New Pinterest Recipe of the Week: Cheesy Zucchini Rice

My husband’s unit has a spouse group. We have get togethers once a month in order to hang out a bit, chat, possibly escape for a few hours without kids, etc. We had our February get together last week. We had a potluck and I am tickled to say that the group picked my suggestion as theme for the potluck. I had suggested a “New Year, New Recipe” theme. We all chose a recipe we had never made before to bring to our get together, along with copies of the recipe for everyone to take home. Basically a good excuse to use each other a culinary guinea pigs.

Anyhoo, there were a couple of people who had already said they were going to bring dessert type items, so I decided to make a side dish. I had originally wanted to bring some sausage bites I pinned a few months ago, but I couldn’t find the right type of sausage. So back I went to the drawing board (and my pantry) to see what I could put together. It turned into another case of having exactly what I needed on hand. I had just enough rice, a can of chicken broth, and a zucchini I had been meaning to make with dinner but hadn’t used yet. And so Cheesy Zucchini Rice was brought to the potluck. I mean really, when you just happen to have everything you need on hand, I figure that’s the universe’s way of saying, “Make this one!” I got this recipe from Buns In My Oven.

Ingredients

  • 1 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 cup long-grain white rice
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 or 2 zucchini (grated), depending on size
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 1/2 tsp. garlic powder
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • splash of milk if the cheese seems too thick

Grate your zucchini, either in a food processor or by hand. I just did it by hand with an old-fashioned cheese grater. Seriously, zucchini is so easy to grate, I personally don’t see a reason to break out a big, fancy food processor. It’ll take you less than five minutes.

In a medium pan over medium heat, warm up your olive oil. Add the rice, stirring to coat. Keep stirring the rice in the olive oil until it becomes golden.

Add chicken broth and bring to a boil. Then cover your pan and lower the heat. Allow rice to cook for about 20 mins, or most of the broth has been absorbed.

Take the cooked rice off the heat and add your butter, grated zucchini, cheese, and garlic powder. Stir until everything is mixed well and then cover and allow to sit for 5 more minutes.

Season to taste and serve.

Cheesy Zucchini Rice

Tweaks and Overall Review

I only tweaked a few things about this recipe, and really I only made my tweaks for convenience’s sake. First off, while the recipe calls for two cups of broth, I just used one standard can (slightly less than 2 cups) and it worked fine. If you’re using broth in one of those resealable boxes, by all means go ahead and use the full 2 cups, but if you just have cans, just use one can and don’t worry if you come up a bit short. Also, while the original recipe calls for shredded sharp cheddar, I used a Mexican cheese blend, because that’s what I had on hand. It turned out fine, in my opinion. A slightly less strong cheese taste than if I had used the sharp cheddar, but still perfectly cheesy and delicious. Finally, I used closer to a full teaspoon of garlic powder (because garlic is delicious and good for you) and as such, didn’t see the need for additional seasoning from salt and/or pepper.

This turned out really well. It was easy to make and I think works as a side for pretty much anything. Add the fact that it’s a wonderfully sneaky way to add some extra veggies to a meal, I’m sold. I’ll definitely be making this again. The other ladies at the potluck agreed. And when I say it was pretty easy to make, I mean I made it while also getting ready for the potluck, making dinner for the older two kids, and putting the baby down to sleep. If I can do all that, make this, and still have it taste good, this is a weekday winner for sure!

New Pinterest Recipe of the Week: No Peek Chicken

As promised, here is No Peek Chicken. I’ve been trying to find more dinner options to add to my regular rotation just to give myself a greater range of meals to choose from. That and the fact that we are having people from my husband’s crew over for dinner on a semi-regular basis means I also don’t get as many leftovers, so I’m cooking more often. This recipe comes from Thrifty Decorating, and while it does take time to cook (two and a half hours), the prep time is minimal.

Ingredients

  • 1 box of Uncle Ben’s Long Grain Wild Rice (Original Recipe – Though you could probably sub in a different flavor if you so desired and it would not be an issue.)
  • 1 can cream of mushroom soup
  • 1 can cream of celery soup
  • 1 can of water (You can add up to an additional cup of water if you want more tender rice.)
  • chicken breasts or tenders (I used tenders.)

Set your oven to 350°F.

Grease a 9×13 baking dish. (Don’t forget to do this! I did, and while it wasn’t the worst thing I could have overlooked, my baking dish did need a good soak after dinner in order to get all the stuck on rice loosened up so I could clean it.)

In your baking dish, mix your rice, soups, and water. Stir everything together until you have a uniform mixture. Arrange your chicken on top.

Cover and seal the dish with foil and bake for two and a half hours. Do not remove foil until done.

No Peek Chicken

Tweaks and Overall Review

Given how simple this recipe is, there’s not a lot to mess with. The only thing I noticed that I would try to adjust next time is that between the spices which come with the rice and the “cream of” soups this dish came out just a tad too salty for my liking. Since I only used the single cup of water in my preparations (I like a little more chew in my rice), I figure I can either use another half cup of water to further dilute things a bit, or I can use the reduced sodium versions of the soups. Either would probably work. Other than that, this made for a great weeknight family dinner. The chicken was deliciously moist and tasted great with rice mixture. True, there’s quite a bit of cook time, but as long as I can have this in the oven soon after picking up Big Bit from school, dinner is still ready and on the table at a reasonable time.

Hey all! Now I haven’t forgotten about No-Peek Chicken (hopefully I can get the recipe up to you tomorrow), but if you want to see what I’ve been thinking about go check out my post on The Common Gentlewoman. Nothing huge, just my thoughts on the latest Mommy/”Feminist” (and I use the term loosely) flame war. And I got to use the word “brouhaha!” I’m always happy to have an excuse to use the word “brouhaha.”

How Is It Almost February!?!

I’m going to go ahead and say it: January totally got away from me. I had the best of intentions. I had plans. But we all know what they say about plans and intentions. Don’t get me wrong, the month started out great, but then we got hit by the typical “Welcome back from Christmas vacation!” illness. Small children are petri dishes and going back to school is just an excuse for them to swap germs. I got sick first, followed by Big Bit, and then the rest of the house. That means that for the past three weeks or so someone (or multiple someones), has been sick. I don’t know about y’all, but illness in the house means my productivity goes down the drain. Part of it is the fact that the girls get clingy when they’re sick. Typical young child behavior, but it makes it hard to get anything other than the most pressing chores accomplished.
Fortunately, everyone finally seems to be on the mend so I’m hoping to pick back up with posting. I managed a new recipe, so be on the lookout for No-Peek Chicken in the next few days. Hopefully the new year has been less plague-filled for you.

Happy New Year!

A happy 2014 to you all! We had a successful Christmas and a low key, but perfectly acceptable New Year’s Eve. Our Christmas decor was all put away by Dec. 27 (a record for us!), and while I was sorry to see it go, the layout of the house is such that I am glad to have the space back. Hubs had to work New Year’s Eve, so my date was Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy. I watch the 1995 BBC production of Pride and Prejudice as my New Year’s countdown. A most genteel way to spend the evening.

Unfortunately, we’ve spent the last week or so taking turns being sick. Nothing horrible, just a yucky, phlegmy cold/cough. It’s the kind where you sound horrible, especially in the morning, but once you get up and about, you feel mostly fine. Hopefully we’re all on the upswing, though. Sick kids are bad enough. Well kids while you’re sick is worse.

So I hate to say it, since I do love the holiday season and all the trappings of that time of year, but I am happy that we will be getting back on our normal schedule. Big Bit will be back to school, and we’ll be able to resume our routine. I’ll admit, as much as I love getting to hang out with all three kids, I get so much more done with Big Bit in school. We’re also hoping to start the potty training adventure with Little Bit, and lord knows that’s easier to do with a semi-regular schedule in place, rather than when the family is running around all the time with no set routine.

There you are. A short little update. Hopefully as we get back into the swing of things here I’ll be able to post more recipes. I have a few that I found over the holiday that I want to try in the near future. Also, I am committing myself to trying some crafting this year. I’m not sure what, but it will happen. I hope.

Happy 2014!

Christmas Traditions

 

I am definitely a Christmas person. I am lovingly referred to as “The Christmas Nazi,” by family and friends. Come hell or high water, you WILL have a merry Christmas!

Anyway, a big thing about Christmas for me is tradition, specifically having family Christmas traditions. I think they’re important. They are something we share as a family and hopefully add to our enjoyment of this season. I’m sharing some of our family traditions because I think they’re fun and maybe I can inspire some of you. Now, granted, these aren’t especially grand traditions, but you know what they say about life, it’s the little things that count.

The Shows

It seems every year there is yet another slew of Christmas specials on, some better than others. Frankly, in my opinion, most of the new ones don’t hold a candle to the classics. In our house, there are three that are a staple of our Christmas viewing: A Charlie Brown Christmas, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas (the original 1966 animated version), and Mickey’s Christmas Carol. We watch them together every year. As the girls get older, I’ll probably start adding one of the live-action versions of A Christmas Carol (the 1951 version with Alastair Sim is the one I watched with my mom growing up), but for now we’ll stick to animation. Still, one of my favorite things to do during Christmas time is sit on the couch with my girls and watch one of these shows. Big Bit is becoming especially fond of Charlie Brown.

The “Santa” Paper

I know not everyone does the whole Santa thing, but we do. This is a tradition started by my mom and which I am continuing because I think it’s pretty fun. Now keep in mind, if you want to do something like this yourself, it takes some forethought and a rather large upfront purchase of wrapping paper. In our house, there is special wrapping paper that only Santa uses. He uses the same paper every year and it is only seen on Christmas morning. Obviously, in order to do something like this, you need to find a wrapping paper you like and enough to last you however many years you will do Santa presents times the number of kids you have. Also, the Santa paper needs to be stored separately from your regular wrapping paper. It wouldn’t do for someone to inadvertently discover it. I was always excited to see the presents wrapped in the special Santa paper as a child, and I hope my girls enjoy it, too.

The Yearly Ornament

This is a tradition I’ve started in our family. Every year I buy the girls one ornament each to go on our tree. I try to buy them one that reflects who they are for that particular year, whether it’s an ornament based on a favorite character or movie, or some other interest which they developed that year. This year Big Bit received a pink Superman “S,” since she loves superheroes and her favorite color is pink. Little Bit received an Elvis Blue Hawaii ornament. Why Elvis? Well this year one of her favorite movies to watch was Lilo and Stitch and a big part of that was because she loved the music, which, if you haven’t seen the movie, is very heavy on Elvis songs. So rather than get her a Lilo and Stitch ornament, which given that the movie is ten years old makes finding such an item a little more difficult, I got her Elvis. I also think it’ll make for a fun story when she’s older. Niblet, being only a few months old, can’t really be said to have any interests outside of eating, sleeping, and pooping (in various orders), so she got the traditional “Baby’s First Christmas” ornament. Next year, hopefully, she’ll get something a little more interesting.

My goal with this tradition is that the ornaments will tell some of the story of who the girls were as they were growing up. Each year a new ornament, trying to record part of what made them them that year. Eventually, each girl will get to take her ornaments as she establishes her own household. I’m hoping each girl will end up with a starting set of at least 20. I try to keep each one in the original packaging, labeled with each girl’s name and the year it was purchased. I realize that right now, this tradition is more for me than for them, but I hope as they grow older they can appreciate the thought behind it.

There you have it, some of the traditions that make it Christmas for us here in our house. Like I said, nothing grandiose, but we enjoy them. Merry Christmas!

Our Christmas Tree

Oh and I know I didn’t mention it specifically, but watching the yearly Doctor Who Christmas Special goes without saying. See if you can spot the TARDIS on our tree!

 

New Pinterest Recipe of the Week: Pumpkin Nutella Swirl Muffins

Oh my goodness! The holidays and everything that goes with them are starting to take over life here, thus why this New Pinterest Recipe of the Week is so late in getting up. (Maybe I should just start calling it New Pinterest Recipe of the Every Other Week.) Anyway, I’m hoping to have the time to try some new Christmas recipes to post up here in the next few weeks, but until then enjoy this throwback to November, with Pumpkin Nutella Swirl Muffins!

Like I mentioned earlier in the blog, due to my husband’s schedule we did an early Thanksgiving. However, I am not the type to send him off to work empty-handed, especially on a holiday. Since a dinner was being provided, I needed something that would go with the meal, but wouldn’t be a repeat of something already being served. Obviously pumpkin is one of those quintessential fall flavors (just check Pinterest any time between September and November if you have any doubt), and muffins aren’t likely to already be on a Thanksgiving table. Add to the fact that these include Nutella, and I was sold. I found this recipe over at The Novice Chef.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar (I used dark, but it probably doesn’t make much of a difference if you use light brown instead.)
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp. milk (I used whole milk.)
  • 2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • Nutella for swirling

Preheat your oven to 350°F and prepare your muffin tin(s) by adding liners.

In a medium bowl, combine your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt).

In a large bowl, combine the pumpkin with both the granulated and brown sugars. Add the egg, vegetable oil, milk, and vanilla extract, beating until combined. Slowly add your dry ingredient mixture, mixing until there are no lumps. (I divided the dry mixture into thirds for mixing it in.)

Fill muffin tins about 3/4 full with batter and then top with Nutella. Use a toothpick or a knife point to swirl the Nutella.

Bake for about 15 minutes or until a toothpick or tester stick comes out clean.

Pumpkin Nutella Swirl Muffins

Tweaks and Overall Review

So when buying canned pumpkin, that smallest can one can find (or at least I could find) was 15oz. 15 oz. is more than a cup. Fortunately though, it is not much shy of two cups, so to make my life easier, and yours, too, if you don’t want to have a partially used can of pumpkin puree lying around when you try this, I took the standard 15 oz. can, used the whole thing, and just doubled the recipe. Problem solved. Now, partially since I doubled the recipe and partially since I like a bigger looking muffin, I filled my tins a little fuller than 3/4. That increased my baking time to about 20 minutes and also gave me a yield of 22 total muffins for my double batch.

I was pretty pleased with how these turned out. Big and Little Bit both seemed to enjoy them. The only thing I would tweak on a future attempt is that if you got a bite that didn’t have much Nutella swirl in it, the flavor seemed a little bland. To give the pumpkin batter a little of its own kick, I’ll probably add some cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice to it the next time I make these. I’m leaning toward the cinnamon just because that seems a pretty safe bet for the other flavors I’d be working with. On the whole though, this was a pretty straight-forward, easy recipe, perfectly suited to when you need some pumpkin flavor in your life.

The Date Doesn’t Matter

I’ve come to realize that military life can make it so the date on the calendar doesn’t matter. Don’t get me wrong, sometimes the date on the calendar is VERY important, such as anticipating a deployment or, in happier circumstances, counting down to a homecoming. Other times though, the exact date on the calendar isn’t the important thing.

We celebrated our Thanksgiving this past weekend since we won’t be able to on the actual day. For us, the day the calendar labels as Thanksgiving will be a pretty typical day, with the exception of Big Bit not being in school. We had a fantastic Thanksgiving, though. We had a home filled with family and friends, good food (if I do say so myself), and football. All in all a pretty traditional Thanksgiving. So what if it was a few days early? We got to enjoy being in each other’s company and give thanks for the blessings in our lives. I’m pretty sure that’s what Thanksgiving is all about.

Military life makes it’s own calendar. In our case, Thanksgiving came early this year. For some trying to work around deployment schedules, Christmas may come a month early, or a month late. The date isn’t important. What’s important is being able to celebrate together. Considering that there are always plenty of families that don’t get the chance to celebrate together, fudging by a few days or even a whole month isn’t a big deal, at least not to me. For me the holidays are about being with those you love, the date on the calendar doesn’t matter.

May you all have very happy Thanksgivings, whether they happen early, on time, or late!

New Pinterest Recipe of the Week: Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

So before I get into the recipe, let me just say hello! I know I’ve been silent for a while. If the lack of posts didn’t give you a hint, we’ve been BUSY out here. There just never seemed to be enough time to sit down and write a post. Part of that was Big Bit being on fall break for a chunk of the time. She’s gotten used to having a nice, active day, so when she was on break we had to have something to do (preferably outside the house) or she, and thus the rest of us, would have gone crazy. We filled the time with trips to the zoo, the museum, just going for walks, etc. Anything to get her out of the house and burning off all that energy she has.

Anyway, one of her days at home, Big Bit decided to be my baking helper and so she actually assisted with this particular Pinterest recipe (she was a most excellent mixing assistant). Now, full disclosure, this isn’t my first time making these muffins. I made them once before for Hubs to take on a work shift. The original recipe comes from Sally’s Baking Addiction and it turned out well enough, but not quite to my taste. Granted, part of that was due to the fact that from the get go I was making tweaks to the original recipe, so this time around was for me to tweak my tweaks. Anyway, I’m going to give you my version, but by all means, go back to the source and try the original, if you care to. I’ll explain some of the changes I made further after the recipe.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed, light brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup and 2 Tbsp unsweetened applesauce
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup diced strawberries
  • 1/3 cup mini chocolate chips (I used semi-sweet)

Preheat your oven to 350°F and either spray your muffin tin with non-stick spray or use liners. As you know, I prefer the liner method.

In a bowl, combine your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and cinnamon). In a separate, and slightly larger bowl, combine the white and brown sugars with the applesauce until there aren’t any lumps. Once the sugar/applesauce mixture is smooth add the egg. Then take the dry ingredients and add them to the wet, mixing until they are just combined. Gently fold in the strawberries and chocolate chips.

Spoon out your batter into your muffin tin (I got an even dozen). Bake for 15-20 minutes depending on your oven. When done the tops should be lightly browned and a tester stick should come out clean. Mine took closer to the 20 minutes than the 15, so unless your oven runs hot, I wouldn’t check them until about 17 minutes in to the bake time, and even then they might need an extra minute or two. Allow them to cool and then enjoy.Strawberry Chocolate Chip Muffins

Tweaks and Overall Review

Ok, so what did I change and why. Well, first off, I increased the amount of cinnamon used. I just like the taste of cinnamon, so this was totally a personal preference. Second, the original recipe calls only for an egg white, but I just went ahead and used a whole egg. Granted, that makes my version less “skinny” than the original, but for only doing a batch of these at a time, unless I happen to have a spare egg white lying around (which I never do), I’ll just use the whole egg and skip separating it and then trying to figure out something to do with the yolk. Using the whole egg rather than just the white does make the muffins a little richer, but since I’m not overly concerned about calorie counts for myself, I don’t mind. If you want to go ahead and just use an egg white like in the original, go ahead. It shouldn’t have to much of an impact on the overall flavor. When it came to strawberries I upped the amount from 2/3 of a cup to a full cup. The first time I made these I stuck with the original measurement and there just didn’t seem to be enough strawberry flavor in combination with the chocolate. Part of that was my use of semi-sweet chips rather than a milk chocolate or even a dark chocolate chip, so the chocolate flavor was pretty strong to begin with. By increasing the amount of strawberry pieces in the batter, I was able to get a better balance between the chocolate and the strawberries.

I’m really happy with how this batch turned out. The original recipe was good, but now I think I’ve got this to where it suits my own tastes perfectly. Once again, they were a huge success when my husband took them to work. I hope you like them, too. I’d be really interested to hear from other people who try this recipe both ways and what their thoughts are or any tweaks they make themselves.

Enjoy your muffins!

In Our Garden: See You Next Spring

The gardening days are coming to an end, at least for this year. We had our first snow earlier in the month, and now the temperatures are getting to be consistently cold and usually around freezing or below overnight. My basil kicked the bucket after the first really cold night. Basil is a rather particular plant, I’ve discovered. It never did very well to begin with. It was too hot and the leaves got scorched, it got too much water when we had big thunderstorms, local rabbits took too many nibbles, etc. I’m sure if it could have spoken it would have had a list complaints about its treatment a mile long. The lupines never did bloom either, but I resigned myself to that a while ago.

We did get our last little harvest of carrots and Big Bit was happy to have them for her dinner a few nights ago. I must say these were rather respectable looking carrots. Having thinned out the box planter with our previous harvests, these actually had room to grow and look carroty.

Big Bit's Last Carrots

Big Bit’s Last Carrots

My big rosemary bush that I bought to replace the one that was decapitated by the windstorm is still doing pretty well, though I may see if I can keep it going in the garage over the winter. While rosemary has proven to be much a heartier plant than others (*cough* BASIL!), I won’t test its fortitude by leaving it out all winter. Hopefully I will be able to nurse it through and it can return to the patio in the spring.

Ah, Spring. I will be counting down the days.