Five-second oatmeal mix-ins

oatmealOatmeal is one of my favorite foods.  I especially love the Quaker Instant flavored packets of oatmeal.  Late last year, B bought a giant box of them from Costco, ate two packets, and they’ve been sitting in our pantry ever since.  As much as I love them, I try not to eat them too often.  Although delicious, they’re loaded with sugar and I’ve been going through a phase of eating oatmeal every day, so I’ve been trying to keep it a little healthier.

If you frequent Pinterest like I do (sigh), you’ve seen a billion and a half “recipes” for really exciting oatmeal concoctions.  Like “Healthy Blueberry Cheesecake Oatmeal” and “Vanilla Cake Batter Oatmeal.”  Um, I’m drooling just reading those names, but with a 12-week-old baby, I’ve got about two minutes to make my oatmeal.  When I purchase a tub of quick-cooking oats, I hardly imagine extending that cook time to 20 minutes just to make it taste like a delicious slab of cheesecake.

So what do I do?  I find whatever I can in my fridge or pantry to toss into my oatmeal and give it a little instant flavor without TONS of sugar.  Below are my top choices, plus two I wish I never would have tried.

  1. Brown sugar and cinnamon. Even just a nice, packed teaspoon of brown sugar in one serving of oatmeal gives it a nice syrupy sweetness.  The cinnamon I use VERY sparingly.
  2. Jam or jelly. I use about half a tablespoon.  I have to stir for a minute or so to thoroughly mix it in, but it’s tasty.
  3. Alpine Spiced Apple Cider mix. NOT a whole packet—usually 1/4 to 1/3 of a packet mixed into one serving of oatmeal.  This is probably my favorite of all the mix-ins I’ve tried.
  4. Hot cocoa mix. Again, not a whole packet—about 1/4 does the trick.  The kind I’ve used has been Starbucks cinnamon dolce, but I’m sure any hot cocoa would taste pretty good.
  5. Honey. It doesn’t take much since honey is so sweet.

Two things I mixed into my oatmeal that were just awful are applesauce and peanut butter (separately, of course).  Considering that I am addicted to peanut butter and eat it EVERY day, this is saying a lot.  I even tried to salvage it by adding some hot cocoa (because nothing is better than peanut butter except for peanut butter and chocolate together), and it still ended up in the trash.

What about you?  Do you mix anything into your oatmeal?

Cooking without cheese

I have a sneaking suspicion my 11-week-old is insensitive to milk protein (that she gets through breastfeeding), so I’m cutting out all dairy for two weeks to see if it makes a difference.  I’m pretty sad about giving up yogurt, but the biggest challenge is going to be cooking without cheese.  I cook a LOT of things with cheese.

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Last night, I made a deep-dish taco pizza.  As I grated the cheese that would be sprinkled all over the top of the pizza, I kept reaching to pinch some shreds of cheese between my fingers and eat it.  It’s usually my reward for grating cheese because I HATE grating cheese.  But of course, I had to continually slap my hand and tell myself that cheese is currently off-limits.

I scattered the cheese all over half of the pizza, because only my husband would get to eat that part.  When the pizza came out of the oven he looked at it, perplexed, and said, “How can you eat a taco pizza without any cheese?”

I should have slapped him.

(Don’t worry, there isn’t actually any husband-slapping occurring in this house.)

So, one dinner down, 13 to go.  I will be scouring Pinterest and my recipe-books for dairy-free recipes, and I will be avoiding anything that involves cheese so I’m not being teased like I was last night.  Sorry, B, if I’m going cheese-free, so are you.

Any favorite dairy-free recipes you can recommend?

 

Frank’s Red Hot ruined my breakfast

I have the same thing for breakfast every day:  egg whites on toast with a banana and coffee.  Even though it never changes, I love my breakfast.  Maybe that’s WHY it never changes.

But sometimes I do wonder if it’s a little boring.  For a few weeks I added cheese to my egg whites and that was fun and all, but it wasn’t conducive to my postpartum weight loss plan.

Suddenly it clicked: I’ve heard from a lot of people that Frank’s Red Hot is great on everything.  I’ve also been told it’s phenomenal on eggs.  So it was decided: today I would try Frank’s Red Hot on my egg whites.  I like Frank’s Red Hot.  I like egg whites.  How could this go wrong?

…….

Yeah, it went wrong.  I shouldn’t have listened to that “lot of people” who said the sauce was great on everything.  I’ve also heard from a lot of people that sushi is delicious, but I hate sushi and you couldn’t pay me to eat it.

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Nope.

I didn’t care for Frank’s Red Hot on my eggs.  I still ate it because a) I’m breastfeeding and need the food, but b) I was too lazy to scramble another pan of eggs.  But I won’t be doing it again and I won’t be getting experimental with my bottle of Frank’s Red Hot.  If it’s good on everything, “everything” must mean just chicken.

Forgive me, Father…

For I have sinned.  It has been roughly 30 days since my last bathroom cleaning.

Hi, MCYOD readers.  Long time no see?  Well, that’s what happens when you have a  baby!

My daughter E was born in February and motherhood is the best thing that’s ever happened to me.  I. Love. This. Girl.

But it’s no lie when you hear about how hard it is to cook, clean, and exercise when you have a newborn.  E is ten weeks old and I have cleaned my bathroom ONCE since she evacuated my uterus.

Somehow I still manage to cook, which is good news coming from the woman whose blog’s name contains the word “cook.”  Most of the time it’s nothing fancy, like tacos or spaghetti, but every so often I get ambitious (like last night) and I make mashed potatoes.  If you think mashed potatoes aren’t fancy, you must be new here.  Potatoes are my arch nemesis.

Now that E is starting to have some identifiable nap time, I figured it’s a good time to make my way back here.  I’ve missed you all.  I hope you’ve missed me.

(And if you’re asking why I’m not using E’s nap time to clean my bathroom:  don’t.  When I can clean my bathroom sitting on my butt on the couch, then we’ll talk.)

Tip of the Week: Recipe Read-Throughs

A cooking tips article on Lifehacker’s website indicates that reading recipes in full before starting to cook is a “no-brainer.” Eeek. Since I began teaching myself how to cook, this is something I’ve failed to do—but what’s worse is that until recently, I never realized how dumb it is that I’ve skipped this very important cooking 101 tidbit.

I shamefully admit my laziness has been to blame. As long as the recipe indicates a “start-to-finish” time, I tack on ten minutes for my slowness and dive right in, thinking that reading the recipe in its entirety is wasting precious time.

But wouldn’t ya know it, it’s just the opposite! I recently started reading my recipes all the way through prior to cooking, because it helped me to set up my mise en place (which I was also trying to improve on). I was amazed at how much more smoothly my cooking experiences went!

It’s like walking in the dark. In a dark room, you can still make it from point A to point B by feeling your way around, slowly but surely. But if you turn on a light, you get there much more quickly because you can see what’s around you and you’re not fumbling. Reading the recipe before cooking is like turning on that light, because you can see what’s ahead of you.

Rolling in Dough

Over the weekend, I was bit by the baking bug. It happens quite rarely, but when it does…oh boy.

And of course I didn’t start off with something easy. On Sunday morning, I drank a cup of coffee for a burst of energy and then stepped right into my bread-makin’ shoes. (Note: I didn’t actually have any shoes on while I made bread. I did, however, bust out my trusty pink floral apron.)

Right off the bat, my husband had little faith in me. I can’t say I blame him. He’s more familiar than anyone with my work in the kitchen. But he had good reason to be weary of my bread’s success; I was making a mixed-grain bread that called for quite a bit of whole-wheat flour, which is notoriously more difficult to bake with than your standard all-purpose flour.

The husband went out for a mountain bike ride and I got to work mixing and kneading…and kneading…and kneading. Honestly, longest six minutes of my life.

And when my husband returned home, look at what I got to gloat about:

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He was quite impressed. Truthfully, it was too early to be genuinely impressed, as I hadn’t yet tasted it. Luckily, the first bite validated my ability as a baker; I baked one seriously delicious loaf of bread! I was telling my coworker about it, and in a surprised tone she asked, “You made your own bread? Like, with a bread machine?” Let me tell you how good it felt to tell her that I did all the dirty work by hand: it felt goooooooooooood.

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That same afternoon, I made these Oreo Cheesecake Cookies:

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I’m pretty sure this was the simplest cookie recipe I’ve ever used, and the cookies were to die for. I took them to a family get-together that evening, and within five minutes, they were gone. Every last one of them.

I recently posted a rant about my food looking nothing like the pictures in the recipes I find online, and what made me happiest about these cookies is that mine looked exactly like the pictures in the original recipe. FINALLY.

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Have you baked anything good lately?

Tip of the Week: Well-Planned Workstations

One of the most important aspects of cooking is mise en place, which is the idea of gathering the ingredients and tools needed for cooking and having everything arranged prior to getting to work. I hate to admit that I’m still not perfect at it. I do prep about 75% of my ingredients before I begin cooking, but I’m a complete failure at gathering my tools and cookware ahead of time.

Part of the problem is that I don’t have a proper “workstation” in my kitchen. I tend to spread myself out while I’m cooking: on one counter I do my measuring, on another I do my chopping, and as I work, I make at least half a dozen trips to the trash can on the other side of the room. Clearly, I missed the last call for boarding the efficiency train.

I found a great article on Bon Appetit about building a better kitchen workstation. Based on their suggestions, there are a few major improvements I need to make when it comes to prepping and cooking my meals. I think these tweaks to my setup will greatly improve my ability to adhere to the idea of mise en place.

  1. I need to secure my cutting board to the counter with a damp towel or nonstick pad. I also learned this recently in Sur la Table’s online cooking basics course. It’s a miracle I haven’t chopped off a finger!
  2. I need a trash bowl. The time spent on each trip to the trash can adds up, and we all know mere seconds can make or break a vital step in preparing a dish.
  3. I should keep my salt in a ramekin. I usually pour my salt from the round Morton canister into a measuring spoon or into the palm of my hand. Sure, it works, but wouldn’t it be more efficient to simply dip the measuring spoon into the ramekin or grab a pinch with my fingers?
  4. I need to keep paper towels handy for cleaning debris from knives and cutting boards. My paper towel holder is cheap and lame, and both hands are required to tear off a towel. Again, any time saved is beneficial to my cooking; I should start tearing off a few towels ahead of time and having them at the ready.
  5. I need to keep the essential tools handy. I said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m terrible at gathering the necessary tools before I start cooking. It’s not uncommon for me to realize that the pan I need is dirty and I have to wash it while, meanwhile, the food in another pan is burning because of my lack of preparation. It has to end!

Do you have any tips for a more efficient workstation in your kitchen?