Saturday, December 29, 2012

Seasoning recipes

I know that I’ve referenced making my own seasoning mixesand I think that I’ve posted most of them. Just in case I haven’t, and for more convenience, here are the threeseasoning recipes that I use the most: 

Taco seasoning*:

1 tablespoon chili powder
¼ teaspoon garlic powder
¼ teaspoon onion powder
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
½ teaspoon paprika
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Original recipe: Taco Seasoning I at 

Italian dressing:

1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 ½ teaspoons white sugar
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
¼ teaspoon celery salt
2 teaspoons salt

To prepare dressing, whisk together ¼ cup white vinegar, 2/3cup canola oil, 2 tablespoons water, and 2 tablespoons of the mix.

Recipe adapted from: Italian Dressing Mix at 

Ranch dressing:

1 teaspoon dried parsley
1 teaspoon dill weed
¾ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon seasoned salt
½ teaspoon garlic powder
½ teaspoon onion powder
1/8 teaspoon dried thyme

Combine with buttermilk for dressing or sour cream and serveas dip.

Recipe adapted from: Dry Ranch Style Seasoning for Dip orDressing at 

I add the ingredients into a mason jar and just give it agood shake.  If you prefer a much finerpowder just give it a spin in the Magic Bullet for a couple of seconds.  I usually quadruple the recipe and keep onhand.  The serving size (i.e. equivalenceto the store envelopes) is about 2 tablespoons.  

*I cut back significantly on the black pepper and crushedred pepper for the taco seasoning, but that’s a personal preference.  

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

HFCS strikes again!

I had no idea how much cooking from scratch has impacted mytaste buds.  Tis the season for partiesand catering and I was amazed that I could tell immediately the boxed/cannedprepared food compared to the made from scratch offerings.  This is the first time that I’ve been able tonotice a difference.  Now that I cantaste the difference, I can also endorse made from scratch is yummier by alandslide.

I decided to give myself a break Christmas morning and buypremade cinnamon rolls.  I splurged andthe giant Pillsbury with Cinnabon icing and let dreams of a snuggly Christmasmorning with my family and an easy, tasty breakfast consume my thoughts.  It wasn’t until Christmas morning that Irealized that I should have probably read the label before purchasing.  Sure enough, there it was – high fructosecorn syrup.  Are you serious,Pillsbury?  And Cinnabon, for thatmatter? 

I know that it’s my fault for not looking thoroughly at theingredients list, but I felt deceived.  Ireally can’t buy anything premade and trust it to be safe for my family toconsume.  Why is this ingredient allowedin our food?  Why isn’t someone outlawingit?  I can’t believe how much HFCS myfamily ate before I became aware of its dangers.  I feel like it’s in everything.  I can’t help but feel for the people outthere that just don’t know, that listen to those commercials and truly believethat it’s ok.

Merry Christmas, HFCS!  Unfortunately for you, you won’t becelebrating another in my house.  Doesanyone have an amazing cinnamon roll recipe?
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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

So long, good buddy!

It’s a sad day in the West home.  We are saying good bye to a dear friend.  That’s right, our Magic Bullet is no longer with us.  This morning, after many attempts at my breakfast smoothie and having to hold it just so, it still did not produce the blended goodness that we’ve come to expect.

It had a good life.  It produced food for two little baby boys, numerous smoothies for me, and countless milkshakes for Jason, not to mention the various other jobs it performed.  We are definitely buying a replacement in the near future.

Not that I’m not mourning the loss of our beloved blender, but I can’t help but wonder if there is a better personal blender out there…any suggestions?
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Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Smoothies :)

I know that a lot of these recipes and tips sound super easyand basic, but if you’re anything like me, it’s just never occurred to you tomake your own.  I’m constantly amazed atthe food that I can make so easily in my own kitchen that I pay a premium forat our grocery store.  Lots of times Ifeel like smacking myself on the forehead and wondering why I haven’t thoughtof doing these things sooner.  But I didn’t.  In case you haven’t yet, I decided to sharesome of my findings and processes.

I have a huge bag of frozen berries sitting in my freezer.  I really want to make smoothies out of them, but I always find myself running late, short on time.  I’ve been trying to come up with an idea to make the smoothies ready to go and had some issues figuring out how to store everything so that it not only kept well, but didn’t lose that smoothie consistency.  I had an epiphany the other day.  The solution seems so simple that I’m a bit annoyed that it took me this long to come up with it.

Using my baby food containers (once again) I froze yogurt.  I really love having these ingredients in one ounce, premeasured cubes.  I took some cubes (my preference is three ounces of yogurt) and added fresh spinach (just make sure that it’s totally dry), fresh kale, avocado, frozen berries, and anything else that I like in a smoothie.  Store in a plastic bag or mason jar and freeze.  The night before I just dump one of the bags into my Magic Bullet, place in the refrigerator, and blend in the morning.  I’ve also separated the berries and added them frozen to make the smoothie a little more frosty.  Even better if you have some fresh ingredients ready to throw in at the last second.  We seem to always have some left over vegetables on hand that I can add.  Delicious smoothie in seconds.  It’s the perfect quick breakfast or easy snack. 
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Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Evil little packets

My husband, Jason, is so addicted to those little packets.  You know the ones that you findat the grocery store?  Sometimes they’rea powder and sometimes they’re a sauce, but they are those evil little packetsmeant to spice up your meal.

Jason’s on board with the organic eating, but this is onehabit that I just can’t get him to break. I’ve at least gotten him to avoid HFCS, but sometimes he gets so excitedwhen a new one comes out that he totally forgets to check and has to buyit.  I’ve given up on the otheringredients that I have no idea how to pronounce or what they actually are.

I really don’t understand this addiction.  Everything that we’ve ever made from scratchis far superior to the processed packet. I’ve mentioned before that I keep quite a few of powdered seasoningmixes on hand.  He really has no reasonto buy these packets, yet I just can’t get him to stop.  Even tonight, after I came home, he ran intothe kitchen to grab that little packet of sauce and show me what he had foundtoday.  

I still can’t help but to cringe a little every time I seeone.  I usually try to grin and bear it(and not read the ingredients list).  Theybring him such joy.
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Monday, December 3, 2012

Homemade chicken stock

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am trying to make some simple everyday staples (at least in my household) from scratch. The first weekend I successfully made breadcrumbs. This week was supposed to be homemade pie crusts. I was looking forward to it, but the tried and true recipe suggested by a dear friend required a food processor. Since my cheap food processor quit on me, that will have to wait. Instead I decided to make my own chicken stock.

I ended up cooking three whole chickens (just baked them in the oven) for my freezer meals. After I carved them, I stuck anything remaining (including skin) with carrots, onions, celery, garlic, salt, and pepper. Actually, I just used the pot instead of my compost bin while I was chopping vegetables for some recipes. I just filled up the pot with enough water to cover everything and simmered about four hours. When it cooled down a bit, I strained the stock and refrigerated overnight. In the morning I was able to take a nice layer of fat off the top and was left with the delicious stock. 

About the straining…I don’t have a good strainer, so I just used our colander. It worked, but in the future I will definitely invest in a decent strainer to eliminate some of the pieces. For a first attempt it wasn’t terrible, but I would like it to be more of a clear stock that is sold commercially.

I used what I needed for my recipes and froze the remainder. Those baby food trays are coming in handy yet again! Now I have it premeasured in one ounce cubes and ready in the freezer. I did find that I needed to cut it with a bit of water for chicken noodle soup, but I was happy that I was able to stretch it even more.

I plan to start using my limp, not so fresh vegetables for vegetable stock. Although these would usually go in the compost, I still feel like I’m bringing new life to something that would normally just be disposed of. It’s so easy to throw into a big pot, add water, and simmer. 

Just like the breadcrumbs, the flavor is unbelievable compared to the prepackaged stock. Happy simmering!
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Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Making breadcrumbs

I apologize for my lack of posts.  As we all know, the holiday season hasarrived which for me brings additional commitments and busier weekends.  Between shopping, wrapping, decorating, andgeneral cheer, I feel like the hours in each day have gotten even shorter.

My sweet littlest guy has decided to be just like his bigbrother and give up all baby food.  Ihave quite the stash in my freezer and I felt like I was just getting in thegroove of making it again.  He startedthrowing the biggest fit when he wasn’t served the exact same dinner thateveryone else was eating.  When he pairedthese fits with refusing baby food, I knew that my pureeing days wereover.  Luckily he pops out teeth like it’snothing and we have nine and ten about to arrive any day now.

I’ve been cooking numerous freezer meals to prepare for my upcoming surgery.  Each week I decided totake something that we use regularly and make it myself.  Nothing too difficult, not so much tochallenge, but more of an eye opener of how easy this can be. 

The first weekend I made my own breadcrumbs.  I hated buying the premade, but it was justso easy.  I lucked out and found someorganic bread on clearance at the grocery store.  I bought three loaves, which was way toomuch.  I will never have to buy or makebreadcrumbs again!  I placed the sliceson a cookie sheet, being careful to not overlap, and dried them in the oven at300 degrees.  It took about 15 minutesand I flipped the slices about halfway through. After the bread cooled down, I threw the pieces in a food processor andwatched them crumble.  You can decide thelevel of chunkiness.  My food processoris incredibly cheap and I’ve never liked it much.  After the first batch it died on me.  I guess I know what I’ll be asking for thisChristmas!  Anyway, without that frustration,the process was incredibly quick and easy. I almost seasoned the entire batch, but at the last minute decided thatI would season them as needed.

My recipe for seasoning (this is an Italian seasoning):
1 tablespoon garlic salt
1 tablespoon onion powder
1 ½ teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon dried thyme
1 tablespoon dried basil
1 tablespoon dried parsley
¼ teaspoon celery salt
1 tablespoon salt

(adapted from “Italian Dressing Mix”)

This makes quite a bit of seasoning.  If you prefer it as a finer powder, just giveit a spin in a Magic Bullet.  I don’tmind the big parsley, basil, and oregano flakes so I just leave it as is.  I keep this seasoning, ranch dressing powder,and taco seasoning on hand in mason jars. It keeps me away from those packets of chemicals and it’s just aseasy.  I use approximately 2 teaspoons toflavor 1 cup of breadcrumbs.

To store breadcrumbs, just use a glass jar or Ziploc bag andplace them in your freezer.  They’ll be readywhen you need them!  The seasoned versionis incredibly tasty in meatballs and meatloaf. Just like anything else made from scratch, these are so much better thanthe premade store variety.  Enjoy!
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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

War against HFCS

I’ve heard a couple of references that high fructose cornsyrup is about as healthy as heroin and this peaked my curiosity and made myresearch expand.  I never cared for HFCS,but we’ve all seen the commercials – it’s fine in moderation…right?  I buy mostly organic and the times that I don’tthe food would rarely contain HFCS (meats, cheese, etc.), so I shouldn’t reallyhave to worry, or so I thought.

Jason (husband) is a huge fan of sauces.  BBQ, teriyaki, anything that will sauce upstir fry, etc.  He also loves Hershey’schocolate syrup.  And BREAD – have youchecked out bread lately?  The majorityof these that he buys I either end up tossing or just flat out refuse to feedit to our kids (now he knows to check, but we always have a transition period).  Everything has HFCS and most of the time it’seither first or second on the ingredient list. Do you know how difficult it is to find hot dog buns that don’t haveHFCS in the ingredient list?  Our grocerystore has two brands of bread that are made without HFCS.  An entire wall of bread and I have the optionof two!  Now they’re just sneaking it inour staples.

I’ve become very particular about ingredients lists in thepast year.  I am constantly scanning themthroughout the grocery store looking for those four words – high fructose cornsyrup.

I urge everyone to research the ingredients in their food.  Please look up HFCS and find out what it does to your body.  You'll soon find that it wreaks havoc on your entire system and hopefully this will be enough to convince you to stay away.  There are options, you just have to look a little deeper.
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Tuesday, October 16, 2012


I have fourtrays for freezing baby food.  When I amcooking for my little guys, I am constantly wishing that I had 100 ofthem.  When cooking and freezing cubes ofpureed food is not necessary, I want to throw these trays away.  They do not fit in the cupboards neatly andtake up quite a bit of room.  They alsoseem to be the first item that loves to fall out and bonk you on the headwhenever you are searching for something. Or is that just my clumsiness?

Like themajority of 30-something women, I waste quite a bit of time on Pinterest.  I have found many ridiculous ways to reuseand craft with common household goods and rarely find something practical.  When I do, I feel the need to share.  I am a believer of freezer cooking andreusing and have trouble throwing things away. I also buy organic, which makes my grocery bill a bit higher than thosewho do not.  I love to save money andcoupon and I am constantly looking for a deal. I was elated when I found a post on Pinterest that not only gave me usefor my baby food freezer trays, but also gave me an idea for saving food.

I cook withbuttermilk, whipping cream, etc. when needed and always find myself throwingaway a portion of the carton.  Of course,this is after it sits in my refrigerator long after the expiration date.  Now I take my baby food containers and fillthem with the remainder of the carton and freeze.  Each of my containers are one-ounce cubes, soit’s easy to pull out what I need for a recipe and thaw.  It has never occurred to me to freezeleftover dairy and I’m delighted by this idea. It’s saving me tons of money (especially since I bought a new cartonevery time I needed even the smallest amount) and has given me new uses for myfreezer trays long after my baby food days (although I’ll probably downsize tomy favorite two).
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Monday, October 15, 2012

Autumn comfort food for toddlers

The birthdaycake once again received rave reviews.  I’mthinking of making individual servings to bring into work.  The cream cheese icing was much richer thanthe milk-free version that I made for my first son.  I think that it was preferred.  It also made it feel a bit more breakfast-ywhich fit into the brunch theme.  Give ita try - it really is a delicious cake!

I’mactually making quite a bit of baby food again. I’m going to make my favorite pumpkin polenta recipe this week (now thathe can have milk!)  This recipe is adapted from The Petit Appetit Cookbook and I usually double it.  Below is the original recipe size (before doubling). 

2 cups milk(we use organic whole milk, but I have used goat’s milk before)
1 cup canned pumpkin

½ teaspooncinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
pinch of salt
½ cup organic polenta (aka cornmeal. I buy Bob’s Red Mill online)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or butter substitute
1 tablespoon maple syrup

Combine thefirst six ingredients in a medium saucepan and bring to boil over medium heat.  Add in the polenta and whisk to combine (becareful – polenta will “jump” out of the pot).  Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, whiskingoccasionally until thick.  Remove fromheat and stir in butter and syrup.

My firstson loved this so much that I fed it to him long after he was eating solidfoods exclusively.  I love that both ofmy boys were born in autumn and I could make this for them when they turnedone.  There is just something comfortingabout that pumpkin spice flavor when the leaves are changing.
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Friday, September 28, 2012

Wednesday, September 26, 2012


The change process has been slow, but good.  I’ve lost some weight and I have incorporatedsome routines that I hope to become habits that are definitely beneficial to myhealth.  Overall, I’m feeling good aboutmy progress, confident that it will continue, and I’m happy with the changesthat I’ve made.

I have done the unthinkable. I have actually made baby food for son #2.  I honestly had written myself off as a lostcause.  Those little jars and packets of organicbaby food are so accessible and so darn easy. And then one day I tasted it. Ugh.  I should have known.  I’ve never seen bananas that color, so ofcourse they wouldn’t taste like bananas. You call that squash?  C’mon.  Squash actually is a bit sweet, nothing likethat mush in that jar.  That’s when theguilt really started to set in.  Yes, Ihave a happy, healthy little boy, but I know that his food could be some muchbetter and just as importantly taste so much better.  It was time to start making baby food.  I’ll admit, I haven’t gone all out like I didthe first time around.  I supplement withjars, but mostly for protein.  Themajority of fruits, starches, and veggies are all being made by me.  And what a difference!  It tastes like food from the earth, not blandmush.  Wouldn’t you know it, my littleguy now loves bananas.

His first birthday is approaching.  I always feel like that first year goes somuch quicker than any of the others. Just like the first son, I want to make a cake that won’t put him insugar shock and create a cranky mess of a boy for the rest of the day.  I decided to go with the same recipe that Iused the first time around with the exception of the icing.  I’ll definitely make cream cheese icing thistime.  The cake and icing were a hit atthe last party, but my preference is the cream cheese icing.  This party will be a bit different.  The timing is unfortunate since we have ahuge amount of events happening all within hours of each other.  My dad is getting remarried, so we decided todo a brunch the next morning to celebrate my soon to be one year old’sbirthday.  This cake will incorporateperfectly into a brunch menu.  Here isthe recipe again:

Pumpkin Apple Harvest Cake
By Cait Johnson, author of Witch in the Kitchen

1 cup cooked or canned pumpkin puree
2 large eggs, beaten
3/4 cup organic sugar
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup chopped apple
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Whipped cream or confectioners’ sugar for topping (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 325F. Prepare an 8-inch round cake pan bygreasing and flouring it.
2. Combine pumpkin, eggs, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Add flour,cinnamon, baking powder, ginger, and salt, stirring to combine. Add apples andnuts, stirring again. Pour mixture into prepared pan (smooth it out as thepumpkin makes it bake in whatever shape it goes in there with).
3. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes outclean.
4. Cool the cake, still in the pan, on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then invertthe cake onto the rack, remove pan, and cool cake completely.
5. When ready to serve, turn cake on to a pretty plate and top with whippedcream or confectioners’ sugar, if desired, or serve plain.

I am so excited for another autumn birthday and a chance toreuse this recipe.

The last update is that I am anticipating a pretty majorsurgery in January.  One of my goals isto make and freeze a variety of 30 meals beforehand.  It will be a challenge, but I have been menuplanning and I’m actually looking forward to getting started.  If you want to follow me and my organizing,planning craziness, I am posting my progress on my other blog.
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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Getting healthy

So, it’s been a long time…

Now I have two little boys and, although it’s hard for me to believe, the baby is already eating solid foods regularly. I know that he should be at eight months old, but can someone please tell me where the time went? If you think that time flies with one child, then don’t have another. I swear that it’s passing twice as fast now!

I’m obviously eight months post-partum and at this point with my first child I was already wearing my pre-baby clothes. I found that the weight did not come off quite as easily with my second. I’ve been depressed, upset, and just annoyed that I have to borrow clothes and nothing fits well. I hate getting dressed in the morning, especially for work, constantly feeling that my clothes are ill-fitting and I just look unprofessional.

I honestly started investigating diet pills, Weight Watchers, and various other options hoping for a quick fix. Of course, none of these provided that. Now it’s the middle of June and I had to buy a swimsuit that I wasn’t embarrassed being seen wearing. I am now beyond frustrated. I went back the all of those weight loss plans that promise results and debated which one I would try again. I factored expense first, but then started considering health risks. That’s when it finally hit me – if I am a healthy eater then the weight will take care of itself. Why hadn’t I thought of this earlier?

Here I am again. Back to my blog. Trying to dedicate myself and my family to a healthier lifestyle. I plan to do this very slowly this time. My thought is that if I make little changes periodically that stick, I will be better off than making big changes that will feel unattainable.

This time it’s not about baby food. Although I am ashamed to admit, I haven’t made any of #2’s food, but he has only eaten organic since birth. I would like to do more for him and I might incorporate some of that, but this time I want the changes to be bigger. I want my entire family to be affected. I want to further my research on all of the things that I know are slowly poisoning us, first on the list is high fructose corn syrup (I totally don’t buy those “corn sugar” and “in moderation” commercials). I want to make the majority of our food, including all of the “easy” things that we eat, like making and freezing burritos and meatballs and other grab and go foods. I want everyone in my house to be healthy, to feel healthy, and to get closer in this journey.

If anyone is still reading this and would like to join us or has any suggestions or tips, I want that, too! We all know how important communities are and these kinds of changes are difficult and need support.

I thought that I would start with food, but I’ve found that exercise has actually been easier to incorporate, so I am starting with that. Currently, I am using weights for about 15 minutes each morning (rotating between upper and lower body daily) and walking for 30 – 40 minutes over my lunch break (when I can, which I usually can, although this June heat is brutal right now).More research into our food to come. Until then, let’s get healthy!!
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