Friday, July 27, 2012

The Universe and Things

It is funny how no matter how planned and organized we are that things could change at any given moment. Twenty-four hours ago, I was thinking about all that I had to get done before leaving for our vacation this weekend. I had been sitting at a training for the last four days and was zoning out, not looking forward to attending the last day which was supposed to be today. I was thinking about how I'd be feeling; anxiously awaiting our departure so I could hurry home, pack the car, and finally get back on the road to vacation freedom. This all changed last night. Instead of sitting in a conference, zoning out, and rambling with my thoughts I am blogging to you all and anxiously awaiting my appointment for some much needed fertility testing. 

For those of you who have been following my blog for any ornate amount of time, it was almost a year ago that we started this journey in my post Baby Steps. We've actually been trying to conceive for almost three years now, but my husband is a little stubborn. He finally bit the bullet and went in for his end of the testing, thank God. I had exhausted as much testing as they would do on me until they new what was up with him. The Bear couldn't have timed it any better. I have to go in at or very closely around day 10 of my cycle for this next imaging procedure. My doctor called yesterday afternoon, reported Justin's results, and was able to schedule and get me in today (day 10!) without having to wait another dreaded month. I'm a little nervous as this will not be a fun and a little painful, but my lady doc did put in an order for a valium. Not that I advocate prescription pain-killers, but this will help calm my nerves and the pain. I've been reading a lot about health and spiritual happiness lately. One of the websites I am loving right now is Kris Car's Crazy, Sexy, Life. Her wisdom and superstar contributors have helped me let go of negative "baggage" and manifest positive energy, so I know the universe and God are on our side. For more on how you can create and manifest awesomeness you can click on the link above. 

In other news, our lake vacation awaits! I plan on cooking up some great meals this week; however, am waiting on a menu until we can assess the kitchen artillery. You can look forward to more news, vacay pictures, and dishes throughout the upcoming week!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Summer Squash & Potato Salad

I've decided to try a different strategy to this whole heat wave thing. Rather than be miserable and complain about the heat, I decided we need to embrace it as a part of summer. Yes, embrace and harness the glory in hopes that reverse psychology might bring more average temperatures and relieve the Sahara like conditions. Okay, who am I kidding? But, it doesn't hurt to look at things in a more positive light. During this horrendous summer heat, I've learned multiple uses for my Crock Pot besides cooking soup. I've turned traditional tomato soup into a lovely gazpacho, and I made some pretty stellar dips and salads. Just like this one...

I'm not quite sure how to put this recipe into words. It was one of the easiest salads I've ever put together and tastes better the next day. If you have a bumper crop or are looking for ways to use all of your zucchini, you really should try this. It's really, really, simply good.

Summer Squash & Potato Salad

1 pound small Yukon gold potatoes, quartered and boiled till for tender
1 large zucchini, sliced
2 yellow summer squash, sliced
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 clove pressed garlic
Salt & pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese

Toss the potatoes, zucchini, summer squash, pine nuts, and parsley together in a large bowl. In separate dish, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice, lemon zest, mustard, honey, garlic, salt, and pepper until smooth and combined. Poor the dressing over the potatoes and squash. Toss until the veggies are coated. Top with grated or shaved Parmesan cheese and serve immediately; however, this salad is even better if you let the salad sit over night so the flavors marry together. It is so refreshingly good!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Spicy Gazpacho

I cannot help but think of Lisa Simpson whenever I make gazpacho. "It's tomato soup served ice cold!" I actually Googled the line to see how many times it had been used in other blogs containing gazpacho recipes: 1,840,000. I'm not original, but couldn't resist. And, Lisa is right. On a hot day, gazpacho is something to get kinda excited about.

This is gazpacho season. Juicy ripe tomatoes, combined with cool cucumbers, jazzed up with red bell pepper, cilantro, and a kick of cayenne pepper. My mouth is watering just thinking about it:)

Spicy Gazpacho

1 lb. red, ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 small shallot, chopped
1/2 cup vegetable juice (such as V8)
1/4 cup cilantro
1 tablespoon lime juice
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt & pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor or blender. If you are using a blender, you may have to blend in batches.  Blend or process all ingredients until smooth. Place the soup in a bowl, cover, and chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Serve with a side of cheesy quesadillas or tortilla chips.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Papa Chris Burgers

Dads are wonderful and very special for so many reasons I don't think I could do justice in just one post. My dad raised me. He helped me learn to ride my bike. When I started kindergarten, my dad taught in the same building. I remember the long climb upstairs to his classroom after school where I would wait until he had finished up for the day. Then we would walk home together. He was my principal in first grade, second grade, and in high school. He got to hand me my diploma when graduating from Southwestern Community College. My dad helped me to love school and made me want to be a teacher and continue my education to achieve my master's degree. My dad took us fishing, hiking, camping, and showed me how to carve my first pumpkin. My dad coached me through little league softball and taught me to never give up. He knows his way around the grill and he also taught me how to make this awesome burger...

Papa Chris Burgers

1/2 lb. 85% lean ground beef
1/2 lb. 93% lean ground beef
1 tablespoon Penzy's 4-S seasoning salt
1 sheet heavy duty aluminum foil (about 10-12 inches in length)

In a medium sized bowl, mix the beef and seasoning salt together with your hands until combined. Divide the meat into four balls and form your patties, making a small indentation in the middle of each patty with your thumb on one side so the patties do not shrink on the grill.  Heat your grill to medium-high heat. Place the burgers on the grill and cook for 2-3 minutes. Flip and cook the other side of the burgers for another 2-3 minutes. Then wrap the burgers in the foil. Lower the heat to medium or low and grill for another 5-6 minutes or until your desired degree of doneness. Remove from the grill and serve with all of your favorite burger fixings.

I have to apologize for not posting my cucumber or potato salad recipe along with this post. I have some tweaking to do before sharing. Have a great Monday!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Saturday Menu Post

I feel so domestic today! We've been up cleaning the garage. Next on the to-do list is to finish up grocery shopping, a trip to Home Depot, and clean the house. Hopefully we can get everything done before it is 108 degrees so we can relax a little this evening before dinner.

Tonight I am making my dad's burgers. If you've read my blog before, you know that my husband l-o-v-e-s burgers. I am not the biggest fan. I will gladly opt for a chicken, turkey, or veggie burger anytime; however, my dad made some burgers over the 4th of July that I can't get off my mind. No, I'm not pregnant:) They were just that good. I will be serving the burgers with a classic potato salad and creamed cucumbers. In hopes that everything turns out as tasty as my dad's, I'm looking forward to sharing tomorrow.

If you're as busy as we are, you are probably wondering what is in store as far as our menu goes for the week. It is crazy hot and not looking to cool down anytime soon. I also have a conference to attend all week that will take up a majority of each day, so I had to get a little creative with the menu this week. This will require some prep time in the kitchen this weekend so things are ready to go for the week. We will be enjoying a summer twist on traditional grilled cheese and tomato soup with a spicy gazpacho and cheese quesadillas. Next, summer squash gets dressed up in a light vinaigrette served with chicken. I do plan on using the stove top to cook the quesadillas and chicken. Otherwise I'm not planning on heating the kitchen in any way, shape, or form. The menu might look a little short this week as we will be heading out of town for our Lake of the Ozarks vacation. I'm keeping it cool and simple this week. Here is the rundown:

Sunday 7/22         Papa Chris Burgers, Potato Salad, & Creamed Cucumbers (left-overs from Saturday)

Monday 7/23       Spicy Gazpacho with Cheese Quesadillas

Tuesday 7/24       Left-overs

Wednesday 7/25 Sauteed Chicken Breast with Summer Squash & Potato Salad

Thursday 7/26      Left-overs

Friday 7/27          Lake of the Ozarks Fun!!

Groceries you will need:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. tomatoes
1 lb. potatoes (small Yukon gold or red)
1 cucumber
1 red bell pepper
1-2 zucchini (depending on how large they are)
1-2 yellow squash (depending on how large they are)
1 shallot
1 avocado
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch flat leaf parsley
1 lime
1 bottle tomato juice
1 bag corn tortillas
1 bag shredded Parmesan cheese or one small chunk
1 bag 2% shredded cheddar cheese
1 bottle white wine
1 bag pine nuts (about 1/4 cup)

Pantry items you will need:

I'm usually telling you to buy a head of garlic; however, if you have extra cloves lying around you will need one clove of garlic.
Dijon mustard
Olive oil
White wine vinegar
Salt & pepper

Enjoy your Saturday! Stay cool and hydrated if you are experiencing this horrendous, never ending heat wave!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sweet Corn How To

I hope many of you made it out this past weekend or week to your local farmer's market or road side stand and bought some of the bountiful summer produce. My father-in-law, Doug, was sure to tell me the best spot in town for buying sweet corn. I errored on the safe side and only bought a half dozen. Now, I am regretting my decision and  wish I would have bought a whole dozen. It was the perfect summer meal; a BLT with a little mayo and avocado on gluten-free French bread and a juicy ear of corn.

If you are a novice sweet corn buyer, you might be wondering, "How do I check to make sure the corn is good?" or "What do I do with it now?" Iowa friends, you might be thinking, "Duh! Just shuck it and boil it." But, there is a method and a way to perfectly cook sweet corn. Here are some of my pointers.

One of my favorite ways to insure that the corn is good is what my family calls the "pop test." To check and make sure your corn is legit, you can pull back some of the husk to expose the kernels and pop one of the kernels with your thumbnail. It should make a light popping noise eliciting sweet, juicy corn milk. See?

Next, you will first need to "shuck" your corn. This requires you to pull off the green leaves, or husk, and remove the corn silk. This can be kind of messy, so you may want to shuck your corn over the sink or outside over a trashcan. After removing the husk and a majority of the silk, you can use a soft brush to get any remaining pieces of silk of the corn. Here is a picture of my corn brush. They do actually make these and they are relatively cheap. I got mine at a kitchen supply store.

After your corn is silk-free, fill a large stock pot with about two inches of water. If you are making more, you can plan on 3 to 4 inches of water. Add your corn.

Next, cover the pot and bring the water to a boil.

Once the water is boiling, remove the pot from the heat and keep the pot covered until you are ready to serve. No need to boil for several minutes! The less the corn boils, the better. It will be perfectly juicy and tender-crisp.

You know those little prickly corn holders? Those are handy too. I know you will probably only need them once a year, but they do make eating corn on the cob a lot easier. You can serve your corn with butter, salt, and pepper. I happen to like mine straight up no salt, no butter. If you follow these simple steps, I find there is no need to make any additions.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Weekend Recap

This weekend almost topped the 4th of July!  We had so much fun visiting old friends and family.  Saturday, I drove to Creston, Iowa to visit one of my oldest friends, Jen.  Jen and I both moved to Creston in 6th grade.  We were not the best of friends in junior high, but couldn't be separated after high school began.  Unfortunately, I didn't get a picture of us together because Atlas stole the show...

Atlas, the Great Dane, is so big he can drink from the bathroom sink!  He also drinks out of a 10 gallon bucket, but had to show off his big dog skills.  One of his favorite things to do is drink out of said bucket and then greet you with a big slobbery kiss.  You might want to wear a raincoat when you visit Atlas.  His other activities include pulling the kids in the cart specially built by Jen's husband, Joe.

Getting saddled up!

And off to the park!  Never a dull moment with the Kenyons!

Later in the evening, we joined Justin's classmates for the reunion.  This year, the reunion was held at an old classmate's house which included a beautiful garden and vineyard.  It was so peaceful and beautiful.

My favorite time of year to visit Iowa is in the summer time.  Every time we go back, we always discover a new hidden gem that makes every visit special.  Who knew you could find a vineyard in Greenfield, Iowa?  Isn't it just gorgeous?!

About 15 of Justin's classmates showed up.  I really think others missed out on such a memorable and scenic event.  But, for those that did, here's to you Nodaway Valley Class of 1997!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Back to Iowa & a Menu Post

This weekend, we are headed back to Iowa again for Justin's class reunion. Just to humor you all, here are some photos from the last class reunion in 2007. It was the summer right before we got married. I had my appendix removed a month before and then ended up getting bronchitis two days before his reunion. Yup, lucky me. I felt like I had been put through a meat grinder, but mustered up enough energy to make an appearance. You can pretty much see the fun-o-meter diminish before your very eyes...

Here the fun-o-meter is pretty high. Please excuse the beer in the photo. It was the one of two beers I actually allowed myself that evening. An hour later...

I'm starting to get the face my family calls my "wet cat" face. Not particularly thrilled. Then we hit rock bottom...

Pursed lips, slumped shoulders, I think I went home shortly after this photo. I kind of felt like I was about to die. This time around, I am healthy and will be able to enjoy things a little bit more:) It will be great to catch up with people. I am also hoping to retrieve some Iowa sweet corn, tomatoes, and maybe some cucumbers along some roadside stand. If you were to taste a slice of heaven, I think it would taste like peaches and cream sweet corn grown in the richest soil on earth. Yes, Iowa sweet corn. 

Since I'm not sure when we will be back home on Sunday, I am planning a quick and easy pasta dish the evening of our return. Later in the week, we will be dining on some of our favorite summer dishes. When July hits you have to enjoy the bounty with some summer classics. BLT's and burgers on the grill. Here is the rundown:

Sunday 7/15          Penne Pasta with Chicken Sausage, Mushrooms, & Broccoli

Monday 7/16        Chicken Kabobs with Greek Quinoa Salad

Tuesday 7/17        Left-overs

Wednesday 7/18  BLT's with Sweet Corn

Thursday 7/19      Left-overs

Friday 7/20 or      Papa Chris Burgers with Potato Salad & Cucumbers (Belly Aches)
Saturday 7/21

Groceries you will need:

1/2 lb. 85% lean ground beef
1/2 lb. 93% lean ground beef
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 package Italian chicken sausage
1 package center cut bacon
1-2 lemons (depending on the size of the lemon)
1 package mushrooms
1 head garlic
2 cucumbers
4 ears sweet corn
4 tomatoes
1 red onion
2 white or yellow onion
1 green bell pepper
1 head lettuce
1 bunch celery
1 bunch broccoli
1 pound russet potatoes
1 package hamburger buns (for us it will be 1 gluten-free pack & 1 whole wheat)
1 box brown rice penne pasta
1 bag or box quinoa
1 box reduced sodium chicken broth
1 jar pickle relish
1 container Parmesan cheese
2 containers sour cream
Butter or margarine (if you like it on your sweet corn, I eat mine plain)
1/2 dozen eggs

Pantry items you will need:

Seasoning salt (I use Penzy's 4-S blend)
Celery seed
Granulated sugar
White wine vinegar
Olive oil

I hope you all have a great weekend! Stay out of the heat, but do try to make it out to visit your local farmer's market or road side farm stands for some of your produce. There is nothing better!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

"Muffu" what? & a "Manlad"

To accompany my Pinterest addiction this summer, I have been trying to ween myself off the Cooking Channel and Food Network.  Cooking shows, such as "how-to" cook something don't make me hungry.  It is the shows such as Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives that get me.  Let's face it, summer television kind of stinks and I'd rather salivate and watch Adam Richman gobble down a fancy-schmancy sandwich than America's Got Talent.  Sorry reality T.V. and game shows, I'm just not that into you.

I don't know if watching these shows actually makes me eat more or if they make me hungry, but they do give me a lot of inspiration in the kitchen.  My challenge is always to try and take a recipe idea, make it gluten-free, and healthy.  I'm not quite sure which show I saw a stellar muffuletta sandwich on, but it inspired this healthier salad version.

I like to call this Muffuletta Salad a "manlad" or male salad.  Muffuletta sandwiches, pronounced "moo-fu-letta," are a common Italian style deli treat originating in New Orleans.  Muffulettas are typically 10-inches in diameter and packed with all sorts of cured meats.  I deconstructed the bread, used lighter cuts of deli meat, and topped them on a bed of romaine lettuce.  Packed with all sorts of pickled delights, a creamy Italian dressing, meat, and cheese I think this might get any salad hating man in your life to maybe enjoy his greens.  

Muffuletta Salad
inspired by Emeril Lagasse
Makes 2 entree salads or 4 side salads

1 bag washed and cut romaine lettuce
1/2 cup giardiniera, chopped (Italian pickled vegetables)
1/4 cup green olives, chopped
1/4 cup black olives, chopped
2 tablespoons mild banana pepper rings
2 Roma tomatoes, chopped
6 slices deli ham, chopped (I used Oscar Meyer Deli Fresh smoked ham)
6 slices turkey pastrami, chopped (again I used Oscar Meyer Deli Fresh)
4 tablespoons fat-free Italian dressing
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
2 oz. Swiss cheese cut into 1/4-inch cubes

Divide romaine lettuce onto your plates or you can make on large salad in a salad bowl.  Top with the giardiniera, green olives, black olives, banana peppers, tomatoes, ham, and turkey pastrami.  In a small dish, whisk the Italian dressing and mayonnaise together until smooth.  Pour the dressing over the salad when you are ready to serve and top with the cheese.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Slow Cooker Lentil Stuffed Peppers

I have to confess something.  I believe I am developing a slight addiction to Pinterest lately.  A few years back, it was blogging.  Then, I finally jumped on the Facebook bandwagon.  Now, Pinterest.  It is a brilliant way to search and see what people are doing, making, building, cooking, and on and on and on.  I don't think I can get on there for just a few minutes without it turning into a half hour.

Lately, I've noticed a Pinterest trend in slow cooker meals.  Who doesn't love a meal you can stick in your good ol' Crock Pot?  And, you can make just about anything but salad in your slow cooker.  From cakes to pasta, my slow cooker never ceases to amaze me. Plus, it is really hard to screw up a meal.  I can only remember botching up one meal in my Crock Pot.  It was some kind of potato, corn, and ham Weight Watchers meal that had been handed down to me back when I was a very novice cook.  Let's just say I took the term "set it and forget it" a little too liberally and ended up with a very burnt bottomed meal.  Now I have a timer on my Crock.  If I am leaving the meal unattended, I set the timer. Moral of the story, get yourself a Crock Pot or nicer slow cooker that has a timer that automatically switches to a warming setting when you cannot supervise your meal.

Enough preaching, on to the stuffed peppers...

I've not ever made stuffed peppers in my Crock Pot before, but was very pleased with the turn-out.  These peppers are a very filling vegetarian meal.  Stuffed with brown rice, lentils, spinach, diced tomatoes, onion, garlic, and spaghetti sauce this meal will save you time and money if peppers are on special.

Slow Cooker Lentil Stuffed Peppers

4 green bell peppers, seeded, cored, and with the tops cut off
4 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup cooked lentils (I used green lentils)
1 cup spaghetti sauce
1 cup frozen spinach, drained and thawed
1 can diced tomatoes
1 yellow or white onion, diced
2 cloves pressed garlic
1 cup mozzarella cheese
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large mixing bowl, combine the rice, lentils, spaghetti sauce, spinach, tomatoes, onion, and garlic.  You can add as much salt and pepper to your liking.  Stir until combined and scoop the lentil mixture into the green peppers.  Spray your slow cooker pot with non-stick cooking spray.  Place the peppers into the slow cooker, cover, and set on low.  Cook for 4 to 5 hours.  Top with more spaghetti sauce if you like and divide the cheese among the peppers.  Cook for another 5 to 10 minutes or until the cheese is melted and serve.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Florentine Stuffed Chicken & Menu Post

I don't know about you, but this month is filled with mini weekend getaways and vacation time.  What better way to enjoy summer?  It is not very often that my husband and I get to enjoy these trips.  I am looking forward to every moment!  But, it does make menu planning a bit more difficult.  With all of the warm weather, no one wants to heat the kitchen.  We are also making fewer trips to the grocery store because we are not needing as many items in the fridge.  So, I am relying on pantry staples and freezer items that we always have on hand while freshening them up with the bountiful available summer produce.

My menu looks like this:

Sunday 7/8           Florentine Stuffed Chicken with Polenta and Tomato Salad

Monday 7/9         Slow Cooker Lentil Stuffed Peppers with Garlic Bread

Tuesday 7/10       Left-overs

Wednesday 7/11 Muffuletta Salads with Grilled Potatoes

Thursday 7/12     Left-overs

Groceries and items you will need:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 container deli ham
1 container deli turkey pastrami
4 roma tomatoes
4 green peppers
4 small Russet potatoes
1 onion
1 bunch celery
1 bag carrots
1 bag romaine lettuce
1 gluten-free baguette or regular baguette
1 bag brown rice or rice of your choice
1 bag lentils
1 can diced tomatoes
1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 jar Italian pickled vegetables
1 jar green olive
1 can black olives
1 bottle fat-free or light Italian salad dressing
1 box frozen spinach
2% shredded mozzarella cheese
1 block Swiss cheese
8 oz. light cream cheese
Olive oil
Garlic powder

Last night's meal utilized frozen chicken breast, stuffed with cream cheese and spinach, and served over creamy Parmesan polenta.  The entree was accompanied by a side of fresh tomatoes dressed with a little basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper.

This meal was put together quickly and easily, but was an elegant meal for two that could have been made any night of the week.

Florentine Stuffed Chicken

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup frozen spinach, thawed and drained of excess water
2 oz. light cream cheese
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
Drizzle of olive oil
Salt & pepper to taste

With paper towels, pat the chicken dry.  Cut a 2 inch slit into the side of each chicken breast to form a pocket and set the chicken aside.

In a small dish, combine the spinach, cream cheese, and garlic powder.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Stir until smooth.  Using a small spoon, stuff one half of the mixture into one of the chicken breasts and secure the slit with a toothpick so the cheese does not melt out of the chicken breast while it cooks.  Repeat with the other chicken breast.  Season both pieces of chicken with salt and pepper and set aside.

Heat a non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Drizzle the olive oil into the skillet and add the chicken breasts.  Cook for 5 to 6 minutes and turn.  Cook another 5 to 6 minutes on the other side or until the chicken is cooked through.  I used a meat thermometer to be on the safe side and cooked my chicken until the thermometer read 165 degrees.  You can serve the chicken over polenta, mashed potatoes, or on its own.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Dessert: Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream Pie

I don't think there is much more I can say about this pie, but love.

Yes, love my friends.  Love with a surprising little twist...a healthy, gluten-free cookie crust.  The trick, a good ol' can of great northern beans. don't have to tell anyone.  Not even your best friend, husband, or kids:)  Just let them and yourself eat and enjoy this pie.

Peanut Butter Cup Ice Cream Pie

1 can great northern beans (or any other white bean)
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1/4 cup corn starch
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 container light peanut butter cup ice cream, slightly thawed

Pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees.  Spray an 8-9 inch spring form pan or pie pan with non-stick spray and set aside.  Begin thawing your ice cream.

Combine the beans, peanut butter, brown sugar, and granulated sugar in a food processor.  Process until the mixture is creamy and smooth.  Add the corn starch, baking powder, and vanilla extract.  Process until the mixture begins to form a dough and begins to gather around the processor's blade. Press the dough into your spring form pan or pie pan.  Bake for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool for 30 minutes or until the crust is cool to the touch.  Spread the ice cream over the crust and smooth the top.  Cover and freeze for 3-4 hours or until set.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Dip #4: Hummus

Happy 4th of July to you all!  What a day to celebrate our nation's independence.  I am so thankful to be an American and live in this country.  Thank you to all of our nations armed forces, veterans, and past historians for creating, maintaining, and preserving our freedom.  Now on to the dip.

With all of the use of mayonnaise, sour cream, and cream cheese this week I figured it was probably time for a healthier dip.  My favorite go-to healthy dip is hummus.  What can't you do with hummus?  You can spread it on crackers, dip veggies or any kind of chip in it, and use it as a filler in sandwiches and wraps.  Sure, you can save yourself the time and buy various versions at the store; however, it is super easy and cost effective to make your own.  That is if you have a moderate to severe addiction to hummus.  And that isn't a bad addiction to have, my friends.

Being that this dip is dairy and mayo free, it can withstand setting out for several hours at whatever event you maybe throwing.  Feel free to use any kind of bean you please.  I typically stick to the classic chickpea version.

Classic Hummus

2 cans chickpeas, rinsed and drained
4-5 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon tahini paste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic
Salt & pepper to taste

Place all ingredients in a food processor.  Process for 3 to 4 minutes or until the hummus is smooth and creamy.  If it is a little thick, you can add more water a tablespoon at a time.  Serve with veggies, chips, or use as a spread for sandwiches or wraps.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Dip # 3: Loaded Ranch Dip

I have to admit, we are lucky we even got a picture on this dip.

This dip is loaded, and I mean loaded, with all of our favorite things; cream cheese, sour cream, bacon, and cheese.  We almost ate the entire bowl before the Bear said, "Walk away.  Put the chips down and let's walk away."  Trust me it is just that good.  You will want to make this in the very near future.

Loaded Ranch Dip

8 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup light sour cream
1/2 cup 2% shredded cheddar cheese
1 tablespoon mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
4 strips cooked center cut bacon, crumbled
4-5 green onions, chopped
2 roma tomatoes, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

Using an electric mixer, blend all ingredients together in a large bowl.  Serve with potato chips or veggies.  You can garnish the top with more cheese, onions, tomatoes, and bacon if you choose or serve as is.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Dip #2: Fruit Dip

Last Friday, I went out for happy hour with some friends from work.  They were asking about the blog and I told them about my project this week, four dips and a dessert.  Sarah, said that this was a great idea and was wondering about fruit dip.  I knew the one she was talking about.  I enjoyed many slumber parties in my youth where we consumed mass amounts of this sweet, creamy, fluffy dip.  Even kids that claimed they hated fruit would eat it if they had that "one" fruit dip.  So, I did my research and low and behold there are only two ingredients- cream cheese and marshmallow fluff.  Thanks to the Brown Eyed Baker for solving this elusive mystery!  It was the first fruit dip recipe that showed up on Google.  The dip is a classic all on its own or can be modified to make it your own.  To make my dip a little more summery and light, I used a little lemon zest and light cream cheese.  Here is my version.

Fruit Dip
adapted from The Brown Eyed Baker

8 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1 7 oz. jar marshmallow fluff
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Using an electric mixer, beat all ingredients together until combined.  Serve with fruit, animal crackers, or graham crackers.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bacon Potato Salad

Who doesn't love a good potato salad?  It seems so easy to make; however, I think the true potato salad masters are grandmas.  I tried to get my grandmother's recipe before she past away, but she never wrote it down.  She said she had the basics, guessed, and tasted until she thought she had it right.  Maybe I will have to start trying to do the same.

This recipe is not your classic mayo potato salad.  It is probably more like a German style potato salad, but not quite as heavy.  I boiled whole Yukon gold potatoes, waited until they were cool enough to cube, and then tossed them with bacon, parsley, and a light vinaigrette.  Because it is mayonnaise free, you can set it out at room temperature or serve it cold.  It can withstand setting out at parties or BBQ's and is even better the next day.

Bacon Potato Salad

1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, boiled and cubed
6 slices cooked center cut bacon, crumbled
4 green onions, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
Salt & pepper to taste

In a large bowl, toss the potatoes, bacon, green onions, and parsley together until combined.  Set aside.  In another smaller bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper to make your vinaigrette.  Pour the vinaigrette over the potato mixture.  Toss until everything is coated.  You can serve immediately or chilled.   

Dip # 1: Honey Mustard Pretzel Dip

Happy July 1st!  I am so excited to introduce my first dip for the Four Dips & a Dessert series this week.  This dip reminds me of the Snyder's honey mustard pretzel nuggets.  I was kind of sad that I could not enjoy these little nuggets of flavor last fall during a tailgating excursion.  Good news, Snyder's is now making certified gluten-free pretzels for a fraction of the cost of other brands!!  While they have yet to create a gluten-free version of their honey mustard nuggets, this dip will fill that void.  Creamy, sweet, and salty with a light onion flavor combination; it is so good you might want to double the recipe for your 4th of July party!

Honey Mustard Pretzel Dip

1 cup light sour cream
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1 bag gluten-free or regular pretzels

Stir the sour cream, mayo, mustard, honey, mustard powder, and onion powder in a small dish until the ingredients are combined.  Cover and store in the refrigerator for a couple of hours or overnight so the flavors have time to marry together.  Stir before serving with the pretzels.  This dip is also delicious with veggies too!

Broccoli Salad

Our smoked pork loin was out of this world good.  I have to give props to my hubby for keeping an eye on the smoker periodically.  This was our first truly successful team experience with our smoking endeavors.  I made the rub, which I am keeping a secret:)  He tended the smoke and fire.  The end result, a beautiful smoke ring and a fantastic meal paired by my first little gem, Broccoli Salad.

This salad is a typical deli delight normally laden with a ton of mayo.  I've lightened it up a bit by cutting the mayo down and substituting light sour cream.  I also used center cut bacon in place of regular bacon.  If you haven't read my blog before, I am a firm believer in attempting to use as many healthy swaps as possible while trying to maintain true flavors.  Center cut bacon does the trick with 33% less fat than regular bacon.  If you are looking for a side salad for your upcoming picnics or BBQ's, this salad is a wonderful pairing with any grilled meat.  It is so incredibly easy to make (and eat) I could make this in my sleep.  Here is my version...

Broccoli Salad

1/4 cup sour cream
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar (depending on how sweet you like your dressing, I used 3)
1 bunch broccoli florets 
1 tablespoon minced red onion
3 strips cooked bacon, chopped
1/4 cup raisins

In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar, mayo, and sugar until smooth.  Set aside.  Add the broccoli, red onion, bacon, and raisins.  Pour the dressing over the broccoli mixture, toss, and serve.

I will post the potato salad tomorrow along with dip number two!  Enjoy!