Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Happy Fall Ya'll-- Never the Same Twice Soup!

Fall is seriously one of my most FAV seasons! I ♥ all things Fall: pumpkin everything, falling leaves, cooler temps, turkey, harvest, fall parties, cinnamon, apples pies, etc.
Took this pic this past weekend-- wish I could have done the beauty justice... Just can't seem to capture the awesome prettiness of it. Who else loves Fall???

Another thing especially about Fall that I ♥ is... it makes me want to cook more!!!
Especially hearty soups!

Here's one of my favorites: Never the Same Twice Soup
I kinda borrowed the name from a dear friend of mine that entitles his chili "Never the Same Twice Chili". Whereas my chili is nearly always the same with little variation (I found what I like!-- and I can't believe I haven't posted about it yet!!! I just realized this!!! Oh my, I have GOT to fix that!!! Ya'll need my "Mezzo Farte" chili recipe!!! It's a family fav and won me 2nd place in a chili cook-off contest!!!). My soups on the other hand are NEVER the same twice!
In this pot is everything but the kitchen sink: hamburger, baked potatoes, leeks, carrots, celery, spinach, cabbage, onion, garlic, tomatoes... beef broth, Italian seasoning, seasoning salt, and celery salt... I'm surely forgetting something.

Basically what I do it scour the refrigerator for leftover this and that and combine it into a soup or stew. You just never can tell from time to time what it's going to be like. But it's almost always a warm comfort food that everyone appreciates.

There's just something about Fall that makes soup so much more appreciated.


**Do you make/eat more soup during the colder months???

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

My Baking Experiment

I've got this really yummy recipe for Pumpkin Chip Muffins that are a huge family favorite. My daughter on the fly asked if we could make "Banana" Chip Muffins instead. Well... I know that oftentimes in recipes you can substitute pumpkin for banana... so I thought to myself... "well... we could always try switching pumpkin for banana and cross our fingers and hope it turns out." Well, that's what I did! And surprisingly, it turned out pretty tasty!

So without further ado, I will share the ORIGINAL pumpkin recipe. I'll then walk you through my banana exchange.

Pumpkin Chip Muffins
Yields: 12 muffins
(Kudos to King Arthur Flours for this recipe!)
 3 eggs
2 T molasses
1 can (15 oz) pumpkin puree
1-3/4 C GF all-purpose flour
1 C sugar
2 t baking powder
1/2 t xanthan gum
1/2 t salt
2 t pumpkin pie spice
1/2 C softened butter
mini chocolate chips
*Preheat oven to 375F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan, or line with papers and grease the papers.
*Whisk together the eggs, molasses, and pumpkin puree. Set aside.
*Whisk together the GF all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, and pumpkin pie spice.
*Add the butter, mixing with an electric mixer until evenly crumbly. The mixture will look like coarse sand.
*Add egg mixture a bit at a time, beating well with an electric mixer after each addition. Beat for 1-2 min, until the mixture is fluffy.
*Add mini chocolate chips. Mix until just combined.
*Scoop the batter into the prepared pan, mounding the cups full. The batter will rise above the level of each cup; that's fine.
*Bake the muffins for 22-25 min or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from oven and let set for 5 min before removing from the pan. 


 So I had bananas getting pretty ripe. Gotta use them for something yummy.
I substituted the pumpkin in this recipe with these.
*fingers crossed this experiment works.*


I weighed out 15 oz mashed banana. Added molasses & eggs.

Whisk.
Awww. Cute little chubby hands of my 2 year old here.
She LOVES helping mommy in the kitchen!

She's pretty good at whisking!

Ran out of my GF all-purpose flour blend-
so I quickly had to make some from scratch.
Super easy:
6 C brown rice flour
2 C potato starch
1 C tapioca starch
Combine in a canister like this and shake well until mixed.
(thank you King Arthur Flours!)

AND I discovered I didn't have enough Pumpkin Pie Spice!
Sheesh.
So I had to whip up a quick batch of this as well.

Super easy as well:
Pumpkin Pie Spice
2 T cinnimon
1/4 t nutmeg
1/4 t ginger
1/8 t cloves
A small container like this can easily store a double batch of this.


1-3/4 C GF all-purpose flour, sugar, baking powder, xanthan gum, salt, & pumpkin pie spice. Mix well.

Add softened butter. Mix until it looks like coarse sand.

Like this.

Add 1/2 the banana/molasses/egg mixture. Whip it.

Add the last 1/2 of the banana mixture. Whip it good. ;-)

Once combined, beat for 1-2 mins until fluffy.

Add mini chocolate chips. 
I never measure. I just eyeball it until it looks like enough.

Mix until just combined.

Lightly grease your muffin tins.
Now... when using pumpkin, only grease 12 muffin cups.
BUT... I realized in using banana... the batter takes on a different, juicier consistency. I ended up greasing another 12 muffin cups and the batter fit perfectly in 24 cups.
Side note: I ♥ Aldi's coconut oil spray. Well, first of all, I ♥ coconut oil just in general. BUT, I swear this stuff works better for non-stick than olive oil spray. When I use this coconut oil spray, pan messes are SUPER easy to clean up! If you see this at your Aldi, please give it a try. I really think you'll like it.

My 24 muffin cups filled about 2/3 full.

These baked significantly shorter than their pumpkin counterpart. It only took 20 min for them to be done, a toothpick coming out clean. They really turned out beautifully. I was pleasantly surprised!

Here's a muffin to look at.

Cut open. They turned out really yummy.

So... if you're wanting to substitute banana here, it'll work... just know the following things:
1) it make 24 muffins, not 12
2) they bake a shorter time, 20 min
3) CUT DOWN THE SUGAR. The normal pumpkin recipe calls for 1 C of sugar. That's fine and dandy for a bland pumpkin puree. But spotty ripe bananas are already super sweet. Plus there's molasses & mini chocolate chips adding to the sweet streak. Gotta cut back on the sugar- whew. That is my ONLY complaint about this banana exchange. I'm not sure just how far to cut back... but I'd go at least 1/2. Maybe more. I'll play with this recipe some more and let you know what a good sugar amount is!

More Broth

The other day, I cooked a fryer chicken in the crockpot for an up-coming dinner.

Here it is.
Seasonings: salt, pepper, paprika, and bay leaves. Added 2 glasses of water.
Cooked on LOW for 8-10 hours.

Time to pick it apart.


The chicken broth.

Me separating all the pieces out.
Yes, I sometimes wear surgical gloves because I don't like getting my hands all yucky.
I took out all the bones and threw all the fat & ooflah's back into the broth.

The chicken, separated out.

The broth now with all the fat & ooflah's.

Strain it into a pot, using a cheese cloth or a thin/clean hand towel & colander.

I scooped all the fat & ooflah's into a baggie for my in-law's dog. Miss that cute pooch. He's a pure bred husky with gorgeous blue eyes. He deserves a treat every once in a while. :-)

Strained broth.

Bag it & freeze it.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Meatballs & Lemon Broccoli

Who doesn't love a good meatball?! I mean, come on.
And with (6) little children in my home, these are such a fun dinner option.
This is like glorified meatloaf in bite size pieces!
With a quick look at the ingredients list, you'll see that I MIX my meats! I married into an Italian family and I was quickly introduced to the mixed meat idea. It's phenomenal. My American mind was blown away at how awesome mixing different animal meats together was! You can totally turn a so-so meat dish into an OMGoodness meat dish simply by branching out and mixing meats. Go ahead and try it sometime!

Mel's Yummy Meatballs
Yields: approx 50 meatballs
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork sausage
finely shredded or chopped spinach
3 oz. shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 C. chopped onion
1 T minced garlic
3 T salsa
1/2 C. instant mashed potato flakes
garlic salt & black pepper to taste
1 egg
Combine all ingredients into a large mixing bowl. With hands, mix until well combined. Roll into balls. Place balls onto a cookie sheet. It's a tight fit but you CAN get all 50 on one tray... but by all means, you can use (2) trays if you'd like. Bake at 350F for approx 40 mins.


Here are all the ingredients in the bowl.
I ran out of spinach so I simply omitted it.
I also didn't have regular onion so I substituted with green onions, chopped well.

Oops. Forgot to take a pic of them before they were cooked...

But here's what they looked like after baking.

So good.
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Onto our veggie side for the evening: Lemon Broccoli

3 heads (4lbs) raw broccoli & cauliflower, cut into florets
3 T olive oil
*1/2 t grated fresh lemon peel (optional)
2 T lemon juice (fresh is best)
1-1/2 t minced garlic (fresh is best)
1 t salt
1/4 t pepper
Steam broccoli & cauliflower as you normal would on the stove top (steam until broccoli is bright green and a knife pierces the stems easily). Meanwhile, combine remaining ingredients in a large serving bowl. Add hot, steamed broccoli & cauliflower and toss to coat. Serve immediately.


Here's the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper.
I omitted the lemon peel. Just not a big fan.

Getting ready to steam my veggies in a steamer basket.

I accidentally overcooked my veggies. Boo.
They still tasted ok but I def like them less steamed than this.

Dinner time!

Even my picky toddlers ate this meal.
My kids even went back for more veggies!
So with that sort of "thumbs up" going on over here,
I wanted to share the love with you!
Enjoy!

Friday, September 4, 2015

Drinks

My littlest babe (age 2) is a bit of a picky eater. It's not so much that she doesn't like the taste of things (specifically fruits and veggies) as she doesn't appreciate the texture. She gags. Literally, gags. The only sure fire way to get these goodies into her is through smoothies and blends. She'll eat those all day. It's really only fruits and veggies that she struggles with. She's sure to outgrow it eventually (she's already starting to show signs). I'm just happy she likes the TASTE of them. So we make LOTS of smoothies over here.

Today's blend:
raspberries (from our garden), blueberries, plums, Greek yogurt, flax meal, and orange juice.


They drink it straight the day I make it...

The rest, we freeze for popsicle snacks later.
The one popsicle mold wasn't filled all the way so I snipped a small hole in some seran wrap, slipped a wooden popsicle stick into it, and held it in place with a rubber band.
Super easy super fast way of getting popsicles loose from the molds: run water over the plastic for a minute. They pop right out!
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Not sure how many coffee drinkers here use a Senseo coffee pot (or similar "pod" based coffee maker). It's not terribly popular here in the States. But from what I've heard, it's QUITE popular in Europe. Here in the US, everyone seems to love K-cups. They're cool and all... and they make a decent cup of coffee. But I LOVE my Senseo coffee!!! And if you can actually get a hold of their Douwe-Egberts brand of coffee-- BE STILL MY HEART. It's absolutely phenomenal!!! Best.coffee.ever!!! In the meantime, though, I use my Senseo with homemade pods and my favorite brands of coffee (Paramount & Detroit Bold).

Here's my beloved Senseo.
It has been with me for YEARS.

These are the homemade pods I normally use.

My husband recently bought me this fun little "pod maker" by Kenneth N. Jacobson.

Buy regular 4 Cup coffee filters.

Tamp it down.

Tamped.

Spoon some coffee into it.

Go around and start folding in the edges.

All folded in.

Grab the ends and give it a twist.

One last tamp.

Done.

There ya go. A homemade pod using regular coffee filters!

Use it like you normally would.

Brew

Oh yeah...

A beautiful frothy cup of joe!

*I will say, using regular coffee filters always produces a beautiful froth, like you'd get at fancy coffee shops. But the plastic homemade pods usually don't. Either one produces a great cup of coffee. The froth (or lack of) is the only difference.
*It seems complicated at first to make a pod using regular coffee filters. But once you do it a time or two, it's super fast & easy. Even my kids can make them right. 
*Personal Rant: I'm very pleased to use pod coffee brands & homemade pods to fuel my coffee addiction because it's all biodegradable. With so many concerns over the environment, I'm honestly shocked K-cups took off and left Senseo in it's dust. But there's good news-- if you do own a Keurig machine and are wanting to make homemade cups instead, you can purchase reusable cups!


All this coffee talk is making me want some... excuse me... gotta go! ;-)