O, Christmas Tree!

November 30, 2007 at 5:23 pm | Posted in Christmas | 4 Comments

So … every year my Christmas tree looks pretty much the same. And that’s okay with me, because I like the way it looks.

What you see here is the corner of my living room (complete with ugly 15-year-old carpet … please ignore that part). In the background, you can see our record collection and part of the entertainment center (which is also decorated for the holidays).

My thing with Christmas is that, unless the decoration holds special meaning, everything has to be one or more of the following colors: Christmas red, Christmas green, white, or silver. As you can see, I’ve done fairly well at sticking to that (although I do have a couple of ornaments with a little blue on them). I don’t know when or why I developed that opinion, I guess it’s just a desire to return to a basic Christmas style – no mauve, olive, or purple for me, thanks.

Oh, and Cat likes the Christmas tree, too:

Holy Giant Marshmallows, Batman!

November 28, 2007 at 8:13 pm | Posted in Favorite Things, Review | 2 Comments

So, the day after Thanksgiving (aka Black Friday), we decided to skip the overly crowded malls and head for Mexico to shop for a few Christmas presents we knew we wanted. Along with several hundred other similarly-minded folks (oops), we crossed the river armed with a wad of cash and a shopping list. We got just about everything on the list … plus a few extras, the most notable of which is shown here.

Malvaviscos Marshmallows – $2.10 for 30 at our favorite Mexican tourist/grocery store. See on the package where it says “Super Gigante”? They aren’t kidding – these are quite possibly the BIGGEST marshmallows I’ve ever seen.

What? You say the bag looks “normal”? Well, check out the following photo for verification of size:

Yes, that’s TWO marshmallows in an 8-oz low-ball glass. Your typical “short” glass. We were joking about putting one in the microwave to see how big it’d puff up, but that makes me nervous – I might end up cleaning marshmallow off the inside of my microwave!

Here’s a photo of 1 marshmallow in a cup of hot chocolate:

Also, these marshmallows are quite possibly the tastiest and freshest I’ve had in quite a while. The bottom one is vanilla and the top one is strawberry. And they do have flavor. Three cheers for Mexican Marshmallows!!

Thanksgiving … on a Budget!

November 28, 2007 at 7:00 pm | Posted in cost-cutting, Thanksgiving | Leave a comment

I will have a picture of this year’s Thanksgiving feast at my house, but for now I will have to describe it only (Rob took the photos and they’re still on his camera.)

We woke up late on Thanksgiving day. Very late. It was really nice to sleep in. Then Rob went outside to build a deck (photos to come … still in progress), and I commenced making my cinnamon roll coffee cake (photos and recipe below). While that was in the rising stages, I put together the ingredients for a pumpkin pie. It went into the oven as soon as the coffee cake was done.

Next it was prepping the main meal. Our menu for Thanksgiving day (since it was just the two of us) was: Roasted Cornish Game Hens, Stuffing, Mashed Potatoes, Green Bean Casserole, Cranberry Sauce, Crescent Rolls, and Pumpkin Pie. All to be served with Sparkling Apple Cider to drink.

Now, how does all that work into my $25 a week budget, you may ask? Well, here it is, broken down:

COST: $20.14
Roasted Cornish Game Hens: 2 for $5
Stuffing: 1 loaf bread – $0.69, 1 cup diced celery – $0.50, 1 stick butter – $.50, 1/2 onion – $0.25. TOTAL – $1.94
Mashed Potatoes: 8 potatoes – $0.50, 1/2 cup milk – $0.50. TOTAL – $1.00
Green Bean Casserole: 2 cans green beans – $1.25, milk – $0.50, Cream of Mushroom soup – $0.99, French’s Onions – $2.49 TOTAL – $5.23
Cranberry Sauce: $0.99
Crescent Rolls: $1.49
Pumpkin Pie: Most ingredients already in pantry. $1.50 (approx) in new ingredients
Sparkling Apple Cider: $2.99

And yes, we had plenty of leftovers.

After the meal was served at about 7:00, we rested a bit and then put up our Christmas decorations (another blog post to follow this one). The house looks beautiful and festive, and all’s right with the world. I love Christmas. 🙂

Prize-Winning Cinnamon Roll Coffee Cake

November 27, 2007 at 9:36 pm | Posted in Breads, Breakfast, Favorites | Leave a comment

This is (no, really) a prize-winning recipe I made up myself. Okay, I frankensteined it together from about 15 other recipes, but the end result was all me. Please note, this recipe is VERY time-consuming. VERY. I only make it any more for special occasions because it takes about 4.5 hours start to finish and I almost never have that much time in a block.

However, this Thanksgiving, I wanted to do something special for breakfast (that we didn’t actually eat until 3 pm), so when we got up on Thanksgiving morning, I started my world-famous coffee cake.

The recipe calls for pecans, which I was out of, so I substituted coconut. However, if you don’t like either, you can just as easily leave the “lumps” out or substitute your own (raisins, mini chocolate chips, etc).

On a scale of 1 to 10, this recipe apparently clocked in at an 11 with Rob. (I told you it was good). I loved it too, although the pecans would have made it even better. I’m not including cost on this, because all the ingredients were already in my pantry and I don’t recall specific prices on all of it. I’d say around $5 though.

INGREDIENTS:
DOUGH
1 package active dry yeast
3 tablespoons warm water
1/2 cup warm milk
1/2 cup butter, melted
1 egg, beaten
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (can use up to 3 1/4 cups)
FILLING
1/2 cup butter, softened
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
3/4 cup pecans, chopped
ICING
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 1/2 tablespoons milk

DIRECTIONS:
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add the milk, butter, eggs, sugar, salt and 1 1/2 cups flour; beat until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, at least 1 hour.

Punch dough downl turn onto floured surface. Roll into 24×8 rectangle. In a mixing bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar and cinnamon. Spread over rectangle to within 1/2 inch of long edges. Sprinkle with pecans. Roll up jelly-roll style, starting with the long side; pinch seam to seal.

Place roll seam side down on large greased cookie sheet and, using sharp knife, cut completely in half long-ways. Place cut sides up; gently twist two pieces together to form a “rope”. Pull ends together and pinch to form a ring.

Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, at least 30 minutes. Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown. Remove from pan to wire rack to cool. Combine icing ingredients; drizzle over coffee cake. Best eaten while still warm, but may be frozen for up to two months.

Gingerbread with Cream Cheese Frosting

November 13, 2007 at 7:39 pm | Posted in Desserts, Favorites | Leave a comment

Okay, so the above photo is mostly the cream cheese frosting part. I’ll eat a piece today and take a photo of the piece of cake itself for your viewing pleasure.

So, last night about 4:15 I was really jonesing for some gingerbread. Why? I have no idea. But I was. So, I made some gingerbread. This recipe is straight out of the Good Housekeeping cookbook I’ve had for a few years. My favorite modern cookbook, by far. I’ve never made a recipe out of this cookbook that was a loser. If you don’t already have one, you should buy one. This recipe is on my favorite page of the cookbook, right next to the best carrot cake I’ve EVER had.

All that to say, the gingerbread turned out exactly the way I like it. Moist, flavorful, a little chewy, but not too strongly “ginger-y”. Rob loved it and I now have permission to make it whenever I want. 🙂 I’m not going to list individual costs on this recipe because I didn’t have to buy anything and I don’t recall the original prices on everything. Probably less than $3.00, though, without the frosting.

INGREDIENTS:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons groud ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup light molasses
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), cut into 3 pieces
3/4 cup boiling water
1 large egg, lightly beaten

DIRECTIONS:
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour (or use Baker’s Joy) 9-inch square baking pan.
2. In large bowl, combine flour, sugar, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. Stir until blended.
3. In small bowl, combine molasses and butter. Add boiling water and stir until butter melts (you may need to pop this into the microwave to finish the butter melting. My water cooled down pretty fast.) Add molasses mixture and beaten egg to flour mixture. Whisk until smooth.
4. With rubber spatula, scrape batter into prepared pan. Bake gingerbread nutil toothpick insterted in center comes out clean – 45-55 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack. Serve warm.

Note: I frosted this with Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy Cream Cheese frosting. You can make your own or just leave the frosting off all together. It also goes great with lemon curd, poached pears, or just a sprinkle of coarse sugar on top before baking.

Review: Mrs. Smith’s Blackberry Cobbler

November 13, 2007 at 7:32 pm | Posted in Desserts, Review | 1 Comment

So, the other night we were looking for a dessert that I wouldn’t have to fix and Rob would want to eat. And we both wanted something warm. One trip to WalMart (and $3.19) later, we were the proud owners of a Mrs. Smith’s Blackberry Cobbler. I followed the directions on the box, baked as instructed (and then baked about 5 minutes extra to get the crust a little “brown-er”). After it rested for 1/2 an hour, it was DELICIOUS!!

Rob gave it an A, I gave it an A-. My reason is that I don’t normally care for pie crust and there was nothing special about this one. The crust on the cobbler was actually a little too “rubbery” for me. But the filling more than made up for it. It was the perfect combination of sweet and tart and had real berries in it (which is important to me). I could eat the filling all by itself and be perfectly happy.

Either way, it was an easy option, made about 8 servings (smallish, but enough), and didn’t break the bank. A good easy dessert option for busy nights!

Crockpot Ribs

November 13, 2007 at 6:48 pm | Posted in Entree, Favorites | 3 Comments

So, we completely failed at following our “menu” last week. It was a good idea, but it doesn’t really work for us because of my schedule. So, we’re changing it up a bit. I’ve got my list of 25 meals (or so). I’m going to type it up, put it on the fridge, and we’ll just pick 4 or 5 every week until they’ve all been used. This meal was one I was planning on serving last week. But that didn’t happen, so we had it yesterday.

I got the recipe from Jen, one of my friends. I don’t think I have a single recipe that is easier or tastes better than this one. On a grading scale, Rob gave this one an A+++++ … and I loved it too. The meat was fall-off-the-bone tender, the BBQ sauce tasted delicious … there’s nothing I would change about the taste. I think for more than two people (or for the leftovers) I’ll probably double the amount of meat next time.

COST: $3.24
Beef Ribs – $3.19 (2.1 lbs @ $2.99/lb)
BBQ Sauce – FREE (someone gifted us with BBQ sauce last year. We are still trying to use it up!)
Brown Sugar – $0.05

INGREDIENTS:
2 lbs of beef ribs
1/2 bottle of BBQ sauce (your choice of brands)
1/4 cup of brown sugar

DIRECTIONS:
Place thawed beef ribs in bottom of crockpot. Pour 1/2 bottle of BBQ sauce over ribs. Sprinkle with brown sugar on top. Place lid on crockpot, turn on low for 6-8 hours. Enjoy!!

Baked Fish over Spinach

November 6, 2007 at 4:04 pm | Posted in Entree | 1 Comment

This is a recipe from Rob’s grandmother. He’d been wanting to try it for a while, and when we made the menus up, it became an option. So I tried it. It was a kind of make-it-up-as-you-go-along dish, but we liked it. It came out just a little too bland, so next time I’ll add more … something.

COST: $3.74
Fish – $2.19
Spinach – $0.95
Cheese – $0.25
White Sauce – $0.10
Biscuits – $0.25

INGREDIENTS:
1/2 lb frozen white fish – I used … mystery fish (the meat place doesn’t label with type and I forget what it was, originally)
1 10 oz package of frozen spinach, thawed and drained
White sauce (either make your own, like I did, or use a “cream of …” soup)
1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese

DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350.
Layer bottom of shallow casserole dish with thawed, drained spinach. Place frozen fish filets over spinach and top with white sauce (or cream soup). Cover casserole and bake at 350 for approximately 1 hour, or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and bake another 10 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes.

Serve with biscuits (easily baked after fish is out of the oven and is standing).

Grocery Shopping

November 5, 2007 at 3:51 pm | Posted in cost-cutting | 2 Comments

Well, to make my $100 budget for the month, that limits R & I to $25 per week, including tax, for groceries. This is not really a lot of money. That’s why I was shocked when we bought our groceries for the week yesterday and spent: $16.64

Yes, you read that right. Sixteen dollars and sixty four cents. With the exception of the steak and cod (which we already have in the freezer and didn’t need), that buys EVERYTHING we need for an entire week of meals. And we could’ve probably gotten the steak and cod for under budget, also.

I love a victory like that – it makes me feel really smart. We went to the grocery store with a list. And stuck to it (mostly). We bought, besides the dinner groceries, 2 two-liters of pop and a bag of corn flakes. We also forgot to buy more oatmeal (turns out we’re a little short for the week.) So I will send R to the store tonight for oatmeal, and we’ll be all set. Amazing!!

Menu for November 5-11

November 5, 2007 at 3:44 pm | Posted in Menus | Leave a comment

All right, I’ve finally given in to the “Menu Creation” urge. Actually, DH & I have created 4 weeks of menus that we can rotate. We’ll do all four weeks in a row, then sub out anything we didn’t like or don’t feel like eating again for a while. Then we’ll do the “same” four weeks over again. Not too much repetition in that. So here goes:

Monday: Baked cod over spinach. Serve with broccoli and biscuits.
Tuesday: Tuna salad sandwiches. Serve with peas and corn.
Wednesday: I work. R will eat leftovers of the tuna salad.
Thursday: Meatloaf. Serve with mashed potatoes and creamed corn.
Friday: I work. R will eat leftover meatloaf.
Saturday: I work in the morning, so R will make dinner. Steak. Served with baked potatoes and salad.
Sunday: Crockpot BBQ Ribs (from somebody else’s blog). Serve with baked beans, corn on the cob, and homemade bread.

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