No Boring Salads Here & Kid’s Deconstructed Salad

You might think this is boring, but I love salads in the summer.  Sure I am a Health Coach, and you would assume that I love all things healthy.  However, my family would tell you I have a deep love for Cool Ranch Doritos and Crunchy Cheetos.  In fact, a few days ago, Mary and I took a date day and went out to the lake to enjoy these treats on the dock.  It was a special moment for this mom!

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Back to the salads.  As soon as the warm weather arrives, I crave a fresh pile of greens and toppings.  Over the years, I have learned there are so many ways to spice up a simple salad and save a ton of time in the kitchen, leaving you more time to play outside with your family.  Even better, most of the simple ingredients you use, can be plated for kids (or salad hating adults) to enjoy as their meal.

Grab a few ingredients, and you can easily switch things up throughout the week for a different dinner every night.  You can also throw leftovers together for lunch the next day.

It’s all about the base.  These days, there are so many types of pre-washed greens.  You can buy these by the bag or container.  You can also buy salad kits.  I discovered last year that my 2 year old loved Caesar Salad kits and now she loves the kale and Brussels sprout with poppyseed dressing.  The cool thing about kits is that you can use the fixings, or skip their dressing and add your own favorites.  I personally love the kale kit, but usually just use the greens and then make my own creation.

Veggies are great, but think beyond the produce section.  Sure, cucumbers, peppers, radishes, and carrots are great.  But don’t forget about canned and frozen veggies.  Canned black beans, corn, and chickpeas can easily be rinsed and thrown into the mix.  They are also budget friendly!

Frozen veggies are picked at their ripest and flash frozen.  You can often find them in steam packets that go directly into the microwave.  Warm them up and then pop some onto your plate.

It’s okay to add a touch of carbs to the mix.  One of my favorite meals is the Caesar salad from a place called The Noodle.  As you might guess, they are known for their homemade fresh pasta and even the salad comes topped with noodles.  It is a delicious addition.

Orzo is easy to make and let cool off in a colander.  Rice packets are another great addition.  Toast some day old bread and break into croutons.  

You can always add dairy.  Add this for some extra flavor and protein.  There are so many delicious options from shredded cheddar and parmesan, to bleu cheese, feta, and crumbled goat cheese.

Maybe you protein.  Maybe you don’t.  I do love meat, but I have been making a conscious effort to eat more plant based meals.  By adding a bunch of other flavors and textures to my plate, I don’t always need meat.  But when I do, I sometimes think beyond the traditional chicken, steak, or salmon.  You can find tuna packets, which are a lower calorie protein with high Omega 3 healthy fats.

Morning Star farms offers traditional black bean and Mediterranean chickpea burgers.  I also really like their veggie “chicken” patties.  Boca Burgers have a surprisingly great texture and taste pretty darn similar to a regular burger.

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Meat free “chicken” patties with BBQ and ranch.  So good!

 

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The girls had a taco.

Deconstruct your salad and please even the pickiest eaters.  Before I go further, I urge you not to underestimate your kids.  I never thought my oldest would love Caesar salads at 2 years old.  I didn’t know my one year old would beg for bites of cabbage.  Try adding a small salad to a plate.  Don’t make a big deal about it.  Don’t refer to it as “healthy.”  Just make it part of the meal.  If they decide they don’t like it, no big deal.

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Whatever “tools” you use to build your salad, plate them out on your kids’ dishes.  For example, if you decide to make a Mexican salad, add cheese, beans, meat, and peppers to your little ones’ plates.  Add some dip or salsa and a tortilla.  Let them roll theirs into a taco or burrito.

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I can’t pass on some Annie’s mac and cheese shells!

What I love about this approach is that you are never eating a salad while the rest of your family eats something different.  This isn’t about healthy vs. unhealthy or one person eating healthy while others are eating a different dinner.  You are eating together as a family.  When you put together ingredients for the week, you can easily whip up a meal in minutes for everyone.

What is your favorite way to eat a salad?

Slowcooker Cheesy Ranch Chicken

I’ve been going through a salad phase lately and was recently looking to make a big batch of protein to top my salads.  At the same time, I wanted to find a family friendly recipe that could be used in versatile ways.  My three year old loves salads and my one and a half year old has yet to meet a food she doesn’t like.  I started looking at chicken with ranch recipes, hoping to appease our Midwestern tastebuds.

I found a few recipes that I liked and decided to switch things around and make one that I thought my family would enjoy most.  The result was that we ate one batch for three days straight and then made another double batch by request of everyone in our house.  The picture below doesn’t do it justice.  It’s not the prettiest shredded chicken.  Let me promise you, this is a crowd pleaser!

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My husband commented that the chicken tasted really decadent, and while it does have a lovely combo of cheese going on, it isn’t as decadent as it tastes.  It is delicious topped on salads, in wraps or burritos, or simply for dinner with some veggies and rice on the side.

This recipe takes less than 10 minutes to prep and then does it’s thing in the slow cooker while you are doing your own thing.

I threw down a bed of romaine and added diced tomatoes, red onion, a variety of beans, and corn.  When I make salads I chop up a variety of veggies and keep them in the fridge so I have quick options for dinners or lunches during the week.  You can also grab a microwaveable pack of rice and add a bit to your salads or wraps too.

The fun thing about salads is that you can change the fixings and feel like you are having a different meal every night.

Slowcooker Creamy Ranch Chicken:

Ingredients:

2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts

1/4 cup low sodium chicken broth (or water)

2 packets ranch dressing mix

1- 8 ounce package cream cheese

1/2 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar)

Directions:

Spray the inside of your slow cooker and then place chicken breasts in the bottom.  Pour broth or water on top of chicken and sprinkle one packet of ranch on top.  Cook on low for 5-6 hours.  Remove lid and discard most of the liquid, leaving a few tablespoons inside.  Shred the chicken and then add cream cheese and another packet of ranch to the slow cooker.  Let cook for 30 minutes and then remove lid and stir ingredients.  Add the cheese and stir again.  Put lid back on and keep on warm until everything is well mixed and you are ready to eat.

Note:  I added the second packet of ranch because when you discard the juices, much of the mix is also removed.  Since most of the liquid is removed before the rest of the ingredients are added, it might not be necessary to use broth, as it doesn’t add a lot of flavor.  The liquid simply keeps the meat from sticking to the bottom of the pot.  If you are concerned about sodium intake, it might be helpful for you to skip the broth.

We also served this at a party as a dip.  Try it with crackers, pieces of tortilla, bread, or veggies.  A few people even made mini quesadillas.

It’s Not Very Chilly-5 Minute Slow Cooker Chili

Apparently long weekends leave me a few days behind on catching up!  We had an awesome long weekend playing with family at Shanty Creek Resorts.  If you recall, we were there a few years ago when Mary just started crawling and we basically had the place to ourselves.  A year before that, we got married there in the summer.

Things have changed just a little bit!

This time, these non-skiers enjoyed a winter weekend playing in the snow.  Well Mary and Rock played in the snow and I sat at the Lakeview Restaurant and watched them tube down the runs.  They had a blast.  Lucy and I chowed down and had fun too.

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Just watching some Olympics.

We finished the weekend off by enjoying a delicious meal and flight of beers at Short’s Brewing Company.  I didn’t get any pics because I was fresh off of an 8 mile run and was both ravenous and seriously into my tasting of five delicious IPA’s.

Between our trip to humid Mexico, some dry and stuffy aired flights, and a chilly return to reality, my throat has been soar for a few days.  My tonsils are swollen and I am trying to remedy things with sweaty workouts, lots of hot and cold hydration, and some warm soothing meals.  While I have enjoyed a few meals that involved meat, I’ve stuck to my plant based eating most of the time.  It has been surprisingly easy.

I scoured a few websites to look at various planted based recipes and then decided to try my hand at making my own slow cooker meals.  Last night I made this Slow Cooker Lentil and Quinoa Chili.  I wasn’t certain how this would turn out, but I was pleasantly surprised.  This meal cost around $10 to make and as the lentils and quinoa cooked up, the slow cooker was filled to the brim.  This will last us for several meals.  There’s no browning of meat or veggies.  Just dump the ingredients in and turn your crockpot on.

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Enjoying some chili with her post ballet Happy Meal

I missed the last episode of “This Is Us” when it aired after the Super Bowl.  So I don’t know how things ended up, but I did see the episode when the fire started and I do cringe a bit each time I turn my slow cooker on.  But give this one a try.  I don’t think you will be disappointed.

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Slow Cooker Lentil and Quinoa Chili:

Ingredients:

1 onion (chopped)

1 green bell pepper (chopped)

1 red bell pepper (chopped)

2 cans diced tomatoes

1 can pinto beans (drained)

1 can black beans (drained)

1 can chili beans (drained)

1 can tomato sauce

4 cups vegetable broth

1/2 cup water

1 1/2 cups lentils

1/2 cup quinoa

2 tablespoons chili powder

1 tablespoon cumin

2 teaspoons oregano

1 teaspoon paprika

3 cloves minced garlic

Salt to taste

Directions:

Pour all ingredients in slow cooker.  Cook on low for 8 hours.  Top with your favorite fixings.  Enjoy!

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Check out my other chili recipes!

3 Cans And 6 Veggies Chili

Super Easy Turkey Chili

 

Which One? Healthy Eating Or Exercise?

The other day I was watching “The Doctors” and someone asked which was better: exercising or eating well?  Despite being an avid exerciser, I immediately shouted, “Eating well!”  As a certified health coach, personal trainer, and running coach, it has become increasingly clear over the years that what we put into our bodies is far more important than exercise.  Don’t get me wrong, exercise is essential to a healthy life.  But you can’t out exercise a poor diet, and you can’t outrun unhealthy eating.

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Sure, we have all put in an extra hour at the gym before, or run a few extra miles after a less than stellar day of eating.  And while that is a great way to bump things up when we fall behind, you certainly can’t rely on doing that every day.

Truth is, we need to eat well most of the time and exercise too.  There should also be some time for rest and relaxation, along with enjoying some indulgence as well.  I prefer the 80%/20% rule with this.  Keep it healthy 80% of the time and enjoy and indulge the other 20%.

When it comes to diet and exercise, what you put in is what you will get out.  If you eat poorly, you will get poor miles or poor results.  You can’t outrun a bad diet.

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This has been weighing on my mind a lot lately.  While I have been busy Netflixing, I spent a few hours watching documentaries.  Last year I had a client who told me she watched “Food Choices” and it changed her life.  She was focused on a plant based diet.  I watched the documentary and it hit me hard.  But it didn’t completely change my mind.

Earlier this fall I caught a bit of a segment on NPR where a doctor was discussing how Americans eat far too much meat.  He said that if you eat meat every day, you should work to go one day without meat each week.  If you eat meat once a week, you should aim for once a month….and so on.  Basically, he discussed how it causes inflammation in our bodies and Americans consume much more meat than most other countries.  I was intrigued, but still didn’t do much about this.

I don’t recall why, but I ended up watching “Forks Over Knives” on Netflix a few weeks ago.  This documentary emphasized again how we eat too much meat and showed a correlation between weight gain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and many other issues.  As a health coach, I also know that if any diet can be recommended to clients, the Mediterranean Diet is the heart healthiest.

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This information continues to show up and it was starting to make me consider what might happen if I adopted not a vegetarian lifestyle, but more of a plant based emphasis each day.  So while Rock was out of town for work last week, I set about finding recipes.

Here is what I found:  My grocery bill was so cheap!  I thought it would be much more expensive to just buy fresh fruits and veggies.  But the reality was, between produce and some canned and dried options, I was leaving the grocery store with a lot more money in my pockets.

While this wasn’t my main goal, I ended up dropping a few pounds almost immediately.  It was  a pleasant surprise.  One day I was walking by a mirror and noticed that my face looked a bit more thinned out and my muscles looked more noticeable.

A few days in, I was cruising along on the treadmill and found myself bumping the pace up because it felt good!  I was hesitant to run at this pace because I figured I would hit a wall.  However, I suddenly noticed that I was maintaining this pace and I wasn’t tired.  I really did just feel good.

It didn’t end there either.  I was watching the new season of “Grace and Frankie” and I was having such a fun time that I didn’t want to stop running.  My mileage soared and I felt so good, I didn’t even realize that I forgot to take a day off.  I ran eight days in a row and averaged 8-10 miles each day.  I didn’t have a super long run in there, but there was some really great mileage and my muscles weren’t complaining.  In fact, I made a mistake in an earlier post this week.  I actually ran 58 miles last week!

The Verdict:  I still love meat.  I’m still going to eat meat.  But we as a family have agreed that we are going to focus more on plant based meals.  My body felt good and I enjoyed what I was eating.  I made a delicious Indian curry that warmed my body and had some awesome anti-inflammatory spices added in.  The whole house smelled amazing!

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Chickpeas, Onions, Tomatoes, Spinach, and spices over rice.  So fast and so good!

Everyone needs to do what is best for their own lifestyles.  But there is a lot of evidence that adding more fruits and veggies and enjoying even a little bit less meat can make a big difference in your health.  I highly recommend checking out “Forks Over Knives” and “Food Choices” if you are curious about this.

Do you love a good burger like me?  Any thoughts on eating a little bit less meat?

Oh Fudge! And Let’s Spread Some Kindness

Happy Friday.  You made it to the end of the work week and the madness of our holiday weekend is just beginning.  I’m excited and just a tad frazzled!

I wanted to do a quick and delicious dessert recipe for you.  But first I wanted to share a fun idea to make the holiday a little brighter for everyone.

We usually don’t eat fast food unless we are in a major bind on road trips.  However, after Lucy was born and Mary took her first ballet class, she was very hesitant to go into the class alone.  I promised her a “special dinner” afterward and it is now our Tuesday tradition on the way home.  Mary gets a Happy Meal and everyone is happy.

A few weeks ago we were in the drive through and I was in a major hurry to get home, though not for any particular reason.  I just wanted to get home and get things in order for the evening.  When I pulled up to pay for the food, the girl be behind the counter informed me that our bill had been paid for by the car ahead of me.  I was in total shock!  I had tears in my eyes at the thoughtful gesture.  I was in such shock as I pulled away that I told Mary what I should have done was pay for the car behind us.  We decided to do it the next time we stopped for her special dinner.

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Anna recently posted about this idea as well.  We all know how stressful it can be to take little ones out to dinner.  But her sweet kiddos were impressionably adorable to a gentleman and he returned the kindness.  Then they went ahead and returned the kindness to another stranger.  It’s contagious!

This week we were able to repay the favor at the drive-thru.  When we went to pay for Mary’s meal, I asked to take care of the bill for the car behind us.  The girl at the counter asked if we knew the other car and we told her no.  She said she loved when these things happen because it causes a 20 minute parade of every car taking care of each other.

It was a wonderful lesson for my children.  It was heartwarming for me.  I hope that the car behind us needed a little extra love or kindness and that it was as fun for them as it was for us.  Maybe it even was a helpful reminder for them of what the holiday season is about.  I encourage you to find a way to do a random act of kindness this holiday season.  Buy someone’s coffee.  Pick up a meal.  Or just give a stranger a friendly smile.  Kindness doesn’t have to be monetary.  Maybe you simply open a door for someone or carry a bag to a car for a person who looks like they could use a little help.  The holiday season can be a difficult time for some people.  Shine a little light where you can!

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Now let me share a quick and awesome recipe that you can share with friends and family.  It is bound to brighten their day too!  This S’mores fudge comes together in minutes.  It is creamy and has some fun little flavors going on.

S’mores Fudge: Prep and cooking time 10 minutes total

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Ingredients:

1 can condensed milk

1 bag milk chocolate chips

4 graham crackers

1 cup marshmallows

Directions:

Line a square baking dish with tinfoil and then spray.  Crumble the graham crackers and set aside.  In a microwave safe bowl, pour the chocolate chips and condensed milk in and microwave in 30 second intervals.  Stir in between and continue until mixture is thoroughly melted.  Dump in the graham crackers and marshmallows and mix well.  Pour into baking dish and cool in the fridge until set.

Note:  I double this recipe, otherwise there isn’t nearly enough to share!

Have a wonderful weekend!

 

 

Holiday Fun and Delicious Recipes For The Season

Happy Monday!  What a fun week we just had and things are about to get crazy this coming week.

Michigan was freezing cold and all of my 49 miles of running were done on the treadmill.  When the thermometer plays tricks by saying it is a frigid 29 degrees out but actually feels like 9, there is no chance that I want to head outside.  Thank goodness for our treadmill.  It was nice and toasty in our basement!

I got into the gym to train clients a few times this past week.  And on Thursday we went on a family adventure to Traverse City.  My mom took us to Moomers, a local dairy, that is nationally known for their delicious ice cream.  Before they close for the season, they host gingerbread making for children (or adults).  For $30 you get a large pre-made gingerbread house, a muffin tin full of various candies, and plenty of messy frosting.  You can also make a sleigh or a gingerbread boy/girl for $15.

Mary and her cousin had a blast making houses.  This basically entailed us trying to hurry and get the candy on the house before the kids ate all of it.  Moomers does offer you extra candy if you need some.  Needless to say, we required seconds of a few things.

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The adventure wrapped up with pictures with their projects, which were later made into ornaments to take home.  Moomers also had boxes to carry the masterpieces home in.  It was really an awesome time and very well thought out.

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We then went downtown T.C. to try out a new to us venue.  The State Street Market Place opened in the last little while and houses several restaurants, a coffee bar, brewery, and a few shops.  Everything is open with communal tables to gather at.  We tried some delicious Lebanese food at Ziatun.  I am a sucker for beef Shwarma and spices.

Our weekend was filled with gymnastic classes, and a nice long run for me, followed by our first Christmas party of the year.  It was great to get together with family and enjoy delicious food and drinks.  There has been an influx of babies on my dad’s side of the family over the last year and it was a blast to see the cousins meeting each other for the first time.

We wrapped up Sunday with lots of baking, cooking, church and some great family time.  To start of the week I want to share some of the delicious recipes we have tried and loved this week.

These chewy white chocolate dipped ginger cookies are fantastic.  We are adding this to our cookie baking rotation.  I didn’t take a picture because mine look nothing like these beauties!  If you like a great ginger cookie, this one is chewy and the addition of white chocolate is perfect.

I found this recipe for shortbread while flipping through Better Homes and Gardens yesterday.  I tore out the recipe and immediately made these.  They are so easy and taste amazing!

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Recipe:  Simply combine 1 1/4 cups flour, 1/2 cup powdered sugar, and 2/3 butter.  Use a pastry blender to combine.  Knead into a ball and then roll out on a floured surface.  Slice as you wish and place on an ungreased baking sheet.  Sprinkle generously and then bake at 325ºF for 15-18 minutes until edges are golden.  Cool for a few minutes and transfer to a rack.

I am also a huge fan of Six Sister’s Stuff.  I made this delicious and super easy fudge.  I prefer make it without the marshmallows and nuts.  This comes together in minutes with just a few ingredients.

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Rock finished off Sunday evening in grand style.  He made these Six Sixter’s Stuff Fall Off The Bone Ribs in the slow cooker and then finished them off in the broiler.  They might have been the best ribs we have ever had!  I have yet to have a recipe go wrong from this website.  It is my favorite.

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Do you have a favorite holiday recipe you care to share?  I’m baking all week because we have 3 holiday parties next weekend and are hosting two of them!

Veggie Based Dessert Dip

Happy Monday!  I hope you had a great weekend!  I spent a long week working at the gym and playing in the snow with Mary.  A fellow trainer mentioned that she was at Sam’s Club earlier in the week and found dessert hummus.  I asked her about it and she couldn’t stop raving.  It might sound odd but she said she was in love and her so were her kids.  In fact, she had to ask her husband to hide this new version of dessert.  We discussed what went into this and both agreed that it could be made at home.

This was perfect because Mary has recently taken to dipping everything.  She loves to dip her pancakes in syrup (as well as her cereal).  She always asks for ketchup with anything we are eating.  And if we want her to eat something, we add dip on the side.  This girl loves chips and salsa!

I have recently made it my goal to find healthy dips for her to try.  So why not dessert dip?  I made 2 versions; peanut butter and chocolate peanut butter.  Both of these took less than 5 minutes to whip up.  I then pulled out pear and apple slices, celery sticks, and animal crackers for her to test out.  She ended up eating it with a spoon.  I can’t say that I blame her.

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These recipes are deliciously sweet, high in fiber, full of healthy ingredients, but also low in calories.

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Check out the two recipes below!

Peanut Butter Hummus

Ingredients:

1 can garbanzo beans (drained and rinsed)

2 tablespoons peanut butter powder (such as PB2 or Jif Peanut Powder)

1-2 tablespoons syrup

Optional tablespoon coconut oil

Chocolately Peanut Butter Black Bean Hummus

Ingredients:

1 can black beans (drained and rinsed)

2 tablespoons Jif Chocolate Peanut Powder

1-2 tablespoons syrup

Directions:

Combine ingredients in food processor.  Blend until well combined.  Enjoy!

The black beans have a little bit more of a wet consistency and do not require any extra oils or liquids.  I ended up adding a little extra peanut butter to the black bean concoction for a creamier peanut butter flavor.

What would you add to your dessert dip?

Body Reboost Salad

I don’t know about you but I had a wonderful holiday week.  Actually, it is going to continue a bit this weekend with a little New Year’s celebration.

Admittedly, I overindulged.  I knew what I was doing and I was okay with it at the time.  Generally speaking, I eat very well.  I enjoy eating healthy but also enjoy a little sweetness in my daily routine.  However, I ate a lot and I ate a lot of some not so healthy foods last week.  It was fun.  But now I feel a bit puffy and sluggish.

Nothing feels better after a little overindulging, than to get back on the healthy bandwagon.  One thing that is great for your body and belly is beans.  Beans are a powerhouse of nutritional goodness.

When we walked in the door from a week away, we had very few things in the refrigerator or cupboard.  However, anytime I got to the grocery store and they have a sale on canned goods, I stock up.  Mary loves chili and I love that she is a fan of beans.

I quickly went to town making this “salad.”  I knew she would gobble it up. I also knew that it would fill the rest of us up and leave our bellies feeling a little better.  One thing that happens when I eat a bit differently than normal is that I get horrible heart burn.  Giving your belly a little “reboost” can help to reset your body.

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This recipe is super simple and likely already in your kitchen.  Here are a few benefits of this fun “salad.”

Black beans: are packed full of fiber, potassium, Vitamin B6 and folate.  They are low in cholesterol and heart healthy.

Garbanzo beans:  are high in fiber, protein, magnesium, potassium, and iron.  They are low in fat and calories and again are really great for your heart healthy lifestyle.

Kidney beans: are high in protein, fiber, iron, potassium, maganese, Vitamin B1, and folate.

Corn: is also high in fiber, and a wonderful antioxidant.  Antioxidants help repair damage from cancer causing agents in our bodies.  Chemicals in this vegetable also help improve vision.

Red onions: continue on our healthy eating plan by packing in calcium, folate, thiamine, potassium, magnesium, and Vitamins C, K  and B6.

Our bodies rely on a variety of these minerals and vitamins.  Getting an abundance helps to ensure that we keep our bodies functioning and healthy.

So how do we make this super simple salad?  

Ingredients:

1 can black beans, drained

1 can garbanzo beans, drained

1 can red kidney beans, drained

1 can sweet corn, drained

1 small red onion, chopped

1 tablespoon EVOO

Salt and pepper to taste

Balsamic vinegar (optional)

Directions:

Drain all of the canned vegetables and rinse in a colander.  Chop the red onion and add all ingredients to a bowl.  Toss with EVOO.  Add a little salt and pepper to taste.  You can also add a little balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar to give a little kick.

I love adding this on top of my green salads.  It also tastes delicious with a little salsa and a dash of cheese.  This is a great one to make a big batch and add to other dishes throughout the week.

Cooking Inspiration and Recipe Revamp

Happy Friday!  The weekend is almost upon us and it might just snow here tomorrow.   While I am not ready for that, I do love cooking and baking when the cold weather rolls around.

Fall and winter inspire me to turn on the oven and start trying out new recipes.  Today I want to share a few of my favorite websites to visit for recipe inspirations:

Cooking Light:  I have been a subscriber of Cooking Light since I was in high school.  I even recall having all of my friends come over for lunch one day and try out a loaded potato soup that I made.  Even back then, I loved finding healthier versions of my favorite foods.  This site is easy to search.

This Brownie Cheesecake Torte from a 1997 issue is still one of my favorite treats to make!

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Six Sisters Stuff:  This is my absolute favorite website for searching recipes.  I honestly have never had a failed recipe from these ladies.  I love their slow cooker options and this is the first place I go to when I want to try a new soup.  Perfect place to visit for winter weather!

Their Nacho Grande Soup is a huge hit with our family and friends.  You can make it in the slow cooker or on the stove.  I make it with either beef or turkey and it always comes out just right.  I like to add a can of kidney beans and black beans to give it a bit more substance.

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Skinny Taste:  This is a great resource for healthy eating.  Breakfast, lunch, dinner and dessert ideas can all be found here.  I love being able to search the under 30 minute meals.  Having access to quick dinners keeps the excuses for takeout away.

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Foot Network:  Another magazine that I love to subscribe to is Food Network.  I love the variety of chefs and great ideas that come out of this magazine.  When I am not sure what to make for a party or special dinner, I turn to this site.  There are so many different types of recipes, you are bound to find something you like.

For the holidays, I love making these Peppermint Cream’s.  They are so simple and delicious.  These are the perfect gifts to share with family and friends.

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Finally, I love searching my favorite blogger’s sites for their shared inspiration.  I follow such an awesome variety of people, that my blogroll is full of great ideas.

I wanted to share my newish concoction with you.  These may not qualify as healthy, but they are the perfect occasional splurge.  These Pudgies showed up on my site several years ago.  I have since found a wonderful new twist for this fall season.  Jello-O makes Pumpkin Spice pudding mixes.  Swap the Banana Cream out for Pumpkin Spice and add a teaspoon of pumpkin pie spice to your dry ingredients and you will have an incredibly delicious treat on your hands!  The flavor and consistency of this treat is a favorite around here.

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What is your go-to site for finding delicious recipes?  Do you have a favorite recipe that can’t be missed?

Dining Out And Treating People Well

Happy Wednesday!  I hope you had a wonderful weekend (clearly I’m a little slow this week).  We enjoyed a lovely few days of sunny weather, leaf cleaning, running of course, and some family time.

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Shorts in November is the way to my heart!

As new parents, we have been avoiding going out to dinner.  For awhile, Mary was testing her vocal chords and attempting to see how much attention she could get in public.  These days, she just likes trying out her new words and waving/blowing kisses to everyone.  She’s adorable but also a ticking time bomb.  At any moment, we know everything could turn into a nuclear meltdown.

Just over three years ago, Rock and I got married.  Among the lovely gifts we received was a gift certificate to a restaurant.  That card has survived multiple moves and shifts among different bags and wallets.  We finally decided to go out and use that gift as a family and cross our fingers.

At the perfectly hip hour of 5:00pm on a Friday night we arrived for dinner.  It had been a long time since we had been out for a family meal.  I was looking forward to not cooking or cleaning up and also having a nice big fat steak.  It was going to be my splurge night.

Mary had a blast eating our appetizer and coloring with crayons.  It was great.

The couple across from us ate their dinner and had a pleasant conversation.  Then they asked their server to bring over the manager.  Having once worked in the restaurant business, this always piques my interest.  We run a business where customer service and satisfaction are essential.  We both leaned in a little bit to hear what was going on.

One of the patrons at the other table explained to the manager that while they love this particular restaurant, their entree was overcooked and it was not what they were looking for.  The manager kindly mentioned that they finished the entree and asked how they had asked for their meal to be prepared.  The patron responded that they wanted a steak made medium well.

The manager was gracious and didn’t even bother pointing out that a medium well steak might be tough. They were given a new meal to take home and not charged for that entree. We then overheard the customer hand over a gift certificate for three times the price of their dinner.  They asked if they could tip from the gift card and then stated they would be generous and leave the server $2; less than 10% of the cost of the meal.  Let me also note that they mentioned several times to the manager that they had fantastic service.

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Here is where I have an issue: Why would you eat your entire meal and then flag down a manager after you were finished to let them know that your meal wasn’t satisfactory?

Restaurants are in the customer service business.  It is their job to make sure you are having a great experience.  My first job ever was as a hostess of a very nice Italian restaurant.  I am still forever grateful to that company for taking a leap and hiring me.  The general manager was a wonderful man who taught me so much about customer service.  He graciously showed me how to answer a phone in a pleasant and professional manner, and how to deal with multitasking and “difficult” customers.    It is not a surprise to me to see that he is now a top restaurant manager in Las Vegas for a large corporation.

Here is what I learned:  When you go out to eat, your server basically makes no hourly wage.  It works this way because the industry assumes that you the consumer will compensate by tipping.

I know this infuriates some and you say that the restaurants should compensate the server so that you don’t have to.  That is how it works in Europe and other countries.  While that is a great concept, our government has not made that a law.  Employers can pay servers $2 or $3 per hour, meaning servers rely on your tips.

This works in your favor because most servers want your gratuity.  They are going to do everything in their power to give you a wonderful dining experience.  This also means they are freaking out when the kitchen is working slowly or providing you with subpar food.

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Here is what you get:  When you dine at a restaurant, you are paying for the experience.  You are paying to view a menu and choose what sounds good at that moment.  You are paying for someone to call in your order, bring the food to you, clean up, and make sure your drinks are full.  You don’t have to cook, clean, or do the dishes.

There is also a full staff working with your server.  Bartenders, bussers, and assistants delivering food to your table are all part of the team.  Your server often has to share a portion of their tips with all of these people.   So when you stiff their tip, everyone is getting slighted.

Please be patient and considerate when things aren’t perfect.  Sometimes we get bad service.  When this happens, it is important to sit back for a moment and look around.  Does your server have 10 tables and everyone is asking for something or waiting for their meals too?  Is the meal taking a long time?  Remember that your server doesn’t have control over a slow kitchen.  Keep in mind that sometimes a hostess can get a bit hasty and seat too many people in your server’s section at once and they are bogged down or overwhelmed.

I honestly believe that most people are good and they want to do well at their jobs.  Your server is likely not trying to provide you with a poor experience.   They want your tips and want to do well by you.

If you see that they are trying but  very busy, maybe new, or perhaps the kitchen is at fault, please don’t discount the tip.  These people are working very hard and rely on your gratuity.

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My golden rule for going out to dinner is that if we are going to afford paying for drinks and food, we walk in knowing that we are also paying for the gratuity.  If we can’t afford to properly tip, we shouldn’t be dining out.

How do you feel about tipping or dining out?  Have you ever worked at a restaurant?  Do you have a toddler (or other family member…haha) that you fear will erupt at the dinner table?