{good eats} getting lean with a bit of yum

So I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a few things to work on for myself this year.

One is getting this “pre/during/post/been hanging around too long” baby weight GONE. However, I’ve learned over the past few years, that the way I might have tackled a problem pre-marriage, or pre-kids, or frankly, just in my 20s, is a lot different than I how I can tackle it now.

There’s a number of reasons:

1. I have kids and a husband to focus on and take care of..

2. I’m older and my body just doesn’t seem to respond like it used to…

3. I don’t get a lot of sleep or a lot of time to just dedicate on me…

4. There are a lot of real life stresses to deal with in the day…

5. It’s just plane hard to worry about me, when I have 4 others I think about constantly….

The reasons could go on and on.  But what I have learned is that I just need to do what works best for me.

At the stage of life I’m at.

With the day’s schedule I need to work around.

With the budget and time I have.

And with what I know SOUNDS LIKE it will work for ME.

What works for some does not always work for others, so this time around I’ve taken it all in. Looked at what people are trying, read about options, remembered the great pointers I’ve been taught, then made up my own plan.

All that being said, I have myself on a program right now. I want to be in a bathing suit again by Easter (and not squished into one, I would like to actually look cute!). So I spent New Years Eve and New Years Day coming up with a plan that felt right for me. So far it’s working really well!  I’m 10 days in, I don’t have a clue how many inches, but I know I’m getting smaller because I can feel it and see it in my clothes. According to the scale, I’m also 5 lbs lighter, so I’m taking that as a win!

I plan on sharing what I’m doing, but I think I’m going to wait until I meet my halfway mark. Being that this is a site about My Favorite Things, I want to be sure I really do like everything about what I’m trying and that I continue to see results. So have patience!

What I do want to share today is these 2 little meals from Lean Cuisine, Swedish Meatballs, and Fajita Style Chicken Spring Rolls. I found these at the grocery store after searching the frozen section for frozen meals that were in the 200 calorie range, and both low in fat and carbs (these aren’t LOW in carbs, but low enough).  I tried a few others too, but these were by far the winners.

Now I’m not normally a frozen food girl (unless it’s Trader Joe’s Gorgonzola Gnocchi….help me), however, when I’m trying to either get the girls food out fast and their Mac & Cheese seems a whole lot more appealing than a salad or cold turkey sandwich, THESE work like a charm!

Lean Cuisine Swedish Meatballs are great! The pasta tastes like pasta should (no grainy wheat, or mushy gluten free – not that either of these don’t also have great options, I just have not found a fave yet). The meatballs are light, and the whole meal feels pretty indulgent. If I have this for lunch, I eat it as is. If I have it for dinner, then I have a large side salad as well.  That way when the rest of the family is eating something warm and yummy, I feel like I’m at the party too.

Fajita Style Chicken Spring Rolls have been another great option. First they have 2 servings in each box, nice space saver in the freezer. If I have this for lunch, I typically heat it in the microwave and run out the door with it in a paper towel. Great for on the go!! But again, if I have it for dinner, I serve it up with a large side salad and I don’t feel like I’m missing anything at all!

Just a couple of secret weapons that have been helpful to me so far.  Have any of you tried any frozen meals that are low in calories, but still taste really good?  I would love to hear about them. It’s always nice to have a little something on your side when your trying to get the lbs off your backside!

{Disclosure – Got nothing. Just found em at the store, I like em, I’m sharing them.}

{good eats} general tso’s chicken (yum!!)

Let’s just be clear that I’m not a full time food blogger, nor even a part time food blogger,  nor even an occasional food blogger, BUT, I do love food and I do like to find new fabulous  simple recipes!

However, this is not a place you will ever see perfect food styling or amazing step by step photos, because frankly, my kids wont let me. And I’m lazy (as well as lucky just to get dinner on the table at night – and not in the middle of the day when the light is better…)

But share an AWESOME.AMAZING.YOU-WILL-LOVE-IT-FOREVER recipe? That I can do!

I found this recipe for General Tso’s Chicken on The Tasty Kitchen blog. One of my favorite food bloggers, How Sweet It Is shared the recipe from contributor Rebecca and OH MY GOODNESS, what a FIND!

It was super simple to make. I used chicken breast (because I had it) and served it with fried rice and edamame because that’s what our Littles love, but really any way you want to serve this, as long as it’s on your plate, you are golden! Most certainly a FAVORITE!

Make this this week! Here’s a link to the recipe.

Enjoy!

{good eats} cooking with the littles (orange cake!)

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve started cooking more with Addie.  I’ve always cooked with the Littles, but I’m trying to let Addie be more a part of the process in deciding things to make, in trying new things, and in doing more than just handing her something  she can “dump in the bowl”.

Being 3-1/2 and also going to preschool 2 days a week has somehow catapulted her into this whole new learning arena.  She’s like a sponge! Crazy how fast that happens…one day they are your baby, the next, their asking for the car keys…WHA?? HUH??!?!?

Addie doesn’t really take naps anymore, more like quiet time with her books or a show while her sisters sleep…….And sometimes I like to play hookie from responsibility and take the moment to sit with her (you just have to sometimes – emails and laundry will always be there, but your baby wont always be 3-1/2).  When I do sit with her, she usually asks to watch a cooking show (Much to my delight!!  Dora or Food Network? Oh thank you Addie!).  We’ll watch a show (She loves Giada since her daughter Jade is often on the show – Addie is begging me to have Jade over for a play date….hmmmm let me see how I might do that….).

Anywhooo Giada usually makes 2 or 3 things and out of the blue Addie will say,That ‘X’ looks good Mommy.  Do we have all the stuff? Can we make it for Daddy?”.

Without batting an eye, I’ll say yes.

The reason I don’t hesitate is that whatever she has asked to make might be my one shot to get Addie (or our family) to try whatever the item is.

The first time it happened, it was for Balsamic Glazed Salmon. The salmon was being shown as a fast weeknight meal. For the record I don’t really like fish (but Hubs adores it) so its not made often. I quickly texted him to bring some salmon home and I think he fell off his chair at work. But he did, and Addie and I made it…and you know what? It is now one of our entire family’s FAVORITE dinners! Kid you not, FAVORITE! (we serve it with coconut rice and edamame).

Another time it was for Carrot Cake (which is now my most favorite Cream Cheese Frosting Recipe), and Ina Garten’s Pesto Pasta Salad (the Little Punks eat this by the pound. I substitute edamame for the peas.).  Most recently, we tried an Orange and Strawberry Cake. (Recipe called for Raspberry Jam, we had Strawberry).

I don’t really need to spell out why this is so fun to do with your kids and why they (and you) will gain so much from it. But I will say this, I know I get in a rut sometimes, kind of like that favorite black skirt that you know always works, so you always turn to it (more than we probably should)...I do that with the kids sometimes. Serve the same meals, pull out the same crafts, grab their same outfits. But I forget sometimes that the Little Punks are growing and learning and doing, and are forming minds of their own which can both give an opinion and HELP contribute ideas for our family.

When Addie chose the Orange and Strawberry Cake to make, she helped me gather the ingredients, measure and stir, and pour things in the pan.

About the time I needed to make dinner, the cake was ready to frost. I set it out on the counter with  Addie (3-1/2) & Hay (2-1/2),  and helped them get it ready to frost, then walked away.

The cake frosting task would occupy them while I finished making dinner, so I resolved to be ok with whatever happened (my Type A personality wondered what it would look like….).

Shortly into it, Addie asked for the raspberries that Giada had used to place around the cake.  I didn’t have any, but I gave her some cute little heart candies that I did have, and again turned back to dinner.

When she asked me to turn the cake around to do the other side, I was shocked.

Me: “Honey? Were you helping the girls with the cake?”

Hubs: “No, what, huh? No, I was watching TV….”

It sounds silly, but when I looked at the cake, I saw a happy scattering of heart candies from Hay on top, and a PERFECTLY STRAIGHT, LINED UP WITH PERFECTION circle of candies wrapped around the cake, JUST LIKE THE RASPBERRIES HAD BEEN PLACED ON THE SHOW…who knew a cooking show could teach a 3-1/2 year old?!!?

The girls were so excited about their cake. And Addie was very protective of her circle of heart candies.

And you know what, it tasted pretty dang delicious too! Yet another great find.

So my tip for you is to both remember that your Littles are little, but also remember that they are big and growing. Try something new with them, they might just surprise you, AND you might find a few new favorites along the way!

{good eats} few favorite cookbooks

Contrary to what you all may think, I am not a very good natural cook. And by “natural” , I mean “instinctive” ~ My Genious Sister-in-Law (yes!), my mom (yes!), my dad (yes!), my baby sister (yes!)

….me (no!!!!)

But I follow directions REALLY well. (Well, that is, when I WANT to follow directions). So that being said, I read cookbooks like they are fiction.  It wouldn’t be weird to see a few stacked up next to my bed. (Wait..is that weird!?!? Forget I said that…)

So I thought I might share a few cookbooks that are go-to books for me.

The Pioneer Woman Cooks ~ I don’t need to say much about this book. Every darn recipe is practical and good and crowd pleasing. If Hubs asks whats for dinner and I say “Something from The Pioneer Woman”, his response is simply “Yum”. There is no “but WHAT are you making”. He just knows that if it comes out of that book, we will all love it. I’ve been following Ree’s blog as she finishes photographing and writing her second book.  Can.not.wait.for.it.to.come.out! This is the only cookbook that I don’t “test” a recipe before serving to company.

The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook ~ We love Chinese food in our house. We could probably alternate between Chinese take out and pizza every other night.  So I loved when I found Jaden’s book.  Pretty sure we make her coconut rice, and her fried rice once a week. Each and every time I try a new recipe from it, Hubs asks if I picked up take-out (which he is asking in a good way as he can’t believe we can make it so yummy from home). Jaden is great at simplifying recipes. And she shows you that with keeping a few (pretty normal) Asian ingredients in your pantry, that so many things are a cinch to make (and with loads of flavor!)

Perfect One-Dish Dinners ~ I’ve had the pleasure of meeting Pam and her daughters, and love them all for many reasons, but most especially for how real they all are. (As if people aren’t real, lame reason Shanna). But you get what I mean, right? Pam’s book shows you how to entertain friends, or just get a really nice dinner on the table without killing yourself in the process. Her Chicken Pot Pie is on our menu this week. We tried her Creamy Lasagna last night, and her Spicy Coconut Shrimp and Tuna Rice Crackers are up later this week.  Another bonus? Pam gives you options. If your short on time or ingredients, she gives you an alternate. Love that in a friend.

I’ll share a few more favorite books next week, but would also love to hear what works well for your family. Do you mostly search online for recipes (I do this too). Or are you a cookbook reader like me? Any favorites?

{Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to Amazon, which just happens to be where I bought all these books too :-) I’m a happy Amazon shopper ~ far happier than my husband likes actually…let’s not share this post with him. Thx!}

{Good Eats} Oh the ice cream goodness of it all!

{Giveaway now closed. Winner notified by email. Congrats Leanne!}

(Photo Credit: Dine & Dish)

Have you all heard of eCreamery??  I had not until I read a post on Dine & Dish for Buttered Caramel ice cream. And another post (and fab photo!) of the Cocoa Bean flavoring.  I didn’t even need to get to the second post, I immediately went to  eCreamery and ordered the Buttered Caramel to try it for myself. People YOU NEED TO ORDER THIS!!

{For the record, eCreamery has no idea who I am. Just a simple customer in love with their product, and ready to shout it to the world!}

I love to make ice cream with the girls. We always follow simple recipes that can be prepared in about 5 minutes flat, then into the ice cream maker it goes for 25 minutes.  The “good news” for us, is all the treats we add into the ice cream in those last 5 minutes.

OH. MY. WOW. The Buttered Caramel flavoring is out of this world!  We’ve made it 3 times now. The first time we followed their Superbly Simple Ice Cream Recipe, then added chopped Twix Bars. The second time, we added a sleeve or Oreos. And the third time ~ the award winner, gonna die from the yumminess….a sleeve of Oreos and the leftover buttercream from our cupcakes.

Die, I tell ya from the goodness of it all!!

I have yet to try the other 2 flavors but “I. Will. Find. Out” (name that movie???) because ice cream will never be the same. The flavoring added a wonderful depth to the ice cream, and I don’t know whether it’s something in the flavoring itself, or just the combination of the cream, half & half, flavoring and salt, but the texture was so smooth and perfectly out of this world, delicious.

Piper was kind of a fan. As in, couldn’t get enough of it all. And this was just the first time we made it…

Seriously, you need to try it!

In fact, I really, really think you need to try it. I don’t exactly have a giveaway budget, in fact I don’t have one at all.  But I’ll give up a few lattes to send a lucky person a flavoring of their choice.  Just comment below and let me know which one you want to try. Giveaway closes at midnight, PST Monday July 25th.

Now you must excuse me while Pipe and I go polish off a pint…or four.

{Giveaway totally sponsored by me and the insane person I will be next week as I refrain from buying lattes…..}

{Good Eats} RIDICULOUSLY good cookies!

I don’t even know what to say about these cookies, except that they are RIDICULOUSLY GOOD! I was in a bit of a cookie rut.  I’m not gonna lie, normally my cookies get some pretty positive reviews…however, I think the last 2 or 3 (12….) times I just kept missing the mark. Stupid things like doubling half the recipe and not the other half, using Tablespoons instead of teaspoons of salt, miss measuring the brown sugar….I mean this has gone on and on and on. I was certain my brain was telling me YOU SHOULD NOT BE EATING COOKIES, therefore I WILL MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE for you to bake them.

But Sunday I had to give it a go again.  Jenny over at Picky Palate is pretty much a dessert goddess.  If it is coming out of her kitchen you just know it’s going to be good.  I had seen her Oreo Stuffed Chocolate Chip Cookie weeks ago and it’s been haunting me to bake it.

Then last week Jenny did a post on ALL of the stuffed cookies she has come up with this year. HELLO!?!?  Now HOW am I supposed to resist THAT I ask you!?!?

But I’m lazy.

And with the track record I’ve had, I just figure “STUFFED” was not something I should attempt. These days, I would likely set the oven on fire. So instead I planned to just throw a sleeve of Oreos in the mixer and cut back the chocolate chips to 1/2 of what Jenny suggests.

But then…..

Yep, you know there had to be a “But then…..”

I was getting all the ingredients set up when Hubs walks in the kitchen.

Hubs: “Bummer, there were some kids selling candy bars out of a cooler, and I didn’t have any cash on me.”

Me: “What?  Where did they go?  I’ve got cash!!”

And out Miss Piper and I went running to the neighbor’s house to catch them on their route.  We scored 6 beautiful Caramello Bars!!!  That would be little pockets of caramel wrapped in milk chocolate. Oh YUM!

NOW I was going to have to make stuffed cookies.

I followed Jenny’s recipe making the following changes:

  1. I used 1/2 the chocolates chips (using only milk chocolate chips)
  2. I threw a sleeve of Oreos in the mixer. Just let the mixer break em up.
  3. I placed a scoop of cookie dough on my parchment lined cookie sheet, then placed a Caramello square on top of the dough, placed my second scoop of dough on top of the Caramello square, then pushed down the sides just a bit to seal.
  4. I baked mine 9-10 minutes. I also baked single scoop (unstuffed) cookies along side the big daddies. They baked in the same time without issue. Figured smaller cookies were better for the little Punks around here.

And YES, that is caramel DRIPPING down the cookie….oh.my.goodness.  RIDICULOUSLY GOOD!!! Enjoy!

(I also froze some of the little ones to add to ice cream later this week…just sayin’…)

{Good Eats} Meet Mark ~ Dole Part 1

Let me tell you a little story.  A story about a guy.

A guy who is just like me, or my husband, or you. He has a family, and a toddler, and a wife with another baby on the way.

He is a real person, who lives on a farm.

A farm that his grandfather, and his father, and now he lives on.

He wakes up at 2:00am to fix a busted sprinkler line (and I’m sure his wife hopes he’ll feed a baby or change a diaper now and then too!).

He is a farmer, or a “Grower” as I recently learned. And he is one of 30 local farmers that work with Dole and supply lettuce & vegetables that end up on our produce shelves.

Can I say that part again. He is a very REAL PERSON just like you and me.

His name is Mark.

Mark shared with us the process of how produce gets to our markets, from farms such as his.

That back story ~ I was recently invited on a trip to Monterey with Dole, and it was eye opening, in the very best way. It’s not like any of us beleive our lettuce grows in a warehouse or science lab somewhere (you don’t do you? Please tell me you don’t…). But to actually SEE it, and to SEE the process, to HEAR from an actual grower, to WATCH a harvester, and to KNOW that it would be on a produce shelf in a matter of days….well that just made it all very REAL and REASSURING.

Even though I’m only a few (7 hours) away from this beautiful area of California, I had no idea that there was an area known as the “Salad Bowl”. It’s called this because of the very intense heat during the day, and because the temperature drops to such extreme cool conditions at night due to the proximity to the ocean.

There are only a handful of places in the WORLD that have these same conditions. I was shocked that one of them was relatively out my back door.

This is a giant field of iceberg lettuce. For us to be near it we needed to wear lovely rubber gloves (fun for taking photos), and super crazy attractive hair nets (fun for being IN said photos).  But all the while also nice to know that anyone in the fields, and near the produce was doing the same. Maggy looked stellar if I do say so!

Have you ever seen iceberg lettuce harvested?  Me neither.

Here ya go…

First it’s cut out of the ground….

Then all of THIS happens…it gets cleaned up and trimmed and placed directly in the bag you buy it in.



Do you see that hand-off in the last row?  And the woman that is twisting the bag and placing it in the box?

The box that your grocer will receive?

Those are the only 2 people that will touch the iceberg lettuce (short of your produce person putting in on the shelf).

That’s it.

Harvested from the field, a short stop in a refrigeration facility for distribution, and then in YOUR MARKET and YOUR HANDS.

While this harvesting team continues through the field, those boxes on back continue to stack up.  Then along comes this handy dandy guy…

And a transfer is soon made.

Load it up!

And off it goes to the refrigeration facility.

Honestly that whole process what just so cool to me.  And you know something else? That entire harvesting team could not have been any nicer!  The superintendents have often been a part of a harvesting team for 30-40 years, and all of them had to start as a harvester themselves.  I love that hard work is rewarded and that everyone is committed and likes their job.  Do you know something else?  We heard that the people working were so excited about us all coming that their spouses who weren’t on the harvesting team wanted to be there too!  How nice is that!

I have so much more that I want to share with you about this trip.  it really was such an inspiring and eye opening trip for me. So stay tuned!

And if you’re a little impatient (‘cuz I kind of am…) there some amazing bloggers on this trip who may post as well (many of them FAVORITE blogger friends of mine, and others I was so glad to finally meet!)  So check out their sites too…

Steamy Kitchen
Romy Raves
Cheeky Kitchen
Lunch Box Bunch (Kathy has a great 3 part series on the trip!)
Fit Celeb
Food for My Family
Tidy Mom
Three Many Cooks
Dine and Dish
Smith Bites

Want to know a little more about Dole Salad Guide? Try following them here…

Twitter: @DoleSaladGuide and @DoleNutrition
Facebook: Dole Salad Guide

(Disclosure: I was invited by Dole to tour some of their produce fields in Monterey  CA and to learn more about their products. I was a guest of Dole, but am under no obligation to post or review anything. I’m sharing my trip with you because I want to and I only WISH that everyone could see everything that I did!  Such a cool earning experience and wonderful company!)

I big puffy heart Cafe du Monde!

Have you ever been to New Orleans?? If you have not, get your backside down there for a little Spring trip. Spring is so beautiful there!

I have a wonderful college friend that has included me in so many fun New Orleans adventures…and Cafe du Monde is ALWAYS a part of all of those adventures! There is really nothing like a hot cafe au lait with an even hotter fresh beignets topped with sweet powdered sugar!!!  Oh man, my mouth is watering just thinking about it!

However, I do not get as many chances in the ole calendar to get down to Louisiana now as I used to (*sigh with sadness*). Thankfully for me, Cafe du Monde will ship both their coffee and beignet mix to you!  When I first moved home from Texas I had a regular order of their coffee shipped my way….was ever so thankful for those boxes on my doorstep.

And then one day I happened on the mix at a Cost Plus World Market. Really!?? REALLY! And I’ve been buying it there ever since.

(Image: Cafe du Monde)

They really are beyond easy to make.  Start to finish, MAYBE 20 minutes.

For some reason last week I pulled out a heart cookie cutter rather than making the little beignet squares….and who knew….they turned into BIG PUFFY HEARTS when I fried them up! The kids had a big kick out of this. We’ve been testing differnet shapes and so far hearts and flowers are still our favorites.

Give it a shot, I think they will become a Big Puffy Heart Favorite!

Ella’s has a new fan!

Really. Food in a squeezable tube. It’s just sheer genius. And Miss Pipes, well she is 11 months going on 16 years old…”Little Miss Independent”, I can do things my OWN SELF! Thank you very much!

Needless to say, I’m thankful for Ella’s. I was introduced to them last year and they have been a favorite ever since. I love that they are organic, that they mix veggies and fruit, that they are easy to pack in daycare lunches, and my diaper bag or purse, and that you can get select flavors at Target and Mothers now too, and oh yeah…..and that my Littles LOVE them! Piper being the newest fan!!

Most of the squeezable tubes say 4 months+, but really there is nothing in them that a 3 year old, let alone an adult, can’t have. The novelty of being able to squeeze it into your mouth makes it attractive for all ages! All 3 of my girls eat them regularly.

Piper really doesn’t want to put it down.

Man I love those eyes!

And that little grin…

And those little hands…

…the little hands that are learning to put her own food, in her own mouth. Thank you Ella’s for giving me such a wonderful and easy snack for my Littles!

Thinking outside the box…

The other day I had to cram a bunch of errands in, so the 3 Littles and I headed out for a few “adventures”, one of which was Costco.  And of course when one is at Costco, one sees lots of tasting tables.  And the sweet Aidells folks happened to be there the afternoon the Littles and I were all there.

Have you tried these before? I have always liked their sausages, so I was game to try the meatballs. They said this flavor was a big hit with kids and my Littles happily took the toothpicks that were offered. In fact they took the next toothpick too, and the next, and the next, and the…..yeaaaaa, I think they ate 5 each. They were pretty tasty! A great, quick, healthy kid option….

Let’s review ~ all natural, they are never frozen, and my kids love them. Sure, I’ll take a box.

Then I served them to the kids a couple of nights later:

Addie: “I don’t like deese”.

Me: “No really, Addie, you DO. I saw you, you LOVE them. “

Then it occurred to me, there were no toothpicks!  I just happened to have some lollipops sticks left over from a party and quickly turned dinner into Meatball Pops…

“Oh Mommy! I LIKE deese!!!”

“I can pick them up like this!”

“And eat dem!!”

“Me too Mommy, I like deese too!”

“Can we have 15 more please!?!?”

My tip for today, if at first you don’t succeed….think outside the box.

You’ll be surprised what happens!