Sunday, December 08, 2013

Easy Lemon Danish

A friend of mine pointed me in the direction of this recipe a few weeks ago.  This morning I started to make it and, while I was mixing up the filling, decided I really wanted it to be lemony.  So I experimented and it turned out amazingly well!

Easy Lemon Danish
Adapted from The Adventures of Kitchen Girl

2 tubes crescent roll dough
1 8 oz pkg. cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
zest of half a lemon
3 T. lemon juice
1 egg

1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 T. lemon juice
pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Unroll one package of crescent roll dough and lay it in the bottom of a 9x13 baking dish.  Pinch the seams together and press out as much as possible.  If the dough doesn't reach all the way from edge to edge, roll up the side that's not up against the pan a bit so the filling doesn't all run out when you pour it in.

For the filling, mix cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice, and egg, mixing until smooth.  Pour over dough.  Open remaining tube of dough and lay it over the top.  Bake at 350 degrees for 25 - 30 minutes or until dough is golden brown.  Remove from oven and let rest 15 minutes.

For the glaze, mix powdered sugar, lemon juice and salt until smooth.  Pour over danish and smooth it out with an offset spatula or knife.  Cut into squares and enjoy!  

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Hot Buttered Rum Batter

My hubby and I have been making this for about a dozen years.  We were appalled by the price of our favorite mix, and decided to see if we could recreate it at home.  So we bought a whole bunch of butter and even more sugar (I shudder to think about how many calories we ingested that weekend, but boy was it fun!), and made up our own recipe.

This is the recipe for the full batch, which fit in my old Cuisinart food processor.  I now have a smaller Kitchenaid food processor, and it only holds a half batch.  So be aware you may need to scale back. 

1 pound (4 sticks) butter
3 cups brown sugar
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/2 t. salt
1 T. cinnamon
1 1/2 T. ground nutmeg (or one nut, finely grated, if using fresh)
1 T. vanilla extract
1/4 t. ground cloves

Combine all ingredients in food processor and mix until smooth.  Add 3-4 heaping spoonfuls to a mug, add a jigger of rum, and top it off with boiling water or hot milk (I usually use water if making it with rum and milk if making it virgin). 


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Menu Plan Nov. 24 - 30

Last week was a menu-following disaster.  I started out with the best intentions, but ended up making exactly one thing that was on our list.  First, I went to make beef stew and discovered that we didn't actually have any stew beef, though I could have sworn I saw some in the freezer.  Then, I went to get the corned beef for the hash and discovered that the corned beef has been in a ziploc bag in the freezer for almost two years (more freezer burn than meat there!).

So that night I ended up cooking cheese ravioli, pierogi style, which actually turned out REALLY well.  I just boiled some frozen ravioli according to the directions.  While that was cooking, I sauteed a sliced onion in butter in my big cast iron pan(I may have thrown in a couple of garlic cloves, too - it would be bizarre if I hadn't).  Then, once the ravioli was drained, I put it in the pan with the onions and sauteed it for a couple of minutes.  Add a side salad and presto!  20 minute meatless meal.  Delicious! 

Other than that, I really don't remember what we ate.  There was a lot of fast food involved (like the afternoon that all hell broke loose at work and as soon as I walked in the door hubby took one look at me and asked what we were picking up for dinner). Friday night I made taco salad.  Last night I made a full-on wonderful dinner, salisbury steak with garlic mashed potatoes and honey dill carrots. 

So last week's menu looks a lot like this week's.  Except it actually IS Thanksgiving week!  Yay!  Three day work week! 

So here's what we're going for this week:

Beef Stew (I will be buying stew beef!)
Chicken crescents
Baked ziti
Spaetzle Gratin

I took chicken and stuffing off the menu because, well, Thanksgiving.

Thursday and Saturday are both family dinner days, so I don't have to plan meals for those days.  Thursday we're bringing spinach dip and orange jello ambrosia-style salad.  Saturday we're bringing an appetizer (haven't decided what yet) and a birthday cake. 

So that's the plan.  Have a wonderful week and, for those of you in the USA, happy Thanksgiving!

Need menu ideas?  Visit Menu Plan Monday at!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Menu Plan November 17 - 23

For some reason, my brain thinks that this is Thanksgiving week.  Maybe it has something to do with the free turkeys at the grocery store (which I'm likely not taking advantage of this year, due to a severe lack of freezer space).  Maybe it's my strong need for that four-day-weekend, even though it will be jam-packed with activities.  Maybe it's just because I'm craving poultry.  At any rate, it's NOT Thanksgiving week, and therefore I must plan a normal menu...

Tonight I was going to try making spaetzle gratin, but we ended up stopping for take-and-bake pizza while we were out earlier, so that will wait for another day.  Other items on the menu this week (in no particular order) include:

Beef stew
Baked Ziti with Italian Sausage
Salisbury Steak
Corned Beef Hash
Chicken and Stuffing
Jambalaya (Zatarains)

So that's it from my little corner of the world.  Have a great week everyone!  And remember to visit Menu Plan Monday at for tons of great menu planning ideas.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Bacon, onion and cheddar muffins

I knew we would be having soup for dinner tonight (not from scratch - my daughter LOVES broccoli soup but not if I make it, LOL).  Usually I pick up one of those artisan breads from the grocery store, but I didn't have any on hand, so I thought I'd find a savory muffin recipe to serve with it instead.  I found this recipe, but you know I can't leave well enough alone and have to tweak!  And so I made these.  My daughter took one bite and said, in the most serious tone an almost-five-year-old can have, declared "MOM.  These are DELICIOUS."  Win.

Bacon, Onion and Cheddar Muffins
Makes 1 dozen
Adapted from Allrecipes

1 3/4 c. all purpose flour (could also use whole wheat pastry flour)
1/4 c. minced onion
1/2 c. shredded cheddar cheese
2 T. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1 egg
3/4 c. milk
1/3 c. canola oil
6 - 8 strips cooked and crumbled bacon (I think I used about 1/3 of a pound)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, combine flour, onion, cheese, sugar, baking powder, and salt.  Make a well in the center of the flour and add egg, milk and oil.  Stir just until combined (it's ok if the batter's lumpy).  Fold in bacon.

Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

Chicken and Dumplings - the Easy Way

Sorry about the picture - the lighting was all off!

The other day I found a chicken in the freezer that was obviously about to be past its prime, so I decided to make chicken and dumplings.  Usually this is a meal I make with a leftover carcass, but I decided I'd try the "whole chicken" method this time and see how it worked.  Here's what I did:

Chicken and Dumplings
Serves 6

1 whole chicken, giblet packet removed and discarded (or do whatever you do with those)
3 medium carrots, scrubbed and cut in 1/2 inch slices
3 celery ribs, cut in 1-inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped
7 cloves garlic, chopped
8 cups water
1 T. kosher salt
3 bay leaves
1 tsp. pepper
1/4 c. flour
3/4 c. cold water
1 1/3 c. Bisquick or other baking mix
2/3 c. milk

Put the chicken in a 5 - 6 quart dutch oven or stockpot.  Add vegetables, water and seasonings.  Cover and simmer over medium heat for 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked through.  Remove chicken and let sit for 20 minutes or until cool enough to handle.  Remove bay leaves and discard.

While chicken cools, mix flour and cold water until there are no lumps.  Add to soup mixture and cook until slightly thickened.

Remove half the meat from the chicken and return to the pot.  Reserve remaining chicken for another use (and you can save the carcass to make stock).

Mix Bisquick and milk.  Use soup spoons to drop batter into the broth (about 1/4 cup per dumpling).  Cover pot and cook 20 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through. 

Irish Sundaes

I have been eating Irish Sundaes for as long as I can remember.  They're one of those quick, flexible meals that I almost always have the ingredients on hand for, so they're fast to put together on a weeknight (or a lazy Saturday, like today).  I'll put my basic recipe below (though it's not much of a recipe!), but you can adapt it with your favorite meats, veggies, and other toppings as you prefer.  When I was a kid, I remember having this topped with Campbell's Condensed Nacho Cheese Soup.  I have no idea if that even still exists but I bet it would still be good!

Irish Sundaes
Serves 4

4 medium baking potatoes, scrubbed and pricked
1 head broccoli, chopped (peel the stem if it's tough)
1 pound bulk sausage (chicken, pork or turkey, Italian or breakfast style, whatever you prefer).
1/2 medium onion, chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms
sliced olives
sour cream
shredded cheese (or the aforementioned soup)
pickled sliced jalapenos

1.  Bake the potatoes in the microwave or oven, as you prefer.
2.  Steam the broccoli for 20 minutes or until al dente.
3. Meanwhile, cook the sausage in a large skillet until nearly cooked through.  Add onions and mushrooms and continue cooking until vegetables are soft. 
4. When everything is ready, put potato on the plate and slice open.  Top with remaining ingredients and serve.
5.  Enjoy!

Menu Plan November 9 - 16

It's been a while since I've done a formal menu plan.  I can tell, too, because we've been eating out far more than is healthy for our bodies or our budget.  Life has gotten a bit overwhelming as of late, so I'm taking a step back and refocusing.

We are blessed in that our pantry and freezers are full to bursting.  I just ordered 1/4 of a pig, which will be here in a month or so, so I need to start eating things down to make room for all that wonderful bacon, ham, and sausage!  Hubby needs more ketchup from Costco (ketchup is one of his main food groups), but there literally is not an inch of space available in the pantry to put it, so for the next four weeks, we're eating out of the pantry and freezer and I'm going to try to only buy fresh food (bread, produce, cheese, milk etc.)  We'll see how I do...

This week, due to swimming lessons and meetings, I need quick and easy dinners for four out of the five weeknights.  So here's the plan, in no particular order:

Chili and cornbread
broccoli cheese soup, muffins, and salad
chicken and rice
Irish Sundaes
broccoli beef
sausage and pepper penne
Sweet & sour pork

One night I'll be out with my coworkers, so hubby and my daughter will do their own thing (which usually means either frozen burritos smothered in chili or going out to Taco Bell.  

Have a great week, everybody!  And remember to visit Menu Plan Monday at for more great menu ideas!

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Organizing my Kindle

I love books.  As the child of two retired school librarians, this probably isn't surprising.  I grew up in a house with wall-to-wall bookshelves in the living room, and had gathered a fair collection of my own already by the time I left home to be an English major in college.  I was the kid who stayed up till all hours with my flashlight, reading under the covers (often something terrifying that would keep me up even longer, quaking in fear while wondering what lurked under the bed in my basement bedroom). 

After finishing my Bachelor's degree and again after finishing my Master's, I took a break from reading, and watched a lot of television.  But I was always drawn back to my books.  When my daughter was born, I just couldn't find the time, because really the only opportunity I had to read was in bed at night, and I couldn't have the light on because my hubby was trying to sleep.  And then, I discovered the Kindle.

And then, I discovered the wonderful world of free Kindle books.  And Swagbucks, where I earned points to redeem for Amazon gift cards which I used to buy more Kindle books.  And book loans through the library and through

Before I knew it, I had more than 2,800 books and short stories in my e-book collection.  This was when I discovered that the "Manage Your Kindle" feature on Amazon's website doesn't actually give you any effective ways to manage your book collection.  So I needed to find a way to organize it all, so I could actually figure out what I have, what I've read, and what I want to read next. 

First, I thought I would just load everything onto the device and organize it all into collections.  I spent days setting it up.  Then I discovered that once the remaining memory gets below about 700 MB, it gets incredibly slow and starts randomly restarting itself at inopportune moments.  And when you have more than 2,500 books to load, well, that pretty much guarantees that your reading session is over. 

So, now that I have everything loaded except things I have already read, I am actually working on taking everything OFF in an organized fashion.  I set up a spreadsheet with a different tab for each collection on the Kindle.  One by one, I'm going through the collections, typing the titles into the spreadsheet, deleting the book from the collection, then deleting it from the device. 

This way, when I want to read a book, I can say "hmm, I'm in the mood for a historical romance" and then go to that tab on the spreadsheet, instead of going to the massive list of books on the website and trying to figure it out from there.

It's slow going, but I know in the long run it will be worth it and my Kindle will run much more efficiently.

Do you have an organizational system for your e-reader? I'd love to hear about it!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

I don't know what happened.

While I will freely admit that I am doing everything in my power to procrastinate on making my daughter's Halloween costume, I don't think even THAT can explain what happened today.  Maybe it's because I thought my laptop was dead (turns out it wasn't, thank goodness!) and I wasn't sure what to do with myself.  Maybe it's Nony's fault (I started listening to her podcasts yesterday).  Maybe my body was overtaken by aliens.

At any rate, I woke up EARLY this morning.  Way too early for a Saturday.  Like, 5:45 or something silly like that (which would be sleeping in if it were a weekday - my hubby had to work today, and he usually works Monday - Friday, so maybe my brain was confused).  Got up, made my coffee, and sat down at the computer to do my usual Swagbucks routine.  

Went to get my second cup of coffee and realized that the dishwasher was still full from last night's running (on the weekdays hubby usually empties it but he had to leave an hour earlier than his usual, so he didn't take the time today).  So, I unloaded it.  Then, after breakfast I put the breakfast dishes in it (turns out this is a pattern that would continue ALL DAY LONG - what the heck?). 

I sat down at the computer again and decided I didn't want to be there.  So I went in the bedroom and folded a load of laundry.  Then I did another one.  Then I went to put some towels away and realized the first aid box from last night's decluttering session was still on the kitchen table.  So I put it away.  And cleared a little bit off the bathroom counter and put it away too. 

Then I looked at a big pile of stuff that has been sitting on my bedroom floor for goodness knows how long, preventing me from fully closing my closet door.  So I went through that.  Turned out most of it was stuff needing to be donated.  Then I pulled down the bin of winter hats/gloves/scarves/misc. stuff off my closet shelf and went through that.  Gave my girl the elbow-length fingerless gloves I think I wore to junior prom (!) and a silk scarf for dress-up, and much of the rest also went in the donation pile.  Pulled a few things out of my closet that I know I'll never wear again and added those to the pile too.

Then I remembered that I wanted to start carefully weeding out some of my daughter's board books that she was never really into.  So while she was busy watching My Little Pony, I snuck in and snagged five of them.  Added to the donate pile.  Then I sent her out to her shoe bin to pull out all the shoes that are too small for her (kids' feet DO stop growing so fast someday, right?).  Donate, donate, donate.

Wrote down all that donation material for our tax records and, by 10:30, I had already filled two big black trash bags and one box with items to donate. 

Took a break, and then started tackling the laundry - washing, drying, folding - seven or so loads, several of which were already washed and just waiting to be folded.  As I folded, I sorted out more clothes that were either too big for me or too small for my daughter, and added them to the pile. 

Then I went grocery shopping.

THEN I decided I'd better get off my tush and start working on my daughter's Halloween costume.  I suppose if I sewed more often I'd get faster at pinning and cutting, wouldn't I?  Got two pieces cut out but I have to go to the fabric store to get a fabric pen before I can cut out the other four.......

Made dinner, and put the prep dishes in the dishwasher as I went.  Finished eating and washed out the pan.  The dishwasher is ready to be run at bedtime.  Did a couple more loads of laundry, folding as I went.

VERY productive day.  I have no idea where it came from!

Purging Purging Purging

I'm happy to report that I stuck to my purging plan for FOUR WHOLE DAYS!!!  That might be a record for me.  During that time, I donated/tossed/recycled

  • 10 books
  • 8 magazines
  • a canning jar wrench
  • a candy thermometer
  • two meat thermometers
  • the "stick blender" attachment for my hand mixer that never actually worked
  • 2 oil bottle spouts
  • 2 paring knives
  • a tea ball
  • a grease mop
  • a pair of outgrown child's shoes
  • 12 documents (scanned and shredded)

Not a bad start, right?  And, then life happened.  Why I decided to start this little change the week of our biggest event of the year at work I'm not sure, but I had to work late two nights in a row, so I stopped, and then I forgot to start again. 

So yesterday, 10 days later, I decided to take on a couple of boxes while I sat at watched Ghost Hunters (because I can no longer just sit and WATCH Ghost Hunters, I have to be doing something else too, so I'm not sure why I bother).  I snagged a box that has been sitting in my living room for, oh, I don't know, four or five years, maybe.  Figured if I haven't needed whatever was in it in all that time, well, it could probably go.

From that box, I managed to eliminate:
  • 11 picture frames
  • 2 decorative oil lamps
  • 2 crystal penguins
  • teacup and saucer set
And then I went into our bathroom closet and pulled out the "First Aid and Medications" box which hadn't been opened, well, in a really long time.  From that, I purged 15 expired medications and two children's thermometers.  

I've also started flipping through one or two magazines each morning while I drink my coffee.  Hopefully this means that in six months or so, my giant basket of magazines will no longer exist.

So I think my activities last night may have completely made up for my little break there.  Onward and upward! 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013


I needed a punch recipe this weekend.  This happens once or twice a year, and each time I need one I think "how did I make it last time?  Something to do with pineapple and orange juice, right?  And then I scour the internet for one that looks good.

I ended up making this one (a riff on a recipe I found), and it was delicious.  I froze orange juice in plastic tubs to make the ice blocks, so it wouldn't dilute the way plain ice would.

This recipe exactly fills my punch bowl.

1 2-liter bottle ginger ale
1 64-ounch bottle pineapple orange juice
1 can passion/orange juice concentrate, undiluted

Mix well and serve.  Delicious and refreshing!

Monday, October 07, 2013

Got Swag?

Disclaimer - contains referral links

Swagbucks bills itself as "the web's premier rewards site", and as far as I'm concerned, they're right.  I've done MyPoints.  I've done multiple survey sites.  And Swagbucks is, by far, the most consistent, easy way I've found to get rewards.  I've been a member for over four years and, in that time (usually with little to no effort on my part), I've received over 80 free $5 gift cards. 

How it works:  You earn points, called Swagbucks, for doing things online - watching videos, doing internet searches, completing surveys and special tasks, looking at offers, etc.  Then you can take those Swagbucks and cash them in for gift cards, merchandise, "Swagstakes" (sweepstakes entries purchased with Swagbucks), etc.  I'm a purist - I stick to the $5 Amazon gift cards.  Without trying, I can get one a month.  If I make a little effort, I can get one a week.  I mainly use them to feed my Kindle habit.  I have a serious Kindle habit, LOL.

Want to sign up?  Here's my referral link:

How I do it:

First, I get a point (aka Swagbuck) a day just for having their toolbar installed.  I use it for all my searches.  When you use their search tool (which, last I heard, was powered by Bing and Google), you will be randomly awarded Swagbucks.  I get between nine and 40 Swagbucks a day from searching.  I rarely go to a website without searching for the name first (for example, instead of typing in the Facebook URL in the address line I search for "Facebook" and click through that way).  It's an extra step but it only takes a second. 

Second, I answer their daily poll, found on their home page.  I get another point for this.  Then, I do their "No Obligation Special Offers" (aka NOSO), also on the home page.  I just click through them all for two quick points.

I also run videos.  I spend a lot of time on my computer, reading through blogs, pinning things, etc.  During these times, I have my internet open on two screens - one is running Swagbucks TV, the other is for whatever I'm doing online.  For every 10 videos I watch, I get three Swagbucks. As I type this, I'm watching the "Uzoo" channel, which has tons of interesting videos about animals. 

On my iPod Touch, I run Swagbucks Mobile.  You can do just about anything on this that you can do on the regular Swagbucks site, but I mostly use it for videos.  On the mobile app, you get two points for every five videos, but on this you do have to go through ads also.  I like to turn on the music channel and use it as my background music at work. 

My last regular way to earn is through "encrave" activities.  You can find these through the little blue "e" button on the Swagbucks Toolbar.  These are a series of videos and articles that you can look at to earn bucks.  Some take as little as a minute, others might take three or four.  You get between one and three for each activity.  I've found some really interesting things there - clips from TedTalks, interviews with popular chefs, information about different health-related topics, news, etc.  These are quick and easy ways to earn a few bucks.

I also try to get referrals.  When a new user signs up using your referral link (here's mine again!, Swagbucks will credit you with a match for their first 1,000 points.  That's 2+ Amazon gift cards right there, folks! 

Swagbucks also offers points for online shopping at certain retailers, as well as points for redeeming manufacturers coupons for groceries and such.  I sometimes do these, if they're things I would be doing anyway. 

Things I don't do unless I'm desperate for points?  Surveys, special offers, and most of their activities.  I have found that surveys take too long for the rewards I get (they'll give you a point if you don't qualify, but often you are five or more minutes into the survey before you find out you're not qualified).  Special offers that don't require a credit card or a lot of personal information are few and far between, so I skip those, though if there's something I'd be doing anyway, I certainly take advantage of it, because you can rack up a lot of points that way.  I haven't explored their "Activities" section fully, but from what I've seen, it's similar to Mechanical Turk and more work than I want to do for the points I would get. So I skip it.

Each day they give you a daily goal (today mine is 90), and if you reach that goal, they give you a 10% bonus for that day at the end of the month.  The more consecutive days you rack up (starting with seven in a row), you get an extra bonus, up to 300 if you meet their goal every day of the month.  I aim for 50 - 100 Swagbucks a day.  It takes 450 Swagbucks to earn an Amazon gift card.  They have tons of other options as well - Target and Starbucks are two others I've contemplated if I ever reach the five Amazon cards per month limit. 

So what are you waiting for?  The rewards are waiting - and they couldn't be easier to obtain!

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Five a Day

I'm going to come right out and say the five little words I never thought would leave my lips (fingers?):  my clutter is annoying me. 

Now, I'm not saying I'm going to suddenly turn into a neat freak overnight, but I do feel the need to do SOMETHING.  Lately my kid can't even lay on the couch with her head in my lap because there's only room for one butt on the couch (mine).  I need to make her Halloween costume but there's no room on the kitchen table to lay out fabric.  We did clean a bit before we went on vacation, so it's not as bad as it used to be, but still...

This isn't the first time this has happened, and from time to time I step up my efforts.  But now we're kicking around the idea of moving to a better school district before our daughter starts kindergarten next year, so I'm thinking I should get myself in the moving mindset, even if that doesn't happen.  So I'm coming up with a plan to clear things out little by little, one thing at a time.  Yesterday I cleaned off most of the kitchen table (and will finish today because I HAVE to start on that sparkly purple superhero costume!) and my hubby cleaned the kitchen.  I also somehow found room in the pantry for the 40 pints of applesauce I canned last month. 

I also went through my bookshelf and picked out seven books to donate to the library.  Let's face it.  If it's not on my Kindle , I'm not going to read it.  Lately, I read a paper book once a year, when we're camping.  Otherwise I rarely have time to just sit and read a book.  I read in bed at night in the dark, and the Kindle with the light just makes things so much easier. 

So here's my plan.  Every day I'm going to get rid of five things, either to donate or pass on to a friend or just throw in the garbage or recycle.  If it's paper, it'll be five inches (wow, that's a lot of paper - so maybe one inch of paper and four things?).  And I'm going to stay on top of the mail (that seems to be how my table gets cluttered up so fast!).

I'll be reporting back here from time to time so check back to see my progress!

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Chicken and Broccoli Skillet Casserole

Whipped this little number up when I got home late from work tonight.  Helped that I had frozen cooked rice on hand (I always try to make extra and freeze it in two-cup portions). 

Oh, but first, I have to give a little "squeeeee!" about my new toy!  Well, new in that I just used it for the first time today, even though I bought it about six months ago.  It's a microwave steam cooker.  This is the one I bought.  Chopped up my broccoli, threw it in the microwave for three minutes, and voila!  Perfectly steamed.  Microwave steam cooker - where have you been all my life???  I see lots of microwave steaming in my future - I wonder if I could cook rice in this thing???

Anyway, as I was saying, I got home late and hubby didn't want pizza for dinner for the third night in a row, so I knew I had to come up with SOMETHING.  I didn't menu plan this week - I'm flying by the seat of my pants.  I stocked up on chicken at Costco over the weekend, so I threw this together.  
2 T. olive oil
12 oz. chicken tenderloin
1 tsp. season salt
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups chopped cooked broccoli
2 cups cooked rice
1 cup chicken broth
1 can cream of mushroom soup (we like Pacific Natural Foods)
1 tsp. Italian seasoning
cracked black pepper, to taste
1 cup shredded cheese (I used provolone and parmesan tonight - cheddar would be better)

In a large skillet over medium heat, brown the chicken in the olive oil (sprinkle one side with the season salt).  After the first side is browned and you turn it over, add onions.  Once chicken is cooked through (about four minutes on each side), cut into bite-size pieces and return to the skillet (I cut it up right in the pan with my spatula). 

Add all remaining ingredients except cheese.  Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes.  Stir in cheese until melted.  Serve immediately. 

Simple, quick, and tasty!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

How My Family Did Disneyland

My family recently returned from a week-long trip to Disneyland.  My daughter is 4 1/2 now, the perfect age to experience the magic for the first time.  We're not extreme frugalites by any stretch, but we did do some things that saved us a bit of money here and there.  There are tips and tricks all over the internet for maximizing your Disney experience, but here are some of the things we did:

1.  We booked a package deal that gave us some really fun extras.  I went through AAA, and we got to schedule a character call ahead of time, so Mickey and Minnie called my daughter the day before we left and told her how much they were looking forward to seeing her.  We also got a Vinylmation character, which was a fun souvenir for her to have.

2.  We went during the off season, and during the week.  Granted, we didn't have a whole lot of choice because we took our vacation when our daycare provider took her vacation, but it worked out that it was the first week of the "off season" and the crowds were noticeably smaller than when I have been there in, say, June.  My daughter refused to wait in any line longer than about 25 minutes (other than to meet the princesses), which was fine with us, so there were six or seven rides we never made it on (plus I wouldn't let her go on California Screamin' or Tower of Terror).  But that's ok with me - I'd much rather miss some stuff than be stuck in a long line with a cranky preschooler!

3.  We stayed at a hotel that provided meals.  We stayed at the Residence Inn in Garden Grove.  Not only do they provide the most impressive in-house free breakfast buffet I've ever seen, but on the weeknights you can also get dinner, if you want to eat what they're serving.  We ended up only taking advantage of this a couple of times, because we either didn't want what they served or didn't want to leave the park, but we did get two "free" dinners this way.  The week we were there they had nacho night, sloppy joe night, BBQ (hamburgers and hotdogs), and chili and cornbread.  There is also a kitchenette in every room and they have a free grocery shopping service, so we had them pick up some things so we could eat lunches and dinners in the room when we chose to.  We also had shuttle service to and from Disneyland, I believe because of our package deal, because other people were paying $5 a day for that (the hotel is about a mile and a half from the park).

4.  We made our daughter earn her spending money.  In the weeks leading up to our trip, she had the choice to earn her spending money by doing one extra, special chore each day for a dollar.  She didn't always choose to do it, but by the time we went she had about $30 to spend on pretty much whatever she wanted.  We also bought her mouse ears for her (I would have bought her a t-shirt, too, but she wanted extra fancy mouse ears).

5.  We didn't buy any of the PhotoPass pictures.  Our package included one attraction photo (Splash Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, etc.), but because of some misinformation I received from one of their employees they ended up giving us a regular PhotoPass picture instead.  Other than that, we had the PhotoPass photographers take the same pictures with our camera that they were taking, and in the end we ended up with basically the same pics, so we skipped it (I have heard from people that they sometimes Photoshop extra effects into the pictures, but we didn't get any of that).  I ordered some souvenir photo items from Shutterfly when we got home, using a coupon I found online.

We had a great, though exhausting experience!  Five days was a bit much for all of us, next time we'd probably only go for four, but we have so many amazing memories and I'm so glad we went! 

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Butter Chicken

I ran across this recipe in an online cooking school I signed up for a few years ago.  I've had butter chicken (Chicken Makhani) in a local Indian restaurant and this isn't really anything like that, but this is good in its own way.  I've adapted it from the original to fit our family's taste.  For example, the original recipe doesn't blend the tomatoes, but my girl is currently trying her darndest to become a picky eater, so so no longer likes chunks of cooked tomato in her food.  So I put the tomatoes in the blender.  No biggie.

Butter Chicken
Serves 6
Adapted from Stone Soup Virtual Cooking School

2 T peanut or canola oil
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, diced into 1/2 " pieces
1 cup minced onion
2 T garam masala (I use the punjab style from Penzey's
2 t. chili flakes
1 14.5 oz. can roasted diced tomatoes
1 14.5 oz. can petite diced tomatoes
2 - 4 T heavy cream
ground black pepper
Hot cooked rice

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add chicken and onions.  Cook until chicken is lightly browned on one side; flip and brown the second side.

While the chicken cooks, put tomatoes in the blender.  Whir until smooth (if you want a chunkier sauce, you could leave both cans whole or just blend up one).

Once the chicken is browned, add garam masala and chili flakes.  Continue cooking for one minute, then add tomatoes.  Bring to a simmer, and cook for 10 minutes.  Stir in cream, salt and pepper to taste.  Continue cooking until cream is heated through.

Serve over hot cooked rice. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Comfort Food (Homemade Wiener Wraps)

I keep seeing recipes all over the internet for wiener wraps, aka pigs in a blanket.  Been wanting to try them, but hadn't yet.  My original plan was to use some of the pizza dough in the freezer...

Today was a less than stellar day at work.  I came home exhausted, made myself a margarita, and proceeded to think about dinner.  I should have made broccoli beef, since the broccoli is on its last legs, but the last thing I wanted to do was chop vegetables, even a stalk of broccoli.  So, I decided to try out the wiener wraps and serve them with Tater Tots.  Kid friendly comfort food, as far as I'm concerned.  Only problem?  The pizza dough was still in the freezer.

Then I remembered seeing this recipe for Homemade Pigs in a Blanket, using a quick yeast roll dough.  So, I decided to give it a shot.  Yes, that's right.  I didn't want to chop vegetables but I made dough from scratch.  Don't look for the logic there, people, you won't find it.  At least I have a mixer.

Anyway, I made the dough as directed, except I used all white flour.  I decided to mix things up a bit and added a small slice of cheddar cheese into each one.  As you can see, that didn't work out so well (other than the cheese got all crispy and delicious, so maybe it wasn't such a bad idea after all!). 

Bonus...I had enough dough leftover to make some breadsticks, which we'll eat later on this week with spaghetti!

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Dinner Recap and Menu Planning Update

We stuck to our menu plan pretty well last week.  There was one night I had to work late so we picked up burgers (I had planned to make a casserole in the morning but hubby had already told our girl that they'd go out since I'd be home late, so that was the end of that idea!).  Now, let's see, what did we eat...

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta
Fried ham with Zucchini Fritters
Chicken and Stuffing

And honestly, I don't remember what else!

Saturday we went to the beach for the day to watch a Civil War reenactment.  I packed steak sandwiches in a cooler for lunch, and then we went out for seafood for dinner.  Today I spent some time in the kitchen, making roasted vegetable sauce and baked beans for the freezer.  Tomorrow I'm canning apples.

And now, for this week's plan.  Here's what's on the list, in no particular order (as usual):

Butter chicken (I use a recipe from Stone Soup Virtual Cookery School)
Chicken Gyro Sandwiches
Queso Fundido
Buffalo chicken strips
Ham and Bows (ham instead of chicken)

Have a great week, everyone!  And remember, has more menu ideas than you can possibly imagine!

Recipe Review - Roasted Vegetable Pasta Sauce

I *love* this recipe from An Oregon Cottage (I also *love* the blog, but that's another blog post).  This is the fourth or fifth time I've made it, and it's always a hit.  Today, we finally had enough tomatoes ripe all at once that I could make it.  In years past, I've made it almost completely with home grown produce, but since I didn't really have a spring garden this year, I settled for home grown tomatoes and purchased everything else (mostly organic).

I think the thing I love most about this recipe is its simplicity.  I'd say about 90% of the flavor comes from the roasting process - deep, intense flavor, with a bit of caramelization here and there.  Here's how today's went down.

(Find the original recipe on An Oregon Cottage - Roasted Tomato Sauce (with Vegetables)

First, I started with this gorgeous bowl of red ripe tomatoes out of our garden.

I cleaned them, quartered them, and laid them in two baking sheets.   Then, I cleaned and cut up additional veggies.  Today, I used bell peppers, carrots, celery (including the leaves), zucchini, shallots, and elephant garlic, because that was what I had on hand.  I sprinkled the whole thing with olive oil and balsamic vinegar (slightly different than the original instructions), and topped it with a sprinkling of Italian seasoning, salt, and fresh ground black pepper.

I roasted the whole thing at 400 degrees for 50 minutes.  Then I put it in the blender, one pan at a time, and gave it a whirl.  I didn't strain it, because I like the texture it has when the little bits remain.  I added more salt to taste and put it in the fridge to cool.

I get about one quart of sauce per baking sheet.  So two quarts of sauce will go into the freezer tonight, to sit and wait until I'm ready for it.  This is beautiful mixed with penne or rigatoni as a side dish with simple grilled chicken or beef.

One reminder for myself for next time - use the light baking sheets, not the dark ones.  Otherwise you end up with completely burned edges like these, which pretty much detract from the nice roasty flavor we're going for here!

Fried Apple Waffle Topping

Once upon a time, I used to can quarts and quarts of apple pie filling.  It was our favorite waffle topping, and we ate waffles and apples at least twice a month.  Then, I found out that my beloved recipe isn't safe for canning (it used cornstarch as a thickener, and you must use Clear Jel for food safety).  So that was the end of that.  Nowadays, I mostly turn my apples into applesauce, but I do can a few quarts of apple slices in syrup and spices that I thicken in a pot to top the waffles.

But when apple season is upon us, and we have a plethora of fresh apples from our backyard tree, I love to make this - with hints of butterscotch and spice, it is equally beautiful over waffles or a dish of ice cream.

Fried Apple Waffle Topping
Makes three generous servings

4 cups peeled, cored, and sliced cooking apples (Gala, Granny Smith, etc.)
2 T. butter
3 T. brown sugar (either light or dark will work here)
1/2 tsp. mixed spice (your choice - apple pie spice, pumpkin pie spice, cake spice, or a mixture of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg all work here)
1/4 tsp. salt

In a large skillet, melt the butter over medium-high heat.  Add apples and saute for two to three minutes.  Add sugar, spices and salt.  Continue cooking for 10 - 15 minutes, until the apples are soft and the sauce is slightly caramelized.  Serve hot.

Friday, August 30, 2013

It's Coming...

Morning fog over a fully loaded apple tree.  Sure sign that fall is on its way.  It's my favorite season - crisp mornings, fire in the wood stove, beautiful changing leaves, frost on the pumpkins.  Can't wait!

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

I have no idea where I got the original version of this recipe.  It's a printout in my recipe binder, not from the internet, just from a Word document.  No documentation.  I'm sure I pulled it off the internet somewhere...At any rate, I've tweaked it a bit, as usual!

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta

1/2 lb. dry pasta (rigatoni, rotini, bowties, etc.)
2 T. butter
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup sliced mushrooms
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 8-oz package neufchatel cheese (light cream cheese)
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup light sour cream
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 pinch red pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
1 14-oz can artichoke hearts, chopped
1 10-oz box frozen spinach, thawed, with as much water squeezed out as possible
12 oz. sweet Italian sausages, previously cooked, sliced into 1/4" rounds

 Cook pasta in salted water to al dente, according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.  While the pasta cooks...

In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat.  Add onions and mushrooms, sauteeing until onions are soft.  Add garlic and continue cooking just until garlic is fragrant.  Add neufchatel cheese and cook until melted.  Add milk, sour cream, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and pepper flakes.  Stir to combine.  Stir in artichokes, spinach, and sausage; continue cooking until spinach is heated through. 

Add drained pasta, toss, and add additional salt and pepper to taste before serving.

Zucchini Fritters

My four-year-old has always been an amazing eater.  Her first food was a hunk of potato grilled with olive oil, and she grew from there into a full-blown foodie.  Sure, she's had a phase or two - for a while she wouldn't eat meat at all, then she wouldn't eat ground meat, then she'd eat any meat as long as I told her it was chicken (regardless of what it actually was).  She'd eat chicken strips but she wouldn't eat chicken nuggets.  But, for the most part, she'd eat anything I put in front of her, and she never met a vegetable she didn't like.

Until zucchini.  My hubby and I LOVE grilled zucchini, and I used to make it often during the summer months (not this summer - my grill needs some new parts).  Well, my girl got it in her head that she did NOT like zucchini.  Not sure what that lovely green squash ever did to her, but she did not like it.  Maybe it's because that was my dad's nickname for her when she was a baby.  Who knows.  At any rate, she agreed that if I ever served it she would take her three "no thank you" bites, and I agreed that I would always have a different vegetable available for her.    

We like to watch cooking shows together at bedtime from time to time.  The other night we were watching Money Saving Meals with Sandra Lee, and she was making zucchini cakes.  My daughter thought they looked AMAZING and begged me to make them.  I reminded her they had zucchini in them, and she said that was fine because it was little pieces, not big hunks.  Okay...whatever gets her to enjoy a previously pooh-poohed vegetable, right? 

Saturday I took her to the farmer's market and she picked out two lovely zucchinis.  Giant ones, so we only actually needed one, but I'll shred the other for muffins.  And last night, I made...zucchini fritters.

Zucchini Fritters
Adapted from Sandra Lee
Serves 6 - 8

1 1/2 pounds zucchini
1 1/2 c. baking mix, such as Bisquick
1 cup diced sweet onion
3 eggs
3 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. pepper
canola or vegetable oil

Preheat the oven to 225.  Place a cooling rack on a baking sheet and place it in the oven to warm up.

Slice the zucchini in half and scoop out the seedy middle.  Grate into a towel and wring out all the excess water.  Place in a bowl and add all remaining ingredients except the oil.  Stir to combine.  It will seem very dry at first but as it sits, more water will come out of the zucchini and combine to make a nice batter.

In a large skillet over medium heat (I used cast iron - worked beautifully), add oil to 1/4 inch depth.  Drop spoonfuls of batter into the oil, pressing down lightly to flatten.  Fry until golden brown, about three minutes, flip and fry until golden brown on the other side, a couple more minutes.  Remove to the prepared baking sheet and place in the oven to keep warm while you fry the rest.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Menu Plan August 26 - 31

Another successful week of eating in!  We did eat lunch out a couple of times over the weekend (plus treats at the state fair yesterday - I had an elephant ear as big as my head!), but nothing like we're accustomed to in recent months.

I have found I love having my "board of possibilities" on the fridge - just a running list of things we have ingredients for.  I can pick and choose based on how much cooking I want to do or just what sounds good to us at the time.

Here's what we actually ate last week:

Stuffed Peppers
Creamed Tuna on Biscuits
pad Thai
Stir Fry
Taco salad
Broccoli Soup and Bread (I'm going to come right out and admit it here - I buy the horrendously overpriced broccoli soup from the deli counter at the store.  My four-year-old loves it.  BEGS for it.  Someday I'll make my own but I messed some up BIG TIME a while back and the family isn't ready to venture into those waters again yet.  Even buying two tubs of that at at time, it's still cheaper than eating fast food). 

You can see from the board above what we have left for this week's meals (though I find I'm continually adding to it throughout the week).  Something this week will involve zucchini fritters, because my zucchini-hating girl saw them on a cooking show and admitted that they looked really good and wants to try them.  She picked out the zucchini at the farmer's market on Saturday so we'll likely be having them with either chicken or grilled sausages tonight!

But, if you can't read my chicken scratch (once upon a time I had great handwriting - then school happened, LOL), here are our menu options for the week:

Chicken with Farro Salad
Broccoli Beef
Pigs in a Blanket (pizza dough wrapped around hot dogs)
Spinach and Artichoke Pasta
Buffalo chicken tenders
Chicken & Stuffing

I'll post recipes as I make things and link back to them here. 

Have a fantastic week and visit Menu Plan Monday on for more amazing menu ideas!

Saturday, August 24, 2013

The New Garden

I've been a vegetable gardener for years.  The last few, however, my ambition has left me and I haven't given the garden the attention it deserves.  So this year, we decided to go 100% raised beds.  My amazing hubby has built three beds so far - we'll have five eventually but the tomatoes were actually doing well, so I insisted we leave them for the season.

Our beds are made out of cinderblocks, lined with black plastic (we're hoping that will prevent them from drying out too quickly), and topped with pavers the same length and width as the cinderblocks.  Each bed is three blocks high, and holds about three yards of soil.  The planting area is 101 inches x 39 inches.  We filled them completely with new soil, but about 12 inches down we put down a layer of landscape fabric, so if there are any stray weeds determined enough to make it up that far, they'll run into resistance and hopefully not make it to the surface.

We've decided to try intensive planting, using the Square Foot Gardening method.   Today I was very excited to get the first two beds planted with my first ever fall garden!  More details about that in a coming post...

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Menu Plan and the Week in Review

Last week was the first week in a long, long time that we didn't eat out at all.  Sure, I was tempted a couple of times, but because I did so much prep and organizing last weekend, we were ready for the week, no matter what. 

There was one day I came home early from work because I wasn't feeling well, and hubby offered to run out and pick something up, but we ate chicken strips (I always keep a bag of Tyson strips in the freezer) and instant mashed potatoes instead (that was supposed to be Tater Tots but we didn't have any).

Another night I really didn't feel like cooking, so we ate spaghetti and meatballs (love having meatballs ready to go in the freezer!).

We also ate...

Chicken Taquitos
Thai Beef Noodles
Irish Sundaes
BBQ Chicken Pizza
BLTs (on the night I picked two quarts of tomatoes in our garden!).

For this week, we still have several options left from the list I included in last week's menu post, and I've added several others as well:

Taco salad
Creamed tuna on biscuits
Hamburgers with oven fries
Pigs in a Blanket (using the rest of the pizza dough I made on baking day)
Broccoli Beef
Stuffed Peppers

If we need a "don't feel like cooking" night, I found a box of Chicken Helper in the back of the pantry yesterday, and I can always make

Chicken and Stuffing (put some chicken breasts in the bottom of a pan, top with mushroom soup, top that with prepared boxed stuffing, baked at 350 degrees until chicken is cooked through).
BLTs (yes, again.  Who gets tired of BLTs?).

That should keep us in home-cooked food and out of the drive-through line for at least two and a half weeks, I think!

Have a great week, everybody!  And remember to visit for tons of menu planning ideas!

Friday, August 16, 2013

BBQ Chicken Pizza Revisited

Tonight I made BBQ Chicken Pizza for dinner.  I added a picture to my original post for pinning purposes, if you're interested!

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Baked Chicken Taquitos

By request...

I made these for dinner the other night.  It's been a long time - so long I'd forgotten all about them until I was leafing through a stack of old recipe printouts looking for my potsticker recipe.  I didn't have all the ingredients called for in the original, so I improvised with what I had, and it came out even better than before.

The number this recipe makes all depends on the size of your tortillas.  I used fajita-size flour tortillas and got about 12.

Baked Chicken Taquitos

4 oz. lowfat cream cheese, softened
1/2 c. salsa
1/2 t. cumin
1/2 t. chili powder
1/2 t. garlic powder
1 T. minced onion
3T. chopped fresh cilantro or parsley (yes, I realize they are completely different animals.  I didn't have cilantro so I used parsley and it worked out just fine).
3 scallions, chopped
2 c. chopped or shredded cooked chicken
1 1/2 c pepperjack cheese, shredded
flour or corn tortillas (the smaller the better).
vegetable oil
kosher or coarse salt

Preheat the oven to 425.  Lightly grease a 10x13 baking dish.

Combine cream cheese, salsa, cumin, chili powder, garlic powder, and minced onion until well combined.  Add cilantro or parsley and scallions.  Stir in chicken and cheese until everything is well mixed.

In a dry skillet, warm the tortillas, one at a time, until pliable.  Fill with 2 -3 tablespoons of the chicken mixture, then roll tightly and place seam side down in the baking dish. 

Once all taquitos are rolled, lightly brush the tops with vegetable oil and sprinkle with salt. 

Bake 15 - 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Thai Beef Noodles

Originally, this post was to be a review of Rachael Ray's Thai Beef Noodle Bowls, but by the time I finished cooking I'd made so many changes that I'm going to post my adaptation instead.  I made the fried shallots, but they were not good at all so I won't be making them again.  I'd rather just put regular old french fried onions on top. 

But first, a note. I mentioned in my recipe for steak sandwiches that I like to buy presliced beef for certain dishes.  It comes in a 12 ounce, vacuum sealed package.  The outer layer came off when I thawed it in the sink, but this is what the under label looks like.  

And now, on to the recipe!

Thai Curry Beef Noodles
Serves 4

8 ounces spaghetti 
2 T. vegetable oil
12 ounces beef steak, thinly sliced

6 crimini mushrooms, sliced
1/2 medium head of cabbage, sliced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3 scallions, sliced
1 c. chicken stock
2 T. Thai red curry paste
1 T. fish sauce
1 cup fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
zest of 1 lime
juice of 1/2 lime

Cook spaghetti according to package directions.  Drain and set aside.

Meanwhile, heat the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Saute beef until almost all the pink is gone.  Remove beef from the pan, and then add mushrooms, cabbage, bell pepper, garlic, and scallions.  Saute for five minutes.  Add chicken stock, cover, and simmer five minutes more.  Return beef to the skillet.  Stir in curry paste, fish sauce, and basil.

Add cooked pasta to the skillet and stir to combine.  Add lime zest and juice, give one final stir, and serve hot.

If you like things a little spicier, serve with siracha on the side.  

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Baking Day

Ok, so I've pretty much spent the entire weekend in the kitchen.  Well, I did get out for a bike ride with my family this afternoon, and planted some flowers with my girl after dinner, but other than that it's been kitchen, kitchen, kitchen.  Probably not exactly what my hubby had in mind when he said he wanted to clean house, but at least I've run the dishwasher four times and all the knives are clean at the moment!

I started my day by mixing up a pan of whipped banana oatmeal.  I put a spoonful of peanut butter on top - DELICIOUS!!!

After breakfast, I made a batch of pizza dough to put in the freezer.  Half will be for BBQ chicken pizza later this week, half will be for the future (I'm thinking of trying it out with hot dogs to make pigs in a blanket).

While that was rising, I made some of our favorite banana bread.  Since we're just about out of cereal bars and I'm not planning a trip to Trader Joe's this week (hubby eats two every morning for breakfast), this should get us through at least a couple of days' worth of breakfast.

Then, on a whim, I cleaned out the freezer compartment of the fridge.  And found stuff from 2011 in there - yuck!  So I made several trips to the compost and gave the garbage disposal a good workout.  Then we ate lunch and went for a bike ride.

Afterward, my girl and I made blueberry muffins.  She LOVES sprinkles, so I let her put some Swedish pearl sugar on top.

Dinner needed to be easy and quick, so I made some delicious chicken taquitoes (recipe coming).

And, we're topping of the evening with some Ovaltine chocolate chip popsicles.  Yummy!

Whole Grain Lowfat Banana Bread

This is my daughter's third favorite breakfast item, behind Nutella Sprinkle Sandwiches and Yogurt Sundaes (yeah, we like our breakfasts fun around here). Whole wheat pastry flour is pretty easy to find around here.  Then again, I live in the land of Bob's Red Mill.  If you can't find it, you can substitute half whole wheat and half all purpose, or just use all white flour (but of course then it wouldn't be whole grain!).

Whole Grain Lowfat Banana Bread
Adapted from Epicurious
Makes 1 loaf

2 large eggs
3/4 c. sugar (I like to use the organic evaporated cane juice)
3 ripe bananas, mashed
1/3 c. fat free plain greek yogurt
1 T. vegetable oil
1 T. vanilla extract
1 3/4 c. whole wheat pastry flour
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Grease and flour a regular-size loaf pan.

Beat the eggs and sugar in a medium bowl until light and fluffy.  Stir in bananas, yogurt, oil, and vanilla until combined.  Stir in remaining ingredients just until moistened (batter will be lumpy).

Pour into prepared loaf pan.  Bake 50 minutes to one hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Turn out onto a rack and let cook completely before slicing.


Saturday, August 10, 2013

Menu Plan and a Kitchen Day

It's been a while since I've had a bona fide day in the kitchen.  I usually know it's time when we eat out more in a week than we eat at home - that's a sure sign that I'm both tired and disorganized.  Too tired to think about putting a meal together, and too disorganized to have a menu plan.  As tempting as it is to head out for fast food a few times a week, it's neither healthy nor budget friendly.

So, yesterday I went to Costco and stocked up on ground beef and chicken breasts.  Then, last night I looked at what I have on hand, in the freezer, the produce bin, and the cheese bin, and came up with a plan mostly using what I already have in the house.  With that, I put together a list of dinners that will keep us going for a while.

Here's what we'll be having, in no particular order:

  • Pork stir fry (using some leftover pork from last week, cabbage, broccoli, carrots, and onions).
  • Pad Thai
  • Thai Noodle Bowl (using cabbage instead of edamame)
  • Irish Sundaes (recipe coming)
  • BBQ chicken pizza
  • Creamy chicken taquitoes (recipe coming for this too)
  • Chicken with farro salad (I have to find this recipe -I saw it online and thought I'd pinned it but apparently not)
  • Spinach and Artichoke Pasta (obviously I have some recipes to post this week)...

(remember to visit Menu Plan Monday at for more menu ideas than you can imagine!
I find that, if I have a menu planned and the ingredients close at hand, I have no problem coming home and cooking a nice dinner in the evenings.  But, I also like to have protein prepped and in the freezer for those nights when I just can't face the kitchen and want to be lazy.  So, today I spent some time in the kitchen doing some prep work.

First, I made chicken potstickers. One recipe made enough for one meal for the three of us, plus some leftovers for a lunch, and enough meat leftover after I ran out of gyoza wrappers to make five meatballs for another lunch. 

I also browned some ground beef with onions and garlic (this was a 21-ounce package, which I divided into three baggies in the freezer).  This can be used for Hamburger Helper, tacos, spaghetti, hamburger casserole, etc.

Then, I browned some diced chicken breasts (well, ok, I totally crowded the pan so I basically steamed some chicken, LOL).  This was four chicken breasts and will be the base of several of the meals on the above list.

Then, I made some Italian-style meatballs.  A 21-ounce package of ground beef made 32 meatballs, which is enough for about three meals.  We'll either have these in spaghetti or as meatball subs.

It wasn't everything I hoped to accomplish today, but it's a good start.

What do you do to prep for future meals?

Chicken potstickers

I have been asked to include pictures with my recipes to make them pinnable, so I'll do that, as long as you'll forgive me for my elementary photography skills!

We are big potsticker fans in this house.  That's all my daughter wants when we go to our favorite teriyaki restaurant (though I do make her eat a side order of veggies while she's at it), and I love them for quick dinners at home since they cook in less than 15 minutes.  We like the Ling Ling brand, but they're almost $8 a bag at our regular grocery store now!  I used to make them from scratch frequently (once in a while even making my own wontons), but have gotten out of the habit.  We're focusing more on our budget once again, so I dusted off my old recipe and got to work.

My food processor makes quick work of mixing everything together, but if you don't have one, just start with ground chicken and finely chop the veggies.

Chicken Potstickers
Makes approximately 60

1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts (I'm sure thighs would work just fine as well)
2 green onions
1 T fresh ginger, sliced
4 cloves garlic
1 T. soy or tamari sauce
1 T. rice cooking wine, dry sherry, chicken broth, or water
1 egg
1 heaping T. cornstarch
1/2 t. salt
1/4 t. pepper
60 gyoza wrappers (ours come in packs of 48 so that's how many I make - see note at end)
vegetable oil to saute
water or chicken broth to simmer

Place chicken, onions, ginger and garlic in the bowl of a food processor.  Process until nearly smooth.  Add soy/tamari sauce, wine or broth, egg, cornstarch, salt and pepper and process again until blended.

Lay gyoza wrappers on a parchment lined baking sheet.  Place a scant tablespoon of the meat mixture onto the wrapper, just off center.  Wet a finger and run it around the edge of the wrapper.  Fold in half, pressing out as much air as possible.

 Crimp the edges by folding over slightly and pressing together.

If you won't be eating them right away, lay them in a single layer on the baking sheet and freeze overnight or until solid.  Place in a freezer bag until you're ready to cook and serve. 

To cook, heat a few tablespoons of oil in a large skillet.  Lay the potstickers in a single layer, until the bottoms are golden.  Add water or chicken broth just to cover them.  Cover and simmer 10 - 12 minutes.  Serve immediately.

If you run out of wrappers (or just want that great filling flavor without all the work of making the potstickers), you can shape the filling into patties and fry them until cooked through.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Lemon Garlic Shrimp Pasta with Buttered Breadcrumbs

Another hit!  So good my four-year-old asked for extra shrimp for dessert.

Lemon Garlic Shrimp Pasta with Buttered Breadcrumbs
Inspired by Pioneer Woman Cooks
Serves 4.

8 ounces dry spaghetti
1/4 c. plus 2 T. butter, divided
1/2 c. sweet onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
small pinch red pepper flakes
juice of 1 large lemon
1/2 c. fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
salt to taste

Cook spaghetti in salted water according to package directions. 

Melt 1/4 c. butter in a large skillet.  Add onion and saute until soft.  Add garlic, lemon juice, pepper flakes, and shrimp.  Saute until shrimp is opaque.  Stir in parsley and add salt to taste.

While the shrimp cooks, melt the remaining butter in a small skillet.  Add fresh breadcrumbs and saute until toasted.

When the spaghetti finishes cooking, drain and put into a pasta bowl.  Pour shrimp mixture over and top with toasted breadcrumbs. 

If you have Maldon sea salt flakes, they are a great finish on top!

Monday, August 05, 2013

Steak Sandwiches

I made these for dinner tonight and had to write this down before I forgot it.  Everyone in the house thought it was delicious!

Steak Sandwiches
Serves 6

2T. olive oil, divided
2 red bell peppers, thinly sliced
2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp. Montreal steak seasoning, divided
12 oz. steak, thinly sliced (I buy the presliced "steak for sandwiches")
1/4 cup beef broth
Shredded Italian cheese
Parmesan Garlic Sandwich spread or mayonnaise
6 bolillo or hoagie rolls, sliced in half lengthwise

Turn oven on to warm and put in rolls to heat.

Heat 1 T. oil over medium heat in a large skillet.   Add peppers, onion, and 1 tsp. steak seasoning and saute until soft.  Remove from pan and set aside.

Add remaining oil to skillet.  Add meat and remaining seasoning, sauteing until only a little pink remains.  Return veggies to skillet and add beef broth and continue cooking five minutes. 

Remove rolls from the oven and turn oven on to broil.  Put the bottom of each roll on a cookie sheet.  Top each with meat and vegetable mixture.  Sprinkle cheese over the top.  Broil five minutes or until cheese is melted.

Meanwhile, spread the top of each roll with sandwich spread or mayonnaise.  Remove the pan from the oven, put the roll tops on, and serve.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Menu Plan May 13-17

I'm not ashamed to say that our eating last week barely resembled our menu plan.  Our sausage and pepper pasta on Sunday evening turned into turkey and pepper pasta when the sausages were freezer burned beyond salvaging (I know better than to put meat in the freezer in its original package - I really do!).  It turned out well, however, and I'll remember that for future skillet meals.  We ate the chicken and black beans on Monday night, but then on Tuesday my hubby requested a take and bake pizza, which stretched into leftovers on Wednesday.  Thursday I made homemade chicken strips.  Friday I decided we'd better have something quick since I had to make two different kinds of shortcake for Saturday, so we just had hot dogs, potato chips, and baby carrots. 

Menu Plan Monday

The name of the game this week is FAST.  Two swimming lessons and a parent teacher conference are sucking up most of our evenings this week.  I'll be doing some prep ahead and hubby will be helping by putting things in the oven before I get home from work.

Monday:  Taco Bell (promised this to my daughter last week - it's been a long time and she's going through potato taco withdrawal.  Kind of regretting it after eating out all day yesterday, but a deal's a deal!).

Tuesday:  Hamburger casserole (I'll make it tonight and hubby will put it in the oven tomorrow so we can eat right when I get home from work).

Wednesday:  Chicken and Stove Top (I'll make it in the morning and hubby will put it in the oven while we're at swimming lessons)

Thursday:  Broccoli Beef

Friday:  Dinner with family.

Have a great week, and see you all over at for more fabulous menu ideas!

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Menu Plan May 5 - 11

I'm feeling rather blah about this week's menu.  Actually, today I'm tired and not in the mood to even think about cooking, let alone actually do it.  So this week's theme is going to be "quick and simple" because, no matter what, we will not be eating out!

Last week we mostly stuck to the plan.  I did end up making chicken strips and tater tots instead of tetrazzini on Thursday, after spending most of the day at the zoo with my daughter's preschool class.  It was a hot day, and I was tired, so I relied on my fallback plan in the freezer.  It worked out well.

We did run into issues with side dishes last week.  I don't know what I was thinking, but I shorted us on fresh vegetables when I went shopping.  Then I discovered we didn't have nearly as many canned and frozen veggie options as I thought we did.  But, we worked it out and I remedied that at the grocery store this week!

So here's the plan:

Sunday: Sausage and pepper pasta
Monday:  chicken and black beans
Tuesday:  jambalaya (we us the Zatarains brand)
Wednesday:  Bruschetta Chicken Bake
Thursday: "More" Casserole (hubby's family recipe)
Friday:  Pork Chops (I'll probably dredge them in one of those Kraft Fresh Take things)
Saturday:  Early Mother's Day/Graduation party for my sister-in-law.  We're having ribs - I'm making strawberry shortcake for 16!

Have a great week!  Remember to visit for more menu planning ideas!

Saturday, May 04, 2013

How I Budget

Grab a cup of coffee…this is going to be a long one!

I love our budget.

There, I said it.  I love our budget.  We don't always follow it, but I love looking at it and knowing that we at least have a PLAN for where our money should go.  Sometimes we're impulsive and go wildly over in some categories (I am, after all, a compulsive grocery shopper, and my husband can't get within 10 miles of an electronics store without deciding that SOMETHING needs upgrading).  But, through it all, I have my little spreadsheet that tells me where, when we're paying attention and giving it thought, everything should go.

My budget is...complicated.  It's long.  It's detailed.  It requires daily maintenance.  It is accompanied by 14 (yes, 14 - I just counted them again) different savings accounts that ensure that we have money set aside for big purchases, special projects, and expenses that come around less frequently than once a month.  And I love it.

I get paid twice a month.  My hubby gets paid every other week.  I thrive on consistency, so I have built our budget around my pay schedule, rather than a calendar month.  So our budget month runs from the 8th of one month to the 7th of the next. 

My budget is divided into two sections.  One for the first half of the month, and one for the second.  Some budget categories, such as utilities, show up only in one section, because we only pay it once a month.  Others, like groceries and gas, show up in both sections, because we spend on those throughout the month. 

Here are my budget categories:

1st half of the month:

           Garbage Bill
           Gas Bill
           Water Bill
           Gift Fund - auto transfer to savings
           Clothes/Dry Cleaning –auto transfer to savings
           Car Repair/Replace –auto transfer to savings
           Eating out
           Misc. Household Stuff
           Home Improvement Fund- auto transfer to savings
           Pet Emergency Fund - auto transfer to savings
           Phone Bill
           Day Care
           Dog Food
           Weight Watchers
           Car Payment
           Vacation fund - auto transfer to savings

2nd half of the month:

           Auto/Earthquake Insurance - auto transfer to savings
           Gift Fund
           Eating Out
           Life Insurance - auto transfer to savings
           Electric Bill
           Day Care

I have this worked out so our expenses are basically balanced about 50/50 between the two. 

You probably noticed quite a few categories marked as “auto transfer to savings”.  As I said, I have 14 savings accounts.  Early on I decided it was going to be too difficult for me to keep track of all our separate funds on paper with all the money in one account.  So, I started working with an online bank (which pays slightly higher interest than my regular bank) and set up a separate account for each of our different savings needs.  Then, I took the annual amount we anticipate spending, divided it by 12, and set up automatic transfers from checking.  The only exception to this is our gift fund, which transfers weekly.  All money for birthdays, Christmas, and other gift-giving occasions throughout the year comes from this fund – I just transfer it back as I need it.  I realize there aren’t 14 accounted for here – I have some others that I put money in from time to time, and others that have built up so much money that we’ve stopped transferring till we need it. 

All of this is set up in a spreadsheet.  Every day, I write down what we spent the day before, and check our checking account and credit card to make sure we’ve accounted for everything and haven’t had any unauthorized charges.  Leftover money at the end of the month (we always budget to have padding) is transferred to our general savings account. I add new columns each month, so I can go back and easily look at our spending over time.  It sounds arduous, I know, but it really only takes a couple of minutes.  I find that if I don’t do it daily, I don’t do it, so I’ve just worked it into my morning routine.  Get up, get my coffee, check the bank account.  It works for me. 

And really, that’s the important thing.  Find something that works for you.  Some people use cash and the envelope system.  We’ve decided not to do that because we enjoy getting points (traded in for gift cards or cash) from our credit card, which we pay off weekly.  Also, I find it easier for cash to slip through my fingers without a record – at least with my credit card or debit card there’s a note on my account if the receipt disappears. 

This past month I’ve been challenging myself to stay within our budget (it’s been a while).  We’re not going to make it, but we’ll be close.  I’ll be posting next week about how we did, where we went over, and why. 

How do you budget?