Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Peeps Bunny Treat Mix

Okay, I know I've been pushing the real food agenda around here......... but around the holidays, I admit I usually succumb to the inevitable cravings for SUGAR! This time of year is my favorite for all the goodies-- jellybeans, chocolate eggs, marshmallow bunnies-- YAY!!  I'll even admit that sometimes.... eh hem.... I have to go back out at the last minute to fill in gaps for the pre-Easter snacking that I've done.

I'm trying to be better this year and will only admit to a few handfuls of jellybeans and 2 of the mini Reese's eggs. But there is NO way I'm gonna make it (or the holiday stash) until Sunday if Momma doesn't get a sugar fix RIGHT NOW!!!!!!!

I have been seeing a load of pics on Pinterest for a "bunny bait snack mix". The variations I've seen involve: popcorn, chex, pretzels, easter M&M's, sprinkles and white chocolate chips and/or "melting chocolate". It looks super cute (and yummy!) but I have to say that even in the midst of a full blown sugar craving I just can't touch that fake chocolate "candy melts" or white chocolate of any kind.

Yesterday, I saw a very intriguing post on making candied popcorn from melted peeps.( Percolating overnight in my brain, I've come up with my own variation on the bunny snack mix-- swapping out white chocolate with the melted peeps! The texture is similar to a loose rice krispies treat. I'm (and the rest of the family) really enjoying the sweet/salty combo from the popcorn, pretzels, marshmallow and M's.

If you have food dye sensitive folks (or just want to avoid them) feel free to substitute regular marshmallows for the peeps.

Recipe: Peeps Bunny Treat Mix

12 bunny (or chick) peeps
2 Tbs butter
6 cups popped popcorn (if using microwaved, avoid the buttered flavors)
3 cups pretzels (twists or sticks)
1/2 cup M&M's

1) In a large pot, melt butter. Add peeps and stir until completely melted.

2) Add in popcorn and pretzels.
3) Stir until completely coated.
4) Add in M's and stir quickly (to avoid melting or bursting the M's)
5) Spread on a baking sheet covered with a silicone mat or wax paper.

6) Let sit until completely cooled (about 15 min). Break or tear into clumps & enjoy!

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Monday, March 25, 2013

100% Whole Wheat Bagels (2 hour recipe)

Okay, so with the real food thing, finding ready made baked goods-- bread and the like-- has been the hardest part. The difficulties in finding unprocessed (or minimally so) products has led me to do plenty of baking experiments on my own. Thankfully we do not have to rely completely on me as the family baker as I did finally find a whole wheat sandwich bread with no extra ingredients that the kids like and a whole wheat loaf that the grown ups like (a little chewier, I use it for sandwiches and toast mainly). I have also been able to find tortillas (both whole wheat and white) with basic ingredients and no additives at both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.

One thing that I haven't been able to find is preservative or dough conditioner-free whole wheat bagels. Our 6 year old goes through phases where he's really in the mood for certain foods and will eat mainly that for breakfast. Lately its been waffles which I've been cranking out regularly to keep the freezer stocked. But in the last 2 weeks he's asked for a bagel 3 or so times, so I guess its time to make another batch. I made the first one a few months ago as an experiment. I thought they actually came out pretty good. But I wanted to repeat it (the scientist in me!) to make sure the results were the same before sharing it with you. Now that I've got the second batch out of the oven, I think I can safely pass this on to you!

The yield on this recipe will vary depending on what size bagel you make. The first time I divided the dough into 12 equal parts. This made small bagels about the size of the "mini" bagels they sell in the store. Really about perfect for a small child.  This time I opted to divide it into 8 parts as it was a little unsatisfying for the adults and the little dude has been pretty hungry lately (growth spurt coming, I think). The bagels are definitely full size without being ridiculous. If you really want a BIG bagel, you could divide the dough into 6 parts.

Now if you are a bagel snob, you might be disappointed. There are things that are typically done to bagel dough traditionally that we are skipping-- mostly because I do not want to be hunting down specialty ingredients or get involved in a recipe that takes 2 days. However, I personally don't notice the difference and you will get a nice chewy bagel out of this that toasts up great!

Recipe: 100% Whole Wheat Bagels
yield: 6 extra large, 8 large or 12 mini bagels

1 1/2 cup warm water
1 package (or 2 1/2 tsp) yeast
3 Tbs sugar
2 tsp salt
3 1/2 -4 cups whole wheat flour (I like King Arthur's white whole wheat)

1) In a large mixing bowl, pour warm water. Whisk in yeast package and sugar. Let sit until foamy, approximately 5 min.
2) Stir in salt and gradually stir in 3 cups of the flour.
3) Turn out dough and knead in additional flour 1/4 cup at a time until dough is lightly tacky but not sticky--about 5-8 minutes.
4) Return dough to covered bowl and allow to rise until doubled (approx. 1 hour)
5) After dough has risen, preheat oven to 400 F.
6) Fill large pot with approximately 2 quarts of water with 2 Tbs of sugar stirred in. Bring to a simmer.
7) While oven and pot of water are heating, divide dough into desired number of portions.
8) Roll each portion into a ball. Flatten lightly and use one finger to poke a hole in the center. Gently stretch the hole until it is about half again WIDER than you want your final bagel hole. (This time I didn't stretch enough and all my bagels ended up looking like belly buttons because their holes closed up!)

9) Carefully drop one bagel into the boiling pot of water (I recommend topside down for better looking bagels). Let simmer for 30 seconds and then use a spoon or tongs to flip. Allow other side to simmer for 30 seconds. Remove from water, allow to drain and place on parchment covered baking sheet.
10) Repeat for remaining bagels. When all the bagels are finished, if desired, brush with an egg wash and top with sesame seeds, dried onion, poppy seeds or some combination of these.
11) Bake in 400 F oven for 30-35 minutes.
12) Allow to cool completely. Store in airtight container in fridge or freezer!

I'd love to get someone else's opinion on these-- are they true enough to traditional bagels? Comment below and let us know what you think!

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Saturday, March 23, 2013

The New "Normal"

So, I know I was totally supposed to meet back with y'all on Monday to do menu planning but since I had so many extras last week AND I forgot to plan in corned beef and cabbage for St. Patty's day, I ended up with enough meals planned to take me through this week as well. I ended up substituting a ready made rotisserie chicken for the grilled chicken late last week and then turned the leftover chicken half into a very nice chicken and rice soup (I just threw the whole carcass into the crock pot with veggies and added a bag of wild rice at the end!).

I have a back load of new recipes to share and one food project I'm working out the recipe for (its going to be AWESOME when its perfect!). But I don't really feel like talking about those today. I have been stewing for the last few days about something I was told. I just haven't been able to stop thinking about it.

My youngest attends a preschool on the campus of the local elementary school. We do drop off and pick up in the front of the school and while we are waiting, there is often chitchat in the group of parents.  On Thursday, one of the moms was talking about her recent experiences in trying to get her son onto a gluten-free diet. One mom was sharing her story of complete failure and I wanted to offer some encouragement. I suggested a few of the real food blogs and resources I like online in the hopes that it might give her some meal planning ideas. She was not interested. Her reply was,"I just want to be able to feed him normal food, you know human food."

Since when did processed junk in a box become NORMAL HUMAN food? Yikes!

It seems to me, that this is the basic problem with our diet. Food from a box IS the new normal. Its what's expected. Its what the average person eats. Taking away someone's boxes is cause for panic! Now, I will admit, giving up the boxes is a challenge. It is difficult because it does take more time and effort to do it yourself. I really wanted to help this mom out but she really isn't ready. Here is what I wanted to share with her-

If you need a box or pre-prepared foods, there are some great (healthy, real food) options out there. These are my favorite packaged foods I buy:

1) Bagged salad-- Grill up some chicken or fish, whisk up a quick vinegarette and presto!
2) Rotisserie chicken-- watch out for seasonings & spices which may have additives and colors-- try to get a "naked" one if possible.
3) Instant oatmeal-- mix in a scoop of frozen fruit with the water before cooking it (stove top or microwave) to make your own flavored varieties. Bob's red mill makes a gluten free variety.
4) Bagged frozen rice-- comes in white or brown. 2 minutes in the microwave, not 20 minutes at the stove.
5) Organic jarred marinara-- cook up some pasta (whole wheat, gluten free or whatever floats your boat), toss with a jar of sauce, add a salad or some veggies and done!
6) Bagged frozen fruit-- grab some to add to cereal, oatmeal, stir into plain yogurt or mix into smoothies.
7) Snack mix-- we love getting dried fruits, nuts or a combo. Some stores have bulk bins where you can really go wild. Our current favorite actually comes from Sam's club -- cashews, raisins, dried pineapple and coconut.
8) Peanut butter-- what doesn't taste better with peanut butter? Opt for no sugar added or peanut only varieties. We're liking Whole Foods 365 unsweetened organic no stir right now.
9) Precut/prewashed bagged veggies-- broccoli is a favorite (raw for a quick snack with dip or steamed in the microwave for a fast side dish) but we've also recently enjoyed the precut chard and kale. And I threw a whole bag of peeled baby carrots into the crockpot with my corned beef. So easy!
10) Pre-mashed (sweet) potatoes: For a ready to go side, these are awesome. We've been getting this from Trader Joe's. It is a bag of frozen mashed sweet potato "discs". Dole out how much you need, microwave and season to personal taste! No added ingredients, just mashed sweet potatoes!

Anyways, thanks for listening. I'm just frustrated that I actually have information that could possibly help another person and I didn't get to share.

I'd love to hear about your favorite box substitutes. What ready to go items do you like from the store? Comment below and let us know!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

DIY Monster Spray

When you are six and blessed (?) with an active imagination, night time (and well anytime) can get scary very quickly. Recently, my oldest son started complaining that he wasn't getting enough sleep because the monsters were bothering him at night. Now, I know there aren't any monsters in his room in the dark, but there is NO way I will ever convince him of that truth.

So-- sometimes you just have to go with it! When your little one is being bothered by monsters, why not EMPOWER them to take things into their own hands by formulating a monster-repelling spray?  A few years ago, I heard about this idea from some blog or magazine article. If I could remember which one, I'd certainly credit it-- this is NOT an original idea.

When he started complaining about the monsters while we were chatting in the car last week, I knew just what to do! I told him to remind me to put it on my list and I'd whip him up a batch of monster spray. Of course he's a bit skeptical-- how does it work? how did I know how to make it?

What I've explained is that it is a repellant (not a killing spray) like bug spray that has a smell that the monsters don't like. I've opted to use sweet orange essential oil so there is a distinct odor to the spray. As to where I learned how to make it, from the computer-- of course! He has seen me regularly look up instructions, recipes, maps, driving directions and the like, so he knows there is a wealth of information out there.

Now I admit, I've tried to be as honest as possible with our children and direct deception has been hard (even in the case of Santa and the Easter bunny). But, I do think there is something worth protecting in the innocence of this age-- when anything is possible. Plus, it shows that I am listening and taking his concerns seriously, not just dismissing them as imaginary.

I made the spray a few days ago and he told me the next day after that it was working great and keeping them away (although apparently they are a still bit noisy in their secret passage tunnel that passes by his room).

Recipe: Monster Spray

1 spray bottle (I got mine for $1 at walmart)
Fill with water
Add 10 or so drops of your favorite essential oil (if desired-- I used a sweet orange essential oil that I like in my cleaners-- I figure that it can double as an air freshener while he's spraying it around)

I didn't bother but if you feel crafty or want to fancy it up, try adding in a cute label like this one:

 Go to link for free printable pdf in pink or blue!

Monday, March 11, 2013

Monday Menu Planning 3/11

Howdy! I know I've been away for awhile and I'd like to say I've totally been busy with lots of important projects but really-- not so much. I'm not going to give a bunch of excuses because really I've just been tired and completely unmotivated. I've got a sewing project collecting dust on my work table for the last 2 weeks and the very end of that knitted pillow has been sitting for at least 2 weeks as well. Haven't been doing much of anything inspiring in the kitchen either. Not sure if its just the end of winter blahs or what. But I'm going to try to get it together here and I thought having a little accountability- to you!--would at least shame me into action.

One of the things that has been particularly lackluster has been the meals around here. Unmotivated and tired, my hubby and I have spent many an evening looking at each other (around 4:30) and asking, "what's for dinner". While I always have "options" many of them require long preps or just too much effort (like peeling potatoes, sigh)-- leaving us with poorly planned, partial meals that we can either slap together or...... give up on and go pick something up. Lately there has been a LOT of pick up. Waaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much. Now, I'm not saying a dinner out is a bad thing but really once a week (or every other week) should be sufficient. Its supposed to be treat, not a lifeline!

So I've decided to start getting serious about my menu planning. I need to make sure that I have all of the ingredients for each recipe and that I'm being honest with myself about the effort involved and whether I'm really going to do it (or not). Going along with that is planning a meal (or 2) that the hubby can do or help with, so I'm not having to do it all by myself. I know he's willing to help but if the whole week is fancy new recipes or complicated preps, that's just not going to happen.

So first of all, I always plan more than 7 meals because, well, um, I'm kind of a picky eater and sometimes I'm just not in the mood for certain foods-- so I need to have "extra" meals for backup to swap out. That is one of the many reasons my freezer is my favorite appliance at home!

Got this super cute spring menu planning form from:
Search their site for other cute seasonal forms!

The shopping trip:

This week I've gone to Trader Joe's but most of these items are available at any grocery store (although you might have to go with non-organic).

  • Milk- organic, whole
  • Cereal- Trader Joe's shredded wheat- plain
  • non fat organic greek yogurt cups x4
  • cantaloupe spears
  • 2lb of strawberries
  • (already have eggs, frozen homemade whole wheat waffles, will make zucchini muffins)

  • mini whole wheat pitas (for the little dude's homemade pizza lunchables-- I add a disk of frozen org. tomato sauce and a small baggie of shredded cheese)
  • Loaf of whole wheat tuscan pane (4 ingredient whole wheat bread similar to sourdough but not sour)
  • sliced provolone
  • sliced black forest ham
  • sliced turkey
  • organic bananas
  • organic tangerines

1) Italian chopped salad:
  • Organic romaine hearts (chopped fine)
  • Can of sliced black olives
  • Jar of yellow/red fire roasted peppers
  • sliced pepperoni (chopped fine)
  • Organic shredded mozzarella
  • Organic sugar plum tomatoes (quartered)
  • [uncured salami left over from last week's sandwiches, chopped fine]
  • [croutons, left overs if not stale or make fresh]
  • [balsamic vinegar + olive oil vinegarette]

2)Seared Tuna + Fried Rice + Stir fried veggies:  going for a teppan style dinner here
  • frozen ahi tuna steaks (about 1 lb for 3 eaters)
  • frozen org. microwaveable Jasmine rice pouches (3, 2 cup pouches in a box)
  • [veg on hand: zucchini, carrots, onion]
  • [seasonings, rice add-ons: soy sauce, egg, toasted sesame oil, olive oil, butter, lemon, jarred crushed garlic]
3)Salmon + Baby potatoes + Creamed Chard
  • Wild coho salmon- frozen (about 1 lb) (bake or grill)
  • Bagged kaleidoscope (rainbow) chard (see previous post for recipe)
  • 1lb bag teeny tiny (fingerling) potatoes (roast or boil)
  • [butter, milk, flour, garlic, salt]
  • 1lb grassfed 80% ground beef
  • 1 lb whole wheat spaghetti
  • 1 jar organic basil marinara
  • romaine salad (leftovers from 1st dinner)
  • garlic bread (use tuscan pane)
  • [garlic, olive oil, butter, balsamic vinegar]
5)Grilled Chicken + Broccoli + Smashed sweet potatoes
  • organic chicken breasts
  • bagged organic broccoli
  • [bagged frozen smashed sweet potatoes-- 1 ingredient! purchased last week]
  • [if steaming broccoli, add butter, if roasting, add olive oil + parmesan]
A) Crockpot chicken curry (already in freezer!) see for recipe. Add rice or whole wheat noodles for serving.
B)Cilantro shrimp tacos (uses leftover 1/2 lb of frozen shrimp from last week, corn tortillas, lettuce, tomato, cilantro)
C)Tacosagna (requires batch of crockpot refried beans that I really need to do this week anyways...) See previous post for recipe!
D) Butternut Squash Lasagna: I've got a recipe pinned and I've got the squash (boy do I have a LOT of butternut squash right now!) and lasagna noodles. Just depends on if I have the time, effort to pre-roast the squash and if the preshredded mozzarella doesn't get used up.

Okay. So I'm all planned out! That's 5 definite meals plus 4 more swap out options. That ought to get me through 7 days. My grocery total (just the items I bought new this week) was $111.60. Perfectly reasonable IF I STICK TO MY PLAN!!!! I will also have some leftovers (both bulk items like the extra rice bags and chicken breasts) and individual meals for hubby's lunches.

I don't know if this will help anyone but me. All I know is that just wishing for a healthy, delicious meal to magically appear on the table at dinner time just hasn't been working out! I'll let you know next Monday how the plan worked and if I really stuck to it (or got lazy).

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