Thursday, May 2, 2013

Homemade Chocolate Chip Granola Bars (no bake)

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One of my current goals is healthy eating, and for three reasons. 1) I want to drop some lbs. 2) I want to feel better. 3) I want my family to be healthy.

Upon my quest of healthy eating, I have been making a lot more homemade foods and a lot less boxed, canned, frozen, and packaged foods. Have I lost any pounds? No, not really, because I'm so excited about how good all of our new foods taste that I tend to overindulge. Oops. But have I been feeling better? Absolutely!! My husband and I used to need so many Tums for our heartburn that we should've considered stock in it to make some of our money back. Since we've cut so many extra additives and chemicals, we've considerably reduced our Tums intake! It is amazing how much better we've been feeling just by cutting some of the junk out of our diets.

With that being said, I am a granola bar fanatic! They're so easy to grab and go when we're racing out the door with coats unzipped and shoes half on and I didn't have time to sit and eat a real breakfast because the-baby-pooped-twice-in-an-hour-and-I-had-to-empty-the-dishwasher-so-that-I-could-refill-it-with-the-pile-of-dirty-dishes-on-the-counter-and-the-cat-just-spilled-her-water-all-over-the-floor-and-I-better-clean-it-before-baby-slips-in-it-and-I-have-to-change-her-for-a-third-time. Yes, I am as exhausted as that sentence.

Anyway, I also ate granola bars when I wanted a healthy snack in between meals (or when the hunger set in around 8pm). I used to buy boxes and boxes of generic brand granola bars.

Eating healthy, I thought. Saving money, I thought. Wrong! As our family makes the (slow and steady) movement towards healthier eating, we've been eating a lot more homemade and a lot less pre-packaged.

But I just can't deny my love for granola bars, so when I found this recipe, I had to try it.

Our lives will never be the same. Less junk, ingredients that I can pronounce, and they taste amazing.

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups quick cooking oats
1 cup crispy rice cereal
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Step 1
2 tablespoons mini chocolate chips (I just take a handful and eyeball it)

1. Mix oats and rice cereal in a large bowl and set aside.

2. Lightly grease a small pan and set aside.

Step 3
3. In a small pot, melt butter, honey, and brown sugar over medium heat until it bubbles.

4.  Reduce the heat to low and cook for about 2 minutes.

5. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla. Then pour mixture over the cereal/oat mix.
Step 6

6. Mix well so that all of the cereal/oats are coated.

7. Pour the mixture into the pan and press it down with the spoon until it's about an inch thick. Make sure it's pressed well so that it sticks together and won't fall apart when you cut it.

Step 8
8. Spread a handful of miniature chocolate chips across the top and lightly press them down so that they stick on the granola.

9. Let it cool at room temperature for about 2 hours.

10. Slice into bars. Store covered at room temperature. (The original directions say you can put it in the fridge for a few minutes to help it set if it seems crumbly upon cutting it.)

The first time I made these, I had too little for the size pan I used. I had to squish it to make it about an inch thick and then left the rest of the pan empty. It stays in place, so no problem.

The second time I made these, my pan was too little so I had extra. Again, no problem because it was a good little snack to just eat as plain granola. In fact, I may do that again next time so that I have extra to mix in with my yogurt...if I get the chance to sit down and actually eat breakfast.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

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Is there anything more comforting than warm homemade bread? Not in this house.

I found this recipe some time ago for honey whole wheat bread and finally decided to try it. The whole process takes about 3-4 hours, but most of that time is waiting for the dough to rise and baking.

To make 2 loaves, you will need...
6 cups whole wheat flour, divided
1 ¾ cups warm water, divided
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup honey
3 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon sea salt

flour and water
~In a large glass bowl, mix 3 cups of the flour with 1 ½ cups of warm water.  Set aside for 30 minutes.

~In a small bowl, combine yeast, honey and 1/4 cup warm water.  Set aside for about 10 minutes so that the yeast can activate and bubbles form.

~While you wait on the dough and the yeast, melt the butter and set aside to allow it to cool.
yeast mixture

~Add the salt, melted butter, and yeast mixture to the flour/water mixture.

~Gradually add the rest of the flour.

~Once it becomes difficult to stir the dough, lay it on some wax paper and knead with your hands. 
kneaded dough ready to rise

~Put the kneaded dough back in the glass bowl and cover it with a cloth to allow it to rise for about an hour.

~Meanwhile, get two bread pans buttered or lightly greased.

~After the dough has risen to about double its size, give it a good punch and then knead it for a few minutes.

~Shape the dough into 2 loaves. Then cover and allow them to rise for at least 30 more minutes.

~After they have risen to about double their size again, bake uncovered for about 40 minutes at 350*.

And there you have it - homemade honey whole wheat bread! We like to eat it warm and buttered with our dinner, but my all time favorite way to enjoy this bread -  

Avocado Grilled Cheese Sandwiches!!

2 slices honey whole wheat bread
spreadable butter
3 slices avocado
2 types of cheese (I used American and provolone)

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Friday, March 29, 2013

Whole Wheat Pepperoni Pizza Hot Pockets...sort of

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Since I started reading food labels more carefully, my husband has been woefully missing his Hot Pockets. They were quick and easy lunch fixes, which is something he treasures since he wakes up 6 1/2 minutes before he has to leave for work and somehow manages to get dressed, brush his teeth, grab breakfast, and make a lunch in that time.

How in the world does he do this? He has an awesome wife (*cough* me) who usually preps lunch foods into individual containers. But on the off chance that I just didn't feel like prepping a whole lot (okay, this happens more than I'd like to admit), he scours the freezer for fast foods to zap in the microwave.

Hot pockets used to be that last minute meal...until I started reading labels and began avoiding foods with too many ingredients I didn't know how to pronounce. But I just can't help feeling bad for that sad face at 7:38am as he searches the freezer.

A little googlin' and pinterestin' later...homemade hot pockets!

I didn't go by the original recipe totally, but it sparked some ideas for me to create the best hot pocket flavor of all: Pepperoni Pizza. And nothing says "Happy Friday" quite like pepperoni pizza for lunch.

* Pizza dough (I made homemade dough using half whole wheat flour and half bread flour)
* tomato sauce (I used a few spoonfuls of leftover spaghetti sauce from when I made Easy Spinach Lasagna)
* shredded mozzarella cheese (I used about 1 cup)
* pepperoni (I used turkey pepperoni because I like how it's leaner and less greasy)
* an egg and some garlic powder and Italian seasonings (optional)

Don't be intimidated by the idea of making your own pizza dough. It is so easy and had I realized how simple it was before, I never would have purchased the frozen kind. You can try my recipe here.

Step 1) Make your pizza dough (or use the frozen kind, after it has defrosted and risen). After it has risen, roll it out and cut into even pieces. I made 4 but they're on the bigger side so maybe 6 would be better? Roll each piece into a ball.

Step 2) Take a dough ball and roll it out into a circle. Spread on some sauce, cheese, and pepperoni.

Step 3) Fold up the ends and pinch the dough together really well. I didn't do this so well and had sauce ooze out a little. (See picture below)
Oops. The sauce oozed.

Step 4) Repeat steps 2 and 3 with the rest of the dough balls.

Step 5) Whisk an egg with some Italian seasonings and garlic powder. Brush it onto the tops of the hot pockets. This is optional because it's really just to give it a golden brown color plus some extra flavor. Now, if you're a pro in the kitchen (or less lazy than me), you could use a brush to spread the egg on top. If you do it my way (with the fork that was used to whisk it), you may end up with an eggy mess like I did.
Oops. Eggy mess due to laziness.

Step 6) Bake for 20 minutes at 375*

Cady approved
Is it gorgeous? Not really. I need to practice my shaping and "brushing".

But does it taste awesome? Yes!

Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

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This is my new go-to pizza dough recipe! Had I known about this before, I never would have purchased the frozen kind. Also, this dough takes about 2 hours max to be ready, whereas the frozen kind takes all day.

This recipe makes enough for 1 pizza, but I usually double it to make 2 (because is 1 delicious homemade pizza ever enough?).

* 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
* 1 Tablespoon brown sugar

* 1 Cup warm water
* 1 1/4 Cups whole wheat flour
* 1 1/4 Cups bread flour
* 3/4 Teaspoon sea salt
* 1 Tablespoon olive oil

In a large bowl, whisk the yeast, brown sugar, and warm water (warm, NOT hot). Then let it sit for about 10 minutes. It will become bubbly.

Then add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mix.

Lay it out on a clean counter or wax paper and knead it for about 5 minutes.

 Pat it into a ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover it with cling wrap and let it rise 1-2 hours.

Once it has risen, use floured hands to flatten it out onto your pizza pan and you're ready to make your pizza!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Learning Colors with Easter Eggs

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My little Cady is fascinated with shapes, colors and letters right now. It's so fun to watch this little person soak up new knowledge every day.

Well, Easter is coming up and I want to encourage her interest in learning colors, so I created these simple felt activities for her.

2 Colored Egg Matching Activities

1) Using scrap felt, I cut out egg shapes in as many colors as I had available. Then I cut each in half (with a zig-zag) and put the tops of the eggs on the flannel board. The idea is that she finds the matching bottom half and completes each egg. She was more interested in putting the pieces wherever she wanted, but eventually she'll get it.

2) Another project I created for her is felt eggs that have matching plastic eggs. I sat down and cut out the felt while getting in my afternoon Restaurant Impossible fix, then I hot glued the "yolks" onto the "whites".

With this activity, she can find the matching color and stuff it inside the plastic egg. This activity develops fine motor skills, cognitive development, and imaginative play.

I stuffed all of the eggs and put them in her Easter basket. I'm going to casually leave it out on the floor so when she wakes up from nap, she'll spend a good 20-30 minutes exploring the eggs. It's a sure way to keep her out of trouble long enough for me to prep dinner.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Banana Berry Yogurt Smoothie

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It may still be freezing outside, but I have sweet dreams about the approach of spring and summer.

I made these yummy smoothies for breakfast, turned up the heat, and walked around in bare feet, pretending we had decent weather.

*1 cup of frozen blueberries
*1/2 of a large banana
*1/2 cup of vanilla flavored yogurt
*2 teaspoons honey
*1/4 cup orange juice

Blend well and devour immediately.

Again, I used my Baby Bullet because I love it and it's so easy to clean. It's also the perfect size to make one really big smoothie (or two medium sized smoothies).

What was the best part? After every sip, Cady made a satisfied "ahh" sigh.

Avocado Hummus

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I am totally addicted to hummus. It is a delicious mid-morning (or afternoon or evening or whenever the craving hits) snack that Cady and I like to share. Yes, even the 1 year old loves hummus! She also loves (and I mean loves) avocado. Could I combine both flavors and be the best mom ever (according to my hungry child)? Yes. Yes I could.

I found this recipe.

I altered the recipe slightly to our liking and - Success!

15 oz cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1 avocado, peeled and cut up into chunks
1/4 cup lime juice
2 garlic cloves (I ran out, so I ended up using some garlic powder)
1/4 cup cilantro (original recipe calls for 1/2 cup, but it was too much for us)
3/8 tsp salt
crushed red pepper, to taste (I wanted it to have a little kick)
1 Tbs Extra Virgin Olive Oil

(*Original recipe calls for 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper. I substituted with crushed red pepper.)

Blend all of the ingredients except the olive oil. Once well blended, slowly pour in the olive oil while it is still blending. That's it!

The recipe gives instructions for garnish, but I knew we were about to devour it so I did not even consider a garnish beyond the handful of grape tomatoes I threw on there.

I mixed it all up in the Baby Bullet - because once the baby-food-making stage was over, I was determined to justify this purchase and its shelf space. Also, it's easy clean up. And by easy, I mean it "soaks" in the sink until the hubby gets home. Well, sometimes.

The hubby didn't like the hummus, but he doesn't like prepackaged hummus either and the baby and I didn't mind that he didn't want to partake in our healthy snacking. More for us.

This recipe is incredibly easy to make and cheaper than the prepackaged kind. And since my one year old thoroughly enjoys this healthy snack, I will be making it weekly.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

4 St. Patrick's Day Crafts

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I'm a little late posting this because our St. Patrick's Day weekend was packed full of activities and events. It was the hubby's birthday, and although his birthday is the day before St. Patrick's Day, I'm the lucky one for finding such a great husband and father of my child. But it isn't Valentine's Day, so that's all the mushy-gushing I'm going to do right now.

The hubs had to go in to work (I know, on his birthday), so little Cady and I kept busy and festive with these simple activities.

1. Shamrock Tissue Paper Stained Glass Window
I traced around the outside of a large heart-shaped cookie cutter (because free-hand drawing? Um, no, not here) to create a shamrock shape. Then I cut out the center and cut a piece of contact paper slightly larger than the opening. I tried so hard, but I still ended up cutting the contact paper so that it faced the wrong way. I do this every.single.time.  Fail.

It's not a big deal, though - it just looks cleaner if the sticky side is facing the window.

Even on a cloudy day, it still looks nice with natural light shining through the tissue paper...

2. Handprint Leprechaun Beard
The picture is self-explanatory. Just don't screw up like I did and leave the printer on "Fast Print" and think that the picture will turn out with any kind of quality. Oops. Oh well. I still love that little leprechaun face.

3. Shamrock Necklace
This is one that I did mostly myself because I don't trust a 1 year old with scissors and a laminating machine. Kids may be learning how to use technology at younger and younger ages, but I think for now, I'll be in charge of laminating.

I traced a small heart cookie cutter onto green card stock. Cady helped glue stick them together to look like shamrocks. Then I punched small holes in them, laminated them, and then strung them together to make a necklace. The shamrocks don't need to be laminated. However, if your child is like mine and enjoys crumpling paper/putting it in her mouth/stepping on it/etc., laminating allows the necklace to survive the weekend.

4. Shamrock Wand
Cady painted three hearts on white card stock and then I cut them out, glued together, and laminated (not necessary, but I wanted it to last the rest of the weekend). I simply used packing tape to attach it to a popsicle stick and it held up really well.

I tried to get a cute picture of little Cady enjoying all of her St. Patrick's Day stuff, but when I actually try to get her to sit still and smile, this is what I get...

I promise, she did love it all...and so will your little one.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Cleaning Make Up Brushes

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Confession: my make up brushes were disgusting. I haven't cleaned them in...too long. In fact, it's been at the top of my to-do list for so long that it's up there with "check into new lawnmower prices". It's now March and there is over a foot of snow in my

I found these easy directions on Pinterest last night and the simplicity of it all encouraged me to finally check off that item on my to-do list. Extra motivation: my skin has been breaking out like a teenager and although I appreciate the "you don't look your age" compliments, looking 15 isn't exactly my goal.

How to Easily Remove the Funk from Your Make Up Brushes 

~ Mix 3 parts of Antibacterial Hand or Dish Soap and 1 part EVO Oil (it replenishes the brush's moisture) on a plate. I used 3 teaspoons soap and 1 teaspoon oil and it was plenty for my 5 brushes.

~ Dip your brush in the mixture.

~ Brush it back and forth on your hand. It becomes very soapy and if your brushes are as dirty as mine, you will start to see some of the make up come off on your hand. See all that purple eye shadow? Gross. No wonder my eyes have been feeling irritated.

~ Rinse the brush under running water, gently squeezing from the base and down to squeeze out even more make up.
*Side note: I had to repeat the cleaning process for my bigger brushes 3 times each until I couldn't see any more make up (and shame) come off.

~ Lay the brushes on a paper towel to dry. The original website says it takes a few hours to dry, but I cleaned my brushes, then spent 4+ hours baking bread, making granola bars, preparing dinner, shoveling the driveway, reading several books to my daughter...and they're still pretty damp. So my suggestion is to clean them and give yourself plenty of time to allow them to dry.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Soup and Bread, and not from Panera for once

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With about 12 inches of snow in driveway, all I wanted to do with cuddle up in my fleece pajamas and eat some warm comfort food. I'm usually not much of a soup person, unless it is made by someone named Panera and comes in a bread bowl. However, I've made this recipe for Broccoli Cheese and Potato Soup once before.
It was so good that I've had a taste for it ever since.

I changed it slightly for our family's taste...

1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, peeled and chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
2 1/2 cups fat free chicken (or vegetable) broth
1 cup milk
2 medium potatoes, peeled and diced small
5 cups (about 2 heads) broccoli florets, chopped into small pieces (about 2 heads fresh or 1 bag frozen)
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 slices American cheese
1 tbsp parmesan cheese
salt and pepper, to taste

-Chop the onion, carrot, celery, and garlic and set aside. I love my Chopper. It saves so much time!

-In a large soup pot, melt the butter.  Add the vegetables you just chopped and sauté on low heat until they're soft (5 minutes-ish). Meanwhile, I suggest getting the potatoes ready. Again, the chopper saves so much time. If I didn't have one, I would definitely be less inclined to cook. I'm that lazy.

-Add flour, salt and pepper to the pot and stir until smooth.

-Add chicken broth, milk and potatoes and cook on high heat until it comes to a boil, then cover and cook on low until the potatoes are soft (10 minutes-ish). Meanwhile, get your broccoli ready.

-Once the potatoes are soft, add the broccoli and parmesan cheese.

-Stir and then cook uncovered until the broccoli is cooked. I used frozen broccoli and I chopped it when it was partially thawed. If using fresh broccoli, this step will take closer to 5 minutes. If partially frozen, add a couple minutes. 

-Add the cheddar and American cheese. Stir well and remove from heat.

-The original instructions say to use an immersion blender. Instead, I used my handy dandy Baby Bullet (yes, there are still uses for it once you're done with the baby-food-making stage!!). Scoop a cup or 2 of the potatoes and broccoli into the blender/processor and blend it up a little bit. Then scoop it back into the soup and stir. This thickens up the soup. Don't skip this step because it really does help. 

That's it! It kind of seems like a lot of work but it's so good and even my 18 month old gobbled it up in between "mmm's".

As I was cooking up this soup, I kept thinking about Panera soup and their bread and how great would it be to have a thick delicious bread to dip in my soup. (We're dippers, here.)

So I made some! Honey Whole Wheat Bread - fairly simple and very delicious (especially to make avocado grilled cheese sandwiches with).
Honey Whole Wheat Bread