Ham Hocks and Beans

  
Just because I can see the sun doesn’t mean I can feel it.  It’s that time of year!  Well, if it can’t be warm and toasty outside, I can get warm and toasty inside.

This is the kind of soup/stew that puts a fire in your belly.  Not the kind that has you reaching for the Tums, but the kind that warms from your belly to your toes.  The kind that makes me want to sit back, sigh with contentment, and get out a good book.  Or, more realistically, gives me the energy to chase around two toddlers.  

Wishing you warmth and a full belly!

Ham Hocks and Beans

  • 1 lb pinto beans, rinsed well and picked over
  • 2 Tbsp oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 3 stalks celery, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (I used red)
  • 2 jalapeños, cut in half lengthwise 
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • Chicken stock (or water)
  • 3 smoked ham hocks
  • 1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Place rinsed beans in a large bowl or pot and fill with water until it’s about 1 inch above the beans.  Let sit at least overnight.
  2. The next day, drain the beans and set aside.
  3. Add oil, onion, celery, and peppers to a large pot and cook, stirring often, until veggies are translucent (about 5 mins).  Add cumin, baking soda, and enough chicken stock to cover the beans by about an inch.  Nestle in the ham hocks, and bring to a low simmer. 
  4. Cook low and slow, stirring every so often, until beans are soft.  This will take a couple of hours, so add chicken stock as needed.
  5. Once beans are soft, discard jalapeños, and set ham hocks to the side to cool.  Stir in tomatoes and shredded carrot.
  6. Once cool enough to handle, remove meat from the ham hocks and return the meat to the pot.  Cook an additional 10 minutes or until the carrot is soft.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Enjoy with a glass of wine and a good crusty bread.  Cheers!

The Secret to Awesome Grilled Cheese

  
Really- who doesn’t love a good grilled cheese sandwich? If you know someone, you should disown them.  You don’t need that kind of negativity in your life!  

This isn’t a recipe, really.  But it is a method.  A delicious, crispy, melty method.  One that takes a good grilled sandwich and makes it awesome.  

Hope you love this method as much as we do!

The Method

1. Gather ingredients.  Good bread, real butter, and your favorite melty cheese- cheddar, Swiss, Gouda, whatever.  And… Grated Parmesan. Not the stuff from the green can.  The GOOD stuff.

2. You know the drill- butter bread, put cheese between the two slices (butter side out) and grill until golden.  BUT WAIT! Before you put the butter side to the pan, sprinkle it with 1/2 to 1 tsp grated Parmesan. Grill slow and low until golden brown outside and melty inside.

3.  Please let it cool a bit before biting into your awesome grilled cheese.  Burned taste buds are duds!

Taco tip

  
Talk about a short post!  When making hard-shelled tacos, you don’t need a fancy plate or those flat bottomed shells.  All you need is a clip.  We have tacos just about every week because they’re so quick and easy.  Enjoy!

Caramel Apple Salad

  
This is a whole bowl of YUM!  Seriously, what’s better in the fall than a caramel apple?  When you’re finally sick of all the pumpkin stuff…

Plus, this salad has candy in it.  It’s a CANDY salad.  What the wha???

Caramel Apple Salad

  • 5-6 apples, cored, peeled and chopped (I used a combo of Granny Smith and gala)
  • 1 bag fun size snickers bars (about 25 fun sized bars, cut into quarters) – could also use Milky Way if you’re avoiding peanuts
  • 1 container cool whip
  • Caramel ice cream topping
  • 1/2 cup Chopped peanuts (optional)
  1. Place chopped apples, chopped candy bars, and cool whip in a large bowl.  Mix well.
  2. Drizzle with caramel sauce and top with nuts.  

Enjoy!  

Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

PumpkinOatmealBreakfastBars

It’s that time of year – the weather is starting to cool down (then warms up again just when you think it’s time to pull out the sweaters).  Around this time of year, I start thinking, dreaming, of the leaves turning.  I joyfully browse the Oriental Trading Co. catalog for Halloween goodies, and get excited to see pumpkin everything!

Yes, I am one of those people who could drink a PSL (pumpkin spice latte) year round, but don’t.  Because that is something to look forward to.  Fall is my favorite season.  I love making warm soup, baking fresh bread, and experimenting with fall recipes.

I ran across a recipe from Modern Parents Messy Kids for Super Powered Oatmeal Bars.  While my kids can down an entire banana in about 30 seconds (which is pretty impressive when you only have 7 teeth), I am not much of a banana fan.  So, I decided to modify the recipe to replace bananas with pumpkin.  I also added pumpkin pie spice, a drizzle of molasses, and chocolate.  Well, pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are one of the BEST.  And breakfast can’t be too healthy all the time.  Plus, chocolate comes from a bean so its basically a vegetable anyway.  Right?

The bars made from this recipe are dense, soft and chewy.  Plus, they really fill you up, and you can eat them on the go!

Hope you are looking forward to the fall season.  :)

Pumpkin Oatmeal Breakfast Bars

  • 1 large can (29 oz.) pumpkin puree (NOT pumpkin pie mix)
  • 3 cups milk
  • 2 Tbsp almond butter
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • pinch salt
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 2 Tbsp molasses
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 cup raisins or craisins
  • 3 cups rolled oats
  • 2 cups steel cut oats
  • 1/2 cup flax seeds, ground
  • 1/2 cup chia seeds
  • 2 cups chocolate chips (optional)
  • 2 cups pecans (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.  Line 2 – 9″x13″ pans with parchment paper.  Set aside.
  2. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and stir until well mixed.
  3. Divide mixture in half, and place half in each pan.  Smooth into an even layer with a rubber spatula.
  4. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until the middle is done (check with a toothpick to make sure it isn’t too goopy).
  5. Lift the bars out by the parchment, and let cool completely.  Cut each  pan into 18-20 bars.  Wrap each in plastic wrap, then in a ziptop freezer bag, and freeze, if desired.

Super Simple Fruit Leather

fruit leather

Summer is winding down and fall is right around the corner.  I cannot wait for the pumpkin spice lattes to start flowing in about a week!  I don’t know about you, but this is also the time of year that the overabundance of gardens start to show up at work.  You know – zucchinis showing up in your car if you leave your window open while running in to the grocery store, tomatoes and cucumbers left in the breakroom, peaches and pears at their peak flavor.  Well, if you have an abundance, what can you do with it that doesn’t involve too much work?  Fruit leather, my friends!

I was a little sneaky and made Fruit (and veggie) Leather for my kids.  They didn’t even know.  Not that they would complain – they can only say about 8 words each. 😉

The recipe here is more of a guideline than a strict recipe.  You could add any combo of veggies and/or fruit you want!  But there are a few key points to remember:

  • I ALWAYS bring my mixture to a boil before drying.  Better to kill any stray bacteria you can.  Die, buggies, DIE!!
  • Dry until the leather is no longer sticky to the touch.  That means enough water has evaporated, and no water means less of a chance of spoilage.
  • Technically, you could store the stuff at room temp, tightly wrapped, for a couple of weeks.  I like to store mine in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped.

What can you do with fruit leather other than eat it straight up?  Cut it up and put it in your oatmeal, your favorite trail mix, homemade granola, add it to cookies and cakes, etc.  Or you could soak it in a little hot water until it dissolves for baby food.  Or so all the dehydrating books say…

Super Simple Fruit Leather

  • 5 cups fruit/veggie puree – peel fruit like peaches, pears, and apples
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/3 – 1/2 cup sugar (depending on sweetness of your fruit/veggie puree)
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon (optional)
  • Cooking spray
  1. Place puree, sugar, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a saucepan on the stove.  Bring to a low boil, and let boil gently for about 5 minutes.
  2. Place parchment paper on cookie sheets or extra wide plastic wrap over your food dehydrator tray.  Be sure not to block the airflow around the tray with plastic wrap.
  3. Spray the parchment paper or plastic wrap with cooking spray.
  4. Ladle the puree onto the prepared trays.  It should be about 1/4 inch thick on each tray and should fill about 2 trays.
  5. Place in a 130°F oven or food dehydrator set at 145°F.  WALK AWAY.
  6. Allow to cook/dry for 8-12 hours, or until no longer sticky.
  7. Gently lift the parchment paper or plastic wrap off the cookie sheet/tray.
  8. Cut into strips or shapes with kitchen shears – wrap each piece well with plastic wrap.
  9. Store in an airtight container at room temp or in the fridge.

I made 3 different combinations this weekend:

  • 2 cups pureed cooked carrots and 3 cups pureed peaches
  • 1 cup plums, 2 cups nectarines, and 2 cups peaches
  • 1 cup blueberries, 4 cups grapes

No Bake Lemon Berry Cheesecake Bars

While perusing the internet about a month ago, I saw a recipe for a lemon blueberry cheesecake.  It looked SO GOOD.  But when I looked up the recipe, it was too complicated for me.  Plus, I hate turning on the oven when it’s hot outside.  So, I looked around the grocery store, and came up with a pretty good recipe.  So good, I forgot to take a picture before it was all gone.  Whoops!  Hope you love this cool, creamy and tangy dessert as much as we did!

No Bake Lemon Berry Cheesecake Bars

  • 2 boxes Jello No Bake Cheesecake (11.1 oz. each)
  • Milk and Butter to make cheesecake (refer to instructions on the box)
  • 2 envelopes Crystal Light lemonade (the kind that are for a water bottle, not a pitcher)
  • 24-32 oz. frozen mixed berries
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  1. Prepare the crust (using both packages) according to the prep instructions on the box.  You should just have to dump the graham cracker crumbs into a large bowl, add some butter, and stir until the mixture resembles sand.  Dump into a 9″x13″ pan, and spread to an even layer, making sure to pack it down well with your hands.  Let cool.
  2. In a large bowl, combine both cheesecake mixes, the Crystal Light lemonade pouches, and the milk required on the Cheesecake box.  Mix as directed.  Pour over crust, using a rubber spatula to smooth out the top.
  3. Place berries, honey, and lemon juice in a medium sauce pan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, and simmer 5-10 minutes.  Mash berries slightly with a potato masher.  Let cool.
  4. Pour berry mixture over the cheesecake layer, and refrigerate at least 4 hours (overnight is better).
  5. Cut into bars and serve with whip cream on top, if you want.  Yummy stuff!  Hope you enjoy.