Monday, March 31

Cast Iron Skillet Recipes

I recently purchased a 10" deep dish cast iron enamel skillet.  Since then, I've discovered what a pleasure it is to cook with!  I don't know how I've lived without all these years. 

Along with using the skillet for regular cooking, I've also been busy scouring the internet for all sorts of recipes to test.  I decided to take one for the team and try this awesome-looking skillet cookie:
The recipe can be found on The Cutting Edge of Ordinary.  I will say that the cookie itself was delicious, but I baked it according to the instructions and it ended up too done.  For me, I will bake it for probably 30-35 minutes instead of the suggested 45 minutes according to the recipe, but I WILL be making this again.  Oh yes.  I highly recommend this cookie for you and 11 of your closest friends--it does make a very large cookie!

The next recipe was from The Pioneer Woman.  I really do love her recipes, and was very eager to try these when I saw it: Buttered Rosemary Rolls.
I used regular-sized Rhode's frozen dinner rolls, and in this 10" skillet, I managed to fit 9 rolls in the pan easily.  I also used oregano and Parmesan instead of rosemary, but don't tell Ree.  Everything else was the same, I promise!
I baked these at 350 degrees for 14 minutes, and these were fantastic!  They were light and fluffy, with just the perfect amount of color all around the bottom and sides.  My hubby raved about these.

I'm also eager to try making a skillet pizza, I just haven't had time yet.  I've fallen in love with using the cast-iron skillet for everything!

I think this is why I've gained a pound and a half since I got this pan.  Sooooo worth it!

Sunday, March 23

Spring Basket/Easter Basket Craft

In honor of March being National Craft Month, I have a craft to share!

I have a thing for glitter.  I love it.  You might have guessed that from the numerous craft posts that I've done with glitter as a main "ingredient".  I think that glitter makes everything better and more beautiful.  Have an old pair of shoes that just don't look good?  Put glitter on them!  Suddenly you're Dorothy and have just landed in Oz.  Did you get an F on your most recent school assignment?  Cover it with glitter and stick it proudly on the fridge!  Everyone will be so impressed.
My hubby, however, does not like glitter.  Whenever he sees my glitter box or glitter containers out, a look of fear washes over his face, and the utterance of "oh, no" may escape from his lips.  He knows that when I get the glitter out, he will find it EVERYWHERE.  Despite my best attempts to contain the bio-hazardous material, he will eventually find a fleck or two smack-dab in the center of his forehead, but only after he has had a super-important meeting with someone at work. 

What has this to do with a project?  Well, in an attempt to get myself out of the winter doldrums and into the spring spirit, I bought some supplies to make a spring-themed basket: a pretty blue wire basket, some green moss, some wide ribbon, and two packages of wooden eggs.  Do you see where I'm going with this?  You got it--a sparkly springtime egg basket!

Since we don't do Easter bunny stuff (because 1: we don't have kids, and 2: even if we did, we probably wouldn't do Easter bunny stuff), I'm calling this a spring egg basket, which can sit out as a decoration until the temps outside finally warm up--which might not be until July, so I figure that I'll get plenty of use out of this cute little basket.

First, gather your supplies:

  • Wooden Eggs (Hobby Lobby, $4/pk of 4, or less if they're on sale or you have a coupon)--these should be in the woodworking aisle/section
  • Basket of your choice
  • Moss (I found mine in the floral section)
  • Decorative ribbon of your choice
  • All-purpose glue
  • Glitter colors of your choice (spring colors are nice!)
  • Paint brush
  • Acrylic sealer (always a good idea to help with glitter flaking, although some glitter will come off regardless)
  • Paper plate, newspaper, etc. to protect your surfaces and collect extra glitter

Next, prepare your basket:

I laced my ribbon through the openings on the side of the basket.  If you can't do that, you can opt to either just tie it around the bottom, wind it around the handle, make a big bow, etc.  Do what looks good to you!
I only laced the ribbon through two spokes in the back of the basket to keep it in place.
Tie a big pretty bow and trim the ribbon to your desired length.

Fill the basket with moss:

Then, the glitter!
Paint the eggs with the all-purpose glue and sprinkle on the glitter, making sure to not leave any bare spots.  It might take a few applications.  Allow to dry.

I held the eggs with my finger at the top and thumb on the bottom, and turned it as I painted on the glue.  I let them dry and then went back and painted the egg's top and bottom, holding it gently in the middle.

If it's warm enough, take the eggs outside and spray them with the acrylic sealer.  Allow the sealer to dry overnight in a well-ventilated area.  If it's not warm enough where you live yet, just wait until it is.  The glitter will be fine until then, as long as the eggs are not handled much.


Because I had some of the supplies for this, like the glitter, glue, and acrylic sealer, this project cost me well under $25 for the remaining supplies.  This is a pretty family/kid-friendly project, and you can keep the eggs forever as keepsakes, as opposed to real eggs that get peeled and eaten.  If you don't want the mess of glitter, though, just use regular acrylic paints and let the kids decorate them that way!

Friday, March 21

Homemade Tagalongs--Better Than The Real Thing!

Girl Scout cookie season is always a highlight of the winter.  What a better way to drown your sorrows as you look out the window at yet another winter storm?  So when I came across this recipe on Pinterest, I knew I was bound to try them someday...soon.

When I got up this morning, the first official full day of spring, snow was falling again and covering the ground.  I thought to myself, "self, let's do some fun stuff today!"  Hence, homemade Tagalongs!

The ingredients and instructions are easy enough--chances are you already have everything you need to make them.  Get a box of Nilla wafers, your favorite kind of peanut butter, chocolate of your choice (I used both semi-sweet and milk chocolate), and some shortening.
I finally broke open my brother-in-law's Christmas gift to me--a 5 lb. bar of Hershey's chocolate. 

Lay out your wafer cookies on a cookie sheet or cooling rack lined with parchment paper.  Spread about 1 tsp, give or take, of peanut butter on top of each cookie.  If you like peanut butter, use a little more!  Then, in a microwaveable bowl, put chocolate along with a small amount of shortening (about half a teaspoon) and microwave at 20 second intervals until everything is smooth and melted.  Let it cool down a bit so that you don't melt the peanut butter.  Get a fork and spoon.

Set your cookie in the chocolate, and with the spoon, coat the cookie with chocolate, making sure not to miss any spots.  Now, with your fork, carefully lift the cookie out and tap the fork on the side of the bowl to help the excess chocolate drip off.  Set the coated cookie back on the parchment-lined tray.  Continue in this fashion until all cookies are coated, then move the tray to the fridge to allow the chocolate to harden and cool the rest of the way.  Leave them in for at least a half an hour.  I know, it's hard to wait that long, but it's worth it!

In my opinion, these are even better than the Tagalongs from the Girl Scouts (sorry, girls).  They're also quite a bit cheaper!  Boxes of GS cookies are selling around here for $4/box, and I bought a whole box of Nilla wafers for something like $1.50 (sale and coupon), and I already had peanut butter and chocolate.  Just think of how much you've saved your family by making these, instead of buying them! :)

To see the original post and recipe for these, please click here: Back for Seconds blog

Tuesday, March 18

Oh, Deer...!

We've been busy lately.  The hubs has been very busy at work, and the stress was starting to catch up with him, and I've been feeling like all I do is play catch-up.  We had another snowstorm last week, which did little to lift our spirits.  So on Saturday, with sunshine and warmer temps, we decided to have a fun day.

We had a visit from five does in the church yard behind our house, which was very neat and unexpected; I can't remember ever seeing deer behind our current house.  We stood in the house and watched them as they nervously looked up and down the road, and I was even able to step out on our back stoop and take a few pictures before they decided to clear out.  That was a great way to start the day!  I love nature (well, except for the bugs).

We decided to head up to Toledo to do some shopping.  We had both been thinking, without telling the other, that we'd wanted to go up there, specifically to the Williams-Sonoma store, so when I mentioned that I'd like to go, we had a laugh about that.  We really do think alike after nearly ten years of marriage!

We spent a pleasant day shopping, and found some great buys: candles on sale from Yankee Candle, a half-priced scarf for the hubs from Dick's, a bottle of butter-infused olive oil from a new olive oil company Bumble, and a new utensil crock that was almost half off at Pottery Barn. 

But my most prized purchase from our trip was my first piece of Le Creuset--a small grill for our stove.  It's in the color Ocean, and I absolutely love it (it's much more blue-green than the color sample in the link above).  We have a ceramic/glass cooktop stove, and I was always under the impression that cast iron could not be used on its surface, but the enamel-coated cast iron is just fine to use, it turns out!  We fixed a delicious sirloin steak on it Sunday night, and were even more pleased with our purchase.  I'd love to get more pieces for baking and cooking.
We had such a fun time just being out in the sunshine and warmer weather, and being able to spend the day together doing things that we enjoyed.  We realized that we were just worn down and needed a day to have fun and decompress, and it was a welcome opportunity to get out of the house and have fun.  And I love my new piece of cookware!  It does a great job for indoor grilling; my only complaint is that grease splatters everywhere.  But the food tastes great!

Tuesday, March 11

Cheesy Tostada Recipe--A Simple Dinner

One of the recipes we really enjoyed on the 21-Day Tummy diet was the simple cheesy tostadas.  They went together so quickly and easily that I wondered if I could just eat these every night during our final week!  But we didn't.  Since they were so tasty and simple, though, I thought I'd share the recipe!

Cheesy Tostadas, makes 5 (adapted from the Reader's Digest 21-DayTummy)
1 lb lean ground hamburger (you can also use ground chicken)
5 6" soft corn tortillas (you can use gluten-free corn tortillas)
1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes, drained of juice
1 C shredded cheddar cheese
1-2 tbsp olive oil (for brushing)
Chili powder

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Lightly brush both sides of the tortillas with olive oil.  Bake in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, then flip and bake for another 4-5 minutes, watching closely to make sure they don't burn.  Remove from the oven.

While the tortillas are baking, brown the hamburger, draining off any excess fat.  Salt and pepper to taste.

Drain the tomatoes in a colander.  Add the tomatoes to the hamburger and heat everything through.  Add chili powder and cumin to taste.

Scoop the hamburger & tomatoes onto the tortillas.  Top with cheese.  Serve immediately.

A tip: In the picture above, I tried crisping the tortillas, then adding the hamburger and tomatoes and popping them back in the oven to melt the cheese, but it made the tortillas soggy and stale.  I don't recommend putting them back in the oven after you've already baked the tortillas.  Your hamburger and tomatoes should be hot enough to melt (or partially melt) the cheese when you add it to the top.  

Sunday, March 9

Inflammation Diet, Phase 3: We're Done!

Aaaaaaah, finally-- we finished the last phase of this plan!  These have been a hard three weeks.  But happily, we were able to introduce more types of food back into our diets during this past week, so that helped greatly with variety.  However, I'm very much looking forward to our cheat day today!  It's been three weeks since I've seen the inside of a restaurant, and I'm going to really enjoy it.

Cheesy tostadas--these were good!  I'll post the recipe soon.
Before I go on, a huge thank you needs to go out to my husband for all of the help he offered in
making dinner, doing dishes, and prepping for upcoming meals and snacks during this.  There wasn't enough time in the day to do it all on my own, and I'm extremely grateful to him for all of his assistance, assurance, and encouragement.

Since this is the end of the actual plan, here is my summary of pros and cons that I've found:

What I liked about this diet:
  • Relatively short-term (although it didn't feel like it)
  • Results were easily seen and measured
  • It did help with the inflammation and irritation (especially after I quit eating/drinking all of the dairy in the plan)
  • Some revelation about possible causes/triggers of inflammation
  • Some recipes were tasty, with some simple alterations (that fell within the guidelines of the plan)
What I didn't like about this diet:
  • Not an easy change
  • So much dairy!
  • Did not relieve all of my inflammation symptoms (still experienced symptoms, but they were decreased some in intensity)
  • Hard to adjust to not using any sort of seasonings other than salt and pepper, which led to
  • Bland recipes
  • Recipes that weren't quite right in terms of quantities of ingredients or total number of servings
  • A LOT of work in the kitchen!
  • Searching for some of the ingredients in the recipes got a little frustrating
  • I wouldn't consider this a sustainable way of eating long-term
Our total weight loss was 11 pounds for me and 3" off of my waist, and 12 pounds for my husband (he never did any measurements).  My goal was to lose 15 pounds during this diet, but even I realize that's quite a bit of weight to lose in three weeks.  Plus, I wasn't incorporating the exercises and treadmill workouts during the diet plan, because I just did not have time.  Also, the third week/phase is called "maintenance", which indicates that the meal plans during this time are not meant for rapid weight loss.  We plan to continue our healthier eating and weight loss in the weeks to come, and will be able to incorporate exercise from here on out.  I do have a target weight goal that I would like to reach by summer, and it will be nice to have a little more flexibility in our diets now.  Overall, I would recommend this plan for anyone wanting to lose weight, or, like us, wanting kick-start their weight loss and be encouraged.  I wouldn't say that this is a long-term lifestyle change plan, although for the right person, I suppose it could be.  Apparently, I am not that person!

I should probably mention that I wasn't doing this diet as an endorsement for the book or as a promotion for anyone or any company.  We just decided to do it on our own, and thought that our experience with it might help others who are considering this diet plan.

Saturday, March 1

Phase 2: Almost Complete

Well, we're almost finished with the Phase 2 now.  I don't think it's gotten easier for me, though.  I feel like I spend much of my free time in the kitchen--cooking, then cleaning up, then prepping for the next day.  My husband is determined to see this through, and his commitment is about the only thing that keeps me motivated.  I have to commend him for his seemingly iron willpower.

Zucchini Surprise
We've tried a few more meals, and they aren't bad.  We tried a tuna romanesco, which is a tuna steak with a flavorful red sauce, and an eggplant dish minus the eggplant (the eggplant spoiled in the fridge, and I didn't really want to buy any more) that we've renamed Zucchini Surprise.  I just cut up some zucchini and threw it in the pan to sub for the eggplant that should have been there, and it was pretty tasty!  We also tried the shepherd's pie, which we altered to taste, and our version was very tasty!  Both the Zucchini Surprise and the shepherd's pie might be something that stays in our regular dinner rotation after the three weeks.

We've also tried the mini quiche recipe, which are okay, but nothing to write home about, and along with the bran pancakes, we have breakfast covered.  I discovered that a tablespoon of natural peanut butter on top of the pancakes greatly improves them.  Still, having the oat bran pancakes and the mini quiches are so much better than trying to down a smoothie every morning!  It's been several days since the last smoothie or cheese items, and I've seen some improvement in my symptoms.  I'm guessing that such a large amount of dairy was too much for my system, but I think smaller amounts will probably still be okay.  It might not hurt me to pick up some lactase tablets, though.  I just think that my system is less tolerant of dairy now, and I'm sure it will continue to tolerate it less and less as I age.
I learned the hard way--do not make these using cupcake liners!!  We ended up throwing the whole pan out because we couldn't peel the muffins out of the liners.

I still feel frequently hungry.  I hate that.  But, I'm still adjusting to a new way of eating and a new lifestyle, so patience is necessary.  I still have not had a chance to try out the exercises in the back yet.  I do plan on starting a workout routine soon--when I'm not spending hours in the kitchen!

Weight loss update:
I have lost 9.5 pounds now, and my hubby has lost 10.5 pounds.  I'm more encouraged with these numbers!