Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Two Week Meal Plan and Freezer Cooking

Who else plans meals ahead of time before going grocery shopping? I don't mean planning tomorrow night's dinner when you're shopping for groceries for tonight's dinner, I'm talking about planning a week, two weeks or even an entire month ahead of time. The idea of meal planning has mostly gone by the wayside in our fast paced society that offers delivery pizza, Chinese take out, and dozens upon dozens of fast food restaurants. However, there are a handful of people that still plan meals ahead of time, and plan their grocery list around those meals. And with a growing number of people working to become more self-sufficient despite our hurried society, this is one way to grow your pantry based on what you eat, to put better foods in your body, and to make the food budget stretch further each month.

Planning meals ahead of time has quite a few other great benefits. First off, and my favorite reason, you don't have to stress when you get home from work in the evening and everyone's bombarding you with THE question: "What's for dinner?". How nice is it when you have an answer right away?!? How about those of you with special dietary restrictions? You can't exactly NOT plan if there are certain foods you can't eat.

My second favorite reason to plan meals in advance is money: If you plan meals around what you have on hand and what is on sale (especially if you price match and use coupons), you can save a LOT!! In fact, between using what I already have on hand and combining sales with coupons and only buying what I absolutely need, I spent $150 on groceries this past weekend. Over the next couple weeks, I'll only need to stop by the store for milk and lettuce for the nights we have salads on the side. Keep in mind, that amount includes buying an extra can of whatever here and there, extra bacon, extra chicken breasts, extra hamburger, a few staple items and bleach for laundry day. Oh, did I forget to mention- I feed 7 to 8 people dinner daily???

While I try to bake some bread myself, I occasionally 'splurge' on store-bought bread!

Only two coupons this trip- usually there's more!
My third favorite reason to plan meals in advance? Time! This is where the Freezer Cooking comes in. Between the budget and other tasks vying for my waking hours on the weekends, I haven't built myself up to cooking for a month at a time yet, but I am cooking for a two week period at a time, and there is usually enough left over from some meals that we eat leftovers for lunch and sometimes eat leftovers for dinner. It does mean giving up a day or two on a weekend for a massive amount of chopping, prepping, cooking, mixing, bagging and freezing, but it also means that for the two to three weeks following, my dinner prep time is cut drastically. Most days I pull something out of the freezer in the morning to thaw for the following day, dump a bag from the fridge that had thawed into the Crock Pot, and enjoy dinner when I get home from work!

So now that I've built up the suspense, are you ready to see what my family is eating for the next couple weeks? I promise, the following meals are sure to please just about everyone. My youngest son is one of the pickiest eaters I know, and the only meal I anticipate him having a cow about is the Tex-Mex Slow Cooker Chicken- only because there is meat and veggies touching. If your kids don't mind foods touching, and especially if they like foods that have flavor, you should have no problem with these meals!

In no particular order, here you go!

Crock Pot Baked Potato Soup
I've fixed potato soup before, but not in the crock pot, so I'm really looking forward to this! It's always a winner served with crumbled bacon, cheese and green onions. It's also great during this cold weather!

Slow Cooker Ham & White Beans by Plainchicken.com
This is one of those meals that tastes better after a long day in the slow cooker, or after it's been frozen and reheated. All of the flavors have a chance to meld together, especially if you let the ham bone cook in the Crock Pot all day and simply remove it before serving (plus, you get all the meat off the bone that you otherwise can't pluck off by hand!). Don't forget to make a batch of cornbread from scratch to go with it!

Honey Baked Ham
Honey Baked Ham is normally a meal reserved for holidays and special occasions, but when the ham is on sale for super cheap, how can you pass it up?!? I bought two of these hams a while back and stuck them in the deep freezer waiting for the right time to use them... and this meal plan period just happened to be the right time for one of them. I'm fixing green bean casserole and au gratin potatoes to go with it... we'll probably have the other ham for our Easter dinner!

Ranch Parmesan Crusted Chicken
Chicken is always on sale, so I try to use it often in my meal plans, but I find it's easier to eat the same meat if I find multiple ways to fix it. This recipe uses things I have on hand already- all I had to buy was the shredded parmesan cheese!

Chicken Tater Tot Casserole
I've cooked other variations of the Tater Tot Casseroles before, but they usually include mixed veggies in the casserole. While this isn't a problem for most of the family, Mr. Picky always balked. This recipe doesn't include the veggies, and it gave me a chance to try another variation. We actually had this one tonight, and it got rave reviews! Well, except for Mr. Picky. He was in bed before dinner, not feeling well. :-(

Country Fried Hamburger Steak with Gravy
This is an easy way to make hamburger less plain. Make it a patty and cook it up like a cubed steak! I actually have some pre-formed hamburger steaks in the freezer, so I'll be using them this time. And the gravy is super easy to make from scratch, and even if you typically shy away from making it from scratch, the directions are included with the recipe. Along with this, we'll be having corn, rolls or biscuits from scratch (since other meals prepped in the freezer frees up time to bake on other evenings), and salad.

Super Slow Sloppy Joes
Sloppy Joes are quick and easy, and even quicker and easier in a Crock Pot!

Oven Baked Meatball Sandwiches
For these meatball sandwiches, you can make your own meatballs from scratch to season them the way you want, or you can buy frozen meatballs to make the meal even easier. Serve with some chips for a super easy meal!

Tex Mex Slow Cooker Chicken
We've had this recipe a couple of times, and while my youngest doesn't like it, everyone else LOVED it. The corn and beans mixed in help make it stretch, and make it a filling meal, without the need to cook any other side dishes. Serve it on tortillas with salsa, sour cream and guacamole, make burritos with it, or toss it on tortilla chips to make some nachos that are unbelievable!

Classic Meatloaf

Meatloaf is one of those things you either love or hate. Luckily for me, everyone in the family loves it! Some like it drier than others, but that's part of the reason I like it- you can add more glaze on to each individual serving if you like it more moist, and if you like it dry, leave it alone! I know some of you might have a family recipe memorized, or you just throw stuff together based on what looks right- I can't do that most of the time. I have to have a recipe to follow. If you don't, do your own thing!

Hot Pockets
Okay, okay, I know what you're thinking. Hot Pockets are for lunch. Even Rebecca over at A Beautiful Ruckus makes them for lunch. You know what happens when someone eats a dinner that consists of a 'lunch' food? Nothing bad, that's for sure! And sometimes a change of pace is nice. Not only that, but we don't need heavy filling meals all the time, right? Right!

The next three meals don't have links to the recipes, but if you need a recipe to follow they are abundant online!  The other three easy peasy meals include chili dogs, breakfast (biscuits and sausage gravy, eggs and bacon), and Chili Verde. The Chili Verde recipe I use is in a cookbook I have, Once A Month Cooking, that I was lucky enough to get from a friend for free, but is available for as little as a few dollars on Amazon.com. You could probably find it in the library as well!

I realize that not all of these meals are going to work great as freezer meals, but the few that can't be made ahead and frozen turn out to be pretty easy to throw together quickly and toss in the oven in a matter of minutes. In order to keep myself a little more organized and know quickly what I have ready and what I need, when I plan my meals, I write the recipes down on index cards. This makes it easy to form my grocery list, and when I need to know what meals I have to choose from, I simply flip through cards instead of digging around in the freezer or refrigerator. Once a meal has been cooked, I put the card in a different location with other used cards. Unless it was a new meal I hadn't made before and everyone hated it. In that case I toss the card in the trash, never to be seen again. Yeah, I've had to do that a time or two.

Let me know what your favorite freezer meals are, or if you have tips or tricks to your freezer cooking or any cooking for that matter- I'm sure I'm not the only one who's always looking for ways to make meals easier!


Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who Doesn't Love Pop-tarts!?!

I know there has been many a mornings that my family is in a hurry to get out the door to school, to work, to church, to whatever, and we don't always have time to cook a good, healthy breakfast. Heck, I'll even go so far as to admit that on weekdays, the idea of me cooking a hot breakfast for my family is about as likely as snow in Kansas in May. Oh, wait, that's happened before... Okay, it's about as likely as a snowstorm shutting down Atlanta. No, that happened this year... okay, suffice it to say, I don't cook weekday mornings! I have made breakfast burritos that can be pulled out of the freezer and thrown in the microwave before, and when we've had breakfast for dinner we've made extra pancakes for the kids to grab in the mornings. But the majority of weekday mornings the kids are grabbing a bowl of cereal or a packet of Poptarts. 

If you're big on eating natural or eating healthy most of the time, you probably steer clear of cereal, Poptarts and the majority of other popular pre-packaged breakfast foods. I don't blame you. Most of what we buy on the grocery store shelves anymore has ingredients we can't pronounce and some of those iffy ingredients are associated with heart disease, autism, cancer, and a number of other ailments! For those readers, I'm sure this would make a great occasional treat. For everyone else like me, they are a great breakfast on the go! Not to mention that when you make an at-home version of a store bought treat that is so popular, it's usually easier on the bank account as well. Especially if you shop the sales or buy in bulk.  ;-) 

So I really enjoyed doing some experimenting and I think I have one of the best at-home versions of the brown sugar and cinnamon Pop-tarts, frosting and all! It's easier than you might think, and was actually pretty fun. I have to say though, one batch won't last long, so after you've tried it once and decided you love it (which I know you will), be sure to double or triple (maybe even quadruple?!?) the recipe next time. I know I'll be making these again and making a lot more of them! These will freeze well in freezer bags if you decide to make more than enough, which is exactly what I will be doing next time. I've seen some recipes that claim you can warm them in the toaster just like the store-bought stuff, but with the frosting I made, I'm a little leery of popping them in the toaster and having frosting ooze everywhere! I will say that warming them in the microwave works great, especially if you're not big on the crunch that toasters give (like me). Or, you could always do what we do most of the time- grab some and eat them straight out of the package without warming them!

Before I got started, I pulled my margarine sticks out of the fridge, but decided I didn't want to wait forever for them to warm up and soften, so I used a little trick I learned a while back:

Sandwich the margarine (or butter if you use the real stuff for everything) between two pieces of wax paper. I used the wrappers and just smushed the margarine down on one piece of wax paper. The only magic at work here is science: There is a larger surface area exposed to the room temperature air, so the margarine softens quicker. Yeah, it was an aha moment for me too when I learned this!

After the margarine smushing, I preheated the oven and got the dry ingredients together. Which wasn't much, and didn't take longatall. So it really helped speeding up the margarine! The dry ingredients consist of flour and salt. That's it. Seriously. I actually used the Kitchenaid mixer I got a while back to mix these, and while I recommend a mixer for this, it's possible to mix by hand, it will just take longer. Toss the flour and salt in the mixer, and mix just until the salt is mixed throughout the flour. I used half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour, but you could definitely use just all-purpose if that's all you have. Add in the margarine. Another great thing about how I softened it- it still peels right off the wrapper and wax paper. I 'tore' the sheets of margarine into smaller pieces before adding them into the mixer to disperse it more evenly, but I really don't think it was a necessary step. I think that was me being a tad OCD. Mix the flour and butter until it clumps up and looks like bread crumbs. 

Here's where the fun starts- you'll add water just a little at a time until the dough forms a ball. I accidentally added too much and had to add a bit more flour to make up for it, but it probably would have been easier if I didn't add water as quickly as I did. Take that sticky ball of Poptart goodness out of the blender and divide it in two. Roll your first half out to about 1/8" thickness on a well floured surface. Here's where I threw caution to the wind: I just started cutting! I cut the first half into 6 rectangles, and I just eyeballed the size. Take the scraps and set them off to the side, and do the same thing with the other half. With the scraps I had left over, I was able to make a total of 18 rectangles.

The 'guts' of the Poptarts is quick and easy to mix up: brown sugar, cinnamon and flour mixed together in a small bowl. Place half of the rectangles on a lightly greased baking sheet, and spoon a heaping pile on each rectangle. The mixture will cook down, so there's no need to be chintzy here! 

Before placing the top half of the pastry on, dampen the edges of the rectangles with water. This will help it seal as it cooks so you don't have gooey goodness seeping out onto the pan. Place the other rectangles on top, and use a fork to seal the edges. I learned at this point that this step would have been easier had I used a flat baking sheet with no raised edges- it was tough sealing the edges on the outside of the pan with the edge of the pan in the way! Make sure you poke a hole in the top for the steam to escape and prevent it from bubbling up. I just used the fork for this, and found that they looked mighty tempting like this if you want to forgo the frosting. Pop 'em in the oven and let them cool before frosting! 

Hubs and I split one for a taste test before I packed them in sandwich bags, two to a bag, and stuck them on the shelf with the homemade breakfast bars. It was not identical to the store-bought stuff by any means. These taste fresh. They taste homemade. They taste yummy in their own way. And best of all, they don't taste like factory-produced, preservative-filled junk advertised as food! Now that I know these turned out AWESOME, I will be making them again, and I'll be experimenting with jams to make different flavors. I see strawberry and raspberry Poptarts in my family's future... It's still not a breakfast of eggs, ham, whole wheat toast and orange juice each morning, but it's a step in the right direction away from highly processed foods with unknown ingredients and harmful preservatives! 

Homemade Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Poptarts


1 cup all purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
Dash of salt
1 cup margarine or butter, softened
¼ cup water

1. Preheat oven to 350°. Mix flour and salt in a stand mixer. Combine flour mixture and margarine until crumbly. Add water slowly until the dough is workable and forms a ball. 
2. Divide dough in half. Roll half onto a floured surface to 1/8” thickness. Cut into rectangles (measure with a ruler for more uniform rectangles). Repeat with other half of dough, and any remaining dough scraps, making sure you have an even number of rectangles.
3. Place half of the rectangles on a lightly greased baking sheet. Spoon filling onto rectangles in generous amounts. Dampen edges of rectangles with water, and top with remaining rectangles.
4. Seal edges of the Poptarts with a fork, and pierce holes in the top of each with the fork or with a toothpick. 
5. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Spread with Homemade Frosting for Poptarts, below. Add sprinkles if desired.
6. Store in an airtight container or plastic storage bags at room temperature, or freeze in freezer bags for longer storage.

Ingredients for Filling:

½ cup brown sugar (I used homemade brown sugar- it’s easier than you think!)
1 ½ tsp cinnamon
4 tsp all purpose flour

Mix ingredients together in a small bowl. Set aside until ready to use. Any remaining filling can be stored in a plastic storage bag in a cool, dark cabinet, and should be good until the closest expiration date on the ingredients you used. 

Homemade Frosting for Poptarts

¾ cup powdered sugar
3 tsp milk
½ tsp vanilla extract
*1/2 tsp cinnamon

Combine all ingredients in a small bowl until it reaches a thick but spreadable consistency. Add more milk or powdered sugar for the consistency you want. Use a butter knife or spatula to frost each Poptart. *Add the cinnamon for the frosting to the Brown Sugar & Cinnamon Poptarts. For other flavors of Poptarts, omit the cinnamon. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Herb & Citrus Oven Roasted Chicken

I had planned several weeks worth of meals several weeks ago, and since there's been a few nights in there that I haven't had to cook for one reason or another, I still have a few meals in the freezer that I'll be fixing over the next few days. However, I do have to plan some meals again, or once the freezer meals are gone that I fixed a while back the family will be scavenging the kitchen and I'll be pulling my hair out!

Yesterday I did some grocery shopping to take advantage of some amazing sales and I made a stop at Costco this weekend to restock a few staples, but I didn't do the 'after meal plan' shopping. That's the shopping I need to do after I've planned meals around the items I have and any meats that are on sale, so it's not usually a big trip to the store. So, the first order of business is the meal plan. Right after dinner. Okay, I guess that makes it the second order of business.

Since I don't have the meal plan ready to share with you just yet, you get to see what tonight's dinner is! Keep in mind, this was part of the last meal plan, and it was semi-prepared several weeks ago and thrown in the freezer so that as it thawed the meat would be marinating and dinner would be uber-yummy. If you know me at all, you know that I am a Pinterest addict. That's where this, and many other meals came from. Georgia over at thecomfortofcooking.com shared this dish back in April of last year, but thanks to the art of sharing on Pinterest, I was lucky enough to come across it!

I know you're thinking "Come on Shawna, get on with it, get to the recipe already!", so while I'm sure you're already aware I could ramble on and on about this recipe or how I found it (let's be honest, when writing I can ramble about almost anything), let's get to the good stuff!

I pulled the bag out of the freezer and had it thawing in the fridge so it would be oven ready at dinner time, and it was thawed perfectly when I needed it. I plopped the chicken into the pans, and all the juice that the chicken had been marinating in was poured in with it. I barely got started slicing, and Ray walked into the kitchen and told me how good it smelled... huh? I guess I just wasn't paying attention to it, but he said that just the marinade made the kitchen smell great.

Only five leg quarters, but it stuffed six people!

Be sure to pour all of the marinade over the chicken!
So I finished slicing the onion, lemons and oranges and slid the onion slices under the chicken and scattered the slices of lemons and oranges over the chicken. I sprinkled a little more seasoning over everything like the recipe directions called for- although I have to admit, it had a lot of seasonings just from what was in the marinade! I did tweak the amounts for what I was cooking though- the recipe called for one each- onion, lemon and orange. I buy the smaller oranges- cuties or halos- since the family will actually snack on those, so instead of using one, I obviously had to use more. They were so tiny I ended up using six, and I used 2 lemons. The lemon was big enough though, that I didn't feel the need to slice more than one.

Not-so-perfectly sliced... but sliced just the same!
It almost seemed like a bit much once I had the chicken covered with lemons and mandarin oranges- I couldn't see much chicken! I was worried it would be too tart or too sweet for chicken, but it worked out great. The chicken was moist, tender, and the flavor turned out to be just right. It had a touch of sweet and a bit of tang to it, but was by far NOT overbearing. Everyone loved it, and I know you will too!

Before going in the oven. I didn't get a chance to get the
after picture- everyone was ready to dive in!
For the full recipe, and photos that will make you drool (seriously, her pictures make mine look... well, bad. I think it's partly that she had legs and thighs, whereas I used the full leg quarters, and of course she's more experienced with the camera, and probably with slicing fruits and veggies!). Seriously though folks, go check out Georgia's site, The Comfort of Cooking for the full, easy-peasy, recipe. You'll thank me later!

Be sure to let me know how yours turned out!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Stock Up On Savings!

My friend Leslie had been posting pictures on facebook recently, bragging about how much she spent on her buys. After seeing the second picture, I had to comment on it. It was amazing how little she spent for what she took home! She told me that she just recently joined a private group on Facebook that shared great buys at Walgreens, and loved saving money on items she had to buy for her family anyway. She invited me to join the group, and while I thought I knew quite a few tricks to save money while shopping, I was learning new stuff from this group right away!

This group shares tips and tricks like what coupons to stock up on so you can get the biggest bang for your buck while items are on sale, when to buy certain things to ensure you're getting the lowest sale prices, and lots of other tips that I haven't even gotten to. The biggest secret that I learned was that most Walgreens (if not all) actually have their sale items in the computer system on Saturdays- when their advertisement in the newspaper states that the sale runs Sunday through Saturday. This little secret allows super savers like my friend Leslie to take advantage of combining a coupon expiring on Saturday in conjunction with the sale set to start the next day. <Mind blown> 

I had to see for myself what I could get out of my coupons set to expire today and the two sales at Walgreens today- the ad ending today and the ad starting tomorrow that was really in the computers today. My first step was to check for myself if what I heard was true. So I called my local Walgreens store and asked if tomorrow's ad prices are in the computer today for me to take advantage of, or if what I heard was just a rumor. The manager informed me that Sunday's ad prices are in fact in the computer system on Saturday. He said in the past the computer was updated early on Saturdays, but it was recently changed and the computers are updated with the new sale prices at 4 PM on Saturday. Score! So I gathered my laptop, my coupon binder (yes, I'm one of those women!), and my notepad and got to work figuring out what sales I wanted to take advantage of. 

Here's the list of what I wanted to get:

Rightguard deodorant (regular price $4.19 each) on sale BOGO, and I had a coupon for $2 off 2= final price of $2.19 for 2.
Rightguard bodywash (regular price $4.99 each) on sale BOGO, and I had a coupon for B2G1= final price of $4.99 for 3... they were out of Rightguard and the cashier let me get Nivea and honored the coupon since Nivea was the same price of $4.99.
Tone bodywash (regular price of $4.59) on sale BOGO, and I had a coupon for B2G1= final price of $4.59 for 3... they were also out of Tone and she let me get Caress instead, again because it was the same price of $4.59 each.
Axe products (regular price $4.99) on sale B1G1 50% (buy one at regular price, get the second half off), and I had 2 coupons- one for $1 off shower gel, one for $2 off deodorant= final price of $4.48 for bodywash and deodorant.
Nutella (regular price $4.39) on sale for $3.49 and I had a coupon for BOGO= final price of $3.49 for 2.
Rockstar energy drinks (regular price $2.49) on sale for $1 each, and $1 register reward good on the next purchase. While there was a limit of one register reward, my husband loves these drinks and it's a nice 'special treat' for him to have occasionally, so I bought 6= $6 plus $1 RR.

My husband put the Rockstars away before any nosy kids
could get home and see them. 

The total before savings comes to $70.82. I paid $25.74 and saved $45.08, or 64%! Granted, there was tax added on, but I also bought a couple other items at regular price that I was going to buy anyway. If it wasn't for the other items, and the fact that the cashier rang things up differently to accommodate the substitutions I would have taken a picture of the receipt to show you the proof, so you wouldn't have to take my word for it!

While I only documented my trip to Walgreens for you, I also stopped by HyVee and Price Chopper for a couple of sale items. To make my money stretch as far as possible, I make sure I stock up on things when I can get them at a bargain price. My best example from today was canned vegetables: even store brand canned veggies are usually $.89 regular price- HyVee had their store brand canned corn and green beans on sale for $.39, so I stocked up! I bought a dozen cans of green beans and a 18 cans of corn. 

I know, I know, canned veggies aren't that great for you... I have been trying to get my family accustomed to fresh or at least frozen vegetables and a wider variety, but I still buy canned vegetables for two reasons. First, I have a mid-size deep freezer, only 9 cubic feet, so the freezer space is precious and used for meat as well as a variety of other things. Second, I like to have shelf stable foods as well as perishables. You can call me a prepper if you want- I want to be prepared with food that won't go bad if a winter storm takes out power lines! Now, if the zombie apocalypse started tomorrow it would be a much different story...

So now that you know one of the many ways I stretch each dollar, quarter and penny, it's time for you to share some of your tips! Do you have a favorite store you stick to or do you shop where the best deals are? Are you a 'crazy coupon lady' or do you shop the sales? Do you stock up when you go shopping or do you buy just enough to get you by for a few days? Do you plan meals and stick to your grocery list or do you stop by the store each evening after work panicking about what to feed your family? Does anyone else shop at Walgreens and combine coupons with their sales? I'd love to hear about your experiences!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Shawna's Zucchini Bread

This isn't really the season for zucchinis or for zucchini bread, but I saw Jill of One Good Thing By Jillee mention banana bread and it really got me in the mood for zucchini bread. Not that banana bread isn't amazing and delicious, but I only had two bananas left and they weren't nearly ripe enough, and let's face it: my teenager would eat them before I could make the bread anyway. Luckily for me (and the rest of my sweet-toothed family), I had a TON of zucchini come out of my garden this past year that I couldn't use quick enough, so in my deep freeze I have a bunch of pureed, grated, and cubed zucchini just waiting for the right time to use it. Like right now.

I'm sure you sweet bread lovers have had or at least heard of zucchini bread before- the basics are the same as quite a few other sweet breads. So what makes this mine? Well, for starters, this is my family's favorite deviation from a recipe I've found (The original recipe for 'Mom's Zucchini Bread' can be found on allrecipes.com- this was the closest I could find to an old family recipe that I had used long ago). Secondly, I made several changes to that recipe to make it a little healthier but not so much so that my kids won't eat it.

For starters, I'd like to mention that my husband said that my website needs to have smell-o-vision. My boys always love the way the house smells when my zucchini bread is baking! And until they have a slice in hand, I'm asked non-stop from the time it goes in the oven "is it done yet?". And heaven help me when it comes out of the oven and is cooling IN the pan! "How 'bout now? Now? NOW?" I do have to admit, though, while I love this bread anytime, it's best straight out of the oven and still warm. Ray and I like a little butter smeared on it and all melty, Codey likes dipping it in his milk like a cookie, and Dakota loves it plain (go figure, picky boy).

Without further adieu, here's the recipe:

Shawna's Zucchini Bread


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
2 1/4 cups granulated sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons milled flax seed
2 cups pureed zucchini


1. Grease two bread pans (you can flour them too, but I never do) and preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. 

I love my stoneware, just wish I had two!

2. Sift flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cinnamon together in a bowl.

3. Beat eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla and flax seed together in a large bowl. 

4. Add the dry ingredients and mix well. Add the zucchini and stir until well combined.
Pretty dry before adding the zucchini.

Make sure you include all the liquid from the zucchini!

Once the zucchini is thoroughly mixed into the batter,
it should be a uniform consistency and
easy to pour.

5. Pour evenly into the greased bread pans.

Ready to go in the oven

6. Bake for 40 to 60 minutes (mine take right around 50 minutes), or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in pan on a cooling rack for 20 minutes. Remove from pan and allow to cool (or eat it warm!).

Cooling... and tempting the boys. 


1. You can use 3 cups of all purpose flour and exclude the whole wheat flour if you don't have any.

2. The zucchini can be grated/shredded instead of pureed. I puree it in my Ninja blender for my picky eaters who don't do chunks. At. All.

I love my Ninja blender!

3. The milled flax seed is my addition, and can be excluded without affecting the recipe. You can also use the flax seed in place of one or all of the eggs- 1 Tbs of flax seed + 3 Tbs of water replaces one egg in baking recipes. I believe milled flax seed can replace some of the oil as well, although I would recommend against reducing the oil by too much. I simply added the flax seed for the healthy omega-3 fatty acids and added fiber. If you include it, just be sure you're getting the milled flax seed and not whole- the body can't properly digest whole flax seed, so you won't get any of the health benefits. 

4. Chopped walnuts can be added into the bread (1 cup) or simply sprinkled on top. I'm not a big fan of nuts in breads, and neither are my kids so I rarely include any nuts. 

5. The cooking time will vary depending on a number of factors. I recommend checking it after 40 minutes, but keep in mind that it could take as long as 60 minutes to bake completely.

6. If you have a stand mixer, by all means use it. I have a Kitchenaid mixer I recently got as a hand-me-down, and forgot to use it for this bread!

7. Make sure you clean up after yourself when waiting for the bread to bake. If you're anything like me, once the bread is cooled, sliced and in front of you, you will not want to wash dishes!

The dishwasher was full from dinner, and I knew I
wouldn't want to tackle these later.

8. Savor. Every. Single. Bite. It's that good, and if you don't really enjoy that first slice or two, you might regret that third slice. Not because it's not as delicious as the first or second slice, but because you know after somewhere around slice 3 or 4 you start to feel guilty that you won't have as much to enjoy later! I speak from experience here- the three of us have over half a loaf gone, and tomorrow evening the only thing we'll have left will be crumbs. 

Note that I had to limit us to 2 slices each...

Codey's the dipper in our family.

So now that you know what to do with it, be sure to grab some zucchini the next time you see it on sale (or sooner if you get a craving!) and make sure you have this recipe available for this summer when you're pulling zucchini from the garden.

Be sure to tell me in the comments below how yours turns out, and don't be stingy, share this with your friends!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Fudgy Homemade Brownies (The Best!)

As I was sitting here this evening, I realized why I couldn't concentrate on what I was doing- I had a craving. Which is always horrible when you live in this house, because we rarely have ready-to-go sweets just laying around! That would be my fault- I plan the meals, I do the grocery shopping by myself. Which, to be completely honest, is how I prefer to shop- no one around to keep asking for extras. It's just quite the Debbie Downer when we want to have something sweet- I NEVER buy extras that aren't on my grocery list when I shop alone!

So what did I do? What any Pinterest addict would do! Search Pinterest for a fairly easy sweet treat that I have all the ingredients for. The first sweet I saw was for brownies, and I knew I had everything for the basic brownie recipe. Sweet Anna's had the perfect recipe to appease my craving: The Best Fudgy Homemade Brownies, From Scratch!

Fresh out of the oven

My youngest had some serious curiosity going on when I announced that I had a sweet tooth and was going to bake something. He guessed cookies. Nope. He guessed a cake. Nope. Even with all the ingredients on the table, he still was clueless. 

The flour and water was missing from this picture. 
It was included in the brownies, promise!

Once I shared with him that I was making brownies from scratch, he asked if he could help. Of course he knows that mom goes a little easier on him when he participates and helps me in the kitchen. I love that he wants to help occasionally in the kitchen, but I swear it's only when it's something sweet that he knows he's going to love! 

 "Mom, it looks like mud"

 Step 2, pouring sugar nice and slow...
Until I told him the slower he pours, the longer
he has to wait to eat brownies!

 Let's get 'er done!

 Last addition- flour and chocolate chips!

 Starting to look like brownie mix

 Ready to bake! 35 minutes?!?! That's forever
in the eyes of an 11 year old!

Cool moms let their helper lick the bowl. 

So while Dakota and I were mixing up the brownies, Dad was playing a video game online with my brother, Chris, who lives next door, and a couple other friends. I learned after the brownies were in the oven that he announced to Chris what Dakota and I were up to. Naturally, Chris said he'd be over when the brownies were done. He was as serious as a heart attack. After 35 minutes, the brownies looked like perfection and came out of the oven to cool off (see the very first picture). It smelled like chocolate had died in our kitchen and we had all gone to chocolate heaven. After 15 minutes of Dakota asking if the brownies were cooled enough, I decided to cut into them.

 Chris was at the door before the knife came out of the pan!

Chris has only complained about one or two of my meals that I've prepared, which is a miracle considering he's a fairly picky eater for his age. But his pickiness on top of Dakota's has caused me to alter the meal plans a bit so that they would eat what gets fixed for dinner each night. So for him to say that these were bigger and better than the brownies that come from the boxed mix, it was quite the compliment!

 Dakota enjoying his handiwork in the kitchen alongside Dad.

Our older son who's still at home, Codey, had spent part of the evening at a friend's house, and had no clue what Dakota and I had been up to. Amazingly, it seems as if every time I bake something new or have a really yummy new dinner that I try out, someone shows up with impeccable timing! As we're all diving into some chocolaty heaven, Codey walked in the front door. First words out of his mouth: "I love coming home to brownies!". 

Codey dove right into the brownies with everyone else.

Needless to say, I think these brownies were a huge hit! There is still half a pan left, but I guarantee that tomorrow evening after dinner, I'll be surprised to see crumbs in the pan! I gotta admit, this may not be a good indulgence if you're on a diet- there's two cups of granulated sugar and two cups of chocolate chips in them. But if you're not on a diet, this makes an amazing weekend treat for the family that everyone is sure to love!

Be sure to hop on over to Sweet Anna's by clicking on the link to get the full recipe, and don't forget to let her know I sent you her way!