> hey what's for dinner mom?


Lemon Parmesan Kale

If you're looking for a way to make kale tempting for a certain someone, who thinks they suddenly don't like kale, try adding cheese. A tiny sprinkle of dry grated Parmesan, I used Kraft for this type of light dusting, made all the difference in the "I will eat your three bites" rule we have established around here. And it can lead a certain someone, smallest child I am looking at you, down the path towards actually remembering they like kale and asking for more. 

Why do we go on with the kale? Haven't we all just had enough of kale? As with many fads foods in America, it seems that it's popular and then it's done and anyone still eating it is ridiculous. Let me equate it to bell bottoms, all the rage for years and then dead, anyone wearing them after they died out was lame. I think our dear friend kale is going that way and I fear I will be that one sad sorry person still wearing bell bottoms in 1988 and thinking they are so awesome. I still like kale, maybe I'll just go buy some vintage bell bottoms and call it good.

Kale is hearty crop in Alaska, it will grow and grow and grow and then when it gets frosted it will still grow. In fact it takes a hard frost to kill kale and once it's been hit hard by a frost it can still be eaten, if eaten that day. You can freeze it too for adding to soup later on in the winter. I can pick a market size bunch of kale from 3-4 plants, go out the next day and the next 3-4 plants are ready to pick, repeat that one more time and then the original 3-4 plants are ready for harvesting again, it's like a never ending cycle. It grows well, it keeps well and it's beautiful to look at too, what's not to like? 

Lemon Parmesan Kale
oven 350˚
1 market size bunch of kale-I like Russian Red or Lacinato 
1 TBSP oil
half a lemon
good dash of salt
1 TBSP grated Parmesan-I used Kraft for it's crumbly texture
preheat the oven 
wash the kale pat dry and remove the center stem-I usually slide my hand down the stem stripping the leaves off of it
tear and huge pieces into smaller manageable bite sized pieces 
toss with the oil and place on a baking sheet
squeeze about 1/2 of the lemon juice over the kale, save the lemon for another use 
sprinkle with a good dash of salt
and bake at 350˚ for 8-9 minutes
then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top and bake for 3-4 minutes more
watch it carefully you want the cheese to just start to melt but you don't want the kale on fire--(you are walking a fine line here)
remove from the oven and serve hot

We like our kale mostly soft with a few crispy pieces, the 11-12 minutes in the oven gives us that. If you prefer it all crispy without the fear of flame-age drop the temperature down and cook it longer. I personally don't have any desire to heat the oven up any longer than I absolutely need to, but maybe you have air conditioning? 

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Red White and Blue Wedge Salad

If you're looking for something fun to make for a Fourth of July picnic or party, that's patriotic themed but not loaded with sugar, make a tray of Red White and Blue Wedge Salads to share with friends. This is simply a pretty typical wedge salad, topped with blue cheese dressing, red peppers and chopped tomatoes, so if you have a salad you like add a little red, white and blue toppings for a patriotic touch and call it good. 
I love salad, a year ago this was not the case, but as I've lost weight, I've discovered that a salad is truly one of my favorite foods. Crisp, fresh ingredients tossed together in a multitude of combinations  and finished off with a good homemade dressing makes every meal healthier, more delicious and surely provides ample opportunity for our kids to eat more vegetables. Making and serving a fresh salad every night has become second hand to me now and a very expected part of our dinner. Every night. I've been trying to change it up to make sure we don't get bored or tired of the same old thing, new to the family rotation is the wedge salad, which has become one of my favorites of late. 
A crispy wedge of lettuce, drizzled with blue cheese dressing, sprinkled with crispy toppings served ice cold and ready to refresh even the most bedraggled summer reveler. This version is a bit smaller than the traditional 1/4 of a head of lettuce version I've been served in restaurants. The slightly smaller size means we can get six servings from a single head of iceberg and it's more manageable for kids still working on knife skills. And by the way, a knife and fork salad is how I presented this salad the very first time I served it, figuring that anything requiring knife skills to eat, would be very interesting for my maker/fixer boys. Worked like a charm! 
Red White and Blue Wedge Salad
make six servings
1 head of iceberg lettuce, cored
1 tomato, seeded and chopped
1/2 a red pepper, chopped
1 batch Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing
1/4 cup of toasted sunflower seeds--to toast gently cook in a small frying pan until browned 
1-2 ounces blue cheese, crumbled for garnish
slice the lettuce into 6 equal wedges
place on a chilled serving platter or individual plates
sprinkle with chopped peppers and tomatoes, reserving some for garnish as desired
pour buttermilk blue cheese  dressing over wedges, reserving some to serve with the salads
sprinkle on sunflower seeds, crumbled blue cheese and any reserved peppers and tomatoes
serve with extra buttermilk blue cheese dressing 
if taking to a party assemble upon arrival for best results

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Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing

Looking for a creamy tangy salad dressing recipe? If you like blue cheese (or bleu cheese!) you'll love this easy to prepare salad dressing.
My father loved blue cheese dressing, I was the only one in our family who loved it too. And I still do. When I started this weight loss journey I knew I wanted to avoid pre made dressings and even the packets of dressing mix when I was enjoying fresh salads. The chemical cocktail in the mixes and bottled dressings tend to give me whopping headache (msg probably) and they're expensive too! I also knew I could do better and I have. I make a buttermilk ranch style dressing that is just so easy to make and delicious to eat that my kids eat salad first before main course with nary a blink of an eye. I never mind when they take seconds on salads either because I know they're eating primarily fresh whole foods and ingredients. Truth be told I only mind when I don't get a second helping too.
Making your own salad dressing is extremely easy to do, seriously it is, when you try it and it becomes second hand to you, you'll wonder why you ever bought that bottled stuff to begin with. You will need a blender for this blue cheese dressing but for making any other dressings you simply need a jar that seals tightly so you can shake it really well. I have and love the Tupperware Salad Dressing Shaker (affiliate link, if you click on it and buy a salad dressing shaker I make a little cash, a LITTLE cash!) mine looks a lot like that one except it's the mid 90s version. Tupperware has a lifetime guarantee so it's worth the investment BUT a good tight sealing jar will serve you well too, no need to buy anything expensive. I would recommend making salad dressing in the morning so it has time to let the flavors mingle, but 10-15 minutes of mingling will work in a pinch.
Buttermilk Blue Cheese Dressing
3 ounces blue cheese divided
3 TBSP buttermilk-more if you like a thinner dressing
3 TBSP sour cream
2 TBSP mayonnaise
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar-any will work this one just blends seamlessly in the dressing
salt and pepper to taste
place half of the blue cheese in the jar of a blender
add the buttermilk, sour cream, mayonnaise and vinegar
put the top on the blender jar-sure you're thinking I'm silly to tell you this but it's from experience
blend until smooth
pour out the dressing scraping out all the last bits
gently stir in the last of the blue cheese 
taste for salt and pepper add as needed
store in jar in the refrigerator until ready to use
If you prefer you can add ALL the blue cheese to the blender and make a super smooth dressing but I really prefer it with big chunks of cheese. 
See? EASY. TASTY. QUICK. I could go on and on but I won't because you just need to try it for yourself. 

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My Eating Plan for Losing Weight

I've been working pretty steadily at losing weight, almost 60 pounds down, more to go until I'm as healthy as I want to be. I keep getting asked a lot of questions like: what do you eat? what do you not eat? how do you exercise? when do you exercise? how many calories do you eat in a day?  I thought I'd take a moment and answer a few questions here.

It's important to share what works for you, in case it works for someone else too, right? Or inspires them. I want to stress STRESS STRESS that this plan is what worked only for me. Take it. Leave it. Manipulate it. Make it yours. Or ignore it. And before you ever follow ANY diet/exercise advice always check in with your doctor. Mine was invaluable to me on this journey. 

So after checking with the doctor last fall she told me I needed to do five things to get healthy
  1. eat less
  2. drink more water
  3. move a lot
  4. track what I eat
  5. keep my determination 
I wrote about that list, in this post titled The True Secret to Losing Weight, it's good reading, I just went back and read it again. From that post sprang the question? what do you eat, specifically, day by day what is going in your mouth? Can you please write it down. And I didn't want to because opening up about what you eat to lose weight feels like I might be opening myself up to some pretty heavy criticism. Or skepticism. Or negative comments about not eating enough. Or that I should go vegan/vegetarian/paleo/grain free/raw/insert-newest-diet-rage-here and it will solve my problems, no matter the problem the suggested diet will solve them. 

I was told to lose weight I needed to consume 1200-1500 calories a day. On a typical day I shoot for 1200 calories, unless I get a good sweat going via cardio and then I add 200-300 calories to that total. My food intake looks like this:
2 quarts of water
morning cup of coffee
roughly 100 calories worth of almonds
300 calorie salad consisting of 
3-4 cups of greens-kale/lettuce/coleslaw
various raw veggies tossed in
2 oz tuna
1 TBSP dressing mayo/ranch(homemade)/blue cheese
1/2 cup of fermented cabbage
sprinkle of chopped walnuts
roughly 150-200 calories
piece of fruit
small piece of cheese
OR homemade frappe in the VitaMix
roughly 600 calories
4-6 ounces of protein--lean, not lean, I eat what we eat and adjust my consumption
as many vegetables as I want, usually enough to round myself up to 600 calories 
these include: roasted broccoli, kale, brussels sprouts, cauliflower with oil
steamed veggies: cauliflower, broccoli, green beans, brussels sprouts
fresh salad: always every single night no matter what with homemade dressings
fresh chopped vegetables: carrots, celery, green peppers, cucumbers, turnips
last cup of water

So that is my BASIC meal plan. I do vary it, I add more protein and fat, like nuts and cheese, if I exercise more. I eat popcorn a couple nights a week so I skip morning snack if I want to do that. If  eat more at one meal or go out for greasy burgers or something else fairly delicious, I move more for a few days afterwards. I try NOT to punish myself for living a real life, why should I give up food because I ate something not on my diet plan? I don't want to live like, I've beat myself up enough in this lifetime. So instead of negative head talk/food with holding I just drink a lot of water to flush the salt out, get back to regular eating and move more, that's punishing enough, HA! No seriously, I don't think we gain anything worthwhile if we continually punish ourselves 

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Any Fruit Cobbler

Lots of summer fruit? Or perhaps you're still chugging through the rest of last year's abundant harvest? Either way, if you want to use it up quick and radically reduce the amount of fruit lingering about, make a cobbler. 
Peach. Nectarine. Strawberry. Rhubarb. Blueberry. Cherry. Or any combination, of almost any fruit threatening to overtake your kitchen or go wildly bad, will make a fantastic cobbler. I've made strawberry. Rhubarb strawberry. Cherry strawberry blueberry. Blueberry strawberry. Rhubarb blueberry, affectionally nicknamed bluebarb. 
I've never been a fan of cobblers, we were more a crisp family when I was little, that habit just stuck. Me and ruts? We go way, way, way, way back. This spring I got to thinking about crisps and how dessert-y they feel and how I really wanted to move beyond fruit desserts to something else, less end of dinner and more middle of the day, perhaps. There was no way I would whip a crisp out for a breakfast or brunch but a cobbler? Yeah, I can see that, because in the end a cobbler is really nothing more than fluffy biscuits and hot jam baked together. We are down with hot jam and biscuits any day, so I set out to make cobblers and use up the frozen fruit I still had from last year. I used up every bit of fruit in the freezer making cobblers and that rolled us right on to summer fruit, which I have a lot of. Cobbler for breakfast anyone? Everyone?
Any Fruit Cobbler Recipe
oven 400˚
5 (or so) cups of fruit-picked over, cleaned and peeled if necessary***
1/2-1 1/2 cups sugar-adjust to kind of fruit being used
1/4 cup water
1 TBSP corn starch***
1 cup flour
1/3 cup +1 TBSP of sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 TBSP butter
1 egg, beaten
3 TBSP buttermilk
preheat the oven to 400˚
in a sauce pan combine the fruit and the sugar
cook on low until it starts to juice-if using whole berries crush them slightly with a potato masher
mix the water and the cornstarch and stir into the fruit
increase heat to medium high and cook until bubbling and thick, stirring as needed
once it's thickened up reduce the heat to low and keep warm while you make the topping
for the topping combine all the dry ingredients EXCEPT the 1 TBSP of sugar in the bowl of a food processor 
whirl to combine 
chop the butter in small pieces
add to the processor and pulse to combine, just to the course crumbs stage
mix the egg and the buttermilk together and pour into the processor
pulse to combine
once it forms a dough stop pulsing 
pour the hot fruit into a 2 quart baking dish
drop six mounds of biscuit dough on top of the fruit
sprinkle a bit of the reserved 1 TBSP sugar over the top of the biscuits 
bake at 400˚ for 20-25 minutes or until the biscuits are cooked through and no longer doughy underneath 
***because this dish is seasonal and meant to use up what you have, the amount of fruit can vary between 4-6 cups with little to NO problem--simply adjust the sugar, to suit your taste and the fruit 
***if you go beyond 6 cups of fruit you may find it necessary to use additional cornstarch to thicken the fruit, simply increase by teaspoons until you reach the thickness you desire-add the cornstarch to a small amount of cold water, add a dash of hot fruit, stir and then add it back to the cooking pot--if you just throw it in it could seize up

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Plums and Roses...Jam

Got a lot of plums? And roses? And a little time? Make a batch of Plums and Roses Jam and you can savor the flavor of summer all winter long.
We were gifted a box of plums, nectarines, pears and grapes after the 3 Baron's Renaissance Fair was over. They were leftover from the historical village my husband participates in and he jumped at the chance to bring home food, if not for US at least for our pigs. I could not see giving the pigs fresh summer fruit if there was a way I could use it for us. First and foremost it became the go-to snack, but we'd also just recently purchased a case of peaches and nectarines our fruit reserves runneth over. The box barely fit in the fridge and I had a huge bowl of fruit on the table too. I was encouraging little people to eat. fruit! at every turn and I feared I would turn them off of fresh fruit(possible?) if I kept pushing, so I backed off and made jam. 
I perused Blue Chair Jam Cookbook for a good recipe but I just didn't find one I liked, I wanted to use some of our fragrant Rugosa Roses, the Sitka Rose, in the jam too. So I headed to the Internet, found plentiful recipes and finally settled on a variation of this easy recipe by Jules Food, mostly because I didn't need to buy anything special, I could make it right away and it used 3 pounds of plums which was about what I needed to move out of the fridge and fruit bowl. 
Plums and Roses Jam
clean and sterilized pint jars filled with boiling water and set aside, lids and rings-approximately 4-5
boiling water bath started in a canning kettle
3-4 saucers popped into the freezer or a candy thermometer
6 cups diced plums
2 cups sugar
zest of a lemon
juice of a lemon-perhaps not all of it maybe 3/4s of that juice
1/2 cup of fragrant EDIBLE rose petals, very clean, bug free, rinsed if need be
place the diced plums in a deep pot, this jam will bubble up while cooking, a deep pot makes it easy to keep it under control
add the sugar and stir to combine
turn the heat to medium low
when the plums start to juice raise the temperature to medium and keep cooking
stirring in the lemon zest, lemon juice and rose petals at this time too
keep cooking and stirring, you don't want the jam to scorch but you need to get the temperature to 220˚ for a gel
once it really starts boiling away it will boil up and then the volume will reduce
you can begin checking for set soon after this point
take a chilled plate from the freezer and plop a bit of jam on it, let it rest there and cool, if it gets firm and sets up a skin it's ready, if not keep cooking and try again in a few minutes
OR if you have a candy thermometer clip it on and cook until it reaches 220˚ 
once it reaches 220˚ it's ready to go in the jars
skim off any foam, set this aside as a kid treat, eating this is the BEST part of mom making jam
dump the warm water out of the jars, pour in the hot jam, wipe the rims, cap them and seal them in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes
 The rose petals gently lend a floral note of a soft summer evening to the crisp freshness of just barely ripe plums in this easy little recipe. Maybe back off the lemon a little bit, I don't know that it needed the juice of a WHOLE lemon, it's pretty tart but we like tart. And because our roses are so SO fragrant I skipped the rose extract. Plums and Roses Jam, a new one for the pantry, can't wait to savor it all winter, reminiscing over abundant fruit.

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Crock Pot Chinese 5 Spice Ribs -Make Ahead Freezer Meal

I had these 5 Spice Ribs at a friend's house, they were so tasty and gone so fast that I went home dreaming of eating them again as soon as possible and got right to work on making some from our beef.

We purchased our beef from the Alaska Meat Company and when it was delivered the rib packages were all stamped with "Ribs cook in a Crock Pot with bbq sauce"on them, I figured it was experience speaking and I best listen. I was also worried about the ribs because in my experience beef ribs are not the rib of choice, store bought ribs tend to be just bone with all the meat trimmed off. So between the cooking directions and my general "beef ribs are not good ribs" attitude, it took me a long time to cook them. 
Finally month ago I pulled out a package of ribs, suspiciously tore open the paper and plopped them in the crock pot completely frozen, not before eyeing them dubiously because they looked weird. I should know by now never ever judge a book by it's cover, those babies were SHORT RIBS cut very short and left in long slabs but short ribs nonetheless. Oh yeahhhh. Once they cooked a bit and I realized WHAT they were I did a serendipitous happy dance in the kitchen leaning over the crock pot. I whipped up a homemade beer-b-que sauce and basted it on in the last hour of cooking, cranked out a salad and some mashed potatoes and dinner was done. The ribs were succulent and perfectly cooked in the crock pot, something I'd never thought of, but I can roll with it.

Now On to the Chinese 5 Spice Ribs, a friend invited us over for dinner between us we have 4 sons to feed so she pulled all kinds of meat from the freezer to grill. One of those packets happened to contain ribs, rubbed with 5 spice seasoning mix and frozen ready to thaw and grill, it's a brilliant idea really and I thought it would translate brilliantly to crock pot ribs, I was right. Now I don't expect you to go buy 3 dinners worth of short ribs, you could also try baby back ribs for a little less pricey meal or make one bag up and pop it in the freezer or the crock pot.

Crock Pot Chinese 5 Spice Ribs -Make Ahead Freezer Meal 
each bag serves 4-5

15 pounds of short ribs or substitute baby back ribs
4 1/2 TBSP Chinese 5 Spice Powder
1 1/2 teaspoon garlic granules
3 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
3 gallon size freezer bags

trim of any extremely excess fat-the ribs are juicy because of the fat so leave most of it intact
pat dry and set aside
mix the spices thoroughly
rub the spice mix into the ribs, making sure to distribute it evenly between the ribs
divide among the freezer bags
squeeze the air out of the bags and seal tightly 
freeze until ready to use
use within 6 months

remove the bag from the freezer 24 before you want to start cooking them
thaw them in the fridge in a bowl making sure to turn the bag several times while thawing
and giving them a good rub while they thaw
when ready to cook
place them in the crock pot fat side up
cook on high for 6-8 hour
take off the lid for the last hour
and baste with any collected juices
taste for salt and pepper and add more as needed

Your crock pot or slow cooker will cook differently than mine so try this on a weekend when you have time to babysit it and make sure it is in fact done in 6-8 hours, yours may cook slower than mine or it may burn the daylights out of it. Hanging around the first time you make a dish in your crock pot is a wise idea, you can be there to rescue it if needed. 

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