Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Contest Website

My sister and her husband have just launched a really cool website that lists out pretty much all of the cooking contests out there for people to enter.  There are fun food-related contests for amateurs, professionals, children, etc....not all of them require a recipe, some are just looking for a fun picture!

You don't have to become a member of the site to see all the contests, but there are a few perks for signing up.
Quote from the website:

"While the site is open and free to anyone, there are a few benefits that are only available to registered members of the site. Only members will be able to comment in the forums. Members will have the option to sign up for periodic emails with updates on new contests and site news. We are also developing a feature that will allow Members to save the contests that interest them in a “My Contests” folder, making it easy to review and focus on only the contests that are pertinent".

I don't think there are any other completely free sites like this out there.  My sister used to pay a $25 yearly fee to have access to a website that does just what hers is doing for free.

I'm excited about it because there is just NO way I could keep up with all the possibilities out there on my own, but they put them all together so I can take a quick look through and see if anything is worth my time or interest.
And some of the prizes are pretty sister herself won over $10,000 once for a recipe she submitted to a contest by Kraft and Publix.  How awesome is that?  I haven't been so lucky yet, but maybe someday!  And maybe you could be too!

So check it out!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Wonderful, Fabulous, Exciting News......and the not so great news.

Good things first, shall we?

We're going to have a baby! 

Baby number 5 is scheduled to arrive on October 9 (which will make three October babies for us, along with a September and a November.  We like our fall season to be busy.  Hahaha.)

We are super excited and the kids are ecstatic, with Corban (7) at once demanding that "It had better be a boy!" and Marissa (5) constantly whispering, "I hope it's a girl!" and Annika (3) declaring very matter of factly, "I think it will be a boy OR a girl."  Case closed.

Truth be told, Corban has admitted that since he adores Ellia (1) so much, he'll really be okay if the new baby is a girl, and Marissa has similarly concluded that a boy will be just fine. 

There are few things in life I love more than babies, and even fewer things that I love more than my own babies.  However.  This brings me to the not so great news.

Pregnancy is not my best friend. You know those women who rave about being pregnant and say it's just the best thing ever?  Yeah, I'm not one of those.  I consider pregnancy a great blessing and a privilege, and surely worth going through, but it is not something I relish or even remotely enjoy. 

To start out with, my first trimester is shall I put it.....miserable.

In the past, I have had severe morning all day sickness with frequent vomitting, IV fluids for dehydration, the inability to stand practically any smell, and the loss of 8-10 lbs. with each of my pregnancies, my girl pregnancies being worse.  And that's with every medication doctors will prescribe for pregnant women for nausea. Add complete exhaustion and fatigue on top of it and it makes for just no fun.

The second trimester brings relief from that, thank God, and any other physical complaint is trivial compared to the stomach issues.....but goodness, when you've thrown up over 600 times during 4 pregnancies, it's a bit hard to forget.   

I have to say, this pregnancy has started off better than the past.  I am 6 weeks and 1 day along, and have yet to throw up.  I think that's a record for me.  There are a lot of people praying for me, and I'm trying a few different things this time.
I went to see a friend who owns a food/herbs store with lots of natural remedies.  She hooked me up with catnip and fennel extract, which I mix into water and drink a couple of times a day.  It tastes like black licorice.  It's supposed to calm the stomach.  I'm also taking a good quality probiotic, using eucalypus oil on my feet, eating blackstrap molasses, and drinking red raspberry leaf tea.  

I have been nauseous, and I am extremely sleepy/tired/fatigued often, but I'm hanging in there and actually still functioning like a human being for the most part.  :)

My mom will be coming to help out in a week, and she's staying for 3 weeks!  We can't wait to see her and I'm so thankful that she's doing this again.  (She came out while I was sick with Ellia's pregnancy also.)

All this to say, my food preparation is minimal these days and I'm not attempting anything new.  The blog will likely be void of new recipes and goodies (unless my mom makes some) until my second trimester (7-8 weeks away). 

The day after we found out we're expecting, the kids and I went to Sam's Club and stocked up on lots of chicken breasts and ground turkey.  I cooked it all (baked the chicken with salt and pepper, browned the turkey with onions and garlic salt) and froze in recipe sized portions.  It has been wonderfully easy to just grab a package of cooked meat out of the freezer and add it to something simple to make dinner.
The sight and smells of raw and cooking meat are usually some of the worst things for nausea, so I avoid that.....and what a great time saver as well.

Last pregnancy I had made a few meals for the freezer ahead of time, one in particular was a triple batch of meat, beans and rice burritos.  A great recipe, one I loved.  After eating it for the first time and throwing it up, I couldn't bear to eat it or even think about it for the rest of the pregnancy (or the year following). So I had 2 whole batches worth that ended up getting thrown away.   
I didn't want to waste like that again, so I just cooked the meat this time.  That way I can use it in different recipes and not be tied down to one that I don't feel like eating.  Smart, huh? 

Hopefully I'll be up and running again (that's figurative.....not planning on running during pregnancy, we'll save that for the postpartum weight loss plan) before too long.  I still plan to post family stories and stuff as I feel like it.....and maybe we'll get lucky and get a recipe or giveaway in there somewhere!  We'll just have to see how it goes!

Friday, February 11, 2011

Soft Molasses Cookies

I'm trying to increase the iron in my diet, as I tend to be slightly anemic, and blackstrap molasses is an excellent natural source of iron.  I thought there could be no better way to eat molasses than in cookies!

I gave Corban (7) the assignment this morning to make these by himself.  He was slightly shocked and quite excited by the prospect, as he has never made something independently before.  I did supervise the measuring of a few things and taking the cookies out of the oven, but he did most of everything alone.  He was so proud!

These are slightly spicy, very soft, darkly sweet (if that makes any sense), and just a delight to eat.  My kids love them, I love them, and I think I'll just have to keep some around on a regular basis.

Note:  You don't have to use blackstrap molasses - regular would result in a lighter, sweeter cookie.  Blackstrap molasses is very strong and dark and can be a little bitter - it may be an acquired taste.  I just used it because it is much higher in nutrients (due to less refining, from what I understand) than regular molasses. And I rather like the taste.

Recipe: (adapted from Allrecipes)

1 c. butter, softened
1/2 c. sucanat (or brown sugar)
1 egg
3/4 c. molasses (I used blackstrap)
3 cups flour (I used 1 c. all purpose, 2 c. white whole wheat)
2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. ground cinnamon
1 t. ground ginger
1/4-1/2 c. granulated sugar (for rolling, optional)

Cream butter, sucanat, and egg together until well blended.  Add molasses and stir to combine.  In a separate bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and ginger.  Gradually add to molasses mixture until completely incorporated.
Cover and chill dough for at least an hour.
Preheat oven to 350°.
Roll dough into walnut sized balls (or use your medium cookie scoop!), roll in sugar if desired, and place on baking sheet about 2 inches apart.  Bake for 8-10 minutes.  I found 8 minutes to be perfect in my oven.
Cool on baking sheet for a few minutes before removing to wire racks to cool.

Somebody obviously enjoyed licking the beater.  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Monster Truck Cake

I realized a couple of days ago that I had neglected to post about how I made Corban's Monster Truck Cake for his 5th birthday.  So here it is.  This has to be the easiest and lowest stress cake I've done, and it was so much fun!  It was a huge hit with his little friends. 

What you need:
  • 2 13 x 9" cakes, baked
  • Buttercream frosting (I used my usual recipe of 1 c. shortening, 1 c. butter  - beat together for 10 minutes, then gradually add 8 cups of powdered sugar, 1 T. vanilla extract, and 1/4-1/2 c. cream, to desired consistency).
  • 2 Brown Sugar Poptarts
  • Graham cracker or vanilla wafer crumbs 
  • Various Monster Trucks and small cars
  • Little flags, if desired
  • Wilton Grass Tip
First, I stacked two 13 x 9" cakes (one chocolate, one yellow, in case you're wondering), with frosting in the middle. 
I carved out a little section the width of a poptart on one side for the ramp and put the removed cake on top for the top ramp. 
Then I covered the whole thing with a nice layer of buttercream frosting, getting the sides as smooth as I could. 
I covered the top with crushed graham crackers, made a border around the top and bottom edge using the grass tip, and put the poptarts in place.  That grass tip is a blast to use....totally worth having around. 
Stick in a couple of flags, carefully place the trucks and cars as you wish, and you're good to go! 

The blue truck on top was the Predator, a surprise gift for Corban.  He was especially delighted about it because we had gotten to see the real one earlier that year in a parking lot getting some maintenance done before a rally and stopped to take some pictures.  

Saturday, February 5, 2011

"T" is for Ooey Gooey Taffy Tart Squares

These have to be one of the messiest bars I have ever made.  And one of the most delicious.  Even without chocolate, they're pretty irresistible.

We didn't actually get to deliver them to our Alphabet Service Project recipients this week.  Right after Annika and I had made them, I gave our friends a call to set up the time to bring them and was informed they had just been called out of town for a relative's medical situation.  They're not back yet, so I just froze the bars to give to them later.

On to the Taffy Tart Bars.  They truly are Ooey and Gooey, no doubt about it.  A simple shortbread crust, topped with an incredibly rich combination including brown sugar, eggs, butter, and pecans, the flavor reminded me of some wonderful pecan bread my mom got a secret recipe for many years ago, but in a drippier bar form.
As I note in the actual recipe, even though you shouldn't over-bake these.....they're not supposed to be really firm......I think I under-baked them a little too much.  It didn't affect the taste, I'm sure, but I would prefer them a little less messy.

Recipe:  (from Sweetapolita)

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1 cup unsalted butter

6 T. melted butter
6 eggs, lightly beaten
3 c. packed brown sugar
6 T. all-purpose flour
1-1/2 t. baking powder
2 t. vanilla extract
Pinch salt
1-1/2 c. coarsely chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350°.
Butter a 13 x 9" pan and line with parchment paper or foil.  Make sure there is an overhang of paper to allow for removing from pan after baked.

In a medium bowl, combine flour and granulated sugar, cutting in butter with pastry blender until crumbly.  Press into pan and bake for 15 minutes or until very light golden brown on edges.

In a bowl, mix melted butter and eggs.  Blend in brown sugar, flour, baking powder, vanilla, and salt.  Stir in pecans and pour over base.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until top springs back when lightly touched.  It should not feel "firm", if you overbake, they won't be "ooey gooey". (Note:  I cooked mine to this stage, and they never firmed up at all, even in the fridge.....they were a bit too messy, although incredibly delicious.  Next time I'll bake a few minutes longer)

Let cool on rack, then cover and refrigerate until very firm.  Using the paper overhang, remove from baking pan and place on cutting board.  Cut into squares.  Keep refrigerated until you need them.  They can also be frozen.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Lentil Chili

We tried out this chili a few weeks ago and it was such a hit that I made it again less than two weeks later. That's pretty good around here!  I love that it uses lentils, because they're so high in iron and are so nutritious.  I did add a can of black beans (rinsed and drained) the second time because Grant wanted the texture of bigger beans too, but it's really good without them.  It makes a pretty big batch, enough to feed our family for two dinners plus a little leftover.  Can't complain about that!  We like it served with shredded cheddar cheese and tortilla chips.  

Recipe:  from Raising Olives

1-1.5 lbs. ground turkey or beef (I use turkey)
1 onion, chopped
1 lb. dry lentils
10 c. water
1 t. cumin
1 t. chili powder
2 t. salt
2 c. salsa (I use medium)
1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes

Brown ground turkey with the onion; drain if necessary.  Add lentils and water.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Add remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes.  

Variations:  Omit the meat and double the amount of lentils for a vegetarian dish.  Serve over rice.  Top with cheese and/or sour cream. 

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