Archive | Shopping on a budget RSS feed for this section

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

24 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: WW Classic Meatloaf

2 Nov
We needed a new meatloaf recipe, so I found this one and gave it a try. It was a hit!

We needed a new meatloaf recipe, so I found this one and gave it a try. It was a hit!

Earlier this school year, I had a coupon for Barnes and Noble for $5.00 off my purchase. I have their membership as well, and there was a book I was in need of. I decided to head down there one morning and make my purchase, and I knew that if I played my cards right, I’d be walking out of there with my book for just $6 or so.

What I didn’t take into account was my inability to just walk into the store, go directly to the one item I need, not look at anything else, pay and walk out the door.

I don’t think it’s possible. My kids don’t even think it’s possible. When I say, “I just need to run into -X store- for one thing,” they laugh it off. They know.

And so, on that day I walked out with the book I needed, along with a brand new cookbook that I didn’t know I needed, but apparently, I did. I used to actually own this cookbook years ago, and really loved it, and then at some point when we had a minor kitchen counter flood, it got ruined and I had to get rid of it. When I saw it on the shelf at Barnes and Noble this fall, I started to thumb through it and decided that I needed it again.

The New Complete Cookbook by Weight Watchers used to be one of my favorites, even though I personally have not ever followed the diet itself. I like the idea that the recipes in it are already healthy and I like that there are points assigned to the recipes that give me a general idea of just how healthy they are based on how many points each recipe is. It’s the very same reason why I love the Skinnytaste recipes that I share here so often, and I also love that her recipes show nutritional values and give the WW points too.

If you are following a Weight Watchers diet, this cookbook has an older points system in it but there was a bright red sticker on the cover that directed consumers to a web link where you could download and print out the new points values for every recipe in the book.

Today’s recipe is for a basic comfort food: meatloaf. We had an old meatloaf recipe we used but no one was really loving it anymore, despite the fact that we all really love meatloaf. I was on the hunt for a meatloaf recipe that inspired me, if there is such a thing, and as I thumbed through this new cookbook, I found one. We tried it, loved it, and today I share it with you below. I love that it is chock full of veggies and I can tell you that the leftovers from this meal disappeared very quickly throughout the rest of the week. If you follow Weight Watchers, the new points value is 6, rather than the 7 listed in the book for the old PointsPlus plan.

WW CLASSIC: Our Favorite Meatloaf

Serves 4, Gluten Free

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 cup finely chopped white mushrooms
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 celery stalk, finely chopped
1 pound lean ground beef (7% fat or less) We used two pounds of ground turkey, and doubled the recipe.
1/2 cup quick cooking (not instant) oats -be sure you use gluten free oats for a gluten free recipe.
2 large egg whites
3 Tablespoons ketchup
1 Tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup tomato puree or tomato sauce

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat oil in large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add mushrooms, onion, carrot, and celery, cook, stirring until onion is soften, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl and let cool slightly.
  3. Add all remaining ingredients except tomato puree to vegetables in bowl, mix well. Press meatloaf mixture into 4 1/2 x 8 1/2 inch loaf pan. (Because we doubled our recipe, we used a larger baking dish.)
  4. Bake meatloaf 30 minutes. Brush tomato puree on top of loaf. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meatloaf registers 160 degrees Fahrenheit, 30-45 minutes longer. Let stand about 5 minutes, cut into eight slices.

 

 

 

Monday Musings: What exactly did we create?

17 Oct
Did we dream it or did we do it?

Did we dream it or did we do it?

Recently we had a conversation in our family that has really stuck with me. At the time, it left me a tiny bit unsettled, sad yet happy, longing yet not, and questioning a few things. I had been thinking on it and thinking on it, mulling it over in my mind for quite some time, and hesitating whether or not to publish a blog post about it or not. Last week I watched a video which confirmed that yes, I did want to publish this post. I encourage you to watch this video from beginning to end. It is well worth your time. Thank you to the Attleboro High School students who spent many hours of time on such an important topic.

In the meantime, here is my post.

****

It was summertime.

We were all together and we had the occasion to find ourselves in a warehouse. There was an event there and we were attending, but the event only used a small part of the available space. It was a big, open warehouse, a different experience than warehouse shopping, like at BJ’s or Costco or Sam’s Club. The walls were black, the floors were black, it was an exciting open space, big and empty: seemingly like a giant blank canvas.

As we walked through the space, we marveled at the vast openness of it; it almost encouraged you to run wild, to yell out loud to hear your voice echo in the space, but we didn’t do that. We walked and we talked.

“What if?” Some one of us said it. I truly don’t remember who.

But I do remember what followed next.

“What if we lived here?! What if this was our house?!”

“I’d want a big space to dance!”

“A huge kitchen for cooking!”

“An art studio!”

“A stage!”

“A room filled with books on all the walls!”

“A sewing room with tons of space for fabrics!”

“A place for a 3D printer and doing science experiments!”

“A music room for playing piano and instruments!”

“A photography studio!”

And on, and on and on.

We laughed and talked and called out ideas to each other as we designed our new home. In real life, we live in a regular-sized house, like regular people do, and sometimes (okay, many times) it seems too small for all of us, but we always pride ourselves in being creative with our space, always finding ways to make it fit our needs at the time of our lives that we’re in. We’re comfortable with making changes as our needs change, and that’s just what we’ve always done. We make it work for us.

But this, this imaginary blank canvas of a home, it was exciting to think about for a few minutes as we walked through it and out, out into the bright sunshine of the outdoors and towards our car.

Once we got in the car, the conversation was over and we moved on to the next thing, back to real life and back to summer and then eventually back to school and work.

I couldn’t stop thinking about it though. As two educators, we’d always imagined starting our own school. Hands-on, experiential learning is our thing. As parents we have fostered that passion in our kids too.

In my mind I pondered the conversation. What did we really imagine? Was it our imaginary house in a huge open space, or had we created the school of our dreams?

And really, the school of our kids’ dreams?

It made me a little bit sad. Sad at first, because most likely we won’t ever get to open up our own school in that warehouse with all of the hands-on learning experiences. Sad second, because in reality, so much of what our kids called out as the things they’d love to be surrounded by on a daily basis, is so much of what’s been removed from traditional public schools as the years go by. I am very thankful that our school district offers a stellar option for high school students through a regional career and technical school which is located on one of our city’s high school campuses, but I know that not everyone has that option everywhere, and that the guaranteed hands-on, engaging education that’s found in a career and tech program is only for high school students, at least in our neck of the woods. I’m also happy to see instrumental music education returning to our elementary schools here, after having been gone for so long thanks to budget woes which are not unique to just our area.

That said, so much of what I used to see in schools as I covered story after story, is no longer done as teachers have said that they have run out of time to do the types of things they used to do. As more testing and seat-work move in, more hands-on experiences and creativity move out. Sometimes, if schools specialize in the arts, they leave out the sciences. As they specialize in science and technology, they lose focus on the arts-things like theater, music, visual and performing arts. That makes me sad. Home economics, cooking, sewing and fashion, wood and textile design…don’t even get me started. In so many places, although not everywhere, these areas of study, these life and career skills that students need the minute they are out in the world on their own, are gone. It is so much so that on a recent college tour, we were even told of basic cooking classes that are offered to college students getting ready to live on their own who don’t possess those types of basic independent living skills.

But yet despite my sadness, I soon had an awesome realization, and ultimately it made me happy and it made me proud.

No, we didn’t open our school (at least not yet), we don’t have a giant home and we definitely don’t have a school-sized budget. But that said, all of those things that our kids dreamed of having in their space, they dream of because they have experienced them. As they’ve grown we’ve designed our open spaces in our home to be spaces that foster creative play, learning and hands-on experiences. Whether it was dress-up and school, arts and crafts, or library and kitchen imaginary play spaces in our basement when they were little, or lessons in things like sewing, dance, music, theater and art as they got older, they’ve been able to be exposed to so many things and have had the time and the opportunity to explore and experience them all. Books have always lived on shelves in every bedroom, under pillows with flashlights and book lights. Play-doh, paint, glue and glitter have always been regular staples in our craft supplies. We have had a garden in our backyard almost every summer since our kids were young. As they grew, the books, spaces and activities grew and changed with them, and the play kitchen space became cooking with us in the real kitchen space, a passion of ours that they all share.

When learning experiences were offered in our city or nearby cities and towns for free, we exposed them to them, while enrolling them in regular lessons for some of the things they loved whenever we were able to. They’ve always been exposed to things that interest them and spark their creativity: free workshops on 3D printing or stop-motion animation at the library, free reading events and encounters with famous authors at the State House, science experiments in our kitchen, lots of opportunities for great experiences through the Girl Scouts like photography lessons and outdoor camping trips, for example.

As teens and tweens they now have a sewing machine in every bedroom. We have paint and canvases, fabric, easels and musical instruments in our home, and so many books. We cook together and they cook independently. As I look around in this instant, there are sketch books sitting out right now, out in the open here in our living room, awaiting the next burst of inspiration, and there’s a draft of someone’s book on my laptop, a dress form with an almost-finished dress on it in a bedroom down the hall.

So as sad as I was that I know we probably won’t ever have our school, and sad for what many students won’t ever have because it’s lost from so many schools and out of reach for many family budgets, after much thought, I was ultimately happy and proud. I felt that if these were the things our kids wanted in their imaginary home, or maybe in their vision of the ultimate perfect school, and if we’d somehow managed to dedicate ourselves to being able to provide them all for them over the years in our own home, in their own real lives, then we’d done a good job of teaching in a hands-on, experiential way. We have succeeded in fostering a love of hands-on learning, of reading and of writing, a passion for the arts and for the sciences, and we’ve given them life-long skills they need to be successful when they are living independently. As we now tour colleges and see the hands-on experiential learning that is taking place there, we see too, that it is the desired outcome for secondary education over any standardized test, and we know we have prepared our kids well for this type of learning which will later transcend into the jobs of the future. Colleges look for students who have experienced true learning, not the one-sided delivery of a curriculum or the passing of a test or of dozens of tests. Employers look for a well-rounded problem solver and critical thinker with a wide variety of skills in their repertoire, not just someone who can ace a test.

Although my mulling over of this conversation was initially one tinged with sadness for what wasn’t or what will never be, it is ultimately one that makes me smile. We had a dream, we had a goal, and in essence we did it and we did it for those students who matter to us most of all: our own. We did it in a small space and on a tiny budget and we continue to do it each and every day. We have always sacrificed a lot, often, and in so many other areas, but we are our children’s first teachers, they are our ultimate legacy, and hopefully when they leave our nest, they’ll be able to continue to live a life filled with a passion for hands-on learning and experiencing life to its fullest.

 

1

 

Two weeks of meals and a new recipe for you

12 Oct
One of my favorite fall meals ever: Cranberry Chicken

One of my favorite fall meals ever: Cranberry Chicken

Happy Wednesday everyone!

There is a crisp feeling in the air these days and just the other night, I did it: I turned on the heat in the house.

With the change in season comes some meals on our bi-weekly menu that we don’t make really any other time of the year. We all get excited when we see the reappearance of those menu items.

Without further ado, here is our list for the current two weeks of meals. I hope that you’ll find something on this list that inspires you too!

TWO WEEKS OF MEALS

Monday: Whole chicken (this was a carryover from last time, we never got to have it during that two week cycle.)

Tuesday: National Taco Day, so……tacos

Wednesday: Pasta de Peche (this is an old Italian egg drop soup kind of pasta recipe. It reminds me of my childhood but it’s actually a recipe my daughter brought home from her friend’s house and it is her grandmother’s recipe. It is so simple, so here it is as we make it for a family of four, and then we make smaller version for one gluten free:

PASTENA OR PECE de PEPE:
16 oz. box of pasta, 4 scrambled eggs, 4 cubes of chicken bouillon, drizzle of olive oil

Boil the pasta as usual. When it is done, drain the water but do not take the pasta out of the pan. Leave a small amount of water in the bottom. Shut the heat off and add in beaten egg with a little olive oil. Stir into pasta. Add in (Herbox) bouillon. Stir until egg has cooked. Add a butter, salt and pepper to taste.    (For the gluten free version the box of pasta is 8.8 oz, so we use 2 eggs and 2 bouillon cubes.)

Thursday: Steaks

Friday: out to dinner

1Saturday: DIY tortilla pizzas (corn tortillas for gluten free)

Sunday: Pork Chops

Monday: Cranberry Chicken

Tuesday: Grilled chicken with melted cheese and avocado

Wednesday: Pasta with zucchini rounds parmesan (This is a new recipe, I will let you know how it goes!)

Thursday: Chicken wings and legs

Friday: Hamburgers, chicken burgers and hot dogs

 

Fun Friday: Homemade Chocolate Cornstarch Pudding

30 Sep
There is just something so delicious about homemade pudding!

There is just something so delicious about homemade pudding!

TGIF Everyone!

Today’s recipe is a fast, easy, fun and inexpensive treat to make!

I love pudding and I always have, even as a kid. I remember my mom making pudding on top of the stove and having me stir and stir and stir with the wooden spoon until it changed color and texture and we knew it was done. She still has the same little glass pedestal cups that she’d put the pudding in. I took these memories and carried them on for my own kids on occasion, but not often enough, in my opinion. It had been such a long time since I’d made a stove-top pudding.

Recently I saw a homemade pudding recipe that was quick, gluten free, and had just a few ingredients. The stirring on top of the stove is what takes the longest–that and waiting for it to chill if you only like it cold.

I love warm pudding and I love chilled pudding, and the last time we had it, we had company over and we debated: do we love the skin that forms on top or not? It was a mixed review. I don’t mind it, I actually love it, but some people didn’t like it at all.

A double recipe makes about six mugs of pudding.

A double recipe makes about six mugs of pudding.

I have found that for this recipe I need to at least double it for there to be enough for five of us, but when we have had company, I have even tripled it because there were eight of us in total.

I found the recipe for this Chocolate Cornstarch Pudding on allrecipes.com, one of my favorite go-to recipe sites. It got 4.5 stars out of five, and I’d give it a whole five out of five if I were rating it!

Here is the recipe:

Chocolate Cornstarch Pudding
INGREDIENTS

1/2 cup white sugar

3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/4 cup cornstarch

1/8 tsp. salt

2 3/4 cups milk

2 tablespoons butter, room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

DIRECTIONS

In a saucepan, stir together sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and salt. Place over medium heat, and stir in milk. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon. Remove from heat, and stir in butter and vanilla. Let cool briefly, and serve warm, or chill in refrigerator until serving.

pudding-3

A Menu, A Recipe and A Warning

21 Sep
Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

Ready for another two weeks of dinners?

September.

How I enjoy the little breaks that I get in September.

The start of school comes barreling in for weeks before that actual first day. They are filled with doctor appointments of all kinds-eyes, teeth, and school physicals, along with coaches’ practices for school sports teams, and whatever else we manage to squeeze in. We shop for clothes, shoes, notebooks and pencils. Those last two weeks of summer vacation fly by and then suddenly, the front door opens and closes a few times one morning, and by 7:30 am, everyone is gone. The house is incredibly silent. So much so that I sit and revel in the silence for a little while, sad, but yet relieved. We did it. We made it to the first day of school.

Whew….

Because I am primarily a school news reporter, this early part of September is my down time, and I enjoy it very much. I still work, but the intensity of my job is lower at the start of the year and it gives me a few weeks to ease into the school routines before it really picks up and we fly into the fall and holiday season of writing, school and family commitments.

This is the time of year I can start to try out some recipes that I’ve been putting aside, sharing on Facebook so I don’t forget where to find them, looking through cookbooks and this is the time of year I have the most time to share them on The Whole Bag of Chips. I even have the time to look up and link up the recipes for any of the meals I’ve shared previously.

Since last year I hardly had any time at all, and since it’s September now, I am giving you a nice, full post today. It’s got our Two Weeks of Meals menu for this week and next, a new recipe we tried out last week and surprise….a safety warning to go along with it!

First off: Two Weeks of Meals

Sunday: Homemade Chili (and later, homemade chocolate pudding for dessert!)

Monday: Paninis

Tuesday: Baked potato soup (new recipe we’re trying out)

Wednesday: Ravioli with sauteed shrimp and grape tomatoes

Thursday: Grilled chicken caesar salad

Friday: Homemade pizza

Saturday: Kielbasa

Sunday: Baked chicken dinner

Monday: Meatloaf burgers

Tuesday: Chicken pot pie (made with the leftover chicken from Sunday)

Wednesday: Cauliflower/Broccoli/Chicken casserole

Thursday: Eggplant Parmesean and pasta

Friday: Leftovers

 

This was a gluten free, lowfat recipe we tried out recently and loved. Every single person gave it a thumbs up. Literally.

This was a gluten free, lowfat recipe we tried out recently and loved. Every single person gave it a thumbs up. Literally.

Next Up: A New Recipe for you to try out, and a warning to go along with it!

Our menu planning is challenging for us because we are trying to combine meals that work for our busy schedule with providing healthy eating options for our family and making it either a gluten free meal or providing almost the exact same option in a gluten free version, every night. Not to mention, we try not to make things we know people don’t like.

Challenging.

But doable.

So this recipe for the Skinnytaste Zucchini Lasagna is one that I saw on Facebook, and I shared it out so that I wouldn’t forget where it was. We really wanted to try it, so we added it to the last two-week menu cycle of meals. It was delicious. A little labor-intensive, so we scheduled it on a night we’d be eating later, with more time to cook. I’d be working that night and my husband would be able to come in a little earlier in the evening to help make it, and to help with all the nighttime pick-ups for the kids.

What’s that they say about the best laid plans?

This was a delicious meal, any leftovers disappeared within days, and we'd definitely make it again, just a little more carefully next time.

This was a delicious meal, any leftovers disappeared within days, and we’d definitely make it again, just a little more carefully next time.

 

Be sure to use ALL parts of your kitchen tools, especially the guards for the sharper ones!

Be sure to use ALL parts of your kitchen tools, especially the guards for the sharper ones!

 

And so, here is the final part of my post for you: the safety warning.

The warning goes like this:

If you are using a sharp kitchen tool, be sure that you are using all of the necessary parts and pieces that go with it. They are there for a reason! Zucchini is a slippery veggie and kitchen tools are very sharp. If you are not careful, you may end up heading out to the emergency room instead of heading to the dinner table!

 

Have a safe and  happy new school year, a happy fall season and a happy two weeks of meals!

New recipe: Stuffed Pepper Casserole from Skinny Mom and Sue

27 Jun
A new recipe for us!

A new recipe for us!

Well here it is, the last week of June!

Hooray!!! We made it to summer vacation! I will admit, there were days and nights I didn’t think it would ever, ever, EVER get here, and the final month of the school year was absolutely brutal to get through, but we did it. We have a newly minted junior in high school, an eighth grader, and a sixth grader, and we will finally be back in just two schools again next year, rather than the three from this year.

To help us make it through the year, we relied on many of our tried and true recipes, but there were also a couple of new ones thrown in there every so often. This is one I have been wanting to post for some time now, but I just never had a chance to get on and do it.

I’ve mentioned my friend Sue on this blog a few times already. You can read about Sue, her kindness, generosity and her fabulous recipes here and here.  Sue has this wonderful habit of texting me to let me know that she’s left me a treat in her milkbox. It might be a bag of the snacks I linked to just now, or it might be cookies, or a book, or in one case, a container of a new recipe she had tried out. The recipe was for a Stuffed Pepper Casserole and it was from the blog Skinny Mom. You can view the recipe here.

I love the look and smell of fresh veggies cooking!

I love the look and smell of fresh veggies cooking!

As soon as I tried Sue’s casserole (which was gluten free and low fat, perfect for our family’s needs) I knew I had to add it to one of our two week menu plans. Sue had made some adjustments of her own, adding in mushrooms, using the sauce she likes, and things like that, and I opted to do the same thing. We added in mushrooms and olives, used a sauce we liked, and I even decided to double the recipe, thinking we’d then have it leftover for another night’s meal.

I cooked this recipe in my new Pampered Chef stir fry pan, and as I did, I quickly realized that not only would I have enough leftover for another meal that week, but I actually had enough for two full casseroles: one for that week with leftovers and one to bag up into a large-sized ziploc freezer bag and freeze for a future night. It would just need to be thawed out and baked with cheese on top.

I also tried out a new gluten-free biscuit mix which we flavored with a garlic powder and butter topping, and that went over well too. All in all, I had a new, delicious meal and I had enough for a whole second meal as well. It was a win-win for us. I would most definitely make this meal again in the future. Anyone who loves stuffed peppers or even American Chopped Suey, would love this recipe too! I encourage you to try it, and I thank Sue for sharing it with me!

I quickly realized that I had enough meat for not one, but two casseroles!

I quickly realized that I had enough meat for not one, but two casseroles!