premeditated meals, part 2

Here they are — in no particular order — my three FAVORITE kitchen appliances! Please know that the amazon pages listed are affiliate links and I may collect a portion of sales if items are clicked through and purchased from here.

Without further ado, the INSTANT POT!

So the Instant Pot is getting a LOT of buzz right now. But anything that can cook 2 lbs of ground beef and carrots and potatoes from stone cold raw to ready-for-dinner in about a half hour is going to get buzz. And it’s well deserved! This one appliance can do the work of so many others. It’s a pressure cooker, a slow cooker, a yogurt maker (one some models) and more! One of my favorite features is the ability to sauté in the pot before doing any pressure or slow cooking. All of a sudden you’ve eliminated the need for another pan to say, sear meat or carmelize onions.

Another great thing about the Instant Pot is that once it’s done pressure cooking, it can keep your food warm for an extended period of time. This is great for our family because when Jason’s working nights, he’ll leave our house between 4 and 4:30. If the rest of us aren’t ready for dinner quite that early, he can still take his portion and leave the rest in the pot to stay warm. There have been so many times when I haven’t started a slow cooker early enough for him to eat before leaving, and since this cooks food so quickly, it’s usually not an issue.

Cons: It IS bulky. If you don’t want to leave this on your counter, you may have to search a bit to find appropriately-sized cupboard space. It’s also pricey — consider how often you’ll use the Instant Pot before taking the plunge (for the record, I do get my money’s worth).

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Next up… the AIR FRYER!

OK, I’m going to be honest, I’m waiting for the internet to blow up about this thing. It is amazing. It “fries” your food using a tiny fraction of the oil typical fryers need, and it does this using hot circulating air. You can go pretty simple with the Air Fryer — throw in some sliced potatoes brushed lightly with the oil of your choice and in about ten minutes you have some pretty awesome French fries. BUT! The Air Fryer can do so much more than this. To date, I’ve made copycat Chick-Fil-A chicken patties, carne asada (yes, 1.5 lbs of flank steak!), DONUTS (work in progress, but I mean, they got eaten), and tandoori chicken. There are just so many things you can make with this thing, and I feel like nobody talks about it.

If you like to buy frozen foods (mini pizzas, French fries, other appetizers), the Air Fryer will crisp those up faster and better than your oven can. And while there is a range of temperatures at which you can cook different foods, the Air Fryer does not require the long pre-heating time the oven does.

Cons: Like the Instant Pot, it’s bulky and it’s pricey. If you struggle with finding time for cooking, I do recommend one or both, however. They do speed up the process!

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And finally… the ZOJIRUSHI BREAD MAKER!

I’m going to start out by listing the con for this one — it’s expensive! I absolutely LOVE this bread maker, but please know there are much more reasonably priced bread makers out there. I can’t speak to them, however, because this is the only bread maker I’ve ever owned.

I LOVE homemade bread, but it really is an event. It can take up almost the whole day, and if, at the end of the process, you learn your yeast is bad, you’re toast. (Pun totally intended.) It takes me less than ten minutes to throw all of my bread ingredients in the bread maker and press the “start” button. Or, if I’m heading to bed and want to wake up to the aroma of freshly baked bread (which is something I highly recommend), I can schedule the cooking so it will finish just as my alarm is going off. So far, I’ve made white bread, whole wheat bread, and banana bread, but there are just so many other options. Every loaf has been amazing and delicious. Now I’m kind of drooling and need to make bread tonight.

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My runner-up favorites can be found below:

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Happy cooking, premeditated family!

peace and guacamole

This is the second week in my Advent Series. To see the first week, click here.

I confess I’ve had a heavy heart over the past couple of weeks. This is quite normal for me even in the calmest of Decembers — once the Christmas season officially starts, I find myself overwhelmed with functions and responsibilities. The tree is beautiful for a few days and then, slowly and surely, it’s plastic needles littering the carpeting and broken ornaments in the hands of enthusiastic toddlers. The normal routine becomes chaos: concerts, parties, late nights, long days.

 

Tonight alone, John said “MOM! Ev is kicking me!” no less than five times. To be clear: Ev was in his high chair, and John kept walking in front of him. Ev’s new favorite thing is yelling “OW!” even when no one is touching him, but rather when he is inconvenienced. Water cup is on the floor? “OW!” Can’t get out of the shopping cart at Target? “OW!” Need a diaper change? “OW! OW! OW!”

At the end of the night, Jay and I collapse onto couches and stare, glassy-eyed, at whatever show we are watching that moment. (It is currently Jessica Jones on Netflix.) At the end of the night, I would like to rest in peace, but instead I wallow in exhaustion.

So can we really know peace?

When the boys are fighting in front of me, I usually counter their loudness with more loudness. I get agitated. I get frustrated. I get tired. I don’t see peace in my home. When I look to the outside world, I see Syrian refugees being turned away. I see terrorist attacks, both foreign and domestic. I don’t see peace in the world, either.

 

We won’t find peace if we are looking for worldly comfort. We will only find peace when we make time to talk with God and discover his will for our lives. If your day is hard, if it is painful and exhausting, stop and ask for peace. It isn’t about changing things around you, it’s about re-centering yourself.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
-John 16:33

If you are caught up in the frustration of preparing for another holiday party, stop, find your peace, and take fifteen minutes to throw together this guacamole. It’s easy! It’s festive! It’s good for you! (Kind of. Unless you eat the whole bowl. With a bag of tortilla chips. Which I can easily do.)

GUACAMOLE

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This recipe is not exact. You have to use trial and error and sample a lot as you go (go ahead, pretend to feel sad about that).

6 ripe avocados
1 tomato
1 lemon
Red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper

Chop the avocados and tomato as shown above. Add the juice of one lemon, several splashes of red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper. Stir so the guacamole becomes slightly mushy (this is the technical cooking term) and taste, add, taste, add until you get the balance of ingredients you enjoy.

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Festive, because red and green! See? Enjoy!

hope and turkey noodle soup

This is the first post in an Advent series I’m writing this year. Each week will loosely focus on the symbols of the candles of the Advent wreath and how they relate to parenting, and every post will end with a recipe.

This week is about hope.

We had a bit of a different Thanksgiving this year. The weekend prior to the holiday, Ev and I spent the night in the ER getting breathing treatments for his croup. We both spent the rest of the week catching up on sleep and being crabby (in my case) or vomiting and maintaining a high fever (in his case). So when Thursday rolled around, Jay took John to the family Thanksgiving while Ev and I kept our crabby, germy selves at home.

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Give him a book, and it’s almost like it isn’t the middle of the night.

Ev is in that toddler stage of immunity-building where he catches everything. He is coughing, he is snotty, he is throwing up. The only silver lining here is that he is the sweetest and happiest sick kid you’ll ever meet. He smiles and loves on you. He wants to read books. He wants to play. So, on our solo Thanksgiving, that’s what we did. We read Dr. Suess’ There’s a Wocket in my Pocket so many times, that if I didn’t already have it memorized (thank you, baby John), I would now. We said “vroom” and made cars drive around the toy room. We giggled and made animal sounds.

In the quiet of the day that was supposed to be loud, I looked at Ev with wonder. He is so unlike his brother. What will he become? What will he do? Who will he impact? I have wondered the same about John. John has long idolized his daddy’s profession and has decided that he, too, will be a doctor when he grows up. This is a wonderful and beautiful and ultimately financially responsible goal. I wish I could hold five year old John to this. It feels safe, normal.

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Just some good, old-fashioned father-son bonding over med school anatomy textbooks.

I think we wish a lot of things as parents. Wish for health, success, happiness, love. Wishing isn’t bad. But here’s why I believe this first candle, this first week of Advent, is hope — or expectation — instead of wish: wishing is just for you.

 

Hope is optimistic. Hope is altruistic. It is active. It is something we can do for ourselves or others, and something we can expect to bring about real change.

I wish Ev would stop getting sick so much of the time… but I hope he stays happy and builds the immunity he needs.

I wish John would be the doctor he wants to be at age five… but I hope he finds a career he’s passionate about.

I hope we don’t lose sight of the hope involved in the Christmas season. So often we only hear about the wishes, the wants, the lists. It isn’t bad to wish or to want, but wishing is passive. It is just waiting. It isn’t doing.

We are in a season of waiting — that’s what Advent is, after all — but we are waiting with hope. We know the end is salvation, light, peace. We don’t know what happens in the in-between, but we know the end is good. Trust the end is good.

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
-Romans 8:28

I wish that you and yours stay healthy throughout this Advent season, but I hope that you can find beauty in staying home if you need to. If you find yourself needing some comfort and relief, I do implore you to make this soup — it is a healthy and comforting food superstar. Without further ado:

Turkey Noodle Soup
(Chicken works too, but you’ve got leftover turkey right now, don’t you?)

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Note: Any time you roast a chicken or turkey, I hope (!) you make your own stock from the carcass. If you haven’t, do it next time! It is positively the easiest food to make, and homemade stock is only about a million times better than store-bought (one blogger’s opinion, anyway). I loosely follow the 100 Days of Real Food recipe here.

Second note: I’m guessing on almost all of my ingredient amounts, because I subscribe to a “make it up as you go along” cooking philosophy. So basically, don’t follow and measure TOO closely. We aren’t baking, after all.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic (may throw in some onion here too — I have a family of onion-avoiders)
8 cups turkey stock
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 ribs of celery, diced
2 cups shredded turkey
homemade whole wheat egg noodles! (OK, or any egg noodles)
salt and pepper

Saute the garlic in the olive oil until soft. Add the stock and the turkey and vegetables. At this point, if you are adding homemade noodles, you’ll want to cook them in the soup for about twenty minutes, or until soft, or the consistency you like. If you are using store-bought noodles, follow the cooking instructions on the package. Season with salt and pepper. You can use other spices, but if you made your own stock, your soup will already be quite flavorful.

Enjoy!

Quick note about homemade noodles: Y’all, they are so much easier than I ever thought they would be. I’m a bummer with a rolling pin, though, so I I use my manual pasta roller.

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Metro Fulfillment House Italian Style Pasta Maker
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Whole wheat egg noodles! They don’t look perfect, but they taste pretty amazing.

Here’s to hope and soup! Have a great week.

the staples, part 2

Now that you’ve had a few days to think about planning your life or cutting yourself some slack on your plans… how’s it going? For my part, I’ll say this: I stayed on top of my food plans and fell behind on my house cleaning plans. I love a clean house, friends. I love it. So I stayed up quite late last night and did very silly things like sneaking clean clothes into sleeping boys’ rooms and meticulously cleaning up the basement (which no one ever sees). Yes, now (or last night) would be the perfect time to say “give yourself a break with the cleaning, Jennie! Start your plans new this week, pick up the slack as you go!”

Rome wasn’t built in a day.

And now, a treat! Three, in fact. These are the three homemade staples that I flat out refuse to buy in a store. The homemade versions are just so, so much better. Test it out for yourself!

1. Peanut Butter

Peanutty goodness. Old picture from when I only made PB in a food processor. It works just as well, although your PB may be crunchier than it is smooth.
Peanutty goodness.
Old picture from when I only made PB in a food processor. It works just as well, although your PB may be crunchier than it is smooth.

This is SO simple and delicious. If you have a peanut allergy, I apologize for starting with something so amazing that you cannot have. For this (and the rest of the homemade staples) I use my trusty Blendtec blender. The Blendtec is mighty and works really well, but if you have another blender you love, use it! You can also use a food processor.

Add three cups of peanuts to your blender. Blend for about a minute on a medium setting.
Add two tablespoons of peanut oil.
Scrape down sides, blend for another minute or two, stopping to check consistency periodically.
It’s done when it’s as smooth or as crunchy as you like it.

Store: in air-tight container in fridge for up to two weeks.

2. Hummus

I actually don't have a picture of MY hummus. So here's Ev, who loves hummus, and is pretty sad about that.
I actually don’t have a picture of MY hummus. So here’s Ev, who loves hummus, and is pretty sad about that.

I love hummus, and you can do so many things with it… use as a veggie dip, a sandwich spread, a pizza topping — go nuts! (Go chickpeas!) (I’m sorry.)

Add the following to your blender or food processor:
2 tbs olive oil
2 tbs lemon juice
2 tbs tahini (sesame seed paste, sold at grocery stores near pasta sauces usually)
1 clove garlic
1/2 tsp kosher salt
15 oz can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans) drained except for 1/3 cup liquid

Blend until smooth. Once you’ve mastered the traditional hummus, experiment with spices, roasted vegetables, herbs — whatever flavors you love. If it’s a disaster, it’s a disaster. Don’t make the same mistakes next time. But please have a next time!

Store: in air tight container in fridge for up to two weeks.

3. SALSA

This photo doesn't do the salsa half the justice it deserves. I am completely biased and this is the best salsa on planet earth.
This photo doesn’t do the salsa half the justice it deserves. I am completely biased and this is the best salsa on planet earth.

I grew up loving salsa. Anything from a jar or restaurant was equal and delicious in my book. Then I started making my own, and a salsa snob was born. This has a few more steps and takes longer than the other two — but I assure you, it is worth it!

Ingredients:
7 or 8 tomatoes (I prefer romas for this)
3 or 4 bell peppers (red, yellow, or orange)
1 or 2 jalepenos
1 onion
Bunch cilantro
2 or 3 cloves garlic
Lemon or lime
Kosher Salt

Place the whole bell peppers, jalepenos, and onions on the grill and char until all of the skin is black. Allow to cool, and peel off outer burned layer (if you peel while holding it under running water, it can be a little easier). Rough chop the grilled veggies and the tomatoes. (NOTE: remove the seeds from the jalepenos unless you want your salsa HOT! Leave in some for a medium salsa. Remove all for mild.) Chop the cilantro and garlic; add everything to blender (you may need to do this in batches). When the mixture is the consistency you like, add salt and citrus juice to taste. This may take a little trial and error on your part. Have a bag of tortilla chips at the ready, and go to town.

Store: in air tight container in fridge for up to two weeks.