Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The rest of Kaua'i

We had an amazing trip to Kaua'i this year and I wanted to post a short recap before we move on to other summer adventures.  We stayed at the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club in Poipu Beach for two weeks and at the Marriott Vacation Club Kauai Lagoons for the last three nights.  Both properties are favorites of ours and come highly recommended.

Big, my husband, my cousin & our friends went on a snorkel / scuba tour with Blue Dolphin and they saw lots of dolphins and some turtles from the boat.  The weather and views of the Naapali coast were great and they liked the tour a lot.  It's the only Naapali Coast boat tour company that offers snorkeling and scuba diving off the same boat.  Along those lines, my husband did some dives with Fathom Five in Koloa and the twilight dive at Tunnels was his favorite.

I stuck close to the beach and the pool with the girls most of the time but my one "big girl outing" was an afternoon at my favorite spa - the Anara Spa at the Grand Hyatt.  Amazing.

We went to a luau for the first time on Kaua'i and after reading lots of reviews picked Smith Family Luau.  The food was actually quite good and fresh, the drinks were plentiful, and the show was a lot of fun.  I think it was one of our favorite family activities this time around.

*I have not been compensated by any of the aforementioned companies and services although I wouldn't mind!

So, onto the photos.  It's hard to pick and choose but this should give you a feeling of what our trip was like.  Aloha and Mahalo!

Beach in front of the Waiohai - our view from lunch at the pool bar the first day

Lots of games and fun with Hannah! 

We tried to get a picture of the three of them . . . this one cracks me up.   
So much fun with Amber - so sad when she had to leave!
Luau girls

Big discovered her great love of boogie boarding
This shallow area was Middle's favorite place to play and swim

Kauai Lagoons aka Kalanipu'u (two names - not sure why / which one they're going to stick with)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Of Imagination and Lasagna

My girls love pretend play and have great imaginations.  They are always "being" someone and it changes so frequently that I usually hear Middle asking, "Are we still playing ___?  Who are we being?  I forget."  I overheard a conversation between them today and thought I'd share some snippets:  

Middle:  My name is Friendy Friend.  My superpowers are running and dancing.
Big:  Well, my superpower is being a fairy mermaid.  Wait, a fairy mermaid princess.
Middle:  Mom, your superpower can be firing things and freezing things.

later . . . 

Big:  Ok.  You be a dog.  I'll be Rapunzel.  With the short hair.  And you're my dog and you live in the tower but you can talk.
Middle:  Woof woof!

I also read a book recently that I highly recommend:  Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks.  It's narrated by an imaginary friend and I thought it was creative, heartwarming, and an easy read - perfect for summer vacation!  I liked thinking about my imaginary friend as a child and Big's imaginary friends (they're all in a club together and Big is the leader) and what they'd write.  

Now, onto the food.  You know that I like lasagna and I've made lasagna stacks, cheater lasagna, and other variations.  Years ago, these lasagna rolls were in regular rotation but somewhere along the way, I forgot about them and misplaced the recipe.  A couple of weeks ago, I found the recipe by searching Cooking Light online and made it again.  They were yummy & easy - just like I had remembered!

You can play around with the filling (add meat, sub other veggies for the mushrooms) and can make a homemade sauce if you're so inclined.  

Lasagna Rolls (serves 4)
adapted from Cooking Light

8 uncooked lasagna noodles (traditional - not the no boil ones)
4 tsp. olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 8oz package presliced mushrooms
6 oz baby spinach
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese (divided)
1/2 cup part-skim ricotta cheese
1/4 cup minced fresh basil, divided
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes
1-2 cups marinara sauce

Cook noodles according to package directions (omitting salt and fat if included).  Drain and rinse under cold water.  Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Meanwhile, heat oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat.  Add onions, mushrooms, and garlic.  Sauté for about 5 minutes or until the onion is tender.  Add the spinach and saute another minute or two until the spinach is wilted.  Remove from heat and stir in  1/2 cup mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup ricotta cheese, 2 tablespoons of the basil, salt, and red pepper flakes.

Place noodles on a flat surface.  Spread 1/4 cup filling over each noodle.  Roll up noodles, jelly roll fashion, starting with the short side.  Lightly spray a shallow baking dish with cooking spray and spread a little marinara in the bottom.  Place the rolls seam side down on the marinara sauce.  Pour a little sauce over each roll, sprinkle with the remaining mozzarella cheese (about 1 T per roll).  Put the pan in the preheated oven and cook for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is melted and the rolls are thoroughly heated.  Sprinkle with the remaining basil before serving.  (serving size = 2 rolls = appx. 400 cal).

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dining Out in Kaua'i

Last year, I posted about our strategies for cooking on vacation, especially with a family.  While eating in our condo saved us lots of money (and probably calories), we did splurge on some amazing meals and this year, I'm going to tell you about some of my favorite places to eat out.

On our recent trip to Kaua'i, we stayed primarily on the south shore in Poipu Beach and I didn't venture very far in the car for most of our trip (for over a week my longest trip was into Lihue for urgent care and an airport run).  Within a couple mile radius, there are some fantastic fine dining options and I got to experience 3 in particular:  Tidepools, Merrimans, and Plantation Gardens.  We were blessed to have my cousin join us so we could go out without kids a few nights!  Honorable mention goes to Keoki's Paradise and Pizzetta.

Tidepools is at the Grand Hyatt and the restaurant is thatched huts over the water with koi fish and birds around you.  While the resort has an amazing beach front view, you're not on the beach at Tidepools but it's a great Hawaiian ambience.

I've had some really terrific meals there in the past and this year I ordered the Opah which had a spicy blackened crust and was served over mashed potatoes and succotash.  Our friend said his steak was one of the best he's ever had.  The molten chocolate cake was sooooo good.

One night my husband and I had a date at Merriman's.  Merriman's has two other locations (Kapalua and Waimea)  but the Kaua'i location in Poipu is relatively new.  The restaurant is situated upstairs with beautiful views.  Last year we had our anniversary dinner there and I remember the food being great but it was dark and rainy.  This year we went for an earlier dinner (our first meal out without baby girl!) and it was a gorgeous view and setting.  We shared a beet salad with local tomatoes, papaya and goat cheese . . . I'd go back for the salad alone!  I followed it with a shrimp scampi - it was light, flavorful, and served over sauteed spinach and creamy polenta.

Finally, we had dinner at the Plantation Gardens - a favorite of ours in Poipu and especially nice because we can walk there from where we usually stay.  Sadly, I only have a photo of the delicious cucumber ginger mojito that I drank and my cute kids . . . not the meal itself (I was a little preoccupied with the conversation and baby girl).  I've had many items on the menu and a meal here never disappoints!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Aloha!  We're really enjoying our trip to Kaua'i and I'll post some of our photos and experiences when we get home next week.  In the meantime, here's a recipe for one of my favorite summer desserts!

Pineapple Upside Down Cake (8 servings)
from Joy of Baking

4 T unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup light brown sugar
Enough thinly cut pineapple slices to cover the bottom of a 9 inch pan

1.5 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup white sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
2 large eggs, separated
1/4 tsp. cream of tartar

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and butter (or spray) a 9 inch round cake pan (or a springform pan with the bottom wrapped in foil).

Make the topping:  Place the 4 T butter and the brown sugar in a small saucepan and stir over medium heat until the butter has melted and the sugar has dissolved.  Continue cooking without stirring for a few minutes more or until the edge begins to bubble (the sugar starts to caramelize).  Remove from heat and pour into your prepared cake pan.  Evenly arrange the fresh pineapple slices on top of the sugar mixture.

Make the batter:  Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt and set aside.  In another bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl and then beat in the vanilla extract.  Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Scrape down the bowl.  Add the flour mixture (in 3 additions) alternately with the milk (2 additions, ending with the dry ingredients).

In a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar just until the whites hold a firm peak.  With a large spatula, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the cake batter in two additions.  Pour the batter into the cake pan, smoothing the top.  Bake in preheated oven for 40-50 minutes or until the top of the cake has browned and starts to pull away from the edges of the pan.  A toothpick inserted into the middle (not all the way down to the pineapple) should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for about 10minutes.  After running a knife around the edge of the pan, invert the cake onto a serving platter.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Banana Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies

We're on vacation for a few weeks and here are some photos of what we've been up to:  

Giving Cinderelly showers on the beach
Bamboo pole fishing
Putting our toes in the sand
But, before we left, we made some cookies and want to share the recipe with you:

These cookies are gluten free and dairy free.  The only refined sugar is in the chocolate chips and if you use vegan chocolate chips, they'd be vegan.  You can substitute the agave for honey if you prefer.  At only about 85 calories per cookie, it's a healthy indulgence!

Banana Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (makes 2-3 dozen)
from Two Peas and their Pod

3 ripe bananas, peeled
1/2 cup all natural creamy peanut butter
1 T softened coconut oil
2 T agave nectar (or honey)
1 tsp. vanilla
2.5 cups oats (I used gluten free)
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt (if you're using unsalted peanut butter)
1/2 cup chocolate chips  (I used the mini ones)

Mash the bananas with a fork.  Add the peanut butter, coconut oil, agave and vanilla and stir until smooth.  In a separate bowl, combine the oats, baking powder, cinnamon and salt.  Add to the wet ingredients and stir until well combined.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or silpat at 350 degrees for 12-14 minutes or until set.  These won't spread much and will stay more like balls.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Homemade popsicles

We got some great popsicle molds recently and the recipe booklet that came with them had a recipe for "Orange pops" that was just frozen orange juice.  So, I know that these aren't complicated to make and possibilities abound.  Here are two that we've tried - the first was my own recipe with no added sugar and my kids would have liked it to be sweeter.  The second I found online somewhere in response to my kids wanting me to buy fudge pops at the grocery store.  It's a decent amount of sugar but at least pretty normal ingredients.  I think the flour in that recipe is so that you can make a pudding like custard without using eggs.  You can probably omit the flour and they would just be a little icier in consistency.

Mango Strawberry Popsicles

Stir together equal parts mango puree (I used a pre made smoothie type drink from Trader Joes) and coconut milk.  Cut fresh strawberries into slices or chunks and stir to combine.  Pour into your popsicle molds and freeze. (about 100 cal/pop)

Chocolate Pudding Pops

In a saucepan, stir together 1 cup water, 1 cup whole milk, 1/2 cup sugar, 2 T flour and 2 T cocoa powder.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Cool slightly and pour into popsicle molds and freeze (about 120 cal/pop).

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Make Your Own Seasoning Mixes

My girls are big snackers - they'll sit down to breakfast and lunch but want snacks in between.  From conversations with other friends, I know is is pretty typical toddler behavior.  Middle loves fruity stuff - we joke that her middle name is "fruit snack" - but if I give her a bowl or baggie of   cucumbers, apple slices, and baby carrots she's happy.  Big likes salty stuff - crackers, pretzels, Pirate's Booty.  Recently, they both were loving the cheddar flavored rice cakes (Quaker brand) until I looked at the ingredients and realized they had msg.  A little more exploring and I realized that so many "traditional" snacks and convenience foods contain msg still.  For example, I bought a bunch of "Suddenly Salad" box mixes when they were on sale (another thing my kids love) and they have msg too.  I started reading my packets of seasoning and sure enough, ranch dressing mix (I hate it but my kids love it so I was making my own with plain yogurt and a seasoning packet) and taco seasoning.

So what's the big deal about msg?  It can be linked to headaches (migraines in particular), irritable bowels, and nerve damage.  It's made from sugar beets and is used to enhance the flavoring of processed foods.  What is particularly alarming to me, is that it can make people crave and overeat certain snacks . . . are my kids craving cheddar rice cakes and eating too many because of the msg?

For more reading, here's a link to the JAMA article where it says msg are a possible source of migraine headaches:   JAMA article  And, a link to a article about how there is no FDA regulation of msg:  Article

This has prompted me to do two things: be more careful in my snack selection and make my own seasoning mixes.  It's easy and you can make a large batch at one time.  Here are two of my current favorite recipes:

Ranch Dressing Mix 

Taco Seasoning

The taco seasoning took me literally 2 minutes the other night when I was making tacos for dinner.  It was delicious and I have a whole little jar waiting for me the next time I need it.