» January 2012 «

100 Posts + Lemon Cake

Today we are celebrating our 100th post! What better way to celebrate this milestone than with a moist lemon cake and meringue-ish frosting? Hooray!

When I realized last week that I had just published post #99, I couldn’t decide what project was worthy of #100. So I finally decided to allow my hectic schedule to dictate the project depth, and thus my free time this week allotted enough time to bake a single cake.

I chose to bake a lemon cake for two reasons:
1.) I had leftover Meyer Lemons from an impulse buy (they were so pretty).
2.) I had never attempted a plain lemon cake.

Plain lemon cake may not seem like much in the way of motivation, however, as an ex-hater of all things lemon, I now feel the need to devour as much citrus-flavored goodness as humanly possible. So, that’s the story of how I came to bake a lemon cake.

While scouring the internet for lemony treats, I decided to abide by three rules for choosing the recipe:
1.) Simple
2.) Legitimate source
3.) Already purchased ingredients

As typically happens, my friend Martha Stewart came to my rescue. Martha’s lemon cake is a slight variation of her vanilla cake, which was perfect considering, I love her vanilla cake. Really, you can’t go wrong. She also used a whipped frosting on top which looks meringue-like but is actually lighter, almost foamy.

This lemon cake was incredibly moist with just the right amount of lemony goodness. So, if you’re looking for a simple, fail-safe, and super-moist cake recipe, Martha’s Lemon Cake is the way to go.

And so, here we are–100 posts down and hopefully many more to come. Thank you to all my diligent readers who hang in there with me through the good, the bad, and the ugly posts.

On another miletsone note, we are quickly coming up on the one year anniversary of The Kitchen Curtains and I would love to hear from you. Please shoot me an email or leave a comment letting us know what your favorite post has been so far.

Happy 100!

No Bake Bites

You remember how I made all those healthy freezer meals for the hubby and I to enjoy this semester? Well, if you’ve learned anything about me from reading this blog, it is most likely the fact that I love sweets. Yes, I admit I have a bit of a sweet tooth. And when I say “a bit” I really mean, “I would probably die without sweets.” Dramatic? Perhaps. However, I’m pretty sure my husband (who has to make midnight Sonic runs) would agree that the above statement is indeed accurate.

Where am I going with all this? While preparing an abundance of healthy and appropriately portioned meals, I reached a point where I couldn’t stand to look at one more vegetable, and then, I caved.

Here’s my philosophy (also known as justification): healthy eating deserves unhealthy rewards (sound familiar). Where’s the fun/motivation in eating well if you can’t treat yourself to something bad from time to time?

With that in mind, I set to work whipping up these easy and surprisingly, not too unhealthy, No Bake Bites.

I’m sure most of you have made these tasty treats once or twice. I used this No-Bake Cookie recipe from Skinny Taste (a great website for low fat, family-friendly recipes). I liked Gina’s version better than my no-bake recipe mainly because they stick together well for rolling into balls, thus making it easier to have a consistent size, and thus a consistent measurement of calories per cookie bite. According to her blog, 1 serving=2 cookies for a total of 105 calories.

Once the cookies were cooled and covered in powdered sugar, I split them equally into four bags, froze three, and put one in the fridge for us to enjoy after meals. Once we start getting low, I simply pull out another bag to thaw so we never find ourselves wishing for chocolate and settling on something five times worse for us to eat.

Oh and one more thing, these are delicious! Trust me, they’ll satisfy that late night sweet craving. Enjoy!

Farm Days–They’re a Comin’

Aren’t they beautiful? Yes, I realize it is only January and many of you are knee deep in water (I’m talking to my friends and family on the West Coast), but with any luck all those showers will bring pretty flowers!

I decided it was appropriate to talk about flowers this week after receiving an unexpected email. The email. The one that comes every spring from Linda at Aunt Willie’s Wildflowers saying it’s time to talk about this year’s workshop schedule. Hooray!

In celebration of the upcoming flower season, and simply because I’m SO excited, I thought I would share a few links with you all.

First off, Linda made her monthly appearance on Daytime Tricities to show off a few arrangements and advertise for spring weddings.

The second link I have for you is to Linda’s blog. That’s right, she started a blog! Now you can see even more farm pictures. Her latest post shows a moss crystal basket arrangement.

I am also giving you the link to the latest post from Kira Noble Photography. Kira gives readers some great tips for photographing the small things/little details…I think flowers count as small things so this post might be beneficial for the budding florists/photographers among us.

And one more link with pretty flower arrangements from Flirty Fleurs.

I hope this post has sparked your imagination and served to prepare you just a bit for the exiting season ahead.

Crockpot Chili Recipe

Woke up this morning, my third day back in class, to a wonderful text message alerting me of our snow delay! Looking outside it was hard to not mock our little corner of Tennessee for their never-fail overreactions to winter weather (less than 1 in. this morning). However, I got to go back to sleep for 45 minutes before my long day, so no complaining here. I’ve been hanging onto this chili recipe, waiting for that perfectly brisk and chilling day to share it with you. I think you’ll agree after seeing this picture that today’s the day!

This savory chili is sure to warm both your heart and tummy on days like these when you just can’t seem to escape the winter chill. Simply throw the ingredients together at night or in the morning, and leave the crock pot on low throughout the day–allowing your humble abode to fill with the welcoming aromas of coffee, chocolate, and spices.

Crockpot Chili

3 cups pinto beans (or 2-3 cans if not using dry)
2 cans kidney beans
1 lb ground beef
8 oz can of tomato sauce
1 tsp cocoa
1/2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp parsley
1 tbsp Worcestershire
Easy BBQ Sauce (see recipe below)
1 sweet onion (chopped)
5 carrots (shredded and chopped)
2 Roma tomatoes (chopped)

_Easy BBQ Sauce

1 cup ketchup
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 tablespoon olive oil

If you are using dry pinto beans, soak overnight and prepare beans per instructions on the bag.

Place 1 lb of thawed ground beef in your slow cooker. Season with cinnamon, garlic, parsley and anything else that floats your boat. I threw in a pack of Goya seasoning. It is fantastic and can be found in the Hispanic food section of the grocery store, it is in an orange and white box.

Separate the meat a bit and allow to brown slightly. Add beans, tomato sauce, Worcestershire, and cocoa. Prepare the Easy BBQ Sauce by simply combining the ingredients above on the stove then pour into the crock pot. I changed a few ingredients to work with what we had in the fridge, but the here is the original.

Shred the carrots first, then chop. Chop the onion and tomatoes. Add vegetables to crock pot. Stir well and let sit until you are ready to eat. If you are preparing this a couple hours before eating, set the crock pot on high, if you are planning to leave it on all day, set the crock pot on low. Remember, as with most crock pot dishes, the longer it cooks the tastier it becomes. This is also the recipe I used to prepare our semester of freezer meals.

Hope this warms you up on the cold days to come. Welcome to Winter!

How to Prepare Freezer Meals

Our kitchen has seen much progress in the past 4 years as Jack and I develop new ways of cooking that keep us healthy, provide warm homemade meals, and save time. This past year we started following some of the Biggest Loser protein menu guidelines to help define our eating styles. We both attend classes and run back and forth between 2 other jobs–this means our eating time is limited and usually involves us scarfing down whatever is quick and easy. Not to mention the hassle of coming home and attempting to prepare dinner. By the time 6 o’clock rolls around, the last thing we want to do is thaw and prep food. The Biggest Loser protein packed menus are fabulous (sample menu), because as the name suggests, they are packed with protein. What does that mean for us? We can eat less throughout the day and still remain full and energized enough to exercise those valuable brain cells.

What does our daily food system usually consist of?

Breakfast: 1 slice whole grain toast, 2 poached egg whites, 8 oz fat-free milk, coffee, fruit (you can even have 2 sausage links in this meal plan)

Snack: 1 medium apple, sliced, with 1 tablespoon peanut butter or 1 non-fat yogurt cup, 1 nature oats granola bar

_Lunch:_Black Bean Burrito with salsa, onions, tomatoes, romaine lettuce, and 1 wheat tortilla or 2 cups chopped romaine lettuce, tomato, cucumber and 4 oz lemon-pepper seasoned chicken (cooked ahead of time and separated into baggies to freeze)

Dinner: This is where we added in a bit of variety. Usually we pair fish with either 1 cup of brown rice, a side salad, or 1 serving of penne pasta with vegetables.

However, with school in full swing I pre-made 37 freezer meals for two in order to help us stay healthy, eat smaller portions and still have time for the necessary nightly study extravaganza.

The meals I included are made from fresh ingredients and are separated into moderate serving sizes. Most of these meals are to be paired with either brown rice or a side salad for a healthy and filling meal.

Spring Semester Freezer Meals:

Roasted Red Pepper and Tomato-Basil Soup
Yields: 8 cups
Serving Size: 1 cup
2-Person Meals: 4
Pair with: salad or homemade wheat bread

BBQ Chili
Yields: 10 cups
Serving Size: 1/2 cup
2-Person Meals: 10
Pair with: 1/2 cup brown rice or homemade wheat bread

Vegetable Pork Roast
Yields: 10 cups
Serving Size: 1 cup
2-Person Meals: 5
Pair with: 1/2 cup brown rice or side salad

Steamed Vegetables
Yields: 18 cups
Serving Size: 1 cup
2-Person Meals: 9
Pair with: 1 cup brown rice or 1 cup penne pasta
Note: We eat vegetables with everything so you can throw these into the steamer basket while your rice cooks or toss them into a pasta dish or simple cook as a side to go with your fish.

Rump Roast
Yields: 44 oz
Serving Size: 4 oz
2-Person Meals: 11
Pair with: sandwiches, salads, tacos, soups, pasta, etc
Note: I cooked an extra roast and shred the meat just to have extra meat on hand for whatever other dish we may want to throw together. I didn’t do anything special to this meat so there could be a variety of uses.

Pinto Beans
Note: I cooked 1 whole bag of dry pinto beans, using 3 cups for the chili, 2 cups to make hummus (great low-calorie snack), and 2 cups of leftover to use as a side or to throw into a stew. The bag only cost $1.49 and the resulting meals make the extra cook time worthwhile.

I was able to buy all of the ingredients for these freezer meals including a large bag of brown rice and salad fixings to go along with the meals for under $100. The only part that wasn’t included was the rump roast and 1 lb of ground beef because we bought grass-fed beef last summer from the Doan’s farm.

Freezer Meals Tips:

1.) When dividing your portions into baggies, think about how much unthawing/rethawing you want to do. I don’t put more than 4 individual portions into each bag, i.e. 2 nights of meals for 2 people.

2.) Flatten bags of food onto cookie sheets to freeze. Once frozen remove from sheet and stack upright to conserve freezer space.

3.) Many people will tell you not to cook your meat ahead of time for beef/pork crockpot meals as you will lose some of the flavor. I have frozen crockpot meals both ways, and I didn’t think it made that much of a difference so if I have time to cook it all ahead of time I will. Chicken, however, you really should cook ahead of time if mixing with other foods.

4.) As always, be creative. You might be amazed to find that most of your meals can be prepped ahead of time and set out to thaw or thrown into a crockpot to cook or even just thaw all day. And let’s face it, who doesn’t like coming home after a crappy day to a house that smells like Grandma’s old-fashioned pot roast? Brings a smile to my face just thinking about it.

5.) Keep your freezer organized. I’m a stickler for organization. I love thinking of ways to organize and the process of organizing my life. For instance, my favorite part about January is buying a new planner for the year–so refreshing! I grabbed an old filing bin to store our randomly packaged meats. It also works well for “filing” flattened soup ziplocks. You can find little bins of all sizes to fit your freezer at the dollar tree so don’t let a few dollars discourage you from years of organized freezer bliss.

I hope you’ve enjoyed these few ideas and tips. I will be posting my freezer meal recipes throughout the next few posts. If you have any questions, suggestions, or tips to share please send them my way.

Happy freezing!

Christmas Party + A Few Tips

What holiday homecoming is complete without dressing up at least once for a Christmas party? Many individuals are put off by throwing their own party because, let’s face it, organizing an event on top of work and family can at times seem daunting. As soon as Jack and I knew we would be flying home for Christmas this year, I begged my mom to let me throw a little shindig at their house. These are a few of the set-up pictures.

When planning a holiday get-together, be sure to choose quick, easy and inexpensive treats that can feed a large group. In keeping with this rule, I decided to make bruschetta. This dish requires tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and feta–all fairly inexpensive and best of all, a little goes a long way. Jack even made baguettes to go along with the bruschetta and save a little money. My parents also decided to buy one HoneyBaked Ham to avoid the hassle of baking all day, and lots of wine.

Another way to lower the stress and remain in budget is to simply ask your friends and family to bring something to share. Many people think they are required to provide everything for the party but most guests are more than happy to contribute and don’t even need to be asked. Remember, it is OK to let go of some of the party-planning responsibility…a tip I find myself repeating often.

Simple is better. Cheese, crackers, wine–even three themed ingredients can make a successful party. We had a wine and cheese bar at the party. My aunt and uncle contributed an out-of this-world homemade tomato jam (recipe to come), that we paired with crackers and various cheeses. I filled up on this combination alone.
A few of the contributed foods included: pumpkin dip and gingersnaps (courtesy of my sister), meatballs (mother-in-law), more cheese and cracker plates (you can never have too many), ham, pickle, and cream cheese rolls (sister-in-law), and more wine.

For the non-wine drinkers, we also created a fun little space for a hot chocolate bar. I emptied cocoa and marshmallows into tins from home depot, and filled a teapot with hot water right before the guests arrived. I also filled clear containers with cinnamon sticks for stirring, and pirouettes to pair with their drinks. We set out the mugs ahead of time for easy access and also decorated the cocoa bar with various desserts, Costco truffles on shiny flower cut outs and blackberry pie.

To decorate, we simply used ornaments and candles to add ambiance and sparkle to the decor. Once again, simple and inexpensive is the key to throwing your own party. This should be an enjoyable process, not one that will cause stress. Decide ahead of time your budget, time requirements, and how many people you are willing to host. If you aren’t sure, start small and in time, throwing a party will be as easy as 1-2-3.

Remember it’s not about the party, it’s about the people–Coming together with those you love. I hope you’ve enjoyed the pictures from our little holiday party and I hope your holiday gatherings were as joyful and refreshing as ours was. Happy New Year!