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What to do with apples

25 Oct

We had a full bushel of apples when we came home from apple picking. Besides eating as many delicious apples as we could (plain and with peanut butter, which Walter declared was worth his taste buds), we scoured our canning books and the internet and came up with some good recipes.

Dave made apple jelly and “Mom’s Apple Pie in a Jar”, which is something you’re supposed to put on top of ice cream and other desserts. Some are going out for Christmas presents while others are waiting to be opened and consumed during the cold, hard months of winter. And we still have lots of apple cider leftover to use elsewhere.

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Walter and I made apple pie, apple muffins, and applesauce muffins.

img_20161018_171937The best of our three attempts at pie crust was Walter’s version. I had made some modifications of Julia Child’s recipe after one failed version and one medium success (we used less water and had to figure out the flour ratio since we had pastry flour instead of cake flour), but still. He worked that dough all by himself, and it was great.

img_20161019_163639769Only had to cut up 1 million golden delicious apples.

img_20161019_174019511We made these for an early family Thanksgiving lunch in a couple weeks, but we just had to try one slice before it went in the freezer. And it was délicieux.

Whole Wheat Apple Muffins by Smitten Kitchen

Because of this recipe I’ve started substituting whole wheat flour in other muffins and wow. My banana bread muffins have never tasted so good. Just replace 1 cup all-purpose with 3/4 cup whole wheat flour.

Apple Pie by Crafty Creative Gal

We used the pie crust recipe directly out of a Julia Child cookbook, but the filling and everything else from this recipe. And YUM.

Applesauce

For the applesauce muffins, I just did my banana bread recipe but replaced three bananas with homemade applesauce from three apples. Boy, a kitchen never smells as good as when apples have been simmering in cinnamon and sugar all day long. I did the slow cooker version, which turned the apples a lot darker than the picture, but as it was going in to muffins, I didn’t care.

Most of the muffins are sitting in our freezer waiting for midnight snacking sessions after nursing #2. I can’t wait for those all-night cuddle sessions. Just 2 1/2 more months to go!

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One month in to anti-inflammatory heaven, and we’re still kicking

7 Feb

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“I’m so confused about what to eat I had bean soup for breakfast today.” -David

A little over a month in to the diet, and I’m still alive. I’ve been pining over my sugar, and seemingly always hungry, but I think I’m doing well. It’s been incredibly helpful to have David doing this with me. We even inspired my mother-in-law to go vegan for a month! It’s good to cleanse your body in your own way when you haven’t been eating as healthy as you should be.

I’ve been feeling really good, despite the (mostly mild) cravings. I feel good about changing the way I think about food and forcing myself to branch out and not go for the quick fix. For instance, this week we’ve managed to eat an entire head of cabbage in various meals. I usually only like cabbage leaves with my nam sod — thank God Asian food is mostly meat, veggies, and delicious spices!

We went to a friend’s pizza night last weekend, which I was worried about, but they had so many people there with various dietary restrictions (who have been doing this a lot longer than we have) that instead of a torturous night watching other people eat homemade pizza, I think there were more alternative crusts and “cheeses” than regular! Gluten free crusts, one even made with cauliflower, and cashew cheese… covered in various toppings… yum. We did allow ourselves a half slice of typical pizza, and our friends laughed at how happy we looked eating it. I could literally feel my brain filling with happy neurotransmitters!

There are so many varieties of anti-inflammatory diets out there, that I kind of have to put together my own idea of what I want to do. Is it gluten-free only, or do I avoid white things – regardless of gluten – like bleached flour, potatoes, and white rice? Is honey OK or are all sugars off the table? Fruit is a good sugar, but are all fruits made equal? I wouldn’t have been able to get by this month without apples and peanut butter as a snack.

Recently I’ve realized that the Paleo craze is basically an anti-inflammatory diet, which makes it easy to search for recipes. And I ate a Paleo brownie from our local coffee shop because it was gluten free, dairy free, and refined sugar free, and let’s be honest, I needed something that reminded me life was worth living for (joke). It didn’t give me a headache like other cheat foods do, so I feel like I can relax a little bit about all that.

Tonight we made a really yummy and very easy ground beef/cabbage skillet meal:

1lb ground beef
1 sweet onion chopped
1/4 head cabbage chopped
garlic
10oz tomato sauce (salt free)
15oz diced tomatoes (salt free)
salt
pepper
crushed red pepper
oregano
thyme
parsley

After you saute the onions and garlic and brown the beef, you add the rest of the ingredients and let simmer for 25 minutes or until the cabbage is soft. We then served it over brown rice.

Enjoy!

The Art of a Successful Party

8 Mar

Last weekend I threw a 30th birthday party for one of my best friends (“30, flirty, and thriving” already!?!?), and it was fabulous. I know we all have different versions of a successful party. But here’s a good recipe for one if you’re out there looking.

1. Make sure you have enough alcohol. I found a website that prescribed two drinks per person for the first hour of the party and one drink per person for every hour after that. Leftovers are never a problem in my book either!

We had wine – both red and white, – beer, vodka, gin, rum, killer kimonos, tonic, club soda, Coke, Diet Coke, ginger ale, Fanta, and tons of bottled water. We also had a champagne toast with the birthday cake. Don’t forget ice and cups.

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2. Decorations. I went simple yet it was more decorated than I’ve ever seen the house except for Christmas. We hung yellow streamers from the light fixture in the kitchen (reminding me that I need to look up high to dust), hung paper balls around the room, had a “Happy 30th Birthday” banner, had birthday confetti placed on the tables, and I made a centerpiece decoration out of birthday balloons that someone else brought over. Outside on the back deck I put out lights, and we had the fire pit going at one point. It was all very festive!

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3. Delicious Food. We wanted heavy hors d’oeuvres so people wouldn’t go hungry but also it wasn’t meant to be dinner. We had meatballs in a BBQ sauce, seven layer dip, buffalo chicken dip, chips, turkey pinwheels, cheese and crackers, and grapes. All the food was so good. I would have been happy if no one had come to the party so I could have eaten it all by myself, but I was glad at the end of the night when we had almost no leftovers.

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4. Dessert/Birthday Cake. The birthday boy’s favorite cake is red velvet cake (and who doesn’t like red velvet!?) so when I was looking up recipes, I thought that a simple recipe of red velvet cream cheese cake balls sounded just as easy as cupcakes, and a little bit more fun too. It turned out to be a bit more work than it looked (probably going to the store twice while making them didn’t help any), but they turned out DELICIOUS. I mean, one guest told me that the cake balls made him see Jesus. I don’t get those kind of compliments often on my cooking (especially my baking), and I never would have been able to do it without David. He finished up when I withered out at 1am. First of all, if you do normal size balls, the recipe will make 45 of them, not 20 like it says. Also, you’ll need two bags of baker’s chocolate chips and a little bit more than 8 oz. of cream cheese. Ours didn’t turn out quite as pretty as the blogger’s picture, but David did get creative with the leftover chocolate, making designs on the top like you would see on Godiva truffles. YUM. I can’t wait to forget about how hard it was to make them so that I can do it again.

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All in all, throwing a party for 30 guests was a lot of work, both in prep and in clean up, but it was worth it. And of course I loved the compliments on our house. It was a blast, and when everyone else has a blast too, you know you’ve done a good job.

Taco Chili

19 Dec

A couple weeks ago my sister-in-law gave us some of her chili to-go, and once I had some I begged her for the recipe. I’m not always a fan of chili, but I can devour this dish. So easy to do, delicious, and warm on those cold days!

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Ingredients:

1 can black beans drained
1 can kidney beans drained
2 cans Rotel (I use one hot and one mild)
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes with chilies
1 can sweet yellow corn drained
1 lb lean beef, browned and drained
1 packet dried ranch seasoning/dressing
1 packed taco seasoning
1 red pepper, diced large
1 green pepper, diced large

Put everything into your crock pot (or a large pot) and cook on low for 5-6 hours. I like to put it over elbow noodles, or you can serve it “plain” with any type of taco topping you normally like. But try it first without anything cause this stuff is good. I also really like a couple scoops with egg and cheese for a breakfast burrito in the mornings!

Enjoy!

Aunt Ridgely’s Bean Soup

24 Oct

Yesterday I had the soup on the stove literally all day and when the roof guy came by to check out a spot the repair guys had missed, he walked in the house and said, “It smells like soup!” and to be honest, it made me feel good. It was chilly outside even at 1pm.

When I first heard of this soup, I was nervous. I’m not that big a fan of beans, and when I found out it was all we were having for dinner, I thought I’d go to bed hungry. But I had two bowls that night and ate the leftovers later in the weekend too. It’s one of those recipes you could throw in any leftover vegetables you have lying around and play with the spices too, but here’s the base.

I buy the 16 bean bag of soup, ham flavored, but throw away the spice packet they give you. It’s in the rice/bean aisle and it’s really just a bag of 16 types of dried beans. Soak them overnight in about 4 inches of water.

Drain and rinse the beans the next morning. Put them back in your stock pot and fill it with new water. I usually fill the pot about halfway.

Add:
4 chicken bullion cubes (Knorr)
A large diced onion
A couple tsp of minced garlic
A quarter round of cooked ham, diced (doesn’t matter if it’s pre-sliced or not).
Worchestershire Sauce
Tobasco
Oregano
Thyme
Pepper
Turmeric
Extra lentils

Let cook at least 3-5 hours on low and serve with buttered, toasted bread. Yum.

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How to make your own baby food

1 May

There are a lot of things that make me happy as a mother. One thing is making Walt’s food. It is easy to do, inexpensive, and you know exactly what ingredients your baby is eating. That is so important these days when food is so processed and we have so many chronic diseases of unknown origins. And jars of organic baby food aren’t cheap. Also, if you try them, things like carrots and bananas don’t taste anything like real carrots and bananas. When we went on vacation to Florida, we bought Earth’s Best purees (top of the line) to make life easier, and Walt wouldn’t even eat them. I guess we’ll just have to start canning our own food for the out-of-the-house occasions.

What we’ve done so far:

Carrots (1 lb)
Wash, peel, cut up, put in pot. Fill halfway to top of carrots with water (a little pat of grass fed butter & oregano or parsley optional). Boil uncovered for 10 minutes. Let cool, puree in food processor.

Sweet Potatoes (3-4 medium size)
Wash, wrap in tin foil, bake at 400 degrees for 45-60 minutes. Let cool, peel skin off (by hand, so easy to do), puree. Add some water when pureeing.

Kale (1 bunch), Spinach (a bag), or Broccoli (2 big bunches)
Wash. Cut off stems. Saute with a little bit of water until slightly wilted. Puree.

Peas
Buy bag of frozen peas. Steam in microwave with 1/4 cup water for four minutes. Let cool, puree.

Acorn (3 big ones) or Butternut (1 large) Squash
Cut in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds. Place face down in Pyrex with 1/2 inch of water. Bake at 400 degrees for 45 minutes or until skin is puckered. Let cool, scoop out flesh, puree. Add some water when pureeing.

Rice & Lentils (1 cup each) or Black Eyed Peas (half a bag)
Cook according to directions. Puree. We did sweet brown rice and lentils together and black eyed peas separately.

Pears (3-4)
Let ripen. Remove core and peel. Use immersion blender to puree. Will turn brown as it is exposed to air and freezes.

Apples
I buy applesauce without added sugar for Walt. I’ve heard it’s easy to make your own applesauce, but so far I haven’t found the time to do that one yet. I just buy the large jar in the regular canned fruit aisle and freeze into cubes.

Blueberries
Wash and puree. Walt only spits up now when he eats blueberries, just so he can stain the new carpet purple.

Bananas
Cut desired amount and mash with fork. Don’t freeze.

When you’re cooking, try to use only enough water to cook the veggies, then use that water to puree in case any nutrients were cooked into the water. We use Green Sprout’s silicone freezer tray to do our cubes. I think it’s easier than regular ice cube trays, but I haven’t tried the regular kind yet. The indicated amount usually fills 1-2 trays (15-30 cubes). A little bit of cooking and you’ve got your month’s supply. So easy. Cover your tray with plastic wrap and let freeze overnight. Too soft cubes will melt together if they come out of the tray too early. Pop out and store in large freezer bag with name of food and date frozen. Optimal use is up to 3 months.

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Sweet potatoes

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Our current supply!

I’m about to go to the farmer’s market in search of acorn squash. Little boy loves it so much, and regular grocery stores don’t have it in stock right now!

Also, I am in no way a trained chef, nutritionist, or medical professional, so this is just my own advice given what I’ve done and what’s worked for our family.

The best fish tacos you’ve ever had

18 Apr

If you like fish tacos or you don’t like fish tacos, these are still the tacos for you (you could probably substitute fried chicken strips for the fish and it would be just as delicious). It is another recipe taken from my mother, and I was actually able to make it just as good as her original dish!

Ingredients:

fish (tilapia, cod, or grouper works well. We did three pieces of tilapia for the two of us and had a little to spare ~ .8lbs)
bread crumbs
salt
vegetable oil
tortillas (corn or flour, your preference)
1/2 head of cabbage, cored
1/2 lb carrots
can of chipotle peppers (they come in adobo sauce – find in the international food aisle in your local grocery store, along with the salsa)
2 heaping spoonfuls of lite mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
chipotle salsa

Directions:

First, prepare your coleslaw. I don’t normally like coleslaw, but this one is amazing. Either use your food processor or hand chop your cabbage and carrots. My mom hand chopped but I like to use the food processor. So easy. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in 3-4 chopped and de-seeded chipotle peppers (4 was fairly hot) and as much of the sauce from the can as you want. Add your sour cream and mayo, mix well, and you’re done. This amount of coleslaw probably serves four people if you’re generous with your helpings.

Next, fry your fish. Cut it into strips and bread it (my mom suggested Panko breadcrumbs but the ones I had from the farmer’s market worked just as well); add salt to your breadcrumbs and no need to use egg to adhere the crumbs to the fish. Fry in vegetable oil until golden brown.

Finally, load your tortilla. Fish, salsa, coleslaw – I put a lot on there. Eat. Enjoy.

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What I thought about this Monday.

16 Apr

I will teach my son to be kind, to be generous, and above all, to be good.

He is a sweet soul, ready to be educated in so many ways. He is happy, and he loves. I will continue giving to his natural tendencies. And as my neighbor said the other day to her young daughter, “You can be many things, but disrespectful is not one of them.”

I want Walter to grow up adding to the good in the world. He will not grow up and do something that makes strangers think, “What went wrong with this boy’s parents?” because honestly, if a person does something horrible, I look to the parents. Where were they? Were they negligent, or were they teaching their children these values? Besides the instances of true physical imbalances (whether by genetics or life choices e.g. drugs), the community in which you grow up has to teach you everything you know about morality and choices. Who else is there to lead you besides the people around you?

I will not let my son be a bully. He will not belittle women, people of other races, or anyone else. He will revere his family. My wish for him is to be like his father, fighting for the rights of himself and other people, committed to what our country stands for. Not letting the bad people get away with their actions.

In the midst of all this thinking, Mondays are my chore days. I clean the bathrooms and change the sheets, do laundry and vacuum. Of course there are always mid-week chores, but Mondays I really run around like a crazy person trying to get everything done. It is a good feeling, at the end of a busy day, to relax in a clean house.

I made dinner from a recipe my mother made up. It makes you feel like you are eating at a fancy restaurant. Fried swordfish spiced with trocomare and pepper, on top of a mixed green salad with blackberries, chunks of champagne mango, pepper, and balsamic dressing. The balsamic dressing is 1/4 cup delicious balsamic, 1/3 cup olive oil, and salt to taste.

Easy and so delicious.

I went about my day and made it to the end with all my limbs, surrounded by the people I love. I thank God that the good people in this world far outnumber the bad. But I wonder, sometimes, if humanity is intrinsically good or bad. Why is it so easy for some people to be so evil, to be so careless with other people’s lives? Or are we all good and some people turn on us, like an old, loyal dog who one day ravages his owner? I will never understand the need to harm other people. This world is so fragile, yet filled with so much, it seems sturdy. It seems like it will be here forever.

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Eating raw almonds reminds me of when I was a child eating raw almonds

6 Mar

I never used to like nuts. My memory of eating nuts as a child is limited to the few times I would use the nutcracker to open an almond from a bowl that always sat out in our den and fish out the few pieces of nuts and eat them. I think my main purpose was to use the nutcracker. It wasn’t the soldier doll with the giant mouth but a silver pronged cracker that sat on the edge of the almond bowl.

A few months ago my mother brought a roasted, salted nut array over and I ended up devouring them. Which was weird because of my hatred of nuts. Solo, in dishes, in desserts and baked goods… you name it, I didn’t like it. Except pecan pie. I love pecan pie. But every other nut I could do without.

It just goes to show that if you eat anything long enough you will probably develop a taste for it. The same thing happened with beans when I was a vegetarian for 7 months and onions when I was friends with someone who really liked onions. Now I put onions in everything. I used to pick my onions out of a Philly Cheese steak from Mad Italian. When asked why I didn’t order it without the onions, my reasoning was I liked the flavor but not the consistency.

I recently bought an unroasted, unsalted bag of nuts from the farmer’s market, and apparently I like those too. And the almonds remind me of what childhood tasted like. When I was a child I used to “cook” which meant I boiled some pasta and opened a can of hot Rotel tomatoes and mixed them together — inedible. Sad thing was I know I tried that dish more than once with the same disappointing results. Since then I’ve been working on my repertoire and consider myself an above average cook. But recently the cooking muses have really befriended me. Dave and I have made several dishes in the last week that I’ve never made before. Maybe the muses decided to shine all their cooking glory on me since my pot roast triumph two weeks ago.

Last week: flank steak that was cooked perfectly pink on the inside and marinated with a delicious flavor. Dave almost ate the whole thing in one sitting.

Friday: we stayed up late making chicken pot pie (recipe from Cooking for Engineers), but only because it took a lot longer to make chicken pot pie than we had thought it would and we started after the baby went to bed kinda late. But I’m glad we did it because it was delicious. Not difficult to do, but time consuming. Perfect food for the chilly weekend we spent sitting in front of the fire.

Sunday: Okra stew (fast gumbo) that I tweaked heavily. When I asked Dave what he thought about my changes before I did them, the only thing he would tell me is, “If you’re not going to do what the recipe says, I don’t know if it will taste the same.” Luckily for both of us it was good. The guy who writes Cooking for Engineers is very cool. Everything we’ve ever made from his website has been worth it.

Monday: my parents came home from visiting my brother and his family in Miami, and my mom’s dog stayed with us over the weekend. Our house is on the way home from the airport and they stopped by just at dinnertime. I asked them earlier in the day if they wanted to have dinner with us, and proceeded to make my first lasagna. I did the most basic recipe I could find and it was pretty good. And strangely enough I had it heated up right on time too, which as everyone who came to Christmas dinner knows I’m not known for my timely meals. I’m looking forward to trying Pioneer Woman’s recipe. Her recipes look yummy and I like that she’s a famous housewife that lives on a ranch. If I had more time I would go through her website/blog.

I’m glad I’m slowly becoming more and more of a better cook. My mother is an inspirational and amazing chef, but she always makes up recipes as she goes so you can never ask her “how did you do that?” Actually, you can, and she’ll say “I don’t know” so it doesn’t help. Or she’ll tell you something and when you cook it it turns out nothing like what you wanted. I like playing with my recipes too, which of course doesn’t always work out for the young chef, but as I age I’m apparently getting better at it. And I like following new recipes. It’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle that you get to eat when you’re done. I collect my recipes in a notebook I call “The Mixed Up Recipes from Kat’s Kitchen and Dave’s Diner” which always reminds me of a book I read when I was younger.

I don’t know what’s changed in my kitchen lately, but I like it. I hope the muses keep smiling down upon me and my wooden spoon.

The Muses. They look like they’ve just eaten a good meal, don’t they?

Now time for a glass of wine, bed, and continuing to worry about the incredible wind that keeps shaking the house.

The Art of the Pot Roast

22 Feb

I’m still on a pot roast high from two nights ago. I have been struggling for years to make a good roast. I always do it with vegetables, and the meat always comes out overdone and the vegetables are always crunchy. Even when the darn thing was in the oven for two hours. I guess you can’t just stick things in a pan and hope it comes out delicious. I guess this is why my crock pot skills are well below average.

Here is what I did in case someone else also has a pot roast deficiency.

I took my thawed meat and rubbed Trocomare seasoning on it that I got at the Farmer’s Market the other day. Why is everything so much tastier and cheaper at the farmer’s market? I think Walt and I will have to make weekly visits there even if it is half an hour away. Although, what isn’t at least half an hour away in Atlanta? My dad now refuses to visit us during the week because traffic is so terrible. I completely understand. And one day we will move out to the suburbs, hopefully very close to a farmer’s market. And a Costco. And lots of trees.

I put the hunk of meat directly on the roasting pan. Maybe this is the trick, to use an actual roasting pan. Previously I’d put it in a baking dish, but possibly that cooks it too fast. Who knows.

I quartered potatoes and halved mushrooms, cutting up the bigger pieces again, and spread them around the meat. I wedged an onion, cut the wedges in half, and also spread those around the meat. I like to use baby carrots so I don’t have to deal with peeling and cutting regular carrots, and I added a 1 lb bag of those too. I put Trocomare, salt, and pepper on all the vegetables and the meat again. I also sprinkled olive oil over it all.

I mixed 3/4 cup water, 1/4 cup red wine (probably a little bit more), one beef bullion cube and a heaping spoonful of minced garlic and poured that over the meat, making sure to spread it around the pan too.

I preheated the oven to 350 degrees, covered the pan in tin foil, and left it to roast in there for 2 hours and 15 minutes. I didn’t use a meat thermometer but it’s always a good idea to. We have a fancy remote one that I’m afraid to use, but I really should just get over that, for the sake of my cooking.

It turned out perfectly. The meat was pink, the vegetables cooked properly, and everything was so very tasty. I am incredibly proud of myself because I have been attempting this dish for at least 5 years. Luckily I have a sweet family who told me it was good, but this was the first time I believed them! Because I thought it was good! My father-in-law, husband and I ate our meal with a side of wine, and then finished off with berries and cream for dessert.

A very tasty, easy meal indeed!