Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Turkey Brine

The title of today's post is enough to make some people a little nervous. Brining. It sounds so complicated! But I promise you it isn't, and it will produce a deliciously juicy turkey that will knock the socks off of anyone blessed enough to be at your Holiday table. I brined a turkey for the first time last year for a "Thanksmas" get together with some friends (a bunch of us got together to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas, we're just fun enough to give it a name) and I volunteered to bring the turkey. I've been watching Alton Brown brine a turkey for years on Food Network, and his style of cooking the bird was fascinating. He starts his turkey at 500 degrees to brown the breast, then he puts a tin foil shield on the breast meat and turns the heat down to continue cooking. I researched brines all over the Internet, and I couldn't find one that suited my tastes. SO I took things I liked from a bunch of different brines, and developed my own. I followed AB's turkey cooking tips, and I kid you not... We enjoyed some of the best turkey ever! The skin (don't lie, you know it's delicious) was crispy and brown and the turkey meat was juicy and flavorful.

If you want to try something new with your turkey this year, and you want to avoid a dried out bird, you may want to try a brine. I'm going to give you my recipe for a brine, as well as the things I stuffed my bird with. I choose not to put stuffing in my bird because by the time the stuffing is cooked enough to kill the bacteria from the uncooked turkey juices dripping all over it, your bird will be overcooked and that's no bueno. I'm also going to give you Alton Brown's cooking directions, because it produced a beautiful turkey for me. You can cook your bird any way you want though. I'm also going to mention that you want your bird to be thawed before brining, just FYI.

Haley's Turkey Brine, cooking directions from Alton Brown

1c salt
1/2c brown sugar
1 gallon water
2T peppercorns
6 bay leaves
1t mustard seed
1t fennel seed
2t minced onion (I used dried)
1/2 thinly sliced onion
6 smashed garlic cloves
1 rosemary branch (or 1t dried)
1 thyme bundle (or 2t dried)
1 gallon heavily iced water

Aromatics for Inside the Turkey

1 sliced apple
1/2 sliced onion
2 carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 leek, chopped
1 head garlic, cut in half lengthwise
1T dried rosemary
2t  dried sage

Combine all brine ingredients minus the iced water in a large stockpot over medium-high heat. Stir occasionally to dissolve solids and bring to a boil. Then remove the brine from the heat, cool to room temperature, and refrigerate.

Early on the day or the night before you'd like to eat:
Combine the brine, water and ice in the 5-gallon bucket. Place the thawed turkey (with innards removed) breast side down in brine. If necessary, weigh down the bird to ensure it is fully immersed, cover, and refrigerate or set in cool area for 8 to 16 hours, turning the bird once half way through brining.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Remove the bird from brine and rinse inside and out with cold water. Discard the brine.

Place the bird on roasting rack inside a half sheet pan and pat dry with paper towels.

Combine the aromatics and 1 cup of water in a microwave safe dish and microwave on high for 5 minutes. Add steeped aromatics to the turkey's cavity. Tuck the wings underneath the bird and coat the skin liberally with canola oil.

Roast the turkey on lowest level of the oven at 500 degrees F for 30 minutes. Insert a probe thermometer into thickest part of the breast and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees F. Set the thermometer alarm (if available) to 161 degrees F. A 14 to 16 pound bird should require a total of 2 to 2 1/2 hours of roasting. Let the turkey rest, loosely covered with foil or a large mixing bowl for 15 minutes before carving.

So that's how you do it! The only change I'll be making to the turkey cooking process is to add a little bit of liquid (water or stock) in the bottom of my roasting pan. If I remember correctly, last year there wasn't a ton of liquid for gravy, and that's a huge bummer!

Do you have any fail-proof methods when it comes to turkey? Do you brine? I'd love to hear about it. Until the next post, stay warm and enjoy Thanksgiving wherever you are.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Healthy Baked Eggplant Parmesan

Hi friends, I'm sorry I've not been posting much in the last couple of weeks, it's been pretty busy around here! My daughter has been sick for literally the last two weeks, and my husband is going through a vigorous training with the Army that's kept him busy. Needless to say, I haven't had much time to blog. I'm coming to you today however, with an amazing Eggplant Parmesan recipe via Martha Stewart. I'd been getting eggplant in my CSA share weekly for awhile, and eggplant is not something I'd been familiar with so I looked for Eggplant Parm recipes and found Martha's. What I liked best about it was that the eggplant pieces weren't fried, they're just baked. This recipe was simple and delicious, even my meat loving Father had second helpings at dinner the night I made it. He said it reminded him of lasagna, and he didn't even miss the beef! So give this one a try, it's sure to be a hit with the whole family!

Baked-Eggplant Parmesan (Via Martha Stewart)

Choose firm, smooth eggplants. We bake rather than fry ours for less mess and less fat.
Everyday Food, December 2003
  • Prep Time 20 minutes
  • Total Time 1 hour 30 minutes
  • Yield Serves 8


  • Olive oil, for baking sheets
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup plain dry breadcrumbs
  • 3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried basil
  • Coarse salt and ground pepper
  • 2 large eggplants (2 1/2 pounds total), peeled and sliced into 1/2-inch rounds
  • 6 cups (48 ounces) store-bought chunky tomato sauce or homemade Chunky Tomato Sauce
  • 1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella


  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Brush 2 baking sheets with oil; set aside. In a wide, shallow bowl, whisk together eggs and 2 tablespoons water. In another bowl, combine breadcrumbs, 3/4 cup Parmesan, oregano, and basil; season with salt and pepper.
  2. Dip eggplant slices in egg mixture, letting excess drip off, then dredge in breadcrumb mixture, coating well; place on baking sheets. Bake until golden brown on bottom, 20 to 25 minutes. Turn slices; continue baking until browned on other side, 20 to 25 minutes more. Remove from oven; raise oven heat to 400 degrees.
  3. Spread 2 cups sauce in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish. Arrange half the eggplant in dish; cover with 2 cups sauce, then 1/2 cup mozzarella. Repeat with remaining eggplant, sauce, and mozzarella; sprinkle with remaining 2 tablespoons Parmesan. Bake until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted, 15 to 20 minutes. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Thrifty Vintage Finds

As I sit and write to you this morning, I'm thoroughly enjoying Christmas music. Yes, I know it's Halloween, but our local Christian radio station plays Christmas music all day on Halloween (one of my favorite things about this holiday). We don't have any big plans for tonight, Addie is too little for trick or treating or festivities of that sort, so we're just gonna lay low and stay warm and cozy.

I'm actually going to start working on a project today, I got some great thrifty finds this weekend while visiting my parents in Spokane. I hit up a vintage sale, a gigantic thrift store and an antique store and came away quite happy with my purchases. I'm always drawn to kitchen stuff, whether it be vintage Pyrex, kitchen gadgets with wooden handles, tablecloths, etc. But I've been working on a Pinterest project that's had me searching for little trinkets. I'll be sharing that project with you when it's finished, which I think may be a few weeks... On this thrifty trip though, I came back with a tablecloth, a dishtowel, a galvanized pitcher, a few kitchen gadgets, a red Pyrex pie plate, and two vintage books. The books are going to be for the Pinterest project I'm starting today! I saw this wreath last week and I fell in love, it's simply gorgeous! It's from the blog bystephanielynn.com, and looks easy, but time consuming.
Pinned Image
I'm going to use pages from the old books I bought to form the rosettes on the wreath. I'll let you know how it turns out when it's finished!

Do you like to shop the thrift stores or antique stores like I do? What's your absolute fave find? I'd love to hear about it! Have a safe and Happy Halloween :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Homemade Healthy Refried Beans in the Crock Pot

One of my favorite blogs as of late, is 100 Days of Real Food. The blog is full of whole and real food ideas and recipes and I've really been enjoying it! The recipe I made today was her refried beans. What stood out to me, was you make them with dried beans (which are super cheap) and you don't have to soak them overnight! That's the sucky thing about dried beans... you do have to soak them and then cook them. So in order to use them you need to plan ahead. But in the case of these refried beans, you don't have to worry about that.
This recipe is the simplest of simple. You add all of the ingredients to the crock pot and walk away for 8 hours. After the time is up, you can mash or blend your beans to the desired consistency. These beans taste SO much better than the type you'd buy in a can, they're also a fraction of the price. I also know exactly what's in them, and there's no lard. Not sayin there's anything wrong with lard, but this recipe doesn't have any. You know what I really love about these beans? I measured mine into 1 cup portions, and froze those babies! I've got beans on hand for anything I need. Burritos, Huevos Rancheros (my new favorite breakfast), nachos, bean dip, etc.

If you like refried beans, saving money and eating well then you will love this recipe!

Easy Slow Cooker Refried Beans
From 100 Days of Real Food

1 onion, peeled and halved (I've also used a few tablespoons of dried onion)
2 cups dry pinto beans, rinsed
½ fresh jalapeno or other hot pepper, seeded and chopped (I omit if I don't have it on hand)
2 cloves garlic, minced
¾ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
One big pinch of cumin
6 cups water

Combine all ingredients in slow cooker.
Cook on high for 8 hours or overnight while you are sleeping.
Remove the bigger onion chunks and drain the excess liquid. If desired, save excess liquid until the final product is desired consistency.
Mash remaining beans with a potato masher and voila! You have homemade refried beans.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Pumpkin: Packed with Bread and Cheese

A friend of mine suggested I try this recipe, and I don't think I would have come accross it if it weren't for her, so thanks Carrie! This recipe was beyond delicious, with fresh, local pumpkin, sharp tasting Gouda cheese, cream, garlic and sourdough bread... You can't go wrong! This recipe hails from Dorie Greenspan, who has worked with famed chefs such as Julia Child, Pierre Hermé, (Paris's king of pastry) and Daniel Boulud (the famous French chef in America). She's also won six James Beard awards, and has written 10 cookbooks. Her blog is also quite wonderful. In other words, she's fabulous and she knows her stuff.

This baked pumpkin doesn't have a long, crazy list of ingredients but the end result will knock your socks off and leave your friends and family in awe, wondering how you did it. I suggest trying this for many reasons, but I especially loved this recipe because it gives new meaning to pumpkin recipes. This is an acutal pumpkin, not just pumpkin puree. I mean, when was the last time you baked a whole pumpkin? Maybe for some of you, it wasn't that long ago, but I've never done it... Until now! So check this out:

Step one, cut the top off of your pumpkin. Scoop out the seeds and goo. Save your seeds though, you can bake them for a delicious and nutritious snack!
Step two, dice up some bread and some cheese. Then mix them with cream, garlic, nutmeg, salt and pepper. I also added some thyme.
Step three, stuff your pumpkin, put the lid back on and bake for two hours. Check for doneness after 90 minutes.
Step four, slice, serve and enjoy!
This is seriously one of my new favorite recipes, and it will be enjoyed numerous times throughout the Fall season. It looks and tastes fancy, but it's really no work at all. Please, please, please try this. You will not be sorry!

Courtesy of Dorie Greenspan
Makes 2 generous or 4 genteel servings

1 pumpkin, about 2 1/2 to 3 pounds
4 ounces stale bread, sliced thin, then cut into 1/2-inch chunks
4 ounces cheese, such as Gruyere, Swiss, Blue, Cheddar or a combination, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
2-4 cloves garlic (to taste), peeled, germ removed and coarsely chopped
About 1/3 cup heavy cream
Freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Either line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat or find a Dutch oven that's the same diameter as the pumpkin. (If you bake the pumpkin in a casserole, it will keep its shape, but it will also stick to the casserole, so you'll have to serve it from the pot, which is a rustic, appealingly homey way to serve it. If you bake it on a sheet, you can present it free-standing, if it doesn't collapse in the oven. I was lucky this time.

Using a very sturdy knife, cut a cap off the top of the pumpkin. This isn't an easy job - I went around the top of the pumpkin with my knife at a 45-degree angle to get a nice size cap. Clear away any seeds and strings from the cap and hold it aside while you scoop out the seeds and filaments inside the pumpkin. (Hold onto this goop -- you can separate the seeds from the filaments and roast them.) Season the inside of the pumpkin with salt and pepper and put it on the sheet or in the casserole.

Now you have a choice, you can either toss the bread, cheese and garlic together in a bowl, then pack it into the pumpkin, or you can alternate layers of bread and cheese and scatter the garlic here and there. (I mixed everything together.) Either way, the filling should go into the pumpkin and fill it well. You might have a little too much filling or you might need to add to it -- it's hard to give exact amounts. Season the cream with salt, pepper and several gratings of fresh nutmeg and pour the cream into the pumpkin. Again, you might have too much or too little. You don't want the ingredients to swim in cream, but you do want to get a feeling that they're moistened.

Put the cap back in place and bake the pumpkin for about 2 hours -- check after 90 minutes -- or until everything inside the pumpkin is bubbly and the flesh of the pumpkin is tender enough to be pierced easily with the tip of a knife. I removed the cap during the last 20 minutes or so of baking so that the top could brown.

As you can see, I cut the pumpkin into wedges, so we could cut a cube of pumpkin and have it with some of the stuffing, but you can also leave the pumpkin whole and use a big spoon to scoop out pumpkin and filling. You could even scrape the pumpkin into the filling and mix it all up.

Caution: If you want to spoon out the pumpkin and the filling or try mixing it, you better bake the pumpkin in a casserole because you'll need to support the sides.

Playing around: I think you could play around with the filling, adding bacon or ham, herbs (a little thyme might be nice) or nuts.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Brown Butter Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

I find recipes all over the place: Magazines, cookbooks, blogs, the Food Network, and my newest obsession Pinterest. Oh Pinterest, how I love thee. For those of you who have not discovered the wonderfulness that is Pinterest, I shall tell you about it. It's an online pinboard, a place where you can organize all of your favorite things, crafts, decor, fashion, beauty tips, basically ANYTHING. Pinterest is where I found the Pumpkin Mac & Cheese. The recipe alone caught my eye. Pumpkin in the Fall is just quintessential in my opinion, and I love enjoying pumpkin in many different facets. But I had never heard of a Pumpkin Mac, but I liked the sound of it; nutty brown butter, sharp white cheddar, nutmeg and pumpkin. YUM. Also, the blogger this recipe comes from says that it has half the fat and calories of regular mac and cheese, and cost less than $10 to make.

Making brown butter
This recipe was quick (took less than 10 minutes to put together) and straightforward. Don't let the brown butter intimidate you, it's way easier than it sounds. Put your butter in a pan over medium heat and let it melt and start to cook, once it starts to smell nutty and turn brown (it may bubble a little), you're done! We really liked this recipe, the flavors are fantastic, but the next time I make it I won't bake it, I'll just serve the sauce over cooked pasta. I'm not sure if it's because I used a brown rice pasta, but I just couldn't taste the sauce as much after the pasta baked in the oven. It's up to you though, let me know what you think if you make it.
Ready for the oven!

Here's the recipe, courtesy of The BrokeAss Gourmet

Brown Butter Pumpkin Mac & Cheese

8 oz. elbow macaroni, penne, shells or other small pasta shape
2 tbsp unsalted butter plus more for the pan
2 tbsp all-purpose flour
3/4 cup milk (any kind)
3/4 cup unsweetened canned pumpkin
1/2 cup plus 2 tbsp shredded aged white cheddar cheese .
dash nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly butter an 11“x13” baking pan or 4 ramekins/oven-proof bowls
Cook macaroni in salted boiling water according to package directions.
While macaroni cooks, melt the butter in a medium pot over medium heat. As soon as it begins to brown, add the flour and whisk until you have a very sticky dough.
Slowly whisk in the milk to form a creamy white sauce.
Continue whisking as you add the pumpkin and 1/2 cup of the white cheddar. You should have a very creamy orange sauce. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper.
Drain the pasta and return it to its pot. Use a rubber spatula to scrape all of the sauce over the pasta and stir to coat the pasta evenly.
Scrape the sauced pasta into the prepared pan(s) and top with the reserved cheddar plus more salt and pepper.
Bake for 18-22 minutes or until the cheese is very bubbly and lightly browned on top. Serve hot. As I mentioned earlier, the next time I make this, I'm not gonna bake it, so this part is up to you. You can pour the sauce over the pasta and toss together, or just spoon some sauce down over the pasta as you serve it.
Serves 4.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Copycat Starbucks Pumpkin Scones

I love scones, quite honestly one of my favorite things about going to the Puyallup Fair are the Fischer's Scones. Warm and buttery with the raspberry jam... Delightful. The scones I'm talking about today though, are another of my favorites! In the Fall, I love going to Starbucks and getting a Pumpkin Spice latte and a pumpkin scone. My budget doesn't exactly love me doing that though, so last year I did some research and came across this recipe. I love it because it's easy, and doesn't require any rolling of the dough, score! Admittedly, I'm not the best dough roller. Oh well, you can't have it all.

I made these with the white whole wheat flour I've been talking about recently, but you can definitely use regular AP flour. I also like a smaller scone, so instead of my recipe only making six gigantic scones like the recipe calls for, I cut mine into 12 more normal sized scones. If you decide to make your scones smaller like I did, you'll have to cut down the cooking time. These are quite delicious, and I guarantee they will be devoured by anyone around when you make them!

Starbucks Pumpkin Scones (from food.com)

Powdered Sugar Glaze

Spiced Glaze


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil a baking sheet or line with parchment paper
Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and spices in a large bowl. Using a pastry knife, fork, or food processor, cut butter into the dry ingredients until mixture is crumbly and no chunks of butter are obvious. Set aside.
In a separate bowl, whisk together pumpkin, half and half, and egg. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Form the dough into a ball.
Pat out dough onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a 1-inch thick rectangle (about 9 inches long and 3 inches wide). Use a large knife or a pizza cutter to slice the dough twice through the width, making three equal portions. Cut those three slices diagonally so that you have 6 triangular slices of dough. Place on prepared baking sheet.
Bake for 14-16 minutes. Scones should begin to turn light brown. Place on wire rack to cool. 


Mix the powdered sugar and 2 tbsp milk together until smooth.

When scones are cool, use a brush to paint plain glaze over the top of each scone.


Combine the ingredient for the spiced icing together. Drizzle this thicker icing over each scone and allow the icing to dry before serving (at least 1 hour). A squirt bottle works great for this, or you can drizzle with a whisk.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Week of Pumpkin & Pumpkin Spice Coffee Creamer

Good morning friends, welcome to The Week of Pumpkin! Every day this week I'll be sharing my very favorite pumpkin recipes with you, and I've got everything from savory to sweet covered. Since I'm writing this to you while sipping my morning cup of coffee, flavored with my very own homemade Pumpkin Spice coffee creamer... I thought the creamer might be a great place to start.
I founds this recipe a few months ago after coming across the Deliciously Organic website. The recipe for homemade coffee creamer had me intrigued. I've been working on switching our family over to more whole/real foods and less processed foods over the last few months, and coffee creamer has been one of the hardest things to give up. I mean, you have a million different delicious flavors to try (um Cinnabon flavored coffee anyone?), and it makes my morning cup of coffee pure bliss. Half and half with my homemade syrup doesn't even come close, unfortunately. But this recipe was different, and the reviews for the recipe were nothing but fantastic. So I made the pumpkin spice creamer (she has MANY different flavor options, I've only tried the pumpkin so far), and not only is it DELISH, but it's super quick, easy, and contains zero chemicals!

 You'll definitely want to head over to Deliciously Organic and make this Pumpkin Creamer ASAP. Have a great (pumpkin-filled) week!

Friday, October 14, 2011

An Abundance of Plums (Four Plum Recipes)

This summer, my parents moved into the second house they've ever owned, from Edmonds, WA to Medical Lake, WA. This new house had two plum trees in the front yard, and my mom has been reminding me of that all summer. Those two (my parents) will do and say anything to get our family out to Medical Lake, so when my husband came upon a four day weekend we decided to make the five hour drive over. I began contemplating earlier in the week what I would be doing with the abundance of plums that were awaiting my arrival. Obviously I could make plum jam, but if you know me, you know that I like to do something a little different. So I came up with four things I would definitely be making:

Plum Sauce
Ina Garten's Plum Cake Tatin
Plum Butter
Dehydrated Plums

When making the plum sauce, I didn't follow a recipe, cause it's literally that easy. Wash, pit and quarter your plums. Put them in a pot over medium heat, pour about a Tablespoon of sugar over them and put the lid on. Stir every few minutes. Once the plums start to give up their juices and fall apart, blend with an immersion blender. I like to let mine simmer for a few minutes to thicken. Taste it and add more sugar if you'd like, some cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves would also be a nice addition.

We made the plum cake at Mom and Dad's that weekend, but I made the butter and dehydrated plums at home. We'll start with the plum cake. Essentially, this is an upside down plum cake. It is a fairly easy recipe, but I will warn you of one thing. When you're making the caramel, Do. Not. Take. Your. Eyes. Off. Of. It. Even. For. A. Second. Seriously, that stuff will burn quickly. I had to remake it once, and even my second batch had a slight tinge of burnt-ness to it. So, like I said, keep an eye on it. Other than that, the cake portion of this, with the lemon zest is light and fantastic. This cake is best served with a healthy scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

After we got home, I put together my plum butter and dehydrated plums. Both recipes were super easy, especially since I made the plum butter in the crock pot... For the dehydrated plums, I washed them, then quartered them and arranged them onto the dehydrator, turned it on and walked away until the next morning. That's it! Here's the website I used for direction in dehydrating my plums.

The plum butter was also quite easy. I washed and halved the plums, added them to the crock pot with some sugar and walked away for a couple of hours. Once the plums were liquid-y and falling apart, I used my immersion blender to puree everything together. I let the butter cook overnight as well. In the morning, it still looked pretty watery, so I left the lid off of the crock pot for a few hours until it thickened to the consistency I wanted (thick enough for a tooth pick to stand up in). When it was done, I added some vanilla extract. Then I canned those babies. Here's the website I used for making and canning my plum butter.

I still have a good five pounds of plums left over, but haven't decided what I'll do with them yet. I've got pear butter in the crock pot right now (they were giving them away at my CSA today because they were soft and bruised), so I don't think I'll make any more plum butter. Maybe some Chinese plum sauce... Hmmmm... We shall see! What's your favorite thing to do with plums? I'd love to hear about it!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Quick Breakfast, Baked Oatmeal

Mmm Baked Oatmeal, it's one of my husband's and my favorite breakfasts. It's a cinch to throw together, portions out well, and is freezable! I don't know about you, but unless I have something already made, most busy mornings I don't have time to eat breakfast. This has been a life saver on many an occasion. I started making this about 7 years ago, when I was on weight watchers. Long lost now, the recipe I had at the time used all kinds of fat free products that I no longer use (too many chemicals. I'd rather use little bits of the good stuff). I adapted this from a baked oatmeal recipe I got from another personal chef in my network. This recipe is simple, and while it's not "fat free", it is healthy and filling. It also solves an all too common problem in the kitchen:

What the heck do I do with those? For my family, these guys are just about past their prime as far as banana eating goes. But they are perfectly soft and sweet for baked goods like banana bread, baked oatmeal, or smoothies. Baked Oatmeal is probably our favorite way to utilize these not so pretty nanners.

A quick rundown on this recipe: In a large bowl, mix together the oats, spices and chocolate chips. In another large bowl, mix everything else together, then pour it into the oats. Pour that into two pie pans or cake pans that have been buttered or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray.

Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes. Let them cool for 15 minutes, then portion out as you please. I like cut each pan into four portions. Perfectly filling, and only 320 calories (with chocolate chips, 250 without). Each serving also has 5 grams of fiber, and 7 grams of protein. Think about it, it's whole grains and a serving of fruit in each piece. Perfect breakfast!You can use other options besides the mashed banana, applesauce would be lovely, so would pumpkin puree. The options are endless! The chocolate chips are optional, but I love the "treat" the provide for my breakfast. As you can see in the pictures, I didn't have chocolate chips on hand this morning, but I did have peanut butter chips... It's delish. I suppose you could just add cocoa powder, I haven't tried it before but 1/4-1/2 cup should work? If you try that let me know how it turns out. Lastly, if you don't have the allspice, nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice, feel free to use 4t cinnamon instead.

Banana Baked Oatmeal

3 1/2c old fashioned oats
2t cinnamon
1/2t allspice
1/2t nutmeg
1t pumpkin pie spice (if you don't have it, just use extra of the other spices)
1/4c honey or agave or sugar (I like to use honey)
3-4 mashed bananas, the more brown the better
3 1/2c water
2 eggs
1T coconut oil or butter (or canola or vegetable oil)
1/2c chocolate chips (I've used peanut butter chips too)

Preheat oven to 350, and spray 2 cake or pie pans with non-stick spray

In a large bowl, mix the oats, spices and chocolate chips

In another large bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Add those to the dry ingredients and mix to combine.

Pour the mixture into pans and bake uncovered 40-45 minutes until set

Cool for 10-15 minutes. Run a rubber spatula around the edges to loosen. From here, I like to cut mine and cool completely then wrap in plastic wrap and freeze!

Just put them in the fridge the night before  you want to eat them (I like to defrost about a week's worth of oatmeal at a time), and pop them in the microwave. You can either add a little milk to them and stir it up into a creamy consistency, or eat it as a solid piece of goodness.

And that's it. Simple, fast, healthy, delicious and freezable. Doesn't get much better than that! Make these, and let me know how you like them!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

An updated makeup look/My Face by Ja

Let's begin with how this all started... Every May, my church does a huge women's event called Cherish. It's a fashion show/dessert or breakfast/theater production. This year, my very good friend Laura was one of the models in the fashion show, and she asked if I would help her change in and out of her different outfits. I agreed, knowing I was helping her, and it would be fun to be a part of what happened backstage. When I arrived to help her with the Friday evening performance, all of the models were getting finished with their hair and make up (all being done by professional hair and makeup gurus), and Laura asked if I wanted to get my make up done too. Um, who would say no to that?! I actually HAD put makeup on that day, but looking back at the picture on the right, you wouldn't know it.

So I sat down with our friend and makeup artist Jamyrlyn, and we chatted while she went to work on my face. In a matter of minutes, I went from looking somewhat haggard, to glowing and radiant. I felt amazing! Jamyrlyn has a makeup business, Faces by Ja, so I asked if she'd teach me how to improve my makeup skills and help me shop. It took a couple of months for us to get it on the books, but last week I packed up all of my makeup and makeup brushes and met up with her at her house.

Currently, the majority of makeup I use is Bare Minerals, with a few pieces of MAC thrown in. I brought every pieces of makeup I have, so Jamyrlyn could assess what I had, and still needed to buy. I also asked her to give me some good drugstore makeup recommendations. Sometimes, it's nice to have some makeup options that don't cost a fortune! We decided to start with a look I could do on a day to day basis, then she built the look up from there to a gorgeously-dramatic-night-on-the-town-without-kids look. *wink, wink*

Jamyrlyn has a fun and sweet personality, and made me feel at home immediately. She also assured me right away that I had a really great makeup stock already, and that with a few extra pieces I'd be complete. I do have quite a few eyeshadows... Admittedly, I went a little crazy one time at the Bare Essentials store, and bought a lot of colors. One of the was a green pallet that was supposed to make blue eyes pop. Well, I got it home and even though there was instructions on the box, I had no idea what I was doing. So into the drawer it went. That was three years ago. Oops. Anyway, Jamyrlyn loved it the pallet and started to build my look around those four green shadows.

The first thing she said I must do is use a moisturizer. It sets the stage for makeup to go on smoothly. Then she talked about how important it was to have a good concealer. I have dark circles under my eyes, doesn't matter how much sleep I get, they're always there. She recommended a Maybelline or Covergirl Cream Concealer for that. She applied that to areas that needed it, including eyelids! 

From here, she did my eyeshadow. She stressed the importance of a base color eyeshadow. Whether or not you're doing full makeup, you should always have a base. The green color pallet I had came in four colors. Three shades of green, and a dark brown used for eye liner. She used the lightest green as my base color, then began to build some amazingness! She put the lightest green on the innermost corner of my eyelid, then the medium green in the middle, with the darker green on the outside of my eyelid. She used the brown as a crease color, as well as my eye liner, blending the colors together the entire time. Blending is a MUST. She also taught me a trick about mascara... I have fairly long lashes, so no matter how careful I am when applying makeup, I always get it on my freshly shadowed eyelids, and it smears when I try to get it off. Jamyrlyn told me that if I let it dry for a few minutes, it will flake off rather than smear. This also works if your lashes clump together when you're putting that on. Let it dry for a few minutes, and you'll be able to comb through them and not make them stick together more. Genius! Another "must" for me, Jamyrlyn said was brow gel. It just helps to keep them tame, and stand out a little more. And in my opinion, looks more natural on me than using a brow pencil. I've not had good luck with those things in the past.

Before Jamyrlyn, when I'd do my make up it went like this: Foundation, concealer, blush, powder, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara. Jamyrlyn does: Concealer, eye shadow, eye liner, mascara foundation, bronzer, blush, powder. With her way, you're not messing up your face makeup as you apply your eye makeup. Again, genius! After we finished my basic, and one-step-up eye shadow we moved onto the face portion of the makeup tutorial. She applied my foundation, then talked about how everyone needs bronzer. It wakes up your face. She it on in a "C" shape from my forehead to my cheek bones, as well as the tip of my nose and my chin. You basically put it where the sunshine would hit your face. Pretty simple. Then you can apply blush to the apples of your cheeks, or all the way up your cheek bones, depends on how dramatic you're trying to be. I usually stick with the apple of my cheek.

From here, I could definitely be good to go. But we wanted to try one more dramatic look. The gorgeously-dramatic-night-on-the-town-without-kids look I mentioned before. All we did was add some black eye shadow to the outer crease of my eyelids, as well as some black eye liner to the top and bottom water line of my eye lids. Then she asked me wore on my lips. I sheepishly replied, "chap stick" and she kinda laughed at me. I haven't bought lip color (other than at my wedding) since high school, and makeup trends have changed since then, so I never know what I should buy or what would look good on me. She first put a poppy coraly color on me that looked really pretty, but I wasn't ready for something that bright, so she gave me a lighter pinky gloss that was a good first step.

Needless to say, when we were all done I once again felt beautiful and amazing! I also wished I had somewhere more glamorous to go than the grocery store. Oh well. At least now I know how to recreate these looks on my own, and I can always call Jamyrlyn if I need some help. She really is fantastic, knowledgeable and is a great teacher. You can check out her blog, Facebook or Twitter. If you're in the Seattle/Tacoma area, and need help with your makeup, or need a professional (she's been in the cosmetics industry for 12 years and in makeup artistry for 8 years doing freelance work) for your wedding, school dance, event or photo shoot, give her a shout! Thanks again Jam, for helpin' a girl out, you are amazing!! Stay tuned for a part two at some point in the coming weeks when Jam and I go makeup shopping! Whoo! P.S. please ignore my strait faced pictures, you could see the makeup better that way. I really am a happy smiley person, just ask Jamyrlyn about making "my face", I could barely keep from laughing while she snapped the pictures! Alright then, signing off for now, I'll see you tomorrow for a post about baked oatmeal. Be excited, cause it's delicious ;)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Grocery Outlet

I have come to adore this little store in the last few months. My very good friend Jessie has gotten me hooked. Our good friend Allison got Jessie hooked. I've gotten some crazy good deals here, and have come across things I had no idea they would carry. Here are a few things to know about Grocery Outlet:

*You won't be able to do ALL of your grocery shopping here. They don't have everything. But the savings are so significant, it's worth it to stop here before you do your other shopping.

*They have a surprising array of natural and organic products! I cannot count how many organic things I've purchased here. From personal care products, to dairy (milk, butter, cheese), ground beef (for only $4.79 per pound!), crackers & cookies, cereal, vegetables (fresh and frozen), yogurt, cleaning products, the list goes on. I've gotten bread from The Essential Baking Company too. YUM. You're paying a fraction of the full price, can't beat that!

*When you find something that you like, buy a few of them if you have it in your budget to do so. Reason being: it may not be there the next time you go. Their inventory is not constant, they're buying inventory surplus directly from the manufacturers, so when it's gone, it's gone.

*Stop by often. Because their inventory changes so frequently, you're sure to find new things every week.

*For my couponing peeps, they do not take coupons (except their own store coupons). Their discounts are already so good, they just can't.

On a recent trip, I picked up this bounty. I got: two pounds of organic ground beef, organic heirloom lettuce, organic yogurt, organic olive oil cooking spray, a pound of wild caught pacific cod, organic mild cheddar cheese, two cans of all natural crescent rolls from the Immaculate Baking Company, all natural whole grain baked crackers, and two pints of organic tomatoes. Can you guess my total for all of that? Look below the picture to find out.

$42. That's it. Retail was over $75!
If you're on a budget, like to be frugal, enjoy getting good deals, or are trying to eat natural/organic I highly recommend Grocery Outlet! Check out their website to see if there's a store near you!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes

A few years ago, when my husband's brother and his family lived here, we would have family breakfasts almost every Saturday. It was wonderful. All of us in our pajamas (or "comfies" as we call them around here), with lots of coffee, laughs and delicious food. One morning in particular, I got a hankering for something I'd never had before, but all of a sudden sounded delicious. Banana Pancakes. I went in search of a recipe online, but it took me awhile to actually find one because little did I know there's a Jack Johnson song called Banana Pancakes that's somewhat popular. Anyway, after some searching, I did find a recipe that I tweaked to make my own. In recent months, I've been making them with whole wheat flour as opposed to white flour, as it's better for my family and me. If you're thinking of trying whole wheat flour, a great beginner flour is a white whole wheat. King Arthur flour makes it, and I've been buying mine at Trader Joe's. You can substitute it for all purpose white flour without having to change your recipe (with regular whole wheat flour, you usually have to tweak the liquid).
I added some sliced bananas to
the top of my pancakes
after I poured them on the griddle.
They get all caramelized and yummy.

You can make them with all purpose flour or whole wheat flour. I'm sure you could use other flours, I just haven't experimented yet. I love this pancake because it's dense like a crepe, but super soft and comforting. It also doesn't have a ton of sugar in it. I like mine simply buttered and sprinkled with powdered sugar. This recipe is perfect for those overripe, turning brown bananas you may have lying around. Quick tip: if I have bananas turning brown, but don't have time to do anything with them, I peel them and put them in the freezer in a zip lock. Then when you're ready to use them, just pull them out of the freezer and mash them up! Easy peasy. Without further adieu, here's the recipe.

Whole Wheat Banana Pancakes

2c white whole wheat flour
4t baking powder
1/2t salt
2T sugar/honey or 1T agave
1 3/4c milk
2 eggs
2T melted butter
1c mashed banana (about 3 medium), more if you want some sliced on top of the pancakes

Preheat a griddle or large non-stick pan over medium heat. Spray with non-stick cooking spray or melt some butter in the bottom of the pan.

Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Mix all of the wet ingredients together in a medium bowl. Pour all of the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir just to combine, not too much.

Pour the batter onto the heated griddle and cook until pancakes are golden brown on each side. If you're adding sliced bananas on top, put them on before you flip your pancake. I like to keep my finished pancakes in the oven on the 'warm' setting while I finish the entire batch.

One last tip: If for some reason you and your family don't eat all of the pancakes... You can keep them in a freezer bag with wax or parchment paper in between each one to keep them from sticking. Pop them in the fridge or freezer for a treat later on! They freeze wonderfully! You can microwave them or pop 'em in the toaster (if you haven't buttered them).

I hope you make these, and I hope you love them as much as my family and I do. Have a great week!!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Shepherd's Pie with a Twist

To say that I enjoy the Food Network is an understatement. I love it. I watch it almost everyday. A few of my favorites are chefs are: Ina Garten (The Barefoot Contessa), Giada De Laurentiis (Everyday Italian), Melissa D'Arabian ($10 Dinners), and Aarti Sequeria (Aarti Party). One of the shows I watched this summer, was 'The Next Food Network Star'. Basically, chefs are competing for a chance to win their own cooking show on FN. On one episode, the contestants had a cupcake challenge, where quite a few tasty morsels were invented (I may be doing another post on one of the cupcakes, it involved strawberries and red wine). The chefs also had to appear on the Rachel Ray show and do a live cooking demo. One chef (Mary Beth Albright) made a Shepherd's Pie with a potato crust on the BOTTOM and a carrot puree over the TOP! What?! That's genius and really, really cool. So I set off to find the recipe. I searched the Internet high and low... and there was nothing. I checked Food Network's website, the chef's blog, website and Facebook page. Nada. But I didn't give up, I made up my own! Shepherd's Pie itself isn't complicated, so I looked up a recipe for carrot puree (find it here) and got started!

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and spray a 9X13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. Peel and quarter 1 1/3 pounds of russet potatoes Put 'em in a pot and cover 'em with an inch or two of cold water. Smash and peel 4 garlic cloves and throw those in the pot with 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium high heat for 20-25 minutes until cooked through. As soon as potatoes are done, drain them and add back to the pot. Add 1 TB of butter, 2 TB milk and some pepper then blend with hand mixer until smooth. Add more milk if needed. Spread potatoes into the bottom of your already-sprayed pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until potatoes are browned.

While potatoes are cooking. Peel and chop one pound of carrots. Simmer carrots, garlic, broth, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, covered, until carrots are very tender, 12 to 14 minutes. Puree mixture with cream and butter in a food processor until smooth.

While carrots are cooking, heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. When pan is hot, add ground beef and break into smallish pieces (I LOVE to use this when I cook ground meats). While ground beef is cooking, chop a medium onion, 2 cloves garlic and 3 stalks of celery and add to the beef. When beef is browned and vegetables are tender, add 1/2 cup frozen peas, season with salt (I love to use Johnny's seasoning salt) and about 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce. Let cook for a few more minutes then set aside.

Once potatoes are browned, take them out of the oven and pour the ground beef mixture over the potatoes. Truth time... I tried to use a piping bag and a star tip to decorate the top of the casserole, buuuuut I didn't have enough puree. So it was spread over the top instead! Bake at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes, and voila! It was honestly quite delicious, but next time, I would add more ground beef, potatoes, and vegetables to the mix to bulk it up. The recipe below reflects those changes. Next time I might add some lentils to the ground beef mixture, that would bulk up the fiber and protein factors. Another thought I had was to mix the carrot puree into the mashed potatoes and put that mixture on top... The options are endless!!! If you try this recipe, I'd love to hear what you think.  

Shepherd's Pie with a Twist

For the potatoes:
2 Lbs (about 3 large) russet potatoes
3/4 tsp salt
5 garlic cloves
1 TB butter
3-5 TB milk
1/2 tsp each garlic powder and onion powder (optional)

For the carrot puree:
1 lb carrots halved lengthwise and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 garlic cloves
2/3 cup stock of choice
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons half and half
1 TB butter

For the beef mixture:
1 1/2 Lb ground beef (could use lamb, turkey, chicken, etc)
1 onion
4 stalks celery
1 c green beans (or other vegetable you like)
1 c corn (or other vegetable you like)
2 cloves garlic
1 c peas
3 tsp Worcestershire sauce
seasoning salt

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and spray a 9X13 pan with non-stick cooking spray. Peel and quarter potatoes. Put them in a pot and cover with an inch or two of cold water. Smash and peel  garlic cloves and throw those in the pot with 1/2 tsp salt. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium high heat for 20-25 minutes until cooked through. As soon as potatoes are done, drain them and add back to the pot. Add butter, 3 TB milk and some pepper as well as garlic and onion powders then blend with hand mixer until smooth. Add more milk if needed. Spread potatoes into the bottom of your already-sprayed pan. Bake for 15 minutes or until potatoes are browned.

2. While potatoes are cooking. Peel and chop one pound of carrots. Simmer carrots, garlic, broth, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart heavy saucepan, covered, until carrots are very tender, 12 to 14 minutes. Puree mixture with cream and butter in a food processor until smooth.

3. While carrots are cooking, heat a non-stick pan over medium heat and spray with cooking spray. When pan is hot, add ground beef and break into smallish pieces. While ground beef is cooking, chop onion, garlic and vegetables then add to the beef. When beef is browned and vegetables are tender, add peas, season with salt (I love to use Johnny's seasoning salt) and about 3 tsp Worcestershire sauce. Let cook for a few more minutes then set aside.

4. Once potatoes are browned, take them out of the oven and pour the ground beef mixture over the potatoes. Then spread the carrot puree over the beef. Bake for 20-25 minutes until heated through. Enjoy!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Crock Pot Cookin'

This is the third and final posting covering my cooking class topics. Last, but certainly not least is crock pot cooking! I love, Love, LOVE my crock pot, and I continue finding more and more fantastic recipes for it! My absolute favorite and most requested recipe is for Carnitas and Mexican Slaw (slaw obviously doesn't go in the crock pot). There's more delicious recipes for the crock pot than meets the eye, and they don't all include condensed soup, Velveeta or ten packets of powdery stuffs. While some of those recipes are delicious, they aren't always your healthiest option. I've got a few "new" crock pot recipes for you today.

Before we move on to the recipes, I wanted to talk about crock pot benefits.
  1. Easy to prepare! For the most part, crock pot recipes just require you adding things into your crock pot, turning it on and walking away. The most work I've ever had to do for a recipe was browning some ground beef before adding it to the pot. I've even got some recipes for you that you make up ahead of time, freeze then add to the pot when you're ready to cook, it doesn't get any easier than that! Literally, with only a few short minutes of prep, you have a delicious low and slow cooked meal that required no effort on your part throughout the day!
  2. Easy to clean up! When your main dish is coming from a crock pot recipe, that means you're only cooking with one pot. THAT means you don't have a sink full of pots, pans and cooking utensils. Which saves you time. Which is a good thing.
  3. Since crock pots cook foods at such low temperatures for long periods of time, you can use less expensive cuts of meat (money saver!!). For instance, the crock pot carnitas I mentioned earlier work perfectly with a pork shoulder/butt, you don't need to use the more expensive tenderloin (did you know that pork butt and shoulder almost same cut of meat? It's not really a butt, it comes from the upper part of the arm, while the shoulder comes from the lower part of the arm).
I wanted to mention to those of you who may not have a crock pot, you can absolutely cook a crock pot recipe in the oven. This website has information on converting the recipes for the oven. Also, if a recipe calls for an eight hour cooking on low but you don't have enough time for that, just cut the time in half and cool on high. Crock pots are really fantastic, and they have some super fancy ones nowadays that have a locking lid, four heat settings and are super shiny stainless steel. I've had mine for about 6 years and it has a low, high and warm setting as well as a timer (so when my cooking is done, it clicks over to the warm setting).

Without further ado, here's some crock pot recipes for you! 

These recipes are the one the make ahead and freeze dishes I spoke about earlier. There's a BBQ Chicken, Goulash, and a Chicken Curry recipe. Cannot wait to try more like this!

This is the carnitas and slaw I mentioned. Make it soon. You will NOT regret it and your family will love you for it!

Crock-pot Carnitas

1 pork tenderloin, pork shoulder/butt
1 sliced onion
2 cloves garlic chopped
3 c chicken broth
2 T cumin
1 T chili powder
2 tsp coriander (optional)
Juice of 1 lime (about 2T)
salt and pepper

1. Rub pork with dry spices
2. Layer the onions and garlic in the bottom of the Crock pot and put pork on top
3. Pour in chicken broth and lime juice
4. Add pepper and a generous amount of salt
5. Cook on low for 8 hours (if it looks dry, add a bit more liquid)
6. When tender, use two forks to pull apart

Mexican Slaw

1 bag coleslaw shredded cabbage
2-3 veggies of choice, chopped (I like radishes, any color bell pepper, sweet onion)
2 limes
1 bunch cilantro, chopped
¼ cup canola oil
Vinegar (apple cider, red/white wine, rice wine)
1 clove garlic
1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
1 T cumin & chili powder

Mix together the coleslaw, cilantro and chopped veggies

Juice the two limes into a measuring cup and add enough vinegar to make ¼ cup of liquid. Add in the oil, jalapeno, garlic, spices, and salt and pepper to taste. Add more cumin and chili powder if desired. Stir well and pour over cabbage. Toss together and enjoy!

I hope you give some of these recipes a try, and I really hope you'll start introducing more crock pot recipes to your repertoire. Send me a comment or message if you try one of these, I'd love to hear how you liked it!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Freezer Cooking

Today's post on freezer cooking piggybacks on yesterday's post about meal planning. Oh Freezer meals, how do I love thee!? On those days I don't feel like cooking dinner, don't have time to cook dinner, or waited too long to cook dinner, I've got a back up plan in the freezer.
I learned about freezer meals three years ago when I started my personal chef business. Basically, I would go to my client's house and cook meals for them that would last from one week up to one month. Obviously, food can't last more than a few days in the fridge without going bad, so the bulk of what I'd cook for my clients went right into their freezer. This is where I learned that freezer meals aren't just casseroles! Imagine my surprise! Then, last Fall when I was pregnant with my daughter, I was thinking of ways to simplify my life after she was born. Ding, ding, ding! If I didn't have to think about dinner, that would take one thing off my mind. I actually ended up making some things for my breakfasts as well.

Fast forward to now, and I'm still making freezer meals. It's fantastic because it saves me time by not having to cook every night. There are a few different ways you can go about building your freezer stash.
  1. When you are cooking dinner, double your recipe to make two of whatever it is. Eat one that night and freeze the other!
  2. Pick out some recipes of foods that freeze well, and spend a few hours one day cooking them and freezing them. The payoff to this method is one day of work for a few night's worth of meals.
  3. Go in on it with some friends! You can all get together and cook, or you can each cook at home and swap meals. There is a group at my church that gets together and does this, I participated in the swap for a few months before I had my daughter. I ended up with 8-10 different meals that I didn't cook! You can see all of the amazing meals in the picture above. Pretty cool! Now, I swap with a couple of close friends, not quite as much work, but with the same awesome payoff!
Freezer meals can also save you some money. If you are buying in bulk, or shopping based on this week's circulars, you can buy what's on sale to save some cash. It will also save you from buying take out because you have nothing to eat at home = saving you money!

If you're not familiar with freezing meals, you may want to check out this website. It talks about foods that freeze well, reheating tips, how to package foods and more.

The following are some freezer meals that I have tried and liked, and a few I cannot wait to try!

Chicken Curry Over Rice via Passionate Homemaking
Chicken and Dumplings via Passionate Homemaking
Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche via Mama and Baby Love
Baked Penne with Chicken and Sun Dried Tomatoes via Martha Stewart
Whole Wheat Pizza Pockets via 100 Days of Real Food

Ok, so that's a few to get you started. You can check out my previous post about Freezer Chicken Divan for another freezer meal. I also have some recipes that you freeze, then stick 'em in the crock pot to cook! That's double duty as far as an easy meal goes! SO stay tuned for tomorrow's post on crock pot cooking!!