Sunday, November 16, 2014

Chocolate Chip Snack Cake

This chocolate chip snack cake is an easy thing to whip up for a yummy snack or simple dessert. It's a light vanilla-flavored cake, with a layer of chocolate chips & cinnamon in the middle and on top. Just mix it in one bowl, bake in a square dish, and serve just like that! It doesn't need frosting, cooling, or anything like that.

I lightened up the original recipe a little bit- I reduced the butter, subbed yogurt for most of the sour cream (you could probably use all yogurt if you had no sour cream), and reduced the amount of chocolate chips.  Even with all that tinkering, this is still a soft and flavorful cake!

You might notice this calls for room temperature eggs. This is common with baking cakes from scratch, because if you add cold eggs to a sugar/butter mixture, they're likely to make the butter clump up and look like bits of cottage cheese. With the ingredients at room temperature, this doesn't happen and you have a smoother batter. If you're taking your eggs right out of the fridge (like I normally do), you can put them in a cup or bowl of warm water for 10 or so minutes to take the chill off them. Problem solved!

Adapted from: Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Chocolate Chip Snack Cake
Printable version here

Cake batter
4 tbsp. butter, softened
2 tbsp. applesauce (or an additional 2 tbsp. butter)
6 oz. vanilla yogurt
1/4 cup sour cream
2 eggs, room temperature
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cup flour (all-purpose)
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt

Filling & topping
Cinnamon/sugar mixture (I keep mine in a shaker container)
1/3 cup (or more) chocolate chips

1. Combine all wet ingredients, including sugar.  Mix until it is relatively smooth.  Add dry ingredients and mix just until no streaks of flour remain.

2. Grease a metal* 9x9 pan with cooking spray or shortening.  Spread half the cake batter into pan (it will be somewhat thick).  Sprinkle top with cinnamon/sugar and half the chocolate chips. Repeat layers one time.

3. Bake at 350º for 28 minutes (or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with only a few crumbs).

 *If using glass pan, lower temperature to 325º and add a few minutes to the baking time.  I haven't tried it, but the original recipe suggests doing this. 

Why I love it? It is ridiculously simple & good.  It's fluffy, vanilla-y, and chocolatey!  It just dirties one bowl and one pan!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Freezer Beef and Bean Burritos

We all need some convenience foods every now and then, but the options at the grocery store can be lackluster at best. Food you make yourself is usually healthier and cheaper, not to mention way more tasty. These beef and bean burritos are perfect- they're homemade, delicious convenience food! I love having these in the freezer for a quick lunch!

Normally when I make these, I do a double batch- we eat some that night for dinner, and I freeze the rest. They're more involved than just opening a can of refried beans and plopping them in a tortilla (which happened to be our lunch today...), but the flavor is worth it! They have beans, ground beef or turkey, spices, rice, cilantro, and cheese! When topped with sour cream and guacamole, there's not a better burrito around!

Rather than taking the time to retype the recipe, I'll just direct you to where I found it. I make it exactly as written, except that I've found I prefer to add the sour cream at serving, rather than freezing it with the sour cream inside. I also use baked brown rice instead of white. I make this recipe, and use half of it for this recipe (plus the cilantro stirred in after baking) and set aside half for another use. Enjoy!

Why I love it? They are HUGELY flavorful, healthy, and a perfect make-ahead meal!


So... I'm still here, alive, and well. Cooking and parenting pretty much nonstop! My homeschooled kiddos are now in grades K, 3, and 5. They love reading, art, and PE, and can usually be convinced to do the rest of their subjects...

I'm still working on eating well and exercising a couple times a week. This past April I reached my goal weight (which included losing 27 pounds), and almost 7 months later, I'm proud to still be there! It's been a learning process to see what amount of food (not calories, which I don't track) and exercise I need to maintain my weight.

I was told by my mother-in-law that I still have one blog reader who looks for new posts, so I'm going to try posting some more! I have a bunch of posts that I've started but not finished. I just finished one (Freezer Beef & Bean Burritos), and will do more as time allows. Right now I have a kindergartener asking me to go do science with her. Till next time, thanks for reading!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Roasted Vegetable Broth

 Start with a bunch of fresh veggies

Roast until lightly browned

Voila! 8 cups of broth to freeze!

I know that broth is something easy to buy in a store- there are many options, and it's cheap- but there's just something about making it from scratch that can be irresistible.  I make turkey and chicken broth often, and this roasted vegetable broth is another good recipe to have on hand.  You could use it in soup, to cook rice, gravy, and more.

With having to buy the vegetables at the store, this isn't necessarily cheaper than buying broth- it cost me about $6.50 to make 8 cups (4 cans worth) of broth.  It is more flavorful and healthy though, so you just have to decide what you're wanting.  Sometimes I go for what's quickest & cheapest, sometimes I go for most healthy & flavorful- although I try to have it all!  This would definitely be cheap to make if you were able to grow some of your own veggies.

The basic premise is that you roast a bunch of vegetables in a large pan (I lined mine with nonstick foil, partly because my roasting pan's finish is chipping), cook them in a large pot with water and other seasonings, then strain.  It's not very difficult, but it does take some time- about 3 hours start to finish.  It's yummy though, and worth making at least once! :)

Roasted Vegetable Broth
Printable version here 

1 1/2 pound sweet onions, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound carrots, cut into 1 inch pieces
1 pound tomatoes, cored
1 pound green bell pepper, cut into 1 inch pieces
1/2 pound turnips, cubed into 1/2 inch pieces
2 tablespoons (approx.) olive oil
1 pound (bunch) celery
3 cloves garlic, minced/pressed
3 whole cloves
1 bay leaf
6 whole black peppercorns
1 bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped
1 gallon (4 quarts/16 cups) water
2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1. Preheat oven to 450º.  Meanwhile, begin rinsing and chopping vegetables- onions, carrots, tomatoes, bell pepper, and turnips.  Place in a large roasting pan, drizzle with olive oil, and stir, making sure all the vegetables are lightly coated.

2.  Roast vegetables, stirring every 15 minutes, until the vegetables and browned and the onions start to darken.  This takes me about 1 hour 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, in a large stock pot (minimum 8 quart), add remaining ingredients (celery, spices, parsley, water, and salt).  I start this about 30 minutes before the vegetables are done, so that the water can begin heating, which saves time. Add roasted vegetables to the pot, bring to a boil, and simmer uncovered until reduced by half.  Mine took 1 hour 15 minutes.

4. Pour the broth through a colander, catching the broth in a large bowl or pot. (Scoop out some of the vegetables beforehand to help it not splash quite so much.) Using a spoon or spatula, press on the vegetables in the strainer to extract as much liquid from them as you can.  Add salt and/or pepper to taste, and enjoy!  Extra broth can be frozen for up to a couple months.

Yield: 8 cups broth

Recipe Source:

Why I love it? This makes an incredibly flavorful, natural vegetable broth.  Like all homemade foods, it's nice knowing exactly what's in it, and it's especially helpful being able to control the sodium content.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Balsamic Chicken Noodle Bowl

A few months ago I went to a home show, and one of the products I came home with was this Raspberry Balsamic Vinegar (picture & link below).  I wasn't sure what to do with it, but my mother-in-law offered to buy me a bottle, so I obliged. :) I searched my favorite food blog for recipes that use balsamic vinegar, and found this beauty.  I'm HOOKED!  The key ingredients: chicken, red bell pepper, garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and feta.  Delectable!

This recipe is pretty adaptable.  What's written below is exactly how I like it, after tweaking it a tiny bit each of the 6 or so times I've made it.  You can certainly add or omit ingredients according to your family's preferences.  Mel (the creator of this recipe) says that when she doesn't have shredded chicken already prepared, she cooks the diced chicken along with the red peppers.  I tend to cook the chicken while I'm cooking the rest of the ingredients, using this amazing method for shredded chicken.  Enjoy!

OMG Olive Oils

Balsamic Chicken Noodle Bowl
Printable version here

10 ounces spaghetti noodles
1 red bell pepper, diced
 4 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil 
4 tablespoons good-quality balsamic vinegar (I use 1/2 regular balsamic & 1/2 raspberry balsamic)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons dried basil (or 1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped)
2 cups cooked, shredded chicken
1 1/2 cups shredded or cubed mozzarella cheese (or Monterrey Jack)
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. Heat a large pot of water to a boil.  Cook the noodles until just tender.  Drain.

2. Meanwhile, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a small pan.  Add red pepper and saute for a couple minutes, or until crisp-tender.  Add garlic and cook for 30 more seconds, then remove pan from heat.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, pepper, and basil.  Add cooked noodles, pepper/garlic mixture, shredded chicken, and mozzarella cheese.  Toss ingredients together with tongs or a pasta spoon, making sure the dressing coats everything.  Top each serving with feta cheese.

Serves: 5-6

Recipe source: Adapted from Mel's Kitchen Cafe

Why I love it? It uses ingredients I tend to have on-hand (including my Costco-sized container of feta), and comes together fairly quickly- especially if the chicken is already cooked.  The flavors and textures work wonderfully together.  I also love that it makes good leftovers!  This makes enough for my family of 5 (2 adults and 3 kids) with about one serving remaining. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cranberry Lemon Bars

One new cooking task I took on in the last year was to serve dinner, once a month, to a group of 40 people.  On Wednesday nights my kids go to a program called Awana, and the helpers and their families get to come early and eat dinner before it starts.  There is a rotation for who makes the dinners- and this year they were looking for some more people to help.  So once a month, from September to April, I have made dinner for 40.  It's a logistical challenge, that's for sure, but I enjoyed getting to use my cooking talents in this way.

That said- last night was my last Awana dinner for this school year, and this is the dessert I made for it.  I love that it makes a good amount (36 small bars), is pretty easy, and can be made ahead of time.  The little bit that is left is now two days old, and it still tastes as good as it did the first day. 

The crust & topping is a combination of flour, oats, butter, and brown sugar, and the filling is my favorite part- it includes sour cream, sugar, dried cranberries, and lemon zest.  It's creamy, sweet, a little tart- it's nicely balanced and easy to eat!  The hardest part might be trying to stop eating it!

Cranberry Lemon Bars
Printable version here

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup (7 ounces) packed brown sugar
2 cups quick-cooking oats
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided
2 cups dried cranberries
1 cup (8 ounces) sour cream
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy.  Combine oats, salt, and 1 1/2 cups flour; add to the creamed mixture until blended.  Set aside 1 1/2 cups of this for topping.

2. Press remaining crumb mixture into a lightly greased 9x13 baking pan.  Bake at 350º for 12-15 minutes or until lightly browned.

3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons flour, cranberries, sour cream, sugar, egg, lemon zest, and vanilla extract.  Spread evenly over crust.  Sprinkle with reserved crumb mixture.

4. Bake for 25 minutes or until lightly browned.  Cool on a wire rack.  Store in refrigerator. (Tip- these cut easiest when cold) Can be made up to two days ahead of time.

Yield: about 36 bars (Cut into 6x6)

Recipe source: Taste of Home (Sour Cream Cranberry Bars, slightly altered)

Why I love it? I like that it uses natural ingredients that I almost always have on hand.  It's easy to make, stores well, and tastes great!  It's sweet with just the right level of tartness. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Red Enchilada Sauce

One of the things that intrigues me about my Vitamix is that you can use it to heat/cook foods.  I never imagined that a blender could do this, but really it's just based on friction.  If you have it on long enough & high enough, it really does produce heat!  Like with this sauce- it comes out steaming!! I got this recipe from the cookbook that came with my Vitamix.  It comes out perfectly!  It has good flavor, but isn't too strong or spicy.  It makes enough that I can use it for 2 dinners (I freeze half for later).

If you don't have a Vitamix but want to try this recipe- I imagine it would work if you pureed everything in a regular blender, then transferred it to a medium saucepan, and simmered it for a couple minutes until hot and slightly thickened.  If you try this, let me know and I'll update this post!  Thanks!

Red Enchilada Sauce (Vitamix)
Printable version here

2 cups chicken broth
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Roma tomato, halved
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/4 tsp. oregano
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Place all ingredients in blender.  Cook on Soup setting on Vitamix (which is approx. equal to 6 minutes on High).

Yield: 3 cups sauce

Why I love it? It's cheaper than buying enchilada sauce in a can, it doesn't have a lot of sodium (like many canned foods), and it includes all natural, easy-to-find ingredients!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Romaine & Mandarin Salad

This salad is one of those recipes where every time I make it, I wonder why I don't have it more often.  It's great!  It has a light, sweet vinaigrette, mandarin oranges, and candied almonds.  This amount makes enough for about 8 people.  If you're serving fewer than that, you could make the dressing and prepare all the ingredients, then just assemble it when you're ready- probably getting 2 dinner's worth out of this.

It's pretty quick make and uses ingredients that are easy to find year round.  If you're not up for making the candied almonds, something like this would be a great substitution.  They're normally either by the croutons or in the produce section at the grocery store.

Romaine & Mandarin Salad
Printable version here

2 tbsp. sugar
2 tbsp. white vinegar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1/4 cup vegetable or canola oil
Dash of hot sauce

Candied Almonds
1/4 cup sliced almonds
4 tsp. sugar

1 head Romaine lettuce, chopped
Sliced green onions
1 15-ounce can Mandarin oranges, drained

1. Whisk dressing ingredients until combined.  Set aside.

2. To make candied almonds: Over low heat, cook almonds and sugar until sugar melts and almonds are coated, stirring constantly.  Once sugar is melted and almonds are slightly browned, remove from pan and let cool. (The melted sugar will be very hot- be careful! I speak from experience!)

3. Combine all ingredients just before serving.

Why I love it? It's so fresh tasting and summery, yet it can be made year round!  It has a great combination of sweet and salty, and I love the juicy little oranges!