Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pecan Pie Bars

For Thanksgiving dinner, we had 11 people at our house, including ourselves. I had planned to make pecan pie, but I knew I could only get 8 servings out of one pie. And I really didn't want to make two pies.

My solution was to make pecan pie bars instead. You get all the flavor of a pecan pie in bar form, but the portions are smaller and there are more of them. The advantages to this are two-fold. First, you can serve more people. Second, everyone gets a smaller serving, which leaves room for sampling other desserts!

So here's what you need:

For the crust
2 cups flour
1 cup butter (2 sticks), melted
1/2 cup powdered sugar

For the filling
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted
a pinch of salt
2 cups chopped pecans

Grease a 9x13 pan. Combine the flour, powdered sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Pat into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl combine the sugar and eggs. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour over the baked crust. Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the filling is set. Cool and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container.

Click here for a printable recipe!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Crockpot Sweet and Sour Chicken

This is quite possibly the easiest chicken recipe in the world. All you have to do is dump a few ingredients into the crockpot and let them cook together. The hardest part about it is chopping the green pepper. And that takes about a minute or so.

The pineapple chunks provide the sweetness, while the peppers and barbecue sauce lend a little sour flavor. The crunchy cashews added at the end give the dish just the right amount of salty texture. Together, they're one delicious combination!

Here's what you need:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can (20 oz) pineapple chunks, undrained
1 bottle barbecue sauce, your favorite brand (this equals about 1.5 cups if you're using homemade sauce)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped cashews

Place the chicken in a greased crockpot. Add the green pepper. Pour the pineapple chunks and barbecue sauce over the top.

 Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until chicken shreds easily with a fork.
Shred the chicken and stir well. Serve over rice. Top each individual serving with chopped cashews. (I used to dump all the cashews in when the chicken was done, but leftovers got a little soggy and the delightful crunch was gone. So sprinkle them on each serving to maintain the right texture.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Menu Plan November 26-December 2

Did y'all have a Happy Thanksgiving? We sure did! Lots of food and good fellowship with friends. We're still enjoying leftovers, too.
This week I'm switching gears and trying some new recipes. I'll let you know how they turn out. Here's what is on the menu:

Tasty tilapia, quinoa with veggies

Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy

Chicken patty sandwiches, fries

Beef bourguignon (crockpot recipe), noodles and rolls

Chicken bacon subs, green beans

Beef and bean taco casserole

Pasta with Very Veggie Sauce, garlic bread

Just like every week, I'm linking up with Menu Plan Monday over at Organizing Junkie. Head over there to get some menu planning inspiration!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kitchen Tip - Cutting a Recipe in Half

Sometimes I like to cook in large quantities. Sometimes I don't. So for my own benefit, I compiled a list of measurements to use when I'm halving a recipe. Here it is:

Original        Half

1 cup              1/2 cup

3/4 cup           1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP

2/3 cup           1/3 cup

1/2 cup           1/4 cup

1/3 cup           2 TBSP plus 2 teas

1/4 cup           2 TBSP

3 TBSP          1 TBSP plus 1 1/2 teas

2 TBSP          1 TBSP

1 TBSP          1 1/2 teas

*Note - if your original recipe calls for one egg, just beat an egg, then scoop out 2 TBSP.

Also, if you're using a smaller pan with smaller quantities, you'll need to reduce your cooking time, too. Leave the temperature the same, but check for doneness often. Then make a note on your recipe about the correct cooking time for a halved recipe. It will come in handy later.

There, now isn't that handy? I mean, we can all figure out half of one cup or half of half a cup, but those thirds can be tricky!

This is part of my eclectic collection of measuring cups and spoons!

I'm linking this kitchen tip with Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

Monday, November 19, 2012

3 Bean and Beef Chili with Hominy

I had never used hominy in a recipe until this one. I really didn't even know what it was. Hominy is made from the kernels of corn that have been soaked in an alkali solution. The kernels puff up to twice their normal size. I got canned hominy, so it had already been cooked, but you can purchase it dried as well.

The taste of hominy is very much like corn tortillas. I think I was expecting more of a sweet corn taste. It was such a great addition to a basic chili recipe that I'll probably use this as my go-to chili from now on.

Here's what you need:

1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can hominy, drained
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 can (10 oz) enchilada sauce
2 cups beef broth or water
1 TBSP dried minced onion
2 teas chili powder
1 teas cumin
1 teas powdered garlic
1 teas salt
1/2 teas black pepper

In a large pot, combine all the ingredients. Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. If the chili is too thick, add a little more broth or water to thin until it reaches the desired consistency.

Garnish with sour cream and cheese, if desired.

See the light-colored bean-looking things? That's the hominy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Menu Plan November 19-25

It's Thanksgiving week! I have so very much to be thankful for, I couldn't even begin to list it all here. I love that we have a day set aside to count our blessings, but as Christians, that's something we should do all the time. In every thing give thanks, like the Bible says.

Anyway, it's going to be a busy week. But it's so worth the extra effort to serve my family and friends. Charles takes care of the table preparation - table cloth, place settings, centerpiece. He's so helpful and talented!

Since we're hosting friends, they'll be bringing some of the feast. I'm making the turkey, two kinds of dressing, cranberry sauce, mac n' cheese and pumpkin pie. Take a tip from me and brine your turkey. It's amazingly moist and delicious that way!

Now on to the week's menu (cause I still have to feed my family the other days, too!):

Italian sausage sandwiches, garlic roasted potatoes

Citrus tilapia, broccoli

Homemade pizza

Thursday - Happy Thanksgiving!


Turkey rice soup (crockpot)

Chicken patty sandwiches, fries

So, what are you serving for Thanksgiving this week?

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

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Caramel Apple Cider Floats

Apple cider is so "fall," isn't it? I love to pour some in the crockpot with some spices and let it simmer all day. But this refreshing, sweet float is a fantastic way to enjoy cider, too.

Here's what you need:

1 cup of cider per person
1 scoop of vanilla icecream per person
2 TBSP whipped cream per person
1 TBSP caramel ice cream topping per person

Gently heat the cider in a saucepan. You don't want it boiling, just warm.

Scoop the ice cream into a glass. Pour the warm cider over the ice cream and sprinkle with a little cinnamon.

Spoon the whipped cream over the ice cream, then drizzle with the caramel topping. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cheap Elf on the Shelf Alternative

I have to admit, I love the idea of Elf on the Shelf.  An elf comes to your house and keeps an eye on the children. Then he reports back to Santa. The catch - the elf is often naughtier than the kids!

And that's why I love it. It gives me a chance to be a kid again. But I really wasn't looking forward to paying $30 for a tiny little elf. So I thought, why can't I "make" my own Elf on the Shelf? Only my elf is a snowman.

Meet Melton.
I got him at Hobby Lobby for 50% off. I think I paid $10 for him. A whole lot cheaper than an official Elf on the Shelf that everyone else has! Our guy is unique!

Melton came with a letter, explaining he was there to be Santa's eyes and ears. He would let Santa know who had been naughty or nice. Every morning we'd wake up to find him in a different spot. The kids raced downstairs to see if they could find him first.
Watching a Veggie Tales movie with some other snowmen
Uh-oh! Melton TP'd the tree!
Cutting out snowflakes and making a mess!
Melton used a dry erase marker on our family photos!
Reading to the Barbies
He was super naughty - trying to unwrap presents!
Discussing the true meaning of Christmas with the Nativity figures

The night he left to go back to the North Pole, Melton left us something to remember him by.
He decorated our fridge like a snowman
 Our entire family enjoyed this fun tradition. I will admit, it challenged my creativity quite a bit. But it was well worth it. And I loved that Melton was cheaper than the Elf on the Shelf. And cuter, too!

Cheap and cute definitely Works for Me!

Operation Christmas Child - It's Not Too Late!

This year our family is participating in Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan's Purse. Every year, thousands of shoeboxes filled with toys, toiletry items and other things make their way to needy children around the world. You can get involved, too.

First, find a shoebox or other similarly-sized box. A plastic shoebox with a lid works perfectly. Then fill the box with items for a girl or boy. You can even choose the age-range of the child. Here are instructions for packing your box, as well as suggestions for what items to include.

We decided to donate online so we could get a barcode tracking number for our boxes. That way we can track our package and see what country it goes to.

A special thanks to my husband who wrapped our boxes. He did an excellent job!

Then you simply take your boxes to the collection center nearest you. You can find out where by putting in your zipcode here. Our drop off location is literally around the corner and down the street from us. November 19 is the last day for collection, so you have almost a week.

If you don't have time to pack a box and get it to a drop-off location. Operation Christmas Child also has an option that allows you build a box online with options to put in each box. Or if you want to help someone who has packed a box but can't afford the shipping donation, you can donate to cover the shipping costs of these boxes.

If you don't have the resources to help monetarily, please pray for this ministry. We've already started praying for the children who will receive our boxes, that God would use our small contribution to reach their hearts for Him. There are so many ways to get involved, so why not help spread God's love and reach these needy children?

Creamy Mac 'n Cheese

I adore macaroni and cheese. But only if it's homemade. I used to make a version that called for canned cheese soup. I've revised it to make it a little healthier - although it does contain a lot of cheese! But you can't have mac 'n cheese without a whole lot of cheese, can you?
 Here's what you need:

8 oz. dry macaroni
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teas salt
1/4 teas pepper
1/2 teas dry mustard
2 cups milk
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
paprika, optional

Cook the macaroni according to package directions for al dente. The macaroni is going to soak up some of the cheese sauce you're about to make. So if it's overcooked, the mac will be mushy.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour, salt, pepper and dry mustard and whisk until blended. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Over medium heat, stir constantly until boiling. Reduce heat to low and cook for one more minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 2 cups of the shredded cheese. Stir in the macaroni and make sure all the pasta is covered with sauce. Pour into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. If desired, sprinkle a little paprika over the cheese for some extra color.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown and the whole casserole is bubbly.

Please note that you can substitute other cheeses for the cheddar. I have replaced half the cheddar with shredded pepper jack cheese for a zesty twist, and it's amazing!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Menu Plan November 12-18

It's been a beautiful fall here in the Deep South.
Our view down the street - gorgeous!
But can you believe next week is Thanksgiving? Wow, this season is flying by! This week I'm cooking some family favorites. I'll use some of my time in the kitchen this week to start preparing for Thanksgiving dinner.

Here's what we're eating this week:

Chicken tater tot casserole (crockpot), green beans

Fish tacos, Southwestern quinoa

Pizza sloppy joes, french fries

Toscano soup, pretzel rolls

Steak, twice baked potatoes

Brown bag burritos, chips

Crockpot lasagna, homemade bread

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

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Mexican Pasta

If you're looking for a quick meal you can have on the table in 30 minutes or less, look no further. This ground beef and pasta dish is simple, hearty and flavorful. Think of it as a healthier alternative to Hamburger Helper.

Even my pickiest eater, the Princess, will gobble this up. Usually she prefers her pasta with no sauce. That's right, no sauce. Nada. Nothing. Except maybe a sprinkling of Parmesan cheese, if she's in the mood. But this stuff - she devours it! Try it and you'll see why.

Here's what you need:

2 cups small pasta, uncooked - I use shell pasta
1 lb ground beef
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 cup salsa
2 TBSP taco seasoning
1/2 teas black pepper
shredded cheese, optional

Cook the pasta according to the package directions and drain. While the pasta is cooking, brown the ground beef in a large skillet, then drain.

To the ground beef, add the tomato sauce, salsa, taco seasoning and pepper. The kind of salsa you use allows you to control the heat and spiciness of the dish. I generally use homemade if I have it on hand. Allow this to simmer for 10 minutes.

Stir in the drained pasta. This is why I like to use the shell pasta. The yummy sauce gets into the shell shape and all that flavor seems to linger there. Silly, I know.
Top individual servings with shredded cheese, if desired.

I'm linking this recipe up to Full Plate Thursday over at Miz Helen's Country Cottage.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Thoughts on the Election and Where We Go from Here

The election's over and the guy I voted for didn't win. Thankfully, I wasn't putting my hope in Romney. Scripture tells us not to do that, anyway. "It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord, than to put confidence in princes." Psalm 118:8-9.

The biggest problem facing our country isn't economic. It's not a social problem, either. It's not equality or women's issues. It's not immigration or  welfare.

Recent polls and surveys suggest that more and more Americans don't believe in God. If they don't believe in Him, why would they obey His commandments to live holy lives? That's why I firmly believe that our country's biggest problem is spiritual. And no political candidate can solve that one. Only Jesus can do that.

As Christians, we need to be on our knees praying and on our feet sharing the Gospel. We need to stop looking to the government to solve our problems and start trusting in the Lord. We need to show our neighbors and community a better way by living out God's love on a daily basis.

So what's next? Well, honestly, I don't know God's plan for our great country. I know He can use whomever is in political power to accomplish His purpose. And so I'm going to trust Him to do that.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Deep Dish Skillet Pizza

Domino's Pizza has a new deep dish pan pizza that Charles just loves. They advertise that the toppings go all the way to the edge. But it's $7.99 for a medium pizza, and that's more than I like to spend when my growing children could eat one pizza all by themselves. So I decided to recreate the pizza at home, using my tried and true pizza dough recipe. It turned out wonderfully!

I started by making the dough:

1 cup warm water
1 TBSP yeast
2 teas sugar or honey

Mix these together in the bowl of a stand mixer. Allow to sit for about 5 minutes until the yeast starts to puff up.

Then stir in 2 TBSP olive oil or melted butter.

Then mix in 2 1/2 cups flour (I use half unbleached white and half white wheat) and 1 teas salt.

Using the dough hook, knead for about 5 minutes. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes. It's much easier to work with this way.

While the dough is resting, get your cast iron skillet prepared. Melt 2 TBSP butter and mix with 1/2 teas garlic powder. Brush along the bottom and sides of the skillet. Use all of it! I used a 12-inch skillet, by the way.

Roll the dough out to a uniform thickness that will fit nicely in the skillet. Place in the skillet and stretch to fit, if necessary. Prick all over with a fork. Then bake at 425 degrees for 8 minutes.

Carefully remove the pan from the oven and cover with your favorite toppings. Go all the way to the edge of the skillet with the sauce, cheese, everything. Bake for another 10 minutes.
Run a knife or spatula around the edges to loosen. With two spatulas, transfer the pizza from the pan to a cutting surface.
See how crispy that is on the sides? It's the same way on the bottom. The yummy garlic butter did that. It's absolutely crucial to use the butter, trust me.

Cut into slices and enjoy!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Flatbread Shortcut

I have a fantastic recipe for flatbread that I've shared before. I'm not going to lie. It IS amazing! But it also takes some time because it requires two risings. I definitely have to plan ahead when I make it.

And even though I love, love, love my flatbread recipe, sometimes I need to shave time off my meal prep. This is a quick, easy substitute that works wonderfully when time is of the essence.

All I do is mix up a batch of pizza dough, divide it into 8-10 portions, roll it out thinly and throw on the griddle. It takes all of 10 minutes to prepare the dough, a few more minutes to roll it out and a couple of minutes to cook each one. So I've taken a 2-hour process and condensed it into 30 minutes. Not bad!

My family can't even tell the difference, even though the pizza dough version isn't as flat. And that's typically because I haven't rolled it out thinly enough. This time-saving version is just as fabulous for gyros and wraps as the original.

So, what shortcuts do you want to share? How do you save time in the kitchen? Share in the comments!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Menu Plan November 5-11

Last week was a blur for me. I spent most of my time resting, trying to recover from a virus. I tried to get meals on the table, but mostly we had leftovers and stuff from the freezer. I felt much better yesterday, but woke with another fever today and will probably have to make another trip to the doctor. Not fun!

My husband has really stepped up and taken care of things for me, which eases my mind so much and allows me to rest. I've been so proud of the kids, too. They've done their schoolwork with little to no help from me and, for the most part, have been sweet and helpful.

I'm going to make a menu plan and hope I can stick to it. If not, it will be more sandwiches and homemade frozen pizzas!

Here's what I'm aiming for this week:

Mexican pasta, broccoli

Hawaiian chicken (crockpot recipe), rice

Fish chowder, pretzel rolls

Savory beef sandwiches (crockpot recipe), crockpot roasted potatoes

Lentil and rice burritos, salad


Chicken taco soup (crockpot recipe), sweet buttermilk cornbread

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