Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Our favorite roast chicken

Our weather here has turned to fall for sure. The colors are beautiful against the bright blue skies and our evenings turn real chilly as soon as the sun begins to set. It's just this time of year when I begin piling cozy throws in a basket, flannel sheets are on the beds, fresh candles are burning and I make sure to turn on lamps in the foyer and dining room as the sun begins to set to give the front of our home a warm, welcoming glow. When the weather turns cold, I especially strive to make our home feel extra cozy and comforting.
At the first chill in the air, I am inspired to cook good old fashioned comfort foods like roasts and stews that really warm you through & through. You know, those Sunday suppers we grew up with as kids. I love how our kitchen smells of delicious food roasting in the oven when Jeff walks in the door after a long day.
This roast chicken recipe is one of those meals and it is one my family's very favorites. It is also worthy enough for company as it always goes over well and there is never any leftovers. It's one of the few meals I serve that the boys ask for seconds! I usually serve the chicken, crispy potatoes and roasted carrots all on one platter and put it in the middle of the table for everyone to help themselves. It's so bountiful! Last night Reed said, "this is such a feast!".
Although the chicken is very moist and delicious, I think the crispy potatoes are the hit of the meal. Make way more potatoes and carrots than you think, there never seems to be enough!

Here is the recipe I start with and just make a few changes. I use a bit more butter and add chopped rosemary & thyme to the salt & cornstarch mixture. I also add cut up carrots to the roasting pan at the 2nd 30 minutes with a bit of olive oil if there are not many drippings (from the first half of roasting) and toss the carrots and potatoes together. You could really use any root vegetable(s) that you like. It's just my favorite way to eat carrots. :) Hope you enjoy!

What are your favorite cold weather comfort foods?

Thursday, October 9, 2014

frugal living | new homekeeping schedule

Jeff and I have made some BIG financial goals. In order to achieve these, we need to make some changes in how we live our life a bit. This has been a natural progression for me over the years, but now it's time to step it up.
So, I have been immersing myself in discovering ways to live more frugally and consequently green. I really need to maximize the hard earned money my husband provides. Yes, cutting back on spending money is a huge part of frugal living, but it goes beyond that. There are so many little things that can be done every day that I think will make a drastic difference. My hope is create a new weekly series to share those with you along the way.
The first thing I did a few weeks ago was cut my housekeeper. Obvious, right? We were going to keep him (yes, a man, go figure!) until Luc went to school, but the guilt that I was having a lot of time on my hands now when I could be putting that money to better uses was building up in me and I was noticing more and more spots missed and just "buildup" from the months that he had been cleaning and that frustrates me to no end when I pay good money. He had been so good when I would have him here & there but no one cleans my house like I do.  Don't get me wrong, I slack (hence why we hired a housekeeper to begin with)  but when I clean, I clean darn good!
So, I scrapped my daily cleaning schedule because it clearly wasn't working anymore. Ii really thought about why it failed earlier this year. I would start every week gung-ho and by Thurs, be exhausted from all the other doings of the week and things on Thurs & Fri were falling behind. Now that Luc is older, I feel like picking one day a week to do full cleaning may work better. He plays independently more now and I don't think it will scar him one day a week if mom is less attentive in the morning. :) I chose to clean Tuesdays. It's still early in the week when I have the most energy, it's one day a week I won't schedule anything. Mondays are put the house back in order and really, really pick up so I can come in and clean quick, plus it's a day I already work out.  I alternate up & down floors and choose a room or area each time to deep clean. I am already in the cleaning mode, so I just take it a step further.  This way I don't have to schedule a separate housekeeping "extras" day. cleaning is every nook & crannie and surface is cleaned. Lighting/fans, all trim, inside of windows, crevice tool vacuum along baseboards are also included. I tell ya, cleaning day is a far bigger workout than I typically get and I am good & tired by the time we sit down to dinner. But it's just one day a week and it's a good tired to feel when I accomplished it all.

What things do you do to live more frugally?

Friday, September 19, 2014

save on groceries | make your own tortillas

Well, our school year has gotten off to a great start. Reed loves school. It took a couple weeks to adjust with him being gone all day, but Luc and I have a good routine for ourselves during the day. Now it's time to get some things in order around here.
Our grocery bill was out of control! I shamefully admit when we first moved we didn't even pay that close attention to what we were spending and then when I did, I tried to keep it at our budgeted amount, but it was still coming up way higher every month. When you don't pay cash and  just look at the credit card statement at the end of the month, it's funny {not funny as in " ha ha"} how you forget how much it really does add up. The endless frustration in overspending finally made me do something I've never really done...pay cash. I realize paying cash isn't a radical concept for some, but it's never been how we roll.  But wow, so much changes when you use cash besides just staying on budget. A lot of good is happening in this head of mine. So now I go to the bank every other Friday {payday} take out my budgeted amount for groceries for two weeks and that's it, no going back to the bank before payday. It's been going really good and after a few weeks I even had money leftover. It was $10, but still...money leftover from someone who was spending sometimes near double the "budget" amount is a huge victory I think.

Here are the top three changes I made to get my grocery bill under control:
Cook one meat dish a week {I make 3-4 meals a week and then we eat leftovers}
Make more staples from scratch
Pay cash

I will also mention another big factor was planning meals around what's available from our garden. Now that the big growing season is coming to an end, this won't have as much of an impact, but I am dipping my toe into a four season garden so hopefully we will still have some fresh seasonal produce to enjoy. 

If you've been reading this blog for any length of time, you may realize I really am a get back to simple, good, basics kind of gal at heart. We don't eat processed food and have home cooked meals nearly every night. I have been drawn to making more and more staples myself for awhile now. Since recently I was successful at making bread, I challenged myself to make all of our rolls, tortillas, etc. There is such a wealth of recipes out there. I have pinned many ideas on my "make your own".   And I will tell you, besides the fact that homemade food just tastes way better than anything store bought, it is a huge savings off your grocery bill. Not to mention the pride that you have when you make something yourself and are feeding your family good, wholesome food. 
So I've made these tortillas twice now. Both with regular all-purpose the recipe calls for and substituting whole wheat {which is the type of tortilla I would buy at the store}. Both times they turned out great. The second time it came so much easier and I have a better feel for how thin the dough should be before you cook them {thinner than you think}. I use a combination of the rolling pin and my hands to stretch and thin the dough out. Similar to stretching pizza dough. 
Here is the recipe I use: homemade tortillas.  You can divide the dough into as many pieces you need based on what you are using them for. I've made it into just four for burritos or eight for fajitas. I also pour about a 1 tsp or so of vegetable oil into the skillet and roll it around before I put the tortilla in the pan so it doesn't stick. I tell you, so so good. But gosh, it's homemade I would be surprised if it wasn't. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

homemade soft pretzels that are gf and vegan {or not}

Last fall I discovered a new soft pretzel recipe from Tessa @ nineandsixteen. So, so good!  I made them to give as holiday gifts to some good friends and a new neighbor from Illinois to welcome them to the neighborhood last Christmas.
This past Easter, one of the preschool moms was making Easter pretzels for the class party. So, the day before the party (no pressure) I thought I would try to make them gluten free and dairy free so Reed could enjoy a soft pretzel, too.  Every gf soft pretzel recipe I found called for egg (as well as the frozen ones) which we can't do, so I dove right in determined to make these. I swear, this is why I had a sudden interest in cooking & baking years before he was born. I needed to have the experience and confidence behind me to dive in and make all these delicious foods safe for Reed to eat. I had recently found a new multi blend flour that was giving me great results on flavor and texture to wheat flour. The pkg says does not work with yeast breads, but I saw that while the dough was rising, so I just kept my fingers crossed that they would still turn out. They did, maybe not as much rising as a typical wheat pretzel, but good nonetheless. And I figured putting cinnamon & sugar would make almost anything taste yummy if need be.
But they have been so enjoyed that I make them every so often as a special treat. I posted pictures of them waiting as an after school snack on FB his first day of school and I had several requests for the recipe.

So, here is the recipe I used.

You can use this regular recipe if you don't have any dietary restrictions or if you want gluten free and/or vegan read on:
To make these gluten free, I switched out the flour to Authentic Foods multi-flour blend. If you have any experience baking gluten free, you know it's all about the combination and you can't substitute with just any flour. This is by far the best flour I have found to emulate wheat. I have tried many, many flour combinations and even started putting my own combinations together until I found this. I order it by the case online for goodness sakes! So, I can't speak to how these will turn out if you use another flour. You use 3/4 cup for every cup of wheat flour in a recipe.

Here's the adaptations I made from the original recipe:

Approx 3 1/3 cup Authentic Foods Multi-flour blend(if dough too wet, add a bit more flour, but not too much bc gf flours absorb a lot of moisture that result in dry baked goods)

1/2tsp. Xanthan gum for a little extra structure

I also used dairy (and soy free) earth balance margarine (this has a great buttery taste) for any butter in recipe and for topping.

When rolling the dough out to shape into twists, don't make too thin bc this isn't as stretchy as a regular wheat dough would be and they can break apart as you are twisting or dropping into boiling water. Sometimes I have to re-roll once or twice (before boiling) if that happens.
I have found these need to bake for closer to 12+ minutes. You want them deep golden brown, so just watch closely in your oven.
I think that's all I did differently and followed the original recipe as otherwise stated.

Some other topping ideas I do are garlic powder or sea salt & chopped rosemary. Yum!

Monday, July 21, 2014

homemade apple butter

Our weekend was rainy and cool. Not quite the summer weather we would anticipate in late July. But, something about rainy days {and days} proved to be quite a relaxing weekend.
Reed and I had just been talking about eating waffles with apple butter so at the danger of appearing ready for fall, we piled our cart with pounds and pounds of apples. Even though this time of year isn't really apple season, we find Pink Lady apples still to be quite delicious.  I cooked apple butter all day yesterday. With the dreary weather and the apple and cinnamon scent filling the whole house, it could of almost been mistaken for fall. Thank goodness it's not quite yet. :) This was the first time I made apple butter and it couldn't be easier. You throw everything into the slow cooker and let it cook the whole day. The boys so enjoyed it on fresh waffles this morning as they watched the rain still coming down in buckets.

Slow Cooker Apple Butter
{adapted from this recipe}

5 lbs of apples, peeled, cored & sliced
{I used mostly pink lady and few granny smith because Reed wanted some green apples}
1/2 cup light brown sugar 
{the original recipe calls for 2 cups sugar, but we prefer the sweetness to come from the apples, so tailor to suit your taste}
1 Tbsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. salt {I use kosher salt}
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Place apples in slow cooker. Add sugar, spices and salt. Stir together. Cook on low about 8-9 hours or until apples are very easily mashed. Add vanilla extract. If you prefer a bit of a smoother texture you can use an immersion blender {or regular blender}. That's all there is to it. Enjoy!

This recipe made probably enough for a couple weeks for us in the fridge, approx 26 oz.

Next time I will be definitely doubling the recipe to freeze or give as gifts.

Monday, July 14, 2014

simpler living | baking bread

This summer just seems to be flying by isn't it? Although doesn't every summer? We have less than a month until school starts. :(

This summer I am finding a necessary pull for much simpler living.  Less chasing, less "plugged-in", less buying, just less of all these time and energy zapping activities. We took a 12 day "vacation" in June to Illinois to visit family & friends and it gave me alot of car travel time to do some great reading and soul searching. I realized I was finding these external influences were depleting my precious time & energy.  I have re-focused my days on what's important and necessary and say no to or limit everything else. My days are filled with time spent with the boys, sometimes getting together with friends at the pool, library trips, tending the garden, homekeeping, reading, grocery shopping and trying new recipes. The days are full, but not overflowing. It is good. 

Something that I have long wanted to try is homemade bread sans a bread machine. My sweet friend Helen brought this herb bread when they came to dinner in November.  It is amazing. We polished it off the next day. She jotted down the recipe for me that night and assured me it was so easy & straightforward.  Well, it is. It's a shame I waited this long to make it. My first try was Thursday when we got home from swim class. I didn't have enough flour to make a whole batch so I had to finagle the proportions a bit, but miraculously it turned out. We enjoyed it with dinner. On Friday I got more flour to try another go-around, to get a better handle on the makings of this bread. I brushed the tops with olive oil and sprinkled it with fleur de sel before I baked it too.  Soooooo darn good. We were headed to a friends' for dinner so I wanted to treat them to this delicious bread as a thank you for having us. Our hosts response confirms this recipe is a keeper. You will love it!

Herb Bread
{makes 4 loaves}

6 cups warm water 

3 Tbsp. Yeast
2 Tbsp. Salt
3/4 bag of all-purpose flour
3 Tbsp of minced herbs {this recipe I used 2 Tbsp thyme & 1 Tbsp Rosemary}

In a very large bowl, pour in warm water and sprinkle yeast on top.

Add salt to side of bowl.
Add herbs and flour and mix all together. 
Dough should not be wet, but just slightly sticky. Add a bit more flour if nessesary.
Cover with towel and let rise about an hour.
Empty dough onto floured surface and cut into 4 equal parts. 
Knead each loaf several times to get all the air out.
Place each small rounded loaf on a greased cookie sheet {I put 2 loaves on a cookie sheet so they had room to rise}. 
Brush tops with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt. 
Put loaves into cold oven, turn oven to 400 and bread will rise as the oven is preheating. When the oven reaches 400, it should take about 30-40 minutes until top is golden brown. 

Just try and resist cutting into the fresh baked bread before it cools!!! :)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

peach season | homemade peach cobbler

I love desserts, especially homemade.  I usually make a small dessert every weekend {for our "at home" datenight} so we aren't eating it for days and days. In the summer, I am inspired by the fruit that's in season. A couple weeks ago I made strawberry hand pies. So delicious. You can find the recipe from here. I think this is a great basic recipe to use for other fruit, too.

It's finally peach season here in Georgia! Oh, the taste of a perfectly ripe organic peach...heavenly. I always imagined having a peach tree if I lived in Georgia, but after doing some research, there are extensive challenges with growing them organically here. I am crushed. So for now, farmers markets and whole foods will have to do. 

This past weekend, I made a peach cobbler for the first time ever. I almost can't believe that, but I guess I've always just done crisps or pies using fruit.  Jeff raved about it and yesterday he said he looked forward to having some for dessert all day. He grew up eating amazing cobblers his Grandma used to make, so I knew this recipe was a keeper!

I think cobblers should be served warm out of the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream, period.  But, if by chance there are any leftovers, reheat in the oven at 200 for 10 minutes. Here's a recipe for a very easy homemade vanilla ice cream I've been making for years. Enjoy!