Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year

It's a quiet celebration in a ND blizzard for us. It would have been regardless of a blizzard. My husband had to work, so it's just me and my boys tonight. We are snuggled up on the couch with blankets, by our New Years Tree (see below), watching movies, and eating chocolate covered marshmallows & pretzels. We've played 2010 bingo featuring fun/memorable things we've done over the past year. To end the night, we're having a "sleepover" as my boys call it - which is just camping out in the fort that we made in their room earlier today.

Our Christmas tree has given way to a New Years tree.

I don't do the typical New Years Resolution thing. However this year, I'm looking forward to implementing something my dear friends Chuck and Teresa talk about - about living in manual instead of automatic. The idea is intentionality and purposefulness in life. About evaluating life and living it rather that letting life happen to you. The idea of taking every thought captive is a difficult one - but valuable. So I resolve nothing, but ask God for His strength in this endeavor.

On the food front this year, I'm back in the kitchen creating and it feels good. After months of struggling through my son's food allergies and learning how to cook with all different ingredients, I'm starting to find a grove. Also, now that we've got him into the swing of things, the rest of the family takes a more liberties in eating foods that he can't. He's done remarkably well with that... so far.

I'm looking forward to a new year, to see what may come. Our 2010 was a year of change and emotional struggles. It wasn't always pretty, but we are better on this side of the year. God has done great things, even when it didn't seem like it. My prayer for you and your family is that you can same the same thing on the other side of 2011.

Happy New Year friends.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Ham Glaze

We tried something different for Christmas dinner. Yes, we did ham as usual, but we made our own glaze. It really is very simple and tastes much like a ham that you would get from an expense ham store...

Besides, who isn't going to love using a blow torch in the kitchen. You could use a long handled lighter as well, but it isn't nearly as efficient. and more likely to burn the sugar.

3/4 c Brown Sugar
1/4 t Cinnamon
Dash of Ginger
Dash of Paprika
Dash of Nutmeg
Dash of Ground cloves

Place the ham cut side down on a glass or metal pan. Lightly rub the glaze mixture over the meat and pack it on to stick. You don't want large clumps of sugar because they are too hard to melt without burning. Quickly run the blowtorch over the sugar to melt/caramelize the sugars. It will darken slightly and smooth out. You can run over the sugar multiple times to get it to melt. If you leave the fire in one place too long, it will burn. Allow the sugar to cool and repeat the process.

You can then serve the ham cold or warm. I'm a fan of warm meat myself, and the glaze helped keep the ham really moist on the inside.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Let It Snow

A dusting of powdered sugar makes everything on our breakfast plates look like what we see out the window. Some pancakes, a few cookie cutters, and a shaker/sifter of powdered sugar - and you've got a party on your plate.

Welcome to winter.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Chocolate Dipped Marshmallows

I mentioned this in the 25 Tips of Christmas and thought I'd give you a glimpse at them with a few more details. This is about as easy and quick as it gets for a treat. It was a hit with my oldest son who we've had trouble trying to find Christmas treats that fit his multitude of food allergies.

Stick a toothpick or plastic coffee stirrer in a large marshmallow. Allow of couple minutes for the stick to adhere to the marshmallow. While you wait, melt 3/4 c of chocolate chips and 2 t of butter or shortening. Dip and roll the marshmallow in the melted chocolate, lightly wiping the excess chocolate off the bottom of the marshmallow on the side of the bowl. Rest the chocolate coated marshmallow on wax or parchment paper on cookie sheet. Refrigerate to harden chocolate.

For an added bit of fun, sprinkle chopped nuts, toffee bits, chopped up pretzel bits, or sprinkles all over the chocolate.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #25:

Thanks for making it all the way to Christmas with me. It's been fun. One last tip for you...

Eat on a small plate. It looks full with less food and you'll end up eating less. Less guilt going back for seconds as well ;)

I hope you picked up a few ideas. I'd love to hear some of your favorite tips. It would be a great present for me, to hear from you. Drop me a quick comment so I can wish you Merry Christmas individually. Thanks for reading.

Have a Merry Christmas, celebrating the birth of Emmanuel = God with us. We will never be alone, for He is with us.

Friday, December 24, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #24:

Need a quick punch? Mix Ginger Ale with your favorite fruit juice and add some frozen berries as ice and melts into flavor. My fav? Equal part of white grape juice, ginger ale, sprite, with a few frozen red raspberries.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #23:

The images from old Christmas cards are great to cut up to make gift tags for presents. Use the picture cards of family and friends to slip in a flip frame to pray for throughout the year. I keep mine in my kitchen window.

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #22:

Tired of scrapping wax out of your candle holders? Fill the bottom of your candle holder with salt (kosher or coarse salt work best) and then push/drill your candle down into the salt. When it's time to remove, the wax pull up easily and most of the salt can be retained to be used again.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #21

For a quick fix treat - stick a toothpick in large marshmallow and dip it in melted chocolate and add some sprinkles or chopped nuts. Place on parchment and refrigerate to harden chocolate. Yummy. More details on making these to come soon.

Monday, December 20, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #20:

Trying to ice those sugar cookies, drizzle some chocolate, contain the sprinkles - fill up a resealable bag with your item and cut a tiny bit of a corner off and use it like a piping bag. Use a freezer bag to melt your chocolate chips with a couple of teaspoons of shortening or butter for pipping/drizzling.


6 - 8 Roma tomatoes
2 t garlic, minced (or 2 cloves)
1 T olive oil
2 t balsamic vinegar
1 T fresh basil leaves, chopped (or 1 t dried*)
1/2 t Salt

1 baguette, French, or Italian bread (or GF alternative)
1/4 c olive oil
1 t Salt

Remove the seeds from the tomatoes and dice the remaining tomato up finely. Roll up the basil tightly and slice up the leaves and then dice them finely. *If using dried basil, add it to the 1 T of olive oil and give it a bit of time to re-hydrate. Toss the tomatoes with garlic, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, basil, and salt. Allow about an hour for flavors to meld together. Meanwhile, slice bread thinly and use a brush to lightly coat the bread with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes until toasted.

Serve right away or refrigerate and let flavors meld . If refrigerated, allow the tomato mixture to sit out a bit to let the oils warm up.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #19:

Make a double batch for dinner. Set a bunch aside to freeze for a quick meal next week (or anytime) when you are tired and don't feel like cooking.

Check out the freezer section of Frugal Family Feasts for some tasty ideas.

Toothpicks To The Rescue

In the food court at the mall, they are always handing out samples on toothpicks at the Cajun restaurant and Chinese place. My youngest always has to try them out, and my oldest can't because of his allergies.

Leftovers again?

Make it an adventure with finger food. Following Thanksgiving, my boys were really tired of turkey, but time was short and leftovers were plentiful. I stuck a few toothpicks in pieces of turkey and broccoli and dinner was a hit.

It was a land-speed record for attitude changes around the table.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #18:

A thick ribbon for wrapping packages adds a lot of bang for your buck. Pick up a large roll(s) of neutral (white, silver, gold) in 2" - 3" on sale (most are 50-60% off right now or clearance after Christmas 75-80%) that you can use for many different occasions.

A beautiful ribbon around a mug of hot cocoa mix, to tie up Christmas goodies, or hold the ties of gift bags together - always looks nice.

Think of the packaging as adding to the value/impact of your gift. To be honest - often I think of the packaging as making up for what I lack in content. I may not be able to give much, but I give it from my heart.

Cheesecake Quesadillas

I know I promised this recipe a while ago, but it is finally here! Think of this as more of a method to fill as your heart desires. This is a nice dessert treat or a decadent brunch goody.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Quesadillas

Strawberry Cheesecake Quesadillas

Filling - Spread on a bit of cream cheese and add with your favorite topping.
  • Pumpkin Pie Cheesecake - 1 T soft cream cheese mixed together with 1 t of powdered sugar, 1 T of pumpkin pie puree/filling, a dash of cinnamon & nutmeg
  • Strawberry Cheesecake - 1 T sweetened cream cheese, 1 T strawberry jam
  • Nutella - 1 T soft cream cheese, 1 T nutella
  • Sprinkles - 1 T soft cream cheese, sprinkles/jimmies
  • Almond - mix a 1 t of almond extract with a block of cream cheese & 1/4 c powdered sugar. Spread 1 T of mixture and top with a few chopped almonds

Tortillas - lightly spray with cooking oil and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

On a medium-high heat, slightly grease a griddle. Heat until filling is melted and sugar starts to caramelize. Be careful no to over heat. The sugar will burn easily.

Friday, December 17, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #17:

Make a few of those favorite holiday baking recipes a bit healthier by substituting applesauce for oil. Works great in quick breads, pancakes, and others. You can also substitute a mixture of 1 T of ground flax seed & 2 T of water for an egg...

Amazing Cornflake Cookies

Our friends who are working in Thailand training pastors shared this recipe with me years ago. I set it aside when my son's peanut allergy was diagnosed - focusing on numerous other fabulous recipes.

With the addition of so many other allergies, this recipe bubbled back up as a great one to tweak a bit and make it allergy safe. Oh my goodness have I missed these little treats.

1 c Sugar
1 c Peanut Butter (or Sunbutter)
1 c Light Corn Syrup
1/2 t Vanilla
1 T Butter (or vegan butter)
7-8 c Cornflakes

In a large pot, bring sugar and corn syrup to a boil. Remove from heat and stir in peanut butter vanilla, butter, and then cornflakes. Drop onto wax paper/parchment, press into 9 X 9 or a 9 X 13 pan for bars, or press into a muffin tin. Makes 24-30 cookies.

Warning: You may not want to be left alone with these little bits of heaven.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #16:

Christmas is a great time to explore the art of "dipping." Your kids will love you for it. Think of all the things you can dip - pretzels, chips, cookies, candy, veggies, crackers, meat, candy, marshmallows, etc. Then think of all the dip options - chocolate, sour cream, caramel, dill/ranch dip, etc.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #15:

Keep a stash of thank you notes in a spot easily accessible to grab as you go. Write them as soon as you can to show your appreciation, and keep it from becoming a big job.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #14:

Tis the season to be WAY TOO BUSY. Take a few minutes each day to get away from the hype and rush, even if it's only 5 minutes, even if you have to lock yourself in the bathroom. In that precious time, focus on what will make a meaningful, purpose-driven holiday. Decide between what is good and what is best for your family.

Here are a few ideas to focus your festivities:
  • Re-read the Christmas story from Luke 1-2
  • Pray for military families and all those separated this Christmas
  • Make a meal for an elderly family and stop in for a visit
  • Volunteer to ring a bell for the Salvation Army
  • Share some of your treats with a group home (Ronald McDonald House, maternity home, halfway house, etc)
  • Play an extra game with your children
  • Donate time/skills/items to a homeless shelter
  • Bless your church staff with a note of appreciation or plate of goodies
  • Smile at random strangers
  • Hold the door for people
  • Give up the best parking spot in the lot to someone else and walk off some cookies
  • Donate a new toy to a toy drive
  • Laugh or be silly every occasion that you can
  • Breath, deeply
  • Leave a comment for a blogger you follow (hint, hint)
  • Make a conscious effort to chose to be grateful rather than grouchy.
What keeps you grounded and focused? I'd love to hear your ideas.

Monday, December 13, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #13:

Christmas is a great time to stock up on sale items to load the pantry or freezer. Look for great deals on items like sugar, flour, spices, butter, creamer, turkey, ham, nuts, etc.

Keep in mind that you can freeze dairy items - HOWEVER, the consistency will be slightly different when you thaw them. Cheese tends to be a bit crumbly (which is great for salads or melting), cream cheese can separate slightly (which when you whip it is fine), sour cream can appear curdled but the taste is fine (good for baking or other combined recipes), and even milk & creamer.

If you are a texture eater like me, make sure you have the right preparation for these products to enjoy your end results and make the most of your money savings.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #12:

Break out your watercolor paints and let the kiddos (or yourself) paint a few clipart ornaments printed on cardstock. Cut out the artwork and hang on a piece of thin ribbon or yarn and hang as a garland.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #11:

Parchment paper is the Christmas baker's best friend. Line your cookie sheets with a piece of the parchment and it keeps cookies from sticking and keeps the bottom of cookies from over browning. Slide the paper off the baking sheet and cool/decorate/contain your mess.

Friday, December 10, 2010

25 Days of Christmas - Day #10:

Instead of just storing that tomato cage all winter long, use it to make a miniature Christmas tree. Tie the tines together with a bit of string to get the general shape of the tree. Use artificial pine garland and wrap around the cage frame. Occasionally, wrap one of the branches around the side bars of the cage to hold it together securely. Wrap some lights, a bit of garland around (ribbon/bead/etc) or add any type of ornaments/tree topper of your choice. Works great for a porch decoration (use tent stakes to make it wind resistant), in a child's room, by the fireplace, or anywhere you can think of it.

Photography by Kate Elisabeth

Thursday, December 9, 2010

25 Days of Christmas - Day #9:

Have left over Halloween candy still? Maybe a few little odds and ends? Recycle those tidbits into your Advent Calendar as a little sweet treat. Along with it, add in a slip of paper with a person to pray for, a character from the Christmas story to talk about, a character quality, a service project, or fun game to play...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

25 Days of Christmas - Day #8:

While you've got those cookie cutters broken out for sugar cookies - put them to good use. Pancakes, cheese slices, sandwiches, bread for toast, deli meat, to shape rice (press it in tight), finger jello, brownies, or anything else you can think of.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #7:

No time to bake homemade cookies? Try dressing up a break/bake or bakery cookie. Melt some chocolate chips with a tablespoon of shortening and then dip 1/3-1/2 of the cookie. Allow to cool on wax paper or parchment paper.

Monday, December 6, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #6

When rolling out sugar cookies to cut out, try using powdered sugar in place of flour to spread out and dip your cutters in. It provides the same non-stick surface and doesn't leave the "flour" taste on your baked cookies.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #5:

You know those annoying plastic twist ties that hold your child's toys hostage while they bug you constantly to open? They come in really handy for decorating. They are strong/durable and work well for greenery & garlands. If they are too long, use wire cutters to trim to size.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #4

Ran out of powdered sugar? No problem. Put some white or raw sugar in the blender or food processor on high for a few minutes and you have powdered sugar. Allow the dust to settle before opening to avoid a face full (not that I learned the hard way)...

Friday, December 3, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #3:

Avoid the expense of new holiday outfits for you and the family. Think of up-cycling or adding a new accessory instead. Try a red flower hair pin, tie, scarf, hat, or jewelry. Save the money on new cloths and use it give to those in need this Christmas. No one needs another Christmas sweater... Merry Christmas!

Visit your local thrift store, embellish something you already have, pick up some hair accessories from Domestic Artistry, or jewelry from rescued trafficked women from Women At Risk.

Whichever way you go, it's more about the meaning of the season than the outfit you end up wearing. Think about living well and giving well this Christmas in addition to frugally eating well.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

25 Tips of Christmas - Day #2:

Let the parade for tips for Christmas continue...

Most non-iced cookies can be frozen and thawed to use later with great results. For sugar cookies, save the frosting part for when they are thawed. Start now and pace your Christmas baking throughout the month. Eat a few and freeze the rest instead of a marathon eating through the batch (if they last that long). You can also pull our a few of several different types of cookies to enjoy rather than eating just one type at a time. Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

25 Tip of Christmas - Day #1:

I'm going to count down the days to Christmas with a fun tip each day plus some yummy recipes. Coming tomorrow = Cheesecake Quesadillas

DAY #1
When measuring baked goods with your little baker, put the measuring cup/spoon on or over a small plate so excess spills can be contained or reused. An apron from Domestic Artistry helps contain the mess as well. Happy baking.