Monday, November 30, 2009

Meal Planning- Part I

You are going to LOVE what I found today. Pocket Full of Posies sells these very efficient and pretty meal planning systems. I just had to order one. You see, this is sorta new for me to plan out the week and actually shop for and stick with the menu!

Scotty and I have several bigger ticket wish list items and we have decided that we can get some of the fun stuff sooner if we limited the food budget more. I may have mentioned (a few times, ahem) that our dinosaur computer is acting up. It's not behaving itself and I can't blog or do any of the fun stuff. We have decided to get a Mac, and not just any Mac but the newest, sweetest Mac they sell. We don't replace our computer that often and we are really both needing a much more powerful system to keep up with our hobbies and play.

Anyhow, meal planning has been a tool for me to keep to my new food budget. I usually plan out the menu, shopping trip and type up a "plain-jane" menu to post on the fridge. But, this new Monthly Pocket System is going to be very cool! I can hardly wait for it to come. I just ordered one set of their menu/recipe cards. I'll probably use a lot of my own recipes since we have picky tastes in this family...

Happy Thanksgiving!!

... I am thankful most of all for a wonderful family and that my husband, Scotty, was able to spend the week at home with us. He was working from home, but he was here every night and every morning. It was nice!

I have a lot to be thankful for: my family, my faith, my health, my husband's job, a home to live in, friends, etc...

I am also thankful that my computer is temporarily fixed and I can post photos on my blogs. Hang in there friends... a new computer is in my near future. This old beast makes blogging very difficult and I'm too impatient to blog from my iphone. Sorry... hopefully it won't be long now. I'll write my list to SANTA.

Here are a few photos of our Thanksgiving table. My siblings, Mirriam and Josh, were able to spend the day with us. The food was good. We were on our feet all day cooking, but had a nice time! Believe me when I say that I was definitely thankful that my Achilles tendon has healed as well as it has, or that would have been torture!

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Lazy BBQ Chicken Nugget Pizza

A quick dinner! BBQ Chicken Pizza the lazy way... (or the too busy to cook tonight way!) On the pizza pictured above the chicken is only on half the pizza because some of us in my household don't care for meat. Don't worry I doubled the chicken nuggets in the recipe below so you'll have plenty to cover the entire pizza. The amounts are approximate. If you like less sauce, use less. More cheese? Go for it! Some people prefer green onions instead of red onion, I like both. Just don't make it too complicated, or it won't be...

Lazy BBQ Chicken Nugget Pizza

1 package refrigerated pizza dough (I used Great Value, Walmart's generic brand)
1/4 c. pizza sauce
1/4 c. bottled BBQ sauce (your favorite flavor)
2-3 c. shredded mozzarella cheese
1/8 c. chopped cilantro
1/8 - 1/4 c. chopped red onion
12 chicken nuggets (cooked- microwaved for 1-1/2 minutes)

Preheat oven according the pizza dough package directions. Spray a baking sheet with cooking spray and spread the dough out over the sheet stretching it to spread to create a thin crust. Pour pizza sauce and 1/4 c. bottle BBQ sauce onto crust and spread all over the dough. Sprinkle dough evenly with the cheese. Cut up chicken nuggets in bite sized pieces and cover with enough BBQ sauce to coat the pieces on all sides. Sprinkle chicken, onion, and cilantro over the pizza. Bake according to the pizza dough package directions. (I baked ours at 400 degrees F. for 15 minutes.) Let sit a bit before slicing! This makes 1 large pizza. With a salad it serves our family of 4.

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Pumpkin-Pecan Cookies with Brown-Sugar Butter Frosting

Nothing says fall like pumpkin-flavored goodies. Here is a new recipe I tried last night from Better Homes and Garden Magazine. My kids exclaimed that they are their new favorite cookie. Super delicious!

The cookies were simple to mix up and bake. I used a cookie scoop to put the dough on the cookie sheets and one recipe gave me 57 cookies!! I found that 9 minutes was the perfect baking time on them for my oven. The frosting is very yummy but, a bit different consistency than I've worked with before. It was hard to spread onto the cookies towards the last half of the cookies, so work quickly! I should have added another drop of two of hot water to see if that helped but, it worked out. Every cookie had frosting and looked good. I wonder if a drop of maple extract would be a good alternative for the vanilla. Doesn't that sound tempting?

Pumpkin-Pecan Cookies with Brown-Sugar Butter Frosting

2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar, softened
1 egg
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 cup chopped toasted pecans

1. Preheat oven to 375 degreesF. In a medium mixing bowl combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda and allspice. Set aside.

2. In a large mixing bowl beat the butter with an electric mixer on medium speed for 30 seconds. Beat in the sugar. Add the egg; beat well. Stir pumpkin and flour mixture into egg mixture with a wooden spoon. Stir in the chopped pecans.

3. Drop the dough by a rounded teaspoon about 2 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

4 Bake cookies in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until bottoms are lightly browned (mine were done at 9 minutes). Transfer the cookies to wire racks; cool. Frost the cooled cookies with Brown-Sugar Butter Frosting. Makes about 40 cookies.

Brown-Sugar Butter Frosting
6 Tablespoons butter
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 cups sifted powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla

In a medium saucepan heat butter and brown sugar over medium heat until butter is melted. Remove mixture from heat. Stir in the powdered sugar and vanilla. Add enough hot water (2-3 teaspoons) to make a smooth, spreadable frosting. Frost the cooled cookies immediately after preparing the frosting. If frosting becomes grainy, add a few more drops of hot wate and stir until smooth.

To store: Place in layers separated by waxed paper in an airtight container; cover. Store at room temperature for up to 3 days or freeze unfrosted cookies for up to 3 months. Thaw, then frost cookies.
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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Fall Decor around our house!

I just love fall decorations!! The colors are my favorite colors and I use them year round to decorate the house. I love the leaves changing colors, the air that becomes crisp and cool. Love, love, love fall.

Above are two pilgrims that I made at a Super Saturday several years back. I just love them. The boy sorta leans to the side a bit and I had to reinforce him last year with a few screws. I smile every year when I pull them out of the storage box.

The Fall letters I posted about yesterday...

Our kitchen table. This year I plan on making a burlap or muslin table runner slightly wider than the plaid one above (to go below it). That will be one of my next projects.
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fall Crafts

Yesterday I picked up the wood kit to make this pumpkin for my sign hanger. I forgot to attend the class I had signed up for last Saturday, even though I spent most of the previous week looking forward to it. Go figure?

The pumpkin and the FALL letters/acorns were bought as kits, at a local scrapbooking store... but, the gal (Nicole) who makes them and teaches the class also has a blog, sweetpickledesignscompany.

I just love her stuff, and can't wait to see her Christmas hanger. My guess is that it will be a tree; Caitlin thinks it will be a candy cane. We'll see! If you didn't see the Halloween Spider hanger, check him out. He was a bit harder to do as the teeth are all itty bitty individual pieces. Still easy though, don't be scared off by that!!

Tomorrow I'll post the rest of the Thanksgiving decorations I've set up around the house...
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Sunday, November 8, 2009

Seasonal Fruit: Pomegrante

I'm pretty certain that the pomegranate is an under appreciated fruit. I suppose it could be the difficulty of peeling it, although it's really not that hard- just a bit messy.

I really love to just eat the fruit by itself, it's very juicy and sweet. I also love it in salads. Recently I found a great combination; I added pomegranate to a Fresh Express Mediterranean Salad. You don't need to buy the Fresh Express version, you can make your own:

fresh baby spinach leaves
sweet dijon mustard salad dressing
feta cheese
(sliced fresh pair or apple would be a yummy addition)

Other than eating it plain or in a salad I really don't know how else to serve it. So, I did a bit of research on and found a few that have great reviews to try...

Pomegranate Stew with Chicken

Pomegranate Relish

Herbed Pomegranate Salsa

Roasted Pork Shoulder with Pomegranate Sauce

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Gift Wrapping Cuteness

I have a cute little Brazilian friend named Paula. She is just as adorable as you can imagine and very, very sweet. When we lived near her in San Jose she would bring me or the kids gifts. Often they were cute little plates of homemade goodies. She would cover them with cellophane wrap and tied them shut with ribbon. She made cute little tags using the little pre-colored wooden cutouts from Michaels Craft Store, and they just made the package so adorable.

So, when it came time to wrap up a few gifts for my new little nephew I thought of those cute little wooden cutouts from Michaels. The ones I picked up are approximately $1 each and they have little felt pieces on them for added texture and cuteness.

For these packages I just used my glue dots to attach them to the wrapping. You could also drill a hole in the top and attach them with ribbon. Michaels has several designs.. these two (the turtle and the puppy) are a few of my favorites. I also like the zebra and the blue elephant!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Welcome Reese!

Today we are welcoming my new nephew Reese Cecchini into the world! He was born this morning weighing in at 7 lbs. 7 oz. and 19" long. Congratulations to his parents Tony and Sara (my sister) and his three older siblings: Carlee, Garett, and Ginger!

I just can't wait to snuggle him!!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Creating time by cooking freezer meals

My husband has been traveling a lot lately. He's been working out of town Monday - Friday and so the weekends are our family time. It seems that we have been spending too much of the weekends running errands, fixing dinner or going out to eat. Wanting to take advantage of the short amount of time our family has to be together, I've been thinking of stuff I can do differently throughout the week to free up some time on the weekends.

Today I finally got around to trying out the concept of making many meals in one day and freezing them for later use. I really liked it! It is so nice to have my freezer full of home cooked meals that are ready to be thawed and heated.

I made:

  • Chile Chicken Verde (to eat in soft corn tortillas w/cheese)
  • Slow-cooker Ribs
  • Cranberry Chicken
  • Swiss Steak w/gravy

Each of the above is a single recipe. My family is small and I can usually get two meals from a single recipe. The Chile Verde and Ribs got rave reviews from the family. They haven't tried the other two yet.

I have several freezer meal cookbooks but, today I used just two:

Dinner is Ready by Deanna Buxton
Once-a-Month Cooking by Mimi Wilson & Mary Beth Lagerborg

So, as a beginner freezer meal cook, I thought I'd share a few cool or helpful things that I learned today, as well as the recipes for the two meals the family liked...

A few main things make cooking in a day possible:

  1. You need to start in a clean kitchen
  2. You need to have a variety of meals that use different cooking methods (oven, slow cooker, stove top and assemble for cooking later).
  3. It helps to have two sets of measuring cups and spoons, one for wet ingredients and another for dry
  4. Have the trash ready and empty
  5. Read through the recipes and prep identical ingredients at the same time. (Three of the recipes above called for onion. It was quick to cut all of the onions at once.)
  6. After you label and fill the freezer bags put them on cookie sheets so they freeze flat. It will be easier to stack and store that way.

Slow Cooked Short Ribs (from the Dinner is Ready cookbook)

2/3 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
4 pounds boneless beef short ribs (I used pork ribs)
1/3 cup butter
1 1/2 cups beef broth
1 cup chopped onion
3/4 cup brown sugar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup ketchup
3 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 cup chili sauce
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 cup corn syrup

Combine flour, salt and pepper. Coat ribs with flour mixture. In a large skillet, brown ribs on all sides in butter. Transfer browned ribs to slow cooker. In the same skillet, combine beef broth, onion, brown sugar, vinegar, ketchup, Worcestershire sauce, chili sauce, garlic, chili powder and corn syrup. Mix well. Heat until mixture comes to a boil. Pour over ribs in slow cooker. Cover and cook on LOW for 9 - 10 hours. Remove from slow cooker and allow to cool. Place in freezer bag. Label and freeze.

To Serve: Thaw. Heat until hot and bubbly.

Chile Verde (from the Once-A-Month Cooking cookbook)

1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained
1 pound boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cooked
1 4-ounce can chopped green chilies
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 cups water
3 chicken bouillon cubes ( I like Knorr)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt (I omitted this)
2/3 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese*
1 dozen corn tortillas*
1 24-ounce jar salsa*

Combine chicken with chilies and seasonings; refrigerate until needed. At the same time, combine beans, water, bouillon cubes, garlic, salt, and onion in a large pot; bring to a boil.

Reduce heat and simmer until beans are soft, about 1 hour. Add more water if necessary.

Combine chicken and spices with beans; simmer 10 more minutes. Cool and transfer to a gallon sized freezer bag or a 5-cup freezer container. Grate cheese, put it in a 1-quart bag and attach it to the freezer container with the chili.

To Serve: thaw chile verde and cheese; serve on warmed corn tortillas
Serve with: fresh tomato, cilantro, and avocado slices

Monday, November 2, 2009

Our Halloween! and computer difficulties...

Recently my laptop stopped working, now our home computer isn't working. To fix the laptop will almost cost as much as to buy new and our home computer is a dinosaur we've been wanting to upgrade anyhow so, neither one is getting repaired. We'll be buying a new home computer this coming weekend, the newest Macs are coming out!! Meanwhile, I'm going to have to get creative about my postings.

I'm sitting here reflecting on our Halloween season this year... glad that we were able to pull off almost all of the normal traditions and add a few new.

Here are the kiddos in their fun costumes... ready to "terrorize" the neighborhood...