Monday, May 30, 2011

Happy Memorial Day

I hope you have been enjoying your Memorial Weekend. What a time to stop and reflect on all that we have to be grateful for. Men and women, most of which we never knew, gave their lives for our country. As far back as we have a history on this soil, brave souls have been living and dying for our country.

How amazing is that? Someone cared enough about freedoms, justice and the pursuit of happiness to give their life so that this could be a better place. These men and women made the ultimate sacrifice. For you. For me. For all of us.

This Memorial Day don't let the fun and festivities lead you astray from the real reason for the long weekend. Remember the fallen, the lost, the brave.

It's easy to forget, but important to remember.

So thank you. Thank you for your service past, present and future. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you to the brothers, fathers, uncles and sons. The sisters, mothers, aunts and daughters. I'm more grateful to you than I could ever express.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Yoplait National Nutrition Month

Did you know that March is National Nutrition Month? We should be practicing good nutrition all year long, but if you aren't, today is the day to jump in with both feet! Yoplait makes that easier than ever with healthy snacking options for you and your family. If you haven't already, go to Facebook and "like" Yoplait  so you can learn about all the news and offers they have available to you.

Yoplait has several ways to help you reach your healthy snacking goals, so I thought I would outline a few of them for you:

  • Visit Yoplait's website and learn about their Two Week Tune Up, you could lose up to 5 lbs in two weeks!

  • Something I did not know was that Yoplait Original Style yogurt has twice as much calcium as the leading yogurt in one 6-ounce cup! You can visit Yoplait on Facebook and get a cup for free during their Million Cup giveaway, but it's while supplies last so HURRY!

  • I talked about and reviewed Yoplait Kids yogurt a couple of days ago, some of you may have entered the giveaway here (if not, what are you waiting for!!!??) These kid-sized cups come in great flavors and feature some of kids favorite characters like Dora, The Disney Princesses and Lightning McQueen from "Cars".

Want a coupon for some FREE Yoplait Kids Yogurt? Visit the site below and sign up for a coupon, get healthy snacking tips, See what other moms are saying and you can even tell a friend! Remember though, only the first 20 people that sign up will get the coupon.

I want to make sure you all know that by writing this post I am eligible to win a prize supplied by Yoplait through My Blog Spark.

Now, what are you waiting for? Go get your coupon!

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Morning Glory Muffins

Let's start with the freezer cooking. I made all of this this morning:

Sorry about the blurry picture, I took it really fast so I could get everything in the freezer. What you are looking at includes:

12 Breakfast Sandwiches
4 dozen Morning Glory Muffins
4 Dozen Banana Nut Muffins
1 loaf Banana Nut Bread
30 pieces French Toast
15 Belgian Waffles
3 dozen Chocolate Chip Cookies
4 dozen Peanut Butter Cookies
3 1/2 dozen Brownies

This is all of our breakfast and snack/lunch goodies for the next 2 weeks. I'm hoping that having breakfast in the freezer ready to heat up will save me some time in the mornings. We haven't been staying on schedule very well because I put off making breakfast, or don't know what to make, or just flat don't want to cook.

This is my answer to all of those problems. Crossing my fingers that it works out well for us.

One of the recipes that I made was called Morning Glory Muffins, and oh my gosh are they good. They are made with wheat flour, have carrots, apples, coconut and raisins as well as nuts in them. They are so hearty and filling and yet not heavy at all!

Morning Glory Muffins
from Loving My Domestic Life

2 cups wheat flour (I used white wheat)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 Tablespoons molasses
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3/4 cup sugar (I only used 1/2 cup)
1 cup oil (I used 1/2 applesauce)
3 eggs
1 1/2 cups shredded carrots
2 apples- peeled, cored and shredded
3/4 cup coconut
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup nuts

Mix flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a large bowl. In another bowl, mix together molasses, sugar, eggs, vanilla and oil. Fold in carrots, apples, raisins and nuts. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and mix in the wet just until combined. Bake in paper lined muffins tins at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

BTW Azure Standard has REALLY nice muffin cups. Regular baking cups (they call them large) come 60 to a pack and are unbleached paper. They are biodegradable, chlorine free and are compostable. They are my FAVORITE baking cups. This isn't a plug for Azure Standard either, I just really LOVE these baking cups :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Vanilla Extract: An Update

 I had several questions about making vanilla extract and I thought that a post was in order. The bottle above is a couple weeks into it's process and honestly, you could use it now. It is SO vanilla-y already. I used vodka (it's a clear alcohol in case you didn't know) and it's taken on this dark, amber color in a relatively short amount of time. When it's done I'll strain it through one of my milk filters, although you could use a double layer of cotton, to get rid of all the tiny pieces of vanilla bean pod that are floating around in there.

To make the vanilla, I poured off about 1/4 cup of the alcohol and added 12 beans that I had cut with scissors into 1-2 inch pieces. Everyday I give the bottle a couple of shakes and that's all there is to it! I did make a big bottle this time, it's 750 ML.

Here are the beans I ordered. I bought a pound of vanilla beans from Vanilla Products USA on Ebay. They cost me $24.95. There are 140-160 beans per pound of the Madagascar Bourbon extract beans. That is one heck of a lot of beans when you really get to looking at them!

As an added bonus, Vanilla Products USA has super cheap shipping AND you get free beans with your order. I got 1/4 LB of Grade A Gourmet Tahitian Vanilla beans as my free with purchase. I'm saving these little beauties for something extra special :)

Just a fun look at all the little vanilla beans that rub off on your fingers when you handle the beans. You will smell great all day after you touch them!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Homemade Kettle Corn

I found this recipe in a family cookbook about a year or so ago and have been making it ever since. It is fast, easy and delicious. It is every bit as good as the kettle corn you can buy from a vendor or in a store, but at a fraction of the cost.

Oh yeah, it takes 4 ingredients and they just happen to be things I have in my house at all times.

First you heat a heavy bottomed pot to medium high heat. I'm using a 6 qt pot here, if I double the recipe I use a larger stockpot.

Add 1/4 cup of vegetable oil to the pot and heat.

When the oil is hot, add 3 popcorn kernels to it. When the kernels pop, you know the oil is hot enough for the rest of them.

Add the rest of your popcorn.

Add the sugar, put the lid on and gently shake over the burner until the kernels are only popping every once in a while.

Immediately put into a bowl and sprinkle with salt (I prefer to use course kosher salt or sea salt, but use what you have).

There you have it, homemade kettle corn. A sweet-salty treat just right for snacking.

Kettle Corn

1/4 cup oil
1/2 cup popcorn kernels
1/4 cup sugar
salt to taste

Heat oil in a heavy bottomed pot. When 3 kernels dropped into the oil pop, add the rest of the popcorn and the sugar. Put a lid on the pot and gently shake it over the burner until the kernels slow their popping (one every 2-3 seconds). Immediately put the popcorn into a bowl and sprinkle with salt. Stir to combine the salt with the popcorn and to break up any clumps the hot sugar may have caused.

A Kinda, Sorta, Almost Vacation

Tuesday morning, we woke up and we're struck with the sudden desire to go on an overnight road trip. So we did.

We loaded up the car, made arrangements for our 4 legged family members and off we went. We decided to go to Crater Lake, then over to Klamath Falls to stay the night and then on home the next day. Nice easy trip, should be loads of fun, and it was.....except.....

  • There had been a snowstorm the night before and the road to Crater Lake was icy and not advisable to drive up (according to the very nice lady at the visitors booth) and the visibility was 0% to see the actual lake.
  • Crater Lake was our "exercise" stop for the kids. We ended up driving a loooooong time with a 6, a 4 and 2 two year old kids in the car. It pretty much equalled chaos.
  • We stayed in a hotel for the first time ever with 4 kids. Can I just tell you how had it is to get a room for our family? Nearly ever place we went wanted us to rent 2 rooms (and they just happened to be all out of regular ones and only had suites, hmmmm) or refused us altogether.
  • We stayed in a hotel for the first time with 2 kids who have never slept with 1) anyone but each other and 2) in an actual bed. Let's just say bedtime was kind of late and morning came pretty early. I think you can get the picture, eh?
It wasn't a bad trip, it just had it's moments of issues. We kind of decided that we would stick to camping after this unless we really needed to travel somewhere to stay in a hotel :) lol

On a side note, we are kind of obsessed with old barns, so I always take my camera when we go places where I know there will be some. It was pouring down rain so these pictures look a little fuzzy, but I think they are neat anyway.

All in all, it was a good trip. We had a lot of fun despite the various frustrations/setbacks. Now it's back to the daily grind but we feel refreshed and relaxed. It's funny how a couple days doing something different can do that for you!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Tattler Reusable Canning Lid Review


I was bunny trialing though the internet one day when I ran across a site that seemed too good to be true. This site said that they had canning lids that were reusable. What the heck? Canning lids are a one time deal. They are by far the most wasteful part of home preservation. Other than making those little snowman faces on them for your Christmas tree they aren't good for much so they get chucked into the trashcan.

I was intrigued. How could I not be with a claim like, "Guaranteed to last a lifetime when using FDA home canning processes." These lids contain no BPA (YAY!!!!), are made in the good Ole USA, are safe to use with water bath canning and pressure canning and are dishwasher safe.

I had to try these, I just had to. I sent off a polite email explaining that I had a blog and that I would love to test and review the product for my readers. Now, I send off a lot of emails like that and I get a lot of "NO's" right back. But to my surprise this one was a "YES! Tell me where to mail them!"

As soon as I got done squealing like a little girl, I sent off my address. Quick as a flash I got these little beauties in my hot little hands.


I made a couple batches of jam to test them out and put them through their paces. These lids work with wide mouth or regular mouth canning jars and come in 2 pieces, a white plastic lid and a rubber ring. To use them there is virtually no difference to traditional 1 piece lids. You scald them with hot water and leave them sitting in the water in a pan while you get your goodies ready to can up.

I put my jam in the jars, wiped down the rim with a damp cloth, set the rubber ring around the edge of the lid, centered it on my jar, held it tight with my finger while I screwed on the ring to finger tight. Then I turned back the lid 1/4 turn just like the instructions said.

After I water bathed my jam, I took out my jars and immediately screwed the rings on tight. Success!!!

Then I got too looking at my jam. A couple jars were kind of.....soupy looking. Hmmm. Upon further investigation I discovered that some water had gotten into them. Why?? What had happened?

Turns out that even though I am quite capable of reading I mis-read 1/4 INCH for 1/4 TURN when I was tightening the lids down before I pooped them into the water bath. Stupid, stupid mistake on my part.

My verdict: Love. Worth the money, worth the couple (easy) extra steps, worth having a product that is going to last and last.
I'm saving my pennies and this is going to be the VERY next major purchase I make. I cannot say enough good things.

Oh, and that watery jam? I refuse to call that a failure. I'm calling it "Strawberry Ice Cream Topping" :)

I have a link on my sidebar should you feel so inclined to go and check them out. I hope that you will, they are a superior product!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Hot Water Bath Canning- The Equipment

As promised, this is the first installment of a series on hot water bath canning. This is very different from pressure canning, which we will talk about later.

Hot water bath canning is for high acid foods. Those usually include jams, jellies, pickles and pickled things and tomatoes (as long as they have sufficient acid in the form of lemon juice added to them). The very best way to know what is safe to water bath can is to look it up in your Ball Blue Book. I highly recommend that you get one of these if you are going to be doing some canning. They are filled with great recipes, step-by-step instructions and all of the "rules" of canning. It's $10 well spent!

This post is going to cover the equipment needed to hot water bath can.

Water Bath Canner.
 Although there are some people who just use a pot with a lid to water bath can, I much prefer to use a specific water bath canner. They are large, hold a lot of jars filled with food and usually come with a rack inside to aid you in the lifting in/out of the filled jars.

 Your jars should be thoroughly washed and sanitized as well as warm when you are canning. If your jars are warmed when you add your filling to them, they are much (MUCH) less likely to crack or break. Keeping your jars in your simmering water bath canner or in hot water in your sink will do the trick nicely.

 These are the rings. When you first buy lids, you'll want to get the sets that have lids AND rings in the packs. After that rings are re-usable. Lids are not.

These are the lids that I'm using. These are not the traditional metal one-piece lid. These are a 2-piece, reusable, lifetime (basically) lid. They are BPA free (regular lids aren't) and the only part that will ever need replaced is the rubber ring and the website says that they are good for 20 uses. So, if you use your lids 1 time a year, they are good for 20 years. They are more costly, but worth it in the long run.
(Check out the Tattler link on my sidebar! It's an amazing product. Well worth the money.)

Jar lifter and filling funnel.
 Not entirely necessary, but they make life so, So, SO much easier. These usually come in a kit with a bubble remover wand and a magnetic lid lifter for around $8.00.

Two last things I think are necessary are 2 dish towels and 1 large bath towel. One dish towel to use for wiping your hands and to be "dry" and one dish towel that you can wet to wipe off the rims of the jars before putting the lids and rings on. A bath towel folded in half on the counter is the perfect, safe place to rest your jars once they come out of the canner. Putting them on the counter without any sort of insulating barrier can cause shock to your jars resulting in breakage. Not what you want after you take the time to can something special.

This is all the special equipment required for hot water bath canning. Gather your things together and get ready for our next installment:

Hot Water Bath Canning: Making Jam~ Coming soon!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Saturday Night Entertainment

As you may have noticed, I am a member of My Blog Spark. What this means is that I am sometimes chosen to be part of campaigns by major, brand-name companies. That's good for you because it means I have the opportunity to share products and coupons with all of you.

My Blog Spark has contacted me because of my previous participation in the Yoplait Kids promotion and asked me to share a short video with all of you. In the video, you will see Christine Choppa, who blogs at Mama's Boy, along with her son J.D. discussing healthy snacking.

I'm going to put the first video up here tonight and link to the others so you can view them as well.

Here are the links to the rest of the series:

Webisode 2

Webisode 3

Webisode 4

Webisode 5

Webisode 6

Webisode 7

Webisode 8

If you have a chance, go check them out!

And as a special gift to you, here is a printable coupon for $0.50 off 1 4-pack of yoplait kids yogurt.

*This information was provided to me by Yoplait through My Blog Spark*

Friday, May 13, 2011

Money Well Spent

When I find something I like, that really works for me, I try to see what other areas of my life I can get it to work in too. I mean, if I can make something do the job of a lot of other products, then I am one happy camper.

I found something that is a virtual workhorse for you and your household.

Wanna know what it is?

It's a humble, simple, cheap product.

Interested yet?

What if I told you that it could replace a whole host of dangerous chemical cleaning supplies in your home?

Sounds good right?

You can find all of this and more in a bottle of plain white vinegar. No joke!

Let me tell you all the ways that I use vinegar and maybe you can try some out too:

  • Use vinegar instead of fabric softener. Not only does vinegar keep your clothes bright, it also softens them. For example, laundry hung out to dry that has had vinegar added to the wash cycle won't have stiff and rough towels. Alternately, vinegar added to the wash for clothes that are going to be dried in the dryer will help them leave their lint in the dryer and not on everything else.
  • Use vinegar as a rinse aid in your dishwasher. You dishes will come out streak, spot and film free.
  • Freshen your kitchen drain by filling it with about a 1/2 box of baking soda and pouring a cup or so of vinegar onto it. As it bubbles and foams, it cleans and deodorizes your drain.
  • Use vinegar to replace bleach or bleach alternative cleaners for your kitchen counter tops. Keep a spray bottle of 1/2 vinegar 1/2 water and spritz away to clean and disinfect your counter.
  • Wipe a wooden cutting board with full strength vinegar and rinse off with water to clean, deodorize and disinfect it.
  • Use full strength vinegar to wipe you tub, tile and shower to prevent mold, mildew and other ickies from forming. Simply rinse clean with water.
  • Use as an astringent. Gently wipe your face with a cloth soaked in vinegar being especially careful around the eyes.
  • Use as an after sun balm. Wipe vinegar on a sunburn to help sooth the pain and burning. You may need to re-apply, but this works wonders!
  • A vinegar soaked cotton ball applied to a bug bite or bee sting will disinfect the area as well as take away the pain.
  • Use a solution of 50:50 vinegar and water to wash your windows. Go one step farther and wipe the solution off with newspaper and you will have the shiniest, streak free windows anywhere.
  • Fill a mop bucket with 1/3 vinegar and 2/3 water to use as a floor cleaner. It will clean your floors to sparkling in no time. You can also squeeze a lemon in there for scent.
  • Deodorize your room or furniture using equal parts of vinegar, rubbing alcohol and water in a squirt bottle. A few drops of essential oil or perfume my be added for scent.
  • Wipe down the walls in any room with vinegar and not only clean them, but absorb any smells they may have as well (really good for kitchens, vinegar cuts right through grease).
  • Wash your fridge out with a cloth soaked in vinegar to get rid of ANY smell that may be lingering. Leave a small bowl of vinegar in there for good measure and it will absorb any new smells that may form.
That is only a small portion of what plain, humble vinegar can do for you. It makes me feel good to replace so many commercial chemical cleaners with one simple tool. And the best part? If your kids get into it and drink it, you won't have to be on the phone to poison control. Heck, it's even pretty good for your health!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Playing Hookey and Catch-Up and a Bread Recipe

I am still alive, I am still here and plugging along. I've just been busy. Everyone is busy right now it seems doesn't it? It's that time of year, with gardens coming along and yard work, cook-outs and better weekends for travel and leisure (although with gas prices going the way they are, we all may have to travel less and leisure more at home, eh?) and it just seems like everyone is going, going, going.

We aren't any different. Our remodel is coming to a close (finally) and our garden is in full swing. I'll soon start canning and dehydrating everything that I can get my hands on and I'll be even busier.

Speaking of canning, I'm planning a series on water bath and pressure canning this year. So, if you've never done it before, I'm going to go through the process step-by-step and outline everything about it from equipment to canning lid options. Be on the lookout for that coming up in the future.

I'll leave you with a recipe to try out. It's rather long process, but it yields such a good bread out of whole wheat, try it for your sandwiches this week and you'll be impressed!

Sponge Method Whole Wheat Bread
makes 2 loaves

Step 1
3 cups water
1 Tablespoon+ 1 teaspoon yeast
1/3 cup honey
3 cups whole wheat (either regular wheat or the new white whole wheat)

Mix 1 cup of the water with the yeast to check that your yeast is good. If it bubbles up go ahead and add the other 2 cups of water, yeast, honey and flour. Stir until very combined and no lumps are left (about 100 strokes). Let this sit on the counter for 45-70 minutes or until double in bulk.

Step 2

1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup oil
1 cup rolled oats, cracked millet, or other grain
3-4 cups whole wheat

Mix the salt, oil and enough wheat to make a nicely stiff dough without being dry. Knead on a floured counter until it will make a smooth ball. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let sit about an hour, or until doubled.

Step 3

Punch down dough, re-cover and let sit until doubled (about an hour)

Step 4

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Punch down dough, shape into loaves and place in 2 WELL GREASED pans, cover and let raise 30-45 minutes or until doubled.

Bake for 30-35 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped on the top.

Cool on a wire rack and wrap tightly when cooled.

A couple things about this recipe~ you can use 2 cups or so of white flour in the initial sponge if you aren't used to all whole wheat until you're ready to use 100% whole wheat. Also, 2 tablespoons per loaf (this recipe makes 2) of vital wheat gluten will help make the loaves lighter and taller. You would add that with the second flour addition.

Yes, this takes some time but it yields a really superior bread that makes great sandwiches. Most of the time the bread is just hanging out by itself anyway, you aren't doing anything with it.

We are in love with this recipe and I hope you try it so you can love it too!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

From Me to You

It's a super pretty day here and I was outside taking some pictures of our little apple tree. It's in full bloom right now and I wish you could smell it...or better yet, hear it! The honey bees are out and about today so I snapped a few pictures of the little workers.

I set this picture as my desktop and I thought that I would share a it and a couple more in case you needed a little Spring on your desktop too. Feel free to use these as wallpaper if you want, it's my Wednesday gift to you :)

Ok, so this one doesn't have any bees in it, but it's still pretty and Spring-y!

From me to you :) Enjoy!

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo is tomorrow and I had a request for some recipes to fit the theme. I thought we would re-visit some of the ones I have on here before I share with you a couple new recipes and some I have seen from around the web. 

In the picture above, I have two things going on 1) Simple Beef and Black Bean Tacos and 2) Mexican Rice, My Way

I'll never claim that I make anything "authentically" Mexican, but those are two of my all time favorite recipes. Can I also add that Mexican Rice, My Way is the #1 searched for recipe on this blog? It changes lives :)

How about a burrito? An apple burrito!

Apple Burritos are a delicious way to end your Cinco de Mayo meal. They are quick and easy and so good. Check them out for something a little different.

How about some fruit salsa? I'm going to have you the directions for my Mango Salsa, but feel free to mix up the fruit. We've recently been hooked on pineapple salsa so use what you like!

Mango Salsa

2 ripe mangoes, peeled and diced (or about 3 cups)
1 medium red onion, diced fine (or about 1/2 cup)
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
cilantro, chopped (2 Tablespoons to 1/4 cup, depending on preference)
1 lime, juiced
1/2 teaspoon (or more) salt
Tortilla chips for dipping

Place the mango, onion and jalapeno into a bowl and mix well. Add lime juice, cilantro and salt to taste. Try your salsa and adjust your seasonings accordingly.

Pretty simple right? I choose not to use tomatoes in my fruit salsa, but you can if you like it that way. You can add one or more fruits to this and up the juice and seasonings if you'd like. Add more or less jalapeno depending on how hot you like it. In other words, I'll provide you with a base, you change it up to make it yours :) And hey, if you can get Juanita's chips where you are, they are the best!

OK, here's another "recipe" that we like around here.

1 1/2- 2 lbs pork, beef or chicken- cubed
1 28 oz can green enchilada sauce
flour or corn tortillas

Place the pork, beef or chicken chunks in the crock pot and cover with the enchilada sauce. Cook on low for 8 hours. To serve, shred the meat using 2 forks and mix with the sauce well. Serve over rice with warmed tortillas for dipping.

I feel bad even giving you that "recipe" because it is so much of a cheater meal. It always gets rave reviews here though, so I thought I would pass it on.

Now for some links to some really great sounding food from around the web:

Tamales I was going to make these yesterday, but never got around to it. We were having too much fun hanging out outside in the SUNSHINE :)

Alton Brown's Guacamole  I love AB. No further explanation needed.

Tres Leches Cake Another Alton recipe, you just can't go wrong :)

Tex-Mex Enchiladas from Chickens in the Road. The recipe for Chili Gravy is SO GOOD. I use it for enchiladas all the time, we can't get enough of this recipe.

One last recipe for those of you who may not make these yet:

Sour Cream Chicken Enchiladas

1- 16 oz container sour cream
1 can cream of mushroom soup
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
1 can olives, sliced
1 can diced green chilies
1 1/2 lb chicken, cooked and shredded-seasoned with a packet of taco seasoning
12 flour tortillas

In a bowl mix the sour cream, mushroom soup, 1 cup cheese, olives and green chilies. Stir well. Fold in the cooked, shredded chicken. Evenly divide 1/2 of the filling among the flour tortillas (it may make a couple more or a couple less depending on how full you make them) and lay them seam side down in a 9x13 inch pan. Spread the rest of the filling on top and sprinkle with the last cup of cheese. Bake in a 350 degree oven until hot and bubbly, about 40-45 minutes. Serve with rice and beans or a green salad.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!