Wednesday, October 24, 2012

80 degrees in October

Indian summer is here. Loving the fall weather. We went for a walk to the park in our flip flops and t-shirts! It is so hard to focus on teaching school when the weather is so great. Someday soon I'll give you a peek into our school day. What I wanted to post was what's for dinner. When it has been a busy day or you don't feel good or just don't feel like cooking, here's a good thing to do.
I have tried several times to cook meals ahead of time but have never been very successful at maintaining the pattern. I have experimented with recipes to see if they freeze well and if my kids will eat them.
One of the greatest recipes I found was pulled pork. I usually don't buy a pork tenderloin unless they are on sale. Who can eat the whole thing and how do you cook it? I will buy two and have one sliced into chops. Easy meal to throw on the grill in the summer. Take the other one and throw it in the crock-pot for about 6 hours with the marinade below. Then drain the juice, shred the meat and thicken the juice by boiling it in a sauce pan with flour or cornstarch (you may need to add a little water) and pour back over the meat. Serve up with biscuits or noodles or rice, whatever suits your fancy. The leftovers can be frozen in a ziplock bag for several months. Just thaw on counter until it comes out to fit in a sauce pan, then heat up on the stove. This is also very popular with me as a meal to take to someone.

Pulled Pork

3 lbs of boneless pork
1/2 cp ketchup
1/2 cp orange juice
2-4 TBSP honey
2 TBSP soy sauce
4 TBSP lemon juice
You can add nutmeg and paprika or cayenne pepper, I don't.

1 1/2 TBSP cornstarch or 3 TBSP flour

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Homemade bread

When I first became a mom I was working full time and barely had enough money for groceries and had no time or energy to cook much. Store bought bread and cereal and boxes of mac'n cheese and all the processed easy foods were our diet. As our financial situation got better, I was able to buy higher quality foods, but everything was still store bought. Occasionally I would bake and get adventurous for dinner. Before the ease of online recipes, I mostly relied on the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (still love the banana bread recipe) and a few Pampered Chef books. Now I'm able to compare 4-5 recipes for the same thing and come up with my own version. Sometimes that works and sometimes it doesn't. I have learned that anything worth doing takes time and effort to master. Confession: I'm not the greatest cook, and have never enjoyed it, BUT I love to eat good food :) I guess this could become a discussion on what causes a person to better themselves or have the desire to become good at something. In my case it was a desire to eat better food and a gradual realization that processed food is unhealthy. We have also had several family members with indigestion and other stomach ailments that started to require expensive medicine. As I have gotten older it has become more important to evaluate what we put into our bodies to get a better outcome.

When my second son was about 2 we made the decision to become a one income family. All of the sudden I found myself with time on my hands and of course the need to get more "creative" with our budget. Buying in bulk and buying ingredients is way cheaper than buying store bought. You just have to decide that the time involved is worth it. Some days I'm not sure about that. The first thing that really was/is worth my time and effort? Homemade bread. No, I don't use a bread machine. At first I thought about it, but the cost and space required made me decide against it. Besides, my mother makes beautiful bread by hand, so why can't I? This recipe is adapted from a copy of a copy. We are not really sure where the original came from. I'm not sure what the rules are, but I figure if you change the recipe it becomes your own. Right? This recipe can be adjusted and mom does it different than I do. The most IMPORTANT thing is to practice and don't give up. It took me several months to get a decent looking loaf and the density and size I wanted. Even today's loaves cracked (mostly due to my daughter's help rolling them). The flavor and smell though will bring the family running. Who cares what they look like :) We usually eat half a loaf right away with peanut butter and honey. YUM!
Simply Perfect Setpoint Bread (Annie's version)
yields 3 loaves (or 2 loaves and a batch of sweet rolls)
2 TBSP dry yeast
2 TBSP dough enhancer
4 cps warm water (Getting the temp right was trial and error. I ended up liking it baby bath warm)
1/3 cp oil (canola or coconut)
1/3 cp honey or sugar (local honey is the best)
1 TBSP salt
Flour: I use 1 cp of Bob's Red Mill organic whole grain high fiber hot cereal mix
4-5 cps of white flour 
4-5 cps of whole wheat flour
How much flour you use depends on the temp., the barometric pressure, the humidity lvls, etc...

Mix yeast and DE in mixer bowl, add warm water. I whisk it for about a minute. Then I add honey and oil and the cereal mix and 2 cps ww flour. Whisk out clumps and let sit covered for about half an hour. This allows it to sponge. It will rise in the bowl. If it doesn't, you may have gotten the water too hot or too cold. It also won't rise if the ambient temp is too cool. Attach dough hook and turn your oven on warm. Also I spray loaf pans with oil at this time. If you wait, your hands will be a yucky mess :).Add the salt now and then start adding the rest of the flour one cp at a time. Watch the consistency.You want the dough to start pulling away from the sides of the bowl. My mixer can't handle all the dough so once the mixer has done all it can do, I dump it out on a floured counter top and knead by hand. You want it to form a ball and not be sticky, but not have so much flour it gets dense. Knead time is 7-10 minutes in a mixer or 12-15 minutes by hand. I have to knead about 5 minutes in the mixer and about 8 minutes by hand. Yes, my arms are stronger than they use to be. 

Lightly oil your hands and rolling pin. Slice dough into 3 equal parts. Take one and roll it out to about an inch thick. This part takes practice. Roll it into a loaf shape making sure you don't get air pockets. Pinch ends together and pat it (my kids like this part) into the right shape.

 Turn off oven. Place in greased pan and place in oven. During winter I have to keep my oven on warm to get them to rise. Let them rise for about 30 minutes til about double. Mom's are always bigger than mine but I really love the texture of a smaller loaf. Once risen, turn oven back on to 350 and bake for 30-35 minutes. Your house will begin to smell heavenly. Don't leave the windows open or you will have unwanted neighbors coming in. Mom butters the top about 5 minutes before done. I don't do this because my kids will eat the crust if I don't. It's softer.
 Hope you try this and enjoy. It truly is a labor of love. One that I love doing. These loaves freeze well and I freeze two as soon as they cool off. There are no preservatives so the shelf life is 3-4 days. Freezing even for just a day keeps them fresher. The first time one went moldy I cried. To thaw, just lay out on counter for a couple hours. 

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Chicken Nuggets

So my husband said to me the other day that he wondered if we could save money by making our own chicken nuggets. Well, if you know me, I took the challenge. I found a recipe for "Chick-fil-a" nuggets and set about trying it out. My brother raises non-GMO chickens and happened to be butchering them today so I went and got two. I came home and cut them up, put the legs and wings in the freezer for a later meal and boiled the carcasses for all the little bits I couldn't get off. That was enough to make chicken salad for lunch tomorrow. I cut the rest into bite size pieces and marinated them in pickle juice for about 45 minutes. The recipe says at least an hour, but I was pleased with the 45 min. time. The fam really seemed to enjoy them and I now have at least 4-5 meals of chicken tenders in the freezer. I'm guessing I'll bake them in the oven like I do the store bought kind. 400 degrees for about 20 minutes. 
Price comparison: the chicken cost $25 but I got 5-6 meals and a 2 person lunch from that. Not really much cheaper than store bought considering how long I slaved over the stove :) but I know my family will be eating healthier and I proved I could do it. 
The recipe came from and I didn't have paprika or peanut oil so I used cumin and canola oil. OF COURSE I did not use the MSG and I pan fried them. 
4 chicken breasts
1 cup pickle juice (great way to use up that empty jar of pickles!)
2 eggs
1 cup flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon msg (Accent, leave it out if you prefer)
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/2 teaspoon basil
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
peanut oil

Pound chicken breasts till they are thin enough for your taste. (I find a lot of breasts are really too thick for a sandwich so I pound out the thick part a little) Cut into chunks if you want nuggets.
Place chicken in plastic bag with pickle juice and marinate for an hour (preferably overnight).
Mix up eggs in seperate bowl for the egg wash.
Mix flour and remaining spices in another shallow bowl.
Remove chicken from the pickle juice maranade and drain well. Dip into the egg wash and then into the flour mixture.
Fry the chicken however you prefer here. I pan fried mine in a few tablespoons of oil and it turned out fine. Chick-Fil-A deep fries theirs in a pressure cooker, so you can try that if you are feeling adventurous.

Homemade Lotion

I made my first homemade lotion today. Although it's great, it is not the consistency that I was looking for. It is more like chap stick. I will definitely use it but I am already looking for ways to improve. Any suggestions would be great. I basically heated up Coconut oil, Olive oil and beeswax in a mason jar over a pot of water. It all melted together and then I poured it in a small jar to cool. I wanted to make it without scent for my daughter's skin, but I'm thinking a lavender oil would be nice to add. I just read about putting this all in a mixer with water and adding vitamin E to soften up the consistency. Not sure I want to ruin my blender with wax just yet.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Birthday

I am a blessed woman. I am sitting here on my bed enjoying the quiet breeze reflecting on the last 35 years. My story is long, but full of God's grace and faithfulness. I know I'm not the only one who has been given so much and been through so much, but my unique story has turned me into who I am today. I can compare myself to other women who seem to have it all, but I know they have their own trials and heartaches and victories that made them who they are. I'm posting a picture of the birthday card my mother and father gave me. It's a perfect image of my beginning. Their encouraging words brought tears and a smile because I knew they meant every word. 
You may not be able to read it but Mom's last words are BLOOM where you're planted!
If she only knew what that meant to me :)
Yours Because His

Friday, October 12, 2012

Chocolate Chip Breakfast Muffins

Had to make something for brunch at Bible study this morning. I have been making these muffins all year for the kids and they have no idea that they are healthy. HUSH!!!
Again, I found the recipe on Pinterest, but I have tweaked it to fit my style. The important thing I have found is that the hot water needs to hit the cream of tarter, soda and powder. It makes it fizz a little and creates the light fluffy texture you want. I make my own yogurt and use organic cocoa powder. I like to have my own applesauce, but when I'm out, I use Vermont Organic applesauce. I'm also not a big fan of chemical sweeteners. I use 3/4 cup of organic brown sugar instead. You can under cook these if you aren't careful. Better to have them a little over done than under done, trust me!

1 3/4 c oats
 3 egg whites (you can just use one whole egg if you don't want to waste it)
 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (or regular plain low fat yogurt)
1/2 tsp cream of tartar (or 1-1/2 Tbsp. vinegar)
1-1/2 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup hot water
1 cup sugar substitute (see above)
1/2 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips (or use white chocolate or peanut butter chips!)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 (12-cup) muffin pans with foil cupcake liners, or spray muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray. Set aside.
In a blender, (or food processor), mix all of the ingredients together, except for the chocolate chips. Blend until oats are ground and mixture is smooth.
Place mixture in a bowl and gently stir in 1/2 of the chocolate chips (set the rest aside). Scoop mixture into prepared muffin pans.
Place muffins tins in the oven for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, remove muffins from the oven (but don’t shut oven off), and distribute the other half of the chocolate chips on top of each muffin.
Place  the muffins back into the oven and bake for an additional 2-5 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Homemade Laundry Detergent

So my first post is going to be about my quest in clearing up my dear daughter's skin. She seems to be allergic to something that is giving her a rash around her panty line. Doc says it's just a contact dermatitis. We've already cut back on juice and the scented lotions. Before I go and spend a thousand dollars on organic cotton undies that don't have ponies or tinkerbell on them, I am going to try some home-made laundry detergent. I have a front-loader so I can't use powder like most home-made detergents. I found this recipe on Pinterest and I bought some Dr. Bronner's Magic Pure Castile Soap that is Unscented and Baby-Mild. Everything else is coming from my cabinets. So already total cost is $3-4. 
I have been using plain organic coconut oil on her skin and that works wonders on soothing the rash. Next week I plan on making a lotion from the coconut oil, some beeswax and olive oil. One thing at a time to save my sanity. 
Recipe adapted from Green Clean by Linda Hunter
1 cup castile liquid soap (Dr. Bronner’s or Mountain Rose Herbs are good choices as they are organic and main ingredients are coconut oil & olive oil) OR Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds
2 cups water
1/3 cup salt
1 cup baking soda or washing soda
Warm the salt and baking soda in water until mostly dissolved. Transfer to a one gallon container. Add your soap fill the rest of the jar with water, this giving you 1 gallon of detergent. Use 1/4 -1/2 cup per load, depending upon how dirty the load is. Add a tablespoon or two of vinegar to your wash during the rinse cycle. This works as an effective  fabric softener and disinfectant. Depending upon the hardness of your water, you may want to decrease the water quantity or increase the soap quantity.
Please note: do not add essential oils to your detergent. These oils will break down the fiber in your clothing. If you want a particular fragrance, try putting a few drops of essential oils on a rag and throwing it in the dryer. This will add fragrance but not transfer to your clothing.

Review: So far It is pretty sudsy. Very soft on my hands.  I'll update later on how it works in the washer.
Update on the soap: First thing I noticed was that it did not sit in the soap dispenser because it was so watery. Not sure where it went :) but it did not overly suds up my washer and the clothes just smelled clean so I'm pretty happy. The load wasn't heavily soiled, but it did have some peed on sheets from my daughter's bed.