Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Veggie Enchilada Casserole

The other day while dining in the teachers' lounge, my colleagues asked me how in the world I ever had time to prepare my meals. I prompted them to take a look at this week's menu post (as well as others) for an inside look at how I get prep for the week. Trust me, this does take a little time. It can be very overwhelming and one might think, "OMG! I have to make all this stuff for one week in a day? Forget it!" The way I see it is that I have my work life and I have my home life. There has to be a balance between the two. I get my work things done at work. I get my home life ready while I am at home and have more time on the weekend so when I come home from my work life I can relax. That is how I am able to blog these recipes, keep my sanity without starving in a gluten-free world, and above all enjoy my life. It may require a little work on the weekend, but most items are grab-and-go (mainly breakfast and lunch) or require minimal preparation on a week night. Someday I might even create a video for how I accomplish this. Would you be interested?

Alright, now that I've discussed this, here is a make ahead recipe that really only took me 15 minutes to prep this weekend. Once it was prepped, I used one of my handy-dandy Pyrex dishes that came with a resealable lid and stored the dish in the fridge. Then all I had to do was pull that puppy out of the fridge, uncover the dish, pop in the oven, set the oven to 375 degrees, and let it all bake for 45 minutes. You could probably even make this dish in a disposable foil dish and store it in the freezer. Really there is nothing culinary genius about this dish. It required me to open some packages and cans. Not too tough and it was very tasty at that.

Here is what the entire dish looks like. While this lovely enchilada casserole looks like it would be totally unhealthy, it makes eight hearty veggie packed servings for only 7 Weight Watchers points. Not only is it a dish you can make ahead it is good for you and tastes amazing.

Veggie Enchilada Casserole
Makes 8 servings, 7 Weight Watchers Points per serving

Nonstick cooking spray
1 10 oz. bag frozen chopped butternut squash, thawed
1 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with chilies (such as Rotel)
1 4 oz. can diced green chilies
1 15 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 cup frozen corn kernels, thawed
1 yellow or white onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional if you do not prefer the heat)
1 28 oz. can enchilada sauce (I used Old El Paso as it is gluten-free)
18 corn tortillas
2 cups shredded 2% cheddar cheese, divided
1 bunch green onions, chopped (to garnish if you choose)
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped (to garnish if you choose)

Spray an 8-inch by 12-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. In a large bowl, mix together the butternut squash, diced tomatoes, green chilies, black beans, corn, onion, salt, cumin, chili powder, salt, and cayenne pepper until combine. Set aside. Ladle and evenly spread 1/2 cup enchilada sauce into the bottom of the casserole dish. Arrange 6 of the tortillas on top of the sauce. Pour and evenly spread 1/2 of the vegetable mixture over the tortillas. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the cheese over the vegetable layer. Arrange 6 more tortillas over the top of the cheese layer. Repeat with 1/2 cup more enchilada sauce, the remaining half of the vegetable mixture, and 1/2 cup cheese. Top with the last 6 tortillas. Ladle and spread the remaining enchilada sauce. Top with the remaining 1 cup cheese. Cover and store in the fridge for up to 4 days. This can be made ahead and frozen as well, just be sure not to use a glass baking dish as I did and thaw before baking. When you are ready to bake, uncover the dish. Let stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Place in the oven and set the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble in the middle and brown around the edges. Garnish with chopped green onions and cilantro if you desire.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Smoky Slow Cooked Pork

How was your Monday? I can't complain. I was a little grumpy this morning because I slept like a rotisserie chicken last night. You know what I mean? Let me explain. Sleeping like a rotisserie chicken is when you sort of fall asleep, but never a restful sleep. You start out sleeping on one of your sides. Then, turn to your back for a bit. Next, you roll to your other side for a bit. Then, to your belly until finally you roll back to the original side and continue the whole process again. See, you rotate like those chickens cooking at the deli of a grocery store. Thinking about it makes me laugh. When I thought about it last night I fell back to sleep with a vision of those juicy chickens rotating and rotating in my head. Fortunately I did not wake the Bear, but he said he didn't sleep well either. Good thing we had a nice dinner and I had leftovers to power me through the day.

I call this my Southern Style Cuban Sandwich. Then, I got to thinking and the pork is really so much more versatile than just a Cuban sandwich. A Cuban is usually pork or ham served with Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles. To make mine a little more Southern, I used a gluten-free baguette, BBQ'ed pork, and pickled okra in place of the pickles. The meal was a great success! Justin, a.k.a. the Bear, discovered he likes pickled okra. Today, I will share my favorite go-to BBQ'ed pork recipe with you all since it was a little too cold to use our smoker this weekend. You would think this pork had sat on a smoker all day. It gives you all of the flavors without the hassle of worrying about the weather or tending to a smoker. The secret- smoked paprika. I think you too will use this as your next "go-to" pulled pork recipe. Feel free to even double it for a crowd. You will just need to adjust cooking times a little.

Smoky Slow Cooked Pork
3 points per 3 oz. of pork

Nonstick cooking spray
1/4 cup gluten-free BBQ sauce
1/4 cup water
1-2 lbs. pork tenderloin
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Spray the inside of your slow cooker with nonstick cooking spray. Mix together the BBQ sauce and water in the bottom of your slow cooker. In a small dish, mix together the brown sugar, paprika, cumin, chili powder, salt, and pepper until combine. Rub over all sides of the pork. Place pork in the BBQ sauce mixture. Cover your slow cooker and set on low. Cook for 4-6 hours. Uncover and shred the pork using two forks. Give it all a good stir to coat all of the pork in the sauce. Serve over sandwich buns, tortillas, or on its own with any of your favorite sides.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

10 Days Before Christmas Menu Post

 So, it is Saturday and I realize there are actually 11 days before Christmas if you are reading this today; but, this little gem of a menu post is set to start Sunday, December 15. Ten rapidly approaching days until Christmas. Are you feeling a little stressed when you think about it? Believe it or not (knock on wood) I am not really too incredibly stressed about it. Grant it, I do not have kids; however, I am a special education teacher. Any teacher somewhat dreads this time of year as their students get crazier and crazier in anticipation for Santa and a nice, long winter break.

I thought it would be nice to share some of the ways I have not been getting stressed out even though my dear school kiddos are totally bonkers. As seen in my nice little picture I have this adorable little Christmas coffee mug I love bringing out to enjoy the season. This mug makes me smile everyday. Taking that little bit of time in the morning to pour myself a nice cup of Joe helps caffinate myself for the day. Seeing the chubby smiling snowman just makes me a little more happy. Find something that starts your day off with a smile:) 

Rule number two- routine, routine, routine! While there are plenty of events going on that can cause for social chaos, I find that I thrive off routine. Keeping my routine as normal as possible helps mentally free up capacity to remain calm. The more calm I am the more peace I can bring to any environment.

Rule number three- take time for yourself. Lately, I've been taking time to exercise. I know the exercise probably has more to do with the stress management even if it is only 20 minutes spent on my mini stepper, but it is a little "me" time. Time where I can zone out and not have to think a whole lot. 

And finally, try to enjoy what this season is really about. Gratitude, the gift of giving, togetherness, joy, and love. I express my gratitude whether it is here on the blog, to my husband or friends, and to God. I've been giving and sharing what I have with others who don't have as much by giving whatever loose change is in my purse to those bell ringers or buying a toy for a child. While I do not regularly attend church, I am a spiritual person and find great love and joy in what Christmas is all about.

You can take the above for what it is worth or totally disregard it. I just thought it would be nice to share a little bit of what goes on in my little head. If you happen to see a slight smile come across my face even while my students are loud, crazy, and I'm sending them back to class cracked out on sugar because we decorated cookies the above rules are why. Yesterday they told me they had never had the opportunity to decorate cookies before. It was a little shake up to our normal routine, but a heck of a lot of fun and kept me on my feet for added exercise. Fulfilling most of what helps me to not get stressed out about the holidays.

Now how about a menu post? This week, per usual, is full of some great make ahead dishes. I say make ahead because it actually saves you time to make them ahead. My husband's office gathering was last night. He mentioned that a colleague's significant other had made one of my make ahead dishes, but stated that it took forever to make. He asked her if she actually prepared the dish ahead like the recipe name states or if she made it the day of. She made it the day of. The trick to all of my make ahead pasta dishes is to prepare them at least the day before so the pasta has time to soak up some of the sauce and soften. Baking the dish finishes the whole meal off. I will be sure to be more clear about this in the future. Make ahead and store! For example, this week's Sunday Sandwich, Southern Style Cuban Sandwiches, involves slow cooked pork tenderloin. I plan on cooking the pork in my Crock Pot while getting my other dishes ready for the week. Dishes include this week's Meatless Monday dish, Veggie Enchilada Casserole, and Make Ahead Meaty Ziti. Getting all of these things prepped ahead of time will allow you to simply pull the dish out of the fridge and bake in the oven. Giving you precious time throughout the week for yourself while dinner bakes. Since I'm full of suggestions today, few of the tools I use to make this happen are...
  • A slow cooker
  • 2 8-inch by 12-inch casserole dishes, I love my resealable Pyrex dishes so I can cover and store before baking, and cover again for leftovers the next day
  • Heavy duty aluminum foil. You will need this for the ziti to keep too much liquid from evaporating while it bakes.
  • Nonstick cooking spray

Here is this week's rundown:
  • Sunday 12/15 Southern Style Cuban Sandwiches with Sweet Potato Fries
  • Monday 12/16 Make Ahead Veggie Enchilada Casserole
  • Tuesday 12/17 Leftovers
  • Wednesday 12/18 Make Ahead Meaty Ziti with Salad
  • Thursday 12/19 Leftovers

Items you will need from the store or what you have on hand:

1 lb. pork tenderloin
1/2 lb. lean ground beef
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch green onions
4 small sweet potatoes or 1 bag frozen sweet potato fries, I make my own to save calories
1 bulb garlic (if you do not have any from previous lists)
1 package corn tortillas
1 can black beans
1 can diced green chilies
1 can gluten-free enchilada sauce 
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies (such as Rotel)
1 can diced tomatoes with onion and garlic
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 jar pickled okra or 1 jar pickles (in case you don't like okra)
1 box gluten-free penne pasta
1 canister grated Parmesan cheese
1 box frozen chopped spinach
1 bag frozen chopped butternut squash
1 package sliced 2% Swiss cheese
1 bag shredded 2% cheddar cheese
1 bag shredded 2% mozzarella cheese
1 container light or fat-free sour cream

Pantry items you will need include:

Extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Dijon mustard
Brown sugar
Gluten-free BBQ sauce
Dried Italian herbs
Dried minced onion
Onion powder
Chili powder
Ground cumin
Smoked paprika

Have a great weekend! I look forward to posting throughout the week!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Crock Pot Tikka Masala with Quinoa

I swear I should not be aloud to blog until I've checked all spellings. I will admit I called this recipe "Slow Cooker Tikki Masala." I had a feeling I was maybe wrong, but posted my hodgepodge menu post anyway because I just wanted to get it out there to share with you all. Next time, I will further check my sources. Better yet, next week will be a little less exotic.

Regardless of spellings, this recipe is really simple and really good. I was even able to mix most of the recipe together, place it in a Ziplock bag, and freeze it until I was ready to cook in my slow cooker. When I came home, I took a look. Things were looking good. The comments on the original recipe said it was even better served over rice. I had no rice. I had quinoa. Being I post what I make, you will get the quinoa version with an extra dollop of fat-free sour cream to show you what all is in this Indian inspired dish. The spices will make you feel warm and toasty.

Slow Cooker Tikka Masal with Quinoa
adapted from Weight Watchers
makes 6 hearty servings, 5 points per serving

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 clove minced garlic
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
2 tablespoons grated ginger root
2 tablespoons garam masala
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
4 4 oz. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/2 cup fat-free sour cream
1/2 cup dried quinoa
1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

Place crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, garlic, onion, ginger, garam masala, cumin, and salt into your slow cooker. Stir until combined. Place chicken into the tomato mixture. Make sure the chicken is well coated. Cover and set on low. Cook for 6 hours. Uncover and stir. It is okay if the chicken begins to break apart. Stir in the sour cream and quinoa. Cover and cook for another hour. Stir before serving. Top with cilantro.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Quinoa with Roasted Root Vegetables

I haven't expressed my gratitude in a while on this blog. Today I am feeling incredibly grateful things are slowing down for a change. There are a few extra things at school I've finished up, meetings cancelled, and fewer appointments to rush off to lately. This has given me extra time to work out in the evenings. I'm grateful I have been able to work out this week because it makes me feel good. I'm grateful I feel good because I have more energy to help those around me feel better. Today we had a "store" where our students could purchase Christmas gifts for their families. All items were $1. Not every family has a dollar to spare, so I gave some of my students who did not have money a dollar so they could purchase something and feel good. I even got to take one student, who I am quite fond of in preschool (I don't teach preschool, but we've connected) shopping and bought him a gift. A toy just for him. Seeing his little face so happy just made so grateful for today.

Okay, now that I have all of that joy expressed, here is a really awesome recipe you will be grateful for if you try it. You can even roast the vegetables ahead of time before tossing it all together with the light and tangy vinaigrette.

The Bear teased me again about being on the kale kick. I had to laugh, but it is just so good right now! Here, I've taken plain and simple quinoa and tossed it together with some lovely seasonal vegetables. I took a few shortcuts by purchasing already chopped butternut squash and roasting the veg ahead of time. Feel free to serve as a vegetarian main for only 6 Weight Watcher's points per serving. It is wonderful and filling!

Quinoa with Roasted Root Vegetables
Makes 4 servings, 6 Weight Watcher's points
per serving

1 cup dried quinoa
2 cups water
4 cups chopped butternut squash
1 bulb fennel, thinly sliced
1 yellow or white onion, thinly sliced
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped (about 1/4 inch cubes)
1/2 teaspoon salt (divided)
1/2 teaspoon pepper (divided)
4 cups kale, hard stems removed and chopped
2 teaspoons olive oil (divided)
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons chicken or vegetable broth
1 clove minced garlic
4 tablespoon shredded Parmesan cheese

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place the squash, fennel, onion, and parsnips onto the sheet. Drizzle 1 teaspoon of the olive oil over the vegetables. Toss lightly to coat all of the vegetables. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes or until the vegetables begin to turn golden. Remove from the oven. Sprinkle the kale over the vegetables. Place back in the oven for 5 minutes or until the kale begins to wilt a little. Remove from the oven. Set aside.

While the vegetables are roasting. Cook quinoa according to package directions. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining teaspoon olive oil, the apple cider vinegar, chicken broth, garlic, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt and pepper until combine. Set aside.

In a large serving bowl, toss the vegetables and quinoa together. Drizzle the vinaigrette over the quinoa mixture. Toss to coat. Top with the Parmesan cheese before serving.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps

Who doesn't love a good Caesar salad? When I was thinking of sandwiches, I thought why not turn one of my favorite salads into a wrap? Thus, this week's Sunday Sandwich was born.

There are a lot of big flavors in this wrap that make it taste amazing! The best part, the sandwich's stuffing is only 4 points. My Sandwich Petal's wrap in Agave Garlic is only 2 making the entire wrap only 6 points. If you are using another brand, points values may vary. The end to my Sunday was pretty tasty and healthy:)

Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps
Serves 2, 6 points per wrap

1 boneless, skinless chicken breast, cooked and shredded
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice (about the amount from one wedge)
2 tablespoons fat-free sour cream
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
2 teaspoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups chopped romaine lettuce
2 gluten-free sandwich wraps (such as Sandwich Petals)

In a small bowl, mix together the chicken, lemon zest, lemon juice, sour cream, cheese, mayonnaise, mustard, salt, pepper, and garlic powder until combine. Layer lettuce onto the wraps. Divide the chicken mixture, spread over both wraps, and roll.

Hodgepodge Menu Post

After the Thanksgiving holiday and an impromptu Christmas get together Friday night, I've experienced my first 2 lbs. of weight gain. Boo! Both the Bear and I are still fighting some sort of lingering cold that is leaving us feeling zapped, so the lack of activity is not helping either. There's no stopping the amount of goodies that will be around work, parties to attend, and family gatherings. That's all fine until I looked at the calender and realized we still have 23 days left till New Year's. That could totally ruin what I've lost or even worse add to my original starting weight. Yikes! Oh well. All one can do is plan, plan, plan and practice portion control. I knew starting Weight Watcher's this time of year was going to be a challenge, but I'm not giving up! Just wait till you see what I have in store for this week. It is a bit of a hodgepodge, but carefully selected recipe ideas that have some secret little helpers. Sort of like those elves that help Santa.

Secret helper number one is no surprise, lean boneless skinless chicken breast. We purchased a big bag at Sam's Club to insure that we have chicken on hand. Chicken will be used in two lovely recipes. First in my Sunday Sandwich this evening. Second in a lovely Indian tikki masala Crock Pot recipe that I already have prepped and stored in the freezer. All I will have to do is thaw it a little before sticking it in the Crock Pot. My second little helpers are also not a big surprise; lots and lots of fruit and veg. I've bulked up my breakfast scramble this week with some chopped spinach. Serve with a banana and clementine on the side. Bam, three servings of fruit and veg already tallied in the a.m. For lunch, I've already cut and bagged veggie sticks for the Bear and I to grab on our way out the door. Finally, for dinners there will be roasted root vegetables which I've already roasted for Monday and plenty of veg on the side to accompany main dishes. My final secret helper is probably what may surprise you; spices. Yes, spices! There are all sorts of magic metabolism boosting powers with cayenne pepper, ginger, turmeric, even regular old black pepper. It may be cold outside, but if I can make it out a couple days to walk this week I think these added little helpers will help bring the scale back down! Here is the rundown:

Sunday 12/8            Chicken Caesar Salad Wraps with Roasted Sweet Potatoes

Monday 12/9          Quinoa with Roasted Root Vegetables and Sauteed Kale

Tuesday 12/10         Leftovers

Wednesday 12/11    Slow Cooker Tikki Masala with Steamed Broccoli

Thursday 12/12        Leftovers

No weekend meal plans for now as we will have two potential parties to attend next weekend. The list is short and sweet. While this is subject to change based on what I forget or may add to make things more alluring, here are some of the items you will need:

5-6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 bulb fennel
1 bag already chopped butternut squash (I purchased Green Giant)
2 parsnips
2 small sweet potatoes
1 bunch kale
1 bunch romaine
1 lemon
1 bunch cilantro
1 inch knob ginger root
1 onion
1 bulb garlic (if you do not have any from previous shopping excursions)
1 package gluten-free wraps (such as Sandwich Petals or Udi's)
1 box quinoa or 1 cup from the bulk section (I buy mine in bulk from Costco)
1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
1 bag frozen broccoli florets
1 container light or fat-free sour cream
1 bag shredded Parmesan cheese

Pantry items you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Mayonnaise (only a small, small portion for some omega-3's)
Dijon mustard
Ground cumin
Garam masala
Garlic powder
Dried minced onion
Herbs Provence or dried Italian herbs
Salt and pepper

Have a great week! I look forward to sharing these recipes with you!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Make Ahead Kale & Sweet Corn Penne Bake

This is the one meal I am not making in my slow cooker this week, but it still was a make ahead dish. Over the summer, my sister's friend gave us mass quantities of shucked sweet corn. Yes, gallon size bags of pure Iowa gold. There is nothing like Iowa sweet corn kids. You other states might come close, but it will never compare to Iowa sweet corn.

Being I am one to savor and slowly use some of my favorite ingredients, I only pull this special corn out when I am missing the sweet flavors of summer. I had almost long forgotten about all of this corn until last week when my sister served up a large dish of none other than this very same sweet corn at Thanksgiving. My brain said, "Ding!" The lights went on. This recipe was born.

I'm sort of on a kale kick right now too. The Bear was not so sure about mixing kale with corn, but I think I won him over now that I've finally figured out how to properly cook kale. When I originally calculated the data into Weight Watcher's recipe builder this recipe tallied up to a whopping 10 points. Not so friendly unless you skimp on the rest of your meals for the day, use some anytime points, or swap activity points. I can't really teach while I'm hungry without turning into a crank. Something had to change. So, I cut the 8 oz. of cream cheese I usually use in some of my penne bakes to 4 oz. Voila! I cut out 3 points! This gluten-free, make ahead dish is now only 7 points per serving. Enough said my friends.

Make Ahead Kale and Sweet Corn Penne Bake
Makes 6 servings, 7 points per serving

Nonstick cooking spray
2 cups dry gluten-free penne pasta noodles
2 cups kale, hard stems removed and finely chopped
1 cup thawed frozen sweet corn
2 cups 2% milk
4 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese, melted (you can melt it very quickly in the microwave for 30-45 seconds)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
1 clove minced garlic
A sprinkle of salt and pepper
1 cup shredded 2% mozzarella cheese

Spray an 8-inch by 12-inch casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. In a large bowl, toss together the pasta noodles, kale, and sweet corn. Set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk, melted cream cheese, Parmesan cheese, dried onion, minced garlic, salt, and pepper until smooth and combine. Pour the sauce over the noodle mixture. Toss until coated. Pour and spread the noodle and sauce mixture into the casserole dish. Make sure everything is evenly distributed throughout the dish. Sprinkle the mozzarella over the pasta. Cover and store in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to bake and serve. Before baking, make sure you thaw the dish if you froze it. When you are ready to bake and serve, cover with foil. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5-10 minutes more or until the cheese begins to bubble in the middle and brown around the edges.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken

Introducing the Sunday Sandwich Series for the month of December! I am also pleased to say that the bulk of this sandwich was all cooked in my Crock Pot yesterday while I prepped my other dishes for the week in freezer bags, got my breakfasts ready for the week, veggie bags made for lunches, cleaned, and did laundry. Hence the lack of posting last night when we finally sat down to eat, but I did get a lovely picture.

I made the chicken into this lovely Italian chicken sandwich by simply serving the chicken over bread with a little shredded 2% mozzarella cheese. I then popped the sandy into the oven and broiled it on low until the cheese began to melt. Easy, easy, easy. The total sandwich was only 6 points per serving. The chicken itself, only 3. Since breads can vary, I am only going to post the chicken recipe as it is super versatile and could be used in a pasta dish, served over rice, or over a sauteed kale as I did with the leftovers for my lunch today. One chicken recipe with tons of possibility. How great is that for the holiday season?

Slow Cooker Italian Chicken

1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast
1 145. oz can diced tomatoes
1 clove minced garlic
1/2 cup sliced banana peppers
2 tablespoons capers
2 tablespoons dried minced onion
1 clove minced garlic
Sprinkle of salt and pepper

Place all ingredients into your slow cooker. Cover and set on low for 6 hours. Remove lid and shred the chicken with two forks. Can be served as is, on a sandwich, over pasta, or whatever you like. The possibilities are endless!

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Slow it Down Slow Cooker Week

Wow! What a Thanksgiving we had! My sister, Erin, and her sister-in-law really out did themselves. This was the first Stephenson-Duree-Owen-Nickel Family Thanksgiving the Bear and I had the pleasure to experience. It was actually pretty awesome because it not only included my sister's in-laws, but also my mom, youngest sister Amy, the Bear and myself. Later my dad and Brenda stopped by with Gavin, Sylvie, and Veda, my stepbrother's kiddos. Quite the blended family, quite the good times. Everyone remained peaceful, the food was AMAZING, and we got to visit everyone in one easy trip. With a 22 lb. turkey, my in-laws could have even joined in on the fun. Maybe next year Doug and Marilyn? Tee hee!

Now on to this week's menu post. Since we've been going warp 10 speed since about July, I am ready to slow things down for the year. Sure there is work which never ceases to slow down, but at least I can slow things down in the kitchen a little so we can finish decorating and get some shopping done for Christmas. Hence, my use of the slow cooker. As the Bear was inspecting the menu he asked, "Is this for real? You're using the Crock Pot three times next week!" Yes Bear, this is for real. The beauty of the Crock Pot is that I can prep all of the meals ahead of time, drop them in the Crock Pot on the day I intend to serve them, set that puppy on low, and come home to a meal that is practically done without me having to do too much. The sun is starting to set before I even get home. On top of all that needs to get done, I also need to add some walking activity to my evening routine while the weather continues to cooperate. Bring on the slow cooked meals my friends!! I'm sure you're already on the edge of your seats:)

Sunday 12/1            Slow Cooker Italian Chicken Sandwiches with Salad

Monday 12/2           Make Ahead Kale & Sweet Corn Penne Bake with Tomato Salad

Tuesday 12/3           Leftovers

Wednesday 12/4     Slow Cooker Sesame Chicken with Brown Rice & Broccoli

Thursday 12/5         Leftovers

Friday 12/6             Slow Cooker Beef Stroganoff with Gluten-Free Tagliatelle and Green Beans

Here is what you will need:

1 lb. beef stew meat
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
1 small red onion
1 bulb garlic
1 1-inch knob ginger root
1 bag washed, pre-cut kale
1 bag salad
1 bunch fresh basil (this will be the first I've bought at the store since March)
1 large box sliced mushrooms
1 loaf gluten-free French bread (1 regular demi loaf for the Bear)
1 bag or box gluten-free penne noodles
1 bag or box gluten-free tagliatelle noodles (or other wide noodles similar to an egg noodle)
1 container grated Parmesan cheese
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
1 jar roasted red peppers
1 jar sliced banana peppers
1 jar capers
1 box gluten-free beef broth
1 bag frozen corn (I will be using some frozen sweet corn I got from a friend this summer)
1 bag frozen broccoli florets
1 bag frozen green beans
1 bag shredded 2% mozzarella cheese
1 bag shredded Parmesan cheese
1 8 oz. box 1/3 less fat cream cheese
1 container fat-free or light sour cream
16 oz. 2% milk

Pantry items you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Sesame oil
Low sodium, gluten-free soy sauce
Corn starch
Brown sugar
Dried brown rice
Dried minced onion
Salt and pepper

Enjoy the rest of your Thanksgiving weekend! Let the holiday season begin!!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Turkey Potato Gratin

I've been so excited to share this recipe with you. This is the recipe I have made twice, yes twice, in the last week. The Bear and I are major potato fans. Yeah, sorry low-carby folks. I may be gluten-free, but I love me some potato. You see, going gluten-free is not always about being "low carb." It's about no gluten or at least doing your best to keep what you can out of your life. There is always the risk for contamination or for those moments when the gluten-free ingredients stated on the box are not so gluten-free and you discover this after the fact. And I must say, it can be hard to diet while being gluten-free as you already have so many things you cut out of your life. I'm not going to cut out potatoes. They are a great gluten-free source for carbohydrates. Fortunately on Weight Watchers, potatoes are not off limits. No food is "off limits." It is about balance. Something I strive to find in not only my life, but also my diet. So, bring on the potatoes! Just not in mass quantity portions like we would typically like to enjoy them.

You could really make this with or without the turkey. If you were making it without the turkey it would be a lovely vegetarian entree or a great side dish for your holiday feast. We just happened to have a lot of leftover turkey and I thought it would be a fantastic main dish. The trick to making this gratin Weight Watcher's friendly is through the use of low-fat milk and Parmesan cheese in place of whole milk and cheddar. Hard cheeses pack a lot of flavor for fewer calories and fat. This is one dish you will want to make again and again!

Turkey Potato Gratin
Makes 4 large servings, 6 points per serving

Nonstick cooking spray
4 small russet potatoes, washed and cut into 1/4-inch disks
1 cup shredded cooked turkey
1 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
1 1/4 cup 2% milk
2 tablespoons corn starch
2 tablespoons minced dried onion
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground mustard powder

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray a large casserole dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. In a small dish, whisk together the milk, corn starch, dried onion, salt, pepper, garlic powder, and mustard powder until smooth and combine. Set aside. Layer 1/4 of the potatoes into the bottom of your casserole dish. Sprinkle 1/4 cup of the turkey over the potatoes, then 1/4 cup of the Parmesan cheese. Repeat the potato, turkey, and cheese layers two more times. Top with the remaining potatoes. Pour the milk mixture over the potatoes. Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown and the potatoes are fork tender when a fork is inserted into the middle of the dish. Let set for 10 minutes before cutting and serving.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Sunday Soup- Spicy Turkey & Vegetable Soup

Sven the II has provided us with amazing 6 meals. I cannot reiterate it enough, smoked turkey is a gourmet savvy friend! One meal was so good, I've made it twice in the last week. That doesn't happen much when you have a food blog. So, I can't wait to share tomorrow's recipe. Given it is Sunday and this will be the last of the Sunday Soups for November, however, I have to share this spicy, veggie packed meal in a bowl with you. Don't be sad about the end to Sunday Soups! I've got another great Sunday series starting next month that I am so excited about!

For the last of the Sunday Soup 2013 series, I leave you with this Spicy Turkey and Vegetable Soup. I normally do not like to use poultry in tomato based recipes because it does not stand up to tomato's acidity. Smoked turkey and tomato based recipes work amazingly well due to turkey's rich flavors. If you do not have smoked turkey, but a ton of leftover Thanksgiving turkey, no problems! The smoked paprika will add plenty of the smoky flavor that works so incredibly well with the tomato. Adapted from Weight Watcher's zero point vegetable soup, I've amped up the flavors and added some unique spices and more tomato goodness with a can of tomato paste. This soup clocks in at about 3 points per 1 1/2 cups serving, but will not leave you starving. It is amazing and tastes even better the next day!

Spicy Turkey and Vegetable Soup
inspired by Weight Watcher's Zero Point Vegetable Soup
Makes 6 1 1/2 cup servings, 3 points per serving

4 cups fat-free, gluten-free reduced sodium chicken broth
2 cups water
1 can no salt added diced tomatoes
1 small can tomato paste
1 small can salsa Verde
1 cup leftover smoked or cooked turkey, shredded
1 small yellow or white onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1/2 cup celery, finely chopped
1/2 cup carrot, finely chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/4 cup cilantro
1 avocado, chopped

In a slow cooker, stir together the chicken broth, water, diced tomatoes, tomato paste, salsa Verde, turkey, onion, garlic, jalapeno, celery, carrot, cumin, chili powder, and smoked paprika. Set your slow cooker on low. Cook for 4 hours. Top with cilantro and avocado before serving.

GF Deep Dish Cheeseburger Pizza

Hello! The long break from blogging was not intentional. After last weekend's super sister weekend, I could feel myself coming down with a bug while traveling to Wichita this weekend. It has been non-stop around the Nickel house, but know that some well needed downtime is on the way. I cannot wait for Thanksgiving.

Speaking of Thanksgiving, as I catch up on blogging from The Very Thankful Menu Post today, I plan to share some great uses for all of that leftover turkey. We smoked Sven the II last weekend with no regrets and have been enjoying the leftovers ever since. It was hard to beat last year's Lean and Mean Smoked Turkey Chili  and my BBQ Smoked Turkey Enchiladas. This year's leftovers are not only geared towards a gluten-free lifestyle, but also will be Weight Watchers friendly. The Weight Watchers plan is going fabulously and I am down 7 lbs! Not a shabby way to start the holidays eh? 

Now onto The Very Thankful Menu Post's final recipe, Gluten Free Deep Dish Cheeseburger Pizza. In honor of the blog hitting over 30,000+ page views and our wedding anniversary, the Bear purchased me a huge cast iron skillet. Once I seasoned that puppy up, the first thing I made was an awesome gluten-free deep dish pizza. Then, the next weekend I made another. Don't worry, I will share these little gems with you very soon. It took a little fine tuning to get the crust just right. For my super sister weekend, I knew I had to come up with yet another fun, deep dish recipe, but wanted to also make it somewhat Weight Watchers friendly and not too overly indulgent. I think I nailed this one folks! Check out this little beaut. 

A perfectly golden and tender crust with amazingly cheesy burgery flavor. This may look incredibly un-Weight Watcher's friendly, but it is not. From my other deep dish recipes I made, I scaled down on the dough and used very lean ground beef. This made eight lovely servings for only 9 points per slice.

Gluten-Free Deep Dish Cheeseburger Pizza
Serves 8, 9 WW points per slice

For the crust:
1 1/2 cups Gluten-Free Bisquick
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons melted butter
2 eggs, beaten

For the toppings:
1 lb. 93% lean ground beef
2 tablespoons dried chopped onion
1/4 cup ketchup
2 tablespoons yellow mustard
2 tablespoons BBQ sauce
1/4 cup sliced pickles
1 cup shredded 2% cheddar cheese (divided)
Additional pickles, ketchup, and mustard for garnish (optional)

Heat oven to 425 degrees. In a large dish, whisk together the water, olive oil, melted butter, and eggs until combined. Add the Bisquick and stir until thoroughly combined. Spread crust mixture into a 10-inch seasoned cast iron skillet. The crust may be a little sticky, but there is no need to worry. If you have a little trouble spreading the mixture into the skillet, just lightly wet your hands and use your fingers to press the mixture into the skillet to form a crush. If you do not have a cast iron skillet, simply spray a 9-10 inch pie tine with non-stick cooking spray and press the crust into the pie tin. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the shredded 2% cheddar onto the crust. Set aside.

Heat a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the ground beef and onions. Stirring occasionally to break up the meat, brown for 5-6 minutes or until the beef is no longer pink. Add the ketchup, mustard, and BBQ sauce. Stir until thoroughly mixed. Sprinkle the meat mixture over the cheese and crust. Arrange the pickles over the meat layer. Top with remaining 1/2 cup cheese. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until the cheese is melted and begins to bubble. Remove from oven. Let set for 5 minutes before slicing and serving. You can use additional pickles, ketchup, and mustard for garnish if you choose.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Spinach and Tomato Quinoa Bake

They say you learn something new everyday. A while back I my mom and I were talking. She said she had visited the blog and said she had searched every cooking store and couldn't find a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish. Well, I just remembered this after, say, a couple of months. I have two of these said baking dishes and decided to measure the clean one the quinoa bake was not in. Low and behold these are not 9-inch by 13-inch baking dishes! I've been wrong in all my recipes! Grr! They are in fact 8-inch by 12-inch baking dishes. So, if I've ever confused you, made you shop for a new baking dish, or if you're like me said, "Screw it! I'm using the 8-inch by 12-inch dish anyway," I apologize for my error. I hope you forgive me:) Pretty please?

This evening's meatless Monday meal is one I've been working on for a while now. The first time I made it, I used a whole jar of spaghetti sauce, totally drowning the quinoa. To make this recipe more points friendly, I only used one cup of sauce and added a can of no-salt added diced tomatoes. The results are spectacular and only 8 points per serving. As usual, you can make this dish ahead, store it, and pop it in the oven when you are ready to bake it and serve.

Spinach and Tomato Quinoa Bake
Makes 6 1 1/2 cup servings
8 points per 1 1/2 cup

1 cup dried quinoa
2 cups water
1 14.5 oz. can no salt added diced tomatoes
1 cup spaghetti sauce
16 oz. fat free sour cream
8 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1 box chopped frozen spinach, drained
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
2 cups shredded 2% mozzarella cheese

Spray an 8-inch by 12-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Bring the water and diced tomatoes to a boil in a medium sized sauce pan. Add the quinoa, stir, and lower the heat to low. Simmer uncovered for 20 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Cover with a lid and remove from heat. Let the quinoa set for 5 minutes before fluffing with a fork. While the quinoa is resting, mix the sour cream, cream cheese, spinach, garlic powder, and onion powder together in a large bowl until smooth. Set aside. Spread the quinoa into the bottom of the baking dish. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the quinoa. Sprinkle the top with the cheese. If you are making this dish ahead, cover and store in the fridge or freezer until you are ready to bake and serve. If you freeze this dish, you will need to thaw before baking. When you are ready to bake, place the dish, uncovered, in the oven and set the heat to 375 degrees. Bake in the oven, uncovered for 20-30 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble and brown around the edges. Remove from the oven. Let set for 5 minutes before serving.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Light White Cheddar Cheese & Broccoli Soup

Well it has been day one on the Weight Watchers plan. So far things are going pretty good. From what I remember from the old points system, I was always starving the first few days. This usually sabotaged my plan unless I had jars of pickles, salsa, and celery around. This time around though, I am not nearly as hungry. Truthfully, I've felt quite satisfied. I know it is not going to be as easy on the weekends, but I think with some careful planning and budgeting it should not be as big a problem. I'm hoping this is going to be a good thing:) Especially when I have soup like this to enjoy.

I love foods that taste indulgent, but are still relatively good for you. Broccoli cheese soup is one of my favorites. This version I created utilizes bold cheddar flavors, but with fewer calories. Here I used light white cheddar cheese in the soup and garnished it with a sprinkle of regular shredded 2% cheddar. For only 4 points per 1 1/2 cups that is one heck of a bargain.

Light White Cheddar Cheese and Broccoli Soup
Makes 6 1 1/2 cup servings for 4 Weight Watchers Points

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
1 small yellow or white onion, chopped
1/4 cup carrot, chopped
1/4 cup celery, chopped
4 cups reduced sodium, gluten-free chicken broth
1 box frozen chopped broccoli, thawed
2 cups 2% milk
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 cup shredded light white cheddar cheese

Melt the olive oil and butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery. Cook for 5-6 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the chicken broth. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients. Stir constantly until the soup begins to thicken and serve.

The Very Thankful Menu Post

It is that time of year, Thanksgiving! I know it is a little early to be celebrating, but next weekend both my sisters will be coming to town. It is a tradition we started when the Bear and I moved into our home. There is shopping, lots of girly-girl time, decorating for the upcoming holiday season, and I usually serve a Thanksgiving meal to celebrate.

While I am thinking ahead to next weekend, we have one busy, busy week to get through before my sisters arrive. You could call it the week of never ending evening meetings for us both. I am using a lot of supplies I already have stockpiled, so there will not be a grocery list this week. It might overwhelm some of you anyway because it was a pretty expensive grocery week; but, something you might like to know is I joined Weight Watchers. Thus, I have to be more than prepared or my newly started Weight Watchers plan will end up being a week of never ending take out dinners.

Weight Watchers you ask? Yes. This may confuse you a little if you are a regular reader. To catch you up on a few things, here's the story. All the talk about fertility over the summer, my absence from regular postings, and the talk about healing has to do with some success on the fertility front and a major disappointment. We did in fact conceive in August and I was pregnant. All was going well until our 6 week appointment with the specialist. We were so very excited and hopeful to see that little flicker of a heart beat. Tragically, however, that was not the case. The baby was not developing and was a mass of cells that would eventually lead up to some pretty serious health problems for me if we did not get things taken care of. I had to have a D & C about a month ago. So, all the talk about healing has been about us working through some major disappointment. We still can have children. Good news we did conceive. I am grateful for that. It just did not work out and was due to natural causes that many people have when a pregnancy just isn't meant to be. We are coming to grips and are still hopeful, but for now we are taking a break on trying to have a baby. Long story short, I now would like to lose some of the weight I gained from the fertility drugs and actually getting pregnant. This is not out of vanity. I am doing this for my health and well being. I am overweight and when we do start seeing the specialist again, I need to be in tip top health. Being overweight does not increase your chances. I thought long and hard about how to go about all of this. I knew Weight Watchers is safe and effective. Low and behold a friend from work sent me a 50% off deal for a three month subscription, so I made my decision.

If you are on the Weight Watchers plan and are on a gluten-free diet, you are reading the right blog. I am going to try and start posting points values including portion sizes. I'm doing the online program which has a lot of really nice features such as recipe builder. I'm also excited because nothing is off limits. It's all about balance, something in which I believe. Here is the rundown:

Sunday 11/10            Light White Cheddar Cheese and Broccoli Soup

Monday 11/11           Spinach and Tomato Quinoa Bake with Chopped Salad

Tuesday 11/12           Leftovers

Wednesday 11/13      Leftovers

Thursday 11/14          Gluten-Free Deep Dish Cheeseburger Pizza

Friday 11/15              Leftovers

Saturday 11/16          The Very Thankful Thanksgiving- Smoked Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Green Beans
                                  Corn, Gluten-Free Stuffing, and Mini Pumpkin Pecan Tarts

Feel free to leave a comment if you have any tips or suggestions for starting Weight Watchers. I formally used the old Points system many years ago and noticed there are a lot of changes. I would love to hear your feedback. Thanks for your support and continued reading! Have a super Sunday! I'll see you later tonight for my Sunday Soup recipe.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Curried Pineapple and Pepper Chicken with Rice

I don't know if I've told too many teaching stories on this blog, but today I have a good one. Trust me it's worth sharing. To fill you in a little, I teach special education in an urban school. While I work with children who have special needs, I try to include them in their classrooms as much as possible. I accomplish this through co-teaching. It takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and building trust with classroom teachers. The best part, I see a lot of growth in my students towards meeting their individual goals. I also love it because I get to meet so many students and see so many different classrooms. Today was one of those days the kids just made me laugh. Yes, flat out, I could not contain myself laugh. They were too cute. One little boy in particular, whose name will remain anonymous, just went to the top of the charts. I was sitting by one of my students helping him with a problem and he said, "You look like you need a massage Mrs. Nickel." Not being one to turn down a massage, I said "okay." He started karate chopping my shoulders and back. Then, he stopped and started telling me about his dream. Since the professional development training we had on 8 to Great, I've been talking a lot to the kids about what their dream is and what they want to do. It has been quite motivating for the kids and has helped me use it as a tool to get them motivated to do their work. Anyway the boy said, "Did I tell you Mrs. Nickel I want to own a spa?" I said, "No, but tell me more." "Well, Mrs. Nickel it will have everything. Massages, paint, chapstick, lipstick, paint to paint your nails. I'll be the owner and manager. I'm going to charge people I know $2.00. For people I don't know, I'll charge them a $1.99." Baffled I asked, "Why are you charging the people you know $2.00 and the people you don't know a $1.99?" He simply replied, "Mrs. Nickel I have to have a way to lure them in!" Quite the entrepreneur! It has been so long since I've laughed like that. He was just too cute!

I don't know what effect this 8 to Great stuff is having on me, but I'll take it. It's making me feel more positive, emotionally heal, and getting me to work towards my inspiration- this blog. On to tonight's recipe Curried Pineapple and Pepper Chicken with Rice. I think you will like this.

I did not have very much time to get dinner ready this evening due to an orthodontist appointment. Dr. Carter keeps telling me we're getting closer and closer to these darn braces coming off. I hope so. I feel like they are becoming a permanent fixture to my smile. Regardless, the meal came together before the 6 o'clock news was over. Not too shabby.  

Curried Pineapple and Pepper Chicken and Rice

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 lb. stir-fry chicken strips
1 red onion, cut into large chunks
1 red pepper, cut into large chunks
1 green pepper, cut into large chunks
1/2 teaspoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
1 15 oz. can pineapple chunks, drained
4 cups cooked brown rice
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped (optional)

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet. Add the chicken. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 6-8 minutes. Turn the chicken and cook another 5-6 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Add the red onion and peppers. Cook, stirring every so often, for 5-6 minutes or until the onion begins to soften. Add the spices and pineapple chunks. Toss until combine. Serve over 1 cup hot cooked brown rice. Garnish with cilantro if you choose.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Baked Vegetarian Chili & Cheese Wraps

Instead of meatless Monday, wouldn't it be really fun if we had "fun food Monday?" Mondays are not the best day of the week anyway. Actually, maybe every day of the week should be filled with fun food. When I create my recipes, I try to have a balance of something relatively healthy, something comforting, something quick, and something a little fun or indulgent. Usually, the fun or indulgent is saved for the weekends. These Baked Vegetarian Chili and Cheese wraps are meatless and healthy, but taste indulgent and fun. It's the best of both worlds for a Monday. Oh, and did I mention this is a make ahead dish? You can prepare these little gems burrito and all, store them, and pull them out when you are ready to bake and serve. I can't wait to enjoy the leftovers tonight for dinner and tomorrow for lunch. Yeah for me!

Baked Vegetarian Chili and Cheese Wraps
adapted from Weight Watchers

1 teaspoon olive oil
1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup carrot, finely chopped
1/4 cup celery, finely chopped
1 15 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes (salsa style)
1/2 link soyrizo
1 15 oz. can chili style beans, in gravy
2 tablespoons tomato paste
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional if you do not like things too spicy)
6 gluten-free burrito sized tortillas
1 1/2 cups shredded 2% cheddar cheese

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Spray a 9-inch by 13-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, and celery. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4-5 minutes or until the vegetables begin to soften. Add the tomatoes, soyrizo, chili beans, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper. If you do not like your chili too spicy, you can omit the cayenne pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally for 30 minutes. The mixture will be thick. Remove from heat and set aside.

Place the tortillas on a microwave safe plate. Cover with a damp paper towel. Microwave for 1-2 minutes or until the tortillas are soft enough to handle. Spread 3/4 cup of the chili mixture onto the center of each tortilla. Top with 1/4 cup cheese. Tuck the ends of the tortilla in and roll. Place in the baking dish. Bake for 20-30 minutes or until the tortillas begin to turn lightly brown.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Creamy Chicken & White Bean Soup

Did anyone else forget about the time change? Don't get me wrong. This is my favorite one despite there are fewer daylight hours. You will not hear me complain about an extra hour added to my sleep. Extra hour or otherwise, I feel like the weekend flew by. We were so incredibly busy raking leaves from our backyard forest, cleaning, clearing out the basement for some contract work, and getting ready for the upcoming week. I am so grateful the Bear and I work so well together as a team. Together we tackled a lot without squabbling too much;) Luckily, we had this soup to sooth our souls and bring us together at dinner. Ahh! Isn't that just sweet?

Since I am working on simplifying my life, I chose to make this soup in the Crock Pot. I originally wrote this recipe for the stove top, but realized I could do some serious multitasking if I just let the slow cooker do all of the work. There is something so incredibly magical about Crock Pot cooking. Since I finally cracked the code to cooking kale chips, we enjoyed our soup topped with some crispy kale. If you are not a fan or do not have the time, you could easily include the kale in the slow cooker to bump up your vitamins. Either way, this soup is so comforting and delicious!

Creamy Chicken & White Bean Soup
inspired from The South Beach Diet

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 yellow or white onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed
4 cups reduced sodium gluten-free chicken broth
1 dried bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 cups low fat milk (I used 2%)
3 tablespoons corn starch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the chicken, onion, garlic, beans, chicken broth, bay leaf, and thyme into your slow cooker. Stir to combine. Set on low and cook for 4 hours. Using two forks, shred the chicken breast and stir into the soup. In a small bowl, whisk together the milk and cornstarch until smooth. Pour the milk mixture into the soup. Stir, cover, and cook for another 45 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally until the soup begins to thicken. Top with kale chips before serving if you desire.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Harnessing Happiness Menu Post

Friday our district had a professional development day. Not only were the sessions pretty outstanding, but there were also no crabby Halloween hangovers to deal with post trick-or-treating with students. I got lots of wonderful lessons, games, and tricks to fill my teaching toolkit. I also attended a session on self-improvement and harnessing happiness. The session was lead by M.K. Mueller who has relocated to Kansas City. M.K. not only teaches courses at Johnson County Community College, but also has started her own philosophy on self-improvement called 8 to Great. 8 to Great can be used with any age, any person, every day. You can check out the link above for the eight easy steps, more information, and whereabouts to hear M.K. in action. Trust me, it will change your life.

Similar to many programs, M.K. advises you begin with a vision of what you truly want. "Dream it. Believe it. Imagine it until you can feel it," she said. I was beginning to feel a little defeated at this point. Part of my problem lately has been a total lack of focus. I was just telling Justin (a.k.a. the Bear) the other day that I've felt like I've been flailing lately. While I'm keeping it together on the outside, inside I feel like I am crumbling. I've put so much on hold in hopes that we would be able to start our family and I'd just figure things out from there. For the last four years, my focus has been on trying to have kids and only has been met with disappointment, road blocks, and failure. Most of my major life goals I set for myself in my twenties have been met. We got married. We bought a house. We both have our masters' degrees. We have solid jobs. We've been recognized and praised for our accomplishments. We've won awards for throwing ourselves into our careers. This is all wonderful and I am incredibly grateful; but, at the same time it is time to set new goals. Being starting a family is literally up to a fertility specialist and the good Lord, I realized yesterday that I need to set some smaller, more attainable goals for myself. First is to heal, learn, and work my way back into positive emotional health. I've got a plan in place for how to do this. My second goal is to continue working on this blog. This blog brings me so much joy. I love creating, sharing, and problem solving in the kitchen. Cooking is therapy for me. My vision is for you all to enjoy this blog so much that it continues to grow and take off. I want to create an e-book maybe even be discovered somehow. Sure it is lofty, but at least I now have a dream and a vision. No more flailing and I have my knowledge obtained from 8 to Great to help me. The family stuff can happen along the way instead of letting it control me. Life must have a dream and a purpose.

Wow, pretty deep for a Saturday morning huh? How about a menu? Good news, I've got a good one this week. As usual, all meals are healthy, gluten-free, can be prepped ahead, and are super easy. For this week's Sunday Soup I've got a wonderful Creamy Chicken and White Bean Soup on the menu. I plan to take the leftovers with me for a positive, heart warming lunch. For meatless Monday, I have a make ahead Baked Chili and Cheese Wrap recipe for a quick and veggie filled meal. Wednesday we will spice things up with a one bowl wonder. To end the week, I have a recipe inspired by my favorite store in Des Moines, Iowa, Kitchen Collage. Be grateful and fill your positive energy tanks for this week's eats! Here is the rundown:

Sunday 11/3           Creamy Chicken and White Bean Soup with Kale Chips

Monday 11/4          Baked Vegetarian Chili and Cheese Wraps with Tossed Salad

Tuesday 11/5          Leftovers

Wednesday 11/6     Curried Pineapple and Pepper Chicken and Rice

Thursday 11/7         Leftovers

Friday 11/8 or         Steak au Poivre with Sherry Shallot Sauce, Roasted Potatoes, and Green Beans
Saturday 11/9

Here is what you will need:

1 lb. stir-fry cut chicken breast
2-4 of your favorite cuts of steak
1 link soyrizo
1 bag baby carrots
1 bag of your favorite salad blend
1 bunch celery
1 bunch kale
1 bunch cilantro
1 green pepper
1 red pepper
1 red onion
2 yellow or white onions
2 shallots
1 bulb garlic
1 15 oz. can pineapple chunks
1 14.5 oz. can fire roasted tomatoes (salsa style)
1 small can tomato paste
1 15 oz. can chili style beans
1 15 oz. can white beans
1 box reduced sodium gluten-free chicken broth
1 box instant brown rice
1 bag gluten-free tortillas
1 bag frozen green beans
1 bag shredded 2% cheddar cheese
1 quart 2% milk

Pantry items you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
Your favorite salad dressing
Corn starch
Cayenne pepper
Chili powder
Ground cumin
Curry powder
Salt and pepper

Happy Saturday! Today I am grateful for all of fall's glorious colors, my dreams, and figuring out how to simplify my life. What are you grateful for today?

Layered Nacho Bake

Still playing recipe catch up. This recipe was served Wednesday and Thursday evening from the Guess Who's Back menu post. It is so incredibly easy. You could also leave the meat out for easy vegetarian pub grub.

We love pub grub! Here I've taken tortilla chips, a great gluten-free snacking staple, and layered them with cheese, a meaty-veggie bean mix, and topped with more cheese, salsa, and a dollop of light sour cream. Serve over a bed of crispy shredded lettuce and you can enjoy pub grub any night of the week.

Layered Nacho Bake

1/2 lb. cooked lean ground turkey
1 15 oz. can fat-free refried beans
1 small zucchini, chopped
1 10 oz. can diced tomatoes with green chilies, drained
4 cups tortilla chips
2 cups shredded 2% cheddar cheese
1/2 cup salsa
4 tablespoons light sour cream (optional)
1 bag shredded lettuce

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a casserole dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside. I used and 8-inch by 8-inch square dish, but any oven safe dish will work. In a large bowl, mix together the ground turkey, beans, zucchini, and diced tomatoes. Set aside. In the casserole dish, layer 2 cups of the tortilla chips in the bottom of the dish. Spread 1/2 of the turkey and bean mixture over the chips. Top with 1 cup of the cheese. Repeat with the remaining chips, turkey bean mixture, and cheese. Place in the oven and bake for 20 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble in the middle. Remove from the oven and spoon the salsa over the top. Divide into four equal servings. Serve over the shredded lettuce and top with sour cream or any other favorite nacho toppings if you choose.

Recipe Ramblings and my Photography

Good Saturday morning to you all! It is such an incredibly beautiful day and I am loving the fall colors as I look outside my window. It is 360 degrees of beauty!

Now that the weekend is here, I feel like I have some time to catch up on last week's recipes. Recipe one was intended to be posted on Monday. I know you probably could care less about my excuses, but I have good reason. Reason number one I did not post my original picture was due to my Udi's bread totally falling apart into crumbs. Normally I've had pretty good luck with Udi's and sing its praise. This particular loaf was on sale. I now know why it was on sale. In the middle of the loaf was a huge air bubble hole. This would have worked great for the breakfast recipe I used to love as a kid, toads in the hole, but not for Grilled Pesto and Tomato Sandwiches. Thinking I could make them open-faced didn't work either as the bread absorbed much of the liquid and became very mushy. It was a sad sandwich situation my friends. Fortunately, I had another loaf in the freezer. It just needed to thaw overnight for use on Tuesday. This worked out much better. Mucho gracias to Rotella's Italian Bakery for their new gluten-free ancient grains bread!

No holes, no mushy sandwiches. I also am quite impressed with those lovely grill marks. What made me hesitant to post the picture on Tuesday you ask? Lighting. The days are shorter and by the time I come home, prep for the next day, and start cooking dinner there is no natural light left. My kitchen is pretty bright, but the lighting tends to have a yellowish tint that does not make for a very delicious picture unless you are working with bananas, lemons, or yellow squash. I plan to remedy this situation by building my own white box. I've been reading a lot about white boxes this past week. All it takes is a large cardboard box, some window film, white poster board, tape, and lights. With a little editing I am hoping this will help. Anyway, enough rambling. Here is the recipe. It is super simple.

Grilled Pesto and Tomato Sandwiches

8 slices whole-grain, gluten-free bread
2 tablespoons store bought pesto
4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese
2-3 roma tomatoes

Preheat your panini press or grill pan to medium heat. Spread the pesto on four slices of bread. Layer the mozzarella and tomatoes. Top with the remaining slices of bread. Place on your panini press or grill pan. If you choose to press your sandwiches, grill for 4-5 minutes or until the cheese begins to melt. If you are using a grill pan, grill for 2-3 minutes on one side. Then, flip and grill for 2-3 minutes more. Remove from the press or grill pan, slice in half, and serve.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Soup- Savory Sweet Potato with GF Cranberry Cheddar Braid

Do you ever feel just really hungry? Like the kind of hungry where you feel like you're constantly eating, but nothing seems to fill you up. That is the kind of hungry I've been feeling lately. Last week was the first time I was able to start working out again since August. I'm just walking for 30 minutes every other day to ease back into things. It has felt really good to get out, clear my head, and enjoy the gorgeous fall weather. Towards the end of the week, though, I think my body started noticing the calorie deficit. Good news, this meal finally filled me up and emulated all the fall flavors that make for a heart warming meal.

I could go on and on about the soup, but the Cranberry Cheddar Braid plays a shining star in this meal. I used to think anything that involved braiding a bread seemed incredibly too complex, but surprise it's not. Being I cannot even braid my own hair very well, braiding bread really just involves laying the strips of dough on top of one another. And, because it's been quite some time since there's been a recipe post you lucky readers are getting two recipes in one amazing post. 

Savory Sweet Potato Soup
adapted from Cooking Light

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
4 small or two large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
4 cups gluten-free reduced sodium chicken broth
1 dried bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon ground sage
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, thinnly sliced
4 slices center cut bacon, cooked and crumbled

Swirl the extra virgin olive oil in the bottom of a large soup pot. Heat over medium-low heat and add the onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 3-4 minutes or until the onions begin to soften. Add the sweet potatoes, chicken broth, bay leaf, thyme, and sage. Raise the heat to medium-high and simmer for 30 minutes or until the sweet potatoes are soft. Remove from heat. Puree the mixture with an immersion blender, food processor or blender until smooth. To serve, top with the Parmesan and bacon.

Gluten-Free Cranberry Cheddar Braid

2 cups gluten-free pizza mix (I used Domata)
1 cup water
2 tablespoons melted butter
1/8 cup gluten-free flour, for dusting
1/4 cup light cheddar cheese (I used Cabot's light extra sharp white cheddar)
4 oz. 1/3 less fat cream cheese, cut into slices
1/4 cup dried cranberries

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or spray with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. In a large mixing bowl, mix together the pizza mix, water, and butter until combine. Set aside. Dust your counter top or a clean surface with flour. Place dough on top of the flour. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a large oval about 1/4 of an inch thick. Transfer the dough to your baking sheet. In the middle of the oval, layer the cheddar cheese. Place the cream cheese on top of the cheddar. Sprinkle the cranberries over the cream cheese. Using a knife, cut strips along the sides of the dough. Overlap the strips one over the other to form the braid. Place in the oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the dough begins to turn light brown. Remove from the oven. Let the braid cool for 5 minutes before cutting and serving.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Guess Who's Back Menu Post

After a much needed social media break, I am back. We have really been through a string of bad luck and misfortune these past few weeks. Part of my healing process, which I will eventually discuss when I am ready, was to cut myself off my regular daily Facebook/Pinterest/blog reading ritual. I truly love all of my family, friends, followers, and this blog. Family and friends are what help you get through those tough times. For what we were/still are going through, social media was too much too soon. I thank you in advance for your patience, understanding, and continuing to read this humble little blog.

Now let's talk food shall we? I am so excited to share these fun and tasty recipes with you! This week's menu sort of fell together via my latest magazine reads I received this week. Halloween may be this week, but after visiting my family last weekend I am already thinking about my favorite holiday Thanksgiving. Cooking Light, Food and Wine, and Bon Appetite, were chuck full of so many goodies that I cannot wait to try. Food and Wine has outdone themselves with all of their gluten-free desserts. From all those who live gluten-free we thank you! The recipe that really caught my eye for this week's Sunday Soup, however, comes from Cooking Light. I've been wanting to experiment with a couple sweet potato soups for a while, but have found them to be a little too much on the dessert side. Cooking Light's recipe has some interesting spices that make the soup more dinner worthy. My plan is to take all into consideration and make a savory soup that will be useful for your everyday arsenal as well as one that you might want to use as a Thanksgiving meal starter. For meatless Monday, I have a quick and easy grilled vegetarian sandwich on the menu with a side of zucchini fries. Midweek I plan to use some ingredients that will already be prepped and ready to go in an awesome nacho bake, perfect to throw in the oven for a quick beggars night meal. Finally, to top the busy week off we will be enjoying some gluten-free pretzel coated chicken fingers with a side of football watching over the weekend. It is going to be a spooktacular week of eats! Here is the rundown:

Sunday 10/27          Savory Sweet Potato Soup with Cranberry Cheddar Braid and Spinach Salad

Monday 10/28        Grilled Pesto and Tomato Sandwiches with Zucchini Fries

Tuesday 10/29         Leftovers

Wednesday 10/30    Layered Nacho Bake with Tossed Salad

Thursday 10/31        Leftovers

Friday 11/1              Gluten-Free Pretzel Chicken Fingers with Honey Mustard Dip and Broccoli

Here is what you will need:

1 lb. lean ground turkey
1 lb. chicken tenders
1 package center cut bacon
2 large sweet potatoes
1 onion
6 roma tomatoes
1 bunch green onions
1 bag shredded lettuce
1 bag spinach
1 container prepared pesto
1 bag dried cranberries
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies (such as Rotel)
1 15 oz. can refried beans
1 small can diced green chilies
1 package gluten-free taco seasoning
1 box reduced sodium, gluten-free chicken broth
1 bag gluten-free pretzels
1 bag tortilla chips
1 loaf gluten-free multigrain bread
1 package gluten-free pizza mix
1 bag frozen broccoli florets
1 container light or fat-free sour cream
1 bag shredded 2% cheddar cheese
1 brick light white cheddar cheese
1 package fresh mozzarella cheese
1 package 1/3 less fat cream cheese
1 carton liquid egg whites

Pantry items you will need:

Extra virgin olive oil
Dijon mustard
Gluten-free flour
Dried gluten-free bread crumbs
Dried bay leaves
Dried Italian herbs
Dried sage
Garlic powder
Onion powder

Enjoy your weekend! Many thanks to my family, friends, and colleagues for all of your support. I am so happy to be back blogging and sharing my gluten-free recipes with you!

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Copycat Starbucks Veggie Brown Rice Bowl

Vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free home slices, or people who just want to feel good about what they are putting into their bodies come hither. This is the recipe for you. This recipe is also one for those looking to power up on health, but not give up on flavor. I don't like to talk in all caps, but YOU NEED TO TRY THIS RECIPE!!!!

Yes Marilyn and Erin Nickel, I got Justin to eat this. Yup, all those veggies in that bowl except the beets. And, you know what? He said he liked it. I too was a little nervous about serving this to my Midwestern, Iowa, beef eating Bear. He reluctantly tried it and said, "Dang, this is pretty good." So, I swear to you America your veggies really can taste good especially in this recipe totally inspired by Starbucks. They got you to love all those freakin' sugar loaded coffee drinks right? Take my hand and eat your veg America!!

Copycat Starbucks Veggie Brown Rice Bowl

For the dressing:

1/2 cup tahini paste
2 cloves minced garlic
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons gluten-free soy sauce
1 tablespoon sriracha

For the bowl:

1 tablespoon extra virgin coconut oil, melted
1 tablespoon gluten free soy sauce
1 bunch kale, stems removed and chopped
4 cups fresh broccoli
2 cups butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into cubes
2 cups red cabbage, shredded
4 beets, roasted and peeled (I used Melissa's)
1 cup frozen edamame, shelled and thawed
4 cups cooked hot brown rice
Tahini dressing (ingredients above)
Additional sriracha sauce for garnish

To make the dressing: Place all ingredients in a mason jar. Whisk together until incorporated. Seal with a lid and store until  ready for use.

To make the bowl: Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Spray a large cookie sheet with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. Place the kale, broccoli, and squash in a large bowl. Pour the coconut oil and soy sauce over the kale, broccoli, and squash. Toss until coated. Spread the veggie mixture onto the cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until the kale begins to crisp. Remove from the oven. To assemble the remainder of the bowl, divide the rice among four bowls (about 1 cup per bowl). Divide the kale, broccoli, and squash over the rice. Toss in 1/2 cup red cabbage, the sliced beets, and 1/4 cup edamame per bowl. Drizzle with Tahini dressing and serve.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Roasted Red Pepper Soup

I know I've probably said this a time or two before, but I really, really love soup. So humble, so simple, but so soul satisfying. This week's Sunday Soup is just that and so much more with all of its veggie power.

While I was making this soup, I kind of felt like I had an Italian giardiniera simmering away. This recipe pretty much is the kitchen sink of vegetables combinations- carrots, celery, onions, a potato, cauliflower, tomatoes, and sweet roasted red peppers. You can count on this recipe to fulfill a couple of your daily veggie servings and you can make it ahead. Like most soups, the flavors get better with time. Yes indeed.

Roasted Red Pepper Soup
adapted from Weight Watchers

2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 clove minced garlic
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 large russet potato, peeled and chopped
1 12 oz. bag frozen cauliflower
1 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes, undrained
6 cups low sodium, gluten-free chicken broth
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried Italian herbs
1 bay leaf
1 16 oz. jar roasted red peppers, drained and chopped

Heat the oil over medium low heat in a large soup pot. Add the onion, garlic, celery, and carrots. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the potato, cauliflower, tomatoes, chicken broth, thyme, Italian herbs, and bay leaf. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 minutes or until the potato begins to break apart when pierced with a fork. Remove from heat. Remove the bay leaf. Add the roasted peppers. Cool for 10 minutes. Then, in a food processor or blender, process or blend the soup until smooth. Reheat before serving.