Friday, November 30, 2012

November Foodie Pen Pal Reveal

Time for another Fooie Pen Pal reveal! I joined the Foodie Pen Pal program again this month. It's an event that Lindsey at The Lean Green Bean started that has taken off and gained LOTS of participants. You can read more about the program here
This month I was paired with Michelle from Michigan.

She included lots of goodies from World Market! There were cookies, cheese, sausage, crackers, chocolate covered pretzels, and some coffee! Lots of fun little foodie items.

The Calfornia Crunchies were tangy tomato BBQ almonds. Really good and perfect for an afternoon snack one day at work. The dark chocolate covered pretzles were awesome! I want another package! So far I haven't tried the sausage or tomato basil cheese but I'm sure both are good!

Those little chocolate wafer cookies were a great treat when taking a break from my Thanksgiving cooking (which I still owe you a post on!). The almond mix was a nice part of breakfast for my Thanksgiving cooking day, too! They had dried berry pieces, sesame seeds and honey. I need to find those again! And the was gifted on to my brother who is a more serious coffee drinker than me. I only have a few cups a year. I knew he would get better use out of it than me :)

Thanks, Michelle, for the goodies! If you want to read more about the goodies I sent to my match, Melissa, you can see that here.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Broccoli Cheese Soup

Another soup that is at the top of my favorites list is broccoli cheese soup. Panera Bread will always make the best, in my opinion, but it can always be replicated at home. Not a clone but it still does the trick :)

Broccoli Cheese Soup
Adapted from
  1. Sauté onion in butter. Set aside.
  2. Cook melted butter and flour using a whisk over medium heat for 3-5 minutes. Stir constantly and add the half & half.
  3. Add the chicken stock. Simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Add the broccoli, carrots and onions. Cook over low heat 20-25 minutes.
  5. Add salt and pepper. Can be puréed in a blender but I don't. Return to heat and add cheese. Stir in nutmeg.

I hope everyone has a very happy Thanksgiving! As you are reading this I am mostly likely frantic in the kitchen as I prepare my family's Thanksgiving meal! Like I said last week, it would only take a short time for me to have my OCD lists compiled. Aren't they pretty ;)
I'm actually really excited and I bet Mom and Josh are sick of getting random texts and phone calls with questions from me!  Wish me luck!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Chicken Tortilla Soup

I think I just turned it into soup week up in here! Tis the season for soup making! Come back tomorrow for another one of my favorites! But for today I've got an easy version of chicken tortilla.
Once the temps drop, my cravings for soups increase. I'm sure many people that live in the cold parts of the country this time of year can relate. There's just something about enjoying a warm bowl of soup during the brisk, cool months that's nostalgic and comforting. Here's another to add to your winter line-up.

This chicken tortilla is simple to make and has just the right texture- not as all thick but some tightness so it's not too brothy. Feel free to adjust the level of heat; I'm a whimp and cannot take much spicyness of any level.
Now Josh, my brother, he likes pretty much all of it. He even eats the hot sauce made with ghost peppers, the hottest ones out there. I think he's just crazy! You won't find me sampling those hot, spicy eats. Whimpy levels for me all the way. Kaydin too, she will not eat it if it's too "picey" as she still calls it. 

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Ingredients: 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil
2 large chicken breasts, cut into bite-sized pieces
1 small onion, chopped
2 Tablespoons taco seasoning (or 1 recipe homemade taco seasoning)
1 Tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more or less)
3 Tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
1 can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
juice of 1/2 lime
32oz  chicken broth, divided
2 Tablespoons masa or cornmeal
1. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add chicken and onion then sprinkle in taco seasoning, paprika, and salt. Stir well then cook until chicken is cooked through and onions are tender, about 10 minutes. Add cumin, chili powder, and cayenne pepper, then saute for one more minute. Add cilantro, pepper to taste, pinto beans, lime juice, and 3-1/2 cups chicken broth then simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
2. Meanwhile, make pico de gallo, chop avocado, and combine remaining 1/2 cup chicken broth with masa or cornmeal in a small bowl. When soup is done simmering, drizzle in chicken broth/masa mixture, and simmer for 10 more minutes. Serve topped with crushed tortilla chips, chopped avocado, cilantro and pico de gallo or salsa.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Zuppa Toscano Soup

Wow, major lack in posting the last couple weeks. It's been a busy few weeks paired with my lack of desire to write up my posts. And now here we are into the holiday season and it's about to get a lot busier....Happy Holidays!

One of my all-time favorites soups is the Zuppa Toscano from Olive Garden. Creamy with a little bit of spice; potatoes, kale, and sausage mixed to create a depth of different textures. I was it were little healthier so I could enjoy it more often!

When I started my job at Iowa Association of School Boards in January 2008, my friend I were just starting to get interested in the kitchen and cooking more frequently. We spent a lot of time talking food and sharing recipes. Our conversation of choice the next morning was what we cooked for dinner the night before. Such nerds we were. But I did get this gem of a recipe from her that winter  and have been making it every one since.

It's packed with easy to find ingredients and only takes a little bit of prep work before simmering on the stove for a short amount of time. Pair it with some crusty French bread (or some pretzel bread like I did) for sopping up the creamy broth.

Side note: Does that little potato skin sticking up in the picture bother anyone else? Cuz I can't stand it! I didn't notice it while taking the pics but as soon as I started editing, it was the first thing I saw! Grrr!
Zuppa Toscano Soup
Recipe adapted from my friend, Lindsey (not sure where she got it from)
3 cups chicken broth
3 cups skim milk or 1 1/2 cups half and half
1/2 small or medium onion
1/2 lb Italian turkey sausage
2 medium russet potatoes, cubed
2 cups kale, rinsed and torn
pinch of crushed red pepper
Brown sausage in a large stockpot. When sausage is cooked, add the broth, milk, onion, and red pepper. Stir to combine. Add the cubed potato and cook for 20 minutes over low to medium heat. Add kale and simmer for about 40 minutes.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Random Happenings, take 3

 Here's a few quick updates about what's been going on in our lives lately...

  • I went on a salmon bender last week. I ate it everyday Friday-Thursday. I could still have gone a few more days but I figured I would give myself a break from the mercury. So good though! I use Cajun seasoning some days and dried dill and lemon other days.
  • Last Sunday a couple of my friends and I watched all the previous Twilight movies. We're gearing up for when the new one comes out. We're waiting a couple weeks after its released til seeing it at the theater, though. We like the movies but we're not Twi-hards. No standing in those crowds of teenagers for us! (source)
  • Tim switched out the kitchen cabinets and doorknobs this week. He even found himself a little helper. He's been teaching her how to use the power drill. And we only had to pay her in books from her book order at school. I'd say it's a fair trade.

  • It was Ciera's 6th birthday on Sunday. I looked for party hats but couldn't find em. Bakery treats and a new toy would have to do. Squeaky got spoiled too since he didn't get treats back on his birthday in July. The little brats had one of the toys torn to shreds only a few hours after we gave it to em. Guess it's a good thing I chose the $1.00 toys.

Ciera looks so guilty. Ha!
  • This year, since Mom and Dad are in the final stages of their kitchen re-do, Tim and I are hosting Thanksgiving. It's my first time cooking for a holiday and my first time making this big of a meal for my family (or anyone for that matter). I've had it in the back of my head for weeks now but finally decided to make a menu and list when Dad called me today and asked what was on the menu. Ummm, I don't know yet! Well, crap! Time passed too quickly and now I only have a week and a half left! I made a rough menu and list today and officially am anxious and overwhelmed! The planner in me is freaking out that I don't have everything mapped and written out. Give me a couple days though and I'll have my list completed by store, ingredients, and also even what baking dish I'll be cooking it in. I'll probably make a schedule of what I'll mix up first and the order of what will be put in the oven when. I swear I'm not OCD though :)

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Proposition 37- Labeling GMO's

I was so excited and anxious to hear what the outcome of this California vote would be after election totals came in. I'm more than sad to say it was defeated 47% to 53%. Such a disappoint for learning more about what's in our food and the general public being able to recognize what foods and products contain genetically modified organisms (GMO). Prop 37, The Right to Know Act, would require foods that are genetically modified to be labeled. That's all. The foods wouldn't be banned, they wouldn't be taken off the shelves. They would simply have a label to inform the public.

It's big corporate giants that poured money into the "No" campaign that may have swayed many votes simply because of scare tactics and people not doing their own research.  "Since when have the pesticide and junk food manufacturers EVER spent $45 million to save you money, improve your health, or protect the environment?"<---Quote taken from Organic Consumers Facebook page.
It was advertised that grocery bills would increase and costs to local farmers would go up. Food manufacturers are the ones that will, in fact, incur this cost, not the consumer.

“We, as with most manufacturers, are continually updating our packaging. It's a regular cost of doing business - a small one at that - and is already built into the price consumers pay for products. Claims that labeling genetically engineered foods would increase the price of food for consumers just aren’t true. Companies would certainly be updating their packaging for other reasons within the 18 months they will be given to comply with the new law, and could simply make the additional GMO labeling changes at the same time.” -Arran Stephens, president of Nature's Path Organic Foods.

Even though it was defeated, it was still a huge national movement that educated thousands of people so there's a win right there! Many people did more research on the issues, became more informed and, in turn, changed more of their food choices. I can say that I did and my family will be even healthier because of it.

Iowa is part of The Coalition of States for Mandatory GMO Labeling. I was so excited when I learned of this movement. Maybe this means Iowa will be one of the first in the country to have GMO's labeled! 50 other countries are already ahead of us and do have mandatory labels. Some European countries even ban GMO's. We need to keep moving forward in the world in all aspects of life and our food system should be at the top.

Other coalition states include: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin, Washington and Washington DC.

It's up to us to inform ourselves and know what's really going on in the food industry. It's changed and many of us just do not know what's really happening. It shouldn't be hard to go to the grocery store and buy healthy natural foods. Food manufacturers only have the bottom dollar at the forefront of their thoughts. This results in cheaper ways to manufacture these so-called "foods" causing us to be consuming chemicals and additives. More research is popping up about these chemicals showing many health problems everyday. For your and your family's sake, please be informed.

I have also watched numerous documentaries about nutrition, sustainable farming, organics, GMO's, etc. The content is both alarming and fascinating at the same time. In the future I plan to do a full post on the summaries of these documentaries but for now I'll leave you with my favorites:
Genetic Roulette
Food, Inc.

Below are some links I have provided if you are interested in reading more about this issue. Yes to Prop 37 homepage Yes to Prop 37 blog

A recent rat study conducted in France shows the effects of GMO food.The results are shocking!
 Full study. Shorter summary of findings. Blog written by Kerry, a fellow Iowan, that has children with allergies and a passion for clean and healthy eating. She provides great information on organics and GMO's. Another blog that has countless articles and helpful information to steer clear of GMO's and other harmful additives.

Change will happen, the movement has started!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Pumpkin French Toast Casserole

I've talked about it many times before, but I just love the recipe I use for French toast casserole. It's the perfect lazy breakfast. You can mix up the minimal ingredient list the night before and then just pop in the oven in the morning for a warm, yummy breakfast for the family.
When I saw this recipe for French toast casserole made with pumpkin, I jumped on it! I already had the loaf of bread (multigrain French loaf- YUM!) on the counter, a half container of pumpkin puree that needed used up and also even some half and half that needed to be thrown in a recipe! Too perfect of timing for this recipe to be ignored.

It was the middle of the week but that didn't stop me! I combined the ingredients in the evening and just let it sit in the fridge for the day while I was at work and we had a hearty, sweet breakfast for dinner!

And of course leftovers for me to have at work for a few days in the morning.

Leaving it sit for the whole day, too, gave a thick, creamy custard texture. And adding the pumpkin made it even better! A perfect fall variation on a classic.

Pumpkin French Toast Casserole
Adapted from Two Peas and Their Pod

1 loaf multi-grain French Bread
6 large eggs
2 1/2 cups milk
1 cup pumpkin puree (not pie filling)
3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Streusel Topping:
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1. Spray a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with cooking spray. Tear French bread into chunks, or cut into cubes, and evenly place in the pan.
2. In a large bowl, mix together eggs, milk, pumpkin puree, sugar, vanilla extract, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Pour evenly over bread. Cover pan with saran wrap or aluminum foil and store in the refrigerator for several hours or overnight.
3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt. Add butter pieces and cut into the dry mixture using a fork or your hands. Cover and store mixture in the refrigerator.
4. When you’re ready to bake the French toast, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove French toast from refrigerator and sprinkle crumb mixture over the top. Bake for 50-60 minutes, or until the French toast is set and golden brown.
5. Serve warm with maple syrup, if wanted.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Halloween 2012 {and a Sugar Cookie recipe}

Well, one more month has come and gone. Another Halloween is in the books and my little girl keeps growing and growing. Tim and I are always in such awe as she gets smarter and bigger everyday.  It's nice on those rare evenings when she tells me she wants to cuddle with me on the couch. I miss those days when she fit in my arms and I could hold her til she fell asleep....

Anyway, come with us as I recap our Halloween adventures for 2012!
Earlier this week we carved the couple pumpkins we picked up this season. Last year, Tim has her on video carving her pumpkin and being so excited she actually got to use a plastic knife since any other day all knives are off limits. This year, as we were preparing and laying out the newspaper I found a plastic knife by the pumpkins. I thought Tim got it out for her to be funny and reminisce about her proud proclamation of being able to use that knife one year earlier. But she actually got it out for herself! She remembered and was prepared to get those pumpkins carved! :)

Of course, it's not Halloween without enjoying a pumpkin shaped pizza from Papa Murphy's!
And it's also not Halloween without some spooky shaped sugar cookies! I changed up Mom's sugar cookie recipe to make it a little healthier and it still tastes great! (Recipe below)

It's been our tradition since her first Halloween to decorate cookies and have one with her name and year on it that she gets to eat the night of trick-or-treating.

See her past year's costumes and cookies in this post.

Going along with her theme of dolphin loving she chose to be Hazel from her favorite movie Dolphin Tale. We found an athletic shirt that she pointed out was exactly what Hazel wore (a wetsuit top) and Uncle Joshie helped glue some letters on. She wore her swim shoes and she brought her inflatable dolphin, named Winter, of course along for Trick-or-Treating. We put some gauze around its tail for an even bigger effect. Now Hazel is a little red head. We couldn't find a strawberry blonde wig so we decided just to straighten her hair and add some freckles to her face.

For those that don't know, Winter was a dolphin found in Florida in 2005. Her tail was caught in wire and and then eventually fell off. After some time she was fitted for a prosthetic tail to help her swim correctly and not damage her tail. Since seeing the movie and visiting Sea World, Kaydin has been absolutely obsessed with the movie and anything dolphin. She came up with her costume idea herself. I think it was pretty original and fit her well.
This year her joke of choice was, "Why do dolphins live in the ocean? Because they're ocean animals!" She was out there telling facts instead of jokes this year. ;)

After we got home she dumped her loot on the floor and started digging through. I presented her with an opportunity to make a little money- for every piece of candy she gave up, she could trade it for a quarter. So far she's made $2.00! Try it with your kids and see how much they earn! No need for em to eat a whole bag full of candy.

Sugar Cookies

2 cups raw cane sugar (This is pretty coarse so to get a better texture for cookies, I put it in my magic bullet blender. It turned it into close to a powder but worked really well.)
1 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup butter
2 eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
2 tsp cream of tartar
5 cups whole wheat white flour

Blend sugar, oil, butter, and eggs until fluffy. Add vanilla. Add in soda, cream of tartar, and flour and mix until incorporated. Chill dough for one hour before rolling out to cut with cookie cutters.
Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes.

Did you go Trick-or-Treating this year?