Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Almost here ...

It's strange to think the new school year is almost here. Beginning my second year at this school and being slotted to teach the same classes has given me time to focus a little more on the frills of teaching. Good thing since there likely won't be time for that once school actually begins...
Today's project?

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Make-Your-Own-Jello-Cups

As a single mom, I'm always happy when I can save a few pennies and keep the kids fed. Weird, I know, but that seems to be an ideal combination in our world. I've learned that there are several factors that make this easier, at least in our home. Variety, portion size, availability, and convenience all have to pull together if I want meals and snack-times to go smoothly.

My kids love jello. They like jello jiggers, but what they seem to enjoy even more is old-school, traditional jello in a cup or bowl. Eating jello with a spoon works for them, but when I'm not looking, they often grab a straw and slurping noises fill the air. I let them think I don't notice, but it always makes me smile a little. Yes, I teach my children good manners; that being said, who doesn't love the soul-satisfying sound of a good, solid slurp? (One of my favorite things about school lunch when I was a kid was slurping jello with a straw. Don't tell my mom, but we'd even have contests to see who could make the longest jello worms.)

Now-a-days, jello comes pre-made and prepackaged. Those crazy little (and might I add pricey) cups of gelatinous ooze that will stay shelf or fridge stable for some time thanks to the addition of extra preservatives? Well, as cute as anything brightly colored and packaged in a small cup is, there's a much less expensive and slightly healthier option. (I'm not saying jello is a healthy snack. I'm just saying it's better than some of the alternatives.) It's even nearly as convenient as the pre-made stuff, more if you factor in avoiding a trip to the grocery store.

I may have forgotten to take a picture before I dug into the jello ... Sorry you missed it.
 
I usually mix up two large packages of jello. (Any flavor will do, and we often use the store brand.) Just follow the regular set instructions. It fills a large mixing bowl, so it does take a few hours in the fridge to set up. On the plus side, that's the most time-consuming part of the process. 
 

Fill each container (here's where those magical, half-cup containers come into play) and pop the lids on. In a few minutes, you have several beautiful containers of sweet, slurpy goodness ready to fill your fridge.

See what I mean? So pretty ...

and so tidy.

For me, the trick to making this effective was to figure out how to organize them so the kids could easily find what they wanted and getting the kids in the habit of looking for something specific. Once we found which shelf worked best (read: which shelf was both easily visible and contained enough that they can't easily restack or destroy the sense of order) it was a cinch!

I love these containers -- a little obsessively. Salsa, wheat berries, pickles, olives, beets, bean salad, jello, pudding, applesauce, cheese cubes, nuts, etc. The possibilities really are more endless than the number of containers I own.
Snack-size cups of jello add variety (think a whole palate full of flavors) to our snack times and work well during the school year in lunches or in the summer as a light dessert. Sometimes, we'll even top it with low-fat Cool Whip for a special treat. I like that they're very cost effective (two large boxes of jello are less than $2 total) and that the portions are reasonable enough that I don't feel too guilty when this is what I choose to snack on. The kids like having something sweet available. When the containers are empty, they're simple enough to wash by hand or toss in the top rack of the dishwasher. I like that I get to reuse those instead of tossing them like the prepackaged jello. In our world, it's a win-win.
 

 

Monday, June 15, 2015

One of my Favorite Things ...

This ...






It may seem like a silly thing, but really ... I'm in love. This little 1/2 cup disposable, reusable container has revolutionized my kitchen  ... and my food-related dealings with my children. They're stackable, the perfect size to be snackable, and just the right amount of most foods for the kids' lunches and my mealtimes. These little beauties are wonderful! (No, I'm not getting paid to say this, and nobody gave me anything for free. Ziploc doesn't know I'm alive, which is tragic really ... A care package of these little lovelies would make my day. I have boatloads already, and I still don't have enough. *sigh*) I adore the square shape; it's such an improvement over the round containers. These stack perfectly, and they remain upright in the fridge and the freezer. They even stack well in lunchboxes. No more lunchtime battles in our world. No more fighting about portion sizes. Having a variety of perfectly portioned snacks available has minimized and nearly eliminated any battles of wills over how much is fair. These little Ziploc containers have brought a little element of peace to my home, and, as a mom and a teacher of teenagers, peace is a highly-valued, very hot commodity.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Building a Bread-baking Frenzy

It's been awhile, I know ...

This past fall, I completed my student teaching. Life was a little crazy.

When February began, I began my first full-time teaching job. I took over for a teacher who retired, mid-year ... three weeks or so before mid-term. Life was a little crazier.

Blogging is one of the elements of life that fell by the wayside. So was baking ...



Fast-forward:

School just ended. While I'm still hunting for the right teaching job, I'm finally having a bit of down time to fill with long-neglected loves. Getting out for a walk or a run on a regular basis, hang out time with my kids, getting my home in order, and, of course, a bit of cooking and baking ... It's a beautiful thing.

Yesterday, I decided it had been a while since I'd made tortillas, so ...

Admittedly, the dough isn't fancy.

Though it does the job ...

And who can argue with a tortilla that pretty? Even if I'm not obsessive enough to make them perfectly round ...
Today, it was bread. (What can I say? I run so I can embrace my true love -- carbs, carbs, and more carbs.)

To give you an idea of just how much dough this actually is, the bowl it is in doesn't actually fit in my sink. This is eight loaves worth of dough.
This is one of my favorite bread recipes. It works equally well whether you use all white flour -- all-purpose or bread, all wheat flour, or a mix that involves both. It's nearly fail-proof and has a fantastic texture. Grandma VanDoren's White Bread from Allrecipes.com is a great recipe for those who think bread-making is too hard.

This time I doubled the batch. It was enough to make this:

You  can't tell, but that fourth pan in the right corner is full of pull-apart rolls.

And this:

Four full-sized loaves of dough, ready to thaw and bake ...

The only problem I see now is leaving the loaves alone instead of eating until I'm bloated and incapable of thinking due to the carb-induced, food coma.


Obviously, I'm on the losing end of this battle. (Don't get me started on how the bread enlisted the homemade, strawberry freezer jam. So unfair!)


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Black Bean Soup in a Slow Cooker

I have a bad habit. I don't generally cook with a recipe. If I do, I generally tweak things as I go along ... a lot. There are several advantages to this. I can make a tasty meal out of almost nothing. I can switch things up to suit my family's tastes and moods. We eat with a lot of variety. So, why is it a bad habit, you ask? Well ...

It sort of makes it hard to pass a recipe along. It also means that even when we have recipe repeats, they're not usually an exact repeat. Last night's dinner was that kind of thing ...

Slow Cooker Black Bean Soup
I used a 7 qt. crock pot. Lots of soup, but it freezes and reheats well ...

Bacon Grease or Olive Oil or Butter to saute the veggies
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped fine
5-6 mini sweet peppers, seeded and chopped
Dried, minced onion
Jarred, minced garlic
2 Tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 teaspoon chili lime Cholula sauce
3/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 can Diced Tomatoes, drained (I used the western family brand that has the Chipotle whatever ... )
1 can Rotel Diced Tomatoes, drained
32 oz. dried black beans, rinsed and sorted
Chicken broth (I used probably 10 c. of homemade chicken broth and added water until the crock pot was as full as I wanted.)
Red wine vinegar
Kosher salt
Dried parsley
Dried oregano
Worcestershire sauce
Tortilla chips
Avocado
Sour cream
Shredded cheese

Heat your oil or grease in a saute pan. Toss in the carrots, celery, peppers, dried onion, and minced garlic. Saute for a few minutes until they're aromatic and changing colors. (Since they'll be in the slow cooker all day, don't worry about cooking them until they're soft.) Toss them in your crock pot.

Add the diced tomatoes, chili powder, cumin, Cholula, cayenne, and black pepper. Add your dried beans (no, they don't need an overnight soak) and your broth. Stir to combine. Add enough water to cover the beans by an inch or two. 

Cook it on high for a few hours. (If your beans are still hard, keep it on high at this point. If they are getting quite tender, switch your crock to low.) Let it cook all day.

Taste your soup. Mine needed something more at this point, so I tossed in dried parsley (about a tablespoon, I think) and dried oregano (about a teaspoon.) I also added about a teaspoon of kosher salt, a couple of decent splashes of worcestershire sauce, and some red wine vinegar. (I eyeballed all of these, including the vinegar, so I don't have an exact amount. It was a big crockpot, so I used somewhere between 1/8-1/4 cup of vinegar. Splash some in, give it a good stir, and sample it. You can tell by smell and taste when you hit the right amount.)

After you finish tweaking the taste of things, let it cook for another half hour to an hour so the flavors get to blend. If you want it thicker, puree about half your soup or let it cook down with the lid off. I pureed half and left it a bit runnier because we were adding sour cream, etc. when we served it.

To serve:
Crumble tortilla chips in a bowl. Top with soup. Add some cheese, sour cream, and avocado. Stir it up and enjoy!



Monday, August 5, 2013

And That is Why I Run ... Musings on Chocolate Gravy

Some mornings ...

You just have to have chocolate gravy and biscuits.



Some of you know just what I'm talking about. However, I know there are some of you thinking, "Ew! Ew! Ew!" or rolling your eyes. Stop it! I know it sounds a little bizarre, but you should try it. I think you'll like it.



Start with your favorite biscuit recipe. This one is mine: South Georgia Biscuits (Allrecipes.com)
I usually use skim milk. It turns out fine every time. But, next time I think I'll try buttermilk ... just 'cause I've discovered that I like cooking with real buttermilk ... a lot.

While your biscuits are baking, mix up a batch of chocolate gravy.

 


Keep stirring ...






Move that glorious goodness away from the heat and toss in some butter and vanilla ...





Give it a quick stir or two ...




Nothing left to do but top your biscuits with that yummy, pudding-like gravy. If you want, you can plate it prettily ...


Ha, ha! Look an accidental smiley face. Oops!

But, c'mon people! It's chocolate gravy. Live a little!



That's what I'm talking about. I'm not certain where I got the chocolate gravy recipe. I've been using this one for years. I think I looked at several and tweaked the ingredients to match our family's tastes.

The recipe, you say?

Chocolate Gravy

3 Tbsp. flour
3 Tbsp. cocoa
1 C. white sugar
Dash of salt
2 1/2 C. skim milk
1 tsp. vanilla
1 Tbsp. butter

In a large skillet, whisk your flour, cocoa, sugar, and salt. Add your milk while the heat is off. Whisk everything together until it's well blended. Turn the stove to medium heat. Keep stirring until the gravy is as thick as you like it. Pull your skillet off the heat and stir in the vanilla and butter. Serve warm over fresh biscuits.

Notes: I usually put the stove setting just over the middle mark. On my stove it's between the 5 and 6. That way it's hot enough to get a bit bubbly a bit more quickly.



Monday, July 22, 2013

Roasted Laffy Taffy (and More)






Every good campfire could use a few good accessories. Meet a couple of my favorites ... Before this camping trip, I knew you could roast marshmallows. I figured that if you could do that, then Laffy Taffies were a sure bet.





They're certainly easier to keep on the toasting forks.

Just like marshmallows, candy likes coals ...


The kids were pretty excited about the Starbursts too.

And that's how you tell they're done. Yum! The outside gets almost crunchy, and the inside is soft and melty. So good!

Of course, marshmallows are grand too. Vanilla flavored star marshmallows, fruit flavored mid-size marshmallows, and big, square s'more-sized marshmallows ... We're equal opportunity marshmallow roasters.






Note to self:
The smallish marshmallows are my new favorite. You get a perfect proportion of golden brown crispy, toasty outside to inner gooey guts. Delish!

Of course, no camp out is complete without a S'more or two ... This one has a hidden surprise --






a couple of roasted Laffy Taffies.

Next time, we'll make the roasted pears we planned on. (Before I forgot to bring the cinnamon sugar ... 'Cause I'm good like that. Mind like a sieve. It's a problem ... ) But, for a first camping trip, it turned out to be a delicious experience in nearly every way!