The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; Indeed, my heritage is beautiful to me. ~ Psalm 16:6 nasb

Friday, January 31, 2014

Bread Baking Day

I made rice bread today, one of my favorite bread recipes because it always seems to turn out light and fluffy.  That's important when you're working with freshly ground whole-wheat flour!  I've decided I want to try making it as our "bread of choice," our daily lunch bread, even though it calls for making a batch of rice (I've used both white and brown), and seems to take longer to make (though that isn't really true).

I made a mistake with this batch, too, and instead of measuring out four scant cups of rice for my quadruple batch, I dumped the three cups of water into the entire pot of rice (I always cook more rice than I need).  Needless to say, I had watery rice which got eaten anyway, and also used for bread.  But, because there was extra water in it, I had to add extra flour to the dough as it was kneading in my Bosch mixer.

The result was rather large loaves of bread, but I went ahead and baked them.  Here's how they turned out:

My funny looking bread loaves.  :)

That loaf on the left was the largest one, and it was so large that it baked up high and into the oven rack above it!!  There are lines on the top of the loaf.  My guys quickly ate it up, and it was soft and chewy and so very yummy.

Here's a passage of Scripture to go along with my funny bread.

The steps of a man are established by the LORD,
And He delights in his way.
When he falls, he will not be hurled headlong,
Because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.
I have been young and now I am old,
Yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
Or his descendants begging bread.
Psalm 37:23-25 NASB

What a meaty passage of Scripture, food for the soul!

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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Winter Salads

I've been taking a lot of food photos lately, mostly for blogging recipes.  I share them on Facebook on my photography page, too.  So I thought I'd share this particular set with you all, in hope they inspire you to try some new food and get creative during this bitterly cold winter.

I have no recipes for these salads.  My little sister Dee would love me for this, since I used to be one who follows a recipe to the tee!  Read on, see what I've put together for meals, get inspired, and get in the kitchen and make something healthy!

We're supposed to be eating our veggies every day, and some of them (some would argue that all of them) should be raw.  I've read--and I have a dear friend who has done extensive research on this--that our bodies don't process raw foods as well in the winter as the summer, due to the cold (and this year the cold is extreme).  Because of this, some of these "salads" are fully cooked, some are partially, and there may be one or two that are completely raw.

Each salad has some protein and lots of veggies, and I made each one of these for lunchtime.  A few have carbs.  All are between 250-350 calories, if you care to count, but I'm not providing recipes because I have none.  I know generally what I can eat at each meal, and I've measured the ingredients I plan to incorporate in the salad to align with my diet.  And by diet, I mean just what I'm eating.  I'm not following a particular plan, just watching my calories and eating as "whole-food" and veggie-rich and carb-light (but still with carbs--whole grains and such) as possible.  No store-bought convenience foods for this girl!

Each of these salads is anywhere between 275-375 calories, perfect for any meal of the day.  Yes, veggies at breakfast are great!

Enough with the explanations.  You'll see a photo with the description under each one, so find one that looks yummy to you and read about it.  Then get in your kitchen and do something creative and healthy for yourself!!

Polenta with mushrooms and tomatoes, topped with queso fresco.

I sliced my allotted amount of polenta--yeah, I bought some organic polenta from Trader Joe's--and fried it in a ten-inch cast iron skillet using water.  Yes, water.  I sprinkled a little salt on top, then flipped the polenta when it was slightly golden on the bottom.  As the water dried up, I added a little more, then a little get the picture.  On the other side of the skillet, I tossed in the mushrooms.  Pick a seasoning--Cajun, Jerk, salt and pepper, whatever, and sprinkle some over the mushrooms while they cook.  When the polenta was done, I arranged it on my plate, dumped the mushrooms over it, topped it with sliced grape tomatoes, then crumbled some queso fresco over all.  It was dee-lish!  Try it with whatever veggies you like.

Mixed raw greens with cubed polenta, queso fresco, and sweetened dried cranberries.

We bought a big bag of organic mixed baby greens from Costco for about $4.50.  They lasted the entire week for my lunches.  I purchase organic when I can, and especially for the Dirty Dozen (click here or you can Google it yourself and find tons of info).  Greens are on that list (spinach, anyway, but all greens are on the list I keep on my smart phone).  I topped the greens with cubed polenta (I had to use it up throughout the week!), queso fresco, and those cranberries (I bought them organic from the bulk food purchasing co-op we're a part of).  After I took the picture, I put a little homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing on top.  Don't overdo your dressing--oil, such as extra-virgin olive oil or EVOO, is healthy but in small amounts!

Sauteed kale with scrambled egg and queso fresco.

I sauteed some chopped kale in a bit of chicken broth (water + organic chicken bouillon), and once it was softened (just a few minutes), added a scrambled farm-fresh egg.  I use either a cast iron pan, or a stainless steel one, so that I can use a metal spatula so my egg doesn't stick on the bottom (I'm not using oil in these recipes).  I dumped the final product in a bowl and topped it with queso fresco.  There was a bit of liquid left in the frypan; I added it to my bowl as well for a "soup" texture.  But you can dump it out if you prefer.

Roasted polenta and Brussels sprouts with cubed queso fresco.

Cut the ends off each Brussels sprout, then halve (or quarter them) into the size you prefer (I like mine smaller, bite-sized).  Bring some water to a boil, and place the sprouts in the water and boil for two minutes.  Drain and put in a small pan, along with the cubed polenta.  Transfer this dish to the oven, set at 400 degrees F for about 7-8 minutes.  Pull it out, put it on a plate, and top with the cheese.  You're probably sick of my "polenta week," huh?  :)

Mixed baby greens with cranberry cheddar, peas, and sweetened, dried cranberries.

Fernando and I sampled some cranberry cheddar cheese at Whole Foods, and decided to purchase a really small brick (about $2) as a treat.  I julienned a one-ounce strip to top this salad:  Mixed greens on the bottom, baby peas, then the cheddar and cranberries.  I topped it with a little homemade creamy Italian dressing (recipe to come soon).

Brussels sprouts topped with marinara sauce, a meatball, and fresh Romano cheese.

Prepare those sprouts like I described above, except boil them for 3-5 minutes until desired doneness (I don't like mine mushy, so I err on the side of 3-4 minutes).  Top with sauce, meatball, and a little freshly grated Romano or Parmesan.  Yes, it's a salad.  Veggies with a little protein!

Sauteed kale, mushrooms, and polenta with tomatoes and queso fresco.

Hey, someone had to eat up all that polenta and queso fresco, and I was the gal to do it.  Saute some chopped or sliced mushrooms in a little broth, then add the kale and polenta and saute until the kale is wilted and soft, just a few minutes.  I added chopped raw grape tomatoes and topped the whole thing with the cheese.

Mixed baby greens, Brussels sprouts, and sweetened dried cranberries.

Whew--I finished the polenta and queso fresco several days ago.  :)  Now on to the Brussels sprouts!  I finished those up today by preparing them as above and putting them on top of the last of my baby greens.  I then topped them with the cranberries, some salt and pepper and Cajun seasoning, and a tiny bit of homemade creamy Italian dressing.  The warm Brussels sprouts with the raw baby greens was a nice texture, and not too stark and cold on this bitter winter day.

Plus, I ate the salad at my kitchen/breakfast countertop, with my back to a west window and the sun streaming in.  I was toasty!!

Here's another one:

Plate of steamed broccoli, with 1/2 cup cooked barley, one ounce cheddar cheese,
and 1/4 cup homemade salsa.

And just one more:

Plate of mixed baby greens, topped with 1/2 cup leftover chili
and 1/4 cup homemade guacamole.  (Day after Superbowl Sunday!)

I hope my lunch adventures with different salads inspire you in the kitchen as well!

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Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Decorating for Valentine's Day

Yes, you read the blog post title correctly.  I decorated.

It was just one little thing, really.  I'd actually like to change the fireplace mantel every month or so, or every season at least.  Or maybe when I feel like it.  No--that would mean hardly ever.  Okay, at least every season.

But when I saw my 3M hooks still up in my foyer, without Christmas garland hanging, I figured I'd decorate them somehow instead of letting them sit bare until next Christmas.  Here's what I did:

To make this heart "garland," I first found a template for a heart shape in different sizes.  I printed it out on printer paper, then carefully cut the hearts out so I'd have a stencil of sorts.  It was flimsy, but I used a pencil and traced the shapes very lightly onto scrapbook paper (the back side), then cut them out.

I cut out three different sizes, doubling the amount I thought I'd need since I'll need two hearts for each spot on my "garland."

I used a variety of blue and brown patterned and solid scrapbook paper.

Any kind of string or twine will work; I bought some with a coupon for a few dollars at Hobby Lobby.  I measured what I'd need for length, then cut the string with extra at each end for tying.  I tied slipknots in the ends of each strand of string, then hung the strands along my hooks in the foyer.

Don't worry; you can always untie a strand and re-tie it if it's too long, or if the weight of the paper hearts pulls it down lower.  I ended up doing it, too, plus I realized that the one doorway opening on the dining room side is actually longer than the living room side.  :/

Choose two hearts to go together (of the same size, and lightly squeeze glue around one.  Place the gluey heart right over the string where you want it to hang, and press the other heart onto the other side of the string, evenly heart to heart.  :)

Hold the hearts together for just a minute until they stay, then move on to the next set.

The view into the foyer from the dining room.  Ignore the fact we have no molding around the door!

Looking into the front living room.

Standing in the living room, looking toward the foyer.

It's just a little something, but I enjoy having them hang.  Next year, I hope to put these along my fireplace mantel as a family room centerpiece.  If I keep up this "decorating" trend, I'll have to start just one box for non-Christmas decorations.  Just one--because I can't abide clutter and stuff.  :)

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Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Spice Rack Organization

Another brutally cold winter day means another day sheltered inside my home.  I don't mind this so much, because I know that once the weather warms up just a bit--and by warm I mean the 30s--we'll have more reasons to venture outside.

For now, I'm content to stay at home and spend the extra time I have here organizing and beautifying.  These words are pretty much synonymous for me, because an organized home is beautiful to me--it's neat, orderly, and calming to my spirit.  Not to mention, it also stirs up a sense of accomplishment that I did something!

Today, I'm sharing about how I organized my spice rack.  First, here's the "after" image:

It's still a work in progress, since I don't have enough of the smaller jars for all my spices.   The jars with the blue labels are my "work of art."  Below is the "before" image:

Some jars were large, some were small, some had quickly printed labels of my own, and some had permanent marker "labels."  I love uniformity, though, so here's what I did.

First, in Microsoft Word 2010, I created a new document, with three columns.  Then I created a chart with a pretty border, and used a light blue filler.  I will probably end up changing all these labels to plain white or another color, but I love blue so that's what I chose.  :)

The cells in the "chart" that are empty are there so that when I cut out each spice label, each label will have a complete border around.

The little spice jars are four-ounce jars, and I got them from Penzey's Spices (love that store!).  They sell the empty jars with blank labels (several sizes of jars, too), but these jars I bought with spices in them, and some came from my mom when she finished up a spice.

I lay out all the jars and labels, then I get out the packing tape.  Yep, that's what I use.

I lay the packing tape in strips, sticky side up, and place the labels word side down along each strip.  I used a piece of green paper so you could see the strips of tape.  Technically, what I do is pull out a strip of tape without cutting it off, and let it dangle (I hold the tape end and let the dispenser dangle down.  Then I put each label on, about three or four.  Then I rip off the end.  That way, I don't have "not enough" tape to get another label on.  Hope that makes sense!

Then it's just a matter of cutting between each label, and trimming the tape if it won't fit your jar.  I try to adhere the labels slightly higher than center, which looks prettier (photographer's "Rule of Thirds" and all!).  That was hard to do with these little jars, though, so I did my best.

That's it!  As I finish up spices, I'll soak off the labels (these Penzey's jars have easy-to-soak-off labels!) and replace them with my own.

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Monday, January 20, 2014

Sealing Bags for Freezer Storage

Often when I cook or bake, I like to double a recipe and freeze the extra for future use.  Figure the time savings with me:

From start to finish, My Very Best Chocolate Cake takes over an hour to reach the final "cooling on the racks" stage.  But, if I add about 15 minutes--if that--of extra time to measure double amounts and grease/flour extra pans, the result is two sets of cakes!  One set will get used right away, and one set will get frozen.  Five or six months later, when I have a hankering for cake, or there's a food event (potluck or some such event) coming up, I can pull out those cakes, whip up a frosting or filling, and I'm quickly set to bring a dessert!  So here's my formula:

Doubling a recipe = Saving time!

Now on to the freezing part.  It's important to keep as much air as possible out of your freezer package, since oxygen promotes freezer burn or at least diminished taste.  I don't have a vacuum sealer, so what do I do?

First, for, say, the cakes I mentioned above, I wrap them in plastic wrap.  I do the cakes two ways (around one side, then turn 90 degrees and wrap that way) because they're not quite narrow enough for the plastic wrap to cover from edge to edge.  And that also gives them some extra protection.

The cakes also fit nicely in gallon-sized freezer bags, so each one goes into a separate bag (can't fit two in one, unfortunately).  Then, I seal the bags.  Yes, there's more; keep reading.  ;)

I open the seal in the center of the bag (easier to seal again once this step is done), and insert a straw into the bag.  Then I seal the bag around the straw as much as possible.  All that's left is lung power!

Suck out as much air as possible.  This may take several inhales; usually two or three will do the trick.  Once you've gotten as much air out as you think you can, use your lips to pull the straw out while using your fingers to quickly seal the bag up completely.

Of course, vacuum sealing is probably much easier, but without that handy machine, this has worked for me very well!

Above are my three sealed cakes, ready for the freezer.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, the "common" name for My Very Best Chocolate Cake is...

Chocolate Cake To The Max

Just in case you were wondering what those letters meant.  ;)

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Sunday, January 19, 2014

Goofy Danny, and Me, Too!

Danny is my #3, for those of you who don't know.  He's the goofiest guy I have, except maybe for my husband, lol.  One day, just around New Year's, I decided I needed a new profile picture for Facebook.  This usually means a lot of work on my part, but this time I figured if I got my camera all set up, I could just have Danny take my picture instead of having to use the remote.

So, while I got the settings and angles and everything just right, Danny posed as the subject.  Here he is hamming it up for me while I set up.

Okay, okay, I was ready.  After what seemed like a gazillion shots, I think Danny took a decent one of me.  Here it is...

Now you can play Guess My Age.  Just kidding.  ;)

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

My Penny's Worth ~ Making Lime Cubes

A dear friend, Helen, gave us some "going" produce--all organic!  I was thrilled with this gift, and used the fresh stuff right away.  I made sauteed kale with mushrooms and tomatoes, with scrambled eggs, for breakfast two mornings in a row.  Mmm!

In the produce bag I found a few lemons and several limes.  One of the lemons ended up as slices in the water I drink throughout each day.

After a few days of forgetting about the bag of citrus in my fridge, then spotting it again, I immediately grabbed my Bosch Universal blender, attached the juicer attachment, and juiced all the limes and one lemon that was left.

After juicing them, I poured them into an ice cube tray.  Each cube is one tablespoon--I measured.

I left all the pulp in, and this little batch made six cubes.

I put the tray in the freezer, and after a few days I simply popped the cubes out, sealed them individually with Glad Press-N-Seal®, marked "Lime Cubes 1 T each" (yeah, a lemon was mixed in, too), then placed them into a quart-size freezer bag.

Now when I need fresh lime juice, I can simply take a cube out and let it thaw!  Easy-peasy.  I tend to use these in fresh salsas, , guacamole, and bean "caviar" recipes (like salsa with beans in it).  It's so nice to be able to use these food items that would otherwise have been thrown away!  Thank You, Lord, for Your provision, even for six lime cubes!

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Friday, January 17, 2014

Simply Christmas

We had a beautifully simple Christmas.  Matt and Char arrived mid-afternoon, so we shared brunch, relaxed, and played until they came.

This was the official Christmas, and the gifts were arranged around--and under--it.

Thomas took a nap, while Jacob sipped something hot.

Mom and Dad.

It's official--I was there!!

The guys brought games for the afternoon.

The Jackson family!

My mom got this tee-shirt for my dad.

The giver of Mom's gift made her play a game where she had to guess who the giver was!

She received Catch Phrase, from Danny!

Char received a variety of ornaments from Mom.

Matt opened his foodie gift basket from Jacob.

Fernando received a Best Buy gift card from Jeff.

Thomas bought me spices from Penzeys!  *woot*

Jeff got a book he really wanted.

A rare smile for Joseph as he opens his Andy's (frozen custard) gift card!

Jacob was pretty happy with his restaurant gift card.

Char got Danny a gift card to Five Guys.  He likes food.

Thomas got a football.  (No words needed!)

We've got a great family.  Thank You, Lord, for such a beautiful Christmas spent with family.  We had a blessed day together.

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