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What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals and the importance of eating together

14 Jan
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Now that we’re back into our regular routines, we’re back to meal planning for the weeks ahead.

Over the holiday and vacation weeks we were eating out of the house so often, either at other people’s houses or at restaurants, that we had absolutely no meal plan at all, and practically nothing to even make a meal with. Once we got back into the routine, we had to sit down and start our preparations again.

One thing I had done over the vacation weeks however, was to keep a running list of the things the kids were asking for during the two weeks. When someone said, “Can we have Shepherd’s Pie for dinner tonight?” during those two weeks, for example, even though I’d have to say no because we were scheduled to eat wherever for whatever event, I’d go and write it down. Making our meal plan is tough because we have to come up with two full weeks of meals. Having a list of favorite requests made it that much easier the next week when we sat down. And, it was kind of nice that first week back to school (which felt as long as five weeks in a row, rather than just one), to announce at dinnertime whose special request produced that night’s dinner.

It’s also been nice to see the kids checking out the menu we post in the kitchen each week, looking forward to the dinner of choice for that night or a future night, especially when it’s something they requested. It makes me feel good to know that they like the routine of knowing what’s for dinner, and that even better, they look forward to certain nights of the week, just because it’s their favorite meal of the week. Our menus are nothing fancy, our meals are straightforward and our lists are posted on whatever piece of paper we have handy, and we cross off as we go, but it’s a routine we’ve established and it makes us all feel good….less stress, somewhat excited for dinner, and looking forward to eating together each night. That’s all good, and I’m glad we’re continuing to stay true to this routine of ours. I hope that in doing so, we ‘re creating good, healthy eating habits and family foundations for our family as we go so that once our kids are on their own, raising their own families,they’ve got a great foundation so that they can eat well and eat together.

I recently saw an article in the Washington Post about the importance of eating together as a family, and its many benefits. It definitely confirmed for us all that we already knew and believed about eating together as a family. If you’d like to read it, click here. We work incredibly hard to keep our schedules and meals consistent so that we can eat together as often as humanly possible, and although we’ve always seen the benefits, which far outweigh the effort it takes to pull it off, it’s nice to have our efforts validated every once in a while too! The article is well worth the read.

In the meantime, here’s two weeks of meals for you to get you started. I’ve even linked to a few of the recipes for you so that you don’t have to search the blog for them:

Sunday: Roasted Chicken Dinner

Monday: Shepherd’s Pie

Tuesday: Pulled pork sandwiches (crock pot meal)

Wednesday: Spaghetti tacos with meat sauce (could be eaten without taco shells or with)

Thursday: Paninis (we used the bbq pork leftovers in the paninis, SO delicious)

Friday: Homemade pizzas (we made three different kinds but here’s just one kind we’ve made before)

Saturday: leftovers

Sunday: Chili

Monday: Ravioli (some of us had butternut squash ravioli given to us by a friend, others of us had cheese ravioli)

Tuesday: Garlic chicken and wine

Wednesday: Chicken Pot Pie

Thursday: Fish Tacos

Friday: Breakfast for dinner

Saturday: Hamburgers and hot dogs

Sunday: Lasagna

 

 

Fun Friday: Apple Pie Bites from Megan’s Frugalista Diaries

2 Jan
The house smelled so good when the kids arrived home from school on this particular afternoon!

The house smelled so good when the kids arrived home from school on this particular afternoon!

Happy New Year!

After taking some time off from my blogging this past week, I’m sliding back into my regular routine. As I often do, next week I’ll begin blogging some great toy and gift reviews from the holidays. I’ll continue this during the month of January in order to give you some gift-giving ideas for the rest of the year, but before I do, I thought I’d put out a new Fun Friday recipe for you.

Today is Friday and it’s still school vacation, so there’s lots of time to relax and do some fun things together before heading back to the school routine. I love school vacation weeks exactly for this reason. We get to do some fun things that we normally don’t have time for during the craziness of the school year. This is a perfect recipe to try out today. It’s a great recipe for little hands to help with (or for bigger hands to complete on their own) and it’s warm and delicious.

The recipe comes from Megan Zietz over at The Frugalista Diaries blog, but I actually saw it on another blog where she was guest blogging for the day. The ingredients and directions are simple and quick, making it a perfect after school snack, dessert or school vacation day treat.

Megan made a note (see below) that she used Immaculate Baking Company’s crescent rolls. I did not have those on hand but I did use a lowfat version of another company’s crescent rolls. I also skipped the vanilla ice cream since I was using this as an after school snack, but if I were making them for a more involved dessert, I’d definitely put ice cream out.

These all got thumbs up. There were eight crescents and five people here, so next time I’d definitely do two packs of crescents to double the recipe. I think you could also throw in some dried cranberries or some raisins to this recipe, and I bet it’d be great.

I hope you’ll visit Megan’s blog. She’s got lots of great posts on there and she covers more than food, so pay her a visit!

Here’s Megan’s recipe:

Apple Pie Bites – Serves 8
1 (Tart) Apple Sliced
3 Heaping Tbsp. Brown Sugar
2 Tbsp. Cinnamon ( I used a homemade Cinni-Sugar Mix)
1 Tbsp. Melted Butter
1 Pkg. Of Immaculate Baking Co. Crescent Rolls
*(I use immaculate baking co. when I’m not doing homemade – no hydrogenated oils and non gmo –  it’s the only thing I feel safe about giving my kids when it’s not from scratch)
Preheat Oven to 350˚
1. Roll out the dough on a greased cookie sheet, brush with butter and sprinkle Brown Sugar and Cinnamon in individual pieces of dough.
2. Roll up an apple slice in the dough forming a crescent, brush with melted butter and top with cinnamon.  Repeat for others.
3. Bake for 12-15 Mins at 350˚.

4. Remove from Oven, filling will be hot! Serve alone or with a dollop of Vanilla Ice Cream.

 

 

Christmas Dessert: Mocha Roll and Christmas Cookies

29 Dec
Christmas cookie tray

All together now: all of the cookies made by my mom, me and both grandmas, all on one tray.

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 29, 2011

This week I’ve been posting in retrospect about our Christmas Dinner. To me, the best part of any dinner is always the dessert. And like our Christmas Dinner, which is much the same every year, our dessert selection is as well.

First off, there’s the tray of Christmas Cookies. Together with my mom and two grandmothers, we put together a tray of cookies that has about 13 different varieties to choose from. We all have our favorites.

But…we’ve been eating cookies on and off now for two weeks. Well, at least I have. So we have to have another choice also. Enter…the Mocha Roll.

My mom makes the most fabulous frozen dessert called a Mocha Roll.

The Mocha Roll, before the first piece has been cut.

The Mocha Roll before the first piece has been cut.

This picture looks nice enough, but you truly can’t get a good enough idea of what this dessert really is unless you see it cut into a serving, which you will in a minute, when I post the recipe. However, I first must give tons of thanks to my mom here, because I decided to ask her for the recipe *just* as she was getting ready to leave for a cross-country, day-after-Christmas trip and I’m sure she had better things to be doing than emailing me recipes, but sure enough, there it was in my inbox this afternoon. So 1) She made it for yesterday’s dessert, 2) she typed up the recipe for me already so I don’t have to do it and 3) she took the time to send it to me. Thank you Mom!!

Single serving mocha roll

Here’s my dish, whipped cream on the side because I don’t actually like whipped cream. I did that just for you!

Here’s the recipe for her Mocha Roll for you!

FROZEN MOCHA ROLL

(Good Housekeeping Magazine – 1974 or earlier)

Note:  Can be made and frozen one month ahead.

INGREDIENTS

5 eggs, separated, at room temperature

1 cup confectioner’s sugar, divided

Cocoa

Dash salt

Mocha cream (recipe follows)

DIRECTIONS

Day before or early in day:

Preheat oven to 400º.  Grease 15½ X 10½ jelly roll pan with shortening.  Line plan with waxed paper, then grease again and flour.

Separate eggs while they are cold, taking care not to get any yolk mixed in with the whites because if any egg yolk is present in whites, the whites will not beat to their highest volume.  Also, for greatest volume, cover bowl and let egg whites warm to room temperature before beating.

In large bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg whites until soft peaks form.  Beating at high sped, sprinkle in 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar.  Beat until sugar is completely dissolved.  Do not scrape sides of bowl.  (Egg whites should be stiff with glossy peaks.)  Set aside.

In small bowl, with mixer at high speed, beat egg yolks until thick and lemon-colored.  At low speed, beat in 1/2 cup confectioner’s sugar, 3 Tablespoons cocoa, and dash of salt, occasionally scraping bowl with rubber spatula.  Gently fold yolk mixture into whites until blended.  (To do this, with a gentle downward motion and using a spatula, cut through the center of the whites, across the bottom and up the side of the bowl.  Then, give the bowl a quarter turn and repeat the cutting motion until egg-white mixture is broken to the size of small peas.  Fold just until all ingredients are combined, using spatula or whisk.  Over-folding breaks air bubbles, causing a flat jelly roll.)

Spread batter evenly in pan and bake 12-13 minutes.  Cake is done when top springs back when lightly touched with finger.  Do not overbake.

Meanwhile, sprinkle a clean cloth towel with cocoa.  (A flat weave towel, rather than a terry towel, works best.)

When cake is done, use a small spatula to immediately loosen edges from sides of pan.  Invert cake onto prepared towel.  Gently peel waxed paper from cake.  Roll towel together with cake from one of the narrow edges (jelly-roll fashion).  Roll as tightly as possible, but do not press down on cake.   Cool completely, seam-side down, on a wire rack.  Meanwhile, prepare mocha cream.

When cake is cool, unroll from towel.  Evenly spread Mocha Cream on cake almost to edges.  Starting at same narrow end, roll up cake without towel.  Place cake seam-side down on top of plastic wrap.  Wrap cake and then place on heavy duty foil; wrap and freeze cake for several hours or overnight.

About 15 minutes before serving, remove cake from freezer; unwrap; let stand for easier slicing.

MOCHA CREAM:

In medium bowl, whip together, until soft peaks form:

1 cup heavy cream

1/4 cup light brown sugar

3 teaspoons instant coffee (prefer decaf, but not required)

(You can buy 16 oz. container and use remaining 1 cup to whip and serve with cake; add a little confectioner’s sugar to cream before whipping.)

Serves 8 to 10. This can be refrozen if there are leftovers!

Saving My Sanity Holiday Chex Mix

22 Dec
This Chex Mix recipe literally saved me this year.

This Chex Mix recipe literally saved me this year. I filled an entire laundry basket with gift bags, plus a Tupperware Cake Taker full of the mix itself.

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 20, 2013:

I think we’d all agree that the holidays are much more enjoyable when you’re not totally and completely stressed out.

Agreed?

Agreed.

That being said, this school year, the holidays and the treat-giving season that goes along with them, had the potential to put me right over the edge. And really, as a working mom of three this time of year, that edge is awfully close most of the time anyway, so I really didn’t have far to be pushed.

Normally, I’m a cookie baker at Christmastime. Between my mom and I, we bake over a dozen different types of cookies, creating cookie trays for our family and friends.

As a mom of three, I have always given all of our kids’ teachers a cookie plate at Christmastime. I also have given one to the secretary, bus driver and bus monitor, teacher aides, principal and I make a tray for the faculty room. I also treat the staff at my husband’s school to a tray of cookies in the teachers’ room, and then I make them for our family as well.

It seemed doable when my oldest was first in school, and even when two were in school. It started to get a little tougher when all three were in school, as well as my husband at his own school, but I continued on.

Then last year came middle school.

SEVEN TEACHERS. A whole new set of office staff. A principal AND an assistant. TWO secretaries.

A lot of people will say, “Oh, in middle school that all ends. No gifts for those teachers anymore.”

I’m not sure where that theory came from, but I will say I used to BE a middle school teacher, and I love cookies, but more than that, I liked being thought of at this time of year just as much as when I was an elementary teacher.

My daughter didn’t want to stop our treat-giving tradition, and I couldn’t find a good reason why she had to. And she didn’t want to leave any of her teachers out. So we didn’t.

This year, my husband has a new job at a larger school.

With 90 staff members.

I knew something had to give. I was not going to be able to do it. There wasn’t any way that I could possibly make enough cookies for all of the teachers and staff in all three schools and my family, and keep my job. Or my sanity. I’d be baking all hours of the day and night for weeks to make that happen.

There had to be another answer.

Simple, affordable ingredients, few dishes to wash. A win-win!

Simple, affordable ingredients, few dishes to wash. A win-win!

Enter The Tailgateista and her Homemade Crock Pot Apple Cinnamon Chex Mix.

That’s right. I said CROCK POT.

That was the answer to my problem, thanks to my Crock Pot partner in crime, Gina, who was also searching for another solution to the gift-giving issue. She’s the one who found this recipe and sent it to me.

We both decided to go with Chex Mix gifts this year, although we each chose a different mix to make, and today, as I type this three days before the last day of school before the vacation, I can honestly say that this saved my sanity.

My gifts are done. Cooked, cooled, bagged, tagged and ready to be handed out on Friday, the day you’ll be reading this.

And I still have my job and my sanity, thanks to this recipe from The Tailgateista.

I doubled her original recipe and made a few modifications to it, to serve my purposes. I will put her recipe and my modifications below.

I doubled the recipe SIX TIMES.

That’s right, six times. 72 cups of cereal, and the equivalent of 48 two-cup gift bags of Chex Mix.

And the best part of all? Not only is it a very cost-effective gift, but it cooks while you accomplish other tasks!!

For me, a journalist who works from home a good part of the week, I could type all day and my gifts were cooking themselves over in the crock pot behind me as I worked. Or, if I was working away from the house all day, I could throw in a batch at night to cook itself while we worked on homework and showers and cleaned up from dinner. Some days, I did both: a batch in the daytime if I was here, and a batch again in the evening or after school.

Phenomenal.

And delicious.

I’ll still be making Christmas Cookies this weekend, all our favorites, and I’ll still share them amongst our family and some close friends, but I won’t be cooking over the mixer and oven,rolling and frosting, baking and cooling late at night for a week in between working and parenting obligations, and still not  having enough cookies to go around.

We’ve found a way to thank our teachers and staff members for their time, talent and hard work without pushing me over the proverbial edge the week before Christmas.

I even had enough gifts to give out extras to people I have always wanted to give cookies to, but didn't ever have enough!

I even had enough gifts to give out extras to people I have always wanted to give cookies to, but didn’t ever have enough!

Below is the Tailgateista’s recipe and my modifications follow below it.

Give it a try, it’s delicious! Maybe this Chex Mix will be the key to saving your sanity too!

Ingredients

6 Cups Chex Corn Cereal
1/4 Stick Butter
1/2 Cup Brown Sugar
1 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Nutmeg
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Cup Chopped Dried Apples

***You can also add Pecans, M&M’s, any other candy,dried fruit or nuts!!

Instructions

* In a microwave combine all spices, sugar and butter until it is melted.
* Add the Dry ingredients (cereal, apples) into crock-pot
* Add all melted ingredients into the crock-pot and mix
* Cook in crock-pot on low for 3 hours
* Enjoy!

I used I Can't Believe It's Not Butter instead of real butter, which makes this a bit lower in fat.

I used I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter instead of real butter, which makes this a bit lower in fat.

MY MODIFICATIONS

1) I doubled this recipe each time, since my crock pot is large enough to hold a double recipe.  ***2014: Another sanity-saving tip I have added in this year is using the plastic bag liners for the crock pot for every batch. The brand I used is an Aldi’s brand, Boulder, and they’ve been amazing. I would not make this again without using the bags.***

2) I substituted the Dulche le Leche flavored Cheerios for one cup of the Chex, (so two cups of Cheerios for a double recipe and ten cups of Chex.)  ***2014: Substituted Frosted Cheerios instead of Dulche le Leche.***

3) The butter should read 1/4 cup for a single recipe, in my opinion, not stick. I used 1 stick per double recipe.

4) I opted not to use the apples, because the first time I did a trial run, they burned.

5) I did not stir the Chex Mix in my trial run, which may be the reason why the apples burned. In every subsequent time however, I stirred the Chex Mix every 45-60 minutes while it cooked for the 3 hrs.

6) For my mix-ins, I used 1/2 bag of mini marshmallows, 1/2 bag of red and green mini M&Ms, and one full bag of white yogurt covered raisins, per double recipe.

7) Each double recipe with my mix-ins filled eight gift bags. For my husband’s school, I filled  a large Tupperware Cake Taker, normally used to carry layer cakes, with an entire double recipe, just for his faculty room. I sent in small plastic drinking cups for them to eat it out of.

Although cost is not always the deciding factor in gift-giving, it’s certainly taken into account. I think most everyone sticks to a budget when shopping for gifts. With each of the six double recipes yielding 8 two-cup bags of mix, and my ingredients costing a total of $40.68 for all six batches (I used coupons for the M&Ms and the cereals), these 48 gifts cost me $.85 per bag to make. I spent just under $2.00 on two packs of 20 gift baggies to put them in. Even still, that cost me less than $1 per gift.

Over 100 people will be enjoying my Sanity Saving Chex Mix this weekend, and I was able to accomplish it relatively stress-free and budget-consciously.

Have a great Christmas everyone!!

A Your Tray or Mine Recipe and an Online Cookie Swap: Chocolate Buttersweets

19 Dec
Chocolate Buttersweets

These are my other top favorite cookie from our trays!

This week I was invited to participate in such a fun activity: a digital cookie exchange! Now, you know how much I love cookies, and what a fun idea to do an online recipe swap! I was invited by Patience Brewster, a company that offers a unique line of handmade, hand painted ornaments and gifts for holiday and every day decor.  Their products are so beautiful! Every piece in the collection is based on original artwork by artist/designer Patience Brewster and is filled with intricate details and fanciful designs. You can read more about the company here.

As I was going through my favorite cookie recipes, trying to decide which one to choose for today’s online cookie exchange with Patience Brewster, I had such a hard time deciding! Not just any cookie would do. Ultimately I decided to run the recipe for one of my top two favorite Christmas cookies, the Chocolate Buttersweets. These cookies were the ultimate equivalent of a beautiful Patience Brewster ornament, in a cookie. Hand-glazed, multi-step, multi-layer, delectable cookies, beautiful confections….it’s a perfect fit.

Below you’ll find the step-by-step instructions for this cookie. I hope you’ll give it a try, and I certainly hope that you’ll go on over to the Patience Brewster site and and take a look at their beautiful creations.

In the meantime, I’d like to tag my friend Paula over at My Soup for You and invite her to join in on our online cookie exchange! Paula is a wonderful cook and baker, and I know she’ll be doing some baking this weekend, too! In fact, I’d like to challenge all of my readers and fellow bloggers. Link up a great cookie recipe in the comments here, blog about a good cookie recipe on your own blog, or share a cookie recipe wherever you share, and tag us all!

*************************************************************************************************************

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 19, 2011

When I first began the Your Tray or Mine series of recipes earlier this month, I began with the Chocolate Thumbprints, which I said were one of my top two favorite cookie recipes from the trays my mom and I do. Today’s cookie, the Chocolate Buttersweets, are my other top favorite cookie on the tray.

This recipe is not complicated, although it does have three distinct steps: the cookie, the filling and the frosting. Because the cookie should be frosted when it’s warm (but not hot) I recommend prepping the filling first, so that it’s ready. Then make your cookies, and after they are filled, make your frosting and frost the filled cookies.

INGREDIENTS

Cookie base for chocolate buttersweets

If you have a wooden spoon with a round handle, you can use it to poke the holes in the tops of the cookies before baking.

Cookies:
1 cup margarine or butter
1 cup confectioners sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all purpose flour

**Filling:
6 oz cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioners sugar
4 TBL flour
2 tsp vanilla

Frosting:
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
4 TBL butter or margarine
4 TBL water
1 cup confectioners sugar

DIRECTIONS:
**Prepare the filling first. The cookies, when done, need to be filled while warm. Have the filling ready to go.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

FOR COOKIES:
1) In large bowl cream together butter, confectioners sugar, salt and vanilla.
2) Gradually add flour to creamed mixture, mix well.
3) Roll dough into 1″ balls, placing them 2″ apart on ungreased cookie sheets.
4) Press hole in center of each cookie with finger or the handle end of wooden spoon (if handle is round, not flat.)
5) Bake at 350 for 12-15 minutes until edges are lightly brown.
6) Fill while warm
7) Frost

Filled Chocolate Buttersweets

Step two: fill the cookies while warm.

FOR FILLING:
Soften cream cheese. Blend in sugar, flour, vanilla. Cream well. Fill cookies.

FOR FROSTING:
In small saucepan melt chocolate chips, butter, and water over low heat. Stir constantly. Stir in confectioners sugar and mix well. Will be lumpy at first until the sugar melts. Spoon a little frosting onto each cookie.

What’s for Christmas dinner: Make ahead twice baked potatoes

17 Dec
Christmas Dinner: pork chop with homemade applesauce, green beans, twice baked potatoes, butternut squash

Today’s post is all about the potatoes.

ORIGINALLY POSTED DECEMBER 28, 2011

Yesterday I wrote the first part of my post about our Christmas dinner, which is a great meal for any occasion:  roasted pork chops, homemade applesauce, Twice-Baked Potatoes, sauteed green beans and butternut squash.

At the end of the post I promised that I’d be sharing the make-ahead process that Don uses for the Twice-Baked Potatoes, which also provides you with a ready-made appetizer: potato skins.

To begin, you need baking potatoes. I get mine at Aldi’s. They sell the perfect sized and shaped potatoes in a big bag so that you don’t have to hand pick every single one. I buy two bags of them.

Early in the day on Christmas Eve, they go in the oven to be baked just as you would for any baked potato. Don bakes them at 400 degrees for one hour.

After that, they cool on top of the stove for two hours.

Potato skins

You want to take off the tops, but leave enough potato on them to make a hearty potato skin appetizer. You don’t want just skin.

At that time, Don cuts the top skin off of the potatoes, putting the tops in a serving dish to be used as Potato Skins for the next day and leaving the bottoms on the tray to be used for the Twice Baked Potatoes.

potato shells

You don’t want to scrape right down to the skin, leave enough flesh on the skin for a sturdy shell.

The next step is to scoop all of the potato flesh out of the skins, and into a mixing bowl.

making mashed potatoes for twice baked potoatoes

Next, you make mashed potatoes.

Next, you make the filling. We use butter, milk or half and half, salt, pepper and cheddar cheese, mashing the mixture just as you would for mashed potatoes.

Then, you fill the potato skins back up again. They should be slightly more full than they were before because of the added cheese, milk and butter.

Wrap the entire tray with saran wrap and refrigerate overnight.

On Christmas morning, when it’s time to cook, take your potatoes out. Let them sit on the counter for about 20 minutes to bring the temperature up a bit. Bake them in the oven 350 degrees for 40 minutes.  Sprinkle cheddar cheese on top of each one, and broil for a few minutes until brown and crispy. Eat and Enjoy!

Twice Baked Potatoes

Good enough to eat!

Additionally, to make your potato skins appetizer, you use the tops of the skins from the day before, sprinkling them with any toppings you’d like. We use cheddar cheese and bacon bits. Broil them for a few minutes in the oven before serving. We serve with a side of sour cream.

And the winner is……

15 Dec
Announcing the winner of Baking Day at Grandma's!

Announcing the winner of Baking Day at Grandma’s!

Today’s the day!

Last week I told you that today I’d be announcing the person who had won a copy of Anika and Christopher Denise’s book, “Baking Day at Grandma’s,” and today’s the day!

The winner is……..Stephanie Bernaba!!!

Stephanie, just in time for the holidays, you can now add “Baking Day at Grandma’s” to your nine-book-a-night bedtime story routine!

I know that you will love the story as much as I do, and you’ll enjoy baking Grandma Rose’s special recipe at the end, too!

Please email your mailing address to: info@anikadenise.com so that a book can be sent to you!

If you were not a winner and you’d still like your own copy, you can find a copy on the Barnes and Noble website or on Amazon.com.

Congratulations Stephanie, and thanks to the author and illustrator, Anika and Chris for a beautiful story to share!

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