Monday, June 27, 2011

BBQ Chicken Pizza Bites

Oh my.

Have you ever had to put on a happy face for hours on end and just feel emotionally drained?

I'm sooo there.

Not that all of it was a show.  There was definitely genuine happiness and enjoyment.

But it all sort of runs together after a while. 

And the worst part is, I'm only just getting warmed up for this marathon.

You know, stretching the quads & hammies.  A few arm circles, a quick jog in place.

And I'm already ready to quit.

I... don't even know what to say to you guys right now.

Except maybe - "Eat these."


It will make us both feel better.

BBQ Chicken Pizza Bites

  • 1 1/2 C. shredded cooked chicken breast
  • 1/3 C. your favorite barbecue sauce (I like Sweet Baby Ray's), or more to your taste
  • 1 can Pillsbury pizza dough (in the refrigerated section) or your favorite pizza dough recipe stretched into a rectangle approximately 12x8
  • 1/2 to 2/3 C. mozzarella cheese
  • olive oil
  • garlic powder & Italian seasoning for dusting

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Grease a pie pan and set aside.

Roll out pizza dough on lightly floured surface, and pat to flatten evenly (the long sides should be horizontal).  Using a pizza cutter or sharp knife, make 2 slices to create 3 horizontal rows.  Then make 5 slices to create 6 vertical rows (which will make 18 rectangles).* 

Divide chicken and mozzarella evenly between dough rectangles, placing filling in the middle of each & being careful not to overstuff them (otherwise you won't be able to close them).  Once the filling is in, then pull the sides of the dough into the middle, gathering and pinching together to seal it shut into a ball.

Place balls seam side down in greased pan.  When all rolls are in pan, brush tops with about 1 T. of olive oil.  Sprinkle with a little garlic powder & Italian seasoning, if desired.

Cook in pre-heated oven for 15-20 minutes or until tops are golden brown.  Serve plain or with dipping sauce (such as ranch dressing).  Makes 18.

*Note: The original recipe calls for 24 squares but I find that when they're that small it's a little tougher to fill - totally up to you though, that way would make more bites.

Recipe Adapted from Our Best Bites

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Apple Chips


I hope everyone had a great Father's Day!  If you're not a dad, then I hope you did something special for the dad(s) in your life.

Much like the speech I gave you about moms, hopefully you make them feel special on a regular basis... but nonetheless Father's Day is a good excuse to go above & beyond!

I spent the day with both my dad & my father-in-law, which was great, and I will see my stepdad later this week.

Mr. V and I are not parents yet though, so there is no celebrating within our little family.

No, our only 'child' at this point is our little Senegal parrot, CJ.


She's technically Mr. V's parrot since his last year of high school, but when we moved in together I forced her to love me (for those of you that aren't familiar with parrots, they tend to be very fickle and do not enjoy new people).


Recently we decided that since CJ has had the same cage for about 13 years now, she deserves a new one.

We went to Petco and picked out a really awesome one that's way bigger and cooler than her old one.  And while we were there, I happened to see a book in the bird aisle specifically dedicated to her species.  Mr. V and I both picked up a copy to thumb through, and between the two of us, we noticed some shocking information.

For one, Mr. V always thought that her species only lives to be about 20 years old.  Meaning she's lived more than half of her typical lifespan already.

But what he didn't realize was that's for Senegal parrots in the wild.

In captivity, she could live for fifty years.

Fifty.

Five-zero.

Half a century.

Are you kidding me??

The second shocker came when we read that her favorite food (sunflower seeds) is about the worst thing for birds in large amounts due to the fat content.  But most parrots love them, and so they fill up on the sunflower seeds first & then they don't eat much of the other stuff which can eventually lead to health problems.

(Hmm, I can relate to that.)

The book said seeds should actually only make up a portion of their diet, and the rest should be fresh foods.

What?!?

This was news to us.

Apparently, we are dreadful 'parents'.

All this time we thought we were giving her a balanced diet with all the different seeds & nuts in the mix, but nooo.

In actuality, if she was a child, it would be like giving her platefuls of Oreos all day and then wondering why she didn't eat the brussel sprouts we put alongside them.

Now as I mentioned, parrots are fickle creatures.  So you can imagine that after 13 years of getting unlimited quantities of her favorite food, she has not exactly been eager to try new things.

We decided the only way to do it is to give her a small amount of seeds for part of the day, then take that bowl out and swap it with one chock full of fresh fruits & veggies mixed with a tiny sprinkling of the healthier seeds & nuts.

I diligently cut up a bunch of stuff in bite-sized pieces the first time we tried this, only to watch her lean her little bird eye over the dish, and then go off to the corner to sulk.

Eventually she got hungry enough to pick out a few things from amidst the fruits, but I am fairly certain it was more out of necessity than enjoyment.

This went on for a number of days.  When she was feeling really feisty, she would pick the items out of the bowl and throw them on the floor of the cage in defiance.

Then this past Saturday morning, I put in her bowl and walked away to help Mr. Vittles with something.  When I came back, I stuck my head in the cage to examine the bowl and see what, if anything, was nibbled.

Then I heard the bird chomping on something next to my ear.  I looked over, and noticed orange bits smeared all over her beak.


CARROTS.

Ah ha!  Success!

Just goes to show you healthy things can be delicious too.

Yeah, I know, apple chips are no Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Snickers Cookies

But they are still a yummy snack you can feel good about.  So bust out your mandoline & get to slicing!


Apple Chips

  • 2 large apples, cored (I used Red Delicious)
  • 2 T. sugar (optional)
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • canola oil spray

Preheat oven to 200 degrees.

Thinly slice apples crosswise about 1/8-inch (2 mm) thick with a mandoline or sharp knife.  Arrange apple slices in a single layer on two parchment-lined rimmed baking sheets, and spray with canola oil cooking spray.

If using sugar, combine in a small bowl with cinnamon.  Put mixture into a sieve and sprinkle evenly over apple slices.

Bake in the top and bottom third of the oven until apples are dry and crisp, about 2 hours (mine took a little longer than that to get crisp, but I didn't use sugar).  Remove from oven and let ‘chips’ cool completely before transferring to a sealed container for up to 3 days.  Makes about 2 cups of apple chips.

Recipe Adapted Slightly from Ontario Apple Growers, via Snack Girl

Thursday, June 16, 2011

S'mores Blondies


So last night I went out with a couple of my girlfriends who I have known for almost 15 years.

Unfortunately between the craziness of life and the distance between us, it seems we don't get together nearly as often as we should.  But we had so much fun catching up over dinner & some cocktails, and as we were reminiscing about old times it started turning into griping about new times. 

Mainly, the fact that once you get to be around 30 years of age, your appearance really starts to change.

And... it can be a little disconcerting.

Some of it is the result of not realizing that when you're young & dumb, you will pay for it later.

Like baking in the sun all day without sunscreen.

Especially when you lived at the beach your whole life, and then went to college in Florida.

Stupid, stupid, STUPID.

Then again, other problems seem to crop up out of nowhere.

For instance, despite the beautiful weather outside, my friend observed that the three of us were all wearing cardigans - not because they're cute, but (as we all admitted) because showing the upper arm/back area has started to get downright dicey.

Not that any of us are overweight, it just seems like things that used to be tight are suddenly... er.... not-so-tight.

As my one friend put it, she woke up one day and noticed she had 'a couple of steaks' on either side of her back.

Now while that is definitely an exaggeration, I will say I know the feeling.

And the worst part is that it's only the beginning.

Ahh!

Something tells me these blondies probably aren't helping? 


Good thing Mr. Vittles spared me the calories & single-handedly ate the entire pan.

Smore's Blondies

  • 1/2 C. Butter (1 stick), melted and cooled slightly
  • 1 C. brown sugar, packed
  • 1 egg
  • 1 t. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 + 1/3 C. all purpose flour
  • 1/4 C. whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 C. Graham Cracker Crumbs
  • 1/4 t. salt
  • 1/4 t. baking powder
  • 3 1-oz. semisweet chocolate squares, chopped (1/2 C.) or chocolate chunks
  • 1 C. miniature marshmallows

Preheat oven to 350F.

Beat together melted butter and brown sugar until smooth.  Add egg and vanilla extract, mix well.

Combine flours, graham cracker crumbs, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl.  Beat butter & sugar mixture on low, and with mixer running, add dry ingredients slowly.  Mix just until no flour streaks remain.  Add chocolate and marshmallows and mix to distribute evenly.

Press into a greased 8 or 9 inch square baking dish (dough will be pretty stiff).  Bake 20-25 minutes, do not over bake (22 minutes was perfect for me).  The blondies should be very soft when you take them out.  Cool completely.

Recipe Adapted from Shove It In Your Face

Friday, June 10, 2011

Blueberry Milk


Remember drinking strawberry milk as a kid?

Me too!

Well I searched for a recipe the other day to make your own at home, and was starting to get really disappointed.  A lot of the ones I saw basically just blended milk with strawberries.

If I'm not mistaken, isn't that called a smoothie?

Hmm no thanks. 

But eventually I stumbled upon this recipe at The Kitchn and was mucho excited.

Totally brought me back to my childhood.

I decided to get a little crazy with it, though, and try some different flavors than just strawberry.

I bet you didn't know that blueberries are actually the state fruit of New Jersey?


Apparently, one of the early cultivators of the blueberry was from Jerz.  And blueberries are still grown here, mainly in the Pine Barrens. 

(Along with the Jersey Devil.  Just sayin'.)

FYI - New Jersey is also known as the Garden State due to our agriculture - corn & tomatoes being two of the more popular crops.

Jersey is not just refineries and the Sopranos, people!

Anyway, now that you've learned something and I've properly 'repped' my home state, I'm pretty sure you can use half a cup of whatever berry you want - the traditional strawberry, or raspberries, blackberries, etc.

I actually made strawberry milk too, but mixed it with coconut milk for something different.


Use your imagination! :)

The bonus is that your kids will probably think it's super fun, and they'll never miss the artificial flavoring and boatloads of sugar.

Not to mention the blueberry one is purple and umm... that's just cool.

Blueberry Milk

  • 1/2 C. fresh blueberries (or berries of your choice)
  • 3-4 T. sugar, depending on how sweet you like (I actually used 2 T. Xylitol)
  • 1/2 C. water
  • 1 C. milk

(If you plan on drinking the milk immediately, I would recommend freezing 3 small glasses for a bit first, because the syrup will be warm and warm milk is ... well, yucky).

In a small saucepan, bring water, sugar, and blueberries to a boil over medium heat.  Boil continuously for 5 minutes, then remove from heat.

Strain mixture into a bowl or measuring cup through a fine-mesh sieve, pushing the berries to release all liquid.  (Reserve berries for baking recipes, or mixing into plain yogurt, smoothies, etc!)

Refrigerate syrup until cold (or cool slightly, then remove glasses from freezer).  Set out 3 small glasses on counter, and place 2 T syrup in the bottom of each glass.  Add 1/2 C. cold milk to each, stir, and enjoy!


Recipe adapted from The Kitchn

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Best Baked Ziti


Being from an Italian-American family, I've both made and eaten a lot of baked ziti in my day.

Now, don't tell my grandma - but I have honestly never had it taste this good before!

I always enjoyed baked ziti, but let's be honest - it's usually nothing special.

Half the time it comes out kind of mushy and grainy, and the pasta sucks up all the sauce.  Or I've also had the opposite happen, where it comes out way too soupy and the mixture never sets.

Grr.

Now the method below requires a little more work than your typical baked ziti, but it avoids all of the above problems... so it's totally worth it.

What's worse than putting in all this effort, then taking that first spoonful out of the pan only to realize it didn't come out the way you were hoping?

Yeeaah.

Been there, hated that.

So... trust me on this one?

I know.  It's hard.  The cottage cheese weirded me out too.  But seriously, just give it a try.

Mr. Vittles could not tell that there was cottage cheese in this, and you won't be able to either.  I promise.

Just do me one favor, ok?

Don't use crappy tomato sauce.  You'll be sorry.

And then you'll complain to me that this doesn't taste any good, and you'll think it's the cottage cheese that you SWORE was a weird idea, when the truth is that nothing can ruin a dish like this quicker than God-awful tomato sauce.

So just don't do it.

Spend the extra couple bucks on a good brand with simple ingredients, or better yet - make your own!

The Best Baked Ziti

  • 16 oz. whole wheat ziti (or any other tubular pasta, such as penne)
  • 2 C. small-curd, lowfat cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs (or 1/2 C. egg replacement)
  • 1/2 C. freshly shredded parmesan or romano cheese, divided
  • 3 1/2 C. tomato sauce, divided (I used this recipe, but cut the crushed red pepper in half)
  • 3/4 t. cornstarch
  • 1/2 t. garlic powder
  • 1/4 C. heavy cream
  • 3/4 C. lowfat or whole milk
  • 1 1/2 C. freshly grated mozzarella cheese, divided
  • 2 T. chopped, fresh basil
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste

Combine cottage cheese, eggs, and 1/4 C. parmesan cheese in a small bowl.  Set aside.  Grease a 13x9 baking pan and set that aside as well.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Add pasta and cook only 5 or 6 minutes. (You want it to half-cook now, and do the rest of the cooking in the oven.  This prevents it from getting mushy.)

Drain pasta in colander, and return now-empty pot to stove over medium-low to medium heat.  Add cornstarch, garlic powder, cream, and milk.  Bring to a simmer and cook until thickened, 3-4 minutes.

Remove cream sauce from heat, and add cottage cheese mixture along with 1 C. tomato sauce and 1 C. mozzarella cheese.  Stir to combine, then add pasta.  Stir to coat thoroughly with the sauce.

Transfer pasta to prepared baking dish, and spread evenly in dish.  Pour remaining 2 1/2 C. tomato sauce over top, and spread in even layer.  Sprinkle chopped basil, freshly ground pepper, and remaining 1/4 C. parmesan over the top.  Then sprinkle with remaining 1/2 C. mozzarella (feel free to use more if you like it super cheesy!)

Cover dish tightly with foil and bake 45 minutes.  Remove from oven and take foil off top of dish.  Bake an additional 15 minutes uncovered, then remove from oven and serve.

Recipe Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Crunchy Granola Bites


Do you like granola bars?

I do, but unless you get some expensive organic brand, you probably don't like what you see on the side of the box.

You know, the likes of high fructose corn syrup...  partially hydrogenated oil.... artificial flavoring...

Ech.  Not ideal for a supposedly "healthy" breakfast or snack.

My friend, Super Mom Natalie, already shared with you her fabulous recipe for granola, but sometimes I want something that doesn't require a bowl.

Something I can easily grab and eat on the go.

Like a granola bar.  But without all that bad stuff.

So that's why I made these.  They are full of wholesome goodies like oatmeal, flax seeds, almonds, and pumpkin seeds, and wheat germ.

Also, if you're feeling crazy, they are easily customizable to whatever you're craving at the moment.  Raisins, cranberries, pecans, mini chocolate chips (I won't tell if you won't!), sesame seeds - anything your little heart desires.

But nooo hydrogenated oils or corn syrup in these bad boys.

And they're more fun than a granola bar because they are bite-sized.


Everything is more fun when it's mini :)

Crunchy Granola Bites

  • 1 1/2 C. old-fashioned oats
  • 1/4 C. flax seeds
  • 1/4 C. sliced almonds
  • 1/4 C. pumpkin seeds
  • 1/2 C. shredded coconut
  • 1/4 C. wheat germ
  • 2 T. blonde coconut palm sugar (or light brown sugar is fine)
  • 1 T. molasses
  • 2 T. honey
  • 1 T. agave nectar
  • 1 T. almond butter
  • 4 T. Earth Balance spread (or butter)
  • 2 t. pure vanilla extract
  • 1/8 - 1/4 t. salt (to taste)

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.  Grease a 24-cup mini-muffin tin and set aside.

Combine oats, flax seeds, almonds, pumpkin seeds, coconut, and wheat germ on a rimmed baking sheet and spread into an even layer.  Bake 20 minutes, stirring every 6 or 7 minutes, until ingredients are lightly toasted.

Meanwhile, combine sugar, honey, molasses, agave, almond butter, and Earth Balance spread in a small saucepan on stove.  Heat over medium-low, stirring until melted, and bring to a gentle simmer.  Stir occasionally, lowering heat if necessary to prevent burning, until oats are done.

Empty oat mixture from baking sheet into a bowl, and stir.  Remove sugar syrup from stove, and add vanilla and salt.  Pour syrup over oats in bowl, and stir to coat mixture well.

Increase oven heat to 325 degrees, then divide granola mixture among cups of prepared mini-muffin tin (I used a small cookie dough scoop to distribute evenly).  Press mixture firmly into cups - you want the mixture to adhere to itself, otherwise you'll just end up with cups of loose granola!

Bake in pre-heated oven for 13-15 minutes until golden.  Let bites sit in pan for 10 minutes before removing and cooling completely on wire rack.

Original Recipe
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