Three Recipes That Have Changed My Life

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As many of you know, cooking is not my favorite thing. This has not always been the case. In fact, there was a time in my life when I used to love cooking. That era was when I had the time to cook what I wanted and then actually sit down to eat and enjoy what I’d prepared. That era, my friends, ended nearly 9 years ago on October 27, 2010 (Also known as the day my first baby was born).

Somehow, though, I am still expected to cook 3 meals and 5,463 snacks every. Single. Day. That’s a lot of cooking for someone who has lost the joy of cooking.

But there is hope! I have a few go-to recipes that have changed my life. I rotate my favorite recipes with such precision that my family knows what day of the month it is purely by what is served on our dinner table. It’s a survival mechanism, and it works.

My criteria for an outstanding recipe are:
1. It is easy to make. We’re talking, so easy I can make this dish while simultaneously helping a kid with homework, assisting a preschooler to build a Duplo city, and breaking up a sibling fight.
2. Is it tasty enough that either:
A) at least 60% of my family will eat it.
Or
B) it’s so delicious that I won’t mind a bit if I have to eat the whole thing myself.

That’s it. I’m pretty easy to please (Motherhood has lowered my standards by a not-insufficient amount).

When I was thinking about what recipes I wanted to share with you here today, I was reminded of one of my favorite shows–Master Chef (I have no problem at all watching other people struggle in the kitchen.). For the grand finale of Master Chef the competitors must prepare a 3-course meal: appetizer, entree, and dessert.

So that is precisely what I will do for you today, my friends. Although I will be presenting 3 courses worth of recipes, I would not necessarily recommend eating them all together at the same meal. It would be a weird combo of foods, but I suppose anything is possible. Free country and everything.

And, since this is a free country, I’m going to start with my favorite course first: Dessert.

5-Minute Chocolate Mug Cake
AKA The Most Dangerous Cake Recipe In The World
Cake is by far my favorite meal of the day, so it’s only fitting that I would highlight a cake recipe for my dessert course.

Ingredients

  • 4 Tablespoons flour
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons cocoa powder (Get the good stuff here, folks. No off-brand Kroger Cocoa or similar rubbish. We’re looking for something along the lines of Ghiradelli or Godiva–go big or go home!).
  • 1 egg
  • 3 Tablespoons milk
  • 3 Tablespoons oil (vegetable, canola, whatevs…as long as it’s the edible kind of oil)
  • 3 Tablespoons chocolate chips (Optional. JK. Chocolate chips are never optional. If you want to succeed at life, definitely always add chocolate chips.)
  • A small splash of vanilla extract

Instructions

  1. Get a big ‘ol coffee mug. Make sure it is microwaveable. Otherwise you’ll make sparks in your kitchen, and I’m not talking about what you and your husband do after you put the kids to bed.
  2. Add dry ingredients to the mug and mix well.
  3. Add the egg and beat it like you’re Mike Tyson in the boxing ring.
  4. Pour in the milk and oil and mix well.
  5. Add chocolate chips. Now add a little extra. You’ll thank me later.
  6. Put your mug in the microwave and microwave for 2 minutes 30 seconds – 3 minutes. This is not an exact science. Well, maybe it is. But when I’m cooking chocolate cake in a mug in my microwave I don’t want to mess with the math of microwave watts and the volume of my mug or any of that mumbo-jumbo. Just watch your cake and take it out when it looks done-ish. If you like your cake moist, take it out earlier. If you like it really well-done and dry so you kill all of the salmonella or whatever, cook it longer.
  7. The cake might rise over the top of the mug while it’s cooking. DO NOT BE ALARMED! This, like toddler tantrums in a grocery store, is an expected part of life.
  8. Unless you enjoy the sensation of molten lava on your palette, allow your cake to cool a little bit before you dig in.
  9. EAT!!! Supposedly this dessert is meant to share, but I’ve never tested that theory.

Moving on, now. I’m rather enjoying the excitement of presenting these courses out of order, so let’s do something really crazy!

May I present Course 2: Appetizer

Pan-Roasted Vegetables
Seriously? Roasted vegetables as an appetizer?! Yes, vegetables are an appetizer. Just look in the “Starters” section of any fancy-by-millenial-standards restaurant and I guarantee you’ll find fried brussels sprouts. Roasted is just the healthier version of fried, and I’m oh-so-healthy (as indicated by Course 1 above). But seriously. These things are highly addictive and I almost always eat the whole pan myself.

Ingredients:

  • One big handful per person of a hearty vegetable (Broccoli, Asparagus, Brussels Sprouts, green beans, Potatoes, Carrots)
  • Olive Oil (the big jug from Costco works just fine)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Finishing pizzazz (Varies depending on the veggie and the mood you’re in. Includes but is not limited to: squeeze of fresh lemon juice, balsamic glaze, honey, parmesan cheese, crumbled bacon)

Instructions

  • Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.
  • While your oven is getting ready to work some magic transforming bland produce into heavenly bites, rinse and pat dry your veggies.
  • Spread out your veggies on a large baking sheet with enough room between them so nobody is touching or passing along any cooties.
  • Douse the whole thing with Olive Oil. Don’t be too stingy here. We want enough oil that the veggies won’t get a sunburn, but they don’t need to swim in the stuff either.
  • Use your fingers to massage the oil into your veggies the same way (you wish) your husband would massage your back after you’ve had a long day of caring for his offspring.
  • Sprinkle some salt and pepper fairy dust all over those veggies.
  • Bake in the oven for 15-20 minutes. I use a very scientific method to determine when this dish is done. Jab a fork in one of the veggies after 10-15 minutes and if it’s hard as a rock, then it’s not done. If the fork goes in the way I would want my fork to go in when I’m eating it, then it’s done. If the vegetable is black like burnt vegetables, it is over done.
  • As soon as you take the tray out of the oven, spread some pizzaaz. My favorite combos are: broccoli + lemon juice + parmesan cheese, brussels sprouts + balsamic glaze, carrots + honey, green beans + bacon
  • Watch as your children refuse to touch the green stuff while you gorge yourself on a farmer’s market’s worth of vegetables in one sitting.

And, finally, the main event (or, in our case, the main course).

Panang Curry with Chicken, 3 Stars
Jon makes fun of me because any time we go out to eat I order the exact same thing. As in, if we go to restaurant X, I 100% will be ordering entreé Y. What can I say–I know what I like, and I like what I know. Thai food is my absolute favorite, and every time we eat at any Thai restaurant I order the Panang Curry with Chicken, 3 Stars. And since I can’t go to eat every day I have learned how to make a darn good copycat of my own.

Ingredients

  • 1 pound boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
  • A splash of vegetable oil
  • Panang Curry Paste (Just buy the good stuff on Amazon and save yourself a trip to a grocery store that probably won’t have it anyway).
  • 1 can coconut milk (Not coconut creme, that’s for your piña coladas…which, coincidentally, would go quite well with this dish…)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons peanut butter (Unless you’re allergic to peanuts, in which case I bid you adieu.)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons brown sugar (Or, if you’re not a sugar addict like me, 0 Tablespoons of brown sugar)
  • 1-2 Tablespoons fish sauce (Ewwww! Right?! I hate fish more than probably anyone else on the planet, so trust me when I say that this stuff will not make your curry taste like the ocean. It adds salty flavor, that’s it. Start with just a splash in your curry if you don’t trust it, and see what you think. Again, Amazon to the rescue.)
  • (optional) 1-2 teaspoons lime leaf powder (I don’t think this stuff is totally necessary, but it does taste good and it makes me feel fancy when I see lime leaf powder in my spice cabinet).
  • 1/2 red bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1/2 green bell pepper thinly sliced
  • 1 small handful of frozen haricot vert (Fancy words for the skinny green beans)
  • 1/2 cup fresh diced pineapple if you have it (Really, you don’t need to buy a whole pineapple for this recipe just so you can throw a few chunks into your curry.)
  • For serving: Cooked rice

Instructions

  • In a wok (1st choice) or large pan (2nd choice), brown your chicken in the vegetable oil. If you’re going to be saving out some of the chicken to feed plain to your picky children, then make sure it’s cooked throughly. Or, if you’re adding the whole batch of chicken directly to your curry, you can even just skip this step entirely.
  • Remove chicken from the pan.
  • In the same pan add the curry paste (Hint: more = SPICIER! 3 stars–medium/hot–is about 1-2 Tablespoons of curry paste. Start by adding just a bit and then add more if you want it spicier), coconut milk, peanut butter, brown sugar, and fish sauce, and lime leaf powder. Heat on medium until you get a nice simmer going and everything melts together.
  • Add the chicken (if you didn’t already cook the chicken, simmer for about 20 minutes until the chicken is totally cooked through). Now would be a good time to make that piña colada. This is also a good time for you to prepare your picky kids’ not-curry dinners.
  • Add whatever veggies you want to use and simmer for another 5 minutes, until your veggies are softened but not mushy.
  • Serve over cooked rice.

That’s it! Three of the simplest and most delicious courses of food you’ll ever prepare. I hope I’ve un-inspired you to cook this week and always. Enjoy creating in your own kitchen (and if all else fails, there’s always Grub Hub!).

10 Tips For Bringing Meals To Families In Need

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When I came home from the hospital after having my first baby I was a bit overwhelmed. Two days earlier I had left my home with my husband and now we were returning with our souvenir: a person. A person who I had to feed and keep clean and allow to sleep while I was awake and tend to when I’d rather be sleeping. For those first few weeks I felt like all I did was breastfeed my baby and try not to think about how much every inch of my body hurt in new and unusual ways. Doing anything productive–cooking, cleaning, walking by myself to the bathroom–was out of the question.

I was beyond grateful, then, when several friends offered to bring us meals during those first few weeks home. Not only did I not have to cook dinner each night, but I didn’t even have to think about it. Nor did my husband. The food just magically appeared, we woke up from our delirium long enough to eat it, and then we fell back into our new-parents trance.

Fast forward four years, and now it’s my turn to pay it forward. Any time we know someone who is in need–whether they’ve just had a baby, are coming home from a surgery, or are suffering from a loss–we try to return the favor. Bringing someone food during their time of need is a simple, yet impactful way of showing them that you care. I’ve prepared dozens of meals for families in need (and have received dozens of meals from our gracious friends) over the years. I’ve picked up a few tips along the way for bringing meals that will bless others. Here are my top 10:

1. Eat one/ Share one
Why make extra work for yourself? Rather than making a special meal to bring to someone, just make a double batch of whatever you’re planning for your own family. Then bring the second serving to the person in need.

2. Make It Freezable
Make a dish that can be easily frozen and reheated if they don’t want to eat it right now. The person you are cooking for may want to save your meal for another time–maybe they aren’t very hungry tonight, or they actually have the energy to cook right now, or their fridge is already full of leftovers from the other people who have been bringing them food. If you give them the option to freeze your meal, then it’s a gift that can be given (er…eaten…) whenever the time is right for them. Check out these 24 freezable meals if you need some inspiration.
*If you do make something that can be frozen, be sure inform the recipient of this fact. Also include instructions on how to cook or reheat the meal from frozen.

3. Stick To The Basics
This is not the time to try some fancy new recipe or see what happens if you dump the entire jar of Cayenne Pepper into the soup. Cook something tried-and-true so you aren’t left scrambling at the last minute if it doesn’t work out. Make something that people with “average” palates could appreciate, especially if there are children in the family who will be sharing the meal. Also, be sure to ask the recipient in advance if they have any allergies, intolerances, or food preferences.

4. Include Your Recipe
On the off-chance that your friend really likes the food your bringing her, she may want to make it again. I always include a copy of the recipe I have prepared–if nothing else, maybe she can add it to her baby’s memory book so they can look back and remember what Mom and Dad ate while they were recovering from newborn-itis. Along with this, I always write down directions for heating/reheating the meal I’ve prepared–especially how long it will take for the food to cook.

5. NO DISHES!!!
My least favorite part of cooking is certainly not the cooking. No, it’s the dishes. Those dang dishes that pile up after every meal. So, when I’m trying to help out a friend in need, I make sure they don’t have to wash a single dish. I buy foil baking dishes, Tupperware containers, Ziploc bags and paper plates when they’re on sale so I have them on hand whenever I want to bring someone a meal. When I drop off a meal I tell the recipient that I don’t want any of it back–they can clean ’em and keep ’em or just throw them away. Done deal.

6. Don’t Forget The Extras
If I’m going to all the effort of making someone a nice meal, I want it to be…nice. That means a bottle of wine or sparkling cider. Extra sauce. Some flowers for their table. DESSERT. It’s the little things that make a difference.

7. Let Others Do The Cooking
Restaurant takeout, pizza delivery, ready-made meals from the grocery store, take-and-bake pizzas, even grocery delivery are all great options. Plus, the best part about letting somebody else do the cooking is that you can use this option remotely and still have food delivered on your behalf. Even though we live thousands of miles away, we’ve been able to send food to several friends in Seattle this year by ordering them pizzas or having Safeway drop off some groceries at their home.

8. Coordinate Meal Delivery
There are several websites out there that make coordinating meal deliveries easy. You can include all of the pertinent information–the recipient’s name, address, directions to their house, phone number, dietary restrictions, best times for food delivery–all in one place. This makes it easy for people to sign up for a day or time to bring a meal and share what they’re bringing to help eliminate confusion. A few of my favorite meal-coordination sites are Take Them A Meal, Meal Train, and Care Calendar.

9. Don’t Expect To Stay And Chat
When you deliver a meal to someone in need, don’t plan on making a day of it. The recipient may or may not be up for visitors right now, but don’t assume this is your chance to get some quality one-on-one time. New parents especially have their hands full, and they may just want you to quietly leave your food and move right along (so they can, you know, scarf down the only meal they’re going to eat today before the baby wakes up). Soon enough they will be ready for visitors–in fact, they’ll probably be begging for someone to come pass the time with them in a few months–but right now your mission is to bring food and leave them in peace.

10. Consider Other Meals
If you are bringing someone dinner, consider bringing along a little something extra for breakfast the next day. These meals that friends are bringing may be the only real meals this person is eating–and Mom always said that breakfast was the most important meal of the day.

With a little preparation and a few thoughtful touches, you can brighten someone’s day when they need it the most–and fill their tummies while you’re at it! Now, go forth and pay it forward.

 

Getting It All Done

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Last week I got to spend some time with a friend who doesn’t have any kids yet. As I was packing up the boys to head back home she asked me (a bit bewildered, a bit frightened, a bit curious), “How do you get it all done?”. It’s a valid question.

I didn’t know quite how to answer her. The short answer is: what needs to get done, gets done…and everything else can just wait. The long answer is that I have several systems and routines in place that get me through each day and each week (some weeks better than others). Here’s a little glimpse into how I get it all done–or, I should say, how I attempt to get it all done!

Cooking
I usually prep dinner while the boys are napping (most days I can get both boys to nap for at least an hour at the same time in the afternoon. If not, I just prep when one of them is napping so there’s minimal chaos). If there are veggies that need to be chopped, meat that needs to marinate, spices that need to be measured out, whatever–I set it all up while the house is quiet. Kind of like how those cooking shows on TV have everything sitting out in bowls and all they have to do when it’s show time is throw everything in a pan, cook it, and–voila!–dinner! I usually only cook “hands-on” a few nights a week. The other nights I  just reheat frozen meals or leftovers (and pizza is never a bad option for a Friday night, either).

Laundry
I literally do laundry every day except Sunday (Mama’s gotta have a day of REST!). It’s easier for me to do one normal-sized load of laundry to completion (washed, dried, folded, put away) every day than to do a marathon session attacking the dirty-laundry mountain when it gets too monstrous for me to handle. Between Jon and I having our everyday clothes and work-out clothes, the boys needing “costume changes” multiple times a day for multiple reasons, and needing to wash linens on a somewhat regular basis, I am always able to fill a whole load of laundry. Jon likes to look nice for work (*grin*) so I actually iron his shirts once a week. It’s one of my least favorite chores, but I do it out of love (and it helps that I can watch Hulu while I’m tediously ironing away).

Cleaning
I am not a particularly clean person. I like having things tidy and organized and not disgusting, but I’m not the lady who scrubs her toilets every day (yes, I know someone who scrubs her toilets every. single. day.). I have a loose schedule of when I will do the required cleaning each week: Mondays I clean the kitchen and pay bills, Tuesdays I vacuum,  Wednesdays I clean the bathrooms, Thursdays I mop the wood floors, Fridays I pick up the yard. I just do the basics, and it only takes me 10-20 minutes per day to do my “chore-o-the-day”.

Activities
I love being busy–probably to a fault. I’m a stay-at-home-mom who can’t stand staying at home all day. So, we have little outings most days. In a typical week we’ll go to Stroller Strides (my exercise class) or a run on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings; either park play time or library story time on Tuesdays; and BSF (Bible study) on Thursday mornings. Our little outings last for about 1-2 hours. The boys (usually) have a lot of fun on our adventures– and I need the breaks in our day for my sanity. It’s really a win-win. On the weekends we do our bigger adventures that require more time or more adults: hikes, swimming, shopping, day trips.

NOT Getting It All Done
There are some days where I’ll just decide a nap is more important than whatever chores were on my to-do list. Or the boys will actually sleep past 6:30 AM and I decide that we’re going to stay in our jammies all morning instead of working out. Or I’ll be cleaning up what seems to be the hundredth mess of the day, and I’ll call Jon and tell him to pick up dinner on the way home so I don’t have to cook. Or I will be in the middle of packing up my life to move half-way across the globe (NEXT WEEK!!!). Every now and then, I don’t get it all done. And that’s okay. In the end, what needs to be done will be done–and sometimes a break is what really needs to be done!

Quick and Easy Toddler Lunches

Feeding a toddler is difficult. They tend to be picky eaters, they eat on sporadic schedules, and they need a lot of assistance at meal time (I wonder at what point can I expect my child to safely wield a steak knife?). Lunch is always a bit of a struggle for me because it happens to fall right in the middle of the day between the time that I’ve just cooked and cleaned up breakfast and have to start prepping for dinner. I have, however, found a few tried-and-true lunches that are my go-to’s on busy days. Note: I always offer milk or water and at least two fruits and/or veggies with each meal. My 2-year old will always eat the fruit and, more often than not, he goes for the veggie, too. Here are some of my faves:

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  1. peanut butter and jelly sandwiches (when I’m feeling fancy, I’ll even make them into “t-balls”–use the top of a glass to cut out the sandwich bread into circles–and use string cheese to make the “T” and the “bat”. If you know my son, you know that this is about the coolest lunch in the world to him). 
  2. “deli tray”- cubes of lunch meat and cheeses
  3. breakfast foods: oatmeal, scambled eggs and toast, a muffin and yogurt–breakfast is usually my son’s favorite meal of the day, and who says you can only eat those things in the morning anyway?
  4. quesadillas with salsa “dip”
  5. anything on a stick: fruit, cheese cubes, chunks of meat, grilled veggies
  6. mac and cheese (yeah, it’s terrible but he loves it…)
  7. smoothies (you can sneak all kinds of good stuff into thesese guys!)
  8. leftovers from whatever we ate for dinner last night
  9. chicken nuggets and sweet potato fries
  10. pasta (he usually loves any kind of pasta)
  11. hummus with crackers, pita wedges and veggies for dipping
  12. tortilla roll ups (lay out a tortilla, spread on some cream cheese, layer on lunch meat/cheese/spinach/lettuce, roll up, and slice into rolls)
  13. grilled cheese and soup
  14. prepared tuna fish spread on crackers (or with goldfish crackers swimming in the tuna fish “sea”)
  15. healthy nachos (multigrain crackers baked with shredded cheese, beans, etc.)
  16. english muffin pizzas (1/2 a whole wheat english muffin spread with pizza sauce, topped with shredded mozzarella cheese and whatever toppings you like, then baked in the oven)
  17. “beanie-weenies”–baked beans with little hot dog pieces
  18. yogurt parfait (plain greek yogurt layered with granola, berries, and honey)
  19. mini whole-wheat bagels topped with peanut butter, bananas and a drizzle of honey
  20. “pigs in a blanket” (wrap a ‘lil smokies sausage or slice of turkey inside 1/3 of a crescent roll, then bake)

I’m always looking for new ideas, so feel free to leave a comment if you have any other great lunches!

Our Family Recipe For The Best Darn Cinnamon Rolls You’ll Ever Eat!

Sometimes things just don’t go according to plan. Last week was one of those weeks. Jon and I were both sick with bronchitis and ear infections (not sure how we both got the same two unusual ailments). Between caring for our own illnesses and trying to take care of the boys, we were pretty wiped out. But, what’s that I hear?! Duh-duh-duh-duh! Grandma to the rescue!

Jon’s mom was kind enough to come over last week and help us out a bit. She helped take care of the boys while I took a shower (all by myself, no munchkins at my feet!) and attempted (but failed) to actually take a nap. She also made us dinner before she left–such a welcome treat to this tired mama. One of the things grandma made for us was while she was visiting was our family recipe for dinner rolls. They are one of my absolute favorite foods–there’s nothing better than the smell of warm bread baking in your oven. Well, there’s actually one thing that’s better. Turning those dinner rolls into cinnamon rolls.

A number of years ago my mother-in-law figured out how to use the dinner roll recipe to make cinnamon rolls, and they are the best cinnamon rolls you’ll ever taste. Better than Cinnabon. They’re ooey-gooey, melt-in-your-mouth, close-your-eyes-and-sigh delicious. They take a bit of time and effort but, trust me, they’re worth it. You may gain 10 pounds after making this recipe (because you’ll want to eat the whole batch) but, again, it’s worth it! So, with no further ado, our cinnamon roll recipe.

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Peterson Family Cinnamon Rolls (AKA The Best Darn Cinnamon Rolls You’ll Ever Eat)
Makes about 30 rolls

2 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup butter, plus an additional 1-2 cups (2-4 sticks) of softened butter
3 cups flour, plus an additional 3-5 cups flour (can be white, wheat, or a combination of flours–this time I used half white and half whole wheat flour)
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 packages rapid rise yeast
2 eggs
2 pounds brown sugar
1/2 cup cinnamon
1 recipe for frosting or glaze (we like this one)

  • Heat the milk and butter to 120-130 degrees (use a thermometer to ensure accuracy–too hot and you’ll kill the yeast, too cool and the yeast won’t grow)
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine, 3 cups flour, the sugar, salt, and yeast.
  • Lightly mix the flour mixture (I use a stand mixer with the dough hook attachment, but you could do this by hand), then add the heated milk/butter
  • After slightly blended, add the eggs one at a time, blending well after each egg.
  • Slowly add 3-41/2 cups flour to form a dough that holds together well but does not stick to the mixer. This part you just have to go by feel–not too dry, not too sticky.
  • Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead the dough into a soft smooth ball.
  • Lightly grease a clean mixing bowl, put dough ball in the bowl, cover with a clean dish towel, and let your dough rise (follow the instructions on your yeast packet for how long the first rising should be, usually about an hour if you’re using rapid rise).
  • During the first rising, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon (use a fork and/or your fingers and make sure there are no lumps in the mix)
  • After the first rising, divide the dough in half. Cover half of the dough. Roll out the other half of the dough to a thickness of about 1/2 inch (it should make about a 12″ x 18″ rectangle).
  • Spread with 1-2 sticks of softened butter
  • Sprinkle with about half of the cinnamon sugar mix; pat the mixture into the dough
  • Roll the dough tightly, then pinch tightly along the seam to keep it sealed
  • Slice into 1 1/2 inch thick rounds and place in a lightly greased pan
  • Repeat the roll out/butter/cinnamon sugar/slicing steps with the second half of the dough
  • Bake at 375 for 15-20 minutes, until lightly browned.
  • After baking, flip rolls upside down onto a cookie sheet covered in wax paper and scrape all of the extra cinnamon goo on top. Then, flip the cinnamon rolls with the wax paper right-side up onto a cooling rack.
  • Let rolls cool, then top with icing. (I usually can’t wait for them to cool before I eat about half the batch, but if you have the self-control to wait, kudos to you)
  • Eat, eat, eat!

This Week’s Menu and My Recipe For Baked Potato Soup

This week we have a few extra outings planned during the day, so I’m sticking with  recipes I make all the time and that I know I can throw together really quickly. At the end of the post I’ve included my mom’s recipe for my mom’s Baked Potato Soup–I hope you love it as much as we do!

Sunday: Our sweet neighbors brought us over some spaghetti carbonara that we’ll eat tonight. I baked some chocolate chip cookies to fill their serving dish with before I return it.

Monday: Indian Curry and Naan

Tuesday: Community Group Potluck- I’m bringing the main course, Baked Potato Soup (recipe at the end of this post)

Wednesday: Orange Chicken and Rice

Thursday: 7-layer Casserole (Made from rice, ground beef, veggies, and tomato sauce)

Friday: Beer Brats and Balsamic Potatoes

Saturday: Roasted Pork Loin and Veggies

Mom’s Baked Potato Soup
I got this recipe from my mom, an excellent cook who never writes down her recipes. In fact, my copy of this recipe is hand-written on a scrap of paper and includes two helpful directions: cook, add this last. Good thing I’ve watched her make it a time or two! I love this soup because it can be made ahead of time and reheated in a Crockpot or on the stove for dinner on a busy night. I like serving this with cornbread. Enjoy!

baked potato soup
2 cans chicken broth, plus extra for thinning the soup (or use vegetable broth to make this a vegetarian dish)
1 medium onion, diced
4-5  medium baking potatoes, peeled and chopped into 1 inch cubes
2-3 stalks celery, diced
1 can evaporated milk
salt and pepper to taste
instant mashed potatoes to thicken
*Optional stir-ins: cooked diced ham, frozen corn, shredded cheddar cheese
*Optional toppings: cooked crumbled bacon, sour cream, shredded cheddar cheese, diced chives or green onions

Put the broth, onion, potatoes, and celery in a large stock pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until potatoes are soft and starting to break apart, about 20 minutes. Add evaporated milk, salt and pepper. Thicken to desired consistency with instant mashed potatoes, or thin with extra broth. Add any stir-ins that you’d like. Serve and soup bowls, and top with desired toppings.

How To Make Your Own Baby Rice Cereal

We’re hanging out at home all weekend potty training our “big boy” so I thought I’d use the opportunity to make a bunch of baby food for our “little boy”. I like to make and freeze a few batches of baby food at a time so I’m not having to make small batches every day.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like making my own baby food. It’s cheaper than buying it in the store, it’s healthy (I only make exactly what I want my baby eating–not preservatives or extra additives), and it’s really is pretty easy to do.

Today I made brown rice cereal. This is a good first food for babies who are new to solids, and it can be mixed with any other baby food to give it more texture and a thicker consistency. If you’re so inclined, you can follow my little tutorial on how to make your own baby rice cereal!

1. Start with a milling blade (basically a flat blade) for your blender. I have a Baby Bullet with different types of blades that you can attach to the blender, but you could really use any blender that has a similar blade.

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2. Add 1/2 cup uncooked brown rice to the blender (or, apparently, the smiley face cup)

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3. Blend the rice until it is a fine powder (about 30 seconds)

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4. Add the milled brown rice and 4 cups of water to a pot.

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5. Cover the pot until it boils. Once it hits a boil, turn down the heat to low and cook with the lid on for 20 minutes.

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6. Test the consistency of your rice cereal. If you want it thinner, you can add more water or breast milk. Be careful, though. On my last batch I added too much extra liquid and it made the rice cereal so runny that it wouldn’t stay on a spoon.

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6. Once the ideal consistency is achieved, pour the rice cereal into storage cups. I like transferring the cereal to a large Pyrex with a pour spout for this part–it makes it a lot easier to pour the cereal into the small containers.

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7. Feed the baby his yummy rice cereal!

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8. Freeze or refrigerate the leftover cereal. Frozen baby food can last up to 6 months in your freezer. When you’re ready to eat the frozen rice cereal, just take out 1 or 2 portions the day before and defrost them in your fridge. The rice cereal will keep for about 3 days in your fridge.

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I was able to make about 20 portions of brown rice cereal today. Since Jacob is just starting on solids, this will last us 2-3 weeks if he has 1 portion per day. At a cost of about 50 cents to make this whole batch of rice cereal, that makes for some cheap eats!