Monday, December 14, 2015

Cranberry & Chocolate Granola Bars

These Cranberry & Chocolate Granola bars are so easy to make and I like to think they are healthier than store bought bars. This recipe has a lot of ingredients but goes together quickly.

You can wrap individual bars in plastic wrap then keep them in the freezer. This batch didn't last long enough for that - the kids couldn't stop eating them!

Here is what you will need:

2 cups old fashioned oats
1/4 cup flax seeds
1/4  cup chia seeds
1/4 cup sesame seeds
3/4 cup coconut flakes
1/4 cup coconut oil
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp butter
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup chocolate chips

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl mix together the oats, flax seeds, chia seeds, sesame seeds and coconut flakes.
Melt the coconut oil and add to the bowl. Mix well. Pour the oat mixture into an 8x8 pan and bake for 8 - 10 minutes, stirring once.

In a small saucepan bring the honey, brown sugar and butter to a boil. Remove from heat and add the vanilla.

Once the oat mixture is done baking remove from the oven and put back in the mixing bowl. Clean the 8x8 pan then line it with parchment paper and set aside.

Pour the honey mixture over the oats then add the cranberries. You can add the chocolate now and it will melt into the mixture. If you want actual chocolate chips in your granola bars wait until the mixture has cooled for a few minutes before adding them - it's up to you!

Mix everything together then pour into the lined pan. Cover and put in the fridge. After 20 - 30 minutes they should be cooled enough to cut.

Friday, November 20, 2015

First Snow = Chili!

We had our first snow tonight and the cold temps made me hungry for chili.

When it comes to chili, I am a purist. My recipe is simple and I don't intend to change it. Ever.

I don't know if I've ever felt like making any other kind of chili. I can appreciate white chicken chili, sweet potato chili or any of the other variations out there, and some of them are quite good, but I don't choose to cook them.

This is the recipe my Mom made and the recipe my kids will grow up eating.

Seriously, the hardest thing about this recipe is cutting up an onion. And it doesn't lack for flavor, I promise! The spices in this recipe reflect the fact that I want my kids to be able to eat it. Want it spicier? Add some peppers or more chili powder.

If you are reading this in the midwest you should think about throwing on a pot for dinner tomorrow. It is the perfect meal to warm you up after playing in the snow.

It can simmer for 20 minutes or 2 hours and be just as good.

My Mom's Chili
1 lb ground meat (pork, beef or turkey)
1 medium white onion, chopped
1 can chili beans
1 can kidney beans
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can stewed tomatoes
2 Tbsp chili powder
2 Tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp garlic powder

Cook the onion and ground meat in a large stew pot. Drain if necessary. Add the rest of the ingredients. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally, then turn to low heat. Cover and let simmer until ready to eat. It is best when simmered at least 20 minutes.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Peppers

Looking for a new way to use spaghetti squash? Try my Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Peppers.
It comes together quickly and is a great fall dish.
I like this recipe because there is not a heavy sauce covering up the flavor of the squash.

The sausage and pepper topping is a recipe that I make and use in many different ways. It can be grilled in foil packs in the summer or sauteed in a pan and used as a main dish on it's own, over spaghetti or of course, over spaghetti squash.

Bonus - the leftovers are amazing if you toss them in a skillet and add a couple beaten eggs. You could even add a little cheddar cheese.

Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Peppers

1 lb kielbasa (I use a lighter turkey version)
3 peppers, I use one green, one red and one yellow
1 medium white onion
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 spaghetti squash

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prep the squash by washing it, cutting it in half and removing the seeds.
Place cut side down in a 9x13 baking dish. Add about 2 inches of water.
Bake for 35 - 40 minutes, until the squash is fork tender.

While the squash in the oven make the toppings. Slice the onion and peppers. Mince the garlic. Slice the kielbasa into bite size pieces.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil. Toss in the garlic, onion and peppers. After about 2 minutes turn the heat down to medium and cover. Cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. After ten minutes add the kielbasa. Cover and cook until the peppers and onions are soft.

Once the spaghetti squash is done use a fork to scrape it out of the skin. Top with the sausage and peppers and add salt, pepper. It is also good with a little parmesan sprinkled on top.

I hope you like this dish - my whole family did, the kids even had seconds!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Holidays, Food, & Nostalgia

I recently wrote an article for The Des Moines Register about how food, holidays, and nostalgia go hand in hand. It was a fun piece to write and I was able to tell some great stories from other people around Central Iowa.

In the piece I talk about my Gramma Verna and the treats she used to make at her beauty shop. I still make many of the candies she made to this day but one stands out above the rest. They are her crunchy cereal bars.

Here is my Gramma fixing a customer's hair.

This picture is special for a couple reasons. One - it's probably the only picture I have of Gramma in her beauty shop. Two - the woman who is getting her hair done used to babysit my sister and me from time to time. Her name was Oleta and she collected owls. Every time we went to her house she let us wander through every room counting all of her owls. She also made the best pistachio fluff.

Back to the bars... They are simple to make and decadent. When I made them to take photos I only kept a few at home and sent the rest to work with my husband. I did not want to be tempted with the whole pan.

Crunchy Cereal Bars
Verna Sterling

1 cup sugar
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter
1 cup creamy peanut butter
6 cups corn flakes

Put the cereal in a large mixing bowl. In a saucepan, cook sugar, corn syrup and butter until butter melts and comes to a full boil. Remove from heat, add peanut butter and mix well. Pour over cereal and mix well. Spread in a 9x13 pan and let cool completely before cutting.

To read the whole article and see the recipes others shared, click here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Avocado & Tomato Toast

This may seem indulgent but it's really a fast, healthy breakfast. 
And yes, there is a bite out of it. I didn't even realize how delicious it was going to be until after I tasted it. 

Although I eat avocado toast quite a bit, it usually consists of the avocado, bread and a fried egg. Occasionally I will add asparagus or wilted spinach if I have them leftover from dinner the night before. 

This toast however, tops any of those variations. It's got whole grain toast, avocado, tomato, a hard boiled egg and cilantro. Make this while you can still get fresh tomatoes! 

Here's the full recipe.
Avocado & Tomato Toast
1 serving

1 slice of whole grain bread
1/2 avocado
2 slices tomato
1 hard boiled egg
1-2 Tbsp chopped cilantro
Salt & pepper

Toast your bread. Scoop out the avocado, top with a pinch of kosher salt and freshly ground pepper. Mash with a fork until it is a thick paste. Use an egg slicer to slice your egg (I sliced it twice to make smaller pieces). 

Once the toast is done top it with the avocado paste, tomato slices, egg and cilantro. Top with another pinch of salt and pepper. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

Linda A.'s Spinach Souffle

This is a great way to use up leftover rice and can be customized to include whatever vegetables your family likes to eat!

I got this recipe from my Grandma Vi after she made it for lunch for the kids and me one day. She got the recipe from her niece Linda. 

The first time I tried to make it I wasn't very happy with it. I used too much rice - Grandma's was so much better! So I tried again and cut down the amount of rice and added fresh spinach. This is a good, light lunch and I like to serve it with a fruit salad or lettuce salad. 
Here's what you need:

Linda A.'s Spinach Souffle

1 small onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
3 Tbsp olive oil
1 1/2 cups cooked rice
4 eggs
1/2 Tbsp milk
2 cups of fresh spinach, chopped
1 cup cheddar cheese
(other options - add sliced mushrooms, leeks, parmesan cheese, red or green peppers)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a small saucepan saute the onion and garlic in 3 Tbsp olive oil until onions are soft. In a large bowl, beat the eggs and milk together. Add the onion and garlic mixture, rice, spinach, cheese, and some salt and pepper.

Pour into a greased pie pan and bake for 25 minutes or until the eggs are set.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Birthday Party Venues in Des Moines

Although I have (so far) opted to throw birthday parties at home for the kids, sometimes going somewhere else and letting other people deal with the set up/clean up is a better option. If you're looking for ideas beyond the bowling alley or rolling rink, here is an article I wrote that you can check out.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Construction Party!

Last weekend we hosted a construction party for my three year old son. It was so much fun to plan and he was very excited about it for at least the week leading up to the party. All he asked for was balloons.

This was the first party where I did not enlist my Aunt Molly's help - I'm either getting craftier or maybe it's the fact that this party was actually pretty easy to throw and didn't take too much work. By the way, if you're into paper crafting at all you should definitely check out Molly's blog. You can find it here. She is super creative and I love all the details she adds to her projects, whether it is the embellishments on cards and scrapbook pages or her mantel decorations for holidays.

Ok, back to the construction party. I started with Pinterest. I saved some ideas, went back through them a few days later to figure out what I wanted to do and got to work.

Sorry for the poor quality photos, they were all taken on my phone right before the party got started.

Here are the decorations. I bought a construction themed Happy Birthday banner for less than $5. The balloons turned out great and were actually really easy. I blew up 12 balloons in each color: black, orange and yellow. Using a needle and embroidery thread (and my sisters help), we strung the balloons in a line and moved them around until they looked good. Both decorations easily tied on to the curtain rod. I had planned to use caution tape to make streamers to hang down but decided this was enough.

For food we kept it simple. I used construction toys we already owned as the serving dish for the party mix. I used a traditional seasoning mix and used bugles (construction cones), pretzels (bolts), cheerios (nuts) and crispix (signs). I also set out a fruit tray of watermelon, cantaloupe and honeydew (representing a stop light).

 In this next picture you can see the small construction toys we had set around the table and the hats (also used as party favors).

 I really like how the cups came out. I bought some orange cups and white electrical tape and turned regular cups into traffic barricades.

 Another picture of the party mix.
 Instead of a cake I made brownies and left one large section to use as a "cake." I used m&m's to create a stoplight that is also replicated on the individual brownies I served.

 We also had a game. The caution tape that I didn't use for streamers worked out great for wrapping up boxes. We stacked them up in a doorway then make a "wrecking ball." My husband made the wrecking ball with a clamp, rope and small basketball wrapped in duct tape. The boys (6 & 8) at the party loved it. We also used this the next day (the actual birthday) to hide our son's bike. He had to knock down the boxes to get to his present.
Not pictured - I had mini traffic cones and rings to play ring toss outside but they ended up being used to make obstacle courses (even better!). I also had a construction hat, tool belt ($.76 at Home Depot - what a steal!), and cello bag with Reese's Pieces and a miniature construction toy to give out as favors.

I hope you enjoyed reading about our construction party, we had a good time making it all happen!

50 Ways To Embrace Your Inner Child

The Des Moines Register asked me to find and write about 50 ways to embrace your inner child in Iowa. Thanks to a fun brainstorming session with the Bill Riley Talent Search staff (my other job, although as rewarding as it is, I have a hard time calling it a job!) it was a piece of cake to make a list of 50 items.

Here's the final list I came up with .

50 ways adults can experience Iowa as a child

10 Places Kids Eat Free in Des Moines

Eating out is expensive and sometimes, with kids, it is not always the best experience. Here is an article I wrote for the Des Moines Register with ten restaurants where kids eat free (which makes them kid-friendly, obviously). So, check it out then try them out and save some money while you're dining out!

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Peanut Butter S'mores Bars

Who doesn't love s'mores? I do but I don't want to have to have a campfire to enjoy them.

I took a recipe for candy I used to make as a kid and turned it into the filling for these decadent s'mores bars. The peanut butter adds lots of flavor and makes the filling very creamy and smooth. These are so rich, one bar is more than enough for the biggest sweet tooth.

Here's the article.

Simple Chicken Stir Fry

I love this stir fry because it is so simple.
Usually I make a sauce and toss it with all the stir fry ingredients but because this uses Thai Chili Sauce I drizzle it on afterwards so that I can control the spice level. 

Use leftover chicken, slice a few peppers and zucchini then you're pretty much done except for the cooking. 

Here are the instructions.

Life Lessons From Iowa Chefs

Want to know what lessons chefs learn from their careers? I asked ten chefs from around Iowa that exact question. Here is what they said!

Sausage & Pepper Foil Packs

I love foil packs during grilling season. This sausage and pepper foil pack takes four ingredients and is great with grilled potatoes, sweet corn or grilled vegetables.
In the winter I take these same ingredients, saute them in a cast iron skillet and toss it with pasta.

Here's the recipe.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Summer Fun in Des Moines

I was asked to write an article about 15 places to take kids this summer. It was fun to research different places and realize how many places I still need to take the kids.

The kids at the Ashley Okland Playground

From the list, the Jester Park Natural Playscape is one of my favorite places to take the kids (even though it says it is for kids 5 and up). I couldn't believe how big the Ashley Okland playground was - next time John is going to go with me so we can each watch a kid. Today I am going to Storytime Swim at the Altoona Aquatics Center.

I need to get to Reiman Gardens and on the next rainy day I am heading to the Valley Community Center play area.

Hope this list helps you enjoy the dog days of summer!

It's Sweet Corn Season!

I'm so glad sweet corn season is here!

I've been testing ways to cook corn on the cob for the last month so the article could run right before sweet corn is available from Iowa growers. The good news is you get to see the results. The bad news is that I was using trucked in, not as good sweet corn.

I will say, out of all the methods, microwaving was awesome. I had never cooked sweet corn in the microwave before and it was fast and delicious. It made my mediocre corn taste like it was just picked from the field.

So here you go...Three ways ot make and top sweet corn.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Tomato Avocado Salad

I love this salad. I've been on an avocado tomato kick for awhile and this is just one of the ways I've been eating them. 

I have had this (without the croutons) for breakfast and (with the croutons) for lunch and dinner. Not all in the same day. At least I don't think so... 

What surprised me the most about this Tomato Avocado Salad is the quality of tomatoes I've been getting at the store. It wasn't even close to tomato season when I came up with this salad so I used "cocktail" tomatoes. They look like cherry tomatoes on steroids. And they taste delicious, even in May and June! 

Try this out - I think you will like it. Four ingredients, some chopping and you're done. 

Here's the full article.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Preserving Produce

No, this isn't about canning or freezing (although freezing is mentioned). This article I wrote for the Register is all about how to store produce to get the longest shelf life out of it. Also, it talks about how to purchase produce with a plan to keep waste down.

Here's the link.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Learning about Large Black pigs

I visited Lucky George Farm in southern Iowa last week for a story I wrote for The Des Moines Register. Jason and Angela Johnson raise heritage breed animals including Large Black pigs.

I got up close and personal with the pigs and found out that they love to have their bellies and jowls rubbed. I learned a lot about these pigs including why Lucky George Farm is so passionate about raising and breeding Large Blacks.

Want to learn more too? Here is the article.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Breakfast Nachos

I'm so glad the Register published my breakfast nachos recipe today so I could share it with you!

These are delicious. Pretty much they are chips topped with jarred queso, scrambled eggs and avocado cream (the best part of the whole dish!).

If you're celebrating Cinco De Mayo today save a few chips and some cheese dip for tomorrow morning and keep celebrating during breakfast.

Find the full article here.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Make It & Take It Event

It is not often that I enter contests and it is even more rare that I win. On a whim I entered to win a spot at a Make It & Take It event. I actually won! Even better, I got to bring a friend. The event was sponsored by the Iowa Food & Family Project and was held at the Ankeny Prairie Trail Hy-Vee. 

The purpose of the event was to help Iowans get to know where their food comes from. The focus was dairy so the Dairy Princess (we compared our favorite State Fair foods) was there and shared her story with us. 
 Spending time with royalty. This is Rylie Pflughaupt, the Iowa Dairy Princess.

The majority of the time was spent preparing six meals that could be put in the freezer. There were twelve of us and six tables with the food we would need for each recipe. Each group of two picked a table and made 12 (12!) meals.

 The Hy-Vee dieticians were on hand to help answer any questions. 
(photo courtesy Iowa Food & Family Project) 
 Two of the winners putting together a recipe for Chicken Enchiladas. 
(photo courtesy Iowa Food & Family Project)
All six groups hard at work!
(photo courtesy Iowa Food & Family Project)

My friend Jenny and I picked the Chicken Cordon Bleu Casserole. We started out with the easy stuff. We divided milk into a freezer bag, bread crumbs into another and labeled the bags. Those bags were put into a gallon freezer bag. Then the real work began. Jenny had 12 pounds of ham to cube and I had 24 pounds of chicken breast to chop. The chicken and ham would eventually be put into bags along with cubed swiss cheese.  We would have been there all night but luckily some of the other ladies finished their recipes and helped out with the slicing and dicing. 
Jenny and I getting ready to pack up all of our freezer meals.

Two hours after we got to Hy-Vee all twelve of us were leaving with six fabulous meals ready to be put in the freezer, a goodie bag and a Hy-Vee gift card. 

The Iowa Food & Family Project and Hy-Vee are partnering on more of these events throughout the summer so you should enter to win a spot at one of them! The next event is May 12th at the Mills Civic Parkway Hy-Vee in West Des Moines. You can enter here

Thanks to everyone who helped to put on this event - it was a very fun night! 

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Zucchini Saute

This side dish is a great way to use up fresh vegetables you have in the fridge.
Sometimes when I'm cooking I realize I've just thrown together a dish that has four ingredients and a new four ingredient recipe for the Register is born. That is exactly what happened with this zucchini saute. 

We try to make a point of eating at least one fresh vegetable at every meal (or leftovers, if it's for lunch). Some days that is harder to do than others (like when I need to get to the grocery store). I didn't have a lot of any one vegetable the first time I made this dish but I had a little bit of a lot of different veggies. Zucchini, mushrooms, peppers and garlic made it into this skillet. 

A bonus of this recipe? The leftovers were fabulous mixed in with scrambled eggs the next day. 

Here's the story with the full recipe.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Pasta Toppers

Here are two four ingredient recipes I created for the Des Moines Register. They both use the same main ingredients - ham and peas. Both recipes were a hit with the kids but I think the version with alfredo sauce was their favorite.

On a hot summer day I would choose the version with mozzarella. I've made this version with asparagus and prosciutto before (in place of the ham and peas) and it was fabulous. Cut the asparagus into 2-inch pieces, boil for a few minutes then put into ice water to stop it from getting mushy. Add to the pasta at the end with the cheese and prosciutto.
Here's the link to the full article.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Polka Dot Party

I've been excited to share pictures from Claire's first birthday party but I needed to wait until the article was published in the Des Moines Register.

We used a polka dot theme and it was a lot of fun. Over a year ago I found brightly colored polka dot cups and napkins on sale and picked them up knowing I would use them at some point. A first birthday party was perfect.

I was inspired by lots of different ideas I saw on Pinterest. After narrowing it down I bought my supplies and got to work.

For all the crafting I went to my aunt Molly's house. She is really good at paper crafting of all types and I knew I would need both her knowledge and her tools. (Interested in making cards or scrapbooking? Follow her blog, Good Golly, Ms. Molly!)

The details are in this article but I wanted to share more pictures with you!

The invitations were made from card stock, scrapbook paper (cut into circles of different sizes) and a number 1 from a cricut.

The balloons hung from the ceiling and had pictures from the past year attached to the ribbons. We glued scrapbook paper to the  back of the pictures.

I had three jars that were actually left over from Aiden's first birthday party. They are filled with floral gel beads that I bought at at dollar store and used food coloring (they were clear) to make each jar a different color. I added a number one candle to each jar. For this party I put polka dot scrapbook paper from the invitations on the top. 

You can see most of the cake table in this picture. There were vases filled with pom poms (including a square vase that I put a clear plate on to use as a cake stand). I think the cake topper might be my favorite decoration from the party. It is made from paper straws, string, scrapbook paper and card stock that was cut into circles and stamped. 

The cake also had a polka dot pattern on top made from powdered sugar. I used an 8x11 piece of paper and a regular paper punch to use as a template when I sprinkled the sugar on top of the cake.

Happy birthday to Claire, we had a great time celebrating your first year!

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Spinach & Artichoke Chicken

Don't ever feel guilty about eating spinach and artichoke dip for dinner again! Instead of a dip, this recipe turns it into a sauce for chicken or pasta.

It is really rich but delicious. Everyone in our house loved it and I made it for a play date (six kids under three and three adults) and it seemed to be a hit.

I like it because it goes together very quickly - you can have it on the table in 25 minutes.

Click here for the recipe!

Monday, March 9, 2015

Spaghetti with Peas and Lemon

Spaghetti with lemon and peas is a very fast, very simple dish to throw together. I like to add shrimp to the dish (chicken would also be good).  Don't be scared of the lemon flavor, it's very subtle.

Check out the recipe here.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Food Bloggers

In today's Des Moines Register I wrote a story about Iowa food bloggers. I had the pleasure of getting to know four ladies with blogs a bit better.

There are also four recipes in the story, two of them I have tried myself (Thai Sticky Chicken Fingers from Iowa Girl Eats and the Grilled Shrimp with Garlic and Cilantro from The Mediterranean Dish), and I can't wait to try the other two (a delicious looking cake from Food & Swine and DIY Mock Duck from Jeni Eats).

Check out the story and then the blogs. I know I enjoy reading them.

Four Iowa Food Bloggers

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cheeseburger Crescent Rolls

This is a quick recipe that works for a meal or for an appetizer at a party. Click the link to read the full article from The Des Moines Register.

Cheeseburger Crescent Rolls