It has now been over a year since I left my full-time job, although my official last day was June 1, 2010. Exactly 11 1/2 years of service at the Technical College. I have always loved to cook, but never did a lot of baking. As I transitioned from a short-term stay-at-home-mom, to a licensed childcare provider, I decided I was going to do my best to improve on what I already thought of as being fairly healthy meals. We have always eaten fruits and vegetables, but we'd have our fair share of processed, convenience foods, because time was so limited after working all day, picking up the kids, and driving an hour to get home, what is better than something convenient?
Chicken Nuggets. I'm proud to say that I can't even remember the last time I served a 'traditional' chicken nugget. Well, besides the one time I made them 'home made'. They were too much work, and turned out kind of dry...not my specialty I guess. Now I just lightly season (garlic, onion powder, and pepper) and bake boneless skinless chicken breasts (in a glass baking dish, covered with foil), slice them up, and serve them with some type of dipping sauce (catsup, bbq sauce, honey mustard, etc). Easiest chicken nuggets I have ever made...and the best part is that the kids love them this way!
Hot Dogs. I will admit that I love a good hot dog. Last fall I found some on sale at our local meat market which were natural, and didn't contain any of the 'yucky' stuff (preservatives, nitrates, msg, etc...). They were super yummy. I was so happy to find them quite a while later at Costco; three packs of 8 for $9.99! They are Coleman brand, click here to check them out. I don't buy them often, so they are more of a special treat when I do buy them. I have even used them in an alternate way - home made mini corn dogs! Cut the hot dogs in thirds, used a recipe for a cornmeal dough to wrap around, baked them, and they were ooohh so good. I haven't made them for a while...next time I do I'll snap a couple photos and post the recipe here.
Pizza Pizza! Pizza is another thing we enjoy. I've only made dough from scratch a couple of times, but we usually buy the "just add water" generic Wal-Mart brand crust mix, and it is actually pretty good. My hubby started adding seasoning before mixing in the warm water, and it makes the crust extra tasty. I also buy the all natural generic Wal-Mart brand pizza sauce...add some freshly shredded cheese, toppings, and dinner (or lunch) is served! We also make english muffin pizzas, and even whole wheat tortilla pizzas. The best part is that they all taste wonderful, the kids love them, they are fairly healthy, and cheaper overall than buying frozen pizzas.
Soup. I love soup. I have made so much soup in the last year, I can't even believe it! It is so easy, and there are so many varieties. There are a couple recipes I follow (and love!), but I mostly make up the recipes myself. I have several notepad-chicken scratch recipes that I've written as I throw things in the pot. At first I didn't write them down, but then I'd make a fantastic soup and think "grrr...I should have written this down!" So, now I do. The best part about soup is that it freezes well, and stays good for quite a while, so I always make a huge pot to store it away for later.
Baked Goods. Like I stated earlier, I had never been much of a baker. My husband would usually make the Jiffy Mix/Bisquick pancakes, and occasionally a carrot cake, brownies (from a box), etc. Not anymore. I LOVE TO BAKE! I make all of our pancakes and waffles from scratch, using whole wheat flour. I make muffins almost weekly, and am always looking for new recipes or making variations to the 'staple' ones I make. I make quick breads (pumpkin, banana, etc.). The kids and I even made brownies from scratch for my hubby's birthday this past March - they do not even compare to a boxed mix... The next 'big' thing I want to try is English Muffins from scratch. I found a recipe online that had great reviews...it's all printed out...now to just give it a run!
Baking Powder. I believe this ingredient is a good example of one of those deals where you end up needing to bake something for some reason...the recipe calls for a teaspoon of baking powder...and you wonder if it's any good because you know you've had it f.o.r.e.v.e.r. You use it anyway because you would hate to have to buy fresh stuff...to use it just once. Before I started baking, I think I had had the same small canister of baking powder since I first moved out of my parent's house in 2002. Last fall I splurged and bought some fresh stuff! I wonder how long it had been in a square container with a blue flip-top lid??? I am now on my FOURTH container of baking powder...in less than a year!
Yeast Breads/Rolls. The one thing I am still a bit hesitant on baking is yeast breads. I did make some in the bread maker that I borrowed from my mom, and they turned out just fine, but I'm still a bit nervous. I really need to just suck it up and do it! I want to make the rolls that my Finnish friend makes...she showed me how to make them last summer when I visited, and I documented it in notes and photos (she doesn't follow a recipe), so maybe soon I will attempt these. During my first trip in 2002 I wrote down the steps as we made the rolls, but when I tried them on my own at home - they were literally like hockey pucks. Maybe that's why I am nervous to make another attempt. I will though.
Smoothies & Popcorn. My favorite meal. And yes, I have served this meal to my children (and hubby!). It's also one of my son's favorite things as well! Dairy, protein, fruit, sometimes veggies, and whole grains (popcorn)! I make the popcorn in my air popper, so we could leave it alone for the healthiest popcorn, but...I usually melt a little butter with onion powder to drizzle on top. Smoothies...I love them...I think I always have, but it always seemed like too much work to have to hand wash the blender afterwards, so it was very rare that I would make one. Now, I'm washing stuff all the time, so what's a few extra pieces?! :-) The ingredients I use are pretty simple. My base is a few ice cubes, vanilla yogurt (I prefer Dannon All Natural Vanilla, 32oz), milk, applesauce (unsweetened), and bananas. My most common blend is strawberry-blueberry-banana, just because I always have a bag of frozen berries in the freezer. This past Sunday I made strawberry-peach (and skipped the applesauce in my base) and it was delicious! I have also been adding a huge bunch of fresh spinach to my blends...it just slightly changes the flavor - in a good way - and packs in extra vitamins. I've also added pineapple, apples, pears, and whatever else I may have on hand or leftover from a meal. Soon I will be introducing some other varieties of veggies and fruits to my blends...the possibilities are endless!
If you have made it this far...thank you for reading :-) I love food and I think I get a little excited and carried away just thinking about it. I love to cook/bake and it feels so good to know that I am making nearly everything from scratch and eliminating so many mystery ingredients. And while I try to keep things on the healthy side, we still enjoy the things we love, like a big juicy steak or hamburgers on the grill. Oh, and homemade Mac&Cheese, which overall is probably a lot less 'healthy' (fat-wise) than Blue Boxing it, but at least I know what all of the ingredients are that I am putting into it :-)