Superlative: Most Delicious

I met my two best friends in the 6th grade. I will never forget our first interaction together. Jenny and Kelly had already been friends since they were itty bitty, and I came later. I can honestly say that we had almost nothing in common, but we managed to hit it off right away…well not right away. Kelly and I met through our families who happened to share a mutual friend and vacationed together. We were also both cheerleaders. Kelly because she looked hot in those teeny skirts and me because I could lift 100 pounds above my head without a sweat.

Let me paint a little picture of the three six graders we were.

I was a jock. I cut my own bangs on a weekly basis until I literally had a buzz in the bang area. I typically wore short-sleeved, button-down, collared shirts, unbuttoned to show my even looser white Fruit of the Loom undershirt or a T-shirt with some silly sayings on it. I always rolled up sleeves like James Dean minus the biceps and cigarettes, and I wore school-appropriate hemmed jean shorts and some kind of athletic sandal with ample amounts of unnecessary Velcro. Thank Heavens I was funny otherwise I would have had zero friends. Superlative: Most Humorous

Jenny, who I knew very little about at the time, was cute. She had dimples, a plump and naturally pouty bottom lip, fine blonde hair, long skinny legs, and big feet in comparison to her tiny little body. She always kept us guessing on her clothing. One day she wore sunny yellow shorts and a sassy white tank with Birkenstock sandals, and the next she busted out a partially spandex blue plaid sundress and tennis shoes and socks. She was not afraid! Superlative: Nicest

Then there was Kelly (insert in music from the scene of a movie where the hot girl comes walking down the hallway holding her books and all the boys stop in their track to look at her). She came right out of the elementary gates with a gorgeous, developed body, long, bouncy hair that she never had to “do” and always fell directly where it would had someone placed it while doing a photo shoot. She looked all too much like Alicia Silverstone during the release of Clueless. I mean she could bat her eyes are the hottest guy in school, and he was hers. Superlative: Most Attractive

Recess at our middle school was going into the bus lot and socializing. I remember looking up the hill everyday and seeing Jenny sitting alone on the curb just waiting for the subpar recess to end so she could get back into being Teacher’s Pet. One day Kelly and I were hanging out, and I asked “What’s up with your friend Jenny up there?” We decided to go and chat with her. She was wearing tight little skinny jeans in 1993 and an American flag hoodie. I do not mean one with an American flag on the front. The entire thing was printed like one giant American flag. Instantly Jenny was defensive. I can imagine questions like “Why is hot friend hanging out with aggressive jock? Why is aggressive jock pretending to be nice to me? What the heck is the deal with aggressive jocks bangs? Can’t hot friend explain to aggressive jock that buzzed bangs are just plain creepy?”

Needless to say, I grew on her; she has been by my side for every major event in my life. There is a bond between the three of us that nothing can break. To this day, we are all completely different people, in different places in our lives, with different believes but with one thing in common. We all three love each other unconditionally.

The best way for us to have expressed this love was via our high school rings. Well, I can think of a dozen more practical, less expensive, more fashionable ways not but in 1999, this was our way! We were all three about to go to separate colleges. Kelly got into UGA (brat! She was hot and smart), Jenny decided on West Georgia and I opted for University of Tennessee (Go Vols!). We knew we could stay connected with our high school rings, and we would wear them FOREVER or at least until the middle of the summer after our graduation. For me, this was actually an accessory upgrade. Jenny, Kelly and I decided to have “JKM” engraved on the inside of all of our rings. The cool thing about these rings is how personal they could be.

Just the other day, I found my nerdy husband’s class ring in my parent’s basement (yes- you are not crazy…that IS a weird place to find your husband’s class ring). I was excited to bring it home to him to put into his memory box. When I got it home, we both pulled out our rings and looked at them. Mine had the Norcross Blue Devil on one side and a golf emblem on the other since I was proudly a member of the Varsity golf team for four years (flashback to shaved bangs, hemmed knee length jean shorts and Velcro sandals). The golf team didn’t do a lot to increase my non-jock, feminine stance. Ugh…once a jock, always a jock. I showed Blake the “JKM” on the inside. Then we looked at his. His had the same Norcross Blue Devil on one side and wait for it….Yosemite Sam on the other side. “Blake, why Yosemite Sam?” I just knew there had to be a good story to back this up, and I was dying to hear it. “Everyone had to get Yosemite Sam on one side,” he told me. “Um, baby, why would anyone, much less everyone be entitled to having Yosemite Sam on their high school class ring?” The room went silent. I looked at Blake trying to figure out what in the world would lead him to this horrible and random decision. “I don’t know babe, I just don’t know.” It was one of those times that the conversation simply had to end with no explanation. Superlative: Most Likely to be Talked about Behind Class Ring Saleman’s Back (“Dude, I totally just convinced that guy to get Yosemite Sam on his ring- hahahaha.”

Anyway, the whole point of this story was to lead into this delicious recipe that Kelly’s mom introduced to us. Jenny and I call Kelly, Fankee (long story-whole different blog post). Her mom made this pasta for us one night when Kelly was visiting from NYC. Jenny and I absolutely fell in love with it. Her version is vegetarian, yet another example of our extreme differences (Exhibit F- Beef section of the blog). I like to add chicken or shrimp. It can be pricey so here are my tricks to bring down the price.

– Get the pine nuts from Costco. You will have a ton of them but they are so good to add into pasta, quinoa, salad, casseroles, etc.

– Get 10oz of spinach from the grocery store ‘price by weight’ salad bar. It is light and is about half the price as the spinach in the salad section.

– Grow your own tomatoes. 🙂

– Since you use the entire container of feta, get the ones that are marked for quick sale. They normally do that when they have three days before sell by date and you will use it all that night.

Swanky Fankee Pasta

Serves 6

Swanky Fankee Pasta

Ingredients:

  •  10 oz. spinach
  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 6 tbs. olive oil
  • 4-5 tbs. pine nuts
  • 7 cloves minced garlic
  • 12 oz. crumbled feta cheese
  • 6 large plum/roma tomatoes sliced
  • 1 lb. penne pasta

Directions:

  1. Cook pasta while sautéing other ingredients so noodles are hot when you mix
  2. Melt butter with 2 tbs. olive oil in a large sauté pan
  3. Sauté pine nuts and garlic for 5-8 minutes or until pine nuts are slightly toasted
  4. Add spinach and tomatoes , sauté until spinach is completely wilted and tomatoes are very soft
  5. Pour mixture over drained pasta
  6. Immediately Add crumbled feta and 4 tbs. olive oil
  7. Stir thoroughly and add some salt and pepper
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Forever Disqualified

Blake and I love the show Chopped on Food Network. When Lottie was in the “she-is-cute-to-look-at-but-does-absolutely-nothing” stage, we always looked forward to cooking dinner. We had tapped out our baby staring-o-mometers and we needed something else to entertain us. We cooked every night. Soon, we became bored with that  as well. One night when we were engaged in the highlight of our week, the new episode of Chopped, it hit me! We can play our own version of the show.

For those of you who are not familiar with the show. Four chefs from around the country compete in a culinary challenge. Each of them are given a “mystery basket” filled with four ingredients. They are given a short limit of time to create a restaurant-worthy dish to present to judges. The worst dish gets “Chopped”, and the remaining chefs move to the next round until there is one winner.

“Foster Chopped” is a little different. At first, Blake and I competed. He gave me a basket, and I gave him one. We made one small plate each, and made honest judgement and against one another. This form of “Foster Chopped” was ended abruptly when I almost put my precious “cute-to-look-at-but-does-absolutely-nothing” infant in the ER.

Blake opened his basket, and I treated him with flank steak, black beans, gnocchi and grapes. He hit me with Kielbasa sausage, pineapple, peanut butter and habenero peppers. At the time, Blake and I were living in a condo on the lake. Outdoor grills were not allowed so we had an indoor grill pan. Definitely more dangerous. I envisioned myself creating an Asian grilled meal with Thai peanut sauce. I just knew I was going to win.

My plan was simple: heat up the grill pan and start grilling. I always saw the likes of Emeril and Bobby Flay grilling up pretty much anything. They always found a way to get that delightful char on the outside of their peppers. I was going for this. The sausage, coated in its Asian style marinade, went on without a hitch. I cut the pineapple into unique shapes just to show off. “Boom” they hit the grill. On to the peppers…

I decided to skewer a few of them. I knew that Habeneros were hot peppers, but I didn’t know how hot. After skewering them up, I tossed them on the hot grill pan inside our less than adeqautely ventilated condo. I immediately turned to finish my peanut sauce ensuring I make every item in the mystery box a stand out. Within 30 seconds, Blake and I were tearing up and coughing, and Lottie went from a peaceful siesta to a screaming rage. I thought for sure we had been gassed. It was the end of the world. This wasn’t just happening to me, but to everyone in the world. “What do we do? Where do we go? Hold your loved ones tightly people.”

“Meredith, are you serious?” I heard my passive and overly kind husband say to me with an unheard of brusque tone. At the time, I am still running through my memory book, and I am cupping my palms over my sweet girls air passage ways to protect her from the deadly fumes. Blake raced over to the grill pan, turns it off, takes my skewer of peppers to the deck and promptly tosses them into the receeding water levels known as Lake Lanier. He walked back in coughing and grabbed Lottie from my arms. He grabbed my hand, nearly ripped my cooking shoulder square out of the socket and guided our little family upstairs and out the front door.

In my still oblivious mind, I am picturing my neighbors racing out their doors in a panic from the world-wide gassing. I was shocked to see it was just Blake, Lottie and me. I peek over at Blake who is looking into our helpless infant’s eyes to make sure she is ok. She is calm at this point. He looks up at me. His look is abnormally unplesant. “Are you serious about grilling whole Habeneros with the seeds?” he asked me in a belittling tone. I peek behind him, then behind me hoping to see others evaucating. Still just us. “Bobby Flay grills peppers all the time,” I say as I run through my Boy Meets Grill Episode schema hoping to picture him grilling a hot pepper. All I see in my mind of memories is green pepper, red pepper and poblano….nothing hot. “Whoops” I say to my disappointed husband and zoned out infant. I knew I had really messed up. The house was a danger zone. Blake went in to turn on the fans and open the windows. I followed him in thinking for sure things would be fine by now. SIX HOURS later, we were able to return to living within the walls of the condo.

From this point on, I have stayed out of the kitchen. I opt for shopping, finding deals and creating challenging mystery baskets for Blake to prepare. I am forever disqualified from “Foster Chopped”. Blake on the other hand has made some amazing dishes. Here are the recipes from the highlights of each basket.

Last week he was given:

Trout
Brazil Nuts
Brussel Sprouts
Apple Sauce

Boom!!! He busted out Bacon Wrapped trout on jalapeno-apple grits and sauteed brussel sprouts. It was amazing!

Chopped Round 1

Bacon Fried Skin-On Trout

Ingredients:

  • 2 skin-on trout filets
  • 4 slices bacon
  • Pinch of salt, pepper, garlic powder/salt

Directions:

  1. Pat the trout dry with paper towels.
  2. Season the trout on both sides with a little salt, pepper, and garlic.
  3. Place 2 slices of bacon on each trout filet on the side without skin, covering the filet.  Bacon should be trimmed to evenly cover the trout in a single layer, let rest for 5-10 minutes.
  4. Heat a saute pan on the stove over medium-high heat.
  5. Place the trout bacon side down in the oil, it should sizzle.
  6. Cook until the bacon is cooked through and a crispy golden brown, about 4-5 minutes.
  7. Flip the trout and cook skin side down in the bacon grease until crispy and golden brown, about 2-3 minutes.

The next night he was given:

Pork Chops
Potatoes
Apricots
Pimento-Jalapeno Cheese

He created Pimento Cheese scalloped potatoes with a saffron, yes real saffron, cream sauce, fried pickles and okra and grilled pork chops with apricot compote. Really dude? How awesome are you?

Foster Chopped Round 2

Fried Okra and Pickles:

Ingredients:

  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Pinch of pepper, garlic powder/salt, cayenne, and paprika
  • 12-16 okra halves
  • 4 pickle spears
  • Oil for frying

Directions:

  1. Mix eggs and milk with a pinch of salt, garlic, cayenne, and paprika.
  2. Place okra and pickles into the egg and milk mixture and toss.
  3. Mix flour, panko, 1 tsp salt, pinch of pepper, garlic, cayenne, and paprika.
  4. Place the soaked okra and pickles into the flour mixture(let excess liquid drain), and toss.  Let sit and set up for 5-10 minutes.
  5. Heat oil to around 375 degrees, until a okra piece really bubbles and sizzles when it is dropped.
  6. Drop the okra and pickles and let fry until they are floating and are a deep golden brown.
  7. Remove the okra and pickles onto a plate or in a bowl lined with paper towels and let sit for 2-3 minutes before eating.

Apricot Balsamic Sauce:

Ingredients:

  • 3 Diced Apricots
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp butter

Directions:

  1. Heat butter over medium-high heat in a saute pan.
  2. Add in diced apricots and brown sugar, stir.
  3. Cook mixture until it is nicely browned and set, about 3-5 minutes.
  4. When the mixture is cooked and the pan is nice and hot add in the balsamic vinegar, it should sizzle and simmer rapidly.
  5. Let the sauce cook together and reduce by about 1/3rd.  Add more balsamic if it gets too reduced or thick. 
  6. Serve over meat of choice.

For the final night I thought Blake deserves a really tough basket. I gave him:

Filet Mignon
Mushrooms
Anchovies
Nacho Cheese Doritos

He created Grilled Filets with Caesar Broccoli and zuchini stuffed mushrooms topped with crushed Doritos.

 Dorrito Stuffed Mushrooms

Ingredients:

  • 8 mushrooms caps
  • 1 slice bacon diced
  • 1/2 zucchini and/or squash julienned (cut into thing strings like pasta)
  • 2 tbsp crushed Nacho Cheese Doritos

Directions:

  1. Hollow out mushroom caps, drizzle lightly with olive oil and a pinch of salt and pepper, set aside in a pan lined with olive oil.
  2. Heat diced bacon over medium-high heat until lightly browned, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add julienned zucchini and cook with bacon until entire mixture is browned, about 4 minutes.
  4. Spoon zucchini and bacon mixture into mushrooms.
  5. Preheat oven to 375.
  6. Place mushrooms into the oven and cook until they darken and moisten, about 6 minutes.
  7. Sprinkle crushed dorritos over the mushrooms and cook another 3-4 minutes.
  8. Serve hot.

Food and Meredith Sittin’ in a Tree

I want to preface this post by saying that this may be a little more serious than most of my overly-adjectived blog stories. Typically after making what we feel like is a blog worthy dinner, we discuss a story that leads into or makes us think about the recipe at hand. Before we know it, the recipe is in the shadows of a funny experience. So I will disclose, this post may lack humor, but it won’t be sad either. It is simply allowing you as a reader to get to know a little bit more about me and perhaps understand my healthy relationship with food. Feel free to scroll past personal story to killer, healthy, Weight Watchers “Anything Marinade”. No offense will be taken.

Chapter 1 of 1:

I have struggled with my weight for most of my life. I won’t say I was a fat kid because I wasn’t. I attribute that to my endless energy and hand-eye coordination. I know what you are thinking…”What does hand-eye coordination have to do with not being fat?” Well, in my opinion, if you are 12 and under and live under the same roof as a PE teacher with insane natural athletic ability, an avid golfer of a dad and an incredibly competitive brother who has the ability to become a professional in whatever sport he begins to play, and you add hand-eye coordination into the mix, you are bound to burn a massive amount of calories in your day-to-day schedule. This was me.

It wasn’t until high school when I began to drive that I began to have an unhealthy relationship with food. Food became the center of my world. I constantly thought about what meal was next, where it was from and when I was going to eat it. I will admit that my family can cook a great meal. My mom cooked for us all the time and when dad cooked, it was something southern… I mean white gravy-white biscuit-deep fat fried southern. Don’t worry, this has not been eliminated, but it is no longer a weekly treat.

My great-grandmother, Lottie, (yes that is where my Lottie’s name came from) and her husband Bob owned a restaurant in High Point, NC called River Road Inn. Though my brother, my cousins, Jeff and Brad, and I (zero percent chance that comma use is correct) never had the chance to truly experience River Road, it is a big part of our lives. We have lived stories our in our heads that have been told in detail by our parents. We cook with the cast iron pans that were used in the kitchen there. This place was a landmark. If you talk to anyone who lives in Greensboro, High Point or any of the surrounding areas  and are between the ages of 50-70, they will know about the River Road. The will know that they paid minimal money for the best fried chicken, whole flounder, hamburger steak, hand cut french fries and homemade apple cobbler in the world. It was here that my daddy learned to cook this delicious food that I fell in love with.

My life revolved around food in a bad way for a long time. Each morning on my way to high school, I chose between two breakfast options: 1/2 dozen chocolate donut gems and an Orange Fanta from the BP station if I was running late or a bacon, egg and cheese biscuit and a Coke from the Magnolia Bakery Cafe if I had time to run in somewhere and wait on a hot meal. Most of the days, either of these meals didn’t touch my hunger level, so I would run through the school cafeteria to top off my stomach cavity and make sure I was uncomfortably full. Next was school lunch. I was in school when the cafeterias were much less nutritionally-conscience, and even if a healthy food was offered, I steered clear. I would leave school and my addiction to food would kick in again. I was a tomboy-hippie, so I didn’t care much about my body. Most of my hippie skirts were elastic-waisted and floral coated so I could be a size 2 or a size 20 and people would see me the same. Almost daily, I pulled through the McDonald’s right off of our campus and ordered a combo meal and ate while driving my friends to their houses. This cycle continued, and I left for the University of Tennessee in 1999 at a weak 175. I am 5 foot 3.

To not bore you with the details, I gained more than the freshman 15. By the end of 1999, I weighed over 200 pounds. I will never forget the day I went to my obgyn, and he showed me that I landed in the extremely obese category. I was 19. It was then that I decided to change my life. I moved to Colorado, focused my life on the outdoors, ate only when I was hungry and became healthy. After a few years I moved away from Colorado to Wilmington, NC where natural activity was lessened. Any guesses for what happened? Gained weight again……. (fill in several life experiences and give or take a few 20 pound weight fluctuations).

I met Blake (when I was 170), and we fell in love. We decided to get married…. Any guesses to what me and my unhealthy relationship with food did? Virtually stopped eating anything besides steamed vegetables and raw fruit for six solid months to look “beautiful” (aka skeletal and boney) in my wedding photos. Ugh looking back, I wish I looked like me, healthy Meredith, and not Skeletor in my wedding photos. I weighed 204 in 1999 and 104 in 2007. Hello unhealthy!

After we got married and I had Lottie, I feel like I have developed a healthy relationship with food. I accredit that 100% to Weight Watchers. I think Weight Watchers is a lifestyle, not a diet. I do not count points, though I would in a heart beat if I got above my comfortable weight. It works. I have seen a huge change in my friend Sean who has lost 65-70 lbs since November 2011, redeveloped a relationship with exercise and met the woman of his dreams. My mom who is shrinking away by the day and numerous other friends who have created healthy relationships with food with the help of Weight Watchers.

My mom and I have talked WW all summer. We are really into it. Tonight she introduced me to the most simple and wonderful marinade for salmon, pork, chicken, steak or tofu. She calls it the “Anything Marinade”. It is delicious and only adds 0.25 points to any meal.  We used it on Salmon where we would normally use a brown sugar based marinade. It was awesome!

The “Anything Marinade”

“Anything Marinated” Salmon

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp Dijon Mustard
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

Directions:

  1. Mix ingredients
  2. Marinate chosen protein
  3. Baste protein with excess
  4. Enjoy!

Take Corn?

Blake and I are very thankful that we have limited allergies. Neither one of us can have Penicillin, but that really doesn’t bother us as my “doc in a box” will fire a Cortisone shot in my tail and dish me out a Penicillin-free Z-pack if I walk in the door with a sniffle.
 
My sweet niece, Caroline, on the other hand has some serious allergies. Her whole face gets swollen when we cook any shellfish in the house, and peanuts will close her breathing passage ways right up. That being said, we have all become very conscience of being around her when we have peanuts or shellfish.
 
For the past three years, my family has gone on a week long family vacation to Carolina Beach. The first year, I had a one year old, the next year I was pregnant and had a two year old, and this year I had a three year old and a three month old. Needless to say, I have had limited time with my toes in the sand. I haven’t even had time to snap a picture of them to post on Facebook to make all of my friends jealous. When I see the cliche “toes in the sand” photo on any method of social media, I immediately think of a terrified toddler who needs two adult hands when a wave is in sight and trying to anchor down an umbrella, which is guaranteed to blow a half mile down the shoreline, to cover up my infant who won’t nap on the beach anyway. Then I picture myself packing up the chair, the umbrella, the bag of sand toys, the towels and whatever infant sleeping tent I got ripped off on that summer and making my way back to the house where I look forward to a 3 minute shower and a moist towel that has clearly dried in humidity. I know, better beach years are to come….in about four years.
 
It is normally Thursday that everyone is dying for a break from the sand and pool, and we need something else to do. We always opt for the local zoo with ample shade, a decently price gift shop and mediocre fencing for thier fierce and deadly animals such as crocodiles and tigers. I mean, we literally are one foot from the mouth of a crocodile behind a thin and wobbly chain linked fence, but on ‘Family Beach Vacation Thursday’, we will do whatever it takes to use our time and keep the kiddos happy.
 
If there was an award ceremony for the trip to this zoo, Caroline would earn “Most Easy Going” every time. When you purchase your ticket, you can buy corn and peanuts to feed the animals. Remember what I told you about the proximity to deadly animals? Well, this simply decreases said proximity. This is not just a petting zoo with the likes of a few goats, a friendly pig and a turkey or two. This is a full on zoo. “Here, here, here crocodile, have some peanuts…Oh tiger, come here… I have come peanuts for you.”
 
As noted earlier, Caroline can’t even touch peanuts. For the first half mile of this zoo, every animal only eats peanuts. At each cage, we would remind Caroline that the animal couldn’t have corn. She patiently held her full bag of corn while everyone else was firing peanuts at every animal in sight. She kept a good attitude for awhile, but soon she began to get sad. She just wanted to feed an animal. We all got enthralled at a monkey that would catch our peanuts and throw it right back at us, hard. I mean he would peg us with the peanuts, not hungry I guess. In the distance, we looked over and saw Caroline standing by the goat named Jack. She yelled across the zoo, “Daddy, does this one ‘take corn’?”

 
Of course the goats ‘took corn’, and being a goat is synonymous with being bad at something in our family, we really took on this term. “Did you play well or did you ‘take corn’?” When you lose at anything you will get heckled by goat sounds coming from the mouths of every original Smith.  With all of the negative stigma flowing in the direction of goats and corn, we have to stop and pay respects to the delicious cuisine that corn can be the foundation of.  This corn salad is always a hit, and it is super simple!  Baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa.
 
Mom’s Corn Salad

Image

Ingredients
– 4 drained cans of white shoepeg niblet corn (this is important not to alter)
– 1 bunch of green onion, chopped
– 1 container of grape or cherry tomatoes cut in half
– 1 tsp mayo (if you want, not necessary)
– salt and pepper to taste
 
Directions
1. Combine above ingredients.
2. Refrigerate.
3. Enjoy!

Pasta Salad Goes Bowl-Less

Pasta salad is just an easy, versatile and well-liked food. Personally, I like the oil based pasta salads over those that are based in mayonnaise. Pasta salad would be such a fun thing to make for party, but the delivery of it is such a hassle. You either need a bowl or a plate and a fork. You basically have to be sitting at a table or the pressure of the fork on the plate while its being supported by only one had can end up in a disaster on the entertainer’s floor.

As I was shopping at Costco, I found another “must share” deal: Three pounds of dry cheese tortellini for $5.99!!!

What a steal!

I knew I had to have it. Lottie eats it for dinner with butter and parmesan, and I love it in a salad. After buying this great deal, I was determined to find a way to make tortellini pasta salad easy and accessible for a party or a tennis match.

I decided to go with Antipasto Salad Kebabs; easy to eat, simple to prepare, inexpensive to make and taste wonderful! Happy Eating!

Antipasto Salad Kebabs

Makes: 30 kebabs

Antipasto Salad Kebabs

Ingredients

-½ lb uncooked cheese tortellini

– 30 large green and/or black olives

– 1 block of your choice of cheese, cubed

– 1 cup of your favorite Italian salad dressing

– 1 package of hard salami cut into fourths and folded in half

Directions

  1. Cook pasta as recommended on package.
  2. Add ingredient in any order to the bamboo skewer
  3. Coat in Italian dressing for 30 minutes
  4. Chill in refrigerator and serve

If You Roll It, They Will Eat

Lottie ate anything I put in front of her until the day she turned two. I think a lot of it is her developing the cognitive skills she needs to make a decision based on taste. She will still eat some broccoli and she is ok with beans, but that is about it as far as healthy goes. We do make her mac ‘n cheese home-made with wheat pasta and parmesan, but I am still not putting that in the healthy category.

My best friend’s nieces are the cutest things in the world. Their mama, Janice Hudgins, is always making them these wholesome, food pyramid meals that they actually eat. Every time Lottie plays with them, she scores one of these meals, and she does eat them.  The one component of the meal that I loved was Janice’s rice balls.

Rice is a healthy grain, and Lottie really likes it. Here is the problem: My OCD and rice don’t mix. It sticks to everything and when Lottie ate it, she was covered head to toe in it. Then I discovered…the rice ball. Now I like to add a few fun and healthy surprises in her rice balls, and we are good to go. Making them into small balls makes them fun to eat and mess free!

Rice Balls

Serves one toddler for 5 meals

Rice that Kids Love

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ingredients

–          1 cup of rice

–          1 cup of water

–          1 tsp salt

–          1 tsp soy sauce (optional)

–          Anything you want to add to the balls

Directions

  1. Cook rice in rice cooker as directed (sushi rice works best)
  2. Make a bowl of warm salt water.
  3. Dip hands in warm salt water.
  4. Grab a little rice, roll it into a ball.
  5. Put on plate and top with soy sauce and anything else you want to try.

 

Money Saving Tip: Buy rice in bulk. It lasts forever. Go to an Asian market and get a big bag so you always have it!

 

Why Do You Build Me Up, Butternut?

In the past, I would choose a pre-salad over pre-soup on any given day at any given restaurant. Since having Lottie, my taste buds and food cravings have changed tremendously. Now, when given the opportunity, I will always choose soup over salad.

In the winter, I typically have a pot of butternut squash soup in my fridge at all times. I love making shrimp to put in the soup to add texture and Enoki mushrooms provide a unique twist. Lottie loves it as well as a pasta sauce over whole wheat Rotini.

For awhile I stopped making this soup because cutting and peeling the whole squash was too hard for me (and my knives). Once again, Costco came through for me. Get this: They have fresh, precut and peeled butternut squash in the veggie section for $4.99/2lbs. Not only is it cheaper, but it is so easy!

Butternut Squash Soup

Serves- 8

Total Price (no shrimp)- $8.24

Total Price per Person- $1.03

Average Retail Price- $14.98

Total Savings- $6.74

Butternut Squash Soup

Ingredients

-2 lbs (one large or two small) Butternut Squash, peeled and cubed- seeds removed

-1 small sweet onion

– 2 medium sized carrots

– 1 stalk of celery

– 1 sweet potato (optional)

– 3-5 cans chicken of vegetable stock

– Sauteed or grilled shrimp (optional)

– Enoki mushrooms (optional)

 

Directions:

1. Cut celery and carrots into small pieces.

2. Diced onion.

3. Put celery, carrots and onions into large pot and cook on medium heat for five minutes. Add a little salt and pepper.

4. Add all cubed butternut squash.

5. Cover with chicken stock until all vegetables are just barely covered.

6. Boil until squash is fork tender.

7. Turn off heat and allow everything to cool.

8. Blend until smooth (add water or stock if you like it thinner).

9. Season with salt and pepper to your liking.

10. Serve and Enjoy!

 

Sales used in this Recipe:

2 lbs. Butternut Squash- Costco- $4.99

 

Catering to the Everything-Free Eaters

One of the things that my mom and her sisters share in common is that they all have very nurturing and catering personalities. I think these are such neat character traits to have. My aunt Sue posted on her Facebook that she is looking for gluten-free, sugar- free recipes and would love to have some that are vegan friendly. She wants to entertain her loved ones by catering to all of their specific diets.

The dinner we had last night was Thai Chicken Noodle Soup that can easily be made vegan by either substituting the chicken with tofu or leaving it out altogether. It was quite delicious and had just the right amount of spice.

Thai Chicken or Tofu Noodle Soup

*We got this idea from Food Network Magazine this month*

Serves 6

–          1 tbsp vegetable oil

–          1 onion, thinly sliced

–          2 cloves of garlic minced

–          2 tbsp green curry paste

–          6 cups low sodium chicken broth (vegetable broth for vegans)

–          15-ounce can coconut milk

–          1-2 tbsp fish sauce

–          2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced

–          4 oz thin rice noodles, broken into pieces

–          2 small skinless chicken breast thinly sliced or 2 cups of tofu

–          1 tbsp fresh lime juice

–          1 cup chopped cilantro

  1. Heat oil over medium high heat.
  2. Add onion and cook, stir occasionally about 5-7 minutes
  3. Add garlic and curry paste and cook, stirring 1-2 minutes
  4. Add chicken broth, coconut milk and fish sauce and bring to a boil.
  5. Add bell peppers and noodles and simmer uncovered until the noodles are al dente (3 minutes)
  6. Add chicken or tofu and simmer until cooked through (3 more minutes)
  7. Stir in lime juice and cilantro and serve hot!
  8. Savings in this meal:

Chicken- $1.48/lb at Kroger

Coconut milk- BOGO at Super H

Crazy for Cauliflower

I am so glad that cauliflower has received the recent spotlight in several cooking magazines lately. As long as I can remember, I have loved cauliflower more than most people. I think it is key to any salad and also adds a unique flavor to any assortment of roasted vegetables. The thing I love the most about it is the ability to transform it. It packs flavor, but it’s flavor can be transformed in any way. One of my favorite snacks is raw cauliflower dipped in yellow mustard. I was eating it the other day at school when one of my students came to my desk and greeted me with a simple, “gross”.

In 2007, when I was on an disgustingly limited diet to prepare for my wedding, I ate only vegetables. After a few weeks, the raw and roasted stuff was becoming boring, and I needed a new twist. Blake made mashed cauliflower, and I fell in love with it. We replace mashed potatoes with mashed cauliflower all the time now. Last month, Blake had a brilliant idea. He wanted to make a mashed cauliflower souffle. BEST.IDEA.EVER.

The pictures will never do this side justice. For two reasons, it is basically a colorless dish, and I am horrible at taking pictures. Trust me, this one is worth making.

Asiago Cauliflower Souffles

Serves 4

Total Price- $2.63

Total Price per serving- $0.66

Average Retail Price- $4.39

Total Savings $1.76

(You will need 4 equal size baking ramekins)

Ingredients

– 1 head of cauliflower

-1 tbsp butter

-1tbsp sour cream

-1/4 milk

-3/4 cup shredded Asiago cheese

Directions

1. Break the cauliflower into large heads

2. Boil until fork tender

3. Strain and cool for 5-10 minutes

4. Blend with butter, sour cream, milk and salt and pepper (adjust seasonings and ingredients to your liking.)

5. After blending, the mashed cauliflower should be the consistency of grits.

6. Pour mashed cauliflower into baking ramekins.

7. Top with shredded Asiago (just enough cheese to cover the top)

8. Bake 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until cheese is bubbly and melted.

9. If you want to make these the day before or the morning of, compose them, place them in the refrigerator and bake from cold at 400 degrees for 40-50 minutes.

Savings in this side dish

Cauliflower $1.38/head at Super H Mart

Asiago cheese $2.99/lb at Costco

Eat Your Veggies!

Entertaining is the best. I wish I had a bigger house so I could entertain every weekend. Since I can’t do this, I do my best to be invited to as many “potluck” parties as possible. This allows me to make friends via fun appetizers. You know how you go to potlucks and wind up eating four varieties of potato salad, two macaroni salads, a handful of pigs-in-a-blanket, three meat balls and a scoop or two of 7-layer dip and then leaving feeling unsatisfied, but miserably full? Well, maybe that is just me, but I love to bring something different- something that “wows” the crowd.

This summer Blake and I joined my childhood pool to have a place to spend our summer days, meet some friends and allow Lottie to meet some other kids.  We LOVE our pool. Anyway, we had a Memorial Day potluck right when the pool opened. Blake and I decided to bring one of our favorites- a veggie basket! The cool thing about this appetizer is that you can munch on it all night long and still leave feeling very healthy.

Veggie basket

This dish was a HIT! In fact, I met one of my Facebook friends based totally on the dipping sauce of this basket (J Tisha). The only problem with this basket is that everyone at the pools knows me as “Veggie Basket Girl” rather than Meredith. Oh well, take what you can get.

The key to this appetizer is to buy vegetables that look like they were just pulled from the garden. Tie a pair of garden gloves to the handle for a nice little touch. Be careful in the basket you choose. It really needs to be wide and FLAT. Otherwise the veggies all roll into the center and frustrate the dickens out of you.

Choose veggies that are on SALE!

The Veggie Basket

For the green beans and asparagus– boil for a few minutes (4ish) and then drain and transfer IMMEDIATELY to a bowl of ice water. Do not over boil!

For the potatoes Boil until fork tender, but not as tender as a potato for mashing.

For the artichoke– cut stem down. Boil for 1 hour 15 minutes. Add water as necessary.

For the carrots – Try to find the ones with green stems to allow them to hang off edge of basket for the “fresh from the garden” look. They weren’t on sale when I made mine.

For the radish and celery– serve raw but try to find the ones with stems.

***You can make all these veggies the night before and store in ziplock bags in the fridge until a few minutes before the party***

For the sauces- (Serve in hollowed out bell peppers)

–         Spicy ranch– ranch mixed with a teaspoon of Sriracha.

–         Mock Hollandaise- ½ cup mayo, ¼ cup mustard, tsp lemon juice, salt and pepper and tsp of poppy seed.

–         Blue Cheese- Whichever kind is on SALE.

–         BE CREATIVE!