Rainy Days and Sunday

And now I find myself singing The Carpenters Rainy Days and Mondays.

For those of you who have no idea who The Carpenters are, here you go.

Years before moving to Texas, we heard much about the drought.  Since moving to Texas, we’ve seen more than our fair share of rain.  Last weekend was storms and today we had more storms – only your standard run of the mill thunderstorm.  Nothing severe at our house, fortunately.  However, according to my rain gauge, we got 1.5 inches of rain.  My pool will not need to have water added to it for a while, that’s for sure and the plants I have potted have more than enough water now.

The girls and I have had fun painting terra-cotta pots . . . .

. . . . and with all the pots I’ve purchased, we have planted tomatoes, flowers, herbs, strawberries and have Serrano pepper and sweet pepper seeds started.

Because it was a rainy day, we took the girls to see the movie “The Boss Baby.”

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It certainly wasn’t our favorite animated movie, but was entertaining.  When we came out from the movie, the rain had stopped and the sun was shining.  As I write this, it’s cloudy again with more rain in the forecast for tonight.

Our home school group is still trying to collect money to provide duffel bags to foster children.  Honestly, we had hoped it would be much more successful than it has been, yet providing duffel bags to a few kids who would otherwise leave their homes with nothing more than a garbage bag with a few items is better than no duffel bags at all.  Still, we would like to provide many more children with these duffel bags, so if you’re reading this and can donate anything at all, it would be greatly appreciated.  Click here to go to our donation page.

Naomi and I attended an Ethiopian cooking class yesterday.  It was organized by a fellow adoptive mom and attended by several other adoptive families as well as several Ethiopian families who live in the DFW area.  We learned how to make Lentil Sambusa,

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Shiro,

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Yeater Kik Alicha,

and Ye’abasha Gomen.

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were some other Ethiopian dishes provided as well as Injera.

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It was so much fun getting together with such a wonderful group of people, eating some delicious food and getting to know others in the area.  When it was time for us to leave (3 hours later), Naomi was not happy about going.  She made a new friend that I hope we will see again soon.

That’s just a little bit of this and that on this rainy Sunday.

Kitchen Space

One of my biggest challenges while living in the RV was not having ample kitchen space.   Maybe I would have mastered it given more time, but preparing meals in a small space was not easy.  I avoided doing anything complicated simply out of frustration.

– Not enough cupboard space for storing the things I would use on a regular basis.

– Not enough counter space for creating complete meals.

Now that we’re back in sticks and bricks, the majority of our meals are being prepared in our kitchen, which has ample space.  For a matter-of-fact, I recently told hubby that I like this kitchen better than the kitchen in our Illinois house.  Although it has less cabinet space, it’s laid out nicely and all four of us can pretty comfortably be working in the kitchen at the same time.

The space is really nice for allowing the girls more time in the kitchen with me and not only are they helping prepare meals, but they are assisting in selecting the meals we prepare.  Being invested in the food we purchase, prepare and partake in has made them much more willing to explore new foods.  That is a good thing.

Because it’s hot in Texas right now, we’ve been utilizing the Instant Pot for our meal preparation.  The girls enjoy helping me find new recipes, including some of our favorite meals prepared in the Instant Pot.  Like the Chicken and Dumplings Naomi helped me make a few nights ago.

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We will need to tweak this recipe a bit next time, but so far we’re pleased with the results of our Instant Pot meals.

From time-to-time, I’ll post our adventures in the kitchen and hopefully share some tasty recipes along the way.

A Venture Into the Unknown World

Of freezer meals.

It’s something hubby and I have discussed in the past, but we just never got around to making it happen.  Now, with two more kiddo’s living under our roof and a crazy kid-centric schedule to maintain, what once seemed like a luxury has turned into necessity.  I’m sure the lack of blog posts recently indicate that I’ve been a little busy 🙂 and I could use some help preparing meals for the family right now.

So I selected a few meals to prepare, then the girls and I headed to the grocery store tonight to pick up the rest of the ingredients.  Tomorrow, hubby and I will begin putting together meals that will find residence in our freezer, then into the slow cooker or oven and finally on the table to feed the family.

Here is the menu . . . . .

*Meatballs – I can think of so many ways to use meatballs.  The obvious is toss them in spaghetti sauce and pour over pasta, but they can also been thrown in the slow cooker with some BBQ sauce, sweet and sour sauce, gravy, or a number of other sauces to be poured over rice, potatoes or vegetables.

The Best Meatballs Ever {Make Ahead Freezer Cooking}

*Broccoli Chicken Divan – This recipe kept showing up as I was searching for good freezer meals.  I figured it must be good so we’ll give it a try.

Broccoli Chicken Divan Allrecipes.com

*Slow Cooker Pizza Bake – I’m always on the search for new slow cooker meals and I’m hoping that having pizza in the name of the recipe will be a winner with the kids.

Slow Cooker PIzza Bake #Recipe #Dinner #Maindish

*Teriyaki Pork Chops – We have a ton of chops in the freezer from the pig my friend Cecilia raised for us.  I’m excited about using them in a freezer meal.

*Salsa Chicken – This recipe looks pretty quick and easy to put together.  All I will need to do is toss it in the slow cooker one morning for a nice hot dinner some night.

*BBQ Chicken – Can’t go wrong with BBQ chicken.

I’ll also be making Spaghetti Sauce, Biscuits, Bread Dough and Rice for the freezer.

Fingers crossed that some, if not all these meals will be a hit with the family and our freezer meal experiment a success.  Of course I’ll share the results and favorite recipes with you in future blog posts.

If your family is already enjoying freezer meals, please leave me a comment with your favorite freezer meal recipe.  We really want to make this work and I’m gathering all the recipes I can find.

 

February Monthly Challenge

I made it thru the January challenge and would have to call it a success.  We saved  money, we ate healthy and found some great new recipes that I will most certainly be using again.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the challenge was how much less I actually had to cook.  A pot of soup gave us a lot of meals, so I did more heating up meals than I did actually cooking meals for the month.  Winner!!!

For the month we ate Black Bean & Lentil Soup, Baked Potato Soup, Pork Chili Verde, Ham & 13 Bean Soup, Vegetable Beef Soup, Chicken & Dumpling Soup, Creamy Chicken Tortellini Soup, White Chicken Chili, Bean and Bacon Soup, and Chili Tortellini.

Ten different recipes for 30 days.

Now we enter a new month and it’s time for a new challenge.  So I’m doing a double challenge this month.

Challenge #1 is to continued a variation of the January challenge by creating one-dish meals for the month of February.  Healthy meals that can be prepared in a big pot on the stove, the slow cooker or in a casserole dish and baked in the oven.  Enough for 2-4 meals with plenty for hubby can take for his lunches (that’s the biggest savings for us).

Challenge #2 is to become more active by committing to at least 30 minutes of exercise at least 6 days a week.  I can break it down into 10 minute increments 3 times per day if necessary, but at least 30 minutes.  Either getting out and walking, playing Kinect Sports or Kinect Adventures on the Xbox with the girls, going to the gym and swimming, taking a  Zumba or some other aerobic class.  I have a couple new Yoga DVD’s that I need to use or I could do some resistance training 1-2 days per week.  Lots of choices and a commitment to physical activity.  One month!  A great way to begin building a new healthy habit in my life.

January Monthly Challenge

In an effort to eat healthier and save money, hubby and I are challenging ourselves to a month of soups and stews in January.

Breakfast will consist of something other than soup or stew and hubby wants me to throw in some variety at dinner once or twice a week, but our lunches and the majority of our dinners will consist of soup or stew, with sides of veggies when needed.

Granted, some soups and stews aren’t necessarily healthy, but I’m focusing on those with meats, dried beans and/or veggies and avoiding ones with pasta and a heavy cream base. Healthy, warm, satisfying meals perfect for cold winter days and nights here in Central IL.

Meals of soups and stews should also save us money. I have some meat and veggies in the freezer, veggies from our garden in the freezer as well as our garden tomatoes canned and ready for use. The addition of a few more meats, veggies and dried beans from the grocery store during the month won’t cost a lot and we’ll have many good meals on the table. Hubby is also committed to taking soup/stew to work for lunch each day. No going to lunch with co-workers or grabbing take-out somewhere for the entire month. That alone will save us a tremendous amount of money for the month.

Another benefit is trying out some new recipes and becoming more disciplined about preparing and eating more meals at home.

Our goal is to have more money in our bank account and lower numbers on the scale at the end of January.

Less dependency and more self-sufficiency.

I’ll report back on January 31st to let you know how we did.

The rung of a ladder was never meant to rest upon, but only to hold a man’s foot long enough to enable him to put the other somewhat higher. ~Thomas Henry Huxley

 

Tortillas

I would choose a tortilla over a piece of bread every time. Actually, almost every time. I’ve come across a few brands of tortilla that I would never buy again. However, after finding this recipe, I don’t know that I’ll ever buy another tortilla.

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 t sea salt
  • 2 T coconut oil (use expeller-pressed variety for this recipe unless you want a coconut flavor in your tortillas)
  • 3/4 c warm milk

Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl.

Cut the solid (NOT melted) coconut oil into the flour, much like if you were making a pastry or pie crust.

Mixing with a fork, slowly add the milk until the mixture begins to form a ball. Knead for 2 minutes, and then cover the dough and allow it to rest for 20 minutes.

Pull off a piece of the dough and roll into a ball (about the size of a golf ball).  Roll out into a circle or using a tortilla press to form the tortilla.  You can make these as thin or as thick as you like.

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Heat your skillet over medium heat.  I recommend using a cast iron skillet.  If you don’t have a cast iron skillet, go out and get one now 🙂  Seriously, I’m really not sure why it took me so long to regularly use cast iron.  It rocks!!!!

Place one of your flat tortillas on the hot skillet.  If you’re using cast iron, you won’t need to oil the pan.

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When it begins to bubble, turn it over.

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When it begins to bubble on the other side, pull it out of the pan.  Repeat with the rest of the dough and then serve warm.

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I get about 12 tortillas from this recipe and typically double it so we are sure to have left-overs.

If you try out this recipe, leave me a note and let me know what you think.

Weeks Style Zuppa Toscana

One of the many changes we’ve been trying to make is eating out less often. It really shouldn’t be that difficult considering we live in a small town with one restaurant that is mediocre at best and two gas stations where we can get pizza or microwave foods. However, we became skilled in finding ways to eat meals away from home or meals that I didn’t prepare with my own two hands. Driving 20-25 miles to meet hubby after work to run a couple of errands and grab dinner. Having hubby stop on his way home from work and bring something home for dinner was a regular occurrence. Not that those things are necessarily a bad thing, but since we’re trying to make healthier choices and cut back on expenses, eating out is one of the things that had to be reduced.

One benefit of not eating out as often is trying some new recipes. I get really excited when I find a recipe from a restaurant that was a somewhat frequent place for our family to eat-out. And oh the excitement when I try out the new recipe and it turns out to be really, really good. One such meal made it to our dinner table last night. It was so good in fact, that my 5-yr-old requested it for lunch today.

On the menu last night was Zuppa Toscana soup and garlic bread sticks. This is a meal that my hubby and our 5-year-old typically order when we go to Olive Garden to eat. That’s right folks, only the best places for our family!! It really was good though and I was the one in control of what went into our soup. Sausage and bacon from antibiotic free, free-range pigs, organic veggies, etc. It will now be a regular meal on our menu here at home and one day the majority of the ingredients will come from our own backyard!!!

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Finished product!

This recipe made enough to serve me, my hubby, our 3-yr-old and our 5-yr-old.  Hubby and our 5-yr-old had additional servings and I had 1 1/2 quarts left-over.  I did change the recipe a little and will tweak it next time I make it.  I’ve included those changes in the recipe below.

Weeks Style Zuppa Toscana Soup

1.25 lb Italian Sausage
7 slices of bacon, fried crisp
5 medium russet potatoes
2 1/2 c kale, chopped
1 c heavy whipping cream
1 qt water
2- 14.5 cans or 29 oz. chicken broth
1/2 large onion
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 t red pepper flakes (If you like more spice, add an additional tsp)
Salt and pepper

Directions:
Crumble the sausage onto a baking sheet and bake in a 300 degree oven for 30 minutes or until no longer pink. Place on paper towels to drain.

Fry the bacon and crumble into small pieces.

Slice the potatoes between 1/8″ and 1/4″. I used the thick setting on my v-slicer. Just make sure the slices are about the same size so they cook evenly.

Dice up the onion and mince the garlic.

Throw the potatoes, onion, garlic, chicken broth, and water into a large pot on medium heat until the potatoes are cooked through.

Add the sausage, bacon, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for another 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

During this time the potatoes will start breaking apart into smaller bite sized pieces because they are so tender.

Chop kale into bite sized pieces.

Turn the heat to low and add in the kale and heavy cream. Let the soup heat through and serve.

Add a salad and/or bread sticks for a yummy meal!!!

Bon appetit!!!

Because Sometimes You Don’t Want to Forget

I know I already did a blog post today, but I had an interesting conversation with Naomi this afternoon that I just had to post.

N: Daddy cooks black food.
Me: Daddy cooks black food?
N: Yes. Daddy made black bacon.
Me: (Trying not to laugh) Did daddy burn the bacon while mommy was gone?
N: Yes.
Me: At least he tried. It’s important to try isn’t it?
N: Yes. (And then she was off and on her way)

As many of you know we’ve been making some lifestyle changes. Some of the changes include replacing our coated cookware with ceramic and cast iron cookware. So a few weeks ago I purchased a couple new cast iron skillets. Not having the experience of cooking with cast iron, hubby tried to make bacon while I was gone over the weekend. He wasn’t aware that cast iron gets really hot and retains heat well. Thus, black bacon!

Sometimes you don’t want to forget those moments, especially the ones that include your 3-year-old trying to tell stories about her weekend with daddy 🙂

Drum Roll Please!!!!

Starting point.

The beginning of my first batch of slow cooker yogurt.
The beginning of my first batch of slow cooker yogurt.

The finished product with fruit.

A few strawberries, blueberries, and peaches.  Yummy!
A few strawberries, blueberries, and peaches. Yummy!

My first attempt smells good and tastes good, however, the consistency is a bit too runny.  I think it cooled off too quickly during processing, so I’ll be trying something a little different next time.  Overall, I’m pleased with my first attempt and especially pleased that I got 2 1/2 quarts of yogurt from this batch.  I don’t know the exact cost of ingredients, but it was probably around $1.75.  Adding fruit adds a little more to the overall cost, but it is still considerably less than buying pre-made yogurt at the store.  Well wroth the time and effort!