Thursday, September 26, 2013

Maple Sweet Potato Hash

Most days I wake up and my first thought is food. Especially on days off. I like to sit back and think about all the wonderful things I can create in the kitchen. Some days that results in cooking everything in the house some days it is hours of recipe searching to find the perfect recipe to master.

More often than not though I am not focused on breakfast. I have never been one that has been too hip on the meal. I guess because most breakfast foods didn't appeal to me for a very long time. I never liked sugary breakfast cereals, or cereals at all for that matter they got soggy. You wouldn't see me request oatmeal or cream of wheat or grits if my life depended on it. ( Even though my years in the South that could be considered sacrilege.) I absolutely LOATHED pancakes and waffles and anything deemed syrup worthy. I guess it all comes down to my taste palate. I have and always will be a savory over sweet type of gal. 

But as I have grown up I have come to enjoy the things that I once opted out of, I have learned how to incorporate some of these dishes into my dietary arsenal. Why you may ask. Well for one thing, one of the best parts about cooking for me is sharing it with those I love. The people I love, love pancakes and cinnamon rolls and other breakfast treats. Another thing, I couldn't stand not cooking something or having a recipe for something as simple as a pancake. So even though I will still choose a bagel and cream cheese over a stack o' cakes I have still learned some things breakfast wise that I keep on hand. 

(Also I guess it's not completely awful to not love all these really bad for you breakfast items, but it sure does make mornings awkward when someone has taken the time to prepare for you a breakfast made with love and you deny it.) 

Anyways this dish would be perfect for any meal, I opted to make it a breakfast because when I woke up the other day I had all the ingredients on hand and decided to start my day with it. It is the perfect combination of savory and sweet so a win win in my book. I found it the other day on under her favorite Fall recipes and had to try it. Especially given that my roommate is the biggest sweet potato eater I have ever met I knew it would be good for both of us. 

Maple Sweet Potato Hash
Serves: 2
Cook Time: 20 minutes

1 sweet potato (cubed into bite sized pieces)
1/4 onion (chopped)
1/4 lb breakfast sausage ( I used maple flavored Jimmy Dean's, any flavor will work)
1/2 T. butter
salt and pepper to season
1 -2 tsp. maple syrup
2 eggs (optional)

The first thing you want to do is wash and slice you sweet potato. ( I had at first planned on using two but decided I only needed one.)

Next you want to cube the sweet potato into bite sized pieces. 

(Ignore the cruddy picture quality.)

You then want to boil your potatoes for about four minutes just to make them a bit tender. Strain them and set them aside. 

Cook your sausage in a pan and break into small chunks. I always buy a chub of sausage but you can use links. You only need about a 1/4 of a lb. for a two serving recipe so a quarter of a chub. 

After you cook the sausage make sure you set it aside on a paper towel to drain off the excess fat. 

In the same pan that you cooked the sausage in add your 1/2 T. of butter. (In the Iowa girl eats version she also used 1/2 T. of oil but I wanted to lighten this just a little and noticed that I had plenty of leftover grease from the sausage to use as cooking fats for the potatoes and onions but do what you would like here. I just hate using extra dishes in the kitchen!) Add in your potatoes and chopped onion and season with salt and pepper to taste. Cook about 5-7 minutes.

Next add in your sausage and if you want to ( like I did) scoop out a hole in the center and crack a couple of eggs in there. Cover and cook until the eggs are done to your liking. Drizzle on a little bit of maple syrup on the potato, sausage and onion mixture and let it cook in for about another 2 minutes and serve hot! 

This is a quick and easy indulgent and hearty anytime meal. It is packed with protein and carbs so a great post workout meal with just enough sweetness to make ya smile. While I wouldn't recommend eating it often because it is high in fats and sugars it is a simple wow your guests or family meal. 

As always enjoy!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Night Dinner

Sundays are a day of rest right? During the Fall and Winter months they consist of a lot of football watching for some, for others a day to praise the Lord and for some a day in which you get together with your family and your friends (who have also become your family) for dinner.  For me, I remember years and years of Sundays which consisted of all of the above.

When you spend 6+ years living in North Dakota you have to have these traditions in order to survive. Because let's be honest there isn't much to do in that cold state. On these occasions a different family would host at their homes each week and everyone pitched in. There was always a great meal, lots of kids running around and more laughter than you could even think possible. I can pinpoint my love of cooking to many distinct moments in my life that have a lot to do with my mother, but I will forever hold dear those Sunday nights in my heart.

( I mean who can resist this really?)

Still today I use recipes that I learned from these families. Kerry's top secret Lemon Poppyseed bread, Christina's Chicken Tortilla Soup, Beth's Homemade Oreo's and Jenn's Italian specialties. These are just a few of my many, many favorites (and some of my top requested dishes from friends,) but along with each of these is a special woman who has taught me a lot in life, along with offering constant support of my dreams as long as I can remember.

So after a very long two weeks at work in which I have gone back to back in overtime, I was left wishing to fill my Sunday evening off with a touch of home.

I turned to an old favorite and again tweeked the recipe. Anyone who has ever had this at my house can attest that it is never the same twice and tonight was no exception. Tonight's spin on spaghetti and meatballs was exactly what I needed.

I believe this originally comes from Christina and then to my mother and then to me. We all do it differently and we all do it superbly.

Tonights version was a fast version with fresh ingredients.

Spaghetti and Meatballs (Quick) 
1 T. olive oil
3/4 of a large onion (chopped)
10 cloves of garlic (chopped) ( I LOVE GARLIC)
2 bunches of parsley
salt and pepper to taste
2 T. sugar
1 1/2 c. of shredded parmesan cheese
2 15oz cans tomato sauce
5 tomatoes
1 lb ground beef (80/20)
1/2 c. italian breadcrumbs
1 egg

For the sauce:

Start with your base of onion and garlic.

Peel and chop finely.
(For the sauce use half to the onion and 8 cloves of garlic and reserve the other quarter of the onion and 2 cloves of garlic for the meatballs.)

Saute over medium heat in your olive oil. 

Add in your salt, pepper and sugar, stir and let simmer until they turn golden brown.
(Remove 1/4 c. for meatballs and set aside.)

Wash your tomatoes.

Chop to your desired chunkiness.

Add tomatoes and sauce to your garlic and onions.

Chop up one bunch of parsley.

Stir into sauce.

Add half cup of parmesan cheese and cover pan. 

For this fast version I cooked the sauce on medium high heat for about 2 hours stirring constantly. Normally I will let the sauce sit all day and simmer in my crock pot. ( That version is much better, but for the sake of a quick version I sped up the process. If you have time though do the crock pot version. I will share that recipe at a late date, it involves more spices but both are just as tasty.)

For the meatballs:

Mix together your ground beef, reserved sauteed onion and garlic mixture, your breadcrumbs, 1 cup of cheese, 1 bunch of chopped parsley, your 1/4 of an onion and 2 leftover cloves of chopped garlic. I mix with my hands to really combine the ingredients. 

For into the your desired size meatball.

Cook at 350 degrees until cooked through. (Small meatballs about 10-15 minutes larger sized meatballs (like shown here) 20-25 minutes.)

Add to sauce to simmer until you serve ( I let them sit in the sauce for about half an hour before I ate them.) 

Serve atop your favorite cooked pasta or use for meatball subs. Sprinkle with extra parmesan cheese and enjoy! 

From my family to yours I hope you enjoy.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Comfort Food / Easy Southern Banana Pudding

For me one of the greatest elements of cooking is the story behind the dish. Everyone in the world can name one thing that they absolutely love. For me there have easily got to be thousands. But regardless of how many dishes someone loves there is always a reasoning behind it; 'My mom made this for me growing up', 'This is the first thing I ate in a new country', 'This is the first thing I learned to cook myself', 'This is a combination of a bunch of my favorite ingredients.' Etc. Etc. No matter the reason there is always going to be a go to food and there will always be memories associated with that food.

Now I will admit that sometimes I neglect some of these amazing dishes and it takes a request of a friend to stir up all those nostalgic feelings associated with it but when they do come back I am consumed by them. A buddy of mine at work brought up his desire for me to make him banana pudding.
Now this is 1) something I have never made before (very odd considering how much I love it) 2) something that intimidated me a bit (refer to number 1) 3) something I haven't had in years! So after a month or so of obsessing and much research I decided simplest was best. But before we get to that lets talk about why this is high on my comfort foods list.

Where are you from? An easy enough question to be asked right? Well when you are a military brat and you have parents who are divorced and remarried you spend a good amount of your life moving around. I do not at all mean that in a negative way. I wouldn't trade the way I was raised or the 20+ places I lived in my life for anything. But it does make that question a little more complicated. As a person of this background though you find a way to make some place home. You adapt ( and you learn to do it quickly at that.) You learn that a home is where your family is (and when you grow up and live on your own, you learn that you carry them with you in your heart and they are never more than a phone call away and that that can make any place seem like home.) Hey it's not for everyone but you do learn to cope and you make the best of it.

Now what does this have to do with comfort food. Well a good amount of my younger years I grew up in Georgia and if want to spoil a kid on cafeteria food for the rest of their life let them eat at Rincoln Elementary School for a couple of years and they will be shot. That was some of the best cafeteria cooking I had ever experienced. But my love for banana pudding doesn't come from there. It does however come from years of living in the south. If you want to talk about some easy southern decadence that is it. This shows up at so many parties and is a regular staple dessert item on most menus. Not only is it absolutely delicious there are many many ways of doing it. But I found the way I like best is with Nilla wafers. ( Besides who doesn't love a dessert you can put together in a little over five minutes?)

Anyways banana pudding is and will always be a reminder of my home in Georgia. I am sure that I will experiment around with other ways to make this in the future but in all actuality why mess with a good thing? This quick and simple dish is definitely one to keep on hand for a party or for a little reminder of home.

Southern Style Banana Pudding

( See I stole this recipe to share with you right off this here box)

3 cups cold milk (I used skim and it tasted great)
2 packages of vanilla instant pudding ( I used French Vanilla)
30 Nilla wafers ( I didn't count, but roughly this seems right)
3 bananas
1 tub Cool Whip ( I used fat free here too, also delicious)

First whisk your pudding mixes into your cold mix. When thoroughly mixed let sit for five minutes to set. Line the bottom of your bowl with sliced bananas and nilla wafers. Pour some of the pudding mix on top and relayer again with bananas and wafers. Do this until you are out of pudding and top with Cool Whip.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Jessica does Juicing

So as this year develops I become more and more dedicated to the health and well being of my body. Since it is what I have decided I would like to do with the rest of my life is focus on the health and well being of others through the medium of food, I have been doing some soul searching with my own if you will.

Heck I even ran my first 5k this weekend! Me the girl who once loathed running so much she said she would never be caught dead doing that as a form of exercise let alone for FUN?!

Check this out though, it was a color in motion run in D.C. it supported the fight against childhood obesity and during the run they throw powdered paint at you and at the end you get to look like a rainbow! It was a freaking blast! (Even though admittedly it was not my best run to date, it was my first and I still did it so there!)

Here are some pictures of the fun!
7 A.M. on the metro don't I look pumped!

The gals I did the race with and some of the randoms (there were soooo many people there!)

My name twin Jess who has been trying to get me to race with her forever. She is an avid runner and just did a half marathon (talk about intimidating) but alas I couldn't have asked for a better support system for my first race!

So that was pre race fun, oooh also check out this fun video we did as a warm up.

And now for the post race pics where we are absolutely covered!

Now don't you wanna go sign up for one yourself?

Okay if not that's cool too but I highly suggest it! 

Anyways where were we? Oh yea...

So when I was bored the other day I opted to watch a documentary that a friend had recommended called Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead (it is available on Netflix instant for those interested in checking it out.) It is a documentary about juicing. Now I would not say I am anywhere near the condition of the participants in the video, but I will say it had me curious. This is definitely an extreme fad diet that has caught the attention of a lot of people. Even after initial viewing of it I decided I wanted to try out a 7-10 day fast. Heck they do it all over the world, why shouldn't I give it a try?

But I did have some concerns. The first being a fruits and veggies fast does sound like a great idea but what about dairy, protein and essential carbs and fibers to keep you going throughout your day?? I then decided that I would juice for breakfast and dinner and keep a solid meal in the middle of my day. That was also aided in the thought process of yes it would be cool to shed a few lbs while doing this but how much is that going to suck to simply gain them all back when you go back to solid foods. I don't want this little experience to be negative and I feel like it could yield some negative thoughts if/when that were to happen. So a meal in the middle sounded solid. Okay so onto the next issue.

This deals with the first juice I made. So I will segue into that for a few minutes.

First of all I must admit that going to the grocery store with the sole intent of only buying produce for juicing was a freaking blast! I have read up a lot of the subject and of course explored oodles of recipes out there before doing this. So I wanted to pick up a good amount of what I was used to produce wise and a few odds and ends pieces that I wouldn't normally incorporate into my diet. Heck that is the whole point of juicing anyways to introduce your body to nutrients it isn't used to and to be consuming them in the first place!

So here is what I came away with!

1 bunch of kale
1 bunch of celery
1 pack of carrots
3 lemons
3 beets
1 bunch of parsley
6 kiwis
3 tomatoes
3 cucumbers
3 red pears 
1 pineapple
Also pictured are a bunch of clementines that I had in the fridge. 

Let the juicing fun begin right!?!

Okay so for my first juice I wanted to do something healthy. A lot of what I read said to not start with a green juice because it just isn't the best one to start with but I kind of ignored that. I love vegetables I always have. So I can definitely do a green juice to start why not?

Oh yeah, because it was going to taste like drinking vegetables. Part of the appeal of veggies is that satisfying crunch that they offer or the freshness to a meal that they provide. So I guess for me that was a little bit lost.

This is what I put in my first ever homemade juice.

Green Juice

1 piece of kale
1 red pear
1 stalk of celery
1 kiwi (peeled)
1 carrot
1 whole cucumber
1 tomato

Wash produce thoroughly and press through juicer. Push the kale through in the middle of the other ingredients. Stir at the end and serve immediately. 


Okay so this juice really wasn't bad. Perhaps a little harsh for a first juice but really fresh. In retrospect I know I was too excited about juicing to not press out some of my loot after buying it all and washing it and packaging it for the week ahead. I mean come on check out this process.

Carefully washing and chopping veggies in half so they fit in bags is not a quick process. Easy and great in the long run but it does take some time. 

So while it didn't have that wow this tastes amazing factor like the next recipe I will share I didn't exactly set it up for success not being real hungry and starting out with an intense healthy juice to begin with. 

Okay so let's go back to the issues I personally have with juicing. If this one wasn't staring me in the face dooming this whole endeavor I don't know what was. 

So when I woke up this morning and all I could think about was preparing a nice meal and remembering that I was determined to try out the juicing thing I was disappointed. One of my favorite things about food is the process of preparing it. Trying new things and getting that recipe just right is something I live for. So I had talked myself into the juice for this morning but ultimately looking forward to lunch and prepping a meal was lingering in the back of my head. Don't get me wrong with juicing there is preparation but it just isn't the same I suppose. 

I did make a pretty fantastic breakfast juice though.

Tropical Fruit Juice
3 clementines (peeled) 
2 kiwis (peeled)
1 lemon (peeled) 
2 carrots
1 stalk of celery
2 slices of pineapple

Make sure your produce is washed thoroughly and non edible skins are peeled off. Push through your juicer and serve immediately. This juice would taste even better served over ice!

As you can tell this one was a hit! I didn't even have time to snap a picture before I started drinking it. I was just thankful that the juice left remnants on the cup so that I had something to show for the color of it. 

So two juices down and many more to go and my philosophy on juicing is already shaped towards the more informed and still quite intrigued. 

I have decided that I am not going to jump on the fad band wagon, well completely that is. I am going to try and incorporate juicing into my life more regularly. I like the idea of it for breakfast and even as a healthy snack. But I don't think that it should be a meal replacement (especially for foodies like me! )

It is a great way to incorporate more nutrients into your diet and to consume fruits or veggies that you might not normally consume. Because as you can see with one juice you can really put so much in there that you may not normally eat in one sitting!

Another pro that I saw in this whole juicing experiment was the ability to be full but also cut out processed foods. That being one of the main drives behind this experiment to eat cleaner really gave me some momentum so I will be keeping that in mind as I go along. 

All in all one of the most important things to me with my health is to not restrict myself and I think that that is exactly what I was setting myself up for. Failure to stick with a crazy fad diet. I believe in a healthy balance of moderation and indulgence. But I do think that when you take anything new on in your life that you should do it gradually and it should be a lifestyle change not a temporary shift in order to see quick results.

So yes I will keep the juicing around, because it does offer a lot of pros. But no I will not being doing it in a dramatic way. Heck I did just buy the juicer I don't want to only use it this week!

Oh and if you are curious about that or interested in juicing (even if it is to just have some fresh OJ or Lemonade on hand!) yourself I would highly recommend this baby. 

It was really well priced at $99.00 (in comparison to others that can run you upwards of $200)
I have only used it for myself so far. If you want to use this for a family or have a juicer on hand that you can use for entertaining purposes I would get a bigger model. (Unless you don't mind cleaning out the pulp a few times in the process to make a larger batch, which isn't hard to do but could get tedious.) It has a powerful engine and easily handles juicing whole fruits and veggies super fast! It is very easy to clean and to maintain the integrity of the juicer I have only hand washed it so far. But it does say that it is dishwasher safe. ( I would only keep that to your upper rack though.) 

Happy Juicing!