Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Never too short to celebrate


My mom and I believe that everything should be a celebration. So when it comes to the winter solstice, it’s a no brainer. Being the shortest day doesn’t mean that there isn’t time to gather friends around the table. The winter solstice is a lot like our lives. This day of the year passes by in a flash just as our lives zoom past as if in a high speed chase. In the chill of the winter months the sun seems to be a distant memory and when it does peak it's head out it quickly returns to hibernation only a few short hours later. When the sun shines, I am out in it. Life may be short, but it is never too short for a celebration of simple occasions!


This year, we wanted to spend time with my cousin, Scott, and a few of our closest friends in Missoula, MT. We were determined to live even this shortest day to the fullest. We set out to spend as little time in the kitchen, so we applied every “operational work around” we knew. The first workaround was making the meal in advance. We made our Keep it Simple Shortcut Lasagna the day before and asked our guests to bring the bread. Then we purchased appetizers that we could quickly set out and add small personal touches that made them ours. We also bought a pre-made salad and pre-cooked ingredients to top our Sunset salad. We were hosting the party at my cousin’s gorgeous house on the top of the mountain just outside Missoula. To say his home is amazing is an understatement. It takes my breath away every time I step inside.


With everything prepared, I set out to make a special cocktail to serve. As I am scouring the liquor cabinet I come across an unopened bottle of Remy Martin XO. My cousin, Scott, decides that in addition to the Remy Martin, we should taste some really good rum to keep the cold winter night's chill at bay. We break out short glasses and begin our first official "rum taste". As our guests arrive they are given a taste of rum and eventually as the night progresses a taste of the Remy Martin. While dinner is served, we do an Italian wine taste and vote on our favorite. My favorite was the Montepulciano d'Abruzzo that we drank while we feasted on Keep it Simple Shortcut Lasagna, Easy Cheesy Garlic Bread, and Sunset salad. Our "operational workarounds" allowed us to relax and enjoy our company. Despite it being the shortest day, we all found time in our busy schedule and lives to come together to enjoy great food, lively conversation, and laughter that bubbled over. Long live the pre-made meal that tastes best after being refrigerated over night!

Keep It Simple Shortcut Lasagna

*One of the best shortcuts about this recipe is that we use uncooked lasagna noodles and by using a little extra sauce it cooks the noodles while the lasagna is in the oven!

1 box whole wheat lasagna noodles
1 lb. ground beef
1 lb. Italian turkey sausage
1/2 cup white onion chopped
4 cloves garlic diced
2 lb. mozzorella cheese shredded
1 lb. lowfat or fat free ricotta cheese
1 egg
1 cup parmesean cheese
2 jars low sugar pasta sauce
1 can sliced black olives
3 tablespoons Italian herbs
1/4 cup of red wine

Cook meat, onion, and garlic in a sauté pan over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. While meat is cooking, mix the egg and ricotta cheese with parmesean cheese and iItalian herbs. Lay out 2 lasagna pans. The great thing about this recipe is that it will make two pans of lasagna. One to eat today and one to freeze for later! This will feed up to 16 hungry loved ones! If you only want one lasagna, cut this recipe in half.

Spray the bottle of each pan with cooking spray and spread a thin layer of tomato sauce along the bottom. Lay one layer of uncooked lasagna noodles on the bottom of each pan. Drizzle red wine over the uncooked noodles, then layer tomato sauce on top. Add ricotta cheese to the top of the sauce and use approximately 1/2 the cheese sauce for each pan in this layer. Next layer meat and use 1/2 the meat for each pan. Now top with 1/2 pound of shredded mozzarella cheese. Add more sauce over the cheese and top with uncooked noodles, drizzle with wine, then add more sauce. Sprinkle the top with leftover mozzarella cheese and parmesean cheese.

This can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the fridge or frozen for up to 3 weeks and prepared when ready. Once the occasion has come to cook, preheat the oven for 350 degrees and bake for 45-50 minutes and the top should be golden brown and delicious!

By using only two layers of noodles, it significantly reduces the amount of carbohydrates and using whole wheat noodles and low fat ingredients keeps this lasagna healthy!

Easy Cheesy Garlic Bread

1 loaf crust french bread
1/2 cup shredded parmesean cheese
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tbsp. garlic powder

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Slice bread into 1/2 inch slices. Place one layer of bread slices into a oven proof dish. Sprinkle the bread with olive oil, cheese, and garlic powder. Place another layer of bread and sprinkle with olive oil, cheese, and garlic powder. Repeat until all bread is in the oven safe dish and top with the remaining cheese. Bake in the oven for 10 minutes. The cheese will be slightly melted and the bread will be soft. Serve on the table and let your guests enjoy the delicious bread that they will think you made from scratch!

Sunset Salad

1 box mixed green salad (we like the mix that has raddicio, spinach, romaine)
3 roma tomatos sliced
1/4 cup pre-cooked bacon diced
1 package sashimi tuna pre-cooked (you can also use smoked salmon)
1 package crumbled blue cheese (you can also substitute feta cheese if you prefer)
1/2 cup light balsamic vinegrette dressing (we love Paul Newmans!)

Place salad greens in a large bowl. Top with sliced tomatoes, bacon crumbles, tuna (or smoked salmon) and crumbled cheese. When getting ready to serve, top with the vinagrette and toss to ensure all salad is coated with the dressing.

Crudite and Dip Appetizer


Bunch of cut celery and baby carrots
1 cup blue cheese dressing
1/2 cup non-fat plain yogurt
Bunch of fresh basil diced
2 tbsp. italian seasoning
1 tbsp. garlic powder

Mix all ingredients above in a bowl minus the celery and carrots. Serve in a beautiful bowl and surround the dip with celery and carrots. Viola!

The Italian Flag

4 roma tomatoes
1 large fresh mozzarella cheese ball
1 package fresh basil
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp balsamic dressing
Salt and Pepper

Slice the tomatoes diagonally so each slice is cut into a perfect circle. Select a serving platter and drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil along the botton of the serving tray. Place the tomato slices on top of the olive oil. Pack as many as you can onto the platter. Slice the mozzarella balls into flat disks as well and place the cheese on top of the tomatoes. Next place whole basil leaves on top of the cheese and drizzle with the remaining olive oil and the tbsp. of balsamic dressing. Sprinkle with fresh ground salt and pepper and serve with whole wheat crackers on the side.

This is one of our favorite easy and healthy appetizers that is easy to pull together and surprises everyone with how flavorful it is!

Mental Health Tip: This meal is so easy to prepare because so much can be done in advance. We recommend this meal for large gatherings so you can have fun doing your own "tastings" like we did. Whether your traditions are conventional or a little outragious, enjoy them even on the shortest of days! No matter your mental state this time of year, this is a sure crowd pleaser that doesn't take too much of your precious time!

Peace and love from our cousin's kitchen to yours,

~"Too Lovely" Hot Messes in the Kitchen :)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Don't Forget to Look Up!

Traditions are an extremely important part of my holiday season. My favorite tradition is our Christmas Cookie Bake Day. We started this tradition when I was a kid. My mom and dad were just starting out and money wasn’t what you call "abundant". So we would bake cookies, decorate tins, and give these “Sweetie Tubs” to our friends and family as our gifts. I would spend all day in the kitchen with my mom and sister and we would roll dough, throw sprinkles, and at the end of the day we would be covered in flour. The kitchen would be a mess and we would have laughed our whole way through it.

Since I was in social work, I never really had a time when money was just abundantly surrounding me, so I kept this “Sweetie Tubs” dream alive. Every year I would grab friends, family, and anyone willing to hold a spatula and I would spend an entire day baking. I would even do a several each year with different friends I loved it so much. This year, since I was back living with my mom and dad, we got to rekindle the tradition together. We sat down with all of our recipes scattered along the table selecting our favorites and making sure that we had all of the ingredients.

But one thing was still bothering me. Another tradition that is vital for me as a cook, is every time I am in the kitchen, I put on one of my grandmother’s aprons that she hand sewed. On the move out, I had made room for these aprons in my packed car. The problem was that I couldn’t find the Christmas aprons. I had been struggling with this for several days and couldn’t come up with where they were. This is when I made my emergency phone call to my best friend Mike who drove me out to Montana. I knew it was a long shot, but lo and behold he remembered seeing them in Montana and vaguely where they might be.

Okay, so I now had received confirmation that they were in the house. I went to the laundry room and began my search. I was getting rather frazzled and was about to give up when I stood up and took a deep breath so I wouldn’t “blow a gasket”. During my deep breath, I looked up… And there they were! On top of the stacked washer and dryer! Of course! I almost forgot one of the fundamental truths… Don’t forget to look up.

So with my grandma’s Christmas apron securely around our wastes, in place of my grandma's arms, we baked, and baked, and baked. We made 7 different types of cookies, my dad did three trips to the grocery store, and we kept our “Sweetie Tub” tradition alive. In the end, hough exhausted, we were happy to be baking cookies together and spreading "sweet love" to our friends and family.

So remember:  Take a deep breath, acknowledge all that you accomplish each moment, enjoy the delicious cookies. Oh! And don't forget to look up!

This year we made Sugar Balls, Rum Balls, Coco-Locos, Ooey Gooeys, Healthy Oatlicious cookies, Peanut Butter Kisses, and Rosey Lemon cookies.

Peace, love, and patience this holiday season from our kitchen to yours!

Sugar Balls
½ cup butter
¾ cup sugar
¼ cup splenda
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 ½ cup whole wheat
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Colored sprinkles

Mix the butter, sugar, splenda, eggs, and vanilla until well incorporated and fluffy. Blend in the whole wheat flour, baking powder, and salt in small doses. Once all the flour is incorporated chill for 20 minutes to an hour. Then take tablespoon sized mounds of dough and roll into balls using your palms. Dip the balls in any color sprinkles that you like. Place on a baking sheet about an inch apart and bake in a 400 degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes.

Rum Balls

Use the same recipe as above and add 1/4 cup of rum to the batter. It will be a little more sticky, but well worth it! Mold these cookies into balls using your palms and dip into a bowl of cinnamon. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 6 to 8 minutes as well.

 Ooey Gooey Bars - Blonde

1 pkg. yellow cake mix
1 pkg. sugar free vanilla pudding package
1/3 cup smart balance oil
2 eggs
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
8 oz. butterscotch chips
8 oz. white chocolate chips
8 oz. chocolate covered toffee candy bars cut into peices
½ cup butter
1 jar sugar free caramel ice cream topping

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 13X9 pan.

In large bowl, combine cake mix, vanilla pudding misx, oil, and eggs, and mix it all up! Then stir in the chocolate, butterschotch, and vanilla chips and candy bar peices (It is super thick so get your muscles prepared). Press half of mixture in bottom of greased pan. Bake for 10 min.

Once the bottoms have been cooked take it out of the oven and open the sugar free caramel jar. Pour it over the partially baked crust. Top with remaining gooey mixture.

Bake an additional 25-30 minutes or until everything is golden brown. Cool for 20 minutes and then run knife along the sides of hte pan to loosen and cool 30 minutes.Cut bars while it is slightly warm or else it will be too hard to cut and you will resort to just biting of peices because it is so damn tasty! Biting off is doable, but slightly less civilied!

**These bars can also be brunette by using chocolate cake mix and chocolate pudding mix. They can also be redheaded (my favorite) by using velevet cake mix and butterscotch pudding mix!

Oatlitious Cookies (Think Bootilicious, but less booty and more oat)

**These lagniappes are a delightful way to use creativity, energy, and otherwise clean out some of those oats everyone has stored in their cabinets. Not to mention they are healthy and delightful for the whole family. If you have a child or adult who thinks that they don’t like oats, tell them they are “Little nuggets of love” and serve them anyway. If they don’t like the cookies, it is their problem, not yours. PS - These are so healthy my mom puts them in her yogurt for breakfast!

1 cup plain or vanilla fat-free yogurt
½ cup sugar free maple syrup
½ cup healthy butter spread (we like Smart Balance)
2 eggs
1 ½ cups quick-cooking oats
½ cup dried fruit, we really like using Crasins
2 tablespoons cinnamon
½ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. clove
¼ cup chopped almonds or pecans
3 tbsp. ground flaxseed
¼ cup dark chocolate chips (if desired, this does make it extra delicious and packs some great anti-oxidants!)

Mix all of the wet ingredients above in one bowl and mix all of the dried ingredients above into a separate bowl. Once all dry and wet ingredients are mixed separately, pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and shake it all about. Make sure the mixture is packable, meaning it is sticky enough to hold together when you make a ball of the dough with your hands. If not feel free to sprinkle a little bit of whole wheat flour and a little bit of fat-free milk or soy milk to reach a packable goopiness!

Once the desired goopiness is achieved you are ready to bake. Using a spoon, create spoon sized lumps and place on a greased cookie sheet giving each cookie enough room so that they have a little “breathing space”.

Place the cookie sheet into a pre-heated oven at 350 degrees and bake for 15-20 minutes. These cookies will come out hearty and yet somehow fluffy when done right and the house will smell like you have entered a magical world of gingerbread and lollipops! Enjoy!

Rosie Lemon Cookies
½ cup butter
3 tsp. crushed dried rosemary
1 pkg. (1 lb. 15oz.) sugar cookie mix
¼ cup whole wheat flour
1 tbs. lemon zest
Juice of 1 lemon
1 egg

In microwave safe bowl melt the butter and rosemary together for 20 seconds. Combine the cookie mix, four, lemon zest, and lemon juice separately and once combined stir into the butter mixture. Add the egg and mix and a thick dough will form.

Form the dough into balls and place on a cookie sheet about an inch apart and press down with your thumb to make a flatter cookie. Bake in a 375 degree oven for 7-8 minutes.

These cookies will delight your senses and give your friends and family something to talk about!

Coco-Loco's (aka Chocolate Chocolate cookies)

3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups salted butter
2 cups sugar free maple syrup
1 ½ cups splenda
½ cup cocoa powder
4 eggs
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 tbsp. water
½ pound semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 ½ cups white chocolate chips
1 cup chopped macadamia nuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In large bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt; set aside.

In a bowl combine the butter, splenda, and syrup and beat with a blender until smooth and creamy. Add the cocoa powder, eggs, vanilla, and water and continue beating until all is combined. Add the flour mixture in stages until all is combined. Then mix in the semi-sweet and white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts until combined.

Spoon onto a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 14 minutes.

These will come out warm and gooey! They are the best right out of the oven so get your mouths ready!

Peanut Butter Kisses

1 cup butter (or smart start baking butter)
1 ¼ cup all natural peanut butter
1 cup splenda
1 cup sugar free maple syrup
2 eggs
2 ½ cups whole wheat flour
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. soda
Dark chocolate kisses unwrapped

Mix shortenting and peanut butter together then add the spenda and sugar free syrup. Blend well and then mix in the eggs until fluffy. Mix the flour, soda, and salt together in a separate bowl then combine the flour mixture with the peanut butter mixture; blending until all is incorporated. Shape each cookie into balls using the palms of your hands and place on a cookie sheet. Bake the cookies in a 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes. Set the timer for half the cook time and halfway through press the dark chocolate kisses into the top of each cookie and continue cooking.
These cookies will come out and the chocolate will be slightly melted and we recommend cooling the cookies outside if it is a cool day! These are sugar free, whole wheat, and delightful! Enjoy without guilt.
Mental Health Tip: Cooking for me is an exercise in love and being in the present moment. So even on the craziest of days if I can put on my apron and demonstrate my love for my family and friends through food, it makes all other worries melt away! It's even better when I have my mom as a side kick. This holiday season, we encourage you to find a side kick and find peace of mind in the kitchen!


Happy Holidays from "Too Lovely" Hot Messes in the kitchen :)



Monday, December 21, 2009

Transformation

Sometimes in life we are called to transform. Change. Do something different. Maybe even out of character. And when I say sometimes, I mean constantly. In each moment we are called to learn, grow, and continue to deepen our understanding of ourselves.  In each moment, we are becoming the people that we are meant to be. That is one of the things I find most fascinating about people. How someone can say something that changes the way I look at them the next moment. I call it depth. We all have it. That something that surprises people. That inner complexity that is hidden just under the surface waiting to be discovered. That is what I love about people; digging deeper and as a result my vision of them changing in an instant.

I was recently called to transform. It's like the ancient Native American wisdom; as we walk along the trail of life we carry a bowl and each experience we have is like a little stone we pick up and put into the bowl. To change, all we have to do is turn the bowl upside down and then shine our light there. So that is what I did, I dumped my bowl. With it went all my belongings, my job, and my daily scenery. I packed up what stones I thought were worth keeping and drove from Chicago, IL to Dayton, MT. I left behind the job and relationship that didn't seem to "fit" in order to find what did. During this "growth spurt" I realized that life was too short not to live every moment to the fullest.


This dramatic shift was pretty terrifying at the time. But now? I couldn't be happier that I dumped my bowl of stones; some of them turned out to be gravel anyway. So I didn't loose much and I am now gathering new stones, precious ones, and transforming my life one moment at a time.

This same transformation can be accomplished through food. One meal can turn into a totally different meal in the blink of an eye by adding new ingredients thus changing the flavor profile and overall flavor constructs. The recipes in this blog demonstrate how I have taken one ingredient and transformed it to make three very different meals. Each meal builds off the previous and by adding new ingredients I change the feel of the dish. In essense, I am using left overs to build new and original dishes. I start with Cinnamon Roasted Squash, then turn it into Savory Ham and Squash Pasta with a creamy tomato sauce, and end with a Squash Mac N Cheese.  With each meal I serve a fresh salad and I show you how to make Easy Homemade croutons.

Enjoy these recipes and share the transformations with your friends and family. Remember that you are only a stones throw away from change!


Cinnamon Roasted Squash

2 large butternut squashes
3 tablespoons cinnamon
2 tablespoons cloves
2 tablespoons nutmeg
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cut squash in half and scoop out the seeds using a large spoon. Slice each squash into quarters and lie on a baking sheet. Coat each squash piece with olive oil using your hands to rub the oil on each piece. Then sprinkle the squash with the cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. Bake in the oven for 35-40 minutes. When cooked through the squash should be easily pierced with a fork.

This can be served along side barbeque pork, steak, or teriyaki chicken as is. It makes an easy and healthy side dish to accompany almost any meat dish. We ate it alongside turkey for our first meal and it was delicious!

Savory Ham and Squash Pasta with creamy tomato sauce

Cinnamon roasted squash (see recipe above)
1 package low sodium deli ham
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red onion diced
4 cloves garlic diced
2 cups low sodium tomato juice
1/2 cup fat free cream
1 13.25 oz box of whole wheat penne pasta

Heat a large pot of water until boiling and cook the pasta according to the directions on the box. While the pasta water is heating, dice the squash and deli ham into bite size peices. Then grab a large skillet or sauté pan and pour the olive oil into the pan and swirl the oil to coat the bottom. Next put the onion and garlic in the pan to sauté until onions become transluscent. Add the diced ham and squash in the pan along side the onions and garlic. Cook until all are heated through. Then incorporate the tomato juice and cream to the pan and mix all ingredients. Once the pasta has cooked, drain the pasta and add the pasta to the pan. Combine all ingredients and allow to heat thoroughly and flavors to combine before serving.

Top with parmesean cheese and serve with a little extra on the table. This pasta is a great accompanied by garlic bread and a salad. Make sure you make plenty so there will be left overs to make the recipe below!

Roasted Squash Mac N Cheese

Using leftovers from the Ham and Squash pasta with creamy tomato sauce, we are going to create fabulous Mac N Cheese!

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1 small apple diced
Leftover Ham and Squash pasta (see recipe above)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Take the left over pasta and combine with the diced apple and shredded cheddar cheese reserving 1/2 cup of the cheddar cheese. Pour into an ungreased baking dish. Top with reserved cheddar cheese and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Easy as that! Your friends and family will flip for the apple in this recipe!

You can also do this recipe from scratch using the penne pasta recipe in combination with the Mac N Cheese. Remember it is all about transforming one concept and continuing to build on one flavor. We are adding new ingredients and creating new healthy and fun meals at each turn!

Easy Homemade Croutons

1 loaf of day old bread
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons parmesean cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Dice day old bread into bite sized peices. I used a crusty italian bread that worked great for this recipe. Place bread cubes in a large boil and sprinkle the olive oil over the bread cubes tossing the them as you pour the olive oil. Toss until all are coated with the olive oil. Then add the garlic powder, salt, pepper, and parmesean cheese. Place all the bread cubes on a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until bread cubes are crisp. These can last for several days, but they won't if you tell people where you're hiding them! They can be put on salads, in soups, and eaten just as is.

Enjoy these recipes and remember tranformation can be scary, but in the kitchen it can be tons of fun too!
Love and Peace from your kitchen from ours!

~"Too Lovely" Hot Messes in the kitchen

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Where I come from

Last Saturday morning, I woke up early to get some work done. I started out the morning by wrestling our wood stove into submission. There were ashes to be dumped, wood to be split, and a fire to be built. By the time the fire finally caught I had broken a sweat and our one kitty circus we call Frankie was in a frenzy. With the fire started I looked around to survey the house. I noticed that I had brought nearly the whole forest in, so I began mopping and sweeping the floors. Then I went to the outside freezer to begin thawing the pork chops for dinner and realized that the thawing had already begun. The freezer was on the fritz. Now I was on a food rescue mission and emergency airlifted all remaining food into the house to the freezer that was working. Thank goodness I had caught it early and we didn't loose anything. Now that the emergiencies had been diverted, I began tending to work on the computer.

My dad came down a few minutes later and began circling Frankie in the living room asking him "WHHHAAAZZZ UP?" in only the way my dad can say it. This went on a little longer than I thought was necessary, but who am I to stop progress. My mom came downstairs and began reading snip its of the newspaper into the air intending for my dad and I to be the audience. I was typing a blog and once my dad gave up on Frankie, the one kitty circus came to curl up on my lap. He was the only living creature that got away with being needy 24 hours a day. In fact, he almost made it look cute. And I say almost with extreme caution. Frankie had jumped into my lap and was trying to hit keys on my keyboard. When I didn’t let him do that he started to play with my camera strap, wrong again. Okay so now he was on to playing peek a boo under my arm. Wow, he totally didn’t have respect for my writing. I tried to share this with him, let him know that he had to respect me as an artist, but to no avail. He just continued to cry for more attention. Yes, he was pretty needy alright.

My dad had moved on to his next project, installing the new printer because the old printer had met its untimely death the day before. My mom declared it Saturday brunch time and put her apron on and began cooking, but not before digging up a bottle of champagne and chilling it in the freezer.

My dad called from the office needing my help with installing the printer and asked if I had a minute. I told him help was on the way. My mom intercepted me however, asking me to take out the trash. I diverted to that mission and my dad started calling again. I began heading to the office, when my mom started sharing yet another new idea that she had. Mom and I were creative monsters these days. I liked her idea and we started talking about it. Then I heard dad's cry for HELP again, this time a little more desperate. I stopped the conversation with my mom and walked into the study. I heard my mom continue to talk, pretty much to herself as I walked away. She wasn't arguing with herself so I felt she was pretty safe. I turned the corner into the office and wasn't quite prepared for what I was confronted with. All I saw were my dad's legs poking out from underneath his desk. Really? My dad under the desk... What was he doing?

At that moment, I thought back to the morning. My dad chasing the cat around, my mom talking to herself in the kitchen, my cat trying to type my blog for me and screaming if I didn't let him, and now my dad face down under his desk. Is this really where I come from? If so, it explains A LOT!

Just as I am having this thought and helping my dad wrestle with the cords; just before my dad is about to start cursing the smallness of his office; my mom calls us to brunch. We all agree it is time to eat. We need some nourishment, we aren't exactly thinking straight.

We all gather around the table to eat the Spinato scramble, Country time cheese grits, bacon, and orange slices that my mom had prepared. Suddenly we are calm again. Peace has been restored to the house. We all look up as if seeing each other clearly for the first time that day. We take a deep breath, finish our brunch and decide that it is time to relax, watch football, and enjoy a glass of champagne. We celebrated the tasks that we had already occamplished and decided that today wasn't the day to tackle hard projects.

As you can see, eating a meal together not only promotes stronger relationships, but also creates peace within the household. So next time you are about to "blow a gasket" as my dad calls it. Fix some easy eggs, sit down, and take a deep breath. There is always tomorrow for what you aren't able to figure out today...

Oh, and yes, this is exactly where I come from and I couldn't be happier! :)

Spinato Scramble

4 eggs
1/2 white onion chopped
2 cloves garlic chopped
1/2 red pepper chopped
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
6 cherry tomatoes cut in half
2 cups fresh spinach
1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Heat olive oil in a large sauté pan. Once the oil is hot, sauté the onion, garlic, red pepper until the onions become translucent. Then place the 2 cups of raw spinach into the pan and top with the soy sauce and the sesame oil. Stir until all are incorporated and cover with a lid and let steam for 4 minutes.

Once spinach is wilted down, top with the eggs and shredded cheddar cheese. Stir to combine all ingredients and cook on medium until eggs are completely cooked through and set. For a different flavor this recipe can also be used with feta cheese instead of cheddar.

Country Cheesy Grits

1 ¼  cup grits
1/2 cup cheddar cheese grated
2 cups water
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon flax


Heat 2 cups of water in a sauce pan until boiling. Once the water is boiling add 1 tablespoon of salt and the grits. Whisk the grits into the boiling water. Cook for 15 minutes stirring constantly. The grits should begin to thicken as they cook. Once the thickening process has begun throw in the butter and add some salt and pepper. Continue to whisk. I like my grits extra thick and if you do too, you can add an extra 1/4 cup of grits to ensure they are up to your standards of thickness. In the last minute of cooking whisk in half of the grated cheddar cheese.

To serve, place a hearty scoop next to the egg scramble and top with a sprinkling of cheddar cheese and serve along side the bacon and orange slices for a complete meal.

Bacon

This is pretty much a no brainer. You take as many bacon slices as everyone wants out and heat a skillet. Then throw the bacon in turning as each side cooks. We believe that bacon makes everything better. My dad likes his bacon well done and crisp and my grandpa likes his just heated through and raw. So, depending on who I am cooking for I make the bacon the way they like. Once cooked to your liking, I drain the excess fat by placing the cooked bacon on a plate lined with paper towels.

Mental Health Tip: As you have heard before breakfast is the most important meal of the day. But what they don't follow that up with is the reason why it is the most important. I think I have suffifiently documented that without breakfast, we don't always make the most sense or the best choices. So take my advise and get your skillets out and make breakfast for your family. You just might like them a little better afterwards! :)

Peace and Love from our kitchen to yours,

~"Too lovely" Hot Messes in the kitchen

Saturday, December 12, 2009

HOT MESS Cooking for a Cause

Hi All -

Yesterday morning, I woke up asking myself. "What is the purpose of this blog? What is my message?" I knew that my mom and I were cooking for a cause. We were cooking for a purpose. But what was it exactly? After long consideration and a long and frigid bike ride, it came to me. It is a theme that has always been present in my household and with everyone that means something in my life. Therefore, my mom and I are pretty much experts on the subject.

Our cause? Bringing everyone back to the table. It is really simple, but in all honesty I recognize it’s complicated too. As a society we are all moving in so many directions and at such a fast pace that we often neglect the simple importance of gathering around a table over a home cooked meal. There is something simple about it, yet this seems to be a dying art. Well, we believe that the time is now to bring this extra-ordinary tradition back into favor.

Growing up, we always ate dinner around our dinning room table. My mom and I would do the cooking and we would share and laugh over the days events with my sister and dad. This was one way to  reconnect as a family, slow down, and share in 'this moment’ together. I strongly believe that this is one of the reasons why my family is so close today.

As a former family therapist, I often met families who barely shared a front door, let alone a meal together. I am convinced that if they would have started sharing a meal together, things would have improved. Now it isn't a panacea, but I do believe there is magic about sharing a meal with everyone's legs under the same table.

So this blog's mission is to demonstrate that meals can be easy to prepare and healthy. we believe these recipes and stories will inspire others to cook and bring families, couples, neighbors, strangers, and friends together to share, laugh, and eat. Leave prejudices, fears, and anger outside the door and gather around the 'heart of the home' to share a meal. My mom and I will be sharing our secrets for making every recipe healthy and easy. And we will also be sharing our secrets that we have learned from ancestors, friends, and strangers. These secrets include tips on how to be happy, healthy, and live the life that we deserve. Collectively we have picked up on many lessons that we want to share about leading a happy life with loving relationships.


This week, I am sharing one of our favorite easy winter time recipes, Everybody’s Favorite Chili. It is the perfect meal that can be created ahead of time and put in the crock-pot to “get happy” all day. It is also loaded with fiber, protein, and vegetables to keep everyone healthy this winter. I love to serve it with my famous Stick to Your Ribs Cornbread. But if you are pressed for time, this chili can be served with corn chips as we often do. The chili is also great over eggs the next morning for breakfast as shown to the left!

So put on your aprons, set the table, and call your friends and family to pull up a chair and join you. If you want to make one small move to help promote peace in this world, bring your family and friends back to the table!

Everybody's Favorite Chili

2 lb. ground turkey
1 medium white onion diced
2 jalapeno peppers diced and seeded
6 cloves garlic chopped
1 cans kidney beans (14.5 oz)
1 can black beans (14.5 oz)
1 can chili beans (28 oz)
1 can crushed tomatoes (28 oz)
1 can sweet corn (14.5 oz)
1 green pepper diced and seeded
1 jar medium salsa
1/4 cup chili powder
2 tablespoons cumin
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons dried mustard
2 tablespoons pepper
2 tablespoons salt
4 tablespoons of ground flaxseed (This is our AMAZING secret!)*
2 tablespoons red pepper flakes (if desired)

To prepare sauté the jalapeno, onion, garlic, and green pepper for 3 minutes or until onion begins turning translucent. Then place the ground turkey meat into the sauté pan and brown the meat along side the onion and peppers. Cook meat thoroughly and season with the salt and pepper while sautéing. Once the meat is cooked through place the sautéed meat, onion, and peppers in the crock pot. Next open the cans of beans and corn and place in a collander to rinse,.Then pour all beans, corn, tomatoes, and salsa into the crock pot. Then add all seasonings and stir the ingredients incorporating everything together. Add the red pepper flakes if you like it extra hot like we do! Then set the crock pot low for 6 hours. In 6 hours, all of the flavors will have melded and the chili will be the best you have ever had.

To dip, get a deep bowl and dip up the chili and top with shredded cheddar cheese and low fat sour cream. And don't be stingy, I like my cheese.

*The secret to flaxseed is one of my mom and I's favorites. I have been using this technique for years and sprinkle it in virtually EVERYTHING! It can be sprinkled in pancakes, grits, soups, meatloaf, cookies, you name it. It is packed with omega-3s and has amazing health benefits including lowering bad cholesterol and raising good cholesterol and helps to build a stronger immune system.

Stick to your Ribs Cornbread

1 box corn bread mix
1 can cream corn (8 oz)
2 eggs
1/2 cup low fat sour cream
1 can green chilies (4 oz)
2 tablespoons ground flaxseed (of course)

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Mix all ingredients above in a large mixing bowl until well incorporated. Then pour into a loaf pan or pie pan and bake for 20 minutes. The cornbread should be golden brown. To test its doneness, insert a tooth pick. When removed, the toothpick should come out clean.

Mental Health Tip: These recipes are extremely easy and even when life is the craziest and the temperature has dropped way below your navel, there is nothing more comforting than curling up into a big bowl of chili. Oh yeah, and a bottle of robust red wine helps too!

Enjoy with your loved ones and don't get too chilly!
 
~"Too Lovely" Hot Messes in the Kitchen

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Stay and celebrate

A dear friend of mine, Joe, just celebrated a birthday on Sunday. Joe, much like me, moved to The Flathead Valley in search of something bigger. Coincidentally that meant leaving his family and friends back in California. Since my mom and I love hosting parties and Joe is a wonderful friend of ours, we decided to host Joe's birthday party. To be honest, we were totally delighted to get to throw a party in honor of him. We had planned the menu and settled on a Cajun/Mexican theme. What could be more fun that hot spicy food when it is 6 degrees outside? Yes, it was 6 degrees!

My boyfriend, Scott, had come to visit me the night before and since he lives four hours away he was planning to skip the party. He claimed he had lots of work to catch up on before Monday morning. Seems reasonable, I guess. We had spent the day catching up, talking, and generally just enjoying each other’s company. Around 4:00pm, we headed back over to my house. We walked in the door and I saw Scott’s thoughts begin to shift. He looked at me and said, “Maybe I can stay. What time is dinner?” I laughed and replied “Oh, really. I can’t convince you to stay, but the decorations can?”

My mom and dad had set the table, laid out appetizers, and hung festive ribbon throughout the house. It looked amazing. Music was playing and a fire was burning in the fireplace keeping the house toasty and warm. Scott took off his coat and made himself comfortable by the appetizers. They were conveniently located in the “heart of the house” which most people call the kitchen. We all pitched in to make guacamole, salsa, and once the birthday boy arrived, we shared in our birthday tradition; Champagne!

Two by two the other guests arrived. Some had met Joe and some hadn’t, but it didn’t seem to matter as each of our friends brought a card and a special gift for him. That night we dined on Chipotle Chicken, sweet potatoes laced in bacon, black bean and corn delight, and a nice barley salad with cilantro (provided by Ava). The night was a huge success and as my mom and I were washing the dishes, I watched my friends gathered around the dining table laughing and enjoying themselves, some meeting each other for the first time. As I watched, I was humbled by the kindness of our friends. I leaned over to my mom and said, “This is my favorite part, watching everyone laugh, smile, and create new friendships.”

We finished off the evening with our friend Lee’s famous Whiskey Chocolate cake  (recipe will be in a future blog) and coffee ice cream (Joe’s favorite). We sang happy birthday with 30 candles on the cake (1 extra candle to grow on). In the end, our friends lingered longer than they had intended with it being a “school night” and all. And Joe, he stayed long after the final guests had left. Mom, dad, Joe, and I curled up on the sofas; Joe with a guitar in hand. He played music while the rest of us tried to singing along. We all seemed to not want to night to end. Once all of the guests had departed, I reflected on the simplicity of the night and how everyone had seemed to want to delay their departure despite knowing that they might be worse for wear the next day. I suspected that just as Scott’s initial read was to stay and celebrate, every guest had also caught that same fever.

So this holiday season, and everyday thereafter, my mom and I encourage you to stay and celebrate!

Famous Smyers Guacamole

5 ripened avocados
1/2 red onion diced
5 cloves of garlic finely chopped
2 jalapeno peppers with seeds removed and diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro chopped
juice from 1 lime
1 tablespoon pepper
2 tablespoons salt

Harvest the fruit from the avocado first. Cut each avocado in half and scoop out the fruit into a large bowl. Mash the avocados using a potato masher until very few lumps remain and a smooth and creamy texture is created. Next, mix in the garlic, diced onion and jalapenos, lime juice, and fresh cilantro. Mix until all is incorporated, then add salt and pepper.


Chipotle Chicken

6 large chicken breasts (they can be bone-in or boneless and cut for portion size)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup low sugar barbeque sauce
juice of 1 lemon
5 cloves of garlic chopped

Chicken Rub recipe:
1 tablespoon basil
1 tablespoon paprika
2 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon chipotle powder
1 tablespoon oregano
1 tablespoon salt

To make the chicken rub, mix all spices together in a large bowl. A store bought chicken rub with similar spices can also be used to cut down on time.

For this recipe we used oversized chicken breasts on the bone as they were on sale at the store. We cut off the extra skin and fat and cut each chicken breast in half. Then we mixed all of the ingredients for the rub together and rubbed each chicken breast with the rub. Heat a skillet with the olive oil and sauté each chicken breast for 2 minutes on each side or just until they turn a brownish golden color.

Next place each chicken breast in the crock pot and pour the barbeque sauce, garlic, and lemon juice over the chicken. Set the crock pot to low and set for 6 hours.

*This recipe is also great to grill the chicken in the summer, but due to the extremely cold weather we opted to cook the chicken in the crock pot and it was delicious!


Sweet Piggy Potatoes

5 large sweet potatoes
4 cloves of garlic diced
4 strips of bacon cooked and diced
1/4 cup of plain fat free yogurt
2 tablespoons butter
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Pierce each sweet potato with a knife or fork to allow heat to escape while baking. Place each potato in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes or until you can easily squeeze them and they are soft and can easily be peirced with a fork. Allow them to cool for 10 to 20 minutes to avoid burning your hands.

While the potatoes are baking, cook up the bacon in a skillet and drain on paper towels and allow bacon to cool before dicing into small bite size peices. If you are pressed for time, you can also heat the bacon in the microwave. To do this, place the strips of bacon on a fresh paper towel and heat in the microwave for 3 minutes on power 8.


To assemble, open up the sweet potato skins and scrape out the meaty insides using a spoon. Place the potatoes in a medium sized baking dish. Then mixing in the yogurt, garlic, butter, and diced bacon bits. Stir all ingredients together and place in an oven set at 250 degrees for 15 minutes to allow the flavors to meld.

Black Bean and Corn Delight

1 can of black beans drained
1 package frozen sweet corn
1/2 red onion diced
3 teaspoons crusted garlic
2 teaspoons chili powder
1/4 cup fresh cilantro chopped
salt and pepper to taste

This is fairly simple and completely delicious. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place all ingredients listed above in a medium sized baking dish. Mix well. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes stiring halfway through the cooking process. This can also be topped with Mexican cheese or mozzarella cheese if desired.

Mental Health Tip: This is the type of meal and occasion that brings out the best in everyone. Even when it is 6 degrees outside, it is impossible to be anything but happy. When this food is brought to the table it brings out the best in everyone. Try it and you too will want to stay and celebrate!

Brought to you by... "Too Lovely" Hot Messes in the kitchen