Monday, March 17, 2014

Crock Pot Spaghetti Sauce with Zucchini Noodles


Whether you’re a working or SAHM mom, dinner time can be a struggle. After a day filled with the busyness of life, getting a hardy and healthy meal on the table for pallets young and old can be challenging.

Thankfully, there is always spaghetti. Everyone knows how to make spaghetti. It’s the ultimate easy, cheap comfort food. And I must say my spaghetti sauce has turned into something pretty spectacular. And, of course, it’s super simple and made in the crock pot – something I use more often than my black, stretchy pants. Here is a simple and healthy gluten-free meal the whole family will love that begins and ends with a crock pot.

Spaghetti Sauce:
2 cans tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes, drained
1 can tomato paste
1 lb. cooked ground Italian sausage (I use mild but sweet or spicey works depending on your preference)
1 lb. cooked ground beef (or another pound of Italian sausage)
**be sure to drain the excess oil from the cooked meat
1 tsp. Basil
1 tsp. Oregano
2 cloves of minced garlic
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
Sea salt to taste

Throw it all in the crock pot and cook on low for 6-8 hours. Want to make your life super easy? Make sure to get slow cooker liners to make clean up a breeze. You can find them at any grocer next to plastic baggies.

Zucchini Noodles:

Along with the big wave of gluten-free and Paleo eating, there are a lot of recipes circulating that include vegetable noodles and I had to try it out. Using spiral vegetable slicers (I bought mine on Amazon for about $30), you can make noodles out of just about anything – carrots, potatoes, zucchinis…you name it. I knew these noodles would be flavorful but I didn’t realize they’d be so filling. The best part is my kids love them too. My 3 year old boy was pretty excited to see green, monster noodles on his plate. 
They are also a lot simpler to make than you might think. Many recipes say to let zucchini noodles simmer in water to cook them. I find that method to make them too watery. I prefer sautéing them. Here’s how…

You will need –
Spiral Vegetable Slicer
4 zucchinis (approximately)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tsp. pepper
2 Tbsp. Olive Oil

It will probably take about 4 zucchinis to feed the average family. When I’m making this meal I usually think one zucchini per person, so there’s always enough. Using a spiral vegetable slicer, cut the zucchinis into noodles. Once you’ve twisted the zucchinis as far in as you can, take the end of the zucchini and chop it up and throw it in the sauce (no need to waste it).

When I’ve sliced up all my zucchinis, I take a paper towel and gently squeeze the noodles to get any extra water out. Then heat a sauce pan over medium heat. Add 2 Tbsp. of olive oil (give or take) and two cloves of minced garlic. After a minute or so, gently add the noodles and lightly toss them with a teaspoon of pepper until they have been lightly cooked. Be careful not to overcook them. Zucchinis can get very mushy if over cooked.

Serve warm topped with spaghetti sauce, add parmesan cheese if desired, and enjoy!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

10 [mostly] FREE Rainy Day Outings

Rain, rain. Go away.

I'm someone who just so happens to love the rain. The sound. The smell. The fact that I don't have to remember to water my flowers. Rain, in my mind, is great. But I do understand that rain...constant rain...can be a problem when you have kids. Not only is going outside an important part of development but getting out of the house provides a level of stimulation that tires my kids out enough to have a quiet afternoon, which something (as I'm sure you can relate) I need.

Here in Washington, we get plenty of rain. Especially during January - April. These are honestly tough months (and this is coming from someone who prefers living in Washington over Southern California). But if there's one thing I've learned as a mom, it's how to improvise. I've used Pinterest to get some great rainy day indoor activities (many of which are fabulous) but sometimes (or most of the time) I just need to get out of the house before I lose my ever-loving mind.

Here is my list of [mostly] FREE Top 10 Rainy Day Outings |

1. Target. Or Toys R Us or wherever else they have boat load of toys. You don't have to be there to buy anything. Most of the time we don't (yay self control). We simply go, walk around and I let the kids look at toys for a while. No, it isn't a ton of exercise but remember, kids are little. A few aisles of toys and books can provide at least an hour of entertainment and stimulation.

2. The library. Most public libraries have a great kids section...not just books but toys too. The library near us even has puppet show stage. They also have story time and even free classes (usually done by the local children's museum).

3. Petsmart. We love to go here! Or any other pet store. We usually spend all our time looking at the gerbils and rats and guinea pigs then we make our way to the fish, the cats up for adoption, and then we'll watch the doggies get groomed. We love the pet store.

4. Hunting Stores. Okay, this might sound crazy to some of you but hunting stores are really cool for kids. If you live near a Cabela's, lucky you! The animal display at those stores are always fun for kids to look at and even educational because we get to talk about a different array of animals. We don't live near one but we'll go to Sportsman Wearhouse and check out their animals. Isaiah especially loves the plastic ducks.

5. Wiggle Works and the like. Wiggle Works is a great place to take your toddlers and preschoolers. Don't have one? Think Jumpin' Jack and Jill's or Pump It Up! or Piper's Playground. Any indoor get the crazy wiggles out of your body playground/bounce house type place. These places do cost money - typically $5-10 per child depending on where you go. We love these types of places but we treat them as special occasions in an attempt to not go broke.

6. The Children's Museum. If you have one near you, look it up! These museums are great and most of the time are completely different city to city. Most are free but ask for a donation at the door. They also will not let anyone in without kids (much like the places in #5). This always eases my mind a little as it can be difficult keeping track of two youngin's.

7. McDonald's Play Place. No, probably not to eat (I prefer not eating fast food, anyway). Bring a sack lunch or just snacks and let your kids go crazy in the play place. Awesome.

8. The YMCA. I'm always telling my mama friends to get their kids a Y membership. It is seriously the biggest bang for your buck. I pay $35/month for Isaiah's and it includes ALL the classes he wants to take. We do Toddler Gym (where they can run around in the foam pits, jump on trampolines, climb crazy obstacle courses, then do songs for circle time), Sports Class (basically PE for preschoolers), and swimming lessons or free swim. And there are more...so many more. I know some moms stay there all morning going class to class, working out themselves, and having snacks in the common areas. It's a lot of fun and I've met some great moms this way too.

9. The garage. Haha. No, but really. Sometimes I'll get out the side walk chalk, clear out the cars, and let the kids scribble or do bubbles or ride their tricycles in circles. I'll even them "drive" and just play in my car too. As long as your garage is safe (i.e. gasoline cans, tools, etc. are out of reach and you're supervising carefully), put their coats on and let them play.

10. Puddle Jumping. When all else fails, put on their rubber boots and let them stomp in some puddles. They will get muddy, they will get wet, you will get muddy and wet, but they will have fun! And you'll probably have fun watching them. And you know what else? They'll probably get tired. And then they'll rest. And then you can have a nice quiet afternoon. Isn't that treat?

What are your favorite rainy day outings?

Monday, March 10, 2014

Crock Pot Recipe of the Week | Meatless Quinoa Chili


Of all the meals I did for the round of 30 gluten-free meals, this one I was the most nervous about. Mostly because I had never made it before and also because my husband isn't a big fan of quinoa. (I know, I know. Shame on him.) Anyway, when I tried it out this last week, we were all pleasantly surprised and satisfied.

Whether you observe meatless Fridays during Lent, are a vegetarian or simply are looking for a meatless, protein-packed meal, this dish is just the ticket. Simple. Tasty. And made in the crock pot.

INGREDIENTS:

2 cans tomato sauce
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can corn
1 can kidney beans
1 can black beans
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp. Chile powder
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
Approx. .75 lbs. uncooked and RINSED quinoa (this was actually WAY too much quinoa. I forget how much quinoa doubles...er, quadruples in size when cooked. 1/4 lb. when have worked fine!)
**Be sure to rinse the quinoa well! If you don't, I hope you enjoy eating sand. Also, rinse your beans.

DIRECTIONS:

Toss everything in the crock pot and cook on low for 7-8 hours, stirring occasionally. Serve warm. We topped ours with cheese and corn bread.

Enjoy!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

BBQ Chicken Pizza | From Scratch


Our family loves pizza. Who doesn't though? More than anything, we love making pizza dough from scratch. Anytime I can get my littles in the kitchen with me is a blessing. They love it and I love it. This recipe is easy enough to where their little hands can easily help.

I've compared my pizza dough recipe to a few of my friends and they're all basically the same. Here's mine:

1 cup warm water
1 packet active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
2 1/2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbsp. Olive Oil

1. Mix the dry yeast and sugar in the cup of warm water. Place aside.
2. Mix the flour and salt in a large mixing bowl.
3. Add the water/yeast/sugar mixer to the bowl along with the olive oil.
4. Mix until it becomes evenly doughy. (I use my hands)

Place a damp towel over the top of the bowl and let it rise for 30 minutes (or more). Roll out on a pizza tray.

Now for the good stuff...

1. Spread barbeque sauce of your choice evenly over the dough. I usually use 1/4 - 1/2 cup.
2. Finely chop 1/4 cup of spinach. Sprinkle half of it on the sauce.
3. Add cheese. I usually prefer a Monterey Jack/mozzarella mixer but whatever you like or have is fine.
4. Add 1/2 - 1 cup of cooked chicken. I usually just thaw some from my bulk meat cooking.
5. Top with 4-6 sliced mini peppers (or two large bell peppers) and the rest of the spinach.
6. Sprinkle with a touch of cilantro.

Bake for 20-25 minutes at 400 degrees.

**Note: I add spinach to give the pizza a little more nutrients. Since spinach doesn't have a whole lot of flavor it can easily be added and go unnoticed if chopped finely enough.

Enjoy!

Sage Roasted Roasted Sweet Potatoes and Veggies with Garlic


This recipe is one of my absolute favorite side dishes to make. It requires minimal prep effort and time, is extremely versatile, can feed a crowd, and tastes great (even to tiny pallets).

I started making this with only red potatoes, then I switched to sweet potatoes, then I started adding veggies, and now I make it with all kinds of potatoes and whatever vegetables I have on hand.

RECIPE:

4-6 red potatoes, washed and cubed
2 sweet potatoes, washed, peeled and cubed
2 cups broccoli florets (I used frozen but raw works great too)
1 zucchini, sliced
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil (approximately)
2 tsp. sage
3 cloves of garlic minced

Set the oven to 400 degrees. On a baking sheet, hand toss the potatoes and vegetables in the olive oil until everything is evenly coated. Sprinkle the sage and garlic and toss again. Bake in the oven for 45 minutes.


This was the version I made this week. I love this recipe because it doesn't matter if you don't have an ingredient. You can use whatever kinds of potatoes or veggies you like. Typically I add asparagus, peppers, and even smoked sausage to make it a complete meal. I must add that this is our favorite way to eat broccoli. When broccoli is roasted it has a little bit of crunch and is really tasty. A friend of mine makes something similar to this dish and she uses a grilling basket on the barbeque to give it that awesome smoky flavor.

You can't go wrong with this one!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Crock Pot Meal of the Week | Sweet 'N Savory Bacon Wrapped Pork Loin

This recipe is from the 30 gluten free meals I did last week and it is so good. And way too easy to be this good.


RECIPE:

1 pork loin (mine was approx. 2 lbs.)
Rub the loin with 1 Tbsp. Brown Sugar and 1 Tbsp. of Smokey Mesquite BBQ seasoning
*Optionl - add a few red pepper flakes if you like it spicey
Wrap the seasoned loin with half a package of bacon (or more if you need or wish)
Add half a cup of chicken stock or broth to the crock pot for cooking

Cook in the crock pot on low for 8 hours.


It's the perfect combination of sweet, savory and incredibly juicy. The meat literally falls apart, as does the bacon. The leftovers are great for sandwiches...if you have any.

Enjoy!

Black Pant Mama

My birthday was a few weeks ago. Upon its approach, my husband asked me what I wanted for my birthday. Being that I've become very comfortable in my ordinary and budgeted life, I said, "I don't know. Nothing really. Maybe some more yoga or stretchy pants." He simply said, "No." "Why not? I use them more than anything," I said. He laughed and took me into my closet where he showed me my stack of black stretchy/yoga pants. "Because you don't need anymore." This was the pile he was referring to:


He caught me...black panted. (ha ha!) And do you want to hear a confession? I have more black yoga, stretchy, work out pants than you see here in this pile. I have loose fitting ones, tight ones, running ones, and bleach-stained ones. I love them. I'm convinced they make me a better mom. I where them all. the. time. And I don't feel bad about it.

There's a wave of intense pressure (mostly by the media and things like Pinterest) to be the best everything. The best mom with the cutest snacks and homemade Valentines and home cooked, organic, vegan meals. How to never lose your patience and always feel under control as a mom (yeah, right) and how to never go without a shower and how to do your makeup so it looks like you had a nose job and how to dress so that you feel good about yourself.

And you know what? It's bogus! Most of it, anyway. I'll admit I use Pinterest and other social media outlets to find encouragement from other moms, get ideas for dinner, and sometimes....sometimes...I even like to look at cute clothes. But I have no desire to wear these clothes throughout my typical week as a stay at home mom. You know why?

By breakfast, I've stepped in oatmeal and need a new pair of socks.

While at toddler gym, I started sweating because I forgot to put on deodorant or I didn't have time because Isaiah insists on putting his clothes on all by himself (which can take FOREVER).

By the time we leave, I've used my sleeve to wipe my kids noses more times than I can count because I forgot to bring a boogie wipe...again.

On the way home, I sat on a chocolate chip from my granola bar I ate for breakfast in the car on the way to toddler gym, and it melted all over my pants.

By lunch, I have peanut butter on my shoulder.

By nap time, I sat on the floor more than I've sat on any chair in the last week.

After nap time, Maci decided to spit out her spinach smoothie down the front of my shirt.

By dinner, I've got splatters of the meal here and there either from me cooking or the kids eating like savages (it's hard to be sure).

By bath time, I'm soaked because the kids like to splash. (And why not let them?)

By bed time, I'm covered, no, drenched in the day.

So, no. I don't want to dress "cute." I want to be comfortable! Because no matter what I wear, my life is messy. Young kids are messy. And I have no desire to keep it clean. I shower, my clothes are clean, I stay [fairly] fit and eat well, I may spruce up my hair and put on some make up, but unless it's date night, I don't do heels. I hardly even do jeans. I do me...the best more comfortable version of me in my black stretchy pants. Because while coffee grounds are being spilled on the floor and snotty noses are hugging my hair after a tumble, my kids don't care what I'm wearing nor should they.

My husband doesn't care either. When he gets home, you better believe he wrestles his way through two kids to wrap me in his arms, whether I'm wearing jeans, a dress, or my snot-smeared, peanut butter-smudged, comfortable, homey, black, stretchy pants. He wants to come home to his wife, no matter what I'm wearing. And if having one less worry, even if it is just my clothes, can make me a better wife, he'll take it and so will I.

My pants may be a joke. They may make me fashion-backwards. But my black, stretchy pants have been there on the good days and the hard days. They have comforted me in parenting trials and triumphs. I'm not giving them up, no matter how high my stack gets. And if you're like me, nor should you. :)