Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Brand New Blog!

I had a bit of inspiration tonight and decided to start a second blog. My plan is to make this blog about stretching your food dollar by creatively using up leftover food from other meals. I'm calling the new blog "Not Just Leftovers - Brand New Meals." You can check it out HERE if you're so inclined. Please leave me a comment and let me know what you think of the idea. I am hoping it will be a useful blog over time, but I just started it tonight, so don't expect TOO much! :-)

Thanks for checking out my new blog - and for paying attention to my current one!

New Recipe #1.5 - Poppy Seed Biscuits

Well, today I got so occupied in trying to UNdecorate my house for Christmas (man, what an undertaking!!) that I completely forgot to make the dough for my rolls for dinner. So, I grabbed a Taste of Home cookbook and flipped through their quick breads. My 8-year-old daughter helped me, and we decided that the recipe for Poppy Seed Biscuits sounded very unique, so we tried it. These biscuits call for the strangest ingredients, but they turned out great! Everyone had more than one, and the kids asked me to make them again. Here's the recipe:

2 1/4 c. biscuit/baking mix
1 T. poppy seeds
1/2 c. cream-style cottage cheese
2 T. honey
1/4 c. milk

Combine mix and poppy seeds and set aside.
Combine cottage cheese, honey, and milk in blender. Pour over the dry ingredients and mix just until moistened. Knead gently on lightly floured surface 3-4 times, then pat out to 1/2" thick and cut with biscuit cutter.
Bake at 425° for 10-14 minutes or until golden brown.

So it looks like we'll be trying FOUR new recipes this week. I do love weeks like that! :-)

Monday, December 29, 2008

New Recipe #1 - Kraft Smarter Fettuccini Alfredo

Tonight I tried Kraft's recipe for Smarter Fettuccini Alfredo. As I wanted leftovers (and didn't want to waste cream cheese), I doubled the recipe, cutting the broth to 2 cups and the flour to 2 T. when doing so.

The verdict? Everyone in the family loved it! It was a little different, and I think next time I will add a little garlic and maybe some Italian seasoning, but it was definitely something we will have again. I might even try adding chicken to it sometime when I'm not going for a meatless meal alternative. The nutmeg gave it a similar flavor to the chicken tetrazzini that I make often, but it was a much thicker, stick-to-the-noodles sauce.

I'd recommend giving it a try. I don't think I'll be making the sauce for my alfredo pizzas anytime soon, but it's a good entree, and definitely healthier than standard alfredo sauce. Let me know what you think if you try the recipe!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - week of 12/29/08

Wow...the last menu plan of 2008. Where did the year go? I'm hoping to be organized enough to have a menu plan for every week of 2009, but that's a pretty lofty goal! :-)

I've planned this week's menu around existing plans, which include the purchase of a half price Honey Baked Ham (see prior post for info on the 50% off coupon) for our New Year's family celebration, lots of leftovers from that ham (I'll get a big 'un), and an afternoon spent on Friday at the Harlem Globetrotter's game. I needed a quick and simple dinner idea for that evening, and will combine that with the urge to use my new panini grill I got for Christmas! I'm also trying three new recipes this week. All in all, it's not the most exciting menu plan ever, but I think it will be lots of fun! So without further ado, here's my plan:

Monday - Kraft Smarter Fettuccini Alfredo (the first of the new recipes), crescent rolls, celery and carrots with dip. I know that's a WEIRD combination, but the kids love raw veggies and dip and I have some to use up that are leftover from Christmas Eve, so I threw them into the menu plan.

Tuesday - Chicken breasts cooked in mushroom soup, mashed potatoes, corn, homemade rolls.

Wednesday - Honey Baked Ham (YUMMMM!!!), glazed carrots, rice pilaf (found a recipe in a blog comment HERE showing how to make rice pilaf with whole cardamom pods and I'm dying to try it! This is new recipe #2), homemade rolls. We will also be popping some popcorn to much on till midnight - this is the first year we've let the kids try to stay up to ring in the new year, and I'm looking forward to it!

Thursday - Ham and pineapple pizza on a sourdough crust.

Friday - After the Globetrotter's game, we'll use more leftover ham for some delicious ham and cheese paninis. Along with them, we'll have any leftover sides from the rest of the week, as I anticipate some mashed potatoes, carrots, and rice pilaf will be waiting in the fridge.

Saturday - New recipe #3, Bourbon Chicken, baked potatoes (haven't had these in forever!), fried apples, yogurt cornbread (or regular cornbread if I don't make time to make yogurt this week!) .

Sunday - Meatloaf (already in the freezer, ready to go), steamed rice, corn, biscuits.
For more great menu ideas, recipes, etc., be sure to visit OrgJunkie!

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Been awhile....

In reviewing my blog postings, I see that it's been awhile since I actually posted anything to entertain my whopping TEN readers!!! ;-) So, since I'm sitting here wide awake listening to the wind swirling and rain periodically coming down in a torrential downpour, I thought I might as well actually say something!

It was a good Christmas at my house and the kids had a fabulous time! Everyone was giddily happy except the miserable and pathetic sister-in-law, but we will just ignore her as always. :) My mom got me a very nice skillet set and a panini grill, both of which were on my wishlist, and we have several new DVDs to watch. I'm not particularly fond of Ironman, and can only watch Tinkerbell so many times, but the kids are loving the new shows!

I way over-baked as always, and ended up sending a huge box of candy with hubby to work for him to share with the staff. I didn't need all those cookies and fudge and other candies sitting here tempting me! Of course, I froze some for later, and realized yesterday that I forgot to send any peanut butter balls, so I'm still surrounded by temptation! And that doesn't even take into consideration the pumpkin cheesecake and homemade apple pie that still inhabit my refrigerator. I've definitely got to start behaving in the new year, but don't we all?? :)

Oh, and speaking of the new year, I found an AWESOME coupon if you have Honey Baked Ham Company in your area! And I found it legitimately, so I'm certain it isn't a fake! My local news channel (kmbc.com) had a posting with some recipes from Honey Baked Ham. There was a link to their site on that posting, and when I went to the site, I found a button for signing up for email and receiving a coupon. Upon signing up, it gave me a coupon to print for 50% off a half-ham!! HALF PRICE!!! I can't resist that one! I hate paying $60 for a ham, but they are soooooo good! I'll definitely pay $30! :-) Here's a link to the sign-up page for the coupon and HERE is a direct link to the coupon itself. I hope they don't pull it anytime soon - it expires on 1/10/09! What a great dinner to celebrate New Year's!

The rain is really coming down now. Yuck. Did I mention that I HATE storms???? On the other hand, I LIKE sleep. I rather am missing it right now, but I just can't sleep when it's thundering and blowing outside.

So, onto another topic. Anyone have any knowledge of the habits of bettas? My daughter absolutely adores her betta fish, and Santa brought him a new tank for Christmas. Unfortunately, said fish doesn't seem to care for the new tank. That or I put him into shock by accident. I moved him into the new tank on Christmas Day, doing everything I was supposed to do - declorinating the water, floating him for over half an hour, slowly allowing water into his bag, etc. However, he's been sitting on the bottom of the tank ever since, barely swimming. Is it possible he is mad or depressed, or did I injure my daughter's fish?? I've been quite stressed about the situation. I actually thought he was gone yesterday, as he hadn't moved in some time, but then when I went to catch him in the net, he swam a bit, getting away from it. I just don't know what to do about this fish! He isn't eating, isn't active, but doesn't look like he has any of the common betta disorders that I looked up online. It's very depressing! I got him some "Betta Fix" last night and put a bit of aquarium salt in his water, but it isn't helping yet. I'm hoping we have a good day and he starts showing signs of life. My daughter (she's 6) is very deeply concerned, as she just LOVES Panther! :(

Well, I guess that's all the blabbing I should do for now. I'll just sit here and listening to my "popping" window that is making me crazy. I have no idea if it's done that before, as this is our first big thunderstorm living in this house. It just sounds terrible!! Why must replacement windows be so darn expensive?

Hope everyone has a wonderful weekend, free of thunderstorms....... :-)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Cold enough to freeze the pipes!

Well, what a night this has been!! I remember being in the kitchen this morning and washing my hands at the sink, realizing I had the cold water on - which was VERY cold, by the way! After that, I can't remember when I used the sink again. I was busy cleaning the living room, kids' rooms, and bathroom. It was so terribly, bitterly cold today that I never even cracked the door. I think 8° was our high - yuck!!!

Late this afternoon, I decided to get the dishes into the dishwasher. I had to rinse several that had been sitting awhile. As I was rinsing, I realized that there was a LOT of steam rising out of the sink. The water seemed to get hotter and hotter. I turned the handle toward the cooler side, but no change. Hmmm. So I turned it completely to cold - not a drop came out! I called my brother, who insisted it couldn't be frozen pipes - must be a clog in the supply line. So he had me disconnect the water supply from the main line under the sink. No luck. I looked at it, and asked him how it was going to bring out cold water turning on the faucet when it wasn't hooked up. Not understanding me, he had me explain what I meant by that. Well, apparently I was supposed to SHUT OFF the cold water before disconnecting the supply line. Whoops. What sucks is that there is NOT a cold water shut off valve on that sink!! Not only that, but the pipes are inside the OUTSIDE wall! Grrrrr....why do many builders not THINK when they build?????

Anyway....I just knew it was frozen, and set about trying to figure out what to do. I called a plumber, who actually told me that my copper pipes were already cracked from freezing, and there was nothing we could do. He told me to call him tomorrow after it broke and I had water everywhere and he would help me then. Hmmmmmph!! Well, I figured I had to TRY and save myself the nightmare of a broken water pipe. So I got under the sink with my little hair dryer, and put a space heater downstairs against the offending wall, moving ceiling tiles to allow warm air to float upwards. I also turned on the hot water at the sink full blast, hoping the hot water was close to the cold water pipe. I used my dryer for over an hour when my husband offered to take over so I could actually fix dinner. He managed to set the dryer so that it was propped up on a dishsoap bottle, aimed straight downward as much as we could get it. He agreed with my theory that copper/metal conducts heat, so maybe we would eventually reach the frozen part. And a different plumber told me that if I got it thawed out, I might have a chance at avoiding a bursting pipe. I HAD to try!!

About an hour later, we got a drip out of the faucet. Then another. And another. I got excited. We kept blowing the dryer and watching the faucet. It dripped faster....and then out came a stream. I ran downstairs to check for leaks and DH yelled out that we had full water pressure. I checked every wall and every ceiling tile - NO LEAKS!! We checked outside - nothing there, either. We did it!!!! We thawed the pipe and it did not break! I can't even explain the degree of my relief when the water started working again. I had been soooooo stressed out, trying to figure out where to move all our stuff, just in case, and where to get the $1,000 insurance deductible, and how we were going to live without water for however long until we could get a plumber out to repair, etc, etc, etc.

So now I have all the sink cabinets open and water running in a small stream from every sink in the house. It's going to be below zero tonight and I do NOT want to go through this again. Frozen pipes are NEVER a good thing, and I am so very thankful that we solved the problem with no major problems or expenses. I firmly believe that God knew I couldn't handle another crisis this week, so He let me avoid this one. I have been thanking Him all night!!!

So, my advice to anyone reading this? When the weather is frigidly cold, open your cabinet doors to let heat under the sink, and run a trickle of water at all times. It could save you a LOT of stress!!!!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


Okay, one of my favorite singers opened a Twitter account and I followed her link and signed up. So now I have a very vague idea of what Twitter is - it's a site where you type a status and follow people?? So, what does that mean?? What do I actually DO with Twitter? I see so many people blog about Twitter, but I truly don't know how to go about doing anything further than signing up. If you twitter (do I call you a twit?? LOL!), feel free to tell me what the heck I should be doing on that site! :-)

Thanks a bunch!!!!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

WFMW - Easy quick breads

It's another Works for Me Wednesday over at Rocks in my Dryer. For this week, I thought I would post recipes for my favorite quick and easy "quick breads." If you've reviewed my menu plans, you've probably noticed that I revisit the same breads regularly. My family doesn't consider it dinner unless we have some type of bread, and so I have come to rely on a few quick and easy recipes that everyone enjoys. Hopefully you will find a recipe or two you can use!

Soft Buttery Breadsticks

1 1/4 c. flour
2 t. sugar
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
1/2 - 2/3 c. milk
2 T. margarine

Place the 2 T. margarine in a 13 x 9 baking pan and place pan in oven while preheating to 450°. Check frequently to make sure it melts, but does not burn/brown. Meanwhile, make the dough:

In a bowl, combine the dry ingredients well. Add milk until a soft dough forms. Knead gently in bowl 3-4 times, adding a little flour if needed.

Remove pan from oven and set beside you.

Pinch off pieces of dough and roll between palms to form a breadstick. I usually make them about 3/4" in diameter and about 4" long. Place sticks in pan and roll to coat with butter.

Bake at 450° for 14-16 minutes or until light golden brown.

Yogurt Cornbread

1 c. cornmeal
1 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1/3 c. sugar
1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 egg
1 c. plain yogurt

Combine all ingredients in bowl. Spread in a greased 9 x 9 pan.

Bake at 375° for 15-20 minutes, till tests done with a toothpick.

White Lily Biscuits (White Lily flour)

2 c. White Lily self-rising flour
1/4 c. butter
2/3 to 3/4 c. buttermilk or sour milk

Preheat oven to 500°.

Cut butter into flour in mixing bowl until mixture resembles course crumbs. Blend in enough milk until dough leaves sides of bowl. Knead gently 2-3 times on a lightly floured surface. Roll out 1/2 - 3/4" thick and cut with biscuit cutter (do not twist the cutter!). Place on baking pan or stone with sides touching. Brush tops with melted butter if desired. Bake at 500° for 8 minutes or till golden brown.

Cornmeal Scones (Cooking Light)

1 2/3 c. flour
1/3 c. cornmeal
3 T. sugar
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
3 1/2 T. cold butter
1/2 c. milk
1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat oven to 375°.

Combine flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, and salt in bowl. Cut in butter until mixture resembles course crumbs. Add milk and egg, stirring just until moist.

Knead lightly 4 times in bowl, adding a small amount of flour. Pat dough into a 7" circle on a baking sheet or stone. Cut dough into 8 wedges, cutting into but not completely through the dough.

Bake at 375° for 22 minutes or until golden brown. Cut apart and serve warm.

I also frequently make my kids' favorite Banana Wheat Muffins. You can find the recipe in this posting.

These quick breads are easy to fix and popular with my family. They definitely work for me!!

Chicken Alfredo Pizza with Wheat Crust

Here is one of our favorite pizzas. I make the crust in the bread machine by throwing in all the ingredients on the dough cycle; however, I will post the actual recipe from Weight Watchers in case you don't use a bread machine. :-)


1 1/2 c. warm (105-115°) water
1 t. sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1 T. olive oil
3 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/4 c. whole wheat flour
1 1/2 t. salt

In a 2 cup measuring jug, combine water and sugar. Sprinkle in the yeast and let stand about 5 minutes, till foamy. Stir in the oil.

In a food processor, combine the flour and salt. With machine running, scrape the yeast mixture through the feed tube; pulse until the dough forms a ball, about 1 minute. If necessary, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead briefly until smooth and elastic.

Spray a large bowl with nonstick spray; place dough in bowl. Cover bowl lightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm spot until double in size, about 1 hour.

Punch down dough, then roll out in either one large pizza or two small round pizzas.

(now my notes)

Prick dough several times with a fork, then place in 500° oven for about 10 minutes to par-bake. If you like a thinner crust, eliminate this step.

Spread homemade or jarred (I use Ragu Light Parmesan Alfredo) alfredo sauce over crust. Top with cooked shredded chicken, and mushrooms or other desired toppings. Sprinkle mozzarella cheese over entire pizza and return to 500° oven for about 15 minutes till hot and cheese is melted.

Good stuff!!! Let me know if you give it a try! :-) And for more wonderful recipes, check out Gayle's recipe swap!!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Freezer Soup

Well, I did it! I finally made freezer soup. It's funny, though. I was worried about it being gross, so I actually took the little bit of meat that was leftover from last night and ended up making a stuffed bread instead of rolls. I figured that way, we could eat the stuffed bread and chips or something if we couldn't tolerate the strange concoction.

The verdict? It was actually good! Two of the three kids liked it - only the very picky one didn't. It kind of tasted like roast, but with lots of rice. :-) The only problem I had was that there was a LOT of rice in the soup, and as it simmered, the rice soaked up most of the broth, even when I added more. It turned out more like a stew or a soft risotto kind of thing, but it tasted really good! When two of the three kids will willingly eat something they don't recognize, you know it can't be too bad!

So, freezer soup/stew is officially part of my menu. Since it's made up of the stuff we would likely dump down the garbage disposal at the end of a meal, it's most definitely a frugal meal! I used a lot of rice because I have to make at least 2 cups to use my rice steamer, and sometimes we don't get it all eaten, even after two meals. Most of the liquid was the juices and gravies left over from cooking a roast, swiss steak, pork chops, etc. It may not sound that good, but it really did have a good flavor!!

One thing I can certainly guarantee.....it's going to be different every time you make it! Try it for a month and see what you think. We all agreed here that it's a keeper! And next time, I might not even make the stuffed bread..... ;-)

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Menu Plan Monday, week of 12/15

It's going to be bitterly cold here all week, so I was looking for winter fare. Combine that with a good deal on chicken leg quarters (.49/lb), and you have my menu for the week! The kids are likely to turn up their noses at Monday's mystery meal, but hopefully it will be good. This is my first attempt at "freezer soup," where I added all the little bits of broth and meat and veggies and rice that was leftover from meals for the past month or so. My bowl is full, so it's time to see what we've got! It can't be TOO bad, right? Anyone else make freezer soup??

Here's this week's menu plan:

Monday - Freezer soup, steak stuffed bread (last night's leftover swiss steak)

Tuesday - Frito-chili pies, cornbread, salad

Wednesday - Meat loaf, mashed potatoes, corn, biscuits

Thursday - Mushroom-broccoli penne with chicken, breadsticks

Friday - Chicken alfredo pizza on a whole wheat crust

Saturday - Dinner at my Godparents' house for Christmas

Sunday - Chicken noodle soup, homemade sourdough bread

For more fantastic menu plans, be sure and visit I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Friday, December 12, 2008

Super Simple Christmas Candy!!

Here is my recipe for Gayle's weekly recipe swap. I really do hesitate to call this a recipe, as it's one of the easiest things I've ever made! But just in case you've never seen it done or thought to do it, I'm posting it. These are a very quick and easy Christmas candy and you can do all sorts of embellishments!

Easy Turtles


Small pretzel twists
Rolos, caramel Hershey's Kisses, or other caramel-filled chocolate candy
Pecan halves
Sprinkles, colored sugar, or melted white chocolate, optional

Lay pretzel twists on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. On top of each, place one of the candies. Put in a 300-325° oven for about 5 minutes, until the chocolate is melty. Remove from oven and sprinkle with candy or sugar if desired, then press a pecan half down on the top. Now you can also drizzle on melted white chocolate if you want, or embellish however you see fit!

These are E-A-S-Y, and very yummy, and they look great on a goodie tray! And my suggestion is to go to Walgreen's this week and get the Caramel Kisses, currently on sale 4/$10, with a $5 rebate. Use the recent $1.50/3 coupon and then get the Walgreen's gift card so you end up paying about $3 for all 4 bags! Enjoy!!!

For more awesome recipes, visit the Grocery Cart Challenge!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

WFMW - Mystery shopping

We've come to another Wednesday, and that means another amazing list of tips and tricks over at RocksinmyDryer!

This week, I thought I would talk a little bit about mystery shopping. For some, I know this is an exhausted topic and you've already mastered it; however, I'm also sure there are folks out there who have wondered about it, but don't know how to get started.

I'm certainly no expert, but I've been mystery shopping off and on for about 12 years. There have been times it's been very much a part-time job, and other times, like now, that it's just a great way to get some new clothes or a nice evening out. Recently, I've done a shop at a nice restaurant in town, gone out for a night of bowling and snacking (and netted a payment, as well as reimbursement), and gone clothes shopping! Some of the reports are quick and simple, with minimal comments required, while others, like the restaurant, require quite a bit of essay writing.

If you have a good memory, are discreet, pay attention to every detail, and love to make your opinion known, mystery shopping might be right up your alley (pun intended). It can be a fairly profitable venture, since you only pay Federal income tax on your earnings after you've made a certain amount (I think it's $600, but not sure), or it can be just a fun thing to do to make a little spending money or pay for a date night with the hubs.

The best advice I can give you is NEVER NEVER NEVER pay for a company to "find" you jobs. You can certainly find all the information you need online and not pay a dime. I have found one of the most informative sites out there to be Volition . This site gives you overall information on mystery shopping and a huge list of companies with whom you can register. I also advise you to sign up with many companies. It might seem time-consuming, but there are many companies, and not all of them likely have jobs in your immediate area.

Another great place to register is with Kern Scheduling. These folks schedule with many companies, and all the shops are found in one central location. Once you sign up, you can visit the job board and search by zip code, state, etc. They also send you emails detailing shops they are needing to fill in your area. They get a wide variety of shops, and I've done several assignments for them.

One key component of being a good mystery shopper is definitely discretion. You can't discuss with anyone what you are doing, or for whom. It is a given that you can't discuss the shop while you are in the location (unless it is a "revealed" or "rewards" shop, in which case you tell them who you are at the conclusion of the shop), but you also can't tell friends, family, or blog visitors which companies shop which businesses. Your identity is a precious secret and once you've lost your discretion, it will get harder to get assignments. I probably don't have to tell anyone this, but it's always good to mention.

It's easy to get started mystery shopping with the aid of the internet, so why not get your "feet wet" and give it a try? You might find that you really enjoy it, and eventually start bringing in a bit of income. Or, you might not find that it's something you want to pursue, but at least you've got a free dinner or new shirt to show for your efforts.

If you're new to mystery shopping and give it a try, please come back and let me know if you liked it. Or if you have any questions, post them in comments and I will do my best to answer them. Mystery shopping is fun, and it has worked for me for years!

Another $5 dinner

Tonight I made another meal for my family of 5 within the goal of $5. This one was a crock pot/bread machine dinner, which made it VERY easy on me! Since it's already been consumed by the aforementioned family, there are no photos, but here is the breakdown:

About 1 lb. London Broil, marked down - $2.50
2 lbs. yukon gold potatoes - $.50
1 lb. baby carrots - $1.00
1 can cream mushroom soup - $.50
1/2 batch bread machine rolls - $.43 (cost is $.85 for a batch)

Total dinner cost: $4.93

There are still a few potatoes and baby carrots left, along with some rich broth/gravy that I will add to my freezer soup container. I also cooked extra meat to use in tomorrow night's dinner of Cheeseburger Soup. I might go over the $5 mark tomorrow, but I always have plenty of leftovers when I make the soup, which is great for lunch the next day. I will try and break that one down tomorrow night!

For dessert, we're having apple pie. I made the pie from apples off my brother's tree (free) and, as always, made the crust from scratch. The pie probably cost me less than $.50 total!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Yummy Biscotti

There's a cookie exchange going on over at The Journey and I thought I would play along! I'm also participating for the first time in "Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays!" Be sure and check out both of these great blogs for awesome recipes and just a general good time!

My daughter and I made these yesterday, and everyone love-love-loved them! This recipe was adapted from one that was presented on a Holiday Cookie show on the Food Network by Giada De Laurentiis.

Yummy Biscotti

3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. butter, softened
Zest of one orange
2 large eggs
2 c. flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. salt
12 oz. white chocolate chips, divided
1/2 c. dried cranberries

Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in zest and eggs. Combine flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Gradually blend flour mixture into wet mixture. With spoon or hands, gently mix in the dried cranberries and 3/4 c. of the white chocolate chips.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, shape the dough into a log 3-4" wide and about an inch thick. Bake at 350 degrees until light golden, 30-40 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool.

Cut the log on a diagonal into 1/2" wide slices. Arrange the slices, cut side down, on a lightly greased baking sheet. Return to oven until light golden, 15-20 minutes. They will still seem a bit soft, but don't worry! Allow biscotti to cool and they will harden just right.

Meanwhile, place the rest of the chips in a zip-top bag and set bag into a bowl of hot water to melt. Knead bag occasionally and change water if necessary until chips are fully melted. Cut off tip of the bag and drizzle white chocolate over the tops of the biscotti. You can also melt the chocolate and dip the ends of the cookies into it, then sprinkle with colored sugar. Allow chocolate to set before storing.

Enjoy dipped in coffee or cocoa or just munch on them dry - they're GOOD!!!

5 dollar dinner challenge

I've decided to participate in the $5 Dinner Challenge over at 5dollardinners.com. We are a family of 5, and I am always striving to make good dinners for $5 or less for all of us, with leftovers for lunch the next day. Here is what I am making tonight:

Honey Lime Chicken

1 pkg of chicken breasts - $2.49
1/2 c. honey - .50
Juice of 3 limes - .25
1/4 c. soy sauce - .10

Combine marinade ingredients (and I also tossed in the zest of one lime for a little more flavor) in a large zip-top bag. Marinade the chicken breasts for at least an hour. Pour entire contents of bag in 13 x 9 pan and place in oven, uncovered, at 375 degrees for 30-40 min. or until done. I served mine with:

Steamed white rice - .25
Frozen corn - 1/2 lb. - .35

Whole wheat banana muffins

2 c. wheat flour - .20
1 t. baking powder - incidental
1 t. baking soda - incidental
1/2 t. salt - incidental
1/4 c. maple syrup - .12
1 c. water
2 T. oil - .10
1 t. vanilla - .05
1 mashed banana - .20

Combine all in mixing bowl. Fill prepared muffin tins 2/3 full and top with cinnamon sugar, if desired. Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes.

Total dinner cost: approximately $4.65!
(Technically, though, it really cost me less than this, because I received a "new neighbor" gift card from a local grocery store that I used to purchase the chicken on sale. The price I used is the price that I WOULD have paid without the discount.)

Please be sure and check out 5dollardinners.com for lots more great budget meal ideas - I can't wait to update my own recipe collection!!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Looking a lot like Christmas

I've decided to join the Open House over at A Soft Place to Land; also, if you're visiting from BooMama's Tour of Christmas homes, WELCOME to my blog! I'm thrilled that you all stopped by! I posted this earlier this month, and hope you enjoy my little Christmas corner! Be sure and visit all the other sites at the Open House and on the Christmas tour - you will see some truly amazing decorating!!

I thought I would post some of the photos I took today of my inside Christmas decor. This is our first year in this house, and I have a new tree (9 feet tall!!) and a few other new things. It's funny, because I haven't been feeling well (I have severe anemia right now), so I've really scaled down from what I INTENDED to do. However, when I look around and look at the photos, I can't believe I thought I would do more than this!

Here is a little peek into my home:

When you first walk in the front door, this is the floor in front of you. This was a $5 garage sale find that I LOVE!!!!

Looking up a bit, here's the overall view from the front door:

My nativity set is the focal point on the entryway table. I bought the figurines many years ago from my brother during a school fundraiser. For some reason, this seems a bit amusing.

Here is the monster 9' tree! I got this for only $10 at a garage sale. It is missing one of the smaller branches, but you can't really tell once it's all set up and decorated.

And I really love my fireplace. My son is very into nutcrackers, so we have a few of those. The rest are in his room, and he keeps them on display year-round.

Another of my new acquisitions is my "elf." He's from the Drolleries collection by DEMDACO (which are apparently worth their weight in gold!). We got him at a silent auction because I just couldn't resist - especially when I got him for only $40!

I just love garlands and bows! While I've done the stairwells, I have SO much more garland...so next year, it just might look like the North Pole in my living room! :-)

And just one more.....here is the area over my desk in the entryway. Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.....

We haven't even been into the dining room or the downstairs! Scary, eh?? I really love Christmas. I just wish I had more time, energy, and money to really go all-out! :-)

Hope you enjoy the photos. I'm still learning how to post them properly. If anyone knows how to keep Blogger from putting every photo at the start of the post, I would appreciate the tip!!

Merry Christmas!!!!!!

Menu Plan Monday, Week of 12/8

Okay, we're getting back on track with the menu plans! Last week I made mostly very quick and easy dinners, but I'm finally starting to feel more like myself, so this week should be better! So, here's the plan:

Monday - Honey Lime Chicken (I bake in the oven, covered in the marinade), rice, corn, whole wheat banana muffins.

Tuesday - Crock Pot night: Pot roast with potatoes and carrots, sourdough bread.

Wednesday - Cheeseburger soup, using shredded leftover pot roast instead of hamburger, and homemade rolls.

Thursday - Macaroni and cheese, applesauce, rest of the rolls from yesterday.

Friday - Homemade pizza with whole wheat crust.

Saturday - Pastitsio, green beans, biscuits.

Sunday - Pork chops in mushroom soup, mashed potatoes, corn, breadsticks.

For more great menu plans, check out orgjunkie!

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pumpkin-Butterscotch Fudge

Since we're so close to Christmas, I have GOT to get busy making candies and cookies. I thought today I would share my kids' favorite fudge recipe. I made this last year and they couldn't get enough. They've been asking me to make it for Christmas since October! The pumpkin and butterscotch are wonderful together. I have a cake recipe that has the two flavors and it is a definite family favorite, especially after a day when the tastes have had additional time to blend. Yum!!!

Pumpkin-Butterscotch Fudge

3 c. sugar
3/4 c. butter
2/3 c. evaporated milk (Not sweetened-condensed)
1/2 c. pumpkin (fresh or canned - not pie filling mix)
1 t. pumpkin pie spice
12 oz. package butterscotch chips
1 jar marshmallow Fluff
1 t. vanilla

Line a 13 x 9 pan with foil and spray or grease the foil. Set aside.

Combine first 5 ingredients in saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Continue stirring until the mixture reaches 234 degrees on a candy thermometer. This should take 8-12 minutes.

Remove from heat and stir in the chips until melted, then stir in the Fluff and vanilla until blended.

Pour immediately into prepared pan, spreading evenly. Allow to cool, cut into squares, and store in refrigerator.

For more wonderful recipes, check out Gayle's recipe swap on Grocery Cart Challenge!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My theory

Ok, so I have a bizarre theory regarding my daughter's strange lymph node "infections" of the past three Novembers. If anyone reading this has any information to either support or disprove my theory, I would GREATLY appreciate the comments!! The specialist we saw today acknowledged that it was possible, but stated it was such a remote possibility that he wasn't willing to consider it.

Two years ago, she was fine. On Thanksgiving night, she spent the night at our neighbor's house. They had a nice fire burning in their fireplace most of the evening. She was brought back in a panic that next morning, with the area under her chin swollen TERRIBLY! We rushed to the ER and she was given antibiotics.

Last year, she again spent time at the neighbor's house, again exposed to the fireplace.

This year, we burned our fireplace for the very first time (we just moved here this summer and did not have a fireplace at the prior house) on Saturday night. She woke up Sunday morning with the swelling!

Can this be just a coincidence, or is my daughter having some sort of allergic reaction to the burning wood or creosote that is manifesting itself in her lymph nodes????? I just have a strong feeling that somehow the two are linked. It might just be me grasping at straws to find an explanation, but it just makes sense to me! I did a little online research and didn't find much information, but did find that children with allergies/asthma (she has seasonal allergies) can often react to fires in fireplaces due to allergens in the wood. The most common reaction seems to be a rash, but further investigation found evidence that swollen lymph nodes CAN be an allergic reaction! Anyone have any thoughts?? It makes sense to me, even if the doctor doesn't agree. There won't be any further fires here, just in case. I would much rather be safe than sorry, and if we keep her away from fireplaces and we see no reaction next year, I'm going to really feel like my theory is correct.

I know it's not likely, but it really is the only thing that makes sense. I'm considering taking her to an allergist after the first of the year, just to see what they say. For now, she is simply being treated with an aggressive level of antibiotics for a regular infection. Hopefully it will work, but I think I'm going to treat her with Benadryl, too, just to see what happens.

I wish everyone reading this a wonderful Thanksgiving! And if you're a Black Friday shopper (I am NOT), have a great time and find some wonderful deals. I'll be home with the kids, decorating for Christmas...can't wait!!!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

No Menu Plan this week

I'm opting out of Menu Plan Monday this week, as I don't know where this week is going to be taking us. My daughter has her third annual severe lymph node infection and last year we were in and out of hospitals and doctor's offices trying to determine the cause. Here we go again. Since I don't know what will happen this week, and with the big dinner Thursday (provided we don't have a hospital admission then), I'm just going to "wing it" this week (pun intended). Tonight I changed my menu because my daughter asked for spaghetti, which is easy for her to swallow with her swollen throat. I'm going to let her tell me what she will eat and go from there.

Hopefully we will be back to normal next week, and maybe even have an answer for these infections. It doesn't help that the child is allergic to almost every antibiotic on the market. *sigh* Think happy thoughts!!!!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Healthy Cookies

The other day I eyed a couple of very over-ripe bananas on my counter, contemplating what to do with them. It was a cold day, and I wanted to give my kids cookies and cocoa for their after-school snack, so I began to wonder if I could fashion some sort of healthy cookie utilizing those bananas. I browsed some recipe sites but couldn't find exactly what I wanted, so I decided to try my luck and see what I could create.

They actually turned out really well, and my kids asked me to make them again! I jotted down what I tossed into the batch, so now I've decided to use my blog to actually turn this creation into a recipe! This will also be my contribution to the recipe swap over at Grocery Cart Challenge - what a deal! ;-)

Healthier Peanut Butter Banana Oatmeal Cookies

2 mashed bananas
1 c. peanut butter
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 c. wheat flour
1 c. white flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 c. rolled oats
1 c. chocolate chips or raisins

Cream the sugars with the bananas and peanut butter, beat in eggs and vanilla. Combine flours, soda, salt, and cinnamon and blend into wet mixture. Fold in oats and chips or raisins (I used mini chocolate chips). The dough will be a bit sticky.

Drop onto lightly greased cookie sheet and spread a bit with the back of the spoon/scoop.

Bake at 325 for 10-15 minutes or until beginning to brown.

For more amazing recipe ideas, be sure to visit Gayle's recipe swap!!!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Wish List

I'm very late in posting my Works for Me Wednesday. It's been one of those busy, productive kinds of days (I finished shopping for Thanksgiving, we cleaned all the leaves out of the yard, got firewood delivered, AND did a roof repair that's been haunting us for weeks!), and I just hadn't had a chance to THINK of something about which to post. When I did find the time, I had no ideas! Well, this lack of ideas got me thinking....

There have been so many times that I've had someone (a friend, my mom, or DH) ask me what sort of gifts I wanted for Christmas, my birthday, Mother's Day, etc. And it never fails....when someone asks that question, no immediate answers come to mind. Of course, a few days later the realization comes, "I should have told them *...*!" Has that ever happened to you???

Well, I finally found a way to avoid this, and provide immediate and pertinent answers to this question. I keep a perpetual "wish list" handy. I actually keep it on the last page of my menu planning notebook so I always know where it is. Another good reason to keep it near the kitchen is that it's often a kitchen item that I come up needing! So, anytime I find something that I need (for instance, the can opener breaks down or my favorite mixing bowl cracks), I grab the notebook and jot down the idea. I also do this when DH or one of the kids mentions something they really want or need - just add it to the list. This is also helpful if I happen to have a little extra money and want to make the most of it - I can consult the list and find out what I "need" more than anything else.

Of course, there are sometimes things on the list for which I find a good substitute. This is a learning experience! It's interesting to see the things I have wanted/thought I needed in the past and see what I am able to live without purchasing. And it helps my mom to get me things for gifts that she knows I will actually use and enjoy.

This is a pretty basic thing, and it might be more common than I realize, but it does work for me! For more great tips and ideas, check out Rocks in my Dryer.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas Craft Idea

I originally posted this for a craft carnival, but due to a complete lack of original thought, I am also posting it for Works for me Wednesday! Yes, I know that's cheating, but it's been a rough week, involving a trip to the ER and severe anemia (2 points from needing a blood transfusion - yikes!), so I've decided that cheating works for me this week! ;-)

I've just discovered a blog called Just a Girl. She is currently having a blog carnival for craft ideas for Christmas. I got to thinking about something neat that I had done that was actually my own idea (as far as I know, anyway!!) and I remembered a craft that I did 5 years ago with my kids that I still treasure. I made Santas out of their hands. Now, please know that I am NOT a talented crafter, and I definitely have no artistic abilities, so someone else can probably take this to new heights, but I was happy with what I did. Here's how they look today, 5 years later:

Aren't they cute? And they are super-easy to make, because, if they weren't, then I couldn't have done them!!

I fashioned my ornaments out of salt-dough. It's very easy to find a recipe online, and it's also very inexpensive, as it's pretty much flour, salt, and water. I had each of my children (the youngest was barely a year old at the time) lay their hands out on the rolled out dough and, using a toothpick, I traced their hand outlines. I then cut the hands out with the tip of a sharp knife and transferred them to a cookie sheet. I baked them in the oven slowly to dry them, per the instructions with the dough recipe. After they were fully dried and cooled, I turned them upside down and painted them into little Santas. Here is a little closer picture of one to show the specifics of how I painted them:

I made the tip of the hat with the fake snow type stuff, and the rest was just paint. Over time, the paint has crackled just a bit, but I think it makes them look more country and cute. The fingers make the beard, and the thumb is the hat. I think these would make great gifts for grandparents. Maybe I should make some more for my mom - I couldn't possibly part with these, though!! Of course, the kids' hands have grown a LOT since 2003! :-)

If you give this a try, I would love to see where you take the idea. I bet someone can really do something amazing with the idea. Happy Christmas crafting!!!! And for more great Works for Me ideas, visit Rocks in my Dryer. Enjoy!!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - week of 11/17/08

The week before Thanksgiving...at least I know next week will be EASY menu planning!!! ;-) Now, I'm just hoping, hoping, hoping that someone has a reasonable sale on turkeys this week. I need to buy mine on Monday of next week, since I have no freezer space available! For now, though, here is the plan for this week:

Monday - Rotisserie style chicken, roasted (in the crock pot) Yukon Gold potatoes, glazed carrots, homemade rolls. (Total cost $4.95)

Tuesday - Meatloaf (it's already done and in the freezer - woohoo!), potato-cheese burritos (using leftover potatoes from yesterday), corn, rest of the rolls made on Monday. (Total cost $5.65)

Wednesday - Chicken-noodle soup (making stock from that chicken I cooked on Monday), sourdough bread. (Total cost $2.35)

Thursday - DH and I have a dinner/auction thing to go to that evening, so I just have to make up a quickie dinner for the kids. They will be having Velveeta Shells and Cheese, homemade applesauce, and the rest of the sourdough bread. (Total cost $1.55)

Friday - Chicken-alfredo pizza on whole wheat crust. (Total cost $3.25)

Saturday - Ham steaks cooked in Coke (yummm!!), rice, green beans, biscuits. (Total cost $3.50)

Sunday - Pizza-Rice Casserole (this is similar), corn, yogurt cornbread. (Total cost $3.90)

I actually sat down this week and calculated my cost on things such as sugar, flour, and other baking products, so I can be a little more accurate in figuring my costs on dinners. I was surprised to see how little it costs me to make my own bread, which tastes SO much better than store-bought - how cool is that????

For more fantastic menu ideas, pop over to OrgJunkie!!!

A new washer and dryer - yikes!

Ok....I can't believe that I did this, but I just bought a new HE front-loading washer and dryer! They will be delivered and set up next Wednesday. I didn't necessarily NEED a new washer and dryer, as my current pair is still working okay, but it was such a good deal that we decided to take the plunge. Sears has a special tonight (from 6-9 pm) for a Samsung pair of front-loaders for only $899 for BOTH. Well, Lowe's agreed to ad match that price. They didn't honor the "plus 10%" that they advertise, but they DID accept a 20% off coupon from Home Depot! I ended up with a nice new HE washer and dryer, with a new power cord and an extended 5 year warranty, for just over $900. The retail on ONE of the units is almost that much!

I sat and looked at the water usage of the new washer and my current one, and with the amount of laundry that I do, my water bill should go down $20-$25 a month, I figure. So, in essence, they will eventually pay for themselves, right? That's my justification, anyway. Now, granted, I did NOT buy the matching pedestals, but I figure if I ever have the extra money for those, I can buy them anytime. For now, I'll be fine with just the washer and dryer - I've so been coveting the front loading units!!

Anyway....I'm a little panicked, knowing that I spent that much money tonight, but I plan to pay for it with the econonic stimulus check that we haven't spent yet. I also have 6 months to pay for it, as they gave me that long for free financing. All in all, it was a fantastic deal, but I think I'm still in shock! Once they arrive, I'll post how I like them (I hope I LOVE them!!!!). :-)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Crunch Top Potatoes

It's time again for the recipe swap over at the Grocery Cart Challenge! I sat here for a minute trying to figure out what recipe I could share, and happened to see a note I had written to myself earlier in the week. Someone on one of my email lists asked for unique recipes involving cornflakes, and I was reminded of Crunch Top Potatoes, a recipe we love, but which I have not made in months! I wrote myself a reminder to put it on the menu as soon as possible. I even bought cornflakes the last time I went to Aldi (only $1.15)!! So, without further ado, here are the Crunch Top Potatoes:

4-5 unpeeled potatoes, washed and sliced about 1/2" thick
1/4 c. butter, melted (you can safely use less, but this makes them GOOD)
1/2 c. crushed cornflakes
1/2 c. shredded cheddar
Paprika or other seasonings

(NOTE: You can adjust all of these amounts. I actually don't measure anything for this recipe - I just use whatever I have or feel like using)

Put 2 T. of the melted butter in a microwaveable dish. Add sliced potatoes, turning to coat in the butter and cover dish. Cook on high power for 5 minutes, or until potatoes are becoming tender.

Uncover potatoes. Pour over the remaining butter (or omit to make them a LITTLE better for you) and top with cornflakes and cheese. Sprinkle with paprika, or other seasonings you like - this recipe is very versatile! Re-cover and cook on high power for 3-5 minutes, until potatoes are completely tender and cheese is melted.

This is a very different side dish, and my kids, who refuse to eat baked potatoes, do enjoy this. I wish I hadn't forgotten about it!

For more terrific recipes, be sure to visit Grocery Cart Challenge!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Works for me - Turning off lights!

Do your kids leave lights on all the time? How about that dear husband? Do you find yourself constantly reminding everyone to shut off lights or feel like the electricity police?? I actually found a way to get everyone involved in saving energy by turning everything off when they leave a room....and my investment was less than $10! I have shaved well over that amount off my electric bill, and I've also taught my family to think about the energy they are wasting. Want to know how I did it? Read on....

At the start of September, I went to the bank and purchased a $10 roll of quarters. I then took 5 paper cups and labeled each with the initial of one member of the family - one cup for each of us. I then divided up the quarters into the cups - 8 for each person. A family meeting was called to explain the quarters, and the related game we were going to play. Everyone was informed that they had a chance to make some money in the coming month - this got their attention very quickly, especially when I detailed that the earnings potential could be as high as $10. Here's how it worked: everyone was to be on the lookout for lights and televisions that were still "on" when nobody was in the room. If you found this situation, you were to turn off the offending item, and immediately go to the offending person and inform them of the oversight. Then, for the corrective measure, you got to move a quarter from THEIR cup to YOUR cup. If brother left on the television and light in his room and went downstairs to play, and youngest sister saw this, she could turn off both items, inform her brother, and collect 50 cents.

This was an immediate hit with the kids. Dad took a little longer to come around, but he's finally learned a bit. Every day saw quarters moving from one cup to another and the competition grew - all three kids wanted to collect ALL the quarters! They were running around the house constantly turning off lights. We ended up having to set boundaries - you could leave the light on if you were to be gone 5 minutes or less. This prevented the "but I just had to go to the bathroom!" situation.

After the first month, the girls had quite a few quarters, and their brother had less than the 8 he was given to start. The girls reveled in this and were very excited to receive their cash-out at the end of the month. I put the quarters from mine and DH's cups back into the kitty and supplemented back to $10 and we started again. The second month, not nearly as many quarters moved, and we haven't even had to do it this month. They are turning off lights and being very consciencious about electricity. It's amazing how well this worked! They still catch each other every now and then just for fun. If they start slacking, we'll just start the quarters again.

This little electricity-saving game *definitely* works for me! Let me know if you give it a try - or how you make improvements to the system. I'm always open to great new ideas!! If you're looking for more great tips, visit Rocks in my Dryer!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sloppy joe success!

What an accomplishment! I actually realllllly cheated tonight - I made the sloppy joes with half a pound of ground turkey, and about a half cup of leftover cooked bulgur! THEY DIDN'T NOTICE!!! Both older kids ate two sandwiches each, as did DH. I could taste a slight difference from the "norm," but nobody else even noticed it. They raved about how good dinner was, and I just smiled....

Looks like ground turkey from Aldi just made its way into our meal planning! Woohoo!! (and I got them to eat bulgur, which they claim to absolutely hate! hehehehehehe)

Anyone else have any sneaky food stories to share?? :-)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Menu Plan Monday, week of 11/10

Another week gone by, and we're only a month and a half from Christmas - Thanksgiving is even closer! Yikes!! In anticipation of shopping for the upcoming food holiday, and a tighter-than-usual budget this month, I've planned this week around food I already have (or can make) so I do not have to go to the grocery store!

Monday - Sloppy Joes on homemade buns, rice, corn (cost approx. $3.40) I'm going to try and sneak in the ground turkey in this one, as I'm thinking with all those seasonings, hopefully nobody will notice! Wish me luck....

Tuesday - DH's birthday: Lasagna (his favorite), salad, buttery breadsticks, and probably a chocolate cake for dessert - yum! (cost w/ cake approx. $6.25)

Wednesday - Pumpkin french toast, "fried" apples (due to DH bringing home the key ingredients from his restaurant when they discontinued this menu item, cost approx. $1.50)

Thursday - Smoked sausage, Yukon Gold potatoes, glazed carrots, cornbread (cost approx. $4.00)

Friday - Ham and pepperoni pizza w/ sourdough crust (cost approx. $3.25)

Saturday - Mushroom-broccoli penne w/ chicken, green beans, garlic bread (cost approx. $4.25)

Sunday - Potato corn & chicken chowder (this recipe is kinda similar), homemade rolls (cost approx. $4.75)

Not a very thrilling week, but everything is kid approved, which always helps! My youngest won't be happy about Monday night, but she will have her bun with cheese or turkey lunchmeat on it and will be fine! And I certainly can't complain about my costs per meal. Some of them surprise even me!

For more great menu plans, be sure to pop over to I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

The Perfect Hot Chocolate

Okay, so maybe it isn't "perfect," but this is the recipe that I use. It has been tweaked and modified and taste-tested by the monkeys until it has evolved into this cocoa mix that they consider the absolute best. It took about 2 years to get it right, so I thought I would share it. I made a batch of it today to make cocoa cones for Christmas gifts. :) Let me know if you try it and like it!

Hot Cocoa Mix

10 c. powdered dry milk (25 oz.)
2 c. powdered non-dairy creamer
1 8 oz. container cocoa
6 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. cinnamon
1 T. powdered vanilla
1 3.9 oz package Jello Chocolate Fudge instant pudding (yes, it must be this variety, according to my kids. I tried regular chocolate and it just wasn't right!)

Combine all in a large bowl and mix well. I use my hand blender to get all the little lumps out of it. It will make about 16 cups of mix, and my cost was about $10.50. This makes 24 cocoa cones, in case you're wondering (I put 2/3 c. mix in each).

For more GREAT recipe ideas, visit Gayle's blog!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Menu Plan Monday, Week of 11/3/08

We've finally reached election week! Although I pretty much hate commercials in general, I will be so very glad when I no longer have to hear the various local and national candidates twist the truth in any way possible every few minutes of what little television I take time to enjoy! But let's not dwell on that...let's get to the menu plan that seemed to take me forever this week!!!

Monday - Chicken parmesan, spaghetti noodles, salad, soft buttery breadsticks. (Approx. cost for 5 of us - $4.75)

Tuesday - Crock pot roast with Yukon gold potatoes, baby carrots, applesauce, cornbread. I'll be volunteering at the district cloting center in the morning and the school all afternoon, so it's a perfect crock pot day! (Approx. cost $5.50)

Wednesday - Creamy burrito casserole with leftover roast from Tuesday, corn, any leftover bread from the past couple of days. :) (Approx. cost $4.60)

Thursday - Honey lime chicken (new recipe - gotta use up some limes in the fridge!), steamed brown rice, green beans, sourdough bread. (Approx. cost $5.80)

Friday - Homemade pizza w/ a wheat crust. We'll top it with what's left of the roast. (Approx. cost $4.25)

Saturday - Pork chops in mushroom soup, mashed potatoes w/ the mushroom gravy, corn, biscuits. (Approx. cost $5.10)

Sunday - Pork and mushroom stuffed bread, potato soup. (Approx. cost $3.30)

For LOTS of other great menu plans, visit I'm an Organizing Junkie!

Learning as I go!

Hip hip horray!!! I just learned how to make a clickable link in my blog postings! It took me long enough, considering it's sooooooooo easy!!!!!

And now I have a clickable email - what a lot I'm figuring out tonight! Next step - sidebar stuff like blogs I read and those cool buttons. Anyone care to help there? :-) I'll keep working on it!

On another topic, "falling back" is really going to be a blessing tonight! I can't believe it's almost 12:30. I think it's time to get out of all these blogs and go to BED!!!

Good night.....

Friday, October 31, 2008

Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake

The other day, my son got an A on a math quiz. For those of you who know my son, you know what a rare and exciting accomplishment this is! We had made a deal with him that if he ever got an A on a math quiz or test, he got to pick dessert that evening. He's 12, so this is quite an incentive! :) Well, he asked me to make him a cheesecake, and he wanted it to have chocolate and cherries. I wanted a smaller size cheesecake and I didn't have a recipe for this one, so I decided to just throw something together and see what we got. The result was VERY well received, and Jordan (my 8 year old) made me write down my recipe so I would make it again and again.

Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake

2 c. crushed chocolate sandwich cookies (we had these leftover from class parties)
1/3 c. melted butter
2 8-oz. packages lite cream cheese, softened (fat free would likely work, too)
1/2 c. sour cream
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
1 jar maraschino cherries - dry cherries on paper towels and cut into quarters, reserve 2 T. juice
1 c. mini chocolate chips

Combine the melted butter and the crushed cookies. Press into a pie plate to form the crust. Bake at 350 for 10 minutes, then set aside to cool slightly while you finish making the filling.

For filling, beat the cream cheese and sour cream on medium speed until well blended. Beat in vanilla and eggs, one at a time, until smooth and creamy. Fold in chopped cherries, 2 T. cherry juice, and chocolate chips.

Pour filling into crust and bake at 325 for about an hour, until center is set and no longer appears wet and the edge has turned just slightly golden. Cool, then refrigerate at least 4 hours. It's even better the next day!

For more great recipes, check out Gayle's recipe swap!!

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Effectively using credit cards - works for me

Not too terribly long ago, we were very deeply in debt, mostly on credit cards. When you look back and realize that you've been paying on a "cheap" dinner out for several years, it's pretty depressing! It took a long time and a lot of work, but we got out from under the debt and now our only debt is our home.

Even though credit cards were a major contributor to our past debt, I still use them today. However, I never carry a balance. What I do is I keep the credit card that I use in my checkbook. Then, whenever I pay for groceries or gas or whatever, I pull out my checkbook, scan the credit card, and proceed to write the transaction in my register just like a check. I put my abbreviation for the credit card where the check number would go, the date of the transaction, the company, and the amount. Then, when my bill comes, I can quickly make sure all amounts are accurate and just write a check for the total, as all amounts have been accounted in the checkbook. (I do a credit for the amount of the charges reflected in the register and then a debit to pay the bill, just to keep my accounting straight.)

Sometimes a charge might be missed, particularly if my DH used the card, but for the most part, I always have everything needed to pay the bill each month. And as a bonus, I earn points that I can redeem for cash, gifts, or gift cards. I figured it up today and for the last 3 years, I've gotten $300 or more in gift cards each year! I use those for Christmas presents, or for shopping for things I want or need. I ordered gift cards today for teacher gifts. Earning $25 a month on average for stuff I'm going to buy anyway is a great deal!

If you're careful and keep track of your spending, this can be a very effective way to use your credit card/s. It probably won't work for everyone, but it certainly works for me!!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Supercook is an addiction!

I have become addicted to supercook.com. I used to surf sites like allrecipes and recipezaar looking up certain ingredients and seeing what I could find and did find new things to try now and then. However, recently while reviewing blogs, I saw the supercook site mentioned and thought I would give it a try. I am hooked!!!!

This website keeps track of what you have on hand in the kitchen and it surfs all the recipe sites (well, the main ones, anyway) for things that you can make, presenting them to you in a format that lists the things you can make now, and things you can make with just a few more ingredients, detailing those ingredients. It even has a listing of common ingredients to help you remember everything you have for cooking/baking. It isn't foolproof, and I have found some recipes that it said I could make where key ingredients were not to be located in my house, but overall it's such a helpful site!! I have found a bunch of new recipes to try since I started using the site.

If you haven't been to the site, check it out, and then please come back and tell me what you think. I find it to be a very helpful site, and I love that I can search by a key ingredient (click on something to narrow your search to a particular thing you need to "use up") and it gives me recipes that I know I can make, not just a generic listing of every recipe out there. It's really a great site!!

Stay warm tonight....it's very cold here in Kansas City!!!!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - 10/27/08

This is going to be one BUSY week!! I'm hoping I can keep up with all my commitments and family meals. I'm also hoping the electrician actually shows up as scheduled this time, although 5 cancellations would indicate otherwise... I've never worked anywhere that let me call in "sick" for three straight weeks!! Anyway, here's the plan!

Monday - French dip stuffed bread (finally using up the last of that roast!!), potato salad, stuffed celery. That should be easy enough for DH to feed the kids, as I will be helping to set up the teacher's Christmas Wish Tree at my daughters' school from 5:00 till whenever.

Tuesday - Meatless meal: Pumpkin french toast, fried apples. This one's almost a freebie, as DH brought home a loaf of sourdough and 2 HUGE cans of pumpkin pie filling from work, along with the restaurant's recipe for the french toast - yum!!! I'll be volunteering as a teacher's assistant most of the day, HOPEFULLY meeting the electrician in the afternoon (ha!), and then taking the kids Trunk or Treating after dinner.
(Note to self: Cook chicken leg quarters in the crock pot all day to shred for the next few nights!)

Wednesday - Chicken noodle soup and rolls. Today's going to be interesting. Somehow I have to manage to volunteer at the school sorting fund raiser merchandise from 10-1 or so and still have a dessert and 5 dozen homemade rolls at the school for the teacher's dinner by 5:00.

Thursday - Chicken quesadillas and chicken taco salad. I had a change in last week's menu (flexibility is a key of frugality!) and didn't have the quesadillas then, so I moved them to this week with chicken. The YMCA Boo Bash is this evening!

Friday - Chicken alfredo pizza. We've decided to go back to our old Friday night homemade pizza tradition. The kids love it, and it's an easy and inexpensive dinner. Tonight is trick or treating, of course! It's not even going to be overly cold, so it should be a fabulous night!

Saturday - Carlin's request: Homemade macaroni and cheese, corn, applesauce, and biscuits. I'll make enough mac and cheese for another pastitsio, as everyone absolutely LOVED the leftover version last time I tried it - go figure!

Sunday - Pastitsio, green beans, pumpkin cornbread muffins. And maybe the Chiefs will actually win a game today?? Yes, that IS funny!! :-)

Mom's Corny Snack Mix

My kids got several of the "popcorn hands" at their fall parties at school. They had been sitting on the kitchen counter since Friday after school, so today I decided to see if I could make them more interesting. I dumped them in a bowl and came up with a simple snack mix which all three of them declared a "keeper." I have to admit, the combination of flavors was pretty good. It has been deemed "Mom's Corny Snack Mix" and here's what you throw together to make it:

Popped popcorn
Corn chips
Candy corn (I used 2 flavors - regular and caramel apple)

That's it! If I had to guess, I'd say it was 3 parts popcorn to one part of each of the other two items. It was definitely a hit, and no more popcorn hands lingering on my counter!

I know this isn't a very exciting recipe, but it gave me an excuse to pop upstairs and blog! :-)

Friday, October 24, 2008

My son's favorite breakfast

One morning I inadvertently stumbled upon a very easy and pretty healthy breakfast idea using my blender. I had to use up a very over-ripe banana and got experimental. My son fell in love with the creation, and it has now become an almost daily breakfast ritual for him. He even asked for his own blender for Christmas!!! (He's 12.)

Peanut Butter Banana Smoothie

1 ripe banana
2 T. peanut butter
1 T. honey
1 c. milk

(Measurements are approximate as I never measure - just dump!)

Place all ingredients in blender and blend till smooth - yep, it's that easy!

Be sure and rinse out the blender, as it's a bit tough to clean once that stuff dries on it!! :-)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Closer to Christmas

I know....not even Halloween yet and yet I'm talking about Christmas. Yep, I'm one of those people who decorates every room in the house and already has 90% (or more) of my shopping done. I love Christmas, but I prepare for it!

Allie over at Curves with Attitude is having another Christmas giveaway. Check it out at http://curvatude.blogspot.com/2008/10/10-weeks-giveaway-part-2.html and tell her you heard about it here!

This week is all about ornaments. I do have a lot of ornaments for my trees, but one stands out in my mind. It's not the prettiest ornament, but it's certainly very special. It's a little stuffed fabric bell, about 4 inches high, and it's made of a 70s Christmas fabric. So why is this special to me? Well, it was given to me by Miss Miller, my first grade teacher. I'm not going to tell you what year that was!!! That little bell has been on my tree every year for many, many years. When I got married and moved out, that was the only ornament to which I laid claim. Miss Miller was my favorite grade school teacher and it's very neat to be able to think of her every year at Christmas. I'd love to know where she is now. Hmm...maybe this year I should try to locate her. It can't hurt to try, right?

So what's your favorite Christmas ornament? Do tell......

Works for me - and my laundry

I'm posting my first Works for me Wednesday post. I thought I'd share my most important laundry tip. I can get almost any stain out of clothing. Sometimes it takes a little work, but I've even gotten out old, dried in stains and used to remove even soy formula from baby clothes!

Here are my three essential pretreaters:

1) Homemade stain remover: One part lemon-scented ammonia, one part Era laundry detergent, one part plain white vinegar, and one part water. Use this for most regular run-of-the-mill stains.

2) Aqua Net hair spray. Use this on ink based stains. Place the item on a paper towel or cleaning towel and saturate with spray. Gently blot. The stain will go away. Note: this also works on permanent marker when a toddler colors on the walls, but that's an entirely different tip!

3) Dawn dishwashing liquid. Yep, dishwashing soap! This one is my salvation in the laundry room!!! Any sort of greasy type stain comes right out when a little Dawn is rubbed into the stain. And things like spaghetti sauce, chocolate, and red Kool Aid will come out with a combination of Dawn to break them down and the homemade stain remover to take out the color.

The only other thing you need is a small brush (cleaning or nail brush). I've used the same one for years - it was less than a dollar.

With these tools, you will have the cleanest laundry on the block!! My husband is a restaurant manager, and he comes home with very unique stains, but I get them out! Let me know if these things work for you!!!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008


I'm happy to say that I finally found a website that I could comprehend enough to actually make my blog a little bit interesting! Woohoo!! I shall no longer subject my few visitors to boring backgrounds - I can add color and theme. It's almost sad that this is such a huge highlight for me, isn't it?? ;-)

The weather here is changing. It's blustery and there is a definite chill in the air. The next couple of days are supposed to be cold and rainy - ick! I had plans to try a new grocery store tomorrow, but thought with the weather, I might put it off till next Wednesday (they only double coupons on Wednesdays). However, I had a call from the girls' school today asking for help in sorting the fundraiser merchandise next Wednesday, so that's where I'll be. I don't suppose the grocery store is going anywhere, is it?

I'm thinking the kids are going to come home from school today to the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. It just feels like a cookie baking kind of day. Cookies and cocoa should warm them right up, and they will think I'm the coolest! Well, they already do, but it never hurts to add a few brownie points!! :)

If you're reading this, please leave me a comment. I would be interested to see that people actually do occasionally read my ramblings. No doubt, I'll keep rambling, but it would just be fun to see some commentary. And maybe someday I'll actually post something interesting or informative - you never know!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Menu Plan Monday, 10/20/08

Already Monday again?? Wow....where does the time go? It seemed like the weeks absolutely dragged back when I was working (and hating it) and now time just flies by, even if we are broke! :-)

The kids have planned their breakfasts for the week this week, which should be helpful. So, here's the full plan for the week:


Apple oatmeal muffins
Cereal and peanut butter-banana smoothies
Cinnamon raisin bread (baked overnight in the bread machine so it's fresh/warm)
Cinnamon toast and peanut butter-banana smoothies
Pop Tarts
Muffins (not sure what type yet)


Monday - Jack's Ranch Chicken, rice, corn.

Tuesday - Cheeseburger soup in sourdough bread bowls (Jordan has been begging for this!).

Wednesday - Spaghetti red for DH & I, Frito chili pies for the kids, cornbread. DH will make the chili, because for some reason the kids will only eat it if HE makes it! Then off to a Boo Bash with the kids - not sure what it is, but it sure sounds fun! :)

Thursday - Crock Pot roast with potatoes and carrots, homemade sourdough bread. It's supposed to be cold and rainy and that should hit the spot!

Friday - Pizza w/ leftover beef from last night. I'll make a whole wheat crust in the bread machine. This has to be an early dinner as we are supposed to be at a Trunk or Treat event by 5!

Saturday - Taco salad (using any leftover meat from the roast, as we always have a lot of meat left) and quesadillas. I will also make "appledillas" for the kids, which they love! It's tortillas cooked with a little cream cheese and applesauce and cinnamon inside - yum!

Sunday - Campbell's chicken and rice bake, green beans, biscuits.

It feels good to have a plan! Today I have to go to Aldi with a long list of perishables, since I didn't go to Aldi last week! I'm also going to try a new store on Wednesday that someone told me about the other day. It's supposed to be a discount grocery store, and their website says they double coupons on Wednesdays up to .50! I'm so there on Wednesday!!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Christmas traditions

One more post for today, and then I'm done - or so I think anyway!

I just came across a contest and it sounds like fun, so I wanted to enter. Hopefully someone will see this soon, because if you want to enter, you only have until midnight (California time) tonight! The link is: http://curvatude.blogspot.com/2008/10/10-weeks-giveaway.html

To secure my entry in the contest, I am going to talk about a very important Christmas tradition in our family. Every year, I bake and bake and bake to make up beautiful cookie and candy trays to give to friends and family. Several of my neighbors tell me that they anxiously await my trays to make their holiday complete. :-) But inside this tradition is another that is even more important. One of the goodies that we make is dipped pretzel rods. I buy the large rods, white almond bark, and an assortment of sprinkles. And then we schedule family pretzel night! The kids adore this, as they have a blast dipping the rods into the melted bark and then rolling it in whatever combination of sprinkles strikes their fancies. They come up with some beautiful creations, and these treats are the centerpieces of my goodie trays. The kids are so proud to contribute and feel like they are giving their own gifts to our friends. It wouldn't be Christmas without this family night of fun. I wouldn't give it up for the world!

Wow....10 weeks till Christmas. Isn't that wonderful?? I'm sure I will be posting lots more traditions, ideas, and recipes over the next several weeks. It's the most wonderful time of the year......

A slaw my family will EAT!!!

I have FINALLY created a slaw that everyone in the family actually ate today! Nobody but me will eat cole slaw, so it's just not something I try fixing unless I'm really in the mood for it. However, tonight I was in the fridge and found a bag of cole slaw mix (cabbage and carrots) that I had purchased this week that expired today. I knew I needed to use it, or it was just money wasted. So....I set about experimenting. I took about half the bag of slaw (I'm going to use the other half in a recipe for lunch tomorrow) and mixed in half a large can of crushed pineapple. I diced up a peach, a pear, and an apple, and added them. Then I stirred in around 3/4 of a cup of plain (homemade) yogurt and a handful of mini marshmallows. I let it sit in the fridge for a couple of hours, and it turned out great! I told the kids it was basically a fruit salad with cabbage. My youngest picked out the cabbage, but ate everything else, so I won't complain.

Even my husband ate it, and he doesn't like pineapple! I'm happy to have finally found a way to get my family to eat at least a little bit of cabbage. I'm constantly trying to get them to try new things, and it's not often easy. Another recent attempt was bulgur. I love the stuff, but only DH would eat it. Maybe someday I'll find a recipe that will work for that, too.....

Trip to CVS

I had a great CVS trip today! I had an ECB for $11.99 that expired in 2 days, and I didn't want to risk losing it. I also wanted to do the best I could do with it, on items that we actually use, since I'm not one to take advantage of a sale at a store just so I can resell things and make a profit. So here is what I bought:

Listerine Blue Rinse for kids ($5.99) - used $2 coupon - total $3.99
Listerine Whitening Pen ($9.99) - used $3 coupons - total $6.99
Excedrin Back & Body, 24 count ($1.99) - used $2 coupon - free!
Brach's Autumn Mix - $1.29

After coupons and my ECB, I paid .33 out of pocket and received $9.29 in ECBs. That was a great deal for me. :-)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Jack's Ranch Chicken

I am finally going to join in on the Recipe Swap over at Gayle's GroceryCartChallenge blog. First, though, I need to apologize for my boring blog site - I haven't yet learned how to do all the neat graphics. I hope to find the time to research all that soon so I can make it look a lot more interesting!

Now, without further ado, one of my kids' favorite recipes, Jack's Ranch Chicken:


4-5 chicken breasts, cut into strips
Non-stick cooking spray
1/2 c. ranch salad dressing
6 slices of bacon, cooked crisp and crumbled
1/2 c. shredded cheddar-jack cheese


Spray skillet well with non-stick coating. Saute chicken strips in pan until done.
Place strips in 8x8 baking pan and top with dressing, crumbled bacon, and shredded cheese.
Place pan in oven and broil on low until cheese is melted and bubbly.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

This is my first Menu Plan Monday and I think I even got the logo to work right - woohoo!!! Now, naturally I do realize that it is not quite Monday yet, but I tend to make my meal plans on Sunday so that I can run to the store Monday morning if needed. Menu Plan Sunday just doesn't sound nearly as cool, though, does it?

Anyway, here is my plan for this week, and I pretty much have everything on hand for all these meals, so I'll only be buying basics this week! That's a GOOD thing!!

Monday: Crock Pot beef stew, bread purchased on discount at a day-old store. We'll be at the Zoo that afternoon, so I needed an easy dinner.

Tuesday: Macaroni and Cheese (favorite meal of my youngest), biscuits, corn. Then off to a PTA meeting!

Wednesday: Pastitsio. I'm modifying my usual recipe, however, and using the leftover mac and cheese from yesterday and some jarred alfredo sauce that's in the fridge from a recent spinach alfredo pizza. Also, cornbread and green beans.

Thursday: Applesauce chicken (another crock pot recipe), carrots, rice. We have a 3rd grade musical that evening and will be rushing off right after dinner.

Friday: Chicken packets (a kid favorite), any leftovers from earlier in the week.

Saturday: Lasagna, salad, breadsticks.

Sunday: Apple-stuffed pork tenderloin, mashed potatoes and gravy, corn.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

My blog title

This is my first real attempt at starting a blog. Let me tell you, it was tough coming up with a name!! I tried several that were already taken, and then gave themonkeyroom a try. Surprise! It was available! So I thought I would start my blog with a brief explanation of how I arrived at that particular title.

We've recently moved to a much nicer home in a better part of town. It's been a wonderful change, and we're so much happier having three times the space we used to have! But, I digress...

Shortly after we moved, we visited Target and were looking at one of the endcaps in the domestics area. There were a bunch of bathroom items there, all of a monkey theme. The kids said that they wanted to decorate the bathroom with monkeys. In what I believed to be my most sarcastic tone, I stated, "Yeah, that's what I want - a monkey bathroom!" Well, the entire family (hubby included) took me seriously and the kids became extremely excited about having monkeys in the bathroom. So....we ended up buying the monkey shower curtain, floor rug, soap dispenser, etc. I now have monkeys all over my bathroom!! I toned it down just a touch with lovely chocolate brown towels and palm trees on the walls. Although it wasn't what I intended, it really did turn out great, and the kids still love it!

So....I have a monkey room in my house. In essence, it was a family design, and it represents a lot to me. I have called my kids my "monkeys" for a long time. It just suits them, and suits our family. I'm proud to have a monkey room!!! :-)

Stay tuned for hopefully some interesting information....I'm still deciding what direction my blog will take. Check back to find out!!!