Recipe Success

Having access to endless recipes is one of my favorite things about the internet. This week, the internet has rescued me not once, but three times, and each time was a yummy success.

Apple Cider on Halloween

Apple Cider. Halloween 2013.

1. Friday night, Josh and I attended our Schoenstatt Couples Group. The host asked us to bring snacks and libations. The libations were easy – my new spiked apple cider creation is my very favorite drink and perfect for this time of year. I created it on halloween and have made it for myself several times since. It’s simply store-bought apple cider, warmed up, and spiked with Southern Comfort. It is so yummy and festive. It couldn’t be easier to make, and I had the ingredients on hand, so I made a thermos of it to take to our gathering.

The snack was a different matter. My pantry shelves were quite bare, and I certainly wasn’t going to haul all the kids to the grocery, so I had to get creative with what I had. I wanted to make something seasonal, but the only “seasonal” ingredient I had on hand was half a can of pumpkin left over in the fridge from some other recipe. Google to the rescue. After a few minutes of searching I settled on Pumpkin Brownies. I had never heard of this magical delicacy. Who knew you could mix chocolate and pumpkin? Well, it turns out you can, and it’s quite yummy. This recipe was easy, I had all the ingredients on hand, and it came out so pretty (who doesn’t love a beautifully swirled dessert?!) It was definitely a hit because there wasn’t a single crumb left in my baking dish by the end of the night.

2. Saturday night, we went to a friend’s house for dinner. She made a turkey and potatoes and asked us to bring a couple of sides. At Josh’s suggestion, I made my go-to “zesty corn,” which he doesn’t even eat, but he knows it’s easy and makes a pretty presentation. It’s just corn, red & green bell peppers, and a jalapeño cooked with some butter, salt, oregano, and cilantro. For my second dish, I again turned to google. I had a bunch of cauliflower in the fridge so I went with this cauliflower gratin. I’ve never attempted to make my cauliflower creamy or cheesy but it was AAAMAZING. It came out golden brown and bubbly and was so rich and delicious. I plan to use this recipe again on Thanksgiving!

3. Tonight I’m taking dinner to a new mama. She just welcomed twins to her family and she has a one year old and a two year old. The ladies in my homsechool co-op are so good about taking meals to new mamas. Someone always sets up a CareCalendar and we all take turns bringing dishes. I almost always take a variation of this Rosemary Chicken. It’s one dish meal and it’s so easy to make. I usually make two of them. One for the mama and one for us. I throw ours in the oven when I head out the door to deliver the meal, and we come home to dinner ready to eat. I keep disposable aluminum pans on hand and, whenever a new CareCalendar gets posted, I’m ready to go. I just pick a date and get ready to make Rosemary Chicken. I can’t remember how exactly I stumbled across this recipe, but it was the result of a google search, and it has been successful many times.

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I’m sad to say, I didn’t take pictures of any of these yummy dishes. That’s really strange because I take pictures of EVERYTHING. It’s just what I do. I have a terrible memory, so I take millions of pictures. I want to make sure I don’t forget any of the precious times I share with my family and friends. But, somehow, I didn’t photograph any of these yummy accomplishments. You’ll just have to take my word for how beautifully delicious they were. You’ll have to settle for a picture of the apple cider at our halloween party from last year and these cute pictures of my kitchen helpers.

What were your small successes this week? Share them over at Small Success Thursday!

SST: A Busy Week

It has been such a busy week at our house! Here’s what I managed to pull off:

1. We had a halloween party. We had 12 people over for trick-or-treating, fire-pitting, worm-cake-eating, and other general halloween fun. 2014-10-31 11.37.25

2. We celebrated Leila’s 2nd birthday! (I’m in constant disbelief about how quickly time flies by.) We didn’t do anything fancy, just an intimate family celebration, but I think it was perfect. She had a cupcake cake and Frozen decorations.

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3. I gave an hour long talk to the R.C.I.A. group at our parish about baptism. One of the men who has been on the R.C.I.A. team for many years said it was the most comprehensive presentation on the topic he had ever heard! :)

4. I baked some yummy bread with our rotting bananas. I know we’re not supposed to be eating bread, but it was a matter of not wasting food, right? :) In all seriousness, I hate wasting food, so I portioned and froze most of the overly ripe bananas for smoothies, but I couldn’t resist the urge to make this yummy banana pumpkin bread with chocolate chips. The kids devoured one loaf with their lunch yesterday and the other loaf for breakfast this morning.

2014-11-05 11.48.12That’s it for me. What are your small successes this week? Join in the fun over at Small Success Thursday!

Stress Projects

KeepCalmStudio.com-[Crown]-Keep-Calm-And-Complete-A-Stress-ProjectI have been super stressed out this week. On top of some smaller stressors that I’ve been dealing with, my hubby and I are making a major decision. We’re considering an opportunity that would cause some major stress, but also (hopefully) bring great rewards. I’m terrible at making decisions of any kind, but it’s way worse when the decisions are important. As we pour over pros and cons and would-bes and could-bes and should-bes, my stress level has reached heights I haven’t seen since I quit working outside of the home.

I’m not so great at coping with stress, so, at first glance, I thought I was going to have to sit out this week over at Small Success Thursday. I realized that it’s weeks like these that particularly call for a recognition of one’s small successes, and, after some thought, I discovered the silver lining to my stress.

I don’t handle stress well. I get really irritable and short-fused. To try prevent myself from attacking my family while they sleep, (I’m exaggerating – no need to call C.P.S.) I scale back on everything that I possibly can scale back on to deal with the task at hand. School gets turned down to the bare minimum: reading, math, and catechism. I make really easy meals. I don’t do the laundry. I don’t do a lot of playing with the kids. I just go into crisis mode and deal with the task at hand.

At some point I get really frustrated because I can see all that I’m putting to the side, yet I also realize that I’m not making any visible progress on whatever is causing all the stress. Then I start doing projects. I choose things that I know I can do well and see through to completion. I do this to compensate for the inadequacies I’m feeling in regards to my daily routine and other areas of my life.

I don’t go through this process intentionally. In fact, I’ve never even thought through this process before today. But this is how I operate under stress. Always.

I know that in reality this process is just a really poor coping skill. But my poor coping skill has a silver lining: I get things crossed off my to-do list that I would never otherwise tackle. I will forevermore refer to this maladaptive coping skill as my stress projects. So what did I take on this week?

1. I cleaned the grout in the hall bathroom, foyer, and laundry room. We have light grout and a lot of people in our house. I’m embarrassed to say, it gets dirty – really, really filthy. But now, thanks to my stress projects, it’s clean in several rooms of my house!

2. I weeded a lot of the front yard. We have a tiny lot, but this year it was absolutely overtaken by roadside aster. Embarrassingly overtaken. It looked like a carpet of little white flowers. But, in one of my efforts to avoid the tasks at hand while simultaneously making myself feel accomplished, I got out in the yard and tackled the weed problem – or at least a big chunk of it. We’d tried putting some weed and feed on it last month, but it didn’t work. Thus, my efforts were needed, but not something I normally would have taken on willingly. It looks so much better now!

3. I made festive halloween treats to send to work with my hubby. Back in the day, I used to make treats for my hubby to take to work with him from time to time. Thanks to work and grad school and multiple pregnancies, I haven’t done it in years. As I was working on the treats, I actually asked Josh what made me decide to make them. (Not because I was complaining but because I really couldn’t recall what gave me the idea to do it.) I didn’t realize it at the time, but it, too, was a stress project. A super cute stress project, if I may say so myself!

I’m so grateful for Small Success Thursdays. I really was feeling like a failure this week, knowing how grumpy I’ve been and seeing all that I haven’t done. Because of SST, I actually stepped back and realized that, while I may have come up short in a lot of areas, I succeeded in some areas too!

Food Favorites Vol. 2

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I took this picture for a post I never wrote on our family blog. The kids were baffled that shredded cheese could be made from their beloved blocks of cheese.

It’s been more than a year since the first edition of our family food favorites, so I figured it was time for an update. There are a couple things on that list we don’t purchase at all anymore, like frozen pizza & breakfast cereal, somethings that have fallen out of favor, like our blender applesauce, and other items that are still in high demand. So, without further ado, here are some things that we simply can’t run out of at our house:

  1. Nutella. Need I say more? I don’t know why I we waited so long to give this a try.
  2. Tortillas. Sometimes I wonder if the checkout person at Costco will ask if we’re having some kind of party based on how many tortillas we buy. We get corn and flour. Burrito sized and taco sized. They get used round the clock. The flour tortillas are technically a transgression against our dietary standards, but it’s one of the few. As Josh always reminds me, life is about balance, not extremes.
  3. Bananas.
  4. Dried Fruit. This is Ben’s favorite; he asks for it constantly. Costco has a great line of dried fruit that is pretty much just fruit and some sugar. He usually eats it plain in a bowl, but sometimes we mix it into yogurt or make trail mix.
  5. Milk. We all love milk.
  6. Carnation Instant Breakfast. Also a transgression. But sometimes we just need a quick vitamin-infused, protein boost in the form of chocolatey yumminess, right? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
  7. Granola. We keep three varieties to appease my hungry beasts. Different granolas for different moods, I suppose.
  8. Jack showing off his egg. They fight about who gets to crack the egg when we cook.

    Jack showing off his egg. They fight about who gets to crack the egg when we cook.

    Salsa.

  9. Nuts. Current favorites are salted cashews and an unsalted mix that has pistachios, cashews, walnuts, almonds, and probably some other stuff.
  10. Ham. Or “hammy” as it is loving referred to by Leila. Ham steaks or, recently, Canadian bacon. It’s great for breakfast, lunch, or a quick protein pick me up.
  11. Black beans. I cook with these A LOT. Soups, tacos, casseroles, you name it, I probably put black beans in it.
  12. Cheese. String cheese for snacks. Blocks of cheese for lunch. Shredded cheese for recipes. We love cheese.
  13. Greek yogurt. We have to ration them to one per day per kid or they just fly off the shelf.
  14. Chocolate covered almonds. This is my little treat. When I’m stressed or just want some chocolate, nothing hits the spot like my chocolate covered almonds and a big glass of milk. The kids love them, but I hoard them for myself.
  15. Eggs. We always need eggs.

 

SuperCook to the Rescue!

Our very first Bountiful Basket. 2/25/12 Look how little my sweet boys are!

Our very first Bountiful Basket. 2/25/12 (Random side note: phone pictures sure have improved dramatically in the last 2 years!)

One of the things I love about our produce coop is that it pushes me out of my comfort zone in the kitchen. Because of the way it is set up, I don’t get a say in what produce I take home each week. I make my weekly contribution and the organizers get as much produce as they can at the best price possible to divide up among the contributors. This means the selection of produce is always different and always a surprise. I used to get things in my basket and have to google them because I had no idea what they were. That still happens on occasion, but, because we’ve been participating for two years, (Happy Bountiful Baskets anniversary to me!!) I’m much more produce-literate than when I first started. Thanks to Bountiful Baskets, my family’s culinary repertoire has immensely expanded in the last two years.

However, my weekly basket still manages to push me out of my comfort zone. Now, it’s not so much because I don’t know how to prepare any given ingredient. It’s because I open my fridge or pantry and see some odd collection of items that I have no idea how to use together before they spoil. I don’t know why, but this seems to be a new problem for me. Part of the issue may be that, thanks to our revised dietary standards, pasta is no longer an option. You can incorporate almost anything into a rice or pasta dish. Having that option taken away has forced me to cook differently and see ingredients differently. Another part may be that I’m pregnant and that always limits what sounds good to me. But whatever the reason for my lack of vision, today I found a little “cheat” and with this little “cheat” my struggles in this area should vanish!

logoHave you ever used SuperCook.com?? It’s so awesome! I stumbled across it on accident while I was looking for a recipe site that I vaguely remembered using in the past. The site in question had a feature where I could search recipes by ingredient. Considering my current dilemma, I figured that was exactly what I needed. But, while I was trying to find that site, I found supercook.com instead.

Basically, SuperCook is just a search engine. You select the ingredients you have on hand, and it searches the web (not just one measly little site!) for recipes that match your ingredient list. How brilliant is that?! What’s even better is, if you create a free account, the site remembers the ingredients you’ve entered. That means I can enter all my spices and other regular pantry staples one time and I won’t need to do it again. I can just change out the fresh ingredients based on what I currently have. As you add ingredients, the recipe lists updates, sorting results by how many of the ingredients you already have on hand. You even can emphasize particular ingredients to ensure you get results that include those items. Finally, once you start finding interesting options, you can save the recipes you find or create a shopping list. I’m not sure that I will use the shopping list feature, but it’s still neat to have.

OH!! I forgot to tell you about my favorite, favorite feature! You can add in your dietary restrictions and any offending recipes are automatically filtered out! Now I don’t have to search through endless pasta recipes to find something more conducive to how we eat in our home!  Can you feel my excitement?? I’m seriously so, so happy about this little discovery. Anything that makes meal planning easier is a win in my book!

Lastly, I’d just like to reassure you that I was not compensated in any way for this glowing endorsement of supercook.com. I just like to share the good things I stumble upon in case you think they’re good things too. Go check it out for yourself. Happy cooking!

Four Little Changes

The first time Josh used the juicer. 12/26/13

The first time Josh used the juicer. 12/26/13

Since my last two posts were about food, I thought I’d keep up the trend for one more post to tell you about some major food-related changes that have taken place at our house. These have probably been brewing in the background for quite some time, as Josh and I love to watch food/nutrition documentaries, but November and December collided together in the perfect storm to effect real change in our household. I’ll spare you the details, but Josh has really spearheaded this change within our family. He has struggled with some health issues since college, and, after a trip to the emergency room, followed by a recommended physical, he decided that it was really time for things to change.

To gear up for our big change, we revisited some of our favorite documentaries. (My favorites are Food Matters and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead.) Next, we looked at the recommendations offered by Josh’s doctor, did a some internet research and discussed our nutritional goals for our family. We were able to come up with some new nutritional guidelines for our family pretty quickly. It was a smooth process because we found ourselves agreeing on what was important and what stood out to us the most. We’ve been implementing and tweaking our new guidelines over the last couple of months, and here is where we’ve landed. We’re both pretty pleased with what we’re currently doing, but that’s not to say our nutritional habits won’t continue to evolve and mature.

  1. We’ve started juicing. We were really lucky to be able to “purchase” an amazing juicer for free through the “perk points” program at my husband’s company. Basically, he earns points for meeting various goals at work, and we get to “spend” the points on awesome stuff. Without the upfront cost of investing in a juicer, we were able to implement this immediately. We aren’t juicing as a cleanse or a meal replacement, rather as a means of acquiring much needed nutrients. Every morning before work Josh makes a green juice. He consumes a full juice, usually around 30 ounces, but he makes me a slightly smaller juice, around 20 ounces or so. Most mornings, it’s Joe Cross’ Mean Green juice, but other mornings, we just juice whatever fruits and veggies we have lying around. Sometimes we get creative, and sometimes we find inspiration on juicerecipes.com. Some days we juice more than once, but we always do it in the mornings.
  2.  We’ve eliminated most grains from our diet. For us, this means no bread, pasta, or rice. In the interest of full discloser, I’ll admit that I still have a canister of white flour on my counter, although it only gets used for thickening soups and whatnot. We also chose not to eliminate oatmeal or granola. That being said, we’ve cut out a huge chunk of the grains we were consuming. It’s taken a bit of effort on my part to adjust to this, as we relied very heavily on grains at meal time. Nearly every lunch and dinner contained rice or pasta and often bread too. Breakfast was very bread heavy: muffins, biscuits, pancakes, etc. Learning how to cook without such a heavy reliance on those grains has been a bit tricky for me, but I’m finally getting the hang of it.
  3. We’ve eliminated all processed food. I’ve been working on this one for a while now. I had already implemented a “5 ingredient rule.” That being, if the label had more than 5 ingredients, it was too processed and we wouldn’t buy it. There were also a few no-no ingredients that automatically disqualified a food, such as high fructose corn syrup or chemical sweeteners. However, I often let this rule slide when it was convenient for me. For example, we still leaned heavily on frozen waffles, breakfast cereals, and frozen pizzas. Convenience was often a trump card here. Now the trump card has been thrown out the window. We’re not eating any processed food. When we go to the grocery store, we only shop on the perimeter of the store. Pretty much everything down the aisles is off limits.
  4. No fast food. This is another one that has been slowly evolving. We had already eliminated most fast food chains, but there were a couple (okay, one in particular) that I truly loved and wouldn’t cut out. I rationalized that their ingredients were much more legit than other places, but, after reading their actual ingredient lists, I realized I was so very wrong. The chicken may actually be real chicken, but it’s so chemical laden that it doesn’t really matter. Anyway, we were eating at my beloved fast food establishment at least once a week, but no more. It has finally been banned for good, along with all other fast food places.
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This is what the kids chose for lunch one day recently. SO much better than frozen pizza!

These four little changes have made a huge impact on our health in the very short time we’ve been faithful to them. Josh has lost 30 lbs, is sleeping better at night (probably because he’s no longer snoring), and has more energy than I’ve seen him have in years. We’re very much looking forward to his next doctor appointment to see what his blood work has to say about all of this.

I haven’t lost any weight (which was never my goal. I’m not trying to diet, just get healthy.) but I also haven’t gained any weight since the end of November. Considering I’m in my third trimester, that’s rather remarkable. At this point, I should be gaining weight, and somewhat rapidly. The baby is measuring great and is strong and healthy. This means that the reason my weight isn’t changing is because I’m loosing fat on my body while my baby continues to grow and be nourished. This is the only conclusion that makes sense to me, since I no longer have those pesky love handles that make it so difficult to look good in anything, pregnant or not. Also, people who see me all the time keep telling me that I’m “glowing.” I know this is something people supposedly say to pregnant women, but this is my 5th pregnancy, and no one has ever told me that I’m “glowing” before. All I can figure is the increased nutrients I’m consuming must be having a positive effect on my skin and complexion. I also feel better than I’ve ever felt this far along in a pregnancy. While I am obviously tired and achy, it is much less pronounced than it has ever been before.

Just to be clear, neither of us are “dieting” or restricting our food intake in any way. We both eat whenever we are hungry and we consume all we desire to fill ourselves up. The only restrictions we have imposed are the 4 little rules above. Despite that, we both feel great and are loosing weight in the process. Imagine what will happen with a little exercise or strength training added!

We are both so very pleased with the results of these changes that these guidelines have truly become lifestyle changes, despite the short time we’ve been following them. There is no reason that we would ever go back to the stuff that we were consuming before. If anything, we may continue to evolve and mature to eliminate even more (such as the oats and granola, or maybe even some dairy!) as we fall more in love with the benefits of living in a properly nourished body.

Christmas Eve Tamale Dinner

In Texas, tamales are a Christmas tradition. Two years ago, Josh and I decided to give this tradition a try, in part, to stabilize and fortify our fairly new Texas roots. We had a blast at our first tamale dinner and decided to make it a family tradition. Even if we ever move away, we plan to continue the tradition as a tribute to our time in Texas. Currently, we’re in the midst of preparing for our 3rd annual Christmas Eve Tamale Dinner.

Because we aren’t hispanic, or even true Texans, I have no idea how to make real tamales. I’d love to learn one day, but, for now, we simply order the tamales. I make several sides to go with them, and anyone who attends is welcome to bring a side or dessert if they wish.

I’ve been swept up in the chaos of finals and whatnot, so I’m just getting around to menu planning for our big celebration. I figured I’d take a similar approach to my Christmas morning planning and collect interesting recipes here while I try to decide what I want to serve. The final decision will partly depend on what we get in our produce basket from our coop this week. I ordered extra Mexican veggies, but you can never be quite sure what you will get until you get it. We’ll definitely be serving lots of peppers, because I already have a fridge full of Anaheim chiles and will likely get more in the basket on Saturday.

So far, I don’t have many recipes I’m interested in. I need to get busy looking for more!

Watermelon Salsa

watermelon salsa

This is already a definite yes! It will be on my table on Christmas Eve. The colors are perfect; I can use an Anaheim Chile; I adore sweet & spicy salsas. I don’t think I could possibly find for a more perfect dish!

Mexican Rice Casserole 

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This looks yummy and easy. Plus, it’s a PW recipe. I have never, ever gone wrong, been let down, or even remotely disappointed by the fabulous Ree Drummond. I have no fear of making her recipes for guests without trying them out first.

Stuffed Anaheim Peppers

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Oh I think I’m going to make these right now! They look so yummy!

If I do get more peppers I think I’ll make something similar to this for the party. I don’t know that I want a rice stuffing, since I’m probably already going to be serving the rice casserole above. I’m thinking black beans, cream cheese, and….something else. Maybe shredded chicken? Maybe bacon? Or SHIRMP?? Oh the possibilities!

Baked Shrimp with Tomatillos

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I’m not so sure about this, but I have a pound of tomatillos to use. It looks interesting enough that it might just be yummy. Or not. Either way, it’s going on the table with some fresh tortillas on the side. *Fingers crossed.*

Guacamole Salad

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Yes, yes, yes! I was already planning to make some guacamole, but this will just have to be there too. It looks like a party in a bowl. And I can’t wait to taste the lime vinaigrette!