Monday, November 29, 2010


I recently read a daily devotion about the dangers of shortcuts.  Phooey!  I love ‘em.  (Though I do realize that a shortcut in your personal life may not work as well as they do in the kitchen.)  I know it’s all the craze now to make everything from scratch: plant & pick your own wheat, grind your own whole wheat flour, make your own crackers, etc.  But I love a good shortcut from time to time as well.  Because I simply don’t have the time (& won’t spend the little I do) to do such manual labor in the kitchen.  I am all for eating simple, whole, healthy foods on a regular basis.  But every now & then, I love me a shortcut.

Whether it’s using frozen meatballs & putting them in the crockpot with a few cans of deliciousness or stuffing manicotti with a piece of string cheese vs. laboring to scoop in a mound of ricotta that my husband won’t touch with a ten-foot pole, count me in.

Here are a couple of my favorite shortcut recipes.

Easy-To-Stuff Manicotti
1 box of manicotti pasta shells
1 lb. ground beef or Italian sausage
1 jar pasta sauce
1 pkg string cheese
1 ½ C shredded mozzarella cheese

Boil pasta as directed on box.  Drain & let cool on a piece of waxed paper.  Brown beef or sausage; add sauce.  Spread ½ the sauce mixture in a 9x13 pan.  Stuff pasta shells with one piece of string cheese each & lay on top of the sauce in the pan.  Spread the remaining sauce over the pasta shells. Sprinkle cheese on top.  Cover & bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.  Uncover & bake for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Crockpot Meatballs  (Thank you new sister, Jess, & the Snyder family for this amazing recipe!)
1 bag frozen homestyle meatballs
2 cans golden mushroom soup
1 can tomatoes (I use petite diced)
¼ C soy sauce
¼ C cider vinegar
¼ C brown sugar

Mix last 3 ingredients together; pour over other ingredients in crockpot & stir well.  Cook on high for 2 hrs & low for 2-ish.  Serve over cooked rice. (Could substitute cube or round steak for Salisbury Steak instead of the meatballs.)  Double for a large crowd.  (We like it extra saucey, but if you don’t, just add more meatballs without anything extra.)

Crockpot Potato Soup
1 bag frozen cubed hashbrowns (not shredded)
1 can cream soup (mushroom, chicken or celery)
8 oz cream cheese, softened
½ lb. cooked crumbled bacon or ham
3 14.5 oz. cans chicken broth
1/3 C chopped onion (or onion flakes)

Mix together in crockpot (with liner).  Cook on low 8-10 hrs / high for 4-5 hrs.

Creamy Chicken & Wild Rice Soup
Bear Creek Creamy Wild Rice soup mix
Cooked, cubed chicken breast (can buy in packages at store, already cooked & cubed)

Line crockpot with liner.  Add soup mix & amount of water as directed on soup mix package.  Stir well.  Add chicken.  Cook on high for 4 hours.  Stir well. 

Friday, November 26, 2010

Freezer Meals

I know some of you out there are gung-ho about freezer meals.  Some of you may even spend a whole day preparing a month’s worth of meals to freeze & then eat as needed.  Many of my friends have been recipient’s of freezer meals when they’ve had a baby, much to their delight. 

A couple years ago our small group decided to make meals for our friends that were having babies.  We each determined to make meals for an entire week for our friends.  That’s a lot of meal ideas, by the way!  And we wanted to make meals that could be frozen, if desired.  That was when I realized that I had little to no experience with freezer meals. 

I’ve since come up with a couple meals that can work as freezer meals.  My mom’s Hot Chicken Salad and Porcupine Meatballs are good options.  (Refer to previous post on “Smith Family Favorites: Meal Edition” for recipes.)  I’ve made my Chicken Pot Pie as a freezer meal before and it worked okay, but probably isn’t best that way.  And I’ve got a few others up my sleeve.  Oldies, but goodies like Tator Tot Casserole usually please.  Pasta dishes work well usually, too.

Do you have good freezer meal recipes?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Coupon Update

Awhile back I posted on my newfound love of clipping coupons.  Some people warned about the dangers (i.e. actually spending more because you buy stuff you don’t need & / or name brands vs. generics) & hassles of doing so.  But many were supportive & submitted the names of favorite coupon sites they use.  Recently someone suggested I post an update on my progress with the coupon community.

Well, it’s been a bit of a mixed bag, I’d say.  At times I’ve gotten some GREAT deals.  But I have probably purchased things I wouldn’t normally buy, just because it was such a good deal.  And I don’t like to go the route of looking at my coupons or the weekly ads to plan my meal list & thus, my grocery list.  Too much work.  I’d rather just plan my lists & then look through my coupons to see what fits the list instead. 

I have recently been frustrated at the amount of time grocery planning / shopping has taken, as well.  It’s taken me up to 3 hours to just do the grocery shopping!  (Going to Aldi & Walmart on a weekday afternoon, by the way.)  And that doesn’t count the time it took to plan the lists & sort through all the coupons!! 

At times I’ve found I spend less when I just shop at one store instead of going to two (i.e. just Walmart vs. Aldi & Walmart together).  Even though Aldi has better prices all around than Walmart, they don’t have everything I need.  And apparently the psychology of shopping at two places makes it harder for me to stay on track with my budget.  I suppose it probably has something to do with the fact that I go to Aldi first, buy the stuff I can there, still keeping track of how much I’m spending, but not realizing that I haven’t left myself enough of my budget for the rest of the stuff I need at Walmart.  I know I used to kind of splurge on things outside my list at Aldi as well, simply because everything is so cheap!  But it adds up.  Anyway, when I shop just at Walmart, I have the option of putting things back at the end that I deem unnecessary if I find myself breaking the bank.  But if I’ve already bought unnecessary things at Aldi, I can’t put those things back by the time I’m at Walmart & concluding that I’m over the budget.  Hope that makes some kind of sense to at least one of you out there!!

So, all that to say that I’m still working out the kinks.  I have gone back to the Aldi plus Walmart routine recently, simply because Walmart jacked up their prices on several things to a point I was fed up with.  And Aldi has actually dropped their prices on several things like canned veggies & soup.  Though their eggs are now not quite as cheap.  (Still cheaper than Walmart, though.)  I do feel like I spend a lot of time debating whether it might be cheaper at Walmart than Aldi.  Stressful!

Another option we’re looking at:  Target now has a debit card program you can sign up for that links directly to your current checking account and gives you 5% off all your purchases.  This, along with the coupons on their site, might be a deciding factor for us to finally be able to afford our principals and shop there instead of Walmart.  Something we’ve wanted to do for awhile but didn’t feel like we could afford!  Their stores are better, their products are better, their checkouts are better.  But their prices are higher.  Not always significantly, but it does add up.  So we’ll see.  If we can actually break even with the cash back & coupons, we’ll give it a try. 

I love to save money & eat well.  We want to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with in all areas of life.  At this point, my time is precious, but I’m willing to sacrifice SOME of it to save a portion of our finances.  But I’m sick of full days of grocery shopping, planning, coupon organizing, etc.  I don’t feel like that’s the best use / stewardship of my time.

If any of you out there have any good suggestions, feel free to pass them along!  (PS: I love the idea some of you have of buying certain things in bulk, like meat.  But our current budget doesn’t allow for anything of the kind, unfortunately.) 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Guest Post: Amy McGinnis's take on Mexican

My husband and I love Mexican food. We have moved a few times in the nine years that we’ve been married; each time we moved one of the first things we’d look for is a good Mexican restaurant. We understand that some of our tastes in Mexican food are more Tex-Mex than authentic, but we have expanded our tastes into more traditional Mexican food as well.
Like everyone else, we have cramped down on our budget in recent months. This has forced me to search for recipes that allow us to make tasty Mexican food at home.
Here are 4 recipes that we make quite often at our house:

Homemade Tortilla Chips
These tortilla chips are so good you won’t even need salsa or queso dip!

¾ Cup Vegetable Oil
8-10 Corn tortillas

1. Place oil in a high sided pan on medium heat.
2. Using a pizza cutter, slice tortillas lengthwise and then across. This should give you 4 equal pieces.
3. Place tortilla pieces into oil, 3-4 pieces at a time. Allow to fry for 30-45 seconds and then flip. Repeat the process until the chips are a deep gold color.
4. Remove chips from pan and place on a paper towel lined cookie sheet. Sprinkle with salt.
5. To keep warm, place in a 200 degree oven until ready to serve. 

1. I have read in various recipes that say the oil temperature should stay around 350 degrees. You may choose to use a thermometer to monitor the oil temperature in the pan. I, however, just watch the chips. If they begin to brown too quickly then I will turn the heat down a bit.
2. To make sure the oil is hot enough to begin frying the chips, break off a piece of one of the chips and drop it in the pan. If it fries fairly quickly then the oil is ready to go.
3. Depending on your batch size the amount of oil should be adjusted. If you intend on frying 5 tortillas then ½ cup of oil will suffice.

Chicken Enchiladas (adapted from Real Simple)
Don’t let the tomatillos scare you away! I have found Wal-Mart to carry these exotic fruits on a regular basis. If you do not have a poblano pepper handy, a green bell pepper makes an adequate substitute.

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 Pound tomatillos (papery skins removed), chopped
1 white onion, chopped
1 poblano (or green bell) pepper, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
¾ teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper
1 cup heavy cream
2-3 frozen chicken breasts
1 14.5 oz diced tomatoes, drained
1 ¼ cups Monetary Jack cheese, shredded
8 corn tortillas (6 inch size)

1. Heat Oven to 400 F. Place frozen chicken breasts in boiling water and boil until cooked through. Once chicken is done cooking, allow to cool on cutting board and then shred into bite size pieces.
2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, tomatillos, poblano pepper, garlic, cumin and ½ teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally until veggies are tender, about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer veggies to food processor; add cream and puree. There should be some chunks of veggies left.  The mixture will not be completely smooth.
4. In a large bowl, combine the chicken, tomatoes, 1 cup of cheese, ½ cup of tomatillo sauce, and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper.
5. Warm tortillas between two damp paper towels in the microwave for about 40 seconds.
6. Spread 1 cup of tomatillo sauce on the bottom of a 9x13 pan.
7. Roll the chicken mix in the warmed tortillas and place in pan, seam side down.
8. Pour remaining sauce and cheese over the finished enchiladas. Place in oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the tortillas begin to brown.

Tomatillo Salad (adapted from Weight Watchers Magazine March/April 2009)
If you didn’t pick up on the tomatillo flavor in the enchilada recipe, this salad will give you an opportunity to experience the crunchy tart flavor that makes this fruit unique.

1 small onion, chopped
1 lb. ground pork
2 tsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. dry oregano
½ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
4 cups shredded lettuce
1 15 oz. can black beans, rinsed and drained.
½ lb. tomatillos, papery skins removed, fruit rinsed and chopped
½ cup sour cream
1 cup salsa

1. Spray large skillet with non-stick spray and place on medium heat.
2. Combine chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small bowl and set aside.
3. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes.
4. Increase heat to medium high and add the pork; cook, breaking up the chunks of meat with a spoon until cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.
5. Add spice mixture to heat, stirring until fragrant, about 20 seconds. Remove skillet from heat.
6. Layer lettuce, beans, and tomatillos in a serving bowl.
7. Top salad with the pork and onion mixture; serve with sour cream and salsa.

Eggs, Beans, Salsa, and Pepperoni
OK. This recipe may seem a little weird…especially the pepperoni part. The original recipe titled “Huevos Rancheros” called for sunny side up eggs mixed with black beans and salsa. Since no one in my house is a fan of sunny side up eggs we decided to go with scrambled.

One night my husband got the crazy idea to add pepperoni to the recipe. Surprisingly it worked well. This is a quick and easy recipe we often pull out on the nights when we do not have a lot of time for dinner. This version of the recipe serves about 3-4 people but can be easily increased for a larger crowd. As long as the eggs are cooked through, you really can’t mess this recipe up! You may choose to use more or less beans, salsa, and pepperoni than what is listed below.

4-5 Eggs        
1 can of Black Beans (I prefer Busch’s Low Sodium Beans), drained and rinsed
1 Jar (ish) of Salsa (I prefer the chunky kind for this recipe)
Pepperoni, to taste
Salt and Pepper, to taste
Shredded cheese (for topping)
Sour Cream (for topping)
Corn or flour tortillas (1-2 per person) 

1. Scramble eggs in pan until cooked through.
2. Add beans and most of the jar of salsa (depends how much salsa you like). Stir ingredients in pan.
3. Add slices of pepperoni (again, depends on how adventurous you are).
4. Season with salt and pepper. 

From this point, you have a few different options in serving this meal. You could let everyone roll their own tortilla wrap using the mixture as a filling. Or you can make quesadillas on the stovetop. 

1. To make the quesadillas, warm a 9-12inch pan on medium heat.
2. Spray one side of the flour tortilla with cooking spray or coat with a thin layer of butter.
3. Place greased side of tortilla down in pan.
4. On one side of the quesadilla, place cheese and egg mixture.
5. Fold quesadilla in half and flip until each side is golden brown.

Thank you, Amy, for guest posting! 

Friday, November 19, 2010

Feed the Hungry This Christmas

I decided that a plug for our church’s food pantry drive fits nicely into the purpose of this blog.  And the holidays are always a time where those less fortunate than ourselves (at least monetarily) are in even greater need for our generosity.

Something I’ve tried to incorporate into our lives is a continual thought process of service.  Instead of serving once a year at a shelter or other mission organization, I want to make it a lifestyle.  And one way to do that is to purchase nonperishable food for our church’s food pantry EVERY time I do a major grocery shopping trip (i.e. twice a month).  This makes thinking about those in need a regular occurrence in my life, rather than just doing it once and “getting it out of the way”.  It’s important for me to have a lifelong, continual perspective of trying to cancel out poverty since it is such a major issue.

Jake and I helped serve at Mission For All Nations this summer, our area’s largest food pantry.  (I believe they said it was the largest in Nebraska, but don’t quote me on that.)  It was an eye-opening experience.  And they have a great process.  I’d definitely recommend that ministry to anyone wanting to serve our area’s poor.

In any case, our church’s is just one of the food pantries available in our area, but we do serve an increasing population of families in need.  Since my husband is over this particular ministry area in our church, he keeps me well-informed about the status of the food pantry and how much it’s being used.  And it’s definitely being used!!  We keep running out of food a lot faster than ever before.

That said, here is a plug for the holiday food drive (taken directly from the website):

Our food pantry serves church members and members of our community when they are experiencing financial hardship. Since January, we have served more than 500 people - an average of 4 families each week! Thank you for sharing in this ministry through your generosity!

This Christmas we want to do something special for the people who use our food pantry. Along with your donation of food, we are asking people to bring $10 gift cards to a store that sells perishable food. Throughout December we'll give this extra gift to everyone who uses the food pantry.

Needed items can be found below. Please bring donations to StoneBridge anytime during office hours or on Sundays.

Items Currently Needed:
Boxed Meals (Hamburger / Tuna / Chicken Helper / etc)
• Cans of Chicken and Tuna
Boxed Rice Meals (Rice-a-Roni / etc)
Macaroni & Cheese / Easy Mac
Spaghetti Sauce / Pasta
Canned Meals (Spaghetti O?s / Ravioli / Beef Stew / etc)
Canned Soup / Soup-to-Go

Breakfast Items:
Boxed Cereal / Oatmeal
Pancake Mix / Syrup

Other Items:
Peanut Butter / Jelly
Canned Vegetables / Canned Fruit
Condiments (Ketchup / Mustard / etc)
Snack Pack Items (Pudding / Cheese & Crackers / etc)

I'm happy to say that our small group is participating in this food drive.  You should too!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Panera’s New Mac & Cheese

A few days ago, I heard an ad on the radio for Panera Bread’s new Macaroni & Cheese dish.  The chef said his kids helped him create this dish of shell pasta covered in two kinds of white cheddar cheese.  Sounded yummy!  So I looked it up online as a possible lunch option for a friend & I to have the following day.  They offer a large and a small portion or you can select it in their Pick 2 menu options with a half sandwich, a cup of soup or a half salad.  I also made the mistake of looking at the nutritional information, as I’m making a concerted effort to eat healthier, though this doesn’t mean I won’t allow myself a treat or two now and then.  Everything in moderation, right?  Anyway, I was astounded at the saturated fat content.  Just floored.  The calorie count is pretty high, too, but frankly, I was expecting that.  Anyway, the small portion is obviously the better bet in that area. 

So I talked my friend into going to Panera for lunch.  She’d already had their mac & cheese and said it was delicious.  I was glad to hear that, but still a little leery.  I’ve had “fancy” mac & cheese and been disappointed before.  So I was still withholding judgment.  To keep costs down, I simply ordered the small portion, which came with a side item choice of an apple, chips or baguette.  I went with the apple and a water to drink, since I knew the mac & cheese would blow my calorie / fat / carb counts for the day anyway.  And I thought the mac & cheese would be filling, and the apple is supposed to be high in fiber & filling too.  This was a decent $5 lunch deal, I thought.  Now onto the taste factor.

It was creamy, salty deliciousness.  The noodles were soft.  The cheese sauce was creamy and full of taste.  Some of my past criticisms of macaroni and cheese is that it is too bland.  This one does not have that issue.  And the small portion, along with the apple, was just enough to satisfy.  (Though the apple was a bit too hard, I have to say.  Not something I’ve often experienced with apples. Under-ripe.)  I highly recommend this macaroni & cheese to anyone looking for a classic comfort food this cold season.  And I don’t think you need the extra sandwich, soup or salad to accompany it, unless you have quite an appetite to quench.  I would definitely skip the large portion of this dish, however.  You don’t want to cut your lifespan in half just for a bowl of mac & cheese.  (Yes, that’s how high the saturated fat content is!) 

I did have one small suggestion that I thought would improve this dish:  some toasted panko breadcrumbs or cornflakes on top would provide a satisfying crunch to the palette, offsetting the rich, creamy, soft texture of the rest of the dish.  But maybe that’s just me.  No matter what, I’m going back for more.  Who's coming with?

Monday, November 15, 2010

A New Favorite: Man v. Food

My husband and I enjoy a wide variety of TV shows from Glee to Modern Family to Vampire Diaries (guilty pleasure) to Dexter to Mad Men to Fringe.  And we’re pretty interested in “real” reality shows, like documentaries and stuff on the History Channel, etc.  Along with American Idol, which probably doesn’t fall into the “real” reality show category since it’s overproduced so much, though I think it’s still better that way than say The Bachelor!

All that to say that we’ve started in on a possible new favorite “real” reality show:  “Man v. Food” on the Travel Channel.  The first couple of seasons showed up on Netflix Instant, so we added them to our queue awhile back.  We occasionally like to just see what stuff is like on a whim and this show fit the bill a couple nights ago.  I think we are hooked.

The premise is that the “man” travels to different locale and takes on extreme eating challenges, like a 72 oz. steak dinner in  under and hour or 6 of the hottest wings known to man.  That kind of thing.  Along with the challenges, he usually visits a couple local favorites in that particular city beforehand and experiences the recommended fare.  So far we’ve been extremely disappointed that while we lived in Cincinnati for 5 years, we were completely unaware of an amazing German homemade sausage house in Columbus, a mere 2 hours away, that promotes an “autobahn” homemade sausage buffet and a selection of ½ lb. homemade cream puffs for dessert (the sausage tempted Jake, but the cream puffs brought me on board).  And we really want to visit Pittsburgh someday now, but can’t really come up with any good excuses to do so other than just to eat.  That doesn’t seem like a good enough reason yet, I guess. 

Did I mention we’ve only watched 5 episodes so far?!  We could definitely do without the weird interview stuff at the very end of each episode.  But the rest is definitely fun.  He's a bit over-the-top at times, but I'm sure that makes for more interesting TV, too.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Mixed Messages

Anyone ever been confused by all the mixed messages out there on eating healthy?  One person says to count calories, another carbs, another fat, another says the exact right combo of those things is what you need.  One says to just eat small meals throughout the day to jumpstart your metabolism, another says portion control.  One says you have to exercise to lose weight, another says that’s not that important.  Someone says to drink some caffeine to kickstart your workout, while several discount this method.  One says to close up the kitchen after 7:00pm and another says that doesn’t matter. 

Ack!  I think if you put all those together you come out somewhere right.  Of course, our grandparents ate eggs cooked in bacon grease every day for 70+ years and lived to tell the tale.  And are the smallest people I know (and not just from osteoporosis).  Though they didn’t have the high fructose corn syrup-laden processed food we do either, so maybe that’s the key.  I’m not quite ready to go the whole organic food only route, though.  It’s so much work & so much expense.  And I love Double Stuf Oreos a bit too much still, which are pretty much just made of chemicals.  Delicious, delicious chemicals.

Part of the problem is that different things work for different people, but there’s a plan for that too.  You have to identify your body type and customize from there.  Is this all part of the brilliant human experience God created us uniquely for?  Cause it feels frustrating.  I suppose that’s part of the process.

One of my favorite, slightly healthy, super cheap & easy meals is jambalaya.  I get the Zatarain’s box mix (usually family size so we have leftovers), add a ring of light or turkey smoked sausage, sliced up, and follow the directions on the box.  Sometimes I add the oil, sometimes not.  (It’s obviously lighter in fat if you don’t, but according to some diet plans Canola oil is good, some say olive oil and it definitely tastes better & has a better texture if you do add it. And again, some diet plans say a little bit of the right fats is essential to good digestion & vitamin/mineral absorption.)  Sometimes I just cut the amount of oil too.   

I cook it all in my microwave Rice Cooker Plus from Pampered Chef and it takes about 20+ minutes to cook up nice.  Add a veggie & you’re good to go.  You can also use chicken, shrimp or a combo of all the above.  I know some people make this from scratch, but this is seriously easy & cheap, so I go that route instead.  Everyone needs a few easy, cheap, somewhat healthy go-to dinner ideas for the nights you get home from work & have about a minute to cook & eat before the next scheduled event.  This is one of mine!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Off Topic, But On My Mind: Christmas Cards & Shutterfly

So, it’s that time of year again where we all begin to consider our holiday plans.  Amongst those plans might be attending parties & concerts, baking up special treats, decorating the homestead, shopping for the perfect re-gifting gifts.  And sending holiday cards to everyone you’ve ever met or might have met once upon a time because you don’t want to leave anyone out just in case you might offend them by doing so.  Ah.  The holidays. 

This year, Shutterfly is making my (and possibly your) life easier & better!  They are offering 50 free Christmas cards to bloggers who post about this deal in their blog-o-sphere.  I have gladly agreed to take part in this truly jolly venture. 

One of my blog readers mentioned that I could suggest to you all to take pictures of your favorite holiday foods for your Christmas card Shutterfly pics.  And I think that would be a fabulous idea!!  (And ties in to the purpose of this blog.  Wink, wink.)

There have been years when I’ve made my own Christmas cards with tools and gadgets from Stamping Up.  And there have been years when I’ve gotten good deals at Borders on fun, sparkly pre-packaged Christmas cards.  (I’ve even purchased the same Christmas cards there twice, though several years apart – did anyone notice?!)  There have even been a couple years that we skipped the Christmas card tradition altogether.  But I think Shutterfly is making it easier & better to keep up with the Christmas card routine.  So why wouldn’t I (and you) take part?!  After looking at some of the options, I’m wise to all of you that have already been using Shutterfly.  I thought you were so creative all on your own, but now I realize I was just in the dark about this cool tool.

Here are a couple links to check out Shutterfly’s variety of Christmas & holiday card options:

Maybe you’re one of the many that have jumped on board the “after Christmas” card craze.  (And why not?  I love that I can hear from some of you at a time other than Christmas – spreads out the fun!)  Here’s a link for Shutterfly’s other greeting card options:

If you’re a blogger and want to get in on this special offer:
Bloggers get 50 free holiday cards from Shutterfly… learn more:

Monday, November 8, 2010

Self-Talk Concerning Food

I get daily devotional emails from Proverbs 31 Ministries and last week they sent one that addressed our inner self-talk when it comes to food and healthy eating (among other things).  The author basically described a change she desired to make in her inner “self-talk”.  She wanted to change from a “I’ll start over on Monday so I can indulge today/this weekend” to a “I was made for more than this” mode.  The idea that God has made us for more than just being slaves to our taste buds is one I find appealing.  And the whole idea of negative self-talk holding us back is something I completely agree with.  I think it applies to a vast number of different life situations, including relationships.  But a large majority of people have struggled with healthy eating at some point in their lives and I think the self-talk issue has definitely affected most of us in that arena.  Another devotional email came this week that can be applied to this issue as well.  The concept was just “Do the work.”  If you’re struggling to repair a relationship, “Do the work.”  If you’re trying to lose weight, “Do the work.”  I think changing our self-talk is one of the hardest things we are challenged to do in our lives, but probably one of the most rewarding as well.  If I can change my inner self-talk from a negative one concerning healthy eating to one of these better options, I think I might have more success on the whole & enjoy it more in the process. 

What’s your inner self-talk telling you, especially in regard to your relationship with food?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Coconut: My Old Friend

I know that some people have a dislike of coconut.  I am not one of those people.  I have the exact opposite reaction to it – I really, really love it.  I guess the chewiness factor gets to some people, but it’s never bothered me.  And I love the sweet, tropical taste.  Coconut truly makes many things better:  candy, cake, cookies, drinks (hello, pina colada!), pies, granola, ice cream and even fruit salad.  One of my favorite fruit salads growing up was the ambrosia one with pineapple, coconut & mandarin oranges.  Delish!  A couple years ago I discovered a Kashi granola cereal that was chocolate with almonds & shaved coconut.  This coconut was in natural large thin strips rather than the sweetened flakes I’m used to.  But it was still delightful.  This granola was perfect for parfaits, but unfortunately I don’t find it anymore.  One of my favorite coconut discoveries was a tad more recent.  My sister-in-law, Christine, introduced me to some frozen fruit sorbets from Costco that came packed in their own fruit shells.  So the orange mango sorbet was in a half shell of an orange.  The pineapple sorbet was in a tiny half pineapple skin.  The lemon in a lemon shell, etc.  The best was the coconut sorbet in the half coconut shell.  Runner up was the pina colada sorbet, since that’s a mix of the coconut and the pineapple.  It was in a half pineapple shell as well.  (I remember looking at the nutritional information for each sorbet & the coconut was definitely the worst one from that perspective, with the pina colada being a close second.  I question coconut really being a “fruit” with the “fruit sorbets”, too, but I still loved it!)  Sadly, this is but one more area in which my husband and I differ in tastes.  I feel like this could be closer to the avocado adventure than some others, though – he used to dislike avocados, but due to sushi, he’s come to actually love them.  I tease him that I’ll get him to like cheese someday, but he’s pretty adamant that won’t happen.  Perhaps coconut, though…

Monday, November 1, 2010

Sugar Cubes Tea Room

Sadly, the tea room I’m about to “review” no longer exists.  I had many a pleasant outing to this Bennington haunt, but early last year they closed their doors.  I saw on their website something about a move to Fremont, but then I checked back and that must have changed to simply “closed”. However, on their website they note that they still do catering for events.  So I’d recommend it if you have that option. 

I’d never been to a “tea room” prior to approximately 3 years ago.  Frankly, the idea never appealed to me.  It sounded to “frou-frou” for this “uptown” chick.  But the women’s ministry team from our church that I was working with at the time thought that might be a good location for a ladies outing, and I agreed.  We were trying to incorporate all types of venues into these outings.  So we set it up and I arrived, ready to be underwhelmed.  I was surprised.  The venue was cute: a little old house on Bennington’s main street, complete with a gazebo in the far back corner of the dining room.  (Yes, inside.)  There were several different seating areas and the place was packed with women from our church, excited about this kind of offering.  The service was good and the options were scrumptious.  I like tea, especially with milk & sugar.  (Thank you, Mandy Smith, for introducing me to this finer style.)  And Sugar Cubes had tea options galore.  I think I had the Tutti Fruiti, maybe.  I know I had that on one occasion, at least. 

Here is a sample menu from their website, which pretty accurately portrays the food you are served:

Fresh Fruit
Cool Cucumber Dip with Pita Chips
Scones and Welsh Cakes with Devonshire Cream and Jam
Rosemary Chicken Salad in Cucumber Cups
Salmon and Dill Quiche
Roasted Turkey and Spinach on Foccacia
Raspberry Truffle
Bread Pudding with caramel sauce
Choice of two teas.

Recognize that from the list above, only the desserts are options you have to choose from.  Otherwise, you get everything listed on that menu.  For about $15 a person, which isn’t cheap, but the food was good enough to command that every once in awhile, especially considering how much food you get for your money.  And did I mention it’s all good?  The Cool Cucumber Dip with Pita Chips was amazing – creamy yet tangy and light somehow.  This girl is not a fan of scones, as they’re usually the driest of the bread offerings around.  But the Devonshire Cream – some kind of rich, light exotic cream that combines the textures and tastes of cream cheese & sour cream – really makes the scones much more palatable.  I can usually do without rosemary.  I like the flavor, but the texture is much too close to grass in my experience.  So unless it’s chopped up finely or ground, you can skip it.  However, the Rosemary Chicken Salad in Cucumber Cups is a nice delicate offering.  I still take issue with the texture of rosemary in general, but find it less irritating in this dish than in some.  Every time I’ve gone to Sugar Cubes (approximately 4, perhaps), I’ve had a different kind of quiche.  And I’ve really liked them all.  I think my favorite was a bleu cheese quiche that at first was a bit off-putting.  I’m not always a huge fan of strong cheese and I don’t think I’d ever had bleu cheese prior.  But after several bites, I really enjoyed the strength of the cheese in relation to the mildness of the quiche.  And several months later I woke up really craving this, only to find out that the tea room had closed.  I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment. 

In any case, my favorite offering of their menu is probably the bread pudding.  And yes, I do not like bread.  I’d never had bread pudding before attempting it here.  I was very skeptical.  And very surprised.  I loved it!  It’s much more like a custard than bread.  (Due to the large amount of eggs added to it.)  And Sugar Cubes made their own caramel sauce that they drizzled over it.  So good!  A warm, tasty treat.  However, I ordered this on every occasion, and once – to my horror – they’d made it with raisins (apparently a traditional ingredient to bread pudding, but a tradition I believe should go the way of petticoats) and whole wheat bread.  I think that was also the time the cook burnt the caramel sauce.  So sad. 

The food was always good at Sugar Cubes.  However, the service was not.  The owner apparently had a difficult time of finding good help and keeping organized.  She didn’t always keep good record of reservations, or at least didn’t refer back to her records well.  At least twice she had waitresses not show up or call in sick when I was there.  And several times we waited (& waited & waited) for long periods of time to get our food.  I believe it took 2 ½ hours for our whole meal once.  Granted, this type of meal comes in many courses, so that 2 ½ hours was stretched across those courses.  But even given that, it was a long wait period at times.  I really felt for the owner, but she was clearly unorganized and contributed some to the mess of it all.  A most pleasant woman, though.  She did the cooking too.  And she was good.  I think if she’d had a manager and could just do the cooking, she’d have been well off.  But in this age of economic crisis, I’m sure a tea room in the little town of Bennington, Nebraska, just couldn’t make it for long, especially with some of the service issues.  Which is a shame.  I loved taking friends and family there.  It was always a fun time to get away, just us girls.  (The first time, with the women’s ministry ladies, was one of the best times I’ve had – us girls had some very lengthy conversations about topics we don’t normally discuss but that were meaningful and frank.  Maybe that’s why this place has such a warm place in my heart.)  I’d had plans to take my sister, my niece and my sister-in-law there.  Maybe we’ll have it catered instead.