Kitchen colored

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Got Smoothie?

One of the best snacks in our house is a smoothie.  Simple fruit and yogurt puree, it's nutritious and virtually fool-proof.  Plus the little kiddos find the blender fun as well as the fun curly straws we use to drink the smoothie snack.

Smoothies are sssooooo easy to make.  Using my blender (set speed at "puree" "blend" or "whip"... pretty much any setting will do!) combine any 1 CUP combo of fresh or frozen FRUIT, 1/2 CUP plain or vanilla YOGURT (we use greek yogurt!  flavored yogurt works too, like strawberry banana creamy style by yoplait) and 1/4 CUP juice.

Now, we have been getting pretty creative and adventurous around here.  I like to stick to frozen blueberries (or mixed berries, inclusive of raspberries, strawberries, and/or blackberries.  The above picture shows fresh picked strawberries that I froze and a banana I froze because it was about to go bad... and I can't waste any produce!!  So I freeze for later use...) and a fresh banana, sliced.  Grape juice.  And yogurt.  However, I was trying to clean out the freezer and only had some frozen cantaloupe, mango, peaches.  Mason chose orange juice to mix it with.  And the smoothies turned out very tropical, though I tasted cantaloupe the rest of the day (do not necessarily recommend.)

If you'd prefer to follow a precise smoothie recipe, I recommend the following, which I found in Parenting Magazine.  I can't wait to try the GREEN MACHINE smoothies... sneak in something tricky like kale or spinach... and tell Mason it's the HULK smoothies, since he's verryyy much into the green monster :)

**if using fresh fruit, recipes suggest adding 3 ice cubes...

1 c. blueberries, raspberries, strawberries
1/2 c. cran-raspberry juice
1/4 c. yogurt

2. THE GREEN MACHINE (no yogurt in this one!)
1 c. chopped kale or spinach
1/2 banana, peeled and sliced
1/2 apple, peeled and diced
3/4 c. apple or orange juice

1/2 banana, peeled and sliced
1/2 cup orange juice
1/4 cup yogurt

I have also frozen leftover smoothie... in small tupperware.  Remove from freezer 30 minutes before serving or microwave slightly.  You want it to be like frozen yogurt consistency, edible with a spoon instead of a straw.  Mason calls it fruit ice cream!!!

Monday, September 24, 2012

The Way I Menu Plan

Since I am not a great cook, starting to cook three meals a day for my family while staying on budget and making sure everyone eats healthy was a very intimidating task.  I had no idea where to begin.

Internet searches took me to menu binders... expansive collections the blog authors must have spent hours and decades on.  Not for me.  With two small kids, I have limited time.  I needed something quick, easy to read, something portable to take to the store, something I could write all over but still be organized, something disposable...

The best printables I came across that would really work for me were the ones The Project Girl posted under her Free Downloads tab.  I have since edited my own to really fit my needs, but hers is where I started.  Best parts: place to write/plan three meals a day (because I really do need a plan for every meal of every day, though I do give myself one day on the weekend to NOT cook dinner) and the way the grocery list is separated... so instead of a jumbled list (I make one as I think of or come across the needed item) to go to the store, I have something that can get me through each section faster.

I now can sit down the night before a grocery run (I usually hit up the store once a week, maybe every ten days in order to always have fresh produce and meat for the week) browse the ads, coupons, recipes that I have collected and make an organized list that gets me through the store quickly... with two kids in tow, there cannot be a second wasted in the grocery store... no time to mull over sales or numbers or thinking twice about whether or not I already have this at home... it's grab and go.  

Before menu planning, I was so disorganized (even though I thought I was organized) that I ended up purchasing items I thought I needed or thought I would use.  Cleaning out the pantry several weeks ago, I ended up taking four grocery bags filled with food to the food pantry because I knew I wouldn't use it.  It was insane how much extra food I had.  It truly made me realize the money I was wasting by not planning it out.

Recently, I took it upon myself to make a pretty display of what's to come...

It was pretty simple to put together, and it was completely, utterly FREE to me since I used things I already had around the house.  I used an old 10 X 13 frame sans glass... the glass had previously broken, so what was I going to do with a glass-less frame?!  Twelve clothespins, cardstock, and items from a scrapebooking kit that I had never and would never use.  Ah, yes, and a glue gun.

The kit was awesome!  It came with all matching paper and stickers that I easily used as backing on the frame (covered the cardboard that comes with it) and cut/glued to clothespins.  Stickers for heading and labeling the days of the week.  The worst part came when creating the recipe cards.  Very time consuming to do all at once, so I have taken to printing and laminating week by week or on an as-needed basis.  (P.S. - I laminate with clear packing tape.)

I also have recipe cards that I made and hang on the fridge right by the stove.  Sometimes I need a quick reference when cooking, and this method has been working fine for me.  Could use a facelift however... pictured: two clothespins hot glued to tongue depressor, magnet strips on back.  Good place for a pen holder as well :)

Friday, September 21, 2012

My first homemade meal: Manicotti

Three days after I graduated high school, I moved in with my then boyfriend (now husband).  We spent the summer working and living in his aunt's house.  That fall, I moved to the dorms, and I really never had to make "meals."  I was never taught basic cooking skills, never took a foods class or watched the Food Network.  My mother, ironically, gave me my first cook book for Christmas after I moved out, but I didn't even know what half of the ingredients were.  I grew up in home where both parents worked full time jobs, and dinner was usually a Hamburger Helper or some variation of a quick meal from a box.   I felt in over my head.

A lot of my stay-at-home time has been spent trying to teach myself how to cook.   Being able to feed my children and husband healthy, tasty, easy and fast-to-create meals is something that I believe is a part of my job as mom, something I desperately want to accomplish.  I am thankful for three things when it comes to my self-taught cooking abilities: 1. My slow cooker!!!  Makes the juiciest meals withe least amount of ingredients and you don't have to stand over the stove watching the food.  The cooker does the work for you and is very difficult to mess up.  (Although I have not had success with adding frozen meat to the cooker.  Someone I know swears this is fine, but I think it creates a dry meat instead of juicy.) 2. You Tube cooking tutorials.  Thank you internet!  You showed me how to cook chicken and mushrooms, how to cook fish, how to fry zucchini.  Recipes can be hard to follow in print.  I like the visual of a cooking show and the specificity I can find using the internet and HOW-TO videos.  3. Being a teaching aide in a high school cooking class.  I supported three students in the beginners class, and I found that I was learning more than the students.

The following recipe is the first one I really mastered after moving out, the first I truly know by heart because I have made it so many times.  Adapted from my mother-in-law...


7 manicotti noodles (pkg comes with 14)
1/2-3/4 LB hamburger and/or italian sausage (I really eyeball the meat amount because 
1 LB meat is always too much for any of our family meals... use all hamburger or all sausage, 
but I like a mixture the most...)
1/2 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
14 oz jar pasta sauce (give or take, eyeball it again)
1 1/2 - 2 cups mozzarella cheese, divided

1. In large pot, start water to boil for the noodles; in a separate skillet, brown the meat and onion and garlic.  Once water is boiling, add noodles and boil for 7 minutes.  Drain the water and, using small tongs, place noodles on foil to cool but not stick.    Noodles may rip, so be gentle.  
Pre Heat Oven for 350 degrees.

2. Drain grease from meat and transfer to large mixing bowl.  Add 1 c. cheese and stir until cheese begins to melt.

3. Fill the bottom of an oven-safe casserole dish with some of the pasta sauce.  Stuff noodles with the meat/cheese mixture and place in dish until filled.  Add more sauce over the top of the noodles.  (If there is any leftover meat, add into sauce before pouring over.)   Cover dish with lid or foil; bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.

4. Remove dish from oven, uncover.  Add remaining cheese over top and bake additional 5 minutes or until cheese is melted.  (photo doesn't do the cheese justice... i didn't quite have enough cheese to cover the pasta... this dish needs cheese so sprinkle freely!)
Dish does well with salad, green beans, homemade garlic cheese bread are all family favorites.  ENJOY!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

In my twenty-somethings and trying to create myself.

"One of the horrible parts of growing up is realizing that your fundamental perception of life's truths is going to become obsolete.  The game changes, and so do the players."

As someone in her twenties, I find it difficult to fit into a prescribed niche.  I'm not the marketed-to teenager who has funds to waste and a desperation to acquire all things new and popular; the teenager who is up to date with current/popular culture.  (I must admit I have no smart phone, no apps, no tablet, no twitter, no totally awesome slang.  I don't have unlimited text or internet on my phone. I've never read an ebook or played Words with Friends... how utterly out of touch am I?).  I'm not the mature thirty-something year old who is definitely a grown-up with stuff like life insurance policies and a profound collection of paid vacation from the full time job I've has since college.  I'm somehow awkwardly in the middle of everything.  And despite my fast approach into adulthood, I am still struggling on finding my identity.

I went to college.  I had a plan.  That plan changed.  I had a baby.  I wasn't employed where I had planned to be employed.  Then I got married so young and moved into a house because it was an offer we couldn't pass up.  Then I had another baby.  And now I'm the mama hub of a family of four living on one small income, trying to make ends meet.  But never regretting the time I spend at home being a mommy.

But I still don't fit with my friends who went to college and then started working, or traveling, or just being amazing (thanks to Facebook and allowing me to spy on all the people I went to high school with and see all the really awesome things they're doing... like teaching in a foreign country... things I wish I had done... ).  And I don't fit in with the older mamas who have extensive retirement plans and worry about dieting or going to bed early.  I desperately wish I could be the perfect mama and wife and working woman, I just don't know how I'm going to do that.

This blog is about finding my way through it all. About kids and crafts and budgeting and organizing and being a mom, about eating fresh and healthy but not having to really cook anything, about maintaining a relationship with my high school sweetheart who became my husband and gave me two kids, about managing a home, making a house into our home.  It is about being in my twenties and wanting to be both an immature, uprooted, spontaneous party animal and also a focused, responsible, perfect mother who gives her children the best childhood possible.

Welcome to my niche-in-progress.

“If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there.”  - Lewis Carroll.