Instant Pot Sous Vide Egg Bites

Starbucks knows my heart. Right around when I was pretty much giving up breakfast carbs for life (which send me on a roller coaster all day filled with crashes, spikes and cravings), it came out with its Sous Vide Egg Bites. The anti-sandwich, they are the epitome of my perfect breakfast food.

Take all my money, Starbucks. Just take it. Over the last 18 months, I have fallen so deeply in love with these egg bites, that I would covet Starbucks gift cards and even forego coffee to afford them. The protein count, pop of flavor, the cute little carrying case. I love it all.

I needed to find a way to recreate these and started researching it over a year ago. It seems the secret/not-so-secret ingredient is cottage cheese. That gives them the protein boost and the creamy texture. The add-ins are infinitely adaptable. The method is indisputable, sous vide in the Instant Pot.

Through some trial and error and shamelessly stealing other people’s recipes, I have developed my own easy recipe for these that is going to carry me through this Fall until I burn out on them.

Essential equipment:

  • Vitamix – this thing is more than a blender people – you can try these without one, but I firmly believe that the Vitamix whips a lot of air into the eggs which ends up being the key to the light and fluffy texture
  • Instant Pot – I mean, can we even be internet friends if you don’t have one? I am the Instant Pot’s original hype girl.
  • Silicone Mold – this little flower-looking mold makes these mimic the texture of the Starbucks bites and fits perfectly into your Instant Pot

Recipe:

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Add into your Vitamix: 8 eggs, 1 cup of full fat cottage cheese, and 1/2 cup of shredded cheese of your choice. I think you could omit the shredded cheese. Blend, gently turning it up to 10 and then to high, for 2-3 minutes, incorporating all of that good air.

Mix-ins: I have found that about 2 cups of raw spinach, 1/2 cup raw chopped peppers, and about 1 cup of chopped up turkey sausage or bacon are my favorites. I love that I don’t have to cook the mix-ins in advance.

Add them into the Vitamix and “pulse” the Vitamix- incorporating the mix-ins and pulverizing the spinach a bit.

Put two cups of water in your IP, and lower your trivet down into it (the one that came with it). Fill your mold. Seal the top with foil and put on Steam for 10 minutes.

You will need to do two batches- this made 14. I found it worked best to pop them out when they were warm vs. leaving them in the mold and putting the lid on.

I am very happy with these, my kids love them, too, and it makes enough to make it worth it for quick breakfasts.

Enjoy!

Bullet Journaling 101

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Raise your hand if you have some combination of a planner, a phone with notes x10, a digital calendar, a grocery list app, a meal planning notepad, a family calendar on the wall, and post-its in various spots around your house?

That was me a year ago. Everything was silo’d and organized, but there was no central spot for it. I was drawn to my iphone resources (calendar, notes) because my phone is always with me, but also feeling a draw to be on my screen less (especially around my kids), and feeling like all the tools I was using were disparate. I never felt like I had what I needed when I needed it. I would be reading a magazine, and it would have a meal plan idea, a new book I want to read, and a Netflix line up for Fall — and I wanted to record all of that information in addition to the great quote I heard on NPR while driving.

It was around then that I learned about Bullet Journaling through an Atomic Moms podcast interview with Ryder Carroll. The minimalist in me loved the idea of using any blank journal — who doesn’t have a drawer of them? And the wanting-to-be-more-mindful mama in me loved the mindfulness aspect of Bullet Journaling.

I have wanted to write about this for a long time, but it took me a long time to find my own groove, and I want to encourage you to find your own groove if you feel a draw toward this type of planning.

Reasons why I have grown to love BuJo:

  • I can curl up with my journal and my pen anywhere, anytime, and everything I need is at my fingertips; this includes when I am with my kids at the park or the pool, where I don’t want to be on my phone, but I do have a few minutes (or planning thoughts that need to be recorded)
  • It allows me to be creative with pens and lettering, which is something I feel drawn toward but in a more private sense (don’t love my lettering enough to do it as a side-hustle)
  • I no longer have decision fatigue- when I want to record a gift idea, a future event date, a meal plan idea, I know exactly where to go; I make a new page, index it and move on
  • I have a record of my life – I can look back at how my weeks looked, at my notes from a particularly great speaker I attended, at which meals I have made and loved in October, and at my summer planner
  • I have recognized the mindfulness aspect of carrying forward tasks, re-writing them, re-committing to them
  • I have a perfect view of my week every week that serves me (I got here via trial and error)
  • I didn’t need to spend any money or do anything extra to do this habit so it fits in line with my minimalism journey

The basics of bullet journaling are:

  • Buy or find a blank notebook and a pen you really like
  • Start out with an index – number your pages as such, add to your index anytime (e.g. Christmas Lists, Future Blog Post ideas, shows to watch on Netflix)
  • Figure out your best page layout – I did this through trial and error – I’ll show you where I started below and where I have ended up
  • Don’t get too bogged down in the beautiful symbols and watercolors of others who do #bujo – I let that make me feel bad for a while, but now I’m back just reveling in the simplicity and productivity of this habit
  • Change it up when it doesn’t work for you (for example, I used to record when I was going to work out in every day; I later realized, my workout is daily, and the time changes, and there is no point in writing it on my schedule)
  • Resist the urge to use other tools, but instead think about how you can use your BuJo to fit that same need
  • Check out resources below for help

My Bullet Journal

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The format that I have found that works for me is a little different than what is initially recommended by Ryder. When I started, I was making a section for each day as the week went along – this is what Ryder suggests so you don’t take up too much space in the Journal – so the idea is that some days are short, and some days are long (with notes) so you shouldn’t draw it all out in advance. This worked for me for a bit, but I realized that I usually plan my whole week out on Sunday or Monday so I needed to see a full vision of the week to make it fit together – and I usually have enough space for notes since my life is not full of a lot of meetings (at this point).  In my original style, I used Ryder’s suggested bullets (circles for appointments, bullets for tasks and arrows for things you are carrying forward, an X to x through a completed task, and strike-through if it wasn’t being carried forward. My current style uses circles for appointments but allocates tasks broadly thoroughout the week. If you are using your BuJo for work and you have more notes, I could see why that style could work for you. We are all such unique creatures!

Original Style:

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Current Style:

Every week I use an index card to draw these lines:

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Then I fill in the dates and section headers:

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In addition to drawing out the week in advance using a ruler, I also learned that I needed a spot for my “dinner plan” and a spot for overall to-dos. I am not at the point where I can assign my weekly to-dos to a certain day of the week, so when I did that, I was having to move my bullets forward a lot, vs. just having an overall vision of what I want to accomplish during the week which I look at throughout the week.

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Last, I found that I like to look ahead and know what is coming down the pike. I added a section for upcoming that helps me look ahead without having to flip the page. And, because I had room, I added a spot for my shoppping list which I later assign to each store on my OurGroceries App.

Overall, 9 months into this habit, and I continue to learn about myself, my habits, intentions and planning style. If you have been thinking about doing this, I would encourage you to use a notebook you have hanging around and just get started! It is freeing to have everything in one place and has streamlined life planning, meal planning and weekly planning.

Do you BuJo? Let me know in the comments what layout works for you!

Resources

Toddler Snacks: Veggie Plate

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Well that was a fun little break, wasn’t it? Y’all, I got somehow locked out of my blog and every time I went to bring it back to life it and write something, I became so technically bogged down that I just went to the freezer and ate a greek yogurt ice cream bar instead. Seriously people- have you tried these? They are 100 calories and feel so rich and indulgent, but aren’t. Get thee to your local market. I’ve tried all the brands. Even Aldi makes a mean mint chocolate chip.

In the meantime, I’ve written about a hundred little posts to you in my head, but none of them made it to you, so I have some catching up to do.

Hey, do your kids like to snack? Um, does wine come in boxes? Yes. and Yes. These are life truths.

My kids love to snack, but I’m one of those mean moms who doesn’t let them eat between meals. I want them ravenous at dinnertime and coming to the table ready to eat anything and everything I put in front of them. It works, and I harness this control and use it for good. Mwah-ha-ha.

Still, there are times kids are going to want snacks, and there are times when I crave a little something, too, while cooking, or anxiously waiting to hear the garage door open (is there a mom on this earth who doesn’t feel her shoulders relax when she hears that sound?) A friend shared this idea with me a long time ago, and I held onto it. I love it for two reasons: 1) It gives me a reason to say ‘yes’ to my kids and I’m trying to be more of a yes person in that improv-y kind of way, not in a permissive doormat way. So this allows me to say yes, you can have a snack! and 2) it gives me a glorious excuse to expose my kiddos to more of a fun variety of vegetables. If they eat them, GREAT. If they nibble or try something new, GREAT. If they just see something they haven’t seen before, that’s still a small win in my book. And whatever is leftover, I saute up in a big stir fry at the end of the week, or add to a weekend frittata. Who doesn’t love a frittata?!

Veggie Snack Tray How-To

  1. Shop for and buy novel, interesting vegetables – I love peppers of varying colors, carrots of varying colors, cucumbers, celery, corn, and zucchini. You could also try jicama, sugar snap peas, radishes, peas, lettuces, sweet potatoes, etc.
  2. Cut up the veggies in fun ways – I cut corn into little wagon wheels, I make zucchini into zoodles, and I cut cukes into all kinds of shapes. I love to present the veggies in a fun way. Be creative!
  3. Add a dip – I whip up a quick dip from greek yogurt – adding avocado, garlic salt and other items I have on hand. I mix it up. This is a fun recipe.
  4. Add to it throughout the week – replenish, add new things, add fruit if that’s your thing.  Keep it stashed in a large tupperware or ziplock when it’s not being served. I added homemade gummies to this tray- made with carrot juice and pomegranate juice- I thought they were repugnant but my kids seemed to love them.

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I hope this idea works for you in some way  – take the small wins – they’re still wins!

I’m glad to be back, readers. Thanks for being understanding during my involuntary sabbatical. xo Sarah

Feeding Toddlers: Toppings Bar

God, please don’t strike me down for saying this, but recently, I’ve been doing a little happy dance after every single meal at my house. After three agonizing years of meal struggles (and endless self-doubt) and battles to stay at the table, finish dinner, eat the same meal as the family, it feels like we’ve reached the promised land. Our kids are trying (and for the most part eating) every single thing we put in front of them, not complaining, and giving compliments.

I’d like to thank Janet Lansbury for the words, “when you leave the table, you’re telling me you’re done” and my friend Erica for sharing the words “if you don’t like it, you don’t have to eat it.” My own phrase, “if you try one bite and don’t like it, you can spit it out,” has also gotten us really far. But mostly, I credit my dogged determination to only make one meal per night, no matter what. Many children have gone to bed hungry, but we’ve reinforced what is important and tenable for us, and it has worked.

One of the ways I’ve gotten away with that, is what I’m going to coin a “toppings bar.” In How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, the authors suggest that you let a child put their own food on their plate – serve themselves. I tried this starting about a year ago, and it didn’t really work. I wanted it to work, but it didn’t – it resulted in my 3 year old destroying the dish of food with a serving spoon, spilling half of it on the table, putting a too large serving on her plate, and eating it at the same rate she would have if I had served her.

Still, I struggled to find a way to give my kids autonomy over their meals, both portions but also textures and flavors. Hence, the topping bar was born.

So, without ado, here are my top five meals that I serve “toppings bar” style. I hope you can incorporate these into your repertoire, and you have as much success as we have. I’ve learned a lot about my kids this way, and found it also allows us each to have a meal that fits our needs for the day.  I am sure there are tons of other ideas, and I think you can incorporate these tenets into almost every meal by leaving off a few things and letting your kids opt-in or out.

“Taco” Night

You make: salsa chicken. For me, that’s one jar of my favorite Aldi garlic salsa, and 3 lbs of chicken thighs, in the Instant Pot on high for 25 minutes. You can also do this in the slow cooker, or with breasts if you prefer. This is a favorite recipe if you like a spicier flavor profile.

Toppings: you provide some combination of whole wheat tortillas, tortilla chips, brown rice (the frozen trader joes kind), cauliflower rice (same, Trader Joes), shredded lettuce/slaw, chopped avocado, shredded cheese, sour cream, corn (frozen- microwaved for 30 seconds with a few tablespoons of water), chopped tomatoes, canned olives.

Note: this is one of our easiest dinners that we make when we are all getting back from swim lessons and it’s already dinner and we’re all exhausted. I prep the chicken during naptime and just open when it’s time, and I put all the other toppings on a platter earlier that day, so all I have to do is microwave the rice/corn and supper is ready.

Chili night

This is a tried and true way to feed a crowd; it’s my go-to.

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You make: your favorite chili. For me, that’s the Skinnytaste Two Bean Chili in Fast and Slow, or this Smitten Kitchen favorite in which you literally just dump everything in the crockpot or IP and walk away.

Toppings: you provide some combination of tortilla chips, cornbread (always Jiffy, always doctored up with some white cheddar and frozen corn), chopped onion, chopped avocado, chopped cucumber, shredded cheese, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, chopped jalapeno, canned olives.

Oatmeal bar

This is a favorite for my kids during the winter months.

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You make: steel cut oats in the Instant Pot. I just started using Melissa Clark’s method, where you toast 1 cup of steel cut oats in 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of maple syrup – toasting til fragrant. Add 3 1/4 cups of water and set for 11 minutes and natural release- I think they need about an hour to thicken up. Then you can portion them out or serve them.

Toppings: you provide some combination of chopped fresh fruit, dried fruit or raisins, toasted nuts, brown sugar, maple syrup and/or honey, cinnamon and/or cream or milk.

Greek night

You make: Trader Joe’s chicken schwarma which comes pre-marinated with a stellar blend of yogurt and spices. It’s sold right near the fresh meats.

Toppings: you provide some combination of garlic naan toasted and cut into triangles, chopped cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, marinated chickpeas (evoo, red wine vinegar, herbs and spices) or just rinsed ones from a can, feta cheese, hummus, and lettuce or slaw

Note: I love to eat mine as a huge salad, where my kids love to make pita sandwiches

Steak & Potato night

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You make: grilled steaks or the super easy balsamic rosemary Steak Tips from Trader Joe’s and twice-baked potatoes, lightened up with greek yogurt.

Toppings: you provide some combination of cooked crumbled bacon, shredded cheese, chopped chives, sour cream, and salsa.

Note: I love this for a Friday night with kids

Pizza night

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You make: your favorite dough- or my favorite, the pre-made Cali’Flour foods crusts.

Toppings: you provide whatever is in your fridge! We love Trader Joes meatballs which are easy to thaw, turkey pepperoni, fresh mozzarella, fresh arugula, olives, mushrooms, red peppers.

Last, my friend Amaree introduced me to this adorable idea years ago of serving snacks in an ice cube tray. I still pack snacks this way for the kids sometimes when I have a bunch of little random things.

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Whatever works for you and your family, I hope you’ll enjoy these ideas and modify them and make them your own!

Happy eating with toddlers!

New Year, New Soup (Instant Pot Ham, Chickpea and Swiss Chard)

Well, that was fun wasn’t it? We all ate a little too much pound cake, drank a little too much champagne, gorged on a little bit too much brie, and it was damn good while it lasted. Now, in addition to scribbling out 8s and writing 9s on our checks, we’re back to the gym (ouch, I could barely even wash my hair today after 8000 tricep exercises) and reinserting vegetables into our repertoire. I, for one, love this time of year. It’s a good time of year to set intentions (my preference over resolutions), and I love the opportunity to get back to the healthy meals and regular bedtimes we thrive on.

I first made this soup 8 years ago with leftover ham from my first Thanksgiving with my husband, and I’ve been in love with and tweaking this recipe ever since. It’s bold with flavor, and can be adopted to either the slow cooker or the stove. It’s cheap to make (I’m looking at you Christmas bills), and really versatile (smoked turkey would make a great substitution if you don’t eat pork).

I love how the hearty swiss chard stands up to the smokiness of the ham and the texture of the beans. This soup is a symphony of colors and flavors and one of my all-time favorites. As y’all know, I make a big pot of soup every Monday to eat for the week and this is going to be a great week. Make this (you can easily double it if you have the 8qt Instant Pot, and put some in a jar to give to someone you love (or who needs your support this week). You won’t regret it.

There are so many reasons why I love soup, namely:

  1. It’s super affordable to make
  2. It uses up extra pantry items
  3. It’s a one pot meal – less dishes and clean up
  4. It can be made in the Instant Pot (AKA black magic maker)
  5. It’s a great way to hide vegetables for picky eaters, er toddlers
  6. It’s easy to heat and eat for daily lunches (usually in a mug)
  7. It’s low carb/low starch and usually quite healthy

So, without further ado:

Bean, Ham & Swiss Chard Soup

3 slices of bacon, chopped (if you don’t eat pork, you can easily omit)

1/2 cup of chopped onion or 8 cloves of chopped garlic, or both, depending on your preference or what you have around

2 carrots, peeled and diced

4 stalks of celery, diced

1 cup of diced, smoked ham from a smoked ham steak  (or the same amount of smoked turkey or even smoked chicken)- dice in 1/4 inch chunks

1 can of chickpeas or black eyed peas (or even white beans), drained and rinsed

1 can of fire roasted diced tomatoes, including juice

1 small bunch of swiss chard, washed thoroughly (doesn’t need to be dried)

4 teaspoons of better than bouillon chicken

4 cups of water

red pepper flakes to taste

salt and pepper to taste

First: Start by using a scissors to cut the central rib out of each leaf of your swiss chard, and when you have your leaves destemmed, roll them gently like paper tubes, and using a scissors, cut them into 1/2 inch thick ribbons.

Instant Pot directions: saute chopped bacon until crispy (2-4 minutes); do not drain; add vegetables (garlic, onion, carrot, celery) and sautee until softened, about 4 minutes; add ham (or other meat) and beans and tomatoes, add BTB and water, and red pepper flakes if you are using. Add swiss chard. Set Instant Pot to manual and 0 minutes. Natural release and taste for seasoning. Depending on saltiness of the ham, you may not need any additional salt.

Stove top directions: saute chopped bacon in the bottom of a heavy dutch oven or pot until crispy (2-4 minutes); do not drain; add vegetables (garlic, onion, carrot, celery) and saute until softened, about 4 minutes; add ham (or other meat) and beans and tomatoes, add BTB and water, and red pepper flakes if you are using. Add swiss chard. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for one hour on low. Taste for seasoning. Depending on saltiness of the ham, you may not need any additional salt.

*Soup pictured with perfect, apt tea towel which was a gift from my lovely friend Chelo, and on my new vintage tray. Inspired by my friend Ashley who has about 25 of them, I’m amassing an army of these things from rummage sales and the Restore, and using them to feel civilized as I serve the kids their waffles during Sesame Street.

 

Clove Oranges (Toddler Style)

Minimalism at the holidays is a tough one. It’s one thing to say you are going to buy less, store less, decorate less, but its challenging to achieve that during a time of year when the world seems to be calling: spenddddd moneyyyyy on meeeee. One way I combat the buying/storing problem and the overwhelmingness of boxes of decor is by using natural materials for indoor decor. This year, Trader Joe’s delivered with evergreen garlands and wreaths, and we incorporated berries from our holly bushes inside. Still, I was jonesing for a centerpiece for this weekend and loathe to bring another item into the house. Then I remembered the retro simplicity of clove orange pomanders.

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I’m not crafty. I’m not saying I don’t have vision or creativity, but I seriously lack the patience to follow through on crafts, and every time I try to do them with my kids, I end up regretting it, re-upping our memberships to places that are not-home and getting out of the house no matter what the temps or the inertia.

Still, every once in a while I need an activity that isn’t messy to fill an hour of time, and I have a certain nostalgia for these clove oranges that I grew up making. Pomanders apparently date back to medieval times, but the modern iterations like these have been popular since I was growing up in the 80s (and maybe before? Chime in if you know, my googling is coming up short).

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I started to wonder if I could adapt clove oranges to toddlers, so first I thought- Halos! What toddler doesn’t love a halo and they are perfect for small hands. Next, I realized that if I left the clove placement to chance, I would end up with one orange with 87 cloves in a bunch, and one with 2 cloves spaced out randomly.  I figured that if I could make the holes for the cloves with skewers, that my kids could practice their hand-eye coordination and put the cloves in the holes. Keeping in mind that my 2.5 year old still won’t put his own socks on and wants to be fed airplane style, I didn’t have high hopes.

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Turns out that this was a wonderful way to spend an hour before dinner. Both kids enjoyed having the holes pre-pierced – I forgot how hard you have to press to pierce the skin of the orange, and they both loved this activity (at ages 2.5 and 3.5).

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So, if you’re looking for a non-messy, relatively cheap and easy project with the kiddos that results in a totally delectable smelling house, pick up some halos and a jar of whole cloves. You can also glue gun ribbons on if you want to hang these on the tree, and I’m told you can dry them and save them for future years. I probably won’t be doing that, but they’ll be on my table until after the New Year.

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Family Traditions: Peppernuts

One of the best parts of getting married for me was marrying into a family rich with it’s own traditions. The Morford clan is known for its epic board game collection, its hereditary ping pong skills, biscuits and sausage gravy, and….peppernuts. Pepperwhats? The first time I went home with my husband for Christmas almost 8 years ago, I was introduced to the oddest cookie I’d ever seen. It looks like a dog biscuit, and yet it’s perhaps one of the most addictive treats I’ve ever known. They are tiny and crunchy and can be eaten by the handful. The Morford men are known to receive pillow cases full of peppernuts at the holidays, although in my time I’ve only seen them in huge tupperwares and jars. They are a staple at Christmastime.

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Few things make my husband happier than sitting down at night in front of a football game or Netflix cuddled up with his bourbon and his jar of peppernuts. And since few things make me happier than my husband, I’m intent on filling his peppernut jar annually. From the beginning of my relationship with my husband, it was clear that I would take on the tradition of baking them annually, and I hope I will be able to carry forth that tradition and pass it on to my kids.

After years of apprenticing my mother-in-law in the kitchen, I have taken on baking these myself for the past two years, and two years ago it dawned on me that the rolling of the dough is quite similar to playdough. This gave me the idea to host a peppernuts party for toddlers who could easily roll the dough in balls, snakes, and cut it with plastic knives into the thumb-sized nobbins. Last year, I hosted 20 toddlers for the first annual Peppernuts Playdate, and this year I’ll host at least half a dozen.

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Another tradition I have picked up from my in-laws is service to others, especially this time of year — so each year, I dedicate my peppernuts party to someone. Last year it was military kids, and this year, its to the Peninsula Food Bank. Baking and donating go so well together.

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So, if you’re looking for an easy, addictive cookie that lasts for weeks (months, really), and can be made by toddlers and non-bakers alike, I urge you to add the peppernut to your holiday baking repertoire.

The recipe I inherited is somewhat vague, so I’ve included it here with some of my notes on how to make the baking process go smoother.

Peppernuts (taken from the German pfeffernusse)

 

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This recipe, made in full, will use the better part of a 5 lb bag of flour (which you won’t even find listed on the original recipe card). You can feel free to half the recipe, and it halves quite easily.  The “half batch” will make enough to fill two large tupperware containers, or 6-8 tins.

 

 

 

 

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Full Recipe

3 cups sugar

3 cups shortening (Crisco)

2 cups light corn syrup

1 cup cream (I use whipping cream)

1/2 cup milk

2 teaspoons cinnamon

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

2 eggs

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I recommend a stand mixer for this recipe, or a very large bowl and a hand mixer. Regardless of what you use, you will need to make this in two “batches.” In the bowl of the stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in your large bowl, add half of the sugar (1.5 cups), Crisco (1 cup), and corn syrup (1 cup). Add one egg. Add 1/2 cup cream, 1/4 cup milk and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. nutmeg, 1/4 tsp. cloves, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder. Once incorporated, using a full 5 lb. bag of flour, start adding small amounts of flour. Keep adding until the dough is the consistency of playdough – if you are using a stand mixer, it will start to lock up- don’t let it burn out the motor, but when it starts to lock up, that is enough flour. If you want to measure, there are about 17 cups of flour in a 5 lb bag- so you will need somewhere between 8-9 cups. Scrape out the dough completely, but don’t clean the paddle or the bowl. Put the dough in a large tupperware container or bowl.

 

Repeat the entire process with the other half of the ingredients until the bag of flour is gone.

Prepare a sheet pan with parchment or silpat.

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Taking about 1 cup of dough at a time, roll into a ball and then into two “snakes”. Using your thumbnail as a guide, and a knife, cut thumbnail sized chunks of dough and place them on a sheet pan. They won’t puff up much so you can put a lot of them on the pan and quite close together. Bake for 15 minutes at 350. They are done when they are slightly brown on the bottom. Cool slightly (2-3 min) and then you can use your hand to knock all of the cookies off and onto a baking rack (they aren’t delicate).

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Enjoy – they wont last long which is why we try to make 10,000 of them at once!

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Christmas Morning Monkey Bread

In our house growing up, there were two Christmas food traditions that stand out: we always went to the candlelight service on Christmas Eve at our church and picked up 20 lbs of Chinese food on the way home, and we always had monkey bread on Christmas morning.  Even as a child, I can remember swirling around the frozen rolls in the melted butter and tossing them in the cinnamon sugar. I suspect, now that I’m a mom, that my mom figured out early that cooking on Christmas morning was not very fun, and took her out of the action, so she came up with this hack to serve a beautiful pull-apart breakfast with minimal effort.

I’ve always loved the glossy brown finish on a Monkey Bread, it reminds me of Tarte Tatin, one of my favorite French desserts. This recipe is simple and easy, and can be made sometime the day before you want to serve it. Little hands can cut the biscuits, shake them in the bag with the cinnamon sugar, and put them in the pan. It serves a crowd in pull apart style and reheats moderately well (ask my husband, this is his favorite.) I love this monkey bread for any brunch, mostly because it can be served elegantly on a cake stand and it can be made the night before and doesn’t require a knife to serve.

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In past years, I’ve been adding a savory casserole to the mix because I’m not a big sweets in the morning fan. In Huntsville, the year we got married, I made toad-in-the-hole with local bangers and a yorkshire-pudding like dough and we celebrated with our British neighbor. Last year, it was a hash brown and sausage number that both the kids wouldn’t touch. For many years we have had my Aunt Karen’s famous Sausage-Spinach pies which makes two pies; I love to freeze one for New Years Day. I like the complement of something savory, and we usually end up eating on both for several days which makes the mornings easier.

Whatever the occasion or your family traditions, I hope you’ll add this to your spread sometime this year.

Monkey Bread

3/4 cup sugar

1.5 teaspoons cinnamon

3 cans of refrigerated biscuit dough; I use Pillsbury; not the flaky layers kind; you can use any kind of dough if you want – frozen rolls or even pizza dough, but biscuits work best if you can find them

1/2 cup walnuts or pecans, if desired

1/2 cup of raisins, if desired

1 cup brown sugar

8 oz unsalted butter, melted

Heat oven to 350 unless you’re making the night before.

Generously butter (using a paper towel to spread) a fluted bundt pan – don’t skimp on this step or your Monkey Bread won’t come out at the end and look gorgeous on your plate. Mix your sugar and cinnamon in a gallon ziplock bag.

Cut each biscuit in quarters. Add them to the bag and shake them around to coat. Layer them into your prepared pan, sprinkling nuts and raisins on each layer, if using (I do not). Mix your melted butter and brown sugar. Pour over the top of your prepared pan.

If you’re making in advance, stop, cover the pan and put in the refrigerator overnight. Take it out of the fridge when you wake up – a post-it on the coffee maker always helps me remember.

Bake for 25-30 min until lightly browned at the edges and turning golden brown. Place on cooling rack for 5 minutes before inverting onto your cake stand. Serve warm.

 

How I do: Teacher Gifts

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When you become a mom, you get indoctrinated into this whole underbelly of extras. Things you never knew you never knew. Cognitive leaps – what? Sleep regressions (had to look this one up). Hands free pumping bras. Taking turns vs. sharing. Baby led weaning. Playdates. And, eventually, when you are one of the lucky ones among us who gets to hand our absolutely delightful children over to qualified, loving teachers with seemingly infinite wells of patience, teacher gifts.

They sneak up on you the first year; some other mom casually asks at drop off- what are you doing for teacher gifts? That launches you into a paralysis of sorts. I’m here to help.

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In my extensive market research which is by no means supported by any statistical methods, 100% of teachers want cash money. But that seems a bit tacky, no? So, I’ll soften that to say that 100% of teachers want gift cards. Still, it just doesn’t scream “I need you in my life. You are the reason I can [insert thing you love doing alone here] alone. You are the reason I can visit the gynecologist or get a root canal without getting a babysitter. I love you.”

So, enter the homemade gift. Last year, I made mini marzipan dark chocolate scone loaves for the teachers, and wrapped them with parchment. The year before, I made homemade bolognese sauce for the teachers (Instant Pot!), and attached a package of organic spaghetti. This year, I’m looking to two of the most bad-ass Southern mamas I know, and poaching their recipe and sharing it with all of you.

In my profesh opinion as a mom for less than the length of a Presidential adminstration, teachers love the gift card + homemade item combo. And a card professing your love – don’t forget that part.

My little sweethearts delivered these to their teachers this morning and I already got this text: “you realize you’re one of those put together moms that everyone *wants* to hate but can’t because it’s adorable and you’re so nice, right? (I mean this as an utter compliment, by the way).” Life goals achieved.

Don’t skimp on your teachers. I made 18 mini loaves of this bread by doubling the recipe. That means everybody including the post man is going to feel loved this holiday season. And remember, a little red and white twine works for everrrrryyyyyyy holiday! Minimalist wrapping at its best.

Six Flavor Pound Cake

Heather and Cindy (mother-daughter duo) can bake. Just take my word for it. All of their recipes are to-die-for and last year when they delivered a cookie plate to my house, I levitated a little when I tasted this pound cake. Regular pound cake, while a favorite of my husband’s, has always been just a little too basic for me. I took platters of this to a cookie exchange last night and it rocked the room. It is aromatic, unexpected, and it has butter flavored Crisco for goodness sake. Let’s leave the trans-fats convo for another day. Your teachers need the crumb that this Crisco provides.

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3 cups sugar

1/2 lb butter (unsalted)

1/2 cup shortening (I used butter flavored because I do what Cindy says)

5 eggs

3 c. flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp. baking powder

1 cup milk

2 tsp each  (divided- half goes in the glaze) vanilla, almond, lemon, coconut, rum and butter extracts

1/2 cup water

1.5 cups confectioners sugar

you will need a tube pan – I used the 16 cup Nordic Tube Pan with excellent results. I’m really glad I bought this pan. If you’re giving these away, this will make 9 mini loaf pans each recipe. I used these which are fantastic quality. 

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Cream together in a stand mixer: room temperature butter, shortening and sugars.

Add eggs, beat until lemon colored.

In a small bowl, mix milk with extracts. In another bowl, mix flour and salt and baking powder. Starting and ending with milk, add them to the mixer alternating milk and flour until it’s gone. Beat, scraping down sides.

Bake large tube pan at 350 for 1.5 hours. Bake mini loaves on a sheet pan for 1 hour at 350, turning once if you remember.

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Cool on rack. Mix 1/2 cup water with 1.5 cups of confectioners sugar and 1 tsp each of extracts. Poke holes in the top of the pound cake, and pour on glaze or brush it on liberally.

Freezer Swap

Today, I participated in my first drug deal.

I dropped my kids at school, drove to the parking lot of a church (I know, right?) and met up with some people who have the stuff I like. We all gathered between our SUVs and minivans, exchanged the goods, and went home feeling like we could do anything.

What would I do with my new found freedom? Take a week off? Stay up all night? Spend naptime napping myself? The possibilities were endless, folks.

But really – I participated in my first freezer meal swap today, and I want to share how we did it, so you can get the good stuff and feel like you can fly.

This is actually my second swap, but my first one was a crock pot meal swap. In that swap, we met at someone’s home, we did all of the crazy chopping together and bagged up our stuff, and we each went home with 4 crock pot ready meals in gallon ziplock bags.

I was invited to join this freezer swap group recently. My street cred had somehow been established, and I was issued an invite to join on this group’s second round.

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Based on how we did our swap, I’m sharing some rules about how to get this going in your life.

  1. Choose your swap group carefully. Know that chick who never puts in enough for the bill at a restaurant? She’s the same one who will stiff you at the swap. The one who always cancels last minute? She’ll bail. Choose dependable, reliable people who will stick to the deadline, the rules, and the spirit of the swap.
  2. Stick to the spirit of the swap. What is the spirit of the swap? Again, know thy group — our group all has small children, and we all eat everything. This is an omnivores swap. We have a few husbands who don’t like onions, but for the most part, no foods are off limits – this makes it immensely easier to swap. I love my friends with food allergies, but a meal swap may not be for them. Stick to your kind for the swapping. Additionally, we all want the meals to feed big families with big eaters and have some leftovers- so this isn’t a skimpy swap.
  3. Include it all: meals should contain everything needed to make the meal. If it’s a soup, give a box of broth; if it’s taco soup, include the bag of tortilla chips. If it’s a meatloaf, it should have a veggie side. You get the point.
  4. Be clear: be clear on your directions for each item. I wasn’t as clear as I should have been, but the best meals are in a foil pan, cooked, sealed in a bag with the name of the meal and the instructions clearly included. Remember, you’re going to be digging through your freezer to get these out, and the easier they are to identify and make, the more helpful they are.
  5. Set clear parameters: your swap could be an Instant Pot swap, or a Crock pot swap, or a things are already cooked and frozen swap, or a healthy swap- just be really clear so everyone knows what to do.
  6. Group text must exist: today I was told – text when you make your meal! Report back to the group, share what you loved, anything you learned while reheating it, and what the reviews were. This is the fun part.
  7. Extras are fun: during this swap, someone included a breakfast casserole as an extra, someone else made ginger molasses cookies to be baked, and someone else had homemade applesauce. The more the merrier.
  8. Be ready with freezer space: this goes without saying-be ready to clear some space, or be ready to have a light week of cooking!
  9. Set aside time to make your meals: our swap has 6 participants. Prepping my ingredients, setting aside time to assemble my items, and freeze and package them, took time – so make sure you plan your time accordingly.

 

My freezer now contains:

  • chicken and dumplings
  • ginger soy chicken and rice and veggies
  • taco soup
  • meatloaf and sweet potato mash and side of green beans
  • chipteh stew with flatbread
  • molasses spice cookies (to be baked)
  • chocolate chip cookies (to be baked)
  • applesauce

If you decide to do a swap, my advice is to:

  • start small – 4-6 people
  • choose a date 2-3 weeks in the future
  • decide on any parameters re: ingredients
  • get cooking!

I am so excited to have a freezer full of meals to get us through this busy month, and especially for the nights when we are gone all day and get back and want a home-cooked meal.

If you have done a swap before, what made it work? what didn’t work? Share please! And if you want to start a swap, how about sharing this post and seeing who might want to join you? Good luck!