Cooking School: Back-Pocket Recipes

Photo Credit: CHRISSPdotCOM via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: CHRISSPdotCOM via Compfight cc

Welcome to my Cooking School series, which is designed to share what I’ve learned as an experienced home cook with people who want to learn how to cook healthy, homemade food. If you have a topic you’d like me to address, please leave a comment!

I love to try new recipes, but we’re all busy people, so it’s nice to have some familiar recipes that you know how to make and that you know are crowd-pleasers — whether you’re cooking for your family or dinner guests.  For this latest installment of Cooking School, I thought I’d share some of the meals that I make over and over again — recipes I keep in my back pocket (or have memorized!) that I couldn’t live without.  Here are the meals that I keep in a regular rotation:

Breakfast:

Dinner:

  • Chicken enchiladas (I’m usually too lazy to roll up the enchiladas, so I guess it’s really enchilada casserole.   I’m still working to perfect my mom’s recipe without cream-of-mushroom soup.  When I finally do, I promise I’ll share the recipe.)
  • Tacos – just plain ol’ ground beef with onions and taco seasoning, bowls of lettuce, tomato, cheese, beans, avocado, salsa and sour cream.  Everyone can make a taco or taco salad that suits them perfectly.
  • Stir fry (with rice or noodles) — you can mix up the flavors so much by using different sauces!  This is a great way to use up leftovers, too.
  • My go-to Sunday dinner is roast beef (I learned that one from my grandma).
  • Homemade pizza (Williams-Sonoma dough recipe, spaghetti sauce, cheese, and whatever you want for toppings)
  • Grilled chicken (make extras for salads and wraps).
  • Southwest quinoa salad

This post was inspired by a similar post from my friend AfricanKelli (check out her Top 8 meals!) and 15 Recipes Every Parent Should Know from Dinner: A Love Story.

What are your back-pocket meals?

Like what you read?  Check out some of my other Cooking School posts:

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Where I’m From

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I am from chalk drawings on the driveway, from She-Ra masks and picking up pinecones for pennies.

I am from rolling fields of corn and soybeans, from a quiet neighborhood in a small town there the high school mascot is painted on the water tower.

I am from the dogwoods in the forest and the honeysuckle hedges around our backyard.

I am from Sunday roasts at Grandma’s house and family tailgates at Tiger football games; from Cowherd, Eden, Skelton, and Stever.

I am from the smart, reserved, and — yeah — the bossy.  From We aren’t quitters and I’m proud of you.

I am from feltboard Sunday School lessons and youth group mission trips.  From Praise God from whom all blessings flow and meeting Jesus at a camp in the Colorado Rockies.

I’m from the green hills and black dirt of northern Missouri, but with Ozarks roots.  I am from parmesan chicken, twice-baked potatoes, and carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.

I am from the smell of old books and fresh copy paper in my dad’s law office, and “lugging the logo” of Apple computer when it still had rainbow stripes.

I am from running races at family reunions, playing basketball after Thanksgiving dinner, and avoiding cow pies on walks across my grandparents’ farmland.

I’m from tall navy blue silos and painted ranch gates, lettered with my family names.

I am from photos proudly displayed on the piano, from quilts stitched with care, from stories recounted around the dinner table, and wisdom passed down from my parents’ parents.

Where are you from?

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~~~

I was inspired to write this post by Alison at Writing, Wishing.  It’s a writing exercise based on a poem by George Ella Lyon.

 

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Sarah’s Famous Steel-Cut Oatmeal: Fall Remix #pumpkinspice

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Fall’s cool mornings just cry out for warm, filling breakfast, right?  Save yourself some money on those overpriced fall-spiced lattes and coffee shop muffins the size of your head, and and make a bowl of pumpkin spice oatmeal instead.  You can get your pumpkin spice fix without hurting your wallet or your waistline.

Steel cut oats are a tasty and nutritious way to start your day, but whenever I mention them, people raise some objections.  The two most common ones I hear are:

They take so long to cook!

and

Oatmeal?  Isn’t that kind of boring?

Let’s start with the first one.  It’s true — Ain’t nobody got time for simmering oatmeal on a hot stove for thirty minutes in the morning.  But as long as you don’t have an aversion to microwaving, you can have delicious steel-cut oatmeal in your life without waking up early to cook.  Make them in the evening while you’re cleaning up from dinner.  They really are just as good reheated — I promise!

And boring?  Not if you add all of your favorites things! way.  I love oatmeal because there are so many different ways to make it your own.

The Basic Recipe (makes 4 servings):

1 c. steel cut oats

4 c. water

Pinch of salt

Combine ingredients, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes.  Add your favorite oatmeal toppings and enjoy.

Fall Remix – Pumpkin spice oatmeal mix-ins:

I like to add mix-ins to the whole batch of oatmeal while it’s warm, then portion it out into individual pyrex bowls for storage and easy reheating.  If you have a variety of food preferences in your family, though, you could certain do this bowl-by-bowl as you reheat in the morning.  Down with boring oatmeal!

For a full batch, add:

1/2 can of pumpkin puree

1 T. (or more!) of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon

Handful of dried cranberries, unsweetened applesauce, and/or a drizzle of maple syrup for sweetness (add to taste – I like cranberries for the texture)

Chopped nuts (pecans or walnuts would be excellent) or a big dollop of nut butter (I like the crunch of actual nuts, but use what you have on hand)

To reheat:

Microwave a single bowl, then add a splash of milk or almond milk to thin it (I will admit, refrigerated oatmeal can be a little gloppy) and cool it off.  It lasts for a week in the fridge!

Have I convinced you to give steel cut oats a try?  What’s your favorite warm breakfast food? 

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My first experience with youth soccer

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We signed my four-year-old son up for soccer this fall.  The season consists of 4 practices and 4 games.  (In case you’re keeping track at home, that’s 8 snack opportunities.)  I didn’t play soccer growing up and I don’t know much about the game other than you score by kicking the ball in the goal, and you’re not supposed to touch the ball with your hands.

With my extensive background knowledge established… Here are some of my random thoughts from the first preschool soccer game I’ve ever watched:

There are three types of preschool soccer players:

  • The enthusiasts, who run after the ball and try to kick it further in the direction that it’s already going, no matter which team’s goal they’re headed towards.
  • The clumsies, who get the basic idea of what they’re supposed to be doing but are constantly tripping over the ball, another player, or their own feet.
  • The clover pickers, totally oblivious that a soccer game is going on around them.

Is there always one kid that looks like he could be a professional soccer player?  Seriously – I think that little dude is more coordinated than I am.

Are cookies and juice boxes really necessary after a 20 minute game?  Or after wandering around the field haphazardly for a 30 minute practice? (I’m totally that mom who is bringing apples, cheese sticks, and water bottles to the game this week.  Although I may have to redeem myself with hot chocolate if its going to be as cold as predicted.)

It is really awesome to see all the preschool dads try to help coach these kids.

Apparently I am a sidelines yeller.  But I promise that I am encouraging, not mean!  And I’m mostly concerned with making sure that our team is kicking the ball towards the correct goal!

You spend a kid’s whole life teaching him to share and not take other people’s toys, then all of a sudden it’s okay — encouraged even! — in sports.  My son was SHOCKED when I told him it was okay to steal the ball!

Any tips on teaching soccer to a four-year-old?  Am I a meanie for not bringing cookies and juice for snacks?  Please tell me I’m not the only one who gives their kid lots of “vocal encouragement” during their games!

 

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October Goals, and September Goals in Review

Photo Credit: Geomangio via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Geomangio via Compfight cc

I kept my goals last month really basic – walk or run for 30 minutes every day, and do Mutu (ab rehab) exercises every day.  I even made a nifty little chart I could use to track my progress.  Here’s how it went:

  • Running/walking.  B+.  I didn’t do it every single day but I definitely made getting out for walks a priority when I needed to take breaks at work or in the evenings at home.  I also walked a TON when I was in Baltimore.  I’d really like to start running in the mornings but until my kids sleep through the night, I just can’t do it.
  • Mutu.  C-.  I did these less than a third the days last month.  Workout videos are a pain.  I like having a written out workout plan much better than following along with a video.
  • Lessons learned.  I suck a keeping track of things on paper.  I am a digital girl!  For next month, I’m switching to the Lift app to track my progress.  (It gives me reminders, too!)

Since I’m keeping things simple around here, I’m going to just set one goal for October, following along with Steph’s Choose Your Own Adventure Goal Setting challenge.  The theme for October is FOOD.  My goal for the month is to blog more about food!  Once upon a time, I had a blog series that I loved working on called Cooking School.  I want to try to write at least two new posts for it, as well as sharing a recipe or two.

Okay, I lied.  I’ve got one more tiny goal related to healthier eating — no eating after 8pm.

If you have any ideas of what you’d like me to write about (anything from meal planning or grocery shopping to cooking techniques or what to make when you were too lazy to go grocery shopping) please tell me in the comments!

Life According to Steph

 

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What I’m Into, September 2014

 

This month, I was into SHIPS!

This month, I was into SHIPS!

Goodbye September, hello “What I’m Into”!  I love reading everyone’s post in this link-up hosted by Leigh Kramer.

Reading…so much!  Between listening to audiobooks while I drive and staying up too late to read just one more chapter, I’ve read so many great books lately.  I know I’m late to the party, but I loved The Invention of Wings.  And JK Rowling’s second mystery in the Cormoran Strike series, The Silkworm, was even better than her first.  I could listen to Jim Dale read anything, but The Night Circus was a great story, too, although the end seemed a little unsatisfying.

Watching…I didn’t watch too much of anything in September, but I’m excited about the new fall shows!  Looking forward to old favorites Parenthood, The Mindy Project, Scandal, and Parks and Rec, and interested in checking out

Listening…to Spotify playlists while I work.  They have some good instrumental ones for when I really need to concentrate, but I have to admit I’ve been rocking out to Welcome to the 90s!  Takes me right back to my high school and college days.

Fitness-ing…I’ll talk more about this in my monthly goals update in a couple of days, but my motivation is still at a nearly all-time low.  I think if I had more than a handful of full night’s sleeps in the last 14 months, I might be more excited about getting up early to run.

Thankful for…the mile loops that’s recently been mowed around the perimeter of the church property where I live.  It’s been great for going on walks by myself and with the family.  The local cross-country team practices on it once a week, so they’re inspiring me to get out there for a run, too.

Planning…summer vacation for next year.  Yes, it’s a long time off still, but my parents want to do a trip with the whole extended family, so we’ve been having some epic group text conversations about locations, condos, and the logistics of traveling with 6 adults and 5 kids.  (Right now we’re thinking about a beach vacation near Gulf Shores, AL.)

Wearing…not too many fall clothes yet.  Each day starts out cool, foggy, and fall-like, but by after it’s nearly 80 degrees and jeans and boots just make me feel gross and sweaty.  So I’m sticking with summer clothes for just a little longer.

Traveling…to Baltimore!  I love traveling (especially sorrynotsorry traveling without kids.  Love them to death, but they’re creatures of routine and travel is like the anti-routine.)  I’ll be back to the East Coast next spring on a trip with my husband to the Q Conference.  Yippee!

Cooking…ALL PUMPKIN EVERYTHING.  (Check out these dried pumpkin chips from Gigi Eats Celebrities!)  Also, fall=chili season!  I love regular beef chili (with sour cream and crumbled up tortilla chips, please, hold the Fritos) but I think my absolute favorite chili these days is this Vegetarian Sweet Potato Chili.  I’m taking it for my office Soup Day today, and I bought double of everything to make a freezer meal too.  (Dump all the ingredients in a freezer bag and freezer flat.  When you’re ready to cook, thaw overnight in the fridge then put in crockpot all day.)

Looking forward to…seeing my 4 year old play in his first soccer game.  I don’t think he’s clear on the point of the game, and just knows he’s not supposed to touch the ball with his hands, so it should be interesting.

Excited about…a Southwest Missouri blogger meet-up later this month, and hearing what’s coming next for Missouri Women Bloggers.

Have you ever been to Gulf Shores?  What do you do when your motivation is low?  What should I read next?

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Creating a Capsule Wardrobe with Polyvore

Polyvore

I’ll be honest — I’ve never really understood Polyvore.  I enjoy looking at cute outfits on Pinterest as much as the next girl, but making digital collages of overpriced clothes isn’t really my thing.  But as I’ve been thinking about and shopping for my fall capsule wardrobe, it struck me that Polyvore would be the perfect way to make sure all the items I was choosing for my wardrobe would go together, without having to tear apart my closet.

It took me a little bit of playing around to get it right but here’s the trick to making Polyvore work for a capsule wardrobe, rather than giving you serious clothes-envy over its endless selection (and unlimited budget):  the “like” button.  When you like an item in Polyvore, it puts into into a separate tab, which you can then use to create lots of different outfits (they call them “sets”) and save them to look at later.

I got my fall/winter clothes and shoes out of storage recently, so I started by searching to items on Polyvore that are similar to clothes I already have that I want to include in my fall wardrobe.  (Don’t worry if they’re not identical, just get something close enough so you can tell what the outfit will look like.)  My goal is between 30-40 items (including shoes) for my entire wardrobe and I’m not quite there yet.  This leaves me a little room to do some shopping to fill in the holes.  I know I still need a dress of some sort and a black cardigan.  Since I can see everything I already have, it was pretty easy to figure out what I was lacking.

The awesome thing about this is that being limited to a few items really makes you get creative with how you put outfits together.  I call this one “Lazy Saturday.”  Stretchy pants, and hoodie and Toms…  oh yeah.

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My goal is to come up with at least 3 different ways to wear each item in my wardrobe.  With a small wardrobe, everything has to pull its own weight.   Polyvore makes it really easy to figure out if I can mix and match something enough to make it capsule-worthy.  (Are you thinking about Seinfeld now?  Mwah ha ha.)

What’s your favorite thing to wear in the fall?  

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Back from Baltimore

Sorry for the long absence! I was in Baltimore at a conference, getting my continuing ed credits for the year and having as much fun as I could possibly squeeze in when I wasn’t in conference sessions.  Photobomb…comin’ atcha:

Obligatory airplane photo.  I knew my 4 yr old would think it was cool that we were above the clouds!

Obligatory airplane photo. I knew my 4 yr old would think it was cool that we were above the clouds!

 

Beautiful Baltimore!  My  view from the 18th floor.

Beautiful Baltimore! My view from the 18th floor.

 

Lots of extra ships were in the harbor for the big celebration -- 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner.

Lots of extra ships were in the harbor for the big celebration — 200th anniversary of the Star-Spangled Banner.

 

I know Baltimore has it's issues, but the Inner Harbor area seemed very safe.  We loved walking around and seeing the harbor at night.

I know Baltimore has it’s issues, but the Inner Harbor area seemed very safe. We loved walking around and seeing the harbor at night.

 

It's not a trip to Baltimore without some crabs and a Natty Boh, right?

It’s not a trip to Baltimore without some crabs and a Natty Boh, right?

 

This is the HMS Argyll, which I got to take a VIP tour of thanks to meeting some of its crew in Fell's Point.

This is the HMS Argyll, which I got to take a VIP tour of thanks to meeting some of its crew in Fell’s Point.

 

See?  Told ya I got to go onboard!  We also got to see the GPS systems, galley, and bunk areas.  The lowest-ranking crew members sleep in big rooms with 39 people -- triple-decker bunks!

See? I told you I got to go onboard! We also got to see the GPS systems, galley, and bunk areas. The lowest-ranking crew members sleep in big rooms with 39 people — thirteen triple-decker bunks per room!

 

I'm crazy about these nautical flags, even though I have no clue what they mean.

I’m crazy about these nautical flags, even though I have no clue what they mean.

 

Crappy picture of the inside of Ft. McHenry, but I loved learning more about the War of 1812, the Battle of Baltimore, and the big big flag that flew above it (32' x 40') -- that's the one Francis Scott Key wrote about in the Star Spangled Banner!

Crappy picture of the inside of Ft. McHenry, but I loved learning more about the War of 1812, the Battle of Baltimore, and that big flag that flew above it (32′ x 40′) — that’s the one Francis Scott Key wrote about in the Star Spangled Banner!

 

Canoli!  Baltimore has a great Little Italy (although I think St. Louis' is just as good) and canoli is one of their specialities.  Oh my goodness... I love sweets, but even I couldn't finish one.  #canolihangover

Canoli! I met a Ravelry friend for dinner and dessert in Little Italy and canoli is one of the must-try specialities. Oh my goodness… I love sweets, but even I couldn’t finish one. #canolihangover

Orioles game with my coworker, running buddy and travel partner extraordinare.  Go O's!

Orioles game with my coworker/running buddy/travel partner extraordinare. Go O’s!  (We got to see them beat the Yankees, which was a special treat for this Cardinals fan.)

I even managed to take a little day trip to Washington DC to meet up with my blog friend Lisa (click on this photo to go to her blog!) and her adorable daughter.  (If you're ever in DC with a little one, definitely check out the children's area on the 3rd floor of the American Indian museum.  She was entertained for over an hour, crawling from exhibit to exhibit, while we talked!)

I even managed to take a little day trip to Washington DC to meet up with my blog friend Lisa (click on this photo to go to her blog!) and her adorable daughter. (If you’re ever in DC with a little one, definitely check out the children’s area on the 3rd floor of the American Indian museum. She was entertained for over an hour, crawling from exhibit to exhibit, while we talked!)

I guess I could tell you about some of the interesting things I learned in my conference: receivership for nuisance properties, public-private partnership for economic revitalization of neighborhoods, etc etc etc…but strangely I don’t have any photos to go along with those stories.  =)  I had a great time but I was so ready to get home.

Have you ever been to Baltimore?  Does the mention of canoli make you quote The Godfather?  Should I watch The Wire?

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Catching up on 5 months of Project Life scrapbooking in a week

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It can be done! Here’s how:

Step 1: Order photos

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Step 2: Divide photos into weeks or months (depending how you organize your scrapbook)

Step 3: Split photos by whether they are horizontally and vertically oriented.

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Step 4: Find small pockets of uninterrupted time. (I used two lunch breaks and 2 gaps between the end of the work day at 5pm and a 6:30 meeting.)
Step 5: Go go go! Don’t worry too much about what everything looks like, just get it done! (That’s the beauty of using a PL core kit, right? Everything is already color coordinated for you.)

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Step 6: Order last month’s photos as soon as the month is over so this doesn’t happen again!

 

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September Goals

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This summer was all about survival mode, but I am tentatively dipping my toes back into the water here at my beloved little blog, and of course that includes my monthly goals post. In the first draft of this post, I started by brainstorming all the goals that I might want to work on for the month, and I came up with over 15!  Umm…. that’s not good.  Apparently I’m a bit of a jack-rabbit when it comes to setting goals.  (You know, those runners that start out super fast, but they’re walking by the halfway point?)

I don’t want to set myself up for failure, so I’m forcing myself to pick one area and really focus on it for the month.  My blog-friend Steph is hosting a Choose your Own Adventure goals challenge, so I decided to pick a simple goal that goes along with their theme for the month (September — fitness), and actually try to do it for 30 days, instead of letting my jack-rabbit brain go off in a million directions.

So here it is: a simple fitness goal for September. I want to walk or run for 30 minutes a day, and do Mutu ab exercises every day.  (There may be a sticker chart involved.)

I’ll report back at the beginning of October to let you know how I did!

Life According to Steph
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