Thursday, August 30, 2012

Easy Fajitas

I learned how to make fajitas in a cooking class I took in high school (Nutrition and Wellness I). To this day, I still think it was one of the most useful classes I took in high school. I love fajitas, but I've never really settled on one recipe. I've used bottled marinades, envelopes of seasoning mix, liquid smoke with lime juice and garlic, and a few other recipes. Last month, I was going through my Betty Crocker Bridal Edition cookbook, looking for something new to try. I came across a recipe for fajitas and decided to give it a try. My kids have never been huge fans of fajitas, and I think it was because of the liquid smoke flavor. When I made this recipe, the kids ate a ton of the chicken. My son made his own fajitas with chicken, lettuce, sour cream, and cheese...and he ate 3 of them! This is a great chicken marinade recipe. It would be great with yellow rice and chicken, chicken tacos, or even a grilled chicken breast with a baked potato.  I've shared this recipe with a few friends and they all loved it (and so did their children). If you love to go out for fajitas, but don't make them at home because you think they are too much work, I highly recommend trying this recipe. It is easy and very kid-friendly!

Adapted from Betty Crocker
Makes 12 fajitas

Fajita marinade (recipe follows)
1 pound chicken breast or thighs, pounded to uniform thickness
2 tablespoons oil
2 large onions, sliced
2 medium green or red bell peppers, cut into 1/4 inch strips
Optional Toppings:
Sour cream
1 cup shredded Monterey jack or cheddar cheese
Shredded lettuce
Diced tomato
Sour Cream

1) Place chicken in a glass dish or bag. Pour marinade over chicken and refrigerate 4 - 24 hours.
2) Heat oven to 325. Wrap tortillas in aluminum foil. Heat in oven about 15 minutes, or until warm. Remove tortillas from oven; keep wrapped.
3) Set oven to broil. Remove chicken from marinade. Broil chicken 4 minutes, turn and broil 3-4 minutes longer, or until chicken is no longer pink. Discard any leftover marinade.
4) While chicken is cooking, heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook onions and peppers until tender, but not too soft, about 6-8 minutes.
5) Cut chicken into strips before serving.
6) Assemble fajitas with chicken, onions, peppers, and your choice of toppings.

1/4 cup oil (I used grapeseed)
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper

Mix all ingredients in a shallow glass dish.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Easy Buttermilk Drop Biscuits

I love biscuits. I do not love rolling out, cutting, reshaping, and re-rolling dough. That's why I love drop biscuits. I also lack the patience to use a pastry cutter to cut butter into the dough. I have a food processor, but I feel bad getting it down for biscuits when I have 2 pastry cutters (one of which belonged to my great-grandmother) in my kitchen.  I was a Bisquick drop biscuit girl for many years, but the price kept going up, so I really wanted to learn to make my own biscuits from scratch.  One day I was researching buttermilk drop biscuit recipes and came across this gem.  In this recipe, you melt the butter, then let it cool for a few minutes before mixing it with the buttermilk. The buttermilk helps the melted butter solidify just a enough before mixing it with the dry ingredients. There is no need for a pastry cutter, two knives, or a food processor. While I enjoy the ease of the recipe, taste is even more important. I am happy to report that these taste wonderful! They really aren't that much more work than Bisquick biscuits, and in my opinion, they taste so much better and are more moist. I've been making these for over a year and am convinced that I've found the perfect recipe! I've added cheddar cheese and garlic powder to these a few times for easy garlic cheese biscuits and my family loved them. A few weekends ago, I chopped up a few pieces of crispy bacon and added some cheddar and chives for a wonderful treat at breakfast (those are the biscuits in the picture). But my favorite way to eat them, is just he basic biscuit recipe with butter. OK, I also really like them with homemade sausage gravy. If you are looking for an easy biscuit recipe, I highly recommend this one!

Easy Buttermilk Drop Biscuits
from Pink Parsley

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup cold buttermilk
8 tablespoons butter, melted, and cooled for about 5 minutes at room temperature

1) Preheat oven to 475.
2) In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, and kosher salt.
3) In a medium bowl, combine the melted butter and buttermilk, stirring until small clumps are formed.
4) Combine the wet and dry ingredients, and stir with a spoon or rubber spatula until the dough begins to pull away from the sides.
5) Use a 1/4 cup measuring cup to scoop the dough into 12 biscuits. Optional- you can roll the dough into balls to make them look pretty and uniform.
6) Bake for 12 - 14 minutes, or until the tops are golden-brown. Optional: brush the tops with melted butter before serving.

For garlic-cheese biscuits: Add 1 teaspoon garlic powder and 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese with dry ingredients.

For bacon-cheese-chive biscuits: Add 4 strips of cooked, crumbled bacon, 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, and 2 tablespoons fresh chives with the dry ingredients.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

School Lunches and Snacks

My son started first grade yesterday (we start school really early in our county). After a summer of having the time to make fun/more involved lunches at home, it was time to start packing a lunch box again. Last year, I packed the lunches for the first part of the school year, then I decided I really wanted a few extra minutes of sleep, so my husband took over packing the lunch box. I know that my whole day is easier if I get up before the kids, so this year, I'm back on lunch duty. For the last few years, my son has had a snack schedule for his class. This year he needs to bring his own snack every day. My daughter goes to school twice a week and also needs to pack a snack, so I'll post some snacks with my list of lunch ideas. I try to do a mix of store bought and homemade things in lunches. It is exhausting to do everything homemade, even though I'd really like to. Baking the bread, roasting the chicken, making the dips, baking the cookies, making the crackers, and cutting all of the fruit take time. I try to find a balance because time in the kitchen (cooking and cleaning dishes) is time I'm not spending playing with the kids or doing other housework (have I mentioned that I have a messy house?).  My kids are fine with Publix whole wheat bread, so I tend to use that for sandwiches...but they love my homemade cheese-its and energy bites, so I'll take the time to make those. When my son started losing his baby teeth, sending whole apples and plums in his lunch was harder. If grapes, blueberries, or oranges aren't in season and he's tired of carrots, I'll send in applesauce (store bought).  I've checked Pinterest for lunch ideas and have even pinned a few things...but honestly, most of them are too much work at 6:15 in the morning. The bento boxes are cute, but really expensive (my son sometimes throws away his lunch containers). I still use ziploc sandwich bags for most things. I did find some really inexpensive ziploc divided lunch containers at Target and they fit in my son's lunch box.  OK, here's my list of lunch ideas. I hope this helps some of you that are looking for new ideas!

Lunch in the picture- carrot chips, no-bake energy bites, ham and cheese roll-ups, and 2 wedges of laughing cow cheese.

Lunch Ideas:
Homemade lunchables- stacks of crackers, lunch meat, and cheese cut to match the size of the crackers
Soup in a thermos- we tried this yesterday and it didn't leak!! Use canned or homemade (our favorites are chicken noodle and turkey soup)
Rollups- lunch meat and cheese of your choice. I packed 6 roll-ups today
Tuna salad and crackers (if your school doesn't allow plastic knives, just send a spoon)
Crackers with peanut butter
Peanut butter and apple wrap- I haven't made this one yet, but my son enjoyed it in a Publix Deli kid's meal
Hard-boiled egg, peeled (my son likes these with ranch dressing)
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich- it's easy and often overlooked when packing lunches
Sandwiches made with leftover roasted chicken, turkey, or roast beef
Note about sandwiches- Sometimes I take my son to the store to pick out the deli meat, cheese, and bread. It gives him some freedom, and ownership in his lunch, and it shows me that he's willing to eat things I'd never thought of.

Snack/Side Ideas:
Homemade crackers- I have quite a few variations on homemade-cheeze-its (King Arthur Flour Cheese Pennies (my favorite), my variation on cheese pennies (different cheese and flours), cheddar cheese crackers (mixed grains), and homemade cheeze-its (similar to cheese pennies, but with less butter).
Chocolate peanut butter energy bars (similar to KIND bars)
Fruit and nut bars (similar to LARA bars)
No-Bake energy bites- I have my kids convinced that these are dessert
Carrots and ranch or carrots and peanut butter
Applesauce- I recommend this one if you are making homemade
Carrots or pretzels with laughing cow cheese- my son's favorite snack
String cheese
Chex Mix-I love the recipe on the back of the box, but double the amount of sauce

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Homemade Buttermilk Ranch Dip with Greek Yogurt

My apologies for the shadow in the picture. The lens on my camera isn't working at all right now. Until I get to a local camera shop to have it fixed, my blog photos will come from the iphone 4. I promise not to make them too artsy with Instagram.

I am NOT anti-ranch dressing/dip at all.  If it gets my son to eat broccoli, it's fine with me. He's still eating broccoli. How many of us grown-ups regularly eat steamed or raw veggies with no oil, butter, dip, or salt? That's what I thought :) OK, that's not my point. We are a family that loves to dip our veggies. The kids even like to dip everything, not just veggies.  I decided that my job as a mom was not to protect them from the delicious flavor of veggies dipped in ranch. Instead, it is to make sure that they get some quality ingredients from their dips. I do have bottles of thousand island and bbq sauce in my fridge because I'm sometimes missing an ingredient or two for a homemade dip. And some nights I either forget or run out of time to mix up something, but I really do try to make most of their dips. It helps that most commercial ranch dressing gives my son a rash around his mouth, so I have to make the real stuff.

I kept seeing ideas on Pinterest for ranch dip using Greek yogurt. We love greek yogurt and it tastes like sour cream, so I figured it was worth a shot. Ranch dressing packets are pretty expensive, so I decided to use some spices I had around the house to make a dip.  I ended up adding a little bit of buttermilk. I keep it on hand because I cook and bake with it quite a bit. If you leave it out, the dip should be fine.  When I tasted the dip, something was missing...lemon juice. I was out of lemons and didn't feel like thawing the one of the cubes of Meyer lemon juice from the freezer, so I grabbed my Penzeys lemon pepper seasoning. It was perfect! I think this will become a permanent addition to my ranch recipes. This ended up being very kid and adult friendly. We had some for snack and with dinner. Now I need to make more!

As you can see from the picture, my son couldn't keep his fingers out of the dip, even while I was taking pictures.

Just in case you are looking for more dips and dressings to make from scratch, here is a list of some of the recipes I've posted:

Thousand Island Dressing
Parmesan Peppercorn Ranch 
Peanut Sauce (really good with chicken)
Blue Cheese (my favorite)
Honey Mustard

Ranch Dip
Makes 1 cup

1 cup Greek yogurt
1 - 2 tablespoons buttermilk (I used 2)
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried dill weed
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon onion powder
1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon salt (start with 1/4 and add more if you need it)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon lemon pepper (or 1 teaspoon lemon juice + 1/8 teaspoon pepper)

Mix all ingredients and refrigerate until ready to use.