Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Appetizer Ideas

I love the times when I get to make/eat appetizer-type food because it doesn't seem like there are many times where I get to! I made a huge menu for tonight's food, and then had some people cancel, so I'm still not sure how much I'm going to make, but here was my original list. Maybe this was the crazy-hungry-lover-of-appetizers-and-love-excuses-to-cook-tons-of-food menu. Call it what you will, but it sounded good to me!!

Foccacia Bread (will be made by my sis-in-law, Lydia)
Bacon-wrapped Jalapenos
Beef Nachos
Queso Dip
Potato Skins
Chicken Wings
Bacon-cheddar Pinwheels
Shrimp Cocktail
Possibly: Cheese Wontons, made by my sis-in-law

Sound like too much? Not to me!! Now I just hope we can have some more guests who want to help eat it all up!!

Happy New Year to you all!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Cookie Plates!

Every year, we make cookie plates for a few friends and have fun delivering them around Christmas time! This year was no different! We had fun delivering cookies to some of our new friends and as Christmas presents for family!! Maddy got to help me make some of these delectable treats, and I made some stuff I have never made before!! Included on the cookie plates were:

Russian Tea Cakes
Coconut Snowballs
Peanut Brittle (Recipe below)
Biscotti Toscani (Recipe below)
Rocky Road Fudge (Recipe below)

They were plates of yumminess!! I already included the recipe for coconut snowballs in another post (link below), but I will give you the recipes for the Biscotti, which I hadn't made before, and the peanut brittle, which was a new adventure as well! I have made fudge before, but I have never made Rocky Road fudge. As long as you have a sweet tooth and like chocolate, nuts, and marshmallows together! It was really good, and this recipe is below as well!
These Biscotti were really fun to make, and a fun treat instead of just making all cookies. Here is the recipe!

Biscotti Toscani

1/3 cup butter
3/4 cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. almond extract
2 tsp. orange zest
2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted almond pieces

1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and flour a large baking sheet.
2. In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla, almond extract, and zest. Combine flour, baking powder, nutmeg and salt. Stir into the creamed mixture until just blended. Mix in almonds. Divide dough into two pieces. Form into long flat loaves about 1/2 inch tall and 12 inches long. Place the two loaves about 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet.
3. Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until a light golden brown. Cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
4. With a serrated knife, cut diagonally into slices about 1/2 inch thick. Lay the slices flat on a baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, turning once. Cool on a wire rack.
5. Place chocolate chips into a microwave-safe bowl. Melt chocolate in the microwave, stirring every 20 to 30 seconds until smooth. Use a spatula to smooth chocolate onto one side of each cookie. Let stand at room temperature until set. Store at room temperature in an airtight container.

Maddy helping to make the Peanut Brittle!

Peanut Brittle
The All New Good Housekeeping Cookbook

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup water
2 Tbs. butter or margarine
1 cup salted peanuts
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1. Lightly grease a large cookie sheet.
2. In heavy 2-quart saucepan, combine sugar, corn syrup, water, and butter; cook over medium heat, stirring constantly until sugar has dissolved and syrup is bubbling.
3. Set candy thermometer in place and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until temperature reaches 300 to 310 degrees (hard-crack stage), 20 to 25 minutes. (Once temperature reaches 220 degrees, it will rise quickly, so watch carefully.) Stir in peanuts.
4. Remove from heat and stir in baking soda (mixture will bubble vigorously); immediately pour onto prepared sheet. With two forks, quickly lift and stretch peanut mixture into 14 by 12 inch rectangle.
5. Cool brittle completely on cookie sheet on wire rack. With hands, break brittle into small pieces. Layer between waxed paper in airtight container. Store at room temperature up to 1 month. Makes about 1 pound.

Seriously, such an easy recipe!!

Rocky Road Fudge

1 (12 oz.) package of semi-sweet chocolate morsels
1 (14 oz.) can sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups miniature marshmallows
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Line a 13 by 9 inch baking pan with foil and grease lightly.
2. Microwave morsels and sweetened condensed milk in large, microwave-safe bowl on high (100 percent) power for 1 minute; stir. Microwave at additional 10 to 20 second intervals, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla extract. Fold in marshmallows and nuts.
3. Press mixture into prepared baking pan. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Lift from pan; remove foil and cut into pieces.

So, if you haven't already made cookies for friends and family, or you just want some yummy recipes to try while you are still on Christmas break, then give one of these a try!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Loving Christmas Break!!

I was sooo looking forward to our Christmas break!! We made it through the first "semester" of kindergarten homeschool!! It was rough at times, but overall, it went pretty well! But let me tell you, this teacher and student were ready for a break!! It has been so nice to have extra time to sleep in, get things done, hang out with people, get caught up with projects, and just have fun!! And Judah has enjoyed the extra company since we aren't preoccupied with doing school!! So here are some pictures of what we have been doing on our break! Pictured above and below are pics of the kids decorating cookies at Grandma's house, with their aunts!!!
We have a membership at our local art and science museum for kids! We are there every Friday for Maddy's homeschool classes, but she rarely gets to play too much at the actual museum since she is in class! So this week we got to just go and play for a couple hours! She dressed Judah up like a fireman!

And we ate lunch in their room that is like a little castle! They had fun! They were being goofballs!

They both really enjoy coloring, and on some days when I was just getting things done around the house, I would print off Christmas coloring pages for them, and they loved it! And of course, whatever Maddy is doing, Judah usually wants to do too!!
I had lots of baking to do, and they loved licking the beaters!! And making big messes with lots of blankets and pillows!! And we have been in our pajamas a lot!!

We had our big homeschool group Christmas party, and the kids had fun doing their gift exchanges!!

How can you resist those cheeks? Sorry! This has nothing to do with Christmas break, but I couldn't resist putting this picture in!!
He always sees Sissy climbing the rock wall, and he wanted to give it a try. He got the harness on and Tad held him on the wall for a minute before he decided he was done! "A" for effort!!
And the infamous tents!! Kids love tents!! This time I decided to make one over the dining room table, and it didn't fall over a million times when they pulled on the blankets! Genius!! And their favorite thing right now is playing with flashlights, and for Christmas they each got their own flashlight. They love playing anywhere dark, turning off lights, closets, tents, etc. So they have been having fun!!
We still have until January 3 on our break, and then we are back to school!! It has been a very nice break, and Tad had his 2 3-day weekends during our break too, which was a bonus!! We had a great Christmas and had a relaxing day with family!! Hope yours was great as well!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Coconut Snowballs and Coffee Filter Snowflakes

Every year we make and decorate Christmas cookies to bring to our friends and neighbors! This year is no exception!! But the people we have always brought cookies to have changed!! We usually would bring cookies to our apartment neighbor, our doormen downstairs, the office ladies in our apartment building, and close friends!! It makes me miss them thinking of bringing cookies to them in previous years!!
Well, we have made good friends here in Oklahoma and have been here almost exactly 1 year!! Can you believe it? And each year we pick different kinds of cookies/fudge/goodies to make and give to people. I can't give away all of what we have made this year yet, but this is one of the recipes!! I found this recipe for Coconut Snowballs in an old Family Circle magazine from 2008!! I doubled the recipe and decided it didn't look like enough, so I doubled the recipe again since I had everything out already! It was pretty easy and went quickly once I got going!

Coconut Snowballs Family Circle Magazine 2008

1 cup sweetened flake coconut
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar
Pinch salt
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 teaspoons milk

1. Grind 1/2 cup of the coconut in food processor. Chop remaining coconut and set aside. Add flour, 1/4 cup of the confectioners' sugar and the salt. Pulse to blend. Add butter and vanilla; pulse until dough comes together.
2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Roll dough into 1-inch balls. Place dough balls 1 inch apart on an ungreased baking sheet.
3. Bake cookies until firm but tender, 15 minutes. Remove to rack; let cool completely.
4. In small bowl, stir together remaining 1 cup confectioners' sugar and enough milk until smooth but still thick. Dip cookies in glaze (about 1/2 teaspoon for each), letting it drip down sides. Dip in chopped coconut and set aside for glaze to dry.

Coffee Filter Snowflakes

Now, anyone who knows me knows that I am not very crafty. I have to push and stretch myself to do crafts with Maddy; to find them, figure them out, and buy the materials. It does not come naturally to me. But we have done pretty good since last year with preschool, where we had a lot of crafts to make going along with the curriculum we had! Madelynn is super crafty and so I have to get outside my box and do crafts with her! It has been good for me...and her!

I found this tutorial on Coffee Filter Snowflakes via Alicia's Homemaking via Made By Britta via Pinterest via Under the Big Oak Tree.

Did you catch all that? Well, the actual website to click on is Made by Britta which is where you can find a step by step tutorial for how to make these easy, fun, cheap snowflakes to decorate your house and windows!! They were really fun to make and Maddy had fun cutting different designs and making different patterns on each one!!

It was super easy, and I think we are going to make more for our big front window!! All you do is fold a round coffee filter in half, then in thirds and then get creative cutting different designs in each one!! They all come out totally different, and it's fun for little ones who are old enough to use scissors!!! Fun winter craft!!

Well, we are almost to Christmas and I will be happy when all the to-do lists are done and we can just relax as a family on Christmas!! Tad has a 3 day weekend including Christmas off from work, so it should be glorious!! Not to mention that Judah turns 2 on Christmas Eve so we have a birthday party this weekend too!! He is getting so big! Check out other adventures at!!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Broccoli Cheese Soup

My favorite thing to order at Panera bread is their Broccoli Cheese soup in a bread bowl. But for some reason I have never ventured to make it myself at home! I know, it seems like such an easy thing to make, but sometimes when you enjoy something in a restaurant, you just don't think to make it at home!! Kind of makes it special when you order it when you go out!! Well, when I saw that Pioneer Woman made this soup, it looked so good and I just had to try to make it!! And it seriously is so easy to make!!
You don't need that many ingredients, and it doesn't take that long on the stove top!!

Broccoli Cheese Soup
Pioneer Woman

1 whole onion, diced
1/2 cup butter (1 stick)
1/3 cup flour
4 cups whole milk
2 cups half and half
4 heads of broccoli, cut into florets
1 pinch nutmeg
3 cups cheese (mild cheddar, sharp cheddar, jack, etc.)
small dash of salt, more if needed
freshly ground black pepper
splash of chicken broth if needed for thinning

1. Melt the butter in the pot over medium heat, and then add the onions. Cook the onions for about 3 to 4 minutes, and then add the flour over the top. Stir to combine and cook for 1 minute or so; then pour in the milk and the half and half. Add nutmeg, then add broccoli, a small dash of salt, and plenty of black pepper.

2. Cover and reduce heat to low; simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until the broccoli is tender. Stir in cheese and allow to melt.

3. Taste seasonings and adjust if needed. Then either serve as is, or mash it with a potato masher or transfer to a blender and puree in 2 batches until smooth. If putting it into a blender, you may need to thin it with a little chicken broth.

It's thicker than it looks! Obviously, I added mine to the blender to puree it!! Delicious!

On Pioneer Woman's website, she also shows how you can make cute little bread bowls out of dinner rolls, and of course she has way better pictures than me that will make you want to drool for this soup!! It's perfect for these cold, winter days, and I also love making things like this ahead of time and sticking them in the crockpot so dinner is ready and I'm not rushing to get it made right when everyone is starving!!


Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Appetizer Cheese Ball

Growing up, we would always go to my Grandma's house for holidays and she would prepare an amazing, fancy feast of food for us! I feel like I inherited her love of cooking!! I still compare recipes with her, talk about what we are cooking for the holidays, ask her cooking questions, and have slowly been collecting some of my favorite of her recipes!! Although the recipe for this cheese ball isn't hers, I always remember at family events that she would have this cute little appetizer table out, with a cheese ball, crackers, nuts and a nutcracker, and triskets. It is my childhood!! So for holidays, I like to make a cheese ball, and it always makes me think of my family and miss them!! I have made this cheese ball a couple of times, and it is really good!

Yummy Cheese Ball

1 pound bacon
2 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 green onion, chopped
1 cup chopped pecans

1. In a large skillet fry the bacon. Remove the bacon from the skillet and drain on paper towels. Chop or break the cooled bacon into small pieces.
2. In a medium-size mixing bowl, combine cream cheese, bacon, mayonnaise, and green onions. When mixed well, form 2 balls out of the mixture. Cover and refrigerate 3 to 4 hours, or overnight.

3. Before serving, roll the cheese balls in the chopped pecans.

The nice thing about this recipe, is if you are preparing it for a holiday or get-together, you can make it days ahead and then just roll it in the pecans before you serve it! I served it for Thanksgiving, and since there were lots of kids and picky eaters, I didn't roll one of them in pecans. Everyone really enjoyed them with crackers!!

Perfect, easy appetizer!!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Homemade Gifts: Christmas Sweets in a Jar

I have always seen these homemade gifts and thought they were adorable and such a cute idea!! I would love to get these already-assembled cookies or brownies in a jar! I love to cook and bake, but sometimes I don't want to put forth the effort to make something homemade, but this gift saves someone all the effort of measuring everything out! From what I hear, there is some website that has tons of different ideas, like soups and other things that you can put in a jar as a gift for someone! And if you plan ahead and have a lot of the ingredients on hand, it would be a quick, fun way to get a lot of people's Christmas gifts taken care of! And fun for the kids to help make too!
They recently had all the ingredients for us to make these at our Christmas Women's party at our church. Such a fun activity! Although when you are chatting with other ladies and measuring at the same time, there is some room for error!! And also, it was a little tricky to fit all the ingredients into each container, so if you have that problem, you can always add the leftover ingredients in little bags or containers. I didn't write down the exact recipes for the cookies and brownies we made, but I found some recipes for similar things on So, here they are:

Cowboy Cookie Mix in a Jar

1 1/3 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans (I left the pecans out, also it helped everything fit better too!)
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1. Layer the ingredients in order in a 1 quart jar in the order given. Press each layer in place before adding the next layer. (We actually mixed the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, just like you would if you were making it at home.)
2. Include a card with the following instructions:

Cowboy Cookie Mix in a Jar

1. Preheat Oven to 350 degrees. Grease cookie sheets.
2. In a medium bowl, mix together 1/2 cup melted butter or margarine, 1 egg, and 1 teaspoon of vanilla. Stir in the entire contents of the jar. Shape into walnut sized balls. Place 2 inches apart on greased cookie sheets.
3. Bake for 11 to 13 minutes in preheated oven. Transfer from cookie sheets to cool on wire racks.

It's also a fun way to include the kids in making people's Christmas presents!!

Brownie Mix in a Jar

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
2 1/4 cup white sugar
1/2 cup chopped pecans (I didn't use them in this recipe either, I'm not a big nut fan, and it also creates more room in the jar for the other ingredients!)

1. Mix together flour, baking powder, and salt (either in the jar or in a small bowl first.) Layer the remaining ingredients in the order listed. Press each layer firmly in place before adding the next layer. (It also says here to wipe out the jar after adding the cocoa powder so that the other layers show through!)
2. Attach a tag with the following instructions:

Brownie Mix in a Jar:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9 by 13 inch pan.
2. Empty contents of brownie mix into a large mixing bowl and stir to blend. Mix in 3/4 cup melted butter and 4 eggs. Mix thoroughly. Spread batter evenly into pan.
3. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely in pan before cutting into 2 inch squares.

Once you have the mixes assembled, you can make them pretty any way you want!! You can add ribbons, bows, get creative with the little tags you attach with the recipe, or you can add little pieces of fabric cut into circles with some puffy stuff (I don't know what it's called!) before screwing on the rim. So many possibilities!!
Enjoy! Your Christmas presents made easy this year!!
Head on over to to see other people's New Adventures for the week!! You can get such good ideas!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Pumpkin French Toast

I'm not gonna pretend that this is my favorite recipe or anything, but for those of you who like french toast (I do not) then this recipe might be for you!! Tad is a huge lover of french toast, and I usually only make it for him on his birthday!! But this year, I was running out of ideas to use up my last bit of pumpkin, and I got this recipe in an email, so I thought I would whip it up for breakfast one morning. Tad said he couldn't decide if he liked this recipe or the other recipe I made for his birthday better, which was overnight baked french toast, which I'll have to give you the recipe for later!! He loved both of them! Enjoy!!

Pumpkin French Toast
8 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
1 Tbs. white sugar
1 (15 oz.) can pumpkin puree
1 loaf Texas toast thick-sliced bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 Tbs. all-purpose flour
1 Tbs. butter, softened

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9 by 13 pan.
2. Whisk the eggs, vanilla extract, 2 tsp of cinnamon, the cloves, nutmeg, and white sugar together in a bowl; beat in the pumpkin and mix well.
3. Arrange the bread cubes in the pan in a single layer in the baking dish; pour the pumpkin mixture over the top, and mix to coat.
4. Stir 1/3 cup brown sugar, 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, flour, and butter together with a fork in a small bowl until it is crumbly and sprinkle over the top of the bread cubes.
5. Bake in the preheated oven until the top is golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.

Drizzle with syrup and you are good to go!!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christmas Festivities

Let's just say that I LOVE Christmas and I always have. Even when I was a kid I had boxes of Christmas decorations for my room, a Christmas music CD collection, and loved making homemade cards and buying everyone gifts with my money! Now, as an adult, it is just as fun, and I have added decorating a home and holiday cooking to the mix! Not to mention shopping for my kids, new family traditions, and the joy of experiencing Christmas with my little ones in new ways.
Pictured above is a little concoction I found on Pinterest on How to Make Your Home Smell Like Christmas. It is simply wonderful!! In the past, I have just added a bunch of spices to some boiling water and let it cook down for a couple of hours. But this recipe actually has you adding some yumminess that makes the house smell wonderful, and I just so happened to have these things on hand!

Holiday Stove Top Potpourri Mix

One whole orange or just the orange peel
1/2 cup cranberries
1 Tbsp. whole cloves
3 sticks of cinnamon or some pieces of cinnamon sticks
a bit of grated nutmeg if desired

All you do is quarter the orange, or place all the orange peels into a saucepan. Add the other ingredients and fill with water. Put it on the smallest burner on the lowest setting and get ready for your house to smell amazing! You can refill with water if desired. Also, it says you can reuse this throughout the season, or bag up the ingredients and give it as a gift! How cute is that! But I will say that I saved it after I used it once, drained of course, and the next time I used it I did not like the smell! So, maybe just personal preference!
One of my favorite things around this holiday season is decorating! We lived in our last apartment building for about 4 years, so it was fun this year to be in a new house and have a different place to decorate!! Now, notice my counters/house is not spic and span when I took these pictures, but, you get the idea!!
I found this cute little tree with the lights and a burlap bottom for only $2.49 at the thrift store!! Can't beat that!!

This is the first year we have our piano, so it made for a fun surface to decorate!! I actually used a table runner across the top, and it made it look even more festive!!
This year we opted not to go get a real tree and to save a few bucks by accepting the artificial tree from Tad's family. I was bummed we weren't getting a real tree, but once we got it up and decorated, I was happy with the outcome!! And I am convinced that ornaments are so special and it's so fun to talk about the stories behind the ornaments as we hang them on the tree! Tad's family's tradition is to get a new ornament every year, for each child, so Tad has all his ornaments from when he was born!! And they have given our kids their ornaments too! So fun!
The kids eating their breakfast in front of the tree! And of course, watching their morning cartoons!!
Aunt Lydia decided to get her sisters and Maddy a different kind of present this year!! Instead of picking out a toy for them, she got them tickets to go see Cinderella at the local theater on opening night!! They got dressed up and had a blast!! Here they are before they left!! Isn't Maddy getting big??

So now, we still have the traditions of making our gingerbread house, making Christmas cookies, and getting Christmas cards out, amidst other things I'm sure!! But it is a blast! It's fun being in our new little home and continuing to make new memories with our growing little family!! And just in case you need a reminder, my due date is February 27! It's been changed a couple of times, but this date was confirmed at my last appointment. Third trimester!!!!!

Happy Holidays!!

Fun Christmas Present!

The kids got such a fun Christmas present this year! Grandma and Pops found this swingset at the local thrift store for a really good deal! And since we have a nice little fenced-in backyard, it is perfect for the kids! Minus the fact that it is freezing outside right now! Judah loves the slide and Maddy loves the swing! I even saw Maddy when she climbed up onto the swingset and was singing like it was her own little stage!! Even the dog has been hilarious as we have watched her check it out and try to get on the slide! We have been wanting a swingset since we moved in, but hadn't gotten one yet...a little pricey even for the really cheap ones! And our thrift store has had only one other swingset we have seen and by the time we went to get it, someone had already bought it! We were really bummed!
All our time in Chicago, we had to get the kids ready and pack up the stroller to go out to a park or playground. It was always such an ordeal! But now, it is so nice for the kids to be able to go right outside in the backyard and play until their hearts content while I clean up the kitchen or house and watch them from the windows!! And of course as the dog barks at them from the side yard!!
Thanks Grandma and Pops!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Kindergarten Homeschool: An Update

Maddy with her finished product at her pottery field trip!

Well, we have been plugging away doing school this semester, and we are drawing to an end with just 2 weeks left until Christmas break!! We are looking forward to it!
Homeschooling has presented a lot of challenges and hurdles to get over and learn to deal with this year. Last year, we were doing preschool, so we weren't on such a demand to get 180 days of school in, certain subjects completed, and fit in other things as well. I have definitely felt the demands of being a homeschooling, stay-at-home mom. This year, it definitely takes up a lot more time to get all of Maddy's schoolwork done, and with her being so young and learning almost everything for the first time, it takes a lot of one-on-one teaching. This makes it demanding because Judah doesn't really like both of our attention being taken away and him being left to fend for himself. So it has been a challenge to get her school done, keep up with the house, keep Judah occupied and spend special time with him, and be pregnant at the same time!! I know many women have done it, but it is a new thing for me, so I have just been trying to deal with issues that come up and make things as doable as possible.
Tad did work second shift and was able to watch Judah while Maddy and I did school, but he recently switched to first shift, so I have had to make some adjustments to how we do school. I have also learned that we have been pretty busy this year, and school is a huge priority and takes up our whole morning. I chose to not be on the steering committee for MOPS for this year, but still wanted to go to MOPS. This has proved to be a little much. I love the time that I get to spend there meeting new moms, having some time away from the kids for a time, and getting to relax and do mommy things. But it is just one extra thing in our schedule that is kind of unnecessary at this point. With our homeschool group, swim lessons, Wednesday night church, Sunday morning church, and art/science homeschool classes on Fridays, we are pretty busy! So any time off that we get is a plus. Any time that we can spend the morning, or the whole day at home is nice for getting things done and getting all our school done in one sitting!
So anyways, I guess I could go on and on about what I have learned this year, and how we are coping with life plus homeschooling, but for now, I will leave it at that, and leave you with a few pictures...
Maddy working on a Fall painting craft at home!

Working on Christmas presents with our homeschool group!
Finished product! A candle holder!
At Leonardo's in her art/science class!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Roasted Chicken Stock

I found this wonderful recipe for Roasted Chicken Stock that I just have to share with you! I had recently made a soup with some chicken thighs and then soon after roasted a whole chicken, and really (for the first time) wanted to do something with the leftover bones!! I had also been reading a great blog post on how to keep your family healthy during cold season, which is of high interest to me since we were far more sick last season than we had ever been! You have to check out her post!
So, this stock is great to use in soups/stews, but is also great to drink when you are feeling under the weather or starting to get sick! And it pretty much used produce that I already had on hand, and needed to use up in fact, so it all worked out!

Roasted Chicken Stock
Elana's Pantry

Adapted from Joy of Cooking

1 Chicken Carcass
3 Quarts Cold Water
1 Onion, halved
4 Carrots, cut into 2 inch pieces
10 cloves garlic, no need to peel
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
10 sprigs fresh thyme
5 celery tops (the leaves and ribs from the inside of a bunch of celery)
2 bay leaves

1. Place the chicken in a large stockpot with the water.
2. Bring pot to a boil, and then reduce to a simmer.
3. Place onion, carrot, and garlic cloves on a parchment lined baking sheet.
4. Roast at 400 degrees for one hour.
5. Add roasted vegetables to stock, then add parsley, thyme, celery, and bay leaves.
6. Simmer stock one more hour, then cool and strain into glass mason jars.
7. Drink alone or use for soups or sauces.

It is seriously the easiest thing to make, and makes the house smell wonderful for about 2 hours! Let me tell you some things I learned in this process. You don't have to drizzle any kind of oil or anything over the vegetables that roast; they will turn a blackish color, and that is okay. They are suppose to do that. I was tempted to drizzle something over them, but judging from the picture of her roasted vegetables, you don't need to.
The first time, I only used some chicken thigh bones, and used the suggested 3 quarts of water, and it didn't make a lot of stock, once it cooked down. The second time I made it, I used a whole chicken carcass, and so I didn't measure the water, I just covered that carcass and then some, and got a lot more stock out of it.
I also was picking the chicken off of the carcass for the first time and though I tried to do the best I could, there is some that stays on it, and I figure it added extra flavor anyways! You will be straining the stock anyways, so it's not like you will have chicken chunks in it!
The big no-no that I stupidly discovered the second time around, is to let the stock cool before you put it into mason jars and pop it right into the freezer. I lost almost my whole second batch due to cracked mason jars in the freezer. Duh!! So, don't do that!
If you go to Elana's post about this recipe, she also includes a link to all sorts of soups you can use this stock in! Since it is so dark and flavorful, I don't know that you would want to use it in place of chicken broth for a recipe!
So, here's to keeping healthier this season, stocking up on vitamins and water, and drinking this hearty stock!!

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Meal Preparations

Holiday Cranberry Sauce as the cranberries were bursting.

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, it was about that time to make my menu and start planning my schedule for when I would start cooking/baking so that I wouldn't have to do it all at one sitting! Especially with being pregnant, I can't be on my feet for too long at a time, so I really wanted to stretch out my cooking to preserve my back!
This year, it really helps that we are spending Thanksgiving with Tad's family, so I don't have to do all the cooking, and we pretty much cut the menu in half and are each cooking so that the burden doesn't fall on either of us! And the great thing is that she has a roaster that she cooks her turkey in, so I don't have to even think about buying the turkey, thawing it, and cooking it so that it doesn't kill my guests!! In years past, I was frantically reading all the how-to's and turkey 101's so that I would properly cook the thing so that it would taste good and not send anyone home in pain! I have cooked about 3 turkeys now, but it still seems like a foreign thing to me, so I'm glad to not be cooking it this year!
My portion of the Thanksgiving menu is as follows:

Cranberry Sauce
Cheese Balls
Pumpkin Soup (which might actually be eaten at dinner with leftovers)
Corn Souffle
Pecan Pie
Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie

I tried to map out my cooking according to what would keep best in the fridge/freezer and what I could make ahead of time and still taste like it was just made! So, here is my schedule for the week:

Pie Crust Dough before putting them into Ziplocs and rolling them out to be frozen until later use.

Sunday: made Cranberry Sauce and Perfect Pie Crusts for my pies
Monday: made the Cheese Balls
Tuesday: no cooking
Wednesday: will make Pecan Pie and Stuffing
Thursday morning: will make Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pie
will prep Corn Souffle (church cookbook, will include recipe later!)
Thursday late morning: will cook Corn Souffle and Stuffing at Tad's parent's house
will cook Pumpkin Soup on stove top either right before the meal, or later that evening with dinner leftovers.

Cheese Balls to be refrigerated and then rolled in chopped pecans before serving. Yum!

So that's the plan for this year. Not too complicated, and yummy recipes pretty much that I have made before! It should be good, easy, and not too much at one time! I'm looking forward to it! My mother-in-law is making the turkey, mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, green bean casserole, rolls, pumpkin pie, and apple pie. It should be a yummy, fun time!

What does your Thanksgiving menu look like this year?

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Thankful Tree

Well, I finally got on the Pinterest train!! I had heard so many bloggers talking about it and all the wonderful ideas they had gotten from it, and I thought I should check it out! I wouldn't say I am completely obsessed with it, as some are, but there are certainly great ideas for every interest you could possibly have! The above picture is one of the ideas I got! It is called The Thankful Tree and it comes from Simply Vintagegirl Blog.
It is simply some twigs put into a pretty vase, with some ribbon (or yarn if you don't have any ribbon) tied around it! It has been a fun activity for Madelynn and I each day as she picks one thing that she is thankful for! I cut out little leaves of different colors and hole-punch them, and then her or I will write the thing she is thankful for on the leaf! Then she gets to hang it! It is a little different on the blog, perhaps a little prettier, but I found that I liked the leaves better and it actually looks like a little fall tree now! And it makes a great Fall centerpiece!
Also, it has been a good way to get Maddy thinking about being thankful and taking the time to pick one thing each day that she is thankful that she has. It has gotten us talking about those who are less fortunate and how so many other kids don't have the things that she has. I hope it has made her more thankful!
Pinterest is basically a bunch of pictures taken from different blogs or websites that could create a good idea for you. Once you are signed up, you can pin different pictures to your own boards for future reference. You can even tag different websites that you are on if you would like to save an idea to your board on Pinterest! It's pretty fun! I have boards for homeschooling, Christmas decor, my style, kids activities, favorite recipes (of course!), etc. It is pretty fun to get these new ideas in a lot shorter time than looking up each of these things individually!
Try it out!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Writing a Letter

image credit

A letter. Who does that anymore? Who receives them anymore? Not like a short thank-you note, or an invitation to a party, which are also becoming obsolete, but a true, long, heartfelt letter? I will tell you this much, a letter means a lot more than a quick email, an online invitation, or a quick, one-liner message on Facebook! Now, I'm not saying that I don't do these things, or that I'm offended when I get these things, but I'm just saying that taking the time to sit down and hand-write a letter to someone could make their day.
I was encouraged to do this from the book Large Family Logistics by Kim Brenneman and also in the book Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Kim Brenneman encourages you to sit down a write a letter once a week to a friend as a part of your office day. Nancy Leigh DeMoss encourages you to write notes/letters to people who have meant a lot to you in your life, and not to wait until you are standing at someone's funeral and wish you would have expressed how much they had meant in your life. She had amazing stories of how people had really touched other people who might not have otherwise known the difference they had made in someone's life.
I just think a letter is endearing, charming, and extremely thoughtful. For someone to sit down, and take the time to get out paper and pen, and to think of the words to write to you, to put that letter in an envelope and find a stamp to put on it, not to mention dig up your address, it really means a lot!
So, in light of this, I sat down and wrote my first letter a couple of weeks ago. I wrote to a friend who means a lot and who I haven't seen in several months. Someone who will always remain one of my closest friends, no matter the distance between us. She received that letter, and said she had just been thinking how we needed to catch up, and then she got the letter! It made her day! I was so glad I took the time to write to her, and look forward to writing to more people who mean a lot to me but are (sadly) far away!

So, who could you write a letter to this week? We could even write love letters to our husbands!! How much would that mean to them if we took the time to write out what we appreciate about them and how we appreciate all the work they do for our families, especially if that means that we get to stay home with our kiddos!

The possibilities are endless! Make someone's day today, and write them a letter!

Hop of over to to read more about other people's new adventures this week!!