Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Keeping Track of Leftovers

I love to cook. I really do. But I'm horrible at keeping track of leftovers. And even worse at using them up. Ziploc bags of extra sausage or cheese gets shoved to the back of the fridge. Tupperware containers populate the far reaches of the bottom shelf, out of sight. When they're finally discovered, their contents are almost unrecognizable. And they stink! Ughhh!

However, with this new year comes a new goal of mine - using leftovers. It's frugal and wise. I hate throwing money in the trash. That's exactly what I'm doing when I throw out old, stinky leftovers I've forgotten about. It's so wasteful. And as the proverb says, Waste not, want not. The more we throw away, the more we must spend later. The more we have to spend on food, the less we have for other things.

To help me with my new goal, I created a chart to track leftovers in the fridge. And where am I keeping the chart? On the fridge, of course. Where I can see it every time I open the door. Many times a day.

I made three columns, one for the date, one for the item and one for the amount of servings leftover.

Then I fill the columns in. The amounts are generally estimates.

As I think about what to cook for lunch or supper, I can glance at the leftover tracker and see what ingredients are available and need to be used up. As they're used, I mark them off the list.

I used the leftover sausage and chopped veggies to make calzones, which Charles loved. And the pizza was eaten for supper by a hungry husband. Tomorrow night we'll have leftover soup - yum!

I'm also going to make a freezer inventory list so I can keep track of frozen leftovers. I've already got two Ziploc bags of Christmas turkey and one of Christmas ham to use in future meals.

Hopefully, these tracking tools will help me be more frugal in the coming year. Visit We Are THAT Family's site for more tips.

Saying Goodbye to a Decade

This is the last week of the first decade of the 21st century! How quickly these years have flown by. And how much my life has changed.

The Good

I became a mom. Twice. My life has never been the same. I continue to learn new things about my self as I watch my children grow. I also appreciate my own parents more. I remember reading that having children was like having your heart walk outside your body. Exactly.

I got to travel to New York City. Charles took me there for our tenth wedding anniversary last year. It was an unforgettable trip, full of sweet memories. And sore feet! We walked miles that week. My favorite places were the Statue of Liberty, Central Park and St. Paul's Chapel. I'd go back tomorrow if I could.

I started homeschooling. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever pictured myself teaching my own children. I was a huge proponent of Christian education. I taught in three Christian schools over the years. My field was social studies and I taught junior high and high school, not elementary. But God changed my heart and I've embarked on one of the most fulfilling, rewarding journeys of my life.

The Bad

Perhaps one of the most profound events of this decade was the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I will never forget the horror and grief I felt as I watched those towers fall, knowing there were thousands of people still inside. I cried for days, not just for those people lost that day, but for the loss of security and peace I had always known.

Family members and friends have passed away. People who were always supposed to be there aren't. I'll miss them, but I have the glorious hope of seeing them again. I guess that's not all bad, is it?

I've seen some family members and former students make messes out of their lives, though they knew better. It breaks my heart to watch them and know the end result. You reap what you sow. Always. No one is ever going to beat that system. And while I want to shake some sense into them, I pray for them instead. God can put those messed-up lives back together if they'll let Him.

This post could go on and on about the changes of this past decade. God has been so faithful to me and my family through them all.

What about you? How has your life changed during this decade?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Menu Plan for Last Week of the Decade

Last week was hectic and plans got changed, but hopefully next week will be a little slower. Can you believe it's not only the last week of the year, but the last of this decade? Wow! If time flies when you're having fun, I must be having a blast because time is speeding by!

Sausage and veggie calzones

Ham and bean soup, bread

Homemade chicken nuggets, fries, fruit

Pasta bake, garlic bread

New Year's Eve fellowship at church
I'm bringing Oreo truffles and sausage cheese balls

Pork roast, potatoes, green beans

Potato soup

For more tasty menu plans, head over to Organizing Junkie.

Sausage and Veggie Calzones

I was looking in the fridge and found some veggies that were close to being unusable. Have you ever done that? Forgotten what you've had on hand, then realized you needed to use something up pronto? The first thing I did with the veggies was make a stir-fry. I also used leftover turkey from Christmas Eve dinner. Easy enough. But I still had veggies left over, and I really, really hate to throw them out. Veggies aren't cheap, ya know?

So I chopped them up and made calzones. I added cheese and sausage (leftover from Christmas morning brunch). And they turned out FANTASTIC! Hubby declared them "blog-worthy" and asked that they become a regular menu item.

Here's what you'll need:

1 loaf frozen bread dough, thawed but not allowed to rise (you can substitute your favorite pizza dough or bread dough recipe here)
1 teas. minced garlic
Approximately 2 cups chopped veggies (I used broccoli, carrots, red pepper, mushrooms and onions)

1 cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
1 cup cooked sausage
salt and pepper to taste

Pour some olive oil in a saute pan and add minced garlic. Saute for a couple of minutes. Add your veggies and cook for 5-7 minutes or until softened. You don't want them to be soggy, though.

Add the sausage and spices and mix thoroughly. Divide the bread or pizza dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball. Stretch each ball into a 5 or 6 inch circle. Sprinkle one side of the circle with cheese, then spoon some filling over the cheese. Fold the other side of the dough over the filling and seal. Brush the tops of the calzones with Italian salad dressing. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.

I have to admit, these turned out much better than I thought they would. The veggies were flavorful and the cheese added just enough tang. The sausage rounded these out nicely. The great thing about this recipe is that you can leave the sausage out altogether or use a different combination of veggies. Look in your fridge and see what you can use to create a filling, tasty calzone.

I'm going to try to freeze these, too. I'll let you know how that turns out.

UPDATE: Okay, I made some of these to freeze. And they were awesome! I wrapped each one in aluminum foil, then placed in a freezer bag. To use, I placed the foil-wrapped calzones on a baking sheet and heated at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. It was perfect. Your oven might bake a little hotter and require less time. But they were fabulous after being frozen. Yum!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas!

Today was a lovely day. We spent time with family, enjoyed the presents we received and ate some delicious food. But most importantly, we took time to reflect on the reason for the season, Jesus. The Princess summed it up when she said, "We give gifts each year to remember that God gave us the gift of His Son!" She gets it. I'm happy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Homemade Chicken Nuggets

If your kids are anything like mine, they love, love, love chicken nuggets. It's a staple in the average American family's diet these days. I bought frozen nuggets when my kids were little so I'd have a quick and easy lunch on hand. But I started noticing how little chicken and how much filler was used. The list of ingredients was long. The sodium content was extremely high in these things. And even though Tyson claims their chicken nuggets were minimally processed, you could tell by the shapes that they were chopped, mixed and pressed extensively. Maybe my definition of minimally processed and Tyson's definition differ. A lot.

So if you really want some minimally processed chicken nuggets, make them yourself. Plan ahead and give yourself some time. Buy the chicken on sale and make several batches at once. These freeze very well, so double or triple the recipe and freeze some for later.

Here's what you need for one batch:

2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1/4 cup ranch dressing
2 TBSP milk
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teas seasoning salt

That's it. Five ingredients. Start by cutting up your chicken into nuggets.

In a large bowl, whisk together the ranch dressing and milk. Dump your chicken nuggets into the bowl and stir to coat. Let sit for 10 minutes so the dressing can soak in. I don't know what is up with this blurry picture, but you get the idea.

Place the bread crumbs and seasoning salt in a resealable Ziploc bag and shake around to mix. Put about half the nuggets into the bag and shake. Get your kids involved. Remember those old commercials with Loretta Lynn and her grandkids - "It's Shake and Bake, and I helped!" Repeat until all nuggets are coated.

Line baking sheets with foil and spray with non-stick spray. Place the nuggets on the sheets and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. If you want, turn the nuggets over halfway through baking time. If your nuggets are bigger than bite-sized, it might take a little longer to bake through.

If you plan to freeze the nuggets, allow them to cool completely. Place in the freezer on baking sheets. When frozen, remove from the baking sheets and put in a freezer bag or container. To reheat, bake at 400 for 5-10 minutes or until sizzling.

If you want your chicken nuggets to be lower in fat, use reduced fat milk and ranch dressing. Your kids will never know the difference. They will, however, notice how much meat they're eating instead of fillers. And you'll be happy, knowing that your nuggets only have five ingredients and are truly "minimally processed."

This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday over at Blessed with Grace. Pop over there for some more yummy recipes.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Breakfast pizza

Pizza is one of my favorite foods. And breakfast pizza is no different. Now, I do not care for eggs. I will not eat them in a house. I will not eat them with a mouse. Fried, scrambled, sunnyside up....I just don't like them.

Most breakfast casseroles are so eggy that they don't appeal to me at all. But oddly enough on this pizza, I can eat them. Maybe because there are only 5 eggs instead of the dozen in most recipes. Maybe the other flavors overwhelm and disguise the egginess. I won't question it, I'll just keep enjoying it. Hope you enjoy it too.

You'll need:
1 pkg crescent rolls
1/2 lb sausage, browned and drained - do this the night before and the rest will be a snap in the morning
1 cup frozen O'Brien hash browns, thawed
1-2 cups shredded cheese
5 eggs
1/4 cup milk
salt and pepper to taste
2 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese

Grease a 9x13 baking pan. Unroll crescent rolls and press into the bottom of the pan, sealing perforations.

Layer the sausage and hash browns. I usually thaw the hash browns by running them under warm water in a colander. Then I press out the excess water and let them drain while I'm unrolling the crescents. If you don't like O'Brien potatoes, you can use shredded has browns instead. I prefer the O'Brien for a little color and flavor.

Sprinkle the shredded cheese over the top. I normally use sharp cheddar, but any kind will do. Taco cheese or a mixture of cheddar and mozzarella is also very tasty.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, milk and spices until well blended. Pour over the entire pan. It will soak in rather quickly. Then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over all.

Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes until eggs are set and cheese is golden brown. Let stand for 10 minutes, then cut into squares and serve.

Now doesn't that look yummy? It's the perfect addition to a breakfast or brunch table. It's one of my favorite breakfast foods to serve overnight guests. In fact, my dad expects this one now when my parents come to visit. And I don't mind fulfilling his expectations since it's so easy.

You can experiement with kinds of cheese or add bacon. Make it your own. Embrace the eggs in this one. They won't overwhelm you.

For more delicious recipes, visit Tempt My Tummy Tuesday over at Blessed with Grace.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Menu Plan - Christmas week

I can't believe it's Christmas week already! Has this year flown by or what? My parents and my brother and his family are coming on Wednesday to celebrate with us. My sister-in-law has to work Christmas night - she's a nurse and unfortunately, sickness doesn't take a holiday - so their family will have to leave around lunch time on Christmas Day. So we're having Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve, then getting up to open presents and have a nice brunch on Christmas morning. It's a little different than we've done things in the past, but we're more than willing to accomodate the work schedule thing so we can be together. Isn't that one of the best part of Christmas, being with family?

Corn chowder, bread

Cheeseburger rice

Chili, corn chips

Pork roast, baked beans, cole slaw

Turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, green beans, macaroni and cheese, cranberry sauce, rolls
Apple pie and pumpkin pie

Friday brunch
Overnight sticky buns, breakfast pizza (recipe coming this week), fresh fruit, biscuits and gravy

Turkey rice soup

For some more yummy menu ideas, check out Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Mondays.

Sausage Cheese Balls - a Christmas must-have

My aunt Joyce used to bring these little goodies to family functions and I couldn't get enough of them. In fact, when I got married, my mother and I made dozens and dozens of these for the reception. My sister-in-law Sharon helped too. They freeze really well, so we made them ahead of time.

These are requested often by friends and former co-workers around this time of year, making them the must-have appetizer/snack of the season. And you only need 4 ingredients. A warning, though. These are messy. But, oh so worth it!

The secret is the Cheese Whiz. I'm not talking about the cheese in a can stuff. This is the kind in a jar. I've had sausage cheese balls that used shredded cheddar cheese, which may be healthier than Cheese Whiz. Okay, it is healthier than Cheese Whiz. But it causes the sausage cheese balls to be dry. Cheese Whiz makes moist, delectable sausage cheese balls. That's why people keep asking for more.

3 cups Bisquick
1/2 cup milk
1 cup Cheese Whiz
1 lb bulk pork sausage, uncooked

Mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. You'll have to use your hands. Squirt them with non-stick cooking spray before you start mixing. Keep mixing until well combined. Here's a little tip for you so your hands don't freeze. Put the sausage and milk out on the counter for 10-20 minutes before you start mixing them. It will take the chill off without spoiling them.

When everything is thoroughly mixed, use your hands to roll into 1-inch balls. I always take off my rings when I do this because the dough is so sticky. Don't let the stickiness keep you from making these. You'll be glad you did, trust me.

Place on ungreased cookie sheets and bake at 375 degrees for 12-15 minutes. The sausage will cook while these bake, so don't worry about using uncooked sausage.

Remove to wire racks to cool. This recipe will make about 60 sausage cheese balls. If you want to spice them up, use spicy sausage. If want to try a sweeter flavor, go for maple sausage. But don't replace the Cheese Whiz with shredded cheese. Just don't.

These little morsels make a great addition to a party platter or gift plate. If you can bring yourself to give any away.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Make your house smell like Christmas

Oranges are normally on sale this time of year, so I picked some up at the grocery store. After peeling two oranges to accompany our lunch, I threw the peels into a small saucepan of water on the stove. I sprinkled in a little cinnamon and a whole clove or two, then let the pan simmer on the stove all afternoon. Periodically I added a little more water so it wouldn't dry out.

Charles came in the back door and said, "Wow! The house smells like Christmas!" It did, indeed smell very, very good, all warm and citrusy. The cinnamon added just the right spice to the aroma. I think I'll try it with some lemon peels, too.

So put away those aerosol Christmas sprays and simmer some orange peels on the stove instead. Then put the peels down your garbage disposal and freshen it too.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Here it is - White Chocolate Mocha!

After my post on making your own Starbucks drinks, I just had to try making a white chocolate mocha this morning. It's so easy!

All you need is strong coffee, 1/3 cup milk, 3 TBSP white chocolate chips and whipped cream. Heat the milk and chips together in a small saucepan. Stir continuously, making sure the melted chips don't clump together. When it's smooth and creamy, pour it into your coffee and top with whipped cream.

That's how easy it is! And oh, so good. Much better than Starbucks. I think they use additional sweetener, because I've had some that were way too sweet. This was just right, at least for me.


For more frugal tips, visit Life as Mom's Frugal Fridays.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Be a Barista! Make your own Starbucks drinks

I love Starbucks coffee drinks, but I don't love the price. Caramel macchiato, pumpkin spice, peppermint mocha, just to name a few. But at nearly $4 a serving, I started looking for an alternative way to make similar drinks at home. My wallet is grateful!

Most coffeehouse drinks are made of the same basic ingredients - strong coffee (or espresso), heated milk, sweetener and flavorings. Many also come with a dollop of whipped cream on top, so you'll need some of that too. So if you simply adjust these ingredients to your taste, you can create your own Starbucks knock-offs for pennies.

My pumpkin spice latte recipe is one cup of strong brewed coffee, 1/3 cup heated milk, 1 teas brown sugar, 1/2 teas pumpkin pie spice, and whipped cream. I top it off with a sprinkling of pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon. I don't like my coffee too sweet, so you might find this to not have enough sugar. Just increase the amount by a teaspoon at a time until you find the amount that's right for you.

For a caramel macchiato, add caramel icecream topping to your heated milk and stir to combine. Stir into the coffe and adjust for sweetness. Top with whipped cream. Drizzle some more caramel topping over the top and add a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

For a peppermint mocha, add peppermint extract to the heated milk. The extract is very concentrated, so it will only take a little. Stir in a teaspoon of hot chocolate mix into your coffee, then pour in the heated milk mixture. If you don't have any hot chocolate, stir in some chocolate syrup. Adjust for sweetness, then top with whipped cream.

My next experiement is going to be a white chocolate mocha. I'll let you know how it turns out.

I don't know about you, but saving money on coffeehouse drinks definitely Works for Me! Check out some more helpful tips over at We are That Family.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Overnight Sticky Buns

When we have overnight guests, this is a recipe I frequently turn to so I don't have to slave over a hot stove in the morning for breakfast. It's easy to assemble before I go to bed. Then all I do is pop the buns into the oven in the morning and breakfast is ready!

Overnight Sticky Buns

1/2 cup chopped pecans
18 frozen dinner rolls
1 pkg cook and serve butterscotch pudding (NOT instant)
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup brown sugar

Grease a 9x13 pan. Sprinkle the pecans all over the bottom of the pan.

Place the frozen rolls in 3 rows of 6. I didn't realize until after I started making these that the rolls I had were Parkerhouse rolls instead of the regular round dinner rolls. Either kind will work.

Sprinkle the pudding mix over and all around the rolls. Vanilla pudding mix will also work in this recipe if you don't have butterscotch. Just be sure you use the cook and serve kind, not instant. The sauce that is created by the pudding mix will not be as gooey if you use the instant.

In a small saucepan, melt the butter and brown sugar together. Bring to a boil. Pour over the entire pan.

Cover the pan loosely with plastic wrap and let sit out on the counter overnight. In the morning, your rolls will have risen and will look all squished together like this.

Carefully remove the plastic wrap, trying not to deflate the rolls. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden brown.

Invert the pan onto a large cookie sheet. Doesn't that look deliciously gooey?

When the rolls are cool enough to touch, separate into individual rolls. No doubt you will have some of the caramely mixture on the bottom of the pan. You could be a nice cook and scrape it off onto the rolls. Or you could be like me and just scrape it up and eat it yourself. Just don't wait too long to scrape it off, because it will harden quickly as it cools.

This is a great option for Christmas brunch. It doesn't require any prep work in the morning, so you can enjoy plenty of family time.

This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesday over at Blessed with Grace. Head on over there for some more yummy recipes.

Deep Dish Pizza

Pizza is one of my favorite foods. I like all kinds. I like going to CiCi's Pizza buffet so I can try out new variations. I enjoy their alfredo and spinach pizza, taco pizza, and especially their BBQ chicken pizza. Unfortunately my family prefers regular pizza, you know the kind with mozzarella cheese and pepperoni. Sometimes they'll eat sausage or bacon instead of pepperoni, but it's all the same style of pizza. That means I don't fix the unusual variations at home, because they just won't get eaten except by me. And I really, really don't need to eat an entire pizza by myself.

Then there's the Princess, the youngest member of the family. She no longer likes pizza. Several months ago, she had pizza over at a friend's house while Charles and I went out to eat for my birthday. Later that night she got sick and threw up. Guess what she threw up? Pizza. Now she won't eat it. She blames the pizza for making her sick, and since it made her sick once, it will always make her sick. No amount of reasoning will persuade her otherwise. Of course, this is also the child who won't eat sauce on her spaghetti, gravy on her mashed potatoes, and butter on her toast.

Can I just say that not eating pizza makes usual childhood activities a little harder for us? You know what is served at the majority of children's birthday parties? What do you think the children's clubs at church serve for fellowships? And when she's old enough for the youth group, how many gatherings include pizza? She's definitely going to stand out in the crowd! Ha ha!

Here's a recipe for deep dish pizza. It's the one kind of "unusal" pizza that Charles and Mr. Lego really enjoy. And of course, I love it too. I make breadsticks for the Princess. Plain, of course.

Deep Dish Pizza

1 loaf frozen bread dough (or your favorite pizza crust recipe, enough for one pizza)
1/2 lb bulk sausage, browned and drained
2 cups mozzarella cheese
1/2 can Italian style diced tomatoes
2 TBSP grated Parmesan cheese

Grease a 9x13 pan. Stretch the dough to fit the pan, pressing up the sides a little to form a rim. Sprinkle the sausage over the dough, pressing down a little as you go. Cover with cheese. Sprinkle the tomatoes over the cheese. I go easy on Mr. Lego's portion because he doesn't care for a lot of tomatoes. Then sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over the top. Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes until the dough is baked through.

Yes, there is no sauce on this pizza. The tomatoes provide the sauce flavor. The crust is thick and chewy. Delicious! And different.

Menu Plan Monday

How can it be December 14th already? We're almost halfway through December, barreling toward the New Year! And I still have Christmas baking to do. AHHHHH!

Sorry, I panicked for a second. This month has been crazy busy. Last week I was practicing my little fingers off to get ready to play the piano for a friend's wedding. I'm happy to report, the wedding went off without a hitch and my fingers survived. The week before that, we were getting ready to host our Sunday School class Christmas party. No time for extra baking then. Looks like I'll have to start this week.

I know I'll be making Peanut Butter Brownie Bites. These are just addictive. And I'm thinking I'll make a batch using Hershey Cherry Cordial Kisses. I'll just turn them upside down and put them in the baked brownie cups instead of the peanut butter cups. Yum.

I'm also going to make plenty of Chex Mix. My family is coming next week and they love Chex Mix. I'll make the original version and the two sweet versions found here.

I've got some other ideas and maybe I'll post a recipe or two later. Now on to the menu plan for the week. It's pretty simple.

Chicken rice soup

Deep dish pizza

Meatloaf, roasted potatoes, green beans


Spaghetti, bread

Chicken gravy and biscuits, mashed potatoes

Out to eat - I hope!

Pepperoni rolls

Have a great week and check out some more menu ideas at Organizing Junkie!

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Cutest Snowmen ever! And you can eat them!

Last week for our Sunday School Christmas party, my dear friend Suzanne made these adorable snowmen.
They're almost too cute to eat. Almost. I sampled one. Or two. Okay, I don't remember how many, but they were sooooo good. Pretzels and white chocolate are a fantastic combination.

She got the idea from Family Fun magazine. We'll be having a houseful of family for Christmas, so I'm thinking I'll try these to keep all of the children amused. Maybe I'll let them decorate their own. If we don't have a white Christmas here in the South, at least the kids will be able to make their own snowmen. And eat them too!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Paper Christmas Wreath

I've said before I'm not a crafty person. I like to find ideas and put my own touch on them. That's what I did with the paper Christmas wreath. I found the inspiration here at Sara's Art House. Sara IS very crafty, so I follow her blog to get ideas.

This wreath cost me nothing. I already had all the supplies on hand. I used cardboard from a box that had been delivered (it had my husband's Christmas present in it....shhhh, don't tell) to our house. I already had the scrapbook paper, glue, paper punches, buttons, and duct tape. Yes, I said duct tape. No wreath maker should be without it.

I traced a large circle onto the cardboard and cut it out. I used a big Tupperware bowl as the template. Then I used a smaller Tupperware bowl for the center. I think it's about 12 inches across, roughly.

I punched out circles from the scrapbook paper. The largest punch I had was 1 11/16 inches, which wasn't nearly big enough. So I used a lid from a peanut jar to trace bigger circles. If you don't have any circle punches, look around your house for objects you can trace.

I layered the circles and glued them together first. Then I started gluing them to the cardboard, starting around the outside. It would take too much time to glue them one by one, so I squeezed out a long line of glue and did several at a time.

The first row ended up looking like this.

I repeated the gluing process for the inside row, pressing everything down firmly as I went.

I turned the wreath over and placed a heavy cookbook on top of it so the paper wouldn't curl too badly as it dried. It worked great!

When the glue was dry, I added buttons for a little more texture.

Here's where the duct tape comes in. I needed an easy way to hang this up. So I found some sparkly wire garland, the kind you find in the gift wrap section of the store. I twisted it to form a loop and taped it on the back with duct tape.

The last step - finding a place to hang it!

Yes, that is an intercom on the wall beside the wreath. Yes, it is fun. I love being able to call the kids from anywhere in the house without yelling. And they can't use the "But I didn't hear you" excuse.

This is an easy craft for the kids to get involved in. The inspiration to do this wreath didn't hit me until after they had gone to bed. But I have plenty of paper left over, so I'll let them have a go at making their own. I'll just make their cardboard circles a little smaller, though.

For more frugal ideas, visit Life As Mom's Frugal Friday.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Peanut Butter Brownie Bites

One of my favorite flavor combinations is peanut butter and chocolate. Reese Cups have always been my favorite candy bar. Have you noticed those cups are seeming to get smaller and smaller every year? Pretty soon, you'll only be able to buy miniatures!

So take those miniatures and a box of brownie mix and make some truly delectable treats. Pour yourself a tall glass of ice cold milk to go with them. Trust me. You're gonna want the milk.

Peanut Butter Brownie Bites
1 box brownie mix
1 egg
1/3 cup oil
2 TBSP water
1/4 cup flour
miniature peanut butter cups

In a large bowl, combine the brownie mix, egg, oil, water and flour. Stir until there are no lumps. This should be the consistency of sugar cookie dough, so you might need to add more flour.

Roll the brownie dough into 1-inch balls and place in greased mini muffin tins. That's why you want a stiffer dough than regular brownie batter. Press onto the bottom and sides of the muffin cups. I use my Pampered Chef mini tart shaper for this. Oh, so easy!

Bake at 350 for 10 minutes. While you're waiting for the brownies to bake, unwrap your mini peanut butter cups. I was surprised at how many of these little goodies jumped into my mouth as I was unwrapping them. How does that happen?

When the brownies are done, remove them from the oven. They will have puffed up and ruined the pretty little cup shapes, but that's okay. Take a mini cup and press down into the center of each brownie. You've got your cup shape back! Let cool for 5 minutes in the pan. Carefully remove to wire racks to cool.

Don't those look yummy? I know you're probably wondering what those cookies are doing in the background. Well, I only have one mini muffin pan and there was enough brownie dough left over to make some cookies. When the cookies came out of the oven, I put a Hershey's Candy Cane Kiss on top of each one. They got all melty and delicious! If you like mint and chocolate together, these cookies are fabulous. And if you only have one mini muffin pan like I do, you'll want to do something with the remaining dough. So there you go - two ideas for brownie mix dough. Both are delicious. Both require milk to wash down.


This post is linked to Tempt My Tummy Tuesdays over at Blessed with Grace. Head on over there to find some more delicious recipes.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Menu Plan Monday

After last night's Christmas party, I am still stuffed! There was so much food, which of course, means leftovers. I filled plenty of take-home boxes so all of those leftovers didn't get left here! We still ended up with plenty for lunch today, so I didn't have to cook. We'll probably have pork sandwiches tomorrow too. Yum!

Leftovers from Christmas party

Deep dish pizza

Baked chicken, rice

Cheeseburger rice, green beans, bread


Wedding rehearsal for me (I'm the pianist)
Hubby and kids will get take out

Chicken and rice soup, rolls

For more menu plans, head over to Organizing Junkie!

Sunday School Christmas Party

Last night we hosted our Sunday School class Christmas Party. We're part of the Committed Couples class at Trinity Baptist Church. When we bought our house last spring, we hoped to use it as a place of fellowship and friendship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. God has blessed us with a spacious home and we wanted to bless others in return.

Problem was, the party was scheduled on the same day as the SEC championship football game. And Alabama was playing Florida in a rematch of last year's championship. And you know that here in the South, football is a VERY serious part of life. I'm a football fan myself, though the West Virginia Mountaineers are my favorite team, since I was born and raised up a holler in the mountains. So I can understand dedication to one's team.

Anyway, it looked like the party might be a wash. But the game was scheduled for 3 pm local time, so we decided to go ahead with the date and planned to eat around 7 pm. It all worked out wonderfully, especially since Alabama won! Roll, Tide!!! We ended up having 42 people here, including us. It was a little cozy at times but the food and fellowship were so enjoyable.

I prepared 3 pork roasts in my crockpots and electric roaster and another sweet lady brought some turkey. There was more than enough meat! Everything was delicious, from side dishes, salads to desserts. It was wonderful.

I decided to leave the pork unseasoned and let our guests choose their own sauces. I got some sweet, some spicy, some vinegary.

But using those bottles would be messy, so I stole an idea from a local BBQ restaurant. I got squeeze bottles and put the sauce in them. I used Christmas labels to identify the sauces.

It was so NOT messy! I found the squeeze bottles at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for $1.99 each. That might not seem frugal, $8 for 4 plastic bottles. But these babies will get plenty of use in the future, believe me. I'll be able to frost cookies and cupcakes like a pro. And who knows how many BBQ's will see these handy helpers being pulled out? Not to mention, I'll be able to give flair and flourish to the fancy dishes I'm thinking about learning how to make someday. Wink, wink!

I also made one of my easy appetizers which I'll share with you. Take a bottle of chili sauce (you'll find it with the ketchup and BBQ sauces in the grocery store) and a 12 oz. jar of grape jelly. Combine them in your crockpot. Dump in two packages of cocktail weiners, cover and cook on low for 2-3 hours. Easy as can be.

I made some wassail, too. Again, very easy. Here's the recipe if you want it.

1 bottle (96 oz) apple juice
1/2 can pineapple juice (the can is 46 oz but just use half)
1 orange, sliced
1 lemon, sliced
12 whole cloves
4 cinnamon sticks

Combine ingredients in a large crockpot. Set on low for 3-4 hours. Add some ground cinnamon if you need more flavor. The cinnamon sticks I used were leftover from last year and didn't have as much cinnamony aroma or flavor in them as I wanted.

Isn't that pretty? I doubled the recipe so I could use up the 1/2 can of pineapple juice and simmered it on my stovetop for a few hours. Yummy!

Christmas parties are so much fun! Such a blessing to spend time with other believers and celebrate the reason for the season, our Saviour!

Friday, December 4, 2009

Cheap Homemade Ornaments

Years ago when I was in college, I didn't have a great deal of money to spend on Christmas gifts. A friend showed me how to make homemade ornaments with potpourri. I bought a box of glass ornaments - red, I think. Back then you couldn't buy clear glass ornaments. So I soaked the ornaments in water and bleach so the outside paint would come off.

Those plain old glass ornaments had a silver coating on the inside to make them shiny. Sometimes the coating would come off with the bleach, but more often than not had to be scraped out with a Q-tip. It took a great deal of time just to get the color off, plus the smell of bleach wasn't all that pleasant. I would crush up some potpourri so it was small enough to fit through the opening at the top and fill the ornament up. Then I would tie a matching ribbon around the neck of it and attach a hanger. Beautiful! And those ornaments smelled nice too.

Then about 10 years ago someone came up with the idea of selling clear glass ornaments. Do-it-yourself ornaments. Where were these things 10 years earlier when I needed them?

I remember my delight at finding those clear ornaments. Hubby and I were just married and didn't have a great deal of money for Christmas decorations. But we saw all kinds of possibilities with those ornaments! I'll give credit to Charles, because he is much more creative than I am.

Here are a few of the things we did.

By far, the easiest and cheapest! We bought a roll of multi-colored iridescent ribbon, cut off small lengths and curled them with scissors. Then we stuffed them into the ornaments until we thought it was full enough. Boy, oh boy! Do the lights from the tree reflect so prettily from that ribbon! We've nicknamed it "fire ribbon" because it's so colorful and bright.

We've even used the fire ribbon ornaments to decorate our chandelier!

We also made some stained glass ornaments. These were the most expensive to make, but were really fun. Make a pattern on the ornament with liquid leading (this contains no real lead). Let this dry completely. Fill in with your desired stained glass paint colors and allow to dry.

When Charles and I made the stained glass ornaments below, the liquid leading was much more expensive, so we chose to use lead strips (again, no real lead) to make our patterns. The liquid stuff is much easier for intricate designs. We liked using a more traditional "chunky" stained glass look.

This is Charles' ornament. Notice how he glued on rhinestones at the intersections of the lead strips. Very crafty, this husband of mine.

Here's mine. I wasn't as heavy-handed with the paint, so you can see through it better.

Here's an ornament with shiny red, green, and gold ribbons.

And one with shredded iridescent paper, the kind you would use for baskets or packages. How's that for re-purposing?

The fire ribbon ornaments are my favorites, even after all these years. Of course, you can fill your clear ornaments with just about anything - potpourri, beads (although that can get heavy), strips of scrapbook paper curled with scissors, tinsel.
Anything that is small enough to fit through the opening at the top.

Happy Ornament Making!

This post in linked to Life as Mom's Frugal Friday.
Also, head over to Works for Me Wednesday to get some great holiday tips.