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From Mess Hall to Bistro

Trying to keep my sanity in tact, while keeping bellies full

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

October Unprocessed Challenge

While perusing the interwebs a couple of weeks ago, I stumbled upon a challenge for the month of October. Unprocessed October

October Unprocessed 2014

At first, I didn't think it would be that much of a challenge since we do a lot of cooking at home and don't buy a whole lot of packaged foods. So I read their definition of "unprocessed" and signed up. Basically, if you can make it in your own kitchen with whole food, readily available ingredients, then it's unprocessed. (Not that you have to make it yourself, but the fact that you could). With that being said, we are allowing some exceptions.

1. Milk. Regular pasteurized milk and milk products. I don't buy into his organic, grass fed, raw milk thinking. I'm happy for him that he has that choice, but it's not going to happen in our house!

2. Sugar. But, I do plan on reducing sugar as much as possible, and substituting honey or sorghum syrup where I can. But there are some things that just really have to have the sugar.

3. White flour. But, I plan to be at least 75% whole wheat flour.

4. Rice and other grains. I'm pushing for as unprocessed as possible, but I'm not going to be super picky.

5. Chocolate. I'm avoiding all sweetened chocolate, but cocoa is going to be ok.

 Then I started thinking about things I was going to have to fully give up.

1. My beloved Starbucks. It's fall, which means my two favorites are on the menu again-Pumpkin Spice Latte and Salted Caramel Mocha. I know I could make my own PSL-I've seen the pins on Pinterest. But, it's not the same. I've tried it and was horribly disappointed. On the bright side, I'll be saving $5 a day!

2. Cheerios. It's my favorite cereal-just the plain Cheerios. I eat breakfast every morning and I usually try to switch things up and rotate in some oatmeal or leftover french toast or muffins from the weekend, but it looks like the month of October is going to be cereal free.

3. Kraft Mac and Cheese. Yes, the powdered cheese-ish stuff. It's one of my guilty pleasures, especially with some hot dogs added in. I know I could buy some all natural version of it, but it wouldn't be the same without all the artificial dyes and flavors.

4. Caramel Machiatto Coffee Mate-I guess I will have to switch to the Natural Bliss line again. Although, I'm not 100% sure what they mean by "Natural Flavors" listed in the ingredients. For my sanity, we're going to say the natural bliss line counts.

5. Green Box Pasta. That's not the actual name of it. It's one of the Pasta Roni varieties. I think it's angel hair pasta with herbs-but it comes in a green box, so we just call it green box pasta. Whatever it is, it's delicious. I think the kids may be more disappointed than me on this one though.


I'm sure I'll stumble across more processed foods throughout the month that I won't want to give up, but that's what makes it a challenge, right?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Menu Planning

A few weeks ago, we decided to try to plan our dinners in advance. It seems like everything went crazy around the end of summer and I needed some help!

In June, my husband got custody of his son, which means we have a 16 year old living with us full time, instead of just weekends. In July, I started a new job. In August said 16 year old started his sophomore year of high school and joined FFA. In September, drivers' ed started. Life has just been crazy and honestly, the simple task of deciding what was for dinner was the tipping point. So, my step son and I decided to sit down and create a few weeks worth of menus. One of his weekly chores is cooking dinner one night a week. I let him pick what he cooks, but that's just me transferring that decision on him. It's not any easier for him to decide. With our meals planned in advance, neither of us has to deal with that decision on a daily basis and we have less food waste.

Coming up on week 5, we have learned some lessons. For the most part, it has worked out well. We have had a couple of substitutions and one night where we scrapped it all together and picked up take out. But we had some successes as well. Our best week was the week of Labor Day.

Monday: Chicken wings, potato skins with bacon, green onions, and cheese, broccoli
Leftovers saved: inside of potatoes, bacon crumbles, green onions
Tuesday: Loaded potato soup (using the scooped out insides of the potato skins and the bacon crumbles)
Wednesday: Chicken leg quarters, steamed carrots, egg noodles
Leftovers saved: Chicken, carrots
Thursday: Roasted Turkey Thighs, corn on the cob, green beans
Leftovers saved: Turkey, corn, green beans
Friday: Chicken/Turkey Pot Pie using the leftover chicken, turkey, carrots, green beans and corn

This worked for us because it was a very simple grocery list and ingredients were used in multiple meals. It also allowed us to re-purpose leftovers and make them more interesting.

Other weeks were less successful, but this was a learning experience for us and now we're looking at planning the next six weeks. I'm also going to teach my stepson the miracles of the crock pot! I see meals of beef roasts in our future, and using leftovers for Beef Manhattans the next day.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Garden 2014

Now that this year's garden is wrapping up, I can look back on the good and the bad from this year.

We really expanded our growing area this year, easily doubling what we've done in the past.

Things really took off and we had lots of veggies!


As it turns out, my husband really likes fresh peas! 


And even though I swore I would keep up on the weeds this year, I didn't. 


We still got a good harvest and learned that carrots are not one of our favorite things to dig up. 


I canned, froze and dehydrated a lot! I also picked up new recipes along the way.


I already miss the flourishing garden, but I'm ready to start planning for next year!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Chicken Math is Real

Shortly after we moved last year, we decided to get chickens. We started out with five and a small coop. I had heard about this theory of "Chicken Math" that basically says you may think you're going to only have 5, then it becomes a little bit of an obsession and next thing you know, you have 20 running around, but I didn't really buy into it. I mean, why would I need more than 5 chickens?

I don't know if it's the fresh eggs or the hours of joy watching them run around, but somehow, chickens seem to just appear. Usually at our house, this happens during an innocent trip to Rural King. We go to buy feed, or fencing, or a new pair of boots, and we end up leaving with chicks because someone (usually me) decides life just can't go on without 5 more baby chicks in our flock, or our flock isn't complete without buff orpingtons, and sometimes, you get this crazy idea that it would be good to learn how to raise and butcher some cornish crosses.

We've learned a lot this past year and a half. Like some birds are attention hogs and like to photo-bomb their coop mates.

 And sometimes the antics of said photo bomber confuse the autofocus on your camera

And even though you envision all of the chickens happily frolicking around, there's always one group that refuses to play along.


Then you find yourself building a chicken mansion and you finally accept that Chicken Math is real




Then you look around and realize the original run intended for just a handful of chickens isn't big enough anymore.


So you take down the fences and decide to give them the entire backyard.


And you wonder how life was ever complete without this view from your dining room window!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Growing Potatoes 2 Ways

Second post this week! Small victories make me happy.

Monday, I posted my Loaded Potato Soup recipe. I mentioned we grew about 50 lbs of potatoes this year, but I didn't tell you how we grew them. Some time over the winter, I saw a Pinterest board about growing potatoes. There was a pin about growing them in feed sacks. I thought it was genius! No more digging and digging-just cut the bag open and potatoes would fall all around me! It was a grand vision. I had high hopes.

So when we began our garden we decided we would plant some in feed sacks and the rest in the ground. Both groups were hilled up as the foliage grew, and both were watered regularly. I poked small holes in the feed sacks to ensure good drainage. The feed sacks were unrolled as the plants grew. By late summer, I was sure we were going to have hundreds of pounds of potatoes.

Mid season potato growth

When we finally opened the sacks, I was so disappointed to find only 2 or 3 potatoes per sack. We grew three varieties-purple, red and fingerling. There was no difference in the type of plant-each produced about the same amount. The plants put all of their energy into growing upwards. But, our potatoes in the ground went crazy! We were digging up potatoes for what seemed like hours! It took me about 2 hours to get them all cleaned and ready to be stored in the basement.

Washing potatoes is one of the most boring tasks. I should have pawned this off on one of the kids. 

I'm not sure what went wrong with the feed sack method. It's possible I didn't really read the directions on the post the image was pinned from. I've done that before, with disastrous results. Has anyone had success with this method? Any suggestions on how I could improve that method?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Loaded Potato Soup

It's been a while since I've paid this blog any attention. Ok, a while may be an understatement. I've had thoughts about a great revival, with a promise to myself to actually take the time to write a couple of posts a week. But, those were short lived. It's taken a back seat to other import things in my life, like the garden, chickens, turkeys, ducks, Netflix....

Being realistic about my latest Netflix obsession, Grey's Anatomy (I know, I'm way late on that train), I figure I can squeeze in a few posts here and there. And honestly, I kind of use this blog as my own recipe book. Many times I've made a dish and thought about blogging about it because it was so tasty, but then I don't because we bring home baby ducks, or peas need to be picked from the garden, or season 2 of Orange is the New Black is released. And then six months later, I can't remember how I made it and I'm full of regret. So for now, I'm going to make an effort to push out at least one post a week, but no promises!

We had a decent potato harvest this year (more on that later), so I've been digging into lots of potato recipes. Surprisingly, Loaded Potato Soup has been the favorite of my husband and stepson. They're not really "soup guys", but they liked this a lot and it's very filling. I will definitely make it again this winter!

Red and purple potatoes 

Loaded Potato Soup

3 T butter
3 T + 1 t Flour
2 T green onions, sliced thin
1 T dried dill
½ lb ham cubes
4 ½  cups milk
½ lb bacon ends, or thick slice bacon cut into pieces
1 ½  c shredded cheese (I used Colby jack)
1 T dried parsley
1 lb to 1 ½ lb peeled and cooked potatoes (I made potato skins the night before, so I had scooped out the insides and saved those for the soup)
Salt and Pepper


Saute 1 T green onions in butter until they are soft (just a minute or so). Add in flour and cook on low until it forms a thick paste and slightly browns. While that is going, cook the bacon in a separate pan. When the flour/butter/onion mixture is slightly brown, add in the milk all at once and stir well to break up the clumps and add in the cooked potatoes. When the milk starts steaming, add in the ham, dill, parsley, salt and pepper. Simmer on low until it starts to thicken. When it starts to thicken, add in ½ of the bacon and 1 c of the cheese. Stir well and continue to simmer until thickened. Serve with remaining bacon, cheese and green onions. I probably would have liked it better without the ham, but everyone else wanted it. If I left out the ham, I would add in some chicken stock and reduce the amount of milk-maybe ½ c-and I would add the chicken stock to the browned flour/butter mixture before adding the milk. 



We ended up with around 50 lbs of potatoes, so I imagine we'll be checking out some other potato recipes this fall and winter. Any suggestions? 

Friday, February 28, 2014

Freezing Eggs

I was trying to come up with a title for this post, but every time I typed something related to freezing eggs, I just knew that most people that search for "freezing eggs" would be looking for something quite different! So just in case there's any confusion, this post is about chicken eggs.

During the summer, we routinely had an abundance of eggs. Usually we when have extras, I sell them. But I knew that going into the winter, the eggs would slow down. I didn't want to have to buy eggs all winter, so we froze some of our extras.



The first thing to do is to separate the eggs. These small containers are the perfect size. 



Each container was labeled with the contents and the date. For the yolks, I used a fork to break each one, but did not stir them. For the whites, I tapped the container on counter a few times to release any air bubbles. Then into the freezer! 



To thaw the eggs, I put them in the refrigerator over night (when I actually thought ahead!) and when I needed them sooner, I submerged the container in cool water for an hour or so. The egg whites thaw out and return to their fresh state. The yolks really thicken up after they've been frozen, so it takes a little more work to incorporate them. I've used the whites to make angel food cake and the yolks to make ice cream. I also mixed the white and yolks and made omelets. Since the yolks really have to be whipped into the whites, the omelets turned out so fluffy and delicious!

The hens continued to lay all winter, but at a much slower pace. I could supplement the fresh eggs with my freezer stash and we didn't have to buy eggs all winter! Their production has picked back up just in time. We just finished off the last of the frozen eggs.
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