How to Make a Week’s Worth of Snacks in an Hour

 

1hoursnacks7

One thing I’ve learned about living with a bunch of boys is that they’re ALWAYS hungry.  Once the bus comes in the afternoon, everyone’s day can start to unravel pretty quickly–the boys need to decompress from being at school, and I have to start putting dinner together.  I’ve learned that having snacks ready when the boys walk through the door goes a long way in smoothing the afternoon transition time.

Weekends require even more boy fuel, and this weekend we have plans of catching base balls and fish alike, so we need to have food that’s easy to take with us, and easy to eat.  I set the oven timer for an hour to see how many of our tried and true snack staples I could crank out in sixty minutes.

I began by making another round of secret ingredient fruit leather. I had roasted beets in the fridge already, from the last batch I made, so the roasting time wasn’t included in the hour time frame.

Since the dehydrator had fruit leather in it anyway, I filled the other trays with two pounds of organic apples.  I didn’t dip them in lemon juice, or treat them in any other way–just sliced and set them on the drying racks.

1hoursnacksI used the entire two pounds of apples for apple chips, with the exception of this tiny bowl of scraps.  (It might be about half an apple’s worth?)   I stuck the scraps into a jar of apple cores for making apple cider vinegar.

1hoursnacks2Next I mixed up a batch of homemade granola bars, with real dark chocolate chunks.

1hoursnacks3Finally, I made hummus in the blender.  The chickpeas were already cooked in the fridge as well, which again helped out on the time.

So when I was completely done, I had 24 granola bars,

1hoursnacks5ten strips of fruit leather (about 1 inch x 12 inches each),

1hoursnacks4 a half gallon of dried apple chips,1hoursnacks6and a large bowl of hummus.

1hoursnacks7I’m not sure this will last us all weekend, but at least we’re starting out well stocked.  This would be a decent amount of after school snacks to begin a week with as well.

I like having the variety of one sweet snack, two fruits, a protein, and once I get carrots, broccoli and cauliflower sliced for the hummus, lots of veggies. Hard boiled eggs would add a second easy protein, and I did make another batch of Pigs in Corn Muffins to take with us.  (Although I used ground beef this time, which I guess makes them Cows in Corn Muffins).

What does your family like for travel friendly food?

 

The Best Ever Gluten Free Meal for the Road

glutenfreemeal3School is almost out, and that means our family will be traveling and camping more. This past weekend we took a trip to watch our favorite baseball team, and we brought along a cooler full of snacky meals.  We usually try and take food with us on trips, to avoid lots of processed foods, to save money, and because our family has some food intolerances.  These muffins can be a snack or a meal, and we call them Pigs in Corn Muffins.  They’re great for camping or car trips, and are gluten free.

Usually we have plenty of bratwurst in our freezer from pigs we raise ourselves, however, our freezer’s running low right now, so I bought 100% beef, nitrate-free hot dogs. Cheap hot dogs are the quintessential mystery meat, but whatever kind suits your family’s tastes and budget will work.

glutenfreemealCook hot dogs completely, then cut into bite sized pieces.  Make cornbread batter–mix 2 cups of cornmeal, 1 3/4 cups of milk, 2 teaspoons of baking powder,  2 Tablespoons of melted butter, 2 eggs and 1 Tablespoon of honey in a large bowl.

glutenfreemeal1Line a muffin tin with cupcake liners, and spoon 1 Tablespoon of batter into each liner.  Place 4 small cut pieces of hot dog on top, then top with a heaping Tablespoon of batter.  Cupcake liners should be about 3/4 full. Two Tablespoons of ground meat with or without sloppy joe sauce is also a great substitution if you’re not a fan of hot dogs or brats.

glutenfreesnacksBake at 350 for 20 minutes, and check with a toothpick to ensure they’re baked all the way though.  These worked really well for our family–the boys love them, and the muffins are easily transported in a covered dish down in our cooler.  Great side snacks to add are: dried apple chips, fruit leather, and sliced veggies with hummus.

glutenfreemeal2

I don’t like using lots of disposable paper, but the cupcake liners give a little bit more germ protection when you’re out in public and the hands of your little ones may not be as clean as you hope.

What are some of your go to snacks to take on the road?

Pigs in Corn Muffins
Author: 
Recipe type: Snack
Cuisine: Pigs in Corn Muffins
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 18 muffins
 
Ingredients
  • 1 package of hotdogs
  • 2 cups of cornmeal
  • 1¾ cups of milk
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 Tablespoons of melted butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 Tablespoon of honey
Instructions
  1. cook hotdogs and cut into bite sized pieces
  2. mix together remaining ingredients in a large bowl
  3. place cupcake liners in muffin tin and spoon 1 Tablespoon of batter into each one
  4. place four pieces of hot dog in each liner, then top with a heaping Tablespoon of batter
  5. liners should be no more than ¾ full
  6. bake at 350 for 20 minutes

 

I’m Not Julia Child–Introducing Cooking Basics 101

cooking101I didn’t help out in the kitchen growing up.  Actually, I take that back–when I was about 7 years old, I was slicing carrots for dinner, and cut my finger almost down to the bone.  It probably should have had stitches, but we slapped a band-aid on it, and called it good.  (Still have the scar).  I was banned from using knives, and from that point on, didn’t help out in the kitchen AT ALL.

When my husband was in college, he and his roommate would go to the closeout discount grocery store and buy as many cans of food as they had money in their pockets.  When they brought them back to their apartment, they removed all the labels, and each night would open two cans, mix them together, heat, and voila, dinner was done.

Since they didn’t purchase any dog food to begin with, everything was (sort of) edible, but I witnessed some really unique combinations being consumed in that little apartment.  (No way did I share in any of their meals).

As you can imagine, when we got married, there was quite a learning curve in the kitchen.  Somehow along the way, I’ve muddled through the best I can, but I’m beginning a new series that starts back at the very beginning, with the basics of cooking.  Honestly, I’m doing this for me–to teach myself basics that I should already know, but don’t.

I’ll use fresh, simple foods and basic tools and techniques. Cooking for me is a weird paradox–I think food’s really important, and I want to feed my family healthy, tasty food they enjoy. But I don’t want to be tied to the stove all day–I want to be out living my life. Fussy complicated food isn’t a goal of mine–healthy, tasty and simple is more my speed.

My goal is to become more comfortable in the kitchen so it takes less time and effort for me to put meals together. As much as I dearly love my husband, I also want my boys to be a little better equipped to cook for themselves one day than playing Russian Roulette with cans of food for dinner.

Come join me as I navigate the kitchen and discuss the best oils to use, what a mandolin slicer is for, what gadgets are actually useful, and which ones just take up space. How to chop, dice and shred, and how to get dinner on the table with less tears.

If you’re an expert in the kitchen, leave us your best tip in the comments! If you’re a beginner, what do you want to know how to do, what’s your biggest cooking struggle?

April Showers Bring More April Showers

We’ve had a very wet spring, and here in garden zone 7-land, it’s still too wet to plant in the ground.  So wet that most of the potatoes planted ‘on time’ around St Patrick’s day, have all rotted away.  Sometimes it pays to be a procrastinator.seedsSome gardeners with more experience than myself are starting seeds which they’d normally direct sow into the ground, into seed starters, with the plans of transplanting seedlings once the ground dries up a bit.

So far I’ve started mainly tomatoes and peppers, but if the weather doesn’t give us a little rain relief soon, I’ll plant more seeds in cardboard egg cartons.

Why do people plant seeds, rather than just buy plants?

*variety–many seed distributors have dozens of varieties of your favorite vegetable, whereas the hardware or home improvement store likely only has 2-5 varieties, at the most

*with that variety, you can choose species of crops that are best suited to your climate, and best suited to your tastebuds

*cost–packets of seeds are usually around $2.50, and often contain more seeds than one home gardener can use.  Splitting packages of seeds with fellow gardeners can lower the initial cost, and by saving seeds to use the following year, seeds can be a one time investment

*kids love growing unusual things to eat—purple carrots, blue green tomatoes, purple broccoli, and yellow strawberries all appeal to kids, and can get them involved and excited about gardening

*reviews of seeds–many online seed sellers allow gardeners to post reviews of their purchases, which can be very valuable–I’m much more likely to buy seed that others have had good luck with, especially if they’re in a similar climate to mine

We usually start seeds every year, and buy a few plants as well.  Growing your own food is a great thing to do no matter how you go about it, but it sure is fun looking through all the varieties of plants that are out there.

Here’s what I’ve started so far:

24 Black Krim Tomatoes–considered one of the best tasting tomatoes

8 Hssiao His Hung Shih Yellow Grape Tomato–very productive and perfect for snacking–my boys eat lots of these

4 Jalapeno Peppers–we’re a divided family when it comes to hot and spicy food.  I want to use the jalapenos for making jelly–for the easy take-along appetizer of pepper jelly, cream cheese and crackers.  Also, I might try making hot sauce for my boys that prefer their food spicy.

2 California Wonder Bell Peppers–good standard variety–I freeze and dry peppers to cook with

30 Beefsteak Tomatoes–because we can’t grow enough tomatoes–I can as many as I’m able

10 Harlow’s Homestead Okra–we love okra, these seeds were given to us by a friend, and we didn’t grow nearly enough last year

4 luffa gourd–when dried, these insides of the gourds can be used for sponges–we’ve never grown these before, so it’ll be fun to see what happens.

Are you planning on growing anything this summer?  What are your gardening plans?

 

Be a Butterfly Hero

butterflyhero1 Today we received our Butterfly Hero kit in the mail.  We love watching caterpillars turn into butterflies–we put caterpillars in jars and keep them on the kitchen counter, letting the butterflies go when they are ready to spread their wings.  We find lots of swallowtail caterpillars in our garden on parsley and dill plants.  Butterfly Heroes is a program that emphasizes helping monarch butterflies, so I’m hoping our new plants will attract different species of butterflies.

butterflyhero1Best of all, the kit is free–all you do is upload a picture of the ASL sign for butterfly, pledging to help monarch butterflies by planting flowers (they send you the seeds) that benefit not only monarchs, but also bees, birds and other wildlife. Even better, the milkweed seeds I received are perennial and drought-tolerant once established, so they’re low-fuss, easy care flowers.

The kit includes a seed packet for flowers that support monarch butterflies, a list of other plants that support butterflies which are native to your region, butterfly heroes sticker and notebook, and a Ranger Rick Nature Notebook.

butterflyhero3 The butterfly larvae and host plant brochure is great for identifying plants which might have new-to-you species of butterfly larvae.  They’re all so different and unique .

butterflyhero2I was very impressed with the Nature Notebook–it’s 23 pages that encourages kids to get outside, observe nature, and think about their observations.  The notebook is divided into activities for each of the four seasons, and explores all of the outdoors–plants, trees, bugs, animals, fungi, birds and more.

I’m planning on starting our milkweed seeds right away, but I’m going to put away the notebook until school’s out.  A lot of the activities could be done during the summer, even ones labeled as fall or winter projects (with some exceptions such as leaf color and snow activities).  We have about 12 weeks of summer, which will let us work through one or two activities a week.

If I’m really well organized, I’ll try and get some library books and look up craft projects about that week’s subject.  But even if that doesn’t happen, I’ll be happy if we get most of the notebook done this summer.  Want a Butterfly Hero kit of your own?  Sign up here, it’s free!

Looking for other fun projects for kids?  Check out how to make Pine Needle Tea!

 

The Beast Hound and the Cheese Cloth

beasthound1 One day I attempted way too many kitchen projects at the same time, and was left with counters covered with dirty dishes and food containers.  I gathered scraps together to take to the chickens, and turned to see the Beast Hound eying the kitchen gleefully.  I left one of the boys to guard the dishes, but in retrospect, I can see how a 40 pound boy armed with a wooden spoon isn’t that intimidating to a 110 pound dog.

(We were also finishing up fencing in our yard, which is why I couldn’t just stick Beast Hound outside, as I do now).

When I returned, my son looked at me with big eyes and reported that Beast Hound had eaten the ricotta covered mound of cheesecloth which had been resting in a colander.  While I dialed the vet, my stomach sank as I imagined the outcome.  I had used the cheesecloth to strain ricotta cheese, and it was a mound of fabric the size of a softball–not something that I thought would pass through the Best Hound easily.

After explaining the situation to our vet, and seeing how the cloth had been eaten in the last few minutes, they instructed me to give him a tablespoon of hydrogen peroxide, to induce vomiting. (Folks, don’t try this at home).  I administered the peroxide with a child medicine syringe, and we clipped on the leash and went outside to sit in the porch swing.

After just a few minutes, the Beast Hound delicately coughed, and up came the cheesecloth, in one tidy mass.  I used a shovel to transport the cheesecloth to the outside trash, and gave the Beast Hound a scolding, which he ignored.

beasthoundThe Beast Hound can easily put his head on our dining room table, in the kitchen sink, and can get anything off the stove that he so desires.  Cast iron skillets, soup pots and frying pans are no problem for him to steal and run through the house with.  (That cast iron is the smaller of my two cast iron skillets, and it weighs 5 pounds 6 ounces).

When he was a puppy, he would carry around his empty food bowl, and we were forced to buy a special water bowl with sloped sides to stop him sloshing water from room to room.  As I shared here, I’ve tried leaving unsavory treats on the counters to discourage him from counter surfing.  Lemons, onions, bars of soap and vinegar soaked bread do not deter him in his quest to eat us out of house and home.

Normally, if there’s any kind of food prep or eating going on, we simply shut him outside, where he lays on the porch, pressed up against the front door, so that when we decide to end his cruel exile, he can bound into the house and once again be reunited with us.

Honestly, as long as we are proactive at keeping him away from our food, the Beast Hound is (mostly) well behaved.  He spends most of his days sleeping on his chair in the living room, or on one of the boys’ beds.  But oh, how I wish we would have found some time for obedience classes when he was a puppy!

Please reassure me we’re not the only one with a mischievous dog?!

How to Make Apple Cider Vinegar

I use apple cider vinegar a lot, and I’ve always wanted to try making my own.  Apple cider vinegar can be used for lots of things, and the claims of what it can do can pretty lengthy.  Here’s how we use it in our house:

*to clean our cast iron cookware

*I use it as toner on my face

*cooking

*drink for health benefits (my husband and I have both tried this before, but haven’t done it consistently enough to notice results)

*I did use it to remove a wart from my son’s finger.  I also used conventional wart medicine as well, out of desperation, so I can’t say this is a surefire method

Other claims to fame that apple cider vinegar has (but I can’t personally vouch for) include: makes your hair shiny when used as a conditioner, repels insects, detoxifies the liver and helps break up mucous in the body, reduces heartburn, aids in weight loss, helps curb sugar cravings, and many more.

Organic raw apple cider vinegar is supposed to be the best if you’re planning on using it internally, and a gallon of Bragg’s is currently $33.70 plus $5.98 shipping on Amazon.  (The reviews of people taking a tablespoon or two of it daily for health benefits are overwhelmingly positive.)  My family eats a lot of apples anyway–probably around 3ish per day, so it makes sense to try and make apple cider vinegar out of the apple scraps we already have.

Collect apple cores, skins and scraps in a jar–I keep mine in the fridge because we go through so many apples so quickly.  You should be able to keep them in the freezer if you’re afraid they will mold before you can make the vinegar.

A little way into the process, I decided a wide mouth jar would be better to use, so that I could weigh the apples down.  (Apparently I forgot to retake the pictures, so squint your eyes and pretend with me that this is a wide mouth jar.) Fill the jar 1/2 to 3/4 full of apple scraps from 6-8ish unsprayed and scrubbed apples.acv1Add 2 Tbs of sugar and 2 cups of filtered water (if your water is chlorinated–I used tap well water, and it turned out just fine) to your jar.

acv2Stir to dissolve the sugar, which will be eaten by the fermentation process.

acv3Next, put a regular sized canning jar lid into the jar, and weigh it down with a shot glass or baby food jar.

acv4Any pieces of apple that come up out of the water can mold, so make sure that all the apple stays submerged until the water.

acv5Top the jar with a coffee filter or cheese cloth and canning ring or rubber band, and set in a dark warm place for 2 weeks.

acv6I write the date on the jar so that I don’t forget, as I usually have more than one batch of vinegar going at a time.

acv7In two weeks, the liquid should be bubbly and may have sediment in it.

acv2Strain the contents of the jar through a fine mesh sieve into a new jar, and top the new jar with the coffee filter and rubber band, and return to the cabinet for 2 more weeks.acv2After 2 weeks, taste the vinegar to see if it’s as strong as you like.  After the straining, I’ve let it set up to 4 weeks.  When the vinegar is as strong as you want it, put a regular lid on the jar, and put it in the fridge.

acv1I want to try taking a few tablespoons of the apple cider vinegar every day, to see if it really does produce astounding health benefits.  How do you use apple cider vinegar?

Snakes 1, Snake Slayers 0

guineas1Yesterday morning when I was hanging out laundry to dry, I looked down and saw a black snake a few feet away.  Normally when this occurs, my automatic reaction is to let out a bloodcurdling scream, and begin hyperventilating.  The fact that I didn’t should surely qualify me for some kind of medal of bravery.

The chickens and guineas were nearby, so I called them over to me, and picking a handful of grass, tossed it over towards the snake, hoping they would think it was food, and go investigate.  Pea brained as the birds are, they didn’t fall for it, and I stood, staring at the snake.guineas6Gathering my courage, I ran over to the barn, and grabbed a cupful of chicken food, and returned to the clothesline, where the snake had begun his retreat (away from, not towards the house, yay!).  The birds knew I had food with me, and were underfoot.  I tossed the food by the snake, hoping the guineas would figure out their job was to attack.

guineas7The snake did not appear to be fond of having a chicken food shower, and slithered away like a shot, while the birds all gobbled down the food.  One of my main reasons for getting guineas was the hope that they would decrease our snake population.  I affectionately call my guinea trio the Snake Slayers, hoping that a nickname like that will bring on good results in the snake ousting department.

guineas2The guineas are now full grown, and I suspect they are all males, but I’m not 100% certain.  Apparently the only way to be completely sure of their gender is to examine their nether regions with one’s fingers, and honestly, I’m not that curious.  I’ve read that the males and females make different sounds, and I’m pretty sure I’ve heard some of the ‘chi-chi-chi-chi’ sounds that males are supposed to make.  However, they all make a horrific racket all of the time, so sound identification is inconclusive as well.

guineas4Guineas do lay eggs that can be eaten, although the birds usually aren’t smart enough to use nesting boxes like chickens, so apparently they pretty much just squat and lay an egg where ever they happen to be.  I’ve kept an eye out, but haven’t discovered any random eggs in the chicken house or in the yard.

guineas5I have seen the guineas fight the roosters, although fight is a pretty generous term for what they do.  It pretty much consists of the guineas running up behind the roosters, grabbing onto his tail feathers with their beak, and hanging on for dear life until the rooster outruns them.  guineas3

Guineas are industrious little foragers, and require very little food if let out to free range.  Ours get lost from each other often, and will scream for each other, until they locate their friends and are once again reunited.  I was hoping that we’d end up with at least one male and female, so as to increase my guinea flock, but I may have to buy more keets this summer, in my quest to live in a snake-free farm.

Are there any other methods of getting rid of snakes?  I’ll try anything!

Secret Ingredient Fruit Leather

I recently found a unique recipe in a magazine for fruit leather, and I knew I had to try it.  It’s made from mixed berries, dates and beets.  I’ve made plenty of fruit leather before, but always with just one kind of pureed fruit–and never with dates or beets.  Beets will make your kitchen look like a crime scene, so make them with caution.

First, let’s talk about why you should be eating beets.  They’ve got Magnesium, Iron, Vitamin A, B and C, Potassium and Folate.  They contain cancer-fighting antioxidants, and help purify your blood. They are high in natural sugars, and when you dry fruit of any kind, you concentrate the sugar, even though it’s natural sugar.  So make sure everyone brushes their teeth well, and be aware that dried fruit or fruit leather shouldn’t be a free-for-all snack.

beetrollup3I used 12 oz of frozen berries from Aldi’s, and I set them out in a bowl to thaw while the beets were roasting.

beetrollup1Next, roast your beets–scrub well, trim off both ends, drizzle with olive oil and wrap in aluminum foil.  Bake at 350 for 1-2 hours, depending on the size of your beet.  When a roasted beet is done, it can be easily pierced by a fork.  (You can eat beet greens in a salad, they are even more nutritious than the beet root itself, so don’t throw out the greens!)

beetrollup2Let the beet cool, and the skin should easily peel off.  Roughly chop the beet, and add to the fruit mixture.  Beet juice will stain, so rinse your counters and utensils right away.

beetrollup5Add 3/4 a cup of dried and pitted dates to the mixture (I like Sunsweet dates, if you’re shopping in a grocery store),

beetrollup4and blend in a blender or food processor until the mixture is pourable, but thick.

beetrollup7Line a cookie sheet or dehydrator tray with parchment paper, and spread the fruit mixture on it, as evenly as possible.

beetrollup8If you can keep the puree in a square or rectangular shape, it will be easier to cut when finished.  I put mine in my dehydrator on the fruit setting, for 3 hours.  You can also bake the fruit roll up on a parchment lined cookie sheet in a 200 degree oven for about 5 hours.

beetrollup1When the fruit roll up is no longer sticky, let it cool, and cut into strips.  You can wrap the roll ups in parchment paper, or store them in air tight containers.  The parchment used on the cookie sheet or dehydrator rack can be used again, for other fruit roll ups.

Secret Ingredient Fruit Leather
Author: 
Recipe type: Snack
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 8 fruit leathers
 
Fruit Leather made of mixed berries, dates and beets
Ingredients
  • 12 oz frozen mixed berries
  • ¾ c pitted dates
  • 1 medium beet
Instructions
  1. Set out the frozen fruit in a bowl to thaw
  2. Scrub beet and trim both ends
  3. Drizzle beet in olive oil and wrap in foil
  4. Bake beet at 350 degrees for 2 hours
  5. Let beet cool, and peel off skin
  6. Roughly chop beet and add to berry mixture
  7. Add ¾ c dates to beet and berry mixture
  8. Puree until mixture is pourable but thick
  9. Spread evenly on a parchment lined cookie sheet or dehydrator sheet
  10. Bake on fruit setting for 3 hours or in 200 degree oven on cookie sheet for 5 hours
  11. Fruit leather is done when no longer sticky
  12. Let cool, cut, and store in air tight container

 

So how weird is a beet fruit leather?  They were approved by my boys, and we really don’t eat beets on a regular basis, although I’d like to change that this summer.  You can definitely taste the beet flavor, but beets are pretty sweet, it’s not as though we’re adding broccoli or brussels sprouts to fruit leathers.  I think if you don’t have regular beet eaters, this would be a good way to introduce the flavor to them, and you could even use half a beet to begin with.

I will definitely make the beet leathers again–they’re much healthier the majority of fruit snacks you can buy in the store, and I like including a vegetable in a snack that the kids enjoy.  I also like introducing my kids to the beet flavor, so they’ll hopefully be more accepting of eating beets in the future.

What do you think?  Would you eat a beet leather?

 

 

Grain Free, Four Ingredient Energy Bites

A co-workers brought these to my husband’s work, and he begged the recipe from them.  I changed it just a little, and came up with a quick and easy energy bite that’s gluten free.

Smash up 4 VERY ripe bananas,

energybites1then add 3 Tablespoons of peanut butter,

energybites21/2 cup of chocolate chips (real dark chocolate chips would be much healthier than the white chocolate I used, but it’s what I had on hand),

energybites32 cups of oatmeal, and mix well.

energybites4Place spoonfuls on a greased cookie sheet, and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

energybites5Place on a cooling rack and cool completely before eating.

energybites6These aren’t overly sweet, and make a nice snack.  I prefer to keep them in the fridge, even though it’s probably not necessary.

Grain Free, Four Ingredient Energy Bites
Author: 
Recipe type: Snack
Prep time: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 36
 
A lightly sweet, gluten free snack with four ingredients
Ingredients
  • 4 overly ripe bananas
  • 3 T peanut butter
  • 2 c oatmeal
  • ½ c chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Smash bananas well,
  2. add peanut butter chocolate chips, mixing well.
  3. Then add oatmeal, and mix well.
  4. Place spoonfuls of dough onto greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 for 15 minutes.
  5. Place on a wire cooling rack and cool completely before eating.