Thursday, January 28, 2010

Birthday Cake

Today there's a Birthday Cake Round-Up at Life as Mom, so I'm entering the contest! My first-born had her first birthday in December, so I got to have the pleasure of decorating her first cake. I knew I wanted it to be a butterfly, and I knew I wanted it to be pastel. I also had a plan to do cupcakes in addition to the big cake. So off I went to the craft store, where I purchased over $30 worth of cake stuff - cardboard bases, food coloring, piping bags (but no tips, because fortunately my mom took a cake decorating class eons ago and has more tips than I could use in a lifetime), colored sugar, little fondant cutters shaped like flowers and butterflies, and I don't remember what else.

I found a pattern online for making it out of a round cake, and away I went. I had visions of a perfect cake with many colors of decorations using various icing tips. The cupcakes were going to have butterfly shaped colored sugar spots in the middle of them. That was the plan, anyway. Then the week of the party happened. In addition to the cake, I had to feed 30 people, so it was a busy week of preparations. By the time I got around to doing the cake itself, well, let's just say I was a little burned out.

And, let's not forget that watching Ace of Cakes and Cake Boss does not make one a cake decorator, LOL!

In the end, I told myself that it was a one-year-old's cake, so it only had to look like a one-year-old made it, LOL! And this was the final result:

Far from perfect, and far from my vision. But I had fun making it, and it sure tasted good!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Whole Wheat Apple Spice Muffins

Ok, I haven't actually tasted these yet - they're in the oven now. They sure smell good baking, though!

I started with this recipe for a base and went from there...

2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
4 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. white sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar
1 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cloves
1/2 c. vegetable oil
1 c. milk
1/2 c. plain yogurt
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 c. chopped cooking apples (such as Granny Smith)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare muffin pans. In a large bowl, combine the first 10 ingredients (pastry flour through cloves). In a smaller bowl, mix oil, milk, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla. Combine wet ingredients and dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Fold in apples.

Put batter in muffin tins, and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Makes 24.

Menu Plan January 23 - 29

Well, once again, we did great with last week's menu! We didn't stick to it entirely, but we didn't eat out, either. We didn't have enough leftovers on Thursday, so I made a pot of white chili instead. And I thought I was out of onion soup mix, so we didn't have apricot chicken on Friday, but we had chili leftovers, so between that and the leftover meatloaf, we had enough for leftovers night. I'm really impressed with my menu-sticking ability so far this month!

Here's what's on tap for this week:

Saturday: we had grilled pork chops, noodles with butter and parmesan, and salad.

Today: we had take-n-bake pizza.

Monday: leftover pizza

Tuesday: Apricot chicken

Wednesday: spaghetti

Thursday: roasted turkey tenderloin

Friday: leftovers

As always, visit for hundreds of menu ideas!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Menu Plan January 16 - 22

I'm backdating this to Saturday because we ate out for lunch on Friday, and then ate at home all weekend! Go us! For the most part, we're sticking to our budget really, really well so far this month (our misc. expenses category is going to need a little work, though!).

We stuck to last week's menu almost completely. I found that by the time Thursday rolled around, we didn't have any leftovers, so I pulled a chuck roast out of the freezer and threw it in the slow cooker. I made a really good broth to put over it, too - I mixed up some beef broth (made with Better than Bouillon - love that stuff - and no, they didn't give me any free product to say that!), Worcestershire sauce, garlic, chopped onions, and thyme, and poured it over the top. Normally I just use onion soup mix and water, but I was out, and this turned out even better. It'll definitely be a recipe to add to this site!

Anyway, the nice thing about that was that I made a really good gravy from the drippings, and I've had enough leftovers to have hot beef sandwiches with gravy for lunch a couple of times Other than that, we completely stuck to the menu last week. Woo hoo!

So here's the plan for this week:

Saturday: We had bulgogi (recipe from Hungry Monkey), sesame rice, and steamed broccoli.

Sunday: We had jambalaya (from a box - I still haven't tried that crock pot jambalaya recipe I've had my eye on for months!) with smoked sausage and corn.

Today: Swedish meatballs and spaetzle (the meatballs were made ahead and frozen, but I always make fresh spaetzle).

Tomorrow: tacos

Wednesday: meatloaf, mashed potatoes

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: Apricot chicken, noodles with parmesan

Have a fantastic week! And remember that there are HUNDREDS of fabulous menu ideas every Monday at!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Peppermint Ice Cream

We made this over the holidays and, ohmygoodness, BEST ICE CREAM EVER. Of course, it's so fattening you should only eat it once a year, but what the heck - it was the holidays! This makes enough for a 1 gallon ice cream maker - if you have a smaller one, you can make half a batch.

4 cups milk (we used 1%)
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
4 eggs, beaten
4 cups whipping cream
2 tbsp. vanilla extract
12 ounces peppermint candy, divided (we use three of those big peppermint sticks, but the round candies would work too.)

In a large saucepan over medium heat, stir together milk, sugar, and salt. Heat to 175 degrees.

Temper the eggs by whisking in a few spoonfuls of the hot milk mixture. Stir quickly so they don't curdle! Stir the egg mixture into the pot of milk, and cook and stir until the mixture reaches 160 degrees (this shouldn't take long). Remove from heat.

Let cool by putting the saucepan in a bowl of ice, stirring constantly. After a couple of minutes, stir in the cream and vanilla. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, finely crush 2/3 of the peppermint (I find this works best by double bagging them in heavy freezer bags and using a rolling pin to mash them). Stir into the milk mixture. Freeze according to your ice cream maker's instructions.

Meanwhile, crush the rest of the peppermint into fairly big chunks (1/2 inch or so is good). Once the ice cream is done, stir in the chunks, put it in the freezer, and let it firm up for a few hours.


crockpot roast chicken - a tip

Today I made roast chicken in the crockpot for dinner. Now, you'd think after seven hours in the crockpot, the darn thing would be done, but it wasn't. We were in a bit of a hurry to eat (I get home just an hour and a half before hubby goes to bed), so I cranked the oven up to 400 degrees, put the chicken in a baking dish, and stuck it in for 15 minutes.

Not only did the chicken finish cooking, but the skin turned a BEAUTIFUL golden brown! Normally roast chickens come out of the crockpot looking, well, like my legs around February. Pasty white. This doesn't really matter to us, because we don't eat the skin, but if I was to ever make one in the crockpot for company, this is exactly what I would do! It was gorgeous!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Menu Plan January 11 - 15

Well, I'm happy to report that we did really well with last week's menu plan! Other than the corned beef hash, we stuck to it 100%. I don't remember the last time that happened! We ended up having the hash today because we were short on potatoes by Friday, having had baked potatoes with our pork chops on Monday. When I realized on Friday morning that we didn't have enough, I stood in the middle of the kitchen, completely dumbfounded, looked at my 13-month-old and said "what ARE we going to have for dinner???" I have a pantry and two freezers full of food and I couldn't think of a single thing to make. Hence the need for menu planning! Fortunately I remembered that we had some leftover beef stew in the freezer and pulled it out. Once again, cook it once, eat it twice saves the day!

I'm also very proud of us because we only ate one meal out over the weekend. Usually we grab burgers or Taco Bell for lunch and go out for at least one dinner, but we're really trying to stick to our budget this month and that means limited eating out! At lunchtime we had two of our old standby's - grilled cheese and tomato soup on Saturday, and boxed mac and cheese with cut up Polish sausages in it on Sunday. If we're going to limit eating out, I'm definitely going to have to come up with more creative quick and easy lunches - this will get old fast!

At any rate, here's the menu for this week:

Monday: crock pot roast chicken (I got whole chickens for 69 cents a pound yesterday!)

Tuesday: calzones (I started with this recipe and then embellished (mine will have sausage in it, too, for instance). I made double filling last time so I just have to pull it out of the freezer this time!).

Wednesday: Chicken cordon bleu casserole

Thursday: leftovers

Friday: hamburger casserole

That should get us through the week! And remember, for more great menu ideas, visit Menu Plan Monday at!

P.S. I originally messed up the links and posted this link to how to make frozen hashbrowns instead of the calzone recipe! Oops! I'm also going to try making the frozen hashbrowns this week - I just bought a 10 pound bag of potatoes for $1 and I know we won't eat them all before they go bad!

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Menu Plan January 4 - 8

A new year, a new week, back on track. Now, to figure out what to eat... We were supposed to have one meal of leftover lasagna from dinner with my family tonight, but of course silly me went and left it at my brother's house! Aargh!

Monday: Cranberry pork chops
Tuesday: leftovers (we have some chicken and noodles, and some chili, left from last week)
Wednesday: Tuna casserole
Thursday: chicken and stuffing
Friday: Corned beef hash

Don't forget to go to for more great menu ideas!

Just a random thought - one of my big challenges every day is that, because of our work schedules (hubby works 5:00 - 1:30, I work 2:00 - 6:00), dinner has to be made in the morning before I go to work, and then either cooked in the crock pot. This means that I don't have the opportunity to use a lot of convenience foods (there are some boxes of Helper that have been in my pantry over a year now!). But I was thinking the other day, that it's actually a good thing - we're probably getting a lot less salt and preservatives than we would if I was still cooking with things from boxes. Now, don't get me wrong, I still use my fair share of canned soups and beans and such, but overall we use so much less than we did when I worked full time and was getting home at 5:30 and rushing to get dinner on the table.

One of my resolutions is to stay within my grocery budget (well, my budget overall, but groceries are my biggest downfall), so this year I'll be exploring ways that I can make my own "convenience foods", like stuffing mix, cream of whatever soup, etc. I have had recipes for all that stuff for years, I've just never experimented with it. Can't think of a better time than now!


For the first time in a very long time, the hubby and I both took the week between Christmas and New Year's off. It was wonderful! We spent some good quality time together as a family, started a new home improvement project (putting down a new attic floor and adding an attic ladder so I can actually go up there once in a while), and ate a lot of really great breakfasts.

Normally I'm more of a dinner cook. Now, I love breakfast, don't get me wrong, but I'm so far from a morning person it's not even funny, and just the thought of cooking a full breakfast usually sends me back to bed! But this week, I was inspired.

It started off Christmas morning with buttermilk biscuits and Sawmill Gravy. Biscuits are a regular occurrence at our house, but I'd never made sausage gravy before. It was awesome!

Then, hubby gave me a new waffle iron for Christmas, so of course the next morning we had to have waffles. I was going to try out the recipe that came with the iron, till I saw it had 20 grams of fat per serving, and instead made our regular old recipe. To jazz them up a bit, I topped them with sliced strawberries (from the freezer) and whipped cream.

We also had cheese omelets with bacon and fruit salad one day.

Another day, I made buttermilk pancakes. Best pancake recipe EVER. But they also take forever to cook (low and slow, to get the centers done), so I don't make them very often.

And, then we had waffles with strawberries again. Another day we had French toast.

We only had cereal twice, all week. Usually we have it every weekday! Fantastic!

Friday, January 01, 2010


I haven't made any New Year's Resolutions for a while, but I decided that this would be the year to pick some back up. My life is feeling way too chaotic lately, and I'm not feeling very grounded. So, my first resolution is to read the Bible every day. I signed up with this site to have a reading sent to me each day by email. This means that I can read it on my iPod while my daughter naps. She will only nap in my lap, so I have some quiet time for about 45 minutes each morning.

Second, I need to get back on my budget. I'm starting small with this one - just doing it for the month of January, to make sure our budget is still workable. Then we'll adjust as needed and take it from there. This means REALLY reigning in my grocery shopping habits, but I know I can do it if I plan and prepare!

Third, I'm going to do a menu plan every single week. I may not always stick to it, but just having a plan really helps bring my days into focus.

Fourth, I'm going to try to cut our food waste in half and really start using our compost pile, which will help enrich our garden. We've been doing well for the past year by having "leftover night" every Thursday, the night the garbage goes out. Any leftovers that don't get eaten on Thursdays go in the garbage. But I could do even better by incorporating leftovers into my breakfasts and lunches. Usually I just eat cold cereal for breakfast and a sandwich for lunch, but I'm home so why not just heat up some leftovers? Caitlyn would probably enjoy a little more variety, too...

That's a start. Seems like a lot. But if I take it in chunks, it should all be very achievable!