Tag Archives: Cooking

What’s Cookin’ Wednesday – Apple Cider Pancakes

If you’re a regular reader of my blog, then you know my husband is the cook in our house. It’s not that I can’t cook; I know my way around the kitchen. It’s just that my husband is a more inventive and more accomplished cook, and since it’s something he enjoys doing, he cooks dinner 95% of the time. It’s okay with me, because one less thing, right? I enjoy baking every now and then when I get an itch to do some mixing.

I recently decided that keeping all of his delicious concoctions to myself is a crime. So I’ve decided to share some of his recipes with all of you. I do the menu planning, so I usually find a recipe that looks good, and then Tony adapts it however he sees fit. Sometimes the end result doesn’t look a lot like the recipe that inspired it, but it’s always delicious. Sometimes he throws things together completely from his own imagination.

So I’m going to start sharing recipes on Wednesdays. I may not have something to share every week, though I’m going to try. I also promise to start working on my food photography so I can share my own photos instead of other people’s Flickr photos of similar meals. If you have any questions or comments to chime in, please do! In the future, I may figure out how to do a Mr. Linky thing, though I imagine the last thing the Internet needs is another recipe link-up.

Without further ado, here’s the first recipe. Pancakes are a long tradition in our house. Tony makes them almost every weekend. Sometimes he gets a little bored with his tried and true buttermilk pancake recipe, and he adds things to the batter to mix things up. Last weekend, he stumbled on a smash hit that’s perfect for a chilly fall morning. I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Apple Cider Pancakes

  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ¼ cup apple cider
  • 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
  • Sweet apple, peeled and grated (1 large or 2 small)
  • 2 Tbsp. melted butter


Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Set aside. In a separate bowl, combine milk, apple cider, egg, and vanilla. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients. Add grated apple, and mix everything until just combined, but don’t over-stir.

Melt butter in a non-stick skillet. Pour melted butter into batter, leaving a small amount in the pan. Cook pancakes until golden brown on both sides. Serve hot with warm maple syrup and a glass of apple cider.

Photo credit

Photo credit

Crock pot cooking saves time & money

I’m suffering from a lack of inspiration this week. I’m tired. Judah is teething. Things have been a little rough lately. So forgive me for phoning it in a little on this one, but lately I’ve been having a love affair with my crock pot.

I’ve always thought of the crock pot as a fall/winter thing, but my love affair with mine started during this summer’s intense heat wave. We were having issues with our air conditioner, and the house just wasn’t getting as cool as we wanted. We couldn’t bear the thought of turning on the oven, and my husband (the cook in our family) didn’t want to stand over a burning stove top in the kitchen. Enter the crock pot.

We started buying large cuts of meat, slow cooking them in the crock pot, and using the meat in dishes throughout the week. Sandwiches, salads, soups, quesadillas. The possibilities were endless. Now as we enter the cooler season, I’m thinking about soups and stews and roasts and other winter comfort food that will be a snap to prepare in our beloved crock pot. It makes me wish we’d started using the thing years ago.

Here are a few of the reasons why I love it so much:

It’s easy.

Just chop and drop your ingredients in the morning (or before you go to bed), and when you get home dinner is ready to serve. Simple!

It uses less energy than the oven.

Even though the crock pot cooks for longer, it doesn’t use the massive amounts of energy it takes to heat an entire over to 300-400 degrees. So it will lower your energy bill (slightly).

It doesn’t heat up the kitchen or the house.

While most people think crock pot = winter comfort food, we started using ours in the summer time to avoid the heat generated by the oven and stove top.

It allows you to buy and cook cheaper cuts of meat without sacrificing flavor.

The process of slow cooking breaks down and softens up cheap cuts of meat that would otherwise be tough. That means you can stretch your grocery budget and still eat delicious meals.

It makes the house smell glorious.

There is nothing better than walking in the door to a house the smells of delicious roasted meat or soup. Trust me.

You can make more than you think with a crock pot.

I have an entire pinboard on Pinterest devoted to crock pot cooking, and I’ve been shocked at how many different recipes you can make. It’s not just soup and roasts. The crock pot can make it easier to prepare pasta dishes, casseroles, dips, and even drinks and desserts.

What’s your favorite crock pot recipe or web site? I’m always looking for new ideas!

Photo credit

Recipe inspiration from Pinterest

Everyone has been buzzing about Pinterest for a few months now. I spend way more time on the site than I probably should, but I’m sad to admit that I don’t have nearly enough time to actually act on the inspiration I find there. I’m constantly repinning ideas for crafts, home decorating, and brilliant life hacks, but I’ve recreated almost none of them.

Menu planning is the one area where I do act upon the inspiration I find on Pinterest. It takes no effort to glance at the recipes pinned by the people I follow and repin what looks good a few times a day. On grocery day, I look through the ideas, and there’s always something that inspires me.

Now that I’m on a high-protein, vegetable-heavy, low-carb kick (I’ve lost 7 pounds so far!), it’s been harder for me to find good, frugal recipes that fit my dietary restrictions. This is why Pinterest has been so helpful! The people I follow share a ton of great ideas for easy, healthy, low-carb meals. (They also share a ton of ideas for sinfully delicious desserts that I repin in the hopes that I’ll someday hit my goal weight and enjoy those things on occasion again.)

This week, I was thrilled with the recipes I found on Pinterest, and four out of seven meals we’re cooking were inspired by recipes pinned on the site. I wanted to share them with you in case you’re looking for frugal, healthy meals that don’t require a ton of ingredients or time.

  • Healthier General Tso’s Chicken – I’ve been craving Chinese food, and this recipe is a simple, easy way to kick up traditional stir fry. It has more sugar that I should be eating, but we’re adding extra veggies to counteract the sugar content.
  • Rosemary Chicken – I have a huge fresh rosemary plant growing in front of my house that I’ve barely touched this season, so I was thrilled to find an opportunity to use some of it up. We’re pairing it with a fresh romaine side salad and this roasted broccoli to amp up our vegetable intake.
  • Crockpot Chicken Enchilada Soup – We’re making a few adaptations to this recipe since we’re trying to avoid processed foods. It calls for canned enchilada sauce and cream of chicken soup. We’ll make our own enchilada sauce and use a combination of milk and chicken stock instead of canned soup. Hopefully it will turn out as good as it looks!
  • Basil Chicken with Vegetables – This is another skillet stir fry that will allow me to use up some of my homegrown herbs. I’m trimming basil by the handful every week to keep it from flowering, and I haven’t been able to use it as quickly as it’s growing. Again, we’re loading it up with more veggies than the recipe recommends.

If you haven’t signed up for Pinterest yet, I highly recommend it. It’s honestly the most useful social network I’ve ever joined. Sure, there’s still the time suck factor, but the ideas really motivate me to try new things in the kitchen. And hopefully someday I’ll find the time to make some of the awesome crafts and life hacks I find there, too.

Are you on Pinterest? Follow me here, and share your username in the comments so I can follow you!

Photo credit

Dairy-free coconut milk ice cream (you won’t even miss the dairy, I promise)

Summertime = ice cream. Obviously. So now that summer is here, and Judah still doesn’t seem to be tolerating dairy in my diet, I was understandably bummed about it.

I looked at the “ice cream alternatives” in the grocery store — there are soy, rice, almond, and coconut milk varieties — but I sort of dragged my feet about trying them. I viewed them the same way I view “dairy-free” cheese. What’s the point? If it’s only going to remind me how much I want the real thing, then I might as well just skip it.

After some cajoling from Tony, I finally agreed to try coconut milk ice cream. No dairy. No soy. Still pretty high in fat and calories, so you can’t eat a pint every night without putting some junk in your trunk, but it’s okay as an occasional treat.

I tried it, and I FELL IN LOVE. Coconut milk ice cream is absolutely delicious. I didn’t miss the dairy at all. It tasted rich and smooth just like real ice cream, and the slight hint of coconut flavor just made it all the more delicious — and I’ve never been a huge fan of coconut in large quantities.

The only problem? Coconut milk ice cream is not frugal. Not even a little bit. We can usually get two quarts of premium ice cream for $2.50. A pint of coconut milk ice cream will cost you at least double that, and usually closer to $6. For a single pint.

Because my husband is a saint — and because he missed ice cream, too, but didn’t dare try to eat it in front of me — he found this recipe for chocolate coconut milk ice cream. We made a few alterations to make it more affordable (agave syrup may be healthy, but it’s pricey). Here is our version of the recipe:

Chocolate Coconut Milk Ice Cream

3 cups of unsweetened coconut milk (two cans)
2/3 cup of cocoa powder
8 tablespoons simple syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons brewed coffee, cold

Mix ingredients together until smooth. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Add cold coffee. Follow your ice cream maker’s instructions to turn the mixture into ice cream. Serve immediately as “soft serve,” or freeze overnight for firmer ice cream.

We paid about $3 for the coconut milk and pennies for the small amounts of sugar, vanilla extract, and coffee included. It yielded about a quart and a half of coconut milk ice cream for about half the price of a pint in the grocery store. I’m excited to try all kinds of variations on this recipe, including vanilla and coffee flavors and all kinds of mix-ins.

Photo credit

Homemade baby food 101

All-natural, organic whole food is all the rage these days. If you’re introducing your baby to solid foods, you’ve probably wondered how you can avoid feeding him pricey, pre-packaged, preservative-laden baby food. Well, I’m going to tell you.

Here’s what you need:

  • Fresh, organic fruits and vegetables
  • A food processor, food mill, or blender to puree them

That’s seriously it.

The best thing about making your own baby food is that there is no tutorial necessary. There’s nothing to learn. If you can buy produce and puree it, then you can make baby food.

Of course, some foods are just a little more complicated. If you want to feed your baby something that easily oxidizes, like apple or banana, you’ll want to add a little vitamin C to the mix so you can freeze or refrigerate some. If you don’t want to mess with all of that, you can do what I do: cut the banana or apple in half, puree one half for baby, and eat the other half or serve it to an older child immediately. That way you’re not wasting any of it, but you don’t have to store it.

Judah hasn’t tried many foods yet. We’ve given him bananas, apples, carrots, and mangoes. We steamed the carrots before pureeing them, but the apple, banana, and mango were served raw. We tried to freeze half a pureed apple, but without vitamin C, the brown gook that we thawed was pretty inedible. Steamed carrots and fresh mango didn’t look or taste any different after thawing.

In addition to being healthier for baby, homemade baby food will save you a ton of money. At $1 or $1.25 each for two 4-ounce jars of organic baby food, it may not seem like you’re spending a lot. But when you consider the fact that you’re paying a whole dollar for a small amount of processed produce, it’s a lot more expensive than you think. Not to mention the environmental effects of the packaging and shipping.

We can get four 4-ounce jars of baby food out of one organic mango for $1.50. That’s 37 cents per jar. Organic mango is one of the fancier, more expensive foods. Organic bananas usually sell for around 69 cents a pound at my grocery store. A rough estimate is about 25 cents per banana. I feed half the banana to Judah and eat the other half, so 4 ounces of homemade mashed banana costs about 12 cents. Apples and carrots cost about a quarter per serving. Based on these very rough estimates, you can cut your baby food costs by 50 to 80 percent.

You can save even more (and be greener) by growing the food in your garden. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to plant my garden this year, but my next baby will eat organic produce from my own backyard.

If you plan to make large quantities of baby food, buy some small mason jars or Tupperware containers. Freezing or refrigerating excess will make homemade baby food almost as convenient as the store bought stuff. To thaw frozen baby food, put it in the microwave for a minute or so. Be sure to stir the puree well and test the temperature for “hot spots” caused by the microwave before serving to baby.

If you’re like me and you don’t have a microwave, put the jar of frozen baby food into a bowl with hot water and place a coffee mug on top to keep it from floating. Leave it on the counter for 10 minutes. If there’s still a frozen chunk in the middle 10 minutes later, stir the puree, refill the bowl with more hot water, and leave it for another 10 minutes. If you just want to warm up refrigerated food, it will obviously take much less time.

I found a lot of great ideas and instructions on this wholesome baby food site. But honestly, once you get the hang of it, it’s as easy as perusing the organic produce section at your grocery store, buying whatever looks good that week, and buzzing it up in the food processor. No further instructions necessary.

What are your baby’s favorite homemade baby foods?

Photo credit

Resources for a dairy-free lifestyle

It’s so overwhelming to consider cutting an entire food group out of my diet.

I was already struggling to meet my daily calcium requirements, especially as a nursing mother. This is just going to make things that much harder. Not to mention, I love cheese, you guys. Like seriously love cheese.  This dairy-free thing is going to take some serious commitment, and it’s going to be challenging. I never thought I’d voluntarily give up gouda. Oh, the things we do for our children.

To make things easier on myself, I’ve compiled some resources — many of them shared by my lovely friends and readers and some of them discovered through my own research.

It seems this dairy-free thing is quite common these days, and lots of women have been in my situation with a nursing infant who has a dairy intolerance. If anyone else is able to feel a little less overwhelmed at the idea of a dairy-free diet through these resources then all the better.

First and foremost, I found this list of non-dairy calcium sources to be incredibly helpful. Without milk, cheese, and yogurt, meeting your daily calcium requirement is a little more challenging, but it can be done! And don’t forget to take a daily calcium supplement just to cover your bases.

Kelly Mom also shares some tips on meeting your daily calcium requirements without dairy.

This list of vegan baking substitutions offers suggestions for what to use in place of milk and other dairy products in recipes.

I was absolutely thrilled when I discovered that one of my favorite recipe sites, All Recipes, has a special section for dairy-free recipes. Their search engine makes it easy find dairy-free recipes with ingredients you have on hand, and user reviews make it easy to find meals that actually taste good.

This handy cheat sheet outlines “hidden dairy” ingredients (pdf) that you should avoid on a dairy-free diet (it’s not as simple as avoiding foods with “milk” and “cheese” in the ingredients list.

There’s even a dairy-free diet page at About.com, which is a good place to find the basics if you’re feeling overwhelmed.

After several hours of research, I’m not feeling quite so overwhelmed anymore. I’m even somewhat excited at the prospect of coming up with new meal ideas to fit our new dairy-free lifestyle. I won’t lie; life without cheese and chocolate and the occasional decaf non-fat no-whip mocha will be a struggle, and I’m not convinced that almond milk and rice ice cream will satisfy my dairy cravings. But it’s temporary and it’s best for my baby. So I shall carry on.

All I have to say is, I better start losing this baby weight quick if I’m giving up ice cream, cheese, and chocolate, or I’ll be writing angry letters to the Weight Loss Fairies.

Photo by amuckin77

Favorite freezer meals?

We’re down to 65 days until my estimated due date. That means I could be having this baby anywhere from 6 to 11 weeks from now. Since I hope it’s more like 7 or 8 weeks, I’m starting to think about how we can make our lives a little easier in those first couple weeks with a baby.

Several of you have suggested that we cook some meals that can be frozen and easily reheated when we’re too busy or tired to cook. I think this is a fantastic idea, especially since my husband is the main cook in our house. The baby will likely be coming while Tony is swamped with grading and final exams at the very end of the semester. Because he’s a college instructor, he won’t be able to take time off right away when the baby is born. He’ll have three weeks off for winter break, but that won’t begin until December 20.

If this baby comes a little early or right on time like I hope he will, Tony will have a very busy couple of weeks before his break. Between work and our new baby, cooking is likely to fall at the bottom of his list. So I’d like to make things easier on both of us by planning ahead.

Unfortunately, we have very little experience with freezer cooking. Rather than cooking complete meals, I’d prefer to prep meals ahead, freeze the components, and turn them into fresh meals later so it doesn’t feel like we’re eating leftovers. Here are some of the ideas we’ve come up with so far:

  • An enormous batch of homemade pasta sauce. We’ll buy various types of pasta, freeze the sauce in one-meal portions, and then reheat a batch of sauce and boil some pasta for a meal.
  • Lasagna frozen into individual portion sizes.
  • Quesadilla filling that can be reheated and made into fresh quesadillas.

This list is sorta short, so I need your help. What are your favorite freezer meal recipes? Can you point me toward any good freezer cooking resources? Send me your recipes and links, and I’ll be forever in your debt!

Photo by juliehicks

5 surprisingly simple foods to cook from scratch

Convenience foods have become a way of life for many families. You can purchase most things ready-made — even whole meals. Cooking from scratch may not always save a lot of money, but it’s a great way to eat healthier and cut out artificial ingredients. I think you’d also be surprised at how simple and rewarding cooking from scratch can be.

Here are the recipes we use for five common convenience foods. Even if you can’t cook them from scratch every time, consider trying out these recipes on a weekend to cut down on artificial ingredients and increase flavor.

Chicken stock

Buying ready-made chicken stock is incredibly pricey compared to the cost of cooking it from scratch, and huge amounts of sodium and preservatives make boxed chicken stock less than healthy. Cooking chicken stock from scratch is time consuming, but we make it in bulk and freeze one-quart portions so we’re only making it once every few months. Next time you roast a whole chicken, don’t throw the bones away. Freeze them, and use them on this chicken stock recipe when you have the time.

Pizza dough

Homemade pizza is a great frugal treat for the weekends, but store-bought pizza crust can cut back on your savings. Pizza dough is surprisingly easy to make, especially if you have a stand mixer on hand. Start with this recipe, but you’ll likely end up adapting it to suit your own tastes. If you don’t have a stand mixer, you can always mix and knead your dough the old fashioned way — by hand.

Marinara sauce

If you’re trying to cut artificial ingredients and preservatives out of your diet, there’s no reason not to make your own marinara sauce. It is simple, almost as fast as pouring the ready-made stuff out of the can, and much more delicious. My husband just sautes a little onion and garlic in olive oil and then mixes a large can of organic crushed tomatoes, a tablespoon of tomato paste, salt and pepper, and adds basil, oregano and parsley and a pinch of red pepper flakes to taste. It takes about 15 minutes.


It took us some time to get the hang of homemade bread, but it is so worth the trouble. The big secret? Bread flour. Really, that’s all there is to it. Any other flour makes the bread too dense and the crust too stiff. We got this recipe from a bag of Pillsbury bread flour, and it turns out perfect every time. Just store it in a plastic zip bag or freeze it for later.

Ice Cream

Homemade ice cream is one of our favorite treats for summer. We were lucky enough to be given a KitchenAid stand mixer with an ice cream maker attachment for our wedding, and this chocolate ice cream recipe is our favorite. But there are tons of simple ice cream recipes out there that don’t require special equipment, such as this ice cream in a bag recipe. Gourmet ingredients can add up, but if you save this treat for special occasions, it’s worth every penny.

What are your favorite recipes to cook from scratch?

Photo by anjuli_ayer