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

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Creamy Avocado Dressing ~ Healthy AND Yummy!!

I've been making my own salad dressings for years, and I love them all.  I usually make one kind--perhaps two if my hubby asks for his favorite (Thousand Island, which I've also come to love)--and use it for a week or two until it's gone before making a different kind.  But I may very well get stuck on this recipe.  I've already made it three times in a row, and my guys keep asking for more!

The inspiration behind this dressing comes from Pinterest (where else??).  A few avocado-based dressings came across my Pinterest feed, so I'd look at them, make sure the link worked, then pin the recipe to try later.  Then, a similar recipe came across my Facebook feed.  I figured I'd try that, and so I did.

It was a great starting point, I think, for me to create my own version.  You can see above that olive oil was involved in my first attempt.  The original recipe called for 1/4 cup, and I figured I'd cut it down to two tablespoons (half).  The recipe also called for one full teaspoon of hot sauce.  Those two ingredients were sticking points for me, so I tweaked and came up with my own version, even healthier, too!  Keep reading...

See the mixing jar above?  I added a whole clove of garlic (from my garden, stored in my freezer) and a one-tablespoon lemon cube (from lemons a friend gave me, stored as juiced cubes in my freezer).  I added those in, and my handy-dandy Braun stick blender blended everything right up, as smooth and creamy as could be.

After making the original recipe with less oil, I was not happy that I could actually taste it; it was a really strong taste.  That usually doesn't happen with me, ever, with olive oil, so since it was so strong, I ended up leaving it completely out--no harm done at all!  (I didn't take pictures of the ingredients without the oil, so you'll see the evoo in my images.)

Next, although I love spicy, one full teaspoon of the Tabasco was too much.  At first, the taste seemed perfect.  But as I ate my salad, the Tabasco "zing" built and built until it was almost too spicy.  So I cut that back, from one full teaspoon to one-quarter teaspoon.

After making those two adjustments, the only other thing I did was to add a few tablespoons of milk--real, non-rBGH whole milk.  I use the good stuff!  It's only a few tablespoons, it adds a little fat back into the recipe, and it helped to thin it.

My new recipe--above and below.  No oil!

Notice I store this dressing in a glass jar (below), not a bottle.  There's a reason I'm doing that!  It's still thick, and trust me--you could almost just take a spoon (or a bag of tortilla chips) and use this dressing as a dip.  Yes, it's that good.

Christine's Creamy Avocado Dressing

1 avocado (medium-large)
1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt (I used a nice organic plain yogurt)
2 tablespoons milk (more or less depending on how thick/thin you want your dressing)
1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice (both are equally yummy)
1 garlic clove
3/4 teaspoon salt (real sea salt)
1/4 teaspoon hot sauce (Tabasco for me; it's what was in my fridge)

Cut the avocado in half, pit it, and scoop the meat out into a jar.  Add the rest of the ingredients.  I used a stick blender to blend everything together.  (If hand-whisking, mince your garlic first.)  Grab a spoon and a bag of chips.  Spoon onto your salad, mix into a bean salad, top your potato, spread it on your sandwich, add to your taco...  I could go on.  But I think you get it.

Please store this dressing in your fridge!  The last time I made this, it lasted two weeks, mostly because I was out of town for a few days and there was some left when I got home (woot!)  The avocado may discolor a bit, and/or you may see a little liquid when you pull it out of the fridge.  The discoloration is normal, and as for the liquid--just stir it back up and continue to enjoy it on whatever you're making.

Calorie-wise, two tablespoons of this dressing equals only about 35 calories.  So make it and enjoy it guilt-free!!

Sauteed Brussels sprouts with tomatoes, topped with avocado dressing and fresh Romano cheese.

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Friday, February 7, 2014

Beef and Broccoli Casserole

I took these photos a while ago, so I don't have a main "pin this on Pinterest!" image.  Sorry about that.  Plus, we haven't even eaten this casserole yet!  I'll explain as I go along.

So, you can see that huge bowl of cooked ground beef below, and you're probably wondering why you would want to cook up that much for one recipe (it's four pounds).  Well, that's because it's a quadruple batch.  A family at church was on the verge of having a baby (they now have a new little boy!), and we wanted to bless them with a freezer meal--something that could be pulled out when they needed a meal, and thawed and baked.

I don't have very many recipes that can be frozen like this, but I created this one for this very purpose.  For this particular day of preparation, we made four casseroles and froze all four, one for the D. family and the other three for future meals for our family.  Or, perhaps someone else would need a meal and then we'd be able to quickly bless them without having to make something all over again!

Brown rice goes very well in this tomato-based dish (you can use white, too).

I left off the cheese topping in all but the D. family's dish.
We'll top ours with fresh when we're ready to bake them.

Here's the casserole with cheese on top.

Four pans destined for the freezer.
I put plastic wrap on top of the cheese/meat before covering it with foil.

Quick and easy directions right on the aluminum foil.

Beef and Broccoli Casserole

1 pound ground beef, cooked and drained
2 14.5-oz. cans diced tomatoes
one head broccoli, cut into bite-sized pieces and steamed just til tender
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon Northwoods seasoning (from Penzey's spices--substitute some paprika, thyme, and pepper)
shredded cheddar cheese for topping (or use your favorite)

Mix everything up and pour into a 13x9 casserole dish.  Top with shredded cheese.  Bake uncovered at 350 degrees F for about 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly.

Easy!  Freezes well!  The D. family loved it.  And now I have some in my own freezer for one of those busy days...

If there's another photo below, then we've eaten one of our casseroles and I remembered to take a picture of it.  :)

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Thursday, February 6, 2014

Baked Yogurt Chicken

I'm on a chicken kick now!  Not really--I'm just blogging some chicken recipes.  This particular recipe has been a part of our dinner repertoire for many, many years, and is--obviously--a family favorite.  It is also a simple recipe, quick and easy to prepare.  Plus I'm going to show you my lazy cook's way of putting it together!

One other note:  My guys tend to fight over who cleans up after this meal.  I usually catch one of them scraping all the yogurt/breading mixture left in the pan and eating it up, even if there's chicken left over!  Yes, it's that good.  :)

First the photos; then the recipe...

Chicken breasts, plain yogurt, bread crumb mixture -- that's pretty much it!

The original recipe calls for you to dip a chicken breast in thee yogurt, then dip it in the bread crumb mixture to coat both sides, then place it in the baking dish.  Here's my lazy way:

Sprinkle bread crumbs in the bottom of the baking dish (13x9).
Put some blobs of yogurt around the bottom of the dish.

Place the breasts (or breast pieces--I cut mine in half) into the blobs
push them around a little to spread the yogurt out.

Sprinkle the rest of the bread crumb mixture over the top of the chicken, and bake.

Yogurt Chicken.  (With beets on the side, in case you wondered what that red stuff was.)

 Baked Yogurt Chicken

1 cup bread crumbs
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese (I use freshly grated Romano)
1 tablespoon dried minced onion
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon seasoned salt
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
dash pepper (a few cranks of the pepper mill--there's nothing like freshly ground pepper!)
16-oz. container plain yogurt
6-8 large chicken breasts (I also cut mine in half)

Combine everything but the yogurt and chicken in a pie tin.  Place yogurt in a bowl; stir until smooth.  Dip each breast in yogurt, then coat with the breading mixture.  Place in a 13x9 baking dish.  Pour remaining yogurt and bread crumbs over chicken in dish.  You may top everything with some melted butter drizzled over (you really don't need it, but the original recipes says...), plus some sesame seeds (which is delicious but I always forget them--rats!).

Bake at 375 degrees F, uncovered for 45-55 minutes until breading is golden and chicken is cooked through.  Serves 6-8, or more if you serve breast halves!

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken

Every Tuesday lately has been Slow Cooker Day.  With our crazy Tuesday schedule, I end up in the car and gone from home most of the afternoon, including picking up Thomas from math club at 4:30 then going straight to the train station to pick up Danny, and arriving home at around 5:15--way too late to start dinner.  I've tried to come up with some new dinners to cook in the slow cooker, and this particular one was a hit with the guys.

Here are some photo highlights, and the recipe, as always, is at the end.  :)

I had Thomas cut the boneless, skinless chicken breasts in half.  He likes knives.  ;)

Simple recipe, simple (and few) ingredients!

Flouring ("breading") the chicken pieces.

Measure out the barbecue sauce and the marmalade.

Mix everything up in a bowl.

Into the slow cooker it all goes!

Slow Cooker ~ Orange Chicken

two pounds boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
4 tablespoons flour
2/3 cup orange marmalade (can substitute peach or apricot preserves)
1/3 cup barbecue sauce (I used homemade barbecue sauce)
1/4 cup Bragg's liquid aminos (or soy sauce)
1 teaspoon ground ginger

In a large bowl, toss chicken pieces with flour.  Stir in remaining ingredients and pour all into a 3- to 5-quart slow cooker (mine above is a 3.5-quart and worked very well).  Cook on low 6-8 hours, or on high 3-4 hours.  Serve with rice and a vegetable.

Slow Cooker Orange Chicken with organic basmati white rice and steamed green beans.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Jacob, Another Year Gone

January 27

Dear Jacob,

Well, another year has passed by, so quickly it seems.  I can't believe you're 23 today.  I remember, just like it was yesterday, the scintillating conversations we would share (or, more like you spoke and I listened intently)--even that one at about 2 a.m. when you couldn't sleep, and we heard the faint whistle of a train way off in the distance on the wind, and you just had to tell me everything about what kind of train that probably was, because freight trains sound like one way, and passenger trains sound like another.  I learned a lot about freight trains that night.  I was also lost in the wonder that was you.

I remember your loud three-year-old voice hollering out To God Be the Glory as we shopped our way through the grocery store.  And I mean all the way through.  Oh, and the things you would say, and the information you would share--well, I'm not going into detail here, that's for sure!  Suffice it to say that Dad and I laughed about some of those things.

And now, look at you.  You grew up on me, before I even realized it.  You even went away to college, and now you're home, working an internship and getting ready to graduate.  I would like to inform you that I will cry when I watch you walk down the aisle and receive your diploma.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.

I'm so glad you consider Dad and me friends.  I'm so thankful that you are a passionate follower of Christ.  I'm tickled that you will still do the Silly Walk down the hallway, and that you laugh fully, completely, and whole-heartedly at things you find funny.  And I'm glad you still like to blow out candles.

Happy birthday, son!

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Monday, February 3, 2014

Football is not Over Yet!

After myriad practices, and eight games, the season ended.  Two banquets were attended and enjoyed.  Awards were handed out.  Oh, and one crock pot lid was lost.  (But that's another story.)  Thomas' football season was over.

But wait.  I forgot about Winter Workout.  Um, that would be Workouts.  (The "s" is in bold.)  *sigh*

We'll now be taking turns making the 35-minute drive to the winter workout location, but it is sort of fun, and definitely more relaxed than daily practices and weekly games (though the games were by far the highlight of every autumn weekend!).

Here are highlights from last week's workout.

Thomas going out for a pass.  (I thought he played nose tackle...)

The kid can catch!?!

Teem cheer!

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Decorating Storage Boxes for the Pantry

The Chicken Chick
I'm linking up with the Clever Chicks blog for this post.  Please click on their button to the right to see what they're all about, and to visit others' blogs and be inspired!

I'm not the most craftsy person; actually, I freely admit I'm not craftsy at all.  That's why I love Pinterest--for the ideas I find that may actually be do-able for me!  I had discovered Mod Podge through Pinterest, and you'll see that gluey-sticky whatever-it-is coating stuff featured in today's blog.  Read on.  :)

Remember my newly cleaned and reorganized pantry?  Here's the reminder photos (left and right sides) from yesterday's post if you didn't see it:

Nice and clean, tidy and organized!  But, see those green Chicken of the Sea tuna boxes?  And the cut-out oatmeal boxes?  Even though I love them for their function--holding groups of smaller items in a neat and tidy way--I am somewhat disturbed, shall we say, about their "cluttery" and messy feel.  Let me amend that:  I was somewhat disturbed.  I am no longer, because I fixed it.  :)

To me, order = beauty.  And order means neat and clean lines, not busy, out-of-place colors.  Something had to be done with my free storage boxes.  I didn't need Pinterest to inspire me, either.  After discovering the beauty and ease of Mod Podge for crafts such as beautifying these glass food storage jars, I had just the thing for my pantry boxes, which now look like this:

What I used:

  • Mod Podge -- matte finish
  • foam brush
  • scrapbook paper
  • pencil
  • scissors

Here's what I did:

First, I cut around the top of this Quaker instant oatmeal box (yes, my husband requests I purchase these for quick breakfasts on busy mornings), and cut out an opening in the front.

I traced this front section onto the back of a sheet of scrapbook paper (12x12 which is what I have plus these boxes were too big for smaller paper).  Then, I cut out the shape with about a one-inch or so border all the way around.  I cut slits all the way around the edges, and cut out corners at the tops (they look like tabs).  I figured the tabs would fold over those littler sections more easily than folding corners up and around and over (you'll see that below).

The reason for cutting the slits:  the paper folds more easily over the edges of the cardboard box in smaller sections rather as one whole section.

I love this stuff!

I coated the backside of the scrapbook paper with Mod Podge, staying within the pencil lines I had drawn.  I carefully set the front of the box down onto the paper (easier to me than lifting the paper up and putting it on the box, but whatever works for you is fine).  I carefully smoothed the paper toward the edges to get rid of buckles and air bubbles, and let it dry for several minutes before the next step.

Then, working in sections, I coated three or four tabs with Mod Podge, then folded them over and around and into crevices, pressing them down.  I worked my way around the entire front of the box with this method.

Those "tabs" at the top folded over nicely, without extra bulk.

The corners got folded over and around.

For the front labels, I used Microsoft Word 2010, created several identical one-cell charts, typed in my titles using the Nauvoo font, printed them out on simple printer paper, and cut them out along my border (I chose a fancier border than simple solid black).

I coated the back side with a thin layer of Mod Podge and secured the label to the front of the box, slightly higher than middle.

Once the label had dried, I coated the whole front and papered sides of the box with a thin layer of Mod Podge.

I let the boxes sit all afternoon to make sure the Mod Podge really dried well.  I didn't use any finish coats, or extra coats, since these were free coardboard boxes and they won't see heavy use.  Here's my baking box on my pantry shelf:

Here's another oatmeal box, below.  You can see that I didn't use scrapbook paper to cover the sides, but just enough to fold the paper over.

After two successful boxes, it was time to conquer my tuna boxes!

Below, you can see that I used extra paper to cover more of the sides of these boxes than I did with the oatmeal boxes.  That's because these boxes stick out a little further from the edge of my "lovely" metal shelves, so they'd be more noticeable.  I wanted to make sure they were covered more deeply.

Yes, I have a box for other stuff!

Here are the boxes on my shelves!

With metal shelving units, the shelves themselves are not even (you can see the Lunch and Snacks box above tilted along the sag in the shelf), so smaller jars and boxes always fell or slid over or never stayed together properly.  These boxes contain like items in a way that makes them easier to find.  Plus, they're so pretty!

Lest you think I'm this wonderfully craft-minded and awesome organizer, take another look at the photo above.  I completely missed one of the tuna boxes on the left!  I didn't even see it until after I took the picture.  *rats*

I have that last silly tuna box to cover, but it's not the only one any more!  Fernando and I just made our bi-weekly run to Costco, and I came home with three more boxes!!  Two of them are going right into my pantry to contain some bulk spices on the left.  Hopefully I'll remember to cover that other box along with my new ones!!

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