Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mmm...Mulled Cranberry Cider

I have been craving warm apple cider since late fall hit! I have seen recipes with cranberry juice that look good but usually include extra brown sugar. What I want is a cranberry infused cider. Problem solved!!! Use whole berries!

64 oz apple juice or apple cider
12 oz. bag cranberries
3-4 cinnamon sticks
1-2 T whole cloves
1-2 t ground nutmeg
1/2 ground allspice
1-2 oz. orange liqueur, or zest, or juice

Throw everything in a crock pit for 2-4 hours or in a big pan on the stove for an hour. Don't allow it to boil, though. Strain out berries, cloves, and cinnamon sticks before serving.

Yum! Yum!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Pizza Roll-Ups

Kids love to cook and meals they can help prepare often means meals they're more likely to eat! Found this on Pinterest during naps and knew it would be hit!!

4 string cheese sticks, cut in half
Pizza or spaghetti sauce
Pepperoni slices
Crescent rolls

Unroll and separate crescents. Spoon on some sauce, layout 3-4 pepperoni slices, and top off with the halved string cheese. Roll up and bake until golden. Serve with some warmed pizza sauce! Absolutely delicious and most definitely kid approved! And at only 174 calories per roll, a fraction of the 400 calorie-per-slice pizza from the local gas station, it's mom friendly, too!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Chicken Stoup and Cornmeal Dumplings

This is seriously one of my favorite meals I've made in a long time! It was a version of Chicken Stew and Cornmeal Dumplings found in the good ol' Betty Crocker cookbook. I changed up the vegetables slightly as well as the milk/water/broth ratio. If you have that cookbook, by all means use that recipe and tweak it as you see fit. Kids hated it but I am seriously looking forward to leftovers for the second day tomorrow! Oh and did I mention it's a one pot meal and ready in under 30 minutes???!!!

1 1/2 C cubed, shredded, chunk chicken (I used 4 frozen breasts, boiled them to just thaw, and changed out the water to continue)
1 package frozen stewing vegetables (onions, celery, red peppers)
1 C frozen corn
1 C carrots
2 C chicken broth
1 C milk
3-4 T flour (or equivalency in corn starch)
Season with pepper, oregano, basil, and garlic salt (I also used a dash of red pepper flakes)

1/2 C all-purpose flour
1/2 C shredded cheese (I used 3/4 C)
1/3 C yellow cornmeal
1 t baking powder
2 T milk
2 T cooking oil
1 egg
Dash of pepper, oregano, basil, and garlic salt

Dump in everything under the stoup list BUT the milk and flour in a big pot. I microwaved the raw carrots for approximately 3 minutes which really helped them get tender fast. Cook until carrots and other veggies are tender and chicken (if raw) is done. Prepare your dumpling batter while that is simmering away. Make slurry of milk and flour and add to pot. Simmer until bubbly. Drop dumpling batter in by tablespoons; there should be 6-10 depending on how big your tablespoon is. Cover and simmer on low for 8-12 minutes until toothpick inserted in dumpling comes out clean.


Sorry no pics. I ate it too fast!

The nutrition facts below are based on six servings. I had 12 small dumplings and about a cup of stoup.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sweet and Savory Pork Chops with Mashed Squash and Roasted Potatoes

I am not usually a fruit and meat kinda gal and definitely have an aversion to pork, but I had some leftover cranberry sauce from last week's experiment with stuffed pancakes and a package of pork chops that we're begging for something different. Turns out with the right combination of seasonings, sweet and savory can be splendid!!

**Recipe is organized in chronological order for preparation purposes.

1 large butternut squash, halved and seeds removed
2 C quartered potatoes
2 t minced garlic
1/2 C diced onion
2 T canola oil
Garlic salt, salt, pepper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place cut sides of squash down in a cake pan with enough water to completely cover the bottoms. Pop in oven. When done, scoop out and serve with dabs of butter and salt and pepper or with a pinch of brown sugar.

Combine remaining list of items in a different cake pan. If you want a little more browning for a roasted look and taste, do not cover with tin foil. For a more mashed-potato consistency, cover. Pop them in the oven.

While the veggies are getting a head start in the oven, start on the chops.

2 lbs pork loin or pork loin chops
Salt, pepper, garlic salt, rosemary
Canola oil

Season meat. Heat oil and sear loin or chops. Place in another cake pan or casserole dish and bake in oven until internal temp reaches 160 degrees. They should finish at about the same time as everything else. Don't wash that pan just yet... Save those juices and brown bits for the sauce!!

1/3-1/2 C cranberry sauce or a preserve of your choice (apricot sounds really good...)
1/2 C chicken broth
1-2 t rosemary (I don't particularly like rosemary so I went on the lighter side)
1/2 C diced onion (very fine)
1 T balsamic vinegar

Use the same pan as you seared the meat in; add all your ingredients, and if you can, some of the drippings from the chops in the oven. Simmer until sauce is reduced by at least half.

Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 50-60 minutes

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Sausage, Wild Rice, & Barley Soup with Beer Bread

So my cupboards get pretty bare by the end of the month, and I'm always eager to use healthy ingredients for a meal. I was staring at the items I had left, perusing the food blogs, and contemplating what I could throw together when I realized that had the the makings for a soup and hearty bread--a perfect meal for an early fall day!!

Beer Bread
3 c flour
1/2 c sugar
1T baking powder (I accidentally used soda so we'll see how this tastes...)
1 - 12 oz beer

Mix all ingredients together and bake in a loaf pan for 50 minutes at 350 degrees.

Sausage, Wild Rice, & Barley Soup
1 - 2.75oz box KC's Best instant wild rice
3/4 c quick barley
Fresh or canned mushrooms
1-1.5 lb pork sausage
2T butter
2t instant chicken bouillon
1 can cream mushroom soup
Milk to thin

Boil rice and barley for 7 minutes. Drain. Add 2C water, bouillon, and butter. Simmer. Brown sausage. Add sausage to rice/barley. Mix in soup and milk to reach desired consistency. Simmer until ready to eat.

**I LOVE Lawry's new roasted garlic salt with oregano and basil. It is basically all I use now and gives a real sophisticated taste to "regular" dishes. It's what I used to season the sausage and soup.

**Thoughts and Suggestions:
You could make the soup with chicken, turkey, or even go meatless.
Leave the soup thick and serve it over bread or biscuits, too!! Thin it out and serve with crackers...
Use sour cream in place of milk for an extra creamy texture without making it runny...
Add in asparagus or puréed cauliflower or butternut squash.
Make a double batch and freeze the leftovers for a later date.

Good luck and happy cooking!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Ooey Gooey-lash

Having the coolest day in a while enticed me to make something a little more fall-like. What's better than cheesy goulash??

1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 c zucchini, cubed
3/4 c mushrooms, quartered
2-3 T canola oil
Seasonings (salt, pepper, lawry's garlic salt... whatever you like)

8 oz elbow macaroni (1/2 of a 1 lb box)
1/2 to 1 jar spaghetti sauce
1 to 1.5 lb browned burger

*Start water for macaroni and add when at rolling boil.
*Start browning your beef. I waited until the veggies were done to save on dishes, which cost me about 7 minutes in cooking time.
*Chop onion and start to sauté over super low heat in 2T oil while you prep the other vegetables. Sauté until translucent.
*Add zucchini. Once that has sweated, add mushrooms. These don't take long...
*Drain noodles and mix with veggies, burger, and sauce.
*Sprinkle shredded cheese over a serving while hot.

Prep Time: 10 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes

*I thought about making a velveeta and milk mix and throwing it all in the oven. Next time I'll give that a whirl.

Heads up - this made enough to feed an army! I froze half of it for another time.

I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!!

I don't feel ready...

I live my job! Nothing quite beats working with kids, making a difference, and experiencing the give and take of knowledge. I seriously adore my students and what I get to do.

Except when we're not ready. And we are not ready for tomorrow night. Maybe it was the fact that camp was cut short because we didn't get drill on time. Maybe it's because we have only had five out of the last ten rehearsals because of early outs or my own sick children. Maybe it's because the band is nearly 70% underclassmen. Maybe it's because I spent too much time on drill and not enough on music. Maybe it's because of the debut of the new stadium. Whatever the case may be, we aren't ready.

It stresses me out and ages me five years or more when we have something huge and aren't prepared. But on the other hand, as my principal so brazenly pointed out, when haven't we arose to the occasion when I thought we wouldn't? Never.

Let's hope this time is no different. Let's hope my kids bring their A game tomorrow night. No matter what, I know how hard we have worked and how hard we will continue to work in the days and weeks to come. We want so desperately to be a band that the community is proud of and supports unconditionally. The pressure of that is enormous...

But I still don't feel ready... But tomorrow's a new day and maybe the sun will come up, light bulbs will go on, and it will click. We will be there because in all seriousness, ready or not, here we come!!!

Saturday, March 17, 2012


I'd just like you all to know that although it was a teensy bit of a squeeze, I have dropped 2 dress sizes! That's right... Two! Yay for me!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Unmotivated Became Overweight...

before you begin reading, i would like to take a moment to acknowledge just how difficult it can be for women to discuss their weight and to admit they are out of shape and overweight.  the first step for me was to actually admit this to myself before i could do anything about it.  now the second step for me is to share my story with my friends and family and maybe even complete strangers - because as human beings, we all have struggles and knowing we're not alone is often incredibly comforting.  that said, here's my story on being fat:

the moment I realized my weight was out of control was quite depressing...  i was trying to try on bridesmaid dress for my best friend's wedding, and the store we were at didn't carry anything smaller than a size 12.  ugh.  here she stood, a svelt 5'10" trying on size 4 wedding gowns; and there i stood a stocky 5'4" holding up dresses.  it was a wake up call for me that it was high time to do something. anything. i could no longer look in the mirror and keep convincing myself a little (ok... alotta) junk in the trunk is acceptable.

what's a girl to do when she wants to lose weight and keep it off?  the options are endless - some include pills and powders which was not something i was interested in, although one cannot argue the results are quite obvious and fast.  i wanted to lose the weight healthfully and by making lifestyle changes, even if that meant over a longer period of time.

i have loathed exercising for as long as i can remember and rabbit food isn't exactly my idea of a delicious meal. i worked out through high school due knee injuries and my deep love for track but never liked it.  i ate a pretty healthy diet until college.  umm... think cafeteria buffets, turning 21, and the bar food that accompanies those nights out...  enough said.  i managed to lose a few pounds before my wedding but it came right back.  while pregnant with minihe i had a medical condition (hyperemesis gravidarum) where i literally threw up day in and day out for months.  i lost a significant amount of weight, but even with breastfeeding for a year, was unable to keep it off.  second pregnancy and second year of breastfeeding yielded the same result.  i blamed my babies for losing my body - which i might mention was pretty stellar 10 years ago.

no more excuses.  and thus enters counting calories and exercise into my daily regime.  no more thinking that just because what i'm cooking is healthy i can eat as much as i want.  no more sugary treats.  no more pop. no more....  i joined a gym and work out 5-6 days a week, i revamped my own menu and snack on vegetables, fruits, and nuts, i drink 8-16 cups of water a day, i stand up straighter, and the results are slow but sure.  after countless hours of cardio and strength training in the last three weeks, i've dropped 10 pounds and 1 pants size and i don't know how many inches.  i lost 4-5 pounds right away but have really had to work for these last 4-5.  i leave my workout feeling invigorated.  i challenge myself to go another half a mile, or burn another 50 calories, or do another set.  my skin is healthier, my mood is dramatically improved, and my self-image is in the process of healing.

but i am not done.  i want to lose another 30 pounds and another 3-4 dress/pants sizes.  wait for the time frame.....................  BY JULY 4.  that's 20 weeks which means slightly over a pound a week.  i think i can do it.  I KNOW I CAN DO IT!!!  (but any positive thoughts you want to send my way won't hurt!)

if you are in a similar situation and want to lose weight or wish you had the willpower to make a change, no matter how small, i also want to challenge you to join with me in revolutionizing the way you approach fitness and your eating habits.  if you're not ready to make the drastic changes i made basically overnight, i challenge you to make one small change week by week.  eliminate pop.  drink more water.  trade pasta for a salad.  eat breakfast.  change to whole wheat bread.  these small changes will add up over time and in the end, can have an immense impact on your overall well-being.  i have come to the conclusion the reason my changes never stuck before is because i never did it for "me."  this time around is different.  i'm exercising for me.  i'm eating right for me.  and because i'm focused on making me a better person, i only have myself to praise (or blame) with the results i experience.  and in the end, i will continue to make these lifestyle changes permanent because i did it for the right reasons to begin with.  

what will you do?

if you have a weight-loss success story, be sure to share in the comment section below!  often what really works for someone can be adopted or adapted by others.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Lemon Garlic Chicken

crock pot meals are something i really enjoy.  the scent of food cooking in a slow cooker is so enticing and knowing i don't have to scramble at 5:30 to find something by 6:00 is relieving.  i look through cookbooks, blogs, and "real" sites, using, tweaking, and adapting the recipes i find to fit my food inventory and what my family likes.  i've inevitably had a few bad outcomes, like a cranberry dump chicken... blegh!  but a whole chicken in the crock pot has never failed me yet.  incredibly tender, the chicken falls off the bone!  and what's even better is that we can easily get 3 or 4 meals out of the bird.  

remember how i like to hide vegetables in my cooking to get the extra nutrients, fiber, antioxidants, etc. into my family?  this was an excellent way to repurpose the previous night's roasted squash as the base for a sauce for my side dish of rotini.  who doesn't like their chicken with a little noodle?  am i right?  read on for the complete recipe.  it was so good, i dug in before i took a picture of the finished product... sorry!

slow cooker lemon garlic chicken
this recipe could easily be altered for an oven - just budget a minimum of 1.5-2 hours, depending on the size of your bird.

  • 3-4 lb. whole chicken, giblets removed, rinsed, and patted dry
  • 2 C water
  • 2 t instant chicken bouillon
  • 2 T minced garlic
  • 4 T lemon juice
  • 2 t thyme - this herb compliments lemon very nicely
  • 2 t parsley
  • 2 t garlic salt
  • 1 t peper
  • as mentioned, removed giblets, rinse, and pat dry the bird
  • place into your crock pot
  • heat water briefly and add in bouillon, minced garlic, lemon juice and pour over bird
  • now add seasonings to bird; if you added them before the liquids, they would just wash off
  • set the crock pot on low for 8-10 hours, or on high for 4-5
  • i highly recommend using fresh lemons for their juice and to add the slices into the crock while cooking, but i rarely keep them on hand so bottled lemon juice is my go-to for this recipe.
rotini with creamy squash
i find i "match" my side dishes to the main dish, using as many similar tastes, like herbs and seasonings to help tie the meal together.  you could very easily make this without already having leftover squash or using another vegetable mash like potatoes or carrots.  it did make preparation a lot quicker, though.  you could make this with a roux, too; but as i mentioned early on, i like "hiding" vegetables and this is a perfect opportunity to do so.

  • 1/2 an acorn squash, roasted or steamed
  • 1/2-3/4 C milk
  • 1/2-3/4 C liquid from crock pot
  • 1 T butter
  • same seasonings as bird, but in your desired amount
  • 8 oz. noodle of your choosing - minihe picked rotini although i was thinking penne
  • boil noodles according to package directions, but just until al dente - you will finish cooking them with the addition of the sauce
  • while that is going, mash your squash
  • mix together squash, liquids, and seasonings in a large 2 cup measuring cup or small bowl
  • drain noodles
  • add sauce and cook down until reduced to your desired thickness - i think it took mine only 2 minutes
  • add butter and serve immediately

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Crayon Art

as i promised last week sometime, i have a very creative art project that takes only about an hour and half, about $10 in supplies, but adds a unique pop of color to brighten any room.  the added bonus is that it can easily be done with kids!

as i've cited before, pinterest is, shall we say, a hobby of mine.  i won't go so far as obsession, although sometimes it borders on that.  if you haven't checked out the website yet, take a few minutes to peruse this online pinboard and marvel at the magnitude of ideas you can get.

i found this activity on pinterest and just had to do it.  i won't bore you with the details and the process since i can link you to it -- the pictures and descriptions are far better than what i would give, anyway.  i will post the pictures of my own creations, though.

so you're probably wondering by now what it is....

wait for it...

melted crayon art.  sounds crazy, right?  kinda is.  but i like how you can control the colors to match your decor, involve the kids, and it only takes a few supplies and less than two hours to complete.  this would look exceptional in a kids room as well as a living space.

here's what i used:
  • 3 larger sized canvas
  • 96 count box of crayons
  • 5 hot glue rods and (1) gun
here's how i did it:
  • i soaked the crayons in some warm water to remove the paper.  you could leave it on, but i liked it better without.
  • minihe picked out the colors and we discussed colors, shades, light and dark, and had a grand old time deciding what went together.
  • i glued the crayons to the canvas
  • minishe helped me tip them upside-down and blow dry the crayons to make them melt.
  • to this day, months later, she still points to them and says "hot, hot, hot."
  • i then attached that 3M poster hanging stuff to the backside of the canvas and hung them up on the wall. 
  • all was said and done in under 2 hours
here's what i learned:
  • i tried to recreate an actual design first.  bad idea. just do the "original" way until you know how the melting colored wax will act.
  • melted wax does not remove off of surfaces as well as i thought.  i ruined a two towels and a rug with this little project.
  • be careful not to run the hot glue gun on the crayon itself.  while this may seem like a no-brainer, i didn't think of it a first and gummed up the tip of my hot glue gun.

this is what my center one is supposed to look like.
i think adding some artificial daisies might help...

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Raising Beef

living in the midwest has its perks.  we seriously have some great resources!  meat is in abundance, farmer’s markets are in nearly every town from may until october, we live in place that literally feeds the world.  living in the grain belt is way of life.
minihe and browny
d and minihe doing chores
growing up on a small farm, my life revolved around the seasons of planting, county fair, harvest, and snowmobiling.  my personal favorite was county fair.  it was this experience with 4-H that truly shaped my values as a youth and into adulthood.  furthermore, i was able to, quite successfully, explore my interest in raising and showing beef cattle.  i knew i wanted to marry someone with similar values and experiences that we could ultimately share with our own children.  i found that in d.  we began our own cattle operation a few years ago, and in doing so, began setting up our children to appreciate the hard work and rewards of the farm life.  
part of the reason we began this operation was to supplement our income.  raising our own corn, oats, hay, and straw alleviates overhead costs.  selling the cattle to customers and/or nearby market helps put a little extra cash in our pocket and make the payments on the farming equipment for said overhead costs.  it is definitely a cyclical operation; one part cannot coexist without the others.  the hay and straw operation is also an income builder.  we probably could not run a successful cattle operation without having this resources so accessible.
another reason we took on this responsibility was to keep a freezer full of food.  purchasing meat is expensive.  the quality of meat at some big box and even local grocery stores stock is questionable.  moreover, as i mentioned in my post about my “nearly home-made” cooking style, i like knowing what i’m putting in my body and the bodies of my family.  so many animals are fed unnecessary antibiotics, growth hormones, and sub-par feed.  d takes pride in the fact his animals are all-natural and fed whole-foods from fields we plant and harvest.  we take pride in the fact that we are providing our customers with a product they can feel confident they are consuming without any worries.
if you haven’t considered buying a quarter or half or even a full beef, i highly recommend it.  the cost saving benefits are numerous and are more far-reaching than your own pocketbook:
  • you pay a flat fee per pound; this may make hamburger seem expensive, but steaks are way cheap
  • you can choose the types of cuts you want, how much burger to have made, how thick to have steaks, etc.
  • it comes frozen so there is no wasting of meat that gets forgotten in the back of the fridge
  • shelf life is a few years, depending on your freezer capabilities, if you don’t eat through it first!
  • it is grown locally, fed from local feed sources, slaughtered by a local meat market - all supporting local businesses and limiting the carbon footprint made from transporting meat in from states away
raising or purchasing beef, or any meat for that matter, from a neighbor, friend, or relative is, oddly enough, a ‘green’ way to live.  in my opinion it’s healthier, more economic, and something to definitely consider the next time you’re standing in front of the spread of meats wanting a better option.

i'm all about giving credit where credit is due!  one of the pictures in this post came from this website:

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Nearly Homemade

i have come to realize that my cooking style is distinctly like that of my grandmother’s generation, where whole foods weren’t a trend, but rather the only option.  nutrition is a concern for me, of course, but my main priority is to make food with good, wholesome ingredients that my family will enjoy.  i have also come to realize that i display my love for my family by cooking.  i make special meals for valentine’s day and birthdays, generally a favorite for whoever i’m cooking for.  i have created some beautiful customized birthday cakes for my kids‘ birthdays instead of buying one from a store.  i pride myself in making home-made food items.  
i give chef sandra lee a considerable amount of credit for showing people how they can cook more health-conscious home-made meals that aren’t made of completely home-made ingredients.  i would actually consider my cooking style to be ‘nearly‘ home-made, based on what she considers ‘semi‘ home-made.  i have a few of her cookbooks and regularly consult her website.  i am excited that people are getting back in their kitchens and cooking for their family instead of grabbing a bag full of food from the closest drive-through.
the epidemic of childhood obesity deeply concerns me.  working at a school and seeing what is served daily is scary.  our cooks make nice meals, but there is absolutely zero color deviation from orange-ish yellow.  anyone that knows anything about nutrition knows that a plate that looks like a rainbow is best.  but i also recognize that carbohydrates and corn bi-products are more cost-effective for families and schools.  it is so sad that eating healthy comes at such an expense, but the cost of not eating healthy is far greater.  dare i say - food for thought the next time you (or i) pull out the good ol’ mac and cheese and hot dogs...
what difference does using whole foods make, you ask?  i think a considerable amount of difference.  i can create as delicious a marinade as any popular company out of the similar ingredients, but instead of adding preservatives and chemicals to maintain a shelf-life, mine have the same or better flavors because they are made fresh.  i can create an excellent white sauce without the additional calories of popular jarred versions.  i can add in hidden ingredients so my family gets vegetables without even knowing it.  i know that i can safely add seasonings like salt, pepper, etc. because they haven’t been previously added to the foods.  i know exactly where my meat is coming from because i know the people that raise it.  these are the things i have the freedom to do when i know what is going into our food. 
i am not so crunchy that i only buy organic, mill my own flour, and milk the cow every morning and night.  i, too, throw together quick meals where i can’t control all the elements.  and that’s ok.  remember - everything in moderation.  what i am very conscience about is what i buy, where i buy it, and how i prepare it to preserve as many nutrients as possible.  i love having a beautiful farmer’s market right in town and try to frequent this as much as possible.  i also love the system that many grocery stores have adopted to help people determine healthy choices in their aisles.  (click here to visit fellow bloggers kelsey and eric williams’ blog entry and a link to usa today's article on this very subject.)  
d does not like whole wheat bread, pasta, chips, baked goods, etc.  but thankfully, he eats them anyway.  he’s not a big vegetable fan, but he puts at least one bite on his plate to show the kids that you can still eat something even if you don’t like it.  i have found jessica seinfeld’s process of adding “hidden” vegetables to increase the nutritional value of your dishes highly effective - even d is none the wiser....  (until he reads this, of course.)  i think you have to develop strategies to introduce whole grains, more vegetables/fruits, calcium-rich dairy products, and healthy fats in a way that works best for your family.  i am not claiming to be an expert, by any means; i just know that i feel good about what i’m doing for myself and my family and want to encourage you to do the same if your mealtime choices are lacking in variety, color, and nutrients. 
knowing about proper nutrition is also critical in making good food selections for your family.  i know a considerable amount of information about nutrition, portion sizes, best preparation methods, and so on.  i also know that everything in moderation is perfectly acceptable.  a few marshmallows in a fruit salad will not harm anyone, especially if the fruit is fresh, there are no other added sweeteners, and dressed with yogurt in place of cool whip or cream cheese dip.  real butter in mashed potatoes is perfectly acceptable, especially considering there is “hidden” acorn squash and a sweet potato in the mash and margarine is only one molecule away from plastic.  i would rather use butter than a buttery spread because i know exactly what butter is made from.  anything i can’t pronounce i don’t think i should be putting inside me.  to me, that is what whole-foods cooking is all about.  
does this work for everybody?  most certainly not.  is it always cost-efficient? absolutely not.  does my family always eat their vegetables and like my cooking?  no.  but at the end of the day, i can sleep well knowing i did my part as resident chef to feed myself, my kids, and my husband the best meals i can.  sometimes i have some real flops, but sometimes i have some real wins.  i enjoy challenging myself to recreate restaurant-style dishes in a healthier way.  i relish putting together a meal that is delicious and wholesome.  i love that there is an abundance of bloggers cooking, baking, and embracing this ‘nearly’ home-made way of feeding our families.

i'm all about giving credit where credit is due!  the pictures featured in the post were taken from the following websites:

Monday, January 23, 2012

Snow Days, Not School Days

oh how i love snow days!  seriously, i love cozying up and hunkering down, cooking, cleaning, and spending time with the munchkins.  (although, i usually do a little happy dance when naptime rolls around.)  this morning was greeted with a 5:45am one call from the school district announcing the delay, to which i happily turned off my alarm.  then again around 8 i received the coveted cancellation call.  finally around 9 we all woke up and i casually made breakfast (cinnamon raisin pancakes - see recipe to follow) around 10.  don't judge.  we are generally not in a rush on snow days.  after all, where are we going? this was the gorgeous view from our table this morning.  i absolutely love, love, love it when the snow sticks to the branches.  i can't imagine a whole lot of other nature scenes that are more beautiful...  another perk - i caught shemar moore on ellen, and all i can say is YUM!!  

today's snow day gave me an opportunity to practice more positive parenting, too.  as i revealed yesterday, i struggle with parenting two under 4.  but it has become my resolve, not just because a new year has come but because it is high time, to be a better, more patient, kinder parent.  i want to encourage my children to make good choices because of my guidance, not because i yelled loud enough to get their attention.  

anyway, when the dreaded tears and back-talking started as i attempted to serve lunch, which might i add was pretty tasty, albeit incredibly simple, i actually followed through with my threat to remove the children from the table if their refusal to eat continued.  minishe exclaimed, "i'll eat! i'll eat!" when i began to pull her chair out from the table, and shoved some sausage in her mouth faster than i could blink.  when i transitioned my attention to minihe, he asked through his tears, "how many bites do i need to take?".  i sat down in satisfaction knowing that i had just won myself a small battle in the war against my children's most annoying habits - the mealtime breakdown.

as for our unexpected breakfast at home today, the kids literally screamed "pancakes" and trampled each other in a fast scramble to help me assemble them in the kitchen.  as i've mentioned in a previous post, pancakes are literally my children's favorite food.  not only do they gobble them up, but they love to help with the prep work.  minihe loves to crack the egg, scoop out flour, stir everything around... minishe is just content to have her own [empty] bowl and spoon and pretend to get in on the action.  

the inspiration for this morning's cinnamon raisin pancakes comes from the absolutely delectable cinnamon raisin biscuit/muffin my daycare provider made last week.  i have been craving one since.  j is an expert at, well, everything!  i am truly blessed to have such a wonderful childcare provider, and i would also call her my friend.  those of you reading this with children in daycare centers or in-home providers know just how valuable it is to find someone you can trust to have your children's best interest as their number one priority day in and day out.  after all, their work is to fundamentally raise our children while we work.

at any rate, here's this morning's pancake recipe.  why i didn't think of adding these ingredients together sooner is beyond me!!

cinnamon raisin pancakes:
look at how fluffy they are fluffing up!
ingredients: enough to make 12 pancakes
  • 1/2 C raisins
  • 1 C bisquick mix
  • 1/2 C milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 t cinnamon
  • 1 T sugar
  • 1 t baking powder (can be omitted but this simple ingredient makes the pancakes really fluff)
  • dash nutmeg
  • before you start your batter, soak the raisins in warm water to plump them up a little
  • add remaining ingredients to a bowl and stir to mix
  • drain off water from raisins and fold into batter
  • heat a titch of oil on a griddle 
  • spoon batter onto griddle and flip when bubbles pop and don't fill in
  • i served with syrup but i bet a cream cheese drizzle would be excellent (see below)
yes.  i use paper plates and plastic utensils. i abhor washing dishes.
cream cheese drizzle:
  • 2 oz cream cheese
  • 1/2 C powdered sugar
  • 1-2 T butter
  • milk to thin
  • warm cream cheese, butter, and milk in microwave
  • mix, adding more sugar, milk, or cream cheese to desired taste and consistency

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Night Meals

typically speaking, my most elaborate meals are on sunday nights.  i have completed my weekend tasks (hopefully) and love to bring my weekend to a close with a very nice meal.  growing up, sunday noon was always the meal my grandma took the most time and care preparing.  to this day, i still love a deliciously cooked pot roast with root vegetables and brown gravy.  i think it is with this memory that i strive to do my best for my family on sunday evenings, keeping this tradition alive and instilling family meal time in my own children’s hearts.  this week was no exception.
here is my rendition of pork steaks, mashed potatoes, roasted acorn squash, and fruit fluff.  i hope you enjoy it as much as we did!  everybody was a member of the clean plate club tonight!

mashed potatoes ingredients:
  • 5-6 small yukon gold potatoes
  • 5-6 small red potatoes
  • 1/2 C cubed acorn squash with skin removed
  • salt, pepper, and parsley to season
  • 2 oz. whatever-fat-content-you-want cream cheese
  • 1/3 C sour cream
  • 2 T butter

  • after boiling potatoes and squash until tender, drain off water and add remaining ingredients and seasonings.  
  • mash or mix with a hand mixer

roasted acorn squash:
  • 1 acorn squash
  • 1 1/2 C water
  • 1/4 C canola oil
  • nutmeg, cinnamon, all-spice, ground cloves to suit your taste
  • 2 T brown sugar

  • cut squash in half and scoop out seeds and stringy stuff
  • cut into strips and cut strips in half
  • remove skin from a few strips and cube for use in mashed potatoes
  • place in a baking dish; add other ingredients and toss to mix
  • cover with tin foil and bake at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes; i removed tin foil in last 5-10 to encourage the liquid to evaporate and condense flavors
i had never eaten squash with the skin on it but it was just fine.  the steaming/roasting left the skin very tender and not chewy or rubbery like i expected.  i did melt a few small pats of butter over the squash after i removed it from the oven and it was really yummy!
pork steaks ingredients:
  • 4 pork steaks
  • 1 T oil
  • s&p

  • heat oil until smoking on a griddle or frying pan; this could also be done on the grill or broiling pan very successfully
  • lay seasoned side down and season the side up with s&p
  • flip
  • continue frying until internal temperature reaches at least 165* degrees - pork must be cooked at a slightly higher temperature than beef to kill any bacteria; i typically am not too concerned with this but as this meat was not our own, i took extra precautions. 
  • total cooking time was right around 15 minutes
  • *Since originally writing this, the USDA relaxed on their guidelines and the new recommendation for pork is 145 degrees Fahrenheit for internal cooking temperature.

i saw these greek seasoned pork steaks at the grocery store for a very reasonable price (approximately $2 for 2 steaks).  although i'm not a pork fan i picked them up and thought i'd give it a whirl.  it was interesting to eat supermarket meat after only consuming home-raised; something i don't especially care to do again, but these were ok considering what my taste buds are programmed to like.

fruit fluff ingredients:
  • fruit on hand - i had apples, bananas, and a can of tropical fruit mix
  • 1/2 mini marshmallows
  • 1 t lemon juice (this is an excellent way to protect against browning of apples and bananas before you serve them)
  • 1/2 vanilla yogurt (a great way to get some additional protein and calcium into our tummies)
  • 2 T cool whip (i find this helps give it a fluffier texture)

  • mix ingredients together in a bowl and place back in the fridge to remain chilled until served

my grandma also used to add a little miracle whip, probably something like 1-2 T to her fruit salads in addition to the yogurt or cool whip.  that extra tang was different and i always liked it.  d, however, does not think miracle whip belongs in a fruit salad, so i don’t include this ingredient anymore.  sounds a little gross, but seriously give it a try sometime!

Quick Weeknight Meals

i adore meals i can get on the table in under 30 minutes.  in fact, this is primarily the type of meals i make.  this week was a whirlwind and at the end of the month, and i was scraping together what was left in the fridge and pantry.  despite this, i had some winners!  the recipes that follow are eggs benedict, bake deli sandwiches, and sausage and biscuits.

eggs benedict: on the table in under 15 minutes, this quick fix was yummy!

  • eggs - as many as you need to serve your family; we used 6
  • bread slices for toasting
mock hollandaise sauce--
  • 1/2 C miracle whip or mayo
  • 1/4 C sour cream
  • 1 T mustard
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • dill and thyme to your taste
  • milk to thin
  • boil a pot full of water; salt boiling water
  • crack an egg into a measuring cup and very carefully pour into boiling water
  • boil 2-3 eggs but make sure egg has enough room to "breathe"
  • once egg floats freely, remove from boiling water with a slotted spoon
  • meanwhile, add miracle whip/mayo, sour cream, mustard, lemon juice, dill and thyme to another small pot, heating through; add milk to thin to your desired consistency
  • toast and butter bread
  • serve egg on top of toast, slather a little mock hollandaise sauce and enjoy!

baked deli sandwiches: a very quick, but delicious take on the typical deli meat and cheese sandwich.  i love reading other people's blogs and this recipe is my adaptation from karly's buns in my oven baking blog.

  • buns 
  • 4 slices of deli meat per bun (i used a combination of 2 slices turkey and 2 slices roast beef)
  • cheese slices (i folded the slice into 1/4's and placed two of the small squares on top of each meat pile
  • 1/2 C melted butter
  • 1 t ground mustard
  • 1 t poppy seeds
  • 2 t onion flakes or 1 t onion powder
  • 2 T worcestershire sauce
  • slice buns open and place bottoms in a pan that accommodates your number of sandwiches
  • layer meat, followed by cheese
  • place bun top on sandwich
  • mix melted butter, mustard, poppy seeds, onion flakes/powder, sauce and pour over buns.
  • cover with tin foil and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

sausage and biscuits: my uncle gordy from omaha makes exceptional sausage and biscuits at our thanksgiving get-togethers.  no matter how much i try to reconstruct this recipe, it is never quite as good as his.  this recipe came as close as i have gotten yet, though!

sausage and gravy ingredients:
  • 1/2 lb bulk pork sausage
  • 1/2 lb italian pork sausage
  • 1 t lawry's seasoning salt
  • 1/2 t garlic salt
  • 1/2 t pepper
  • shake of red pepper flakes
  • 2 T corn starch
  • 1 1/2- 2 C milk
  • cook sausage with seasonings, draining any ridiculous amount of grease off. (i left a little grease so i wouldn't have to add butter to create the roux)
  • when thoroughly cooked, add corn starch, stirring into meat
  • after 30-60 seconds, add cold milk, heating on medium low until the gravy reaches your desired consistency.
biscuit ingredients:
  • 2 1/4 C bisquick mix or any bisquit mix of your choice
  • 2/3 C milk
  • 1/2 C shredded cheese
  • 1/2 t minced garlic
  • 2 T butter
  • mix all ingredients together in a bowl
  • drop by spoonful onto a baking sheet
  • bake for 9-12 minutes in a 400 degree oven
serving suggestions:
gordy serves his sausage biscuits and gravy with hard-boiled eggs, green peppers, and onions.  adds another dimension of flavor!

Parenting Toddlers.... Simultaneously.

i love you not...
i love you...
facebook is a definite vice of mine and i certainly enjoy reading about people's lives.  i feel empowered to share something today after reading 80-some responses about quirkiness and the weird things we do.  strangely, people weren't judging each other!  i hope in reading this, you won't judge me after you read this entry.  i think we all have our struggles in love, marriage, raising kids, work...  i am no different but just have a platform to vocalize these struggles.  parenting toddlers simultaneously is serious work and something I seriously struggle with.  this post is not about how we magically solved our problems; but rather admitting we don't have the answers, our parenting style is a work in progress, and reflecting on what we can do better.  hopefully my admission about my shortcomings as a mother helps me reflect on what i do well and, more specifically, what i can do better.  if it helps you through your parenting struggles, too, well, that's an added bonus.
it should go without saying that i absolutely adore my children!  they are funny, smart, inquisitive, and pretty stinkin' cute.  i love being their mom.  but they are also crabby, whiny, needy, and demanding.  the later four characteristics are, unfortunately, what i normally see.  and sadly, this takes the enjoyment out of parenting for me.  while they are finally starting to play together, in the blink of an eye, they turn on each other and on me.  what's even more perplexing is that they can turn on and off this behavior for d, and the in-laws.  i think they have a fearful respect of their father and gpa, and that mil's elementary education background gives her skills that i don't use in my upper elementary/secondary teaching.  i am always amazed by how d's mom is so good with the kids, especially minihe.  there have been very few times i can recall her giving him a timeout.  pretty sure he's never gotten a spanking at their house, either.  i have always heard d's family comment on how well-behaved d and his sister were as kids.  d's mom was also a sahm (stay-at-home-mom) for their early childhood years, which is yet another reason i think she's so good with my kids - she developed strategies as a parent 27 years ago that serve her incredibly well as an elementary teacher and grandmother today.
identifying the fact i struggle with parenting takes a lot for me.  i generally only do things i'm good at, but i obviously can't discontinue parenting because it's hard -- and it's only going to get harder.  i want so desperately to have polite, quiet, well-behaved children that use their manners without being prompted, that follow directions the first time, and that are cooperative 100% of the time.  but who am i kidding?  everybody ideally wants their children to be that way.  i have great admiration for parents that have done an excellent job of raising their children, many of whom are my relatives.  perhaps that's what makes me aspire even more to be a better parent and raise better children: because i know it can be done.
their kids don't just become this way overnight.  they have established clear guidelines, expectations, consequences, and rewards.  this is not a revelation for me or probably for you, either.  the purpose these observations serve for me is to reflect on what i can do differently and how i can adapt my parenting to achieve that level of success with my own children.  from what i have seen, they remain calm, speak with care and respect, and probably most important of all - follow through.  i know what i need to do, i just don't know how to do it and make the change last when it gets hard.
i am impatient.  i raise my voice way too much.  i am not always "present" with them.  these, among others, are my major shortfalls when it comes to my parenting.  i have tried positive reinforcement; i have tried redirecting; i have tried speaking calmly; i have tried countless other strategies to manage minihe's rollercoaster-like behavior and minishe's drama-filled tantrums.  all i have found is that he'll do well for a few days and then he reverts back to old behaviors, and that she is spoiled and isn't satisfied until she gets her way.  i am somewhat of a pushover and have probably enabled these behaviors just to keep the house peaceful.  i wouldn't go so far as to say that we can't control our kids, but their behaviors are so upsetting to us that we don't take them to places where sitting still for longer than 5 minutes is required.  the different ways we parent and the results they yield has created some disagreements in our marriage.  perhaps this is partially because after we agree on a strategy we want to be effective, we both revert back to our own ineffective behaviors that contribute to this situation.  one more admission - i do this more frequently than d does...  
i will have to say that despite our different parenting philosophies, we back each other up and support the decisions we make when another parent is not present.  presenting a united front, regardless if we agree with it or not, is the most important parenting philosophy we share.  i don't want to discipline my children with fear.  i want to discipline them with love, respect, and authority.  i do not have answers for how to actually achieve this.  all i know for sure is that i will keep trying to be a better parent, and the first step for me is confessing how much i struggle in these efforts and recognizing that there are better ways to achieve a happy household.
maybe you have your own struggles.  maybe you have some effective strategies that work for you.  either way, embracing these struggles and how we overcome them is one of the greatest joys of parenting - knowing that we're not alone in our endeavor to raise a generation of kids that are caring, respectful, thoughtful, and considerate.

what have you done well in your parenting?  what do you wish you could do better at?  sound off in the comment area below this post!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Broccoli Cheese Soup with Potatoes - Slow Cooker

with a basketball game this last week that i had the joy of taking minihe along to, i planned ahead with a crock pot waiting for us with this winter favorite.  a special thank to my fil (father in-law) for actually getting out the crock pot and starting it up for me since i forgot!!  :)

i looked at probably ten different recipes for this kind of soup and found everything on the spectrum - things that were incredibly rich and incredibly bland; different ways to increase the thickness and creaminess.  i finally decided on the following hybrid.  i did all of the prep monday night while waiting for my shrimp to cure in their marinade so all i had to do in the morning was turn the crock on.

broccoli cheese soup with potatoes - slow cooker:
prep time - 30 minutes
cook time - 8-10 hours (on low) 4-5 (on high)
3 heads broccoli, trimmed and chopped into small chunks
4 carrots, peeled and cut on the angle 
*the angle cut is probably not necessary but i think it looks nice when i eat soups that way in a restaurant, so when in rome, right?
1 medium onion, finely diced
10 small potatoes, peeled and quartered
*i happened to have both red and yukon, so i used 5 of both and, as you can see, they are fairly small
*you could also use other vegetables like celery, corn, peppers...
*i bet bacon would be good in this, just make sure to fry it first and crumble it in, reserving a few pieces to crumble fresh when you serve the soup
1 C velveeta cheese, cut into 1" chunks
1 1/2 C milk
2 C chicken or vegetable broth
*i didn't want to use sour cream, cream cheese, creamed soup, more velveeta, or more milk to save on some extra calories, fat, and so on, but i did need some more liquid...  see preparation for how i plan to make the soup creamy without the use of these ingredients
2 T butter
other choice of herbs/seasonings you enjoy

throw everything in the crock pot
cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5
when done, remove approximately half of the soup and let cool slightly
place in small batches in the blender, and run until smooth
add back to the crock
serve and enjoy!

let me know if you have any recipes similar or what you do with a soup like this.  i think had i had more time, this would have been delicious with some seasoned croutons or oyster crackers...  i'll be trying that next time!