2016: The Year of Change

The past couple days I have had some time off of work. During that time I have done some deep, long thinking about my life. Those thoughts haunt me frequently. Where have I been? More specifically, where am I going? I set so many goals last year and barely reached a handful of what I set out to accomplish. The thoughts of these few days have brought me some clarity. The only way my goals can be achieved, is if there is change. The reason why they weren’t achieved was because of me and the fact I didn’t want to change.

These changes span over many things. First, I need to change the way I was looking at weight loss. I have hit a road block and over the holidays I gained back 10 pounds of the 61 that I lost. It really fanned the flames of fear that once I get to where I want to be, I will fall back on old habits and old mental patterns. My mind has been my biggest enemy in this journey and I need to change the mind in order to change the body.

Second, I need to change the blog. I don’t feel like I’ve been taking it as seriously as I would like. I’ve been making excuses for not putting it as a focus. I’m too tired, I just don’t want to, I don’t have time. I may be missing out on a lot of opportunities that could help me be a better writer and live a more fulfilling life. I want to make this successful.

Third, work has become the focus of my time and energy. I don’t want to spend my life earning a living without living my life. I don’t do the things I want to do because I work so much. I don’t travel as much as I would like because, again, I have to work. Work takes up to 45-50 hours of my week. I fight to make ends meet, but it does not make me happy. It does not allow me the time to do things I want to do.

Fourth, writing has fallen to the way side. I write occasionally, but the focus is gone. This is what I want to do. I want to write. I have the stories in my head and in my heart. I want to share these stories with the world.

The only way things can happen the way I want them to, is if I set clear goals and work hard to achieve them. I have already begun planning. But plans don’t become action until one puts them into action. So here is the list of the goals I plan to achieve throughout this year. I’m going to work hard to change my life for what I want and not what others want.

Solutions to My Life’s Problems
1. Lose 50 lbs by my 30th birthday.
2. Focus at least 10 hours per week on SquaRed Dishes.
3. Take 2 road trips this year.
4. Search for a new, more fulfilling job that allows me freedom to come and go as I please.
5. Schedule time to write and craft for a few hours each week.

I’m not very good at setting specific goals. Its always been a problem. But we must all start somewhere.

Until next time,
Happy Cooking!

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Recipe: Spaghetti Squash with Chunky Tomato Sauce

When I first committed to losing weight, I needed to detox. I felt like the only way I was going to be able to diet properly and stick to it for the long haul, I needed to cleanse my body the best that I could. This recipe was one I developed after I craved the taste of spaghetti, specifically spaghetti noodles. The good Lord saw it fit to grace us with the wonderful and talented spaghetti squash!

Now, spaghetti squash is not the star of this particular dish, but it is the bed with which the sauce rests. The sauce is the key to this recipe. And I must say, this is the easiest, healthiest, most delicious recipe you will ever have!

Spaghetti Squash with Chunky Tomato Sauce

1 small spaghetti squash, halved and seeded
1 (4 oz) can stems and pieces mushrooms, drained
1 (16 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (8 oz) can whole kernel sweet corn, drained
1 (15 oz) can Hunts Fire Roasted diced tomatoes
3 tbsp. white onion, finely diced
1 tsp. minced garlic
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

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What makes this recipe super easy and quick is cooking the squash in the microwave. There are many ways to cook a spaghetti squash: boiling, baking, roasting. But in the microwave, you can steam a spaghetti squash and still get the great taste! Prepare the squash for the microwave by cutting it in half and scooping the seeds out with a spoon. Lay the squash, flesh down in a bowl and fill with water. Do not cover it. Just put enough water in to rise up through the flesh and cook it. Depending upon the squash’s size, start by cooking it for 5 minutes. Add more time if the flesh is not tender or an be easily shredded with a fork. Repeat this process for the other half.

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After you’ve opened the cans of mushrooms, tomatoes, black beans, and corn, drain them all EXCEPT the tomatoes. You need the juices from the tomatoes to thicken the sauce. Make sure you also rinse the black beans. I always find they have a better taste when they are drained. Black beans also add protein that this dish would otherwise be lacking. If you are a regular meat eater, you can add beef, chicken, or even shrimp.

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Quickly dice the onion in as tiny pieces as you can. I prefer onion this way because you get all the flavor without chomping into a big piece of onion. At this time, the squash should be finished. Pull it out of the microwave, but BE CAREFUL! Its hot, so use a potholder to hold it in your hand while you shred out the flesh. The best way to tell if its done is if the outside is soft.

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Now its time to complete the sauce. In a medium saucepan, saute garlic and onion in olive oil. Saute until the onion is browned slightly. The smell at this point is AMAZING. I had to stop everything I was doing and just inhale the powerful aroma of garlic and onion. Then drop the mushrooms and mix. I originally wanted fresh mushrooms for this dish but was strapped for time. If you choose to use fresh mushrooms, cook them until tender.

Next put both the corn and beans in the pan and stir until mixed. Cover for about 3 minutes or until the mixture is heated through. While the mixture is cooking, plate the squash. Shred the amount of desired squash on a plate. I did about a cup with is hearty enough to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. Season it with a little bit of pepper and as much salt you want to taste.

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Luckily, the tomatoes are pre-seasoned and you don’t need to add any other seasons. It will over spice the sauce and will not be tasty. The tomatoes really are the star of the sauce. Pour them into pan, juice and all, and mix them with the other ingredients. Cover again and let it simmer until the tomatoes are heated through. At this point, if you decide to have garlic bread, go ahead and heat it up! I chose a salad as my side as I felt I needed some green to liven up my plate.

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I hope you really enjoy the ease of this recipe. It took about 20 minutes to cook and is a great recipe to wow your significant other with during a weekday. I know I never seem to have time on a week day to cook a complicated meal so this is perfect!

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Happy Cooking!

Kitchen Staples: Fall Edition

Fall is my favorite season! The weather is crisp and cool, just right for snuggling on the couch and drinking hot tea. This is also the beginning of cooking season. Here in the south, we rarely dare to turn on our ovens in the summer because we don’t want to heat up the house. Fall is the timestamp that gives us permission to start baking more things, like apple pies and casseroles. Fire up those ovens and let’s get to cooking. Here is list of must have food for the fall season.

  1. Pears
    In my opinion, pears do not get the attention they deserve. They are delicious sweet little things that can be used in any dish to give a crisp, bright flavor. They are like apples in their fruit versatility. When I was a kid, we had three pear trees that always produced around this time of year. It was a mad scramble to pick as much fruit as we could and give it away. We even had turtles come by to munch at the supply.

    Mixed-Perry-Pears                                                           Photo Courtesy: www.evescidery.com

  1. Brussel Sprouts
    Now, now. Don’t wrinkling your nose. Brussel sprouts are really, really good. You guys should check out this recipe from Hungry Girl that pairs Brussel sprouts with butternut squash and chicken. It is AMAZING! Apricot Chicken with Brussel sprouts and butternut squash
  1. Sweet Potatoes
    Sweet potatoes take root vegetable flavor to a new level. I’ve always been leery of dressing a sweet potato with anything but cinnamon sugar and butter, but in my research for new and healthier ways to eat and lose weight, I figured out that sweet potatoes can be dressed very similarly to regular potatoes. I have made a bean mixture (1 can black beans, drained and rinsed; 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed; 1 can of corn, drained) and put it right on top of the potato. The sweetness of the potato and the saltiness of the beans gives an incredible balance and it is a very filling meal.
  1. Soup
    So many soups, so little time. Try these time and portion saving recipes the next time you want soup.
    Chicken and Rice Soup
    Chicken Noodle Soup
    Potato and Treet Soup
  1. Chili
    Check out this cool article on Cooking Light’s website. They did a whole spread on the magic of chili. http://www.cookinglight.com/food/recipe-finder/chili-guide

3. Pumpkin
The most popular of the squash family (yes its a squash!), the pumpkin is EVERYWHERE. Well, pumpkin spice is everywhere. But without the pumpkin, spice is nothing. I generally like pumpkin. It can be used a lot in baking without having the pumpkin taste. Just like applesauce, it can be used as a substitute for unhealthy ingredients.
Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bread

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  1. Apples
    Applesauce, apple pie, apple cookies, apple tarts, apple turnovers, fried apples. This list goes on and on. Apples are the most popular fall fruit. Since I’ve been out of college, I have made a point to make at least one apple pie a season. It is a lot of hard work, but there is nothing like having a piece of hot, homemade apple pie and a scoop of vanilla ice cream to sink your teeth into.

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  1. Squash, squash and more squash
    There are so many varieties of squash and so many ways to use it. I love squash. Winter squash especially because it is so filling. Other winter squashes include butternut, spaghetti and acorn. I’ve come to really enjoy cooking with spaghetti squash, especially because it is a much healthier alternative to spaghetti noodles. Here’s a sneak peak of the recipe that’s coming soon!

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Do you have any fall foods that you constantly use in your kitchen? Leave comments below and let me know what you cook with in this glorious season!

Like what you see here? Share this post on Facebook or Pinterest!

Happy Cooking!

Top 10 Hurricane Foods

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Top 10 Hurricane Foods

It is hurricane season here on the East Coast and since the season began we are already on hurricanes that begin with the letter “I”. That’s nine storms in the Atlantic Ocean since June 1st. We’ve been very lucky in North Carolina not be hit by such a storm, but we all know how we need to be prepared. We were almost hit by Joaquin and it would have been a disaster.

Ever since I was a little girl, my mom would always keep a hurricane box stocked with the basics should we ever lose power: batteries, candles, a radio, a first aid kit, water bottles. She also always had a separate box for shelf stable foods that could be eaten cold if needed. Some of these items will be repeated from the Kitchen Staples: Pantry Edition post because they are just as essential for hurricane preparedness.

  1. Tuna
    Really, any can meat. But tuna is the healthiest of the can foods. If you’re not into cans, you can buy tuna in pouches which comes in many different flavors.
  1. Beans/Chili
    Not everyone loves cold beans, but they will do in a pinch. If you want to get super creative with them during a hurricane, get the small cans of beanie weenies. Those are really good cold!
  1. Powdered Milk
    One of the first things to disappear from grocery store shelves is regular milk. Its right up there with the empty bread aisle. What a good prepared person wants to do is buy powdered milk. You can rehydrate it with some of your water supply, although I would advise planning an extra bit of water specifically for this purpose.
  1. Trail Mix
    Go ahead and make this ahead of time, a few days before a hurricane is scheduled to hit. This way it will be fresh. Mix nuts, raisins, chocolate chips (or other sweet), seeds of other kinds. I put mine in a gallon size bag, that way I know I have plenty to go around.
  1. Canned Soups
    Another hurricane staple that is not always the best when it’s cold, but it will do in a pinch.
  1. Granola Bars/Energy Bars
    This is important. Especially the energy bars. If there is a chance you lose power in a hurricane, you want to keep your strength up. You may need to help clean up efforts.
  1. Cereal
    For me, this would probably be Cheerios only. I am particular about my cereal. Cheerios is the only cereal I personally can tolerate without milk.
  1. Dried Fruit
    Dried Fruit is shelf stable and a great way to satisfy the sweet tooth.
  1. Peanut Butter/Crackers
  1. Drinking Water
    This is the most important thing to have in your preparedness kit. People can live without food for many days, but you must stay hydrated. The rule for the amount of water you should store is 1 gallon per person per day. You want to have at least 3 days worth of water. So if you have a family of two, you need a total of 6 gallons of drinking water.

For water needed for hygienic purposes, we always filled up the bathtub before the storm. During the storm, we collected water in trash cans. Remember, a little bit can go a long way.

Now I know some of these items require a heat source of some kind. I would advise getting a Coleman cooking stove, like people use to go camping, and have plenty of gas to go along with it. Or, if you have a gas or charcoal grill, and are willing to brave the wind, use the grill to heat up your food.

After the storm is over, power may not be restored for several days. This is the time when people in my neck of the woods have “hurricane parties.” This is when people clean out their deep freezers, get together and eat as much as possible.

Be safe out there and Happy Cooking!

Kendall

My Weight Loss Journey

My Weight Loss Journey… Thus Far

Excuse me while I get extremely personal,

At this moment, my body and I disagree entirely on what is good for me. I’ve been MIA from blogging for a few months now because I have not felt great, mentally, emotionally, and especially physically. I’ve seen my doctors more in the past three months than I have in my entire life trying to figure out the jumbled mess of a code my body is trying to send me. A code that has been lost for years under layers of fat that is now able to send signals.

277 pounds. That is the weight I vow to never be ever again. My body was out of control, my mind was out of control, everything was out of control and it was all tied into my relationship with food.

2010 Me at 277 in 2010

I’ve never defined myself by my weight. I actually have never imagined myself as that big. My mental picture of myself was distorted into thinking I was healthy and that I wasn’t obese at all. Occasionally, I would look in the mirror, see FAT and walk away and feel not so fat. This was the most dangerous part about my weight and the most difficult to change. The mind is a very powerful thing. We don’t realize that it controls everything we do until we start to make changes. It also opens old doors to old problems you thought you released years ago.

It’s difficult to explain my relationship with food as I can’t entirely remember one particular moment that it stopped being healthy and started being an addiction. I was a healthy kid in general. I remember being smaller for much of my young life, but in 3rd grade it all changed. Now, know that I’m not blaming anyone for my weight gain, as it is my fault, but I never had the tools to defend myself or deal with life’s problems. I was given food, and that was how I coped.

The summer before entering 3rd grade, my mom had the opportunity to try a new job about two hours from our hometown. I remember being scared to death we were going to have to move eventually and leave everyone and everything I knew and loved behind. For a month during the summer, while she was away, my brother and I stayed with my grandmother. My grandmother was from Alabama, and in her Alabama household, there was always bread and butter on the table. Many of the things that I ate at her house were potatoes and bread and carby bad stuff. We didn’t play outside often so the amount of food we were consuming outweighed the amount of exercise we were getting. I didn’t realize I had ballooned so much until many years later when I was comparing school pictures.

After that, the addiction to all food spiraled out of control. My mother controlled the food in the house and struggled to keep good food on the table, but we ate and we ate huge portions. I didn’t have any control in my life, but I had control over the amount of seconds I could have of each meal.

When I was in high school, and when food availability was a little more stable, things changed. I feel like I’m confessing my greatest sin. I’ve never told anyone about what I did then. I’ve never told them of the heartache I felt and managed to hide, both mentally and food wise. I literally would take food from the kitchen, stow away to my room and gorge on as much of it as I could. I would dispose of the evidence when I could and go back for more. This part of the addiction has thus far been the hardest to break, especially late at night, when I’m home alone and there is plentiful food available to me. I don’t hide it now, because I don’t have anyone to hide it from.

The Crux of the Situation

It was nearly two years ago when my weight exploded. After I got out of college, I decided then to lose weight. And I did! I lost 20 pounds. I felt better, more energetic and ready to move forward and become the physical person I always wanted to be. But then problem was, I just controlled the food. I didn’t touch on the reasons why I was controlling the food. I didn’t seek answers to those deep seated reasons for why I had hoarded food when I was younger. Because once life hit me, and it hit hard, I felt out of control and my food choices reflected that. The addiction returned and it returned with a vengeance.

For some time, I managed to maintain, but then I just ate and ate and ate. It was the only thing I could do and as a result my weight exploded. That was nearly two years ago. I was initially insistent that I didn’t want to take medication to lose weight. I wanted to do it on my own because I had done it on my own once before. I was back on track, eating right and exercising everyday. But between 3 months of endocrinologist visits (I had been seeing her for almost a year for an insulin resistance diagnosis), I gained 20 pounds and I felt sick. I felt sicker than I have ever in my entire life. I was bloated and just full of inflammation and pain. It took over my physical, mental, spiritual self and I was not me. I was damaged goods and I beat myself up every time I put something into my mouth.

I finally decided that I needed medical intervention to get my weight under control. My doctor suggested a few medications, but the only one I have been able to tolerate is Victoza. For the first six months on Victoza, I lost 25 pounds. I also noticed that my periods started regulating to the point that they came RIGHT on the day they were due, which was a highly unusual thing. I was feeling better and the doctor was encouraged with my progress.

jan 2015 vs may 2015January 2015 after the initial 25lb weight loss

After the initial 25 pound loss, I plateaued. But it was entirely my fault. I didn’t eat what I was supposed to. I was eating junk, processed foods, and fast foods like they were going out of style. Mentally, I had convinced myself that I was taking the medication how I was supposed to and it would take care of the rest. Boy, have I been wrong. And I realize that the medicine does not solve problems on its own. I have to do right so it can do what it’s supposed to do.

In February of 2015, I noticed that I was having severe depression and PMS that I had NEVER experienced before. The cramps were debilitating and I was confined to bed at least the first day. The only way I can describe how my body was feeling, it was ANGRY. Like Hulk angry. I just didn’t turn green. My mood swings got worse, specifically my depression and I started to keep a journal of those moments. I was to the point that in the depression, I wanted to end my life. Never had I ever had those thoughts before and it scared me. I made an appointment with my gynecologist immediately.

I realized that losing weight has revealed some of the effects that being a heavy weight had on me. My joints ached because they weren’t used to not carrying so much around. But the depression was revealed because my body had a chance to show me what I had been doing to myself. During my appointment, I showed my doctor my journals that I had been keeping during EVERY episode of rage, depression, and emotional turmoil. Initially, before I showed them to her, she wasn’t sure what the diagnosis would be. But after she read them, she looked at me and said she knew exactly what was going on and I was relieved. It was at this time I was diagnosed with PMDD, premenstrual dysphoric disorder and depression. (see http://www.webmd.com/women/pms/premenstrual-dysphoric-disorder for more information)

Once I got my hormones regulated, my mind cleared. I cannot describe what exactly happened, but it was as if the clouds had washed away and I knew what I had to do. My weight was not going to define me. My body was NOT going to keep me from doing the things I wanted to do. I wanted to be healthier and I wanted to be a stronger me. So I started the Fat Smash Diet once again, with great success.

I have lost a total of 63 pounds. My goal is to lose about 36 – 40 more. I also want to get off the Victoza and eat without having to use medication to help my body control the food. I have hit another barrier in the plateau department. I have fallen back into old habits but the habits are just that. Habits. There is no emotional ties to food anymore. I don’t feel “fulfilled” or “happy”. I just feel like I have to eat because if I don’t, I’ll feel bad. Its just the choices that have been recently available to me have been poor.

215 August 2015Current weight of 215 as of August 2015

So it’s back to the meal planning. Back to the fruits and veggies. Back to the exercising everyday.

I’m not discouraged like I used to be. I’m not disheartened. I have made an enormous amount of progress. I have a goal and I’m so close I can literally taste it!

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share something so raw and personal. I felt like if I could help one person with my story, it would be worth baring my soul in such a way. If you have any comments or questions, please leave them in the comments below. Look forward to more content in the future as I’m going to be committing a lot of time to making SquaRed Dishes a better place.

Happy Cooking!

Kendall

Product Review: BNTO

Every once in a while, you come across a product that is exciting and life altering. The BNTO cups are that product. They were introduced to me by a friend who posted a link to the Cuppow! website on my Facebook page. Kitchen gadgets, much like office supplies, make me very giddy inside, so when she told me she was going to order a set for me for my birthday, I was super stoked!

          What are BNTO cups?
BNTO cups are plastic cups that don’t have a lid. But that’s okay! Their purpose is to fit perfectly into a Mason Jar! The lid of the Mason Jar acts as a lid for the plastic cup which is nearly air tight and completely spill proof. They essentially turn a jar into a lunchbox! The cups are made from BPA safe plastic that is reusable and dishwasher safe.

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          Is there a variety available?
Absolutely! The company produces BNTO cups with different colors like orange, green, blue, and pink. Their cups fit in both wide mouth and regular mouth jars. They also have other “lid” like objects for mason jars, like drinking lids and margarita shakers.

          How much do they cost?
One BNTO cup is $8.99 on their website. I would suggest buying them in a pack of 5, because the cost is actually cheaper and you are able to have many cups if you need them. At the time of this post, there is free shipping on many of the variety packs they offer.

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          Is it worth it?
I did not pay for my BNTO cups as they were a birthday present. However, I do know that the price seems a little steep for what seems like so little. Let me tell you though, it is an investment that is well worth the $9. Not only does it save you from cutting your fingers on the edges of jars, it also helps keep the crunchy crunchy, and the soft soft. They can also be used for food other than dressings. I’ve used mine for hummus, olives, smaller salad toppings, yogurt, and peanut butter. They will also save you money because you will be less likely to throw away food because something got soggy. Another plus side, the BNTO cups are made in the USA! What a better way for you to support your fellow countrymen.

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          What’s so great about this company?
I would never call myself a “tree hugger.” However, I do care about the environment and I care about my personal impact on the environment. I do my best to find products that fit in line with those values. Cuppow! is that company. They value the environment and their products reflect that. Their cups come in minimal packaging that has been recycled and can be recycled again. Their cups are reusable and dishwasher safe and are SUPER durable.

          How to Use the BNTO cups
BNTO cups are very easy to use and clean. Make sure you have the correct jar size available as the cups have a standard mouth size and a wide mouth size. My particular cup and jar size is wide mouth.

  1. Precisely plan what you want to put in your jar and fit it in the bottom.
  2. Insert the cup into the top of the jar. It will not slip into the jar as the lip on the edge will prevent it from doing so.
  3. Then put your ingredient in the cup.
  4. Fix the lid on top of the cup. The rubber edge will line up with the plastic of the cup and keep it from moving around.
  5. Finally, twist the lid rim until it is tight on the jar. The rim of the jar will not be completely seated in its normal closed position, but that is okay. It is snug and will prevent spillage.

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          Other Uses
Many people assume the purpose of the BNTO cups is to keep dressings from salads or dips from vegetables or chips. But that’s not necessarily the case. They can be used for a variety of purposes. For example, it could keep cucumbers and cheese separate, like I show in the pictures. Think of the cups as a way to keep the wet and dry separated until absolutely necessary. If there is a picky eater in the family, it keeps foods separate for their tastes! If for some reason, you find yourself running out of ideas for what to use Mason jars and BNTO cups for, Pinterest has a plethora of reasons to keep running with these cups.

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          Possible Problems and Common Complaints

  1. Leaking. I have personally had zero problems with the cup leaking. I have put vinaigrette dressing in the cup and taken it to the beach. The best way to prevent leaking is to carefully tighten the lid rim on the jar.
  2. Squished food. It does take a lot of skill to get the right amount of food in the jar before you put the cup in. The cup takes up space, but this is a positive in my book as it helps control portions.

          Where can I find these awesome things?
They have a website http://www.cuppow.com/ where you can order. Surprising enough, Cuppow! BNTO cups are also sold in some stores. If you visit their website, they have a map that you can enter your zip code and it will pull up the closest location to you! They also tell you the store name and the location of that store.

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This is one of my current favorite kitchen gadgets. It makes controlling portions super easy and the ability to plan and make food ahead a breeze. If I can save thirty minutes of my morning routine from making lunch, then I’m all for it. This is a great product and I highly recommend you use it!

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Send me a message or comment below!

Happy Cooking!

Pan Fried Tilapia Tacos with Black Beans and Quinoa

I had the sudden inspiration to play Chopped in my kitchen tonight. I had some leftover black beans and quinoa in my refrigerator that needed to be eaten before they went bad. What better way then to have a Mexican fiesta! I was able to make this meal just enough for one person so nothing went to waste.

Pan Fried Tilapia Tacos with Black Beans and Quinoa (for 1)
1 tilapia filet, thawed
1/4 cup fine bread crumbs
1 tsp Mexican spices of your choice
1 tsp olive oil
1/4 cup quinoa, cooked
3 tbsp black beans, drained and rinsed
taco toppings of your choice

I won’t go into great details with this recipe as it is really simple. Mix the bread crumbs and seasoning together. Drop the fish into the mixture and coat the fish well. Heat your pan and olive oil on medium heat, but don’t over heat! If you do the olive oil will burn and it will kill the taste of your fish. Once the pan is hot, put the fish carefully into the oil and cover. Cook for about 3-4 minutes. When you flip the fish, the coating with be a nice dark brown. Cook another 3-4 minutes until fish is done all the way through. If its a thick piece of tilapia, you may have to cook it for a minute or two longer.

Mix the quinoa and black beans together and plate. Dress the taco to your liking and enjoy!

Pan Fried Tilapia

Happy cooking!

Kitchen Staples: Pantry Edition

When I was first living on my own, I created a grocery list. This grocery list consisted of everything I absolutely needed to survive for the first couple of months before I got a handle on my budget. The spice rack list came first, because we can take the most bland food and make its sparkle!

The next step was the pantry. I thought of the essential food that would be useful in rain, shine, hurricane, blackouts and just everyday eating. The is the best list for my household to have a well stocked pantry!

1. Tuna*

  • Many people don’t like the taste of canned tuna, but tuna is so versatile now. It comes in pouches, and in different flavors. It is easy to throw on a sandwich or in a bag with some crackers. Starkist has flavors like hickory smoked and ranch tuna, while BumbleBee tuna has sundried tomato and olive oil and chipotle with olive oil.
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2. Beans

  • Another really adaptable food. There are hundreds of different bean varieties to choose from: kidney, garbanzo, navy, northern, black. Beans also have a lot of fiber and are good for you! They can be used for soups, chilis, wraps, salads, or just by themselves. One thing I’ve learned about beans in a can, though, is that most of the time they need to be drained and rinsed, especially black beans. This washes the salt off and gives you full flavor of the bean. This is especially true of black beans.

3. Snacks

    1. Chips
    2. Cookies
    3. Granola Bars

4. Mac and Cheese*

  • I’ve actually tried to make mac and cheese from scratch, with great success, but there are times when you are just too tired to stand and stir a pot for twenty minutes. I prefer Kraft brand or Horizon brand. I will say that Betty Crocker’s no drain mac and cheese is excellent!
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5. Tea & Coffee

  • I’m not a coffee drinker, but I do drink tea. Having tea in my arsenal ready for a cold snap has saved me many days. Its nice to have it for days that you are sick or just in need of something relaxing.

6. Tomato Paste

  • I say paste instead of sauce because you can thin paste out into a sauce. It also takes up less space in the pantry and is really, really cheap. Tomato paste can also be used to thicken up stews and chilis!

7. Peanut Butter*

  • This should actually be number one on this list because of how awesome it is! I cannot tell you how many nights I’ve come home late and all I had the energy to make was a peanut butter sandwich. Peanut butter is an amazing stable to have in your pantry. You can make all kinds of goodies with it. Check out the Peanut Butter and Company website for more ideas on different recipes. I haven’t had a chance to try any of them out yet, but they are very creative with their peanut butter!
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8. Bread

  • Obviously peanut butter can be put on crackers, but toast is a whole other ball game. Bread can be used as stuffing, to sop up egg yolk or chili. It can also make yummy sandwiches, duh! It is a great staple to have around the house. It goes bad quickly, so it would be a good idea to plan meals around it. It is also good to freeze and keep for a while.

9. Rice

10. Pasta

This list may vary for people with various allergies and such. It has actually changed for me in the last three years according to my diet. I have really reduced the amount of bread, pasta, and rice I eat in an effort to lose weight. I hope this list helps on your quest to become more efficient in the kitchen!

In the meantime, happy cooking!

*Images courtesy of FreeStockPhotos.com.

Recipe: Chicken and Rice Soup

Well folks, the Arctic Blast is upon us and we are all hunkered down in our homes waiting for it to pass quicker than it did last year. In the meantime, I have been looking for ways to keep warm, both inside and out. One of my really good friends came down with the flu last week and was laid up for some time. I got the idea that I would make him some chicken and rice soup.

I had never made chicken and rice soup straight from scratch before and was very interested in the procedure. I scoured the internet for different recipe ideas and seasonings but I couldn’t find any that appealed to me. Instead, I took ideas from about four different sites and made up my own recipe for chicken and rice soup. I will say this is very time consuming, as I wanted to make the chicken as tender as possible.

I also wanted to be authentic as possible without all the heavy labor, a.k.a. deboning a chicken! So I’ve simplified the recipe to make things a little easier and quicker to those of you who are as lazy or strapped for time as I am.

Chicken and Rice Soup
Prep Time: 30 min
Cook Time: Approximately 4 hours

6 (1 ½ lbs) boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 small onion, chopped
6 cups water
½ cup uncooked white rice
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 tsp McCormick Perfect Pinch Vegetable
2 tbs butter
salt and pepper to taste

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First step to all this homemade craziness is the preparation. Everything needs to be cleaned, peeled, chopped and trimmed before it even touches the pot. After you have prepared the vegetables as described above, trim the fat from the thighs. It will make it easier to clean when you have to pull them out of the pot to shred the meat.

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Now put 5 cups of water in a big pot. Save 1 cup of water for later if you need to add it to take away some of the saltiness or the soup just needs more liquid. Turn the heat on high and place all of the chicken thighs in the water. Bring to a boil. As it boils, skim the fat from the top. If the fat stays, the end result will be more like a stew than a soup. Once you have skimmed all the fat from the top, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.

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If you are like me, there is something that didn’t get prepped in the beginning. If that is the case, do it NOW! You want everything to be ready for the pot as soon as possible. After 15 minutes, add the butter, onion, salt, pepper, and perfect pinch seasoning into the pot and simmer for another 35 minutes. This infuses flavor into both the chicken and the broth. This is a good time to taste the broth as well. Dip a spoon right in there! If it is too salty, add some more water. If it is not salty enough, then add a little more salt. Remember, it is always better to under salt than oversalt anything.

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After the chicken is cooked, turn off the heat for a little while and let the broth cool. This is an important step for two reasons. One, it allows the flavors to sit for a little bit. Two, it gives you time to pull the chicken from the pot and shred it with a fork. You don’t want to boil all the water out of the soup.

Shred all the chicken with a fork. This is the easiest way to get good pieces of chicken in the soup without being too chunky. After the chicken is shredded, turn the burn back on and bring the broth to a boil. Put the remaining vegetables in the stock and let them cook for a few minutes before adding the chicken again. Then add the rice and keep a watch on it. The rice will absorb a lot of the liquid. You may need to add some water as you go. Cook the soup until the vegetables are tender and the rice is cooked.

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And there you have it! Chicken and Rice soup. I managed to get several servings out of this one dish and was able to eat it for more than a week! It would also be an excellent choice to freeze and eat for later.

I hope this meal touches your soul! Happy cooking!

Why Anything in a Jar is a Bad Gift

The Christmas season is upon us and I am reminded of gifts that I have received over the past few years. One of those was a “Cookie-in-a-Jar.” You know what I’m talking about. The big ol’ Mason Jar full of the dry ingredients with the instructions on the outside that say “Sugar Cookies!” or  “M&M Cookies!” The gift that makes you work for the actual gift profit.

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They are nice gifts, if you hate someone. I’m not saying all things in a jar are BAD, I’m just saying the ones specifically that require baking are horrible ideas. I understand if you don’t have time or patience to actually bake, but if you are going to give a cooking gift, DON’T give one that you put in a jar. Be cheap and get a prepacked basket!

Here are some reasons why anything in a jar is a bad gift.

1. Baking is about chemistry.
Here’s a big problem. As a baker, I am VERY precise about measurements of both wet and dry ingredients, but dry ingredients specifically. There is a reason you put baking soda and salt with all-purpose flour. There is a reason you generally use equal amounts of brown sugar and white sugar. Its about how these ingredients react. When ingredients are not precise, they could make baked goods turn flat or taste wrong.

2. No one ACTUALLY wants to bake it.
Aside from me of course! Most people want something easy to work with. Not only that, but many people don’t want to work for their present. They want it and want to enjoy it immediately. So, if you do decide to get creative if Mason jars, do something like chicken noodle soup or pasta, where the only ingredient the receiver has to deal with is water or broth.

3. The inability to control certain amounts of ingredients.
There are amounts of dry ingredients are prepackaged into the jars so the receiver who only has to add wet ingredients such as eggs, vanilla, etc. Some times, when you are putting dry ingredients into the wet ones, you may not need as much as the recipe calls for. It can be a play of trial and error.  However, when someone has measured and PACKED everything in a jar, you can either use what you have or throw it out. The only possible solution for this is to pour each layer into a bowl and measure them that way.

4. Is it really a personal gift?
Who am I to say whether a gift is personal or not? But I am of the gift giving belief, that if you are going to give something, give with your heart. I generally make all my gifts, especially baked goods. I spend time and effort to mold and create the food that someone will enjoy. I feel like when you give a gift in a jar, you are giving work. Who honestly wants to work for their Christmas gift?

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Hopefully, by now, you have realized that most of this post is made in jest. There are good reasons not to gift gifts in jars, but the sincerity behind a gift is what really matters, not the gift itself. This post was actually inspired by a Sugar Cookie Jar I received for Christmas and decided to try. Lets just say, that was the ULTIMATE worse gift ever. I think the person who gave it to me didn’t measure correctly and the cookies had more flour over sugar and they came out like clay than sugar cookies.  Anyway, I hope you all have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Happy Cooking!

*pictures were found on Google Images. Please don’t sue me!