Fast & Furious Back to School Bites

 

This week’s post is by Leah Kelley.

 

Every year about a week before school starts I start baking like a mad woman. I bake at least 8 dozen muffins, 4 dozen pancakes, and 2 dozen waffles. I also whip up a couple batches of granola bars and energy bites. Why do I bake like this you ask? I’ve learned over the past 5 years of having kids in school that mornings don’t always go as planned. You spend 20 minutes looking for a shoe that the cat was laying on then you spend another 15 minutes explaining why cowboy boots and a princess dress up costume is not appropriate for school. Before you know it, it’s almost time for them to catch the bus.

 

 

This is where my mad woman baking comes in handy. I can just pop a frozen muffin in the microwave for 45 seconds and voila! a healthy breakfast. I’m going to share my favorite muffin recipe with you. These freeze well and are delicious! To freeze them just put them in a Ziploc freezer bag and lay flat in your freezer.

 

 


These Chocolate Chip Banana Muffins from Designed Decor are Divine!

It’s also nice to have a few freezer snacks available for after school snacks. The kids can do their homework or chores while their snack thaws out. I’m going to share my all time favorite energy bite recipe. These don’t give the kids “I’m going to scale the walls then run a marathon energy”  they’re just a healthy snack bite.

No Bake Energy Bites from Cooking Classy are my Favorites!

What are your  fast and furious snacks and breakfasts for busy school days?

 

 


 

 

Meal Planning Monday ~ Healthy Entertaining

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

When I ask people what their biggest roadblock is to eating healthy, many say it’s resisting temptation when at a party, event, or restaurant.  It’s definitely a challenge to eat healthy when someone else prepares the food and you have limited choices.  But I have been to parties at other people’s houses – people who I know are generally healthy eaters – and the buffet is full of unhealthy choices!  Do we think that entertaining has to include a smorgasbord of fat and sugar-laden treats?

Yes, it is possible to offer healthful and super-tasty choices when hosting your next event or party!  Last week, I hosted my first Ava Anderson Non Toxic party and Melissa, my nurse practitioner, was going to be in attendance.  Melissa has helped me clean up my diet quite a bit over the past couple months, so I felt challenged to apply what I’d learned and make sure the snacks I was offering to the ladies in attendance were both healthy and delicious!

My first snack was simple – a veggie tray loaded with organic baby carrots, celery, cherry tomatoes, and cucumbers.  I chose an all-natural ranch dressing with no high fructose corn syrup or MSG (Newman’s Own is a good pick).

The ladies killed my second snack!  There were zero leftovers of the Greek Style Chips & Dip.  This one is so amazingly easy and tasty, you’ll be tempted to make it for every party and get-together you go to.

Photo Credit: www.KraftRecipes.com

 

Greek Style Chips & Dip

 

  • 1 pkg. (7 oz.) ATHENOS Original Hummus
  • 1 pkg. (4 oz.) ATHENOS Traditional Feta Cheese, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup chopped cucumbers
  • 2 tablespoons sliced kalamata olives
  • ATHENOS Pita Chips Original

 

Spread hummus on the bottom of a glass 9-inch pie plate or similar sized dish.  In a bowl, combine the feta cheese, tomatoes, cucumber, and olives.  Spread the mixture on top of the hummus and serve with chips. I opted for the whole grain pita chips, and had a gluten free cracker option for dipping as well.  The great thing with this recipe is you can use different flavor options for the hummus if you so choose.

My final snack served for my party had to be something sweet – preferably chocolate to compliment the red wine the ladies were sipping!  I knew my “Healthy Candy” recipe would fit the bill… and I made it even healthier than usual by using dairy-free chocolate!  (Who knew there was even such a thing?)

Even Healthier Candy

 

  • 1 Package of Enjoy Life Mega Chunks
  • 1 ½ Cups of Kashi Heart to Heart Cereal
  • 1 Cup of Dried Cherries
  • ½ Cup of Walnut Pieces

 

In a medium bowl, microwave the chocolate on high for 1 minute.  Stir.  Microwave 1 more minute or until melted. (You can also do this on the stove top or in a double boiler).  Quickly stir in cereal, dried cherries, and walnuts until well coated.  Using a tablespoon, drop clusters on a wax paper lined baking sheet.  Refrigerate for two hours or until chocolate hardens.  I store the candy in the refrigerator until ready to serve.  You can make this recipe gluten-free by using Rice Chex or another gluten free cereal.  And I must say, I am completely delighted and perplexed by the Enjoy Life products, the Mega Chunks especially.  How can anything be dairy, nut, soy, and gluten free and still taste so awesome?  (Bonus: Non-GMO!)  Judging by the lack of leftovers, I would say that my tasty treats were a big hit.

Still need inspiration for appetizers?  Another healthy entertainment option is homemade bean dip made with organic re-fried beans.  (1 can of beans + 1 cup of salsa.  Heat thoroughly and sprinkle with a little cheddar cheese if desired and serve with organic corn chips.)

What are your favorite dishes to serve that are both healthy and delicious when entertaining guests?

Meal Planning Monday ~ Sinless Decadent Desserts

Today post is by Casey Lindberg-Coghill of Veggie and Glitter.

I’m typically not a strong lover of sweets, but lately I’ve had nothing but dessert on my mind. It doesn’t matter if it’s a cupcake, a cookie, or a slice of pie; if it’s sweet, I’ll gladly devour it in thirty seconds flat.

If you hadn’t guessed already, I’m currently about half way through my first pregnancy, and if the old wives’ tale is correct, then I’m definitely having a girl. It’s hardly scientific, but they say that those who crave sweets are carrying a girl; those who only want salty treats are having a boy.

But that doesn’t mean that this week’s Meal-Planning Monday post is only for those who have babies on the way. I have plenty of friends and relatives who struggle with maintaining a healthy lifestyle and satisfying their overbearing “sweet teeth.” It’s easy for a doctor or fitness guru to tell you to simply skip dessert or substitute fresh fruit for your favorite cake, but it’s only human to want to indulge every now and then. This week’s loaded schedule of recipes is focused solely on desserts that are big on taste and not on calories and fat.

Monday ~ Pumpkin Coffee Cookies 

If you’re anything like me, you find it difficult to get through a particularly manic Monday without lots of caffeine in your bloodstream. To be perfectly honest with you, I need several cups of coffee to get through even those rare stress-free days, so on Mondays, an extra pick-me-up is simply a necessity.

With their density relying on Greek yogurt and pumpkin puree rather than fatty substances like oil or butter, these cookies will satisfy your sweet tooth and your coffee craving without expanding your waistline. So go ahead, pour another cup of joe and indulge in a plateful of cookies without feeling guilty. You deserve it after making it through the dreaded first day of the traditional work week!

Tuesday ~ Fig & Fudge Brownies

Sometimes you just need a chocolate fix, but it seems like there has to be some way to get that fix without feeling terribly guilty afterwards. Put down that calorie-laden boxed brownie mix and allow me to introduce you to a pan of brownies that won’t leave a pit in your stomach after you eat two more rows than you intended on consuming (Admit it: We’ve all done it!).

The reason that brownies are typically so scrumptiously moist is because they’re filled with oils or butters, but these brownies get their stabilization and density from fruit puree instead of from fat. While I concocted these brownies with fig puree, pureed prunes or dates could also serve the same function. And don’t worry if you’re trying to serve these to a family that’s wary of health food; your secret’s safe with us! ;)

Wednesday ~ Not-So-Chunky Monkey Cookies

The combination of bananas and dark chocolate in this recipe is a match made in heaven when it comes to flavor, but these goodies are also righteous when it comes to nutrition. Not only do the bananas add a punch of potassium to your daily diet, ingredients like whole-wheat flour and dates provide more fiber than a serving of bran cereal. And even though dark chocolate could hardly be labeled as a “health food,” it does contain more antioxidants than other types of chocolate, such as white or traditional milk varieties.

Thursday ~ Dark Chocolate Avocado Torte

If you’re anything like my little family, you’re feeling hesitant about a dessert containing something green. However, you’ll thank me later if you choose to give this easy, no-bake recipe a spin.  The addition of sweet ingredients like maple syrup and chocolate chips offsets the distinctive taste of avocado, so you don’t have to worry that it will taste like a bowl of guacamole! The avocado flesh simply adds a creamy, velvety texture that will have you heaping your plate with seconds. Thanks to the lack of animal-based or dairy products, this dessert is also vegan-friendly.

Photo credit: BettyCrocker.com

Friday ~ Double-Chocolate Snack Cake

I first discovered this recipe when I was invited to a dinner party at the last minute and idiotically offered to bring a dessert, even though I had no recipe in mind. With only about an hour to whip something up, I came to the realization that I had no milk or eggs on hand, which it seems like just about every recipe out there needs! Thankfully, I had previously saved this dairy-free chocolate cake on Pinterest and decided to give it a try. It was a huge hit with the entire group of guests; I even had two separate guests beg me for the recipe before the end of the night.

While this recipe does contain sugar and oil, the amounts for which it calls are far less than other recipes for similar-tasting  products. To further lighten the fat and sugar content, just omit the powdered sugar dusting and chocolate chip topping. It’s just as mouth-watering without it!

What’s your favorite “sinless” decadent dessert?

In addition to running her wellness blog Veggies and Glitter, Casey
Lindberg-Coghill is a freelance writer based out of Charlotte, NC. Aside from being
a writer, Casey is also a huge bookworm and fashion enthusiast who has rather
unhealthy obsessions with Justin Timberlake and anything pumpkin-flavored.

 

 

Meal Planning Monday ~ Kitchen 911

This week’s post is by Christine Luken.

Cooking and Meal Planning is more art than science.  That being said, sometimes a meal is a masterpiece and other times a dish is best hidden at the bottom of the garbage can!  If you’ve been cooking for any length of time, you’ve probably experienced a few culinary disasters.  I know I have!  Whether it’s a forgotten ingredient, a misread recipe, an over – or under – cooked dish, or just a bad recipe, sometimes we all need “emergency assistance” in the kitchen.  Today I’m going to talk about different levels and types of cooking issues and give you a little “Kitchen 911” to help you fix or avoid those issues in the future.

Level One Kitchen Emergencies ~ Level One Kitchen Emergencies aren’t really emergencies, but more like annoyances or inconveniences.  Don’t get me wrong, they can still stress you out!  My most common Level One Emergency is thinking that I have an ingredient on hand for a recipe, and then I discover that something is missing in the midst of my mixing and measuring.  Thank God for Google!  I usually whip open my iPad and Google “substitute for buttermilk (or whatever) in recipe” and some article with the answer pops up.  I found this great chart from AllRecipes.com that I keep with my cookbooks because it has a comprehensive list of substitute ingredients.  Another common kitchen annoyance is realizing that extra folks are coming for dinner and you may not have enough food to go around.  If you’re making a dish with ground beef or turkey, consider adding a cup or two of rice or beans to stretch your meat.  You could also add shredded veggies like carrots or zucchini to stretch a pasta dish or casserole.  Usually with a bit of creativity and effort, Level One Kitchen Emergencies are pretty easy to resolve.  This past Christmas Eve, I was preparing to bake my much anticipated Rum Cake for Christmas Day dinner.  To my dismay, I realized there was no yellow cake mix among the dozen or so boxes of Betty Crocker in my stockpile.  So I grabbed a dark chocolate cake mix and a bag of chocolate chips and consulted my cookbooks and the internet.  The result?  A Chocolate Rum Cake that my family deemed superior to the previous version.  My “happy accident” of a recipe is below.

 

Level Two Kitchen Emergencies ~ Level Two Kitchen Emergencies cause panic: burnt cakes, too-salty soup, lumpy gravy, super spicy chili, etc.  Google to the rescue again!  Chances are, someone else has already encountered your problem and posted a blog about it.  This article covers many of the common fixes you might be looking for.  Usually with Level Two Kitchen Emergencies, your dish or recipe is salvageable.  Maybe you saw something awesome on Pinterest but your result doesn’t quite look like the original picture.  Again, you’re in good company: check out some hilarious Pinterest food fails here.  I remember making this four layer cake with a berry crème filling in between the layers… It looked more like the Leaning Tower of Pisa!  So, before it completely fell over, I scooped it into a trifle bowl and called it my Berry Dump Cake.  Problem solved! ;)

Level Three Kitchen Emergencies ~ Most Level Three Kitchen Emergencies can’t be recovered from, unfortunately.  The roast is burnt to a crisp, one of your key ingredients is spoiled, a dish is just plain inedible, or God forbid – you set the kitchen on fire.  Don’t panic!  Just grab the fire extinguisher if you need it, toss the disaster in the trash, and call for pizza delivery.  Most importantly, don’t beat yourself up because kitchen disasters happen to the best of us!  None of us succeed 100% of the time in the kitchen.  And hopefully you won’t have to really call 911!

 Do you have a memorable culinary catastrophe to share?

 

Here is my Meal Plan for this week:

Monday ~ Homemade vegetable soup with hot turkey, cheddar, and pesto sandwiches.

Tuesday ~ I’m going out to my favorite Chinese restaurant (Oriental Wok) with my friend, Heather.  I’ll probably get my favorite dish: Black Bean Chicken with Asparagus.

Wednesday ~ I’ll be trying a new recipe called “World’s Best Chicken.”  I’ll let you know if it lives up to its name!

Thursday ~ Beef Stew in the Crock Pot.  I’ve been using steak seasoning in my stew instead of the usual pepper, salt, and paprika.  Hubby approved!

Friday ~ Turkey Meatloaf with parmesan potatoes and green beans.

Saturday ~ Polish sausage, potato and cheddar pierogies, and broccoli.

Sunday ~ Ginger Glazed Mahi Mahi with rice and snow peas.

 

Chocolate Rum Cake   (Based on a recipe from The Cake Mix Doctor Cookbook)

 Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 package dark chocolate cake mix
  • 1 package (3.9 oz.) chocolate instant pudding mix
  • ¾ cup water
  • ½ cup Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum
  • ½ vegetable (or coconut) oil
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 cup semi-sweet (or dark) chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mist a 12-cup Bundt pan with cooking spray.  In a large bowl, place all ingredients except the chocolate chips.  Blend on low with mixer for one minute.  Scrape down the sides and beat with mixer for 2 – 3 minutes until batter is smooth.  Stir in the chocolate chips.  Bake 50 – 55 minutes until the cake springs back lightly when touched.  Let cool for at least 20 minutes.  Run a long knife around the edge of the cake and invert onto a serving platter.  Top with the Butter Rum glaze, if desired.

Butter Rum Glaze (optional…but highly recommended!)

Ingredients:

  • ½ stick of butter
  • 2 Tbs. water
  • ½ cup sugar
  • ¼ cup Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum

 Directions:

Place butter in a small saucepan and melt over low heat, about 2 – 3 minutes.  Add water and sugar, stirring well.  Increase the heat to medium and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat and let simmer 4 – 5 minutes until thickened, stirring constantly.  Remove pan from the heat and stir in the rum.  Spoon the glaze over the warm cake allowing it to drizzle down the sides and into the center.  Allow cake to completely cool before slicing.

Meal Planning Monday ~ Lazy Days

         

          As I write this week’s post, I am feeling L-A-Z-Y…  I had a super busy week and honestly, I am just plain tired!  Between my work schedule and even the fun stuff – Girls Night at church, painting class, and a big family gathering – I didn’t get enough rest this past week.  So I have given myself permission to be lazy for a few days!

            So, what does this mean for my meal plan?  Am I just going to throw it out the window and order pizza and Chinese carryout for the next three days?  Of course not!  I have a few freezer meals I can fall back on for times like these – banana chocolate chip pancakes and pumpkin muffins for breakfast, and turkey chili or chicken and wild rice for dinner.  I also have a stash of “Lazy Day Recipes” for meals, appetizers, and desserts that I put in rotation on my meal planning calendar.  I thought I would share some of them with you for your lazy days when you want a nice hot meal or a dessert/ appetizer to take to a party but can only muster up a minor amount of energy.         

 

~ Turkey & Gravy with Mashed Potatoes.  I buy a package or two of the Oscar Meyer Carving Board turkey (or roast beef) and put in on the stovetop or in the microwave with a can or two of gravy.  Serve over instant mashed potatoes or rice and a veggie on the side.

~ Chicken Fried Rice.  I use leftover cooked chicken breast meat, the frozen brown rice and veggie steamer blends, and some extra frozen broccoli cooked in the microwave.  It’s ready in less than ten minutes.

~ Grilled chicken and steak.  Sometimes I make my husband cook, I mean grill, when I’m feeling lazy.  I’ll take a can of whole white potatoes, put them on a skewer with some veggies, and brush with Italian dressing for Nick to toss on the barbeque with our meat.

~ Grown Up Grilled Cheese.  I will use rye bread or a good hearty wheat bread with a nice slice or two of sharp cheddar cheese, adding some ham for Nick.  I almost always have a few servings of homemade tomato or chicken soup in the freezer that I heat up on the stove to round out my meal.

~ Bean Dip.  This is a great appetizer that everyone loves and is SO lazy.  All you need is one can of refried beans and one cup of salsa.  Mix and heat thoroughly on the stove top or in the microwave.  Top with shredded cheddar cheese and serve with tortilla chips.

~ Warm Italiano Spread.  I found this recipe on KraftRecipes.com and it’s one of my favorites.  It looks and tastes impressive, but is extremely simple to make.  I serve it with the Black Pepper Trisuits.

~ Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake (or cupcakes).  With only a few ingredients and store bought frosting, I’m always a little surprised by the compliments galore I always get for this cake.

 

Chocolate Covered Cherry Cake (Adapted from “The Cake Doctor” cookbook by Anne Bryne)

1 Box of Chocolate Cake (or Devil’s Food) with Pudding in the Mix

1 can (21 oz.) of Cherry Pie Filling

2 Large Eggs

1 teaspoon of Almond Extract

1 small jar of maraschino cherries

1 Can of Dark Chocolate Frosting

 

            Heat oven to 350 degrees.  Grease pan(s) with butter flavored cooking spray.  Place cake mix, cherry pie filling, eggs, and almond extract in a large mixing bowl.  Beat on low for one minute.  Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix for two minutes more at medium speed.  Pour batter into pan(s) and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.  ** You can make this as a 13 x 9 inch sheet cake, as a two-layer 8-9 inch round cake, or as cupcakes.  Use the cooking times on the cake mix box for the pan you are using.  **

            Once the cake is finished baking and has cooled, frost with the store bought frosting.  If I am making cupcakes, I will place a cherry on top of the frosted tops.  If I am making a layer cake, I cut the cherries in half and place them between the layers before frosting.  I then whip up the frosting in my mixer – which makes it fluffier and increases its volume, ensuring I will have enough frosting for the entire layer cake.  Sit back and enjoy the compliments!