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Oh Chocolate - I long for you. We have been lovers for so long now and yet you still make my heart go pitter patter whenever I see you.  My mouth waters at the very thought of you.

We had fun this last week no? It was sweet. Indulgent. Satisfying. A week I will not soon forget. I love you. I will always love you. You will always be a part of me.

It's you and me forever my dear sweet chocolate. Ahhhhh ...

Hormones. We all have them. Increase one type and you can grow facial hair and have an incredible urge to raise the toilet seat and watch football. Play with the levels of another and you think about eating your offspring for dinner and question just how much the life insurance is on your spouse. Add mental pause to the mix, or the decade long intro to full blown mental pause and hormone fluctuations can wreak havoc on your life.

That's where chocolate comes in. Every once in a while I crave chocolate. Not, "Oh a piece of chocolate would be nice right about now." It's more like. "I want some chocolate now. Me need chocolate now. Now. NOW! I SAID NOW!" Chocolate is good at any time, but there are times for me when it is a necessity. This week was one of those weeks. I had to go to the grocery store this week to get something small. While I was there the craving took over. At first I told myself no. But I wasn't listening to me at the time and I certainly wasn't taking no for an answer. The conversation went something like this.

I want some chocolate.
No, Cayla. Not now. You don't need chocolate.
Don't tell me I don't need chocolate. You and your stupid rules. I'm a grown up dammit and I want some chocolate now.
No. You can have some dinner when you get home.
What? Let me guess, you're gonna give me some vegetables? Oooh, maybe some more Kale? Yum. GET ME SOME FREAKIN' CHOCOLATE NOW DAMMIT!
OK. OK. You don't have to get nasty - geesh.

So I gave in to my craving and it was heavenly. I bought a bar of dark chocolate with some almonds. Oh my. I told myself that I would only have a piece or two, or three. I ate the entire bar. It was amazingly good and I enjoyed every piece and I didn't and still don't feel guilty one bit. I felt so much better after.  It was awesome. Its not a daily occurrence. It's not even a monthly occurrence. It's an occasional indulgence - that is the eating an entire bar part, not the chocolate part. I eat chocolate all the time. Sometimes more, sometimes less. I love chocolate.

And its good for you. Chocolate is loaded with antioxidants. Chocolate can help promote cardiovascular, skin, and brain health by dilating blood vessels, improving circulation, lowering blood pressure and cholesterol, reducing risk of stroke and heart attacks. It reduces stress. Ifs full of mono unsaturated fatty acids - which in plain English means it attacks belly fat. Yup. It's true. And the particular bonus - it can protect the body from aging. Let's hear it for chocolate. Chya!

But not all chocolate is created equal. Your Halloween candy indulgence this week of all your kid's Mr. Big bars don't really cut it. Dark Chocolate is where it is at. 70% at least. Invest in yourself by purchasing a good quality dark chocolate.

Did you know that you can have an ounce of chocolate per day and it's considered healthy? One ounce of dark chocolate is only 151 calories, 9 grams of fat, 17 grams carbs and 1.6 grams of protein. Add a glass of red wine to your routine and you are packing one power punch of anti aging, good for you not to mention that its a delicious and indulgent treat. Thank you science!


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So I have a recipe that I want to share. Something that I made up over the past few years, although I'm sure there is something similar on the internet as I am not that original.

I make a Blueberry chocolate oatmeal that can really hit the spot in the morning. And for me this past week, it really helped keep the hormones and stress at bay.  I'm not going to give you measurements - I'm sure you can figure it out.



Prepare your oatmeal as you would normally (I don't use the quick kind I use good old fashioned rolled oats). Ratio is 2:1 Water to oatmeal. Now grind up some flax seeds (1 TBSP per person) Flax seeds are great to have around. They are a cancer fighting powerhouse and full of Omega 3's. The reason I say to grind them up is they are better for you that way. The shell is hard enough that you might not get all their powerful benefits if you decide to chew for yourself. Add the ground flax to the oatmeal.

Season with pinch of salt and pepper. I know sounds weird, but you don't taste the pepper. However, if you eat it slow enough there is this little bite at the end of your pallet and you're not quite sure where it comes from....its the pepper.

Add some frozen blueberries to the pot (at least 1/2 cup per serving) - no need to stir, but if you do fold in gently. Blackberries are great too - both are loaded with cancer fighting, anti aging antioxidants. (Any vibrant coloured berry is good).

Bring it all to a boil. Turn the heat to minimum, cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

When the oatmeal is ready add some cinnamon if you like (adds even more antioxidants) and some good quality real vanilla extract (1/2 tsp or so). Stir gently. Then throw in a handful or so per person of good quality dark chocolate chips. Fold them in gently so not to disturb the blueberries or turn the oatmeal dark brown - but if this happens its not the end of the world. I just like the chips to remain intact and not melt completely so that they are this little morsel of surprise in every bite.

Spoon into bowls and pour some milk, or don't that is up to you. Your decadent breakfast is served.

This oatmeal is really quite yummy and so healthy. The thing is you have fueled your body with really good stuff. It tastes like you're being bad but you're not. The blueberries, chocolate, flax and cinnamon are powerhouse foods. The oatmeal is a great complex carbohydrate. And it tastes great I promise. Enjoy it. I do.

 
 
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Hearty Lentil Soup with wrinkled napkin. (Click on pic for recipe)
Last week I spent $2.50 on two bulbs of garlic at the Farmer's Market. I am still trying to get over that one. This week I was a little more careful. I skipped the Farmer's Market. Actually, in all fairness, it closed at 3:00 and I didn't get there until 3:15, but I still skipped going in theory.

So off to my regular super market I went with my $151.06. This week was a little easier shopping wise as I didn't have to purchase 1/2 cup of cashews, and 4 Tbsp of peanuts. After yesterday's freezer cleaning I have enough little bags of nuts, (don't go there) to last me a life time, well a few weeks at least.

 
 
I'm like Old Mother Hubbard, except its not my cupboard its my fridge. I am here to tell you that my fridge is bare. It's so bare I can list it's contents. Organic Eggs, Beef roast for tomorrow, 2-3 slices of natural ham, left over spaghetti from last night, Broccoli, Organic Celery (part of the dirty dozen), about 1/2 cup of yogurt, 1 tub of margarine that I'm too cheap to throw out, 1/2 cup organic milk, 1/4 cup of organic half 'n half for my coffee, natural peanut butter, natural jam and condiments. I should take this opportunity to clean my fridge.... ah nope ... too lazy. On my counter I have some apples and one banana in the fruit bowl. And the pantry has stuff in it ... I dunno what. I have to look ... later.

How are we to eat for the next two days you may ask? We will be having a chick pea curry for dinner using cans from the pantry (tastes better than it sounds), brown rice, frozen green beans and leftover naan bread made earlier this week and then frozen. Sunday dinner will be Roast beef, roasted organic potatoes (in the pantry), broccoli and homemade gravy. Dessert will be apple/blackberry crisp. We're covered. I have a fair bit of broccoli so I may make some broccoli soup for a lunch today. Then my fridge will really be bare.

I am also happy to report that I have not gone over budget this week. Our family ate (extremely well I might add) for $150 this week. I even have $1.06 left over. What is odd is it felt rather freeing to be so restrained. Isn't that weird? I guess its because getting groceries (something I used to do every couple of days) was now off my to do list. I didn't have to go to the grocery store - I had already spent my budget for the week, and the meals were planned. I was done. I was able to drive past the grocery store without guilt and that was in itself freeing.

Yesterday I went to the Grocery store with my $10 remaining and bought $3 worth of coffee, Organic eggs on sale for $5 and some more oatmeal to get us through breakfast the next few days. I would never do something like that (buying just a bit of coffee and oatmeal) if not on this challenge - but I was not about to go without my morning coffee - it ain't pretty.

This coming week is going to be more of a challenge. This weekend I will take stock of my pantry and anything that is left in my freezer and then look through recipes. I'll let you know what I come up with. Here's where it gets interesting (for me anyways).

Once again, the challenge is:

I will cook only -
  • Preservative free Food
  • Real food - no packages
I will purchase only -
  • Organic of the (dirty dozen) fruits and veggies
  • Locally grown produce whenever possible
  • Naturally raised and grain fed meats and poultry whenever financially possible
  • Free range eggs
  • Organic dairy when financially possible
I will do this and feed my family of three with an added hungry and tall boyfriend every once in a while, including Sunday dinner, breakfasts, lunches, snacks, beverages and desserts for $150.00 per week. If we go out to eat it is included in the $150 budget.

I've added another recipe for you to try if you like. Only those who make it to the bottom of the this blog page get to see it - see what you get for your perseverance? Simply click on the picture for the recipe.
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Spicy Soba Noodles - Click on picture for recipe.

 
 
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In honor of the weekend and indulgence...Butter! Food of the gods!
"Is there anything better than butter? Think it over, any time you taste something that's delicious beyond imagining and you say 'what's in this?' the answer is always going to be butter. The day there is a meteorite rushing toward Earth and we have thirty days to live, I am going to spend it eating butter. Here is my final word on the subject, you can never have too much butter." (Julie/Julia) Never a truer statement has been said.

Now how about we reread the above quote, except replace margarine with butter, they're interchangeable right?. "... any time you taste something that's delicious beyond imagining and you say 'what's in this?' the answer is always going to be MARGARINE?" Doesn't have the same ring to it does it?  Somehow if life were ending I don't think I'd be grabbing my tub of Parkay for comfort.

I can see you all jumping up and down going Cayla! I thought you were a healthy non-hippy type. I am. I said I wasn't going to talk about tofu and quinoa and so far I haven't. I also said I love food. Good food. And dishes made with butter are good, no make that great food. It certainly didn't do France any harm. You'd think the entire nation including the Eiffel Tower would keel over with a heart attack, but amazingly they don't. Viva la France!

I do believe in all things in moderation. I don't like to cut food groups and such. I wish I could eat in moderation, that would be cool, I'd be thinner. But I have not been able to find that discipline on a consistent basis as of yet.  I do indulge every once in a while with butter. Sunday morning breakfast consisting of butter melting on a hot piece of toast topped with 'dippy' egg is simplistic and heavenly to me. Or going out for breakfast and ordering Eggs Benedict (my all time favorite) made with real hollandaise sauce, not 'our own cheesy sauce'. Nothing says summer like fresh corn on the cob glistening with melted butter... and a beer.  I could go on, but honestly I think I'm gaining weight just talking about it. So let's just say this, like bacon - everything tastes better with butter.

There is a lot of debate over which is healthier, butter or margarine. Really when you get down to it neither are. Birthday cake isn't good for you either, but no one should celebrate a birthday without a piece of birthday cake. It's just not right. I remember my mother-out-law who used to feed us a huge meal, then a 1/4 of a homemade pie and THEN bring out the birthday cake. We'd all look at her cross eyed and in shock and she'd say "What? This isn't dessert, this is Birthday Cake. It's totally different!" True story, but I digress.

Here's the thing, if i am going to indulge in the wondrous taste that is butter, I'm going to choose the real natural product and not a man made substitute that says something like "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter". Simulated. I don't like simulated anything. I want the real thing thank you very much. So, I take out a loan and buy myself a 1/2 lb of organic butter. It lasts me a long time and I enjoy every creamy, buttery bite.

OK - so if I was on reality TV the morality police would come in and check my fridge. I'm guilty. They would in fact find a tub of margarine. Hold on now though, I've had it for an awful long time. I'm cheap remember? I got it on sale in a weak moment, and I can't seem to just throw it out. So, I feed it to my husband when I'm mad at him. At the rate he's going we should be through the tub by the end of the year.

In honor of glorious butter I am going to share a chicken recipe. (That doesn't even make sense).  It is really tasty and quick to prepare. When I make this for dinner, my daughter says "You mean that really good chicken that you make?" I smile and say yup. "Yay!" she says,  "I love that chicken!" - she's 20. Young ones will love it too. It really is quite good. It's great cold the next day. Must be the butter.

Curry Chicken Thighs (not a strong taste of curry)
Pre-heat oven to 375F

6-8      Chicken Thighs, skinless and bone in (or more if you like)
4 Tbsp Butter
1/2 c   Honey
1/4     Mustard
1 tsp   Salt
1 tsp   Curry Powder

Melt butter in oven proof pan (like your handy cast iron frying pan).
Add remaining ingredients and give it a whisk.
Add chicken thighs to pan turning to coat with sauce ending with chicken what would be skin side up (if it still had skin on it)
Put in the oven and bake for an 45 mins to 1 hr (depending on size of thighs...not yours the chicken's)
You can baste them every 15 mins or so or leave it alone. I leave this up to you.

I serve this with brown basmati rice. I place the chicken on a bed of fresh spinach. Pour the heavenly sauce over the rice and chicken. The spinach slightly wilts with the heat. Delish!

If you make this and cut the butter portions please don't tell me because  and "here is my final word on the subject, you can never have too much butter."


 
 
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If I were stuck on a deserted island there is one thing I wouldn't want to be without - my cast iron frying pan. Truly. I'm in love. I think it's the best $10 I ever spent. I first met my cast iron frying pan almost a decade ago at a garage sale. I had always wanted one and when I saw it all rusty with a tag for $10 hanging from the handle I was sold and in love. We were to be together forever. I brought it home, gently cleaned and seasoned it and gave it my love. The love fest continues as my pan has repaid me with thousands of glorious meals ever since.

I cook with my pan every day. Sometimes 2-3 times. I'm and egg girl so eggs in the morning are a must for breakfast in my home, and my pan cooks them so beautifully. I've gone through countless non-stick crappy pans in my time. But my Cast Iron baby works for me every time.

It's great for cooking breakfast, whether it be sausages, omelets, eggs sunny side up, fried potatoes, pancakes, french toast. Or how about a frittata?  Just mix it up and then bake it in the oven.

I think that's why I would want it on the deserted island. It can withstand so much. It's near impossible to break. You don't need soap to wash it. It can withstand very high temperatures. It's amazing.

But it's not just for breakfast. I cook dinner in it most nights. A few years ago there were a lot of storms where we live and we ended up being without power for 10 days. Honestly, I don't know what I would have done if I didn't have my handy skillet. I was able to feed my family with the skillet and the wood stove for ten days. It made those ten days tolerable. We felt like we were camping for the first three, then we all just got grumpy. But we ate extremely well.

I've roasted whole chickens and beef roasts with it. I make my spaghetti sauce in it. Bake apple cobbler. You can knock a burglar out cold with one or keep an errant husband in line. So many uses. And clean up is a breeze. No soap, just hot water. A quick scrub and we're done. The less work I have to do the better. There's that lazy streak again. Seriously, they are a wonderful investment and they last a lifetime.

So if you don't have one, you don't know what you're missing. And if you do have one and think it's only for camping get to know it better!

Since we've been talking food and packaged food in particular in my past few posts and since I am feeling all warm and fuzzy about my cast iron frying pan I'm going to share my spaghetti sauce recipe. It took me a long time to find this recipe. Its simple. Cheap. Good for you and tastes great. When I say to my family that I'm making pasta they smile. They all love it. Its like comfort food. I've even served it to guests for a casual get together. It fail proof.

Rambling Spaghetti Sauce (Marinara)

1 Big honking can of crushed tomatoes (look at the ingredients)
1 med onion, finely diced
1 carrot, finely diced
1 celery, finely diced
2 garlic, minced
1 T olive oil
1 Bay leaf

Heat oil in pan over medium heat. Saute onion, carrot, celery and garlic in oil for a couple of minutes. Stirring constantly. Add crushed tomatoes. Put some water in the can (about 1/2) and swish around to get all of the tomato and pour into pan. Stir to combine. Add bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then turn heat to low and simmer for 25 mins.

After 25 mins or so put on water for pasta, while the sauce continues to simmer away. Cook pasta according to directions. Just before pasta is cooked add two ladles of the pasta water to the sauce and stir to combine. Remove bay leaf. Salt and Pepper to taste. It's ready to go.

Serve your pasta with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. If I'm feeling fancy i garnish it with some fresh chopped parsley. It looks beautiful. Molto delizioso.

For a meat sauce (yum) brown 1lb of ground beef or ground turkey in pan. Strain. Wipe out pan and continue with the above recipe adding the drained ground meat to the sauce before adding the crushed tomato.

That's the basic recipe. You can add mushrooms or olives which are great they add this wonderful saltiness to the sauce. Some spinach thrown in just before serving is good too for some added color as well as beta carotene and vitamin B's.

Can't get any easier than that. Homemade. Simple. Tasty. Cheap.

I hope you like it!







 
 
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I don't know about you but I was brought up with packaged food. KD (guilty pleasure), a can of cream of mushroom soup and some meat makes just about anything, Hamburger Helper (ewww). And then there were flavour packages - taco seasoning, onion soup mix, spaghetti sauce mix. There are 1000's of them. Their purpose is clear. Simplicity. There is nothing wrong with simplicity - it's what I personally strive for. But most if not all of these items are absolutely full of preservatives, fillers and who knows what else. Stuff our bodies do not like and certainly do not need. But we all want simplicity right? What to do?

I love to cook, and I love the food that I cook to taste good but when it comes down to it I like it to be quick. I'm not one to cook all day unless I'm using a slow cooker - which I have yet to have a good meal come out of - what is up with that?

So here are a couple of popular mixes that you might like to try. Next time you go to grab a box or flavor packet, perhaps try one of these instead.

The first is a simple Taco Seasoning mix that has no salt and I think tastes great. Nothing in the ingredients list contains the letter 'x' or ends in 'ide' or 'ose'. My wonderful sister-in-law who lives in Mexico will probably laugh and say 'ay caramba Cayla' at my answer to Taco Tuesday - actually we're sister-out-laws which is just the way we like it. But over here in Canada it works quite nicely. We don't know any better eh?

Taco Seasoning Mix

3 tsp chili powder
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp red pepper flakes (or cayenne)

This makes enough for a typical package to use in a recipe. You can adjust the pepper flakes to your family's taste, but it's a good place to start. You can use it in any recipe that calls for taco seasoning mix. Simple. If you want to make a big batch you can just get out your calculator - but I just make it fresh. I don't even measure anymore. Another great thing about this recipe is now you are in charge of the salt. I typically don't add any, but you may want to. The thing is - you know how much you're giving your family which is what we all want right? To be back in charge of what we feed our family?

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Another one that was used over and over again by my mother was a box of dry onion soup mix. Sunday pot roast, on potatoes, in hamburgers, and dips. It was used a lot.

I use a recipe that doesn't use beef bouillon. The reason is simple I asked myself "how do they turn beef broth into those little cubes?" Hmmm ... remember I don't just blatantly trust anymore so I found one without the Beef Bouillon. This recipe has salt and sugar in it. I typically cut the sugar. But the goal here is to know exactly what you are putting in your food, right. With this recipe we do.

Dry Onion Soup Mix Substitute

8 tsp dried onion flakes
1 1/2 tsp dried parsley (I've used fresh too just increase qty)
1 tsp onion powder
1 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp celery seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground pepper

(compare the ingredients - which would you prefer to eat?)

If you don't like the Turmeric you can cut it. Your burgers will have a yellow look to them when you use it which can be funny to some. But I think this recipe is flavorful and delicious. Of course tweak things to your family's tastes, but it's a good place to start. You can use it in casseroles, meat dishes, roasted potatoes, that blasted crock-pot or any recipe that asks for a packet of instant dry onion soup mix. Like the taco seasoning this recipe is the equivalent of one packet of the soup mix. You can make it in advance and put it all in a jar waiting for your next pot roast if you like. It will keep for up to six months.

Give these two a try. You never know, you may just like 'em. Or you may say "Ay caramba Cayla' what the heck was that? Fingers crossed.