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, Food.com 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) gmail.com. 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 jalapeƱo 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) gmail.com. 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?

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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?

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of November 18

  • Monday- I want to go exercise with Husband Jeff, there's an exercise facility at the office park where he works.  For dinner we'll have leftover Glass Nickel pizza from Sonny D's third birthday on Sunday, salad, and egg rolls.
  • Tuesday - We'll still have loads of food to clear out of the fridge and freezer, so we'll have an open box of Trader Joe's roasted red pepper soup (Sonny D loves it!), leftover tots, and pan-fried or baked fish.
  • Wednesday - I've got PiYo class at 6:45 (only four classes left including this one!), so we'll have a quick dinner of salads with black pepper caramel shrimp or shrimp risotto.
  • Thursday - we've got a daycare event at 5:30, maybe we'll have dinner out afterwards. 
  • Friday - We had our slow cooker prep day last Saturday, maybe we'll pull out one of those meals for Friday.
  • Saturday - I've got core fusion exercise class in the morning but we don't have any other plans all day. There are several holiday craft fairs around town, maybe I'll go to one of those.  I was also thinking it would be great if we could go through Sonny D's toys to remove the things he doesn't play with or are too young for him. 
  • Sunday - We didn't go tot the farmers' market last week because we didn't need anything, but maybe we'll go this week. We're also talking about maybe having brunch at Samba Brazilian Grill

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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Crispy Green Curry Fish

I selected this recipe partially with my son Sonny D in mind since he likes fish, but I knew as I was making it that he wouldn't eat the spicy green sauce (he's suspicious of pretty much everything green unless it's grapes or avocado) so I left one of the pieces of fish plain for him to eat and he loved it.  

I must confess that I don't understand why it's called crispy fish when you end up submerging it in the sauce and cooking it for several minutes.  All of your hard work of pan-frying it earlier in the recipe seem pointless since it can't stay crispy after that long of a submersion, but it was a tasty way to make the fish.

I was a bit hesitant to pan fry the fish since it seems like so much oil and I always want to get away with cutting down/out the oil as much as possible, but for this recipe I figured I would try it out.  


The Wanderlust Kitchen crispy tilapia in curry sauce

I buy frozen swai filets at Target instead of tilapia because they're cheaper.  And I used green curry sauce instead of red because that's what I picked up on a recent visit to the Asian market.  But otherwise I don't know enough about curry dishes to modify them much, so this is pretty much followed to a T.  Plus it's a pretty simple set of ingredients even if the cooking method is a little more involved. 

I tasted my green curry sauce since this was my first time using it and I'm glad I did, it was really spicy!  I only used half of the amount.  From my research, apparently green curry paste is made with fresh chiles, which makes it hotter than a red curry paste made from dried chiles.  Ah.  I might need to pick up a jar of red curry as well.


  • 4 swai fillets
  • 2/3 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 2 Tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 (14oz) can light coconut milk
  • 2 Tablespoons red curry paste (1 Tablespoon green curry paste)
  • 1/4 c. water
  • 1 Tablespoon palm sugar (or brown sugar)
  • 2 Tablespoons fish sauce (next time I would use only 1 Tablespoon since it was so salty, but that could just be my brand)
  • Jasmine rice for serving


Dry your fish filets off with paper towel and cut into about thirds or quarters, depending on the size of your fish filets and how big you want your chunks.
defrosted fish and flour for dredging.
Blend the flour and black pepper in a shallow bowl (I use a pasta bowl, it's perfect for breading/dredging) and coat both sides of the fish in flour.  Set the dredged fish onto a plate. 
Husband Jeff caught my hands in action, with Sonny D wanting to help with his fork and measuring spoon.
Dredged fish on a plate, waiting to pan-fry.

Heat your oil over medium-high heat and when it's hot, add as much fish as will fit without crowding and cook for 1-2 minutes until golden brown.  You're just browning it right now, you'll finish cooking it later in the sauce.  
First side down into the oil.
Flip the fish and brown the other side for a couple minutes.  When it's done, move it to a plate and finish cooking the rest of the fish in the same manner. 

Second side down, check out that golden-brown goodness!
When all the fish is browned, remove any extra oil from the pan and add a small amount of coconut milk and the curry paste and stir well to ensure all of the paste gets dissolved.  Then add the rest of the coconut milk, water, sugar, and fish sauce.  Stir to fully blend.
Green curry sauce. 
Then add the fish filets and simmer over low heat for 10-12 minutes. 

Fish boiling away in the curry sauce.
To serve, put some rice on your plate, add a piece of fish on top, and spoon on some sauce. 

fish with curry sauce and brown rice.
I wish I had been cooking this for myself because I would have sauteed a bunch of spinach and mushrooms and added them to the sauce, but Husband Jeff is anti-mushroom.  As it was, I only had spinach, which I sauteed and put on my plate. 
check out the spinach. 


Spicy and different than my normal curries.  

I normally make a vegetarian curry or chicken curry, so I really liked how this was different by using  fish.   I could have actually used more coconut flavor, would be nice to try to incorporate unsweetened flake coconut somehow, maybe cooked into the rice. I've tried cooking rice with coconut milk, but it doesn't really add much flavor. 

The only drawback was this was too salty, I think next time I would reduce the amount of fish sauce to be at least half or even less.
I loved the cooking method of dredging the fish in flour and then pan-frying it.  I'm totally going to do that again for us.  I picked up some walleye at the winter market with that in mind, I can't wait to try it!  Of course that won't end by cooking in sauce, so I'll have to look up how long to cook the fish to ensure it's done.     

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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Mexican Beef over Polenta

This is a Weight Watchers recipe but you wouldn't know it.  It doesn't feel like a diet recipe at all.


Weight Watchers Mexican beef over polenta

I used one of my batches of pre-cooked frozen ground beef, added a can of black beans, added garlic, skipped the Kalamata olives, used a tube of pre-cooked polenta from Trader Joe's, added a little salsa cream cheese and chicken stock paste to flavor the polenta.

This would be dairy-free if you use a vegan cheese or leave out the cheese altogether.  And it's gluten-free.   To make it vegetarian, you could use a vegetarian crumbles, add some roasted veggies  instead of the meat, or just use beans.


makes 6 servings
  • 1 pound(s) 93% lean ground beef 
  • 1/2 onion, chopped  
  • 2 cloves minced garlic 
  • 1 can Mexicorn (ours was a chipotle blend)
  • 14 oz canned diced tomatoes with green chiles (Rotel)
  • 1Tablespoon chipotle in adobo
  • 14 oz can black beans, drained  
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin   
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper   
  • 1 tube (18 oz) pre-cooked polenta
  • 2 Tablespoons salsa cream cheese (optional, or light plain, it adds a creamy richness)
  • 1/2 teaspoon chicken stock paste (optional, just a good way to flavor polenta)
  • 1/2 cup water to thin out polenta
  • 1/3 cup fat free salsa   (I used canned salsa casera)
  • 1/3 cup shredded reduced-fat Mexican-style cheese


If you can remember to do it, defrost the frozen ground beef ahead of time.  I throw the gallon bag in the fridge the night before and it's defrosted by dinner the next day. 

If your ground beef isn't cooked, cook it until browned and add the chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute.  Add the corn, tomatoes, black beans, and cumin.

Open the tube of polenta, put it in a medium pan and heat it over medium heat until softened. Add the cream cheese and chicken stock paste.  If you're not adding those things, add a couple tablespoons of water to thin it out enough to spread. 

When all the ingredients are warm, put the polenta mixture in the bottom of a pie plate or 8x8 pan and top with the meat mixture.  Add cheese.  You could put under the broiler for a couple minutes to melt the cheese or bake for about 5-10 minutes at 350 degrees.  Top with salsa.


You'd call me a liar if I said this was a light recipe, but it totally is! 

This was so good!  Husband Jeff and I liked this a lot.  We both really like Mexican food.  Sonny D isn't a fan, I don't think he even tasted it.  I was so glad we had leftovers for lunches later in the week.  The recipe makes 6 servings and I was afraid they would be tiny, but they were actually really good sized and more than enough for a lunch.

I would totally make this recipe again, it was quick and easy to throw together, especially with the tube of ready-to-eat organic polenta from Trader Joe's.  I was afraid it would be a little bland since it didn't use a packet of taco seasoning, but it was great after adding a little chili powder.   

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Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Smashed and Roasted Potatoes

I'm not really a fan of standard white potatoes (love sweet potatoes though).  Sometimes potatoes are ok, like mashed potatoes and gravy are pretty good and sometimes fast food salty-and-greasy french fries can tempt me, but otherwise potatoes don't thrill me much.  But this recipe for roasted potatoes got me interested.  I liked the concept of boiling some small potatoes, smashing 'em, and then baking 'em.  I figured let's try it, so I bought potatoes from the farmers' market and gave it a shot.


Shrinking Kitchen's lightened up crash potatoes
This is a lightened version of the Pioneer Woman's recipe for crash potatoes. The Pioneer Woman isn't known for having light recipes, so I probably would have passed this recipe by on her website.

I used smaller new potatoes while the original recipe used more of a full-size potato.  


Wash your potatoes under running water and rub them with your hands to get any dirt off.

Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover them with water and bring them to a boil.  Cook until they are tender.

When the potatoes finish, drain them and heat your oven to 450 degrees.

boiled potatoes on the baking sheet.
Spray a rimmed baking sheet with cooking spray, pour out the potatoes onto the sheet and smash them.  I don't actually remember what I smashed them with, maybe a glass? A large fork?
smashed potatoes, sprayed with olive oil spray.
Spray them with a little more cooking spray (I use Trader Joe's olive oil or coconut oil) and sprinkle with herbs, spices, and salt and pepper.  I used salt and pepper, Penzey's Mural of Flavor, and seasoned salt.
Seasoned smashed potatoes, ready to go in the oven.
Bake for 20-25 minutes.

golden brown smashed potatoes.


Good but not great.  Could have used more of everything.  

I should have smashed them more, we liked the parts that were thinner and crispier, otherwise they were like a boring baked potato. 

They also could have used more salt and seasoning.  Maybe I should have boiled them with some herbs or garlic to infuse them?   More salt while boiling?  I'm always scared about the amount of salt I use, I tend to be really restrained because I know I like a lot more salt than some people, so I don't want to over-do it, but instead I under-do it. More salt on them once they were smashed would have been good, too.

I don't recall seeing Sonny D eat any of these, but Husband Jeff and I liked them well enough.  Definitely try to eat them all the first time around because I don't think they reheat very well.  But we didn't really try to reheat them since we ate them in the back of the car while stopped at a gas station on our way driving up to Minneapolis.  Not much tastes good in that situation. 

To make this not dairy-free, you could throw some shredded cheese on at the end and pop them back in the oven for a few more minutes.  Or make a sauce of sour cream and a packet of ranch dressing, kind of like a hot potato salad.  Yum!  Another version would be to smash them out nice and thin and treat them like nachos by adding ground beef taco meat, nacho cheese sauce, salsa, onion, pickled jalapenos, etc.  Man, kinda sad when I come up with these better ideas after the fact. 

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Monday, November 11, 2013

Weekly Menu: Week of November 11

  • Monday - I'm making my mom's chicken rice soup (quite similar to this recipe but with lots of black pepper) and we'll have salads and baba ghanoush with crackers.  I'm going to roast vegetables for later in the week.  I'm going to roast Brussels sprouts, carrots, beets (in a separate pan for Husband Jeff), leek, cauliflower, portabello mushrooms (in a separate pan for only me), eggplant, sweet potato, and fennel. 
  • Tuesday - Husband Jeff and I are planning to go out to a movie and his parents are taking care of Sonny D.  Maybe we'll go to Qdoba for dinner after the movie!
  • Wednesday - Yet a other PiYo class (only four more left after this one) and I want to try making pepperoni pizza rice (it's what you think, rice with pizza ingredients) with roasted veggies and salads.
  • Thursday - We're talking about having fajitas at Nau-Ti-Gal (a waterfront restaurant, not a strip club as the name might seem to suggest).  I recently received one of their recent promotional emails and kids eat free on Thursdays and they've got a chicken or steak fajita special that night, so we figured we would try it out. 
  • Friday - I'm taking the day off from work because I have time off that I need to use before the end of the year.  My mom and I are trying to come up with some plans for getting together for the day.  Husband Jeff might go out for a Dads' Night Out in the evening so I'm trying to decide what I should make for Sonny D and myself for dinner.  Right now I'm thinking about penne pasta with tuna and spicy mustard, tuna quesadillas, or pan-fried fish.  Seems obvious that Sonny D likes fish when it's part of every meal I'm listing for the day.
  • Saturday - The weekends are pretty busy and typically we end up changing plans, so I'm getting to the point where I don't want to plan much.  The afternoon is my slow cooker prep day with my friends, so I'll probably be tired of making food by that point, so I'm only planning a can of soup with bagels and potato crowns (like tater tots). 
  • Sunday - Today is Sonny D's third birthday and we're having family over for dinner of Hmong egg rolls (Sonny D's favorite food), pizza, and chocolate cake (his choice).  Now I've got to look up a recipe for chocolate cake. 

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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Breakfast Variety: Cornmeal Pancakes

I'm going to be right up front with you about this recipe for cornmeal pancakes, they didn't turn out very good.  I think it was because my cornmeal was coarse ground, not fine ground.  So the pancakes were gritty and not very appealing.  I wish I had thought to check our cornmeal beforehand because I wouldn't have tried this recipe with it and would have made regular pancakes instead. 


Slender Kitchen Polenta Berry Pancakes

I made ours without berries since we didn't have any and I'm not the hugest berry fan. I was glad because I had buttermilk in the freezer, that's something I highly recommend freezing if you have extras from making a recipe.

I used two full eggs because I hate using only part of an egg and then either needing to find a use for it or throwing it away.


  • 3/4 cup polenta (corn meal)
  • 3/4 cup flour
  • 3/4 Tablespoon sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Pinch of salt
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 Tablespoon Greek yogurt
  • 1 Tablespoon vegetable oil


Mix the dry ingredients (polenta through salt) in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, blend the wet ingredients (buttermilk through oil).  Add the dry to the wet and mix only until just combined.

Heat a griddle or large skillet over medium heat and spray with cooking spray or grease with butter if you're into that.  Pour out 1/4 cup measurements of batter and cook until the bubbles stay open. Flip and finish cooking the other side.

Pancake batter on the griddle.


Gritty and not very good.  

Sonny D is normally a fan of pancakes, but he only had one or two bites of these.  It was understandable, they were pretty gritty and just not enjoyable.  Husband Jeff commented that the later pancakes were better, probably because the cornmeal had time to hydrate. The only good thing about how these turned out was since they weren't very good, I didn't eat much.  Normally it's pretty easy to eat a lot of pancakes and not realize it. 

We had some left over, so we'll see if they're better after being frozen. If they're not, they were bad enough that I wouldn't feel bad throwing them away.  I would like to try this recipe again once I get fine-grain cornmeal because I've had cornmeal pancakes and thought they were great. 

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Monday, November 4, 2013

Menu Plan: Week of November 4

This week's menu plan was hurriedly thrown together on late Sunday evening because I've been busy with work and then we were away on Sunday evening having dinner with friends.
  • Monday - salads with slow cooker beef tips and noodles
  • Tuesday - salads with lasagna soup
  • Wednesday - leftover soup and roasted veggies I bought at the farmers' market.
  • Thursday - frozen homemade pancakes and scrambled eggs
  • Friday - soup and bagels
  • Saturday - Our Breakfast Club group (our family plus our friends Chuck and John) is getting together for breakfast at the Prairie Diner. For dinner maybe we'll have black pepper caramel shrimp with rice.
  • Sunday - My best friend and I are celebrating our birthdays, we're going to Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the Packer game together. 

Wanna Chat?

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