Friday Favorites: Campfire Cooking

“Friday Favorites” features my favorite great ideas/recipes/etc., from across the giant world wide webs.

Campfire cooking

The Guy, Kiddo and I are headed for our first camping trip of the year on Father’s Day weekend, and I am already so excited. We took our first camping trip together as a family last summer, in a borrowed tent and with borrowed equipment. It brought back a lot of memories of summer camping trips when I was growing up, particularly our first trip, when my parents were brand new to camping. Thankfully, the trip last summer was a bit less eventful than that first childhood trip–no invading raccoons and only a slightly leaky tent. Those moments do make for a lot of laughs later, though.


While I picked up quite a few camping tricks watching my parents learn how to navigate outdoor living, this was the first camping trip I had taken since college, and the first where there wasn’t another adult “in charge.” It was just the Guy and I together, figuring everything out. We had to make sure we could get the tent up in one piece, come up with something edible for the Kiddo to eat, and make sure no one came home with poison ivy, covered head to toe in mosquito bites or sunburnt to a crisp. Oh yeah, and ward off those nasty raccoons. Turns out, we survived okay.

The upcoming trip will be to Kitty Hawk, so I’m particularly excited, since it will be my first camping trip ever to the coast. This time, we’ll be using a brand-new three-room tent we got for a wedding present, along with various other new gear (yeah, instead of registering for towels and china, we went with camping stuff). And, OCD planner that I am, I am already working out our meals and figuring out how to make them low-fuss, healthy and absolutely delicious. We just picked up a camp stove this week, so that will make things a lot easier, since we won’t have to get a fire or charcoals going for every hot meal. We had some wet weather on our last trip, so getting a fire going was a bit of issue.


One of the easiest ways to camp cook is with tin foil packets. Throw in some meat, veggies and seasoning, wrap it all up, and stick it in the coals until it’s done. Searching for inspiration online, I found amazing variety, with options for breakfast, main courses and dessert. I’m sure we’ll have our staple “hobo meatloaf” one night of our trip (mix up ground beef, canned potatoes and carrots, diced onion and a little salt and pepper–amazingly delicious), but we’ll have to give a few of my new finds a go to. This year, I’m going to prep my packets ahead of time and freeze them, so they’re all ready to go and we don’t have to take “food prep time” out of our “fun activity time.”

If you’re planning a camping trip or two over summer break, here are a few good resources for camp cooking. The Art of Manliness has some great tin foil packet recipes, and a very nice tutorial with tips and tricks for this cooking method. Six Sisters’ Stuff offers a collection of 25 camping recipes, with a lot of kid-friendly options. Many are foil packets, but they also take advantage of a dutch oven and some other creative camp cooking techniques.

If you’re on Pinterest, this is another great place to look for inspiration, and I’d highly recommend checking out this camping and tin foil dinners board. There’s an awesome tip on here for freezing pancake batter in a gallon Ziploc bag, thawing it out overnight, then piping the batter straight onto the griddle for easy campground flapjacks.

And, while “Friday Favorites” generally points you to resources across the web, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention one of my family’s favorite camping recipes from my childhood–campfire stew. This one’s easy, because almost everything comes out of a can, and truthfully, there’s not a hard and fast recipe for it. You just throw together a can of tomato sauce, beef broth, an assortment of your favorite canned veggies, some kind of meat (ground beef, which you can pre-cook at home and freeze for simplicity, or you can used canned chicken or ground beef) in a large stock pot and let it simmer over the fire. Even canned everything tastes great with a little smoke and “outdoors” flavor!

Happy trails…and happy eating!

 

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The Secret to Perfect Hard-Boiled Eggs

One of my favorite parts of Thanksgiving dinners with my family when I was growing up was eating countless deviled eggs. My grandma made the best deviled eggs EVER. Seriously. Like there is no competition. I have never had another deviled egg that even comes close to touching hers (not counting what I make now using her recipe). We use to swipe an egg half from the dish as we walked by, while we waited not so patiently for the turkey and trimmings to be ready. And then we’d pile our plate with them at dinner. And have more after dinner, while we languished on the couch watching football, even though we were already close to splitting open from all the food we’d eaten. Yeah, they’re that good. Maybe one day, in the far, far, far future, I will share her recipe on here. I don’t know though. They are so good, and so much better than any others I have ever had, that I hesitate to share them with the world. Then they might not be special anymore. Honestly, they’re so awesome, and such a family tradition, that I would have to get the blessing of my family before I would share it.


But that’s all a distraction from my main point. I loved eating her deviled eggs. What I hated was helping peel the eggs beforehand. Eventually, either my mom or grandma learned from a friend or reading it somewhere in a cooking magazine or something like that (oh those sad pre-Internet days), that if you used eggs that were at least a week old, the shells were much easier to peel. It made a huge difference, and it became not such a dreaded task. Unless you forgot to pick up enough eggs for Thanksgiving dinner (for my family that meant probably two dozen) at least a week ahead of time. Then it was murderous.

Luckily, I’ve found another secret to getting easy-to-peel hard-boiled eggs–just don’t boil them. Kind of defeats the purpose if you want deviled eggs, though right? Not really. You can get the same results by baking eggs, still in their shell. They’re significantly easier to peel, you don’t have to worry about the eggs cracking because you let them boil too vigorously, and they cook very nice and evenly–no green ring around the outside of the yolk from overcooking.

And it couldn’t be easier. Just pop them in the oven for 30 minutes at 325 degrees. You can place them directly on the oven rack or on a cookie sheet, but they’re a little hard to handle that way because of their tendency to roll around. Instead, I like to use a muffin pan and place one egg in each cup.

Hard-baked eggs

The one small downside to this method is discolors the eggs a bit, creating small brown spots on the shells. Sometimes you’ll notice the brown spots go through to the egg white, but it doesn’t affect the taste. If you’re making eggs to color at Easter, though, or are worried about the presentation of your deviled eggs, you might want to go with the old-fashioned method. But no fear–I can help you with that too!

As I mentioned before, to avoid peeling issues, if you must boil, don’t use super fresh eggs. To get perfectly cooked eggs (no runny or overcooked yolks), don’t boil them for the duration of the cooking time. Instead, heat the water just until it reaches a full boil, then immediately remove from heat and cover the pan. Leave your eggs in the hot water for about 20 minutes (timing is not as critical with this method). Since you won’t be boiling the eggs for more than a few seconds, there’s also less chance of cracked eggs. But, just in case, a spoonful of vinegar in the water before boiling will keep any cracked eggs from leaking out of their shells, so they’ll still be usable.

Hope these tips help you create some delicious deviled eggs–though they’ll never be as spectacular as my grandma’s. 🙂

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Friday Favorites: Apps to Organize

“Friday Favorites” features my favorite great ideas/recipes/etc., from across the giant world wide webs.

I finally upgraded my phone this week, to a Samsung Galaxy S3. I love high-tech gadgetry, but I’m not fond of the high-tech prices. Since the new version of this phone is launching, the S3 just dropped significantly in price, even though it’s not that old, and the new version doesn’t offer much in significant changes–perfect time to make the switch.

Needless to say, I’ve spent the last few nights piddling around on my phone–backing up everything on my old phone, activating the new one, restoring all the contacts, etc. And then there’s the whole process of getting the phone settings to your liking, downloading favorite apps, etc. While I have some set apps that I used regularly on my old phone and knew I had to re-download, I did a little exploring for other new apps I might love. I’d given up looking for new apps on my Droid Incredible, because it was having memory issues.

So here’s the app I think I’m going to get hooked on–Cozi. It’s a “family organizer,” and you set up one account for the whole family, with each person able to log in individually with their email address. There’s a shared calendar, with color codes for the person(s) involved in each given activity/appointment, a shopping list that anyone can add to, a to-do list (as the Guy said, it’s high tech nagging) and a family journal that lets you store pictures and memories from family activities, trips, etc. In other words, it’s awesome.


The app goes hand in hand with the Cozi website, which is a little more feature-rich. There’s a meal planner that integrates with the shopping list, a recipe box (hmmm….this might help with my recipe organization challenge) and additional calendar options, including syncing other internet calendars. This worked perfectly for me, because I could add the Kiddo’s Cub Scout pack calendar automatically (especially nice because they tend to change things up frequently). I may be addicted already.

One of my longtime favorite apps to stay organized is the Checkbook app by Digital Life Solutions. This is a standalone app (no integrated website) and fairly simple, but it works well and does exactly what you need it to do–helps you manage your checking accounts and avoid overdrawing. It’s not synced with your online bank accounts, so if that’s what you’re looking for, you need to go elsewhere. But that’s what I like about it–no security issues created by automatic log ins to financial accounts. It’s basically just an electronic version of the check register that comes with every box of new checkbooks.

My next mission in app organization is to find something that manages my bills. I want something very simple, similar to my Checkbook app, that just lists out the bills, due dates, amounts and paid status. Most of what I’ve found is more than I need, with cash flow analysis, synced log ins to account websites (no thank you!), etc. If you’ve got a great app for managing bills that you love, please feel free to share in the comments!

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Make Your Own: Perfect Cold Brew Iced Coffee

Cold Brew Iced Coffee
I don’t drink a pot of coffee a day like the Guy does, but I do need a cup of joe to get me started in the morning. And, unlike the Guy who can drink hot coffee all year long, when the weather warms up, my coffee has to cool down. Spring has been unseasonably late arriving this year, but it’s finally time to make the switch from hot coffee to iced.


I used to spend way too much money on coffee, because I was too lazy to brew my own just for my one solitary cup each morning. So I’d drop a buck and half every morning on a cup from Starbucks. As much as I love Starbucks, I also love saving money. So when I married the coffee-guzzling Guy and there was good reason to brew a whole pot each morning, I stopped sharing my money with Starbucks, except for the occasional treat of a caramel macchiato or a Frappucino on a hot day.

But in the summers, they were still getting my money on a consistent basis, because I just hadn’t had any luck making GOOD iced coffee at home. Late last summer, I finally found the secret: the cold brew method. It really couldn’t be easier, and it’s just as good as any iced coffee you’ll find at your local coffee house.

Brewing coffee with hot water speeds up the brewing process, but it creates a more acidic, bitter drink. For some reason, that’s more palatable when you’re drinking the coffee hot; if you take that same coffee and pour it over ice, it just doesn’t taste good. Cold brewing uses cool or room temperature water to steep the coffee grounds over a longer period of time–about 12 to 24 hours.

You can find specially designed cold brew coffee pots, but a good French press works fine. Coarse ground beans also work best. If you don’t have a French press, you can actually just use a Mason jar or pitcher and a paper coffee filter at the end of the brewing cycle–it’s just a little messier and more time consuming than the French press.

French press for cold brew coffee

Use about twice the coffee-to-water ratio that you would normally use to brew a hot pot of coffee, since you’ll be diluting the final product with ice–I use two tablespoons per cup of water. Spoon the grounds into your press or jar, then fill with water. Use a long ice tea spoon to stir the water and grounds together, since the grounds will just float on top and not steep otherwise. Cover with plastic wrap (if you’re using a French press, leave the lid and press off for now), and let set overnight at a minimum, up to a full day.

If you’re using a French press, filtering the coffee when it’s done brewing is easy–just put the lid on and slowly and smoothly press down on the plunger until the filter is at the bottom, then pour your filtered coffee into a new container–or directly into your waiting cup. If you’re not using a French press, you can manually use a coffee filter by holding it over another container, or pouring it through the filter basket of your coffee maker. I usually end up with a bit of a mess when I’ve tried this, so it’s really worth getting a French press. They are not terribly expensive, and it’s definitely worth a couple extra bucks to get a good one that doesn’t let extra grounds through.

 

French press for cold brew coffeeNow we’ll use your cold brew coffee to make a perfect cup of iced coffee. Cold brew coffee doesn’t require as much sweetening as hot coffee, since it’s less bitter to start with. But I do like to add a little something sweet, and sugar doesn’t dissolve well in cold water. You can always buy the expensive flavored syrups, but it’s very easy (and cheap!) to make your own simple syrup as a sweetener–just heat equal parts water and sugar slowly over the stove until all the sugar is dissolved. Let cool, then pour your syrup into a handy plastic squirt bottle (the kind you get for about a buck, right next to the refillable mustard and ketchup bottles in kitchen supplies), and you’re all set. If you really want gourmet flavors, you can make your own versions of those too, without too much more work–check out these recipes from Annie’s Eats.

Once you’ve got your sweetener (remember, it doesn’t take much), blend it together  with a bit of milk or cream, your cold brew coffee and plenty of fresh ice, and you’re set to conquer summer with a ready morning caffeine supply. Refrigerate any of the remaining coffee–it will keep nicely for several days.

 cold brew iced coffee

 

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Friday Favorites: Birthday Best

“Friday Favorites” features my favorite great ideas/recipes/etc., from across the giant world wide webs.

Today is the last day of the Guy’s 20s. I’d love to celebrate tomorrow by baking an amazing cake, decorated to the hilt with the new cake decorating tools he got me for my birthday last month. Unfortunately, I have a big work event tomorrow, which I’ve been working like mad all week to get ready for, so there’s no time for homemade. 🙁 I am making him a surprise meal on Sunday, but for tomorrow it will be dinner out and store-bought cake.

Even though I can’t do the homemade thing this year, I thought share some really cool cake decorating/cake alternative ideas–and hopefully I’ll get to test one of them out next year.


I’m not very skilled yet with the decorating part, so I’m going for ideas that look great but don’t require much talent. This art cake from Makoodle fits the mark, with icing dripped along the cake edge to look like abstract paint drips. It’s also got a rainbow of cake layers underneath. Jackson Pollock a la birthday cake. The paint drip frosting technique would also be fun on a polka dot cake (in my opinion, a more fanciful version of the old-fashioned poke cake I remember growing up).

In the “birthday cake you can eat with your hands” category are these delicious-looking birthday cake egg rolls from I Wash…You Dry. And if you’ve got a non-cake enthusiast and are looking for an alternative way to celebrate, Skinny Scoop has some tasty cake-inspired options for you.

That’s all for now folks, since I’ve got an early morning tomorrow. Watch for a new Make Your Own feature coming in a couple days.

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Easy way to dice an onion

I cook with onion quite a bit. One of my absolute favorite food smells is onion as it carmelizes in the pan. Dicing onions, though, has always been a venture that put my fingertips in a bit of danger, because I used to start by slicing my onions into rings, like so:

slicing an onionSee those fingertips just waiting to be sliced off? I’ve tried using a little onion holder do-kicky to keep my fingers safely away, but it didn’t keep the onion that stable and was kind of a pain. But then I discovered, unless you actually need the rings (say for a burger or sandwich), there’s a much easier way to dice onions that doesn’t endanger my fingers.

First, cut the stems off both ends of the onion, then peel the skin. On a cutting board stand your onion up on one of the flat sides you created when you cut the stems off, and cut down the middle from top to bottom. Put both halves cut side down on your cutting board, with the top of one half butted up to the bottom of the other half.

how to dice an onionNow, cut strips lengthwise across both halves, from top to bottom.

how to dice an onion
Rotate your cutting board 90 degrees and start cutting strips across the grain of the onion. Ta-da! Diced onion, with all your fingers still in tact!

how to dice an onionSide note–it’s best to use a sharp chef’s knife to do this, which is NOT what I have pictured here (my chef’s knife needs a little sharpening, so I went with an alternative).

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Freezer to Crock Pot Meatballs

I love meals I can make ahead and freeze. And I love cooking with my crock pot. So it’s a safe bet that I really, really love meals I can make ahead, freeze and then throw in the crock pot. That’s one reason I really, really love these meatballs. The other reason is that they’re amazingly delicious. Or awful, according to the Guy. But awful is Guy’s code word for, “Will you please make these every night for the rest of my life?”


If you do a Google search for meatball recipes, almost all of them will call for you to mix up the meat madness, form it into balls, then either bake them or cook them in a pan. That’s where this recipes is deliciously different, and why it’s so simple. Instead of baking or pan-frying the meatballs, you let them simmer in a crock pot full of marinara sauce for six to eight hours, meanwhile absorbing all the rich tomato-ey goodness of the sauce. And since you’re slow cooking them, you can go straight from freezer to crock pot without thawing first.

I’ve also included a recipe for marinara. Of course, feel free to substitute your favorite jarred sauce if you’d like, but it really is very simple and much cheaper to make your own.

Freezer to crock pot meatballs

Freezer to Crockpot Meatballs

Meatballs

  • 1 lb lean ground beef
  • 1 lb sausage
  • Small onion, finely diced
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. basil
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. sea salt
  • 1 to 2 tsp. hot sauce, to taste
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese

Marinara

  • 2 cans crushed tomatoes (28 oz.)
  • 2 cans tomato paste (6 oz.)
  • 1 small onion, finely diced (1 T. minced dried onion if you’re in a hurry)
  • 2 T. minced garlic
  • 2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1 T. dried oregano 
  • 3 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper to taste

To make the meatballs, mix all but last three ingredients in large bowl, then work in half and half, breadcrumbs and parmesan. You can use a spoon if you’d like, but it really works better just to get in there with your hands and mix it all together…you’re going to get “meat hands” when you shape the meatballs anyway, so you might as well dive in, right?

Once everything is well-blended, shape into meatballs. I tend to make my meatballs gigantic, but you can downsize ’em a bit. Lay the meatballs out on a cookie sheet or parchment paper and put them in the freezer for an hour or two, until solid. Once they’re solid, you can put them in a freezer safe gallon storage bag and label them for later use.

Freezer to crock pot meatballs

To make the marinara and cook the meatballs, mix all of the marinara ingredients, except bay leaves, in your slow cooker. Add frozen meatballs to sauce one at a time, making sure that all the meatballs are covered by sauce. Add bay leaves and cook on low 6-8 hours (the larger the meatballs, the longer they will take to cook).

The one downside to this recipe is that, even if you use extra lean ground beef, the sausage produces a lot of grease, so you’ll have to take a few minutes after your meatballs are done to skim the grease off the top of the sauce. Don’t worry–the taste is worth it! And make sure to remove and discard your bay leaves while you’re at it.


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Friday Favorites: Easter Eggs-travaganza

“Friday Favorites” features my favorite great ideas/recipes/etc., from across the giant world wide webs.

Two years ago, I spent my first Easter with the Guy and Kiddo, and we colored Easter eggs. It was the first time I’d dyed eggs since I was a kid, and there were a lot of things I’d forgotten about the process. Like how long it takes for the eggs to turn color. And how much mess it makes–probably because I wasn’t the one cleaning it up back then. There was a bit of trial and error process to get the bright colors we were looking for, and I never remembered it being so complicated when I was 10.

If you’re embarking on the Easter egg-coloring venture for the first time in many years, here’s a good primer to get you started.


If you’re well versed in the egg dying business, but would like to get a little more creative this year, I’ve found some really great ideas for taking your eggs to the next level. You could try this marbling technique using nail polish, create patterns using rubberbands or decoupage your eggs.

Looking for a cheap alternative to commercial egg dyes, you can always use Kool-Aid. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you could forgo the store-bought dyes altogether and make your own plant-based dyes, using onions, beets, coffee, cabbage or a number of other options.

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Brunch for a bunch

Baked oatmeal cups

When the Guy and I tied the knot last March, we want to keep things very simple, and make sure the focus was on celebrating our love with our friends and family. We were also budget-conscious, since we there are many other things we’d like to invest our money in that will last longer than one day–like say, the bearded dragon the Kiddo wants for a pet. Cooking for loved ones is one of those simple joys that I take great pleasure in, so the result of our decision to keep things simple, focused on friends and family, and low-cost was that I essentially “catered” most of the wedding weekend.


I did a lot of planning and cooking ahead, making meals that could be prepared in part or entirely in advance and then frozen, so I got the experience of sharing home-cooked meals with my family while not spending every waking minute in the kitchen. The rehearsal dinner involved stuffed chicken breasts that were prepared and frozen a week in advance, then baked that night, with a simple side of pasta. We had a simple luncheon after the ceremony, which was a mix of prepared deli trays and salads, alongside homemade salads and dessert that were made in advance, with no prep needed the day of. Side note: we didn’t have wedding cake until our reception six months later but our dessert–cookie pudding cups–was pure awesomeness (a post on that is in the works)!

My challenge, though, was brunch. I very much liked the idea of having a brunch with both our families the morning after the ceremony. We pondered going out to a restaurant for this, but the small mountain town where we were wed had limited places to accommodate a group our size. At the same time, the beautiful vacation home we stayed in was the perfect venue for a relaxed brunch that would allow us all to chat and socialize more easily than we could at a restaurant. I knew the day of the wedding would be full of excitement, but also long and tiring, so if we did a homemade brunch, I had to find a way to make it simple and fuss-free.


Knowing it would be difficult to get both of our large families together at one time, I treated the affair like a continental buffet–kind of like the free breakfast you get at hotel, but much tastier. There were about 10 of us who had been staying at the mountain house for four or five days, and we’d done a little stocking up on groceries at the beginning of our stay, s0 we still had a good bit of food to go through before checking out, including fresh fruit, yogurt, bagels, toast, Nutella, cereal, juice and milk. That gave me a nice start on a buffet (and a good way to get rid of leftovers). To fill out my buffet, I planned a couple homemade dishes to mix in that could be mostly be prepared ahead of time. Turns out, it was muffin tins to the rescue.

Not long after my world changed because I learned I could bake bacon, I came across an easy way to make eggs and bacon for a crowd, with a little more help from my oven plus some muffin tins. Here’s the idea–instead of frying a batch of bacon and individually frying up eggs for everyone (read: spending your morning in front of a hot stove spitting grease), you wrap a piece of bacon around the inside edge of each cup in a muffin tin, then crack a single egg into the middle and bake the whole batch at once. So you’ve got about 10 minutes of prep, then you pop them in the oven and have time to spend with your guests. A couple of tips to make it work:

  • Coat the muffin pan well with non-stick spray first.
  • Pre-cook the bacon a bit to make sure it’s done by the time the eggs are. I recommend baking the bacon!
  • Bacon freezes well, so you can do the pre-cooking part days, even a couple weeks in advance, freeze it, then leave it in the fridge overnight before your event to thaw. I pre-cooked and froze two pounds of bacon before the wedding (some for brunch and some to may my new M-I-L’s famous chicken salad). I drained the grease on paper towels, then wrapped fresh paper towels around the bacon accordion style to keep the slices from getting stuck together, and put the whole package in a freezer bag.
  • Sprinkle a little salt and pepper on top of your eggs, and feel free to throw a few shreds of cheese on there too, if you’d like.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes for a runny yolk, 10 minutes for soft yolk and 14 minutes for a hard yolk.
Baked egg and bacon cups

They look a little like bacon and egg sushi, but they’re delicious!

The muffin cup eggs added some nice protein to the menu. For some healthy grains, I turned to baked oatmeal cups, also conveniently made in muffin tins. I have tried several different variations of this recipe, and have tweaked them to come up with the version below. These freeze very nicely, so again, they’re perfect to make in advance. To freeze, arrange in a single layer in gallon-sized freezer bags. Put them out to thaw the night before and, if you’d like them warm, 10-15 seconds in the microwave will do nicely. Just don’t be a dimwit like I was the first time I made them and use foil liners for the muffin tray, since you’ll have to take them out to zap them in the microwave. Besides being great to serve a group of hungry brunchers, they are perfect on-the-go healthy breakfast treats. They’re low in fat and sugar (actually there’s no processed white sugar at all–just the natural sugars in the fruit and honey), and the kids at our family brunch gobbled these up.
Baked oatmeal cups
Baked Oatmeal Cups
  •  5 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup ground flax seed
  • 2 tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 mashed bananas
  • 2 cups applesauce
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 3 1/2 cup skim or low-fat milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon butter extract
  • Optional mix-ins (raisins, dried cranberries, chopped dried apples, chopped nuts and white chocolates chips are all good options)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, blend first five dry ingredients. In a medium bowl, blend next seven wet ingredients. Pour wet mixture into oat mixture and stir until well blended. Stir in any desired mix-ins. Spray muffin cups with nonstick spray or use muffin cup liners. Spoon batter into muffin cups until nearly full. This baked oatmeal rises very little, so you will fill the cups much fuller than you would when baking muffins.

Baked oatmeal cups

Bake for 25-30 minutes until edges begin to brown. Recipe makes about two dozen oatmeal cups, and can be easily halved. I always like to make a bunch, because they freeze so well and the Guy tends to devour them.

Baked oatmeal cups

This recipe has a lot of flexibility for tweaking and ingredient substitutions, so be creative. Ingredients such as the flax seed and butter extract can be omitted and you’ll still have a tasty treat. You can also easily substitute soy milk or almond milk for the skim milk, and you can vary the sweetener, replacing the honey with brown sugar, agave syrup or a small amount of white sugar (this recipe does not need a lot of added sweetness). And while I avoid artificial sweeteners, you can also use Stevia or Splenda if you’d like.

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Make Your Own Baking Mix (Bisquick Substitute)

Until I become a master gardener/farmer or live within a reasonable driving distance of a Whole Foods, it’s doubtful I’ll free my family from processed foods anytime soon. Still, I’m trying to reduce our exposure to all those extra chemical dyes and preservatives added to everything by avoiding the processed stuff as much as possible. My main focus has been to eliminate the “highly processed” products–think boxed pasta mixes with powder that somehow magically turns into sauce. I just decided they really aren’t worth the time-saving trade off they promise. For most of those mixes, it really only saves you 5-10 minutes time in the kitchen and they taste awful. I used to eat them a lot and I loved them, especially when I was a kid. Once I started doing more and more real cooking, I realized just how terrible they are.


That’s a really rambling introduction to my main point. Once I started zapping the low-hanging fruit of the “add water and stir” processed j-u-n-k, I started focusing on other ways I could make sure we are eating real food. Little by little, I’ve looked at the food products we use on a daily basis, and started figuring out what it reasonably made sense for me to make myself–trying out recipes for homemade granola, energy and protein bars, for instance. My latest challenge was a replacement for Bisquick. Really, it’s just a pre-measured, pre-mixed blend of a few ingredients, minus the preservatives. This project was pretty easy–just a matter of looking at standard recipes for biscuits and pancakes and getting the right ratio of dry ingredients.

Bonus: It’s cheaper to make your own baking mix than to buy it. I do most of my shopping at Aldi, and even with their significantly lower prices, it’s about $0.40 per cup of their baking mix versus about $0.12 a cup making my own (with their prices on flour, sugar, etc.). If you’re buying brand name, you’ll probably save even more.

Make your own baking mix

Homemade Baking Mix

  • 6 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup butter or shortening

Sift together all dry ingredients, then cut in butter/shortening with a pastry blender or fork until mixture resembles coarse crumbs.

Make your own baking mix

That’s it. You’re done. Well, except for the storage part. Store your baking mix in airtight container, and since you’re not using all those nasty chemical preservatives, you’ll need to keep it in the refrigerator. You can use your baking mix as a one to one replacement in any recipe that calls for Bisquick, or as listed below for basic biscuits or pancakes. If you’re a frequent baker, you may want to make a double batch, but it’s easier to cut in the shortening one batch at a time.

Make your own baking mix

Biscuits

For every one cup of baking mix, use 1/3 cup water. Stir together until well-blended and drop by the spoonful onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 450 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Makes about four biscuits for each cup of mix + 1/3 cup milk.

Pancakes

For every one cup of baking mix, use 1 cup water and one large egg. Stir until well-blended.  Pour batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto hot, lightly greased griddle (medium-high heat) and cook until bubbles form throughout batter and edges appear dry. Flip and cook until golden. That’s the basic recipe. To make them extra delicious, mix in one teaspoon vanilla and a 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. Or fancy ’em up with your favorite fruit mix-ins.

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