Posts made in November 6th, 2012

greek yogurt s’mores

7

Posted on Nov 6, 2012 in Food

I’m a big fan of dessert. I’ve heard there are people out there that don’t like sweets but I’ve never met any (and I’m not sure I want to). When you have a sweet tooth as pervasive as mine, it’s important to figure out ways to moderate your dessert consumption. My biggest issue with dessert is sheer volume. I’ve had my fair share of nights that involved a bottle of wine, Netflix and an entire bags of chocolate chips.

I wish I was kidding.

So as I bump along this curvy and unpredictable path called “healthy living”, I’ve started to realize that my relationship with dessert is healthiest when my desserts have two qualities—cleaned up and inherently portion controlled. I’ll never quit loving sweets, but by making sure I make them as clean as possible and keep my sweet eating to a reasonable level, desserts can be part of my everyday healthy lifestyle. If chocolate is wrong, I don’t want to be right.

This s’mores recipe is another in a long line of cleaned-up desserts in my repertoire. By pairing lighter desserts like these s’mores with a nice stash of high-quality dark chocolate to snack on during the week, I can pretty much starve off any chocolate chip and wine binges. Those often came when I forced myself to have no sweets for days at a time, and then, as it always did, the boomerang came back three-fold and I found myself at the bottom of a yellow Nestle bag. It can be so hard to believe when you are living in the midst of disordered eating, but moderation really is the key to everything.

These s’mores definitely aren’t the sticky, sugary sweet treats you remember from your childhood camping trips. Those definitely have their place in a lifestyle of moderation, but this version is what I call an “everyday dessert”. A special treat that you could eat nearly daily without messing up your healthy lifestyle.

The Greek yogurt in these makes them so interestingly tangy! And the combo of that tang with the peanut butter and chocolate is absolutely incredible. Enjoy!

Greek Yogurt S’mores

by Cassie Johnston

Prep Time: 5 minutes

Cook Time: 5 minutes

Makes: 4 s’mores

Ingredients

  • 8 graham cracker squares, divided
  • 2 tablespoons peanut butter
  • 1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 tablespoons milk

Instructions

  1. Preheat broiler to high. Spread 1/4 of the peanut butter on each of four graham crackers, set crackers on a baking sheet.
  2. In a small bowl, combine Greek yogurt and honey. Divide yogurt evenly between the four graham crackers.
  3. In another small bowl, whisk together cocoa and milk until smooth. Divide evenly over yogurt on graham crackers.
  4. Place under preheated broiler for about 5 minutes until everything is melted and warmed. Place remaining graham crackers on top and serve immediately.
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What’s your favorite healthy-ish, everyday dessert?

10 tips for a stress-free thanksgiving dinner

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Posted on Nov 6, 2012 in Lifestyle

I’m gonna give it to you straight—Thanksgiving is in two weeks and it’s mega stressful. Yup. You have 14 days to get ready for, quite possibly, the biggest meal of the year. It’s a crapton of cooking for a crapton of people with a crapton of pressure all rolled into a single day that is supposed to be fun and enjoyable.

I’ve gotten through cooking quite a few Thanksgiving dinners in the past few years (thanks to having two Thanksgivings each year—Canadian and American) and I’ve amassed a few tips and tricks for lowering the stress of cooking a big meal. It’s actually gotten to the point where I can drink some wine, laugh with my family and actually enjoy the day while cooking. What a crazy concept! I’m still exhausted at the end of the day, but it’s a good kind of exhausted!

Learn from my trial and error and make sure you implement some of these tips. Oh! And since hundreds of heads are better than one, share your own tips in the comments so we can all enjoy a totally Zen turkey day.

1. Make a menu.

This is pretty much my go-to tip for all kinds of things, but you need to plan. And planning for Thanksgiving means making a menu. A few weeks out, go through your recipes, figure out how many folks are coming and make a detailed list of what you are going to make. Do you need two pumpkin pies or will one be enough? What size turkey do you need? Will someone be upset if you don’t make Esther’s green bean surprise? Write it all out. If you’re feeling particularly over-achiever-y, turn it into a pretty menu for the day of. A posted menu can help starve off a whole lot of questions from guests. And as you’ll see in #8, keeping people out of your hair on T-day is super important.

2. Cut things.

Have your menu? All planned and ready to go? Now take a red pen to it. Slash it up. Cut, baby, cut. I promise you, you don’t need as much as you planned on making. You don’t need four desserts, three will be fine. You don’t need three different kinds of veggies, people will probably only take a little bit of one anyway. It can be so tempting to go huge and make a ton of different dishes, but it’s so much easier to make large quantities of a few recipes than it is to make moderate quantities of a bunch of recipes. Also, think about using pre-cooked/pre-packaged stuff if you can stand the idea. I’m 100% on the homemade train, but my Mama convinced me that dealing with yeast dinner rolls on Thanksgiving day wasn’t worth it. So I bought a giant bag of the frozen rolls and everyone raved about them. And they took me about 30 seconds worth of work. There is no shame in going only semi-homemade sometimes.

3. Plan two shopping trips.

You have your menu, you have your recipes, now go ahead and make two shopping lists. Why two? Well, you’re going to forget something. I promise. I don’t care how thorough you are, at 11pm on Wednesday night you’re going to be falling asleep and realize you forgot something totally obvious like cranberries or potatoes or wine (THE TRAVESTY). So you might as well use that second, last-minute trip to the store to your advantage. Make one shopping list for non-perishables (or at least perishables that can keep for a while) and shop off that list a week or more in advance. Then, keep a second running list of items that need to be picked up just a few days before. You can grab all your fresh produce while you’re snagging that case of wine. Cooking a frozen turkey? Buy it on the first shopping trip. You’ll need a few days to defrost it.

4. Check out your serving pieces.

About a week before the meal, grab a pen, some sticky notes and all your serving pieces and get to labeling. You want to make sure you have enough spoons, ladles, bowls, and platters to get all the food on the table. It doesn’t have to be perfect or even matching, but you definitely don’t want people trying to scoop out gravy with a fork. Make a list of the holes you find and buy the items. By doing this early, you can even maybe snag some deals on what you need from discount or thrift stores. Once you’ve got all you need, then wash them, label them and put everything away in a clean cabinet or shelf so it’s all ready to go for the day of.

5. Cook ahead.

This one is a no brainer—you want to do as much ahead of time as possible—but I think a lot of people don’t realize quite how much you can do ahead of time. Mashed potatoes reheat beautifully in the oven or a slow cooker. If you aren’t stuffing the bird, the dressing can be made ahead and baked off right before dinner. Almost all the desserts can be made ahead of time. Even if you can’t cook the whole dish, you can do prep work ahead of time. Snap your green beans, peel your potatoes, make your stock. It’s amazing how much easier it is to cook dinner when you only make one or two dishes a night and pop them in the freezer or fridge. You can even cook the turkey ahead! My Mama cooks the turkey on Wednesday, carves it, places it in an oven-proof casserole dish and stashes it in the fridge. About an hour before dinner, she pours some broth over it, pops it in the oven to warm and brings it to the table. It’s not as Rockwellian as the golden brown bird on the table, but it certainly is a lot easier and less stressful (and just as delicious)

6. Get yourself and your table ready first.

On the day of, get up early and set your table. You don’t want to be fiddling with centerpieces and place-settings when you have all five burners of your stove going. Take some time, drink your coffee and enjoy the process of making your table pretty. Put out all the plates, napkins, placecards and even set out your serving dishes. If you are eating earlyish, you might want to pop the turkey in the oven first, but then, definitely head over to the table. Trust me, it’ll make you feel much more together if your table is all ready to go. While you’re at it, take advantage of the calm before the storm and go ahead and take your shower, do your hair and get dressed. Trying to figure out when to flatiron your hair while you’re simultaneously cooking 10 dishes is no fun. Take care of yourself first and you’ll feel put together (both appearance-wise and to-do list-wise). Also? Getting ready early gives you a chance to showoff a super cute apron. You do have a super cute apron, right? No? I’ll be posting a tutorial for a crazy-easy one next week.

7. Keep folks out of the kitchen.

For me personally, this is quite possibly the #1 most important tip on the list to keep stress levels down. Other than folks you really trust or really think will help, try to keep people out of the kitchen. You don’t need to be juggling hot casserole dishes while trying to entertain guests. Remove any stools or chairs from the kitchen area to discourage folks from lurking. Set up snacks, appetizers, and the bar in an area away from the kitchen. It doesn’t have to be totally disconnected, but a little bit of distance is a good thing. You don’t want it to feel like you’re putting on a cooking show. If you do want people to help out, the next tip has some ways to make that happen without adding stress to your world.

8. Have tasks ready for sous chefs.

Even if you keep people mostly out of the kitchen, folks are going to want to help. It’s human nature to want to help when you see someone working so hard (and means you’ve got some pretty swell friends and family). Instead of pushing them away or handing them some big important recipe last-minute, go ahead and plan for some tasks that are perfect for sous chefs. Setting out a veggie tray? Even your half-drunk Great Aunt Cheryl can arrange baby carrots and dip on a platter. Need five onions chopped for stuffing? Set someone up with a knife and a cutting board. If you have a small kitchen, you can even set up some outside-the-kitchen tasks. Don’t set the silverware on your tablesetting and let someone else do it. Someone can put ice in water glasses. Someone else can be in charge of making sure the appetizers stay full. If you plan these tasks ahead of time (and maybe even set up little “stations” for sous chefs to help) you’ll get some actual help and your guests will feel helpful. Win, win.

9. Take notes!

This won’t help you this year, but it will help you a ton in upcoming years. TAKE NOTES! Doubling that mashed potato recipe make the perfect amount for eight people? Write it down. Did the pumpkin pie need to bake 15 more minutes than the recipe said? Write it down. People didn’t love your green bean recipe? Make a note to find a new one. You will not remember it 365 days from now, I promise. I actually have a copy of my Mama’s Thanksgiving notes, plus my own set. They live with copies of all my go-to Thanksgiving recipes in a folder in my recipe binder. When it’s Thanksgiving time, I just pull out the whole folder and I pick up where I left off last year.

10. Remember: it’s about the people, not the food.

The final tip is something easier said that done—try to remember that Thanksgiving isn’t about the food. It’s about being with your family and friends and giving thanks for all the wonderful things you have in your life. No one is going to care or notice if you didn’t use homemade chicken stock. And if they do? They need to readjust their priorities. Try to not put so much pressure on yourself, because, in the end, it’s just one meal out of 1,095 meals we have a year. The friends and family you’re sharing it with? They are what is special. Happy Thanksgiving!

Are you cooking Thanksgiving dinner this year? What are your tips for keeping in stress-free?

things i’m digging…

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Posted on Nov 6, 2012 in Lifestyle

1. Election Day!

Happy Election Day, everyone! I love Election Day and I love voting! For all of you Gilmore Girls fans, you know when Lorelai has to pick up Rory from the police station and says the quote about how Rory loves voting so much she moved her “I voted!” sticker from outfit to outfit and then finally taped it to her purse when the sticky ran out? Totally me the first time I voted. Oh, who am I kidding, it’s totally me now.

I don’t care who you vote for, but please just GO VOTE.

2. Flameless Candles with a Timer

I would have NEVER given these things a second thought if my sister wouldn’t have told me how marvelous they were. I’d heard about flameless candles, but it never occurred to me that some of them have timers. THE TIMER MAKES IT AMAZING. At 6pm, all these beautiful, realistic candles come on in my house. And at 10pm, they go off. Automatically. Magic. No work from me. It is amazing how much a little candle light can make a dark house go from depressing to cozy and comfy. I want to buy them all. They make me so happy.

3. These guys.

Aren’t they amazing? I know that ceramic animals are all the rage, but I love how quirky and different these two are. And guess what? They’re from Target (in their Christmas section). We still need to figure out names for them.

4. 90999

All you have to do is text “REDCROSS” to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross Disaster Relief efforts in the Northeast in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It might not seem like much to you, but it can go a really long way to help folks that are really struggling right now. Right after the big tornado this spring in Pekin, I saw first-hand how vital the Red Cross was in the immediate aftermath. Giving them money to do the work they are trained to do is the absolute best way to lend a hand.

5. American Horror Story.

We started watching AHS (the first “season”) on Halloween and have plowed through so many episodes this past few days that I’m embarrassed to say the number. It is amazing. Absolutely amazing. Creepy, interesting, heartfelt, sweet, totally weird, dark. Granted, I’d watch Connie Britton read a phone book—love her—but even without Tami Taylor, AHS rocks. So excited to see how this storyline ends and start the new one.

What are you digging right now?