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Pumpkin Palooza…My grand finale: Here’s to friends and pumpkin pie cupcakes

26 Nov

I’m thankful for being able to stay connected to friends from “way back when” who are both near and far.

ORIGINALLY POSTED NOVEMBER 16, 2012

I went to a high school outside of my hometown, with kids from all over my state and a neighboring state. Therefore, I met people there I would not normally have had a chance to meet, had I attended my local high school. Upon graduation we all went our separate ways, but we always tried to keep in touch.

At first we kept in touch by letters and the occasional phone call, but today with technology the way it is, we keep in touch by email and things like Facebook as well.

We’ve attended and/or been in each others weddings, we’ve visited each other when new babies were born, and gotten together when one or another of us were in town, visiting from wherever we had now settled, and even bumped into each other at the occasional swim lesson or scouting events. Each year though, at Thanksgiving, we try to get together to share a meal, whether it’s breakfast or dinner, just to catch up before another year goes by.

The photo here is last year’s picture after our Friday after Thanksgiving breakfast. We have another one scheduled for this year. Pictured here are high school friends Lia, Jenn, Nicole and I. We missed Bethany that year but she’ll be there this year!

A delicious treat!

My friend Nicole is in the fushia sweater, and today’s recipe was posted on Facebook by her, a couple of weeks back. I printed it right away but I only just got the chance to make it this week. She wrote that she’d made these pumpkin cupcakes by Baker Chick for all of the teachers at her school where she is the school librarian. I bet they loved them! I know I did! They got thumbs up from almost everyone here at our house, and I thought they were even better the second day; just like a slice of pumpkin pie in a cupcake wrapper!

The recipe states that these cupcakes puff up when cooked and then shrink back down, which is exactly what they did. Baker Chick also says that the fact that they shrink down is great because it gives you the perfect place to squirt some whipped cream, and she was right about that as well.

This was an easy recipe and didn’t take too long. I found my cook time to be slightly longer than the 20 minutes stated, but I just kept checking them every 2-3 minutes til they were done.

I hope you get a chance to try these out this week! Thanks to Nicole for sharing, I’ll see you soon! Thanks to Baker Chick for a great recipe!

Two bowls, simple ingredients.

PUMPKIN CUPCAKES
INGREDIENTS

2/3 cup all purpose flour

1/4 tsp baking powder

1/4 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

2 tsp pumpkin pie spice

1 15-oz can pumpkin puree

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup brown sugar

2 large eggs

1 tsp vanilla extract

3/4 cup half and half

 

Cupcakes puff up when they’re first cooked….

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper or silicone liners. *If using paper liners, lightly coat them with cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pumpkin pie spice.

In a large bowl, whisk together pumpkin puree, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla and half and half until well combined.

Add in dry ingredients and whisk until no streaks of flour remain and batter is smooth.

Distribute batter evenly in the muffin tin. (they should be about 3/4 of the way full.)

Bake for 20 minutes. Cool cupcakes in pan. (They will sink as they are cooling.)

Chill cupcakes before serving. Top with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

…..and shrink down when cooled.

Makes 12

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Two weeks of meals

12 Nov
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted our two weeks of meals menu, and I always get great feedback from readers when I do. Therefore, I’m sharing our current menu plan with you today. Hopefully it will provide you with some dinner ideas and inspiration.

If you’re a new reader, this is how we generally try to plan out our grocery shopping every two weeks on pay day. We create a two week menu and try to stick as closely as we can to it. It almost never stays 100% on track, so we almost always have some carryover for the next two weeks of meals.

We have found that this is the best way for us to stick to a budget and to always have a (relatively) healthy, homemade meal for our family to eat together every night. It doesn’t always work out perfectly, but it’s better for us than not planning at all.

Week 1:

Sunday: Corned beef, cabbage, potatoes, carrots

Monday: Tacos  *This lends itself well to taco salad or seven layer dip with chips for lunches the next day. This time around it was the dip, last time we had them, I did taco salads.

Tuesday: Lasagna

Wednesday: Pork chops and applesauce (homemade)

Thursday: Choice of hot dogs, hamburgers or chicken burgers

Friday: Pot luck dinner at Girl Scouts

Saturday: BBQ Ribs

Week 2:

Sunday: Dinner at friends’

Monday: Shepherd’s Pie (this was a ‘cook once, eat twice’ extra Shepherd’s Pie frozen from a previous month)

Tuesday: American Chopped Suey pasta bake

Wednesday: Lemon Basil Meatballs and egg noodles (this is from the make ahead meals Pampered Chef party that I attended in September)

Thursday: Dinner out, Girl Scouts are touring a local eatery, so we’ll be eating there afterwards

Friday: Pizza

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Smoky BBQ Pork Tenderloin Sliders

8 Oct
This was an excellent Pampered Chef make ahead meal!

This was an excellent Pampered Chef make ahead meal!

You may have read some of my past two- week menu posts, where I mentioned having attended a recent Pampered Chef make ahead freezer meal “party” where we made up four or more meals for our freezer. I chose four meals from a pre-selected menu, but there were others who made ten! Today’s meals is one of the meals from that night. It was very easy to prep ahead, and very easy to cook the day of. It received all thumbs up reviews.

Pampered Chef recipes generally highlight some of their own ingredients, and this recipe is no different. The two needed PC ingredients are their Chef Smoky Barbecue Rub and their Garlic-Infused Canola Oil. When I participated in the freezer meal party, I was given a list of these types of items that would be ordered for me. I paid ahead of time for the items and when I walked in the door that night with the rest of the groceries I needed to prep the meals, I was handed a bag with my needed PC ingredients all ready to go. Any extras were mine to keep at the end.

When we arrived at the party, a station was set up for each of us with the recipes for our freezer meals. We prepped them right in the gallon ziploc bags we brought with us, double bagged them and put them right into our coolers. We came home with four (or ten) bags all labeled and ready to go with a list of cooking instructions, the full recipe and any other important information. It was fantastic.

Here is the recipe for the tenderloin sliders. I will note here that it calls for two pounds of meat but we only ended up needing one pound once it was cooked. We froze the cooked second portion for another night in the future. We’d just need another bag of the Hawaiian sweet rolls, which I found to be a teeny bit addicting! Those weren’t something I normally stock up on, but now I think I want to!

This meal was our dinner, we used it leftover for a few lunches and we froze a whole pound for another night, as I mentioned above. This was definitely a meal I’d prepare and freeze again!

Easy peasy, a meal all set to throw into my crock pot!

Easy peasy, a meal all set to throw into my crock pot!

SMOKY BBQ PORK TENDERLOIN SLIDERS (Pampered Chef, A Taste of Dinners Done freezer meal workshop)

Cook Time: Frozen in the crock pot 4-6 hrs. on low

Thawed in the Deep Covered Baker: Microwave on high 10-15 minutes.

INGREDIENTS

2 lbs. pork tenderloin

4T. Pampered Chef Smoky Barbeque Rub

1/8 cup Pampered Chef Garlic-Infused Canola Oil

1 yellow onion, wedged

Keep separate a 12-pack of Hawaiian Rolls. Freeze and thaw when ready to use.

 

 

 

Fun Friday: Cook once, eat twice. After school snacks and breakfast

26 Sep
These were healthy and a huge hit. Definitely a keeper.

These were healthy and a huge hit. Definitely a keeper.

ORIGINALLY POSTED SEPTEMBER 13, 2013

Cook once, eat twice.

I love that old adage. You cook once, and live on the leftovers. Or, you make double, since you’re cooking anyway, and have twice as much.

Either way, I like it.

I’ve been living on that theme all week long.

I’ve been a cooking machine this week, in between my own work hours, trying to deal with our crazy school year schedules, and making sure that we maintain a healthy eating lifestyle at the same time.

Really, just making sure everyone’s got something to eat when it’s time to eat.

However, one thing I really enjoy doing is making great after school snacks for my kids whenever I can. Everyone has something that makes them happy, and I think I’ve inherited my grandparents’ genes. My dad always said that my grandmother was happiest when everyone was eating.

If everyone is eating, they’re happy, and that makes me happy.

To me, as a mom, there is nothing more special than the moment the kids walk in the door from school. They’re tired, they’re hungry, they’ve got more work to do or places to go, but the look on their faces when they smell a snack fresh out of the oven or see it on the table is priceless to me.

I feel like I have the ability to make their day, every day. Or almost every day. I do the best I can. Later on in life, I want their memories of their school years to include coming in from school, and finding me there with something tasty for them to snack on. Some days I’m not even there, my schedule is not always consistent, but I’ve left them a tasty snack and a note on my way out the door.

To me, it’s things like that which make all the difference.

Everyone loves these whether for breakfast or after school or a meal on the run.

Everyone loves these whether for breakfast or after school or a meal on the run.

Additionally, I try to think smarter these days. If I’m going to make an after school snack, I might as well make enough of it to last for more than just one afternoon. I have tried to make things that can be used either as lunchbox snacks or as breakfast the next day.

These little mini quiches, or however you’d describe them, make a great after school snack. They’re healthy and you can make all different varieties to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters. This time I did tomato/egg/cheese, spinach/egg/cheese and just plain egg/cheese. Fifteen eggs made 16 good-sized cups.

They were a snack and they’ve been breakfast or lunch throughout the week as well.

The pumpkin muffins, pictured above, I doubled the recipe to make twice as many. They served as an after school snack, breakfast the next day and a lunchbox snack the day after that.

If I’m going to work hard, I might as well get the mileage out of my efforts.

On that same afternoon this week as the pumpkin muffins, I also made a big batch of homemade applesauce. If I’m going to stand there and peel three pounds of apples, I might as well peel six pounds (although I have to stop there or my hand aches from all the peeling and slicing).

I used one batch in a recipe that night, froze two batches in my freezer for future use, and had some leftover to serve on the side with dinner as well. There’s nothing like homemade applesauce, especially in the fall in New England.

Today, I’m going to share with you the recipe I found for these delicious pumpkin muffins. Note that the recipe calls for mini chocolate chips. I don’t *do* mini chocolate chips. If I’m going, I’m going all the way so mine had regular-sized chips. Otherwise, the recipe I made was the same, just doubled.

This recipe is not my own. Thanks to Skinnytaste.com for posting such a wonderful snack and breakfast! It got all thumbs up at our house and we’d definitely make these again!

If I'm going to spend the time, might as well make it worth my while.

If I’m going to spend the time, might as well make it worth my while.

Skinny Mini Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Skinnytaste.com
Servings: 14  • Size: 2 mini muffins  • Old Points: 3 pts • Weight Watcher Points+: 4 pt
Calories: 160 • Fat: 5 g • Carb: 27 g • Fiber: 2 g • Protein: 2 g • Sugar: 18 g
Sodium: 118 mg • Cholest: 0 mg

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup white whole wheat flour (King Arthur)
  • 3/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour (King Arthur)
  • 3/4 cup raw sugar
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 3/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups canned pumpkin puree (not pumpkin pie filling)
  • 2 tbsp virgin coconut oil (or canola)
  • 2 large egg whites
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • baking spray
  • 2/3 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a mini muffin tin with paper liners and lightly spray liners with oil for easy removal.

In a medium bowl, combine flours, sugar, baking soda, pumpkin spice, cinnamon, and salt with a wire whisk. Set aside.

In a large bowl mix pumpkin puree, oil, egg whites and vanilla; beat at medium speed until thick. Scrape down sides of the bowl.
Add flour mixture to the wet mixture, then blend at low speed until combined; do not over mix. Fold in chocolate chips.

Pour batter into prepared muffin tin and bake on the center rack for 22 to 24 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let them cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Makes 28 mini muffins or 14 regular sized muffins.

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: A freezer full of food

27 Aug
Cooking for someone else this summer got me thinking about the school year dinner menu.

Cooking for someone else this summer got me thinking about the school year dinner menu.

At the beginning of last month, I helped out a young woman at our church who had recently had some surgery that left her on “light duty” for 4-6 weeks. She’s got a new baby and several other children, one of whom is a toddler himself.

You can laugh. A mom…on light duty. I know what you’re thinking.

Impossible right?

That’s what I thought too, so I sent her a message to see if I could help her out at all by making a few meals that she could just reheat. She said absolutely.

I had asked her because the next day I had some time to myself, just a few hours in the afternoon where I could run to the store and pick some things up and prep her a few meals. It wouldn’t take much time and at the moment, I was able-bodied with older kids who’d be away for part of the day, so I was able to help out.

That afternoon, I picked up my supplies and spent some time in my kitchen, cooking up ground turkey for Shepherd’s Pie, boiling pasta for a pasta bake and cooking some chicken for chicken noodle soup. As I stood there at the stove, stirring my various meats and pasta, I got to thinking, “I really need to do this for us before school starts, put some meals into the freezer early on.”

So often throughout my parenting life, I’ve had these moments of “Why didn’t I think of that sooner??” and this was one of those types of moments. Now clearly, I know how to cook ahead, I know how to freeze meals, but oftentimes I don’t do it soon enough. Like in the summer. I’m so carefree in the summer as compared to the school year, that the last thing I’m thinking about is dinner for the first month of school.

This had me thinking though. I was going to try to do better. Each year I find that I’m just a little more organized than the last year. Each year, I get better. As a friend joked with me recently, by the time my oldest goes to college, I’ll be all set, totally prepared and organized.

Oftentimes, I find myself making breakfast and dinner at the same time. Here I've got muffins for breakfast, and cooked chicken to freeze ahead for a future lunchbox salad or a dinner.

Oftentimes, I find myself making breakfast and dinner at the same time. Here I’ve got muffins for breakfast, and cooked chicken to freeze ahead for a future lunchbox salad or a dinner.

A few weeks later, I sat with one of my daughters who loves to menu-plan and we made two lists: the first list was a list of make ahead meals we wanted to make and the second list was a shopping list of all the things I’d need to pick up in order to make anything ahead; things that would be above and beyond my normal two weeks of meals shopping list.

On our list for the grocery store included things like multiple pounds of ground turkey, multiple bags of chicken tenderloins, multiple boxes of pasta and a jar of sauce (in this case I was not using our homemade sauce).

As the summer progressed I kept these things in mind, and as I planned out my meals, I tried to think of things I could make double of, eating one that night and freezing one for another night. One night that wasn’t too hot to bake, I cooked up enough ingredients for two chicken pot pies. I used the recipe linked here and used chicken instead of turkey. I also only use a top crust on my pies, so one box of two refrigerated crusts will equal two pot pie meals. One Sunday, my husband made a double batch of American Chopped Suey and we ate a batch and froze a batch. Now we had two frozen meals.

We were on a roll.

The weekend before school began, we did a shopping and picked up a family pack of ground turkey which contained three pounds. I split it into one pound and two pounds and cooked them up in two separate skillets, shown above at the left, where I was also hard-boiling eggs for the fridge for the first week of school breakfasts and lunches.

Into my one pound of ground turkey, I added a packet of Taco Seasoning. I had a packet on hand, but you can also make your own, which I’ve done in the past. I split that pound of taco meat into two half pounds and froze them. I now had enough taco meat for a taco meal and lunches of taco salads, or two taco meals or two sets of lunches with taco salads. Either way, I was set for a little bit with taco meat. All I needed to do now was thaw it and use it.

Into my second skillet containing two pounds of ground turkey, I put two cans of creamed corn for a Shepherd’s Pie. We found that we need two pounds for one pie, given the size of our family. It also provides us leftovers for another time.

I put those into the freezer with the taco meat.

The night before school, I made Chocolate Chip Muffins for the first day of school breakfast. After they baked, since the oven was already on, I cooked up an entire two-pound bag of chicken tenderloins. These I froze for future dinners, salads, lunches ( chicken caesar salad is a popular choice). I was making real progress.

I think this excited me the most of all: two loaves of bread made into sandwiches of the kids' choosing, and frozen for lunches.

I think this excited me the most of all: two loaves of bread made into sandwiches of the kids’ choosing, and frozen for lunches.

And finally, the thing I’m probably most proud of that I’d been wanting to do: my make ahead sandwiches for the freezer. I can’t take any credit for this idea. A friend who I get a lot of great ideas from in my menu-planning had the idea herself. Her thought was that if Smuckers “Uncrustables” could work for lunches, couldn’t we use our Pampered Chef Press and Seal tool to make our own and freeze them? I tried it a couple of times last year and it worked out fine, but I really wanted to make up a whole big load of sandwiches. I had two loaves of bread waiting for me.

The night before school, I got my supplies together: creamy peanut butter, crunchy peanut butter, strawberry jelly, grape jelly, Nutella and Trader Joe’s Crunchy Cookie Butter. I got a cutting board and a whole bunch of knives (no cross contamination!) and got to work. It took about one minute before my two kids who were nearby saw what I was doing and wanted to take over the project for me.

Excellent!

Many hands make for light work! We got a lot done in half as much time.

Many hands make for light work! We got a lot done in half as much time.

I got a second cutting board and they both got to work.

In under an hour they’d done both loaves of bread, creating and sealing any kind of sandwich they personally liked or knew someone else liked, and I bagged them and labeled them. Done. I put three in the fridge for the next morning and gathered the rest.

I was so excited. I went downstairs to my freezer and cleared a spot on the door for them. I looked into my freezer, so proud. We were ready to star off the school year right: a bit more organized and prepared than before.

I can’t promise that I can maintain this through the busiest parts of the year, but I feel like if I prep it during the slower parts of the year, then I can be ready when those crazy times hit, which for us is just prior to the holidays and during the last two months of the school year. We’ll see how it goes. For now though, we are better off than we were! My general philosophy is “anything I do is better than doing nothing at all” and I do believe that. One step ahead is better than being three steps back.

I hope everyone has a great fall, and a great school year!

 

 

 

Birthday Couponing and Loyalty Programs

13 Aug

Lots of free birthday treats can come your way when you sign up for loyalty programs!

Lots of free birthday treats can come your way when you sign up for loyalty programs!

As a couponer, I’m always looking for a great bargain, but I also get pretty used to never paying full price for anything.

Even better than not paying full price is getting something totally free.

The week before my birthday, I was able to treat one daughter to lunch using my free burger coupon at Ruby Tuesday's.

The week before my birthday, I was able to treat one daughter to lunch using my free burger coupon at Ruby Tuesday’s.

Through the years I have found that many restaurant and store loyalty programs have a birthday treat that arrives in your email inbox or your snail mail right around the month of your birthday. The treat varies depending on the program and establishment from very specific, like a particular menu item at a restaurant, to a dollar amount you can spend for free at a retail location, using it to buy whatever you’d like.

This summer, as my birthday month rolled around, I tried to pay particular attention to my inbox as the gifts came in, printing them out if necessary and making a plan for how I’d like to use them so that they don’t go to waste. Many gifts expire in 30 days. There were some I knew I just wouldn’t use, or couldn’t because they’d moved out of our area, and others that I knew I definitely didn’t want to let go.

Two of my kids were treated to breakfast for dinner at Denny's the weekend before my birthday, using my birthday coupon from their loyalty program.

Two of my kids were treated to breakfast for dinner at Denny’s the weekend before my birthday, using my birthday coupon from their loyalty program.

Here’s a list of just some of the places I received emails and gifts from:

Sbarro’s (no longer in our area)

Friendly’s (no longer in our area)

Outback Steakhouse

Not Your Average Joe’s

Kohl’s

Denny’s

My froyo was free one afternoon when I took the kids out for a cool treat after a visit to the orthodontist.

My froyo was free one afternoon when I took the kids out for a cool treat after a visit to the orthodontist.

Bob’s Store

Pinkberry

Panera Bread

DSW shoes

Ruby Tuesday’s

T’s Restaurant (local to our area)

Vera Bradley

Dinner with a friend at Panera in the days following my birthday was made even more special when I found out that I had a free birthday treat for dessert!

Dinner with a friend at Panera in the days following my birthday was made even more special when I found out that I had a free birthday treat for dessert! I chose a chocolate crossaint.

 

Not only do I like being able to treat myself in the days and weeks surrounding my birthday each year; a little shopping here, a little eating out there, it’s also such a nice feeling to be able to treat my family. I love being able to say to my kids that we can go to lunch or dinner, or out for yogurt because it’s free, thanks to my birthday and they loyalty programs. It also makes my birthday last a whole month long as I shop and eat and treat!

If you haven’t yet explored some of the loyalty and rewards programs at area establishments near you, be sure to check them out in your travels. Pay particular attention to the places you go often. Those would be the places you’d get the most use out of a free treat which you can keep for yourself or share with loved ones when you’re out together.

If you’ve found some great ones, be sure to share them with us by leaving a comment below!

 

 

 

 

What’s for Dinner Wednesday: Miss Meg’s Marinade

6 Aug
In honor of Meg's last week, a recipe from her to me.

In honor of Meg’s last week, a recipe from her to me.

ORIGINALLY POSTED JUNE 19, 2013

Reposted today in honor of Miss Meg and her beau William and their recent wedding!!

“What’s for Dinner Wednesday” is my editor Meg’s brainchild. As my blog was in its infancy, it was Meg who asked me if I’d like to do a weekly post with my recipes for the Cranston Herald’s Facebook page.

Of course I said yes, and “What’s for Dinner Wednesday” was born.

This Friday is Meg’s last day at the Cranston Herald as she has gotten an exciting new job, working as the press secretary for our  Congressman, James Langevin.

We will miss her soooo much. So, so much. Meg is a wonderful editor, a wonderful boss. A great listener and someone who knows just what to say, how to say it, and when.

Did I mention that we’ll miss her?

Recently, Meg passed along a recipe to me for a new marinade. She found it on Allrecipes.com and said she thought we’d like it a lot and that it was easy. I said I’d try it soon, and just in time for her last “What’s for Dinner Wednesday” post, we did.

And yes, we liked it a lot.

So today, in honor of Miss Meg’s last day at work this week, I am sharing with you the recipe she shared with us.

Thank you Meg for all you’ve done and best of luck in your future! I know you will go far!

Remember to save a little bit for basting later on!

Remember to save a little bit for basting later on!

Miss Meg’s Honey Marinade

originally from Allrecipes.com

INGREDIENTS

1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used olive oil)

1/3 cup honey

1/3 cup soy sauce

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

8 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves cut into 1″  cubes (I used chicken tenderloin and cut them into 1″ cubes.)

2 cloves garlic

5 small onions, cut into 2″ pieces

Skewers

You can add bell peppers, zucchini, mushrooms, grape tomatoes, or anything you’d like to your skewers!

Marinade first, skewer second.

Marinade first, skewer second. Ready to grill!

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together oil, honey, soy sauce, and pepper. Before adding chicken, reserve a small amount of marinade to brush onto kabobs while cooking. Place the chicken, garlic, onions and peppers in the bowl, and marinate in the refrigerator at least 2 hours (the longer the better).
  2. Preheat the grill for high heat.
  3. Drain marinade from the chicken and vegetables, and discard marinade. Thread chicken and vegetables alternately onto the skewers.
  4. Lightly oil the grill grate. Place the skewers on the grill. Cook for 12 to 15 minutes, until chicken juices run clear. Turn and brush with reserved marinade frequently.
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