Thursday, June 11, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: Making Your Own Pitas

If you would have asked me I thought I could whip up some pitas for my family a few years ago, I would have told you no. I have had this recipe in my collection for so long that I don't even know where it originated from, but I decided to dust off the old recipe collection and see if these could come together for me. After all, if it was a complete failure...well, at least I tried!

This dough is incredibly easy to work with, especially for a novice! It is not too dry and it is not too wet so you don't have to use a lot of flour to roll these out.

These pitas are so yummy and the whole wheat flour adds a yummy dimension to the flavors. The kids loved these and my husband could not get over that I had made them because they looked just like the store-bought variety.

Now that I have made them though, there is no turning back. I will never buy these at the store again. In fact, I am whipping up my second batch for the week today! I hope your family will enjoy these as much as we have!

Pita Bread (for the Bread Machine)

1 1/3 cup water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons yeast


Put ingredients into the bread machine in order listed. Run the dough cycle on your machine. When the bread machine beeps, pull the dough out of the bread machine and divide the dough into ten pieces. Roll each piece into a six inch circle. Place these on a baking sheet (or your pizza stones) and let them rise for twenty minutes (I can fit about four rounds per pizza stone or three pitas per baking sheet). Bake at 500 degrees for three minutes. Using a spatula, flip the pitas and cook for another three to four minutes on the flip side.

Amy's Side Notes:


- When you pull the pitas off of your baking sheet, wrap them into a damp kitchen towel for a few minutes. This helps keep them from drying out. Once they are cool, you can store them in a food storage bag.

- Freeze extras for a rainy day! After the pitas have cooled, slip a piece of wax paper between them and store in a freezer bag. You can take out what you need...when you need it!

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Monday, June 08, 2009

Perfectly Baked Brown Rice

Rice is truly one of my favorite side dishes. It goes perfectly with everything and it is frugal to boot! I love white rice, but have been working lately on adding more whole grains to our family's diet. The problem with my family is that they are really resisting the whole grain switch. It seems to be all about texture with them so it takes a really great recipe to get them on board with the changes.

These days, I have been working really hard to find a recipe for brown rice that my whole family would enjoy. You may remember my Notebook Experiment where I attempted cooking brown rice the same way as you cook pasta. My concern with that version was that I was boiling out the nutrients of the rice.

A couple of great people suggested trying Alton Brown's method of cooking brown rice and I am so glad they did! I had been on a search for the perfect brown rice and stumbled upon the same recommendation to try Alton Brown's recipe.

We have already eaten this brown rice four times in the last two weeks and I know that I will probably never make another version of brown rice again. It is perfectly fluffy, delicious without the grainy taste, and has been devoured by all in our family. My son has been begging for brown rice with our meals and that is how I know that this recipe will a repeat performer each week.

Alton Brown's Baked Brown Rice

1 1/2 cups brown rice, medium or short grain
2 1/2 cups water (we substituted this with chicken broth instead)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place the rice into an 8-inch square glass baking dish. Bring the water, butter, and salt just to a boil in a kettle or covered saucepan. Once the water boils, pour it over the rice, stir to combine, and cover the dish tightly with heavy-duty aluminum foil. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 1 hour. After 1 hour, remove cover and fluff the rice with a fork. Serve immediately.

Amy's Notes- When I package this up for leftovers, I add a tablespoon or two of water or chicken broth to the rice before storing it for later. This seems to help keep the rice more moist and helps it hold it's texture a little better.

Do you have any whole grain recipes your family enjoys or any creative ways of adding more whole grains to their diet? Please share!

Related Links:

Presto Pesto Rice
Yummy Mexican Rice
Lemony Rice Pilaf

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Monday, June 01, 2009

My Favorite Zesty Chicken Marinade


I think the best part about the summer season is all of the outdoor eating and grilling. I can admit, we are still getting the hang of grilling and learning about all of the fun things we can eat out on our grill. I am determined to try new marinades, sides, and even grilling some pizza this year. We have a full summer of learning ahead of us!

One thing that has been helping me get the hang of grilling is a remote digital thermometer to monitor the meat temperature. We were taking our food off too soon or too late and this gadget helps us get the perfect steak or piece of chicken every single time.

My girlfriend was the one who shared this gadget with me and I found a very inexpensive one at Walmart over in the grilling supplies that was about $16. I can't seem to locate what I bought, but this Taylor Weekend Warrior Digital Thermometer ($15.98) is the same price and does the same exact thing. Mine was a no-name brand that has worked just as good as the fancy models and has saved us from nuking our meat in the microwave after grilling. If you are looking for a handy gadget for Father's Day, this is a thoughtful gift to give with an oven mitt or a book of new barbeque recipes.

We tried a new marinade recipe that is so delicious and offers a great deal of flavor to our chicken. I throw this marinade together and then let the chicken marinate all day in the refrigerator. This makes the most juicy and tender chicken. Serve with some yummy lemon rice and my roasted green beans for the perfect summer dinner.

Zesty Chicken Marinade

(Marinade for 12 pieces of chicken, halve this recipe for four to six pieces)

1 cup oil
1/2 cup vinegar
2 tablespoons Miracle Whip or Miracle Whip light
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon salt (to taste)
1 tablespoon pepper
2 tablespoons thyme
1 tablespoon garlic salt

Whisk together all ingredients in a small bowl. Use to marinate chicken pieces at least 30 minutes and then to baste the meat as it cooks in the oven or over hot coals.

Do you have a favorite grilling recipe to share? Please share here!

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Monday, May 25, 2009

The Only Corn on the Cob I Will Ever Make Again

I stumbled upon a technique for cooking corn on the cob that I had never thought to do before. As I state in the title though, this is the only way I will ever make corn on the cob again so you should definitely try it.

I will began by openly admit that I don't always buy the best quality corn that I could buy. Maybe that is why I am more open to splurging on these additional ingredients to achieve a better tasting vegetable. If corn is not in season or you are worried about the flavor of the corn, I would definitely recommend these small additions to your cooking water.

Since you are adding butter to the water, I didn't even need to add a pat of it to my corn. It coats the corn cobs and gives you the buttery taste without the messy butter drips. Love the taste of a good sweet corn? The addition of milk and sugar adds the sweet taste to the corn that is sweet, but not too sweet.

I can't recommend this recipe enough and hope you can give it a try this summer. If you don't believe my guidance on cooking, seeing my son down three ears and beg for more is a great testimony to this tasty goodness.

Milk Boiled Corn on the Cob (adapted from this recipe on Recipezaar)

6-8 ears corn, husks and silk removed
water
1 1/4 cup milk
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter (optional and to add to the water)

Fill a large stock pot half full with water (use a large enough pot to hold all the corn). Add in the milk, sugar and butter. Bring to a boil, then add in the corn cobs. Reduce heat to a simmer and allow corn to cook for 7-8 minutes or until just tender, depending on size of corn try not to over cook the corn as it will become tough. Using long tongs remove and place on a plate or in a bowl, then cover with foil until ready to serve. Serve with butter and salt to taste (optional as I think this has the perfect flavor).

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Monday, May 18, 2009

An Elegant Strawberry Salad

In my opinion, there is nothing that says summer more than all of the delicious fresh berries you can be snacking on. I happened upon this fantastic recipe for a Strawberry Romaine Salad in my AllRecipes Dinner Tonight cookbook and could not wait to make it.

You will have to envision the poppy seed dressing coating the romaine blend though as it is not pictured here. I took this dish to a carry-in and put the dressing on just before we ate it so the lettuce stayed nice and crisp.

This salad would make a perfect accompaniment for a night of grilling out or a perfect side for an elegant brunch. The salad is sweet, but not too sweet, with a perfect merriment of yummy flavors from the burst of strawberries to the bit of bitterness from the spinach. I plan to make this often this summer and hope you can try it too!


Strawberry Romaine Salad (courtesy of AllRecipes Dinner Tonight Cookbook)

Salad Mix (1 head romaine lettuce, 2 bunches of fresh spinach)
1 pint fresh strawberries, sliced
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/3 cup white sugar
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons poppy seeds

In a large salad bowl, combine the romaine, spinach, and strawberries. In a jar with a tight fitting lid, combine mayonnaise, vinegar, sugar, milk, and poppy seeds. Shake well and pour the dressing over the salad. Toss until evenly coated.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

A Simple & Easy Basic Pizza Dough


This is where you remind me to take pictures of the food before I let my family dig in. Pizza is always a hit in our house and it is hard to hold off the family for blog photos, particularly for our Friday family nights.

While I love my Pizza Hut Pizza Dough recipe, I have been relying on my other pizza dough recipe these past few weeks because of the simplicity of this dough and how easily it rolls out and comes together. This is a fantastic recipe that I have adapted for my bread machine and it makes one delicious pizza. The recipe offers instructions for making the dough in a food processor (recommended by Bittman), by hand, or with a stand mixer. At the bottom, I offer how I am able to adapt this for the bread machine. Basically, you can make it with something or nothing at all, which is why this recipe is an all-around winner in my book!

Basic Pizza Dough (courtesy of "How to Cook Everything," by Mark Bittman)

1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, plus more as needed
2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea slat, plus extra for sprinkling
1 to 1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil

Combine the yeast, flour, and 2 teaspoons salt in the container of a food processor. Turn the machine on and add 1 cup water and the 2 tablespoons of oil through the feed tube. Process for 30 seconds, adding more water, a little at a time, until the mixture forms a ball and is slightly sticky to the touch. If it is dry, add another tablespoon or two of water and process for another 10 seconds. Turn the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand a few seconds to form a smooth, round dough ball. Grease a bowl with the remaining olive oil, and place the dough in it. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp cloth and let it rise in a warm draft-free area until the dough doubles in size, 1 to 2 hours. You can cu this rising time short if you are in a hurry or you can let the dough rise more slowly in the refrigerator for six to eight hours.

To make this dough by hand: Combine half the flour with the salt and yeast and stir to blend. Add 1 cup water and the 2 tablespoons olive oil; stir with a wooden spoon until smooth. Add remaining flour a bit at a time; when the mixture becomes too stiff to stir with a spoon, begin kneading, adding as little flour as possible- just enough to keep the dough from being a sticky mess. Knead until smooth but still quite moist, about ten minutes. Proceed as above.

To make this dough with a standing mixer: The machine must be fairly powerful or it will stall. Combine half the flour with the salt, yeast, 2 tablespoons olive oil, and 1 cup water; blend with the machines paddle. With the machine on slow speed, add flour a little at a time until the mix has become a sticky ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl (switch to the dough hook if necessary). Knead for a minute by hand, adding as little flour as possible, then proceed as above.

To make this dough with the bread machine: Add ingredients as follows- warm water, olive oil, flour, salt, and then add yeast at the top. Turn machine on and select the dough setting. When the machine beeps, you can roll out the dough onto your pizza stone/pan.

Amy's Friday Night Pizza Routine

1 ball of pizza dough
1 1/2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/2 cup 5 or 4 cheese blend
Toppings of your choice
1 can crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. While the oven is preheating, cook the crushed tomatoes, sugar, and salt in a pot over low heat for fifteen minutes. Bake the crust only for eight to ten minutes. Pull the crust out and then top with the crushed tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, 5-cheese blend, and toppings of your choice. Put pizza back in and cook for ten to twelve minutes or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is nicely browned. To earn the coolest mom in the world award, be sure to serve this with some homemade slushies for a special treat.

Related Links:

Notebook Experiments: Will We Like Wheat Pizza Crust?

Freezer Worthy Pizza Sauce

Getting to Know the Bread Machine

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Monday, May 04, 2009

Presto Pesto Rice


My kids love rice as a side dish and I have been looking for recipes that can add a little sparkle to our typical side dish. When hosting my Chari-Tea Bunco night, I bought a large jar of pesto at Sam's Club for a Pesto Pasta Salad that I served. Since I had plenty leftover, we have been working it into other dishes throughout the week. One night I smeared bread with pesto and Italian cheese and let it sit under the broiler for a couple of minutes as a side with an afternoon salad. Another night, we feasted on paninis with pesto, turkey, and swiss on sourdough.

When I ran across a recipe in one of my cookbooks for rice with pesto, I knew this would make a lovely side with our herb baked tilapia. I honestly wasn't sure if the kids would eat it though since it did have a light green color to it. They ended up gobbling it up just like those rice mixes in a box and the pesto added delicious flavor as a side to fish. It felt a little more grown-up than the Rice-A-Roni and we all enjoyed this very much.

Rice With Pesto or Herb Oil (from "How To Cook Everything")
Serves Four

1 tablespoon canola or other neutral oil
1 1/2 cups basmati or other long-grain rice (I used white long grain rice for this)
2 1/4 cups water
Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
1/2 cup pesto or 1 cup fresh herb of your choice: chives, parsley, chervil, or cilantro, 1/4 cup canola or other neutral oil, & 1-2 tablespoons water if needed.

Heat the tablespoon of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until the rice is coated with oil. Add the water and season with salt and pepper. Turn the heat up a bit and bring the mixture to a boil. Cover and turn the heat to medium-low.

After 15 minutes, turn off the heat under the rice, but leave the cover on. Wait 10 minutes, then stir in the pesto or herb oil. Check the seasoning and serve immediately.

If you do not have pesto: While the rice is cooking, rinse the herb and place it in the container of a blender or small food processor. Turn the machine on and gradually add teh 1/4 cup oil. Blend or process until smooth, stopping the machine now and then to stir down the mixture. If necessary, add a tablespoon or two of water to the mixture; it should be the texture of heavy cream.

Related Links:

Yummy Mexican Rice

Lemony Rice Pilaf

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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Notebook Experiment: Can I Make Yummy Homemade Bread?

Experiment: Can I make yummy homemade bread?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 04.15.09

Materials Needed: Please see Dine & Dish for the full instructions. I followed the instructions exactly. I did have to add about 1/4 cup extra flour because the dough was a little too sticky.

Results: I was excited to try this recipe for "Honey, I'm Home Bread" because it looked so delicious and I could use my bread machine to make it. I layered in all of the ingredients and turned on my bread machine to do the work. When I peeked at the dough, it looked like it needed a little more flour so I worked that into the loaf.


As you can see, the bread rose beautifully. It rose so high, in fact, that when it baked it hit the top of my oven and got a little dip in the center (thus, the off-center pictures here). The bread looked golden and smelled delicious.

Unfortunately, it got very brown on the outside after 35 minutes of baking, but when I cut into it, it was still dough in the center. I am not sure if it was because I use stoneware versus a glass loaf pan, but the inside of the loaf did not come out the way I hoped.

Regardless, I am going to try this recipe again and maybe just cook it in the bread machine instead or try a different loaf pan. We did eat around the dough parts because we can't let good bread like that go to waste. It was absolutely deliciously sweet from the honey and a perfect balance of flavors.

I refuse to give up though which is why this is not a failed experiment in my book!

Conclusion: Thanks to Dine & Dish for giving me a recipe that I can't wait to attempt again!

Related Links:

Getting to Know Your Bread Machine

Adventures in Bread Making: Artisan Bread in 5

Storing Homemade Bread & Bread Ingredients

********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Monday, April 27, 2009

Elegant Entertaining Without the Work: Chicken Italiano


Need a fast and elegant dish to entertain with? What about one you could throw in your slow cooker? How about one that could be prepared and thrown in the freezer? How about something that could be made from pantry ingredients? Well, this dish is for you!

When I was growing up my mom used to buy a product called "Chicken Tonight" that had a sauce that you could cook your chicken in to make a fast dinner. My mom served it over rice as a quick weeknight meal and it was always a favorite of mine.

This recipe reminds me a lot of that dish and is as equally easy to prepare. You can throw it in your slow cooker or you can put it in the oven for last minute guests.

I hope you can throw this recipe in your rotation. It has never failed me and everyone I know that has made it, loves the simplicity of this fast and delicious dish.

Chicken Italiano (or Amy's Copycat Version of "Chicken Tonight")

4 chicken breasts
2 cups marinara sauce
1/3 cup chopped tomatoes (you can use fresh or a can of diced tomatoes)
1/2 cup Italian Dressing

Slow Cooker Version: Place all ingredients in your slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for six hours. Serve over spaghetti or rice with a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. This is delicious with a side of roasted green beans.

Oven Version: Throw frozen chicken breasts in. Pour sauce, tomatoes, & Italian dressing on top. Bake at 375 for 1 hour (or longer if they are large chicken breasts).

Make-Ahead Version: Throw all of the ingredients in a freezer bag and label with cooking directions. To prepare, just thaw and follow one of the versions above.

To see more great recipes, please visit Tasty Tuesday at Balancing Beauty & Bedlam!

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Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Chari-Tea Bunco Cause Party

Recently multi-platinum, Grammy Award winning singer/songwriter, Ashanti teamed up with Johnson's Body Care to launch a new charitable program that enables real women across the country to support local charities through simply hosting get-togethers with friends.

I was given the opportunity to host one of these "cause parties" where I could kick back with my girlfriends, pamper ourselves with Johnson's new line of lotions and body washes and help raise money for a local charity.

Lucky for me, it happened to be my turn to host our monthly Bunco so I decided to partner these opportunities together and host a Chari-Tea Bunco night at my house.

My guests were asked to bring monetary and/or food donations to support the St Joseph County Food Bank. Everyone also agreed that the winnings would be given to the food bank instead of divided among ourselves for the event and Johnson's gave us $100 to start the charitable pot for our charity.

By hosting this event with Johnson's they gave us the money to put towards the food and drinks for our event so I truly got to pamper my girlfriends in style because no one had to bring a single dish to share.
I still kept to a thrifty budget, but tried to add some special touches for our group. Our centerpiece was a bouquet of flowers displayed in a teapot with a variety of special teas in my china teacups for our table. These beautiful bouquets of flowers were purchased at Sam's Club for less than $5.

Here are some pictures of the great food that we got to eat. I wanted to stick with the tea party food and dishes that would be easy to handle while playing our game.

I got a huge croissant sandwich tray that served 18 for $32 at Sam's Club. I cut these sandwiches in half and then added colored toothpicks to hold them together so people could sample different varieties of sandwiches and to make them a little more bite-sized.

For side dishes, I purchased two huge vegetable trays for $9.87 each that were prepared by Sam's Club. I made a delicous pesto pasta salad from my new favorite cookbook, "The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen," which you must check out! I then bought a variety of fruit and made fruit kabobs by skewering them for our guests out of pineapple, grapes, and strawberries. These fruit kabobs were thrown into a pretty wine bucket for everyone to grab.

For dessert, I purchased two boxes of mini creme puffs that I served on cake platters with a decaf coffee to finish out the meal.

The star of the party though was the Bunco punch that I made that was a delicious summery drink to go with our food. We also had a box of the Black Box Cabernet which was another surprising hit with many of my friends who had not had the pleasure of trying boxed wines before. Sam's Club had the best price on this with a box that was equivalent to four bottles for only $18.32. I have to say, these boxed wines are an affordable way to entertain on a budget.

On my lower level, we had a little welcome desk where my guests could sign in and my coffee table got taken over by all of the great food donations.

Each guest got to take home a really cute reusable bag filled with Johnson's products to sample and share with their friends as a thank you for their charitable efforts. Each bag contained their 24 Hour Moisturizer, 24 Hour Moisturizing Body Wash, & their Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotions. These products were just for us, not for our kiddos, and they smell and feel great. My favorite is definitely the Be Radiant Cocoa & Shea Butter Lotion- it smells divine!


We had the biggest turn out for Bunco ever with seventeen great women in attendance and we were so excited about all we could do for our community. With the donation made by Johnson's plus our own donations, we were able to donate $205 to the St Joseph County Food Bank and an entire car full of food donations for the cause.

With the job loss in our area, our food banks and shelters are in critical need right now and if you are able to give anything at all, I encourage you to take the time to do it.

Here are some of the items the Food Bank of Northern Indiana critically needs:

Cereal -- hot and cold
Meat, chicken or tuna
Mac/cheese, dry pasta
Vegetables
Potato flakes
Spaghetti O's, stews
Rice
Pork & Beans
Applesauce
Chicken Helper
Family-sized soups
Dry soup mixes
Fruit
Crackers
Spaghetti
Sauce
Juice boxes
Beans -- baked, refried
Pancake, waffle mix
Plastic containers

Individuals, clubs, churches, civic groups and local businesses can all conduct food drives. Donated food is a much needed commodity in their fight against hunger. They accept donated food between the hours of 8:00 am and 4:00 pm, Monday through Friday, at their location on 702 S. Chapin Street, South Bend, IN. If this location is not convenient to you, there are many other drop off points including all of the Martin's Supermarket grocery stores. For more information please visit The Food Bank of Northern Indiana to find out how you can help.

Throwing a cause party was such a fun girl's night out and I encourage you to do the same with your girlfriends! It is a fun and easy way to give back to charities in your community and I am so thankful that Johnson's helped us support such a great cause in our own community!

Here are the star recipes from our fabulous Chari-Tea Bunco night that you could replicate for a charity night at your house!

Pesto Pasta Salad (courtesy of "The Farm Chicks in the Kitchen") and you can visit The Farm Chicks Blog too!

3 cups bowtie pasta (about 8 oz)
1/4 cup pesto (Sam's Club has pesto for really cheap, if your garden isn't ready for pesto-making yet)
1/4 cup sour cream
1 cup chopped fresh tomatoes (about two medium)
1/2 cup halved pitted black olives
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup pine nuts (optional)

Cook pasta as directed. Drain and rinse under cold running water and let cool. Place in a salad bowl. In another bowl, mix the pesto and sour cream together and add to the pasta, tossing to coat. Add the tomatoes, olives, parmesan cheese, and pine nuts and toss to mix. Serve.

Bunco Punch

ICE RING:
Orange slices
Lemon slices
Lime slices
Maraschino cherries
Cherry juice or red food coloring
Water
Metal ring mold

SIMPLE SYRUP (Prepare ahead) :
3 c. water
3 c. sugar
Combine, boil and cool.

PUNCH:
Simple syrup, chilled
4 c. chilled cranberry juice
3 c. chilled bottled lemon juice
2 c. chilled orange juice
2 c. chilled unsweetened pineapple juice
2 qt. chilled ginger ale
16 oz. rum or vodka or wine or champagne

Create your ice ring by throwing in the citrus fruit slices and then pouring in the jar of cherries (juice and all) Top the bundt pan off with water and then freeze overnight.

To serve: Unmold ice ring into punch bowl; add juices and liquor; add ginger ale.

This makes approximately 30 (6 ounce) servings.


What are some fun charitable activities you do with your friends and/or family? I would love for you to share how you make charity a priority in your house?

Related Links:

Good Cheap Fun: Bunco

Retro Housewife Bunco

Kentucky Derby Bunco

'70's Bunco Style

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Monday, April 20, 2009

Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

When I was growing up, my mom made many varieties of bar treats for us. We ate a lot of lemon bars, brownies, and chocolate chip cookie bars as snacks. When I would go to my friend's houses though, their moms made homemade cookies and I would come home and beg my mom to make cookies instead of bars. I never understood why she always made bars for us...until now!

Bars are so much easier than cookies and you dirty up a heck of a lot less pans. There is no cooling on racks that has to be done or switching of cookie sheets. All you have to do to make these cookies is mix and dump. Within minutes you can be snacking on a plate full of cookie bars without the mess or work that regular cookies can be.

Last week I called up my mom and told her what a genius I think she was by making these bars for us! I know my kids will probably be complaining about the lack of cookies in our house, but maybe they will figure out what a genius I am too. It might take them thirty years to figure it out though!

Want perfectly perfect bars? Try my trick and keep a plastic knife handy in your utensil drawer. You can cut them into perfect squares without the crumby mess, even when they aren't fully cool.

The entire family devoured these and the kids loved this new addition to our snack hour. I hope you can enjoy all the cookie goodness without the work too!


Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 (12 ounce) package semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease a 9x13" pan. Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, both sugars and vanilla in large mixer bowl. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Gradually beat flour mixture into butter mixture. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. Spread into prepared pan. Bake 30-35 minutes or until golden brown.

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Notebook Experiment: Can I Make Homemade Bunny Bread?



Experiment: Can I make homemade bunny (monkey) bread?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 02.05.09

Materials Needed: Please see Baking Bites for the original recipe. I took great liberties with the recipe though and made a bread machine version that came out beautifully. If you don't have a bread machine though, please visit Baking Bites for a version that can be prepared with a spoon or a stand mixer.

Results: When I see cake pans at the thrift store, I can't resist picking them up, even if I have nothing in mind to do with them. This bunny-shaped pan was $2 at Goodwill and has been gathering dust in my basement. I decided to break it out to make the kids a special Easter treat.

Our Easter tradition usually consists of my homemade cinnamon rolls, but I thought it would be fun to do something a little different this year. I remembered this great little recipe for homemade monkey bread and also know that it happens to be one of my husband's favorite childhood treats so I thought I would give this recipe a spin.

I opt for the lazy version though and prefer making things in my handy little bread machine, so I modified the recipe to put my little appliance to work and thought I would share my version here.


Bread Machine Monkey Bread/Bunny Bread (adapted from Baking Bites)

1/4 cup water, warm (100-110F)
2 tbsp butter, melted
3/4 cup milk, warm (100-110F)
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg (beaten)
3 - 3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
3 tbsp sugar
2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast (.25-oz)

Sugar Mixture:
2 cups brown sugar
1 1/2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground allspice
1/2 cup butter, melted

Lightly grease a standard 10-in bundt pan with vegetable oil or any cake-shaped pan. Set aside.
In a microwavable bowl, combine the water, milk, and butter and microwave it for one minute (or just until warm). Pour this into the bottom of your bread machine. Add the egg and vanilla next. Add the flour, salt, sugar, and then finally the yeast. Run the Dough cycle on your bread machine and let it run through the entire cycle until it beeps.

Turn dough out onto a very lightly floured surface and gently deflate so that dough is relatively flat (maybe 1/2-3/4 inch thick) Using a knife or a bench scraper, cut off small pieces of dough to form 1/2 to 1-inch balls. As you cut each piece of dough, roll it into a ball in the palms of your hands. Dunk each ball in butter, use the fork to remove it and transfer it to the sugar mixture to be thoroughly coated. Place all coated dough balls into prepared bundt pan.

Once all balls have been coated and places in the pan, cover the pan lightly with plastic wrap and let bread rise for 60 minutes, until almost doubled in size. I covered this with plastic wrap and then popped it in the fridge overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F when you are ready to bake it. If it is in the refrigerator, pull it out a half hour before and let it rise on the kitchen counter before baking. Bake for 30-35 minutes. Bread will spring back when lightly pressed. Let bread cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a serving platter. Eat immediately (or reheat leftovers), as the bread is best served warm and gooey.


Conclusion: The kids absolutely devoured this bunny bread and my husband thought it was the perfect balance of sweetness. I, unfortunately, was struck with the stomach flu this year and got to watch them eat all of this deliciousness while laying on the couch dying, but I will definitely be participating in the devouring next year. Best of all, I found a great new use for that bunny pan and I can't wait to make this a yearly Easter tradition.
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I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original craftster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Day Old Bread Gets A Makeover...Or Four

One of our favorite sandwich shops in town is Jimmy John's. If you haven't sampled one of their yummy gourmet subs, you must run out and get one. My husband loves these so much that this is where he wanted to meet us for his birthday lunch. The two of us spent many a late night over their subs at Purdue University. Now as parents, our children love them just as much as we do!

When chatting with my friend Jessica, whose husband happens to own and operate our local Jimmy John's, she shared with me that they offer their "day old" bread for a deeply discounted price. Day old simply means that the bread is more than five hours old and so they can no longer use it to make the sandwiches. I never realized that they offered this and was anxious to find out the price and if they would have any the next time I went.

After church on Sunday, we headed over to the restaurant to grab some lunch and I asked if they had any day old bread to spare. Stacked high on the counter were many loaves of bread offered at a discounted rate. For $.48 a loaf, I grabbed four loaves to see what I could invent in the kitchen with this inexpensive bread. That is right, only $.48 a loaf, far cheaper than even the discounted bakery cart at Walmart!


That evening, I worked on a beautiful roast chicken, mashed potatoes, and baby peas for a delicious Sunday dinner. The chicken had a yummy lemon sauce and we used the bread to mop up the sauce. We quickly polished off the first loaf that night. No need to change anything when the bread is fresh and a perfect side to any dinner hour.


I called my mother-in-law to see if she would like to come over for dinner the following night. For $.48 a loaf, I can afford to entertain! The second loaf of bread is reinvented into my favorite overnight breakfast casserole. We served this with orange juice, coffee, and a fresh loaf of my banana oat bread. Everyone left the table will full bellies and smiles on their face.

That evening, I cut the last two loaves into squares, drizzled them with olive oil, sprinkled them with garlic salt and threw them in the oven to make homemade croutons. The bread was still soft, but a little stale so this was a great way to use up what was left.

The next morning we had a playgroup to attend and we had to pack our lunches. My yummy lunch was a grilled chicken salad topped with those homemade croutons and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese.

When I got home that night, I still had to make our dinner. Lucky for me, I have plenty of croutons so I gave them a spin in my food processor.

Poured them into my favorite thrifted tin platter.

I gave my chicken a little dip in some egg and then the breadcrumbs.

They were baked into my new new favorite Chicken Parmesan recipe, served with pasta, and a little wine. As everyone happily munched away, I brought up the bread that we had bought several days before. "This is the best you have ever made!" my husband proclaimed. I batted my eyes and said, "It must be that day old bread from Jimmy John's that makes it so good." His look of surprise was priceless.

I still have enough leftover to make a batch of meatballs and bread our pork chops this week.

As a frugal homemaker, I don't think I reinvent the wheel of frugality... but I sure know how to beat a dead horse!

What are some of your proudest money-saving moments? Do you have a "beat the dead horse" approach towards using what you have?

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Monday, April 13, 2009

World's Greatest Homemade Slushies

One of my kid's favorite treats in the world are mom's homemade slushies. I have been making these for years now and they never fail to be a hit with everyone in the family. My husband loves slushies even more than ice cream and he lights up just as much as the kids do when I break out the blender.

Slushies at our local ice cream joint really add up and we could easily spend about ten dollars getting everyone one of these. This recipe costs me about fifty cents for four and is just as good. Aldi offers Mixade variety packs that are even cheaper than the Kool-Aid brand and still make vibrant and delicious slushies.

I tried this with the no sugar varieties and they flopped and tasted more like a shaved ice than a slushie.

Go ahead, live a little! Bring on the sugar for a special family night treat!

World's Greatest Homemade Slushies (Courtesy of Hillbilly Housewife)

2 cups ice water
1 packet fruit-flavored drink mix (use your favorite flavor)
2/3 cup sugar
4 cups or 1 full tray of ice cubes

You need a blender to prepare this recipe. Put all of the ingredients into your blender. It will be about 2/3 to 3/4's full. Put the lid on. Process the mixture on high for a full minute. Stop the blender, use a spoon to stir it a bit. Look for unchopped ice chunks. If all the chunks are grated up, then go ahead and serve it. You may need to process it for another full minute though. Serve immediately. I usually have to spoon this out of the blender with a measuring cup because the mixture is so thick. Makes 4 - 8oz servings.

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Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Notebook Experiments: A Chicken Cooked In Milk?


Experiment: Will my family love a chicken cooked in milk?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 04.02.09

Materials Needed: Please see The Kitchn for specific directions on how to make Jamie Oliver's chicken cooked in milk & lemon. I followed the instructions outlined by The Kitchn and left the lid on for the first hour of the cooking time, versus the chicken uncovered as Jamie outlines in his recipe. I also omitted the cinnamon stick to go with a more traditional flavor, but might give that a try next time.

Results: I love roasted chicken and it is the ultimate Sunday dinner for our family. When I saw this recipe, I knew I would have to try it. I happened to be out at Target so I picked up all the ingredients there including an organic bird since they had them on sale.

The main difficulty I had with the recipe was frying the bird in the butter. I think the butter could have been easily reduced to half the amount and still brought out a lot of flavor. I had a hard time flipping the bird without splattering myself, but got a good start on the skin before it went into the oven.

I added all the ingredients to the pot and then put the lid on it. It cooked for the first hour with the lid on and then I basted it and removed the lid for the last half hour.

Here is what you need to know about this recipe that makes it worth the little bit of effort. First, it made the whole house smell amazing and I literally wanted to eat it within the first fifteen minutes of cooking because the house smelled that good. Second, the meat literally falls off of the bone. There is no carving, it literally falls off. Third, the sauce is delicious and the "curdled" appearance was barely noticeable at all in the sauce.

All of that being said, the breast meat was drier than I would have liked so I am not sure if that could be remedied with a shorter cooking time or cooking it with the lid on the entire time. I am going to try a few different scenarios until I perfect this one because it is truly that good.

Make sure to have lots of bread for mopping up all that great sauce. If you pair this with a good white wine, a pile of mashed potatoes, and a great Etta James CD (like our family did), you will love every minute and bite that happens during that dinner!

Update: We tried this chicken again. This time I did not brown it, omitted the butter entirely, and cut the lemons in half and added two halves around the chicken and two halves stuffed in the chicken. I sprinkled the outside of the chicken with cinnamon instead of the cinnamon stick (which costs quite a bit more at our supermarket). I cooked it covered and then gave it twenty minutes with the lid off. The second time...absolutely perfect and lower calorie to boot!

Conclusion: This recipe will be repeated again and again! I thank The Kitchn for highlighting it and I can't wait to try some different variations to make this chicken the ultimate chicken in our house!
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I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original craftster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Monday, April 06, 2009

Amazingly Delicious Roasted Green Beans

I have roasted a lot of vegetables during my lifetime, but I can honestly say that I had never roasted green beans before. I saw a recipe for roasting green beans and knew I would have to try it. I decided to use what I had in my produce drawer and pantry to make this great little side dish that I know you will absolutely love.

The original recipe did call for fresh green beans, but I had a bag of the fancy frozen ones from Aldi in my freezer that I wanted to use. I added an extra ten-fifteen minutes cooking time for these and they were perfect for our taste. You can roast them longer, if you like, but this amount of time seemed to fit well for me.

Below is the recipe including instructions for fresh and for frozen. This would be a wonderful side dish for your cookouts this summer and looks deliciously gourmet with very little effort.

It would also make a great side dish for your Easter dinner celebration this year. Enjoy!

Roasted Green Beans

2 pounds fresh green beans (or a bag of frozen fancy green beans)
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons minced garlic (I use the bottled garlic to save a little time)
Salt & Pepper
Zest from one lemon (save the juice for later)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Grab a jelly roll pan and dump green beans on the pan. Sprinkle seasonings, lemon zest, and garlic over the green beans. Drizzle the olive oil over the green beans and then toss with your hands until they are all coated with the seasonings and zest. Spread out in a single layer and slide your cookie sheet into the oven. Roast fresh green beans for 20-25 minutes and roast frozen green beans for an additional 10-15 minutes. When they are done, pull from the oven and put them on a serving platter. Squeeze the lemon juice over the top (from the lemon you zested) and serve.

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Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Notebook Experiments: Will We Like Wheat Pizza Crust?


Experiment: Can I make a wheat pizza crust that the whole family will love?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 02.12.09

Materials Needed: Please see Day by Day for specific directions on how to make this pizza crust. I actually used my bread machine for this instead of using the stand mixer and just dumped the ingredients in like I would normally (wet ingredients, dry ingredients, yeast on top) and it came together great.

Results:


I ran my bread machine on the dough cycle and did have to add just a little bit of water to make the dough a little bit looser. I let it run through the entire cycle and then floured my counters and rolled it out for my lightly greased cookie sheet.

I baked as instructed and the results were great. The crust has a chewy texture and puffs up beautifully. I usually have to bake my crust first to get it to be nice and chewy, but I was able to top this crust and bake it right with the toppings and still have a nice firm crust.

The kids ate it and my husband really liked it too. It was a little bit healthier than our previous versions which made me feel less guilty about the slushie factor that I added in for our fun family night. It all balances out in the end, right?



Conclusion: I will definitely be making this crust again, but play around a little bit with the spices. I think it would be great with regular salt and garlic powder and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese instead, but it is a very versatile recipe that is a little healthier than our normal pizza crust. Thanks to Day by Day for sharing their family recipe!

Related Links:

Can I Make a Deep Dish Pizza?

Dinner is in the Bag

Freezer Worthy Pizza Sauce

Pizza Hut Pizza Dough Crust

**********************


I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original craftster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Monday, March 30, 2009

Deliciously Light Banana Oat Bread


When I feel like I have mastered a recipe, I often don't go back and take a look at new recipes for that particular dish. After all, if you are making the best there is, why would you ever explore anything new? That is how I felt about my banana bread recipe. It was the perfect recipe and it has never failed me. It is not the most figure-friendly though and so when I ran across this recipe from Cooking Light, I knew I would have to try it. I modified the recipe to our taste and what we had in our cupboard and what came from that little experimentation resulted in this perfectly perfect absolutely amazing banana bread recipe that will be replacing my old version.

Despite using rolled oats, there is no weird texture to the bread, even without any soaking of the oats. The sprinkle of oats on top add just a little bit of chewiness and the bread is moist, but still light-tasting.

My husband likened it to a delicious oatmeal cookie and I was impressed with how clean it came out of the pans, how easy it was to cut, and the beauty of the light golden color with the dusting of oats on top.

The original recipe called for white sugar and had no spices. I substituted the white sugar with brown sugar and added cinnamon. I had half-and-half in my refrigerator and added 2 teaspoons of vinegar to it to replace the buttermilk.

Did I mention this recipe is also very frugal? No butter in the recipe and very little fat, bananas that were going to make their way into a trash can, and cheap generic oatmeal! And yet, despite all of those factors, it would make an amazing little gift packaged for a special person in your life!

The recipe that is written below is my adaptation of this bread and I hope you will enjoy it half as much as our family has!


Deliciously Light Banana Oat Bread

1 1/2 cups flour
2/3 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup rolled oats
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup mashed banana (approximately 2 1/2 per loaf)
1/3 cup buttermilk (I substituted with half & half with 2 tsp of vinegar to sour)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, beaten
Cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350°F and spray a 8 x 4 inch loaf pan with cooking spray. Combine dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Combine banana, buttermilk, oil, vanilla, and eggs in a small bowl or measuring cup. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir gently just until the dry ingredients are moistened. Spoon batter into the prepared pan and bake for 55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, in the pan, for about 15 minutes (I left mine in longer and it was fine). Remove the bread from the pan after 15 minutes and cool thoroughly on the rack.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Notebook Experiment: Can I Make a Delicious Oatmeal Cookie?


Experiment: Can I make a delicious oatmeal cookie that the kids will love?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 02.05.09

Materials Needed: Please see don't call me becky for specific directions on how to make these Oatmeal Jumbo Cookies. I was able to find a package of pretty pink M&M's that support breast cancer awareness at our local Aldi. I also added peanuts for the nuts in the cookie, as was recommended by this blog entry.

Results: I really stink at making cookies. For some reason, no matter what I do, they always end up turning out horribly. Ask me to make you an amazing four course dinner though, and I will shine like a superstar. I guess you could say that Rachael Ray & I are very similar as I recognize that I am not a very good baker.

I decided to make the jumbo version of this cookie and it failed miserably. It got crunchy on the outside but never set up firmly in the center. The second batch was done by the teaspoonful and turned out pretty perfect except for the flat as a pancake look, even after refrigerating my dough. One peek at the expiration date on my baking powder made me realize that it might not be my cooking skills that are lacking, but instead the leavening agent was a little flat.

Regardless of this small detail, these cookies are absolutely delicious! They have no flour in them, but loads of oats, peanuts, peanut butter, and a little chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth. These cookies were excellent and I can't wait to try making them again with a fresh batch of baking powder.

If you are ever in a pinch though, I did find a great substitution for baking powder. You can substitute 1/4 teaspoon baking soda plus 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar plus 1/4 teaspoon cornstarch to substitute for your baking powder.

Conclusion: These cookies will make a fun lunch box treat for the family and I love the flavor combination of the chocolate and the peanut butter! I hope you can give these a try the next time you need to satisfy your sweet tooth!
**********************


I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original craftster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!


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Monday, March 23, 2009

Whole Wheat Hamburger & Hot Dog Buns


I love to make homemade hamburger buns for our sandwiches and have been wanting to try a recipe for whole wheat buns. For my first attempt, I think these buns are absolutely delicious and fit the bill perfectly. They are not too dense, but can handle a messy sandwich like a Sloppy Joe or Chicken BBQ perfectly. You can substitute the shortening with canola oil to make these a bit more heart-healthy.

I look forward to making these again and again for our family!


Whole Wheat Hamburger & Hot Dog Buns
(courtesy of Bread Machine Magic)

1 cup water
1 egg
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup shortening (can substitute with canola oil instead)
1/4 cup sugar
3 teaspoons yeast


Place all ingredients in bread pan, select Dough setting, and press Start. (Vital Wheat Gluten is optional but the bread will rise higher with it.). When dough has risen enough, the machine will beep. Remove bread pan, and turn out dough onto a floured countertop. Gently roll and shape the dough into a 12-inch rope. With a sharp knife, divide dough into 8 pieces for hamburger buns or 12 pieces for hot dog buns. Grease a baking sheet. Roll pieces of dough into balls and flatten for hamburger buns or shape into 6-inch rolls for hot dog buns. Place on prepared baking sheet. Cover and let rise in warm oven 10 to 15 minutes until almost doubled. Preheat oven to 400°F Bake 10 to 12 minutes until golden brown (be careful mine cook pretty fast). Remove from oven and cool on racks. When ready to use, split buns horizontally.

**These will keep in plastic bag in the freezer for 3 to 4 weeks.

Related Links:

Getting to Know Your Bread Machine

Storing Homemade Bread & Bread Ingredients

Buttery Bread Machine Rolls

Homemade Hamburger Buns

Do you make homemade hamburger or hot dog buns? Please feel free to share your recipe!

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Baked Salmon With Lemony Rice Pilaf

Salmon is one of my favorite types of fish and I couldn't wait to try this recipe out. It mimics the same flavors as the Herb Baked Tilapia, but offers the addition of the lemon seasoning to add a unique twist to one of my family's favorite meals.

Our whole family really loved this dish and I loved adding a side of the homemade Lemony Rice Pilaf since the fish had the hint of lemon flavoring throughout it.

I hope you enjoy this dish as much as our family did!


Baked Salmon

1 lb salmon fillets (I used the frozen fillets from Aldi Supermarket)
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Lawry's Lemon Pepper
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
1 cup dry breadcrumbs (I used Italian breadcrumbs)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Fillet salmon and place skin side down on a glass baking dish. Spread a generous amount of mayonnaise; cover entire top of fish. Sprinkle liberally with seasoned salt, cheese and dry bread crumbs. Bake about 25 to 30 minutes, uncovered (with the frozen fillet portions, fifteen-twenty minutes should be plenty of time). Place under broiler until top turns brown.

Lemony Rice Pilaf (Courtesy of Recipezaar)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil, preferably canola oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
3 cups chicken stock (vegetable stock makes this vegetarian/vegan)
1 grated lemon, rind of
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
fresh ground pepper

In a heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and cook onion for 5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in rice, then stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover; let simmer for 20 minutes, or until rice is tender. Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and parsley; taste and add pepper if you wish. Note: This reheats very well so you can make a double batch for another night, if you like!

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Monday, March 09, 2009

Yummy Mexican Rice

On our last chicken enchilada night, I decided I wanted to add a fun side dish to our meal. What goes better with your homemade enchiladas then a little bit of Mexican Rice? I can admit that the Mexican Rice is actually my favorite part of going out for Mexican food.

I found this little recipe and dug through our pantry for all of the ingredients. The tomato sauce complimented the enchiladas that we dipped in that homemade enchilada sauce better than anything else and I was able to modify the spices to our taste. I used white rice, but I may need to try my brown rice experiment and use that instead. This is a fun and inexpensive side dish and even our rice-haters ate it with great enthusiasm.

I think this will be a repeat performer in our house!

Mexican Rice

1 cup uncooked rice (not instant rice)
2 tablespoons oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 medium white onion, chopped (omitted because of personal taste)
2 ripe plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped (I omitted this ingredient because I didn't have any tomatoes)
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup chicken broth or beef broth (we chose chicken broth)
1 tablespoon chili powder (you can reduce this- I added 1 teaspoon)
3/4 teaspoon salt

Heat the oil in a heavy skillet. Add the rice and stir over medium-high heat until rice is golden brown. Add the garlic and chopped onion, and sauté until the onion just begins to brown. Add the tomatoes, tomato sauce, chicken broth, chili powder and salt, lower heat and cover. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes until all liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat and allow to sit, covered, for 5 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve.

Rice is yummy and a frugal side dish! Do you have any favorite rice recipes you could share?

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Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Depression Era Cooking: The Poor Man's Feast




My husband sent me the link to this series and I can't stop watching. Clara is an amazing woman who shares her tricks and tips that they used to stretch a buck in the Depression Era. Her stories are beautiful and her cooking tips are wonderful. I hope you can take a moment to enjoy this Poor Man's Feast that she shares in this episode and visit the Depression Cooking Channel to see more episodes!

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Play It Again, Momma: Getting to Know Your Bread Machine


You have been talking about bread machines and making bread. I am interested in doing this since I am home all the time and I love fresh bread.

I was at the Goodwill and saw many of them and they were kind of cheap, like 20.00 or less. I am dumb so help me out. Does the machine knead the dough and bake it and everything in the bread machine?

If I would purchase one at the Goodwill how would I know if it works or not?

I am interested. Please help me find a way in a new venture.


Signed,
Future Bread Maker

First of all, thank you for your question! The Ask Frugal Momma column can't happen without your questions, so please keep sending them my way. You can email any and all questions to amy@momadvice.com. We have had some fun topics and I am very excited to share with everyone!

Do any of you have bread machine gathering dust in your house? A lot of people buy these appliances and then end up donating them at their local thrift store because they never use them. I think of the bread machine as a modern day convenience, but in a culture where we want everything NOW, waiting for a loaf of bread can seem like an eternity. Why wait for a hot loaf of fresh bread when you can grab a loaf at your supermarket? And what exactly is the purpose of that appliance that is taking up space on your shelves?

On any given day in our house, you will find our bread machine happily humming along and whipping up fresh dough and bread for us. We use our bread machine almost daily, and spare ourselves the expense of fancy bakery breads. Not only that, but our bread machine has a regular performance in our house on Friday nights. This appliance makes our favorite pizza dough for our official “family night” together.

The purpose of a bread machine is to be able to make fresh bread when you want it. The reasons vary from person to person on why they choose to make their own bread. Many people have concerns about the additives and preservatives that are found in store-bought breads. Another reason that many people choose to make their own bread is because they just enjoy the taste of homemade bread. My reasoning for making our own bread is because I like to save our family money. Making your own bread costs so much less than purchasing a loaf of bread, and the rising grocery costs have only fueled my desire more to make it at home.

I am not a baker though and our days seem to be jam-packed with activities for our family. Taking the time to knead, rise, and bake bread…well, that hasn’t seemed to top the priority list at this point in my life. Lucky for me, there is an appliance that can do all the work for me and all I have to do is pull the finished loaf or ball of dough out.

To begin, all you have to do is put the ingredients in and select your setting. Some of the older machines have just a handful of simple settings. I find that the settings we use most on our machine are Basic and the Dough cycle, which can be found on every machine. The basic cycle is just the basic setting for making a loaf of bread. The Dough cycle just completes the kneading and rising of the dough. Once the dough cycle is complete, you can take the dough out and shape it into your loaf pan or do fancy braids or rolls out of the dough.

Inserting your ingredients into a bread machine is also very straightforward. If you are making the loaf right away, you can insert the ingredients in any way that you want. All of these ingredients will immediately be stirred together and so it will not matter what the order is. If you use a timer delay on your bread machine, delaying the start time of making your loaf, it is imperative that you put the ingredients in the right order or your loaf will not turn out right. The order of ingredients is liquid (liquids include water, oil, milk, eggs, or honey), flour, other dry ingredients (salt, sugar, baking powder, seasonings), and ending the ingredients with your yeast. The most important part of putting the yeast in is to make sure that you make a small indentation into the center of the flour so that the yeast does not react with the other ingredients.

Upon inserting your ingredients, your bread machine will take over the process from there. The machine will knead the ingredients together, give the bread its rising time, and then it will bake the bread. The bread machine will signal when the bread is ready and you can allow the bread to cool inside of the bread bucket.

There is no need to spend the money on convenience bread machine mixes; in fact, you can make your own convenient mixes handy for the week. I take plastic storage bags and make an assembly line of the dry ingredients and do my bags once a month. On the outside, just write what liquids you will need to add and you will only have a dirty kitchen once.

A quick glance at grocery store prices though and you will wonder how there could be any possible savings with making your bread at home. The key to making this the least expensive on your family is to purchase all of your ingredients at your local wholesale club. With proper storage, you can buy the ingredients in bulk and save your family loads of money. For example, our wholesale club has twenty-five pounds of bread & all-purpose flour for under $6 each. Two pounds of yeast will run you just under $4. What a difference compared to the prices in your regular supermarket!

For storage, flour can be stored for up to a year in an airtight container. With bulk storage, a large plastic bin that has been clearly labeled is ideal to keep your flour fresh. Yeast is the easiest ingredient to store and has a very long shelf life. I store my yeast in a clear jar in our refrigerator door. With both of these ingredients, writing an expiration date on the label will also remind you of when the item is going to expire.

If you do not have a bread machine and are looking for one, garage sales and thrift sales are a great place to hunt. I see these machines for $10 or less, and you will definitely get your money back from the savings of making your own bread. When you find one, ask if you can plug it in and make sure it is working. Just check that it actually powers up, that there is a bread bucket inside, and that there is a paddle in the bottom of the bread machine to stir the ingredients. Having a manual with it is handy, but usually can be found by searching online.

Good luck in your quest to find a bread machine and I hope it is a well-loved appliance in your home!

(photo credit: Koropop)


Related & Helpful Information:

Hillbilly Houswife's Bread Machine Basics

Buttery Bread Machine Rolls

My Favorite Pizza Dough (after much trial & error)

Storing Homemade Bread & Bread Ingredients

Homemade Croutons

Dinner is in the Bag

Adventures in Bread Making: Artisan Bread in 5

Adventures in Bread Making: Fiddlin' With Temperatures

Let's talk about it! Do you use a bread machine or do you make your bread the old school way? Feel free to share your bread machine recipes here!

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Monday, March 02, 2009

Chicken Wings With Honey BBQ Sauce

These wings...oh, these chicken wings. This picture does not do them justice, but maybe if I tell you that I really hate chicken wings and I would eat these any day of the week, it just might convince you to try this recipe.

Since we have been doing the No Spend Challenge, I only had a 1/4 cup of soy sauce left in a bottle and no other bottles in my pantry. I did have a bottle of Teriyaki sauce so I substituted half of the soy sauce with Teriyaki sauce instead and hoped for the best.

My husband looked up at me and said, "Whatever you did, do this every single time."

So I will and I am blogging it too so I don't ever forget it.

May I recommend a fun appetizer night with your family? After all, what is better than a ton of fun snacky foods and a good family flick?

Chicken Wings With Honey BBQ Sauce (updated)

3 pounds chicken wings
1 cup honey
1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup Teriyaki sauce
1/4 cup BBQ sauce
1/8 cup vegetable oil
1 clove garlic, minced (I just used a tablespoon of bottled minced garlic)

Season wings with salt & pepper. Place frozen wings on broiler pan and broil for twelve-fifteen minutes on each side. Transfer wings to the slow cooker. Combine ingredients and pour over wings. Cook on high two hours or low for four hours.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make Waffles That Are Light As Air?

Experiment: Can I make waffles that are as light as air?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 02.25.09

Materials Needed: Please see Serious Eats for the full instructions.

Results: I loved all your feedback last week on my failed pretzel experience. I thought it was important to share that I can totally flop in the kitchen just like anyone else. I have had many failed experiments over the years, but I probably do not share those as often as I should. I try to only showcase the tried and true recipes, but there are those days where the cooking isn't very stellar in this house and I want to share that with you too!

That failed experiment though did not stop me from attempting another recipe in the notebook. As soon as I saw this recipe for waffles, I knew that I wanted to try it. I love my waffles, but often wish that they were not so dense so that is why I was intrigued by this recipe. I decided to make a double batch, hoping they would turn out and make a fun breakfast for the kids out of the leftovers.

There were several things that made this recipe different from others I have tried. There was no vanilla in it, no sugar even, and it required you to separate the yolks and whites in the egg, whipping the whites until they were at the stiff peak stage. After mixing the batter together, you then fold in the egg whites which created a lot of volume and airiness to the batter.


This combination of ingredients was absolutely perfect and folding in the egg whites helped to create the perfect balance of crispness and airiness that I have been looking for in a waffle recipe. The lack of sugar in the recipe also made it so the waffles were not so sweet and could be heavily coated in homemade pancake syrup without making them too heavy.

Best Waffles Ever (Courtesy of Better Homes & Gardens Cookbook)

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 egg yolks
1 3/4 cups milk
1/2 cup canola oil
2 egg whites
Procedure

1. In a medium mixing bowl stir together flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center.

2. In another bowl beat egg yolks slightly. Stir in milk and oil.

3. Add egg yolk mixture all at once to the dry mixture. Stir just till moistened (should be lumpy).

4. In a small bowl beat egg whites until stiff peaks form (tips stand straight up).

5. Gently fold egg whites into flour and egg yolk mixture, leaving a few fluffs of egg white, Do not overmix.

6. Spoon waffle batter into your waffle iron, making sure not to overfill it.

7. Serve with real maple syrup and unsalted butter.


Side Note
- I doubled this recipe for my family of four and we had enough for three extra Belgian waffles


Conclusion:
I will make these waffles again and again because they were absolutely perfect. They truly were the best waffles ever and I look forward to serving these again for a fun brunch or weeknight meal!

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Want to join in on the MomAdvice No Spend Challenge? Make sure to add your name to the linky list and read more about our challenge. You can also join our No Spend Challenge Flickr Group and upload your pictures of what you did each day.

To read all the entries on not spending, you can visit our No Spend Challenge category!
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I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Wednesday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Monday, February 23, 2009

Total Comfort Food: Italian Vegetable Soup



One of my favorite things in the world is a delicious bowl of soup. After my visit to Campbell's and a recent article that I read in All You Magazine about soup being a great way to consume less calories during your lunch hour, I was inspired to make a big batch of soup for myself. And when I say myself, I mean only me. No one else in my family likes soup so I am able to eat a batch of this for a week or even freeze it to eat over the course of a couple of weeks.

This soup was in my Slow Cooker Menu Planner, but I wanted to make it a little lighter for the lunch hour. By omitting the ground turkey and using small pasta shells and increasing the liquid a bit, I had the perfect balance for a filling soup that wasn't too heavy plus it is a great way to get in all those yummy veggies.

The soup did seem to absorb a lot of the broth so if it got too thick, I would just add a little beef or chicken broth to thin it out when reheating it.

This is definitely comfort food at it's best!

Italian Veggie Pasta Soup

3 carrots - chopped very small

4 stalks celery

2 cans diced tomatoes - do not drain (I used the petite diced)

2 cans red kidney beans - drained

4 cans beef broth

1 jar spaghetti sauce

8 ounces noodles - I used the small past shells

2 tablespoons olive oil

Add two tablespoons of olive oil to the pot and saute vegetables for 15-20 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Sprinkle these liberally with salt and pepper. While these are cooking, in a separate pot boil water and cook pasta shells until they are just cooked (about 5-6 minutes). Drain the pasta water, but do not rinse the pasta. Set aside. Next add diced tomatoes (do not drain), kidney beans, beef broth, and spaghetti sauce to the pot with the vegetables. Allow this to cook for an hour or so, until the veggies are cooked through and the flavors are incorporated. Add the pasta right before serving to the pot. Dish up and serve with a crusty bread for dipping.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomato, & Cream


Would you like to prepare a dish that is going to totally wow your company? Maybe you are looking for a restaurant-quality dish, but one that can be whipped up on a weeknight? Well, then I have the dish for you!

I have had this recipe in my recipe box for years, but hadn't tried it yet. I don't know why I let it gather dust for so long because it was a hit with every single person in our family. It is a great balance of cream and tomato and the sausage adds a great burst of flavor in each bite.

I tried to make it a little more figure friendly by substituting regular sausage with Italian turkey sausage and substituted the heavy whipping cream with half & half. What resulted was a dish that was still rich and elegant, but shaved a little bit of the fat off of the equation.

I hope you can give this recipe a try in your rotation. I promise you won't be disappointed!

Bow Ties With Sausage, Tomato, & Cream

1 (12 ounce) package bow tie pasta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb Sweet Italian Turkey Sausage (removed from the casing)
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (can omit/decrease if your family doesn't like spicy dishes)
1/2 cup diced onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28 ounce) can Italian-style plum tomatoes, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups heavy cream (or half & half to save on calories)
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley

Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Cook pasta in boiling water for 8 to 10 minutes, or until al dente; drain. Heat oil in a large, deep skillet over medium heat. Cook sausage. Stir in onion and garlic, and cook until onion is tender. Stir in tomatoes, cream, and salt. Simmer until mixture thickens, 8 to 10 minutes. Stir cooked pasta into sauce, and heat through. Sprinkle with parsley.

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Monday, February 09, 2009

Lemony Rice Pilaf

I can admit that I fall short on the side dishes. I can whip up a mean dinner, but then when it comes time to plan the side dishes I stick with Rice A Roni and raw or cooked vegetables. If I am feeling adventuresome, I might even break out the applesauce. Yes, the sides have been lacking the creativity that my main dishes offer.

That is why I was so excited when I saw this recipe for Lemony Rice Pilaf. My husband is a fan of the boxed rice mixes, but has never really went for any other ideas that I have put together for rice. While I love a burst of lemon flavor, he drags his heels about anything that is too lemony. With those facts in mind, I knew it would be a true challenge to convert him over to loving this Lemony Rice Pilaf.

It was inspected by everyone with disdain- flecks of fresh parsley, white rice with lemon mixed in. I held my breath and watched everyone scoot it around on their plate.

I leaned in to eat mine and my husband looked up and said, "This is incredible!" We all agreed it was the best rice side dish I have ever made and a perfect balance to the fish that I had served with it.

This rice is sticky, but bursts with flavor from the lemon and the chicken broth that is mixed in. The lemon in it is subtle, but gives just a hint of fresh flavor. The fresh parsley that was chopped up to mix in it gave it a fresher taste and a hint of color, which is always pleasing to the eye.

This is a recipe repeat for sure and I am so thankful to have freshened up my boring side dish!

Lemony Rice Pilaf (Courtesy of Recipezaar)

1 teaspoon vegetable oil, preferably canola oil
1 cup finely chopped onion
1 1/2 cups long grain white rice
3 cups chicken stock (vegetable stock makes this vegetarian/vegan)
1 grated lemon, rind of
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 cup coarsely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley
fresh ground pepper

In a heavy saucepan, heat oil over medium heat and cook onion for 5 minutes, or until softened. Stir in rice, then stock, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cover; let simmer for 20 minutes, or until rice is tender. Stir in lemon zest, lemon juice, and parsley; taste and add pepper if you wish. Note: This reheats very well so you can make a double batch for another night, if you like!

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Notebook Experminents: Can I Make Starbucks Coffee Cake at Home?


Experiment: Can I make Starbucks Coffee Cake at home?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 01.22.09

Materials Needed: Please see Divine Domesticity for the full instructions.

Results: I have been looking forward to finding an opportunity where I could try out this copycat recipe for Starbucks Coffee Cake. I have never eaten it at Starbucks, but I have heard it is quite divine and I can never resist a good coffee cake.

I followed the instructions for this recipe exactly. I did bake the cake about five extra minutes to make sure that the topping wouldn't ooze into the cake. I also prepared the crumb topping with a pastry blender that I have in my kitchen for crumb toppings on cakes & muffins. It worked beautifully for this job and then I didn't have to get out the stand mixer to make the topping.

I waited until the cake was completely cool and then gave it a dusting of confectioner's sugar and then prepared for my event where I could serve it.

What event was that? Well, I actually hosted the first meeting for a little knitting club that I have been wanting to put together for quite some time. We had nine women who showed up for coffee, cake, and time to just sit in my living room and knit to their hearts content. We had women who were just starting out and plenty of experts in the group to offer guidance.

I got out my little stand and piece of tile that I picked up from the hardware store, and wrote down our menu on it- Starbucks Crumb Cake, Homemade Vanilla Chai, Homemade Hot Cocoa, or Decaf Coffee.

Everyone loved the coffee cake, but I think if I make it next time, I will probably reduce the crumb topping to half because it was a little too much topping for me. It was quite delicious though and looked very impressive for a get together. Best of all, the ingredients are always fully stocked in the pantry so it makes a true winner in my book!

The knitting night was a complete hit and it warmed my heart to look around and see all my friends knitting and gabbing together.

Conclusion: I can't wait to make this cake again and host another knitting night at my house. Next week I will show you what I have been knitting on! Thanks again to Alli, at Divine Domesticity, for sharing this recipe with me!


********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Monday, February 02, 2009

Parmesan Sage Pork Chops With Cheesy Orzo


I have been stepping out of my comfort zone lately with my recipe collection and new recipes for pork chops was another one that I felt like I should tackle, I have my top three ways I like pork chops- my Ranch Pork Chops, the Italian Chops, & then the Slow Cooked Pork Chops. No other recipes seem to do it for me, but I had the ingredients hiding in my pantry to make this dish and thought I would take the plunge.

This has to be the best pork chop I have ever eaten in my life. The combination of cooking the pork chop in the butter with the olive oil helped keep the breading on the pork chop instead of stuck to the pan. The flavorful coating helps to keep the pork chop moist so you don't have the dried out chops like most recipes usually end up with.

The special ingredient that takes this over the edge though is definitely the lemon zest mixed in with the Parmesan cheese & Italian breadcrumbs. I saved the lemons after zesting them and squeezed the lemons ofter the hot chops when they came out of the oven. Sprinkling it with a little fresh parsley takes this from a boring flavor experience to a very exciting one. Pairing this with my cheesy orzo made for the perfect combination!

I would highly recommend making this dish as soon as you can! No one could stop eating it and the leftovers were leftover barely a night in our house.

Parmesan Sage Pork Chops (Courtesy of Recipezaar)

1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (I used the Italian bread crumbs)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
tablespoon dried rubbed sage
1 lemon, rind of, teaspoon grated (save the lemons for squeezing over the hot chops)
2 large eggs, whisked
1/4 cup flour, seasoned with
salt and pepper
4 pork chops, about 1 inch thick (can use bone in or out ones)
1/8-1/4 cup butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
Fresh sprinkle of parsley when you are done

Preheat oven to 425F degrees. Mix in bowl, bread crumbs, grated parmesan cheese, dried rubbed sage and grated lemon peel. Then, on a plate put flour seasoned with salt and pepper; coat chops with flour. Dip in egg. Then dip in bread crumb mixture. Melt butter and olive oil in a oven-proof skillet. Brown chops until golden. Transfer to oven and bake until meat thermometer says 150 degrees, about 20 minutes.

Cheesy Orzo (Courtesy of Food Network)

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 2 turns of the pan
1/2 small onion, chopped (I omit this ingredient)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 cans (14 ounces) chicken or vegetable broth or stock
2 cups orzo pasta (enriched rice may be substituted)
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano or Romano (I just use Parmesan cheese)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat a 8 inch pot with a tight fitting cover over moderate heat. Add oil, onion and garlic and saute for 2 or 3 minutes. Add broth to the pan and bring to a boil. Stir in orzo and return broth to a boil. Cover pot and reduce heat to simmer. Cook 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until liquid is absorbed and pasta tender. Remove lid and stir in cheese. Season with salt and pepper to your taste. You favorite fresh herbs may also be stirred into the orzo or rice to strengthen the flavor even more.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Play It Again, Momma: Artisan Bread in 5

After our discussion on my old school baking day, I had lots of great ideas for how I could get around actually buying a bread machine. One of our readers, named Noreen, suggested that I check out a book called, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" which would help me get around the whole bread machine process and required no kneading.

As soon as I read her comment, I put a hold on it at our library and picked it up the next day. With a cup of iced coffee in hand, I read through the entire process and what I would need to complete it.

For copyright reasons, I will refrain from going into the recipes themselves, but I will explain the process of this method so that you can decide if this something you could/would do to make bread for your family. The master mix recipe I am using is actually located here so you could attempt the first recipe without even getting the book.

There are lots of different recipes in the book and then different ways of shaping the dough recipes. I attempted the master recipe which included just the basics- water, yeast, flour, and salt.

The difference between making this dough and the traditional dough is that you literally dump the ingredients in (no need to even proof the yeast) and use a wooden spoon to just mix everything together. The dough is very wet and easy to stir and you don't even have to break out the mixer.

You cover the dough and let it rise for two hours and then you stick it in the fridge for a minimum of three hours and up to fourteen days. Yes, that's right..fourteen days! According to the authors, the dough will taste better and better the longer the dough sits in there and you can even use some of your old dough as a starter for a new dough, much like the process of making a sour dough starter.
The first picture shows what this dough looks like when it is just incorporated- stringy and yucky looking. This second picture shows what the dough looks like after it rises. This master recipe was enough for four loaves so that is why it looks like there is so much. They have bigger recipes than this, but this is the amount of fridge space I could spare for the week.

I let this dough sit for two days before I made my first loaf. When you make your first loaf, you just "cloak the dough," (sprinkle the dough on top with some flour) and then cut off a grapefruit section of the dough for your first loaf. Without any kneading or any real handling of the dough, you tuck the corners of the dough underneath and put it on a pizza peel (I used my extra pizza stone) that has been sprinkled with a little cornmeal. Now you let it rise and preheat your oven for 450 degrees. They suggested twenty minutes, comments on Amazon suggested preheating the entire forty minutes that the dough is rising to help achieve the best crust.


It should look something like the picture above. It is relatively smooth on top, but the corners are all tucked underneath. After you have shaped it like this and let it rise, you can slice the top two or three times.

You now slide the loaf (very awkwardly if you have no pizza peel) and then you fill a boiler tray with one cup of hot water and put it in the oven to help steam the oven up to give you a nice crisp crust. Don't ever open the door and let it cook for thirty minutes.

When I took it out, it looked like this. Now remember, this is my first loaf so I am sure I will get better at it, but I am pretty impressed with how this first loaf looks. Next time I will score it a little more and I will probably make more than one loaf at a time. The exterior of this loaf is nice and golden, and it is solid and crusty on the outside. Perfection!

The interior was a bit gummy though so I may cook it for another ten minutes or raise the temperature. This will just require some tweaking on my part, but our family still thought it tasted pretty darn good.

Now that I have made this first loaf, I am so excited to try the other loaves in the book. The entire process took very little of my time and I had very little clean-up (my least favorite part of making bread) so it is a great solution for a busy mom who wants to make homemade bread, but doesn't have the tools or time to make bread from scratch.

Let's also talk about the cost savings too. In our town, our local market has artisan breads for sale that cost about $4 a loaf. I buy my ingredients in bulk at Sam's Club and I am estimating that this loaf of bread costs me about forty cents or less. What a savings and how elegant is this to bring to parties and when entertaining? You just can't beat it!

A big thank you to Noreen for the suggestion and I hope you can try this recipe and tell me what you think! I have a demonstration from the authors posted below- this might help explain the process further.

Have you experimented with no-knead artisan breads? Do you make your own bread throughout the week? I would love to hear your process for bread making!


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Monday, January 26, 2009

Baked Tiliapia With Lots of Spice

I have wanted to try some new tilapia recipes for a long time now, but I have to admit that I was afraid to waste a package of it and have it not turn out. My Herb Baked Tilapia is served almost weekly in our house and is loved by the whole family. Why mess with a good thing, right?

Well, I saw this recipe and just had to try it. It is so low in fat (one tablespoon of olive oil for four pieces of fish total), was made with everything in my spice cabinet, and it was a baked fish so I wouldn't have to dirty up a skillet or my oven to make it. I thought it would be worth a try, just to see if we could switch up our old standby.

This fish was excellent. The balance of spices in this is perfect, the crust tasted almost fried because it crisped up so well, and the fish was perfectly flaky. Our whole family truly loved it and I think I will be making this again and again. It would make an excellent fish sandwich so I think I will be trying that next time, just to keep the dish fresh and new.

Thank goodness I stepped out of the comfort zone so I could add this meal to our meal rotation!

Baked Tilapia With Lots of Spice
(Recipe from Recipezaar)

1 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon paprika
3/4 teaspoon onion powder
3/4 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon basil
3/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
4 (4 ounce) tilapia fillets
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
3 tablespoons sliced green onions
1 tablespoon dried parsley flakes
1 tablespoon olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. In a small bowl combine the spices from the salt through the Italian seasoning and set it aside. In a shallow container mix the bread crumbs, dried parsley, and green onions. Measure 4 tsp of the spice mix and sprinkle that all over the 4 fish fillets. Add the remaining spice mix to the bread crumbs, mixing well. Add the olive oil to the bread crumb mix, blending it in with your hands. Dredge the fish in the breadcrumbs, coating well. Shake off any excess breadcrumbs. Place the fish on a baking pan that has been sprayed with non-stick spray. Bake for 6 minutes. Turn over and bake for 4 minutes. Turn over again and bake until flaky, about 4 more minutes. Serve immediately.

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Simplifying Our Time In the Kitchen Resource List



Thank you so much to everyone who was able to catch the show live and chatted with me while I was on the air. Anyone who listened has to agree that Robin Miller was full of such great information for moms. It was really an incredible interview and I hope you can take a half hour to listen to what she shared with us!

As promised, here is today's resource links and a couple of recipes from Robin Miller!

Getting to Know Your Freezer- Some inspiration and ideas for ways to stock your freezer!

Starbucks Peppermint Mochas- This is my favorite recipe to share and just one reason to stock those ice cubes in your freezer.

Schedule a Day In Your Kitchen- Recipes for items you can make ahead of time on a scheduled day in your kitchen. This is a great way to save cash and eliminate the convenience foods in your diet.

Bulk It Up- Ideas for maximizing that wholesale club membership to the fullest, if you plan to cook in bulk.

Feed the Freezer Cooking Guide

Sneak Up on Freezer Cooking

Freezer FAQ

30 Day Gourmet

Recipezaar's Freezer Recipes

Books to Check Out:

Robin to the Rescue

Quick Fix Meals

Dream Dinners Cookbook

Frozen Assets

Super Suppers

Don't Panic- Dinners in the Freezer



Beef Stroganoff

Recipe Courtesy of Robin Miller and Tyson Foods

Recipe serves 4
Preparation Time: 15-20 minutes
Time Savings: 30 minutes compared to traditional recipe

Ingredients

8 ounces wide egg-free egg noodles
2 teaspoons olive oil
½ cup chopped onion
2 cups sliced fresh cremini or white button mushrooms (about 8 ounces)
1 teaspoon dried thyme (optional)
1 ½ cups reduced-sodium beef broth
2 packets (6 ounces each) Tyson® Fully Cooked Seasoned Steak Strips
1 cup light sour cream
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Pinch salt and ground black pepper
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (optional)


1. Cook noodles according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.
3. Add onion and sauté for 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and sauté for 3 minutes, or until mushrooms are tender. Add thyme (if using) and stir to coat.
4. Add beef broth and steak strips and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 more minutes.
5. Stir in cooked egg noodles, sour cream and Dijon mustard. Mix well.
6. Remove from heat and season to taste with salt and black pepper. If desired, top with fresh chives just before serving.

Chicken Parmesan Casserole

Recipe Courtesy of Robin Miller and Tyson Foods

Recipe serves 4
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Time Savings: 30 minutes compared to traditional recipe

Ingredients

1 pound whole wheat pasta
2 packets (6 ounces each) Tyson® Fully Cooked Grilled Chicken Breast Strips
¾ cup prepared no-salt added tomato sauce (pasta sauce or pizza sauce)
1 cup shredded mozzarella cheese, regular or part-skim
3 tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons Panko bread crumbs
Pinch salt and ground black pepper

1. Cook whole wheat pasta according to package directions. Drain and set aside.
2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
3. Arrange chicken breast strips in the bottom of a shallow baking dish. Pour tomato sauce over the chicken and sprinkle mozzarella cheese over the tomato sauce.
4. In a small bowl, combine the parmesan cheese and bread crumbs. Mix well and sprinkle the mixture over the mozzarella cheese.
5. Bake for 20 minutes, or until the top of the casserole is golden brown and the cheese is bubbly, and season to taste with salt and black pepper. Let stand 5 minutes before serving.
6. Divide whole wheat pasta among four individual bowls, spoon casserole mixture over the top and serve.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Emily's Famous Sloppy Joes

This famous recipe wouldn't be from my Emily, but from another Emily who submitted her recipe to the AllRecipes Dinner Tonight cookbook. I figured if it was created by an Emily, it had to be good!

I really love my recipe for Sloppy Joes, but I am always looking to try new things. I really liked that this recipe used tomato paste instead of ketchup and was intrigued by the ingredient and spice combination.

I gave it some extra time to simmer while the hamburger buns cooled off, and the flavors were absolutely perfect. I loved everything about this recipe and really loved that it was made out of ingredients that were already in the pantry.

Emily's Famous Sloppy Joes

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, chopped (omitted for our picky eaters)
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
1 cup water
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chili powder (I decreased this to 1 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon white vinegar
3 tablespoons brown sugar
2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, saute the ground beef for five minutes. Add the onion and red bell pepper; saute for five more minutes or until onion is tender and beef is browned. Drin. Mix in tomato paste and water, stirring until paste is dissolved. Stir in garlic, chili powder, parika, cumin, vinegar, brown sugar, oregano, salt, and pepper. Continue to heat for five to ten minutes or until mixture is thick. Yield: 8 servings.

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Fast & Delicious Appetizer: Spinach Balls


This was my appetizer dish for a New Year's Eve bash that my husband & I attended. My husband absolutely hates spinach so I wasn't sure how well these would go over. If you can believe it, he really loved them so even if you aren't a spinach lover these are definitely worth a try. The chicken flavored stuffing throws you off from the spinach and because the spinach is fully cooked, the texture of these is so great.

I love any appetizer that you can pop into your mouth gracefully. The spinach between the teeth though...well, you may still have that problem. I am planning to make these often for future nights of board game fun because they are portable and come together in a flash. To save yourself from cooking on the day of an event, make these ahead and keep them in the freezer.

Spinach Balls

2- 10 oz packages frozen spinach
1 package chicken-flavored stuffing mix
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup butter, melted
Salt & pepper to taste

Do-Ahead: Cook spinach according to instructions, drain in a sieve, use back of a wooden spoon to press the spinach against the sieve to get as much moisture as possible out In a bowl combine the spinach, stuffing mix,cheese, eggs, butter, salt& pepper Mix thoroughly& roll into small balls 3/4 to 1" size. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze.

Event Day: To serve place frozen balls on a cookie sheet and bake at 350F 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned If you are doing them fresh or thawed only bake for 7-10 minutes. Serve hot.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make Something Out of Cereal No One Likes?


Experiment: Can I make something out of the cereal no one likes?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 01.15.09

Materials Needed: Please see The Farm Chicks for the full instructions. I followed the instructions exactly.

Results: Have you ever stockpiled something and it seemed like a good idea at the time, but then you realized it was actually a waste of money? I thought for sure that my children and husband would love Honey Bunches of Oats cereal, but no one was a fan and I have four boxes of cereal that have been sitting in our pantry, wasting valuable cupboard space.

It is rare that I run across two recipes in a row on the same exact site that I feel like I must try, but what can I say except that The Farm Chicks rock? I saw this recipe and in the ingredient list it said you could use "any kind of cereal" to make their Peanut Butter Energy Bars. I ran downstairs and put a dusty box of cereal to good use and the results were nothing less than spectacular.

I really love my chewy granola bar recipe, but these came together much quicker because they didn't require as many ingredients or any baking time. You literally stir honey, sugar, and peanut butter on the stove until it has dissolved and mix with the cereal. Pat it into a baking dish and slide it into your refrigerator and that is it. No baking, no mixer, no softening of butter- just good ol' no-bake bars.

I think these would be great with any combination of cereal, chocolate chips, dried fruits, or nuts. We stuck with some of that Honey Bunches of Oat and the master list of ingredients in the recipe.

The family gobbled them up and all agreed that they were perfection. It is a stick-to-your ribs kind of bar so it doesn't leave you wanting more than just one. I don't know if it gave me any energy, but it gave me a few moments of peace while everyone was stuffing their face with their yummy goodness.

Conclusion: I would HIGHLY recommend this recipe as a great snack for busy families. It is a sweet surprise to see a tin of these sitting in my refrigerator ready to be nibbled on. It is also a great way to reduce a cluttered pantry. Much thanks again to the fabulous Farm Chicks. These ladies are also coming out with a cookbook in April of 2009, and I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of it!

********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Quick Weeknight Dinner: Braised Balsamic Chicken

Braised Balsamic Chicken (Courtesy Of: AllRecipes Dinner Tonight Cookbook)

6 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
Ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon garlic salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced (I omitted this)
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained (I used petite diced)
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dried basil
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

Season chicken breasts with ground black pepper and garlic salt. heat olive oil in a medium skillet and brown the onion and seasoned chicken breasts. Pour tomatoes and balsamic vinegar over chicken and add basil, oregano, rosemary, and thyme. Simmer until the chicken is no longer pink and the juices run clear, approximately fifteen minutes. Serve over a bed of rice or spaghetti.

This would be delicious served up with a side of green beans and a big sprinkle of Parmesan cheese. The dinner comes together in about twenty minutes which makes it a great dish to entertain with or to throw together on a weeknight. Enjoy!

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Monday, January 05, 2009

Quick Weeknight Dinner: Rosemary Chicken

Here is a great go-to dish that can be made with a couple of easy ingredients in your pantry. If you do not have fresh rosemary on hand, you can substitute with dried rosemary instead. I serve this with a little rice and a vegetable for a quick weeknight dish.

Rosemary Chicken
Courtesy of Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals

4 pieces boneless, skinless chicken breast, 6 to 8 ounces each
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 stems rosemary, leaves stripped and chopped, about 2 tablespoons
Salt and coarse black pepper
4 cloves garlic, cracked away from skin with a whack against the flat of your knife

Coat chicken in balsamic vinegar, then olive oil. Season chicken with rosemary, salt and pepper and let stand 10 minutes. Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add chicken breasts and cracked garlic to the pan. Cook chicken 12 minutes, or until juices run clear, turning occasionally. The balsamic vinegar will produce a deep brown, sweet finish on the chicken as it cooks.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Our Birthday Brunch Bash (With Recipes)

Our famous birthday banner was hung high this weekend for Emily's 3rd birthday. Sprinkled all over the house were purple birthday balloons and pretty purple ribbons tied on anything and everything that I could tie to. In the background was playing a slide show of our sweet Emily (thanks to my friend Rachel for that great idea!) with a collection of photos of our sweet girl growing up.

Just before her party, Emily and Ethan bonked heads so hard that they both were crying uncontrollably leaving Ethan with a goose egg on his forehead and Emily with what appears will soon be a black eye. That is always good for those birthday photos!

The anticipation of waiting for our guests was almost too much to bear. The roads were sheets of ice and accidents were witnessed by many of our party guests on their way to Emily's party. We were so thankful to everyone that came and drove on the treacherous roads for our celebration.


I decided to do a brunch this year because I could prepare all of the food the day before and brunch is an economical dish to serve for a crowd. I made an Overnight Breakfast Casserole, a French Toast Souffle, Holiday Punch, and purchased (at a 40% discount on the marked down items in the bakery) croissant pinwheels, coffee with flavored creamers/syrups, and our birthday cake. All in all, I spent about $30 on all the food & decorating supplies to serve sixteen people. We kept it simple by just inviting family this year and opting for some playgroup fun around the holidays instead of a friend party.

Emily opened her presents which were filled with more princess stuff than you could shake a wand at. The hit of the party, a very special pair of princess shoes of which I am quite sure she will be toppling over and getting a matching black eye as she traipses along her imaginary runway.

Happy 3rd birthday, Miss Emily! You are loved and adored by all who have the pleasure of knowing you!

French Toast Souffle

10 cups white bread cubes (I used a loaf of French Bread)
2 Tablespoons each of sugar and cinnamon
1 (8 ounce) package low fat cream cheese, softened
6 eggs
1 1/2 cups milk
2/3 cup half-and-half cream
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 t cinnamon
1 t nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons confectioners' sugar
Maple Syrup for topping

Place bread cubes in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking pan. Pour sugar and cinnamon on the bread and lightly toss with your hands. In a large bowl, beat cream cheese with an electric mixer at medium speed until smooth. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in milk, half and half, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and vanilla until mixture is smooth. Pour cream cheese mixture over the bread; cover, and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, remove souffle from refrigerator, and let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes in the preheated oven, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Immediately after removing from the oven, drizzle maple syrup over the top (it will melt into the souffle). Using a sifter, shake the powdered sugar all over the top.

Side Note: I had some trouble with the cream cheese mixing in & not making it look curdled so I followed another recipe that suggested leaving the cream cheese as a block and cutting small cubes of cream cheese to dollop between the layers of bread. You can do whichever you prefer!

Overnight Breakfast Casserole

1 pound sliced ham (lunch meat)
2 teaspoons mustard
½ teaspoon salt
4 eggs, beaten
2 cups milk
6 slices white bread, toasted & cut into cubes
8 ounces mild cheddar cheese

In a medium bowl, mix together mustard, salt, eggs, and milk. Add the ham (cut into cubes), bread cubes, and cheese, and stir to cat evenly. Pour into a greased 9x13" baking dish. Cover & chill in the refrigerator for eight hours, or overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cover and bake 45-60 minutes. Uncover and reduce temperature to 325 and bake for an additional 30 minutes or until set.

Amy's Holiday Punch

1 (2 liter) bottle cherry 7-Up soda
1 liter (half a bottle) raspberry flavored soda (I found this at Walmart)
1 (12 ounce) can frozen lemonade concentrate
1 (12 ounce) can frozen pink lemonade concentrate
1 (1 liter) can pineapple juice

Mix all the ingredients together for the punch. This will fill one large punch bowl or two smaller ones. Rum can be added for a spiked punch, but that would be super inappropriate for a princess party! This will convert the non-punch lovers in the group, I promise!

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Lovely Little Birthday Cake


Emily celebrated her third birthday this weekend and made a few special birthday requests. She wanted presents, a party hat, a purple cake, and purple balloons.

I headed over to Michael's and got the supplies to make this cake. I baked a white cake (using the white cake mix from Aldi) and baked it in a 9x13" pan. While the cake baked, I made two batches of frosting. I tinted one cup of frosting white, two cups yellow, and three cups purple.

I let the cake cool and then popped it in the freezer (I froze mine overnight). In the morning, I put on a layer of yellow frosting and then piped rosettes as a border on the cake. The top was then covered in purple rosettes and then sprinkled generously with rainbow sprinkles.

To make the rosettes, I used a 1M tip bought at Michael's. If you desire a smaller size rosette, you can use a #18 tip, which would be great for cupcakes or adding a little addition to your border.

To make a rosette, fill your piping bag with icing. Hold your bag at a 90 degree angle, with the tip slightly above the surface. Squeeze out the icing to form a star and without releasing pressure, move the tip in a tight complete rotation, starting at 9:00, moving to 12:00, then to 3:00, then 6;00, and then end it back at 9:00. Stop the pressure and lift your tip away. To see how to make these in pictures, I found this great little tutorial. If you want to fancy up the rosettes, you can add a dot in the center in a contrasting color.

I am no pro at cake decorating, but I have found the cake decorating classes offered by craft stores to be an invaluable tool to help me feel more confident in making birthday cakes for my children. It has really helped when my kids have come up with more unusual cake requests (like a Lego cake, for example) and it has saved us a lot of money over the years.

Here is the recipe for the frosting that I used for this cake!

Buttercream Frosting Recipe

1/2 cup solid vegetable shortening
1/2 cup butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar (approximately 1 pound)
2 tablespoons milk

Cream the butter and shortening with an electric mixer. Add vanilla. Gradually add the sugar, one cup at a time, beating well on medium speed. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl often. When all the sugar has been mixed in, the icing will appear dry. add milk and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. (Yields 3 cups). Store icing in the refrigerator when not in use. Rewhip before using.

For Chocolate Buttercream Icing: Add 3 oz. melted unsweetened chocolate and 1 tablespoon more milk to the Buttercream Icing recipe.

For Stiffer Frosting (if needed when decorating): Substitute all vegetable shortening and 1/2 teaspoon butter flavoring.


Do you make birthday cakes or opt to buy them? What are some ways you save money on birthday celebrations?

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Our Favorite Cocoa Mix

A good cocoa mix is harder to make than it might seem. I like my hot chocolate to be the right balance of creamy and chocolate goodness. It needs to be yummy enough on it's own, but also be able to endure my loads and loads of whipped cream and marshmallows.

After trying and testing many variations in our house, we finally have determined that this is the best cocoa mix of all. It is the perfect ratio of everything and can make a fabulous gift to give to someone special in your life.

Most of the items, I am sure, you will find lurking in your pantry. We store ours in a thrifted jar with some festive ribbon. As a special Friday night treat, I load up a breakfast tray with all the fixings and mix up a batch of this to enjoy with a little popcorn. It is our holiday tradition that I hope the kids will remember. This recipe is tucked away in my holiday journal to give to them when they are older. I hope they will someday be serving this same mix to their own children. Ah, a girl can dream can't she?

Hot Cocoa Mix

4 cups nonfat dry milk powder
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup non-dairy coffee creamer
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 (4 ounce) package instant chocolate fudge pudding

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. If a finer consistency is desired, you can pour the mix into a blender or food processor and run it through that. Store in an airtight container. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup (depending on your cocoa preference) of the mix to an 8 ounce mug of boiling water.

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Rotini With Turkey Meatballs


Ever since my son was a little boy, he would curl up with me and watch a marathon of Food Network on Sunday afternoons. It has been our little thing for years. He will bury his head into the crook of my arm, snuggle under the blanket, and talk food with me. Will these days end? I hope not for a long time!

One day as we watched episode after episode of Everyday Italian he looked at me and said, "Mommy, can we make that?" The dish was relatively healthy and could be adjusted with ingredients in our pantry so our version of Giada's dish was recreated in our kitchen together. I can think of no better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than cooking with my son.

This is our version of Orecchiette with Mini Chicken Meatballs- our new family favorite that is gobbled up by all!


Rotini With Turkey Meatballs

Meatballs:
1/4 cup plain bread crumbs
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon whole milk
1 tablespoon ketchup
3/4 cup grated Romano (or Parmesan)
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound Italian turkey sausages (remove the casings)

Pasta & Sauce:
1 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken stock, hot
4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1 pound rotini pasta

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the pasta and cook until tender but still firm to the bite, stirring occasionally, about 8 to 10 minutes.

In a medium bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, parsley, eggs, milk, ketchup, Romano cheese, and the salt and pepper. Add the turkey and gently stir to combine. Using a melon baller (or a teaspoon measure), form the chicken mixture into 3/4-inch pieces. With damp hands, roll the chicken pieces into mini meatballs.

In a large (14-inch) skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add the meatballs and cook without moving until brown on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Turn the meatballs over and brown the other side, about 2 minutes longer. Add the chicken stock and tomatoes. Bring to a boil. Using a wooden spoon, scrape up the brown bits that cling to the bottom of the pan. Reduce heat to low and simmer until tomatoes are soft and meatballs are cooked through, about 5 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving about 1 cup of the pasta water. Transfer pasta to a large serving bowl and add the Parmesan. Toss to lightly coat the pasta, adding reserved pasta water, if needed, to loosen the pasta. Add the meatball mixture. Gently toss to combine.

Alternative to Pan-Frying Meatballs: Make your meatballs the standard size and put them on a baking sheet. Bake at 400 degrees for ten to fifteen minutes. Heat chicken stock and tomatoes and bring to a boil. Let them cook as directed and then drop in the baked meatballs for a few minutes. This is less mess and less calories!

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Monday, December 08, 2008

My Favorite Frosted Sugar Cookies

I love decorating cookies with the kids and these are a batch that we whipped up this past week. We let the kids have a decorating extravaganza and they were able to not only decorate our tree, but also decorate these cookies too.

These cookies would be great just plain and rolled in sugar, but I am frosting girl myself. I just can't resist a smear of frosting on a sugar cookie.

With a little frosting and a shake of sprinkles, these cookies rival those yummy sugar cookies at the mall. May I recommend not rolling them in sugar though if you are doing the frosting? It is a little too much sugar even for the sugar-addicts in the group.

Soft Sugar Cookies

2/3 cup butter-flavored shortening
2/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a bowl, cream together butter, shortening, and sugar. Stir in the eggs and the vanilla. Combine flour, baking powder and salt and add these to the creamed mixture. Chill dough for one hour in a bowl covered with plastic wrap. Roll dough into walnut size balls and roll balls in sugar (unless frosting). Place on an unprepared cookie sheet. Bake ten to twelve minutes or until the bottoms are lightly browned. Remove from sheets and allow to cool.

Sugar Cookie Frosting

4 cups confectioners sugar
1/2 cup shortening
5 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Food coloring

In a large bowl, cream together confectioners sugar and shortening until smooth. Gradually mix in milk and vanilla with an electric mixer until smooth and stiff, about five minutes. Color with food coloring if desired.

Do you have a favorite holiday cookie or holiday cookie recipe you would like to share? I would love to see what graces your cookie platters!

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make Restaurant-Worthy Chicken Parmesan?

Experiment: Can I make a restaurant-worthy Chicken Parmesan?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 09.25.08

Materials Needed: Please see Divine Domesticity for the full instructions. I followed the instructions exactly.


Results: Every time we go out to an Italian place for dinner, my husband always orders Chicken Parmesan. I have been wanting to make it from home, but wasn't motivated until I saw this recipe to try it. I loved the idea of using garlic & cheese croutons as the breading for the chicken and I also loved that this just required a quick flip in the pan and then was baked in the oven to complete the cooking.

I will admit, I have a hard time not flipping things before they are ready. I need to learn patience, but I am always afraid I am burning something so I flip them too soon. Despite my impatience and early flipping, these still came out beautifully.

The garlic & cheese croutons combined with the cheesy topping was absolutely perfect. Best of all, the chicken was perfectly tender and juicy. I worry about chicken breasts getting too overcooked, but the timing on this dish resulted in a great tasting piece of chicken.

Conclusion: The entire family agreed that this is a recipe worth repeating over and over again. The fact that I absolutely adore Ali and have a special place in my heart just for her...well, that made serving it at my dinner table just a little more special. If you haven't added Divine Domesticity to your regular blog reading, I hope you will carve some time out for her!

In conclusion, this is totally restaurant-worthy! Thanks, Ali!

********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

PLEASE NOTE- Mr. Linky is currently not working (11/19, 9:30PM). If you completed a notebook experiment, please make a small url and post it by leaving a comment below. Once Mr. Linky is working, I will line everybody up back in the form!

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Monday, November 17, 2008

Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes


This will be my first year hosting the family Thanksgiving dinner so I am working on putting our food together to pop in the freezer so I can enjoy the day free from worries about everything getting done. What is one of my least favorite things to make? Mashed potatoes! I find them to be a little labor-intensive and they can dirty a lot of pots. It is a Thanksgiving staple though so I thought I would figure out how I could make them ahead of time.

I had found a recipe for mashed potatoes that not only freeze beautifully, but they also can be reheated on low in the slow cooker. Both of these qualities make them a winner because I can keep the oven freed up for the other dishes and I can make them early.

Here is my recipe, adapted to our personal taste, perfect for any holiday get together! These are creamy and have a hint of tang to them from the sour cream. Sprinkle with a little paprika, if you so desire, and enjoy the convenience of pulling these out of your freezer for this holiday season.


Make-Ahead Mashed Potatoes
Serves 15

5 pounds of potatoes
1 block (8 oz) of low-fat cream cheese, softened
3/4 cup low fat sour cream
4 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup milk (or more if desired)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Peel potatoes and cut into small cubes. Throw the potatoes in a large pot filled with cold water. Cook for 25 minutes or until fork-tender. Drain the potatoes and put them back into the hot pot. Add cream cheese, butter, milk, and salt. Mash with a potato masher or use a hand mixer to whip the potatoes. Spoon mixture into a freezer-safe container and label.

Thanksgiving Day: Put potatoes in the fridge 1-2 days before to allow them to completely thaw. Spray slow cooker with cooking spray and put potatoes in the slow cooker. Brush the top of the potatoes with a tablespoon of butter and sprinkle with paprika. Cook on low for two to four hours.

If you would rather bake these, bake the potatoes at 350 degrees for thirty to forty minutes or until completely hot.

This side dish was entered in the Frugal Thanksgiving Mini-Series hosted by Frugal Upstate. Be sure to visit for more great Thanksgiving meal ideas!

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Play It Again,Momma: Make Ahead Thanksgiving Appetizers

Thanksgiving isn't far away, but you don't have to wait until the night before to get your Thanksgiving meal ready. Many recipes can be prepared in advance and they can be waiting for you when the big day arrives.

This year I am trying something different. Instead of the frantic cooking the night before (or the morning of), I am going to try and prepare as much as I can in advance for the big day. I am not sure who is planning on hosting our dinners this year, but even if I am not hosting myself, I try to do my part to help with the meal. I thought it would be so nice to have the food waiting for me instead of me waiting for it.

First, let's began with the appetizer portion of the meal. I think it is so nice to have some dishes for people to munch on while they are waiting for the meal to be prepared. Here are some fun recipes that you can prepare for the big day and store in your freezer until the day before. Double or triple these recipes for a large crowd!

Make-Ahead Thanksgiving Appetizers


Cranberry Spread


16 oz. cream cheese, softened
1 cup dried cranberries
1/4 c. orange juice

Do-Ahead: Mix all of the ingredients together and mold into a ball or leave loose as a spread. Wrap in plastic wrap, then wrap in foil, and store in a freezer bag. Make sure to label your bag so that you can find it again.

Thanksgiving Day: Let the spread thaw in the refrigerator 1-2 days before Thanksgiving. Place dip in a bowl (or on a platter if it has been molded into a ball) and serve with gingersnaps or crackers.

Italian Meatballs

1 pound lean ground turkey
1 cup bread crumbs
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg beaten

Do-Ahead: In a large bowl, combine ground beef, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan, garlic powder and beaten egg. Shape into small meatballs and place on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 400 degree oven for fifteen to twenty minutes. Allow them to completely cool and then place meatballs in a labeled freezer bag.

Thanksgiving Day: Allow meatballs to thaw overnight. In the morning, throw meatballs in your slow cooker and dump a jar of spaghetti sauce on top. Cook on low for two to four hours, or until the meatballs are warmed through.

Spinach Balls

2- 10 oz packages frozen spinach
1 package chicken-flavored stuffing mix
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
6 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup butter, melted
Salt & pepper to taste

Do-Ahead: Cook spinach according to instructions, drain in a sieve, use back of a wooden spoon to press the spinach against the sieve to get as much moisture as possible out In a bowl combine the spinach, stuffing mix,cheese, eggs, butter, salt& pepper Mix thoroughly& roll into small balls 3/4 to 1" size. Place on a cookie sheet and freeze.

Thanksgiving Day:
To serve place frozen balls on a cookie sheet and bake at 350F 10-15 minutes or until lightly browned If you are doing them fresh or thawed only bake for 7-10 minutes. Serve hot.

Pine Cone Cheese Ball

1 package cream cheese, softened
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Do-Ahead: Mix cream cheese, shredded cheese, and Dijon mustard in a food processor until blended. Shape into a ball and store in your freezer.

Thanksgiving Day:
The day before- remove from freezer and allow it to thaw. Shape cheese into a pine cone shape. Stick almond slivers into the cone-shaped cheese in rows, until the ball is completely covered. Cover and refrigerate. Serve with crackers.

Bonus Additions: On the big day you can also add a veggie tray and shrimp cocktail to have out for your guests.

(Image Source: Muffet)




Do you do appetizers for Thanksgiving Day? Feel free to share your recipes here!

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Monday, November 10, 2008

Homemade Vanilla Chai Tea

It was cold and rainy today. The leaves have fallen off of the trees and the cold weather has come on with a vengeance. As soon as the weather starts turning, I start thinking of all the things that I love about autumn. The crisp leaves, the cool air, my cozy slippers, flannel sheets, and warm drinks.

My favorite warm drink is chai tea. The drink mixes are expensive, but mixing up a batch of this yourself can help to keep your pockets nice and warm with a little extra money. Most of the spices, dry creamer, and dry milk are already stocked in my pantry. The only additions I usually have to run out and get is the instant tea and powdered vanilla creamer.

To make the batch more smooth, instead of gritty, I process everything through my blender. I first mix all of the white ingredients in my blender (milk, sugar, creamer, vanilla creamer). I dump those in a plastic container and then I mix up all the brown ingredients (tea and spices). I pour this on top in the plastic container, seal the lid and give it a good shaking to incorporate or mix it up with a spoon. If you have a large food processor, you may be able to process it all together, but if you have a blender it is best to do this in divided batches.

Not only is this drink mix wonderful for yourself, but mixing up a batch of this and tucking some of it in a mug would be a wonderful gift to give to someone special in your life.

I hope you enjoy this recipe as much as I do!

Homemade Vanilla Chai Tea Mix

1 cup nonfat dry milk powder
1 cup powdered non-dairy creamer
1 cup French vanilla powdered non-dairy creamer
2 ½ cups white sugar
1 ½ cups unsweetened instant tea
2 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp allspice
¼ tsp white pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until it is a fine powder. Add two-three tablespoons of mix to 8 ounces of hot water or milk.

What is your favorite autumn/winter drink? Do you have any recipes to share for drink mixes?

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Thursday, November 06, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make Oatmeal in the Slow Cooker?


Experiment: Can I make oatmeal in my slow cooker?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 02.14.07

Materials Needed: Please see Tip Nut for the full instructions. I decided to attempt cooking the oatmeal in my slow cooker and followed the instructions exactly except I substituted the steel cut oats for regular rolled oats because that is what I had in my pantry. I wanted to see if the experiment worked well before heading to the store. My slow cooker is the standard size and I poured the ingredients in there. I was really intrigued by the water to oats ratio because it just seemed like far too much water. I flipped the slow cooker on and let it cook for eight hours.

Results: I programmed my coffeemaker for the same exact time and woke up to a steaming bowl of oatmeal and hot coffee this morning. The oatmeal still seemed a little thin, but I let it set up for a minute or two before I tried it. Within minutes, it thickened up and I had a perfect bowl of oatmeal.

This oatmeal is extremely creamy and tastes delicious! It tastes more on par with restaurant oatmeal because of the great consistency of it. With a lump of brown sugar and some dried fruits, it would make a wonderful way to start the day.

Conclusion: I will definitely be buying the steel cut oatmeal to eat this again. It was a wonderful way to walk up and motivated me to have breakfast which is very hard to do! Thanks Tip Nut for sharing all of your tips with your readers!

********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Monday, November 03, 2008

Best Taco Meat in the World

I love to make tacos for the kids, but I am not a big fan of taco seasoning or just plain ground beef. I was looking for a balance between the two when I happened upon this little recipe that will make my taco nights complete!

This taco meat is the best taco meat in the world- truly! The mixture of tomato sauce and chicken broth take away the beefy taste and give it just the right hint of flavoring. Since my kids can't handle the heavy spices, we modified the chili powder to 1 teaspoon and skipped the cayenne pepper.

You could top this meat on top of a big stack of tortilla chips or stuff your tacos with this meat. The recipe is yet another recipe that comes from one of the most invaluable cookbooks on my kitchen shelf, "The America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook" Pairing this with their homemade chicken enchiladas & homemade enchilada sauce would take a Mexican-themed dining experience to a whole new level!

Beef Tacos

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced (I use a tablespoon of the bottled minced garlic)
2 tablespoons chili powder (adjust to your personal taste)
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Salt
1 pound (90 percent lean) ground beef (or use a higher fat beef and rinse the meat)
1/2 cup smooth canned tomato sauce
1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
1 teaspoon light brown sugar
8 taco shells

Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the onion and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic, spices, and 1 teaspoon salt and cook until fragrant about thirty seconds. Stir in the ground beef and cook, breaking it up with a wooden spoon until no longer pink, about five minutes. Stir in the tomato sauce, broth, vinegar, and sugar until thickened, about ten minutes. Season with salt to taste. Divide the filling evenly among the taco shells and serve passing any desired accompaniments separately.

Make-Ahead Version: The filling can be fully prepared, cooled, covered tightly and refrigerated for up to three days. Reheat over medium-low heat, adding additional water to adjust the consistency.

Mexican is one of my favorite things to get take-out for so I am hoping that my new recipes will replace my cravings for take-out.

What is your favorite take-out food? I will start testing recipes to fill those cravings for you guys too!

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

Notebook Experiment: Can I Make Applesauce In My Slow Cooker?

Experiment: Can I make applesauce in my slow cooker?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 09.25.08

Materials Needed: Please see A Year of Crockpotting for the full instructions on ideas for completing this task. I followed the instructions exactly, but doubled the recipe to make a bigger batch. I also employed the use of a blender to make the applesauce even smoother. My family has weird texture issues so that is why it was a necessary tool in this experiment. NORMAL people can handle apple chunks (like myself), but my children cannot.

Results: Today's experiment got to happen because I have a very thoughtful and sweet neighbor across the street who brought me all of these beautiful apples. They have a friend that is a farmer so she brought over a big bag of apples for our family to enjoy. I was so excited to put them to good use and could think of no better way than making some of that homemade applesauce in my slow cooker.

I peeled and chunked up the apples for the slow cooker, and poured a little lemon juice over them to make sure that they didn't brown. It takes me a loooong time to peel apples. I have one of those apple thingamabobs from Pampered Chef, but sometimes that takes just as long so I skipped it. I need to work on my knife skills anyway.

Since the house was already going to smell like apples, I put the apple peels and cores in a freezer bag so I could break them out when I want the house to smell nice. I love to put these in a pot with water and cinnamon and simmer them on my cleaning day.

Here's my apples all cut up and ready to go. I sprinkled the cinnamon, brown sugar, and vanilla on them and added my water. I put the slow cooker on low for about five hours, and then checked the apples. They mashed easily so I gave them a good mashing and then put them in the blender to make it smoother for my strange eaters.

I served the applesauce with a rosemary stuffed chicken in my thrifted clay cooker, some herb buttered noodles, & mashed potatoes. My husband declared it a Thanksgiving feast and we dug in.

And the kids gobbled it up...except the applesauce. The color was a brown color instead of their usual yellow because of the addition of spices and brown sugar. I used my marketing background and promoted my product as best I could ("Oh, this CINNAMON applesauce is so delicious, isn't it Daddy? I have never tasted such good applesauce in my life!")

I fooled no one. Which was fine by me because my husband & I could have polished off the whole dish and not ever share it with anyone.

Conclusion: I might try this again without the spices and see if it goes over better with my children. If you have picky eaters, be aware of the color difference and don't be scared to employ the use of a blender to make it smooth as pudding. Hopefully your family is better sports about trying something new than mine. Regardless, GREAT recipe and thank you to A Year of Crockpotting for sharing all of her slow cooker endeavors.

********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!


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Monday, October 20, 2008

Chicken Enchiladas With Homemade Enchilada Sauce

I am still working my way through my month's worth of meals, and we finally got to try this really yummy & quick recipe from "The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook."

My family is not really into Mexican food and I have to ease them into new dishes, thus why the enchiladas are not smothered in sauce and cheese. Instead, I provided the sauce and cheese on the side so everyone could smother them (or not smother them as they like).

I really loved this homemade enchilada sauce because it was made from pantry ingredients. I also could adjust the spiciness to our own tastes (hold the cumin, 1 teaspoon of chili powder versus 3 tablespoons). That is truly the beauty in making your own mixes & convenience foods.

The entire family gobbled these up and the enchilada sauce on the side appealed to my children's urge to dip everything. These were absolutely delicious and we had just enough leftover to take in my husband's lunch this week.

Easy Chicken Enchiladas (Courtesy of "The America's Test Kitchen Cookbook")

3 cups shredded cooked chicken (1.5 pounds)
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, shredded (3 cups)
2 1/2 cups enchilada sauce (use provided recipe or 20 ounces in the can)
1-2 (4-ounce) cans chopped green chiles, drained
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
12 (6-inch) soft corn tortillas

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to four hundred degrees. Combine the chicken, 2 cups of the cheddar cheese, 1/2 cup of the enchilada sauce, the chiles and cilantro. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Stack the tortillas on a microwave-safe plate, cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high until warm & pliable (approximately 1 minute). Spread the warm tortillas out over a clean counter. Place 1/3 cup of the chicken mixture evenly down the center of each tortilla. Tightly roll the tortilla around the filling, then lay seam-side down in a 9x13" baking dish lightly coated with vegetable oil spray. Lightly spray the enchiladas with vegetable oil spray. Pour 1 cup of the remaining sauce over the enchiladas to coat thoroughly. Sprinkle the remaining 1 cup cheddar down the center of the enchiladas. Cover the baking dish with foil and bake until the enchiladas are heated through, 20-25 minutes. Remove the foil and continue to bake until the cheddar browns, about five minutes longer. Serve, passing the remaining 1 cup of sauce.

Fast Enchilada Sauce

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons chili powder (we adjusted to 1 teaspoon)
3 garlic cloves,minced
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons sugar
2 (8-ounce) cans tomato sauce
1/2 cup water
Pepper

Heat the oil in a 12" skillet over medium heat until shimmering. add the onion and salt and cook until softened, about five minutes. Stir in the chili powder, garlic, cumin, and sugar. Cook until fragrant, about fifteen seconds. Stir in the tomato sauce and water. Bring to a simmer and cook until slightly thickened, about five minutes. Season with salt & pepper to taste.

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Play It Again, Momma: Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Growing up, one of my favorite Saturday treats was a Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll. My mom would make these for us on Saturdays and we always fought over the ones that had the most frosting. Sadly, it was such a thrill when my dad worked in the mornings because that meant that there would be two extra rolls for us to fight over. Who could resist those rolls and the simple pleasure of having a sweet treat once a week?

I still love those cinnamon rolls, but at $1.69 a roll, they are an unnecessary addition to the grocery budget. What I do have though is flour and sugar, purchased in bulk, and a bread machine that can turn out cinnamon roll dough like nobody's business. I figured I was on to something and decided to give it a shot and figure out if I could replicate my Saturday morning experience. It took a couple of Saturdays to tweak this recipe, but I finally am satisfied with the results. Lucky for me, my family didn't mind being the guinea pigs so I have gotten this down pat for your dining pleasure!

To make my dough, I used the recipe from the homemade hamburger buns, except that I increased the sugar to 1/3 cup. I ran the dough cycle on my bread machine and when it beeped, I had the perfect dough for rolling.

I rolled the dough out into a 12x15 rectangle and then spread it with the following filling:

Cinnamon Roll Filling

1/3 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Spread the softened butter all over the dough. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle this all over the dough and then use your hands to gently press the filling in. Take the edge of the dough and begin rolling it up. Roll it tightly and slowly, being careful to keep all the filling inside. At this point you should have a long log that you can cut your rolls from. You can wrap the dough with plastic and store in the fridge overnight or you can slice your rolls (should make ten large rolls) and put them on your cookie sheet or pizza stone. Store in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, pull the rolls out and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. When the oven reaches 400 degrees, immediately drop the temperature to 375 degrees and put the rolls in the oven. Cook these for approximately 13-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

While the rolls are cooking, I just make a frosting out of powdered sugar and water (I don't measure this, but approximately 1/2 cup powdered sugar to 1-2 tablespoons water mixed together should do ya!) When the rolls are done, drizzle your frosting over the rolls and serve them warm or room temperature (although they are best warm)

Amy's Notes-

- The first time I made these, I put them on a pizza stone and they cooked very evenly. The second time, I popped them in a 9x13" pan and only the ones on the outside got done. I would recommend placing these either on a cookie sheet (with a nice lip) or on a pizza stone.

- When you slice the cinnamon rolls, you can slice them with a knife or you can use dental floss and cut them that way. I find the dental floss to be a little more tedious so I stuck to slicing with the knife and reshaping the dough afterwards.

- The best part about making these cinnamon rolls is that you can vary the sizes and I can make mini-versions of the rolls for the little kids and tuck these in the center of the batch so that they don't get overdone. The kids love these mini versions and I control the amount of sugar they are getting. Just give them a teeny drizzle of frosting and they will be set!

- You can reheat these in the microwave for a nice snack in the evening or for breakfast the next day. Place on a microwave-safe plate and zap for about twenty seconds. Makes a great mommy snack with a cup of coffee!



Sound Off:
What is a favorite Saturday morning treat in your house?

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Monday, October 13, 2008

Deliciously Spiced Pumpkin Bread

Before I left for my trip, I wanted to make sure that we had a yummy snack for the kids to munch on. I checked the pantry and had all of the ingredients to put together some mini-loaves of my favorite spiced pumpkin bread in the world. Smear this with a little butter and a cup of coffee, and you have the ultimate coffee shop experience at home.

This batter makes four mini-loaves so I was able to wrap one and put it in the freezer, leave two out for eating, and I gave a loaf of it to my mother-in-law who took a day off to help us with the kids while I am out-of-town. Wrapped in tin foil, I stamped a tag with a little thank you rubber stamp and tied the loaf off with a little raffia. I hope nothing says thank you and I appreciate you like a loaf of this pumpkin bread!

The best part about this bread, of course, is that all of the ingredients can be found and stocked in your pantry. The other great part is that it is inexpensive and easy to make. That makes it a winner in our house!


Spiced Pumpkin Bread


3 cups sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
3 large eggs
1 16-ounce can solid pack pumpkin
3 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour two 9x5x3-inch loaf pans. Beat sugar and oil in large bowl to blend. Mix in eggs and pumpkin. Sift flour, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, salt and baking powder into another large bowl. Stir into pumpkin mixture in 2 additions. Mix in walnuts, if desired.

Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Bake until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 1 hour 10 minutes. Transfer to racks and cool 10 minutes. Using sharp knife, cut around edge of loaves. Turn loaves out onto racks and cool completely.

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Monday, October 06, 2008

A Good Old-Fashioned Apple Crisp

A good blogger would have had an incredible picture of this apple crisp, but a good daughter was too busy preparing it for her parents. There are times were life gets in the way of my food photography and this was one of those times.

I love my quick apple crisp recipe (scroll to snack #2), but since my cake mixes are being used for my new favorite peanut butter cookies, I thought this would be a good time to try making an apple crisp the good old-fashioned way.

I found a recipe that I thought would fit the bill perfectly for an evening with my parents. I prepared the skillet ziti with chicken & broccoli, a big batch of breadsticks, this apple crisp and some decaf coffee to polish it all off.

The dinner turned out delicious and this apple crisp was perfection. This recipe is not too sweet and the crumbly topping came together beautifully. I used Granny Smith apples because I like how sturdy they are and how they can hold up to just about any bit of baking. I am also fond of a tart apple with a sweet topping. I served the crisp with a big scoop of Cool Whip.


The frugal gal in me can never waste anything though and while I worked on the rest of the dinner, the apple peelings and cores were simmering away (in water) on our stove, sprinkled with a little cinnamon from the pantry. It smelled like apple pie all day as I tidied the house and got everything ready for a fun evening.

I hope you can give this recipe a try- it was a great way to polish a meal off.

Apple Crisp (The Good Old-Fashioned Way)

6 cups sliced, peeled apples
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3/4 cup rolled oat
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 350F degrees. Place apples in a buttered 2-quart casserole dish. Sprinkle with sugar and lemon juice. In a small bowl, combine rolled oats, brown sugar, flour and cinnamon. Using a pastry blender, cut butter into mixture until the mixture is crumbly. Sprinkle over the apples. Bake for 40 minutes or until apples are tender.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Company is Coming: A Fast Coffee Cake


One of my favorite things to make for our company is my favorite Jewish Coffee Cake recipe. This recipe was given to me by my best friend's mother. She told me that no matter how many other types of cakes she made, this was always the one that was requested and was always the favorite among her family members.

It should come as no surprise that it has become a favorite in our family too. This is the cake that made me a famous woman at my husband's work, and I have scored more than a few friends at potlucks, toting my cake around town. It has even been served for my husband's birthday dinners, making it just the right cake for any occasion.

The orange juice gives the cake a little tang and the cinnamon gives the cake a little spice to balance out the sweetness. With a dusting of confectioner's sugar, you can hide any flaws and make it look like the star of any occasion.


This cake graced my table this past week, as I gathered my friends together to have a knitting night. My mother-in-law came to give us a class on how to knit hats and my girlfriends brought their knitting supplies to learn from the Master. Yes, I am finally learning to knit in the round and hope to have some fun projects to share with you soon!

Oh, and did I mention that the cake is made out of a cake mix? Don't tell anyone! That will have to be our secret!

Fast Coffee Cake

1 package vanilla instant pudding
1 package yellow cake mix
½ cup oil
4 eggs
1 cup orange juice

Mix these ingredients together and then swirl the following through the cake batter 1/3 c. sugar, 4 t. cinnamon, 4 t. sesame seeds (optional). Bake for 50-60 minutes at 350 degrees in a well-greased and floured bundt pan. Allow cake to cool for 45-60 minutes in pan. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make a Deep Dish Pizza?


Experiment: Can I make a deep dish pizza that the whole family will love?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 08.21.08

Materials Needed: Please see Chocolate On My Cranium for the full instructions on ideas for completing this task. I featured this recipe last week, but this week I tried something new with it. Instead of making the breadsticks (as directed), I mixed up two batches of the dough- one batch for breadsticks and one batch to be made into a pizza for the family.

For the pizza, instead of the 4 tablespoons of butter, I used two tablespoons and just used a pastry brush to brush the entire cookie sheet so the dough would not stick. I made my easy pizza sauce and then we topped the pizza with our favorite toppings.

Results: This dough makes a delicious pizza! I decided to bake the crust for ten minutes minus any sauce or toppings, to give it a good start on the baking. I then added all of the yummy pizza fixings and put it back in the oven for another twelve minutes.

Conclusion: This was a very easy way to make a homemade pizza for our Friday family nights together. I loved that I didn't have to get out my rolling pin and that we had plenty of food for leftovers for lunch the next day. The entire family loved it, especially the family members who love a nice thick crust on their pizza! We will definitely be making this again and again in our house!
********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Snacks For Mom: Do You Have Them?

I shared with you that I am trying to manage my time better, but one thing that often gets pushed to to the side are my own eating habits.

I can guide my children to make good food choices, but I can go for hours on end without eating well myself. Normally, I end up snacking towards the end of the day and it all balances out, but lately this plan hasn't been working so well.

I am hypoglycemic, which is just a fancy way of saying that I have low blood sugar. I have always had problems, but after I had Emily, it has seemed to have gotten worse.

These past couple of weeks have been really horrible and I have felt really rundown. I break out in a sweat, I have the shakes, my vision gets blurry, I feel faint, and I get extremely irritable. It seems like something like low blood sugar should be such a minor thing, but it can suck up hours of my day where I feel sluggish and generally out of it. I am sure my exercise routine is contributing towards the need for more eating, but I have been letting it go.

I decided to make it a priority this week and stocked our pantry with some mommy snacks. I got myself some cheese sticks, yogurts, fiber bars, and some canned & fresh fruit. I also bought black beans and whole grain rice to make tortillas for my lunches and to replace any late night cravings for junk food. I don't know why, but I find it difficult to "blow" grocery money on myself for these quick snacks. I feel like I should be making all of these things, but sometimes time is more limited and then I find myself in these slumps with nothing stocked to eat. The planner in me knows that I could do a better job of this, but sometimes it is nice to have a couple store-bought goodies packed in your purse for when you feel a slump coming on.

As I sat munching on my fiber bar this afternoon, I suddenly felt two eyes watching me. Emily came around the corner and pointed to my bar. She threw down her apple and started kicking and screaming for me to give it to her, as only a two year-old can do. As I shook my head no, my mouth full of food, she began escalating and I felt my stomach rumbling in protest from the interrupted and stressful snack. Can't a girl eat a fiber bar without having to share it?

I will admit that I now find myself sneaking into the bathroom or an unlit corner of the house to sneak in a little nutrition for myself, lest I have to share with everyone else in the house. Images of my own poor mother hovering over the sink to shove a little treat in her mouth and all us kids circling her like a pack of wolves comes rushing back to me. We could sniff those Girl Scout Cookies out like nobody's business and I doubt my mother had many meals where she didn't have to sacrifice a few bites between the three of us.

Do you have a favorite healthy mommy snack that you could recommend? What keeps you going during the day? Secret mommy confession... do you hide your snacks or keep them separate from the rest of the family's food? Fess up! Where do you put your stash?

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Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Clay Cookery: A Frugal Chef's Dream Come True


A long time ago, I read a post from Meredith, at Like Merchant Ships, about her clay cooker. Since her post, I have been on the lookout for a clay baker of my own, but have not seen one on any trip to the thrift shops. I am sure that I probably passed a million, not knowing what the heck they were, but when I finally figured it out...there were none to be found.

Until last week, that is! I actually spotted two of them sitting together on a shelf. I lunged to grab one and took home the one that was in the best condition. It was marked for six dollars, a bit more than I usually spend on a single item in housewares. After months and months of waiting though, I was willing to fork over the six dollars.

The lid was tightly taped shut and, I prayed that there was nothing wrong inside of it. What I discovered was that the clay cooker had never been used and all of the information packets were neatly tucked inside waiting for the next owner.

Today we roasted a chicken for our family in it. A good old Aldi chicken was stuffed with rosemary from my garden and seasoned with a little salt and pepper. I slid the chicken into the cold oven, after soaking my baker in water, and baked it at 450 degrees for 85 minutes.

I had read the packets cover to cover, praying that I wouldn't screw it up. Would the chicken really be moist and flavorful? Would it be brown or would it be light in color like my slow cooker chickens? Was it really true that it didn't require liquids?

We held our breaths as I lifted the lid...

What was unveiled was better than I had imagined. A juicy and flavorful chicken- full of color and just as good as any chicken I have bought in a store.

After we were all done applauding... well, maybe that didn't really happen, but I will say that we were all really impressed with just how good that chicken tasted.

I can't wait to try other things in the clay cooker and, just in case your thrift store find does not come with a booklet, here are a few of the tips that were provided for using your clay baker:

  • Soak it in water- Completely immerse the top and bottom in water for ten to fifteen minutes before each use.
  • Place in a cold oven- After adding the ingredients, place your clay baker in the center of the cold oven.
  • Time cooking according to your own preferences and oven- tastes and ovens vary. Time your dishes according to the way you want them and don't hesitate to vary the recipe slightly. Recipes usually can be converted for clay pots by increasing the cooking temperature by 100 degrees and deducting a 1/2 hour of cooking time.
  • Put the clay cooker on a cloth when you remove it from the oven- Sudden changes in temperature should be avoided. When the clay baker is removed from a hot oven, place it on a towel, hot pad, or wooden board rather than a cold surface.
  • Clay bakers are ideal for the microwave- Because microwaves vary to such a great degree, it is impossible to state any rules for converting recipes for the microwave. Use the oven manufacturer's guidelines for cooking times.
  • Clean with a hot water and a brush- Use hot water and a stiff brush to clean your clay baker. A little baking soda will cut any grease. Translation: NO SOAP! Never scour with a scouring powder or metal scouring pad. It can block some of the pores of the clay, reducing the water absorption.
  • Don't use it on an open flame- It is designed only for the oven.
  • Place the lid upside down on top of base when storing- When the clay baker is not in use, keep it in a place where the air circulates. Place the lid upside down on top of the base, so the air can reach inside the bottom.
But, why is a clay baker helpful for a frugal cook? Here are a few reasons I think this can be a good addition to the kitchen:

  • Cooking food in a cooker requires no additional liquids. It pulls all the natural juices out of your dishes so no need to add cans of chicken stock or extra ingredients to make your food flavorful.
  • Clay bakers allow you to prepare quick, healthy, high quality meals that cost less and taste better. My Aldi chicken looked and tasted better than any other preparation I have tried before and it browned the chicken beautifully without any extra steps at all!
  • You can cook very nutritiously. You can cook all kinds of foods without adding any fat. Due to the low cooking temperature the aroma, vitamins and minerals are preserved within your food. As someone who is trying to eat well, this is an important feature for me!
I can't wait to try other things in this clay baker and I hope you can score one of your own for your kitchen!

Have you ever tried cooking in a clay baker before? If not, what are some items you use in your kitchen that may seem unconventional to others, but have saved you time or money?

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Monday, September 22, 2008

Company is Coming: Fast Peanut Butter Cookies

There are very few nights where we don't have a guest sitting at our dinner table. Although I put a lot of thought into our main dishes, I have to say, dessert sometimes gets the short end of the stick when I am entertaining.

I happened upon this recipe for peanut butter cookies that will make a regular appearance for busy weeknight invitations though! The recipe yields between two to three dozen (depending on the size of your scoops) and is made from items out of your pantry. Best of all, you can get all the ingredients at Aldi, which is a bonus in my book!

Be sure to keep the cooking time to the ten to twelve minutes and don't let the lighter color fool you. I had some burnt cookies in my first batch because I left them in the oven too long. Let them cool as instructed and then place them on a pretty plate for serving. Then you need to complete the most difficult step of all...Try to graciously accept the compliments without giving away your cooking secrets (which I never can do myself!).

I piled these on one of my trays with a carafe of decaf coffee, mugs, creamers, and and special coffee syrups. It was the perfect way to end an evening and I look forward to serving these again and again!

Elaine's Peanut Butter Cookies (Courtesy of AllRecipes.com)

1 (18.25 ounce) package yellow cake mix
1 cup creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
2 tablespoons water

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).

2. Pour the cake mix into a large bowl. Make a well in the center, and add peanut butter, oil, eggs, and water. Mix until well blended. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Flatten slightly using a fork dipped in water.

3. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes in the preheated oven. Let cookies set on cookie sheet for 2 to 3 minutes before carefully removing from the cookie sheet to cool on wire racks.

I am curious, what is your go-to dessert dish when you are having company? I would love some new desserts to add to our dinner table!

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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Can I Make Homemade Breadsticks?


Experiment: Can I whip up a batch of homemade breadsticks?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 08.21.08

Materials Needed: Please see Chocolate On My Cranium for the full instructions on ideas for completing this task. I followed her instructions and just used my stand mixer for this project. I also added my own additions of a 1/4 tsp garlic powder, a 1/4 tsp of Italian seasoning mix, and a handful of Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top. For a fast dipping sauce, I used a jar of Aldi's spaghetti sauce.

Results: This is the first time that I have ever tried to make homemade breadsticks, but I really needed some type of bread for dinner and this recipe looked fast and easy. I was doubly inspired to try this because Heather, from Freebies 4 Mom, had attempted making these and I read through all of the suggestions on her comment thread before making them.

I added 1/4 cup of extra flour to make sure that the dough was sticky, but not too sticky. I let the stand mixer do all the work for me and plopped all of the ingredients in the mixer after the yeast, sugar, and water had proofed. Within five minutes, the dough was nicely incorporated.

I poured the butter onto a rimmed cookie sheet and then scooped the dough with a spatula onto the sheet. I flipped it, covering both sides in butter and then sprinkled my addition of Parmesan cheese.

I covered the whole cookie sheet with plastic wrap and popped it in my fridge until our dinner hour. About a half hour before our dinner, I pulled it out of the fridge and let it rest on the counter while our oven preheated.

I slid a big tray of my favorite baked ziti into the oven and then popped in the breadsticks for the last twenty minutes at 350 degrees. It needed a few extra minutes more than the required cooking time, but I think that was because they had been refrigerated.

Conclusion: These breadsticks were amazing and a great way to get a large batch of bread on the table while being creative with your pantry ingredients. Next time I will add a little bit more salt to add more flavor, but other than that, I thought they were perfect. I can see us making these over and over again in our house and I want to thank Chocolate On My Cranium for a wonderful new side dish we can add to our table!
********************

I am so excited to open our Notebook Experiments up to everyone and I hope that you will be able to participate this week or in weeks to come! I will be posting this each Thursday so please mark your calendars if you plan to participate. You can post your entries at any time throughout the week and then leave your entry in the links below.

We have this handy banner that you are more than welcome to use, but it is not a requirement! It is just something you can add to add a little sparkle to your entry.

Rules for Participation:

1. Choose anything from any of our notebook entries (past or present) to do with your family. We have hundreds of bookmarked links of crafts, ways to save money, and organizing ideas.
2. Complete an experiment from the notebook and share about it on your blog or website. We would love to see pictures of what you accomplished or a detailed description of how your projects turned out. Please include a link to this entry, a link to the original posting of the entry (at the original crafster's blog), and (to help us relocate the project) the date or link of the notebook entry where you found it. You can use the same formatting as our entries or you can just include that information in your post in your own unique way!
3. Post a link below. Please include your name or blog name & a fast description of your project. Example- MomAdvice (WHO bread)

I can't wait to see what you create and what you find inspiring!

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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Play It Again, Momma: Vanilla Scented Granola

Just in time for the busy school year, here is a snack that is healthy and can be used for breakfast or for snacks. Watch out though, this stuff is highly addictive!

I am easing my family into eating granola and I found this recipe that I thought would fit the bill perfectly. The only item that they could consider "weird" are the slivered almonds. No dried fruits, no coconut, no weird foods...no reason to complain!

I will gradually be adding some other elements into this recipe, but if you have a picky family, this granola recipe might be a great place to start. I bought a large container of vanilla yogurt and made little yogurt cups for the kids with this homemade granola sprinkled on top. They gobbled it up and I found them both licking their bowls. I would say this one was a hit!

Vanilla Scented Granola Courtesy of Bon Appetit Magazine

Cooking spray
4 cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons vanilla extract Position rack to middle of oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Lightly spray large baking sheet with nonstick spray. Mix next 5 ingredients in large bowl. Combine oil, honey and sugar in small saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Pour hot liquid over oat mixture; stir well. Using hands, toss mixture until thoroughly mixed. Spread granola on prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes (but check after 20). Transfer sheet to rack; cool granola completely. (Can be made two weeks ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.) Makes approximately 8 cups.

Side Note:
If you prefer granola clumps, do not stir during baking and allow the granola to cool. You can then break the granola apart into pieces.

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Monday, September 15, 2008

Skillet Ziti With Chicken & Broccoli


I had several new recipes for this month's planner that I was trying and wanted to review for you guys. This first recipe comes from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, a favorite cookbook in my collection. The cookbook includes really great reviews on the best products and rates common cooking tools for chefs. There has not been a recipe yet that I have tried and not enjoyed!

I am a big fan of skillet dinners because you only have to dirty one pan and they come together quickly. Two of my favorites are the Skillet Penne & Sausage Supper (also from the America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook) and the Cheeseburger Pasta Skillet Dish. These dishes are great for busy weeknights and make great leftovers for the next day's lunches.

Skillet Ziti With Chicken & Broccoli

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breast, sliced into 1" pieces
Salt and pepper
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 onion, minced (we omitted this due to personal tastes)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3 garlic cloves, minced
8 ounces ziti (2 1/2 cups)
2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream (I substituted this with half & half)
1 bunch broccoli (1 1/2 pounds)
1 cup jarred roasted red peppers, rinsed and sliced 1/4" thick (we omitted these due to personal taste)
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated (1/2 cup)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (optional)

Pat the chicken dry, then season with salt and pepper. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a 12" skillet over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook until it is lightly browned, but not fully cooked, about four minutes. Transfer chicken to a bowl. Add 1 more tablespoon of the butter, onion, red pepper flakes, oregano, & 1/2 teaspoon salt to the skillet. Cook until the onion is softened, about five minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 15 seconds. Sprinkle the ziti evenly into the skillet. Pour the broth and cream over the ziti. Cover and bring to a boil, about five minutes. Reduce the heat to medium-low and stir in the broccoli and roasted red peppers. Cover and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, until the pasta begins to soften and the broccoli turns bright green (approximately eight minutes). Stir in the chicken and any accumulated juice. Cover and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, about three minutes longer. Stir in the remaining 1 tablespoon butter, the Parmesan, and lemon juice (if using). Season with salt and pepper to taste.

  • This dish made about six servings for our family. I diced fresh tomatoes to sprinkle on top of the pasta, which added a really nice fresh burst of flavor and sprinkled it with a shaving of Parmesan cheese.
  • When I packaged our leftovers, I added a drizzle of chicken broth to each container to keep the pasta moist for reheating.This definitely helped it to not dry out when it was reheated and added a little additional flavor to the leftovers.
  • If you want to make this an Aldi-friendly recipe, just substitute the ziti with elbow macaroni or penne pasta and adjust the cooking time accordingly. You would have to omit the red peppers and replace heavy cream with half & half (which substituted beautifully).
  • Don't be afraid to add a little extra liquid to the dish- I added an extra 1/4 cup of chicken broth and an extra 1/4 cup of half & half to keep the pasta nice and moist. You don't want the pasta to dry out and it should have a very thin sauce that helps to coat the pasta.
  • To make this dish vegetarian, just omit the chicken and up the veggies. The sprinkle of tomatoes or a handful of sundried tomatoes and spinach could make this a veggie packed dish worth repeating!

This dish was a huge hit with everyone except with Ethan, who has firm beliefs that no food should ever touch. He liked all the foods separately, but not mixed together. The rest of us absolutely loved it and I plan to make this again and again!

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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Me On You Tube: Save Money With a Baking Day



Emily & I decided to have a chat with you in our pajamas while preparing for our day of baking. Setting aside one day out of the week to work on baking and the prep work for mealtime can be really beneficial towards staying on track with your budget. You can read more of my tips for a successful baking day and I hope you will be able to watch the video for more ideas to help make your baking day go really smoothly.

Sound Off: What steps do you do to make your cooking go smoothly for the week?

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Play it Again, Momma: Pumpkin Spice Lattes

With the Pumpkin Spice Latte season upon me, I thought it would be great to bring this little entry back for your viewing pleasure! After all, I can't be the only one with a Pumpkin Spice Latte addiction!

My absolute favorite drink at Starbucks is their Pumpkin Spice Latte. Each year, I look forward to them adding this onto their menu and this year was no exception. Unfortunately, my wallet can’t handle the frequent trips to get coffee so I have had to get creative this year.

My girlfriend, Christina, had this amazing little gadget called the Cocomotion. If you haven’t seen one of these, check it out and put it on your Christmas list. I decided to go with the Back to Basics Cocoa-Latte Maker (similar, but it has a dispenser to dispense the drink) and I have yet to be disappointed with it. It is so nice because it stirs and heats everything up, just like a blender. When it is hot, it will stop stirring and you can hit the Dispense button. As it comes out, it will come out with a beautiful froth on top, just like the coffee shops. I think the best part about it is no cocoa or coffee goes to waste. I hate when you get the bottom of your glass and there is all this cocoa that fell to the bottom and didn’t get mixed properly. With this machine, you don’t have that problem.

We have had our little cocoa machine humming every single night. As soon as I flip it on, it is like I have Pavlov’s dog in our house. Everyone runs up the stairs to wait impatiently for the cocoa to be ready.

Well, my handy little gadget makes the absolute BEST Pumpkin Spice Lattes and after trying several combinations, I finally have a recipe that I am happy with. This recipe will make two large lattes and I hope you can enjoy it as much as we have.

To save on cost, store your morning’s coffee in the fridge to be used for the lattes. You can also save on the cost of these by making a batch of powdered milk for your drinks.

If you want to splurge a bit, make sure to have whipped cream on hand to top with a dusting of cinnamon.

Let me know if you get a chance to try this recipe! Adjustments can be made according to your own taste! This is the perfect post-Thanksgiving Day treat!

Amy’s Version of Starbuck’s Pumpkin Spice Latte

2 cups milk
1 cup very strong coffee
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons sugar (or one packet of Splenda)
1 teaspoon cinnamon (plus extra for dusting)
2 heaping spoonfuls of pumpkin

Pour all of the ingredients into a pot and heat over medium-high heat until the coffee is steaming hot. Pour into mugs and top with whipped cream & cinnamon. Enjoy!

If you are interested in purchasing a Cocoa-Latte Machine, check out Ebates and order from there. They have the Cocoa-Latte Machine (just go under Search in the left hand corner) for $30 with four percent cash back through the Ebates program.

Not an Ebates member? You can sign up today. You get five bucks in your account and so do I for referring you. It is THE place to Christmas shop! Please be sure the use the link provided so that we get credit for our referral & thank you so much! (Originally Aired: November 13, 2006)

(Photo Source:Dalboz17)

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Monday, September 08, 2008

Guess Who is Guest Blogging for Martha Today?

Well, I may have not been contacted by Martha herself, but I did get contacted by an Editor to guest blog for their Dinner Tonight blog (brought to you by Everyday Food Magazine). I was so thrilled to be asked because I don't consider myself a foodie. I do try to share recipes though that are easy and fun for families and since we had such similar goals in mind, I knew some of my dishes would fit right in with the magazine's theme. Please read my entry here for some new recipes for what to do with those rotisserie chickens!

I really think that this will will be the highlight for my week! The blog will be running guest posts from people that I really admire (here are a few for you to check out) so be sure to check it out this week!

I have to say, I felt right at home in Martha's magazine. I just have to convince them that I shouldn't be a guest and that I should be a full-time resident!

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Monday, September 01, 2008

Ask the Frugal Momma: Getting to Know the Bread Machine

You have been talking about bread machines and making bread. I am interested in doing this since I am home all the time and I love fresh bread.

I was at the Goodwill and saw many of them and they were kind of cheap, like 20.00 or less. I am dumb so help me out. Does the machine knead the dough and bake it and everything in the bread machine?

If I would purchase one at the Goodwill how would I know if it works or not?

I am interested. Please help me find a way in a new venture.


Signed,
Future Bread Maker

First of all, thank you for your question! The Ask Frugal Momma column can't happen without your questions, so please keep sending them my way. You can email any and all questions to amy@momadvice.com. We have had some fun topics and I am very excited to share with everyone!

Do any of you have bread machine gathering dust in your house? A lot of people buy these appliances and then end up donating them at their local thrift store because they never use them. I think of the bread machine as a modern day convenience, but in a culture where we want everything NOW, waiting for a loaf of bread can seem like an eternity. Why wait for a hot loaf of fresh bread when you can grab a loaf at your supermarket? And what exactly is the purpose of that appliance that is taking up space on your shelves?

On any given day in our house, you will find our bread machine happily humming along and whipping up fresh dough and bread for us. We use our bread machine almost daily, and spare ourselves the expense of fancy bakery breads. Not only that, but our bread machine has a regular performance in our house on Friday nights. This appliance makes our favorite pizza dough for our official “family night” together.

The purpose of a bread machine is to be able to make fresh bread when you want it. The reasons vary from person to person on why they choose to make their own bread. Many people have concerns about the additives and preservatives that are found in store-bought breads. Another reason that many people choose to make their own bread is because they just enjoy the taste of homemade bread. My reasoning for making our own bread is because I like to save our family money. Making your own bread costs so much less than purchasing a loaf of bread, and the rising grocery costs have only fueled my desire more to make it at home.

I am not a baker though and our days seem to be jam-packed with activities for our family. Taking the time to knead, rise, and bake bread…well, that hasn’t seemed to top the priority list at this point in my life. Lucky for me, there is an appliance that can do all the work for me and all I have to do is pull the finished loaf or ball of dough out.

To begin, all you have to do is put the ingredients in and select your setting. Some of the older machines have just a handful of simple settings. I find that the settings we use most on our machine are Basic and the Dough cycle, which can be found on every machine. The basic cycle is just the basic setting for making a loaf of bread. The Dough cycle just completes the kneading and rising of the dough. Once the dough cycle is complete, you can take the dough out and shape it into your loaf pan or do fancy braids or rolls out of the dough.

Inserting your ingredients into a bread machine is also very straightforward. If you are making the loaf right away, you can insert the ingredients in any way that you want. All of these ingredients will immediately be stirred together and so it will not matter what the order is. If you use a timer delay on your bread machine, delaying the start time of making your loaf, it is imperative that you put the ingredients in the right order or your loaf will not turn out right. The order of ingredients is liquid (liquids include water, oil, milk, eggs, or honey), flour, other dry ingredients (salt, sugar, baking powder, seasonings), and ending the ingredients with your yeast. The most important part of putting the yeast in is to make sure that you make a small indentation into the center of the flour so that the yeast does not react with the other ingredients.

Upon inserting your ingredients, your bread machine will take over the process from there. The machine will knead the ingredients together, give the bread its rising time, and then it will bake the bread. The bread machine will signal when the bread is ready and you can allow the bread to cool inside of the bread bucket.

There is no need to spend the money on convenience bread machine mixes; in fact, you can make your own convenient mixes handy for the week. I take plastic storage bags and make an assembly line of the dry ingredients and do my bags once a month. On the outside, just write what liquids you will need to add and you will only have a dirty kitchen once.

A quick glance at grocery store prices though and you will wonder how there could be any possible savings with making your bread at home. The key to making this the least expensive on your family is to purchase all of your ingredients at your local wholesale club. With proper storage, you can buy the ingredients in bulk and save your family loads of money. For example, our wholesale club has twenty-five pounds of bread & all-purpose flour for under $6 each. Two pounds of yeast will run you just under $4. What a difference compared to the prices in your regular supermarket!

For storage, flour can be stored for up to a year in an airtight container. With bulk storage, a large plastic bin that has been clearly labeled is ideal to keep your flour fresh. Yeast is the easiest ingredient to store and has a very long shelf life. I store my yeast in a clear jar in our refrigerator door. With both of these ingredients, writing an expiration date on the label will also remind you of when the item is going to expire.

If you do not have a bread machine and are looking for one, garage sales and thrift sales are a great place to hunt. I see these machines for $10 or less, and you will definitely get your money back from the savings of making your own bread. When you find one, ask if you can plug it in and make sure it is working. Just check that it actually powers up, that there is a bread bucket inside, and that there is a paddle in the bottom of the bread machine to stir the ingredients. Having a manual with it is handy, but usually can be found by searching online.

Good luck in your quest to find a bread machine and I hope it is a well-loved appliance in your home!

Related & Helpful Information:

Hillbilly Houswife's Bread Machine Basics

Buttery Bread Machine Rolls

My Favorite Pizza Dough (after much trial & error)

Storing Homemade Bread & Bread Ingredients

Homemade Croutons

Dinner is in the Bag


* This post originally aired on June 28, 2007*

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Best Birthday Cupcakes In the World

My sister-in-law's boyfriend celebrated his birthday Friday night. To help out with the evening's festivities, I offered to make the cupcakes for his special day. I found a recipe in my favorite cupcake book, "Cupcakes from the Cake Doctor" and picked her "Best Birthday Cupcakes" recipe.

These cupcakes are as close to a bakery cupcake as I will probably ever make. They are light and sweet, but not too sweet. They have a great consistency and are perfectly moist and sturdy enough to hold up to a good dose of yummy frosting.

I will probably never search for the perfect birthday cupcake again after sampling these. I paired the cupcake with her Chocolate Syrup Frosting which was the perfect way to top this delicious cake.

No more searching, ladies! This is THE cupcake for every celebration. Enjoy!!


The Best Birthday Cupcakes

24 paper liners
1 package plain butter recipe golden cake mix (I subbed with white and loved it!)
1 package (8 ounces) reduced-fat cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup water
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Chocolate Syrup Frosting (recipe to follow)
Colored sprinkles or candy cake decorations for garnish

Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line cupcake cups with liners. Set the pans aside. Place the cake mix, cream cheese, sugar, water, oil, eggs, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Blend on low speed with an electric mixer for 30 seconds, until the ingredients are well blended then stop the machine and scrape down the sides. Increase the mixer to medium speed and beat for 1 1/2 minutes to 2 minutes more, scraping down the sides again if needed. The batter should be smooth and thickened. Spoon or scoop 1/4 cup batter into each lined cupcake cup, filling it two thirds of the way full (You should get between 22-24 cupcakes). Place the pans in the oven. Bake the cupcakes until they are golden and spring back when lightly pressed with your finger, 24-27 minutes. Remove pans from oven and place them on wire racks to cool for five minutes. Run a dinner knife around the edges of the cupcake liners, lift the cupcakes up from the bottoms of the cups using the end of the knife, and pick them out of the cups carefully with your fingertips. Place them on a wire rack to cool fifteen minutes before frosting. Meanwhile prepare your frosting...


Chocolate Syrup Frosting

1 stick butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup chocolate syrup
3 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the butter, cocoa powder, and chocolate syrup in a large mixing bowl. Blend with an electric mixer on low speed until just combined (about 30 seconds). Stop the machine and add the sugar, milk, and vanilla. Blend with the mixer on low speed until the sugar is incorporated, 1 minute. Increase the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 1 minute more. Use to frost your cupcakes.


*This post originally aired on October 8, 2007*

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Snickerdoodle Cupcakes

Welcome to a Play It Again, Momma week! This week we will be highlighting some of our favorite entries and today we kick off the week with three great recipes. I hope you will join me this week as I highlight some oldies, but goodies!


We had a reason to celebrate this week because my husband started a new job. We are so grateful that he has been given this opportunity and that he will be able to start a new adventure on his career path.

We wanted to do something to celebrate his first day of work so we made him one of his favorite treats...Snickerdoodle Cupcakes!

These are so delicious and I got the recipe from one of the Cake Doctor books. It has been a favorite in our house for several years and a frequent request for family birthdays.

The cake has just the right blending of flavors and the cake mix make these easy to whip up for unexpected company. It is the cinnamon frosting that pushes it over the top though so take the time to make the icing from scratch since you are saving time on the cake by using the mix!

I hope you can try these in your house- let me know what you think!

Snickerdoodle Cupcakes (these can be made into a cake too- whichever you prefer)

1 package plain white cake mix
1 cup whole milk
1 stick of butter, melted
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Frosting:
1 stick butter
3 3/4 cup confectioners sugar
3-4 Tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 Tablespoon ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and flour & grease 2 9" pans (for cakes) or line your cupcake tin. Place cake mix, milk, melted butter, eggs, vanilla, and cinnamon in a large mixing bowl. Blend for three minutes (stop to scrape once). Pour into pans and bake for 27-29 minutes (for cake) or 22-25 minutes (for cupcakes). Allow the cakes to cool completely.

Beat butter until fluffy for frosting. Add all other ingredients.

Note: I froze half of these (without frosting) to keep in our freezer for another occasion. They freeze very nicely!

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Piggy Pancakes

I made piggy pancakes for the kids and they were a huge hit! I wasn't sure if they would be able to figure out what they were so I let them guess. They decided these were cow pancakes instead so who knows what animal your own kids might pick?

I made a batch of this pancake batter. It is my absolute favorite because it doesn't require any fancy ingredients and can be made out of everything in your pantry. The pancakes remind me of the McDonald's pancakes and I absolutely could devour a few stacks of those in one sitting.

To save a little bit more money, I make a batch of powdered milk to mix into the pancakes. It isn't a huge savings, but it saves me from making multiple trips for milk throughout the week.

You will want to make one large pancake and two silver dollar sized pancakes. When you see the bubbles bubbling up on top, give them a flip and cook until they are cooked through.

I used kitchen scissors and cut one of the small pancakes in half and slipped it under the large pancake, to make the ears. Plop a small pancake on top for the snout and use blueberries or chocolate chips for the eyes.

For preschoolers, you could tie in any good barnyard book or my personal favorite..."If You Give a Pig a Pancake."

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Is WHO Bread Delicious?


Experiment: Is WHO bread really and truly delicious?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 02.14.07

Materials Needed: Please see SouleMama for the complete recipe and instructions.

Results: I have had this recipe bookmarked for a very long time and have finally replaced my bread machine so I can test another fun bread machine recipe.

We grilled out last night and I thought I would make a loaf of this bread and (just because I am over-the-top kind of gal) I decided to make a batch of my Honey Butter to spread on top.

This bread is delicious and smelled like heaven as it baked. It has all of my favorite elements in it- a dash of brown sugar, honey, oatmeal, and cinnamon. I did substitute one cup of the white flour with whole wheat flour, which gave it a deliciously chewy texture with a nice firm crust.

Conclusion: I would definitely make this bread over and over again. It is such a perfect balance of flavors and adding my addition of the honey butter really made it even more delicious. Every single person in the family loved this bread and I look forward to smearing some jam on it for toast in the morning.

If you don't have a bread machine, don't despair because Soule Mama also has an acoustic version for those without bread machines. Many thanks to Soule Mama for generously sharing her wonderful recipes!

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Monday, July 07, 2008

Ain't No Party Like a LEGO Party

What a busy holiday weekend this was for us! We celebrated Ethan's sixth birthday with his dream party- a LEGO birthday party. I must say that I tried to put a lot of effort into this one and he was the happiest little boy I had ever seen!

What's a LEGO party without a LEGO cake though? I had bookmarked a recipe in my notebook entry for a LEGO cake, but we were entertaining a lot of people and the cake would not cover the amount of people that I needed it to. I also did not want to try and cut and make shapes out of a sheet cake. I opted to prepare two cake mixes in loaf pans to create this cake. One cake mix per loaf pan, cooked as directed, but cooked for at least an hour (mine took approximately one hour and ten minutes to cook these cakes at the same time). I then froze the cake overnight which helped keep the crumbs at bay and made it easier to decorate. I did use the marshmallows, but opted for blue and yellow for colors. This cake was extremely difficult to frost around and on top of the marshmallows, but I think the results turned out great, even though it was not as smooth as I had aimed for. The cost to make these two cakes was $5.50.

We had the party outside so I kept the decorating simple. I made pinwheels out of my scrapbook paper. To make these, just fold your paper accordion-style. Then fold your accordion in half and fan these out. You can then staple these to one another (along the back side) to make your pinwheel. Each of these pinwheels had three pieces of paper on them each. You just want to make sure that the paper is very sturdy so it will hold the shape. I gave them a hole with a hole punch and then tied them on the underside of the umbrella with green raffia. They looked really lovely under the patio umbrella.

For the indoor food table, I did a big basket of LEGOS and I framed a letter that I wrote to Ethan about how special he was to us. This is the first year I have done this, and we read this to him as a bedtime story before bed the night before. He loved hearing about how much we loved him and how proud we were of him. The grandparents loved reading it too and seeing what cool things happened this year. Total spent on decorations and party supplies- $0

I did serve food at the party and opted for some take-and-bake pizzas to help save me some time. Our Papa Murphy's is just down the road and I signed up for their e-club so that I could get a new batch of coupons. We printed these out and used these on four family size pizzas. Total cost for pizza for twenty $34 (with plenty of leftovers). We also served some fresh melon, spinach dip with carrot sticks, & tortilla chips with salsa, and soda. Overall, I spent about $50 on food (which includes the cost of the cake), but we also have a couple of dinners and plenty of snacks leftover to eat!

Entertainment consisted of dragging out every outdoor game and toy we could imagine to keep the kiddos busy. The kids also spent lots of time coloring on free LEGO coloring pages that I printed up from the LEGO website. They could take these pages home with them to color too so that filled in for those goody bags. Total cost spent on entertainment and goody bags- $0


All of that effort for this perfect moment right here. Ethan wished for a hundred kisses from his mom & dad. I think we can do that! How I wish he was always this innocent and that I could freeze this perfect moment forever. Perfect moment...oh, you know it... PRICELESS!

Total Amount Spent on LEGO Party for Twenty: $50

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Cracking the McDonald's Coffee Code

Wow, my Boo to McDonald's post certainly received a lot of responses and I loved hearing how you all make your iced coffees. It gave me so many great ideas and so I decided to approach this in my traditional test kitchen fashion and try to crack the code. For all my hard work, I finally got a vanilla coffee I love and a lot of belly aches, constant shakes, and a little bit of time in the bathroom... BUT it was totally worth it!

Are you ready?

Here is my magical formula that gave me the best vanilla coffee without the chemical nastiness that McDonald's was giving me.

First up, I made my own coffee syrup. I used the coffee syrup recipe that I highlighted in my Get Your Java Fix from Slashfood. I used the recipe that they list for the Vanilla Bean, but substituted the bean with two tablespoons of vanilla extract. The two tablespoons number came from Ashley, a friendly McDonald's employee, who shared her secret for making the coffees at home. I stored the syrup in a mason jar and am keeping it in the fridge.

To make the coffee, I fill the cup with ice. Next fill your cup halfway with coffee (I used my Folger's Gourmet Vanilla Biscotti) and then almost halfway with milk. Top the coffee with two tablespoons of your homemade vanilla coffee syrup and then a splash of fat-free vanilla creamer (inexpensively purchased at Aldi or make your own).

With this combination, I did not need to add any extra sugar and it is just as sweet as McDonald's and just as tasty too! The splash of vanilla creamer gave it a richer taste, but the skim milk and fat-free creamer gave me a better calorie combination.

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Monday, June 09, 2008

Boo To McDonald's

I feel like there should be some scary 48 Hours Mystery music playing in the background or that this picture should do some eerie fade effect or that I just grow wider and wider. I just found out that my McDonald's Vanilla Iced Coffees are made with WHOLE MILK. I only have one word to say to this...WHY?

This picture was taken after I went for a run. Yes, these were my little treats to myself after working out at the gym or doing something amazing like going for a run around the neighborhood in ninety degree weather (which I did this weekend and almost died). Little did I know that I was gulping all of the calories back into my body.

I discovered this after I had went to the gym one morning. Sweaty from a really good workout, I pulled up to the drive-thru and asked for the usual, but this time I asked the one question that I did not want to ask.

"Um, ma'am, can you tell me...is that coffee made with nonfat milk?"

"No."

"Um, well, could you make it with some nonfat milk?"

"No."

"Well, is it made with two percent milk?"

"No. It's made with whole milk."

"(teeny tiny voice) Can you change that to a medium please?"

What the hay? I love these coffees and they are so inexpensive, but I do not need to be gulping whole milk throughout the day. I am not on a diet, but I prefer not to ingest 11 grams of fat (according to McDonald's website) in one sitting.

Oh, and here are the ingredients that they have listed:

Premium Roast Coffee. Light Cream: Milk, cream, sodium phosphate, sodium polyphosphate, DATEM, sodium stearoyl lactylate, tetra sodium pyrophosphate, sodium hexametaphosphate, sodium citrate, carrageenan. CONTAINS: MILK. Vanilla Syrup: Sugar, water, fructose, natural (plant source) and artificial flavor, caramel color (with sulfites), potassium sorbate (preservative), citric acid, malic acid. Ice.

Hmm? Sounds like a chem lab in my stomach!

Now I am going to figure out how to replicate this. After all, if I can crack the code on Starbuck's Peppermint Mochas, these McDonald's iced coffees should be a walk in the park.

Do you guys have some suggestions for making the perfect iced coffees? Any tips to share before I try to replicate my coffee experience with some good old-fashioned nonfat milk?

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Thursday, June 05, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Blueberry Muffins & Loving Your Neighbors



Experiment: Can blueberry muffins help score us some new friends?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 03.27.08

Materials Needed: Please see little momma & company for specific directions on how to complete this experiment. I did add a little special ingredient of my own this time to the mix and that was some freshly grated lemon zest and one squeeze of a lemon into the batter. It just added a little hint of something in the background, but didn't overpower that yummy blueberry taste! This ingredient is completely optional, but added a very fresh flavor to our muffins.

Results: I have been very inspired by Monica, at The Homespun Heart, and her wonderful intentions of being thoughtful and kind to their neighbors. When our new neighbors moved in next door, we wanted to welcome them in the kind of way that we would hope that we would have been welcomed into the neighborhood. What says welcome better than a big batch of blueberry muffins?

While I baked muffins, Ethan worked very carefully on a card for the new family. It had a picture of their house on the front and then a picture of our house inside. He invited them to "come over to our house sometime," which was so sweet and sincere that sometimes I can't help but kiss him.

He helped me make the surprise delivery and he was as proud as he could be! It was a great moment for both of us and a wonderful way to teach him how to share in some good old-fashioned hospitality.

Conclusion: The neighbors were so touched by our gesture, which made me very happy! It also was a fun thing for Ethan and I to do this project together.

I would have to say that this concluded another fabulous notebook experiment! I am hoping that I have started a movement of neighborly love- check out Keeping the Kingdom First and how they shared their love with their neighbors after reading my little tweets about my baking day. Her daughter is older and she was able to keep her occupied with this task and hopefully she has sealed herself a brand new friendship.

In this high-tech day and age, I was wondering if you know your neighbors? What kind of a relationship do you have with the people on your street? This is something I am trying to work on, but I find it can be very difficult to connect with others because everyone is so busy. How do you make those connections?

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Monday, June 02, 2008

Beer Poached Italian Brats

Last week we decided to dine on Italian Brats cooked on our grill. To be honest, the only kind I have ever had were prepared by someone else or were the pre-cooked variety that you find next to the hot dogs.

I had a lot of beer leftover from my Retro Housewife Bunco night though and thought why not poach the brats in some beer before we threw them on the grill?

They turned out delicious! I used this recipe (scaled down for 1 pound of brats and minus the onion because of personal preference) and served these with some tortilla chips and carrot sticks.

I took advantage of the Memorial Day cookout sales that were going on at the store and stocked the freezer with some yummy goodies to throw on the grill this summer. These brats were on sale for $2.50 per pound, which made them both economical and a delicious choice for summer.

Sound Off: What is your favorite grilling recipe for the summer? I am looking for some suggestions to add to our mix this summer!

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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Notebook Experiments: Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip, & Pecan Cookies

Experiment: Will Oatmeal, Chocolate Chip, & Pecan Cookies satisfy my sweet tooth?

Experiment Taken From: Notebook Entry 11.14.07

Materials Needed: Please see Smitten Kitchen for specific directions on how to complete this experiment. We did omit a couple of ingredients in the recipe because of our personal taste. The recipe called for two cups of pecans, but my family doesn't like pecans so we left those out. The batter was pretty wet without this addition though so I added an extra cup of the quick cooking oats to firm the dough up. I also omitted the orange zest because I had no oranges here.

Results: With the addition of the extra cup of oatmeal (minus the pecans), these turned out delicious. The dough was very easy to work with, in fact, I could mold the balls in my hands without sticking.

The first batch was a tad too crispy because the cookies did not look done and I left them in for an extra two minutes. This was a mistake. The next batch was perfect at 12 minutes at 350 degrees. Don't make the same mistake and it should yield a cookie that is chewy, but also soft. The edges should be a light brown and don't worry so much about the tops!

Conclusion: These cookies were absolutely delicious and the hint of cinnamon in them gave them that extra something special. By omitting the pecans and replacing this ingredient with oatmeal, it helped to keep the cost low on making this treat and yielded delicious results. Thank you, Smitten Kitchen, for generously sharing your recipes with the public!

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Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Adventures in Bread Making: Fiddlin' With Temperatures

My first batch of bread yielded a gummy texture on the inside of my loaf which was commented on by all of the culinary critics in our house. I really loved the ease of this bread though and wasn't willing to give up just yet. These next two loaves were cooked at 475 degrees for forty minutes.

The exterior ended up being a tad too crunchy, but the interior was gosh darn perfection. These loaves were not gummy at all and the bread sang to me when I opened the oven with that beautiful golden crust. I think we will try it again at 475 for 35 minutes and see if we hit the ultimate perfection.

As we dined on roasted chicken salad sandwiches on this amazing bread, I looked across the table and said to my husband, "You realize that no one else does this, right?" In spite of his full mouth, he grinned and said, "I know, I know."

Sometimes I feel like I am running the America's Test Kitchen show over here and I fear that if something should ever happen to me, my husband's next wife will have one ridiculous act to follow.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Adventures in Bread Making: Artisan Bread in 5

After our discussion on my old school baking day, I had lots of great ideas for how I could get around actually buying a bread machine. One of our readers, named Noreen, suggested that I check out a book called, "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" which would help me get around the whole bread machine process and required no kneading.

As soon as I read her comment, I put a hold on it at our library and picked it up the next day. With a cup of iced coffee in hand, I read through the entire process and what I would need to complete it.

For copyright reasons, I will refrain from going into the recipes themselves, but I will explain the process of this method so that you can decide if this something you could/would do to make bread for your family. The master mix recipe I am using is actually located here so you could attempt the first recipe without even getting the book.

There are lots of different recipes in the book and then different ways of shaping the dough recipes. I attempted the master recipe which included just the basics- water, yeast, flour, and salt.

The difference between making this dough and the traditional dough is that you literally dump the ingredients in (no need to even proof the yeast) and use a wooden spoon to just mix everything together. The dough is very wet and easy to stir and you don't even have to break out the mixer.

You cover the dough and let it rise for two hours and then you stick it in the fridge for a minimum of three hours and up to fourteen days. Yes, that's right..fourteen days! According to the authors, the dough will taste better and better the longer the dough sits in there and you can even use some of your old dough as a starter for a new dough, much like the process of making a sour dough starter.
The first picture shows what this dough looks like when it is just incorporated- stringy and yucky looking. This second picture shows what the dough looks like after it rises. This master recipe was enough for four loaves so that is why it looks like there is so much. They have bigger recipes than this, but this is the amount of fridge space I could spare for the week.

I let this dough sit for two days before I made my first loaf. When you make your first loaf, you just "cloak the dough," (sprinkle the dough on top with some flour) and then cut off a grapefruit section of the dough for your first loaf. Without any kneading or any real handling of the dough, you tuck the corners of the dough underneath and put it on a pizza peel (I used my extra pizza stone) that has been sprinkled with a little cornmeal. Now you let it rise and preheat your oven for 450 degrees. They suggested twenty minutes, comments on Amazon suggested preheating the entire forty minutes that the dough is rising to help achieve the best crust.


It should look something like the picture above. It is relatively smooth on top, but the corners are all tucked underneath. After you have shaped it like this and let it rise, you can slice the top two or three times.

You now slide the loaf (very awkwardly if you have no pizza peel) and then you fill a boiler tray with one cup of hot water and put it in the oven to help steam the oven up to give you a nice crisp crust. Don't ever open the door and let it cook for thirty minutes.

When I took it out, it looked like this. Now remember, this is my first loaf so I am sure I will get better at it, but I am pretty impressed with how this first loaf looks. Next time I will score it a little more and I will probably make more than one loaf at a time. The exterior of this loaf is nice and golden, and it is solid and crusty on the outside. Perfection!

The interior was a bit gummy though so I may cook it for another ten minutes or raise the temperature. This will just require some tweaking on my part, but our family still thought it tasted pretty darn good.

Now that I have made this first loaf, I am so excited to try the other loaves in the book. The entire process took very little of my time and I had very little clean-up (my least favorite part of making bread) so it is a great solution for a busy mom who wants to make homemade bread, but doesn't have the tools or time to make bread from scratch.

Let's also talk about the cost savings too. In our town, our local market has artisan breads for sale that cost about $4 a loaf. I buy my ingredients in bulk at Sam's Club and I am estimating that this loaf of bread costs me about forty cents or less. What a savings and how elegant is this to bring to parties and when entertaining? You just can't beat it!

A big thank you to Noreen for the suggestion and I hope you can try this recipe and tell me what you think! I have a demonstration from the authors posted below- this might help explain the process further.


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Monday, May 19, 2008

Old-Fashioned Spaghetti & Meatballs (And How to Eat It)

With my grocery dollars screaming for mercy right now, I am trying to focus more on eating more budget-friendly fare. My grocery lists have shifted from what we want to eat to what is on sale and what is going to give us the best bang for our buck. A manager's special on a meatloaf mix of meat dictated what we would be dining on this week...a good old fashioned plate of spaghetti and meatballs.

I really love my spaghetti and meatballs recipe, but I saw a recipe for spaghetti and meatballs in an AllRecipes Dinner Tonight Cookbook (picked up at our local thrift store for $2) and knew that I had to try this recipe.

I followed all of the directions except that I prefer to bake my meatballs rather than fry them. It is easier clean-up for me and healthier for our family. You can bake the meatballs in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for fifteen minutes and then I gave them a little dip in the sauce to take on some of those flavors.

This dish is perfection. I still prefer my meatball recipe over this one, but the sauce recipe wins hands down. This made a large batch of sauce (enough for approximately six to eight servings) and cost about $2.33 to make the sauce. The meatloaf mix was on sale for $2.09 and I used a box of pasta that I had purchased on sale for $.89. Total cost of the meal $5.31 or approximately $.89 per serving (if serving six generous portions).

I made a double batch of the meatballs and we will be having meatball subs on homemade sub rolls this week and leftovers another day. I just love food that can be served over and over again!

Italian Spaghetti Sauce With Meatballs

1# lean ground beef (ground turkey, meatloaf mix, or turkey sausage)
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1 tablespoon dried parsley
1 tablespoon Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons olive oil (omit if you are baking these)
3/4 cup chopped onion (we omitted because we don't like onions)
5 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
2 (28 ounce) cans whole peeled tomatoes, undrained
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 bay leaf (I omitted because we didn't have any)
1 (6 ounce) can tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

To make the meatballs, in a large bowl, combine ground beef, breadcrumbs, parsley, Parmesan, 1/4 teaspoon black pepper, garlic powder, and egg. Mix well and form into 30 balls. In a large skillet, cook meatballs in two tablespoons hot oil over medium-high heat seven minutes or until browned; remove from skillet and drain.

To make sauce, saute onion and garlic in 1/4 cup olive oil until onion is translucent. Stir in tomatoes, salt, sugar, and bay leaf. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer one hour and thirty minutes. Stir in tomato paste basil, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, and meatballs and simmer thirty more minutes. Discard bay leaf. Serve over spaghetti.

Spaghetti and meatballs is a family favorite in our house. Now let us show you how to eat it properly and our sweet little Emily will demonstrate.

Emily just loves to eat this, but she likes to have the long noodles for slurping, not short and stumpy noodles. I can understand this, but... She usually ends up looking like this.

Then we have to hold our noodles and balance them at the very top of our head in our hair. Is it sufficiently rubbed into our forehead and hair yet? If you can complete this trick, you can move on to the next step.

Be sure to get your entire face in there so it looks like this.
And don't let the face outshine your toes. After all, eating like a monkey is the Clark way.

Dinner and a show! Two for the price of one!

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Monday, May 12, 2008

Simple Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip Muffins

I have been looking for a heartier muffin recipe for the kids. My children just love muffins and I love making these fast little treats for snacks and the occasional breakfast. I have had this recipe in my to-be-tried pile for far too long so I decided to break it out this week.

These muffins are hearty, but the chocolate chips make them a little bit sweet too. I was surprised that they had so much oatmeal in them, but the soaking process made the chewiness of the oats disappear. The muffin was still light, although you could tell it was a little denser than the traditional muffin.

My kids absolutely loved these and I did too. I think I will be making these with some butterscotch chips or peanut butter chips next time, just to switch it up a bit!

Simple Oatmeal & Chocolate Chip Muffins
1 1/4 cups quick cooking oats
1 1/4 cups milk
1 egg
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped pecans
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Combine oats and milk (I used prepared powdered milk) and allow to stand for 15 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (205 degrees C). Grease each cup of one 12-cup muffin tin. Stir egg, oil, 1/2 cup of the brown sugar, chocolate chips and 1/2 cup of the pecans into the oat and milk mixture. Combine flour, baking powder and salt. Add oat mixture to flour mixture, stirring until just moist. Fill each cup of one 12-cup muffin tin 2/3 full. Sprinkle tops with the remaining brown sugar and pecans. Bake at 400 degrees F (205 degrees C) for 20 to 25 minutes. Amy's Notes: I added a 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the muffins. I omitted the pecans and instead I topped the muffins with this crumb topping recipe.

Sound Off: Do you have any hearty or healthy muffin recipes that I could try? I am looking for some new ideas for breakfast and would love any suggestions you might have!

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Thursday, May 08, 2008

Yummy Jerk Chicken

We tried a new marinade for Caribbean Jerk Chicken this week and it was delicious! This spice mix has the perfect balance of spices and coats the chicken beautifully. I marinated the chicken for a few hours and we had planned to grill it outside. The weather didn't end up cooperating so I ended up baking this for 350 degrees for about forty-five minutes, and it was absolutely perfect.

We served the chicken with rice and some corn to complete the dinner!

Yummy Jerk Chicken


1 envelope Italian salad dressing mix
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground red pepper
2 1/2 lbs chicken pieces

Mix the marinade ingredients into a bowl and then pour over the chicken pieces. Allow this to marinate for a minimum of one hour or overnight. Grill your meat until it is done.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Key Lime Pie With a Graham Cracker & Oatmeal Crust

For my brother's birthday, he requested his favorite pie... Key Lime! I had never made this type of pie before, but was up for the challenge after hunting around on Recipezaar.com for the perfect recipe.

I used this recipe for the crust which contained the graham crackers and oatmeal, instead of just the plain oatmeal crust. It turned out perfect and made the crust a little heartier and a tad less sweet, which balanced the citrus wonderfully.

I don't have any pictures of the pie because we gobbled it up too fast, but it turned out wonderful. I used this recipe for the filling and the only thing I didn't like about it was that I thought I should have doubled the filling for these pies. I had a lot of crust and a little filling, which made it look more like a tart with too much crust. Regardless, everyone seemed to really enjoy it and I was proud to get to help with the celebration!

I look forward to making more of these this summer. Lucky for me, it is the only pie my husband will eat so I am glad to have found a recipe that he liked.

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Monday, March 31, 2008

Those Bodacious Blueberry Muffins

This weekend I made Emily's, from the wonderful Loria Family Dialogues, Bodacious Blueberry Muffins for a snack. I happened to have some of my crumb topping in the freezer so I added a sprinkle of that on top of each of these.

Wow! These were delicious! I think I might mix up some of the dry ingredients, just like I do for my dinners in a bag, for a quick snack to take to playgroups or potlucks.

With the crumb topping, they tasted like a yummy Blueberry Buckle- delicious! I hope you can try these and a big thanks to Emily for such a wonderful recipe! Now I just need to convince my children and husband that blueberry muffins are delicious (weird people!)

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Monday, March 03, 2008

Sloppy Joes & Oven Fries

I always love to try out new recipes and wanted to give a new recipe for Sloppy Joes a shot. These sandwiches were absolutely delicious. I have made this recipe twice and adjusted the ratios to our liking. This ground beef mixture has just a little bit of tang, with a whole lot of tomato-y goodness.

I served these on my homemade hamburger buns, with a side of these Seasoned Baked Potato Wedges, that I had been dying to try (from Tammy's Recipes)

The potato wedges were equally delicious and a perfect balance of spices. They were crispy and not soggy, which I find to be quite important in an order of fries. Best of all, they were a hit with the whole family!

Yummy Sloppy Joes (adapted from Recipezaar)

1 lb ground beef
1 cup chopped onions (I omitted these because I don't like onions)
1 cup ketchup

1 tablespoon mustard
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce


In a large skillet, brown beef with onions (make sure to drain or rinse your meat after this step). Mix the rest of the ingredients together. Add to beef and onions. Cook for 1 hour over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Serve on warm hamburger buns.

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Saturday Morning Treat: Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

Growing up, one of my favorite Saturday treats was a Pillsbury Cinnamon Roll. My mom would make these for us on Saturdays and we always fought over the ones that had the most frosting. Sadly, it was such a thrill when my dad worked in the mornings because that meant that there would be two extra rolls for us to fight over. Who could resist those rolls and the simple pleasure of having a sweet treat once a week?

I still love those cinnamon rolls, but at $1.69 a roll, they are an unnecessary addition to the grocery budget. What I do have though is flour and sugar, purchased in bulk, and a bread machine that can turn out cinnamon roll dough like nobody's business. I figured I was on to something and decided to give it a shot and figure out if I could replicate my Saturday morning experience. It took a couple of Saturdays to tweak this recipe, but I finally am satisfied with the results. Lucky for me, my family didn't mind being the guinea pigs so I have gotten this down pat for your dining pleasure!

To make my dough, I used the recipe from the homemade hamburger buns, except that I increased the sugar to 1/3 cup. I ran the dough cycle on my bread machine and when it beeped, I had the perfect dough for rolling.

I rolled the dough out into a 12x15 rectangle and then spread it with the following filling:

Cinnamon Roll Filling

1/3 cup butter, softened to room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tablespoon cinnamon

Spread the softened butter all over the dough. In a small bowl, mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Sprinkle this all over the dough and then use your hands to gently press the filling in. Take the edge of the dough and begin rolling it up. Roll it tightly and slowly, being careful to keep all the filling inside. At this point you should have a long log that you can cut your rolls from. You can wrap the dough with plastic and store in the fridge overnight or you can slice your rolls (should make ten large rolls) and put them on your cookie sheet or pizza stone. Store in the fridge overnight.

In the morning, pull the rolls out and preheat your oven to 400 degrees. When the oven reaches 400 degrees, immediately drop the temperature to 375 degrees and put the rolls in the oven. Cook these for approximately 13-15 minutes, or until golden brown.

While the rolls are cooking, I just make a frosting out of powdered sugar and water (I don't measure this, but approximately 1/2 cup powdered sugar to 1-2 tablespoons water mixed together should do ya!) When the rolls are done, drizzle your frosting over the rolls and serve them warm or room temperature (although they are best warm)

Amy's Notes-

- The first time I made these, I put them on a pizza stone and they cooked very evenly. The second time, I popped them in a 9x13" pan and only the ones on the outside got done. I would recommend placing these either on a cookie sheet (with a nice lip) or on a pizza stone.

- When you slice the cinnamon rolls, you can slice them with a knife or you can use dental floss and cut them that way. I find the dental floss to be a little more tedious so I stuck to slicing with the knife and reshaping the dough afterwards.

- The best part about making these cinnamon rolls is that you can vary the sizes and I can make mini-versions of the rolls for the little kids and tuck these in the center of the batch so that they don't get overdone. The kids love these mini versions and I control the amount of sugar they are getting. Just give them a teeny drizzle of frosting and they will be set!

- You can reheat these in the microwave for a nice snack in the evening or for breakfast the next day. Place on a microwave-safe plate and zap for about twenty seconds. Makes a great mommy snack with a cup of coffee!

Sound Off: What is a favorite Saturday morning treat in your house?

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Monday, February 18, 2008

Homemade Hamburger Buns

Can you tell that I give my bread machine a workout? Today I wanted to share this amazing recipe for making your own hamburger buns. Sometimes frugality comes from necessity, and this was one of those times. The snow was coming down and Emily needed a nap desperately. I thought I had hamburger rolls in the freezer, but my trip to the freezer turned up empty. There was no way I was taking a tired toddler out in the brutal snowstorm for a package of buns.

I headed to my computer and remembered I had a recipe bookmarked to make my own rolls. This recipe not only can make your hamburger buns, but it can make hot dog buns too! I had high hopes for this recipe and it totally delivered.

This dough is extremely easy to work with and the rolls puffed up beautifully as the dough did its rising. The buns were soft and squishy, but easy to split for filling them with whatever you like.

The buns stayed soft for about three days after being made. I kept them in a food storage bag and they tasted great for several days.

Hot Dog/Hamburger Buns/Rolls/Cinnamon Buns Dough Cycle (Courtesy of Recipezaar)

1 1/4 cups skim milk
1/3 cup vegetable oil or canola oil
1/4-1/3 cup sugar (I use a 1/4 cup measure)
1 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 1/4 teaspoons bread machine yeast

1. Place all ingredients in order recommended by your bread machine manufacturer.

2. Select dough cycle and start machine.

3. I preheat my oven to 100°F and turn off.

4. When dough cycle is complete remove from machine and proceed.

5. I roll into a long log and cut into 12 pieces for hot dog buns or 9 pieces for large hamburger buns. For Hot Dog Buns, I roll out till they look like long skinny wieners. Hamburger Buns, I flatten with my palm till about the thickness of a pancake. They rise beautifully and look as nicely shaped as store bought ones. Put on parchment-lined baking sheet so sides are almost touching (Amy's Note- I just put them on my pizza stone).

6. Cover with cloth and put in the warm oven for 45-60 minutes to rise.

7. When doubled remove from oven.

8. Turn oven to 400°F and when you put the buns in the oven, reduce temperature immediately to 375° and bake hot dog buns 15 minutes and hamburger buns 17 minutes. (Amy's Note- I checked around 12 minutes and they were golden)

9. CINNAMON BUNS. Use 1/3 cup sugar in recipe. Made 10 large buns.

10. Roll out to about 12 x 15" and spread with butter or margarine. Sprinkle cinnamon-sugar mixture over all and roll up tightly. Cut into as many buns as you want. I make 10.

11. Set oven to 400° and turn down to 375° when you put buns inches Bake 20 minutes. (Amy's Note: These take more like 12 minutes)

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Monday, February 11, 2008

What to Do With Leftover Pitas?

We had pitas leftover from our dinner,but they didn't last long. Most of them got turned into little personal pan pizzas for lunches this week.

I topped them with some of my homemade sauce, a little cheese, and some pepperoni. The kids gobbled them up and ever since we ate these, Emily keeps pointing to the stove and saying, "Pizza? Pizza?"

These might be a fun variation on our pizza nights at home especially since everyone can pick their own favorite toppings!

Sound Off: What do you do with leftover pitas? Do you have a favorite topping or way to stuff them that is a hit with your family?

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Homemade Pitas

If you would have asked me I thought I could whip up some pitas for my family a few years ago, I would have told you no. I have had this recipe in my collection for so long that I don't even know where it originated from, but I decided to dust off the old recipe collection and see if these could come together for me. After all, if it was a complete failure...well, at least I tried!

This dough is incredibly easy to work with, especially for a novice! It is not too dry and it is not too wet so you don't have to use a lot of flour to roll these out.

These pitas are so yummy and the whole wheat flour adds a yummy dimension to the flavors. The kids loved these and my husband could not get over that I had made them because they looked just like the store-bought variety.

Now that I have made them though, there is no turning back. I will never buy these at the store again. In fact, I am whipping up my second batch for the week today! I hope your family will enjoy these as much as we have!

Pita Bread (for the Bread Machine)

1 1/3 cup water

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt
3 cups bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons yeast


Put ingredients into the bread machine in order listed. Run the dough cycle on your machine. When the bread machine beeps, pull the dough out of the bread machine and divide the dough into ten pieces. Roll each piece into a six inch circle. Place these on a baking sheet (or your pizza stones) and let them rise for twenty minutes (I can fit about four rounds per pizza stone or three pitas per baking sheet). Bake at 500 degrees for three minutes. Using a spatula, flip the pitas and cook for another three to four minutes on the flip side.

Amy's Side Notes:


- When you pull the pitas off of your baking sheet, wrap them into a damp kitchen towel for a few minutes. This helps keep them from drying out. Once they are cool, you can store them in a food storage bag.

- Freeze extras for a rainy day! After the pitas have cooled, slip a piece of wax paper between them and store in a freezer bag. You can take out what you need...when you need it!

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Vanilla Scented Granola

I am easing my family into eating granola and I found this recipe that I thought would fit the bill perfectly. The only item that they could consider "weird" are the slivered almonds. No dried fruits, no coconut, no weird foods...no reason to complain!

I will gradually be adding some other elements into this recipe, but if you have a picky family, this granola recipe might be a great place to start. I bought a large container of vanilla yogurt and made little yogurt cups for the kids with this homemade granola sprinkled on top. They gobbled it up and I found them both licking their bowls. I would say this one was a hit!

Vanilla Scented Granola Courtesy of Bon Appetit Magazine

Cooking spray
4
cups rolled oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1/2
cup brown sugar
1/4
teaspoon salt
1/8
teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/3
cup vegetable oil
1/4
cup honey
2
tablespoons sugar
4
teaspoons vanilla extract Position rack to middle of oven and preheat to 300 degrees. Lightly spray large baking sheet with nonstick spray. Mix next 5 ingredients in large bowl. Combine oil, honey and sugar in small saucepan; bring to simmer over medium heat. Remove from heat; stir in vanilla. Pour hot liquid over oat mixture; stir well. Using hands, toss mixture until thoroughly mixed. Spread granola on prepared baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, stirring occasionaly, about 30 minutes (but check after 20). Transfer sheet to rack; cool granola completely. (Can be made two weeks ahead. Store in airtight container at room temperature.) Makes approximately 8 cups.

Side Note: If you prefer granola clumps, do not stir during baking and allow the granola to cool. You can then break the granola apart into pieces.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

Apple Pie Muffins

Practicing hospital hospitality this past week for my nephew, I put together a basket of treats for the family to take down to the hospital with them.

I had lots of apples to use up and thought this recipe for Apple Pie Muffins would be perfect for a yummy treat. I made a double batch for them and for our family. I also made a triple batch of the crumb topping and put it in our freezer to help save a step the next time I make these or my Banana Crumb Muffins.

These muffins are super delicious and just the right balance of sweetness and tartness (from the apples). Serve these with a big glass of milk to wash them down.

Our house smelled so good after I was done baking these that I wanted to extend the scent longer. I used the peels and apple cores from dicing my apples and threw them in a pot with some lemons that were no longer good anymore. I topped the pot with some water and extra cinnamon and let it simmer away while I packaged the muffins up for the trip to Chicago. It smelled like an apple pie for the entire day. Thanks to whoever supplied that tip on Works-For-Me Wednesday because it really worked.

I thought these looked so beautiful in this red gingham basket that I had purchased from Goodwill. I put a little tag on it with a description of the muffins on it so that people knew what they would be diving into.

Although I couldn't sit in the waiting room with them, it was my way of showing that I loved and supported them during that time.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

WSBT-TV: Making Gourmet Coffee at Home

Each Tuesday I share my frugal ideas with our community on the morning show for our local news station, WSBT-TV.

This week I shared on a topic that is near and dear to my heart- making your own gourmet coffee at home. I share some of my tips for replicating a gourmet coffee experience and how I manage to keep my latte factor to a minimum.

I am working on an article to put up for our site, but wanted to share some links to some of the ideas that we have incorporated in our house.

Here are some related posts on making a Starbucks Coffee experience in your very own home! Imagine that I have over 116 references to coffee on my blog so scanning through our archives or searching under coffee can also yield additional fun ideas to create a gourmet coffee experience.

All About Coffee:

Make Your Own Flavored Creamers
Get Your Java Fix (Chock full of tips for replicating the Starbucks experience!)
Where to Get Free Wi-Fi (You need that while you are sipping your coffee)
Make Your Own Starbucks Iced Peppermint Mochas
Make Your Own Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Make Your Own Dried Coffee Drink Mixes (great for gift giving)
This is Coffee (a fun retro movie on how to make the perfect cup of joe)
A Little About My Coffee-Making Process
How to Score Free Starbucks Coffee

Treats to go with your coffee:

Make Your Own Biscotti
Make Your Own Starbucks Banana Pound Cake
David's Skinny Chocolate Chip Cookies
Snickerdoodle Cupcakes
Chocolate Cupcakes With Peanut Butter Frosting

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Homemade Pancake Syrup

This weekend I hit the supermarket and found a fancy loaf of bread that I could make our delicious French Toast out of. I decided this would be a great time to try making my own pancake syrup since it has been on my list of things to do for quite some time.

I found this great recipe, courtesy of Hillbilly Housewife, and decided to give it a try. The syrup was delicious and I don't think we will ever go back to the commercial stuff, especially since this was so easy to make. It was a little thinner than the commercial version, but it had a much better flavor than the store-bought variety.

I hope you can enjoy some of this in your house too!

Homemade Pancake Syrup


2 cups warm tap water
4 cups sugar

2 tablespoons molasses
1-1/2 teaspoons maple flavoring

1/4 teaspoon butter flavoring (optional)


In a three-quart saucepan combine the water, sugar and molasses. Put the pan on the stove over medium heat. Stir every now and then until the syrup comes to a rolling boil. Watch the syrup carefully because it has a tendency to foam and will boil over if your pan is too small. If this starts to happen, remove the pan from the heat and turn the heat down. After the syrup boils, cover the pot and simmer it for ten minutes over a low flame. Do not stir it for this ten minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Take off the lid and let it cool on the counter for about 15 minutes. Stir in the maple flavoring (and butter flavoring if you're using it). Store the syrup in a clean quart canning jar.

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Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Frugal Hacks: Happy New Year (On a Budget)

Today on Frugal Hacks, I am sharing my recipes and tips for preparing a fancy dinner at home. I put together a cost breakdown of our New Year's feast and why dining at home can be oh-so-nice!

Thank you for sharing your New Year's plans with us! It sounds like everyone had a fun & festive celebration planned. I hope it was wonderful and that you all had a happy and safe NYE!

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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Cheeseburger in Paradise

I couldn't resist? I apologize if the song is now stuck in your head.

Since we have been sick, I have been all about simple cooking and quick dinners. I have had this recipe in my "to be tried" pile for quite some time, and it seemed like the perfect meal for this busy time of year.

Unfortunately, I can't add this one to the Aldi Queen blog. It contains two non-Aldi ingredients- shell pasta (which could be subbed with a rotini or elbow mac from Aldi) and a can of cheese soup (currently not available at our Aldi).

Regardless, this is a quick and easy pantry meal. It is like Hamburger Helper, but definitely has more of a distinct flavor than those flavor pouches that come in a box.

The best part about this dish...only one pan to clean up! That is why skillet dinners get two thumbs up in our house.

Enjoy a stress-free night of cooking!

Cheeseburger Pasta

1 lb ground beef
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can cheddar cheese soup
1 (10 1/2 ounce) can beef broth
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup ketchup
2 cups medium-size pasta shells

Brown the ground beef. Add all other ingredients and heat to a boil. Cook over medium heat 10 to 15 minutes or until done, stirring often. (Amy's Note: This took a little over fifteen minutes for me, uncovered)

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Monday, December 10, 2007

A Months Worth of Meals: November

Here is our menu planner from the month of November. I did really well with it and ended up only missing a couple of the meals on our list, mainly because I ended up running out of ingredients due to entertaining and some potluck events on our schedule for the month.

Since people seemed to enjoy this last month, I am hoping to share each month since it will help to keep me on track with our grocery budget and our menu planning.

I hope this will give you some new ideas for your month! Please visit I'm An Organizing Junkie to get more ideas for your family!

November Meals

1. Olive Garden Chicken & Broccoli Fettuccine Alfredo (I used that recipe, but added cooked chicken and broccoli for toppings)

2. Parmesan Sage Pork Chops & Cheesy Orzo Pasta

3. Roast Turkey Sandwiches (Scroll to Meal #7) with Tortilla Chips

4. Yeast Waffles with Orange Juice

5. Pizza Night

6. Clam Chowder & Red Lobster Biscuits

7. Herb Baked Tilapia, Chicken Flavored Rice, & Microwave Corn in Butter Sauce

8. Meatball Subs with Shoestring Oven Fries

9. Chicken & Broccoli Lo Mein

10. Caesar Pork Chops, Cheesy Orzo, & Baby Peas

11. Oatmeal Waffles with Orange Juice

12. Chicken Pasta Milano With Homemade White Bread (I didn't get to make this chicken dish yet, but I have moved it to next month)

13. Potato Soup & Toasted Cheese Sandwiches

14. Roasted Chicken, Mashed Potatoes, & Buttery Bread Machine Rolls

15. Tomato & Artichoke Chicken Breasts Over Angel Hair Pasta (another one I didn't get to make, but will move to next month)

16. Pumpkin Pancakes (Scroll to Meal #8) with Scrambled Eggs

17. Sloppy Giuseppes (Scroll down to Meal #8) with Tortilla Chips

18. Italian Sausage Spaghetti Sauce With Homemade Bread

19. Pizza Night

20. Italian Pork Chops Over Spaghetti Noodles

21. Country Ham & Macaroni Casserole (Scroll to Meal #6) with Sweet Cornbread

22. Slow Cooker Lemon Chicken (Scroll down to Meal #16), Chicken Flavored Rice, & Baby Peas

23. Turkey Meatloaf, Mashed Potatoes, and Corn

24. Baked Salmon, Chicken Flavored Rice, & Baby Peas

Snacks: Banana Bread, Pumpkin Muffins, Almost Nutra-Grain Bars, & Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Wednesday, December 05, 2007

When the Pantry Is Bare...

The creativity can come through! We went to a potluck playgroup today and I had to come up with something to bring. I really need to go to the grocery store, but wasn't planning to go until this weekend so I decided to try to be a tad more inventive for my dish.

I happened upon this great recipe for Stovetop Macaroni & Cheese. I happened to have everything on hand except the shredded cheese. I got out my trusty cheese grater and grated a block of sharp cheddar we had in the fridge and we used that instead.

I finished the dish with a sprinkle of Italian bread crumbs and a little more shredded cheese on top. Ta-Da! Better than that stuff in the box and just as fast!

Unfortunately, I lost my creative streak for dinner and we opted for McDonald's this evening. Sometimes the creative juice gets taken up during the lunch hour and I am left scrambling in the dinner hour. A self-indulgent nap in the afternoon didn't help the creativity, but it certainly made for a great midweek pick-me-up for a tired mommy!

Creamy Stovetop Mac 'N' Cheese (courtesy of The American Test Kitchen Family Cookbook)

8 ounces macaroni (2 cups)
Salt
2 large eggs
1 (12 ounce) can evaporated milk
1 teaspoon dry mustard, dissolved in 1 teaspoon water1/4 teaspoon Tabasco (I omitted this ingredient)
Pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces shredded cheddar cheese (3 cups)

Bring two quarts water to a boil in a large pot for the macaroni. Stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and the macaroni and cook until almost tender but still a little firm tot he bite. Meanwhile, mix together the eggs, half of the evaporated milk, the mustard mixture, Tabasco, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Drain the pasta and return to the pot. Set the pot over low heat and stir in the butter until melted. Stir int he egg mixture and half of the cheddar. Continue to cook over low heat, gradually stirring the remaining milk and cheddar, until the mixture is hot and creamy, about five minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

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Monday, December 03, 2007

A Homemade Kind of Birthday

In a future episode of my segment on WSBT, I am discussing ways to simplify birthday parties and the birthday party process. Like everything, it easy to get caught up in the hype of the celebration and the focus becomes less about the birthday girl/boy and more about the giant bouncy house and enormous goody bags.

This year we opted for a simple homemade celebration for Emily's 2nd birthday party. At this point, we are able to get away with just family attending. With just over twenty people in our immediate family, having family feels like a giant party without even having to invite any friends over.

Once again, I ran into a dilemma with holiday festivities complicating a birthday celebration. Emily's birthday is on the nineteenth so I opted to have her birthday on the first, so that her party would not get lost in the mix of holiday get togethers. Unfortunately, Ethan's Christmas concert fell on the same day at the same exact time, so I had to put together a meal that could be eaten following a Christmas concert.

I had hoped to do brunch, but trying to figure out how I could have everything immediately on the table for consumption was proving to be challenging and then with the time shift (meal following the concert instead of morning time) I thought a lunch would be more appropriate.

This is what our homemade birthday party looks like:

Invitations- I purchased really cute blank cards and envelopes for the invitations. They had sixty cards in the package and I used seven cards out of the box. I had a coupon at Michaels, so I was able to get the package of cards for about $6. I just used my number stamps to stamp the invites with a giant "2" for our party. I did purchase a party stamp that I used for the date/time and they had a sale on the stamps so I was able to get it for approximately $3. I can use this over and over so I did spend a bit for the initial investment, but I plan to use this often. The extra cards in my set will be stamped with the same "2" stamp and we will use these for thank-you notes. Total cost for invites was approximately $4.

Party Decorations- I purchased one bag of pink balloons, one package of white streamer paper, one package of party blowers, and a tiara for the birthday girl. We just used regular plates and cutlery so we saved on the paper products department. Total cost was approximately $3.

Slow Cooker Chicken BBQ- I made this the night before and it cooked all night long. In the morning, I shredded the chicken and then put it back in the slow cooker to cook. The longer this cooks, the more the BBQ flavor comes out. It ended up being perfect for the dinner. This cost approximately $4 to serve twelve people. (Side Note: I had BARELY enough of this for our party because, during the cooking process, my chicken breasts shrunk considerably and I had a lot less meat than I had anticipated. With chili on the menu though, we managed to make this amount work. I had used approximately 3 pounds of chicken. The buns were provided by my in-laws so I did not factor in this cost).

White Chili- I made this the day before and put it in a plastic container in our fridge, after it was done cooking. The chili was thrown back into the slow cooker to be cooking while the concert was going on. I served this with chili toppers like shredded cheese, tortilla chips, and sour cream. This cost approximately $6 to serve twelve people.

Tossed Salad With Balsamic Dressing & Homemade Croutons- I cut all of the lettuce up the night before and tossed it into a plastic bag for the next day. The croutons were made from leftover bread that I had from my Bunco night potluck that I had went to. The dressing was made the day before in a mason jar and I just gave it a shake and poured when we arrived. It made a beautiful salad and cost about $4 to serve twelve people.

Best Birthday Cupcakes- These were made and decorated the day before. I served them on my pretty cake platters. These cost approximately $1.50 for twenty-four cupcakes.


Total Cost for Party-
$22.50

I find it very gratifying to see how much I saved by hosting and making my own homemade birthday party. The reason I shared this is because people sometimes say that it is cheaper to just buy everything from their superstore or that you would spend just as much money having someone else host the party, but that might not necessarily be true. There is certainly convenience in buying food that is already made, but there is definitely a cost involved.

Much like Meredith, from Like Merchant Ships, sharing about the cost of making a homemade pumpkin pie versus buying a pie, it is often easy to think that you would spend as much to have a birthday party somewhere else versus the cost of hosting it yourself. When I sat down to write this all out, I realized that there was a great savings by having my own party and I have to say that the food was a lot better than having it somewhere else.

It felt good to have such a fun and loving celebration for our daughter without spending astronomical amounts of money. We still had a beautiful day and I believe she felt just as special as she would have with a fancy celebration. After all, it is all about celebrating who they are and I think we were able to capture that with our homemade and inexpensive birthday party.

Here are a couple of additional recipes that we had used to make our birthday lunch:

Basic Vinaigrette Dressing (Courtesy of How to Cook Everything)

1/4 cup good vinegar, such as sherry, balsamic, red, or white wine
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard (optional, but I did use)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 teaspoons minced shallots (optional, but I subbed with a teaspoon of minced garlic)

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste


I placed all of these ingredients into a Mason jar and shook the ingredients. Taste to adjust salt and add more oil or vinegar if needed. Add shallots and pepper. This is best made fresh, but it will keep refrigerated for a few days; bring back to room temperature before using.

To make a small amount of Basic Vinaigrette: Combine 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon mustard, 3-4 tablespoons oil, and 1/2 teaspoon minced shallots. Prepare as directed above.


White Chili (Courtesy of AllRecipes.com)

1 onion, chopped (I left this out because we don't like onions)
3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 pounds ground turkey
2 (4 ounce) cans canned green chile peppers, chopped (we used mild)

1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

ground cayenne pepper to taste

ground white pepper to taste

3 (15 ounce) cans cannellini beans (we used Navy beans)

5 cups chicken broth

2 cups shredded Monterey Jack cheese


In a large pot over medium heat, combine the onion, garlic and ground turkey and saute for 10 minutes, or until turkey is well browned. Add the chile peppers, cumin, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne pepper to taste and white pepper to taste and saute for 5 more minutes. Add two cans of the beans and the chicken broth to the pot. Take the third can of beans and puree them in a blender or food processor. Add this to the pot along with the cheese. Stir well and simmer for 10 minutes, allowing the cheese to melt.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Thanksgiving With the Clark Family

I apologize for the break in blogging, but with all of the holiday madness came a time of busyness that I had not anticipated... and a few days of laziness that I had hoped I could lavish in before the holiday rush.

We had a great Thanksgiving dinner with my husband's family this year. I got to be in charge of the appetizers for the dinner so I was looking forward to trying some new recipes. I made my famous meatballs out of a combination of regular ground turkey and the Italian Sausage variety. They turned out beautifully and I was able to bake them the day before and throw them in the slow cooker for the festivities. Despite sitting in the slow cooker for four hours, they maintained their moistness and I got lots of compliments on them.

I also made a cheese ball that turned out equally delicious! I used turkey bacon that I cooked and crumbled inside of it. I rolled the cheese ball in extra cheddar cheese and it was also a hit. I served it with a variety of wheat crackers.

Bacon & Ranch Cheese Ball

2 (8 ounce) packages of low-fat cream cheese, softened
1 package of Ranch dressing mix
1 cup cheddar cheese
5-7 strips of bacon cooked and crumbled

Mix all of the ingredients together with a mixer until they are incorporated. Shape into a ball and roll in a plate of shredded cheese. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two hours.

The other appetizer I made was a sweet dip to serve with graham crackers. It has been renamed "crack" in our house because we can't stop eating it. I have been gorging myself on this dip since I made it. It tastes just like cookie dough and is sweet, but not too sweet. I used my Pampered Chef chopper to chop regular-sized chocolate chips up for on top and to mix into the dip (that was what we had on hand). Remember, you have been warned about this addiction!

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Dip (or Crack Dip)

8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
3/4 cup miniature semisweet chocolate chips
More chocolate chips (optional) or chopped nuts, to roll the ball in


In a mixing bowl, beat cream cheese, butter, and vanilla until fluffy. Gradually add sugars and beat until just combined. Stir in chocolate chips. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours. Form cheese into a ball using hand protection (Saran wrap, wax paper, etc). Optional- just before serving, roll in additional chocolate chips or nuts of your choice. Serve with graham crackers.

Over the holiday weekend, I also got our very first family photo. My son is five and our daughter is almost two and we have never had a family picture done. Emily was most difficult and we had the worst time waiting for pictures and then waiting for the printing of them. It was a very stressful experience, to say the least. We had been waiting for two and a half hours for my photos to print, going back to pick up the prints to find out the prints weren't ready, going back again to find out they STILL were not ready, and then finally getting them at 11 AM the following day (when they are supposed to be printed right after you get done with your photos). The only plus to the whole experience was that the manager felt horrible and I had tried to be a good sport about it so we ended up with an extra 65 photo cards and our entire portrait package reprinted PLUS a $50 gift certificate for our next round of pictures (all for free!) because he felt so badly about our experience. So I would like to give a shout out to Portrait Innovations for their incredible customer service and amazing manager who made our experience MUCH better after all of that hassle. Despite all off that hassle, I am so proud of our family photo and now have four gazillion pictures to share with our family and friends. I have so many pictures now that I am offering casual acquaintances a 10x13 of our family . I don't know what we will do with all of these pictures, but I couldn't be happier with how they turned out.

I hope everyone had a wonderful holiday weekend and that you enjoyed lots of food and time with your family! I can't wait to share more ideas and recipes for the holiday season!


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Monday, November 19, 2007

A Few Words About Convenience Foods

Convenience foods can ruin anyone's grocery budget. When my husband and I were first married, I shudder to think how many of my own grocery dollars were wasted on foods like these. We would load our cart with tons of convenience foods... and these were for the nights that we were "saving money" by dining in.

Now you will find very few convenience foods in our home and as I become more familiar with the kitchen, I am beginning to discover all of the things that I am able to make myself.

But, let's face it, convenience foods are called convenience foods for a reason. They are wonderful to have on hand for the times in your life where you don't feel like cooking and they are great when mommy isn't home.

There are things that I have been trying to do to keep convenient food in our house without going over our grocery budget. Here are a few of the things that we have tried in our house:

1. I try to individually wrap items for our family. Items like homemade granola bars, homemade fruit & cereal bars, muffins (any variety will do), and even slices of homemade breads can be wrapped in single-serving portions. These are great to throw into lunch boxes or for a quick snack as you are walking out the door. And if you have big eaters in your family, like I do in mine, then it also can help with portion control.

2. I try to take snacks for the kids in my purse, but just wrapping them in a small piece of foil or plastic wrap offers no protection from the destruction that can occur with my purse. It is easy to smash snacks when you are dragging one kid with one arm and have a little one slung on the same hip as your purse. In such cases, it is nice to have small containers that can fit inside your purse. Our dollar store has a set of four of five for $1 which fit perfectly for these kind of occasions. I like to put our snacks in these or make up a batch of trail mix for the kids for when they get hungry while we are out and about. These are helpful for when the grocery stores have not been so helpful and have put lots of goodies by the cash register for your children to throw tantrums over.

3. I try to make time to make snacks for our family. Since we have been going way over on our grocery budget, I am making even more of an effort to do this. My commitment to scheduling a baking day is working out well for us and it puts an emphasis on staying home with the family, spending time with my children in the kitchen, and staying out of the stores. You will probably find me baking on Black Friday- this will not only help our budget, but it will also help us to be home on one of the craziest days of the year.

4. Preparation is a necessity if you want to attempt making your own "convenient" food. For example, a well-stocked freezer or items that can be throw into a slow cooker can be awfully convenient when you don't feel like cooking.

5. And then, there are just those times where having convenience foods around could still do your budget some justice. For example, we have all been down and out with colds and tonight would be a great night for some good ol' Spaghetti-O's (or equally convenient food). This convenient food would still be cheaper than grabbing some junk food at the drive thru. Giving myself permission to take a night off could come from grabbing one or two items for these kinds of nights.

Sound Off: Do you buy convenience foods? How do you make food "convenient" in your home?

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