Friday, June 28, 2013

Fresh Food Friday: Spinach

It's still Friday, right? Better late than never. This Friday I wanted to talk about Spinach. 


I feel like I need to disclose that this year, despite three attempts we have not grown a single leaf of spinach. Other years however we have had quite a bit of spinach, so here's a few ways we like to eat it.

Spinach Smoothies

I already shared this recipe for spinach and berry smoothies, a couple of times (sorry if you're getting tired of it). You can see the recipe I posted before, but I really don't use a "recipe" when I make these, more like a loose formula: frozen fruit on the bottom + almond or soy milk over the frozen fruit +  big handful of fresh spinach on top + splash of juice for smooth consistency. Be creative, we try all kinds of combinations. I just love that I can get my kids to eat this much spinach and like it!


Spinach Rice Bowl

You know that we are fans of bacon around here. So sometimes we make BST (bacon, spinach and tomato) sandwiches. But I like a sort of cobb salad rice bowl even better. It's a great way to use up left over rice. Here's how we make it:

Cobb Rice Bowl
serves 2

2 cups cooked rice
1 avocado sliced or chopped
1 cup fresh spinach leaves
1 tomato, chopped or a handful of grape or cherry tomatoes
6 slices of bacon, cooked and chopped or crumbled
ranch dressing or olive oil

Divide rice between two bowls (re-heat if using left-over rice)
Stir  spinach leaves into hot rice. The hot rice will wilt the spinach, so it will taste steamed.
Top each bowl with half of the remaining ingredients.
Drizzle with ranch or olive oil, which ever you prefer, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss and enjoy!

Spinach Dip

I've been looking for a long time for a dip recipe that uses fresh spinach not frozen. Here's a recipe I finally came up with after combining several. There's lots of alternatives listed in case you don't have something.


Fresh Spinach Dip

3 cups packed fresh spinach
1 block cream cheese
2 tbsp white wine or water or milk
1 small can water chestnuts
1 tsp dry onion flakes or 2 tbsp chopped fresh onion
1 garlic clove minced or dash of garlic powder
1 cup shredded mozzarella

Pulse water chestnuts in a food processor a few times (until finely chopped) and set aside. Pulse spinach, wine (or milk) and cream cheese until combined. Pour the spinach mixture and water chestnuts into a sauce pan and heat over medium heat. Add the garlic, onion, salt, pepper and mozzarella. Stir often. Dip is ready when the cheese has melted and it has a creamy texture. Serve warm with breadsticks, toasted baguette slices, or crackers or serve cold with sliced veggies .


That's all for today! Hope you have a great weekend! 
- Haley

Monday, June 24, 2013

Pool Noodle Pool

Howdy! Are you enjoying the heat yet? I actually wish we were enjoying it a little more. Colorado is forever on fire in the summer it seems, and I'm not talking about 100º weather, I'm talking smoke and flames! We have been pretty far from the fires so far, but wind carries smoke many miles we have learned. No big deal for many, but Thing One has asthma, so a smokey day means we can't go outside. That gets to be a bummer pretty fast. Last week I tried to set up some indoor fun with our at home ball pit! 

We originally bought the blow-up pool and balls a few years ago. The kids love it, but it takes a lot of balls to fill up the kind of large pool, and I recently discovered a cheaper alternative: pool noodle pieces. 


Pool noodles are my new favorite craft medium. You can get them at the beloved dollar store. This spring I made the boys light sabers for $0.50 each. Half a pool noodle + black and grey duct tape, and a little piece of red vinyl = hours of fun. 


Turns out once you start cutting up noodles it's hard to stop, so this week I got out the little handsaw again and cut up a few more to add to the ball pit.


Each noodle was about 22, two-inch pieces. Three noodles cut up filled a five gallon bucket. I figure about 10 noodles would fill a small pool, and 20 a large one. I was kind of sloppy with my cutting, so I had to trim some with scissors after, but if your kids aren't OCD and can keep themselves from picking at jagged edges you might be able to skip that step, lucky you.


If you want to buy balls for your "ball pit" you can get them lots of places, we bought ours at Walmart for $10/bag, but it looks like the price is $15/bag now. I think you would pay $4 for the same amount if you use dollar store noodles instead, so using all noodles would save a lot of money, since you could fill the whole pool for $10-$20.


Or, you can do a combo like we did. I think Thing Two especially likes the variety of textures. To me this project is totally worth the money, for the same price as a day at a water park we have something the boys can enjoy on days it's too hot (or smokey) to play outside in the summer and something fun when we are stuck inside in the winter. 


Hope you are having fun and staying cool! Thanks for reading!
- Haley

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fresh Food Friday: Strawberries

Hi! It's week 3 for Fresh Food Friday.


Remember when we made the strawberry net? Well, it's working! Instead of getting a small handful of berries for the year, we are getting a small handful every day. Not exactly more than we know what to do with, but maybe your yard is overflowing with strawberries, or maybe you are going to a strawberry patch and will pick more than you think you can eat. Here's a few of our favorite ways to eat strawberries:


Crêpes

Let's start with breakfast. Of course you can just eat strawberries on your cereal, but if you want something a little different how about strawberry crêpes? Crêpes sound fancy, but are actually really easy to make. My sister introduced us to the world of crêpe-making, and we are so glad she did.


Here's a link to an easy crêpes recipe:


We like to fill them with chopped strawberries and whipped cream, and top with more berries and cream and a dusting of powdered sugar.

Smoothies 

We love making smoothies with strawberries. Here's three strawberry smoothies we like to make. You can use fresh berries or cut them up and freeze them. We usually freeze them, which is a great way to make sure you never let any go to waste. If they start to get a little squishy, cut and freeze them, don't let them go bad!

I shared our spinach-berry smoothie recipe earlier this year.




This last one might be my new favorite: pineapple, strawberry and coconut. 

1 cup sliced frozen pineapple
1 cup sliced frozen strawberries
1 cup canned coconut milk
(apple juice or any flavor- if needed)

Blend all ingredients. If it's too thick add 1/4 - 1/2 cup of juice. Blend until smooth. I know not everyone likes coconut milk, but I think smoothies made with it just taste so...tropical. This also does not taste bad with a little bit of rum, if you really want to go tropical : )



Jam

Finally, I've seen a few recipes for this Chia jam on Pinterest. This appealed to me because there's no cooking or freezing and thawing, and only a few ingredients. I found a recipe at a blog called Eating Bird Food.  She has some great info on chia seeds in case you, like I, din't know anything about them (besides the popular Christmas gifting options of course..Ch, Ch, Ch, Chia!). I found them in the bulk foods section of the grocery store. 

Chia Strawberry Jam

1 cup strawberries
1 tbsp chia seeds
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp sugar

Mash berries well by hand or blend the strawberries and water in a food processor or small blender (I like a smoother texture, so we blend). Pour into an air tight container.


 Add chia seeds and sugar and mix well.


Cover and place in the fridge for 30-60 minutes. Spread on toast or spoon over ice cream. Keeps in the fridge for a couple of days, but is best used within a day. It's a small batch so that's not hard to do.


 I love strawberries and they are probably Thing Two's most favorite food. I hope these recipes help you enjoy strawberries all summer long!

Thanks for reading!
- Haley





Sunday, June 16, 2013

Making Rock Candy

I hope everyone had a good Father's Day weekend. We had bacon and cake for breakfast, so I'm putting it in the "W" column. I'm crazy blessed to have a great Dad and be married to one. Anyway, on with the show...

Have you ever made rock candy? I feel like we tried it as a class in elementary school with not great results, but we recently successfully made some rock candy sticks.

I feel like this is a good summer activity for kids because there's the whole making them part, which is an activity that takes up time, then there's the sciency part (watching the crystals form), and then obviously the big pay off: eating them. What's not to like? Maybe the waiting for a week? On second thought, *Bonus* virtue lesson: patience.


I don't want to re-invent the wheel here, so I will direct you to Mom's Crafty Space, where I found this great recipe and tutorial. You can find that here.

Here's what you'll need:

a bag of sugar
water
food coloring
clothes pins
bamboo skewers
--just be sure to trim the sharp tips off the skewers first. Then cut them in half and you're good to go.


The one tip I would offer is to soak your skewers and roll in sugar before you start the boiling process. This way the sugar can dry on the sticks by the time you are ready to put them in the jars. Our skewers weren't really dry when we put them in the jars and I watched all the sugar crystals fall off the stick and had to repeat that process. So do that first.  : )


At first (probably the first 4 days) I was sure this wasn't working, but then we finally saw the crystals forming. We actually left ours in there for a little over a week. The directions we followed didn't mention this, but when we were ready to take out the skewers I did break up the surface sugar on top of each jar with a knife before I tried to pull out the sticks to be sure it didn't scrape any of the rock candy off the sticks.


Some turned out better than others, but all in all, edible, cool and fun. A great summer project.


Have a sweet day!



You are loved!
- Haley

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Fresh Food Friday: Mixed Lettuce

Welcome to Fresh Food Friday, week two! If you missed last week, we talked about using herbs from the garden in cooking, spa treatments, and flower arrangements. You can find that post here. This week we are talking lettuce.


One of the very first things we get to eat out of the garden each year is lettuce. Of all the things we grow, I think lettuce might save us the most money. If you plant a couple of times and you harvest lettuce regularly it can last you through the summer and fall. It will be October or November before we buy lettuce from the store again. We always plant Mesclun (mixed) lettuce. It's the mixture of several different types of lettuce, usually including leafy lettuce, chervil, endive and arugula. 


If I'm honest, I'll tell you I haven't always been the biggest fan of salad. Sometimes I'm still not. But once we stopped trying to make "house salad" (lettuce, cucumber, tomato, carrots), I started liking salad a lot better. So today I share with you a few of our favorite more creative salads. I hope you find one you like, and please feel free to share any of your favorite salad recipes in the comments. 

Steak Salad
This is a great thing to make if you have a steak or half a steak left over from another meal. Usually if we've had steak for dinner a little lighter meal sounds good the next day anyway. : )

Mixed lettuce greens
Fresh or frozen corn kernels
Grilled steak, chopped
Feta cheese crumbles
Croutons
Ranch dressing



Raspberry Chocolate Mint Salad
This is my new favorite and one of the few salads I'll eat without cheese (although some crumbled goat cheese in there would be good). I'm not sure if I mentioned when we talked about herbs, but we are growing some chocolate mint this year. It has such great flavor. Herbs are a fun way to add flavor to salads. 

Mixed lettuce greens
Chopped apple pieces
Raspberries
Toasted Pecans
Finely chopped chocolate mint leaves.
Raspberry vinaigrette or poppyseed dressing




New Potato & Chicken Salad with Yogurt Chive Dressing
I made this last summer and need to remember to make it more often because it is filling and flavorful. I saw the recipe in Sunset Magazine and you can find their recipe here. Here's how ours came out using their recipe. 



Shoestring Beets & Goat Cheese
I told you a while back that my favorite salad is a combo I found at Mad Greens: the Crazy Ivan: greens, shoestring beets, goat cheese crumbles, pepitas, croutons (and I always add steak), with sherry-molasses  vinaigrette. It's actually easy to make at home. Visit Mad Greens website for other good salad combo ideas. Salad isn't the only thing you can make with lettuce though, try stuffing a pita with greens, chopped apple, avocado, pomegranate, and creamy beet spread. 


Thanksgiving Salad
I don't know who's getting tired of turkey sandwhiches, because I'm not, but I've seen a lot of magazines and pins about how to use up those thanksgiving leftovers. Here's a salad I made up for that:

Salad:
Mixed lettuce greens
Chopped yellow peppers
Chopped pears
Pomegranate arils
Chopped turkey

Cranberry Lime Dressing:
1/2 can cranberry sauce (the gelatin kind)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/4 cup water
juice of 1/2 lime
salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients in a food processor or mini blender, add salt and pepper to taste, add more water if dressing is too thick.


That's how we are using and enjoying our mesclun. I hope there's a salad you'd enjoy too. Have a wonderful weekend!
Thanks for reading!
- Haley

Monday, June 10, 2013

That's a Wrap

Father's day is this weekend, so we are thinking gifts for dad. I like making presents look pretty, but when I'm wrapping something for a man I don't want it to look girlie, so a few years ago we wrapped Dad's gift this way. Wrap the present as usual, then cut a long rectangle strip of wrapping paper that coordinates with the one you used to wrap the present and tape it on as a collar--white-side out. Then cut and tape on a tie. You could also try a bow tie and buttons. 


Another easy trick I'm using: remember when we made the strawberry net cage? Well, Thing One was careful taking the ribbon off the hula hoops, so we were left with a couple of really long pieces of curly ribbon, from each hoop. Rather than trow it away, I folded it back and forth about four times to wrangle it, and then secured it with a twist tie. I cut all the ends and then bent it in half at the tie and pinched it so all the curls went the same direction, and we had a free bow in about ten seconds [minus the time he spent taking it off the hula hoop : )]


Summer is keeping us busy here (and hot)! Stay cool out there! See ya Friday!

- Haley

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Fresh Food Friday: Herbs

Welcome to the first Fresh Food Friday! As I mentioned last week, each Friday I'd like to share some of my favorite recipes for using foods we are growing in the garden. Since it's early in the season there's not too much ready to eat, so I thought I'd start with herbs.


I love having fresh herbs and I use them a ton! Here's my herb garden this year. I'm growing (from left to right) : Mint; Oregano; Cinnamon, Sweet, Thai & Purple Basil; Thyme; Sage; Pineapple Sage; Chives; Lavendar; Parsley; and Cilantro (toward the bottom of the picture).  I really only grow stuff I plan to use. I took this picture a few weeks ago, so everything is much bigger now!


The great thing about herbs is that you don't really need a whole garden to grow a nice variety. Here's a kitchen herb pot I planted up for my Nana who has limited gardening space. In this small pot I was able to fit, two kinds of basil, chives, lavender, parsley, oregano, and mint. This would fit on any apartment patio; anyone, anywhere can grow herbs. Now let me convince you why you should... 


Chives
My boys actually will pick a stem of chives and just chew on it as they play outside. I don't think I would have ever done that as a kid. Kind of funny. I love snipping a bunch of chives to top a baked potato, add to an omelet, or make herb butter. To make the butter I just soften a stick of butter and then stir in finely chopped chives (I usually use scissors to cut rather than chop.) You can also add a dash of pepper or garlic salt. Then return the butter to the fridge, it lasts for a couple of weeks. 


Oregano 
Oregano is perennial if planted in the garden. So plant once, harvest for years.
We use chopped fresh oregano in any Italian dish (stuffed shells, lasagna, pene with alfredo)


Since it comes back like crazy there's plenty of it to use so it's great for making  big batches of pesto which you can freeze and use all year.


Basil
We probably bought 15 basil plants this year, in 4 varieties. Here's our favorite uses:


One Pot Italian Dinner or any Italian meal really.
Caprese Sandwhiches (you can also use oregano instead, like pictured below.)



Watermelon salad: Cubed watermelon with chopped basil (try it with strawberries too).



Mint
I use mint probably most often in making pretty and refreshing pitchers of water. Wash long stems of mint and crumple them up or lightly cut them with a knife to create some cuts in the leaves (which lets out the flavor) and then just add to a pitcher of cold water. Let sit in the fridge for a few hours for more flavor. I also like the pineapple sage in water. 



Mint also tastes great chopped and tossed into a fruit salad. 

Thyme
I am becoming a big fan of thyme. I especially like it on roasted veggies like butternut squash, or carrots. I love to use dried thyme is winter soups. 

Parsley gets used in soups, fresh or dried, and is the only thing that actually grows through most of the winter here. 

Sage, like oregano and mint, comes back with a vengeance, I usually have to cut it back so it doesn't take over everything. I rarely use fresh sage, but like to use dried (since it has a milder flavor) in cooking beef or soup, or turkey. 


Be sure to dry some of all your herbs if you have enough so you can enjoy homegrown flavor all year round. Make sure herbs are completely dry before storing in a sealed container. I usually lay them out on a towel or a flat basket to dry for a week or so. Don't put them in a bag or sealed container until they are completely crispy. If there's any moisture, your herbs will mold, and that's just sad. Yep, been there. Dried lavender can be but into a linen bags to use as a sachet (and make your clothes smell great) or mixed into a sugar scrub or just tied to dry as a mini bouquet (like a little French Fromagerie--classy!). 


And last but not least, herb flowers can give you beautiful mini bouquets. Cutting off the flower stem will keep the plant growing and producing, rather than going to seed, so if you want greater yield from your herbs be sure to cut off the buds or blossoms. (above left: cinnamon basil with yellow lettuce blossom, red pineapple sage blossom and a couple of purple cosmos, above right: sage blossoms with bolted parsley). Mint and oregano make great greenery combined with some flowers from your garden as well, as you might remember from Flower Arranging 101.  

I hope this gives you lots of ideas for herbs. We grow them, use them and love them! 
Thanks for reading!
- Haley


Monday, June 3, 2013

Toddler Bottles

Hi friends! Hard to believe another weekend has come and gone. Just four more days till the next one. Are your weekends as crazy packed as ours have been? I'm so happy that summer is really finally here though and we are soaking up the longer days. 
Today I thought I'd just share a couple of new uses we've found for plastic bottles lately, that are coming in pretty handy.
First, I was getting tired of Thing Two always spilling the crayon bucket, but did want a way for Thing One to easily get to his crayons. This is what I came up with, and it's totally working for us. 


I cut a cleaned out two-liter soda bottle in half with a craft knife, and filled the bottle half with crayons. To get the top on you have to make a little indent in the rim of the bottom, by just pushing it in and squeezing (think make a little pac-man).


It's easy for me to get the top on and off, but Thing Two can't get it off. It doesn't spill if the top's on, and Thing Two likes putting stray crayons in the top and watching them fall into the bottle.


In fact, he likes it so much that I made him this little activity with a water bottle and pipe cleaners cut in half. He loves to put them in, take them out and take the lid on and off. Obviously your toddler has to be past the putting things in their mouth stage to play with the top, but thankfully Thing Two is. 


This quiet activity was a life saver at a wedding last weekend. Trash + craft supplies = most entertaining thing ever. Why do we even buy toys? I'm not sure.


Hope your week is off to a good start!

Thanks for reading!
- Haley
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