Monday, December 30, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of December 30

This past week I

  • took my mom out for sushi and her first trip to Trader Joe's.  
  • over-ate too many times.  We had several holiday celebrations, a few family meals, and some meals out with friends, including a classic Wisconsin fish fry with 18 people!  I need to figure out what is a comfortable amount of food and not go over it.  
  • had an awesome massage at The Wellness Room.   It's a tiny little place, not really so much a spa as only a couple rooms in a charming renovated building.  Both Husband Jeff and I agree that we love the massage techniques of Sarah Tierman, the owner and massage therapist. 
  • didn't have enough time to myself to get done the things I wanted to do, but that's to be expected since there were only about three days that I truly was by myself.

This week 

Things should be pretty uneventful.  I'm going back to work on Thursday.  Hopefully everything hasn't fallen apart without me!  
  • Monday - I'm splurging and trying out one of my food goals I had for 2013, make a tenderloin.  Along with that I'm serving lettuce salad, Trader Joe's vegetable melange, corn casserole, and pumpkin bars.
  • Tuesday - it's New Year's Eve and daycare is closed.  For lunch Sonny D and I are having pasta with red sauce since we opened the jar of marinara sauce for parmigiana meatloaf on Sunday night.  For dinner we're going out with friends to Dobhan (Nepalese-Indian-Mediterranean fusion). 
  • Wednesday - New Year's Day and I'm going to help a friend out during the day.  For dinner I'm determined to use up the eye of round steaks I bought for cheap.  I'm going to make a braised dish, which will hopefully result in tender meat.  I'll serve them with sauteed green beans
  • Thursday - I'm finally going back to work today.  Not looking forward to it, it's been great taking time off.  For dinner I'm making a slow cooker dish of Indian chicken with spinach, served with naan bread from Trader Joe's.
  • Friday - I'm going out for my friend Jill's birthday dinner, we're going to Imperial Garden for Chinese food.  I put hot dogs, mac & cheese, and clementines on the menu for Sonny D and Husband Jeff. 
  • Saturday - My only plans are Zumba class at 8 a.m.  For dinner I figured we'd have polenta pizza rounds, Husband Jeff and I liked those.  I'll find a random bag of frozen veggies to serve along with it.
  • Sunday -I've got some bacon and butternut squash in the freezer calling my name, so I'm going to try out a recipe for bacon & butternut squash pasta.  The recipe called for Gruyere cheese, but it was $10 for a small block at the grocery store and my frugal nature came out.  I stood in front of the cheese section for a long time trying to determine a cheaper replacement and finally ended up with Swiss.  I hope it works out! 

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of December 23

This past week, I...

  • went out for delicious tapas with a girlfriend and we chatted for three hours!
  • had a tongue taco at Taqueria El Jalapeño. 
  • went to dance fitness class two times. 
  • took Sonny D out to a kid karaoke event, then to lunch, home for a nap together, and made chocolate popcorn.  We had a great time! 
  • Fixed five of the seven items in my to-mend pile. The last two are a little more complicated, one needs new elastic in the waistband and the other might need to be handled by a professional. 
  • Tried TCBY chocolate almond frozen yogurt made with almond milk. Quite good!

This week

I have PTO I need to use up before the end of the year, so I'm taking the rest of the year off.  But we've got so many things going on that I'm probably not going to feel like I really had much vacation time.  Starting on Christmas Eve, we've got holiday celebrations for three days in a row.  And there will probably be some unplanned events with friends who are in town for the holidays.   

  • Monday - I've got the day off.  I'm going to exercise in the morning and then hoping to take my mom on her first Trader Joe's shopping trip if the weather isn't too bad. I also would like to take her out for lunch, I'm angling for sushi, but I'll have to see what she's feeling.  For dinner I have no idea what we'll do. Maybe something from Trader Joe's or canned soup plus toasted English muffin bread.  A friend's sisters are in town, so we're supposed to get together with them to hang out in the evening. 
  • Tuesday (Christmas Eve) - I'm planning that Sonny D and I are going to dip pretzels in chocolate to take to our holiday celebrations.  Christmas celebration #1 is today with Husband Jeff's extended family, it includes an dinner of heavy appetizers
  • Wednesday (Christmas Day) - Christmas with my parents.  We're getting together earlier in the day rather than dinner time.  I think I'm supposed to make tomato soup to share with the group, guess I should probably check on that to ensure I've got the ingredients.  For dinner we'll have slow cooker Indian chicken with rice.
  • Thursday - Another day off for me.  I'll exercise in the morning or while Sonny D is taking a nap.  We're going to Husband Jeff's parents in the afternoon to celebrate Christmas with his immediate family.
  • Friday - Another day off, I scheduled myself a massage and one for Husband Jeff.  The awesome thing is that the massages were scored in a Black Friday deal, half price!  And it's a place we know and really like.  Yay!  I figured we'd want a quiet meal after three days straight of holiday festivities, so we're probably going to have hot dogs or pita bread pizzas.  
  • Saturday - Zumba class for me in the morning with no other plans for the day.  Probably leftovers for dinner unless we go out with any friends who are in town for the holidays.
  • Sunday - another day with no plans.  I've got three dishes picked out but still haven't decided which to make. 

Wanna Chat?

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Things I Love Right Now

This is totally not food-related talk, just things I love right now.

My Clarisonic Mia face brush.  Husband Jeff got this for me for my birthday and it's great!  My face is so soft and smooth.  Haven't noticed that it helps with breakouts since I don't get a whole lot these days, but it probably does help.

Cetaphil SPF 30 oil control moisturizer.  It doesn't leave me shiny like my previous Eucerin SPF 30 lotion.

The new circle design on the Target up & up tissues.  I even gushed about this to the checkout lady. Yep, silly, but it's the little things.  The old design was fine, something like a branch with circles for leaves, but the circles are much cuter. 

The song "Royals" by Lorde.  This song is running through my head all the time, so I finally sprung for a copy of it on iTunes.  I'm notoriously cheap, so it's surprising when I actually spend money on a tune.

Wanna Chat?

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Rolling Up Hmong Egg Rolls

Mom & I hard at work making egg rolls. 
That's me in the pink in the back, Mom's hands are in the front.
My family doesn't follow a totally traditional Thanksgiving.  This year we had turkey breast, mashed potatoes & gravy, corn casserole, ribs, and egg rolls.  The egg rolls were my idea, I chose Hmong-style eggrolls since I think that's the type Sonny D likes at the farmers' market on the north side of Madison.  

We decided to experiment, my mom wanted to see how they would turn out if we baked some in the oven and deep-fried others.       


Mel's Kitchen Cafe Mary’s very authentic egg rolls
Miss M Yang Hmong egg rolls how to make Hmong egg rolls
Melanie's Minnesota Morsels Hmong egg rolls

I mainly followed the Mel's Kitchen Cafe recipe but cut the amounts in half. 


Makes about 35 egg rolls
  • 1 lb ground turkey or pork (I used turkey)
  • 3 oz bean thread noodles (I used 5 oz and didn't realize it was too much, seemed fine) 
  •  10 oz package shredded cabbage/ slaw mix 
  • 2 eggs 
  •  2 egg whites (save egg yolks for sealing wraps) 
  •  10 oz shredded carrot 
  • 1/2 onion minced 
  • 50 TYJ (SpringHome) brand spring roll wrappers (6" square, frozen) 
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  •  4 tablespoons oyster sauce  
  • 2 tablespoons mushroom soy sauce 
  • 1/2 tablespoons fresh black pepper 
  • 1 tablespoon fish sauce 
  •  1/2 tsp garlic powder  


Cook the meat over medium heat and break it up as you go.

Prepare the mung bean noodles as indicated on the package.  I let mine soak in hot water for 20 minutes rather than attempting to boil them.  We had a lot of  time, so waiting for them wasn't an issue. When they're done soaking, cut the noodles several times with kitchen shears. 

Closeup of the filling
Pull out your spring roll wrappers, they don't need to really defrost, but after you open the package keep them covered with a damp kitchen towel as you work so they don't dry out.  

In a very LARGE container (your biggest mixing bowl or something larger, like a cake container) mix the meat, noodles, veggies, eggs, and sauces.  Blend thoroughly. 

Mom displaying her finished egg roll.

To Wrap

Take the two extra egg yolks and put them in a small container (in the photo above you can see our custard cup above with the pastry brush on the rim) and add about a tablespoon or two of water to thin it out.  This is going to be your glue to keep the egg rolls shut while they bake or fry. 

Place a few tablespoons of the filling (I found three tablespoons to be the best amount) in a diagonal line across one of the corners.  Fold that corner up and over the filling and pull the filling tight with the wrapper.  The spring roll wrappers I bought are tougher than the wonton style typically found in the produce section of the grocery store, so you don't have to be as delicate as you might expect. Then brush on the thinned out egg yolk on the top of your "envelope" of the unfolded corners of the wrapper.   Then fold the two opposing sides over each other and roll tightly to close the top.   For a visual, check out Miss M Yang's egg roll wrapping instructions

Us in progress.  Check out that large container of filling!

If you want to bake: 

When you get about halfway done wrapping up the egg rolls, preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Definitely opt to bake your egg rolls if you have a lot that aren't sealed up tight because any openings will end up burning the filling while in the hot oil of a fryer.

If you want to deep-fry or pan-fry:

Start up your deep-fryer as you start to wrap the egg rolls.  If you're going to pan-fry, you're working with less oil, so start that when you're closer to done wrapping all of the egg rolls. 

Finished egg rolls waiting to be fried. 
To bake, place the egg rolls on an oiled rack or cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for 10 minutes, flip them all over and bake 10 more minutes.  I was planning to brush or spray some oil on them to enhance browning, but I was in such a hurry that I forgot. 

Or deep fry until golden.  I timed ours to be 4 minutes for two egg rolls in a small fryer.  
My mom's hands making excellent egg rolls.

Frying it up.

The finished baked egg rolls, should have oiled the rack because some ripped as we removed them.

Close up of a fried egg roll.


I'm quite glad we tried Hmong style, the filling ingredients are really easy to get at a regular grocery store (other than the wrappers).  Plus in general they're easier to make than the ones we've made in the past since you only need to pre-cook the meat and noodles, none of the veggies.

Sonny D ate only about 3 total out of the close to 15 leftover egg rolls we brought home.  Lately he hasn't eaten much food, though, so I don't take it personally. 

Husband Jeff and I totally loved them.  Jeff particularly liked the Mae Ploy sweet chili dipping sauce I bought at the Viet Hoa market where I found the spring roll wrappers.   We reheated leftover egg rolls in the toaster oven, but I don't think they cooked long enough to re-crisp.  I don't know what the secret is for that, maybe a hotter oven.  But they were still great.  

I wish I had thought ahead to bring some of my equipment over to Mom's house, mainly a baking rack and baking sheet since she didn't have anything similar and we had to makeshift something together.   But in the end we did a great job with what we had and they turned out tasty!  

Wanna Chat?

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Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Odds & Ends

Taking Time To Re-inventory My Freezers

I inventoried and reorganized both of our freezers (refrigerator one and the deep freeze in the basement) the other day, which was great because I knew I had been throwing things in without writing them down.  I knew the inventory sheet didn't match what was in there, so I had to take stock before my next grocery trip so I had a better idea of what to buy.  Check out my original post about doing a freezer inventory and to download a copy of my freezer inventory printable.

It took me about an hour to inventory both freezers. Husband Jeff and Sonny D entertained themselves by playing Hide & Seek nearby in the basement. Toddlers Preschoolers (I think at 3 they're called preschoolers?) aren't the best at Hide & Seek.  He knew enough to hide, but as soon as Jeff went to look for him, he would pop out and announce himself.  Adorable! 

Ok, back to my freezers.  The bad thing was I found two medium-size Pyrex containers with unknown contents.  One definitely smells like a Mexican dish and looks like some sort of casserole, the other looks like it contains a casserole of meat along with red bell peppers.  I'm totally stumped on what both are!  Hopefully we'll be brave enough to defrost them and try them out some day.

So um, the moral of the story is always label everything you throw in the freezer!  It might seem obvious at the time what it is, but later when you try to determine what that frozen lump is by smelling, you probably won't figure it out.  Save yourself the time and frustration by labeling it, unless you like a good mystery....

Knife Skills Class

The January 14 knife skills class at Wisconsin Cutlery and Kitchen Supply is now full and another class was added for Tuesday, January 21. I highly recommend it! At this class I learned I shouldn't hold the knife with my finger down the spine of the blade, but should be pinching the sides of the blade for stability.

COST:      $30 per person, which includes supplies
WHEN:    Tuesday, January 21, 7:00 - 9:00 p.m.
WHERE: Wisconsin Cutlery & Kitchen Supply, 3236 B University Avenue, Madison (across from Whole Foods)
RSVP:    Call (608) 204-0560 to reserve your spot

Classes are limited to 16 people and always fill up quickly, so call soon!

If you can't make it to the knife skills class, I recommend stopping by any time to have your knives sharpened.  Bill does a great job and he's quick, he can sharpen while you shop.  They've also got quite a few other kitchen supplies tucked into that tiny store, so you'll definitely find some tempting things to spend your money on.  And while you're at that little strip mall, stop by Penzey's for spices and Vom Fass for oils and vinegars, two of my favorite stores in Madison! 

Yay!  I'm Not A Grinch

Two wonderful smells in our house right now. 
  1. My Meyer lemon tree is in bloom and the thick, fragrant scent of the blossoms is great! Maybe this year the little fruit buds will stay on long enough to actually grow into fruit.  We've had the tree several years and only one year has produced a fruit large enough to use.  A few years back it gave us a single lemon that we squeezed on some fish.
  2. We bought our Christmas tree right after Thanksgiving and this weekend Husband Jeff finally brought it inside and the fresh pine aroma is so nice.  I wouldn't call myself a Grinch, but I'm not normally a sentimental holiday person, so this is the first time I've ever really noticed our Christmas tree to smell good and enjoy it.  

Local Soda

I chipped in some money towards the Kickstarter campaign for Wisco Pop to set up a bottling operation. Right now their soda is only available on tap or in a mini keg.

I haven't drank soda in years because I avoid caffeine and I don't like the empty calories, but I tasted their soda one day and really liked it.  I appreciate that they make with real ingredients and it's local.  Typically the brew of choice is beer, which I don't like, so it's nice to be able to find another local beverage that I would drink.

Their website is acting up, but I was able to load a list of the places around Madison where it's available. 
  • Bloom
  • Brasserie V
  • Brocach on Monroe
  • Crossroads Coffeehouse (Cross Plains)
  • El Dorado Grill
  • Grampa's Pizzeria
  • Heritage Tavern
  • Humble Pie
  • L'Etoile
  • Madison Sourdough
  • Pig in a Fur Coat
  • Pizza Brutta
  • Salvatore's Tomato Pies (Sun Prairie)
  • Spring Green General Store (Spring Green)
  • The Old Fashioned
  • The Wise@HotelRED
  • Willy Street Co-op Juice Bars (East & West)
  • UW Slow Food Cafe
I would definitely make an exception on my soda ban if I can find it out at a restaurant.  The couple places I would be likely to go next are Pizza Brutta or Salvatore's Tomato Pies. 

Wanna Chat?

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Sunday, December 15, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of December 16

Weekend in Review

On Saturday we went downtown to look at the big Christmas tree in the state capitol.  Afterwards we hopped on a free trolley (Sonny D loves buses, this was close enough) and rode it for a few blocks down State Street to hit Paul's Pel'meni to have Russian dumplings for lunch.  Definitely go!  It's on Gorham St right near AJ Bombers, right before you hit State Street.  Go in the door for the Art Supply store and Pelmeni is to the right.  There are only two main items available -- dumplings filled with meat or dumplings with a potato filling.  And it only comes in two sizes, half order (great lunch size for one person) or a full order (if you're a couple sharing or a really hungry person!).  I recommend getting them with everything on them, it's so good!

On Sunday we did some cooking, Sonny D and I baked up some English muffin bread (amazing when toasted!) because he loves using the mixer by himself.  And then right before dinner we made almond yogurt souffles using the whisk.  He has been talking about the whisk attachment for the immersion blender for months so I figure he would be tickled by using it.  Recipe coming for that.

Weekly Menu

  • Monday - After doing my freezer inventory, I found six containers of chili.  Oy!  Well, at least I think they're all chili, there weren't labels on any of them so I was guessing!  So we're having chili with salads for us and avocado and grapes for Sonny D.  Husband Jeff loves having chili, so this will make him happy.
  • Tuesday -  I'm heading to the drop-in Zumba class so we need a quick dinner that won't fill me up too much so I get sick with all the dancing around.  I'm going with pancakes, scrambled eggs, and fruit.
  • Wednesday - This is Free Shipping Day! This is the last day of regular shipping before Christmas.  Somehow other deals and discounts don't get me to spend too much, but I love free shipping!  I've got my eye on some hair products to buy today.  For dinner my friend Natalie and I are getting together downtown for tapas at The Icon on State Street.  While I'm gone I figure Husband Jeff and Sonny D are going to have a frozen pizza with avocado and grapes.  If I haven't mentioned it, the favorite frozen pizza in our house is Jack's Rising Crust pepperoni.  So good!  The crust reminds me of soft pretzels.    
  • Thursday - I'm going to make a black bean & butternut enchilada skillet dish.  
  • Friday - Throwing another slow cooker prep day meal in the crock pot, this time it's beef stew served with dinner rolls
  • Saturday - This will be a busy day.  In the morning I want to go to Zumba class at 8. Then we're off to the Kids in the Rotunda performance at the Overture Center with another family.  We had a tradition last year of going to a performance and then going out for lunch afterwards, so we're continuing that again this year.  Then in the evening Husband Jeff and I are going out for dinner and then heading to a roller rink that is having an adult skate night!  They play '70s, '80s, and '90s music.  Can't wait!
  • Sunday - We're going to have burgers on the grill (yep, even when the temperature is 7 degrees Fahrenheit we still grill outside!) along with roasted sweet potato with onion and feta.  It's like a deconstructed version of the sweet potato gratin I made recently

Wanna Chat?

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of December 9

Week in Review

  • This past week we ended up going out for at least one meal per day.  One day Husband Jeff went out for both lunch AND dinner.  We went to
    Two stand-out dishes were the baked tilapia with homemade tartar sauce at La Brioche and the Mediterranean eggplant at Bunky's.  So good!
  • Survived my son wearing underwear most of the week.  Actually this wasn't too bad, but it was our first real potty-training time and Husband Jeff and I were clueless. We had a pow-wow about it one night, wondering what we should do and how to handle certain situations. Sonny D goes on the potty all the time at daycare, but he's a bit more belligerent about it at home.  "No potty!" he declares or "I already went!" (yes, but it was five hours ago!). 
  • Sang lots of fun Rock Band songs at a friend's birthday party, including Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance" and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe". Even the guys were singing along to both!
  • Lived through two hours of solid whining-crying courtesy of Sonny D on Sunday afternoon. It was horrible!  
  • Opened a new face lotion, Yes To Carrots repairing night cream. It's not bad, by not great either. Scent is important for me in products, this one only smells ok.  It doesn't go on that great, the texture feels a little waxy. Doesn't seem to do anything for wrinkles or discoloration.  The only good thing about it is it's the moisturizing is fine. Not great, but just enough for me. 
  • Finally bought butter-flavored extract.  I've been looking for it to try this brown sugar & molasses baked oatmeal but I couldn't find it at my regular grocery store or Target.  I finally ordered a bottle of Watkins brand on eBay.   I was also intrigued by their peanut butter extract, so I bought a bottle of that, too.  Can't wait to try them in things, any suggestions?  I was thinking for Sonny D's cupcakes that I'd make them peanut butter flavored.   
  • My best friend called over the weekend and asked if I want to go to Jamaica next month.  Of course!  
  • Painted fingernails with Sonny D.  I don't have too many colors since i don't paint my nails too often.  He picked plum and I painted my own silver.
  • Took Husband Jeff to Target.  Normally he doesn't like going there with me since I take forever, but I asked nicely and had a small shopping list so we weren't there all night. 

Lately I've been...

  • Thinking about redecorating the dining room. Currently the walls are two shades of brown and the curtains are aqua/turquoise. I've been picking up interesting paint samples but I'm decoratingly-challenged so I have no idea where to start. I wouldn't mind a larger rug, but the ones I've found online are either smaller than our current one or way too big for the space. We're also talking about changing the setup of the room since it's so narrow.  We would move the table against the wall and adding a banquette/bench for seating along that side.  Husband Jeff offered to make the banquette, which would be cool since we could customize it to put storage inside and it would fit perfectly. 
  • Trying to come up with creative cold-weather outfits.  The high temperature for Wednesday is predicted to be 11!  For work I typically wear footless tights under my dress pants and blazers over tops and sweaters. 
  • Wanting to go out to eat at new restaurats -- That BBQ Joint (BBQ), Pelmemi (Russian dumplings), Bassett Street Brunch Club, Layla's Persian Food, Kusaka (Japanese in Mineral Point), etc.   And there are some not so new places that I just want to go back to, like the Brat und Beau near our house. And many old favorites!  
  • Waking up too early. Wake up around 4 a.m. to pee and can't go back to sleep. This morning I just started to turn my brain off and get comfy enough to drift off to sleep and my sunrise simulator started coming on (5:15).  I upload that's better than actually getting  to sleep and being rudely woken up only a few minutes later. 
  • Having high hopes of things I want to cook/bake/make right now - pretzels dipped in chocolate for holiday spirit, a small batch of cupcakes for Sonny D, English muffin bread, homemade marshmallows (more holiday spirit), mom's cashew brittle, cream cheese + pumpkin bars, biscotti, grape-nuts banana bread, and many more, but none of those things have actually happened.
  • Thankful for my handy husband.  I mentioned the toilet downstairs was making noise, he fixed it right away.  He's also great at building fires in the fireplace. 


This week is another quiet one. For the menu I'm repeating things that I've listed in previous weeks (some several times!) but still never ended up making.

My department at work has about 50 people so we celebrate the holidays with two-plus weeks of treats. I signed up to bring treats this Thursday and I'm bringing breakfast items, a southwestern style egg bake (green chiles, cheese, spices, maybe black beans, etc.) and baked banana oatmeal.  I'll make the oatmeal the night before and prep the other one at the same time so I can throw it in the oven to bake in the morning. 
  • Monday - one of our slow cooker prep day meals of Char Siu (Asian) pork with rice and roasted Brussels sprouts and butternut squash. 
  • Tuesday - I figure there will be leftover pork from Monday since it's a big hunk of meat.
  • Wednesday - Haven't decided -- either pancakes and scrambled eggs or pasta with red sauce and garlic bread. 
  • Thursday - Another day where I'm not sure what I'll make.  I'm going to defrost some ground turkey, but I'm not sure if we should have parmigiana meatloaf or Asian meatballs.  
  • Friday - maybe we'll finally have the frozen leftover chicken masala with eggplant Punjab and palak paneer.
  • Saturday & Sunday - The weekend is totally unknown, we're talking about getting together with friends, but they haven't contacted us back to say yes. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Crustless Pumpkin Pie, Again

This crustless pumpkin pie was one of the first recipes I posted when I started my blog.  You can read about my adventures making a version modified for food allergies from this past January.  I still totally love it and can't believe I waited this long into fall before making it.  I made this for Thanksgiving mainly because I had two partial containers of Cool Whip in the freezer that I felt needed to be dealt with since both freezers are sooooo full.  Unfortunately we only used one container for this, so I need to make another batch.  Darn!  :)  

This time I jazzed up the flavor of the crumbly topping by adding ground ginger cookies and leaving out the mild oats and the extra sugar.


Alida's Kitchen crustless pumpkin pie 

If you want to make this gluten-free, substitute gluten-free cookies for the ginger cookies and wheat germ and use all flax seed meal in the filling instead of flour.  You could try making it dairy-free by substituting oil for butter in the topping and use coconut milk instead of the evaporated milk.  


I cut this into 16 pieces

  • 6 trader Joe's Ginger thin cookies, ground (or graham crackers would work too)
  • 2T chopped almonds, slightly ground (threw them in with the cookies in the chopper cup of my immersion blender and chopped them a bit)
  • 1 T wheat germ (I used the 'honey crunch' flavor. This is totally optional, you could skip it and use more cookies and almonds)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1T butter, melted (I throw the butter in with the rest of the topping ingredients and melt it the microwave)
Ingredients lineup

  • 15 oz can pumpkin purée (not pie filling)
  • 12 oz evaporated fat-free/skim milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup flax seed meal (or another 1/4 cup flour)
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder 
  • 1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon (I substituted Penzey's baking spice)
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract (I used vanilla paste since I've got a little jar and I don't know what else to do with it.  Use it as an exact replacement for vanilla extract.)


Mix the topping ingredients and set aside.
crumbly topping

Spray an 8x8 glass baking dish, preferably one with a rubber lid so you can easily save the leftovers in the fridge.  Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Pudding-y filling ingredients blended together.

Mix the filling ingredients.  Pour into the prepared pan and sprinkle the topping on.
raw, ready to go in the oven

Bake for 50-55 minutes or until no longer jiggly in the center.
fresh out of the oven
I cut mine into 16 pieces.  Serve with a hearty dollop of whipped topping.  


Yes, it's still great!

The only thing I would change is to maybe add a little more sugar in the filling since it seemed like it could be touch sweeter and possibly a 1/4 teaspoon of salt to bring out the pumpkin flavor.   But otherwise it confirmed that I'm still in love with this crustless pumpkin pie. 

Last year Sonny D totally loved this pumpkin pie but this year he says he wants a piece but then doesn't eat it.  Ugg, toddlers. Then I'm *forced* to finish his serving... after eating two of my own servings.  :)  Husband Jeff had some too, but I ate most of it. 

Oh, and I found that I totally prefer Cool Whip on my pumpkin pie rather than spray whipped cream in a can.  We ran out of Cool Whip on the last couple of slices so we grabbed the spray whipped cream and found it thin and not sweet enough. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Beef Tips and Noodles

Let's be right upfront, this is probably the least "clean" recipe I make.  I know it's not healthy since it contains three cans of condensed soup, but I love it so much exactly the way it is that I don't want to change it to try to figure out my own homemade version of "cream of" soups.  Since I make it less than one a year, I figure it's totally fine.

I make this recipe in my medium slow cooker because I'm way too impatient to bake it in the oven for an hour.  After work I want to walk in the door, throw on some water for the pasta, and eat dinner in about 15 minutes.   


All Recipes beef tips and noodles 

The original recipe calls for only one can of soup along with a packet of dry French onion soup mix, but the reviews say that it needs more liquid, so I increased it to 2 cans of condensed "cream of" soups and one can of french onion soup. 

To appease my family, I dial back on the mushroom-ness of this dish by leaving the sliced mushrooms really large so they can be picked out. 

Instead of buying sirloin tips (not sure I've even seen it available), I buy a 1-pound sirloin steak and cut it into bite-sized pieces.  You end up with the same thing in the end.

This can be gluten-free if you serve it on gluten-free noodles or mashed potatoes.

Ingredients lineup


  • 1 pound sirloin tips or 1 pound sirloin steak cut into bite-size pieces
  • 1 can condensed French onion soup
  • 1 can condensed cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can condensed cream of celery
  • 16 oz package of sliced mushrooms


Mix all of the ingredients in the slow cooker.  Don't add water, there will be enough moisture from the steak and mushrooms.   Cook on low for 8 hours. 

Raw ingredients

Cooked final dish on egg noodles.
I serve this on egg noodles since that's the only way I've ever had it.


Absolute comfort. [albeit mega-salty comfort!]

I totally love this dish even though it's completely unhealthy for you. Well, it could be way worse, it doesn't contain a stick of butter or things fried in lard. But for my usual diet, this is way out there. 

Husband Jeff picked out all of the mushrooms from his serving and put them in my bowl, which is fine by me since I would prefer to use twice as many mushrooms in the recipe and this way I get them.  He would really like it if I didn't use mushrooms at all, but whatever.  I'm the cook and that's how I want to make it.  He likes it otherwise though, I'm guessing it reminds him of the simple and comforting dishes his mom used to make. 

I think we tried to feed Sonny D some of the meat, but I don't think he even tried it.  Too bad for him, but fabulous for us since that means there are more leftovers.

The leftovers freezes nicely (without the noodles), but this time we proceeded to eat the leftovers for lunches. I swear I haven't been increasing the quantity of food I make, but lately it seems like all of our dinners have a ton of leftovers.  I love it since I go home for lunch and leftovers are a great way to have a quick lunch. 

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Monday, December 2, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of December 2

It's a nice quiet week after I had five days off for Thanksgiving. I'm not looking forward to going back to work after all this time off. I like not doing much and shopping a bit. :)

For Thanksgiving we went to Fugu restaurant, it was so good! As far as I understand, it's quite authentic Chinese.  They were one of the few restaurants open on Thanksgiving and I'm glad they were because we loved it.  Husband Jeff had the Singapore noodle, we shared the spicy string bean, I had the fish filet with scallion, and Sonny D had two egg rolls and rice and helped eat a lot of my fish.  We had a ton of food, enough left over for a decent lunch the next day.  I can't wait to go back! 

Sonny D requested cupcakes after seeing one in a book, so I'm aiming to make them this week.  I've been looking up recipes that make only six cupcakes so we don't have to figure out what to do with the rest of a big batch.

This is a week of dinners that I mentioned previously but never actually happened. 
  • Monday - I've had the recipe for black pepper-caramel shrimp picked out forever, so I think I'm finally going to make it.  Guess I should check the recipe to ensure I've still got all the ingredients!   We'll also have egg rolls left over from Saturday's Thanksgiving at my mom's and some steamed beets for Husband Jeff.
  • Tuesday - I'm really fond of breakfast for dinner, and I want sweet potato or banana pancakes, eggs, and roasted Brussels sprouts
  • Wednesday - I've got PiYo class at 6:45 (if I don't skip it like I did last week!). This is the second-to-last class for the semester, so I should probably go.  Dinner will be salads and homemade pepperoni pizza because I found a box of instant crust in the pantry, no idea where it came from.  I might make my side untouchable by adding mushrooms since Husband Jeff doesn't like them, it ensures I get to eat my half of the pizza rather than him stealing it. 
  • Thursday - Fajitas/kids' night at the NauTiGal, last time it didn't happen because Sonny D was ill the day we had planned to go.  And today is the day we can pick up our family photos from JC Penney's, I hope the look as good in real life as they did on the computer screen that day. Family and friends will see how they turned out when they get our New Year's card. 
  • Friday -Dinner will be almond-Parmesan crusted fish and one of the bags of corn I froze over the summer, can't wait for that! After dinner we're going out for our friend Natalie's birthday.
  • Saturday - We're going to brunch at the Green Owl Cafe with friends using a Groupon deal. I like their lunches and dinners, so I'm excited to try their breakfast items. We'll have tofu parmesan for dinner. 
  • Sunday - I'm planning that we'll have one of our slow cooker prep day dishes of Char Siu pork with veggies and rice or maybe I'll be even lazier with a can of soup and sandwiches

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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Pantry's Empty? Make Tuna Patties

I needed to make dinner for Sonny D and myself while Husband Jeff was away one night for a work meeting.  I figured I would make something that Sonny D likes that Husband Jeff wouldn't typically eat, canned tuna.  Husband Jeff eats it but doesn't prefer it. 


Green Light Bites simple tuna burgers, tuna-patty burgers, and LaLoosh pan seared tuna patties

I had these three tuna patty/burger recipes bookmarked so I combined them to make my version.  My blend was based on what I thought sounded good along with what Sonny D might eat, that means no obvious vegetables like bell peppers.  Plus I didn't have any bell peppers, carrots, scallions, etc. 


makes 4 patties
  • 2 5oz. cans of water-packed tuna, drained
  • Sprinkle onion powder
  • 1/2 clove garlic, minced (1/4 tsp from a jar)
  • 2 eggs
  • 40 grams of oats, ground up (or about 1/3 cup crushed crackers, any flavor)
  • juice of 1/2 lemon (1-2 tablespoons)
  • Sprinkle paprika (optional, add your own choice of spices)
  • black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon celery seed, optional
  • 1 tsp oil (olive, canola, etc.) or cooking spray


Mix all ingredients and shape into patties.
Sonny D mixing it up.

Heat a skillet to medium-high medium heat (medium-high was too hot on my stove) and add oil or cooking spray.  Wait until it's hot before putting the patties into the pan.

Shaped into patties.
Cook for 3-5 minutes per side depending on how brown and crispy you want it.
Patty on top of my salad greens. 


Boring canned tuna turns into something even better, and I'd say classier. 

I like canned tuna well enough but this recipe turned out way better than I thought it was going to be. I ate mine on top of salad greens with light Parmesan peppercorn ranch dressing and the last few cherry tomatoes. Sonny D had his plain on a plate.  He probably would have eaten the whole thing but I snuck a few bites since I was sad mine was already gone. I also tried it dipped in a little buffalo sauce and that was delicious as well. 

I'm totally going to make these again, and soon.  They would be perfect for lunch. I would consider making them smaller, four patties out of this made them quite large, 4-5 inches across. Smaller seems like it would be thinner and crispier and just generally more enjoyable.  But if you do make it into 4 patties (approx 1/2 can of tuna each) they're definitely big enough to fit nicely on a bun if you want to eat them as a sandwich. 

The only thing is that medium-high was too hot on my stove. Mine were quite dark (just shy of almost-black in spots) by the time 3 minutes as up on the first side. Next time I would switch it to medium heat to hopefully achieve a crispier outside and hotter inside.

I only made two of the four that first night since my skillet didn't have room to cook all of them at once, so I had leftover tuna patty mixture for later.  The next day for lunch I split a single serving of the mixture into two smaller patties, pan-fried them and put them on another salad in a repeat of the previous night's dinner.  So good!  Even at medium heat the skillet was too hot to really leave them in for 3 minutes on the second side.  Not that they were burned, but a little darker than you might like.  I'm not sure how to fix it other than cook for less time and put a lid on to ensure they get hot enough. 

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Monday, November 25, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of November 25

Woohoo, short holiday week! Mine is actually shorter because my company gives us Thanksgiving Thursday and Friday off, and I'm taking off Wednesday too since I've got vacation time I need to use up before the end of the year, so this week I'm only working Monday and Tuesday. Can't beat that!

And in other big news, Sonny D went poop on the potty on Sunday morning!  He declared he had to go potty, and when we got in there he said he had to poop, so we read a book and hung out for a couple minutes and then he pooped.   Totally awesome.  And then he wore underwear for the rest of the morning until it was nap time.  He used to go poop on the potty but then he stopped when he went to daycare last November. 

  • Monday - chicken fried rice with carrot, peas, cauliflower, onion, garlic, etc. I want to make English muffin bread and crustless pumpkin pie but I think I might only accomplish going grocery shopping with Sonny D instead. Maybe Husband Jeff will be in charge of making the bread and taking the pie out of the oven while we're out.
  • Tuesday - Happy birthday to my friend Renae! Husband Jeff and I are planning a date night, starting with a workout together.  We were talking about seeing a movie out, but it doesn't look like there's anything we want to see, so maybe we'll get a movie from Red Box or watch something on Netflix.  Maybe we'll grab some dinner out that Sonny D would never eat, that mainly means Mexican/spicy. 
  • Wednesday - I'm taking the day off since I've got time off I have to use before the end of the year.  I've got PiYo class again in the evening, so for a quick dinner I'm going to make a frozen entree of shrimp risotto.
  • Thursday - Happy Thanksgiving!  Since we don't have any family plans on actual Thanksgiving day, we're planning to go out to Fugu for a meal at some point.  It's supposed to be authentic Chinese food, not the American stuff you get everywhere else.  I wanted to go the non-standard route, I didn't want the typical restaurant buffet that tries to recreate a traditional Thanksgiving meal.  They've got a lot of spicy interesting dishes, so I think I'm going to order a variety so I can try more than one thing.  
  • Friday - This is another day off for us.  We're taking Sonny D for his 3-year-old checkup and they said he's going to get at least one shot.  Poor kid.  I think we'll reward him with a trip to the play area at the mall afterwards.  We've been going there a lot, I love it since it's free and he really enjoys playing there.  We need to take advantage of it now, before he only prefers the expensive places or he's too old for it.  For dinner we'll pull out some of the pesto I froze over the summer and have pesto pasta with chicken.  I keep forgetting, pesto is one of the few green things Sonny D will eat, along with avocado and green grapes. 
  • Saturday - My family is celebrating Thanksgiving today.  I'm hoping to visit our friends Mike & Emilie on the way since they live near my parents. For our meal we're having a partially traditional meal of turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, but we're also having ribs and making egg rolls. 
  • Sunday - The weekly northside winter market is happening in the morning, maybe we'll go since we haven't gone for the last couple of weeks. Later we're planning to go get a Christmas tree and have lunch with Husband Jeff's parents. For dinner we're having homemade chicken tikka masala that I froze, along with a couple pouches of Indian side dishes and rice. 

Wanna Chat?

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

Highly Recommended: Knife Skills Class

If you're around Madison, WI, I highly recommend the knife skills class at Wisconsin Cutlery and Kitchen Supply.  They sent out a recent email offering a class on January 14.  Husband Jeff and I went to the knife skills class together a couple years ago and totally loved it. Chef Paul Tsang is an awesome teacher and demonstrator, plus he's just funny and entertaining. 

Here are the details
Cost: $30 per person, which includes supplies
When: Tuesday, January 14, 7:00 - 9:00 pm
Where: 3236 B University Avenue, Madison, WI
RSVP: Call (608) 204-0560 to reserve your place

Whether you're looking for the perfect gift for someone, or want to practice your own skills with the experts in a fun, informal learning environment, this class is it. In addition to learning valuable techniques, which will increase your efficiency and safety in the kitchen, class participants always receive 10% off purchases made during class. Classes are limited to 16 people and always fill up quickly. 

If you're interested, call them immediately since the classes do fill up quickly.

If you're not in the Madison area, I recommend looking for a knife skills class anyway.  You might see them through your local schools & community recreation department, grocery store, kitchen supply store, specialty food store, cooking school, etc. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Slow Cooker Palooza - Prep Day

This past weekend myself and three lovely ladies got together for our Slow Cooker Palooza.  We prepped slow cooker meals and froze them for quick meals later.  Read more about the background in my first post about it

My Prep


I researched what healthy recipes would work well for freezing (slow cooker recipes and those that could easily convert to a slow cooker) and listed them out.  As a group we voted for the recipes we wanted and I made the final call on what specific ones we were going to make. Two recipes came from online and three from some healthy slow cooker books books.

Our final recipe selections
  • Classic beef stew with beef roast, onions, celery, and carrots.
  • Char siu pork roast of pork shoulder with soy sauce, hoisin sauce, ketchup, and garlic.  
  • Fajita chicken of chicken breasts, lime juice, salsa, peppers and onions.
  • Indian-style chicken with pureed spinach and lots of spices.
  • sweet potato-chipotle soup - chicken stock along with sweet potatoes and a little chipotle pepper for kick. 
I photocopied the recipes so each guest could have their own version to keep for later in case they wanted it for reference or to make the recipe again. I wrote up a summary sheet of all the recipes with instructions on how to cook them, suggestions for things to serve with the dishes, and tips on other great things to freeze.


  1. I wrote down all of the ingredients we needed for every recipe and attributed it to the recipe, like "2 onions for Fajita Chicken recipe (4 batches)".  
  2. And then I grouped and organized the ingredients by general section of the store -- Produce, Dry Goods, Meat and put all of the same product together so when you were buying onions you could see the amount and which recipes needed onions.  
  3. After that, I multiplied out the number of guests by the number of items to give a count of the total number needed, such as "8 onions for Fajita Chicken".

That Day

The four of us met at Costco to do our shopping. We split into pairs and divided up the grocery list.  We couldn't find several things, so after we were done shopping at Costco, we unpacked our haul at Heather's house where we were doing all the prep work and Natalie ran to the local grocery store to buy the remaining ingredients.
Huge piles of ingredients as we start to get ready.
While she was gone, we set up stations for each dish so we could allocate the ingredients and the printed recipe.  Each gal was responsible for prepping the ingredients for four sets of the recipe and putting it in the gallon freezer bag.
Martha and Heather trying out the chopper!  Slap-chop!
We each grabbed a glass of wine and set ourselves up with some snacks of artichoke-jalapeno dip, quinoa tabbouleh, and tortilla chips to munch on while we worked.
Natalie in action with the Char Sui Pork.
We chatted and listened to music and sang along.
Heather at the Fajita Chicken station with her glass of wine and Martha peeling sweet potatoes for soup.
And chopped, sliced, prepped and worked our way through the five recipes. 
Natalie leaning in close while I open the outrageously huge can of diced tomatoes.
 As we were winding down one of the girls totaled up all our bills and divided them up.  I ended up with a slightly higher bill since I bought a few temping items for myself at Costco, crispy seaweed for Sonny D, yogurt-covered granola balls for Sonny D's daycare snacks, and some fabulous snacking dark chocolate with pumpkin seeds and sea salt. 

What I learned

  • Don't offer so many recipe options from the start.  I wanted to allow for each family's food preferences and tastes, but we didn't get any consensus on which recipes to make so I had to take everybody's votes into account and just make an executive decision. 
  • Don't expect to get many ingredients at Costco.  They either didn't have the products we were looking for or it was in such a absurdly large amount that it wasn't worth buying in bulk. The only things it truly worked out for was the meat and the stock for soup. Next time I might send someone on a shopping trip ahead of time to get the meat at Costco, but otherwise we'll do most of our shopping at a regular grocery store.
  • It takes a lot longer to grocery shop than you might think!  I had no idea where anything was at Costco, so I had to rely on my partner Heather to direct us. 
  • Everything in general takes a lot longer than you think.  When I prep things in the kitchen it's not like an episode of Rachael Ray's "30-Minute Meals", but I think I'm pretty decent at getting things set up efficiently since I've been doing it so long and so often.  I need to remember that when you're making four batches of a recipe at once, it's going to take a lot longer, even if it's just chopping up a bunch of onions and dumping all the ingredients in a bag.  I had figured that we would meet up at 1:30 and be done around 4, but I think we didn't leave until around 6 or 6:30.
  • Since everything takes so long, maybe buy more prepped ingredients like pre-chopped onions and take advantage of time-saving equipment like food processors.  
  • I highly recommend gathering up as many 2-quart pitchers as you can get.  You put a gallon freezer bag in them so they stand upright as you fill them.  We only had the two I brought and could have used four at each station.  
  • Ensure your freezer isn't full when you start this.  I kind of forgot this bit of advice even though I had told the girls ahead of time.  Both of the freezers in our house were so super full that there was barely room to add these five bags.  Oy! 
I have no idea how much we spent, but I'm guessing we spent maybe around $6-7 per recipe.  Cost wasn't important to me though.  But they certainly weren't expensive recipes. 

I had a great time and at least one of the girls mentioned that she was having fun during our prep time.  Someone asked when we'll be doing another one of these, but I need to find out how this one worked out before we plan any more.So as we cook up our dishes, it'll be nice to get some feedback on how it turned out and the rest of us can make adjustments if needed. 

I'm planning to dole out my dishes about one per week until the end of the year. It's nice to know you've got tasty, easy meals waiting for you in the freezer. 

Wanna Chat?

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Friday, November 22, 2013

Sweet Potato Gratin

layer up close.
This dish originally comes from the cookbook "Casserole Crazy" that I borrowed from the library.  I've made the recipe a few times and totally love it, but it's a ton of work so I don't make it too often.  This recipe is the entire reason I bought a mandoline slicer, it makes it quicker and easier to cut the sweet potato into even slices.


Casserole Crazy cookbook sweet potato not-pie

I make this recipe MUCH lighter without sacrificing any flavor.  A huge amount of calories comes from the 3/4 cup of olive oil it calls for, which I tame way down to only a few teaspoons (1 teaspoon per layer).

My jalapeno was gross when I pulled it out even though it wasn't that old, so luckily I had a red bell pepper I had bought for roasting that I could pull into service here.  


  • 5-6 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 1 large white onion, chopped
  • 1 bell, habanero or jalapeño pepper, depending on how much spice you like
  • 6-8 ounces fresh goat cheese or feta
  • approx 3/4 cup olive oil way too much!  I use only 1 teaspoon per layer (4-5 total, which is less than 2 Tablespoons)
  • salt and black pepper


Once you've got all of your veggies prepped, this is pretty quick to pull together, but the getting all the sweet potatoes sliced and onion and pepper diced takes a long time. 

Ingredients lineup.
It took me about 10 minutes to slice up the sweet potatoes using my mandoline. I didn't even cut myself this time! 
massive pile of sliced sweet potatoes.

Now finally at this point you should preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  

In a 2 1/2 quart casserole dish (I used a 2 1/2 quart and a second slightly smaller one because it makes a lot), layer the sweet potato, onion, pepper, cheese, salt & pepper, and olive oil. Keep layering until you've gone completely to the top.  It will shrink a good amount as it cooks, so don't be afraid to layer it really high. 
layers in progress.
I try to finish with just a layer of sweet potatoes on top.  Cover with foil or lid and bake for an hour and a half (no need to adjust the cooking time if you've got two casserole dishes, it works out fine). 
finished dish.
Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes before digging in. That's just good advice for casseroles and pizzas so you don't burn your mouth by being too zealous. 


A heavenly mixture of salty-tangy, sweet, and richness all on your plate.  

I think this recipe would be good made into a vegetarian lasagna by adding layers of noodles and spinach. I was afraid to tinker with it this time because we were taking it to a friend's house for dinner.

I  was sooooo glad I split this into two casserole dishes.  We took one to our friend's house and kept the other one at home for later.  I wish I had paid more attention because our friends sent the leftovers home with us and they really deserved to keep them.

Once again, Sonny D didn't try this, but I didn't mind since I kind of wanted it all to myself!  

Wanna Chat?

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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Creamy Lemon Tortellini Spinach Bake

closeup of creamy pasta. 
This recipe is a family favorite for Husband Jeff and I.  I've made it several times over the years and love the entire concept.  You cook up packaged pasta, some bacon (this time I used ham), spinach, lemon and cheese to make a creamy casserole.  So good!  We're always happy it makes a lot so we can have leftovers. 


Our Best Bites tortellini spinach bake in creamy lemon sauce

One huge note - the Barilla pasta doesn't come in the 12oz size mentioned in the recipe, I think it's been pared down to only an 8 oz. package, but it's probably marked at the same price though!  I proceeded with it anyway.

For other substitutions, typically I use bacon in this, but this time I used a package of Budig ham lunch meat since I didn't have any of my pre-cooked bacon.  And I skipped the red pepper flakes since we were feeding this to a toddler.  I've never really noticed it to be spicy before, maybe I've always skipped it?  And I skipped the Parmesan cheese since I'm too lazy to get both mozzarella and parm out.  But I did add a can of quartered artichoke hearts because I like them.

You could easily make this without the meat for a vegetarian dish.  The meat is nice, but isn't required.

I use the zest and juice from a full lemon because I like a lot of lemon flavor.  Also, I have no idea what I would do with only a partial lemon.


  • 12 oz bag Barilla Cheese & Spinach Tortelini (find them in the dry pasta aisle)
  • 4 oz bacon or pancetta (about 4 strips bacon, or a package of Budig ham lunch meat)
  • 1 teaspoon canola oil, olive oil, or bacon drippings
  • 3 cloves garlic, pressed in garlic press or finely minced
  • 2 Tablespoons flour
  • 2 C milk -- I use almond milk
  • ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  • ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dry basil
  • 1 can quartered artichoke hearts
  • 1 medium lemon
  • 2 cups loosely packed fresh spinach, roughly chopped (I just use part of a bag until it looks right)
  • ¾ cup grated mozzarella cheese


Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  

Make the pasta according to the package.
boiling tortellini pasta.
Meanwhile, get out a large skillet with tall sides or a large pot because you're going to be putting all of the ingredients together in it at the end.

In that large cooking vessel, cook the bacon or ham over medium heat until browned.  I wouldn't have minded two packages of ham since it's so thin. Remove the meat from the pan.
Tiny shreds of ham. 
If you're using bacon and have any grease left over, reserve only about 1 teaspoon to cook the garlic and get rid of the rest.  Chop the meat.  If you aren't cooking fatty, delicious bacon or don't have any leftover grease, add 1 teaspoon of oil and saute the garlic for 1 minute.

After the garlic has cooked for 1 minute, add the flour and slowly incorporate the milk by adding only a tiny bit at a time.  Be sure to stir a lot to ensure there are no lumps now because they will be harder to attack later when there's more milk.  Add the salt, pepper, and basil and bring it to a simmer.

Then carefully zest/Microplane your lemon directly into your pan of cooking sauce to ensure you get every last tangy bit.  I was afraid I'd drop the lemon right into the sauce!  And then cut your lemon in half and juice it and pour into the sauce as well.  Continue to stir and simmer until thickened, about 2-3 more minutes.

When your pasta is done, drain it and add it to the pot along with the chopped spinach, chopped/diced meat, and shredded cheese. 
pasta, spinach, sauce, and cheese. 
Pour everything into an 8x8 or 9x9 baking dish and cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.  Remove foil and bake for an additional 5-10 minutes until everything is hot and bubbly. 
baked casserole.
Remove the baking dish from the oven and let cool for 10 minutes.


Creamy, cheesy, and comforting with a good punch of lemon.

Sonny D only ate the pasta part, but that's to be expected from a toddler.   Husband Jeff and I totally chowed down on this for a couple meals and loved every bite.

I think you could remove the lemon and easily add other veggies, like a California blend of cauliflower, carrots, and broccoli would be nice.  Or add swiss cheese and mushrooms if you can get your family to eat them.  Maybe roasted sweet potato chunks and Brussels sprouts with goat cheese or feta.  Or instead of bacon add a couple cans of tuna and add peas and asparagus. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A Tale of Two Teas

Recently I bought two herbal teas, one at Target because it was on sale and sounded interesting, the other at Trader Joe's because well, I love pretty much everything Trader Joe's sells. Here is a review of both teas.

Good Earth Sweet & Spicy Tea

Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea. 
I've got to be more patient when I
take photos so they're not blurry!
The first tea I bought is Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea, it was on sale for $2.51 at my local Target.  It was a brand I hadn't seen offered there before.  I figured it wasn't much of a gamble to spring a couple bucks for this tea.  The "sweet and spicy" description won me over.

This tea is definitely sweet, but without any sugar at all and no artificial sweeteners either.  According to the Good Earth website, the ingredients are rooibos, chicory root, natural flavor, rosehip, cinnamon, lemongrass, peppermint, chamomile, ginger root, anise seed, orange oil, orange peel.  I guess the sweetness comes from the orange oil and orange peel, or maybe it's the mysterious "natural flavor".  There must be a lot of cinnamon in it because it's also incredibly spicy. 

And this tea is super strong!  You don't want to let it steep for more than the minimum time of 3 minutes.  This is one tea where you can definitely use the tea bag at least two times without suffering through a disappointing mug of weak dishwater tea.  Yes, I'm a tightwad who uses a tea bag more than once, but usually only when it's a good strong tea. 

If you want this same tea, definitely pay attention to the packaging, there's a version with a black tea base that has caffeine.  As far as I can tell, almost all of this company's other tea blends all have actual tea, so they all have caffeine.  The only other one that is caffeine-free is the Citrus Kiss with a base of decaffeinated green tea.  Disappointing that they don't have more caffeine-free teas though because I really like the sound of their Cocoa Tango, it has black tea with cocoa and spicy chile peppers. 

I also saw this tea offered at my local grocery store, it was not on sale and the regular price was something like $4-5.  Although this tea is definitely that good and would be worth that price, don't pay that much if you can get it for almost half the price at Target.  

Trader Joe's Well Rested Tea

Trader Joe's Well Rested tea
I bought the second tea when I had the day off and was leisurely shopping my way through Trader Joe's, picking up all sorts of things even though our cupboards were already way too full.  Since I had already drank most of my way through the sweet & spicy tea, I was open to picking up a new interesting tea. This Trader Joe's Well Rested herbal tea cost $1.99.  The nighttime tea description sounded nice since that means there's no caffeine.  I also thought the blend of mild chamomile plus spearmint and peppermint would taste good.

Even though I don't like artificial mint found in most candies and gum, I like mint tea a lot.  I guess this must be mostly chamomile because this tea barely has any flavor, not really much mint in there at all.  It's quite mild and pretty boring.  I get  that it's meant for bedtime, but I expected it to at least have some interesting flavor even if it wasn't too perky.

I haven't had it at bedtime to know if it's good for getting you to sleep easier, but I know chamomile is meant to do that.  I should try a mug before bed some night to give it a shot.  


I highly recommend the Good Earth Sweet & Spicy tea for a very exciting tea to give your day some sparkle and interest without caffeine.  I'm already getting down to the last few tea bags and need to buy more. I love it! 

The Trader Joe's tea is ok, but I don't think I would recommend it.  It's not terrible, but to me it doesn't have many redeeming qualities. It's not so bad that I won't drink the rest, but it's not going to the be the first tea I reach for and I certainly won't buy more unless it's really helpful for encouraging sleep.


Do you have a caffeine-free tea you would recommend? I want something interesting! Let me hear it!  

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Sneaky Chef: Chocolate Zucchini Muffins

I purposely bought zucchini because I wanted to make muffins. Actually, I really wanted to make muffins AND mock-apple pie using zucchini, but I totally chickened out and only made the muffins. And I was too busy to make them right away while the zucchini was fresh, so I ended up shredding and freezing the zucchini so I could use it later.  Frozen zucchini is really watery, but I love having it around to unobtrusively throw into dishes.   

My ingredients lineup,
that's shredded zucchini in the bag in the back left.


Cooking Light Kathie's zucchini muffins

I originally had a different recipe selected, but after I read several unfavorable reviews, I switched to this one, which had lots of great reviews and a lower calorie count.  

Sonny D said he wanted chocolate muffins, so I added 2/3 cup cocoa powder based on this King Arthur Flour chocolate breakfast muffins recipe.  And since I was making them into chocolate muffins, I skipped the cinnamon-sugar topping.

I think I used more zucchini than the recipe called for, I just used everything I had in the bag.  


makes 12 muffins
  • 7.75 ounces whole-wheat flour 
  • 1/2 cup sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup cocoa powder
  • 1 1/3 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk milk 
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil 
  • 2 tablespoons honey 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg


Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

In a medium-size bowl mix the dry ingredients -- flour through cocoa powder.  In a large bowl mix the wet ingredients -- zucchini through the egg.  Then add the dry mixture to the wet mixture and gently stir only until just combined.  
Chocolate-y batter

Look closely for the green zucchini shreds hiding in there.
Divide the batter into a standard muffin pan and bake for 15 minutes.

beautiful chocolate muffin


Chocolatey goodness with surprise vegetables to nourish you. 

I ended up being the only one who ate these.  Sonny D was excited to try a muffin, but that excitement didn't last long and he didn't finish it.  Husband Jeff said there was too much cinnamon, that was all he could taste, so maybe that's what turned Sonny D off.  My cinnamon is quite strong (Penzey's Tung Hing), and I always forget that.  Maybe I should have also let the cocoa powder bloom a bit longer to hydrate and develop a more chocolatey flavor.

I was really hoping Sonny D would like these so I could kind of "trick" him into eating vegetables because he doesn't really like to eat them.  But it wasn't much of a "trick" since he helped me make these and saw me add the zucchini. He was still excited to eat the muffin, I think he doesn't connect the vegetables with the finished product.  It's the same as when we make a smoothie in the morning and he adds the spinach to the cup.  It's super green but he'll eat it. 

I took one of these to work each day for my morning snack and loved them.  I had to freeze the last few because I wasn't eating them fast enough before they would spoil. When I brought the frozen ones to work, they were perfectly defrosted in time to eat at 10 a.m. 

I liked the base recipe and would love to try it as written instead of adding cocoa.  And of course reduce the cinnamon. 

Wanna Chat?

I turned off the 'leave a comment' feature, so if you want to share what you're thinking about this or anything else, drop me an email at jhk1013 (at) It's so much more cozy than a comment, plus we can have a real conversation!