The Hail Mary Dinner

 

The “Hail Mary” Dinner. You know the one I speak of.

When you get home from your kids’ activities at 6:30pm and realize you don’t really have the time or the ingredients to make a substantial dinner.

I used to feel so smug because when everyone else was posting and complaining about Mondays, I was this stay-at-home / work-at-home mom and Monday was just another day for me. But now all 3 of our kids have dance on Monday nights which means our Monday afternoon schedule looks like this:
2:30pm – Get B&C changed into dance clothes, double-check A’s bag to ensure she has everything she needs; pack snacks for everyone and water or coffee for myself.
3:00pm – Leave and pick up A from school
3:30pm – Arrive at dance studio and help A change; do her hair up in a bun
4:00pm – A’s Tap & Jazz class; C usually naps so B & I sit in the car for awhile
4:30pm – Go inside and have snack
5:00pm – A has Ballet; B&C have Pre-Ballet; I work, read, or chat with parents
5:45pm – B&C finish class; go downstairs & get everyone into outdoor clothes; possibly read a book; collect all bags and miscellaneous STUFF
6:00pm – A finishes class & changes; we all head out to car
6:25pm – Arrive at home; make & eat dinner; homework
7:15pm – Start bedtime routine
7:30pm – Tuck-in Time
8:00pm – BED! A will sometimes stay up to read quietly in bed until 8:30

You can see why it takes ALL MY ENERGY to get through Monday afternoons. This past Monday I used some peppermint & wild orange oil aromatically and it actually gave me an energy boost better than the coffee ever does. (Yes, there’s an oil for that!!)

Which brings me to… The Hail Mary Dinner I whipped up yesterday.

I opened up the cabinets & fridge to see….
Nothing.
Nada.
Zip.
Zilch.
…at least that would be quick and nutritious.

But what did I have?!? Some egg noodles, some leftover chicken, some leftover veggies, and a cookbook. I figured I could whip up a simple sauce/gravy and throw all the stuff together. Kind of a deconstructed casserole, if you will. Sure, we’ll go with that.

So I got the water going for the noodles, pulled out my Betty Crocker cookbook, and opened it to the Sauces section. “Basic White Sauce.” PERFECT! Here’s how to make it:
In a small saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons butter.
Add 2 tablespoons flour and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined and the lumps are gone.
Gradually add 1 1/2 cups milk, stirring all the while.
Season with salt & pepper, and heat over medium high heat until it starts bubbling.
Continue cooking until sauce thickens.
Because it was so bland, I added some garlic and onion powder to taste.

While the sauce thickened, I reheated and cut up the chicken into bite size pieces, and reheated the leftover veggies in the microwave. I cooked the noodles and added a pat or two of butter, stirring until melted & mixed.

I added the chicken into the sauce.
I spooned the noodles into bowls.
I sprinkled some veggies over the noodles.
I scooped the chicken sauce over the noodles, and….
BAM! DINNER!

 

HailMary dinner

It was actually pretty good! Thankfully, the chicken was well-seasoned, so when I mixed it with the bland sauce, it was perfect. The kids gobbled it right up. To be fair, they probably would’ve eaten anything at that point, since they were so hungry.

Regardless, it boosted my confidence that I could create a real meal in a pinch without too much trouble. (PS. Leftovers make an excellent lunch the next day.)

HAIL MARY

 

When have you made a delicious dinner in a pinch? What did you make?

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Homemade Whipped Cream

Homemade whipped cream and I… we’re tight. We’ve been friends for about a year now, and even though I know it’s not good for me, I can’t quite get away. Oh sure, I could if I really wanted to, but honestly? I don’t. Homemade whipped cream is delicious. Indulgent. Creamy. AND, the best part? It’s super simple to make.

The biggest issue I’ve had so far is finding and appropriate size bowl to make it in. Too small, and the whipped cream flies everywhere. Too big, and you can’t really get in there to whip it up properly.

Until a close family friend – and I feel it’s important I mention they’re Irish immigrants, because we’re also Irish, and we love all the true Irish customs they bring to our celebrations (brown bread, anyone?) – she recommended a tip. And guess what? It worked. And now, I will share that tip with you!

So here we go!

RECIPE:
1 cup Heavy Whipping Cream*
2 Tablespoon Powdered Sugar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
*Note: Be sure it’s heavy whipping cream, not just “whipping cream”.

Measure 1 cup of the Heavy cream into a 2 cup glass Pyrex measuring cup. (This is the tip our family friend taught me!) Add the vanilla.

Using a hand mixer on low, whip for 1-2 minutes. Add the powdered sugar. (You can add 1 tablespoon if you’d prefer it less sweet.) If you have the powdered sugar pre-measured, you can add it while you whip. If necessary, you can stop the mixer to add the powdered sugar and then start it again. Increase the speed and whip until it’s thick and forms peaks.

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That’s it! You’re done!

Some of my favorite ways to enjoy homemade whipped cream?
– Pie topping (Pumpkin or Chocolate Peppermint Pie, for example)
– On your coffee (Especially this Peppermint Mocha)
– As a brownie topping (try these Guilt-free Black Bean Brownies)
– A lighter dessert of strawberries & whipped cream

Simple, All-Natural DIY Eye Makeup Remover

Something you should know about me: I’m picky about my eye makeup remover.

I found one that I absolutely love, but the thing is, it’s the only thing I’m ordering from this one online company. And the shipping is just as much as the product itself. I’ve been looking for alternatives for over a year.

I’ve tried the little makeup wipes. But they dry out quickly and I have to rub SO. HARD. to actually get my makeup off that my eyes hurt afterwards.

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I’ve tried other brands too. But most of them sting when I use them. Newsflash, manufacturer: putting something in your eye makeup remover that makes user’s eyes sting does not generate repeat business.

I’ve even tried kinds that just plain don’t work. They leave black streaks all over my face and I feel like I’m pulling my eyelashes out from rubbing so hard. Not pleasant.

So since I was running low on my favorite eye makeup remover, and I’m practically a total pro at DIY stuff now (ha!), I figured it was time to take a risk and make my own.

I did and guess what?? IT’S AWESOME!
1. It actually removes my makeup (imagine that!)
2. I don’t have to abuse my eyes
3. It doesn’t sting
4. It’s not super greasy
5. It’s simple, easy, affordable – actually, CHEAP even.
6. Now that I have the ingredients on hand (OHI!), I can just make a new batch whenever I run out! No more waiting for shipping! HOORAY!

Now before you go getting all, “There’s no way I can make a homemade eye makeup remover” or “I don’t even know where to get this stuff! It’s probably only in a specialty store” just remember who is writing this right now. I’m still the mama that shops at Meijer using mPerks. 😉

The thing I was most concerned about finding was the Vitamin E oil. But Meijer had a whole bunch of sizes for me to choose from in their skin care aisle. Right next to all the other face washes and lotions and stuff.

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I got the one all the way to the right. PS, did you know Vitamin E oil smells REALLY good??

The purified water I got from a regular ol’ water bottle. Yes, the kind you drink from. 😀

I purchased a 3-pack of travel-size dispenser bottles at the dollar store a few months ago that had so far gone unused. I pulled one out to mix this in. So the container was about $.33.

The rest of the ingredients are as follows:
25 mL (5 tsp) Vitamin E oil
10mL (2tsp) Fractionated Coconut oil
30mL (6 tsp) Purified Water
7 drops Lavender essential oil
7 drops Frankincense essential oil
5 drops Geranium essential oil

All you have to do is measure the ingredients, pour into the container, and shake! If you’re wondering how I measured, here’s your answer:

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Yes – One of those little plastic cups you get with your kids’ cough syrup. That you probably don’t buy anymore if you’ve converted to essential oils, because you’ve discovered the Cough Bomb and no longer need it. 😉

Your eyes will be moisturized, clean, and receive the added benefits of lavender, geranium, & frankincense oils (anti-aging and anti-inflammatory, to name a few).

Now remember to shake it up every time before you use it. I actually had to do this with the brand of remover that I used to purchase, so to me it was an indicator of an effective product, even before using it.

Happy DIY-ing! (Wow I never thought I would be typing THAT on my blog 🙂

I’m loyal to one specific essential oil company, because I’ve found their purity stands far above the rest, and their educational support is second to none. To learn which one is my favorite, use my contact form and I’ll reply with details.

Homemade Sugar Scrubs

Let me set this up by saying: last year I was searching Pinterest for something and came across recipes for homemade sugar scrubs. I laughed when I read the recipe. “Like I have time for THAT right now!” I didn’t know what essential oils were, or where to get them, or how to use them.

Fast forward: since my mom and I decided to give them a try in an effort to improve our health this fall, I realized I actually had the ingredients on hand to make a homemade sugar scrub! After I tried it once I was hooked. Not obsessed – just hooked. It’s so easy and affordable when you have the OHI. For me the only one that had been previously missing, really, was essential oils.

The basic ingredients for a scrub are:
Sugar (white or brown, or both)
Oil (grapeseed works well, or fractionated coconut, or melted coconut…)
Essential Oils (whatever type fits your need or desired scent)

That’s it! You mix the ingredients together and BAM – instant, all-natural, affordable spa product.

While shopping for the ingredients, I took pictures of the prices (gathered at Meijer) so you can see how really affordable this is.

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You can get fancier with the ingredients if you want, but I just use basic stuff, and they still turn out great.

This year I knew I wanted to make them as gifts for the teachers and other important people in my life. Here are a few pictures of what I made:

Several scrubs I've made, and a body butter using coconut oil and shea butter.

Several scrubs I made, and a body butter using coconut oil and shea butter.

 

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This one was gifted to Aubrey’s dance instructor! My favorite title 🙂

 

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Label for “Ballerina Body Butter”

 

I got all the different patterned cardstock and patterned washi tape from Oriental Trading and used colored fine-tip Sharpies to write. The labels on the actual glass of each jar were purchased in a package at Meijer as well. These are 4 oz Mason jars. I got a dozen of them for around $8.50.

Eventually I’ll post the recipes for all of them. Here are the combos I’ve made so far:
Calming, Cleansing Sugar Scrub (Protective Blend, Lavender & Peppermint)
Peppermint Latte (Peppermint oil & coffee)
Green Tea Citrus (green tea leaves, lemon, wild orange)
Citrus Joy (Holiday Blend, Wild Orange, Tangerine, Lemon, Protective Blend)
Spa Facial (Frankincense, Melaleuca, Lavender, Lemon, Peppermint)

I’m loyal to one specific essential oil company, because I’ve found their purity stands far above the rest, and their educational support is second to none. To learn which one is my favorite, use my contact form and I’ll reply with details.

Chocolate Peppermint Pie

Choc Pepp Pie

So, as I referenced in my previous post about preserving & ‘marinating’ apples while making apple pie, my family celebrates Pie Night.

This year I wanted to make something new along with my usual apple pie. I searched and searched until I found an acceptable starting point for a chocolate peppermint pie. Then I put my own twist on it. I wasn’t sure how it was going to come out, but let me tell you, I wish I had made TWO! I will next year, that’s for sure. This is simply delicious, and also very easy and not a whole lot of actual hands-on time. Maybe 20 minutes to make everything, then 2 hours chilling in the fridge. Also you need to chill your whipped-cream-making equipment in the freezer or fridge. Just a heads up, because this isn’t really in chronological order. Caution: Read the recipe all the way through before you start! 🙂
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The easiest way to think of it, for me, is that there are 4 parts or layers to this pie. Here’s the breakdown, from the bottom up!

Step 1, Crust: Start with your crust. I bought an Oreo Cookie Crust from the store. Because I’ve tried to make a homemade Oreo crust and it is not pretty. Nope. So I didn’t even stress about it this time. Make your life easier: just get a store-bought one. Done? Okay, let’s move on 🙂

Step 2, Middle Layer: In a saucepan, pour 1 package (4-serving size) chocolate pudding and pie mix. What this is not: Instant Jell-O mix. What this is: a box that looks almost exactly like the instant pudding mix, but it says “pudding and pie mix” on it instead.
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Stir together with 1 1/4 cups milk and cook as directed on package. *NOTE: the package says to use 2 cups milk. Don’t.* Once it starts to thicken, turn the heat to low and add in 1 cup Hershey Special Dark Chocolate chips (or other brand) until they are melted and all the lumps are gone, stirring constantly. Add in 1-3 drops of peppermint oil (again, to your taste). Set aside to cool.

Step 3, Top Layer: This is your homemade whipped cream. MM! First chill your bowl (stainless steel works best) and beaters in the freezer for about 10 minutes or so. A little more is better but not necessary. I like to use my hand mixer to make whipped cream, even though you can’t multitask like you can with a stand mixer, because I have a better handle (ha! literally, I do – no pun intended) on the whipped cream. I can tell if the consistency is right or if I need to whip it longer. And that’s the hardest part – knowing how long to whip, and when to stop. So once you have that down, you’re golden – this is a CINCH. Measure 1 cup heavy cream into a bowl. Beat on low at first for 1-2 minutes, then at medium speed, and whip together with 1 teaspoon vanilla extract and 2 Tablespoons powdered sugar. That’s it. It pretty much whips itself. It’s finished when the cream forms peaks. Cool, huh? Did you ever know that making homemade whipped cream could be this easy? 🙂 Now set aside.

Step 4, Bottom Layer: Your bottom layer is going to be almost like a cheesecake. You need 4 ounces of cream cheese (softened) and 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Beat them together with about 7-10 drops of peppermint essential oil. This stuff is strong, so start with 7 drops, and then add one at a time until you reach your desired pepperminty-ness. 😉 Fold in 1/3 cup of your homemade whipped cream. Now add a few tablespoons of Andes baking mints. I used about 3. Again, start with 2, then add another if you feel like you want more for texture. Use a baking spatula to scoop this mixture into the Oreo crust, then smooth into an even layer. Do this carefully and be mindful that you don’t break up the Oreo crust!

Step 5: Again using the Spatula, spread the chocolate mixture over top of the cream cheese layer.

Step 6: Spread the Whipped Cream over top of the Chocolate layer.

Now for garnish and crunch, you can add more Andes mints to the top of the pie:

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This is the only picture I have. Because it was eaten too fast to get any others! 🙂

Now dig in! And try not to eat more than one piece 😉

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Next year, I’m making TWO.

PS – if you have leftover whipped cream, use it to top off this Peppermint Mocha!! (At least… that’s what I do … 🙂 )

 *Note: if you don't have peppermint oil, you can use peppermint extract - but since my OHI was peppermint oil, I used that instead. Plus, it's more potent drop for drop and completely natural. See the original recipe (link above) for details. I also omitted the food coloring so everything was more natural and homemade.
I’m loyal to one specific essential oil company, because I’ve found their purity stands far above the rest and their educational support is second to none. To learn which one is my favorite, use my contact form and I’ll reply with details.

Special Dark Peppermint Mocha

I originally began using Essential oils because I wanted a natural alternative to OTC medicine, especially for my kids, since the options can be overwhelming and I’m obviously very cautious about what I put in their bodies.

But now that I have them, I’ve been finding fun uses for them as well, like this homemade sugar scrub and all-purpose cream. You can also cook and bake with the oils, which I’ve only tried once or twice so far. This week I discovered this: I can make a peppermint mocha at home that rivals Starbucks’, plus it has the health benefits of peppermint oil instead of added sugar from a syrup. 😀 Now I will not give up my annual Starbucks Peppermint Mocha during our shopping break on Black Friday, but this is a really good option for all the other days in winter when I don’t want to spend $5 for a ‘designer coffee’. (Because you know I can’t have only one…!)

So here’s what you do!
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1. Brew your favorite coffee. We like Dunkin Donuts. It’s best when you grind the beans yourself, because it’s super fresh. If you want a little extra depth to your coffee, you can add about 1/2-1 Tablespoon cocoa powder to every 6 Tablespoons coffee grounds; you put that right in with the grounds while it brews. I use Nestle cocoa powder here, or a good quality baking cocoa.

2. Pour 1 Tablespoon Hershey’s Special Dark Cocoa Powder into your mug. I use this in the actual mug because it is a very rich dark chocolate, which is my favorite. Plus it makes up for the fact that you are using regular coffee, not espresso, in your hot beverage.

3. Pour coffee over said cocoa powder, into mug. Stir.

4. Add as much cream or milk as you like. I’ve found I like Half & Half best. I only use a teaspoon or two. Also add a teaspoon or two of honey. (Click here to learn why I started using honey in my coffee.) Stir again of course.

5. Add one drop peppermint essential oil and, you guessed it, stir again! (It is strong. You only need 1 drop!)
*EDIT: Be sure to stir well or use a little frother to mix after adding the peppermint oil, so it doesn’t just hang out on top of the coffee. If you don’t have a frother and you find the peppermint oil is too strong for that first sip, you can always add the peppermint oil after the cocoa powder, BEFORE the coffee 😉

Your beverage now looks like this!

Your beverage now looks like this!

Now, you can stop there. It is already super delicious and perfectly satisfying. But if you want to splurge, read on..

6. Add whipped cream and some mini-chocolate chips. And then sip quickly, before the whipped cream melts and the chocolate chips sink!!

MMMM

MMMM… Special treat!

I think because the peppermint oil is so potent, the flavor kind of fuses into the whipped cream and even the chocolate chips taste a little bit peppermint-y!

This would be amazing with a chocolate creme pie for dessert.

Or on Christmas morning in your cozy Christmas PJs while the kids are opening presents around the tree, with snow falling outside… Yep, that sounds perfect. I’m doing that this year. 🙂

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I’m loyal to one specific essential oil company, because I’ve found their purity stands far above the rest, and their educational support is second to none. To learn which one is my favorite, use my contact form and I’ll reply with details.

All-Purpose Repair Cream

I’ve been waiting to post this one until I had a new batch of the glorious stuff.

I’ve used this ‘cream’ to help:
*Diaper Rash – relieve pain & reduce redness
*Face lotion – reduce lines, soften skin, calm acne
*Hands & Body – soften & moisturize skin
*Lip primer – before gloss or lipstick to soften and soothe chapped lips
*Anywhere – Soothe burns, rashes, or cuts

I love this. I use it on my face at night (my skin feels and looks so much healthier!) and on my hands pretty often throughout the day. I wish I had taken before and after pictures of my hands. The palm-side of my fingers had been really appalling – the lines on them were really deep and had a dark stain in them that no amount of scrubbing would remove (this was likely due to my working in a restaurant). I felt embarrassed because it looked like I never washed my hands, when quite the opposite was true. I began applying this cream after using my Lemon Peppermint Scrub, and the difference is amazing. The lines have been reduced, there is no longer a permanent dark stain on my fingers, and my hands always feel like velvet after applying it!

If you are an essential oils user, you probably already have all these ingredients in your home. Here is the recipe!

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All-Purpose Repair Cream
1/2 c Coconut oil (melted)
10-15 drops Lavender essential oil
10 drops Frankincense essential oil
10 drops Melaleuca essential oil

When I use just for my facial/skin care (not for first aid purposes), I add:
*5 drops Bergamot
*2 drops Geranium
*1 teaspoon Vitamin E oil

First measure your coconut oil into a small glass mixing bowl. Fill a small pot or large measuring cup (like a 2+ cup Pyrex) with very hot steaming water (not boiling). Create a sort of double boiler by placing the bowl with coconut oil over the hot water. The steam will melt the coconut oil. I’m sure you can use the microwave to melt it, and I’ve heard of people doing it, but personally I like to melt it more naturally. (You can even do this directly in the mason jar if it has a wide mouth, but be careful because it will be full!)

Once the coconut oil is melted, add your essential oils and use a small whisk to stir. Then put into a mason jar, put the cap on tightly, and set somewhere to cool.

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When the coconut oil cools down, it will solidify more. The addition of the oils, though, make it smoother than the coconut oil on its own. If you are in a hurry to use it, you can place in the fridge for a few minutes until it’s the right consistency.

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Now this ‘cream’ is not like store-bought lotions you’ve used before; it took me awhile to get used to the more oily consistency. However the benefits far outweigh the discomfort of trying something new. You may want to allow a couple minutes for it to set into your skin. If my hands ever feel too oily after application, I simply pat them with a towel.

POSSIBLE MODIFICATIONS:
Next up, I’m going to try a combo of coconut oil and shea butter, as well as the addition of Roman Chamomile!
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Lavender has an overall calming effect on the mind and body. It’s frequently used to soothe skin irritations and help skin recover from various maladies including rashes, burns, cuts, scabs, dry skin, etc. It helps reduce muscle tension and promote relaxation.

Frankincense is one of the most widely prized oils; it has been used for centuries for its various uses including soothing, beautifying, and rejuvenating skin, reducing the appearance of stretch marks, scars, and lines, and slowing the signs of aging. It has even been used as perfume! It is anti-inflammatory and immune-boosting, and aids in overall optimum body system performance. 

Melaleuca can be used to cleanse and purify the skin and nails and to promote a clear, healthy complexion. It is frequently used on minor skin irritations to soothe the skin and help it recover quickly. It is also anti-viral and great for boosting immunity (great for our hands!)

I’m loyal to one specific essential oil company, because I’ve found their purity stands far above the rest, and their educational support is second to none. To learn which one is my favorite, use my contact form and I’ll reply with details.

Peppermint Lavender Sugar Scrub

My best friend’s birthday is today.

She is really good about birthdays. She always remembers mine and my 3 kids birthdays, and makes a point to not only wish us happy birthday, but bring cards and gifts. (It’s not like she’s bored; she has 3 young children of her own.)

Me? I do one of those texts a week later that says, “Hope you had a wonderful birthday! Sorry I missed it.” because I don’t remember what the ACTUAL day was, just an approximate week.

But this year. Ohhhh this year I was determined to remember! And coincidentally, her birthday fell on a Thursday, which is when I see her for women’s bible study. So really I had no excuse. I couldn’t show up empty handed, that’s for sure. I did buy her a card, but I wanted to get her a gift too. Instead of buying something, I wanted to do it a little differently this year.

I made a homemade sugar scrub.

Yes. I did. Me. >>This girl.<<
The one who is really bad at any kind of creative DIY-type-anything.

I’ve discovered that just as I did with cooking, once you get past the beginning learning curve with essential oils, you can mix and match the ones you like/need to serve different purposes and to create blends of scents.

So here’s the recipe for the sugar scrub I made her! I promise you have most, if not all, of these things already in your home. If you’d to know how to obtain the purest and most aromatic essential oils, click here.

1/4 cup Brown Sugar
1/4 cup White Sugar
1/2 cup Grapeseed oil (you can use olive oil, but Grapeseed has a much milder scent and is also less expensive. You could also use fractionated coconut oil if you have it.)
2 drops Protective Blend
5 drops Lavender oil
7 drops Peppermint oil

Mix everything together in a bowl with a whisk…
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and then store in an airtight container. (I purchased a 4 pack of shallow mason jars for less than $5 at Target.) DONE!

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UPDATE: When I was really low on lavender oil but couldn’t wait to make another batch, I substituted Lemon for the lavender. I think I like it better! The lavender is great for soothing, so I instead put it in this All-Purpose Repair Cream that I use after the scrub. That way I get the cleansing & purifying benefits of the scrub all at once, and the calming, soothing, smoothing effects of the cream afterwards. Try the two together – it’s awesome!

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Protective Blend – this oil blend includes wild orange, clove, cinnamon, eucalyptus, and rosemary. Together they are a great immune booster – plus it smells divine! I chose it a little for the smell, but mostly to add that little immune booster. This protective blend is all around amazing!

Lavender – good for acne, burns, scarring, stretch marks, water retention. It is an antidepressant, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, regenerative, antiseptic (among many other things!). It is calming and balancing. I chose it for the many benefits it has for repairing damaged skin (dry, cuts, chafes, burns, etc) and for the lovely smell.

Peppermint – good for headaches, indigestion, scabies, nausea, itchy skin, muscle aches and fatigue. It is analgesic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antiviral, and invigorating. I chose this for the invigorating smell and the cooling sensation.

I’m loyal to one specific essential oil company, because I’ve found their purity stands far above the rest, and their educational support is second to none. To learn which one is my favorite, use my contact form and I’ll reply with details.

Double Pork Chili (Second Meal)

By now, most of you probably know my concept of Second Meals: planning a different, second meal using leftovers from a separate meal earlier in the week. Usually, when I make a spice-rubbed pork loin, I make my default Second Meal with the leftovers: Pork Pozole Soup. But today was unseasonably cold, and I wanted something a little heartier. Soup just wasn’t going to cut it tonight! I remembered I had some previously-cooked ground sausage in the fridge from earlier in the week, and suddenly I knew what I would make instead! So here’s what I did (list of ingredients at end of post). Keep in mind I was just using up leftover portions of much of this produce from earlier meals, so you can adjust your quantities to taste.

Start with a tablespoon or two of butter and a tablespoon of EVOO in a large stock pot. Once the butter is melted, add about half a red onion, chopped. After a minute or two of sauteeing, add 2 diced cloves of garlic. I then roughly chopped a few mini-bella mushrooms and added them. Next, half of a jalapeno, finely diced. I also had a bag of those tiny cocktail bell peppers, so I added 1 orange and 1 red, finely chopped. Stir and saute for a minute or two. I added 1/2 a beefsteak tomato, roughly chopped. Then I peeled, quartered, and finely chopped about 1 1/2 carrots. (Use 2 whole ones if they’re smaller – mine were quite large!) Then I sprinkled saltcumin and paprika once around the pot. Stir again! Next I squeezed the juice from half a lime in with the veggies and, of course, stirred. Next I used up the rest of my pesto tomato paste (regular is fine too) – it was probably about 1 1/2 tablespoons. Stir in until it is almost a veggie paste. You don’t want big clumps of the tomato paste. Let that cook for a good 2-3 minutes, then deglaze the pan with about 1/4 cup of red wine (I used merlot, because that’s what I drink these days!). Stir and cook for a few more minutes until fully incorporated.

Delicious veggies and sausage... You will become CHILI soon!

Delicious veggies and sausage… You will become CHILI soon!

Now that the veggies are finished, we can add our meat! First I added that previously cooked ground sausage leftover from an earlier dinner. It didn’t take too long for that to incorporate once I stirred it up a bit. Then I pulled out my spice-rubbed pork loin from last night and chopped it up. (Recipe to come!) **Because this pork is highly seasoned, I don’t need a lot of seasonings in the chili itself.** I added about a cup to the chili mixture. Let that sit for a few, then added a can of petite diced tomatoes. Stir and simmer for about 3 minutes, or until it starts to boil again. Then add your beef stock – again I had this in the fridge from another recipe. I probably used less than a cup. I suggest adding it gradually, because you can always add more, but as the chili cooks, it will reduce to less liquid. Lastly you can add about 1/4 cup of frozen corn and stir.

Bring it up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover, and cook for approximately 4 hours, or however long you want. Again remember the longer it cooks the more it will reduce! If you let it go too long and it’s thick or almost burned, you can add a little more beef stock and let it simmer for awhile longer (20-30 minutes should do it).

Serve with shredded cheddar cheese (or Mexican blend) and sour cream! Yummy!

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Double-pork Chili

Double-pork Chili

*If you want a little more spice, add one or a few of the following after the veggies but before the deglazing: red pepper flakes, cayenne, or chili powder. I left these out so it wouldn’t be overly spicy for the kids – but my choice would be 2 dashes of chili powder and 1 or 2 shakes of red pepper flakes!

You will need:
Butter & EVOO
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4-5 mini Portobello mushrooms
1/2 jalapeno, finely chopped
2 small cocktail bell peppers (1 orange, 1 red), finely chopped
1/2 Beefsteak tomato, roughly chopped
1 1/2 – 2 carrots, peeled, quartered, and finely chopped
Cumin, Paprika, Salt, Pepper
Optional: Chili powder, red pepper flakes, cayenne
Juice from half a lime
1 1/2 TBLspn tomato paste
1/4 cup red wine
1/2 chub previously cooked ground sausage
1/2-1 cup chopped leftover spice-rubbed pork loin
1 can petite diced tomatoes
Beef Stock (about 1/2 cup, maybe)
1/4 cup frozen corn
Cheddar Cheese, Sour cream, any other garnishes you wish
*Beans of your choice are optional – I didn’t have any to add, but it was delicious without!

Remember that I usually cook with OHI – whatever I have in my kitchen at the moment. Mix it up to use whatever you have – it’ll be delicious, and you’ll feel resourceful! 🙂

Spaghetti Squash: Make-Ahead Meal

School is back in session! And with it, extracurricular activities. Our eldest, A, auditioned for a Junior Dance Company at her current studio and was invited to participate! This is super exciting as I was never a dancer, but now I’m like officially a “DANCE MOM”. (Um, wait. I think there’s a reality show about dance moms… I don’t think they have a good rep. So, I’m just a dance mom. Not one of THOSE dance moms. Glad we cleared that up.)

My struggle with extracurriculars is scheduling them at a time that works with school and meals and bedtimes. Last year I learned that 4pm is the WORST time to have an hour long class, because everyone is so hungry during and right after, and by the time we got home it was already 30 minutes past our normal dinner time – that’s if we were lucky and didn’t hit a whole lot of rush hour traffic. Not the ideal way to make a meal. It makes that witching hour in the kitchen just a little bit worse.

But today I tried something that I will absolutely be doing again. A’s class is from 5-6pm, so I knew I had to have something at least half-way prepped before I took her. Today we had to run a few errands after picking her up from school, so we didn’t go home in between the end school and the start of class. Commence early major meal prep!

If you have a similar situation and don’t want to do take out, fast food, or frozen TV dinners every week, try this:

Several hours before dinner – about 5 is good, but schedule it however works for you – start on this Homemade Pasta Sauce. I started about 1:30, knowing I had to leave to pick A up from school between 2:45-3, and wouldn’t be back until after class, about 6:30. Once that has simmered for about an hour, blend it up and turn it down as low as possible. Pop a lid on it, and leave it to simmer for another few hours while you’re gone. My hubby was home on this particular day, so I informed him of what was going on – but if you’re uncomfortable leaving a burner on while you’re not there, just transfer it to a crock pot after blending, and leave on low (or even just the “keep warm” setting) until you return.
*Side Note: If you don’t have time or don’t want to attempt making the homemade sauce, I SUPPOSE you can use jarred sauce. It won’t have the same effect when you get home and walk in the door though. 😉

About an hour and 15 minutes before you have to leave, prep a spaghetti squash for the oven. The ones I’ve purchased at the store are generally VERY LARGE, and difficult to cut. One tip is to cut it on a damp kitchen towel so it doesn’t roll around. If you’ve never used spaghetti squash before, here is a picture:
spaghetti squash2

All you do with this awesome squash is cut it in half lengthwise and put it cut-side-down on a foil-covered baking sheet drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with S&P. I have heard of people doing it the opposite way – cut side up – and then of course you’d put the olive oil, S&P on the inside/top. The large ones need about an hour at 400ºF. I had 2 small ones fresh from our visit at Frederick Family Farm (possibly it’s own future post – we had a blast!), so I baked them at 350ºF for 45 minutes. *Note: I also cut the stems off. It makes it easier to cut in half lengthwise and also, since ours were fresh from the garden, they were very long and would’ve been more difficult to handle if I left the stems on.

Right before you leave, pull that baby out of the oven and let it rest on the stove until you return. It needs to be at least room temperature for you to handle it, regardless of when  you cook it.

The other thing you’ll need for this make-ahead meal is some pre-cooked ground sausage. I had some in my fridge from a few days prior when I made biscuits and gravy. (Do you remember my posts on Second Meal sausage pasta & this one sharing other Second Meal ideas?) I use half the chub for the biscuits and gravy, and save the other half for a dinner in the next day or two.

So. Before you leave you have:
1. Cooked ground sausage in the fridge
2. Spaghetti squash cooling on the stove
3. Sauce simmering in the pot

When you return home, follow these simple steps:
1. Turn the heat up on the sauce just to medium-low. Leave lid off. Stir.
2. Add the sausage and stir.
3. Holding the squash by the outside, use a fork to remove the seeds (I just pile them up on my baking sheet with tin foil) and then use the tines of the fork to scrape along the squash from top to bottom to remove the good stuff:

That's the stuff!

That’s the stuff!

Once I have the majority of it out, I scrape along the inside with the side of my fork to remove whatever is stubbornly clinging to the inside of the rind. (Peel? Crust?)
4. You can scrape that good stuff right into your pot with the sauce simmering. Once you’ve finished that, stir again. *If you’re not sure that you made enough sauce, or think you made TOO much, you can scrape the squash onto a cutting board or into a different pan and then add the sauce after the fact.
5. Sprinkle some cheese on top, and VOILA! You have successfully completed a healthy, home-cooked, filling, delicious make-ahead meal that will be ready to serve your family in 10 minutes within arriving home. (I think fresh grated Parmesan would be amazing here, but all I had was shredded mozzarella and some Kraft grated parm. So that’s what I used. OHI, right?!)

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Any questions? 🙂