5 Easy Mixes That Make Life Healthier and Easier!

When I look at the stats that turn all of you into a mass of numbers and bar graphs – my, that sounds so impersonal and unfriendly – I can tell that the fans of Midwest Storyteller really enjoy the humor. It seems like you need a good laugh and are quick to pass it along to brighten someone’s day.

I love it! That’s my favorite part of what I do!

However, when I’m out and about, chatting with people, it seems that many share a common request: RECIPES!

People don’t need to spend much time around me to know that I eat “clean”. Those who don’t know me very well assume that I live on wild hickory nuts and tree bark, something that they, unless they’re out of their ever-lovin’ minds, would never choose to do themselves.

Bowlful of Nature www.midweststoryteller.com

Those who know me well enough to get a taste of what comes out of my kitchen are surprised at the yummy-ness.

They (whomever the mysterious “they” are) used to call us health food “nuts” and it wasn’t because people like me sat around eating cashews and pecans. It implied that a certain degree of loopy-ness swirled inside the heads of those who didn’t think the world revolved around, and was made a better place by, granulated sugar and plenty of Crisco.

Reason is beginning to dawn for Americans at last. People are being advised by doctors, nutritionists and friends to feed their bodies the fuel it really needs and to avoid the stuff that they know is taking them down the same road of pain and ill health they’ve watched friends and family travel.

At the top of the list of culprits, lurking everywhere, is –

Sugar Incognito www.midweststoryteller.com

If you are making the wise choice to get sugar out of your diet, I am on your side! The delightful-tasting stuff only makes your body more susceptible to inflammation, diabetes, cancer and other ailments.  I’m not picking on any particular brands here.  As you can tell, it’s not been eradicated from our house entirely.

The biggest challenge lies in how to avoid hidden sugars. Companies love to put it in everything. Is it really addictive?  Well, rats aren’t people, you might want to see a study in which rats, already addicted to cocaine before given the choice, preferred sugar to cocaine 8:1.  It’s difficult to read the details  and not be bowled over by it! 

The stuff is practically omnipresent.  If you don’t believe that sugar is in everything, I challenge you to purchase a bottle of salad dressing without any!

When I walked away from sugar, I spent two weeks in foul temper! Each time I got ready to prepare a meal, I examined the back labels of all my ingredients. Soy sauce, seasoned salt, chicken broth – why did any of these contain sugar in the first place? I would’ve have started a letter writing campaign if I hadn’t been so busy trying to find something to eat!

One particular group of convenience items really had me steamed! All those little packets we’re so accustomed to tossing into recipes and those little shaker bottles that we sprinkle over our food – almost every one of them had sugar.

Oh, but it’s gotta be such a tiny amount! That’s not going to hurt anybody.”

I hear your pathetic, whiny voice. Not only do small amounts add up if it’s in everything you eat, but these small amounts keep the cravings alive! If you remove all sugar from your diet, the cravings go away. Yep! I promise.

It all sounds like so much trouble when I can just grab what I need when I’m at the store. Who wants to mess with stirring up all this stuff?”

Oh, now you’re really sounding like you need me to send you to your room! It all seemed like a big chore to me at first, too. However, since I’ve pioneered the territory for you and am furnishing you with all the recipes, I’ll just stand here with my hands on my hips, tapping my foot, waiting for you to man up or pull up your big girl panties – whichever. 

I’m not perfect in my attempts to stay completely off the stuff.  Christmas does roll around and if I’m going to make cookies for everybody else, then by golly, I’m gonna eat a couple of ’em!  There are also some Belgian truffles that come into Aldi stores every year during the holiday season and, I mean to say – YUM!  One of my dreams is to develop a sugar free recipe for those, but I am wandering from the point.  Where were we?  Right – MIXES!

I’ve come to realize that making my own mixes is much more convenient, and cheaper, than buying the packets at the store! Once a few basic ingredients become a staple on your pantry shelves, you’ll no longer be running to the store, wasting gas and precious time, all for that silly (and expensive) little packet. You’ll either stir up the simple ingredients within a couple of minutes, or you’ll grab one of your pre-made packets because, yes, you are talented enough to measure all the ingredients into little snack baggies or mix up a whole jar of the stuff to keep on the shelf!

Spread the love! Mix up several batches in snack baggies, spice jars or other food safe containers, apply a cute computer or hand-made label and fill a basket for a thoughtful, homemade gift.

Ready for the recipes? Let’s have all the fun, all the flavor – and none of the sugar!

There are also a free printables below, so be sure to print those out.

I’ll post more mixes soon. Be sure to hop on over to the side bar and sign up for free. If you are on a phone or tablet, you can go to the “Contact Me” page to find the subscription form. IMPORTANT: You must confirm the subscription in your email or it will not work! 

Hopefully, my recent round of “technical difficulties” is over and posts will now be coming to you in a more timely manner.

Let’s mix it up!

Italian Salad Dressing Mix

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon dried flat-leaf Italian parsley

¾ teaspoon garlic powder

¾ teaspoon onion powder

¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes

¼ teaspoon xanthan gum

¼ teaspoon citric acid

Measure all ingredients into a snack-sized re-sealable bag.

Make several packets up ahead of time, store in a freezer container and grab one whenever you have a recipe calling for a package of Italian dressing mix.

NOTE: The mixes you buy in the store also contain a small amount of dehydrated carrots. You might want to grate a little carrot into your recipe to give it those little flecks of color that are so appealing to the eye!

Taco Seasoning Mix

(for seasoning one pound of burger)

2 Tablespoons dried minced onion

½ to 1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon garlic powder

In a 10-inch skillet, brown the burger. Drain off any excess fat. Add the taco mix and ½ cup water. Simmer until onion bits are tender and excess moisture is absorbed.

Cream of Whatever (or “S.O.S” – Soup or Sauce)

2 cups powdered non-fat dry milk

¾ cup arrowroot powder

2 Tablespoons dried minced onion

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon ground savory

1 teaspoon dried flat-leaf Italian parsley flakes

½ teaspoon dried thyme

½ teaspoon dried tarragon

¼ teaspoon dried marjoram

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

OPTIONAL: 2 teaspoons dried Italian seasoning.

Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Store in an airtight container.

One batch equals nine (10.5 ounce) cans of creamed soup.

For one can of cream soup:

Combine 1/3 cup of dry mix with 9 ounces COLD water in a saucepan. Whisk until well blended. Heat, stirring constantly with the whisk until thickened.

Add to casseroles or other recipes just as you would a can of soup.

Need Cream of Mushroom Soup: Stir in chopped mushrooms with the dry mix and water.

Need Cream of Celery Soup? Add 2 Tablespoons dried celery flakes to the saucepan.

Need other flavors? Use your imagination!

NOTE: I have seen variations of this recipe all over the internet, but I have changed it so much to eliminate sugar, wheat and corn products that I am calling it my own. However, I’d like to thank Jillie, over at One Good Thing by Jillie for all the tips I’ve received from her blog. She’s a great source for gluten-free recipes, safe cleaning solutions and more.

Seasoned Salt

½ cup sea salt

¼ cup paprika

2 Tablespoons ground tumeric

2 Tablespoons onion powder

1 Tablespoon garlic powder

¼ teaspoon citric acid

NOTE: If you truly feel that something is “missing” as compared to the seasoned salt you buy, it is, without a doubt, the sugar. If you like, you can add 1/8 teaspoon Sweet Leaf stevia powder to this mix. Sweet Leaf really lives up to their claim as the best-tasting stevia. I purchase my Sweet Leaf stevia at Natural Grocers, my local health food store.  It’s available in drops, a powder canister and individual packets.  I use whichever form I need, depending on the recipe.  If you’ve yet to make friends with stevia because you don’t like the taste, you probably need to switch to this brand. It’s a bit more expensive, but lacks some of the extra ingredients that cause that “off” taste. Another tip on stevia – USE LESS! It’s tough to get it through our heads, but it really is so much sweeter than sugar. Yet, we ignore the label and use too much, causing us to complain about the taste and the cost. How silly is that?

BONUS: Here’s a link to another great mix – Dry Buttermilk Ranch Mix – submitted by Scotdog on www.allrecipes.com I use allrecipes.com often.  It’s especially great when you have excess of a certain ingredient.  You can do a word search and see all the recipes that have that ingredient.

Back to the Buttermilk Ranch Mix:  We have found it to be absolutely yummy. You can print it out from their site. I have a few tips in preparing and using it –

  1. We had to cut the garlic powder in half. It seemed just a bit too potent when made according to the recipe.  Adjust this to your liking.
  2. For dressing, I mix it with ½ cup milk and ½ cup full-fat mayonnaise. I like a mayonnaise I found at Trader Joe’s. It has no sugar.
  3. For a dip, use ½ cup mayonnaise and ½ cup sour cream.  :


IMPORTANT: I found that “as is”, this worked great for mixing into a dip where you prefer to see all the wonderful little bits of herb and spices. However, when made into a dressing, they tended to make things separate and appear “not so lovely”. I solved this by putting all the ingredients except for the buttermilk powder into my small blender and turning them into a fine powder. Now, I have a smooth, herbed ranch dressing!

Recipe link: http://allrecipes.com/recipe/214481/dry-buttermilk-ranch-mix/?internalSource=hub%20recipe&referringContentType=search%20results&clickId=cardslot%201

Printable Italian Dressing Mix & Taco Seasoning www.midweststoryteller.com

Printable S.O.S. and Seasoned Salt www.midweststoryteller.com

Comments? I’d love to hear how you use these simple mixes. Also, I’ll do my best to answer your questions.  Just scroll back up and click on “Leave a Comment” under the title of this post. 

Saturday Pasta (for any busy day of the week!)

Saturday Pasta www.midweststoryteller.comIt’s time for another great recipe! This one, another of my inventions, will appeal to everyone who likes things flavorful. While not hot and spicy, it certainly isn’t bland.

Why Saturday, you ask? No particular reason, except that Saturdays around our house seem to turn into project days, with Smuffy working on his and me working on mine. Smuffy likes to sleep in on Saturdays before launching into some DIY project that makes a lot of noise and is likely to stink up the place.  I’m just thankful that only a couple of them have landed him in the emergency room.

It has always amazed me that no matter how late Smuffy sleeps, the “rumbly in his tumbly”, as Winnie the Pooh would say, speaks to him at the same time every day. Though he may have slept till ten and lingered over breakfast, he reappears at noon on the dot, looking weak in the knees and asking what’s for lunch.

I’ve wondered if it isn’t triggered by sound. For years, Smuffy has come home for lunch, Monday through Friday, to the tune of the neighborhood church bells. They chime various lovely hymns a couple of times a day. Perhaps on Saturday, at the sound of the noon bells, he thinks he’s hungry. Have the bells trained him to eat at noon, no matter what? I think that’s how they do it with rats in a maze.

Often, I’ve stood there, wondering what on earth I’m going to fix so that I can get on with my own project. Neither of us wants to go out. Meat is frozen. My mind is blank.

Then came this idea. I threw it together so fast I hardly knew how it did it. Smuffy says it’s hearty, healthy and “restaurant good”. It must be, because he likes variety, yet I can pretty much toss this together on any busy weekend and he’ll happily gobble it up. That’s really saying something, considering it has no meat! Smuffy likes meat – a lot!

Also, it has no dairy! I know some of you have been waiting for recipes like that. With no sugar and the only grain being brown rice pasta, the healthy eaters can’t go wrong.

A few notes before we start:

  1. Don’t get hung up about it! I make this with what I have. I’m giving you the perfected version. Make it this way the first time, just so you know what you’ve been missing. Then, you can always try some of the things I’ve experimented with along the way, such as zucchini instead of spinach, etc. We would never make it without the sun-dried tomatoes. We think they really make the dish.
  2. Don’t be a snob. Use fresh mushrooms if you can, but if you’re out, by all means use canned mushrooms.
  3. I did not grow up in a kitchen where everything was the finest and best (although most of it was homegrown), but I’ve learned something. Though I’m frugal, I’ve learned that it’s better to pay for good ingredients and have good food I enjoy. It’s so much easier to say no to junk food when I’ve just created something healthy and delicious. That’s why I’m recommending brands on two ingredients. Jovial Brown Rice Pastas are fabulous! They came highly recommended by America’s Test Kitchen. Through the years, I’ve tried innumerable substitutes for white flour pasta. This one is the hands-down winner. Jovial Pasta People – I love you! Smuffy says he can’t tell the difference between it and “regular” pasta. I’ve bought the spaghetti and the lasagna noodles and they’re both great. Once you try this, you may want to check around for a bulk price.  Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil, one of the top two olive oils recommended by America’s Test Kitchen, has become a staple item in my kitchen. Ah – the flavor! In case you haven’t heard, there’s a whole big deal out there concerning olive oils and which companies you can trust. You may not be getting what you think in those beautiful bottles. Colavita is the real deal, and it makes this recipe delicious. I get it at my local supermarket in bottles and also in bulk, where I can get a deal on large tins.
  4. Speaking of oils (and we’ll cover this in more detail in a future post), there are three oils in this recipe for a reason. Butter adds flavor, but tends to burn. Coconut oil resists burning and keeps the butter from browning without changing the flavor. I keep both kinds of coconut oil on hand – refined and unrefined (or extra virgin). You’ll want refined for this. Olive oil, though not a trans fat, does (just as most of the other oils do) turn to a trans fat when heated. It should be used to “dress” the dish when finished.
  5. Don’t be lily-livered and leave out the “heat”! There are not enough red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper in this to make it spicy, but we find it necessary to give the recipe that certain what-cha-ma-call-it.

Let’s get cooking. This goes together in the time it takes your water to come to a boil and your pasta to cook. Don’t forget your FREE printable below.

Saturday Pasta Ingredients www.midweststoryteller.com

Saturday Pasta

1 Tablespoon butter

1 Tablespoon refined coconut oil

½ large onion, (slice thin, then quarter the slices)

½ cup sun-dried tomatoes, snipped into small pieces with scissors)

1 (4 ounce) can mushrooms or, preferably, fresh mushrooms

4 ounces fresh spinach

5 to 6 ounces Jovial Brown Rice Spaghetti

20 Kalamata olives (½ of a 6 ounce jar)

¼ cup (or more) Colavita Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/8 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

A “sprinkle” of cayenne pepper

Sea salt

In a large skillet, heat butter and coconut oil over medium heat. Fill a pot with water and bring to a boil.

Add onions to the skillet and stir.

In a small custard cup, pour a little water (approximately 3 Tablespoons)over the sun-dried tomatoes. Microwave them on on high for one minute to reconstitute them. Set aside.

Add mushrooms and olives to the skillet. Stir. Lower heat so that onions do not begin to caramelize.

When water reaches a full boil, add pasta and ½ teaspoon sea salt. Cook according to package instructions until al dente.

Meanwhile, pour one to two tablespoons olive oil into a large pasta bowl. Add red pepper flakes and cayenne pepper. Stir. Set aside.

Pepper Flakes in Oil www.midweststoryteller.com

Add spinach to the skillet. (This will fill the skillet.) Cook and stir until spinach wilts and mixes with the other ingredients.  Add sun-dried tomatoes (with liquid) to the mixture.

Skillet Mixture www.midweststoryteller.com

Drain pasta. Add to pasta bowl. Toss to coat with the flavored oil. Add the skillet mixture, scraping the skillet clean with a spatula. Toss ingredients together, adding remaining olive oil. Season to taste with additional sea salt and more olive oil, if desired.

Serves 4. 

Don’t forget your FREE printable recipes!  Just click on the arrow below. 

PRINTABLE Recipe Saturday Pasta www.midweststoryteller.com

SUBSCRIBE in the right side bar if your on your computer or on the CONTACT ME page if you’re on a phone or tablet so you won’t miss more delicious recipes. 

You might also enjoy “Creamy Leek Soup with Chicken and Sweet Potato“.  Check it out here! 

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CORRECTION: I’ve led you astray!

In my last post, I shared the recipe for a soup of my own invention, “Creamy Leek Soup with Chicken & Sweet Potato”.  However, in the FREE PRINTABLE, I somehow managed to cut out the heavy cream from the bottom of the ingredients list.

My thanks to Judy, one of my eagle-eyed subscribers, who noticed and sent me a comment to let  me know.

I’m always eager to fix my mistakes, so I encourage you all to call such things to my attention.

I fixed the FREE PRINTABLE on the original post, but here it is again in case you need to print it out again.

Creamy Leek Soup Printable Banner

Creamy Leek Soup with Chicken & Sweet Potato (a simple “Award Winning” Soup)

While it’s still soup weather…   Well, it’s soup weather somewhere, I suppose. Here in the Midwest, it’s been wonderfully weird. A nearby town set a record a few days ago when the temperature hit seventy-eight degrees! It’s February. That’s weird. That’s wonderful! So many areas of the country received winter’s full blast while we were just – chilly. It has to get mighty warm for us to give up on nourishing, yummy soups at our house, though.

This soup was born of necessity – and that’s another post for another day. Having taken yet another serious step forward in improving my food choices, I’d adapted many of my old recipes into grain-free, sugar-free versions. One day, oozing with inspiration and having one of those “if I were the perfect soup, what would I be like?” mind excursions, I hatched a plan. It must have been one of my super-duper, genius, over-the-top, brainy days, because after a trip to the store and a little time at the stove, I rolled my eyes and patted myself on the back. All my past kitchen flops had been compensated for and I knew I had a winner.

I needed a winner. I had a reputation to uphold. Each year our church sponsors the Souper Bowl of Sharing. Soups are judged and the top-rated soups receive the coveted “Golden Ladles”. I’d received three consecutive Golden Ladles, so why not go for a fourth? Besides, all proceeds go to the area food bank. They deserve a great soup, right?

Golden LadlesMy own high praise of this soup comes to you from a life-long sweet-tater-hater.  I’ve only embraced the rock-hard, ugly roots in the last few years.  I think it happened in a daring restaurant experience when I lost my head, blurting out, “I’ll have some of those sweet potato fries.”  I’ve been experimenting with them ever since.

I filled my slow cooker with a triple batch of this soup and, yes, I took home another golden ladle!

Souper GirlSo many people have asked me for this recipe. I think you’ll love it. If you can’t have dairy, I weep for you. I don’t know how you’d alter this and come up with anything close if you try to avoid the cream.

A few notes before we start –

1. If you haven’t worked with leeks, they look like giant green onions. However, their oniony taste is delightfully delicate! They pick up a lot of sand and grit while growing, though, which is why the recipe says to halve lengthwise. This will enable you to fan the layers apart and rinse all the dirt out. Then, just pull all the layers back together, lay flat side down and slice into thin ribbons. Use all the white part and a good portion of the green, but not any parts that look extra tough. The green parts will soften well during cooking.

2. I place the chicken in my slow cooker or a large skillet, season it with salt & pepper, and cook on LOW for a while ahead of making the soup. (Your chicken will be tough if cooked too fast.) When it’s thoroughly cooked, I place it on a cutting board and use one of the handy-dandy Pampered Chef dealy-bobs featured in the photo below.. It shreds it to perfection in no time! I get my Pampered Chef items here.  If you don’t have one, just slice across the grain, then pull apart.

3. Do not confuse sweet potatoes with white potatoes when it comes to cooking time. Cubed sweet potatoes cook FAST! The best way I’ve found is to take a large knife and slice off a 1/2″ slab. Then, turn the sweet potato over onto the flat surface you’ve created and slice the whole thing into more 1/2″ slabs. Stack a few together, cut into 1/2″ strips (like French fries) and then into cubes. Sweet potatoes are solid and difficult to cut when raw, but don’t let them fool you. Once cubed and put into the boiling broth, I’d advise giving them the taste test after about five minutes.

4. I invented “Faux-broth” as a  substitute for chicken broth one day when none of the stores nearby had chicken broth without sugar in it. Again, I let my mind wander. (It’s not always dangerous.) I threw together a series of things that I would have used if I were seasoning, for instance, a chicken for roasting. I feel a little silly, I must say, for sharing a recipe for water with herbs in it, but I’ve used it over and over again.  Anyhow, if you’re out of broth, this “flavored water” will get you by in a pinch. It would also be helpful in lowering the calories in the soup.  The first time you make this soup, I’d advise using real chicken broth. Then, you’ll know how it’s meant to taste. (That’s what I used for the soup contest – and I won – I’m just sayin’.)

OK – Let’s make AWESOME, prize-winning soup! And, don’t get your under-drawers in a bunch over the butter and heavy cream. Fat doesn’t make you fat – carbs do. Sugar does. This soup is satisfying. Besides, as I often tell Smuffy – nobody’s forcing you to eat four bowls.

Let me restate a portion of my disclaimer. (See the sidebar for the whole thing.)   It is my promise to properly disclose any items which may have been given to me for consideration, are sponsored, or contain affiliate links. Some links on my site may be affiliate links for which I could receive a commission for your click-through and/or purchase. I only feature brands and companies that I have used and genuinely love. All opinions are completely my own.  As of the published date of this post, I received no commissions/payments for any items mentioned or featured in photographs contained in this post.

Below the recipe, you’ll find a link to a free printable which includes both the soup and the faux broth.

Creamy Leek Soup Ingredients

Creamy Leek Soup with Chicken & Sweet Potato

1 large leek, halved lengthwise & cleaned well, then sliced into 1/8″ ribbons

1/4 cup butter

1 to 1 1/2 pounds chicken breast, seasoned, cooked & shredded.

2 medium sweet potatoes, cut into 1/2 ” cubes

2 cups chicken broth (with NO sugar)

2 cups heavy cream

In a medium skillet, cook & stir leeks in butter until very soft over medium heat.  

Meanwhile, bring broth (or faux broth) to a boil.  Add cubed sweet potatoes.  Return to a boil, reduce heat and simmer till just tender (5-10 minutes).  Add leeks (with butter), cooked chicken and heavy cream to the pot.  Heat thoroughly. 

Great with fresh, homemade biscuits & a salad! Makes 7-8 cups.

Enjoy the awesomeness!

A word of caution about food safety:  If the grateful recipients of your awesome soup present you with a Golden Ladle, examine it carefully.  You might want to keep it “just for show”.  I’m highly suspicious of a spray paint job!

Bowl of Creamy Leek SoupDon’t forget your two-for-one free printable!  If you’d like for your faux-broth to be smooth (minus the visible bits of herb), you can always put your dry herbs in a small processor and spin until powdery.

Creamy Leek Soup Printable BannerQuestions? Comments? If you make the soup, let me know how you liked it! Any fabulous recipes you’ve invented on a brainy day?

More “Golden Ladlel Winners” coming up, so be sure to SUBSCRIBE!