Monday, July 29, 2013

Strawberry Chia Coconut Smoothie

I've been looking for a strawberry coconut smoothie for a while and have tried a lot of different recipes this summer. And, oh sure, they've all been good. But none has been quite good enough to really knock my socks off so I post it on this blog. Until now. I took my kids (all my kids) shopping on my last shopping trip. Which means we usually wind up with some impulse food buys. I can't even say I discourage this; when picky kids pick up a new food and say that want to try it; nay, beg you to buy it so they can try it, sometimes you just give in. So I wound up with half a gallon of almond milk and half a gallon of coconut milk. The almond milk was a huge hit (too huge--I don't want to buy almond milk for the rest of my life). But the coconut milk was met with less love. Even I didn't love it. Since coconut is used so often in perfumes and tanning oils, the pungent smell was just too perfumed for me, though I liked the taste. But in a smoothie, oh man, in a smoothie.

I found the basis for this recipe at the blog Oh She Glows. It's delicious. I mean, truly, it's perfect. I worried about the sugar content of coconut milk, though in reality the sugars are less than in cows milk (yes, they're added sugars in coconut milk as opposed to the natural sugars in milk, but only 9-ish grams in coconut milk compared to 13-ish grams of sugars in cow's milk).

I also wondered if it would be super banana-y. Sometimes banana just takes over and there's a lot of it in this. But it's very subtle and nice in this so fear not if you don't love banana.

Also, I love chia seeds, but if you don't or can't find them or the thought of them (or finding them) seems scary to you, you can totally make this without them. However, if you want to give them a try, they're loaded with omega-3's, fiber, calcium, phosphorus, and other good things. And this is a really easy, safe way to try them.

Strawberry Chia Coconut Smoothie
adapted from Oh She Glows
Makes 2-4 servings
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cost: $1.90 (or just under .50/serving)
bananas: .25, strawberries: .75, coconut milk: .75, chia seeds: .15

Note: This is not the canned coconut milk. It's the kind you'd find in 1/2 gallons of quart containers in the refrigerator section. However, you could probably use the canned stuff thinned just a wee bit if that's what you've got and you want to avoid those added sweeteners. Also, you could totally use a different type of milk (almond, rice, even dairy), but the coconut is pure bliss and a super good pairing with strawberries.

2 frozen bananas
3/4 C frozen strawberries
2 C coconut milk (or any other milk; I bet even cows milk would work)
1 Tbsp chia seeds

Put in blender and blend.


Monday, July 22, 2013

Lime Salmon

Another quick, non-heat-your-kitchen-unbearably-up, 30 minute meal (this can be a 15 minute meal if you've got instant rice). This salmon was really simple, but very flavorful and we loved it. 

I realize that fish isn't the cheapest food on the planet, but one thing I love about it is that it pairs well with very cheap foods (like rice). So even though the salmon is going to cost $6.20 to make (that's with Walmart wild caught salmon), the rice will only be about $.50 and if you add a vegetable like broccoli, there's another $1.00 (to feed about four). 

Lime Salmon
adapted from greenlitebites
Serves 4
prep time: 5 minutes
cook time: 10 minutes
Cost: $6.20
salmon: 6.00, lime: .15 (Asian store price), other stuff: .05

4 salmon fillets
2-3 Tbsp lime juice, plus a few scrapes of zest (this is about 1 lime)
1 tsp dried cilantro (or 1 Tbsp fresh; or if you don't have either of those, use 1/2 tsp ground coriander--that's what I used)
1 Tbsp honey
olive oil
pat butter

Combine  lime juice, zest, and honey. Let salmon marinate in this while you get your rice (or potatoes or whatever) cooking. 

When you're ready to cook your fish (it takes about 10 minutes), heat some olive oil in a pan. Add the salmon fillets. Cook on one side for 3-4 minutes. Flip. When you flip, pour the remaining marinade over everything. Cook another 3-4 minutes or until the salmon is flaky and has some color from the cooking and the marinade. During the last minutes of cooking, add a tiny bit of butter to each filet.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

5-Minute Meal: Beans, Salsa, Chips (with optional really quick homemade salsa)

You guys know I occasionally rant about the idea of "fast" food, especially if it is considered "cheap" food. So, lucky you, I'm not going to rant today. But I will tell you this: This meal is every every bit as fast as any line or drive through I've ever waited in. And it's way better. And it's way cheaper. And it fills that need for fresh, yummy, quick, cool foods that I have in the summer. Because, let me tell you, in the summer I definitely get all food lazy. I won't say I don't want to cook because I still do sometimes. But I don't want to cook as often or as hot or as long. And when I eat I don't crave heavy foods (well, not too often).

 This meal is not, admittedly, entirely whole--at least not in its 5-minute form. I bought tortilla chips from the grocery store. Certainly if you wanted to you could whip up some homemade tortillas and go from there. But I didn't (see above about quick and cool). You can use salsa and re-fried beans from a can if you wish as well. They're still quite healthy. However. If you want, you can still make beans and homemade salsa very very quickly (well, with the beans--they're quick, but have to be done that morning). The beans are done in the crock pot, the salsa in the blender. Badabing, badabam.

And it gets even better (by which I mean, more adaptable).

The salsa can be made from fresh ingredients if you've got them lying about Or if you fail to think about dinner until 1/2 hour before and have no fresh veggies lying about, you can still make a very respectable (and better than store-bought) salsa using canned tomatoes.

And as one final smiley (personal) note about this meal. You guys know that my kids (mostly my oldest son) are super picky. So for this I got some ranch chips, which he loves, but I got a generic variety. And I made salsa (which he also loves if it's not chunky--smooth tomatoes are on his very short list of edibles). Only when I opened those generic chips, I'll be darned if they didn't taste EXACTLY like plain tortilla chips. And then I accidentally put in Hot Rotel instead of mild, and--oh boy--it was hot. And then I was sad. I thought that dinner was doomed to inconsolable bouts of whining and belly-aching. And then from the miraculous wells of miracle miracle-y-ness, my child absolutely loved that hot salsa, and liked the chips too. His sisters followed suite and soon everyone was porking out on hot salsa with swigs of milk in between. And then for the next week when we had friends over, my son would say, "You just have to try the salsa. It's awesome." Which I'm not sure has ever happened over a non-sweet item that I have made. And then he asked if we could buy a hot pepper plant for the garden. Moral of the story: We should go to the wells of miracle miracle-y-ness more often. And it was nice.

You'll need:
1 bag tortilla chips of some sort ($2.00)
1 can re-fried beans (or some homemade) ($.50--generic)
cheddar cheese ($.50)--we put this on the beans and then warm them
1 jar salsa (or homemade; see below) $2.00
we also had mangoes, which were cooling and delicious, but hardly essential $1.00 each

Which makes this a $6 meal. Except that we had tons of leftovers and ate them for at least 3 more lunches that week. And we still have some salsa left which I plan to use in some crock pot chicken. So it's probably closer to a $3 or 4 meal. To feed 6 people. Not bad. 

Potentially Pantry Salsa
makes about 26 oz.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cost: $2.65
tomatoes: 1.00, Rotel: 1.00, cilantro: .50, lime: .15

Note: We made this again tonight. My son helped me. Which made me realize how versatile this is--his system of measurement is a little, um, free form. So it got extra vinegar and less garlic and coriander instead of cilantro. And it was just awesome. So experiment away. Or feel free to mess it up a little. It'll be fine.

This can be made with fresh ingredients. I usually use what I have fresh and then hit the pantry for what I don't.

Note: I used Rotel, but if you'd like you can use two cans of diced tomatoes and then add 1-4 jalepenos.

1 14- oz can diced tomatoes
1 can Rotel
1 1/2 tsp vinegar
1/2- 1 1/2 tsp garlic salt or 1 clove garlic (wide range here; depends on how garlicky you like it)
1/2 tsp cumin
2 handfuls cilantro (yes, this is best fresh, but if you really really don't have it, try a few dashes of dried coriander--I used about 1/4 tsp)
juice of 1 lime (or a few squirts of the non-fresh stuff)
1/2 tsp salt (optional and you probably want to taste before you add)

Throw all in blender except cilantro. Blend. Add cilantro. Blend. (Note: The reason I don't like to blend the cilantro at first is that if it gets too blended, the salsa can get a brownish hue--tastes fine; looks weird.)


Sunday, July 14, 2013

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Bars

This month for Secret Recipe Club, I got Betcha Can't Eat Just One. When I started looking on her blog to see what stuff she had, I realized that she was the source of this awesome peanut butter pie that I'd made just a week earlier and have been craving ever since. Incidentally, that peanut butter pie was the most popular post from last month's Secret Recipe Club, which was definitely well deserved. But it meant I couldn't make it again for Secret Recipe Club even though I desperately want to (and then make it again, and again). But I figured I could still go along with the whole chocolatey peanut butter unhealthy theme. Why fight it, right?

So I made these. And they were good. And less difficult than a lot of layered types of cookies. If you want to go even easier and have the same sort of effect, you could make these, which I was also sorely tempted by, but I didn't have Reese's cups and decided to exercise some cheapskate restraint and not send Kip out on a desperate errand to buy some. (Yeah, this post is all about restraint, right.)

And now in all it's unrestrained glory:

Chocolate Chip Peanut Butter Bars
adapted from Betcha Can't Eat Just One
makes 9x13 inch pan
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 20-30 minutes
Cool time: 2-3 hours
Cost: $4.40 (not as cheap as your run of the mill cookies, but still less than $.20/cookie which kicks Starbucks butt and even gives crappy boxed cookies a run for their money. And you do realize they have 2 layers of frosting, right?
butter: .25, sugar: .07, brown sugar: .13, egg: .10, flour: .05, chocolate chips: 1.00, peanut butter: 1.20, butter: .15, powdered sugar: .20, more chocolate chips: 1.00, cream: .25

Cookies bars:

1/2 C (1 stick) softened butter
1/2 C white sugar
1/2 C brown sugar (packed)
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1/2 C flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 C chocolate chips

Peanut butter layer:

Note: The original recipe called for 3/4 C PB and no butter. This made for a sort of candy layer that could be pressed on. I wanted something I could spread like a frosting and the following adjustment gave me that, though it was still a thick-ish frosting.

1 1/4-1 1/2 C smooth peanut butter
2 Tbsp melted butter
1 C powdered sugar
2 Tbsp crushed graham crackers (could probably be skipped if you don't have them, but they do add something nice if you do)

Chocolate glaze:

Note: The original recipe called for 1 C chocolate chips and 2 Tbsp peanut butter, but I wanted a sharper contrast between chocolate and peanut butter layers, so I nixed the PB and just made a thick ganache.

1 C chocolate chips
4 Tbsp cream

For Cookies:

Cream butter and sugars. Add eggs, then vanilla. Add dry ingredients, then chocolate chips. Stir.

Line a 9x13 inch pan with parchment paper (not necessary, but will make your life easier).

Cook at 325 for 20 minutes until edges are golden and center is just set. Note: I took mine out at 20 minutes and they were NOT done in the middle, but I had also made my cookie layer extra thick (by adding more cookie batter than the above recipe). Anyway, check them at 20 minutes, but be sure they're done before you take them out. I'm sorry to say that the best way to do this is to poke around in it and maybe pull out a tiny nub from the middle. The fact is if you stick a knife/cake tester in, it will probably come out clean even if it's not done (even if you stick a knife in cookie dough, it will often come out cleanish). Also, the top will be browned, which can be misleading too. So be a little invasive, pull out a little center chunk with a fork and make sure your cookie is done. You can always fill the scar with peanut butter stuff later. But if you frost it and then find out your middle is totally raw like I did, well, I hope you have raw cookie lovers about because there's no going back.

Cool this. Which takes a couple hours.

For Peanut butter layer:

Mix it all together. Then gently frost onto your cooled cookie bars.

For Chocolate glaze:

Melt in microwave at 20-30 second intervals, mixing in between until smooth and creamy. Then plop it on and gently spread it around.

Cool in refrigerator until chocolate layer has set up (or not--ours always stayed frosting-like).

Cut and eat.


Friday, July 12, 2013

3 Breads to Make with Zucchini

Last night I was supposed to go to an activity at my church. Unfortunately when I went to get into my car, well, there were no keys. Because they were sitting in my car staring at me. Kip had left for work and we hadn't gotten around to making a spare key. I am sure the activity at church was wonderful, but sometimes there's nothing better on earth than being stuck at home with nothing at all you can do about it. I had a big zucchini and some spotty bananas. I made muffins. And muffins. And muffins.

And I realized that I hadn't done something like that for a long time--where I just stayed home and made a lot of food for fun without the pressure of doing something else looming over me. It was delightful. It was more than that--it was soulful.

I've actually been meaning to make a stock-pile of snack food to stash in the freezer for a long time. I find that it's nice in summer. That way we can pack up and head to the park or pool or library or hiking trails spur of the moment and just grab something out of the freezer. Otherwise, I'm like, "Well, I guess we better eat lunch first." And then we do. And then there's a mess. And then, inevitably some other type of meltdown happens. And then we're just barely walking out the door when we should have been walking back in for afternoon naps and quiet time. And then I just end up grumpy and/or angry about whatever activity it was that we did. Freezer snacks solve this problem beautifully. But the great irony of this summer is that I haven't had time to make any freezer snacks. Well, last night without even meaning to, I did. Best locked-out-of-car experience ever.

1. Zucchini Coconut Bread. This is my very favorite zucchini bread ever. For me, it can do no wrong (unless you count causing me to gain dozens of pounds as wrong). I love it to a problematic point. I've eaten several pieces already today and probably won't be hungry by dinnertime.

2. Zucchini Chocolate Bread/Muffins. The recipe here has been healthified. The original used about twice the sugar and only oil--no applesauce. I like it with some whole wheat either way just because I don't love white flour muffins. Last night we threw caution to the wind and made it with all the sugar and all the oil and about 1 C of whole wheat and 1 cup regular wheat. Either way these are nice because the chocolate hides the zucchini better than other recipes do (although not perfectly unless you peel the zucchini).

3. Zucchini Blueberry Bread.  We didn't make this one last night, but we could have because we just went blueberry picking last week. This is a fairly wholesome breakfast bread that is still tasty. It's also pretty.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Easy Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce

So so easy. So so yummy. Which is pretty much the theme of my summer meals.

Also this costs at least half the price of canned enchilada sauce.

Easy Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce
makes about 4 C (this is easily enough for two pans of enchiladas--we used less than half of it)
prep time: 5-10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Cost: $1.00
beef broth (I used bullion): .35, tomato sauce: 1.30, chili powder: .25, other stuff: .10

Note: This can be made whenever and frozen. If made for tonight's dinner, let it simmer while you brown the beef and grate the cheese and it'll be good to go when you're ready for it.

Note: Tomato puree is just that--tomatoes that have been pureed and cooked into a sauce. Tomato sauce usually has a bit of salt, onion powder, garlic powder added into the sauce. You can use either in this recipe, but I used sauce. Know that if you use puree, you'll need to add significantly more salt to the final product since it contains none.

3 Tbs oil
2 Tbsp flour
1/4 C chili powder (yes, that much--trust me; it won't be too spicy; we're not spicy folks)
1 Tbsp cumin (also correct)
2 C beef broth
2 C tomato sauce or puree (if using puree will need more salt)
1/2 tsp dry oregano
1 clove minced garlic
salt to taste

In a sauce pan, heat oil. Add flour, chili powder, and cumin and whisk so that it forms a red pasty blob. Yum.

Then whisk in the beef broth until you've got a nice smooth sauce. Add tomato sauce (or puree), oregano, and garlic.

Simmer for 15 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally.

Let it cool a bit before dipping your enchiladas in it, so you don't burn your fingers.

To make very simple enchiladas:
Cook 1/2-1 pound ground beef. Season with salt and pepper.
Grate 2 C cheese.
Dip tortillas in sauce, then add beef and cheese and roll up. Place these in a pan. Pour enchilada sauce over them when you're done, then add another sprinkling of cheese to the top. Bake at 350-375 for about 20-30 minutes or until the cheese is melty and stuff is bubbling.


Friday, July 5, 2013

Fourth of July Fail (Beauty from Ashes--a little too literally)

For the 4th, we decided to have a nice, simple family cookout. We would keep it low-fuss and make hobo dinners and hang out together (warm snugglies).

Only, I was just in a bad mood yesterday. Partly because I'd spent the last couple days feeling inadequate about several things in my life. Partly because I felt a little lonely and kind of wished we were hanging out with more people. Partly because I felt like each time we tried to make the best of things and do something cool, something extra-frustrating would happen (like Emma peeing right down her legs at the zoo; arg).

By dinner I was hungry. We wrapped up our dinners. I made a special strawberry drink, but other than that, it really was low fuss.

And then when we went to eat, the lovely pictured above is what we got. This, by the way, was one of the more successful packages. There were at least two that were charred black and light as air.

And here, I'd like to say that--like a true champion--I laughed it off and sent Kip off to Rally's to buy some burgers. But I didn't. I was hungry and grumpy and then Mark said--or I thought he said--"so you didn't have a back-up plan?" Into which I further read: Snark snark about your food; it's always lame and terrible.

At which point I said 'shut up' (which is a word considered dirty in this house) and walked off. Mark cried, Kip called me back. I told Kip to go get some edible food from Rally's (burger joint in case you're wondering). And then I sat and picked at the food while Mark continued to cry and Savannah said she liked the burnt food to try to make it all better.

After a few minutes it occurred to me that I could ruin this holiday or I could allow it to be good. I didn't even have to make it good. I just had to let it happen. It wanted to be good, but I was stopping it. Me. Not Mark with his rude comment about dinner. Not Kip who had cooked our meals into oblivion. Nope. Me. I was the one with the attitude all day long. I was the one who'd made my son cry.  I was the wall that everyone kept hitting when they were all ready to go forth with holiday happy-go-lucky funness. I'm not sure how I got this thought with such clarity. I can only assume it was a grace from God that let me think straight for that one clear-eyed minute.

So I went over to Mark and put my arm around him and apologized. Turns out he had asked if there was a back-up plan, not snarked about how I should have had one. And we all just sat there for a few minutes, tears drying up, and everyone starting to feel better--the bad melting off, ready to be replaced with something good (another grace from God). And then we gathered up the dirty dishes and burnt meals and cleaned up and Kip got back with burgers and fries (and over-priced shakes that everyone was so happy about they were worth every penny) and we ate and laughed and set off fireworks and it was--indeed--a lovely, lovely night. Maybe even a little better--a little sweeter--for the bitter we'd tasted earlier.

I found that today I wanted to write about it. Not so much to talk about the event (though I've spent plenty of time on that, now haven't I), but to talk about blogging and perfection and the appearance thereof.

Lately I've been thinking a lot about the internet faces we get to see--everybody's pretty facebook shots and clever quips. All those blogs with the food spread out and a post about simplicity and togetherness. The pictures of people's children--dolled up and smiling. Pinterest (need I say more). I admit that sometimes perfect food, happy kids, and general gloriousness are what happen in life. But often--as we all know until we start to disbelieve it because it seems like everyone else is doing so much better than we are--we have messes and complaining at dinner and tears and grumpy kids or bloody-shinned kids or kids who haven't gotten their hair French braided in months, people, months.

It starts to weigh a little on the soul. This is a post to beg us--you and me--not to let this happen. Beautiful things can happen, and it's not wrong to celebrate when they do. Ugly things can happen too. It's okay to acknowledge them and do our best to move on and improve. But what we should really try to avoid is thinking that every pretty thing that happens to someone else is what always happens to everyone else all the time. We should also try very hard to avoid knowing that we have something ugly (or at least somewhat homely) and stick a pretty face on it anyway and then say to all our friends, "Hey look at this pretty face; you should have one too." This sort of thing isn't helpful to anyone (come on--you all know those Pinterest crafts/recipes/homemade hair products you've tried that have not even kind of sort of resembled the magazine-esque picture posted.)

I'm not saying we should resent other people's talents or the beautiful moments of their lives. I'm not saying we should air all our dirty laundry. I'm not saying that everyone needs to know everything bad about us every time. I'm just saying that there's no reason to put so much make-up on our faces that we forget there's a face underneath. In bloggy-land or otherwise.

Let freedom ring.


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