Spices of Life: A Round-Up of Homemade Spice Blends

A year or so spent working for a fine spice merchant left me with a lifelong appreciation for spices and their place in the kitchen. The series I’ve done here on Simple Bites on subjects such as sourcing quality spices, storing spices, and options for grinding whole spices, are a testament to my love of fresh spices.

I’ve been cooking with homemade spice blends for as long as I can remember, flavoring my rice pilaf with a spoonful of garam masala, deepening the flavor of French Toast with pumpkin pie spice, tossing blends onto meats for grilling, just to name a few ways.

Once you have the ingredients on hand, spice blends are quick to mix up, easy to store, and make unique and thoughtful gifts. They lend themselves to creativity in the kitchen, and as long as you are using fresh, whole spices, are pretty hard to mess up.

The advantages of homemade spice blends are many. Here are three as well as a roundup: [Read more…]

Tips for a Simple Birthday Party for Kids

Seeing I’m at the 9-month pregnancy mark, I had no choice but to keep my Mateo’s birthday party very simple this year. Skipping a party was out of the question, as he was turning 4 and very much aware that his big day was coming up. He’s also our leap year baby, so the fact that this was his first ‘official’ birthday made it all the more special.

Birthday parties can be fun, inexpensive, and not overly complicated – an approach that fit the bill for me on this particular birthday. There were a few steps I took to simplifying the party, which I’ll share below. (A quick poll I took on Facebook showed that many of you were interested to hear how it went, so, voila!)

Just a quick note first, though. I seldom write about my children’s birthday parties because I find them a bit of a ‘hot topic’. Everyone has an opinion on the subject: must-have’s, do’s and don’ts, and the many expectations.

If you ask me, there are no cut and dried rules on how much sugar to serve, if there will be gifts or no gifts, goodie bags, Disney themes or hired clowns. I think just as every child is unique (and every budget, for that matter), no one should tell you how to customize your child’s party. So, no judging. Zilch!

In my home, I try to make the day as memorable as possible for the birthday boy, even if it means bending the whole foods/sustainable living/seasonal eating rules a bit. The parties are homemade, thoughtful, and we have a great time. What more is there?

[Read more…]

Baked Lasagna Casserole

Written by Katie of Good Life Eats

As Aimée mentioned in her post Vegetables In Season: February, I’m pretty much over the whole winter vegetable offerings. I tend to trudge through this time of year through the use of casseroles and soups at our dinner table. This Baked Lasagna Casserole is a current favorite during a time when none of the seasonal offerings really sound good.

I love Italian food. Lasagna has always been a favorite, but sometimes it is fun to take the flavors you love from one recipe and put them together in a different way. Instead of a layered lasagna, here you have a hot, bubbly baked casserole with penne.

Mixed in with the meat sauce are extra vegetables which provide color, nutrients, and texture. Kids will love how the casseroles are served in individual dishes. And because they’re baked in smaller proportions, the recipe cooks faster too. No individual casserole dishes? Just bake it in a large dish. I’ve included instructions for that too.

[Read more…]

Soup from the Pantry (Recipe: Sausage, Bean & Pasta Soup with Spinach)

What could be better than opening the doors of your cupboard and finding everything you need for a hearty soup? Thanks to a well-stocked pantry, I recently did just that with this recipe.

Okay, I also used up some sausage links, and finished the soup with a handful of tired spinach I had on hand. The results? Our new favorite soup.

Inspired by Julie’s latest cookbook, Spilling the Beans (a recent Bite This Book! feature), this hearty winter soup features beans, pasta, protein, and greens. It comes together in under 20 minutes, just the ticket for family week-night meals.

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How Does Your Garden Grow? (Q&A)

I can’t be the only one dreaming about getting my hands into some warm soil this coming spring. Although there is still snow piled a foot high on my raised beds, I’m making plans to exercise my green thumb and start a few seedlings.

Since my gardening space is limited to four 4×12 plots and a few containers, I’m being very selective about what I plant this spring. I’ve made my list; have you?

I’m choosing from herbs and vegetables that are typically easier to grow and don’t need much maintenance. With a brand new baby to care for on top of my usual daily activities, I know gardening time is going to be limited.

[Read more…]