Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday Funday Family Night

After we had the Kombucha Tasting Rating Family Night last week, the kids had been begging to do it again with another food.  Which I do have planned, but we decided to make "Monday Funday" and do a food every other week, with some other family activity on the opposite weeks.  I actually had planned to do this with the tiny dixie type cups, but happened across these bowls at a local sale, 50/$1.00, so that's what we used.

At dinner, I explained the way the activity was going to work.  Each person got their own sleeve of 50 bowls.  You couldn't use any extra items, just the bowls, and just your 50, no more, to complete the challenges.  The time limit was the span of whatever Christmas song came up next on my Spotify playlist.  Interfering with anyone else's building, or working after the song is over meant disqualification.

The challenges were things like "tallest structure", "widest structure", "tallest structure that I can balance a book on top of for three seconds", "longest structure using only five bowls touching the floor", etc.  It was pretty fairly matched; the first round, my oldest daughter came in first, and my husband second place.  The next round, my oldest son won by a landslide.  

Everyone enjoyed stacking the cups!

Let me know if you try a Monday Funday Family Night, and what ideas you think we should try next!! -Becca

Friday, December 2, 2016

Honey Cranberry Upside Down Cake

Becca here, with a recipe that caught my eye while flipping through the December Food Network Magazine.  It was actually on an advertisement for Garnier Hair Products; I tried to track down the recipe online to give credit for my inspiration to someone, but couldn't find it.  I modified the original recipe quite a bit, to make it both more nutritious, and safe for everyone in our family to eat, since all dairy and corn products are an issue for one of our children.

I'm not a huge dessert person typically, but I LOVE this cake.  It has a different taste than I've had before, but one that is absolutely delicious.  It has the complex sweetness of the honey, and the tartness of the cranberries combined, as well as the different textures in the cake and topping. Just one quick note - make sure that you don't leave it in the cake pan more than the 20 minutes specified!  Also, mine sunk a bit in the middle here because I placed it on a regular sloping dinner plate; for a great presentation, it would do best on a completely flat platter.

Honey-Cranberry Upside Down Cake

3 Tablespoons coconut oil, plus some for the pan (or coconut oil spray)
1/2 cup honey
1 pinch salt
3 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
the zest of one orange

1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur, or grind at home from wheat berries)
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 Tablespoons coconut oil, soft or melted
1/4 cup granulated coconut sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup honey
3 teaspoons real vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Grease bottom and sides of a 9" circle cake pan with coconut oil, or coconut spray.

In a medium saucepan, place first 3 topping ingredients (coconut oil, honey, and salt).  Bring to a boil, on medium high, stirring occasionally.  Boil for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally, then add the cranberries & orange zest & turn the heat off.

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

In a separate bowl, whisk coconut oil and coconut sugar until thoroughly combined.  Whisk in eggs, and then honey and vanilla extract.

Whisk the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, gently, until combined.

Pour warm topping into cake pan, spread evenly.  Pour cake batter on top, and gently spread evenly.

Bake at 325 F for 35-40 minutes.  Let cool in the pan 20 minutes.  Then, gently run a butter knife around the edges of the cake, place a plate or platter on top, and flip it over to remove the cake.

Serve warm, or at room temperature, with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.  Enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Using Home Chef as Cooking Lessons for Kids

I wanted to do a quick follow-up to the previous posts I've done about using Home Chef as cooking lessons for kids.  My eleven year old is really interested in pursuing a culinary degree at our local community college, but has a couple of years until she is eligible for enrollment.  She loves getting the boxes, and actually put them at the top of her wishlist!  I have been super impressed with both the skills she has learned, and the food she has made; it really has been amazing, restaurant quality meals!  This was "Crispy Garlic and Lemon Crusted Salmon with creamed kale and charred grape tomatoes"  and you can actually view the recipe by clicking on the recipe title!  It was so delicious, and definitely something that we will make again.

I've had a couple of questions from different people about Home Chef that I thought I would address here.

*If you click on any of the Home Chef links in this post, you get $30 off of your first delivery.  (and I get a bonus also, just FYI ;)

*You can choose different dietary choices on your profile.  I have chosen to prefer meat & seafood over vegetables, and to avoid soy.  Avoiding dairy, pork, red meat, nuts, gluten, mushrooms, and shellfish are also an option.  I also have selected low-carb, and low-calorie is an option as well.

*Each week there are eleven different dinner options you can choose from!  We have tried out two other similar services, and prefer the food Home Chef sends, by far.

*You can skip up to six weeks at a time, by clicking on that date on the calendar.  Or, you can "pause" your account for all future deliveries, by clicking the button under your account.  You can then "unpause" anytime you would like to receive a delivery.

*The regular price for meals is right at $10 a plate.  So it's definitely (way) above our typical grocery budget, but the quantities and quality I think are restaurant quality, and even at full price, the cost is significantly lower than local cooking class options for kids.  We order the three meal box for two people, and we either split it up and eat it with leftovers or sandwiches or something as filler, or the person that prepared it gets to have a special meal with Mom or Dad.  Many of the meals, like this one, could be easily replicated with ingredients from your local grocery store.  The "all in one" box of ingredients is so, super helpful for those learning to cook especially, since the recipe addresses your specific ingredients and quantities; you don't have to go searching through the pantry, fridge, etc. and measuring everything out, etc.

Let me know if you have any questions about Home Chef that you would like me to address, or if you've tried it, what you thought!!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Tasting Rating Fun for Family Night!

We recently had a fun family activity that I wanted to share!  I (Becca) have five kids, ages two to eleven, so it can be a bit tricky to find something the whole family can participate in and enjoy.  I've been trying to have a small activity to do after dinner, as a family, and this one was a bit hit!  We had a "Tasting Rating" of Kombucha.  You could use any food type that you can get a variety of brands or flavors of, there are lots of fun possibilities!  

For preparation, I visited our local health food store, and bought six different kinds of kombucha.  Then, I just quickly made a chart for us to record our scores on.  I went ahead and typed the name of the kombucha in the first column, since I have several non-readers/writers.  I printed each person in our family a copy, and then we were set to go!  During dinner, I went over the categories and made sure everyone understood the rating system.  We used 1-5, with 5 being the best, and doubled the "taste" category so that it had more weight than the "label", for example.  The categories we used were:  look of labeling, bottle, taste, nutrition, and overall.  I passed out saltine crackers to cleanse our palate between tastings, and we used this set of little cups that is one of my favorite things, to do the tastings in.

Everyone enjoyed the activity a lot, and it was fun to see how different people's tastes reacted either similarly or differently on the different drinks.  The kids had several great suggestions for further tastings, so we plan to do hot teas, potato chips, and chocolates next!  What is your suggestion for a tasting?  Let me know if your family tries it also!

Monday, September 12, 2016

German Lentils with Sausage

Becca here with a recipe (no photo, sorry, we ate it before I got a picture!) that my family really enjoyed.  I recently did a big freezer cooking session, and adapted this recipe to be both freezer and Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) ready.  I have used an Instant Pot for many years; I'm actually on my second one, after the first had had an unfortunate incident with the plastic part of the lid coming in contact with the hot stove-top and melting.  When we had to leave our home last year and stay in a hotel for 60 nights, because of a water leak, my Instant Pot was the one thing from our kitchen I took with me to the hotel.  I love the popularity they have gained in the past few years; my newer model Instant Pot has several great features that my original one did not, one of them being the "saute" button.  This was my first time using saute, and I'm wondering why I haven't before.  I was able to brown the sausage, and then cook the meal all quickly, and in the same stainless steel (no toxic chemical non-stick finishes!) pot.  My family all really enjoyed this recipe, and our youngest son that is a new eater even had seconds, as did most of the kids!  The seasonings were delicious, and had just enough of a distinctly different taste, to make the recipe unique.

The recipe makes a generous portion; my family of seven, with several large appetites in the bunch, ate it for a meal once, and had enough to accompany lunch the next day, with the five kids and I each having a small portion.  I will include the directions for making up a double batch to keep in the freezer, as I did, below the recipe.

German Lentils with Sausage

1 pound dried brown lentils
Orrington Farms Chicken Base or 'Better Than Bouillon' (use package instructions, see amount needed for 10 cups of water)
1/2 teaspoon celery seed
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 bay leaf
2 Tablespoons dried parsley
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

10 cups water

4 cups grated carrots
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
21 ounces Kielbasa Sausage or Ham, diced

Place diced Kielbasa Sausage (or Ham) into the instant pot.  Stir on 'saute' setting until browned.

Add remaining ingredients, stir, and cook on meat/stew setting.

Enjoy! -Becca

To make ahead and freeze:
Multiply all ingredients times the number of meals you want to freeze.
Put top ingredient section (lentils, chicken base, and spices) into a quart bag, and label with recipe name.
In order, place the grated carrots, worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, and then diced sausage into a gallon bag, and label with recipe name.
To prepare the dish, follow the recipe above (the sausage needs to be on top of the freezer bag, so it can be browned first, before adding the other ingredients!)

Friday, September 9, 2016

Dairy Free "Buttercream" Icing

 Photo Credit, Sister Sara :)

As I shared in my post earlier this week, a recipe for Dairy Free, 100% Whole Wheat, Chocolate Cake, my youngest son has had some significant health issues that have impacted his eating, so until a few months ago, he was still on formula exclusively, without any safe foods.  For his 1st Birthday, we weren't able to have any kind of cake, I froze his formula into a popsicle shape, because that's all he could have.  So, now that he has a lot of safe foods, we were super excited (ecstatic may be a better word!) to make him his 1st Birthday Cake, for his 2nd Birthday.  I followed this recipe fairly closely, and was happy with the outcome.  The frosting tasted good, and the texture was similar to a buttercream.  I will note, I made the cakes the night before, let them cool, frosted them, and refrigerated them overnight.  I removed them from the fridge a couple of hours before serving, but the coconut oil base, meant that the frosting was a bit more solid than I would have preferred; next time I would take the cakes out of the refrigerator earlier, although no one complained about the icing :)

Dairy Free "Buttercream" Icing

1/2 cup coconut oil, at room temperature (liquid form)
1/2 cup Earth Balance, soy-free, dairy-free butter substitute, softened (in a square tub near the margarine, I purchase at Walmart)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 cups powdered sugar (most mainstream brands have cornstarch, look at a health food type store if corn is an issue!)

In a mixer bowl, whip the coconut oil and butter substitute until smooth and creamy, with no lumps remaining.

Add the vanilla extract.

One cup at a time, blending after each addition, add the powdered sugar.

For best results, use immediately.  It may be store in the refrigerator, but will need to be brought to room temperature before icing.  Do not microwave!

Enjoy! Becca

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Dairy Free, 100% Whole Wheat, Chocolate Cake

Photo credit Sister Sara :)

Becca here, with a recipe that I was super excited to experiment with, and make.  My youngest son has had some significant health issues that impacted his eating, so until a few months ago, he was still on formula exclusively, without any safe foods.  For his 1st Birthday, we weren't able to have any kind of cake, I froze his formula into a popsicle shape, because that's all he could have.  So, now that he has a lot of safe foods, we were super excited (ecstatic may be a better word!) to make him his 1st Birthday Cake, for his 2nd Birthday.  I did a lot of research on cake recipes, since it was important to me that it tasted good, I wanted him to be able to eat the same cake as everyone else, that it was dairy and corn free, and 100% whole wheat.  I settled on a variation of a Crazy Cake, a depression era cake that doesn't use eggs, butter, or milk.  I was really pleased with the way the cake turned out, and several party guests without dietary restrictions commented on how much they enjoyed it also.  I definitely don't think it tasted "healthy" or "dairy free"; it was very moist, and had a great flavor.  An unexpected bonus, was that you actually mix the cake up in the 9x13 pan, so there isn't a mixing bowl to wash also!!

I will be sharing the dairy-free "buttercream" recipe on the blog soon as well.

Dairy-Free, 100% Whole Wheat, Chocolate Cake

3 cups whole wheat flour (I recommend King Arthur brand, or grinding your own, the results are significantly better I think!)
2 cups sugar (I use unbleached, cane sugar)
1 teaspoon salt (I use "Real Salt" or Pink Himalayan)
2 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I like a dark or dutch cocoa powder, and fair trade is important to our family as well)
3/4 olive oil
2 Tablespoons white vinegar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract (we make our own in large batches).
2 cups tap water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cocoa powder together in an ungreased, 9x13 glass baking pan.

Make three wells.  Pour oil into one, vinegar into the second, and vanilla into the third.

Pour cold water over everything, and stir well with a fork.  Be sure to scrape the edges and bottom, and make sure it is thorougly mixed.

Bake at 350 for 30-40 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Store, covered, in the refrigerator.  We thought it tasted just as good, or maybe even better, the second day.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Chewy Oatmeal Squares

Jana here with a recipe I had to share!  I recently had a baby, and was looking for some extra snacks to eat while I am feeding the baby in the middle of the night. I bought a few boxes of oatmeal squares and granola bars, but was unhappy with the ingredients. So my husband and I started brainstorming, and came up with this delicious recipe!

Chewy Oatmeal Squares

1/2 cup butter, melted
3/4 cup coconut oil
3/4 cup cane sugar
1/4 cup honey
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
6 cups oatmeal (steel cut or old fashioned)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 - 1 cup raisins (or other dried fruit)

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet.

2. Mix the wet ingredients (butter, oil, honey, eggs, vanilla) in a stand mixer (or with a handheld mixer).

3. Add the dry ingredients (sugar, flour, oatmeal, baking soda, cinnamon, salt) and mix well. Last, add the raisins and stir.

4. Pour onto the baking sheet, and spread evenly. Press mixture firmly onto baking sheet to compact it.

5. Bake for 18-22 minutes. Allow to cool before cutting into squares.


Monday, July 4, 2016

Cooking Lessons at Home, via Home Chef

This is my second post on how we are using Home Chef as in-home cooking lessons.  You can see part one here, for a detailed description of how it works, and our thoughts on receiving our first delivery.

The second meal we received was Flat Iron Steak with Bleu Cheese Butter, with green beans and roasted fingerling potatoes.  My 10 year old daughter actually made this one by herself, and my 8 year old son did the 3rd meal by himself.  This was rated as an 'easy' recipe, and was seriously amazing.  I'm not a huge steak lover normally, but it was super tasty.  My husband does love steak, and told her it was delicious, and he would be happy to eat it again anytime!

The meat comes vacuum sealed, and the rest of the ingredients are in a pouch, clearly labeled with the recipe name on it.  Olive oil, salt, and pepper are the only ingredients you need to use out of your pantry.  There were fresh herbs in this recipe, and they were really fresh looking also.  The kids love the 'notes from the chef' and full color photos on the recipe instructions.

The kids are enjoying the independence in the kitchen, and we have been thoroughly impressed with the cooking techniques, and quality of food they've produced.  The Home Chef box delivery to your house contains all of the necessary ingredients, and a great tutorial.  The normal price is just under $10/person a meal.  We have all agreed that the portions are very generous, definitely 'restaurant sized'.   If you use my link you will get $30 off of your first delivery (and we get some credit to use for more deliveries also, in the interest of full disclosure!)  Let me know if you have any questions, or comments if you've tried Home Chef!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Cooking Lessons for Kids, via Home Chef!

Becca here, returning to the blog!  I actually do use Thrice the Spice weekly at least, to look up one of the many recipes we've posted over the years.  My older two children, ages 11 later this month, and 8, have had a huge interest in expanding their cooking repertoire beyond the basic scrambled eggs, pancakes, and sandwiches that they are proficient at making alone.  My daughter was able to take some middle school culinary classes at our local community college this summer, further whetting her appetite (pun intended, ha!) as well as that of her brother that was still to young to attend.  I received an advertisement about trying out Home Chef for a $30 discount (that you can receive as well, along with my kids getting a bit of referral credit, in the interest of full disclosure, by using my links in this blog post!!  More about that later) and thought we would give it a try.
The basic premise is that Home Chef mails you a box of fresh ingredients, exactly enough to make a meal, and a step by step tutorial on how to prepare an amazing dinner.  While not intended for children, we have used it like a cooking lesson in a box, and it's pretty much one of my favorite things ever.  In fact, along with a trip to 'anywhere in Africa' and Costa Rice, donations to a specific refugee camp, or an orphanage, etc. my daughter asked for more Home Chef boxes for her upcoming birthday in a couple of weeks!!

Here is one of the meals they prepared, totally on their own!!  The only time I provided any assistance at all, was when they came and asked me what they should use to zest a lemon.  Other than that, I literally didn't even step into the kitchen, and this is what they served up!  It was SO delicious, definitely restaurant quality (and better than a lot of restaurants I've had!) and even my 'picky about food texture' husband said that the salmon was cooked perfectly.  This was the "Cedar Roasted Salmon with Root Vegetable Slaw" and looked nearly identical to the front of the cooking tutorial card they provided.  See below for a full review on the ordering and delivery process, and posts over the next few days on the other recipes they prepared.  Plus, I do have some new family favorite recipes of ours to share on the blog in the coming weeks as well!  

The week before my first scheduled delivery, I was sent an email, telling me the three meals Home Chef had selected for me, based on the few questions I answered on my profile.  They offer meat free, seafood based, beef based, low-carb, etc. options on your food profile.  When I answered my quick 'taste profile' questions, I selected beef and seafood as my two main items, as well as the low carb diet, since we prefer to eat vegetables over 'empty' carbs when possible.  I had a window of about 24 hours I believe, after receiving the email, to click on it to change my menu selections.  Out of curiosity, I have clicked to check out the other menu options both times we have received deliveries, and while all of the 10(!!) meal options for the week have looked delicious, I have stuck with the three they had chosen for me.  Because we are using this as a culinary class for the kids, I chose to cook things that were a bit 'fancier' or offered foods & skills that I know they would like, but we don't commonly eat at home. So, while the chicken & pasta dishes looked amazing, that was a skill I felt like I could more easily teach them, and not something new and adventurous like they are wanting to learn.

The delivery arrived at my house via FedEx, in the middle of the day.  They use insulated boxes, careful packing, and lots of ice packs (see more below!) so that you don't have to be home to receive the box right when it arrives.  Our first box said that it weighed 19 pounds, and is taking up a lot of the surface of my stove top, for size reference.  Immediately upon opening it were our recipe tutorials.

Our first delivery also came with a 3-ring binder, to collect the recipe tutorial cards in.  On the back of each full page (8.5x11) recipe card, are detailed instructions, including 6-8 photos of the process, a note from the chef, etc.  Approximate cooking times and difficulty levels are included on the front also, as well as the amounts of items needed, so we can duplicate the recipe at home with our own ingredients, which I love.  The salmon was considered to be an 'intermediate' level recipe, while our other two in the first box were 'easy' (Flat Iron Steak with Bleu Cheese Butter with green beans and roasted fingerling potatoes, and Thyme and Rosemary Roasted Pork Tenderloin with apple cider pan sauce and broccoli mash, reviews with photos coming as well!)

 Directly under the recipe tutorials, is a thick, kind of foam feeling (although it's a biodegradable substance, maybe paper based?), lined in plastic, layer that surrounds the entire box, top, bottom, and sides, for insulation.  The day we received this box was nearly 100 degrees F, and everything was still very, very chilled, including ice packs having cores of ice still in them.  All of the non-meat ingredients for each recipe are packaged together and clearly labeled with what recipe they are for.   Your first box also includes a guide to different types of cuts (julienne, dice, chop, etc.), basic guidelines for kitchen equipment, safe meat cooking temperatures, and how to recycle and dispose of the Home Chef packaging materials.  This box actually had 7 nice quality, reusable ice packs that we have already re-used in our cooler we take with snacks, and the safe food & formula that we take everywhere for our son with a GI disorder.

After another layer of ice packs was the meat.  I found the portion sizes for everything to be very generous.  For reference, this delivery was three meals, for two people.

 The kids learned a skill I haven't even known how to do before; they soaked thin sheets of cedar in water, then wrapped it around the raw salmon, and secured it with baker's twine before baking.  All of the necessary supplies were included in the Home Chef box that was delivered!

The carrots were preshredded, but everything else the children got to prepare themselves.  I was (at their request!) staying out of the kitchen, so I didn't get photos of the whole process, but they started with whole golden beets, a new food to them, whole garlic cloves to peel and mince, etc.

The kids' slicing and dicing, getting ready to make the marinade for the root vegetable slaw!

The cost per meal is definitely comparable to a restaurant meal, at right about $10 per person per plate.  I would say that the portion sizes are definitely on the large size as well; we actually split these two meals into halves, and it was a great portion size for four people on a hot summer night, with a piece of fruit for dessert.  And the food quality has been better than most restaurants also.  While that is definitely significantly more than our typical grocery budget, we felt like it was a bargain using the introductory coupon code to get $30 off our first delivery, making it just under $30 for our first three meals (each with two generous servings), including free shipping, nice quality recipe tutorials that truly are beginner friendly, definitely a teaching tool, as well as the 3-ring binder, & kitchen guide with your first Home Chef delivery. Honestly, I didn't expect to be so impressed, or for my kids to love it so much, and add a request for more deliveries to their birthday wishlists.

Rather than a higher-than-typical meal, Home Chef has really been a great, inexpensive culinary class for my children, that they can do, and learn to clean up after, in our own home, no running all over town with five kids and hanging out for a few hours while they're taking a class and we're waiting to pick them up.  Plus, they are super proud to serve the family and show off the new skills they've learned.  We homeschool our kids, and I think cooking is a vital part of their education, one that my daughter is known for often reminding me that they will all need to learn how to do, maybe even more than algebra ;)

I'd be happy to answer any questions you have, or hear about your experience if you've tried Home Chef, feel free to leave a comment below.  And, again, you can get $30 off of your first delivery (and we get some credit towards more deliveries) by using this link.  This was how we first tried the service, making it just over $29 for 3 different meals for 2 people.

Skipping a week, or cancelling the subscription entirely is super easy, literally two clicks of a button from your Home Chef account.