Springtime and Recipes

I think I have spring fever this week. I’m weeding flowerbeds, planting petunias, cleaning out the sandbox, going for walks in the spring air, defrosting the freezer and cleaning out the pantry. (I know how to have fun, right? :) ) It feels great to be getting some of these projects done. Here are some more projects — actually, recipes–I have planned for the next few days.

Pakistani Kima

PF Chang’s Lettuce Wraps

Black Licorice Caramels

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

How’s your spring going so far?

Molly’s 10-Minute Chicken


Menu planning doesn't have to be complicated

Folks who haven’t done menu planning before sometimes assume it has to be this big complicated thing. Here’s how it most commonly looks at my house– a simple list of meals in a spiral notebook. (If I’d known I was going to show this list to you, I’d probably have written more neatly.  :) ) I start by listing all the meals that I can make with what I already have in the house.  Then I think about meals for which I already have most of the ingredients.  I want to use what I already have, and keep that grocery store list to a minimum.

As I plan, I list all the ingredients that I still need to buy down the other side of the page. This picture shows just the start of that list, on the left.  I ended up adding more items, but the list still was not huge.  I also think about extra cooking projects I’d like to do, such a baking bread or making cookies, and about items that I have lots of and would like to consciously use more of in the next couple weeks.  For example, I have lots of canned tomatoes in the pantry still, as well as some frozen veggies that I’d like use up before the summer.

Many of the recipes listed above can be found here on my blog– check out my recipe index for details.  And today I’ve got one more really easy recipe to add to that list.  It’s from my friend Molly who found it a website called Paleo Leap, and is so easy that you can literally get it into the oven in ten minutes flat.  It takes an hour to cook from that point, but hooray for 10 minute prep, right?  Even better, it is a recipe that everyone in my family loves, which is kinda unusual.  We’ve made it at least 4 times since Molly shared it three weeks ago.  Below shows my tweaks. Go to the Paleo Leap website to see the original.

Mollys 10-Minute Chicken

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cook Time: 1 hour

Yield: 5-6 servings

Mollys 10-Minute Chicken


  • 3 tbsp olive oil or coconut oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon chilli powder
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 10 chicken drumsticks


  1. Preheat oven to 375 F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine garlic, chilli powder, garlic powder, salt and pepper as well as the olive oil or coconut oil. Dump in the chicken and mix well to ensure all the meat is evenly coated with the seasonings. (I slid back the chicken skin and got some seasoning under the skin, then pulled the skin back over the leg.)
  3. Place the drumsticks on a large baking sheet with space in between each to prevent overlap. Cook for about 1 hour, until the chicken is well cooked, turning the pieces once during the cooking process. (I don't turn the chicken and it is still wonderful.)
  4. Serve with rice or mashed potatoes if you wish, along with a nice big salad.
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When you’ve cooked it a hundred times

Pork and Veggie Stir-Fry

In the last few weeks while talking with mommas about the juggling act that is motherhood, inevitably some of the talk is about the stress involved in cooking, especially when lots of people really don’t enjoy cooking.  There’s nothing like uncertainty about your skill level to take the fun out of something. But when it comes to cooking, just being familiar with various cooking tasks will lead to much greater enjoyment of your time in the kitchen.  My friend Daniel Koontz wrote on his blog this week that he thinks a big key to comfort in the kitchen is having half a dozen or so recipes that you’ve cooked often enough that you can just about produce them on auto-pilot. I completely agree with his theory.  Not everyone will end up absolutely adoring their time in the kitchen, but just moving from dread to comfort is a huge improvement.

When you’re deciding on recipes that you’d like to get good at, here are some tips for picking ones that worth your time:

  • The recipe should be one that all or most of your family enjoys.
  • It should feature affordable, easy-to-find ingredients.
  • It should take 30 minutes or less to complete.

Here are some of the recipes I’ve made so many times that I could probably do them while sleep-walking:

How about you?  What are some of your favorite quick meals?




Easy egg rolls

Easy Egg Rolls


Here’s a recipe for the egg rolls that I mentioned the other day.  Vary the filling as you wish.

Easy egg rolls

Prep Time: 40 minutes

Yield: 20 rolls

Egg rolls are my traditional offering at our family’s Super Bowl party. I fry them at home and re-crisp in my host’s oven for a few minutes before setting them out, with teriyaki sauce and wasabi on the side. If you like spicy food, you can add red pepper flakes to the filling. It is also perfectly fine to steam them instead of frying if you prefer.


  • * 1/2 pound ground beef
  • * 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • * 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • * 1/2 medium head green cabbage, thinly slivered
  • * 1 carrot, shredded
  • * 2 green onions, finely chopped
  • * 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • * 1 tablespoon cornstarch
  • * 1 tablespoon peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • * 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • * 1 package 6-inch egg roll wrappers, about 20
  • * Vegetable oil for frying


  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat until heat. Add the ground beef and garlic and cook until no longer pink, breaking up any clumps. Remove the beef to a bowl and drain the fat off from the skillet. Wipe out the skillet with a paper towel to remove most of the beef fat.
  2. Add the sesame oil to the skillet and heat for several minutes over medium heat. Add the cabbage, carrot, and green onion and cook until the vegetables are soft, 3 to 5 minutes.
  3. In a small bowl, mix together te soy sauce and cornstarch. Add the ginger and pepper, stirring again.
  4. Return the beef to the skillet, add the soy sauce mixture, stir to combine everything, and cook for a few more minutes, until the cornstarch thickens any liquid. Remove from the heat and let cool.
  5. Prepare a clean work surface, with a small bowl of water close by. Place one wonton wrapper in front of you, with one corner pointing away from you. Imagine that the wrapper is a clock face and that the point furthest from you represents 12 o’ clock. Spoon a couple tablespoons of filling horizontally across the center of the wrapper. Fold the 6 o’ clock point up over the filling, tucking it under the filling after you cover it to make a little rounded log.
  6. Next, fold the 3 o’ clock and the 9 o’ clock points of the wrapper towards the center so that those two points overlap a little. Finally, wet the 12 o’ clock point of the wrapper with a little water, and roll the whole egg roll up toward that point until you’ve formed a tidy little bundle. Gently press the 12 o’ clock point so that it adheres well to the roll.
  7. Heat enough vegetable oil in a medium skillet to immerse the egg rolls halfway. The ideal frying temperature is about 350° F. I usually begin over medium-high heat, reducing the temperature a notch every 5 minutes or so as I cook, since the longer you cook, the faster the eggs rolls will brown. Usually it takes no longer than 3 to 4 minutes to cook an egg roll. Cook for about 2 minutes on the first side. Turn carefully and cook 1-2 more minutes on the second side. Watch them, because they can burn quickly. Remove to a paper-towel-covered plate to cool before eating. Keep warm in a 200 degree oven until all rolls are cooked.
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Our Menus: The Last 10 Days

Meatloaf and cheesy hash brown potatoes

We ended up spending $529 for the month on groceries– not as fabulous as the $400 I hoped, but a solid $200+ less than average, so I’ll still call that a success.  I also ended the month with a good bit of meat in the freezer due to stocking up on sales this month, so that will be helpful going forward.  I really would like to keep our budget more in the $600 range if I can, instead of edging up toward $800 like it is so easy to do. We are feeding 8-9 people most meals, with more on weekends, but I still think I can do it, and I know our budget would appreciate it!

Here’s what we ate for the end part of the month.  Nothing too thrilling, but no one was hungry!  :)   I think this menu will show you how often I cook a bit extra, to save myself cooking time on a different day.  Fortunately my people eat leftovers reasonably well.

Wednesday, Jan 22

  • Breakfast:  Eggs, toast and oranges
  • Lunch: Grilled cheese
  • Dinner:  Creamy potato soup, hot dogs

Thursday, January 23

Fri, January 24

Sat, January 25

  • Breakfast: Pancakes
  • Lunch: leftovers
  • Dinner: Meatloaf and potatoes

Sun, January 26

  • Breakfast: Cold cereal
  • Lunch: Church potluck (we brought cheesy hashbrown potatoes)
  • Dinner: Chicken enchiladas (leftover)

Mon, January 27

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Tuna Sandwiches
  • Dinner: Spaghetti

Tues, January 28

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Spaghetti
  • Dinner:  Taco John’s  ($16)

Wed, January 29

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch:Split peas with bacon over rice, cookies
  • Dinner:  Beef stroganoff, green beans

Thurs, January 30

  • Breakfast: Eggs and toast, potatoes
  • Lunch: Leftovers
  • Dinner: Stromboli, with picnic cake for dessert

Fri, January 31

  • Breakfast: Eggs, sausage and potatoes
  • Lunch: Cheesy potato cauliflower soup
  • Dinner:  Pizza, eggplant lasagna (for the brave)


And just for random extra fun, here’s a video of Julianna, 9, singing her new favorite song. :)

~From Frozen from Mary Ostyn on Vimeo.

Feasts and Gatherings

This weekend we’re having a big crew of college students, friends of our sons, over for dinner.  We’re making Ethiopian food for a special treat: injera (Ethiopian sourdough flatbread made with a grain called teff), alecha wat (mild veggie stew), doro wat (spicy chicken) and misir wat(lentil stew). Rolled injeraSince the injera takes a couple of days to do, we started it yesterday morning.  It should be a lot of fun.  If I remember, I’ll take pictures of more of the dishes for you.  But pictured here is the injera (here’s my recipe), and the alecha wat, which is made with cabbage, carrots, potatoes, and onions, with turmeric as part of the seasoning.

In February two of our sons will be taking drivers’ ed, which means EARLY morning rising for five weeks straight.  I am not naturally a morning person but I do enjoy the productivity that those early mornings tend to give me.  OK, and the chance to sit at the coffee shop for an hour sipping my americano with coconut flavoring.  Yum!

Another lovely thing about February and March is that I get to do some adventuring.   Feb 7-9 and March 7-9 I’m attending Created for Care, an amazing adoptive-momma retreat in Atlanta, GA.  I went last year and was sooooooo very inspired and encouraged.  It is an amazing experience, and was sold out almost immediately when registration first opened last summer.  But rumor has it that there have been a few cancellations, so if you’re interested in attending, check the website and see if there’s still space.

The other adoption conference that I’m attending is closer to home–the Refresh Conference in Seattle.  That event is for dads AND moms, and there’s even child care!  I’ve never attended this event, but I’ve heard great things about it so I’m really excited.  Registration is still open for this particular event.

In both places I’ll be sharing on two topics:  organizing a busy home, and trusting God in times of challenge.  At Created for Care I’ll be speaking on my own, and at Refresh I’m blessed to be speaking with Jen Summers and Lisa Qualls. Jen writes at Grace and Glory and has 10 kids. Lisa writes at One Thankful Mom and has 12. I’m so much looking forward to meeting these fellow mommas-of-many in person!

Now I’d love a bit of feedback from you all.  I’ve talked about organization and family management before, but this time around I’d like to add more wisdom about learning to say ‘no’ to what won’t fit well in your life.  I’d love to hear what you’ve said no to, and how you came to feel that was the right decision for your family.

One small example from my home:  I rarely iron.  Usually it’s when I sew, or very occasionally (as in maybe 4x a year?) I’ll help one of the boys iron a Sunday shirt if it didn’t get pulled out of the dryer and put on a hanger quickly enough.  We pick easy-care clothes and I have just decided not to sweat it.  It works for me but it wouldn’t work for everyone.  What DON’T you do to add to the peace and freedom in your home?

Recipe: Vegetable Pancakes (and what we ate this week)

Vegetable Pancakes

This week we spent another $140 on groceries, partly due to the fact that we needed chicken feed, cat food AND dog food all in the same week. We also went out to eat once at Panda Express and once at Costco, which ate up the budget rather quickly. That means that to keep within my $400 goal, I have $120 to last the whole last two weeks of the month.  Yikes.  We’ll see how that goes.  I feel like I wasn’t terribly disciplined this week.  Ah, well.  But I did get pears and apples both for 39 cents/lb.  Not tons, but enough to eat for a week or two.  I rarely see either of those for less than 89 cents/lb, so that was a nice find.  (Thanks, mom!)

Today I read this article about a bread bucket, which is basically an old-fashioned arm-powered kitchenaid that is big enough to handle dough for at least 4 loaves of bread (16-18 cups of flour) at once.  Isn’t that awesome?   Pretty much they’re antiques and only available on ebay and at estate auctions, but I’m wondering if it would be fun to own one.  The most flour that my kitchenaid will handle is enough about 8-10 cups and then it sounds like it’s working hard, and two loaves of bread is gone at our house in less than two days, usually.

Here’s what I cooked this week:

Wednesday, Jan 8th

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Tater tot casserole, Donuts
  • Dinner:  Taco soup

Thursday, January 9th

  • Breakfast: Eggs, potatoes, toast
  • Lunch: Vegetable pancakes, applesauce
  • Dinner:  Panda Express ($30)

Fri, January 10th

  • Breakfast:  Scrambled eggs, oranges and toast
  • Lunch:  Ramen noodle soup, grilled cheese
  • Dinner:  Tater tot casserole

Sat, January 11th

  • Breakfast: Eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Peanut butter sandwiches, soup
  • Dinner: Pizza and sauerkraut

Sun, January 12th

  • Breakfast: Cold cereal
  • Lunch:  Hamburgers and mashed potatoes, ice cream
  • Dinner: Chicken noodle soup, cinnamon rolls

Mon, January 13th

  • Breakfast: pancakes and oranges
  • Lunch:  Grilled cheese sandwiches, saurkraut, applesauce
  • Dinner: Shepherd’s Pie

Tues, January 14th

  • Breakfast:  eggs and toast
  • Lunch: Costco ($10)
  • Dinner: Chicken noodle soup, vegetable pancakes, salad

Since I mentioned vegetable pancakes a couple times, I thought I’d give you my recipe.  It’s pretty adaptable and could be done with a variety of grated vegetables, such as potatoes, sweet potatoes, zucchini, and carrots.  I tend to make them most often with potatoes and carrots, with some minced garlic and onion tossed in there too.  The ones pictured here have some kale in them.  But here’s the basic recipe you can start with, and then customize as you wish.

Vegetable pancakes

Vegetable pancakes


  • 4 potatoes, peeled and grated
  • 1 minced onion
  • 1 grated carrot
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup wheat flour (or cornstarch for gluten free)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper


  1. Begin by grating and then rinsing the potatoes, making sure to squeeze off the water so that they're not too drippy. Add remaining ingredients and mix together.
  2. Heat about 1/2 an inch of oil in a small, heavy pot over medium heat til a punch of the batter sizzles when you toss it in the oil.
  3. Add several clumps of batter (about 2-3 tablespoons per clump) to the oil in the pot and let cook for a couple minutes on the first side, til you see some brown at the edges.
  4. Turn gently and cook another minute or so, til the second side is also browned and crispy. After you've cooked the first couple batches, you may need to turn down the heat on the burner so that the oil won't get too hot and burn the pancakes.
  5. Keep frying until you have all the batter cooked. You can keep the first pancakes warm in the oven until you're done with them all, or do like I do and just let the kids eat them fresh from the skillet as you make them.
  6. I serve these with applesauce, wasabi, and soy sauce so everyone can choose what they want to use for dipping. :) Yum!
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What we actually ate


This week we spent $145 on food, quite a bit more than I was originally intending, but there were sales, people!  I bought 40 lb of oranges for $20, 10 lbs of chicken thighs for $10, and 35 lb of ground beef for $70.  Yup, $1.99/lb ground beef, yehaw!  Lately I’ve been lucky to find it for $2.49/lb. The oranges should last a month, the chicken a couple weeks, and the ground beef a couple months.

In two hours I made 1 meal of meatloaf (for 18 people), 2 meals worth of taco meat, 46 hamburger patties, and 8 packages of precooked ground beef that I can use for stroganoff or Ethiopian sloppy joes or shepherd’s pie or Thai chard wraps or any number of other meals.  I love having pre-cooked ground beef in the freezer– it’s such a time saver.  And when I can get it for a great price, that makes it twice as nice. It really helps me to have benchmark prices to look for, so that I know clearly when it’s a good time to stock up.

Jan 1st

  • Brunch:  Eggs/rolls/pears
  • Dinner:  Pineapple/hot dog stirfry over rice
  • Snack: Cookies, homemade gummies

January 2nd

  • Breakfast: pancakes
  • Lunch: Peanut butter rolls
  • Snack: meat and cheese tray (kids’ party)
  • Dinner:  pizza, salad, cookies

Fri, January 3rd

  • Breakfast:  Scrambled eggs, oranges and toast
  • Lunch:  Frozen burritos and apples
  • Dinner:  BBQ chicken, baked potatoes, green salad, magic cookie bars

Sat, January 4th

  • Breakfast: Pancakes
  • Lunch: Split peas and rice with firfir
  • Dinner: ‘favorite’ casserole (macaroni with ground beef, tomato sauce and olives, topped by cheese)

Sun, January 5th

  • Breakfast: cold cereal
  • Lunch: Chili, green salad, garlic bread, and birthday cake for dessert
  • Dinner:  leftover ‘favorite’ casserole (I made way too much Saturday night!)

Mon, January 6th

  • Breakfast:  Eggs and toast
  • Lunch:  Thai cauliflower chicken soup, apples
  • Dinner:  Leftover chili from Sunday, raspberry gummies

Tues, January 7th

  • Breakfast: French toast, apples and oranges
  • Lunch: Chili corn pone pie (Family Feasts p.112)  salad and cookies
  • Dinner:  Tacos


What about you?  What have you served your family recently?

Homemade healthy gummies

I’ve been reading a lot lately about the good stuff in natural unflavored gelatin. It’s anti-aging, good for joints, good for your hair, good for your nails, and good for your digestion. Good gelatin comes from beef bones, and all these benefits are why I try to make a big pot of bone broth every week or two.

But when I heard you could also get a lot of this benefit by making treats with healthy gelatin, I was really interested in trying it. I’m sure that my grandbabies would be interested in yummy chewy homemade gummies and I was pretty sure at least a few of my kids would be game to try them as well. So I ordered a batch of Great Lakes unflavored gelatin and got this cute Wilton Silicone 24-Cavity Gingerbread Boy Mold as well.  (They look kinda like gummy bears, right?)  When the mold arrived, I was surprised at how big the cavities were.   The ‘gummies’ they make are about 1.5 inches long, not the diminutive things I’m used to buying in bulk at Winco.

After reading this recipe on Mommypotamus and this one from Small Footprint Family I was ready to give it a shot.

Here’s the combination I used.

Homemade healthy gummies

Homemade healthy gummies


  • 1 c. lemon juice
  • 1 c. water (or kombucha)
  • 1 t. orange extract
  • yellow food coloring
  • 1/3 c. gelatin
  • 2 T. honey


  1. Mix all ingredients except the gelatin and warm on the stove until just simmering.
  2. Add gelatin slowly, whisking well as you pour it in. Let simmer gently until gelatin is completely dissolved.
  3. Pour into molds and refrigerate until firm, an hour or more.

When I used the kombucha in the recipe, I added it after heating the lemon juice, whisking the gelatin in, and letting it cool a few minutes. Heat kills the good probiotics in the kombucha.

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This recipe made enough to totally fill the mold shown.  I poured the remainder into a small flat-bottomed bowl. Once the gelatin had set up, we first tested what I’d poured into the bowl.  It clung to the sides and did not come out smoothly.  I started wondering if the more complicated little shapes would even come out of the mold.



But lo and behold, they came out absolutely beautifully.  The tops of the gummies look a little bumpy, because I left the little ‘feathers’ from the fresh-squeezed lemon juice in the liquid.  But other side of each gummy was smooth like you usually see.

Since I was aiming for sour gummies, I used only a little honey, which did indeed make them quite sour.  However, most of my kids liked them and both of my 1-year-old grandsons gobbled them down and asked for more.  I think they were a hit.

I have two more molds coming soon in the mail  (this is fun!!) and am planning to color my next batch with raspberry juice instead of artificial color.


Gummies (3)


If you’d like to read more about the benefits of healthy gelatin to the digestive tract, check out this post by Comfy Tummy.

Gummies (1)

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January menu preview

Snack tray

My final kitchen project for 2013 was a cheese and meat tray, inspired by A Thoughtful Place, and by the lovely serving tray that my daughter gave me for Christmas. And before you feel intimidated by the fancy shmancy, let me tell you– no way I’d have thought I could pull together something like that before I watched this video and found out it isn’t actually hard!  This one was for a New Year’s Eve party. I had so much fun making this one that I’m planning to make a similar one when we have the kids’ friends over to hang out for games in a couple days.

Now, on to January menu planning! I’m planning on spending no more than $400 for the month, which is going to be lots more doable if I spend as little as possible during the first half of the month.  I’ve been digging through the cupboards and the freezer, looking at how far I can get using what we have.  I canned lots of tomatoes and pickles this fall, and have lots of butter and a reasonable amount of meat in the freezer.  We also have beans, pasta, potatoes, cabbage, onions, canned applesauce, canned pears and frozen green beans.  We have a good stash of baking ingredients including WAYYY more chocolate chips than is strictly necessary– literally 10 bags of different chips, including butterscotch.  (Hello, Butterscotch Chip Cookies!)  There will be no cookie shortages around here.

Since the chickens aren’t laying terribly well right now, I’ll probably need to buy eggs, and doubtless I’ll think of a few other things.  If I happen to see ground beef on sale for $2.29/lb or less, I’ll be grabbing it, since I doubt I have more than two weeks’ worth right now. Another goal of mine is to use more bone-in chicken, both to take advantage of the affordability of whole chickens and to make chicken broth for winter soups. But here are the meals I can make with the current provisions.

  1. Pasta carbonera & salad
  2. Cheesy Corn and Potato Chowder (Family Feasts for $75 a Week, p. 192)
  3.  Chili for a Crowd and cornbread (double batch)
  4. Make-your-own pizza
  5. Cauliflower Tom Kha Gai (Thai soup)
  6. Split pea soup with bacon (Family Feasts, p. 190)
  7. Hearty Beef Dumpling Stew
  8. Hamburger lo mein (from Family Feasts, p. 161 )
  9. Korean vegetable pancakes (Family Feasts, p. 204)
  10. West African Sweet Potato Soup
  11. Tuna sandwiches (with grated carrot and cheese, toasted)
  12. Beans and rice
  13. Tacos with refried beans, ground beef/lentils and soft shell tacos
  14. Biscuits and hamburger gravy
  15. Ethiopian Sloppy Joes and Injera
  16. Grilled cheese and tomato soup
  17. Korean sushi using smoked salmon I got for Christmas  (yum!)

Lunches tend to be leftovers from previous dinners as well as sandwiches.  Our youngest got a panini grill for Christmas, which she adores.  So we have been doing lots of grilled cheese sandwiches with soup.  For breakfast we mostly do eggs and toast, and occasionally cereal, waffles or pancakes.  I also want to make Lemon Cream Cheese Pancakes (GF). I’m sure I’ll be adapting this menu a bit as the days go on, but I’m pleased to see how much food we have in the house at the moment, and am planning to dig through the freezer and use up more odds and ends during the month as well.

Are you setting a spending goal for January?  I’d love to hear what it is, as well as how it compares to your usual spending habit.  My $400 goal is about half of what I usually spend.  We’ll see how it goes!