Tuesday, February 22, 2011

February Goals Update

It's time for another goals update! It's been nearly a month since our last update and I'm ready to share with you again how the LA Johnstons are doing on the 2011 goals we set. Just as a reminder, here are our goals:
Leanne's goals:
  • Hit magical goal weight by March 30th. - This magical goal weight is my happy weight - where I look good, my clothes fit well, and I feel great. I began the year about 6 pounds short of that goal weight after trying to attain it for 4 months.
  • Walk 300 days in 2011. - I didn't put a mileage goal on this because I wanted it to be attainable regardless of what life brings me this year. Walking 300 days out of the year should be very attainable.
Here are our family goals for 2011:
  • Family - visit family, have family visit, explore expansion of the Louisiana Johnston clan. 
  • Pay down debt by $25,000.
And here is Jarrod's goal for 2011:
  • Find an exercise that he doesn't hate. Stick with it.
I imagine most people have forgotten their new years resolutions by February 22nd, so I'm pleased to inform you that we've done really well staying on track with our goals. 
  •  Since January 1, 2011 I have successfully lost 7.6 5 lbs. I was 1 pound below my goal weight after the horrible stomach flu, but gained back 2.5 lbs once I started keeping down food again. I'm officially 1.6 lbs. away from my goal weight!
  • Since January 1, 2011 I have walked 43 days. That's 43 days out of 52. This means I'm walking an average of 82.6% of days and I should be walking 82% of days! Even better, I have walked the last 13 days in a row!!
  • Since January 1, 2011 we have visited one set of "family" and had more family visit us. About a week and a half ago, Jarrod and I visited our dear friends Renee and Mike in Atlanta. Last weekend my Aunt Pam and Uncle Marco visited us from Phoenix. Both trips were incredible, memorable, and helped us meet our goal of FAMILY 2011! 
  • Since January 1, 2011 we have paid off $3,750 in debt. We're getting behind on our goal, but we're still making good progress. We have some awesome things coming up this month and know we'll be able to continue to make some good progress. Sadly, unlike last month, now I know the truth - we're not getting any money back from the IRS. Instead, we OWE money TO the IRS this year. So sad. We're still making it, though! At least now, for the first time in my life, we make more money than we owe!
  • Since January 1, 2011 Jarrod has taken 6 yoga classes. He seems to really enjoy it. He hasn't had complete success turning off his mind, but I have seen improvement in his stress level. I hope that he keeps it up!
That is where we are right now, nearing the end of February! I cannot believe a week from today is March 1st! Time flies when you're having fun!
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Thursday, February 17, 2011


(from Rachael Ray)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
2 pounds ground turkey or ground sirloin
1 zucchini
2 carrots, peeled
1 onion, peeled
3 cloves garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons chili powder, 3 palm fulls
2 teaspoons ground cumin, 2/3 palm full
1 tablespoon coriander, a palm full
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup beef stock
6 (8-inch) flour tortillas - we use corn
3 cups shredded Chihuahua cheese or Monterey Jack
4 scallions, chopped
2 hearts romaine lettuce, chopped
3 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat a large high sided skillet over medium-high heat with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil. Add the meat and brown, 5 minutes. While meat browns, grate the zucchini and carrots with a box grater or shredder attachment on the food processor. Add the vegetables to the meat and shred in the onion and garlic. Season the meat with chili, cumin, coriander, salt and pepper and cook 7 to 8 minutes more to soften vegetables. Stir in beef stock. Grease a 8 by 13-inch baking pan with vegetable oil. Layer in 3 overlapping flour tortillas and top with 1/3 meat, 1/3 cheese. Repeat the layers twice and bake 10 to 12 minutes to brown cheese.

Top with scallions, lettuce and tomatoes, cut into squares and serve.

Notes: Don't have cumin, chili, and coriander? Use a packet of taco seasoning to season the meat! If you plan to eat this as left-overs, leave off the scallions, lettuce, and tomatoes until serving. We make the casserole and add these toppings each time we reheat.

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Huevos Rancheros

We love Bobby Flay so much that we recently combined two of his recipes: Green Chile Cheeseburgers and Huevos Rancheros. Jarrod made the Green Chile sauce that Mr. Flay is so famous for, I made our delicious black beans and fresh tortillas. We added a couple of fried eggs and had a magnificent and simple dish!

First the green chile sauce

2 poblano chiles, grilled, peeled, seeded, and chopped
1 medium white onion, grilled and chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped fresh epazote, or fresh oregano leaves
1/4 cup cold water
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.

We followed this recipe exactly with the minor adjustment of not grilling the onion. Anyone who has tasted a raw onion versus a cooked one knows that this is hardly minor. Jarrod didn't think the onion needed to be grilled - even when I told him that it did. Too much work, he said. Work that is well worth it! Next time we'll cook the onion! 

When frying the eggs, we like to do it with the green chile sauce in the pan as well. We just crack the eggs in a saute pan, pour some sauce on top, and cook sunny side up. While the eggs are cooking, place some black beans on the warm tortilla. When the eggs are done, just slide the egg and sauce on the beans. Jarrod likes to add cheese to his plate for additional flavor. Easy, delicious, and cost effective!
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Cinnamon Popcorn

I've mentioned before that Jarrod loves cinnamon. It's no surprise that the other day he picked a cinnamon sugar popcorn recipe for an afternoon snack. We found the recipe the way we find most recipes: by using the ingredient search on allrecipes.com. This feature allows you to search for recipes based on ingredients you want or don't want to use...or in our case have or don't have in the house. 

1 cup unpopped popcorn
1/3 cup butter
2/3 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

The actual recipe says to pop the popcorn in an air popper. We don't have an air popper so I popped it in the microwave. I could have done it on the stove, but that would have required more oil or butter. To pop it in the microwave I simply put it in a large non-plastic, microwave safe bowl and covered it with a large plate. I microwaved it for about 4 minutes, or until most of the kernels were popped. While the popcorn is popping, preheat the oven to 250 degrees F.

Once the popcorn was popped, I melted the butter on the stove and added in the sugar, cinnamon, salt and vanilla. I allowed that to simmer on the stove for several minutes on medium heat. This thickened the sauce up quite a bit. Once the sauce was thick, I poured it on the popcorn, mixed it up really well, and spread the popcorn on a baking sheet.

Place the baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, turn the oven off but don't open it. Wait an additional 20 minutes before taking the popcorn out. Break apart and eat. Store in an airtight container.

Notes: Next time I make this popcorn (and there will definitely be a next time!) I will mix up the sauce and the popcorn better. If you don't, the caramel/cinnamon mixture will clump up on the popcorn. I like it to be more evenly mixed.

This would be absolutely delicious at a cocktail party. It's sweet and unexpected.
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No-Bake Cookies

My family calls these No Bake Cookies "Little Blops." My mom, aunt, and grandma used to make them all the time. I haven't had them in years, although they were served at our wedding, and decided to make them tonight. I had some oats left over from when I made granola and it's been calling to me from the pantry to make Little Blops. 

These delicious cookies are super easy to make and even easier to eat!

1/2 cup milk
2 cups white sugar
3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3 tablespoons peanut butter
1/2 cup butter
3 cups rolled oats
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine milk, sugar, cocoa, butter and peanut butter. Stir and bring to boil over medium heat. Let boil for 1 1/2 minutes, do not stir. Remove from heat. Stir in oats and vanilla. Stir until oats evenly distributed. 

Drop by teaspoon onto waxed paper. Cool and eat all of them.
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Corn Tortillas

Jarrod and I are big Food Network fans. We love watching the Next Food Network Star, Diners Drive-ins and Dives, and Chopped. Our favorite Food Network personality is definitely Bobby Flay. We love his style and are always looking at his recipes online.

Recently we were inspired by Bobby Flay's southwest cooking style to make our own corn tortillas. I have no idea why we thought this would be a good idea, but we did. Last weekend we set out to get a tortilla press.

We'd looked at some at large chain stores but thought we could get a better deal if we tracked down a Spanish grocery. This weekend we found one and got our authentic press! We got great advice from the owner of the shop and a huge bag of masa, which I think will last us for the rest of our lives!

The tortillas are very easy to make. We've made them in small batches so far - 8 a few nights ago and 4 tonight. The masa is mixed with water and a little bit of salt, molded into balls, and pressed in the tortilla press. The man at the grocery gave us the great advice to cover the plates on the press with plastic wrap so that the dough doesn't stick. Great advice!

Once the dough is pressed, the uncooked tortillas are placed on a hot, dry skillet. They are cooked about 1 minute per side until they get a little crispy. Perfection!

The tortillas aren't like the ones you buy at the grocery store. They are very flexible and malleable - perfect for tacos or enchiladas!

The press was a bit of an investment, but it will pay for itself within a few months because we will never need to buy another bag of tortillas again. And we'll never have to throw away tortillas again either because we can just make what we need!
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Healthy Homemade Granola

I decided the other day that I was going to make homemade granola. I've made it before and not had much success, but wanted to give it a go. I've had some delicious granola on yogurt at our favorite yogurt place recently and wanted to see if I could recreate theirs at home.

After checking out several recipes on the internet and reading some reviews I decided to replace the oil for apple sauce to reduce fat and calories. After three batches, I think I've tweaked the recipe and created the perfect granola! It is a bit labor intensive, but deliciously worth it. Of course you can make substitutions, additions, or subtractions to fit your tastes.

4 cups of oats (not quick oats!)
2 tbs. sugar
2 tbs. cinnamon
2 cups unsweetened applesauce
4 tbs. honey
1 cup sunflower seeds
2 cups raisins
Dash of vanilla

Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Mix oats with sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Spread oats on one large or two small cookie sheets in a thin layer. Put the oats in the oven and toast, turning every 5 minutes. This should take about 15 minutes. While the oats are toasting, mix honey, vanilla, and applesauce in a small pan on the stove and heat for 5 minutes. Don't let it get too hot or simmer, we're just warming the sauce. Mix the oats, sunflower seeds, and applesauce in a large bowl. Put the granola mixture in a greased 9x13" pan and bake for 45 minutes or until golden and dry. Turn every 10 minutes or so. Put granola in a large bowl and mix in raisins while still warm. Allow granola to cool before putting in an airtight container.

Trust me when I say this is a delicious snack that I have to ration. The first batch that I made went on everything and disappeared very quickly! Now I know to put it in small snack bags to ration it out. I eat this as a snack on long work-outs, put it on cool whip with strawberries and mix it with cottage cheese for a high protein snack.

I also recently tried baking the granola into bars using a bar pan. They turned out fantastic! I didn't use raisins in this batch. 

Here are the nutritional facts for a 1/4 cup serving:

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Cinnamon Swirl Bread

Jarrod LOVES cinnamon. He puts cinnamon on cereal, toast, and loves any recipe that utilizes cinnamon. However, he absolutely hates raisins. He will not even consider a recipe that has raisins, even if I say that I'll leave them out. I didn't tell him about this recipe, I just made it one day. He loved it and never knew there were supposed to be raisins in the bread! I wish I could make this gluten-free for him to enjoy now!

Adapted from Cinnamon Raisin Bread
(Source: www.allrecipes.com) 

1 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons milk
2 tablespoons shortening (I used butter)
1 teaspoon salt
4 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons white sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup raisins (I omitted these…)

2 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon butter, melted
Place water, milk, shortening, salt, flour, sugar and yeast in the pan of the bread machine in the order recommended by the manufacturer. Select cycle; press Start.

Take dough out after first kneading cycle has finished. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and roll out into a rectangle. Spread dough with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. Roll dough, and divide into two parts. Place loaves in two lightly greased 9×5 inch bread pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Brush tops of risen loaves with melted butter and bake in preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until crust is brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped. I added honey and cinnamon to the butter to make the butter mixture more like icing.

We love this bread. It's perfect for breakfast or to bring along to a brunch. I've also made it as a small thank you gift or welcome present.
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Chicken Enchilada Soup

Rotisserie chicken was on sale this week so we searched through our recipes and found this oldie but goodie! We made our own chicken broth from a rotisserie chicken and used the dark and some light meat in the soup. I had this recipe years ago and used to make it all the time, but have since misplaced the recipe and go from memory...here’s my version of the recipe!

3 cups of chicken broth
1 can of cream of chicken soup
3.5 cups of water
1 can of Rotel – I use the real deal, but the mild or just stewed tomatoes would also be appropriate for kids with sensitive taste buds.
2 T worchestershire sauce
1 chopped onion
1 small brick of 2% velveeta
3 chicken breasts, cooked and sliced, shredded, or chopped
1 corn tortillas

In a large pot add the water, chicken broth, soup, rotel, worchestershire sauce, and onions. Bring to a low boil for 15 minutes. Add chicken and cubed velveeta. Be sure to turn the stove down to medium or low after adding the cheese and stir until it is all mixed in. Cut tortillas into strips and add to the soup. Simmer. You can add more tortillas on top if you’d like.

I serve this soup with corn muffins. For the chicken you can use 2 cans of canned chicken, 3 breasts of grilled chicken, 2 packages of fajita meat chicken, etc… I used most of the meat on a rotisserie chicken, but I’ve also grilled chicken breasts seasoned with taco seasoning and chopped. This definitely is a strange recipe to post in August and it's rare that we have soup in August, but it's just too good to only eat a few weeks of the year!
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Rice and Beans - Beans and Rice

Dave Ramsey is famous for encouraging those getting out of debt to eat nothing but beans and rice. Unfortunately for Jarrod, I take Dave Ramsey very seriously. We eat a lot of beans and rice at our house. Recently I've perfected the art of making a killer pot of black beans. I've shared the recipe with friends and thought you all out there would appreciate the recipe as well!

2 cups dry black beans
lots of water or chicken stock
1 can of Rotel
3 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce
Salt and Chili powder to taste

The first thing that you need  to do is soak the beans. Make sure that there is plenty of water in the bowl so that the beans are always wet. You might need to add more water after an hour or so of soaking. I typically soak the beans for 8-12 hours.

After the beans are soaked, put them in a large crock pot. You can also cook these beans on the stove, but they do need to be monitored for several hours, so a crock pot is definitely an easier way to go. Add enough water to cover the beans. Add salt and chili powder. Cook on low for a few hours.

Once the beans have been cooked for 2-3 hours, add in the can of Rotel and Worcestershire sauce. Continue to simmer for 4-5 hours or until beans are soft.

From here you can do a variety of things with the beans. You can blend them with an immersion blender to make black bean dip. You can also blend them and then cook them again to make refried black beans. Or you can do what we normally do - serve over rice!

We've eaten beans on plain rice, mexican rice - rice cooked with Rotel, or Quinoa. Jarrod absolutely loves nacho night and I can get him to eat beans if we have them on nachos. Put the beans on chips and add a ton of cheese and he's happy!
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Gorilla Bread

I first saw this recipe on Paula Deen's show in college. I was babysitting for a sweet family and the mom Tivo-ed the show for me because she thought the Gorilla Bread looked too delicious not to share. She was right! I immediately went out and bought a bundt cake pan so that I could make this.
After college I made it for two great friends and one of them said that this Gorilla Bread caused a mouthgasm. Yes. It's that good.
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese
2 (12-ounce) cans refrigerated biscuits (10 count) Don't get the flakey ones!
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts optional

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray. If you don't have a bundt pan you can use a loaf pan or another deep pan. Mix the granulated sugar and cinnamon. In a saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar over low heat, stirring well; set aside. Cut the cream cheese into 20 equal cubes. Press the biscuits out with your fingers and sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon sugar. Place a cube of cream cheese in the center of each biscuit, wrapping and sealing the dough around the cream cheese. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of the nuts into the bottom of the bundt pan. Place half of the prepared biscuits in the pan. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar, pour half of the melted butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle on 1/2 cup of nuts. Layer the remaining biscuits on top, sprinkle with the remaining cinnamon sugar, pour the remaining butter mixture over the biscuits, and sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup of nuts. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool for 5 minutes. Place a plate on top and invert.

These are absolutely delicious. The cream cheese is a delicious surprise. Unfortunately this cannot be easily prepared before and stored - it doesn't reheat well and doesn't sit well unbaked. It's wonderfully perfect for a brunch but will need to be prepared, baked and served immediately.
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Quick and Easy Hamburger Casserole

Get excited because I'm giving you another casserole recipe! I shared another one of our faves yesterday and thought I'd keep in the rhythm and share another one today. This recipe was shared with me by one of my dear friends who has little children. Her kids love this casserole and my husband does too!

2 c. uncooked macaroni (I use either protein rich pasta or whole grain pasta)
1 lb. ground beef or turkey
1 can tomato soup
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 med. green pepper, chopped
2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
1 c. French-fried onions
1 can diced Italian tomatoes, drained

Cook and drain macaroni according to instructions on box. Brown ground beef and green pepper; drain. Mix soups and meat in a large bowl. Add macaroni and stir. Place 1/2 mixture in a greased 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle with 1/2 cheese and onions. Top with remaining mixture and cheese. Bake at 350 for 25 minutes. Top with rest of onions and bake 5-10 minutes more.
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Breakfast Casserole

We love casseroles. I love them because they are easy, make good left-overs, and are easy to hide veggies in. Jarrod loves casseroles because they usually have meat, cheese, and potatoes.

A few weeks ago Jarrod and I decided to have breakfast for dinner. We always have left over Egg Beaters (usually the seasoned variety) and breakfast meat at the end of the week. Our plan was taken up a notch when we saw Paula Deen make a breakfast casserole with hash browns as the crust. All we needed was a potato and we were good to go!
1 potato
1 small carton of Egg Beaters
shredded cheese
breakfast meat (ham, bacon, sausage, turkey, whatever!)

Shred the potato. We use the shredder attachment on our food processor. Once the potato is shredded, squeeze the water out with a clean towel. It is important that all of the water is removed so that the potatoes don't turn brown.

Press the potatoes into the bottom of a greased 8x8" pan. Put the potatoes in the oven at 350 for about 10 minutes. While the potatoes are in the oven, cook up your breakfast meat. We have used sausage and ham, but anything will work. You can also use veggies if you'd rather. I've added fresh spinach, mushrooms, and green peppers.

When the potatoes are done and the meat has been cooked, add the meat to the casserole dish and layer it on the potatoes. Mix some cheese (I use a handful of shredded cheddar) with the egg beaters. Pour this on the meat. Top with cheese. Bake at 350 for 35 minutes or so until the eggs are fluffy and cooked thoroughly.
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Bacon-wrapped Sausage

The only thing better than sausage wrapped in dough - sausage wrapped in bacon! As you know, Jarrod loves meat. He'd eat bacon for every meal - his mantra: "Bacon is the food that makes other food better." It is not surprising that Jarrod is the one who found and makes this recipe regularly.

1 (12 oz.) package of little smokies
1/4 lb. bacon, sliced in half
3 tablespoons of brown sugar

Wrap the little smokies in the sliced bacon so that the bacon wraps around the sausage once, but not much more. Put on a baking sheet and sprinkle with brown sugar. Bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes or until brown sugar is caramelized and bacon is crispy.

You'd be surprised how quickly these little guys go at a party. Many people will say that they are disgusted with meat-wrapped meat, but people love this stuff!

Enjoy one for Jarrod!
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Pigs in a Blanket

This is less of a recipe as it is putting food together. My sister is not a chef, baker, or cook. She is good at putting things together, but doesn't enjoy cooking or following a recipe in any way. Pigs in a blanket are her favorites and she brings them to parties at our home fairly regularly.

The key to good pigs and good blankets is good sausages and good dough. We like hot little smokies and Pillsbury Crescent rolls. Ratios are to your own preference, but we typically use three little smokies per crescent roll.

After you roll out the dough and prepare the hot dogs, simply wrap the dogs in a little dough. Sometimes we like a full "sleeping bag" for the dog and sometimes we like just a little "nap mat." The size of the blanket can vary between each of the dogs.

Bake the blanket-ed dogs according to the crescent roll package. Serve the hot dogs with ketchup, mustard, honey mustard, or barbecue sauce. Enjoy!
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Green Bean Casserole

This recipe is one of our family staples. It came from an experiment that my sister-in-law made for dinner one night. She threw together the things that she had in her kitchen. My husband happened to be visiting them that night. After the meal he insisted that I get the recipe from her. I asked her several times and she never really knew what I was talking about. Finally it dawned on her - it wasn't a recipe, it was just ingredients she threw together! She told me how she did it and I have recreated it for my husband many times. It's easy, cheap, and the left-overs are still delicious!

Potatoes (I use Yukon gold. This time I think I cut 6)
1 can cream of mushroom soup
1 pound of fresh green beans (you can also use canned or frozen)
1 1/2 cup of shredded cheese (whatever kind you like. We usually use a mix of Cheddar and Monterrey)
1 pound of ground turkey
1 container of fresh sliced mushrooms
Seasoned salt and Worcestershire sauce to taste

Cut up potatoes and prepare water in a large pot. Remember, when cooking potatoes, you don’t want to wait for the water to boil. Add the potato pieces before the water gets warm. The pieces should all be approximately the same size.

Mix the blanched green beans and soup in a large bowl.

Start cooking up the ground turkey. Season the meat with whatever you like. We like Lawry’s seasoned salt and Worcestershire sauce.

When the meat is done, use a slotted spoon to remove from the pan and add it to the bowl with the green beans. Add the mushrooms to the same pan and saute until most of the water has cooked out.

When the potatoes are done, drain them and throw them in with the mushrooms. Toss them around and season them up with more Worcestershire sauce and seasoned salt. When they are adequately seasoned, throw them in the bowl. Mix everything up in the bowl and allow to cool slightly. Mix in some cheese. We like a lot of cheese, but I suppose you could just add a little. Maybe none, but what would the point in that be? :-)

Put it in a casserole dish and top with cheese. We used our Fiestaware dish, although we normally use a generic 9×11″ pan. Bake until the cheese is melted. We bake at 350 for about 20 minutes.

Update: I now eliminate the condensed soup and make a sauce out of 2 tbs. butter, 2 tbs. corn starch, 1 cup milk, and 1 cup cheese. I simmer this in the same pan after removing the meat and veggies. I pour this on top of everything and mix well and top with the remaining cheese. Sometimes I also mix the potatoes with Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper, and layer in a 9x13" pan and bake for 20 minutes rather than boiling them.
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Mexican Cornbread Casserole

This is a great casserole because it's easy to switch up the ingredients based on your tastes. I've made it vegetarian by leaving out the meat and adding more beans. Don't like beans? Add more meat and veggies. It can be made as spicy or mild as you desire.

1 can of kidney beans (drained)
1 can of creamed corn
1 can of rotel, diced tomatoes, or cup of your favorite salsa
1 can of diced green chiles
1 lb of turkey or beef
1/2 onion chopped
1 packet of taco seasoning
shredded cheese
2 boxes of Jiffy cornbread

Brown the meat with the taco seasoning. Add in the onions when the meat is almost done and cook until clear. Mix the beans, corn, chiles, and corn together in a big bowl. Add meat. Pour into a 9×13″ pan. Sprinkle cheese on top of mixture. Prepare cornbread mix according to box. Pour cornbread mix into pan on top of the meat/bean mixture. Bake according to cornbread box or until brown on top. Eat.

This recipe reheats very well and is delicious for days!
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Spinach and Artichoke Dip

One of our favorite appetizers is spinach and artichoke dip. We order it at restaurants all the time and a few months ago decided to give it a go at home. After a few attempts, we finally found a recipe with adjustments that was absolutely delicious!

1 (14 ounce) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
1 (10 ounce) package frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained
1 cup mayonnaise (we use Hellmann's Low Fat Mayo)
4 oz. (half a brick) cream cheese
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, separated
1 tsp. chili powder to taste

Mix the mayo, cream cheese, spinach, and artichoke hearts in a pan. Simmer on the stove until fully combined. Add the chili powder and 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese. Continue to simmer until the cheese is melted.

Add the dip to a small casserole dip. Cover with the rest of the Parmesan cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or golden brown. Serve with tortilla chips, veggies, and crackers. Enjoy!
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Portobello Pizzas

Jarrod and I used to love pizza nights. Either Thursday or Friday nearly every week we would make our own pizza. Each week it was something different... We'd use left-over chicken, alfredo and a cheddar blend or mushrooms, marinara, and mozzarella. We always looked forward to pizza nights.
We recently saw Rachael Ray make Portobello Pizzas and decided we needed to give them a go! She made them as an appetizer, but we decided we could easily make them as a meal and change up pizza night! If you want to see what Rachael did, click on the above link. If you want to see what we did, keep reading. We made a few minor adjustments to fit our life.

4 large portobello mushroom tops, stems removed and gills scraped and reserved
Extra-virgin olive oil, for liberal drizzling plus 1 tablespoon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pound turkey sausage (not in casing)
3 roma tomatoes
1/2 cup half & half
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 cup frozen spinach

Preheat broiler. Dress the mushroom caps with liberal drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Broil the portobello mushrooms 5 minutes on each side until tender.
While caps are broiling heat 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat, add sausage and brown and crumble the meat, then add spinach, garlic, mushroom gills, and tomatoes to skillet and cook another few minutes. Add half & half to skillet and reduce 2 to 3 minutes more.

Remove the sausage from heat. Fill mushroom caps and top with cheese, place under broiler to brown 2 to 3 minutes.

Absolutely delicious. If you like mushrooms, this is definitely a great recipe. The original recipe did not include the gills or spinach. We loved the tastes that both of these ingredients added. It also made the sauce go that much further. We had lots of extra to eat over pasta as left-overs!
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Corn Dip

I got this recipe several years ago from a friend. She handed me the recipe and told me to make it for a party at her home a few days later. Honestly, the recipe confused me. I thought it was something that should be baked and not served cold. I was not feeling the ingredients and didn't think I'd enjoy it at all. Great endorsement for this recipe, right? :-)

Since that first time, I've made this dip several dozen times. It is one of the most requested recipes - someone just last night told me to bring it to a party in a few weeks. It is easy, cheap, delicious, and people LOVE it!

3 (11 ounce) cans Mexican-style corn
1 (4 ounce) can diced green chiles, drained
1 (8 ounce) container sour cream
3/4 cup mayonnaise
10 ounces shredded Cheddar cheese
1 tsp. cumin

Drain the corn and the chiles. Mix ingredients in a large bowl. Chill for at least an hour before serving. Serve with vegetables, tortilla chips, Fritos, or crackers.

Note: This recipe makes more than enough for a HUGE party. If you don't need enough for 50, scale back the measurements.
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My Favorite Sandwich Bread

I love homemade bread. It is delicious as toast in the morning, as a sandwich with lunch, or made into cinnamon toast in the evening. When the Mr. and I were first married, I tried my best to perfect the homemade sandwich bread using my bread machine.

After literally months of trying various recipes and ingredients, I stumbled across this recipe for whole wheat rolls. I made the rolls for a friend and they were so delicious that I decided to use the recipe and adapt it to make sandwich bread. It's officially in my cook book as "Best Sandwich Bread EVER!"

It is time consuming because the bread rises three times - but it's so worth it! This bread is just fluffy enough but can stand on it's own for a delicious sandwich.

Here is the recipe with my comments. Give it a try and let me know what you think!


2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast (I buy the jarred yeast because it is more cost effective)
1 3/4 cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 teaspoon white vinegar (My addition)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled (occasionally I cut the butter by half and add 1/4 cup of apple sauce)
1 egg, beaten (I use egg beaters if we have them)
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Practice good mese en place while the yeast is standing and get your other ingredients together. Remember, the egg needs to be beaten and the butter needs to be melted and cooled.

Once the yeast is ready, start adding the wet ingredients, sugar, and salt. Stir them together before adding the flour. Slowly add the wheat flour while stirring. I use a hand mixer with the dough hook attachment. After the whole wheat flour has been mixed, slowly add the white flour a 1/2 cup at a time. When the dough ball starts to pull away from the bowl you will know you are done - sometimes it takes more than 2 1/2 cups and sometimes less. 

Turn dough out onto a well floured surface and knead until smooth, about 8 minutes. Lightly oil a large bowl, place dough in bowl and turn to coat. I use olive oil because I like the nutty flavor it gives the bread. Cover with a damp cloth, and let rise in a warm place for about an hour.  

Punch down dough, cover, and let rise in warm place for about 30 minutes.  

Punch down dough and roll on a well-floured surface. place dough in a greased loaf pan. I use a 2 lb. loaf pan that measures 5"x10"x3". Let rise uncovered in a warm place for 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake loaf until golden brown and done in the middle. It should take about 40 minutes but could take longer. Use a knife to test the middle before removing from pan and wrapping in a clean towel. This will hold in a lot of the moisture and keep your bread delicious! 

Of course once the bread is out of the oven cut yourself a delicious piece while it's still warm so that you can enjoy it immediately! 

Store in a well-sealed container. This bread can be frozen and defrosted. 
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Spaghetti Squash

I'd heard a lot about spaghetti squash from reading various blogs and recipe reviews. The Mr. and I love spaghetti but I hate the calories that whole wheat noodles have. Enter spaghetti squash! I was a bit intimidated by this vegetable at first and imagine some of you are too. But it is simple, delicious, and good for you!

First, I cut the squash in half. It's difficult to cut and has the consistency of a pumpkin so use a sharp knife. I scooped out the seeds in the middle and placed the squash halves face down on a baking sheet. I baked them in a preheated 350 degree oven for 45 minutes.

When I pulled them out of the oven and flipped over the halves, I saw this:

Everything I read about spaghetti squash online did not prepare me for what I saw. This doesn't look anything like spaghetti! :-) But I did what I had read...I scraped the insides out of the squash halves with a fork.

Now it's very easy to see why this squash got it's name! The fork easily pulled strands of this squash out...just like spaghetti!

We weren't adventurous enough to try the spaghetti squash alone, so we ate it as a side dish with sauce. It was delicious! I loved the texture that it has and paired with a great sauce, it takes on that taste. Of course Jarrod wasn't as keen on it and refused to eat it again... You know how he is about veggies!

I mixed it with my wheat spaghetti for a few days and finished off the squash. Delicious!

Next time I will probably add more salt to the squash pre-cooking because it lacks flavor and I think the salt would kick it up a notch.

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Grill Packets

Jarrod and I recently acquired a new grill. He was more than thrilled that he would have the opportunity to cook meat and make fire - two things men are born to do. One of our first grilling experiments was what we call Grill Packets.

Jarrod and I can usually agree on dinner choices, but the Grill Packets allows us to pick and choose what we eat - win! Plus, there's little to no clean-up and typically Jarrod does the cooking, which leaves me time to catch up on Say Yes to the Dress.

When Grill Packets finds its way to the weekly menu we go to the local produce stand and decide what seasonal veggies will make it into our packets. This makes creating a "recipe" tricky. Here's what our packets usually look like:

Jarrod's Meat Packet
Lots of sausage
Cubed red potatoes
Half an onion, roughly chopped
1 tbsp. veggie oil
1 tbsp. butter
Tabasco sauce
Seasoning (Typically Paul Prudhomme’s Magic)

Leanne's Veggie Packet

Half an onion, roughly chopped
Half a green pepper, roughly chopped
Cherry tomatoes
Red potatoes
Some chicken sausage
Any other seasonal veggies that look good at the produce stand
Worcestershire Sauce (I put it on everything)

We both wrap all these things up in heavy duty aluminum foil tightly. It's important to seal the packets up very tightly. I neglected to do this once. A few mushrooms didn't make it. 

Once they are wrapped tightly, throw those babies on the grill! Make sure it is pre-heated to high medium. Close the grill and set the timer for about 20 minutes. When the timer goes off, flip the packets (why it's important that they are well sealed!) and close the grill. Wait another 20 minutes before removing the packets from the grill. Let them cool for a few minutes before serving.

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Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Goal Weight

In January I got back on the weight loss train with one goal in mind - to be my magic weight (the weight where all my clothes fit perfectly but I can still eat food.) before we started trying for a baby. I was only about 6 lbs. away from my goal weight and knew I could do it. March was my goal - that's 2 lbs. a month, which is completely doable.

I even joined up with D'Lyn's weight loss Wednesday crew in hopes that the accountability would keep me from over indulging in cookies. I downloaded a free app for my ipod touch (Lose It!) to track my food and exercise. I've been very diligent about using the app everyday. In January I was down 2.2 lbs and was thrilled.

I knew that the Super Bowl party would try to take me down. Jarrod and I decided to bring a healthy snack option so that I would at least know that I could eat that without feeling guilty. Of course I also ate plenty of corn dip, homemade chocolate chip cookies, and brownie bites. I knew my weight loss would be stunted that week, but hoped to at least maintain and not gain weight this week.

Monday afternoon my stomach began giving me trouble. This happens from time to time, I thought nothing of it. I ate a good dinner with Jarrod - chicken spaghetti - and spent some time laying on the couch. By 8pm it was clear that I was sick. Violently sick. I will spare you the details, but you can be sure I'll never eat chicken spaghetti again. I've never been so sick.

In the morning I discovered that my sister was also sick all night. Strange, right? I posted my thoughts on facebook and slowly the rest of the folks at the Super Bowl party began commenting - they were violently ill too! Jarrod didn't come down with it until later on Tuesday afternoon, but he was definitely not spared from the violent illness.

One of our dear friends in this group is pregnant and went to the hospital to get checked out - turns out it was more than likely a virus. A terrible, horrible, take-down-everyone-in-it's-path virus. Seriously. It was awful.

On Tuesday evening at about 5pm Jarrod and I took dramamine. Courtney said it had helped her. In about 1 hour, we were both dead to the world. We slept on and off until about 10pm when we decided to call it a night. I woke up this morning groggy, but compared to the morning before, I was feeling wonderful.

So it's Wednesday morning and for the past many Wednesday mornings the first thing I've done after showering is to weigh myself. I knew this would be a pretty good number. I knew I was still incredibly dehydrated and the weight would come back, but after all I'd been through, I needed to see a good number on the scale.

5.4 lbs.

That was my weight loss from Wednesday the 2nd to Wednesday the 9th. Seriously. That's a heck of a lot of weight. In fact, that puts me a full pound below my target magic weight.

I'm definitely going to rehydrate myself and hope to feel 100% for next Wednesdays weigh-in, but for now, I'm basking in the glow of being the magic weight.

While this isn't the best commercial for our young adult group at church, I am so thrilled that I have a group of friends close enough that we all got a virus within 10 hours of each other. It's official - we're family! And hopefully they are all on the mend as well.
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Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Crazy and Spontaneous!

Jarrod and I rarely do anything spontaneous. We like things well-planned, organized, and thought out. Jarrod will deny that this is true for him as well, but you and I know it's true. It's not just me - he like a plan too! We did have some great success with crazy and impulsive back in July of 2008, but nothing since then!

On Thursday afternoon we were driving home from work - stressed after a long week, overwhelmed with church and work, and ready for a long weekend. We both had Friday off and were looking forward to a night in our jammies - just like always. As we turned into our neighborhood, I looked at Jarrod and knew we needed to get out for a little bit. I told Jarrod to think about what he wanted to do and that's what we do. We could get wild and crazy! We didn't have anywhere to be for about 24 hours!

I threw out some ideas:
  • Go into the city for dinner/music/drinks, etc. 
  • Drive to Mississippi and go to the casinos. 
  • Go out to dinner in Slidell. 
  • Whatever the heck he wants to do!
I wanted to do something different - something that would take our minds off of our mundane lives.

We got home, played with the animals, freshened up, and hit the road! I took Jarrod to a restaurant I hadn't been to in years - The Old Coffee Pot. It's right near Preservation Hall and Pat O'Briens. As soon as we got into the city we were greeted with a marching band playing in the street. We wandered, enjoyed a great meal, walked around, listened to music, and were still home and in bed by 10pm!Here are some pictures I took on my ipod while we were in the city.
That's us in the mirror above the piano. Front row, baby!
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