Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Taste of Home Cooking School

Last night I got to enjoy a little mother/daughter date night with my very own momma! We attended the Taste of Home cooking school, every two-three years it comes to town and it's been our little tradition to go. I love that she shares a love for cooking just like I do.

If you've never been to a show or don't know what exactly it is; it really is essentially a cooking school. A culinary specialist from Taste of Home prepares and presents 10 recipes, the entire show lasts close to 2-1/2 hours. They make it pretty fun though, lots of stories and tips are shared while they are up on stage cooking. I think especially for beginner cooks, you can really take a lot away from a show. Taste of Home magazine is composed of recipes that are submitted by home cooks, so you know they are good, wholesome dishes that most likely your own family will enjoy. Some are made from scratch and maybe more complicated than others while some will make use of convenience products.

Did I mention prizes and goodie bags yet? They always have tons of wonderful prizes to give away, many which are donated from area businesses. Unfortunately my mom and I didn't win anything last night. We did get a lot of good stuff in our bags though. Since we bought VIP tickets we had some bonus things in our bags. Cookbook magazines, a jar of Jiff hazelnut spread, some high value coupons and I had a $20 gift card to Subway in mine. My mom received a $10 gift certificate to a local restaurant in hers. Really some pretty good stuff in there!

With the VIP tickets we had a little better seating than general admission. We also were able to participate in a meet and greet with our culinary specialist. She answered some questions, talked a little bit about herself and things like that.

Out of the ten recipes prepared, I really think I would make most of them for my own family, with a few modifications of course. One of the highlights of the evening is when they give away each of the dishes. We were secretly hoping they might draw us for the German chocolate cake! I just might have to feature that on the blog soon, you know I'm a sucker for sweets!

Monday, October 28, 2013

Ham and Bean Soup

I had every intention of sharing this recipe on Friday with you but things got a little busy over the weekend and it slipped my mind. The girls had Thursday and Friday off from school due to conferences. From Thursday night to Sunday it seemed like we were on the go, but it was a wonderful weekend indeed.

Thursday evening was spent driving all over {at least it felt like it} In between conferences we picked up our very last farm share plus some poultry I ordered from our farmers. The girls were so excited to see our turkey and pick which one we'd take home. They had so many questions and I love their interest in where our food comes from. They've even asked if we can go help work on the farm sometime next summer.

Friday night we picked out our pumpkins at a local patch. Only our youngest would stop to pose for me. I tried to get her to hold her pumpkin but it was too heavy of course so we settled for her mini pumpkin she picked out.

Saturday morning we headed down to the last farmers market of the season, I was particularly happy to find spaghetti squash. Later that morning we participated in our church's trunk or treat, I managed to get one pic of the girls before. Unfortunately it was so cold and windy that day, they didn't want to stand still for long. We'll have to try that again.

Last picture I promise. Sunday night we carved pumpkins at my parent's house, it's been their tradition since our oldest was little. They take the kids to pick their pumpkins out and then my dad carves them with the girls. It's their little thing to do and they all love it!

Okay, back on track now. Growing up my dad made ham and bean soup from time to time, especially after having a nice ham dinner. He'd take the leftover ham and the bone and make soup. My mother-in-law also makes this soup, but she adds potatoes to hers. Which I always thought was interesting. We love this hearty meal in our house, it's not something I make very often but every once in a while we crave it.

We had some extra carrots in the fridge from our produce box so I threw those in as well, they were a perfect addition. Like a lot of meals, I always make this in the crock pot. Let it cook all day, my house smells wonderful and then come dinner time it's all done. I love nights like that.

Ham and Bean Soup

1 lb. white northern beans
1 ham shank (mine was 1.5 lbs.)
3 potatoes, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
4 cups chicken broth
1 cup water

Pour bag of dry beans into slow cooker, cover with water and let soak overnight. In the morning, remove any beans that are broken and drain water. Return beans to slow cooker. Add in ham, potatoes, carrots, broth and water. Stir to combine, then cover and cook on low for 8 hours.

Remove ham and shred meat. Return meat to slow cooker and stir to combine everything. Beans should be tender at this point and ready to serve. Season with salt if needed, but I didn't need to season mine at all.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Homemade Cereal Bars

We have a new favorite cookbook in our house, it's the Weelicious Lunches by Catherine McCord. Maybe you're already a fan of her food blog, Weelicious. I'm still a fairly new fan of hers, while I haven't read much of her blog I was very interested in a cookbook that dealt specifically with school lunches, healthy lunches at that.

The girls and I have enjoyed thumbing through the recipes and flagging which ones they'd like me to try. We have a lot of orange sticky notes in our cookbook right now! Last night I was able to cross one of those off my list. Tuesday nights seem to be my night to experiment a little in the kitchen lately, it's one of the few evenings where we don't have any place to be and we can relax at home.

Now I've told you a million times already, I don't buy much for convenience foods unless the hubby happens to sneak it into the house. Does anybody else's husbands do this? I swear if I send him to the store he comes home with at least a few things I would never normally buy. Nutri-Grain bars have only been in my cart probably a handful of times, they do make for great snacks and a quick breakfast if needed. But the price can really add up, wouldn't you agree?

I made just a couple small changes to the original recipe and I am thrilled with how well these turned out! In fact they're not lasting long and I can't wait to make another batch, try out a new flavor.The only change I might make is try to add more jam for the filling. They really are so easy to make and cheaper too. I think they even taste better, but everything tastes better when it's homemade. I can't wait for you to try these and let me know what you think!

Homemade Cereal Bars

3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup flour
1-1/2 cups quick cooking oats
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp salt
1-1/2 sticks cold butter, cut into cubes
3 tbsp ice cold water
1 cup strawberry jam

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor add both flours, oats, brown sugar and salt. Pulse for thirty seconds. Add in cubed butter, process until mixture is crumbly. Add in cold water and process until dough comes together.

Line a 9x13-inch pan with parchment paper and lightly grease. Divide dough in half and press one portion into bottom of pan. Spread jam evenly on top of bottom layer. Take remaining dough and sprinkle over jam. I took small bits and sort of spread them out in my hands and then sprinkled them all over. Then take a spatula and try to smooth out the top layer.

Bake in oven for 45 minutes, bars will be golden brown and set. Let cool completely before removing from pan and cutting. Makes 12 bars

Monday, October 21, 2013

Slow Cooker Apple Butter

One of my favorite parts of fall is apple season, I love baking with apples! Unfortunately we don't have much in our area for apple orchards, at least that I know of. Unless I want to go for a drive, I usually head down to my farmers market on Saturday mornings and grab some there from an orchard two hours away. I'm thankful they drive that far to supply our area with their delicious apples.

You can imagine how happy I was when one of my daycare parents told me about her parent's neighbor having some apple trees I could go pick from if I wanted last week. I took the hubby with me Friday morning, it was pretty chilly but they had some of the best looking apple trees I've ever seen. And so many apples! I think I'm officially set with apples now for the rest of the season.

Saturday morning after the girls were done with their bowling league I got started on a batch of homemade apple butter. I made some a couple years ago and haven't made it since. It's so good on toasted bagels in the morning for breakfast or even just plain toast. I bet it would be good mixed in some hot oatmeal as well.

I like making mine in the slow cooker, again it frees me up to work on other things and I'm not stuck at the stove. It needs to cook pretty much all day long, at least 12 hours so plan accordingly. You could even do it overnight while you're sleeping if you prefer that route. Whichever you decide, get yourself some good, local apples while they're still available and make up a batch of apple butter. Stash the extra jars in the freezer so you can enjoy it year round or even add a jar to Christmas baskets. Your friends and family will appreciate a little homemade gift!

Apple Butter

15-20 apples  (I'm estimating a bit, I filled my 3-qt slow cooker with diced apples)
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1-1/2 tbsp cinnamon

Peel, core and chop apples and add into slow cooker. Sprinkle sugar and spices over top, stir to combine. Cover and let cook on low, stirring the apples every few hours or so.  Let cook for at least 12 hours, apples will be very tender, mash with a potato masher until smooth. I even put the mixture into a blender and pureed  in there until completely smooth. Mixture will be pretty thick.

Once cooled, divide among canning jars or containers. I ended up with 4 half pint jars plus a little extra that I put into a small container in the fridge. Store in the freezer for several months or will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.

Friday, October 18, 2013

DIY Pizza Lunchables

I've been packing lunches for my girls for a long time now, and I admit they haven't always been the healthiest either. I'm not talking about sending lots of junk food, but I did rely heavily on Lunchables and other processed foods early on. What can I say? I'm a busy mom and the kids love them.

My mindset regarding food has changed drastically over the past few years. We still have a ways to go but my husband and I both aim to serve nutritious, wholesome foods to our girls. I try to cook from scratch as much as possible, purchase very few processed items and support local farmers.

So when my little first grader comes home from school and tells me about the other kids having Lunchables and how their moms make them Toaster Strudels for breakfast, it sort of gets to me. I feel bad, I don't want to deny them of treats and fun foods like that but at the same time I'd prefer them to not eat those things filled with unwanted chemicals. Plus they really add up on the grocery bill! It would be very expensive for me to purchase Lunchables for two kids each week.

The idea popped in my head to try making my own homemade version of these Lunchables. A lot of time I'll send meat with crackers and cheese so they already feel like they have one version. But these pizza ones are pretty cool I hear. I spent part of one evening this week making up mini pizza crusts using my favorite pizza dough recipe. As you can see, they're nothing fancy, they're not even perfectly round. But I know what's in them and they taste good, I can only imagine how much better than the store bought version. It also makes a lot, I usually get three regular sized pizzas out of my one batch of dough. This made close to 30 mini pizza crusts. Plenty for me to store in the freezer.

When I'm packing their lunches now all I have to do is grab a couple of baked pizza crusts; even if they're frozen they'll have plenty of time to thaw out before lunch. Add a little bit of pizza sauce, cheese and any other desired toppings to their container. I also sent a small spoon for spreading the sauce with.

Our first grader gave me two thumbs up which of course makes me happy. She did tell me it was a little messy preparing the pizzas, she did get sauce on the table which I'm sure is only to be expected. My next thought was to maybe send them already made, that eliminates some of the messes. I can pop them in the oven before school for about 10 minutes, just long enough to melt the cheese.

These will for sure be a keeper in our house. I'm always trying to come up with new, fun and healthy ideas for their lunches. Give these a try, I know your own kiddos will love them as much as mine do. Take a little bit of time on the weekend to prepare ahead, I bet even whole wheat pitas would work just as well. Cut them into circle shapes for the crusts. Let me know what you think!

DIY Pizza Lunchables

1 batch pizza dough
pizza sauce
mozzarella cheese
desired toppings such as: ham, sausage, pepperoni, peppers, olives, etc

Divide prepared dough into small balls, roll out onto a lightly greased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes or just until crust is starting to brown. Remove from oven and let cool on wire racks, repeat with remaining dough. I got close to 30 mini crusts out of my batch.

Store baked crusts in the fridge or place them in freezer bags, label and store in the freezer until ready to use. Crusts will keep in the fridge for a few days.

When ready to prepare lunches, add desired number of crusts to your container. Add in small amount of pizza sauce, cheese and any toppings you wish to put on the pizzas.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Gratin de chou-fleur {Cauliflower casserole}

A few months ago I read the book, French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon. You can read my brief review here. I took a lot away from the book and even made a few changes in the way we deal with meals in our household. My kids are pretty good about eating their meals, I think I'm blessed with good eaters. We've tried to cut back on the snacking a bit though, after all it's okay to feel hungry when meal time rolls around. Of course we also need that little pick me up in the afternoon and when the appropriate foods are served, snacks can give us the fuel and energy we need.

So I did say in my review if there were any recipes I'd ever like to try this particular cauliflower casserole would be one. I love cauliflower, mostly raw with a little bit of ranch dip. I admit I haven't always been the best veggie eater especially when they're cooked. I prefer most of them in the raw state, I love crunchy textures.

With a head of cauliflower sitting in the fridge from our CSA, this dish popped in my mind. In fact I whipped it up quickly for lunch to serve to the daycare kiddos, and we all know when trying to cook for young children you don't often have much time. We all really enjoyed every part of it. The cauliflower was soft and tender and not mushy, like we often associate with cooked vegetables. My favorite part was the crunchy panko crumb and Parmesan topping. I even mixed my portion in with the grilled chicken and pasta we served alongside. Total comfort food without being too heavy.

Cauliflower Casserole

1 cauliflower, chopped into bite-sized pieces
1/2 stick butter
3 tbsp flour
2 cups milk
1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper to taste

Set a medium sized pot of water on the stove to boil and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Once water is boiling, add chopped cauliflower to the pan, reduce heat a bit and let cook for five minutes.

In another small pan, melt butter. Sprinkle in flour and stir well until flour is absorbed, raise heat to high and let cook for 30 seconds. Add in milk, stirring constantly until mixture has thickened, about 5 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and set aside.

To make topping, combine breadcrumbs and cheese into a small bowl. To assemble dish, drain cauliflower and place into a medium sized, lightly greased casserole dish. Pour white bechamel sauce over top. Sprinkle with crumb topping. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Blueberry Muffins

Blueberry muffins, one of my favorite breakfast foods! I had been on what seemed like a never ending search for the perfect blueberry muffin recipe, one without any sort of crumb topping. Until my friend, Denise shared her recipe with me. It's absolutely perfect and just what I had been searching for.

I tweaked her recipe just a tad and we make these all the time now. I can't believe I haven't shared it yet. I substituted half of the flour with whole wheat just to make them a bit more healthy. I also increased the milk by just a bit and added vanilla extract. They're perfect, sweet enough and yet a little tangy from the blueberries. Oh and those blueberries; big, juicy fresh {or frozen}and none of that imitation crap.

The kids love these for breakfast of course but also for snacks. Sometimes I'll make them into minis and let them take 2-3 for lunch instead of a sandwich or wrap. They like the change up and I know they're getting something that's pretty healthy.

Blueberry Muffins

3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup canola oil {coconut oil also works well}
1 egg
1/2 cup whole milk
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

In a large bowl add in both flours, sugar, salt and baking powder, mix together to combine. Add in oil, egg, milk and vanilla. Whisk together just to combine. Fold in blueberries, be careful not to overmix.

Line a muffin pan with paper liners, divide batter among muffin wells. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes. Makes 12 regular sized muffins.

*If making minis, bake for about 10 minutes or until done. Will yield 24 or more mini muffins.

So yesterday after church we had a mini photo session with our family, since we made the hubby happy by all wearing our jerseys :) I love my little family!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Chicken Noodle Soup

I made my first batch of soup this season last night. Even though it wasn't quite cold out, actually it was very nice out and warm enough for shorts. It just sounded good though. Delicious it was! It was even a big enough batch that we had enough for lunch today.

I almost made homemade noodles but who am I kidding? After working with kids all day, I just didn't have time. That's where the Reame's brand of frozen noodles come in handy. They are about as close to homemade that you can get in my opinion and they are really good.

I did make sure to use my homemade chicken stock though. I really think that's what helped make our soup taste so good, it really is just a simple, ordinary chicken noodle soup recipe. But using stock made from good, quality chicken is what makes this extra special.

Our first servings were definitely more soup like, I added extra broth to our bowls so we could enjoy that goodness. As it sat for a little bit though I noticed the noodles absorbed the broth and it became thick and more like chicken and noodles. So today for lunch essentially that's what we had. It was just as tasty, in fact I think the hubby enjoyed that more. Remember, he's not always a fan of soup. I need to make another batch soon, maybe even freeze some single servings. The girls would love to have this for lunch at school.

Chicken Noodle Soup

8 cups chicken stock or store bought broth
2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked and diced
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 celery stalks, diced
16 oz. frozen noodles {I used Reame's brand}
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. garlic powder
2 tsp. thyme

In a large stockpot add all ingredients except noodles, stir to combine. Let cook over medium heat until broth comes to a boil. Add in frozen noodles, turn down heat and let simmer for 20 minutes. Taste and add additional seasonings if needed. Ladle into bowls and serve warm with crackers or fresh bread/rolls.

You can also let this cook on low in the crock pot throughout the day. Make sure to leave the noodles out until ready to serve. Add them to the crock pot, turn up to high and then let cook for about 30 minutes or so.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Dad's Scalloped Corn

Do you have a family favorite side dish? This right here is one of ours. My dad has been making this for as long as I can remember, in fact I'm sure my grandma and grandpa used to make it for him growing up. We can always count on having scalloped corn at Thanksgiving and other big gatherings throughout the year; often enough to give us our fix, but not too much that we get tired of it. Plus it's probably not the most healthiest dish, but that's okay. Everything in moderation, right?

Even though us kids are all grown now, my mom always makes us a birthday dinner each year, complete with cake and all. It's always our pick too. This year instead of my usual ham ball request I let her pick and we enjoyed barbecue ribs instead. The whole family gathers together and we enjoy this meal that my parents have both prepped, it's the little things like that, that mean the most. Something I hope to carry on with my own girls.

If you've never had scalloped corn before, it's simply a creamy corn side dish topped with buttery Ritz crackers. It's so simple to make and a definite crowd pleaser.

Oh and mom surely did not forget the pineapple upside down cake, complete with whipped cream and all. I get to enjoy this cake once a year and I always look forward to it. She also surprised me with some old family cookbooks from my great grandmother and great aunt. I've already thumbed through one so far, I love finding the little handwritten notes and recipes stuck throughout the pages. These I will always treasure!

Scalloped Corn

3 cans cream style corn
1 stick butter, sliced into pads
1/4 cup diced onion
1-1/2 sleeves of Ritz crackers, crushed

Dump corn into a casserole dish, add in diced onion, 1/2 sleeve of crushed crackers and 4 pads of butter. Stir to combine and level mixture out so it's even. Top with the remaining crushed crackers and butter. Bake at 350 degrees for 60-75 minutes, dish will be bubbly and topping should be golden brown.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Veggie Lasagna

Today's my birthday, my 30th to be exact. I've never given much thought to it, it's never bothered me before, but this morning it sort of hit me all of a sudden. It's been a really good day though, I've been able to spend it with those who mean most to me. Tomorrow night the hubs and I will get a chance to get out for a couple hours. I think I'm really okay with this whole getting older thing.

Moving onto the food. Let's talk lasagna, one that's filled with good for you veggies and actually tastes good.

The sauce started off with all of these: eggplant, bell peppers, onion, carrots and zucchini. Not something I would have thought I would like in my pasta. But mix them together with a flavorful tomato and beef sauce and it brings your lasagna dish to a whole new level.

See that doesn't look so bad now does it? I made this for my daycare group one day for lunch. I started the sauce while they were eating breakfast, they had tons of questions regarding the veggies I was cutting. They got to sample each one (minus onion), already being familiar with most of them. When it came time to actually eat lunch, they seriously inhaled it. Each asking for seconds, that's what I like to see!

Looks like this will be a keeper for sure. Now I make my lasagna a little bit different than most, I've never liked cottage or ricotta cheese in mine. So I simply leave it out, the recipe below will reflect that but of course it that's your thing, add it. The sauce is obviously a great base for lasagna but for days when time's pressed, ladle it over pasta instead for a quick spaghetti dinner. This made enough for an 8x8-inch pan of lasagna plus I have a small container of sauce leftover I stuck in the freezer. Just enough for a small spaghetti meal for another day.

Veggie Lasagna

2 tbsp olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 eggplant, chopped into small cubes
1/2 onion, diced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb. ground beef, cooked
2-15 oz. cans tomato sauce
14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes
2 tbsp basil
Lasagna noodles, prepared or use no-boil
8 oz. mozzarella cheese
Parmesan cheese

In a large stockpot, heat olive oil. Add in carrot and eggplant, letting cook for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in onion, bell pepper, zucchini and garlic. Cook for 5 minutes longer, add in salt and pepper. Dump in cooked, crumbled ground beef, tomato sauce, diced tomatoes and basil. Stir to combine. Let come to a boil and reduce heat, let simmer for 20 minutes.

Lightly grease an 8x8-inch baking dish. Spread a small amount of sauce onto bottom of pan. Lay down lasagna noodles across the sauce. Ladle more sauce over noodles, sprinkle with parmesan and mozzarella cheese. Repeat layers with noodles, sauce and cheese, you should be able to get three layers. Finish with mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, sauce will be bubbly and cheese is melted and slightly browned. Remove from oven and let rest for 10 minutes before cutting.

Store any leftover sauce in either fridge or freezer.

Adapted from: Not Your Mother's Make Ahead and Freeze Cookbook

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Crock Pot Chicken Fried Rice

I'm really excited to share this recipe with you today, Who doesn't love a good fried rice, especially homemade and cooked in the crock pot? I discovered this recipe through Ally over at Sweet and Savory Food. Let me assure you, it's definitely a keeper!

Every so often the girls and I will order Chinese and while it's good, this is so much better. I promise. Best part, you can use whatever veggies you have on hand, whether it's that half bag of peas in the freezer or those carrots that are going limp in the fridge. I had some broccoli and carrots from our CSA share last week that I threw in.

I didn't change much of the original recipe except I only had some white rice on hand instead of brown. We added just a tiny bit of soy sauce to taste when we served up our plates, the flavor was fantastic. Unfortunately this isn't a meal you'd want to leave in the crock pot all day while you're at work, it really only takes a few hours to come together on low. Maybe instead it would be perfect on the weekend when you're around more. Or how about those weeknights when you've got tons going on, start this as soon as you get home and let cook until you're ready for supper. If you set your settings to high, it will be done in just 1-1/2 hours.

Regardless it's a new favorite in our house. There will be plenty leftover for lunches the next day, which is always a bonus!

Crock Pot Chicken Fried Rice

1 chicken breast, cooked and diced/shredded
2 cups cooked rice
2-1/2 cups veggies {use whatever you have on hand, fresh or frozen}
4 tbsp butter
1 egg {slightly beaten}
Pepper to taste
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
drizzle of honey

Throw all ingredients into a lightly greased crock pot, stir to combine everything. Cover and cook on low for 3 hours, stirring every so often. Season with additional soy sauce if needed when serving. Enjoy!

Slightly adapted from: Ally's Sweet and Savory Eats

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