Monday, March 31, 2014

Better than Boxed?

I know I've left you guys hanging for a few days.  I'm so sorry!  The Hubbs was off all weekend so we just lazed around the house and played World of Warcraft while watching Supernatural on Netflix.  :)  But now I'm back!  :) Yay!

Fun stuff that's happened over the weekend:
1. Most of my sprouts that I thought were doomed have perked back up.  Yay!
2. My carrots have finally sprouted.
3. My garlic is looking awesome!
 4. We ate way more beef these week than we usually do.  I usually only eat beef once every two weeks.  But this week we did a try to eat the stuff in the fridge and freezer before it goes bad.  And I bought 3.2lbs of ground beef this week at the store because it was on sale.  So we've had tacos, hamburgers, and not hamburger helper.  My tummy isn't really liking all this beef.

5.  I made BBQ stuffed baked potatoes last night and they were delicious.

          - For the stuffed potatoes: I cut a russet potato down the middle, but not all the way through, then cut slits at an angle across that, rub with olive oil and wrap in foil.
          - Bake at 400 degrees for 80 minutes.
          - While that bakes, boil some chicken.
          - When the chicken is done, let it cool and then shred it and mix it with BBQ sauce, 1 tsp of onion powder, and 1 tsp of garlic powder.
          - When the potatoes are done, press them until they open, stuff them with the chicken and whatever else you want.  We use bacon, cheese, and fried onions.  Pop them back in the oven under broil until the cheese melts.  Then enjoy.

Okay, so tonight's tutorial is gonna be about cheeseburger macaroni.  No, not the kind you get in a box.  The stuff in the box is full of ingredients that you probably don't need to eat.  And, besides that, homemade is always better.

I found the recipe here.  But have tweaked it just a little.
Notes:
- Definitely need to add more garlic powder.  At least an extra teaspoon.  But that's because we LOVE garlic, the recommended amount may be enough for you.
- Needs at least 3 cups of cheese.  I added the stated 1 cup, but then added another handful of cheese I had in the fridge.
- I omitted the sugar and salt from the recipe.
- I used an entire box of Hidden Veggies Twisted Noodles because I was making food for tonight for me and the Hubbs, his lunch for work, my dinner at school, and a bowl to take to my mom and dad (because I'm the awesome daughter).
- If I add more cheese next time, I'll have to increase the liquid a little.  Probably by adding an extra 1/2 cup of water or milk.

Okay. Now on to the recipe.

 First, you're going to need to brown about a pound of hamburger meat.  When it's done, drain the fat off.
While it cooks, get the rest of the ingredients together.
2 cups of milk
1 cup of hot water
1-3 cups of cheddar cheese
1-2 tsp of garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
2 tsp paprika
1 TBSP cornstarch
pepper and salt to taste
1 box of noodles
Once the meat is done and drained, add in everything except the cheese. (Still a lot of visible fat, blame the Hubbs, he drained it).
 
Bring it to a boil and then lower the heat so it'll simmer.
Once the pasta is done and the liquid is mostly evaporated, turn off the heat, add the cheese, and stir until melted.
Stir it all up.  Serve with mashed potatoes and a veggie.
You can't really tell the difference between this and the boxed stuff. 
Plus, it didn't take that much more time than the boxed stuff does.
Do you rely on boxed dinners?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hm... Health

So, everyone knows that I am working on being more healthy.  I want to lose 22lbs by the time I go back to the doctor in July.  I am wanting to get myself much healthier so that we can start a family.

No, I'm not pregnant, yet.

Just wanted to get that out of the way before people start jumping to conclusions.

Okay.  Back to being healthy.  About a year ago (last July) I stopped drinking soda.  I did it cold turkey.  Because I know that I can't slowly stop myself from doing things.  I'll always be like "Well, a little more won't hurt." So all I drink is unsweetened tea, water, and occasionally lemonade.  I don't drink a lot of bottled juice because it's got a lot of sugar in it.

I don't eat a lot of processed foods.  I don't eat much white bread, when I do eat bread it's mostly wheat and whole grain.  I try not to eat out much.  As you can tell, I love cooking and eating at home.  If it wasn't for the Hubbs, I could definitely be a vegetarian.  Or even vegan since I'm lactose intolerant. 
This is my biggest issue.  I'm terrible about talking bad about and to myself.  I was really skinny in high school and I gained a lot of weight after the Hubbs and I had been dating a few years.  Ugh...  I constantly look at myself in the mirror and I just see the fat around my waist.  It doesn't bother me for anywhere else.  And a lot of it stems from the fact that my mom likes to comment on my weight a lot.  Like today, I was telling my parents that this summer the Hubbs and I are gonna get to see someone that I met about 8 years ago, before the Hubbs and I met.  Her first response is "You've put on some weight since you last saw him."  Seriously?!  But whatever. 

We've been talking about negative self-talk in class a lot.  For a week (or longer) we were supposed to say something positive to ourselves in place of the negative.  Mine was "I am working toward having a more positive body image". 


We had been going to the gym.  But I have osteoarthritis in most of my joints so the warm-cold-warm-cold weather we've been having is killing me.  I don't know that we're going back to the gym, but as soon as this weather figures itself out and I stop hurting all the time, I'm going to start running again. 

I'm determined to get healthy.  I want to be healthy for me, for Blayne, and for my pregnancy.  Again, I'm not pregnant yet.

What do you do to stay healthy?

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Red" Velvet Cupcakes: No Smurfs were harmed.

I had planned to make tonight's post about organizing your refrigerator. But...  I had a classmate request red velvet cupcakes with cream cheese icing from me.  I know that you're going to be upset over missing out on the refrigerator talk, but I'll make it up to you by doing a tutorial for these.

But first!  This was gonna be the start of my fridge post:
Isn't it pretty?  All nice and clean and neat. Ha.
Okay, onto the cake:
I got this recipe from A Sue Chef.  I only used the batter recipe from here.  Also, I am not doing a tutorial for the icing because it didn't turn out well and I need to try a new recipe.
First, you're gonna need:
2 1/2 cups of AP flour
2 cups sugar
1 TBSP cocoa
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 eggs
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 cup full fat buttermilk
1 TBSP vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
1 oz. red food coloring
You're also gonna need a mixer with a whisk attachment:
Put the eggs in the bowl and whisk them:

Now add the rest of the liquid ingredients, except the food coloring:
 Whisk it until the buttermilk and oil are no longer separated.
Now add the food coloring:
I know what you're thinking, that's not red.  And you're right.  I was out of red.  So they're blue velvet, whatever. Ha.

Now in a separate bowl, add all the dry ingredients.

Mix  them together:
Add them to the liquid:

Mix that all up:
Make sure you've put paper or foil cups in a muffin tin and add the batter.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes.
Once they're done, let them cool and frost them.

They are delicious.  But I'm gonna try out a different icing recipe next and I'll tutorial that.

Oh, and I made these cupcakes for school and work yesterday:









Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Cleaning

I've spent most of the entire day trying to figure out what I was going to write about tonight.  Since I have class and didn't get a guest lined up. 

Everyone has heard the phrase "Cleanliness is Next to Godliness" and if you haven't, now you have.  I'll be the first to admit that my house isn't always the cleanest.  We have dogs, dogs can be messy.  We work, we have class, we have lives that don't evolve around cleaning.

But when I start cleaning, my house is clean.  I'm not saying my dishes don't get backed up.  I'm not saying laundry doesn't pile up.  I'm not saying that the kitty litter is always emptied.  It's not. 

When I clean at home, I try to only use homemade or green options.  Clorox Green Works is my preferred counter top and window cleaner.  I use reusable kitchen towels to clean instead of paper towels.

I have also started using Swiffer Wet Jets instead of an old fashioned mop and bucket.  I feel that the mop and bucket does two things wrong 1: wastes water and 2: just mixes the dirty water with the clean water.  I know you're probably thinking "But Jessica!  That's plastic that will cause pollution and isn't very green."  Well this is true.  Except that once my initial bottle is empty, I'm intending to fill it with vinegar and water.  And I'm going to make my own pads so that I can just throw them into the washer.

I use a rag and oil to dust because most of the things I own are wood and metal. 

I'm trying to get into the habit of cleaning specific rooms on specific days.  Kitchen on Monday, Laundry Room on Tuesday, Living Room on Wednesday, Bathrooms on Thursday, Bedroom on Friday, General cleaning on Saturday and Sunday.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Who says good food isn't fast?

How many of you have heard the phrase "Fast food isn't good, good food isn't fast"?  Whoever comes up with this stuff is obviously deluded. Ha.  I don't want to advocate for the consumption of fast food like McDonald's, Taco Bell, etc.  But cooking at home doesn't have to be time consuming.  Some of my favorite meals are quick and easy to throw together.  I'm going to put recipes for different seasonings on later in the week, because packets have A LOT of sodium.

Tacos/Nachos:
Brown a pound of ground beef.  Pour off the fat.  Sprinkle in a seasoning packet (we use Mrs. Dash taco seasoning and cayenne, or our own taco mix) and 3/4 cup water.  Stir it until it's thickened.  Put on tortillas or nachos with cheese, sour cream (gross), jalapenos, hot sauce and whatever else you like.

Chilli:
Brown a pound of ground beef in a pot.  Pour off the fat.  Add one can of chilli starter, 2 cans of kidney beans (drained and washed, to get most of the sodium out), 1 can of pinto beans (do the same to these as you did the kidney beans), 1 small can of tomato paste or sauce (I use paste), and a low sodium chilli seasoning (homemade or a packet).

From a reader:
Chicken Casserole (Brittany):
"1 can of cream of chicken soup 1 can of cream of celery soup and 1 8oz thing of sour cream. Mix all of that together and add salt and pepper to your liking. I add enough pepper that you see black flecks throughout it. Boil a bag of frozen chicken breasts and when they are done chop it up small pieces and add in the mixture. For the topping use 2 rolls of Ritz crackers crushed up finely with butter melted and drizzled over the top. Bake at 350 for about 45 min or whenever its brown and bubbly"

Sometimes life just gets in the way and you have to make a quick meal, but you don't want to eat out.  There are lots of quick options.  I'm going to try to put together a crock pot meal option too.  Like my Cashew Chicken.  Yum!

What's your favorite, quick meal?

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Crispy Garlic Cheddar Baked Chicken

So, I'm starving.  Ugh...  I can smell the food in the oven and it's got 8 minutes to go.  I know I've been promising this tutorial for a few days now.  We went out to eat with my parents yesterday, so I didn't blog at all.  This is a super duper easy recipe.

I made this recipe a few weeks ago (I can't remember where I found the original, but I have tweaked this one almost enough to call it my own) and the Hubbs loved it.
These pictures are awful, I have to find a charger for my camera.  Stupid cell phone pictures.
1/2 cup of melted butter
3 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup of finely grated cheddar cheese
2 teaspoons of garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon of pepper
1/2 teaspoon of salt
3/4 cup of panko
2 chicken breasts cut into tenders (cut all the nasty bits off)

Combine the Panko, pepper, and cheese in one bowl.
And the garlic powder, minced garlic, salt, and butter in another.
Dip the chicken in the butter mixture and then the Panko mixture.
Lay on a sprayed or foiled sheet pan
Bake for 35-40 minutes at 350 degrees.
I served ours with mashed potatoes and sugar snap peas.

Pictures a little blurry, but it was definitely delicious.  This is the kind of recipe I throw together when we need something quick (35 minutes isn't really quick, but it's quick to put together).

Friday, March 21, 2014

I'm a terrible person...

Not really.  But there'll be no tutorial tonight either.  It's such a pretty day that the Hubbs and I decided that we were gonna get something small and go to the park and eat it.  And we're going to our local high school to see a play tonight.  Gotta support the arts, right?  Seriously though, you gotta support the arts. 

So instead, I'm just going to show you some of the awesome stuff I've created lately.

I created a Facebook page, that can be found here.  I am selling my cakes and stuff.  We're hoping to try for a baby in the near future and need to do stuff to our house.  With me in school and not working, I figured it'd be nice to have a little extra income to be able to put back.

These first two pictures are from playing with my new pans.  We went to Michael's Arts and Crafts and they had some cool Wilton pans on clearance.  So I bought them. :)


These cupcakes were made this morning.  I held a drawing on my Facebook page for someone to win a sweet treat.  My friend Heather won and these were what she got.  The icing and the cake mix are completely homemade.  And delicious.

 I also made some cakes shaped like eggs for class this past Tuesday, as well as a batch for my mom.  I used a pourable buttercream on this batch, but need to tweak it because it didn't sit very well.  I think they look awesome on the inside.  Again, all completely homemade and delicious.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

About me

I have no tutorial for you tonight.  The Hubbs decided we were going to eat out AGAIN.  Ugh...  Tomorrow night I'm making Crispy Cheddar Baked Chicken whether he wants to eat out or not.  And I will tutorial that.

I figured that tonight, since I'm tired but waiting for cupcakes to bake, I'll share some information about myself.

My name is Jessica.  I'll be turning 25 this year, on Friday June 13th.  I'm adopted.  My parents are really my grandparents, I am the child of their youngest son who was murdered two months before his 18th birthday.  I've been a straight A, or A-B student, my entire life.  My parents were really strict on me about grades because they never made it past high school.  My three best friends have been my best friends for the longest (Jamie 20 years, Kristina 19ish years, and Bionka 11 years).

I played clarinet in the band, sang alto in the chorus, and did theater later on.  My passion is creative writing and the arts.  I was never really into sports.  Mostly because I'm completely uncoordinated and would likely fall on my face. 

I was bullied all through school, until my Junior year of high school when I quit letting it get to me.  I spent many years depressed and suicidal.

I have osteoarthritis in the joints on the right side of my body. They've been giving me a lot of trouble lately.  I had knee surgery when I was 7 because otherwise I would never have walked again.  I was diagnosed with a potentially cancerous tumor in my breast in 2010.  It was removed in August of 2010 and thus far I am cancer free. 

The Hubbs and I met in my 6th period Mythology class my senior year of high school.  He was a sophomore at the time.  That was 2007.  As story book as it sounds, it really was like love at first sight.  :)  We've been inseparable since.  This past January made 4 years that we've been married and this April makes 7 years that we've been together.  We don't have a perfect marriage, but it's perfect enough for us.

We're the parents to 6 furbabies (7 if you count the one that hangs out outside).  Paka, Rodgers, Sugar, Nyx, Turtle, and Chewie (they came into our lives in that order). I love animals, despite having a crippling fear of dogs up until I was 18.  I was attacked by a dog when I was younger.

I decided last year that we needed to make a change to our lives.  I was tired of polluting the planet more than was necessary (it's never necessary).  I also wanted to try living more naturally to get all of the chemicals out of our house before we have children.  It's not good for us or the dogs.

I have Lepidopterophobia, or the fear of butterflies and moths.  I am absolutely terrified of them.  I'd rather be in a tank of snakes and spiders than a tank of butterflies.  :shudders:

I am currently in school studying Psychology.  My ultimate goal would be to get my Master's in Nutritional Psychology and work with people with eating disorders.  I'd like to call my practice "Couches and Cupcakes".  Ha.

To wrap this up:
My favorite color is black (I don't care if it's not a color, Mr. Wilkey).  My favorite era would be Medieval or Victorian.  I've collected swords, battle axes, daggers, and other sharp objects since I was about 10.  I love baking and cooking.  I love herbs.  I never meet a stranger.  I used to be super shy.  I love folk, metal, hard rock, pop, dance, eclectic, pretty much anything except Contemporary Christian.  Pickles are my favorite food besides my mom's peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.  I don't drink soda.  I hate sweet tea and watermelon.  I'm the worst southerner ever.

I'm super tired now and the cupcakes aren't done yet. I'm gonna go now. Ha.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Reduce Reuse Recycle

I hope you enjoyed the guest post from Amber yesterday.  I'm seriously going to have to invest in a juicer now.  My Hubbs can blame Amber for that.  If you missed the post, you can find it here.  You can also find the link to her Etsy shop along the side of my blog.

I wanted to make today's post about reducing your waste, reusing what you can, and recycling what you can't.

Any one who knows me knows that I am big into being environmentally friendly.  I try not to use chemicals outside, or much inside really.  When I do buy cleaners, I buy Clorox Green Works or some other similar mostly plant based brand.  I make my own laundry detergent.  I don't spray bug spray or weed killer outside (we'll look at my solutions for that a little later in the spring).

Reuse and Recycle
We're fortunate enough to have a recycling truck that comes through to pick up recycling bins every two weeks.  We put cardboard boxes, glass (when I don't wash and reuse), papers (when I don't reuse them), junk mail (with plastic window removed), plastic bottles and jugs (when we can't reuse them).  The only downside is that they won't accept plastic bags.  Ugh... So I try to get paper bags or reusable bags when I can.  I do have a ton of plastic bags though.  I usually save them up to take to We Care (my favorite local thrift store) because they use them a lot.

We even reuse a lot of our veggie and fruit kitchen scraps. 

Remember me telling you not to throw away those egg shells from the cakes?  This is why.

 I keep a jar on the counter to put egg shells in so that I can crush them up and put them in the soil with my tomatoes.  That's about four or five dozen egg shells right now.  I use a large rolling pin to crush them down with.  I wash them out and let them air dry before I put them in the jar so that I don't have to freeze them.

For our veggie and fruit scraps this year, I want to but a worm tube in the garden so that I can compost directly into the soil.
Something like this, but I'm gonna decorate it or something.  You just put the scraps directly into the top and worms will come in and out to eat.

We also reuse two liters for our tomato plants.  The Hubbs drinks soda but I don't.  A lot of sites and gardeners recommend watering tomatoes at the root.  What better way than to bury a 2 liter that has holes drilled in it.  Like this:

I reuse newspaper in the garden too, by laying it down under the dirt.  It'll decompose in about a year and will kill the grass and weeds, so that they don't keep coming back.  I used it in my raised beds last year and it worked very well.

I've got a huge collection of egg cartons started too.  I don't know what to do with them yet.  Any ideas?

The recyclable items that we can't use, go in the bin and get taken to the top of our driveway for pick up every other Tuesday (there's not a lot that we don't reuse though).

Reduce
There are a lot of options for reducing your own pollution.  Turn lights off when you aren't using them (I'm typing this in the kitchen with the lights off), unplug electronics when you aren't using them (I am guilty of not doing this, but the laptop I'm using isn't plugged in right now), don't continue to run water when you don't need to, reuse the water you wash garden veggies in by washing them outside and using it to water the garden.

Walk or ride a bike instead of driving your car. 
I really wish that we lived in a place that had things within bike or walking distance.  If we lived closer to downtown then I'd walk every where.  We live more out in the country but within the city limits.  It's a few miles to get to the nearest grocery.  Though, when I do testing at the end of the month, I do walk from the office to the courthouse to drop off my samples and back (which is about 10 minutes all together), so that is something.  You get exercise that way too. 

We don't use a dishwasher because they still use a lot of water.  I fill a side with soap and a side with water. Wash, rinse, repeat.  Then they air dry before being put away or I dry them with a dish towel.

We're trying not to use so many paper towels in the kitchen.  At least I am. The Hubbs likes to pull off a ton of them.  Ugh...  I use dish towels to wipe everything down and dry dishes.  Then they go in the way. 

What do you do to Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle?  Comment here or e-mail your answers to me at homemadetohappiness@yahoo.com

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Guest Post: Swamp Water with Amber

Yeah, you read that right.  Tonight's a guest post because I've got class and don't have time to put together a full tutorial of anything. :)  I met Amber when we were in elementary/middle school.  She was a grade above me, I think.  If I remember correctly, we may have actually been in chorus together and I think she played football.  We never really knew each other and just connected for the first time last year since we share many similar interests.

I'll let Amber tell you some more about herself and introduce you to "Soul Shine Juice".

Hello,
My name is Amber Simmons. I am a mother to 3 children who keep me on my toes asking questions, wanting everything in the stores and eating non stop. I'm married to the best man in the world, who is my other half. We are complete opposites. 
I have been crafty since I was young because of being too poor to buy anything. I made do with what I had. (enough with the blah sad story) I also chose to be/eat healthier and made sure my family would see me as an example, and so my journey began. 
I will be sharing some of my crafts/meals/everyday life tips. So stay tuned and make sure you comeback for homemade goodness. 
~Amber 

I call it Swamp Water (I have made a few changes to suit my pallet).  You can use her recipe and see which one you like better.

RECIPE
5-7 apples (Gala, Jonah Gold, Pink Lady, Ambrosia, Honeycrisp, and of these will work)
1/2 Head of Romaine Lettuce (I used 2 handfuls of spinach)
1 Head of Kale (I used 1-2 handfuls)
2 Stalks of Celery
1 Cucumber (I used English Cucumber)
2 Lemons (I used 1 regular and 1 Meyer)

I recommend using a juicer for this recipe.  If you don't have one, you can use a blender but you will have to strain it, and it takes hours.  Believe me, I've done it before.  By the time I was finished I didn't even want the juice anymore. 

(Jessica's note:  I use a blender to do my juicing and it's a pain.  But I'd recommend adding a cup of water for every 2-3 handfuls of veggies that you put in.  It makes it a little easier to strain.  Okay, back to Amber.)

You start out by cutting the fruits* and veggies to a size that will fit in your juice chute.
*QUICK NOTE: You can make quick work of it by using an apple slicer.
(Yes, I left the core and all in my apples.  I know it's odd, my Grandpa grew up in the depression, so he ate everything and it just stuck with me.  Seeing him eat it like that, I thought it was normal and everybody did it.)

Cutting the lemons is always a task for people.  So here is how I do it.
1. Lay the lemon on its side.
2. Cut each end off of the lemon.
3. Stand it up on one of the flat ends.
4. Cut at an angle around the lemon.
5. Now you have a naked lemon.
 Easy right?

Start juicing
I start by juicing 1/2 of the apples.
Look kids! REAL APPLE JUICE!
With the container I have, it has to be emptied a few times.
 I use mason jars because of the easy storage factor.  I also have labels on them.
 I also found that if I roll up the leafy stuff like this, I am able to get juicing faster.
Juice it all.  Leave one slice of cucumber to "wash" the remaining juice out of your juicer.
Even my little one's approve.

Thumbs up! I hope you enjoy this juice recipe.



Check back for more recipes and ideas from Amber in the future!
Note: Amber uses a Samson juicer (the one pictured) but she has used a Breville.  She recommends both. She says that while they are expensive, she saved up because she wanted the best.