Make Your Own Ranch Dressing Packets

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The other day I was making a recipe that called for a packet of ranch salad dressing mix. Well, I don’t use these packets very often, so when I went to the cupboard, I found I did not have any on hand. Since I didn’t have time to run to the store and buy some, and I didn’t have time to come up with an alternative recipe, I decided to take a quick look on Pinterest to see if I could make the packets myself. I found this recipe from The Crafty Blog Stalker and it turned out perfect! The only problem was that her recipe made a LOT of dressing. Like 3 1/2 cups of the mix! That would probably last me a lifetime, so I’ve given you a smaller recipe here, which equals about 4 packets of ranch dressing mix (assuming 3 tbsp. to a packet).

Ranch Dressing Mix

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup plus 2 Tbsp. dried parsley
  • 3 Tbsp. granulated onion
  • 2 Tbsp. garlic salt
  • 1 Tbsp. black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dill weed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. Kosher salt

Mix together and store in an airtight container. To substitute for a ranch dressing packet in a recipe, use 3 Tbsp. of mix. To make a dip, I used 1 1/2 cups plain Greek yogurt, 1/4 cup sour cream, and about 1 1/2 TBS of the mix. I had to add about a tablespoon of sugar to get the taste right, but it was really good!

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Quick Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

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For lunch today the kids and I wanted some oatmeal, but I didn’t have a lot of time. I went to the cabinet to get some instant oatmeal (don’t judge!), and realized we were all out. So I decided to try making my own on the stovetop and the results were really good! This recipe made enough for me and my two boys with approximately the same amount as three packets of the instant variety. Make yourself a bowl and enjoy!

Quick Stovetop Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal

Ingredients
1 cup quick cooking (1 minute) oats
1 cup milk*
3/4 cup water
1 tbsp. butter*
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
Dash each, cloves, nutmeg, ginger
1/8 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/3-1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
Brown sugar to taste
Ground flax seed (optional)

In a saucepan, combine milk, water, butter, and vanilla and heat over medium heat, stirring regularly, until boiling. Stir in oats and spices and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly, until thickened. Stir in applesauce and brown sugar (I used about 2 tbsp. and it was fairly sweet) and remove from heat. Stir in flax meal if desired, let sit for 2 minutes to cool and thicken and serve.

Servings: 2-3 (1 cup servings)

*For a vegetarian version, use almond milk and vegetable oil or coconut oil

Taco Soup

taco soup vegetarian-001

While it is technically spring, this week has been cooler and rainy here in the Midwest, and I don’t know about you, but cool, rainy weather always makes me want a big bowl of soup!

This soup is very flavorful and easy to throw together. As I mentioned last week, during my Daniel Fast, I typically made a big pot of soup at the beginning of the week and then ate it along with a salad for lunch throughout the week. This was one of the soups I made and it was delicious!

Vegetarian Taco Soup

Ingredients
1 tablespoon Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 medium red onion, diced
3-4 cups vegetable broth (for a Daniel Fast, use this recipe, or just use water)
1 can black beans (15 oz), drained and rinsed
1 can diced tomatoes with green chilies (14.5 oz), drained
1/2 can fat free vegetarian refried beans
1 cup frozen corn kernels
2 cups cooked brown rice
1 Tbsp. Taco Seasoning (for a Daniel Fast, use this recipe to make your own)
1 tsp. salt
1/8 tsp. black pepper

In a large saucepan, sauté onions in olive oil until translucent. Add vegetable broth (use more or less broth depending on how thick you want your soup), black beans, tomatoes, corn and seasoning and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes. Stir in cooked rice and refried beans and simmer for an additional 10 minutes or until the refried beans have dissolved into the broth and the rice is heated through.

Recipe Notes:

  • For a non-vegetarian dish, use chicken broth in place of vegetable broth and add 1-2 cups cooked shredded chicken when you add the rice and refried beans
  • For a non-Daniel Fast meal, consider adding the following toppings: sour cream, shredded Mexican cheese, diced avocado, and/or crushed tortilla chips
  • Can use regular diced tomatoes if you can’t tolerate spicy food
  • Can substitute 1/2 cup dried polenta for the brown rice

Servings: Approximately 8 (1-cup servings)

Adapted from (Ultimate Daniel Fast)

Tips for Doing a Daniel Fast

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Last Saturday marked the final day of my 21-day Daniel Fast. It has been an exciting time of spiritual growth and renewal, and today I’d like to share a few practical things I learned along the way, in case you are interested in doing a Daniel Fast for yourself!

Here are a few tips and ideas:

  • Begin your fast knowing that the ultimate focus and outcome is spiritual, rather than physical. If you just want to eat more healthy or lose some weight, then you’re really just dieting, not fasting. A true fast should include a spiritual element of prayer, confession, and Bible study, asking God to speak to you as you focus on spiritual nourishment, rather than physical nourishment.
  • Have a spiritual goal in mind while fasting. Maybe you need wisdom before making a big decision, maybe you need direction in some area of your life, maybe you want to begin to have more consistent time in the Word, maybe, like me, you want to use the time leading up to Christmas or Easter as a time of reflection and spiritual preparation. Set a goal or focus, but also be prepared for God to show you new things along the way!
  • Find a devotional plan to use during the time of fasting and get a journal to write down what you’re learning, your prayer requests, etc. The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast has daily devotionals to use during your fast, or use another book or Bible study method of your choosing. I read through the devotionals in the book, but I also did the Easter study from Good Morning Girls. She Reads Truth is another good source of Bible study plans.
  • Figure out your menu ahead of time and shop for necessary ingredients. While I had some of the ingredients I needed, because I couldn’t use things with added sugar or leavening agents, refined flour, etc. I had to go to the store to buy a number of ingredients, and making a meal plan ahead of time helped me to make sure I didn’t make unnecessary trips to the store because I didn’t have one or two ingredients.
  • Decide ahead of time how to fit your fast in with your family’s meals. This is a hard one if your family doesn’t want to participate in your fast or if they are not used to eating lots of unprocessed, whole grain products. When I made up my meal plan, I tried to find ways that I could make things easier by making dishes we normally eat, and just modifying them a bit for myself. That way I didn’t have to make two separate meals every night. For example, our family likes tacos and nachos. I was able to make those once a week and just have them without the chicken for myself (just beans and brown rice with lettuce, tomato, avocado, cilantro, etc.), or I made spaghetti and meatballs, but used whole grain spaghetti (which we eat normally), and just skipped the meatballs for myself, and made sure the tomato sauce didn’t have sugar. The kids were happy for the most part, and my husband was really supportive and decided to just eat whatever I was eating for dinner, rather than asking me to make a separate meat for him.
  • Make things as easy as possible so you’re not tempted to “cheat.” Make sure you have a good variety of things available, especially fresh fruits and veggies. Cut things up ahead of time so they are readily available with minimal work. At the beginning of each week I made a big batch of soup for lunch, and then I would just reheat a bowl every day along with a salad for lunch. That way I knew exactly what I was going to eat, it was easy and quick, and it allowed me to focus on other things.
  • If you have any special dietary needs, you are pregnant, or you are nursing, check with your doctor before beginning your fast, or adjust the fast as necessary. For example, because I was nursing and needed extra calories (and didn’t want to risk any “supply” issues as baby is only a few months old), I chose to include seafood in my fast as an extra source of calories and protein.

That’s all I can think of for now! If you’re planning a Daniel Fast soon, please leave a comment and let us know!

Vegetarian Split Pea Soup

creamy split pea soup

As I mentioned last week, I have been having to “tweak” some of my usual recipes to use as part of my Daniel Fast, where I cannot eat meat (though because I am nursing and need extra calories, I have been eating some seafood), dairy, added sweeteners, leavened bread, or processed foods. To make things a little easier, I have been making a big batch of soup at the beginning of each week and eating a bowl of that soup, along with a salad, for lunch every day. This week I used my mother’s recipe for split pea soup, and tweaked it to make a vegetarian version. It was still really good, and I even served it to my mom when she came by for lunch one day and she and the boys enjoyed it with some oyster crackers as you can see from the picture! (I can’t have the crackers as part of the fast, but it was still good without them Smile)

Creamy Split Pea Soup

Ingredients
4 cups vegetable broth (for a Daniel Fast, use this recipe, or just use water)
6 cups water
1 lb. package split peas
1 1/4 cup chopped carrots
1 sliced onion
1 cup sliced celery
4 whole allspice (or 1/4 tsp. ground)
4 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf

Combine water and broth in large pot and bring to a boil. Put spices in a tea ball or coffee filter tied with string and add to pot. Add remaining vegetables, reduce heat and simmer 45-60 minutes or until all vegetables are soft. Blend thoroughly and enjoy!

Servings: Approximately 8-10 (1 cup servings)

For a non-vegetarian version, add a ham bone to the water/broth (can use chicken broth in place of vegetable broth) before boiling, then skim the fat from the surface before adding the other ingredients.

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

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I mentioned last week that I am doing a Daniel Fast in preparation for Easter. Because of this, I’ve gotten to try some new recipes, which has actually been kind of fun, since I generally enjoy cooking and I’ve gotten to try some things I’ve always wanted to make but never got around to making. Some, like this recipe, are based on things we already make, but have been modified for the fast.

When I saw a strawberry banana smoothie recipe in The Ultimate Guide to the Daniel Fast, I was immediately interested, but when I looked at the ingredient list I saw that it had things like tofu and date honey. Since we often make strawberry banana smoothies for the kids (but using yogurt and milk), I decided to modify our typical smoothie recipe to make it dairy free, and the results were delicious! My boys drank it up and asked for more! I added natural peanut butter to mine and it was really thick. This makes a great, filling breakfast, especially if you’re on the go!

Strawberry Banana Smoothie

Ingredients
1 ripe banana, broken in pieces
4-5 frozen strawberries
Splash of unsweetened almond milk
1-2 Tbs. Flaxseed meal (optional)

Combine ingredients in a blender and mix thoroughly, adding almond milk until it reaches the desired consistency. Alternative, use a handheld stick blender to quickly puree the ingredients (this is my favorite method!).

Add-in options:
– add 1/4 cup uncooked oatmeal to make this really filling
– substitute other fresh or frozen fruit, such as blueberries or raspberries for the strawberries
– add 2-3 tbs. of natural peanut butter (use peanut butter without sugar for a Daniel Fast. Smuckers makes this, and so does Target’s store brand)
– for a creamy non-Daniel Fast treat add 1/4 cup plain or vanilla yogurt

Servings: 1-2

Spring Cleaning

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Spring is (finally) in the air!

Living in the Midwest, we have been pummeled (don’t you love that word? It’s just fun to say!) this winter with cold weather, snow and ice. I don’t know about you, but I will be a happy woman if I never hear the term “polar vortex” again!

So when the temperatures finally began rising to freezing (yes, that’s right, I’m excited when the temps get even close to freezing now. Readings of 30 degrees with no windchill are signs of spring. The 40’s actually seem like a heat wave, am I right?!), I start thinking about spring cleaning.

Why?

Well, like seemingly most people this winter (if their Facebook statuses are any indication), we have had our share of illnesses in the past few months. I blame the cold (which makes your body work harder just trying to maintain body temperature, let alone trying to fight off illness), lack of vitamin D (since its hard for much sunlight to penetrate the sixteen layers of clothing we have to wear when the temps are 15 BELOW ZERO – I still have trouble fathoming that), and close quarters (there’s only so many indoor places to go in this cold, so we tend to congregate and breathe the same air and spread our germs in the same places). There was a good two months before and after our daughter was born that I began channelling my inner Howard Hughes and pretty much refused to leave the house.

Because of these bouts of illnesses, I have been dying to open the windows and air out the house as well as give it a good scrub down to get rid of all the ick from the past few months.

So when I saw this challenge, Four Weeks to a More Organized Home, over at Money Saving Mom, I knew it was just what I needed. It broke down cleaning and organizing steps into manageable pieces, spread out over 4 weeks. I just completed the final week of this challenge, which included cleaning out the vents, the medicine cabinet, the cabinets, the closet floors and the windows. Considering I don’t think I’ve ever fully cleaned the vents (by pulling them out and vacuuming inside) since we moved in seven years ago, this was definitely a needed project!

I still have a few spring cleaning projects of my own to do this week, but I feel like I’ve really accomplished something these past four weeks by giving the entire house a much-needed deep cleaning, including those projects that I kept saying I would get to but just never seemed to have the time like cleaning under the beds. Plus we have taken three car-loads of items to Good Will and thrown away two garbage cans full of junk, so we are working toward de-cluttering as well!

What spring cleaning projects do you plan to do?

Here are a couple of helpful spring-cleaning checklists:

How to Make Perfect Brown Rice

I am a firm believer that healthy foods don’t have to taste awful. That you shouldn’t have to suffer through eating something just because it’s “good for you.” Doing so causes two problems – first, it makes people more likely to avoid that food in the future, thus defeating the point, or it makes them feel like because they’ve “suffered” and eaten that healthy blah-tasting food, that they can now overindulge in junk foods because they’ve had their vitamins for the day. This has always been my experience trying to eat brown rice.

I really wanted to like brown rice. After all, it’s higher in fiber and nutrients, and is digested more slowly, thus leaving you feeling fuller, and more satisfied, longer. But most brown rice I’ve had, even in national restaurant chains like PF Changs, has tasted awful. It’s like eating cardboard. It’s chewy, hard, and tastes undercooked. I wanted so much to like it, but no matter how long I cooked it, I couldn’t do much better than simply choke it down.

I had nearly given up, until I came across this recipe on Pinterest from Saveur magazine. I added a few things to the cooking water (which I usually do with white rice as well, to give it a flavor boost) and it was AMAZING! No more hard bits, no mushy, overcooked glop, just perfectly cooked brown rice. I now use this method every time I make brown rice and it is always perfect. My kids eat it up with no complaints and my husband often doesn’t even realize it’s brown rice instead of white. I can still taste a subtle texture difference between the white and brown rice, but it’s a good difference, like the difference between stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth white bread (yuck!) and a heartier bread made with whole grains. This method does take a little longer than regular white rice, so keep that in mind as you plan, but it’s well worth it!

best brown rice

Begin by boiling 6-7 cups of water in a large stockpot (the original recipe calls for 12 cups of water, but I’ve found that only about half of that water is necessary for 1 cup of rice and still turns out perfectly cooked brown rice). While the water is boiling, put the rice in a colander and rinse under cold water for about 30 seconds.

brown rice

Once the water comes to a boil, add your chicken bouillon, garlic and onion powder and stir until the bouillon is dissolved. Add the rice to the water, stirring only once, and boil, uncovered, for 30 minutes.

fluffy brown rice

After the rice has boiled for 30 minutes, turn off the heat and pour the rice into a colander (if you use the same colander that you used to rinse the rice in the first step, be sure there are no uncooked pieces of rice still stuck in there – you don’t want to chomp down on one of those pieces, trust me!) and drain for about 10 seconds (don’t rinse). Return the rice to the pot and cover with a tight-fitting lid, and let the rice steam in the covered pot for 10 minutes. And that’s it! Fluff the rice with a fork, season with additional salt if you feel it needs it (I don’t usually), and enjoy your perfectly cooked brown rice!

perfect brown rice

Best Brown Rice

Ingredients
1 cup uncooked brown rice (any variety, I used long grain)
4 chicken bouillon cubes or 4 tsps chicken bouillon (alternatively, you could also substitute 4 cups of chicken broth/stock for 4 cups of water)
1 tsp. garlic powder
1/2 tsp. onion powder

Bring 6-7 cups of water to a boil in a large stockpot (make sure it has a tight-fitting lid). Add bouillon cubes, garlic powder, and onion powder and stir until bouillon is dissolved. Rinse rice in a colander under cold running water for 30 seconds and add to the pot. Stir once, then boil, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and drain rice in a colander for 10 seconds. Return to pot, cover with lid, and let sit for 10 minutes while the rice steams in its own heat. Remove the cover and fluff with a fork, seasoning with salt if desired.

Adapted from (Saveur magazine)

Mommy Mondays

Mommy Mondays

Poor Monday.

I think it must have self-esteem issues. I mean, people are always calling it names like “depressing,” “miserable,” and “dreadful.” Then they write ecards about it with captions like “At least Mondays only happen once a week,” or “May your Monday be as swift and merciful as an execution.” Yikes! No wonder Monday has issues!

After all the fun and busyness of the weekend, heading “back to the grind” on Monday can mean a lot of work, whether you work outside the home or not. Sometimes, this work can6cause us to become stressed out, distracted, and overwhelmed. There’s so much to do and we’re not always sure where to start.

Enter the Mommy Mondays series.

Every Monday I will be posting ideas for Moms (and Dads!) to inspire us with handling the day-to-day details of everyday life so we can take joy in those everyday moments, rather than stressing out about them. Some of the topics include:

  • Menu preparation
  • Recipe inspiration
  • Family organization
  • Money saving advice
  • Health and fitness tips
  • Party planning
  • Date night ideas
  • Fashion help

And more!

I am really excited about these posts and hope you’ll join me for this series. And remember you can always subscribe to this feed or sign up for e-mail notifications so you won’t miss a single post!