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Posts tagged ‘Food’

What will your Valentine Bring?

Valentines Day costs consumers nearly 16 billion dollars a year. That is almost 1.1 billion boxes of chocolates. Jewelry and dining out average 3.5 billion each in dollars spent and flowers bring in around 1.7 billion. We spend almost a billion dollars on greeting cards alone. The average man will spend around $150 and women around $75 for their significant other. All to show our love for others on this special day.

Remember in elementary school where children exchange Valentines with classmates and how paranoid you were that someone would think you liked them because of what your valentine would say. Inspecting each candy heart to verify what it said before it went into the envelope? Maybe the goal was the opposite and you wanted to profess your love for someone by reserving that special Valentine just for them and maybe giving them a few extra candy hearts too!

I think I am a bit of a strange cookie because I have never been one that was big on a specific day set aside to profess my love for someone or them for me. I think we have that opportunity “every” day and frankly getting flowers, cards or other gestures out of nowhere on a regular day says more to me then a set day on the calendar where you feel the pressured to profess your love. There are some that have expectations on Valentines day. When those expectations are not met they often become angry or hurt because they did not receive what they specifically wanted or feel they deserved. True heart-felt gestures of love should be accepted for what they are, a gesture of love. I think expectations can put pressure and stress on your significant other to “perform” and then it no longer feels like a true gesture of love. That said I understand that it is a fun day to make sure we are letting all those important people in our lives know that they are loved and frankly just having a whole day set aside to focus on love itself.

So what gift ideas are trending for Valentines Day this year?

  1. Chocolates
  2. Lingerie (is that really for her or more for him?)
  3. Aroma Candles (lets set the mood)
  4. Music Players or Equipment
  5. Mood Music
  6. Digital Reading Device
  7. Books on Relationships/Marriage
  8. Romance Gift Basket (PG all the way to X rated!)
  9. Perfume
  10.  Jewelry
  1. Watch
  2. Romance Gift (also PG all the way to X rated)
  3. Handheld Organizer
  4. Accessories (belt, wallet, gloves, etc)
  5. Cologne
  6. Grooming Products
  7. Alcohol & Candy
  8. Bar Set (so they will drink at home I guess?)
  9. DVD’s
  10. Magazines

Gifts are a fun way of celebrating but they really are just material items and it is the time we spend with loved ones that shows our true feelings. Just as the Beatles song says “All you need is love”. Happy Valentines Day!

What are you planning for Valentines Day? What was your best memory?

Love My New George Foreman Grill!

I am all about convenience. Fixing a meal certainly is not the highlight of my day so anything that will make that process faster, easier and healthier is right up my alley. We have used a propane gas grill or a traditional charcoal grill for much of our cooking. I do like that meats cooked on a grill are not sitting in fat like when cooked in a griddle or frying pan. Frankly though I hate starting up the grill to heat or waiting for the charcoal briquettes to be ready. I certainly don’t like cleaning up the gunky messy grill plates later. Also the last thing I want to do in the high temperature and humidity of Houston is be outside cooking in front of a hot grill. So where is the happy medium that balances that out?

For my birthday my sweet husband and kids bought me an indoor grill. This is the George Foreman Grand Champ Family Value Grill. Each time I use it I am more excited about the benefits this indoor grill offers and excited to actually cook a meal. The one thing this does not offer that you get with a traditional grill would be the smokey flavor but other than that it does the job very well. This particular grill is just one of many products offered by the George Foreman Line and is their larger family size grill.

There are so many things to love! First of all it does not require any cooking spray. You simply start it heating and the indicator light lets you know when it is ready, which isn’t very long. Being family sized I easily was able to cook 6 hamburger patties on it. What is fabulous is the lid closes down to allow cooking on both sides at the same time offering evenly cooked food, no need to turn anything over, and the food actually cooks faster. This grill is slanted to allow juices and fat to run off into a drip tray. Clean up is extremely easy too because once it has cooled off you simply wipe it clean with a towel and warm water. Any juice or food debris can be easily scraped off with the special spatula scraper they provide. The grill does not need to be washed other than that and the drip pan and spatula scraper are both dishwasher safe. It is by far the easiest clean up of any cooking methods I have done.

So far I  have enjoyed cooking chicken, hamburgers and shrimp and look forward to many other adventures with my new indoor grill. So a special shout out thank you to my family for the fabulous gift!

What products are your favorites or make cooking more convenient?

Make The Freezer Your Friend!

What is in your freezer? I spent years packing my freezer with prepackaged items or foods that required preparation to make a meal.  I  was completely ignorant of all my freezer could offer me.Your freezer should be your friend and a place where quick meals reside. This doesn’t have to always include the prepackaged “convenience” foods. What do I mean by that? Those are the prepackaged items you just heat and eat that are often high in calories and fat or often contain additives and preservatives we certainly could do without. My husband jokes with me sometimes that I “heated that meal really well”. For example I will do frozen chicken fried steaks that just have to be heated along with making instant potatoes, gravy from a powdered mix where you just add water and stir, and then usually a bag of frozen Steam Fresh Vegetables fixed in the microwave. So nothing is fresh and there was really nothing that I had to “prepare”. Oh it is convenient alright, but what about a real home cooked meal?

Everyone’s time is precious so making a real home-made meal can often be time-consuming and certainly not practical on busy nights. On those busy nights it is too easy to do the prepackaged warm and serve meal or even just stop by McDonald’s or other fast food restaurants. This was when the light-bulb came on that it was time to change how I utilized my freezer so that on those busy nights we can still try to have a good meal. I found that on a day I had time to cook a home-made meal that I can often make a double batch and freeze the other half. Foods like Chili, Soups, Beef Stew and even Spaghetti Sauce. You are already there doing the work so it really isn’t hard to just do a double or even triple recipe.

I found that dinners we normally will have leftover will not get eaten that week but if I freeze them we can make a new meal out of it later. For example we never eat more than half the pan of Lasagna so I freeze the other half. I can take leftover Brisket or barbeque cut into small pieces and use for baked potato toppings another day.

What other conveniences can your freezer offer? If you save leftover vegetables and meats they can be used in casseroles, soups, stews or a stir fry later. When you find chicken on sale buy it!  You can boil the chicken, shred or cube it, and freeze it to use for a variety of meals later. You can also take the broth from the boiled chicken and spoon it into muffin tins and place that into the freezer. When the broth is frozen pop them out and store in a freezer bag and these little broth “cups” give you about 1/2 cup of fresh chicken broth. You certainly can cook other meats to freeze and use later also. If you have left-over pasta store it in the freezer for soups and casseroles later. All of these things will help cut down on food prep time when making those home cooked meals.

Even more ideas?  How about storing butter and cheese? I do. We certainly stock up on meats and other items that can be frozen when on sale. This  makes it easier to cook those larger batches of meals later by already having the ingredients. We also store bottles of frozen water for emergencies. After being in a hurricane and then without power for a few weeks we found the huge need for this. When the power is out that frozen water will keep your freezer/refrigerator colder, longer.

Just make sure food is always stored in freezer safe bags or containers!  For more information about what is safe to freeze check out this awesome website:  http://www.fsis.usda.gov/Factsheets/Focus_On_Freezing/index.asp

What freezer friendly ideas do you have?

BACON!!!!!!

What would get you literally jumping out of bed in the morning more than the smell of bacon? Isn’t the world just a better place when bacon is involved? Chef’s have dedicated entire cookbooks around this one ingredient! Seriously doesn’t everything taste better with bacon?

There is a whole industry that pays tribute to bacon! I got my husband a t-shirt for Christmas that says “You Had Me at Bacon”. There were a dozen other clothing items to choose from all centered around bacon. If you search Amazon you will find all types of gifts that claim to look, smelling or taste like bacon. There is the Bacon Air Freshener, Bacon and Maple Syrup Lollipop, Bacon BandagesBacon Flavored Toothpicks, and Bacon Lip Balm.  How about carrying around your money in a Bacon Wallet? If you just can’t get enough bacon flavor why not try adding a variety of Bacon Salts or Bacon Hot Sauce? You can even give your loved one the gift of Bacon Roses for your next special occasion!

We usually have several packages of bacon in our freezer which has become a staple in our home. During Hurricane Ike our power was out and the very first morning our neighbors were out bright and early cooking bacon in their backyard. Being summertime in Houston with no power meant everyone had their windows open to get some cooler fresh air. Of course that bacon scent just wafted into our home sparking the question from everyone, “do we have any bacon”? Sadly no we did not and that quickly went on our list of supplies we will always keep on hand for any emergency! I really try to stock up when I can find a coupon or can price-match at Wal-Mart the sale price from another store.

I have several recipes that my family loves that include bacon like Baked Potato Soup, Chicken Carbonara, and a Stuffed Chicken Breast. We often do a breakfast style dinner and it always includes bacon! My biggest obstacle though is when I fix bacon for these dishes I find I need to make extra otherwise as I am cooking it starts to disappear when my back is turned and I am left with little to use for the recipe.

Do you have also have an obsession with bacon? Please share your recipe ideas too!

Super Bowl: An American Holiday

We celebrate all types of holidays here in America so why shouldn’t the Super Bowl be one of them. For weeks now I have seen Super Bowl displays in grocery stores. There is product packaging and even a stream of commercials on television that advertise their products for the upcoming Super Bowl. We have Super Bowl Parties and plan out a spread of our favorite Super Bowl food and snacks.

Many people even go as far as purchasing new items like their favorite team’s t-shirts or caps and some even purchase a new television for optimum football viewing. A few select people are even able to afford tickets and travel to see this grand event live. This certainly should qualify it as a holiday! Just think about it, we prepare for the Super Bowl just like other holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas and then join with others and talk about the event days and weeks later.

What fun things do you do for the Super Bowl?

Edible Volcano

I do have to post this because many of you may be doing volcano projects at school and I guarantee that if you have your teachers permission this will be a huge hit with the students because they get to eat it! This would be fun for parties too!

Several years ago my oldest daughter had a volcano project at school. She had eaten a dessert called the chocolate volcano once and thought it would be cool to do one for school. Easier said then done until my mother and I got brainstorming. We borrowed my mother’s chocolate fountain and got to work on how to build some cake up around the fountain. When all was said and done it was the most awesome volcano we had ever seen. So, of course the following year when my other daughter had a volcano project we had to repeat the edible volcano!

I apologize I do not have pictures of each step nor of the finished volcano so I hope the pictures I do show help to give you visual of what to do.

  • First you need a chocolate fountain. Some are taller than others so you may not need all three layers as I describe. The one I used was a larger version so you may have to do a trial round first and put it all together to make sure what works before the actual event or adjust your cake sizes to fit a smaller fountain. You need a chocolate fountain that will allow you to only use the cylinder with top & auger parts without having to use the different plastic tiersYou will be building up around the cylinder only.
  • Take a round cake cardboard (can find at any craft store and Wal-Mart). Cut a whole in the center. Slide down around the base of the cylinder to lie flat on the top of the bowl of the fountain. You will be layering your cakes on top of this cardboard.
  • You will need to make three different chocolate cakes.

  1. The first is a one layer round cake. I used about a 15-16 inch pan and the cake was about 2 inches high. You will cut a whole in the middle and slide down the cylinder to lie on the cardboard cake piece.
  2. The second cake is a bundt cake. Mine was about a 12 inch cake pan. This you will slide down the cylinder to lie on top of the first cake. Notice it “already” has a whole so that job is done for you! Yippy!
  3. The last cake if you need it is an oversized cupcake for the top. Notice in the picture it has a normal size cupcake and then the larger cupcake. If you look in most kitchen supply areas next to the normal 12 cupcake pans they should have the larger size 6 cupcake pan. Take the cupcake and carefully cut a whole in the center. Turn the cupcake upside down so the large top will now be on the bottom. Carefully slide it down the cylinder to lie on the top of the bundt cake. You should be able to place the lid top for the cylinder on after putting on the cupcake.
  • Now that your cakes make a pyramid type shape you will need to frost and decorate it. Using chocolate frosting make sure to cover the entire cake and up around the sides of the cylinder top. You can also decorate it with green sprinkles in areas to look like trees or if you feel very talented you can pipe frosting to look like rocks and trees around the cake.
  • For the actual lava you will take approximately 1-2 bottles of Hershey’s Caramel Syrup depending on the size of your fountain. Add enough red food coloring and shake the caramel in the bottle until you get the color you want. Before you present your volcano fill the base of the fountain with the caramel. Make sure you have enough caramel to allow the fountain to run properly! If your cardboard goes all the way to the edges of the fountain bowl you may have to cut a small whole at one edge of the cardboard before putting it on the base to allow you room to pour in the caramel.
  • Now the fun part! Turn on the fountain and watch the caramel lava flow out the top and down around your cake. Cut and serve!
What things have you made to eat that were as fun to look at as they were to eat?

Best Crock-Pot Curry Chicken!

My husband had asked me to make some curry chicken after having some at a restaurant at the airport.  He found me an amazing recipe that I have changed the steps slightly to allow for an easy to make crock-pot meal instead of spending so much time in the kitchen cooking on the stove-top.  This is quickly becoming one of my top 10 dishes because the chicken just melts in your mouth and the sauce is packed with so much flavor!  There is a warning though.  If you cook this in the crock-pot while being at home all day it will be torture because it smells amazing and whatever you do don’t sneak a taste of it because I guarantee you won’t want to stop!

What is great is it includes my new best friend “Greek Yogurt” as one of the ingredients.  This is a spicy dish but can be modified by reducing the amount of red pepper flakes and chili powder as desired. It does require numerous spices but I found I had most of them already at home.  The one that I did not have was cardamom which I found to be expensive at Wal-Mart (around $11 for regular size bottle) but I since have seen it cheaper at other stores like Hubble and Hudson and will be looking at World Market and other specialty stores.  I am sure these spices can also be found cheaper online for a larger quantity and for the amounts of spice used in this and other similar recipes it may be better to eventually buy them in the larger bulk size.

See below for this amazing recipe.  Make it this week and let me know what you think!

Please share your experience with cooking Indian inspired foods and post your recipes!

Ingredients:

3 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs

1 large yellow onion diced

3-4 cloves garlic, minced

10 pearl onions, peeled and cut in half

1 tbsp lemon juice

4-5 tsp olive oil

1/2 cup plain Greek Yogurt

1 14.5 oz can petite diced tomatoes

1 tsp dried red pepper flakes

1 tsp dried mint leaves

1 1/4 tsp ground ginger

1 1/2 tsp ground cloves

1/4 tsp pepper (or freshly ground peppercorns)

1/2 tsp cardamom

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tbsp chili powder

2 tsp turmeric powder

2 tsp coriander powder

2 bay leaves

prepared Jasmine Rice or Basmati Rice

Prepare a container with all the dried spices together except the bay leaves. (red pepper flakes, mint leaves, ginger, cloves, pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, chili powder, turmeric, coriander). Saute pearl onions to a skillet with olive oil until slightly brown. Add the diced yellow onion and minced garlic (I use a food processor to chop the yellow onion and garlic up really fine). Saute vegetables for about 5 minutes. Reduce heat and add the spice mixture and stir. Add the can of tomatoes (if you don’t like chunks of tomato you can also briefly put this in food processor). Stir in the Greek Yogurt and mix well. Prepare the crock-pot and lay chicken thighs on the bottom. Pour the  tomato spice mixture over the top of the chicken and add two bay leaves. Set the crock-pot on the low setting and let it cook for 6 or more hours. Remove bay leaves before serving. Serve with jasmine or basmati rice.

Weekly Shopping with Coupons & Price-Matching

As I sat doing my weekly preparations for my Saturday morning grocery shopping I thought this would be something fun to share how I have tinkered with this and that to come up with a plan that with a little work makes the whole process run smooth and saves us some money.

I get stopped almost every time I shop to ask me about how I got so organized with my coupons and ads for price-matching.  I always tell them what I am telling you now.  I am not an expert. I am very much still in the armature stage compared to those I have learned from. Two dear friends have some very popular, user-friendly and very informative websites.  They are the resources I used for learning how to coupon effectively and to learn about price-matching at Wal-Mart.  To learn more visit www.mylitter.com to learn about couponing and www.iheartthemart.com to learn about all things Wal-Mart including price-matching.

During the week I cut out all my coupons and organize all the store ads I will use for price-matching.  I get coupons from the local paper and online.  You can learn more about places to find online coupons from both of the websites I recommended.   The Target and pharmacy store ads are normally in the local Sunday paper and the other local grocery store ads usually come during the week in the mail.

On Friday night or Saturday morning this is what I do to prepare for my shopping at Super Wal-Mart:

1.  Make a menu of meals for the week.  Making a menu helps to not only have a plan for the week but also saves money because we only buy what we need for those meals and I then can stock up on additional items on sale.  I usually go through the house to see what I already have before buying it again at the store. Then I replenish my stock items when I find them on sale or have coupons.

2.  Make a grocery list off the menu.

3.  Go through all the ads to check for price-match items for things on my grocery list but also look for special deals to stock up on items especially if I can use a coupon to save even more.  I usually circle each item with a red pen.  If the item had 4 for $10 I write the amount for one next to it since Wal-Mart has to put each item in at the price per each.  This just makes that process easier at checkout for everyone.

4.  I take a post-it note and write all the price-match items on it to keep on the front page of my binder to refer to as I am grocery shopping and help when I am checking out.

5.  I then go through my coupons to pull out all that go with my grocery list and price match items and pull them to the front of my binder for easy access as shopping.  I do take the whole binder because often I find deals as I am going and can find a coupon for it.

6.  When I get to the store I put my binder in the front child seat section.  On the front page I have my grocery list,  price-match list and my ads  to refer to. As I shop I pull the coupons out of the binder for each item I put in my cart and put those coupons all together to hand the clerk at checkout.

7.  I always put items I am price-matching in a certain area of my basket because when I am checking out I put them on last.  Items need to be price-matched at the time they are scanned and this is just easier to do it all at the same time.  I also try to place items I am price-matching from the same ad next to each other so when they are being scanned I am not fumbling back and forth between ads.

8.  I often will place an ad over the items I am price-matching so that as the clerk gets to the end she knows to stop.  This way if I am distracted by loading my basket or heaven forbid a child that has all my attention I don’t miss getting to price-match those items.

9.  I also try scan items towards the end that have a coupon that needs the price written on it.  That way if I forget the price they can find it easily at the end of the receipt instead of looking at the really long list of items trying to find it.

Again I am not an expert but I have developed a plan that works for me and keeps me organized.  There is nothing worse than getting in line and being frazzled with your ads and coupons while having a clerk and other customers waiting on you.  Making a menu, couponing and price-matching have been the three things that have saved us a ton of money.  If you do not have a plan just start small with making a menu each week. Look at the two websites I mentioned to learn about couponing and Wal-Mart price-matching and just take those baby steps until you get a routine that works for you!

What ideas and suggestions do you have that make saving money and shopping a smooth experience?

Greek Yogurt is the BOMB!

We have several meals that we love that call for sour cream. We have certainly tried many varieties of the low-fat sour cream but it does change the flavor enough to notice. So in walks my new best friend GREEK YOGURT! Try it in any of your foods that call for sour cream and see if you notice a difference. We made hamburger stroganoff tonight and couldn’t tell a difference at all. I also have used it in smoothies to help increase the protein. Greek yogurt is lower in calories and fat than regular sour cream and has much more protein. It is a great exchange if you are looking to cut calories or fat and want to add more protein to your diet without changing your normal meals too much. See recipe for hamburger stroganoff below. Do you have any Greek yogurt ideas you would like to share?

Hamburger Stroganoff
8-10 oz cooked noodles (about 1/2-3/4 of a 16 oz. pkg)
1 lb lean ground beef cooked, drain fat
1 can cream of mushroom soup (regular or less fat)
1/2 cup milk (low-fat is fine)
1 cup plain greek yogurt
5 green onions, cleaned and chopped small
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2-1 beef bullion cube (to taste)
salt and pepper to taste

Cook noodles as directed and set aside. Brown hamburger, onions and garlic. Drain fat. Add soup and milk. Mix until soup starts to thin. Add Greek yogurt and mix well. Lower heat and salt and pepper to taste and add 1/2 beef bullion cube (can add more if desired). Add in 8oz-10oz of noodles to the stroganoff mix and coat noodles. Serve with green beans or broccoli and garlic bread.
**You can also add peas, mushrooms or other items to the sauce to change it up!

Buying Generic or Brand Name, that is the Question!

I will start by letting everyone know that I am an avid Walmart shopper.  I had done other stores in the past but when a Super Walmart was built nearby and I found that I could get a screwdriver,shower curtain, children’s socks, a television, potting soil and groceries all in one store it became my main store for shopping.

It is a running joke in my family that if a product is available in the “Great Value Brand” I will buy it before the brand name product.  I have actually been in the store and had my daughter say sarcastically “didn’t they have that in the Great Value brand mom?”.  If you are not familiar with Great Value it is Walmart’s store brand for products.  So I have to admit there is almost 100% truth to what they say.  Unless I have a coupon that makes a brand name product cost the same or less than the generic equivalent I will buy generic.  The bad part is that I make my family the guinea pigs to determine what I continue to buy generic or what items I need to stay brand loyal to.  I do find that usually most generic products are equal to the quality of brand name products however you will find some that are not.  So yes it is a game of trial and error.  Thankfully I am not lacking for opinions in my home when something generic (or even brand name) just isn’t working out.  If you haven’t used a generic brand give it a try to see if your family notices, you never know!!!! What experiences do you have with generic products versus brand name products?

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