Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Marshmallow Popcorn {Honey Sweetened}

The season of sweets is in full swing around here. I love to make and eat treats right along with the rest of you. And even this time of the year sometimes I try to be a little healthier in the treats that I make. It's great to have yummy options without sugar that are still delicious and special to this time of the year. Today I want to post a wonderful little honey-sweetened discovery that I made the other day. This recipe is truly my own discovery, but it was born by joining together other people's ideas. That is usually how wonderful discoveries are made anyways, isn't it? 

The recipe idea started when I ran across this recipe for honey sweetened marshamallows. Yes I've made them on several occasions and they are tasty little wonders. Then two years ago around Christmas a lady in our neighborhood brought us the most wonderful popcorn you've ever tasted. It tasted like caramel corn, but so much better. Not hard and teeth-breaking, but soft and chewy and I loved it. So I begged the recipe from her and she brought it by and the main ingredient was marshmallows. I began to wonder and dream (like for a few years) if I could combine the two wonderful recipes to make a honey sweetened version of that yummy marshmallow popcorn. Well guess what? I finally did it the other day. And it is truly amazing! It's hard to believe that it contains no processed sugar. It's soft and sweet with a wonderful marshmallow-y, vanilla-y flavor. Yum. You'd better make sure to include this one in your holiday treats this year.

Marshmallow Popcorn {Honey Sweetened}

3 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin 
1 Cup cold water, divided
1-1/2 Cups honey, divided
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 Cubes butter
1-1/2 to 2 Cups popcorn kernels, popped (or 8-10 quarts popped popcorn)

Put 1/2 Cup of cold water in the bowl of a mixer with attached whisk (or medium-large bowl if mixing with a hand mixer). Sprinkle 3 Tbsp. unflavored gelatin over the water and set aside to soften. Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan add 1 Cup honey, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 1/2 Cup water. Heat on medium heat. Using a candy thermometer, bring the mixture to 240 degrees (or the soft ball stage). This should take about 7-10 minutes. Then remove from the heat immediately.

Carefully add the hot syrup to the gelatin mixture and mix on low speed until combined. Then add 1 tsp. vanilla and increase speed to high. Beat for 5-10 minutes (or longer), or until the mixture is thick and fluffy. It will look like marshmallow fluff like the picture below.

Marshmallow Fluff
While the marshmallow is mixing, in a large saucepan melt 2 Cubes of butter and 1/2 Cup honey (and get the popcorn popped if you haven't already). Be sure to remove all the un-popped kernels from the popcorn so no one breaks a tooth. Then once the marshmallow fluff is fluffy, add it to the butter-honey mixture in the saucepan and stir until everything is nicely melted together into a white, creamy mixture like the picture below. 

Marshmallow and butter melted together
Then pour the marshmallow mixture over the popcorn and stir until well coated, adding more or less popped popcorn as needed or desired. I found that 8 quarts was maybe not quite sufficient, so you may need a bit more. At this point you can spread the coated popcorn on wax-paper-lined cookie trays until cool. It will get slightly less sticky as it sets up, but you probably won't be able to wait that long. Eat and enjoy.

Recipe Source: healthyfamilycookin.blogspot.com

Friday, December 5, 2014

Frugal Friday: The Perfect Christmas

I love this season of the year, but I know it can be stressful as we try so hard to create the "perfect Christmas" for our family. What does the perfect Christmas involve? There's that image in our minds of the perfect family together in a beautifully decorated home, all getting along well, and everyone overjoyed with the (very expensive) gifts they were given. I don't know where that image in our minds comes from. I don't know whether it's media's influence, advertising, or what, but it is very real and it's very compelling. It's so easy to spend so much time and money trying to create that, that it's easy to miss what the season is really about. Today I'd like to share with you my vision of what the perfect Christmas is and talk a little about simplifying Christmas for our families to focus on what really matters. I'd love to hear your ideas too.

  1. The Perfect Decorations - The best Christmas decorations are the smiles on your family member's faces as you create wonderful and beautiful Christmas memories together. Because that's what really matters, right? Beyond that the perfect decorations are the decorations you already have. Those timeless decorations that hold memories for the children and tie them to the reason we celebrate Christmas. We don't need picture perfect or magazine showcases as homes. That's not reality. Those wonderful decorations that children make at school every year are simple and beautiful and imperfectly perfect. Paper snowflakes are fun to make together as a family and make the perfect decorations. A snowman in the front yard is a perfect Christmas decoration because it means somebody spent time outside building it. Rather than spending time away from your family buying and trying to create picture perfect homes, why not simplify and spend that time WITH your family? Find ways with your family to build the true spirit of Christmas in your hearts by giving to others.
    One of my favorite Christmas decorations on our tree every year that one of our kids made
  2. The Perfect Gifts - And speaking of giving to others...Giving to others is such an important part of Christmas but oh how it's gotten out of hand, So much is spent ensuring that children are given all of their wildest dreams for Christmas that there is no time left to help children learn to GIVE at Christmas. Yes I'm sure we've all been guilty of it in one way or another. So how do we teach children to give at Christmas (and similarly all year long)? I like to help the children make gifts to give the people they want to give gifts to that year. It takes time and patience, but it's something we've learned to enjoy doing together. We usually come up with one or two simple crafts they can make mostly by themselves with simple materials we mostly already have. Then we help the kids assemble their gifts and wrap them. There is nothing like watching a child excited to give their gifts they made mostly by themselves. Last year my 6-year-old was so excited he couldn't wait for Christmas and had everyone open their gifts from him several weeks early. It was so fun to watch his joy when he saw them discover his gifts. That is what Christmas is all about. 
  3. The Perfect Activities - I've posted about more than 100 frugal family activities you can do for Christmas. It's fun to have an advent calendar where you list what activities you will do each day. If you don't have that kind of time, just pick a few from the list to do every week. Spending time together as a family builds bonds that will last forever. And the holidays are such a perfect time to do that and create wonderful memories and traditions. We love to pick a family or two in our neighborhood that we can serve during the Christmas season. Having children be a part of that is another great way to teach them to give.
Now I'd love to hear from you. What's a wonderful Christmas memory that you have? What things do you do to help simplify Christmas and make it more meaningful?

I hope you are enjoying this holiday season. 

Have a

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Chicken Taco Meat {Electric Pressure Cooker Recipe}

Today I'm sharing another wonderful Pressure Cooker meal that can be made quickly and simply. I love quick and easy dinner meals. This one was fabulous because everyone in my family ate and enjoyed it. The chicken was tender and juicy and full of flavor. I secretly ate the leftovers for lunch the next day. These tacos are delicious served with Cilantro Lime Brown Rice.

Chicken Taco Meat {Electric Pressure Cooker Recipe}
Printed from healthyfamilycookin.blogspot.com

2 fresh boneless skinless chicken breasts
salt, pepper
1 Cup crushed or diced tomatoes (can use fresh)
1/2 Cup water
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. dehydrated minced onion
1/2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. cumin
1 Tbsp. cornstarch

Sprinkle chicken breasts on both sides with salt and pepper. Place in electric pressure cooker. In a small bowl, combine the tomatoes, water, chili powder, salt, minced onion, paprika, cumin and cornstarch. Pour over the chicken in the electric pressure cooker. Close and lock lid. Cook on high pressure for 17 minutes. Release pressure naturally. Shred chicken with 2 forks. Serve meat in taco shells or with chips in a taco salad.

Recipe Source: healthyfamilycookin.blogspot.com

Friday, November 7, 2014

Frugal Friday: Buying and Storing Whole Grains

One way to both eat healthier and more frugally is to cook from scratch using whole grains. I love to use a variety of whole grains in my cooking. I've found that it's a lot cheaper to buy whole grains in large quantities, but most of us can't use 25 lbs. of wheat or quinoa every week. So we will need to find a way to store these whole grains so that they can remain fresh and bug-free while we are using them. Today I'd like to share some tips that I use in my family for buying and storing whole grains.

Buying Whole Grains
I get a lot of questions about where I buy my grains. Today I'd like to answer this for you as best as I can. A lot of it will depend on where you live and what's available in your area.

I posted a few years ago about what to include in a frugal pantry which includes a lot of the grains that I buy on a regular basis. If you look through my recipes you will notice that I use a lot of the following grains:
Brown Rice
White Wheat
Oats (Oat Groats and Quick Oats are what I usually use)
White Quinoa
I use others as well but these are the grains I use the most often in my recipes. All of these with the exception of brown rice store very well long term so I buy them in bulk (25 or 50 lb. bags). I usually inventory once (sometimes twice) a year and decide how much I have of each grain and how much I am going to buy. Because I cook our family's food from scratch almost exclusively, we go through a lot of grains. Just making our family's bread for example uses 10-12 cups of white wheat for a 6-loaf batch. And I make a batch about every week to ten days.

After I've created my inventory of what I have and what I need, I spend a few days shopping around for the best prices. Prices vary on these grains depending on the year and the time of year. Some places won't give prices over the phone, but I'll jot down the prices when I'm in the store so I can keep track. When you buy several hundred pounds of grains at a time it saves quite a bit of money to shop a little bit for the best prices. I always buy more than I'll need for the year so that I have time to shop around before I run out completely.

Here are the places that you can look into to compare prices:
  1. WinCo Foods - This is a specific store chain that may or may not be in your area, but it's local to me and I find a lot of what I need at this store. They have bins that contain a lot of the grains that I use. But I usually buy my grains in bulk bags. Some of the bags of grains they have on shelves in the store and some you have to ask about special ordering. I've ordered these on the phone before and picked them up on my next trip. There's is a small discount for buying the grains in bulk instead of just from the bins and with the quantities that I buy it's usually worth it.
  2. Rainy Day Foods - A great online source for many of these bulk grains is Rainy Day Foods. I bought from them last year for the first time and I was very happy with the products. If you don't live near them you will have to pay a bit for shipping. I live near a drop off location, however, and was able to order them and pay for a lot less shipping through their regular shipping delivery truck. You may want to call and see if that's a possibility where you live. There's also a possibility to get together with some friends and create a very large order to save on shipping.
  3. Azure Standard - I bought from them for the first time this year and was satisfied with the products and prices. Again they have options to deliver at a drop off location which saves considerably on shipping. 
  4. Health Food Stores - usually health food stores are one my last resorts for shopping because they are usually more expensive. But if I can't find them at the other places I will shop there. I again ask for the bulk prices (rather than buying the grains in the bins or smaller bags) and they will usually discount for ordering in larger quantities. 
I'm always keeping my eye out for these grains during other times of the year (even after I've bought what I need). Once I found spelt at Walmart in 6 gallon buckets for nearly half the price of anywhere else I had seen. Unfortunately I think it was a close-out sale and I haven't seen it there since. But if you keep your eyes out you'll find great deals and can save quite a bit of money on buying grains.

Storing Whole Grains
Most grains (with a few exceptions like brown rice) have a extremely long shelf life. As in at least 25 years, and some have been proven to still germinate even after hundreds of years. That's one of the amazing properties of grains. You do need to store the grains properly in order to ensure that they will store well for a long time.

Heat, air, moisture, insects, and rodents are the enemies to whole grains. Heat increases spoilage and decreases health benefits of grains by killing their germination properties. Moisture allows for mold and bacteria to grow, which can lead to spoilage and illness. Insects and rodents eat and destroy grain (not to mention they are just disgusting).  By selecting your storage containers and conditions carefully and rotating the grains you store properly, you can ensure that those enemies will be defeated and your grain will store for a long time.
  • Storage Containers - Make sure the containers you use to store grains in are airtight with tight-fitting lids or closures. Also the containers should be rodent proof, meaning they can't be bitten through. I use 5-gallon hard plastic food grade buckets for all of my long-term grain storage. Make sure the buckets are food grade and have not been previously used to store anything toxic. 
  • Storage Conditions - Ideally grain should be stored in a low temperature (40-70 degrees or less), low humidity environment, that is out of direct sunlight. We store our grains in the non-heated side of our basement. The garage or attic would not be a good place to store grain as the temperature fluctuates too much and would cause the grain to spoil quicker. Store buckets off of the floor, especially concrete. Concrete can wick moisture to the containers very easily or leech chemicals (even through buckets) into stored foods. I try to by my grain from good sources where I can be sure they are cleaned and generally insect free. But as an extra precaution, I always add oxygen absorbers to each five gallon bucket before I seal it. Each oxygen absorber (300 cc) will absorb the oxygen up to 1 gallon, which will kill the insects and larvae living in that space. I use 5 oxygen absorbers (300-cc/each) for each 5 gallon bucket. I buy my oxygen absorbers here. After opening the oxygen absorber package, I quickly transfer the absorbers to the buckets that I am sealing, lock the lids tightly, and then put the remainer in a 1/2 gallon airtight mason jar and seal it with a new lid. You have to work quickly because the absorbers start absorbing oxygen immediately and will only absorb a limited amount before they stop working. You want to make sure you will still have absorbency left in the absorbers when you later place them in the five gallon buckets. If you are interested, there are some other methods I found to help control insects here. They are interesting to learn about, but I always use the absorbers because of how easy and effective they are.
  • Storage Rotation - Making sure you are using the grains you store on a regular basis, will ensure that they will be the freshest and least likely to spoil. I label each bucket with what is inside as well as the date it was sealed. Then I store the buckets on heavy duty shelves, with the oldest used first. I use buckets with these gamma seal lids with the oldest grains that I am currently using to fill my pantry. They are more expensive then the regular bucket lids, but they make it easy to rotate and use the grains. When the bucket I am using becomes empty, I open the next oldest bucket and pour it into my gamma-lid bucket to use. Then I keep the empty buckets (still labeled) to help me decide what I need to buy the next time I buy grain. These buckets can then be refilled, add new oxygen absorbers and then re-sealed. You may eventually need to replace the lids if they become compromised or not fit tightly any more. 
Finally I'll share a few products that I use in storing whole grains. These are affiliated Amazon links and I do receive a small profit if you click and buy from here, but please still do your research as it may not be your best price, value, or option.

Now it's your turn for questions or comments. Where do you buy whole grains? Do you have any tips or ideas to share on buying or storing grains? Or questions? I'd love to hear them.

Happy Frugal Friday. Have a great weekend!

    Tuesday, November 4, 2014

    Orange Julius {With Kefir}

    Temperatures are cooling and the sick season is upon us. I've been trying to be vigilant about giving myself and my kids kefir every day to help them fight off the germs that they are surrounded with. This is one of our favorite ways to get our daily dose of kefir.

    This Orange Julius is so easy to make and so yummy. We love to have it for breakfast, but it works with any meal or as a snack. The Orange Julius in my pictures might look a little more frozen then yours will turn out if you follow my recipe. I actually made it for my kids for breakfast that morning and didn't have time to snap any pictures so I stuck it in the freezer for about a half hour before I took the pictures. It crystallized just a little and turned out really yummy. Kind of like a frosty.

    If you don't have kefir milk and still want to make this recipe, you can substitute regular milk. It will work great. Make sure you read up on kefir though. It's really good for you. We use the kefir to make sure we get all the wonderful probiotics (especially this time of year) that our bodies need.

    Orange Julius {With Kefir}
    Printable Recipe

    *Makes 4 servings

    2 Cups kefir milk
    1 Cup orange juice (freshly squeezed is really yummy, but any kind will work great)
    1/2 tsp. vanilla
    1/4 Cup honey
    2 Cup ice cubes

    Combine kefir milk, orange juice, vanilla and honey in blender and blend for about a minute until honey is dissolved. Add ice cubes and blend until frothy. Serve immediately.

    Recipe Source: healthyfamilycookin.blogspot.com

    Monday, November 3, 2014

    Hard Things {A Personal Success}

    Once again it has been a busy couple of weeks. My husband and I ran a half marathon (13.1 miles) a few weeks ago. It was an awesome experience. I never intended to be a runner. I still don't really consider myself one. But I wanted to set a fitness goal that would be a challenge and push me to a new level. I trained for 12 weeks, running 5 days a week. On Saturdays, my husband and I would run the longer runs together. Our kids supported us by coming with us on many of those Saturday runs. They rode their bikes and we ran. It was hard, but I'm so glad we did it. It was worth it. Here's a picture of us at the finish line:

    I'm sharing this with you because I want you to see that if you are determined, YOU CAN DO HARD THINGS too. You can make changes in your life. You can set goals and achieve those goals. You can create a healthier person and encourage your family in being healthier as well.

    There are so many things in life that we don't have control of. Life gives us challenges. But it's empowering to take control of the things we CAN control and make our lives better in those areas.

    November is a month full of gratitude for me. Today I'm especially thankful for family - my husband and children, my parents, siblings and all those wonderful people that belong to me. I'm thankful also for my God and a beautiful world He has created for me to enjoy.

    Tuesday, October 28, 2014

    Traditional Fresh Mexican Chile Rellanos

    We harvested the peppers from the garden a few weeks ago and I went on the lookout for a simple recipe to use our peppers in. I found this recipe over at My Humble Kitchen and it looked really good. I decided to roast my own tomatoes rather than using the canned variety (since I've got only a million of them around here...) and made a few other minor adaptations to the recipe. It was a big winner.  Next time I make this (hopefully very soon) I'm going to make this Cilantro lime brown rice to go with it.

    Traditional Fresh Mexican Chile Rellanos
    Printable Recipe

    *Serves 4

    4 Large sweet bell peppers (red, yellow, or orange would be my preference) or Poblano peppers
    7 small/medium ripe tomatoes
    2 Cups shredded cheddar cheese
    1 Cup shredded mozzarella cheese
    2 eggs (fresh are best)
    Coarse sea salt
    extra virgin olive oil
    Salt, freshly ground pepper to taste
    Sour Cream/Avocado, for serving, if desired

    Wash the tomatoes and peppers. Place tomatoes aside. Place peppers on a baking dish and broil 5-8 minutes per side or until blackened and charred. The second side will take less time than the first. Once done, cover peppers with a damp cloth in a dish until cooled.

    Meanwhile prepare tomatoes by slicing in half and placing on a baking dish. Sprinkle with salt and freshly ground pepper. Broil tomatoes 3-5 minutes per side or until skins barely begin to char. Again the second side will be quicker. Watch them closely so they do not over cook. Once the tomatoes are done, take them from the oven. Remove their skins, they should peel away easily. With a sharp knife, gently dice the tomatoes and place in a saucepan. Heat until warm and add salt and pepper to taste.

    Separate the egg yolks from the whites and place the whites in a small bowl. By hand or using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites on high speed until stiff peaks form. In a separated bowl, whisk the egg yolks until light and frothy. Gently fold in the egg yolks into the egg whites until just incorporated. Do not overmix.

    Heat 1/2" of extra virgin olive oil in a large skillet or cast iron pan.

    Once the peppers have cooled, cut the tops off and remove their skins and seeds. Stuff them with a cheese mixture of both cheddar and mozzarella. Gently lift them and coat them with the egg mixture, giving them a good coating. When olive oil is hot, fry the peppers in the oil until golden brown on both sides, about 3-4 minutes per side. Set aside and sprinkle with coarse sea salt.

    Serve the Chile Rellanos on a bed of diced tomatoes, garnished with sour cream and avocado, if desired. This cilantro lime brown rice would be a delicious side dish.

    Recipe Source: Adapted from a recipe found at My Humble Kitchen

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