Monday, February 28, 2011

Menu Plan Monday


Happy Monday!  I'm sitting here trying to think of new things for this week and I'm drawing blanks... menu planning is hard y'all.  If you have some recommendations for me, PLEASE comment on this post and share them with me.  I'd appreciate it, since all I have so far is baked "fried" chicken and sweet potato fries.  :-/

I'll go ahead and tell you that we had some really delicious things this past week.  I tried a few new recipes I'd seen online, and lo and behold, my husband admitted that I'm now a much better cook than him.  That is huge.

Monday:  Slow cooker pot roast with carrots, potatoes, mushrooms and onion
Tuesday:  Mexican chicken nachos with homemade salsa (I will never buy jarred salsa again - yummy!)Wednesday:  Breakfast for dinner - Biscuits & gravy, scrambled eggs, grits and turkey bacon
Thursday:  Tortellini Soup with Italian cheesy garlic bread
Friday:  Broiled parmesan tilapia, roasted asparagus, and slow cooker mashed potatoes
Saturday:  Chinese take-out
Sunday:  Spaghetti

Dessert:  Orange Crush Poundcake  (my grandmother's recipe that has been one of my absolute favorite things in the world since I was little). 

Out of everything, the tortellini soup and mashed potatoes were our biggest shockers.  I wasn't expecting them to be nearly as good as they turned out to be.  For the soup, it doesn't get much easier and it's pretty healthy for you too.  Win-win.  Buy a loaf of Italian bread and slice it up, sprinkle it with butter, garlic powder and parmesan cheese, then toast for a few minutes.  Talk about a hearty & filling meal... so yummy!

For the potatoes, they were honestly the best I've ever had.  Nathan nominated me to be the new mashed potato maker at all our future family gatherings, and luckily, the recipe is adaptable for huge quantities.  I made them with a 3 lb bag of red skinned potatoes, thinking that we'd have plenty for leftovers... yeah, not so much.  Tyler and Caroline loved them, and I was blown away that after an entire lifetime (their's, not mine) of people trying to shove "taters" down their throats, they finally enjoyed them.  (Maybe I'm the only one whose family really wanted to give tastes of everything when they were little bitty?  It used to drive me insane, but that's neither here nor there :).  *And family members reading this, don't get mad, you know it's true!

For the recipes that I linked above, I followed them basically as they were.  With the tilapia, I have a personal issue with mayonnaise (*barf*) so I substituted it with sour cream.  I also added some italian bread crumbs to the topping mixture to keep it more together when placed on the fish.  It was yummy.  With the potatoes, the recipe calls for butter to be added at the end but I didn't think they needed any.  If you make these (and you should, tonight), definitely taste them before you make any changes.  When boiling the potatoes initially, I also only used 2 cubes of chicken boullion because it's all I had.  Didn't seem to make a difference at all.

So that was our week.  I'm serious about your suggestions for this week, though, so let me have them!  :)

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Best Baked Ziti, ever.

After several of you asked for this recipe, I thought I'd just add it here to make it easier.  (Sorry that I don't have some mouth-watering photo to accompany it since that's what real bloggers do, but I'm not a cooking blog so there.  :)  Hope you enjoy!

Baked Ziti  adapted from allrecipes.com

1 lb dry penne pasta (I like a denser noodle than actual ziti)
2 tbsp EVOO
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp rosemary
1 tsp thyme
1 tsp oregano
1 lb ground beef or turkey
32 oz spaghetti sauce (Don’t skimp on getting a great sauce! The one I use is cheap but awesome… It’s Aldi’s brand called “Grandessa,” Cheesy Spinach flavor)
¾ cup sour cream
¾ cup cottage cheese
1 cup Italian blend shredded cheese (Parmesan, Romano, Mozz)
1-2 cups Mozzarella

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, cook pasta 8-10 minutes until al dente. Drain and set aside.

2. Heat EVOO in a large skillet and add diced onions, stirring until soft. Add minced garlic, rosemary, thyme and oregano, stirring about 3 minutes. Transfer to small bowl.

3. Place ground beef or turkey in the skillet and brown over medium-high heat. Drain any excess fat and then add onion/garlic mixture. (I let this cook an extra minute or two). Add in spaghetti sauce, reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least 10 minutes.

4. In a bowl, mix together the sour cream, cottage cheese and Italian blend shredded cheese.

5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9x13 baking dish.

6. Add cooked pasta to the pot of simmering sauce and thoroughly mix together.

7. Add half the pasta/sauce mixture to the baking dish and cover with the sour cream/cottage cheese blend. Layer the remaining pasta/sauce on top and evenly cover with shredded mozzarella.

8. Bake about 20-30 minutes (or until all cheeses are melted), then turn the oven to broil and brown the top (about 2 minutes, but keep a watchful eye!)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The time we ran through sprinklers in February

I apologize in advance to any of you residing in an unfortunate state of snow at the moment (since apparently there are such places in the winter), because this post may make you hate me.  Some how, we've happened to have an unbelievably warm few weeks.  I thought it was a fluke, but maybe this is what we've earned by putting up with the slap-your-mama-hot-summers in Columbia?  Spring in February?  Whatever the reason, I will take it, please and thank you.

In the past few days, we've unpacked the summer clothes and flip flops and enjoyed 80 degree days in our backyard.  It has been AWESOME.  What I've learned about my kids is that they are without a doubt, "outside" people.  As in, they throw fits of rage (tantrums are not just for two year olds) when I make them come inside, regardless of how long we've been out there.  We now have "play clothes" that exist for the shear delight of getting as muddy as possible in one of the many mud holes we've dug outside, since shoveling mud and dumping it over our heads is super fun.  My mom always talks about how prissy I was as a child, and couldn't even stand to let food touch my bare hands without crying, so I'm guessing Tyler & Caroline are taking a lot after Nathan when it comes to this kind of thing.  The only thing that is funny is how Caroline will sit down in the dirt, play all in it, then look at me like "oh no!  get this off my hands!  now!"  She will not be satisfied until all grass/dirt/nastiness has been removed, at which point she'll head right back over and do it again.  Tyler loves the dirt so much that he tries to eat it when I'm not looking.  Bleh.





You see that?  That's dirt-drippage from his mouth.   


After throwing sticks with Connor and playing in all the dirt we could stand, Nathan decided to drag out the sprinkler and see what would happen.  We weren't really even sure if it would work, but alas, it did...








It pains me to think that our beautiful weather may only last a few months (if that) before the humidity sets in and we're struggling to breath outdoors.  Mosquitoes are already out & about, judging from my body, so it's just a matter of time.  For now, we're loading up the Off spray and sunscreen and making the most of it!  Woohoo!

*Side note:  This was the day that Nathan and I decided to take the plunge and invest in a serious DSLR camera.  I was frantically chasing around everyone trying to get "just one good shot!" with my slow point & shoot, and we both realized that we're missing loads of memory-making-photos because we have a slow little camera.  Too bad we didn't think of this back in August when my other slow little camera died, because the $100 or so we put towards the one we have now seems almost a waste.  I know I've asked this before, but if you have a DSLR that you absolutely love, can you share it with me?  What do you love about it?  I'm not a photography buff in the least, so I need one that's super amateur-friendly!  Thanks!

Monday, February 21, 2011

Meal Plan Monday


So this week was a little bit "all over the place."  Valentine's Day and Dirty Thirty Day didn't lend much to sweating over a hot stove. 

Here's what went down this week-
Monday: Moe's  (I was craving it, so all four of us spent the sweetheart holiday in a Mexican fast food joint.  Romantic, no?)
Tuesday:  Baked Italian Pork Chops, Cheesy Cauliflower, Italian Salad
Wednesday:  Veggie Burgers & Corn for the little ones, RUTH'S CHRIS for the big ones!  Stuffed Mushrooms, Lettuce Wedges, Filet Mignons, Mashed Potatoes, and Dessert on the house.  Happy Birthday to meeeeeeee!Thursday:  Hamburgers & Hot Dogs on the Grill with Baked Waffle Fries
Friday:  Baked Ziti & Salad  *This was AMAZING.  If any of you want the recipe, comment below, otherwise I'll not waste my time and put off the Bachelor any longer :)
Saturday:  Leftovers (Nathan was on call, so I could get away with this pretty easily)
Sunday:  CreamyTaco Mac for lunch, Ginger Chicken & Broccoli with Rice for dinner.

On the baking front, I whipped up a Paula Deen inspired peanut butter pie, strawberry cupcakes, and blueberry muffins (we had a lot of extra berries in the fridge that no one seemed interested in eating).  I think I need to start limiting myself now that I'm 30... the metabolism thing is going to catch up with me here in a few hours or so.

OH!  And before I forget, CONGRATULATIONS PHINNEYGIRL!  Since I heard from all but one of the Chiquita winners, I went ahead and used random.org to pick another winner.  Please send me your shipping info at thesimstwins@gmail.com :)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Last Call

Nudge, Nudge to the two winners of Chiquita Mom packages that I haven't heard from yet...
If I haven't gotten your shipping info by Monday I'll have to pass them on to someone else.

*And thanks to the few folks who wished me a happy birthday on Wednesday! :)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Dawn of a New Decade

As of 7:58 am, I'm offically 30 years old.  I would say it just doesn't seem right to be out of my twenties, but who really cares about that when you wake up to this every day? 


I should be 30.  Thirty year old people can have precious twin toddlers and a wonderful husband... and wine glasses like these...

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

16 Months

A day in the life of 16 month old toddlers is exciting.  We get out of bed every morning between seven and eight, and first things first, nursing occurs.  I still can't believe we are in the nursing camp, but it's been harder than I imagined to wean.  It's just so easy to keep going.  After that, we change diapers and clothes and head downstairs to start the day. 

Sometimes, this is my favorite part of our day.  We're usually all in good moods, and I get to choose my caffeinated-beverage-of-choice for the morning while deciding what to cook everyone for breakfast.  These days, it's an easy decision...  EGGS.  Eggs with french toast, or maybe eggs with pancakes.  Usually eggs with fruit.  Thanks to a sweet friend of mine, a scrambled egg recipe that involves cottage cheese has swept over our household and you'd think it's the best thing since sliced bread.  Apparently, according to Caroline and Tyler, it's much better than sliced bread.  This morning they inhaled three eggs (made with 1/3 cup cottage cheese) as well as a few pancakes.  I have been quite amazed lately at the massive amount of food these tiny tots put away, and I still believe it has to do with the fact that they're sitting at the table and using plates.  They are so over being babies.

After breakfast, we clean the kitchen up and play some more.  Mostly on the stairs, because that's their favorite place to be right now.  Yesterday we played with our monster bowling set for at least 30 minutes, making the monsters climb up and down and up and down.  You'd think that would get old, but when you hear the sweetest-little-belly-laughter-in-the-world, it doesn't. 

Speaking of bellies, they are the most often publicly-displayed body part in our household.  Anytime I decide that my back needs a break, I'll just lay out across the floor and let them trample over me for a bit.  What they've discovered while down there, though, is my belly button.  Not only is that super fun to poke, but Tyler is especially fond of blowing on my belly and making funny noises... which I suppose he's learned from me doing to him.  That child is a sponge, I tell you!  Aside from my own belly, they really love to poke at theirs.  If I ask them where their belly button is, they can't wait to pull their shirts up and point to it.  Right now, they can tell you where most any body part is (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, fingers, toes), but none of those seem nearly as much fun.

On the language front, more and more words are coming out but no attempts at phrasing.  They are great at copy-catting, and anytime I say something they'll try to say it too.  Tyler's favorite words are hi, hey, bye, daddy, mommy, and "Tyyyyyy" (which is what he does when we say his name).  He is also very fond of pointing and shouting "uhhhhhh!"  Caroline's words aren't quite as pronounced, but she has a constant running chatter of nana, mama, dada, and dat (that).  Just this morning before naps, I asked her if she needed a diaper change and she said "yeah!"  I almost fell over it was so cute.

Back to the daily grind... after breakfast and more play time, we head upstairs for their one nap of the day (usually around 11am).  Sometimes they sleep for more than two hours, sometimes they sleep for 30 minutes.  It just depends on how lucky I am that particular day, because there's really no rhyme or reason to it.  I don't complain though, because now that they're sleeping so well at night I don't feel like they're missing tons of much-needed sleep.  We do still nurse to go down for the nap, and I may attempt to wean them off this sooner than later if possible.  Again, it's just so easy since it's been our routine all along. 

After naps, it's lunch/play/errands/outside time.  This is the part of the day that we leave super unstructured, and almost every day of the week we are either playing with friends, going to our meetup group events, or running to the grocery store.  I can't brag on my kids enough regarding the fact that they are AMAZING in all of these situations.  I seriously get stopped by people all the time who just want to comment on how "good" they are.  When playing with other children they're super sweet as well, and my friend Andrea commented yesterday on how it's rare to find toddlers who don't act mildly aggressive towards one another.  Tyler and Caroline are much more aggressive with each other (they'll take toys from one another and play roughly at times), but I've honestly never seen either of them act anything but near-perfect around their friends.  While we were playing outside, Andrea's son Brady was helping Tyler "push" Caroline on the 4-wheeler, and nobody screamed, got irritated, or knocked the other down.  Since I don't go to Gymboree or other things like that (kind of hard with two wild ones), I rely on Andrea to tell me how the things my kids are doing compare to others in their age group.  She comments all the time that the way our kids play together is not the norm, so naturally I'm proud of my sweet munchkins.  :)

After a busy afternoon, we start making dinner.  Caroline and Tyler LOVE to help cook, and they will get their play bowls and spoons and help me stir if they're not sitting on the counter watching.  While dinner is cooking, we turn on the radio and dance around the kitchen to our favorite country songs, which they absolutely cannot get enough of.  They like to dance on their own, but their favorite is for me to pick them up and twirl around the kitchen with one on each hip... it's the best.  When Nathan gets home we sit down to eat together, then one of us will tackle clean-up while the other tackles baths.  He usually takes baths so that he spends more time with them, and I don't mind the solitude of cleaning by myself.  When all is done, we hang out in the nursery for a little bit to wind down, then one child goes with daddy (usually Tyler, since he fights sleep till the end) while I nurse the other to bed.  Rinse, repeat. 

I'm sure this is the most boring read in the world to plenty of you, but I enjoy looking back and remembering how we spent our days.  It seems like years ago that I would lay out blankets on the floor of the Greenville nursery and listen to the Hawk & Tom show while we practiced rolling and sitting up for hours.  Hard to believe that I'm now more of a referee while Tyler climbs atop the dresser via the recliner while Caroline practices pee-peeing in the potty.

WAIT, WHAAAAT? 

Oh yeah, the monster cherry on top of the 16 month post?  CAROLINE PEED IN THE POTTYAlmost unprompted.  We have had the potty chair in their room since Christmas, since they used to love streaking in from their baths and relieving themselves on the floor (in all kinds of ways, which was great fun).  I haven't felt like they were "ready" for potty training this early, though, so it's been more of a "let's get used to this tiny potty in our room, isn't it fun?" rather than "let's sit here and take care of business, ok?"  However, as I'm ascending the stairs last night after cleaning up, I hear Nathan going nuts over Caroline, telling her "good job!  yay Caroline!  good girl!" as if she'd done the most amazing thing.  I had a feeling it was going to be potty-related, so I quickly grabbed my camera and flew into the room with them.  He told me that she sat down with the lid closed at first, but looked at him as though she needed to actually go.  He stood her up, lifted the lid, then told her to sit back down and "go pee pee".... so she did.  The funniest part of it all?  She bent over and watched herself pee, looking up at him in amazement over it all.  I hate I missed it, but I showed up in time to see her still sitting there just as proud as peacock of herself.  Rightfully so, Miss Caroline, rightfully so.  :)

Caroline:  Look at me!  Brushin' my teeth & using the potty!  Let me fix my hair & I'm ready for the prom, people!

Tyler:  You want me to do what?  Climb on this, right?

All in all, I still have the best job in the entire world and I cherish every. single. second.  It just doesn't get any better than running around in the sunshine, blowing bubbles with your giggling babies while the dog chases after each of you, just tryin to get a lick in somewhere.  This was how we spent yesterday, and at the end of this post, it's exactly where we're headed again.  We are so blessed.  :)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Menu Plan Monday


In an effort to organize my life a little more (cause I'm anal like that), I've decided to link up with orgjunkie.com and take part of her Menu Plan Monday each week.  I was looking for a way to incorporate our piles of lists into this blog for future reference, so I think it's a good fit.  My good friend Blaire started emailing her menus out to some of us each week in hopes that it would present new, healthier ideas for people looking to save money, eat in, and eat well.  I have made promises each week that she sends out her menu that "I swear I'll send you mine!  Just as soon as I get to the computer!"  Well, that never happens now does it?  So maybe if I start it on here, I'll be a bit more accountable. 

Since I have two weeks of menus just waiting to be shared, I'll just throw them all into one post and work from here.  We haven't made our menu for this week yet (with V-day and B-day and all that jazz), so I'll probably post last week's meals each Monday.  That way I can tell you what went over well and what didn't.  And as a disclaimer, 95% of the things I make are found via internet websites, so I'm just going to make things as easy as possible by linking directly to the source it came from.  If I make any drastic alterations to their recipes, I'll let you know.

January 31-February 6
Monday:  Nathan's "Bomb Diggity Chili"
Tuesday:  Swiss Chicken and Green Bean Casserole
Wednesday:  Loaded Baked Potatoes and Salad
Thursday:  Meatloaf and Cheesy Cauliflower
Friday:  Lasagna and Salad
Saturday:  Eat out!
Sunday:  Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli & Rice Casserole

Desserts:  Banana Pudding, Dark Chocolate Cupcakes with Buttercream Icing, and Citrus Cupcakes.

February 7-February 13
Monday:  Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs
Tuesday:  Chicken Nachos with Mexican Bean Salad
Wednesday:  Homemade Chicken Noodle Soup and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches
Thursday:  Sweet & Sour Chicken & Peppers with Fried Rice
Friday:  Meatloaf with Baked Mac & Cheese and Broccoli
Saturday:  Pizza
Sunday:  Cheesy Chicken, Broccoli & Rice Casserole (I'm noticing a trend here)

Desserts:  Cinnamon Pound Cake, Black Bean Brownies, and Amazing Peanut Butter Cookies.

If any of the non-linked meals sound good to you and you'd like to know the recipes, just comment below and I'll go back and add them.  If they're not linked, then it's just actually something I know how to make :)  And obviously, most everything we eat is kid-friendly and laced with some sort of vegetable. 

Tall & Skinny

This is a phrase I use to describe my husband on the regular, so it's not shocking in the least that it's the category our kids fall into as well.  A few of you have asked about their recent stats, so I thought I'd catch you up on their 15 month well-visit and a couple other recent "happenings."

Tyler
Weight:  21 lbs 10 oz  (11%)
Length:  33" (91%)
Head:  46 cm (18%)

Caroline
Weight:  18 lbs 10 oz  (off the charts!  ha!)
Length:  30"  (29%)
Head:  44 cm (7%)

As you can see, Caroline isn't so much as tall as Tyler, but she's really grown a lot lately.  She lost some weight with the virus a few weeks ago, but I can attest to the fact that these kids eat like horses.  Our pediatrician calmed my fears that they weren't "fat enough" by saying that you can't outsmart genetics, and that it's not necessarily a downfall that they've been fed healthy foods for most of their existence.  I'm actually getting them to drink more milk lately, but it's usually in the form of a smoothie.  They're better about drinking a few swigs or so with a meal, but they're not the kind of kids who will just turn up a sippy and down 8 oz of the stuff.  A few of my friends have asked what kind of smoothies I make, so if any of you are struggling with the same milk aversions (and skinny babies), try making one of these: 

Chocolate & Banana Smoothie 
1-2 frozen bananas, in chunks
10-12 oz milk
1 packet Carnation Instant Breakfast, Milk Chocolate flavor
1/2 cup yogurt

This is the last flavor I made, but I try tons of different flavor combos.  I've paired the Carnation French Vanilla with peanut butter, bananas, flax seed, milk & yogurt.  Sometimes I skip the Carnation all together (but it's a good way to get a load of calories & vitamins in them) and just use milk, yogurt, and frozen fruits (peaches, mangoes, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries).  Oh, and another secret ingredient: spinach.  Caroline's iron levels were borderline low at one year, so I've tried to incorporate spinach into a lot of our meals (chopped into spaghetti sauce, etc).  I promise, promise, promise that you do not taste spinach at all in a smoothie, no matter the flavor, so don't be afraid to grab a handful of leaves and throw them into the blender with everything else.  It will turn the drink green, but that's easily disguised when you put it in a sippy cup.

In other "what are they doing?" news, I'm happy to say that we've recently upgraded Tyler & Caroline to the big-people table to eat.  They're still in the same booster chairs that you've always seen in pictures, but I just don't use their trays anymore.  They slide directly up to the table to eat with Nathan and I, and lo and behold, they absolutely love to eat out of sectioned kiddy plates.  While at Target last week, I ran across two of these plates in the dollar section, one pink and one blue.  They have super cute designs on them and look a lot more expensive than a buck, so I figured why not?  If nothing else, I could let them practice with these plates for fun and who cares if it didn't go over well?  It was $2!  Much to my surprise, you would've thought they turned five years old the minute I let them eat off plates at the table, complete with silverware and all.  I seriously believe that they've ingested more food in the last few days than they've had in an entire month, so whether or not it's the plates is any one's guess.

Tomorrow they will be 16 months old so I'll try to do another update, and hopefully one with pictures.  If you can believe it, I actually have a "que" of posts that are in the editing phase... I just can't seem to find the time to hash them out.  I've found myself thinking of things to talk about here and I'll jot them down as a note in my phone, so we're up to five or six topics at this point.  How exciting, right? :)

Oh, and HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY! 
It's hard for me to care much about this holiday when the fact that I turn THIRTY YEARS OLD happens in 48 hours.  Squee.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Tonight is our Super Bowl

I'm a Tar Heel born I'm a Tar Heel bred
And when I die I'm a Tar Heel dead.
So it's RAH, RAH, Car'lina 'lina
RAH, RAH, Car'lina 'lina
RAH, RAH, Car'lina
RAH! RAH! RAH!

(Did I leave out the "go to hell Duke" part?  Cause that certainly needs to be in there). 
We are GAME-READY up in this house! 










This was my attempt at a self portrait.  They were having so much fun with the blinking light that I didn't pay enough attention to the settings.  Oh well! 

GO HEELS!  GO HEELS!  GO HEELS!

A cold weekend at the beach still beats sitting at home.

Poor Nathan has been stuck at the hospital so much over the past month we've rarely seen him.  He usually has a good long weekend off at some point, but it hasn't happened in a while and it didn't appear to be happening anytime soon.  He was supposed to be off semi-early on Friday (which turned out to be 6pm, naturally), so we decided to seize the opportunity for a quick trip to Myrtle Beach.  It poured rain the entire drive down, poured rain Saturday morning, and then when it finally cleared up, the wind whipped so hard you could hardly stand to go outside.  In true fashion, though, we made the best of it and enjoyed every minute of being away...

We swam in the heated indoor pool.






We ate dinner at Margaritaville & got balloon animals from a guy on stilts.



(Then we had to remove the choking hazards)
  

And we walked on the beach & saw horses!




On Sunday, we grabbed lunch at our good buddy Hamburger Joe's.  We relaxed around the house and ate ice cream while watching the Super Bowl, then packed up and headed home around 8pm.  It was a quick one, but well worth every minute.  Cold, rainy, & refreshing!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Extreme Makeover: Brownie Edition

Today is busy.  Big shock to you all, I'm sure.  Even though I've scrambled to get ready before both our appointment at the pediatrician (15 month well visit, finally) and our playdate thereafter, I just couldn't help but think about posting this recipe all morning. 

You guys, I ate an entire pan of brownies in less than 24 hours, and I'm not even upset about it. 

Everyone:  "Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?"
Mandy:  "BLACK BEAN BROWNIES, yummy!!!!!!"


Some of you are throwing up in your mouth a little bit, and others of you are intrigued like I was.  I came across this recipe by way of The Nest's message board called "What's Cooking," which I lurk daily to get inspiration for my new let-me-cook-everything-in-the-world lifestyle.  When someone mentioned these brownies, and the fact that they're gluten-free, filled with protein and fiber, and actually tasty, I just had to try them out.  I practically ran to the kitchen and prayed to the good Lord I had everything on hand.

Funny enough, I only had dried black beans so I had to wait on them to soak in the crockpot for hours.  When my time was up, Caroline and Tyler sat on the counter while I assembled the easiest batch of brownies in the world.  I won't lie and tell you they are EXACTLY like regular brownies from the box, but they're pretty damn good, folks.  They have almost a fudge-like consistency, and since they're baked into an 8x8 pan, it's super easy to wipe them out in a day.  (At least that's what I tell myself). 

Black Bean Brownies
adapted from allrecipes.com

1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, rinsed and drained

3 eggs
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup white sugar 
1 teaspoon instant coffee
1/2 cup milk chocolate chips

1.  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Lightly grease an 8x8 square baking dish.

2.  Combine the black beans, eggs, oil, cocoa powder, salt, vanilla extract, sugar, and instant coffee in a blender; blend until smooth; pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Sprinkle the chocolate chips over the top of the mixture.

3.  Bake in the preheated oven until the top is dry and the edges start to pull away from the sides of the pan, about 30 minutes.


Above is how the recipe is stated originally, but this is what I did.  Instead of regular cocoa powder, I used Hershey's Special Dark Cocoa.  From the reviews I read, I gathered that it would greatly help the consistency to add a teaspoon or so of baking powder, so I spooned in a little more than that.  I also used a flavored coffee instead of regular, and although it suited my hazelnut-loving taste buds, you might want to stick directly to plain coffee if you're only looking to taste chocolate.  Either way, DO NOT SKIP THE COFFEE!  It is almost certainly the factor in not tasting the black beans at all.  I also used half brown sugar and half white sugar, just to make it a little more healthy, and substituted the milk chocolate chips for white chocolate chips. 

You could really substitute a lot of things (applesauce for the oil, different types of coffee flavors, different types of baking chips, adding in coconut) and I think the brownies would still be good.  I can hardly wait to make these again, and I think I'm going to try regular Hershey's cocoa next time to get more of that milk-chocolatey flavor.  Tyler, Caroline and myself gobbled the first batch up, and I didn't feel the least bit bad about that.  Why should I?  They're HEALTHY. 

Please let me know if you guys try them out!  I'd love to hear how they go over in your household!

*Disclaimer:  While I don't recommend these brownies as part of a major diet plan, eating as many as I did in one day may bring on an involuntary "cleanse" of your system.  I happened to appreciate that repercussion, but others may not.  Haha! :)

Friday, February 4, 2011

I'm a Chiquita Mom

And I think you should be, too.

It's not like I haven't tried from day one to feed my kids healthy food, so I'm sure you all have heard me discuss their love of bananas.  Apparently, Chiquita also noticed and thought that I'd be a great "Chiquita Mom," so they sent me this awesome kit.  It included coupons for free bananas, freezer bags, recipe ideas, bibs, utensils, and a reuseable grocery tote that I now carry around everywhere (especially at our favorite grocery store, Aldi, where you bag your own stuff:). 

Chiquita has graciously offered to send FIVE of my sweet readers their very own kits, so click here to enter for your chance to win!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Resolutions

I'm not much for making some huge declaration of weight loss or life-altering habit deletion for the New Year.  I've tried it, and I've failed.  What I've also failed at is working out, even though I've tossed that notion out to the interweb universe for the last year.  Over the past few weeks, though, I've really started getting into the idea of "clean eating."  If I'm not going to kick it in the gym, I can at least kick it in the kitchen.  More than anything, I want Caroline and Tyler to grow up with healthy eating habits and a healthy relationship with food.  Mine is unhealthy, but not in the way you'd think.  I have what you'd call an "over-eating disorder."  It is accompanied by a sick obsession with all things fast food and chocolate.  Nathan is very similar to me, but his obsession falls within the camp of potato chips rather than sugar and McDonalds.  You know when I realized all this?  When I made two batches of cupcakes in the last four days, and ATE THEM ALL (minus the two or three that Nathan helped out with).  Twenty dark chocolate with vanilla buttercream icing, and 20 citrus with lemon buttercream icing.  That is sinful, and embarassing.

So, I'm making it my mission to become a better mother in the way I present food to this family.  Nathan may not love it, but he's going to have healthier meals that involve as few processed ingredients as possible, and he dang well better like it.  At my local twins club meeting this week, we had Boston Scientific representatives sponsor dinner and a presentation (including a female cardiologist) who spoke about all things heart-disease related.  It's scary how lucky I am to have stellar genetics that provide an insanely great cholesterol level... but my husband is not.  And we eat like crap. 

Seeing how my kids have a 50% chance of inheriting his less-than-stellar cholesterol genes, I'm going to do my part to make sure they don't lust for Chick Fil A #1 combos, Diet Mountain Dews, and an IV of cupcakes and brownies infiltrating their systems.  I am currently stalking every cooking blog I can find, allrecipes.com, and a plethra of "tricks for making toddlers eat healthy food" websites.  The latter is the hard part, because no matter how much I want them to eat healthy, balanced diets, I never know what part of the meal will make it in their little bodies and not on the floor/walls.  They are never the same when we sit to eat, so it's truthfully hit or miss.  All I know is that it's my job to make sure they are offered good stuff, and I hope one day they'll actually ingest it (except green beans.  I don't think they're ever, ever going to touch those.)

So, that's that.  I've surprised myself lately with how obsessive I am with reading labels and ingredients, and it's kind of shocking to see the wackadoo things that are in so many things I love so much.  Unfortunately I'm not going to give a lot of them up, but like I said, my main goal is to make sure T & C don't "need" them quite like I do.  As my mom has always said to me, "do as I say, not as I do".... touche!

If I can get behind the non-processed, healthy eating idea, I'm also aspiring to get some exercise in.  I need to do it.  I'm not trying to lose weight, but maybe running up and down the stairs a few more times and doing squats during Ellen will help me grow a butt.  (Yes, that is right, I said grow a butt.)  If there's one huge complaint I have regarding my post-twins body, it's that I resemble a pancake on both sides.  Bright side:  I look skinnier than I used to look, even before babies.  Dark side:  My pants fall off and they look ridiculous.  Nathan says to "wear a belt," but that belt-look doesn't really do it for me.  I need gluteal intervention.

Now that I've told all you, I feel I need to commit.  I'll let you know how it goes, so hold me accountable, alright? :)