Friday, January 20, 2012

Brought to You By the Letter "A"

I always loved Sesame Street. It was kind of a bummer when my kids didn't really take to it. Then Elmo showed up. Man, am I ever glad my kids didn't take to Sesame Street. That puppet annoys me. It's the voice. But this isn't about that. This is about dinner last night.

It's no secret that hubby and I are trying to eat better. Yes, we eat organic, and blah, blah, blah, but we still have a long way to go to get where we really want to be. Anytime we try to incorporate something new and different into our diet, it gets kind of scary. Specially if it's something we don't know much about. We are exchanging our grains and pastas. We are looking into alternatives for some staples. Enter quinoa.

Quinoa (keen wa) is very flexible and can be used in place of rice and some noodles. Would I make lasagna with it? No. It's not that flexible. One of our favorite things to eat is Japanese sticky rice. Yeah, that is not the healthiest rice ever. But man is it good still warm with soy sauce. See, it doesn't get much better. We're changing that, too. One step at a time. My problem with quinoa is a texture issue. It's small, not quite like couscous but different than rice. It can get kind of mushy. Yeah, I m not a fan of mush. When it cooks, the smell reminds me of when hubby boils peanuts. I like the taste, but the issues are still issues. What to do, what to do? Hide it. Not hide it exactly, but cook it where texture isn't an issue, and hopefully the smell.

Most of my friends either are or are becoming more attuned to their health. One friend, in particular, has really made great strides. At the park one day, K had a quinoa cook book. I need to check it out from the library and see if I can come up with something. I have searched the internet and come up with some ideas. I tweaked an idea of hers to fit our family and an idea was born. K hides it with ground beef. Well, I can do that. And now that I've taken you on that journey, let's take a detour.

We don't have satellite anymore. No more Food Network or Cooking Channel for me. That doesn't mean I haven't seen some great cooking on TV. And lately, the one thing that seems to be cooking is polenta. I've made polenta before and it was good. I made it the mushy way. It's really just cooked cornmeal dressed up fancy. I wanted to try it the crispy way. After you cook it, you chill it until it's firm. Then you cut it into shapes and either bake it or fry it. Since my oven is on the fritz, I crisped it in butter and some olive oil.

Apparently while I was cooking I was a bit distracted. I inadvertently started making a double batch, but I didn't season it like a double batch. And I probably could have cooked it longer the first time. I didn't, and it was a little plain, but it was still good. The big girl helped. I do not have four hands, but I sure needed them. Polenta can be a little time and stirring intensive. My polenta recipe came from, which is one of my favorite recipe sites. I also found a sweet potato polenta that I am going to try.

I am also admitting that I freaked a little in the grocery store when I was buying cornmeal. I stood there on the baking aisle, looking at a bag of cornmeal, and I needed a moment. I started thinking about corn and how most of it is now a GMO product and I couldn't do it. I couldn't buy the regular cornmeal. I had to go over to the organic section and buy organic cornmeal. It was pricey and a big splurge, but I just couldn't buy the other with a clear conscience. I am such a freak.

Here's what I did with the quinoa. It was really good and even the baby ate it. She even ate the spinach. I never thought I'd see the day.

Quinoa and Beef

1-2 lbs of ground beef
1 cup cooked quinoa
1 small onion, cut up
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
2-3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 portabello, diced
2 cups raw baby spinach
basil, oregano, and parsley to taste
salt and pepper to taste

Brown ground beef with onion, garlic, and spices until cooked through. Drain off grease. Add beef back to pan. Add tomatoes and mushrooms. Stir to combine. Add cooked quinoa and 1/3 can of water. Stir to incorporate quinoa and water. Reseason. Let simmer 10 minutes. Add spinach and cover. Lower heat to medium to medium low. Let sit until spinach starts to wilt, about 5 minutes. Remove cover and stir. Serve over crispy polenta. 

This would be good with any ground meat, like chicken or turkey. It would probably be good with ground pork, but we have stopped eating pork. The quinoa clings to the ground beef and, texture wise, doesn't stand out too much. When I cooked my quinoa, I used veggie stock. It flavors the quinoa and cut down on the overwhelming nutty smell. That made it much better. Some of you may be freaking out that I used canned tomatoes. I used organic tomatoes from a company that has uses BPA free lining in their cans. It's ok. I know Big Sis is going to be mad I didn't add amounts to the spices, but I don't measure. I get a couple of good, healthy pinches and sprinkle that over the meat as I cook. I use a couple, stir it in, let it cook. Add some more when it's time to stir the meat. I season every time I move the food in the pan. I think this would also be good if you want to give it a southwest flavor with cumin and cayenne. It would also be good with maybe a curry flavor if you use chicken or turkey. If you don't have spinach, use kale or chard or cabbage or bok choy or whatever leafy green you have. If you have fresh tomatoes, use those. You could chop a medium size tomato or use grape or cherry tomatoes. This is so versatile, you could mix and match everything.   

I have to say that this is probably one of the best things I've made lately. It was so pretty over the polenta. I would have taken a picture, but it was after 7 and my family wasn't waiting. I'm lucky we got through the prayer before they started eating. I would have had seconds, but I quit eating those, too. Next time I might get a bigger first serving. Now, there's a good idea.

Have a great day.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Organized Chaos

Yup, that's my mind. Well, maybe not the organized part. But it sounds good, doesn't it? Several of my blogger friends used to belong to a blog that used a "daybook" style of writing. It gave you categories and you blog about those. I like it, so that's what you get today. That means an excuse for bullet points. Party on:

  • I am listening to...Matisyahu's "One Day". My iPod is cranked and ready for this blog. The shuffle feature is a wonderful thing.
  • Outside my is a bright, sunny morning, but chilly as all get out. It won't break 60 today. I live in a tropical region so that's cold for us. By Tuesday it should be warmer, thank goodness!
  • I am wearing...kitty pajamas and my robe. And I'm still chilly. I'm also wearing my new slippers. I needed new slippers. My old ones were literally falling apart. I got two new pair! There was a sale and I had a coupon. Love that!
  • Around the house...there are piles everywhere. As long as Hoarders doesn't show up, I'm ok. I plan to work on that today. My bedroom is as bad as the kids', if not worse. I don't sleep well in a messy room, so hopefully cleaning up will help my insomnia. Please?!?
  • From the schoolroom...we are plugging away. We changed the big girl's algebra. Again. She felt like she needed to "reinforce her foundation". Ok, smarty girl. We are back to a full schedule, including extras. The boy started back his guitar lessons, the girls started piano, and we are all back to dance. I am having an awful time getting science plugged into our schedule, so I'm skipping it this year. The kids are more interested in continuing our art study. It's easier to put that into the schedule so I did. Loving it! We are also back to our history. We are expanding westward. Lewis and Clark just discovered the Pacific Ocean.
  • From the tower...I picked two strawberries this morning. I may eat them before the kids get up. They'll never know. Except the big girl who can read this on Facebook, but she's not here this morning, so I call hers! There are 6 heads of broccoli in various states of maturity. Very excited about that. We have spring crops that are seedlings and ready to go into the tower. We are going to try to wait until Monday since we have a couple of nights of low temps to get through. We did buy an aquarium heater to keep the water warm and we'll wrap the plants tonight, just in case.
  • I am reading...and reading and reading. Right now, I am reading Explosive Eighteen. I just finished Water for Elephants. Great book! I am not seeing the movie. Robert Pattinson just doesn't do it for me as the lead. I was reading Stop Dressing Your Six-Year-Old Like a Skank... by Celia Rivenbark. It is laugh out loud funny! I only get the Janet Evanovich book for a week, so I need to read it and get it back. I also started The Hunger Games for book club, but I gotta finish my book. Our after dinner book is The Bronze Bow. The whole family is liking it. 
  • I am researching...coconut manna. I found it while I was researching prices for coconut oil. The name kind of intrigued me. I also found this article. Scroll down and read the comments, too. Very interesting. Then of course, the question comes up, how do I use it? Well, there's this, too. There are other brands, as mentioned in the article above, but these links were the first ones I found. I'm going to look at my vegetarian recipe sites and see if they have anything. I'm debating about it. It almost seems like a splurge, but then you look at the health benefits and what it can do for you and maybe not. More research ahead of me before I make a decision. 
  • I am thankful...for my youth kids and our bible study. It has been eye opening. I am so proud of these young people that want so badly to learn as much as they can about Jesus and follow Him. I am proud of the young men and women they are and are becoming. We had a great discussion last time about vesting and investing in youth. All I have to say is that our church needs to wake up. You are missing a vital opportunity to watch amazing people grow closer to God, and you are missing the opportunity to be part of it.  
That's all I have for now. I think that's probably enough, don't you?

Have a great day.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Lots to Say, Lots to Do, Lots of Pics

We've had a nice break for the holidays. We got to spend some lazy days together. I swear the kids slept past 10 almost every day.The only time they didn't was when we had somewhere to go. Yeah, that didn't happen very often. Hubby and I had some last minute running to do. We turned it into date night and just took our time. It was lovely. We even found a nice sushi restaurant. Bonus!

 This was my dinner. I like crunch. If I'm going to have a snack, I like a little crispness. I either get a tempura roll or a spider roll. I got the spider roll, which is at the top left. So, so good. I like the little bit of soft shell crab that sticks out. Yummo!!

 This was hubby's dinner. You can always tell his plate because it has tuna on it. I'm not big on tuna, but this was good enough for me to take two bites! I can't remember what the roll is in the middle of his plate, but it got shared. I think we fought over the last piece.

There was nothing left but wasabi and ginger. I like that they don't use the pink ginger. Ginger isn't supposed to be pink. I could steal their dishes, though. You should have seen the boat the couple at the next table had. It took up the whole table. We almost invited ourselves to sit with them.

We had to rearrange the living room again this year to get the tree up. That meant moving couches and the TV and the entertainment center. We ended up putting the tree behind our sofa, but kind of in front of the front door. I didn't like it, but our other option was to unload the book shelf, move it, then load it back, Thank you, but no. Hubby had to stop by his parents' house to pick up gifts from them so we could get them under the tree. So after rearranging, last minute running and wrapping, and gift pick up, this is what it looked like.

I sure like to see the tree with lots of presents. And there was really good stuff there, too. There was some not so good stuff, but I am trying to focus on the positive.

I couldn't get the front of the tree because it was that close to the sofa. Trying to get between the two was quite the feat in trying to not knock down the tree. We definitely need to figure something different out for next year.

Last Easter, we had the opportunity to go see The Rock and the Rabbi. It was amazing. This Christmas season, we were able to go see their newest production, The Child. It was wonderful, too. It had a smaller cast, but the music just moves you.

 Just like the last show, the cast was out in the lobby doing a meet and greet with everyone. I like that you don't have to have a back stage pass. The boy took over the autograph getting. How can you refuse that sweet face? Well, it's easy for me, but I'm his mama. We bought the CD again. Our favorite song is "Taxes". It's just fun to hear. The only autograph we didn't get was a young man that played keyboards and sang. he wasn't out with the rest of the cast.

But he was coming around the corner as we were leaving. Very nice, humble young man. He seemed confused as to why we would want his autograph and picture. Because he was awesome. The sweet young lady next to him is MC. This was the cast member she really wanted to talk to. I do what I can for my kids, including being an eagle eye. And listening to the boy when he says, "Look, there he is!" So it really wasn't me, but I'll take the credit any way I can get it. The girl next to MC is KT. That's what we call her anyway. And Baby J. And, of course, my eagle-eyed boy.

The weather got pretty cold. When the weather gets cold, I like to make soup. The big girl had been after me to make Italian wedding soup. So I finally did.

I usually combine two different recipes, but this time I stuck mainly to one. And I had everything I needed, including the Italian sausage, and that is rare for me. I used chard for the green because that was what I had. It was delicious and the big girl was happy. And so was everyone else.

New Year's Eve is a quiet night at home for us. I make a bunch of appetizers and finger foods and we eat all night long. Well, until midnight anyway. Usually we have soda and lemonade, but we are working at cutting the soda from our diet. I made fruit punch instead. We drank so much punch, we floated into the new year.

This is only part of the table. I wasn't done cooking yet, but if I didn't get a picture, you wouldn't have seen most of it. Bunch of vultures. Then when I was done with the rest of it, it kind of disappeared before I had the chance to get the camera. I tried, but I was too busy stuffing my face to think about it. Then it was too late. You should come over one New Year's. We throw a heck of a party!

I think that's about it for the end of the year wrap up. We may travel next Christmas. Maybe somewhere tropical and warm. Like Tahiti or Fiji. Wanna go? Start saving your pennies.

Have a great day.