Sunday, February 28, 2010

Shells, shells, shells

I married an Italian. When we first started dating, he told me about the way his late grandmother would cook, and how it was some of the best food he's ever had.
Now I'm no Mary, but he told me that my cooking is top notch. I think he's just delusional, but I'll take the compliment.
I'm always playing around with my recipes, trying to improve this, change that...and I finally found the perfect way to make stuffed shells! This makes me super excited. Here's how I made it:

(First, the sauce. I used my Mom's recipe, however, instead of roasting the tomatoes, I steamed them. Either way is delicious.)

Roasted Tomato and Garlic Pasta Sauce

2 pounds Roma or plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
1 medium onion, peeled and quartered
6 peeled garlic cloves
1 T fresh rosemary leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
1 T fresh thyme leaves (or 1 tsp dried)
1 T balsamic vinegar
1 cup of crushed tomatoes
½ tsp salt
1 tsp dried basil and oregano (or 1 tsp of Italian seasonings)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place the tomatoes, onion, garlic, rosemary and thyme on a baking sheet sprayed with non-stick spray. Spray veggies lightly with non-stick spray. Roast for 20 minutes. Flip the vegetables and roast for another 20-25 minutes or until they start to brown. Scrape everything into a food processor fitted with the chopping blade and process until pureed.

Pour contents into a large saucepan. Add vinegar, tomato paste, salt and basil. Simmer for at least 30 minutes to an hour, depending on richness of flavor desired.

Shell Filling:
16 oz low fat small curd cottage cheese
16 oz low fat ricotta cheese
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt (I used Oikos)
2 cups grated italian cheese (I used kraft, it has 4 different kinds of cheeses)
1 cup sharp or extra sharp cheddar cheese (I like extra sharp for that extra zip)
garlic powder (I just dump it in.)
grated parmesan cheese (again, I just dump it in.)

Mix all ingredients in a bowl, then put into jumbo shell. (I boil the shells until it's soft, but still firm. Approximately 10-12 minutes.) Place into greased baking dish, cover with sauce. Cook for 45 minutes at 350.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Who doesn't love free stuff?!?

My Mom sometimes gets really cool work out DVDs to give a try or give out to readers. I was looking at them in her house one day and got super excited when I saw one for Pilates. Pilates makes me all warm and fuzzy inside just thinking about it. I think of women who frequently do pilates and I get all hot for them because their bodies are so perfectly toned, flexible and, well, hot. While I'm perfectly heterosexual, I still can appreciate a woman who takes great care of their body. And don't even get me started on men who do Yoga or Pilates. *hotflash*
So I did a review on my Mom's site, Lynn's Weigh. If you want a chance at winning the DVD, then you need to comment on her blog and then you'll be entered to win! It's that easy. I have my copy and you'll have to pry it from my cold, dead hands before I give it up!


Who Loves Pilates? Cassie Does! (Giveaway Inside!)

Each winter around this time, I start getting bored with my fitness regimen. I can’t do much outside so cardio machines, Thera-Band and free weights are my only exercise friends.

Or are they?

Variety is the spice of life, so I’ve decided to try a new fitness video every week or two. Not only will I try it, I’ll post a review and give you a chance to win it! (Yes, I’m dragging ya’ll along on my “spice of life” campaign.)

Having said all that, however, I’m not the one wrote today’s review of “Element Slim and Tone Pilates with Kara Wily.” My daughter Cassie, mother of my g-babies, was crazy about this video and so I thought I’d let her tell you what’s up.

First a little info about Cassie: She’s 25 years old, 5’8” tall, 145 pounds. She’s in the process of losing weight, down 30 pounds since Luca was born in May and eyeing 135 if her body will let her. She joined a gym when Luca was 3 months old and works out there when she can, usually 4 or 5 times a week. If the kids are well behaved at the gym daycare, she can get her cardio and strength training done in 45 minutes to an hour. Cassie also likes to use fitness DVDs at home (Claire “helps”) and that’s why I’ve asked her to review this and future workouts. I’ll throw my two cents in as well. Just not this time.

Here’s Cassie’s review.

“Element Slim and Tone Pilates with Kara Wily” (approx. 40 minutes long)

Rating: ***** of ***** stars. LOVED IT!
Difficulty: **** of ***** stars.
Presentation: **** of ***** stars. Unless you’re familiar with Pilates, you will need to be able to see the screen to follow, which can be difficult since this is a very fast moving exercise. I recommend watching it first prior to actually performing it.
Benefit: *****of ***** stars. I felt it working with every exercise. This is going to be a DVD I’ll keep around for the long haul.

I think of Pilates as Yoga on speed. While it still requires using your breath and centering, it is more fast-paced and has a cardio benefit.

“Slim and Tone Pilates” is wonderful for intermediate to experienced Pilates users. I felt every exercise and got a full body workout without feeling completely winded and exhausted at the end. It was also nice and short so I could get it in during the kids’ naps.

“Slim and Tone” uses a voice-over format, with the instructor performing just the movements. This allowed for much more fluidity with the exercise as a whole. This format works well for me since I’m familiar with Pilates and don’t require extra explanation of the movements. That’s why I recommend beginners watch it and perform the moves a few times to get familiar with the flow.

Each movement is performed only a few times, enough to feel it working, but not enough to exhaust the muscles. The rowing series is a very nice yet different exercise that uses both core and arm strength and flexibility. When preformed correctly, and you use your own resistance, it works the arms in such a unique way – I felt it working my deltoids, triceps, forearms and the muscles of the upper back (especially those along the bra line.) It’s a very refreshing movement.

I’m not as flexible as I once was, but by the end of the video I had much more movement because of the constant stretching throughout the workout. Also, the breathing instruction was great for extending my flexibility.

The jumps and leg lifts at the end really completed the exercise. It felt like all my stretched out muscles got a good shake out.

One downside, if you have weak knees or wrists, this will be a little more difficult for you. I found the six pushups required at the end were next to impossible since my muscles were surprisingly weak.

Overall, though, the workout was so fun that I hardly realized I was working hard. I didn’t once look at the clock or wonder when it would be done. I felt relaxed, rejuvenated and ready for my day after completing this exercise.

I know I’ve implied that “Shape and Tone Pilates” is probably not for beginners, but I’m afraid that by saying that, you might be timid to try it. I think if you’re new to Pilates, I’d just recommend watching it a few times and taking your time to stop and watch while going through the movements the first few times. Please don’t be intimidated or frustrated by the movements. This isn’t an exercise that will be mastered after a few times, it will take months of practice. This requires a lot of flexibility and for some people that doesn’t come naturally.

I also feel that if done often, this will show quick results. I have since done this DVD three times and already notice a difference in my flexibility and strength in my back and spine.

Now for the giveaway part: To enter the drawing to win this DVD, leave a comment or send an email to lynnbering@verizon.netand let us know if you’ve ever tried Pilates before. We’ll draw a random name and announce a winner on Thursday, Feb. 25!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Make this, make this now!

My mom turned me on to this great website called A Year of Slow Cooking (located at the right of the blog) and I printed off several recipes to try. Today we tried Applesauce Chicken. Lord was it delicious. I changed a few things, as per my normal. Here's how you make it:

Applesauce Chicken
--4 frozen chicken breast halves or thighs (I used 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts)
--1 1/2 cups of applesauce
--1 T dried onion flakes, or 1 yellow onion, chopped finely
--1 T apple cider vinegar
--1/4 tsp cinnamon
--1/2 tsp black pepper
--2 cloves garlic, minced
--1 or 2 sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed

Put the frozen chicken pieces into your 
crockpot. Add the onion (if you are using the dried onion, wait and add it to the applesauce). In a bowl, mix the applesauce, vinegar, garlic, and spices together. Pour on top of the chicken. Add sweet potatoes.

Cover and cook on low for 5-7 hours, or on high for 3-4.

I added the sweet potato. The original recipe also calls for red pepper flakes that I omitted because I'm sure Claire and Luca wouldn't appreciate it. The sweet potato in it was delicious (says the person who HATES sweet potatoes.)

I again, put some in the food processor and added some water and grinded it up for Luca. He loved it, Claire loved it. This dish was delicious. 

Saturday, February 20, 2010

M&M cookies and baby food

My grandpa's favorite holiday is Valentine's Day. He would always send us Valentines and candy every year. I'm guessing I'm getting too old, because he sent the Valentines and candy to my kids. Either way, it's still a benefit for me, because, darn, Luca's too young to eat M&M's.

I make cookies every week from scratch. I buy the giant bag of chocolate chips, butter, egg beaters... all from Sam's Club and that lasts me about a month or two for supplies. However, I hadn't bought chocolate chips in a while and I knew I was running low. Not to mention, those damn M&Ms were sitting on the counter, taunting me. So what did I do? I substituted them in my cookie recipe.

Note: I am the WORST when it comes to measuring. So sometimes I'm guestimating. I apologize.

Chocolate Chip/M&M Cookies

1 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup egg beaters
1 cup no sugar added applesauce
1 cup brown sugar
2 Tbsp ground flax seed
1 tsp baking soda
a dash of salt
1 Tbsp vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
as many M&Ms or chocolate chips as you prefer

In a mixer, combine all the wet ingredients and mix on high for a minute until well blended. Add brown sugar, flax seed, baking soda, and salt while mixer is on low. If using a table top mixer, add flour slowly until well blended. If using a hand mixer, I'd recommend mixing flour in by hand for less mess. Then add M&Ms or chocolate chips.

Bake at 375 for 8-10 minutes. It makes about 3 dozen.

(If you like sweeter cookies, add a tbsp or two of white sugar. I don't usually do this, but I have, and it still tastes good. Also, I add applesauce to my recipe even though I use butter, because flax seed can be drying and the applesauce keeps it soft.)

Here's my philosophy: I'm going to bake cookies. I always do. But instead of just using chocolate chips and then eating those M&Ms in a different sitting, I mixed them and saved myself the torment. Is it a good philosophy? Probably not. But it works for me.

For dinner I made Chicken Tetrazzini.

2 chicken breasts, boiled and cubed
2 cans of cream of chicken soup (I get the 98% fat free kind)
1/2 cup fat free sour cream
1 cup sharp cheddar cheese
garlic powder (add to taste)
2 tbsp ground flax seed (yes, I like my flax seed)
package of frozen peas
whole wheat spaghetti, boiled

Mix all contents in a bowl then place in a greased casserole dish at 350 for 35-45 minutes.

Then, for Luca (since I make all of his baby food from scratch) I took the cooked end product, stuck it in my handy food processor and blended it up nice and fine. I also added some water to make it smooth.

Luca's thought on the food? He loved it. Cleaned the bowl clean and looked for more. I guess I know what he's having for lunch tomorrow!

My only regret is that I didn't do this for Claire. Not only am I saving money by not buying baby food, but I know exactly what is going into the food I make him. Plus, he gets to know my cooking at an early age so hopefully he will skip the finicky I-hate-all-food phase that Claire hit...

Happy baking and cooking!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Blueberries on a wintry day

I finally made it to my bi-monthly Sam's Club trip where I had a list in my hand that was better off being invisible. I'm not quite sure what it is about that place that makes all my ambitions go to hell in a handbasket. I did, however, plan on buying blueberries so that I could try out a new recipe for blueberry muffins. (I got this recipe and only slightly modified it from

In a word: LOVE. They were delicious.

Here's what you'll need:
3/4 cup low fat milk
1/2 cup no sugar added applesauce
1/4 cup egg beaters
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 tsp baking powder (not baking soda)
1 tsp salt
4 tbs ground flax seed
1 1/2 cups fresh blueberries
Here's what you do:

Preheat your oven to 375 and use Pam to spray the muffin tin.

In a mixer, combine the milk, applesauce and egg beaters. Add the sugar, flax seed and baking powder. On a lower setting, add both flours. By hand, fold in the blueberries and using a spoon, ladle the batter into the muffin tins and bake for 18-20 minutes, depending on your oven.

What I liked best about these muffins is that they're moist enough but they don't crumble apart, which is important when it's given to a two year old who fidgets a lot.

Last year, my husband was convinced that Giant Eagle brand premium chocolate chip cookies were the reason to the Pittsburgh Penguin's success at winning Lord Stanley. He would only eat them on the days that they won. So, this year I decided to make my own cookies. I'm a bit of a control freak, and I like to be in charge of what goes into what I'm eating. No mysteries, here.

The first few batches, well...hmm. Then over the course of 6 months, I've mastered the cookie baking and have even made them healthier. My philosophy is, you're going to eat it anyways, might as well make it healthier.

I recently discovered using applesauce in baking and it made me so excited, it was almost the happiest day of my life. Especially when my sugar loving husband said to me, "These are the best cookies you've ever made, what's your secret?" And I told him, "No white sugar, just applesauce." I will post that recipe here, soon, once I remember it. My other major fault, I don't write things down when they're delicious!

I'm no expert...really.

It took me two kids to get to this point, but I'm so glad I'm here. Given that we all learn from example, I'm starting this blog to keep myself honest and heck, this could be fun, too.
Since the birth of my daughter, Claire, in 2007, I've turned myself into a self sufficient, home cookin', exercising fool. Emphasis on the fool.
When Luca was born, in 2009, I had a rough bout with postpartum depression. It took every bit of me to turn it into a good thing and attempt to get back in control of my life.
I started by joining a gym. It was a great way of getting away from it all for an hour and have some great ME time.
Then I started blogging. My other site is done with my sister, Carly, at Sisters From Different Misters. I enjoy being able to be candid and speak my mind.
Next, I started making the food that I already consume healthier.
After that, I decided to make my own baby food.
Lucky for y'all, I'm going to share my wisdom!
Keep in mind, I'm no expert. I'm just a girl trying to make the one life that I've got better. Enjoy the ride!