Monday, March 28, 2011

Simply make your own taco seasoning.

I can be such a culinary moron sometimes.

We eat a lot of Mexican food here. It is so simple and everybody in this house will eat it. Yet, it took me 35 years to figure out I could make taco seasoning myself. I think I thought it was some exotic mixture filled with secret 'Mexican' ingredients.

Not so much.

Here is my recipe which I used so that I could have a full jar on hand at all times...

4 tablespoon chili powder
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 teaspoon paprika
6 teaspoons ground cumin
4 teaspoon sea salt
4 teaspoon black pepper

Simply mix them all up in a pretty jar and store in a cool dry place, like all other spices. Keep some shredded chicken in your freezer. And then when you are pressed for a quick meal- throw some of your chicken in a fry pan with a couple tablespoons of your taco mix and a bit of water and heat it up.

You can then throw it on a whole wheat tortilla wrap with some black beans, corn, bit of shredded cheese, black olives... whatever your family likes in their quesadillas, throw another tortilla on top and heat in a nice hot cast iron skillet for a minute and you have a quick snack for hungry mouths.

Serve up with salsa, sour cream or Greek yogurt with a pinch of your taco seasoning mixed in... I think I know whats for dinner!

(Like my sweet antique Ball jar with chalk board sticker??? Me too! Those stickers are so freakin' fun!)

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Going Green: Quick Tip #3

My husband fell in love with foaming soap when we used at a vacation cottage we had. Soon after we came home I went to buy some and discovered they make foaming dish soap, foaming hand soap, foaming body wash...

However, I have a had a bit of trouble finding foaming soaps in any of my usual greener brands. So I made my own.

It's quite simple really. Get a foaming pump dispenser (at $10-$15 dollars each, I decided to just reuse the ones I already had.) Simply fill it one quarter of the way with your choice of soap. And then, very slowly, fill the rest of the bottle with water. (I say slowly, because if you fill it too quickly, you will end up with an overflowing, bubbly mess.)

You can use castille soap for either dish foam or hand washing foam. I like to add a few drops of sweet orange essential oil to my dish soap for a nice scent.

You can also add a couple of drops of tea tree oil to hand soap for the disinfecting properties or some lavender for calming effects... or, really, whatever essential oil you prefer. 5-10 drops should do.

There are so many benefits of making this soap yourself. You can control what ingredients you use. You save a ton of money. If you have bubbly-happy toddlers like I do, you save a ton of soap. (Since it is a pump action, they can only disperse a small amount at a time.) You are also taking another step towards simplifying your home: one bottle of castille to refill all the dispensers in the house. Yay for less plastic and less clutter under your sinks.

(* Side note: These pumps tend to clog after awhile. You can soak the pump in hot water and pump some hot water through it a couple of times and it will clear up with no problem.)

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Kids Say: What's with all the questions???

Annika is five.

Five-year-olds ask a lot of questions.

This is one part of parenting you are never told about. Your child may ask you... WILL ask you questions.

Some you are more than happy to answer.
Some you will try to answer.
Some you can't answer.
Some you don't want to answer.
Some you don't know how to answer.

We were on our way to a play date with my wonderful friend, Bob and his 2 fabulous daughters, Mary and Jane. In a uncommon lull in conversation, Annika asks, "Mommy, why do Mary and Jane have dark skin and Bob has white skin?" (*Bob may or may not have a complexion similar to that of Conan O'Brien.)

"Uhhh... Mary and Jane are adopted."

"What does adopted mean?"

"Well.... their mommy did not think she were the best mommy and she loved them so much that she thought that Bob and Joe would be the best parents for them."

"Oh. Why is it 'Bob and Joe' and not 'Bob and a mommy'?"

"Uhhhh... Oh. Look. We are here. Let's go play and eats lots of cookies!"

Monday, March 21, 2011

Whats on the Menu?

Monday: Leftovers (Colby was away for the weekend so, without his belly, we ended up with a lot of extra food!)
Tuesday: Spinach Feta Quiche (This recipe calls for frozen spinach and canned mushrooms, but I use fresh.)
Wednesday: Burrito Pie (already in my freezer, thanks to an epic cook and freeze session with my friend Carolyn last week. Yay for freezer dinners on busy nights!)
Thursday: Chicken, Brown Rice, kids veggie of choice
Friday: Leftovers/Pizza/Brinner

I have been pretty good about keeping up on my menu planning, and it is a time saver and a stress saver. I do not need to spend the morning or afternoon pouring over recipes and making trips to the grocery store. If you have not tried menu planning, you really should. Especially with jobs and children and countless activities... it just simplifies your routine and most likely will lead to healthier eating with less fast food and grab and go options.

(P.S. Check out my new link on my sidebar for Elle's New England Kitchen, she is one of my fave go-to's for recipes... and I especially like that she's local.)

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sunday Citar: One of those March days.

"It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade." ~Charles Dickens

On our maiden voyage to the park yesterday, I could not help but think that Dickens was clearly speaking of New England in this quote.

At the first sign of weather above freezing, we open our windows to air out the 5 months of living in a stagnant house. We go play in the park even with a foot of snow and ice still covering the ground. We watch the birds make their way to their bird baths and feeders still filled with ice. We scrape the frost off our windows in the morning only to smile at the emerging crocuses later in the day. We walk down the street in our t-shirts yet still have a scarf around our neck. We are giddy about pulling out our summer skirts, tank tops and flip flops, only to realize that we can not yet put away the bulky sweaters and sweatshirts.

But as the suns afternoon rays are pouring through my window, I can not help but simply smile. Spring is here.

Go see Tabitha for more Sunday Citar.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Menu Monday with bonus recipe.

This weeks menu:
Monday: Tuna noodle casserole
Tuesday: Leftovers
Wednesday: Sweet potato soup
Thursday: Corned beef with cabbage (of course!)
Friday: Breakfast for dinner (easy peasy since Colby is away!)

For the weekend, we usually go pretty junk food-ish since the girls are really good about eating whatever quinoa/vegetable/fish/tofu concoction I prepare all week. Colby and I both grew up with a Friday night pizza routine, so it just feels right to continue it with our kids. Although, I am really not a pizza fan, so sometimes I try to come up with a comfort food that is yummy for the kids but somewhat healthy.

This week I came across a biscuit filled with a ground beef and bbq sauce recipe that fit the bill. It also proved that you can make a kid friendly food quasi-healthy.

This is my altered version:

1 pound ground 93/7 ground turkey (original recipe is beef, but this is where the healthy starts!)
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 cups bbq sauce
Approx enough biscuit dough for 12 biscuits
1/2 cup shredded carrots
2 cups Cabot 50% Fat free shredded cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups.
In a large skillet or frying pan, cook turky with onion, carrot and garlic powder until evenly brown, (since it is turkey, you should not need to drain any grease off at this point.) Stir in the barbeque sauce and simmer for another 3 minutes.

Roll out each biscuit on a floured surface so that each biscuit is 6 inches across. Put the biscuit in the muffin tin and fold up sides to create a cup shape. Fill each biscuit fill almost to the top with the meat mixture; top with cheddar cheese.

Bake in preheated oven until biscuits are baked, cheese is melted and tops are golden brown, about 15 minutes.

A few notes on my recipe: The biscuit recipe I provided is a nice healthy one but, if you are in a hurry, you can use a canned biscuit.

Try to stick with an all natural bbq sauce. This will avoid the HFCS. The only common brand I saw that did not have HFCS was Bull's Eye, they seemed to have a pretty natural recipe with very few ingredients.

Although most brands of low fat cheese will not melt well, the Cabot does very well (see the upper left photo above.) And you will be support a local Vermont business to boot!

The original recipe did not have the shredded carrots, I added that for a little additional nutrition. But the 1/2 cup reduced to almost nothing, so I will increase that to at least 3/4 of a cup next try. (Of course the kids did not even notice the carrots.)

In the photo above, you will notice that the top biscuit has carrots and celery and peas... that was actually just filled with some pot pie stuffing I had hanging out in the freezer. Colby preferred those biscuits, although the biscuit dough did not seem to cook as well, perhaps the pot pie filling was too moist.

I also did not note it in the recipe, but I added 1/2 cup of a creamy soup I had in the fridge. I typically have at least one box of this type of soup in the fridge since it is my go-to lunch. I added about 1/2 cup to the mixture again, to add some nutrients. I will do this with a lot of my recipes and nobody ever notices.

And it was a hit! Yummy, semi-healthy and quick and easy for me.

*Check out Mangia Monday for more great recipe ideas!*

Friday, March 11, 2011

Simple Rainy Day Fun: FAIL!

Remember when I said that I would be coming up with some fun stuff to entertain my little ones during the rainy season? Well, when we woke up to this today.... I figured it was time to brain storm... and I thought bowling was a good bet. Inside, out of the rain, and fun for a two and five year old. WRONG. WRONG. WRONG.

This would turn out to be one of my worst parenting ideas in quite a while. It all started out nice enough. We got our cool shoes: Took the stance: aaaannnddd, that is where the fun ended... about 5 minutes into our adventure.

There would be timeouts: Acadia deciding she'd rather play Legos than bowl:

Me holding her in a choke hold to keep her from running down the lane as the owner yelled, "You can't go past the red line!!!" (No shit, Sherlock, try explaining that to my 2-year-old.) Thank all-that-is-holy we went at 9am so we were all alone. Lest someone be stuck in a lane next to us to hear my constant yelling, "Annika, STOP! Acadia, DON'T! Annika, I SAID NO!..."

Actually outtakes from today's trip...

Take your head out of that ball return.
Stop wiping boogers on things.
Don't lick that ball!
Get down off there.
Acadia Skye! We can't run after the ball... let it go down the lane alone!
So, 45 minutes and $32 later, (apparently, it costs approximately $20 for them to push the button to put the bumpers down) we bailed. 32 freakin' dollars for 45 minutes of an anxiety-ridden, parenting fail, epically crappy outing.

To conclude: do NOT take a 2 year old and a five year old bowling. This little experiment is hereby shelved for the next 3-5 years.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rainy Day Random Roundup

• We all know high fructose corn syrup sucks. And I have been trying vigilantly to cook healthy but it is so freaking hard! I made a simple grilled cheese and tomato soup for the girls lunch and, as I looked at that familiar red can that I have been eating ALL of my life, I noticed it contains HFCS! Really??? Grrrr.

• Not only do I hate the shoveling, frozen snot, falling icicles and icy driving that comes with living in the Northeast... I swear we never get the coolest concert tours!

• If you are my age (you know, 25ish), check out this trip down memory lane. Fun!

Ummm, gross! Fecal matter on 72% of them????

What can you get for a dollar?

• Two wonderful ladies shared two wonderful recipes this week. We all know my love of sweet potatoes and chocolate!

• I love Facebook, I am recently discovering there are cool thrift stores and consignment shops right here in Concord... now, if only I can find the time to go visit them!

• AND speaking of thrift store... did you know that Goodwill Northern NE offers a discount card that gives you 10% off??? AND 25% off on your birthday? Why did I not know about this program... oh... 8 days ago?!?! And they offer gift cards too. (Hint, hint to the gift buyers in my family.)

Sorry for a completely random, meandering post. But we all gotta clear our heads sometime.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Simple Rainy Day Fun: Oobleck

It is here again... the stinking rainy, muddy New England spring. While I am beyond elated to see the cold and snow go away, it is always hard for parents with children at home during the mud season. We really can not get outside without ending up looking something like this: So I will be spending the next few weeks finding new and (hopefully) interesting things to entertain 2 little girls. Today? A science experiment we will call Oobleck. It is very simple, cheap and easy. And the kids will love it, I swear.

Follow the "recipe", which is simply corn starch and water, add a bit of food coloring if you are extra adventurous...
and you will be guaranteed some very occupied children...
This is a seriously fun little experiment that illustrates the difference between solids, liquids... and some substance in between. It is fun for the 2 year old, 5 year old and 10 year old. But beware... it is messy. There will be oobleck ever-y-where. BUT... the fantastic thing? It dries on contact with the floor, table, skin, hair... and will just sweep up as a dried powder or wipe off with a wet cloth. Easy peasy.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Photography for Dummies

Although I use Photoshop of my life, I am still a complete novice. That is why people like Rita absoltutely amaze me.
She comes up with the most amazing actions and presets for Photoshop. Truly. Amazing. She can make a photo of my toilet look interesting. I used her ColorBar Color Palette template on my plain butterfly photo above to display some of the colors that are prevelant in the photo. Why? Well, is it useful for me personally for my photo blocks. I can take a photo, put together a template like this one and see what theme of digital papers will mesh with that photo.

But that is just the (boring) tip of the iceburg of what you can do with her actions and templates. I can create more (jazz hands) jazzy photos...

Or maybe just some subtle color shifts that can really make a photo memorable...

There is my photo tip for dummies. The CoffeeShop Blog is a must see for budding photographers.

*If you have no idea how to even start installing an action, start here.*