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Instant Pot Jambalaya and Sweet Potato Soul Review

In my small area of the country, we find ourselves at a crossroads between two cultures. We are one part down-home southern and another part yuppy hipster, creating an interesting social mix. There’s  the well-dressed church crowd who stuff themselves into the mom and pop BBQ  joints every Sunday at noon,  but we also have the man bun and skinny-jean wearing crowd who fill Vegan restaurants on Friday nights. My area is an eclectic loop within the Bible belt, and I love it. It reminds me that cultures are not only able to coexist, but they’re also able to intermingle and mix.

If there is one thing both cultures have in common, it’s a love for food. We all agree that food is an enjoyable experience that can magically bring people together. The challenge, however, comes when you begin sifting through various dietary restrictions. Having my own convictions regarding food, I’m well aware of how awkward this situation can be. My primary example being that I have a religious restriction against pork, and yet here I am living down the road from the annual “Ham and Yam” festival. For the vegetarians and vegans that flock to the area, there are obvious clashes when it comes to soulful southern cooking.

This is what makes Jenne Claiborne’s cookbook Sweet Potato Soul a gem. Having grown up in Atlanta, GA Claiborne was raised on traditional southern cooking. After becoming vegan she spent years experimenting with food, working to find the perfect fusion that fits the cuisine of her heritage into vegan standards. Sweet Potato Soul is her successful masterpiece.

The book is filled with 100 easy recipes and a variety of flavors to work with, each page perfectly capturing the essence of both southern and vegan cooking. There are enough photos to satisfy those who tend to”taste with their eyes” when choosing recipes out of cookbooks, and although there are short introductions to each section, the majority of this book is straight to the point with easy to find recipes.

I’m thrilled to work my way through this cookbook, and it is a perfect resource for entertaining friends who avoid the consumption of animal products. For our regular weeknight meals, however, it is totally easy to tweak these recipes in order to satisfy my carnivorous ways. For example, I decided to give her “jackfruit jambalaya”a try (found on page 137), however, instead of dragging myself to the Asian market for jackfruit I used chicken. I also used my instant pot instead of cooking this stove top.

Definitely not vegan like the cookbook intended, and I changed my cooking method in order to utilize kitchen toys, but Claiborne certainly inspired a delicious meal.

Instant Pot Jambalaya

Ingredients

3 chicken breasts
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 yellow onion (diced)
2 garlic cloves
3  celery stalks (chopped)
1 green bell pepper (chopped)
1 (14 oz) can diced tomatoes
1 cup uncooked brown rice
1 (15 oz) can chickpeas
3 cups chicken stock
3 bay leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
*3 Tablespoons creole seasoning
2 teaspoons worcestershire sauce
salt

*A recipe for creole seasoning can be found on page 36 or Sweet Potato Soul)

Directions

1) Add chicken breast and 1 cup of water to the instant pot. Cook on high pressure for 10 minutes.

2) When chicken is cooked, remove and set aside. Switch the instant pot to the saute setting and heat olive oil. Once the oil is heated, add onion, garlic, celery, and bell pepper. Saute until onion is transparent.

3) Add tomatoes, rice, chickpeas, bay leaf, pepper, creole seasoning, worcestershire sauce, and salt to taste. Seal the instant pot. Switch the setting to “soup” and cook on high pressure for another 15 minutes. When cooking is finished, unseal the pot and enjoy!

Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review

Blogging For Books: Everything Beautiful

My most recent Blogging for Books order was a little different this time around. Rather than my typical novel or cookbook, I went with a new adult coloring book titled Everything Beautiful, by Waterbrook.

There is nothing that makes this one stand out from others, however, I found that it provided a relaxing form of entertainment most people expect from an adult coloring book.

The artwork is beautiful, and coloring the simple yet detailed pages helped me decompress from built up stress I had harbored from a long day. The messages formed into the pictures were encouraging, and overall I felt good after spending even just a few moments coloring a page.

Again, Everything Beautiful is not especially unique. It is yet another adult coloring books you find in, say, the book aisle of a grocery store. However, it serves it’s purpose and would make a beautiful gift for someone you love.

Two Ingredient Snow Dough

Winter in our state is incredibly short-lived. For example, it is currently the middle of January and the thermostat in my car claimed the temperature had reached 67 degrees the other day. This is a far cry from the cold, dreary, and very icy Januaries I grew up with in the Chicago area. Here snowfall happens once, maybe twice, a year and lasts about a day. Usually, we can’t even classify the phenomenon as snow. More often than not it’s a sort of sleet that coats our roads with ice, causing everything to shut down.

As I planned our Five in a Row curriculum schedule back in May, I figured I would place the book Katy and the Big Snow at a random week in January. If I were still living in the Midwest, I could easily assume that any point in the winter would be an appropriate time for a snow-themed week, considering that there is almost always a white powder on the ground. Down here in the south, however, I had to take my chances. The best bet would be sometime in January.

Similar to last year when we read The Snowy Day, it just so happened that on the week we were scheduled to read a snow themed book, we received our 24-hour snowfall. I was overjoyed about the timing.

I love snow days, especially now that I’m living in an area where snow isn’t common. The way it softens the loud hustle and bustle of everyday life is dreamy, and I’ll admit that I love an excuse to spoil my kids. When snow happens here, it shakes up schedules and brings a different atmosphere to the house. It’s a special occasion of sorts, therefore rules can bend and we concentrate on making our day cozy and memorable.

To be completely honest I fed my son way too much sugar that day. We began the morning with honey since I normally allow him an activity that involves drizzling the shape of letters onto a plate whenever he is ready to progress in Hebrew. The idea is that we want to instill our children with how sweet G-d’s word is, so we offer them a taste of honey while we learn a Biblical language.

After doing school work, we went outside to play in the snow, where we built Hudi’s first real snowman (usually we don’t get snowman worthy snow, so this was pretty exciting). Naturally, hot chocolate followed after, topped with whipped cream and sprinkles, of course. As a continuation of our  Tale of Peter Rabbit week, we dabbled in English cuisine and baked delicious raspberry lemon scones. To finish out the night we had one last treat that is a snow day tradition in our home: snow cream.

It was a wonderful snow day and perfect for our snow week lessons. When planning a schedule for our curriculum, I can only guess when snow-themed books will work for us, and for two years in a row now I was excited to discover that I guessed right. I was, however, prepared to move forward with or without snow. If there wasn’t snow outside, we were going to make our own snow inside.

Even with the experience of having real snow on the ground, my kids were getting stir crazy once they got tired of playing outside. Having the materials needed for fake snow was a life saver, as it kept both my four year old and one year old occupied for quite a while. Having the real stuff was great, but making pretend snow in your kitchen is pretty intriguing as well.

The directions are simple. In a large bowl or container, mix 1/2 cup of conditioner with 3 cups of baking soda. Include toys such as trucks, cookie cutters, plastic forks, and anything you would normally give your kids to use with play-dough.

This was a fun and relaxed winter themed sensory activity that captured the attention of both my 4 and 1-year-old. They even played together, which I love to see! Clean up was a bit more of a challenge, but nothing a vacuum couldn’t handle.

Definitely worth it for the time it occupied their interests.

 

Raspberry Lemon Scones

Valentine’s Day is underrated. Over the past couple of years, I’ve begun to see a little more value in it besides a day of last-minute chocolate purchases and sitting around a chaotic restaurant waiting your turn for a table. Lately, in my house, Valentine’s Day is an excuse to be festive during inarguably the most dreary and boring time of the year. It is a month of red and pink decor to replace the blue and white of Hanukkah. There are crafts to attempt, delicious baking adventures to experiment with, and no one can argue against celebrating love.

Last year, during the first 14 days of February, I started a small and simple

tradition focused on making my kids feel loved. Every night I stuck

a paper heart to my son’s door, which listed something I loved abo

ut him. We used it to build his confidence and encourage positive behaviors. In the mornings he was so excited to find a new heart on his door and the entire process was a way for me to express sentiments I feel are not shared nearly as much as they should. I’m looking forward to continuing the precious tradition, this time slipping the hearts into a decorative envelope or mailbox outside his door.

 

Already I’m starting to think of the baked goodies we should try tackling in our kitchen. I live by the idea that food is a way to express love and between the sugar cookies and chocolates associated with Valentine’s Day I know I’m not alone in that mindset.

As it turns out, we already began our themed baking. At first, I didn’t intend for it to be Valentine’s Day related treat. This week’s Five In A Row book was Peter Rabbit, and therefore our geography lessons concentrated on England. As we move around the world in our homeschool curriculum, I wanted to incorporate culinary projects representing the various cultures we learn about. This week we made raspberry lemon scones.

As soon as I pulled these things out of the oven, I realized just how perfect they are for Valentine’s Day.  Visually they have the beautiful red and pink tint for a festive look, but more importantly, they are delicious. I couldn’t stop sneaking into the kitchen for another taste, my very honest husband greatly approved, and my son ended up finishing them off while I wasn’t looking.

My suggestion would be to include these little cakes in the breakfast in bed you intend to make your spouse. Or bring them to the brunch you’re sharing with your girlfriends on Galentine’s Day. Or make them with your kiddos and have them for dessert.

 

Rasberry Lemon Scones

Ingredients

scones

1 stick of cold butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 cup sugar
zest of 1 lemon
3/4 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup frozen raspberries

Glaze

Juice of 1 large lemon
1 cup powdered sugar

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. and line a baking tray with parchment paper
  2. Cut butter into pieces, about 1/4-inch and set aside in the refrigerator.
  3.  Mix flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and lemon zest in a large bowl.
  4. Using a fork, add the sliced butter and toss to coat. Use fingers to rub the butter into the mix. It will begin to have a mealy texture.
  5. Mix in frozen raspberries until they are well coated.  Add heavy cream, and continue mixing with a fork.
  6. When the bowl is well mixed, begin kneading the dough with your fingers. Turn dough out onto the prepared baking sheet. Gently shape the dough into a square on the baking dish. The texture may be ragged, and that is okay.
  7. Slice the dough into 9 squares, and then slice them diagonally to give them a triangular shape. Give the scones some space between them to bake. Bake for 12-15 minutes.
  8. While the scones are baking, prepare the glaze by mixing lemon juice and sugar in a small bowl. When scones are finished, give them 15-20 minutes to cool before drizzling the lemon glaze on them.

 

Butternut Pear Soup

As if I really needed to dig myself further into the fall spirit, I have officially received my annual cold. This time around it even warped into inflammation going on within my head and inner ear, causing insane tension headaches and vertigo!

Of course being sick on cold fall days require some TLC…usually in the form of comfort food. Obviously the cook in the house is myself, so I needed a recipe that would be both delicious and easy. I didn’t want to spend too much time standing in a hot kitchen when I could have been lounging on the couch watching Sid the Science kid with the four year old.

This unique soup managed to hit the spot just right. The unique flavor worked as both an enjoyable dinner as well as the medicine needed to make me feel better.

It will definitely appear on my table again, hopefully under better circumstances.

Butternut Pear Soup

Ingredients

1 butternut squash – cubed into small pieces
3 Tbsp. olive oil (plus another Tbsp)
3 Tbsp.  rosemary
1 Tsp cinnamon
1 Tsp salt
3 cups vegetable stock
1 cup green onions
2 large pears – peeled and chopped
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
mozzarella cheese

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a large bowl mix the squash, olive oil, rosemary, cinnamon, and salt. Spread the mixture on a foil lined baking sheet and back for 45 minutes (you want the squash to be tender when poked with a fork).
  2. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add green onions and cook for about 5 minutes. Add pears, chicken stock, and syrup. Bring the mixture to a boil.
  3. When the squash is done roasting, put both mixtures in a blender or food processor. Blend until the soup is smooth.
  4. Serve with a sprinkle of mozzarella cheese over the top of individual soup bowls and Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Cake with Marshmallow Frosting

I am not ashamed of the fact that I am the most typical American girl when it comes to fall. I obsess over pumpkin spiced things, I’m over eager to pull out my sweaters and boots even if the weather isn’t quite cold enough to warrant such attire, and come September I’m immediately diving into autumn themed recipes.

Even as a child, before social media caught on to the fact that fall is the best season of the year, Autumn was my happy place. I have fond memories of Friday night football games and sitting around the campfire with friends in jean jackets. I remember the feeling I got when I woke up Thanksgiving morning to find my grandmother already working her way around the kitchen as she prepared our meal.

Baby’s first Autumn

It’s something I will never out grow, and I will continue obsessing over fall probably for the rest of my life. Even my son is well aware of how much I love fall. The other day while running errands with my husband, he picked up a pumpkin spiced candle at the drug store and asked to buy it for me.

I do feel a great need to point out, however, that there is more flavor to fall than pumpkin spice. I love pumpkin, and I am creating quite a collection of pumpkin flavored food for myself, but there is a tendency for pumpkins to spend a little too much time in the spotlight while the cider, apple, maple, and zucchini flavors are neglected.

When Thanksgiving comes around, and you’re trying to decide what unique culinary creation you want to contribute, try something a little different. For example: A sweet potato cake.

This recipe is truly delicious, and captures that spicy fall goodness we all love. Ever since I posted a photo on my facebook, people have been asking for the recipe, and those who’ve eaten it so far seemed to enjoy it quite nicely!

The cake itself is sweet potato, however, the frosting is actually homemade marshmallow fluff. Basically this is a creative alternative to the typical sweet potato casserole. The store bought fluff isn’t going to work as well for this frosting, and it does require a decent amount of patience to get right. I also loved the crispiness of torching the surface once the cake was put together, but if you don’t have a kitchen torch than it isn’t too much of a loss.

The end result looked like a giant marshmallow, and it certainly captured a great deal of attention. Enjoy!

Sweet Potato Cake With Marshmallow Frosting

Ingredients
For The Cake
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
3/4 tsp salt
6 tbs butter, melted
6 tbs vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 sweet potatoes
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

For The Frosting
8 egg whites
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp creme of tartar
2 tsp vanilla
(have powdered sugar on hand)

Directions
For The Cake
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  and prepare 2- 8 inch cake pans. Begin by preparing a sweet potato puree. Boil sweet potatoes in a pot. Every now and then poke them with a fork. When the potatoes are softened, drop them in a food processor to puree them.

2. In a large bowl mix flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.

3. In a separate bowl whisk butter, oil, sugars, eggs, and sweet potato.

4. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, and mix until well combined.

5. Divide the batter into the two pans. Place them in the oven and bake for 40 minutes.

6. Cool on a rack for at least ten minutes, or until cakes are completely cool.

For The Frosting
1. While the cake bakes in the oven, prepare the frosting. Begin by placing egg whites, sugar, and cream of tartar in a heat proof bowl. Place the bowl over a pot of boiling water. Whisk the until the sugar is completely dissolved and the mixture is warm (about 5 minutes).
2. Remove from heat and beat with an electric mixer. Begin on low and slowly increase speed. White peaks will begin to form.  Add vanilla and continue to beat the mixture for about 7-10 minutes. If the mix is too runny, add powdered sugar (about 1/2 cup at a time) until you’ve reached the desired consistency. The frosting will be slightly softer than store bought fluff.
3. Place frosting in the fridge until ready for use. To assemble, spread frosting in between the two cake layers. Spread frosting over the top of the cake as well as the sides. For the roasted look at taste, run a kitchen torch over the surface of the cake, being careful not to burn the frosting.

Back To School and Bannock Recipe

Last year, when my son was two (almost three) years old, I decided to start our adventure into homeschooling. Beginning at this young of an age has given me the practice of routine, scheduling, and also getting to know my son’s learning style all before we enter into the school aged years that will eventually require more depth, focus, and discipline.  We learned how to read an write our alphabet, counting and writing numbers, basic shape and color recognition, and we explored more abstract concepts through various books we read. It was an incredibly enjoyable experience to see my son absorb knowledge, and I was excited when he started to express interest in reading and math toward the end of the year.

After a summer break (which included an amazing vacation), I have been so excited to get into our homeschooling routine again. This year, however, I decided to include a lot more material to meet his interests and abilities. I receive a ton of questions regarding how I’m homeschooling him. Do I use a curriculum? What is my routine? How do I plan? It’s always a little awkward trying to answer those, because truth be told I’m just trying to go with the flow. I’m still sorting through what works best for my son and me, and it takes a lot of trial and error before getting it right.  So far I think we are starting this year off with a good rhythm, and as we get better at the routine of having a designated “school time”, I’m feeling significantly more confident in my abilities for the future.

With regards to curriculum, there are a variety of resources we are using this year:

Five In A Row – Five In A Row is a literature based curriculum that covers a little bit of everything. Each week we have a book that we read together, and various themes and lessons are pulled from the story. The curriculum provides weekly ideas on math, science, literature, geography, and art to create a well rounded curriculum that is very much appropriate for young children. The expectation of Five In A Row is simply to read and converse with your children. It’s nothing fancy and tedious, and it’s effective (at least it has been with my son). There are ideas for extra activities to go along with each book, however, most of the learning is intended to take place via reading and discussion. We use Five In A Row for geography (each book takes place in a different place), science, art, and any other abstract subject presented in the curriculum. For other subjects, particularly reading and math, my son needed/wanted something a little more concrete.

Math U See – As someone who had significant struggles in math, I have come to adore Math U See. It’s manipulative based in that the curriculum uses block pieces (think legos) to physically demonstrate the concepts being taught. I also love how the lessons build on one another. The sequence of learning follows a logical path – introduce, review, practice, master – and the order in which students progress helps solidify their understanding of concepts. At the moment we are using the primer, which has been amazing. We’ve gotten through basic number identification and counting, identifying shapes, and at the moment we are introducing place value. We picked up Math U See toward the end of last year, and this year we are continuing his lessons at the pace he naturally sets for himself. The good thing about the primer is that, unlike the rest of Math U See, it is not meant to provide mastery. It’s simply an easy way to introduce math in preparation for future lessons, so it’s great for younger ages. It’s a significant relief for me to see that my son is forming a love for math, because that was a major stumbling block all through my personal school experience.

Spelling-You-See – Since Math U See has worked so well, I decided to pick up Spelling-You-See to help with reading and writing. It’s a very simple workbook that teaches basic phonics. So far the progress I’ve seen has been absolutely wonderful, and my son learned very quickly how to sound out small words.

Time To Read Hebrew: A very simple workbook series that teaches Hebrew. You are given a few letters at a time, and immediately you begin seeing them used in words (for example, the first letters you learn are shin, bet, and tav…which spell “Shabbat”).  We use the workbook as a guide for progress, but mostly we are working with various games we play with flashcards.

The Bible Story Series by Arthur S. Maxwell – Chances are you’ve seen these books while sitting in a doctor’s office. They are everywhere, and yet most people don’t pay too much attention to them. Yes, they are a little outdated in artistry (think 1950’s or 60’s), however, I am finding these books to be fantastic reads for my son. The main focus I have at the moment with regards to teaching my son the Bible is simply familiarizing the stories. What has worked the absolute best for us has been to follow the model Five In A Row intends – we simply read through the story and discuss. These books are associated with Seventh Day Adventists, though there are very few grand theological pushes within the stories. The thing I absolutely love about this series is the fact that it covers Biblical stories your typical storybook Bibles leave out (for example – we just the other day read a chapter specifically about Enoch, and later on they cover various prophets that are seldom mentioned in storybook bibles).  While I do have to switch up some of the language while I’m reading (again, a few decades outdated), I do find these books to be a great way to introduce my son to the Bible (on top of the children’s Bibles we’ve already been reading).

Our first couple of weeks started out smoothly! Week number one was a lot of short, sweet, and simple activities that got us back in the swing of having a “school” time in the morning. I introduced the theme of Geography, and we spent a lot of time studying the map we now have hanging on our wall. Together we read Flat Stanley, and he even created his own Flat Stanley for The Flat Stanley Project! (Now, I just have to send those out…)

Week number two was a little closer to what I’m aiming for a far as goals and routine. We started Five In A Row with the book The Very Last First Time by Jan Andrews, which introduced us to Canada! More specifically we focused on Inuit culture. We placed our story disk on Ungava Bay, learned about how the Inuit fish beneath large blocks of ice , we studied igloos, and we also listened to Inuit throat singing (it was hilarious watching my son give that a try). We also learned about aurora borealis (northern lights). This provided an awesome opportunity to introduce my son to water colors while we painted pictures of the northern lights!

I also have a goal of bringing the various cultures we learn about into our home through food. I’m hoping that with each location we “visit” in his schoolwork, we try at least one culinary dish from that culture.

Since we were learning about Inuit culture, our food this week was bannock!

Bannock is a type of bread that can be found in a variety of cultures, but is pretty popular among the Inuit. Essentially it is flour that’s been fried in lard or shortening, and can be eaten in a variety of ways. We made ours for breakfast, and included some jam to go along with it. To make it extra delicious, you can sprinkle some powdered sugar on top for a tasty treat (it’s similar to an elephant ear you would find at a fair).

My son loved the stuff, and gobbled down the entire batch before noon. It’s super easy to make, and I will definitely be making it again as a special treat!

Bannock 

Ingredients

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking powder
pinch of salt
water
2 cups shortening

Directions

In a frying pan on medium heat, heat the shortening.

While you are waiting for the shortening to completely melt, mix together in a separate bowl the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Gradually add water, mixing it well, until you have the consistency of batter.

Drop spoonfuls of the batter into the hot shortening. Once the bottom is golden brown, flip it over once to brown the other side.

There are a variety of ways to serve bannock. As I said, eating it with jam is a tasty breakfast and sprinkling them with powdered sugar makes them a delicious treat. However, you can also eat them with soups and stews!