Saturday, August 2, 2014

Welcome Back Menu Post!

I know it has been quite some time since my last post. Two months to be exact. I am excited to say I started my new job yesterday. I am so grateful to have a new laptop to work from! So, what else have we been up to these last 2 months? It has been a summer of transition and we aren't over with it all just yet. Justin started his job on June 9th. I stayed back and frantically finished up the never-ending to-do list to get our house market ready. Just when I thought I had completed that list, the stager came and added literally 22 more things to my list. The funny thing is they were all things I had told Justin we needed to do to update our home if we were ever going to put it on the market. These requests or suggestions were always met with a "No." The Bear has learned his lesson. These would all have been totally doable projects that could have been completed over a few weekends; however, I needed to get it all done in a week. Thankfully, my sister, Erin, came to the rescue. We worked our tails off. Usually starting promptly at around 7:00 in the morning and working throughout the day until sometimes 1:00 the next morning. In one week we packed the entire house, rearranged the furniture with the help of the stager in a beautiful fashion, thoroughly cleaned, replaced all of the hardware throughout the house, replaced a few light switch covers and vent covers, painted the man cave project (eh hem Bear), hired a carpet guy to stretch the carpets upstairs and install carpet in the stairwell to said man cave (thank you Mr. Charles Doolittle), repaired wall cracks, painted wall cracks, hired Classic Carpet Cleaning to clean the carpets, installed a new chandelier with the help of my neighbor, cleaned the gutters, laid 33 bags of mulch around all of the landscaping outside, and gave the lawn a manicure. Whoo! I feel tired just reliving all of that in one paragraph! We then were ready and put the house on the market.

Good news, we are now under contract and hope to close the end of the month. We have also found our new home in Marshalltown, Iowa; however, cannot move in until September 5th. I feel like we scored big time on our new home. It was built in 2006, has four bedrooms, 2 and a quarter baths, a beautiful kitchen, a lovely outdoor deck and patio, and plenty of room to grow. In the meantime, my father and his wife Brenda have graciously let us into their home. So, we are currently residing in their basement. Don't worry Chris and Brenda! We will be out of your hair soon! I don't know what I would do without my family. Many, many thanks to Erin, my Mom for having a listening ear and so much home advice, and my Dad and Brenda.

While I have not been up to too much cooking since we are sharing space, I have been able to come up with some new meals. Marshalltown has a lot to offer in the way of culinary life. Really, I can't wait to share it all with you! I will be traveling A LOT for my job, so I had to put a lot of thought into this week's menu post. I guess there will be more to share on how I handle a gluten-free diet while traveling back and forth. There will be so much to share! One can come up with good material while on a two month hiatus. Here is this week's rundown:

Sunday 8/3          Carne Asada Tacos with Summer Black Bean Salad

Monday 8/4         Hummus Wraps with Cucumber Salad

Tuesday 8/5         Leftovers

Wednesday 8/6   Baked Chicken Meatballs with Peperonata and Green Beans

Thursday 8/7       Leftovers

Sharing a kitchen and refrigerator space has been interesting while living in our new quarters. We try to only buy what we need as space is limited. Therefore, grocery lists for what you will need for the week will return after we are settled in our new home. Truthfully, with all of the changes I had to just get back to blogging. You can rest assured I am happy to be back! I look forward to sharing these tasty, easy dishes throughout the week. Enjoy your weekend!    

Monday, June 2, 2014

Updates and Such

I know I've been off the grid lately. Trust me it is all for good reason. While I was in the hospital having my gall bladder removed last month, the Bear accepted the Director of Public Works/ City Engineer position for the city of Marshalltown, Iowa. Yes, we are moving back to Iowa!! While life had to settle down a little bit for me to recover, it really has been nothing of the sort. As soon as I was up and ready to go back to work, I had to let my school know that I would not be back. It was so bittersweet. I loved my time serving the community, families, and students in Turner. The good days were so amazing. On the bad days, and trust me as a special education teacher there were many rough days, sometimes weeks; the support of my colleagues and students kept me going. They were my family and support when mine was so far away. The good news, the very same week I came back and had to share my news, I had letters of recommendation coming my way and an initial interview with the Area Education Agency 267 that same week. Soon after packing up my classroom, saying my goodbyes, I was off to Marshalltown for my second interview. More good news- I GOT THE JOB! Say hello to one of your new Consultants for School Improvement Iowa! I am so very excited! It is a huge relief to know that while we are relocating we are both employed. Woohoo! 

Now that I am physically back in commission we've been getting our house market ready for someone new to call it their home. We've been working diligently to finish those never ending DIY home improvement projects, cleaning, and packing, and cleaning and packing some more. This little room is actually so cleared out it is echoing as I hit the keys on the keyboard. Only problem is we haven't found a new place in Marshalltown to call home. The Bear starts June 9th, which is a week from the day I am writing this post. So, on top of everything else, I've been a good wife and worked hard to get in contact with the people that can help us get the job done in Marshalltown. It is all just so crazy, but at the same time I have to pause and love this moment in life. It's been yet again very intense, but I know we can handle it. 

In the meantime, have no worries! This blog will not come to an end. When we get settled into whatever place we call home, I have so many new and exciting recipes to post. While things have been crazy and intense, I cannot wait to get back to you all. Wish us luck!! It is a new adventure:)

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Why that Beautiful Menu Never Happened

I know some of you have probably wondered where I've been the last week. I had such a beautiful and healthy menu planned for last week. Unfortunately, this all went down hill starting Monday night. After forcing myself out on a run, I started to not feel very good. My stomach sounded like a water cooler with slight shooting pains on my upper right side. I felt that nauseated on again off again feeling. I attributed this to gas as I had been eating a fair amount of veggies throughout the day. After only eating about half of my dinner, I just decided to take some ibuprofen and go to bed.

I slept, sort of, then woke up in another bout of pain. After laying in bed, listening to my gurgling bowels, I took more ibuprofen and sort of fell back to sleep. When I woke up, I was still in a little bit of pain and still felt a little nauseated, but decided to tough it out and go to work. I ate a little bit of my breakfast and then headed out to teach third grade math. Within the hour, the pain came back. This time it was far worse. The kids, started noticing my rosy cheeks turning completely white. At 9:15, I bee-lined it to the bathroom and threw up. That's when things went even further south. I could not stop throwing up. When I thought there would be a little break, I told my principal and the head secretary that I needed to go home. And then had to quickly leave that conversation to go throw up again. I could not even drive home.

So, trash can in hand, my principal drove me home while the assistant principal followed us in my car. I was throwing up on and off the entire time. I'm thankful they helped me out, but totally embarrassed I threw up in her car. If I could make them a thank you card it would start with something like, "You know you have amazing bosses when..." I don't really remember much, but she did call my husband on the way and told him to meet us at the house as I was refusing that she take me to the emergency room. After climbing up the steps and blacking out in the bathroom, the next thing I remember is the Bear picking me up, placing me in the car with the trash can from work, and heading to the E.R. They gave me a good does of anti-nausea medication and pain meds, drew some blood, and did an ultrasound of my abdominal region. Since I do not have my appendix, they were thinking it might be my gall bladder. The ultrasound did not show any signs of gall stones, however, my liver enzymes were elevated. So, I was admitted into the hospital.

The following day, they did a pipida scan. A pipida scan is a CT scan where they intravenously give you some dye. Next, they intravenously feed you the equivalent of a Thanksgiving meal to see how your liver and gall bladder react. Things got real. In the middle of the scan, I was in the same amount of pain I was in the day before. I thought I was going to die. Turns out my gall bladder was very inflamed and only functioning at about 10%. Thus, messing with my liver and causing bad things to happen. So, the gall bladder came out later that day. The next day I went home and here I am recovering from all the craziness. I am still in a lot of pain from the surgery, but believe it or not, I am feeling so much better. Looking back, I think my gall bladder had been causing me a lot of issues. This past year, holiday meals even while gluten free, were not as enjoyable. I always felt terrible after going out to eat. I tried curing these issues by eating healthier and healthier, which was not a bad thing; but, no matter what, my faulty gall bladder needed to go.

On top of the gall bladder removal, the doctors have diagnosed me with a full fledged gluten intolerance after my appendix and gall bladder issues. Before, it was a just a sensitivity, but now it is legit. I am to remain on my gluten free diet as well as a fairly low fat diet. I can start adding more fat back into my diet in about a month or so as it will take my digestive system a while to adjust to no longer having a gall bladder. This week I plan to take time to recover. I hope to be back at blogging again soon! Until then, please enjoy any past recipes and menu posts. Have a great week!

Monday, April 28, 2014

Pineapple-Cilantro Slaw

I've been making the same Cilantro Lime Slaw for quite some time. It is a staple side dish in the Nickel house and pairs incredibly well with BBQ, Tex-Mex, and even seafood. Last night, I thought I'd give it an update. I think this version would stand up well to any BBQ, Tex-Mex, seafood, or even Asian cuisine.

Isn't it just beautiful? This week's foods are all about slimming down and feeling good. If you are having a bad day or maybe feel a little negative, you can look at this colorful salad and maybe feel a little better. You don't even have to taste it. I feel happier just looking at it. Here sunny shiny pineapple gives the cool and creamy cilantro dressing a sweet surprise. Not too sweet though. Just enough sweet to let you know its there and summer is right around the corner.

Pineapple-Cilantro Slaw

1 bag shredded cabbage or cole slaw mix
1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced
2 cups fresh pineapple, chopped into small cubes
2 cups low fat buttermilk
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro (if you are not a fan, feel free to use less)
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Zest of 2 small limes or 1 large lime
Juice of 2 small limes or 1 large lime
1 teaspoon stevia (optional if you do not like your dressing on the slightly sweet side)
1/2 teaspoon salt

In a large bowl, mix together the cabbage, red pepper, and pineapple. Set aside. In a blender, mix together the buttermilk, cilantro, green onions, lime zest, lime juice, stevia, and salt until smooth. This dish can be made ahead of time if you are taking it to a party. Simply store the dressing separate from the salad. When you are ready to serve, pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until everything is well coated.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Feel Good Food Menu Post

After a last week's worth of seriously amazing eats (hello Bacon Lasagna), I realized we probably need to clean up our eats a bit. Bikini season is just around the corner. And, while I did use some self-control in my bacon lasagna filled world last week, it is time to get back on track. It is time to get movin' and groovin' again with the activity, get toned up, and feel seriously good about myself. Too honor this, I am off to a good start. I made it out the door for a nice little run this morning before the rain and hail. Not too shabby!

This week's menu focuses on all of the above. These are meals that will fill you up and fuel your workouts without filling out your waistline. To continue my healthy streak today, I will be using my Sweet Asian Glaze to spice up my chicken burgers. I plan to update my usual Cilantro Lime Slaw into an even better slimming side. Meatless Monday is a meal in a bowl with my version of the Pinterest recipe for Mexican Quinoa Bowls. Wednesday I plan to spice up my chicken with a blackened chicken served over a beautiful spinach and almond salad. Finally, to end the week I'm going to make some simple Garlic Chicken and Hummus Flatbreads. Here is the official slimming rundown:

Sunday 4/27          Sweet Asian Glazed Chicken Burgers with Pineapple-Cilantro Slaw

Monday 4/28        Protein Packed Mexican Quinoa Bowls

Tuesday 4/29        Leftovers

Wednesday 4/30  Blacked Chicken over Spinach and Almond Salad

Thursday 5/1        Leftovers

Friday 5/2            Garlic Chicken and Hummus Flatbreads with Salad

A few of the items you will need include:

1 package chicken burgers (I plan to use Weight Watchers)
4-6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (depending on size)
1 bunch cilantro
1 bunch green onions
1 red pepper
1 zucchini
1 container fresh pineapple (I bought some already cubed from the deli section, if you cannot find any canned would be fine. Just make sure it is packed in its own juice not syrup.)
1-2 limes (depending on size)
1 bag baby spinach
1 bag slaw mix
1 container of your favorite hummus
1 jar roasted red peppers (packed in water not oil)
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz can black beans
1 bag or can or jar almonds (you will need about 1/2 cup if you choose to buy from the bulk section)
1 package gluten-free wraps (I will be using Sandwich Petals Agave Garlic)
1 box or bag quinoa (If buying from the bulk section you will need 1 cup)
1 bag frozen corn
1 quart buttermilk

Pantry items you will need include:

Nonstick cooking spray
Extra virgin olive oil
Nut oil (such as walnut oil)
Apple cider vinegar
Pure maple syrup
Dijon mustard
Taco seasoning
Blackening seasoning
Cayenne pepper
Black pepper
Xanthan gum

Enjoy the rest of your weekend! I look forward to sharing with you all throughout the week!

Sweet Asian Glaze

It is hard to make a healthy meal on a Friday night. Everyone is tired from the long work week. I understand the last thing anyone wants to do is add one more thing to their weekend to-do list. Had I not already thawed the chicken, I too would have dined out or ordered in. Somehow though, I found the energy to throw this meal together. I'm glad I did.

This meal was healthy, filling, and tasted like my own hibachi grill meal. The Bear actually asked me if I had gone to the local hibachi grill place we like to go to and bought some of their sauce. It was that good!

To make this meal lightening quick, I made grilling packets for the vegetables. I know I originally said these were going to be kabobs in my menu post, but the grilling packets were a lot easier. All you have to do is spray a 12 inch piece of foil with nonstick cooking spray, lay or vegetables on top of the foil, and drizzle a little bit of the glaze over the veg. Then, fold the foil and place on the grill. I made one packet for the asparagus and one for the zucchini, peppers, and onion. You could use whatever vegetables you like, but the glaze is the key to making this meal taste like your own Japanese steakhouse.

Sweet Asian Glaze

1/4 cup soy sauce (I used San-J Organic Tamari)
2 tablespoons ketchup
1 tablespoon sriracha sauce
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh grated ginger
2 teaspoons stevia

Whisk all ingredients together in a small dish. Use over grilled or sauteed veggies and meats as you please.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Bacon Lasagna

This recipe is inspired by one of the hard working paraprofessionals in our school. I cannot say enough about how much I value their work and dedication to the students. So, I felt the need to honor my dear lunch buddy, Meghan. Your Dad's bacon spaghetti ignited the spark for this truly awesome recipe. Hold on to your tablecloth! This is a good one!

I feel like lasagna is one of those recipes everyone needs to know how to make. You can happily feed your family, a large crowd, and entertain with this hearty, Italian comfort dish. To take this lasagna to the next level, I used bacon in place of ground beef or sausage. Yes, bacon! All I can say is it is AMAZING! I happen to love center cut bacon. It is lower in fat, but still has all of the bacon goodness that turkey bacon just can't match. I also added a little spinach. Just to sneak in a little veg.

You will want to prepare this lasagna AHEAD! Yes Mr. A- PREPARE THIS BACON LASAGNA AHEAD OF TIME! (Bold and capitalized just for you) Get it all ready, cover it, and store it in your fridge until you are ready to bake and serve. This will save you time. There is enough liquid to cook the noodles for you without having to boil them ahead of time. Preparing the dish ahead of time also helps your lasagna to not be a runny mess on your plate. Just like I dislike soggy cereal on my leftover cheesy potato casserole, I do not like runny lasagna.

Bacon Lasagna

Nonstick cooking spray
10-12 dried lasagna noodles (I used brown rice noodles to make it gluten free, but regular will work too)
1 jar spaghetti sauce (I used Ragu traditional)
1 cup cooked and crumbled center cut bacon
1/2 cup frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained of any excess liquid
1 15 oz. container low-fat ricotta cheese
1 15 oz. container low-fat cottage cheese
1 egg, beaten
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2 cups shredded Parmesan cheese
2 cups shredded 2% mozzarella cheese

Spray a 9-inch by 13-inch or 8-inch by 12-inch baking dish with nonstick cooking spray. Set aside. In a large bowl, combine the bacon and spaghetti sauce. Set aside. In another large bowl, stir together the spinach, ricotta, cottage cheese, egg, and garlic powder until combined. Ladle and evenly spread 1/2-3/4 cup sauce into the bottom of the baking dish. Layer 5-6 of the lasagna noodles over the sauce to form the first layer. Spread half of the ricotta mixture over the noodles. Sprinkle 1 cup of the Parmesan and mozzarella cheeses over the ricotta. Ladle and spread the remaining sauce over the cheese. Repeat noodle and cheese layers with the remaining ingredients. Cover and store in your fridge for up to 2-3 days. When you are ready to bake and serve, let the dish set out at room temperature uncovered while your oven preheats at 375 degrees. When the oven is preheated, place a sheet of aluminum foil over the lasagna. Bake for 30 minutes. Carefully remove the foil. Bake uncovered for an additional 20-30 minutes or until the cheese begins to bubble in the middle and turn lightly brown. Remove from the oven. Let set for 10 minutes before serving. Enjoy!