Saturday, December 31, 2011

Slow Cooker Ham and Bean Soup

I know Jen just posted a soup recipe with ham but this one was too good, and too easy, not to post as well.

Slow Cooker Ham and Bean Soup

A meaty ham bone or ham hock or about 2 cups diced ham (the ham bone really adds flavor though!)
16oz northern beans
½ large onion diced
2 to 3 stalks celery, sliced
8 cups low sodium chicken broth
2 slices bacon, cooked and crumbled
2 Tbsp minced garlic
2 Bay leaves
½ tsp thyme

Soak the beans overnight in cold water. In the morning, rinse and place in the bottom of a crock pot. Place the ham bone on top of beans. Dump in the rest of ingredients and cook on low for 6 to 8 hours (depending on your cooker's cooking time. It could take up to 8 to 10, but mine was done in 6) until the beans are tender. Can be thickened with a little cornstarch and water, if you like a more stew-like consistency.

Plugging this into Calorie Counter's recipe analysis, and roughly calculating that my slow cooker made about 12 cups and a serving size was about 2 cups of soup (as the main course of a meal, 2 cups sounded about right?), it gave me these nutrition facts:

Calories: 130
Total Fat: 3.7g
Saturated Fat: 1.1g
Trans Fat: 0.0g
Sodium: 621mg
Total Carbohydrates: 15.4g
Dietary Fiber: 2.9g
Protein: 9.4g

Friday, December 30, 2011

Friday Favorites

Organized Home - Holiday Grand Plan New Year's Week - help with some post holiday organization
DIY Storage Container for Christmas Tree Ornaments - I have seen similar products that you buy but it has to be cheaper to buy cups at dollar tree or some-like place and glue them to cardboard to create a custom container
16 Tips for Easier Christmas Storage - budget friendly storage solutions
37 New Year's Eve Appetizer Recipes 
Festive and Fun Holiday Drinks

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Freezer Breakfast Muffins

These are great muffins to have on hand so that a great grab and go type breakfast. They are savory and not sweet. 

Makes 12 jumbo muffins or 24 regular muffins

1 lb chorizo sausage or bulk breakfast sausage
2 cups Bisquick - I used heart healthy Bisquick
1 cup cornmeal
3 eggs
1 3/4 cup milk
1/3 cup chopped bell peppers
1/3 cup finely minced onion
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp garlic powder
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese - I have used cheddar one time and monterey jack another - both were good

Line muffin tins with paper liners and set aside.

Crumble, brown sausage.  Add in peppers and onion and cook until tender. Drain off grease.  

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

Mix together bisquick, cornmeal, eggs, garlic powder and milk.  Add drained sausage mixture and cheese. Mix until all ingredients are incorporated. 

Ladle the filling into the prepared muffin tins, filling almost to top. 

Bake for 10 to 15 mins.  Allow to cool completely. 

To Freeze:
Remove all paper liners before placing in freezer. The moisture from the frost and then thawing make the muffins stick to the liner.  For easily peeling of the liners - make sure they are completely cooled down before removing.  Store in large airtight container or ziplock. Or place one jumbo or 2 regular in sandwich bags and then place in large container or ziplock so that you can just pull out easily for a breakfast. 

To Serve and Eat:
Microwave straight from freezer on high for approximately 90 seconds. Each microwave is different so you will have to find that right time for yourself.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Other Uses for Nail Polish Remover

Recently, I've been finding all kinds of ways to use my nail polish remover.  I use a 100% acetone remover and because that stuff is so very strong it has plenty of other applications to like (regular non-acetone remover will likely work as well):

  • Got some super glue on your fingers?  The acetone will remove it and not smell near as bad as gasoline.
  • Find some jars you want to re-use but they have lettering on them?  The acetone is likely to remove it.
  • Dip a toothbrush in the nail polish remover and use it to clean debris from your keyboard.
  • It will remove scuff marks from patent leather shoes.
  • Use it remove stickers or labels from glass jars, windows, and mirrors.
Be sure to test a small hidden spot before using it so that it doesn't remove any paint.  Don't spill it on wood that's been stained or painted, you will be sorry.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Storage for Lights


 I know there are lots of fancy products you can buy to storage and wrap your light cords to keep them from not being a big ball of tangled mess, but I just use the box they came in.  It works fine and didn't cost extra.


Take one end and tuck it into the box and close it.

Wrap the cord all around and down the box.


Tuck the other end into the box and close it. 


Store extra bulbs and fuses inside the boxes.  

Tuesday Tips

Caring for "The Good Crystal"
We’re talking about the tumblers, stemware and serving pieces you only take out for company…special company…and on special occasions. To clean these irreplaceable treasures, fill a basin or the sink with a 3:1 combination of hot water and distilled white vinegar.

Note: For crystal that is really grimy or filmy, use 3 parts hot water to 2 parts distilled white vinegar.

When you wash crystal in the sink, line it with a fluffy towel or a rubber mat in case a piece slips out of your hands.

Once all the crystal is clean, rinse and dry each piece with a lint-free cloth. Your best bet in terms of lint-free is a linen towel, or a cloth made of at least 25% linen.

Will You Pass the Hand-Washing Test?

How much time do you spend washing your hands before you handle food? Go through the motions of your typical hand-washing session, and you might be surprised at how quickly you do it. Maybe for six seconds?

To be sure your hands are bacteria-free, the recommended amount of wash-up time is 20 to 30 seconds using warm, soapy water (and plain soap is often better than anti­bacterial). If you sing the "Happy Birthday" song or recite your ABCs while washing up, you will spend the right amount of time cleaning your hands. Finish the job by wiping your hands with a clean piece of paper towel.

Cutting Board Cleanup

Do you have cuts in your wood cutting board? Of course! But those cuts can be home to germs. Every now and then, smooth away the cuts with a piece of fine sandpaper.

Give Your Oven Racks a Bath

Run very hot water in the bathtub—enough to completely cover the oven racks. Add 1⁄3 cup of liquid dish detergent and 1 cup of distilled white vinegar. Let the racks soak in the tub for at least one hour. Then scrub if necessary, rinse and wipe dry.
If some stubborn caked-on crud refuses to come off, you can carefully scrape it away with a knife.

How to Dust Hard-to-Reach Places

Clean hard-to-reach high-up, under and behind places with a golf club or hockey stick.

Wrap a cloth or hand towel around the head of a golf club or the blade of a hockey stick, and secure it with string or rubber bands. Both club and stick are perfect for dusting the tops of picture frames, high shelves, the tops of doors, ceiling molding and the tops of bookcases.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Post Holiday Left Overs

If your house is anything like our house, then you are finding yourself in the post holiday daze, with too many left overs in your refrigerator and and uncertainty on how to use them up creatively. Himself does not like to eat left overs. Our littles aren't fans of left overs either. So while I have a fond spot in my heart for the reheated ham and lasagna (especially in the middle of the night), they simply won't have any parts of it.

So in order not to waste the precious foods of yesterday, I turn to some new recipes (and some tried and true ones) to turn those left overs into new meals.

Here are a few successful dishes for you to try:

If you have ham left over --

You can always go with a ham and cheese omelet, or a western omelet, or the tried and true egg strata. But I also like to change it up a bit and use the following recipe:

Ham and Potato Soup (I originally got this recipe out of an old better homes and gardens magazine and have changed it up a bit over the years)


3 1/2 cups peeled and diced potatoes
1/3 cup diced celery
1/3 cup finely chopped onion
3/4 cup diced cooked ham
3 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons chicken bouillon granules
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1 teaspoon ground white or black pepper, or to taste
5 tablespoons butter
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk


Combine the potatoes, celery, onion, ham and water in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, then cook over medium heat until potatoes are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in the chicken bouillon, salt and pepper.
In a separate saucepan, melt butter over medium-low heat. Whisk in flour with a fork, and cook, stirring constantly until thick, about 1 minute. Slowly stir in milk as not to allow lumps to form until all of the milk has been added. Continue stirring over medium-low heat until thick, 4 to 5 minutes.
Stir the milk mixture into the stockpot, and cook soup until heated through. Serve immediately.

If you have turkey left over:

Turkey Pot Pie


1 recipe pastry for a (10 inch) double crust pie
4 tablespoons butter
1 small onion, minced
2 stalks celery, chopped
2 carrots, diced
3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper to taste
2 cubes chicken bouillon
2 cups water
3 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 1/2 cups cooked turkey, cubed
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 cup milk


Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Roll out bottom pie crust and place in the 10 inch pie pan and set aside.
Place 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add the onion, celery, carrots, parsley, oregano, salt and pepper. Cook and stir until the vegetables are soft. Stir in the bouillon and water. Bring mixture to a boil. Stir in the potatoes, and cook until tender but still firm.
In a medium saucepan, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in the turkey and flour. Add the milk, and heat through. Stir the turkey mixture into the vegetable mixture, and cook until thickened. Pour mixture into the unbaked pie shell. Roll out the top crust, and place on top of filling. Flute edges, and make 4 slits in the top crust to let out steam.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and continue baking for 20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.

Or if you are like me, simply slip down to the quiet of the kitchen in the middle of the night, have a glass of wine, and enjoy picking at the left over ham or turkey or perhaps a simple sandwich. But no matter how you enjoy your left overs, simply enjoy the season.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Beer Battered Fried Green Beans

Merry Christmas to all those that celebrate it!

Today, I bring a quick and easy side dish that my Sir loves and we made tonight!

Beer Battered Green Beans

1 cup beer
1 cup flour
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1 lb green beans
peanut oil for frying

Wash and trim the ends of the green beans. Mix flour, beer, salt and pepper in a bowl. Whisk until smooth.

Preheat oil to 375 degrees. If you are heating on the stove in a pot, it will be the right temp when a small drop of the batter fries to a golden brown in 1 minute.

Dip the green beans in batter to coat, let excess batter drip off and drop into the oil, making sure to leave space between the beans so they don't stick together. Fry until golden brown, then remove with tongs or a spider strainer and drain on paper towel. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste.

* Peanut oil is best for frying these, but it can be done in other oil, such as Canola.

* If you are frying on the stove top, you generally want about 1 inch of oil in the pot.

* Much experimentation has shown that lighter beers tend to work better and taste better than dark. The best one we've found so far is Bass Ale.

* You can make these with a lot of batter or a little. You can see that in the batch pictured, there are some lightly coated and some more heavily coated. Sir tends to like his with more batter.

* I find that this recipe barely covers a pound of green beans, so you might want to double it.

* Putting the beans on a cookie sheet in the oven for about 5 minutes at 350 degrees removes additional grease and makes them more crispy.

* These can be reheated, 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes is usually sufficient.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Repurpose Christmas

If you're anything like me, by the time Christmas is over, you're ready to pack all of those space-sucking decorations away. And if one happens to be broken, or if you're sick of looking at it year after year, getting rid of it sounds wonderful!

Well, stop it. Heh. This year we're going to repurpose. We're going to save money, save the landfill, and be all sorts of crunchy. :)

Even your non-working string of lights can be repurposed! Think about the style of cute, junk jewelry that fills the store at the holidays. Christmas bulb earrings. Christmas bulb necklaces, broaches, bracelets, barrettes.

Old, tired ornaments can be prettied up with some satin and lace. Or jazzed up with sequins and glitter, if that's your style. Grab a hot glue gun and some scraps and design your new ornament with your old ornament as a base. Consider gluing broken ornaments into a beautiful mosaic piece.

Long before I buy new Christmas decorations and pay full price at the store, I walk the holiday aisle at the thrift stores and see what's there. Broken things that just need a spot of glue or a swipe of paint, old wreaths needing some sprucing up, or a whole box full of items that can be taken apart and made into a whole new thing.

Not only do I save a bunch of money, I get to have fun creating. Get the kids involved- what kid can resist paint, glue and sparklies? Not this one. ;-)

Last year I had a snowman Christmas wreath. It was cute enough- singing, animated snowmen and all- but it was beginning to fall apart, plus I felt I'd 'outgrown' the style. In fact, when I was packing up last year I *almost* tossed it.

When I got it out this year, I decided to repurpose. I took it apart, and with just a few cheap purchases at the craft store, I came out with not only a new wreath for the door, but with enough leftover supplies to make a few more decorations.

The only part of this that is original is the wreath itself. There are always piles upon piles of old, ugly wreaths at the thrift store. (hint hint) I like the clean, simple lines of this wreath, and as cheap as it was to throw together, next year I can do a completely different style if I want to and not feel like I've wasted a ton of money.

This is the pile of leftovers I had when I was done. It's a combination of stuff cut from the old wreath and supplies from making the new one. I tossed them all in a basket, threw it on the table and called it a centerpiece. :)

This literally took me about 60 seconds to make, using nothing but leftover supplies.

And those silly motion-activated, singing, dancing snowmen from the original wreath?

I placed them on a table in a high-traffic area just so I could listen to the groans of my cheerful teenagers. With each loudly crooned verse of "Let it snow, Let it snow, Let it snow" I was entertained with "Moooo-oooooom! That is SO annoying!" I do take pleasure in the strangest of things. ;)

So, as you're packing up this year, slide your box of thrift-store-bound decorations into the closet. Because while the idea of redecorating may not appeal to you right now, bogged down in holiday-overload as we are, by next year when you pull it all out and the Christmas spirit is just beginning to bubble, you might be surprised at how much fun it will be to recreate, repurpose and redecorate!

Some helpful links:

Thriftshop Romantic: Repurposing Christmas Decorations

Mom's Budget: Repurpose Your Christmas Decorations

Ways to repurpose broken Christmas decorations

This one gives ideas for how to use your Christmas decorations all year round:
After Christmas Decorating: Repurpose Your Christmas Tree and Ornament Collection

Friday, December 23, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Turkey Tetrazzini

Having turkey during the holidays?  This is a great way to use leftover turkey.  It is a good hot meal on a busy day or a lazy weekend.  Although this looks complicated it really does comes together fairly quick. You could put it all together the night before and then take it out of the fridge 30 minutes before baking.  I serve with a salad and garlic toast. 


  • 3/4 cup chopped onions
  • 1/2 cup chopped bell peppers (I did mixture of yellow, green and red)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil, vegetable oil or butter
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 1 1/2 cups white button mushrooms, ends trimmed, sliced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons oregano
  • 1 teaspoon thyme 
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 2 cups  low-sodium chicken stock or canned chicken broth
  • 1 3/4 cups half and half
  • 12 ounces spaghetti noodles
  • 1 pound cubed or bite-size shredded roast turkey
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • 2 cups potato chips, crushed 


Saute the onions and bell peppers in olive oil in a large skillet or Dutch oven over high heat until soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 2 minutes, stirring. Add the mushrooms, Essence, and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are soft and have released their liquid, about 6 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons butter.  Sprinkle with the flour and cook, stirring, for 2 minutes. Add the wine and chicken stock and cook, stirring, until smooth and thick, about 2 minutes. Add the half and half and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thick and very flavorful, 15 to 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the spaghetti noodles until al dente, about 8-10 minutes. Drain in a colander and set aside.
Spray a 9 by 13-inch casserole or baking dish with cooking spray and set aside.
When the sauce has thickened, add the noodles, turkey, and Parmesan to the skillet and stir until thoroughly combined. Transfer to the prepared casserole and top with the potato chips. Bake uncovered until bubbly and golden brown, about 30 minutes. Serve immediately.  Serves 8.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Gift idea: Biscotti

After baking up a ton of sweet stuff this holiday, I was looking for something homemade to gift some foodie friends on my list. Biscotti came to mind- not too terribly sweet, but flavorful and it still gives me the chance to play around with different combinations of ingredients.

I adapted Giada De Laurentiis' holiday biscotti recipe. I opted not to dip them in white chocolate and cover them in sprinkles, and changed out the nuts from pistachios to chopped walnuts. The result was a slightly sweet cookie with a gentle lemon undernote, just the right amount of crumble when dipped in coffee, and a buttery, nutty flavor accented with cranberries.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3/4 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped
2/3 cup dried cranberries

1. Preheat oven to 350F. Line a heavy, large baking sheet with parchment paper. Whisk the flour and baking powder in a medium bowl to blend, and set aside.
2. Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar, butter, lemon zest and salt together.
Add eggs in, beating them one at a time.
3. Add the flour mixture and mix until everything is just blended. Stir in dried fruit and nuts.
4. Form the dough into a log, about 3” wide, on the prepared baking sheet. Mine ended up being about a foot long.
5. Bake until light golden – about 40 minutes. Let cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes. There may be some crumbling when you slice... I made sure to cool completely before moving onto the next step to minimize that.
6. Using a serrated knife, slice through biscotti at a diagonal. Arrange slices onto baking pan, slice-side-down. Bake again at 350 degrees for 15 minutes, or until the tops are light golden brown and the edges are crisp.
7. Cool completely before packaging.

My next batch? Walnuts, dried cherries, dipped halfway in melted dark chocolate.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday Tips

Toilet Overflowing? Quick Do This...
If, after you flush, the water is rising higher than it should, quickly turn on the cold water in the sink as well as in the bathtub or shower. The cold water coming through the pipes will cause a vacuum that will suction the water in the toilet down the drain.

Commit this tip to memory. It’s a great thing to know, especially when you go to somebody else’s home.

Surprising Way to Keep Ice Off Your Windshield

If snow is coming, and your car is going to be out on the street all night, pull up your windshield wipers and coat the windshield with sulfuric compounds.

Does that sound complicated? It’s not! Just cut an onion in half and rub the glass with the onion’s cut surface. The coating will prevent the formation of ice on your windshield. Don’t forget to onion-up your side mirrors as well.

Quick Trick Makes Dripless Candles

Keep candles in the freezer for several hours before lighting them. The candles will burn longer and hardly drip, if at all.

Speaking of freezers...

Cheese Please!

Before you cut or grate a block of cheese, put the wedge in the freezer for about 20 minutes. This will prevent it from clinging to the knife or grater.

  Perfect Piecrust
When a piecrust recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of ice water, instead use 1 tablespoon of distilled white vinegar—this will make a crispier crust.

And for a flakier piecrust, substitute the same amount of sour cream or plain yogurt for the liquid called for in a crust recipe.

Speaking of vinegar...

When Something Smells Fishy
Fish-cooking smells can be absorbed—just place a small bowl of distilled white vinegar or fresh coffee grounds near the stove or wherever the fish is being prepared.

(I just used the vinegar trick in my microwave after warming up some fish and finding that the microwave stunk to high heaven the next day. I filled a small bowl with some vinegar, put it in the microwave and shut the door. A few hours later- no smell!)

Monday, December 19, 2011

A little Latke here, and a little latke there...

In our house we celebrate both Hanukkah and Christmas. And with Hanukkah quickly approaching, there is much discussion on what type of Latkes we will be eating. Everyone has a preference and no fear of expressing what their favorites are. So what happens is that we wind up having almost 8 different types of Latkes. My 4 year old says that's okay because it just means one type for each night. I, on the other hand, would rather not be frying food for my family for 8 nights.

That said, for those of you who may feel so inclined to try out some latke recipes, here are a few of our family favorite recipes and/or variations:

Traditional Potato Latke

2 cups peeled and shredded potatoes ( I prefer to use red potatoes, but you can use any type of potato that you like)
1 tablespoon grated onion (Himself prefers more onion, so instead of using grated onion, I finely chop a whole onion)
3 eggs, beaten
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (If your mixture is too watery or loose, simply add more flour as needed)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
oil for frying (I prefer peanut oil, but you can use any type of oil you like -- olive oil doesn't work the best however so don't use that)

place the potatoes in a cheesecloth and wring, extracting as much moisture as possible.

In a medium bowl stir the potatoes, onion, eggs, flour and salt together.

In a large heavy-bottomed skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until hot. Place large spoonfuls of the potato mixture into the hot oil, pressing down on them to form 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick patties. Brown on one side, turn and brown on the other. Let drain on paper towels. Serve hot!

**note** we serve ours with both apple sauce and sour cream on the side for those who may want either with their latkes.

Sweet Potato Latkes

4 large sweet potato, peeled and grated
2 onion, grated
8 eggs
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons and 2 teaspoons oil, or more if needed
2 teaspoons salt
plain nonfat yogurt

Preheat oven to 200 degrees F (95 degrees C). Line a baking sheet with paper towels.

Fill a bowl with lightly-salted water. Rinse the grated sweet potato in the water, and drain into a sieve. Pat the grated sweet potato dry with a cloth or paper towels, then place into a bowl. Squeeze excess moisture from the grated onion, and place into the bowl with the sweet potato. Stir the eggs and pepper into the mixture until well combined.

Heat the oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat until it shimmers, and spoon about 1 heaping tablespoon of the potato mixture per patty into the hot oil. Flatten the patties with a fork, and fry until golden brown and crisp on the bottom, 5 to 8 minutes. Flip and cook on the other side, sprinkle with salt, then set the cooked patties aside on the prepared baking sheet in the preheated oven while you finish cooking the latkes.

Stir the potato mixture before cooking each batch of patties.

**Note** we serve these with hot with applesauce and yogurt.

Some variations that we like to our traditional potato latkes are to grate in some carrot, and celery.

Another of our variations is to grate in zucchini and yellow squash. If you choose to do this with the squash, you will need to definitely add more flour to keep things together as the squash retains a lot of water.

Another variation is to grate in apple with your sweet potato latke mixture. That gives it a bit of sweet and savory all in one. This is my youngest daughters favorite type to eat. We sometimes make those and serve them for breakfast. I also add some cinnamon to this mixture.

And lastly the latest variation we have tried is to grate potato, zucchini, carrot, onion, and eggplant all together. We season this mixture with garlic, salt, pepper, and some hot sauce into the mixture of egg and flour. These are served with creme fraiche in our house.

No matter what way you do your latkes this holiday season, may you share many memories, and good times. Happy Hanukkah.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Chocolate Peppermint Thumbprint Cookies

I made these for a gathering last night and they went over so well (all 5 dozen disappeared!) I thought I would share with you!

The original recipe is from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food .

2 cups all-purpose flour
2/3 cup cocoa powder
1/4 tsp fine salt
1 1/4 cup unsalted butter, room temperature (2 1/2 sticks)
1 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 tbsp vanilla extract
3/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/2 tsp peppermint extract
1/2 cup white sanding sugar (*the magazine merely suggests that you use sanding sugar, but the cookies look so much pretty with the extra sparkle. If you don't have it though, you can use 1/2 cup regular white sugar)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (Martha says, with racks in the upper and lower thirds. My oven is divided into quarters, I did the lowest rack and the 2nd from the top). In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder and salt. In a large bowl, beat 1 cup butter and 1 cup sugar on medium-high until light and fluffy or about 3 minutes. Add egg and vanilla; beat to combine. With mixer on low, gradually add dry mixture to combine.

Place the 1/2 cup sanding sugar in a small bowl. Roll the dough into 1 inch balls, then roll in sugar to coat. Place balls on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper about 1 inch apart. Bake 5 minutes, remove from oven and with a small melon baller or the bottom of a small spoon, make an indentation in the center of each cookie. **

Return to the oven and bake 4 minutes longer, until cookies are just set but still look moist, Be careful not to overbake. Cool completely on wire racks.

** Really Martha? They are called thumbprint cookies. I used my clean thumb to make the indentations. And because my oven bakes hot, I made the indentations prior to baking and baked for only 6 minutes total.

In a microwave safe bowl, combine the chocolate chips and remaining 1/4 cup butter and peppermint extract. Microwave in 10 second increments until melted, stirring frequently. Let cool until thick enough to pipe. Spoon into zip-top bag and snip 1/4 inch hole into one corner. Pipe chocolate into indentations. Let dry completely. ***

*** I have zero luck with piping anything from a zip-top bag. I used a teaspoon and did not wait the 5 minutes till the mixture was cool enough to pipe, but chose instead to spoon it immediately while it was still warm and pliable.

Like I said, they came out fantastic and I was left with zero!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Pumpkin Wontons

I got the original recipe off of Kraft. I think they would be great if you have to go a Christmas or New Years Eve party. They are easy and tasty. I did modify it a bit as I have worked with wontons before and didn't feel there was a need for the egg white that Kraft had in their recipe. I also used more wonton wrappers but kept their number in the recipe too.

12 caramels
1 tsp.  water
1/2 cup sour cream
1 tsp.  ground cinnamon, divided
4 oz. (1/2 of 8-oz. pkg.) cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup  canned pumpkin
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1 tsp.  flour
1/4 tsp. orange zest
20-24   won ton wrappers

2 cups  oil
2 Tbsp. powdered sugar

MICROWAVE caramels and water in medium microwaveable bowl on HIGH 30 sec.; stir. Heat for another 30 sec. Stir until caramels are completely melted.Cool 2 min. Stir in sour cream and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Refrigerate until ready to use.

WHISK cream cheese, pumpkin, brown sugar, flour, zest and remaining cinnamon until well blended. Spoon about 2 tsp. onto center of each won ton wrapper. Moisten edges with water; fold diagonally in half. Moisten edges again with water pressing edges together tightly to seal.

HEAT oil in large saucepan on medium-high heat to 350ºF. Add won tons, in batches; cook 2 to 3 min. or until evenly browned. Drain. Cool slightly or to room temperature. Sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve with caramel sauce


Cook won tons as directed except don't sprinkle with powdered sugar. Freeze up to 2 months. When ready to reheat, place frozen won tons on baking sheet. (No need to thaw first.) Bake at 350°F for 15 min. or until heated through. Sprinkle with powdered sugar.

* Won ton wrappers quickly dry out, keep them covered with a damp clean kitchen towel until you are ready to use them.
* I found the dip didn't go quite smoothly but it might have been because I didn't use Kraft caramels. When I mixed it into the sour cream, it hardened right away because the sour cream was cool so cooled the caramel. There were clumps of caramel in the dip. So it didn't exactly go as directed.  I think next time I would use like caramel you use for ice cream topping. I think it would mix more smoothly after being heated for a few moments. 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Friday Favorites: Holiday treats edition

Right now, my focus is on baking Christmas cookies. And so I've been digging through recipe site after recipe site to find a few that have consistently good feedback and meet our picky Santa's tastes (mmmm. shortbread!)

Here's the ones that made my cut:
Ina Garten's Shortbread
Russian Tea Cakes
Holiday Biscotti
Raspberry and Almond Thumbprints
World's Best Butter Cookies

We also do Caramel Popcorn for the holidays, too.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Handmade Gift: Gratitude Journal

I am all about little gifts brought together to be made into a package of goodies for people I love.  So I like making crafts that are small and easy. This is one of those projects. I made these a few years ago for packages.

I called them Gratitude Journals but I also did Wish, Ideas, and Dream Journals. The idea was to be able to just keep this tiny little book with you so you could capture moments of gratitude (wishes, ideas or dreams).

I used mini-mead journals that I got at the Dollar Tree in 3 packs.  They are 3 1/2 inches by 4 inches.  I also have used other little notebooks that I will show photos of plain notebooks at the end that can be used.

I just used scrapbook and collage elements to decorate the covers.
Items used:
Pages from old books
Paint chips picked up at Home Depot and Lowes
Words that I printed from using a Word Doc
Magazines - images and patterns cut out from magazines
Vintage Printables I found online (such as:
Punches (stars, hearts, circles, flowers, and puzzle pieces)
Old postage stamps
Scrapbook paper & other scrapbook embellishments - stars, brads, flowers, word rub-ons, chip-board embellishments

These other types of notebooks would work also.  The notebook with pen I got at Michael's Craft store for $1.  I also got the Matchbook Notepads there in a pack of 2 or 3 (can't remember how many for sure) but I have seen both of these items occasionally at The Dollar Tree too.  The 3"x5" Memo notepad usually comes in a 3 pack also at The Dollar Tree. I can't remember for sure on the 6"x4" Memo notepads but think they came in a 2 pack.  Any little notepad with a cardstock/cardboard cover will work for embellishing. Just make sure they are small enough to tuck into a purse or bag for people to carry with them or to tuck into a corner of a desk to be there but not take a lot of space up. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Grinding Nuts

It seems to me that the holiday baking season calls for bunches and bunches of ground nuts.  Generally I buy whole or broken nuts and do the grinding myself because it tends to be cheaper.  For a long time, I used a hand-crank, old-fashioned model and was pleased with it.  It took a long time to do several pounds, however; and the chop wasn't very uniform.
I found a meat grinder attachment for my mixer at a yard sale for $4.  I bought it thinking I would occasionally use it to grind meat.  Turns out, it's perfect for grinding nuts too.  It's much, much faster and the grind is perfectly uniform.

If you have a lot of nuts to grind this holiday season, find a friend who hunts they most likely have a meat grinder and ask to borrow it.  Just a few minutes and you can grind several pounds and store the ground nuts in the freezer for future use.  I store the ground nuts in clearly marked bags with the amount pre-measured for ease during long baking sessions. 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday Tips: Holiday Party Edition

Fun Place Cards for Your Holiday Party

Instead of using the usual place cards, buy miniature picture frames and put each guest’s name in a frame—they make great keepsakes. It would be even more fun if you happened to have a photo of each guest to put in the frames.

Cookie-Cutter Napkin Rings

Create your own distinctive collection of napkin rings by using cookie cutters. Each person gets a different shape, with his or her napkin rolled up and slipped through the middle.

Matching Christmas Serving Platters

Don't want to use up your budget on buying holiday themed serving platters? Use vibrant, shiny, thick wrapping paper to line each serving tray or plate. Suddenly, all your platters and plates will match the mood.

Putting an Elegant Spin on an Old Classic

Veggies with dip on a big platter can be ordinary and boring. But take those same ingredients and place them in individual glass votive candle holders that people can pick up and carry while mingling and you've got something special.

Making a Fire in Your Fireplace? Add a Lovely Scent...

First, spread the rinds from an orange or lemon on paper towels, and let them dry out overnight. When the rinds are thoroughly dry, toss them on the fire to create a lovely citrus aroma. If you are not into a citrus scent, you could toss in a few pinecones for a more woodsy fragrance.

Cookie Gift Sleeve

Favors for guests to take with them - cookies packaged in CD envelopes and sealed with festive tags.

A Holiday Pick-Me-Up

Are the holidays running you ragged? The scent of cinnamon stimulates the trigeminal nerve, the area of the brain that governs wakefulness and raises energy levels. Have cinnamon at breakfast-time—sprinkle it on toast, hot oatmeal, cold cereal or even coffee. Or, during the day, put a drop of cinnamon oil on the inside of your wrist and sniff the invigorating scent.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Making a dollar go a long way.

From September to New Year's in our household there is no shortage of holidays and birthdays celebrated. Between the Jewish holidays that come in the fall, the Christian holidays that come in the fall, and 6 birthday celebrations, and 2 anniversary celebrations, we are always looking for ways to stretch our money. We host most of the above and it seems there are always overnight guests, extra people at the table, and just more mouths to feed, presents to purchase, and things to do, than time or money sometimes want to allow.

So each year I look for ways to cut costs, save a bit here and there, to spend that bit in another spot. In other words rob Peter to pay Paul if you will.

There are two great iPhone apps that I have used to help me keep track of where all the money seems to go and how our family is spending that money. The first app is a free app that can be purchased through iTunes called Mint. Mint is a really handy tool in that it is not only a budget tracker, it interfaces with whichever bank accounts you set it up to interface with and can directly use the information from your bank accounts to track where the money goes without you having to do much beyond initial set up. (I love when my devices work smartly for me). Mint also has some great "alert" features that you can use to keep you up to date on spending limits, areas of concern, or over all information.

The other app that I find very useful is iReconcile. iReconcile is not a free app, but I do prefer it over Mint in that it does "more" and it does it a little bit better. The app itself will cost $19.99 annually (backup features etc.) but I find that $20 to be well worth it when it comes to long term financial planning, tracking, spending tools, and information gathered. It will allow you to drill down to the smallest of details, and also sum up to an annual level. Himself prefers to not know the small details, but wants the bigger picture and wants me to be able to explain things in further detail should he ask. For my purposes I love being able to drill down to the tiniest of details, yet easily roll it up into a neat summary.

But making a dollar go along way isn't just limited to tracking where the spending happens. You can still make wonderful holiday memories without having to break the bank. Think in terms of daily affordable luxury items. Many of us don't even realize just how much money goes out the door each day on that daily latte, or that daily muffin in the morning before work. Or maybe it's the afternoon pick me up at the food truck outside your office space, or perhaps it's the quick pizza on the go for the kids in the evening because you forgot to defrost something to cook for dinner. With a small amount of pre-planning, you can save a bundle. While it is too late to do this for this year, it's not to late to start thinking about next year.

So perhaps make small changes for the new year. Maybe you make a menu plan for the week/month. Perhaps your plan involves using a crockpot a bit more to avoid that last minute pizza, or maybe you do a big cook ahead day twice per month and freeze a few dinner options so that on the days when life is hectic and you don't want to cook you can simply take something out of the freezer, pop it into the oven, add a salad and bread, and you are good to go. Maybe you keep a supply of pizza dough ready to go in your freezer so you can make great tasting homemade pizza at a fraction of the cost of buying one.

Perhaps for the new year you take the "latte challenge". While I would not dream of challenging you to give up your daily latte every day of the week (although that in and of itself is a great challenge) I would challenge you to give it up two days a week and bank the difference. Have a jar, or envelope, or even a spot in your savings account, where you designate the "latte" money to go. If you do this twice a week, that's a $10 savings, $40 monthly, and by next December you have $480 saved that you can now add to the holiday budget to go toward whatever holiday expenses you may have. And you will find you won't even really feel it missing. Imagine then, if you will, if you do that daily instead of just twice a week, at what the savings would be.

And while I am using the term "latte"... i really do mean whatever your affordable luxury is. For some it's a latte, for others its that daily candy bar, for some still it's cigarettes. Whatever your item is, make a life change, even if only once or twice a week, bank the funds, and use it at the end of the year for something better. Your body will thank you, your wallet will thank you, and your happiness in knowing you achieved a goal will be a reward in and of itself. And if all else fails, give yourself a sticker for each day you achieve this, it works for my oldest daughter, she says stickers are *the* best! Perhaps she's right.

And lastly, in making your dollar go along way, think outside the box. Instead of buying expensive wrapping paper, think of fun and creative ways to wrap a present. Have a bottle of wine you need to give, knit a wine cosy, or decoupage a brown bag and put it in that, or simply tie a pretty bow on it and take it as is. After all, people are going to not only appreciate your efforts, but they are appreciating the gift itself more so than what it was wrapped in, boxed in, or otherwise packaged in.

Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Cinnamon Oatmeal Cut Out Cookie

I  made these cookies last year instead of my cardamon cut-out cookies. But I love cardamon so I couldn't imagine my Christmas without a cookie with cardamon so I made a little change to the original recipe so that I could have cardamom.  I have to say I am not sure which I like better these or the Cardamom Cut-Out Cookies. These were a really good cut-out cookie.... flaky and buttery such great flavor. They even have some healthy elements to them. 

Cinnamon Oatmeal Cut Out Cookies 
adapted from King Arthur Flour's Chewy Oatmeal Decorating Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (King Arthur's recipe has ginger)
2 cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (I only use Unbleached All-Purpose flour now)
1/2 cup whole wheat flour, traditional or white wheat
1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
cinnamon sugar 

To prepare the dough: In a medium-sized bowl, beat together the butter and sugar, then add the egg, vanilla, salt, baking powder, cinnamon, and cardamom, beating until smooth. Beat in the flours and oats. The original recipe warns that the mixture may look dry at first but then it will come together - I didn't have that problem. It was pretty moist all the way through the mixing process. Divide the dough into two pieces, wrap each piece in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease (or line with parchment) two baking sheets.

To shape the cookies: Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll it into a circle about 14" in diameter. Use your favorite cutters to cut out cookies, re-rolling and cutting the scraps. Place the cutout cookies on lightly greased or parchment-lined cookie sheets; set them fairly close together, as they don’t spread.

To bake the cookies: Bake the cookies for about 9 to 10 minutes: the shorter amount of time will make softer cookies, the longer amount of time, crisper cookies. Remove the cookies from the oven, sprinkle with cinnamon-sugar and transfer to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining dough. 

Yield: 6 1/2 dozen 2 ½" cookies.

* I wish I had ran the oats through my food processor just a little bit. Maybe just 2 pulses. Because in cutting the cookies out through the oats was difficult at times. And so the stars didn't have clean edges. I think having the oats in smaller pieces would have helped that. But you don't want oat flour you want oats so that is why I say only 2 pulses. Maybe only one. I just feel it would be easier if they were in a little smaller pieces. But they still turned out good and I even if I don't have time or the food processor thing doesn't work - then I would still make these cookies as they are very good. 

* These cookies are great for high altitude cooking. The oats and whole wheat flour helps hold them together. They don't spread at all. 

* They weren't good to ship at least not loosely in a container. They broke. We shipped some to Master's parents and I think I included some in a package to my sister and brother-in-law. But Master's parents told use that the stars didn't make it. As I said above they were light and flaky. Although they weren't crumbly. I just feel it was to being jostled so much in shipping they broke. But they aren't fragile cookies just in normal conditions (such as sitting in a cookie jar and being eaten because they are so good).

These cookies were really good. I loved that they had whole wheat and oats in them. And I will be making them again this year. I might be trying different spices in them and possibly drizzling them with some dark chocolate.

Sunday Quick Links!

This week I have gotten a bunch of tasty treat and helpful hint ideas in my email so I thought I would share them!

My favorite has been Real Simple Magazine's 34 Unique Stocking Stuffers For those of you who want to shove more than candy in a stocking this year.

Those of you looking for new appetizing appetizers, I am going to try the Sriracha Veggie Cheese Balls from Betty Crocker.

Also on Betty's website Fudgy Dark Chocolate Tart. I'm sure Santa won't mind this being left for him instead of cookies and milk!

If any one used to get Kraft Food and Family magazine but stopped once the subscription became paid, have no fear, the website has all their yummy recipes including these adorable Melting Snowman Balls and other variations on cookie balls made with Oreos and Nutter Butters!

Lastly, another Real Simple article I have loved this week was some new twists on Christmas Tree decorating in the Festive Christmas Tree Decorating Article.

Have a great week!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Stretching a budget for the holidays...

This month, we are celebrating the Christmas holidays, as well as three birthdays and hosting family for New Year's Eve. So I've been charged with the task of making sure that the grocery budget stretches as far as we can. Considering the amount of social activities and extra shopping/visitors we'd be hosting this month, I wanted to see how far I could get with smart planning and cooking in bulk.

First, I checked with the Boss about his preferences for the holiday meals and then asked for preferences of those celebrating their birthday. Those would be the cornerstones I had to work around.

Then I raided the pantry to see what we had on hand. With a list of basic ingredients in hand, I planned out meals where I could make once, eat twice... basically, make a double batch and cook one immediately, then freeze one for use at the end of the month. Lasagne, casseroles, soups, chilis all made that list.

Then I looked for similarities in the recipes where I could buy in bulk and split up the items. Italian sausage is a great multitasker: I planned to use it for lasagne, migas, and roasted polanos with sausage. Rotisserie chicken was planned for chicken cheesy nachos, a spicy chicken tortilla soup (turkey leftovers work awesome with this recipe, too), and homemade chicken stock. I have three recipes to use with butternut squash- including a sweet roasted squash, a savory casserole, and a soup with roasted apples.

I don't use tomato based sauces often, so when I used a marinara sauce for a dipping sauce for pepperoni monkey bread, I planned on making the lasagne shortly after so I could use the remainder of the sauce. I made a note of what type of shredded cheeses I'd need to buy in bulk.

I consolidated all the recipes into a master grocery list, looked for coupons and sales, bought in bulk where I could. With the exception of milk, eggs, ice cream for the birthdays and fresh salad greens, I believe we are done for the month and we've only used half the normal budget. When all is said and done, I expect to spend about 70% of what we'd normally spend, despite the various special occasion meals we'll be having this month.

I have casseroles tucked away in the freezer, a loaf of pumpkin bread, several soups and chilis frozen in smaller portions, frozen cookie dough waiting to pop into the oven, ingredients for 2 types of lasagne and scones ready to be prepped this week. I also have ingredients for candy and other holiday treats ready to go.

On top of this, a lot of pressure off me is gone. I don't have to worry about unexpected guests dropping in or spending my time in the kitchen cooking the entire time while we have visitors... I can pull out something I prepped earlier. Best of all, when we go to potlucks or have a work event, I always have homemade cookies I can bake in less than 15 minutes.


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