Friday, October 31, 2014

Changing eating habits

Here is a link to a post I just did on our changing eating habits and some new favorite recipes and blogs that are helping make this change easier!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Revitalizing our family's health: goals and plans

Still here and still cooking- just never time to post about it!  We got back from several months of traveling this summer in severe need of de-tox from all the French bread and cheese and Belgian chocolate!

I'm in the middle of trying to revitalize the way our family eats as a whole.  In the past, I've been guilty of dieting myself but not really providing the healthiest of meals for my family in the process.  There are all sort of excuses to be offered not the least of which is the difficulty of getting certain "healthy" ingredients since we live overseas.  The bigger issue is not so much that exact ingredients aren't available but that foods that most diets suggest you avoid to lose weight- potatoes, pastas, white breads are the things that are available here in abundance at a reasonable price.  Meats overall are just so expensive that it's hard to build a diet around meats being a huge source of your protein.  On the plus side, produce here is typically less expensive and although not necessarily labeled as "organic", it's likely coming to you in it's truest form.  Meat, though expensive, is also quite fresh and doesn't have all the "junk" added to it that I'm reading about being added in American grocery stores.  (at least that's what I'm telling myself when meat that I bought 1.5 before and forgot to freeze or prep is already bad in the fridge...)

I am very thankful that no one in our family has any sort of allergies or food intolerances.  That allows me lots of freedom in the way I prepare our food.  On the flip side, it also makes me lazy on days when I'm just too tired or busy and the quick options aren't usually all the healthy.

I'm hoping that more planning on my part and a little more organization in the kitchen will help me not do the lazy, unhealthy thing quite so often.  Hopefully the result will be a healthier, happier family.  Again, we are so blessed to have no huge health issues that affect the way that we eat.  We do however have 2 family members over 40 (HOW?!) whose metabolisms seem to be on the decline, 2 teenagers who are learning to love cooking and have a desire to be healthy, and a school-ager and a toddler whom I want to lead in establishing healthy eating patterns and developing a love for all foods in their God created form.  I am not feeling led at this point to guide our family in completely giving up certain food groups or even types of food.  I'm still a bit old fashioned I guess in that I fully believe that moderation in all things food along with lots of water and plenty of exercise is key to good health.

My goal is to provide healthy meals for our family with food in it's truest form- I guess that's what many call "clean" eating or "real food"?  We're going to try and avoid processed food, stuff with mile long ingredient lists, cut back on sugar and ramp up on fresh veggies and fruit.  We're not going to be super strict with our rules because our lives at this point do not allow that.  Sure enough, as soon as I've gone 3-5 days with no sugar, we'll be invited to a neighbors and served chocolate cake and tea with enough sugar that's it's practically tea flavored syrup.  We're going to have a lot of grace with each other but the end overall goal is better health.  We may have seasons of no this or that just to see if it affects the way we feel overall.  Obviously my goals as a 40 year old needing to lose 5-10 pounds are different than the goals I would have for my teenage daughters who could give any teenage boy a run for their money as far as appetite size, and those goals are different yet again from my school-ager going through a pudgy stage but also hungry at every minute of the day, and with yet again different goals for my oh-so-finicky preschooler who most days doesn't seem to eat enough to keep a small bird alive.   I'm working on figuring out a way to help us all record our fruit/veggie intake, our water intake as well as keep a record of sweets and junk food with a goal of 1, maybe 2 treats a week, depending on the situation.

I decided that it might be fun (and helpful to me!) to record things that are successful, things that don't work so much and foods and recipes that I come across in the process.  There are SO MANY sources out there that it is beyond overwhelming to me, so maybe this might help some others who live overseas to narrow down the search and find things that are do-able for busy families.

Here are some cooking/shopping/prepping principles that I'm currently working with that I'm sure will change as I continue to figure things out.  These are things that are helping our budget as well as our bellies- at least that's the goal!

1.  Buying lots of fresh veggies and fruits means that I also have to allow prep time in the kitchen preferably on the day that I shop or at least the very next day.  I buy whatever fruits are in season (right now it's mangoes-yummy!) and chop them and freeze them in 1 cup portions for smoothies.  Also for smoothies, I've been buying tons of spinach and freezing it in 2 cup portions.  It takes a lot of elbow grease to get it clean sometimes but it's worth it!  I find that for us if I have carrots and cucumbers washed, peeled and sliced that it's instant healthy snack, and they are much less likely to sit in the fridge unused and get mushy and yucky in the veggie drawer.

2.  Meat also requires prep time.  If I do buy boneless-skinless chicken breasts (not regularly), I try and marinade it and freeze it the day that I buy it so it's ready for a quick fix.  I'll also try to season and brown ground beef to freeze and use for later or marinate red meat as well if I happen to find cuts that looks decent (doesn't happen often, unfortunately!).

3.  Stay on the lookout for local produce that is cheap and healthy that the family likes.  Cabbage in any form is cheap here and I've been surprised how much my girls love it.  Cauliflower in various forms is also a big hit.

4.  Take advantage of my girls love to cook and bake but channel it towards healthy things.  Maddie stocked us up last week on whole wheat pizza dough, and we have a favorite whole wheat dough recipe that is great for multiple things- Lebanese pizza crust, cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls etc.  I'm on the lookout for a few paleo bread recipes if I'm doing a no carb season and also whole wheat bread recipes for other times- things that I know don't have all the added junk of store brands.

(they are also great helpers when it comes to chopping/prepping)

5.  Dry beans cooked in bulk and frozen for use in soups etc is much cheaper than the canned version.     We do a lot of soups with red or white beans and hummus is a favorite around here as a dip for veggies or as a spread.

6.  Freezer to crock-pot meals are awesome and I'm always on the look-out for those.  Finding good ones has been a bit hit or miss but I'll share the ones that have been hits with our family.  I try to keep a stock of gallon sized freezer bags so I can get these prepped the day I get home from the store with all the veggies and meats.  I've found that the pre-frozen chicken thighs (much cheaper than breasts) are great in most of the recipes that I've found.

I'll add to this list along the way as we learn more and figure things out.  At this point everyone in our family is excited about healthier eating and I've been encouraged by my girls willingness to give new things a try.  

Stay tuned for the recipes we tried over the past few weeks and the links to blogs and websites that have been helpful to me in planning.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Mint Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cake

This was my very own Christmas creation.  Well, sort of.  I never know what it really takes to claim a cake as your own.  I used other people's recipes but combined them in my own unique way so does that count?   Anyway, this was fabulously rich and yummy.  I was inspired by this layered cake in Southern Living that combines white cake with layers of peppermint cheesecake and finished it off with a white chocolate frosting- sounds yummy, right?  I made it for a gathering in early December and it was a hit.  Then I remembered this amazing chocolate chip cheesecake recipe I found a few years ago using Andes mints and I thought, hmmm.. If this was THIS amazing with white cake, it's GOT to be that much better as a chocolate version, right?!   

So here's what I did...

Mint Chocolate Chip Cheesecake Cake

Mint Cheesecake Layers:
32 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
1 cup Andes mint baking chips
green food coloring (optional)

Chocolate Sour Cream Cake Layers
Chocolate cake mix (I used milk chocolate
instant chocolate pudding mix
1 cup sour cream
1 cup vegetable oil
4 eggs
1/2 cup warm water

Dark Chocolate Silk Frosting
1/4 cup cocoa plus a dash extra
1/4 cup boiling water
1 1/4 combo of dark and semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup butter, slightly harder than room temp
1/4 cup powdered sugar (I added a good bit more)

To Assemble:
I adapted this recipe for the cheesecake layers.   First prepare your cheesecake layers as follows:
Beat 32 oz softenened cream cheese with 1 cup sugar.  Beat in 4 eggs and 2 tsp vanilla, beating until just combined.  Stir in 1 cup of Andes mint baking pieces.  I also added a bit of green food coloring (not too much).  Line 2 9 inch cake pans with foil so that the foil hangs over the edges of the pans giving you a handle.  Divide the batter between the two pans and bake at 325 for about 25 minutes or until set.  Cool completely on wire racks (in pans) about 1 hour.  Cover cheesecakes (in pans) and freeze 4-6 hours until frozen solid.  Lift cheesecakes from pans using foil as handles.  Remove foil, wrap in plastic wrap and return to freezer until ready to assemble cake.  

I adapted this recipe for the chocolate layers.  Beat together all ingredients.  Divide between 3 9" greased cake pans and bake 15-20 minutes at 350 or until done. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes and remove from pans to cool completely.  Can freeze layers until ready to assemble cake.  

I adapted this recipe for the frosting.  Combine cocoa and boiling water.  Stir to dissolve and set aside.  Slowly melt chocolate chips in double boiler stirring until smooth.  Set aside and bring to room temperature stirring frequently.  Beat butter and powdered sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add cooled chocolate and cocoa mixture beating until spreading consistency.  I didn't think this looked like enough to frost the cake so I added about a cup more of powdered sugar at the end and beated until smooth.  

To prepare cake.  Alternate chocolate and cheesecake layers beginning and ending with cheesecake layers.  Frost and chill until ready to serve.  

Friday, November 16, 2012

Apple Cake with quick caramel frosting

This is an amazingly yummy fall recipe and so quick to throw together.  It's one my mom gave me years ago and I have not a clue where she got it- my Memommy maybe?  If you are one of those sadly deluded people who think that things can be "too sweet" then you might not be a fan (or you just might scrape off most of the icing like my husband did) but if you are a true sweets lover than indulge!

Apple Cake
1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup chopped nuts (I used walnuts)
3 cups chopped apples
1 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 pckg butterscotch chips (optional- use if you are NOT frosting with caramel icing)

Mix oil, sugar and eggs.  Sift dry ingredients and add to sugar mixture.  Add vanilla.  Stir in apples and nuts.  If using, sprinkle with butterscotch chips.  Bake 1 hr at 350 in 9x13 pan.  Leave out chips if you plan to make caramel frosting.

Caramel Frosting- quick and easy
(this is a great substitute for the old fashioned caramel icing that can be pretty difficult)
Melt 1 stick butter (1/2 cup).  Add 1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar and 1/4 cup milk.  Bring to a boil and stir for 2 minutes.   Remove from stove and add 2 cups powdered sugar.  Beat until creamy and frost cooled cake.  

Tip:  I poke holes in the top of the cake before frosting it because how could it not be good for the frosting to seep down into the cake?!  

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Make your own salads

This has become a favorite in our house especially on busy days.  The girls love the "make your own" aspect of it and I love it because it's (mostly) healthy and quick and easy.  No recipe really.  Just pick your toppings- we usually do tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, chives, hard boiled eggs, cheese, bacon (if I have it), craisins or raisins, sometimes olives and/or avocado and usually some type of nuts.

I found this  fabulous marinade for chicken and beef.  It's not only south beach diet friendly, it's also super easy and versatile.  Sometimes when I bring chicken home from the store, I go ahead and cut it up and put it in the marinade and then put it in the freezer in ziplocs and it's ready to go.  Other times if I haven't really planned ahead, I'll marinate the chicken just for an hour or so before cooking it and it's still just as yummy.  It's also a great marinade to use over night before grilling, but sadly we don't have a grill...

Mostly I love that we've found a fun, creative and healthy way for our girls to love salad!  

For dressing, I almost always use homemade ranch or our favorite balsamic vinegar dressing that I use for everything.  Here's that recipe...

Balsamic Vinegar Dressing
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
3 TBSP honey
2 TBSP dijon mustard
1-2 garlic cloves minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup olive oil

Combine all ingredients expect olive oil.  Gradually stir in olive oil until well blended.  Store at room temperature and shake to combine before using.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hearty Italian Soup

(apparently I can't rotate pictures anymore-sorry!)

But turn your head sideways and marvel at how yummy this soup looks!  In my opinion, just looking at anything with spinach in it makes you healthier and this soup is so full of flavor that you really can't go wrong.  I changed the original recipe because I can't get Italian sausage here.  I used chicken instead (frozen in a 2 cup portion from several whole chickens I cooked the other night- thank you very much freezer cooking for changing my cooking life!).   I also already had the white beans ready in the freezer along with the broth so I threw this together in minutes.  So yummy!

Hearty Italian Soup
2 cups cooked chicken
2 tsp olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
48 oz chicken broth
 2 cans white beans (I used 4 cups cooked from dry)
2 cans diced tomatoes
1 tsp Italian seasoning (I used a haphazard combo of oregano, thyme and basil)
5 oz baby spinach
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (I used dry- maybe a TBSP)
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil

Brown onions and garlic in oil until tender.  Stir in chicken broth, chicken, beans, tomatoes,and Italian seasoning.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes.   Stir in spinach and remaining ingredients.  Cook, stirring occasionally, 5-6 minutes or until spinach is wilted.  Enjoy!

Friday, November 2, 2012

Pumpkin Spice Latte

This was amazingly easy and SOOO good!  Here's the link...