Friday, December 20, 2013

2013 Christmas Playlist

Last year, I shared with you one of my favorite (and longest running) holiday traditions - an annual music CD.  With the advent of iPods and music-playing phones, it has morphed into more of a playlist, but it's still just as fun.  It's also interesting to see how my musical tastes have varied over the years.  We recently attended A Madison Symphony Christmas and a few of this year's songs were those we heard played at the event.  I always try to include new and modern songs along with standard, traditional favorites.  It's a nice mix to have playing while you bake cookies or when opening gifts.

And so I give you my 2013 Christmas music playlist:
  1. Angels We Have Heard On High - For King & Country
  2. Little Drummer Boy - Pentatonix
  3. Carol of the Bells/God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - The Piano Guys
  4. He Is Born - Bradley Joseph
  5. Star of Bethlehem - John Williams (from Home Alone)
  6. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - Jolene Kearns
  7. Candy Cane Lane - Point Of Grace
  8. Here We Come A-Caroling - Ray Conniff Singers
  9. Santa Claus Got Stuck In My Chimney - Ella Fitzgerald
  10. Sleigh Ride - Freddy Martin & His Orchestra
  11. Lo, How A Rose E'er Blooming - The Cathedral Singers
  12. O Come All Ye Faithful - Jeremy Camp
  13. All Is Well - Michael W. Smith
  14. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen - Jewel
  15. Christmas Is Coming - Knightsong
  16. Joy To The World - Crouch End Festival Chorus
  17. Pachabel Meets U2 - Jon Schmidt
  18. Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas - Perry Como with The Ray Charles Singers
  19. Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town - Bing Crosby & The Andrews Sisters
  20. All I Want For Christmas (Is My Two Front Teeth) - Spike Jones & His City Slickers
  21. Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy (from The Nutcracker) - Quartetto Gelato
  22. Into The Silent Night - For King & Country
  23. Christmas Day - Michael W. Smith
Wishing you and yours the very best this holiday and throughout 2014!

Monday, November 4, 2013

Cheesy Egg and Hashbrown Cups

If you know me at all, you know I have a sweet tooth.  Like, bad.  Ice cream, cookies, cupcakes, chocolate.  I'm up for it all!  And because of that, I have to watch what I eat for meals and really contain my calories.

That's where these babies come in.  Cheesy Egg and Hashbrown Cups.  At around 150 calories each, they're great for my "short workout" (i.e., 30 minutes) days, when I don't earn a lot of extra calories.  Paired with a Greek yogurt, they have lots of protein to keep me going until my next meal.  I bake up a batch and can reheat and eat them all week long.

On another note, I usually try to buy a dozen farm-fresh eggs from a friend, but in a pinch, I'll get cage-free eggs from the store.  I ran out midway through this batch of cups, so some are farm-fresh and some are store bought.  Check out the color's quite noticable!

Cheesy Egg and Hashbrown Cups
Adapted from
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Serves 6

1/2 lb. (8 oz.) frozen hash browns
2 Tbsp. light butter, melted
1/2 c. 2% colby jack or cheddar cheese, shredded
1 tsp. Penzey's 4S seasoned salt
6 Tbsp. (or 6 slices, cooked) crumbled bacon
6 large cage-free eggs

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray jumbo muffin tin (with 6 cups) generously with cooking spray. In a large bowl, combine hash browns, melted light butter, cheese, seasoned salt, and bacon. Stir with a silicone spatula until mixed well. Divide mixture evenly among the 6 cups of the muffin tin. Bake for 15-20 minutes until crispy and golden brown. Remove from oven. Crack one egg into each muffin tin. Return to oven and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, depending upon how solid you like your egg yolks. Remove from muffin tins and season with salt and pepper, as desired. Serve or cover and refrigerate.

Calories:  150 calories (approximately, depending on brands and/or specific varieties of ingredients)

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Chicken & Black Bean Enchilada Casserole

A few years ago when the hubs and I decided to drop the pounds we'd packed on, I had to revamp how I cooked.  Cutting back to 1200 to 1500 calories a day from the 2500 to 3000 (that realization was shocking!) we had been eating was tough.  Hardly ANY of my old recipes fit the bill.  One of the resources I turned to for new ideas was Hungry Girl.  Her recipes feature easy-to-find ingredients and are almost always super simple to throw together.  This is one of the recipes I discovered that we still continue to enjoy, albeit with my revisions.  It's spicy, creamy and definitely satisfies a craving for Mexican comfort food!

Chicken and Black Bean Enchilada Casserole
Adapted from Hungry Girl
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1 - 9.75 oz. can 98% fat-free chunk white chicken breast in water, drained and flaked
1 - 10.75 oz. can 98% fat-free cream of celery condensed soup
1 - 15 oz. can reduced sodium black beans, rinsed and drained
2/3 cup frozen corn
1/2 cup salsa
1 tsp. Penzey's Arizona Dreaming seasoning blend*
1/2 tsp. Penzey's Adobo seasoning*
6 6-inch corn tortillas
1 cup 2% colby-jack cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large bowl, combine chicken, soup, black beans, corn, salsa, and seasoning (* may substitute your favorite Mexican-style salt-free seasoning blend). Mix well and set aside. Spray an 8x8 baking dish with non-stick cooking spray. Break the corn tortillas into pieces about the size of a tortilla chip. Lay half the tortilla pieces over the bottom of the baking dish. Evenly layer half of the chicken mixture over the tortilla pieces. Sprinkle with half of the cheese. Lay remaining tortilla pieces over the cheese. Top with the rest of the chicken mixture and the remaining cheese. Bake for 35 minutes or until crisp and bubbly. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken.

Serves: 4
Calories:  353

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Chinese Pork and Noodle Stir Fry

I had a revelation last week.  I realized that, although the name of my blog is "Living Lux But Lighter," most of my recipes are...well...not so light.  More like indulgent!  So rather than change my blog name, I thought it might actually be a good idea to include a few "lighter" recipes.  Brilliant, eh?  I mean, I don't sit around eating Decadent Caramel Brownies all day!  If only.

So, enjoy with me a new recipe we tried just last week.  It's adapted from Betty Crocker The 300 Calorie Cook Book, one of the purchases I made a few years ago when hubby and I decided to drop some pounds.  We've been gravitating back to lower calorie meals of late, because if one wants to enjoy a salty snack or adult beverage in the evening, one needs to not eat all of one's available calories at dinner!

Chinese Pork and Noodle Stir Fry
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1 - 8 oz. can pineapple chunks in juice, drained (juice reserved)
1 Tablespoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon Splenda brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1/2 lb. pork tenderloin, cut into 1/4 inch slices
4 oz. uncooked Ronzoni Smart Taste spaghetti
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/4 cup fat-free chicken broth
1 medium bell pepper (any color), chopped
4 stalks celery, chopped
4 oz. fresh sugar snap peas, strings removed, cut in half
8 oz. bag mung bean sprouts
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

In a medium glass bowl, mix reserved pineapple juice, soy sauce, Splenda brown sugar, garlic and cornstarch.  Add pork.  Cover and marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour but no longer than four hours.  Cook and drain the pasta as directed on package.  In a large skillet or wok, heat sesame oil over medium-high heat.  Add pork and marinade, stir-fry 2 minutes.  Remove pork from skillet and add broth, bell pepper and celery; cook 6 minutes, stirring frequently.  Add peas, pineapple, pasta and bean sprouts.  Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Return pork to skillet.  Cook and stir about 1 minute until sauce is thickened.  Garnish with red pepper flakes, if desired, and black pepper.  Serve.

Replace mung bean sprouts, bell pepper, celery, and/or sugar snap peas with any combination of other vegetables, such as bok choy, onion, water chestnuts, broccoli, or baby corn.  This will affect calorie count.

Serves: 4
Calories:  265

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Nutella-Swirled Peanut Butter Chip Blondies

My boy Bubba is a Nutella fiend.  He asks me for spoonfuls (sorry, buddy, request denied).  All summer I made him Nutella-Stuffed Cinnamon Sugar Muffins for breakfast.  Then he wanted to try something different, so recently I've been making him Skinny Double Chocolate Chip Muffins that I "frost" with Nutella.  Funny, because I only discovered the stuff in the last couple of years.  And now we go through a lot of Nutella.  We buy the mega-jar at Sam's Club!

When I saw a recipe for these Nutella-Swirled Peanut Butter Chip Blondies from one of my favorite bloggers, Averie Sunshine, I figured they would be a big hit with my little man.  I was right.  Since Averie published her recipe in August, I've made three batches!

The original recipe calls for peanut butter chips and Nutella, but I've also tried a semi-sweet chocolate chip/Nutella combination.  Surprisingly, Bubba prefers the peanut butter chip version (he's usually ALL ABOUT chocolate).  I think these bars would also be tasty with white baking chips and Nutella or white baking chips and peanut butter instead of Nutella.  I'll have to bake another batch and test my theory!

For the recipe, visit!


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream with Peanut Butter Ripple

So I haven't blogged for a while.  Bad, bad me.  I have lots to blog about, I just can't seem to find the time to sit down and do it.  But since Bubba has been laid up for a week recouperating from a tonsillectomy and we've been trapped at home, I've been able to catch up on a few projects.  A post-Christmas winter wreath that's been sitting on my craft table for MONTHS is almost done, and I finally finished compiling all my photos from the first quarter of 2013 into a Shutterfly album.  Now if only I could get caught up on my checkbook...

It hasn't been a horribly hot summer here, but it is generally too warm to want to add extra heat to the house by turning on the oven.  So instead of baking, I make ice cream.  And the best recipes for ice cream, by far, come from Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home.  I've blogged another ice cream recipe from her before.  The ice cream turns out so wonderfully creamy and fudgey, almost like frozen brownie dough.  It's super fantastic, and since it doesn't contain eggs, there are no worries about salmonella or curdled cream.  Try it...I think you'll like it!

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream with Peanut Butter Ripple
Adapted from Jeni Britton Bauer and Averie Sunshine
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Honey Roasted Peanut Butter
8 oz. honey-roasted peanuts
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Place honey-roasted peanuts in a food processor.  Process until smooth, generally about 5 minutes (read Averie's post here for further information).  Once the peanut butter is smooth, add vanilla and continue processing until well-combined.  Transfer the peanut butter to a food-safe, covered container and refrigerate for later use.

Dark Chocolate Ice Cream
1 cup whole milk, divided
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate (I used semi-sweet chocolate chips)
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup evaporated milk
2/3 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/3 cup Hershey's Special Dark cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt

Mix 2 tablespoons of the milk with the cornstarch in a small bowl to create a slurry and set aside.  Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl and set aside.  Fill a third large bowl with ice and water and set aside.  Combine the remaining milk, cream, evaporated milk, granulated sugar and corn syrup in a medium-size saucepan and bring to a rolling boil over medium-high heat.  Add the cocoa, whisking to incorporate, and boil for 4 minutes.  Remove from the heat and whisk in the cornstarch slurry.  Bring the mixture back to a boil over medium-high heat and cook, stirring with a spatula, until it is slightly thickened, about 1 minute.  Remove from the heat.  Gradually pour the hot milk mixture onto the chocolate.  Add salt and whisk until the chocolate has melted and the ingredients are well-blended.  Pour the liquid into a 1-gallon Ziploc freezer bag and seal.  Submerge the bag in the ice bath you created earlier.  Let stand about 30 minutes or until cold.  Pour the ice cream base into the frozen canister of an ice cream maker and process according to the manufacturer's instructions, about 25 minutes.  When the ice cream has finished mixing, remove the peanut butter from the refrigerator and spoon 1-2 tablespoons into the bottom of a 2 quart freezer-safe storage container.  Pour some of the ice cream blend on top of the peanut butter.  Alternate peanut butter and ice cream until the container is full.  Press a sheet of parchment directly against the surface of ice cream and seal with an airtight lid.  Freeze until firm, about 4 hours.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

The Lucky Monk

Last week we had the most amazing meal.  Mind you, it was completely unhealthy.  But so utterly yummy.

My hubby had to make a quick trip into O'Hare for work, so Bubba and I tagged along.  And any time we get the chance to have a meal out of town, I'm all over figuring out exactly where to go, researching menus and available cuisines.  Thank goodness for the Internet.

Using TripAdvisor, to which I've actually submitted several reviews, I discovered The Lucky Monk.  In the northwest Chicago suburb of South Barrington, it was located right near where we were planning to stay.  It's a unique, local joint (one of our criteria when dining), serving pub-style meals like burgers, pizza, and fish and chips, as well as self-brewed beers (Hubby enjoyed the Solitude Stout).  There were at least five things I could have ordered from their menu and been completely stuffed by.
When I saw Pickle Fries on the menu, I was immediately thrilled.  I've been on a quest for good pickle fries for I don't know how long.  Luckily, Hubby was agreeable to ordering them as an appetizer so we could share.  Perfectly crispy and served with a spicy ranch dressing, I could have eaten an entire order by myself.  Certainly the best pickle fries I've come across yet.

The Lucky Monk is known for their burgers, and rightfully so.  Our main course was a Grilled Cheese Burger, a half-pound USDA Prime Beef burger between two bacon-stuffed grilled cheese sandwiches.  It's served with their hand-cut fries, but we could have substituted Wisconsin cheese curds if we wanted (cholesterol much?).  I die.  Simply incredible.  And easily shared.  Wisely so.

Then, because we hadn't consumed enough calories yet, we decided to go all out and order dessert.  Yes, we did.  We chose the Holy Trio of Mason Jar Sweets and picked Warm Apple Crisp, Peanut Butter Brownie, and Vanilla Raspberry Cheesecake.  Hubby was enamored with the creamy deliciousness of the Peanut Butter Brownie (no shock there), but surprisingly, my favorite was the Warm Apple Crisp.  I'm usually not big on baked apples, but this was perfectly spiced and the apples weren't mushy at all.  Loved!!  I even bought Mason jars at Target later that evening so I could attempt this fantastic-ness myself at home.  Because I don't eat enough dessert already.

Needless to say, through no fault of The Lucky Monk and purely because of my sin of gluttony, I felt a bit ill later that night.  Too.  Much.  Food.  Eek.  Can you imagine if we hadn't split everything?!

I can't wait to go back and try their Warm Pretzel Trio.  And Crispy Fish Tacos.  And Cookie Skillet.  Shared, of course...

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Chocolate-Covered Cookie Dough Bites

So remember my goal for 2013?  The blogging every week goal?  Yeah, well, that hasn't turned out like I hoped (i.e., my first post for April is on the LAST day of the month!).  Life happens though.  Like your kid getting sick (again) while your husband is away on business, which can really throw a wrench in your plans.  Catching said sickness from kid and feeling not so hot is a pretty big wrench, too.  Among other things.

So I hope this recipe will make up for my absence.  Now that it's (finally) warming up, it's a great no-bake way to fill your cookie craving.  And I'm trying out Ziplist for the printer-friendly copies of this recipe.  I hope I like it.  And I hope you do, too!

Chocolate-Covered Cookie Dough Bites
Adapted from Picky Palate
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1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter, room temperature or softer (but not melted)
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup mini chocolate chips
1 24-oz. package of chocolate Almond Bark (or equivalent amount of preferred variety of chocolate chips)

Place butter and sugars in a large bowl.  Using an electric or stand mixer, beat on high for 2-3 minutes, until creamy. Add vanilla and mix until well combined.  Add flour, salt, and chocolate chips and mix.  The dough will be quite crumbly.  Line a jelly roll pan with parchment paper.  Use a small cookie scoop to collect the dough.  Place the dough in the palm of your hand and form it into a ball.  Because it is crumbly, you probably won't have luck rolling it into a ball, which is why squeezing seems to work better.  Place the dough ball on the parchment-lined pan and repeat.  The recipe makes 26-28 dough balls.  Place the jelly roll pan in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

While the dough balls are in the freezer, melt the chocolate using a double boiler or equivalent, stirring as necessary until smooth.  Avoid burning or scorching.  Remove the chocolate from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature.  Again, stir occasionally as necessary to keep it from setting up.

Remove the dough balls from the freezer.  Dunk the dough bites in the chocolate, one by one, until evenly coated.  Remove and place back on the parchment-lined jelly roll sheet.  Repeat until all the bites are coated.  Place the pan back into the freezer for an additional 30 minutes to solidify the chocolate.

Store the bites in a covered container in the refrigerator.  Remove prior to serving and allow to come to room temperature.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Easter Basket Ideas for a Tween Boy

I always go overboard at Easter when it comes to baskets.  I mean, really overboard.  Not in spending too much money, because the items are just little, essentially stocking stuffers.  But to the point that stuff does not fit into the basket.  At all.  I have to prop up all the extras around the basket.  And I always vow to control myself the next year.  I did a little better this time, partly because I bought Bubba a bigger basket last year.  But it's mostly because Bubba is at that difficult stage.  Not difficult in attitude (yet!), but difficult to buy for.  No longer a little kid (he does still love his stuffed animals), but not entirely a big kid either (not looking forward to THAT day!).  Also difficult in that I'm not exactly sure if he believes in the "Easter Bunny" anymore.  Not that it will matter though. He'll get an Easter basket even when he doesn't believe.  I didn't believe in the bunny when I was 17, but I sure looked forward to that basket!

So even though I tend to buy too many basket stuffers on my own, I still felt like I needed a few ideas.  The seasonal section at Target wasn't much help; the items there are for really little kids or girly or just not right for my boy.  Googling "tween boy Easter basket" didn't help much either.  There were suggestions for teens (who are clearly not believers in the bunny anymore, making gift cards a big addition) or entire baskets available for purchase from Amazon, which really isn't my thing.  I finally decided to use some of the teen suggestions and added some of my own ideas, based on what I know E likes.  And I went overboard.  Again.  But I think it's fun and I hope he likes it.  It's exciting to see his face when he finds the basket (and all the accompanying overflow of loot) on Easter morning!  

If you're looking for a few last-minute Easter basket ideas for your tween boy, this is what I came up with: 
Video Games - E likes video games (what tween doesn't), so when I found a used Nintendo Pirates of the Caribbean 3DS game online for a reasonable price, I built around that.  He needed a new DS car charger (check) and ear buds (check).  Hubby picked up some Angry Birds gummy candy and a Mario Pez-type dispenser to toss in as well.
Books - My boy loves the Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, so I included a hardcover copy of the first in the series.  He also likes graphic novels.  I found the Action Bible at Sam's Club, which was perfect, considering it is Easter (after all!).
Art - Ever since he used the Biggie Perler Beads at vacation Bible school a few summers ago, Bubba has been wanting to have some in his art stash to work with.  I also bought a mechanical pencil, a doodle pad, and some water color pencils for my little artist.
Summer Toys - I always used to buy bubbles, sidewalk chalk, and sandbox items for his Easter basket, but I think he's probably outgrown those.  He needs sunglasses that don't have Mickey Mouse or Thomas on them, so those seemed a natural choice!  We have always included a nice kite and I continued that tradition with a fighter plane-style model this year.
Silly Stuff - What 9-year-old boy doesn't love a whoopee cushion?  And a Superman bobblehead?  And glow-in-the-dark bracelets, for that matter?!
Traditions - Candy, of course!  I know he loves gum and KitKats.  Cadbury Eggs.  Peeps.  Life Saver Gummies.  A chocolate bunny.  And I was really excited to find a chocolate CROSS at Walmart (although now I don't know if I feel right about eating the cross...but that's another discussion entirely).  I also put a little cash in a "golden" egg.  Because money burns a hole in my boy's pocket.  I'm sure I'll get it back pretty quick when he decides to buy some Amazon downloads with it!  Oh, and a fun new toothbrush with a new kind of toothpaste.  E hates trying new toothpaste, so maybe if the bunny brings it, it will go over better.  And our dentist won't completely disapprove, either.
I also considered including an Amazon or iTunes gift card and a tennis racket, but I clearly already have purchased enough.  I also thought about swim gear, but I bought him new swim trunks on clearance last summer, he's not a big fan of flip-flops, and we have plenty of beach towels.  I've done DVDs in the past, which always go over well.  In future years, when I'm certain the bunny is absolutely no longer a factor, coupons for privileges and small treats like frozen yogurt or bottles of soda are thoughts, too.

Do you give baskets for Easter?  If so, what types of items do you usually include?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Dark Chocolate Cookie-wiches (Cookie Sandwiches)

Have you ever eaten a cookie-wich?  You know, a cookie sandwich.  Like an Oreo, but with better cookies.  Soft, moist cookies.  And LOTS more frosting.  If you haven't, then this is the place to start.  Because these are scrumdeeliumptious!

Dark Chocolate Cookie-wiches
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction and Beantown Baker
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1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup milk
1 bag dark chocolate morsels
12 Tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) butter, softened to room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup milk

Place the softened butter in a large bowl and cream on medium speed.  While the mixer is running, add the sugars and cream until light and fluffy.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs and vanilla, and cream until smooth.  Set aside.  In another large bowl, sift the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt together.  Slowly add the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients, mixing slowly.  Add the milk and dark chocolate morsels.  When combined, the dough will be thick and very sticky.  Cover and chill for 1 to 2 hours.  Preheat oven to 350F degrees.  Using a medium-size cookie scoop, scoop the chilled dough onto baking sheets.  Bake for 12-13 minutes.  Cookies will be very soft, so allow them to cool slightly on the baking sheets for 7-10 minutes before removing them to a wire rack to cool completely.  While the cookies are cooling, cream the butter and vanilla for the frosting together.  In a separate bowl, sift together the powdered sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder.  Add the milk, a little at a time, as you may not need all of it to reach the desired consistency.  Beat at medium-high speed for 5 minutes.  Once the cookies have cooled completely, use a large cookie scoop and place a dollop of the frosting on one of the cookies.  Place a second cookie on top of the frosting and slowly and gently sandwich the two cookies together.  Store refrigerated in a sealed container.  Allow to warm to room temperature prior to serving.

Servings:  Recipe makes 21 cookie-wiches (42 single cookies) with about 1/2 cup of frosting left over.  You can do like my hubby and smear it on any other single cookies you have sitting around the house!
Calories:  I have no idea because I don't want to know!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Crock Pot Pea-nutty Asian Chicken

So much for my goal.  My blogging goal.  At the beginning of the year, I made it my goal to blog every week, on Tuesday, with a longer term goal of posting twice per week.  Like a real blogger.  January was great; right on target.  But then came February.  One post.  Not so good.  And here it is, almost the middle of March, and this is my first post of the month.  How is time getting away from me?  I'm not sure.  I could make excuses (and believe me, I have some!), but as my mom used to tell me, "Tomorrow is a new day."  Or today is the start of a new month.  Or a new year, for that matter.  Basically, it's never too late to change.  So let's try this one again, 'kay?

Several years ago I was in a Bunco group with a bunch of other moms from my MoPs (Mothers of Preschoolers) group.  We'd get together once a month for a girls night, with the hostess providing dinner, dessert, and snacks.  It was always a great night out, and there was always really good food.  This recipe was one I picked up from a Bunco friend.  I've tweaked it slightly, but it's still the same hearty, tasty meal that's quick and easy to throw together in the morning.  It smells fantastic while it's cooking all day long and tastes even better!

Crock Pot Pea-nutty Asian Chicken
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1 1/4 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs, cut in bite-size chunks
2 Tbsp. Land O Lakes light butter
1/4 cup chopped green onion
1 pkg. fresh sliced white mushrooms
1 can (10 3/4 oz.) 98% fat free condensed cream of mushroom soup
1 cup sliced celery
1 medium red bell pepper, sliced
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 cup Jasmine rice
1/4 c. House of Tsang Sweet Ginger Sesame Grill Sauce
1/4 cup peanuts (or cashews) (optional)

Combine chicken, light butter, green onion, mushrooms, soup, celery, bell pepper, soy sauce, garlic, and red pepper flakes in a Crock Pot or slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours or high for 4-6 hours.  Just before chicken is ready to serve, cook the rice according to package directions.  Serve the chicken over cooked rice with sauce drizzled over the top.  Garnish with nuts if desired.

Serves:  4
Calories:  433, plus optional nuts

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Decadent Caramel Brownies (Lydia's Goom Bars) for Valentine's Day

It's not too late!  If you don't have plans for Valentine's Day (like us, since we usually just order a heart-shaped pizza for's something fun), I really, REALLY recommend whipping a batch of these brownies.  They are the best.  Ever.  Seriously.  Bubba would eat them every day if he could.  If I could actually keep them in my house.  But they always disappear.  Hmm...

I am usually not a fan of using mixes when baking (Golden Oreo Cake Batter Blondies aside).  But since you don't follow the box directions with these brownies, I feel I can make an exception.  That, and because they are so stinking fabulous.

I was introduced to these caramel brownies several years ago by my friend Missy.  She brought them to work for a potluck of some sort and I instantly realized I needed the recipe.  And am I ever glad she shared it!  The recipe belongs to Missy's aunt's and, funny enough, I saw The Pioneer Woman bake some suspiciously similar bars on her show one day last fall when I was working out (yes, I admit it's an odd show to watch when exercising).  But, as I mentioned, it's been a favorite in our house for years (and these don't include any pesky nuts).  And they totally complement heart-shaped pizzas!

Decadent Caramel Brownies (aka Lydia's Goom Bars)
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1 box German Chocolate cake mix
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) butter, melted
2/3 c. evaporated milk, divided
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
14 oz. bag of caramels (Brach's Milk Maid or Kraft), unwrapped
1 c. chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 13 x 9 pan.  Combine cake mix, butter, 1/3 cup evaporated milk, and vanilla.  Mix well (the batter will be thick, almost a dough consistency).  Press half the mixture into the pan and bake for 6 minutes.  While the pan is in the oven, place the caramels and remaining 1/3 cup of evaporated milk in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave on high for 30-second intervals, mixing after each interval until the caramels are completely melted and combined with the milk.  After 6 minutes in the oven, remove the pan and, in layers, add the chocolate chips, caramel mixture, and remaining batter (in spoon-size drops) to the pan.  Bake an additional 16 minutes.  Allow to cool completely before cutting.  Store in a sealed container.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Lean Cuisine Salad Additions: A Review

I have to say, the first time I saw Lean Cuisine Salad Additions in the freezer case at Target, I kind of rolled my eyes.  Because, really, who needs help making a salad?  It's a little lettuce, you add all the veggies you like, maybe a bit of protein, and your favorite dressing.  It's really not hard.

Upon closer inspection however, I saw that one of the varieties of Salad Additions was Southwest-Style Chicken, which sounded super good, especially because I'm slightly obsessed with McDonald's Southwest Salad with grilled chicken.  I love it.  I've even discovered a Hungry Girl recipe for the salad (I know, a recipe for salad...kind of like a recipe for a sandwich, but believe me, it's good) which is seriously yummy, just not readily available in Iowa in January.  So when I came across a manufacturer coupon for $1 off two Salad Additions, and another Target coupon for a free bag of salad when you buy two Salad Additions, I thought it must be a sign.  I bought them.

Southwest-Style Chicken
The Southwest-Style Chicken comes packaged with three pouches.  One includes chipotle ranch dressing, the second, a chicken and vegetable steam pouch, has grilled white meat chicken, black beans, sweet corn, roasted red peppers, and poblano peppers.  The final pouch is crispy tortilla strips.  According to the box, one package contains 260 calories, 9 grams of fat, 18 grams of protein, and 590 mg of sodium.  The idea is to just "add your lettuce" and you have a meal.  My full plate of lettuce added 25 calories.

The first step is to remove all the pouches from the box, which needs to be frozen.  You place the unopened dressing pouch in a cup of room temperature water to thaw, set aside the crispy tortilla strips, and place the chicken and vegetable steam pouch in the microwave for 2 1/2 minutes.  When the pouch is finished cooking, you are supposed to leave it in the microwave an additional 1 minute before placing it on top of your lettuce.  Then you add the salad dressing and tortilla strips.

One issue I had with the instructions was that it never mentioned draining the steam pouch.  It had quite a bit of water in it when I took it out of the microwave.  If I hadn't drained it, it would have added a lot of hot water to the salad.  Yuck.  Fortunately I was paying attention and was able to empty the water from the pouch before dousing my salad with it.  It might be something the manufacturer should mention.

Another issue I had with the salad was the texture of the peppers.  There's something not quite right about mushy peppers on a salad.  The chicken, corn, and beans were good, but the peppers through me off a bit.  But the flavor was really good, with a nice zing, so I got over the whole texture thing.

I ate the Southwest-Style Salad Additions for dinner on an evening that I don't normally workout, and the protein held me pretty well (meaning, by evening snack time, I wasn't ravenous and ready to bite off my arm).

Bistro Chicken
The Bistro Chicken also comes packaged with three pouches - 1) a sweet and tangy vinaigrette dressing with bacon, 2) grilled white meat chicken, asparagus, yellow carrots, and red peppers, and 3) crispy onion straws.  These ingredients account for 240 calories, 8 grams of fat, 15 grams of protein, and 430 mg of sodium.  A full plate of lettuce added 25 calories.  This variety of Salad Additions is prepared the same way as the Southwest-Style Chicken.

Again, I had the problem with the water in the steam pouch.  Since I knew to expect it due to my prior experience, I drained it without issue.  And I also had concerns with the texture of the vegetables.  I really couldn't get over cooked carrots and asparagus in my crunchy salad.  The dressing had a nice flavor, but I think it was a little heavy on the onion, of which I'm not really a fan, so the crispy onion straws were not a favorite, either.

I ate the Bistro Chicken Salad Additions for lunch on a day that I worked out.  I was pretty hungry by the time dinner rolled around that evening.

The Verdict
Would I buy Lean Cuisine Salad Additions again?  It depends.  If I had a coupon or they were on sale, I would probably get the Southwest-Style Chicken for lunch, if I wasn't going to be home but would have access to a microwave.  I really liked the kick of the dressing.  Maybe Nestle should bottle that and sell it!  I don't think I'd get the Bistro Chicken variety.  I just didn't care for the cooked veggies and I didn't like tasting onion all afternoon.  The Cranberry & Chicken variety might be worth trying, but I don't think I'd purchase the Asian-Style since I'm not really big on Asian-flavored dressing.

What about you?  Is this a product you'd be willing to try?  What flavors do you think you'd like?

Disclaimer:  This review is my entirely impartial, unsolicited opinion.  No compensation or other consideration was provided by the manufacturer of Lean Cuisine Salad Additions, and I purchased the products myself (with coupons, of course!). 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Golden Oreo Cake Batter Blondies

Yesterday was National Blonde Brownie Day.  That's blonde brownie, as in not chocolate, not blonde as in Kate Hudson.  Did you know there was a National Blonde Brownie Day?  I did not, until I discovered a list of all the food holidays in the United States.  And while these days aren't especially significant, they are sort of fun.  I thought it would be neat to honor National Blonde Brownie Day by making some blondies, since I've never done so before.  Actually, I was just looking for an excuse to try out this recipe for Golden Oreo Cake Batter Blondies I found at Sally's Baking Addiction.  I don't know where Golden Oreos have been all my life, but I tasted them recently for the first time and it was love at first bite.  So vanilla-y.  So wonderful.  And since I adore cake batter, these sounded absolutely perfect.  While these aren't technically brownies, being made with cake mix, they're buttery, chewy and delicious, so that's pretty much all that matters to me.

Golden Oreo Cake Batter Blondies
Adapted from Sally's Baking Addiction
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1 box yellow cake mix
1/4 cup canola oil
1 egg 
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup white baking chips
1 1/2 cups Golden Oreos (about 12 cookies), chopped, reserve some to sprinkle on top

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Spray 11x7 baking pan with non-stick cooking spray.  Set aside.  Combine yellow cake mix, canola oil, and egg in a large bowl.  Slowly add the milk.  The mixture will be thick and dense.  Fold in the white baking chips and the chopped Oreo pieces.  Pour into the prepared baking pan, sprinkling reserved Oreos on top.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until the edges are just turning brown.  Allow to cool completely before cutting.

Serves: 32 bite-size bars
Calories:  114 calories per serving

National Peanut Butter Day is tomorrow, January 24.  You can believe I'll be honoring that day!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Light & Buttery Dinner Rolls

You know those recipes you keep coming back to?  The classics, that are just good, no matter what?  These dinner rolls are definitely one of "those" recipes for me.  It's a recipe adapted from one my mother gave to me (perhaps that's why I like it so much?).  I've tried others, but these remain a favorite, and we go through at least a batch a week at our house.  And as an added bonus, they're only 99 calories each, which make them a great accompaniment to soup (particularly Beef & Barley or Judy's Chicken Noodle Soup), especially on a cold winter day.   

Light & Buttery Dinner Rolls
Adapted from a family recipe
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200 ml warm water (about 100 degrees)
1 Tbsp. Red Star Quick Rise yeast
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour
1 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. Splenda
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. Land O' Lakes Light Butter, melted (plus additional for optional brushing, if desired) 

Place warm water in the bowl of a stand mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the surface of the water.  Let stand for about five minutes, until the yeast begins to form bubbles.  Add the flour, salt, sugar, Splenda, egg, and melted butter, and mix on low for 3 to 5 minutes using the flat beater attachment.  After mixing, remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a flour sack towel, and place in a warm area to rise for about 1 hour.  After the dough has risen, remove it from the bowl and place on a well-floured surface.  Divide the dough into 16 equal portions.  Roll the dough into balls with your hands and place in a 11 x 7 or 9 x 13 pan sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.  Cover again with the flour sack towel and place in a warm area to rise for 45-60 minutes.  Pre-heat oven to 350.  After rolls have risen a second time, bake for 25-30 minutes until golden.  Remove from oven and brush the tops with additional melted light butter, if desired.

Serves:  16, 1 roll each
Calories:  99 per roll

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Beef & Barley Soup

The weather is rather pleasant in my neck of the woods today, but it has been downright chilly (highs in the teens, anyone?).  So cold I need a space heater during the day to warm my icy feet.  And far too frigid to take the pooch out for a walk, which would help earn a few extra calories (because we don't want to talk about the few pounds that joined me recently, no doubt courtesy of the Salted Caramel Bark and various other holiday treats).  So while I may be in the mood for warm and steamy winter casseroles, my caloric intake has been, shall we say, reduced.  By a lot.

Which is why this soup is so fabulous.  It's hot, tasty, and hearty, meeting all my requirements for January comfort food.  Paired with some Lightened Buttery Dinner Rolls (recipe forthcoming), it's the perfect winter lunch or dinner to help fill you up while still shedding those pesky holiday pounds.

Beef & Barley Soup
Adapted from Everyday with Rachael Ray
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1 lb. lean (93%) ground beef 
1/2 onion, chopped 
1 tsp. minced garlic 
2 cans (14.5 oz.) diced fire-roasted tomatoes 
8 cups water 
8 cubes beef bouillon 
1 cup carrots, chopped 
1 cup celery, chopped 
1 cup frozen green beans 
1/2 cup quick barley 
2 tsp. dried oregano 
3/4 tsp. salt 
1/2 tsp. black pepper 
2 tsp. Penzeys Forward! 

In a Dutch oven or large soup pot, cook the ground beef over medium-high heat, breaking it up with a spatula or wooden spoon as it starts to brown.  Stir in the onion and garlic, lower the heat to medium, and cook until the beef is well-browned, about 10 to 15 minutes.  Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a simmer over high heat.  Add the water, bouillon cubes, carrots, celery, green beans, barley, and spices and return to a simmer.  Lower the heat and cook until the barley is very tender, about 1 hour.  Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. 
Serves:  7-8 servings,  2 cups each 
Calories:  166 calories per serving