Now that the new year has begun, I’m ready to detox a bit from all the holiday treats and sweets that surrounded us the past few weeks and get back in the school-days routine.
In our house, a good part of this will include planning out our family’s lunches so that mom and dad are not grabbing something unhealthy in a time crunch and that Ava will find her meal delicious and filling. (The twins are still eating daycare-provided lunches, so they’re all set during the week.)
Ava would eat the same thing every single day if I let her. Her palate is generally limited to Lunchables or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, with either an applesauce GoGo Squeeze or a yogurt tube. So I’d like to get her to branch out a bit.
Every once in awhile, I can sneak in a pasta salad of some kind or cut up squares of cheese pizza. Maybe even a bagel. But we could use a spark of inspiration.
Here’s a few handy tips on healthy kid lunches that QualChoice of Arkansas has offered:
PORTIONS: The USDA recommends tennis-ball sized portions of vegetables and whole grains, golf-ball sized portions of fruit and lean protein, and a pink pong ball portion of low-fat dairy. (Prepackaged items can often be a little more expensive, but I’ve come to realize that the portion control and ease of packing is a good tradeoff.)
PRODUCE: The great thing about fruits and veggies is they deliver lots of nutrients and they don’t require cooking. It’s best to keep produced washed and cut in the fridge so there isn’t a lot of prep work. Great options for this are: cherry tomatoes, carrot sticks, cucumber slices, berries, apples, pears and grapes. (Ava always loves her carrot sticks with a little cup of ranch dressing.)
WHOLE GRAINS: For a crunchier side, pack multi-grain chips or pretzels instead of potato chips. Whole grain pita pockets and tortillas are also a great alternative and are easy to fill with lunch meats, salad mixes and more.
PROTEINS & DAIRY: Proteins come in many forms – not just meat. You could pack a wrap or sandwich with lean turkey, or you could include a hard-boiled egg. Also, sharp cheddar cheese and Greek yogurt offer a great source of protein and dairy.
HYDRATION: Instead of juice boxes, include a small bottle of frozen water. The ice will keep the rest of the lunch cool, and will melt enough by lunchtime to be drinkable.
SNACKS: After school or on the weekends, healthy snacks can help curb overeating later. Pack a baggie of popcorn for a 100% whole grain snack, or try almonds mixed with dried fruits, whole fruits or pretzels.
Happy lunching out there! And if you have more ideas or handy tips, I’d love to hear them. Please share!
Got this one from a cookbook — Healthy Slow Cooker Revolution — that Hubs picked up at work.
We made it the other night and found it to be quite yummy!
2 lbs poblano chiles, stemmed, halved and seeded
2 onions, chopped (I used just one due to Hubs’ aversion to all things onion)
6 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons canola oil
1 1/2 teaspoons minced canned chipotle chile in adobo sauce
3 cups chicken broth
One 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
3 chicken breasts
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice, plus extra for seasoning
Toss poblanos, onions, garlic cumin, coriander, oil and chipotle together in bowl. Spread mixture in a foil-lined, rimmed baking sheet. Broil until poblanos start to turn black in spots and other veggies start to soften. Flip halfway through cooking. (This will take about 15 minutes or so.)
Transfer half of the mixture to a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Transfer to slow cooker. Process the remaining mixture until smooth. Transfer to slow cooker.
Stir in broth, tomatoes (and their juice) and 1/2 teaspoon salt into slow cooker. Nestle chicken in cooker as well. Cover and cook three to five hours on low, or until chicken is tender. (Note: I sauteed the chicken briefly before putting it in the crockpot.)
When chicken is tender, transfer to cutting board and shred. Return to pot. Add cilantro, lime juice, salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with baked tortilla chips, avocado, sour cream, shredded cheese, etc…
A couple of people asked me to share the recipe for this dish after I made it for our newsroom potluck. Ya’ll, this is so, so easy and yummy! I first tried these at our neighbor’s house, when he threw a birthday party for his wife. My kids inhaled these meatballs, so I asked him for the recipe. He told me the main ingredients and one Google session later, voila. If you want to make your own meatballs, go for it. Just don’t make them Italian-style. If you’re preparing this in a hurry and want to use frozen meatballs, make sure you get the Homestyle ones and NOT Italian. — Arkie Mama
1 can (14 ounces) jellied cranberry sauce
1 bottle (12 ounces) chili sauce
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 package (32 ounces) frozen fully cooked homestyle meatballs, thawed
Mix and heat the first six ingredients until sugar dissolves. Add meatballs. Cook until tender. You can do this in a pot or crockpot, depending on your timeframe.
As we have several branches of family to celebrate holidays with, we have forged a tradition of having a big Christmas Eve meal at our house. We get plenty of ham and turkey this time of year when we travel to see other family, and I’m from a state where beef reigns supreme. So we go with standing rib roast for what is clearly our most luxurious home-cooked meal of the year.
SimplyRecipes.com has an outstanding Prime Rib Recipe that includes gravy directions. And let’s just say that if you’re going to go this route, get more than you think you’ll need. (The leftovers make excellent with sandwiches with onions, peppers and provolone.)
There’s no need for dressing with this Christmas menu, but mashed potatoes are a must. And I’ve found that Martha Stewart is my spiritual match on this issue — no joke. I promise that if you try her recipe for Perfect Mashed Potatoes, you won’t go back. I use a ricer for mine, too. Absolutely no lumps.
On the side, we’ll have honey-glazed carrots and brussels sprouts with bacon and pecans.
I’ve been toying around with the carrots for awhile now and have finally figured out perfection. Cut the carrots into small coins and put into a baking dish. Then add several pats of butter, no fewer than five liberal squeezes of honey and a light dusting of salt, pepper and cayenne. Bake at 425 degrees for about 45 min.
Accidentally, I wound up this weekend with a stalk of fresh brussels sprouts so huge that it wouldn’t fit in our fridge. I decided to jump ahead and prep them up by cutting them off, chopping them in half and steaming them for about 10 minutes. Now, all we’ll have to do is cut bacon into small pieces, cook them in a large pan, dump in the brussels sprouts to reheat and coat them in bacon fat, and add in as many pecans as we’d like. Salt, pepper, done.
I’m not much of a baker — and I usually spend my efforts there on cookies for Santa. So for dessert, I hit up Fresh Market. (Where I would hide in a corner and live, if I could. All that peaceful music, and beautiful things everywhere. It’s a dream world.)
Yule Log is my husband’s thang, you might say. It’s basically a super moist and rich chocolate cake with chocolate icing rolled on the inside as well as on top. Big glass of milk required.
And that’s it! I hope you all have a delicious holiday meal in some form or fashion. Food is love, especially on a holiday.
My kids learned to make this at their after-school program. Easy. Fun. Yummy.
butter or margarine
Heat butter or margarine in small skillet. Place tortilla in skillet. Coat with pizza sauce. (stop before you get to the edges though!) Add pepperoni and shredded cheese. Place second tortilla on top. When the bottom tortilla reaches desired crispiness, flip it!
You’ve heard happy wife = happy life, right? Well, I’ve got the real secret to marital bliss and family harmony.
Marry a pizza guy.
When I met Daddy, he was a pizza delivery driver. Shortly thereafter, he regularly wooed me with perfectly placed toppings brought straight to my door.
And he’s still got skills — they especially come in handy on dreary nights when it’s too cold to go out.
I mean, really. Look at this beauty (or what’s left of it, anyway):
No one turns this dinner down. Especially when they get to help make their own. (Cheese only, obviously.)
Last but not least, this.
It’s pure love. Family pizza night rocks.
If you haven’t yet read the post by Heidi, aka Margarita Mama, on our recent Saturday afternoon at Cajun’s Wharf Christmas Camp 2014, please check it out here. As she said, we and about 2 dozen Arkansas Women Bloggers spent the afternoon with the Cajun’s Wharf crew, eating, drinking and having a grand ole’ time.
First up was a wine tasting with Dan, the manager at Cajun’s Wharf.
Dan let us sample A to Z 2013 Oregon Riesling, Yali Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, Adelsheim Pinot Noir, also from Oregon, and St. Francis Merlot from California’s Sonoma Valley. My favorites were the Riesling, which was very refreshing and not nearly as sweet as many Rieslings are, and the Merlot, which was rich and lush — everything a Merlot ought to be.
Next up was lunch. Just in case you didn’t know it, Cajun’s Wharf is now open for lunch Monday through Friday. And their lunch menu is quite varied — think seafood, salads, soup, sandwiches and burgers, plus appetizers and desert.
First up were the appetizers. The table I was at couldn’t decide what appetizers to try, so our awesome server brought a little bit of everything. It was all so good, especially the Oysters Bienville, which Heidi had to convince me to try by promising it would be as good as the last oyster she talked me into eating in Gulf Shores! It was! I think I’ll definitely order the Oysters Bienville again.
As far as the other appetizers, the artichoke dip at Cajun’s Wharf has long been a favorite of mine. Oh, and I can’t leave out the shrimp and crawfish cakes with the slightly spicy cream sauce — I could have eaten the entire plate of those!
After the appetizers, it was a wonder I had room for lunch. Ha, who am I kidding — of course I had room for lunch! My pick was the Shrimp Enchiladas, a dish that combined shrimp, cheese and sour cream. It’s like they wrote that recipe just for me!
Somehow I failed to get any good pictures of desert (sorry!) but we sampled chocolate ganache Key lime pie, coconut cream pie, white chocolate bread pudding and chocolate creme brulee and a pumpkin pie. Everything was good, but my heart will always belong to chocolate creme brulee.
After all of this deliciousness, it was time to get cooking, err, cooking tips, that is!
Mary Beth Ringgold, the co-owner of Cajun’s Wharf, Capers and Copper Grill restaurants, was our teacher for the afternoon. I was thrilled to see that the recipe she was cooking for us was Mussels and Clams in Tomato Broth. Mussels are a dish that my husband makes for us occasionally, so I was excited to take him home a recipe that adds in clams!
Mussels and Claims in Tomato Broth
- 2 lbs. Mussels
- 30 each Little Neck Clams
- 2 TBS Olive Oil
- 2 TBS Butter
- 1 Shallot, minced
- 1 each Red, yellow and green bell pepper
- 1/2 Medium yellow onion — you can use leeks instead
- 4 each Garlic cloves
- 6 sprigs Fresh Thyme
- 1 cup White Wine***
- 1 each Lemon juiced
- 2 cups Chicken broth
- 2 TBS Clam juice
- 1 can Rotel
- Pinch of Red pepper flakes
- 1 Fresh tomato
- 1/2 cup Rough chopped parsley
- 2 TBS Butter for finishing
- Salt and pepper to taste
*** Don’t cook with any wine you wouldn’t drink. — Mary Beth Ringgold
1. Rinse and scrub the mussels and clams.
2. Discard any that have opened or have broken shells.
TIP: If a shell is just partially opened, gently tap it on the side of the stock pot or counter. If it closes back on its own, it is still alive and fine to cook. If it does not, it is dead and you need to toss it!
3. Heat oil and then butter in a stock pot.
4. Saute the onion, shallot, garlic and thyme — do them in this order, especially the onion first.
5. Add the wine, chicken stock, lemon juice and red pepper flakes.
6. Add the clam juice and the Rotel.
7. Bring to a light boil.
8. Add the Clams, bring back to a boil and cook for 3-4 minutes.
9. Add the mussels and cook until the shells start to open.
10. Add the reserved butter, parsley and fresh tomatoes.
TIP: Discard any mussels and clams if their shells do not open!
11. Serve with plenty of garlic bread or toasts.
Next on the agenda was a whiskey tasting. Now I know what you’re thinking — You don’t like whiskey. I admit, I’ve often been sitting right there next to you on the “It tastes Yucky” bench. But apparently, we haven’t been drinking the right kind of whiskey!
What we tried were four types of sipping whiskey. All four were made in Nashville in small batch distilleries. And I liked three of the four, especially when I diluted them slightly.
Both the Collier & McKeel Tennessee Whiskey and the Belle Meade Bourbon Whiskey had a little bit of a sweetness to them, which really surprised me. I’ve NEVER thought that whiskey could have vanilla and maple syrup notes in it, but the Collier & McKeel did.
And being born in Kentucky, I’m glad to say I can now drink at least one type of bourbon, even if it is made in Tennessee.
I can’t quite describe the Rye Whiskey, other than to say it was very smooth and I liked it. Did you know that Ryes are considered an Old World whiskey, while the Tennessee Whiskey and Bourbon are New World ones — largely because the latter two are made with corn, which was plentiful in the United States, but not Europe.
Sadly, the one I wasn’t a fan of is Corsair Artisan’s Triple Smoke Single Malt, which was named Whiskey Advocate‘s “Artisan Whiskey of the Year.” The grains in the Triple Smoke had been smoked over three kinds of wood or fuel, including peat, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately, all my novice palate tasted in the whiskey was smoke.
Our last whiskey treat was a Tennessee sipping cream by Whisper Creek. Oh my word, it was good! If you like Bailey’s, you would like this. I think this would make an excellent treat on a cold winter’s night!
Many thanks to Cajun’s Wharf for inviting us to spend the afternoon with you. I had a blast!
In preparation for the holidays, a group of us from Arkansas Women Bloggers were treated to an amazing day filled with fresh food, drinks and even a few cooking lessons at Cajun’s Wharf Christmas Camp.
I’d never once before strayed from having Cajun’s dinnertime-only Boston casserole, which features shrimp, King crabmeat, lobster and scallops, linguine, broccoli and water chestnuts bathed in newburg sauce and topped with mozzarella. It’s so ridiculously good. (My husband always gets the Six and Six — bacon-wrapped shrimps paired with grilled sea scallops. We’re predictable people.)
But now Cajun’s is open for lunch, too, giving me a chance to cheat on my Cajun’s favorite with something else.
After sampling a few wines and an amazing array of appetizers with my fellow bloggers, I settled on a classic for lunch — the Cajun Po’Boy with shrimp. As much as I loved the sandwich, I could have eaten a whole vat of the loaded hashbrown casserole. I’ll most definitely be returning for that.
After stuffing us to the brim, co-owner Mary Beth Ringgold presented us with a cooking demonstration that included an elegant mussels and clams dish, tips on how to make a great turkey and a new take on sweet potato casserole.
Ringgold suggests brining and later stuffing a turkey with leeks, lemons, pears and honeycrisp or Granny Smith apples. Another pro tactic she shared was crisping the turkey skin to a golden brown first at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes. Afterward, turn down the oven to about 340 degrees and foil tent your turkey for the remaining cook time, without opening the door again to get a juicy yet perfectly done breast.
She also shared her mom’s sweet potato casserole recipe. It’s sneakily similar to one on the Gourmet-to-Go menu at Cajun’s sister restaurant, Capers, so you know it’s a winner.
- 4 lbs. sweet potatoes, sliced and oven roasted ahead of time
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup milk
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1 tsp. vanilla
Topping (can be made ahead and frozen):
- 1 cup coconut
- 1 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- 1/3 cup flour
- 1/3 cup melted butter
Mix main ingredients and spread in a casserole dish, then evenly spread the topping. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. If the topping browns too quickly, cover with foil until finished. (Or, heck, pick one up at Capers!)
Another thing Cajun’s Wharf is famous for is its Play-De-Do drink, a delicious pink concoction served in mason jars that never fails to please. Its seasonal twist on the classic is a Holly-De-HoHo — and I can attest that it will make you just as happy.
If you want to try making your own version, here’s the recipe:
- one bottle of red wine (use the kind that you like!)
- 2 cups pomegranate juice
- 1/2 cup brandy
- 1/2 cup triple sec
- 1/4 cup simple syrup
Cajun’s suggestions for adding holiday flair are to garnish with pomegranate seeds, orange slices, green apple slices and grapes.
While the rest of us are dreading the SNOW PANIC of the season, at least someone was genuinely thrilled to wake up to see the extremely light dusting of white powder on trees, decks and cars this morning.
Among the morning howling for oatmeal to warm their bellies and dogs scratching at the door to get out, I realized what had happened and yelled out, “Snow!”
Kendall was immediately overcome with the sense of excitement and yelled out in return, “Christmas!” (Ava quickly explained to her that, sadly, it’s not Christmas every time it snows.)
It’s looking like we may get another shot at this snow thing this weekend. So everyone, do as we do in Arkansas and run out to claim all the milk and bread you can find at the store. Meanwhile, I’m feeling well stocked already. I’m about to fill up the crockpot, as nature instructs you to do on a frozen day.
Stay warm out there.
We’ve reached what is officially the busiest time of year. It’s full steam ahead from now until January, when the holidays are over. But a little advance planning can help take the edge off from the stress of seasonal meals — along with stocking up for unexpected party invitations and guests of your own.
While you’re out shopping, eating or running errands, a quick stop into Strippaggio’s at The Promenade at Chenal can help you gather up a few supplies to carry you through.
One of my in-laws’ favorite appetizers is a zippy jelly or sauce over cream cheese with crackers or Triscuits. It’s a tasty snack to put out with a fruit or veggie tray while you’re cooking, and it’s something easy to stash away for one of those times when an event pops up with little notice.
The best part is that you’ll nearly always have some sauce left over for another use. I’d pick the raspberry chipotle sauce to recycle as part of a guest-worthy lunch panini, featuring turkey, brie and spinach.
The Peach Jezebel sauce would be fabulous to glaze your holiday ham. I’m a simple gal when it comes to cooking — just pour it over when it’s got about 15-20 minutes left to bake, and you’re done. (You could chance it earlier, but sweet sauces may tend to overcarmelize sometimes.) If you don’t want to mess with the traditional “big meal,” you can hold onto it instead to jazz up leftovers.
As I’ve noted before, I’m in a squash period right now. Can’t get enough. It’s both in season and easy to cook. And if you’ve got any guests who are going gluten-free, it’s a good option for them. My favorite pairing with it is Strippaggio’s Milanese Gremolata oil, plus a little salt and pepper.
After it’s prepped, pop it in the oven at 425 degrees for about 45 minutes or more, depending on the size of the squash. Once it’s done, scoop out the tasty strands and perhaps re-season a bit, if needed.
You most definitely can’t forget dessert. I’m a little bit in love with sweets featuring sea salt, so my heart skipped a beat when I saw this on the shelves:
I can think of so many things to do with this sauce. Ice cream. Brownies. Frozen carmel bananas on sticks. Topping an apple pie. Whatever treat your crowd is into, this would surely add a touch of luxuriousness appropriate for the holidays.
Enjoy the season, everyone! It’s a beautiful time to celebrate food and family.
Note: This is a compensated post. Of course, all opinions/thoughts/feelings are my own, however.