Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Salad Dressing

One of the first things I started making when I was changing the way we ate was salad dressings. I have only bought maybe a couple of bottles of dressing in the store in the past 3 + years. I usually mix up a new one every week or so, with Ranch and Blue Cheese being the ones I make most often. 

Last week I made a Baked Reuben for dinner so I needed some Thousand Island dressing. I like to gather my ingredients before starting to make sure I have everything I need.

I will add the ingredients directly in a wide mouth mason jar, which is how I will store the dressing. A few shakes and it is mixed, nice and easy. Sometimes I will use a mini whisk to make sure everything is combined. 

Very little clean up, the jar is great for storage.

 Blue painters tape gets used a lot in my kitchen! Since I do make a lot of our condiments and most are stored in mason jars, I need to label them--the painter's tape comes off easily and doesn't leave a sticky mess.

Thousand Island Dressing

1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons ketchup
2 tablespoon white vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
1 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 teaspoon white onion, finely minced
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Changing Food Habits

It has been over a year now that we have been making the changes with our food choices. Our health was my number one motivator in starting these changes. Some of the changes we have made have been easy and some have taken a lot more work and dedication. I am happy to report that I have lost more than 20 lbs since spring. To me, 20 lbs. is a significant amount of weight, it means that I am doing something right and it isn't just body weight fluctuations.

Here are a few of the changes I have made.

NO DIET SODA--I had my last can or diet soda on April 1st.  This was a hard one for me. I still look at them every time I go to check out at a store and there sits that case of perfectly chilled diet soda. I used to grab one almost every time I would check out somewhere. and then another with dinner. If we were eating out, there would be a couple of refills too. I just stopped one day. It has gotten easier, but sometimes I do miss them. I do still drink a soda every once in a while, but is it almost always ginger ale, or maybe another clear soda. Mostly I drink water.

FOOD RULE #1--  Make as much as possible from scratch and eliminate overly processed foods. I am trying to not label foods good or bad. I love food and trying new food combinations and cooking is one of my favorite things in the world to do, so denying myself that would make me very unhappy. So I still eat pizza--made at home with extra veggies with the pepperoni or tacos-once again made at home- with lots of lettuce and tomatoes. 

REDUCE EATING OUT-- We used to eat out at least 3-4 times a week, a couple of lunches a week plus a couple of dinners. Now, I make lunches every day and we only eat out for dinner when we plan it or are meeting friends. I am not a huge calorie counter, but I know what is in the food I prepare at home and the calories in fast food, and what I make is usually at least half the calories of what we eat in a  restaurant. This has also helped out budget!

MEAL PLANNING-- Meal planning has saved us so much money. I buy what I have planned and not a lot extra. I look at the sales papers before planning our meals to make sure I am stretching out part of our budget as much as possible. Since I have a plan, I avoid that "what-am-I-going-to-make-for-dinner" rush. Because, honestly, sometimes the answer was I don't want to cook, lets go out.  

Since I plan all of three of our meals each day, I know what days I can splurge and make something that might be a little on the not so healthy side. I still meet a friend or my MIL for lunch here and there, Kip still eats out with co-workers on occasionally and we still plan to meet friends for dinner. The difference is those things are planned for, and not a default because there isn't food here or I ran out of creativity to throw together a meal.

DRINKING MORE  WATER-- Since I am no longer drinking my soda of choice, I am drinking a lot more water. Drinking water isn't something that bothers me, even when I was drinking soda, I still drank quite a bit of water. I usually just drink it iced, but I also usually have sliced cucumbers, lemons, limes or oranges in the fridge if I want to flavor my water for something different.

PREPPING FOOD--I try to prep and wash a lot of my food as soon as I get home from the grocery store. If I do that, it is easier to grab an apple instead of a bag of chips. It also cuts down on the time it takes to pack lunches, because I am so NOT a morning person!

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Time Saver

In our efforts to both eat healthier and save money we are trying to be more consistent with packing lunches and not eating out. I am not a morning person at all, so if I waited til morning to make lunches they wouldn't get made most mornings. I cook dinner every night and often make extras for our lunch and "everyone for themselves" dinner night. I find that if I go ahead and assemble meals as I am cleaning up for dinner, it makes my life much easier. All we do is grab one and stick it in the lunch box along with a piece of fruit.

In addition to being a huge time saver, it also saves us money in a couple of ways--they are quick to grab so on those crazy mornings, lunch still gets packed and we don't have to rely on fast food, and on nights that one of us is not here, we have a ready meal that can just be reheated--no calling for pizza delivery! Another benefit is that I don't have a bunch of containers of leftovers in the fridge that get overlooked and just end up getting tossed. I hate throwing away food!

For most meals, I like these Easy Lunch Boxes. The have three sections, so I can make sure lunch also included veggies. I also like that they have different colored lids so that I can tell which lunches need to be eaten first or who I packed it for! I also have a thing for Bento boxes so I have lots of great containers for lunch.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Pimento Cheese

I used to think that I did not like pimento cheese. Not sure why, but it might have had something to do with the fact that my Dad liked pimento cheese stuffed celery. The addition of celery to anything pretty much ruins it for me! One day a friend offered me some that she made at home. That was pretty tasty! She used this recipe, and gave it to me. I have made it several times and have come up with a version that we really like at my house.

Gathering all the ingredients:

All mixed up:

Pimento Cheese 

1 block of cream cheese, softened at room temperature
1 block of sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
1 block of Monterrey Jack cheese, shredded (pepper jack is also great)
1 cup mayo
1 jar of pimentos, drained
1/4 cup onion grated (including the juice)
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp black pepper
1 Tbs Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbs lemon juice

In a large bowl, beat the cream cheese until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.

****I have found that grating my own cheese for this recipe results in a much smoother and creamier spread and Kip and I both prefer it if I grate it vs. using already shredded cheeses.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Chicken and Dumplings

Chicken and Dumplings happen to be one of my favorite foods and top the list as far as comfort foods go. Growing up in the south, I think almost every one has their own version of them too. My version is the way that my Grandmother always made them. She really didn't make them all that often, just at holidays, but they were really something to look forward too. No holiday meal was complete without her dumplings. That is one of the traditions I have brought to my in-laws' get togethers too.

Now Granny always made hers with the turkey that  would be baked on a holiday. I have adapted my recipe for chicken, everything else is still the way that she taught me.

The ingredients are simple; flour, Crisco, broth, milk, butter and cook shredded chicken.

This is one of those recipes that I just by feel, I don't really have exact measurements, but I start with about 2 cups of all purpose flour and roughly 1/2 cup of the Crisco.

Before I start the dumplings, I prepare my pot by adding a couple of quarts of chicken broth, a cup or so of milk and a stick of butter. 

Using a fork, you are going to work the Crisco into the flour until the flour is crumbly. At this point you will add cold water to the flour mixture, about 6-8 tablespoons. You will mix in the water until a dough forms. You can add a little more water,a tablespoon at a time if needed or if it gets too sticky, you can add a little more flour.

Once your dough is formed, you will put the dough onto a floured work surface. I usually divide the dough in half because that is what fits on my mat. You only want to knead the dough a  few times, if you overwork it, you will have tough dumplings.

Now here is where dumpling enthusiasts part ways...some prefer the thick dumplings, but we like them really thin. I will roll out the dough as thin as I can get it and then cut it into strips. 

Making sure that your broth mixture is at a soft boil and then gently drop in the strips of dumplings. Cook for several minutes until dumplings are done. Add in the chicken and stir gently.

And then you end up with a bowl of absolute deliciousness. As a kid nothing beat the day after Thanksgiving when we had dumplings to eat for breakfast. I have to divide the leftovers here at home, to make sure the other person doesn't eat them all! 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Egg Rolls

This week I received cabbage in my Bountiful Basket. The first thing I though of was making egg rolls. I started with one package of egg roll wrappers, cabbage, carrots and a seasoned meat mixture. In these rolls, the meat is ground turkey, but I often make them without meat. You can also used chopped shrimp, crumbled tofu, or ground pork.

Mix the cabbage, carrots and the meat mixture, if using, until well combined.

You care going to start by laying the egg roll wrapper with one point toward you. Scoop some of the cabbage mixture onto the wrapper.

Roll the point facing you to the center of the egg roll.

Tuck in the corners, making sure that no filling is poking out.

Rolling away from you, keeping the roll fairly tight. If they aren't tight, then they will come apart when you are cooking them.

You will have this small point left. Using a small pastry brush or your finger, apply a small amount of water to the entire point, then finish rolling. The water will help it adhere to the rest of the egg roll, forming a seal.

At this point you are ready to cook them in a pan of hot oil. Drop them in, cooking until golden brown on both sides.

When I make egg rolls, I make the entire package or even two so that I can freeze the rest of them for later. Egg rolls aren't that hard to make, but can take a few extra minutes to get everything chopped up and ready to go. Having them in the freezer means that I can pull out what I need for dinner that night.

Dinner was lettuce wraps and egg rolls.

Egg Rolls

1 package of egg roll wrappers
2-3 cups of shredded cabbage
1-1 1/2 cups of shredded carrots

Optional: meat mixture
(ground turkey, ground pork, tofu crumbles, or chopped shrimp cooked with equal parts hoisin sauce and soy sauce and 1 tbs of ginger)

Combine all ingredients and scoop onto the center of an egg roll wrapper. Only pull out one wrapper at a time so they don't dry out.

Drop egg rolls into hot oil and cook until golden brown on both sides.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Weekly Menu and Bountiful Basket

I have missed the last two Bountiful Baskets because I was out of town. I was so happy to get one this week. The above picture contains my regular basket plus the lunch box add-on pack. I also got a 8 lbs of strawberries as an add-on and most of them are in the dehydrator.

I sit down and make my meal plan as soon as I get home with my basket to make sure that nothing goes to waste. Here is my menu plan for this week using my produce:

***Lettuce Wraps and Egg Rolls (using the butter lettuce and one head of the cabbage).
***Baked chicken with a Lemon Caper sauce and Roasted Fennel (using the fennel)

Taco Salad (using the rest of the lettuce and tomatoes) topped with a Cilantro Lime dressing (using a couple of limes)

***Hot Ham and Cheese sandwiches with homemade potato chips (using 1 or 2 potatoes) and cole slaw (the other cabbage)

Spinach Artichoke Pizza

Cheese Burgers on the grill with potato salad (using the rest of the potatoes) and corn on the cob

Beef Stroganoff

I plan the main dishes and then add more veggies and side dishes when I am actually cooking based on my mood for the day!

Apples, plums, melon, grapes, oranges peaches and pears will be eaten with breakfasts or lunches.

Carrots, small tomatoes and snap peas will be eaten with lunches.

The rest of the limes will be zested and dried and then the juice used to make limeade.

The celery will be chopped and frozen to make soup stock.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Bees and Honey

Isn't that beautiful? The golden color lets you know that this is going to be good, and the flavor does explode on your tongue. A feast for the eyes as well as the taste buds. I love honey, always have, but this is extra special honey. This honey was made by my Dad's bees and harvested by my Dad. And this jar is all mine!

Dad has been a bee keeper for a couple of years now and I hope to follow in his footsteps in the next year or so. I have always been fascinated by these little creatures and can't wait to get started with my own hive. I have to say that my Dad is a pretty cool guy, we have lots of the same interests and he is pretty much a walking encyclopedia on all of his hobbies.

Here is a picture I took of one of his hives with his girls coming and going.

This was a container of beeswax that still had some honey in it and Dad set it out for the bees to work and  get the  rest of the honey out. And work they did! It stayed full of bees and I was surprised to see the different varieties of bees in the mix. In addition to all of his honey bees, I also saw bumble bees, a yellow jacket or two and a couple of different wasp looking ones.

I have not planted a lot of flowers in the past, but this year, I added a lot of flowers in pots and built a new flower bed. I did this with the hopes of attracting bees and butterflies to my garden area.  It seems to be working, every time I go out to take a look at everything I always see lots of bees. the past few days have brought a large number of butterflies too. I caught this picture of a bumblebee working a flower.

 I love that they will let me get so close to them to let me observe them at work.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Canning Season

 Canning season is under way! I have a couple of canning projects going on several days each week to prepare for winter. I love being able to preserve some flavors of summer to be eaten on t he cold days of winter.

Corn was on the list a couple of days ago. I can almost all of my corn, but I also freeze a couple of dozen ears for corn on the cob. I like having more of my food in jars rather than the freezer because I don't have to worry about the power going off. 

You will probably be seeing a lot of canning projects over the next few weeks, they kind of take over the kitchen this time of year!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Spicy Honey Chicken

This is one of those recipes I stumbled on a while back that we absolutely love. It has just enough heat that you can taste it, but the heat is not overwhelming at all. I usually make this dish on a Sunday afternoon, or anytime that I am going to be home for a while. It bakes in the oven for a while and does need to be basted frequently, but it is worth the time!

A few simple ingredients:

This chicken is always juicy and tender and full of flavor.

It looks burnt in the picture, but it wasn't. I cannot get a good picture of anything when their is foil involved!

Spicy Honey Chicken

6 pound) whole roasting chicken
1/2 cup honey
1 tablespoon chili powder
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2 tablespoons butter, melted

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Rinse and pat dry the chicken; place in roasting pan.

In a bowl, mix together the honey, chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt, and garlic powder. Using your hands, rub the honey mixture all over the chicken. Baste chicken with the melted butter.

Roast the chicken in the preheated oven until the skin begins to brown, 30 to 45 minutes. Baste the chicken with juices in the roasting pan.

Reduce heat to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C), and roast until no longer pink at the bone and the juices run clear, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Baste occasionally during roasting. An instant-read thermometer inserted into the thickest part of the thigh, near the bone should read 180 degrees F (80 degrees C). Remove the chicken from the oven, cover with a doubled sheet of aluminum foil, and allow to rest in a warm area for 10 minutes before slicing.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Blueberry Smoothie Pops

We really fo eat a lot of these popsicles, especially in the summer. This week we are having Blueberry Smoothie Pops. They are super easy and quick to make and only have a few basic ingredients. For these, I used 1 cup of blueberries, 1 cup of vanilla yogurt and 1/4-1/3 cup of milk. I toss all that in a blender and puree until smooth. Pour into molds and freeze!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Skillet Corn

I love fresh corn on the cob. One of our favorite ways to eat it is to just shuck it, season it,wrap in foil and toss it on the grill. Kip isn't as crazy about corn on the cob as I am so when I have fresh corn, I try to look for other ways of using it. Skillet corn is one of those things I will make when he has had his fill of corn cobs.

You will need 4-6 ears of corn, some butter, milk, flour, coarse ground pepper and onion. Shuck and clean the corn; cut it off the cob. 

Melt a couple of tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Dice the onions and add to the melted butter.

Cook until the onions are softening and just starting to brown.

Add the corn to the onions in the pan and cook for about 10 minutes.

After the corn has cooked for a bit, add about 1/2 cup of milk and a couple of tablespoons of flour. Cook until the milk thickens. 

Season with coarse ground pepper and salt if desired.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Pecan Pancakes

Growing up, my Dad worked swing shift most of the time. The week he worked the midnight shifts, we ate breakfast for dinner. I love breakfast foods, so that always worked for me. I still like to have breakfast for dinner pretty often. Pancakes are one of those things that I only want to eat every once in a while but when I do, I try to make enough for dinner and some extra for the freezer. I don't always have time in the mornings to make a full breakfast, but if I have things that are ready to go it makes it a lot easier on me,

I decided this go round to make pecan pancakes. When I was a little girl, my Dad often made pancakes for us. According to him, they were so light and fluffy that he would have to use coke bottles to hold them down on the griddle. But my Mom is the one that introduced me to Pecan Pancakes and they are one of my favorites.

Ingredients gathered:

Dry ingredients are mixed in one bowl, wet ingredients are in the other.

Pecans are added and then mixed until batter is just mixed.

Cooking in a hot pan

Always wait for the surface to be filled with air bubbles before turning your pancakes.

Yum! A nice stack of piping hot Pecan Pancakes. Add a little maple syrup and butter if you like and enjoy! 

Pecan Pancakes
2 cups flour
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, toasted if desired
1 cup buttermilk
3/4 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/4 cup melted butter
vegetable oil
pecan halves (optional) 

In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, soda, and chopped pecans.

In another bowl, whisk together buttermilk and milk, egg yolks, and melted butter. Blend into the dry ingredients just until all ingredients are moistened.

Beat egg whites in another bowl until stiff peaks form.

Fold into the batter until well incorporated.

Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet over medium heat (or use a griddle to make more at a time).

When skillet is hot enough for a drop of water to sizzle, scoop pancake batter onto the skillet in about 1/4-cup portions, spreading slightly.

When edges are rather dry and bubbles are popping and bottoms are nicely browned, about 2 to 3 minutes, turn over and cook the other side until browned, about 2 minutes longer.

Serve hot with butter and syrup and garnish with pecan halves or fruit, if desired.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Dinner with the Girls

It has been a while since I have shown a cooking project with Jenna and Samantha. Now that they are in middle and high school and are involved in after school activities and no longer need a nanny, they aren't at my house very often. Now I tend to go to their house and cook with them and their Mom. This was a dinner we prepared a couple of weeks ago, Judy came up with the menu, but we all pitched in to get it all cooked. We had Red Bean and Quinoa Burgers, Hamburgers, Slaw, Pasta Salad, Caprese Salad and some sauted mushrooms to top the burgers. 

We always have a great time cooking together, trying new recipes and just hanging out together. I have been cooking with the girls since they were tiny and I love that they still enjoy cooking. It is also great that that they can pretty much do anything thing in the kitchen. 

We had so much fun, we are going to start scheduling these a little more often. Judy had the great idea of having our own book club. All four of us will read the same book, we will get together and cook dinner and discuss our books. We are reading our first book now.

Great times!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Mango Freezer Pops and a Peek into a Collection

We eat a lot of frozen pops in my house. Pretty much year round, but in the summer we eat even more. I try and make my own, most of the time they are frozen juices or smoothies, using real fruit, yogurt and honey to sweeten (if needed). No crazy food dies, not artificial flavors or sweeteners.

I don't have a set recipe for most of the ones I make, I just put a couple of cups of fruit, about a cup of vanilla or plain yogurt and a little milk into the blender and just blend it all together. Easy, peasy!

The Mango-Raspberry pops on the left use the above ratio. I used four ripe mangoes about 3/4 cup of raspberries, a cup of yogurt and enough milk to make everything blend smoothly.

The Mango-Chili ones are different, I have had the recipe forever, but this was my first time making it. I am interested to see how the cayenne pepper tastes after freezing! I tasted the mixture before freezing and it was prety good.(Recipe below)

So you might have noticed that I have a few different molds. Once I get on a kick with something, I am really on a kick. I am pretty frugal in most every aspect and can really stretch a dollar. Except when it comes to kitchen tools and art supplies. I still bargain hunt, but things that get used a lot are worth a little extra money, if they have a function that the cheaper ones might be lacking. I like molds that allow me to remove the popsicle from the base--I don't like the ones that have 4-6 together and you have to wait until they are all gone to wash it and start again. Once mine are frozen, I toss them in a big plastic bag labeled with the flavor and as soon as we have eaten enough for a new batch, I can start again. Doing this also makes it easier for me to have a few different flavors in the freezer at a time. I love all my molds. The Ice Cream Cones can be found here , the Ring Pops (perfect for little ones) can be found here and the Monster Pops are here.  

I really like the Tovolo brand of molds, I use mine a lot and they have held up beautifully.Here are some reasons these are my favorite brand:

*** After at least three or four years, of almost constant use, they show almost no signs of wear
***They come in lots of fun shapes
*** BPA free
***The cones catch drips,great with little ones
***The led of the cones comes off easier than any other molds I have ever used

   *** They all come off the base that is used for freezing and the bases are sturdy so you don't have to worry about them collapsing on the way to the freezer. The fact that I can remove them from the base is my number one reason for loving and preferring the Tovolo brand molds.

My name is Gina and I have a serious Kitchen Gadget fixation!

Mango Chili Pops

2 cups pineapple juice
1/2 cup honey
1 ripe mango, peeled, pitted and flesh scooped out
2 tbs lemon juice
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1/4 tsp salt

Toss everything in the blender and blend until smooth. Pour into molds and freeze.

Monday, June 30, 2014

This Week's Basket and Meal Plan

This is what was in my basket this week. No add-ons t his week, I knew I would be going out of town so I didn't want to have too much and take a risk on losing some of it. Our baskets also had some bananas but I traded mine with someone so that I got extra limes.

My plan for everything else:

Lettuce-salads and sandwiches
Celery-freeze for making stock later
Corn--Skillet Corn (as a side dish to Spicy Honey Chicken)
Tomatoes- sandwiches, salad, sliced to top Caprese Chicken
Mangos--Mango Smoothie and Mango-Chili freezer pops
Asparagus-Steamed and served with Rosemary Garlic Salmon
Potatoes-- cheesey mashed potatoes served with the Caprese Chicken
Limes--will be zested and juiced to make limeade and cut up to add to glasses of water
Nectarines and plums will be eaten as snacks

It is an abbreviated menu since I will be traveling to my Mom and Dad's. Mom will begin her chemo next week and we would appreciate your prayers and positive thoughts.

Friday, June 27, 2014

In My Garden

 Most of my plants went into the ground a little late this year so I am just now getting a lot of blooms and growing food. I thought I would show you some pictures of what I have growing.

Welcome to my garden!

My sunflower is just starting to open up. This is the first year that I have grown a lot of flowers and most of them are mixed into my garden area.

I have four raised beds in my yard,the large one has a fence on the back of it so that my climbing and vining things have a place to go. My peas were growing there, I have pulled them out and have planted lima beans in their place, I also have some morning glories growing along the fence.

My first pumpkin! I have never tried to grow pumpkins before, so I was excited to see this one.

Ahhh, tomatoes, the number one reason for gardening. Nothing in this world beats a home grown tomato. I can't wait until these start ripening.

I also have some beans! 

Lots and lots of blooms.

As I mentioned, this is my first year to try and grow a lot of flowers. I have quite a few that are mixed in with my food bearing plants. I did this hoping to attract lots of pollinators to the garden. I also decided to add a flower bed to the side of the house. I started out with an 8-foot section, but it was kind of lost on that huge fence so I decided to add two more sections for a 24-foot flower bed. The Nicodemus plants in the middle have been blooming for a couple of weeks now and I am finally starting to see some other blooms too. I know now that I need to start my flowering seeds a little earlier than I did this year. I have lots of green in that flower bed, but not a lot of color yet.