Monday, May 30, 2011

Growing Vegetable Soup....

I am not, nor will I claim to be any kind of expert gardener.  This is our fourth year planting a backyard garden and we are still working our way through the learning curve! I battle with cucumber beetles, attempt to fight off late season blight and lose squash to vine borers (whatever those are).  We learn from our mistakes, right? What I can tell you for certain is this:  Involving the girls in the process of planting and caring for the garden has made them more adventurous eaters.  Riley picked our first snap pea this weekend and told me it tasted like summer.  She planted it, watered it, watched it grow and savored every last bite of crunchy sweetness from her first harvest!  This, coming from what I like to call my "non-eater" was a very special moment.

Before we began planting our first garden several years back, we took some time to read "Growing Vegetable Soup" by Lois Ehlert.  This adorably vibrant (yet exceedingly to the point) picture book describes the process of  planting a vegetable garden from seedlings to harvest.  We fell into the tradition of reading it every year, followed by making a big pot of vegetable soup in anticipation of what our garden will have to offer in the coming months.  This year was especially exciting because my big first grader read it to all of us (sniffle).

Lola planted pole beans, randomly, all over the garden.  They keep popping up everywhere!  **Note to self...less picture taking and more supervising, Jaime!!!!

I have a great slow cooker vegetable soup recipe that the kids can fully participate in making!  We buy many of the vegetables that were just planted in the garden (and some additional veggies that work well in the soup) and the girls have at it.  We use kid-safe pumpkin carvers to cut the vegetables.  They're great "knives" for them to saw at the veggies, but not cut their little fingers!  Butter knives are great for cutting mushrooms and green beans are easily snapped by hand and thrown in the pot!  I love a recipe that encourages full participation.  I admit, it is necessary for me to put my obsession with even, matchy matchy sized vegetable pieces aside for the day.  This batch of soup ended up with an entire unsliced stalk of celery in it.  It's all good.

I realize not everyone has the time (or desire) to take on the endeavor of planting a backyard garden.  There are many vegetables that grow just as well in a container on your front stoop (tomatoes, peppers, bush pickling cucumbers are a few)!   I hope sharing our experiences have inspired someone to "grow vegetable soup" and get a little dirt underneath their toddlers fingernails (and in their hair, up their nose, down their diaper, etc...)  

Here is the recipe!  Finally!  Enjoy!

Vegetable Barley Soup (a slow cooker recipe)
6-8 ounces of "mini bella" mushrooms, sliced
2 carrots, peeled and sliced
1 zucchini, chopped (or hacked and sawed at in our case)
1 yellow squash, chopped
1/2 fennel bulb, chopped (this needs to be an adult's job!)
1 onion, chopped
2 hand fuls of green beans, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
6 cups of vegetable stock
1 (14.5 ounce can) Italian seasoned diced tomatoes
1 cup frozen lima beans or peas
3/4 cup barley
salt and pepper to taste
fresh parsley and basil for serving!!!

1. Combine all ingredients (except for fresh herbs) in the slow cooker.
2.  Cook on low 4-5 hours or high 8-10 hours.  Serve with fresh herbs!

Freeze it!  
Cool the soup completely and store in air tight containers for up to 6 months!!!!

The BEST Turkey Burgers Ever...

The warm weather and sunshine is (hopefully) here to stay in New England and we're getting our freezer ready for grilling season.  I have this weird aversion to pre-made store bought burger patties that I believe started when I was a child.  My mother always bought ground beef and stocked our freezer with home made burgers and believe me, you can taste the difference.  

Burgers made from lean ground beef are a great source of protein and iron but if you're trying to cut back on fat, burgers made from skinless ground turkey breast offers a great low-fat option.  

Turkey tends to be a little bland when left alone.  That's why we like to jam pack our turkey burgers with lots of fresh flavors like red onion and parsley from the garden!  Mix up a big batch and grill some up this week!  You won't be disappointed!

Prep Ahead Plan:  I usually mix up 2 pounds of ground turkey and make 12 burgers.  If you want a bigger quarter pound burger than use 2 pounds to make 8!  Wrap them individually in plastic wrap and store them in a ziploc bag in the freezer! We put ours on the grill straight out of the freezer.

Turkey Burgers
2 pounds skinless, ground turkey breast
2 tablespoons seasoned bread crumbs
2 tablespoons finely diced red onion
1 egg, beaten
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh parsley
2 small cloves or 1 large clove garlic, crushed or minced
2 teaspoons of worcestershire sauce
salt* and pepper to taste
*We like to use a sprinkling of Lawry's seasoning salt in place of regular salt for a little extra flavor!

1.  In a bowl, mix all ingredients together with a fork. Make sure they are thoroughly combined!
2.  Divide mix into the desired amount of patties.  I make 12 out of 2 pounds but if you prefer larger burgers, you could make 8 patties.  Shape into rounded balls and press into patties, wrap in saran wrap and freeze or grill them up!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Smoky Turkey Chili ~ a slow cooker Weight Watcher recipe

Finally!  My computer has made it's way back home with 340 brand new gigabytes of storage and a salvaged Iphoto library.  Phew.  I have quite the back log of recipes to share but thought I would start with this chili recipe since it seems to be highly coveted amongst several readers!

We are continuing to lighten things up around the Sheridan household in preparation for bathing suit season.  Although I have never officially done any kind of prescribed diet program( i.e Weight Watchers, South Beach, Eat Clean, Atkins etc), I seem to own every diet cookbook on the market.  Whether you diet or not, having a plethora of nutritious recipes on hand is essential for a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle!

This smoky turkey chili is adapted from a Weight Watcher cookbook I have.  My adaptations include omissions of a few ingredients that would only add to the points value and in my opinion leaves the chili with an unnecessary sweetness.  I will post the points value as stated but know that it will be a point or so off (in your favor!).

Prep Ahead Plan:  I think this is the first chili recipe for the slow cooker that does not require browning the meat first! Using 99% fat free turkey breast leaves little to no fat to drain enabling you to toss all of the ingredients in the night before and when you wake up, set it and forget it.  

Smoky Turkey Chili
1 pound ground, skinless turkey breast (be sure it is 99% fat free ground white meat!)
1 red onion, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, chopped or crushed
3 (15.5 ounce) cans of pinto beans
1 (14.5 ounce) dices tomatoes
1 cup ketchup
1 (4.5 ounce) can diced green chiles
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
chopped fresh parsley and/or cilantro

1.  Combine all ingredients in your slow cooker.  Stir to combine, breaking up the ground turkey with the spoon.
2.  Cook on low 8-10 hours.

1 1/4 cups = 5 PointsPlus

Note:  Add 2 tablespoons of fat free sour cream and 2 tablespoons of fat free cheddar cheese will increase PointsPlus value by 1

Monday, May 16, 2011

Healthy Slow Cooker Carnitas and Spanish Rice

Every year, the warmer weather inspires me to lighten up our menu selections!  Slow cooker carnitas made with lean pork, can quickly be thrown together and left to cook all day.  A quick, HEALTHY, prep ahead dinner!  Serve alongside homemade spanish rice made with white or brown rice.

Prep Ahead Plan:  Combine ingredients in the slow cooker the night before and turn it on before you head out the door the following morning!  Making your own Spanish rice is much healthier than buying the pre-made rice mixes in the store!  This allows you to omit any kind of partially hydrogenated blegh and keep the sodium milligrams WAY down!

Slow Cooker Carnitas
1 teaspoon salt
4 cloves of garlic, crushed or minced
1 Tablespoon cumin
1 1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon coriander
2 bay leaves
2 cups chicken broth 
3 pound lean center cut pork roast

For Serving:
whole wheat tortillas
black beans
reduced fat cheddar cheese

1.  Season the pork roast with spices and place in the slow cooker.
2.  Add broth and bay leaves.  Cook on high 8-10 hours.  Shred with 2 forks before serving on tortillas with toppings.

Spanish Rice
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 cup white or brown rice
1 onion, chopped
1/2 green pepper, chopped
2 cups chicken broth
10 ounce can of diced tomatoes with green chiles (Rotel)
2 teaspoons chili powder
(Salt*  and pepper to taste)
*Many brands of chili powder have salt in them so you might not need to add any

1.  Heat the olive oil in a medium sized pan.  Add rice, onion and green pepper.  Cook until the rice browns a bit and the veggies are tender.
2.  Stir in broth, tomatoes with green chiles, pepper and chili powder.  Cover and simmer 30 minutes or until rice is tender.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce

Here is a deliciously quick weeknight tomato cream sauce that doubles as an impressive dinner party main dish!  
As I stated in a previous post: Don't be afraid to cook with alcohol when serving children.  Made properly, foods cooked with alcohol are perfectly safe to serve to little ones. The dish should be cooked long enough, usually several minutes, for the alcohol itself to evaporate, leaving only harmless trace residues and the concentrated flavor of the wine or beverage used. Cooking with wine, beer, sherry, and spirits can greatly enhance the taste of some dishes, acting as a flavor conductor to heighten the taste of all the ingredients.

Prep Ahead Plan:  The tomato cream sauce can be made a day ahead of time.  Keep it in the refrigerator until you are ready to reheat and serve over the penne!

Penne with Tomato Cream Sauce
1 pound penne
2 T olive oil
4 cloves garlic
1/2 t crushed red pepper (or more if your family likes a little heat!)
28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
1/2 t salt
1/4 cup vodka
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil (I like to chop up a little parsley and mix it with the basil if I have it)

1.  Cook pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile..
2. Saute garlic and red pepper in the olive oil.
3.  Add tomatoes and salt and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer for about 15 minutes.
4.  Add the vodka and cream to the tomato mixture and bring to a boil again.  let it boil for several minutes in order for the alcohol to evaporate.  
5. Reduce heat and stir in fresh herbs.  Serve over penne!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Hot Browns for Derby Day!

Derby Day 2009
(Eeek!  I'm certainly no expert today, but my photography skills needed some serious help back then!)

Derby Day is a great excuse to get dressed up, put on a fancy hat, eat hot browns and drink mint juleps!  The girls steer clear of the cocktails and have a blast decorating their Derby hats every year!  We're all about making the festivities fun for all ages around here!

We love to watch the race and create an authentic Derby party by serving a few of the traditional dishes that Derby goers have been enjoying for years!

Click here to read The Brown Hotel's famous hot brown recipe!  It's our Derby Day main dish!  I simplify the recipe by using a good quality sliced deli turkey and toasted English muffins or french bread.  The mornay sauce is really simple and can be made the night before!  

Oh! And don't forget the mint juleps!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Bark Painting Placemats and The Best Sangria EVER

Happy Cinco de Mayo!  I just wanted to share our most favorite sangria recipe (and craft) because there is still time to stop at the liquor store on your way home from work! This evening, sit your kids down to design your tablescape while you have a drink!!  Talia and Lola worked on their placemats after nap today but Riley's bark paper is ready to be painted (and my sangria is ready to drink)!

Sangria (Recipe from Spain of Narragansett)
1/2 cup brandi
1/2 cup triple sec
1 bottle red or white wine (they use Fortissimo but if I can't find it I use my favorite wines:  Las Perdices Sauvignon Blanc (white) or Rook ~Cabernet, Syrah and Merlot blend (red)
1 cup orange juice
1/4 cup Peachtree
splash of sprite

 Combine all ingredients in a pitcher, stir and refrigerate!  Yum!

"Bark Painting" Placemats
We used paper bags to imitate a Mexican papel amate (bark paper) painting. Traditionally, bark paper is made by boiling bark and pounding it flat. You can easily substitute a brown paper bag to mimic the look of pressed bark!  Here is how we made out placemats...

a rectangular section of a brown paper bag
paint brushes
(we used fruit for stamping)

1.  Wet the brown paper bag with water and ring out the excess water.
2.  Carefully unfold the paper and press it with a warm iron on a flat surface to dry it.
3.  Paint away!!!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cinco de Mayo menus!!! Easy recipes for weeknight cooking!!

A Tex-Mex inspired meal makes an appearance on our menu at least once a week!  I have a fabulous slow cooker carnita and sangria recipe to (hopefully) share sometime before Thursday BUT sometimes there aren't enough hours in the day!  I have really good intentions though! For all of those A-type planners (like myself),  I wanted to re-post some great Mexican dishes that are so easy (and muy delicioso) for your weeknight Cinco de Mayo celebration!  Disfrute!!!! (Enjoy!!!)

Mexican Shrimp Cocktail
Slow Cooker Queso Blanco

Slow Cooker Chicken Tortilla Soup  (We eat this as a main dish!!)

Main Dish
Slow Cooker Chipotle Lime Chicken
Chicken Enchiladas
Mexican Lasagna
Slow Cooker Beef Burritos
Taco Night!
Slow Cooker Steak Fajitas

Grilled Chicken Stuffed With Arugula and Pepper Jack

What a great way to dress up a boneless chicken breast! I think this dish is our new favorite! I came across a version of this recipe on the Food Network website.  I adapted it a little to meet our prep ahead lifestyle and it was a hit!  Restaurant quality for sure!!!

We grill year round, but in the warmer weather, the grill puts in some serious over-time!  I have to admit, when I say "we," I really mean Mike.  I don't even know how to turn the thing on.  Before I was married,  I lived with friends and I can recall firing up the grill several times a week.  It's just not my job around here and I am more than alright with that. I'm not looking for any more assignments these days.  

Even before the girls came along, I have always been the one to do the majority of cooking. One, because I happen to like to do it and two, even when I was teaching, I have always been the one to arrive home first.  However, it's not realistic for Mike to get home at 6:00 in the evening, prepare and then grill up dinner and still have the kids in bed at a reasonable hour.  Here is how we make it work:  I prepare the meat/seafood that needs to be grilled ahead of time along with any other side dishes.  Mike can grill the meat up when he gets home which never takes longer than 20 minutes since everything has been prepped.  Dinner is still on the table by 6:30!  YAY for teamwork!!!

Prep Ahead Plan:  Prepare steps 1-3 below and leave the chicken, covered, in the fridge until you're ready to grill it.  Ours ended up sitting in the fridge for over 24 hours before we grilled it and it was perfect!

Grilled Chicken Stuffed with Arugula and Pepper Jack
6 boneless, skinless chicken breast
2 cups of arugala, chopped
4 ounces pepper jack cheese, shredded or diced up
olive oil
cajun spice
*omit the salt if your cajun seasoning has salt in it!

1.  Make a slice in the side of each chicken breast in order to make a pocket.  (Imagine you are cutting pita bread!)
2.  Combine arugula and cheese in a bowl.  Stuff as much as you can into each of the "pockets" in the chicken breast.
3.  Brush a little olive oil over each piece of chicken and shake on the desired amount of cajun seasoning.  Use as much or as little as you like!  We like a lot!
4.  Preheat a grill on high.  Cook chicken for about 5 minutes per side or until a thermometer reads 155 degrees!