A Few of My Favorite Things… to Make Your Life Easier

Remember this summer when I said I was going to start doing this??  Well, the kids are back in school (if you haven’t read my Back to School Prayer yet? You are missing out.) and I have SO MUCH TIME to do the things and to think the thoughts and to watch the Netflix and um, do laundry and stuff. I ALSO have more time to blog so I’ll be all up in this joint!

I love hearing about products, books, apps and websites from my friends. You know when your bestie is all, “OMG I have to tell you about this site I found!”? And then OF COURSE you love it because, duh– she knows you.

That.

That is the point of this.

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First things first: SKINNYTASTE–Skinnytaste is a website devoted to recipes that are delicious and good for you. Gina breaks down the nutritional info for each one, including Weight Watchers’ points (I’ve never been smart enough to do that, but if you are, it’s already there for you.) But if I’m gonna be real honest, I also love her site because I KNOW that if I’m cooking from her site I AM eating healthy and I don’t really even look at the nutritional info, I just eat the portion size she recommends– it’s like an internet trust fall.

Skinnytaste is possibly (probably) my #1 website for recipes and I almost hate saying that because, I love me some food bloggers. I love so many sites but I have a special place in my heart for Gina.

I have NEVER, not ever, made a single one of her recipes and not liked it. Likewise, I’ve never made a single one of her recipes only once– four, five, twelve times? Abso-freaking-lutely. I pick a recipe, make it once and it gets added to the regular rotation.

My besties (The Lolers) and I spend hours a week stalking Skinnytaste looking for recipes and discussing what we have cooked/ are going to cook.

Here are a few LOL Faves:

Asian Peanut Noodles with Chicken– Lightened Up

Mushroom Kale Lasagna Rolls (All of my kids ate these. Even the picky one who REALLY does think ketchup is a vegetable.)

Chicken Rollatini with Spinach alla Parmigiana

Broccoli and Cheese Stuffed Chicken

Fiesta Lime Rice

I had to make myself stop. Seriously. They are all amazing and it’s really easy to flip through categories to find exactly what you need– which makes us love Gina even more.

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My friend Jenn told me about Lickety Split and it is my secret weapon. I don’t use it every day because I NEED it to work when I whip it out in a pinch.

When I ask my four-year-old to do anything, her strategy is to move so slowly that I will eventually get tired of waiting for her to do it on her own and do it for her.

Lickety Split is a timer app (I have an iPhone so I don’t know about you Android peeps.) It plays music and says in a really sassy British accent, “Beat the timah!” I wish I had a video. I can say, “Sadie pick up your toys.” Without the timer? She rolls on the floor, gets out more toys. Whines.

I can say, “Sadie pick up your toys,” and push start on the app and she literally jumps to her feet and cleans up so quickly that she looks like a blonde blur racing around the room.

It has 6 preset timers: Clean Your Room, Put on PJs, Get Dressed, Make Bed, Ready to Go and Mealtime (wash your hands & sit at the table.) The point of these is to beat the timer. When she does beat the timer, Sadie pushes the “I Did It!” button and the app erupts into applause and cheers– that chit right there will straight motivate a four-year-old.

Then there is a Count Down setting, where the point isn’t to BEAT the timer but to WAIT for the timer. (Who loves me?? Let me know if you need my mailing address for chocolate and/or champagne.) For example: Brush Teeth, Read Quietly, Take Turns, Study Time. It’s like Super Nanny is IN YOUR PHONE. (You also have the option of setting custom timers.)

So there you go–two of my very favorite things!

What’s your favorite site for recipes? Got any apps for your kids you love?

SHARE WITH THE GROUP! 

 

Easy Sesame Chicken (Gluten Free)

My friend Heather told me about this recipe that she found on Pinterest for Sweet & Sour Chicken and raved about it. Being that I am an avid stalker of her Pinterest page AND that occasionally when she makes her marinated cheese she saves some for me, I trust her when it comes to food.

One of the things I miss most about being gluten free is being able to order Chinese take-out. Did you know soy sauce has gluten in it?? WTH?? Why? At any rate, I was skeptical about this recipe because if I am making an Asian dish I don’t want to see ingredients like ketchup, cuz– I mean– really?? But I trusted Heather and after tweaking this recipe a little, my whole entire family– INCLUDING Aubrey, the picky one– ate it and loved it. I’ll definitely make it again.

You need:
3 chicken breasts
salt and pepper
1 cup cornstarch
2 eggs, beaten

1/3 cup canola oil

Trim fat off of chicken and cut into bite sized pieces. Place in a bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Dump cornstarch onto chicken and toss to coat. In a separate bowl, whisk two eggs. Knock excess cornstarch off of chicken then dip into eggs. Heat oil in large skillet. Cook chicken until browned. Place in baking dish.

Sauce: (The sauce for the original recipe is much simpler and can be found on the link above.)

1/2 cups sugar
4 Tablespoons ketchup

1/2 cup white distilled vinegar (I used rice wine vinegar)

1 Tablespoon soy sauce (I used gluten-free tamari)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
1 Tablespoon grated fresh ginger or 1/2 teaspoon of powdered ginger
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
2 Tablespoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon sesame oil
*sidebar* This sauce would be AMAZING over some chicken legs– sear those bad boys in a black skillet. Then toss them in a covered baking dish to finish cooking? Oh yes, MA’AM.
2 green onions, chopped
Put all ingredients, except for onions, in a small sauce pan and whisk together. Allow to simmer while cooking chicken. After placing the chicken in a baking dish pour sauce on top, turn to coat and sprinkle with chopped green onion. Place in 350 degree oven for 5-7 minutes, remove dish, turn chicken to coat and return to oven for 5-10 minutes. Serve over jasmine rice with a side of broccoli or snow peas.
The sauce made just enough for three chicken breasts and we had ZERO leftovers. I’m going to double the recipe next time so I can eat it for lunch the day after!

 

Broccoli or Snow Peas:
Clean, wash, trim. Whatever. You’re not an idiot.
In a very hot black skillet, add a tablespoon of olive oil and a couple of cloves of minced garlic. Let the garlic start to change colors then toss in your veggies. Sprinkle with a little salt and stir fry until the veggies are your desired level of doneness. (Is that a word?? According to spellcheck, no. It’s not. Moving on…) Right before they are finished cooking, drizzle with a little sesame oil and maybe a shot of soy sauce. BOOM. Done.

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Dot’s Vegetable Soup

Acouple of weeks ago I wrote about going through my recipes and reminiscing about the last fifteen years of marriage to my Boo. I mentioned my grandmother’s vegetable soup recipe and I’ve got a few e-mails requesting the recipe. I want to give the people what they want, so I’m going to post it– BUT, if you are one of those people who needs exact measurements, you are gonna be pissed at me.

And my dead grandmother– cuz we that ain’t how we roll.

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You need:

48 ounces of beef broth

3 large carrots, peeled and diced

1 medium onion, peeled and diced

2-3 ribs of celery, diced

1 can whole green beans, drained

1 can petite diced tomatoes, undrained

3 medium red potatoes, diced (peeled or unpeeled)

1 can white shoe peg corn, (I buy the kind that isn’t packed in water, but drain it if you do.)

1 cup frozen butter beans

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

Cajun or Creole seasoning to taste, I like it spizy– I use about 2 Tablespoons.

*Optional* 1 lb of cooked, crumbled ground beef or turkey. Drained well. (If you add the ground meat this is now what I call “Lunchlady Vegetable Soup.” Ya know, like how you used to eat it in school? It ’tis delicious but I’ve kind of been off meat lately. So, whatever. It’s your call.)

This is the really hard part. (That was sarcasm.)

Dump the beef broth, garlic, and cajun seasoning in a large stock pot bring to a boil. Add carrots, onion, celery and simmer for 20-30 minutes until vegetables start to soften. Add the frozen butter beans, potatoes and tomatoes and cook for an additional 15 minutes until taters are fork tender. Add whatever is left, turn down heat and allow to sit for 10 minutes.

I like to make this EARLY in the morning then let it sit in the fridge all day before having it for dinner. Soups are always better if they can rest for a little while. Or if you can trick someone else into making them for you…

 

 

TOASTing Fifteen Years of Marriage

I cook a lot and for the last few years I’ve been wanting to upgrade my old recipe box to a binder. The binder has page protectors with two slots for cards and flipping through it is much easier than digging through a recipe box. Last week I finally got around to ordering one and the day it came in the mail I spent about an hour filling its pages.

As I flipped through recipes, I remembered distinctly where I was when I wrote them down. I remember being nineteen-years-old, newly engaged, in my mother’s house and pulling her recipe box out of the cabinet. I sat at the kitchen table for days, the cool gray tile on my bare feet, scribbling down my favorite recipes.

Each card that I picked up reminded me of something different: the pattern of a recipe card that I recognized as my mother’s next door neighbor’s. The recipes were printed with a careful hand with thoughts of marital bliss on my mind.

I was looking forward to living in the one bedroom garage apartment Zeb and I had arranged for after we married. I was used to cooking simple meals, my own mother is an excellent cook and she didn’t mind at all for my sister and I to be directly under her feet in the kitchen. Measuring, mixing and stirring– even though I’m sure it would have been easier for her to kick us out and do it herself. But my Momma’s kitchen was open to everyone and there were usually four or five extra mouths to feed. My mother, sister, two brothers and assorted and sundry friends— whoever was at our house at mealtime– that’s who was eating. I had unknowingly been training to cook for an army. The first year of marriage, it would take Zeb and I almost two weeks to eat one batch of spaghetti, until I learned how to cook for just two.

A stained and rippled card holding my grandmother’s vegetable soup recipe transported me to my first year of marriage. I remember distinctly standing in the kitchen of our one bedroom apartment in Fort Worth, Texas. It was so small I could stand in one spot and wash dishes, cook on the stove, grab something out of the pantry and open the fridge by simply pivoting my hips. I was sick and away from my family for the first time when I called my grandmother for her soup recipe. I’ve used it so many times, I don’t need to look at it anymore, but why wouldn’t I? Looking at the card and remembering the conversation I had with her makes me feel as good as eating the soup when I’m sick.

Each card was a memory: a pecan pie recipe by a friend of my mother’s who passed away several years ago, a batch of beef stroganoff that had to be thrown away because I mistakenly thought that cooking sherry was an acceptable substitute for burgundy. A peanut butter pie recipe with an Oreo crust from my mom’s crazy friend, Brenda. Brenda told me to double bag the Oreos in gallon-size Ziplock bags and put them under the wheel of my car and back over them twice— obviously not three times— that would be ridiculous.

I grinned ear to ear as I flipped through cards and organized. Then I reached for a recipe labeled, “Toasted Croutons,” and lost all composure. Standing in my kitchen all by myself, I laughed until I was wheezing and had tears streaming down my cheeks. I remembered writing down the recipe. My older brother had made a hot crab dip recipe of Emeril Lagasse’s which was served with toasted crostinis. It was delicious— delicious enough that I felt the need to write down every single step of how to toast the bread.

Bless my sweet baby heart.

I wasn’t kidding. I wrote this down.

Toasted Croutons:

Thinly sliced French bread

Brush with olive oil.

Sprinkle with salt and fresh ground pepper.

Flip and repeat.

Bake at 400 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Turning cookie sheet for even baking.

I wiped the tears of laughter out of my eyes and thought about how far my husband have come since we were married fifteen years ago. I was barely twenty-years-old when we married. We had zero dollars, so I didn’t have an engagement ring– but I had a box full of recipes, and an eagerness to learn: about married life, about my new husband and, of course, how to make the best toast ever in the history of the whole world.

“Ooo Boy, Imma make you toast you’ll never forget.”

After fifteen years not only can I whip up a delicious meal just by glancing in my fridge and pantry, but my marriage has gotten better too. I wondered where we would be in ten or fifteen years when we got married. Where would we live? How many kids would we have? Would we finally have jobs with health insurance? Would we ever be able to afford an engagement ring? Would we still like each other?

SPOILER ALERT: We do.

It makes my heart feel full as I answer all of those questions today. I want to pat my sweet nineteen-year-old baby-self on the head and say, “Don’t worry Baby Girl, you are about to marry the best man you’ll ever know. He’ll never raise his voice to you. He’ll do laundry when it needs to be done, take out the trash, fix anything you break (and you know you break a lot of stuff.) He’s going to be an amazing father. He’ll take your kids fishing and camping. He’ll paint their toenails and read them books. He’ll choose staying at home with you over any number of other activities and he will give 150% of his energy to provide for you and to protect you. Fifteen years from now, after your body has been pillaged by three pregnancies– he’ll make you feel as beautiful as he does now. He’ll never so much as glance at another woman and even though he’d lose his head if it wasn’t attached to his shoulders, he will be your champion. And not to brag– but in fifteen years? You are gonna be able to make toast
blindfolded with your eyes closed, and with one arm tied behind your back.”

Gluten free. No recipe. BOOYAH!

Why I’m Gluten Free

About two years ago I was having a lot of health issues, I was exhausted to the point that I was peeing on sticks to see if I was pregnant and generally felt like crap. I went to see a nurse practitioner who specializes in food allergies and takes a naturopathic approach to medicine. She ran some blood tests and within a few days told me that I had serious vitamin deficiencies. (Ding, ding, ding– red flag.)

She gave me supplements, did some additional testing and told me I should feel better in a few weeks. I was extremely skeptical but after 10 days of supplements I did start to feel better. By the time I went back to see her I felt better than I had in months.

“You cured me!” I told her.

She was glad I felt better but said my latest blood work had shown her what she suspected, I was gluten sensitive which was most likely the cause of my vitamin deficiencies.

I was not impressed. She rattled off a list of typical gluten sensitive symptoms but nothing sounded familiar.

“I just don’t think I have that?” I said.”There’s one way to find out. Cut it out of your diet for a month and see how you feel. Then add it back in.”

So I did.

It was hard.

Gluten= protein found in wheat, rye & barley that binds bread & gives it it’s texture, i.e, what makes it delicious.

I had no idea what I was doing or what I could eat but realized quickly that there was gluten in EVERYTHING. After about a month of starving I was at the beach on vacation and made a calculated decision to commit glutenicide over a cup of gumbo. The flour in the roux contained gluten but I didn’t care. I ate it with abandon.

Within the hour I broke out in a rash on my arms, legs and back. Message received.

The longer I’ve been off gluten, the more strongly I react to it when I commit glutenicide or accidentally “get glutened.” The only way to be tested for celiac disease, or gluten intolerance, involves eating gluten for a week and having a biopsy of your stomach– that seems extreme since I know if I eat it I will get sick. I’m not going to pay someone a couple of grand to tell me what I already know. No gluten for me.

I found out about Udi’s within the first 6 months of being gluten free and it made my life so much easier. I quit trying to measure weird ingredients and make bread or a pizza crust that was barely edible. I stocked my freezer and pantry with Udi’s and made a few simple changes to the way I cook, I learned how to tweak recipes to make them gluten free.

TIPS FOR COOKING GLUTEN FREE:

  • Use cornstarch as a thickener for soups and sauces instead of flour.
  • Make your own gluten-free bread crumbs for dishes using Udi’s bread or use cornflakes.
  • Buy a bag of gluten-free flour to substitute cup for cup when breading, frying or pan frying. (Proportions will not be the same for baking.)
  • Keep gluten free tamari (soy sauce) in your pantry for making your own marinades and stir- fries.
  • Check the label on chicken/beef stock that you buy. There is often gluten in these products that you may not know about.
  • Learn how to make a gluten free *béchamel sauce (if you live in the South think Cream of Chicken Soup.) This sauce can be used as a base for casseroles, pot pies, creamy soups and macaroni and cheese.

Check out Udi’s website for more information on going gluten free and take their Udi’s 14-Day Gluten Free Challenge!

Got any questions about being gluten free? Let me answer them for you!

I was not paid for this post but did receive a box of Udi’s product samples which I inhaled. Dark Chocolate Brownie Bites? Almost as good as cash dollahz. 

Béchamel Sauce or White Sauce:

2 Tbs of butter melted on the stovetop

2 TBS of Gluten free flour, add to butter and whisk

Slowly add 2 cups of liquid: milk, half/half, cream, chicken stock or a combination of these.

Salt and pepper to taste

Add grated cheese for a cheese sauce for gluten free pasta.

 

Crawfish Etouffee

 

1/2 cup vegetable oil

1/2 cup flour (I used a gluten free mix)

1/2 stick butter

1/2 red bell pepper

1 small onion, diced

3 TBS chopped green onions

2 cloves of garlic, chopped

2 cans of diced tomatoes UNDRAINED

2 TBS diced celery

1 TBS dried parsley

1/2 TBS basil

2 bay leaves

2 cups chicken stock

2 pkgs of frozen crawfish tails, thawed and drained (Or you can boil crawfish and peel ‘em and all that mess but I am not that dedicated to anything)

Couple of dashes of hot sauce, Crystal or Tabasco

1 package smoked sausage, sliced thinly and browned in a skillet

1/4 tsp garlic salt

1 TBS Old Bay Seasoning

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, (more to taste, I use about twice that)

1/2- 1 tsp of black pepper

Cooked rice.

1. Make a roux. Google this business if you’ve never done it. In a nutshell, put the oil in a stock pot and get it warmish, add the flour. Stir LIKE IT IS YOUR JOB until the roux turns dark brown without burning it. Don’t answer the phone . Don’t check Facebook. Whisk. It should be “the color of a fallen leaf.”

2. Add the butter and guess what? Whisk some more while it melts.

3. Add all the vegetables except the garlic, cook until tender THEN add the garlic and cook for a few more minutes.

4. Add the tomatoes (about a can and a half) with the juices and the chicken stock. Stir well and let simmer, add spices, bay leaves. Taste the roux and see if you need more salt or spices.

5. Add cooked sausage, drained crawfish and hot sauce. Cook for 15 – 20 minutes stirring frequently.

You may need to cover and simmer to make sure the vegetables are soft all the way through. This is WAAAAAAAY better the day after if you can stand to not eat it the same day you cook it. If not, make it early and let it sit in the fridge, warm it up and serve it over rice. If you want to feel superior, serve it over brown rice.

Freezes beautifully. (I don’t really know that, but name that movie!)

I tweaked this recipe from a cookbook of Sister Wife’s and as soon as I figure out the name of it I will credit it! 

 

Gluten Free Turkey Pesto Sandwich

All you need to make this recipe gluten-free is good gluten-free bread and Udi’s is my absolute favorite. Udi’s had a booth set up at BlogHer12 in NYC and I was so glad they were there. I took the opportunity to tell Udi’s PR folks that I live in 1937 and that whenever I gas up the old Delorian and head to civilization, I take a cooler so I can stock up on all my favorite gluten-free products. And people of the internet– I don’t promote anything on my blog that I am not completely in love with (they are not paying me to say this. I would LET them. But they are not.) and Udi’s hands down has the best gluten-free products on the market. The pizza crusts, muffins, bread, cookies, granola– good lord, I’m hungry. My diet would not be very fun without Udi’s. Fo realz.

You can make this recipe with any bread. If you aren’t gluten-free, a crusty piece of French bread would rock this sammie’s world. At any rate, after I professed my undying love and devotion to Udi’s, they sent me a box full of treats for Back to School lunches– (my kid’s love the Glutino pretzels and the Udi’s Cookies if they can find them after I hide them) and just asked that I share the love. And that I can do.

Here is what you need for the best sandwich of your life:

Goat cheese

Bell peppers – red, orange, yellow. Any color will do and I just discovered the mini-peppers. HOLY COW. So good.

Bread, toasted- Obvs, I used Udi’s.

Good deli meat. Chicken or turkey works but make sure you get it shaved really thin!

Pesto sauce– if you make your own you are on the wrong website.

We are making a SANDWICH here, so don’t be all, “But HOW MUCH do I need??” You need however much you are going to eat. Come on, people.

Slice the peppers thin and in a teensy bit of olive oil, cook them on the stove until they start to get a little tender. Put on a plate and set aside.

Slice your turkey or chicken meat so that it’s almost shredded, if you got it sliced thin at the deli this should be EZPZ. Add the meat to the pan and toss in a couple of spoonfuls of pesto. Like pesto? Add more!

Toast the bread and while it is still warm spread both slices with goat cheese. Pour turkey pesto mixture onto the bread and top with peppers.

You might want to go ahead and make two. While you’re at it, you can also read a great book about family relationships and motherhood :)