Monday, October 29, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - Week of October 28th

Sunday:  Stuffed Shells with Bread

Monday: Mom's night out with friends!

Tuesday:  Sloppy Joes with Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Wednesday:  Happy Halloween!  Pumpkin Chili (CrockPot) with Pumpkin Cornbread

Thursday:  Cheddar-stuffed BBQ Mini-meatloaves with Mashed Potatoes

Friday:  Buffalo Chicken Pizza

Saturday:  Out

I'm linked at Menu Plan Monday hosted by

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Tried & True Recipe: Baked Sweet Potato Fries

These aren't really fries considering they're not fried.  They're actually seasoned and roasted sweet potatoes, but they're cut into a fry shape, we eat them in place of fries, and dip them in ketchup, so fries they are!

These are definitely one of our favorite sides and something you see pop up in our weekly meal plans often.  They're cheap, healthy, everyone likes them (Jack LOVES them!), and they're so easy to make!  They pair well with just about anything.  We often eat them alongside of burgers, grilled chicken sandwiches, panini, and they also pair well with Mexican-style cuisine.  Jack can eat a whole sweet potato's worth of these "fries" and I love that it's a veggie side I know he'll happily eat every time!

Baked Sweet Potato Fries
adapted from Fitness Magazine via With a Cherry on Top

2-3 Sweet Potatoes*, peeled and cut into fry-shape
1/2 t. Salt
1/2 t. Cumin
1/2 t. Chili Powder
1/2 t. Paprika
1/4 t. Pepper
1/8 t. Cayenne Pepper (feel free to omit this if you don't want any heat)

Pre-heat oven to 425-degrees.

Combine spices in a small bowl and set aside.

Place potatoes in a single layer onto a greased, or parchment paper-lined baking sheet (you may need 2 baking sheets depending on their size and the amount of potatoes you are making.  You can put them pretty close together, but don't overcrowd the pan!).

Sprinkle spices evenly over sweet potatoes.**

Bake for 20-25 minutes until the edges start to get crisp and a little brown.

Serve with ketchup, if desired!

*Number of sweet potatoes will vary based on size and number of people you are serving.  Basically you'll want one sweet potato per person unless they're really small or large.  Use your own judgement :)

**Notes about the spice mix - I actually like to make a good sized batch of this and keep it in an old spice container so it's all ready to go and I don't have to mix it up every time.  Also, I mentioned that Jack likes these.  They're just a touch too spicy for him with the cayenne pepper so I actually make a separate pan for him that I just lightly sprinkle with the chili powder, cumin, and paprika.  That way it's spicy in a flavor sense, which he loves, not a burn your tongue kind of way! 

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Pumpkin Picking 2012

I feel like we've had a very busy few weeks and after a nice weekend yielded a wealth of friends sharing their pumpkin patch pictures via Facebook it reminded us just how quickly Halloween was coming up.  We decided to take advantage of a nice Sunday morning to head out to the pumpkin patch to pick our own pumpkins.

This is the third time we've trekked out to the fields to pick our perfect pumpkins.

1st visit:

Jack was 7 months old here

2nd visit:

Jack was about 1 1/2 years old

Annnnd this year's visit:

27 weeks, 6 days pregnant with Baby Dos

You'll notice that 2 1/2 year old Jack is not in the picture because, well... he's 2 1/2 and was having a rather 2 1/2-year-old kind of day.  Despite Jack's being rather photogenically inclined as of late he of course firmly declined pictures while at the pumpkin patch so the only child I could get to take a picture with me was the one currently residing in my ute who didn't get a choice about the situation.

Jack's pictures this year looked a little more like this:

Hey!  This one's not so bad.  I think he was telling us to "go away!" though :/

Yes, Mark was laughing in the final photo while Jack is crying.  No, he was not laughing AT the crying child, but rather the whole situation as by this time we had entered the laugh or cry territory and we chose to laugh.  Now, in Jack's defense, he had adamantly declined his photo opportunities (well, except for the one with the pumpkin. He wanted that one... but then he didn't, but then he did, but then he didn't...) and yet we persisted in trying to snap a few photos for the memory books.  So, this is what we get.

Despite what you see in the photos Jack was actually pretty excited about picking out a pumpkin.  He had a lot of fun traipsing through the (muddy) field and looking at the pumpkins.  He did have a good time, he just wanted no part of pictures for whatever strange toddler reason.  It's especially odd considering he's been pretty into having his picture taken lately and will actually request it, but yeah, go figure toddlerness strikes again at an outing where we actually wanted to snap a few pictures to capture the memory.  Well, capture the memory we did! 

After we picked out our pumpkins we headed over to the little play area, which is where the day quickly declined.  We had never been to the play area before (they have a food stand, corn maze, bouncy house, barrel train ride, etc.) because Jack had been too young to enjoy it, but on the way in he caught sight of the barrel train and was very excited about the prospect of riding it so we decided to give it a try.

When we arrived in the play area Jack was feeling every day of his 2 1/2 years and decided at that point he didn't want to ride the train anymore, he wanted to go down the GIANT blow up slide that you have to climb up one steep side to access.  It was not at all for his age group.  We explained to him that he couldn't go down the big slide, but that he could ride the train.  ::cue immediate breakdown::  He was in a weird mood.

Then he wanted to ride the train.  He didn't want to ride the train.  He wanted to ride the train.  He didn't want to ride the train.  Okay,  he REALLY wanted to ride the train.  We bought tickets.  We stood in the short line (Mark and I feeling apprehensive because we really didn't know that this little activity was going to have a great outcome considering the kind of mood Jack was in).  Jack was really excited waiting for the train.  He got in the train:

And then he started waffling again - he wanted to ride, he didn't.  He wanted to ride, he didn't.  Then there were some tears, I can't remember if it was because he wanted to ride or he didn't, but at that point it was obvious the train ride wasn't happening.  Oh yeah, then he threw a leg over the side of the car.  That's when we took him back out and decided it definitely wasn't happening.  Then he had a meltdown because he wanted to ride the train.  At that point we decided we were leaving and ended the madness.  Maybe next year.

If nothing else, this year's trip to the pumpkin patch was certainly a microcosm of life right now.  Toddlerhood is nothing if not an exercise in extremes.  One minute the kid is happy as a clam, the next he's throwing a fit.  Emotions are hard stuff! 

Monday, October 22, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - Week of October 21st

Looks like we're expecting some pretty nice weather this week so we'll squeeze in some more grilling while we still can!  Also, last full week of October.  Really?!  Where did this month go?!

Sunday:  French Onion Soup with Autumn Chopped Salad

Monday:  Grilled Burgers with Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Tuesday:  Breakfast for Dinner!  Breakfast Casserole with Fruit and Toast - carried over from last week

Wednesday:  Stuffed Shells with Homemade Garlic Bread

Thursday:  Grilled Brats with Cheesy Potatoes

Friday:  Homemade Pizza

Saturday:  Out

I'm linked at Menu Plan Monday hosted by

Friday, October 19, 2012

Tried and True Recipe: Creamy Tomato Soup

When Mark and I first lived together and I was just entering the world of cooking, one of our go-to meals was canned tomato soup paired with grilled cheese.  We both liked it, it's relatively cheap, and it takes about 10 minutes to make.  Add some Cheez-Its on the side and you've got a quick, tasty meal that reminds you of childhood.

The problem is, well, there are a few problems actually.  First, the canned stuff just isn't good for you.  It's not real food.  It contains additives to prolong shelf life, ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and "flavoring" (which could be anything, it doesn't have to be disclosed), as well as unnecessary amounts of sodium.  Now, I'm not totally against taking a short cut here and there and if you want to pop open the occasional can of soup on a busy day I'm not here to judge!

The other part of the problem for us is that as our diet has evolved to be comprised of predominately real foods made from scratch the processed stuff just doesn't taste good to us anymore.  It's actually kind of a bummer when you're wanting to take a shortcut, but ultimately it's a good thing.  I think it was some time last year, after I had been making my version of tomato soup for a while, that we popped open a can of the Campbell's variety for lunch one day and it was awful.  It had no flavor.  It basically just tasted like salt.  No bueno.  I used to eat quite a bit of canned soup, especially when I was working for a quick lunch, not to mention Mark and I both grew up on the stuff, but I guess our taste buds are just changing!

The good news is, there is an alternative for that comfort food meal of tomato soup and grilled cheese.  It's super easy to make, yields a good amount, and is freezer friendly if you want to keep some on hand.  The best part is, it's delicious! 

Creamy Tomato Soup
adapted from The Pioneer Woman

6T unsalted butter
1 medium onion, diced
28 oz. diced tomatoes
46 oz. tomato juice
1 1/2 T chicken base
3T sugar
1t dried parsley
1t dried basil
salt and pepper, to taste
a good splash of dry sherry (~1/4 - 1/3c., this is optional, but I like to add it.  I think it adds a nice, mild background flavor)
1 1/2 c heavy cream

In a large pot or dutch oven melt butter over medium heat.  Add onion and saute until soft and translucent.  Add tomatoes, tomato juice, chicken base, sugar, and spices.  Cook, stirring occasionally until it comes to a bubble.  Add sherry, if using, and continue to cook for another minute or two.  Turn off heat and slowly stir in cream.  Puree until smooth with an immersion blender (or carefully in batches in a regular blender).


Monday, October 15, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - Week of October 14th

Sunday:  3 Bean Turkey Chili (CrockPot) with Honey Cornbread Muffins

Monday:  Beef & Broccoli (CrockPot) with Brown Rice

Tuesday:  Leftovers

Wednesday:  Grilled Burgers with Baked Sweet Potato Fries

Thursday:  Breakfast for Dinner!  Breakfast Casserole with Fruit and Toast

Friday:  Homemade Pizza

Saturday: Out

I'm linked at Menu Plan Monday hosted by

Friday, October 12, 2012

Pregnancy #2 - 26 Weeks

We're closing in on the end of the 2nd trimester!  I really feel like this pregnancy is flying by.  I think it must have to do with the fact that once you have kids time seems to start running at warp speed!  I swear, some days seem never ending, but the weeks just fly by!  That old saying about the days being long, but the years  short really is true.  It's definitely making this pregnancy go by quickly.

I'm enjoying being pregnant right now.  I have a big enough bump that it's obvious I'm actually pregnant, not just fat, but it's not too big yet!  I love feeling all the baby movements and kicks and this week I've noticed movement all over the place!  Before this week I was feeling tons of movement down really low and a little up top (I have an anterior placenta again, so nothing up front!) which led me to believe that she's probably positioned feet down in there.  But this week the variety of movement that I was feeling made me think that at one point she had flipped head down (I was getting rib kicks!) and I've also felt movement on either side like she was laying horizontally as well as movement that made me think she was laying diagonally.  I think she's just somersaulting around in there while she still has enough room, experimenting with what she likes best.  Swim down, baby!  Still plenty of time for her to settle into a head down position so hopefully she'll figure out that's where she wants to be here in the next few weeks!

Still not sleeping great.  Maybe 2 weeks ago I officially moved into the territory where I'm no longer able to lay how I did pre-pregnancy.  Lucky for me it took a while because I kind of lay half on my tummy with a knee up to off-set actually laying flat.  That bought me some extra time, but at this point, the bump is too big even for that.  The body pillow is being used every night to support my body so that I can kind of lay half on my side, half on my tummy.  A body pillow is a must during pregnancy!  The downside of the body pillow being it pretty much takes up 1/3 of the bed.  I'm already entering the zone where it's getting a little uncomfortable on my hips and pelvis to flip over at night so between that and having to resituate not only myself, but the body pillow as well it's a process every time I have to roll over, which is at least a handful of times every night.  Poor Mark is a light sleeper so every time I have to resituate it wakes him as well.  Pregnancy is trying on both of us!

I mentioned before that I was having mild, but consistent pelvic pain and it had me worried.  In the last week or so it actually seems to have somewhat improved, which surprised me because it stuck around consistently for a few weeks.  Now it seems to come and go a little more and when it is here it's still mild so ::fingers crossed:: I hope I have a better experience this time!  Of course I still get regular aches and pains though, other than my pelvis I've also had sciatic nerve pain, lower back pain, and hip pain, but really, so far it's all been comparatively mild so I can't complain at this point!  I also visited a chiropractor for the first time earlier this week on the recommendation of my midwife.  Chiropractic care is supposed to be great for pregnancy for a variety of reasons and if it might help with the pelvic pain situation it's certainly worth a try! 

In other news, we've attended 2 of 6 classes for our Hypnobabies course.  I'm really glad that we chose to do this!  Last time I was pregnant I did a lot of reading about natural childbirth philosophies and I was still super unprepared for what I experienced.  This time I wanted to make sure we did something to make sure we were armed with real tools to help me through the labor process.  After some research and comparing our options we decided to go with Hypnobabies.  It's certainly not for everyone, but I think it's going to give me the tools I need to have a great labor experience.  Also, because I had a hard time last time, culminating in an unplanned C-section, I feel like Hypnobabies is going to be awesome for helping me move past the fear and anxiety that I have about going through the same thing all over again.

Hypnobabies is available (depending on your area of course) as either a homestudy or an in-person course taught by an instructor.  We considered both and eventually decided that the actual in-person course would be better for us.  We really want to have the best chance possible to learn this process and I feel like we're going to be more confident having an instructor.  It's also great to have Mark learn it right along with me rather than doing the majority of it myself with the homestudy.  I just think it would be a little harder to really learn it together that way for us at least.  So far, despite the bigger monetary investment and considering it's not exactly easy for us to get away for 3 hours on a Saturday morning when we have to arrange childcare we are still so glad that we went this route.  Totally worth it!

I do have to say, I'm kind of surprised by the time commitment.  Like I said, we attend a 3 hour class once a week and that goes on for 6 weeks, but I work with the Hypnobabies material in one manner or another for probably 1 1/2 hours every day.  Mark has to actively participate in some of that as well, but most of it is me.  It's also not always so easy to fit in when my schedule is ruled by a 2 1/2 year old and I have to be in a quite place, uninterrupted to do what I need to do.  Hopefully though, as long as I stay committed to the program and find the time to do what I need to do we'll have a great experience! 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Tried and True Recipe: Artisan Bread Bowls

Bread bowl pictured is filled with Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Soup is exactly 252 times tastier when served in a bread bowl.  It's a scientific fact, one not to be argued with.  I love soup of all kinds and I love bread so eating them together is pretty much a no brainer, especially when you can eat the soup out of a bowl made of bread.  Sheer brilliance.

This is a great all-purpose bread bowl.  It has a great texture and mild flavor, wonderful to fill with just about any kind of soup, chili, or stew you can think of.  And considering we're headed into soup season, this is must have recipe!

The process to create these bread bowls is not at all labor intensive, but when all the rising/chilling time is considered I would recommend planning to make these up, pop them in the fridge, and then bake them off the next day.  When I made them I did do it all in one day, so it's do-able, just plan to start them in the morning if you want them the same day.  Whatever floats your boat!

Artisan Bread Bowls
Adapted from King Arthur Flour and Mel's Kitchen Cafe

yields 5-6 bread bowls

1 1/2 cups warm water 
2 teaspoons yeast
pinch of sugar
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Combine yeast with water and a pinch of sugar.  Stir and set aside to bloom.  Water/yeast mixture will be ready in a few minutes when it's nice and frothy.

Meanwhile, add remaining ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook (or just a large bowl if making by hand).  Add water/yeast mixture when it's ready.  Turn to medium-low speed and allow mixer to knead mixture for ~8 minutes, until a nice, smooth dough is formed.  (Alternatively, mix and knead by hand).  Remove dough hook, cover bowl, and set aside to rise for 45 minutes.

Punch down and divide dough into 5-6 equal pieces (depends on your size preference.  I usually make 6 bowls, but they are on the small side).  Roll each piece into a nice, round ball and place on a baking sheet that has been lightly greased, lined with parchment paper, or lined with a Silpat liner (which is what I use).  Cover entire sheet with lightly greased plastic wrap and place in refrigerator.  Refrigerate dough for a minimum of 4 hours up to a maximum of 24 hours.  This step will allow the dough to develop flavor and texture, so don't skip it!

After 4-24 hours, remove bread dough from the refrigerator.  Allow to sit, covered, at room temperature for 1 1/2 hours.  Remove plastic wrap and allow dough to sit at room temperature uncovered for and additional 30 minutes.  During this time, pre-heat oven to 425-degrees.

Just before baking, slash the top surface of the dough a few times with a sharp knife to allow for expansion while baking.  Bake 22-28 minutes until bowls are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.

Remove from oven and cool on a wire rack.

To serve, cut round from top at an angle and pull out some of the extra bread from the inside (save all this to dunk in that yummy soup!) to make a bowl.  Fill with your favorite soup, stew, or chili!

Monday, October 8, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - Week of October 7th

Sunday:  Tomato Soup with Grilled Cheese Panini

Monday:  Buffalo Chicken Topped Potatoes with Salad

Tuesday:  Leftovers

Wednesday:  Pot Roast with Carrots (CrockPot) and Mashed Potatoes

Thursday:  Chipotle-inspired Chicken Burritos

Friday:  Homemade Pizza

Saturday:  Out

I'm linked at Menu Plan Monday hosted by

Monday, October 1, 2012

Menu Plan Monday - Week of September 30th

It's officially fall (and the first week of October, wow!) so I decided it was time to change out my Menu Plan Monday header to reflect pumpkin pie rather than strawberries.  As much as I love fresh summer berries...  mmMmmMm... pumpkin pie!

Jack and I are going to be on our own for several dinners this week so I planned for lots of leftovers so that I didn't have to cook every night just for the two of us.  Trying to keep things simple!

Sunday:  Meatloaf with Buttermilk Mashed Potatoes

Monday:  Cream of Mushroom Soup with Bread

Tuesday:  Leftovers

Wednesday:  Leftovers

Thursday:  Leftovers

Friday:  Pizza Night

Saturday:  Out

I'm linked at Menu Plan Monday hosted by