Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Gluten Free Spaghetti Night?

This past week threw me in a direction that I have been avoiding for a long time.  I went, kicking and screaming, but I went.  I went GLUTEN FREE!  I'm at the 1 week mark since I started this.  I know I haven't been perfect, but for me, a huge leap!  I've had really bad "tummy issues" for about the last month (I'll spare you of the nasty details) and been trying to figure out the cause.  At first I thought it was from when I was sick, but a month later nothing had changed.  Which meant I needed to try a diet change to figure this stuff out.  I do think its fair to say that I have IBS, but it got out of control!  Gluten free for a week and I feel better, going through less toilet paper, and it really hasn't been as bad as I thought it would be.  Ask me again in a month though!  So, here begins a new journey of my life.  :)
I bought some brown rice pasta (about 3 months ago, haha!) and thought it was a good time to try it out!  So I made my mom's spaghetti sauce and it was so good!  Not bad at all and the flavor of it wasn't too off from regular pasta either.  I can do this!  Any tips for this first timer with gluten free?  What are some of your favorite GF products?
I only used 1/2 of the mega jar of sauce I had.
Mom's Spaghetti Sauce
In a large pot brown:
1-2 lbs ground beef (you could use sausage if you like or even turkey or any combo that you enjoy)
1 diced onion
3-4 minced garlic cloves
1-28oz or 2-15oz cans of tomato sauce
1-14oz or 2-6oz cans of tomato paste
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
1 jar of water
1 tsp basil
1/2 tsp oregano
1/2 tsp parsley
salt and pepper to taste
sugar to taste (Start with 2 T and go from there.  I like it a little sweeter and use about 1/4-1/3 cup)
Let simmer about 1-2 hours and serve over your favorite pasta or use it make lasagna.
Freeze any extra to use later!

This is where it starts to smell delicious!
Adding all the spices and everything nice :)
On my brown rice pasta.  A wonderful healthy dinner!

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Can I eat a snack, mom?

Do you ever go grocery shopping and come home, unpack your bags and realize that you have more boxes of snacks for your kids then things needed to make dinner for the week?  Just me then?  :)  My kids are 7, 5 and 2 and they definitely got their daddy's appetite.  They just want snacks all day long.  My oldest (and my husband) are notorious for eating a meal, saying how full they are and then 15 minutes later be looking for something to eat.  I'm not that way at all so it drives me crazy some days!  Thankfully my oldest 2 are at ages where they are able to be a little more self sufficient and get things themselves.  But the nagging all the time for something to eat still hangs in the air.  Ugh!
For several years now I've tried to have a basket or bowl of some kind in my kitchen full of snacks for my kids to grab at snack times.  Which has been wonderful, but it can also get expensive to buy all the pre-snack-sized snacks and they aren't always that nutritious either.  I've been trying to be much more diligent with adding healthy snacks for my kids around the house since they are avid snackers too. 
Ta-Da!  Snacks!
I know I've posted about the homemade snacks I've made, but that isn't something that I can always do either.  So, when I'm buying crackers for my kids I don't buy the snack size ones, I'll buy a big box.  Then once I'm home I'll take snack size zipper bags and divide all the crackers into individual servings.  I end up getting either the same amount as you do when you buy the small versions or more for less money spent.  I've done this with raisins, cereals, nuts, trail mixes, pretzels... you name it. 
My snack basket usuals are various crackers, raisins, granola bars and all fruit fruit snacks.  Occasionally if I have a coupon I'll get fruit cups or pudding.  I alot of times I have an overflow of snacks, so I have a second basket with all the same things so I'm not making snacks and refilling it every other day.

Here's a look at our snack basket now :)
Then I had a stroke of genius (humor me if you already do this.) to make a healthy basket for the fridge too.  Brilliant!  My kids are great with eating fruit and some veggies and my little one especially, loves cheese sticks and yogurt.  I cut up bell peppers and carrots to put into snack bags, along with washing grapes and doing the same. 
Here's my "basket" for the fridge
I always have bananas and apples along with Cutie oranges and pears (if they are in season) in a bowl on my counter.  Like I said, trying to promote healthy snacking.  :)

What type of snacks do you have on hand for your kiddos?  Maybe this gave you an idea for your own click of genius.  Let me know what it is!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Homemade Larabars... Yum!

In my quest to find homemade versions of some of our favorite snacks, I found lots of good recipe ideas for homemade Larabars.  I really like them for a quick breakfast or snack on the go.  In fact I took several with me on my trip this past weekend.  Even though they are healthy and with few ingredients in themselves, they can be expensive to buy.  I wanted to try making them myself.  They were so easy!  Better yet, they tasted just like the real thing!!  I found 4 different recipes to try.  I made 2 of them to start with.  Chocolate Coconut from Roxana's Home Baking and Cashew Cookie from Edible Sound Bites.  If you like Larabars at all, you gotta try these!  What are some of your favorite snacks or snack bars?

My bars pressed into pans
Homemade Chocolate Coconut Larabars

  • 2 1/2 cups (410 grams) pitted dates
  • 1/4 cup (35 grams) whole almonds (I used about 1/2 cup since I didn't use walnuts)
  • 1/4 cup (25 grams) walnut pieces (I didn't use these and they turned out great still)
  • 1/4 cup (20 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 3/4 cup shredded coconut
  1. In a food processor add the dates and pulse until finely chopped and they start to form a ball.
  2. Add the almond and nuts and pulse few more times until the nuts are chopped.
  3. Add the cocoa powder and coconut and pulse until the mixture comes together in a ball.
  4. Take the date-nut mixture out and spread it evenly in a 7X7 baking pan lined with plastic foil.
  5. Cover with foil and refrigerate for few hours before cutting into bars.
  6. Enjoy
Cut into yummy bars and put into snack bags
  • 1 cup raw unsalted cashews
  • 10 medjool dates, pitted (or 1 cup of regular dates)
  • pinch of sea salt (optional)
  1. Pulse cashews in your food processor until finely chopped. Empty the nuts into a bowl.
  2. Place the dates into the food processor and grind until roughly chopped into small pieces.
  3. Now add the cashew nuts back to the food processor with the dates, add a pinch of sea salt if using, and pulse until well combined.
  4. Form into bars. (I tried a 8x8, but they were really thin.  I'd recommend a bread pan or just forming them into a good shape with your hands in plastic wrap.)
  5. Store in an air tight container or wrap individually in plastic wrap (Or snack size zip lock bags)  for convenience and refrigerate.
*If you are using regular dates instead of medjool and the mix is not holding together, add 1-2 tablespoon of warm water.
*It is best to use medjool dates because they're much softer.
*If you are allergic to nuts, swap the cashews out for sunflower seeds

Friday, February 15, 2013

Homemade Kids Crackers

I am so excited because tomorrow I am leaving to visit one of my best friends.  I'm driving over 600 miles, with 3 kids, all by myself.  This is going to be an adventure!  It will be so worth it though.  I haven't seen this friend for about 4 years.  Crazy!  I am leaving super bright (well dark really) and early to hit the road and hoping for a smooth trip. 
Of course you cannot have a successful road trip without a huge stash of snacks.  I've been wanting to try homemade versions of some of my kids (and mine too!) favorite snack foods.  This way I feel a little less guilty for what we will all ingest over the 2 days in the car.  I made Homemade Cheez-its and Homemade Vanilla Wafers.  They both turned out so easy and so delicious!  Just another reason to be excited to hit the road...  we get to eat all these goodies!

Mini Vanilla Wafer Cookies
Ready to pipe onto my baking stone

1/2 cup butter, softened
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup all purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
So cute, aren't they?
Preheat oven to 325F and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugars until light. Beat in egg and vanilla extract.
Sift flour, salt and baking powder over the butter mixture and stir to combine. Scrap dough into a pastry bag fitted with a plain piping tip.  (Or I used a zip-lock bag and snipped off the tip of a corner
Pipe the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, making each cookie the size of a large chocolate chip.  (I made mine a little bit bigger, they just needed to bake a little longer) Cookies will spread, but only a little space is needed between cookies.
Bake at 325 F for 10 to 15 minutes, until cookies are a light golden brown. Baking time will vary depending on the exact size of your cookies. Mine were a bit tall, but slightly smaller than a dime. They spread slightly to about dime-size.
Cool on baking sheets.
Store in an airtight container.
It's kinda crazy to add cayenne to a kids snack, but it works!
**I didn't need to chill mine, I think if you add less water you can skip this step
  • 1 cup flour
  • 4 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small squares
  • 1 (8-ounce) bag grated extra-sharp 2% Cheddar cheese (preferably orange)
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

So easy using the food processor

Before baking...
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine all ingredients in food processor, and pulse until crumbly. Add cold water, a tablespoon at a time, until dough comes together. (I used about 2 1/2 T of water) Form into ball, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. Place dough between two pieces of plastic wrap or parchment paper, and roll out to 1/8 inch thickness. Transfer to parchment-lined baking sheet, and, using pizza cutter or sharp knife, cut into 1 inch squares. Sprinkle with kosher salt and bake for 25 minutes. Test for crispiness; crackers may take a few minutes more to finish crisping. Remove from oven when crisp and just starting to brown. Let cool and serve

...After baking
Sooo good!!!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Valentine's Day Cookies

Happy (soon to be) Valentine's Day!  If you are at all like us, this holiday gets greatly looked over.  If it weren't for the kids schools reminding us with crafts, hearts, party invites and class lists for Valentine's cards we'd probably forget.  With 3 young kids and a "lovey dovey" holiday in the middle of the week, on a school night, the hubs and I don't exactly get to go out.  For us, we usually stay in and I try to make a nice "adult" dinner (that we'll eat after the kids have eaten something else and are watching a movie) in which we will do our best to have a good conversation with little interruptions.  I might even light a candle on the table.  How about that for romantic!  I could lie and say, "We don't need a holiday to make us romantic because we do that all the time."  But we don't.  We try our best like anyone else.  Some months we get 4 dates out and others we don't get any.  Over the years we've gotten pretty creative at dates at home though.
One thing I do try to do every year is make cut-out heart cookies for Valentine's day.  I always feel like by now we're ready for them again since Christmas and it's always fun to use different cookie cutters, sprinkles and new colors of icing.  I love to watch Food Network on t.v. and one of my favorites is the Pioneer Woman.  I was watching her over the weekend and she was doing chocolate cookies and thought it'd be fun to try.  Then I looked and her recipe was very similar to my recipe for my Grandma's butter cut-out cookies.  So why not make both!  I made one batch of regular ones and adapted the recipe to make chocolate ones too.  They turned out really good!  Grandma's recipe is what I've used for years at Christmas and any other holiday to make cut-outs.  They are a butter cookie so they aren't as sweet as some sugar cookie recipes.  I think that's why I like it so much.  After you pile on the icing and sprinkles and whatever else, it's nice to have your cookie not soaked in sugar too.  The chocolate ones have a richer taste and I dipped them in melted white almond bark and still used sprinkles and they were so adorable!

So cute!
Grandma's Butter Cut-Out Cookies
1. Cream together:
    1 cup butter, softened
    1/2 cup sugar
2. Add:
    1 egg
    1/2 tsp vanilla
    1/2 tsp baking powder
    1/8 tsp salt
    3 cups of flour (To make chocolate ones use 2 1/2 cups flour and 1/2 cup cocoa)
3. Beat dough until combined, dough will be stiff.

This is how your dough should look
4. Roll out 1/2 the dough on a lightly floured (or cocoa-ed) surface.  I roll mine to 1/8-1/4" thick.
I get flour everywhere!

There's the cocoa... Even messier!
5. Use your cutters and transfer to cookie sheet.
6.  Use remaining dough and scraps to roll out again until you have used all the dough.
Using my cute cutters
7. Bake at 375 for 8-12 minutes, or until set and edges are just beginning to turn golden.
8.  Let cool completely and ice and decorate as you'd like
They are delicious even like this!
1. Whisk together until smooth:
    2-3 cups powdered sugar
    2-3 T milk or water
    1-2 tsp light corn syrup
**Add more powdered sugar if it's too runny or more liquid if it's too thick
2.  Separate into smaller bowls and color with food coloring
3.  Using a spoon or knife spread desired amount onto cookies and decorate with sprinkles or toppings.
4.  Let set about 30-45 minutes to harden.

There's my helper!

Look at that concentration!

I didn't like how the icing looked on the chocolate so I dipped
them in white almond bark instead.

Yum!  Chocolate on chocolate...  doesn't get much better!
Grab yourself a cup of coffee with these ones.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Washers and Grinders

As you all know, I have a slight addiction to Pinterest.  I love it!  Most of what I do anymore all comes from there.  I used a pin to clean my washer last week and it was amazing!  I've never in my life done this or thought to do this before, but why not?  Between kids and my hubby being a mechanic for hobby and for a job, (His clothes are always nasty!) I do alot of laundry.  I pinned How to Clean your Washer and wow!  I always thought that it self-cleans, but no.  Do this!!

My very dirty washer...

My super clean washer!

The other thing I'm always looking up and trying from Pinterest is new recipes for my slow cooker.  My husband is a sandwich lover, so I like to find new ones to try every now and then other the then usual.  He recently was changing out the engine on his truck and had some of the guys he works with over to help.  I wanted to make them all lunch, but new they'd want something they could grab and eat.  I tried these Crock pot Grinders.  They took me very little time to make and were a huge hit!  I used different meat then she suggested.  I used ham, hard salami, beef cotta salami and pepperoni.  I still used provolone cheese and the banana peppers.  (She mentions that they had one small square on their sandwiches that were soggy and I had the same.  I don't think it's from the moisture in the crock pot, but from the grease/oils in the meats that causes it.  So just be warned about that.)  The guys all like them so much, that I didn't even get to try one!  I guess that's a good sign.  :)  I'll definitely make these again and save one for me next time too. 
My sandwich before cooked...
After it had been in the slow cooker

 So, tell me, what are some of your favorite things that you pin??

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Filling the Freezer

Some of the recipes I wrote down to try.  I keep a notebook
to write all the Pinterest stuff I want to try.  I'm still a little
old-school :)
Anyone that pins much on Pinterest all do this...  You look at things, pin them to a board and then never actually look it.  We all do this!  I'm always saying I'll go back and look at it, but half the time I never do.  A neighbor of mine has been talking about freezer cooking and that made me think, "Hey, I have a bunch of those pinned, but I've never looked them."  I freeze things all the time, but not really an avid "freezer cooker" or "once a month cooker."  I just freeze extras or things I buy in bulk and separate and such.  So I went through all the ones I had pinned (some twice-haha!) and wrote down all the recipes that my family might actually eat and that sounded good.  Now I only did the slow cooker ones. Only because I think that will be easiest.  One site is where I found the majority HERE for the freezer meals.  At Ring Around the Rosies she has 6 different pages of recipes and they are all simple enough to shop for.  She even has toddler snacks and lunches too.  I'll give you a couple others to check out too.  For Dump Chicken recipes, this one is all slow cooker Freezer Meals and one more for Here too.  They all offer a little something different and seemed to have the most variety. 
This one I did a different day from the rest and only froze one bag
and made the other for dinner that night.

Here's my meals ready for the freezer!
This time I made Teriyaki Chicken, Savory Chicken, Beef Fajitas, Divine Chicken, Cilantro Lime Chicken and Buffalo Chicken Sandwiches.  I spent about $100, it took me maybe at most 3 hours and I got 11 meals!  Incredible!  There is very little that is processed in them and each one is loaded with veggies.  All I gotta do is thaw, put it in the slow cooker and make a starch to go with it.  You cannot beat that!
Do you have a favorite freezer meal that you make?  I can't wait to try the rest on my list and find more to do too.
I pulled a Rachael Ray and used a "garbage bowl" for all my
trash and scraps.  It was really great for this!

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bit by the Bug, Ugh!

So, How you been?  I'm sorry I've been out of commission for a little bit.  I've been so sick!  Today is the first day I feel like I have a little something in me to do a few things.  This is going to be short and sweet though. 
Question:  When you are sick and not feeling well, what is your go-to drink or food that you like?  For my mom it is always banana popsicles.  I think it is odd, but she loves them for when she's down with a bug and not feeling well. 
I don't think I really have a go-to thing that seems to soothe or taste good really.  Here is what I had when I was forcing myself to eat something, since I didn't have much of an appetite. 
I made oatmeal.  I topped it with 1/2 a sliced banana, some brown sugar and a small handful of chopped pecans.  With a side of Zinc, Vitamin C and Motrin of course!  Oh, and don't forget the coffee or hot tea (I kept going back and forth).
For lunch I made a green smoothie to get some nutrition in me with lots of water and hot tea with honey.  Later I ate a bowl of lime sherbet and that really hit the spot!
For dinner I heated up some chicken soup that my friend and neighbor brought over, because you can't really ever feel better without some chicken soup, right?
I'm so thankful for it being a nice weekend.  My kids had a birthday party next door all day on Saturday and played outside all day on Sunday.  My hubby has been a saint, even though he's been sleeping on the couch so he doesn't get sick, he has been helping whenever and wherever he can.  I pray none of you get this nasty bug/virus that bit me!  Stay healthy!