Easy Artichoke Sauce

On a non-food related topic, I’m just wondering…  How many of you guys are runners?  If you are, have you always been a runner?  Does it come naturally to you?  Or do you struggle with running for long periods of time?  I just started running a few times a week a couple months ago to supplement my Zumba addiction, and let me just tell you –  It does NOT come easily for me!  I’ve been following the Couch to 5k program.  It’s a 9 week program that tells you exactly what to jog/walk to go from super lazy to running a full 5k.  In my case, it’s more like a 20-30 weeks because I keep having to repeat weeks cause like I said, this stuff does not come easily!  I don’t think before this I’ve ever run more than 3 minutes straight.  I don’t enjoy it.  The breathing is hard.  My heart is working too hard.  My legs are heavy.  But you know, I’m taking it slow, and this week, I’ve actually enjoyed it!  I’m only up to 5 minute stretches of running with small rests in between, but it’s at least progress.
I’ve never really worked this hard for something so physically demanding.  I usually go for things that are fairly easy with not much of a huge goal in mind.  I hope to be able to run a 5k this Spring.  I know that doesn’t sound like a whole lot, but for me it’s huge.

You know why I work out?  So I can eat.  Eat lots of foods that may or may not be good for me.  Sure, I’m a fan of healthy things that make my body feel good.  But I sure do like my fair share of butter and cream.  I want to be able to eat a brownie sundae or a cream-based pasta if that is what my belly desires.  I spent far too long depriving myself of the foods I wanted.  So I work out and can eat whatever I want.  Don’t get me wrong – I don’t eat cookies, twinkies, and brownies all day long.  Everything in moderation!
One of my favorite indulgences?  Pasta!  With a creamy white sauce.  I based this recipe off of another one from the Moosewood Restaurant Cook at Home cookbook.  They actually called this their emergency sauce because one day they ran out of a key ingredient for the main pasta sauce and had to whip up something new.  From then on out, customers were requesting the sauce so often that Moosewood just made it a staple and it is now on the menu.
Moosewood’s sauce was more of a buttery type sauce that just glazed the pasta.  I turned the base into a roux and added some milk to make a creamy sauce that is much more than a glaze – it is a beautifully tasty blanket to the pasta.  Oh man, just thinking about it makes me want to eat more.

Easy Creamy Artichoke Sauce

¼ cup olive or coconut oil
¼ cup (half a stick) butter
4-6 garlic cloves, chopped
3-4 Tablespoons flour
2 cups milk
1 14-oz. can of artichoke hearts, quartered

A handful of fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin strips
1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

Start by melting the butter and oil together on medium-high heat.  Once melted, add the chopped garlic and cook for 3-4 minutes until slightly golden – not brown!  The worst is burnt garlic.

Once the garlic has cooked for a few minutes, whisk in the flour. Cook for about 2 minutes until golden in color. Gradually add the milk, raise temperature to high. Whisk constantly and bring to a boil. At this point, you should have a moderately thick sauce.
Lower your heat to medium low and add the artichokes, lemon juice, basil, and salt & pepper to taste. Heat through, stirring occasionally, so as not to burn the sauce. Once heated (about 5 minutes) serve over cooked pasta/chicken/rice/etc.
This post is linked to:
Tip Junkie

Berry Healthy Sneaky Smoothie

So if you’ve read more than one or two of my posts, you know that I’m vegetarian.  I’m not a health-nut, per say.  I just don’t agree with supporting the killing of animals for my tastebuds’ enjoyment.  Just my own opinion – I don’t judge if you don’t agree!  My point in saying this that I have had a really hard time consuming enough iron in my meat-free diet.  Through a couple blood tests, it has come to my attention that I am severely anemic, and it’s not getting any better.

Sure, there are iron supplements that I could take, but I’ve been trying to come up with ways to consume more iron-filled dark leafy greens in my diet without just eating salads and kale chips all day long.  You would think that as a vegetarian, I love all those leafy types of things, but that isn’t really the case.  I want things that taste good.  Sweet, savory, salty, gooey…. not plant-like.

I’ve been looking into those green smoothies as a way to get more iron into my diet, and after reading all the reviews on how great they tasted, I decided it was time to take the leap.  Luckily, I had a big bunch of spinach leftover from a dinner this week as well as some bananas and berries in the freezer.  Thinking that these few ingredients wouldn’t be enough to make a tasty smoothie that didn’t taste like a salad, I got the honey out and planned on incorporating that for a little sweet-factor.  Guess what?!  Didn’t even need it!  The banana and berries masked the taste of the spinach.  Couldn’t even tell it was in there.  I think even my 5 year old will love it!  Can’t wait for him to try it out for an after-school snack.

This is honestly one of the yummiest and easiest breakfasts I’ve made in a long time.  I don’t have a big hot-shot blender. No Vitamix or anything.  Just a $20 Walmart blender.  Keep it real.  No need to be fancy.   Throw it in – flip it on – drink it up!

I hope you try it out!  Do you have any yummy green smoothie recipes you can share?  What other fruits and veggies should I add to my spinach-filled drinks?

Berry Healthy Sneaky Smoothie


handful of fresh spinach, stems cut off
2 bananas (I used 1 fresh, and 1 I had frozen)
1 cup mixed berries (fresh or frozen)
1 1/2 cups water

  (ignore the honey in the picture.  I thought I would need it, but was wrong)
Put the spinach in your blender with everything else on top.  That way, everything will weigh down the spinach and it won’t stick to the sides.  Blend at high speed until mixed completely. 
This will make a super large smoothie.  I had a large glass for breakfast and have enough left over for a snack later in the day (or a snack for my kiddo after school!).

Valentine’s Day Cake Pop Bites

{originally posted on Mama Hen’s Kitchen, before Happy Food Healthy Life was born}

I love cake.
I love strawberry cake.
I love bite-sized treats that I can just pop in my mouth thinking that I’m being smart by eating a small treat, when in all actuality I convince myself that it’s ok to eat twelve of these goodies.
I love treats in fun shapes.
I love Valentine’s Day!

Because of all of these reasons, I decided to make these deliciously addictive bites of heaven.  Anyone who knows me personally, knows that I will come up with any excuse or reason to make cake pops.  Office potlucks, bridal or baby showers, holiday, Fridays… really, cake pops are a go any time or day, in my opinion.  We even had a cake pop wedding cake at our reception, and instead of feeding each other from a slice of cake, we fed each other cake pops!  It was so fun!

All you need is a box of cake, some frosting, and candy melts & sprinkles or whatever other decor you prefer.  In this instance, I used Pillsbury’s Moist Supreme Strawberry cake mix, to celebrate the fact that it is almost the big VEE DAY!

A few people have asked me why I don’t make my own cake and frosting for cake pops since I’m big into making everything from scratch and not using mixes.  If you’ve ever made a cake pop, you know the answer to this.  Cake pops are exTENsive!  For example, this one little heart-shaped pop project took me three days to actually complete. Sunday I made the cake.  Monday I only had time to crumble the cake and mix in the frosting.  Tuesday I hurried and shaped the cake into hearts before rushing off to Zumba.  Finally Wednesday, I found an hour or so after a late dinner to coat the hearts in melted candy coating.  Phew!  So, really, do you think I would want to attempt to find the time in my life to make a cake and frosting from scratch in this case?  Highly doubt anyone would be able to notice the difference.

So anyway, back to the simplicity of cake pops.  You bake your cake.  Crumble and mix with frosting.

Shape into a small heart-shaped cookie or fondant cutter.  I used Wilton brand fondant cut-outs.

Then you just coat in melted candy coating.  I wasn’t able to photograph this part because it’s a definite two-hand job, and the Mrs wasn’t available to snap a few.  It’s really quite simple though.  I really should try my hand at the self-timer on my camera.  It just seems too much of a task, and I ask myself if it’s worth it.

I’m curious how all of you celebrate Valentine’s Day.  Is it just another day to you?  Do you go all out with gifts and dinners and treats?  Maybe you should make your Valentine some of these!  They would thank you.  I’m sure of it.  Maybe put them in a small box tied up with ribbon so they look like a box of chocolates.  And of course a mushy love note about how they “take the cake” over anyone else in this world.  Do it!  Be sappy!  Or if you prefer… make these for yourself, Netflix some kick-ass girl power movie like Charlie’s Angels or Kill Bill, and don’t share one bite with anyone.  Either way you choose – I think making these cake pop bites equal a win-win situation.
Valentine’s Day Cake Pop Bites
inspired by Bakerella
1 box of strawberry cake mix (I used Pillsbury)
1/2 cup cream cheese frosting
1 bag Wilton Candy melts (I used multiple colors that I had on hand, but I believe it equaled about the amount of one bag)
Sprinkles, Jimmies, Hundreds and Thousands, Nonperils, etc. for decorating
Bake cake as instructed on cake box.  Of course, you can use your own cake recipe if you would like.  Let cake cool completely.
Once cool, crumble the cake completely in a large bowl.  If you have some edges that got a little overbaked, just toss them out.  No biggie.  Add the 1/2 cup of cream cheese frosting to the crumbled cake and mix well.  At this point, I like to cover with saran wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour.
Spoon out about a Tablespoon at a time. I like to roll it around tight between my hands first to make sure the cake is all really stuck together before pressing it down into into your heart mold (cookie or fondant cutter).  Once it’s filled to the top of the mold, carefully push it right out on to a lined baking sheet.  I like to pop the molded treats back into the fridge until I’m ready to coat with chocolate.
Melt the chocolate candy melts in a microwave-safe bowl (tall and skinny is better than a shallow bowl) for about 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between, until completely melted.  Dip your cake bites in the chocolate carefully and tap off the excess.  My method is dipping with a spoon, and then transfer to a fork.  That way, when you tap off the excess chocolate, it drips down between the fork tines.
Place back on the lined-tray, and if you are going to be decorating with sugars or sprinkles, now is the time to do it before the chocolate sets.  Put back in the fridge until you’re ready to serve or package for gifting.

This post is linked to:
Tip Junkie
The Shabby Nest
Toys in the Dryer

The Balance

I’m going to get real here.
There’s no recipe today.
No sweet treat.
No savory delight.
No comfort food.
Just some real pour-my-heart-out words.

Why do we blog?  Well, I don’t know about you, but I blog because it is my passion.  It is in my soul.  ‘How can blogging be in my soul?’ you ask.  It isn’t the blog, per say.  It’s not the editing of pictures of the same cupcake in 25 different views and lighting ideas.  It’s not the sometimes excruciatingly painful task of putting words together when you can hardly even keep your eyes open.  But the content of what I blog about – the food. 

When I am in the kitchen, there is something inside of me that just clicks.  My heart lights up.  My soul is happy.  Nothing can go wrong – well, I take that back.  A lot of things go wrong in the kitchen.  But the thing is… it just doesn’t matter, because nothing can crack my happiness in the kitchen.

There are only a few other things in this world that I put on a pedestal as high as cooking, food, and this blog.  One of them is my marriage.  My marriage to the love of my life.  The woman I am madly in love with and have been since the day I met her.  My best friend.  My partner in crime.  There’s not much in this world that I would ever put in front of her.  We have always been so strong.  Rock solid.  Nothing could break us.

But then I found my passion.  Cooking has come into my life and changed it for the better.  For almost 14 years, I battled a very unhealthy relationship with food.  So to have found this passion… I can honestly say that my newfound love for baking has saved my life.  But on my way there, I may have left my best friend on the sidelines.  And the realization that I have done so has left me heart-broken.  The idea that my biggest passion has become my wife’s biggest nightmare just breaks me.

Let’s just say that this last week has looked very similar to Julie & Julia’s many fight scenes between Julie and her husband.  I’m watching the flick right now, and the similarities between Julie & Eric and Mama Hen & my Mrs. are just uncanny and has been hitting me right in the heart the whole way through.

How do we find the balance?  Many, if not most, of us bloggers work a 9-5 (sometimes plus some).   On top of that, many of us are moms, wives, and homemakers… ew, that’s an old-fashioned term, but it’s the only one I can think of at the moment.   After all that real life stuff, it’s not like we can just whip a blog post right up.  It’s not just an hour in the kitchen, crafting table, garden, etc.  It’s that hour, plus another hour or so of editing pictures and picking the perfect snapshots that will capture the heart and soul you have put into your creation.  And then the words.  I’m not a writer.  I cook.  These words don’t come naturally.  So it’s work.

Where do we come up with the extra time to spend with our families when it’s the art that keeps us alive?  I don’t mean to say that I don’t have a passion for my family and the time we spend together.  That is a completely separate passion. Cooking and blogging is one thing that I have for myself.  And without it, I do feel empty.

So the balance.  First of all – do not give up yourself.  Whatever it is that makes your heart sing.  Don’t give that up.  It will only kill you.  But don’t forget your family.  Don’t forget those people in your lives that truly matter.  Without them and without their support, who are you going to share your passions with?  I don’t know about you guys, but I cook for my family and my loved ones.  If I was just cooking for myself – for one, I’d be fat.  For two – it just wouldn’t mean anything to me.  I have to learn to make time.  Find time.  I’m not really sure how, but I have to figure it out.

I still don’t have the balancing act down.  I’m not sure I’ll ever really get it.  But I’ll take any advice you’ve got!  In this past week, I’ve learned that I need cooking, baking, and this blog to keep me going.  To keep me alive.  I haven’t quite gotten back to it.  But I’m going to.  Soon, I hope!

These are my two loves.  They are my world.  I don’t know what I would do without either one of them.  My boy keeps my laughing.  He keeps me grounded.  My Wifey – well, she’s my rock.  I’ve been high and low and everywhere in between.  But through it all, she’s been there.  She’s shown me what it really feels like to be loved unconditionally. I will be forever grateful for her sacrifices she has made in order to let me live out my passions.

I would love to know how you manage to balance your home and work life with the things you love to do for yourself!!

Crumbly Homestyle Chik’n Pot Pie

So how about all this ProtectIP / SOPA hubbub going around?  I personally don’t know much of the details, but what I do know, I don’t like.  The internet is a place for freedom of speech, sharing ideas with other people, creating something that was most likely inspired by someone else’s idea.  In my mind, that is not piracy.  That’s evolution.  Being able to take one idea and make it your own.  I immediately thought of Pinterest and how fast that would go down.  And just the fact that I haven’t been able to use Wikipedia all day today!  Oh man.  I don’t like it one bit!  The idea of having a “big brother” censoring what I’m able to do and say on the internet, my blog specifically, is really quite ridiculous.

Anyway, all that aside.

Do any of you have a meal that your kids ask for just about every other day?  Maybe it’s pizza.  Could be blue box Mac n Cheese.  Maybe Chicken Nuggets.  Those are the normal things that kids ask for, right?  What 5 year old asks for Chicken Pot Pie on a regular basis?!  Oh yeah… mine does.  He loves this stuff!  Chicken pot pie isn’t exactly the quickest weeknight dinner.  I’m definitely not a fan of buying a pre-made refrigerated pie crust either.  Especially because making a crust is easier – But really, eating a lard-filled double crust for dinner just doesn’t suit my tastes.  I save that for dessert.  What does suit my taste is these biscuits I have topping this creamy veggie-filled pot pie!  In the past, I’ve made pot pies with the classic  double crust, just a top crust, refrigerated biscuits, and now this biscuit crumble.  The crumble is by far my favorite!   

Dinners like these are the reason I am forever grateful for Zumba and my running routine.  It’s not too bad for you, but it’s definitely not something I’d get in the habit of eating every night.  But it’s another one of those comfort foods that is perfect for a cold and rainy or snowy night.

Crumbly Homestyle Chik’n Pot Pie
adapted from tablespoon

Crumble Topping:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 Tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup heavy cream

1 bag Quorn Chik’n cubes (of course, you could use a pound of rotisserie chicken meat or diced chicken breast, cooked)
3 cups, reduced sodium vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup frozen hash brown potatoes
1 bag Green Giant Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, & Cheese Sauce Valley Fresh Steamers
2/3 cups frozen peas
1 1/2 cups skim milk
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne,  Sprinkle the chilled butter pieces over the top of the flour.  Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese.  Add the cream and stir until just combined.  Crumble the mixture into irregularly shaped pieces onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Bake the crumble topping until fragrant and starting to brown, about minutes, tossing biscuit pieces halfway through.  Set aside, and lower oven to 350 degrees.

In a large saute pan, cook onions until translucent.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

While broth is heating, places potatoes and peas in a microwave-safe bowl.  Cover and cook on high for 4 minutes.

Microwave Valley Fresh Steamers according to package directions.

Add the soy chik’n (or cooked and diced chicken), peas & potatoes, and Steamers to the broth.

Place flour in a separate small bowl.  Gradually add the milk to the flour, whisking until well-combined.  Stir the milk & flour mixture into the broth, chik’n, and vegetables.  Add thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Return to boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until thickened, stirring constantly.

Coat a deep dish pie pan (or 11 x 17 baking pan) with cooking spray and pour in the chik’n and vegetable mixture.  Top with the biscuit crumble and bake for 18-20 minutes until biscuits are lightly golden.

Chicken and Veggie Stir Fry

Wow guys!  What a great traffic day for Mama Hen’s Kitchen yesterday.  I just want to say thanks to everyone who stopped by and the few of you who said hi.  I really do appreciate it.  I’m still trying to find my niche in the huge blogging community, but I love the idea of making some great friends through blogs.  I know it’s hard to really find your voice through a blog, but I think I’m getting there and really feeling comfortable in my blog’s skin.

I wonder if I’m the only blogger who hadn’t heard of Bloglovin, but I am just so glad I found out about it yesterday.  I think it’s a brilliant site.  Once you sign up for a free account, you add all the blogs you want to follow on your page. Then when a blog is updated, you will get a notification on Bloglovin that you have an unread blog!  How fabulous is that?  Well, unless you’re like me and realized you have about 35 blog posts to catch up on throughout all the blogs you follow… Anyway, I would love for you to follow my posts!  Click this link below to start getting my updates through Bloglovin – or there’s a little widget over to the right of my page with my Twitter and Facebook ‘Follow Me’ buttons (I recommend just clicking those while you’re at it!)

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

So here’s a question for you.  Is there one meal or food you could eat pretty much every day and not get sick of?  I’ve got one.  Seriously, if I didn’t have to cook for my kid or spouse, who would probably be sick of the same meal after day 3, I would possibly eat this easy meal every day of my life.  It’s healthy, it’s easy, and it’s oh so tasty!  Stir Fry!  I grew up not really liking Asian foods.  Or at least, I told myself I didn’t like them. I don’t think I really gave them a chance.  But now as an adult, sushi, stir-fries, and poopoo platters are right up my alley.  I have been making this specific stir fry for the last 6 years or so, and I think I’ve finally figured the sauce out.  I used to just pour a bottle of Teriyaki on top and call it good, but I’ve used a little brain power and put something delicious together that just makes my tastebuds happy.  And my son even likes it!  What 5 year old kiddo has a love for stirfry?  Well, he is a quarter Asian… oh, and he may be more excited for the fortune cookie he gets to have on stirfry night.

Chicken and Veggie Stir Fry

vegetable or coconut oil
1 bag frozen Asian vegetables
Quorn soy chickn cutlets, cubed (or a couple Chicken breasts cubed)
3 chopped green onions
1 Tablespoon ground ginger (or if you have fresh, minced)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2/3 cup vegetable stock
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
4 Tablespoons sugar
red pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained

Add about a tablespoon of oil (I used coconut oil) to a large pan on medium heat.  Once hot, add your diced chicken or soy variation.  Cook until slightly browned and cooked all the way through.  Add in your frozen veggies along with a little splash of water, and cover on medium heat to steam your veggies.

While the veggies are steaming, let’s get started on your sauce.

Heat 3 Tablespoons of vegetable or coconut oil in a small pan on medium heat.  Add green onions, ginger, and garlic.  Cook for about 2 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the garlic!  Add vegetable stock, soy sauce, sugar, red pepper, and vinegar.  Mix 2 Tablespoons of water with 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch and pour into the sauce mixture, stirring well. Raise heat slightly and stir constantly so the sauce will thicken and not burn.

Once thickened, take the sauce off the heat.  When your veggies are completely cooked through, add the water chestnuts and the sauce.  Mix well to coat completely.  Heat through for about 5 minutes on medium heat.  Once hot, serve over a bed of brown rice, and you have a delicious meal that your family will love!

My First Experience with From-Scratch Cupcakes

 I can do cakes.  I can do pies.  Cookies, muffins, and breads.  But cupcakes.  This is one path I haven’t ventured down.  Sure, I’ve bought a box of cake mix and thrown it all together to make a cupcake here and there, but I’ve never actually made a cupcake from scratch.  And I’ve absolutely never come up with a cupcake flavor combination all by myself without searching the web for the perfect combo of cake/frosting/filling.  This weekend, I decided it was about time I jump on the cupcake bandwagon and start playing. Let me just tell you – this is going to be addicting.  I can already feel it.  I’m really starting to feel creative in how much I can play with flavors.  I know I’m a couple years behind on the whole cupcake craze.  That’s not going to stop me though.

So, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s birthday this weekend.  What a perfect event to whip up some tasty treats!  One of her favorite desserts is a classic ice cream sundae.  I thought it would only be fitting to create a cupcake with some of those classic flavors.  So I was first on the hunt for a classic vanilla cupcake to represent the vanilla ice cream.  Then of course, you have to have a bit of chocolate filling in the center.  Topped with a tasty caramel frosting and chopped up peanuts, and you have an Ice Cream Sundae Cupcake.

Here’s the thing though…
This idea was not a total success.  It was actually a really rocky-road experience … see what I did there?  Rocky Road… get it? ice cream… yeah…

So anyway, I originally found what sounded like a great chocolate filling for these vanilla cupcakes on cooks.com.  I should have taken the hint when I saw there weren’t any reviews on this particular recipe.  Nope, novice baker over here just kept on going, assuming all would be fine and it would just turn out great.  Oh no… a baking experience for me is not complete without at least one thing going wrong.  The chocolate was separated and I could see that it just wasn’t going to be coming together anytime soon.  The recipe said to keep stirring until thickened, but there was just no thickening to be had.  It was basically chocolate water.  Obviously, not was I was looking for.  So I dumped all that down the drain and was on a woman-hunt for something better.  We had to leave for the party in a couple hours, and I was starting to feel a little defeated.  Granted, my vanilla cupcakes were pretty darn perfect, so at least I had that, but I just wanted it all to be perfect.   Luckily I was able to come up with a tasty chocolate filling.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was delicious and had a pudding-like consistency.  I was going more for a cream-like center but this would just have to do.

The chocolate filling wasn’t the end of my woes.  The caramel frosting didn’t turn out how I imagined at all.  The consistency wasn’t buttercream like at all.  It was melt-off-the-cupcake-like….  So I had to go the route of tiny dollops of frosting rather that huge luscious mounds of goodness. A bit of a bummer, but it all worked out because the frosting was so sweet that anything larger would have overpowered the cupcake and been too rich.

Let’s just say, this was a very humbling experience.  I was reminded that I am still learning and I have a long way to go.

I do have one amazing recipe to share with you at least.  The filling was a flop.  The icing was meh.  But the foundation of this creation was flawless.  I searched quite a few blogs and recipes for what I thought would be the best vanilla cupcake.  After a couple hours of reading comments and reviews, I finally decided on Sweetapolita’s Bakery-Style Vanilla Cupcakes.  I am more than pleased with the results of these cupcakes.  The taste was spot-on.  They were perfectly spongy.  I am proud to be sharing such a perfect cupcake with you.  It’s the base for whatever filling and icing you can create!  I have a feeling I will be making these over and over as I create different flavor combinations.

As a side-note, I did another test-run with my new Wilton Silicone Baking Cups.  I had previously tried these out with my Blueberry Muffins, and I honestly wasn’t all that impressed.  The second time around, I lightly sprayed the cups with a non-stick cooking spray, and that made all the difference in the world.  The cupcakes came right out of the baking cups with nothing sticking to the sides or bottoms.  I was pleasantly surprised!

Without further ado, I present to you, my first Made From Scratch cupcakes.  It may not sound like much, but I’m excited that I’m trying something new.  What fun flavor combinations should I try next?  The Mrs. just put her hand in my face after just eating an orange, and now I really want to try an orange creamsicle cupcake.  MMMMmmmmmmm!!

Bakery-Style Vanilla Cupcakes
adapted from Sweetapolita
makes 24 cupcakes

1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line 2 standard muffin tins with cupcake liners.

In a small bowl, combine the flours and set aside.

In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter unti lsmooth.  Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.

Mix the milk and vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla mixture.  With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.  

Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners.  I love my new cookie/all-purpose scoop for this purpose.  With my small cookie spoon, I used two scoops-worth into each baking cup to fill about 2/3’s of the way full.  Bake in the middle of the oven until tops turn golden brown and toothpick or cake-tester comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for about 15 minutes.  Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

We all have comfort foods.  Foods that take us back to a time in our life when everything was safe and secure.  No stresses.  No worries.  Just simple.  For most people, that goes back to their childhood.  You eat something that you ate when you were a kid, and you’re just taken back.  One of my favorite food memories is something I never thought I would ever eat again since I’ve become vegetarian.  I remember, my dad would take me to Subway every so often, and I wouldn’t even think twice about what I was going to get.  A foot-long Meatball Marinara Sub.  Yes, a foot-long.  Because the thought of that deliciousness being gone after just 6 inches made me pretty sad.  
We would go home, set ourselves in front of the tv, and unwrap the 800+ calories that were ahead of me, and dig in.  Just forget it all and indulge in one of my favorite sandwiches on earth.  Hey, I was an active little girl, it was ok!  Now I’m a little more calorie conscious, which is another reason I’m so excited to share this healthy alternative to a favorite to many people.
The Wife also has childhood memories that include a meatball sub sandwich, and she hasn’t had it in quite awhile since the restaurant is about an hour away at her home town, and again, the calories just aren’t really worth it to either of us.  One day, I mentioned to her that I was craving this favorite of ours. It just sounded so good and I couldn’t get it out of my head.  She said, “Well, why don’t you just make veggie meatballs?”  Hum… good question!  Since then, I have wanted to try this so bad.  I didn’t know if it would really work.  I didn’t know if the meatballs would hold their own in the sandwich or if it would all just fall apart into a big mess. 
I am so incredibly happy to say that it worked!  Wife even posted about it on Facebook!  That’s when you know it’s a good one… when your spouse dedicates her status update to your meal.

 Vegetarian Meatball Subs


1 cup lentils
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 small onion diced
1 cup quick-cooking oats
3/4 cup grated cheese (cheddar, swiss, jack, american, etc)
1 egg, beaten
4.5 ounces tomato sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 jar of marinara spaghetti sauce
hoagie/sub sandwich bread
sliced provolone 

Add salt to water and boil in a small saucepan. Add lentils and simmer covered 25-30 minutes, until lentils are soft and most of the water is evaporated.  Please please just simmer.  If you continue on a rolling boil, your water will evaporate too quickly and you’ll end up with a scorched pan and a really bad smelling house for the remainder of your day and night.  Don’t ask how I know this… I just do, okay?

Once the lentils are soft, drain as much as the water as you can and transfer into a large bowl.  Mash with a fork or potato masher until mostly mashed.  It’s ok if some of the lentils are still intact.  A little texture is a good thing.  Let the lentils cool for about 10-15 minutes.

Once cooled a bit, add the chopped onions, oats, and shredded cheese.  Don’t even worry about getting a mixing spoon out.  Take your rings off, wash up, and just get in there and get everything combined with your hands.

Then add the egg, tomato sauce, and spices.  Again, just get on in there with your hands.  No problem with getting a little messy here!  Besides, I’m a believer that when you come in direct contact with the food you prepare, you add some real love and soul into your meals.  Just my thought.

When it’s all incorporated, start rolling into about 1.5 inch meat-balls.  You have to pack it pretty well in order for it to all stay together.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large 12-inch pan on medium high heat.  When you’re pan is really hot, place all your prepared meatballs in the pan.  You’re not working with real meat here, so it’s not like you’re having to worry about the insides getting cooked all the way through.  You just want to brown all around the sides.  Each side will take about 3-4 minutes.  When you turn, you’ll want to do this very gently, as the meatballs to tend to fall apart easily.  It worked for me to use two spoons to turn.  I know – very technical.  You could use a spatula if your pan isn’t too crowded.  I personally didn’t have the space to work with a spatula, and the spoon method worked wonderfully for me.

Once the meatballs are completely browned, lower your temperature to medium, and add in your spaghetti sauce to cover the meatballs.  I used Prego Garlic and Parm, and it was awfully tasty!  Let the sauce warm up, and then you are ready to make some magic.

On some sub sandwich bread, scoop up 3-4 (or however many will fit) meatballs.  Add a couple slices of provolone, and pop it under your broiler on a baking sheet for just about a minute.  You don’t want to burn this delicious sammy!

And that, my friends, is what you call a heavenly delight in your mouth!  This is comfort food at it’s best… without all those unnecessary calories.  This is actually a healthy, hearty, and protein-packed sandwich that you won’t feel guilty for.

Fiesta Potato Skillet

originally posted on Mama Hen’s Kitchen before Happy Food Healthy Life was born.
Today was quite the day.  The first day back to the office after working from home for the last two weeks.  Fought sleep most of the day.  Had to battle the crowds at the grocery store after work, which is my least favorite time to go to the store.  Once I got home, the sleepiness hit even harder… then the cramps… then the headache.  It is definitely just about time for me to go to bed because I am just not to sure I can take any more of this day.
This recipe isn’t what I made for dinner tonight, but it sure would have been a good and easy one for the kind of day this has turned out to be.  Have you thrown a meal together that was pretty tasty but you feel like it’s just too simple to actually call it a recipe and blog about it?  Yeah? Well, that’s how I feel about this one.  This cheesy potato-y goodness is just so simple but full of flavor and comfort!  I actually made a version of this about 6 or 7 years ago, before I really knew how to cook. I  was just looking for something to eat and threw things together that I happened to have in the apartment.  Somehow it turned out yummy!
Now that I’m even more aware of what flavors go well together, I feel like maybe I’ve perfected my little creation.  It’s one of those meals where you’re so full but it’s so good that you really just don’t want to stop… so you don’t… and then you end up just laying on the couch all evening.  But your tastebuds love you!
So when you’re short for time, need a simple ingredient recipe, and just want a comforting meal, start here and run with it!
Fiesta Potato Skillet
4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 Tablespoon olive or coconut oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
2 Tablespoons or 1 packet of taco seasoning
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can Ro-tel
1/2 can of black olives, sliced
package of Morningstar Meal Starters Chik’n Strips, thawed and chopped
1 1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, colby jack, pepper jack, etc)
green onions (optional for topping)
sour cream (for topping)


Bring a large pot of water to a boil and place your peeled and diced potatoes in boiling water for about 15 minutes or until they’re tender.  Test this with a fork.  Once finished, drain completely.

While the potatoes are cooking, you can start your skillet.  In a deep 12-inch skillet on med-high temperature, heat your oil.  Once hot, add your diced onions and green peppers and let saute until onions are soft and translucent.  Add the diced Chik’n (of course, a couple cups of shredded chicken breast can be substituted rather than using the vegetarian option as I have) and let it brown up a bit on all sides.

Once the Chik’n is browned, add the potatoes into the skillet with the chik’n.  Also add the diced tomatoes, Rotel, and olives, along with taco seasoning and salt&pepper to taste.  Stir together on medium heat for a few minutes just until everything gets heated through.

Once everything is heated through, turn the heat off, sprinkle shredded cheese generously on top.  Cover for about 4-5 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted.

Enjoy topped with a dollop of sour cream and a few green onions.