Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The 12 Days of Christmas...that kinda got out of hand (in a good way)

one h ᵉ α r t... one w ᴼ r ℓ ∂ by Just Kimberlee
For the past couple of years, we have been slowly building toward doing a Twelve Days of Christmas sort of deal, wherein we give a small gift to (1) people in our lives who we truly appreciate, but who don't hear it nearly enough, (2) people in thankless jobs, (3) people who have had a rough run of things, or (4) people who look like they could just use a bit of kindness. We have done a few more people each year. I was determined to make that list of 12 this year seems to have turned into many more than that.

With the smaller boys getting older and grandparents now asking them what they want for Christmas and their sudden awareness of the Toys R Us Wish Book (harumpf!), I'm becoming more and more displeased with all of the introspection I've been hearing in the getting department around here. So, I've printed up our blank calendar. We have a list of about 22 people (I think we'll take one day per week off). I believe I will try to tie the giving in with our advent calendar (Who are we going to give to today?)

This will all start tomorrow. I've tried to slide a few "easy" ones in there for those days when we are running frantically. (I hope that doesn't sound terrible!) By easy I mean requiring little prep work. For example, we are going to leave some candy canes on windshields at Wal-Mart. We are going to pick up a cup of coffee for the Salvation Army bell ringer - that sort of thing. Some others I've got on the list are having the boys make some drawings and cards and taking them to the nursing home. We are taking cookies to Jacob's football coaches. We are giving a small gift card to a kid who we know has had a rough year. I'll try to list them out like I do my Eat What You Have recipes every few days. Hopefully, I'll have some attitude transformations to share, as well!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Grocery shopping

I've heard lots of different opinions from lots of different people on which grocery store is "best."  I say the one that gives you the best value.  I had a real eye opener this week and it is not the first or second time that this has happened to me.  I had to buy some milk, eggs, juice, fruit, potatoes - those sorts of things this week, along with a few items to make special holiday dishes.  I went through all of the ads, checked prices, gathered coupons, and made my list to take to Wal-Mart for price matching. Eight of the ten items on my price match list were cheaper at Wal-Mart than the other stores' sale prices.

 I don't want to shop at a store that lures me in with loss leaders only to charge me more for everything else.  I don't want to pay more for my groceries for the ambiance and a Starbucks - which is just going to charge you for one cup what you should be paying for a whole can.  I want to spend as little as possible on the products my family needs and use the money left over to save for a family vacation or a new HVAC or a date night.  That's my 2 cents.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Eat What You Have - Days 17-25

It's been over a week now and I'm sitting here wishing I had written all of this out sooner.  I'm sure I'll forget something.  I hope you can forgive me.

Day 17 - Baked Tomato Casserole I did not, in fact, have any mac and cheese reserved, but I went ahead and made some myself.  For those fans of the boxed stuff, because It's "easier" try making it from scratch once and I promise you the difference in flavor is worth the extra few minutes.  I also doubled the recipe and had plenty of leftovers.

Day 18 - Spiral sliced ham, mashed potatoes, Mediterranean-style green beans, and homemade bread.  For the green beans, saute 1/2 diced onion in 1 Tbsp of olive oil.  Add 1 14.5oz can diced tomatoes, 2 cans cut green beans, 2 tsp dried basil,  1-2 cloves minced garlic, and salt & pepper to taste.  Cook until heated through.

Day 19 - Leftovers

Day 20 - Sunday "Eating Out" Day

Day 21 - Date Night - woo hoo!

Day 22 -  Another leftover night

Day 23 - Ham & egg scramblers with potatoes and cheese - peel, cube, boil, and drain 1lb. of potatoes; Heat 1 Tbsp oil on med-high in a large skillet, add potatoes and cook until golden brown.  Add about 1/2lb. cubed or shredded ham and 1dz eggs, stirring to combine; Cook until eggs are cooked through, add 1 to 1 1/2c shredded cheese.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Day 24  - Turkey and fixin's

Day 25 - Bruschetta chicken bake This is a great way to use up Thanksgiving leftovers!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Preschool "Busy Bag" Ideas

I've been trying to look for some ideas to keep the twins engaged while working with Julius during our homeschooling hours.  Coloring just doesn't get it.  It lasts about 15 seconds.  Most of the ideas I've found have come from moms with 1. all girls or 2. no older children.  They just weren't working for us.  I stumbled across a mom at  She has LOTS of great stuff for boys and moms with lots o' little ones.  Here are pics of a few ideas we have snagged from her that have bought us some valuable teaching time and made for some very proud little guys!

Sorting by color

They LOVED putting the stickers on the letters!

Can't remember if this was her idea or not! But the boys loved it.

Washers, nails, screws, paper clips, and cut up pipe cleaners in a container with a strong magnet.

Eat What You Have - Days 12 - 16

Alright, we are halfway there and, honestly, and don't hold me to this, I'm thinking about spilling this little experiment over into December. Apparently I was stocked a bit better than even I was aware!  As December approaches, I'll let you know my final decision.

Day 12 - Schnitzel with noodles!  I'm venturing you just heard one of two things in your head just now 1. an oompah band or 2. Fraulein Maria singing "Favorite Things."  I tend toward the latter.  As a matter of fact, I was whistling the song while cooking the meal.  Schnitzel is, basically, a meat cutlet (we used boneless pork), pounded thin, dipped in egg, then breaded and fried.  I bread mine in a mixture of bread crumbs with salt, garlic powder, pepper, and dried parsley.  They are typically served with egg noodles or spaetzle.  I threw in some lima beans for good measure.


Day 13 - Our Sunday "Eating Out" day

Day 14 - This was brilliant and I can not take credit.  All credit goes to my children and husband here.  The kids asked for spaghetti, though it wasn't on the menu.  I had the ingredients on hand and was willing to make it - without the meat, since it was unplanned.  My husband wanted meat and suggested we use the leftover schnitzel and make Pork Parmesan!  It was so beautiful that I took a picture.

They ate every bite.

Day 15 - My mom had all of the little guys, so we decided to have a cereal night...

Day 16 - Tonight we will be having Thai Lemon Beef. A favorite in the Hodges house!
Thai Lemon Beef Recipeenlarge
Photo: J. Savage Gibson; Styling: Trinda Gage

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Eat What You Have Days 9-11

Untitled by 19/77
Untitled, a photo by 19/77 on Flickr.
So, we have smooth sailing 'round 'ere to be a third of the way through the month. Our stores are still looking pretty good. I've had to make one run to the grocery for milk and fruit, other than that, we've not really noticed any difference! Yay!

On Day 9 we had Cornbread and Beef Skillet Pie. The only adaptations I made were 1. omitting the mushrooms 2. adding some oregano to the beef mixture and 3. baking it in a 9 x 13 pan. I've also made this with garlic instead of onion, added some basil to the beef mixture, and some Parmesan cheese to the cornbread - pretty yummy!

On Day 10, we had Honey Mustard Smoked Sausage and Potatoes. It started out as this recipe. We have made several changes each time we've made it. I make my own honey mustard as needed. Honey + dijon mustard - it's not rocket science. It's much cheaper than buying prepared honey mustard and takes up less space in your fridge. I rarely keep dry white wine in the house. I usually make it with a wheat beer, at least that is my favorite way. Last night, I made it with brandy - not as good as beer, but tasty nonetheless. I also tend to use russet potatoes, because they are cheap and I usually have them on hand.

On Day 11, we ate up the leftovers from the past few nights. Tonight is the first time in a LONG time that I can remember having not one container of leftover food in the fridge.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Eat What You Have Days 4-8

Turkey by powerpig set-ups
Turkey, a photo by powerpig set-ups on Flickr.

Sorry for the delay.  I had every intention of catching everyone up on our pantry project 2 days ago.  I picked up the laptop, logged on, and completely forgot why in the world I had gotten on there in the first place!  It came to me this morning and, well, here I am.

On Friday, the 4th, we had smoked sausage with spinach, red onion, and homemade mac and cheese.  On Saturday , the 5th, we celebrated my Mother-in-law's birthday with dinner at my sister & brother-in-law's house.  We typically get carry out on Sundays, so we picked up a Papa Murphy's pizza.  Using a $3 off coupon from a fund raising card sold by our eldest's football team, it cost us about $11 and we had enough left over to feed 2 of us on leftover night (the 8th). This all makes me sound like a cheater, so here is the recipe from last night:

Chicken and dressing casserole

1 1/2- 2lbs boneless skinless chicken breast
salt and pepper
1 tsp dried basil
3 Tbsp butter, divided
2 Tbsp vegetable oil, divided
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tsp dried parsley
8 cups cubed white bread
3 1/2 c chicken broth
1 tsp rubbed sage
3 1/2 Tbsp flour

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Place chicken breast in a pot and just cover with water.  Add salt, pepper, and basil to water.  Bring to a boil and boil until cooked through. (I often use this when I've forgotten to lay meat out early enough.  Not only do you get the chicken cooked, but you get some broth!) Remove chicken from broth and cut into chunks. Reserve broth.  Add chicken chunks and one Tbsp vegetable oil to a skillet and cook over med-high until browned, about 4-6 minutes.  Sprinkle with flour and stir to cover.  Add 1 1/2c chicken broth to skillet and stir until thickened and bubbly.  Pour into the bottom of a lightly greased 9 x 12 pan.

2. Melt one Tbsp of butter with one Tbsp of vegetable oil in a large skillet; Add the celery, onion, and parsley and cook over med-high heat until tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from heat; add bread cubes and 2 cups of reserved broth; gently stir to combine.  Spread evenly on top of chicken mixture and dot with remaining butter.  Bake at 425 until dressing is browned and casserole is bubbly, about 20-25 minutes.

My guys like this served with mashed sweet potatoes.  I peel, cube, and boil 4lbs of sweet potatoes until they can be easily pierced with a fork.  I drain them and place them in my stand mixer (a hand mixer works, too) with a stick of butter, a cup a light brown sugar, and a Tbsp of cinnamon.  This really should be a dessert!

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Eat What You Have - Day 3

I wasn't sure how tonight was going to go over.  My guys usually love breakfast for dinner, but we are talking biscuits and gravy breakfast for dinner and I go and pull this.  I kept my fingers crossed and it seemed to be a hit!  Woo hoo!  It really was quite yummy, though I think it is more likely to end up in our Saturday morning breakfast rotation than on our usual dinner menu.  I had the twins split a serving. All plates were cleaned, and the skillet was empty at the end of the meal. If our 16 year-old lineman were here tonight I would have doubled this recipe, but, as it stands, it only cost about $5.25!  If you try it, let me know what you think.

Potato Hash with Spinach and Eggs

1lb white potatoes, cut into 1/4" chunks (I left the skin on mine)
3TBSP unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
1 red bell pepper, seeded & chopped
red pepper flakes to taste (I used about 1/2tsp - the twins said it was too spicy...A added Cajun seasoning...)
10oz package fresh spinach
8 large eggs

1. In a large, heavy skillet with a lid, bring potatoes to a boil in salted water on high; Cook until potatoes are tender, about 5 minutes, Drain and set aside.
2. In skillet, melt 2TBSP butter over med-high.  Add onion and bell pepper, salt.  Cook until softened, about 12 minutes. Add potatoes and red pepper flakes and cook until browned, about 3 minutes.
3. Add 1TBSP butter to potato mixture and add spinach, a handful at a time, stirring until wilted, salt.  Make 4 wells  in the mixture.  Crack 2 eggs into each well and reduce heat to med-low.  Cover and cook until whites are set, but yolks are still runny, about 6-8 minutes.  Serve immediately. Serves 4

Modified from Martha Stewart Everyday Food


The soundtrack to this blog post

OK, now that you have the music playing, I bid a fond farewell to ear x-tacy, a Louisville institution for over 25 years.  Many fond memories and best wishes to John & his staff....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eat What You Have - Day 2

Alright, time to roll up our honest to goodness recipe!  Tonight we are having Chicken Cacciatore with Parmesan polenta. For any of you non-cookers out there, don't let the fancy name scare you.  It's chicken stew over cheesy cornmeal mash.  I've found that if you give a dish a fancier name in my house, not only do my boys assume I've toiled much harder over it, they assume they are getting something really special and are much more likely to gobble it up.  Trust me, you WILL have to employ this move later in the month with beans and rice.

Chicken Cacciatore with Parmesan polenta
3 TBSP olive oil
12 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
salt and pepper
1 TBSP dried oregano
10oz mushrooms, sliced
1/3c all purpose flour
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
1c dry wine (I'm using white tonight, but I have used red & it was just as delicious)
2 medium onions, quartered
5 garlic cloves, minced
1/3c pitted green olives
1 12oz jar quartered & marinated artichoke hearts
1 1/4c cornmeal
1/2c grated Parmesan cheese

1. In a Dutch oven or heavy pot, heat 3TBSP oil over med-high.  Season chicken with salt and pepper.  Sear chicken, until browned, 6-8 minutes, working in batches; transfer to a plate.
2. Add mushrooms to pot; cook, stirring occasionally, until browned, 2-3 minutes.  Add flour, and cook, stirring, 1 minute.  Add tomatoes, wine, oregano, onions, garlic, olives, and chicken (with any juices).  Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, and cook until chicken is cooked through, 15-20 minutes.  Stir in artichokes during last 5 minutes of cooking.  Season with salt and pepper.
3. While stew is cooking, in a large saucepan combine 7 cups water, 2 teaspoons coarse salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper; bring to a boil over high heat. Whisking constantly, gradually add cornmeal. Reduce heat to medium-low; simmer polenta, whisking frequently, until thickened and creamy, 10 to 15 minutes.  Remove from heat stir in butter, milk, and Parmesan.  Polenta will thicken upon standing.  Serve chicken over polenta.  Serves 6.

Modified from Martha Stewart Everyday Food

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Eat What You've Got - Day 1

So, in the spirit of eating what you've got, we kicked off big by having, what else? Leftovers!  We had pizza left over from Sunday and did not want it to go to waste.  Since we'd had a hectic day, we warmed it up and started the month off right!  Day One?  Check!