Friday, January 22, 2016

Quinoa Chili

Welcome to my first post for Freezer Meal Friday! A few years ago my friend, April, told me that she had a group of friends who had started getting together once a month to make freezer meals. When my son was 2 months old, they invited me to come too, which was especially nice of them because they've all known each other since high school and I was the newbie. The Freezer Cooking Club was born and it is awesome! 5 or 6 of us get together at my friend April's house, (because she has the biggest and most convenient kitchen), and cook together. We each choose 2 meals and share the recipes on our Facebook group. We each take turns doing the shopping, which is a huge feat. Think about it: we usually make 10 meals times 5, so like 50 meals, in about 2-3 hours. So naturally, pushing the shopping cart is like trying to navigate a cruise ship while herding cats, because we've all got little people who come shopping with us. Pretty darn impressive.

I've taken the past, well, almost a year off, to figure out my life a bit, but last week I got back together with the ladies and we cooked away. I'd forgotten how much I loved the social part of the whole deal! We've made prep lists before, assigning every person a specific job and scheduling when to start cooking what. But sometimes it works best when we just jump in and go to work. We talk, and joke, and make a huge mess. I mean, a huge mess. Poor April's beautiful kitchen. And carpet (luckily she has a carpet cleaner). And brand new stove. But, we leave her with a clean kitchen, so I hope that makes up for it! And, more importantly, (maybe equally so to April), we leave with about 10 family-friendly, delicious freezer meals. 

We've figured quite a few things out- what freezes well, what doesn't. What we can do to cut costs, what is worth the money. There have been a few recipe flops- like that recipe for ricotta spinach puffs I chose once- which were downright nasty! But, we've hit on more than a few winners, so every Friday, I'll share one with you. Today's recipe is Quinoa Chili and I love it.

This is a vegetarian chili, but it is loaded with protein because of the beans and quinoa. If you haven't joined the quinoa bandwagon, that's ok, but I really do like it in chili. It gives a meatless chili a little more substance, and I like the nutty texture. While this chili is great to just make and eat, it does really well as a freezer meal. Granted, it will be a bit thicker because the quinoa will absorb some of the tomato juice. But, that is no loss to me because I prefer a thicker chili. I mean, if my dinner is being served in a bowl, it better not be brothy!

Can I tell you one more great thing about our Freezer Cooking Club, and this chili? With both, it is totally ok to improvise. The original recipe calls for an array of spices including cumin and chili powder. We were running out of cumin, so I just used 1-2 tablespoons of taco seasoning and it was delicious! Use what you've got, my friends! One final bonus about this recipe is that it is soft so I can eat it this week despite the fact that my braces just got horribly, horribly tightened. 

Quinoa Chili

Gratefully adapted from Damn Delicious

  • 1 cup quinoa, cooked
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 (14.5 oz) cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 (15 oz) can tomato sauce
  • 1 (4.5 oz) can diced green chiles
  • 1 (15 oz) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups frozen corn
  • 1 1/2 tbs chili powder*
  • 2 tsp cumin*
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika*
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper*
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • *Or, used 2 tbs taco seasoning instead of starred spices
  • Optional Toppings: cheese, sour cream, avocado, cilantro
Directions for Freezer Meal:
  1. Combine all ingredients in gallon-sized freezer safe Ziploc bag. Seal tightly and freeze.
Directions to Cook Freezer Meal:
  1. Defrost frozen chili in fridge overnight, or until mostly thawed.
  2. OR, defrost slightly in microwave, enough to break up icy, chili chunks. (My usual method)
  3. Spray crockpot with non-stick cooking spray. Put chili in crockpot. If still frozen, cook on high for 6-8 hours, stirring once or twice. If not frozen, cook on high for 4 hours, or low for 8.
Directions for Crockpot Cooking:
  1. Put all ingredients in crockpot and simmer for 4 hours on high, or 8 hours on low.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Ridiculous Brownie Oreo Cookie Dough Ice Cream Cake

The other day I wanted to eat something ridiculous. I was feeling a little restless about life, and even more than a bit reckless. So I dropped everything, loaded the kids into the car, despite the fact that my Guy had put his pants on inside out and backwards, and spent about $20 on sugar. Oreos. Mini chocolate chips. Whipped cream in a can. Ghirardelli brownie mix, because I only wanted the best. Vanilla ice cream. And then! I saw that the store had 1 pound blocks of dark, milk, and white chocolate for only a buck! So obviously, I had to buy, like, 10. Ridiculous.

Even more ridiculous was my desire to make this insane treat before it got too dark! Silly blogging habit, but I knew that if I made this wonder of a dessert and it got dark, I couldn't take pictures of it to share with you, and I knew, I felt deep down in my bones, that this was going to be a keeper!

Painfully slowly I wait in line to check-out at the grocery store. Turns out the guy in front of me didn't realize the larger pack of toilet paper was on sale and it makes no sense to pay more for less, so the helpful checker sent the guy back to get the cheaper TP. You don't mind, right miss?  Oh, man. It was 2:40 pm and I was on a deadline! I have until 4:00. Then, it is all over. This mantra kept running through my mind as the checker, (who really was a friendly guy), slowly scanned all the empty calories in my shopping cart, and slowly rang everything up. I zipped home, as fast as a mom-on-a-mission can while obeying traffic laws.

I have until 4:00. Then, it is all over. 

 My Jeep Commander bounces into the driveway with abandon. My Guy is still climbing out of the backseat when I preheat the oven. With a growing sense of panic, I stir the brownie mix together, pour it into the 9x9 metal pan, (because it will cook faster), and then I have a moment of sugar zen as I place 12 Oreos on top of the brownie batter. Perfect calm permeates as I lovingly place the pan into the oven.

I have until 4:00. Then, it is all over.

Okay, I need 2 layers of vanilla ice cream, so I line the lid for my 9x9 pan with parchment paper and spread half of the softened ice cream into it. Once done, I set the ice cream-filled paper in the freezer and realize I need a layer of cookie dough. Deftly, I pull out softened butter, sugars, and vanilla, swapping the egg for some milk to keep the dough moist. I even still put in the baking soda even though I know I don't need it, because I think it'll make it taste more like real cookie dough. Then, I grab another piece of parchment paper and press it into the lid of my 9x9 pan, creating the perfect cookie dough layer for my ridiculous idea.

Glancing at the clock, I realize I'm just passing the 3:30 mark, and the brownies are done. Placing them outside to cool, I remember I wanted 2 ice cream layers, but because I have until 4:00 and then it is all over, I decide I'll just smush it into shape and cover the top with whipped cream and sprinkles. Oh man. I've got to make it!

Finally, I decide this brownie is not cooling all the way, so we are inducing this baby! I bring in the pan, place the ice cream layer on top, and carefully, but quickly, pull away the parchment paper. I have to be quick, because the ice cream starts melting the minute it touches that brownie-Oreo goodness. Then, the cookie dough, which goes on like a dream. Crap! The extra ice cream! Smush it on, Little Red Hen! Ok, grab the camera, plates, sprinkles, and whipped cream. Go! Go! Go!

Cut a piece of this ice cream heaven and put it on a plate. Fake a photo shoot on the porch, (what do my neighbors think as I squat in front of my porch chairs, in my socks, without a coat, with my camera, and this sweet mess?), and voila! I DID IT!

A little frantically, still on a high, I give piece of my creation to my kids. I am super-cool mom! Dessert at 4:00, before dinner? A few excited bites and then, "Mom, I don't like brownies. They're too chocolatey for me." Followed by, "Mom, I don't want this. Can I have a smoothie?"

----insert cricket noise----

What kind of kids are these? I give you 100% sugar and you tell me it is too sweet?! Well, fine. That's cool. More for me and the husband to eat. My funny kids. If I really want to treat them, they ask for smoothies or berries with whipped cream. -sigh-

Anyways, because I was rushing, the first ice cream layer melted into the brownies, making the leftovers delicious! You know when the brownie gets a little squishy when you top it with ice cream? Well, it stayed like that when I put everything back in the freezer. So, that first layer of ice cream disappeared, but its goodness lingers on. I am sure if you are more patient than I am and make sure the brownies cool before layering them ice cream, you won't have this problem and you'll still have 2 layers of ice cream. (Or is it a problem?)

This would be best for a special birthday, or whenever you happen to feel restless and reckless. Or a really bad day at work! You can think about how great it is going to be when you get home and turn on a movie, how that brownie smell is going to come swimming out of your oven, how cozy your favorite socks are, how you won't even feel guilty about eating all that cookie dough and this mantra will come floating to you:

I only have until 4:00. Then, it is all over.

Ridiculous Brownie Oreo Cookie Dough Ice Cream Cake

  • 1 Ghirardelli Triple Chocolate Brownie Mix
  • 1.75 quarts vanilla ice cream
  • 12 Oreos, plus more for topping
  • 1/2 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 brown sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 tbs milk
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
  • Whipped cream
  • Sprinkles
  1. Preheat oven and prepare a 9x9 pan with parchment paper. Mix Ghirardelli brownie mix according to package instructions. Pour batter into pan. Top with 12 Oreos, 3 rows of 4 Oreos. Bake and cool.
  2. Cut 3 9x9 pieces of parchment paper. Take 1/2 of the softened ice cream and spread onto 1 piece of parchment paper. Repeat with second parchment paper. Place sheets of ice cream in freezer to set.
  3. Make cookie dough: In medium sized bowl, cream butter, sugars, and vanilla. Add flour, soda, salt, and milk. Dough may be stiff, so use your hands if you need to! Stir in chocolate chips. 
  4. Take third piece of parchment paper and spread cookie dough onto paper. Place in fridge to set.
  5. Once brownies are cool, take ice cream sheets from freezer. Place one sheet of ice cream onto brownies. Next, layer with cookie dough sheet. Finally, place last sheet of ice cream. Make sure you take off the parchment paper!
  6. Serve with whipped cream, extra Oreos, and sprinkles.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Freaking Awesome Protein Shake

Sometimes I have a hard time eating my veggies. And my fruit. 

Actually, sometimes I am too lazy to pull together a salad for lunch, or chop up fruit as a snack, so I just make a smoothie instead.

My first job was at Zuka Juice. It was the best job a 15-year-old could ask for. Busy, noisy, full of teenagers, new music playing on the Muzak, smoothie samples, an extra-long shower head hose in the sink to make washing blenders and soaking your unsuspecting friends with water easy- what more could you want? The uniform was just a t-shirt with jeans and a baseball cap. And because I was one of the youngest kids there, I simultaneously felt older- like when I got to pull an all-nighter and watch a boot-leg copy of Titanic after work, and I got the benefits of having older "sisters" who took me out to Rain Forest Cafe for my 16th birthday and introduced me to the "Starburst" smoothie. I even drank the wheatgrass. Freaking awesome. 

Today making a smoothie is a bit less glamorous. I've got a 90's playlist on Spotify, I'm usually still wearing my gym clothes, and there are multiple mini-me's waiting impatiently for a "moooothie." I love giving my kids smoothies though, especially my Little because she doesn't want to eat anything green. But she'll drink it! So I put, like, 3-5 cups of fresh spinach in every smoothie I make! Luckily, with all the orange juice, greek yogurt, and frozen fruit, she can't taste it. (Neither can I, so really this is a win all around.)

This week I picked up some vanilla Quest protein powder to beef up our healthy habit. I've never bought it before, but it is pretty good. I was surprised at how it thickened up my smoothie. I used a frozen blend of pineapple, strawberries, papaya, and mango that I bought at Costco. The combination initially made me think of that Jell-O salad you make with Cool Whip. What? Weird. But then, as I sucked intently on my straw, I decided I liked it. And so did the kids, despite the extra protein! Definitely needs to be cold though, so frozen fruit is a must. 

Is this the only way to make a protein drink? Is it the very best way for optimal performance and muscle development? Probably not. But, it tastes good and it is pretty good for you. My smoothies are not an exact science, so feel free to play around with the recipe!

Freaking Awesome Protein Shake

Makes 24 oz smoothie
  • 4 oz cold water
  • 4oz orange juice
  • 1 banana
  • 3 cups fresh spinach
  • 1/2 scoop vanilla Quest protein powder
  • 1/4 cup greek yogurt
  • 1/2-1 cup frozen fruit, any kind
  1. Pour juice and water into blender. Add banana, yogurt, spinach, and protein powder. Blend until smooth.
  2. Add frozen fruit and blend until smooth. Drink with a straw and enjoy!

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Organize Yourselves: Non-Deadly Closets & Abundance

We'll start off the year with a bit of self-mortification. I promise the rest of my house doesn't look like this! I present my bathroom cupboard and our kid craft closet. The wonderful thing about both of these places is that they have doors. No one has to know what the inside is like unless they happen to open them. Then, they may get pelted on the forehead by a rogue bottle of aspirin, or stray can of Play-Doh. I know how to navigate such trecherous territory because I live it every day. I know that the hairbows are overflowing so that the towels don't fit into the cabinet, thus pushing the toothbrushes to the edge of a dangerous precipice. I know where to find the un-colored coloring books and the painting gear and I can get it without the need of swear words. Sure, it takes me 5 minutes to find my mascara every morning, but big deal!

The problem arises when other people have to interact with the territory. Heaven help my girls if they are looking for the hairbrush! People get hurt. I worry about what they think- about my organizational skills, my housekeeping skills, me as a whole. Those cluttered, or rather, primordial messes hiding behind closed doors suck away my happiness and contentment. 

But then why do I let them get that way? Everyday they get worse, and everyday I know that they are a problem, but I put myself off. There's always tomorrow. And tomorrow brings busyness, routine, and no change to the problem areas. So I don't do anything about them because I'm managing just fine. I know how to catch the falling clutter. I know how to deal with it so, is it really that bad? 

Well, yes. It isn't what I'm capable of and it isn't what I want my life to be like! In cleaning out the bathroom cupboard and the craft closet I couldn't help but think about the other "cupboards and closets" I have- filled with bad habits, angry thoughts, and ungrateful feelings. I can close the door, and no one has to see the mess, except for, unfortunately, the people to whom I'm closest.

So this week, I got to work. Broken crayons, dead markers, used up coloring books. Empty lotion bottles, broken clips, and stained hairbows. I tossed some things and rearranged the things that were important. While I still have much to do, I was struck with my blessings. It is miraculous in a world where so many people have so little, I have the luxury to throw things away, or donate them to others. What feels like a chore, I mean a great-feeling chore, is a rarity. The fact that I can write about this, and that you are reading it, is more proof that I have been given much. Electricity, a warm home, faith, and the ability to decide I don't need some of the things that I have- what a bounteous way to start off my year.

Organize yourselves isn't just about making sure your towels are folded, although there is peace in that. It is about creating more order so you can recognize the gratitude you should have and your potential for improvement. This becomes part of my goal for the year- to organize my thoughts so that I can be the kind of person on the inside that I portray on the outside. Fewer dangerous closets packed with volitile projectiles, and more peace, structure, and self-assurance. 

So much good can come from a tiny grain of wheat. I think it is planted. I think it will need tending.

Bake the bread. Share the slices. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Knobby Apple Cookies

Apple cookies? In January? Really?

Yes, really, because if you are like me every season is knobby apple season! You know how it goes. You buy the apples, you and the kids eat almost all the apples within the first couple of days and then there are those 2 or 3 apples that just sit in the fridge getting knobby. Plus, lately I've been buying misfit produce from my local grocery store. They bag up the fruits and veggies that are still good, but don't look as pretty as the rest and sell them at a discount. Buying them makes me feel environmentally and fiscally responsible. (It's the little things, right?) We usually go through fruit pretty quickly, but if you don't eat those misfit apples right're in trouble. They get softer than you like, and their skin starts to get bumpy, and no amount of persuasion can convince anyone to eat them.  

But they're not bad! They're just ugly and it isn't their fault, poor apples! So I gave them a second chance, and it was delicious. I chopped them up, tossed them with cinnamon, and put them into a cakey, brown sugar cookie. The result wasn't the prettiest cookie I've ever made, but it definitely was tasty. The apples keep the cookie from becoming too dry, and if you under-bake them, they become almost too moist. But is that so bad? Nope. Normally I lean on the side of under-baking cookies, but these ones I prefer more done. One more thing: I think you should enjoy knobby apple cookies within 1-2 days of baking them. That is an easy disclaimer for me in that I always eat all the cookies within that time frame anyway, but if you are one who savors, these cookies will peak, so be careful. I also kept them in the fridge. Cookies with fresh fruit are awesome, but they do need a little more attention than your average chocolate chip cookie.

Knobby apple cookies are the kind of cookie you can easily justify eating for breakfast. They kind of feel like a muffin, and they aren't overly sweet. So you start eating them at 9 am and you can continue eating them  all day long. I guess those knobby apples get their revenge that way. Ha, they think. Once you avoided eating me and now you can't stop.  Well played, my fruity friends. Well played. 

Knobby Apple Cookies

Adapted from How Sweet It Is
  • 2 cups apples, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
  • 3 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tbs granulated sugar
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt 
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tbs milk
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large bowl, toss chopped apples with cinnamon, 1 tbs granulated sugar, and 1 tbs flour. Set aside.
  2. In a medium size bowl, cream butter and brown sugar. Add eggs and vanilla, mixing until combined.
  3. Stir in flour, salt, and baking powder. Add milk and apple mixture. Stir until well combined.
  4. (Optional: Refrigerate dough for 30 minutes for easier scooping.)
  5. Using an ice cream scoop, form dough into balls and place on a cookie sheet. Bake 12-15 minutes, depending on the size of cookies, until firm and lightly golden. Cool for 5 minutes on cookie sheet, then transfer to cooling rack. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Copy Cat Cafe Rio Dressing

The final installment in my Cafe Rio Copy Cat series finally arrives. You can't have a Cafe Rio Sweet Pork salad without the Creamy Tomatillo Dressing! Tart tomatillos. Fresh cilantro. Zippy lime juice. I'm smiling just thinking about it. Oh baby!

Ok, this dressing is more like a sauce. It is thin. Don't think it is going to be anywhere near the consistency of Hidden Valley Ranch. But this tastes way better, and it is thin when you go to Cafe Rio, too. That way it mixes with the sweet pork sauce, and it seeps into the tortilla and it gets onto every shred of lettuce you fit into your salad. Delicious....

I poured it all over my dad's tamales this last Christmas Eve, and I wasn't sorry.

So I added a cup of cottage cheese to my dressing. It didn't change the flavor at all. It did make the dressing a little saltier, which I really liked. It also felt like there was a bit of cotija in the dressing, and a bit of added protein. I almost convinced myself to just substitute cottage cheese for the mayo, but then mayo tastes soooo good. So, just add cottage cheese and don't tell anyone what makes our dressing so much tastier.

Copy Cat Cafe Rio Dressing

  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1/2 - 3/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2-3 tomatillos, hulled and chopped
  • 1 package dry ranch dressing mix
  • 1 small jalapeno, seeded and diced
  • 1 1/2 tsp minced garlic
  • juice from 1/2 a lime
  1. Combine all ingredients in a blender. Pulse until smooth.
  2. Douse salads, drench burritos, and dip everything in this dressing.
Check out the recipes below to complete your Copy Cat Cafe Rio Experience.
Copy Cat Cafe Rio Sweet Pork

Copy Cat Cafe Rio Rice

Bake the bread. Share the slices.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Organize Yourselves 2016

After spending 3 days watching Star Wars in my Christmas-filled basement, while ignoring my dishes-filled sink and my dinner-less table, I was ready for a change. Saturday morning came at a surprisingly acceptable hour and my kids were even ready for some tidiness, so we got to work. The work of playing Star Wars. I got to work putting the trappings of Christmas away and prepping the house for a new day, a new week, a new year. I unwound the 11 strands of colored lights from my ancient artificial tree. I threw away the 20 or so strands of lights that I hold onto every year, thinking I would fix them all, "someday." I repacked the ornaments, and tossed a few decorations that I haven't put up in years. I dusted, washed mirrors, vacuumed, did laundry, and put it away. I even made dinner and we sat at the table, the kids, my husband, me. We ate food instead of more candy and popcorn. Then I did the dishes again. A house of order, for a night. 

What is different about 2016? Nothing significant. Just two words and I'm ready to let them change my life. 

Organize yourselves.

These two inspired words have become a sure refrain over the past few days. I am sure they are meant for me this year, that I need to make them mine. They come from a verse in a book of scripture called the Doctrine and Covenants. Actually, they show up twice- once when God commands the early Mormon church to build a temple, and then again a few years later in a prayer when that temple is completed. The saints were commanded to organize themselves and do something that seemed impossible. Build a temple for worship? How? Where would they get the resources? It wasn't realistic. But, it was important, and the inspiration came from God as a way to bless His children. As those children organized and prepared with active faith, they accomplished the thing they were commanded to do. They built a temple. And they were enormously blessed.

So here is my venture of faith this year. Organize yourselves. Sure, I am one person, but how many "selves" do I have? The mom. The wife. The daughter. The friend. The blogger, Sunday School teacher, bell ringer, french tutor, book club reader, wannabe English professor, home improvement doer, baker, volunteer, the Little Red Hen. There's more, I'm sure. But this isn't about being overwhelmed. It is about wanting to do more with what I've got.

2015 was a surprising year. In looking back I can see where I fell short, plateaued, and grew. But we were, I was, so blessed.  As I prayed about the New Year, and how to direct my life, those two words came so clearly to my mind that I felt, and continue to feel hope. Organize yourselves. Plan it out. Focus on what you can change, and find some order. Here's the entire verse of scripture:

Organize yourselves; prepare every needful thing, and establish a house, even a house of prayer, a house of fasting, a house of faith, a house of learning, a house of order, a house of God.

I recognize not everyone believes the same things I do. Maybe you don't believe this is scripture, or that it came from God. We'll have to agree to disagree on that point, but it is still pretty great advice. I challenge you to put it to the test with me!

I've got a plan, and I hope as I get organized I can figure out the best way to share the plans with you, and have you share your plans back! (Input would be awesome!) I've taken the verse of scripture and divided it into 12 points of emphasis- one for each month of the year. "Organize yourselves" gets two months, so I can take an inventory and reorganize. So does "Prepare Every Needful Thing," because I usually restock my 72-hour kits and food storage twice a year, and different things are "needful" at different times. I also added "The Best Books," which technically comes in the verse before the one I'm focusing on, but I'm hoping I can use those summer months to immerse myself and my kids in some really excellent literature and learning. I'll take each monthly goal and divide it into weekly parts, so that things stay manageable. (Thanks to Gretchen Rubin and her book The Happiness Project for the idea of breaking down new habits and building on them month by month. If you haven't read it, I would highly recommend it. Just reading about someone getting happier made me happy. Get a library card and check it out!)

Once a week, I'll post what I've worked on, how it went, plans for next week, and impressions that come. I have faith that impressions will come. 

Why do this now? And why at all? I'm more the fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants sort of girl! Do I have to change all of that? I don't think so. Will I still be posting food recipes and LRH ramblings? Absolutely. But, I am so blessed! I want to make sure that all my time, talents, everything I have been given is working together for good- for the best good. I want to be ready to serve, however I'm needed, and I have faith that if I am organized and prepared with active faith, I'll  accomplished the things I was sent here to do. I can build a sort of temple. And though I won't be perfect, I think by following through 2017 will find me further along than I was. 

So here she goes, Little Red Hen off to plant an ambitious grain of wheat. Who's with me?

Bake the bread. Share the slices.