Meatless Monday - Easy Manicotti

>> Monday, September 28, 2009

We have a Christmas tradition in our house - manicotti! (Don't worry...this post really has nothing to do with Christmas. Just throwing that little tidbit out there for no apparent reason.) I'm not really sure how it got started, but it's stuck. It's good, filling, and easy. Manicotti is not just for Christmas though, of course. It's a favorite year round with us.

Today I want to share my recipe for manicotti with you. The original recipe came from a magazine - Southern Living, I think - but I've changed it up a bit to suit my tastes. I use jarred marinara for my sauce - Newman's Own Marinara, to be exact - but feel free to use your favorite sauce, jarred or homemade. I also use a bit more sauce than the recipe below calls for. I like my pasta saucy! So, feel free to use more or less sauce depending on your tastes.

This dish is a real kid pleaser, and it's a great one to hide veggies in. I like to add sweet potato puree to the spaghetti sauce, but you could also add other veggies. Maybe saute some mushrooms and add to the spaghetti sauce, or cauliflower puree in the cheese sauce, or carrot puree in the spaghetti sauce, or shredded zucchini in the spaghetti sauce. You get the idea. The sauce and cheese flavors are strong enough that added veggies would add only a subtle flavor.

Easy, Cheesy Manicotti

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese, divided
2 cups lowfat cottage cheese
1/2 cup reduced-fat ricotta cheese
1/2 tsp Italian seasoning
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
3/4 cup sweet potato puree (optional)
12 manicotti shells, cooked per box instructions
1 large jar spaghetti sauce (more or less to taste)

Combine 1/3 cup parmesan cheese and the next 5 ingredients (cheese through egg).

Stuff each shell with about a 1/4 cup of the cheese mixture. Arrange in a 13x9x2" baking dish.

Mix spaghetti sauce and sweet potato puree. Pour sauce over shells.

Cover and back at 375 for 25 min or until thoroughly heated. Uncover and sprinkle with remaining parmesan cheese. Bake an additional 5 minutes.

A tip for working with the manicotti - if your manicotti tears, don't worry about it! Just put a little filling in the center of the pasta strip and fold the pasta around the filling. Put in the baking dish so that it stays folded in a cylindrical shape. No one will ever know the difference!


Links I have loved - and would love you to read!

>> Friday, September 25, 2009

Run over and enter my giveaway for a free bottle of POMx Tea PLUS a free bottle of POM Wonderful juice if you haven't already!

I've got some great links to share with you this week! First, a couple of wonderful resources for parents.

Healthy Child, Healthy World has a wonderful site loaded with information. Their Eat Healthy section has great articles, advice from well respected nutritionists, recipes, tips, links and more. Spend some time looking around this site!

Another resource that I have just started to explore is Nourish Interactive. The site is dedicated to helping kids and families learn about nutrition in a fun way. They have a kids' section with nutrition games and more information aimed at kids, a parents' section with tips, tools and more, and an educators' section with handouts, tools, lesson plans, etc. I'm looking forward to exploring this site.

Next, snacks and recipes! What do you snack on when you travel? It can be hard to eat healthy while on the road, but with a little forethought, eating healthy while traveling can be done! Check out these road trip snack ideas from (Pssst...these snacks would also be great to pack in a lunch box!)

Do you have some fresh vegetables from your garden or farmers market lying around? Eat. Drink. Better. has a great looking meatless recipe for Classic English Bubble and Squeak with Farm Fresh Vegetables. I haven't tried it yet, but it looks so good! And with a name like "bubble and squeak," how can my kids refuse?

A while back, Kid Appeal was on an oatmeal kick. Check out her delicious recipe for Peaches N Oatmeal. YUM! What a great way to use late season peaches!

Last, a great site chocked full of fun and cheap learning activities for kids. What Do We Do All Day? consistently has creative activities for kids that help them learn about the world around them using household materials and their powers of observation. A recent favorite of mine (might be a project for this weekend here) is making an old fashioned whirligig. If you're looking for a project to do with your child or just want to pick up some good ideas, check this blog out!

Have a great weekend!


Head on over for a POM drink giveaway!

>> Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Do you like POM pomegranate juice? Want to read more about POMx Tea? Then head on over to A Life Less Sweet Reviews to find out more about POMx Tea and for a chance to win a coupon for a free bottle of POMx Tea and POM Wonderful juice!


Meatless Monday - Tortellini Soup

>> Monday, September 21, 2009

It's a double post Monday! If you haven't already, take a tour of my town, and then head on over to Mahem & Moxie to tour the rest of the West. Check back with them every day this week to complete your virtual road trip across the U.S.

And now...a little Meatless Monday goodness! It's fall here already complete with falling leaves and cooler temperatures. What's better to warm a body on a cold ay than soup? Last year I made a tortellini soup that my kids loved. Cheese stuffed noodles floating in a tomato soup and topped with more cheese...what's not to love? Best of all, it's super easy to make.

After that big lead in, I have a confession. My kids did not like this soup the second time around! Darn fickle kids. I left the soup chunky this time (a mistake and kind of my husband's request). Next time, I'll puree the soup before adding the beans and tortellini and hope that they like it more. For the record, the adults of the house thought that this soup was fantastic.

Tomato Bean Tortellini Soup

1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves of garlic, minced
3 - 14.5 oz cans of chicken broth (I actually used homemade stock instead, but you could also use vegetable broth for a truly meatless meal)
1 - 8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 lb fresh tomatoes, chopped
1/4 cup minced fresh basil
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1/4 tsp salt
1 can white kidney beans or cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
about 2 1/2 cups cheese tortellini
1/3 cup shredded parmesan or asiago cheese

In a stockpot, saute onion and garlic in a little olive oil until tender. Add the chicken broth, tomato sauce, chopped tomatoes, basil, vinegar, and salt to the pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; cover and simmer for 25 min.

Leave chunky or if you prefer a smooth soup, insert an immersion blender to puree. (You could also pour the soup in a blender to puree it and then transfer back to the stock pot.)

Add the tortellini and beans to the soup. Bring to a boil until tortellini is cooked, about 3 min or until the tortellini starts to float.

Top with cheese and enjoy!

No picture today. I realized that I should have taken one after we demolished our pot of soup. So good!


Around the Blogosphere in Wyoming

A few weeks ago I was contacted by the Three Bay B Chicks from Moxie Media. They wanted to take a virtual road trip across the U.S. and visit bloggers in each of our 50 states. Sounded like fun to me! They sent their mascot - Moxie Mona - to take a tour of my fair valley. So, today, sit back and learn a little about this wonderful place that I call home!

I am fortunate enough to live in beautiful Jackson, WY. Jackson is a small town (population of about 10,000 permanent year round residents) at the south end of the valley of Jackson Hole. Jackson Hole, with about 20,000 year round residents, is about 80 miles long and 15 miles wide. We're bordered on the north by Yellowstone, hemmed in on the east and west by the Teton and Gros Ventre mountain ranges and taper to a canyon at the southern end. Grand Teton National Park consumes a good portion of the valley.

Looking down on Jackson from atop Snow King earlier in the summer

Jackson has four distinct seasons - Summer, Fall, Winter, and Mud. Summers are short but divine. Winters are long and can be brutally cold here, but with two ski resorts (the well known Jackson Hole Mountain Resort and the lesser known town ski hill Snow King), who cares! Bring it on! And if you don't downhill ski, you can always snowshoe, cross country ski, snowmobile, or just hunker down by a nice, warm fire. Mud season (otherwise known as spring in the rest of the country) is when residents do their best to leave this beautiful valley to get a warm, green fix elsewhere.

We did our best to show Moxie Mona (aka Supergirl to my daughter) a few of the sights in my small town. First stop, a view of the Tetons!

A tourist hub in Jackson is the town square. There's an antler arch at each corner of the square. Don't worry - no animals were harmed to get these antlers. Elk, deer, and moose naturally shed their antlers each year. Like every good tourist to Jackson Hole, Moxie Mona needed a picture in front of one of the famous arches.

She's there - really - at the very bottom of the arch on the inside left hand side.

While the locals tend to avoid the square in general (can you say tourist central? Though there are some good stores aimed as much at locals as tourists - and great restaurants - on and surrounding the square.), the local farmer's market draws us to the square every Saturday. It's not easy to grow stuff in our high mountain valley, so local fare can come as far away as Washington. It's fall here already, so we took Mona to the last farmer's market of the season - whimper!

Going on at the same time, the Fall Arts Festival. One of the highlights of the festival is the Quick Draw. Selected artists set up on the square with a blank canvas and have two and a half hours to complete a work of art all while a gaggle of people watch. It's fascinating to watch the works of art unfold.

You can kind of see the start of a painting of a bear in the background.

Alas, our time with Moxie Mona has come to an end. Wish we had time to show you more of the wonderful things this valley has to offer, but life is busy and Moxie has more places to visit. Hope she - and you! - had fun learning a little about our home in northern Wyoming!

Head to Mahem & Moxie to check out the other blogs involved in the Around the Blogosphere event. Take a virtual tour of the nation with Moxie Mona!


Meatless Mondays - Peach pizza

>> Monday, September 14, 2009

I love peaches. I love peaches so much that I bought two boxes of organic Colorado peaches in late August. We've been eating these peaches in everything imaginable as well as putting some away for the winter. Recently we experimented with using these wonderful peaches on a pizza. Weird? Maybe, but it worked! I must admit, the idea was not my own. I saw a description for a peach pizza with a balsamic sauce on the menu of a local restaurant and was intrigued. I didn't get a chance to try the restaurant's peach pizza, but the idea of making one myself stuck in my head. Then I saw this post for a Paprika and Peach Pizza from Bon Appetite and was absolutely sold on the idea of making a peach pizza.

My pizza has a kind of balsamic BBQ sauce base, and I've topped it with some of my favorite pizza toppings - roasted garlic, caramelized onions, and fresh basil. I thought that the sweetness of the peaches really paired well with the balsamic sauce. And, as weird as this pizza may sound, it works flavorwise.

A note on the sauce - this sauce has a strong flavor, and a little goes a long way. The sauce ingredient measurements are as I made it, but it makes a lot - way more than you'll need for this pizza. You could make a quarter of the sauce and have plenty for your pizza. So, feel free to half or quarter the recipe if you would rather not have leftover sauce!

Peach Pizza with Balsamic BBQ Sauce


3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste

Cook for 30 min to thicken and reduce.

Pizza dough:
Use your favorite pizza dough or go here to get my breadmaker pizza dough recipe.

caramelized onions
several cloves of roasted garlic
fresh basil, chopped - to taste
1-2 peaches, peeled and thinly sliced
Asiago cheese, grated

Spread a thin layer of the sauce over the dough. Add the toppings evenly over the pizza. Bake at 425 for 15 min or until crust is done. Enjoy!

While my husband and I liked our peach pizza, the kids won't touch it. They're pizza purists and just want their plain jane cheese pizza. I recently made the pizza sauce from Eating Well Anywhere, and the kids loved it! My son claims it's his favorite sauce ever. My only change was to add a little oregano in to make it taste more pizza saucy. The sauce freezes well.


Freezing summer

>> Saturday, September 12, 2009

Summer is way too short in my neck of the woods. Though winter is still a little ways off, the trees are already starting to change color, and we've had a few frosts already. I've been wiling away my time trying to preserve a little of the summer goodness that we have been enjoying by freezing just a few of our favorite summer foods.

Freezing foods can be time consuming, but the results are so worth it. There's nothing better than pulling out a bag of properly frozen peaches in the dead of winter to enjoy in a recipe or just eat straight. It's a little bit of summer in the dead of winter. I don't freeze all of the summer goodies that come our way for various reasons - I don't like the end result of frozen green beans, for example - but there are a few that I find well worth freezing. So...I'm going to lay out a little primer of what I do with these favorites - corn, raspberries, peaches, and sweet potatoes (not really a summer food, but I happened to have a ton of sweet potatoes at my disposal this summer).

Corn Corn is so easy to freeze. This year I bought 3 dozen ears of really good, sweet, fresh corn from my local vegetable stand to freeze for winter. It's easy to properly freeze corn. Simply shuck and silk the corn, and then boil the corn (blanch it) for a few minutes (I did them in 3 min batches this year). After boiling, quickly cool in a bucket of ice water. Then cut the kernels off of the corn. Be sure to scrape your knife across the cob after cutting the kernels to get all of the leftover milk and juicy bits! Put in a bag, and freeze. Easy-peasy.

The resulting corn is quite a bit different than the corn you will find in the freezer section of your grocery store. It seems in texture more like a creamed corn (without all of the added sugar, though). When I'm ready to use my frozen corn, I just stick it in a pan with just a little bit of water and add salt and onion powder (my own thing - you can always leave that out) to taste. YUM!Raspberries This is my first year to freeze raspberries. We were fortunate to inherit a big bunch of raspberry canes when we bought our house. The raspberries from our canes are impossibly tender - definitely not like the raspberries you find in the grocery store - and so sweet and juicy. Usually we just eat them out of hand as we pick them, but we always have more than we can eat, so this year I decided to freeze the extra raspberries.

To freeze the raspberries, I simply laid the washed and dried raspberries in a single layer on a baking sheet and put in the freezer. Once the berries were frozen, I transferred them to a ziploc bag and back into the freezer. This winter I'll pull them out to use in pies, put into yogurt and smoothies, or maybe make these divine looking dark chocolate raspberry bars from Fake Food Free.

Peaches This is my second year to freeze peaches. I was so happy with the results of last year's frozen peaches. Such a treat in the middle of winter! It's a little time consuming, but I promise well worth the effort. I froze my peaches three ways this year. First, last year I made these frozen peach crisps in a jar from Eating Well Anywhere. Delicious! Well worth making.

Second, I used Alton Brown's method of freezing peaches. This method works well. The peaches retain their color and flavor and much of their texture all through the winter in the sugar/vitamin C solution. I should note, however, that I left out the Hungarian paprika his recipe calls for. I just want my peaches plain. Last year I used Fruit Fresh instead of crushed vitamin C (which is essentially what Fruit Fresh is), and the results were equally satisfying. I'll pop open a bag of these peaches in the middle of winter to make some peach bread, some peach BBQ sauce, or whatever peachy dish tickles my fancy.

Last, I froze my peaches whole. Kitchen Scoop peaked my interest with this article about freezing whole peaches. I did things just slightly different, though. I cut my peaches in half to remove the pit, but left the peel on. I'm really curious how these peaches will turn out. This is by far the easiest way to freeze peaches, but I'm a bit worried that they will be a mushy mess - that without the sugar pack they'll lose their texture - when they thaw. But, even peaches that are a mushy mess will be delish in a smoothie! I'll let you know next Spring what I think of this freezing method.
Sweet Potatoes Ah, sweet potatoes! A favorite among the adults around here. I was fortunate enough to be gifted two boxes of sweet potatoes this summer - that's 80 lbs of delicious orange tubers! Sweet potatoes keep in a cool, dry place for a long time, so we used them fresh as long as we could (my kids groaned when they saw sweet potato fries coming their way by the end of the summer), and then I got busy freezing.

I froze my sweet potatoes two ways. First, I froze them as a puree. I like to keep sweet potato puree on hand to throw into my dishes. It's great mixed into taco meat, spaghetti (adds a little natural sweetness), pizza sauce, soups...anything I can think to throw it in. This is a great way to get a little extra goodness into picky kids (as long as you also offer the unhidden deal often to give their taste buds a chance to accept the whole vegetable or whatever you're hiding), and my husband and I have found that we actually like the taste of the foods that we add sweet potato puree better. The puree doesn't add an overwhelming sweet potato taste to most dishes, just a little sweetness.

To make the puree, I roast my sweet potatoes for an hour at 425 F. You could also boil, steam, or microwave the potatoes. Once they're cool enough to handle, I remove the peel and put the sweet potatoes (cut into large chunks) in my food processor. Process until a nice, smooth puree. I like to then freeze my puree in ice cube trays. Once frozen, I can put the cubes in a ziploc bag, stick them back into the freezer, and have nice cubes of pureed sweet potato ready to use when I need it.

The second way I froze sweet potatoes this year was whole. I took my roasted sweet potatoes, wrapped them in aluminum foil, and put them in the freezer. I've never done this before, but I think that it will turn out ok, and it's a great way to bulk freeze sweet potatoes. How will I use these? We'll see! It depends on what the texture is like. I hope that the texture holds up enough that I can use these to make sweet potato hash or other dishes with cubes of cooked sweet potatoes. If not, they'll always be good eaten as a plain old baked sweet potato!

There you have it. Maybe next year I'll add more to my repertoire, but this little bit makes me happy for now!

Do you preserve summer's bounty? Tell me what you do in the comments!


Time for Lunch! Let's get REAL FOOD in schools!

>> Saturday, September 5, 2009

What's for lunch at your child's school? Are you happy with it? My son, a kindergartner, will likely eat lunch that his school serves most days. He's completely enthralled with the idea of buying his school lunch and likes the food. I just can't take that away from him. I would so much rather pack his lunch for him every day so that I know he's eating good, healthy foods that will help his body and brain grow.

What do I have against school lunches? The school lunch menu at my son's school isn't as awful as I had feared, but it still feels like my son is going out to eat at a fast-food restaurant every day for lunch now. Some days the lunches are better than others, of course. My fears weren't eased when I found out that every Thursday is Dominoes Pizza day in the cafeteria. For real. The indoctrination into junk and fast food starts early - even in the schools.

To be fair, it isn't all bad. Some sort of fruit or vegetable is served along with lunch in his school every day. His class has a "fresh fruit grant" that will provide his entire class with a healthy snack of fresh fruit each day. Gotta applause moves like that! And his school doesn't have vending machines peddling sodas and junk food in convenient snack packs like so many schools do - at least not at the lower grade levels. And to be fair, it isn't like I am against my son having Dominoes or food such as that on occasion...or that I always serve a completely nutritious lunch at home. My kids have their share of boxed macaroni and cheese, I am not proud to admit.

But, I have a problem with schools condoning junk food and striking deals with fast food franchises (and yes, I most definitely lump Dominoes in that group). Our schools should be teaching our kids about eating healthy through example and through what they serve. It's easy to forget that how we eat - and how that food affects our bodies - can be an important factor in how we learn. If schools want to raise their test scores, they should remember that how their kids are eating and how much activity they are allowed during the day can have a big impact on how much information they retain.

Fast food, like Dominoes, used to be a treat in my home - something bought strictly as a treat or (more typically) out of necessity when we travel. Now it will become a weekly occurrence sanctioned by his school. I don't know about your child, but my young child equates something sanctioned by the school as being good and good for you. That's a big a hurdle for me to overcome.

Why do schools serve the food that they do? Money, money, money, and maybe a little lack of creativity. They serve what they can afford to serve and what they know kids will eat. On the second reason, unfortunately, they seem to serve to the lowest common denominator of kids' taste buds without even trying to challenge them to eat better food - or without realizing that good, healthy food can still taste delicious and be appealing to children. There are ways to take old favorites - taco salad, for example - and make them healthier for our kids.

On what they can afford to serve, well, that's a trickier nut to crack. But some schools are finding ways to serve good food within their limited budget. I imagine that it takes a lot of creativity and drive to produce a really great school lunch menu within the given budget instead of resorting to the tried and true (and outside company funded) school lunches. A school official in my district went on record saying (paraphrasing - it's been a while since I read his quote) that he would love to serve all healthy foods but that they can't afford to cut out high fructose corn syrup and other problematic ingredients. In other words, they're going to keep serving the junk because it's cheap, and they've got enough issues to worry about.

How can we change our school's lunches? One small thing you can do is coming up. Time for Lunch (part of Slow Food USA) is having a national "eat in." On Labor Day, there will be a "National Day of Action to get real food into schools" at various locations around the country. The purpose? To send a message to congress and our local schools that we think its time that our schools serve real, healthy food to our children. You can read more about the Time for Lunch platform here.

Why now? The National School Lunch Lunch Program, which sets the standard for what kids eat every day at school, is set to be reauthorized this month and will be the standard that schools look to when planning school lunches for the next 5 years.

To find out if there is an "eat in" near you, go to the Time for Lunch website. You can also sign a petition telling Congress that you support the Time for Lunch platform and want to see changes in the school lunch program. And of course, you can always take action into your own hands and talk directly to your congress men and women and school officials.

I'm are the lunches in your child's school? Whether you have kids or not, what do you think of this issue?

Other sites with school lunch information and resources that you might find interesting:


Let them eat trans fat free cake!

>> Tuesday, September 1, 2009

We've had a couple of birthday to celebrate in the last month, and with birthdays comes birthday cake. Now, I know that I could actually make a cake from scratch, but I'm happy to admit that I like the convenience of a boxed cake mix. I especially like a boxed cake mix when I'm preparing for a party and don't really want to have to think about baking. I just want to dump, mix, and bake and know that it's going to come out consistently good.

So, perhaps you can imagine my dismay when I started scanning the ingredients on cake mix boxes early last month only to find that every single one (save one - more on that in a minute) had partially hydrogenated oil (in other words, contains some amount of trans fat) in it! Really, I was disgusted. Duncan Hines...Betty let me down!

I did find what I was looking for on the organic aisle. A single, unassuming box of Dr. Oetker Organic Vanilla Cake Mix saved the day. No partially hydrogenated oils on the Dr. Oetker ingredient list. In fact, the ingredient list for the Dr. Oetker cake mix was a lot simpler and pretty much consisted of ingredients that I can find in my pantry - unlike that box of Betty Crocker cake mix I had just looked at.

How did it taste? Not bad! The final cake from a Dr. Oetker mix is different from a cake produced from a Betty Crocker or Duncan Hines mix. For one thing, it's smaller. Really, there just wasn't quite as much batter produced by the Dr. Oetker mix, and it didn't rise quite as much during baking as a Better Crocker mix would. The crumb was a little different too. The Dr. Oetker cake wasn't quite as tender as a Betty Crocker cake. Nonetheless, we were all completely satisfied with the end result. The cake was moist and tasty. And best of all, I still have my boxed mix that I can just dump and bake.

Dr. Oetker's mix is the only wheat flour containing cake mix that I could find that was truly trans fat free in my grocery store, but there are others out there. I would guess that all of the gluten free cake mixes are trans fat free (and I can attest that they taste better than you might think!), and Barfoot Contessa also has a line of trans fat free cake mixes. And, of course, you could always make your own cake from scratch.


  © Blogger templates Sunset by 2008

Back to TOP