Friday, September 19, 2014

Freezer Fridays: Homemade Chili


I made my first batch of chili for this fall season last Friday. It was raining all.day.long. And so cold! It was only right that we warmed our bodies with a bowl of homemade chili. This week we've been able to enjoy these last few days of summer with nice, warm temps. We'll probably squeeze in a few more grilled dinners before it's over, but then I'll be ready to jump right into the soup,stew and chili season.


We've all got our favorite versions of this household staple and mine isn't particularly anything fancy. It's simple but delicious. I don't even really measure out the spices, just add a little bit here and there and taste as I go. But for this purpose, I did try to get some exact measurements for those of you who like to follow the recipe exactly.

I'm not even a big leftover fan; I admit, I've gotten so much better since having lived with my husband. But leftover chili is one of my favorites. I think the flavor gets better as it sits longer in the fridge. It's probably one of the few dishes I don't mind eating more than a couple times.


The best part of this batch? I was able to add seven jars to my freezer stash. They'll be perfect to thaw overnight and pack for our lunches. I can reheat quickly in the morning and pour into a thermos so they'll stay warm until we're ready to eat. I can't wait to work on adding some more soups to the freezer. I can't think of anything more perfect to enjoy on a cold day.


Homemade Chili

Ingredients:
1.5 lbs. ground beef
2-15 oz. cans diced tomatoes
30 oz. can kidney beans,drained
15 oz. can white beans,drained
46 oz. tomato juice
salt and pepper, to taste
2 tbsp chili powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp cumin

Directions:
In a large skillet, brown ground beef until crumbled and no longer pink. Drain grease and add cooked meat to a large saucepan. Add in tomatoes with juices, beans and tomato juice. Mix together well. Season with spices and stir to combine. Taste and season more if needed. Let simmer on the stove for about 20 minutes or until warm. You may also dump all ingredients into a crock pot and let cook on low all day.

For freezing: You don't necessarily have to heat chili if freezing right away. Ladle chili into pint sized jars for individual serving sizes or into larger jars/containers. Make sure to leave a little bit of room at top of container because it will expand. Cover and place into freezer until ready to use. You may want to label if you're worried about not remembering the contents.

When ready to use, let thaw overnight in the fridge. Reheat on the stove. Enjoy right away or place into a thermos if packing for lunches.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Caramel Apple Cookies


Listen, do you hear that? I know. There's complete silence in my house right now! You'll have to pardon my giddiness. I'm just a little excited that I got to enjoy literally my first ever day off from work without the kids. Don't get me wrong. I love having my kids home with me all the time, but today was much needed and just plain wonderful. Even if all I did was clean. I feel refreshed and I love having the house back in order.

But let's talk about these cookies now. It's officially apple season and I love taking advantage of it. I've got my favorite go-to recipes that we make each year, especially stocking the freezer with this easy, homemade applesauce. My favorite part though, is trying out new recipes. It's just fun to experiment and many times we find new family favorites.


I think we can consider this cookie a new favorite as well. The cookie itself is very soft and has a cake-like texture. The frosting is so easy to mix together and tastes just like caramel. Paired together, it's a real winner in my book. I can't wait for you to try these out and let me know what you think!

Do you have a favorite apple recipe you make year after year? Share your comments below.


Caramel Apple Cookies

Ingredients:
1 stick butter, softened
1-1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup apple cider or juice
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1-1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 apple, grated {I used Gala}

for frosting:
1/2 cup brown sugar
4 tbsp butter
2 tbsp apple cider or juice
2 cups powdered sugar

Directions:
In a large bowl, cream together butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Add in egg and cider, mix together well. Gradually add in all dry ingredients and mix until combined. Lastly, mix in grated apple.

Line cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats. Drop cookie dough onto prepared sheets using a medium sized cookie scoop. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes, cookies should be lightly browned. Remove from oven and let cool for at least 5 minutes before removing from pan.

To make frosting: In a small saucepan, melt butter, brown sugar and apple cider together; just until sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and whisk in powdered sugar until smooth. Frosting will thicken up as it sets, if need to thin just add a tsp of milk or cider/juice to do so.

Once cookies have completely cooled, you may frost with the caramel frosting. Store cookies in airtight containers. Makes about 3 dozen.

Adapted from: Midwest Living

Monday, September 15, 2014

Tomato-Basil Mac & Cheese


We enjoyed a nice weekend, it always goes by too fast, that's for sure. We had very nice fall like weather, cool mornings but by afternoon the sun was shining. It's been forever since we'd been able to have a bon fire, so that's what our Saturday night consisted of. It was a little chilly but the fire sure warmed us all up. Of course we had to indulge in a little s'more action too.

These unusual chilly evenings have had us busy in the garden lately. Gathering as much as we can and covering plants to protect them from potential frost. I had quite a few cherry tomatoes sitting in a bowl on the counter, along with some fresh basil from our farm share. I incorporated the two into this awesome macaroni and cheese dish. Let's just say, all bowls were empty by the end of dinner time last night.


I'm not a huge macaroni and cheese fan, but I'll eat it on occasion. The hubby on the other hand, loves it. I was happy to see him eat it up, as well as the kids. In fact our oldest daughter took the last little bit leftover for lunch today and said it was still just as good. I loved the addition of fresh summer flavors in this, in fact I think a little crumbled bacon on top might even be a great topping for next time.

You'll also love how fast this dish comes together. It's not something you have to save for the weekends when we typically have more time to devote to our meals. Enjoy it as a meatless main dish or as side dish like we did.


Tomato-Basil Mac & Cheese

Ingredients:
4 cups cooked pasta {I used penne}
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 tbsp flour
1-3/4 cup milk
salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup mozzarella cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup cherry tomatoes, quartered
small handful fresh basil leaves, chopped
3 tbsp panko crumbs
sprinkling of red pepper flakes

Directions:
In a medium saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add in minced garlic and let cook for about one minute, until fragrant. Whisk in flour. Add in milk, salt and pepper, whisking well until combined. Let cook for a few minutes, until simmering and let thicken just a bit. Once thickened, remove from heat and stir in both cheeses.

Add in cooked pasta and mix together. Then stir in tomatoes and basil. Divide mixture between three small oven safe dishes or an 8x8-inch pan. Sprinkle each dish with one tbsp of panko crumbs, or if using one pan then sprinkle all three tbsp over top. Add desired amount of red pepper flakes on top of panko crumbs.

Broil in oven for about 3 minutes to brown panko crumbs. Remove from oven and enjoy!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Freezer Fridays: Peanut Butter Blondies


It's sure a cold, yucky, rainy day here in Iowa. The older girls are off from school today so that means mom gets the day off too. The youngest is at preschool for a few hours. Gives me a little bit of time to get things done around the house and then enjoy our time together this afternoon. I'm thinking chili is in store for dinner tonight. It's the perfect weather for something comforting and warm!

I made these bars on Sunday for Josh to take to work and share with his co-workers on Monday morning. They like treats and I like making them, it works out perfectly. Then we're not tempted with a whole pan sitting on the counter.


Or what about wrapping each bar individually and stashing them away in the freezer? Besides sharing, that's my favorite right there. Baked goods typically freeze well regardless and it's nice to pull out just a few when you need them. In the kids' lunchboxes or your own, for an after school treat or when traveling in the car. Have a bake sale coming up? Make them a few days ahead of time if you need and freeze like so, you still get a chance to help the cause but without stressing yourself out over lack of time.

Now about these bars themselves; they are quite delicious. Very soft and chewy, full of peanut butter flavor and we love adding the mini M&Ms to the batter. You can definitely change up the add-ins; maybe other chocolate candies, butterscotch or peanut butter chips. Lots of possibilities and no matter what you decide, I know they'll taste great!



Peanut Butter Blondies

Ingredients:
1/2 cup creamy peanut butter
5 tbsp butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 cup mini M&Ms
1/4 cup chocolate chips

Directions:
In a large bowl, cream together peanut butter and butter until light and fluffy. Add in both sugars, eggs and vanilla. Mix well. Gradually add in dry ingredients and mix until combined. Fold in M&Ms and chocolate chips.

Pour batter into a lightly greased 11x7-inch baking pan. Spread out evenly. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.

Cut blondies into bars and remove from pan. To freeze: wrap each bar in saran wrap well. Place all wrapped bars in a large freezer bag that has been labeled with contents and date. Or a freezer safe container will work as well. If completely cooled, place into freezer. When ready to enjoy, simply remove from freezer and let thaw.

Makes 18-20 bars

Monday, September 8, 2014

Zucchini Pizza Bites


We've still been receiving a good amount of zucchini each week in our CSA box. Not a lot to where I'm overwhelmed, but still at the point where I'm trying to get creative so we're not wasting any. These are not anything new, I've seen them around the Internet before, but had yet to try them.

Even if you told me you're not a fan of zucchini, I think you'd be surprised. Zucchini has such a mild flavor anyways and by adding pizza sauce and mozzarella cheese; that's really all you're tasting. I love pizza and this is a much healthier way for me to get my fix without adding a bunch of extra calories.


It's also a great way to get the kiddos to eat more veggies. My girls are not always great about eating zucchini or summer squash, no matter how I prepare it. I was really happy to see them try a few pieces and actually enjoy them!

I even took some leftover in my lunch today and they held up great. Reheated in the microwave or even cold, they still taste great. Fresh zucchini won't be around for much longer, so I think we'll take advantage of this time and enjoy these pizza bites a little while longer!


Zucchini Pizza Bites

Ingredients:
1 medium zucchini, sliced
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup pizza sauce
grated mozzarella cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

Directions:
In a medium skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add zucchini to pan and let cook for 1-2 minutes on each side. Remove from skillet and place onto a cookie sheet.

Spoon a tiny amount of pizza sauce over each zucchini slice. Top with cheese and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place into the oven at 400 degrees and let bake for a few minutes, just until cheese is melted.

Remove from oven and serve immediately.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

100 Days of Real Food Cookbook Review


A couple of years ago I discovered the 100 Days of Real Food blog. It's been a great inspiration to me as I've tried to eliminate the amount of processed foods my family eats. Now, I'll be the first to admit; we are far from perfect! I strive hard to prepare good, wholesome food for everyone; but we have our moments when our eating is not ideal.

I was pretty excited when a copy of this cookbook arrived on my front porch and I've been busy reading it from cover to cover ever since! In case you're not familiar with Lisa's story; back in 2010, her family took a pledge to eliminate all highly processed and refined foods from their diet for the next 100 days. She also decided to blog about their experience and hence, that's how her blog began. Many families have since joined in on this journey and have shared their own experiences through the blog and other social media outlets.


My own family has made some major progress in our own real food journey. We make a point to purchase local and humanly raised meat and eggs. Our milk comes from a nearby farm whose cows are not injected with hormones or antibiotics. We have also subscribed to a CSA farm share for the past two years and visit our local farmers' markets on a regular basis. All things that are fairly easy to do and help to ensure that our family is not only supporting our local farmers, but also getting the best nutrition possible when it comes to these items.

Whether you're just getting started in your own real food lifestyle, maybe a little bit curious or very familiar; I think you'll find Lisa's new cookbook very useful. You'll find the first portion of the book is filled with lots of detailed information to help you get started:

 Definitions of real food
 How to read food labels
 Tips for grocery shopping {I particularly loved that Lisa shared her own typical weekly list}
 Tips for picky eaters
 Advice for when eating in restaurants

 These are just a few of the subjects you can expect to read about.


I was also glad to find a section devoted all to shopping on a budget and how to get the most bang for your buck. She also includes seasonal menu plans to make life a whole lot easier for you! Because we all know how busy our schedules are.

And of course you can expect to find tons of great recipes, with beautiful photos I might add. Everything from breakfast, to real food lunches that are perfect for the kiddos, to quick weeknight meals, to pantry staples like barbecue sauce. They are all simple too, which I love. The easier, the better. We tried the shortcut eggplant parmesan for dinner a couple nights ago. I loved how fast the dish came together, after working all day I still was able to get dinner on the table at a decent hour and within 30 minutes. It was also really good!






I've already got tons of recipes tabbed for me to try which is no surprise because everything looks so darn good. If you haven't grabbed yourself a copy, you can order one through here. I know you'll enjoy this new cookbook just as much as I have!





*Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the cookbook in exchange for my review. All opinions are my own.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Freezer Fridays: Energy Bites


Well this week has sure flown by fast! Anybody else agree? After being out of town last weekend, I'm looking forward to enjoying some relaxation this time around. Hopefully getting in the kitchen to create some new recipes to share and getting things done around the house. Oh and enjoying these much cooler temps! It's been pretty hot around here lately.

I make these energy bites quite often at home, they make a really good snack. My oldest loves to have these around to munch on when she's hungry. Just a few will do me good, they can be addicting though. Our batches never seem to last long enough.



Rarely do I ever make the same kind either. This recipe is so versatile that you can add in whatever you're craving or currently have in your pantry. I'm not a big chocolate chip person, some chocolate is good but not too much for me. I balanced the flavors out in this batch by combining coconut, dried cranberries and mini chocolate chips. Other times I've done both chocolate and butterscotch. They've all tasted great!

Use this as a guideline but seriously feel free to adapt it to your tastes. Make up a double batch if you have some extra time {I promise, it won't take long at all!} and store the extras in the freezer. When you're craving something sweet or need a quick snack, take a few out and you'll be happy you had these on hand.


Energy Bites

Ingredients:
1 cup old fashioned oats
1/3 cup raw coconut flakes
1/3 cup dried cranberries
1/4 cup mini chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter {I only had chunky on hand this time}
1/3 cup good quality, local honey

Directions:
In a large bowl combine together oats, coconut, cranberries and chocolate chips. Add in peanut butter and honey. Mix together well. Chill in the fridge for about 20-30 mins.

Remove from fridge and using a small cookie scoop, shape mixture into balls. Place into a container and store in the fridge.

*If freezing, flash freeze for about 20 minutes on cookie sheets. Then transfer energy bites to either a freezer safe container or freezer bag. Make sure to label and date with contents. Store in freezer until ready to enjoy. You may eat while slightly frozen or let thaw for about 15 minutes before enjoying.

Makes about 2 dozen.

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