Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Happy Birthday Clayton!

Happy 7th Birthday to our Clay Baby!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Reuse Spice Jars

Cinnamon Sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup sugar

Save empty spice jars and reuse them for homemade spice mixes.  I needed cinnamon sugar mix this morning for muffins.  I didn't use all the mix, so I saved the remaining cinnamon sugar in an empty sea salt shaker. 

Add a label or gift tag to your homemade spice mix to present them as gift for someone special!

Mary Ellen 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Faux Mashed Potatoes aka Mashed Cauliflower

I'm always looking for new ways to present fresh vegetables to our children.  The boys love vegetables!  They're the types that will put anything in their mouth and decide after the fact whether they like it!  But Ashleigh, is a bit pickier.  She makes her judgement beforehand based on sight and smell.

The kids have had cauliflower before in stir-fry, vegetable soups and crudite.  So, I thought I would try something different - mashed cauliflower.  Maybe they would even think it was mashed potatoes, which they all love.  Maybe :)  I started by cutting the florets from a head of cauliflower and boiling them in water until they were tender. 

Once the florets were tender, I drained the water and dumped them into my Vitamix blender.  I used the wet blade attachment - the same one used for smoothies. 

I added my seasonings directly into the blender.  Just a little bit of sea salt, black pepper and a dollop of sour cream.

Then I blended the cooked florets until they reached the consistency and appearance of mashed potatoes.

The finished product!

I served the "faux mashed potatoes" with Salisbury Steak & Mushroom Gravy.  So, would it fool the kids - especially Ashleigh?  Not quite!  Even though the mashed cauliflower looked like mashed potatoes, it still tasted like cauliflower!  But that's okay, it was very tasty.  Even though our kids don't always like certain vegetables, I feel its important to keep presenting them anyway.  As the kids get older, their tastes will change and mature.  And as the primary meal preparer, I want to make sure they have every opportunity to explore new tastes!

Mary Ellen

(Note:  This post contains an affiliate link.  Read my disclosure policy here.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Homemade Pizza Crust & BBQ Chicken Pizza

Our family enjoys pizza nights!  And while we do order out on occasion, we also like to make our own.  To start, I mix up a simple pizza dough in my KitchenAid mixer.  This recipe was actually included in the instructional booklet with the mixer.  I've made it numerous time with great results!

Crusty Pizza Dough Recipe
Recipe from KitchenAid

1 package of dry active yeast
1 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons olive oil
2 1/2 - 3 1/2 cups of all purpose flour

Dissolve the yeast in warm water.  Add olive oil, 2 1/2 cups of flour and salt to the water and yeast mixture.  Using dough hook attachment, mix for 1 minute on speed 2.  Continuing on speed 2, add flour 1/2 cup at a time. {I typically use just a total of 3 cups of flour}.  Mix until dough clings to the hook and separates from the sides of the bowl.  Knead for 2 minutes on speed 2.  Place the dough ball in a greased bowl, turning to grease the top {I just use the mixing bowl itself}.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until the dough has doubled (about1 hour).

I have the worst luck getting dough to rise anywhere in our house!  So, I preheat my oven to the lowest temp while I'm mixing up the dough.  When the dough is ready, I turn the oven off and let the dough rise inside the warmed oven.  

After the dough has risen, punch the dough down and roll out on a floured surface.  I also add a bit of corn meal to my surface as well.

For this pizza night, I decided to make one of my favorites, BBQ chicken pizza.  With the cold, rainy weather, grilling chicken breasts was out of the question.  So, I picked up these grilled chicken breast strips from Trader Joe's.

To make this pizza, I spread a layer of barbecue sauce first {I used a local brand - Otta the Park}.  Then added the chicken (diced), red onions, crumbled nitrate-free bacon and topped with shredded mozzarella cheese.  Bake for 15-20 minutes at 450 degrees.

Out of the oven - hot and ready to serve!

Mary Ellen

KitchenAid 5-qt. Stand Mixers with $30 Rebate Offer at Cooking.com!

(Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  Read my disclosure policy here.)

Monday, January 23, 2012

Valentine's Day Ideas for Kids - Heart Shaped Crayon Melts

Heart Shaped Crayon Melts

Valentine's Day is still a couple of weeks away.  But, I'm getting prepared early!  With Reed attending preschool two days a week, we have three classes to make Valentines for this year.  Since Reed loves to draw, I thought crayon melts would be a fun (and frugal!) gift for him to share with his friends at preschool.

To start, gather up all your crayon bits.  If your house is like mine, you will probably find plenty of them in the crayon basket and cushions of your sofa.

Remove the paper from the crayons and place the broken pieces in a baking mold or muffin tin.  You'll want about an inch high layer of crayons.

Bake the crayons at 250 degrees for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the wax is melted.  Remove from oven and allow the melted crayons to cool.  Once cooled, remove from mold.  I've made crayon melts before using a regular muffin tin.  Let me say, it was sooooo much easier removing them using a silicone mold!  I picked up my heart mold from Target for $2.50 in the Dollar Spot.

And there you have it, colorful heart shaped crayons!  I just have to make a few more batches and package them up all nice and pretty.  I'll probably include a small notebook with each crayon melt.   

Mary Ellen

Target.com Generic Banner

(Note:  This post contains an affiliate link.  Read my disclosure policy here.)

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Breaking In My Le Creuset Dutch Oven

My Le Creuset Dutch oven has been getting quite a workout in the kitchen.  I seriously love this pot!  Now, I understand why Le Creuset is such a popular brand.  And it's not just because of the pretty colors!  This pot browns meat and deglazes beautifully, allowing all the flavor to remain in the dish.  And no matter how grungy the pot may look after its been cooking, it cleans up like a breeze.   

On tonight's menu:
and Flat Apple Pie (Pioneer Woman) for dessert

That should take the chill out of a cold day!

Mary Ellen 

(Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  Read my disclosure policy here.)

Friday, January 20, 2012

And The Winner Is...

The winner of The Money Saving Mom's Budget is...

Congrats Sarah!  I'll be contacting you for your shipping address.

Thanks to all who entered my giveaway!  I truly wish I had a copy to give to everyone.  But, I have more giveaways planned for the future.  So, be on the look out for more fun stuff!
Mary Ellen

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Giveaway Reminder! The Money Saving Mom's Budget - Ends Today!

Don't forget to enter my giveaway of Crystal Paine's new book, The Money Saving Mom's Budget.  One winner will be announced tomorrow.  So hurry!  Click here to enter. 

Mary Ellen

(Note:  This post contains affiliate links.  Read my disclosure policy here).

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

What I Wore to Work - Ruby Rox Damask Dress

Dress - Ruby Rox (Goodwill) 

I love damask patterns!  I have damask pillows, damask plates, damask wallpaper in our foyer.  So why not add a little damask to my closet!  I found this Ruby Rox black and white damask dress at Goodwill right before Christmas.  It has black and white polka dot ribbon straps with matching ribbon detail on the bodice.  It appears the dress also had black tulle attached to the slip, but someone removed it - what a shame!  But still a pretty dress nonetheless.

Close up of pattern

I'm giving away one copy of Crystal Paine's new book, The Money Saving Mom's Budget.  Click here to enter!

Mary Ellen

Linked at:  The Pleated Poppy

pleated poppy

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Monday, January 16, 2012

Grape Jelly Update & Homemade Biscuit Recipe

Jelly Biscuit - yum!

The grape jelly I made from grape juice has been working out really well!  So well, I canned another batch of jars this weekend.  When I opened my first jar at room temperature, it had a decent soft set to it.  Once refrigerated, it firmed up similar to store bought jelly.  So, I think I made the right decision to increase the amount of pectin called for in the original recipe.  The homemade jelly has a great taste and we've been enjoying it on peanut butter & jelly sandwiches as well as warm homemade biscuits (see recipe below!).

About the sugar...I'm sure you'll notice the grape jelly recipe (as well as other recipes for jams, jellies and preserves) calls for quite a bit of sugar.  The sugar works with the pectin to help with gelation and also acts as a preservative.  But if you prefer less sugar in your life, there are no sugar/low sugar pectins available.  Sure-Jell makes a no sugar pectin (it's in a pink box) as does Ball.  And according to their website, Pomona's Universal Pectin can be used for no sugar recipes or with natural sweeteners like honey and stevia.      

My Momma's old biscuit pan
- it's older than I am!

When it came to making biscuits from scratch, my Momma was one of the best! I remember on one occasion we had a lady over for Sunday dinner who was visiting from out of town.  She was so impressed with my Momma's biscuits, she asked my Momma to bake her a pan, freeze them and mail them to her in Ohio!  And my Momma did!  It's my understanding, the lady ate all the biscuits except for one.  Which she kept in her freezer as a reminder of the best biscuits she'd ever eaten.  True story!

My Momma seemed to intuitively know how much flour, shortening and milk she needed for her biscuits to turn out just right.  I'm not there yet!  For our jelly biscuits, I used this recipe for baking powder biscuits:

Baking Powder Biscuits
from The Modern Family Cookbook, Meta Givens (1953)

2 cups all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup shortening
3/4 - 7/8 cup milk

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl.  Add shortening and cut into flour with pastry blender or fork until particles are the size of rice grains.  Add milk and stir until dough stiffens up.  Turn out dough on a floured counter, knead, then roll out to 3/8 to 3/4 inch thick.  Cut out with a biscuit cutter dipped in flour (I used a half pint mason jar as a cutter).  Place on greased baking pan and brush tops with melted butter.  Bake in 450 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown.  


Be sure to enter my giveaway for a copy of The Money Saving Mom's Budget!  Click here for details.  

Mary Ellen

Sunday, January 15, 2012

*GIVEAWAY* The Money Saving Mom's Budget

*This giveaway has ended*

With the current state of the economy, its more important than ever to eliminate debt and live on less.  To help you on your way to achieving your financial goals, I'd like to offer one reader a copy of Crystal Paine's new book, The Money Saving Mom's Budget.  You can read my review of Crystal's book here.

To enter:  Just leave a comment on this post (simple, right!).  Please make sure your current email address is in your profile - or leave it in your comment.  The winner will be picked at random and announced on Friday.  Open to US residents only.

Good luck!

Mary Ellen 

Friday, January 13, 2012

My Favorite Cupcake - The Pioneer Woman's Vanilla Cupcakes

Red, white & blue cupcakes

January is a BIG birthday month for us!  All three kids have January birthdays.  All three birthdays are two weeks apart.  And the kids are two years apart in age.  But, can you believe with all those January birthdays, we didn't have one New Years baby!

I'll be spending plenty of time in the kitchen this month baking up cupcakes.  My favorite cupcake recipe is The Pioneer Woman's Vanilla Cupcakes.  These homemade cupcakes actually remind me of my beloved Cafe Blue cupcakes from the Cafe Carolina & Bakery.  But for a fraction of the cost!           

Make a wish!

For frosting, I use a standard Butter Cream recipe:  3-3/4 cups powdered sugar, 1/2 cup butter (softened), 4 tablespoons of milk and 1 teaspoon of vanilla (or other flavor - I used lemon flavoring for Reed's cupcakes).  Since our birthday boy is in an all things Captain America phase, I colored two portions of the frosting with red and blue food coloring for a patriotic look! 

Hope your weekend is sweet!

Mary Ellen

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Buying Ahead - Kids Shoes

I've practiced the "buying ahead principle" in grocery shopping for awhile now.  When an item we use is on sale, I will buy a few extra for the pantry (as the budget allows).  The goal is to avoid paying full price for the items you use the most, thus saving money in the long run.  I've now started to apply this same buy ahead strategy for the kids shoes!  I buy most of the kids clothing second hand at yard sales, Goodwill and consignment sales.  But for shoes, I typically buy new.  Less worries about foot "ickies" and improper support.  Target is my go to place for buying the kids' shoes.  They always seem to have a good selection on clearance.  When I come across a good clearance sale, I will buy a pair in their current size and also one size up (as the clothing budget allows, of course!).  So, when they grow out of their current shoe size, we'll already have one or two sizes ahead for less than retail.

Mary Ellen

Shop Target Clearance Items - Save up to 75%!

(Note:  This post contains an affiliate link.  Read my disclosure policy here). 

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What I Wore to Work - Ruby Rox Retro Dress - Brown Polka Dot

Dress - Ruby Rox (Goodwill)

I found yet another Ruby Rox retro inspired dress at Goodwill to add to my growing collection!  I'm always overjoyed when I see one of these retro inspired dresses hanging on the rack. But, I almost missed this dress!  I was in the dressing room trying on a few other dresses.  When I came out, the dress above was hanging on the rack to be put back with the other dresses.  I didn't even have time to try it on (I needed to get back to work at that point!).  I just snatched it up and paid for it.  When I tried it on later at home, it fit like a dream!  The dress is dark brown with white polka dots and large brown buttons down the front.  It has a much larger collar than the other dresses and puffed sleeves - which I adore!

Mary Ellen

Linked at The Pleated Poppy

pleated poppy

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Quick Meals for Working Moms - Artichoke Gratinata (Gratin)

Recipe by Giada De Laurentiis

Over the holiday break, I caught an episode of Giada De Laurentiis' cooking show, Everday Italian.  This particular episode featured quick weeknight meals.  All the dishes looked fantastic and would be really easy to put together on a weeknight after work.  One of the dishes that caught my eye, was her Artichoke Gratinata (Gratin).  I had most of the ingredients on hand, including a bag of frozen artichoke hearts from Trader Joe's that had been lingering in the freezer.  The only thing I didn't have was the Marsala wine, so I used white.  Probably not a perfect substitute but when you're cooking from the pantry, you have to make do with what you have!  The artichoke was wonderful and this dish was a great side for the spaghetti and meatballs we had for dinner.

If you're interested in checking out the other recipes, the episode was called "Weeknight Wonders".  The roasted Cod with Lima Beans also looks like delish!

Mary Ellen

Monday, January 9, 2012

Small Batch Canning - Homemade Grape Jelly from Grape Juice

How do you go from grape juice to homemade grape jelly?  It's easier than you think!  Last Wednesday, I picked up a bottle of concord grape juice at Harris Teeter Super Doubles for $1.29 after coupon. The kids don't care much for grape juice, but they love grape jelly.  So, I set about to turn my juice into jelly.

To make my grape jelly, I used this recipe from the Sure-Jell website:

Homemade Grape Jelly
yield 6 - 7 half pint jars

3 cups grape juice (the juice I used contained no HFCS, but that's a personal preference)
1 cup water
1 - 2 boxes Sure-Jell pectin (the recipe calls for 1 box, but I ended up using 1/2 of a second box)
1/2 tsp butter
4-1/2 cups sugar

 Add grape juice and water to a 6 to 8 quart pot.  Add pectin to the juice mixture.  Then add butter (it reduces foaming).  Bring to a full rolling boil (a boil that can't be stirred down).  Add sugar and return mixture to a rolling boil.  Boil for 1 minute while stirring constantly.  Remove from heat and skim off any foam with a metal spoon.    

Ladle mixture into prepared canning jars and process in a water bath for 5 minutes.  To prepare the canning jars, I followed the instructions in the guide book from my Ball Discovery Home Canning kit.  The kit comes with canning instructions, recipes, jars and a canning rack with lifter basket that can be used in any large pot.  Great for beginners - like me!  You can also find  instructions on the Ball website. 

I let my jars sit out overnight to cool.  When I picked one of the jars up this morning, it seemed to have set pretty well.  I just ran out of store bought jelly this morning while making the kids' school lunches.  So, I'll be testing out one of the homemade jars in the very near future.  I'll let you how the end result turned out! 

Mary Ellen

(Note:  This post contains an affiliate link.  Read my disclosure policy here).