Thursday, March 18, 2010


Here's my announcement/confession...... I ordered pizza for dinner tonight. Gasp! I know!

I had this whole day planned for baking and kitchen things, but then I woke up to a clogged kitchen sink and yucky standing water in both sides of my sink AND my dishwasher! It threw off my whole day, and my momentum never recovered.

Fortunately, today happens to be the day that Domino's is sponsoring a fundraiser for Kadin's school, so 20% of what we pay goes to his school. So if it's for charity, it's ok, right?!

Actually, to be completely honest, I think this is totally fine. Sometimes we will eat things that aren't awesome. I happen to think pizza is way better than, say, McDonald's. Not to mention that I reserve the right to not be proactive now and again. It's bad enough that I had to scrub that disgusting sink once it was fixed, and that I had to soak dishes in the bathtub, and subsequently had to clean food yuck out of the bathtub.

So come on, Domino's! I wanna get the door!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

It's carbolicious!

Bread day! I don't really intend to make copious amounts of bread in one day again, but that's how it all happened and to be honest, it really wasn't that bad..... I made three loaves of bread, all different, yesterday. Wow! And two were 'real' bread.

I started out by making another loaf of the white bread I posted about last time. This time I made it for my neighbor, who is scared of using yeast. I've told her it won't bite her, but she doesn't believe me.

As that dough was rising, I started my next dough.

I purchased this cookbook, Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day a couple of weeks ago and have been slowly gearing up to start following their plan. There's a pretty lengthy chapter in the beginning about ingredients and materials and supplies, and yes, I actually do read things like that.

The basic idea is that they have master dough recipes that you make and store in the fridge until you're ready to bake. The dough will stay in the fridge for up to five days. As you need to, you pull off a certain amount of dough, manipulate it slightly into what type of bread you want to make specifically, let it rise, then bake. No kneading! (in almost all cases) And it only takes five minutes when you actually use the dough. Making the master recipe does take a bit of time, but really not even all that much.

Now, if I can manage to just set up my routine to do this, we'll be golden. You can make anything. There's different variations to the master recipe in this book. Some use all whole wheat, some a combo of wheats, some use various other grains as well. The one I decided to start with was the Soft Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread. It makes four pounds of dough, which makes two loaves of sandwich bread. We mostly use bread as sandwiches and toast, so this is perfect for us. It also shows an easy way to make hamburger or hot dog buns using the same dough, so that's great.

I'm not going to post the recipe, because these aren't available online. There are some on their website which I linked above, and a lot of libraries also have their cookbooks.

This is what went into the master recipe.

Here's the dough, all mixed up, before it rose.

This is the part of the dough I used(half of the total) to make one sandwich loaf last night. You simply cut off the amount you need, flour the outside a little, shape it into whatever you're making, then put it in/on the pan to rise.

And the finished product! I am seriously amazed every time something comes out looking the way it should. I expect failure, and am totally impressed with every success.
I am happy to report that today the boys and I had sandwiches for lunch using this bread, and it's GREAT! Tastes like fancy bakery shop bread. So exciting! I used to spend $5+ for something like this up in Virginia without batting an eyelash.

After mixing up the master recipe dough yesterday, and after baking the neighbor's bread, I got started on banana bread. My whole family likes banana bread, and I like not wasting things(like overripe bananas). It also makes for quick snacks or breakfast, so that comes in handy.

The recipe I usually follow is pretty simple. I don't put nuts in mine because the kids tend not to like nuts in things. I was the same way, so it doesn't bother me to accomodate this one.

Banana Banana Bread

One of the tips I picked up somewhere along the way, which is useful and I actually used this time, is if you're short on banana per the recipe, fill in the difference with applesauce. I was short about 1/3 cup of mashed banana, so I used one individual serving size of applesauce. You can't taste the applesauce, but it continues with the appropriate moisture and texture, so it works very well.

And the finished product! Making banana bread is super simple, so I didn't bother with step-by-step pictures. You just mix stuff together, pour in a pan, and bake it!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Rising to the occasion

And I'm back! I took a couple of days off from the blog(but not from cooking and baking) for my birthday, which was Monday. But yesterday, I was right back on to baking and taking pictures and posting! Glad to be back, but a break is nice, too!

In trying to stay with my once a week grocery shopping plan, I make a concerted effort to not run to the store for "just one thing." When does it ever end up being only one thing? And what a waste of gas and time anyway to go out just for that one thing. So we were out of bread, but I send a sandwich to school with Kadin every day for his lunch. Not having bread is a bit of a problem!

Now, realize, I've never MADE bread before. I've made banana bread or pumpkin bread, but not just bread. And I did try a cranberry swirl loaf real bread back in January, but I killed the yeast in the first step, so it was really dense and didn't rise right or anything. It tasted good, but the texture was alll wrong.

I just knew that if this whole foods thing was going to work, I was going to have to conquer bread. So I bought a bread book, and I'm working on figuring out how to implement it, but I was missing a significant ingredient for it's main recipe. So Google saved the day! It took a long time because a lot of things called for stuff I didn't have(like skim milk) or made two loaves(I only need one at a time and only have one loaf pan anyway). So I found one that used things I had, and sounded manageable.

Super Easy Bread for Beginners

I would have included pictures of the ingredients and the beginning of the process, but, I was on the phone with my mom at the time and to be honest, it just didn't even occur to me. But here's the dough, all mixed up. This is the point at which the dough was "chasing" the spoon around the bowl. I liked that description!

This is the dough in the buttered bowl, next to the heated oven(I was about to start granola bars) so it can rise. Sorry for the monotone here, didn't even occur to me to use a colored bowl. But ceramic Pfaltgraff does conduct heat well, so maybe it was actually a good idea.
Here's the dough an hour later, about to be punched down and kneaded. I was so ecstatic to see it had actually risen in a way that looked right to me! Yay!

And the finished product right out of the oven. When it came out, it was really hard, and I was a little bit scared. But after an hour or so, the top started to soften, so I was really thrilled. I wanted to make sure it turned out right, so as much as I wanted to test it, I didn't slice any off until this morning.

And..... this morning, I had to make Kadin's sandwich as usual. I sliced the heel off and, whaddya know, it was soft bread! And the crust was chewy, not hard like I'd feared. And it tastes.... good! I will definitely make this again sometime, but I will bake it a little less and see if that makes the crust even better.

My other project yesterday was granola bars. This is what I made while the dough was rising.
I wanted to try a new recipe. But I sort of had a heck of a time finding one to try. So many call for things like Rice Krispies, which is exactly the sort of stuff I'm trying to avoid feeding my kids(and myself). So finally I found this one, and I thought I had all the stuff for it, so why not. As it would turn out, I didn't have the peanut butter chips. I forgot I had used them in cookies that Fawad took to work. So instead I used all chocolate chips, which was really fine with me anyway.

Peanut Butter Granola Bars

Again, I know some of this stuff isn't ideal. I'm still using up that peanut butter(this is the last jar). And when I'm baking, I use regular honey, not local.
The dry ingredient and the wet ingredients. I love when things look good along the way.
All mixed together. I taste a little, really good!
All done, out of the oven! It said to bake just until the edges were browned, and that's exactly what I did.

The recipe says it makes three dozen. I can't imagine how small they would have to be to make that many out of one pan. I cut it into 18 bars which were a more normal granola bar size.
Now, I'm not sure if I'd make this one again. They taste good. But they're really crumbly. I think it's because they're so thin, and it just doesn't hold together. Maybe it would be better in a smaller pan, but I'm not sure if that would be enough to take care of the problem.

And this is what I made for the boys in the middle of all of this. The husband I were having leftovers from the night before's dinner out, so I didn't want to exert a lot of effort just cooking for the boys. So, half a box of whole wheat organic spaghetti, about a third of a jar of organic marinara sauce, some parmesan cheese, and a quick spinach salad. Voila! Dinner!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Taking advantage of the day

Our weather was surprisingly nice today. And because of my husband's irregular work schedule, he sleeps during the daytime. It always helps to get out of the house when both the kids are home so he can get a chance to sleep in a quiet house. So.... We packed a picnic lunch and headed to the only decent park I know of here!

I wanted to get just one decent picture of the two boys together today, but.... it didn't go so well. We'll have to try again another day.

Granola bars are on the agenda for tomorrow! For now, I'm off to bed!

Friday, March 5, 2010

What got me motivated

Salad dressing.

Seriously. Salad dressing. A month or two ago, I made some buffalo wings. But we didn't have ranch dressing. Whoops. So I decided to do a quick google on my phone and see if I could come up with something close enough. And lo and behold, there were quite a few recipes out there. I ended up taking a little from one and a little from another and coming up with something that works for us. I just whipped up my fourth batch a couple of days ago to go with, you guessed it, buffalo wings. And the remainder will be snack dip for the boys.

For some reason, this just sort of blew my mind. Certainly I knew that just about anything could be made at home. Heck, if a friend could teach me to make sushi(thanks, Shannon!) anything is possible. But ranch dressing isn't made.... it's bought. Right? Wrong!

Nicole's Ranch Dressing Recipe

•1 1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley
•1/2 Tbsp. dried chives
•1/4 Tbsp. dried tarragon
•1/2 Tbsp. lemon pepper
•1 Tbsp. salt
•1/4 Tbsp. oregano
•1/2 Tbsp. garlic powder

Combine all dry ingredients in an airtight container.

To make actual dressing, combine 1/2 cup yogurt, 1/2 cup sour cream, and 1 tablespoon dry seasoning mix.

This was a snack for the boys on the day I made the cookies and protein bars. Ansel's plate is on the left, Kadin's is on the right. Both finished all their vegetables! I'm also proud to report that they'll eat vegetables without dip, but I do like to offer them some fat in what they eat so that they feel satiated and aren't just snacking without end(although they do snack a lot anyway).

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Tea cookies and muscle fuel

I'm getting back on the baking bandwagon. I didn't get anything done while I wasn't feeling well, so it was a good thing we had enough on hand to get through without taking too desperate of measures.

This week I wanted to make a non-chocolate cookie as I have it in my plans to make peanut butter and chocolate granola bars(probably tomorrow). So I did some internet browsing and came up with a recipe for Swedish Butter Cookies from Taste of Home. Now, I have no idea if there is anything remotely Swedish about these, but that's what they call it.

The nice thing about this recipe is it calls for only very basic ingredients that you're likely to have on hand all the time.

Swedish Butter Cookies Recipe

I started with the ingredients. As I said, very basic. Do notice that I'm still using white sugar and regular white flour. I'm working on using up my more 'conventional' ingredients. I don't want to just throw things out, but I won't be rebuying things like this if I can help it.

He loves to mix. I would almost say that Ansel lives to mix! We did eventually have a melt down when the dough got to the point that he couldn't mix it.

The dough. It was sort of dry, but I packed it down and it got sticky enough.

Dough rolled out. It was sort of like rolling playdough, but not as forgiving. This would be fun for an older child(Kadin would have been ok with, but no way Ansel could have gotten it to stick together).

The cookies baked, cooling, and sugared. I would have taken a picture when it came out of the oven, but one of the tips I read said to cut the cookies immediately, so I made sure to do that.

They're basically crispy, buttery sugar cookies. I think they're good, but I don't know that I'd remake them. Not when there's so many other cookie options. I like that they're small, so I don't feel bad letting Ansel eat one or two here or there.

My husband has a thing for protein bars. His favorite has actually been more of a nutrition bar, namely the Zone Perfect Strawberry Yogurt Bar. I'm now left to wonder.... has he read the ingredients on that? There's actually a couple of things in there that are rather alarming. So, of course, I wanted to make this myself. I think the idea originally occured when I was watching Alton Brown. So, of course, I tried his recipe first.
This is a lot of stuff. I had to go out of my way to buy a couple of things to make this, like oat bran(which I never would have thought to buy) and soy protein powder. And yes, that IS plain old Skippy peanut butter. As I mentioned up above in reference to the cookies... I'm using up some things I have already. I got a heck of a deal on Skippy peanut butter a while back and stocked up. I used the end of this jar making the protein bars, and then I have one more jar. After that, I'll be buying fresh peanut butter from the store I buy most of our food from.
The other interesting thing that happened is that we discovered Ansel likes to eat plain, cold tofu. Who knew?
There was a lot of mixing. Ansel got to help a lot. And I could have taken pictures, but.... the majority of time, it all looked like vomit. And... it was terribly unappetizing. You never would want to try any of this. I even thought about giving up at some point. So here's the dough right before I spread it in the pan. Oh! And here's a picture of the unfiltered apple juice I used. I forgot it in the ingredient shot.

These looked pretty good coming out. That's all fruit, not chocolate, by the way.

And cut and wrapped up. I actually cut it into sixteen servings. I froze some of them since there's no way my husband will eat sixteen in a week. And I'd really rather my kids not get too used to meal replacement items. They have the time to eat "real" food, and I'm the one who has to prepare it for them anyway. So why the heck not?

And that's it for that! I did actually manage to also make dinner on this day. We had steak, baked potatoes, and salad. Very imaginative, don't you think?

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The weekly haul

So I know I've been slacking. But, I was sick, so I think I'm excused.

Being sick threw things off again, so I didn't go shopping on Monday, my usual day. I went on Tuesday.

First order of business was to make the list(and drink coffee). Sometimes the list is easy to make because I keep a whiteboard on the fridge to write down things we need as they come up. Then I just rewrite my list so it makes sense for going through the store.

Ansel was.... excited? About.... shopping? I'm not sure. But I do know he has egg on his face.

In a perfect situation, I would go shopping first thing in the morning and be back for lunch. But this week I didn't leave until the afternoon, so I wanted to put dinner in the slow cooker. Chili won, because it was a lousy rainy, cold day.

This does use a lot of canned items, but eh. Someday I'll get past that, but for now, I'm ok with it.
Nicole's Chili Recipe:

1lb ground beef
2 15oz. cans diced tomatoes
2 15oz. cans tomato sauce
15oz. can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
15oz. can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 large chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper(I use more, but we like things spicy)
1/2 teaspoon white sugar
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
1/4 chili powder(I make my own)

Brown the ground beef. Combine everything else in slow cooker. Cook on low 8 hours.

Everything in. This smells soooo good as it's cooking.
And.... then we went to the store. On a nicer day, when I get started sooner, I'll take some pictures of the shopping excursion, too. But for now, pictures of the haul will have to do.

This is a pretty normal shopping trip for us. I didn't buy any meat because we had a lot in the freezer already. I didn't do as much cooking when I was sick as I normally would have, so there was enough that I skipped it for this week.

This cost $99. Everything is organic or at least pesticide/hormone/HFCS free.
The dairy. Two gallons of local, non-homogenized milk. It comes from here. I got to meet the man who owns the farm once at our local store. He had just started selling his products there and he was very nice and let Ansel have a LOT of samples. That won me over. The price for organic, non-local milk is the same as this milk. It's not the "organic" status that pulls me in so much as the idea of a more conscious product, so knowing the background of this product and the way it's produced is plenty for me.

The produce. Pretty normal for a week. We'll eat all of this, except maybe a couple of potatoes, by the time I go to the store again next week. We'll also use more apples, but we still had a bag and a half. Everything is either organic or local/pesticide free.

The other grocery items. I think everything is organic except the mayonnaise and the curry sauce. I replaced all the canned items I had used to make the chili earlier. I like to keep things like that stocked so I can use them as needed. The boys also begged for this cereal, and there was a coupon and a sale, so... I said ok.

The laundry stuff. I just started using this detergent, and will post about that soon in more depth. I also use Bac-Out for washing diapers, and will post about that at some point I am sure. Both of these items had coupons, so I wanted to take advantage of that even though I didn't need more right now.

When we got home, dinner was done! My husband was already eating as he had to get off to work. The boys ate as soon as it had cooled down enough. It was really good(always is). I think I might start aiming to have a slow cooker meal on all my shopping days just to make life easier.

Now it's really late, but I wanted to get this up tonight before it goes too many days in blog silence.