Friday, May 31, 2013

Chicken Penne Florentine

Our family loves baked pasta and I have a few favorite recipes and sometimes I just wing it but last week I tried a new recipe from Cooking Light.  I thought that the cheddar cheese and cottage cheese sounded a little weird but ended up leaving it as is and loved the end result.  I upped the veggie ratio and think that there could be even more spinach (it wilts down a ton).  For the chicken, I used a rotisserie chicken and I think slices of spicy chicken sausage would also work well.  I bought Dreamfields pasta  because it's lower glycemic and lower carb but tastes and has the texture of "normal" pasta.  I liked how creamy the mixture was without a traditional flour & butter white sauce.  The cottage cheese gives the dish a protein boost and I think that even people who don't love spinach will like this casserole.

Chicken Penne Florentine (6 servings)
adapted from Cooking Light

1.5 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/2 medium red bell pepper, chopped
3 cups chopped fresh spinach
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup of low-fat cottage cheese
3 cups hot cooked penne (about 6oz uncooked)
2 cups shredded roasted chicken breast
1 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, divided
1/2 cup grated fresh Parmesan cheese, divided
1/4 cup low-fat milk
5 oz condensed cream of chicken soup, undiluted (about half a can)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and prepare a 2 quart baking dish with cooking spray.

Heat a little olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add mushrooms, onion, and bell pepper.  Saute 4 minutes or until tender.  Add the spinach, oregano, and pepper and saute for a few minutes until the spinach wilts.

Put the cottage cheese in a blender and process until very smooth.  In a large bowl, combine the spinach mixture, cottage cheese, pasta, chicken, milk and soup.  Stir in 3/4 cup cheddar cheese and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Spoon the mixture into the baking dish.  Top with more freshly ground black pepper, and the remaining 1/4 cup cheddar and 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.

Bake for 25-30 minutes until hot, bubbly, and lightly browned.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Balsamic Glazed Pot Roast

Do you ever have those moments when you look at your kids and think, "they just grew up so much!"  Recently, I was looking through some photos on the computer and couldn't believe how huge my 3 girls seemed.  It happened right in front of my face!  Since my next recipe doesn't have any photos (I bet you can close your eyes and picture a pot roast), here are the ones that made me think my girls are changing again and growing up too fast:

Big lost her first two baby teeth!

Who is this big sister??
I know she's still really little but she's changing so much so fast.
Everything here makes me smile - crazy hair, their own accessories, baby girl's expression
And, on to the food.  I love a good pot roast - slow cooked vegetables, tender beef . . . I could probably make it once a week.  These days it's a good meal to put together before my running to swim lessons, gymnastics, and Target begins.  Then, my house smells awesome and I can spend nap time actually napping (or sitting still).

My favorite way to make pot roast has been with  Lipton Onion soup mix but I'm trying to be more aware of the msg and other nasty stuff that I've been feeding my family (more in another post) so I tried this version with broth, tomato sauce, and vinegar.  It was delicious and easy.  I didn't always brown my roast before putting it in the crockpot but I really like how it turns out - worth the extra few minutes.

Balsamic Glazed Pot Roast

3 lb chuck roast
1 onion
2 russet potatoes
some carrots
1 cup beef stock or broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
salt, pepper, garlic powder, other spices

Sprinkle the meat with whatever seasonings you want.  Heat a pan over medium high heat and add a little olive oil.  Add the roast and brown it on all sides.  It'll take a few minutes - don't turn it too soon.  You want a nice dark crust on all sides of the roast.

While you're doing this, slice the onion into thick rings, peel the potatoes and slice them into quarters.  Put the onions on the bottom of the crockpot and then put the potatoes and carrots in a layer on top.

Remove the roast from the pan and put it on the potatoes and carrots.  Deglaze the pan with the beef broth and let it cook until it's reduced by half.  Stir in the tomato sauce and balsamic.  Pour the glaze over the roast.  Cook on low for 6-8 hours.

Monday, May 20, 2013

2013 Summer Bucket List

Last year we made our 2012 Summer Bucket list and it was a lot of fun to see the things we wanted to do and check them off when we accomplished them.  This year's list isn't quite as ambitious and all 4 family members who can speak contributed to the ideas on here.  I know we might not get to them all again but it's making me excited for school to be out so we can get started.
What's on your list?

1.  Go to Sea World
2.  Go to a Luau when we're in Hawaii (done 7/10)
3.  See World of Color at Disneyland (Big 8/29)
4.  Roast marshmallows in the backyard (done 6/11)
5.  Run a 10K
6.  Hollywood Bowl
7.  Take the girls to the Discovery Science Center
8.  Surprise my husband with an unexpected date (done 8/26)
9.  Play tennis (done 6/21)
10.  Keep reading chapter books out loud (most days!)
11.  Go to the beach (done 6/24)
12.  Have friends over for a BBQ (done 6/1)
13.  See a movie in a movie theater
14.  Call some "new" friends for playmates (6/11 and 6/19)
15.  Go to Jumpin' Jammin'
16.  Go out for ice cream (done 7/20)
17.  Swim in our pool after dark (done 6/30)
18.  Go bowling (done 6/25)
19.  Take the girls to the Cafe at the American Girl Store (done 6/21)

Inspired by the Happy Family Movement

Friday, May 17, 2013

And more strawberry ice cream

We had the first morning at home in a long time where Middle and I didn't have to go shopping, to the gym, or even to swim lessons.  She wanted to watch TV and I wanted to play.  This is how it went:

Me:  We could play Cinderella and I'll be the prince or the stepmother.
Her:  No.
Me:  We could play Rapunzel and I'll be Flynn Rider or Mother Gothel.
Her:  No.
Me:  We could play Candyland or Chutes and Ladders.
Her:  No.
Me:  We could do puzzles or read books.
Her:  No.
Me:  We could make ice cream or cookies.
Her:  Yes!

She loves to cook with me like Big does but when Big is home, the turn taking makes the process less magical for everyone involved.  I had a bunch of sliced strawberries from the weekend that needed to get used up so I suggested strawberry ice cream.  She wanted chocolate so we compromised and made up a new recipe for Strawberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream.  After tasting the mixture, Middle declared it "Sweet Deewishious."  Then, we played Rapunzel while we waited for it to freeze in the ice cream maker.  And, Rapunzel had ice cream at 10am.

Strawberry Chocolate Chip Ice Cream (makes 1.5 qt)

2 cups sliced strawberries
1.5 cups heavy cream
1.5 cups milk
1/2 - 2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 - 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips (optional)

Mash up the sliced strawberries (we used a potato masher).  Add 1/4 cup sugar and stir it well.  In another bowl, stir together the heavy cream, milk, and additional sugar (if desired - maybe 1/4 to 1/3 cup more).  Stir in the vanilla.  Stir in the strawberries.  Pour into your ice cream maker and freeze for as long as it needs to.  At the end, stir in the chocolate chips (or leave them out . . . it's a really good strawberry ice cream and doesn't really need them).

Monday, May 13, 2013

China Food for Dinner

I've been enjoying being home on maternity leave to take care of tiny baby, Big & Middle.  Don't get me wrong - I have a great job with a fantastic schedule for a mom - but who wouldn't love hanging out with these girls more??

One thing that's been nice about being home is getting to spend more time in the kitchen and getting our family back on track with healthy eating habits.  Those efforts aren't always appreciated by my kids. After many nights of complaining about the dinner I've made, I finally asked Big what she liked to eat besides cheeseburgers and mac & cheese.  She said "cereal."  Then thought about it for a few minutes and said "peanut butter and jelly."  I told her that we needed to come up with some meals that had meat and protein in them that we could all eat for dinner.  She replied, "Well, you know I like China food."  It's true - my girls love to go to Chinese food (mostly Americanized versions like PF Changs or Pei Wei) and I sometimes buy the bags of PF Changs stir fry in the freezer section when they have a babysitter.  

I adapted a recipe for broccoli beef to use chicken.  Personally, I'd like it spicier (we added Sriracha and red pepper flakes at the table), but it was finally a meal everyone would eat!  If you have picky eaters, I hope you have luck with this one as well.  A bonus is that you can get it on the table super fast - especially if you buy chicken and broccoli that are already cut up.  

Chinese Chicken Stir Fry (4 servings)

3 teaspoons of cornstarch 
6 Tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger (peeled)
2 garlic clove minced
2 green onions, chopped
1 tsp chili oil
1 tsp toasted sesame oil
About 2 cups broccoli florets
1.5 lb of chicken breast tenders or strips (our grocery store sells "stir fry strips" of raw chicken)
1 red bell pepper, cut into thin strips (and then I cut the strips in half) 

Dissolve the cornstarch into 6 Tablespoons of water. In a separate small bowl, combine the soy sauce, ginger, garlic, onion, chili oil, and sesame oil and set aside. Drizzle a little vegetable oil in a wok or heavy skillet and heat it over high heat. Add the broccoli and stir fry for 1-2 minutes or until softened. Remove from pan.  

Cook the chicken until it's just done (in 2 batches if necessary).  Add the red bell pepper and stir fry until the red bell pepper is a little soft, about 1-2 minutes. Add the broccoli, the sauce, and the cornstarch to the pan. Stir fry until the sauce thickens, about 2-3 minutes.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Lemon Shiitake Pasta with fresh basil

Spring is here!  We started our garden earlier this year and have seen early results.  In addition to two often muddy kids, we have a bountiful supply of arugula and basil.  We're still waiting on our tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries but last week, I made recipes featuring fresh basil and arugula.  One was old and one was new.   If you've never made the Shaved Squash salad, you should definitely consider it - it's even better than I remembered and so healthy.  Our arugula was a little bitter so I added a teaspoon or two of sugar to the vinaigrette to offset the bitterness.

The new dish was a pasta that originally I was a little skeptical of because it seemed like it could be really bland (and I'm not always a huge fan of mushroom centric main dishes).  It turned out light, flavorful, and delicious.  The lemon and basil really complimented each other well and the shiitakes were not slimy.  It would be a nice accompaniment to some grilled chicken for those of you who prefer a main dish with meat.  We ate it with Caprese Stacks and it was a perfect spring meal. 

Lemon Shiitake Pasta with fresh basil (4 servings)
originally from Eating Well

2 T olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 oz shiitake mushrooms, stemmed & sliced
2 tsp freshly grated lemon zest
2T lemon juice
salt & pepper to taste
8 oz pasta (pappardelle or fettuccine)
1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil, divided

Bringa large pot of lightly salted water to a boil for cooking the pasta.  Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet over low heat.  Add garlic and stir until fragrant but not browned, about 1 minute.  Add mushrooms and increase heat to medium.  Saute until tender and lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes.  Stir in the lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper.  Remove from heat.  

Cook pasta, stirring occasionally until just al dente, following package directions.  Drain, reserving 1/2 cup cooking liquid.  

Add the pasta, the reserved cooking liquid, the parmesan cheese and half of the basil to the mushrooms in the skillet.  Serve immediately, garnished with remaining basil.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Strawberry Lime Ice Cream

It feels like summer already!  Last week we heated our pool and it made me so excited for summer nights watching the kids swim (and tiring themselves out).  I'm working on our 2013 bucket list and will post it in a few weeks.

We had friends over for dinner who eat primal / paleo diet and I was trying to think of a dessert to make for them.  I came up with this ice cream - it was a little icy (probably because I didn't have full fat coconut milk, just a "lite" version) and a little tart but pretty good!  This can accommodate a lot of lifestyles and dietary needs and tastes just like summer.

Strawberry Coconut Ice Cream (makes 1.5 qt)
Originally from

20 strawberries (about 1lb), sliced
1 cup coconut cream (plain, unsweetened)
1 can coconut milk
Juice from 2 limes
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract

Depending on if you want strawberry chunks or not, you can either mash up the strawberries (I used a potato masher) or put them in a blender.  Add the other ingredients and stir until combined well.  Freeze in your ice cream maker per ice cream maker instructions.

*Trader Joe's has a canned coconut cream right now (right next to the canned coconut milk) but in the past I've had trouble finding it.  Some stores carry it with mix-ins (for pina coladas?) and I think that Whole Foods has carried a plain one in the past.  You could also just do 1 can + 1 cup of whole fat, unsweetened coconut milk.