Deception in the name of a good cause

I received a book at Christmas time that has proven to be a nutritional gold mine for our family. Not just a cookbook but an entirely different way of thinking about the way my family eats. The book? Deceptively Delicious by Jessica Seinfeld. This book has teaches the use of deception to enhance the nutritional value of your families meals while lessening the meal time battles.

One of my goals is to feed my family better food. Unfortunately, my kids and husband do not necessarily have the goal of eating better food. So, what is a mom to do? Do I battle it out at every meal to get a few bites of spinach or carrots into them? Not this mom, I value a peaceful mealtime too much for that. So, when my friend PJ gave this as a Christmas gift, I knew I had hit the jackpot. And as an added blessing, PJ even provided a starter set of vegetable purees so that there wouldn’t be any excuse to not try it.

My first experiment was to add pureed cauliflower to a soup that I make in the crockpot. The purees that PJ gave me were frozen into ice cube size portions so all I had to do was throw 2 of them into the crockpot with the soup recipes and it added the nutrition of 1/2 cup of cauliflower and didn’t change the taste at all. I didn’t tell John or the kids what I was doing and I just sat back and observed what was happening. Everyone ate the soup just like normal and I even received compliments on how good it was. Success!!

After the initial success, I began looking for new ways to add the purees to my existing recipes. I added spinach puree to spaghetti sauce and sweet potato puree to sloppy joes. No one could tell that it was added in there!! I am so super excited that I can add vitamins to my families meals without a battle. Today I am making my regular mac & cheese recipe but I am planning to add cauliflower puree to it and see what happens. It is like a little game to see if I can be sneaky without getting caught. If you are looking for a way to increase your children’s intake of veggies, try this cookbook or atleast try to add some secret vegetables to what you already cook. I bet they won’t even be able to tell a difference.

Winter Wonderland

Snow! We have snow! We got about 6 inches of snow between Sunday night and Monday morning and the kids were so excited to be off from school. They had a great time playing in it. Since we live in the South, we are not used to getting this kind of winter wonderland so when it comes, the kids will stay out in it all day long, even if they turn into human popsicles.

Click on the link to see a video of them singing as John pulled them on the sled….poor John hurts all over from pulling them around the neighborhood yesterday.

Being pulled on the sled

The kids had a great time playing with friends yesterday. Here are some pictures of them in the snow…even Barkley got in on the fun.

Crockpot Cooking – Beef Stew

It is cold today in Georgia and they are calling for lots of snow tonight so it seemed like the perfect day to make my favorite beef stew recipe in the crockpot. Shh, don’t tell John but his competition for my heart is my crockpot. Actually, he probably already knows that considering how often I get it out and how many I have (3 at last count but I can always use another one). It is one of the best under used tools in most modern kitchens. You can just throw everything in there, ignore it for hours, then come back later and it feeds you a hot delicious meal. Not many appliances will do that for you. And no, that is not a picture of my crockpot since I was so hungry for dinner that I forgot to take a picture of the beef stew. I am sure you understand.

I also made cornbread tonight because how can you have beef stew and not have cornbread? I am a southern belle so cornbread in my house is somewhere between a hearty bread and a yellow cake. Sweet, moist and buttery. Yum!

Here are the recipes, the beef stew makes just enough for 4 hungry people so you may want to tweak it if you have more to feed.

Perfect Winter Beef Stew

3/4 cup Zesty Italian Salad Dressing
1 lb. stew beef
1 cup sliced mushrooms (I use baby portebellos since they stand up well in the crockpot)
1/2 cup sliced carrots
3 potatoes, peeled, cut into large chunks
1 rib of celery, sliced
1 large handful kale
2 springs fresh rosemary
2 cups beef broth

Pour dressing over meat in a large resealable plastic bag. Seal bag, toss evenly to coat and marinate in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Remove meat from marinade, add to crockpot and discard marinade.   Add remaining ingredients except kale. Cook 5-6 hours on high (8 hours on low) until meat is tender. Add kale during last 30 minutes of cooking. Serve with cornbread.

Sweet Southern Cornbread

½ cups Sugar
2 Tablespoons Honey
1 whole Egg
4 Tablespoons Butter, Melted
½ cups Milk
½ cups Water
1 cup Yellow Corn Meal
1 cup All-purpose Flour
½ Tablespoons Baking Powder
½ teaspoons Salt

Preheat oven to 375F degrees. Spray an 8×8 baking dish with nonstick spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together all your wet ingredients: sugar, honey, egg, butter, milk and water. In a separate bowl, combine all your dry ingredients: corn meal, flour, baking powder and salt. Give it a gentle stir with a fork to combine. While whisking, slowly add your dry ingredients to your wet until all combined. Batter may be a little lumpy; that’s okay.

Pour mixture into a greased 8×8 baking dish. Bake for about 15 minutes or until golden brown on top and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Saving time and money at Breakfast

One of the ways that we save both time and money is by eating at home. Breakfast is one of the easiest meals to eat at home since most people are at home during breakfast time. Both of my kids are in school and making sure they eat a nutritious breakfast is very important to us. Time is also an issue in the morning since we normally have no longer than 30 minutes from the time the kids wake up until they are stepping onto the school bus.

I will admit that I am not a big breakfast eater. I normally wake up without being very hungry and just want something light in the mornings – fruit and a bread. My kids vary from starving one day to eating like a bird the next day so you never know what to expect. John typically cooks breakfast in our house since he is very good at it and he enjoys it more than I do. Most days you will find John scrambling eggs, toasting bagels and frying either bacon or sausage for the kids to eat before they go to school. On the weekends, we will make homemade waffles and pancakes and then freeze them for an easy weekday breakfast. By freezing these items in advance, we save lots of time during busy weekday mornings and we can be sure that the kids are eating something that is not loaded with sugar or preservatives.

Here is a waffle recipe that I make almost every Friday to cook for breakfast on Saturday mornings. It is a copycat recipe of the waffles from Waffle House. Do not be intimidated by the seemingly long list of ingredients (it has 3 different types of milk in it!) because it really isn’t very hard to bring together. It works best if it is refrigerated over night which actually also helps to combat busy mornings.

*Tip: For any leftover buttermilk, freeze in individual portions (1/2 cup) and defrost in the refrigerator when you need it.

Almost Waffle House Waffles

3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 eggs
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
4 tablespoons butter, softened
4 tablespoons shortening
1 cup half & half
1 cup milk
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Combine flour, salt and baking sosa in a mdeium bowl. Stire to combine.

Lightly beat the eggs in another medium bowl. Add the sugar, butter, and shortening and mix well with an electric mixer until smooth. Add the half & half, milk, buttermilk and vanilla. Mix well.

Add the dry flour mixture to the web mixture while beating. Mix until smooth.

Cover and chill overnight. (You  can use batter right away if you like, but a good 12 hour chill make the batter better)

Spray cooking spray on your waffle iron. Preheat the waffle iron.

Spoon 1/3-1/2 cup of batter into the wafflle ron and cook until the waffles are light brown (approx 2-4 minutes, depending on your waffle iron).

Let cool completely before freezing. They can be reheated in the microwave before eating (or eaten cold, if your kids are like mine).

Scoring a Financial Goal in 2011

Two of our financial goals for this year are to begin Baby Step 4 and 5, as referenced in Dave Ramsey’s book, The Total Money Makeover. Baby Step 4 is to invest 15% of your gross income into retirement accounts. This figure does not account for any employer match, so if one is given that becomes an extra bonus. When you start to look at the numbers, 15% can add up to be a chunk out of the monthly budget. By saving a sizable percentage of your income, you can be hopeful that you will be able to retire with dignity when the time comes. A long term goal for us is to be able to retire with a nest egg that will last throughout our senior years especially since we do not count on social security to be a viable option when we reach retirement age.

John and I have looked over several options for our retirement savings including a traditional 401(k), Roth 401(k), traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. John’s employer offers both a traditional and a Roth 401(k) and they offer a match with both of them, so it made sense to maximize the match offered. The Roth 401(k) will be deducted automatically from his paycheck and is an after tax contribution. Since the contribution is after taxes, as opposed to a traditional 401(k) that comes our pre-taxed, there is no additional taxes owed on the money when you withdrawal it after age 59 1/2. We are tackling Baby Step 4 in stages since we have some other short term goals that we want to accomplish. This month, we are beginning the contribution at 6% into the Roth 401(k). This will allow us to receive the full match from John’s employer so we are not leaving any money on the table. By July, we will finish out Baby Step 4 by contributing the additional 9% to Roth IRAs for each of us.

Baby Step 5 is to begin funding kid’s college. This step is important to us since we do not believe in debt, even student loan debt. For our children to go to college, it will have to be paid for in cash. I did some rough calculations and it is approx $75,000 for one child to go to a state university for 4 years including tuition, books, fees, room and board. We only have 9 years until our oldest goes off to college and we need to get started now if we have a hope of having saved the full $75,000 at that point. Our 2011 goal for this Baby Step is to begin funding something toward it this year. We expect to hit this step late in the year and to not be able to really make progress toward it until sometime in 2012.

So, these are our two big financial goals for this year. The good thing is that for the most part, they can be set up automatically and do not take as much careful attention from us as Baby Step 2 and 3 did. The hard part is knowing that these goals are long term and will not be complete for years to come. John and I both are geared toward checking things off when they are complete, so having to wait is hard for us. But, knowing that we are planning for our future and the future of our children now makes it all worth it.

You’ve got kale…

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I make goals for the New Year instead of resolutions. I try to make my goals on different levels and for different parts of my life. I want to always be growing and learning as a person and developing into a better human being. One area that I am looking to achieve success this year is in nutrition. Since we were on such a tight budget last year, I had to make sacrifices in our food choices. Not that we ate bad food, mind you, just that our choices were limited and I did not have the opportunity to expand our horizons. Well, 2011 is going to be different.

Today I went to the grocery store and I spent 1/3 of my  grocery budget on fresh fruit and veggies. I went a little crazy and bought items that I hadn’t been able to buy in a long time – cherries and  clementines – and one even  item that I had never bought before – kale.  I am determined try some new things and give my kids a broader culinary taste than just broccoli and mashed potatoes. I am sure John and the kids think I am a little off my rocker on this one. They came home to roasted kale chips and a veggie tray waiting for their to snack. I expected some complaints but so far none have come. The kids dug into the raw broccoli with ranch dressing and the clementines with gusto! Brittany ate 4 clementines this afternoon and she is my pickiest one! I even had the neighborhood kids eating raw veggies without any problems.

So, I will keep you guys informed on the changes to our diet that I am making. I have a few tricks up my sleeves that I will reveal down the road. We will see if at the end of 2011 we have found any new favorites in the grocery store and if our tastes have been changed for the better. It should prove to be a tasty adventure!

Here is a recipe for the Kale Chips I made tonight. Crunchy and salty!

Roasted Kale with Sea Salt

* 4 cups firmly-packed kale
* 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
* 1 tsp. good-quality sea salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Wash and trim the kale: Peel off the tough stems by folding the kale leaves in half like a book and stripping the stems off. Toss with extra virgin olive oil. Roast for five minutes. Turn kale over. Roast another 7 to 10 minutes until kale turns brown and becomes paper thin and brittle. Remove from oven and sprinkle with sea salt. Serve immediately.