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.

Stew:
  • 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. 

    Monday, February 9, 2015

    Chai Latte

    I've always been a fan of chai. Growing up I loved it. Today I love it. Chai lattes in cold weather, iced chai lattes in hot (or a chai milkshake!).... chai all year round!




    My children want what I have, of course, and who could blame them when it's something as delicious as chai? Since I discovered Oregon Chai concentrate, I've been a happier mama. I emailed them to inquire about ingredients in their "spices". When I was pregnant, I took care to avoid fennel and anise. Neither Tazo chai concentrate nor Oregon chai concentrate listed the ingredients of their spices. I prefer the taste of Oregon chai by far, so when they emailed me back to tell me they do NOT have fennel or anise in their concentrate, I was ecstatic. 

    They continued their email with:
    "I would like to mention that we have recently introduced a line of chai tea bags, two of which DO contain ground anise seed, so you will want to avoid those for now. (These would be The Original and Energia.) The only one of the tea bags which does not contain ground anise seed is the caffeine-free Dreamscape. "

    Good information to have! So, excitedly, I found their caffeine-free chai concentrate at the local grocery, and indulged in my favourite drink(s). I've continued to purchase the caffeine-free chai concentrate, as I'm still nursing Squiggle and she doesn't need the caffeine! That, and Bobble wants to share the drink, and he doesn't need that, either.


    Long intro for a simple "recipe", but it's not really a recipe today so much as a suggestion for a lovely drink you can share with your children, caffeine-free.




    If you're curious, no. I was not contacted by Oregon Chai to post for them, and I am not being compensated for this post. I just seriously love this product!

    Chai Latte

    • Oregon Chai Concentrate (Caffeine-free) 
    • Milk of your choice (If you want a milk alternative, Oat milk is fabulous with this as it is a naturally sweet milk) 
    • Whipped cream (you can make your own easily, or find a natural whipped cream like Cabot at Trader Joe's) 
    • Cinamon
    1 - Pour equal parts of chai concentrate and milk in a cup (you might want a little less concentrate if you are adding whipped cream... I always taste this cold before heating up to make sure I like the ratio).



    2 - Heat small cup (for a child) for 30 seconds (will make nice and warm for them, but not hot), or 1-2 minutes for a large mug or to make hot.



    3 - Add whipped cream and sprinkle with cinnamon.

    Enjoy!

    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 5, 2015

    Thursday Tip: Bath Time

    Some children are content to sit in a tub while you wash them quickly and get them out. Others want to be in the tub as long as you will let them (or until the water runs cold). Many children, however, want nothing more than to throw a fit if you try to bathe without them. Sometimes that's because they want to bathe too, but I think, more often that not, it's because you've shut them out of the room you are in.

    No matter what scenario sounds the most like your child, there is a possible solution. I understand this isn't a solution for literally everyone, but this might help for anyone who has a child that is a skilled sitter (up until you aren't comfortable with it anymore).

    Both of my children fall into the "I want to be in the tub every possible waking moment" category, though Squiggle was like that and she freaked out if I left the room for a millisecond. The best way for me to successfully shower and the children to be happy was to shower with them on the other end of the tub. Bobble, being the crazy kid he is, loved being IN the falling water if I let him.



    I would grab a few bath toys, start up the shower so it was nice and hot (the water cools as it falls, so hot to me is luke warm by the time it reaches them), and climb in with baby in tow. I would plug the tub and allow a bit of water to collect, then drain it when it got a bit high. I'd repeat until I was done showering, then I'd bathe the munchkin (after all, they just sat in water that was rinsing dirt off of mom!), and we'd get out at the same time. That usually resulted in a happy baby.

    Also, we have one of those sliding track doors on our tub, so there is no place to sit to bathe baby from the outside, anyway.

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

    Wednesday, February 4, 2015

    Cloth 101: Fitteds

    When looking into diapers, many people want to know what is the absolute BEST diaper of a certain style. This post is to show you why you can't really select one "best" diaper... there are many designs for the same type of diaper! This post will show you a couple "fitted" diapers.

    Before I continue, I would like to apologize that the only fitteds I have left anymore are pretty much the same style. I will show a few older photos I have from when Bobble was younger, and also mention a few other styles that I don't have anymore.

    Fitted diapers are full diapers that still need some sort of waterproof cover (such as wool covers, PUL/TPU covers, fleece covers, etc.) to be complete. The benefit to fitted diapers is that the entire diaper is absorbent, not just a strip between your child's legs. If you find yourself in search of a night time solution that won't leave your child's bedding damp in the morning, these might be your solution! Imagine a diaper with just the strip between your child's legs being completely saturated. If they roll over or shift positions, that pressure on the insert will cause liquid to seep out. Odds are, that will go to their clothing and bedding. In a fitted, the entire diaper is absorbent. Not only is that less likely due to the fact the liquid can spread out (thus, less concentrated in one area!), but if there is pressure applied in one spot, it just seeps into other parts of the diaper. I really wish I had discovered fitteds sooner!

    (There are also hybrid fitteds that have a layer of material sewn inside to help keep moisture inside the diaper. These are not completely waterproof, though they can be worn without a cover longer than those that do not have this feature. I am not covering any of these hybrid diapers in this post.)

    TotsBots Stretch Bamboozle on left, Sustainablebabyish Overnight Bamboo Fitted on right
     
     Thirsties Fab Fitted (above left and right)

    The two brands of fitted diapers I still have and use are TotsBots Bamboozle (left) and Sustainablebabyish (S'bish) Overnight Bamboo Fitted (OBF for short). I also use S'bish Happy Little Clouds (HLC), but I didn't have two to show open and closed, so that will be below.

    TotsBots Bamboozle - This diaper is available in a size 1 and size 2. There are adjustable rise snaps, and the wonderfully durable TotsBots aplix closure. The booster snaps in, held by a pair of snaps in the front of the diaper. More absorbency can be added between the cover and the fitted, or a smallish booster could be placed under the snap-in inset inside the fitted. This diaper is possibly the trimmest fitted I've ever used, but holds a ridiculously huge amount of moisture. It's also very soft.

    Sustainablebabyish OBF - These diapers also have snaps to hold the insert to the diaper, though the insert is much longer and can be folded to boost absorbency in different areas. There are cross-over snaps to help get a good fit, but these diapers are sized, so you won't find rise snaps. While the can hold a lot, the material is rather stiff around the edges where it is serged (like the legs), and that seems like it would be uncomfortable on baby. My little one ended up with the stiff material around the leg elastics sticking straight out, pushing into her thighs. That aside, I loved how these diapers worked. If trimness under clothing is a concern of yours, you might not like this diaper.







    The above 4 pictures are all the Sbish HLC. The two two show with the front up, the bottom two show with the front folded down (for shorter babies)


    S'bish HLC - This diaper is almost identical to the S'bish OBF. The differences are the outer diaper material and the sizing/adjusting. For the material, the insert that snaps in is the same as the HLC, while the outer material is a very stretchy and soft material (much like the Bamboozle). This eliminated the only complaint I had with the S'bish OBF. This diaper, like the OBF, is sized... but differently. The OBF has sizes XS through XL while the HLC have only two sizes. Size 1 fits from 7-15 lbs, and size 2 fits from 15-35lbs. To make these diapers adjust a bit to accommodate baby, the HLC has both cross-over snaps and the option to fold down the front of the diaper. Inside the diaper there are more snaps, allowing you to effectively shorten the rise of the diaper (See bottom two pictures of the HLC shown above.)



    Thirsties Fab Fitted - This fitted is super soft and easily one of the most pleasant diapers I've ever touched. It has rise snaps (visible at the pictures shown at the top of the post) and a stay dry material that goes against baby. Not many fitteds that I've encountered have a stay dry material! These diapers have the option of a snap or aplix closure (please note that the aplix closure pictured in this post is their old aplix. Their new aplix is wider and more durable), and their snap closure diapers do have a cross-over snap. These are offered in size 1 (6-18lbs) and size 2 (18-40lbs). For added absorbency, you can easily slide a booster or doubler into the tunnel created by the way the diaper is sewn (see above picture). The only down side to this diaper is that the absorbent material is all microfiber. If you're not a fan of microfiber, you're not going to want this diaper.

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

    Monday, February 2, 2015

    Loaded Potato Soup

    My kids and I are huge fans of potatoes, though hubby isn't the biggest fan. Still, I had to try this loaded potato soup when I saw a recipe for it. Even hubby thought it sounded good, so that was a perk.



    I tweaked the recipe some, especially since it didn't give a guesstimate weight for the potatoes and potatoes vary in size, but there are still some recommendations I would make different than what I did. Please see recommendations at the bottom of the recipe.

    This is the recipe as I made it:

    Loaded Potato Soup
    variation of this Momspotted recipe

    • 3# golden potatoes (peeled and cubed)
    • 1 medium onion chopped
    • 4 cloves minced garlic
    • 1t pepper
    • 4c chicken stock
    • 1.5c heavy cream
    • Shredded cheddar cheese
    • Crumbled bacon
    • Dried chives to garnish
    1) Add potatoes, onion, garlic, chicken stock, and pepper to crock pot. Cook on low for 7 hours.

    2) Add heavy cream and puree using an immersion blender. Cook on low for another 30 minutes.


    3) Add desired toppings and enjoy!

    Don't mind my ancient, burned-up counter top. It's on the "replacement" waiting list!



    RECOMMENDATIONS:

    - First, I thought this tasted good, but more like onion than not. I would strongly recommend using have the amount of onion, or even completely omitting the onion in the soup and just using chopped green onions atop the soup as a garnish.

    -Another alternative would be sauteing onion slices and adding them to the soup as you puree (to add a different flavour), or dicing the onions, sauteing, and adding as a garnish on top.

    - The cheese on top was good, but I really think it could have used some cheese inside the soup, especially with omission of the onion.

    I would recommend something more along these lines:

    Loaded Potato Soup



  • 3# golden potatoes (peeled and cubed)
  • 1/4c chopped onion (or complete omission of onion)
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1t pepper
  • 4c chicken stock
  • 1.5c heavy cream
  • 2c shredded cheddar


  • Garnish

  • Shredded cheddar cheese
  • Crumbled bacon
  • Chopped fresh green onion
  • Greek yogurt or Sour cream


  • Same instructions except I would add the 2c shredded cheddar after pureeing the soup, stir well, and let cook another 30min on low. 

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