Making Mornings Easier

I have a getting-ready routine firmly ingrained into my self, and that routine follows an evening routine of the same nature. These routines are so much a part of my day that even during times of the year when I don't have to get myself or the kids ready by a certain time, I still find myself going through these motions.

The nighttime routine goes a little something like this:
~ Set out H's and E's clothes
~ Wash any bottles so they're ready to go at 6am and we're not fumbling around to clean them
~ Wash any dishes in the sink
~ Make my lunch
~ Check all doors to see they're locked
~ A few more paranoid things to check that I won't share here to avoid being made fun of...

Right now, we don't have to get the kids dressed and out the door in the morning and I cannot begin to express how much that has made things easier. But even so, I find that I have a hard time getting myself out the door with everything I need, so I stick to the routine.

Last summer, we decided not to buy any more cereal because for as much as we ate it for a convenient breakfast, we also ate it for a convenient 10:00pm snack. And really, that's not so much a necessary part of our day. We've stuck to it, probably for the best. But what that meant was now I had to figure in time to make toast and eggs that morning, or have something ready to go the night before. And really, that wasn't happening.

So when I came across this recipe on Pinterest (yay, Pinterest!) I had to try it, and we've been using this constantly since then. Its economical, healthy, and tasty to boot!

I even did the math to figure out how economical it is to make your own oatmeal.

Quaker Instant Oatmeal - Maple & Brown Sugar
15.1 ounces - $3.79 - $0.25 per ounce

Homemade Oatmeal Mix
65.25 ounces - $11.32 - $0.17 per ounce
(using brand name items - even less if you're using store brand!)

I know that a difference of $0.08 per ounce might not mean much, but that means for the same amount of Quaker Instant Oatmeal, you'd be paying... $16.31! Would you make your own oatmeal if you go through one whole batch a week like we do?

Plus, did I mention that it tastes so much better than the Quaker mix?

It totally does.

Homemade Oatmeal Mix
From Frugally Sustainable found via Pinterest

6 cups old fashioned oats
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 cup dry instant milk
1 1/2 Tablespoons cinnamon
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon nutmeg

Mix all ingredients and store in an airtight container.

To make oatmeal: Measure 1/2 cup oatmeal and 1/2 cup water into a microwave-safe bowl. Heat on full-power for 1 minute, stirring after 30 seconds. Allow to cool slightly and enjoy!

If you want to make a bigger bowl, use 3/4 cup oatmeal and 1 cup water. Heat for approximately 1 minute 15 seconds, depending on your microwave.

Mix-Ins (after cooking, before cooling):
Raisins, sliced or slivered almonds, chopped walnuts or pecans, dried cranberries

Makes approximately 16 - 1/2 cup (dry) servings


Simply Slicing Strawberries

Quick tip for you tonight, just before a week back to work and just as strawberries are coming into season.

In the coming weeks and hopefully month or two, you may find yourself making something that requires cut-up strawberries. If you're lucky, you'll have some great strawberries and find yourself making things like jelly or jam, fresh fruit salad, or in the case of my dad's birthday dessert, strawberry shortcake.

Instead of standing over a cutting board with a knife, chopping away, just tear off the green leaves, use a paring knife to cut out the center "core", and then use an egg slicer to cut them neatly into slices.

An egg slicer, you may question?!

Believe me, it works. See for yourself!


Sharing is Caring

I love baking, and of course, love eating those things I bake too. But unfortunately, its not always a good idea for us to have all kids of sweets and carb-a-licousness sitting around our house. So, this year, I decided to start sharing a bit more - not only will this spread the love a little, but it'll also help the waistline. Which is necessary. So I'm caring for myself and caring for the people around me too.

(If those people around me are also looking to help their waistlines, well, I'll have to think about that one...)

This is one that went over particularly well. Think of these bars as being just like fruit streusel bars. Except swap out the fruit for a really creamy, chocolaty filling. But the best part is that it makes a huge pan of bars, so there's enough for you and enough to share! (Or, as in our case last week, even enough for you, enough for your husband to share at work, and enough for me to share at work.)

And since we're sharing, one tip for you today. I've started using dark chocolate chips almost exclusively in my baking. And the most reliable source for buying them (in my case) has been Aldi. The chips don't use corn syrup, only sugar as a sweetener, and since the chips are 60% cacao, they're not super-sweet. So even if you're making somehting with lots of sugar, it doesn't turn out to be over-the-top sweet. And dark chocolate is healthy, isn't it?!

So look for these when you go to make these bars:

Oatmeal Dark Chocolate Bars
From my mom's recipe box, credited to my aunt, Linda Rinsema

Crumb Crust
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup shortening
2 cups brown sugar
2 eggs
3 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon salt

12 oz dark chocolate chips
1 can Eagle sweetened condensed milk (fat-free is fine)
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a mixer, cream together the butter, shortening, and sugars. Add each egg one at a time. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix until it forms sticky crumbs.

Press 2/3 of the crumb mixture into the bottom of a jelly roll pan (10x15), lightly greased with shortening. The layer will be thin, just make sure none of the pan is showing through.

In a medium saucepan, melt together all of the filling ingredients over medium heat. Stir constantly to avoid scorching. Once melted smooth, spread chocolate over bottom layer leaving 1/4 inch around the sides. Sprinkle the remaining crumbs over the top of the chocolate and press in lightly.

Bake for 25 minutes until oatmeal mixture is set. Cool completely before cutting.

Makes 24 bars


Worth the Wait

This is not a recipe to start at 4:15pm on a Tuesday.
This is not a recipe to skimp on.
This is not a recipe to brush aside because its "too complicated."

Sure, there are lots of steps and requires lots of patience, but its not a difficult recipe to make! If you're looking for a really special dish to make, this is the one. I can say this since it wasn't my recipe, but these ribs are amazing. Really. Totally worth all of the work.

I originally saw this recipe on "Paula's Party" on the Food Network when Sugar Ray Leonard was a guest. Then, about 4 years ago, I made them for my sister and brother-in-law as a "thanks" for letting me take a Spring Break vacation at their house in Arizona. Mark then said they were the best ribs he's ever had, and since he's quite the connoisseur of ribs, then I took this as a pretty high compliment!

I told Steve that I was making a recipe from Sugar Ray Leonard and he started laughing. Then I told him I was making ribs and he did this:

Here's what he was getting so excited about:

Here's a great veggie to go along with the ribs:

And here are the recipes!

Finger Lickin' Ribs
From Paula Deen, who featured the recipe from Sugar Ray Leonard
1 rack ribs, about 3 pounds (not baby-back, the full-size)

Dry Rub
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup white sugar
1/4 cups salt
2 Tablespoons ground black pepper
2 Tablespoons paprika

Barbeque Sauce
1 cup ketchup
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon molasses
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1 teaspoon dried onion flakes
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes

Combine all of the dry rub ingredients in a small bowl. Rub onto all sides of the ribs. There may be some leftover, but you should rub a good amount in, and then also leave some excess on top, so that as it marinates, even more can be integrated into the meat. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap and set on a baking sheet (with a rim, just in case...). Marinate in fridge for 8 hours or overnight.

Heat oven to 275 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil, unwrap ribs, and place in pan. Cover tightly with additional foil and roast for 2.5 hours.

While ribs are roasting, make barbeque sauce. (If you want the sauce to pack a little more punch, make it at the same time you apply the dry rub to the ribs and then let it sit in the fridge.) Combine all ingredients and bring to a gentle boil. Simmer on low for 25 minutes, being careful to not let it scorch.

Once ribs are finished roasting, heat the grill. Cook approximately 6 minutes on each side, until the thickest part registers 150-160 degrees. Remove from grill, cover with foil, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Cut ribs apart into 2-rib sections, cutting down right next to the bone. Reheat barbeque sauce and serve alongside the ribs.

Serves 4

Sauteed Zucchini
4 medium zucchini (don't use huge ones; they tend to decline in flavor and texture)
2 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 Tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese

Heat a saute pan over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, trim the ends off of zucchini, slice lengthwise, and then into 1/2-inch half-moon slices.

Add butter and oil to the pan, then add the zucchini. Don't stir it around too much, just enough to make sure its not sticking. Once the zucchini is nice and golden brown, turn off the heat and sprinkle the Parmesan over the top. Give one or two more stirs and serve.

Serves 4