Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Works For Me Wednesday

**I feel like this should be a no-brainer, but since I just endured it, maybe I should share it.**

Over the last year, I have valiantly tried to reduce the amount of wasted food in our house.  I eat leftovers (sometimes) for lunch.  I "recycle" food, like saving all the vegetables from meals and freezing them in a large bag and when I have enough, we have a vegetable soup.  {Every time we do this, it's always a huge hit with the boys - they really do enjoy it.}  I make my own mixes/spice packets for whatever I can, like pancakes or sloppy joes.  I make extra and freeze it for another meal. 

I guess none of this matters if I don't assess what is in the pantry.  Who knew that the can of cooking spray that I swore I had bought but couldn't seem to find so I argued with my husband that it had to be there in the spice cabinet but it wasn't so I bought it again and again was actually at the back of the top shelf of the pantry and not in the spice cabinet like it should be?  Or that I had four boxes of Club crackers with pull dates of 2007 and 2008?  What about the corn meal that should be used by June 2007?  Can cornmeal really go bad?  Oh, and my favorite was the opened box of croutons that were best by March 2008.  How have I managed to not notice this earlier?  I was pretty sure that I had inventoried the kitchen on more than one occasion and certainly after March 2008.  I'm baffled that this has happened.  Obviously.

So, it doesn't make sense to work so hard to avoid waste on one level, and completely ignore it on another.  Therefore, I'm going to try to pay closer attention to the contents of my pantry.  If I buy crackers, we'll eat the crackers in less than three years or else I might as well just throw the $2 in the trash, and that would just be silly to do something like that.  We have a huge box of graham crackers that I bought last week....guess what the boys will be eating for snacks for the next month?!

So that is it, my tip that I share with you.  Keep tabs on what is in your pantry, or else you could have quite a scary discovery some night at midnight as you are checking to see what you will need to put on your grocery list for the weekly menu plan...

Want more tips, tricks, suggestions or ideas? Check out We Are THAT Family.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Fireside Coffee

I don't know why, but there is just something nostalgic about hot chocolate.  I remember watching my Dad make batches of cocoa mix in a garbage bag because his recipe made so much, and each year we eagerly waited for him to whip up a batch.  When I found a recipe for fireside coffee, I had to try it ~ it sounded a lot like the hot chocolate from my childhood but with a grown-up twist.  I was right and it's delicious! 

Fireside Coffee

2 cups non-dairy coffee creamer
1 1/2 cups hot cocoa mix
1 1/2 cups instant coffee granules
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine all ingredients, mixing well. Store mixture in an airtight container.
Yield: 6 1/2 cups mix.
**To make 1 cup, spoon 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon of coffee mix in a cup. Add 1 cup boiling water; stir until well blended. (Those were the directions, but I scoop in about 4 regular spoons-ful of mix into a regular coffee cup - - adjust it to your liking.)


Sunday, December 27, 2009

Menu Plan Monday (12/28-1/3)

I've really gotten to the point that I enjoy planning out our menus.  I like to pour over cooking magazines and other blogs looking for anything that looks good.  However, what I'm finding is that we are trying so many new recipes that we seem to forget about all those yummy recipes that we've tried before, but only had once.  So, I'm going to try something new when I plan out the meals. I'm going to try to make sure that each week we get to try two-ish new recipes, and we dig through the menu archives and bring back those meals that we really enjoyed but seemed to have forgotten about.  Also, I have been thinking about bringing the boys in on the planning.  I'm very fortunate that they will eat anything I fix, but it might be fun to get suggestions from them.  I can pretty much guarantee that Monkey will always suggest either spaghetti or pancakes, and JB will probably throw out Bakes Joes or pizza for his requests...but, JB has a tendency to surprise me and have a craving for things like salmon or BELTs (that is a BLT with a fried egg on it).  Could be interesting, that's for sure!

This is what I've got planned for the coming week...

Monday ~ Garlic Chicken Farfalle (new recipe)
Tuesday ~ we'll be out for friends' birthday celebrations
Wednesday ~ Soup & Sandwiches
Thursday ~ Mexican Lasagne
Friday ~ Pizza Loaf (sorta new - going to try an old classic on a recently found recipe of french bread that we fell in love with and is delicious, so I shall call it a "new" recipe =) )
Saturday ~ Oriental Pasta (resurrected from the archives)
Sunday ~ Turkey Noodle Soup (comfort food at its best!)

For lots of other menus, check out Orgjunkie's page.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!!

Wishing everyone a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Santa Tracker

If you have little ones, like I do, this is a fun thing to do.  Check out the Santa Tracker and see where Santa is delivering presents.  And, it's a fun and helpful tool to get the kiddos in bed!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pumpkin Spice Bread

There's not a lot to say about this bread, except YUM!!  And this makes 2 loaves of bread, so all the more reason to love it!

3½ cups flour
2½ cups sugar
2 tsp baking soda
1½ tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp nutmeg
2 cups canned pumpkin
1 cup corn oil (I always use canola)
2/3 cup water
4 eggs

Stir together flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg; set aside.  In another bowl, mix pumpkin, oil and water; add eggs one at a time, beating well after each.  Make a well in the center of the flour mixture; pour pumpkin mixture into the well.  Stir until thoroughly mixed; pour into 2 greased 9x5 loaf pans.

Bake at 350° for one hour.  Makes 2 loaves.

Monday, December 21, 2009

I couldn't make this up if I tried....

I know we've all had one of those weeks before.  You know the kind - the ones you are thankful that its over and you pray that the new week isn't anything like the one you just had.  That was my week last week.

And you have to love the timing...right before Christmas.

It never fails, does it?

For the sake of the story, let's just say that Sunday and Monday were uneventful.  There is no reason to focus on the mundane.

Tuesday, however, things took a turn, and early in the morning too.

{For all of you out there who own an iPhone, you are going to understand this...} 

I had taken my phone into the bathroom with me.  It slipped out of my hand, fell about a foot and landed on the floor in just the right spot of the phone to break the glass.  Thankfully, I had a screen cover on it, so glass didn't go flying.  It was still functional, but broken nonetheless.  I raced out and plugged it into the computer to back it up in the event that it spontaneously combusted in my hand, because anything was possible at this point.  Since I'm not eligible for an upgrade on this phone until February 2011, that option was out.  Regardless, I went into to AT&T to see what could be done.  They directed me to Apple. Oh. Goodie.

I walked out of Apple with a new phone in my hand, a bounce in my step, $200 lighter in my wallet and my phone contract untouched. I was a combination of overly paranoid, neurotic,and strangely relieved...I was fitting in with all the other holiday shoppers.  After all that excitement, you can imagine how happy I was to go home and have the day be over with.

I woke up Wednesday with a renewed outlook.  My crappy day before was behind me, and I wasn't going to let the boys touch my new phone. I went on with my day, and ended up at David's office in the afternoon.  It turned into a longer day for him than anticipated.  A LOT longer.  Through some crazy mishap, the alarm couldn't be set, and he had to stay the night so to not leave things unsecured.  Oh the fun of it.  Did I mention he only got three hours of sleep???

Thursday had to be better, right?


All day, I kept thinking that David needed to come home and back his phone up, since it had been a while since he had done so.  I wish I could say it was a random thought, but as it turns out, it was intuition.  I'll save you the details as I am still confused, but his iPhone apparently decided that the toilet looked like the perfect place to go for a swim.


Two phones in two days?

We tried to dry it out, dry it off, whatever, and after Googling "iPhone in toilet", I was amazed at how many iPhones have had that same desire to go swimming.  Thankfully, I kept reading that we should put the phone in a bag of rice to help draw out the moisture.  His phone has been there, on the counter, sitting in rice, since Thursday afternoon.  I still have my fingers crossed that it works.  So far, it looks like it is working - both the trick and the phone.  I didn't want to buy another phone already.

How I wish this was the end of drama...

Friday morning was Jordan's Christmas singing program.  I left with the boys to get Jordan to school in time.  David was going to drive separately so he'd have the motorcycle to head to work after the program.  He had already asked me if I would be willing to come into the office to bring some stuff home for him since he was going to be going on leave, and he didn't want to have to take the backpack with him into the program at the school.   I agreed and had no problem with it.

After chatting for a little bit with friends, I jetted into town to go to the office.  When I got there, David and two other guys were all standing outside.  Let's just say I wasn't prepared for what I was about to be told.

David told me he dumped the bike.

What was the first thing I asked?

"Did you hit my car?"

Ok, let me explain - - I didn't feel a need to ask how HE was for two reasons 1) his uniform wasn't torn and/or tattered, and 2) he was standing there.  There wasn't any blood, hence, no bones unnaturally protruding from any appendages. Therefore, he was fine.

His $150 RayBans didn't fare so well.  They are shattered.  He had put them in the pocket on his lower leg, and when the bike went down - on his leg - well, you can do the math.

Speaking of math, let's see what last week could end up costing us if his phone isn't salvageable after all  and he has to replace the whole pipe system on the bike......

2 iPhones - $400
New case and covers for my phone - $35
Raybans - $150
New pipes for a Harley - $350
New handle bar grips - $75
Having all this happen days before Christmas - Priceless

So, what were the lessons learned last week?

1) Do NOT take your iPhone in the bathroom with you as it is hazardous to iPhones, and
2) It's a good idea to unlock the handlebars of a motorcycle before pulling away...

Gram's Dinner Rolls

This recipe was handed down to me one Christmas, about eight years ago.  Gram gave me my very own bread machine so I could make them, but it took a few years for me to give the bread maker a good work out.  All these years I have thought her rolls were far better than mine, but whenever I've made them for family functions, she thinks I have surpassed her.  We've discussed it, and it seems that they taste better if you aren't the one to make them!  Whatever the case, they are always a hit.  You can make them small for dinner rolls (20 rolls) or you can make them larger and make sandwiches on them (9-12 rolls.)  Take your pick, but you won't go wrong with these. 

1 cup water (80°)
1 tsp salt
3 Tbl butter softened
3 cups bread flour
3½ Tbl sugar
2 Tbl dry milk
2 tsp active dry yeast (OR)
1½ tsp bread machine yeast

Layer ingredients in pan in order listed in your manual.  Program for dough cycle.  **Make sure the dough isn't too dry or too wet and sticky.  It should feel like a post-it note.  You may need to add more flour or water based on how the dough feels. I'm always playing and tinkering with the dough while it mixes.

When dough is done, move to a lightly floured surface and cover.  Let rest for 15 minutes. 

Divide dough into 20 pieces and roll into balls.  Place in a greased 9x13 (I use a metal pan).

Cover and let rise in a warm, draft free place until double in size (about 45 minutes to an hour).  **I have a double oven, so I'll turn on the lower oven to 350° and put the rolls in the top oven for 30 minutes to rise.

Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 15-20 minutes.  Brush the tops with butter and serve warm.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Menu Plan Monday (12/21-12/27)

I'm glad this week is over.  It started off all fine and dandy, and very quickly went downhill.  I'll have to share the details later as I'm still reeling from them, but in short, it was a bad week in our house for iPhones (yes, that is plural), and that is just the beginning...

As far as menus go, we were successful on Monday getting the Kris Kringle Pancakes made, and they were quite tasty!  I made a single batch to start, but quickly had to make another batch as they were a huge hit.  Add the homemade blueberry syrup and I had them begging for more!!  Surprisingly enough, there were a few leftover, and the boys enjoyed them with peanut butter the next day.

Tuesday's sloppy joes didn't get made until Thursday but I didn't have buns, so we threw it on baked potatoes (fondly referred to around here as baked joes, which totally devastated Jordan. NOT!!)

That sums up my menu of last week.

But hey, I have the fixings, so last weeks' menu will be given a second chance this week...let's see how this goes *crosses my fingers*...

Monday ~ Honey Hoisin Chicken in the slow cooker, brown rice and green beans
Tuesday ~ Garlic chicken brown rice stir fry (using leftover rice from Monday)
Wednesday ~ Spaghetti (at the request of Monkey), broccoli and garlic bread
Thursday ~ Christmas Eve with family and tamales will be consumed in copious amounts
Friday ~ Christmas Day ~ Sausage Crepes for breakfast.  Deli sandwiches, chips and dips to munch on at our leisure for the remainder of the day (our Christmas day tradition)
Saturday ~ Homemade Pizza
Sunday ~ Either leftovers or something from the freezer

If you are looking for more ideas of yummy goodness, check out Orgjunkie's page - something will catch your eye....

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Menu Plan Monday (12/14-12/20)

Wow, another week done. And what a week it was!! We started our week off with nearly a foot of snow, which isn't typical for us. We'll get a dusting once, maybe twice a year, and it's always gone by noon the next day. Not the case this time. We had snow on the ground for 5 days! Not only did we get a whopper of a storm, we lost power Sunday night as well. Thankfully it was back on Monday afternoon, but others in the area were without power until Thursday afternoon. Needless to say, with all the weather excitement, the kids had some time off school - like four. snow. days. FOUR of them!! Being from the Midwest, I had a blast - I've been missing snow at Christmas time, and this fit the bill for me!!

Due to the weather, I wasn't inclined to go out, so it made staying on track with the menu a lot easier. And that is a good thing. We picked up a few new recipes to add to the family cook book of keepers. The glazed pork chops were quite yummy and the Philly cheese steaks were a huge hit. But the biggest surprise and the best for me was the grilled chicken pasta in a tomato cream sauce. I was in heaven! I can't wait to make that again. We're trying out a few more new recipes this week. We'll see how they are.

Monday - Kris Kringle Cakes (from Snowhite at Joy in my kitchen)
Tuesday - Sloppy Joes on homemade buns
Wednesday - Homemade Pizza
Thursday - Hoisin Chicken in the slow cooker with brown rice (from Eat at Home)
Friday - Leftovers
Saturday - Christmas shopping, so who knows what we'll eat
Sunday - Garlic and brown rice stir fry

For more ideas, check out Orgjunkie's page.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

No Bake Cookies

Ever have those evenings where you want something sweet and chocolaty, and homemade, but it's too late to whip together a batch of brownies?  It happens to me all the time, and this is my fix.  We love them, and they don't last long around here.

2 cups sugar
½ cup milk
½ cup unsweetened cocoa
½ stick butter
Pinch of salt
½ cup peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups oats

In a saucepan, combine sugar, cocoa, butter, salt and milk.  Bring to a boil and boil for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter, vanilla and oats.  Spoon onto wax paper and allow to cool. Enjoy!

There you have it - simple, simple, simple and now you are just minutes away from a yummy little treat!!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dear Santa...

I don't have a long list this year, I promise.  And I'm not going to be unrealistic.  I mean, my first thought was to ask for my very own Alice, but thought you might look at me funny since you know I like fixing yummy food for my family.  (Although, if you want to give me a version of her that simply does the laundry and cleans, I'd be perfectly willing to accept her...)

But, there are a few things that would make things easier.  I would really, really like a Kitchen Aid.  I mean, look at it - it's just cool looking! And an extremely versatile kitchen appliance...and I don't think I need to explain any more.....

...and I think a tortilla press would be awesome.  I can't seem to roll them out where they look like an actual tortilla, more like...well...I'm not sure what they look like, but it isn't round, that's for sure!  And it takes forever.  At the rate I go, my kids will graduate college starve be ready for breakfast.

I know I already have a bread maker, and I use it all the time.  However, it isn't uncommon for me to use it 2-3 times in a single day, and that makes for a very long day in the kitchen slaving away over the buttons.  So that made me realize that I could speed things up if I had another bread maker.  Then I could have fun watching the bread makers battle it out to see which one can finish first.  Doesn't that sound like a fun afternoon?

So there is my list, Santa.  Nothing crazy, but all time savers so that I can spend less time in the kitchen, but still keep my family in the lap of luxury that they've grown accustom to.  Thanks!


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Grilled Chicken Pasta in a Tomato Cream Sauce

I love trying out new recipes, and I'm always on the hunt for a good one to add to my growing list of *keepers*. In my down time, I'm either looking through my Taste of Home magazines, or surfing foodie blogs. This is what I do for fun! Most of the time, recipes jump out at me, but then get lost in the pages again. There are only seven dinners to be made in a week, so I can't always get to all those delicious meals that looked so yummy. Then there are recipes that scream to me, forcing me to put it on the next week's menu. Plus, it helps when all (or most of) the ingredients are in my pantry, refrigerator and freezer.

I found this one last week over on Amanda's page and was so excited that I only needed to pick up the parsley and fresh basil (which I didn't actually get, so I just used dried basil and it was still oh-my-gosh delicious!) The chicken was easy, and is a rather versatile way to prepare for multiple uses, which is always good. And the sauce? Um, eat your heart out Olive Garden!! Yes, it is that delicious! So, in essence, I got two keeper recipes out of this one gem. Hungry yet?

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts
Montreal Steak Seasoning
½ pound penne pasta (we used 1 pound ziti)
2 Tbs butter (4Tbs if you are going to cook the chicken in a skillet)
2 Tbs olive oil (4Tbs if you are going to cook the chicken in a skillet)
2 cloves garlic, minced (I used 4 :) )
½ cup chicken broth
1 (8 ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup heavy cream
½ to 1 tsp salt and pepper (to taste)
1 Tbs fresh parsley, chopped
6-8 fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded (I sprinkled in about ¼ (?) tsp dried basil)

1. Rinse chicken breasts in cold water. Layer between sheets of wax paper and pound to even thickness Season both sides with the Montreal Steak Seasoning. Grill the chicken on the BBQ, OR, heat 2 Tbs butter and 2 Tbs olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When the butter and oil is hot, add the chicken and cook for 5 minutes on each side. Set chicken aside to cool.
2. In a large pot, cook pasta according to package directions.
3. In another skillet, heat remaining 2 Tbs butter and 2 Tbs olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until garlic is tender but don't let it turn brown (about 3-5 minutes). Add the chicken broth to the pan and allow it to reduce by half. Meanwhile, slice the chicken. Once the broth has reduced, stir in tomato sauce. Add the heavy cream and stir well to combine. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to low. Chop the parsley and basil, add to sauce and mix well.
4. Drain the pasta and add to sauce. Stir well to coat. Serve pasta on plates, top with sliced chicken.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

My Winter Wonderland

We get snow about twice a year.

Just not like this.

And I couldn't be happier!

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Menu Plan Monday (12/7-12/13)

I like to *try* to get my menu figured out during the week, and the shopping list done Saturday or Sunday so I know what I'm shopping for, and what I'll be fixing when Monday rolls around. Or at least that is my plan. It seems like most of the time I sit down Monday after I take Jordan to school and try to figure what I have on hand and what I can make, and then race down the hill to do the grocery shopping for the week. But I feel harried when I do that, and I don't like feeling that way.

This morning, however, Cody (my favorite weatherman) told me that I need to get my act together. He said that - "Shan, get out of bed and get your menu finalized!"

Ok, so that is what I *heard* between the words "SNOW" and "MONDAY!!" If we were really going to be getting snow, we needed to make sure that both vehicles had sufficient gas. (I grew up in the Midwest, and some things stick with you in the winter time.) And it made sense to have the shopping list done so we could tackle that task while we were out too. I was hoping - I had my fingers crossed even! - that Monday would turn out to be a snow day. And if that were the case, it wouldn't make sense to venture out into the snow and ice to go shopping, especially if we were out today!

I'm so glad that we got it done. We've already gotten the call that tomorrow is going to be a snow day!! I'm so happy! In fact, I think I'm more excited than the boys! =) So Monday we'll be having one of the best comfort foods, in my opinion....and the rest of the week, we'll be trying out some new recipes.

Monday ~ Split Pea Soup and homemade rolls
Tuesday ~ Glazed Pork Chops and potatoes
Wednesday ~ Grilled Chicken Pasta in Tomato Cream Sauce and broccoli
Thursday ~ Kielbasa and potatoes and green beans
Friday ~ Bacon Cheeseburger Chicken and Orzo with Spinach and Red Peppers (recipe below)
Saturday ~ Crock pot Philly Cheese steak on homemade rolls and Green Rice
Sunday ~ Chili and corn bread (double batch of chili, and I'll freeze half)

Orzo with Spinach and Red Peppers
Salt and pepper 1 pound (2½ cups) orzo
2 Tbs olive oil 1 onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 (10 oz) package frozen, chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

¼ cup grated Parmesan

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add orzo and bring back to a boil. Cook, stirring often, until tender, about 7 minutes.

2. While Orzo cooks, warm 1 Tbs oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and bell pepper and cook, stirring often, until tender, about 8 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 1 minute longer.

3. Drain orzo and return to pot. Add remaining 1 Tbs oil to orzo and stir to mix. Stir in onion and red pepper mixture and spinach. Season with salt and pepper. Stir over medium-low heat until warmed through, about 2 minutes. Sprinkle with Parmesan and serve.

For many more menus, recipes and ideas, check out Orgjunkie. You'll be amazed!