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Pink Pancakes!

valentines_headerHolidays make me feel young at heart. Cheeky cards, garland, lights, and decorations make me giddy. It’s probably all Pinterest’s and Target’s fault. But as much as I love making every holiday special for my kids (whether they want me to or not), Valentine’s Day sends me over the freaking edge. Yes, my boys love chocolate and candy and parties, but the pomp and circumstance of card exchanges and all-things-heart-shaped are lost of them. So I sat at the dining room table several nights in a row decorating shoe boxes and bags, addressing cards, and preparing gifts for teachers, aides, therapists, and bus drivers (so I don’t look like the only deadbeat parent in a sea of hyper PTA moms). Let me just add that general education class, autism classmates, speech therapists, occupational therapists, instructional aides… We went through a ton of valentines.

Okay, enough complaining.

First challenge this year was finding valentine cards my boys actually liked. They may be 9- and 7-years old, but developmentally they enjoy the same characters as their 2-year-old brother. They would be completely happy with Elmo or Thomas, but I feared passing those out in an elementary school classroom would be social suicide. It is hard to find unique valentines at the usual box stores, and I didn’t want to spend a fortune. Thank goodness for Etsy! Thing 2 loves Pete the Cat books, and I downloaded these valentine cards for him. Thing 1 agreed to these Star Wars cards. I was able to personalize both at no extra charge, then printed them on cardstock at Office Max.

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My idea for pink pancakes for tonight’s dinner came from Jessica Seinfeld’s Deceptively Delicious cookbook. She has some inspiring (and insanely complicated) ideas for sneaking vegetables into foods kids typically love, and I usually keep roasted butternut squash or carrot purees in the freezer to toss into pasta sauces and pancakes. While Seinfeld’s original recipe uses beet puree and ricotta combined with store-bought pancake mix, I used my standard oatmeal pancake recipe and added beet to it. Roasting beets is super simple… Just trim the leaves and scrub the beets clean, wrap in aluminum foil, and roast at 375 for approximately 45 minutes. Let them cool enough to handle, trim and peel, and then you can slice, dice, or puree. For creating the puree, add 1/2 to 1 cup water to create a smooth consistency. For easy use, I freeze small portions in an ice cube tray, then thaw (more like microwave) what I want to use.

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Pink Oatmeal Pancakes

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond or cashew milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1/4 cup beet puree
  • butter, coconut oil, or cooking spray for the griddle

Combine all ingredients (except butter) in a blender and blend until smooth. Heat up your griddle and melt butter or oil of choice. Ladle approximately 1/4 cup batter onto that sizzling hot griddle, and cook for 2-3 minutes per side. Top with maple syrup, powdered sugar, fresh fruit, whipped cream, or all of the above.

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Okay, okay…I used my heart cookie cutter. I was only entertaining myself at this point. We also ate turkey bacon and grapes because there’s nothing more fabulous to my children than breakfast for dinner, especially when it comes with a side of powdered sugar.

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Ode to the Instant Pot

This post contains affiliate links.

This machine is incredible…life changing…inspiring…time saving…and overall the best kitchen appliance ever purchased. I put it through a major workout over Thanksgiving break making gallons of bone broth (recipe below) and prepped 20 freezer meals that can be cooked in 20-30 minutes  from freezer to table. I basically cooked dinner for the rest of the year.

Even better, it’s a crazy good deal right now.

Before hearing about the Instant Pot, I did not even know how a pressure cooker worked. A slow cooker cooks food with heat over a long period of time, but in a pressure cooker, food and liquid are sealed and come to a boil. As steam/pressure builds, food cooks faster. The Instant Pot is an easy-to-use multi-functional cooker that works as a pressure cooker, slow cooker, rice cooker, yogurt maker, steamer, warmer, and saute pan. There are preset programs for cooking soups, meat/stew, rice, beans/chili, porridge, poultry, multigrains, steaming, and slow cooking, as well as dual pressure settings. It is made of a 3-ply stainless steel cooking pot and comes with a steam rack, measuring cup, and serving utensils. Because I never used a pressure cooker before this one, it took some time getting used to the process. I looked to Pinterest for inspiration, converted my slow cooker favorites, and tested a few recipes from The Instant Pot Electric Pressure Cooker Cookbook. When I cooked perfect, easy-to-peel hard boiled eggs and in seven minutes, my mind was blown. Know what else took seven minutes? An entire spaghetti squash. Seriously. The Instant Pot was also great for cooking dinner on those hot summer days when I didn’t want to turn on the oven or stand over the grill. After spending a month with my Instant Pot, I sold my Crock-Pot.

Now we are heading into winter, and my Instant Pot made an amazing batch of bone broth. I bought a bag of beef marrow bones at Whole Foods for our dog shortly before she passed away, and that bag has been in the freezer since July. I threw those on a sheet pan and roasted the bones for 45 minutes at 375 degrees. This is optional, but roasting bones first helps create a broth with richer flavor.

Bone Broth:

Ingredients:

  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2/3 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped
  • 1 head of garlic, halved
  • bones (marrow bones, soup bones, chicken/turkey carcass, whatever)
  • 2 tbs. apple cider vinegar or lemon juice
  • water

Place vegetables and garlic in the Instant Pot first, then add the bones. Drizzle apple cider vinegar over the bones and let sit for 20-30 minutes; the acid helps extract minerals from the bones. Then fill the pot with enough water to cover the bones, but do not exceed the max fill line. Cover and seal the Instant Pot, select the “Soup” setting, and set the time at 120 minutes. After pressure cooking is done, turn off the Instant Pot and let it naturally release for 15 minutes before venting. Strain the broth and you’re done…maybe.

Instead of bagging and tagging my broth at this point, I returned the strained broth to the Instant Pot and hit the “Saute” button. This brought the pot to a boil and I reduced the broth by approximately 1/3 to create a concentrate. Then I let the broth cool, poured into ice cube trays, and froze to create individual portions that can be reconstituted with hot water through cold and flu season.

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Mic. Drop.

Bone broth contains easily absorbed minerals and amino acids, like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, arginine, glutamine, and glycine. It supports the immune system to inhibit infections caused by cold/flu viruses and fights inflammation. The gelatin supports proper digestion. It’s the super food my husband hates…but I don’t care, he is still going to drink it and shut up about his man cold.

I followed this same process using the Thanksgiving turkey carcass to make turkey and rice soup. I picked off and chopped what meat remained on the carcass, then used the bones to make stock. Once the stock was strained, I returned it to the Instant Pot and added diced carrots, celery, onion, garlic powder, salt and pepper, two bay leaves, and the turkey meat and simmered for 30 minutes. I added one cup of rice at the end and the entire pot produced three meals worth of soup (dinner for us, dinner for my parents, one for the freezer).

So how can the Instant Pot be improved? Well, I have my eye on accessories at this point…like the Glass Lid and Yogurt Cups. I have also been reading articles about using the Instant Pot for canning, but as much as I love mason jars, that may be too ambitious for me.

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Not-Your-Grandma’s Chicken Casserole

It’s the question as old as time… What’s for dinner? I imagine Adam asked Eve this question in the Garden of Eden. It was muttered by cavemen. Shakespeare spoke it in eloquent iambic pentameter. And it comes out of my husband’s mouth almost daily, slightly less eloquently.

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(Image source: someecards.com)

I had a few ingredients approaching expiration dates in the fridge, namely sour cream and a block of cheese, and thawed chicken to work with. I threw this casserole together on the fly, and it was pretty good. Two of my three kids ate it without too much duress, so that makes it share-worthy.

I used quinoa instead of rice in this casserole for extra keep-you-full protein because I really need to stop stuffing cookies in my face. And wine. And cheese. And potato chips. But I digress… I jumped on the quinoa bandwagon a couple years ago (thanks, Pinterest). Quinoa is a cool superfood as it’s high in protein and an excellent source of riboflavin. The grain is also alkaline-forming, antiseptic, gluten-free, and low on the glycemic index.

Let’s start with the “soup” part. You’ll need:

  • 2 tbs. butter
  • 3 tbs. flour
  • 1/2 cup chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup sour cream
  • 1 1/4 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese
  • salt and pepper

Melt butter in a small saucepan. Add flour to create a rue, and let that cook for 90 seconds. Whisk in chicken stock, and when that is combined and smooth, slowly whisk in milk. Let that cook for 4-5 minutes and season with salt and pepper to taste.

That there is my recipe for cream-of-anything soup. I use it for casseroles, chicken pot pie, and anything calling for a can of cream-of-crap.

I transferred that soup to a large mixing bowl and whisked in sour cream, 1 cup of the shredded cheese (I used Sargento’s Garlic & Herb Jack), and 1/4 tsp. each salt and pepper. Then I rinsed out my saucepan to cook the quinoa, which included:

  • 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa, rinsed
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1/4 tsp. salt

Cook the quinoa according to package directions. Just like rice, you bring it to a boil, then simmer covered for around 15 minutes.

While the quinoa simmered, I got the chicken and broccoli ready. The final ingredients you need are:

  • Two chicken breasts, cooked and cubed
  • 10 oz. box chopped broccoli, thawed

I buy chicken in bulk, then freeze it in 2-breast or 3-thigh portions in a rub or marinade. For tonight’s dinner, I used two chicken breasts sprinkled with Wildtree’s Garlic Galore and Absolutely Onion blends; but you can roast plain chicken with salt and pepper, pull it off a rotisserie, or use leftovers. It really doesn’t matter. I microwaved my chicken in a Pampered Chef Deep Covered Baker for 5 minutes, let them rest, and chopped them up.

Add the chicken, broccoli, and cooked quinoa to the soup and cheese mixture in the mixing bowl. Give it a good stir, add salt or pepper to your liking, then transfer to a greased baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining 1/4 cup shredded Jack cheese on top.

Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes at 350. Remove the foil and bake for an additional 8 minutes.

Dinner. Done.

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I wish I did a topping with breadcrumbs or crushed Ritz crackers. That would have been the piece de resistance. Turn it southwest by using black beans, diced tomatoes and corn, pepper jack cheese, and chicken seasoned with taco seasoning. Go Greek with feta cheese, olives, and chicken with garlic and herbs. Or order a pizza. I always vote for pizza.

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Blackberry Overload!

I had to get kids out of the house last weekend.  The husband demolished our deck to reinforce and rebuild it, so the boys were not free to frolic around the backyard, which means they destroyed my house instead.  Family room, bedrooms, kitchen…everything was a disaster.  We hit Chesterfield Berry Farm for organic blackberry picking.  Unlike peak pumpkin and strawberry seasons when you pay an arm and a leg for admission, blackberry season is FREE.  You only pay for the fruit, and the price of gas since the berry farm is in the middle of no where.  Things 2 and 3 enjoyed eating more than picking.  Thing 1 was content to run around the fields, run away from me, send me into panic mode when I couldn’t find him, etc.  I wanted to kick his butt when I finally caught him at the moon bounce.  Such a stinker, but we made it home alive with a mountain of blackberries to demolish. What’s so awesome about blackberries anyway?  They should be in your Super Fruit category since they are packed with bioflavonoids, Vitamins C and K, antioxidants, and fiber.  They supercharge your heart, gut, and brain. IMG_0037 For those that asked, Thing 3 is sitting in a Kokopax Classic Carrier. I bought it off Craigslist in 2010, but Kokopax is no longer in business.IMG_0036Now what to do with that big bucket of blackberries…

Blackberry Cobbler

We made three blackberry cobblers last night, adapting the Pioneer Woman’s recipe.  She calls for more sugar, but I used:

  • 1/2 stick butter, melted
  • 2/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 cup self-rising flour
  • 1 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 cups blackberries, rinsed and patted dry
  • Ice cream, for serving

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 3-quart baking dish. In a medium bowl, whisk sugar with flour and milk.  Whisk in the melted butter, vanilla, lemon zest, and lemon juice (I used the juice and zest of half of a small lemon).  Pour the batter into the baking dish.  Layer blackberries evenly on top of the batter.  Sprinkle 2 tablespoons sugar over the blackberries.  Bake until golden brown and bubbly, about 1 hour.

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One cobbler for my parents, one for my father-in-law, one for us.  No lie, this was breakfast with my morning coffee.  No regrets.

EASY Homemade Blackberry Ice Cream

Our next venture into blackberry heaven was homemade ice-cream, inspired by this Pinterest recipe.  I wanted to cut the calories a little (so I could continue eating cobbler for breakfast), so I substituted Greek yogurt for half of the heavy cream and used coconut milk instead of whole milk.  Greek yogurt made the ice cream amazingly creamy, and its healthy bacteria can withstand freezing.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups blackberries
  • 1 cup light cream
  • 1 container (7 oz) plain Greek yogurt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened coconut milk or almond milk
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract

Puree the blackberries, then work them through a mesh strainer to remove the seeds.  Set that puree aside in a large bowl to wait for its friends to join the party. In a saucepan on low heat, combine cream, yogurt, and sugar until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is smooth.  You do NOT want to heat this mixture quickly because milk proteins in the yogurt will separate from the whey.  Their divorce is permanent.  It’s very sad.  Did I impress you with my Alton Brown level of knowledge there? Add that mixture to the blackberry puree, along with the coconut milk and vanilla.  Give everything a good whisk, and pour it into a large freezer bag and freeze overnight.

On Day 2, beat the hell out of that freezer bag.  The frozen mixture needs to be broken into smaller pieces before it gets pulverized in the food processor.  Take out all your aggression, break it up, put those pieces in the food processor, and process until smooth.  This process took several minutes.

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Hello, beautiful.

You can transfer the ice cream to a loaf pan, cover with foil, and freeze–BUT if you use Greek yogurt, use another vessel.  The yogurt’s acidity has a yucky reaction to metal.  I used a Chinese take-out plastic container.  Add chocolate chips or whatever else at this point.  Freeze it until the ice cream is firm enough to scoop. IMG_0041

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Here’s our post-swim practice treat.

If you kept track, I used 8 cups of blackberries in two days.  Want to know how much is left?  At least 4 more cups.  Now I wish I knew how to can jam.

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Tales from the Kitchen

Winter break came and went, and despite the flu and pestilence, I managed to stock the freezer.  I made tried-and-true favorites, like pasta sauce with meatballs.  I finally demolished the leftover Thanksgiving turkey carcass and made a giant batch of turkey and rice soup.  We experimented with new sauces and flavors, and I’m sharing my pasta sauce recipe.  It’s awesome.  It starts with butter.  You’re welcome.

First, I have to sing the praises of Wildtree’s Outrageous Orange Sauce.  It makes orange chicken like Panda Express on steroids.  I cubed three chicken breasts and let them hang for a few minutes in 2 eggs, some cracks of pepper, and a pinch of salt.  Then I dredged the chicken in flour and browned in a skillet.  From there the chicken went into a glass dish and bathed in the orange sauce.

IMG_0857The chicken baked in the oven for 25 minutes at 350 degrees.  I gave everything a good stir and threw in some leftover broccolini about 15 minutes through and served it with rice.  This stuff was spicy and great for clearing our stuffy noses.  I would show you a picture of the finished product…but we were hungry, and this is all that was left.

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Two thumbs up.

Okay, now the pasta sauce.  Make sure you pour yourself a glass of red wine before you start.

For the sauce:

  • One stick of butter
  • 2 onions (one chopped, one just cut in half)
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2 28-oz. cans of crushed or whole tomatoes
  • 1/4 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Tool: Immersion blender

When it comes to herbs, I usually use what I have on hand; any mixture of oregano, parsley, basil, dried mirepoix, or Italian seasonings tastes good.  The meatballs finish cooking in the sauce, so that adds more flavor.  You can use less or no crushed red pepper if spicy is not your thing.

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Melt the butter in a large pot or dutch oven.  Add the chopped onion and saute until tender, about 8 minutes.  Add the garlic and saute another minute.  Then add tomatoes and dried herbs to the party.  If I use whole tomatoes, I crush them with my hands first.  Bring everything to a simmer and add the fresh basil and half of a whole onion.  Seriously, just put the onion on top and leave it there.  You can save the other half for another dish.  Let the sauce simmer for 30 minutes.

Now drink your wine.  Feel free to pour yourself another glass, too.

While the sauce simmers, form the meatballs.  You need:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 pound ground pork (or lamb, or sausage, or whatever)
  • 1/4 cup bread crumbs (I prefer Panko, but use what I have on hand)
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. dried parsley

Combine all ingredients and form meatballs to your desired size.  I keep them small to medium and get 30-32 using two pounds of meat.

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Now wash your hands and finish that wine.

Return to your sauce and remove the half onion that’s done working it’s magic.  I use an immersion blender at this point to make the sauce smoother, but not totally pureed.  Give it a taste and adjust the salt and pepper as needed.  Once that’s done, return your attention to the meatballs.

Heat some olive oil in a large skillet and brown the meatballs in batches (2-3 minutes per side), then transfer the browned meatballs to the pot of sauce to finish cooking.  Simmer for an additional 25-30 minutes.

This makes at least two dinners for my family, and is my boys’ favorite thing to eat besides Nutella sandwiches.

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Lactation Cookies

I admit it.  I am a cookie monster.  I have zero self-control when it comes to most sweets, but cookies are my biggest weakness.  (And margaritas–but since I am breastfeeding, it’s more socially acceptable to binge on cookies than tequila). There’s speculation as to whether things like oats, brewer’s yeast, fenugreek, and blessed thistle really help improve milk supply.  Most brewer’s yeast is derived from the fermentation of beer and contains iron, protein, B vitamins, and amino acids; some nutritionists also believe this magical powder can increase energy levels and boost mood.  I bought a canister from The Vitamin Shoppe.  The only thing 100% guaranteed to increase your supply is nursing and pumping often…but in the meantime, why not enjoy a sweet treat?  I tried several recipes for lactation cookies, and I offer my fellow milky moms this mash-up of yumminess. IMG_0746 Ingredients:

  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed meal
  • 1/2 cup butter, softened at room-temperature
  • 1/2 cup vegetable or coconut oil (you can sub greek yogurt for a lighter recipe)
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons unflavored, unsweetened brewer’s yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned oats
  • Optional: 1/2 cup chocolate chips, raisins, coconut flakes, etc.

Preheat oven to 350. Combine water and flaxseed meal in small bowl and let sit for 5 minutes. Cream together butter, oil, and sugar.  Add egg and mix.  Add the flaxseed-and-water mixture and vanilla and combine until just blended. Sift together flour, baking soda, salt, and brewer’s yeast.  Slowly add the dry ingredients to wet ingredients and mix until just combined.  Stir in oats and your favorite add-in’s (in this batch, I used dark chocolate chips and dried cranberries). Drop spoonfuls of batter onto a greased or lined cookie sheet.  Bake for 10-12 minutes. This amount of batter gives me 22-24 cookies.