Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Easiest Cookie in a Jar Recipe

When I was teaching in a Christian school, I used to make cookies in a jar for all of my fellow teachers for Christmas. They all loved receiving a gift they could use during the holidays.

I'd set up an assembly line in the kitchen, packing down the ingredients and trying not to make a huge mess. I'd measure out flour for each jar, then sugar, then the next ingredient and so on until the jars were filled instead of trying to fill them one at a time.

There had to be an easier, quicker way. But I couldn't come up with one.

Until I started thinking about my recipe for cake mix cookies. Why not combine the recipe with the jar idea?

So that's what I did!

All you need is a cake mix, 1 teaspoon of baking powder, 1 cup of mix ins (refer to the recipe linked above for ideas), and a quart jar. You'll also need to print or write out the instructions and attach the to the jar.

Start by making sure your jar is clean. Pour about half of the cake mix into the jar and pack it down. I use my Pampered Chef tart shaper, but anything like a spatula or spoon will do. Add the baking powder next. Then add the rest of the cake mix and pat, pat, pat. I'm using a spice cake mix for this jar.

Layer your mix-ins next. I put 1/2 cup nuts in, then 1/2 cup butterscotch chips. Toffee bits would also be good with the spice cake mix. To give the jar a more interesting layered look, you could put half the cake mix, then half the mix-ins and repeat the layers. It's up to you!

Print the instructions onto cardstock and attach them to the jar. I punched a hole in the cardstock and used a simple curling ribbon to attach it. You can get as fancy as you want to.

The recipe instructions read as follows:

Pour the jar contents into mixing bowl. Add 2 eggs and 1/2 cup vegetable oil. Stir until well combined. Drop by rounded spoonfuls onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Yield: 3 1/2 dozen.

I can't tell you what a timesaver this is! It used to take me all evening to fill jars, now it takes just minutes! I got cake mixes on sale for $.68, so it's pretty cheap too!

For more holiday tips and gift ideas, head over to Works for Me Wednesday hosted by We are THAT Family.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Cream Cheese Cookies

If you're looking for a fantastic addition to your holiday cookie trays, I've got the recipe for you. These simple yet elegant cookies are buttery and creamy. And addictive. You won't be able to eat just one.

Here's what you need:

1 cup butter, softened
3 oz cream cheese, softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg yolk
1 teas vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour

In a mixing bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese together. Slowly add the sugar and beat until fluffy. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla.

Mix in the flour.

Form the dough into a ball and wrap in plastic wrap. Chill in the fridge for at least an hour. Doesn't this ball of dough kinda look like a brain?

Shape the dough into one-inch balls. Place on greased cookie sheets and bake at 325 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

The tops might crack just a little bit and that's okay. But watch them carefully and don't them brown too much. Overbaking will cause the cookies to be dry. Also, don't expect these cookies to spread out much. They will keep their ball shape well.

The original recipe I used called for a lemon powdered sugar glaze. Charles and I thought this was completely unnecessary and took away from the creamy-tasting cookie. This is a delightful little morsel that doesn't need any dressing up to be special. Its simplicity is what makes it so.

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

My New Island!

In October I got a new tile floor in the kitchen. I love it! But hubby had to go out of town for work and my center island didn't get reinstalled.

It needed a makeover. Badly. The previous owner had installed an indoor electric grill in the island which I wasn't fond of. We tried it out once, and it smoked up the house so terribly we decided it had to go.

So dear Charles removed the grill parts and was left with a huge whole in the middle. He covered it over with a board, then tiled the top for me. We chose a backsplash tile, the kind that is already connected in one sheet. It took five sheets to completely cover the island, then Charles had to grout and seal it.

This is the finished product!

The colors of the tile completely match the weird color combo already in the kitchen. We have two-tone cabinets of dark wood with cream doors. The counter tops are sunny yellow. The dishwasher and oven are black. And we have a copper glazed accent wall in the adjoining breakfast nook. Every color is represented in the tile!

I'm thrilled with it! And I'm thankful that my husband took the time to make it for me.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Menu Plan November 28-December 4

Thanksgiving was a lot of fun. A lot of work, but a lot of fun! We had friends over for dinner, then had more friends over to play games that night. All weekend long we ate leftovers and more leftovers. So I really haven't cooked since Thursday! Yay!

But it's a new week, and my leftovers are depleted. Time to cook again.

Here's the plan for the week:

Pan-seared tilapia (we didn't get to this last week), green beans

Tori No Kara-age, rice

Homemade pizza

Quesadillas, Mexican rice

Pancakes, bacon

Bacon Ranch Chicken, mashed potatoes

Sloppy joes, french fries

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, friends!

We truly do have so much to be thankful for, don't we?

I hope you have a joyous day, reflecting on your blessings with friends and family.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Pumpkin Pie Cupcakes

You will never find an easier recipe for cupcakes. Ever.

There are only two ingredients, three if you decide to frost them. Four if you count the sprinkles.

Here's what you need:

1 spice cake mix
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin

That's it!

Combine the cake mix and pumpkin. The easiest way to do this is to use a mixer. Divide the mixture among 18 paper-lined muffin cups. Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes. Let cool then frost if desired. Dip in sprinkles if you want!

I used cream cheese frosting and it was delectable! I had some fall leaves/orange sprinkles that I poured into a shallow dish, then dipped the tops of the cupcakes into the dish . It's so much easier to dip than to shake the sprinkles onto the frosting. More sprinkles stick that way, too!

The muffins were so moist and delicious. You could use a yellow cake mix instead of spice cake, but note that you'd have to add pumpkin pie spice and cinnamon to the batter.

The frosting is optional, but not really. Have you ever eaten cupcakes without frosting? I think they're called muffins if you eat them that way!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Menu Plan November 21-27

Thanksgiving is almost here! I love this time of year. I enjoy taking time out of our busy schedule to pause and reflect on God's blessings in our lives. I've tried to keep this week's menu simple since I've got lots of other prep work to do for Thanksgiving dinner.

Here's the menu:


Coconut Chicken Curry, rice

Pan-seared tilapia, broccoli

Beef stew

Thanksgiving Dinner

Leftover casserole

Turkey rice soup

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Thanksgiving Prep - Do it now!

We're having some dear friends over for Thanksgiving, but we started preparing today. By preparing, I mean my husband washed the china and glassware we'll be using. Tomorrow he'll do the silverware. Why don't I do it, you ask? Well, he actually likes to do it. So I graciously give him the joy of doing it for me.

Besides giving your tableware a quick cleaning, here are some more tips to save yourself some effort and headache on the big day.

1. Thaw the turkey. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but you'd be surprised how many cooks forget until the day before. And if you have a large turkey, that's not going to be long enough. Allow one day for each 5 lbs of bird. Since I'm brining ours, I'll start thawing it now, then place it in the brine Tuesday night. Should be perfect. (If you've never brined a turkey, I cannot urge you strongly enough to try it! It makes such a huge difference in the moistness of the meat. The salt solution actually helps seal in the juices.)

2. Bake your pies ahead of time. This is such a huge time saver when it comes time to get the meal ready. Stick them in the freezer until Wednesday night. Place them in the fridge and they'll be wonderfully thawed by morning. If you like your pies warm, just pop them into the oven at 350 degrees until warmed through.

3. Write down each dish and the ingredients that go into each one. Check to make sure you have all the ingredients you need. Again, sounds like a no-brainer. But I know from experience that if I don't glance over the recipes and take note of the ingredients, inevitably on Thanksgiving Day, I'm going to realize I don't have the sage or cranberries or something that I need. Check off each ingredient as you verify its presence on your cupboard or purchase it from the store.

4. Make your place cards. If you're having guests, place cards add such a special touch to the table. I mean, how often do you use place cards when you sit down to dinner? Your family knows where to sit, right? But when you have guests, it's nice to have a place already in mind for them.

We're going to use the Martha Stewart printable ones here.

Here is some more inspiration from TipJunkie.

And if you want your kids to get involved, you'll find some fingerprint turkeys here and here.

5. Determine if you can prepare any dishes in advance. Cranberry sauce can be made a day or two ahead. Casseroles can be put together the night before then baked when needed on Thanksgiving Day. Even dinner rolls can be prepared early and reheated in the oven prior to serving. Look at your menu to see if there are any shortcuts that can be done before Thanksgiving.

What about you? Do you have any tips to share that make your Thanksgiving prep easier?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Bacon Ranch Chicken

I first tried this recipe a couple of months ago after seeing it on this blog. The combination of ingredients intrigued me. I mean, who would put ranch dressing and teriyaki sauce in the same dish?

But I have to say that nothing about this reminded me of a cheeseburger, other than the cheese. So I renamed it Bacon Ranch Chicken. Maybe Bacon Ranch Teriyaki Cheesy Chicken would be more accurate. Too many syllables, huh?

We all really loved this dish. Even the kids, who don't typically like sauce on anything, ate this right up. When the Princess found out it had ranch dressing in it, she practically licked her plate. It seemed a sin to waste even one drop of the delicious sauce!

Here's what you need:

2 TBSP olive oil
1 teas minced garlic
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, sliced in half length-wise
1/2 cup ranch dressing (I used homemade)
1/4 cup teriyaki sauce (again, I used homemade)
6 slices of bacon, cooked and crumbled
1-2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I've also used jack cheese, and it's yummy!)

In a skillet, heat the oil. Add the minced garlic and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chicken halves and brown on both sides. You don't want to cook it all the way, just get a nice color on the meat.

Place the browned chicken in a greased 13x9 pan. Pour the teriyaki sauce over all, then cover with the ranch dressing.

On top of that layer the shredded cheese and bacon.

Pop into a 350-degree oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. The cheese should be all gooey and melty and the bacon will be amazingly crisp. Just how you want it!

I'm not exactly sure how all of these flavors came together to make this so delicious, but they did. I didn't mention to the family what was in it until they had all taken a bite and declared it to be yummy because I didn't want any preconceived ideas about the mixing of flavors. My fears turned out to be for naught, since everyone loved it!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Sweet Buttermilk Cornbread

I've never really been a fan of cornbread. My exposure to it was limited to Jiffy mix which often turned out dry and crumbly. Imagine my relief when my husband told me shortly after we were married that he didn't like cornbread either! Whew!

Then I stumbled on this recipe and I thought I'd give cornbread another try. Hubby agreed to try, too. To my surprise, this recipe won him over. But it's the only way he'll eat cornbread now. This cornbread is moist and flavorful with a sweet undertone.

Now this recipe calls for buttermilk, and I do think it makes a difference in the taste. But I don't regularly keep buttermilk on hand. Instead, I measure 1 tablespoon of vinegar into a measuring cup and then fill with enough milk to equal one cup total liquid. I let this sit for a few minutes. It tastes just like buttermilk!

Here's what you'll need:

1/2 cup butter (1 stick), melted
2/3 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 teas baking soda
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 teas salt

Stir melted butter and sugar together. Add eggs and beat until well blended. Add the baking soda to the buttermilk, then stir into the butter mixture. In a separate bowl, combine cornmeal, flour and salt. Mix with wet ingredients until well blended and there are few lumps.

Pour batter into a greased 8-inch square pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. If the top browns too quickly, cover loosely with foil.

After I take the cornbread from the oven, I like to brush with a little more melted butter. Yum!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rustic Apple Tart

Apple pie is one of my all-time favorite desserts. I just love it. But I wanted to make something a little different than a traditional apple pie. So I tried my hand at making an apple tart. Charles promptly asked why I hadn't made one before and could I make one again really soon! I guess it was a hit.

If you want to make this completely from scratch, by all means do so. Use your favorite one-crust pie dough recipe. You can also use your own apple pie filling, too. I've got a recipe here if you want to try it. I'm going to make a big batch this week to have on hand for holiday baking.

But this recipe is quick and easy. It goes together in no time and is perfect when you want something yummy and sweet without a lot of prep work.

Here's what you need:

1 refrigerated pie crust, room temperature
1 can apple pie filling
1 teas cinnamon
1/4 - 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
3/4 cup powdered sugar
2 TBSP milk

Roll out the pie crust to fit a baking stone or pizza pan. Spread the pie filling over the crust, leaving about 2 inches around the edges. Sprinkle with cinnamon and nuts.

Fold the edges up over the filling, crimping a little as you go. The dough will overlap and form a nice ring around the filling. Isn't that pretty?

Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Let cool. Mix together the powdered sugar and milk. Drizzle over the tart. Use a pizza cutter to slice into wedges and serve.

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

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Menu Plan Monday November 14-20

Last week was so wonderful! Hubby was home after three straight weeks away. Things run so much more smoothly when my teammate is here. And we make a great team, if I do say so myself.

And I fixed everything on last week's menu. That's a rare occurrence! It eases my mind so much to have meals planned and ingredients on hand. If you don't regularly plan your weekly menus, now is a great time to start. With the holiday rush breathing down our necks, it's so reassuring to write things down and know you've got meals covered.

Now here's this week's plan:

Out to eat

Garlic lime tilapia, mashed potatoes

Pizza pasta, broccoli, homemade bread

Cheeseburger rice, green beans

Sausage veggie calzones, french fries


Broccoli cheese soup, herbed rolls

For more meal planning inspiration visit Organizing Junkie's Menu Plan Monday.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Amazon.com Update

Last night I posted about the disgusting pedophile's guide that was available for sale on Amazon. Well, thanks to pressure from their customers, Amazon has removed the book! I received email notification from them this morning. The page is no longer available.

I'm glad that people were willing to stand up for children. I'm still angry that Amazon didn't immediately get rid of the book when it was brought to their attention. Only when it started to affect their bottom line did they pull it. Not because it was the right thing to do but because they didn't want to face a boycott.

I'm still debating about whether or not I want to buy from them in the future. What do you think about it?

A Salute to our Veterans

To our men and women in uniform, past and present, thank you for your service. I know the sacrifices you and your families have made and appreciate them tremendously.

May God bless you on this Veterans Day and the great country you serve.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Amazon.com needs a good swift kick!

I'm not generally a boycotter, but this has gotten me angry.

Amazon is selling an e-book entitled "The Pedophile's Guide to Love and Pleasure." I'm not kidding. You can read about the controversy here.

This really, really gets my blood boiling!!! Amazon is knowingly encouraging pedophilia!!! Their defense of the author's First Amendment rights sounds noble, but what happens if someone takes this writer's advice and a child is hurt?

I buy a lot of stuff from Amazon. Or at least I did. If they do not stop selling this vile publication, they will permanently lose me as a customer.

This time of year is their biggest money-making season. Let's show them that we mothers WILL NOT stand for this. Our children's well-being and safety is more important than getting a good Christmas bargain. Please let Amazon know that you won't be purchasing from them until they stop selling this.

Ancient Egypt Lapbook

This year we're using The Mystery of History Volume I as our history curriculum. We've really enjoyed it so far, but we're not doing such a good job of keeping to the suggested schedule. We like to stop and explore certain topics further. And that's one of the joys of homeschooling! We can do just that!

The kids were really very interested in learning more about ancient Egypt. We checked out several books from the library and watched a couple of videos to enhance our understanding of the culture. My husband was in Egypt back in the late '90's as part of a military exercise and has several pictures of the pyramids and King Tut display at the Cairo Museum. The kids loved looking at those. And our local history museum has a great Egyptian display that we enjoy visiting, too.

To tie everything together, the kids created one-folder lapbooks to show what they learned. I found the templates here at Homeschool Share, my favorite lapbook resource.

On the front cover, the kids wrote their names in hieroglyphics. I got the idea from Jimmie at The Heart of the Matter Online. We used the cartouche generator she suggested to see what their names would look like. Then they copied the hieroglyphics onto their own cartouches.

After learning the basics of hieroglyphics, they then proceeded to write secret messages to each other and Daddy. So cute!

Here's the Princess with her lapbook.

We've moved on and are studying the Exodus of the Hebrews from Egypt and their subsequent wanderings in the wilderness. Maybe another lapbook will be forthcoming. We'll see.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Honey Roasted Sweet Potatoes

I love sweet potatoes. Unfortunately, no one else in my family does. The only time I eat sweet potatoes is around the holidays when there are other people to help me eat them. And even then, most sweet potato casseroles are loaded with sugar and calories, so I only eat a little.

When I stumbled across this recipe on the Food Network website, I was eager to try it. Ellie Krieger is one of my favorite FN chefs and she's well-known for reworking recipes to make them lower in fat and calories. I tweaked it a bit and added some spices I knew I'd like.

The results were amazing! This dish has all the wonderful goodness of sweet potatoes with a LOT less fat and calories. If you're looking to "lighten up" your Thanksgiving menu, give this a try.

Here's what you'll need:

2 lbs sweet potatoes (this will be about 3 large potatoes, depending on their size)
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP honey
1/2 teas salt
1/2 teas cinnamon
1/4 teas ginger

Peel and dice the potatoes into small pieces. Try to make them all the same size so they bake evenly.

In a bowl, whisk together the remaining ingredients. Add the potatoes and toss to coat. Spread the potatoes in a single layer on a greased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour until potatoes are tender. Stir every 10 minutes or so.

I loved how the potatoes were a little crispy on the outside and so tender on the inside. The honey added just the right amount of sweetness while the cinnamon and ginger gave the dish a hint of warmth. And they smelled so yummy, too!

For more yummy recipes, visit Tempt My Tummy Tuesday. This week it's being hosted at At the Well.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Menu Plan Monday November 7-13

The weather has definitely taken a cold turn, and I'm craving some comfort food. So lots of easy, yummy stuff on the menu this week.

Pan-seared tilapia by request of two family members, even
though we had it last Sunday too

Chinese chicken, rice

Lentil rice burritos, tortilla chips

Chili, cornbread

Baked potato bar, broccoli


Toscano soup, herb bubble bread

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Lazy Saturday and don't forget to Fall Back!

Yesterday it hailed. Nothing major, just little pellets of hail that made the kids excited and wishing for snow. Sorry, kids. We live in the Deep South.

Today it's been rather chilly, at least for the Heart of Dixie. So other than a quick trip to Target, we've pretty much done nothing but cuddle up and enjoy each other's company. I've got some bread rising and some cheeseburger soup simmering. Maybe later I'll make some cookies or something snacky for the kids.

If you live in the states that observe Daylight Savings Time, it ends tonight. So set your clocks back an hour before you go to bed. Who couldn't use an extra hour of sleep?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Broccoli Cheese Soup

With the weather turning colder, it's time to pull out some soup recipes and warm everyone up! I'm thinking about hosting a soup party where everyone brings a crockpot of soup and we all sample each other's offerings. Now if I can find the time to put it together!

This soup is cheesy and delicious and is very simple to make. It came together in less than 20 minutes, making it a great choice for a busy weeknight.

Here's what you need:

1 head broccoli, cut into florets and steamed
(You could also use a bag of frozen broccoli florets)
4 cups chicken broth
2 cups milk
1 can condensed cheese soup
1 teas onion powder
salt and pepper to taste
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese (I use sharp cheddar)

While the broccoli is steaming, combine the broth, milk, cheese soup and seasonings in a large saucepan. Heat until lightly simmering, stirring with a whisk to remove any lumps from the soup. You don't want to boil this because the milk might curdle. Just let it bubble a little around the edges.

Add the shredded cheese and whisk until it's completely melted. Give the broccoli florets a rough chop and add to the soup. Heat through and serve.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pumpkin Pie Pudding - in the crockpot!

This is one of my family's favorite desserts. It tastes just like pumpkin pie without a crust. I love it because I simply pour the ingredients into the crockpot on Sunday morning and have dessert ready when we get home from church.

On a busy holiday, such as Thanksgiving or Christmas, this is a great alternative to baking a pumpkin pie. It frees up your oven for other things and saves a few calories, too.

Here's what you need:

1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1 (12 oz) can evaporated milk
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup Bisquick
2 eggs, beaten
2 TBSP butter, melted
2 1/2 teas pumpkin pie spice
2 teas vanilla extract

In a large bowl, whisk all the ingredients together until well blended. You don't want any lumps. Pour into a greased crock pot. I use a 5-quart for this.

Cover and cook on low for 3-4 hours or until set. The pudding will pull away from the sides of the crock and there might be a crack or two on top. That's okay.

Scoop out and serve in bowls. Whipped cream is yummy on this!

Time to Vote

Today is midterm elections. And midterm elections have low turnouts. I know a lot of people don't feel these elections are important since we're not voting for a president.

I beg to differ. The president doesn't make the laws. Our representatives do. I don't care if you're conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Tea Party, Green Party, male, female, young or old. Just go vote!

To NOT vote is a slap in the face to the men and women who fought and died to create this great nation and to those who have fought since to preserve our freedoms. People actually laid their lives down so we can vote for those who represent us. Why then do we dishonor them by not educating ourselves on the issues and choosing a candidate who best represents our views? How many millions of people in this world would love to have this opportunity that we take for granted?

So take the time today to vote. Honor the past. Impact the future.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pan-Seared Tilapia

I rarely cook any kind of fish but salmon. And with the price of salmon these days, I rarely even cook that!

But when I found a simple recipe for tilapia, I knew I wanted to try it. I bought frozen fillets and thawed them in the fridge overnight. They were then good to go for this easy recipe.

Here's what you need:

4-6 tilapia fillets
salt and pepper, to taste
1/2 cup flour
1 teas Old Bay seasoning
1/4 teas garlic powder
oil for searing
1 TBSP melted butter, optional

Place the fillets on a baking sheet and salt and pepper both sides.

Combine the flour and seasonings on a paper plate. Dip each fillet in the flour mixture and make sure the entire surface is covered.

Heat a small amount of oil in a large skillet. You don't want to fry the fillets. You just want enough oil to keep the fish from sticking to the pan.

Add the fish fillets and sear for about 4 minutes on each side until the fish flakes easily with a fork. Brush with melted butter if desired.

The beauty of this recipe is the simplicity. The basic flour and spice coating provides a nice crunch and plenty of flavor. My family raved about this fish and everyone agree we should add it to our meal plan often. I liked that it took less than 15 minutes to prepare. Couldn't be easier!

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