Genius Taco Soup

Genius Taco SoupMy husband is a Genius!  On Sunday, when my kids & I were driving home, after visiting my family over the 4th of July weekend – he found a crockpot recipe and made it.

It consisted of 6 chicken breasts, 1 jar of salsa, 1 can black beans, and 1 packet of taco seasoning.  That’s all.  We had Soft Chicken Tacos for supper.

With the leftover meat, I decided to try some soup – and came up with this Genius Taco Soup!  (Named after my husband, The Genius!)

What I love about this – is it can be completely customized according to my family’s tastes.  But the base of the cooked chicken is what made it so delicious and flavorful.  We served ours with crushed tortilla chips, sour cream, and shredded cheese.  You could easily add chopped cilantro, fresh salsa, diced black olives – or whatever you might like on your tacos.

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Considering the weird cooler weather, the soup for supper was a huge hit, and because it was so quick to prepare, it is one of my favorites!

Take the Plunge! Coffee with a French Press

There are almost as many ways to brew coffee as their are coffee roasts.  Well, maybe.  Although I have most often used a drip-coffeepot, I have ventured into other ways of brewing coffee such as the Keurig Machine, “Swedish” coffee, percolator, and finally a French Press.

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I’ve always wanted to try a French press, but was concerned about having a mostly-glass appliance which may or may not make a difference in the way coffee tastes.

However, when my hubby bravely bid on a coffee-tea basket at our kids’ most recent school-fundraiser and won – I got to TRY a French Press for myself.  It is basically a one-cup model, but a great tester and something I have grown quite fond of using.  I have even opted for the French Press over my Keurig (gasp!) many mornings, and enjoy the ability to vary the depth and richness of each individual cup of coffee I prepare with the French Press.

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It is fairly easy to use – and quite honestly, I googled the many ways one can use a French Press.  It really comes down to two key things:

Time

Temperature

When I found some general ideas online that seemed to coincide, I took the Plunge (haha – French Press humor) and haven’t looked back.

  • Get yourself a French Press.  (see link below for the next one I want to get!)
  • Add enough coffee to the bottom of the glass carafe for your serving size (I use a regular spoon and French Roast coffee – sometimes it’s 3 spoonfuls and sometimes its 4 spoonfuls of coffee grounds per cup.)
  • When the water comes to a boil, take it off the heat and let it rest for about 30 seconds.
  • Pour in enough hot water to cover the grounds and then stir the grounds to “activate” them.
  • Pour water into the carafe to where the bottom of the pour spout lines up.
  • Pull the plunger towards the lid so that it is sticking straight up and settle the lid on the carafe (mine does not form an airtight seal).
  • Set a timer for 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
  • When the timer goes off, very slowly begin to push the plunger down into the water / coffee grounds.  You should see the coffee grounds all in a mass huddle at the top of the carafe and they will slowly sink towards the bottom under the pressure of the plunger.  Continue to push until the plunger will sink no more.
  • Ensuring that your lid is on tightly, pour coffee carefully into a prepared mug.

Some people do not pour the coffee “sludge” at the bottom of the pour into their cup, but I generally do and just stir it well.  I often find a little sludge in the bottom of my mug, but have found that without it, my coffee does not taste as rich or complex.

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For me, a single serving size works really well when I want decaf and my hubby wants regular.  It is also something like a “science experiment” and very hands on and I enjoy that process.  It doesn’t take long, either, and is a really easy cleanup – just rinse out well and dry.  I wash it in soapy water about every 3rd cup.  That’s just my preference.

As far as timing goes, I have found that timing anything longer than 4 minutes really brings out more acidity and bitterness, which I do not enjoy in my coffee.  I did play around with the timing, and I reduce it to 3 minutes when I use a lighter roast.

Interested in your own French Press?  If you have Amazon Prime, you can get your hands on a 34-oz press for less than $20! (!!!) And this one comes in red, black or green! (Yep, this is my amazon affiliate link.  If you click the image below and order this french press, you will help pay for my next cup of coffee!!!)

Have you ever used a French Press?  Would you consider giving it a try?

Basagna!

Our Little Man has his own language some days.  And for some reason, he calls lasagna “Basagna!”

I saw a recipe for Sour Cream Noodle Bake from The Pioneer Woman on Facebook and it LOOKED. SO. GOOD.  I am a big fan of lasagna, but it can take a lot of time and I don’t always have a lot of time.  I have not yet mastered the whole Make-Ahead-Meals process, and this recipe looked easy enough.  Her recipe is not exactly a twist of lasagna.  It uses sour cream and cheddar cheese. But it inspired me to make a couple of changes for a quick and easy lasagna style recipe.  Basagna

Granted, I only got the before pictures because I also have not mastered the art of taking food pictures before it is devoured by my family…

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The thing I liked best about this, is that the sour cream actually makes it very creamy, without making it sour.  It sorta “stretches” the ricotta cheese throughout the dish.  

Chocolate Gravy & Biscuits

Chocolate Gravy & Biscuits are for real, y’all!  Like warm, cooked, fudgy pudding on flaky, buttery homemade biscuits – this stuff is extremely decadent and SO easy to make!

Here is the recipe. (I do recommend making your own biscuits, but the grand-style canned biscuits are tasty too!)

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Quick & Easy Fruit Pizza

Quick & Easy Fruit PizzaWe have staff meetings scheduled on Mondays where I work.  It just so happened that Sunday was one of my co-worker’s birthdays, so I said I would bring fruit pizza to the meeting.  And of course, not planning ahead, I woke up Monday morning with no ingredients to even MAKE fruit pizza.

sigh.

I thought about it for a minute and decided I would stop at the grocery store and see what I could find in a pinch.  I just made fruit pizza when we visited my family Easter Weekend, and knew I could manage something but was a little puzzled about a crust.  Raspberries & Strawberries were on sale, and I knew I could find a decent cream cheese dip.  The last fruit pizza I made had a shortbread crust, but shortbread cookies  are not cheap.  And then I found that Keebler makes a shortbread cookie, like they make their pecan sandies.  (not affiliate in any way with Keebler or any other cookie company.  I should look into that!)

SCORE!

Not only was it the perfect crust for a make-it-yourself fruit pizza, the cookies were on sale…

The great thing was that each of us could make our own to our own taste!  I bought a prepackaged cream cheese dip (which you could easily make and take if you plan ahead – cream cheese with powdered sugar or sugar substitute to taste and a splash of vanilla would do the trick!)

Quick & Easy Fruit Pizza
Recipe Type: snack, dessert
Author: Debbie J Taylor
Ingredients
  • 1 package shortbread cookies
  • 1 container of cream cheese fruit dip
  • Assorted bite-sized fruits and berries
Instructions
  1. Grab a cookie. Top with a dollop of cream cheese dip. Add fresh fruit.
  2. ENJOY!

This would be fun for a baby shower, a wedding shower, a back yard BBQ or any other spring & summer event.  You could use a mix of red and blue berries and dress up a quick July 4th buffet.  Everybody can make their own individual bite-sized fruit pizza and add the fruit they like.

Easy & Quick!  My favorite kind of recipe!

Double Chocolate Date Scones

I probably shouldn’t call them scones. They are not TECHNICALLY scones for a variety of reasons, but “scones” sound more enticing than “biscuits” to me, so I default to then when I make them. ha

Last Friday when the kids were finally in school and I was not actually having to work, I got the baking itch. And my mind was turning around and over and then I discovered a half-full bag of Ghiradelli white chocolate chips.

YES!

I have made something similar before, but THESE outdid all of my other attempts.  Rich. Fudgy.  Deliciously satisfying.

Double Chocolate Date Scones
Cuisine: snack, dessert
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 10-12
Ingredients
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/3 cup brown sugar, lightly packed
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 stick butter, chilled
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1 tsp instant coffee granules
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly spray a large cookie sheet with nonfat cooking spray.
  2. Blend first 5 ingredients in medium sized bowl. Make sure there are no lumps of baking powder!
  3. Slice the butter into the bowl and begin blending it in with a fork or pastry blender, until you see medium sized crumbs.
  4. Measure milk into measuring cup and stir in instant coffee granules. Pour into bowl and stir until well blended, and no dry ingredients are sitting at the bottom of the bowl. Incorporate the dates and chocolate chips into the batter.
  5. Using a large serving spoon, drop batter onto prepared pans. You may need to use more than 1 pan, as these do expand a little while they bake.
  6. Bake for 14-18 minutes.
Notes
I used Ghiradelli white chocolate chips, Sun-Maid chopped dates, and Folger’s decaf instant coffee.

These were gone before I even thought about posting them, so I don’t have a picture to share.  And I’m out of white chocolate chips & dates so I can’t make another batch.

The dates are hidden in the batter, but they add a really rich, dense, sweetness.  Almost a caramel-y feature.  It was a wonderful surprise.  The coffee adds layers of depth to the chocolate.  So these 2 ingredients are what kicked up this batter in a huge way.  They were not just chocolate scones.  They were delightfully delicious!

When I make them again (cuz I definitely will), I will post a picture and link to this recipe. =)

Pinning Recipes {Blackberry Cream Cheese Danish}

Some people complain about Pinterest becoming a waste of time. Pins collected that will NEVER be used; hours spent pinning that could be spent otherwise.

I get that. I have wasted some time on Pinterest, myself.

HOWEVER, I think Pinterest can be one of the most useful tools available on the internet, and I use it as such. I have boards that are playful and haphazard, but I also have boards that are like online filing cabinets – recipes, DIY recipes, DIY project instructions, and more.

To each her own, and like everything else, we should seek to redeem our time. Several of my friends have started posting on Facebook or their blogs about recipes they are finding on Pinterest and preparing for their families. While I’m not jumping on that bandwagon, I wanted to share this recipe because this mommy is a RABID fan of breakfast danish.  I made a lovely cheese danish for New Year’s breakfast last year, and it was a huge hit at my house.  When I saw this pinterest danish recipe, I pinned it and will be making it THIS WEEKEND just because!  Well, just because blackberries happen to be on sale – and I’m tired of all the cold snow and wind and want something bright and fruity to greet the day!

This recipe comes from Six Sisters Stuff – they’ve got TONS of recipes, but this one had me at hello…

Click the link below to find the recipe

It looks and sounds SO good, I can’t pass it up!

 

Baking with Curly {Apple Crunch}

Apple CrunchWe’ve had several snow days for the girls already this year.  On one particular snow day, I went into work for an hour and stopped at Walmart on my way home to get a few things.  My MIL Thelma stayed with the kids while I was gone.  When I got home, Curly met me at the door and said, “Can we bake something today?”

After we all got settled with a cup of hot cocoa with peppermint marshmallows, she & I worked on her recipe. She had grabbed a cookbook from my counter and picked the recipe herself!  Other than making french bread pizza or helping make salad, she hasn’t made a whole lot of other things, so this was pretty exciting!

Here’s the recipe:

{Apple Crunch}
Recipe Type: Dessert
Cuisine: American
Author: Debbie J Taylor
Prep time:
Cook time:
Total time:
Serves: 8
An easy to prepare, simple baked apple dessert
Ingredients
  • 6 golden delicious apples, cored, peeled, sliced thin
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 2/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, not softened
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spray 8″ square pan with cooking spray.
  2. Layer apple slices in bottom of pan. Sprinkle sugar over apples and top with cinnamon and nutmeg.
  3. In medium sized bowl, blend flour and brown sugar. Cut in butter using a fork or pastry blender. Blend until a small-sized “crumb” appears. Cover apples with flour mixture.
  4. Bake 1 hour. Allow to cool slightly.
  5. Best served warm with ice cream or whipped cream.
Notes
The original recipe called for 1 cup of packed brown sugar. We reduced to 2/3 cup and it was plenty sweet. Also, The original recipe suggested cinnamon OR nutmeg, and we used both. It’s an easy enough recipe that you can play with the flavors to your liking.

She has made this twice, and other than the peeling/chopping apples she can do most of it herself.  We reduced the sugar even more the 2nd time we made this, and it was still fairly sweet.  I think for the most part, you can play with this recipe and your taste preferences and customize it for your own palates.

Overall, this is one of the easiest recipes to make, and I would even let my kids eat it for breakfast with the reduced sugar…

It’s High Time for Chai!

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I love me some chai.  How about you?  Have you ever tried it?  Chai is a tea-based drink, and when made from scratch is usually made with black or Darjeeling tea.  (Darjeeling is the “champagne” of teas in case you didn’t know.) The spices include cardamom among other spices, which really gives it a distinctive flavor.

I think the first time I tried it was at a little coffee shop in Springfield, Mo (which has since become Panera Bread Company).  I didn’t want coffee that morning (musta been sick!) and the barista suggested a chai.

Oh was that a good idea!

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Since then, I’ve had several kinds of chai – from homemade to storebought mixes to specialty brews in a tea or coffee shop.  I don’t remember ever having a bad cup of chai – and it’s something that Roy & I enjoy together.

Roy confessed to me that the first time he bought a carton of chai, he didn’t read the directions and drank the concentrate straight up.  I think that explains at least SOME of the hair on his chest…

We recently bought a concentrate carton while grocery shopping and I just had to have a cup.  I mixed it 50/50 with 2% milk, poured it over ice and added a splash of sugar-free caramel syrup.  Oh my…  That was FUN!  It would make a great holiday punch, in fact, and might be something we enjoy Thanksgiving day!

I have found that I prefer my drinks HOT when I am trying to get myself centered.  It’s soothing to have something warm (almost like a shower, I guess) and helps me find my way out of a fog.  But I’ve also discovered that when I need to be energized, drinking something ICED is the way to go!

You can buy most concentrate cartons in the coffee aisle at grocery stores – and for the price of one cafe-prepared chai, you can get 8 servings (more or less depending on the brand and your strength preference).  You can buy flavored versions – raspberry and chocolate are divine!  But you can also make yours at home to your own taste!

Here are some recipes to make yours at home:

Chai Tea (from Food Network)

Starbucks Chai Tea (a copycat recipe)

Chocolate Chai Tea

Do you like chai?  What’s your favorite flavor?  Is it something you enjoy often or save for special occasions?

Lunch Box Inspiration for Your Kids and You

Packing lunches can get pretty boring pretty quickly.  My husband can eat the same thing every day he works for 2 weeks in a row – and the thought of that makes me want to gag!  He can eat the same kind of sandwich, sides & snacks every day.  I can’t eat like that.  My kids are not the same kind of eaters, either, but when they do eat lunch, they need some variety!  I’ve been watching bloggers write up some ideas and found several things on Pinterest and thought I’d share my favorites Lunch Box Inspirations with you here:

  • iPackLunch –  I kinda liked a lot of what she had to say so I marked this site for reference.  Some posts include pictures only, but some include pictures and explanations of what is shown.  I like both!
  • What’s for Lunch? – from Finding BonggaMom has a GREAT list and pictures of examples for a kids’ lunch.  While my children beg for food every 15 minutes when they are home, during lunch they only eat a few bites of anything.  (I know this ONLY because I visited them a couple of times last year for lunch!)
  • What’s for Lunch – from Chalk One Up for the Teacher has printables listing food categories and suggestions for each category.  One is prefilled and one is blank for you to use to keep your menu fresh!  She also has a couple of links to check out for more lunchbox ideas, including glutenfree.
  • Back to School Lunch Ideas from The Scrapbooking Housewife is a FUN post to read!  She includes a Chocolate Banana Bread recipe, a pretty printable with lunch ideas, AND cute lunch box notes.
  • 500+ School Lunch Ideas is jam-packed with pictures and lists that link to the suggestions, ideas, and recipes.

I am definitely looking at these and gearing up to plan lunches in creative and fun ways without throwing all the food away.  Plus, I think Roy & I could enjoy a BUNCH of these lunch ideas and make our lunches more enjoyable.  What do YOU think?

Do you usually pack a lunch?  How do you keep it interesting?