate you alleviating the guilt of not making my kids a completely homemade meal.




So, about a month or so ago, we strolled into the local Costco. OK, so local for us means driving an hour out to get there. ;o) Anyhoo...we walk in on a Saturday at 5pm. This means we have an hour to get everything on our list. No biggie...an hour is pretty feasible. BUT, it becomes UNFEASIBLE when you & the family get suckered into a food demonstration @ 5:15pm for 40 minutes! 6 samples and a Vita-Mix in our cart later, we scramble to get everything on our last. Did we do it. Yes we did. ;o)

Anyhoo...if you haven't heard what a Vita-Mix is, it's a high-performance blender. This bad boy can do everything....literally...grind homemade flours/spices, soups, ice creams, bread, etc. For us, we've used it every single day...at LEAST once a day...usually 2 or more times a day for us. We've been making smoothies galore. We're talking fresh-fruit smoothies here...complete with carrots, spinach, cabbage, inulin, grape seed extract, flax, oatmeal, etc. I always wanted one but shuddered at the price (they are really expensive). But, I don't think we'd ever live without it. So much so with the upcoming move, we're not packing it but bringing it with us instead. Yeah, we're that hooked. "5 a Day"...HA! We're well above that guideline!

My current favorite breakfast is my chocolate peanut butter banana oat smoothie. I used the following ingredients:

  • Vanilla Soy Milk & skim milk (more of the former than the latter since girlfriend is lactose-intolerant)
  • Skippy's Natural PB & Peanut Butter & Co. Dark Chocolate Dreams PB (although I don't favor chocolate, I do like dark chocolate)
  • Bananas
  • Ground flax seed
  • Old-fashioned oatmeal
  • TJ's grape seed extract & inulin
  • Wheat germ
  • Oat bran
  • Spinach

Veggies in a fruit smoothie...only in the Vita-Mix.


Backed Up...blogging that is!

It's FINALLY gettin' cold down here in FL. We've got just a few more weeks in this place and then we're packing up and heading to our next duty station...back to good ol' Hampton Roads, VA. After 6 months or so there, we're either stayin' put or packin' up again and heading north to DC!! The latter is more likely, so we'll see how everything pans out.
I'm a bit backlogged on entries. I've been cookin' but not diligent on taking photos or whatever. So, here's a loooooooong recap of what I've been concocting up in this place.

We've got Chili con Carne, Kathleen's Garlic Pasta, Garlic Knots, Ina's Pizza, & Eggplant Caprese on the line-up.

First up:
Chili con Carne

I actually made this when it was still warm over here but getting cooler. Right now would've been PERFECTO to make this bad boy. I also added loads of beans. I'm not one of those chili people who don't like beans in their chili. C'mon...fiber is soooooooo good for you!! Also, I had bottles of Guiness sitting in the pantry (the Hubs and I aren't drinkers) and needed to use it (I had it for another meal we love from our BFFs the Martinos...Beer Beef & Potatoes...mmmmmmm). I threw it in the chili and oooooooooh...that's what it's been missing!! Anyway...I lack measurements when I cook but here's what I put in it:

Tan's Chili Con Carne

Ground beef
Large onion, chopped
6-7 garlic cloves, minced
Chili powder
Garlic Powder
Beans – kidney, black, pinto, etc.
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Large can(s) diced tomatoes
12oz. bottle Guiness Beer
Small can of tomato sauce
Canned beans…however many you want (I typically add 4-6)
Frozen corn

Brown the beef in a few teaspoons of olive oil. Season w/salt & pepper. When thoroughly cooked, add onions. Allow to cook for several minutes, add garlic. Add spices & beans. Cook for a minute. Add entire contents of canned tomatoes, beer, & tomato sauce. Add water to canned tomatoes & tomato sauce…swish and add to pot. Simmer on high until thickened and liquid has reduced enough. 10 minutes prior to serving, add corn.

Serve w/plain yogurt, chopped green onions, & lowfat cheese.

Coming up:

Kathleen's Garlic Pasta

Kathleen is a good friend of my sister, co-worker, and a FOODIE too!! Kim has told me plenty of times how the whole fam are great cooks! So, of course when Kathleen & Kim plugged me into their food emails (during work no less...tsk, tsk, tsk...hahahaha), I had to try one of Kathleen's recipes! Thank goodness I did. This was simple, easy, and YUMMY! THANK YOU, Kathleen!!!

Kathleen's Garlic Pasta

6-8 (good size) cloves of garlic, minced or pressed
2-3 Tbls. olive oil
1/4 cup cream (more if you want it creamier)
lots of parmesan cheese (1/4 cup shredded - ish)
sprinkle of pepper (white pepper if you have it)
a bit of chopped fresh parsley

Sauté the garlic in olive oil . Add the cream and simmer a few minutes until bubbly & well combined. Toss everything with the pasta.

Next Up:

Ina's (aka Barefoot Contessa) Pizza & what to do w/the leftover dough

So, I suck...really, really, really ridiculously suck at making bread. Quick breads...no sweat. But put yeast in the ingredients & kneading...you have NO GO with me. The center of the bread is usually wonderful...however, that is after you have miraculously broken through the concrete crust with a combination sledge & jack hammer. Yes, I am THAT bad. So, several years ago I tried Ina Garten's (aka the Barefoot Contessa) recipe for Grilled California Pizzas. I was confident that my girl wouldn't let me down...and she didn't! I had successfully made a yeast bread w/o fail! WOOHOO!!! However, I managed to eek out 5 single pizzas out of this dough not knowing that one single pizza was enough to feed two! OOPS! So, this was the third time I made it and after being inspired by Em's yummy post on garlic knots this past summer...I knew what to do with half of the dough recipe! The photo above of my garlic knots was a bit off...and missing a knot since it was in mah belleh! ;o) But, I think I would've changed the salt content of the dough...too salty for the knots. I think I would've preferred a sweeter dough.

The only other time I was successful with yeast breads were several years ago with Alton Brown's Overnight Cinnamon Rolls and waaaaaaaaaaaaaay back when I was a single-digit age and made a potato cinnamon raisin bread.

Anyhoo...the last thing:

Eggplant Caprese from Shape Magazine

My sister, cousin, and I were scarred from a eggplant experience in our youth. I have since outgrown that experience...but I don't think they have yet. ;o) Let's just say after a month of the same same eggplant dish...we were good for a lifetime.

Anyhoo...Shape Magazine had this Eggplant Caprese recipe in one of their issues way back. It's become a favorite of ours and it's low-cal. Totally satisfying and YUMMY! Sean's my carnivore and this is a satisfying meal for him. It probably helps that I make a 5 lb. salad for the two of us. ;o) The photo above doesn't do the meal justice since A) I almost burnt the eggplant since we were packing up for our drive to DC and B) I almost burnt the eggplant while packing up for our drive to DC. ;o) TRY IT! It's so good!! You can find the recipe here.


Asian Noodle Salad

Oh me oh my!!! So, I'm a sucker for good blogs with awesome photos. The Pioneer Woman Cooks is a blog that has me crackin' up and lovin' some good photos! Anyhoo, I had seen her recipe for her most favorite-est salad ever. I wanted to try it, but wasn't going to give it a go without the hubby here to help eat it.

Oh goodness was this bad boy a winner!!! It's a recipe from Jamie Oliver (the Naked Chef to you foodies). It was similar to another noodle salad from another UKer Nigella Lawson. That one, Vietnamese Turkey & Glass Noodle Salad was a favorite of our's too! I prefer Oliver's salad to Lawson's because there is WAAAAAAAAAAAY more veggies in it. Both are uber-good though!

We used our usual Barilla Plus pasta to make the salad...giving us our serving of protein, Omega-3s, & more fiber. But, if you want more protein, some grilled chicken or steak (or pork or seafood) would be PERFECT with it too!

Please try this recipe! It was soooooo fabulous! And you won't feel guilty horking down a ginormous bowl/plate of it! Unless you eat several pieces of garlic bread with it...MAYBE like we MIGHT have done last night. ;o) We don't play with garlic bread in this house...fresh minced garlic, butter, & olive oil...mmmmmmmmmmmm. The kids could eat an entire loaf if we let them. Anyway...TRY THIS DISH!!!

From Tanya Eats


Welcome Home & Happy Birthday!

Yes, the hubby finally came home...early & on his birthday no less!!! We rounded up a pretty darn fine meal...if I must say so myself! ;o) The meal made up for, I hope, the lack of cleaning I intended to do for his birthday gift. Hahahaha. One day we will have a clean house. Usually it's when we get stationed somewhere else. HAHAHAHAHA.

Anyhoo...here's the menu we had planned for LT Muscles:

Gung-gung's Cabbage Salad
Garlicky Steamed Cauliflower
Brown/White rice

Special Dark Chocolate Cake w/Peppermint Buttercream Frosting

Now, who the heck is Gung-gung? Well, he is my 98-year old maternal grandfather who, up until his debilitating stroke about 12 years ago, was an amazing cook! He studied the chefs in Hong Kong and cooking really was his passion. Not only could he cook, but the man could bake too!! Goodness!! Anyway, as this blog continues, I'll probably continue to post recipes from my grandfather that were passed on to my mom who is now teaching us. This way, my kids (and cousins/family) can have something of my grandfathers to always hold on to. Anyway, he is an amazing, amazing man who, long story short, was an orphan when he was still a single-digit age, immigrated to Mexico, then to Honduras, married my amazing grandmother (Lord, Lord, Lord is this woman amazing), raised nine children, owned & ran a store in Honduras, immigrated w/the whole fam to Miami, and just is plain awesome. Now...take an orphan in China (at 6, I believe and raised by his older sisters until his teens) who moves to Mexico & Honduras...has to learn another language, starts business & family, takes care of a slew of extended family back in China, moves to the US, learns another language, and takes care of everyone still. My grandmother...well, she's definitely another paragraph and I will save that for her 5-Spice Garlic Pork...mmmmmmmmmm. My paternal grandparents are equally as amazing too!! But, since this is a food blog, I digress.

My grandfather's cabbage salad is simple: thinly shredded cabbage, thinly sliced tomatoes, olive oil, oregano, salt, & lime. Simply. Here are the steps though...;o)

After slicing up the cabbage, toss it with salt (a good amount) in a colander & let it sit for a good 15-30 minutes. Then rinsed that bad boy. Toss it in with lime juice, olive oil, & good amount of oregano. Toss in the tomatoes. My mom used to top it with chopped fried bacon...and that was GOOD! I haven't made it like that in years though. But, just FYI.

For the churrasco I used flank steak. Traditionally, skirt steak is used. Flank is one of the leanest cuts of meat with barely any fat, so we cook/grill a lot with it. I say "we" but mean me. Hahaha. Anyhoo, I marinated the flank in my cousin Luis' chimichurri recipe. I let that bad boy marinate for a good 6 hours in the fridge. I typically like to marinate my meat for a looooong time.

Here's Luis' recipe w/my tweaks in red:

Luis' Chimichurri

1 cup stemmed parsley (I use more)
1 cup stemmed cilantro (I used the whole shabang since there's tons o' flavor in the stem too...I also use more than 1 cup)
6 cloves of garlic, chopped (only if you're weak do you use 6 cloves...I use MORE...mu-hahahaha)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/3 cup white vinegar (Luis uses more)
1 1/3 cup water (you can completely omit this or use less for a thicker consistency)
1.5 tsp. salt (Luis also uses more on this one)
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

Combine parsley, cilantro, & garlic in a food processor; pulse to chop. Add salt and both peppers & pulse to combine. With processor running, add oil in a thin stream. Finally, add vinegar & water.

What I've started doing lately...even though it is completely anti-green is marinating my meat in Ziploc bags. I use less marinade and it completely surrounds my meat with goodness. This way, with the chimichurri, I have leftover sauce to drizzle on top of the meat. YUM! The photo below is Sean's birthday meal. The pic is deceiving since 1/2 of the plate were veggies and the rice was flattened out to look like there was more.

Now, the cake. When I first started becoming addicted to, errrr, reading The Repressed Pastry Chef's blog, I was reading about her mint chocolate cupcakes. I mean, really, after being greeted with that photo, how could you not be sucked in??? Plus, I *heart* mint chocolate. So, I used my usual chocolate cake recipe (I love you, Ina Garten!) and my usual buttercream recipe (you're my hero, Em!). Add less vanilla & WAY more peppermint to the buttercream...along with blue & green food coloring, and I was GOOD to go. Sean normally doesn't eat frosting but devoured the whole slice of cake with a huge icy glass of milk. This was RIGHT AFTER two plates of the above meal (of course his had way more meat & rice). Yup. It was that good. My kids helped decorate it. You'll be quick to notice my 3YO son's decorating skills in the center of the cake. ;o)



Low-Cal Pesto

The kids' portion.

Now, our family loves ourselves some pesto. Jaron just loves pasta...period...and rice. That boy is all about his carbs. Anyhoo, we love basil too...love it, love it, love it. Almost as much as garlic. But, garlic reigns supreme in this household and I doubt any other ingredient could usurp it.

I happened to be reading one of my favorite magazines (Women's Health) and was intrigued by the chef's challenge on making a low-cal pesto. I decided to try it one day and have never looked back ever since. Shoot, I don't even think I've made my regular pesto since discovering this one. The tomato-based sauce got me wondering how it compete with the traditional basil-garlic-parm-pine nut pesto, but boy o' boy was this one a winner!!

I typically use Barilla Plus pasta for everything...except linguine w/clam sauce. The main reason is because Barilla Plus does not come in the linguine shape...booooooooooooo. Anyhoo...this bad boy doesn't have the fiber-y consistency of whole wheat pasta and is loaded with fiber, protein, and Omega-3s...what's NOT to love about it?? It tastes FABULOUS!! Plus, I can feel like I'm giving the kiddies a more well-rounded meal when using it.

Anyhoo...on to the recipe! You can also find the original at this link.

Penne with Pesto alla Trapanese
Lidia Bastianich, the host of Lidia's Italy, creates a delicious dish with under 500 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 650 milligrams of sodium

  • 3/4 lb penne rigate pasta
  • 1/2 lb (about 4) Roma tomatoes, very ripe and sweet
  • 8 large, fresh basil leaves
  • 2 Tbsp unsalted roasted almonds
  • 1 large garlic clove, crushed and peeled
  • 1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 tsp coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese (preferably Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano)

1. Cook pasta according to package instructions until al dente.

2. While pasta cooks, rinse the tomatoes and basil and pat dry. Cut tomatoes into large chunks.

3. Place the tomatoes in a blender or food processor, followed by the basil, almonds, garlic, red pepper flakes, and salt. Blend for a minute or more to a fine purée; scrape down the bowl and blend again if any large pieces are left.

4. With the machine still running, add the olive oil in a steady stream; it will emulsify the purée into a thick pesto.

5. Scrape the pesto into a big bowl. Drop drained pasta onto the pesto. Toss quickly to coat the pasta, sprinkle on cheese, and toss again. Serve immediately in bowls.

Makes 4 servings. Per serving: 495 calories, 19 g fat (3 g saturated), 232 mg sodium, 67 g carbs, 4 g fiber, 15 g protein

This was our serving (w/a bottle of crushed red pepper...hahaha)...with garlicky brussel sprouts & salad w/garlic-balsamic vinegarette.


Blueberry Muffins

This evening we decided to keep the kids up and watch the dance-off episode of "America's Best Dance Crew". Now, we normally don't let the kids watch ABDC because they're normally asleep, but it was the first almost-close-to-a-whole day with Sean, so we extended their day. Anyhoo...we made a run to the commissary earlier (the military grocery store) and I had bought to giant cartons of plain yogurt. One of the reasons being for this blueberry muffin recipe I read on The Pioneer Woman Cooks blog...another favorite blog. I'm a sucker for blogs with great photos (well, and that are fun to read). Anyhoo, I had a bunch o' blueberries in the fridge that we're about to stand on their last leg and needed to do something with them. That's when I saw this recipe and couldn't wait to try it. Ooh, I also made Peruvian Chicken but with no photos and the chicken needing a longer marinating time, I'll post that at a later date.

Here's the recipe:

The Awesome-est Blueberry Muffins
3 cups minus 2 tablespoons flour (I actually substituted in a cup of almond meal...hence the browner color of my muffins)
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
Heavy pinch of salt
Dash of Nutmeg (I did not do a dash, I did a bit more to balance out the cinnamon I added) Cinnamon (a very healthy dose of it...we're talking a least 1.5 teaspoons)
1 cup sugar (I did substitute a bit of Splenda in it)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 generous cup plain, unflavored yogurt (throw in extra if you want)
2 cups fresh blueberries
Vanilla Extract (as usual, I added waaaay more)
Softened Butter, for muffin tins (I used muffin liners)
Turbinado sugar (optional)

Preheat oven to 385 degrees.

In a large bowl sift flour, baking soda, nutmeg, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In another large bowl whisk together sugar, oil, cap-ful of vanilla (I used about 1-1.5 teaspoons since a "cap-ful of vanilla" is NOT in my vocabulary...I can't even process that phrase), egg, and yogurt. Add the dry ingredients and stir to a count of 10. Add blueberries, reserving 1/2 cup, to mixture and stir 3 times.

Add mixture to well-buttered muffin pans. Sprinkle remaining berries on top and press down lightly. Sprinkle turbinado sugar over top. (Brown sugar can be used instead.) Bake 20 to 25 minutes and allow to cool completely.

I would DEFINITELY not leave out the turbinado!! It balanced out nicely with the texture and the sweetness balanced the tart blueberries. I would've substituted the oil with applesauce but I used my Omega-3 blend veg oil and figured that healthy fat needed to be in it. So, have fun and enjoy!!!


Harrira/Harira...Yumminess in a Bowl

So our family loves ourselves some soup/stew. Love, love, LOVE it!! Although FL (East Coast) summers are not ideal for eating soup (I say "eating" since I put so much dang stuff in it that it's definitely a stand-alone meal). Anyhoo, the Hubby came home from being out to sea for the summer and I definitely need to start feeding that belly with some good, HEALTHY food. With him home, that means cooking for an entire neighborhood is back in effect!

So, the first time I had harrira/harira was at the Lebanese Taverna in Rockville, MD. It was this past winter holiday season when the Hubby was out to sea (effectively missing Turkey Day, Xmas, New Year's, our anniversary, & my birthday for the 2nd year in a row) so the kids and I spent the holidays with The Fam in DC. Anyhoo...back to The Soup. Oh my yumminess was I in love...except that it was mildly spicy due to all the SALT it had. Yeah, that was the only drawback. But, the flavors were out of sight and just like nothing I had had before. So, once settled back in FL and thinking about our time in DC, I remembered The Soup.

I came across many different recipes, many of them calling for lamb. We're not big lamb people and the only time I can stomach lamb is in a gyro. The gaminess is what gets me. Anyhoo, I've gotten a pretty good knack at perusing recipes and weeding out what won't be good. I finally narrowed it down to about 5 recipes and then to 3 and finally down to Emeril Lagasse's recipe. Emeril says it's Moroccan. I had it at the Lebanese Taverna. I've seen it under other ethnicities but really was just too excited to make it to narrow down which ethnicity can claim it. Till then, this Middle Eastern soup is just SO good. BTW...one thing I did find out that was the same across the board is that harrira/harira is a soup used to break fast during Ramadan.

It's definitely got a bunch of different spices...and normally ones I'm not really fond of in savory foods (ie. cinnamon, nutmeg, etc.). But, OH MY MY MY MY...this is so good. Anyway...if you're looking for a new twist on a veggie soup, try this one out!!!

I'm not one to follow recipes when cooking (just baking and I still deviate at times with those...esp. when it comes to adding cinnamon and/or vanilla). So, I've added my additions in red...but mainly I just eyeball everything. So, all the measurements for the spices below, I just kept pouring it out until I was satisfied with the amount. ;o) Keep in mind, I like spices, cilantro, and LOTS o' veggies/fiber in my dishes. Plus, the kids love this soup (toddlers with very global palates), so I definitely take this opportunity to sneak in lots of veggies!! Also, my end result was a filled-to-the-brim 8QT All-Clad stockpot...;o) I don't exaggerate when I say I cook for the neighborhood.

adapted from Emeril's Harira Recipe

1/4 pound dried chickpeas (I use 2 cans of chickpeas...kinda too busy to be soakin' 'em bad boys)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2-inch pieces
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup diced onions (I used a large & medium size onion)
1/2 cup diced celery (I probably used about 6+ huge stalks)
Carrots, diced (I actually used about 8+ carrots...I'm telling you, VEGGIE-intensive over here)
Garlic, minced (I used about 5-6+ cloves...garlic is my addiction)
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 (28-ounce) can diced tomatoes and their juices
1 1/2 quarts rich chicken stock (I used more since I had a lot more of everything added...and the rice will soak up a lot of the liquid)
1/4 pound dried green lentils (I used ~1/2 lb. or more)
1/2 cup long-grain rice (I used brown rice about 2-3x as much)
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro leaves (again, I used A LOOOOOOOOOOT of cilantro)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley leaves (I probably used about a 3/4-1 cup of this)
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
Cilantro sprigs, for garnishing

Pick over the chickpeas, cover with cold water, and soak overnight at room temperature. Drain chickpeas and rinse well with cold running water. Drain and set aside.

Heat the olive oil in a medium stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Season the chicken pieces with 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. Add the chicken in batches, and cook until well browned, about 4 minutes per batch. Remove the chicken from the pot and set aside. Add the onions and celery and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the ginger, turmeric, pepper, cinnamon, and nutmeg and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 minute. Return the chicken to the pan and add the tomatoes and their juices, stirring well. Stir in the chicken stock, lentils, and chickpeas and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and cook at a gentle simmer for 1 hour.

Add the rice and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of salt and return the soup to a simmer. Cook covered for 30 minutes. Remove the lid, add the cilantro, parsley, and lemon juice and cook, uncovered for 5 minutes.

Ladle into warmed soup bowls and garnish with fresh cilantro sprigs.


Cupcakes & Dumplings

Mom was down for less than two weeks and just in time to save my sanity! It was a great visit and we're missing her right now! Her visit also happened to coincide with her father's 98th birthday! So, we packed up and drove down to Miami to celebrate my grandfather's Almost Centennial birthday! Knowing I had to make my grandparents' favorite pasta (Linguine w/Clam Sauce...well, favorite pasta that I make them) and some kind of celebratory dessert for his birthday, I prepped, planned, & packed for our trip.

I decided to make lemon cupcakes with lemon buttercream...lemon is probably his favorite flavor (dessert, at least). So, I used two recipes from my favorite baking blog, The Repressed Pastry Chef, for cake (love this recipe since it's light, fluffy, and not cloyingly sweet) and buttercream. Needless to say, it was a hit and I had all three great-grandchildren do the decorating...ummmm, with the sprinkles that is! I wasn't about to trust two 4YOs (both almost 5) & a 3YO with frosting (I can say this since 2 out of the 3 great-grans belong to me). I wanted to ensure that we HAD frosting for the cupcakes. ;o)

Aura, the eldest great-grandchild by 5 days!

Kaia, the middle great-grandchild

Jaron, the baby & only great-grandson...for now

We also made one of Kaia's all-time favorite meals...pan-fried dumplings.

This is the pork & shrimp (and roughly half or more veggie) version. One day, I'll have to post the recipe. I make a chicken version too. Sean & Kaia like to have dumpling eating contest. Even though Sean obviously outweighs Kai-Bear, I think ounce for ounce, Kaia is the CLEAR winner. Kaia can eat 9-10 of these bad boys...which is sometimes more than me!


Healthy to Not-So-Healthy

This weekend started w/healthy foods to progressively "that-can't-even-pass-as-good-for-you" food. I started off the weekend making an Oatmeal Brulee. I found the recipe on the blog Kath eats Real Food. I really like her blog (despite her being a Duke fan...GO TERPS) since she cooks really healthy. She's actually studying to be a dietitian. Everyone knows I try to cook healthy...relatively low-fat, full of good fats, make healthy substitutions, high in fiber, high in vegs, and cooking to ensure most of the nutrients remain in place. So, yeah, I like her blog for inspiration. I made the oatmeal brulee and loved it. Since I usually don't follow recipes except when I have to bake something (and I still usually don't follow the recipe to a T), I jazzed mine up with more bananas, more cinnamon, ground flax, & raisins.

I also still have my oil (extra virgin olive oil & some Omega-3 blend) for deep-frying out. So, I wanted to make homemade french fries. Now, fries are a bit of an addiction for me. I am particular about my fries. They cannot be too dark, must be golden, have to be crisp on the outside and completely cooked on the inside, and has to be burn-my-mouth hot!!! I love steak fries, wedges, waffle fries, shoestrings...etc. As long as it's not hard, completely mushy, completely crispy...I don't care what shape they are. Again, they also cannot be brown....golden, people...is that so hard to understand? And HOT, dammit!!! Enough with that. A while ago, I had seen Paula Deen make some onion fries. Holy cow, that instantly sent me back in time to when our neighbor Delicia started throwing in onions when she made french fries. We went home and replicated it too. Granted, Delicia was about 13 and I was 9 at the time, so we'd throw the onions in the beginning w/our frozen fries and even though the fries came out all yummy & everything...the onions, did not. So, reading through this recipe made my mouth salivate and I finally remembered to buy some red potatoes to try this bad boy out. I'm so glad I did! The kids and I loved it. Kaia loved the onions especially...all nice and sweet & salty. Both Kaia & I love dipping our fries in vinegar. I'm not much of a ketchup person, but I do loves me some ketchup w/lots of Tabasco). Kaia loves ketchup too...a lot of it. We use the organic version since it doesn't have high fructose corn syrup.

So, we've gone from Oatmeal Brulee to French Fries to Cookies n' Cream Cake. Yup. Cookies n' Cream. Now, mind you, I apparently didn't have enough powdered sugar on hand to make a full batch of that fabulous buttercream I blogged about earlier. But I did, however, have enough to make a half batch...only realizing this a little bit later when the neurons started firing between the synapses. My synapses were probably in carb heaven and still snoozing. Anyhoo, I made enouch but when my cake was done, I realized it was enough for a batch of cupcakes but NOT enough for a two-layer cake. Thus, the shots of I have are good enough to not embarrass me too much. ;o) For the cake, I used Ina's recipe again. I think having all of Ina Garten's cookbooks allow me to call her Ina or I-nizza or I.G. or...ok, I really need other adults around. Anyhoo...so, Ina's recipe (using Hershey's Special Dark cocoa), vanilla buttercream, and crushed Newman's Own organic chocolate sandwich cookies. I think I actually would've use Oreos for this bad boy next time. I may think about finely crushing the cookies and mixing them into the buttercream for the middle layer instead of just placing it on top of the frosting in the middle layer.

I can say one thing healthy about this cake...I used dark chocolate which is has good nice antioxidants in it...as does the coffee in the recipe too. Also, this is one of the FEW Barefoot Contessa recipes that doesn't use butter for the cake and I used my Omerga-3 blend oil. Am I far reaching on this one since the bad outweighs the good? Yeah, I think so too.

My cookie crushing, cake decorating helpers.


Beef Stroganoff

After being especially lazy this week, I've decided that my kids deserve some home-cooking! Cooking elaborate meals are much easier when you have another/bigger adult stomach in the household. Kaia's a fabulous eater but Jaron...he's a bit of a picky guy, which is an anomaly in this family...the Li side of the fam, at least. Lees can be a bit picky too. Apparently, from what I've heard, my hot hubby was a picky eater when he was little. Kim & I never had the luxury of being picky...we either had to eat what was given to us or had to eat what was given to us. Wait a minute...;o) I tend to believe that Sean was picky when he was little since throughout our relationship (esp. at the beginning), it was like pulling teeth to get the big guy to try new things...esp. veggies. BUT, being the good sport he is, he would try it...only to exclaim "Oooooooh, this is GOOD!" and proceed to shovel whatever it was onto his plate. Man, I love that guy.

Anyhoo...I decided to satisfy my carnivorous pasta-eating munchkins and make some slow-cooked beef stroganoff. Since I'm not one for following recipes, I tend to use them as a guide (if at all...usually just for the ingredients). I like Tyler Florence's Beef Stroganoff recipe. Some things I like to do w/our stroganoff is to substitute yogurt for sour cream. Kim'll be making stroganoff soon too, but using ground beef...something I should've considered since I have several pounds of organic ground beef in my freezer!!!

So, here it is...6 hours later:

Also accompanying this yumminess was fresh-squeezed lemon-limeade. Yeah, I felt I needed to redeem myself from having the past few days off. But yeah, Veggie Tales & beef stroganoff for our special dinner. Kaia now likes cremini mushrooms!!! It just took several tries! Yay!!
Mama's full, kiddies are full. Zzzzzzzzzz...except it's not even 6pm.


Asian Weekend

So, last weekend we spent indoors. I wanted to kids to take some downtime and recover a little quicker from the tail-end of their colds. So, we had a Blockbuster weekend and I made some soup! Luckily, it was raining this weekend, so I didn't feel as weird making a hot soup in the middle of a FL summer. ;o)
Sunny Florida my arse.

So, I made a daikon (Asian radish) beef soup and lumpia. I didn't take photos of the lumpia/spring rolls/eggrolls since I was in a rush and was playing around with my ingredients. But, I'll definitely post something about it next time I make 'em and have time to take photos. But, they were good, soooooooooo goooooooooood. My 4YO daughter ate more than me, and believe me, I can pack it away with the best of them. She makes me so proud...heh, heh, heh. She can thank me later for her super high metabolism....although mine's been sluggish since freshman year of college.

Anyhoo...on to my daikon soup. I learned how to make this comfort food from my mama and added my own flair to it. It's sooooo simple, satisfying, and savory. It's DEFINITELY a must-make during cold fall/winter months. Low-fat, healthy, and just yummmmmmmmy! Cook be warned that this will smell really, really ridiculously good...until you add the radishes...then you might want to make sure only those who love you and know you're a good cook are in the house. Others may doubt your abilities as well as not want to enter your abode.

Alrighty, I am BIG on making my own stock. There is just something about making your own stock that makes a soup that much better. Plus, you get to control the sodium levels & everything else you put into it. So, I started with some rib bones (I honestly like to buy anything that has a good amount of meat on it and big bones). Sometimes I get lucky and buy the ginormous beef bones available at the commissary (the military grocery store), if they have it. Anyway, wash the beef goodness off and place in a large pot and cover them with cold water.

I have a small amount of bones since it was just me & the kiddies eatin'...although it was still enough for 6-8 adults.

Add some large chunks of ginger (I like a lot but it can get spicy), peeled and smashed. I also like to add a carrot or two (deviating from my mama on this one). Bring to a boil and simmer...forever...or as close to it as you can. Season with salt and pepper too. Make sure to skim off any yuckiness as the stock cooks. Cover and let simmer for several hours or longer. I think, the longer the better. Since I didn't add more meat this time (as I would when my buffness is home), you should definitely add more beef (if you're a meat lover & for protein) several hours before you serve it so it has time to get nice and tender.

After you simmering for several hours, you'll want to continuously skim off any fat globules (that separate from the meat) & liquid fat from the soup. You'll feel better about yourself after your belly is nice and full and you know you ate only good stuff.

After several hours, I like to bump up the flavor by adding at least one can of CHICKEN broth...yup, I still will add premade canned chicken broth to my stocks to enhance the flavor and make it a bit richer (unless I've been cooking stock for the whole day...literally and have a load of bones up in that puppy). Season to taste AFTER you've added the stock. You may want to add soy sauce to taste too...I usually don't. I did this time though.

About 30-45 minutes prior to serving the soup, take the daikon, peel it, and slice it into 3/4-1 inch rounds (which you may want to slice those round in half...totally optional since you're eating it and not me). I also will throw in several more carrots since we love carrots & the added nutrition. HOWEVER, too many carrots will turn this soup SWEET. When all is said and done, have some hot, cooked rice waiting (we like brown or a combo of white/brown) in some bowls. Ladle the hot soup over it and VOILA! Healthy, satisfying, guiltless yumminess waiting to be in your belleh! We also like to make a simple dipping sauce for the meat by pouring a small amount of soy sauce into a dipping bowl, add olive oil (or whatever oil you like), and lots of fresh ground pepper. My mom likes the sauce with more soy, I prefer more oil.

Thank you, Mom. I don't tell you enough, but I'm so grateful for you and all the things you have taught me. The biggest things you've taught me are to be super affectionate & my love of food.


Shout Out

Since I've been a bit too busy, too blah, & too not-cooking-because-I'm-being-good-and-eating-leftovers-of-meals-that-feed-12-adults-&-not-2-little-kids-&-their-mama-&-being-good-about-saving-$. So, since I haven't been cooking, there is nothing to blog about. HOWEVER, I would like to send a shout out over to my favorite food blogger Em! Seriously, if you need to satisfy your sweet tooth, pop on over to her site The Repressed Pastry Chef since it is FAB-U-LOUS!

I'm going to make some soup tomorrow for the kids. I made some homemade chicken veggie barley soup with tiny ABC pasta & big ABC/123 pasta for my sick little ones, but since it was chicken soup, it wasn't something I was going to blog home to Mom about. However, I will post the one I'm making tomorrow because it's:
A) the best soup to eat on a 90ish-degree day in FL (heavy on the sarcasm)
B) because it's easy & goes in line with my lazy weekend
& C) it's just FABULOUS!

Again, it's probably a post that I'll have to refer to when the fall/winter comes. ;o) I do have on the menu eggrolls/springrolls/lumpia (whatever your ethnicity is, call it what you will)...we'll see if I make 'em since it doesn't go with my lazy mood. If not, I'll make some Asian-y chicken dumplings since I like to hide veggies in those bad boys to make my naughty boy eat veggies.

I also brought strawberries that probably won't last past Sunday and I may...MAY try to make lemon cupcakes w/fresh strawberry buttercream (wish me luck, Em!). We'll see and if it's good, I intend on giving most of it to Kaia's class since I like my muffin top to shrink, not overflow. Dammit...I also promised to make blueberry pancakes.

Crap...so this really isn't a lazy weekend. ;o)


Accomplished...Maduros & Cupcakes

Yup, this past Saturday...I was feeling mad accomplished. My house was messy, my dogs need baths, I need to exercise, my kids needed more Mommy-time...so, I go cook. Yup...Woman of the Year here! ;o)

My kids LOVE maduros...sweet plantains for you gringos. Tai-po (the kids' great-grandmother and my maternal grandma...although I call her Po-po) fries of tons o' batches of these bad boys for Kaia & my grandfather whenever we go to Miami. Po-po knows how much Kaia adores maduros and goes out to buy plantains whenever we go visit her and fries 'em up every morning for her. Kaia doesn't even have to ask. Mind you, this is a woman in her upper 80s with two bad knees, a bad ankle, the sole caretaker of my 97 YO wheelchair-bound grandfather who suffered a stroke over a decade ago, and birthed 9 children. Yeah, this woman is simply amazing. Anyway, I purchased the plantains when they were yellow with the black spots forming and waited for them to get blacker. If you want sweet plantains, you will need to wait for those puppies to turn black for them to be sweet. I just cut 'em up and pan-fried them in a bit of extra-virgin olive oil. The munchkins were PLENTY HAPPY with my little surprise for them.

Saturday night, we were supposed to attend a get-together at a neighbor's house. One of the hubbies just got back home from training and is going to be deployed over to the Middle East for a year. So, everyone got together to hang out. It was really nice...adult time/conversation for me and the kids ran themselves silly...quickly conking out after baths & books. YEAH BAYBEE!!! So, not wanting to go empty-handed, I baked up Ina Garten's (aka the Barefoot Contessa) Beatty's Chocolate Cake...also, I'm not a fan of boxed cake mixes since they have trans fats in them...although it's very hard to find cake recipes that can come close to the moistness & fluffiness of boxed mixes. Anyway, I digress...I had leftover buttermilk and a TON of Hershey's Special Dark cocoa powder that I needed to use up...it's funny, that will be a common phrase in this blog ("I had a ton of ____ and needed to use it up"). I'm not a chocolate person but do enjoy Hershey's Special Dark chocolate. Plus, I did need to brew up some coffee to add it to our ice coffee jug that we keep on hand. Anyway...the first time I made this last year, the coffee was too strong and I overcooked the cake. This time, I made the coffee w/o the extra espresso and made cupcakes out of the batter. Paired with homemade vanilla bean buttercream and we had a winner. I even got adventurous and made it decorative (my sister is the artsy creative one...although my creativity happens in the kitchen). Half of the cupcakes that I frosted, I let the kids decorate with spinkles and colored sugar. I have to stop being so darn Type A in the kitchen and start letting the kids (and anyone else for that matter) help me in the kitchen.

Sorry for the dark photos...still trying to get a hang of my new camera. Don't laugh at my cupcake decorating skills.

A word about the buttercream. I attempted to make it once last year. I tried to recreate CakeLove's strawberry buttercream and ended up with a nasty, gloppy mess. I've recently gotten hooked to the Repressed Pastry Chef's blog. I first started reading it when I was reading something about buttercream. The author of the blog really liked it, so I decided to give it a try...despite it having shortening in it. So, I buy shortening...it's the second time in my life I've EVER bought it and have a go at the recipe. OMG...it's a KEEPER...even though it has shortening in it. SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO GOOD!!!!! I made it flavored with vanilla and vanilla beans. That vanilla bean flavor buttercream mellowed out the dark, rich sweet bitterness of the moist cupcakes SO well! YUM!!! And you would never know that I'm not a fan of chocolate! ;o) Now, I just have to figure out how to make a fresh strawberry buttercream....

Eat to Enjoy, not to Live

This is a quote I use all the time with my wonderful, amazing, buff partner. He tends to "hork" down meals (those with kids and/or watched "Ratatouille" know what I'm talking about). I usually have to remind him that there is more from where it came (as I tend to cook for a family of 10-12 people, instead of the 2 adult/2 toddler household we live in) as well as more food in the fridge (I inherited my mother's amazing shopping abilities that should carry us over through any natural disaster/world war/nuclear fallout/etc.). Inside, I love it that he does that since I know it's because he enjoys my cooking. It's a total compliment. Still, I know he's frustrated he doesn't have the lean and mean physique he once had at the USNA (although you'll get no complaints from me since I think the stud is pretty damn fine) so I'd like to be more supportive in helping him overeat...obviously, portion-control is a big issue in our home...for all of us (thank you Crate and Barrel for our huge oversize plates that you tempted me into registering for...which makes a standard portion for us a normal 2-plate meal for others). The good thing is, I cook pretty darn healthy. No trans fats, not too many saturated fats, lots of fiber/fresh vegs/fruits, etc. It's just those darn portion sizes!!!
So yeah, we in the Lee-Espiritu household could not LIVE without food and we definitely ENJOY food...a lot! But, in the actual eating process...we need to remember to enjoy & savor the food, not to just hork it down...although if you find me at a buffet, all rules are out the window. ;o)



So, after a day of enjoying Kaia's Friday camp performance and settling the kids down with some "moco cheese" (what Jaron calls Mac n' Cheese), I decided to use up the avocados that I bought before they go bad. I also had two tomatoes and half a red onion that I needed to use before they too go bad. I also bought a bunch of cilantro that is still fresh as fresh can be...but w/o cooking as much as I normally do when my buff partner is home & landlocked, I decided to use that too. What's the best thing to eat with all those lovely ingredients?

Oh yes, perfection in a bowl.

Avocados, tomatoes, cilantro, GARLIC, red onion, lime, a bit of extra virgin olive oil (which I normally don't use in guacamole but added it for a bit more extra healthy fat), & a lil' S&P...YUM, YUM, YUM!!

Kaia could not stop raving about it for 5 minutes straight. She was so cute. My little girl is so making me proud becoming the little foodie that she's become! I remember when she was three and we just got in from our 12 hr. drive from MD to FL. I decided to save money and whip up a quick linguine w/clam sauce. As the garlic is sauteing in the pan with the olive oil, Kaia walks in and sniffs the air and proclaims...mmmmmmmmmm GARLIC! WHAT?!?!?! Yeah, she made me exponentially proud at that very moment. The next week, I made the Barefoot Contessa's Garden Pasta (this recipe is so simple and SOOOOO yummy). Kai Bear tried it and said, "Ooh, I like this basil!" Yup...at the tender age of 3, my daughter's palate was so crazy refined.

Anyhoo...I tried to get a video of her critique but she was already full at that point. I had grabbed the camera to record her but, being typical Tanya, detoured to take photos of my "guac" before it browned and then my neighbor called and then Kim called! Hahahaha. Yeah, the moment was lost to capture it on film (or rather, memory stick), but my daughter's glowing review of a simple dip made me feel so nice!

So, yeah...this guacamole was sooooooo yummy! I wanted to add some jalepeno peppers but with that damn salmonella scare and that Kaia liked it, it was a no go. Anyway...I'm enjoying my healthy dip (w/baked Scoops...which happen to be healthy than multigrain Tostitos...if only I had a Trader Joes near me...*sigh*)! Did you know avocados & tomatoes are an ideal paring? The heart-healthy fat from the avocados help the body to absorb the antioxidants from the tomatoes. Whaaaaaaaaaaaat.

I really should start posting some recipes.