Thursday, October 6, 2016

Hey Good Lookin... What Ya Got Cookin?

Scenario One:

5:30 in the evening, starving child approaches you and asks with an ear grating whine:

"Mommmmmmm????  What's for dinnerrrrrr????"

You sigh and say the following:

"Blah. Let's jump in the car & grab Chick-fil-A"

Sound familiar?  Yep.

Not that jumping in the car & grabbing Chick-fil-A is a bad thing (we're doing it tomorrow!) It's when you do it three times a week because you haven't planned ahead that's bad.

Scenario Two:

5:30 in the evening, starving children come to the kitchen to eat the dinner they've been looking forward to ever since you posted the weekly menu Monday morning.

There is a law irrevocably decreed in the Halls house: If Mom doesn't plan ahead, we will eat copious amounts of fast food. There's also a law that states: If there are Oreo cookies in the house, Mom will eat them until they are gone. All of them. Mmmmm Oreos.

After years of trial & error, I've finally come up with practical menu planning that works for us.  I don't get the whiney "What's for dinner" question anymore, and if for that reason alone, I'm a believer :)

So here ya go... "How to Menu Plan" Becky style.  Which, to be clear, means only that this is what works for us.  It's not an exact science, nor do I claim to be a professional anything.  Maybe a professional geek if there's such a thing.

1.  Sit down right now & make a list of all the meals your family eats.  Open up your Pinterest account & try one of the 1,000 recipes you pinned last week.

2.  Grab your calendar, and make a menu based on what you've got going that week.  You won't be able to make Chicken Milano & Breadsticks on Tuesday because you'll be at piano lessons, the orthodontist, that guitar concert at the junior high, dropping the twins off to scouts, and somehow squeezing in baseball practice and mutual. Yeah... let's be realistic.  It's days like this that grabbing Chick-fil-A is soooooo totally ok :)

3.  Write your shopping list as you go!  Nothing puts the brakes on dinner prep like not having the stuff to make it... no brainer.

4.  Post the menu in the kitchen on Monday morning where everyone can see it.  You can just scribble your menu on a Post-It note & stick it on the fridge if you want... it's all good.  You can also make a fancy schmancy menu board for almost as much effort.  Download my template HERE. Download the original size.  Print it on a cute piece of 8.5x11 paper, trim to fit an 8x10 frame that you bought for 50% off at Hobby Lobby cause you're awesome like that.  Use a dry erase marker, and tah-dah!  Fancy schmancy!

5.  You can make menu planning even easier by establishing routines in your menu.  For example:  Mondays: Soup Night, Tuesdays: Crock Pot Meals, Wednesday: Casserole Night, Thursday: Pasta, Friday: Grill, Saturday: Breakfast for Dinner, Sunday: Kid's Choice.... you get the idea.  Routines make menu planning sooooooo much easier.  Trust me!  What's for breakfast Monday morning?  It's pancakes! Every time!  All you have to do is decide what kind: Pumpkin, blueberry, chocolate chip, plain... Easy like Sunday (or Monday) morning.

6.  Start slow... plan a week of dinners.  Once you've mastered that, add breakfast.  When you've mastered that, try planning two weeks!  I think you'll find that it becomes a way of life really quick.

I pinky swear, this works for us.  I hope it works for you.  We eat waaaaaaaaay less fast food these days.  My kids are so excited about homemade breakfast & dinner that I feel almost accountable to make it... they'd be so disappointed if they looked forward to baked mac & cheese all week, only to get a crappy happy meal.  There's also the added bonus that I'm more excited about cooking because I've been recipe hunting to keep things exciting, ingredients are on hand, and let's face it, I love eating good food.

Al-righty... time to stop bloggin'... Dinner's at 5:00!

For those of you dying to know what the heck Spongebob Squarecakes are, they're German Pancakes.  I just named them that 10 years ago so my picky twinners would eat 'em :)  I owe that little square dude so much.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Putting Myself & My 10k Playlist Out There Again. Double Yikes.

Three years ago I put myself & my 10k playlist out there. Yikes. It was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. Going public with my self esteem issues, my abdominoplasty surgery, and my (then) fondness for One Direction. It was a huge step forward in my healing… admitting to myself and the world that I wasn’t perfect, that I struggle, aaaaand that every once in a while, I listen to music aimed at 12 year old girls. 

One short year after I ran that pivotal 10k, life as I knew it came to a screeching halt. My marriage was over. I will spare you the gory details (you’re welcome). Suffice to say, it was completely unexpected, and it was devastating. Those self esteem issues that I had worked so hard to fix? Well, they came back with a vengeance. I wanted to die. I wasn’t suicidal… no, it never got that far… But I literally prayed to die. I begged God for release every day for a very long time.

Long story short: Divorce isn’t as bad as you think. It’s worse. 

Sometimes I look back to those early days of my trial, and I can’t believe I survived. I think about that wounded, crying creature, and I want to hold her… I want to tell her that it’s going to be okay. Jeffrey R. Holland tells a story of how when he was a young father his car broke down on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, twice. Years later, he drove by that same spot, and imagined himself saying to that discouraged young father: “Don’t you quit. You keep walking. You keep trying. There is help and happiness ahead. Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come till heaven. But for those who embrace the Gospel of Jesus Christ, they come. It will be alright in the end. Trust God, and believe in good things to come.”

I know you’re here for my playlist (because hey, let’s face it… they’re always pretty awesome), but humor me for a couple more minutes. If you ask what saved me, what got me to the point I'm at today, a happy (yes, happy) woman who wants to live, I will tell you every time: It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and all that goes with it... The atonement, prayer, scriptures, family, priesthood blessings, temple attendance, serving and being served. I know without a single doubt that I have a Father in Heaven who is completely aware of my circumstances. I have been witness to things that I will never, EVER be able to dismiss as coincidence. I know He loves me. I know He loves my precious children. I have felt His daily influence in my life, and I am beyond grateful. I know that Jesus Christ is my Savior. I can’t put into adequate words what it feels like to have Him pick me up and carry me when I don't have the strength to go on. It’s been absolutely everything. I used to pray the same words every day, “Why me? Why do I have to suffer this? Please, please, please take this away from me.” It took me a long time to hear the answer, but when I finally listened, it was like a light turned on in my heart and mind. The spirit whispered to me that I was to be an instrument in God's hands in serving others who were suffering. My patriarchal blessing states: "You have the ability to lift and succor those who are in difficulty... for this will be one of your great callings in life to lend sympathy and love and to give meaning in the lives of those who are downtrodden. You will meet and recognize many of these people who need you, and who need you alone."

This is how the atonement works. This is how Christ helps us. He’s able to comfort us because He’s BEEN THROUGH IT. He understands. He knows what it feels like to be rejected. He knows what it feels like to be alone. He has experienced EVERY pain and heartache that you and I suffer. If we are to become more like him, we have to go through hard stuff. It’s the only way. I have grown closer to, and become more like my Savior because of this trial. I don't know when I'll ever be able to say "I'm grateful" for my divorce (I'm still pretty beat up inside), but I can say that I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had to come to the rescue of my friends who are going through the same thing. It has sanctified my suffering, and made my tears count for something. 

This was a really good day... Angel's Landing 2015

Phew. It's out there. Breathe. I have an excellent idea, let's change the subject. I’m running the Provo Freedom Festival 10k on Independence Day with my awesome sister, Debbie. Running has been a huge factor in my healing process too. There is something liberating about running away from home for an hour or so every day. Don’t worry, I always come back :) Now, a word about my playlist… Heaven knows, I’m a Molly Mormon. See the above paragraphs. There's a time and a place for religious music... I have turned to it many, many times over the last two years for comfort. That being said, I also believe there's a time and a place for rock music. Really loud rock music. It calms me like nothing else can… (well... besides food. Food calms me too. Dang it all). My music doesn’t necessarily have to be rock either… it just has to mean something to me, and not be country. So without further ado, here is my 10k playlist for 2016. I forbid any snickering! At least there's not any One Direction this time. I honestly don't even know what's "cool"... I just like what I like, and this is what gets me through my 6.2 miles :)

10k Playlist 2016

Sunrise - Simply Red 
Fly Like an Eagle - Steve Miller Band
Starman - David Bowie 
Suedehead - Morrissey
The Walker - Fitz and the Tantrums
It Only Makes Me Laugh - Oingo Boingo
Fooling Yourself - Styx
Under Pressure - Queen/Bowie
(Nothing But) Flowers - Talking Heads
The Pretender - Foo Fighters
Mr. Blue Sky - Electric Light Orchestra
Synchronicity II - The Police
Happy - C2C
Dream On - Aerosmith
Rusholme Ruffians - The Smiths
Private Life - Oingo Boingo
Changes - David Bowie
You Can’t Always Get What You Want - The Rolling Stones
Hey Jude - The Beatles
He Lives in You (reprise) - The Lion King Original Broadway Cast
Hide and Seek - Howard Jones

There you have it.  Way more information than you ever wanted about my personal life, and the soundtrack to it. I know it was much more than you bargained for, but man it feels good to get some of it off my chest... thanks for listening. I'd be ever so grateful for any prayers or positive vibes you can spare for me and my sweet kiddos. As "well" as we've come through this, there's no getting around the basic fact that divorce kinda sucks. Oh, and just to clarify: This isn't a desperate plea for sympathy, attention, or (heaven help me) an advertisement. It's just FYI. Really. I don't want to date your neighbor's cousin's brother's coworker. Unless he's a Time Lord... Or plays one on TV. 

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Have Yourself a Yummy Little Christmas

'Tis the season for making, giving away, and eating Christmas goodies. Emphasis on the eating. Sooooo much eating going on here. I make a lot of different treats during the holidays, but my top three favorites are: candied almonds, marshmallow popcorn, and candy coated pretzels. These sweeties are so good, my neighbors, quite frankly, are lucky that we share ;)

Candied Almonds

(These are 10,000 times better than the ones you get at the mall... so good you'll never buy the hard-as-a-rock ones ever again... no matter how good they smell.)

1 cup water
3 cups sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 lbs almonds, with skins

Bring water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil in a large skillet, stirring constantly.
Add almonds and toss to coat.
Remove almonds with slotted spoon. Do not discard extra syrup.
Arrange on a large baking pan sprayed liberally with cooking spray.
Bake at 350 for 30 minutes, basting & stirring twice (at the 10 & 20 minute mark) with reserved syrup. Cool before eating (I'm not joking... wait!! You'll want to eat one right away. Resist the temptation. You WILL burn your tongue. Don't ask me how I know this).

Marshmallow Popcorn (Recipe from my Sis Debbie)

(Make this highly addicting popcorn at your own risk. It's just so good... I ate it for breakfast this morning. Don't judge).

2 bags plain microwave popcorn, popped (un-popped kernels removed... I make my plain popcorn using the brown bag popping method... try it, it costs pennies, and it really works!)
1/4 c butter, melted
7oz jar marshmallow creme
1/2 t vanilla
1/4 t salt
Food coloring (optional)
Nonpareil sprinkles (optional)

Place popped popcorn in large mixing bowl. Melt butter in separate bowl, add marshmallow, microwave 30 seconds. Add vanilla and salt. Add food coloring if you'd like. Mix well. Drizzle over popcorn & mix carefully, evenly coating the popcorn. Spread out on a cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray or lined with kitchen parchment. Put in 250 degree oven for 30 minutes, stirring once after 15 minutes. Add sprinkles directly upon removing from oven if you so desire. Cool, and break into pieces before serving. Store airtight. I doubt you'll have any leftover though... the snitching that goes on at my house makes it necessary for me to make 3 batches, and that's still not enough. 

Candy Coated Pretzels

(Okay, this isn't really a recipe... I feel slightly silly even putting directions for these on here... But maybe there's someone out there in cyberspace who doesn't know how to make candy coated pretzels, and we can't have that. My mom made ccp's every Christmas for our neighbors... making them always reminds me of her.)

1 lb Almond Bark
Pretzels (rods or twists)

Melt almond bark in the microwave for 20 second intervals (stirring between) until smooth. Dip pretzels, and place on cookie sheet lined with kitchen parchment. Top with sprinkles immediately. Place dipped pretzels in refrigerator for 10 minutes to set up. You can let them set up on the counter, but that takes longer, and you won't get to eat them as soon.

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas. Much love,

Becky :)

Friday, October 30, 2015

Pretzel Dogs (aka: Yummy Mummy Fingers)

When homemade pretzel dogs show up on the menu board in my kitchen, there is much rejoicing. Once you try these delicious darlings, you will never go back to eating those overpriced, overcooked, heat lamp tragedies from the mall food court again. Yes, they are that good. Because this recipe heats up the kitchen quite a bit, pretzel dogs have become more of a Fall/Winter treat for my family. Our favorite time to make them is Halloween... Yummy mummy fingers :) Enjoy!

Pretzel Dogs

8 Tablespoons butter
1 1/4 cups milk
1/2 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons yeast
3 1/2 cups flour
8 hot dogs
1/4 cup melted butter
Kosher salt

Melt butter in a saucepan.
Add milk and heat until it reaches 115 degrees on a candy thermometer.  Pour into a large mixing bowl or Kitchen Aid with dough hook attached.
Add sugar and yeast.  Let sit until dissolved. 
Mix in flour, knead until soft and elastic. 
Roll pieces into long strips & wrap around hot dog (I prefer Ball Park all beef). Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise 30 minutes.
Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with kosher salt. 
Bake @ 475 degrees for 10 minutes. (Do not undercook... they should be nice & browned.)
Makes 8 pretzel dogs, with enough leftover dough to make a couple regular soft pretzels. (Cook soft pretzels for 5 minutes.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Apple Crunch Muffins

Thought I'd post my Apple Crunch Muffin recipe today really quick. I slept in (I heart you Fall Break), so it's a little late in the day to call this Muffin Saturday Morning... How's about you make them for Saturday Night Breakfast instead :) This is a lovely Autumn recipe featuring apples, cinnamon, and nuts. My house smells like heaven... I'd invite you over, but my kitchen is a wreck. Because I'm blogging instead of cleaning. I'm also still in pajamas... Did I mention I heart Fall Break? 

Apple Crunch Muffins

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1/2 cup milk
1 cup tart apple (Apples need to be washed and cored. Shred the unpeeled apples for recipe.)
Nut crunch topping

1.  Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and cinnamon into mixing bowl.
2.  Cut in shortening with pastry blender until fine crumbs form.
3.  Combine egg and milk.
4.  Add to dry ingredients all at once, stirring just enough to moisten.
5.  Stir in apples.
6.  Spoon batter into greased muffin-pan cups, filling 2/3 full.
7.  Sprinkle with nut crunch topping.
8.  Bake in 375 degree oven 15 minutes or until golden brown.
9.  Serve hot 

NUT CRUNCH TOPPING: Mix together 1/4 c brown sugar, 1/4 c chopped pecans or almonds and 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon in small bowl.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Double Chocolate Banana Muffins

Muffin Saturday Mornings are still going strong in my home... See original post here. Double chocolate banana muffins are hands down our favorite. These beauties are the bomb. No, really. They are calorie bombs... nothing remotely healthy here. It's a glorified cupcake for breakfast. Don't let the banana and lack of frosting fool you. If you're not afraid of a little splurge, pin this recipe. You'll thank me. Hopefully.

1 1/2 cups flour
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups mashed ripe bananas
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 egg
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips

In a large bowl, combine the first six ingredients. In a small bowl, combine bananas, oil and egg. Stir into dry ingredients just until moistened. Fold in chocolate chips. Fill greased muffin cups two thirds full. Bake at 350° F for 20-25 minutes or until muffins test done. Makes 18 muffins.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Sweet & Sour Chicken with Ham Fried Rice

Let me introduce my favorite homemade meal of all time: (Ok, one of my favorites. I have a LOT of favorites.) Sweet & Sour Chicken with Ham Fried Rice... It brings me joy. I personally like this recipe a lot more than it's take out counterpart. I'm not gonna lie, the time it takes to prepare is slightly daunting (90 minutes give or take), but soooo worth it. If you're up for a rewarding evening of cooking and eating, give this baby a try! 

Sweet & Sour Chicken (recipe from my super chef sis-in-law, Heidi Humphries)

2-3 chicken breasts cut into one inch cubes or strips
3/4 cup flour mixed with 3/4 cup cornstarch in a large Ziploc bag
4 - 5 eggs, beaten well in a large bowl
Canola oil for frying
Sweet and Sour sauce (below)

Add the cut up chicken to the flour mixture and toss to coat. Heat the oil until a small test piece of chicken immediately bubbles. Set up an assembly line: bag of chicken, bowl of egg, frying oil. Cook the chicken in batches by dipping each piece of chicken in egg and frying until golden and cooked most of the way through. Drain on paper towels and place in a 9 x 13 pan in a single layer but slightly overlapped. Pour the sweet and sour sauce over chicken and bake in a 375 degree oven until bubbly, about 35 - 45 minutes. If you have a ton of meat, you may choose to double the sauce (I like to have extra sauce, so I always double it). It won't really change anything but the cooking time because it may take longer to get all bubbly.  

Sweet and Sour sauce

3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup vinegar (apple cider is best...white is much too strong)
1/4 cup chicken broth
3 Tbsp. ketchup
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
1 - 2 Tbsp. cornstarch, mixed with water

Combine everything but cornstarch in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-high heat until it just starts to boil. Add cornstarch mixture a little at a time and cook until thickened to gravy consistency. 

Ham Fried Rice

4 Tbsp. butter 
Ham, about 3/4 cup finely diced (or more if you like) 
Cold rice, about 3 - 4 cups
Garlic powder 
Onion powder
Salt and pepper
Soy sauce
3 - 4 eggs, beaten with a little water

Melt the butter in a large pot. Sauté the ham over medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the rice and if it looks dry you can add a little more butter. Sprinkle with garlic powder, onion powder, salt and pepper and stir really well. Pour in soy sauce a little at a time until it starts to look like restaurant fried rice, kind of golden. (Taste as you go... you want to make sure you don't add too much.) In a separate pan cook up the eggs until they are mostly scrambled, but runny. Add them to the rice and stir gently. Let it all sauté for a few more minutes until the egg is cooked.