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

Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
  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.

#TBT – Toddler Muffins

Looking for a way to get your toddler (or anyone else) to increase their intake of veggies without a hassle?  This is the perfect solution!  The biggest problem is usually that they tend to disappear so quickly.  As shown in the picture below, I made both mini-muffins and regular sized ones, but will go with just the regular sized ones in the future.  The toddler I tested them out on (my two-year-old grandson Augustine) inhaled the little ones and kept asking for more – even a full sized one wasn’t enough for him.  They were also a hit with his parents and big brother.

For the original post, click here.

#TBT – Revisiting the Clean 15

We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us all about how everything we eat, put on our bodies or clean our homes with should only be organic and non-GMO.  In an ideal world with unlimited funds, I totally agree!  However, nearly all of us live in a reality where that just isn’t feasible.  Each of us must decide what is the most important to our family and be realistic in knowing what we can afford.  Most people are aware of the Dirty Dozen, the list of produce that is most contaminated, but not everyone knows about the Clean 15, a list of the least contaminated produce. It makes sense to buy conventionally raised items from the Clean 15, and spend the extra money for organic on things on the Dirty Dozen (or don’t buy at all).  To read the previous post, click here.

Cauliflower Mac & Cheese

Look at this creamy goodness

I confessed sometime ago that I don’t eat enough veggies. I’ve found found over time that, if cooked right or a certain way, I do like more veggies than I initially thought. I just don’t know what do with veggies! When I was pregnant with my first, I craved cauliflower, unfortunately it was the mini-steamer pack kind covered in cheese….not the healthiest of sides, but certainly not the worst.
Cauliflower can be used as a substitute for some starchy foods including mash potatoes, potato salad, rice and Kayte even uses it for pizza crust! (According to Wikipedia) Cauliflower is low in fat and carbs, but high in fiber, folate, water, and vitamin C. All this had me fairly sold – then I saw this  droolworthy Buzzfeed  post on ways you can use cauliflower to cut carbs. I picked some up on my next costco trip!
I wanted to make something I knew our toddler would gobble up, and after a recent cold spell, I wanted something warm and comforting. I settled on this cauliflower mac & cheese from ShockMunch. Then I made the laziest version of it possible.

The recipe starts by cooking macaroni, and steaming the cauliflower. I don’t own a fancy steamer, but I do have some of these awesome Ziploc Zip n Steam bags. Just throw your veggies in there with some water, and pop in the microwave for the appropriate amount of time as listed on the bag! Next the recipe calls for blending the cauliflower with sauteed onion and garlic. I used onion powder, and some Johnnys garlic powder instead and just threw it in the blender. Add milk and blend. Pour the mixture into a pot with cheese and stir until melted. Combine with the macaroni and you are done!

Creamy cauliflower with melting cheese

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.

Roasting Vegetables


An easy way to add veggies into your family’s diet is to try roasting them.  It is amazing how different they taste than when fixed any other way.  This is also a great way to use up small amounts of raw vegetables by combining several at a time.  One of my favorite vegetables to roast is brussel sprouts. They completely lose the bitterness and actually taste almost nutty.  About a year ago, one of my grandsons, who absolutely will not eat any kind of vegetable, was at my house at lunchtime one day and for some reason helped himself to a roasted brussel sprout.  His eyes got big and he said, “That’s really good!”. I knew he was sincere when he asked me to bring roasted brussel sprouts to Thanksgiving dinner.  (Yes, Kyle, I’m talking about you.)

Ready for some good eating!
source: Sean Dreilinger
Just about any kind of veggie can be roasted, although the time may need to be adjusted.  The most important thing is to be sure everything is cut into bite-sized pieces that are all roughly the same size. Unless the brussel sprouts are really small, I cut them in half.  This is also a great time to experiment with different flavors – use coconut oil and cinnamon for carrots or sweet potatoes, add some rosemary with regular potatoes, try out any other favorite seasonings with appropriate veggies.


Ingredients:
  • Raw vegetables – brussel sprouts, potatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes – let your imagination be your guide!   
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil (or melted coconut oil, depending on what you are roasting)
  • 1 teaspoon chopped garlic (optional)
  • Salt (to taste)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  (A lower temperature can be used, just adjust the time accordingly.)
  2. Cut your vegetables into bite-sized pieces (important to keep the sizes roughly the same).  Put oil, garlic and cut veggies into a plastic bag and shake to coat all the pieces.  I like a mixture, so I start off with the things that take the longest – brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, potatoes, etc.- and put them in to roast about 10-15 minutes before adding the quicker-cooking items – mushrooms (cut in half), cherry tomatoes, onion wedges, etc.  
  3. Pour onto a heavy cookie sheet or oven-proof pan large enough to let everything spread out in a single layer without being crowded.  Roast for 15-20 minutes, take out and turn to other side, then return to oven for another 15-20 minutes or until tender and browned.  
  4. Sprinkle with a little salt and dig in!