Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Traditional English Comfort Food Favorite Gets a Healthy Revamp: Chicken Shepherd's Pie

Last night, I was trying to think of a way to use the fresh produce in my fridge since today we got our new delivery of organic produce. I love my biweekly deliveries of fresh organic produce (from Farm Fresh Delivery), especially as a new mom because it's harder to get out of the house. Aaron is doing most of the grocery shopping so having a produce delivery really helps us save time and money since I'll cook at home instead of eating take out.

For dinner last night, I made Shepherd's Pie, an English comfort pub favorite. This dish traditionally has ground beef and veggies like peas, carrots, and onions on the bottom and it's topped with a "crust" of mashed potatoes. I've never made it before, but I decided to try it. Aaron and I really liked it! I made my version with ground chicken and lots of veggies in the dish and served with a side of steamed cauliflower. It definitely was a comfort meal, but my version was healthier with less butter and saturated fat and more veggies.

Amanda's Chicken Shepherd's Pie (serves 4-6)

  • 1 pound ground chicken
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 tbs minced garlic
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 1 cup frozen peas (no need to defrost)
  • 1- 14oz can tomato sauce
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 2 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/4 tsp curry
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/4 - to taste salt
Mashed Potatoes:
  • 1 pound yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/2 cup lowfat milk
  • 1 tbs butter
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • Chop vegetables and peel potatoes and cut potatoes into chunks. In a medium pot, add potatoes and cover with cold water. Bring potatoes in water to a boil. Once the water is boiling turn down to a medium temperature and cook for about 15 minutes until potatoes are fork tender.
  • While potatoes are cooking, preheat large pot or skillet on medium heat. Add olive oil, then onions, carrots, celery, and garlic. Cook for 4-5 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add ground chicken and crumble it as you cook it with a spoon. When chicken is almost cooked (white out the edges and pink in the middle) add seasonings: smoked paprika, oregano, curry, and salt and pepper. When chicken is cooked and no longer pink, add can of tomato sauce and frozen peas. Simmer on low on the stove.
  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Coat 8 x 8 inch baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
  • While chicken and vegetable mixture is simmering, drain the potatoes. Return the potatoes to the hot pot and immediately add milk and butter. Using a potato masher, smash the potatoes and blend together. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Spread meat mixture on the bottom of the casserole dish. Layer mashed potatoes evenly on the top of the meat to form a "crust." Sprinkle with shredded parmesan cheese and place in the preheated oven.
  • Bake Shepherd's Pie for 20 minutes in the 400 degree oven until bubbly.
  • Set aside for about 5 minutes to cool before serving.
I served this with steamed cauliflower on the side, but you can also serve it with a simple green salad, too. Please let me know what you think!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Ava's 2-weeks with Mommy and Daddy

Baby Moon...I promise not to do updates every week of Ava's life, but she's so new to us and there's so many people that are excited to hear the updates so I thought I'd add another post. This past week started out really sweet with what I call our "Baby Moon." Aaron got an extra day off at work because of heavy work projects so we had a 3-day weekend together. It was the first weekend that we were home with Ava and it felt like a short Baby Moon with just the 3 of us. We spent lots of time bonding as a family. Aaron has been obsessed with the yard work now that the weather is warmer, but in between projects in the yard, we spent time with Ava together. Aaron is very sweet with her and is a nurturing father. He tells me things that she enjoys like being outside with the wind hitting her face and her tickle spot on her side. Most of all, he's helped me with breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is very important to me because it's the perfect food for a baby, easily digestible, full of antibodies, and nutrient-rich. I've heard the first 4-weeks are the toughest and it's been getting progressively easier now that I'm halfway there. There are so many things to remember from the tips and strategies that you hear from other moms. Fortunately, I have lots of support and resources.

The picture on the right is from this morning's nap. Now matter how tight we swaddle her, Ava always manages to get her hands out. She likes to have her arms out and by her head when she sleeps. She's a strong little baby!

Daddy time...I took the picture of Ava with Aaron last night and I love it. Aaron likes to spend one-on-one time with Ava at night. It's especially nice because I will get some sleep from about 10pm to midnight or 1am while they are hanging out. If she gets hungry, he warms up the bottle of milk from the fridge. I make sure to restock it during the day so we have it on hand. Ava likes to lay on her tummy on her daddy's chest. She falls asleep there and feels very safe.

Ava is all smiles. This week, I've seen her smile in her sleep and awake lots of times. It's so adorable. It makes me wonder what she's smiling about! What does she dream about? Aaron says it's not a "real" smile yet, but it's fun to watch!

Early Visitors: On Sun, we had our friends Melissa and PJ stop by with brunch and to meet Ava. I made blueberry muffins in just 15 minutes because of my kitchen organization (check out my post on efficient kitchen work zones). We had a great time and lots of laughs. Melissa and PJ were impressed by how strong Ava is and even had some snuggle time with her.

The Pierce family came over Monday night and brought us dinner. Shawn snapped a few family pictures and I'll make sure to post some when they are ready. Violet likes to play with Bena and look at the baby. Jill has been a huge support for me as I've been trying to learn the "art" of breastfeeding (check out her post advocating breastfeeding in public). We are lucky to have such fun and supportive friends!

I'm spoiled! When Aaron and I first got together he started surprising me with little thoughtful gifts. When he visited me in Chicago he brought me a really nice bottle of olive oil or just something that he thought I'd like. This week, he picked some wild daffodils from our yard that I put in a bud vase by my glider so I can look it all the time. And he surprised me with a new iPhone app called NPR Addict! OMG! I love it. Since I'm not commuting to work, I'm feeling deprived of the news so it's been awesome listening to the stories. Aaron has been grocery shopping for me and that's a huge thing since he hates shopping.

Bena loves Ava. Bena is a sweet dog and even though she's strong, she knows to be soft with Ava. She sits under my chair sometimes when I'm feeding Ava in the middle of the night and acts concerned with her little hiccups. The funniest story is Wednesday when Ava's umbilical cord stump fell off. I set it aside and changed her onesie. I sat down to feed Ava and then I saw Bena sniffing the onesie. She picked up the stump and ATE it! She was chewing it and I told her to drop it, but she swallowed it! I couldn't believe it. So that's a story for the baby book! That's how much Bena loves Ava! Gross...

I'm wondering what the next week or month will bring!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Organize Your Kitchen in Work Zones for Efficient Cooking

Yesterday, I baked some blueberry muffins and NOT from a box mix! The reason I picked the recipe was because it was easy. I had a short window of time between feeding the baby while she was sleeping. Because of my kitchen organization strategies, I was able to prepare the mix in just 15 minutes and then put them in the oven.

When we first moved into our house at the end of December, I thought of the best way to organize the kitchen into work zones.

Baking Zone Decoded: This corner of the kitchen in the picture is my cooking and baking zone.
  • Cabinet for Ingredients: I organized the cabinet so that I have the basics at arm's reach like flours, brown sugar, baking powder, sugar, oats, nuts, and dried fruit for quick preparation. I use containers for ingredients and then keep the full package on the top shelf so I can refill when needed. This helps me be more efficient and fit what I need closeby.
  • Drawers for Tools: The long drawer under the cabinet is where I keep my cooking utensils and measuring spoons/cups.
  • Strategic Counter Space: Aaron and I like to keep the counter tops clutter free and since we have a lot of storage cabinets we keep extras like the toaster, blender, tea kettle and more in the cabinets, but accessible for easy use. And you can see the Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer on the counter. I keep that out full-time and plugged in on the counter so it's really easy to use for baking. As soon as I finish prepping the batter and putting it into the oven, I start cleaning the equipment so I can put it all away easily.
  • Shelves for Mixing Bowls: The corner cabinet underneath the counter has a lazy susan (rotating shelf) that I use to store my mixing bowls which make it easy for baking.
Everyone has a different kitchen workspace configuration, but the idea is to develop a working zone that works for you. If the flow doesn't work, then change things up! If your kitchen is easy to work in, then you'll be more encouraged to make nutritious food for yourself and your family and friends if you have a only a few minutes to spare! Send me your tips for kitchen work zones that work for you and I'll post them on the blog!

As a first-time mom of a 10-day old baby I'm really thankful that I developed these efficient strategies prior to having kids so that I can stay on track with our healthy lifestyle.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What a Difference a Week Makes, Now a First Time Mom

From this to that in only a week! This was my last pregnancy picture. I took it only days before I delivered Ava on Friday March 12. The Wednesday before I had tons of energy! I was at the office in meetings and working on projects. I got my haircut after work and ran into some coworkers late at the office that were commenting about how much energy I had for being nearly 40 weeks pregnant! I should have know that I was going into labor soon. I've heard from other moms that they got a burst of energy before they went into labor. Yesterday, Ava turned one-week old and we're enjoying every minute. Ok, the crying fits aren't as fun, but now that she's here we love cuddling with her. The picture above was taken this week when I was trying to wake her up from her coma-like sleep to eat. I wanted to remember this because I think this is how she was settled inside the womb. The ultrasounds always showed her upside down and with her legs crossed like this. She has lots of dark brown hair and it's always unruly. So cute!

My step-mom is coming out this Tues for about a week to help us and visit with her new grand baby. Then in few weeks, my mom and aunt are coming out for a week to visit us. Aaron's parents will come back for Easter weekend. We're getting lots of help from the family! But this weekend, it's just the three of us enjoying our new little cozy family. Aaron is off work on Monday since his company has a special event on Friday and he'll have to work all day and late into the night. Thank goodness my mom will be here to relieve me with little Ava.

I've been spending lots of time in our room where we have Ava set-up. Aaron and I have chats together in our room and even eat dinner in there since I only get a few minutes to scarf down food between feedings, changing diapers, and holding her. Aaron has been able to work half days at work to keep up with his responsibilities there, but he's able to do everything at home. I haven't been feeling mobile until today. Since I can't do the stairs often, he's been doing housework and even bringing me mail upstairs. I'm feeling very spoiled!

Off to take care of the little one.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Introducing Ava Berkey!

Ava Berkey arrived on Friday, March 12 at 3:33pm. She was 8 lbs and 2 oz and almost 21 inches long at birth. Aaron and I were so thrilled to finally meet her. You can see from this picture taken when she was a day old, that she came into the world with tons of dark brown hair! Surprisingly, she has slate blue eyes. I had several dreams about her before she arrived. One of the dreams only 3 weeks before her birth, she had so much hair like a mohawk and blue eyes and Aaron and I were asking her where she came from because we hadn't had her yet. I kissed his cheeks and told her that I loved her. Who would have thought that she would be born with those blue eyes! My eyes are dark brown and Aaron's are lighter brown.

I spent time preparing my body for pregnancy years beforehand to make sure that I was in optimal health to produce a healthy human. It turns out that really paid off! My delivery was very long (26 hours of labor) and in the end, I had to have a cesarean section to give birth safely. The good news is that my recovery has been complication free and my nurses and physicians have all said that they were impressed by how quickly I bounded back. It makes me feel like a rockstar enduring 14 hours of drug-free labor and enduring another 11 hrs with medical assistance to bring our daughter into the world.

As a person committed to healthy lifestyle, breastfeeding Ava is my priority. Breastfeeding has major health and physiological benefits for mom and baby. It's considered an "art" and not a science because while it's natural, it's not easy for mom and baby to get into a routine with breastfeeding. Luckily, I've had lots of support from my friends that have given me tips and advice. My mother-in-law called the local La Leche League leader who came out to my house to help with hands-on tips. Surprisingly, my best support has been Aaron! He's so tuned into Ava that he can tell me from the outside perspective, what's happening and suggest a tweak. He's so patient and helps calm both of us in the heat of the moment. I laugh because sometimes it's like nursing a ninja baby because her arms are flailing everywhere!

On the last day at the hospital, the doctors were concerned because she lost 1 pound from birth weight. All babies lose birth weight, but they were concerned since it was more than the 10% average. We took Ava to her first pediatrician appointment yesterday when she was 5-days old and it turns out she regained 5 oz in just 2 days at home and the doctor was so impressed with her overall health, we're off the "watch list" and going back for her 4-week check-up. She gave Ava an "A+" for her health and said she's perfect! We couldn't be prouder parents. The hard work of getting her to eat and be happy will pay off!

Because of my surgery, I'm taking the stairs less at home and staying in our bedroom with the baby because she eats every 2-3 hours. To keep my energy up, I have a bag of snacks next to my glider where Ava nurses for the middle of the night or if I need a quick bite. I have nuts, fig newtons, dried fruit, cut up apples, and juice boxes stashed for quick snacks. You know how I love my snacks! I'm hungrier now that I'm nursing.

I will post more updates soon! We're happy, healthy, and celebrating Aaron's birthday today!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Easy Slow Cooker Beef and Bean Chili

Aaron and I love chili and usually I make a quick version on the stove top. Check out my Chicken Chili Verde recipe from last summer for a quick recipe. Two years ago, Aaron gave me a slow cooker for Christmas and it changed my world! Slow cookers make it really easy to prep ahead and then a meal enjoy later while you're busy doing other things. We recently hosted our Chicago friends and I thought it would be easier to make slow cooker chili in and Aaron loved it! This Beef and Bean Chili is really simple so it's a good recipe to serve guests. Cooking chili in the slow cooker lets the flavors to really deepen.

Since he liked it so much, I made it again this Sunday. It's really easy to throw together. In fact, I was able to brown the meat and chop the veggies and get the ingredients in the crock pot in 20 minutes on Sunday afternoon and then we enjoyed the meal that evening. Vegetarians can substitute the ground beef for more beans and veggies. Be careful with delicate veggies (like zucchini) in the slow cooker because they may get overcooked.

Slow Cooker Beef and Bean Chili (Serves 4-6)

  • 1 lb ground beef, or turkey, or chicken
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 green bell pepper, diced
  • 1 large jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 2-16oz cans beans of choice (pinto, kidney, chickpea, black), rinsed and drained
  • 1-16oz can tomato sauce
  • 1-16oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • 2 tbs tomato paste
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne or ground red pepper
  • 2-3 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
Preparation (20 minutes):
  • Preheat a skillet or large pot on medium heat. While waiting for the skillet to heat, open cans of beans and rinse in a colander, drain and set aside.
  • Chop onions and both peppers, dropping the raw vegetables directly in the slower cooker.
  • Add cooking spray or a small coating of canola oil to skillet and add ground meat. Add seasonings: chili powder, cumin, oregano, and crushed garlic. Brown the meat in the skillet. Cook until no longer pink (about 8-10 minutes). Add tomato paste and season with 1/4 tsp of salt.
  • Add cooked meat mixture in the slow cooker with the vegetables. Add beans, tomato sauce, and canned tomatoes. Add 1/4 tsp cayenne, 1/4 tsp salt, and additional chili powder to taste.
  • Stir ingredients and set slow cooker on LOW setting for 5-6 hours. Stir ingredients occasionally and taste along the way to see if you want more salt or chili seasonings.
  • Serve with favorite chili toppings (see below).

Suggested Chili Toppings:
  • Sour cream
  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Lime wedges
  • Hot sauce
  • Avocado chunks
  • Chopped green onions
  • Coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Inspired by First Lady & First Mom, Michelle Obama

I've had a whirlwind last 9 months! Aaron and I decided to move to Indianapolis last June and we both landed new jobs (on the same day), and had to find a temporary apartment in Indy in a single weekend! We moved down here to simplify our lives to start a family. Aaron calls it "growing up" to leave the downtown Chicago city life and buy a house (with a yard!) and start a family. We decided on Indy because his parents are 2 1/2 hours north of Indy so we'll have quick access to the lake house and grandparent help. Most of all, living in Indy is SUPER affordable compared to the raising a family in the city of Chicago OR back in my hometown, San Jose, which the cost of living is arguably higher!

We moved to Indy on 4th of July weekend and I went back to Chicago to work my last day at my company, then drove with the dog back to Indy to join Aaron. The next morning, I found out that I was pregnant! It was a complete shock, but in our minds the news that we were going to be parents validated that our move to Indy was "perfect" for the next phase of our lives together. At the end of December, we closed on a house that we'll be able to raise our family in and spend decades in! We're so excited to have found a place to call home and again, the timing was perfect because now, we're expecting our baby girl literally ANY day now! Our due date is March 13. Our lifestyle has been so crazy, but one thing that we don't give up is our healthy lifestyle. Check out my post from Dec for survival tips.

Last night, I was catching up on reading my magazines and was excited to read First Lady Michelle Obama's interview from Glamour's 2009 Woman of the Year awards. Michele Obama has focused her efforts on issues like childhood health, nutrition, and obesity since she became First Lady. In fact, she's leading by example White House organic garden that the chef uses to make meals for the staff and first family. Last February, Michael Pollan was interviewed on the NPR show, Fresh Air, talking about his Open Letter to the President in which he advocated for a White House Garden. I was happy to hear that the Michelle Obama followed through to do this as an example for the rest of the country. When asked why they created the White House garden in the Glamour interview, Michelle Obama responds:
"...When I was a working mother with a busy husband, a very demanding job and two little kids to feed...I had to learn what it means to feed and care for your kids in a country where fast food was abundant, where time is a rarity, where eating out is a trend, because families are so busy...Yes, I'm First Lady, but I know the struggles."

She "gets" it! I loved reading this because it reminds me, while Michelle Obama is now First Lady, she really lived through the struggle to find balance of raising a family with the fast-food culture in America. Nutrition is priority to me because I know that I have one body in this life and I want to keep it healthy so I'm around to enjoy my family many decades to come. But with the outside pressures of a demanding schedule and from the fast-food overloaded culture, we can see how many people give into the "easy way" to put food on the table.

Most importantly, Michelle Obama, is a career-driven mom. She's a woman that came out of her South Side of Chicago working-class roots to go to Ivy League college and law schools, but always kept her down-to-earth perspective when she became a wife and mom. She's the first, First Lady, that I can relate to as I'm about to embark on this new journey of a career-driven mom, myself! She's an executive, mother, and wife, and has never given up her family values. The common thread in her interviews is that she believes that being mentally present for her family is top priority. I'm with you, Michelle!

Michelle Obama is my inspiration as I think about raising my daughter and being a loving wife. I'm going to breastfeed my daughter for at least the first year of her life, giving her the valuable antibodies, perfect nutrition and most importantly, feeling of comfort and security. My nutrition passes onto her in this time and in the future when we sit down for family meals together in the years to come.

Who are your inspirations? Michelle Obama revealed that her inspirations were always her parents. That's rock solid! I hope my girl grows up respecting the moms and power women out there!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

I've Got Tricks Up My Sleeve for Packing a Healthy Lunch

I learned early on when Aaron and I first lived together that he would not be the one to pack his lunch in the morning. He'd rather sleep in longer, rather than packing a lunch. Then it's a snowball effect. He'd eat lunch out and it was usually fast food. He didn't like it. Not a good scenario for healthy living! So, I started to pack lunches for both of us to take to work. I prefer to eat my own food to control my nutrition, except for those occasions when we have a lunch at work. A girl has to be social, you know! If you don't have an "enabler-partner" like me making your lunch because you want to sleep, then you can make your lunch the night before. To be honest, I don't mind making lunches because it makes me feel good knowing that both of us are going to work with healthy meals that are good for our bodies. Don't forget, packing your own lunch saves you tons of money, check out my post!

I'm on the Wellness Committee at my company and a couple of months ago, I had an idea for an employee program that I'm excited is moving forward! We're going to give away lunch bags with our company's logo to promote the concept of employees packing their own healthy lunches. Since I'm leaving for maternity leave any day now, I wanted to leave the group with my idea of the insert for the tips to packing healthy lunches. It made me realize that I need to share some of my tricks up my sleeve for packing healthy lunches!

Healthy Lunch Ideas:
  • Planned Leftovers: In the picture above you can see that I have a complete meal ready to go for work lunches. The one in the picture is an Enchilada Casserole that I made enough servings to have for dinner and lunches during the week. Planning ahead and storing the complete meal in a packable container makes it easy to pack a lunch quickly.
  • Fresh Fruit on Hand: Our lunches always include a serving of fresh fruit. I cut up apples, pineapple, grapefruit, mangos, or throw in a whole orange for example. We use a produce delivery service so we always have a variety of seasonal fruit on hand.
  • Green Salads with Leftover Chicken or Beans: For salads, I always have some sort of protein such as canned beans, leftover chicken, or fish. Salads are great for lunch because eating lots of bread from sandwiches usually makes me more tired in the afternoon. I like to make my own salad dressings. Check out this recipe for fresh Poppy Seed Dressing from my friend, Catherine.
  • Always Keep an Emergency Frozen Entree Available: There are mornings when you've been out late or wake up late. I buy my frozen entrees from Trader Joe's because they have healthier alternatives. Our favorites are low-fat Chile Relleno and Aaron likes the chicken pot pie.
  • Easy Sides - Cottage Cheese, Yogurt, and String Cheese: I buy yogurt and cottage cheese by the large container tubs so I can easily throw some in a small container to take for lunches or snacks. This way you get a quick calcium/protein-rich side dish in your lunch. Throw a couple whole wheat crackers and you're done!
  • Mix it Up! Aaron and I both don't like to eat the SAME boring thing every day. I try to mix up our foods to get some leftovers, some salads, etc and the benefit is a variety of nutrition. Making your lunch interesting will help avoiding feeling "deprived" when you see your coworkers with their take-out lunches.
In the morning, I run a little assembly line and pack our lunch at the same time. I pack my breakfast for work so I plan for about 15-20 minutes in the morning to this entire process.

What are your favorite lunches? Share them in the comments.

Monday, March 1, 2010

My Favorite All Natural Yogurt that Tastes Great!

Since I gave up eating funky chemicals in my foods, one thing that I had to really scrutinize is yogurt! Pick up a container of your favorite yogurt at the grocery store and you'll be surprised to see aspartame and even High Fructose Corn Syrup! Yogurt sounds so healthy, but if you look at the ingredients of Yoplait or other non-organic brands, you will be shocked to see what is in them. Aaron and I like yogurt so much that we buy it by the large container and I pack it in containers to take for snacks.

Brown Cow yogurt is one brand that I'm obsessed with because it's creamy, thick and tastes great! They use growth hormone free milk to make this yogurt and cane syrup to sweeten it. I buy the non-fat vanilla and thankfully my new Whole Foods in Indianapolis now stocks it after I requested it! In researching this blog post, I found that Brown Cow has eCoupons so you can follow this link to check it out. You can find this brand at grocery and health foods stores.

Yogurt is perfect for a snacking or in a smoothie. Plus, yogurt is a good source of calcium and heart healthy potassium.

Smoothies are refreshing and nutritious: The smoothie in the picture was blended with 1/2 cup yogurt, 3/4 cup frozen mixed berries, 1/2 scoop of vanilla protein powder, 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, and 1/2 cup water. Check out my other favorite smoothie recipes.

My favorite yogurt snack toppings:
  • Granola
  • Slivered almonds
  • Cereal
  • Sliced berries, kiwi, or pomegranate seeds