Monday, March 2, 2015

Pumpkin Chili

I'm going to come straight out and say it: I was scared to try this recipe. I dislike all squash except zucchini and yellow summer squash. The only exception is pumpkin pie. I love pumpkin pie. While I will eat some squash I dislike (like spaghetti squash), I certainly try to avoid it. Still, I was super intrigued by this recipe from MOMables. Also, my whole family loves squash. I made this recipe already assuming I would dislike it.

With cheese sprinkled on top
The recipe was super simple to make, especially since we had a can of organic pumpkin on hand. Normally I avoid canned items, but we do keep a few things in the pantry just in case. Normally we end up using the foods as they near the end of their shelf life because we simply don't use canned foods frequently. That's okay, though. I'd rather have them around in case we do need them then be caught unawares!

Without cheese
The recipe is really simple.

We added 1 small onion and a can of pinto beans since that's what was on hand.

To my surprise, you couldn't taste the pumpkin. I was prepared to not like the meal. I have a super sensitive palate, and can taste pretty much anything... but not the pumpkin. It actually bothered me that I knew there was pumpkin in it and yet I couldn't taste it! Another thing that bothered me is the fact I couldn't taste the ground turkey as turkey. I wasn't upset by that since I actually have a strong dislike of ground turkey. I love ground beef, but I just can't get past the flavour of ground turkey. This dish tasted like regular (as in no pumpkin, and with beef) chili. Not too shabby! I added some greek yogurt atop my chili and then topped that with some cheese. Delicious!

This meal would have been delicious with some cornbread. Next time we are definitely doing this with cornbread!

Disclaimer: Thoughts of Fluff was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own and may differ from those of your own. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Thursday Tips: Dry and Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs are absolutely delicious, far tastier than dried. Some are even nearly impossible to over use when fresh, like basil. Basil, dried, can easily ruin a dish if too much is added. On the contrary, you could add an entire basil plant worth of fresh basil leaves to a dish and it won't be ruined (yes, I've tested this theory).
Freshly chopped dill
Dried dill
Sadly, fresh herbs aren't always an option, so dried herbs get used a lot, too. They cannot be used in the same proportion (as mentioned above with my basil example), so how much DO you use? Easy! Just add dry herbs in 1/3 of the amount called for in fresh.

1T of fresh = 1t of dried

Of course, opt for fresh if possible. When it's not an option, don't forget it's not a 1:1!

Disclaimer: Thoughts of Fluff was not compensated for this post.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Shepherd's Pie

I have been looking for a good Shepherd's Pie recipe for a while, and finally saw one that grabbed my attention. I actually was hoping to make the recipe soon when I found the recipe in my inbox! (I am signed up for Serious Eats' newsletter, and it just happened to be Shepherd's Pie that day.)

I attempted to make the recipe as it was, but I lacked russet potatoes and fresh herbs, so I had to make a few adjustments. I mostly followed the recipe, though. Oh, I also used ground lamb instead of chunks of lamb. 

I must add: It was delicious! I don't think that there was enough potato for the top, and I also found the stew to be too liquidy, so I would probably add more flour (or less broth) next time depending on how it looked.

  • 1 1/2# ground lamb
  • Fresh ground black pepper
  • 2T canola oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 4 carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 4 celery stalks, chopped
  • 2T flour
  • 4c lamb or beef stock/broth
  • 3 large potatoes, peeled and cubed (roughly 2 cups)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1t dried thyme
  • 1t dried rosemary
  • 1t dried oregano
Mashed Potatoes:
  • 3# potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1t salt
  • 4 lg. egg yolks
  • 1/2c unsalted butter
  • 1/2c heavy cream
*Preheat oven to 450 near the end of step 5

1) Brown the lamb meat and set aside.
*If you are using cubes of meat, dry with a paper towel, season with salt and pepper if desired, and saute in some oil over medium high heat. Let the meat brown to the pan for several minutes before stirring (stirring too soon will cause them to release water and boil instead of brown).Turn over after about 4 minutes and let brown again, then remove from heat.

Meat browned and set aside (in dish I later baked in)
2) Put the veggies in the pan the lamb was browned in, and stir. The veggies will release water while they cook and help remove the browned lamb from the pan. Scrape up any brown pieces from the pan with a spoon or spatula (leave in for flavour, though!). Continue to sweat the veggies for about 5 minutes.

3) Add in flour and let brown for around 2 minutes. Add in stock, then potatoes and spices. Return meat to pan and bring to a boil. As soon as it starts boiling, lower the heat to medium and simmer for 90 minutes, covered, until the meat is tender (if cubed) or until all veggies are done. Complete step 4 while this is simmering. When done, remove bay leaves and transfer stew into baking dish.

4) Boil potatoes until fully cooked, drain, then place back in pot. Stir for a few minutes over the heat to ensure they are dry. Add egg yolks, butter, and cream, mashing/whisking until smooth.
*Do this quickly, as the potatoes will become gummy and starchy if they cool too much.

5) Smooth mashed potatoes over the stew in the baking dish. (Or use a pastry bag and a large star tip to pipe the mixture over the top. I tried. I failed miserably at this.) Make sure to create a full seal across the top with the potatoes.

6) Place pie on top of a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, and bake for 30-35 minutes (or until potatoes are browned and the filling is bubbly.) Let sit for 15 minutes, then serve hot.

I found this to be a bit more soup-y than stew-y when I made it, so I would cut back by 1/2c or 1c of stock next time, or just add more flour in step 3. It wasn't a big deal, I just drained a bit of the juice off and served. Absolutely delicious!

Disclaimer: Thoughts of Fluff was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own and may differ from those of your own. Recipe based off of Serious Eats' shepherd's pie recipe found here.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Hoppediz Jacquard Wrap

I have heard a lot of lovely things about Hoppediz wraps, and recently have been lucky enough to try one out for myself. I got to try out the Jacquard sling, which is a cotton and linen blend, in Florenz. This wrap is a 3.7m (size 4), while my other reviews have been of larger wraps (size 6).

Hanging to dry

I took some before and after washing photos, too. Look how much fluffier it gets!

Before washing
after washing
While the lighting wasn't the best for the first picture (before washing), you can see it was much flatter. This wrap is very soft, and feels nice and sturdy, too.

As per usual, I was met with some resistance by Squiggle when I tried to wear her. She is very much a fan of being worn... if you can catch her! I borrowed a baby (and obtained permission to post) for a few pictures. He's a lovely little model, though! I have the "wrong" side out on this FWCC picture, but I prefer the darker side of this wrap.

You can see plenty of carriers in the background, too. This is from a local babywearing meeting. I don't hog my carriers all to myself, I let others use them, too!

I finally wrangled up Squiggle to get a few shots of a ruck with the "right" side out on the carrier.

Ruck - side shot
Ruck - front shot
Back shot - Ruck
 I really love this sling, and I love the simplicity of the black and white while it still boasts a full-coverage floral design. I really like that the design still manages to be simple while covering the entire wrap. The quality of the material is fantastic, and I don't have any doubts that this is a durable wrap. It was also extremely comfortable!

Taken from the Hoppediz page: "Our idea and our aim is to offer a high-quality sling at a fair price to performance ratio, and at the same time to dispense with the prejudice that "carrying is too complicated" using our extensive and easy to understand carrying instructions."

They certainly nailed the quality on the sling, and the instruction booklet that arrived with the sling is definitely easy to read and has numerous carries in it complete with step-by-step instructions!

For more information on Hoppediz, check out their web page. Don't forget to check out all the other neat items they have (jackets, doll carriers, fleece covers to go over baby carriers, etc.)! Honestly, I'm wishing I had one of those fleece carriers right now... this winter is a chilly one!

Disclaimer: Thoughts of Fluff was sent the above product to facilitate the review. This did not sway my opinion in any way, and all opinions in this review are my 100% honest opinion. All opinions are my own and may differ from those of your own.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Thursday Tips: Baking Sheets

I've always just cleaned my table really well (or counter top) when I needed to have space for baking, but when I saw this silicone baking sheet at Aldi one day, I knew I had to buy it. Not for cooking or baking, but for my kids.

My kids love to play with playdoh, but it can get into the cracks on my table where the leaves are inserted. This mat, however, stops that.

It's also good for painting, or even just using as a place mat. All the placemats I've looked at in the stores are slippery. That's easy to wipe off, but the whole thing will just slide off the table without much prompting. These mats aren't going anywhere. They are also easy to store. A big, thin piece of silicone that can be stored flat without taking up space, or rolled up. They are great for meal time, great for craft time, and who knows? Maybe, one day, I'll even try using one for baking.

Disclaimer: Thoughts of Fluff was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own an may differ from those of your own.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Broccoli Cheese Soup (from scratch)

One soup I've loved since a child is Broccoli Cheese Soup. It's always been a favourite of mine, and I was fortunate enough to discover, thanks to this recipe, that it is also one both of my children love. I stumbled across this Panera Bread copy cat recipe at Yammie's Noshery, but while I was making it discovered that I needed to tweak it to get a soup that I would like.

My biggest issue with most soup is the incredibly skimpy amount of vegetables in it. I fixed that. Below is my recipe, made multiple times and devoured by all!

Broccoli Cheese Soup
Based on this recipe from Yammie's Noshery

  • 1/2 stick of butter (1/4c)
  • 1/2 of a medium yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves minced garlic
  • 1c of milk
  • 1c of heavy cream
  • 3c chicken stock
  • 1/4c corn starch
  • 1/4t nutmeg
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 2c chopped carrots (roughly 4 carrots)
  • 4-6c broccoli florets (an entire bunch + some more if you desire)
  • 3c shredded cheddar cheese
  • Pepper to taste

  • 1) Sautee onions and garlic in butter over medium heat for about 5 minutes or until tender.

    2) Add the milk, cream, and stock.

    3) Combine corn starch with a bit of water (or a bit extra broth) and stir until fully dissolved. Add to the pot.

    4) Turn heat to medium low and add in nutmeg and bay leaves, stirring until thickened.

    5) Add in the vegetables and allow to simmer until tender (roughly 30 minutes).

    6) Remove bay leaves and stir in cheese until fully incorporated.

    7) Serve.

    This will have an excellent flavour, especially if you use homemade chicken stock. There will be no need to add any salt while cooking (or after it is served), as there is plenty of sodium in the cheese, and, as I mentioned already, there is no lack of flavour.

    This recipe is easy to make, and a crowd pleaser. Definitely a win in our household! I really need to remember to make bread bowls next time, though! I don't have images of the children eating the food because I was too busy stuffing my face. The leftovers go quickly, too!

    This recipe claims to serve 4, and I could see it feeding 6 adults good sized servings. If you are serving with bread bowls, I'd think it could feed 8. You will easily have leftovers to get at least one more meal out of it for 4 adults, though.

    Disclaimer: Thoughts of Fluff was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own and may differ from your own. This recipe is an adaptation of one found at Yammie's Noshery.

    Thursday, February 12, 2015

    Thursday Tip: Reusing Tubes

    Many of us strive to be greener. Well, I at least assume that to be the case for most of my readers! Reusing tubes from paper towel rolls, toilet paper rolls, wrapping paper rolls, etc. is one way you to have fun with your kids and give a second life to an item otherwise discarded after the primary purpose.

    For wrapping paper tubes, you've easily got the equipment for a fun "sword fight" (or whatever you prefer to call it). The smaller tubes, and also cut up wrapping paper rolls, are great for bird feeders. I was using pine cones to do this activity with my kids, but then I saw a post by a fellow blogger about using tubes instead. Sadly, I cannot remember what blog this was, but have been looking for it and will link to it when I do find it. Using tubes worked better because they didn't break as readily as the pine cones, and since my little one was 3 the last time we tried this, he wasn't the gentlest. (Pine cones work great for older kids, maybe 6 or 7, and you don't need to bother retrieving them after they've served their purpose as a feeder.)

    It's really simple to do, but I would recommend setting aside a jar of peanut butter and writing on the lid that it's for birds. We did that and we store the peanut butter with our birdseed ... just in case.

    You just need the following items:

    • String
    • Tubes of some sort
    • Scissors
    • Peanut butter
    • Bird seed

    Poke a hole in the tubes maybe 1/2" - 1" from one end (and on both sides) so you can feed a string through.

    Feed string through and knot, but leave long ends so you can tie around a tree or whatever you will be hanging the feeders from.

    Spread peanut butter all around the tube.

    Roll the tube in birdseed.

    Hang outside and watch the birds eat!

    We got a lot of squirrel visitors before we got birds, but the kids enjoyed watching the squirrels eat, too.

    Disclaimer: Thoughts of Fluff was not compensated for this post. All opinions are my own and may differ from those of your own.