Saturday, November 30, 2013

Christmas Magic and the True Meaning of Christmas

The holidays are here!  I married  a man who is OBSESSED with Christmas, and I inevitably, have inherited and obliged to this obsession.  Thankfully, our children also get caught up in this time of year and love getting the decorations down (as I think to myself, "Oh no...not more knickknacks.  That just means more things to dust!")  and playing Christmas music well before November is over.  This year God has laid on my heart to embrace the magic, but also ensure the true meaning of Christmas abounds in everything we do as December is fast approaching.  We enjoy thinking about Santa and making a list of gifts for the kids, but I also want our children to know this season is about giving, much like the life led by our Savior, Jesus.  I got to thinking about how we could accomplish this, and found this link on The Imagination Tree about kindness elves.  Yes, we partake in the Elf on a Shelf tradition and we love it because it contributes to the magic of the season, but love the idea of our elf encouraging kind behavior to report to Santa, instead of being a threat of reporting horrible behavior and our children being intimidated or scared.  We also want Jesus to be the center of our celebration, so this idea emerged.  Our children will find our elf tomorrow with this letter:

Dear Tessa and Dempsey,

 I have missed being with your this past year, but have been helping Santa get ready for Christmas.  As an elf, I enjoy helping Santa and being kind to others, just like Jesus did when he was born.  He spent his life serving others.  So, when I go back to Santa each night at the North Pole, I can't wait to tell him all about the kind things you have been doing for others each day.  I will even bring some ideas with me when I come to your house each day.

Today, I have brought a list of Bible verses for you to read with your family.  They tell the story of Christmas because I don't want you to forget the real reason why we celebrate Christmas-Jesus!

God bless and remember to be kind to others!

Love, Bernard (Ephesians 2:10)

I found the list of verses (at the end of this post) on pinterest to read each day that tell the story of Christmas.  This will be with our elf and letter.

Our elf will bring a different idea and materials if needed for an act of kindness each day.  Some ideas include: 

Let your sibling play with one of your toys.
Make a card for someone at school.
Give ten hugs today.
Take cookies to a neighbor.
Go through your toys and donate the ones you don't play with anymore.
Go through your clothes and give the ones that don't fit to someone else or donate them.
Take hot chocolate to a Salvation Army bell ringer.
Give the cashier at the store a note with your favorite verse on it.
Read your sibling a book.
Leave  a present or cookies for the mail carrier.
Make a card for a soldier overseas and mail it off.
Write a relative who lives out of town a letter.
Take cookies to the fire station.
Take a care package to a homeless person.

If you have any other ideas for acts of kindness that are simple and don't require much money or prep work, please share!  Merry Christmas and God bless each one of you!
Bible Verses to read.  From December 1st to Christmas Eve for the kiddos

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Spiral Bound Cookbooks and on the Menu this week: Chicken Salad Sandiwches, Crockpot Tortellini Lasagna, Pigs in a Blanket, Tex-Mex Roll-ups, Slow Cooker Chicken and Noodles with Vegetables

Some people say that cookbooks are going to be obsolete in the years to come because of the internet.  I hope they don't!  I love my cookbooks and collecting unique, old-fashioned ones.  Ok, maybe not so old-fashioned, but ones that are fun, and quirky in their own way. 

My mom came across two spiral bound cookbooks that belonged to her mother who passed away in the late '60s.  When my mom and dad moved, she gave them to me.  I love these cookbooks because of how simple and down home the ingredients are in the recipes.  Many of which were put together by military wives.  One of the cookbooks is printed copies of the original submitted recipes, so they are all in the person's handwriting.  Hardbound cookbooks are fascinating, but the spiral bound cookbooks that you can come across in those unique bookstores are special in their own way.

During my elementary school years, I attended a school called Gayton Elementary.  My class was the second group of kids who went through the school from kindergarten to fifth grade.  We practically ruled the school in our stir-up pants, scrunchies, and sweatsuits rockin' out to the New Kids on the Block.  However, I digress...One of the coolest things our PTA did was put together a collection of recipes and titled it "The Gayton Gourmet."  So fun, right?  One of my favorite recipes in this cookbook is a layered Mexican Dip.  I made this so much back in high school for my family that I had it memorized.  My sister knew this, so I had a lot of phone calls from her as a freshman in college that started with,"I'm making that mexican dip, and I'm at the grocery store.  What do I need again?"  Serve this at your next get-together or football party!

Mexican Dip adapted from the Gayton Gourmet

1 can Fritos Bean dip
1 can frozen guacomole dip (refrigerated is fine)
1/2 c. sour cream
1/4 c. mayonnaise
1/2 pkg. taco seasoning mix
2 tomatoes
1/2 bunch spring onions
4 oz. sharp Cheddar cheese

Mix sour cream, may, and taco seasoning mix.  Set aside.  Mix chopped onions and chopped tomatoes.  Set aside.  Grate cheese.  In glass baking dish cover bottom with bean dip.  Next spread guacamole on top of bean dip.  Add sour cream mixture on top of guacamole.  Sprinkle onions and tomatoes next.  Finally top with grated cheese.  Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight (f you can wait that long).  Serve with tortilla chips.

I hope you enjoy the menu this week!  Remember to throw in a leftover night and a breakfast for dinner night and you have the whole week planned!

These next two recipes are straight from food network.  The magazine came with this booklet that included 50 Chicken Dinners.  I had gotten one of those value pack of chicken drumsticks and didn't need to use all of them, so I went ahead and cooked up the whole batch, shredded the chicken from the uneaten drumsticks and froze the cooked chicken.  This extra work set me up for minimal effort during the work week.

  Creamy Chicken Salad
2 large chicken breasts
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup mayo
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley
2 chopped celery stalks
2 tbsp chopped celery leaves

Cover 2 large chicken breasts with cold water in a pot; add 1 tbsp kosher salt.  Bring to a gentle simmer; cook until just firm, 15 minutes.  Plunge into salted ice water, 30 seconds, then drain.
Dice cooked chicken.  Mix with mayo, sour cream, parsley, celery stalks, and celery leaves.  Serve on lettuce, buns, or as is with chips and fruit and you have a nice meal!

Shopping List:  Chicken breasts, mayo, sour cream, parsley, celery

Tex-Mex Roll-Ups
2 large chicken breasts
2/3 cup mayo
1/2 cup salsa
1/2 cup sour cream
1 can chopped green chiles
Chopped scallions
Juice of 1 lime

Cover 2 large chicken breasts with cold water in a pot; add 1 tbsp kosher salt. Bring to a gentle simmer; cook until just firm, 15 minutes. Plunge into salted ice water, 30 seconds, then drain.  Shred cooked chicken.  Mix chicken with mayonnaise, salsa, sour cream, green chiles, chopped scallions, and juice of one lime.  Serve in tortillas.
Serve with a side salad, refried beans, or spanish rice.

Shopping List:  chicken breasts, mayo, salsa, sour cream, green chiles, scallions, lime

Crockpot Tortellini Lasagna:  I found this recipe on the mostly homemade mom blog.  Visit her fun site at

1 lb. ground beef
1/2 tbsp dried minced onion
4 cloves garlic, minced
26 oz. jar spaghetti sauce
1 cup ricotta cheese
2 cups fresh spinah
19 oz. package frozen tortellini
1-2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese

Brown ground beef in large skillet and drain.  Add onion, garlic and spaghetti sauce.  Simmer over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in spinach and ricotta. Spoon 1/3 of the meat sauce on the bottom of slow cooker.  (I would use a 4 quart.  My 6-7 quart was too big.)  Top with 1/2 package of tortellini.  Repeat layers, ending with meat sauce on top.  Sprinkle mozzarella.  Cook on low 3-4 hours.

Serve with crunchy rolls and a salad.
Shopping List:  ground beef, dried, minced onion, jar spaghetti sauce, ricotta cheese, fresh spinach, frozen tortellini, mozzarella cheese

Pigs in a Blanket:  Seriously.  Serve these when you want something different than plain, ole hot dog on a bun.  The kids love 'em.  Give in.  Let your inner child out.  You know you want these, too.

1 package hot dogs (I've been sneaking the turkey franks.  Shhhh...No one notices the difference.)
1 can crescent rolls

Unroll crescent rolls.  Place hot dog on widest end of crescent.  Roll hot dog in crescent roll.  Place on ungreased cookie sheet.  Follow directions on crescent roll package.

Serve with coleslaw and mandarin oranges.

Shopping List:  hot dogs, crescent rolls

Slow Cooker Chicken and Noodles with Vegetables:  I got this recipe from my Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook that my sister-in-law got for me one Christmas.  I don't normally do two crockpot meals in one week, but sometimes busy weeks make you do the unthinkable. 

2 cups sliced carrots
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 cup sliced celery
1 bay leaf
4 chicken legs, skinned
2 cans cream of chicken soup
1/2 cup water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 tsp black pepper
8 ounces dried wide noodles
1 cup frozen peas

In a 3-1/2- or 4-quart slow cooker stir together carrots, onions, celery, and bay leaf. Place chicken on top of vegetables. In a large bowl stir together soup, the water, salt, thyme, and black pepper. Pour over chicken in cooker. Cover and cook on low-heat setting for 8 to 9 hours or on high-heat setting for 4 to 4-1/2 hours.
Remove chicken from slow cooker; cool slightly. Discard bay leaf. Cook noodles according to package directions; drain. Meanwhile, stir frozen peas into mixture in cooker. Remove chicken from bones; discard bones. Shred or chop meat; stir into mixture in cooker.
To serve, in a large serving bowl stir together chicken mixture and noodles.
 Shopping List:  carrots, onion, celery, chicken legs, bay leaves (if not in spice cabinet), 2 cans cream of chicken soup, dried thyme, dried wide noodles, frozen peas

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Reading Lately and a menu! Finally! Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas, Crispy Onion Chicken, Tilapia Fish Sticks, Pasta Carobanara

What have you been reading lately???  My husband puts up with a lot from me.  One of my lastest quirks is my constant reading.  The books go with me wherever I go.  I read when I'm putting makeup on, doing my hair, brushing my teeth, while the kids are napping, when I'm riding in the car...I. can't. stop.  I have to have a really good book if I'm reading at this rate. 

A few years ago I was given a book called Summer by Karen Kingsbury.  I knew it was the second book in a series and I hadn't read any of the other books, but I read it anyway and LOVED it.  I always meant to read the other books, but just didn't find the time to get them in my hands.  Then my church just happened to have a library, which had almost every single one of the books by Karen Kingsbury.  It was my heaven on Earth.  If you choose to read her books, begin with the Redemption Series, then move to the Firstborn Series, and then the Sunrise Series.  13 books later you will find yourself totally in love with the characters and feel like if you were to visit Bloomington, Indiana (where the books' settings are) you would run into any one of them.  Every book has a lesson to be learned about your walk in faith with God.  I have learned so much from these books and will forever be changed by them!  Go check them out.

On another note, I haven't posted a menu in a LONG time.  Try some of these recipes this week:  Black bean and corn quesadillas, crispy onion chicken, tilapia fish sticks, pasta carobanara.  Leave some nights for leftovers or to go out as a family! 

Black Bean and Corn Quesadillas:  These were so good!  My husband has caught on and is now more interested in cooking and often asks, "What's in these?"  When he asked me this time, I responded, "I don't want to tell you."  He said, "Oh, there's no meat in them."  Occasionally, we will have a meatless night, just so I don't have to spend part of my grocery bill on meat.  These were so worth it!  I found this recipe during one of my many pinterest perusings.  And while you are chowing down on these check out the blog these came from!

8 burrito sized tortillas
15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 cup frozen corn, do not thaw
1/2 red onion
1/2 cup flat leaf parsley
1 packet taco seasoning
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
sour cream
shredded lettuce

In small food processor, (or just with a knife, who wants to wash a food processor?), chop parsley and red onion.  Dum diced onion and parsley into a large mixing bowl.  Mis in black beans, frozen corn, taco seasoning, and cheese until well combined.
Place 1/2 cup filling on half of a tortilla and fold.  Cook over medium heat on a non-stick griddle.  Flip when cheese has begun to melt and cook an additional 2 minutes.  Repeat for remaining tortillas and filling.  Allow to cool slightly, adn slice each quesadilla in half.  Serve with shredded lettuce, salsa, sour cream, etc.  Serve with a side salad or fruit and you are set!

Shopping list:  tortillas, black beans, frozen corn, red onion, parsley, taco seasoning, shredded cheddar cheese, sour cream, salsa, lettuce

Crispy Onion Chicken:  This recipe is from the same blog, .  I had stocked up on chicken breasts when Kroger had them for 50% off and needed to find a different way to cook them.  I liked how simple and kid friendly this recipe was!  We liked it, but I had forgotten to season the chicken before doing all the steps in the recipe.  Don't ever forget to season with salt and pepper!  It makes a huge difference!

1/2 cup melted butter (I think I did 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon Worcestshire sauce (one of my fave ingredients)
1 teaspoon ground mustard
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
6 oz. pouch french fried onions
4 boneless chicken breast halves, pounded to 1/2 inch thickness, or if you are like me, just cut them in half through the middle of each half.  There.  No pounding needed.

Combine melted butter, Worcestshire sauce, ground mustard, and galic salt in a bowl.  Crush french fried onions in the pouch and place in a separate bowl.  Heat skillet to medium heat on stove.  Dip chicken one at a time in the butter sauce and then in the crushed onions coating both sides.  Cook chicken in skillet until both sides are brown.    Preheat oven to 350.  Put browned chicken on a foild lined baking sheet and bake for about 30 minutes, or until cooked through.  Use a thermometer if you can to check doneness.

Serve with roasted potatoes tossed in oil, salt and pepper, garlic and rosemary, with a side of a steamed veggie, and you have a simple dinner the kids will love!

Shopping list:  butter, Worcestshire sauce, ground mustard, garlic salt, french fried onions, chicken breasts, potatoes, veggie of choice

Tilapia Fish Sticks:  One thing I do every week is peruse my grocery store's weekly ad to see what's on sale and to plan my meals based on the sales.  Tilapia was on sale and I was looking for a fun and different way to serve it up for the fam.  The kids eat fish sticks at preschool and day care and apparently love them, so I figured why not try my hand at them?  These were simple, easy, and yes, delicious.  The kids loved them.  You can find this recipe and many more at

1 pound tilapia filets
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp cajun seasoning
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cup panko breadcrumbs
1/4 cup vegetable oil

Thaw the tilapia filets if not done already.  Mine were still a bit frozen, but that just made it easier to cut into stick like shapes.  Slice the filets so that you get about 4-6 sticks per filet.  prepare the breading station by collecting three bowls.  In the first bowl, combine the flour and cajun seasoning (or salt, pepper, any other seasonings).  In the second bowl whisk two eggs.  In the third bowl place the panko bread crumbs.  (I don't usually have these on hand.  But I do save the heels of my loaves of bread and freeze them.  I put two or three of these heels into the food processor and use those bread crumbs instead.  LOVED them.)  Bread the tilapia sticks by coating in the seasoned flour then dipping in egg and finally coating in panko crumbs.  Place the breaded sticks on a plate until all of the sticks have been breaded.  Heat a large skillet with 2 tbsp of veg. oil over medium/high heat.  When the pan is very hot it is ready for the fish.  You will know it's hot when you put a wooden spoon handle into the oil and the oil bubbles, or it will sizzle when you flick water onto it.  Place half the sticks on the pan and cook on each side until golden brown in color.  Drain the fish sticks on a plate covered with a paper towel.  Wipe out the pan, add the rest of the veg. oil and cook the second half of the fish sticks in the same way. 

You can visit the site to see step by step instructions in photos. 

I served this with homemade macaroni and cheese and sliced cucumbers.  I was going to make a cucumber salad, but ran out of time and energy.

Shopping list:  tilapia, flour, cajun seasoning, eggs, panko breadcrumbs, vegetable oil, boxed macaroni and cheese dinner or macaroni pasta, shredded cheddar cheese, milk, cucumber

Pasta Carbonara:  Another cheap way to cook is by cooking with recipes that have eggs or bacon in them.  If the recipe has both, then you are in for a delicious treat.  I have made something like this before and loved that I found it on a site called  It can be calorie dense, so just don't fill up an entire plate with it!  Eat in moderation!

1 pound pasta
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream (I used milk watered down to cut back on the calories)
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan
3 eggs beaten (I only had 2 on hand and it turned out fine!)
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1-2 teaspoons fresh cracked pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound bacon

Fill one pot with water and place over burn on high heat.  Slice the bacon strips into little pieces and cook in a non stick saute pan until the bacon is golden brown and crispy.  Set aside.  Add pasta to boiling water and cook as box instructs.  Combine cream, parmesan, eggs, parsley, minced garlic, dried oregano, pepper and salt.  When the pasta is finished cooking, drain the water, add the pasta bak to the pot, toss in your bacon and, stir in cream mixture.  Serve the pasta hot.

Have a side salad and you have a great, homey, comfort food meal!

Shopping list:  pasta (rotini, linguini, etc.), heavy whipping cream, grated parmesan (not the kind that comes in the green conainer), eggs, parsley, garlic, dried oregano, pepper, salt, bacon.

A Top Ten List

Sometimes I have to pinch myself just to see if this really is my life.  Did God really give me two gorgeous children who make me laugh and a husband I fall in love with more everyday?  Today was one of those beautiful fall days in Virginia that I love.  So much has happened in our lives that I figured why not make a top ten list of things that have made the past few months awesome and full of change.
1.  The 2012-2013 school year came to an end.  It was a year of adorable school babies and relationships built to last a life time at a school that is home away from home.  Little did I know the tears we shed together as we said goodbye on the last day of school would have an even deeper meaning.
2.  My husband got a new job in the same county where I teach.  Bring on the discounted family health care plan!  I am so proud of him and the way he strives to provide for our family.  We both turned 29 this summer and are looking at our last year in our 20s with excitement.  We think if our 20s were this great, then we can't wait to see what will happen in our 30s!
3.  I got to stay at home with my two babes all summer long.  We had so much fun together.  Yes, my type A personality came out and we did have themed weeks and days.  What's wrong with a Super Hero week?  That was my favorite of all the weeks.  When asked who the most powerful super hero there is, my five year old replies, "God."  Sigh.  Love.  Our theme days during these theme weeks were:  Make something Monday, Time to Read Tuesday, What's Cookin' Wednesday, Thoughtful Thursday, and Fun Friday!  I did some tutoring on Tuesdays and Thursdays while the kids were at preschool or daycare, which was also awesome.
4.  We went on our first beach vacation on our own.  Vacationing with two children, especially a one year old, is not as relaxing as one might think.  We were at Duck Donuts by 7:00 and this was after I had already fit a run in.  Mama and Daddy were quite relieved when nap time rolled around each day, which just meant hanging out at the house watching Good Luck Charlie, waiting for the kids to wake up and head back to the beach.
5.  My days as a classroom teacher came to an end as I was offered the Reading Specialist position at another school in our county.  This decision was heart wrenching, rewarding, scary, and promising all rolled into one.  I stood in my principal's office crying as we discussed my upcoming interview.  Just thinking about the potential for change and possibility of a new job that would bring about leaving the classroom, was daunting and unsettling.  Little did I know how God was working out his ultimate plan for me.
6.  My big sis and brother-in-law moved back to Richmond from San Diego.  And sometime in February we will get to meet our niece or nephew!  It has been so wonderful to just be able to pick up the phone to call them and be in the same time zone! 
7.  My sister-in-law and brother-in-law blessed us with another nephew!  He is a sweetie and Tessa cannot believe she has so many cousins now!  Granted it's only two, but she still gets overwhelmed at the thought, especially since my sister is expecting now.
8.  Speaking of Tessa, she turned five.  Sigh.  We are waiting to send her to kindergarten because of her September birthday.  I am so glad we did because I don't know if I was ready for any more change!  She is getting to be so independent and growing out of her princess stage.  Where last year she only wore leggings and skirts to school, this year she's leaning more towards the tomboy side and rarely wears dresses or skirts.  I am holding onto so many moments before she heads off to school next year:  The way she brings me a flower every day when we get home even if it's a dandelion, how she loves our "secret" book time of reading a chapter book before bed, how she loves her little brother and "mothers" him in everything he does, and how she sometimes just wants to snuggle with me on the couch.  She also started her first season playing soccer, which just warms our hearts and we are thrilled to be soccer parents.  I'm even the team mom! 
9.  Dempsey is getting 6 teeth.  The poor child will be toothless when he starts to lose teeth in elementary school.  It was a long summer of a lot of sleepless nghts due to these teeth.  We thought we were out of the woods after a molar finally poked through, but lo and behold three other molars are now coming in plus the two canines up top.  Some sleepless nights are in our future.  He is our wild child with the sweetest smile and hugs.
10.  My mom and dad are all moved into their condo and have been able to sell their old house and the river property.  It was bittersweet, but we know that simple is better!  My dad is a walking miracle and my mom is a rock.  When I look at them, I think of them as God's Warriors because with all that they have been through, God must really think they are strong people who can handle a lot and be an example to others. 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

I don't want to hear the words "Ear Infection" for a long time...

Dempsey has been a handful and a half.  He has been incredibly fussy which has had us at the doctor twice in the past week, only to find out he's perfectly fine and his ears are clear.  I was surely convinced his ear infection had not gone away, but instead I had two doctors, a husband, daughter, and son looking at me like, "What's up with this overreacting mom?"  Sheesh, it's enough to put a wine glass in both hands and one around your neck. 

Oh and let's throw in the fact that we are attempting to have second graders take their first official test on the computer this upcoming week.  Whoever came up with this ingenious idea should be thanked and then held captive in a second grade classroom with no internet connection and attempt to have all the students log on and try to take an online test.  I am just praying to the good Lord the internet is working perfectly and everyone remembers their log on names and password come Monday morning.  Thank goodness Spring Break is only a week away.

In the midst of all the craziness, coming home to wonderful meals is one of the many highlights other than the hugs from my hubby and two little ones.  Feel free to try some of the recipes and let me know what you think!

Chicken Fajitas adapted from Food Network magazine
These were easy and delicious!  Corn tortillas make all the difference!

1 tsp chili powder
3/4 tsp ground cumin
salt and pepper
1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breasts
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 bell peppers (any color) sliced
1 red onion, sliced
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/2 tsp grated lime zest, plus wedges for serving
8 corn tortillas
1/2 cup prepared pico de gallo or fresh salsa
1/3 cup crumbled cotija cheese (I have no idea what this is, so I did not use it)

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.  Mise the chili powder, 1/2 tsp cumin, and 1/4 tsp each salt and pepper and rub on the chicken breasts.
Heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a large skilet over medium high heat.  Add the chicken and cook, turning, until golden 4 to 5 minutes.  Transfer to a baking sheet, reserving the skillet, and bake until just cooked through 10 minutes.  Transfer to a cutting board to rest, 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, heat the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in the reserved skillet over medium heat.  Add the bell peppers, onion, garlic and the remaining 1/4 tsp cumin and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are lightly browned, 8 minutes.  Stir in the lime zest and 2 tbsp water.  Season with salt.
Wrap the tortillas in aluminum foil and warm in the oven, 5 minutes, then divide among plates.  Slice the chicken.  Top the tortillas with the chicken, bell pepper mixture, salsa, and cheese.  Serve with lime wedges.
372 calories, 13 g fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 779 mg sodium, 33 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 32 g protein

Farfalle With Sausage, Tomatoes, and Cream found on
My husband complains that I don't make a dish more than once.  That's not true, because I KNOW I have made this a few times since it's one of his faves.

2 tbsp olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage, casings removed (use any kind you like)
1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper
1 cup chopped onion
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 28 oz, can crushed tomatoes with added puree
1/2 cup whipping cream

1 pound farfalle (bowtie pasta)
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
Freshly grated Pecorino Romano cheese (Who has this on hand?  Not me.  just use Parmesan)

Heat oil in a heavy large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add sausage and crushed red pepper.  Saute until sausage is no longer pink, breaking up with back of fork, about 5 minutes.  Add onion and garlic; saute until onion is tendeer and sausage is browned, about 3 minutes longer.  Add tomatoes and cream. Reduce heat to low and simmer until sausage mixture thickens, about 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Meanwhile, cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite.  Drain, reserving 1 cup cooking liquid. (This seriously makes a huge difference in any pasta dish you make)  Return pasta to same pot.  Add sausage misture and toss over medium-low heat until sauce coats pasta, adding reserved cooking liquid by 1/4 cupfuls if mixture is dry.  Transfer pasta to serving dish.  Sprinkle with basil.  Serving, passing cheese separately.

Slow Cooker Chicken Adobo Recipe found on
This was yummy!  I served it with rice (Basmati) and green beans.

4 medium yellow onions, halved and thinly sliced
4 medium garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
1 (5-inch) piece fresh ginger, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 bay leaf
3 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
3/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Place the onions, garlic, ginger, and bay leaf in an even layer in the slow cooker.
Remove and discard the skin from the chicken. Arrange the chicken in an even layer on top of the onion mixture.
 Whisk the soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, and pepper together in a medium bowl and pour it over the chicken.
 Cover and cook until the chicken is cooked through and falling off the bone, about 4 to 5 hours on high or low. Remove and discard the ginger pieces and bay leaf. Serve with steamed rice.

Southwest 20 minute Noodle Bowladapted from Better Homes and Gardens cookbook
This was easy and fast.  If you want it to be more filling add some cooked chicken or ground beef.

1 14 oz. can reduced sodium chicken broth or lower sodium beef broth
1/2 cup salsa
2 cups frpzen sweet peppers and onions. 2 3 oz. packages ramen noodles (any flavor, broken)
Corn chips

In a large saucepan combine broth and salsa.  Bring to boiling.  Stir in frozen veggies and noodles (discard seasoning packet).  REtun to boiling; reduce heat.  Simmer, covered, for 3 minutes or until noodles and vegetables are tender.  Divide noodles and broth amond four bowls.

293 calories, 12 g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 532 g sodium, 39 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber, 8 g protein

Monday, March 18, 2013

A Few Money-Saving Tips and some recipes: Pork and Chicken Sausage mini meatloaves, simple perfect enchiladas, baked teriyaki chicken

A lot of things have happened since the last post.  Our little guy turned one!  This meant I got to plan another party with a theme, of course, which was bears, since he will always be my Demspey Bear! He is growing a mile a minute and has the biggest hands and feet!  Literally, his toes have poked out of one of his pairs of footie pajamas.

Also, we have found an awesome church, which also happens to be Tessa's preschool.  They are offering Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University classes for the past 9 weeks.  We have realized that this class is just what Ry and I needed.  With two children in childcare, there was a lot of adjusting that had to be done.  The class revolves around 7 baby steps towards financial peace.  We need to work on the first baby step:  Saving $1,000 for emergency savings.  With this being said, we don't have a lot of wiggle room in our budget, so we are learning to accept the fact that this will be a baby step which will take us a few months, not something that will happen overnight. 

Couponing is always something that I have done, but I"m really having to think about the meals I am planning and what's making it to the table and also doing double duty for me on another night.  One goal I have for this year is to make my leftovers work for me.  I know, I know, leftovers, yuck.  But seriously, one meal lasting for another night AND you don't have to cook?!  Sign me up!  One suggestion is to freeze those leftovers.  Today I sat down and planned this week's meals, but can also plan half of next week's meals because of the three dinner leftovers frozen in the freezer.  Oh, the little things that make me do a little dance around the kitchen...  Another thing I have started doing more often is buying ground beef in bulk.  I'll buy the three pound package and turn one pound into homemade meatballs and freeze them, another pound into hamburger patties and freeze them, and then brown one pound to use in tacos or some recipe that calls for ground beef. This gives me three meals! 

This week I have a few recipes for you to try:  Pork and Chicken Sausage mini meat loaves, simple perfect enchiladas, and baked teriyaki chicken. 

Pork and Chicken Sausage Mini Meatloaves (found on the Johnsonville site)  When I made these, Ry said, "This doesn't look like meatloaf."  He went back for seconds!

1 package Johsonville Pork and Chicken Italian Sausage (casings removed)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/8 red pepper, diced
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic
2 eggs
3/4 cup bread crumbs
1 cup Parmesan cheese, grated
1 tablespoon Worcestshire sauce
1 tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar (one of my fave ingredients)
2 tablespoons basil
1 tablespoon parsley
1/2 teaspoon pepper
2 cups marinara sauce
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Heat oil in pan and saute peppers, onions, and garlic.  Set aside to cool.  Combine all remaining ingredients.  Add pepper and onion mixture.  Place in greased muffin tins.  Top with marinara sauce.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until meatloaf is cooked through (160 degrees).  Sprinkle with cheese and serve.

Simple Perfect Enchiladas This is a Ree Drummond recipe.  She has her own blog and now has her own show called The Pioneer Woman on Food Network.  We love watching her show because of her country, simplistic ways.

1 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp flour
1 28 oz. can enchilada or Mexican red sauce
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

1 tablespoon canola oil
1 pound ground beef
1 medium onion, chopped
Two 4-ounce cans diced green chiles
1/2 teaspoon salt
10 to 14 corn tortillas
Canola oil, for frying
1/2 cup chopped black olives
1 cup chopped green onions
3 cups grated sharp Cheddar
Chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish (optional)
Beans and/or rice, for serving
For the sauce: In a saucepan over medium-low heat, combine the canola oil and flour. Whisk together and allow to bubble for 1 minute. Pour in the red sauce, chicken broth, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer while you prepare the other ingredients.

For the meat: In a large skillet over medium-high heat, add the oil. Brown the ground beef with the onions. Drain the fat, and then add the green chiles. Add the salt and stir to combine. Turn off the heat and set aside.

In a small skillet over medium heat, lightly fry the tortillas in canola oil just until soft. Do not crisp. Drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all the tortillas have been fried.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Spread 1/2 cup of the sauce in the bottom of a 9 by 13-inch baking dish. Dip each tortilla into the sauce. Set the sauce-soaked tortillas on a cookie sheet. Onto each tortilla, place some of the meat mixture, black olives and green onions. Top with a generous portion of grated Cheddar. Roll up the tortilla to contain the filling inside.

Place the tortilla seam-side down in the baking dish. Repeat with the rest of the tortillas. Stir the cilantro into the sauce and ladle a little sauce over the top. End with a generous sprinkling of cheese. Bake the enchiladas until bubbly, about 20 minutes. Sprinkle extra chopped cilantro over the top. Serve with beans and/or rice.

Baked Teriyaki Chicken  (found on allrecipes) Chicken thighs and drumsticks are always affordable.  Look for the 99 cent sale or cheaper and stock up!

1 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbsp cold water
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup cider vinegar
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp black pepper
12 chicken thighs (I didn't use this much, the sauce will go with whatever amount you want to use)

In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the cornstarch, cold water, sugar, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic, ginger and ground black pepper. Let simmer, stirring frequently, until sauce thickens and bubbles.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).  Place chicken pieces in a lightly greased 9x13 inch baking dish. Brush chicken with the sauce. Turn pieces over, and brush again.  Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Turn pieces over, and bake for another 30 minutes, until no longer pink and juices run clear. Brush with sauce every 10 minutes during cooking.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New Year, New Menu: Slow Cooker Chicken with Rosemary, Red Potatoes, and Green Beans, Mustard Chicken, Fried Brown Rice and Eggs, Taco Chili

No lie, I got 5 cookbooks for Christmas.  Hey, you can't go wrong giving someone who LOVES to cook a cookbook as a gift.  I was so excited!  Those cookbooks and my new vaccuum were favorite gifts this year.  The vaccuum was VERY needed, so I was extremely stoked about it.

This week, I am trying out some recipes from Melissa d'Arabian's cookbook 10 Dollar Dinners and The $5 Dollar Dinner Mom's One Dish Cookbook.  On the menu for the week are:  Slow Cooker Rosemary Chicken with Red Potatoes and Green Beans, Mustard Chicken, Fried Brown Rice and Eggs,  and Taco Chili.

Slow Cooker Rosemary Chicken with Red Potatoes and Green Beans adapted from The $5 Dinner Mom's One Dish Cookbook
3 rosemary sprigs
2 pounds bone-in chicken thighs
6 small red potatoes, quartered
1 small yellow onion
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
salt and pepper
1 pound green beans, stems removed

Using a sharp knife, crush the leaves of the rosemary sprig.  Place the rosemary sprigs around the edges of the bottom of a 5 quart or larger slow cooker.  Arrange the chicken thighs in the bottom of the slow cooker.  Spread the potatoes over the top of the chicken.  Drizzle the olive oil over the top of the chicken and potatoes, and then season with the garlic powder with salt and pepper.

Set the slow cooker on low and cook for 8 hours.  When there is 1 hour remaining in the cooking cycle, place the green benas on top of the chicken and potatoes to steam them.  Complete the cooking cycle.

Mustard Chicken adapted from Ten Dollar Dinners
**Just a heads up-this recipe requires a time commitment.  Either prepare ahead of time, like on the night you do the slow cooked meal or on a weekend, or just know you need ot have time set aside to get it done.

1 1/2 pounds chicken thighs (about 8), rinsed and patted dry
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
2 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1/4 pound button mushrooms, quartered
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 tomato, cored, halved, and chopped
1 tbsp all purpose flour
1 tsp dried tarragon (if you don't have this, substitute dash fennel seed)
1/2 cup dry white wine and a cup for you
1 cup chicken broth, plus more if needed
1/4 cup Dijon mustard
2 tbsp sour cream (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Remove skin from chicken.  Season meat with salt and pepper.  Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a heavy-bottomed pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat.  Add the thighs, smooth side down, and cook until browned, about 4 minutes.  Turn over the thighs and brown the other side, about 3 minutes more. Transfer chicken to a plate and set aside.  Add the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil along with the onion and cook until soft, stirring for about 5 minutes.  Stir in the mushrooms and continue to cook until soft 3-5 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 mins. and then add the tomato and flour and cook, stirring, until the tomato begins to break down about 3 minutes.  Stir in tarragon.  Rais the heat and pou in the wine, letting it simmer for 1 min. before returning the chicken to the pot.  Pour in enough broth to read halfway up the sidesof the chicken, then cover the pot and place it in the ovento braise, until the chicken pulls away from the bone easily, about 45 minutes, removing the lid halfway through the cooking.  Remove the pot from the oven, use tongs to transfer the chicken to a plate, and set aside.  Add the mustard and sour cream to the sauce and stir to combine.  Then return the chicke to the pot and back into the oven to cook for about 5 minutes to bring the flavors together before serving.

Fried Brown Rice and Eggs with Garlic-Soy Vinaigrette adapted from Ten Dollar Dinners
2 tbsp soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon sesame oil
2 1/2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 onion, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise with the grain
3 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 tbsp grated fresh ginger
2 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
2 tsp chili powder
4 large eggs
2 scallions white and green parts finely chopped

Whisk the soy sauce, vinegar, and sesame oil together in a small bowl and set aside.

Heat 2 tbsp of the vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until soft and golden, about 5 minutes.  Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook until crisp and fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Mix in the rice and chili powder and cook until the rice is warmed through and starting to brown, about 5 minutes.  Turn off the heat and set aside.

Heat the remaining 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil in a medium nonstick skillet over medium heat.  Fry the eggs to your liking, either sunny side up or over easy.  Divide the rice among 4 bowls, top each with an egg, some scallions, and some of the soy vinaigrette, and serve.

Taco Chili with Mix adapted from Paula Deen
This mix was what I gave my co-workers as Christmas gifts this year.  Cooking with beans, not canned ones, is one cost cutting way to reduce your grocery bill.

Taco Chili Mix:
1 cup dried kidney beans
1/2 cup dried pinto beans
1 (1 1/4 oz.) taco seasoning mix
1 (1 oz. ) pkg. buttermilk ranch dressing mix
3 tbsp dried minced onion
1 tsp chili powder
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1 1/2 cups corn or tortilla chips

Taco Chili:
4 cups water
1 can diced tomatoes and green chilies
1 can (16 oz.)tomato sauce
1 lb. ground beef cooked and drained

For the mix: In a 1-quart wide mouth jar, layer kidney and pinto beans.
In a small bowl, combine taco seasoning mix, dried salad dressing mix, onion, chili powder, and cumin. Wrap seasonings in plastic wrap or cellophane and place in jar.
Put chips in a bag and place in jar. Decorate with ribbon or fabric.
For the chili: Place beans in a large bowl, cover with water and soak 6 to 8 hours, or overnight. Drain and add to a Dutch oven. Add seasoning packet, water, diced tomatoes and green chilies, tomato sauce, and ground beef.
Heat to boiling, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 2 hours, or until beans are tender. Serve with corn or tortilla chips.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year! Here's to 2013 and kicking cancer to the curb and outta this family.

2012 was a year of mixed emotions. Happy occasions included our little man, Dempsey, joining the family in February and completing graduate school in May. We have a happy family of four and there are new adventures each and every day. I've watched little Tessa become an amazing big sister and enjoy the presence of her little brother who seems to be growing faster than Usain Bolt in a foot race. 2012 was also full of disappointment, sadness, and confusion with my dad's cancer returning. Who knew tonsil cancer could return??? We are approaching the one year mark of this discovery and continue to wonder what is next? Dad has his PET scan on Friday and with that we are anxious to see if the cancer is gone. Then we have to figure out if the doctors will be able to fix his jaw and improve his ability to speak. As we have traveled on this journey, I have learned a few things about this disease called cancer.
1. Cancer SUCKS. Yeah, there is no other way to describe it because cancer doesn't deserve any kind of light language affiliated with it.

2. Cancer doesn't leave anyone out. I look at my father who is in amazing shape. He's otherwise healthy and an upbeat person, but still, cancer found it's way into his body. Not once, not twice, but now three times.

3. You find who truly cares. Our family has been blessed with so many of our past friends and neighbors who have reached out during this time. It stinks that it took this horrible disease to bring us all together, but wow, we have been truly overwhelmed. When mom and dad were in Baltimore for dad's surgery and when they had to live up there during the week for him to receive radiation and chemo, we had no problem getting someone to watch their dogs. We got constant offers of, 'How can we help?" and most often we heard from so many people who had been impacted by dad's positive and selfless attitude.

4. My mom is amazing. My mom is truly the rock. I know she has her weak moments-we all do, but every night she puts together a milkshake for daddy to eat in the morning to help start his day off on a high calorie count. She is constantly cooking up food that she thinks he may be able to handle. She loves him no matter what-in sickness and in health is what I think of when I look at the two of them together.

5. People give unwanted advice and say awkward things. I remember when I was pregnant so many people wanted to come and tell me their horror stories of labor and delivery or give me suggestions on how big my belly was and ask, "Are you sure there aren't two babies in there?" Really? I mean come on, telling me I would be the perfect spokesperson for teenage pregnancy just because I LOOK young and pregnant is NOT what I want to hear. The same goes for someone with cancer. They don't need forwarded e-mails with the top 10 ways to prevent cancer. Hello! They already have cancer, so trying to prevent it is not going to help.

6. Instead of this advice and awkwardness, just listen. The person with cancer is still the same person. Don't treat them like they are below you or contagious. Don't constantly bring up serious topics and feel like a discussion is needed everytime you meet. Stop the unwanted advice and suggestions and take the time to listen. Listen to the person with cancer, listen to their family members who are impacted by this horrible disease, and stop giving advice on cancer. These people are already in touch with the experts and you are not one of them. Become an expert listener.

7. Don't blame God. I have found solace and comfort from our heavenly Father in this whole ordeal. Prayer is like the hot cocoa on a cold day for me. If you are not sure what to do for someone with cancer, then just pray. Seriously, it goes a lot farther than you think.

8. My family is awesome. I already knew this, but these two years have once again proven the fact that this family is awesome. My husband understands how sometimes I need a few moments just to shed a few tears or talk or just go visit with my mom and dad. Our family has always been tight, but we are even tighter now.

9. Young children can figure out what cancer is. It stinks that my 4 year old knows what cancer is, but I am also proud of her for how empathetic she is because of all this. She has been known to go up to her Granddaddy and ask him how he's feeling and I think she subconsciously knows she and her brother are the best medicine for him.

Yes, this is not a list of my resolutions, but the lessons I have learned in the past two years about cancer. If you make any resolutions, think about how you might be able to fit in more family time or just to get in touch with someone who you've lost touch with. God bless each one of you as you go through 2013! Mom and dad got married on the 13th of September, so they're hoping this is their lucky year!