January 30, 2012

Oatmeal: It's What's for Breakfast!

Oatmeal?!? Yes, oatmeal. Warm, delicious, satisfying, versatile oatmeal. 

For the longest time, (about 25 years), I thought that oatmeal was the stuff that cookies were made of, or the powdery, sugary, unsatisfying stuff that came in a paper envelope that cooked in the microwave. (A box of which would last me six months). On cold mornings, I would sometimes throw a bowl of said powdery stuff together in an attempt to eat healthy and warm myself up... only to end up sugared up and hungry 30 minutes later.

Then I found steel cut oats. My mother made them for me the first time I had them, and I felt like I was being treated to a gourmet breakfast. She cooked the oatmeal, then added sliced banana, toasted walnuts, and a dash of cinnamon... It was like warm, gooey banana bread, but better, (and healthier!). For a long time, steel cut oatmeal was something of a treat for me... something my mom would make when she was up visiting- an indulgence that made me feel like I was on vacation at a great bed and breakfast... but, I talked myself out of eating them more often, getting stuck in the mindset that it was too labor intensive or time consuming for a regular breakfast. 

Then came baby. Then came baby weight. Then came the quest for a "diet" that I could actually stick to, to help me shed the baby weight. I decided I needed to consistently eat breakfast, (and not just a granola bar on the run), a breakfast with protein and fiber to keep me full, something I could eat everyday and not get tired of...so, I decided to eat more real oatmeal. My plan: make a large batch of steel cut oats on Sunday to enjoy throughout the week. 

I have never come up with a more fun and delicious plan.

To start, I cook my oatmeal (I use Quaker Steel Cut Oats) with water, (I don't care for the flavor of warm milk). They take about 30-40 minutes to cook... and as they cook, I plan my fixin's. Then, after they have cooled, I package them in serving sized containers, and add a few fixin's. In the morning, I stick the container in the microwave with about 2 tbsp of skim milk, stir it up, and enjoy every bite. I have had a lot of fun coming up with different "oatmeal recipes" to try out. I have yet to find a combination I don't like... 

Here are a few that I've really enjoyed:

- Craisins, cinnamon, brown sugar
- Banana slices, cinnamon, brown sugar, walnuts (great with or without the nuts!)
- Toasted coconut, banana slices, cinnamon, brown sugar
- Toasted coconut, chopped dried apricot, cinnamon
- Diced dried figs, honey, cinnamon
- Crunchy peanut butter, strawberry jam
- Maple syrup, cinnamon, walnuts

...there are endless possibilities. 

Peanut butter is an awesome addition because it adds a good amount of protein, but also makes the oatmeal creamy and velvety... very filling. I think one morning, I will try it with just a little bit of Nutella and see what happens... though it might not be the healthiest option. Other ingredients I plan to try out are: molasses, blueberries, apple pieces (I'm going to see if I can make it taste like apple pie...), and different nuts. 

So far, so good... It has been about a month, I'm shedding weight, eating breakfast, and having fun with it. I look forward to my bowl of oatmeal in the morning. Any ideas for more oatmeal recipes? Anything delicious you think I should try?? Please share!!

January 22, 2012

Warm Soup for Cold Nights

Yikes! Life has been moving at warp speed lately, I think. Last I remember, it was my birthday! (Which means the last two weeks have completely buzzed by...) I have been cooking a lot lately, but unfortunately, not taking the time to take photos... I have also been falling asleep by 9:30 at night, which puts a damper on my blog time. Luckily, I have a running list, a photo file of things I haven't shared yet... like this recipe that I tried when I was still trying to use leftover Christmas ham!

Growing up, I was never really a soup person... that all changed when I moved to New Jersey and experienced my first real, cold winter. There is nothing like cozying up to a bowl of soup... I started loving soup even more when I realized how incredibly easy it was to make. It's the ultimate one-pot dinner!

This Mexican Ham and Bean Soup is a Cooking Light recipe, which I tweaked a little- my additions are in italics... It ended up having just the right amount of spice and heat to warm up a cold night.

Mexican Ham and Bean Soup
Cooking Light- Serves 8

1 pound dried pinto beans
8 cups fat-free, less-sodium chicken broth
2 cups chopped onion
2 cups water
8 ounces cubed smoked ham steak
1 tbsp chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin (I used 1 tbsp)
2 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp kosher salt
3 bay leaves
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 (14.5 oz) can diced tomatoes, undrained
1 chipotle chile (I used chipotle chile in adobo)
1 1/2 tsp adobo sauce
Juice of 1/2 lime
1/2 cup shredded Manchego cheese or Monterey Jack cheese*
1/4 cup chopped cilantro, plus 1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro (garnish)

Sort and wash beans; place in Dutch oven. Cover with water to 2 inches above beans; bring to a boil. Cook 2 minutes; remove from heat. Cover and let stand 1 hour. Drain.
Combine beans, broth, and next 10 ingredients (through garlic) in a Dutch oven; bring to a boil. Partially cover; reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer 1 1/2 hours or until beans are tender.
Stir in tomatoes and chile, (and adobo sauce if using); simmer 30 minutes. Discard bay leaves and chile. Stir in lime juice and 1/4 cup cilantro. Ladle soup into bowls. Top with cheese (if using); sprinkle with cilantro.

Notes on this recipe:
*I chose not to use the cheese in this recipe to make it lactose free.
My husband and I love spicy food... If you prefer things to be less spicy, definitely do not add the adobo
sauce. The lime juice added a much needed fresh, bright flavor to the soup, as did the 1/4 cup of cilantro that I stirred in. I really enjoy the flavor of cilantro, which really livened up the flavors in this soup! I would not make this soup without adding the lime and cilantro. If I could do it again, I wouldn't go through the whole process of using dried beans... it doesn't really add anything to the flavor of the soup, and it was kind of a pain in the butt. I'm more than willing to put in the extra effort if it pays off, but in this case, I don't think that it did. Next time, I will substitute with canned beans to make this a much quicker/easier meal...

What kinds of soup do you like?? Any great recipes that you want to share?!? I'm on the hunt for some crock-pot soups that I set and forget during the week... I hope everyone is staying warm!

January 08, 2012

Happy Birthday to Me!!

Homemade Ice Cream Cake!!
The holidays are almost over in our house... we've made it through Christmas, New Year's Eve, my husband's birthday, and tomorrow- my birthday- will mark our brief break from celebrating. Just to make things a little more fun, we've now added our son's baptism to the mix. Today, after the ceremony, we had a big family party to celebrate three birthdays and a baptism.

My mom took care of the food, (sorry I didn't get any pictures to share!!).  We had roasted vegetable meatloaf sliders, two different recipes of Spanish slow roasted chicken, yellow rice, and (my favorite)- Columbia Restaurant's 1905 Salad, which I've talked about before here. All of it was incredible!! It was really wonderful to be able to pass the torch this time, and let someone else plan, cook and even clean!

My mother in law was in charge of dessert. She ordered a special cake for the baptism, and made two different ice cream cakes- customized to what the birthday people liked. My husband and his cousin Sara, (who share a birthday with "a few" years in between), requested cookie-dough and chocolate ice creams with oreos and m&m's mixed in. My cake was coffee and vanilla ice creams with almonds and chocolate and toffee chips... paired with an Oreo crust, they were awesome. I'll be getting the recipe from her, so that I can make and enjoy them again! I will share the recipe and method with you all next time... Tonight, I want to brag!
Since it was a part birthday party, I got to open some presents :-) My mom, who happily supports my cooking habit, really pampered me this year with some Pampered Chef gear (You can view all of the items below). I find cooking and baking enjoyable no matter what, but (like anything), having the proper tools makes it even better!! A couple of years ago, I went to a party and purchased my first Pampered Chef knife- a 5" Color Coated Santoku knife. It is probably the most-used, and most loved tool in my kitchen. Knowing how much I love it, my mom got me the color coated 7" Chef's knife to match! These knives are amazing... She also got me the Pampered Chef Smooth Edge Can Opener (not your average can opener!), and a set of their Easy-Read measuring cups... Awesome. The measuring cups are really great- no more putting the cup on the countertop and then squinting while doing squats to look at the numbers on the side to check and make sure your measurements are correct, then checking, and rechecking to make sure you saw it right. The cups are also designed to make pouring your properly and easily measured ingredients into your mixing bowl much easier and cleaner.

It was a wonderful party and a great afternoon! Best of all, we got to spend a lot of time with our families and celebrate our little boy. 

I hope that everyone has a great week!