Saturday, December 29, 2012

Slip Sliding Away!

Since July, my youngest has been begging for a sledding birthday party. Since last winter we didn't have enough snow, I couldn't make that promise for this year. She prayed regularly and we had a backup plan. Then in the middle of December we got 14 inches of snow! And then the weather stayed nice and cold, we even got a couple of small snowfalls to ensure good snow coverage on our favorite hill!

We made sure to get the invitations out before everyone was gone for Christmas break. Then we hoped that people would remember, and be able to make it.

I googled for ideas on how to throw a sledding party. Most party idea pages are for the summer and spring when it is easy to be outside and full of color. I found a couple of ideas, then planned it out.

The snow hill is only a couple of blocks from the house. So we decided to start there, and then head to the house to warm up. If we had been farther away, I would have set up a buffet out the back of the SUV, and possibly had My Vet drag over the ice house as a make shift warming house. Thankfully, the weather cooperated, we had sunny skies and it was a balmy 20 F. The nearby public library was even open, so we could use the restroom.

On her actual birthday, she requested a snowman cake with chocolate snow.  I decided to carry on with the snowman theme. I had fun with the refreshments. Snowman cupcakes, snowman marshmallows, melted snowmen- baby carrots with ranch dressing, hot cocoa, little smokies, and some coffee for the adults.

The cupcakes were pretty easy. A basic cupcake with butter cream frosting. Using a toothpick I stuck a powdered sugar donut hole on top. Used a Mike and Ike for a nose, Fruit by the Foot for a scarf, and some black frosting for the eyes. The only trouble I had was getting the eyes to stick. Use a small paintbrush to wet the powdered sugar where your eyes will go, then the frosting has something to stick too.

Snowman marshmallows were easy too. Place 2 marshmallows on the tip of a skewer. Cover the tip with a junior mint for a hat. Then using food coloring and a toothpick, add eyes, mouth, buttons, and nose. I used a flower frog to help display them.

I used some orange construction paper, and a black Sharpie to jazz up a basic Styrofoam cup. Then I hung some balloons out front, and on the car at the sled hill. I thought that the end result was pretty cute.

My Vet, the girls, and I had fun sledding for a little over an hour, and shared our extra sleds with new friends on the sled hill. Afterwards, we enjoyed the great snacks, and a warm crackling fire. We also learned that people are really busy this time of year. Hopefully, we will have this whole Christmas time birthday party thing figured out before she is old enough to be disappointed when no one shows up.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Chopped at Christmas?

All of us after church.
It has been several years since My Vet and I spent a Christmas at my mom's. The last time we planned on being there, a snow storm hit. So our little family, has gotten used to quiet Holiday's. Leisurely breakfast and coffee, small meals, and plenty of time to rest and relax, and if we had the energy a movie at the local theater or on "The Flix".

This year was was much anticipated by our little family. It was just even louder, and busier than I remembered. Lots of people coming and going, and lots of things to do. I'll do my best to share some of the mayhem with you.

Cream Cheese, Bacon, Oranges,
Tortillas, and Carmelized Onion
I had already purchased and wrapped the presents, even had them at my mom's house before Halloween. I thought I was doing pretty good, and would be able to coast right in. Apparently since I hadn't attended many previous Holidays as an adult, I was unaware of the prep that my sister's did. Luckily, this year I was included in the emails. It started with an idea to mimic a Food Network Program called Chopped. Having cancelled our satellite years ago, I had no idea what that show was. Thankfully the starter email stated we would have 30 minutes to assemble appetizers using secret ingredients that would then be judged by the family. Each sister was assigned a food group to bring for the competition.  Bring enough for 5, plus 1 special ingredient to use or share.

Kim and Stephanie hard at work
Being that I was assigned grains, I chose one of my favorites, tortilla's. I hoped their versatility would be good with the dairy, protein, fruit, and vegetables being brought by other sisters. Yep, there are 5 of us. I have to admit, the competitive side of me wanted to bring something less versatile so that I could be prepared and have an edge. My sense of not wanting to eat something gross or funky won out though. I then whipped up a batch of hummus as my secret ingredient.

Statler with Waldorf hiding
around the corner
After some pre-competition discussion we started 30 minutes early to allow for extra time since 5 of us had to share a space and none of us are professionals. It was a sight to see. Every surface was covered with food, cooking utensils, and some children's toys for good measure. A couple of the husband's created a make shift peanut gallery in the back porch and heckled us through out the competition. (Think the 2 old guys in the Muppets.)

The sisters got right to work. We niched out small work areas for ourselves and got busy. You might be able to tell by the photo that I brought some of my favorite cooking utensils from home.A small cutting board, a large knife, an offset spatula, my apron and a pastry bag that Kim ended up using.

I'm sure my mom never thought this day would come. All of her daughters working in the kitchen, without needing to be asked, or fighting, and cleaning up after themselves!

As a child, Kristie used to trade us younger sisters big nickles for tiny dimes. Since she's had time to 'Hohn' that skill over the years, she brought extra secret ingredients to "stock mom's pantry". aka, Allow her to use a recipe for quasadillas she pre-prepared. Thankfully, Cathy threw her off a bit with the oranges that she sliced and drizzled with chocolate as a side.

Kim, being the first of us to marry and have a home, has the most experience in the kitchen. She also loves to try new recipes and is constantly menu planning for different parties and events. We all knew she had the edge going into this. She assembled her ingredients on star shaped, baked tortilla crisps topped with an orange, bacon sauce, and pine nuts. It was My Vet's favorite.

Cathy hard at work
All of our homes are warmed by the cozy quilts Cathy has made for us. All of that time sewing, doesn't leave much time for cooking. Each of the 10 nieces and nephews know to ask Cathy for anything sewing related, and to expect take out if going to her house for dinner. Cathy is usually busy entertaining the children when cooking needs to be done. Knowing this, she selected oranges and brought lettuce as her secret ingredient. She figured that way she could toss those together on a platter and call it good if the other ingredients were too hard. She welcomed advice from all of us during this friendly competition, and ended up using all 5 ingredients, plus her lettuce and some feta cheese from Mom's stock to create a flavorful spiral.

As usual I over thought it and ended up with a medley on my platter. For starters I used my hummus to spread on the tortillas along with bacon, caramelized onion, orange zest, black olives, and green peppers from Mom's stock to create spirals with a bit of a kick. I then used a cup to cut circles out of my tortillas to fry. Some of them stayed flat like a chip, others puffed up. I made a cream cheese, orange juice, bacon, cashew, chicken filling that I piped into the puff and chilled. I then placed the flatter chips around a small bowl of the hummus. My Spirals were Statler's favorite, while my kids dug into the chips and hummus.

Stephanie along with Statler (remember him from the peanut gallery?) collaborate in their kitchen. She tried to get him to step in for her. She's no slouch in the kitchen, she just prefers baking to cooking. She stuck to what she knows best and combined her ingredients along with some chicken from Mom's stock to bake a yummy tortilla cup with a cream cheese based filling.

It took us 1 hour to make our appetizers and to clean up the kitchen. Then we all got ready to go to church. After church, before dinner we served all of our goodies, and awaited the final desicion. None of the husbands wanted to vote. It was a good thing Doc showed up at just the right time. Since he didn't know who prepared what a plate was prepared for him to make the final vote. And the winner was..... A tie between Kristie's hot quesadillas, and Stephanie's fresh from the oven tortilla cups. Maybe we should have let him warm up a bit more before judging?

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Homemade Hummus

My first taste of hummus was by chance. Thanks to my couponing I was able to get 4 free tubs. I picked it up and hoped we liked it. Like it we did! However, without coupons it is outside of my budget. So I decided to see if I could make it.
Basic Hummus Recipe:
1 16 oz can of chickpeas or garbanzo beans
1/4-1/2 cup liquid from can of chickpeas (depends on smoothness)
3-5 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (depending on taste)
1 1/2 tablespoons tahini **
2 teaspoons minced garlic (you could roast 2 cloves instead for added flavor)
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Drain chickpeas and set aside liquid from can. Combine remaining ingredients in a food processor. Add 1/4 cup of liquid from chickpeas. Blend for 5 minutes on low until thoroughly mixed and smooth. Add more liquid from chickpeas if needed.
Flavor Options:
Sun dried Tomatoes
Roasted Red Peppers
Caramelized Onion
Roasted Garlic
I have found that the Roasted Red Peppers add enough extra liquid, while my Sun dried Tomatoes didn't.
Some recipes call for Olive Oil, I just prefer to add a bit extra liquid from the chickpeas.

Place in serving bowl, Garnish with parsley (optional).
**Tahini is essentially sesame seed peanut butter. I find it in the Organic/Natural section of the grocery store. It can be made from scratch as well, but it is difficult to get smooth, and texture is the number one reason why people don't like hummus.
This recipe is such a hit in our house, I always double the batch. It is our staple snack along with carrots and celery, when we go out on the boat.

Friday, December 21, 2012

What a Crock!

So long friend.
My Vet and I got a Crock-Pot for Christmas 16 years ago. I was so happy to have one with a removable crock, at the time it was the latest advancement. This year I have been drooling over the super cute ones that have been on sale at just about every store. The contemporary new designs and the rock bottom sale prices didn't make me budge. How can I justify spending the money when I have a perfectly functional, not pretty, one. So I kept taking a deep breath and moved along. Yay me, right?
Only $16.88 at Walmart this week
Being the last day of school before Christmas, I decided I would bring lunch for my fellow teachers. As I was quickly whipping up a batch of chili this morning I heard a sharp ping noise. Why does such a pretty noise, sound so bad? I didn't have time to agonize over how much it would cost me now that I missed all the sales. Instead, I assessed that the small crock-pot was too small, and grabbed my roasting oven, compiled all of my ingredients and headed out the door.

I Just like this one.
Then, I had time to beat myself up for being cheap. Now it would probably cost me way more to replace it. Before panicking though, I remember that the best way to get a great price on something is being willing to wait. So instead of heading straight to the store I started my search. Since I have the little crock pot and the roaster I can make-do for a while. Surely I will be able to get one no later than the "Big Game" sales in late January.

Likely winner, $15 at Target
I really like some of the patterns available right now. I wonder if I will prefer something plain in the long run though. I know I liked the one up top when I first got it.

I also had problems with my can opener today. Several years ago I purchased a Kitchen Aid can opener, thinking it would be a good purchase. Nope, it didn't work well at all. It had to be held at a weird angle to get it to work at all. A few months back I finally gave up on it and purchased another brand. I tossed that one in the garbage with the slow cooker this morning, and grabbed the cheapo camping one. It worked awesome, should have done that sooner.

So much for making an inexpensive, easy treat for my coworkers...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

It's Begining to Look a Lot Like Christmas

I love Christmas, the whole Christmas Season.
Please don't ask why, no one quite knows the reason.

Well that's not exactly true. It's obvious why. (Happy Birthday Baby Jesus!)

Other than a couple of scary** moments involving Santa I've had a lifetime of great Christmas memories. Amidst the handmade ornaments, hundreds of cookies, TV Christmas Specials, tree trimming, radio contests, light viewing, live nativities, Christmas pageants, and family time my favorite has always been hanging our stockings.

As a kid we didn't have a fireplace, so our parent's would hang them on the banister and snap a photo of us standing by our sock. As an adult, I have a mantel to hang them from.

Over the years we have all grown, and started families of our own. As our family has expanded so has our collection of stockings. The first 5 were made by our Aunt Nancy. She no longer makes them, but she shared the pattern so that we could continue to get them knitted.

It comes without ribbons, it comes without tags, it comes without packages, boxes, or bags!

Even though Christmas means so much more. I love that I'm able to share the same joys with my own children.

(**I once got lost in the Sioux Empire Mall, while waiting for Santa to return from his break. We also had a surprise visit on Christmas Eve, my parents never did that to me again. I still remember hiding and crying!)

What childhood traditions/phobias have you passed on to your children?

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Super, Fantastic, Amazing Cake?

Happy Birthday Daddy!
Several years ago I took some cake decorating classes with a friend from work. It was fun, and I learned some great tips. I have since made a lot of fun cakes for birthdays, holidays, church picnics, and random days of the week. Don't get me wrong, you are not going to see me on the Food Network anywhere but in my dreams, Halloween, or on April Fools Day. That said, I like to make my family feel special by making them cakes on their birthday.

Made these for a MOPS cake walk.
A long time ago, I learned that My Vet only feels special when I make a cake from a box, with canned frosting. To make it more festive, I get to go crazy and use funfetti cake and frosting. I always struggle with the fact it isn't complicated enough. Then I am reminded that I'm the complicated one, not him.

A just because cake.
When we were first married I asked My Vet if he had any idea where a particular dish was, his response was "I put it in the tupperware cabinet. Since tupperware has fitted lids, and it has a fitted lid. I figured that is where you would put it." (It was actually french white, oven safe, glassware and so it went in another cabinet. I could understand his thought process though, and loved that he noticed I had a system, and tried to figure it out.")

If I can be complicated on my birthday by requesting cheese cake, ice cream cake, or pie, my Vet should get to be straight forward and get a simple frosted cake. I should also be thankful that I get the easier birthday celebration to plan.

Retiring to a farm cake

Birthday Cake

Actually made this one in a countertop roaster, when my oven went out before Christmas!
Disco themed birthday party

Church picnic

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Debt Free Christmas: Divide and Conquer

This is the perfect topic for me this week. Our theme at preschool is "sharing and caring, how to be a good friend". It's also how to get through Christmas, Debt Free!

Have home parties instead of renting a space. I admit it, I have a hard time opening my house. I look at the photos on Facebook of my friends awesome homes and am embarrassed. Get over yourself! Your friends don't care if your house is a showplace, or not. They are coming to see you, not your house. That said, for me, it's also a good way to keep motivated to clean, or finish small projects that I've been meaning to get to. (Yes fireplace, I might finally be talking to you.)

Host or attend a cookie exchange. It is cheaper and easier to make dozens of one kind of cookie, than it is to buy ingredients and bake dozens of different kinds. It's also fun to get together for coffee and taste testing!

Invite friends and family to join in celebrating your holiday traditions. Things don't have to be elaborate. Don't expect your get together's to be like the ones you see on TV or in the Movies. Hot Cider and your DVD of National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation; make Krumkak, Lefse, or another holiday favorite that works best when you have multiple hands; decorate the tree; go Christmas Caroling; load up the van and go look at lights.

If you are hosting, ask everyone to bring a dish. Ask them what they want to bring or make suggestions so that you don't end up with a table full of green bean casserole and nothing else. I like to ask people to bring a signature dish or something in their skill set. Since they are bringing a dish they might not feel the need to bring a hostess gift, that will end up saving you both! On the flip side, if you attend a party, ask what you can bring to lighten your friend/family's load.

I admit it is really hard to ask guests to bring something. I even live in MN where it's a pretty normal part of life, and I struggle with it. Ask yourself "would I want my friends to go into debt to have me over for dinner or a party?" Guess what, they will have the same answer as you.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Black Spider

I recently told you all about my love affair with Cast Iron Cookware. Now for just $13.76 + FREE store pic-up, you can get in on the Cast Iron love! Sears has this 3 piece set on sale for just $15.29, use the coupon code GREATGIFTS and you can get it for just $13.76! That is less than I paid for my first Cast Iron Pan and you get 3. Totally jealous, and wishing I was a better hoarder so that I could get in on this deal for myself. :-)

**I am not being compensated to share this. It is just a really good deal.

Cheesey Wild Rice Soup

I love living 'Up North'. In the summer we see wild rice growing in our local lakes. Then in the fall when the weather changes I get to make one of my families favorite recipes. This year I changed up my recipe a bit, in order to incorporate my DIY challenge for 2012. I used ** in my ingredient list so that you could still be successful with store bought substitutions.

Cheesey Wild Rice Soup:
1/2 lb of Bacon cut into small pieces (Freeze remainder for another day)
1 medium yellow onion chopped
1/2 cup Wild Rice
1/2 cup brown rice
1/2 cup old fashioned oats
2 Chicken bullion cubes
6 1/2 cups of water**
1 celery stalk chopped**
1 can of mushrooms**
1 medium potato chopped**
1 cup Cream of ... Soup Mix**
12 oz of American Cheese cubed or shredded
5 cups of milk

In a large stock pot, fry bacon pieces until almost done. Saute onion, wild rice, brown rice, oats, and celery in bacon juices until celery and onion are translucent. Add water, bullion, potatoes, mushrooms, and soup mix., bring to a low boil. Reduce heat, add milk and cheese. Heat thoroughly, while stirring. DO NOT BURN. Serve. (I often make this in the crockpot, as it is even yummier the longer it simmers.)

** Reduce water to 2 1/2 Cups, eliminate other ** items and replace with 1 can each of cream of mushroom, cream of potato, and cream of celery soups

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Pictures, Pumpkins, and my Peeps!

My Peeps. :-)
Today I got to host a Shutterfly More Merry House Party. Several of my friends took time out of their day to join me. It was a lot of fun for me. I got to show off some of my updates around the house, and tried lots of Pinterest recipes and crafts.

By popular request here is the Pinterest inspired recipe for:

Pumpkin Latte
CrockPot Pumpkin Lattes
1 Quart of half and half (That's the tall one)
1/2 of a 15oz can of pumpkin
2 Tablespoons of Pumpkin Pie Seasoning
2 Tablespoons of Vanilla
1 1/4 Cups of Sugar
Full 12 cup pot of strongly brewed coffee (I doubled the amount of coffee grounds)
Whipped Topping for garnish

Combine all ingredients in your crockpot. Use an immersion blender to fully incorporate the pumpkin. (The Original recipe called for whisking, but many of the comments recommended an immersion blender, since I had one... I used it.) Cook on high for 2 hours.

Bottom of second batch!
This was such a hit, that I needed to make a second batch mid party! (I was about to substitute regular milk for the Half and Half, when My Vet came home, then ran back out to the store for me.) For the second batch I placed the crock in the microwave on high for 6 minutes to get it hot fast. We drank that round up quick too!

Getting all crafty.
I wanted to try a Pinterest decor idea, but didn't want to spend the money on helium. So I just used painters tape to tape the dollar store balloons to the ceiling! I then just set out the photo books, photos, and cards I had made using Shutterfly.

After party fun!