Doritos Taco Salad

SAM_1565

My kids don’t like vegetables. Occasionally I am able to coax them into eating some peppers or mushrooms, but they have to be hidden in a sauce of some kind. But greens? Forget about it!

Tonight we had a breakthrough!

I made this delicious Doritos Taco Salad – Life In The Lofthouse from Life in the Lofthouse and both kids ate it up and asked for MORE! What’s more, they both want to take it to school for lunch tomorrow!

Taco salad for the WIN!

This hearty, filling dinner came together in about 1/2 an hour, including about 10 minutes to cool the meat a little bit before combining everything. The only changes I made were to add a few peppers to the meat as it cooked and to change to Nacho Doritos to Zesty.

Spicy Parmesan Chicken Pasta

SAM_1564

Tonight’s dinner!

This Spicy Parmesan Chicken Pasta from Life in the Lofthouse is quick, easy, and delicious! The dish came together in less than an hour, including marinating time. I added a small container of mushrooms to the chicken as it cooked and it really added a little something more. Next time I might add peppers or broccoli. We didn’t add the green onions because no one in the house likes them, and I used cavatappi pasta because it’s what I had on hand. The only thing I would change, I think, is that next time I would double the recipe. When I cook dinner, I try and prepare enough for the kids to take to school the next day, and I this definitely did not leave enough. This one is going in our favorites!

Lazy Night Stir-Fry…or…Feed Me Quick!

LazyNightStir-Fry

I love to cook from scratch but sometimes quick and easy works well, too.

We’ve had a pretty lazy day around here today. Justin had to work for a couple hours this morning and then spent the day playing video games and watching movies (The Croods). Chloe played outside with friends. Gavin played video games and tried to avoid going outside. And as for me, I blogged, listened to music, and, well, drank coffee.

I knew when I got up this morning what kind of day it was going to be and planned my dinner accordingly. I had already intended to make a stir-fry, but how I threw it together changed drastically. Instead of slow-roasting chicken thighs in the oven and then tearing the meat away from the bones to be thrown in with a bunch of fresh veggies and a homemade sauce of some kind, I chose to pull the casings off a couple sausages and brown them in a pan with a mixture of fresh and frozen vegetables and a bottled sauce. Not perfect, but tasty and on the table for three hungry mouths (because you know, they’re ALWAYS STARVING) in less than 30 minutes. This is a great dinner for using up leftovers, and any meat you have on hand will do, or go vegetarian and leave out the meat altogether.

Lazy Night Stir-Fry

Ingredients:

  • 1 small package of medium Italian sausages (I used about 4 sausages, and feel free to use hot, if you wish)
  • 1 small package of button mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 large red bell peppers cut into strips
  • 1 bag frozen broccoli florets
  • 1 bottle of your favorite stir-fry sauce (I used Golden Dragon Thick Teriyaki)

Drizzle a little extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet. Remove sausage from casings, and brown on a medium-high heat. Lower heat to medium-low and add mushrooms and peppers; saute 10 minutes. Add broccoli. Cover and let simmer 10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until heated through. Pour in sauce and let simmer 5 minutes, or until heated through. Serve over rice.

New Shoes, Baking, Uno, & Mario Kart

NewShoesApril2015

I love my kids.

I do.

My daughter is sweet, funny, talented, caring, and going to be a sarcastic ball of fun as an adult. My son is also sweet, funny, caring, and talented, but all he likes to do is play video games or watch YouTube videos of OTHERS playing video games.

All three of us have ADD.

This means I can barely stand to be in the same room with them for more than a few minutes some days. This is also why I love school and cringe at the thought of evenings, weekends, and holiday/PD Day that means the kids are home.

You see, Monday to Friday I am kid-free from 8 am until 2:45 pm. During this time I can enjoy complete silence, if I want, or I can blare my music and not worry about song lyric appropriateness, I can read a whole book, I can hang out online blogging or perusing others’ blogs, I can sit down and eat a whole bag of chips (but I am REALLY trying to curb this), or I can simply sleep the day away; this is, of course, on top of doing the things that need to be done, like drinking buckets of coffee (snicker). Monday to Friday is MOMMY TIME, at least until 2:45 pm.

At 2:30 pm I can feel my muscles start to tighten and my palms begin to moisten from anxiety. By 2:40 pm I normally have a full-blown headache. But at 2:45 pm I plaster a huge smile on my face and offer a, “how was your day?” as the children come barreling through the door.

I try to be the dutiful Mom and listen intently, while feeling my head pulsing (my Tylenol or coffee, depending on which route of relief I choose that day, has not kicked it at this point) in protest. By 3 pm I have told the kids what they can have for a snack, found out what they have for homework, and assigned chores, before sending them either up to their rooms or outside to play. Anywhere but in the house where I have to hear Chloe talk non-stop, as she does (thank you, ADD), or where I have to listen to the two of them argue about everything and nothing at all.

Time to breathe for a minute.

If we have a good day, the kids will get their homework and chores done with little trouble and I won’t actually struggle with having them underfoot. But if we (Gavin & I) have a bad day, I will likely end up in tears by the end of it.

I think you get the idea, so I won’t bore you with more details…

My point is, most days I want to strangle my kids (not literally, of course, and if you’re a parent yourself you’ve been there, so don’t deny it). My ADD symptoms include not being able to handle noise of any kind unless I choose to. For example, if Gavin is playing video games, the volume has to be almost nil, but I can blast music so loud it can be heard two streets over and it doesn’t bother me.

As a result, I don’t spend much time in the same room with my kids.

I told you I was a bad Mom.

I am getting better, though, and this means we are doing more things together.

Yesterday, for example, I got up in the morning and was feeling pretty good so I decided it would be a great day to spend doing things with the kids instead of kicking them outside. I sat down and enjoyed my coffee while I planned out our day.

First we went shopping for new shoes because Chloe destroyed not only her Winter boots this week, but also a pair of sneakers. As you can see from the photos above, they love their new kicks.

Then we came home and started baking. We all love to cook/bake and they are always super excited when I get them involved, too. We made two different kinds of muffins and two different kinds of cookies. I have to admit, though, this was all from a mix. I usually bake from scratch, but Gavin had seen the mixes at the grocery store and requested them.

BakingApril2015

Both kids took turns pouring ingredients and they loved it when I let them use the mixer. FYI, in the big photo of the above collage, I had asked the kids to smile and got the goofy face from Chloe. She loves to make faces in pictures…lol.

BakingApril2015x2

Chloe licked off the beaters, but Gavin wasn’t interested, for some reason. More for Chloe!UnoApril2015

In between batches, we play Uno. Chloe kept making Gavin pick up handfuls of cards. He wasn’t very happy about it.
BakingApril2015x3

I promise you that the cookies and muffins are not burnt. That’s just how they looked. I can tell you they are super tasty!

After the cookies and muffins were done, we made mini corn-dog muffins. These are delicious and perfect for a little snack, especially for after school. We had them with some tomato soup before heading into the living room to play some Mario Kart (I do play video games once in awhile).

Overall, the day was excellent! We had so much fun! We baked, cooked, played cards, joked around, and played video games. I honestly couldn’t have asked for a better day and I hope we have more like it.

I don’t like it when I’m a bad Mom.

Blessings,

C.

Happy Easter 2015

Clockwise from the top right, 1. drop biscuits, 2. our entire Easter dinner, 3. carrot cake with cream cheese icing, and 4. the ham in the slow cooker.

Clockwise from the top right, 1. drop biscuits, 2. our entire Easter dinner, 3. carrot cake with cream cheese icing, and 4. the ham in the slow cooker.

Easter in our house is not a religious holiday. For us, it is a celebration of rebirth, renewal, and the imminent arrival of Spring.

We do the Easter Bunny thing – Mr. Bunny leaves a chocolate bunny for each of the kids and then lays chocolate eggs all over the house for them to find in the morning (this is our favorite part and I honestly think Justin has more fun hiding the eggs than the kids do finding them!), which we will continue to find weeks down the road. Then Justin and I implement the same philosophy we use at Christmas (something they want, something they need, something to wear, and something to read) and pick out a couple of small gifts for the children. But this, of course, is on a much smaller scale than we would employ when Santa comes to visit. The rest of the day is usually spent just hanging out spending time together as a family.

Growing up in a large family (2 grandparents, 6 kids plus spouses, & 15 grandchildren), we always gathered at my grandparent’s house for Easter dinner. When my grandmother was alive, we would feast on a ham with sides of mashed potatoes, boiled carrots, and fried eggs, with a variety of spring-like desserts to round out the meal. When my grandmother passed on, my grandfather continued the tradition as long as he could.

When I grew up and acquired a family of my own, we moved around a lot. That meant that we were rarely in a place with our extended family and celebrated many holidays with just the four of us. As a result, our traditions became quite toned-down from what we were used to as children. Starting with this past Christmas, we have set out to change that and get back to our roots.

Today we enjoyed a lovely Easter meal that even my long-deceased grandmother would have been proud of: slow-cooked country-style ham with a pineapple sauce, potatoes & carrots boiled in chicken stock and then mashed with a little milk & butter, carrot cake (boxed, but still delicious) with homemade cream cheese icing, and homemade drop biscuits. Yum!  We enjoyed our meal so much that I wanted to share it with you. I hope you get a chance to try some or all of the following recipes out sometime.

Let’s start with the ham, shall we? Crushed pineapple, brown sugar, and whole grain Dijon mustard were brought to a slow boil in a small pot on the stove. The mixture was then poured over one of those fully-cooked country-style hams and cooked in the slow cooker on low for approximately 5-1/2 to 6 hours. The result was sweet, tangy, and salty. The leftover meat will work well in a casserole or fried up with eggs for breakfast, and the sauce could be used with Italian meatballs and served with rice.

Crockpot Ham with Dijon Pineapple Sauce

Ingredients:

  • 1 fully cooked boneless ham (4 to 5 lbs)
  • 1 can crushed pineapple
  • 3/4 to 1 cup brown sugar (dependent upon how sweet you would like your sauce to be)
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 2 tbsps lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard (you could use regular yellow mustard instead)

Directions:

In a small pan, mix pineapple, brown sugar, cornstarch, salt, lemon juice, and mustard. Bring to a slow boil, stirring continually, for 5 minutes. Place ham in a 5 to 6 quart slow cooker and pour the sauce mixture over top. Cook, on low, 5-1/2 to 6 hours. Slice ham and serve with sauce.

Next on our menu was the mashed potatoes and carrots. I had already planned on having carrots along with the potatoes as a side, but when I realized I only had a few, I figured that we might as well mash them up, too. Potatoes and carrots boiled in low-sodium chicken stock are full of flavor and mash up smoothly.

Mashed Potatoes & Carrots

Ingredients:

  • 8 to 12 red potatoes (dependent on potato size), peeled and cut into quarters
  • 1 small bag of baby carrots
  • 1 box of low-sodium chicken stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt & pepper, to taste
  • Milk, to taste

Directions:

Place potatoes and carrots in a large pot on the stove. Cover with chicken stock and add water as needed to be about 1/2 an inch to an inch above the vegetables. Add 2 bay leaves and season generously with sea salt. Bring to a boil. Boil about 20 minutes, or until soft when poked with a fork. Scoop out 1 cup of the broth and set aside. Drain vegetables in a large colander and place back in pot. Remove the bay leaves. Pour the broth into the vegetables and season with salt & pepper. Mash with a potato masher, adding milk, as needed, until you reach your desired consistency. Place in a covered serving dish and serve warm.

I’ve always wanted to try making homemade drop biscuits. But, to be honest. they scared me. I had an image in my mind of turning out a gelatinous, goopy mess that I would just have to throw out. Today I set my fears aside and attempted the intimidating. To my delight, my drop biscuits were buttery, crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside.

Muffin Pan Drop Biscuits

Ingredients:

  • 2 c flour
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 c butter or margarine, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1 c milk

Directions:

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Spray a 12 cup muffin tin with non-stick cooking spray. To a food processor, add flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and butter. Pulse until mixture is crumbly. Pour mixture into a large bowl and add milk. Stir just to combine and moisten; don’t over mix. Drop by spoonfuls into prepared muffin tin. Bake 10-12 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from pan immediately and serve warm with butter, margarine, jam/jelly, or peanut butter.

Finally, we come to dessert. I have to admit that I cheated and used a box cake mix to prepare my carrot cake. I had perused the internet for a recipe (as I had never made a carrot cake before) and all of the ones I found called for walnuts. Justin HATES walnuts. I knew the boxed ones omitted the nuts and, to be honest, I knew it would be quick and fail-safe. Shameful, I know. The icing for the cake, however, is homemade and delicious! Not too sweet and silky with just the right depth of cream cheese flavor. With only four ingredients, this one’s a keeper! Don’t forget to the let the wee ones lick the bowl clean, either.

Cream Cheese Icing

Ingredients:

  • 8 oz cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1/4 butter or margarine, room temperature
  • 2 c icing sugar
  • 1-1/2 tsps vanilla extract

Directions:

Mix all ingredients in a large bowl until well combined. Spread evenly on cake, cupcakes, or cookies.

Blessings,

C.

Hidden-Vegetable Rice Casserole

20150310_082525

I love tax season. When we got together, Justin and I agreed that our tax returns were to be used for something that we want but wouldn’t otherwise splurge on or have the money for. It was the one time of year when we wouldn’t have to consult one another before making a large, possibly nonsensical purchase. This year Justin is buying a BBQ that he’s been eyeing (he’s really excited about the built-in deep fryer) and I’ve made a few smaller purchases, including a blender and a food processor.

Last night I tried out my food processor, for the first time, to help throw dinner together. I am always trying to get the kids to eat more veggies. Especially Gavin – he hates almost all vegetables – so I like to sneak them in where I can. Gavin loved this casserole and sped through two large bowls before claiming to be full. Win!

We had 1/2 of a fully cooked ham in the fridge and I got Justin to dice it for me.

20150310_171701Then I processed bell peppers, grape tomatoes, and spinach. *I pureed mine so I could hide it well; but you can use your own discretion as to how you want yours.

20150310_171640

The ham was sauteed in a lightly oiled pan.

20150310_172249

Then I added the veggies and heated everything through. **At this point, you can reduce the sauce a little, if you like, but I left it as it was.

20150310_172544

Combine the ham and veggie mixture with cooked whole grain brown rice. Pour into a baking pan sprayed with non-stick spray and top with cheese.

20150310_173032

Bake at 375 degrees F for about 20 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly.

20150310_175417

Serve hot.

Hidden-Vegetable Rice Casserole

20150310_175759

Ingredients:

1/2 of a fully cooked ham, diced

1 red bell pepper, quartered and seeded

1 yellow bell pepper, quartered and seeded

1 orange bell pepper, quartered and seeded

1 pint of grape tomatoes

2 handfuls of baby spinach

1 c uncooked whole grain brown rice

2 1/2 cups chicken stock

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 cups shredded cheddar cheese

Method:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Spray a large baking dish with non-stick cooking spray and set aside.

Pour rice and stock into a large pot with garlic and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer 20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

In a food processor, use the “pulse” button to process the peppers, tomatoes, and spinach until it reaches your desired consistency.*

In a large skillet, saute ham in a little extra virgin olive oil until heated through. Add the vegetable mix and simmer on low about 10 minutes.**

Add the cooked rice and stir to combine well.

Pour rice mixture into baking dish.

Top with cheese.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until cheese is bubbly.

Serve hot with crusty bread.

Soup x 3

I love soups. There is nothing better than curling up with a hot mug of soup on a chilly day and delving into a good book or junk television. That, I think, is the ultimate in comfort for me.

Cooking soups has always been hit or miss for me, save for one time in particular, and do you think I can remember what I did then?! Nope. Not even close. Don’t you hate it when you create something close to perfection and then can’t remember how you did it? Me, too!

My other problem with soups, as mentioned here,  is that Gavin doesn’t like them unless they come from a box or can. Ugh. Can you imagine?! So I decided that from now on I would make a couple soups and freeze them in small portions therefore having them handy when I want some without having to worry about waste.

The other day I made three soups: Black Bean & Quinoa, Curried Lentil w/Chickpeas & Quinoa, and Quick Turkey with Barley & Dill. I froze two of them and we had the other for dinner that night. I am so happy to say that the turkey soup was a hit with Gavin and he ate his entire bowl! Eureka! I was so excited! Yes, I am well aware that I am a dork but if you’re a parent and you’ve ever had a child turn their nose up and everything you cook and then, finally, you find something they’ll eat, you will understand.

All three of these recipes are adaptations and links to the originals are included. Also, you can find the method I use to cook my quinoa here.

SAM_1480

Black Bean & Quinoa Soup

The original recipe called for uncooked quinoa, but I already had some cooked for my Curried Lentil soup so I just used it instead. This soup is a hearty vegetarian dish if you use vegetable broth and has a lovely flavor, but is not spicy. I didn’t have any greens, but if I had, I would have added some kale or spinach during the last few minutes.

Adapted from this recipe from The Post Punk Kitchen.

Ingredients:

Extra virgin olive oil (for sauteing)

1 T garlic, minced

1 can diced tomatoes

1 t ground cumin

1/2 t dried oregano

1/2 t red pepper flakes

2 c quinoa (cooked) {I used red, but you could use any color you want}

1 large carrot, diced

4 c low-sodium chicken broth

1 can black beans

Method:

Saute diced carrots and in evoo until carrots are tender. Add tomatoes, cumin, oregano, and red pepper flakes. Add quinoa and broth and bring to a slow boil. Turn heat down to medium-low and add black beans. Simmer about 10 minutes, just make sure everything is heated through. Taste for salt and seasonings and let stand for 10-15 minutes to allow the flavors to mingle. Serve with sour cream, tortillas, avocado, or anything else you wish.

Curried Lentil Soup with Chickpeas & Quinoa

I LOVE this soup! I’ve made it a few times now and I enjoy it more every time. It is on the spicy side, so feel free to adjust the seasonings to your own tastes. It is also very filling and, for me anyway, usually turns out more like a stew than a soup. If you want it more soup-like, just add more broth.

Adapted from this recipe from Zesty Cook.

Ingredients:

1 T extra virgin olive oil

2 small carrots, diced

1 T garlic, minced

1 T ground ginger

1 T curry powder

1 c red lentils

3 c low-sodium chicken broth (or vegetable if you want to make this vegetarian)

1 can diced tomatoes

1 T chili sauce

1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

1 c quinoa (cooked) {I used red}

Salt & pepper to taste

Method:

Saute diced carrots and in evoo until carrots are tender. Add garlic, ginger, and curry powder; saute for about a minute. Add lentils, broth, tomatoes, and chili sauce. Bring to a boil. Reduce and simmer 10-15 to cook lentils. Add chickpeas and quinoa. Stir to combine and simmer a few minutes to allow everything to heat through. Season with salt & pepper. Serve with sour cream, cilantro, Greek yogurt, or anything else you want.

To freeze, I let both soups cool completely and ladled servings into medium-sized freezer bags, making sure to squeeze as much air as possible out before stacking flat in the freezer. To use, just thaw in the fridge overnight and heat in a pot on the stove. Add a little broth, if needed.

SAM_1478

Quick Turkey Soup with Barley & Dill

My friends don’t like dark turkey/chicken meat. I know, right?! Usually, in their home, it just gets thrown out. We went there for Christmas dinner and I told them that I love the dark meat, so this weekend I was pleasantly surprised to find myself with a friendly donation. Yay, me! Right away I knew that I would have to make soup with some of it. I found this quick and easy gem. The original recipe calls for orzo, but I was out and decided to use barley instead. This dish came together super quickly (I think the whole thing took about 20 minutes).

Adapted from this recipe from Real Simple.

Ingredients:

6 c low-sodium chicken broth

4 small carrots, diced

3/4 cup quick-cooking barley

1 1/2 to 2 cups of diced turkey

2 T dill

Method:

Bring broth to a boil and add carrots & barley. Simmer on medium-low heat until tender. Stir in turkey and dill. Simmer until heated through. Serve.

Enjoy,

C.