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Salted Caramel and Chocolate Cookie Bars

Caramelitas232

Last night as I was getting ready for bed, I heard the sound of a snow shovel banging the pavement outside my house.  My first thought was, “I hate winter! Please spring hurry up”! In my neighborhood, people are really go getters when it comes to shoveling.  The last snow flake has barely fallen before people are out there clearing the walks and driveways.  On this particular day, it had only snowed a few inches so I knew that it would not be enough to warrant my neighbor getting out his snow blower and so kindly doing his walk and mine, but that it was too much to ignore, so I would have to shovel.  I can’t really complain too much though as like I said, we have the world’s best neighbors who have been so kind as to use their snow blower to clear our sidewalk and driveway all winter long.  I could never thank them enough, so I always bake them something special just to say thank you.

Just before I got into bed I decided to peek out my window and see which of my neighbors was so motivated that they were shoveling their walk at 10:00 at night.  As I looked out the window, I was shocked (and thrilled) to see that the teenage boy who lives next to me was actually out there shoveling MY driveways. OMG what a fantastic surprise.  I quickly put on my slippers and popped out the doors to say thank you, thank you, thank you to this sweet young man.  He just smiled and said “sure no problem” as if this is something all people do.  As I laid in bed thinking about that kind kid, I knew I had to bake him something really really delicious.  Salted Caramel and Chocolate bars were the perfect thing!

Let me start by saying that I think this may be one of the most delicious and most addictive things I have ever baked.  The best part is that it is actually a really simple recipe too.  People will love you for these and think that they were much harder to make then they actually were.

Here is what you need:

1 c. flour

1.5 c. oats (old-fashioned or quick oats)

1 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

3/4 c. (1 and a 1/2 sticks) melted butter

3/4 c. packed brown sugar

3/4 c. chocolate chips

The caramel decision:

Next you will have a decision to make.  For the caramel sauce, you could easily melt about 30-40 caramel squares in a pan with about 1/2 c. of heavy cream. Then add about 1/2 teaspoon good sea salt once the caramel is melted and smooth.  If you are feeling a bit more adventurous you could make a salted caramel sauce. I had made this a few days ago for another recipe so I had some in my fridge already.  I think for many people making caramel might sound a bit intimidating.  Well let me tell you, if I can do it, you can do it.  The only hard part was not getting distracted and walking away.  You just need to stay with it for the entire 5 minutes or so in order to keep it from burning.  This is such a delicious sauce that I really recommend that you make it.  If you follow the recipe here for salted caramel sauce it will make some extra. You will need about half for this recipe. Put the other half in the fridge in a jar and enjoy on everything (or just by the spoonful as I do).

For the caramel sauce you will need either:

30-40 caramel squares

1/2 c. heavy cream

1/2 tsp. sea salt

OR

1 recipe for Salted Caramel Sauce ( you will only need about half for this recipe)

Here is what you do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Combine the flour, oats, baking soda, salt and melted butter.  Spread half of the mixture on the bottom of and 8×8 baking dish and bake for 10 minutes.  After 10 minutes, remove from oven and evenly pour chocolate chips and caramel sauce over the crust.  Then spread the remaining dough mixture on top.  Then return to the oven and bake for about 15-20 more minutes or until he edges are bubbly and golden brown.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool before cutting and removing from the pan.

You may be thinking that this makes a pretty small batch as it is baked in an 8 x 8 pan. Well it does and at first I was tempted to double the recipe.  These are so delicious and irresistible that I was glad I did not double it.  We gave about half to the neighbor kid and then ate the rest at home. I literally could not control myself around these.  Every time I walked into the kitchen, I had just a little piece.  That little piece became half the recipe in no time.  I was glad when they were gone so I could go back to life and stop obsessing over these.  Hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

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Home Remedies Part 2- Weight Loss

I thought I would break down the post on home remedies into a couple different posts so that the information would not be too overwhelming.  Here are the next 8 home remedies on the list.

Here are 8 natural ways to help you achieve and maintain a healthy weight

1. Milk- Studies showed that those who drank a glass of fat free milk before lunch experienced decreased appetite and calorie intake compared to those who drank fruit juice.  Click here for more information about drinking milk for weight loss.

2. Almonds : One of the healthiest of all the nuts, research has been found that people with a diet rich in almonds lost more pounds than those without. They also helped with blood pressure.  Shape magazine says that almonds are one of the top 25 natural appetite suppressant.

3. Vinegar : Some studies suggest that vinegar can increase metabolism. This in turn helps the body process food and burn more calories. There is some debate about the effectiveness of vinegar in weight loss.  Here is more about apple cider vinegar.

4. Jalapenos :, The spice found in these peppers can  increase metabolism. In fact, many naturally spicy foods tout similar properties. While these do not burn a ton of extra calories (about 50-75 a day), if you enjoy spicy food then throw them in.  Click here for more on jalapenos for weight loss.

5. Evening Primrose Oil : The oil is extracted from a plant of the same name and contains an essential fatty acid that can help with metabolism. Other benefits include combating cholesterol, fatigue, improper hormone levels, and more. Here is a little more information on evening primrose oil.

7. Coconut : The oil found in coconuts is said to have weight losing properties. I have read about people that take a tablespoon or two before meals and they say it helps with weight loss.  There is quite a bit of research that would support that belief. Click here for more about using coconut oil.

8. Pine Nuts : Use these nuts as a garnish to many dishes to help naturally decrease your appetite.  Pine nut oil contains pinolenic acid, a fatty acid that stimulates the body to produce two natural appetite suppressants.  Click here for more about pine nuts.

9. Flaxseeds : Similar to the above, they also help suppress appetite. The seeds also contains omega-3 fats and fiber as well. I love flaxseeds. They add a delicious nutty flavor to baked goods and oatmeal. Keep flaxseeds in your freezer to extend its shelf life once opened.  Here is a bit more info on flaxseeds.

There you have it. Eight natural additions to your diet that could aid in your weight loss.  Thanks for reading!

Do you have any tips or tricks that you use to help maintain a healthy weight? I would love to hear from you!

 

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10 Useful Tips for Every Gardener

These ten tips came from a blog that I love.  The blog is call The Soulsby Farm: A very small farm.

It is a fantastic blog.  Here is a list of tips that was recently posted on their website.  Definitely a worthwhile quick read.  Enjoy!

10 Useful Tips for Every Gardener

June 24, 2012 by Soulsby Farm – A Very Small Farm

Here’s a list of my tips to grow more veggies, keeps animals away, water the right way and more!

  1. Make plant markers by using an old mini blind. Take the slats, cut them with scissors and use a Sharpie. Go to Goodwill if you don’t have any. You can get one for .50 cents.
  2. Keep deer away from your garden by using human hair. I save my clippings when I buzz my head or you can go to your local hairdresser and ask for hair, they may look at you weird but they’re happy to get rid of it. Sprinkle it around the perimeter and replace every couple weeks or after a big rain.
  3. Use coffee grounds to fertilize your soil. Go to a local coffee shop and ask for their spent grounds. They save them at my shop for gardeners and have a sack behind the counter.
  4. If starting vegetables from seed is intimidating, try radishes. They’re really easy and go from seed to fruit in 35 Days.
  5.  Also, to keep deer and other animals out of the garden, pee on the fence posts. This is easier if you’re a guy but if you’re a gal, be happy about multiple orgasms.
  6. To trap critters, I’ve had the best luck with the following bait; Raccoons love marshmallows and cat food. Rabbits like carrots (duhh) but love brussel sprouts and spray the trap with apple cider. Ground Hogs love apples and mice well…peanut butter is all you need.
  7. Don’t water during the day. It’s useless and a waste. Most of it will evaporate and if you water the plant, the sun can burn it up (think of water droplets as tiny magnifying glasses). Always water at the base. Keep in mind vegetables are made up of mostly water. A tomato is 90-95% water.
  8. If you want to get children interested in gardening, stay away from root vegetables. They can’t see the growth and understand what’s going on underneath the ground and can’t visualize it. Stick with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, pumpkins and corn. The changes are visually stunning and fun to watch.
  9. Always plant flowers throughout your garden to attract pollinators. And besides, it atheistically pleasing.
  10. Grow organically and plant non-GMO seeds. Why put poison on something you’re going to eat. And if you’re growing organically, be sure your plants and seeds are not genetically modified. Why waste time gardening organically if you’re growing a tomato created by splicing fish dna and a strawberry?

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Refried Beans and Cheddar Cheese Frittata

My husband and I spent our honeymoon in Mexico and enjoyed so many things about it, but especially the food.  We both love Mexican food and to me there is nothing better than real, authentic mexican food.  One of my favorite parts of mexican food is all the beans.  I love beans of all kinds, but have a have a true love for refried beans.  On our honeymoon I ate beans at literally every meal. I especially loved refried beans poured over my morning omelette.  That is where the idea for this recipe came from.  I am always trying to mix beans into my children’s’ meals because they are so yummy, good for you and very inexpensive.  Right now my 3.5 year old is on a kick of wanting to eat refried bean and cheese quesadillas at every meal.  This recipe came out of the idea of trying to combine some of our favorite dinner ingredients.  Sometimes the best dinners don’t come from a recipe at all.  They come from a little experimenting.  So without further adieu,

Here is what you need:

1 whole wheat tortilla

1/2 -1 c. refried beans

1/2 c. cheddar cheese

1/2 c. lowfat milk

2 handfuls of fresh spinach, chopped

5 whole eggs plus 3 egg whites

Here is what you do:

Preheat oven to 375. While oven heats, spray the bottom and sides of pie dish with non-stick cooking spray.  Then spread refried beans on the tortilla and put the tortilla (bean side up) into the baking dish.  Next sprinkle half of the cheese over the beans.  In a bowl combine the milk, eggs and the rest of the cheese and whisk together until well combined.  Then mix in the chopped spinach and stir to combine.  The spinach should be cut into large bite size pieces.   Next pour the entire egg mixture over the tortilla and beans and bakes in the 375 degree oven for 18 minutes.  After 18 minutes, turn the oven up to 425 and bake for an additional 5-7 minutes or until it is golden brown and puffed up a bit.

For a side dish, I made roasted asparagus because it is yummy and so easy (plus requires very little clean up).  Asparagus is in season right now so eat up while it is tasting it’s best and easy on the wallet.  For the asparagus, I cut off the bottom 3 inches because it can be tough and then put the asparagus on a foil lined baking sheet.  I turned the edges of the foil up slightly to prevent any liquid from running all over my oven.  In a small bowl, combined the juice of 1/2 a lemon, 2 tbsp olive oil, 1/4 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp. garlic powder.  I then drizzled the mixture over the asparagus and put in the oven.  If you make the fritatta with the asparagus put in the asparagus when you turn the oven up to 425. This way both things will be done at the same time.

This whole dinner took me less than 10 minutes to prep and was great because my daughter could help with each step. She loves to sprinkle the cheese and stir the eggs.  By using whole eggs and egg whites you can really cut down on the fat and cholesterol without sacrificing any of the taste.  I used 2 % milk which made it taste pretty rich, but you could use skim milk if you wanted.  If you want to splurge, whole milk would be delicious.   One of the things I like most about this is that this meal has something from all the food groups making it not only tasty and satisfying, but healthy too. It doesn’t get much better than this.  You could also mix in any veggies you wanted and could top this with sour cream, salsa and even some fresh cilantro.

You really have got to try this and see for yourself how the crispy tortilla on the bottom and the creamy refried beans turn and ordinary fritatta into something amazing.

How do you make your fritattas?  What sort of unusual ingredients do you use to make it unique and delicious? I would love to hear about your variations and what you think of this recipe.

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Not Your Average Banana Chocolate Chip Muffins!

Ok so I know what you are thinking…not another muffin recipe, but this one is really worth sharing.  Once every couple of weeks, my 3.5 year old has the job of bringing snack to preschool for her class.  If left up to my daughter we would always bring munchkin donuts (don’t get me wrong I do LOVE munchkins), so each time I set out to make something as delicious and a bit healthier for her to share with her friends.  My daughter requested muffins, so I challenged myself to make muffins that would be a little healthier than most, but also tastier than most. Well this is definitely my best recipe yet.

Here is what you need:

1  3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour  (you could also use all purpose flour)

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. baking soda

1 tsp. baking powder

1/2 c. banana honey greek yogurt

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 egg

1/2 c. canola oil (you could use vegetable oil)

3 very ripe mashed bananas

1/2 c. mini chocolate chips

Here is what you do:

Sift together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and baking powder.  I used to think sifting the ingredients together was unnecessary, but it really does make them better.  I think it makes them lighter and fluffier.  I also used whole wheat pastry flour because I think it makes muffins much more moist, but you could definitely use all purpose if that is what you have.  I always keep Bob’s Red Mill Whole wheat pastry flour in the house for any time I am baking.  It is amazing and so much healthier than AP flour.  The in another bowl combine your mashed bananas, the greek yogurt, vanilla, egg and canola oil.  I used the chobani kids banana honey greek yogurt because that is what I had in the fridge.  I used one of those small containers which is just shy of 1/2 a cup.  Mix the wet ingredients until they are well combined. Then add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix until well combined.  Next fold in 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips.  Spoon the mixture into paper lined muffin tins and fill 3/4 full to get nice big muffins.  Bake at 350 for 23-25 minutes or until golden brown.

Ok so what makes these muffins better than average you ask?  I think the secret to these muffins really is in the greek yogurt.  Not only does it add protein and calcium to the muffins, but it makes them super moist and really taste like bananas.  There is nothing worse than a banana muffin where you can barely taste the banana.  Also, using canola oil rather than vegetable oil helps add heart healthy fat and tastes exactly the same.  See the link below for more about the health benefits of canola oil.  If you wanted to make them a little healthier you could also add 2 tbsp. of ground flaxseed. I usually do this, but totally forgot when making this recipe because I was so excited to see how the greek yogurt would work. Also, if you have never tried whole wheat pastry flour you are missing out.  It has all the health benefits of whole wheat flour, but since it is made from “soft” wheat it bakes up very light and fluffy.   Hope you enjoy this recipe and happy baking!

How do you make your muffins?  Do you have any secret tips and tricks that make your muffins out of this world?

Health Benefits of Cooking with Canola Oil

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Compost: Because a Rind is a Terrible Thing to Waste

I have decided that this is going to be the year that I take our family garden to the next level.  Last year, we had a wonderful garden and have decided to double its size this year because we all enjoyed it so much.  One of the things that I have been learning about is composting. Now let me start by saying that this is something that I have never attempted at all. To be honest, I have always had this vision of my compost pile being a big stinky heap of trash in my backyard.  I also have a pretty small yard, so I don’t have a far away place to stash this bin if it becomes stinky.  I have decided to put my worries aside and take on this task once and for all.  I have had many gardeners tell me that what sets a spectacular garden apart from a regular garden is good compost.

I have been doing my research and it seems that I can compost on a rather small scale.  This has been one of my other main deterrents before now. I had always heard that the bigger the compost bin the better the compost.  After hours of reading internet articles about this, it seems as if that is not true.  I recently read an article about people who compost in small trashcans on the rooftops of city apartments.  If they can do it then so can I…right? My goal for this weekend is to make a small compost bin.  Here is a link for how to make your own compost bin out of a plastic container.  I have to admit I have not been this excited about one of my project in a while.  The article I linked makes it sound like this is going to be a pretty easy process.

One of the reason that I decided to post this before I have even created the bin is I am hoping to get some advice from all my fellow gardeners.  I did read a bit about how to keep the bin from getting stinky by not letting it get too wet, but I am still concerned about bugs and rodents taking over the bin. I mean, it seems only natural that these things would want to take over my bin.  I would love a couple of guest posts from all of you out there that have created compost bins, so that I can hopefully let go of my concern of being the “lady with the stinky, rodent and insect infested garbage pile in her yard”.  I guess even if I never get good compost, I will surely get a laugh from this one.  Ok so here is the plan. I am going to wake up tomorrow (bright and early because my girls get up with the birds) and make my very first compost bin.  So please, help a mommy out and send me some advice and tips so that I will have the best garden on the block.  I will continue to post as I get this up and running and will add all the things I am learning as I go along through this project.

I am going to add a few links here to catch people up on what I have been reading in case anyone wants to jump in on the fun and learn how to compost along with me. Come on and give it a try…you know you want to!

Composting 101 

small scale composting -this one is a little larger scale than I had in mind but had some good tips

The scientific explanation of composting 

163 things you can compost– this is awesome! Thanks Heather for adding it.

Composting in the city, with little money

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