Quick Tip Tuesday – Easy Ranch Dressing

Ranch dressing tends to be very popular, especially with kids.  It is really easy to make your own, and it tastes even better than when made with the packet from the store, not to mention much less expensive.  I make four times the seasoning recipe and keep it in a small jar with the instructions written on the top.  To make the dressing, add the mix to buttermilk, mayo and sour cream.  If you use light mayo and light sour cream, 2 tablespoons is only 1 Weight Watcher point.  Using it as a dip is a great way to get your family (and you) to eat more raw veggies.

Ranch Dressing

  • 1/2 cup buttermilk*
  • 1/4 cup mayo
  •  1/4 cup sour cream
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 pinch dried dill weed
  • 1 pinch dried thyme
  1. Place all ingredients into a small bowl and whisk together until well blended.
  2. Refrigerate for several hours (or even better, overnight) to allow flavors to meld together.
  3. Keep refrigerated; use within seven days.
 To make 4 times the amount of the seasoning mix, use:
·         1 teaspoon salt
·         1 teaspoon garlic powder
·         1 teaspoon onion powder
·         1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
·         1/2 teaspoon black pepper
·         1/8 teaspoon dried dill
·         1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
Mix together in a small jar.  To make the dressing, use 1 teaspoon of the mix to 1/2 cup buttermilk, 1/4 cup of mayo and 1/4 cup sour cream.  Whisk together, and let set for at least 30 minutes before using.
*Buttermilk freezes great.  I always end up with a lot more buttermilk than I can use before it goes bad, so I freeze small portions in freezer-safe mason jars.  Do not try to freeze sour cream.


Growing Your Own Sprouts

I love to add sprouts to sandwiches or salads, but they can be a bit pricey at the grocery store, and aren’t always very fresh.  I started growing my own, and discovered it is really easy.  Another big advantage of growing your own is the great variety available, not just the plain jane alfalfa sprouts most commonly found when grocery shopping.  I like the finer seeds, such as radish, broccoli, red clover, alfalfa, etc. and Kayte prefers the chunkier seeds like lentils and beans.  Although the seeds can seem expensive at first, they make a lot of sprouts and go a long way.  Of course, the other advantage is that you know just how fresh they are and that they haven’t been contaminated during the growing or processing period.
All you need to get started is a jar, lids with holes (for draining) and some seeds.  Amazon has a great starter kit of lids that fit wide-mouth Mason jars. I ordered the sampler pack of sprouting seeds (also on Amazon), and it is a great way to try a large variety of different mixes.  I shared it with Kayte, and that is how we discovered we have distinctly different preferences.  There are lots of other sources for seeds, and you may be able to find some at local health food stores.  Be sure you are buying seeds made specifically for sprouting, and not for planting.  Seeds for planting are often treated with fungicides or other chemicals.
To start, add seeds to the jar, cover with cool water and let soak for 8 hours or overnight.  I use a heaping tablespoon of small seeds in a pint jar, but you will need to add more seeds if you are using larger varieties.  After soaking, drain off the liquid, then rinse twice with cool water. Drain well, and position jar so that any remaining water can continue to drain (the lids from Amazon allow you to put the jar upside down).  Rinse twice with cool water morning and evening for the next several days until your sprouts are the size you want them.  Mine usually take about 3-4 days, and I like to put them where they get plenty of light for the last day or so to become nice and green, but that isn’t necessary. Store covered in the refrigerator when finished growing.  (You can take a few out during the growing process and allow the rest to continue growing.)

#TBT – Salads To Go

With the hot summer weather and the abundance of fresh salad makings, this is the perfect time to revisit one of our popular posts on putting together salads that are easy to grab and go.  I always have plenty of Mason jars on hand, since I find they are perfect for storage and also for freezing various foods.  Pay particular attention to the order in which you layer the ingredients in the jar so your salad doesn’t get soggy.  

For the original post, click here.

Make Your Own Ranch Dressing Mix

Ranch dressing mix is so versatile and can be used to add flavor to many different dishes or just use as intended for a salad dressing.  Unfortunately, the packet of mix can be expensive, especially when used as an ingredient in bulk cooking.  For example, when Kayte and I planned a freezer-cooking session involving 13 pounds of Rio Chicken (enough for 30 meals), the recipe called for 12 packets of Ranch Dressing mix.  My favorite use is with buffalo chicken wings.

I have been mixing up my own for several years, so I multiplied the recipe as needed and the cost  of all the ingredients probably added up to about what 1 packet of the mix would have cost had we bought it.  For my own use as salad dressing, I always mix up enough for at least 4 batches and store the mixture in a small glass jar with the instructions for mixing with the wet ingredients taped to the jar.  It is very simple without a lot of “junk” ingredients, and if you have a well stocked spice cabinet, you probably have everything you need already on hand.  I am going to detail the original recipe for a small quantity, and then also give you the recipe in the amount that I usually use.

Ranch Dressing

Makes 3/4 cup (about 1/2 purchased packet)

  • 1/4 tsp, plus 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp onion powder
  • 1/8 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/8 tsp black pepper
  • 1 pinch dried dill weed
  • 1 pinch dried thyme
  • 1/2 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup mayo 
Mix everything except the last two ingredients together, then add the buttermilk and mayo. Stir well and let sit for at least 30 minutes for the flavors to meld.  The original recipe calls for 1/2 teaspoon of corn starch or arrowroot powder to thicken, but I prefer to substitute sour cream for half of the buttermilk (1/4 cup of each) instead.

For a larger batch, take everything x 4.
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp dried parsley
  • 1/2 tsp. black pepper
  • 1/8 tsp dried dill
  • 1/8 tsp dried thyme
Mix well and store in an air-tight container.  To use, add 1 tsp.of the mix to 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup buttermilk and 1/4 cup sour cream) and 1/4 cup mayo.  Stir well (using a whisk makes it easier) and let sit for at least 30 minutes before using.  

Often toddlers will eat just about anything if you give them something to dip the food in, and this is a great alternative to ketchup.

Salads to go

With the dawning of a new year, come resolutions. While people’s new years resolutions do vary, most people I know have some version of eat healthy and get fit. We even published a short series on making changes in the new year: resolutions, budgeting, choosing healthy foods and cooking at home
Chopped Southern Salad w. Pulled Pork
When I think of eating healthy, I think salads. I like mine loaded with a good dressing. You can make an unhealthy salad, but for the most part, a salad is a healthier choice than whatever else I was planning on eating. The biggest problem I have with salads, though, is keeping them fresh. Costco has some excellent deals on salads, but I often find myself throwing quite a bit away. Even the bag salads usually are eaten in more than one sitting, and aren’t as fresh the second time around. 
Don’t worry, Pinterest changed all that for me! Lettuce keeps longer in glass jar – period. I have pulled shredded lettuce out almost a week later and its STILL fresh and crunchy. Not only can you throw out less lettuce, you can make salads for the whole week at one time. 
Jars are easy to grab and go, when you’re rushing to get out the door for work. The jarred salad has become a bit of a blog trend. If layered right, you can put a whole salad in there (meat & dressing included!). When you dump it onto a plate, your salad will be properly layered and a dressed. YUM. 
Salad Layer Technique
1. 2-4 Tbsp. dressing
2. Meat/egg/protein 
3. Toppings (nuts, cheese, ect)
4. Crunchy toppings (croutons)
5. Greens

The Dream House – Cooking for a Crowd

I recently had the privilege of cooking dinner for Maia Moms’ first Mentor Match Night at The Dream House.  It was a truly inspirational night, with such a wonderful spirit of love, support and acceptance.  It was also a lot of fun with the little ones, running about and playing – no chance of it getting too formal and boring!
Let me start off with a little background information. MaiaMoms is a nonprofit organization located in North Charleston, SC, whose mission is to support single moms and their children who are struggling to make a better life for themselves. The organization is funded primarily by private donations, along with some fundraisers, corporate support and grants, and is always looking for supporters and volunteers.  Maia Moms helps by subsidizing the rent for moms who are pursuing higher education for themselves to enable them to spend more time with their children while they prepare for a career that can provide a decent living for their family.  While they are receiving the subsidy, they have to meet certain requirements including meeting with their family advocate regularly and attending a variety of life skills classes.  Another very important part of the program is matching each of them up with mentor teams of up to 3 women who just “do life” with them, providing love, encouragement and leading by example.    Calling these team members “mentors” is a bit of a misnomer, and a more accurate term would be “mom coachs”. 
A few months ago, Maia Moms was given the opportunity to partner with Seacoast Church’s Dream Center in The Dream House, a transitional home for mothers and children.  The Dream Center bought the house and handles all the upkeep and repairs, and Maia Moms provides and supervises the residents, all of whom are in the Maia Moms program.  The requirements for the moms living in The Dream House are a bit different than the rent subsidy moms in that they are not required to be pursuing higher education, but all the other requirements are the same – meeting with a family advocate, taking life skills classes, having a mom coach team.  The Dream House can house up to 4 families, although due to space constraints, they each must have children no older than 4 years old.  The first residents moved in on November 1st.
On November 18th, the moms, including the ones in the rent subsidy program, and their mom coach teams met up to be officially matched.  I cooked a simple dinner for everyone of a chicken and rice dish, a kale salad and both pumpkin and oatmeal raisin cookies.  I like to cook, but this was a challenge since I am not used to cooking for a larger crowd, and it was especially important that the meal be toddler-friendly.
For the main dish, I bought two rotisserie chickens from Costco and stripped all the meat off, leaving it in bite-sized chunks, and putting it in the refrigerator.  I took all the left-over scraps and bones and put them in a large slow cooker, adding an onion, a generous handful of carrots, and a heaping teaspoon of chopped garlic, and then filling it with water.  I set it on high until it was close to boiling and then turned it down to low, allowing it to cook overnight.  The next day, I strained all the solid pieces out of the broth and discarded them, added 1 teaspoon of each thyme and basil, and then simmered the broth for a couple of hours to reduce it down a bit and concentrate the flavors, adding salt to taste.  I used this broth as the liquid to cook 3 cups of uncooked rice.  While the rice was cooking, I prepared about 5 cups of frozen mixed vegetables according to package directions, and reheated the cooked chicken by quickly stir frying it in batches in a little sesame oil.  Once everything was cooked and hot, I combined it all in the slow cooker set on warm, and served it directly out of there.

The salad was super easy and won rave reviews.  I bought packaged kale salad from Costco – it contains everything including poppy seed dressing, dried cranberries and roasted pumpkin seeds right in the same package.  It has several different types of green ingredients including kale, sliced brussels sprouts, chicory, broccoli and cabbage.  It sounds like a crazy combination, but it is absolutely delicious.  (Side note: It is also great stir fried, especially if you add a little bacon.)
I baked 2 kinds of cookies, and the pumpkin ones were the most popular. I will do a separate post on the oatmeal raisin ones, since I changed the recipe a bit and this post is getting a bit long.  In that next post, I will also tell you how I would normally do the chicken and rice for a much smaller batch.
For more information about Maia Moms, check out their website and follow them on Facebook.

What I Ate Last Week … Meals On The Cheap

While I absolutely love to take a meal out of my freezer and pop it into the pressure cooker or slow cooker and walk away, then come back to something hot and delicious…I do also really enjoy cooking. These BBQ ribs were pretty much the bomb. They were super easy. Pre-cooked in a pressure cooker, then broiled following Mrs. Vickie’s recipe. We ate them with some costco Cesar salad, and asparagus and butternut squash. . Both of these veggies came from my freezer stock pile, at less than $1 each! (and that is Why I Coupon).

I tend to save my freezer meals for crazy days, or when I am working, particularly since we have a baby coming. Menu planning works best, when there some predictability to your schedule. Between traveling, family visits, and pre-term labor scares, life has been far from predictable for me lately. That is when a stocked pantry and freezer, and the means to bulk buy comes in handy!

At the beginning of last week I stopped at Kroger, purchased some fresh groceries and stocked up on a fantastic meat deal: Pork Shoulder was only $1.99/lb. This was a great stock up price! I purchased two 8 lbs pork shoulders, but you’ll have to check back later to see what I did with it. I also got the rack of ribs at a great stock up price.

After this I stopped at Costco and purchased a Costco Rotisserie Chicken ($4.99) and a Prepackaged Cesar Salad ($8.99). I’ve already written about my love for the rotisserie chicken, though I often forget how much I really do love it until its in my possession. This wonderful blog post, breaks down the cost of making one’s own chicken vs costco chicken – honestly, the price and convenience can’t be beat! We had chicken salad sandwiches, chicken Cesar salad, chicken quesadillas. My kiddo had some quesadillas, and dipped chopped up chicken in BBQ sauce.We always have shredded Mexican cheese, BBQ sauce, sour cream, and tortillas on hand. This chicken fed two adults and a toddler for more than 3 meals! The salad was used for one of those meals, and a side for two others. We easily spent less than $5 a meal for all of those meals.