Food

Setting the Table

Preparing for the holidays thrills my soul.  The weather is cooler, well, it's supposed to be cooler.  We've had a few warm days, here in Texas.  I look forward to pulling out my boots and sweaters, and I think about decorating for the holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas, in my world, mean lots of people. They mean tons of stories, games and laughter, music, great food and holiday decor.

One of my most-loved holiday customs is setting the table.  Preparing the table for Thanksgiving is no small thing in our home. It's a tradition that's been a part of our family for as long as I can remember.  Pulling out the china, cloth napkins and glassware is something I look forward to every year.  Once all the food is cooked and plated, everyone is seated around the table and ready to indulge in the much anticipated feast.  Then it begins; catching up with nieces and nephews, the retelling of hilarious events (often to someone's ultimate embarrassment), the loud belly laughs and the love that is not spoken of, but definitely felt.

As much as I appreciate a beautifully thought-out holiday table setting, creating atmosphere is of much higher value.  Now, don't get me wrong, I love the  dishes and decor this time of year brings. I do my share of decorating, but it's the spirit of the season that's most important to me.  Creating a culture of giving thanks is not only what this season is about, but also what life is about.  There's so much to be thankful.

Here are a few things I'm most thankful for:

  1. Family and friends. I have the most amazing and interesting individuals in my life. They're a variety of people who fill my life with laughter, challenge, hope, and even stress.  A little stress in our lives helps us appreciate the good times, right?
  2. Faith.  Bottom line:  This is my life-stabilizer.
  3. Future.  As important as it is to live in the moment, I believe we should plan for tomorrow.  I just met with my financial planner, Robby Shimanek ,and am more secure about my financial future today than I was yesterday.  Michael Hyatt has a great tool called Creating Your Personal Life Plan, a 5-step process to help you get from where you are now to where you want to be.  Everyone should take the time to plan for the future.

What are you thankful for?

Brown Rice, Mexican Style

Anywhere there's Mexican food, you'll find rice. Enchiladas and rice, tacos and rice, beans and rice. My mother, grandmother and mother-in-law each prepared rice with their own twist and now I've added mine. I hope you'll try this easy, yummy recipe which takes brown rice, full of nutrients, and packs it with flavor that will fill your kitchen with a heavenly aroma.

Mexican Brown Rice

Ingredients

1 c. brown rice

2t. canola oil   

1 T. chicken boullion

2 c. water

½ t. ground cumin

2 cloves minced garlic

1/3 c chopped onion

3/4 c diced or crushed tomatoes

1c chopped vegetables –combination of any of the following: mushrooms, cooked garbanzos, chopped carrots, celery, bell pepper, frozen peas)

Cilantro (optional)

 

Pour brown rice  and canola oil into 2 qt. saucepan, stirring continually until toasty. ( This will make cooking time shorter and rice will have a wonderfully  firm texture.) When rice has browned sufficiently, add water, cumin, tomatoes and garlic. Bring to a boil then lower temperature to a simmer.  Add vegetables and cilantro after rice has been cooking for 20-25 minutes.Cook an additional 15-20 minutes until all liquid has been absorbed and rice is al dente.

Makes 4 c or 8-1/2 c. servings

Cupcake Wars winning cupcake: The Elvis

  I love The Food Network. There is something about watching people prepare food that just puts me in a good mood! So you can imagine when, "Cupcake Wars", made it's debut I was hooked. Basically, Cupcakes Wars starts with four bakeries who take on different "cupcake challanges"...kind of like a cupcake olympics if you will and one by one the teams are eliminated until one lucky bakery is standing. When I saw the following winning cupcake being assembled I knew I had to share it with my cyber-friends...you!  

This cupcake is a combination of a few of my favorite things...banana, peanut butter, chocolate, and Elvis :). Bake, enjoy, and pass it on!

The Elvis Cupcake

Ingredients

  • 1 3/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 tablespoons butter
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 extra-large whole eggs
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon banana extract
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk, shaken
  • 1 large, overripe banana, mashed
  • Peanut Butter Frosting, recipe follows
  • Chocolate Coating, recipe follows

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line mini cupcake pans with cupcake liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs and yolks, 1 at a time, and then stir in the vanilla and banana extracts. Stir in the vegetable oil. Beat in the flour mixture, alternating with the buttermilk. Fold in the mashed banana.

Fill the cupcake liners about three-quarters full. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cakes comes out clean, 8 to10 minutes. Cool completely, and then frost with Peanut Butter Frosting and dip in Chocolate Coating and enjoy!

Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 8 tablespoons unsalted sweet cream butter, softened
  • 2 cups smooth peanut butter
  • 2 cups powdered sugar, well sifted
  • 2 to 4 tablespoons cream, as needed

Beat together the butter and peanut butter until smooth and combined. Blend in the powdered sugar. Add the cream, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the frosting is too thick.

Chocolate Coating:

  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil

Melt together the chocolate chips and vegetable oil in the microwave until completely melted

Hungry for Hummus?

Chickpeas are the core ingredient to this healthy food, loaded with protein. Hummus is popular in the Middle East and is also commonly found in Mediterranean-style meals. However, it is now quite popular in the US, costs pennies to make and less than fifteen minutes of prep time. My recipe is a "mas o menos," which means more or less. Adjust the ingredients to your particular taste.

Ingredients

1 can of chickpeas/garbanzo, with liquid

juice of 1 fresh lemon

2 T. tahini*

2 cloves of roasted garlic**

1/8 c. olive oil

salt to taste

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Serve with pita chips, raw veggies or use as a spread on a sandwich or wrap.

*Sesame seed paste can be purchased at any grocery store with a healthy food section.

**My daughter taught me to a quick-roast garlic, just place the cloves in a nonstick pan on medium heat and turn them until they're lightly browned on all sides.

Variations

Substitute any of the following for a twist:

roasted red bell pepper, roasted jalapeno, sun-dried tomatoes, kalamata olives

Chicken Tacos

Coming from El Paso, Texas, I have a special love for Mexican food.  Known for it's varied dishes, spices and flavors, Mexican cuisine is without a doubt my favorite. Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 5 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 onions minced
  • 2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast, diced into 1/2-inch chunks
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
  • 1 Serrano pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • Tex-Joy* seasoning - to taste
  • ¼ cup tomato sauce
  • ½ cup water

* Tex-Joy is one of my favorite seasonings and can be used in a myriad ways.  I cook with the salt-free variety which allows my family and guests to add salt at the table, if they prefer.

Method:

  • Heat a medium to large saute pan over medium heat and pour in enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan.
  • Add the garlic and onions and cook until soft and nicely caramelized, about 10 to 12 minutes.
  • In the meantime, season the chicken with Tex-Joy and pepper.
  • Sprinkle the flour over the chicken and toss to coat.
  • Heat another medium to large saute pan over medium-high heat and add 3 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • Cook the chicken until it is lightly browned, about 6 to 8 minutes.
  • Once the onion mixture is caramelized and softened, add the serranos, paprika and Tex-Joy.
  • When the chicken is done, transfer it to the pan with the onions. Pour in water and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat and simmer until the sauce cooks down and  is thick and delicious, approximately 20 minutes.
  • Adjust seasoning with Tex-Joy and pepper.
  • To serve the tacos: Place the toppings and chicken filling in bowls and allow guests to build their own tacos.

Toppings:

  • Chopped romaine lettuce
  • Diced red or yellow onions
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Grated cheese
  • Sour cream
  • Salsa
  • Avocado slices or Guacamole
  • 1 to 2 packages corn or flour tortillas

Serve chicken tacos with a salad or go all out by adding rice and beans and your family/friends will sing your praises for days!

It's muy sabroso . . . enjoy!

Healthy Children

It is a challenge to get our children to eat healthy and sometimes exercise. It can be so easy to keep the TV to get a few chores done instead of taking the kids out to play. And don’t get me started on healthy foods. How could I have a daughter who did not like any fruit? I have tried them all. What I have learned is that eating healthy food and regular exercise is not a behavior that may naturally happen to our children. They have to see it as an example. What behaviors do your children and future children see you doing? Instead of telling them over and over, they have to see healthy habits in us. At six, my daughter now thinks it is cool to participate in local running events and understands the benefits of riding her bike for fun. While getting our children to eat healthy foods can be frustrating, we have to remember it is the consistent behavior they see in us as parents. My daughter may not always want the healthier choice, but she does ask is this a sometimes food (which is not the healthiest choice) or an all the time food? I continue to put it on her plate, hide vegetables in other placed so that she gets the nutrients and remind her that her taste buds change and she may need to try it just this time. Don’t force, but consistently try and don’t make any food a big deal. Never say “you can never eat that” or “you have to eat it.”

While at the Pediatrician with my 6 year old daughter yesterday, her nurse informed me of an 8 year old who was in their office the day before with borderline hypertension and obese. I was shocked, but realized quickly that at age 8 a child does not know right from wrong food choices or that exercise is a better activity than playing video games or watching TV. We, as parents, have to be good role models by first learning how to make choices and create healthy habits our self. It is only then that our children will (eventually) want to participate in the same, and not because they are forced but because they want to be like mommy. What an awesome responsibility.