Sunday, August 30, 2009

Wish it was autumn...

I love autumn. I love autumn! I love the crisp cool air, the changing leaves, and I also love the change of our menu to different kinds of soups! (My husband sighs here!) So what does autumn have to do with today? I mean, after all, it felt like it was about 95 degrees outside today, and muggy!

I broke down and made soup for dinner. Yes, and when the aforementioned husband came in from mowing the lawn, sweating, he looked at me like I was crazy. But I had the ingredients!

I had been given a butternut squash by a friend, fresh from the garden. STOP! Don't leave if you don't like butternut squash. I'm not a fan of butternut squash, but I do find ways to use it where it doesn't taste like itself. That's what I did tonight.

If you've never learned how to peel and cut a butternut squash, please check out the great step by step instructions at Simply Recipes! It is definitely something you need to learn before you take the first leap.

Southwest Butternut Chicken Soup

1.5 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and diced in 1" cubes
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp salt
1 32-oz box low sodium chicken broth
1 4.5-oz can diced green chiles
3 small corn tortillas, broken into small pieces
1 1/2 cups chopped or pulled chicken breast
1/2 cup half and half

In a dutch oven, warm oil on medium high heat. Saute onions and garlic for about 3 minutes until tender. Add the squash, and seasonings and warm for another 1 minute, stirring. Pour in the broth and chiles. Cover and bring to a boil. Stir, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes. Add tortilla pieces; wait for a minute while they soak up liquid. Using a potato masher, mash the contents of the dutch oven to the consistency you want. If you prefer, cool 20 minutes and blend in a blender for a soft, smooth texture. When you have the consistency you prefer, add the chicken and half and half. Stir until blended, then warm to the desired serving temperature in the dutch oven.

This was a winner with my family, despite the fact that we're in the heat of August. Also, it wasn't too spicy, but enough to cover the butternut flavor! What is your favorite thing about autumn?

Saturday, August 29, 2009

In Remembrance...

This week our friends, Jeremy and Lindsay, lost their 4 month old son, Ayden Brooks Jones. You can read Lindsay's version of what happened, as well as get a glimpse of how wonderful, happy and adorable Ayden was while he was here in this world.

Our church had a celebration of life on Thursday. Lauren did an amazing job of photographing it, and you can see some of those images here. It was awesome to see the football players that Jeremy coached last year, as well as his new team this year. Standing room only with about 550 people in our church, love poured out for the family. A wonderful slideshow was on powerpoint during the service. It was certainly an emotional time for everyone. Jeremy and Lindsay did the eulogy, which was so amazing. It was difficult, but they did it.
I tried several times during the week to work on a card, but in the emotion of it, had too hard of a time. In the end, I was able to come up with this card. I know that they will find peace from the Lord, with time. I'm sure they will always have a special place in their heart for Ayden. And they will one day be with Ayden again, when they too go to see Jesus. It will be such a happy reunion, and I praise God for that!

Here is the inside of the card. Please pray for the Jones family, they have a long journey of healing ahead of them.

Take time to hug your family a few extra times this week.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Bowl of cherries

I often like to buy cherries in bulk. They are in season right now, so it's the perfect time to stock up the freezer. Cherries are great in place of ice for smoothies. You could also try out your own homemade cherry pie, use them as garnish on a summer drink, serve them over ice cream, or just have a cup of cherries with a handful of almonds for a healthy snack.

In order to freeze cherries, you will need to pit them, rinse clean, pat dry and lay out on a parchment covered pan so that they aren't touching. Place in the freezer until just frozen, then transfer to a freezer safe baggie. Very similar to freezing strawberries!

Many people do not know about the cherry pitter. It's so easy to use. I have the OXO Good Grips cherry/olive pitter, which has a small splash guard. Simply pull off the stem, place the cherry upright in the pitter, and push the pit out into a garbage bowl. Yes, it's a bit time consuming when you need a bunch, but fresh ripe cherries are amazingly tasty. If you plan to keep them in the fridge for more than a day or so, save the pitting until closer to needing them. Once cherries are pitted and washed, they rot faster, as is the case with most fruits.

Cherries also have many amazing health benefits! They contain high levels of antioxidants and many vitamins. My neighbor friend recently shared about his battle with gout, and after many years of searching for relief, heard from a friend that cherries helped their gout. So my neighbor friend tried it. He started eating cherries daily for a week, and said the severe pain and swelling/fluid on his knee disappeared. He says he's been eating cherries daily for the better part of the last 3 years!!! And if he misses a day, he can tell by the reaction in his knee! That's amazing to me!

So add some variety to your fruit selection next time you go to the store, buy some fresh cherries!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

This prize-winning lasagna is one of my comfort foods!

When I was of pre-school age, or maybe slightly younger, my mom entered a recipe contest. We were living in Wisconsin at the time, and she, like me, enjoyed cooking and baking. The newspaper article, still framed, stated that there were over 2200 entries. She won the entire contest with this lasagna recipe. For those wondering if you "miss the meat," I will say this- of my friends who have had the pleasure of eating this lasagna, other than my 4 year old (ha ha), no one has missed it. It is full of flavor and has plenty of hearty ingredients, leaving you full and ready for leftover night.

Mom's Prize-Winning Vegetarian Lasagna

9 lasagna noodles (1 box)
1 box frozen chopped spinach
2 cups (5oz) sliced fresh mushrooms
1 cup grated carrot
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 Tbsp vegetable oil
6oz can tomato paste
1/2 cup chopped pitted black olives (1 small can of chopped olives)
1-1/2 tsp oregano
15 oz can tomato sauce
1 Tbsp butter/margarine
16 oz cottage cheese
16 oz very thinly sliced monterey jack cheese
Grated Parmesan cheese

Cook lasagna noodles in boiling water (unsalted) for 8 to 10 minutes or until tender; drain. Defrost spinach in microwave without adding water; drain and squeeze excess water out.

In a medium saucepan, cook carrots, onion and mushrooms in hot oil until tender, but not brown. Stir in tomato sauce, tomato paste, olives and oregano.

Grease a 13x9 inch baking dish with butter. In dish, layer 1/3 of noodles, 1/3 of cottage cheese, 1/3 of spinach, 1/4 of monterey jack, and 1/3 of sauce. Repeat layers two more times. Then top with remaining slices of cheese. Bake at 375 for 30 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving. Pass the Parmesan cheese!

Kelly's notes: On the lasagna recipe, I only made a couple of minor modifications. I used a 7.3 oz jar of sliced mushrooms, drained, instead of fresh and didn't bother cooking them with the carrots/onions since they are already tender. I also substituted olive oil in place of vegetable oil and in place of butter. Lastly, I sprinkled about 1/4 cup parmesan cheese on the top before baking and didn't serve extra at the table.

I don't normally serve dessert, but if it's a weekend and we're having guests for dinner, which we did last night, I will serve dessert if I can. So last night I made a dessert, mostly inspired by Kraft, but I changed one thing- it called for strawberries on top and I chose to substitute fresh pitted cherries since they're in season, and it was REALLY good (if I say so myself).

Angel Lush with Pineapple

1 small prepared angel food cake
1 pkg (small) instant vanilla pudding
20 oz can crushed pineapple in juice (undrained)
1 cup cool whip
2 cups fresh cherries, pitted (or pick something you like, recipe called for strawberries)

Cut the cake horizontally into 3 layers. Place bottom layer on serving platter. Top with about 1/3 of pudding mixture. Repeat two more times. Top with cherries. Refrigerate for at least one hour. If there are leftovers, be sure to refrigerate.

Enjoy your next meal!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Beautiful Zinnias!

A dear friend, Gordon, came into town to see me today, and he brought with him some beautiful Zinnias from his mother's garden. I just thought I'd share them. I thought they went especially well on the table next to my daughter's crayons- the colors worked well together. :)

What is something that brightened your day?

Easy & Healthy Waffle Dip

I've been trying to come up with a healthy substitute for syrup. Something that the family would like and not feel like they're missing out on the sweet stuff. This idea came to me last night, so I gave it a try this morning. It's really good! Not only that, but it's so simple, inexpensive, and uses things that most people have in the house already!

I toasted up 2 Kashi Strawberry Waffles for this, choose the waffles you like or want to try. I think the Kashi ones are very tasty, and healthy is always a bonus!

Fruity Waffle Dip (for one person, 2 waffles; multiply for each person)

1/2 banana
1 1/2 tsp orange juice

Smash up the banana with a fork until drippy. Mix together with the orange juice in a ramekin or bowl. Makes about 1/2 cup per person. Enjoy with warm waffle strips!

I served milk with mine. What do you like to drink with your waffles?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Beans & Cornbread with a twist

I really loved this simple meal. I needed something that I could whip up quickly and didn't need to spend a whole lot of time standing over the stove. So, I decided to prepare this simple meatless meal. I think that the combination of the cornbread with the beans was necessary, and my husband agreed.

These were my original recipe ideas, feel free to vary as you see fit for your family. For the beans I used all organic ingredients except for the seasonings. Even with organics, this is definitely a budget meal. After our family of 4 ate, I froze more than six 2-cup containers full. Each 2-cup container is equivalent to a can of beans, so I can pull one out of the freezer whenever I need a "can."

One final note on the beans- don't be intimidated by the seasonings. This recipe makes a LOT of beans and they will NOT be spicy with the measurements listed. It just adds some flavor.

Kelly's Crock Pot Black Beans

1 bag dry black beans
1 32-oz box low sodium chicken stock
2 14-oz cans no salt added diced tomatoes
2 Tbsp chili powder
1 Tbsp dried cilantro
1/2 tsp ground red pepper (cayenne)

Soak the beans in a large stockpot filled with water overnight. In the morning, drain and rinse the beans. Put them in a large crockpot. Add the remaining ingredients, stirring until mixed. Turn crockpot on low for at least 8 hrs, longer if you have the time. Leave them alone until they're done cooking and tender. Serve!

Kelly's Sweet Cheddar Cornbread

1 box Jiffy cornbread mix
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 can creamed corn
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

Preheat oven to 400. Combine the mix with egg and milk until just blended, lumpy is okay. Add the creamed corn and cheddar cheese, mix until just blended. Put in a greased pie plate. Bake for 40 minutes. Allow at least 10-15 minutes to cool before serving.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Save money by hemming your own pants and skirts!

In these economic times, it's important to find ways in your life to cut back, even if you're seemingly unaffected today. One way that I have learned to cut costs is to do my own professional hem on my work clothes. I have to wear business professional (suits, dress pants, etc.) to work, and was tired of spending money having the pants tailored. Most of the hemming can be done in front of the TV or watching the kids play.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, I thought I'd share a website that I used to learn how to hem. It is not difficult, and you don't even have to have a sewing machine or serger, just narrow the search so that it will meet your specific needs. I will give you two tips, from personal experience: 1. when you're doing the final hem stitch, remember to only "grab" 1-2 threads from the pant fabric, or else you'll see the thread through the front, and 2. don't pull the thread too hard, or else you'll pucker the fabric.

The first picture shows what can be done if you have a serger. This is not necessary to hem pants, but a nice to have!

Hope this can help you, or maybe spark an idea on how you can save money this year. Would love to hear how!

Finished hem: