Friday, November 9, 2012

Baked Potato Soup

I'm part of this lovely small group that has decided to start sharing meals together when we meet. Since I'm on a rather strict budget, I have to use what I already have at home or what I can buy cheap. My goal is less than $5 spent each week on what I choose to bring. I just made that goal up as I was typing. 

Awesome buy of the week: a 5 lb bag of russet potatoes for 69 cents!!!!

I also bought a pound of bacon: $3.99 and a bunch of green onions: 59 cents. We had leftover cheddar cheese from lunch on Sunday, so I shredded that up, too. If you didn't do the math, I only spent $5.27 on my ingredients.


Recipe

6 medium Russet Potatoes
5 cups of chicken broth
1/2 teaspoon pepper (more or less to taste)
1/2 pound bacon
Sour cream (optional)
Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
Green onions (optional)

Scrub the potatoes well and bake at 425 for 20-25 minutes. You want them cooked thoroughly, so a fork can pierce them. Allow the potatoes to cool.

Cook bacon in a skillet until nice and crispy. Dry on some paper towel and then crumble. Set aside. Keep the bacon grease.

After the potatoes have cooled, peel them and chop them into cubes. You want them to be bite sized pieces. Then throw half of the potato pieces, along with all of the broth into a blender or food processor. You can also add about a tablespoon of bacon grease to this mixture. I have a magic bullet, so I had to break it up into smaller batches of about a cup of broth to a quarter cup of potatoes.  You want to blend it until it is smooth.

Throw a little more than half of the bacon bits in a pot. Then pour in all of the broth/potato mixture. Put in the pepper and mix it well. If you're going to serve it right away, pour in the rest of the cubed potatoes and let it warm on low heat. I'd give it a good half hour to get nice and warm.

Remember, everything has been precooked, so you're just getting it warm before you serve it. You do not want the soup to boil.

Use the sour cream, cheese, green onions, and extra bacon as a garnish, if desired.

Here's the recipe I used to help me out on amounts. Baked Potato Soup I looked at so many different recipes that I just made my own (dairy optional) version based on all of them.

Enjoy!!!

Other variations: 
*Cook a cup of chopped onion in the bacon grease and add the onions to the soup. 
*Add 1/4 C. sour cream before you heat it. 
*Whisk in cheese while heating until it becomes melted. 
*Add other vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, carrots) 
*Use heavy cream, milk, or canned coconut milk to make it creamier. 

***I haven't tried these variations, but if one works, let me know! :) *** 

Friday, November 2, 2012

Potatoes and Farms

I am so very blessed by so many different people and I often forget to thank God for these blessings. So, lest I forget, thank you Jesus for being blessed by those around me!

A friend of the family is part of a farm co-op thing and she always brings home way more veggies than she can use, so she often shares with my sister, which is awesome because that's one less thing for my sister to buy. Well, about 2 weeks ago, my sister and I went to the farmer's market and she stocked up on veggies, only to receive a huge donation from said friend. At the beginning of this week, my sis decided to share her bounty of veggies, mainly potatoes.

I love potatoes, in all their starchy goodness, mainly because they can be made sooooo many ways. I decided I need to find some potato variations. I came upon another food blog and found this potato recipe. I am currently using mom's kitchen to make a large batch of potatoes. Shhhh...

Maybe one day I'll share a recipe that I actually created? Potatoes are baking, potatoes are boiling, this girl's tummy is waiting to eat!

So, my spin...

I used garlic powder on some.

I used some thyme on some.

I plan to make one or two like a potato jalapeno popper... basically, I chopped up some jalapeno and I'm putting that with a dollop of cream cheese on the potato... it sounds delicious, right?

I bet they would delicious with some cheesy broccoli over the top...

So, since I don't want the potatoes to go bad and I'm making a large amount, I'm putting some into freezer bags, in a glass container, in the freezer. I hope to be able to just warm them in the microwave or oven when I'm ready to eat them!

Here are my tips:
1. Don't be shy with the herbs/seasoning if you want flavor.
2. Use smaller potatoes... mine were quite large and just didn't smash as well.
3. Don't despair if you try to smash them and they just break apart, mine did the same thing. I just used smaller portions then.

Do you know how hard it is to not eat the plate of potatoes that are waiting to be frozen??

Monday, August 27, 2012

My heart

So, this post is going to be short and sweet. There isn't a lot to say...

I have a heart for the Latino population. Whether that be in the USA or another country. I really want to find a job where I can pay off my debt. Another thing that would help with this endeavor would be a roommate or a super cheap place to live.

My intention then would be exploring ways to work with the people I love in a ministry setting... maybe even a missional setting.

This might be because we had a missionary speak at church on Sunday, but missions has always been on my radar. I love other cultures and want to get out and be there, reaching out to them.

So, please pray. If you're willing to be a prayer partner for me, comment or e-mail/message/text me. Or even if you know of a job that pays a lot. (By a lot, I mean $20+/hr or over $40,000 a year).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Peanut Butter Cup Cake

As you all know, my niece (G) is so special to me. Last year, I made her an ice cream cake for her birthday. She doesn't like cake very much, but LOVES ice cream, so it made more sense to make an ice cream cake. Well, guess what? When you discover that you can't have dairy, a beloved ice cream cake is a really bad idea. So, this auntie (who remains unemployed and otherwise not busy), decided to conquer a dairy free cake. Since dairy has been a common allergy/food sensitivity, it isn't hard to find dairy-free cakes. But, the real problem comes in finding one that actually sounds/tastes good. 

Side note: Duncan Hines is a dairy-free cake mix, in all the flavors I checked. I really wanted it to be something special, though. 

G, a former peanut butter hater, has "fallen in love" with peanut butter since becoming dairy-free. I'm not sure there's a direct correlation, but it happened in that order. Even today, after helping me make the filling for her cake, she ate peanut butter right off the spoon. So, after discussing with my sister, we decided to make a "Reese's Peanut Butter Cup" Cake. This is where it gets fun... 

I have to tell you a secret, a secret that hopefully my family won't know, because, honestly, I don't think they read this... there are vegetables in this cake. As I write this, the family hasn't tasted the cake. I will update based on their opinions of the cake... after we eat it on G's birthday. 

I used 3 different recipes to make this triple layer cake. The top and bottom layer are Chocolate Cake. The middle layer is White Cake. In between each layer is Peanut Butter Filling. I originally was going to use PB Cup Frosting as the frosting on the cake, but when I made the "trial size," I found it was too thick. It just didn't taste how frosting should taste (in my mind). I have decided to use chocolate frosting for the outer frosting of the cake. Yes, this cake is RICH. But I'm looking at it, unfrosted, and would love to just cut off a piece... reminds me of an episode of The Cosby Show. This is one of my favorite episodes and still makes me laugh. 

You still there?

The chocolate cake layers... I did the "smart" thing and made each layer individually (the white one twice, but that's another story). I wish I could tell you this was intentional, but it wasn't. I realized that the chocolate cake layer was thinner than I had anticipated and it would have been a short cake (but probably healthier!!). 

On the chocolate cake, I followed the recipe very closely. I used flax because my mom had it in the pantry. Then I used all sugar. (Yes, very unhealthy.) I used 3/4 C Enjoy Life mini chocolate chips. I used about 1 teaspoon of vanilla because the stuff we have is tooooo potent. It seems to have gotten stronger with  age, maybe it's really wine? Yes, I used CAULIFLOWER!!! I chose to use 2/3 C of canned coconut milk, no oil. The first cake, I couldn't smell the cauliflower at all. The second one, I could smell it... the only difference was the the order that I put things into the blender. I would suggest using a blender and chopping the cauliflower and liquid ingredients before pureeing. I cooked them for about 25 minutes each. They are both very moist and came out of the pan nicely. 

The vanilla layer is where I have to lay down my pride... I made a mistake on this one. One that put the whole cake-making task about an hour behind schedule. Thankfully, I planned ahead this time and wasn't baking the cake the day of G's birthday, which is how I usually make cakes. So, my sad story first. I got all of the ingredients out, I mixed everything together, I put the cake in the pan that I used for the other layer (so they'll be the same size) and put it in the oven. I'm not good with knowing length of cook time on recipes, especially when they give you a 15 minute window. I pulled the cake out after like 20-25 minutes and it looked good. It was a light brown on top and when I pushed on the top, it sorta sprung back. It was hard to tell if the toothpick was fully clean, but it looked good, so I pulled out the cake. I was letting it cool down and it was taking awhile. I finally needed to get to work on the third layer (which I decided to add after seeing the other two layers were kinda thin). I tried to pull the cake out of the pan and it was stuck! Realllly stuck! I then, trying all of the tricks that I could think of, tried to pry it out of the pan. Well, part of it fell off and I realized that the cake was still VERY gooey on the inside. That's right, it wasn't done, so I spent about 5 minutes scraping it out of the pan and into the garbage. Man, I was feeling defeated. My mom reassured me that it was fine to make it again. I was a little irritated with  that recipe, so I made the second chocolate layer before attempting the vanilla/white layer again. 

So, when I made the vanilla layer, I modified it somewhat... I didn't use the cocoa (obviously) and cut back the vanilla to a teaspoon. Instead of using water, on the first cake, I used a full cup of canned coconut milk, as well as the oil. When I made it the second time, I used between 1/2 & 3/4 C of coconut milk and then 1/4 - 1/2 C of water, but no oil. I felt there was a lot of liquid in the cake and maybe that's why it was taking so long to cook. I ended up cooking it for close to 30 minutes. 

My favorite part (because I've actually been able to taste it) is the frosting/peanut butter filling. I doubled the recipe because I knew I needed more than it called for. I was going to triple it, but realized I'd be using a lot of powdered sugar and didn't want to do that. I used about 6 tablespoons of peanut butter, NO vanilla, 6 tablespoons of almond milk, and only 1 tablespoon of cocoa powder. I didn't want a strong chocolate flavor. In fact, the peanut butter pretty much overtakes the flavor, but that's what I was going for, so I'm happy. I mixed it in my mom's stand mixer with the whisk attachment and it turned out just how I expected. 

UPDATE: We ate the cake for the birthday. Just about everyone ate their serving then my sister said, "is there cauliflower in this?" I could have kicked her... G promptly stopped eating the cake and won't try it now. Argh... thankfully, the rest of the family (and a family friend) all loved the cake, but felt the chocolate layers were quite rich. It is a very dense cake, so if I make it again, I will just do two layers. Only after being aware that cauliflower was in the cake did anyone actually pick up the flavor. I am able to taste it, so I might cut it back a bit to try to tone it down... 

So, next time you can't get your kids to eat veggies, just make a cake and bake the veggies in. We have a HUGE zucchini to use... probably chocolate zucchini cake will be the next one. Just have to find Grandma's recipe somewhere... 

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Potential Direction?

For those of you who haven't been in the job search in more than 5-7 years, you might be surprised by what I'm about to say. It is really hard to find a job even with a Bachelor's degree. Years ago, people were saying that as long as you go to college, employers would be ecstatic to have you. Not so much now. Because a college education/degree has become so common, every job wants you to have a specific education and if you don't have it, don't even bother applying. I have 6 years of teaching experience and I might as well be a high school graduate, because that's about all I qualify for. 

So, here are some jobs that I *do* "qualify" for... 
1) teaching English classes in Asia (China, South Korea) or other foreign countries
2) fast food
3) maybe working at a grocery store (even there, people want that specific experience)

Yes, I am frustrated... as enticing as China is, it isn't. I can't imagine moving across the world ALONE for a minimum of a year. The only advantage would be that I have some dear friends who are in the adoption process in China and they'd most likely be making the trip to China while I was there. If I had a friend or husband to go with, then I might be more open. I'm just not adventurous/outgoing/confident enough to do that. 

That being said, I'm considering pursuing my Master's in Math Education... now, you might be going back to my first post that said I don't want to teach anymore... I've been toying with the idea of teaching math for about 5 years... it was something I should have done when I went for undergrad... but I can't live with regret... anyway, it is a better option than trying to find a job that doesn't require a specific level of education or having to pursue a Master's in something that is totally off from where I'm at right now. I know there are a few companies out there that don't have a lot of requirements and pay well, but I can't put all my eggs into one basket that any of those will work out. 

I'm going to consult with God regarding this idea, but if it is what he wants, then I'm going end up doing whatever I can to make ends meet then looking into this plan... 

So, yes, your prayers are greatly appreciated. 

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Peanut Butter Cups, Seriously?!

I had a friend tell me once that peanut butter and chocolate is the best combination for candy. Then, all of a sudden, a candy company started using that for part of their slogan/advertising... hmmm 

Anyway, my niece is just starting to enjoy peanut butter. (She likes this chocolate silk pb that someone makes and also nutella, though.) She has enjoyed peanut butter cups longer than peanut butter itself. My mom, brother, and sister all like peanut butter cups. If you haven't figured it out yet, I like sweets. My fabulous grandpa gave me that gene... candy & baked goods & ice cream... I could survive. 


I found this recipe Peanut Butter Eggs and knew I had to try it. Once I tried it, I knew I had to make more. The first time that I made these, I only had chunky peanut butter. I also didn't have the stuff to make the chocolate. My mom has this amazingly large slab of chocolate that she won at an auction. She has barely used 1/4 of it, so I used some to make some delicious treats for her. I followed the recipe with the pb, powdered sugar, and salt. Then after I waited entirely too long for the pb chunks (didn't have the egg shape, just more of a ball) to harden, I melted the chocolate in a glass container in the microwave. I dropped the pb pieces in the chocolate, then stuck them back in the freezer. These turned out delicious, so I knew I had to make some more. 


So, let me tell you what I did to modify the recipe. 


1/4 C creamy peanut butter 
1/4 C powdered sugar 


I mixed these together. I found that I liked the mixture to be a bit more sticky because it made the pb taste a bit better. I know that I added a bit of each until I got the right consistency. 






2 T cocoa powder
3 T melted margarine (we use Fleischmann's which is basically just oils solidified) 
Agave nectar 


I mixed these together. I wanted the chocolate coating to have some sweetness to it, but didn't want to use a bunch of agave, either. I mixed the cocoa powder and margarine together. If it seems dry, you can add more margarine. I added the agave to help make it more wet. I found that it worked well even though it was still thick. You don't want it to be liquid like melted chocolate. 


Made with cocoa powder mixture
I smushed the chocolate mixture on the bottom and sides of some mini muffin pans. (In the future I'd use liners.)  After I let those set for about a half hour, I used a cookie scoop to put some peanut butter mix in the chocolate. Then I scooped the remaining chocolate on top of the peanut butter. 


For this recipe, I found that I had extra peanut butter, so I melted some milk chocolate for the rest of the family. 


I let the cups freeze for about an hour before carefully removing them to a plastic bag. 


Lessons learned: 
1) Use mini muffin liners 
2) Let the cups get really frozen
3) When you want to remove the cups from the pan, if you don't have liners, make sure to let it sit a few minutes, then carefully remove 
4) Mini muffin pans are rather large for a pb cup... 


Made with melted milk chocolate


 My niece liked the bitter taste of the candies made with cocoa powder. I thought it tasted good, but the chocolate was rather thick. 


Overall, no one has complained about these peanut butter cups since I've started making them. Maybe I'll make a HUGE one for my niece's birthday since cake is out of the question. 

Monday, July 2, 2012

Extra Special Oatmeal Cookies

Vanishing Oatmeal Raisin Cookies - found on QuakerOats.com


Ingredients


1/2 C plus 6  T butter, softened
3/4 C firmly packed brown sugar
1/2 C granulated sugar
2 eggs 
1 t vanilla 
1 1/2 C flour 
1 t baking soda
1 t cinnamon 
1/2 t salt 3 C quick oats 1 C raisins
Oven: 350
Cream butter & sugars. Add vanilla & eggs, beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add dry mixture to wet mixture, mix well. Add oats & raisins, mix well. 
Cook 8 to 10 minutes. 

So, that's my basic recipe. I made a few modifications. These WON'T be tummy friendly, because I don't have the right butter. I used 1/3 C agave nectar + 1/8 C sugar instead of the 1/2 C granulated sugar. I also cut the vanilla in half because I have very strong vanilla. I used 1/2 C plus 4 T of butter. I used 1/2 t cinnamon, 1/4 t salt. I wanted a mixture of oatmeal cookies, so I used butterscotch, chocolate chips, M&Ms, raisins and walnuts. I ended up using butterscotch and walnuts together to balance the two tastes. I also combined M&Ms with chocolate chips. If you divide the batter evenly, you can do about 1/4 C of the mix-ins. Or just add as much as looks good. 
All About Agave said that the agave might make things brown a bit quicker. I don't want to ruin the cookies, so I set the oven to 325 (also good because my mom's oven runs a little hot). 




I cooked each batch for 11-12 minutes. My favorite of all the batches I made were the oatmeal raisin (go figure!). But, my favorite cookies of all time are oatmeal raisin.