Recipe Roundup: Festivities, December 2017

December sort of escaped me, and I confess I didn't make as many new dishes as I was hoping to. Things like gift shopping, wanting to loaf around, traveling to see family, and rock climbing kept me from routines and healthy meals.

But as I've been told, it's best to regret nothing. A good way to start out the New Year, eh?

Christmas always seems to take it's time coming, and then disappears in a flash, leaving me staring rather nervously at the New Year's date, wondering how another year is slipping from my hands. The amazing thing is, Christmas is not limited to a day or even a few weeks of anticipation. It is held in God's eternal love for us, and our constant anticipation of His coming back to earth.

What parts of Christmas are your favorite? Which ones can you keep holding on to throughout the new year? Maybe keeping in touch with family more or making cookies and giving them to neighbors or sending little gifts just because. These things don't have to have Christmas trees stamped on them to be important.

Without further ado, here is the scant handful recipes I tried last month that managed to turn out right. I hope you enjoy them! (Sorry for the lack of photos...)

Crustless Taco Pie - this low-carb dinner option is easy, filling, and can be personalized by serving it with any number of your favorite toppings.

  • To make this meal a bit more budget-friendly, I used half the amount of ground beef, subbing in a similar amount of beans.
  • Make your own taco seasoning (recipe here). I make a double or triple batch and keep the extra in my cupboard.
  • Go wild with the toppings! We chose lettuce, avocado, tomatoes, more salsa, and a side of rice (though that does take away the low-carb-ness of the recipe...haha).

Chicken in White Wine Cream Sauce - remember that Beef Bourguignon I made awhile ago? This is another recipe along those same lines. It is rich, decadent, simple, and French. And it involves wine (white instead of red this time) and a long time in the oven. What's not to love?

  • I'd say the most important part of this recipe is the browning. Since everything cooks to perfect tenderness in the sauce, you want to make sure you get a good crispy brown crust on everything before it goes into the oven. DO NOT BE AFRAID OF THE BROWNING. I got impatient and nervous; this took away that deep golden color and flavorful fried skin. Crisp up that bacon real good. Fry those chicken sides nice and hot.
  • Don't rush the recipe. I did, because there was a hungry toddler whining (my own stomach may have been growling a bit). But as I am learning from the French, good food takes time and everyone needs to learn to wait patiently to achieve this dinner perfection.

Crockpot Pork Carnitas - this is one heck of a crowd-pleaser, fool-proof recipe! Amazingly easy and incredibly yummy. I'll be making it again for sure.

  • Freeze ahead of time. I froze the pork and a halved orange so that I could whip this up anytime I needed an easy dinner.
  • Serve with anything you like - tortillas and salsa, with rice, over noodles, piled high on veggies...this is a really versatile main dish.
  • Seriously. You can't screw this one up. Enjoy!


Light and Rich Mini Fruit Pizzas (GF) - I turned this recipe into some adorable little mini "pizzas" for a Christmas party we went to. They were a perfect treat to follow those rich, heavy holiday feasts; light and fruity, gluten-free and healthy, with a cream cheese frosting that makes them still feel decadent.

  • Definitely go with the mini version! They looked so much more sophisticated and fun than one large pizza shape. A fruit pizza tends to have a rather blah look, even if decorated well. You could use cookie cutters to cut out interesting shapes.
  • The recipe uses the word "blend" instead of "mix" in the instructions for the cookie dough/crust, and I thought that was a bit odd. I mixed the dough by hand and it did not hold together at all. I had a rough time of it cutting out little circles. Use a blender/food processor to get a firmer dough.
  • If your dough still doesn't hold together, maybe use a second egg white. The cookie part had great flavor but stayed rather crumbly.
  • Top with any kind of fruit you would like! I used strawberries, bananas, and blueberries; I meant to add kiwis to keep up a Christmas color scheme, but they weren't ripe enough.
  • After frosting and decorating your pizza/cookies, stick them in the refrigerator for 30+ minutes. This insures that the whole thing will hold it's shape (and that fruit juices won't bleed all over the frosting).


Overnight Whole Wheat Pancakes - last month I tried overnight soaked grains for the first time in the form of these muffins, and they turned out wonderfully! I was surprised that simply soaking wheat flour can turn normally dense baked goods into fluffy masterpieces. This pancake recipe went off without a hitch. Perfect for Sunday morning breakfast with the family.

  • Don't worry about leaving diary products out overnight! I was wary of doing it, but nothing bad happened to me, even after eating several of these. So now I'm a believer.
  • The one oversight in this recipe is the lack of sweetener. I added a little cinnamon sugar to mine, but honey or maple syrup would work, too.
  • Add vanilla.
  • To create a light golden color, fry the pancakes on a little lower heat than normal; they take a few extra minutes to cook through.
And, last but not least: this Korean Roast Chicken.

My husband snagged some secondhand cook books for me (for free!). After spending hours and hours going through Pinterest recipes, flipping through real, tangible cook books has been an absolute joy. You should try it some time.

This particular recipe turned out really yummy, though a little on the salty side because of the soy sauce. It even held it's flavor and texture well as a leftover dish.

Hit me up with some of your favorite recipes from the holidays!

Greater Things Are Yet To Come: The Real Christmas Trees

"The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners,[a]
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
    and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of His splendor.

"Instead of your shame
    you will receive a double portion,
and instead of disgrace
    you will rejoice in your inheritance.
And so you will inherit a double portion in your land,
    and everlasting joy will be yours...

"For as the soil makes the sprout come up
    and a garden causes seeds to grow,
so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness
    and praise spring up before all nations."

Isaiah 61:1-3, 7, 11 (emphasis added)

These verses sprang out at me yesterday, the words practically lunging off the page - just as the Bible says it will, this truth sharper than swords. I was sitting in church. Someone else was reading the words aloud. But I found myself following along eagerly, my finger tracing the lines, my mind racing with the implications.

Here is where life is! Here is the fruit, the plant, the roots, the tree I have been longing to grow!

Our hearts thrill at powerful words, don't they? There's a song that leaves you quivering with excitement and singing along as loudly as you can. There's a rich, important person declaring action, not just dead words. There's a friend who lifts you up with her timely encouragement.

Words are power.

And here, in this Sixty-First chapter of Isaiah, we find such instigating words that Israel was given the encouragement to wait many, many years to see their Messiah become flesh, to see their dreams of redemption come true.

Doesn't it sound like a fairy-tale, almost? Good news that brings joy, healing that takes away our earthly problems, freedom from all our bondage to these tangible things around us, darkness banished, comfort and provision lavished upon us. And in place of these sticky strands, this web of despair that's been tangling us in confusion? We get to be trees of righteousness and praise. Glorious plants that have grown through the darkness and reached new heights in the light of His presence.

Have you ever seen a tree that sort of took your breath away? Maybe it was nearly taller than you could even see, it's trunk wider than your car - the redwood trees in California. Or perhaps it was just so graceful, so attuned to it's natural surroundings, that you wanted to imitate its growth. Or, if you're like me, you saw a rather knobby tree this weekend, its branches lined with warts - places where branches had been severed. And it was beautiful because it continued to grow; continued to make a way towards the light, even though others had cut off its previous attempts, even though rocks were standing tall all around it, blocking its way to the sun. The frame of this tree was all over the place, winding and curving in ways that made no sense at all.

But still it grew.
I have been praying all year that I would bear fruit in Christ. That I would be able to see myself as a tree - one of those pretty ones, covered in pink cherry blossoms or dotted with the golden fruit of peaches. And my mother gave me this quote to hold on to - a piece of driftwood to buoy me up from despair:
"It is said that in some places, the trees do not bear fruit, because there is no winter there." // Unknown //
I have been holding on to that, knowing that winters are about digging deep, finding rest, shifting perspective, going through hard things. But this Sunday I saw a new dimension to this tree metaphor. That maybe this winter-time is not merely for waiting, but also for hoping. For seeing things without my eyes. For noticing the promises that already exist.

The worship band was on fire as they played song after song, ones that I knew well, but somehow had overlooked the meanings before. I had glossed over the lyrics because I thought I already knew those truths.

"For greater things have yet to come,
And greater things are still to be done in this city..."
// God of This City //

And I wondered, standing there in church with Jesus-music blasting around me, Do I believe there are greater things yet to come? Do I believe that there is still more here, in this place, than I am seeing?

I thought of Mary, promised a baby even though she was an absolute virgin. Of the Israelites, promised for years that their Messiah would appear. Of Abraham, told he would be the father of many nations - despite the fact that he didn't have a single kid. So many people wondering, hoping, depending on a story that I'm sure they had doubts about. But Christ came. He showed up. Not late or behind schedule, but precisely on the day that He had set aside to fulfill these promises.

Greater things have yet to come. I had to know where this song was coming from. The Bible verse or story behind the faithful words. So I did what any normal 21st century American does and I googled it. Y'all, you need to read this. It's only a few paragraphs, I promise, but it is worth knowing where this song came from. Chris Tomlin didn't actually write it. But God used him to get this song, these words, out of Ireland and into American culture. Read this real quick or watch the 3-minute video if you like Irish accents *wink.*

I'll wait.

This is the part that spoke power to me:

"We need to understand that we have an authority, that we have an authority that comes from Christ, to see part of Christ from the dead lives in every single one of us. And that we actually need to have an attitude of going out and serving the world with just with love, and actually living out the great connection."

Did you hear that? You have the authority from Christ to love.

You don't have to wait to graduate college or get your PHD. You don't have to be friends with the mayor or have met the President. You don't have to be bilingual or important or rich or famous or strong or perfect or model-gorgeous or prodigy-talented or even the top dog in your group of friends. 

You just have to speak. To love. To allow all that God is pouring in to you to be poured out on other right in front of you.

He has released you from all your bondage (death, darkness, sin) through His death. He showed His deep and sacrificial love to you then - and He is continuing to show it to you now, each day, in a million nuanced ways. If only we will take notice. Soak up His words like sun on our leaves. Drink up His gifts like water in our roots. And grow outward with the authority to love, and give, and serve the fruit that is only just beginning to grow on our limbs.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
    a planting of the Lord
    for the display of His splendor.

You are a tree. Maybe not one that can be seen with eyes of men. And perhaps your fruit has never brought you attention or affirmation or applause. But your tree exists, and it is growing. Your fruit, small as it may be, is an offering of praise to Him. We are the real Christmas trees, planted by His love and cultivated by Christ Himself. How do I know this?

Because of His promises. Because we are all hoping for greater things yet to come. Because we are not merely waiting patiently on the Lord; we are also declaring that He is God now and forevermore. Eternity is today. There is sacred in the ordinary, magic in the mundane. "Jesus didn't just die for our sins; He died for our every day." // That one is courtesy of my husband, wisdom hidden in one of his simple prayers... //

Crockpots and Comfort Foods: Recipe Roundup #2

I accidentally took a hiatus from the blog this past month. Sickness, moving, guests, Thanksgiving vacation, more sickness...it's been full and slow and messy. In the midst of it all, our laptop completely crashed (it's so hard for me to write and create blog posts on my phone). But I am finally back to a semi-routine, sitting with the covers pulled up as some exciting cold weather brews outside, typing away at my new purple laptop that my husband insisted I buy immediately.

I still feel a little guilty about spending the money. But typing feels really nice, so, well, I guess I'll get over it.

This month I tried some fantastic new recipes and was inspired by a lovely new friend to plan out a whole month of meals. This took a tremendous load of cooking stress off of my shoulders! I thought that it would be so much work to do full-fledged meal-planning, but once I buckled down and began scrawling recipes onto the little squares of my calendar, I realized that this plan would be my jam. I am a planner at heart. Lists and calendars are like my friends. Combining that with food (my love language, incidentally) made this mama really happy. Zero percent stressed. I then made up a huge master shopping list and bought almost everything for the month in one grocery trip.

Holy crap that receipt was a little scary. It was a great idea until I got it all home and realized that our freezer is rather inadequate and my pantry space limited. But in the end I made it fit and went most of the month not having to stress about groceries, dinner plans, or if we had the ingredients to make that new recipe on Pinterest.

So here's the tried-and-trues for November 2017!


// MAIN DISHES //



Boeuf Bourguignon - I was inspired by Jen Hatmaker's hilarious reading of her own recipe (check out the audiobook Of Mess and Moxie on Hoopla; you won't be disappointed), and then this idea was reinforced by re-watching Julie & Julia. So I had to try this elegant French take on beef stew. It's not as scary as it sounds. Plus, you get to use an entire bottle of red wine. Feel bold. My family is small, so I was able to freeze half of this for later in the month, and even give some away to a neighbor. (It loses no flavor in the freezer, I promise.)

Check the size of your beef cubes. I made mine a little bit too small, so during the browning process I cooked them almost through, making them a bit tougher when the stew was finished. Luckily the decadent wine sauce made up for it.
Prep beforehand. This isn't a complicated dish, but it does require a decent amount of chopping. Take your time and enjoy it. Maybe crack open the bottle of wine and have a sip before it all disappears in your oven *wink.*
Make this dish a bit healthier. This main course is, as I said, rich & decadent (duh, it's French). Most people serve this with French bread, noodles, or mashed potatoes, but that just piles on the calories. Try mashed cauliflower, a salad, or a side of green beans to make this a bit easier on your stomach.


Crockpot Cheesy Bacon Ranch Chicken - that kind of feels like too many words for a recipe title, but gosh this combination is anything but too much. It is perfect. My parents were here when I made this and they raved about it. It is incredibly easy to make and super tasty.

Add your own flair. I'm not a huge fan of sour cream, so I usually add about half the amount that the recipe says. I also add an extra 1/2 or more packet of ranch dressing mix to bump up the flavor. SO GOOD. Add some of your own favorite ingredients to mix it up.
Frozen chicken works best. Take the chicken breast out of the freezer. Place in crockpot. Done. You don't have to add any water or anything. Just sprinkle the ranch seasoning packet on top and walk away for a few hours.
Make it health-friendly. Again, this is one of those low-carb, high-fat recipes that I make too much of. To keep it on the healthy side, I serve it with salad or roasted broccoli.


Cilantro-Lime Chicken - this recipe seems a little underwhelming when compared to the above recipes, but the flavors can't be beat. It's a perfect cheap main dish that you can pair with rice and/or beans, keeping it totally budget friendly (and might even remind you of the smells of Chipotle).

Cut your chicken breast in half more often. I found that this meal seemed to stretch farther than my other chicken meals do, simply because I cut the chicken to look like more pieces. Definitely need to do this all the time.
It's easy. This recipe is so easy I don't think I have any tips or changes to offer you!


Mini Spaghetti "Nests" - this has been a year of spaghetti squash. It's quite versatile and also gives me a serving of veggies while making me think that I am eating pasta. It deserves a medal. This recipe was quick and easy and I think kiddos would enjoy it as well!

Avoid the dishes. I confess that I didn't wan the hassle of washing a muffin pan, so I put the whole thing in a small casserole dish. It took a little bit longer to bake, but other than that there were no problems.
Tomato sauce. I've found very few pasta sauces that don't have added sugar; I have, however, almost always been able to find a pizza sauce without sugar. And I usually like the stronger flavors better!
Cooking the squash. There are loads of ways to do this - including using a crockpot - but this method avoids making you slice the giant squash open until it's been softened up in the oven. A real blessing for sure.


Crockpot Beans and Rice - cheap. Easy. Filling. Beans and rice are my go-to, and this recipe made that already simple combo even easier to accomplish. I've never liked beans, but if I serve them up right and season them well, I'll eat them. Why? Because they are a good source of protein that doesn't make me cry when I look at the receipt.

Use dried beans. Included in the recipes is a link for how to cook dried beans in a crockpot. This makes things even cheaper and more meal-planner friendly. I cooked up several cups of dried beans in my slow cooker the day before, then froze them in Ziploc bags in 1 1/2 cup portions. Now all I have to do is defrost a bag and add it to taco meat, serve it with fajitas, etc.
Flavor it up. Add lots of spices! This meal is simple - which sometimes can mean boring if you don't do it right. I added taco seasoning instead of just cumin and garlic powder. You could also add things like green peppers or fresh herbs or whatever comes to mind.


Chicken Pot Pie - this is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. The creamy, garlicky filling, the flaky, buttery crust...the veggies simply drowning in all those good flavors. Gah. We just had this for dinner tonight again, so it's all incredibly fresh in my mind. Yum.

Pick your favorite veggies. I subbed canned green beans for the frozen peas. Peas, blech. Yes, I'm still eight years old. I wouldn't suggest leaving out the celery or onion, though, because those create a fuller flavor overall.
Make your own pie crusts. I know this makes things harder, but working with flour and dough and rolling pins is so fun, and completely worth the extra effort. Those refrigerated pie crusts are so tempting (the Pillsbury doughboy wants to be your friend), but the texture and lack of flavor in those bad boys is extremely disappointing. I found an excellent recipe that I've listed below.
Go all in. I added some cream in place of some of the milk, and some leftover turkey gravy from Thanksgiving. These made the pies turn out incredibly rich and tasty.
Fresh is always best. If you're into garlic like I am, use some freshly minced garlic cloves instead of garlic powder. You can thank me later.
FROZEN PIE INSTRUCTIONS: To bake my pie, I used the instructions from a different recipe and it worked like a dream. First, freeze an entire pot pie (crust, filling, topped with a second crust). Then when you're ready to bake it, let it thaw on your counter for 30 min. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Cover lightly with foil and bake for 30 min., then turn down the temperature to 350 and remove the foil. The pie should take a little less than an hour to finish baking properly. The filling will be bubbly and the crust a beautiful golden brown color.


// DESSERTS, BREAKFASTS, and EVERYTHING ELSE //


Puff Pancake (low-carb and THM "S" friendly) - I doubled the recipe and ate this for a week of breakfasts. I bought blackberries on sale at my grocery store and made some low-carb syrup and served it with sausage links. Heaaaaveeeennn. I'm actually getting re-excited about this pancake dish as we speak. Food makes me a little giddy #notashamed

Make low-carb syrup. In this recipe there's a link for her syrup recipe; make it now. It's easy, buttery, and makes you forget that you're missing out on anything. I did add a smidge of real maple syrup to the low-carb syrup, just for flavoring purposes.
Pair it with some good stuff. It is decadent, but not as filling as normal pancakes, so definitely serve this with a second protein source (yogurt, meat, eggs, etc.). To keep this "S" friendly for all you Trim Healthy Mamas, stick with berries if you add fruit.
Stevia. Stevia is so much better for you than all of those other "low-calorie" or "sugar-free" sweeteners because stevia is actually a real plant that grow in the earth. I used stevia in place of the Splenda. I recommend it to everyone!


[Healthy] Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins - I've been looking for a good breakfast muffin recipe for ages, one that is healthy but also cheap. Most gluten-free muffins involve special, expensive flours and sugars and that starts to get on my nerves after awhile. This recipe is different. You soak half of the batter on your counter overnight, like you would "overnight oatmeal." This breaks down the grains so that your body can eat bread but still be happy!

Sweeten liberally. Perhaps because their is an acidic element to the batter, it did not taste very sweet to me at all. I used coconut sugar for the first time. But I ended up added more sweeteners. Just taste the batter before sticking it into the oven so you know what you're dealing with.
Acidic liquid. Yeah, this term was new to me, too. I emailed the author of the recipe and she told me to use 1 T. apple cider vinegar mixed with one cup of water. It worked perfectly. You could also use lemon juice.
Be prepared to eat them all. For being healthy, hearty muffins, these satisfied my craving for blueberry bakery muffins in a gorgeous way, and I can't wait to make them again. Breakfast is suddenly amazing again.


Black Bean Brownies - I finally did it, folks. I tried black bean brownies. I've been tempted to go for this for quite some time now, but the time never seemed right. Also I think I was a little leery of the grainy texture beans tend to have. These turned out like dark chocolate sponge cakes, though (completely oxymoronic in nature - they were both dense and light). I rejoiced. May I never fear adding a vegetable or legume to baked goods again!

Blend well. Beans are, of course, an odd texture for a dessert (unless you live in Asia), so make sure you use a good food processor/blender. I used my magic bullet.
Make extra. This recipe made a very small pan of brownies. Just saying.


Perfect Pie Crust - I haven't tried a lot of pie crust recipes, but this one turned out really well, AND there's a secret ingredient that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Double or triple the ingredients. This one is my mom's tip. Pie crusts can be time-consuming, so why not make a bunch all at once? Purchase some foil pie plates at the store, place the pie crust dough inside, and stack them in your freezer. As long as your recipe is basic, you can use these crusts for literally anything - pot pies, fruit or cream pies, quiches...
Butter or shortening? I used all butter because I dislike the idea of buying shortening and had no problems with the dough.
Mixing methods. Using forks or your fingers to cut the butter into the flour works well, but it also takes more time - and softens up the butter or lot. Be sure to refrigerate the mixture before adding the other ingredients.


//

Phew, that was a lot! I made a lot of other new things this month - pan-fried salmon, poached eggs, a whole roasted Thanksgiving turkey, and a French silk pie. But those recipes haven't been perfected enough to warrant sharing. What are some new recipes you've tried? I need some suggestions for the month of January! Or what is one of your favorite holiday recipes? Please share below!

If you think of it, pray for my sick little one who has had a cough for ages, and for my husband who is dealing with some sort of infection/virus that won't go away, and for our old laptop's hard drive, which contains the rough drafts of the two books I'm currently writing...but God is still good and life is still full.