Apple-Butternut Squash Soup

What could be better than hot soup served up in a homemade bread bowl on a cold winter day?  This recipe from cooks.com is one of my favorite fall/winter soups.  It is creamy and delicious, with just a bit of spice to keep you on your toes! =)

Ingredients
1 med. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and diced coarsely
2 c. apples, peeled, cored and diced
1 c. onion, chopped
3 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. half and half
4 tbsp. butter
1/4 c. flour
1 tbsp. curry powder
Salt and pepper to taste
(If using cooked squash, add about 2-3 cups when you add chicken broth.)

Melt butter in soup pot. Add squash, onion, apples and curry. Saute for five minutes with frequent stirring. Do not brown. Add flour and mix well. Cook, with constant stirring for two minutes. Add chicken broth and mix well.
Blending it with immersion blender

Cover and simmer over low heat for 30 minutes with occasional stirring. Puree in food processor and add back to the pot with the half and half (I actually blend right in the pot with my hand held immersion blender).  Milk can be substituted. Bring to serving temperature but do not boil. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Make sure to add the salt…it really brings out the curry!)  Serve hot.

February 24, 2010 in Cooking Fun!, Recipes
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Super-moist Banana Bread

This is my absolute favorite banana bread recipe, EVER.  It’s actually more like a banana “coffee bread” than your typical loaf bread.  One of the best parts about it is that it is unbelievably moist!  I got it from a friend years ago and have never found a better one!  Hope you enjoy it as much as we do =)

Banana Coffee Bread

1/2 cup butter (NOT margarine)
1 cup sugar (I use unrefined organic)
2 eggs
3/4 cup ripe, mashed banana
1 1/4 cups sifted flour (I do freshly ground soft or hard white wheat)
3/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt (I use “Real Salt”)

Preheat oven to 350.  Cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each.  Stir in banana.  Sift together dry ingredients; add banana mixture; mix well.  Pour into greased 9x9x2 inch pan.  Bake at 350 for 30-35 minutes.  Insert toothpick into center to make sure it’s done.  Don’t worry, it will look a little dark on top but that doesn’t mean it’s burnt!

February 24, 2010 in Cooking Fun!, Recipes
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Sweet Potato Fries

Sweet potatoes aren’t just for Thanksgiving!  They are an antioxidant-rich source of vitamins A, C and B6, iron, potassium, and fiber, that are delicious to boot =)

At my house, we love sweet potato fries.  We do some sweet and some spicy.

Ready for the oven!

Here’s what you do:

1.  Wash and scrub your sweet potatoes, then peel if desired.  We leave the skin on…it’s delicious and good for you!

2.  Cut each sweet potato in half lengthwise, then place the flat sides down and cut each half into wedges.  You can also slice it and cut each slice into rectangular fries if you prefer.  I find the wedges get less soggy.

3.  Spray a baking sheet with olive oil and spread the sweet potato fries out.  Lightly spray the top with olive oil as well (or put them in a bowl and lightly coat with olive oil before you lay them out).

4.  Season your fries!  For spicy fries,  sprinkle with “Real Salt”, freshly ground pepper and curry powder (you could also use chili powder or cayenne pepper!).  For sweet fries, sprinkle with brown sugar (we use sucanat), cinnamon and nutmeg.

5.  Bake fries at 425 for 15 minutes and then flip them and bake for another 15 minutes or so.  They are done when they are good and tender.

6. ENJOY!!!!

February 24, 2010 in Cooking Fun!, Recipes
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Don’t waste that bread!

Don’t know what to do with the ends of the bread loaf that nobody likes to eat?  Do you have some bread that’s a little past it’s prime, but not moldy?  Extra rolls or bagels you don’t want to waste?  Spend a few extra minutes and save a couple bucks….make bread crumbs!

I like to make the bag nice and flat so it slides right in the freezer.

Bread Crumbs are great for topping casseroles, breading foods before baking or frying (mmm…popcorn chicken and fried pickles!), adding to meatloaf, etc., but do you really want to spend $2-3 on something you could make so easily for FREE?

1. Grab a gallon size freezer bag and start collecting that excess bread instead of throwing it away.  Keep the bag in the freezer and keep adding to it until it gets full.  You can use any kind of bread, and you get some great flavors when mix the different kinds of bread products, so don’t be afraid to throw them all in together!

2.  When you have a good amount of bread, take it out of the freezer and lay the pieces out on a baking sheet and bake at 300 for 10 minutes or so (just don’t let them burn!) to dry them out further (if desired).

3.  Throw them all into your food processor or blender and have at it!

4.  Some people prefer to spread out their bread crumbs on a baking sheet and crisp them afterwards…whatever floats your boat!

5.  Take all of your FREE bread crumbs and put them back in the freezer bag to store until you are ready to use them.  Feel free to season them now, or wait until you’re ready to use them.

February 24, 2010 in Being Frugal
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mmmm…bagels!

These bagels are sooooo yummy!  They take a little work, but they are definitely worth it.  I always make a double batch so I only have to go through the process once, but end up with double the delicious results.  I also like to top them with a mixture of cinnamon and sugar…our favorite.

I got this recipe from http://www.tammysrecipes.com/homemade_bagels  Give it a shot!  You’ll be glad you did.

Home-Baked Bagels

Yield:

Don't they look delish?

8-12 bagels

Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups warm water (112-115 degrees F)
2 tablespoons dry yeast
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
4 1/4 cups bread flour
8 cups of water for boiling
1 egg white lightly beaten
1 tablespoon water
Additionally, you can add one of the following (or be creative and come up with your own delicious addition to the recipe!):
cinnamon and/or raisins, poppy seeds, onions, garlic, or sesame seeds

Instructions:
1. In a small bowl, mix yeast, sugar and warm water together and let stand 3 minutes.
2. Mix 2 cups of flour with the salt in a large bowl; then add the yeast mixture. Stir until combined and slowly mix in the rest of the flour.
3. Knead dough on a floured surface for 5 minutes (or in kitchen aid mixer for about 3 min on speed 2), adding additional flour if necessary. Dough should be fairly smooth and somewhat firm. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until double.
4. Punch dough down (if making cinnamon raisin bagels, add the cinnamon and raisins now — knead just enough to swirl the cinnamon through the dough). Divide and shape into 12 balls. (For larger bagels, make only 8 balls.) Allow to rest for 5 minutes.
5. Bring 2 quarts of water to boil. Make a hole in each ball of dough and pull open about 2 inches, making a bagel shape. Place the shaped dough onto a cookie sheet and cover for 10 minutes.
6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Drop 2 or 3 bagels at a time into the boiling water for about 45 seconds, turning each once.
7. Drain cooked bagels on a wire rack. Mix egg white and water; brush tops with egg white mixture and top with optional toppings, if using. Place bagels on greased baking sheets.
8. Bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes, turning once half-way through baking. (If making plain bagels, you can flip the bagels; otherwise, just rotate.) Bagels will be lightly browned and shiny.

Preparation Time:
30 minutes + 60 minutes rising time
Cooking Time:
35 minutes

February 3, 2010 in Cooking Fun!, Recipes

Popcorn Chicken

Since I was on a very rare “frying kick” this weekend, I decided to make some popcorn chicken.  I like them a lot better than chicken nuggets, and the kids do too!  We dipped them in Jack Daniel’s dipping sauce or in the ranch dip, but the kids dipped them in ketchup.

I tried this recipe from www.heavenlyhomemaker.com, but next time I will be adding more spices to it…just a little too plain for me, although since we were dipping them in such flavorful sauces, it was just right this time around!

Ingredients

3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts
3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp sea salt (I use “Real Salt“)
1/2 tsp garlic powder
oil for frying

Directions

In a medium sized bowl, stir together flour, salt and garlic powder.  Using kitchen shears, cut chicken breasts into tiny bite sized pieces.  Toss chicken in flour mixture to coat well.

The original recipe calls for baking (grease 9×13 pan and put coated chicken in to bake @350 for 10 min, then stir and bake another 10 min), but we chose to fry this time since we were already frying some pickles =)  Heat a skillet filled about 1/3 of the way with oil of your choice, on medium-high heat.  You will know it’s hot enough when you drop in some flour and it sizzles and starts to brown right away.  Fry the coated chicken pieces, turning as they cook, until golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon to a plate covered with paper towels to absorb the excess oil.

February 3, 2010 in Being Frugal, Cooking Fun!, Recipes
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Quick and Easy Ranch Dip

Remember those delicious fried pickles?  Well, a fried pickle would not be complete without some ranch dip.  Here is a recipe for ranch dressing/dip that has been in my collection for YEARS….and it’s a good one!

1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup sour cream
1/2 tsp dried parsley
1/2 tsp dried dill weed
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp onion powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp freshly ground pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and enjoy!

February 3, 2010 in Being Frugal, Cooking Fun!, Recipes
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Budgeting time and money for healthy eating

These days, I am not a big fan of buying things with all the extra “junk” in it….preservatives, additives, dyes, artificial sweeteners, etc.  I want to be able to enjoy my food without the worry of what it is really doing to me.  This is one of the many reasons that I have started making so much of the food that my family eats from scratch.  I can decide on every single ingredient I am going to use and make wise choices!  Some people would say, “well just buy organic and you should be fine”.  The main problem with that is that being a single income family, we are on a tight budget.  I have found that it tends to be sooooooo much cheaper for me to buy healthy ingredients and make it myself, rather than just buying the pre-made version.  We also buy a lot of our food through a coop called Quail Cove Farms.  I go in on certain items with friends so that we can get the “bulk” price rate, which is much cheaper than what I would pay at the store.  I look for good sales too…that really helps!  Doing all of these things has truly helped me to buy the healthy stuff and still keep a modest grocery budget.

So to recap:
1. Whenever possible, buy the healthier ingredients and make it yourself (you’ll also be amazed at how much better things taste!)
2. Check out coops in your area.
3. Check for sales on the quality stuff and stock up when you can.
4. Buy in bulk if it’s a good deal.

The next argument I get is, “but I just don’t have the time!”  That is a very valid reason for some things….but NOT for everything!  So many things I make can be done quickly and easily with today’s modern kitchen equipment, and some are things that take no time or effort at all!  Take heart!  Don’t just say you are too busy, find some things that are quick and easy and give them a try.  You’ll be amazed at how “homemade and healthy” your kitchen can become. =)

February 3, 2010 in Being Frugal
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Fried Pickle Fun

The other day, my friend Meghan and I took our kids to the Galaxy Diner in Richmond for lunch.  Needless to say, we shared a big basket of fried pickles….mmmmmmmm.  Of course, when I got home I decided that I just HAD to try it out during our snowy weekend.  I must admit, with trying to get healthier in my home, we do not usually fry foods…..BUT, a fried pickle just wouldn’t be the same if it were not fried!  I didn’t like most of the recipes I saw, so I took some ideas and came up with my own version =)  Enjoy!

Ingredients

Fried goodness!

several large dill pickles cut into spears

1/2 cup wheat flour
1/2 tbsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp salt
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 egg whites, whisked with 1 tablespoon of water
oil for frying (I actually used olive oil since that was all I had)

Directions

Combine the flour and all of the spices in a bowl.  Heat oil in a medium sized saucepan on medium-high heat.  You should have enough oil for the pickles to sit in and be completely covered.  You will know when the oil is ready when you drop in a little flour and it starts to sizzle and turn brown.  Set up a little assembly line with your pickles, bowl of egg whites and water and then the flour mixture.  Take your first spear, dip it in the egg, dip in the flour and get all sides completely covered, then finally, put it into the hot oil.  Let it fry until golden brown.  Remove with a slotted spoon and place on a plate covered with paper towels, to absorb the excess oil.  Let cool (the pickles will be super hot even if the outside doesn’t feel like it right away!) and enjoy.  We like to dip ours in ranch dip….the flavors are n together!  Of course I made some ranch dip too, but that will be in a different post =)

Just a side note…next time I may use breadcrumbs instead of flour so that I get a thicker breading on the pickles.

February 3, 2010 in Cooking Fun!, Recipes
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Homemade Marshmallows

Since we were snowed in this past weekend, I thought I would make the best of it and try some new fun recipes!  One of the most fun was homemade marshmallows.  It was so easy and the result…delicious!  Nothing like the “styrofoam” marshmallows you buy at the store, but light, fluffy and amazing!  I will never buy another marshmallow again.  Change up the extract and make flavored marshmallows too!  Give it a try and let me know what you think.  Happy marshmallow making!  Oh, and a word of advice….don’t cover the pot unless you are watching very carefully…it boils over VERY quickly and is a pain to clean up! (yes, I speak from very unpleasant experience) =)

I used Alton Brown’s recipe from The Food Network, but included pictures from this weekend.  Here it is:

Ingredients

  • 3 packages unflavored gelatin
  • 1 cup ice cold water, divided
  • 12 ounces granulated sugar, approximately 1 1/2 cups
  • 1 cup light corn syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • Nonstick spray

Directions

Place the gelatin into the bowl of a stand mixer along with 1/2 cup of the water. Have the whisk attachment standing by.

In a small saucepan combine the remaining 1/2 cup water, granulated sugar, corn syrup and salt. Place over medium high heat, cover and allow to cook for 3 to 4 minutes. Uncover, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the pan and continue to cook until the mixture reaches 240 degrees F, approximately 7 to 8 minutes. Once the mixture reaches this temperature, immediately remove from the heat.

Turn the mixer on low speed and, while running, slowly pour the sugar syrup down the side of the bowl into the gelatin mixture. Once

Mix it until it's 2-3 times it's original size.

you have added all of the syrup, increase the speed to high. Continue to whip until the mixture becomes very thick and is lukewarm, approximately 12 to 15 minutes. Add the vanilla during the last minute of whipping. While the mixture is whipping prepare the pans as follows.

Combine the confectioners’ sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Lightly spray a 13 by 9-inch metal baking pan with nonstick cooking spray. Add the sugar and cornstarch mixture and move around to completely coat the bottom and sides of the pan. Return the remaining mixture to the bowl for later use.

When ready, pour the mixture into the prepared pan, using a lightly oiled spatula for spreading evenly into the pan. Dust the top with enough of the remaining sugar and cornstarch mixture to lightly cover. Reserve the rest for later. Allow the marshmallows to sit uncovered for at least 4 hours and up to overnight.

Turn the marshmallows out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch squares using a pizza wheel dusted with the confectioners’ sugar mixture. Once cut, lightly dust all sides of each marshmallow with the remaining mixture, using additional if necessary. Store in an airtight container for up to 3 weeks.

February 3, 2010 in Being Frugal, Cooking Fun!, Recipes
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