Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Carrot Applesauce Muffins

 Since the birth of my fifth baby I have been all about getting things done ahead of time. I value my time and my sleep in ways that I never have before. So, in order to make my life easier, I embrace my crock-pot any chance I get, and I also make large batches of things so I can freeze some for later meals. I need to think ahead. Get things done when I can so that on the far too often occasions that I cant get things done I have a back-up plan.
   One of my new found loves is making breakfasts in advance. I am extremely blessed in the fact that my two oldest children pretty much get themselves up and ready for school in the morning while I'm taking care of the baby. There are a couple downsides to this though; like interesting choices in attire, and questionable breakfast choices. Not that I don't enjoy sending my daughter to school in her fashionable tu-tu, jeans, cowboy boots, t-shirt and snow jacket; but I would rather my kids eat more than a banana, a piece of peanut butter toast, or cereal in the morning before school. My solution is to make hearty breakfasts in advance that can be used on multiple occasions. That way the kids can still get their own breakfasts in the morning, but I know it will stick with them and help them to have a better day at school. These muffins are one of those things.
    I found a recipe for Carrot Applesauce Muffins on a blog I follow called 100 days of real food.  This mom of two got fed up with all the junk the food companies are putting in our foods, and she took her family on a 100 day journey to better eating. They have cut out highly processed foods and eat only whole, organic, unrefined foods (as much as possible). While my family and I are not there yet, I have been cutting back on our consumption of processed foods as much as possible. Our meals lately mainly consist of organic veggies, fruits, proteins, and whole grains. I mainly shop the outside isles of the grocery store (produce, meat/seafood, dairy), with the occasional trip down the grains and baking isles. That being said, I love my sweets (as you can tell by one quick look at my abundant dessert recipes), and I highly doubt we will ever cut out sugar completely. But I do recognize that refined sugar is not the best choice and I should try to substitute more natural, unrefined sugars (like honey) more.
   Taking all this into consideration, I made these muffins last night. I doubled my recipe, making 32 muffins so I had enough to freeze some and have some on hand to use throughout the week. I tweaked the original recipe I found in order to make it even healthier, and they are a big hit. Very moist, sweet and delicious.
     I did this in one of my short pockets of time last night, after the kids had gone to bed, so there are no step by step pictures. The recipe couldn't be easier, though. It's practically dump, stir and bake. I hope you and your family likes them as much as we do!
Here's the recipe:
adapted from Whole-Wheat Carrot Applesauce Muffins

*You can substitute another fat/oil, and flour if needed or desired.
Organic ingredients are best, but not required.
Carrot Applesauce Muffins
makes 16 regular sized muffins
1½ cups *flour (whole-wheat or regular white)
1/3 cup organic ground flax seeds (I used Bob's Mill organic golden flaxseed meal)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup *organic coconut oil, melted
½ cup honey (I used raw cherry honey from a local orchard)
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup organic unsweetened applesauce (I used homemade)
¾ cup grated organic carrot (about 1 large carrot)
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (optional)

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Line muffin tins with liners (I used paper liners). Whisk together the flour, ground flax, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Add the warm coconut oil, honey, vanilla and beaten egg. Stir until mostly combined, and then gently stir in the applesauce, grated carrot, and nuts until completely combined. Don't over mix, or the muffins with be tough. Using a scoop, divide the batter evenly among 16 muffin cups. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the muffins start to brown a little, and a toothpick inserted into the center of a muffin comes out clean. Turn muffins out onto a towel or wire rack to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature. They can be put into a labeled zip-top freezer bag and frozen for later use.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

National Peanut Butter Day!

Did you know that today is National Peanut Butter Day? No? Well, it is. And I love this day so much! Not because it gives me a reason to make some of my best, and very delicious peanut butter treats, but because it gives me an excuse to try NEW peanut butter recipes and "taste" them all to see how they measure up to my favorites. :) I don't know what it is about today, but just knowing that peanut butter has it's own national holiday just makes me a little happier.
   So, I thought that I would share all of my peanut butter recipes in one post for you. There is nothing new here. Just some of my favorites that I come back to time and time again. I would like to say that I have an absolute "favorite" recipe, but that would be like saying I have a favorite child. I just love each one so much and for different reasons. Hopefully by this time next year I'll have some more really good peanut butter recipes to share (I have quite a few ideas, but nothing tried and tested yet.)
   I hope you enjoy these peanut butter goodies as much as I do!


Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tater-Tot Casserole

I needed a quick meal last night that I could whip up while the baby was sleeping. (I usually baby-wear her while I cook, so I don't feel so rushed, but last night she was still asleep in her car seat, from getting my son from ball-room dance class. So, I placed her next to me in the kitchen and raced against the "waking baby clock" to get dinner done unencumbered.) One meal that I remember fondly from when I was growing up was Tater-Tot Casserole. It was a no frills meal of meat and potatoes. It was filling, comforting and cheap. Now that I'm a mom, I try to eat more well-balanced meals so I added lots of veggies to the dish for more nutrition and flavor.
    I have been trying to safely lose the last of this baby weight by "clean eating." I'm sure all of you have heard that term before, as they are buzz words floating around social media, the internet and in daily conversations - especially at the new year when people are making (and shortly breaking) their New Year's resolutions. Eating clean basically means eating all non-processed foods (or as minimally processed as you can find). So I have been on a diet of fruits, veggies and lean proteins - making sure that at least half of my plate is filled with veggies. I have been sticking with it really well and am down 7 pounds so far, and it has influenced how I cook for my family. Now, with that all being said, this recipe does have a couple processed foods in it (canned soup and tater-tots), that were purchased pre-clean eating, but like I mentioned at the beginning, I was in a rush and so I used what I had on hand. (And how can you make tater-tot casserole without tater-tots?) I actually didn't eat any of the meal (in order to stick to my diet) but this is only due to shear will-power and literally walking away from the casserole of deliciousness after the family was served. (I even asked my adorable husband to put away the left-overs so I wouldn't be tempted to sneak a few bites.)
   The family loved this meal, as I did as a child. And I feel good knowing that they are getting lots of veggies too. I know the veggies don't cancel out the processed foods, but they definitely make the dish a lot more healthy and tasty. I also want to mention that you should not feel boxed in by the veggies that I used. You can use any veggies that you and your family enjoy. I really wanted to add in some organic power greens, but I had used the last of them that morning for a green smoothie. So use what you like and have on hand. The main point is to serve a veggie packed meal that you and your family will love. (If you have the self-restraint to only scoop yourself a small portion, I suppose you could just make separate vegetable sides to fulfill your veggie requirement. But why?  The beauty of a casserole is that it is a one-dish meal. Why make more work and dishes for yourself?)
   OK, enough yammering from me, let's get to the recipe.

The first step is to brown the meat and saute the veggies. My husband is a little weird about ground beef, so that's a rarity in this house. We usually use turkey, elk, venison or bison. This meal was made with lean ground bison. Use any ground meat you like and have on hand.
Brown the meat (and drain the fat if any), then add in the veggies (I used grated organic carrots, organic yellow squash, and diced onion) along with the aromatics/spices (garlic, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce and red pepper flakes).

When the veggies are soft, then the milk and soup get added. (I meant to scoop out some of the meat and veggie mixture for myself before adding the milk and soup, because they meet the clean eating requirements but I forgot. Oh well.)

Stir everything together until completely combined. I know it doesn't look so pretty, but it will taste really yummy, and that's what counts.

Next, prep the casserole dish. Spray the dish with no-stick spray (or use your fat of choice) and then place a single layer of tots down.

Next I decided to add cooked green beans, since I prefer to serve every meal with something green.

I then added the remaining tots on top. (*The layering can be done any way you wish. Tots/meat on top, bottom or middle it really doesn't matter, I happen to like the tots on the bottom but to each their own.)

The meat mixture goes on top in an even layer, and it all goes into a preheated 375F oven for 30 minutes.

After 30 minutes, top it with cheese, and bake for another 15 minutes.

This is it when it is finished.Don't you just want to dive right in?
(And yes, that is my Autumn/Thanksgiving tablecloth on my table well after the New Year. My little ones decided to write on, cut, rip and tear my everyday tablecloth to the point of disrepair. So, it will be autumn in my dining room until I can buy another tablecloth.)

Nothing left to do but serve it up and try not to eat the whole thing by yourself. ;)

Just simple comfort food.
Here's the recipe:
(Use any veggies you like!) Serves 8-12 depending on serving size

Tater-Tot Casserole 
1 pound ground meat (I used bison, but any meat works.)
1/2 onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 organic carrots, grated (about 3 cups)
1 medium to large organic yellow squash, grated (about 3 cups)
1 tsp minced garlic
salt and pepper (to taste)
a few dashes of Worcestershire Sauce
crushed red pepper flakes (to taste, optional)
1 10 3/4 oz can of creamed soup (mushroom, celery or chicken will work)
1 can of milk (fill the soup can with milk)
1 package of frozen tater-tots (I used 3/4 of the 5lb bag, but a whole smaller bag works too.)
2 14.5 oz cans cut green beans, drained
3 cups sharp cheddar cheese, grated 

In a large skillet, over medium high heat, break up and brown the meat. Drain the fat (if any) and add all ingredients EXCEPT the milk, soup, tots, beans and cheese. When the veggies are soft, turn off the heat and stir in the milk and soup.
Spray a 10x15 casserole dish and line the bottom with tots. Spread out the beans and then add the rest of the tots. Top with the meat mixture, making sure to spread it out evenly.
Bake @ 375F for 30 minutes. Top with the cheese and bake another 15 minutes until the cheese is melted and the casserole is hot in the middle. Serve warm.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Monster Cookies (Gluten Free)

 These are the cookies that I am taking to a holiday cookie exchange party this afternoon. I love these cookies not only because they are delicious (because they are!) but also because of how easy they are to throw together. And with a fifth little one demanding my attention, I need things to be as easy as possible right now. Have you heard of a dump cake? Where you just dump the ingredients together and bake. Well, these are pretty much dump cookies. It takes minimal mixing and no fooling around with wet and dry ingredients separately. They are so easy my almost 5 year old can make them with no interference from me. So, if you find yourself needing an easy cookie for a party these might be your ticket! As an added bonus, they are gluten free (if you need that sort of thing) but don't taste like it. (I should note that if you have a high sensitivity to gluten then make sure you get products that specifically say "gluten free" on them. While all of these ingredients are inherently gluten free, some products -like the oats or the chocolate- might be made in a factory that handles gluten so just be aware of that.)
  Ok, onto the recipe:

First, get all of your mix-ins together. These are all the "chunks" in the cookies that you want to munch on. Really, they could be anything you like. I have a mixture of Christmas themed milk chocolate M&Ms, semi sweet chocolate chips, roasted and chopped pecans, and Craisins.

Then assemble the batter. It consists of room temperature butter, chunky peanut butter, white sugar, dark brown sugar, salt, baking soda, pure vanilla extract, and eggs. No need to cream the butter and sugars and add eggs one at a time like other recipes call for. Just put everything into the bowl of your mixer (or in a large bowl and use a hand mixer), and that's it.

Beat it together until smooth (there will be some tiny lumps from the chunky peanut butter), and that part's done!

Now, just add in the oats (I only keep old fashioned on hand, so that is what I use. I think they add a nice chew and texture to the cookies.)

When the oats are mixed in, then it's time for all your "chunks."

Just mix until everything is combined, and then scoop out onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. I use my smallest scoop, and my biggest pan so I can bake 1 dozen at a time. (This recipe makes about 6 1/2 dozen of this size.)

Sorry the color is so horrible in these pictures. It was very rainy and overcast when I was baking, and my florescent kitchen lights doesn't do the food any favors.
After baking @ 350F for 8 minutes, they come out looking like this:

Just let them cool before packing up to take to your party. (If you can keep your husband from eating them all. I needed 3 dozen cookies for the party, and he would eat some from every batch, so I ended up baking 4 1/2 dozen cookies so that I would have enough. I portioned out and froze the other 2 dozen cookie dough balls for later use.)

These pictures were taken this morning, when the light was a little better. It's still overcast and rainy, but at least the sun isn't setting. :)

I think they are called monster cookies because they are like every cookie rolled into one. Kind of like Frankenstein, they are just a jumble of parts thrown together that work.

They are so yummy. I actually made a batch of these two weeks ago, and I made the mistake of baking up all 6 1/2 dozen cookies. Then I proceeded to eat them all (OK, not ALL. I did let the family have some  . . . but not many). This time I was smarter, and froze some for later. :)
Here's the recipe:
adapted from Monster Cookies

Monster Cookies *You can use any mix-ins you like
makes 6-7 dozen cookies
3 eggs
1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chunky peanut butter
1 stick butter, softened (I use salted, but either works)
*3/4 cup milk chocolate M&M's
*3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
*3/4 cup roasted, chopped pecans
*1/2 cup craisins, optional
2 teaspoons baking soda
4 1/2 cups old fashioned rolled oats

Preheat oven to 350F. Mix together the eggs, sugars, salt, vanilla, butter, peanut butter, and baking soda until smooth. (There will be small chunks from the chunky peanut butter.) Mix in the oats, then the *mix-ins: M&M's, chocolate chips, pecans, and craisins. When everything is combined, scoop out dough onto a parchment paper lined cookie sheet. I use my smallest scoop and get cookies that are 2-3 inches across after baking. Bake for 8 -10 minutes (do not over bake! Mine only take 8 minutes in my oven.). Let the cookies set on the baking sheet for 3 minutes before removing to a cooling rack to cool completely.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Creamy Pumpkin Pie (and Baby update)

I meant to post this pie before Thanksgiving, but things got a little crazy and it never happened. So, I am posting it now.
   My son's favorite pie is pumpkin pie. He takes after me when I was his age, and loves it as much or more than most desserts. For my 8th birthday I asked if I could have a pumpkin pie instead of a cake. So, of course my awesome parents complied and made me that pie. :) Well, it goes without saying that during the holidays, pumpkin pie will always be found in my kitchen. The recipes might vary (like this Chocolate Pumpkin Pie) but there is always some version around. Well, this year I thought I would try Paula Deen's recipe for Pumpkin Pie. It's like a cross between a traditional pumpkin pie and a pumpkin cheesecake. I tweaked it just slightly, and made two of these this year. They were a hit! A great recipe that I will use again and again in my pumpkin pie rotation.
   Before I get to the recipe, I wanted to give you all an update on the baby. She was delivered this last Sunday, December 7th. We came home from the hospital yesterday afternoon and we are recovering well. Thankfully I have an amazing women's church organization (Relief Society) that has offered to bring dinners for me and my family for the next few nights so I don't have to worry about that. We are really blessed. So, even though I will be taking a break from the kitchen for a little bit while I heal up, I can't ever stop thinking about food. :) I do have some posts (like this one) that I started before the baby came but never finished. And if I find a rare moment to myself, like now, then I will post those recipes for you. But we will see how things go.
   OK, so back to the recipe:

It starts with a block of softened cream cheese.

Then you need some pumpkin. Paula's recipe says to use a can, but I had fresh in my freezer so that is what I used. (If you use fresh pumpkin then the pie will be lighter in color. If you use the canned, it will be darker/more orange.) Also, if you use fresh pumpkin, you will need to put it into a fine mesh sieve/strainer and let it drain some of the excess water out of it. Otherwise it will take a really long time to cook your watery pie. I usually drain my frozen/thawed pumpkin for at least 1 hour before making the pie, and it releases about 3/4 cup of water.

The cream cheese, sugar and pumpkin go into a mixing bowl. (Mix the cream cheese by itself first so that you get out any lumps.)
Then add in the spices. I used Trader Joe's pumpkin pie spice because I like it, but you are more than welcome to use the separate spices (cinnamon, clove, ginger, nutmeg) to suit your own tastes.

The eggs, half and half, vanilla, and butter are whisked together and added in to the cream cheese mixture.

When it's a homogenous mixture, then the filling is poured into a 9 inch pie shell. (I often use the Marie Callender's frozen pie shell.) I like to pre-bake my crust a little, to make sure that it doesn't get soggy, but that is optional.

The pie bakes for almost an hour. It's done when the top looks set, but the center slightly giggles when you move the pie.

Let the pie sit and set up at room temperature, and then refrigerate for at least 4 hours.  After it's cool it slices beautifully.

A dollop (or more) of whipped cream is all that's needed.

See what I mean about the color? It's not the traditional orange, because I used fresh pumpkin instead of canned. Incidentally, I was once told that to make the best pumpkin pie you should use butternut squash instead of pumpkin! Definitely works and gives you that orange color too.

I made one pie for the guys at the fire station, for their Thanksgiving feast (the hubby had to work the holiday) and another one for us at home. Needless to say, my son made sure that the one at home didn't last long. :)
Here's the recipe:
adapted from Paula Deen's Pumpkin Pie

 Creamy Pumpkin Pie
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups pureed pumpkin (drained if using fresh)
1 cup sugar
*1/4 teaspoon salt
1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, slightly beaten
1 cup half-and-half
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) melted butter (*if using salted butter, then omit the 1/4 tsp salt)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1 9 inch pie crust shell

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. 

  Pre-bake the pie crust for 10 minutes, (either prick the crust with a fork first, or use pie weights to prevent the crust from bubbling up) or until the crust is dried out and beginning to color. Take out the crust and set aside.  Turn the heat down to 350F    
  For the filling, in a large mixing bowl, beat the cream cheese with a hand mixer. Add the pumpkin, sugar, and salt, and beat until combined. Whisk together the eggs, yolks, half-and-half, melted butter, and vanilla. Add the egg mixture to the cream cheese mixture and mix to combine.
   Pour the filling into the warm prepared pie crust and bake for 50 minutes, or until the pie looks set, but the center barely giggles when you move the pie.  Cool to room temperature, and then refrigerate for 4 hours. Cut into slices and top each piece with a generous amount of whipped cream (optional).