Cottage cheese breakfast muffins

Hurricane Harvey is officially on its way to the Texas coast. We’re stocked up on food and water, and have moved everything inside off of our balcony. So what’s left for me to do? Bake, of course!

As much as I love cake (and I mean, really really love cake), I have a thing for savory breakfast food. Muffins are one of those wonderful things that you can make sweet or savory, and mix up with whatever flavors take your fancy. So, muffins seemed like the way to go. Since I’ve been trying to mature sure we have plenty of protein sources, I wanted to add some cottage cheese. Plus, I also really really love cheese! I modified a great looking recipe, mostly so that I could add more vegetables. I think this stems from when I was unemployed, and I found that I could stretch my budget by bulking up recipes with extra veggies, since they cost so much less than proteins. It also has the added bonus of hiding them in my husband’s food!

As muffins go, this is a pretty simple recipe: mix the wet ingredients, add the dry ingredients, add veggies, bake. I started with 2 slices of bacon, 1/2 a diced red onion, 1/2 a diced red bell pepper and around 1/2 cup of frozen corn. Cook the bacon for a few minutes to start rendering the fat, then add the onions and continue to cook until softened. Add the pepper and corn, and cook until the corn has thawed and heated through. Allow to cool.

For the muffin mixture, start with 1 cup cottage cheese, 2 eggs and 2 egg whites (you can use 4 whole eggs, I just happened to need 2 yolks for something else), 1/2 cup of your preferred shredded cheese and 1/4 cup water. Mix until combined, then add the dry ingredients. I used 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, 3/4 cup almond meal, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/2 tsp garlic powder, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp black pepper. Whisk until there are no clumps of flour, then add in the bacon and veggies and mix until evenly distributed. Divide into 18 muffin cups, either greased or lined (I love my silicone baking cups for this kind of recipe), and bake at 400F for 30 minutes.

Now I just need to hide some zucchini in some chocolate cupcakes and we’ll be all set for the storm!

Makes 18 muffins

 

  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1/2 large red onion, diced
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 cup frozen corn
  • 1 cup cottage cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 egg whites
  • 1/2 cup shredded cheese
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/4 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp black pepper

 

  1. Preheat oven to 400F
  2. Grease or line 18 muffin tin holes
  3. Cook bacon over medium heat for around 5 minutes
  4. Add onion to bacon and cook until soft
  5. Add pepper and corn, and cook until corn has thawed and heated through. Leave to cool
  6. Mix cottage cheese, shredded cheese, eggs, egg whites and water
  7. Add flours, baking powder and spices, and mix until no flour clumps remain
  8. Add cooked bacon and veggies
  9. Distribute mixture between prepared muffin tins
  10. Bake for around minutes

Emergency kit

Coming from England, I’ve never really had to deal with a severe weather emergency. We don’t get hurricanes, tornadoes or much like that, although flooding has been more of an issue in recent years. But here in Houston, it’s a different story. The roads seem to flood every time it rains, and there have been several tornadoes this year. Now, we’re facing a potential tropical storm, which might turn into a hurricane. So, in an effort to be prepared and organized, off to target the little man and I went in search of supplies in case of a few days without water or power.

Thankfully, we currently live on the 3rd floor, so it’s unlikely that we’ll have to evacuate because of flooding, but we’ll be packing a bag of clothes and filling up gas tanks just in case! More likely is that we’ll be stuck at home with no means of cooking and having to throw out all of the food from our fridge, and have no water. With that in mind, I figured that cartons of soup would be a good place to start, since they don’t need anything to open them and they can be eaten cold. They might not be that appetizing, but they’ll provide nutrients and liquid. I also stocked up on protein bars and protein-rich snacks, since they provide easy calories. While I don’t normally buy sweet snacks to keep at home, as a scientist I know that hormone shifts during the body’s stress response can limit the availability of glucose, which is essential to keep your brain working properly, so we opted for fruit snacks to provide some sugar when needed. Normally I make all of the little man’s baby food, but I didn’t want to count on our stocks surviving a power outage, so in to the cart went a few days worth of pre-made containers in varying flavors. When you pack these into the box, I recommend taking them all out of their boxes if they’re individually wrapped, since they take up less space this way.

So that plus a couple of cases of water should have us nutritionally taken care of for a few days. Then it came to the rest of the kit. Trash bags, not just to get rid of trash and keep the bugs out, but also in case a window gets broken. Flashlights, batteries, baby wipes to keep all of us clean (ish at least!), and of course duct tape, because what can’t be fixed with duct tape?! We have always kept a fully stocked first aid kit in the nursery along with plenty of hand sanitizer, but if we hadn’t I would have been stocking up on those too. Last but not least, a sturdy box with a water resistant seal to pack it all in, and we’re ready to go! Ok, not quite, but we definitely will be by the time the storm gets here on Friday. Wish us luck!

Baby sweet potato pancakes

Now that my little man is 8 months old, we’re venturing into the world of finger food. More accurately, he is dragging us into it by insisting that the only way he’ll eat is if he can do it himself. Sadly, he’s not actually able to do it himself yet, so we’ve had to find some middle ground. This might be a few pieces of shredded cheese or some homemade baby puffs, or it might be pieces of anything else that’s soft enough for him to mash up but big enough to keep his hands busy. 

My son is a very food motivated child, to the point where no-one else can eat in front of him without him screaming because he wants to eat too. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen him do such a sad face as the day we went out to eat at a local diner and he saw a little boy running around with a pancake in each hand. Cue my quest to make baby safe pancakes! 

When I first tried this recipe, he wasn’t able to eat wheat yet, and he still can’t have whole eggs. I have an oat pancake recipe that I love, so I started with that and tried to work out how to make it baby friendly. It turns out, baby pancakes really don’t need much at all. In fact, I make them with just 2 ingredients – ground oats and sweet potato! You could probably do this with any fruit or veggie puree you wanted, you just might need to adjust the quantity of oats depending on the water content. 

For each ounce of sweet potato, I mix in 1 tbsp of ground oats. If you cook it in a non stick pan, you also don’t need any oil. Just spread the mixture in small rounds, about the thickness of a quarter. Cook over a low – medium heat for a few minutes. Once they start to look like they’ve dried out on the top, they’re ready to flip. Cook for another couple of minutes and there you have it – nutritious, baby-safe pancakes! If you keep these in the fridge they’ll be fine for over a week, I just warm them for a few seconds in the microwave when it’s pancake time. 

I hope you and your little one enjoy these, and if you make them with something other than sweet potato, I’d love to hear how they come out! 



Mango peach barbecue sauce

Recently we’ve been making a lot of fruit and vegetable purees for a certain little man, and occasionally this means I end up with an extra 1 of something or other sitting around in my kitchen.  This week, I had a leftover peach and a leftover mango.  As I mentioned when I talked about meal planning, I like to roast meat on a Sunday and then use it in a few different ways throughout the week.  This week, we roasted pork tenderloin with a spice rub.  I was routing through the pantry while coming up with meal ideas for the week that would use up the pork, and I came across some slider buns that my husband had bought.  Hmm… pork tenderloin, mango, peach, slider buns…  Obviously I landed on making barbecue sauce (because who wouldn’t?!)

This is my first ever attempt at making my own barbecue sauce, and I also wish to point out that I am originally from England where we barbecue once a year if we’re lucky, so please forgive me if you look at the recipe and think “that’s not real barbecue sauce”.  Feel free to call it whatever else you want if that name bothers you.  This was made with a minimal number of ingredients, all of which could potentially be left out or substituted if you have something else that you want to use.

First of all, sweat a small, finely chopped onion down in a small amount of olive oil.  Add a peeled and finely sliced 1 inch piece of ginger and 3-4 cloves of garlic, and cook for another 2-3 minutes until fragrant.  Add the diced peach and mango and cook for around 15 minutes on a low heat until the fruit breaks down.  This may be a shorter or longer time frame for you, depending on how ripe the fruit is.  Add around 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar, 1 tsp each of ground coriander, cumin and salt, and 1/2 tsp each of all spice and black pepper.  Add 1/2 – 1 tsp chili paste (or don’t, if you don’t like it) and cook for a few more minutes to incorporate all the flavors.  Blend until smooth, and return to the pan.  Simmer for around 30 minutes, adjusting the acid and sweetness level with more vinegar and either agave, maple syrup or brown sugar according to your personal taste.  Add around 1 tsp of lime juice.  Let it cool and it’s ready to go!

I hope you enjoy this.  If you try this, especially if you try it with other ingredients, please let me know how it turns out!

Mango Peach Barbecue Sauce

  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • 1 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 ripe peach, diced
  • 1 ripe mango, diced
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp all spice
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp chili paste (optional)
  • Agave, maple syrup or brown sugar (depending on preference and fruit used)
  • 1 tsp lime juice

  1. Sweat the onion in the olive oil over a low – med heat
  2. Add the ginger and garlic and cook for 2-3 minutes until fragrant
  3. Add the fruit and cook for around 15 minutes until it breaks down
  4. Add the remaining ingredients except your sweetener of choice and the lime juice and cook for a few more minutes
  5. Blend until smooth and return to the pan
  6. Simmer for around 30 minutes, adjusting the acid with additional vinegar and the sweetness with your chosen sweetener to your personal preferences
  7. Add the lime juice and stir to combine
  8. Remove from the heat and allow to cool

DIY coconut cold brew coffee

Coffee has been something of a necessity for me for many many years now.  It’s truly a miracle that I manage to get anything done without it.  I tried to go completely decaf during pregnancy, and in all fairness I made it to about 3 pm.  Admittedly, that was actually “scraping through to 3 pm wondering why I’ve been completely useless all day” making it.  So not really…  However, despite my absolute requirement for coffee, I couldn’t stomach iced coffee at all until a couple of years ago when I discovered a far too unhealthy caramel, chocolate and cream laden concoction at a local cafe.  Since then, I have discovered the wonder of all manner of frappucinos and cold brews.  I will say that I need extra flavor in my cold coffee, especially if it comes with ice cubes.  However strong the coffee is, you lose so much flavor by having it cold.  So, I was far too excited when I found out about the coconut cold brew at starbucks.  Toasted coconut syrup and coconut milk in a cold brew?  Yes please!

I don’t often go out for coffee these days.  It’s typically only after my Saturday morning yoga class.  A couple of weeks ago I left class all excited about my coconut cold brew, and was even feeling nice enough to pick one up for my husband too.  I got them home along with a couple of breakfast sandwiches, and was so excited to dive in.  It was unbelievable…  But sadly, not in a good way.  It tasted of absolutely nothing.  No coconut flavor.  No coffee flavor.  Just watery, but still headache-inducing, brown stuff.  Total waste of money.

However, the excitement of what that coffee could (and should) have been, wouldn’t go away.  So, I decided to have a go at making it myself.  Since it’s a cold brew, it does take time.  But it’s totally worth it.  And an extra tip – instead of putting ice cubes into your coffee, freeze undrunk coffee in ice cube trays and put those in your coffee instead.  That way, you won’t water it down, and the flavor will stay nice and strong.

I like to make the coffee the night before.  Use your regular amount of coffee, put it in a french press with water and put it in the fridge overnight until you’re ready to drink it.  Next comes the syrup.  Dissolve half a cup of sugar in half a cup of water over a low heat.  At the same time, toast half a cup of unsweetened coconut until golden.  Add the coconut and 1/2 teaspoon coconut extract or essence (if using) to the syrup, remove from the heat and leave for 3-4 hours to infuse the syrup with the coconut flavor.  Strain and reserve the coconut.

Normally we have coconut milk in the pantry, but I guess I used it all when I was cooking, so I decided to make toasted coconut milk!  Rinse the coconut to remove any remaining syrup (otherwise your coconut milk will be very sweet) and add to a blender with 1 cup water.  Blend until smooth and strain to remove the coconut pulp, squeezing to make sure you get all of the milk out.  And you’re ready to go!

I don’t sweeten my hot coffee (with the exception of my December peppermint mocha obsession), but I find I need around 3 teaspoons of syrup in a large cold brew to get the flavor, and this syrup is no exception.  Next I plan to try out some other flavors of syrup, so I’ll post the recipes when I have them figured out.  Enjoy!

DIY Coconut Cold Brew Coffee

For the coffee:

  • Coffee
  • Water
  • French press

For the syrup:

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
  • 1/2 tsp coconut extract or essence (optional)

For the coconut milk:

  • Toasted coconut (from syrup)
  • 1 cup water

To make the coffee:  Put your usual amount of coffee in the french press and fill with water.  Leave to brew in the fridge overnight.

To make the syrup:

  1. Dissolve the sugar in the water over a low heat
  2. At the same time, toast the coconut in a pan until golden brown
  3. Add the coconut and extract (if using) to the syrup
  4. Remove from the heat and leave for 3-4 hours to infuse the flavor
  5. Strain, reserving the coconut

To make the coconut milk:

  1. Rinse the reserved coconut to remove remaining syrup
  2. Add to a blender with the water and blend until smooth
  3. Strain to remove the pulp.  Store in the fridge.

Meal Planning – what, why and how

Wow, it’s been a crazy few weeks.  Finals for my students, nap and feeding transitions for my son, a visit from my Mum, family this, friends that… On top of that, my life now seems to be lived in 10 square feet of space 90% of the time, and so I’m just waiting for the day when I get to take a breath.

With all of the busyness of life, I’ve been trying to encourage my husband to help (or at least not hinder) with my efforts at meal planning.  To me, this is something that’s often synonymous with eating the same thing over and over again, and having 30 plastic containers in the fridge taking up valuable space.  This isn’t what it is to me.

So, first of all, the what.  For me, meal planning is simply about making the most of the ingredients that you have.  It doesn’t mean that you have to have the same dish for dinner 4 nights in a row.  It means that you need to know what you have, and how you can use it.

This brings me to the why.  Primarily, it’s cheaper.  As a country, here in the US we throw out up to 50% of the produce that we buy.  That’s staggering and shameful.  Something I have always struggled to understand with my husband is the culture of disposability that seems to be so ingrained in the people who grew up here.  I’m not saying that this is the only country where this is an issue, but it seems to be more prevalent here than elsewhere.  And so I’m hoping that by planning my family’s meals at least a week at a time, we can avoid throwing out produce that was purchased in a large bag or box for a single meal.  Less waste = less money spent = more money for other things.  On top of the fiscal aspects, I am one of those people who absolutely needs organization.  I am one of those people who looks at pinterest and dreams of that beautifully organized pantry with the matching containers all with their own chalkboard paint labels on them.  It drives me nuts when my husband gets home from work and then starts to figure out what we might have for dinner that night, and when plans aren’t made in advance so I never really know what else I can or can’t get done.  This is seemingly a genetic thing.  I’ve never known anyone as meticulous as my Dad.  Even when he found out he was dying, he made lists of people to notify, paperwork to organize, just about everything that could have been needed.  Apparently it’s just something that we do.

And so, finally, how.  The most traditional thing we eat in England (as far as I’m concerned at least) is a Sunday roast.  It could be chicken, pork, lamb, beef… Whatever you like.  It usually comes with roast potatoes (a personal favorite of mine) and some assortment of vegetables and gravy.  So this is what I like to do.  I’ll cook some kind of roast on a Sunday night for us, maybe a couple of friends.  Then, I’ll have a plan for how else to use the rest of the meat during the week.  If I roasted a chicken, I’ll use the bones to make stock which might form the base for a soup, stew or some ramen (which would also contain some of the meat), and the meat might also go into chicken salad or stuffed peppers, maybe used as a pizza topping.  I typically let my husband pick at least one of the meals for the week, so once I know what he wants, I’ll look at other ways to use those ingredients.  If he wants something with spinach, then I’ll add a steak spinach salad and a spinach pesto pasta dish (also a good vehicle for leftover chicken!) to the list for that week.  What we end up with is at least a week’s worth of food from maybe 10 ingredients (plus pantry staples like spices), and we prevent the situation of the half a bag of spinach sitting in the bottom of the fridge until it’s inedible.

Over the next couple of weeks, I plan to post some of my favorite recipes for using your leftovers, so stay tuned!  Also, if there’s a recipe that you’d like, please let me know and I’ll get working on it for you!

DIY Wedding flowers

I know this is a pretty drastic detour from the baby posts, but this is something I really wanted to share with you all.

When my husband and I got married, I decided to do a lot of the more decorative components myself.  Partly to save money, and partly because I can get really particular about these kind of things, and was really concerned about the idea of somebody else getting it wrong, and getting paid for it, when I then wouldn’t be able to fix it and have it exactly the way I wanted.  I know… bridezilla much?!

Anyway, our whole color scheme was determined when I found one flower that I decided I absolutely HAD to have – these stunning blue dendrobium orchids.

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I had a couple of concerns with using these for DIY flower arrangements.  How would I get them into the foam so that they can get water?  Would they end up being so fragile that I had to buy twice as many, to account for all the ones I destroyed in the process?  So let me start by laying those concerns to rest.  They are not that fragile – we broke each flower off of the main stem, and they all survived just fine.  The small flower stems separate very easily from the main stem.  The water issue we solved using water picks.  If you’ve never seen them before, they’re basically small plastic tubes with a lid to keep the water in and spike to insert into the floral foam.  One per flower – honestly, a monkey could use these with complete success!

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With the major logistics figured out, next came a test run.  I had already decided to offset the blue with white roses, so I went to my local grocery store and bought a couple of bouquets each of orchids and roses.  I soaked the floral foam in the holder I was planning to use overnight, and then set to work inserting flowers, one ring at a time.  Since I had a couple of friends offer to help assemble the real ones, I was organized enough to take photos as I was going for instructional purposes!  I started with a complete circle of roses, then filled in the spaces in between them with orchids, another circle of roses, more orchids to fill the gaps, and so on until the whole thing was full.

Surprisingly, my first run at these went pretty well.  If you’ve ever considered doing your own wedding flowers and have been too afraid of how complicated it’ll be, let me assure you that this truly couldn’t have been easier.  From my trial run I figured out that I definitely needed more roses, and that each bouquet would take me about 30 minutes to put together.  In the grand scheme of wedding assembly, 2 hours for 4 bouquets was totally manageable for me, even without help.  So when it turned into 5 bouquets and 3 of us to put them together, it really wasn’t a huge amount of work.

 

Now, I will stress at this point, that this was 90% of the work we did on flowers.  We had a beautiful venue, the majority of which was outdoors, and so we could get away with doing very little in terms of floral arrangements.  It ended up being 4 small bouquets, 1 larger bouquet, 8 boutonnieres (which were even easier than the bouquets!), and 8 centerpieces.  This amounted to a total of 159 roses (of course, the exact number will depend on how big they are), 18 orchid stems (assuming they each had 6 usable flowers on them) and 32 stems of bear grass.  And so, a few days before the wedding, large volumes of flowers arrived at my apartment, and I spent several days trying to keep the cat from destroying them!  The bouquets were assembled just like we did with the practice one, just making sure all of the gaps were filled.  You really don’t want to overdo it with the orchids here – a little goes a long way.  The holders that we used had a hole in the end of the handle, so we took the 4th of the small bouquets (I had 2 bridesmaids a maid of honor, so the 4th was spare), and hung it upside-down from the archway that we used for the ceremony.  I would suggest if you plan on doing this, to fix the flowers in with floral adhesive, as a few of them did fall out over the course of the day.  And I warn you, these are heavy, so if you plan on throwing a bouquet at the end of the night, make an additional hand tied one so that you don’t give anyone a concussion!  Please note:  all of the photos of the finished flowers were taken by our wonderful photographer Johnny Dao (http://www.jdaophotography.com) and as such I ask you not to republish them elsewhere.  Thanks!

For the boutonnieres, I started with a rose, laid the orchids on top, wrapped a stem of bear grass a few times until it formed loops, and used floral tape and color coordinated ribbon to hold all of the stems together, which itself was held in place with pins.  These I didn’t put together until the day, so that the orchids wouldn’t die, and we stored them all in water picks to keep the roses hydrated.

The centerpieces were incredibly simple but really beautiful.  We took large glass bowls and put in a couple of bags of small stones which I got at the dollar store.  We wrapped 3 stems of bear grass around the inside of the bowl and filled it around 2/3 full with water.  Then, just floated 2 rose heads and 2 orchids in each.  Seriously, they were so easy that even with all of my bridezilla-everything-must-be-perfect-or-I’ll-have-to-punch-someone things going on, I entrusted these to other people.  There’s honestly no real way to mess it up at all.

And that’s really all there was to it.  Yes, it takes some time, but it honestly doesn’t have to be the all consuming, will take you a month if you haven’t had years of training, type thing that a lot of people think it is.  So if you’re thinking of maybe doing your own wedding flowers I would love to encourage you to at least have a practice run and see what you think.  And before you start with the “oh, but I’m not artistic or creative enough” lines, let me tell you that I have the artistic skills of a 3 year old!  As long as the colors work together and you don’t try to do anything horrifically complicated, a few hours and a few friends is plenty to make it work.