The Balance

I’m going to get real here.
There’s no recipe today.
No sweet treat.
No savory delight.
No comfort food.
Just some real pour-my-heart-out words.

Why do we blog?  Well, I don’t know about you, but I blog because it is my passion.  It is in my soul.  ‘How can blogging be in my soul?’ you ask.  It isn’t the blog, per say.  It’s not the editing of pictures of the same cupcake in 25 different views and lighting ideas.  It’s not the sometimes excruciatingly painful task of putting words together when you can hardly even keep your eyes open.  But the content of what I blog about – the food. 

When I am in the kitchen, there is something inside of me that just clicks.  My heart lights up.  My soul is happy.  Nothing can go wrong – well, I take that back.  A lot of things go wrong in the kitchen.  But the thing is… it just doesn’t matter, because nothing can crack my happiness in the kitchen.

There are only a few other things in this world that I put on a pedestal as high as cooking, food, and this blog.  One of them is my marriage.  My marriage to the love of my life.  The woman I am madly in love with and have been since the day I met her.  My best friend.  My partner in crime.  There’s not much in this world that I would ever put in front of her.  We have always been so strong.  Rock solid.  Nothing could break us.

But then I found my passion.  Cooking has come into my life and changed it for the better.  For almost 14 years, I battled a very unhealthy relationship with food.  So to have found this passion… I can honestly say that my newfound love for baking has saved my life.  But on my way there, I may have left my best friend on the sidelines.  And the realization that I have done so has left me heart-broken.  The idea that my biggest passion has become my wife’s biggest nightmare just breaks me.

Let’s just say that this last week has looked very similar to Julie & Julia’s many fight scenes between Julie and her husband.  I’m watching the flick right now, and the similarities between Julie & Eric and Mama Hen & my Mrs. are just uncanny and has been hitting me right in the heart the whole way through.

How do we find the balance?  Many, if not most, of us bloggers work a 9-5 (sometimes plus some).   On top of that, many of us are moms, wives, and homemakers… ew, that’s an old-fashioned term, but it’s the only one I can think of at the moment.   After all that real life stuff, it’s not like we can just whip a blog post right up.  It’s not just an hour in the kitchen, crafting table, garden, etc.  It’s that hour, plus another hour or so of editing pictures and picking the perfect snapshots that will capture the heart and soul you have put into your creation.  And then the words.  I’m not a writer.  I cook.  These words don’t come naturally.  So it’s work.

Where do we come up with the extra time to spend with our families when it’s the art that keeps us alive?  I don’t mean to say that I don’t have a passion for my family and the time we spend together.  That is a completely separate passion. Cooking and blogging is one thing that I have for myself.  And without it, I do feel empty.

So the balance.  First of all – do not give up yourself.  Whatever it is that makes your heart sing.  Don’t give that up.  It will only kill you.  But don’t forget your family.  Don’t forget those people in your lives that truly matter.  Without them and without their support, who are you going to share your passions with?  I don’t know about you guys, but I cook for my family and my loved ones.  If I was just cooking for myself – for one, I’d be fat.  For two – it just wouldn’t mean anything to me.  I have to learn to make time.  Find time.  I’m not really sure how, but I have to figure it out.

I still don’t have the balancing act down.  I’m not sure I’ll ever really get it.  But I’ll take any advice you’ve got!  In this past week, I’ve learned that I need cooking, baking, and this blog to keep me going.  To keep me alive.  I haven’t quite gotten back to it.  But I’m going to.  Soon, I hope!

These are my two loves.  They are my world.  I don’t know what I would do without either one of them.  My boy keeps my laughing.  He keeps me grounded.  My Wifey – well, she’s my rock.  I’ve been high and low and everywhere in between.  But through it all, she’s been there.  She’s shown me what it really feels like to be loved unconditionally. I will be forever grateful for her sacrifices she has made in order to let me live out my passions.

I would love to know how you manage to balance your home and work life with the things you love to do for yourself!!

Crumbly Homestyle Chik’n Pot Pie

So how about all this ProtectIP / SOPA hubbub going around?  I personally don’t know much of the details, but what I do know, I don’t like.  The internet is a place for freedom of speech, sharing ideas with other people, creating something that was most likely inspired by someone else’s idea.  In my mind, that is not piracy.  That’s evolution.  Being able to take one idea and make it your own.  I immediately thought of Pinterest and how fast that would go down.  And just the fact that I haven’t been able to use Wikipedia all day today!  Oh man.  I don’t like it one bit!  The idea of having a “big brother” censoring what I’m able to do and say on the internet, my blog specifically, is really quite ridiculous.

Anyway, all that aside.

Do any of you have a meal that your kids ask for just about every other day?  Maybe it’s pizza.  Could be blue box Mac n Cheese.  Maybe Chicken Nuggets.  Those are the normal things that kids ask for, right?  What 5 year old asks for Chicken Pot Pie on a regular basis?!  Oh yeah… mine does.  He loves this stuff!  Chicken pot pie isn’t exactly the quickest weeknight dinner.  I’m definitely not a fan of buying a pre-made refrigerated pie crust either.  Especially because making a crust is easier – But really, eating a lard-filled double crust for dinner just doesn’t suit my tastes.  I save that for dessert.  What does suit my taste is these biscuits I have topping this creamy veggie-filled pot pie!  In the past, I’ve made pot pies with the classic  double crust, just a top crust, refrigerated biscuits, and now this biscuit crumble.  The crumble is by far my favorite!   

Dinners like these are the reason I am forever grateful for Zumba and my running routine.  It’s not too bad for you, but it’s definitely not something I’d get in the habit of eating every night.  But it’s another one of those comfort foods that is perfect for a cold and rainy or snowy night.

Crumbly Homestyle Chik’n Pot Pie
adapted from tablespoon

Ingredients
Crumble Topping:
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
6 Tablespoons butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup heavy cream

Filling:
1 bag Quorn Chik’n cubes (of course, you could use a pound of rotisserie chicken meat or diced chicken breast, cooked)
3 cups, reduced sodium vegetable broth
1 1/2 cups onion, chopped
1 cup frozen hash brown potatoes
1 bag Green Giant Broccoli, Cauliflower, Carrots, & Cheese Sauce Valley Fresh Steamers
2/3 cups frozen peas
1 1/2 cups skim milk
2/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, salt, pepper, and cayenne,  Sprinkle the chilled butter pieces over the top of the flour.  Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, rub the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.  Stir in the Parmesan cheese.  Add the cream and stir until just combined.  Crumble the mixture into irregularly shaped pieces onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Bake the crumble topping until fragrant and starting to brown, about minutes, tossing biscuit pieces halfway through.  Set aside, and lower oven to 350 degrees.

In a large saute pan, cook onions until translucent.  Add the chicken broth and bring to a boil.

While broth is heating, places potatoes and peas in a microwave-safe bowl.  Cover and cook on high for 4 minutes.

Microwave Valley Fresh Steamers according to package directions.

Add the soy chik’n (or cooked and diced chicken), peas & potatoes, and Steamers to the broth.

Place flour in a separate small bowl.  Gradually add the milk to the flour, whisking until well-combined.  Stir the milk & flour mixture into the broth, chik’n, and vegetables.  Add thyme, rosemary, salt, and pepper.  Return to boil and cook for 2-3 minutes, until thickened, stirring constantly.

Coat a deep dish pie pan (or 11 x 17 baking pan) with cooking spray and pour in the chik’n and vegetable mixture.  Top with the biscuit crumble and bake for 18-20 minutes until biscuits are lightly golden.


Chicken and Veggie Stir Fry

Wow guys!  What a great traffic day for Mama Hen’s Kitchen yesterday.  I just want to say thanks to everyone who stopped by and the few of you who said hi.  I really do appreciate it.  I’m still trying to find my niche in the huge blogging community, but I love the idea of making some great friends through blogs.  I know it’s hard to really find your voice through a blog, but I think I’m getting there and really feeling comfortable in my blog’s skin.

I wonder if I’m the only blogger who hadn’t heard of Bloglovin, but I am just so glad I found out about it yesterday.  I think it’s a brilliant site.  Once you sign up for a free account, you add all the blogs you want to follow on your page. Then when a blog is updated, you will get a notification on Bloglovin that you have an unread blog!  How fabulous is that?  Well, unless you’re like me and realized you have about 35 blog posts to catch up on throughout all the blogs you follow… Anyway, I would love for you to follow my posts!  Click this link below to start getting my updates through Bloglovin – or there’s a little widget over to the right of my page with my Twitter and Facebook ‘Follow Me’ buttons (I recommend just clicking those while you’re at it!)

Follow my blog with Bloglovin

So here’s a question for you.  Is there one meal or food you could eat pretty much every day and not get sick of?  I’ve got one.  Seriously, if I didn’t have to cook for my kid or spouse, who would probably be sick of the same meal after day 3, I would possibly eat this easy meal every day of my life.  It’s healthy, it’s easy, and it’s oh so tasty!  Stir Fry!  I grew up not really liking Asian foods.  Or at least, I told myself I didn’t like them. I don’t think I really gave them a chance.  But now as an adult, sushi, stir-fries, and poopoo platters are right up my alley.  I have been making this specific stir fry for the last 6 years or so, and I think I’ve finally figured the sauce out.  I used to just pour a bottle of Teriyaki on top and call it good, but I’ve used a little brain power and put something delicious together that just makes my tastebuds happy.  And my son even likes it!  What 5 year old kiddo has a love for stirfry?  Well, he is a quarter Asian… oh, and he may be more excited for the fortune cookie he gets to have on stirfry night.

Chicken and Veggie Stir Fry

Ingredients
vegetable or coconut oil
1 bag frozen Asian vegetables
Quorn soy chickn cutlets, cubed (or a couple Chicken breasts cubed)
3 chopped green onions
1 Tablespoon ground ginger (or if you have fresh, minced)
1 Tablespoon minced garlic
2/3 cup vegetable stock
2 Tablespoons soy sauce
4 Tablespoons sugar
red pepper to taste
1 Tablespoon white vinegar
1 Tablespoon cornstarch
1 small can sliced water chestnuts, drained

Add about a tablespoon of oil (I used coconut oil) to a large pan on medium heat.  Once hot, add your diced chicken or soy variation.  Cook until slightly browned and cooked all the way through.  Add in your frozen veggies along with a little splash of water, and cover on medium heat to steam your veggies.

While the veggies are steaming, let’s get started on your sauce.

Heat 3 Tablespoons of vegetable or coconut oil in a small pan on medium heat.  Add green onions, ginger, and garlic.  Cook for about 2 minutes.  Be careful not to burn the garlic!  Add vegetable stock, soy sauce, sugar, red pepper, and vinegar.  Mix 2 Tablespoons of water with 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch and pour into the sauce mixture, stirring well. Raise heat slightly and stir constantly so the sauce will thicken and not burn.

Once thickened, take the sauce off the heat.  When your veggies are completely cooked through, add the water chestnuts and the sauce.  Mix well to coat completely.  Heat through for about 5 minutes on medium heat.  Once hot, serve over a bed of brown rice, and you have a delicious meal that your family will love!

My First Experience with From-Scratch Cupcakes


 I can do cakes.  I can do pies.  Cookies, muffins, and breads.  But cupcakes.  This is one path I haven’t ventured down.  Sure, I’ve bought a box of cake mix and thrown it all together to make a cupcake here and there, but I’ve never actually made a cupcake from scratch.  And I’ve absolutely never come up with a cupcake flavor combination all by myself without searching the web for the perfect combo of cake/frosting/filling.  This weekend, I decided it was about time I jump on the cupcake bandwagon and start playing. Let me just tell you – this is going to be addicting.  I can already feel it.  I’m really starting to feel creative in how much I can play with flavors.  I know I’m a couple years behind on the whole cupcake craze.  That’s not going to stop me though.

So, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s birthday this weekend.  What a perfect event to whip up some tasty treats!  One of her favorite desserts is a classic ice cream sundae.  I thought it would only be fitting to create a cupcake with some of those classic flavors.  So I was first on the hunt for a classic vanilla cupcake to represent the vanilla ice cream.  Then of course, you have to have a bit of chocolate filling in the center.  Topped with a tasty caramel frosting and chopped up peanuts, and you have an Ice Cream Sundae Cupcake.

Here’s the thing though…
This idea was not a total success.  It was actually a really rocky-road experience … see what I did there?  Rocky Road… get it? ice cream… yeah…

So anyway, I originally found what sounded like a great chocolate filling for these vanilla cupcakes on cooks.com.  I should have taken the hint when I saw there weren’t any reviews on this particular recipe.  Nope, novice baker over here just kept on going, assuming all would be fine and it would just turn out great.  Oh no… a baking experience for me is not complete without at least one thing going wrong.  The chocolate was separated and I could see that it just wasn’t going to be coming together anytime soon.  The recipe said to keep stirring until thickened, but there was just no thickening to be had.  It was basically chocolate water.  Obviously, not was I was looking for.  So I dumped all that down the drain and was on a woman-hunt for something better.  We had to leave for the party in a couple hours, and I was starting to feel a little defeated.  Granted, my vanilla cupcakes were pretty darn perfect, so at least I had that, but I just wanted it all to be perfect.   Luckily I was able to come up with a tasty chocolate filling.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was delicious and had a pudding-like consistency.  I was going more for a cream-like center but this would just have to do.

The chocolate filling wasn’t the end of my woes.  The caramel frosting didn’t turn out how I imagined at all.  The consistency wasn’t buttercream like at all.  It was melt-off-the-cupcake-like….  So I had to go the route of tiny dollops of frosting rather that huge luscious mounds of goodness. A bit of a bummer, but it all worked out because the frosting was so sweet that anything larger would have overpowered the cupcake and been too rich.

Let’s just say, this was a very humbling experience.  I was reminded that I am still learning and I have a long way to go.

I do have one amazing recipe to share with you at least.  The filling was a flop.  The icing was meh.  But the foundation of this creation was flawless.  I searched quite a few blogs and recipes for what I thought would be the best vanilla cupcake.  After a couple hours of reading comments and reviews, I finally decided on Sweetapolita’s Bakery-Style Vanilla Cupcakes.  I am more than pleased with the results of these cupcakes.  The taste was spot-on.  They were perfectly spongy.  I am proud to be sharing such a perfect cupcake with you.  It’s the base for whatever filling and icing you can create!  I have a feeling I will be making these over and over as I create different flavor combinations.

As a side-note, I did another test-run with my new Wilton Silicone Baking Cups.  I had previously tried these out with my Blueberry Muffins, and I honestly wasn’t all that impressed.  The second time around, I lightly sprayed the cups with a non-stick cooking spray, and that made all the difference in the world.  The cupcakes came right out of the baking cups with nothing sticking to the sides or bottoms.  I was pleasantly surprised!

Without further ado, I present to you, my first Made From Scratch cupcakes.  It may not sound like much, but I’m excited that I’m trying something new.  What fun flavor combinations should I try next?  The Mrs. just put her hand in my face after just eating an orange, and now I really want to try an orange creamsicle cupcake.  MMMMmmmmmmm!!

Bakery-Style Vanilla Cupcakes
adapted from Sweetapolita
makes 24 cupcakes

Ingredients
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups white sugar
4 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  Line 2 standard muffin tins with cupcake liners.


In a small bowl, combine the flours and set aside.


In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, cream the butter unti lsmooth.  Add the sugar gradually and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Add the eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.


Mix the milk and vanilla.

Add the dry ingredients in 3 parts, alternating with the milk and vanilla mixture.  With each addition, beat until the ingredients are incorporated but do not overbeat.  

Carefully spoon the batter into the cupcake liners.  I love my new cookie/all-purpose scoop for this purpose.  With my small cookie spoon, I used two scoops-worth into each baking cup to fill about 2/3′s of the way full.  Bake in the middle of the oven until tops turn golden brown and toothpick or cake-tester comes out clean, about 18-20 minutes.

Cool the cupcakes in tins for about 15 minutes.  Remove from the tins and cool completely on a wire rack before icing.

Vegetarian Meatball Sub

We all have comfort foods.  Foods that take us back to a time in our life when everything was safe and secure.  No stresses.  No worries.  Just simple.  For most people, that goes back to their childhood.  You eat something that you ate when you were a kid, and you’re just taken back.  One of my favorite food memories is something I never thought I would ever eat again since I’ve become vegetarian.  I remember, my dad would take me to Subway every so often, and I wouldn’t even think twice about what I was going to get.  A foot-long Meatball Marinara Sub.  Yes, a foot-long.  Because the thought of that deliciousness being gone after just 6 inches made me pretty sad.  
We would go home, set ourselves in front of the tv, and unwrap the 800+ calories that were ahead of me, and dig in.  Just forget it all and indulge in one of my favorite sandwiches on earth.  Hey, I was an active little girl, it was ok!  Now I’m a little more calorie conscious, which is another reason I’m so excited to share this healthy alternative to a favorite to many people.
The Wife also has childhood memories that include a meatball sub sandwich, and she hasn’t had it in quite awhile since the restaurant is about an hour away at her home town, and again, the calories just aren’t really worth it to either of us.  One day, I mentioned to her that I was craving this favorite of ours. It just sounded so good and I couldn’t get it out of my head.  She said, “Well, why don’t you just make veggie meatballs?”  Hum… good question!  Since then, I have wanted to try this so bad.  I didn’t know if it would really work.  I didn’t know if the meatballs would hold their own in the sandwich or if it would all just fall apart into a big mess. 
I am so incredibly happy to say that it worked!  Wife even posted about it on Facebook!  That’s when you know it’s a good one… when your spouse dedicates her status update to your meal.

 Vegetarian Meatball Subs


Ingredients

1 cup lentils
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
1 small onion diced
1 cup quick-cooking oats
3/4 cup grated cheese (cheddar, swiss, jack, american, etc)
1 egg, beaten
4.5 ounces tomato sauce
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 jar of marinara spaghetti sauce
hoagie/sub sandwich bread
sliced provolone 

Add salt to water and boil in a small saucepan. Add lentils and simmer covered 25-30 minutes, until lentils are soft and most of the water is evaporated.  Please please just simmer.  If you continue on a rolling boil, your water will evaporate too quickly and you’ll end up with a scorched pan and a really bad smelling house for the remainder of your day and night.  Don’t ask how I know this… I just do, okay?

Once the lentils are soft, drain as much as the water as you can and transfer into a large bowl.  Mash with a fork or potato masher until mostly mashed.  It’s ok if some of the lentils are still intact.  A little texture is a good thing.  Let the lentils cool for about 10-15 minutes.

Once cooled a bit, add the chopped onions, oats, and shredded cheese.  Don’t even worry about getting a mixing spoon out.  Take your rings off, wash up, and just get in there and get everything combined with your hands.

Then add the egg, tomato sauce, and spices.  Again, just get on in there with your hands.  No problem with getting a little messy here!  Besides, I’m a believer that when you come in direct contact with the food you prepare, you add some real love and soul into your meals.  Just my thought.

When it’s all incorporated, start rolling into about 1.5 inch meat-balls.  You have to pack it pretty well in order for it to all stay together.

Heat about a tablespoon of oil in a large 12-inch pan on medium high heat.  When you’re pan is really hot, place all your prepared meatballs in the pan.  You’re not working with real meat here, so it’s not like you’re having to worry about the insides getting cooked all the way through.  You just want to brown all around the sides.  Each side will take about 3-4 minutes.  When you turn, you’ll want to do this very gently, as the meatballs to tend to fall apart easily.  It worked for me to use two spoons to turn.  I know – very technical.  You could use a spatula if your pan isn’t too crowded.  I personally didn’t have the space to work with a spatula, and the spoon method worked wonderfully for me.

Once the meatballs are completely browned, lower your temperature to medium, and add in your spaghetti sauce to cover the meatballs.  I used Prego Garlic and Parm, and it was awfully tasty!  Let the sauce warm up, and then you are ready to make some magic.

On some sub sandwich bread, scoop up 3-4 (or however many will fit) meatballs.  Add a couple slices of provolone, and pop it under your broiler on a baking sheet for just about a minute.  You don’t want to burn this delicious sammy!

And that, my friends, is what you call a heavenly delight in your mouth!  This is comfort food at it’s best… without all those unnecessary calories.  This is actually a healthy, hearty, and protein-packed sandwich that you won’t feel guilty for.



Fiesta Potato Skillet

originally posted on Mama Hen’s Kitchen before Happy Food Healthy Life was born.
Today was quite the day.  The first day back to the office after working from home for the last two weeks.  Fought sleep most of the day.  Had to battle the crowds at the grocery store after work, which is my least favorite time to go to the store.  Once I got home, the sleepiness hit even harder… then the cramps… then the headache.  It is definitely just about time for me to go to bed because I am just not to sure I can take any more of this day.
This recipe isn’t what I made for dinner tonight, but it sure would have been a good and easy one for the kind of day this has turned out to be.  Have you thrown a meal together that was pretty tasty but you feel like it’s just too simple to actually call it a recipe and blog about it?  Yeah? Well, that’s how I feel about this one.  This cheesy potato-y goodness is just so simple but full of flavor and comfort!  I actually made a version of this about 6 or 7 years ago, before I really knew how to cook. I  was just looking for something to eat and threw things together that I happened to have in the apartment.  Somehow it turned out yummy!
Now that I’m even more aware of what flavors go well together, I feel like maybe I’ve perfected my little creation.  It’s one of those meals where you’re so full but it’s so good that you really just don’t want to stop… so you don’t… and then you end up just laying on the couch all evening.  But your tastebuds love you!
So when you’re short for time, need a simple ingredient recipe, and just want a comforting meal, start here and run with it!
Fiesta Potato Skillet
Ingredients
4 medium russet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 Tablespoon olive or coconut oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small green pepper, diced
2 Tablespoons or 1 packet of taco seasoning
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can Ro-tel
1/2 can of black olives, sliced
package of Morningstar Meal Starters Chik’n Strips, thawed and chopped
1 1/2 cup shredded cheese (cheddar, colby jack, pepper jack, etc)
green onions (optional for topping)
sour cream (for topping)

 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and place your peeled and diced potatoes in boiling water for about 15 minutes or until they’re tender.  Test this with a fork.  Once finished, drain completely.

While the potatoes are cooking, you can start your skillet.  In a deep 12-inch skillet on med-high temperature, heat your oil.  Once hot, add your diced onions and green peppers and let saute until onions are soft and translucent.  Add the diced Chik’n (of course, a couple cups of shredded chicken breast can be substituted rather than using the vegetarian option as I have) and let it brown up a bit on all sides.

Once the Chik’n is browned, add the potatoes into the skillet with the chik’n.  Also add the diced tomatoes, Rotel, and olives, along with taco seasoning and salt&pepper to taste.  Stir together on medium heat for a few minutes just until everything gets heated through.

Once everything is heated through, turn the heat off, sprinkle shredded cheese generously on top.  Cover for about 4-5 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted.

Enjoy topped with a dollop of sour cream and a few green onions.

 

Fridge Overhaulin’

I don’t know about you guys, but when I have an unorganized workspace, I just can’t work properly.  I’m all over the place, not able to think straight, and just don’t have a system down when things aren’t in order.  My kitchen is no different.  For the last few months, I’ve been trying to get an organizational system down in my teeeeny tiny apartment-sized kitchen.  I started with the pantry with some jars and baskets, putting like things together and whatnot.  For the most part, that has stayed mostly neat, although it needs a quick once over after all the holiday baking. 

As for my fridge and freezer.  So I have the top freezer where it’s basically just one big compartment.  You shove everything in there, and mine was so full that I basically had to hold everything in while I closed the door.  And then you just hope that when you open it the next time, the can of orange juice concentrate doesn’t come crashing down on your toes!  It was not a pretty sight.  My fridge wasn’t a whole lot better.  Yogurts and puddings everywhere.  Some drinks on the top shelf.  Some on the bottom.  Some butter in the butter compartment, and some on another shelf.  It just wasn’t working.

I came across some inspiration on Pinterest a few months ago.  Lots of containers from The Container Store to divide every little thing in the fridge and freezer.  I just hadn’t made the plunge to buy everything yet since I had just bought containers for my bulk foods.  But again, my wonderful mother came through for Christmas to save the unorganized day!

Let me just show you what I was working with before (ahhh, this is embarrassing!)…

Oh my goodness, I can’t believe I’m even posting this!  But hey, you know what – I’m just being real and putting myself out there… it’s just really kinda scary.  Please don’t judge! There were three jars of pickles in the fridge that had all expired.  Really?!  It was pretty gross, and a lot got thrown away.

Anyway, with some help from some great containers, this is what I have come up with.   Have to say, I’m a bit proud.  New year – new fridge and freezer.

Soy proteins in one. Vegetables in another. Breakfast foods in another.  Ice cream bowl and miscellaneous along the side.  Not perfect, but so much better!

Cheeses.  Yogurts/puddings/jellos. Bread in another.  Mandarin Oranges in the bottom.  All drinks on top.  Leftovers all in one spot.

I’m sure it’ll be ever changing, depending on what we have in the fridge at the time, but I’m so happy with the way things look right now.  Thanks Mom!

Chewy Toffee Blondies for the New Year!

Happy 2012!  Can you believe it’s 2012?  Aren’t we supposed to have flying cars and be living on other planets by now??  At least that’s what the 1989 version of myself thought way back in some other era.  I don’t know about you guys, but 2011 was the fastest year of my life! The first nine months of it were spent wedding planning, and man did time fly through all of that.  Since the wedding and honeymoon, we’ve just been trying to get life back to normal and get ready for the holidays, and before we knew it – the year is over!  Wow!  2011 is definitely one of the best years of my life, and I only expect that 2012 will be even better as I continue to learn and grow.  I don’t know what the year has in store for me, but I am excited to see!

A few highlights from 2011:
*March 2011 – overcame some major battles with my eating disorder, and I have now been making healthy decisions for 9 months!
*Celebrated 2 years of dating Tiffani
*July 2011 – Two Hens and a Monkey debuted
*September 2011 – Xander turned 5 and started another year at Montessori
*September 2011 – Tiffani and I got married!
*October 2011 – Went on an amazing 2 week long honeymoon – paid in FULL with cash, thanks to the Dave Ramsey system
*October 2011 – I bought my KitchenAid mixer – YES, this is a highlight and worth documenting!
*December 2011 – Debuted Mama Hen’s Kitchen
*December 2011 – Xander’s 10 stitches under his eyebrow

A very accomplished year, in my opinion.  No, nothing mind-blowing or anything, but in my eyes, I have grown leaps and bounds and am proud of my accomplishments as an individual, a mom, a wife, and a novice in the food and blogging world.

So for 2012.  I don’t have any resolutions.  I am actually very much against New Year’s resolutions.  Not because I don’t think I can keep them.  That’s not it at all.  Basically I think there is way too much hype surrounding the new year.  It is just another day.  Sure, I know many people think of it as a clean slate.  Great!  If that works for you, then run with it.  But in my mind, if I want something to change or get better at any time in the year, I will make that change right then and there if I’m able to.  I’m not going to wallow in my sorrows for the next 6 months or however long until the new year arrives to make those changes!  I could already be on my way to happiness and bettering myself!  So, anything I have wanted to do better, I have already been doing.   I don’t need a new calendar year to tell me that NOW is the time to change, because I’ve already done that for myself.  I’m sure as the year progresses, I’ll come up with something that I will resolve to do better and I will start working on it immediately.
Alright – off my soap box.  I know a lot of people like resolutions, and like I said, if it works for you, keep it.  I’m just personally not a fan.  I have a ‘live for now’ mentality.

So with the New Year aside – I have a very delicious treat for you!  We have a family recipe book that was made about six years ago.  My mom’s side of the family is huge, and my Great Aunt thought it would be a good idea to have everyone contribute a few recipes to make into a family cookbook.  I didn’t think much of it.  And I certainly wasn’t into cooking back then as much as I am now.  But I did put a few recipes in.  This book is now something that I refer to at least once a week for a yummy dinner or an idea for some treat to take to work.

My mom’s cousin Tara contributed a Blond Toffee Brownie recipe that I just had to try.  I love love brownies, but I just wasn’t in the mood for something chocolatey.  And I was even more delighted because I already had all the ingredients.  So of course, there was no hesitation. 

I don’t know about you guys, but when my batter starts dripping from the mixer, I swear it’s talking to me, and telling me to put my finger in it… I just can’t resist!

 
I have to tell you about something I’m more excited about than I probably should be.  My wonderful mom bought me these amazing measuring spoons and cups.  They’re by a company called Pourfect.  These cups have everything that I need in a measuring cup.  For one, the amount isn’t painted on there for it to chip or wash off a couple weeks later.  It’s a raised number so you’ll never be guessing.  Also, the set of spoons and cups comes in so many different measurements – for instance – this 1 1/2 cup.  Usually that would mean two dirty cups.  Not anymore!  The cups go as small as 1/8 cup to 2 cups.  Great for halving or doubling recipes. Same goes for the spoons.  All the way down to a smidgeon!  These are truly the ultimate measuring devices, and I couldn’t be more excited for them. 


Chewy Milk Chocolate Toffee Blondies
Ingredients
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoons salt
1 c. Milk Chocolate toffee bits (plain toffee would work too)

In a mixing bowl, cream butter and sugars.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla.

Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a separate bowl.  Gradually add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture.  Stir in toffee bits.

Spread evenly into a greased 13×9 baking pan.  Bake at 350* F for 18-22 minutes, or until lightly browned.  Cool on a wire rack.  Let cool completely before cutting into bars.


Muffins with the Kiddo!

Welcome back from Christmas Madness!  I hope everyone’s holiday was full of happiness and lots of yummy baked goods.  I still haven’t gotten completely back into my normal routine because I have been working from home while the kiddo’s been on break from school.  Slowly, but surely, I will get there though!  I’ve got a mad case of cabin fever and just can’t wait to get back to the office where I’m talking about more than Nintendo DS and Ninjago Legos!

If you remember in my last post, I resolved to spend more time in the kitchen with my son.  During my lunch break was the perfect time to put my words into practice.  I don’t know if any of you cooks with kids have this problem, but I honestly am a control freak, and the idea of my son in the kitchen with me kind of gives me anxiety.  The kitchen is my sanctuary.  It is where I get away from all my stresses in life – and as much as I adore my little guy, he does add to some of the stress I’ve got going on.  And the thought of trying to photograph food and get shots that are actually blog-worthy while I’ve got a 5 year old running things?!  Out of the question, right?  You know what?  I was pleasantly surprised!  You know you’re a food blogging mom when your kid holds his pose so the action shot doesn’t blur.  And no, I didn’t take the time to clean up any of the background mess for blogging purposes – I’m keepin’ it real kids.  What you see is what you get!

There was so much concentration in each and every little step of the recipe.  He loved getting to use his new cooking tools that he got from his cousins for Christmas.  And I was excited to try out my new Wilton silicone baking cups.  I’m not 100% convinced that they’re better than paper liners though.  I wonder if I should have sprayed them with non-stick spray, because they didn’t just fall out of the cups like I was expecting them to.  I’ve used other silicone products, and I didn’t have nearly as much trouble as I did with these cups.  I won’t completely write them off, but I’m definitely not in love yet.

I decided something while in the kitchen with the kiddo.  Just let go!  I know you want to have control.  I know you don’t want to make a huge disaster of a mess.  I know you want all the crumble to stay in the muffin cup.  But you know what… it’s not that big of a deal if it doesn’t all make it in there.  You’re not aiming for perfection here.  You’re aiming for a bonding experience with your little one.  Save all that perfection for when you’re cooking by yourself and working on a masterpiece.  Muffins with the kiddo?  Not the time for perfection.  Believe me – these muffins came out a bit less than perfect.  But am I complaining?  Not one bit.  Because I got some quality time with my son.  Taught him a few tricks of the kitchen.  THAT’s what matters.

I love his innocence and curiosity in the kitchen.  How often do we actually stop to smell the cinnamon?  We just take that familiar scent for granted, but no, not Xander.  He had to take a moment to smell one of his favorite scents.  love!

And his little mini hand on the bowl? I think I’ll keep him!  But only if his hands stay this small…. i KID!


Blueberry Muffins 
adapted from AllRecipes.com
Ingredients
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh blueberries
1/2 cup white sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup butter, cubed
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Grease muffin cups or line with muffin liners.
Combine 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, salt and baking powder. Place vegetable oil into a 1 cup measuring cup; add the egg and enough milk to fill the cup. Mix this with flour mixture. Fold in blueberries. Fill muffin cups about 3/4 of the way, and sprinkle with crumb topping mixture.
To Make Crumb Topping: Mix together 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup flour, 1/4 cup butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon. Mix with fork, and sprinkle over muffins before baking.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until done.


Merry Christmas!

I know I’ve been a little MIA the last week or so.  I don’t know if anyone told you, but it’s kind of a busy time of year.  And I’m sorry blog world, but family time comes before blog time, especially when it comes to the holidays. 
But don’t you worry, I’ve still been making a whole lot of messes in the kitchen…

I made some of the best sugar cookies of my life, and I plan on  making a ton more of these in the future for lots of occasions with fun royal icing decorations.

 And I plan on cooking more with my son and slapping ridiculous amounts of cream cheese frosting on top.  With sprinkles, of course!

Have a very merry [insert holiday of choice here].  Enjoy your friends, families, cats, and dogs during the holidays.  Bake a lot.  Eat a lot.  Drink a lot.  Laugh a lot.

I can’t wait to get back to some fun new posts after the hustle and bustle of the holidays.