Tuesday, October 31, 2017

November Christmas Prep

     Every year, I try my best to be ready for Christmas long before it arrives. If I don't, I'm a frazzled mess and no one can really enjoy the holiday season. I truly believe that November is the month to prepare for Christmas and December is the month to enjoy Christmas. We take the entire month of December off of school and kill our bucket list. We bake cookies. We make gifts. We watch all of the holiday movies. It's wonderful.
     That said, I have to have a list or nothing gets done. I found a really great one on Pinterest, but when I went to look for it last year, it was gone. I was on the verge of panic when I talked myself down and decided to make a list of my own. That's what I'm sharing today. I hope it helps facilitate a restful and memorable Christmas season for you and your family.

November 1-7
Set Christmas Budget
Update Christmas card list
Choose cookies and treats to make
Make Christmas gift list
Make a Random Acts of Kindness list
Buy Advent candles
Purge toys
Buy 5 gifts

November 8-14
Buy stamps
Take a pantry and freezer inventory
Stock the liquor cabinet
Deep clean bedrooms
Buy Advent calendar or trinkets
Buy 5 gifts
Take Christmas card picture
Restock wrapping supplies

November 15-21
Print cards
Address envelopes
Buy stocking stuffers
Deep clean bathrooms and kitchen
Buy 5 gifts
Buy treat and gift containers
Make Holiday Bucket List

November 22-28
Buy baking supplies
Buy a gingerbread house kit
Put up the Christmas tree
Make and freeze cookie dough
Deep clean living and dining rooms
Mail cards
Make ornament for exchange
Buy 5 gifts

November 29-December 5
Wrap gifts
Decorate house and yard
Finish gift shopping
Search holiday playlists

December 6-January 2
Enjoy your family and friends
Drink lots of hot chocolate
Watch all of the best movies
Bake cookies
Laugh a lot
Make gifts
Listen to only holiday music
Bless others

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Cream cheese and jam strudel

I just realized that I blog for me. I blog all of those recipes that I make or modify that can't be found elsewhere. I write them here so that when I want make them again, I can find them all in one place. Otherwise, I'd totally forget that they exsist.
Case in point, I'd forgotten that I made crock pot bread until I jumped back on today to share this recipe and saw that I'd made it when my stove gave up the ghost. Someday, I hope to have my full faculties back. Today is not that day.
I love strudel. Crispy on the outside, sweet filling on the inside. I do not love the amount of time and effort that goes into a really good one, so I've come up with a cheater recipe. It is seriously one of the easiest things I've ever baked. It doesn't hurt that it looks totally impressive and tastes delicious.
The secrets are frozen puff pastry and jarred jam. Add in some sweetened cream cheese and you feel like a pastry chef.
So, here is all you need:
1 frozen puff pastry (thawed according to directions)
4oz cream cheese, softened
2 TBSP sugar
1 tsp vanilla
4 TBSP jam (I used seedless blackberry, but any flavor works)

You see how I snagged the first piece before my kids even knew it was out of the oven?

Preheat the oven to 375°. Place the thawed pastry on a piece of parchment paper large enough to fit a jelly roll pan. Using a rolling pin or flat-sided glass, roll it out to about 12"x16". Gently lift the parchment and pastry onto a jelly roll pan. Slice each side into one inch wide strips, leaving the center third for the filling.

Mix the cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in a small bowl until smooth. Spread down the middle of the pastry. Top this with the jam, spreading until smooth.

Criss cross the strips, alternating sides. Seal up the ends by crimping them together. Bake at 375° for 25 minutes or until golden brown.

We especially enjoy this while warm, topped with homemade whipped cream.

This is one of those goodies that can come together in about 30 minutes. It's great for busy weeknight desserts, unexpected visitors, or lazy Saturday morning breakfasts.


Friday, January 22, 2016

Slow cooker bread

My oven gave up last week. Luckily, my stovetop is still cooperating. Let's just say that my Crock Pot and I have gotten really close.

Then it snowed. As we all know, snowy weather is baking weather. I was craving fresh baked bread. No dice.

Then it dawns on me, why can't I bake bread in my Crock Pot? I go scouring the internet looking for a bread recipe. As luck would have it, I find a healthy one with whole wheat flour, oats, and wheat germ. I mix it up. It bakes nicely, and....it's dry.

Round two. I skip the internet recipe, but use the same baking method. Bingo!


1 TBSP yeast
1/4 cup warm water (~110 degrees)
1 cup warm milk
1 large egg
2 TBSP olive oil
2 TBSP honey
1 tsp salt
2 3/4 - 3 cups flour

1. Turn your slow cooker in high. Grease a 1.5 quart glass mixing bowl and set aside.  Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Add this to a large bowl with milk, egg, oil, honey, and salt. Stir to combine.

2. Add flour 1/2 cup at a time and stir until a dough ball forms. Knead the dough for about 5 minutes, adding additional flour if needed, until it is smooth and elastic. Turn the dough into the mixing bowl and LOOSELY cover with foil.

3. Place 1/2 cup of water and a flattened, crumpled ball of aluminum foil or a metal trivet into the bottom of the slow cooker. Set the covered mixing bowl on top. Cover and cook on high 2 hours 45 minutes.

Unfortunately,  I didn't take any pictures, because it went straight from the Crock Pot onto the dinner table. Though I certainly recommend allowing it to cool before cutting it.

Because I love a good shortcut, I use an extra large bowl to do my mixing and I then knead it in the bowl so I don't have as much clean up to do.

Now, I will say that this is not as fluffy and soft as bread baked in an oven, but it's easier and a wonderful stand in for times when you want bread and your oven is on the fritz or, say, it's really hot outside.

Best of luck! Let me know how yours turns out!

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Meal Planning

I'm still alive over here! Apparently, I'm a fits a fits and spurts kind of blogger. I recently made a large meat purchase and thought it might be helpful to know what I cook to keep our budget so low. I currently budget $350 per month for 5, sometimes 6 (we have one away at college eight months out of the year).

OK, here's what I bought:
10lbs. ground beef $1.99/lb
10lbs. Country pork ribs $1.49/lb
10lbs. chicken drumsticks $0.89/lb
10lbs. chicken leg quarters $0.49/lb
7lbs. boneless skinless checken breast $1.69/lb
4lb chuck roast $3.49/lb
TOTAL: Just under $75

By making a trip to the grocery (Aldi's and Sam's) for some staples and adding that to the items I already have in my pantry, fridge, and freezer, I was able to plan out 29 meals. I also plan in leftover days (about one every 5-7 days) and we buy take and bake pizza on Sundays (with a coupon), so I actually have enough meals to last us about five weeks. So, with keeping chickens, thus having fresh eggs always on hand and adding in breakfasts and lunches for the weeks, you can see how I keep our costs so low.

So, above you see our menu for that period of time. I don't necessarily go down the list in order, but try to mix it up, so that we aren't left with beans and soup at the end of the month. I also try to scan the menu every few days and make sure that the recipes that use fresh produce are made before the produce goes bad. Pretty simple system.

And I made my menu board out of a frame from the dollar store and a pretty sheet of scrapbook paper. It hangs on the wall in my kitchen and I erase each meal as we eat it.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Gardening - Plants or seed?

You've gotten your raised bed set up...now what? I recommend that if you are a first time gardener, you buy plants to start. Success in your first year makes you more likely to continue on to your second year. It will cost you more up front, but will give you a jump start as you figure everything out.

Of course, there are also those plants that grow just well by plunking a seed in the ground and calling it a day. Below is a list of common backyard vegetables and herbs and whether you should buy plants/start seeds or sow in the ground.

Buy plants/Start seeds:

Basil               Broccoli               Brussels Sprouts            Cucumbers            
Eggplant        Squash                Sweet potatoes               Tomatoes  

Sow in ground:

Beans            Carrots            Corn            Garlic            Kale            Onions
Peas              Potatoes         Radishes    Spinach

To save even more money on your garden, seeds are the way to go. Buying through seed catalogs will give you a greater selection and larger quantity of seed for your dollar. You will also be able to buy heirloom seeds to grow vegetables that you could never find in a store because they don't transport well. They often taste better, as well. However, for a very small garden, the seed packets sold through seed catalogs often have more seeds than you can use in a season and you will need to store them. Shipping can also be cost prohibitive. When just starting out with one raised bed and starting your own seeds, it is fine to buy the small packets at your local garden center.

There are as many ways to start seeds as there are people who garden. You can start them in trays in a window sill. You can grow them under lights in your basement. You can start them in eggshells, egg cartons, toilet paper rolls, and on and on and on. Here is my two cents on starting seeds. I have tried a few different trays and some egg cartons, with not much success. I am terrible about over-watering and under watering. I also lack the space in areas where they will get enough sunlight to not have them in the way of everyday life. So, I'm trying something new this year. I have been saving milk jugs for a few months. I am going to cut them open, add soil and seeds, tape them back together. I will then set them outside without the lid, so that they can get some moisture, in an area that gets lots of sun - essentially making little individual greenhouses. The bonus to using this method is that I won't have to harden off the plants to acclimate them to the outside conditions, like I would have to do with plants started inside.

I will start the first of my seeds this week (February 15). Here is my schedule:

Week of February 15:
Brussels Sprouts
Week of March 1st:
Week of March 15th:
Week of April 5th:
Sweet Potato slips

It is very easy to get excited and plant a bit of everything or what you picture you should be growing. I say take stock of what your family eats most and plant that. You could grow the most beautiful radishes around, but if your family hates radishes, your time and effort were wasted.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Gardening - Setting up a raised bed

A great way to keep yourself in fresh, tasty produce for pennies is by growing it yourself. This can seem like a daunting task, but really it doesn't have to be. My best advice is to start slow. I am one of those people that tend to jump into a project with both feet - lasers set to fire!  Then...I burn out, because I've tried to do everything at once instead of breaking it down into smaller, easier to digest pieces. This is VERY true in gardening.

Start with containers if you aren't comfortable or ready for a full blown garden. Grow some pots with your favorite herbs this year. Next year, try some tomatoes, potatoes, or green beans in planters. Mint makes everyone feel like they are a master gardener. Just, please take my advice on that one and keep it in the pot. You can not drink that many mojitos and juleps without losing your job, your spouse, or both.

There are 1,000 different ways to grow vegetables. I, personally, use raised beds. They are more efficient (in my humble opinion). You get more produce from less space and you spend less time weeding. As a lazy gardener, it is right up my alley!

Here is, basically, how I started. I decided how long I wanted my bed. I choose 8 feet. It is three feet wide, so that I can reach the middle of the bed from each side. You never step into a raised bed to avoid compacting the soil. I laid down a layer of cardboard in an 8x3 rectangle in the Fall. I threw my vegetable and fruit scraps, coffee grounds and eggshells on it all Fall and Winter, adding a layer of newspaper as the scraps composted down. I repeated this process until planting time (usually the first week of May in our zone). Though, if you are just starting now, you can forgo the scraps. I was just trying to get a jump start on the composting process.

We put down concrete blocks around the rectangle. You can use boards, branches, straw bales, whatever to hold in the soil.  We filled it in with 1 part peat moss, 2 parts top soil, and 1 part compost. These are all readily available at your local garden center. I have since matured my own compost enough that I shouldn't have to buy it again.

Now your bed is ready for planting!  I'll have future posts about starting plants from seed, how much to grow per square foot, harvest and food preservation, and things of the like, but I highly recommend the book The Weekend Homesteader by Anna Hess. She goes much more in depth about gardening than I ever could here.

Pinterest is always a wealth of information on...pretty much anything, including gardening. I do have a Pinterest board titled Grow It. My user name is eatingelephants if you want to peruse my gardening pins.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Make it Yourself - cheese

Cheese is expensive, y'all. Full stop. Now, while I am no Caroline Ingalls, buttering and aging cheese for my family on the pantry shelf, I have dipped my toes into cheese making. I will say that mozzarella is my favorite, but this recipe for farm cheese is the most accessible, easiest recipe I've tried. You don't need rennet, citric acid, or any aging. As a matter of fact, part of its appeal is that you likely have everything you need to make it right now.

For the cost of a gallon of milk (under $3 if you're doing it right), and a half hour of time, you can have about a pound of delicious farm cheese and heaping helping of whey to make crepes, pancakes, or as a power-packed drink for yourself or your chickens. (You DO have chickens, right?)

This is not the stuff that you Kraft sells, wrapped in plastic on your grocery store shelves. It isn't a hard cheese. It is soft and crumbly - more like a feta or ricotta with a very mild flavor. It lends itself well to adding garlic, herbs, and the like.

So here's what you'll need:
1 gallon of milk - any milk will do, but whole milk makes for a tastier cheese.
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar (I make my own, but that's another post!)
1 Tbsp salt
minced garlic, herbs, or whatever else you'd like to add

  • Place your milk in a large pot, bring to a boil
  • Remove from heat
  • Pour in vinegar and stir
  • Wait for the cheese curds to separate from the whey. You will know that this has occured when the whey is yellowish and clear - not white.

  • Pour the contents of the pot into a colander lined with cheesecloth, a bandana, or a clean cloth napkin (like I did here) set into a large bowl to catch the whey.

  • Add salt and/or herbs
  • Gather the cloth up and give it a good twist to remove the excess whey. Be careful. It is very hot. Because of this, I sometimes tie the corners of the cloth together over a skewer and hang it through the handles on my kitchen cabinets, allowing the excess whey to drip out.
  • That's it! You now have about a pound of farm cheese. Eat it on salads, in pastas. Spread it on crackers or eat it straight from the bowl.