Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Crockpot Taco Soup

I love Mexican soups. I actually love Mexican food overall, so the joy of Mexican AND a crockpot so I really don't have to "cook" is wonderful.

This is a modified version of A Year of Slow Cooking's recipe, but I add lime juice and cilantro to almost anything I cook that is somewhat Mexican. I love fresh cilantro, and I love to chop some up and throw in jarred salsa just to jazz it up. But back to the soup!

The verdict?
Crockpot cooking is awesome...throw stuff in a pot at 8 am, and dinner's ready by 5 pm! No hard work! My husband thought the soup was great, but I wasn't too sold. It was an effective dinner (i.e. food that was edible), but didn't have the "Wow" factor for me. There are a ton of leftovers, and I'm not looking forward to eating them for lunch. I might drain some of the liquid off and use it as filing for tacos....like I said...I love Mexican in all it's forms!

Crockpot Taco Soup

1 lb browned ground turkey or hamburger (I threw in about 1 cup leftover diced chicken that I had on hand)
1 can of kidney beans
1 can of black beans
2 cans of pinto beans
2 cans of corn
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
1 can tomatoes and chiles (I used Rotel)
1 packet taco seasoning
Lime slices
1 tsp chopped fresh cilantro per bowl
shredded cheese and sour cream for topping

Brown meat, drain fat and add to crockpot stoneware insert. Sprinkle seasoning packet on top of meat. Drain and rinse the beans and add to crockpot. Add the entire contents of the corn and tomato cans and stir.

Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours or on high for 4-5. Stir well, portion into individual bowls, squeeze on some lime and top with chopped cilantro. Can also add shredded cheese and a dollop of sour cream.

Easy Cooking | Simple Cooking 

Monday, June 29, 2009

Homemade Baby Wipes

Talk about money you're literally throwing away! I was sick of paying so much money for baby wipes from the store, and had seen a recipe for Homemade Baby Wipes in our family cookbook. I also wanted to use my own natural baby products and not worry about the chemicals even in the "unscented" version.

Baby Wipes

Container for wipes (I switched halfway from the Huggies container to a Pampered Chef bowl)
1 roll paper towels
3 cup warm water
2 tablespoon baby oil
1 tablespoon baby bath

Cut the roll of paper towels in half by using a serrated knife; start on one side then flip it over to the finish the other side. Place one half in container, cut side up. Save the other half for next time.

Mix water, oil, and baby bath. Pour half over cut side of towels, then flip the paper towels over and pour remaining water over it, making sure to get all areas wet. Only add half of the water mixture, let it sit for awhile, then continue to add only enough water as necessary. This will help the wipes from getting TOO wet. (I ended up adding about 2 1/2 cups of the mixture, and the wipes were still pretty wet) Take out tube in center of paper towels. To use, take paper towels from the center.

The verdict?
These wipes worked great when the roll was pretty new and stayed pretty solid, but as the roll got smaller and smaller, the roll collapsed and was a pain in the you-know-what to get wipes out. Especially if you have a skirmy child and you're using one hand! Overall, the wipes worked OK for a 4 days, but by the end of the week, I bought some at the store to use.

I bought the sturdiest, thickest, and softest paper towels I could find, but still found the wipes to be a little wimpy. I did like that the wipes were wetter than store-bought wipes, because it seemed a little easier to clean up any messes.

I like using the Pampered Chef bowl for this because of the small opening in the middle...I'm sure this is not what they intended this bowl for, but hey, whatever works.

I don't think I'll be making these wipes again, but it was a great trial!

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Moving the Crock Pot Outside

It's been hot here, but honestly, where in the country hasn't it been hot? I have already cried "uncle" to our 8 month summer here in Florida...I'm over it!

I turned on the crockpot for a Crockpot Roast with Veggies in Foil last week, and a Crockpot Taco Soup this week, but didn't want it heating up the kitchen. I've read a few blog posts that recommend moving the crockpot outside, (like I remember them now!!!) and I decided to give it a try.

It worked great! I walked out to the lanai a few times to check on it, but an added side benefit was that I couldn't smell it cooking, so I wasn't insanely starving for dinner by 4 pm. I will be doing this all summer!

Easy Cooking | Simple Cooking 

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Homemade OxyClean

What a great inexpensive laundry fix! This came from The Grocery Cart Challenge and I was so excited to give it a try. I feel like I go through gallons of Shout at a time, so I needed to step up my spot removal a notch. When you have a child, you never quite know what you'll be praying comes out in the wash. Let's stop that conversation there!

*Updated 9/28/11*
I've been using this concoction for over two years and I've had ALOT of questions about this Homemade Oxyclean, so I thought I'd show everyone exactly how I use it.

Here is my plastic dishpan that I have stashed in my laundry room and a batch of the Oxyclean mixed up and ready to go. I've found it much more effective to soak the stains, and not put it directly into the washing machine.

As for baking soda vs. washing soda: I use baking soda and have found it to work really well. I don't use washing soda and have never had the clarity of mind to give it a try.  Someday I will.

Here is one of my son's jumpers that I want to get some weird funk out of. It is white and bright blue, and I've used this mixture on a whole rainbow of different colors and never had any fading or bleaching. I would hesitate to use this on brand new colored garments that might bleed, but I've never had any issues.

So I pour some directly on the stain (probably a 1/4 of the whole amount in the jar depending on how many items I need to soak), fold the item on top of itself, put another clothing item on top, and repeat.

 This is how I left the clothing sit for an afternoon, (hello gray yoga pants with chocolate ice cream on them...tee hee... I was working hard that night!) then threw the dishpan contents into the washing machine.

After I rinsed out the jar, (the baking soda leaves it a little gritty) this is how I store the empty jar in my laundry cabinet. That way I always have the recipe and a container to shake it in close at hand.

I also have a free download for a Laundry Stain Cheat Sheet, and this recipe is included on it!

Homemade OxyClean
recipe from  The Grocery Cart Challenge

1 cup water
1/2 cup hydrogen peroxide
1/2 cup baking soda

Mix together and soak laundry in it for 20 minutes to overnight and then wash as usual. Or you can just skip the water and pour the peroxide and baking soda directly into the wash with your laundry soap and wash as usual.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Barefoot Contessa's Mac and Cheese

BAREFOOT CONTESSA'S MAC AND CHEESEI love scouring the grocery store for ingredients I don't normally buy. This recipe requires some Gruyere cheese that doesn't normally get thrown into my shopping cart. The cheap blue boxes of mac and cheese get a little more rotation these days.

This was a bit of work, but anything with that much whisking turns out yummy. I love how this is listed as an "Intermediate" recipe on foodnetwork.com. Even I was a little overwhelmed with the amount of dishes and work this took. I didn't use macaroni, because I have a TON of thin spaghetti holding court in my cabinet. I broke it down into smaller pieces, so it changed the consistency from regular macaroni, but I could not justify buying more pasta when I have half a cabinet-full.

The verdict?
I made this as part of a Father's Day gift, and it was worth all the extra whisking, time, and money for the "fancy" cheese. My husband loved it and devoured the whole pan over the weekend. My favorite part was the tomatoes complimenting the cheese.

I am also sharing this at Food Network Chefs Cooking Challenge.

Mac and Cheese from Ina Garten

Kosher salt
Vegetable oil
1 pound elbow macaroni or cavatappi
1 quart milk
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
12 ounces Gruyere, grated (4 cups)
8 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar, grated (2 cups)
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
3/4 pound fresh tomatoes (4 small)
1 1/2 cups fresh white bread crumbs (5 slices, crusts removed)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Drizzle oil into a large pot of boiling salted water. Add the macaroni and cook according to the directions on the package, 6 to 8 minutes. Drain well.
Meanwhile, heat the milk in a small saucepan, but don't boil it. Melt 6 tablespoons of butter in a large (4-quart) pot and add the flour. Cook over low heat for 2 minutes, stirring with a whisk. While whisking, add the hot milk and cook for a minute or two more, until thickened and smooth. Off the heat, add the Gruyere, Cheddar, 1 tablespoon salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Add the cooked macaroni and stir well. Pour into a 3-quart baking dish.
Slice the tomatoes and arrange on top. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, combine them with the fresh bread crumbs, and sprinkle on the top. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce is bubbly and the macaroni is browned on the top.

Easy Cooking | Simple Cooking 

Monday, June 22, 2009

Kettle Corn

It was exactly what I needed for a Friday night snack: something different, cheap, and I had all the ingredients in the house. When my husband and I were in college (back in our dating days), we used to eat microwaved kettle corn almost every night. His roommate used to make fun of us then, and still brings it up when we see him these days. So we have a soft spot in our hearts for kettle corn.

I got the recipe off allrecipes.com, and after reading all the reviews, got a little nervous about burning the sugar. I held my breath, and dumped the sugar and corn in together, and shook like crazy! It turned out great! Some of the pieces were clumped together, but they tasted the same as the rest!

The only drawback to this recipe would be something that applies if you're popping popcorn in a pan on the stove - it's a little scary with shooting hot oil....it's to be said when you're eating the popcorn to "watch out for kernels!" while you are shoveling this into your mouth. Expensive dental work does not know how yummy this popcorn is.

Make sure you scroll down and see the comments below from concession owner Steve...he's got some great tips!

I also linked this recipe to The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap. Go check out some great recipes over there!

Kettle Corn

1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup unpopped popcorn kernels (we eat Jolly Time Popcorn at our house - gotta have the Sioux City pride!)

Heat the vegetable oil in a large pot over medium heat. Put 3 kernels in the oil, and once they pop, stir in the sugar and popcorn. Cover, and shake the pot constantly to keep the sugar from burning. Once the popping has slowed to once every 2 to 3 seconds, remove the pot from the heat and continue to shake for a few minutes until the popping has stopped. Pour into a large bowl, sprinkle with salt, and allow to cool.

Easy Cooking | Simple Cooking

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tuscan Tomato Soup

I gave this a try on a Friday for Lent, and was really excited about the easy ingredients it called for. Easy, peasy...

I am also sharing this recipe at The Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap.

Tuscan Tomato Soup
recipe adapted from The Week for Dinner

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, Small dice
3 14.5-oz cans diced tomatoes (or 5 cups diced and seeded Tomatoes)
2 cups chicken stock (I used homemade)
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
1 cup basil pesto (prefered brands: Target, Costco’s or Trader Joe’s)
Salt and Pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a medium large soup pot. Add onions and cook over moderately low heat until completely translucent. Add tomatoes and allow to warm to a simmer. Add chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and allow to simmer for 15 minutes to allow for interchange of flavors. Add pesto. Add whipping cream. Blend to desired consistency in a food processor or blender. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

The verdict?
I think my choice of pesto really hampered the soup. My husband really liked the soup, but I could taste something a little "off" with the pesto. I only had one choice of pesto at my store, so I will re-try the soup again soon, but purposefully try another brand. I served it with grilled cheese, and it was still great for 'dunkin.

Easy Cooking | Simple Cooking

Boycotting Walmart for June: Update

So it's halfway through the month and just wanted to let everyone know how my Walmart boycott is going.

It has been a bit of a change not running to Walmart 2 or more times a week. I've noticed I'm much more conscious of where I need to buy specific items (grocery vs household) instead of just throwing it on the list.

There was only one instance of maybe blurring the lines of the boycott. Redbox. My husband loves the $1 movies and that you can reserve them online. But he even asked if it was kosher if he rented a Redbox movie. So he did enter the store, but only the front entryway, and he said he avoided looking directly at the so-called "greeter" in essence he really didn't enter the store. I gave it to him because he caved and got me the chick flick I wanted.

I've been buying my groceries (and only a few household items) at Publix. My household list is growing, so I'm planning a Target run this week. Normally I avoid Target, but for completely opposite reasons than Walmart: at Target I have too much fun and spend too much money! I mentally have to remind myself while I'm strolling through wide clean aisles with a shopping cart that doesn't have battery acid stains in it, that I have to stay to my list....but that frame is so darn cute! And *gasp* it's on clearance! For $5! *poof* Budget blown! I think Target has a racket going on about those clearance shelves. There can't be that much cute stuff ALWAYS on clearance. I'm onto them!

So overall I have been pleased with the boycott so far. It hasn't been as much of an inconvenience as I thought, and I'll finish out the remainder of the month and evaluate it from there.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Pumpkin Bread

This is really not the season for Pumpkin Bread, being that it's 105 degrees out right now and not chilly sweater football season. I figured I needed to try this recipe because two separate people gave me the EXACT same recipe about 6 months apart, so I knew that this bread had to been good. The photo above is weird, I know. I didn't have a pristine loaf to photograph, because we cracked into them so fast!

Here is the recipe at allrecipes.com, and the two recipes I received were exactly the same, except for the baking time. It ranged from 45 minutes to 90 minutes, and I ended up baking mine for approximately 70 minutes. I checked the bread a few times with toothpicks to finally determine if it was done.

It made two large loaves, so I served it when I hosted playgroup, where it was well received, and my husband and son really enjoyed the other loaf. If my husband was eating a piece of it, my son would start crawling into his booster seat and scream "Bread! Bread! BREAD!

Because I can't leave well enough alone, next time I will try half applesauce to reduce the oil, and maybe switch out a cup of flour for a cup of oatmeal, like I do in my Oatmeal Banana Bread receipe. But this recipe "as is" is fantastic.

I also shared this at Eating Simply's Pumpkin Festival!

Pumpkin Bread

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
3 cups white sugar
1 cup canola oil
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups solid pack pumpkin puree
2/3 cup water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two loaf pans.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, baking powder, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon and cloves.
In a large bowl with an electric mixer, blend sugar, oil and eggs. Stir in pumpkin. Slowly blend the flour mixture into pumpkin mixture. While blending the mixture add water incrementally. Pour the batter into two prepared loaf pans.
Bake in a preheated 350 degrees oven for 60-90 minutes. Check with toothpicks. Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from the pans.

Easy Cooking | Simple Cooking 

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Chinese Noodles

Another night, another chinese noodle recipe. I seem to have stockpiled a bit too much thin spaghetti noodles from all my sales, so I have been branching away from using it only for italian spaghetti.

The original recipe came from a larger recipe from allrecipes.com, but I served the noodles with grilled chicken and sugar snap peas.

I left out any heat so that my son could eat them since he love noodles, but added a few squirts of sriracha sauce to my serving. That addition made it very spicy, but exactly what I was craving that night!

Chinese Noodles
12 ounces dry Chinese noodles (I used thin spaghetti)
3 tablespoons soy sauce
3/4 cup sweet chili sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
3 tablespoons sesame oil
2 chopped green onions.

Prepare noodles according to package directions.
Whisk together the 3 tablespoons soy sauce, 3/4 cup sweet chili sauce, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, the ground ginger, and the sesame oil in a large bowl; add the drained noodles and toss to coat. top with green onions. Serve warm.

Easy Cooking | Simple Cooking 

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Pizza Hut Style Breadsticks

I have always been in love with Pizza Hut breadsticks. When I was growing up, Sunday night was Pizza Night in our family and my brother and I would beg for my dad to order breadsticks. Then in high school, my friend and I would stop by the local Pizza Hut for some breadsticks as a snack. (Ahhh the carb loving, high-producing metabolism days)

Fast forward to today, and my husband and I can not get a Pizza Hut to deliver to our house. We call 4 locations, and none of them deliver to our house. We seem to live in the dead zone where the delivery areas do not overlap. Seriously, in this day and age, to live in a semi-metropolis area and NOT get delivery from Pizza Hut? That's just weird.

So that's why I jumped at the chance to try these breadsticks at home when I saw the recipe at Mommy's Kitchen. I didn't have any nonfat dry milk powder, but I googled and found this page about just using milk instead of the water. I used 1 1/2 cups hot milk instead of water and left out the milk powder.

I whipped these up on a Friday night, and I got a little sloppy crazy in the kitchen with the flour while kneading and rolling . The words "disaster area" were brought up when my husband walked in the door, but all I could focus on was how wonderful the breadsticks smelled.

The verdict?
Yum, yummy.....I ate them with marinara sauce as my dinner. That's right....that's all I ate for my WHOLE dinner. Yummy. And my husband liked them too, and said they tasted pretty darn close to the the 'Hut.

Pizza Hut Style Breadsticks
recipe adapted from Mommy's Kitchen

1 1/2 cup hot water
2 Tb sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 tablespoon yeast
3 cup flour
1/3 cup melted butter

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt(or less to taste)
1 tablespoon oregano

Dissolve sugar, salt and dry milk in hot water. Add enough flour (1 cup) to make a soupy mixture. When the mixture is no longer hot but still warm add the yeast and stir well. Then add the rest of the flour, enough to form a moderately stiff dough. Knead the dough until smooth.

Roll dough into a rectangular shape the size of your baking pan. Spread half of the butter onto the baking pan, then place your dough into the pan and spread the remaining butter on top of the dough. Top the bread sticks with combined topping. Cut the dough into bread sticks with a pizza cutter and let raise for 10-15 min. Bake at 350 degrees for 20- 25 min.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Flaking on cooking

Like most people, when I get stressed out, I tend to shut down or neglect areas of my life that don't seem as pressing. Well, I've been flaking on cooking. I haven't cooked a darn thing....that's interesting, at least. Luckily, we've had lots of family in town since Memorial Day, so we've been eating out more than usual, compensating for the spaghetti and take-out pizza being served at home.

With a computer overhaul (thankfully it's "just" my part-time work laptop), planning for hosting a playgroup, and moving my son into a new room (and all the furniture re-dos that entailed) hopefully I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel: tomorrow's Friday!

More recipes soon! I will be trying Pizza Hut Style Breadsticks, & Pumpkin Bread next week.

Easy Cooking | Simple Cooking 

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Lots of furniture "Before's"

I've had a few furniture projects going on right now. Our garage looks like the warehouse to a small furniture factory.

I found this Twin Bed for $40 at an antique store, where it had been marked down from $150. It is Bird's Eye Maple....which after Googling it, I found out the type of wood is supposedly pretty valuable.

I still decided to paint it...I had to re-read a few of Nester's posts for motivation. And the painted progress is lookin' good.

This bookcase (sorry for the started project pict) came from a local high school that they are getting ready to tear down. What I love more than the price (free!) is that it sat in a high school art room for an estimated 20 years. That's some great creative mojo! There are about 4 layers of already drippy paint on it, so whatever mistakes I make just blend in with existing ones.

I am still working on finishing up these projects, (coat after coat of navy paint) so once I get them all moved into the new "Big Boy" room for our son, I will take some photos to share!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Boycotting Walmart for June

So after many, many horrible experiences at Walmart, I have decided to boycott the store for the month of June...at least! I am sick of standing in the checkout line for over 15 minutes, crappy products and absolutely NO customer service.

I could vent about the experience that finally caused my "I've had it!" moment, but I already filled out my survey that came with my receipt and I have exercised the demons, so to speak. I've decided to take Dave Ramsey's approach with only using my "Certificates of Appreciation" (money) at places that treat me well as a consumer.

This boycott is not about worker unions, buying American, or what they're supposedly doing to Christmas, this is only about my experience as a shopper who normally buys 80% of my household's needs at Walmart. I am sick of being inconvenienced when I'm the one SUPPORTING their store. So, I just won't support them anymore.

OK, enough about this before I get really fired up! I have a Walmart right down the street so I will be struggling with the convenience factor, but I will share my thoughts on a Walmart-free month.