Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Super Fast Seafood Staple

Way back when, I moved to Houston with no job and no place to live. It doesn't sound like me, but it's true. I was a gypsy. I slept on my cousin's couch, went to school during the day to get certified, and visited my boyfriend's apartment in the evening. (Don't worry, it was Brent!) The very first week I "lived" in Houston, I was going to cook dinner for Brent and his roommate Jon at their apartment. As stated in a previous post, I did not know how to cook. I aimlessly wandered the aisles of HEB wondering what I was going to make. Thank goodness they had a little man doing a cooking demonstration at the time. He was making something called "Shrimp and Pasta Pesto", and there was a convenient recipe card right next to the station along with all the needed ingredients.

I ended up making the recipe. It was a hit. Brent & the roomie loved it. I still have the same battered recipe card, and it is a staple in our house even today. Brent will ask for it all the time. It is so easy and so good. It reminds me of something Sandra Lee would make on Food Network because it's decidedly "semi-homemade". I made it tonight because I knew I would be getting home late from boot camp. It came together super quickly and did not disappoint. Also, it is oh-so-good left over - hot or cold. Make it!

Shrimp & Pasta Pesto

1 pound shrimp (I like to buy the fully cooked shrimp from Whole Foods, but you can certainly boil or grill your own shrimp for this)
1 pound whole wheat farfalle pasta
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
1 bunch fresh asparagus
1 package Italian shredded cheese blend
crushed red pepper (optional)
fresh basil (optional)

1/2 tub prepared pesto (I like Butoni)
juice of 1 lemon
2 T. white wine vinegar

  1. Cut cherry tomatoes in half. Remove and discard tough ends from asparagus and cut into two inch pieces.
  2. Boil pasta according to package directions. Drop asparagus into pasta water during the last 2 minutes of cooking time. Drain pasta & asparagus well.
  3. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a large serving bowl.
  4. Toss hot pasta and asparagus in dressing until coated. Add shrimp, tomatoes, cheese, salt, and crushed red pepper. Stir gently and serve while still warm.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Target is my True Love

A while back, I did a post entitled Hobby Lobby is my Homeland. Well, if Hobby Lobby is my homeland, then Target is my true love. I could spend many blog post extolling the virtues of Target, but this time I'd like to focus on the clothes. I have always loved Target clothes. Granted, sometimes they are cheap and ugly. But if you look long enough, you will find a gem! My family and friends have long joked that I have some kind of special Target powers. I always seem to find things there that no one else can find. Target has a pretty quick inventory turnover, and every Target store has different items. This makes shopping difficult. You pretty much have to go the week they put it out, or it's gone. The funny thing is that I don't actually go to Target that much... maybe once a month. But I never walk out empty handed. That's why Brent is probably glad I only go once a month. Last Saturday, I went in for some Glade plug-ins for my classroom. I came out with.... um, two full outfits. I thought I'd share my great buys with you here!

How cute and spring-like is this little skirt? It's got pink and orange diamonds and, if you ask me, looks like it is from Banana Republic. Pretty sure you won't find a skirt like this at Banana for $25.

With the skirt, you're going to want an adorable little tank and sweater. I love these Merona tanks - they are form fitting but not tight, long enough, and have a cute little ruffle around the neck.

This Mossimo Supply sweater is perfect for summer... it covers you up like a cardigan, but has short sleeves. The texture and buttons are fun details. The beige color of the sweater matches the skirt perfectly.
On to the next outfit... I love this print Merona dress also for only $25... it's got a modern looking pattern of dots and stripes in a purple / navy pattern. It looks adorable with...

This fantastic gold belt that was on sale for $9! Yes, please.
I did not buy the following two items, but had I seen them, I would have! For you, my faithful readers, I bring you: A soft, swingy cardigan
And a precious little pink rosette tee.

For those of you that made it to the end of this post, I have a bonus for you. I want to brag for just a tiny little second about the progress I've made eating healthy and working out. As my friend Lora says, "Maybe all that crazy exercise calendar stuff really works!"

Here is a picture of me from two years ago. I won't even tell you what size that dress is.
For the last 8 months or so, I have been working really hard at eating healthy and working out hard and a lot. I have been a faithful boot camp attender! Here is me this morning before work in my new Target outfit. I am so proud of myself! That is a size six pencil skirt, people!!! Yay!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Yogurt Obsession

For my whole life, I've eaten yogurt because I knew it was good for me, but I never really liked it. I have always bought those fat free Yoplait containers. They make them sound so good in the commercials... I mean, apple pie? Yes, please. Except... it tastes nothing like apple pie. Just an overly sweet goop that somewhat tastes like a processed apple if you concentrate really hard. I also don't like the texture of regular yogurt. It's too thin and watery. Yuck.

Last week I was having lunch with one of my teacher friends, and she was eating what looked like sour cream with a spoon. When I asked her what it was, she told me it was Greek yogurt. I've heard of Greek yogurt a lot lately in recipes, but I've never been able to find it at the store. So I did a little research and found out that even though Greek yogurt is thick, rich, and creamy, it comes either fat free or with 2 grams of fat, and it has TWICE the protein of regular yogurt, so it keeps you full longer. Plus, it only has 30 more calories than the yucky yogurt I was eating already.

So, on my last grocery trip I picked up four containers of Fage Greek Yogurt. I bought three with honey and one with strawberry. Let me just say: I am hooked and I am never going back! The yogurt is not overly sweet. In fact, it's not sweet at all. It's tangy, creamy, and thick - like the texture of sour cream. And who doesn't love sour cream? Then you put a little honey on it for a natural sweetness... heavenly. It's like a desert to me. I've been eating it every day as either a morning snack or an afternoon snack. Today I ran out, and I was seriously trying to plot a way to get some while driving either to or from school. I gotta have it! You should check it out so you can also banish yucky yogurt forever.


Monday, April 12, 2010

Just For Fun

Hello Friends! Well, I utterly failed you
in "Real Simple Week". I made an ambitious goal, and I did not reach it. Sad. Unfortunately, my real simple life turned crazy about Thursday and included a rehearsal dinner, two weddings, 8 hours of driving, one point five days with the Dallas family, three loads of laundry, a messy house, four errands, a dirty dog, and planning a TAKS prep unit. Blogging did not make the priority list. But don't worry... I made my weekly grocery trip! I still have some real simple ideas for you, but I just wanted to leave you wanting more :-) I'll get them up in time.

For now...

Brent had a hard day today, and I was going to the gym, so I wouldn't be home to greet him like I wanted to. So I had this random idea to have Blazer greet him. I made a little tag and attached it to Blazer's collar. (He never knew the difference.) I was laughing so hard just looking at him. He was adorable! He was like a little gift with a gift tag sticking up. So cute. I put him up in his crate, and when Brent came home, he saw the little note. I think it brought a smile to his face. Here's what the note said:


Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Real Simple Menu Planning & Grocery Shopping

I love to cook, watch Food Network, read food magazines, and try new recipes. So, it was inevitable that I would become a menu planning and grocery shopping expert. In fact, funny story - last year Brent and I were in a "growth group" at church. As a culminating activity, we did a survey and helped each other find our spiritual gifts. One person in my group insisted that "domestic planning" was my gift and that I should teach classes on the topic! Pretty sure that's not a spiritual gift, but I was flattered anyway. But don't worry...it wasn't always that way! Just ask Brent.

I remember when Brent and I were dating and both living in Houston. I would make dinner for him some nights at his apartment. I had NO IDEA what to make him or how to make it. I grew up eating home cooked meals, but my mom always made it look easy, and I had no idea what I was doing. I remember one particularly desperate night where I actually went to Barnes and Noble and bought a cookbook at like 6:30 pm to figure out what to make that night! That was back when I thought cookbooks were the only places to get recipes. Thankfully, I've come a long way since then. Now, I really don't use cookbooks at all. They are bulky and not user-friendly. There are tons of recipes in there that you will never cook, yet you have to lug that book around and search forever to find the recipe you're looking for. So, I made up my own system of recipe collecting, menu planning, and grocery shopping.

Recipe Collecting:
I get most of my recipes from the three food magazines I subscribe to: Cooking Light, Everyday with Rachael Ray, and Everyday Food. Occasionally I also get recipes from blogs or online. Food magazines are great for recipes, but only if you have a pretty clear system for getting the recipes out of the magazine and on to your plate. At first, I let magazines stack up in my living room. Then I was like, "Oh... there was that chicken dish I wanted to try. What magazine was that in? What month? And where is it?" Not exactly efficient. So... enter the binders. I have three binders with dividers for each recipe category. One binder has chicken, beef, pork, and turkey. Another binder has seafood, pasta, and vegetarian. The last binder has appetizers and desserts. These binders contain everything I make and want to make. Every month, I go through my magazines and rip out all the pages I want to try. Then I throw away the rest of the magazine. I file the pages in the divider categories where they belong, and then I have a collection of old favorites and new ideas that is ever-growing. A few times a year, I clean out the binders and throw out all the recipes that are not good or that I know I will never make.

Menu Planning:
Once you have a recipe collection going, you need to make a weekly plan. I used to do the "what are we having tonight?" routine and go to the grocery store almost every day. Miserable. I forced myself to get on a Sunday plan, and it is heaven once you get it going. On Sunday, I sit down with my binders and a notebook. I then flip through my recipes and decide what I want to make.

On the left side of the page, I plan out dinners for all nights we will be eating at home. I try to have a balance in the week: Usually one chicken, one seafood, one pasta, and maybe one vegetarian or soup. Once I plug in my dinners, I plan my lunches. If I'm planning to make something like a pot of soup that I know will have leftovers, I pencil it in for lunch for the next one or two days. Finally, I think about my breakfasts.

After I've got my weekly plan made, I get out the recipes and make my grocery list right away. My grocery list is always on the page opposite the menu plan, and it's always on the grocery store matrix. I give ultimate credit to my mom for the grocery store matrix which she has used forever. The grocery store matrix divides your list into the sections of the grocery store which makes shopping quick and easy. The top left box is produce, top right is dairy, bottom left is pantry or middle aisles, and bottom right is meat, frozen, and drugstore items. If you try the matrix, you will never go back. I also include a little section for things I need to buy later, like at Whole Foods. Brent picks those items up for me during the week. I always like my produce box to be the fullest box, which indicates that I've planned a healthy menu with plenty of fruit and veggies. Success. Then, on Sunday afternoon, I go to Kroger and pick up everything I need for the week so that I do not have to return until the next Sunday! It is so nice to come home from work every day and already know what I'm going to make and that the ingredients are purchased and ready to go.

Although it takes a little pre-planning and some commitment, this recipe collection / menu planning / grocery shopping system WORKS!! It saves time, helps you eat healthier, and helps you save money because you're not eating out or going to the store every day to buy random things.

If you want to check out menu planning on steroids, check out my friend from college, Shayla over at design finch. She has seriously one-upped me with her menu planning. Granted, she is a graphic designer, but wow... check out this weekly menu! My system might be real simple, but hers is simply amazing! Be sure to scroll down and see the menu in all of its beautiful glory.

Tomorrow: Real simple ways to arrive at work in a spiritually peaceful state of mind.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Real Simple Snack

I don't know about you, but I become ravenous around 4:30. Brent and I don't eat dinner until pretty late (8:00 or later most nights), so I absolutely must have a snack sometime before then. I usually want something salty, savory, easy, quick, and filling, yet healthy. Definitely a tall order after a long day at work with dinner still to make and no time to go to the store.

Solution: Katie's Quick Mediterranean Dip.

It really only takes two ingredients: canned tomatoes and feta cheese. (OK, four ingredients if you add the spices.) Canned tomatoes will keep in your pantry forever, and feta cheese also has a very long shelf life in the fridge, so I keep a large stock of both. This is a recipe I adapted from a Cooking Light recipe I came across a long time ago. As far as I can see, you're getting some good lycopene from the tomatoes as well as a serving of veggies, plus protein and calcium from the cheese and some whole grain in your pita chips. I don't suggest eating the whole bowl unless it's a meal, so I just eat a bit and put it in the fridge to heat up tomorrow. Here's how I make it, but it's endlessly adaptable! You can go from hungry to satisfied in 2 minutes.

Katie's Quick Mediterranean Dip

1 can diced tomatoes (I like the Italian flavored kinds, and I prefer Hunt's, but any will do)
1 package low fat crumbled feta cheese
pinch of garlic powder
pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (but I like mine spicy!)

1. Thoroughly drain the can of tomatoes. Pour in a microwave-safe bowl.
2. Stir in garlic powder and red pepper flakes to your liking.
3. Stir in one container of low fat crumbled feta cheese.
4. Cover with a paper towel and microwave for 1 - 2 minutes. Feta does not melt, but it gets soft and warm and melds with the tomatoes. Yum.
5. Eat with pita chips, crackers, bread, or tortilla chips.

Come back tomorrow for real simple menu planning and grocery shopping!


Monday, April 5, 2010

Real Simple Dessert

Yesterday was Brent's birthday. With Easter and a birthday, it was quite a celebration! On Saturday, I wanted to make him a good dessert. The problem was, I didn't think about this until I was at the grocery store picking up a few things. Brent's two favorite desserts are cheesecake and strawberry shortcake. Cheesecake has to chill overnight, so that was clearly out of the question. So I settled on strawberry shortcake. Seeing as how I didn't have the recipe with me, I called my trusty mother to ask her what I needed to buy. Since she is a very good mom, she went and looked up the recipe while I was on the phone. She started to read off the list of ingredients which included Crisco and Cream of Tartar, among many other things I do not have. Then she suddenly stopped and said, "Here's what you do. Buy a box of Bisquick. The recipe is on the box." Done and done! I'm all for "from scratch", but let's be honest. I'd rather eat the shortcake then spend all day making it. Here is what you will need to purchase to make this real simple dessert:
That's right. Just Bisquick, whipping cream, and strawberries. You will also need butter, sugar, and milk, but I'm pretty sure you already have those things, so you don't need to purchase them.

The recipe is indeed on the back of the box, but just in case you're doubting how easy it is, here's how I made it. The whole process took 15 minutes.

1. Heat oven to 425.

2. Stir together 2 1/3 c. Bisquick mix with 3 T. melted butter, 1/2 c. milk, and 3 T. sugar. (I used Splenda)

3. Spoon the dough into 4 - 6 biscuits on the cookie sheet. (depending on how big you want your cakes to be)

4. Bake cakes 10-12 minutes or until golden brown.

5. While cakes are baking, thinly slice a container of strawberries. Stir with a few spoonfuls of sugar or Splenda. Keep in refrigerator until ready to serve.

6. Pour entire carton of whipping cream into stand mixer. Add a few spoonfuls of sugar or Splenda. Begin beating on low and gradually increase to high until cream thickens - a few minutes.

7. Cut cakes in half. Top with strawberries, whipped cream, and the other half of the cake.

8. Devour. Don't look at exercise tracker at all. It's better that way.

As long as you hide the Bisquick box in the pantry, you could easily be mistaken for a pastry chef. You should also remind your guests multiple times that the whipped cream is homemade and not from a tub or aerosol can. So there you have it: Real simple dessert.

Come back tomorrow for a real simple snack!


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Real Simple Week

This week I'm making a big goal: I'm going to post something EVERY DAY! Please try to contain your extreme excitement. I've been thinking about things to post, and I've been wanting to share lots of little systems I use in my life to make things simpler. Lord knows that life is complicated enough. I have plenty of complexity already, thank you. But I'm also a very disciplined (somewhat OCD) person who likes to have everything just so. For this reason, I've come up with little time savers that I thought you might want to know about. Come back every day this week for real simple tips on cooking, shopping, working out, and even making it to work each day with a sane and peaceful mind.

Up first: Real Simple Exercise Tracking

In high school and college, I had a relatively consistent exercise routine. However, when I graduated from college and became a teacher, all consistency went right out the window. And if you think I was going to plan lessons until 11:00 pm and THEN go work out during my first year of teaching, you are out of your mind. So, for about six years now, I've been trying to find a sustainable system that will motivate me to work out. I've tried everything - tracking exercise on WeightWathers.com, keeping a diary on paper, keeping a diary on my computer, iPhone apps, etc. Basically what happens is that I get motivated and work out for about a week. Then I get tired and stop for months at a time. No good. In anticipation of my trip to Hawaii, I decided I wanted to track my exercise in the months leading up to our trip. It was then that I stumbled upon the cheapest, easiest, most no-fuss, yet most motivational exercise tracking system ever. All it requires is some paper, a pen, and a roll of double stick tape. It's almost embarrassing how easy this is.

First, I printed out blank calendars for every month of the year from http://www.eprintablecalendars.com/. I cut out the calendars and placed them, along with a roll of tape and a marker, in a kitchen drawer right next to my refrigerator. Each month, I tape up a new calendar. Then, I simply write down all of my exercise in the little squares. Any exercise that is 45 minutes or longer counts: yoga at home, going to the gym, boot camp, or walking the neighborhood.

I've discovered that the problem with NOT tracking exercise is two-fold: (1) If you don't exercise, nothing happens. Tomorrow, it will be forgotten! (2) If you DO exercise, nothing happens. You forget that, too. My system solves both problems! When you don't exercise, that box is glaringly blank. The days of no exercise stare you in the face. Secondly, when you DO exercise, it somehow counts more when you write it down. It helps me to see my progress and feel good about the success.

I don't know if I'm stuck in childhood or I've simply been a teacher for way too long, but I LOVE filling in those squares. When I get home from working out, I kick off my shoes and go straight to the fridge where I write it down. Sometimes I make little goals like: This week I'm gong to work out more than last or I'm having a hard time working out on Tuesdays, so I'm going to work out on Tuesday this week. It's right by my coffee maker, so I look at it every morning and think about my exercise habits. Obsessive? ...maybe a little bit. But it's definitely less obsessive than logging every calorie burned online. It has worked for me! Maybe you can tell from the calendars that my workouts have increased since August. It's real simple and real cheap. Try it!

Come back tomorrow for a real simple dessert!


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