Fat Free Zucchini Muffins

courgettesI’m a big fan of zucchini muffins.  They are great for breakfast or an afternoon snack.  Plus, they are easy to make.  Over the summer, I’ve made zucchini muffins more times than I can count and each time they were a little different.  My husband teases me and says that I never make something the same way twice.  I must agree.  I usually cook with what I already have in my kitchen.  It’s a great way to decrease cost and it helps prevent food from going bad.

My most recent zucchini muffins are very different than the rest.  All of the recipes that I have used call for oil and eggs to keep the muffins moist.  However, oil and eggs add a significant amount of fat.  I wanted to add some protein and try to decrease the fat content in my muffins.  I decided to use Greek yogurt instead of oil and eggs and the final product taste great.  Here’s my final recipe (which I think I will stick with for now on) and the links to a few other good ones.

Fat Free Zucchini Muffins

1 cup Fat Free Greek Yogurt

1 cup honey

1 Tablespoon vanilla extract

3 cups white whole-wheat flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

3 cups shredded zucchini

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Mix the yogurt, honey, and vanilla until fully combined.  Add the dry ingredients and stir until the dry ingredients have absorbed all the liquid.  Last of all, add the zucchini and mix well.

Pour the batter into lightly greased muffins tins and bake for 15-20 minutes.  You should end up with around 18 muffins.

The final result isn’t as sweet as other muffins, so keep that in mind if you have a sweet tooth.  Here are the other recipes that I have used and recommend.




Batch cooking, round 2

A few weeks before Spring Break we finished off our last frozen meal.  I was already planning on spending time during our Spring Break cooking and freezing more meals.  During those few weeks before our break, I realized  how convenient frozen meals were.  Supper took more time and effort to fix, and I missed the convenience of my frozen meals.

So, I started planning out what I would cook.  We enjoyed all of the meals I made last time, but I wanted to make some new dishes this time.  I also didn’t make any soup this time; I assumed since it would be spring soon, we would start to  have some warmer weather.  Although, it did snow the first 2 days of our Spring Break.


Along with the 2 Shepard’s pie,



I also made 3 Chicken and Pasta Casseroles,



2 Taco Casseroles,



and 2 Chicken and Potato Casseroles.


The following day I cooked a 15 pound turkey in the oven, separated it into 1 pound bags, and vacuumed sealed them.  I also fixed 4 green bean kits and 5 meat loaves.

I have a feeling we will be well stocked until the summer.  I’ve come up with a few tips to help when planning on cooking a big batch of meals.

1. Potatoes that need to bake or boil get priority.

2.  Cook as much meat ahead of time as possible.

3.  Have a plan for the order in which you will fix the meals.

4. Keep in mind the pots that you will use and try to use as few as possible.

5.  Make sure the kids are not at home.

6.  Be very certain that you have all the ingredients you need.

7.  Find recipes that use very basic ingredients that are easy to fix.

8.  Find recipes that use similar ingredients. * Notice that 2 of my meals used potatoes which are very inexpensive.

I only spent $175 on all of the food, and I expect to get a total 50 servings.   Which, in the end, means that each serving will cost around $3.

Keep in mind that all the meat and fresh produce are organic and nothing I used was highly processed or pre-made.  I made all of the chicken broth (which was used in almost all of the recipes) from the chicken scraps, bought the cheese in blocks and shredded them, and used dried beans that I soaked the night before.

It took me about 8 hours to put everything together.  I was very tired at the end of the day but was proud of what I had accomplished.  If you haven’t tried cooking in bulk yet, I highly recommend you do it.  Start out small if you need but at least give it a try – and be sure to let me know how it goes.

Things I love about real food

I love tovegetable-heart  cook.  There is no doubt about it.  I always have.  But, my  love for cooking has changed ever since I started cooking real, wholesome food for my family.  This has grown significantly and I decided it was time to put it in writing.  So, here is what I love about real food:

I love…

1. the way real food taste.1100035_love_food

2. that my kids know and recognize the smell of fresh bread.

3. that my kids are learning the concept of taking turns when they help me cook.

4. that I can make over a dozen whole wheat muffins that contain no sugar on a Saturday morning and have more than 1/2 of them gone within a few hours.

5. that my sons are learning to enjoy fresh foods.

6. that my pantry is filled with ingredients and not processed meals in boxes.

7. that my kids will eat snacks that do not contain sugar without complaining.

8. that my kids ask for water instead of a sugary drink.

9. that my freezer is filled with food scraps because I know I can find a way to cook with them.

10. when my kids take a bite of a homemade meal and respond with, “Mmmm… Yummy!”

11.  that my kids eat food that is green. And red. And blue. And yellow. And orange.  And none of those colors are artificial.??????????????????????????

12.  when my kids get excited about picking out the organic bananas and want to eat them before we have paid for them.

13. that our organic fruit doesn’t turn brown 5 minutes after being bit into.  It usually take a whole day for the browning to begin.

14. that sometimes I cook something new and it is an “epic fail” because it means that I can learn from it and make something better next time.

15.  that we spend more money on organic produce and organic meat than on any other food.

16.  shopping at the farmer’s market in the summer.

17.  when we sit down for a meal and bless the food, that we are blessing food that is  fairly close to the way God created and intended for us to eat it.

18.  that the food we buy helps support small farmers.

19.  that my kids get excited when they see the mixer out on the counter top.

20.  And last of all, I love that every meal I cook for my family is made from real, wholesome, healthy, non-processed, fresh, and delicious food.

My goal for this post was to explain what I love about cooking real food.  My hope is that by sharing my love of real food, it can encourage you to make some changes in what you eat in order to experience this love as well.   The changes weren’t easy (and some still aren’t) and the love wasn’t immediate.  But in the end, it is all worth it.

Homemade Yogurt

One of the first fooFinished-Yogurt-on-a-Spoonds I made when I started cooking at home was yogurt.  I made it about once a week and would mix it with homemade blueberry jelly.  Talk about delicious!  It was wonderful.  And filling. And healthy.  And inexpensive.  Everything a real foodie could want.  But then I got sick and got out of the routine of making the yogurt.

I missed this creamy treat but no longer had the motivation to make it.  So, I started buying organic yogurt at the store.  Now, although this is also good, it just isn’t the same.  Plus it is more expensive.

After realizing how much I was spending on yogurt, about 8 dollars a week, I figured it was time to get back in the habit.

The recipe I had used in the past made for a runny yogurt.  While is tasted good, I wanted something a little thicker this time.  I had been using the oven light to let the yogurt incubate, but I wanted to try something different this time.

And then I found it.  This website gives instructions for using a pot and heating pad to incubate the yogurt.  Believe me, it works.  I now have a yogurt that is thick enough to mix with vanilla and honey without loosing its thick consistency.


Although making yogurt may seem intimidating, it is really easy.  It only takes heating up milk, letting it cool down, mixing in a starter, and then keeping it warm for about 8 hours.  I highly suggest trying it out.

Once it is finished, you can mix it with honey and vanilla (homemade is best – https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/homemade-vanilla-extract ), homemade jellies, or make a smoothie with some frozen fruit.  I hope you enjoy this as much as my family does.

Staple Items

spicesI wanted to make some homemade coffee cream the other day, but then realized I didn’t have all the ingredients that I needed.  It caught me by surprise b/c I tend to keep a well stocked fridge and pantry.  Which got me thinking, I’ve never actually explained the staple  items that I have.  In order to eat unprocessed foods, it is important to keep some basic ingredients on hand.  Most of these you most likely have, but I wanted to provide as many as I could think of.

Dry Goods

Coconut Oil ( this post explains why I cook with coconut and olive oil, https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/01/27/all-fats-are-not-created-the-same/)

Olive Oil

Lots of seasonings (garlic powder, onion powder, paprika, cumin, chili powder, salt, pepper, Italian seasoning, basil, oregano, cinnamon) * I buy most of these seasonings in bulk at Sam’s.

Baking Powder

Baking Soda (also good for cleaning around the house)

Vanilla Extract (check out this blog for making homemade vanilla extract https://sollmomsrealfood.wordpress.com/2013/01/30/homemade-vanilla-extract/ )

White vinegar (also good for cleaning)

Balsamic Vinegar

Honey (buy in bulk at Sam’s)

A variety of whole wheat pasta

Organic Spaghetti Sauce

Dried Beans


White whole wheat flour (whole wheat can go rancid and is best when kept cool)
* This is the type I buy, http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/items/king-arthur-white-whole-wheat-flour-5-lb

Gluten (for the homemade bread)



Yogurt (organic if possible)

Sour Cream ( organic if possible)

Butter (organic if possible)


All natural peanut butter


Precooked ground meat (I use this on nights when we have spaghetti.  It makes fixing dinner a lot faster)

Shredded Chicken

Mixture of veggies

Chicken broth

I may add to the list in the future, so be sure to check back.

Homemade Vanilla Extract

For vanilla-extract-homemade2Christmas last year I wanted to give my sister-in-law a homemade present.  She is very talented at sewing, panting, and is crafty overall.  ( I strongly suggest checking out her Facebook page, Simple Creations By Andrea,  and blog http://www.simplecreationsbyandrea.blogspot.com/ )  I knew that she would appreciate a homemade present.

I am in no way talented when it comes to sewing (you can ask my high school home economics teacher) and not near as crafty as I want to be.  My talents are in the kitchen.  I looked online for some ideas and started reading about homemade vanilla extract.  I found some startling  facts about store bought extracts.  Be sure to check the labels; some have corn syrup or other additives in the ingredients.  Plus, it’s not real cheap.  I soon realized that vanilla extract is very easy to make, and I knew that Andrea was enjoy using it.

So, I decided right away that that would be her Christmas present.

The first step was finding some vanilla beans.  You DO NOT want to use any vanilla beans that you find at the grocery store.  You will not end up with good results.  Instead, look online or a health foods store.  I bought a pack of 25 Madagascar vanilla beans from Beanilla (http://www.beanilla.com/madagascar-vanilla-beans?gclid=CJGtr77UiLUCFQ45nAodLGgAhg).

Next, get some vodka.  You will need 8 ounces for every 5 beans.  The quality of the vodka doesn’t matter.  Go for the stuff that is cheapest.

Last of all, a glass jar and lid.

Here’s the recipe and steps for the vanilla extract:

1. Wash the glass jar with warm soapy water and let dry. Vanilla-Bean-Bundle-1-of-11

2. Using a sharp knife, cut each bean in half and then each half  length wise (like a hotdog bun) being sure to leave a small amount intact at the end.

3.  Place the vanilla beans in the glass jar and cover completely with the vodka.  You will need 5 beans (10 halves) for every 8 oz of vodka.  You can split this up into multiple jars or put it all into one jar.

4.  Close the jar and store in a cool, dry place for at least 8 weeks.  Give the bottle a good shake once a week.

That’s it.  How easy is that?  Plus, your hands will smell really nice after cutting the beans.  When the 8 weeks are up, the extract is ready.  You can keep the beans in the vodka or remove them.  If you keep them in the vodka, be sure to add a little vodka every so often so the beans don’t dry up.

This extract is a little stronger than store bought, so you may want to slightly decrease the amount when using it in recipes.  I love adding it to yogurt, coffee, and homemade ice cream.

I kept some of this for myself and gave the rest to Andrea.  Now I need to come up with another idea for next year.  Let me know if you have any homemade gift ideas.  And keep in mind, no sewing allowed.

Pizza Kits

Two_Kids_Eating_Pepperoni_and_Cheese_Pizza_Royalty_Free_Clipart_Picture_100404-001305-189053  So, one word that my kids know all too well is pizza.  I guess with there being a Little Caesar’s on the way home from work, that was bound to happen.  We are big fans of a Hot and Ready pizza after a long day of students and lesson plans.

One of my goals is for our family to eat mostly wheat bread.  Why?  Well, our bodies digest food best when it is in its most natural state.  I can tell a different in my energy level, digestion, and weight when comparing white to wheat bread.  However, I have tried numerous whole wheat pizza dough recipes, and they just weren’t working.  So, instead, we were picking up pizzas on our way home.  It just didn’t make sense to me to keep buying processed fast food pizza when I could make it at home.  So, I decided to try a new recipe and used ½ white ½ wheat flour.  And guess what, it worked.  It’s not as healthy as I would prefer, but it is far healthier than Little Caesar’s.

The recipe that I found makes enough dough for 2 pizzas.  So, I came up with the idea of making pizza kits and freezing them.  Although it wasn’t “Hot and Ready” when we got home, it was easy to make and very enjoyable.

4 Pizza Kits:pizza dough

The first step – make the dough: I doubled the following pizza dough recipe.  I had to make the recipe twice because my mixer isn’t big enough to hold all the ingredients.  It wasn’t that big of an issue though.  I substitute ½ of the white flour with wheat flour.


While the dough was rising, I made the pizza sauce and shredded the cheese.

 Second step – make the pizza sauce:  Store bought pizza sauce has a lot of salt and sugar added, plus it really doesn’t taste all that great.

pizza sauce

Here’s the recipe I’ve created:

4 6 oz. cans tomato paste (I’m sure you can buy a bigger can of tomato paste and adjust the measurements.  I was just using what I had on hand)

¾ cup olive oil (it’s cheapest to buy this in bulk at Sam’s or another)

¾ cup water

¼ cup Italian seasoning

1 tablespoon garlic powder

2 T sugar

Mix all ingredients together.  I like my sauce to be thick.  If you want it thinner, just add more water or oil.  You can also adjust the seasoning and sugar to get the taste you want.

Third step – shred the cheese.  I’ve mentioned before how handy my food processor is.  It was much easier and faster to shred cheese for 4 pizzas in the processor than doing it by hand.

By this time, the dough should be done rising.  Follow the instructions for freezing the dough that are on the website.  I divide the sauce into small Ziploc bags; I think it ends up being about 2 cups per bag.  I divide the cheese into small Ziploc bags also.  It should be close to 2 cups or ¾ a pound.  It depends on how thin the cheese is shredded.  When freezing shredded cheese, it helps to add about ½ – 1 tablespoon of flour to the bag and then shake till it is spread throughout.  This helps prevent the cheese from becoming a big frozen block of cheese.  It will not affect the taste or consistency.

Put all the bags into the freezer and let them freeze.  Once they are frozen, put a bag of sauce, cheese, and dough into a big Ziploc bag.  On the day you plan to have pizza, take out all ingredients and let them thaw in the fridge (if you remember to in the morning) or on the counter for a few hours if it’s later in the day.  If everything isn’t thawed when you are ready to cook, you can soak them in hot water, just be sure not to let any water get into the bags.

The pizza dough will be difficult to roll out at first.  Honestly, it can take me about 5 – 10 minutes.  You have to get a lot of the air rolled out before it will soften up and spread out.  Just be patient!  Like it said, it’s not hot and ready, but it is cheaper and healthier.  Once you have you shaped and rolled out the dough, cook it for about 6 minutes at 450 before adding any toppings.  This helps to make sure the crust will be cooked throughout without burning the toppings.  Finally, add your toppings, cook for about 6 – 10 more minutes, or until the cheese is melted and bubbly.

Let sit for about 5 minutes, and then enjoy!

Overall, it took me about 2 hours to fix the kits (which I did on a Saturday during nap time) and 30 minutes to make and cook the pizza.  It probably only cost about $3 for the tomato paste and the other ingredients I keep on hand.  I guess it cost around $1 per pizza.  Like I said, not hot and ready, but it is cheaper and healthier.  This doesn’t mean that we will never stop and pick up a pizza.  I would like for that to be my goal.  However, I prefer to make realistic goals, and I don’t think that would be very realistic for my family right now.

I enjoyed making the kits and found it relatively easy to put together.  One goal that I’m setting for this blog is to help other people find ways to make cooking easier, cheaper, and healthier.  If you have any ideas of kits you would like to have but have no clue how to do it, let me know.  I’ll be more than happy to help brainstorm ideas and offer suggestions.

Making time


So, I’ve had people ask me how I make time to do all my cooking.  I’m going to warn you – it isn’t always pretty, and it isn’t always easy,  but I do have some tricks up my sleeve that I want to share.

First of all, I love to cook.  I credit this to my mom.  I have few childhood memories, but some of the ones I do have focus on cooking in the kitchen with my mom.  I can remember going to the farmer’s market with her on Saturdays.  I can remember snapping green beans, pulling the husks off of corn, and eating cantaloupe while cutting it because it tasted so good.  Oh the memories!  It is easier to do something when you enjoy what you are doing.  So, on with my tricks

My first trick – I put cooking before cleaning.  messy room

This means that my house is not as clean as I would like.  There are toys throughout the house, hand prints (that are not decorations) on the walls, smudges on the windows, beds that are unmade, and a kitchen floor that needs to be mopped.  At this point, I want to give credit to my husband Jethro.  Without him, I would have a huge load of dirty laundry to add to that list.  Yep, he does the laundry, along with many other things, for the entire family.  I don’t stress about a cluttered house though.  It may be a mess, but my fridge and freezer are filled with lots of yummy, homemade, healthy meals.

My second trick – I’m what I like to call a lazy cook.  I don’t always wash my veggies before cooking them.  I don’t try to get off every piece of potato or apple peel – that is if I even peel them at all.  I don’t cut off every bit of fat from my meat (after all, that’s what adds to the flavor).  I don’t drain my meat.  I don’t worry about measuring everything perfectly.  I use my dishwasher religiously (at least once a day). I don’t rinse my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher.  If I don’t have a certain seasoning, I substitute it or just leave it out.  There are numerous other ways that I cut corners, and each one saves time.

My third trick – I have burnt foodhad a lot practice and made plenty of mistakes.  As mentioned above, I remember cooking with my mom when I was young, which means I’ve been cooking for a while now.  There have been meals that were an epic failure.    You know, the ones that taste so bad you don’t want to eat them, but you also don’t want to waste the food.  I’ve done lots of research and made plenty of mistakes.  However, the more mistakes I’ve made, the better cook I’ve become.  Keep in mind, practice may not make perfect, but it can at least lead to some improvements.

I’ve come to realize in the end that I can’t do everything, and I’m okay with that.  I’m just a mom who loves to cooks, has a messy house, cuts corners, and makes mistakes.  Now that you know some of my tricks, I would love for you to leave a comment and share some of your own.

My first big cook

First of all, you may want to get a cup of coffee and snack before you start reading.  This ended up being a lot longer than I planned.  So, here it goes…

Recently I cooked enough food to provide about 55 meals and each meal averaged out to being about $2 each and that’s without using coupons. The meals are all frozen and will make cooking dinner much easier. All of the food is made from scratch and does not use any processed ingredients. Not only does this save money, but it also cuts down on salt, extra preservatives, and artificial ingredients.

Some people have asked me for the recipes that I used.  I decided to provide the link to the recipes along with some suggestions and other ideas.  The day before I cooked all my food, I cooked 3 whole chickens and about 6 pounds of turkey meat.  I cooked the chickens in the oven – it only takes about 3 hours each.  I then made chicken broth with the bones and scraps.  To save time, I cooked the turkey in the crock pot.  It is easy to clean up and much more efficient than cooking all of it in the skillet.  Keep in mind that I doubled all of these recipes so that I could have 2 of each frozen.  I figured if I’m making one, I may as well make 2.  We have tried all of the frozen meals, and they all turned out great.

1. Shepard’s Piturkey-shepherds-piee – We don’t eat beef, so I cook with ground turkey.  I ended up probably tripling the meat so that there would be plenty of meat in this carb-heavy dish.  I changed the mashed potato part of the recipe though.  I just boiled the potatoes, mashed, and then added cream cheese, a little milk, and salt and pepper until I got the consistency and taste that I wanted.  It was much cheaper and used fewer ingredients.  It turned out great and was very easy to make.


2. Chicken Pot-pie – I’ve kinda gotten on a chicken pot-pie kick lately.  They are easy to assemble and taste great.  The recipe that I use hasCPP 22 all the ingredients made from scratch.  Sometimes I make the crust by scratch, but I have also bought pre-made crust.  The ones from scratch taste much better, but I recently found some on sale and used them.  The pre-made ones also have all the same ingredients as the homemade ones, so I was able to justify buying them.




3. Chicken Enchiladas – these were rather time-consuming since I made the tortilla shells from scratch.  I spent some time looking at the ingredients in the store-bought shells and just couldn’t breakdown and buy them.  The shells are easy to make, it is just time-consuming to roll out 20 shells and then fry them.   However, in the end, they are much cheaper than store-bought and taste a whole lot better, so the extra work is worth it.  Here’s the link for the shells: http://www.the-girl-who-ate-everything.com/2008/10/post-trick-or-treating-soup.html.  I use ½ whole white wheat flour and ½ white flour.  Makes them a little healthier but still has a great taste.   I am out of homemade salsa, so I had to buy some from Sam’s.  They have one that has fresh ingredients and no preservatives.



4. Lasagna – This was a simple basic lasagna.  The recipe came off of the box for the whole wheat lasagna noodles.  I was able to use one box to make both lasagnas.  I also tripled the meat in this dish b/c it is so carb heavy.  I used some organic tomato sauce.  I don’t buy the grated Parmesan cheese to cook with.  Take a look at the ingredients and you’ll figure out why.  Instead, I buy some shredded Parmesan from Sam’s that doesn’t have the preservatives.

5. Doris’ Meatloaf – This is the recipe for my grandmother’s meatloaf.  I made two of them using homemade ketchup and breadcrumbs from my home

made bread.


6. Taco Soup – I ended up making 5 gallons of this.  The recipe uses canned beans, but I used dry ones that soaked the night before.  It took all day for this to cook and I think I added some different beans than what was called for.  Also, I increased the meat and used my own taco seasoning.

taco seasoning





I also pre-made a few side dishes:

1. I had some black-eyed peas left over from New Year’s Day.  I went ahead and soaked them and split them up into bags.  I added some chopped onions, ham scraps, garlic, and seasonings.  We had some of these with the meatloaf last week.  All it took was dumping the entire bag into a pot, adding some water, and then letting them simmer until soft.  Very easy!

2. I also went ahead and got a few bags ready to make re-fried beans.  I used the following recipe, but split it up into small bags.  I used the ingredients that they listed, but I could’ve just used some of my homemade taco seasoning.


3. I fixed some green beans also. I bought fresh beans at Kroger, snapped and rinsed them.  Then froze them along with some onions and seasoning.  I let them boil until soft, then cooked them in the skillet with a little bit of oil and garlic.

All in all, it took me 2 days to fix all of this food.  Three days if you include the day I cooked the meat, although that took very little effort.  The first day took the longest b/c I made the tortilla shells that day. Here are a few other cooking suggestions that helped save time:

1. Buy a food processor if you don’t have one already.  Mine has a blade to shred cheese which saves a lot of time and effort.  I use the regular blade to shred the chicken.  I use it for almost all of my recipes.  Here’ a link to the one that I have: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Black-Decker-PowerPro-Wide-Mouth-Food-Processor/16944966

2. I got an apple peeler/corer for Christmas from Andrea, my sister-in-law.  I used it for the potatoes in the Shepard’s Pie.  It saved a lot of time when it came to peeling the potatoes and they cooked faster since they were sliced.  Here’s the link to the apple peeler she gave me: http://www.amazon.com/Andersons-Baking-Peeling-Coring-Machine/dp/B000EI7ZC

3. Have a plan in mind.  I knew what needed to be done first and what could wait.  I made the soup to begin with b/c I knew it would need to cook all day.  I soaked the beans overnight so that I could make the soup.  I also cooked the meat the day before so that I would have the chicken cooked and the chicken broth.

4. I stored the chicken broth in pitchers.  Sounds gross I know, and make sure your kids don’t get it confused with apple juice.  The pitcher made it easier to measure and pour.

5. I froze the meals in disposable aluminum pans that came from Sam’s.  You can buy these at any grocery store though.  Here’s the link for these:  http://www.samsclub.com/sams/bakers-chefs-aluminum-foil-steam-table-pans-half-size-30-ct/200080.ip?sprodId=200080

6. When it’s time to cook one of the meals, take it out the night before and let it sit on the counter top.  In the morning, put it in the fridge.  It took most of them about 1 hour to cook.

All the work was definitely worth it in the end.  However, don’t feel like you have to cook all of the meals.  Try out a few and see how it goes.  We also have a deep freezer which we store the meals in.  I suggest buying one if possible.  You can usually find them on Craigslist if you don’t want to buy one at full retail price.

So, this ended up being a lot longer blog than I planned, but I wanted to include as much information as possible.  Let me know if you have any questions or suggestions of meals for my next big cook, which hopefully won’t be for a few months.  And keep in mind, a small step is better than no step at all!