Fish Tacos with Baja Sauce

This is my mom’s recipe. My mom is a wonderful cook, and I’m thrilled any time I can re-create a dinner of hers.

1/2 C plain yogurt or buttermilk
1/2 C flour seasoned with salt and pepper to taste
1 lb tilapia fillets
vegetable oil

1/2 C sour cream
1/2 C mayonnaise
1 Tbsp lime juice
1 tsp lime zest (optional – I never have actual limes so I usually skip this and it still tastes great. But the lime zest adds a lot of depth so use it if you have it)

Start by heating about 1/4 inch of oil in a cast iron pan. Pat dry your Tilapia fillets. Dip in yogurt and then dredge in flour. Place in oil and fry until golden brown. Use a fork and a spatula to gently flip the fish and brown on the other side. Be very careful not to splash oil when you flip the fish, nothing ruins a perfectly good dinner faster than a trip to the ER for 3rd degree burns.

Place on paper towels to drain excess oil. For the Baja sauce, mix sour cream, mayonaise, lime juice and lime zest.


Of course my favorite tortillas are home made, but with three kids underfoot that is often not realistic. Second best is Chi-Chi’s Whole Wheat tortillas. They’re nice and soft, and don’t brake when you fold them. I serve them ‘build your own taco’ style with all the condiments in bowls ready for the topping. Serve with Baja sauce, lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, and of course Frank’s Hot Sauce. Everything is better with Frank’s.

Crock Pot Chicken

Some times I feel like I spend all day feeding everyone but myself. Between meeting the needs of a preschooler and a toddler, and nursing a constantly hungry newborn, I’m finding less and less time to cook. Add to that the fact that I’m not working this month (unpaid maternity leave) and both Brad and I are trying to start losing the baby weight, ordering in or going out is not really a good option either. Let me introduce you to one of my favorite kitchen appliances: my Crock Pot.


My crock pot is not glamorous. It is not new. It has definitely seen better days, and the lid used to have a handle. This is not due to lack of respect or a history of abuse. No, my crock pot is just showing wear much the same way my 4 year old’s beloved teddy bear is starting to look a little ragged around the edges. But a few trips through the washing machine have done little to lessen the attachment of my son to his bear, and the lack of a lid handle simply lends character to my hard working crock pot.

When the baby is crying and the kids are screaming and the cat has puked on the carpet again, it’s a comforting thought that dinner is cooking away with little to no effort on my part and when Brad gets home from work all that needs done is to dish it up. I also make my crock pot work double duty by cooking up large batches of dinners at a time and either freezing for a no-brainer dinner later, or keeping in the fridge for easy lunches and snacks.

Today I started with about a 5 lb package of boneless skinless chicken breast. I only buy these when they go on sale for less than $1.99/lb. Otherwise I get whole chickens to roast and make broth. I trimmed all of the fat from the whole package of chicken, placed them in the crock pot and generously seasoned with salt and pepper.


Some times I use a little poultry seasoning or rubbed thyme, but mostly I keep it simple since I’ll be using this chicken in all sorts of different recipes. I add about an inch of broth to the crock pot so it doesn’t dry out, and set it on high for about 4 hours. If you need it to cook longer, you can set it on low for 6-8 hours, and it should be done when you get home from work.

After 4 hours, you end up with this:

Fall apart tender, fork shreddable, juicy, tasty chicken!


This chicken now has the possibility to become: soup, burritos, stir fry, sandwiches, salad, lunches for Brad to take to work, cashew chicken, quesadillas, just about anything. Being already cooked, it makes dinner come together in a matter of minutes. Which is some times all the time I have between marathon nursing sessions that the baby likes to start right around 4:00 and continue up until bedtime. Hey, at least she sleeps at night!

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies, EVER!!!

Today I’m going to share my very own, completely made up by me, original recipe chocolate chip cookies. (If this is also your recipe, well then great minds think alike because I swear I came up with this on my own in my mothers kitchen)

I will update with pictures later if I can find my camera before the cookies are eaten.

The story:

Last September I was visiting family in Colorado. I had flown out with just the boys, since my husband couldn’t get the time off work. Our stay was extend by several days due to the unfortunate timing of a case of the chickenpox, leaving the boys and I stranded at my parents house while they took off for a vacation they had planned months ago to coincide with my leaving for home. So there I was with two sick kids, my mothers gorgeous kitchen at my complete disposal, and absolutely nothing to do. I decided it was a perfect time to make cookies. I got out the chocolate chips, read through the recipe on the back, and started gathering ingredients. Peering into the fridge, I encountered only a single lonely stick of butter. The recipe of course calls for two. What to do? I suppose I could have just made a half a batch of cookies, but honestly, at the time it never even crossed my mind. So I racked my brain and scoured the kitchen for something to replace that missing stick of butter. No, oil didn’t cross my mind either. However, my mom had about 5 bricks of cream cheese in the fridge, and I thought that would do the trick. The one other major modification to your typical chocolate chip recipe is that this one does not contain eggs. The reason for this is twofold. First, as I was baking and simultaneously tending to two sick kiddos, I forgot to add them in. The cookies came out great, and upon subsequent experiments I decided I liked the egg-free version better anyway. Second, the cookies are now bowl-licking safe for munchkins, and no salmonella risk to worry about. Since I’m sure very few of you really care how the recipe came about, thank you for bearing with me thus far and without further ado, the recipe:

Preheat oven to 350*
Using your stand mixer, cream together:
1/2 C (1 stick) butter
1 (8oz) brick of cream cheese
3/4 C granulated sugar
3/4 C packed brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla

In a small bowl, combine:
2 1/4 C flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt

Slowly add dry mixture to butter/sugar mixture, beating well after each addition. Stir in 1 C chocolate chips. Place by rounded spoonful onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9 minutes. Cool on wire rack. Try not to eat them all at once.

My first attempts were with regular white flour and normal sugar, and they were delicious. I have since made the recipe substituting 100% whole wheat flour and Sucanat (unrefined sugar) for part or all of the flour and sugar in the recipe with terrific results. This most recent batch was all whole wheat flour and all Sucanat. My kids are used to eating whole wheat, so they didn’t even notice, but I bet you could sub up to half of the flour with WW without the munchkins noticing at all.

Enjoy!!

The Miracle Cure

I apologise for my few and infrequent posts this week. When we got back from vacation, I came down with a cold. Not just any cold though. The type you can only get from the stale recycled air of airplanes where your lymph nodes swell to the size of golf balls, your head throbs, your body aches and all you want is a nice rock to crawl under until it’s all over. So my blog (not to mention my children) suffered from more than a little neglect over this past week. Which brings me to my post for today. I happen to know of a wonderful miracle cure that has been accredited with nothing less then resurrecting the dead. What is this wonderful stuff? And why did I not have any on hand last week? Well this miracle cure is home made bone broth, and unfortunately I had finished off the last of ours just before we went on vacation.

Bone broth is one of the most nourishing foods available. It is full of minerals in a for that the body can easily utilize, including calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, silicon, sulphur and many trace minerals . It also contains all of the broken down material from the bones connective tissue and cartilage. Things like glucosamine and condroiton, which you’d pay an arm and a leg for as pills at the drug store. It also contains gelatin, which aids digestion and is high in protein.

I roast a lot of whole chickens at home, and I always make broth after picking all of the meat off the bird, so I almost always have home made bone broth on hand. I had turkey bones in the freezer from the turkey I roasted for Thanksgiving (only half the bones would fit in my crock pot at a time, so I threw the rest in the freezer for a second batch of broth) but bone broth is a 2-3 day process, and I just really didn’t feel up to it last week. So here is my bone broth process. It’s very easy, and is very worth the time.

I start with my crock pot. It can be done in a pot on the stove, but I like to cook mine for about 36 hrs, and I feel more comfortable leaving the crock pot on over night. Some people simmer all day on the stove, cover and turn the stove off at night, and then return to a simmer in the morning and simmer the rest of the day. Do what ever works for your situation. Into my crock pot goes 1 whole chicken carcass (or half a turkey carcass), veggie scraps, a splash of vinegar, a stick of kombu, a small handful of whole pepper corns, and one or two bay leaves. I put the lid on and set it to low, and let ‘er go. I usually start the broth in the evening after I’ve roasted a chicken for dinner, let it cook all night, all day, all the next night, and then strain and bottle it the next morning.

I keep a Ziploc baggie in my freezer for veggie scraps. As I’m cooking during the week, I throw all onion skins, carrot peels, celery tops, and sometimes potato peelings into the bag in the freezer to wait for when I’m ready to make stock. This way I get all the vegetable goodness into the stock with out having to use up “new” vegetables, and much less goes to waste. The vinegar helps to draw the minerals out of the bones and into the broth. Kombu is a kind of kelp seaweed, and is high in minerals including iodine. When I switched from iodised commercial salt to sea salt, which does not contain added iodine, I worried a little bit about my family getting enough of this important mineral so I started including the kombu in my bone broth to give it an iodine boost. After some more research I am no longer concerned about our iodine intake, but there is so much good stuff in the kombu that I still use it. I’ll do another post soon about iodised salt and our need for iodine. I do not salt my broth until I’m cooking with it. I find it easier to control the amount of salt this way. So here’s my broth after it’s been merrily simmering for about 18 hours:

Once it’s been simmering for about 36 hours, I strain it into a pot on the stove, and then boil it down to reduce the volume by about half. I do this mostly for space reasons. I reconstitute it when I’m ready to cook. Then I put it into canning jars, and into the fridge. Occasionally I can it, but usually not. It gets used pretty fast in my house. One crock pot full of bones usually yields about three quarts of stock for me. Here’s my stock after it’s been in the fridge for a few hours:

I remove the layer of fat on top right before I’m ready to use a new jar. It makes a nice seal over the broth and keeps it fresh longer. I stir all the sediment back into the broth. I figure it’s just the good stuff from the bones and connective tissue, and after a quick stir you can’t even tell it’s there. Notice how rich and brown this broth is. In comparison, the canned broth from the grocery store looks remarkably similar to pee. So don’t waste those precious bones from roasted chickens. You can even use the bones from the rotisserie chickens you get at the grocery if you’re not up to roasting your own. Grandma knew what she was talking about when she said chicken soup can cure anything that ails you.

Homemade yogurt

I love yogurt, but it can be expensive. Especially if you buy it in those cute little individiual serving cups with the foil lids. Store bought yogurt often has preservitives, stabilizers, thickening agents and loads of sugar. And talk about excess packaging. Thankfully yogurt is very easy to make at home, and no, you don’t need any fancy equipment. Just a quart sized jar, a few tablespoons of prepared yogurt (either store bought or from a previous homemade batch) and a place to keep it warm.

If you’re using store bought milk, you’ll want to pasturize it first, to make sure there are no organisms present to compete with the yogurt cultures. Put 1 qt of milk into a small sauce pan and heat to 180*, stirring frequently. If you don’t have a thermometer, this is not rocket science. Just heat it to just before it boils, and then turn off the heat. Let it cool down to about 110*. If you’re using raw milk, just heat gently to 110* so as not to distroy the benificial enzymes in the milk. Once the milk is at about 110*, stir in about 1/4 cup of prepared yogurt. For your first time, it’s fine to use store bought yogurt. Just make sure you get one with live active cultures. Dannon is a good brand that’s easy to find. I like to use Brown Cow, found in Whole Foods or the healh food section of a regular grocery store. It’s easiest if you stir a little milk into the yogurt first, and then stir the thinned yogurt into the rest of the milk. Then pour it into your quart sized jar, and rubberband a towel or coffee filter over the mouth of the jar.


Now all that’s left is to find a way to keep it at about 110* for the next 8-18 hours. There are several methods for doing this. I have a gas oven with a pilot light, so I just pop it in there and leave it. Similarly, if you have an electric oven you can put it in with the oven light on. Beware with using your oven, if you need your oven to cook dinner, remove your yogurt before preheating your oven or you’ll kill your culture. In my last apartment my oven didn’t have a pilot light or an oven light, so I had to get a little more creative. I bought a heating pad (like for a bad back) for about $9 at a drug store. I would put my yogurt on the heating pad on low, and cover the whole thing with a dishtowel for insulation, and this worked fine. Some other methods are to use your crockpot on the warm setting with water surrounding your jar, or using a small insulated cooler with warm water, of find a yogurt maker at a thrift store and let it do the incubating. I haven’t tried any of these, but have heard good results from people who have.

The yogurt needs to stay warm from 8-18 hours. The longer you incubate it, the thicker and more tart it will be. I usually aim for about 10 hours, but the process is flexable. When it’s done, just pop a lid on your jar and toss it into the fridge. I like to flavor my yogurt as I’m eating it, so that I always have plain yogurt in the fridge for starting my next batch. I like to stir in maple syrup (as in the first photo) or honey. You can also use jam for fruit yogurt, and it wouldn’t be bad with a little chocolate syrup if you’re feeling particularly naughty.

Gingerbread!

When I decided I wanted to make a real gingerbread house this year, this is what I had in mind. Something beautifully elaborate and detailed, down to the little candy candles in the windows and a snowy landscape that Santa himself would be jealous of. Well I looked a pictures and got ideas and recipes. I went to the grocery and got decorators icing, toothpicks, and more different kinds of candy than anyone could actually put on one gingerbread house. You should have seen Owen’s eyes as I loaded up that shopping cart. I don’t think he’s seen that much candy in one place in his three years on this earth. I’m sure he thought mom was off her rocker, but who was he to question his good fortune?

Ever frugal, I cut my templates from empty cereal boxes. I mixed my ginger bread, rolled and cut all of my pieces. They looked surprisingly good. Here is the recipe I used for the gingerbread:

1 C butter, softened
1 3/4 C packed brown sugar
2 Tbsp dark molasses
1 1/4 C granulated sugar
6 eggs
6 C all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp each ground ginger, ground cinnamon, and ground allspice

1)Cream butter and sugars. Stir in eggs and molasses
2)Sift all dry ingredients together separately
3)Mix dry ingredients into wet until just combined, don’t over mix
4)Knead dough on floured surface until completely combined
5)Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in fridge for at least 1 hour
6)Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness and cut template pieces
7)Bake on greased cookie sheet for 15 min at 325*, cool completely

I cut windows into the gingerbread when it was hot out of the oven. When all the pieces were cool, I put crushed butterscotch into the window pieces and baked them at 350* for about another 5 minutes on a foil lined baking sheet. Here’s the window pieces with the crushed butterscotch candy:

And the windows once they were melted:
When everything was completely cool and ready to assemble I mixed up a batch of royal icing. I wanted most of the house to be edible, so I just used this for the construction, and used a butter cream for the rest of the decorating. Here’s the royal icing recipe, and be warned, this stuff dries like cement, so work quickly and clean up as you go.

1 lb powdered sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tarter
3 egg whites

Beat slowly until stiff peaks form

And the butter cream recipe:

1/2 C white shortening*
3 1/2 C powdered sugar
1 tsp clear vanilla*
1/4 tsp almond extract*
3-4 Tbsp milk or hot water

Beat shortening and flavoring for a minute, then slowly add half of the sugar, mixing well. Add half of the milk or water and mix well. Add the rest of the sugar and just enough water for the desired consistency, either spreading or piping.

*I used butter and regular vanilla, so my butter cream came out off white. I don’t mind, I think it’s pretty, and I hate Crisco, so there you go. I also left out the almond extract as I didn’t have any, and I still think my icing tasted pretty good.

So after assembly and decoration (and barely making a dent in all the candy I bought to make this thing) Here is the final product!


Not quite magazine cover worthy, but not bad for my first try.

Applesauce Adventure

I love fall. I love apple season. I love apples. I know the harvest season is now over, but I discovered that one of our local orchards still has Gold Rush apples in storage so I picked up 20# for apple sauce. If I had to choose one tree to plant on our land when we buy a house, this would be the one. I love things that double task, and there’s nothing better than a plant that provides both shade and sustenance. These apples are the best tasting apples I’ve ever tried. They are very flavorful, sweet and tart. And properly stored they keep until June of the next season. I also picked up some Golden Delicious from the grocery to round out the apple sauce. I was looking for a sweet apple so I didn’t need to add much sugar, but if I were to do it again I would opt for a more flavorful apple like Jonathan.

The above picture is a great example of the franken-fruit developed by the commercial grower. I happen to know that these Golden Delicious were shipped to Ohio all the way from Washington state. And that is rare, because usually you have no idea where fruit in the grocery is from. Compared to the Gold Rush, the Golden Delicious are frankenishly huge, and unnaturally pristine. And wouldn’t you hate to be the person who’s job it was to put that little sticker on every single apple? The Gold Rush apples are smaller, and not nearly as pretty, but in all the chopping I did I really came to appreciate the natural beauty in the imperfect apples. And the difference in the flavor is amazing. Biting into a Gold Rush apple is like taking a swig of fresh apple cider. The Golden delicious were very bland, with a bitter skin and almost no flavor. So buy local and organic when you can, it really makes a difference.

So here are three batches of apples all going at the same time. I had my three largest pots on the stove, and I still had three batches after these were done. I need to keep my eye out at the thrift store for a larger stockpot. I’m really not one for recipes or measuring. I’m a “fly by the seat of my pants” kinda girl in the kitchen, but I can give a general run down of how I turned these beautiful apples into yummy applesauce. After all of the apples are cored and sliced, they went into the pan with some water in the bottom, a stick of cinnamon, a dash of salt, a squirt of lemon juice (really brightens the flavor of the apple sauce) and some Sucanat (natural cane sugar). The lid goes on and they simmer for about 20 minutes, until all the apples are good and mushy. A quick turn through the food mill, which you can see in the second picture (thanks Rachel for letting me borrow it) and you’ve got this:
A huge pot of applesauce keeping hot while waiting for the water bath to come to a boil. If instead of canning it you let it continue on the stove, you get apple butter.
This stuff is so good it really should be illegal.

Thirty pounds of apples and 14 hrs later and I can sit back and gaze admiringly at my apple sauce. I turned out 7.5 quarts of applesauce, and 3 pints of apple butter. I think I’m in apple heaven. This process wouldn’t have take nearly as long if I had a canner that could handle more then 4 pint jars at a time. One more thing to keep an eye out for a the thrift store.