Friday, December 5, 2014

A Bit of Fridge Organization

While I was putting away my groceries, I thought I'd show you how I store some things in my refrigerator to make things easier for me and my family.  I made a video about it, and I'll link that in this post.

I already did a blog post on my Sandwich Box, and I invite you to read about it and how it came into existence.

Our current sandwich box is on the left, and our current cheese box is on the right.

The first portion of the video describes our cheese box.  We use a ton of cheese, and I buy mostly blocks of cheese.  I don't really care for the taste of pre-shredded cheese.  They put some sort of anti-clumping agent on it, and I think that it changes the taste of it.  My husband says that I am a food snob sometimes, but I really can tell the difference.



Here's a little tip too...at least this works in our house.  I find that my kids actually use less cheese if they have to grate it themselves!  I don't know if that's actually a good thing or not, because it really implies that they are lazy!  :)  LOL

Seriously, though, they seem to use less, and therefore, consume less fat.  I think it's funny...I mean, really...how long does it really take to grate a block of cheese?  A couple of minutes?

If I do find that I need large amounts of shredded cheese, I pull out my food processor and let the machine grate it for me.

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Mexican Chicken Bake - What's for Dinner

I made a video a week or so ago describing some freezer meals that I love to make.  One of them was a dish called Mexican Chicken Bake.  Here's the video for it and some other dishes.



I used one of those dishes for dinner tonight.  Actually, I used two bags because the kids had some friends over.  There were no leftovers for this one, folks!  Well, that isn't really true.  I had enough to make one extra burrito, and I've put it in the freezer for after-school snacks.  (I'll tell what I do there in another post at some point.)

This is a delicious and very easy meal.  The kids absolutely love it!!!!

Here's how to finish the dish:



Hope you enjoy.

Thanks, and welcome to my world.




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Friday, November 21, 2014

Grocery Hauls - Pre-Thanksgiving

Hi, everyone!


I've posted a couple of grocery hauls to my YouTube Channel recently.  I have plenty of meat in the freezer, so I am just buying a few things that we need this week to make it through until after the BIG day next week.



I hope enjoy these videos.  Be sure to check back next week to see what I am making for Thanksgiving!!!!!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!






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Sunday, November 9, 2014

Home-Canning Beans

I was working on my Zaycon Foods chicken order, and I wanted to can some of the chicken.  I wanted to can them in pint jars, because that size works well for our family.  However, I don't like to run the canner unless it's full.  So, whenever I have extra space in the canner when I am canning meat, I add a few jars of beans.

I like to have home-canned jars of beans on my shelf.  First of all, they're less expensive than store-bought canned beans.  I can usually get three or four jars of home-canned beans for the same price as one store-bought can.  Secondly, they taste better.  I don't like the metallic taste of store-bought beans.  Mine taste SOOO much better.  Thirdly, I don't know what they put in canned beans from the store, but I know that mine contain beans, water, and salt.  That's it.  I feel much better about giving that to my family than something that is hiding inside a metal can.



My recipe for home-canned beans is really very easy.  I hesitate to even call it a recipe since it is so simple.  Let's just list the steps instead, since it's really not a recipe.  (Disclaimer:  Please educate yourself on proper canning techniques before you go forward with this project.  I'm not a canning expert, so I will not go into the safety steps that you need to take.)
  1. Pick through and sort your beans.  Remove any broken beans or foreign material.
  2. Rinse the beans very well in hot water.  I usually put the beans in a colander and rinse them under running water.
  3. Put 1/2 cup of beans into a clean pint jar.  
  4. Add 1/2 tsp canning salt and top with boiling water to the 1-inch mark.  Seal according to proper canning procedures.
Beans must process in a pressure canner for the same amount of time as meat.  That's why they're the perfect filler when I need to put a few extra jars in the canner.  

I let them sit on the counter for a day or two and then put them on my shelves with the rest of my home-canned foods until I am ready to use them.  They are great along side any meat in tacos, burritos, and quesadillas.  I like to mash them for refried beans or bean dips.  I use them for chili and other soups and stews.  They're great as a side dish...or with a big hunk of cornbread!  I like to put black beans in salads too.

In other words, use them exactly the way you would store-bought beans.  I'll bet you like them better, though!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Friday, November 7, 2014

Chicken in Bulk - Zaycon Foods

Hi, again, folks!

See this box sitting in my fridge?


It contains 40 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts that I picked up from Zaycon Foods this morning!  I paid $1.49 per pound for it, and I am so excited!  I got such a great price because I bought some of their ground beef a few months ago and qualified for this special price.

When you have as many mouths to feed as I do, you always try to find the best deals...and this company delivers!  Here's a link to their website:   https://www.zayconfoods.com/

This chicken is fresh...never frozen...huge, and delicious.  This is my third time buying from them, and they have not disappointed me yet.  As I mentioned earlier, I bought ground beef in the summer, and this spring, I bought boneless, skinless chicken thighs.  I don't think I've ever tasted better chicken that those thighs.

Over the next couple of days, I'll be preparing meals for the freezer, canning, and freezing this chicken in meal-sized portions.  I'll share all of them with you in this blog and on YouTube.  Be sure to check back as I work through all of this chicken.  It'll be deliciously fun!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Sunday, November 2, 2014

Quick Fix Dinner - Pork Chops & Apples

For my last Pintober project, I wanted to do something that I knew my husband would LOVE.  With a nod to his German heritage, I found this Pin:  Hard Cider Pork Chops with Apples and Onions

I wasn't sure that the kids would like it, so I kept all of the components separate when I served the dish.  That turned out to be a smart move, if I wanted the kids to eat anything at all!  :)  Yeah, they didn't like the apples and onions combination...but Ron and I loved it!!!!!   He said it best...it was just a little too complex for their taste.

Here's my Pin:  Pork Chops with Apples and Onions




I changed the recipe a bit, as I usually do, to suit our tastes and the ingredients that I had on hand.

First, I used one of my favorite tricks to make a protein stretch.  I had only 5 pork chops and I was serving 6 people, so I cut them into bite sized pieces to serve them.  I have found that if I do that and mix the main protein with other ingredients, it goes much farther.

Secondly, I added whole grain mustard to the sauce.  I knew that Ron would love that!

Thirdly, I added a couple of splashes of apple cider vinegar to the sauce with the regular apple cider. I think that made a big difference.

Lastly, because I was using other things in the sauce, I just seasoned the meat with salt and pepper.

Here's the video that shows how I did this:



From start to finish, this meal was on the table in about 20 minutes.

I hope that you enjoyed my Pintober projects.  I had a ball doing this.  I wish that I had been able to complete the challenge with 31 posts, but I think I did fine considering how sick I was in the middle of the month.  I look forward to doing Pintober again next year.  Be on the lookout for many more videos as we move forward to Thanksgiving and Christmas.  I have lots of things up my sleeve!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Saturday, November 1, 2014

How to Wash and Store Lettuce for Maximum Freshness

I hate wasting money because food goes bad.  I've tried many tips throughout the years to keep my lettuce fresh.  Some of them have worked better than others, but nothing has really kept lettuce fresh and crisp for more than just a few days.  I was wondering if I would have to begin stopping by the store a couple of times a week to get fresh lettuce...until I found this trick!

Here's the original Pin:  Save Your Veggies with the Paper Towel Trick
This is another Pin that I saw that is similar:  Keeping Lettuce Fresh

When I saw these Pins, they reminded me of the way I sometimes store my fresh herbs.  I wrap the washed herbs in paper towels and store them in ziplock bags.  I wondered if I could do the same thing for lettuce.  When I tried it, I really liked it.



Here's my Pin:  How to Wash and Store Lettuce for Maximum Freshness

Here's my YouTube video:


I have found that this technique really keeps my lettuce nice and crisp for up to 10 days.  I do this with spinach too.  Even though bagged spinach as already been washed, sometimes I find that I want it to be even cleaner.  Also, I think that refreshing it in ice water helps to keep it crisp.

We eat a lot of salads in our family, so I am glad to have a good way to keep the lettuce as fresh as possible.  I was not happy with the thought of having to run back to the store every few days for lettuce!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Homemade Heinz 57 Sauce

I'm excited about this Pintober project.  This is one of my favorite sauces!  I love the stuff, but I never seem to have it when we have steaks.  I'll think about it and buy a bottle, then use it as ingredient in other dishes, and we're out of it again when I REALLY want it!

So, I was quite happy to find this Pin for a homemade version:  Homemade Heinz 57 Sauce Recipe

I doubled the recipe, because we all use it.  If there is any leftover, dubious, I'll use it in the meatloaf I am planning to make later in the week.



Here's all you mix together (this is double the original Pin)

1/2 cup ketchup
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp yellow mustard
2 Tbsp + 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
1 Tbsp + 1 tsp cider or malt vinegar
1/2 tsp tabasco sauce
1/2 tsp salt

Here's my Pin:  Homemade Heinz 57 Sauce

Here's the YouTube video showing this recipe:



(Quick update:  I wrote this post while I was waiting for my husband to come home from work.  He called me when he left the office to ask if I needed anything, and I told him that we were having steaks and needed some sour cream for the baked potatoes.  I had already made the sauce, so I didn't mention that at all.

Here's how much that we love Heinz 57...he picked up a bottle while he was at the store!!!  So we had the real stuff to do an actual taste test.  The homemade stuff was REALLY close to the original. There is a very slight difference in taste, but it was really good.  I'm glad that I have this recipe in my hip pocket now!)

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Slow Cooker Butter Chicken

I was really pumped to try this Pintober project!  I love Indian food, but I don't make it that often.  It's hard to do that with a family like ours.  As I constantly have kids from varying backgrounds at my table, I try not to be too exotic.  Sometimes, it's all I can to get kids to eat a salad, much less an entirely new flavor profile!

So, even though I received some strange looks when I served this dish, the name of it saved me. What could be scary about Butter Chicken?  Never mind that it didn't really look like butter...it has butter in the name...How bad could it be??????

Well, let me tell you...they loved it!!!!!  They even got seconds!  I served it over rice, and they loved it!!!!  I was very happy.



I sprinkled a few cashews on top of it right before it hit the table.  I think that was the clencher!  The next time I make it, I'll sneak in some veggies...wish me luck!

Here's the original Pin:  Slow Cooker Butter Chicken

Here's my Pin:  Butter Chicken

Here's the YouTube video on my version:



Thanks, and welcome to my world!



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Regrowing Celery


I love this Pintober project!  I've actually been doing for a while now, and it's been so much fun.  I did this for the first time last spring and kept it going all summer long.  I planted it in the garden, but it didn't make it through the winter.  So this time, I decided to plant them in containers so that I can bring them inside during very cold weather.

I know that you've seen this before.  I have tried regrowing several vegetables, like lettuce, green onions, etc, but this is the one that has been most successful for me.  In fact, regrowing romaine lettuce is actually easier than the celery, but I don't really like the taste of it.  After the first few leaves grow, the lettuce begins to get bitter, in my opinion.

Celery, on the other hand...I LOVE regrowing this stuff!!!!!  It takes a long time, but I think it is well worth it.  When it's regrown, there seem to be more leaves than the ones you get at the store.  That works out well for homemade chicken stock, soups, stews, and good southern DRESSING!

Even though it takes a while, the smaller stalks are still great for using in salads or dipping in ranch! As long as the plant seems healthy, I take a few stalks here and there as it's growing.

Here is the original Pin:  Grow Celery Indoors

Here's my Pin:  Regrowing Celery

Here is my YouTube video on this project:


To regrow your celery, all you do is cut off the bottom and plop it in a cup of water.  Change the water every couple of days and watch the magic!  I usually start seeing leaves poke through the center within one or two days.  After the baby stalks are a few inches tall, just plant it in some dirt and watch it take off.  Generally, I wait a couple of weeks before planting them.

Don't worry if the outer stalks begin to look brown and dried out.  That is normal.  If they look like they are beginning to rot or develop an odor, you probably have too much water in the cup.  Just make sure that you have enough to cover the bottom of the stalk.  Or, you may need to change the water more frequently.

Don't be discouraged if it doesn't grow.  I'm not sure why, maybe the plant is old or something, but sometimes they don't grow...they'll just start rotting in the cup.  If it's not sprouting leaves in the center by Day 4, just toss it in the compost and try again with the next celery that you buy.

I know you've seen on the internet that you'll never have to buy celery again, but it would take A LOT of regrown celery to keep my kids happy!   Keep trying!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Sunday, October 26, 2014

Sock Baskets - Laundry Room Hack



This Pintober project falls under the category of "Duh!  Why didn't I think of that?"

It's a very simple, very cheap solution to a problem that caused angst for everyone in the family. You see, we have this round laundry basket that over the years has been dubbed The Sock Basket.  In theory, it was supposed to be the one place where all of the mismatched socks would go so that they could be matched easily.

I hated it!  No one ever knew where it was, so it never contained all of the mismatched socks.  When I would work on the laundry, I never took the time to actually match the socks.  I'd just stick them all in The Sock Basket when I found it.  Then, no one, including me, ever took the time to sort through it and match anything.

If I couldn't find it, I'd just put all of the socks in the basket containing my clothes on the assumption that I would match them when I put my clothes away.  Unfortunately, that never happened either.  So then, eventually we'd have...like 3 sock baskets.

This brings to mind my favorite definition of insanity...doing the same thing every day while expecting different results.

So, when I saw this on Pinterest, I loved the idea.  I don't regularly shop at The Dollar Tree, but I am going to start.

I hope you enjoy this post and this video.  I am going to get more of these baskets for all of the bedroom closets.

Here's the original Pin:  Laundry Room Baskets

Here's my  Pin:  Sock Baskets - Laundry Room Hack

Here's the YouTube video:



Thanks, and welcome to my world!




Saturday, October 25, 2014

Beef Stroganoff

This is one of my husband's favorite dinners.  I don't make it very often, though, and I think that I know why. I think of this as a cool-weather dish.  He'd eat it once a week if I would make it that much.  When I told him that I was going to make it, his eyes lit up.

My recipe isn't very traditional, but it is delicious.



Beef Stroganoff

1 large onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (4 oz. each) mushroom stems and pieces, drained
1 1/2 pounds thinly sliced beef (steak, London Broil, tenderloin)
2 cups beef broth
1-2 cups water (or more beef broth)
1/4 cup flour
1 cup sour cream
Salt, to taste
Pepper, to taste
Worcestershire Sauce, to taste
Butter
Olive Oil
For serving, buttered egg noodles, sour cream, and grated parmesan cheese

Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil and 1 Tbsp butter in large skillet over medium heat.  Add onions, season with salt and pepper and cook for 5 minutes.  Remove onions to a bowl and stir in 1 Tbsp Worcestershire Sauce and set aside.  Add beef to pan and cook until just browned.  Do not overcook.  Drain any liquid released from beef and save for future use.  Remove beef to a bowl and set aside.

Return onions to pan.  Add garlic and mushrooms and cook for another 5 minutes.  Add more butter if skillet seems dry.  Stir in flour and cook for 2 minutes.  Add liquid that was drained from beef, beef broth, and enough water or extra broth to make a thin sauce.  Cook over medium-high heat for 5 minutes.  Return meat to sauce and heat through.

Remove sauce from heat and stir in 1 cup sour cream.  Serve over buttered egg noodles with extra sour cream and parmesan cheese.

If you'd like to watch how to prepare this dish, it's on my YouTube channel!



Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Friday, October 24, 2014

The Joys of Being an Early Riser

When I was a child, the one day of the year that I woke early was Christmas.  There was something magical about those early hours.  With the excitement and anticipation of gifts from Santa and the glow of the lights on the tree, it was almost too much for my little soul to handle.

The rest of the year, however, I would definitely not be considered a morning person.  I've never been a light sleeper, so the efforts of others or alarm clocks to try to wake me in the mornings are usually not successful.  As a teenager and young adult, I was always rushing out of the door at the last minute for school or work.  I once even took a second-shift job so that I wouldn't have to get up early.

I would have thought that having children in my home would have made me change my late-sleeping ways, but it really didn't.  I still loved to hit the snooze button even though I knew my stepson had to get to school.  Luckily, he was really good about getting up!

Something changed about 7 or 8 years ago.  I don't know why, but I suddenly began waking up early automatically.  Not only did I start getting up early, but I began to ENJOY getting up early!

Now, I love getting up early!  I have coffee and get my head together before the day begins.  I spend time with my dogs, Teddy and Little Bit.  I think about any tasks or errands that need to be done, and I just enjoy the quiet.  The early morning has become MY time.

I usually get up at least an hour before the rest of the family, but even 15-20 minutes early is sufficient.

What are your thoughts?  Do you enjoy getting up early or do you enjoy sleeping a little later?  I'd love to hear from you!



Thanks, and welcome to my world!



Apple Nachos

This Pintober project was so good!  I used my Easy Caramel Sauce (Dulce de Leche) to make this simple dessert.  My guys loved it!

It was so simple, I'm almost embarrassed to call this a recipe!  All I did was thinly slice an apple and arrange it on a plate.  Then, I drizzled over my caramel sauce and store-bought chocolate syrup.

You'll have to excuse the picture...my kids started grabbing apple slices so quickly that I didn't get a picture.  This pic is a still from the video.  :)

Hope you enjoy this!

Here's the original Pin:  Caramel Apple Nachos

Here's my Pin:  Apple Nachos



Here's the video for this:



Thanks, and welcome to my world!

Easy Caramel (Dulce de Leche)

This Pintober project is a continuation of one I did earlier in the month.  I used my Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk to make this very easy caramel sauce.

Here is the original Pin:  Easy 1 Ingredient Caramel Sauce

Here's my Pin:  Caramel Sauce (Dulce de Leche)




Here's the Youtube video for this recipe:



Mine came out grainy, and even a little gloppy...but it was really tasty!  I think that my milk wasn't exactly right, though.  I'd like to try this again with store-bought sweetened condensed milk to see if turns out any better.  I also plan to try to make the homemade stuff again...I think I should cook it down a bit more.

Anyway, I digress...this was a very easy recipe.  I found that it took WAY longer than the 75 minutes that the recipe says.  I cooked this for about 4 hours, I think.  This might be a good recipe for Thanksgiving because it has to be in the oven so long.  Otherwise, I'm not sure that I want my oven on for that long for just a cup or so of caramel!

In light of the length of time it took to make and the less-than-stellar results, I am not sure that I will add this to my repertoire.  An authentic caramel sauce is very easy to make...and very delicious!!! As I said, I will try this technique again and try a couple of different things with it, and I'll post the results.

Thanks, and welcome to my world.


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Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sausage Hash

I wanted a quick dinner tonight, so I looked to Pinterest.  I am behind on my Pintober projects because I've been sick, so I wanted to kill two birds with one stone...Dinner in a hurry and another Pintober project.

The original Pin is here:  Kielbasa, Onion, Potato, Pepper Hash

Here's my Pin:  Sausage Hash - Pintober Day 7




Here's the Youtube Video describing this:



I did end up making more eggs for this dish.  There were four of us eating, and we each had two eggs.  Everyone loved it.  I had enough left over for breakfast in the morning.  I'll probably scramble some eggs and make breakfast burritos...maybe add a little shredded cheddar...YUM!

I used leftover baked potatoes instead of raw ones.  Whenever I bake potatoes for dinner, I usually make more than we'll eat that night and keep the leftovers for fried potatoes for breakfast.  Cold, leftover baked potatoes get crispier and stay together better, IMO, than raw ones for dishes like this. They also take less time to cook.  If you don't already have baked potatoes, though, don't worry...go ahead and use raw ones.  This dish will turn out fine.

I had a lot of compliments on this dish.  It was very good!!!!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!

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Saturday, October 18, 2014

Halloween Deck Decor - Jack-O-Lantern Jugs

For the next Pintober project, I've been saving gallon jugs for a couple of weeks.  I wanted to have several to line up across the banister.  My husband reminded me that we had the Jack-O-Lanterns from a project last year, so he got them for me.  I thought that this turned out really cute!

Here's the original Pin:  Jack-O-Lantern Jugs

Here's my version of it:



Here's the video:  




My husband covered the tops of them with white duct tape because they looked too much like jugs. I think I will try to find some green duct tape so that they will look like stems.

This was a fun family project.  Everyone helped...even some of the neighborhood kids.  We liked this one!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Saturday, October 11, 2014

So, I Found Some Lemons This Morning

Remember my cute little front porch steps display from last week?  Here's the post in case you missed it:

Fall Porch Steps Decor

Well, we had some pretty nasty storms last night.  When I took out my dogs this morning, I saw that my sweet pot of mums suffered some damage.  There were several branches bent and broken. The poor thing was a mess.  We had moved it a couple of days ago while the kids were bringing something in, and I just hadn't moved it back.  I liked its new home.  Unfortunately, that placed it right underneath a downspout...

I don't know what's changed in me lately, but I'm not getting as upset about things as I used to do. Maybe I'm getting old...maybe I am beginning to realize that I can't control everything...only my reactions to things.  I decided to make lemonade out of the lemons life gave me this morning.

So, instead of getting all dramatic and crying over spilled milk (or mums,) I picked up the plant and tried to make it as presentable as possible.  I placed the side with the majority of the broken pieces to the back.  Then, I picked up all of the broken pieces lying about and brought them inside, washed them, and put them in pretty vases.

I now have 3 cute little flower vases sitting around in the living room to display.  Here's a picture of one of them...

Don't you just love the cute little frog sitting next to this?



Thanks, and welcome to my world!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Chicken Pot Pie

I'm making chicken pot pie for supper tonight.  My family loves it, and it is so easy to make.  From. Scratch.

Yep, you read that right.  No frozen pot pies for this girl.  I know exactly what's going into my family's dinner, and I just made the dough for the crust a few minutes ago.  It's really not that hard, and it's so worth the extra effort.  To be honest, though, there's not much effort involved either.

I previously posted my pie crust recipe with the instructions.  I hope you take a look at that.  Here's that link:
Perfect Pie Crust

Any pie crust will work for this...don't stress too much about making it yourself.  The point of cooking is to enjoy preparing food for our families.  No one needs any added pressure...just do what's best for you.

Chicken Pot Pie

2 Tbsp butter
2 medium potatoes, peeled & diced
3 large carrots, peeled & diced
2 celery stalks, with leaves, diced
1 medium onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp fresh thyme leaves
1 cup frozen peas
3 cups cooked and shredded chicken
2 Tbsp flour
3 cups chicken stock
Salt & pepper to taste
2 uncooked pie dough disks




Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat.  Add all vegetables, except peas, to skilled.  Season with thyme, salt, and pepper.  Cook, stirring frequently, until veggies are slightly soft.

Sprinkle flour over veggies and cook for 2 minutes, then add chicken stock.  Stirring frequently, cook for 5 minutes.

While veggies are cooking, prepare pie pans.  Spray 2 pans with cooking spray.  Evenly divide the chicken and the peas in each pan.  Spread to cover bottom.

I took the picture before I added the peas.  
Pour the vegetable mixture over the chicken and peas, dividing equally between pans.


Top with pie crusts, cut vent slits in top of each crust and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until crust is golden brown.  Let sit for at least 5 minutes before serving.


Note:  If you read this post from a couple of weeks ago...Winter Squash...you'll remember that I mentioned adding this to my chicken pot pie.  I forgot to do that when I made this dish and took the pictures.  I thought of it as I was pulling them out of the oven...lol.

If you have something like this that is dehydrated as in the post above, you'll want to rehydrate them before you add them to the filling.  Just cover in boiling water and let sit for about 20-30 minutes.  I usually do this before I start to chop my veggies, and then it's ready when I need it.  Then add the squash to the vegetables when you add the chicken stock.

If you're using fresh squash, you should steam it for 10 minutes first or cover with water and microwave on high for 5-7 minutes.  You don't want the squash to be firm, but you don't want it to fall apart either.  Again, just add it to the vegetables as above.

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Quick Fix Dinner - Pasta

I believe that everyone should have a few dinner ideas stashed away in their hip pockets for those nights when you don't want to, or can't, spend much time in the kitchen preparing the family meal. Maybe you had to work late...or you forgot to pull something from the freezer...or you simply don't feel up to it...for whatever reason, pulling together a well-thought out dinner just isn't going to happen tonight.

Sure, you can order pizza or take the whole family out for dinner, but that can get rather taxing on ye olde budget if it happens very frequently.  So, what's a girl to do?  I lean on what I call my "Quick Fix Dinner List."

About once a month, I make a list (sometimes the list is just in my head) of 5 or 6 dinner ideas that I can prepare and have on the table in no more than 15-20 minutes.  These are usually meals that take just a few ingredients also.  I then make sure that I have all of the ingredients for these meals on hand so that I can pull any one of them together on the fly.

Tonight, for example, I just really didn't feel well all day.  I didn't feel up to preparing a complex dinner and then cleaning up afterwards.  This was the perfect night for my Pasta Quick Fix Dinner.

The ingredients are simple and are probably things that you have already or can easily store

1/3 lb of bacon
2 jars prepared alfredo sauce
8 oz frozen peas
3 - 13 oz bags frozen tortellini or ravioli

One quick tip on the bacon...I keep a package in the freezer specifically for bacon bits.  If you are careful, you can cut along the entire package while it's still frozen and you'll have perfect bits of bacon to use.  Stick the remainder of the package back in the freezer and use it the next time you need them.  It takes almost no time to do this for salads...YUM!

This makes a lot!  As a foster mom, I never know how many people will be eating dinner, so I make a ton of food.  Also, my kids usually have friends to eat over.  There were only 4 of us eating tonight, and we ate only about half of it.  That's lunch for my husband tomorrow and a midnight munch for the boys...teenagers!  The kids are out of school this week for fall break, so I'm sure they'll still be up at midnight attacking my refrigerator.

Here's the video on how to make it.  As this isn't a very light dish, I always make sure that I serve it with lots of veggies.  Tonight, it was roasted asparagus, a huge tossed salad, and apple juice.  The kids were happy and full!


Here was our entire dinner:



Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Monday, October 6, 2014

Crockpot BBQ Ranch Chicken Wings

This Pintober project was interesting.  It was one of those things that you think will be easy, turns out wrong, but then you make a couple of changes and it all works out great.

Here's the link to this recipe:

Crockpot BBQ Ranch Chicken Wings

As you can see, there are very few ingredients...the instructions look simple, and the pictures of the end product look fantastic!

Well, chalk this one up to operator error, but I will say that the wings did end up to taste DELICIOUS!  I just went about making them a different way.

Here's the YouTube video on this project:






First of all, my wings weren't completely thawed when I put them in the crockpot.  So, I decided to cook them on low for a while to get them started.  I added about a cup of water to them to help them along.  I left them on low for about an hour and then turned them up to high for two hours.

When I checked them, they still looked a little pink on the inside.  My family was getting hungry, so I was afraid to put them back in the crockpot for another hour, so I removed them to a bowl and put them in the microwave for about 8 minutes.

While they cooked in the microwave, I worked on the sauce.  I was using 2 dozen wings, so I used 2 packages of ranch dressing mix.  I thought that 2 bottles of BBQ sauce would be a bit much.  I had almost half a bottle already open in the fridge, so I used that and another full bottle.  That was plenty.

After the wings were done in the microwave, I dipped them into the sauce and put them on a foil-lined baking sheet that I had sprayed with cooking spray.  I poured the rest of the sauce on top and baked them in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.

Let me just say that these were some of the best wings I have ever eaten!  We ate them all!!!!!  The kids had some friends over and I had some other things prepared as well.  All of them told me that the wings were great!

As I was draining the liquid that had cooked out of them from the crockpot, I noticed that it was full of fat.  My theory is that much of the fat cooked out, so maybe they were a little healthier than other wings?  I know that wings are not exactly considered health food, so it made me happy that there was a possibility that they were healthier than normal...baby steps, right?

Another thing that I noticed was that the cleanup was a breeze.  One of the reasons that I don't make wings at home that often is because they are so messy.  Cooking them in the crockpot made the whole process easier.  I may do this all of the time and experiment with different sauces.  I would make sure, though, that they are completely thawed before I start next time.

So, even though this wasn't exactly following the recipe, I'd call this Pintober project a success.



Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

When I first saw a Pin for homemade sweetened condensed milk, I got really excited.  In addition to loving this stuff, it's an ingredient in several other Pintober projects I have in mind.  So, I thought I would try it and use it as a base for other things later in the month.

It was very simple to make.  Here's the original Pin:  Homemade Sweetened Condensed Milk

Since I wanted to use it in several applications, I thought that I should double the recipe.  I wanted to use my smaller cast iron pan, but it wouldn't hold 2 quarts of milk.  I know that the original recipe called for a liter of milk, which is a little more than a quart, but I thought that I'd like it to be a little sweeter...so I used a little less.

Actually, when I measured out the milk, I could get a quart and a half into my pan.  So, I used 6 cups of milk and 1 1/2 cups of sugar.  At the end, I used 1 1/2 Tbsp of butter.  

It took a little more than 2 hours to cook, and it was still fairly thin when it was done.  I refrigerated it overnight, and it thickened a little more.  For what I am planning to do with it, the consistency is fine. However, if I were going to use it in other applications, I may have wanted to cooking it a bit longer. Some of the comments on the original Pin suggested adding a little baking soda.  I may try that at some point.

Overall, I am pleased with the result.  It tastes so good...I'll let you know how it works with my other Pintober projects.


Here's the video for my version:







Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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Sunday, October 5, 2014

Perfect Pie Crust

Sometimes I feel like "homemade" is a dying art.  Yes, I know that there has been a resurgence lately, led by the online blog community, of making things from scratch, but there are still too many "convenience foods" available at the grocery stores today in my opinion.

Now, please don't think that I am not knocking convenience foods...I have been known to buy the occasional frozen lasagna...I believe that they have their place.  Let's face it...we have busier lives than did our mothers and grandmothers.  Between spouses, and kids, and work, and dance recitals, and baseball practice, and vacuuming, and laundry, and so on, we don't always have the time or the energy to prepare a homemade dinner every single night.  That's when convenience foods shine!

However, there are some things that are so simple to make at home that it amazes me that people buy them instead of taking the time to make them instead.  Gravy comes to mind.  Give me five minutes and a few ingredients, and I'll have a gravy for you better than anything you'll ever find in a jar or a mix packet.  

I also don't want to feed my family an abundance of processed foods.  I don't have to make my gravy shelf-stable, so I can pronounce everything that goes into it...butter, flour, salt, pepper, and chicken stock.  See nothing hard there, right?

I am also reminded of recipes like this pie crust.  It's simple, fast, convenient, and delicious.  It's also very adaptable.  You can make both pot pies and apple pies with this recipe.  You can make tarts with this recipe.  You can make mini quiche.  The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.  Best of all, I know what's in it.

You probably have all of the ingredients already in your kitchen, and it doesn't take much time...from measuring to clean up takes really no more than 10 minutes or so.  The only tricky part is knowing when to stop mixing it.  This takes practice, but that's not a problem either.  That just means that you get to make more pies...what could be wrong with that?

This recipe makes two crusts.  If you're not making a pie with a crust on both the top and the bottom, you'll want to resist the temptation to make only half of the recipe.  It won't turn out right.

What does work, however, is to double, or even triple, the recipe.  That's exactly what I usually do, because this crust also freezes beautifully.  This is where the convenience part comes in.  Keep it in the freezer and thaw it before you roll it out...or...buy some disposable pie plates and roll out the crust, place in the pie pan, and freeze.  Then you have an unbaked pie shell ready whenever you want to bake something.

Let's gather the ingredients...

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 T sugar
6 T cold butter
2 T vegetable shortening
Ice water (Just fill a measuring cup with ice water.  I can't tell you how much you'll need.)

In addition to these ingredients, you'll need a big bowl, some plastic wrap, and a rolling pin.  You'll also need something to cut the fat into the flour.  I use a pastry blender to start, and then switch to my fingers toward the end.  I just like to feel the dough in my hands...it's a personal thing.  You can use your fingers, two knives, a fork or whatever.  The point is to just mix the fat into the flour evenly.
  

In your bowl, mix together the flour, salt, and sugar.  I just use my fingers for this, but you could use a whisk or a spoon.  Add the butter and the shortening.  Using a pastry blender, begin cutting the butter and shortening into the flour.  You'll do this until you have chunks of butter the size of peas.  I begin using my fingers about halfway through.



Then, add a few tablespoons of the water and mix lightly with your fingers.  Deciding how much water to use and how long to mix the dough are really the only tricky parts to making pie dough. You want the dough to come together, but you still want it a little crumbly.

Here's what I do...I take some in my hand and make a fist.  If it keeps it shape when I open my hand, it's ready.  If it falls apart easily, add a little more water.  If it's wet and sticky, add a little more flour.



Dump everything onto a couple of pieces of plastic wrap and then sprinkle another tablespoon of water over the top.  I do this because I do not want the dough to dry out.  It's easier to work with a dough that's a little wet than one that is a little dry.  Gather everything up in the plastic wrap and shape it into a ball.  Press it into a disk, and refrigerate for at least one hour.  It will keep in the fridge for a couple of days if you want to make it ahead of time.






That's all there is to it.  The dough is finished.  Enjoy it!!!!!  Let me know what kind of pies you make!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Homemade French Bread

For Day 3 of Pintober, 2014, I decided to make French Bread.  We are having steaks for dinner tonight, and we love a good basic bread as a side for that...along with baked potatoes, salad, and sauteed mushrooms!  YUM!

Now, my son can grill the heck out of a steak!  He's really very talented.  With him manning the grill, the potatoes in the oven, and the salad already made, the only things that I needed to complete were the mushrooms and the bread.  For the mushrooms, I just quarter them and saute them in a little butter and Worcestershire Sauce.

For the bread, I wanted to make something simple.  Because I've been concentrating on sourdough for the past few months, I had to find a recipe for a good bread.  I found one here:

French Bread!

This Pin will take you to the original recipe.  I love both of the bloggers here, so I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I do.

Here's the finished product!


They turned out beautifully!

Here's the link to my video:



I hope that you enjoy this recipe.  Ron said that it was delicious!

Thanks, and welcome to my world.



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Friday, October 3, 2014

Fall Porch Steps Decor

For Day 2 of Pintober, I decided to decorate the front steps.  My steps (and actually the entire deck) need painting, but it's too late in the year for that.

The inspiration for this post was this Pin:

Original Pin of Front Porch Steps

I am not completely satisfied with the look of this, so I will probably change it before Halloween!

These are actually Hubbard Squash that we grew in our garden this summer.  They look like Sugar Pumpkins, so I displayed them that way.  :)

Here's the video from YouTube for this Pin:

Video on YouTube for Pintober



Thanks, and welcome to my world!


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One Dish Ranch Chicken & Veggies

Ron bought some boneless, skinless chicken breasts a couple of days ago, and I needed to use them.  So, I decided that I'd make this dish for supper.

http://www.pinterest.com/pin/500392208571883566/ 

I am participating in Pintober this year, and I am so excited about it.  These will be some of my very first YouTube videos.  I hope that you like them!

For this dish tonight, I changed it up a bit from the original.  My family really enjoys ranch seasonings.  So, instead of an Italian dressing packet, I used a ranch dressing packet on the chicken.  The next time I make it, I will use two packets.  I could barely taste the ranch flavor.

I also added a few things to the potatoes.  I added onion, carrots, and garlic.  I also seasoned them with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

For the beans, I used leftover steamed green and wax beans from our garden.  When I originally prepared them, I seasoned them with butter, salt, and pepper.  So, I didn't do too much to them. Just a little olive oil, and they were good to go.

The meal was good, but it could have been better.  As I said earlier, the chicken needed a little more seasoning.  The chicken was also a bit overcooked.  I think it would have been better to leave the chicken breasts whole.  In the alternative, I could cook the veggies for about 45 minutes and then add the chicken and bake until done.

Here's the video to the recipe:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AgivsMK7Pkc&edit=vd 

I enjoyed the dish as it was prepared, and I think it has potential.

The best part was that prep was simple and the clean up was even simpler!  Be sure to spray your casserole dish with cooking spray before you add the food!

Here's the finished dish after we had begun to dig in

Hope that you enjoy!

Thanks, and welcome to my world!


Friday, September 19, 2014

The Sandwich Box

"What in the world is a Sandwich Box, Jess?????"

I'm so glad you asked!  My Sandwich Box is possibly my favorite thing in my kitchen!  I've had one in my fridge continuously for at least the past 15 years.  It all started one summer when my teen stepsons were staying with us for the summer.  My husband and I both worked full time, and we needed something quick and easy for the boys to make themselves lunch while we were gone.

We didn't want them using the stove or the oven without adult supervision.  Frozen things were fine for a while, but they got tired of those very quickly.  Also, since they'd eat 2 or 3 at a time, those things got pretty expensive.  They loved sandwiches and hot dogs, so I had the idea of putting all of the sandwich fixings in one place in the fridge.  That way, they didn't have to rummage through the fridge either.

I found an unused plastic sweater box in the closet, scrubbed it clean, and The Sandwich Box was born.  I cleared off room for it in the fridge and filled the box with anything that I thought they'd like to have on a sandwich.  I put hot dogs, ham, cheese, mustard, mayo, pickles, bread, and hot dog buns in the box and told the kids to look there first for lunch.

Over time, I also began putting in any leftovers that I wanted them to eat.  They knew that anything in the box was golden.  All they had to do was pull the box from the shelf and go to town!  They loved it...Ron and I loved it...it was great.

I've had some form of this box in my fridge since that very first day.  Recently, I rearranged our fridge and I asked Ron if it was time to retire The Sandwich Box.  I thought that it might be easier to have all of the cheeses together with the lunchmeats and the condiments in a separate container.  He vetoed that very quickly.

I always knew that if the kids were hungry, they could find something quickly and easily.  That was comforting to me as a mom.  It occurred to me that The Sandwich Box is a source of comfort for him too as a dad.  He likes that it's always there.

Our current Sandwich Box looks like this:



Nothing fancy, it's just a plastic basket that I got at the dollar store when we got our new fridge about 5 years ago.  It's a little beaten up, but it's holding its own!  I like that it's a basket as it is pretty flexible.  I can stuff a ton of things in it, and it stretches as it goes.

As we are a foster family, the contents of the box vary based on the likes and dislikes of the kids in our household.  I have a variety of mustards and spreads...cheeses and lunchmeats...sauces and toppings...you name it.

I clean it out and change it up weekly before I do my grocery shopping.  If I notice that they're not eating the lunchmeats, I may add Nutella or PB&J.  I stuff in baggies of lettuce, tomatoes, and anything else they might want add to their sandwiches, and all they need to grab is the bread.  

I don't keep the bread in there any longer, because, quite frankly, with four teen boys, the shelves of my fridge are prime real estate.  I simply don't have the room.  Besides, with all of the lunches that are served out of this kitchen weekly, I never worry about a loaf of bread going stale before it's all eaten.

I've thought about building a Salad Box, but I don't think it would be as popular as The Sandwich Box.  :)

Thanks, and welcome to my world!

Healthy After-School Snacks

When my kids get home from school, they're famished.  Well, they're actually famished all of the time as most teen boys are.  But, it seems as if they are even more so right when they walk in the door from the bus.  I'm not sure what happens to them on the ride home from school, but it's like they've never eaten before in their lives!!!!

Immediately after walking through the door, they go straight to the fridge in search of leftovers or the sandwich box.  (I'll post later what my sandwich box is....It's AWESOME!)

The problem with that approach is that they fill up at 4:00 and then I can't get them to eat dinner at 6:30.  Ron and I will force them to eat something...just a little...and before the dishwasher finishes running after dinner, they're lurking in front of the fridge again.

I just can't bring myself to have a bunch of chips and candy available for them for snacks.  I'm a believer in moderation.  This is a foreign concept to a ravenous teen!  I've taken to separating those kinds of things out into little baggies so that they can have only small amounts at a time.  I have to keep my eyes peeled, as it's easy for the sneaky little devils to grab 4 bags at a time.



If I try to go healthy, they'll turn up their noses.  Any other time, they love hummus...when they're with their friends right after school, they look at me like I have three heads when I pass the luscious "bean dip."

Next week, I am planning to make healthy snacks for after school and I will post the results.

Why don't you give me some suggestions?  What foods do you have available for your children for after school?

Thanks, and welcome to my world!




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Winter Squash

My neighbor gave me some Hubbard Squash, and I had never seen such a crazy-looking thing! What's worse is that I had no idea how to prepare it.  We're not huge winter squash eaters...actually, we're not big summer squash eaters either.  I do like to sneak butternut squash to my roasted vegetables.  My kids think that they're carrots.  Shhh!  Don't tell them.

I like to make butternut squash ravioli with brown butter and sage.  However, I had two containers of butternut squash puree in the freezer when my neighbor brought the second Hubbard Squash over a few weeks after she gave me the first one.

So, then I had two of these monsters and still had no idea what to do with them.



I decided that I'd try to dehydrate them since I didn't have any specific plans for them.  The first thing I had to try to do was figure out how to get into the darned thing!  This was no easy task...these things have very thick skins!!!!

So, I took a lesson from the butternut squash.  I learned a neat way to peel them, so I tried it with the Hubbard.

Cut the squash

Scrape out the seeds

Cut it into "fingers"

Peel with a vegetable peeler

Then, I cut the squash into chunks and steamed them until they were tender...about 15 minutes. After they steamed, I put them into ice water and onto my dehydrator trays.




All done!!!!

I dehydrated them until they were completely dry...It took about 15 hours on my dehydrator and with the humidity in my house at the time.  Just be sure to check them after about 10 hours.

This happened last fall, and before I knew it, my husband had grabbed the seeds and thrown them into the garden.  Of course, then, we forgot that he did that.  So, when it came in this spring...in the middle of a flower bed, we weren't really sure what it was.  When I started to see these weird looking things appear, it hit me.  

I read that they can be harvested when they're round, small, and dark green...almost like an acorn squash.  So, we picked them then.  After they were harvested, they turned orange.  They look like deformed little sugar pumpkins.  I have five of them...and I'm not sure what to do with them!  

So, what did I do with the dehydrated Hubbard Squash from last year?  I put it in a chicken pot pie! I'll make that again next week, and I'll post the recipe then.  I still have plenty from last year, and I'll have plenty more this fall!!!

Here's one from this year!!!!!

What do you do with winter squash?

Thanks, and welcome to my world!