In the Kitchen: Homemade Egg McMuffins

So maybe you haven’t heard, but Egg McMuffins are only 300 calories and highlighted in the “eat this, not that,” philosophy. Since Mike and I are exploring that a little bit more, he tuned into that real quick. Well, it still feels bad when you’re eating fast food, so I thought, I can make it myself at home. Sure enough, anyone can make these and truthfully it tastes even better and you can use higher quality ingredients, still at 300 calories each.

Homemade Egg McMuffin

Ingredients (no brainer really)

  • 1 large egg
  • 1 english muffin
  • 1 piece of pre-cooked Canadian bacon (usually found in packs by the hot dogs)
  • 1 slice of American cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Preparation
1. Poach an egg.

  • This is probably the most intimidating part, but it’s easy once you get the hang of it. There’s lots of ways to do this based on the equipment you have on hand. After a few attempts I’ve found that an egg cooker is the perfect device to mimic the true McDonalds taste of an Egg McMuffin. I bought have this one and I love it. If you have an egg cooker, use that to steam your egg following the instructions for that appliance.
  • If you don’t, that’s okay. I’ve done it without one and it’s just as fine and delicious. Use this recipe by Simply Recipes. I personally don’t like the vinegar so I never use it.
  • Finally, I like to use organic eggs. While it’s more expensive, I actually think it tastes a lot better. I always use eggs like that when I’m baking. Maybe I’m crazy, but it makes a difference.
2. While your egg is being poached, fry up the bacon!
  • Super simple. Just heat up a skillet on medium heat, and toss in a slice. Cook each side for about two minutes.  Canadian bacon is so lean and low in calories. It doesn’t leave behind a lot of grease and the likelihood of getting splattered and burned is so low.
3. Prepare your english muffin.
  • This is all up to you. If you want the true McDonalds experience, do nothing but open it up. If you want a little more crunch, which I like, toast it to your taste.
  • I’m using whole wheat muffins in the picture above.
4. Place your cheese.
  • At McDonalds they just throw on the whole slice. I like to take the slice and split it in half and put it on the top and bottom halves of the english muffin.
  • Think outside the box on the kind of cheese you want to use. We usually have White American cheese from our local deli on hand for sandwiches. I plan on switching over to that when we get some more.
5. Assemble the delicious breakfast sandwich.
  • Once your egg is poached to your liking, put it all together. Add some salt and pepper to the egg. And that’s it. If you’re going to travel with this, wrap them up in aluminum foil. We’ve been doing that each morning this past week and taking them to work. It travels well.
6. Instead of hashbrowns, go with fruit, and voila you have one great and pretty healthy breakfast.

Old and New: Peach Pie and Grilled Pizza

This weekend I wanted to try some new things in the kitchen, like the lemon chicken yesterday and the grilled pizza today. I also wanted to make a peach pie, which isn’t new for me but always sounds so good this time of year.

Whenever I think or hear about grilled pizza, I’m always intrigued. I once had it a friend’s party and it was excellent, but I’ve never had a lot of luck after that. You can buy pizzas to grill at target, and those just ended up burned. It takes quite a magic touch. I had forgotten about my desire for grilled pizza until I stumbled upon this recipe on Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. In this recipe you make your own dough and sauce and this intrigued me. She also provides fantastic step-by-step instructions.

I am such a novice at making dough, dealing with yeast, and the like that it took me a bit to make my batch, but I did do it successfully. The sauce was super easy and perfect for pizza. Then I made browned and crumbled some sweet italian sausage and used pepperoni for toppings.

The actual art of rolling out the dough and getting in the grill went only okay, and after the fact we agreed that it would have been better to make smaller pizzas that were thinner. All-in-all they were tasty and not terribly hard to make.

Grilled Pizza | The Simple Sisters

Check out the recipe on Mel’s Kitchen Cafe.

In the midst of all this, I threw together a peach pie, and I’ve got to tell you that it turned out perfect. The peaches were mixed, with some that were more ripe than others so the filling is scrumptious. I highly recommend this easy and delicious pie that anyone can make.

Peach Pie | The Simple Sisters

In the Kitchen: Lemon Chicken

After a long week and lots of dinners out, I was really longing for some home cooking. I tuned in to one of my favorite cooking shows for inspiration, Barefoot Contessa. Who doesn’t love Ina? In my house she is overly admired, particularly by Mike. She can do no wrong. Yesterday morning she was cooking something very simple (for her), lemon chicken. It looked so divine! So, I added her recipe to the day’s menu. And here’s how it turned out.

I followed Ina Garten’s recipe for Lemon Chicken Breasts, and I didn’t make any adjustments, except I didn’t have skin on boneless breasts and I brushed on some of the marinade over the top of the breasts, where she only did olive oil.

The marinade/sauce was really quite easy to make and the smell made us salivate. Thankfully I had some wine I had been saving that was perfect for it. There aren’t a lot of ingredients and it’s relatively simple to put together. I think if you don’t have fresh thyme, you could easily use dried.

Lemon Chicken | The Simple Sisters

One thing I forgot, but thankfully remembered right after I put it in the oven was cutting a lemon in eights and tucking them between the breasts.

The chicken cooked flawlessly in about 40 minutes and was nice and juicy. Some lemon chicken dishes I’ve tried are kind of flavorless, this one was definitely not. You’ve got to love garlic to make this dish!

I served it with some chicken rice and steamed green beans, like Ina.

Lemon Chicken | The Simple Sisters

Reset, Routine, and Inspiration

Starting in April and going through the end of June, I was swamped with a big project at work. I’m the kind of person who can only have so many things going on at once before everything else slips. I make sacrifices to keep my sanity. During this time I stopped cleaning the house, I bought paper plates so my dishes wouldn’t back up, I ate out a lot, I stopped couponing, I stopped exercising, and I did a minimal amount of laundry. Terrible right? I had to put my life on hiatus while I worked hard to complete the project. While it saved my sanity, it got me severely off track with a lot of the good habits I was working so hard to develop and maintain.

The first thing I did when I regained my freedom is I read a book, and quickly it became about enjoying the pleasurable things in life and shoving off responsibility. So I took a nice vacation last week where I read more books and played outside in the summer (first time in years), grilled steaks and saw movies. It was definitely what I needed.

Pueblo Photowalk

As we all know, vacations end. It’s time for me engage in my life again and my work. I need a reset. I need routine. I need inspiration.

Space

Cleaning my space at home — it helps me want to be here and eases my mind from the stress of looking around and feeling burdened by the mess.

Cleaning out my pantry and refrigerator — out with the old and stale, in with the new and fresh. Less is more in terms of keeping food, in my opinion. Right now our pantry is bursting with stuff. There’s no space. It sounds like we have a lot of food, but we sit around thinking we don’t have anything to munch on. That’s because finding things in the fridge and pantry isn’t easy and it doesn’t feel good.

Laundry and organizing my closet — will make getting dressed for work easier in the morning. Anything that helps me get to work in the morning would be very helpful right now.

Cleaning, organizing and rearranging my office — I need a change to my space there. There have been so many other changes there, circling around me, I need to make a change myself so that I can complete this transition and want to actually be there.

Connections, Communications, and Productivity

Inbox — I actually did this recently, but I still have so far to go. My work inbox has over 12,000 messages in it. For a while I had 2,000 unread messages (mostly from Facebook and Borders and messages that didn’t really apply to me). I cleaned those out and that feels like a burden has been lifted. Now to clean out the old ones that I don’t need anymore. I love to lighten my load. I did this also on my GMail for my personal e-mail.

Google — I am a fan of Google’s application suite. It happened during my big project when my assistant showed me how awesome Google Docs is. We were able to really collaborate on documents and I could access those documents from any web browser, easily and quickly. Since then I’ve been using it for everything in my personal life and continue to use it at work for various things.

One of the ways I use it is for tracking tasks. I started doing this during my big project. Instead of all of these complicated task management programs, I simply use a Google document to write down what I need to do each day, what I’ve done (after the fact) and indicate when stuff gets done. I mix up both work and personal things because it’s way easier to only have one document. There are a lot of benefits to do this than just knowing what I need to get done. So many times I can’t remember what I’ve done. This tracks it. It’s a running list that just keeps going. So call it a task list, journal of sorts that I can access from anywhere (browser on whichever computer I’m on and from my iPhone and iPad) at anytime and easily edit.

Tasklist in Google Docs

I also use Google for my personal e-mail, personal calendar, and Google+ for connecting with others professionally and personally.

Mind and Body Nourishment

peachpie-20090808-2

Meal Planning — a little time and planning up front saves a lot of time, money, and calories during the week. It also eases stress. It avoids that pesky question (that I often get), what’s for dinner? For inspiration I turn to “This Week for Dinner,” a blog that promotes meal planning and sharing menus. I’ve also just started using my Google calendar to help me plan and help me remember.

Meal planning with Google Calendar

Meal planning with Google Calendar

Breakfast and Lunch — I’m pretty good about packing breakfast, but I stink at packing or planning for lunch. Most days I skip lunch and scavenge for snacks instead. There are so many things wrong with that, but the worst thing about it is that I end up so hungry for dinner that I don’t want to cook and I pick up food on the way home. I need to correct this.  I’m currently reading:

Reading — Summer is a great time to turn off the TV. It’s also a great escape, so I’ve been spending more time reading. It relaxes me at night and it helps me wake up in the morning. I know — waking up and reading in the morning is weird, but that’s my favorite time to do it. I love using Goodreads to connect with friends and get ideas of what to read. It’s also a fun way to keep track of what you’re reading and gab about it. Find me on Goodreads and add me as a friend!

Exercise and Play — My gym routine got totally out of whack during the big project. I have a fabulous gym membership that I haven’t used in weeks. I need to start going back, so I’m fitting that into my schedule. Also — besides boring exercise, I’m just looking for more opportunities to play. Whether it’s golf or tennis, or flying a kite. Anything that gets me off the couch is a good thing.

Conference — I’m planning on attending a work conference in the fall that will help inspire me and hopefully that spark will come back. Right now things are not so good there after they made some personnel and organizational changes. My feelings and attitude are not what they should be about a job that I used to love so much. I need to find that purpose again so that I can put my best into it. Being happy at work is obviously very important.

CU-Boulder Campus July 2009

I’d love to hear your tips and advice on helping me get back on track. What do you do when you slide away from the norm?

Food

“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants,” is Michael Pollan’s very simple but rather remarkable and challenging philosophy about eating in America. Pollan, author of several books and articles on the matter of food philosophy and politics, cuts right to the point. He argues that the western diet is ruining our health, particularly all the “edible foodlike substances” (think margarine or pringles) that we bombarded and quite frankly tempted with. These items are engineered and processed and at the end of the day, no matter what health claims they make, are terrible for us. He believes, and I’m now tending to agree with him, that we need to forge past these items and circle back around to a much simpler time and eat whole foods. One of his rules that he published in his book Food Rules makes this quite clear. When grocery shopping, don’t buy anything your grandmother or great grandmother wouldn’t recognize. Another rule I love (and I’m paraphrasing), don’t eat anything with an ingredient that a fifth grader cannot read aloud.

Sounds simple right? Well, in theory. After reading Food Rules and In Defense of Food, I have been trying to move in that direction. So far, I am loving the result, but I can clearly see how difficult it is to glide past about 90% of the grocery store, and I can acknowledge that access to real food isn’t as convenient or cheap. This is quite disturbing to me, because I actually live in a place where a good chunk of the population has been eating whole foods for years and years, and there’s a natural grocery store on every other corner, along with a vibrant and consistent farmer’s market. When I think of people who live in smaller towns across America that don’t have that kind of access, it really saddens me. Add on top the cost of eating in this way and it’s no wonder that obesity plagues the less affluent. I mean, which is cheaper – eating at Burger King or buying grass fed, hormone free ground beef at the grocery store, along with a whole grain buns and add in the time it takes to prepare? But it is not impossible. As Pollan often writes and says, we can vote with our forks. If we push back that we prefer whole foods we can influence the market.

Listen to Michael Pollan explain it (he does so much better):

One of my favorite rules that he’s written is that you should make your own food. Want french fries? Make them yourself. Want fried chicken? Don’t go to KFC, make your own. Not only can you control the ingredients and how it is made, you are less likely to do it often. You’ll save those foods for special days.

So here’s what I have been doing to get started on my path:

  • Given up artificial sweeteners (I’ve been meaning to do that for years). This means I’ve switched from coffee to tea, which has been nice. It’s cheaper and better and makes me feel better. And it’s easier to make. That also means giving up soda. Thankfully, this food revelation coincided with Lent, where I had been planning on giving up soda anyway.
  • Eating at and from home as much as possible.  Eating at home allows you to control exactly what you eat. Thanks to my adventures in couponing, I’ve been doing that a lot of this year anyway. I’ve always felt deep down that the key to my health and my bank account is to cut out dining out. I’ve been striving for this for a very long time, and I finally feel like I’m in a routine and I’m situated well for this lifestyle. Eating out is now a luxury. This also means that I’ve gotten over my fast food addiction.
  • Be willing to try new things. I’m a picky eater and I have delicate taste buds, but I am trying to get over that. If I could learn to love the grease that comes from fast food, I can learn to love vegetables.
  • Realize I will not be perfect at this. The world around me is absolutely working against us in this effort. There will be moments when I cannot have food from home. And there will be moments, when I will have to compromise to make the people in my life who aren’t on board with this philosophy. It is going to be a challenge.

 

Pantry Organization

So with all the stocking up I’ve been doing by way of shopping with coupons, I’m already finding the need to be much more organized in the kitchen. If you don’t stay on top of it, you can have a real cluttered mess on your hands. I’d read on a few coupon blogs that over the door shoe organizers work really well in the pantry, so I found one that was suitable and I’ve already put it to good use.

Day 30 - Recruits

The best part about it is not the space it freed up, but the ability to see what is in the pockets and grab it easily. One thing I hate is not eating the food that I do buy, so this helps curb that problem. Since I did this we’ve already had popcorn, which was stashed in the back of the pantry and we’ve been eating the Weight Watchers carrot cakes that I bought with coupons.

I also put the kid’s snacks in there at a height where they can reach them and their cups. This allowed me to repurpose the pink plastic bin that used to hold their snacks and sat awkwardly on top of the cat food bin. I’m now using the pink bin to hold all my baking items like cupcake liners, sprinkles, and cake decorators.

Some other good uses for a shoe organizer:

  • Scrapbook materials and crafts (thanks for the tip Jen!)
  • Bathroom accessories and beauty supplies like hair and make up brushes, lotions
  • Mail and bills
  • Tools and garage type stuff

(Mostly) Free Glasses

Rochelle's new glasses!

Barely one week ago I saw a deal floating around for free glasses from Coastal Contacts. A lot of the coupon blogs I read were calling it “hot” and all that, but I basically dismissed it. My friend Ivy saw the deal too and went for it. She told me about it right after she ordered and it suddenly seemed like the best idea ever (THANKS IVY!). So I did a little digging, got my prescription, etc., found a pair I liked and went for it! I did some upgrading on the lenses, and walked away with new glasses that cost me $40 (including shipping).

All week long I worried that they would show up and look terrible on me, wouldn’t fit, or that I entered my prescription wrong.

A couple of days ago they sent me a message. I was nervous that they were canceling my order, but instead they just wrote to tell me that they were upgrading my shipping, on the house. Beautiful!

So tonight I got my new glasses on my doorstep. I ripped into the package and put them on to check them out. Everything about them is perfect. Prescription, size, weight, style. Just unbelievable.

I highly recommend that you check out Coastal Contacts and “Like” them on Facebook. Apparently this deal comes around every now again, and if you know someone in need, let them know when you see the deal. Good eyesight is invaluable.

Nutella & Banana French Toast

This weekend, Marissa and I were able to spend some awesome sister time together and our goal was to have really good yummy food. One of the things that she wanted to have was Nutella and Banana French Toast. She saw a picture of it somewhere couldn’t get it out of her mind.

The taste of warm bananas reminds us both of our childhoods when our parents would seek out Bananas Foster. This delicious flambéed dessert originates from Brennan’s restaurant in New Orleans, which out parents have frequented many times over the years. You can now find it at other fine dining establishments, and if you see it on the menu, get it. It is divine.

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To make Nutella and Banana French Toast, we decided that it would work best as a sandwhich, and we were right. If you want, you can add syrup to it as well and eat it with a fork and knife, which is what one of our taste testers did.

Nutella & Banana French Toast

Makes 4 servings

4 eggs
2/3 cup milk
2 teaspoons of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of Vanilla
8 thick slices of 2-day-old bread, better if slightly stale. Try Challah, which is excellent for French Toast.
1 small jar of Nutella
2 bananas, peeled and sliced
Butter

1. In a large shallow bowl whisk together the eggs, milk, cinnamon and vanilla.
2. On dry bread, spread a layer of Nutella on each slice.
3. On four of the slices, place aroud six sliced bananas on top of the Nutella, and then top with the second slice of bread that only has Nutella.
4. Take the entire sandwich and dip into the egg mixture, allowing the bread to soak up the mixture on each side.
5. Melt some butter over a large skillet on medium high heat. Add as many sandwiches will fit at a time. Fry until brown on both sides, flipping the sandwich when necessary, about two to three minutes on each side.

And that’s it! Chances are you will only need to eat one of these, they are incredibly filling and delicious.