Monday, December 29, 2014

All-In Challenge

After Lauryn was born, I knew I wanted to focus on getting the best nutrition possible while reclaiming my pre-pregnancy self, not to mention having enough energy to keep up with 3 big kids plus a newborn! Thankfully, I had AdvoCare to help me meet those challenges. I focused on clean eating while doing a modified version of AdvoCare's 24-Day Challenge. After 24 days, I was amazed to see I had lost 5 pounds and 14 inches! I was completely out of maternity clothes, and best of all, I felt great!

Because this time of year is when many people start making new goals or recommitting to old ones to focus on eating well or losing weight, AdvoCare is offering special pricing on their 24-Day Challenge through Noon on December 31st!

For Distributors who place a challenge order, you receive:

* Free Expedited Shipping

* A free limited edition blender bottle and wrist band

* Free shipping on your next order of $250 or more in January 2015

If you're not a distributor, you can still join in the challenge by contacting me for your order to receive the same benefits! I'd love to help you reach your goals for a healthier lifestyle and more energy.

Give me a call, email me, or take a look at my AdvoCare website to learn more.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Buttermilk Bread

I have been making homemade bread for years, and watched my mom make it for years before that, but I learned something new about the whole process recently. Apparently, adding just a pinch of ginger to the yeast mixture when starting your bread makes the yeast go crazy! I have never seen yeast bloom like it did when I used ginger in with the sugar/yeast/water mixture. I highly recommend giving this recipe a try because the bread and rolls I made were tender, fluffy, soft ... perfect!

Buttermilk Bread

I used half the dough to make rolls and half to make a loaf:

Naturally I tried to find out why the ginger affected the yeast the way it did, and this website had a pretty good explanation. (At the link, scroll down to the final answer to the question.) In a nutshell, ginger keeps the pH at the optimum level for yeast growth.

Friday, December 12, 2014

A Hamburger Today

I don't even remember when I started making hamburger patties using this method, but I've done it for years. I love it because my hands stay relatively clean. That means not only do I have easy clean-up, but that I can also do other things in between forming patties. I'm a big multi-tasker - I think most cooks are! It's a necessity in the kitchen. My oldest daughter took process shots so you can see what I'm talking about:

Use a good-sized piece of plastic wrap to protect your hand.

Scoop up a portion of your ground beef.

Twist the plastic wrap up loosely to form the meat into a ball.

Press the meat down firmly into a patty.

Unwrap and ...

... fold the plastic wrap over and press to shape the patty.

Then turn your hand over to drop the patty ...

... onto your waiting plate!
If you're making a big batch of patties and need a double layer on your plate, simply lay your used plastic wrap over the first layer of patties. Then get a fresh square to make the second layer of patties.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

By Special Request

I have to say, we have the best mechanic! We've had a few issues with our van over the last year and our service place always goes above and beyond to make sure that we get back on the road quickly and affordably. Because of that, I've made cookies a few times to share with them as a Thank You. The latest batch I whipped up included a special request for Lemon Coolers, which is coincidentally one of my childhood favorites! You can't really buy them anymore since Sunshine Biscuits merged with Keebler. The recipe I used made a nice imitation, and were really fantastic in their own right. I also included a batch of my Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Bars.

Lemon Meltaways

Chocolate Cream Cheese Bars, Chocolate Chip Cookies, and Lemon Meltaways

Also this week, Jeff received a request from someone at work for Cookie Dough Brownies. I made them several months ago and his friend remembered how good they were! I follow the recipe more or less as written, but I use mini chocolate chips and omit the walnuts. I put half of the chips in the cookie dough batter and melt the other half to drizzle on top. I don't like having a solid layer of chocolate on the top - it makes them hard to bite into.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Five Dollar Meals

As I was scrolling through my news feed the other day, a Wal-Mart ad caught my eye (Thanks, Facebook!). It was a picture of a box of Kraft macaroni and cheese and a big jug of storebought, prepared Kool-Aid. The picture was captioned, identifying the combination as a "weeknight family meal". Now call me Judgy McJudgerton, but THAT is not a weeknight family meal! At best, it's a "there's nothing left in the pantry or refrigerator and payday isn't until tomorrow" kind of meal. Or even a "Mom is incapacitated and Dad's fixing dinner tonight" kind of meal. (See, now I'm judgmental AND sexist!)

All I'm saying is, it's easy to whip up a healthy, filling meal under normal circumstances without resorting to such extreme measures. I mean, at least serve a side of apple sauce or a handful of grapes with that meal! I'd be happy to show you just a couple of options for roughly the same price.

Let's just say I'm fixing lunch for my four little darlings. Here's what Wal-Mart's meal looks like:

Macaroni and cheese: $1.00 per box X 2 boxes = $2.00
Kool-Aid (purchased prepared): $3.00
Total Meal: $5.00
(Of course, this doesn't include the butter and milk needed to prepare the pasta. They'd be negligible.)

Here is a different option:

Black beans: $0.60 per can X 2 = $1.20
Tortillas: (1/2 package) $0.60
Spinach: (1/2 package) $0.40
Cheddar cheese: (8 oz) $1.90
Pineapple chunks: $0.90
Total Meal: $5.00

With these ingredients, plus some salsa and other seasonings you probably already have in your fridge, you can make Black Bean Soup, spinach and cheese quesadillas, and a side of pineapple!

Guess which meal is healthier? Now, I'm sure some of you may be saying that your kids wouldn't eat that, but I have at least two that don't like boxed mac and cheese! That's fair enough, though. I make homemade "Spaghettios" for my kids (and me!) all the time, and that's comparable to good old cheesy mac. Check this out:

Pasta: (2 cups) $0.50
Tomato sauce: $1.00
Tomato paste: (negligible, but let's say) $0.10
Cheddar cheese: (4 oz) $0.95
Gala apples: (3 small) $0.63
Greek yogurt, vanilla: (1/2 large container) $1.95
Total Meal: $5.13

That's a BIG pot of flavorful pasta, plus a side of apple slices with Greek yogurt for dipping (I add a sprinkling of cinnamon, too!) And neither of these two meals takes much more time than cooking up that blue box.

It's all about perspective and priorities. Sure, there's a time and place when all you feel like is that blue box and Kool-Aid, if that's how you roll. My objection is to the suggestion that those two items are a legitimate complete meal.

Let's come up with a better "weeknight family meal" advertisement, Wal-Mart!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Red Pepper Hummus

I improvised this hummus recipe the other day when I realized I was out of spinach for my favorite Spinach & Feta Hummus. I was craving a relatively healthy snack that could pretty much double up for my lunch and this Red Pepper Hummus satisfied my craving perfectly. I used pita crackers from Aldi as my dipper, and also had a hard-boiled egg and half of a honeycrisp apple. It kept me full all afternoon!

Red Pepper Hummus

1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 1 tablespoon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 can garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
salt and pepper, to taste
1 teaspoon cumin
1-1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup feta cheese (optional)

In a small skillet over medium heat, saute the red pepper and garlic in 1 tablespoon olive oil until tender. Sprinkle in the red pepper flakes and cook for a minute longer. Remove from heat.

Meanwhile, in a food processor combine the chickpeas, salt and pepper, cumin, and lemon juice. When the peppers and garlic are ready, add them to the food processor and blend. Drizzle in about 1/4 cup olive oil and blend well. Add in the feta if using and blend. At this point you'll want to check your seasoning and adjust if necessary, adding a touch more oil or lemon juice to get the hummus to your desired consistency.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Bars

If I had to name my favorite dessert, I'd say cheesecake and soft, warm chocolate chip cookies would be tied for first place. These decadent bars have the best of both worlds!

Chocolate Chip Cream Cheese Bars

2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 package (12 ounces) chocolate chips

1 package (8 ounces) cream cheese
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg

Preheat oven to 375°. Combine dry ingredients in a bowl and set aside. In a mixing bowl, combine sugars, butter and vanilla. Beat until creamy. Add eggs and mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix again. Stir in chocolate chips.

Line an 8-inch square baking pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. Press about half (a little less) of the cookie dough into the bottom of the pan, all the way to the edges. Transfer remaining cookie dough to your (now empty) dry ingredients bowl. Wash out your mixing bowl.

In your (now clean) mixing bowl, combine the cream cheese, sugar, vanilla and egg. Mix until smooth and well blended. Pour over the top of the pan of cookie dough. Dollop 9 teaspoonfuls of reserved cookie dough over the cream cheese layer. Bake at 375° for 22-25 minutes until it's very lightly browned.

Cool completely, remove from pan using foil to lift it out, and cut into squares. Yield: 2 dozen bars

Now, the awesome part of this is that you have some cookie dough left over! You can do one of a few things with it:

1) Bake cookies right away! 8-10 minutes at 375°. This should make about 2 dozen cookies.

2) Portion the dough out onto wax paper covered cookie sheets, freeze it, then transfer it to a freezer bag. Whenever you want a few fresh cookies, just pull some out and bake as usual.

3) Make a bigger batch of the bars to begin with and eliminate the leftovers! Just follow the recipe and make these changes: double the cream cheese layer, use a 9x13 pan, and add 7-10 minutes to the cooking time. (You'll use just over half the dough for the bottom cookie layer, of course.)

Friday, November 7, 2014

Oatmeal Crumble Apple Pie

We've been eating lots of apple desserts around here lately! Recently, one of Jeff's co-workers offered him a big bag of Granny Smiths and of course he accepted, knowing I could use them to create said desserts. One thing I've made is a fantastic Food Network recipe called Apple-Butterscotch Blondies. I am telling you, these things are moist and packed full of flavor! I love that they have a butterscotch twist instead of the standard cinnamon. Now that I've said that, I'm here today to offer you an apple recipe featuring the standard cinnamon!

Oatmeal Crumble Apple Pie

4 large Granny Smith apples, thinly sliced (no need to peel!)
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup white granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
dash of salt

pastry for single-crust pie (If you don't want to make your own, store-bought is fine.)

1 cup old-fashioned oats
1/4 cup shredded coconut
1/4 cup self-rising flour
dash of salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
(I also add in 1/4 cup of mixed flax seed and wheat germ, totally optional!)
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 tablespoons butter, softened

Preheat the oven to 375. In a large bowl, combine the first seven ingredients. Pour the filling into your pie crust. For the crumble, just combine all the ingredients for it in the same bowl you mixed your filling. Use your hands to mix the butter in until the ingredients are completely moistened. Sprinkle the topping over the apples, pressing down slightly. Bake at 375 for 40-45 minutes, until topping is browned and apples are tender. If you like your apples very soft, you may want to lightly cover the top with foil halfway through baking and bake it longer. I prefer the apples to have a little bite to them.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Multigrain Yeast Rolls

Have I mentioned before how much my family adores bread? It's crazy. I have long since stopped fighting it, and if anyone develops this trendy gluten-intolerance thing we are in serious trouble! At any rate, I figure if they're going to be eating so much bread it might as well be fairly good for them. A while back I purchased a 7-Grain Hot Cereal Blend from Bob's Red Mill for a multigrain bread recipe, which we all really enjoyed. Recently I came across a different yeast roll recipe and I immediately thought of making them multigrain with this cereal. They were soft, tender, and absolutely delicious!

Multigrain Yeast Rolls

2-1/3 cups water, divided
1/2 cup quick-cooking oats
1/2 cup 7-grain cereal
2/3 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons butter, softened
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast (4-1/2 teaspoons)
2 cups whole wheat flour
3-4 cups all-purpose flour

In a mixing bowl, combine the oats and cereal. Pour two cups boiling water over and stir. Let sit for 2 minutes, then stir in the sugar, butter, salt and remaining water. Let cool to 110° - 115°. Add in yeast, wheat flour and 1 cup all-purpose flour. Blend well. Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and no longer sticky. Place in a greased bowl, turn once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place for one hour or until doubled. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and divide into 24 rolls. Place in greased pans. For crusty rolls, use baking sheets and allow space between the rolls. For softer rolls (my personal favorite), snuggle them into round cake pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake at 375° for 15 minutes on baking sheets or 20-22 minutes in cake pans. Yield: 2 dozen

Monday, November 3, 2014

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

I have no idea what happened to fall, but this happens every year it seems! We go from summer to winter with only a few days of autumn - which may or may not be consecutive! At any rate, Friday was hot. I mean, we all wore short sleeves, for Pete's sake. Saturday, not so much. The kids were outside playing in hats, gloves, and coats! The good news is, it was the perfect day for a bowl of hot soup and some hearty rolls for dinner. Today I'm sharing the soup recipe, which I made up as I went along and is really easy and flavorful! The seasoning blend I used is one my dear friend sent to me from a local spice shop. This was my first time using it and I think it's safe to say this one's a keeper!

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

2 chicken breasts, diced
2 teaspoons of your favorite seasoning blend (i.e. Mrs. Dash or lemon-pepper)
1 tablespoon canola oil
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup finely diced onion
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup finely diced carrots
1/2 cup finely diced celery
2 cups finely diced spinach
3 tablespoons flour
1 carton (32 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken stock
1-1/2 cups elbow macaroni (or pasta of your choice)
1/4 cup heavy cream

 In a stew pot, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Saute the chicken in the seasoning until just cooked through, about 5-6 minutes, depending on how small you diced them. Remove from pot and set aside.  Saute all the veggies together in the butter, seasoning with a little salt and pepper. When the onion begins to look translucent, sprinkle in the flour, stir and cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in chicken stock and add the cooked chicken back to the pot. Bring to a boil, then stir in the pasta. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 8-10 minutes until your pasta is al dente. Reduce heat to low; stir in the cream. Check your seasoning, then serve! Yield: 6-8 servings

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Fruit and Cereal Bars

My kiddos (and their parents, honestly) love snacks. Yet, I am somehow always surprised at how quickly they go through the snacks I buy when we go grocery shopping! It shouldn't come as a shock, since with most boxes containing 6-8 snacks even if they only ate one per day that's only two days' worth. I try to compensate by buying a variety of options and making homemade treats to enjoy as well. Typically, my kids have fresh and canned fruit, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, string cheese, granola bars, cereal bars, raisins, and various other options from which to choose. They ask, on average, seventeen times a day if they can have a snack, though they're limited to two in-between meals treats, usually at 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m.

The recipe I'm sharing with you today is one I've made many times, and it's one of our absolute favorite treats. I'm not sure how much cheaper it is than store-bought, but these cereal bars are definitely better for them and much tastier! I adapted my version from this recipe for Homemade Cereal Bar Cookies.

Fruit and Cereal Bars

1 cup cold butter, cut into pieces
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup flaxseed*
1/4 cup wheat germ*
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup jam or jelly or preserves or apple butter

Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a 9x13 pan with foil and spray with cooking spray. In a food processor, combine the dry ingredients and blend until well combined. Toss in 1/2 of the butter and pulse until coarse crumbs begin to form. Add in the rest of the butter and the vanilla and pulse until well combined. Pour half of the mixture into the prepared pan and press down firmly and evenly, all the way to the edges. Gently spread the jam over the top, leaving a border of about an inch all around. Carefully sprinkle the remaining cereal mixture over the jam, making sure to cover it well. Press down firmly but gently all the way to the edges. Bake at 350° for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and the edge is slightly darker. (They will firm up some as they cool.) Allow to cool in the pan for at least an hour. When cool to the touch, transfer the bars (using the foil to lift them) to a cutting board. Cut into 16 bars and store in an air-tight container in the fridge. They can also be frozen - just thaw them slowly in the fridge overnight.

* You can leave these two things out and simply increase the oats by 1/2 cup.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Italian Heritage Casserole

I can't believe I haven't shared this recipe with y'all, since it's been a long-time family favorite. When I was a kid, my mom often made "think-outside-the-box" Christmas dinners, like steak and shrimp or lasagna. This casserole was one everyone enjoyed. The flavor and aroma can't be beat! We like to serve it over rice so we don't miss a tablespoon of the fantastic broth! My slow cooker is filled with Italian Heritage Casserole right now and my house smells wonderful.

Italian Heritage Casserole

1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs
1 pound Polska Kielbasa sausage cut into 3-inch lengths
6 red potatoes, quartered
1 green pepper, sliced
1 red pepper, sliced
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon paprika
2 teaspoons Italian seasoning
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chicken broth

Place about 1/2 of the peppers, onion and garlic in a slow cooker.
Top with chicken. Sprinkle with about 1/2 of the seasonings. Add the
rest of the veggies, including potatoes, and sprinkle with the
remaining seasoning. Top with the kielbasa. Drizzle all with the
olive oil and pour in the broth. Cook on low for approximately 8
hours. Yield: serves 6

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Black Bean Soup

This is a really simple soup that only takes about 15 minutes from start to finish! It makes 2 servings, which is nice because I make it once and have lunch for two days. It helps that it is a quick, healthy alternative to eating a boring sandwich. To go with it today, I made a quesadilla filled with spinach, cilantro, black pepper and cheese.

Black Bean Soup

1/4 cup chopped onion
1 clove garlic, minced
dash of crushed red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1 cup spinach
1 can black beans
3 tablespoons salsa
2 tablespoons cilantro
additional chopped cilantro, optional
lime juice, optional

In a small saucepan, saute the onion, garlic, pepper flakes and spinach in the olive oil until the onion is tender and fragrant. Transfer that to a blender with 1/2 the can of black beans, the cilantro and the salsa. Blend until smooth. Pour back into the saucepan along with the rest of the beans. Heat through, about 5 minutes. Before serving, top with additional chopped cilantro and a splash of lime juice.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Blueberry-Orange Quick Bread

A while back, I found a recipe for Buttermilk Quick Bread that can be adapted to lots of different flavors, sweet or savory. I've enjoyed playing around with it with different combinations. A few days ago I wanted a sweet treat to serve with evening coffee. The kids were in bed early (mama was done!) and Jeff was leaving to go out of town the next day. I immediately thought of two things recently added to my freezer: pecans from my in-laws' trees, and blueberries from their neighbor's bushes. Jeff declared the bread "awesome" and I ended up making it again for Saturday morning breakfast!

Blueberry-Orange Quick Bread

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup fresh or frozen (do not thaw) blueberries
3/4 cup buttermilk (approximate)
1 orange, zest and juice
1 egg
1/4 cup butter, melted

Preheat oven to 350°. In a mixing bowl, combine the dry ingredients, including the pecans. To the cup of blueberries, add a spoonful of the flour mixture and shake to coat. (This keeps them "floating" in the batter instead of sinking to the bottom.) Set aside. In a measuring cup, zest and juice half of the orange. Add enough buttermilk to make one cup of liquid. Whisk in the egg and butter. Fold the wet ingredients into the dry, then add in the blueberries. Do not over-stir - you want the ingredients to *just* come together. Pour the batter into a greased 9x5 loaf pan. Bake for 45-55 minutes. Use a toothpick to test it. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then top with the glaze.

Orange Glaze

In a small bowl, combine the other half of the orange zest and juice with a dash of vanilla extract. Stir in about 1 to 1-1/2 cups of powdered sugar. How much will depend on the amount of juice you were able to get from the orange. This is really forgiving! You want a pourable consistency that coats the bread, so if it's too thin add in more sugar. Too thick and you can splash in some milk.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Tasty Little Bites

It's a well-known fact that given the choice between a salty snack or a sweet one I'd choose salty every time. There are times, though, that I enjoy a sweet treat. A few days ago I put together these simple but tasty little bites. They were just what I was craving!

In a zip-top bag, I melted some semi-sweet chocolate using the microwave - 30 seconds at a time, mushing the chocolate around in between each time. Then I snipped the corner off of the bag and piped little circles of melted chocolate onto waxed paper.

Next was the fun part! Before the chocolate set, I sprinkled it with deliciousness. I made several different combinations using whatever little treats I had in the pantry - orange zest, pistachios, almonds, coconut, cinnamon, raisins, flax seeds, dried cranberries, etc.

If I were a patient person I suppose I could have just left them on the counter to set, but I'm not and I didn't. I popped them into the freezer for 10 minutes and then transferred them to a plastic container - after I taste-tested them, of course. These can be stored in the fridge, freezer, or even out on the counter.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Veggie-Turkey Burgers

I love a good, beefy bacon cheeseburger as much as the next red-blooded American. However, my children have genetically high cholesterol so I try to incorporate more lean meats into our diet. These turkey burgers, even though they are made with very lean turkey breast, are quite juicy and flavorful. We all cleaned our plates when I made these last night. As a side, what's a burger without potatoes? Roasted Rosemary Potatoes are a perfect complement.

Veggie-Turkey Burgers

1 pound ground turkey breast
1/2 cup shredded carrot
1/2 cup shredded zucchini (about 1/2 a small, unpeeled squash)
1/4 cup shredded onion
2 ounces reduced-fat cream cheese
1 egg
salt and pepper
olive oil
hamburger buns

Drizzle a little olive oil (about a tablespoon) into a large skillet or grill pan. Heat the pan to just over medium heat. Combine the turkey, veggies, cheese, egg, salt and pepper. Form the turkey mixture into 6 patties. Cook for 5 minutes on each side. Serve on buns with your favorite toppings.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

This recipe is based on one I received from my mother-in-law when Handsome and I got married - they're his favorite cookie!

Cinnamon Oatmeal Cookies

3/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 egg
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 package (10 ounces) cinnamon chips
1 cup chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°. Beat together the shortening and sugars until creamy.  Add in the egg, water, and vanilla and beat until incorporated well. In a separate bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Gradually add to the wet ingredients and mix well. Stir in the cinnamon chips and pecans. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto greased baking sheets. Bake for 10-12 minutes. Remove to wire cooling racks.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Baby Food!

I have to confess, one of my first thoughts on learning we were expecting baby number four was, "I get to make baby food again!"  (That was after the slightly panicky, "But where are we going to PUT it?!") Now, the time has come! Our little one is six months old and after a steady diet of breast milk she's ready to sink her gums into some veggies! I'd like to start by saying I'm just sharing how I prepare like to prepare food for my babies. Everyone does things differently and that's cool.

I like to start with vegetables - sweet potatoes, acorn/butternut squash, peas, green beans, avocado, etc. After Lauryn has tried several different veggies and enjoys them eagerly, I'll slowly begin adding in natural applesauce, mashed banana, pureed peaches, etc. While I prepare a lot of vegetables ahead of time and keep them in the fridge and freezer, I mostly use fresh fruits. I do puree peaches and plums, but that's pretty much it. As she slowly weans, I will begin adding some dairy into her diet - cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt. The older babies are, the more they want to feed themselves. I usually put a few things on their highchair tray for entertainment and occasional consumption while I am feeding them. Cooked pasta, whole peas, diced cooked carrots, even plain Cheerios all work well. That slowly transitions to them feeding themselves alone!

Here's what I prepared today:
Green beans and peas (1/2 bag each); acorn squash and sweet potatoes
The squash and potatoes I roasted on a baking sheet in the oven for about an hour. After they cooled I scooped the flesh out (minus the squash seeds, of course!) into my food processor and blended them with some water.

The frozen veggies I microwaved with a little water, then cooled and pureed in the food processor.

"Whatcha doin', Mama?"
I poured each veggie puree into separate 4-ounce containers:

I don't bother labeling each container, since it's pretty obvious what's inside, but I do like to mark the green beans with a "G" since the difference in color is so subtle.
Green beans, peas, squash, and sweet potatoes.
To make this batch of food, I spent about $0.57 per container. That price includes the food purchased as well as 16 of the containers. Obviously, the containers are reusable, so the next batch of food I make could cost as little as $0.30!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Creamy Asparagus "Orzotto"

So y'all know how I am about easily adaptable recipes. For lunch today I used a variation of my Simple Veggie Orzo. I was in the mood for risotto and I knew this orzo would cook up much faster than rice, with less baby-sitting. This is a slightly less healthy version, but it was totally worth it! It's so easy that my three-year-old helped me make it, and so tasty that she helped me eat it! She loved the "diamonds" (almonds) and "spargasus". This was filling enough to make a nice lunch, but it would work well as a special side dish for salmon or steak in particular.

Creamy Asparagus "Orzotto"

1 cup orzo pasta
2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 cloves chopped garlic
1 diced green onion
1/4 teaspoon lemon-pepper seasoning
1 cup chopped asparagus
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 cup havarti cheese (any cheese that'll be nice and creamy will work)
1/4 cup chopped almonds
Parmesan cheese
(salt and pepper to taste)

Saute the pasta, garlic, green onion and seasoning in olive oil for 3-4 minutes. Stir in broth and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for about 8 minutes, then add in the asparagus. Stir briefly, cover and cook for another 3-4 minutes. The broth will absorb into the pasta, and the asparagus will have steamed to perfectly crisp-tender. To finish, stir in the cream and fold in the havarti. Stir until the cheese is incorporated. Top each serving with the almonds and Parmesan cheese.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Tortellini-Meatball Soup

The only thing I love about winter is anything that helps keep me warm! Sweaters, boots, a nice fire, and especially warm comfort foods! Fall and winter are the best time of year to break out some of my favorite meals - chili and cornbread, beef stew with yeast rolls, potato soup, corn chowder ... well, basically any kind of soup. The recipe I'm sharing with you today combines classic, delicious flavors into a hearty soup. I have to say, we really love this meal. Our thirteen-year-old tried out several adjectives (some real, some imagined) like "deliciousness" and "awesome" before I settled on the boring yet descriptive name.

Tortellini-Meatball Soup

Chicken Meatballs
1 pound ground chicken
1/4 cup bread crumbs
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
3 cups spinach, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
1/4 teaspoon each, salt and pepper
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1 egg

1 package (9 oz) refrigerated cheese tortellini
1 carton (32 oz) chicken stock
1 carton (32 oz) organic tomato soup
1 cup red pepper puree
1/4 cup cream
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning

In a bowl, mix together the meatball ingredients. Form into small, bite-size meatballs. Place on a wax paper-covered baking sheet.

Meanwhile, in a stew pot bring the stock to a boil, then drop in the meatballs. Cook for 1-2 minutes, and stir in the tomato soup, red pepper puree and seasonings. Bring back to a boil. Stir in tortellini and cook for 7 minutes longer. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese, if desired.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Savory Sweet Potato Hash

I made an apple-marinated pork tenderloin the other night for dinner and I really wanted to have some kind of potato along with it, but couldn't decide between white or sweet - so I made both! This sweet and savory combination was just what I was craving. The apple juice adds a sweet background note that definitely puts this dish over the top. They were also the perfect complement to the pork tenderloin - this Apple-Bacon Pork Tenderloin would be perfect as a main course with this hash! I love to use fresh herbs when I cook, but don't always have them in the fridge. You can use a scant teaspoon of Italian seasoning in place of the herbs here.

Savory Sweet Potato Hash

3 russet potatoes, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 sweet potato, peeled and diced into 1/2 inch cubes
1 cup apple juice
3 tablespoons butter, divided
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1 clove garlic, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

In a large skillet, combine the potatoes and apple juice. Add enough water to just cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, and add in some salt. Reduce the heat and boil for 6-8 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander and place the skillet back on the burner, reducing the heat to medium. Melt 2 tablespoons of butter in the skillet; toss the potatoes in, along with salt and pepper, stirring to coat. Let the potatoes crisp up for several minutes without stirring - you want to get a nice crust on them. Add in the herbs and garlic along with another tablespoon of butter, then toss to coat. Give the potatoes another few minutes undisturbed in the pan, then toss again. At this point, they should be nice and golden brown! If not, just cook them a bit longer.