Thursday, May 31, 2012

[Freezer] Twice Baked Potatoes

I made these a couple weeks ago and they were good.  Really good.  I concocted this recipe from the general idea of twice baked potatoes and a few different "freezer friendly" mashed potato recipes.  It seems that using milk when you make mashed potatoes for the freezer, is part of what makes them thaw weird.  Go figure.  So, while this recipe isn't exactly artery friendly, it's really yummy.  I didn't use any light sour cream or light cream cheese so I'm not sure how those substitutions would hold up in the freezer.  Maybe I'll experiment later.

[Freezer] Twice Baked Potatoes

2 1/2 lbs of baking potatoes (I chose smaller potatoes as I intended them to serve as a side dish)
2 Tbs shortening
4 oz softened cream cheese
1 Tbs Butter
2 cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese
1/4-3/4 cups Sour Cream

1.  Wash your potatoes and rub shortening on the skins.  Then sprinkle with salt.  This step adds a lot of flavor to the potatoes.
2.  Bake potatoes on a baking sheet (I cooked mine at 425 for an hour) until fork tender.
3.  Let potatoes cool until you can handle them.  Cut them in half and scoop out the meat of the potato into a mixing bowl.

4.  Add cream cheese, cheddar cheese and butter and mash thoroughly.  Add sour cream until your potatoes are the consistency of a thick mashed potato, or cookie dough.  Amount of sour cream will vary depending on how much potato filling you have.

5.  Fill your potatoes.  
6.  [Freezing] If you're freezing them, let them cool at this point and put the baking sheet in the freezer until they're set.  Then wrap in plastic wrap to prevent freezer burn and place in zip top bag to freeze.  

7.  [Baking] Place thawed (or just prepared) Twice Baked Potatoes on a baking sheet.  Add a bit of cheese to the top for looks and bake at 375 for 20 minutes, or until cheese is melted and potatoes are completely heated.  Baking time will vary by size of potatoes.   You can also add bacon bits before baking or chopped steamed broccoli or chili after baking.  

Cooking for One: These are a great dish to stash in the freezer if you're cooking for a small family or just one or two people - each can be pulled and thawed separately and easily baked in a toaster oven with a "bake" setting.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Sunday Sunshine - Time With Friends & Thoughtful Gifts

Practicing contentment by remembering the graces of the week and practicing gratitude through giving.  

My brain's a little mushy - I caught myself putting clean measuring cups in the fridge and milk in the pantry today.  So I think I'll keep this brief.  It's been a good week . . .

:: Sunshine & warm days.
:: Beautiful, thoughtful gifts.
:: Fun "thinking of you" gifts.
:: MOPs
:: Morning Out
:: Lunch with a friend.
:: Yummy cupcakes on the back porch while "kids" played.
:: A nap.
:: Evening out crafting and visiting.
:: Buddies to teach G things like how to roll down the hill in the back yard.
:: Tylenol PM & children's benadryl-ingredients for good nights of sleep during hay cutting season & final weeks of pregnancy.
:: Cold creek water.
:: Meals on the back porch.
:: When details come together and work themselves out.
:: Crossing things off the To-Do List, even when I'm completely unmotivated.

May you enjoy this week as summer quickly approaches and remember to find the gifts in your day.

Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (James 1:16 -The Message) May the light of the Father brighten your week!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Freezer Fri-er- Saturday: Cookie Dough & Mac n' Cheese

This week sort of flew past me, but I did manage to get a couple of things in the freezer.  As the joy of the last four weeks of pregnancy settles in, my motivation to cook comes and goes so I've been very happy to begin raiding my stash of stuff from the freezer.

I made a batch of Mac-n-Cheese for the freezer and also put together come chocolate chip cookie dough to freeze up.  I'll share the Mac-n-Cheese recipe after I thaw and re-heat it if it's as good as I hope it is!

While not much has made it to the freezer this week, I've been keeping the fridge stocked with flavored yogurt cups which are the new favorite snack around here.  I also made a big pan of granola bars and cut them and bagged them individually in snack size zip-top bags so they're easy to grab snacks as well.  I made a batch of coffee for the fridge for iced coffee in anticipation of HandyMan being away for 2 days this week.  Does that count as batch cooking?

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sunday Sunshine

 Practicing contentment by remembering the graces of the week and practicing gratitude through giving.  

This week [like so many others] has been highlighted by a lot of little things that were of great encouragement in the middle of some craziness.  I don't foresee a break in the craziness in the next couple of weeks,  I just hope to stay focused on what is really important.   Here's just a few of the things that brightened my week:

:: The "I've got your back no matter what's going on" friends
:: Flowers hanging on my front porch.
:: Black Forest Cake (made by HandyMan for Mother's Day)
:: Warm weather & sunny days
:: Baking with my little helper
:: Extra work hours
:: Un-interrupted work time
:: PB&J Picnics in the yard
:: Mom's Night Out
:: Thursday afternoon nap

So many things to be thankful for, and so often I miss them.  I hope we can all seek out the things to be thankful for this week!

Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (James 1:16 -The Message) May the light of the Father brighten your week!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Freezer Friday: Cookie Dough & Twice Baked Potatoes

This week was grocery week and there was a lot of eating of leftovers.  Have I mentioned that both HandyMan and G-Tot will eat just about anything I put in front of them?  Happily.  Makes for a happy Mama!  Especially this week since I had a bit of extra work on my plate.  So the leftovers were devoured, groceries were purchased and Thursday morning, G-Tot was out in the yard helping HandyMan with projects and I got alone cooking time- for a while anyway!

I whipped up cookie dough for the freezer.  Usually I'll scoop it out and freeze the dough balls so they're ready to bake, this time I was lazy and just put it into containers.  I press plastic wrap into the top of the cookie dough so that it won't grow those little ice crystals around the top that seriously mess with the flavor of a good cookie.

I also made twice baked potatoes for the freezer.  This is a new recipe for me to try to freeze, but I used a mashed potato recipe from my Freezer Pleaser's cookbook and have high hopes.  The ones we had for lunch were fantastic.  They'll go great beside kielbasa or burgers this summer and this fall I'm thinking of topping them with chili, steamed broccoli, etc.

I also got a batch of granola made, but that just went to the pantry.  That's about all for this week.  Did you get anything stashed in your freezer this week?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

2012: The Darwin Garden

This year I have to say, my head's not really in the gardening game.  With the arrival of Itty Bitty 6 weeks-ish away, my brain is on other things and my body is not into the idea of bending and digging and the work that is involved.  It's a good thing I have some helpers!  Since my Littlest Helper loves her tomatoes and green beans, she's excited to be part of the garden process this year.

I take minimal credit for getting the garden in.  In fact, I was on a conference call while HandyMan and Big Girl did most of the work.  So this year, the garden will have to survive the weather, likely neglectful watering (or over-zealous toddler watering), minimal weeding, and the ambitious harvesting of a 3-year-old.   It's the year of the Darwin Garden: may the fittest survive!

Last year's early beds worked out well.  So this year, the tomatoes are out early, enjoying life in their "tent" as Big Girl called it.

Clearly, dancing barefoot in the beds before you plant them makes them extra ready to grow lots of good things!  Seeing your footprints in the fresh turned dirt is pretty fun too.  If you're 3.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: Moms

Practicing contentment by remembering the graces of the week and practicing gratitude through giving. 

This week is Mother's Day and I'm very thankful for my daughter and the blessing it is to be her Mom and the joy it is to have Itty Bitty on the way.

I wouldn't be here, nor be the Mom I am if it weren't for my Mom.  It was a treat this week to get a quick visit from my parents as they passed through our area.  Until you're a mom, I don't think you fully realize the sacrifices your mom makes.  With all three of us kids born within four years, my poor mom must have gone four years without sleep, and then interrupted sleep for the next 6 at least!  And yet I don't remember any, exhausted-Mommy-meltdowns as a small child.  I can only hope my children don't remember mine!  

I remember cooking and baking with my mom.  She and my grandmothers gave me my first lessons in gardening, canning, sewing and crochet.  Mom taught me how to shop the best deals in the grocery store and the department store clearance racks.  From my first allowance, Mom (and Dad) taught us the invaluable skills of budgeting.  All these things that are part of my daily life now, thanks to my Mom.

Mom taught us how to pray and I know, has prayed for her children and grandchildren every day for the last 34+ years.  Love, patience, organization and faith are the traits that exude from my Mom.  I'm the Mom I am today, because of the great Mom I had.  Happy Mother's Day Mom!

So many things to be thankful for, and so often I miss them.  I hope we can all seek out the things to be thankful for this week!

Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (James 1:16 -The Message) May the light of the Father brighten your week!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Freezer Friday - Desserts & Casseroles

This week I loaded up the freezer with some yummy desserts and casseroles.  My 8x8 pans are my go-to for freezing things like bars and casseroles because I can freeze them in the pan, then remove them and they fit nicely in my vacuum seal bags or a gallon freezer bag.  It was a small investment that has paid for itself over and over!  When it's time to bake the frozen items, I put them back in an 8x8 pan (usually my glass one), thaw and cook or heat.  Easy peasy!

Here's the rundown of this week's freezer cooking:

Fudge Oat Bars 
I found this recipe for Chocolate Oat Squares a while ago and they are fantastic!  I doubled the recipe to make 4- 8x8 pans of these great little treats.  One for the oven (it was a rainy grey afternoon that required something warm and yummy) and three for the freezer.   These bars like an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie - only better!  The only modification I made was to substitute part white-whole-wheat flour for some of the all purpose flour (2 cup WWW for 2-1/2 cups All Purpose on the doubled recipe).

I found that having a bit of flour in a measuring cup to dip  my fingers in make pressing the cookie crust in the pans much easier.  Also, for the top pieces, I pressed the dough out on wax paper and then used a small spatula to pick up as large of pieces as I could.  I dipped the small spatula in the flour as well when I was doing the top "crumble" pieces.

Tips for Freezing: 
  • Line your pans with wax paper before pressing the crust in.  You may leave the paper or remove it to transfer the "block" to a freezer bag".   DO make sure to remove it before thawing and baking!
  • Spread chocolate layer just to the edge of the crust, but try not to hit the wax paper as it sticks pretty bad once frozen.
  • Let "block" thaw in the fridge before baking for best results.
To the Freezer this Week: 
:: 3 pans of Oat Fudge Bars
:: 1 round Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting
:: 2 pans Beef Salsa Casserole (inspired by this recipe- I was tired and cooking on the fly so I only loosely followed the recipe)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Homemade Yogurt Just Got Better!

I've been making my Homemade Yogurt for a while now.  I've experimented and perfected my process to come up with the Yummiest Homemade Yogurt.  Or at least I thought so, until today.

I've been making yogurt so often lately that my daughter sees me pouring hot milk into jars in the sink and knows exactly what's going on.  It's still good on granola and with fruit, but the plain yogurt is just that - plain.  I was craving some of the grocery store flavors - like key lime, and raspberry.  When I mentioned to HandyMan that I was thinking of experimenting, he requested vanilla.

If you look at the basic flavored grocery store yogurts, the additives are basically flavoring and gelatin.  I checked out a few recipe sites that had varying combinations of adding gelatin to yogurt and knew I wanted mostly yogurt and just enough gelatin to add flavor and get it to set up a little firmer than our homemade plain.

Here's the recipes I tried and they worked beautifully!  The flavors are subtle and the sugar in the recipe and in the gelatin mix adds a bit of smoothness to the plain yogurt.  I got 16 of the little 1/2 cup containers with lids and these make fantastic on-the-go snacks and are easy to toss in HandyMan's lunches.  I think I will probably add some 1-cup containers to the stash too - the 1/2 cups are great for snack size and kiddos, but if I were grabbing one for lunch on the go - it'd be a little small.  I've used yogurt straight from the incubator as well as refrigerated yogurt for these recipes and both worked great!

Homemade Vanilla Yogurt
3 cups Homemade Plain Vanilla
3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 Tablespoon Vanilla Extract
1 envelope Unflavored Gelatin

Bring milk and sugar to a boil.  Add gelatin and stir until completely dissolved.  Then stir some more to really make sure it's dissolved - otherwise you end up with gelatin granule chunks in your yogurt and it definitely takes away from the experience.  Just sayin'.   Add Vanilla and mix thoroughly.  Combine this syrup/gelatin mixture with yogurt in a blender and pour into individual cups or container.  Refrigerate until it sets.

Homemade [Gelatin Flavor] Yogurt
3 cups Homemade Plain Vanilla
3/4 cup boiling water
1- Box of Gelatin (box intended to add 2 cups of water to make 4-1/2 cup servings, flavor of your choice)

Add gelatin to hot water and stir until completely dissolved.  Combine the jello mixture with yogurt in a blender and pour into individual cups or container.  Refrigerate until it set.

Cost wise - I've been able to get milk for about $2.15 a gallon and gelatin runs anywhere from $0.35-$0.65 a box.  Calculated out, it runs about $0.13-$0.18 per 6 ounce serving.  The reusable cups were a $5 up-front investment.  All told, it fits quite nicely in my grocery budget!

Next up - experimenting with adding fruits!

Linked up at We Are That Family's Works for Me Wednesdays.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Sunday Sunshine: The Return of Spring

Practicing contentment by remembering the graces of the week and practicing gratitude through giving. 

This week brought the beginning of May and with it the warm summer-like weather I've been craving so badly!  An afternoon on the back porch in a tank top did my soul good.  As did dandelion races off the bridge with G-girl, line-dried sheets, and working to the sounds of the creek.

This week also brought another "right on track" report from my doctor and the extra work hours that come to me with the month of May.  A napice cream, and volunteer hands that helped to get a heavy lifting project done were great bonuses this week.

So many things to be thankful for, and so often I miss them.  I hope we can all seek out the things to be thankful for this week!

Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light.” (James 1:16 -The Message) May the light of the Father brighten your week!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Back to Freezer Fridays: Cran-Apple Crisp Bars

Way back when, I posted a regular Freezer Friday post of what batch cooking I'd done that week or fresh produce had been put away for the colder months to come.  Life shifted, things change and I lost track of the habit.

A few things have pushed me back into the practice:
1.  I'm having a baby in 7 weeks (more or less).  I know the farther into the pregnancy I get, the less I'm going to want to cook.  And after the baby gets here, the easier the meals are - the better!
2.  I've gotten my hands on some great domestic produce lately and it was begging to be canned/frozen.
3.  I inventoried the freezer and found a lot of random ingredients that will be much better in a complete meal than getting frost-bite on their own little container in the corner of the freezer.

As an added bonus, a blog I follow is running a "Four Weeks to Fill Your Freezer" feature in May so I'm hoping to get some good recipes from there!

So I bring back Freezer Fridays.  In the past I posted a lot of original recipes.  Not so much anymore.  I've found and altered a lot of the online recipes I find that have turned out fantastic.  I will put the alterations in along with the links to the recipes.  I really don't have time to reinvent the wheel here!

Without further ado, here's what went into the freezer this week (and what random ingredients I used up from the freezer!)

Cran-Apple Crisp Bars:
I started with this Cranberry Oat Bar recipe that I've made before and loved.  I altered it.  A lot.  So here's my version.  And since I was cooking for the freezer, and using up cranberries I had in the freezer- I tripled it to make 3-8x8 pans.


6 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
2 cup sugar
1 cup Unsweetened Apple Sauce

In a small saucepan over medium high heat, combine the cranberries, white sugar and apple sauce. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and cook until the mixture has reduced to a jam-like consistency.

1 1/4 white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup margarine

In a medium bowl, cream together margarine and brown sugar.  Combine dry ingredients and mix into margarine/butter batter. Press half of this mixture firmly into the bottom of prepared pan (wax paper for freezer or liberally greased for oven). Spread the cranberry sauce evenly over the base, then crumble the remaining oat mixture over the top.

At this point, all three of mine went to the freezer.  When it's time to bake them, I'll take them out, remove wax paper, put them in a greased pan and bake in a preheat oven to 350 degrees F for 10 to 15 minutes (probably a little longer), until the top is golden brown and filling is bubbly.

Cool completely before cutting into bars.

* * * * *

Also to the freezer/pantry this week:

  • Roasted Tomato Marinara (Thanks Florida for the awesome tomatoes!) - This was a one-off type deal.  I skimmed over a few recipes and made it up as I went along.  The end result is really yummy, sadly I don't have an exact recipe.
  • Bacon Egg & Cheese Sandwiches