Tuesday, November 30, 2010

How To Make Inexpensive Presents....

As you can see, I'm trying out a "theme" week here.  I don't have much knowledge to impart, but this week's posts are designed to share a few things I'm discovering lately. 

I really appreciate your weighing in on the cabin prints and I wanted to share with you the end result.  Think my father-in-law will love them?  I'm a little jealous - I think I may be making some for us!!!

I ordered the prints from Walgreens - $2.99 for an 8x10 print.  The frames, if you remember, were on clearance for $3.  I ordered 8 prints but realized that two of them are a little too dark, so I have them lurking behind the chosen prints (in case my in-laws want a change). 

Yesterday, Staples.com had a sale on their 12-month calendars.  Each calendar was $4.99.  I made six of them - and it took me 6 hours.  It was ridiculous.  I'm not sure if it was my computer or the website.  It took forever for each photo to download - and then when I submitted it the first time there was a "problem with the administrator".  Thankfully, when I finally re-submitted at 9pm, it registered and we can pick them up on Thursday December 9th.  Hopefully our family will enjoy the calendars.  And, I ordered six of them for $29.95.  That's pretty inexpensive!

I'll also be bartering my services (cooking) for gift credit at my friend's store.  I've already found gifts for my niece and nephew and I'll be "buying" gifts for our mothers and sisters.  

What do you do for inexpensive presents?  Are you crafty?  Do you re-gift?  I've given ready-made meals, I've given food items (hot fudge sauce, canned peaches, jellies, and jams), and I've tried to be crafty (candles, decorative table runners, etc.).  I can't wait to hear your ideas and strategies for hand-made and inexpensive gifts!

Monday, November 29, 2010

How to Grow "Seed Money"...

My mother-in-law has gifted each of our families with "seed money" for Christmas this year.  We can either donate the money to an organization or family in need.  The other possibility is to "grow" the seed money into a larger amount [to be donated].  So, I decided to invest our seed money.  I bought ingredients to make cinnamon rolls and sent out a group email selling pans of cinnamon rolls.  As of right now, I have orders for 70 pans of cinnamon rolls.

I'll be using the Pioneer Woman's recipe for cinnamon rolls - and each batch makes nine pans.  My plan is to make two batches at one time, freeze and deliver them.  I figure that if I can spread out the procedure I can escape this experience without completely loathing the sight of a cinnamon roll.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Kate and I just finished 18 pans - 1/4 of the way there!

I'll be donating all proceeds.  Part of the money will go to the York Cancer Center Pantry.  The pantry supplies food, toiletries, household goods, and gas money to patients facing financial crisis.  I also plan to contact one of our schools to see if there is a family in need that would benefit from gift cards or cash. 

I hope to involve our family in planning, preparation, and the purchase of donations.  I have found the response to be overwhelming.  I would encourage you to invest seed money in a special project to benefit others.  Do you have a gift for crafts, baking, or something else?  You could find a way to use a little to make a lot and bless someone in need.

I almost didn't share this idea because I feel quite uncomfortable with attention.  But, I'm hoping that this will inspire someone else.  I have been blessed so much and I simply have some free time and an easy cinnamon roll recipe.  My hope is that this idea is successful, that we can bless some families that could use some extra help - and that God would receive the glory.  He has blessed me with a love of food, some extra time, and the desire to spread His love in tangible ways.  If you do decide to do something similar, please share your ideas!

How to Fill your Living Room...

I hate Christmas trees - don't believe me?  Read this.  Done?

Okay, well this is round #2.  The decision was made to go back to the same Christmas tree farm.  I have very low expectations.   The family that operates the farm has decided that this will be their last year in business.  I'm not sure if we patronized them because it was "Small Business Saturday" - or because it was getting dark.

I was at home making dinner while Rob took the kids to look for the perfect tree.  Apparently the choices were limited to 14 ft or higher.  When Rob made his final choice the man checking him out remarked, "oh, you like the big ones" - I guess he forgot that's all they had :)

So, Rob brought it home and cut it in half.  Seriously. No problem.

The girls arranged the ornaments and untangled the light strands.  They were so excited to decorate the Christmas tree.  Instead of reading a book while everyone decorated, I took pictures this year.  Maybe I'm evolving.

see what I mean about taking up the whole living room? 

we found a stowaway

At least it smells really good in here - and I love the soft lighting of the Christmas tree lights. I'm sitting here looking at the floor right now [underneath the tree], and I don't see too many needles.....here's hoping we don't have to buy another tree in a week!

Sunday, November 28, 2010

How To Decorate for Next to Nothing....

I am admittedly not a very creative person.  Everyone else in my family (and my husband's family, for that matter) has a natural "knack" for decorating.  They just know where to place furniture, accessories, etc.  I require lots of assistance.  I enjoy beautiful surroundings, I just can't create them.

In the Pottery Barn catalog for the fall, there were lots of great ideas for holiday decorations.  Thanksgiving, Christmas, and winter decorations were abundant and most of them were "rustic".  They had lots of vessels (glass bowls, decanters, globes, etc) filled with pine cones, gourds, greens, ornaments, etc.  I tried to recreate some of the looks here at our house and I'd say I was marginally successful.

Remember these clove-studded oranges circa 1982?  Did your mom make these when you were younger, too?  I used to love the look and smell of these and thought, "why not"?  Total investment = $4.68 (bag of oranges - $2.99, jar of cloves - $1.69).  

I also added some cuttings from outside of our house, inkberry branches, red berry branches, and blue spruce.  I layered in some pine cones we collected at the cabin and a few mirrored ornaments.   

I saw this rustic arrangement in the Pottery Barn catalog.  All I did was grab a dogwood branch and hung some ornament from it.  I'll be honest - it looks a little hokey (and not nearly as cute as the PB version), but it's kinda unique - and let's face it - it was almost free!  All I did was buy an 8-pack of mirrored ornaments for $2.99. 

Lastly, I layered some blue spruce cuttings with clove-studded oranges and pinecones in these vessels.  I already owned the apothecary jar and I bought this rectangular vessel for $9.99.

Here is our mantel - like I said, marginally successful.

At least Christmas affords me the opportunity to accessorize a little bit.  We do not live at Pottery Barn, but I think it kinda looks pretty around here!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving

   Happy Thanksgiving to one and all!

Every year we travel about 30 minutes east to my in-laws for a delicious Thanksgiving meal.  We have a tradition in which we all share what we are most thankful for [usually in the past year].  Last year we were fresh "off the heels" of two clogged sinks....so, I stammered out at the table, "I'm thankful for plumbers and sinks that aren't clogged".  Yeah.  I'm real deep like that.

This year I'm planning to say that I'm thankful for the health that the Lord has blessed our family with this year.  I am humbled by the blessings that are continually showered on us every day, every week, month, and year after year.  I am grateful for the safety and health of my children.  I am thankful that our material needs are met, and for the love that lives in this house.  Mostly, though, I'm thankful for God's work in our lives and His very obvious presence in our hearts.

That's about as emotional as I get, folks.  And, now, back to my practical side.

I am almost always the "dessert person" - which is funny, because I don't really like dessert - but, thankfully, everyone else does.

This year, we will be enjoying a chocolate tart, an apple pie, and a pumpkin pie.  (recipes are highlighted, feel free to click away)

Monday, November 15, 2010


1.  I ate three pieces of Halloween candy today.  A sub from Subway, two pickled eggs, 3 pickled beets, cauliflower soup, 2 pretzels, cheddar cheese, red raspberries, a clementine, and a pear - and it's only 3:22.

2.  I had middle school visitation today.  Middle school is exactly the same as when you and I were there.  It's the same play, just different characters.  no joke.

3.  Rob's car is at the mechanics.  He had to drive his entire 30 minute commute with no clutch on Friday.  I'd say the fact that he's still alive means he's pretty talented.

4.  Today Rob realized that the knife I used to cut his apple with [for breakfast] was coated with dish soap.  Sounds yummy, huh?

5.  I'm going to try to make an Asian restaurant-style dinner tonight: coconut lemongrass soup, egg rolls, cucumber salad, and asian relish.

6.  I love Williams-Sonoma and I don't care how expensive it is.

7.  When can I hang my new Christmas wreaths on our huge front window?  Is it really too early?

8.  Josh and his friends have scheduled an air-soft gun war at 5:00.  They're also all in the same club at school - dodge ball club.  Same play, different characters.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Date Night

Rob and I had part of the weekend to ourselves.  We enjoyed a trail run, went out for breakfast, and did some shopping.

We thought about eating out for dinner Friday night, but I decided instead to make a special dinner for two.  I explained previously that we rarely eat at restaurants for dinner, and after our meal, I reiterate my position.  Our entire dinner cost less than $26.00.  Admittedly, I did add some ingredients from my pantry, but I'm not great at guesstimating costs like 2 T of heavy cream.

We snacked on smoked salmon with kashi crackers and a cream cheese-caper spread.  Rob grilled while I cooked and we hung out in our tiny kitchen until dinner was ready. 

                                  These were the stars of the show

I found two filet mignons at Giant for $14.41 - reduced because the expiration date was nearing.  I'm not sure if you can tell from this picture, but these steaks were over an inch thick.  I marinated them in red wine, olive oil, salt, pepper, and grated garlic.  Rob seared them over high heat on our grill for two minutes on each side and then finished "roasting" the steaks on the top rack.  I sauteed mini portabellos in butter and added heavy cream, black pepper, and kosher salt.  To.die.for.

We also had browned fingerling potatoes [with the herbs that were rescued from the back porch and are now living in the doorway of our basement].  Roasted asparagus rounded out our dinner for two.

                                                           And to finish

This is a chocolate tart.  I made this recipe for my mom's birthday, but this time I simply used a graham cracker crust in place of the chocolate wafer crust.  I melted some raspberry preserves on top for a glaze and we enjoyed our tart with fresh raspberries and Perrydell vanilla ice cream.

 Our date night was relaxing, delicious, and fun.  While I enjoy cooking, I realize that others may prefer to eat at a restaurant.   How about you?  Do you do date nights at a restaurant, a movie theater, or in your home?  Do you have a favorite romantic meal?  If you're so inclined, give this menu a try the next time you have a few extra minutes, $26.00, and a free night! 

Friday, November 12, 2010

Favourite Things Friday

Thanks to Mrs P , we all can share our favourite things on Fridays.  It's a nice respite in this world of negativity.  Thanks, Shay!

I thought today I would share with you one of Rob's favourites.  Cookies.  This does not dovetail nicely with the fact that I hate to make cookies and don't even really enjoy eating them.  Rob's aunt, Sally, is the best cookie maker I know.  On our last trip to Iowa, she made Rob three dozen cookies to take on our drive home - and, she delivered them to us at midnight.  She is amazing!  I think Rob ate all of them, too - he doesn't really have a sense of self-control when it comes to cookies.

I don't often bake cookies, but I needed to make a few batches for my friend's boutique and her store anniversary sale.  I made a few extras and saved the ugly ones for Rob.  He, of course, ate all of them (with the exception a few for the kids) - and then felt a little sick last night.  When you see all of the butter in the following recipes, you'll cringe a little for him.

While not technically a cookie, these pecan-caramel bars are to die for.  This is my mom's recipe and it's a winner!  It was a little hard for me to purchase and use a jar of caramel ice cream topping, but the result is really delicious - even if the ingredients scream artificial.

Pecan-Caramel Bars
2 1/3 cup flour (1/3 cup reserved for later use)
2 cups oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
2 sticks butter (1/2 pound), melted

mix above ingredients (reserve 1 cup for later use), press down into 9x13 baking pan and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees

1 12oz bag of semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups chopped pecans
1 small jar caramel sauce (ice cream topping)
1/3 cup reserved flour
1 cup reserved crust mixture

Sprinkle pecans, chocolate chips and reserved crust mixture.  Mix flour with caramel topping and pour over pecans, chocolate chips, and crust mixture.  Bake at 350 degrees for an additional 20 minutes.

This is also my mom's recipe.  The pumpkin bread is moist, and sweet in a pleasantly savory way - you'll know what I mean if you try them.  It is perfect for breakfast - poor Josh had to eat all of the ends this morning, because I kept all of the "good pieces" for the display.  

Pumpkin Bread
2 cups pumpkin puree
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
3 eggs
3/4 cup canola oil
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix ingredients and bake in 2 loaf pans at 350 degrees for 45-50 minutes.

And these - oh, my goodness - they are the perfect combination of salty, crunchy, buttery, sweet and tart.  I found this recipe online and it is so easy.  I absolutely love anything raspberry and the preserves in the middle are phenomenal.  You have to try this recipe.  

Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies Recipe (original link here)

makes approximately 32 cookies


  • 2 sticks butter or margarine
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • raspberry jam

Preparation Instructions:

1. First, leave the margarine or butter out to soften to room temperature.
2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (175 degrees Celsius), and move the rack to the highest position.
3. Cream the vanilla into the butter or margarine. Then add the powdered sugar and cream it in too. Once it is well mixed, add the flour a little at a time and mix in. Stir until the dough has a smooth consistency.
4. Roll the dough into balls one inch in diameter. Place the balls on an ungreased cookie sheet about two inches apart. Press your thumb into the center of each cookie, squishing it a bit and making a little well in the middle. (Do not press all the way through the ball, though!) Spoon a dab of raspberry jam into each well, filling it but taking care not to let them overflow.
5. Bake on the high rack for 12 minutes, or until just barely starting to brown at the edges.
6. Let cool on the pan for a minute, then transfer to a rack to cool to room temperature. Enjoy!
Store in an airtight container.

These are also a new recipe and our review - eh.  They are okay, but nothing special like the other recipes.   Sorry, Martha, better luck next time. 

Iced Oatmeal-Applesauce Cookies

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 cup chunky-style applesauce
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 3/4 cups confectioners' sugar
  • 3 tablespoons pure maple syrup


  1. Make cookies: Preheat oven to 350. Put butter and sugars in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until combined. Add egg and applesauce, mix until well blended, 2 to 3 minutes. Mix in oats, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix in raisins.
  2. Using a 1 1/2-inch ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing 2 inches apart. Bake cookies until golden and just set, 13 to 15 minutes. Let cool on sheets 5 minutes. Transfer cookies to a wire rack set over parchment paper; let cool completely.
  3. Make icing: Whisk confectioners' sugar, syrup, and 3 tablespoons water until smooth. Drizzle over cookies, let set.   

I know some people really go crazy with making Christmas cookies - maybe this will get you started!  I'll also include a couple of other links to cookies from previous posts.

Peanut Butter Cookies

Girl Scout Knock-Offs

Cowboy Cookies

Molasses Cookies and Lemon Squares

Sugar Cakes

Happy Favourite Friday!

    Thursday, November 11, 2010

    Lemony Garlic Chicken

    Today I was baking  for Collage's anniversary party.  I thought that since the oven was already in use and whole chickens were on sale at Giant, I would roast a chicken for dinner.  I had a whole bag of lemons, and a very healthy thyme plant, so I thought I would take advantage of that as well.  I grated some garlic and mixed it with soft butter. I separated the skin from the meat and slathered the meat with garlic butter.  I also stuck some sliced lemons and sprigs of thyme in between the skin and meat and also in the cavity.  I generously sprinkled the skin with salt and pepper and I was finished!

    On my way back from the bus stop, I could smell the scent of garlic and lemon floating out to the street.  We also had sweet potato fries (roasted with olive oil, salt and pepper) and peas.  Kate and I give this chicken a solid thumbs-up. It was tender, very lemony, and extremely moist, even the white meat.

    Lunch with a Friend

    My friend, Megan came over for lunch on Tuesday.  We both recently sent our six year olds to first-grade, so I guess we're "ladies that lunch".  I am determined to create the "wing" flavor in a way that I can enjoy the flavors without the guilt.  Okay, I don't really feel guilty about eating what I like - I mean, I put egg nog in my coffee every morning.  I guess it's not guilt per se, but simply the commitment to make each bite count. 

    My motto is: When in doubt, make it yourself.  I feel pretty passionately that the home cook can re-create dishes at home, and usually much healthier than the restaurant industry or commercial pre-packaged food.  We rarely "eat out" and when we do, it's disappointing.  I always think to myself, "I could have made this, and for much less money".  But, they do the dishes, so sometimes it's a nice treat!

    I breaded and baked the chicken tenders, added all the raw veggies I had in my refrigerator, and whipped up a quick blue cheese dressing from my pantry.  I drizzled hot sauce over the chicken. The result: like Mrs P  [who discovered that vegetables taste nothing like salt and vinegar chips], this salad [while reminiscent of a buffalo wing], tasted nothing like the real thing.  It was okay, but when I had eaten most of it, I was "over it".

    Moral of the story: Next time Megan and I will meet at Tailgaters for lunch and I'll order deep fried buffalo wings with blue cheese dressing!  

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Isn't it Ironic?

    So, remember how I told you Rob and Josh were hunting last weekend?  They were willing to sit in a tree stand for three hours on Friday night and twelve hours on Saturday just to get a deer (it's archery season here in Pennsylvania). 

    Meanwhile, one and a half hours east of Rob and Josh, my parents were enjoying a leisurely Friday evening watching TV.  They happened to see a pair of eyes and large ears peering in at them.  My dad went to the door, and this is what he saw.

    sorry for the quality of the picture, but I thought you'd get the idea

    When my dad opened the door, this deer tried to come in.  Seriously.  We made the obvious assumption that this girl was someone's pet - since she couldn't have tied the handkerchief around her own neck.  My parents live near a good bit of forest-like area, but this has never happened before. 

    The neighbors came over to pose for pictures and pet the deer.

    she's kinda cute, don't you think?

    Don't you think it's a little ironic and Rob and Josh were willing to brave cold and boredom [while sitting in a tree] just to see one of these - when all this poor deer wanted to do was come in and watch TV?  

    Grilled Pork Tenderloin

    We've all heard that pork is "the other white meat".  While a very clever marketing campaign, I will declare right now that I've given up on pork loin.  What I've discovered, instead, is pork tenderloin.  The pork tenderloin is a good bit more expensive ($6.99/lb at Giant, $3.49/lb at BJ's), but I'd rather not have to choke down a piece of meat.  I've found that any kind of marinade will do just fine, although I prefer to avoid the commercial varieties, in favor of simply raiding my pantry.  Our favorite marinade so far has been: rice vinegar, soy sauce, sesame oil, garlic powder, and ginger (fresh or powdered).  I grill the tenderloin briefly and finish roasting until the meat is cooked through  (170 degrees, internal temperature). 

    Last night we enjoyed our favorite marinated pork tenderloin, with brussels sprouts and oven fries.  In case you're wondering, Josh and I are fanatical about brussels sprouts.  I simply parboil them and then sear them on high heat with crispy bacon.

    mmmm, crispy, crunchy oven fries

    We also use pork tenderloin for lettuce wraps.  Our preferred topping?  Asian "relish".

    Asian Relish (for pork tenderloin lettuce wraps)
    chopped papaya
    chopped cucumber
    chopped red pepper
    chopped carrot
    chopped green mango
    grated ginger
    grated garlic
    1 tsp sugar
    1/2 cup rice vinegar
    2 T sesame oil
    1 T toasted sesame seeds
    2 T soy sauce
    1 tsp fish sauce

    1.  Chop veggies to equal size.
    2.  Dissolve sugar into vinegar in a small saucepan.  Allow to cool.
    3.  Mix remaining ingredients and toss with veggies.  Allow flavors to meld for at least 30 minutes, but no more than two hours.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Leftovers and Languishing Veggies

    Can I restate the obvious for the twentieth time?  I love food.  I love the fact that a home cook can combine leftovers, languishing veggies, lots of cheese and a hunk of pizza dough and come up with this.

    My guys went hunting this weekend, so I made a few meals on Friday that they could enjoy this weekend.  I didn't know exactly what would taste good after sitting in a tree for eight hours (I suspect anything hot would do the trick) - so I made them chicken corn soup, stromboli, a beef roast , sweet potatoes and veggies.  A little side note: all the veggies, including the chicken corn soup - made their way home.  I guess vegetables don't sound appealing after braving 40 degree weather.  ***(see author's note at bottom)***

    We had leftover beef that I thought of simply tossing, but I like the challenge of creating from leftovers.  I also had a red pepper that was close to shriveling, one lonely portabello mushroom and a nice large sweet onion.

    So, before leaving for the longest and coldest soccer game [in which we lost miserably] - I made pizza dough.

    shredded beef mixed with sauteed mushrooms, onions, and pepper

    sliced swiss and shredded Seriously Sharp Cabot

    right before assembly

    simply make dough double the size and fold over the filling - aren't they cute?

    prick holes and crimp the edges

    after baking

     Our condiment of choice? Ketchup, of course!  This was the most perfect variation of a Philly cheeseteak I've ever had!  Calzones are extremely versatile, apparently the more traditional versions include ricotta cheese.  Because the pizza dough is homemade, it is a little more tender than commercial varieties - leftovers leave a little to be desired.  Thankfully, my sister-in-law and brother-in-law stopped by and we had extras.  I'll definitely be making calzones again, probably filling them again with leftovers and languishing veggies!

    ***for recipes of: sweet potato casserole, stromboli, three-ingredient beef brisket,  and pizza dough - click on the highlighted words above! ***