Healthier Treats – Muddy Buddies and No-Bake Cookies

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Tonight I have a few yummy sweet things for you – with healthy variations (which you could obviously alter to make a bit less healthy – but, really, these tasted pretty great.)  I have been meaning to give a running update, and today, since I ran for the first time since Monday, I had a very motivational running day.  It felt pretty easy, even on the road (as opposed to just the parts run on the sidewalk.)  It felt free, and it felt right.  I try not to take running for granted, since running through pregnancy and injury make me thankful to run when I’m just normal.  But since the bombings in Boston, I will not take running for granted.  Ever.  It does something for me, and for others, that other things just can’t.  Today I was thankful for my legs, my feet, and my freedom.  I ran three miles, with the second two miles clocking in at 8:04/mile and 8:05/mile.  I think I’m getting used to this whole “barefoot” thing finally!  Monday morning I squeezed in 2.5 miles before some new friends came over to visit – and I had my first barefoot mile with a 7 in front of it:

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As you can see, my first barefoot mile is always a bit of a “shake-out” mile because I need to go slowly to work out the kinks.  Today’s first mile was 9:49/mile, so I clearly am getting better without my shoes.

I’ve been meaning to post these recipes for a while since I resorted to them earlier this year when I was trying to break my chocolate addiction.  (I say “trying” because, although I feel I have been mostly successful with the “chocolate issue,” I know it is still somewhat of a challenge to me to keep from going back to it as a crutch.)  They were found online, and then I may have modified them slightly.

No-bake cookies with protein powder

No-bake cookies with protein powder

I did a bit of experimenting in these recipes with Stevia in the Raw’s baking blend.  I have all sorts of reasons for not using “Stevia in the Raw” on a regular basis (and just sticking to stevia in its liquid form) as well as not regularly going for the Baking Blend, but in this case I made an exception just to see how it worked out and what the kids and I would think of the taste.  The Kitchen Stewardship blog did a great job of comparing sugar alternatives in a series (She has AMAZING series from fats, to grains, to kitchen organization,) which included a discussion covering different brands of Stevia.  Seriously – check out her blog, and you will have enough reading material to click from link to link for days, never growing tired (but, however, growing successively more hungry.)

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It was January, and I had made myself a deal to help get “off of chocolate.”  If I made the chocolate item myself – using cocoa powder – then I was allowed to have it.  Since I felt my addiction to chocolate also led me to depend on the sugar used in the various chocolate lovelies I was consuming, I wanted to try to stay away from sugar as well late at night.  Enter the stevia.
I found this recipe for the traditional “no-bake cookies” by googling “stevia” along with the recipe name – and was pleased to find a recipe incorporating chocolate protein powder as well.  Click HERE for the original recipe from the Skinny Mom blog, and what follows has been modified to suit my needs. 🙂

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 4 Tbsp chocolate protein powder
  • 1 Tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1 cup Stevia Baking Blend
  • 1/2 cup Agave
  • 1/2 cup all natural peanut butter
  • 3 cups quick oats
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Melt coconut oil in a saucepan and add milk, protein powder, Stevia, Agave, and cocoa powder.
  2. Bring to a boil for no more than a minute or until thick.
  3. Remove from heat and quickly add in the oats, coconut, peanut butter, and vanilla.
  4. Mix well.
  5. Using a pan lined with wax paper, press mixture into cookies or using a fork, add mixture to wax paper to make cookies.
  6. Let cool and enjoy
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mixed together in the pot, ready to form into cookies (or eat by the spoonful)

mixed together in the pot, ready to form into cookies (or eat by the spoonful)

I needed to make some Muddy Buddies as well because I wanted lots of snacks for late night Downton Abbey viewing. 🙂  Notice – the ingredients are pretty similar.  Do you think I like chocolate and peanut butter?
Muddy Buddies
Original recipe here.
3 cups rice Chex (I used half rice Chex, half multi-grain organic squares from Cascadian farms)
1/3 cup chocolate*
3 T peanut butter
1 T coconut oil
1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup powdered sugar** (half of this was sucanat for me, the other half Stevia baking blend.  Original recipe called for coconut sugar.)*First make the chocolate by melting 2 T. coconut oil then add 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1 T. honey, 1/2 tsp. vanilla stir until smooth.Then microwave the 1 T. coconut oil and 3 T. peanut butter add the chocolate mixture and vanilla, pour over rice Chex and mix well. Add to a ziplock bag and pour powdered sugar over and shake. Refrigerate. (You can see that by combining the making of the chocolate with the making of the recipe you can just skip a step and change the amounts to: 3 T coconut oil, 1 T honey, 1 tsp vanilla, and 3 T peanut butter, then with the 1/4 cup cocoa blended into this mixture.)
**To make powdered sugar add the sucanat and 1/2 tsp. cornstarch or arrowroot starch to a food processor and pulse until very fine.  I mixed mine 1/2 and 1/2 with a Stevia baking blend in the food processor (Vitamix in my case.)

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I made the “chocolate” separately in the left-hand bowl and melted the peanut butter together with the coconut oil in the right-hand bowl, as the recipe suggested.
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A few more pictures, then I need to get up to make dinner (at 8:09pm?) – mussels cooked in Guinness.
For some reason my run, shower, and piping wore me out today, and I have been “crashed” on the couch with the laptop for about the last 90 minutes, forcing my husband and kids to rely on almonds and cheesesticks until I finish this blog post….
stirring in the chocolate mixture

stirring in the chocolate mixture

bagged up in 1-cup portions to be able to share with friends who needed to know the nutritional information per bag

bagged up in 1-cup portions to be able to share with friends who needed to know the nutritional information per bag

Don’t forget about the GIVEAWAY! This is the 207th post — so if I’m going to give ANYTHING away, we need more shares people!! Like – over 100 more shares!! Good luck with that (hahaha)!

When you SHARE one of my posts in order to help us get up to 200 shares, you must COMMENT on the post so that I know who has entered the contest!! 🙂

I WILL DO A RANDOM DRAWING from amongst the people who participate.  IF we make it to 200 shares before I reach 210 blog posts, THEN I will draw for a winner, but we must all band together to get there!  You can pick ANY post from my blog and share it on Facebook or somewhere else in a way that is verified (any time someone shares one of my posts it shows up on the blog details for me), and then COMMENT on that post as well to tell me that you’ve shared it.  Just my “normal” readers sharing it won’t get us to 200, but if you share it with someone else who will share it, then we can make it!  I will update the share totals each day on the blog to let you know how it’s going!  I’m only doing this to “celebrate” sticking with “blogging” for this long (I just started at the end of last May), to hopefully have one helpful post – a recipe, a running tip, infant potty training, pictures of a levitating Yoda in Edinburgh [those could be helpful to someone, right?] – shared with a person who might find it useful, and to say “Thank You!” to everyone who shares our lives reading this blog.  Makes me feel “affirmed” a bit on days when my little army of minions is lacking a bit in the “positive feedback” category and insists on giving me a run for my money. 🙂

WHAT AM I GIVING AWAY?  Well, that depends on where you live.  LOCALS: 1st place will receive three things from me in the way of baked goods or meals – just take your pick from things I’ve mentioned on my “Recipes” page.  I’ll work hard before the day comes (if we get 200 shares) to update the page so all my recipes are represented.  2nd place will receive a baked good or two of my choice. 🙂  NON-LOCALS: I don’t want to give you something better than the LOCALS (because what if it made them sad to hear I was giving you a Starbucks card or something?!!?) so I’m thinking it should be some sort of healthy food item.  Depending on where you’re based, I will figure out how to get you a gift card to either a store like Whole Foods or a restaurant like Great Harvest Bread Company.  We’ll wait to find out if there is even a winner, and then where the winner resides to finalize that.  It would be $20 for first place and $10 for second in that case, to an aforementioned healthy joint.  Good night!

Bowtie Chicken Pasta with a Submarine Ball thrown in

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IMG_5218I should be in bed – just finished feeding Daniel for the last time and have a few minutes before I’m sleepy enough to nod off.  We went to the Submarine Birthday Ball tonight (in case you were wondering – no it’s not a sphere painted like a submersible, it’s 113th Annual dinner/dance in celebration and remembrance of the submarine force.)  We try to go to this event every spring, and each year I am touched by the presence of submarine veterans and the tolling of the bell for submarines that have been lost at sea.  Did you know that during WWII alone, 50 United States submarines were lost??  I know that’s a drop in the bucket of human losses during WWII, and even just when compared to the fact that probably the losses of all other shipping were pretty great, but in terms of percentage lost, I’m pretty sure being a submariner was one of the most dangerous jobs out there.  Two men helped cut the birthday cake tonight who had qualified on their subs (receiving their “dolphins”) in 1943.  Such brave men.

Trying to show you the back of the hairdo using mirrors - she did victory rolls!

Trying to show you the back of the hairdo using mirrors – she did victory rolls!

We had planned a family photo shoot prior to our departure for the Ball, but, alas, the rain had other plans.  When I returned from the mall where an awesome girl named Mac did my hair, the torrential rain had me worried I might not make it even in under an hour to the house (it’s a 20 minute drive normally.)  Thankfully, the puddles weren’t in my lanes, and the roads were accident-free, speeding my meet-up at the gate with the photographer, Sarah Stewart, who we just met recently through church.  We will certainly be rescheduling, since I’m hoping to populate the top of this blog with her photos of us sometime soon….Even though she came back to the house with us, it was still coming down by our drop-dead-must-leave-for-the-ball (or John would have turned into a pumpkin) time, so she took a few shots of the group on the front porch, and we were off to the races.  What follows are a few pictures from the evening, and then a scrumptuous recipe – inspired by the Macaroni Grill’s bowtie pasta in a creamy white wine sauce with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, and chicken.

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making fun of the professional pictures they offer - this is the pose -- turned out much better than any they do at these events :)

making fun of the professional pictures they offer – this is the pose — turned out much better than any they do at these events 🙂

Friend Katie Guffy from church - we had a bit of trouble posing for a decent shot, so this one was my favorite :)

Friend Katie Guffey from church – we had a bit of trouble posing for a decent shot, so this one was my favorite 🙂

*Pictures from the iphone – a bit dark  🙂

*Standing in front of a bell (formerly a ship’s bell maybe?) and near the cake – we didn’t have any of it,  because they served delicious cheesecake as well.

BOWTIE CHICKEN PASTA

4 Chicken Breasts – cut into strips to marinate better

1 pound bowtie pasta

2 Tbsp butter

4 Tbsp flour

1/2 cup white wine

3 cups half-and-half

1 cup mozzerella cheese

1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

1/2-1 cups sliced sundried tomatoes

4 Tbsp butter

4 cloves garlic, minced

1 pound mushrooms, sliced

white pepper and salt to taste

A few hours before dinner, marinate the chicken in something.  You could pour some Italian dressing into a ziploc or just throw together oil, wine, lemon juice, and a few seasonings.  Just a bit of flavor for the chicken ; it’s going to end up in the sauce so this is not the most important step.

Boil the pasta.  For me, the huge pot of water takes forever to boil, and the pasta cooks 14 minutes.  So, in the 30 minutes the rest of the meal takes to prepare, you can have the pasta cooking.

Marinating the chicken

Marinating the chicken

 In a large skillet, melt the butter (2 Tbsp), stir in the flour til smooth, and then whisk in the white wine.  I forgot to stir mine for a while, which is why it’s lumpy in the picture and took a lot of work to smooth out.  Add the cream and stir constantly over medium-low heat.

In a separate pan, saute the mushrooms with the butter (the other 4 Tbsp) and garlic.  DO NOT SALT the mushrooms, as I heard on a cooking show that this causes them to “sweat” leading to steaming/boiling the mushrooms rather than a real sauteing of the mushrooms.  Meanwhile, grill the chicken.  Once it’s grilled, cut it into large-bite-sized chunks.  (When I didn’t have my nifty “griddler” I just baked it in the oven for 20-30 minutes.)

Melting the butter to cook with the garlic and mushrooms

Melting the butter to cook with the garlic and mushrooms

awesome garlicky, buttery mushrooms

awesome garlicky, buttery mushrooms

trying to stir the flour into the sauce

trying to stir the flour into the sauce

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Saute the sun-dried tomatoes with a little olive oil in your mushroom pan (Take the mushrooms out first, and set them aside.)

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Finally, add the cheeses to the cream sauce, stir until melted, season with salt and white pepper; then, transfer the mushrooms, sliced chicken (already grilled) and tomatoes to the sauce.  Drain the pasta and return it to the huge pot (or a lovely serving bowl big enough for stirring), pouring the sauce into it and mixing well.  Be sure not to overcook your pasta in order to prevent it from breaking apart at this point.  I have had one friend prepare the whole meal, transfer it to a baking dish, refrigerate it overnight, and then warm it in the oven covered in foil – instant awesomeness.

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The sauce - voila!

The sauce – voila!

my little helper :)

my little helper 🙂

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PS – DON’T FORGET ABOUT THE GIVEAWAY!! THIS IS MY 206TH POST SO WE ONLY HAVE UNTIL 210 POSTS TO REACH OUR GOAL!  If you’re sharing recipes from the blog, I have rearranged the “recipe” tab at the top now (“in the kitchen”) to better organize the recipes.  You can read about the GIVEAWAY here.

Mexican Quiche and Learning to Share

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Good morning! Trying to whip out a quick post in order to remind everyone that when you SHARE one of my posts in order to help us get up to 200 shares, you must COMMENT on the post so that I know who has entered the contest!! 🙂 I can see lots of views and whatnot in the past day, but I am unable to see WHO has shared unless you comment.  So please, comment away.  All day long. I love comments.  They make me feel like we’re actually communicating (a far cry from it, I know, but please, help me with my fantasy that I actually spend a good portion of the day talking to adults), so show me some comment love! 🙂  I just finished my protein shake and need to head out the door for a run.  Chop chop!!  Here’s a recipe, though, which I prepared a few months back from the Best of the Best from Texas Cookbook.  I’ve had it for years but regularly only make a few of the items, since we aren’t really into “spicy” around here (or dishes that elegantly make use of Velveeta Cheese.)  This one’s definitely a keeper, though.

The cookbook

The cookbook

oh....yum.

oh….yum.

Incidentally, after I broke out the goggles for fun in the bath the other night, Greer has now found my stash and just brought eight pairs of diving masks and swim goggles downstairs, with one on her head for good measure (too heavy to carry them all, she said.)

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Make this quiche ahead of time and freeze it if you want something simple and tasty to serve up on a Sunday or a busy weeknight.  It’s a bit labor-intensive due to the cooking of the corn tortillas in oil (the part that takes the longest), and I find that quiche is ALWAYS best the next day, otherwise it’s a bit too soupy, no matter how long it’s been cooked.  Unlike every quiche I was fed in the UK, at the Armstrong house, we serve our quiche hot.  And for dinner, not breakfast.

With that being said, here’s the recipe:

building the "crust" with the tortillas

building the “crust” with the tortillas

Layering cheese into the "corn tortilla" crust

Layering cheese into the “corn tortilla” crust

Layering on the refried beans

Layering on the refried beans

smooth the beans out, if possible

smooth the beans out, if possible

Layering on the sausage

Layering on the sausage

MEXICAN QUICHE

Crust: 

8 Corn tortillas

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Dip each tortilla briefly into the hot oil to soften it, then press between paper towels to remove excess oil. (Usually I have them in the oil about 30 seconds, then flip them over for another 15 seconds.)  Grease a 9-inch pie pan then line with prepared tortillas, overlapping them, extending abotu 1/2 inch over the pan edge.

Filling:

Layer in this order into the dish on top of tortillas:

1 cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

1 cup refried beans

1/2 pound sausage, cooked and drained

2 Tbsp mild green chiles, diced (I omit these and make sure to season my dish in some other way – usually with homemade taco seasoning.)

In a small bowl, combine:

2 eggs

2 cups half-and-half or condensed milk

1/2 tsp  salt

Pour this mixture over the filling and then top with:

1 more cup shredded Monterey Jack Cheese

Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

condensed milk, eggs

condensed milk, eggs

pouring the egg/milk mixture over the base

pouring the egg/milk mixture over the base

more cheese on top...

more cheese on top…

into the oven!

into the oven!

Back to work around the house now – here are the kiddos hard at work:

Ages 8 months to 8 years, working on the same toy.

Ages 8 months to 8 years, working on the same toy.

A quick reminder about the GIVEAWAY, in case you missed it yesterday. 🙂

I WILL DO A RANDOM DRAWING from amongst the people who participate.  IF we make it to 200 shares before I reach 210 blog posts, THEN I will draw for a winner, but we must all band together to get there!  You can pick ANY post from my blog and share it on Facebook or somewhere else in a way that is verified (any time someone shares one of my posts it shows up on the blog details for me), and then COMMENT on that post as well to tell me that you’ve shared it.  Just my “normal” readers sharing it won’t get us to 200, but if you share it with someone else who will share it, then we can make it!  I will update the share totals each day on the blog to let you know how it’s going!  I’m only doing this to “celebrate” sticking with “blogging” for this long (I just started at the end of last May), to hopefully have one helpful post – a recipe, a running tip, infant potty training, pictures of a levitating Yoda in Edinburgh [those could be helpful to someone, right?] – shared with a person who might find it useful, and to say “Thank You!” to everyone who shares our lives reading this blog.  Makes me feel “affirmed” a bit on days when my little army of minions is lacking a bit in the “positive feedback” category and insists on giving me a run for my money. 🙂

WHAT AM I GIVING AWAY?  Well, that depends on where you live.  LOCALS: 1st place will receive three things from me in the way of baked goods or meals – just take your pick from things I’ve mentioned on my “Recipes” page.  I’ll work hard before the day comes (if we get 200 shares) to update the page so all my recipes are represented.  2nd place will receive a baked good or two of my choice. 🙂  NON-LOCALS: I don’t want to give you something better than the LOCALS (because what if it made them sad to hear I was giving you a Starbucks card or something?!!?) so I’m thinking it should be some sort of healthy food item.  Depending on where you’re based, I will figure out how to get you a gift card to either a store like Whole Foods or a restaurant like Great Harvest Bread Company.  We’ll wait to find out if there is even a winner, and then where the winner resides to finalize that.  It would be $20 for first place and $10 for second in that case, to an aforementioned healthy joint.  Expect to see this same “summary” of the GIVEAWAY every day this week.  All for now –

Pretzels Three Ways – Twisted, Stuffed, and Boiled! (Whole-Grain, Fresh Wheat, Soft-Baked)

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It’s finally time to share my pretzel recipe!! Yippee!!!!! I have been wanting to write this one up for a while but had to tweek it a bit first.  I didn’t actually change the recipe much – just altered it for soaking freshly ground flour.  I have made these three times in the last two months, this time with the express purpose of making some healthier pretzel dogs (like what Auntie Anne’s serves at the mall) and experimenting more with the bagel variation.  Even though it is Thursday now, I’m just up to DAY TWO OF THE SUGAR DETOX as far as summarizing my “no-sugar-added” plans for greatness.  (Haha – we’ll see how well I really have done at the end of next Sunday….what? Did you say Easter candy was on sale at Walgreens today??)  Let’s see…did I run on Tuesday? What did I do? Only two days ago, and it’s so foggy…Just checked the Nike log and found out that I did not, in actuality, work out on Tuesday.  I did, however, play the bagpipes for about an hour, which is quite the achievement.  With all the nursing, cooking, baking, and other things going on (still unpacking, too!) it’s really tough to find not only the time, but the energy, the stamina, and the impetus to actually run AND play the bagpipes both in one day, since they are each such “physical” occupations.  I do remember that I cleaned out our bathroom (unpacked 2 1/2 boxes, filled up an entire moving box with trash), my closet (all the girls’ dressup outfits, shoes, scarves, crowns, and gloves are staged there, as well as my clothes and shoes), and our bedroom (didn’t “finish” the room but did put away four baskets of laundry,) so that should count for something.

What happens in our house when a very large plastic bag is left lying about

What happens in our house when a very large plastic bag is left lying about

Thankfully, now that it's warming up I've found every glove and hat in the house (note the sarcasm), and it fell upon Claire the next day to organize them into a plastic over-the-door shoes holder.

Thankfully, now that it’s warming up I’ve found every glove and hat in the house (note the sarcasm), and it fell upon Claire the next day to organize them into a plastic over-the-door shoes holder.

Hat found in a box in my bathroom, modeled by Claire

Hat found in a box in my bathroom, modeled by Claire

Here’s the food that fueled my cleaning spree that day:

protein shake: frozen banana, protein powder, decaf coffee, cocoa powder, vanilla stevia drops, coconut milk, unsweetened almond milk, ice

lunch: Shepherd’s pie – because although I had lamented that the casserole dish was empty the other day, my husband had hidden the leftovers in the fridge for me. 🙂

unsweetened cinnamon iced tea

Snacks: ricecake with almond butter and banana, chocolate lace cookies – more like chocolate balls

Dinner: 2 quesadillas (corn tortilla with melted cheddar), 3 carrots

Snack: a pear, sliced, sprinkled with cinnamon with smoked gouda on top, broiled for a few minutes

Pear with cinnamon

Pear with cinnamon

Broiled, about to be devoured by John and me

Broiled, about to be devoured by John and me

Late night: (I was up late getting the two recipes of pretzel dough soaking, the one batch for bread, and the scone dough.  It took a while because I was researching scone recipes for about an hour…)  more chocolate balls, one yellow bell pepper dipped into hummus bit by bit

Now on to the pretzel recipe, with my pictures and variations – of course, if you’d like “simple,” and you don’t grind your wheat berries into flour, just go straight to the link for the original recipe and follow her methods.  They are specific to making a yeast dough, meaning they are completely different from my soaking methods.  Thankfully, if you’re soaking your flour normally, this recipe is just as easy as making any other yeast bread with soaked flour.

Here are a few to start with – the flour soaking overnight with buttermilk, butter, and water; the yeast proofing; the very sticky dough once its been kneaded and before transferring it to a bowl to rise; and the dough after its rise.

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 Laura’s Amazing Soft Pretzels:
Adapted for soaking by Coreyanne
Soak:
1/2 cup water
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
1 stick butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
8 cups whole wheat flour
The next day:
Proof the yeast:

1/2 cup very warm water
2 T. yeast
2 t. honey
Combine the soaked mixture, the proofed yeast and:
4 t. salt
3 Tbsp Gluten (and a bit of extra flour if dough is too sticky after the knead.)
Knead 5-10 minutes in mixer (definitely too sticky for hand-kneading.)
Let rise about 1 1/2 hours until doubled.  Punch down the dough.  Form into pretzels by grabbing small golf-ball-sized balls and rolling it out into a thin snake.  Cross the dough over itself twice, then fold back to the center and pinch.  (See pictures. Also, on her website, there is a helpful tutorial.)
Bake: at 350F for 15-20 minutes until starting to brown on top just a bit.  As soon as you take them out – brush with melted butter and top – with coarse salt, cinnamon/sugar mixture, or some other favorite topping.
I didn’t roll them out skinny enough the first time (when these pictures were taken), so they look a bit too puffy.  I tried them one day a few months ago just as pretzels, then last month stuffed with meat and a few as bagels, and then Wednesday with lots more bagels, just a few pretzels for snacking, and mostly the pretzel dogs.  A versatile dough that makes anything yummier!!
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Here are a few of the pictures from the pretzel dogs, and more pretzels – last time with lil’ smokies, and this time with hot dogs and kielbasa:
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yum X 5

yum X 5 – this time I used an egg-wash (1 egg beaten with a few Tbsp milk) on the outside right before baking.

ran out of the healthy dogs, using kielbasa now (not suitable for my no-sugar challenge, but I can have one of these puppies next week!)

ran out of the healthy dogs, using kielbasa now (not suitable for my no-sugar challenge, but I can have one of these puppies next week!)

healthy chicken hot dog from Applegate farms, made yummier with a blanket of pretzel dough!

healthy organic chicken hot dog from Applegate farms, made yummier with a blanket of pretzel dough!

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Okay – ONE MORE THING! (then I can put our dinner together and feed the baby…)
BAGELS!!! Okay, so they probably don’t count as “real” bagels, but they sure look, taste, smell, and feel like them, so I’m going to persist in calling them bagels.  They are not, however, chewy like bagels.
I formed them last night, let them rise for about 15 minutes, refrigerated them, boiled them today for 1-2 minutes per side, then baked them at 500F for 15 minutes.
Bagels waiting to be boiled - I formed them last night and let them rise a bit, then refrigerated them overnight.

Bagels waiting to be boiled – I formed them last night and let them rise a bit, then refrigerated them overnight.

water for boiling, with about a Tablespoon of barley malt syrup

water for boiling, with about a Tablespoon of barley malt syrup

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boiling the bagels for 1-2 minutes each side

boiling the bagels for 1-2 minutes each side

post-boil, ready to bake

post-boil, ready to bake

Ready to eat! (or freeze for another happy day!)

Ready to eat! (or freeze for another happy day!)

Here’s a picture from last month when I cut into one of the bagels (saving the ones I made Wednesday for breakfast tomorrow so I have yet to taste this batch):

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Happy April 1st – It’s Recipe Month! (No, I’m not foolin’): FOOLPROOF SHEPHERD’S PIE!

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I am SO behind in posting recipes I’ve been photographing that I’m bound to forget any substitutions (or actual recipes that I made up myself) if I don’t post them soon.  So I’m devoting this entire month (with an occasional random post here and there) to catching up on my recipes of late – healthy desserts, snacks, sweet snacks (who am I kidding – these are really just more desserts!), breads (pretzels!), and a few main dishes that we’ve really enjoyed recently.  A few will be from hidden cookbooks, but many are things I found online.

trying to get a good family shot since we've only taken a few pictures together since Daniel was born

trying to get a good family shot – we’ve only taken a few pictures together since Daniel was born

Because yesterday was Easter, I had an excuse to make Shepherd’s Pie using lamb (For you readers in other countries, one of the times Americans traditionally eat lamb is on Easter Day.  Also, I need an excuse to make this because it takes much longer than an average meal.)  The recipe I’ve used has proven itself repeatedly, and if I’d had room in my tummy for the whole casserole, I would have eaten the entire thing by myself.  And then today I would have eaten the second whole dish for lunch (I did score one portion for an early dinner – good thing because that whole 11X14 casserole of leftovers was eaten by the family for dinner tonight without anything left to even scrape up on a crust of bread!)  First, a few pictures our Easter guests took for us by a tree across the street — they had wanted to snap a few photos of their boys in Sunday best, so we exchanged photographer services for a few minutes. 🙂

Trying to get a good shot can result in some of the best moments captured:

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I got the red flower in hopes that it will work for an upcoming event – bought a few more for good measure, though, so I’m not sure which one I’ll use…

like the flower? just got it as one possibility for wearing with my dress to the ball next weekend...

like the flower? just got it as one possibility for wearing with my dress to the ball next weekend…

On to the Pie now – the finished product first to tempt you…

Perhaps the best "hot now" I've ever seen - better than a Krispy Kreme donut!!! (If you live in the south you will understand this...)

Perhaps the best “hot now” I’ve ever seen – better than a Krispy Kreme donut!!! (If you live in the south you will understand this…)

Hahaha I guess that picture doesn’t really show it too well.  Here it is all put together before I popped it into the oven:

Ready to go into the oven!

Ready to go into the oven!

I refrigerated it like this Saturday and then left it in a 200 (F) degree oven covered in foil while we were at church so it could warm up slowly.  Once we were home, I melted some butter to top it and then broiled it for about ten minutes.

I will describe a few of the steps and then will include the actual recipe at the end.

On Wednesday or Thursday (it’s all rather foggy right now…) I roasted the 5 lb leg of lamb.  It was supposed to be 4 lbs, which includes the bone, but since I had a 5 lb leg that had already been deboned, I counted this as about one and a half times the recipe.  The next evening I spent about an hour cutting the whole thing up into tiny chunks.  These need to be small enough pieces so that 2-3 meat bites would fit onto a spoon.  When eating shepherd’s pie, you shouldn’t need a knife, except perhaps if you’re British and using it to load each bite onto your spoon or fork.

Something wacky was up with my iphone-to-iphoto transfer, causing the striation in a few pictures.  Either way, here's the leg of lamb after it was cooked and had been sitting overnight in the fridge.

Something wacky was up with my iphone-to-iphoto transfer, causing the striation in a few pictures. Either way, here’s the leg of lamb after it was cooked and had been sitting overnight in the fridge.

Here's what 5lbs of cubed lamb looks like...

Here’s what 5lbs of cubed lamb looks like…

First, dice up the celery, onion, garlic, and mushrooms, and cook in butter with the spices until softened – about 20 minutes.

Butter! Thyme, Rosemary, and Basil

Butter! Thyme, Rosemary, and Basil

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The celery, onions, diced mushrooms, and garlic simmering with spices in butter

The celery, onions, diced mushrooms, and garlic simmering with spices in butter

Meanwhile, slice the other mushrooms up for the second part of the recipe. (Here, I have cut them smaller for personal reasons, but normally they would be lovely sliced mushrooms.)

Mushrooms - this is the "sliced" bunch called for in the recipe - but I chop them smaller so they're less recognizable to the kids and therefore harder to sort out from the chunks of lamb :)

Mushrooms – this is the “sliced” bunch called for in the recipe – but I chop them smaller so they’re less recognizable to the kids and therefore harder to sort out from the chunks of lamb 🙂

Also, boil your potatoes for the mashed potato topping.  I didn’t do this part til Saturday night.  I added some Thyme and Rosemary to my mashed potatoes, as well as half-and-half and butter for the mashing part.

Add some boiling water to the roasting pan which held the lamb, and use it to loosen up any bits stuck to the bottom.  Then pour all this (which includes any drippings) into a saucepan.  You are supposed to add bouillon cubes, but every brand I found contained MSG, so I just used less boiling water and substituted beef stock without MSG.  Also add the sherry, then cook your sliced mushrooms for a while, but do not allow the mixture to boil.

Beef Stock (without MSG) and Sherry

Beef Stock (without MSG) and Sherry

Cooking the mushrooms - but not boiling them - in the sherry, stock, and drippings

Cooking the mushrooms – but not boiling them – in the sherry, stock, and drippings

Finally, in a large mixing bowl you combine the contents of the saucepan with the stuff from the skillet and all that delicious lamb (whatever you can keep your kids from pillaging when you’re not looking – I promise mine would have eaten that whole bowl of lamb!!)

The pot of sherry/broth/drippings/mushrooms combined with the cubed lamb and the softened celery/onion/garlic/spices/diced mushroom mixture

The pot of sherry/broth/drippings/mushrooms combined with the cubed lamb and the softened celery/onion/garlic/spices/diced mushroom mixture

It was too late for me at this point on Friday evening for me, and I didn’t have much room in the fridge for two large casseroles, so I just popped the bowl into the fridge overnight.  Saturday evening after I mashed the potatoes, I split this bowl between two dishes – one 9X13 and one 11X14.  Then I topped them with the mashed potatoes, covered them with foil, and left them til the morning.

spreading the meat and veggies into the dish, complete with liquid to the level of the other stuff

spreading the meat and veggies into the dish, complete with liquid to the level of the other stuff

In the dish you can see some of the solidified “fats” from the recipe because everything was cold from the fridge, but of course once it was cooked, this was all a delicious gravy.  I would recommend serving it in bowls.

As you can see, I took 2-3 days to put this together, but it could all be done in one.  It’s a great “make-ahead” meal because it’s much tastier than most other casseroles and can therefore impress your palate and your guests without all the effort being required right beforehand.  Here’s the recipe – let me know if you try it!! I would love to know if others like it as much as we do. 🙂

SHEPHERD’S PIE taken from the cookbook Of Tide and Thyme

Original recipe serves 8-10

1 (4 pound) leg of lamb

extra virgin olive oil

soy sauce

salt

garlic powder

freshly ground pepper

(Preheat oven to 450 F, then wash lamb and pat it dry.  Rub it all over with the olive oil, then the soy sauce before placing it in your roasting pan – without a rack.  Cover both sides with the salt, garlic powder, and pepper.  Sear lamb (uncovered) for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 and cook for about an hour – juices should still run pink and the lamb should only be medium rare at most.)

3/4 cup diced celery

1/4 cup diced onion

2 large cloves minced garlic (I used, um, a few extra even for doubling – maybe 6)

3/4 pound diced fresh mushrooms

1/2 tsp thyme

1 tsp basil

1 tsp rosemary

1 tsp Worcestershire sauce

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 stick (1/4 cup) butter

(Saute onions, celery, garlic, and mushrooms until they are soft in the butter, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and spices.  Set aside, saving all juices.)

(Allow lamb to cool before carving it.  Dice lamb into bite-sized cubes; reserve all juices.)

4 large baking potatoes (I don’t peel mine because I like lumps and peels in my mashed potatoes)

half-and-half or milk

butter

salt

(boil your potatoes and mash them using salt, butter, and milk. Set aside.)

1 1/2 cups boiling water (or 1/2 cup if you’re going to use stock in the next step)

1 cube beef bouillon (or use 1 cup of stock – chicken or beef)

1 cub chicken bouillon (omit if using stock)

1/4 pound sliced fresh mushrooms

1/4 cup dry sherry

(Boil the water and pour over roasting pan, using a spatula to free up pieces of meat and all juices.  Pour contents of pan into a medium saucepan (and any extra juices from the carving) and bring to a slow simmer adding either the broth or the chicken and beef bouillon.  Turn heat to low and add sherry and sliced mushrooms.  Cook thoroughly over low heat, not allowing mixture to boil.)

FINALLY – put sauteed celery and onion mixture into a large bowl and combine it with the contents of the saucepan as well as the cubed lamb.  Carefully spoon this mixture into a 9X13 shallow glass pan (be careful to leave enough room on top for the potatoes – seriously, just use another pan rather than stuffing one if need be.)  Make sure you only add enough juices that they just come to the top of the meat mixture. (I had to use all my juices to get them to fill up the meat mixture.)  Smooth the mashed potatoes over the entire surface of the meat and bake uncovered at 325 F for 20 minutes.  Melt some butter to brush on top before broiling a final 5-10 minutes til nicely browned.

Weekly Recipe Recommend: Creamy Chicken Korma and Saag Chicken

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Here's our creamy chicken korma.  Double yum!

Here’s our creamy chicken korma. Double yum!

Since I generally followed recipes, I don’t have much to say, but I will lead you along with me through pictures and point out any differences. Let me post the recipe first so we know where to start:

http://allrecipes.co.uk/recipe/4339/creamy-chicken-korma.aspx

I will not “cut and paste” the ingredients because they’re all in British-speak (ie, tossing around words like “grams” and “hob” and “gas mark 4” and such), so here I have written them up, with my substitutions or changes already made:

CREAMY CHICKEN KORMA CURRY

-1.5 pounds chicken breast (or whatever a “package” of organic boneless skinless from Costco weighs in at)

-1 onion, chopped

-1 tsp minced ginger (found on the Indian food shelf, already minced, in a jar)

-half bulb of garlic, sliced or minced (not in original recipe)

-150 ml Chicken stock (I think it was about 1/3 cup)

-1 can coconut milk

-50g ground almonds

-slivered almonds to top it at the end

-fresh cilantro, to top it at the end

-1-2 Tbsp Olive oil

-2 Tbsp curry powder

-1 tsp salt

First, I diced up the onions, and I used a cool garlic/almond slicer from Pampered Chef to make a ton of slivered garlic and almonds.

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  • Cook the onions, ginger, and garlic in a bit of Olive oil over medium heat 4-5 minutes until softened. Then add the curry powder and stir it into the onions for one minute. Add the chicken and cook until about fifteen minutes. Pour in the stock and coconut milk; season with salt to taste (about 1 tsp). Boil and cook about 10 minutes. Stir in the ground almonds before serving to thicken up. When I made this with lamp I transferred it to the oven at 350 F for 45 minutes instead of the “boil and cook 10 minutes” part.
    Garnish with the almonds and cilantro when you serve it over rice.
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Here’s the second curry I made, the Chicken Saag:

http://www.food.com/recipe/saag-chicken-100674

My variation of the recipe:

CHICKEN SAAG CURRY

1 1/2 lbs chicken pieces, skinned and cubed
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 large onions, diced
1 (400 g) can crushed tomatoes
1 tsp ginger, minced
2 tablespoons milk (I used Almond Milk)
24 ounces spinach, washed & chopped
1 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1 big cardamom pod
4 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon garam masala (I used a special curry powder instead because it was all I had – it had many of the same things that are in the “garam masala” recipes online)
1/4-1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon water

Directions:
-Put the spinach in a pot, add 1/4C water.
Bring to the boil and remove from heat.
When cool, grind very well (almost to a paste) in blender and set aside.
Here’s some of the pre-cooked spinach:

 

Fry the chicken in 3 tbs oil for around 3-4 minutes until lightly browned and set aside.

Heat the remaining oil in a pan and add ginger, garlic and onions.
Fry until lightly brown.

 

 

Add tomatoes, salt, cayenne pepper, ground coriander, turmeric, cloves and cardamom.
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Sprinkle with 1 tbs water.
Cook for 10 minutes on a low heat.
Add chicken and milk to the pan.
Simmer until the chicken is tender (about 10 minutes).
photo-446
Add spinach and garam masala to the pan.
At this point I realized I had already added the special curry powder which took the place of the garam masala, and I think the boiling of it probably cooked out a bit too much of the flavor.
Cook until spinach starts sticking to the pan (about 15 minutes).
Remove from heat, add butter and cover until ready to serve with rice.

Here it is in the pan before serving:

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It was super-yummy. 🙂 We scarfed down the leftovers tonight with naan from Trader Joe’s, and I felt like it was free Indian take-out (all the goodness without all the fuss of having to really make it.)

I realized in the last few days that I completely addicted to chocolate. I have it several times a day in vast quantities. I probably eat the equivalent of 2-3 Hershey Bars a day, disguised in fancy dark chocolate bits, bars, and chews. I do it, or so I tell myself, for behavior modification purposes (ie – I am a wreck without it.) In reality, I think I must be dependent upon the caffeine and sugar. Time to come back to reality. I have put a plan in place, and John has hidden the chocolate for me. When I first found out I was pregnant with Daniel in November 2011, I realized then I had worked my way up to lots of chocolate each day because it started to make me feel ill, and I ended up throwing away all the chocolate in the house and staying away from it until around 7 months pregnant. I remember when I was pregnant with Greer, eating chocolate made my teeth hurt. I am not pregnant now, but I recognize chocolate to be a problem (I’ve felt sick today and a few days ago immediately after eating it – from eating too much of it at once) and am going to nip it in the bud before a pregnancy drives me to it. This time my motivation is just my own good health; we shall see if that is enough to keep me going! When carrying another life inside, eating well is driven by the way certain foods make me feel plus how they affect my little baby and my health in pregnancy, so it’s easier to stick with it. When it’s just me depending on my choices, well, let’s just say, I am much easier on myself. 🙂

Reasons to give up chocolate (until I am able to handle it in small amounts again without going overboard): 1) I eat it to the point of feeling sick. 2) I am becoming dependent on the caffeine in it to make it through rough points in the day. 3) I am having mini “crashes” from the sugar (and then lack of it) making me need to have more. 4) Having this much sugar is making me crave sugar more regularly than I have been in the recent past. 5) II have expensive taste in chocolate. 🙂

Time for family movie night – “Young Indiana Jones” with some popcorn. 🙂

Weekly Recipe Recommend: The Fishwife’s Magical Meal – fish, shrimp, tomato, basil, black beans…

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JUST EDITED THIS – JANUARY 18TH – TO ADD THE ACTUAL RECIPE AT THE BOTTOM.  OOPS!

I have SO MUCH to catch up on for the blog because of basically just enjoying life – and bouncing my comments back and forth with actual people (visitors off and on since December 24, at least 6 tea parties and get-togethers since Thanksgiving) – so that the time for describing our happenings to other friends and family has just been too short.  Fun things to tell you about!!  I can’t wait!  But not tonight. 🙂  I have a friend who has been asking for this recipe for a while, and since I made it last night, I need to post a few pictures and the instructions before I move on to the regular storytelling. 🙂  Something else I hope to share in the next few days is my road to recovery from Plantar Fasciitis.  I am going to start the post, detailing what I’m doing for it, and then I will wait til I can verify the results before publishing it.  This is all just to say that I am doing things a bit differently than I was before, and I’ve done more reading on the subject in the hopes of returning to running some time this century. 🙂  You’ll just have to wait, though, to find out what I’m doing, and whether or not it works!

“Magic” has been the name by which my husband refers to this meal, and I modeled it after a meal we ate at The Fishwife in Pacific Grove, CA, so that’s how the title evolved, though in actuality it’s another one of those things for which we really don’t have a name.  I am not trying to brag about the awesomeness of this recipe, especially since it’s one I sort of made up myself, but if you should happen to make this, I think you will agree that it is outstanding.  I only make it about 2-3 times a year, but it is always highly anticipated beforehand and lovingly remembered for the week following.  Here’s my cousin Ben about to dig in — he, his wife, and his three children visited for the day yesterday after not seeing us for over nine years!

about to dig in

about to dig in

So here’s a quick summary before I get into the recipe — it’s my black beans beside a dollop of brown rice (this is how the meal was served to us before), a crispy corn tortilla topped with baked white fish (any sort works) with a delicious creamy tomato-basil seafood sauce to finish it off.  Truly. Magical.

I made a recipe in the Of Tide and Thyme cookbook put out by the Annapolis Junior League (a gift which circulates among Naval Academy graduates and newlyweds in Annapolis) for Salmon with a tomato-basil sauce.  As soon as I tasted it, I knew it was a good place to start for replicating the meal from The Fishwife.  A few months later I set about creating my masterpiece – only because we moved away from Monterey and could no longer dine at The Fishwife. 🙂

I have done this before making the black beans on the same day, and it’s a little much.  Often now I will wait until I have some in the freezer from a previous meal so I can pull them out the day I need them for this dish.  This time I started the beans the day before by boiling them for hours with some fresh chicken stock (three frozen chicken carcasses from old rotisseries that I just toss in the freezer rather than picking off the rest of the meat once we’ve eaten one for dinner) with a few bones and some skin thrown in.  (Of course I soaked them the night before that.)  I have made the mistake of boiling my beans with a chicken in the past, and then it’s too hard to remove all the chicken pieces because a strainer can’t be used (since that would strain out the beans as well!)  Normally I use ham hocks or a hambone from a family ham for this very reason.  This time I was possibly making it for someone who only eats chicken (no beef or pork) so I went with the chicken.  I made it into stock, strained it, then added the stock to the beans to boil them, adding the extra things like bone and skin to help break down the beans.  I posted my black bean recipe a while back here.

Okay – so the black beans are bubbling away on the stove, all cooked down and seasoned, smelling yummy.  Now it’s time to construct the seafood sauce.  It’s the basic tomato-basil creamy yumminess made into a lobster sauce (usually) by simmering some lobster tails and claws in with the sauce (then removing the meat from the shells and dicing it into the sauce) or by just cooking some shrimp in the sauce like I did last night (hey – it was all I had.)  I have also used lobster stock that I made by boiling lobster shells and pieces and parts from previous meals and then frozen, which of course doesn’t add any yummy lobster meat to the sauce.  Having done this so many different ways, I have found them all to be delicious, so do whatever seems easiest. 🙂  Start out by sauteing the onions in oil until they soften up and are just about translucent.

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Add the skinned, diced tomatoes and simmer about fifteen minutes.  I used five tomatoes.  Once you skin them, you need to seed them as well before dicing them.  I have tried it by blanching the tomatoes in boiling water for a few seconds then dipping them into an ice bath which great reduced the peeling time, but this time I didn’t have an extra stovetop burner available, so I just peeled them the old fashioned way. 🙂

photo-455Here is a picture after I have simmered them down about ten minutes.

photo-456Once you have simmered this together for fifteen minutes, add either the shrimp or the lobster tails/claws (or both) and simmer together until the seafood is cooked completely.  The sauce will never be boiling again, so there will not be another chance for the seafood to cook past this point.

After having just added in the frozen shrimp

After having just added in the frozen shrimp

If you’re using stock, then skip this step, which is taking the time to cook your seafood.  As you can see, mine has already been peeled, and I needed to cook it for about fifteen minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven and place your white fish into a lightly oiled baking dish.  I drizzled melted butter over the fish, sprinkled it with a bit of Italian season, salt, and pepper, and baked it at 350 until flaky (about 20-30 minutes – from when I remembered to pop it into the oven until it was time to serve up the plates.)

tilapia going into the oven.  Mine was frozen and thawed on the counter for about half an hour while I prepared other things.  Nothing fancy about this fish.

tilapia going into the oven. Mine was frozen and thawed on the counter for about half an hour while I prepared other things. Nothing fancy about this fish.

Here’s how the sauce was looking once the shrimp had cooked:

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I removed the tails whilst they were cooking in the pan just by cutting them with my stirring spoon.  If you’re using lobster, remove it from the pan to get rid of the shells and dice up the meat, replacing the meat into the sauce.  Now it is time to add the cream and the chopped basil.  Stir them into the sauce and heat through without allowing it to boil.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Here’s another “meanwhile.”  As things continue to cook, heat up some olive oil to fry the corn tortillas.  Cook each one until it has just become crisp, then remove it to a cookie sheet in the hot oven lined with paper towels.  Fry enough for every plate to receive one, including a few extras for people like my husband.  Dish up a spoonful of brown rice, add a generous scoop of black beans beside it, then place a fried tortilla on top, sort of dividing the plate into thirds where one third has the rice, one third the beans, and the last third the tortilla which overlaps the other two.  Making sense?  Place a serving of fish on top of the tortilla, and finally, ladle the sauce over top of it, letting it drizzle over onto the rice as well.  Garnish with fresh cilantro (coriander, for all you Brits!)

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The black beans and crisp tortilla serve to give this Mexican flare though the sauce is more of an Italian concoction.  I would definitely class this as a Mexican dish, so perhaps serve it up with chips, fresh salsa, and delicious guacamole as an appetizer. 🙂  Let me know if you make it and enjoy it as much as we do!!

RECIPE

THE FISHWIFE’S MAGIC MEAL

Dice:

1/2 onion

5 peeled, seeded medium tomatoes

1 bunch basil

Saute:

Cook onion in 2 Tbsp Olive Oil until onion is soft and translucent.  Add the tomato and simmer about 15 minutes over medium heat.

Cook 1 lb shrimp and/or a few small lobster tails or claws in the pan with the onion/tomato mixture.  Once fully cooked (about 15 minutes) remove meat from shells and return to pan.

Bake 4-6 pieces of any white fish at 350 until flaky – about 20 minutes.  I season mine with butter, Italian seasonings, salt, and pepper before baking.

To the saute pan add (once the seafood has been fully cooked):

1/2 cup light cream or 1/2-&-1/2

1 bunch chopped basil.

DO NOT BOIL.  Heat through; salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with sides of Black Beans and rice as a topping over the fish with a crispy corn tortilla (I suppose super-crispy tortilla chops could work, but they get soggy faster than an actual tortilla which has been fried.)

Sugar Cookies from Heaven (Hawaii really)

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looking at a Christmas cookie tower "tree" from above

looking at a Christmas cookie tower “tree” from above

Quick post just to give out my Sugar Cookie Recipe by request.  Pictured above is the only picture from our recent cookie-making spree (for sugar cookies at least  – I took more pictures of the “Holiday Cookies” I made which are my own recipe and which I will share later.)  I think I was supposed to have used two of each size star, but I forgot that until I saw the assembled trees the kids made.  Ooops!  They were still super yummy, which is all that matters. 🙂  Sarah Schmitt (my next door neighbor in Hawaii) gave me this recipe, and there is nothing written on it to tell me where it originated.  Lucky for you, I am sharing it here, because I am telling you – they are the best sugar cookies on the planet.  If you cook them properly, they stay soft and yummy, but firm.  The taste is just perfect.  Turn your nose up at them if you will, thinking you’ve had enough sugar cookies to last you a lifetime, but you will be missing out.  Consider yourself warned.

Sarah’s Sugar Cookies

2 sticks room temperature unsalted (I assume, since salt is in the recipe.)

3/4 cup sugar

3 egg yolks

2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

Cream butter, sugar, and vanilla until smooth.  Scrape bowl and mix in eggs.  Whisk flour, salt, and powder together and then add it to the mixer containing the butter concoction.  Combine until just mixed.

Wrap dough in plastic and chill until firm.  Roll out to 1/4 inch thick and cut into cookies.  Bake at 350 degrees (F) until edges are JUST GOLDEN – about 6-8 minutes.

These cookies took about 8 1/2 minutes for me on the correct cookie sheet.  On a normal, poorly cookie sheet (scarred with all sorts of things) the cookie stuck to the sheet and when just barely golden on the edges was crispy just moments out of the oven.  On an air bake cookie sheet, they were easy to remove from the cookie sheet and stayed soft even days later.  The very large stars on the bottom of the Christmas trees needed another minute because otherwise they didn’t firm up in the middle.  I hope someone reading this makes these cookies and decides they are amazing.  Here’s a simple frosting recipe as well, but we used canned frosting this time:

1/3 cup softened butter

1 pound powdered sugar

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp vanilla

Weekly (Crockpot!) Recipe Recommend: Salsa Time with Refried Beans!

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I have been avoiding running because of my plantar fasciitis (mostly in my right foot), and the serious lack of endorphins (practically as good as laughing gas!) is probably contributing to my missing sense of humor.  Tomorrow during John’s lunch break I’ll be going to the gym nearby on base to ride a stationary bike for 45-60 minutes.  I plan on getting in about an hour on Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday as well before we leave Tuesday afternoon for our Thanksgiving break up in Massachusetts.  Hopefully there will be some way on Thanksgiving Day and the day after to get in a bit of strenuous exercise for my own well-being that doesn’t require me to bear my own weight on these troublesome feet!  We went to our homeschool co-op again and had a nice day as usual, and this evening I attended a meeting of the homeschool support group “LCEAH” for my local area at which we exchanged holiday traditions and shared some yummy snacks.  It was nice for me to meet some homeschooling ladies who live a bit closer to us, as everyone we have met at the Co-op lives about half an hour away from us.

Now I’m home relaxing a bit before bed and sharing a few recipes with you. 🙂  I was just going to share one, but it’s kind of a complete package, so here you go: Homemade Crockpot Refried Beans, and Homemade Salsa!  We put it together in a simple way for a yummy dinner – but I forgot to take a picture of it.  Placing 6 corn tortillas onto a cookie sheet, I then layered on a pre-sliced piece of Tillamook cheddar cheese (yum!) and broiled them til the cheese was hot and bubbly.  Once out of the oven I scooped on the hot refried beans and ladled a hefty scoop of salsa on top.  It was a bit messy to eat, as the salsa juices wanted to drip out and down my hand and wrist, but we managed to choke it down. 🙂

Starting to boil down (“refry”) the beans with a little olive oil.

First I’ll give you the low-down on the beans, since making them is basically just “manning the pan.”  I used the bacon grease from one package of bacon which we had just cooked, along with 2-3 bags of pinto beans (There was an oddly-sized box of beans thrown in with two bags of beans, but normally I would have just used the two bags.)  Of course, you need to soak the beans overnight first.  Then DUMP THAT WATER, and put them into the crockpot along with the bacon fat, and cook them on low for about….ten hours?  That’s how long I cooked them, then I just put them in the fridge overnight because I needed to go to bed.  I had to stir a bit throughout the day because the water level couldn’t be high enough to completely cover all my beans (too many beans – oh well) or it would have overflowed every time I put the lid back on to the crockpot (like it did the first time I tried to put it on.)  The next day, I added about 3 Tablespoons of olive oil to a huge skillet (3 Tbsp to each of the two skillets I used) and then scooped in beans and the bit of water left to “fry” them in the oil.  This is the only reason I can imagine that they’re called “refried” – because you boil them and then fry them in some sort of oil.  At least, that’s how I do it. 🙂

Cooked down a bit and adding spices

Now you just add your spices, and then mash!! You could put them in a food processor, but that’s not how I roll.  I like my refried beans and my mashed potatoes nice and lumpy, so I can remember that I made them from scratch! 🙂

The same spices I used in the salsa – garlic powder, cumin, and chili powder, along with salt.

Mix in the spices — this is how much I used per skillet, so a rough estimate for one average sized (24 oz) bag of beans.     I added 3- 1/2 tsp salt, 1 Tbsp Cumin, 1 -1/2 tsp chili powder, and 1- 1/2 tsp garlic powder to each pan.  Then I mashed, mashed, mashed.

Here’s how they turned out:

If you continue to cook it, the beans just dry out, so eat it right away.  I then bagged it up in 2 cup portions and ended up with 7 baggies, 2 cups apiece, plus the beans we had for dinner and the ones we ate at lunch the next day.  Score.  When you reheat them in the future, add in some extra water as you stir.

Now for the Salsa – the KEY to my salsa, which has always been a hit with my husband, is that I put certain stuff in the food processor first and chop it up til it is no longer recognizable, and then I chop tomatoes up coarsely in the machine just with a few pulses and add them to the green glop.  That way it’s properly mixed but still chunky.  First off I process the jalapenos, cilantro, garlic cloves, green onion, lime juice and spices together, along with 1 tomato for added juice.

On the way to becoming green gloppiness

Put the green stuff into your salsa container.  It should be unedible because it is both too salty and too spicy.  Then process however many tomatoes you need and add them to the bowl of green stuff and then stir.  Simple!  I sometimes have to add more tomatoes to dilute the spiciness.  Amounts really vary of all the ingredients, so I can only list them as “best guesses.”

Homemade Crockpot Refried Pinto Beans

2 bag beans

grease from one pack of cooked bacon

spices:

2 Tbsp Cumin

7 tsp salt

3 tsp chili powder

3 tsp garlic powder

Homemade Salsa

4-8 tomatoes

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch green onions

6 cloves garlic

2-6 jalapenos

salt, cumin, garlic powder, chili powder

juice of two limes

CUMIN is the do-not-leave-it-out spice in this recipe!

Surprise!

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This has something to do with the surprise…what is it??

So I promised a small surprise in today’s post, but first I must correct a few “discrepancies” pointed out to me by my husband found in yesterday’s post.

Apparently in my beat-down-by-the-marathon stupor I was unable to absorb all the details given to me by Christine and John about their day in DC.  Just Daniel was on the floor of the train in all his poopie glory.  And the man didn’t threaten to call the police on John – the man was, in fact, a policeman, and threatened to arrest him if he carried Greer on the escalator in the stroller.  So John had to take her out and carry her and the stroller separately, which is what he did again later.  I had thought it was someone giving him a hard time for trying to drive the stroller onto the escalator with Greer sitting in it, which is his usual modus operandi.  And that, instead of disobeying the man by driving her in the stroller, he picked the whole thing up and carried it with her in it.  But I guess when he tried to do that the police officer went off on him.  Last thing to correct is that John didn’t see Gabriel making the Lego “I love you” sign — instead, Gabriel came up to him and told him that he was making me a sign and that it was a secret.  This makes Gabriel appear at his cutest.  Even better. 🙂

I should update you on our eating over the last week — I don’t remember much of it but the tacos stand out in my mind – with my homemade seasoning and a mix of ground turkey and ground beef (Watching Biggest Loser just may be starting to affect my food choices a bit…) – and the rest of the homemade salsa.  I’ve got a bunch more tomatoes and jalapenos from the bag of food from an organic farm that I get each week (a sort of grab-bag of in-season veg), so more salsa is on the way, and I promise to make a report of the recipe this time. 🙂  We also had rotisserie chickens from Whole Foods one night because I had run over there for a few things and they were on sale – which led to homemade chicken soup last night using fresh corn on the cob (also from the organic veg bag – boiled up some mystery greens in with the stock from the bag, too).  I’ve been having 1-2 shakes a day as well because the idea of a chocolate-coffee frozen concoction is just taking over my life right now.  Depending on the time of day (is it replacing a meal, is it a snack, or do I really not need any extra calories right now) I build my shake in different ways.  Always the base is ice (in England I always had some overripe frozen bananas on hand which eliminated the need for ice and added enough sweetness for the whole shake) with enough milk — mostly almond with a little rice milk, and then if I want some extra (healthy) fat and calories, I throw in a bit of coconut milk — to cover the ice.  I will toss in between 1/4 and a whole scoop of protein powder, or just a handful of almonds (I put some pecans in yesterday with my pumpkin spice shake) for some staying power, and then the decaf instant coffee and cocoa powder (not all the time) and sweetener.  With the pumpkin, I am using pumpkin butter which already has sugar in it, with other flavors, I have a few coffee syrups which obviously have sugar – like Gingerbread or Caramel, etc – and I’ll use about a teaspoon.  If it’s just a mocha (cocoa and coffee), I’ll put in a little Agave nectar.  I never put in enough to make it sweet enough for me – so I supplement it with Stevia as well just to get it to “perfection” without the extra 60-100 calories of a real sweetener that it would have taken.  All these shakes are kind of overshadowing the other things I’ve eaten because they are so yummy. 🙂  I know I also had several salmon-salad sandwiches on my signature cinnamon raisin Ezekiel bread.  Can’t get enough of that combination!!

We worked on rearranging boxes in the house yesterday and today, and a few bookshelves, and things are looking much better.  Probably ten boxes were unpacked, so we’re still working on putting all that stuff away, but we are well on the way to “acceptable” from our three-week stop in “liveable.”  We’re still quite a distance from “comfortably cute and wonderful”, but I am so thankful for this house and our happy furnishings, no matter how many boxes surround us, especially when I think of all the people in the Northeast.  I think what makes it so hard for people right now is that 1)The people in New England don’t usually have this kind of a catastrophe in the back of their minds like those in the Southeast and on the Gulf Coast tend to do.  It’s more like something out of a summer blockbuster – New York City being flooded, the Jersey Shore being washed away – and it’s really hard to fathom that this has really happened up there.  Consequently, they were completely unprepared for such colossal damages. 2)Winter is upon us, and they don’t have much time to rebuild before New England will be experiencing colder temperatures.  Shelter and clothing for those who lost it all is an even more dire need than it might be if this had happened in, say, July.

So I feel a little lame writing about what we’re cooking and the boxes we’re unpacking, etc, when there are so many people who’ve lost their homes, and some even their loved ones.  Hopefully if you’re reading, you won’t mind a short diversion from the tragedies on the news and the election coverage everywhere else. 🙂  I also snuck in my first run post-marathon on Saturday – just 3.16 miles and nothing to write home about.  It was a comfortable pace, and nothing was sore, although it seemed a bit hard to keep going after about fifteen minutes, so I think my legs are still recovering.

A few things found in the boxes this weekend…tea party anyone? 🙂

So here’s the surprise I kept promising….

AFTER! Patience wanted short hair again because brushing it is always so much of a challenge…the rest of the pictures will be before – then after. 🙂

Claire – before – and she looks like she’s wearing lipstick, but it’s chapped lips that she’s been licking too much. 😦

Greer’s was the first one — and all the girls loved it and begged for the same!

Liesl’s working on losing that top front tooth…

So there you go – now you’ll still recognize us if you run into the girls and me some time this week.  It has been so cute watching them all frolic around the house with their little bobs.  Greer especially.  Super cute. 🙂