Zucchini Chicken Parmesan

This month for Secret Recipe Club I was assigned the wonderful blog of Kitchen Kudos by Renee! To be honest, I've been super excited and patiently waiting my turn to get this assignment! Renee has so many wonderful recipes on her blog. Renee also has another talent, away from the kitchen - she can paint beautifully and actually sells gorgeous tiles and wine glasses that she hand paints! Someday I hope to get a "brand" image for The Gingered Whisk, and when that happens I am totally going to ask Renee to paint me something! (She also lets her dogs blog, too, which cracks me up. I love dog people.)

After looking through Renee's entire blog, I had so many things I wanted to make, I was afraid I wasn't going to be able to make a decision. Until I saw this. Zucchini Chicken Parmesan!!! What?! Breaded chicken topped with tons of fresh tomatoes, fried zucchini and TONS of cheese!! I was immediately drooling, and closed every single tab I had opened up. I was totally making this!!! 

This recipe is a little heavier than we normally eat for the summer, especially since its been 100F pretty much non-stop. But this is also the perfect time to make this, since it uses beautiful fresh zucchini and tomatoes. So pick a slightly cooler day to make this, and you will not be sorry!! 

The only change I made for this recipe is that I used chicken cutlets instead of whole chicken breasts. I've started buying those instead, you typically get 7 or 8 cutlets that are about 5 ounces each to a package instead of 3 giant chicken breasts. They also cook faster than their thicker counterparts, and are just the right size for us!

OH MY GOD. This is pretty much amazing. We absolutely stuffed ourselves, and our neighbors, and still had leftovers for lunch the next day. We will totally totally be making these again! And I think you should, too! 

Zucchini Chicken Parmesan (Kitchen Kudos by Renee)

8 boneless skineless chicken breast cutlets
1 large zucchini
3 cups panko
2 cups flour
2 eggs
3 TBSP water
2 TBSP garlic powder
2 TBSP minced onion
2 tsp dried basil
2 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
1 large tomato
8 slices Swiss Cheese
2 large cans of diced tomatoes
1 1/2 cups shredded parmesan cheese
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
canola oil for frying

In one shallow bowl combine the flour and garlic powder.
In another shallow bowl combine the eggs and beat with the water.
In a third shallow bowl, combine the panko, 1/2 cups parmesan cheese, basil, oregano and minced onion.
Slice the zucchini into 1/4" slices, and dip both sides in first the flour, then the eggs, and then the panko.
Transfer the completly covered discs to a baking sheet until all the zucchini is covered.
Heat 2-3 TBSP oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat.
When the oil is simmering, gently add the zucchini rounds and let them cook until golden brown on each side, about 30 seconds to a minute per side. 
Remove and let sit on paper towels until needed.
Coat your chicken breasts the same as your zucchini - first the flour, then eggs, and then the panko.
Place in the frying pan and allow the chicken to get golden brown on each side (you don't need to cook them completely through, just give them crunch and color).
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350F.
Prepare a 9x13" baking dish by coating it in cooking spray and then placing 1/2 of one of the cans of tomatoes in the bottom of the dish.
Transfer the chicken breasts on top of the tomatoes, evenly spacing them.
Place two slices of swiss cheese on each chicken breasts and top with a slice of tomato.
Sprinkle a little salt, pepper, and parmesan cheese on top.
Top each tomato slice with 2-3 zucchini discs and then top with additional parmesan and mozzarella cheese.
Add the remainder of the tomatoes evenly on top and then top with the remaining mozzarella cheese. 
Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the chicken is cooked through and the cheese is bubbling!!

Take a look at what other SRC members made this month:

The Daring Bakers Make Crackers!

Things just keep getting hotter and busier by the day, so when I saw that this month's challenge was to make your own crackers I was really excited. This is something that I have been wanting to do for a long time now, and I am glad that I got the chance to do it, and for the fact that this month was rather quick and easy, and fun!

Our July 2012 Daring Bakers’ Host was Dana McFarland and she challenged us to make homemade crackers! Dana showed us some techniques for making crackers and encouraged to use our creativity to make each cracker our own by using ingredients we love.

I decided to give Ladybug a treat and make some of her favorite snack of all time - Goldfish crackers! However, I don't have a tiny fish cookie cuter, but I did have a fish/dolphin/shark (I can't really tell, can you?). We ended up LOVING them! They were super fast to make, and tasted great. They didn't taste quite like the store-bought kind, but we all really liked them anyway. And Ladybug loved helping me make them! 

Cheesy Fish Shaped Crackers (Smitten Kitchen)
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated sharp cheddar cheese
4 TBSP butter
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup all purpose flour
1/8 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp salt
(I also threw in 1 TBSP of ground flax seed and 1 TBSP of wheat germ)

In a food processor, combine all of the ingredients until the dough forms a ball, about 2 minutes.
Wrap in plastic wrap and allow to sit in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350F.
On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough out into a 1/8" thickness.
Using a floured cookie cutter (smallest you can do is better), cut out cracker shapes and place on an ungreased (or parchment lined) cookie sheet.
Bake 12-15 minutes, or until slightly brown on the edges.
Transfer to a wire rack to cool. 

*Smart Mama's Cook!* Taste The Rainbow

It's been pounded in your head since you were just starting school, but often times we make up as many excuses as we can think of to avoid eating our veggies. Either they taste too bland, or you forget to fix them, or you just don't know how, this week we are going to get rid of ALL excuses so you can get all your servings in each day! It isn't as hard as you think to get a fruit and veggie in every meal! Here is how you do it!

*Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, a dietician or a nutristionist. I'm not talking about counting calories here, or even points for that matter. These are just one foodie's ideas, and obviously you should follow your doctor's orders. 

Fruit: Throw them by the handfuls into muffins, quick breads and pancakes. Add them sliced and diced on top of your yogurt and oatmeal. 

Veggies: Add veggies into omelets, frittatas and scrambled eggs, shred them and put them in muffins, quick breads, or pancakes (um, carrot cake pancakes?! Yes please!)


Fruit: Eat them whole, use them in smoothies (with yogurt, not ice cream please!), dip slices into peanut or almond butter. Fruit salsas (this is one of our favorites) are also an awesome idea, especially if you make your own chips! You could even make your own granola bars and chock them full of fruits, nuts, and healthy grains!

Veggies: snack on veggie sticks with homemade bean dips and salsas! (Try out this black bean dip, hummus, or fresh and easy salsa). Also make homemade baked kale chips, baked veggie chips or baked tortillas chips.

Side Dishes: 
Garlic Roasted Zucchini

Fruit: Fruit salads and apple sauce make great side dishes! Plus a fruit salad (no jello or cool whip please) makes a great snack, too!

Veggies: Well, there is always a salad, haha but they don't have to be boring! Use the darkest greens you can find and top with 1/2 cup of fruit or sliced veggies, throw on some nuts, a tiny bit of cheese, and a homemade vinagrette dressing and you have one awesome side dish! (Try to stay away from store bought salad dressings. Even the "healthy" fat free or low fat versions are terrible for you, they are loaded with salt, sugar, and crazy chemicals to make them taste good. Just make your own, they stay fresh for up to 5 days in the fridge!)

And don't forget about purees, either! They aren't just for babies anymore! Try a Garlic Roasted Cauliflower and Parsnip puree instead of mashed potatoes one night.

Remember to try different preparations of veggies, too. Just because you don't like something steamed doesn't mean you won't like it grilled, or roasted. How you cook and season your veggies can totally change the flavor of it, so be a little adventurous and try a new way to cook it! Check out this awesome board from Cooking Light on tons of super fast and super easy side dishes

Fruit: Fruit is awesome in entrees! Use fruit salsas on top of chicken, pork, or steak. Also braise your pork with apples or cherries. Or try a fruit salsa in your tacos!

Veggies: Add them EVERYWHERE!!! You can add pretty much any chopped or shredded veggie into any pastas, casseroles, soups, stews, stir fry, or pizzas (even on frozen pizzas or takeout). Shred veggies and add them to meatloaf, meatballs, burgers, and marinara sauce. Purees can also be used here to add in some extra veggies - try a roasted red pepper puree or carrot/yam puree in mac and cheese for some extra zing. While I am not an advocate of "sneaking" vegetables into your kids food (why not just teach kids to eat healthy to begin with?), I do think that books like The Sneaky Chef and Deceptively Delicious have some great ideas on how to add more veggies to your meals. 

Fruit: Make some fun DIY popsicles, add chopped fruit on top of ice cream (throw some nuts on there, too!), mash some fruit up with some honey or maple syrup and top a piece of cake, even fruit cobbler is a great choice if you use fresh fruit and a great oat crumble! When we eat dessert we try and add so many healthy delicious toppings that it outweighs the fact that I am eating a big bowl of ice cream. Yes, my mind totally works like that. There are also a ton of awesome fruit themed desserts out there (like this Browned Butter Bananas with Orange-Bandy Sauce (swap out the brandy for vanilla extract to make it kid friendly). Or try Grilled Peaches with a bit of whipped cream.

Veggies: Veggies are great hidden in veggies, too. I know you are totally rolling your eyes at me right now, but trust me. Add shredded zucchini and carrots into cakes, brownies, and cookies! Try these Double Chocolate Zucchini Brownies or Black Bean Brownies (they are delicious, trust me!)

Well, I hope this helps to give you some ideas (and recipes) to try, and helps you get at least a little bit more fruit and veggies in your daily diet! Just remember to have fun with it and try new things! :)

Week 1: Meal Planning
Week 2: Prep Work
Week 3: Maximize Your Meals

Pork Tacos with Summer Corn Nectarine Salsa

I cannot for the life of me believe that it is now the middle of July! How did that happen? How can summer be halfway over?! And while we are complaining, why is it so dang hot?! Haha, I know, it is summer time, but I feel like its been 100 degrees or close to it for the majority of the summer so far. So hot in fact that we haven't been spending too much time outdoors (unless water is involved). Even with water and copious amounts of sunscreen, its too hot and muggy to be out for much longer than an hour. Which means Ladybug feels totally cooped up and needs to vent some energy. It also means that I don't really want to cook, or even eat much, especially hot and heavy foods. Pretty much I want watermelon and salads. 

This is a fun and summery change-up to the old stand-by taco! The corn and nectarine salsa is a great addition, slightly tart and juicy. Cooking Light suggests you grill your pork, corn, and tortillas, but since we were using leftover shredded pork we skipped that step. It still tasted great, even with frozen corn and un-grilled tortillas, but I bet everything would be ten times better off the grill. Even though this didn't have my stand-by cheese and sour cream for tacos, we really enjoyed these! Light and summery, they are a great quick meal for the summer! 

Pork Tacos with Summer Corn and Nectarine Salsa (Cooking Light, July 2010)
1 lime, juice and zest, divided
1 1/2 TBSP olive oil, divided
4 boneless pork chops (or leftover shredded pork)
3/4 tsp salt, divided
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp pepper
1 garlic clove, minced
cooking spray
1 ear shucked corn (or 1 cup of frozen or canned corn)
1/4 cup diced red bell pepper
1/2 cup diced nectarine
1 minced and seeded jalapeno
8 6" corn tortillas
1 cup shredded cabbage

If you are grilling your pork, preheat the grill.
Combine 2 tsp lime juice, 1 TBSP oil, 1/2 tsp salt, cumin, pepper, garlic and pork in a ziplock bag. 
Marinate for 10 minutes at room temperature. (If you are not grilling your pork and using leftovers, just sprinkle this over the pork as you reheat it (omitting oil).
Grill 3 minutes on each side, or until done. Let stand 5 minutes and then slice into strips.

Lightly coat the corn with cooking spray, and grill 6 minutes, or until lightly charred, turning occasionally. 
Let corn stand 5 minutes and then cut the kernels off.
Combine the corn with 2 tsp lime juice, remaining 1 1/2 tsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt, bell pepper, nectarine, lime zest and jalapeno. 
Toss and set aside.

In a small bowl, toss together the cabbage and remaining 2 tsp lime juice.

Top the tortillas with the pork, salsa, and cabbage, and Enjoy!!

Hawaiian Sourdough Pizza, Grilled

I'm grilling pretty much everything I can lately, just so I don't have to turn on the oven. So when it was time to make this month's Sourdough Surprises, I knew I wanted to try my hand at grilling pizzas! I decided to play around a little bit, and instead of water put a stray can of beer into the dough (seriously, where does this beer keep coming from?!). Instead of a straight pizza sauce, I thought it would be fun to lace the sauce with some of our favorite bbq sauce, and a sprinkling of Jamaican Jerk Seasoning.

The grilling part of the pizzas took a few minutes to get the hang of, we accidentally burnt one crust, and ripped another, but after we got the hang of the assembly line process of it, it went really smoothly. 

We looooove love love how this pizza turned out!!! The sourdough crust with the beer in it was so awesome and tangy, plus grilling it left a great smoky taste, and it was nice and crisp, too. We also loved the fun tangy bbq laced sauce. Plus the all fresh toppings, oh man, it was awesome! We ate every single bite, and then immediately started discussing when we would do it again! If you can't tell, we really liked this pizza! 

I am submitting this awesome pizza to Yeastpotting, a weekly showcase of all things yeasted and delicious. 

Grilled Hawaiian Sourdough Pizza (The Gingered Whisk)
2 cups sourdough starter
3 cups bread flour
1/2 cup water, room temperature (or try beer!!)
1 tsp salt
2 TBSP olive oil
cornmeal for dusting

1 part pizza sauce of choice
1 part bbq sauce of choice
a few sprinkles of Jamaican Jerk seasoning 

grilled chicken breast, seasoned with jamacican jerk seasoning and chopped
tomatoes, chopped
pineapple, chopped
red or green pepper, chopped
green onions
red onions, sliced thin

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine the starter and water until mostly combined.
Add the flour, salt, and olive oil and mix until combined.
Using the dough hook of your mixer, knead for 5 minutes.
Separate the dough into 4 balls of dough, place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and cover with plastic wrap.
Allow to sit at room temperature for 1 hour 30 minutes.
Preheat grill to high
Roll each ball out into the desired size/shape, using the cornmeal for dusting.
Place each pizza one at a time on the cool side of the grill for a minute or two, just until the underside gets some grill marks and starts to firm up.
Remove from the grill, flip over (so the cooked side is now facing up), top as desired and return to the grill (uncooked side down) for another minute or two.

Smart Mamas Cook! *Maximize your Meals!*

By now you should be doing at least a little bit more meal planning, and adding some prep work into your day. How is it working? Are you able to get dinner on the table a bit more stress free?

This week we are going to talk about maximizing you meals, and that includes getting the most bang for your buck. I have SIX simple ideas to help you maximize every meal, so you get the best tasting dinners for the best price possible!

#1. Check out your grocery store sales and work whatever meat and produce is on sale into your menu. Pork Chops and pineapple on sale? Hmm, how about Spiced Pork Chops with Pineapple Salsa for dinner? And since we are talking sales here, if chicken is on sale for $1 a pound, you best be buying as much as you can fit in your freezer! Sure you have to spend a little more money this week, but if your income can allow it, it will save you a ton of money in the long run.

#2. Use your crock pot!! It's not just for winter or game days, people! The crock pot is also great to use in the summer because it won't heat up your house! Yes, I know it makes a lot of food, but that brings me to point #3...

#3. Learn to LOVE your leftovers! I try to always cook so we have leftovers. Not only is it a good way to always have lunch on hand (especially great for busy days), but it is also great to reuse the meat for other dinners. One of our favorite things to do is get a giant roast (pork or beef) and crock pot it (Spicy Shredded Pork Loin anyone?). We then shred the meat and use it all week for tacos, bbq sandwiches, stir fries, the list can go on and on! My dear friend Shelley from C Mom Cook offers her insight on how she changes up leftovers: "Leftovers are intentional here. While we may have, say, meat from one pork roast on three nights within a given week, we almost never feel bored or like we are having the same thing over and over. Sometimes it's even as easy as swapping out the spices and starch. Chicken stir fried with peppers and onions can be tossed with tomatoes, sauce or Italian spices and served over pasta for an Italian inspired meal. The very same chicken, peppers and onions, tossed instead with soy sauce and served over rice has a distinctly Asian feel. Then change up the spices again, serve the chicken and veggies over chips and melt some cheddar on top? Mexican inspired nachos."

#4. Be a savvy produce shopper. A lot of people don't know that you can find some high quality produce in the freezer section! Not only will the produce last longer because it is frozen, but the produce is frozen as soon as it is picked, so you get better nutritional value and a better quality than what you can find in the produce aisle. Also check out your local farmers markets! Often times the produce you can find here is cheaper than the grocery store, plus it has just been picked, so you know its good! (Example: My local grocery store is currently selling zucchini for $1.50 a pound, but I just bought 3 HUGE zucchini for $1 at the farmers market). If you find a good deal on cherries one day, buy a ton. Whatever you can't eat you can freeze them, can them, make some pies and freeze those!

#5. If you buy it, USE IT! We tend to throw away soooo much food simply because we let it go past its prime. About 27% of all food is thrown away! That equals out to be about a pound of food per American per day! Which means that 30 million tons of food is wasted each year. That kind of makes me sick to think about it, especially when there are sooo many people who go without. (Source). So do us all a favor. If you buy a green pepper, remember that it will only last a few days at home, so use it in the beginning of the week. If you spend $4 on a bunch of asparagus, plan on using every single stalk. That means if you have leftovers from dinner, throw them into omelets the next morning, or add it into a cold side dish with sugar snap peas, and lemon for dinner the next night. Don't let leftover ingredients go to waste, either. Have extra chicken stock, wine, or buttermilk? Pour it into an ice cube tray and freeze them! When they are frozen you can place them in a labeled plastic baggie and viola! 2TBSP each! 

#6. Learn some new techniques. Specifically speaking, marinating and braising. If you don't already know how to do these, you really should learn a little bit more about them. They are very easy to do, and the whole goal here is to turn a tough, cheap piece of meat into something tender and delicious! Marinating is basically "soaking" in a liquid, anywhere from 10 minutes to overnight. This is best for thing, lean meats, chicken, and tender vegetables. Try Braising is slowly simmering partially submerged food in liquid and allowing the steam created to help tenderize your cheap, tough meats and hearty fibrous veggies into melt in your mouth amazingness. (Check out Braised Pork Chops in a Cherry Sauce)

Week 1: Meal Planning
Week 2: Prep Work

The Daring Cooks Use Parchment Paper!

Our July 2012 Daring Cooks’ host was Sarah from All Our Fingers in the Pie! Sarah challenges us to learn a new cooking technique called “Cooking En Papillote” which is French and translates to “cooking in parchment”.

This was so fun and so easy! Really, it reminded me of foil packets we used to make while camping. And it is pretty much the same concept, except using parchment paper and your oven instead of foil and  a fire. The fancy French version instead of Rustic Outdoors, haha. The chicken and veggies were cooked perfectly, it was moist, tender, and flavorful! Definitely a keeper! 

Chicken En Papillote

6 TBSP melted butter
4 chicken breast halves
2 medium carrots, thinly sliced
1 medium zucchini, thinly sliced
8 shitake mushrooms, stemmed and thinly sliced
1 shallot, minced
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup mayonaise
1/4 cup dijon mustard
2 tsp thyme 

Preheat oven to 375.
In a small bowl, combine 
Cut 4 pieces of parchment paper about 20" long each.
Brush melted butter over each.
Place the chicken breast on top of the melted butter.
Spoon some of the mustard mixture on top.
Place the carrots, zucchini, mushrooms, and shallots on top of the chicken.
Spinkle on salt, pepper, and thyme.
Splash on a bit of white wine.
Take the long pieces of the parchment paper and bring them together, and fold them over each other until there is no more excess.
For each small edge, fold the paper over itself over and over until you get to the end (Where the chicken is). Its kind of like wrapping a present. 
Place the packets on a jelly roll pan (a cookie sheet with edges) and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is done.
Open your packets and enjoy! 

Smart Mamas Cook! *Prep Work*

Welcome back to the Smart Mamas Cook Series! How did your meal planning go last week?

This week we are going to talk about PREP WORK! (I'm about to throw a ton of info your way, but don't get intimidated! It's easy, I promise! These are all baby steps.

Just like in any restaurant, spending a little bit of time doing your prep work helps cut down tremendously on the amount of time you spend running around your kitchen while you are trying to cook! The less stressful you can make cooking, the easier it will be for you, and since you can't for see things like the kiddo dumping over the whole bucket of legos and then stepping on one (ok, I did see that coming...), the dogs going berserk because the neighbor dogs are on a walk and they aren't, or your husband asking you to help him choose which water filter to buy for his new emergency preparedness kit, you need to give yourself a break and make it easy!

The first step in this is to take care of your produce as soon as you come home from the grocery store (or as soon as you can get to it).

  • Wash all your fruits and veggies so they will be ready for you when you need them.
  • Split things like grapes or baby carrots into individually sized snack containers so you can just grab em and go! 
  • Rinse off your herbs, wrap the ends in a wet paper towel and place them back in your fridge (this helps them stay fresh longer).
Do some prep work for the week!
  • If you know you are going to need shredded carrots in three different meals this week, instead of shredding carrots on three seperate occasions, shred all of them now, seperate them into containers and place them back in your fridge. You can also do this with onions, garlic, and pretty much any veggie (Ever since having Ladybug I can't look at an onion with a knife in my hand without losing every ounce of mascara I am wearing. So I make Joel do a TON of onion chopping, and just store it in little baggies. I have also seen pre-cut ones at Wal-Mart!)

Get your Mess In Place!
  • Yup, its actually called "mise en place" which is french for "putting in place". Basically it means, get out all of your ingredients and put them on your counter where you can find them. Get out all your tools and saucepans, every single thing you are going to need to cook your recipe! That way you don't have to hunt for that one kitchen utensil you rarely use or that one spice container that will invariably be the last one you look at. 
  • If you can, or want to, it even helps to pretend you are on a cooking show and place all your ingredients pre-measured in cute little bowls (or any bowl you happen to own). That way you only have to toss it in at the right moment! You don't have to think about it, you know exactly how much you have, and throw it in! 

Make Extra, Save Extra
  • This concept doesn't really help you save time today, but for the future. It doesn't really take any longer to make two lasagnas as it does one. So make two and place one in the freezer! Then one day when things are crazy and you have a tight schedule all you have to do is pull a meal out of the freezer.
  • The same concept goes for soups, casseroles, or homemade stock. Making extra doesn't take a whole lot more time, but you can place extras in either individual containers or large ones and store them in the freezer until needed. (Leftover chicken stock and wine can be frozen in an ice cube tray and then placed in a ziplock bag!)
  • I know people who will spend one day a month making freezer meals for just this reason. That way you always know you have something you can eat, or if a friend needs a dinner, or you have guests coming over, you already have food! 

I know right now this seems like a lot of extra steps to take, but trust me when say it will help! Sometimes taking an extra 5 minutes to do a few more things will cut out so much frustration and running around that it actually ends up making things faster! Trust me! And I'm going to ask you how it went next week, so you had better at least try it! Twice! :)

Week 1: Meal Planning 

Grilled Pork Chops with Orange and Grape Salsa

I think I can officially say that the Dog Days of Summer are upon us. Its flipping hot out, and after a brief glance at The Weather Channel, I am pretty sure everyone is hot. This is the part of the summer that I enjoy the least, when its 9am and 90 Degrees out. YUCK. It's even too hot to play in the pool and water table outside (its in direct sunlight until about 6:00, but even then its too hot out). We are starting to get a little cabin fever here, especially after watching the USA trials for mens gymnastics team, haha, which ended with Ladybug running, "jumping" (her feet don't leave the ground yet), twirling and climbing over every surface of the living room. 

This time of year, you really can't ask for a better meal than this. Quick to put together (its mostly chopping) and quick to cook, this is perfect for busy and hot nights alike. The fun and unusual combination of grapes and oranges in the salsa gives this a unique twist that really works amazingly well together! We loved every bite of this, and will definitely be making it again this summer! 

Grilled Pork Chops with Orange and Grape Salsa (Sunkist)

4 pork chops

1 TBSP olive oil
1 lime, zested
juice from half a lime (save the other half)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp paprika
salt and pepper

2 cups grape tomatoes, halved 
1 orange, segmented
1 1/2 cups seedless red grapes, halved
1 small red onion, sliced thin
1 tsp oregano
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
2 TBSP olive oil
juice from 1/2 a lime
salt and pepper

Preheat the grill over high heat.

In a large ziplock bag, combine the ingredients for the marinade and the pork chops.
Squish it together so the chops are well covered and place the bag in the fridge while you prepare the salsa.

In a large bowl, combine the ingredients for the salsa and stir together.

Grill the pork chops, turning once, for 3-4 minutes per side, or until they are done.
Transfer to a platter and top with salsa.

Smart Mamas Cook Series! *Planning*

A few weeks back I was asked to give a talk/presentation for my MOPS group about cooking - the best ways to make healthy food, fast, and affordable. I got a lot of good feedback about it, and had a lot of fun preparing it, and so I thought I would share it with you, too!

I am going to break it up into a kind of series, and showcase a different aspect each Thursday. I am going to break it down into "sessions" and give you just a bit of info and a lot of examples each week.

We all know that dinner time is probably one of the most stressful times during our day. Everyone is worn out from the day, everyone is hungry, there are a million things we still need to do before bed. Either two scenarios happen. Either you have no idea what you want for dinner and thus play the "What do you want? I dunno, what do you want?" game - OR you are trying your hardest to make dinner, but it is burning, half your ingredients are missing or have gone bad, one kid is crying, one is screaming, your husband comes home and wants to have some indepth conversation with you and AHHHHHHHH!!!! Yeah, I know, it happens to all of us. So how do you keep this from happening?


Yup, you gotta plan. So how do you do that?

The best way to do this is to get some kind of meal rotation going. This is helpful in case you get stuck in a rut, you always have a place to go and look for recipes that you know your family will eat!

  • You can make it as simple as writing down each dinner idea (ie, Tacos, Spaghetti, etc) on a 3x5 notecard, put your collection of notecards in a recipe box and then just cycle through them! This is an easy way to keep track of all your families favorites, or add or delete them!
  • You can also make 3 ring binders to divide dinner ideas by category. You can even go totally "Type A Personality" gung-ho on it and color code to your heart's content. Whatever you need to do to get you to actually use it! 
  • Do a search on Pinterest for "Meal Planning" and you will come up with an absolutely ridiculous amount of ideas. Just remember to KEEP IT SIMPLE! The more complicated you make it, the less likely you are to stick with it. (I tried to be snazzy and add a photo link here, but I wasn't quite up to the challenge, so click here to see the cool pinterest board I made for you!)

Need some inspiration for new recipes to refresh your arsenal of "tried and true"?

  •  Sign up for emails from cooking magazines and websites. Cookinglight.com and myrecipes.com are some of my favorite places to get new recipes from, and you can sign up to have recipes delivered to your inbox every day or  every week.  
  • Also, um, blogs? Haha. Blogs are a great source of inspiration - not only do they try out recipes for you, but you can also find tons of other blogs from the blogs you already follow. Get an RSS reader to keep all of your favorite blogs in one place, or sign up for new posts to be emailed to you!
  • Magazines are another great place for inspiration, especially ones geared towards families and moms. Parenting, Parents, Better Homes and Gardens, they all have a recipe section and they have all been tested so you know that will work and are fairly simple to do!
Write it down.

  • Get a dry erase board, or a piece of paper or something and write down that on Monday you are eating Sloppy Joes and a salad and on Tuesday you are eating breakfast burritos. Or whatever. You get the idea, just write it down so you don't forget! If you feel like switching things around, that is fine, but at least you have some idea of what you can have for dinner! 

Ok, so now that you know what you are going to eat this week, you need to make a grocery list! I usually make this as I figure out what we are going to have each week, and this cuts down on me having to look up the recipe multiple times.  Then when it is time to go to the grocery store you know exactly what you need to buy, and you know that you will have everything on hand that you need!

How do you plan your meals for the week?

Being Prepared

This last week was a big eye opener for my husband and I (and about 3 million other people, I am sure). A large area of the country, over 700 miles of it, was hit last Friday by what is known as a "Derecho storm" - a string of storm that combine intense lightning and rain with hurricane force gusts of wind. The storms completely wiped out electricity and water in tons of cities across the country and left people stranded without air conditioning, adequate water supplies or electricity for days, and a ton of damaged trees to clean up, while temperatures soared into the 100's. It was hot and miserable for a lot of people.

Joel and I have always wanted to be prepared for situations like this, and in truth we have a small stock of supplies in case of emergencies. Watching some of our favorites shows like "Jericho" or "The Walking Dead", have given us good ideas of things to keep on hand in case we need them, but we realized that we are woefully under prepared for an emergency! I mean, sure, we might have a suture kit and iodine tables (seriously, my husband is a doctor, what can I say?) but we kind of fell short on the water department. As in, we didn't have a single cup of drinkable water saved. And while the food community (and me included) is turning to all natural, un-processed foods, unless you live on a farm where supplies are readily available, in an emergency situation you kind of want a well stocked pantry!

After our electricity had been off for a mere two hours, our refrigerator/freezer started emitting a stream of melting water and a smell of sour food. Three days later and all my towels were hanging up to dry from all the ice melting and the kitchen stank. We lost everything - no eggs, milk, veggies or meat. The  ice cream turned into a ridiculous mess. Almost every single thing had to be thrown out. My not very well well stocked pantry included bisquick, 5 cans of chicken noodle soup (that I don't even remember buying but were thankfully still within date), oatmeal, cereal and goldfish crackers. We did have a counter full of fruit, and luckily we have some amazing friends who we collaborated with for meals, so we actually ate really well compared to what could have happened.

It was also crazy to see how fast things turned crazy. Not even 24 hours into the black out and there were riots at the gas stations and looting at the grocery stores! Geez people, come on! The hospital was the only place serving food, and after serving 2,000 people 3 meals a day for 2 days, they ran out of food! The majority of the people were being nice and respectful, but it was shocking to see how many people were cussing out the lady at the cash register because she couldn't accept their credit cards. We even heard some gun fire one night!

While I am not quite ready to start giving my eggs a bath in mineral oil (apparently that is how you can preserve eggs to be shelf stable for up to a year!), or storing enough food to last us 10 years, I would like to be a little bit more prepared in case this ever happens again. Because I can only eat so many cheerios and goldfish in a week. I'm not 100% sure what I am going to do yet, but I will let you know as I get things accomplished!

So what do you need to be prepared?

  • WATER. It is recommended you have 1 gallon of water per person per day! 
  • PANTRY SUPPLIES! If you have pasta, bread, canned veggies, beans, rice, etc, you can at least make something to eat besides cereal. Throw in a few cans of soup, stock, etc to keep for emergencies. Also keep some peanut butter, shortening, and powdered milk on hand. Nuts, granola bars and trail mixes aren't a bad idea, either. 
  • COOKING POWER. Get a grill or camp stove and make sure you have fuel! A pot that can go on the open flames and a dutch oven with a lid and you can cook just about anything you want! Get a percolator and you can even have coffee! 
  • SUPPLIES. Make sure you have extra dog food, diapers, toilet paper, etc available. I'm not talking about filling your basement with staples here, but maybe don't wait until you have 3 diapers left to buy a new package? 

Are you prepared for an emergency? What preparations have you done to survive an extended black-out?
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