Recipe for Successful Meals

We all need to eat. And I know lots of people who, as soon as they finish one meal, start thinking about the next one. Yet, I am constantly amazed by the number of people who don’t cook. How can people seriously enjoy eating out all the time? Especially when it’s fast food! Don’t get me wrong … I do enjoy going out to eat now and then, especially when it’s for sushi or crab legs or to celebrate something special. But I can’t imagine having to pick something up at the grocery store deli or at a drive-through window every day. I like my food with a little less salt and grease and fat. Now, I can’t say I cook healthy all the time, because I don’t. But when I make our meals, I can control the amounts of those substances that go in my food. I like that.

Plus, I guess some part of me enjoys cooking and baking. It’s my way of sharing a bit of myself and nourishing my family and sometimes my friends. I know some people really don’t like cooking at all; others simply don’t think they have the time. But with a little planning and all the cookbooks, blogs, and recipe sites out there, it is actually quite easy to come up with a few quick meals for really rushed days as well as some more substantial meals you can prep ahead of time and throw in the crockpot or oven.

RECIPES While my husband, Bart, would happily eat the same things over and over again (he’s fairly easy to please), I am always on the lookout for new recipes. I currently subscribe to a couple family and recipe-based magazines. Sometimes, I get behind on reading and they begin to pile up. But I keep them near the couch for when we are watching (non-recorded) TV so that when the commercials come on, I can pick up a magazine and quickly flip through the pages.

I look for recipes that sound yummy, but then I scan through the ingredients and preparation info. If it contains way too many ingredients, things I’ve never heard of, or too many steps or too much time to prepare, I skip it. If it looks like something I might actually make, I tear the page out and put it in my coupon drawer in the kitchen.*

I also subscribe to a couple weekly e-mails from different companies (see my suggested links at the end of this blog post). I look at the main page and if something catches my eye, I’ll go to the site and check it out further (or keep it in my in box to review later). If I get too busy, I just delete the e-mail as I know there will be more recipes to consider the following week. When I find a good recipe online, I print it out and add it to that same kitchen drawer or sometimes they even make it directly into what I would call my “working cookbook.”

OTHER OPTIONS When I attend a gathering and someone makes a dish I enjoy, I ask for the recipe. Accumulating good recipes from friends and family members is another way to build up your collection of meal or snack ideas to try. And, of course, these days there is Pinterest. I don’t know how many recipes and recipe bloggers I have found from pinning yummy-sounding or tasty-looking photos to my own boards.

Then, there’s the old standby—the thousands and thousands of printed recipe books out there. If you have some cookbooks that you haven’t looked at in years, try to get them out during commercial breaks or maybe even take them with you to look through when you’re in the car pool lane. Bring some sticky notes with you and flag any interesting ideas you come across that you’d like to try.

I recommend three different options for keeping track of these cookbook recipes that you’d like to try. 1) You can write down the name of the recipe, the name of the cookbook, and the page it appears on in your working cookbook so you’ll know where to find it again. 2) You can make a copy of the page and add it to your working cookbook. 3) Or (and I know some people will shudder at this) you can actually tear the page out of the book. If it is not a special book that you’d like to keep intact, and you know you aren’t likely to keep pulling that cookbook out for one or two rarely used recipes, make things easier on yourself. Then donate the book or pass it on to a friend who may appreciate some of the other recipes. (I also suggest donating or giving away cookbooks, or any other books, that are just accumulating dust on your shelves, even if they were gifts.)

Recipes also come directly on product packaging and on index cards at your local grocery store. There is no end to what you can find if you look around. Just don’t go crazy collecting recipes you will never use. It’s a good idea to occasionally go through your collection and get rid of recipes that either didn’t turn out that well or that you still haven’t made after many months (or years).

Have fun collecting good recipes, but remember, the goal isn’t to see who can collect the most recipes. The point is to actually use the recipes to provide a variety of meals for you and your family. One hint though—if you already cook, don’t go crazy and make a new dish every night. Most people don’t like that much change. Continue to use your standby family favorites, but once or twice a week, try something new. It will either become another favorite or a flop. Believe me, you’ll know whether it’s a keeper or not.

Bottom line—you’ll find that you are spending less money, probably eating better, and maybe, just maybe, even learning to like cooking.

  • *Later, when I have time, all recipes will be reviewed again for feasibility (will I actually ever make this?); those that remain keepers get put in my working cookbook.
  • My working cookbook is an ever-changing 3-ring binder full of page protectors. It usually stays on my kitchen counter and it sometimes contains a number of other useful pages, like lists of what’s in the freezer, what’s in the pantry, and what’s for dinner (menus for one to two weeks at a time), which I’ll talk about in another post.

Here are some of my favorite sources—in no particular order. Check them out!

www.betterrecipes.com/blogs/daily-dish/ (Easy. Elegant. Everyday.)

www.SavingDinner.com (menus, recipes, and shopping lists to get your family back to the dinner table)

http://www.bettycrocker.com  (recipes from Betty Crocker—sign up for their Dinner Made Easy newsletters)

www.bhg.com/recipes/ (recipes from Better Homes and Gardens)

www.TasteofHome.com (recipes from Taste of Home)

www.SuperKidsNutrition.com (saving the world one healthy food at a time)

www.EatBetterAmerica.com (part of Live Better America—healthy recipes/healthy living)

www.SixBurnerSue.com (cooking fresh and eating green with Susie Middleton)

www.UrbanPoser.Blogspot.com  (yoga & vibrant gluten free living)

www.BrokeAssGourmet.com  (recipes to keep your taste buds happy and your wallets thick)

www.Picky-Palate.com (original family style recipes for even your pickiest eaters)

www.EatWholly.com (tasty tips, yummy kitchen tricks, and entertaining videos from Wholly Guacamole)

Monkeying Around

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams.
Live the life you have imagined.”
 —Henry David Thoreau

Today is the first Monday of my new adventure as a stay-at-home copyeditor/writer (Friday was actually my first day “on the job”). My favorite part so far — not having to get up at 6:30 with the alarm. I can sleep until I’m ready to wake up, which so far has been around 8:30. Such a wonderful perk!

Other benefits? I get to spread my work out over the day — working a couple hours at a time and then “breaking” to go wash some dishes or throw a load of laundry in the washer or dryer or run up to the store. It’s a pace much more conducive to creativity, and it allows me to make sure that I am at my best when focus and diligence are required (which is all the time with editing).

Working from home will also allow me to be more flexible about fitting in a daily devotional time, exercise, craft time, and time off with my husband, and it gives me more time to monkey around in the kitchen trying new recipes that I can then share with you!

In honor of this sweet benefit, the recipe I decided to try this past weekend was Healthified Monkey Bread from EatBetterAmerica.com. It was so easy to make and soooo delicious! I will definitely be making this again.

The ingredients: sugar/cinnamon, refrigerated biscuits, chopped pecans or walnuts, caramel topping, and vanilla. That’s it. You can click on the blue link above for the recipe specifics, but I think once you make it one time, you won’t even need to measure the ingredients; you’ll be able to simply throw it all together and still create a masterpiece. Notice that I used a pre-mixed cinnamon sugar combo, and I didn’t use fat-free ingredients as listed in the recipe. I will probably try the fat-free next time; I simply used what I already had on hand. You can decide for yourself which you prefer.

Preparation: Pour the cinnamon and sugar into a 1-gallon resealable food-storage plastic bag. Open up the cans of dough and separate the biscuits. Cut each biscuit into quarters. (I placed about eight quarters at a time into the sugar mixture, held the bag closed and shook the bag to coat the biscuit pieces.)

Once biscuit pieces are coated, begin to layer them with pecan (or walnut) pieces in a bundt or fluted tube cake pan. I used a stone Pampered Chef pan.

When layering is complete, mix caramel topping with vanilla. Since my caramel sauce had been in the fridge, I took the lid off and microwaved it for about 20 seconds first. Then, I poured it into a small bowl with the vanilla. After mixing, I drizzled it over the biscuit pieces.

With this pan, and my oven, it only took about 30 minutes rather than the 40 – 45 suggested in the recipe. I recommend checking it early.

Now you just have to have the patience to let it cool for about 10 minutes in the pan before you invert it onto a serving plate. Since it is best served warm, dig in and enjoy immediately. (It does warm up well in the microwave if you have any left over the next day.)

We took this over to my sister-in-law’s house to share and it was a hit. To those of you whom I used to work with — I’m thinking about making this for you when I come to visit sometime. Meanwhile, don’t be afraid to try the recipe yourself. Even if you are not a regular baker, you CAN do this. 

Experiments in Baking

Almond Flour Cinnamon Roll

This past weekend, I had some extra time on my hands and some recipes I’d been wanting to try, so I have a few treats to share with you. The first delicious dish (that I’m proudest of) is my Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls. I told you about them in my Sharing It Forward post. I had never used almond flour before, so I want to say thank you to my friend Ben Hulet for bringing me the flour and to his wife Jenni for her awesome recipe.

Ingredients for Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls

If you’re new to baking, I wouldn’t recommend this recipe, as the consistency of the almond flour dough requires a bit of a gentle touch. And you need to be careful to use room temperature eggs with the coconut oil or the oil will harden. But if you’ve baked a thing or two in the past and are open to trying something new (as well as following directions), these rolls are the bomb!

Actually, they taste more like a light, sweet biscuit stuffed with pecans and cinnamon. Mmmm mmmm.

Baked Almond Flour Cinnamon Rolls

We tried one topped with vanilla glaze and one drizzled with honey; both were good. But when I took the leftovers in to work, some people ate them with no added topping at all. And they loved them. (Part of me wanted to keep them all to myself, but not the part that wants to get/stay in shape.) It was definitely a great treat to share. And a successful experiment for sure.

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Ingredients for Apple Pecan Crescent RollsNow, if you’re looking for a simple but tasty dessert to bake, I’ve got just the thing for you. I found it on Taste of Home’s website.  It’s an Apple Walnut Crescent Roll. I didn’t have walnuts, but I had pecans, so I substituted. You can use either one. Your other ingredients are apples, refrigerated crescent rolls, cinnamon, sugar, and butter (raisins are optional). That’s it. (Although the picture shows raisins, I didn’t end up adding them to my recipe.)

You basically peel and core a few apples. Cut them into chunks. Separate the crescent dough. Sprinkle it with cinnamon/sugar. Roll up the apples in the crescent dough (starting at the small end). Drizzle them with just a little butter and top with nuts. You could also add a little more cinnamon/sugar if you want. Then bake. See … simple. (For the complete recipe/instructions, click on the link above.)

Apple Pecan Crescent Rolls

We shared these with Bart’s sister’s family, and I still had some left to bring in to work. I ate one at room temperature and it was good, but they really are best when served warm. And don’t they sound like they’d be great with a side of vanilla ice cream? Yum!

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Ingredients for Cheesy Quinoa BitesFor my last baking experiment, I tried quinoa (pronounced keen-wa) for the the first time, as part of my quest to try new, healthier foods. I found an image on Pinterest for Cheesy Quinoa Bites several weeks ago that sounded interesting (hey, anything with cheese in it has got to be good). I clicked on the photo to find the source (SoVeryBlessed.com), and I saved the recipe to try when I had time.

That turned out to be this past Thursday. To tell you how it went, I’m going to fess up, and share my ditzy moment with you. The recipe called for 2 cups of cooked quinoa. I had never made it before, so I read the package to see how to cook it. It said to mix 1 cup of quinoa with 1-1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Well, I needed 2 cups, right? So, I doubled it. Can you see where this is going?

If you are familiar with quinoa, then you know it is like rice in that it bulks up quite a bit in cooking. So, I now have several cups of cooked quinoa to work with. Turns out it makes a pretty good hot breakfast (especially mixed with a little sweet cream), and I’ve also mixed some up with black beans, corn, and a little lime juice, which I’ll be trying tomorrow.

Anyway, back to the bites … I thought they were okay, but I wasn’t totally impressed. However, my co-workers (who  get to try out my crazy kitchen experiments) seemed to like them. I think I will try making them again, but next time, I’ll use fresh grated Parmesan cheese or maybe even some cheddar – I think it needs something with a little more bite. I’ve still got half a bag of quinoa left. (I thought it was kind of expensive when I first bought it, but turns out – a little goes a long way.)

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This week, I wanted to provide some inexpensive dinner ideas for one of my nieces.  There were some listed in the June issue of Good Housekeeping (is it just me or is it crazy that they come out so early), but they’re not available online yet, so I’ll share them later. For now, I found some Budget Dinner Recipes from Kraft Foods that I thought I’d post a link to. I haven’t tried any of them yet, so can’t recommend them specifically, but if you make any, let me know.

I also found my next “have to try” recipe. It’s called Queso Taco Pasta Bake from Picky-Palate.com. It sounds delicious. So far, I have pinned the photo to my Food Favorites board. I need to go back later and copy/print the recipe. Of course, I will let you know how it turns out when I make it. If you make it before me, please come back and share how it worked for you.

Well, I think that’s it for today. I apologize for not getting this posted this  morning. We’re temporarily down to one computer, and Bart had to get some work done last night. Hope I’m leaving you with some good food for thought and you have a wonderfully simple yet full week.

Food for Thought

I decided to make today’s post food-focused because most of us are often thinking about food in one way or another: like what we can have, what we can’t have, what we crave, what we’re thinking about making, what we hope someone will make for us, etc.

I’ve heard/read several people, most recently my nephew Kevin, complaining about how expensive it is to eat healthy, especially when you’ve got several family members to consider. He’s right. It’s hard, but not impossible. I just came across this article from Care2.com on 18 Easy Food Swaps to Save Money that I think would be a great read if you are tempted to fill your cart with less healthy, cheaper foods. Maybe it will give you some ideas.

Also, I just have to promote this new “Lunchables” alternative that I found at Target — from GoPicnic. Really, they are great for kids or adults, but I compare them to the lunch/snack option that I know some people buy for their kids, because even though it is labeled as a ready-to-eat meal, for most adults, I think it would be more like a great afternoon snack. I’ve only tried one so far–the one with hummus–and it was pretty darn tasty. In fact, I’m looking for a box of those baked crackers now; I really liked them.

Anyway, they say GoPicnic meals contain no trans fats, no high fructose corn syrup, and no MSG. Three of the four boxes I picked up are also gluten free. You can learn more about them online at GoPicnic.com, but they sell them on their site for $5, and I got them at Target for $3.51. Try them out and let me know what you think.

Besides looking for a good price on healthy foods, I know many of us are also looking for ways to save time with meal prep. In the February issues of Real Simple magazine, I found this article on “hearty and healthy slow-cooker recipes you’ll use (and love) forever.”  (I’m still getting caught up on some of my magazines.) I think there are a few recipes shown online that weren’t in the print version of the magazine, and vice versa, but check out this slideshow to see if anything catches your eye. If you find something you like, look to the right and below the description of the dish, there is a link to “Get the Recipe.”

And speaking of recipes, I have purchased menu mailers from Leanne Ely of Saving Dinner in the past; they help you quickly and easily make meal plans each week, and they come in a variety of categories (low carb, low fat, meals for two, etc.). Leanne has just paired up with Dr. Terry Wahls, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, to introduce the Paleo Bundle to share the critical link between the foods we eat or do not eat and the health we have or do not have. The bundle includes five audio lectures from Dr. Wahls; a Paleo Primer, to introduce you to what the paleo way of eating is all about and give you some basic guidelines to get your pantry stocked; and a one-year subscription to Menu-Mailer’s Paleo plan, which provides you with various recipes and helps you customize your meal plan and shopping list. Pretty cool stuff.

And finally, for today: Did you read my last post? In it, I mentioned a recipe for Impossibly Easy Mini Cheeseburger Pies from Betty Crocker, which I hadn’t yet tried. Well, I made them last night. They were very easy and very good. You make them in a muffin pan and then add toppings like you’d put on your burger. I put my garnishes/condiments directly on mine; Bart preferred to dip his in a mustard and hot sauce mix. (We treated the mini-pies like finger food.) You definitely need a side with these or you’ll want more than the 2-pie serving per person. (I had 2; Bart had 3.) We ate these with sweet-tasting corn on the cob. Yum!

I definitely recommend this recipe; however, I felt like it needed a bit more of the baking/Bisquick mixture. I suggest using 3/4 cup milk, 3/4 cup Bisquick mix, and 3 eggs (1-1/2 times the original recipe) to fill up the muffin pan more.

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today. I hope at least one of the items I posted was useful to you. Personally, although I love using the crock pot, I don’t really want so much of a “hearty” meal at this time of year. I prefer something lighter. Does anyone have any good, healthy summer-time dinner ideas? Please share.

Hope today fills you up with all good stuff.