Thursday, December 23, 2010

A cookie sure to impress, The Best, Big, Fat Chocolate Chip Cookie!

Still looking for that one goodie that is sure to impress someone? Some people are soo hard to please! I should know, my in-laws were always terrible for that. While I could have a whole neighborhood in love with some candy, bread or cookie I made, they would always turn up their nose. Let me tell you, I never cared to impress them per say but, just once I wanted to see that look on their face....break through their facade. Though I'm not bitter or anything. 

Ok, maybe a little but, so that you do not have to have that sting that will haunt you for years to come I've decided to share my favorite cookie recipe. I found it on the internet years ago at one of those generic recipe sites, that might offer up one good recipe but, not until you've dug through 400 of them! This one though was so amazing, that it kept me going back now and again just to see. 

I only pull it out when I've run out of ideas or am really trying to impress. This year, I just ran out of time to find something new and different so, the neighbors and relatives are going to get this goodie! :) 

Best Big, Fat Chocolate Chip Cookie

2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, melted  (comes to about 1 1/2 sticks)

  • 1 cup packed brown sugar

  • 1/2 cup white sugar

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 1 egg

  • 1 egg yolk

  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips


  • Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F (165 degrees C). Grease cookie sheets or line with parchment paper.
  • Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
  • In a medium bowl, cream together the melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar until well blended. Beat in the vanilla, egg, and egg yolk until light and creamy. Mix in the sifted ingredients until just blended. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand using a wooden spoon. Drop cookie dough 1/4 cup at a time onto the prepared cookie sheets. Cookies should be about 3 inches apart.
  • Bake for 15 to 17 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the edges are lightly toasted. Cool on baking sheets for a few minutes before transferring to wire racks to cool completely.

Here's my tips:
When you melt the butter, make sure that you do it gently and not super heat it. It needs to be as close to room temp as you can get it. 

Also, if you're using generic vanilla, that has the vanillan in it, add a smidge more. I do this to all my cookies and they taste so much better. It's not as good as a good quality but, when you buy the generic, they give you that huge container. So, adding 1/8 - 1/2 tsp more, is not that big of a deal. 

It always comes out to about 1 1/2 dozen in a batch. So, if you want to make more, double the recipe. 

When they're done and cool completely, you will have a HUGE cookie. The kind you see in those cookies stores that you pay upwards of $5 for and you did it yourself. Everyone is going to want you to make them or harass you for the recipe! In the picture above you can see it on the spatula how big they are. That spatula is 5 1/2 in. x 3 1/2!

Go ahead give it a go, and of course, just to make sure that they turn out good, you have to try one......maybe two just be sure....ok three just to make sure that they're consistent, right?! :) 

Happy Holidays!!! 

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

How my family has an allergy safe holiday!

I know, I've been absent a while now but, homemade gifts for an extended family, which includes friends, of almost 30 people and then a few special neighbors, can take some time. Oh and did I mention the presents that need wrapping, the baking that has invaded the kitchen?!

Well, this time of the year there is family coming in from all over. I make treats for every cousin, daughter, nephew, great aunt, etc. Which can prove difficult if you've got relatives with allergies or intolerances in the family. How do you bake without an egg? Or milk? You become a label expert, you learn substitutions and if you're smart, you start looking for your "go to gals" who have tried and adapted almost any recipe you can think of. From breakfast to deserts, you can alter any recipe and these ladies I'm about to tell you about have. Thank god because I'd be there for ages if I had to do it myself! :)

I discovered the first lady when my second child was born, also intolerant of milk and soy protein. I wanted real food and this time knew exactly what I was looking for. MSPI Momma has saved my sanity more times than I can count! I recently found her blog again and was still just as pleased as ever to find some great recipes to try out! She has wonderful things like this Chocolate Candy Cane Cake,

Lasagna or Applesauce Icebox Cake. If you have an intolerant child or children, like I do in my case, you need to peruse through her posts, she has some great recipes.

The second lady I've come to respect is The Food Allergy Momma. She has some great recipes like Warm Dairy, Egg and Nut Free pancakes which I've used since I first found it and my son loves it! We add chocolate chips to it, or his favorite, applejuice and cinnamon to make apple cinnamon pancakes. I actually mix the dry ingredients together and then store them in an air tight jar on the counter. So, it's ready to go and we just add the oil, water, apple juice and cinnamon. Another couple great recipes from her are Dairy, Egg and Nut Free Sugar Cookies or Dairy, egg and nut free chocolate crinkle cookies.
I haven't made the crinkle cookies yet but, they look delicious and you know I've got to!

These are just two of the fabulous ladies out there that do recipes like this. With a little bit of digging, you can make this a safe holiday for everyone. Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Never be afraid of change and little organization!

Sorry for the long absence this last week. So much goes on in my house this time of year! A huge extended family means a lot of prep and putting things together. Also the one thing I do about 3 weeks before the big day is have a bake until I drop kind of thing.

Why, would I put myself through this grueling, intensive thing, especially with two young children? Simply put, I love food! I love to cook.....well, I love to taste too! :) Also, the most important thing for me is to never bake the same thing two years in a row, unless it's requested. So, you need a little time beforehand to test out the recipe and see if it will be a hit or not. Often times you may have to change an ingredient due to food allergies or intolerances, a big thing in my family. Or the recipe simply doesn't work for you, it isn't turning out well or you feel that something else would taste better in it's place.

I've always been afraid to touch recipes though and in the beginning, rightfully so. I wasn't sure how this or that was suppose to look, or feel or smell! Yes, I am one of those bakers and cookers! I do almost everything by taste, texture or scent! It has never failed me yet either. I do tend to stick to recipes more often than not but, sometimes in the case of this last baking batch, I HAD to mess with it!

 I had added a cup of flour to this and it was VERY dry and I still was to add another cup and then some of flour and then the toffee and chocolate chips. I knew I was in trouble. So, I added another egg. Which of course then made it very wet. So, I slowly added the one cup of flour to see what would happen. It thankfully, was still too wet. So, I added some more flour heaping spoonful at a time. Keeping in mind that like much of anything in baking, the more you mix, the tougher and/or drier the food will become. At one point I had to reach in with my hands because it looked better but I knew it was still a bit too wet. I also added probably what amounted to about a 1/2 tsp more of vanilla and a few more spoonfuls of flour and it looked, felt and smelled about right. So, into the oven it went!  It turned out rather well once I got done messing with it! Though ultimately I've no idea how much total flour I ended up using in the recipe!

My taste testers loved it too. It was their favorite thing I made. Well except for the mint chocolate chip cookies which I make every year and everyone loves....and is no secret recipe, or family guarded secret....I'll tell you if you keep it amongst and Andes mint baking chips and turn it over. Recipe is right there!! Ha ha ha See, it wasn't a big thing! I think what makes it more appetizing though, is that I make them bite sized. Which is adorable and as everyone knows you eat with your eyes first. :)

Now, speaking of the holidays. If you're like me or even if you're not and you're thinking of doing the homemade gifts or baking your gifts this year, it becomes very important to keep track of who is getting what or what you're baking to give out. So, here is a baking planner from Organized Christmas. It is soo much easier to write down what you're making, what you still need and who you're making it for then to do the mad rush at the last minute! Here is the master gift list as well. It comes in handy so that you can write down what you're doing for each person, rather than try and do it from memory and then make a mistake or forget something. I speak from experience!

I bought a whole bunch of stuff ahead of time one year and instead of writing a list to keep track, I did it from memory. That next summer when cleaning out my hiding place, I discovered about four presents I'd bought and forgotten to give to my own son! You can imagine, I felt terrible! So, from then on, I became organized and if you're half as busy as I am or have half the size of the extended family that I do, you need a little organization! :)

Good luck and I hope that you all have a fabulous weekend! Stay warm!!

Monday, December 6, 2010

How great are my boys?!

 I hope your weekend went well! Mine was hectic and busy!  Having 2 special needs boys keeps me busy during the week. There are physical, occupational, or speech therapy appointments or one or another specialist appointment. It can get a bit hectic, then add in the day to day things and there are days I just want a spa day! So, I kind of tend to try and take it easy on the weekends. Really bonding with my boys, so no cleaning, no huge meals and no doctors or therapy appointments! Anyway, you get the point as to why on weekends, other than really playing with my boys, I go on strike! The weekend is all about them and maybe me getting in some relaxation or something as close to it as I can! Or daydreaming of someone named Fabrizio, who speaks no English, bringing me a nice cold beverage, while I bask in the sun, oceanside! *sigh* One can dream, right?! :)

So, this weekend, the boys wanted to make ornaments. Since in my home, holidays are pretty much all about them, I have to let go of my inner control freak, which is VERY hard and let them have a little fun with the holiday. I remember being little and seeing every shop, house, tree decorated and how much excitement it instilled in me. I still love this time of year, however hectic it may be. The thoughts of family, good food, friends and the boys running to open presents first thing in the morning. It's just a warm and fuzzy holiday!

Anyway, no amazing finds today, no printables or links even. Just a good old fashioned love fest for my boys and I wanted to show you what they've been up to!

Well, we've had our tree up for weeks now really but, I did it in a hurry, without putting all the ornaments on the tree, (Incidentally, they still are not all on the tree!) and with only one string of lights working and untangled. The boys did not care though, they just wanted it up. So, we put it up. Well, this weekend the OCD took over and I could not take the look of the tree. So, I took everything off while they were doing their ornaments and redid it.

We have a tradition in our house, at least until the boys are older, that they get to decorate the bottom of the tree and I do the top. So, all of the breakable ones go up top and the plastic, paper or whatever else they've made, can go on the bottom. It may not be all Homes and Gardens or even Martha Stewart looking but, it's ours!

Anyway, I always tell people to keep everything for art supplies. Be it pop bottle lids, scraps of paper, pieces of colorful tags, or even saving leftover streamers from a party to be cut up, tore up or crinkled for an art project later. I have a whole wipes box full of scraps for the boys. Yes I said wipes box! They are small enough to fit someplace and be out of sight but, big enough to hold all kinds of small things. I've even decorated them or had the boys do it! Well, I hauled out the box this weekend and it was a mixed bag of fun for the boys. Gave me a lot of time to add another string of lights to the tree, another classic, simple, silver garland and the ornaments given to the boys every year by the grandparents.

At one point, DW, my oldest, got tired of using glue, complaining that it took too long to dry! He also was doing his best and had reached his limit with the glue too. He has SPD (sensory processing disorder), so glue is an issue for him. So, I dutifully handed over some tape for him. These are some of his creations:

How cute was this?! He just wrapped pipe cleaners around a popsicle stick and then used them to hang the whole thing on the tree! 
I have no idea what this one is, he just seemed to love it. :) 
 I thought this was ingenious too! I don't know if you can see it but, next to his snowflake there, he's strung a wire, like you'd get at a craft store with beads and simply bent it around a branch. 
 This was his "guy". When I asked him what this guy did, he true to his sense of humor (or lack of), said to me, mom I just made a guy, he does not do anything but, hang on a tree. He's not real you know! Which of course I feigned a bit of ignorance and thanked him for the clarification, trying not to chuckle.

Along with our festive holiday fun of ornament making and tree that a word? (It's my blog, I suppose I can make up my own words!) I found that we didn't want the holiday fun to end, so for a snack my son, asked for pancakes. To which I was against and told him so but, then he looked at me and said, wouldn't it be great if they had Christmas pancakes somewhere? Which of course got my mind wandering to all  the amazing green and red things you could do with or put on or in a pancake. Then onto shapes, that was my "aha" moment. I grabbed my mini cookie cutters and my son's pancakes, something I always make ahead of time and freeze, and let him have a blast!
He picked out his favorite shapes. He was very methodical about it too! :) How fun is that for little ones to do?! They feel like they've got a stake in their own meals and it makes it not only more enjoyable because it's festive but, because they've done it themselves! 
In our house, the boys always help make their own meals, including my 2 year old! 

 After all that they both helped decorate the buffet for the upcoming holiday festivities.  Which is where we will put all the goodies as people hang out and catch up. DW aka pancake man, in particular, did a great job. It was his creation and I have to say, it didn't turn out too bad either. Just need to hang the stockings on the wall above the buffet and it's all done! When I asked him about the penguin beanie baby and Marvin Martian, he told me that he was going to leave them there for his brother. He said that if brother had something to play with from that area, then he'd leave all the pretties alone! Smart cookie, that boy!
 I had to show you a close up of this because this is my thrifty, creative little man. That white/silver garland is actually two pieces and I was ready to toss them. Not big enough to do a whole lot with really, so I thought I'd give them to the boys' craft box. Instead this is what he does with them!! How adorable is he?!
I know there will be some people who read this and ask why I would let a 6 year old decorate and I say why the heck not?! If you can remember being a child, the wonder and magic Christmas or any holiday for that matter held for you.....remember how it felt to just want to do things, be allowed a little freedom. Maybe my perspective is a bit skewed, having almost lost both of my boys at birth, the oldest one six years ago around Christmas even but, still. Look how much fun he had and how great an imagination he has! I'm so proud of my boys!

*The smaller candles- I bought them on clearance for .50  a couple years back and held onto them. Took the out last year and the holiday ribbon I also found on clearance a couple years back and cut up a piece long enough to cover the whole way around and hot glued it to the back. It's actually two ribbons, a smaller one over a bigger one. I did several different designs though.
The other one, it's simply holiday napkins! I just cut around the picture I wanted from the napkin and decoupaged them on. Then did another coat of decoupage all the way around and then rolled in translucent glitter.
Two cute, VERY cheap holiday presents for someone!

Tip Junkie used to have a really cute printable available to go with a candle as a gift but, I am unable to find it right this second. So, I'll put the poem here and if I can find the link to it, will edit to add it. Here's the story of candles:

The candle shows man’s thanks
for the star of long ago. 
It’s small light is the mirror of starlight.
At first, candles were placed on the tree. 
They were like many glowing stars shining against the dark tree. The colored lights
have now taken over their remembrance.

Many people place candles on their windowsills at Christmas time. 
This practice which originated in the Middle Ages,
was intended to guide the Christ Child to Christian homes.

You can copy and print in any font you'd like and put that on some scrapbook paper for a particular holiday or print onto cardstock or first you can play with it in graphics program if you want.

 Of course I have to show you their finished tree. Like I said before, it's not Home and Gardens, it's not Martha Stewart but, in a home with two special needs kiddos, one of them being a newly turned 2 year old, it's not half bad! :)

Hope your weekend was just as great as mine!

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The sweet potato, the secret to a healthier hash.

Growing up raised in an Irish family, you know that there were certain staples that you HAD to love. If you didn't, you heard about it! Maybe not from my mother but, the extended family....aunts, uncles, especially grandma....Oh I can still see the look on her face!

Well of course as a third generation American, our Irish roots still held strong and the love for potatoes runs deep in my veins! I LOOOOVE them. I used to dream about them, I had to have some kind of white potato with every meal, there is a rule somewhere that says that, I'm sure of it! :)

Well, I've always been on the heavier side and now with having had 2 children and being in my um...*cough* 30s. I'm very aware of what I am putting in my body and kicking myself for being so terrible to it when I was younger. Oh the wisdom that comes with age!

Anyway, back a year ago when I was hitting gym heavily, training and taking my diet and health a bit more seriously than I have been lately. I had a trainer who did his best to drill into me what I should and should not be eating. Well, even though I've put some weight back on, not gone to the gym in almost a year now, his constant lecturing did stick with me and I learned. I learned a bit about what foods were good and why they were.

So, as you can imagine, finding out that white potatoes on their own were pretty much not so good, it was a bit of a blow to my ok, tummy mostly! So, in came the sweet potato. When most of us think sweet potato, we think Thanksgiving and candied yams or some such comfort food. All of it laced with brown sugar and cinnamon, even regular sugar on occasion. Have you ever tried a sweet potato plain though?

Before you turn your nose up to it, let me tell you, it is delicious! You can even pop one in the microwave and bake them as you would a regular potato. The ends get a bit dry and you need to cut them off, while you're skinning the potato but, overall, it is a delicious treat! It's a warm, moist feeling in your mouth, just like a regular potato and a bit of a sweet taste for that added something extra. No butter or salt needed!

Why are sweet potatoes a secret weapon? They are incredibly good for you, rich in complex carbs (the good kind), Vitamin A, Vitamin B6 and C. Even has a great dose of fiber, something we all need. :) It's one of the best vegetables you can eat and no additives are needed to lessen it's nutritional value. That means no sugar of any kind nor butter is needed! ; )

So, now that I've sung the praises of the sweet potato, it's time to break you into a radical thought. I know how bizarre it will sound but, TRUST me when I say that it is delicious. A healthier hash is the best with another round of big holiday dinners and/or parties you may have on your agenda.

It is also cheaper as a whole to make than anything you can get from a can because you make a huge amount of it and feed a larger family or save the leftovers for another meal. I'll tell you how I've used some of the leftovers at the end of this!

Healthy Hash
*Keep in mind there are no measurements, as I make what I feel like and we all have different sized families.

Brown rice
Sweet potatoes - baked and skin peeled
1 lb of ground turkey (the leaner the better)
green pepper - cubed or diced
garlic cloves (you can use the pre-diced ones in a jar if you wish)
salt and pepper to taste
*again I prefer my own mix of garlic salt, so I get less salt and more flavor

This recipe is so so easy to do. Especially if you do like I do, when I get a few sweet potatoes, I always throw at least half into the microwave and then let them cool and put them in the fridge. So, when I need them for times like tonight's dinner, they are ready and waiting.

Anyway, throw into a pan your your ground turkey, garlic and peppers. While that is browning, you can do as I do to make my life easier, put on some instant brown rice on another burner. When in a hurry, I use the instant in the bag kind. So, much faster and easier, at least for me.

While all that is going on, simply cut up your already baked sweet potatoes. Make them any size you want, medium, chunky bits or nicely cut up, small bites. When ground turkey is nicely browned and cooked all the way through, throw in your cut up sweet potatoes.

 and cooked brown rice.

You'll notice I didn't say drain the turkey. You can but, if you've cooked with ground turkey before, you know that there is very little grease in a pan. The less fat, the less mess! :)

When you're all done and mixed properly, look at the beautiful meal you've created! Look at those colors! A little brown, a little green, a little orange....getting hungry again!

So, what you see in this pan will not only feed a massive amount of people but, will fill their bellies! Rice and veggies are very filling. You will not hear an hour later, that someone is hungry. Hmmm, maybe that's just the boys in my house though! 

Ok, ready for the price tag? Keep in mind I made a HUGE amount but, here it is: 

4 sweet potatoes (bought when they were on sale) $4
2 packages of brown rice comes to about $1 - $1.50
green peppers, FREE had frozen ones from this summer in my freezer
garlic, a few cloves is really only change
ground turkey, I buy in bulk so it averaged out to about $1.50
Total cost: $6.50 - $7

Now, if you've gotten the idea of how I prefer to cook for cheap, you will see that this is a bit more expensive than I normally cook and I am about to tell you why!

What happens with a brown rice and veggie mix is that you will find yourself and your family filled up, with quite a bit less than you'd normally eat. Which invites leftovers!!! 

Leftovers as they are, never go over big in my house. In fact, I used to just throw them out! Terrible isn't it?!
With the leftovers of this I can do two things. One, I can add eggs or egg whites if I continue on my healthy theme and some steamed veggies to the mix and I again end up with a massive amount of breakfast the next day or so, that again will fill bellies quite fast and leave you with more leftovers for another breakfast, another day. 
Second thing I do with my dinner leftover, which incidentally you can also do with any breakfast leftovers you have, is make a wrap or burrito with it! Simply put your mix in the middle of a burrito, and roll them up. Then place into the freezer to be used another day, or the refrigerator if you're going to use them straightaway. 

Yes, my family is big on the burrito/wrap thing. Only because we are always on the go and having something handy to grab as you go or while at work, pays off big time! You won't find yourself in a drive through with cranky hungry boys, or eating something cheap from Taco Bell that has over 1000 calories, more than half of a 2000 calorie diet, in one sitting! 

So, if you think I'm crazy for adding a sweet potato to hash, just take my word for it, try just once, you'll never go back! 

Hope you all are having a great weekend and enjoying your meals! 

P.S. Another sweet potato favorite of mine is the sweet potato french fry!! You definitely need to try this just once! Fewer calories and a healthier alternative to get the whole family hooked on.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Happy Chanukah (Hannukah)!

Well, my day has blown by and not got a lot accomplished today. Mmmm could be all the blogs I might've been going through this morning, when the boys were quiet....GUILTY!

Anyway, since I promised a Hannukah post and Hannukah does not last long, I must deliver. I confess to not being fully educated in the celebration and knowing just enough to get by without making a huge embarrassment of myself to those that do. I am lucky enough to know one or two friends that celebrate the holiday and have attended a handful of their party celebrations. So, by a bit of osmosis I've absorbed a few things and have seen some amazing decorating, ideas, food, things for the children to do. I have harassed them to no end to find out where they got their ideas from. Some have parted with their ideas and where they came from willingly, others have simply given me that mockingly, sweet smile!

This post is going to be link heavy with links to other blogs, printables for children and other sites entirely. Just things that I was pointed towards or found on my own by accident. I hope that they help you out, inspire you in some way or just make you start looking for own way to celebrate. Oh and by all means if you have your own idea, feel free to post it below as, I'm all for learning and passing on new ideas!

Link set number 1 is all about the kids! TONS of printables for the children to color, crafts, etc. Most of these come from Family Education. A free site that sends you amazing, fun and quick ideas that you can do as a family or for the children.
Make and play the dreidel game
 Hannukah Book
Hannukah coloring page
Menorah cut and color
Festival of Lights
The Story of Hannukah
What Hannukah means to you
Dreidel games
A Dreidel to color and cut out

The next link is from a site that is made for young children and filled with loads of coloring pages, clip art, arts and crafts and games even! The link will take you directly to the coloring pages but, from there you can easily find your way to anywhere you want to look!
Torah Tots Coloring page

If you're looking for more arts and crafts for the kids that are Hannukah related, head over here. There are several kid friendly crafts at Another craft I LOVED for Hannukah, was this Chanukah candle magnets. How adorable is that? And so ingenious a way to use those magnets!

If it's Hannukah decorating that you're looking for, check out Creative Jewish Mom. She has several adorable and amazing decorations and food on her site. She will even point you toward another blog if she's found a goody! Speaking of great ideas of decorations, I would be remiss if I didn't include, there you will find very nifty ideas for every holiday but, for Hannukah, click here. The list there is just gorgeous and amazing ideas like the Dreidel garland or the Hannukah pouches down below. 

Even Martha Stewart has something to offer with her Dreidel place card.

Another great source of ideas and inspiration can be found at Taste of Home. They have an entire Hannukah section for everything Hannukah, from simple tips for some Hannukah food and their recipes, to old fashioned Hannukah recipes, even a how to for the meal for the  Festival of Lights. They even have things like The Story of Hannukah and How to play dreidel

Another really great site I found was They had all this great information on different aspects of Chanukah. It really is a wonderful site dedicated to education of the holiday and still has fun things for the family to do. Even has a place to plug in your zip code to find celebrations near you! 

Whew, I think that is most of the stuff I have on Hannukah. It's a lot of links and should definitely give you some ideas and places to look! Have fun, be safe and Happy Hannukah! 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Some cheap, brilliant and quick ideas or printables to help you out this Christmas season!

I have soo many great ideas and things from some of the other fabulous bloggers out there, I've decided to share some of them in one blog. It is not all of them but, it should get you started! :) Lest you think I've forgotten Hanukkah, I will post that one tomorrow!

Everything here is so cheap and easy to do! There are things to help you plan, my favorite advent calendar, cheap ideas for gifts for neighbors and even family. You have to check not only the links I provide but, these ladies blogs as well. They are a treasure trove of ideas and inspiration!

First up is How Does She?. I put these ladies first because there a quite a few from them I want to share with you. Looking for some great, cheap and witty gifts for friends and neighbors, even some family members? I've shared this before but, it's worth sharing again! Look Here. There are 30 ideas to get you started! 
Looking for free gift tags and/or money envelope? 

Check out their free printables to email subscribers. There are so many more things I could share from them, they really are great group of talented ladies but, since this was actually a stocking stuffer for my son, their timing couldn't have been perfect! Think homemade playdough!! That's what I've done for my oldest son and these ladies not only give you a recipe if you don't know how but, they also provide yet another free printable to along with packaging it!  
How great is that?! 

Before I share this second site and link. I have to say that this time of the year is stressful beyond belief for me as it is for you I'm sure. So, being organized is the key to keeping my sanity! So, here comes Life Your Way to the rescue! This is a great blog for not only getting organized but for finding some new ideas. The Free holiday Treats Ebook and Free Christmas Planner are great things to help you out. The treats ebook even gives you some great cookie recipes for a cookie swap party! Even directing you to the blog from where the idea or recipe came from. So, if you're a blog addict like me, it's like a two'fer! 

Still needing a little more organization? Then check out Tip Junkie. She has the cutest printable Christmas planner. Still needing some gift inspiration? Click here for a host of wonderful ideas and inspiration. Last but, certainly not least, my favorite thing from her. 

It is The 12 Days of Christmas gifts and poem that I am doing for the grandparents this year. Just check it out, you will love it! 

Looking for something fun to do with the kids? Filth Wizardry has a great, simple and cheap way to make an advent calendar your children will love making. 

Still looking for more? How about a Letter to Santa? The Parkers provided a free printable one for you and there are some great ideas there if you poke around too!

Looking for more homemade gifts, check out Iinfarrantly Creative . She has a wonderful series on different homemade gifts. Below is the newest creation. 

Still looking for homemade gift inspiration? Head on over to The Scrap Shoppe. Over there, they're having a homemade Christmas. Where things like beautiful homemade Christmas candles or this cute picture frame for grandparents are just waiting for you to try out. 

Looking for something simpler? Try subway art, it seems to be all the rage these days. A simple picture from one of the hundreds of blogs out there, a printer and a picture frame and you've got yourself a very simple and cheap gift that people will love! Click here for 4 different ones or check out I love it all. She has several different Christmas subway art signs. Even Eighteen25 has some different ones. Like this one for grandma or this simple one pictured below. 

If this isn't enough to get your creative juices flowing, I don't what will!! Most of this stuff is cheap and easy to do. For the things that aren't all of this should be enough to get your imagination working enough for you to come up with your own version! 

Good luck, have fun and I hoped that this has helped to give you some great ideas! 

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I Have a Secret to Share!

One, sorry for the long absence. With the holidays, everyone coming up with this never ending cold and my oldest son's birthday....He's 6 now!! I just can't believe how fast the time has gone!

Anyway, onto my secret. Thanksgiving was a hit, well my treats were a hit! People are still begging me for the recipe and I have yet to give it to them. Instead, opting to give it to strangers over the internet! Somehow this will save my reputation as a cooking genius, at least in my mind!

Before I share the one thing that has everyone begging at my feet for more. I must share with you a little about Hungry Girl. I was perusing the book shelves at the local superstore waiting on my mother to finish up her shopping so I could take her back to her apartment. When I ran across this book, 200 Under 200. I was still in the gym then and this seemed right up my alley. Though once home, I hurriedly stuffed it in my bookcase and promptly forgot about it. Though I became an instant fan of Hungry Girl!

While going through my books and then acquiring more cookbooks, another thing I am horribly addicted to, I found the book. I began flipping through the pages and I have to tell you was salivating at some of the recipes! So, for this holiday meal, I decided to try some recipes out. A silly thing to do RIGHT before a holiday but, I was inspired. None of the ingredients were expensive really and for the most part, things I already had on hand. Which is a huge plus in my book, with two boys and one income, any way that I can save money is good!!

So, I whipped up these little ditties for part of my desert treats. 3 of the 5 things here are from her recipes!

The ones I've gotten permission to share though, are the ones right in front here!

Those are the Pina Colada Cupcakes that every single person at our family Thanksgiving is begging me for! I cannot tell you how much people where loving them! My little sis even came up to me in the kitchen and said, that though the whole meal was good and she was not saying that anything there was the least bit bad. She was very clear that the whole meal was good but, said that those cupcakes made the whole meal! She said they were worth the hour drive to mom's just for the cupcakes! 

So, I am going to secretly share with you as I kid you not, they will be one of THE best things you will ever have made! Keep in mind though that this recipe is only for 1 doz cupcakes, so if you want to make more (and you WILL want to make more) you need to double the measurements. 

For Cupcakes:
2 cps of moist-style yellow cake mix (1/2 of an 18.25 oz box)
1 1/2 - 8 oz. cans of crushed pineapple in juice (not drained)
1/2 tsp coconut extract

For Frosting: 
4 oz. of canned, crushed pineapple in juice (drained)
1 Jello-O Sugar Free Vanilla Pudding Snack
1 1/2 tbs of fat-free cream cheese, room temp
1/8 tsp coconut extract
1 no calorie sweetener packet

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. 

In medium mixing bowl. You combing all the frosting ingredients, mixing until blended and then refrigerate until you're ready to use it. 

In a large bowl, combine cake mix and undrained pineapple. Add coconut extract and mix until blended. 

Line your muffin pan with either baking cups or spray with non stick spray. I used a baking one, that uses flour and a non stick spray. Then evenly distribute the mix amongst the cups. 

Bake for 20 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Allow them to cool completely. Then use your refrigerated frosting mix to frost. 

Refrigerate until you're ready to serve them! 

The are fantastically yummy and I swear you will "awww" your friends and family with this very simple recipe. I will have to break down and tell them where it came from but, I plan on drawing it out a bit more! ; )

If you try it, let me know how you like it!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Eating cheap, yet restaurant quality, while prepping for the holidays!

Today I was watching the Food network (another addiction of mine!) and was watching this fabulous lady making some recipe and how it only cost $10 to feed 4 people. TEN DOLLARS for ONLY 4 people! I about had a heart attack! In a house full of boys, one fast approaching his teenage years (next year), they would break me easily after a week, heck a few days! I have HUNGRY boys, my youngest is no different either. In fact, he probably eats more than the other two combined some days! It got me thinking about my date night with my son too and the "gourmet" macaroni I paid an arm and leg for, which got me thinking.

So, here is how I fed my guys two meals today and it probably averaged out to a little below $10 for two meals and over 4 servings per meal. I think that was great!

My breakfast came about from a mistake yesterday, actually! I had intended to make a roast but, in my haste at the grocery store I forgot not only the seasonings but the roast! It was a really bad week for forgetting things! Well, I didn't even notice as I had a butcher paper wrapped mass in the refrigerator. So, I went about my business peeling and cutting up my carrots, potatoes and an entire onion into chunks to put into the crockpot.  By the time I added the garlic, I suddenly realized I had no seasoning. No biggie, I can make my own, then I realize the the butcher paper wrapped mass in the fridge is several packages of bacon that my mother had passed on last time I saw her, not a roast!

I looked at my gorgeous pot full of chopped veggies and garlic and was not going to waste it. I salt and peppered it, covered it and let it slow cook for most of the day. At the end of the night, I drained the veggies dumped them into a bowl and added a bit of Italian seasoning and gave it a gentle toss. Making sure that all the seasoning had been thoroughly mixed and I let it sit a bit to cool off before shoving it back into the refrigerator. My husband was the one who covered it though last night and of course snuck several bites of it and was hooked.

This morning, I came out and fried up some of that bacon from my mother. Once cooked, sat it aside to drain and made several more batches (bacon is a BIG deal in my house!! Then drained some of the grease from the pan but, not all of it. I forgot throw in the green & red peppers and mushrooms as my sons beckoned me to another room several times but, I would definitely recommend adding them. Then I threw in the veggie mix from the crockpot the day before, salted and peppered it. Then broke up the bacon into chunks (chunks I think make the guys think that they are getting way more than they really are) and added them to the mix once it was thoroughly heated through. Not a great pic but, look how good it looks! Hash from a crockpot!

The great thing is from here I did two things. One, I was able to LOAD some plates. Which was great as they only had one plate, veggies and protein always make bellies fill full, so I had leftovers. Two, I took the leftovers and filled some soft shell taco wraps with a heaping spoonful or two (depends upon the size of wraps you have around the house), then I topped with some cheese and rolled them up and froze some of them for later use and stored the rest in the fridge to be used for breakfast tomorrow or lunch! How great is that?! I still had some leftover and stored that bit in a sandwich bag for another day (When I could add an couple eggs to it and it becomes almost an entirely new dish, yet again!) Several uses for one meal! As I said before though, I think a little green/red peppers and mushrooms would've been great! 

I never ever, thought of using a crockpot for helping out with breakfast before but, you can bet I'll be doing it again! 

For dinner, I was still feeling wiped out and I confess a TV dinner was looking good for everyone! The mother in me though, knew that the last week of me being sick had not made for good meals and this week was going to go by much the same way with the Thanksgiving prep. So, I got my very tired, achy bum off the couch and headed to the kitchen. A box of Velveeta shells and cheese was peaking at me from one cupboard and the sick me once again, was saying YES! Which turns out was a GREAT idea. 

I threw them in some boiling water then the mommy guilt took over and I knew I couldn't just set that in front of everyone. So, I hauled out my two favorite things, garlic salt and Italian seasoning. I seasoned the boiling water and noodles very well. 

I cooked that bacon my mom brought as it's not going to keep forever. Sat it aside to drain. In the bacon grease I threw a whole bunch of mushrooms and some actual chopped garlic. While they were cooking up, I pressed paper towels to the top of the bacon and then ripped them into chunks. 

Then when the noodles were done and drained, I added that yummy mess above to the macaroni and LOOK what you get: 

Trust me when I say that the picture does not do it justice! They actually fought over it tonight!! It was too funny and I must say, even I was surprised by how good it was! 

The leftovers are going to be my little cheesy pot pies in the next day or so. Simply cut out some puff pastry into circles big enough to fill a muffin tin circle. Make like a mini pie crust, fill them with the leftover macaroni mix (I always add a little extra cheese here), then top with another circle and press the ends of the crust and top together, as you would a pie crust. Put in some slits to vent and shove into the oven. Cooking time really depends upon how many you have but, usually no more than 350 degrees for more than 20 or 30 minutes, just long enough for it to heat all the way through and for the crust to cook up nice and flaky. 

So, here is the rough tally for both meals shown here: 
1 lb of bacon     $1.60
1 box of macaroni  $2.50
1/2 pckg of mushrooms  $1.25
potatoes (about 6) averages out to something like $.50
carrots about the same as the potatoes but, we'll say $. 75
onion about $1.00 
garlic cloves...mere change really. 

Total cost for 2 meals in one day: $6.60!!! For two meals serving at least 4 and none of it fast food, TV dinners, or completely from a box. You really can't beat that. The great thing is that you can add fresh veggies to either meal, and it would still be under $10 for two meals! 

So, as this week passes by with rocket speed, take a minute to think through what you have at the house, you don't have to feed everyone from a drive through to make a quick meal, nor do you have to do a TV dinner or anything straight out of a box really. You can be more cost effective if you simply just add to what you've already got! 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Trying to make a stress FREE holiday!

This is crunch time....all the recipe scouring, the multiple trips to the store for the "right" potato, the right spice, now is when you have to put it all to use.

I have always had Thanksgiving at my house, every, single year, (Except this year). My house is just a bit bigger than that of my little sister and mom's place so, it makes sense. So, it's usually me that plans, preps and bakes til the sweat is dripping from my brow! This year though, my mother is in her new place at the retirement community and my little sister does not have her kids because they will be with their father. So, less people made it easier to have a holiday at my mother's place instead. Which frees things up a bit for me (kind of feel guilty about that to!)

The free time has given me time to almost fully decorate the inside of my house too. It's also given me time to answer a few emails from friends and I realized in doing this, that we're all guilty of trying to do the holidays the hard way! Even though I had learned tips along the way, I never put them to good use. It's taken several years for me to get these tips for some reason, maybe with age comes wisdom? It certainly is not beauty, let me to you. This morning's bags under the eyes can attest to that! Seriously though, I think I am a bit slow to do them because I am such a control freak. Everything has to be "just so" or it's just not worth it in my head.

So, in order to avoid that chaotic, mad rush we all feel right about now, as one holiday is at your doorstep and another one fast approaches. I'm going to pass on tips that you might've heard before in the hopes that maybe they will get into your head a lot easier and SOONER than they did mine!

1) The biggest thing that took me ages to give into was having a familial potluck holiday dinner. Have every relative coming to the big day, bring their own dish. If you have a favorite few things that you like to do, say the bird, the pies, and your famous mashed potatoes, then keep those for yourself and pass on a list of foods that you usually have and have each set of people bring a dish. Just keep a list if you have a big family so that you know who's bringing what. This way you don't end up with 4 green bean casseroles and no dressing! 

*side note: If you are "blessed" with that one relative that can burn toast and nothing ever tastes good, then that is the one you designate to bring the wine, the champagne, the sparkling cider, eggnog or whatever you have for your holiday meals. In my house, it's usually Squirt, as it's one of the only times a year I let my son have any kind of pop or soda. 

2) My favorite tip, employ your freezer!! I always over looked this step, thinking that "fresh" is best but, the truth is, if you do it properly, you can bake things ahead of time and freeze them until you need them, like cookies and muffins/cupcakes. If you're unsure as to what is the best way to freeze a cupcake, click here and for the answer as to how long they will keep in the freezer or refrigerator, click here. For cookie freezing (oooh and brownie) freezing tips, head over to Confessions of a Cookbook Queen where she tells you how it's done and done right! (Thank goodness, she shares that brownie recipe there!)

3) Cleaning and decluttering. Here is where I pass on a great tip from the home organizing genius Flylady. Baby steps!! If you actually start decluttering, cleaning and decorating weeks in advance, it is not as overwhelming. She has the fabulous idea of a "weekly house blessing", that lasts only an hour, where you devote ONLY 10 minutes to each of these tasks: vacuum, dust, mop, polish mirrors and doors, change bed sheets, empty all the trash and purge your magazines/mail. You set your timer and go to town for ONLY 1 hour, 10 minutes each task. I know this sounds a bit silly to some at first and like you would certainly not get anywhere but, even after a couple of weeks of following her steps, like ONLY decluttering 15 minutes a day, the 27 fling boogie, you will be amazed at how fast your house can transform. Leaving way for the decorating fun!

4) Decorating, take a deep breath. It's not that overwhelming and you don't have to do it all up either! Those gorgeous magazines and all those beautiful pics from the other ladies that have amazing blogs are just that, AMAZING! I however, do not have a house that large, that nice (my house is 96 years old!), nor do I have the financial resources that some of those ladies do, though I wish I did!! Oh, and did I mention the two tornadoes that reside here too? Yeah, they are boys so that imparts some sense of impending doom to any seriously NICE decoration!

So, here are my little tricks for decorating with toddlers, boys in general and for being able to do it without costing a pretty penny. 

A) This is the hardest step, for me, so I will list it first. Enlist your child(ren)'s help! If you're a perfectionist about the tree, or decorations in general, this will be a hard step but, well worth it. I ask my boys to decorate the bottom of the tree every year now and I do the top....ok I will admit that sometimes I may move an ornament or two after they've gone to bed but, seriously there was a hole! 

If they are tall enough, ask them to put on the window clings, some household decorations, etc. Ask their input as to where you should hang some garland or cardboard cutouts of santa's head. Even if they want to make their own tree decorations, let them and let them hang them on the tree. The holidays are all about family and for most of us with children, it's mainly about them. So, hang up the OCD hat for one or two seasons and let the kids take the reigns. It will quickly become a family tradition and seeing the joy and light in their eyes every year will be something you won't forget. (Even if there are 12 window clings on the bottom pane of their bedroom window and none in the dining room...just breathe! lol)

B) Shop for your holiday decorations AFTER the holidays. I know this is a no brainer for some of you but, seriously if you want to be able to afford a lot of decorations for not much money, shop after the holidays for things like your window clings, lights, tablecloths, napkins, etc. Some of this you will have to get as soon as you can and others, like lights, you might be able to wait a couple of weeks til the price goes down and then snatch up as many as you can. Christmas lights in various shades can come in handy for other holidays too. So, that's always a good deal. You'll also have extra for next year when you can't seem to find that one light that has the whole string burnt out!

C) Keep it simple, especially if you have young ones. You don't necessarily need anything elaborate or expensive to make your home all festive. I reuse the same things every year until they are worn down, then I recycle them and use them for other things, like crafts for the kids. Then I go out and try and find some new stuff at a good deal. 

D) Look around you, your environment, outside your house even. For thanksgiving, I simply walk outside and collect pine cones for center pieces,  leaves as they are just falling, etc. With the leaves, if you press them and then use them to decorate later. Either in a vase with a candle or by making this "leaf curtain" as my son calls it. It is hard to describe but, here is my inspiration:
      How gorgeous is that?! It's from Jeff Rudell, a paper artist genius!! Click here for the full article. It is simply gorgeous and soo cheap too! Instead of the stickers there though, I use leaves, or leaves glued to some construction paper or scrapbook paper. I've changed it up a few times now. Though for Christmas decorating, I love doing this!

Anyway, even at Halloween, think ahead and snatch up some of those cheap wee pumpkins at the local farmer's market or store (though they are ridiculously priced at a store!). Throw the pumpkins in a vase or nice bowl with the pine cones for a fall decorative theme! The point is, always keep an open eye to your own environment. There are loads of things outside and indoors that can make for free or cheap and lovely decorations, if you've got an eye for it. 

Below, I will share some of my Christmas decorations in my home, they are not anything fancy compared to some of the other ladies blog's I've seen but, the best things of all about doing a lot of decorating indoors is that a) I did it mostly for my boys, there is nothing like seeing their face as it all goes up and b) EVERYTHING you see in the pics (And I'm not posting all of them) I did for UNDER $25!!! All by picking up things after the season was over and on clearance!

Top of my microwave....that garland was falling apart, so DW and I decided that it would look great as "snow" up there. :) The Christmas tree was given to me by someone and I simply attached a giant, handmade bow to the top of it to hide my son's crabby patty treat jar in the back! lol The red, velvet premade bows, I bought something like 10 cardboard packages of them for 25 cents a piece! The vase with the ornaments, I already had. I simply attached a ribbon and bow to it. 

My boys love this part of the kitchen. I simply hang the ornaments on the valance itself. It's a heavy duty one though. So, poking the ornaments through carefully was a bit of work. Same goes for the ornament bundle at the top but, it's well worth the effort. 

I hesitate to show this because the oven and overhead fan are the last apppliances that need updating in the kitchen and it does not look so great but, I wanted to show you I was serious when I said I decorated for the kids! lol I picked up two packages of those cardboard cutouts for something like $1.50 a piece!

Again, I'm sure that this has been done till we're all purple but, the reason why I HAD to show you this: IT'S PLASTIC!!! Both the red and "Crystal" bowl! How great is that, with two little guys in the house?! I got them for free when purchasing my Christmas dishes from a wonderful lady online. The tablecloth, I picked up this year at Walmart, on clearance for $3! (A little tip, always pic up the biggest one. You can cut it to size and the leftover, depending upon the size of your table, can be an extra tablecloth or you can cut the remaining tablecloth into whatever shape you want, sew it together and make double-sided placemats. These are just some of the ideas you can do with the extra bit.)

And my littlest one's favorite part: 

This is just my kitchen though. Still night quite finished with the rest of the house the way I would like to have done just yet but, needless to say. It is all pretty similar to this...FESTIVE! :) It's all garland, bows, hanging ornaments and a few trinkets. When I get it all done, I might post a few pictures. 

There are tons of thins that you can do for free or cheap to decorate the house for any holiday. Just keep your mind open, your eyes open for the good deals and let the kids take over. They have some of the most crafty ideas sometimes. 

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a fantastic holiday!