Thursday, October 1, 2015

Skillet Beef and Macaroni

Skillet Beef and Macaroni from Food Therapy

Kids can be picky.  I know this probably isn't news to you.  With the best efforts put forward most nights for their entire little lives, my kids can be picky, much to my chagrin and frustration.  Most nights they do have a home-cooked meal on their plates.  We don't eat many processed foods.  Notice I said "many".  I do my best to provide healthy choices, but even Mommy likes to eat an Oreo cookie every now and then.  One positive I will point out about my kids (at least the boys) is that they will always try to eat what is on their plates.

What hits the mark in their somewhat diverse palates often doesn't converge.  Logan will say he absolutely loves the salmon I made that night and ask me to make it the next night.  Then, Aidan will pipe in and say it's not my best.  Well, geez! What typically ends up happening is a groan from one and a smile from the other, which leads to my declaration that you can't have what you want all the time.  Tonight, it's Logan's turn to have a favorite.  Tomorrow, I will make you one of your favorites, Aidan.  Ungrateful little you-know-whats (I'm thinking this with my teeth grating).  My annoyance quickly goes away until I see Aidan get up with half of his food still on his plate and he is asking what's for dessert.  Such critics I've created.  I think half the time they should be on the panel for Top Chef.
Food Therapy's Skillet Beef and Macaroni

I know I'm picking on Aidan.  He means well and is just being honest.  The same could be said for Logan on any other night.  Heck, for that matter, I can call out Gary, too.  Well, a couple of nights ago I decided to make my Beef and Cheese Macaroni.  It is actually one of my most popular clicks on the blog.  When you're aiming to please family members of all ages, you can hardly ever go wrong with ground beef, macaroni, and cheese.  It's easy, fast, and can be made up in one skillet.  While I do enjoy my version from last year, I always felt like something was missing.  It needed a kick to it.  Yes, yes, this isn't gourmet fare. I know that, people.  I also know when something, something is missing.
Skillet Beef and Macaroni

As I was walking through the grocery aisles thinking about what was wrong with the dish and what I could add, it hit me.  Instead of looking at it like a spaghetti meat sauce, I needed to add some Mexican flavors and a little more boost of tomato.  So, I chopped up a bell pepper.  I added Aidan's favorite two spices: hot chili powder and cumin.  And, then I added a can of tomato puree and a can of diced tomatoes with more Mexican seasoning.  In essence it was the same dish, but the spices and stronger tomato base made it something entirely new.
Food Therapy's Skillet Beef and Macaroni

And, guess what? The boys absolutely loved it. Loved it! I had to leave before Aidan had dinner.  He actually called me on the phone to tell me it was so good and could we please have it again for leftovers the next night.  And, the next night Logan told me that it was one of the best things I've ever made.  What? What? It's just Skillet Beef and Macaroni.  Hey, who am I to judge?

For a print-friendly version of the recipe, click the link:

16 ounce elbow macaroni
1 pound ground beef
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon Mexican chili powder
1 15 ounce can diced tomatoes with Mexican seasonings, drained
1 15 ounce can tomato puree
2 cups grated Cheddar or four-cheese Mexican mix of cheese

Cook macaroni according to package directions.  Drain.  Add 1 cup of the grated cheese and mix into the warm pasta.  Set aside.

In a large pot, brown beef over medium heat until pink almost disappears.  Add the chopped onions and pepper.  Stir over medium heat for five minutes until the onions and peppers begin to soften.

Sprinkle the chili powder and cumin over the beef mixture.  Stir to combine.  Continue cooking for 3 minutes.

Add the drained tomatoes and the puree.  Stir to combine with the mixture.  Turn the heat to medium-low and cover.  Allow the mixture to simmer for 10 minutes while the sauce thickens up.

In a large bowl, combine the pasta and the meat sauce.  Stir to combine.  Add the last cup of cheese to the top.  It will melt fast.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Saying Goodbye

Home from Food is my Therapy

I've been spending this week getting our old house together for new tenants who will be renting our home for the next year and a half.  With the current market in our area and new houses being built nearby, it has been a struggle to sell the house.  As the cold weather days fast approach, we decided it would be best to rent our old home and lucked up on interested renters right away.

Back when happiness began with the first day of school
When we first moved out of the house back in December, I didn't even give it a second thought.  The moving process was hell...pure hell.  If you can't remember the details, just click the big move here.  Memories of Gator and his crew of misfits still haunt me.  It is a week out of my life that will forever be stamped in my memory and categorized appropriately enough, G-A-T-O-R, stored away under the file "Never Again".  I was consumed with getting through Christmas, unpacking boxes, and eventually finding my way back to normalcy and routine.  I am happy to say with the start of the school year and transportation provided to and from school by our lovely county, I am finally feeling like my kind of, sometimes sane self again. That's normal for me.

Logan's first time as kitchen helper
So here I was thinking I wasn't so sentimental after all and had hardened up with old age, when out of the blue I was hit with a deep sadness of another family moving into our old home.  I spent Tuesday cleaning the house up before our walk-through on Tuesday night.  The last of the furniture was moved out, and I found myself overwhelmed with a flood of memories as I walked through each vacant room.  It was completely unexpected seeing as though many months have passed since we moved out.

One of my favorite Halloween shots
It was in January 2004 that we first moved into our new home.  Aidan was four months old and Madison was two.  Gary and I were two kids pretending to be adults.  Here I was, still in graduate school and starting my new semester since having Aidan, and Gary was in the throes of getting his career going, working crazy hours during the day and into the night.  This move was big for us.  We finally had a garage and storage space.  I had cabinets in the kitchen and a basement to store toys.  Our neighborhood was filled with families and kids close to our ages with a park down the road to play in every day.  Everything was fresh and new and exciting.  We had dreams about what our futures would be with the attitude of anything is possible.  The sky's the limit, as Gary would say.  It was the start of a new chapter in our lives with new beginnings.

A day in the life of our young superhero
As I walked through the house, I went room to room thinking of all of the things we experienced together.  We had an office made in our bedroom for me to work on my PhD.  At the time, I was getting my doctorate with big plans to get a job in child development research or academia.  The desk is empty now, but I can remember my afternoons from exactly 3pm - 6pm when Aidan took a nap and I struggled with Madison to get her to take one so that I could concentrate for a three-hour stretch. It's all I had in my day.

Caught in the hammock
Lots of time spent at the neighborhood pool...lots

Logan in his favorite boots
I remembered our tiny queen-sized bed in this massive master bedroom.  When we finally got the king a couple of years later, we wondered why in the world we waited so long.  I remembered the long phone cord that I had to plug into the wall all the way across the room just to get on the internet.  I remembered painting Madison's toenails on the bed, snuggling with the kids watching Pingu and Thomas before bedtime, baths, playing ghost with Gary.  I remembered nights with stomach bugs, stories read in Madison's room every night to both she and Aidan.  Narnia, The Graveyard Book, Wrinkle in Time, Little House on the Prairie, and Edward Tulane.
Back when she loved purple EVERYTHING

Logan's favorite place to sleep, my legs
I remembered the day we brought Logan home from the hospital, the smell of fried chicken my
mother had cooked and the drawings the kids made to welcome him home.  I remembered the dark room that I sat in night after night with Radiohead playing while I nursed Logan to sleep, sometimes taking a snooze myself.  I remembered Logan taking leaps out of his crib before we got his new bed, sneaking off to let the hamster, Kaitlyn, out of her cage or going through Gary's drawers in search of candy.  I remembered the sounds of The Wiggles and the Fresh Beat Band playing over and over again.
Caught in the act with overturned laundry basket and all
Miss these times

I remembered our times as a family in our family room.  Winters were always my favorite because it was the time of year we spent as a complete unit for the longest periods of time.  A fire was always going.  We had our traditions with every special occasion. Cookies, muffins, or cakes with new pajamas while we watched The Great Pumpkin or Charlie Brown's Christmas special.  At times, the family room was overwhelmed with toys.  Remember that great playroom in the basement I was so excited for? Well, of course, no one used it.  They went down to get toys only to come back up and play with them in the family room where everyone else was.  We have gone through Thomas the Train, Lego after Lego, crayons and coloring books.  We've seen it all.  And, no matter how much space there was, we always ended up in this room together on one couch, squeezed in tightly together.
My favorite spot

My favorite part of the day was nighttime.  With the fire going and the kids in bed, Gary and I had time to ourselves.  Before the days of streaming videos, we had dvd sets of shows like 24.  One of my favorite winters was the one where we binge-watched three seasons of 24.  We would always say "one more" and then we'd go to bed.  That "one more" always became "okay, after this one".  It was peaceful and quiet, rarely interrupted.  It was the time of day when all the annoyances and temper-infused moments of the daylight hours melted away and we could just be together.

My Winston
Along with the fond memories, there were also memories that brought us sadness or frustration.  We lost two of our furry family members: Exree and Winston.  Both came with us from our old house and were our first babies.  We had our invasion of mice visitors to torment me.  One in particular was a chocolate-loving rodent who seemed to only eat Hershey Kisses with almonds, only he'd eat all of the chocolate and leave the almonds on the ground.  We, of course, had the infamous flooding episode that left our basement in total ruins.  We've lost fish, a hamster, and a hermit crab.  And, yet, who hasn't?
Jimmy John hanging onto the industrial-strength fans

Yet, if these are the worst memories I have, then I have to be truly thankful for all of the wonderful memories we created in this house.  In the end, I have gained many friends and acquaintances.  Two of my dearest friends I met in the neighborhood, and I can't imagine there not being a part of my life from here on out.  We've gone through many first days of school, birthday parties, barbecues.  We've experienced many firsts: first walks, first words, first time riding a bike, first beds, first sleepovers, first tooth fairy visit, and first time homes.  We grew up...all of us.  Gary and I became adults and the kids grew and matured.  All of our dreams going into the house might not have come to fruition.  We changed and evolved.  In some ways, we outgrew certain ambitions or changed them as other things in our lives became more important.  In the same way, all of the positives we had going into this house began to feel negative.  Our needs changed.  Our idea of "space" changed.  We grew up and outgrew our home.  We were ready to move on.

Many memories have been made in this hammock

We are making new firsts in our new home, but as I was reminded this week, we won't ever forget those firsts that happened in our old home.  Life is a testament to change.  The importance we place on events and things changes as we gain new life experiences and grow as individuals.  Yet, in our maturity it is important to remember how we got there and where we came from, to appreciate what we had in order to make us more appreciative of what we have gained going forward.  It might seem silly to talk this way about a house, but for me it will always hold a special place in my heart.  It's where we made a family and where we will hold on to memories that we will never forget.  Saying goodbye isn't easy.  Thankfully, it doesn't have to be permanent and forgotten.  I will always hold it dear in my mind and my heart.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Saffron Couscous with Vegetables

Saffron Couscous with Vegetables

One of my all-time favorite recipes comes from a nearly ten-year-old recipe out of Cooking Light.  It's kind of funny to think back to a world before Pinterest, Facebook, and blogs.  All of my new ideas for recipes came from three different magazines I subscribed to:  Cooking Light, Eating Well, and Southern Living.  The magazines would pile up with dog-tagged pages.  Every month I'd try something new and healthy for the family.  Sometimes the new dish was a hit and sometimes it was a big miss.  When something came along that warranted oohs and ahs from my taste testers, then that dog-eared page was torn out and put into "the folder".
Oh, my

A vast wasteland is what it looks like, but trust me in the fact that it contains recipe after recipe that I adore.  I never said they were organized in any form or fashion, but it's all there.  About once a year I will go through the pile and find a recipe or two that I'd completely forgotten about.  It's like looking through an old photo album and being surprised that you'd forgotten something happened.  In this case, I was pleasantly surprised over and over again to find some of my old, forgotten favorites dishes and desserts.

Over the summer, as I was doing my annual perusal and looking for ideas, I came across one of my old favorites. How in the world could I have forgotten about it? Tagine of Chicken and Chickpeas from a 2006 issue of Cooking Light magazine.  Glory be to heaven! You cannot imagine my joy in finding this wonderful meal.  Oh, if only I'd had Pinterest back then.  The recipe calls for a mixture of dark and white meat chicken covered in ginger, turmeric, and sweet paprika.

The sautéed chicken is chopped into smaller pieces and then sautéed again with onions, seeded plum tomatoes, and finally chickpeas.

Sprinkle with a smattering of cilantro and you have a flavorful and tender chicken dish.  All that's needed is the perfect side.

Of course, I wouldn't mention the perfect side unless I already had one.  The recipe in the magazine suggests serving the tagine with a Saffron Couscous and Zucchini Ribbons on top.  I adapted the recipe and changed out the ribbons for chopped zucchini.  The side dish works well on its own with a piece of naan bread, with a grilled chicken dish, or seafood.  The couscous soaks up the saffron broth and the fresh vegetables are delicious, especially those fresh peas that go pop in your mouth.

Saffron Couscous with Vegetables

Adapted from Cooking Light (2006).

For a print-friendly version of this recipe, go to:

1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 Zucchini, chopped into one inch pieces
3 carrots, peeled and chopped into one inch pieces
3 cups broth (chicken or veggie is fine)
1 cup couscous
1/2 teaspoon crushed saffron
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 cup fresh peas or frozen peas (thawed)
1 Tablespoon chopped cilantro (optional)

In a saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add the chopped onion and saute for five minutes or until onion becomes translucent.  Add the chopped zucchini and carrots, continuing to saute for another five minutes or until vegetables have softened slightly.

In a large pan, heat over high heat the broth and saffron.  When the broth comes to a boil, add the couscous, peas, salt and pepper, and the sauteed vegetables.  Wait five minutes.  All of the liquid should be absorbed.  Use a spoon or fork to fluff up the mixture.  Add cilantro to top before serving.

Saffron Couscous with Vegetables

Saffron Couscous with Vegetables

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

After a very long hiatus from the blogging world, I'm back!!  Every time you think I'm gone for good, I throw posts in here and there only to go away again for a while.  Well, this time I am back and plan to be back on a regular basis.