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April 30, 2014

Tuttorosso Tomatoes Review and a Recipe for Slow Cooker Pasta Sauce

#spon Disclaimer: I received products in order to facilitate this post. As always all opinions expressed are my own.



Cooking and baking have always been a major part of my life. When I am stressed I go into the kitchen and make food. It makes me feel better and provides a part of myself for my family to enjoy. Growing up my mother cooked huge meals. She was the oldest of 12 and loved having large Christmas celebrations. From as far back as I can remember I would follow her around the kitchen and watch her cook. As the years went by I realized that I already knew how to cook from all those evenings watching her prepare dinners for our family. I have passed these traditions on to my own boys, who love helping me in the kitchen to prepare family meals.

Do you have an inspiration for your family cooking traditions? Right now you can share your stories on the Tuttorosso Facebook page. The winner will receive a $250 prize pack that includes a serving plate, sauce ladle, pasta pot set and heirloom wooden spoon, plus $300 to a dinner celebration of the winner’s choosing. The contest runs from April 16 through May 7.

I was lucky enough to be send a gift pack of Tuttorosso tomatoes to try in my home kitchen. I was sent three 28 oz tomato products including diced, pureed, and the new crushed no salt added. They also sent me examples of the new packaging that they have changed to. The new labels offer tips and tricks to incorporate the various tomato products into your home recipes. For example the peeled plum tomatoes are best in chili, gazpacho, primavara and sauces, while the tomato sauce is best in lasagna, pizza and sauces. The use tips are a nice way to know how to use the various types of tomatoes now available canned. It can seem a little overwhelming in the tomato aisle trying to figure out the difference between paste, sauce, diced, pureed and crushed. The new labels do the work for you, saving at least a little bit of stress at the grocery store (now if only they could do something about my two kids wondering off and getting out of the cart I'd be set.....).



All three of the products I used in various recipes. The recipe I am going to share here uses the 28 oz can of diced tomatoes. This recipe came about when I was unmotivated to cook dinner and needed something that I could start in the crock pot at noon without a lot of fuss. I had a pound of mild Italian sausage and the canned tomatoes and this is what I made:

  • 1 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 pound Italian sausage (I used mild, but hot would also work)
  • 1 8 ounce can tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoons dried thyme 
  • 2 teaspoons dried basil 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 diced yellow sweet onion
  • 5 minced garlic cloves
  • sugar if needed (I don't sugar my sauce, but I know that many people prefer it so if you like yours a little sweet add a small amount of granulated sugar)
Cook the diced onion and the sausage (casings removed) until browned. Add the garlic and saute just until the garlic is fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute. Add to the slow cooker along with the remaining ingredients, stir. Cover the crock pot and cook on high 4-5 hours. Salt as needed (this really varies depending on the sausage, sometimes I need a lot more salt and other times no additional at all). 

That's it! The tomatoes worked great and the sauce went well over gluten free pasta and the leftovers were delicious over polenta (which is a nice gluten free alternative to pasta). 

For more information about the tomatoes and the Facebook contest go to the following links: 
Do you have a favorite dish using canned tomatoes? 

April 27, 2014

Soap Nuts Review and Giveaway

Disclaimer: I received products in order to facilitate this review. As always all opinions expressed are solely my own. 


I am a naturally skeptical person. When someone tells me about a great new product I think, okay, maybe, probably not, no thanks. I tend to stick to products I have used for a long time. Part of this is due to the fact that every time I do seem to try a new product I am rarely enthusiastic. Everyone else loves it,  I pretty much hate it. I have been told that I have overly high expectations in life in general. That may be true, but I also expect things to work well when I pay for them. Since I can be a little too set in my ways, I was excited to mix up my laundry routine by trying Green Virgin Products Soap Nuts.

So what are Soap Nuts? Soap Nuts are also known as soap berries. They are grown on the Chinese Soap Berry Tree and dried in the sun. Soap Nuts contain the chemical Saponin, and the soap nuts by Green Virgin Products are organic and wild certified. You use Soap Nuts the same as regular laundry detergent, they just go in a little bag keeping everything nicely together. They also eliminate the need for fabric softener.



So what did I think? Given that I am naturally a skeptic, I wasn't sure what to think of Soap Nuts. I have to say I was very pleasantly surprised. In order to make sure that I had a full idea of how they worked I used them on two hot and two cold loads. Here is my pro and con list:



Pros:
  • All natural
  • Easy to use
  • No chemical smell
  • Cleaned clothes well
Cons: 
  • They have a strange smell before being used. This isn't something that would bother most people, I am just sensitive to smells. 
  • I have an aggressive washer so I only got 3 loads per 6 soap berries. If you have a less aggressive HE washer this probably wouldn't be a problem. 
For more information go to the following links: 
Now for the fun part! You can win the same products that I was sent (seen in the picture at the top - sample size liquid and 250 gram bag). Just enter through the rafflecopter form below. 


a Rafflecopter giveaway

April 24, 2014

A Playdate with The Happy's #TheHappys!

#sponsored: I received free products in order to host this Cepia, LLC sponsored MommyParty. As always the opinions expressed are solely my own.


Both of my kids love animals. My oldest son had a complete meltdown at the pet store a few weeks back when I wouldn't allow him to have a fish, there was crying and lots of theatrics. Luckily they also love stuffed cats and dogs. This works well for me in the sense that they can still play with the animals without my house being overtaken by four legged friends (we already have 2 dogs and 3 cats). Recently I was given the opportunity through MomSelect to host a playdate for The Happy's, which was a perfect fit for my animal loving kids.

Here is what came in the party kit:
  • 4 The Happy's pets, three dogs and one cat (including 12 AAA batteries)
  • Werther's Original Caramel Popcorn
  • Themed activities and recipes
The Happy's pets come with a remote control bone which allows them to do special tricks. They will move around the floor once you hit the button on their back and will turn back off once the button is pushed again. They do various tricks such as beg when the remote on the treat is pressed. My party kit included one kitten-Mittens, and three dogs, plus a play ball.

The party kit also came with snack recipes for punch, puppy chow, a treat dip, and roll ups. I decided to use recipes that I already had, except I did make the puppy chow, since my kids always love it. For the food I kept it simple, finger sandwiches, vegetables and dip, drinks and a dessert. I also served the caramel popcorn, which was a huge hit. The popcorn was delicious. My husband and I both remarked that it would be a brand we would buy since it literally tastes like caramel candy on top of popcorn, so good!

The toys have been a big hit. They are cute with or without the battery being activated. I will say that the noise can be a little much after a while, if you are noise sensitive, you might want to take the batteries out after your kids move on to new toys. That's true of most electronic devices and toys aimed at kids, so this toy is no different.

Here is a link to a cute video of the happy dance, my youngest thought it was fun!

http://youtu.be/Uc1djrqEb18


April 20, 2014

Dark Chocolate Waffles






Almost everything I believed in strongly when I was younger has completely changed. There are a few things that have survived the years and life changes, but the major things that I was adamant and unyielding about I no longer believe in at all or nearly as much. I was determined in my early 20's that no one else could possibly understand how I felt and that everything I felt strongly about was of the utmost importance. Only I could understand things the right way and I knew that my opinions would only get stronger with age. Yeah, that didn't happen, not even remotely. I grew-up, I had kids, I saw the world from new eyes. I still believe in many things, but I also understand that opinions change with circumstance and that compassion is far more important than being right. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to not push something that you know is right because in the end it isn't what's needed. Oftentimes what's needed is just an ear to listen, not a mouth to tell us how to change things. As young women we want to change everything around us to make it better, change the world with our views. As older women we want to cherish the world that we have created and make sure that the loved ones we hold dear are sheltered from everything we had to endure. Age is a tricky thing, as women we are almost different people throughout our lives, each one unique and wonderful.

As a women in my middle 30's I still love chocolate. That hasn't changed much over the years, but I have made a shift from milk to dark chocolate. When I was younger I couldn't stand dark chocolate, now it's my favorite. This week I tried a new recipe for Dark Chocolate Waffles from the February 2014 issue of Bon Appetit Magazine.



This recipe has 11 ingredients. It takes 20 minutes of total time, all of which is active, and makes 6 servings. I made a number of changes to the original recipe. First, I adapted it to be gluten free by using a homemade gluten free all purpose baking mix. Instead of buying a bar of dark chocolate I used dark chocolate chips which I finely chopped. Buying the dark chocolate chips was much cheaper than buying baking bars or chocolate bars.

These waffles had a nice dark chocolate taste without being over powering. I would consider these more of a dessert waffles than something for breakfast, they are pretty sweet for something in the morning. As a dessert they were great plain or with whipped cream and my kids loved them. They also froze very well in case you don't want to eat the whole batch at once.

For the recipe go to Dark Chocolate Waffles.

April 15, 2014

Slow Cooker Curried Chickpeas and Spinach

Slow Cooker Curried Chickpeas and Spinach
My two kids are currently watching PBS nature shows. While most kids love movies, cartoons, etc., my kids love documentaries, history shows, and animal shows. At first I thought it was a phase, then the phase only got stronger. My oldest wrote about Christopher Columbus in his class journal last week. While most kids were writing about monsters, princesses, what have you, my child was writing a history paper. When his class goes to the school library he goes to the reference section and comes home with science encyclopedias, and he reads them cover to cover. Most of my kids odd behavior I blame on my husband and I. My favorite books are classics and I love social and medical documentaries. My husband was a history major and knows the answer to just about any history question you can ever ask him, and he doesn't just give a simple answer, he goes on for 30 minutes. Apparently my kids are following on the traditions that my husband and I started, hopefully they can find other people that share their same interests.

The males in my family love meat, I was a vegetarian for over ten years. To make everyone happy I make meat for dinner 5 nights a week. The other two nights I make vegan or vegetarian meals. Over the years my husband has grown to love many of the vegetarian meals we have tried and his cholesterol levels have stayed nice and low. Tonight I tried a new recipe for Slow Cooker Curried Chickpeas and Spinach from the April 2014 issue of the Food Network Magazine.

This recipe has 13 ingredients. It takes 4 hours and 20 minutes of total time, 20 minutes of which is active, and makes 4 servings. I only made a few changes to the original recipe. First, I ran out of curry powder so I used a tablespoon and a half of curry powder and a half of a tablespoon of garahm masala. For the cheese I used 8 ounces of Feta and increased the amount of spinach to 15 ounces. I microwaved the spinach and then rang all the water out before adding it to the rest of the ingredients in the crock-pot. Finally, I served the curry over brown rice.

The amount of salt in this recipe is perfect. The cheese adds just enough that it doesn't need to be further salted, which is nice since most recipes have to have a large amount of salt adjustment. If you aren't a fan of feta another type of cheese such as paneer would also work. My husband and I really liked this recipe. It was easy to prep in the slow cooker and made more than enough for two meals when served over rice.

For the recipe go to Slow Cooker Curried Chickpeas and Spinach.

April 14, 2014

Toasty Whole Grain Orange Muffins

Toasty Whole Grain Orange Muffins
I hate to eat at restaurants. A food blogger that hates restaurant foods sounds strange, but it's very true. I can list the number of restaurants I have ever thought wow this is great on one hand. Five fingers, that's it. Half of the list has been in other countries, whether for the company, the food or both, I'll never be a hundred percent sure, but they still make my top five. I have a much, much longer list of restaurants I have really disliked. The same restaurants that people have told me are so great, you must try them. I have and they weren't that great. So much of food has to do with the experience, not just the food on the plate. It's hard for one person to have the same feelings for a restaurant as another. Some of my favorite memories are associated with the Thai restaurant growing-up that was near our house. While the food was decent, the memories of eating with my mother makes me remember the restaurant as great.

My kids are eating me out of house and home recently. I haven't had as much time online, but I have still been cooking and baking up a storm. Last week I tried a new recipe for Toasty Whole Grain Orange Muffins from the April 2014 issue of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.

This recipe has 14 ingredients. It takes 50 minutes of total time, 35 minutes of which is active. I made two versions of the original recipe, one gluten free and one as written. For the gluten free recipe I used a homemade rice flour blend. For the wheat flour muffins I used all-purpose flour and white whole wheat flour. I found that both sets of muffins worked better cooked at 350 for 25 minutes instead of the 400 degrees for 15 minutes suggested by the recipe. I hate cleaning muffin pans so I used muffin liners on both batches. The clean up is much easier and that way my kids can just grab an individual muffin off the counter.

Both types of these muffins turned out well. They were best re-heated with butter or marmalade if you ate them after the first day. Fresh out of the oven the gluten free muffins were perfect and had a great light taste. As with most gluten free baked goods if eaten after the first day they needed to be warmed in the microwave for approximately 15 seconds. My kids really liked the regular muffins and thought they were best with jam and butter.

For the recipe go to Toasty Whole Grain Orange Muffins. 

April 8, 2014

Big Boss Swirlio Frozen Fruit Dessert Maker Review

Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial.

My youngest is banana obsessed. He loves them frozen, fresh, in desserts, you name it. While I like bananas, I prefer them in smoothies or recipes instead of alone. There is something with the texture of fresh bananas that has never been appealing to me. However, they are great in desserts and I love them in my morning smoothies. Since there is such a love of frozen bananas in my household I was excited when I was approached to give my review of the new Big Boss Swirlio Frozen Fruit and Dessert Maker.

So what is a Swirlio? "Swirlio transforms your favorite fruits into a soft serve frozen dessert in seconds! Making dessert that is delicious, nutritious and 100% guilt-free is easy as 1-2-3. Freeze your favorite fruit, let it thaw for a few minutes, then push it down the chute and voilĂ , dessert is both delicious and healthy is served."



I made two different types of frozen fruit desserts. The first was a combination of frozen bananas and Nutella (1 1/2 frozen bananas and 2 tablespoons Nutella) and the second a combination of 1/3 blueberries, 3 frozen strawberries, and 1 frozen banana.



Here is my list of pros and cons: 

Pros: 
  • Easy to prep fruit.
  • Takes minutes to make.
  • Low in fat (if using straight fruit). 
  • A vast of number of recipe options. 
Cons: 
  • The inside of the machine is somewhat hard to clean. This is mostly if you use peanut butter or Nutella. 
  • The main flavor is still banana, so if you are not a fan of bananas this might be a problem for you. 
Overall, my kids loved this machine. If you put the frozen fruit into the freezer after using the machine it can be scooped like regular ice cream. Either of the two ways it's delicious. 

For more information go to the following links: 
I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

April 7, 2014

Savory Smoked Salmon and Potato Chip Brunch Muffins


I love breakfast foods. There is something comforting and great about a giant stack of pancakes, whether they are eaten at 6 in the morning or 6 at night. Breakfast also always reminds me of my mother. Growing up weekday mornings where always rushed, but weekend breakfast were perfect. My mother would cook, we would talk and everything seemed right in the world regardless of what was going on outside of our family unit. Now as an adult I try to carry on this tradition with my own family. One of my family's favorite breakfast foods is smoked salmon, they love it with eggs, omelets, you name it. Today I tried a new recipe for Savory Smoked Salmon and Potato Chip Brunch Muffins from the April 2014 issue of Better Homes and Gardens Magazine.

This recipe has 12 ingredients. It takes 40 minutes, 25 minutes of which is active, and makes 12 servings. I only made a few changes to the original recipe. Since I was making this for my family and not myself I used regular all-purpose flour. I chose to use parchment to line the muffins as suggested by the magazine and I found that my muffins took 25 minutes at 350. I turned down the heat to make sure they browned without overcooking.

Since I couldn't eat this recipe I called in my guinea pigs/family for their opinions. My husband really loved these muffins. He said that the taste of the dill and salmon worked well together and they were a nice size to grab out of the fridge for a snack. My oldest son is a huge smoked salmon fan and was very pleased with these muffins as an after school snack. I am a fan of any recipe that uses a muffin pan, I love my muffin pan. Baking and cooking in a muffin pan is a great way to have portion control and makes for easy snacks for kids to be able to grab without help.

For the recipe go to Savory Smoked Salmon and Potato Chip Brunch Muffins.

April 5, 2014

Kiss Me Organics Matcha Green Tea Powder

Disclosure: I got this product as part of an advertorial.

Mornings in my house are always hectic. My boys are grumpy, I never seem to have enough time and I feel like I need a coffee drip. Even with coffee I often have a mid-afternoon slump. You know what I mean, that middle of the day feeling when you feel like you need another cup of coffee, but worry if you will be able to fall asleep that evening. I have those afternoons at least a couple of days a week. I am always looking for new ways to boost my energy without drinking too much coffee. Recently, I was given the opportunity to try Kiss Me Organics Matcha Green Tea Powder and use the product in a few recipes.

If you've never tried Matcha green tea powder before it can be used in a variety of ways: in lattes, smoothies, and baking recipes. It claims to increase focus, boost metabolism and provide all day energy. Since I am a big fan of smoothies and breakfast foods, I used the Matcha in a smoothie and a batch of pancakes.

For the smoothie I kept it simple. 1 cup of almond milk, 1 tsp green tea powder, 1 frozen banana, and protein powder to taste. I dissolved the Matcha in a small amount of boiling water in order for it to fully dissolve before adding to the rest of the ingredients in the blender. The taste of the Matcha can be a little strong, so you can decrease the total amount to 1/2 teaspoon or increase to 2 teaspoons depending on your tastes.



The second recipe I tried was for gluten free Matcha green tea powder pancakes. Here is the recipe I followed:
  • 1⁄2 cup brown sugar
  • 2 1⁄2 cups gluten free flour 
  • 1 1⁄2 tbsp. Matcha
  • 1 tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Olive oil cooking spray
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups milk
I found when I followed the recipe provided in the recipe book I had to add almond extract and more sugar. The Matcha was a little too bitter for me in pancakes. After making the modifications the taste was great and my kids even loved them. I would suggest dissolving the Matcha in heated milk in order for the Matcha not to clump in the pancakes.


The Matcha powder worked well in the recipes I tried. My favorite way of enjoying it was as a straight tea. When dissolved in hot water the taste was less bitter and great with a little bit of honey. The Matcha was also great in lattes, I made two different ones and they were both delicious.

The price is currently 25 dollars on Amazon, but since you only use 1-2 tsp in most lattes and drinks the price per cup is reasonable. If you have never drank Matcha before the taste does take a little bit of getting used to, but after using it for a week I found that I enjoyed the flavor.

For more information on Matcha Green Tea Powder go to the following links:
I received one or more of the products mentioned above for free using Tomoson.com. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.

April 3, 2014

Blog Forward Challenge #2 + Back Up Battery Charger #Giveaway

Disclaimer: Although I have entered the Blog Forward program and received complimentary product and ZonePerfect promotional items, I am free to comment about ZonePerfect in a positive, neutral or negative fashion.


I can't believe that it's already April, this year is flying by. If you've been following my posts you know that I posted previously about the resolutions that I made as part of my program with ZonePerfect. Now that it's April it's time for a little update.

I have been doing well on most of my resolutions. I am eating breakfast more consistently and attempting to make more time for myself. The reason I am using the word attempt is that my oldest has been having a few problems with school which is taking more time with workbook etc. and therefore I have had a little less time to myself than I anticipated. The time that I have had to spend on myself has been nice. Having even a few minutes with my coffee in the morning before the rest of my household wakes up has been truly enjoyable.

I have found with the breakfast resolution the easiest way for me to stick to my healthy eating has been to prep my breakfast the night before and make small swaps to ensure that I stick with nutritional foods in the morning. Here is a list of easy beverage swaps that are easy to do throughout the day.


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Now for the fun part! You can win a Back Up Battery Charger like the one shown below. US residents only, no PO Boxes. 


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