Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Easy Spanakopita and Caprese Salads

Sully, who tries to knock me into the oven nightly.
My favorite meal is appetizers.  All those yummy, small bites, often involving cheese are a favorite for everyone in the house.  One problem is to make a meal of them you need several which is a lot to do in the kitchen.  My trick is to make a variety involving different techniques.  For example, our dinner included one cold salad: caprese, one hot made to order: spanakopita, and one make ahead and reheat: Cooking Light's Japanese Meatballs.


1 bag or 1 bunch fresh spinach
1/2 cup Red bell pepper
1/2 cup onion
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup feta cheese
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
1 package mini fillo shells (you can use the sheets, but the shells are what makes this recipe so quick and easy)

Add the butter/olive oil to a saute pan over medium high heat.   Dice the onion, bell pepper and garlic and add to the saute pan.  Cook for 3-5 minutes, until soft and translucent. 

Add all of the spinach and cover the pan, this will allow the spinach to steam.  After 1-2 minutes, the spinach will be wilted.  Turn off the stove and add the spinach mixture to a food processor with the feta and salt and pepper.  Pulse until just chopped. 

Spoon the filling into the fillo shells and bake in a 425 degree oven for 3-5 minutes, until warm through and a little toasty on top.

Caprese Salads
Ingredients and directions:
Place 2 or 3 slices of fresh mozzerella on the bottom of your salad plate.

Top with sliced fresh tomatoes and sliced fresh basil.

Drizzle with olive oil and balsalmic vinegar and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper.  Ummm. 

I served these two with Cooking Light's Tsukune or Japanese meatballs.  I oven baked, instead of grilled them, and they were delicious.   ( 

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Check out our guest post at Money Saving Mom

One of my very favorite money saving and living-your-best-life websites is Money Saving Mom (  My son, Owen and I had our story featured on their "We Paid Cash" series.  It has been a lot of fun to read everyone's (mostly) supportive comments and I have been really delighted by the new readers to my humble little blog!  If you haven't yet read the article, please check it out (scroll down to the second story).

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Winter and Summer Eggplant

Unfortunately ripe, beautiful eggplants come up in late summer when everyone's favorite eggplant dish (only eggplant dish?) Eggplant Parmesan sounds way too hot and heavy.  I have a way of getting a future freezer meal out of those peak of season eggplants plus a recipe to enjoy now.

Winter:   Eggplant Parmesan

Ingredients needed to freeze:
2 eggplants
2 eggs
1 cup milk
3 cups bread crumbs
italian seasoning
salt and pepper

Ingredients to serve in the future:
a few tablespoons of olive or canola oil
Parmesan cheese
marinara sauce
optional* mozzarella cheese

1.  Eggplant turns brown quickly, so get your other ingredients prepared first before the eggplant.  Crack 2 eggs and beat together with the milk in a dish.  In a Ziploc baggie add your breadcrumbs.  I make my breadcrumbs by pulsing in the food processor all of those lonely hamburger and hot dog buns that are left over from a meal.  

2.  Peel and slice the eggplant.  I like to slice the eggplant "hot dog way" or length wise.  My eggplants were fairly small and I got 4 slices from each about 1/3 inch thick.  

3.  Working 1 or 2 at a time, add the eggplant to the egg/milk mixture and coat.  Then one at a time add to the breadcrumb mixture and shake the eggplant around in the bagThen repeat the egg/milk dip and the breadcrumb dip.  This double coating will give you a crunchy coating of the bread crumbs.  Place on foil or wax paper on top of a platter or cutting board that will fit in your freezerCoat all of the eggplant slices.  

4.  Sprinkle the coated eggplant with salt, pepper and Italian seasoning.  Making sure none of the eggplant is touching place and in the freezer on top of the foil/wax paper.  As soon as they are frozen (a few hours) you can lift the eggplant off the foil/wax paper and place them in a Ziploc freezer bag for future use.  

5.  To serve:  Heat a skillet with a few tablespoons of oil over med-high heat.  Add the eggplant and cook until golden on both sides and warmed through, just a few minutes per side.  Top with warmed marinara and Parmesan.  To make it extra cheesy like they do in restaurants, add a sprinkle of mozzarella on top and place under the broiler until the cheese is melted.  

Summer Eggplant:  Marinated and Grilled

2 eggplants
Italian salad dressing

1.  Peel the eggplant.  I slice it "hamburger way" or into rounds about 1/3 inch thick for this recipe.  If this were winter I would salt the eggplant and let it hang out in a colander in the sink for 30 minutes and then rinse.  With fresh summer eggplant, I don't think it is bitter and doesn't require the salt preparation.   

2.  Place the slices in a sided dish and coat with the italian dressing and allow to marinate for 30 minutes.  

3.  Using your barbeque or an indoor grill pan, heat to med-high.  Add the eggplant slices and grill just until pronounced grill marks appear on both sides, this will only take a few minutes.

4.  To serve:  This eggplant is delicious on a salad or in a pasta dish but my favorite way to serve it is as part of a hummus plate.  Take the eggplant, fresh tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, kalamata olives, pita bread or chips and serve along with hummus for a really fresh and summery dinner or appetizer.          


Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Saving Money Grocery Shopping

Food is expensive, especially good food.  I want to feed my family well with healthy and as much organic as I can afford.  In order to do this I have learned a few tricks.  I thought I would share:

1.  Coupon shopping:  I didn't used to coupon shop because I was a snob who thought, "well, I don't buy Hamburger Helper, and there aren't coupons for real foods".  There actually are coupons for real foods.  And even if I don't think of myself as someone who buys a lot of prepared foods, I buy more than I think with breakfast cereal, granola bars, pasta, canned beans, frozen vegetables, etc.  Plus non-food items like deodorant and detergent can eat a big hole in a budget and always have coupons.
Noah needs to stick to a budget

What all those "Extreme Coupon" ladies are doing is combining a sale price with a store coupon with a manufacturer's coupon to get the best deal.  Many grocery stores and Target offer their own store coupons that they will allow you to use with a manufacturer's coupon.  For example, say Tide detergent is on sale at Target.   You use a manufacturer's coupon plus a Target store coupon plus the sale price and your Tide detergent is now cheaper than generic. 

Where do you get coupons?  Sunday paper is the most reliable source for manufacturer's coupons.  Also you can "Like" different products on Facebook or visit their websites and they will often offer coupons that you can print or they will mail.  Many grocery stores will allow you to "load" coupons onto your club/rewards card.  Target allows you to print store coupons from their website, receive them as text offers, or they have a new mobile coupon app called Cartwheel.  Different apps like Ibotta allow you to electronically submit recipes for a rebate check.

How to organize?  I like a binder with baseball card sleeves to organize (yes, I am THAT lady at the grocery store).  This allows me to take advantage of any sort of deal I might come across.  Some people prefer to just bring the coupons they need for their pre-planned deal which can help you keep your budget.  

Many sites post "deals" at different stores.  They will research the ads for the week and tell you what is a spectacular bargain and what coupons you need.  A Portland area one I love is, my national favorites are, or  Some stores vary their prices regionally (like my beloved Target) so a local website is the best place for those deals. 

2.  Less meat:  Quality meat is one of the more expensive items you put in your grocery cart.  My husband is a meat lover and I have mentioned before that Owen considers himself a "meatatrian" and I can still pull this off without anyone complaining.  I stretch the meat with other, often healthier, items.  For example if we are having tacos I will use only 1/2 pound of ground beef and throw in a can of black beans.  My fajitas are heavy on the vegetables, light on the meat.  Pasta dishes only requires one big chicken breast between everyone's plates.  Vegetables, beans, grains, pasta are all tasty and healthy substitutes for some of the meat.  

3.  Strive to never throw food away:  Of course no one plans on throwing out the groceries they purchased, but then you open the vegetable crisper and the lettuce is slim.  I utilize my freezer to save items that I don't think we are going to finish before they go bad.   I prep them, like steam the spinach, roast the tomatoes, wash the berries, so they are recipe ready when I need them.  I will freeze canned goods when I only need a little and have a lot left in the can.  I do this with chipotles in adobe because no recipe ever seems to need more than 1 or 2 chiles.  I will also freeze tomato paste in 1 tablespoon increments so I can just throw them into sauce straight from the freezer when I need them. 

4.  Make your own convenience food:  Again the freezer comes into play here.  Owen won't eat cereal (seriously, what did I do wrong with that child!?) so he eats waffles or pancakes every morning.  Instead of buying Eggo or Vans, I make my own on the weekend, freeze them and just throw them into the toaster in the morning.  Pancakes microwave in 30 seconds for a super quick breakfast.  Breakfast burritos, or biscuit sandwiches freeze and reheat really well for busy weekday mornings.

I also like to keep a couple dinners frozen.  Using disposable aluminum pans, I freeze pastas, enchiladas, soups and other meals for a later date.  If I am out of town, too sick to cook or otherwise just don't feel like making dinner, we don't have to go out.  And if you are saying to yourself, "wait, I thought she was married, can't her husband help?"  Let me explain, my husband is talented at many things but he is a disaster in the kitchen.  Not only will he ruin the dinner, he will ruin the pan he cooked it in.  No, just no.

5.  For the love of God, pack a lunch: There was a financial planning book that was out a few years ago, the author talked what he called the "latte factor". (The Automatic Millionaire by David Bach). When you go about your day and get a latte, then lunch, then a drink on the way home, each one of those purchases may have only been a few bucks but when you add them up for just one day they may be close to $20.Factor that by 5 days a week, 52 weeks in a year, and this becomes a serious outlay of cash on nothing.At the grocery store think about the grown up lunches, not just dinners and kid lunches.  Even spending another $20 on stuff you want for lunch is far cheaper than buying everyday.
I try to pack lunches or at least snacks on the weekends too. Not that we don't eat out occasionally, but I want that to be planned. We can't get into the car without my boys all of a sudden deciding they are starved. Having snacks on hand prevents the McDonald's run just to end the complaining.   

Monday, August 26, 2013

Oregon Berry Jam

Something that amazed me when I first moved to Oregon, blackberries grow everywhere.  Along every highway, in every park, come August those prickly brambles are covered in sweet berries.   Owen and I had picked blueberries at a local farm recently and for some weird reason my strawberry plants decided to give me another round of berries in August.  Using the 3 berries I made super yummy jam.  If you haven't made jam before, this recipe is simple and delicious. I am giving directions to preserve the jam, but you could also skip all the canning steps and put it in the fridge without preserving and use immediately.

Ingredients and Supplies:
1 big stock pot or water bath canner
canning rack or silverware (I'll explain later)
canning jar grabber or kitchen tongs
a ladle or measuring cup to scoop jam
1 large sauce pan
kitchen towels
4 half-pint canning jars
4 new lids and bands for canning jars

2 cups blackberries
1 cup blueberries
1cup strawberries
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon citrus juice (I used 2 key limes, but lemons, regular limes or orange would work)
3 tablespoons classic pectin

Get prepared first.

1.  Fill the stock pot with water.  Place canning rack on bottom to keep jars from resting directly on the bottom of your pot.  If you do not have a canning rack throw your stainless steel silverware in the bottom of the pot.  I wouldn't recommend do this with Grandma's silver, but I love any trick that uses what I have and keeps me from investing in a one trick item.  Add your clean jars, lids and rims to the pot and turn on high to bring to a boil.  The water level should remain a few inches above the jars. After it reaches boiling, shut off the heat and cover.  Let the jars and lids hang out in there until you are ready for them.

2.  Prepare the fruit.  I don't like my jam too seedy.  So I crush the blackberries into a sieve over a bowl.  Keep forcing them through with a potato masher until juice and fruit is no longer coming through the sieve.  This should give you about 1 cup of blackberry juice.

3.  Add strawberries and blueberries to the bowl and crush lightly.  I do not force these through the sieve.  You want 3 cups of fruit total.

4.  In your large sauce pan squeeze your citrus juice.  I like to do this into an empty pan because then its easy to remove any seeds that get by you.

5.  Measure out your sugar and have it on the side, ready to go.

6.  Add the fruit and while stirring add the pectin.  Turn on the fruit mixture to high and bring to a boil. 

7.   Add sugar, stirring until dissolved.  Bring to a boil again and boil 1 minute.  To check if it is done dip a spoon in and swipe your finger through it (it will be hot, you know, boiling sugar and all).  If it forms and line and holds that line, it's ready.

8.  If you don't plan on preserving, congratulations, you are done and have lovely jam.

9.  To preserve:  carefully pull jars, lids and rings out of boiling water using the canning jar grabber or tongs and place on a clean kitchen towel.

10.  The jam may have "foam" on top.  This is edible, but often skimmed off using a spoon so the jam remains pretty and translucent.  To skim or not to skim is totally up to you.   Using a towel to protect your hands, ladle the jam into the jars until they are nearly full, about 1/4 inch from the top.

11.   Use a damp towel to wipe away all the jam from the top of the jar.  Anything on or around the top of the jar will impede the seal of the jars.  Once you are sure its clean, add the lids and rings as tight as you can.

12.  Return to stock pot/water bath and turn on the heat to high and bring to boil again.  Once it is boiling, start timing--10 minutes.

13.  When 10 minutes is complete, place jars, upside down on a clean towel to cool.  Leave them there for a while so everyone can admire how crafty you are.
I only have 3 because I spilled a jar into the sink, oh, clumsy me. 

14.  Before storing check the seals.  Sometimes you will even hear them pop.  When you press on the top they should be sucked down and not flex at all.  If any jars didn't seal just put them in the fridge for immediate use. 


Saturday, August 24, 2013

His and Hers Pizzas

Picky Kid Cheese Pizza
My family loves pizza, it is seriously bordering on obsession.  Making it at home allows us to each have whatever kind we want.  Kids love a make-your-own and Geoff and I don't have to argue about toppings, win and win. 

To start you need pizza dough.  My recipe is super simple and inexpensive, but you could purchase store bought to speed up your pizza. 

Ingredients for dough:
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon yeast
1teaspoon sugar
2 cups (or so) ap flour
dash of salt
splash of olive oil

In your mixer add the water, yeast and sugar and allow to proof for 5 minutes.  

Next, add about 1/2 tsp of salt, 1 tbsp olive oil and 2 cups of flour.

Turn the mixer on and combine.  You want to see the dough form a ball, you may need to add small increments of flour until the dough pulls away from the sides and forms a ball.

 Let the mixer do the kneading for you and let it go for 5 minutes.

Then cover with a towel and allow to rise until double in size and had bubbles on top, about 2 hours.

This will make 2 tiny kid pizzas and 2 personal size adult pizzas or 1 big pizza.  You can double the recipe for more pizza dough. 

His Pizza:  BBQ Chicken
I love a veggie pizza, but my husband wants meaty.  Making personal pizzas lets us both have what we would prefer.  
Ingredients: (for personal sized pizza)

1/2 cup cooked chicken
1 ear of corn cut off the cob
1/4 bell pepper, finely diced
2 tablespoons diced onion
2 tablespoons sliced black olives
1 tablespoon fresh cilantro 
2 tablespoons bbq sauce
1/2 cup grated mozzarella
2 tablespoons grated smoked gouda

Preheat your pizza stone in a 475 degree oven for at least 30 minutes.  

If you don't have a pizza stone, you can make these on a cookie sheet.  Oil a cookie sheet and add the rolled out but untopped pizza dough.  Bake for 5-7 minutes by itself to allow it to set up and the bottom to brown a little bit.  Then pull out and top.  
Roll out the dough on a floured cutting board or pizza peel.  Top with bbq sauce then cheese.  Add the chicken, corn, bell pepper, onion and olives. 

Carefully slide off the pizza peel or cutting board using your widest spatula on to the pizza stone and cook until top is golden, about 12-15 minutes.  Check after 2 minutes and take a fork to any bubbles that have formed. 

To remove from the oven, place the cutting board next to the pizza stone and use the spatula to scoot the pizza onto the cutting board.  Sprinkle with cilantro and serve.

Her's Pizza:  Margherita
This is my very favorite pizza, super simple and super delicious.
Ingredients (for personal sized pizza):
1 cup roasted tomatoes 
10 or so cloves of roasted garlic
1/4 cup sliced fresh basil
olive oil
1/2 cup grated mozzarella

Roll out the dough and drizzle with olive oil.  Top with cheese and roasted tomatoes (to make tomatoes: toss cherry tomatoes with olive oil, salt, pepper and a 1 teaspoon brown sugar, roast for about 20 minutes while the pizza stone heats up).  and roasted garlic (wrap a head of garlic, drizzled with olive oil in aluminum foil, roast about 40 minutes until golden and spreadably soft).  

Place in the oven for 12-15 minutes until cheese is melted and the top is golden.  Remove from the oven and top with the fresh basil. 


Beyond the Bread: Back to School Top 10 Non-Sandwich Lunch Ideas, Traditional and Gluten Free

As I have emphasized many times, my kids are picky.  Like so picky that my older son, Owen, won't eat cold lunches, every sandwich I pack is "too soggy" to eat.  He also finds most school lunches too "yucky" to eat and I guess I have to agree with him there.  And just to be upfront, yes, I am pretty sure I did something wrong that created this picky, picky child, but here we are.  My younger son, Noah, has an autism diagnosis and experiences many peculiarities that seem to be a common denominator in people with autism; picky eater, picky about texture, and the added complication of a gluten free diet don't give us a lot of options.

I am trying to start out the new school year with one of those "we can do it" attitudes.  I am compiling a list of school lunch ideas that will hopefully make our mornings a little easier and I won't find myself staring bleakly at the fridge with no idea of what to put in my kids' lunches.  Let's get started.

10  Veggies and Crackers with Dips:  Owen likes Wheat Thins and for Noah, he likes the Blue Diamond Almond Nut Thins (GF). I also include veggies: cucumber, carrots and celery will receive a couple of bites :-).  Store bought hummus or peanut butter are gluten free and healthy and usually liked by little ones.

9  Thermos Meals:  Invest in a thermos, they sell lunch box sized ones at Target for $10-15.  Then you have the option of soups and chili (usually GF if homemade, read the label closely on canned) or the kid fave spaghetti with marinara or meat sauce.

8  Pesto or Sesame Noodles:  Both these options are great because they can be served hot, cold or room temperature.  Sesame noodles taste great made with rice noodles (found on the asian food aisle) and they are gluten free.  I like to sneak spinach into my pesto for a little nutritional kick, I mix 2 cups of greens (half basil, half spinach), 1/3 cup toasted almonds (pine nuts are traditional, but they are expensive and Geoff is allergic), 1/3 cup Parmesan, 1 clove garlic, salt and pepper, whirl it in the food processor adding olive oil until it is the consistency you like.

An aside: as I am writing this, Noah is sitting on the couch watching "Little Einsteins" and giggling.  That might be the cutest thing ever. :-)   

Nosh Plate:  Who doesn't love an antipasto style meal?  Favorite meats, cheeses and veggies especially served on skewers (if your child's school won't freak out about pointy sticks) are a fun and gluten free sandwich alternative.  I like to alternate mini mozzarella balls (or even just cut up cheese sticks) with cubed ham or turkey and a cherry tomato on top.

6  Chicken Salad:  If my picky kids will eat it yours may too!  I shred a rotisserie chicken and mix it with diced celery, chives, and almonds with mayo and lemon juice and lots of salt and pepper.  My kids will eat it with a fork.

5  Baja Rice Bowls:  Making rice on a busy school morning isn't going to happen, so when I make rice for dinner, I make extra.  I do a Mexican inspired rice bowl, but you could easily take the flavors in a different direction.  I add a scoop of mexican style rice, black beans, cheese and diced tomatoes.  Totally tasty and gluten free without having to use any sort of odd items.

4  Mini pizzas:  I learned this recipe in Girl Scouts, and no it won't be warm at lunch time, but I have never known a kid to mind if their pizza isn't hot!  On a toasted english muffin, spread left over marinara sauce, top with mozzarella cheese, add toppings if your kid is down with that, and broil until the cheese is melted. GF bread works well for this recipe because is already so hard, this has been the only way I can get Noah to eat it. 

3  GF Crispy Chicken Nuggets:  This recipe is from Rachael Ray and she is making her nuggets with rice cereal.  They turn out super crunchy, no weird aftertaste and gluten free.  This is a make ahead sort of lunch idea, but well worth it.  Make a big batch to keep in your freezer.

2 A collection of side dishes:  Side dishes are usually my favorite part of a meal.  When composing a lunch of them, I just think about covering all the food groups and you are good.  A sample menu would be fruit salad, either a peanut butter granola bar or hard boiled egg, cheese stick, and crackers.  All the food groups represented and all with food my picky kids will actually eat.

1  Breakfast for lunch:  I am not sure why breakfast other times of the day is so much fun, but kids sure seem to think so.  You have a couple options in this category:  yogurt parfaits, send along a yogurt cup (packed with an ice pack), granola or cereal to add at school, extra fruit to dip, and sometimes I will even include a few candy sprinkles to make it extra fun.  Another option is just cold cereal, pack milk or have your child buy it in the cafeteria.