Chocolate Avocado Muffins

No Butter? No Problem!

I tried a recipe promising yummy muffins replacing the fat in a muffin recipe with avocado. The result was a little strange. So I decided to use my go to muffin recipe and make my own avocado muffin experiment. 4 mini muffins later, I decided that my second attempt was quite successful.

Ingredients

  • 1 avocado
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup vanilla yogurt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup ground flaxseed
  • 1/4 cup cocoa powder
  • 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking power
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup chocolate chips

Directions

  • Beat the avocado in mixer to mash, then add wet ingredients and mix well. Add dry ingredients and mix until blended (do not mix too much, just until blended thoroughly). Add chocolate chips.
  • Spray or line muffin tins, fill 3/4 full. We made 24 mini muffins.
  • Make 18-20 minutes at 350 degrees.

Overcoming Pie Crust

Chicken Pot Pie Success!

I have always been terrible at making pie crusts. I usually end up with a very ugly, dry, but holding the contents of my pie together. This past Thanksgiving I even bought pie crust and ended up with a mess.

My grandma loves chicken pot pies so I set out on a mission this week to conquer my nemesis. I’ll admit, I didn’t have great expectations.

The dreaded pie crust… I don’t know if it was my newfound recipe or God feeling bad for me, but here are my tips.

  1. Start your day by making the pie crusts. Then move onto the pot pie filling
  2. Don’t skip the shortening.
  3. Make one of your pie crust rounds slightly larger and use this as the bottom crust.
  4. Freeze your wrapped pie crust rounds if you only have 30 minutes, otherwise refrigerate for 2 hours.
  5. As you are placing your bottom crust into your pie plate, push the dough gently down towards the bottom. This will help keep your crust from shrinking.
  6. When you are sealing your top and bottom crusts, instead of trimming off all the excess, fold it under to make an extra thick edge. This will help the fluting hold its shape and minimize shrinking/filling spillage.
INGREDIENTS
  • 2  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening or lard
  • 1/2 cup cold butter
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 cup ice water
  • 1 tablespoon vinegar
  1. Whisk together the flour, salt and sugar in a medium bowl. With a pastry cutter, cut the shortening and butter into the flour mixture until the mixture resembles coarse meal, with pea sized pieces of butter.
  2. Lightly beat the egg, then add it to the water and vinegar. Add the water to the dry ingredients and mix just until the dough comes together. If too sticky, add flour by the Tablespoon. Divide in half, then form into 2 discs. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze until cold.

Chicken Pot Pie Recipe

I decided to go with pre-cooked rotisserie chicken for my filling to make life a bit simpler.

Ingredients
  • 2 cups cooked, chunked chicken
  • 1/3 cup butter
  • 1/2 cup celery, diced
  • 1/3 cup onion, diced
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 3/4 cup chicken stock
  • 1 cup milk
  • 12 ounces frozen peas and carrots 
  • 2 9 inch unbaked pie crusts
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F.

  2.  Add onions, celery and butter to the saucepan and cook for a few minutes, until soft and translucent. Stir in the flour, salt, pepper and garlic powder.

  3. Slowly stir in the chicken stock and milk. Simmer over medium-low heat until thick.

  4. Add the chicken to the pot along with the frozen vegetables. Taste and season with more salt, pepper, or garlic powder if needed. **Note, your roux or cream sauce will be quite salty on its own. Once you add the veggies and chicken, this will mellow out the salt.

  5. Roll out bottom (larger) pie crust round to a least 12″ for a 9″ pie plate. Fold in half, then in half again and transfer to pie plate. Unfold to cover plate and gently press the pie crust dough toward the bottom of the plate. Pour mixture into bottom pie crust. Cover with top crust, seal edges, and cut away excess dough. Make a few small slits in the top crust to allow steam to escape.

  6. Bake for 30- 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown and filling is bubbly. Cover the edges of the pie crust with tin foil too prevent over browning.

  7. Cool for at least 15-20 minutes before serving to allow your filling to set up.

If you are still reading – IT WORKED! I made pie crust and a delicious pot pie. I am so proud and everyone loved it. I will definitely make this again, but we will see if I am brave enough to tackle my pie love – French Silk Pie.

Soy Sauce Anyone?

When Takeout Isn’t an Option

I love Chinese takeout, but there isn’t a great option near me. So, I make my own! Or as best as this American with a Scandinavian heritage can muster. I prefer Jasmine rice for the base of my dishes and here is a secret – add extra water. To achiever fluffier rice I add around 1/2 cup extra water or 1 part rice to 2 parts water. The next key is that when the rice is still wet, but just starts to stick to the bottom of the pan TURN OFF THE HEAT and put on the lid. This allows the rice to absorb the extra water without half of your rice sticking to the bottom of the pan. Give it a fluff after 5-10 minutes and you will have achieved fluffy rice.

Mongolian beef is one of my favorite dishes, but making it at home takes some time. Last night I opted for Korean Beef that utilized ground beef vs steak slices. It was easy, fast and delicious.

Korean Beef Recipe

Ingredients
  • 1 pound lean ground beef
  • ⅓ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp. sesame oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1 bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 bunch green onions, thinly sliced
  1. Whisk together brown sugar, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic, and ground ginger in a small bowl. Set aside.
  2.  In a large skillet over medium-high heat, brown and crumble the lean ground beef until no longer pink. Drain if necessary. Add diced bell pepper and saute for 2-3 minutes. Stir in soy sauce mixture, allowing to simmer until most of the liquid has reduced, stirring frequently, about 5 minutes.
  3. Serve immediately over steamed rice. Top with thinly sliced green onions.

Honey Garlic Chicken With Broccoli

Tonight I still had Asian cuisine on the brain so we went for a honey garlic chicken with roasted broccoli over rice. I prefer roasted vegetables, so I start by chopping my head of broccoli into bite size pieces and toss them in olive oil, salt and pepper. I place the broccoli on a rimmed baking sheet and set it aside while I work on my chicken. Before we dive in on the steps, here is what you need.

  • 1-2 tablespoons oil
  • 2 cups broccoli florets (or 1 head)
  • 1 lb boneless skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic minced
  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1/4 cup chicken broth or water
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons cornstarch
  • 1 egg, stirred
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Prep your sauce by mixing the soy sauce, broth, honey and garlic. Microwave for 30 seconds, then stir. Set aside.
  2. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  3. Next heat 1-2 Tablespoons of oil in your pan, enough to coat the bottom, medium heat should be plenty to warm things up. I like to use sunflower oil as it is good for high heat.
  4. Once my chicken is cut into bite size pieces, I toss it in the cornstarch. Then I add my egg and make sure all the pieces are coated. With the oil hot, place the chicken pieces in the pan. I usually do this in two rounds so as not to overcrowd the pan. You want the pieces to be lightly brown on each side, then transfer them to an oven safe baking dish. It’s ok if they are not cooked through.
  5. When all of your chicken has been sauted, pour the sauce over your chicken. Give it a good stir, then put your chicken and pan of broccoli in the oven for 30 minutes.
  6. While your oven is going, make the rice.
  7. After 30 minutes, mix your chicken and broccoli. Serve over rice.

 

Chowder Recipe and Tips

Corn Potato Ham Chowder – Let’s Get Cooking!

Earlier this week I posted a video on Instagram (@lifeinreview) of me prepping veggies for a variety of meals. So far we’ve had tortilla soup and corn chowder, yum! I’ll be honest I completely winged the tortilla soup. I used shredded carrots and diced onions and celery as the base for both soups. I still had leftover pork shoulder from last week’s slow cooker meal prep recipe so I used that instead of chicken. I also used a seasoning pouch that I had from Frontera. The great thing about soups is their flexibility.

One of my favorite tortilla soup recipes is by the lovely Pioneer Woman. You can check it out here: https://thepioneerwoman.com/cooking/chicken-tortilla-soup/

Ok, onto the corn chowder! I love the Simple Truth line of products at Kroger. Not all are organic, but they all are natural/limited ingredient. I recently stumbled across cooked, uncured ham which is perfect for making chowder. I can’t eat nitrates, and they really aren’t good for you, so I was super excited to find uncured, nitrate free ham! With the veggies pre-sliced, a frozen package of corn and the packaged ham, all I had left was to dice up my organic gold potatoes. Gold potatoes cook faster than Russet and you don’t have to peel the skin off, both of which are great time savers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the chowder I based by meal off of: https://www.cookingclassy.com/creamy-ham-potato-corn-chowder/

I didn’t feel the need to add the heavy cream or sour cream at the end as my roux made the chowder plenty thick. I did add a little cheese and green onions to the top. Mmmmmm.

Hope you all are staying warm! Now go make some soup.

Life & Cinnamon Bread

When things get hard, make something beautiful.

2019 started off with unexpected medical diagnoses for my family. When you are facing something that you can’t change or overcome it is hard to process. I decided to take my grief and turn it into creativity. Bread making is definitely not my strength, but an art I look forward to learning more about. The patience involved is often rewarded with a light, airy and intricately crafted treat that can only be achieved with time. Cinnamon wrapped in layers of soft bread was the goal.

I started with a basic dough and let it slowly rise in my garage, which has been much like a refrigerator these days. Once the dough had warmed up a bit on the kitchen counter, my munchkin helped me roll out the soft dough and then cover it with softened butter, cinnamon and sugar. After carefully rolling into a log, we sliced perfect little spirals and then gently placed them into two loaf pans. There were about 3″ of snow outside beckoning an ever adventurous child, so we briefly warmed the oven and let the dough in the loaf pans rise while we played outside.

Once our noses were thoroughly frozen and our bums were wet from snow angels, we baked the bread.  The smell of cinnamon wafting through the house was tantalizing. After the agonizing wait for the bread to cool we finished one loaf with cream cheese frosting.

Rustic, simple, delicious.

 

Meal Prep Round 1

Slow Cooker Pork, Squash Bread and Brussel Sprouts

Inspired by the book Whole30 Slow Cooker by Melissa Hartwig, two other moms joined me in a day of prepping 4 meals. Each of these we bagged and froze.

The first meal was pork with butternut squash. Everything from the recipe went in a gallon size plastic bag and then into the freezer. I put the contents of the bag into my slow cooker frozen. I cooked it three hours on high and three hours on low, the time will need to be adjusted based on the size of your pork. A meat thermometer is a great tool for gauging the doneness of meat.

  • 2-3 lbs pork shoulder
  • 2 bags frozen, cubed butternut squash
  • 1/3 cup diced onion
  • 1/2 cup apple cider (or juice)
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp dried thyme

Once cooked, I removed the butternut squash from the slow cooker (I used a slotted spoon to leave the liquid). I then used the butternut squash to make “corn” bread.

Butternut Squash Cornbread Recipe

I used the liquid in my slow cooker to make gravy.

Pork Roast Gravy

I also decided to make roasted brussel sprouts (I quarter mine for faster cooking) and tossed them in balsamic vinegar.

Yum!!!

 

Southwest Airlines Companion Pass Travel Update

It’s been quite a summer of adventure and the travel isn’t over yet! To date, I’ve used the Southwest Companion Pass to take myself and my hubby to Jamaica, Manhattan/Queens, and Southern California. To my friends who let us crash at your places, thank you! Friends make traveling so much more affordable and it’s great for catch up too.

Our Jamaica trip was covered with Southwest points for the flights and Hyatt points for our amazing all inclusive four night stay. The next big adventure on our horizon is Arizona. We plan to check out Phoenix, Sedona, the Grand Canyon and possibly Scottsdale. The points I earned with Hilton, I had originally planned to used for our staying in NYC. However, being Memorial Day weekend I was having a hard time finding a hotel for a low enough amount of points and then my friend so graciously allowed us to crash on her sleeper sofa. (Did you know you can buy inflatable mattresses for sleeper sofas? They are very comfortable.)

TRAVEL FACT – If you are planning a hotel stay with points, look at the dates immediately following a holiday like Memorial Day or Labor Day. If you plan you trip on the weekdays following a major holiday, chances are you will be able to snag a really good deal on a hotel. Most every major hotel chain has a flexible date option on their website that you can use to find the cheapest days to stay.

So, with the Hilton points I ended up not using in NYC, I have been able to put them towards a stay at a Hilton resort in Sedona for two nights. You definitely don’t get as much bang for your point with Hilton vs Hyatt. Hilton is also managed by American Express. Having dealt with Amex and Chase, I really don’t care for Amex. There are a lot of sneaky details aimed at costing you fees, so make sure you read the fine print if you decide to earn points with Hilton.

One perk of Hilton Rewards is car rental discounts. You can use the Hilton Honors Rewards site to book a car with Alamo, National or Enterprise. During our recent trip to California, I was able to book a car for half the cost of any other competitor’s website.

Back to Arizona… We plan to stay a total of 5 nights in Arizona, two at the Hilton in Sedona and the other three at Holiday Inn hotels, or the IHG group. Currently IHG is offering 80,000 points if you spend $2,000 in the first three months. This is a fantastic deal and they are managed by Chase! I love that most of these hotel and airline miles are managed by Chase. It makes it super simple to login and manage all my accounts.

There is a Holiday Inn located inside the Grand Canyon National Park on the Southern Rim. Southern Rim accommodations are minimal, with most chain hotel options located in Flagstaff. Flagstaff is a little over an hour away from the Grand Canyon, so staying in the park saves a good bit of commuting time. However, with the limited accommodation options, this Holiday Inn cost 40,000 points per night. This high toll means that we will be spending our other two nights near the airport, so as to have enough points to cover all of our nights.

In addition to using Southwest points to purchase flights, you can also use them towards gift cards (and Le Creuset, but that is a different story). Even though using the points strictly for flights is the best deal dollar wise, we decided to use 20,000 points to cover the cost of our rental car for our trip to Arizona. Aside from gas, $24 in airline taxes, a $20 resort fee in Sedona and food, our trip will be essentially free!

The travel we have done this year would have not been possible without the Companion Pass, a whole lot of earned travel miles and some friends. Just to refresh on the Companion Pass, I started earning my Companion Pass in January of 2017. It took six months to earn, which left me with 1 year and six months to travel. The Companion Pass will expire on December 31, 2018. If I still have Southwest points, I will keep those but will lose the ability to have someone fly with me for free (you can change the person up to three times).

I have really enjoyed traveling with Southwest Airlines. Having done quite a bit of traveling in my teenage years, I didn’t have the highest opinion of Southwest Airlines. However, they have really stepped up their game and offer not only low prices, but free checked bags. More often than not I have been able to get A or early B boarding when checking in on the Southwest App and my hubby and I have been able to sit in the exit row on our flights, which is great for us as a 6 foot tall couple.

More travel details and tips to come. Stay tuned!

Jeans are Not a Mom’s Best Friend

I assume that most everyone is familiar with mom jeans and it’s typical stigma. However, since becoming a mom I have a new appreciation for the reasoning behind such a high waist. Personally, I can’t stand to wear something with such a high waist but with all of the stooping, bending, toy gathering and child lifting that I conduct on a daily basis, I get it. Mom jeans are more about functionality than style. You just need the dumb things to stay up. I only wear jeans when absolutely necessary, most typically when going outside of the house to an establishment where there are a majority of non-moms. As soon as I make it back inside the walls of my own home, I toss my jeans aside and grab a pair of pants classified in the category of active, lounge or stretchy wonderfulness. Not only do they stay up and go on easily, they move and contort into whatever angles I need to contort into in order to save the minuscule toy pieces from the robot vacuum.

Now, let me specify these are not leggings. Leggings have three purposes:

1. Outfit completion/modesty while wearing dresses and tunics.

Toddlers think anything mom wears below the waist makes for a great hiding spot/tent/dark cave, you get the idea. Also as previously mentioned, there is a lot of bending that happens as a mom.

2. Husband attraction.

Maintaining a house, avoiding complete child chaos and serving as garbage disposal to avoid waisting food from the already limited grocery budget is stressful. For moms, leggings gives us some inner sass, but it’s really all about that bass.

3. The gym. You know who you are and you don’t have young kids.

Being rather tall for my gender, the extra 3” of fabric I require makes jeans very expensive and difficult to find. Neither of these attributes are mom friendly. Being in the child bearing years also means that my body is continually changing sizes. Talk about a self esteem booster. I despise all of my pairs of jeans. So to the mom who is reading this and contemplating going to the grocery store in stretchy pants, I feel you. I’ve been there. I’ve gone there.

Summer has its fashion conundrums and aside from my incredibly pale skin and cellulite, I can’t wait for warm enough weather to wear shorts, dresses and when you just need a judgement free zone – maxi skirts. Now if I could only find a pair of universally applicable, comfortable, and super cute shoes.

Humbled and Emboldened

I recently spent an evening discussing the impact of becoming a parent. My fellow mom quickly agreed that it is an overall humbling experience. When your life transitions to sacrifice 100% of the time and you are left with barely enough time to shower, let alone think, you quickly die to self out of pure necessity. Interestingly, for dads, the experience is much different. The consensus was more of an emboldening and confidence building. If I can survive my kid, I can survive yours and just about anything else. Us moms were amused, but it did provide some interesting perspective on the roles that life throws at us as parents.

When the first two years have finally been surpassed and your child makes the transition from dependent to independent, all hell brakes lose. What was once a world revolving around them has now become a world where they must participate and contribute. This is also quite an awakening for parents. No longer are you keeping the kid alive, you have to quickly adapt to enforcing, instructing, encouraging and developing your little hellion into a well rounded future adult. Finding the balance between helping them pursue their natural born talents and providing guidelines for unacceptable behavior is a constant war that you are mostly winging.

In our house, dad gets the short of the end of the stick most of the time. He comes home from work to what can only be described as organized chaos and is thrown into a world that really only makes sense to mom. Perhaps this will be the season of humbling for dad and the season of exhausted, pillow screaming, emboldening for mom. As a toddler mom, my mind is repeatedly saying:

  • I CAN survive this day
  • I WILL help you become a better person
  • You are WORTH all the difficult, crazy moments

Having strength and patience on a constantly changing battlefield is both humbling and emboldening. Thank goodness for grandmas, Netflix, weekends and guilty pleasures. James 1:2-4 reminds us:

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

I take comfort knowing that these trials of parenthood will help me grow and by rearing and refining my little one, she will become strong and steadfast.

The City That Never Sleeps – A Weekend Getaway for $300

Our next trip deal is NYC!

As far a cities go, I love NYC. It is unlike any other city in the world and I have been to a few. I’m really not a city girl, but it is a great city for a weekend getaway. With my Southwest Airline companion pass in my back pocket and around 100,000 points in hand, booking two flights was not too painful at 28,000 points. In dollars, this is around $380 per person.

Hilton is our aim for hotel accommodations. They currently have a credit card offering 50,000 bonus points when we spend $1,000 in 3 months. With points transferrable between Hilton members, 2 credit cards totaling 100,000 points should be enough for two nights in Manhattan. Expensive, yes. However, this is a savings of roughly $200 per night.

To pay for everything out of pocket, we are at $1,160 just for flights and accommodations. Huge savings for this one income family.

Once there we plan to use Uber for our airport transportation, which seems to be a little cheaper than the other options. Traveling around the city can be done inexpensively on foot or via Subway. I’ve only gotten turned around once or twice, but seem to always find a nice security guard to point me in the right direction. I’m also aiming to stay southeast of Times Square, which should be a central location for hitting up my favorite spots and introducing my hubby to the city.

Having spent time in Manhattan before, it is fun to see all the sights and do all the tourist things. Yet, it can be easy to miss a city when you are busy running around trying to make tours and see all the top spots. Mixing it up and picking one or two highlights, especially with weekend getaways, helps you embrace the place you are visiting instead of passing it by in a taxi. I’m looking forward to enjoying the food and the city itself. The people, the architecture, the vibe…

The flights cost $11 in taxes each. Transportation and food are going to be our highest expenses, along with one museum stop. My goal is $300 for the weekend. I’ll update you after our trip!