Thursday, December 12, 2013

Hot Chocolate Mix

Isn't this adorable?  These are the gifts we gave to one of the kids' Sunday School teachers.  I didn't add it up, but they probably cost no more than $2-3 each.  These are pint sized jars, which you can fill up 3 from this recipe.  It's basically sugar and chocolate, most of which is ground up real chocolate (as opposed to powder).  Which, I learned recently- makes this hot chocolate as opposed to hot cocoa.  Hot chocolate is made using chocolate bars or chips (that have cocoa butter in them); hot cocoa is made using just cocoa powder.

This mix makes delicious hot chocolate- it's smooth and perfectly chocolatey.  There's nothing overpowering in it, just rich, warm chocolate!  I got all the ingredients for this in the bulk section at WinCo.  The only thing this recipe was missing was a batch of homemade Peppermint Marshmallows!

The recipe calls for a food processor for mixing.  I'll tell you what I did, as a precaution- I tried using my blender, since my food processor is small.  That didn't work well at all- I think because the blender is tall, and since there was no liquid, it had a hard time pulling the chocolate near the blades (even with being a Vitamix!).  I then dumped it out and processed it in batches- which did work.  Next time (which there will be one!) I will do it in smaller batches in my food processor.  Just a head's up! :)

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Hot Chocolate Mix
Printable version here

2 cups (14 oz.) granulated sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups (12.5 oz.) semi-sweet chocolate
3/4 cup (4 oz.) milk chocolate
1 cup (3 oz.) cocoa powder
Pinch of salt

[Note- you need to use a large food processor, or work in batches]

1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the sugar and vanilla and pulse for 5-6 seconds until well combined.

2. Coarsely chop the semi-sweet and milk chocolates (unless they're already chips) and add them to the bowl.  Pulse in 10 second intervals until finely ground and combined with the vanilla sugar.

3. Add the cocoa powder and salt, pulsing again until everything is well mixed.  The mix will be slightly coarse, like brown sugar.  Pour into a large glass or plastic jar for storing.

4. For each cup of hot chocolate, combine 1/4 cup of mix with 8 ounces of hot milk.  Stir until all of the chocolate is melted. (Store mix airtight for 6-9 months)

Yield: 24 8-ounce servings (6 cups of mix)

Recipe source: King Arthur Flour

Why I love it? I like that it's a Christmas (or anytime) goodie I can give away that the recipient doesn't have to eat right away.  Unlike cookies or something that can go stale, they can enjoy this treat for a while to come!  The drink comes out very smooth, chocolatey, and not overly sweet.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Cinnamon Pecans


This is a recipe I pulled out of a MOPS magazine several years ago.  It has been sitting in my recipe binder ever since.  Had I known how easy & delicious it was, I would have made it many times by now!!  I made it recently to give as a Thanksgiving gift to my kids' Sunday School teachers (plus a thank you gift to the family members who hosted Thanksgiving).

They are really quick to make- about 5 minutes of prep, then just an hour to bake them in the oven.  I packaged them in half-pint (1 cup) canning jars, and was able to get 6 jars' worth of pecans.  I'm not sure exactly how long they stay fresh, as ours were gone within 4 days- but I think about a week should be fine.  The recipe cost about $7.25 to make, and including the jars, it still came out to under $2 per jar.

The pecans are crunchy, slightly sweet, and cinnamoney.  We ate them by themselves, but I think they would also make a great salad topping!  Everyone who ate them loved them!

Cinnamon Pecans
Printable version here

1 egg white
1 tsp. water
1 pound pecan halves
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. cinnamon

Preheat oven to 250º.  Beat egg white and water until frothy.  Add pecans, coat well.  In a small bowl, mix sugar, salt and cinnamon.  Add to nut mixture and mix well.  Spread on large, flat, buttered or greased pan (or a pan lined with parchment paper) and bake for 1 hour, stirring every 15 minutes.

Cool completely on pan before packaging.  Store pecans in an airtight container for up to a week.

Yield: about 6 cups

Recipe source: MomSense Magazine Nov/Dec 2010

Why I love it? They are easy to make, delicious, and make a great gift!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Peanut Butter & Banana Pancakes

I found this recipe last night in a Health Magazine.  Good timing, since Thursdays are "Pancakes & Bacon for Lunch" days in our house.  Peanut butter & banana is such an awesome combination, I figured these would go over well- and they did!  I liked that they were healthy and easy to make, and the kiddos loved them for the taste.

I only made two changes to the recipe.  One change was to cut the batch in half (which is how I have it written below).  It was just right for my 3 kids, plus two for me.  I would definitely do the full batch if I were cooking for all five of us.  The other change I made was to mix the wet ingredients in the blender.  Especially since it calls for a mashed banana, I figured that would be an efficient way to mix it.  I will continue doing it that way in the future, but you could do it either way.

Enjoy!  Oh, and FYI, my favorite way to cut up pancakes (for the kiddos) is with a pizza cutter!  Nice & easy!

Peanut Butter & Banana Pancakes
Printable version here

1 cup buttermilk
1 large egg
1/2 tbsp. vegetable oil (or melted butter)
2 tbsp. peanut butter
1 banana
3/4 cup flour (such as whole wheat pastry flour or all-purpose)
1 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

1. Combine wet ingredients (buttermilk through banana) in blender and process until smooth. (Alternately, whisk well in a bowl, mashing the banana before adding the rest of the wet ingredients.)  Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.  Add wet ingredient mixture and stir until no streaks of flour remain.

2. Preheat a griddle to medium-low.  Cook pancakes until golden brown on both sides. (I portion them out with a 1/4 cup measuring cup)

Yield: 3-4 servings (about 14 pancakes)

Recipe Source: Health Magazine Jan/Feb 2013, recipe by Todd English, slightly adapted

Why I love it? As I wrote above, they were easy to assemble, cooked up perfectly, and they were delicious!  The peanut butter and banana flavors were noticeable without being overwhelming.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

 

Until a few months ago, when I tried this Blueberry Baked Oatmeal, I had no idea how fantastic baked oatmeal could be.  Not only does it take on a new texture (a little firmer & less gooey), but when it's baked, it reheats wonderfully!  This means you can bake a dish once, then have it for breakfast for the next few days!  This recipe tastes just how it sounds- like Pumpkin Pie + Oatmeal.  So if you're like me and like those two foods, you'll want to give this a try!

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal


1 cup old fashioned oats
1 tbsp. flax seeds (optional)
2 tbsp. brown sugar, packed
½ tsp. cinnamon*
¼ tsp. allspice
⅛ tsp. nutmeg
½ tsp. lemon zest
¼ tsp. salt
½ tsp. vanilla
2 tsp. butter, melted
¾ cup pumpkin puree
¾ cup milk


Topping:
¼ cup pecans, chopped
2 tsp. butter, softened
1 tbsp. brown sugar


*You may substitute 1 tsp. pumpkin pie spice for the three spices, or use all cinnamon*


Preheat oven to 375º.  Grease 4 individual size ramekins (about 1 cup size).  Set aside.


Combine the oats through salt in a medium sized bowl.  Stir well.  In a separate bowl, combine the vanilla, butter, pumpkin, and milk.  Whisk thoroughly.  Pour the pumpkin mixture into the oats.  Stir until combined.


Divide mixture evenly between the ramekins.  Place ramekins on a baking sheet (to make it easier to get in & out of the oven).  Bake for 10 minutes.


Meanwhile, combine the topping ingredients in a separate bowl.  After the oatmeal has baked for 10 minutes, remove and divide topping mixture evenly between the ramekins.  Bake an additional 7 minutes.  Cool for 5 minutes before serving.  Top with a splash of milk, if desired.
 
Recipe Source: http://www.goodlifeeats.com/2009/09/pumpkin-pie-oatmeal.html  


Why I love it? It's like a pumpkin pie that is socially acceptable to eat for breakfast! :) It's delicious, fairly healthy, and keeps/reheats well.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Blueberry Spinach Smoothie

 

Today I'd like to share one of my favorite smoothie combinations.  I make this in my Vitamix (a super powerful blender), but it would also likely work in a regular, good blender.  One of the main reasons why I bought the Vitamix 6 months ago was to get my family to eat more fruits & veggies.  It has worked!!  Two of the ingredients I almost always include in our smoothies are fresh spinach and frozen blueberries (from Costco).  I round it out with a few other fruits & liquids, and the result is this fantastic drink!  Not only do I love it, but the kids love it too!!

Two other things to note about this recipe- one is that I don't measure ingredients when I'm making a smoothie.  No need to make more dirty dishes!  So the amounts listed below are approximate.  Also, this makes one large smoothie, or a couple smaller servings.

Blueberry Spinach Smoothie
Printable version here

1 small banana (frozen if possible)
1/2 cup liquid (I use about 1/4 cup each juice & water)
1/3 cup diced pineapple (fresh or canned)
1 cup baby spinach (about one large handful)
1/2 cup frozen blueberries
1 tsp. honey
1 kiwi, peeled
1/3 cucumber, cut into chunks 
Yogurt, if desired (a few scoops)

Blend until smooth.  Enjoy!

Why I love it? It is packed with nutrients!!  But just as important, it tastes good!  This combination of fruits & veggies lets me get the most spinach, without it having a noticeable taste. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Fruit & Nut Granola Bars


I have made many different granola bar recipes- there are tons out there, and today I stumbled on a new favorite!  They were easy enough that my kids did a majority of the work, with me just peeking over their shoulders.  The only problem was that I wish there were more!  This batch made 10 bars- enough for everyone in my family to have two... Next time I'll double it and use a 9x13 pan instead.

Homemade granola bars can have a wide variety of consistencies- hard, soft, crumbly, chewy, etc.  I found these ones to be perfectly chewy, not very crumbly, and I love that they're both sweet & salty!  The fact that they don't use the oven is a bonus (during the long summer months)! 

Fruit & Nut Granola Bars
Printable version here

1 1/2 cups puffed rice cereal
1 cup uncooked quick-cooking oats
3 tbsp. ground flaxseed
1/4 cup dried fruit (such as cranberries or raisins)
1/4 cup finely chopped nuts (preferably roasted or toasted)
1/3 cup honey
2 tbsp. brown sugar
1/3 cup peanut butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)

1. Combine the cereal, oats, flaxseed meal, dried fruit, and nuts in a large bowl.  (If using a larger dried fruit like apricots, chop first into small pieces.)

2. Bring the honey and brown sugar to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring constantly; remove from heat.  Stir in peanut butter and vanilla (and cinnamon if using) until blended.

3. Pour the peanut butter mixture over cereal mixture, stirring until all dry ingredients are coated (mixture will be stiff). 

4. Press mixture firmly into an 8-inch square pan (sprayed with nonstick cooking spray) using a large square of waxed paper (or your hands, sprayed with nonstick spray).  Cool completely in pan, and then cut into desired size bar. 

Yield: about 10 bars (You may also double the recipe and use a 9x13 pan)

Recipe Source: http://www.hammertown.com/2010/02/this-weeks-recipe-homemade-clif-bars/

Why I love it? They are cheaper & healthier than store-bought granola bars, they are customizable, and delicious!!  My kids and I both give them two hearty thumbs up!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Chipotle Chicken Skewers


This recipe was my favorite new recipe of the summer.  I ate it several times, and each time I was so sad when it was gone!  The recipe says it serves 6-8, and I would definitely make the whole amount, even if you're serving fewer than that.  The leftover chicken is fabulous, straight from the fridge.  I may or may not have eaten it for breakfast, just because I was so excited about it...

This chicken packs an incredible amount of flavor.  Making this was the first time I had ever used chipotle peppers and adobo sauce- holy moly are they tasty!  If you haven't ever used them before, know that they come together in a little can.  Like this-


They can be spicy (and I'm sure would be by themselves), but they work in this dish because 1) you scrape out the seeds, which is where most of the heat is located, and 2) the accompanying dip cools them off!  I have been using the leftover peppers & sauce in so many ways, too (because this recipe only uses a portion of the can).  My favorite is to mix the sauce with sour cream for an amazing burrito or enchilada topping (here's my favorite bean burrito recipe), or you could also mix it with mayonnaise to perk up a sandwich.  I only wish it hadn't taken 31 years for me to discover this little gem...

Anyway, I absolutely love this dish, and I'm sure you will too!  (PS- don't be intimidated by the length of the recipe.  It's not too hard, and it's worth it!)

Chipotle Chicken Skewers with Creamy Dipping Sauce
Printable version here

Chicken Skewers
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts (4-5 medium chicken breasts)
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons fresh cilantro, minced
1 chipotle chile in adobo sauce, minced (scrape out the seeds before mincing to reduce spiciness)
2 teaspoons adobo sauce
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
12 bamboo or metal skewers 

Creamy Dipping Sauce  (*I always have more dip than we use, so feel free to reduce this somewhat)
3/4 cup lowfat sour cream
1/4 cup lowfat mayonnaise or Greek yogurt
1/4 cup lime juice, from 2-3 limes
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, minced
2 green onions, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
  1. Slice the chicken breasts into long, thin strips, about 1/2-inch thick. You should have right around 30 strips. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar, cilantro, chipotle chile, adobo sauce, salt, chili powder, garlic powder, and pepper. Toss the chicken with the brown sugar mixture coating all the pieces evenly. Cover the chicken (or place in a ziploc bag) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to 24 hours.
  2. For the dipping sauce, in a bowl, stir all the ingredients together. Cover the mixture and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes until the flavors combine. Alternately, you can make the dipping sauce in advance and refrigerate for up to 2 days. Be sure to season the dipping sauce with additional lime juice, salt and pepper to taste before serving.
  3. 30 minutes before grilling, cover the bamboo skewers with water and soak. Skip this step if using metal skewers.
  4. Preheat an oven broiler or gas/charcoal grill. Weave two strips of chicken onto each skewer. Broil or grill the chicken for 5-8 minutes until cooked through, using nonstick cooking spray on a foil-lined pan if you are broiling. Serve immediately with the dipping sauce.

Recipe Source: http://www.melskitchencafe.com/2013/05/chipotle-chicken-skewers-with-creamy-dipping-sauce.html 

Why I love it? It is full of flavor (it's sweet, spicy, fresh & creamy), and pretty healthy!  I've served this with various sides such as potato salad, fresh fruit, roasted potatoes, etc.  Next time I make this it'll probably be indoors (bye bye summer...), so I'll try to update this recipe with cooking directions for the stove/oven once I figure that out.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal



I don't know about you, but I have a thing for 1) Blueberries & Lemon, and 2) Make-Ahead-Breakfasts!  I found this recipe one time when I was searching for healthy recipes that use blueberries.  Blueberry muffins are great, but not healthy enough that I'd want to eat them every day... This recipe, though, is a winner!

It's easy to make, healthy (full of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants), and it reheats great!  I reheat a serving in a cereal bowl (about 30 seconds in the microwave), and sometimes top it with a little bit of milk.  It's perfect for those busy school or work mornings!  If you haven't tried baked oatmeal yet, you should give it a shot!  It keeps 100x better than just regular cooked oatmeal. 

Blueberry Baked Oatmeal
Printable version here

1 medium lemon
2 cups nonfat milk
2 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. kosher salt (or 1/4 tsp. table salt)
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, freshly grated if possible
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
2 tbsp. butter, melted and cooled
1 egg
1/3 cup sugar
2 cups blueberries, fresh or frozen

1. Preheat the oven to 375º.  Spray an 8-inch square baking dish with nonstick spray and set aside.

2. Zest lemon; set zest aside (remember you only want the yellow parts, not the white underneath). In a bowl, combine milk and juice from the zested lemon to make "buttermilk".

3. In a medium bowl, combine the oats, baking powder, salt, spices, and lemon zest.  In a small bowl, whisk together the "buttermilk", butter, egg, and sugar.

4. Spoon half of the oat mixture into the baking dish, and then half of the blueberries.  Add the remaining oat mixture and scatter the remaining blueberries on to the top, pressing them in slightly.  Pour in the milk mixture and place in oven.

5. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the mixture is a light golden brown along the edges, and the center has set up.  Serve warm.  Store leftovers in the refrigerator in a covered dish for up to 5 days.

Recipe Source: http://www.preventionrd.com/2012/06/meatless-monday-meyer-lemon-blueberry-baked-oatmeal/ 

Why I love it? I love that it's a delicious way to eat two very nutritious foods- oats and blueberries!  The fact that it reheats well is a bonus! 

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

English Muffins


This is a post I've been working on for a looooong time, believe it or not!  I wanted to make sure that I had enough information to share, since English muffins aren't typically something a person has made before.  I have now made these probably a couple dozen times.  The summary of why I make these, if you don't read the whole post- they are delicious and significantly cheaper than store-bought!

The breakfast my husband has most days before work (when the rest of us are still sleeping) is an egg sandwich- with a baked egg patty, reduced-fat sausage patty from Costco, a little grated cheese, and an English muffin.  Seeing as how I make most of our other bread products, I decided to tackle English muffins, as well.  I found this recipe from Alton Brown (Mr. Good Eats) and it works very well!  I altered it very slightly.

The only equipment I needed to buy to make these was English Muffin Rings.  I tried making this recipe using other things as rings, like some suggest, but these work FAR better- and were only 8 bucks.  I have saved more than that already!  Besides that, it is helpful to have a covered electric skillet (good for maintaining even heat) and a large cookie scoop for even portioning.

Last thing- I have made variations of this, as well.  I normally make them with half wheat/half white flour, and sometimes I make them with a little extra sugar and cinnamon.  It's a pretty flexible recipe!

The equipment ready to go

The dough is so wet, it's almost more like a batter

I cook 4 muffins at a time

Finishing up cooking on the 2nd side

You can read more about these muffins on Food Network's website, here.

Price Breakdown
Yeast 5¢
Powdered Milk 36¢
Sugar 1¢
Salt <1¢
Canola Oil 3¢
All-Purpose Flour 12¢
Wheat Flour 16¢
Water- Free
TOTAL = 73¢ per batch of 8 English Muffins

Weight of one batch: 1 lb. 5 oz.
Price per ounce: 3.5¢

Comparable store-bought English muffins: $1.68 for 14 ounces = 12¢ per ounce

Price Comparison per ounce: 3.5¢ homemade vs. 12¢ store-bought = 71% SAVINGS!

English Muffins
Printable version here

2 1/4 tsp. instant yeast (1 packet)
1 1/8 tsp. granulated sugar, divided
1/2 cup powdered milk
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. canola oil (or other neutral-flavored oil)
2 cups flour (I use 1 cup each all-purpose and wheat)

1. In a measuring cup or small bowl, combine and set aside to rest:
  • 2 1/4 tsp. yeast
  • 1/8 tsp. sugar
  • 1/3 cup warm water
2. Meanwhile, combine in a large bowl and stir until dissolved:
  • 1/2 cup powdered milk
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tbsp. canola oil
  • 1 cup hot (but not boiling) water
3. Once yeast mixture is a little bubbly, pour into milk mixture and whisk to combine. (Make sure the milk mixture isn't too hot, as yeast die at temperatures above 130º)  Add to this mixture and stir:
  • 2 cups flour
4. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm spot for 30 minutes. (I like to turn on my oven for 1-2 minutes while I'm preparing the dough, then I let dough rest in there.)

5. Preheat griddle to 300º (when I use wheat flour, I set the heat just a little under that).  Remove plastic wrap and stir dough thoroughly.

6. Place metal rings onto griddle and coat lightly with nonstick spray. Using large (3 tbsp.) cookie scoop, place 2 scoops into each ring and cover with a lid.  Cook for 4 1/2 to 5 minutes, flip (I like to use 2 flat spatulas for this), then recover and cook 4 1/2 to 5 more minutes. (I do 4:45) Cool on a wire rack, split with fork, and serve.

Yield: 8 muffins
Storage: Store in an airtight container (or zip-top bag) at room temperature for up to 3 days.  Freeze for longer storage.
Recipe Source: Alton Brown/Food Network

Why I love it? Let's see, they're INFINITELY fresher tasting than the kind you buy in a store, there are no preservatives, you can customize them (with different types of flour, using additional seasonings like cinnamon, etc.), and like I said above- SIGNIFICANTLY cheaper! If you're still reading, I will say- these were a little frustrating to make until I got the hang of it, but after making them a few times I figured out what works best, and now I love making them!  Let me know if you have any questions!

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Simple Guacamole


Guacamole- for me at least, this has been an acquired taste.  I didn't grow up eating it, and while I can still see why some don't like it, it has certainly been growing on me!  I like trying to get healthy fats (like avocado) in our diet, and this is a great way.  I have used this "recipe" as a topping for dishes like enchiladas, as a snack for dipping chips in, and as part of a layered dip.  It has worked great for all of these, and it is EASY!

I put recipe in quotation marks because I don't measure anything in this... it's more of a "suggestion" than an actual recipe.  I thought of it when I was looking up how to make guacamole, and realized that most of the ingredients (besides avocado) are the ingredients in salsa- which I normally have on hand. It's hardly more difficult than just mashing the avocado and adding salsa! (Here's the link to a ridiculously easy Blender Salsa recipe, if you haven't already tried it!)

I also like making it this way instead of buying it because it makes a great amount for one dinner (or snack).  I would never be able to use up a store-bought container of guacamole before it went bad, so I like being able to make it in small batches like this!  Plus it is so fresh- just make it a little before serving (to give the flavors time to combine), and you don't need to worry about it turning brown or needing preservatives.

Simple Guacamole
Printable version here

1 ripe avocado
Salsa- about 1 tablespoon, or to taste
Lime juice (bottled or fresh)- about 1 teaspoon
Salt- about 1/4 tsp.

Cut open avocado and remove pit.  In a small bowl, mash avocado with a fork.  Mix in remaining ingredients to taste.  Chill until serving.

*This will turn dark after a while, so eat it within a few hours of making it.

(If you want to see pictures of how to cut open an avocado, here's one site I found.)

Why I love it?  It's quick, uses ingredients I normally have on-hand (besides the avocado), costs under $1, and is a healthy condiment/snack!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins


Recently I searched for a new healthy blueberry muffin recipe, and this one looked appealing.  It did not disappoint!  So many muffin recipes are more like a disguised cupcake, with things like blueberries thrown in to make it look healthy.  But these, I actually feel good about giving my kids for breakfast!  Enjoy!

Recipe Source: Cooking Light, August 2010

Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
Printable version here

1 2/3 cups quick-cooking oats
3 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2/3 cup)
2.33 ounces whole-wheat flour (about 1/2 cup)
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (5.3 ounces)
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
3/4 tsp. salt

1 1/2 cups low-fat buttermilk
1/4 cup canola oil
2 tsp. grated lemon rind (from one small lemon)
2 large eggs
2 cups frozen blueberries
2 tbsp. all-purpose flour
2 tbsp. granulated sugar (or a cinnamon/sugar mixture)

1. Preheat oven to 400º.

2. Place oats in a food processor; pulse 5 to 6 times or until oats resemble coarse meal.  Place in a large bowl.

3. Weigh or lightly spoon flours into dry measuring cups; level with a knife.  Add flours and next 5 ingredients (through salt) to oats; stir well.  Make a well in center of mixture.

4. Combine buttermilk and next 3 ingredients (through eggs).  Add to flour mixture; stir just until moist.

5. Toss berries with 2 tablespoons flour, and gently fold into batter.  Scoop batter into 18 muffin cups coated with nonstick spray. (I use a 3 tbsp. cookie scoop that's filled a little over the top, so probably close to 1/4 cup) Sprinkle tops with either sugar or a cinnamon/sugar mixture (I keep some in a shaker container).  Bake at 400º for 20 minutes or until muffins spring back when touched lightly in center.  Remove from pans immediately; place on a wire rack.  Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to a couple days, or refrigerate or freeze for longer storage.

NOTES
  • I've only ever made this exactly as written, but I'm sure you could make slight changes to it and it would still turn out well.  Such as: substituting the all-purpose flour for wheat, omitting the lemon zest (or replacing it with orange zest), using fresh blueberries instead of frozen, and using buttermilk substitute instead of buttermilk (this explains how to).
  • As I only have one regular muffin pan, I had to bake a dozen of these muffins, wash the pan, and then bake 6 more.  Sometime I might scale this recipe down to equal a dozen, but we like them so much that I don't mind the hassle of washing the pan in between batches!
Why I love it? They are hearty without being dense, flavorful (I love the blueberries & hint of lemon!), and decently healthy!  The large batch size lets me feed my family of 5 and still have some leftover to freeze.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Meal Planning

This is a post I've wanted to write for a while now, in the hopes that it could help somebody out.  Way before I even get around to making a recipe there are two crucial steps- planning (which includes list-making) and shopping!  Here's how I do those.


Meal Planning
1. Getting Started- I start with a blank shopping list that I print from the computer.  I used to shop once a week, so I have a list template for that, but now I use one that lets me plan for two weeks at a time.  You can view those here: Grocery List- One Week or Two Week.  For the one week at a time version, I cut the paper in half, and for the two week version, I fold it.  It fits perfectly on my 6x9 inch clipboard I bought at WalMart- kind of like this one. (I can't figure out a way to make it so anyone can edit the shopping list templates, so if you'd like a copy to make your own changes to, leave me a comment and I'll email it to you.)













2. Dinner- The first thing I write down is anything that we have going on that would affect dinnertime (Awana, MOPS, etc.).  I also write the date on each box or line.  Then I typically see what type of meat (or other type of dinner) there is in the freezer, and start making meals based on that.  At this point I'm more concerned with filling the boxes than I am with when we have a certain dinner.  I often end up making a different dinner on my list based on what I feel like making.  We typically eat dinner out once every two weeks, so I try to plan 13 dinners. 

3. Breakfast, Lunch, & Snacks- I don't plan out breakfast & snacks; I just generally stock up on the foods we eat and go from there.  As far as lunch goes, the kids and I have a set schedule that we go by Monday-Friday.  That saves time, so I don't have to try to figure out what to make, and it also saves fights.  I'm not saying that all of my kids like each day's lunch, but it's easier to say "Sorry kiddo, today's Tuesday, I have no choice but to make turkey sandwiches.  See, the schedule says it!" He (my primary picky eater) knows I'm not going to change my mind.

Grocery Shopping
I do almost all of my grocery shopping at WinCo.  Their prices are fantastic, the food is good, and my FAVORITE thing about that store is their bulk section.  Not bulk as in mass quantities, but bulk as in they have tons of bins of food that you can buy however much you need.  This includes spices, flour, sugar, candy, rice, beans, snacks, dried fruit, nuts, etc... I love how far my money goes here!! (Here's a location finder- they're only on the West Coast) I try to go shopping on Saturday mornings, and leave the house by 9. 

I supplement my every-2-week WinCo trips with an occasional trip to Costco.  I love to buy their grated cheese, string cheese, frozen fruit, lettuce, reduced fat sausage patties, chicken nuggets, trash bags, etc!  I try to keep a price list (both in my head and on my iPod) of unit prices; that helps me know which store to buy things at.  Some things are cheaper at WinCo, some are cheaper at Costco.

[I also go on a short shopping trip on my "off weeks".  This mainly consists of buying milk and produce.]

How has this helped me?
  • Having a list helps me know what meals I have available to make.  Dinnertime is stressful enough without having to stare in the fridge and wondering what you can make!
  • Writing my list in categories saves me time in the grocery store, as I'm less likely to have to backtrack and go get an item I missed.
  • Having meals planned out saves us the extra expense and calories from having to eat fast food. 
  • The fewer trips I have to make to the store, the lower my grocery budget can be.  We all know that each time we go to the store, we end up with something we didn't really mean to buy!   
While meal planning & grocery shopping might not be your favorite things to do, I've found that making the effort to do it efficiently is so helpful in the long run.  Let me know if you have any questions about how I do it, or leave me a comment on any tips you think might help me & others!  Thanks!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies


I don't know about you, but I don't think I will ever run out of cookie recipes to try.  I have several that I like, but that doesn't stop me from looking for more!  I found this one on a blog I found via Pinterest.  The pictures looked enticing, and I like that it has both raisins and chocolate.  They did not disappoint!!  They were soft, chewy, and full of flavor.  This is one recipe I don't plan to tinker with- it is perfect just as it is!

As far as why the recipe calls for you to chill it for 2+ hours before baking, that would be to help the texture be just right- because I know that a warmer dough is more likely to spread.  These don't spread much which helps keep them thick & chewy.  If you don't have 2 hours to wait, you could divide the dough into 2 smaller sections and refrigerate that way, or you could scoop the cookies onto the baking sheet and refrigerate the whole thing- just make sure it's thoroughly chilled before using.  The website I found this on said that you can make the dough up to 1 day in advance.

Recipe source: Crunchy Creamy Sweet blog via Smitten Kitchen

Oatmeal Raisin Chocolate Chip Cookies
Printable version here

1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened to room temperature
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups oats (preferably old fashioned)
3/4 cup raisins
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips

1.  In a large mixing bowl (or stand mixer), beat butter for 30 seconds.  Add brown sugar and cream until fluffy and light in color, scraping down the bowl as necessary.  Add egg and vanilla and mix well.

2.  In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt).  With the mixer speed on low, add these dry ingredients to the butter mixture, and beat until combined.

3. Stir in the oats, raisins, and chocolate chips.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours or overnight. (So plan ahead!)

4. Preheat oven to 350º.  Line baking sheet with parchment paper (or lightly grease).  Scoop the cookie dough onto the sheet.  Each cookie should be about 1 1/2 tablespoons (I use my medium cookie scoop and fill it a little less than full).

5.  Bake for 10 minutes, or until slightly underdone in the middle yet browned on the edges.  Let them cool on the sheet for 5 minutes. (They will finish baking this way)  Transfer onto a wire rack to cool completely.

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Why I love it? I love how full it is of raisins and chocolate chips!  My husband isn't a big raisin (or oatmeal) fan, but he loved these and said they reminded him of chocolate covered raisins! 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Homemade Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup



A while ago I had come up with a recipe I like for cream of celery soup (since I have one meal I use that for); next on the list to figure out was a cream of mushroom soup recipe!  I try to avoid buying the cans of condensed soup if I can- while convenient, they cost more & have more unnecessary ingredients than I'd like.  Now, I am NOT a fan of mushrooms... but some recipes just aren't the same without this ingredient! (One of our family's favorites is Hamburger Stroganoff.) That's why I puree this soup when it's done cooking, so I don't have to see mushroom pieces when I'm eating.  That's one of the benefits to being the cook, right?  You can make food exactly how you want it!

When it's warm, this soup isn't as thick as the kind in a can, but that hasn't been a problem when I've used it in recipes.  It does thicken when it's refrigerated, though.  I make this size batch even when I just need one can's worth, and I freeze the other half.  Enjoy!

The diced mushrooms & onion











Condensed Cream of Mushroom Soup
Printable version here

Yield: The amount of 2 small (10.75 oz.) cans

3 tbsp. butter
2 crimini mushrooms, diced
1/4 cup diced onion
1/4 cup flour
1 1/4 cups beef broth
1 cup milk
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. garlic powder
Pepper to taste

1. Melt butter in a saucepan over medium-low heat; add diced mushroom & onion and saute until tender (about 5 minutes).

2. Add flour and whisk until smooth and bubbly (mixture will be thick).  Cook for 1 minute.  Gradually add broth & milk, whisking to keep smooth.

3. Bring to a gentle boil, whisking constantly. Simmer for a few minutes until thickened. Add salt, garlic powder, and pepper.

4. Optional: To make a smoother soup (or to help disguise the mushrooms!), puree the finished soup in a blender.

Notes:
-
Soup can be frozen for later use. It will separate after thawing. To fix this, I heat the thawed soup in a small pan, and whisk occasionally. By the time it is heated through, it is back to normal.

Why I love it? Not only is it cheaper and healthier than store-bought condensed soup, it is infinitely more flavorful!  Plus it just looks like something I'd want to eat- it's smooth & creamy, not jiggly! :)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Baked Meatballs


I know what you're thinking... really, a mini muffin tin for meatballs??  Trust me though, this method is genius!  It's from one of my favorite chefs, Alton Brown.  His recipes are always delicious, precise (which I like because that means I can replicate them!), and well thought out.  Using a mini muffin tin is perfect for meatballs- not only do the meatballs stay round, but they get cooked on all sides without sitting in any pools of grease (which is not good eats, as Alton Brown would say!).

Meatballs are one of my husband's favorite foods, and these quickly catapulted into his #1 favorite meatball slot.  He told me that if I didn't already have this muffin pan, it would be worth buying just for this recipe!  This one is from Pampered Chef.  Another tool that makes this recipe easy is a large cookie scoop, for portioning out the meat.  I have a large (3 tbsp.) Pampered Chef scoop.

Thank you Alton Brown for this recipe, wherever you are!

Baked Meatballs
Printable version here

1 1/2 pound ground meat (I use a combination of beef & pork)
5 oz. frozen spinach, thawed and drained thoroughly (half of a 10 oz. package)
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan
1 egg
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
1 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp. table salt)
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes, depending on how spicy you want it
1/2 cup bread crumbs, divided (I prefer Panko bread crumbs)

1. Preheat the oven to 400º.  Lightly spray a mini muffin tin with nonstick spray.

2. In a large mixing bowl, combine the beef, pork, spinach, Parmesan, egg, basil, parsley, garlic powder, salt, red pepper flakes, and 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs.  Using your hands, mix all ingredients until well incorporated.  Use immediately or place in refrigerator for up to 24 hours.

3. Place the remaining 1/4 cup bread crumbs into a small bowl.  Using a 3 tbsp. cookie scoop, portion into 20 meatballs (if using a scale, they will weigh 1.5 ounces each).  Using your hands, shape the meatballs into rounds, roll in the bread crumbs, and place the meatballs in individual, miniature muffin tin cups.  Bake for 20 minutes or until golden and cooked through.

Yield: 20 meatballs

Recipe Source: foodnetwork.com

Why I love it? They're not too difficult or time consuming, and they taste PHENOMENAL! I have never had a better-tasting, more perfectly-textured meatball! 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

My New Vitamix

 As most of you know, my family has been busy lately for a pretty good reason.  A week ago today, on March 19th, my husband donated a kidney to his dad.  The surgery went perfectly and my father in law now has great kidney function, meaning he can stop dialysis!  There are no long term issues for my husband now having only one kidney; the main thing is that we just need to keep him (and us) in overall good health.  The good ol' diet and exercise!

A family member gave us a generous gift for having donated the kidney, and we decided to put that towards this new Vitamix blender.  I had seem them at Costco before and always LOVED how well they worked, and how they could transform regular ingredients into something special. Buying this with the gift is one way to commemorate the surgery and to help our family eat healthier.

I have already used this 9 times in 2 1/2 days.  I have made fruit/veggie smoothies, frozen coffee drinks, and pancake batter.  It is easy to use, should last forever (including the 7 year warranty), and is enabling our family to eat better!

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves!  This is the Vitamix 6300. (Costco's price was better, of course!)

Click to enlarge

Most importantly, I should add, this passed the Kid Test!  These smoothies are delicious & filling, and you can't even taste the vegetables!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Garlic Breadsticks


For someone who used to be "afraid" of yeast recipes, they are now one of my favorite things to make.  Nothing compares to the smell of warm yeast bread, straight out of the oven!  The taste can't compare to store bought bread, they're healthier (less sodium & preservatives), and they're cheaper!

So, it's a no-brainer to me that I would make my own breadsticks.  I had not found a breadstick recipe that I LOVE until I came across this one!  They are soft, buttery, and garlicky! I cut the original recipe in half to make the amount that my family eats in one dinner, but you could certainly adjust the recipe size to fit your needs.

Recipe Source: Adapted from allrecipes.com 

Garlic Breadsticks
Printable version here

In a small bowl, combine and let rest for 15 minutes:
  • 1 tsp. instant yeast
  • 1 tbsp. sugar
  • 2 tbsp. warm water
Meanwhile, combine the following in the bowl of a stand mixer:
  • 2 1/4 cups flour (I normally use half wheat flour & half all-purpose flour)
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 2/3 cup warm water
  • 1 tbsp. butter, softened
 Add the yeast mixture to the bowl (the yeast should be dissolved and puffy).  Knead on speed 2 for 5 minutes.  Remove bowl from mixer, cover with a towel, and let rest for 10 minutes.

Remove dough from bowl and place on a nonstick mat or a lightly floured surface.  Divide into 8 portions, and roll each portion into a stick shape (mine were 8" long).  Alternately, roll into a rectangle and slice into 1" thick portions using a pizza cutter.  Place on a greased baking sheet (I grease it with some of the butter that I have out for the recipe).  Cover with a piece of plastic wrap that has been sprayed with nonstick spray.  Let rise for 1 hour.

Towards the end of the rising time, turn on the oven to 375º.  Also, combine in a small bowl and microwave until melted:
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. butter
  • 1/8 tsp. garlic powder
Brush on the risen breadsticks.  Bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned on the bottom.  Brush remaining butter mixture over the breadsticks, then sprinkle with kosher (or regular) salt.

Yield: 8 breadsticks
Recipe Time: 2 hours (or just under)

Why I love it? It is a soft, flavorful, easy to make breadstick! The texture is great, they browned nicely, and really we just all loved them!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Creamy White Chicken Chili


I first had this chili at a little church in Burbank, WA.  When we go to eastern WA we like to visit our friends (the Cagles) and go to their church if we can.  The husband, Dan, is the pastor there.  Anyway, last time we picked a good time to visit, as it was their annual chili cook-off!  This was the winning chili, and me and several other people asked the lady who made it for the recipe.

I just made it for the first time, and I was reminded why it won!  It starts as a regular white chicken chili, but then it gets some magical ingredients added at the end- sour cream and heavy cream!  They make it so creamy and good!  It also helps balance out the spiciness from the cayenne pepper.  I reduced the amounts of these two things a little bit, and you can certainly play with the amounts, too (what's written below is the amount I used).  I used light sour cream and heavy cream, but you could also try it with fat free sour cream and maybe even half & half instead.  If I try those sometime, I'll update here!  

[Update- last time I made it I used fat free sour cream and half & half, and it was still delicious and creamy! Good to know!]

Creamy White Chicken Chili
Printable version here

1 1/2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 pound boneless chicken cut into 1/2 inch cubes*
1 medium onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 (15 oz.) cans Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed
2 cups (or 1 can) chicken broth
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper (or to taste)
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 (4 oz.) can chopped green chilies
3/4 cup sour cream
1/3 cup heavy cream or half & half

(*or you may substitute 2 cups cooked, shredded chicken)

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat; add chicken and onion.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until chicken is no longer pink.  Add garlic and cook 1 more minute.

2. Add beans, broth, seasonings, and chilies (and shredded chicken if using).  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat; simmer uncovered for 30 minutes.

3. Stir in sour cream and heavy cream and serve.  Serves: 4-6

[I haven't tried this yet, but this chili should freeze just fine, as long as you set aside the portion to freeze before adding the sour cream & cream. Those ingredients don't freeze very well, but you could just add them in after thawing and heating the frozen chili.]

Why I love it? It tastes fantastic- it's a little spicy, creamy, flavorful, and dense! It's chock-full of protein and fiber!  It's also a reasonably quick dinner, as it takes an hour start to finish (and half that time is just simmering). 

Monday, January 21, 2013

Chocolate Cupcakes with Quick Vanilla Buttercream

My search for the perfect chocolate cupcake AND vanilla frosting recipes are over, thanks to these little gems!  Recently I needed to bring cupcakes to my sister-in-law's baby shower, and I was fretting because I didn't know which recipe to use.  Of course there is store-bought, or from a mix, but I just couldn't bring myself to do that.  I took a risk on trying two new recipes, but seeing as how I trusted their source (Mel's Kitchen Cafe), I figured it would work out.  

This was at the book-themed baby shower- I tried to make the cupcakes match!
 
They were a huge success!  Everyone at the shower loved the cupcakes, even those who normally don't like cake!  And my husband doesn't like normal frosting, but he liked this kind.  It really is a cross between buttercream and cream cheese frosting.  It held its shape well when I was piping it.  I will most definitely make both of these recipes over & over again! 




Chocolate Cupcakes
Printable version here

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup sour cream

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 standard cupcake pans with paper liners. In a glass liquid measuring cup, combine the cocoa powder and hot water and whisk until smooth. In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

2. In a medium saucepan over medium heat (or using a bowl & a microwave), combine the butter and sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is smooth and the butter is completely melted. Transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer (or to a stand-alone bowl, using a handheld electric mixer) and beat on medium-low speed until the mixture is cool, about 4-5 minutes.

3. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Blend in the vanilla and then the cocoa mixture until smooth. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture in three additions alternating with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients and mixing each addition just until incorporated. So basically you’ll add 1/3 of the flour, mix, then add 1/2 of the sour cream, mix, add another 1/3 of the flour, mix, add the rest of the sour cream, and finish with the last 1/3 of the dry ingredients.
 
4. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners, filling no more than 2/3 full. Bake the cupcakes until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-18 minutes (I used a slightly rounded large [3 tbsp.] cookie scoop, and baked for 17 minutes). Remove the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.   

Yield: 24 cupcakes

Mini Cupcakes: This will make approximately 96 mini cupcakes, using a 1 tbsp. scoop of batter for each one.  Bake for 10 minutes or until done.

Recipe Source: http://www.melskitchencafe.com/2012/04/perfect-chocolate-cupcakes.html

Quick Vanilla Buttercream
Printable version here

*Makes about 3 cups of frosting (enough for 24 cupcakes)

½ cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature
3 oz. cream cheese, softened to room temperature
16 oz. powdered sugar (about 3 ½ cups)
¼ cup heavy cream*
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract

In a large bowl using a handheld mixer or the bowl of an electric stand mixer, beat the softened butter and cream cheese together until it is light and creamy, about 2 minutes. Mix in the vanilla (and food coloring, if desired). Add the powdered sugar gradually and mix in fully after each addition. Cream at low speed until well blended and creamy. Pour in the heavy cream and whip until the frosting is light and fluffy. 

*Note: you can substitute milk for the heavy cream but the frosting will be missing an element of silky creaminess.   

[I recommend keeping this frosting refrigerated, because of the dairy and because it melts a little when it gets too warm.  I frosted my cupcakes using a piping bag, and after a few minutes I needed to put the bag in the fridge to bring down the temperature because it was starting to melt.  Also, it worked fine to make the day before I needed it.  I took it out of the fridge a few hours before I needed it, and I rewhipped it with a hand mixer.]

Recipe Source: http://www.melskitchencafe.com/2011/01/vanilla-buttermilk-cupcakes-and-fantastic-easy-buttercream-frosting.html

Why I love it? This is the BEST tasting chocolate cupcake & vanilla frosting I have ever made!  They're as good as any cupcake I've had, either from a store or from a box.  They are not very difficult to make, and they don't require any hard-to-find ingredients.  I promise, you won't regret making (or eating!) them!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff


Last week when I was making my menu/shopping list, I was feeling bored with my normal recipes (not sure how that's possible!), so I found a few new ones to try.  This one, Crockpot Beef Stroganoff, was an instant hit!  It was easy and turned out PERFECTLY!  I will most definitely make it again!

I found it on my most trusted food blog, Mel's Kitchen Cafe! :) The only things I changed were to reduce the recipe size a little (I only used about 1 1/2 pounds of stew meat, and a little less of the other ingredients), and omit the mushrooms.

Crockpot Beef Stroganoff
Printable version here

2-3 pounds stew meat (or a chuck roast, cubed)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. black pepper
1/2 medium yellow onion, diced
1/4 tsp. garlic salt (or garlic powder)
1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 tbsp. ketchup
1/3 cup flour
6 tbsp. water (1/4 cup + 2 tbsp.)
4-8 ounces sliced mushrooms (optional)
1/2 cup light or regular sour cream

1. Place beef, salt, pepper, onion, garlic salt, Worcestershire sauce, broth, and ketchup into a slow cooker.  Stir to combine.  Cook for 7-9 hours on low or 4-5 hours on high.

2. About 30 minutes before serving, combine the flour and water in a small bowl, whisking vigorously to combine well.  The roux should be thick but still pourable, so add a tablespoon of water at a time to thin, if needed.  Pour the flour mixture into the slow cooker, whisking quickly to mix in the roux with the stew meat and juices to avoid lumps.  Add the mushrooms (if using) and stir.  Cook on high for 30 minutes.

3. Stir in 1/2 cup sour cream right before serving.  Serve over pasta, rice or baked potatoes.

*Freezable Meal: (I haven't tried this, but the original source from the recipe lists these instructions) The leftovers of the stroganoff can be frozen.  Store the leftovers in a freezer-safe container and then thaw in the refrigerator (usually takes about a day) and reheat over medium-low heat in a saucepan on the stove.

Why I love it? It was SUPER easy and delicious!  The meat was tender and the sauce turns out perfectly!  It is flavorful, creamy, and nicely thickened.  The fact that it is freezable is an added bonus!