Sunday, December 21, 2008

Holiday Fare - Christmas Wreath Cookies

This is a variation of rice krispie treats. The rice krispies are replaced with plain cornflakes and then formed into wreath shapes. This recipe makes about 20 wreaths.

1 cup butter
6 cups miniature marshmallows
1 tsp vanilla extract
Green food coloring
8 cups corn flakes cereal
Red hot candies (red cinnamon balls)
licorice whips

This can be made on the stove or in the microwave (I prefer micro myself). Make sure you use a microsafe bowl.

Melt butter
Add marshmellows and continue heating until marshmellows are incorporated into butter...stirring constantly over stove, occasionally when cooking in the microwave
Add vanilla a few drops of food coloring, stirring in
Add corn flakes and stir until they are covered in marshmellow

CAUTION! - mixture may be HOT, allow to cool some

Cover work area with well buttered wax paper (or can use a buttered cookie sheet)
Grease hands well with butter and have butter handy to regrease as needed.
Take a ball of mixture and form it into a wreath shape on work surface. Don't make them too thin or they'll break apart.
Make a bow with a licorice whip.
While still tacky, place licorice bow and 3 cinnamon candies on the wreath.
Allow to set until most stickiness is gone before serving.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Holiday Fare - Buckeyes

This is a homemade peanut butter cup but in the shape of a ball. The kids love to help roll the I get request for these every year. They make a great homemade gift. This recipe makes a lot.

1 lb butter
2 18oz jars peanut butter
3 lbs powdered sugar (also known as confectionery or 10X)
2 12 oz bags of semi sweet chocolate chips
1 bar of paraffin (found with the canning supplies)

Cream together butter and peanut butter until smooth
Add in powdered sugar and mix well
Roll mixture into small balls with as little handling as possible

In a double boiler (or a pan placed into a larger pan of boiling water) melt chocolate chips and paraffin until smooth. Remove from heat.
Dip peanut butter balls in melted chocolate mixture
Place on waxed paper until chocolate is set

Note...Melted Chocolate mixture will thicken as it cools and will need to be reheated through the dipping process. I use two pans of water, one heating on the stove and the other holding the pan of melted chocolate. Switching them as needed.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Holiday Fare - Melting Moments Cookies

These are one of my all time favorite cookies. They're crispy to bite into and immediately melt in your mouth. And who can resist buttery goodness? I tried to make a mega batch of these in the past and the cookies didn't come out well. So I tend to make a bunch of batches of these. The trick is to make more before you finish the previous batch so there's cookies to serve holiday company! :o) This recipe makes about 3 dozen cookies.

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 cup powdered sugar (also known as confectionery or 10x)
1 cup butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla
powdered (confectionery or 10x) sugar to roll cookies in after baking

In a separate bowl combine flour, cornstarch and salt...set aside
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy
Add in vanilla
Mix in flour mixture and combine until smooth
Refrigerate for an hour or more
After properly chilled roll dough into 1" balls
Place on cookie sheet 1" apart
Bake in a 350°F oven for 12-14 mins until edges of bottom start to brown
Cool for a few minutes and then roll warm cookies into powdered sugar.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Holiday Cooking Prepping

I never did my report on how my Thanksgiving planning chart worked out. I am happy to say it worked great, but not perfectly. Problem is, some of my helpers ended up getting up late which pushed us behind. Then a guest called and said they would be late. Then another individual who we thought wouldn't show up called and said they would. And...

Bottom line, it was great having a timeline, but even the best laid plans can be thrown off. Sometime (oftentimes) unexpectedly. That said, the one HUGE advantage I found with the planning is that I had more than enough time to clean as I went, meaning I didn't have the sinkful of dirty prep dishes at the end of the day that I normally do.

That said, we still did pretty well. Instead of 2:00, we ended up eating at 3:30. The appetizer spread went out on time, which meant everyone had something to munch on until the main course, so it wasn't a disaster. Everything else went smoothly, with only a few mishaps. Of course, even with the chart we ended up not putting out the cranberry sauce until everyone had filled up their plates. That is like the one area we can never get right!

As I readily admitted back at Thanksgiving, I am usually a one-day cook. However, for Christmas I am planning to doing something different. I am going to pre-cook most of the meal. The main motivation for this is we are not sure really what the schedule will be, who will be coming, if we'll be going somewhere else, or what. Nothing like indecision a week before the holiday! Since I will be doing most of the cooking regardless, I have planned to prep everything.

Our tentative menu:

Bacon Waterchestnut wraps
Cheese and Meat tray
Fruit tray

Pork Roast
Sausage/Apple Stuffing (big hit, requested again)
Mashed Pots
Sweet Potato Casserole with Carmelized Bananas
Rotini Lasagna (another repeat request)
Cheese Fries
Baked Veggie Medly

Banana Split Pie
Double Chocolate Pie
Pumpkin Pie

The goal of prepping was/is not only to spare myself a lot of hassel on Christmas day, but to avoid any type of marathon cooking situation. Part of that meant planning my regular meal-chart to compliment the holiday cooking. Such as making a pasta dish on Tuesday, which would allow me to make a double batch of rotini and use one for the meal, and one for the holiday dish. Same for the stuffing. Tonight I will be making Chicken Stuffing Casserole. I'll make extra stuffing for Christmas.

This is the first time I have endeavored to make a full meal ahead. Aside from a few small things, I plan to make everything--even the turkey--beforehand. The mashed pots are done, as is the lasagna. Tonight I tackle the stuffing and sweet potato base (the banana topping cannot be made ahead). Some thing cannot really made fully ahead, but they will be prepped so that the dish will simply have to go into the oven.

Not really sure how this will all turn out, but I do have to admit I like the idea of spreading it out. In years past, I usually spend so much time in the kitchen, I don't really get to enjoy all the package-opening and such. It will be nice change to be able to relax. Well, relax as well as I can. I don't think I will ever relax when hosting a gathering!

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Cranberry Nutbread

This is my absolute favorite nutbread! Over Thanksgiving I discovered a sweetened cranberry relish in the deli section of the local grocery store. It has whole cranberries, pineapple & walnuts. It was too sweet to eat as a side dish, but when used instead of the fresh cranberries in my nutbread it was AMAZING! This recipe is for standard cranberry orange nutbread, but I will note the modifications I made in case anybody feels like experimenting.

2 cups flour
3/4 cups sugar (1/4 cup if using sweetened relish)
1 1/2 t baking powder
3/4 t salt
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 cup softened butter
1 T grated orange peel (omit if using sweetened relish)
3/4 cup orange juice (substitute water if using sweetened relish)
1 egg
1 cup fresh or frozen chopped cranberries (or 1 cup sweetened cranberry relish)
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (omit if using relish that contains nuts)

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray two 8X4 loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda, stir in butter until crumbly. Add orange peel, orange juice and egg. Fold in cranberries and nuts. Fill loaf pans half full. Cook @ 350 for one hour or until wooden tooth pick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. When it is completely cool, wrap nutbread in foil to store. This recipe also works great for mini loaves to give as gifts.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Pumpkin bread

Pumpkin (nut) Bread is a favorite at my house. All three of my sons LOVE pumpkin, so just about anything pumpkin will be devoured. A while back I saw a post on Cooking with Anne about preparing fresh pumpkin for use in recipes. I knew I had to try it. I used my mixer to puree it rather than dragging out the food processor or the blender. It worked really well.

2 cups pumpkin puree (large can if using canned)
2 2/3 cup sugar
1/2 t allspice
1 t cinnamon
4 eggs
2/3 cup water
2/3 cup shortening
3 cups all purpose flour
1/2 t baking powder
2 t baking soda
1 1/2 t salt
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)
1/2 cup raisins (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350. Spray two 8X4 loaf pans with non-stick cooking spray. In a medium bowl, combine pumpkin, sugar, spices, eggs, water and shortening. Mix well until there are no lumps. In another bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda & salt. Fold the flour mixture into the pumpkin mixture. Add nuts &/or raisins if desired. Fill loaf pans half full. Cook @ 350 for one hour or until wooden tooth pick inserted in center comes out clean. Allow to cool in pans for 10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. When it is completely cool, wrap nutbread in foil to store. This recipe also works great for mini loaves to give as gifts. Bake mini loaves for about 35 minutes.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Banana Nut Bread

Now that it is December, it is time to start thinking about holiday baking. Banana's are very popular in my house, but just about every time I buy a bunch the last 2 or 3 don't get eaten. They get "too ripe" & the kids won't touch them. So, into the freezer they go. Frozen bananas work well in any recipe calling for fresh banana. Mini loaves wrapped in foil are also perfect for gift giving. The recipe is a modified version from my Betty Crocker Cookbook. This will make 1 standard size loaf or about 3 mini loaves...foil pans are GREAT for baking mini loaves & can be reused over & over. When I'm making mini loaves for gifts, I double or triple the recipe depending on how many I need & put all the mini pans on a cookie sheet to make getting them into & out of the oven easier.

1 cup sugar
1/3 cup softened butter
2 eggs
4 over ripe fresh or frozen bananas (thawed enough to smash easily if using frozen)
1/3 cup water
1 2/3 cups flour
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 cup nuts

Preheat oven to 350. Cream sugar & butter together in medium mixing bowl. Stir in eggs, then add mashed banana & water. Mix the dry ingredients (except nuts)in a separate bowl then slowly add to wet mix. Fold in nuts. Pour into greased loaf pan & bake until tooth pick inserted in middle comes out clean....approximately 1 hr for standard size loaf. If making mini loaves, fill greased loaf pans 2/3 full. Cooking time will be between 30 & 45 minutes depending on size of mini pan. Let them cool in the pan for about 5 minutes, then on a wire rack until completely cool before cutting or wrapping in foil.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Copy Cat

If I had to guess, I think that eating out is probably the singlemost way to sabotage a food budget--any budget really. The reason is that most families don't factor this cost into their spending, so it's often a hidden cost. You're tired, you don't want to cook, and even though you weren't planning on it, you hit the drive-thru. Even when you do set aside a certain amount monthly for eating out (or ordering in), when you are at a point where you need to trim costs, this is one of the first--and sometimes the hardest--places to cut.

Thing is, who doesn't love the occasional Big Mac or BK Big Fish. There are ways to eat fast-food on the cheap. Of course, most chains have a $1 menu, and if you are smart, you can eat-out without breaking the bank. There are some other good tips in this article we featured on Lotsofkids a few years back.

Still, sometimes you really want a certain dish, but you can't justify the cost. Instead of breaking the bank, try copy-catting. Simply put, it's the art of making your favorite dishes at home for a fraction of the cost. Honestly, I have found that making my favorite take-out dishes at home has been a very important tool in helping my family weather this hard economic downturn. It allows my kids to still enjoy their favorites and not feel so deprived. Granted, even though we didn't eat out that often, we tried to get take-out at least once a week. It was both a little treat, as well as a way to support our local economy and restaurants. Unfortunately we can't do that now...but the desire chili-cheese dogs and greasy fries is still there.

I don't know if any of your remember the Eddie Murphy routine where he talked about growing up poor and being jealous of his friends who had McDonald's hamburgers. His grandmother told him he didn't need a Big Mac, but insisted she could make a homemade one just as good or even better that Micky Ds. Eddie ended up with a greasy patty with green peppers sticking out on a couple of pieces of square bread. Hardly an equivalent to the golden arches. All joking aside, looks can be just as important when copy-catting. You want to get close to the original both in taste and appearance.

There is another benefit to copy-catting aside from the initial cost savings. If you love Olive Garden's Fettucini Alfredo, but it costs you over $100 a pop for your large family to eat there, chances are you will only be going a couple times a year. If you can replicate that dish, you can enjoy it at home much more often. One of our favorite take-out dishes was from a local mexican restaurant. I managed to copy it, and now we have it 1-2 times a month rather than a few times a year.

Sometimes copycat recipes aren't for specific dishes, but rather generalities. My family loves submarine sandwiches. The toasted ones like Quiznos are even better. However, it was just too expensive to them very often. So, instead, we started doing them at home. We simply bought french rolls, deli-meat, and the fixings. We baked them in the oven, and viola! My family actually likes these better since we can make the sandwiches just the way we want, instead of having to pick the combinations offered at the shops.

If you are looking for copycat recipes, there are many good cookbooks available. Or, hit the internet. Google "copycat recipes" and dozens of sites come up. One I particularly like is Robbie's Recipes.

Most of my personal copy-cat recipes are for dishes that can be found at local joints, not really the big chains. I have to admit to really enjoying the challenge of replicating our favorites, and sometimes even making a version my family likes better! Below, I am sharing one of my first attempts to copycat a dish. It's done a bit different than the original--and is a healthier version (even though the dish is far from healthy). My family loves this.

Cheese Fries -- Just like the ones from that greasy little sub shop down the street from us.

This place has the best cheese fries. They come in one of those small paper bags, and they drip with cheese sauce. You can eat them with your fingers, but they are much better eaten with a fork. My family loved these so much, I had to replicate the recipe. You can make these with a homemade cheddar sauce, but quite honestly, we love the gooey jarred/canned cheese in this dish! Feeds 8-10 people.

2 pkgs (4 lb) of thin frozen french fries
1/2 cup of oil
1 jar of cheddar cheese sauce*
1 cups of milk

Place fries in casserole dish. Pour oil over fries and toss with hands until coated. Cook at recommended temperature until cooked through and starting to crisp. I suggest stirring them 2-3 times during the cooking. When done, pour cheese sauce over fries. Place milk in jar and swish to get the rest of the sauce out, and pour it over the fries as well. Mix well with a spoon. Return to the oven for 10-15 minutes longer, or until hot and bubbly.

* You can substitute 1 jar of cheese whiz mixed with 1/2 cup of milk until it is smooth.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday Season Begins!

From all of us here at the Large Family Cooking Blog, and from the Family...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Monkey Bread

Monkey Bread is one of those dishes that is just so appropriately named. It is sweet, filling, and a lot of fun. We make monkey bread periodically at our house. I recently did a follow-up article on Monkey Bread for Lotsofkids, and it got me thinking that it had been some time since we'd enjoyed the tasty breakfast.

Many people like to make something special for the breakfast on a holiday. In our house, we love to make a variety of fresh muffins for Christmas morning. However, I have heard many people who make monkey bread for holiday mornings, including Thanksgiving. Since we are almost upon American Turkey Day, I thought it would be appropriate time our recent trip down monkey lane.

Traditionally, Monkey Bread is prepared in a bundt cake pan. I prefer to make it in a casserole dish. There are 2 reasons for this. First, the cooking time tends to be a bit quicker. Second, I like hot it allows each piece to brown and get a bit crisp on top.


2 cans of Jumbo biscuits
1/2 cup of sugar
1 tbsp cinnamon (more if you desire)
1 stick butter
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Step One: Cut each of the jumbo biscuits into 1/4ths.

Step Two: Mix sugar and cinnamon in a bowl. Toss biscuits pieces in sugar mixture until well coated. Place piece in well greased casserole dish. Since this is "pull-apart" bread, you can pack the pieces in so they are touching.

Step Three: Melt butter (in microwave or on stovetop) and stir into the remaining sugar/cinnamon mixture. Spoon glaze over biscuit pieces. Top with nuts if you are using them. I put the nuts down after the glaze, since I have kids who don't like the nuts and it's easier for them to pick off that way. You can put the nuts down first and then the glaze so they "stick" better.

Step Four: Cook in 350 degree oven for 30-40 minutes, or until done. When finished, the bread should be nicely brown on top.

Step Five: Serve! I highly recommend transferring the bread from the pan onto a serving platter. The sugar glaze will get hard when it cools and it can be difficult to get the bread out of the pan. I always remove the bread with a spatula and put it on a couple of platters.

This recipe feeds my family of 11 with a "few" leftover pieces.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Thanksgiving Cooking Roadmap

I’m a one-day cook. Meaning, on the holidays, I tend to do everything that day. I don’t do a lot of prep. Not because I don’t like to, but even with an additional refrigerator and deep freezer, I often don’t have the space to cook that much food in advance. Plus, I tend to forget things if I do them too far ahead of time.

A few years back, I was hosting a particularly large gathering for the holidays. Sick and tired of stressing over last minute flubs, I decided to make a schedule for the day. I plotted out my dinner, and then made a roadmap as to what needed to be done and when. I tried to be as nit-picky as possible, since it’s usually the little things that end up getting forgotten. I broke the schedule up into half hour increments, going to 15 minute increments closer to serving time. That ended up being the best holiday dinner, at least from a kitchen point of view. I knew what to do and when, and when someone came in and asked how they could help, all I had to do is point to the chart. My husband and family, who thrive on structure, loved it. Of course, they also loved the fact that I wasn’t nearly as cranky since things went much smoother.

I don’t know why I didn’t do the chart the following year...or every year since. Just too busy, I guess. When I think of all the mini-disasters I’ve had during the holidays since then, I realize that carving out the time to plan would have been well worth it. So, this year I decided I would make a schedule again. When I mentioned this idea on the Lotsofkids Household message board, the ladies were very excited at the prospect and asked me to share my schedule when it was done.

I purposely make quite a bit of food, since I always plan to send my guests home with a generous amount of leftovers. I also like having a fridge full of leftovers to coast us through the weekend (as well as having some food to tuck in the freezer for later meals). Thanksgiving is wonderful, but after all that cooking, I want to stay out of the kitchen for a few days.

When making a cooking schedule, it’s really is important to have your full menu in front of you. I find that one of my greatest time-savers is to pre-measure water for boiling pasta, potatoes, etc. earlier in the morning, and just leave the filled pots on the stovetop with a lid on (to keep anything from falling in). Then just turn the heat on at the appropriate time. Also, when figuring out what should occur at what time, take into account how much help you plan to have. On my chart you will see that at certain times there is a lot scheduled–almost too much. That’s because I know I will have helpers in the kitchen during that period, so 2-3 people will be able to handle various jobs. If you are flying solo, you should keep that in mind when pacing things out.

Like Denise noted in her post, this menu was created heavily utilizing what I had on hand and building around it. One of the ways I manage big holiday meals on a limited grocery budget is that I plan out the menu over a month in advance. Then, over the next few shopping trips, I pick up items for the dinner along with my regular shopping. This really helps, as I am not hit with the high cost of the holiday shopping all at once, but rather it is spread out.

Our Menu

Devilled Eggs
Cream Cheese Ball with crackers
Veggies & cheese cube tray with hummus dip

Turkey w/ Sausage-Apple Stuffing
Beef Roast
Mashed Potatoes and homemade gravy
Meatball Rotini Lasagna
Fried corn with bacon
Vegetable medley with homemade cheddar cream sauce
Homemade & canned cranberry sauce
Brown & serve rolls
Sweet Potatoes (being brought by a guest)

A couple of key notes. We do instant flavored mashed potatoes. I love fresh, but several of my kids with texture issues don’t. Also, I am utilizing boxed stuffing which will be dressed up; it will not be cooked in the turkey but rather baked in a casserole dish alongside. The mac&cheese will also be from a box. The bacon for the fried corn will be pre-cooked from the freezer.

Pecan pie
Banana split pie
Butter cookies
Other pies (to be brought by guests)

Again, I don’t do a lot of prep. The night before I will brine the turkey. I also plan to make the cookies a day or two before. Below is a picture of my schedule. You can click on the picture to view it in PDF format, or you can click HERE and a smaller, graphical version will open in a new window. I created the chart in Word. When I first did this years ago, I just made a straight typed list and every item was crossed-off as it was completed. I did the checkbox this year just to be fancy. If anyone has any questions, post in the comments.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Fitting Thanksgiving into the budget

A few weeks ago, I worked up my menu for Thanksgiving, now I need to figure out how to do it all without breaking the budget. Like most families this year, my food budget has gotten much tighter. I've cut back a lot, but I'm trying not to be forced to drastically change our holiday menu. I've been trying to pick up a few things I will need each time I go shopping. Now that there are less than two weeks left before Thanksgiving, I need to get serious & make LISTS of what I've got & what things I still need. I also need to designate a few things that others can contribute to the meal. Anybody invited for Thanksgiving always offers to bring something. This year, I will be asking my daughter in law to bring a veggie tray and my Mom to make the pickle & olive tray. Anyone else who comes can bring an appetizer or extra pie of their choosing.

First, I "go shopping" in my pantry, refrigerator and spice cabinet. Next I check the sale papers & online specials for the three chain grocery stores in my area. I make it a rule not to drive more than 5 miles out of my way.

In the pantry I have:
canned cranberry sauce
canned sweet potatoes
miniature marshmallows
brown sugar
white sugar
flour for bread & pie crusts
shortening for pie crusts
vegetable oil
canned peaches for spiced peaches
french cut green beans
corn meal
canned pumpkin puree
canned evaporated milk

In the refrigerator I have:
4 lbs of butter (on sale last week for $2 per lb)
2 dozen eggs
10 lb spiral ham (on sale last week for $2 per lb)
can of whipped cream
bulk sausage
1lb of bacon
jar of yeast

In the spice cabinet I have:
cinnamon (lots & lots & lots of cinnamon)
poultry seasoning
whole cloves (for spiced peaches & the ham)
ground cloves
all spice

Grocery list:
Turkey (saw it on sale for .79 per lb)
4 loaves day old bread
2 gallons milk
2 lbs whole cranberries
2 lbs fresh sweet potatoes
10 lbs potatoes
2 lbs celery
3 lbs yellow onions
10 lbs apples
3 lbs frozen peaches (for pie)
2 cans cherry pie filling

Our tentative menu
Roasted turkey
Honey glazed ham
white bread stuffing
cornbread stuffing
mashed potatoes
giblet gravy
baked sweet potatoes
candied sweet potatoes w/marshmallows
sweet & sour green beans
canned cranberry sauce
homemade whole cranberry sauce
spiced peaches
veggie tray
pickle & olive tray
homemade bread rolls
2 homemade deep dish apple pies
2 homemade pumpkin pies
cherry pie
peach pie

The only thing I cut from the original menu was corn on the cob. I will be buying the turkey in the next few days. Frozen is always cheaper here, so I need to have enough time for it to defrost in the refrigerator. I will wait on everything else until about 2 days before. I'll also keep my list handy in case I think of anything that I've missed. I HATE being in the middle of preparing a big holiday meal & suddenly realizing that I'm missing an essential ingredient. By spreading out the purchase of the most expensive items and buying ingredients over the course of a month, I've been able to accumulate just about everything necessary. I've also come up with a plan to try to get everything on the table at the same time. I'm looking forward to having a GREAT holiday dinner with my family.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A bit of, kitchen cleaning.

At someone's request (thank, Kim), we've done a bit of tweaking on the blog. If you notice the sidebar, we've added a few new features. Noteably a feed and comments subscription, a way to search the blog by labels, and a link to our badges page where you can grab a button to show you're a fan of this blog.

We'd like to thank all of our readers. This blog has turned out to be much more popular than we hoped, and we're so happy to have you cooking with us!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

High expectations

I've seen it time and time again during my 10years online. Mothers bashing other moms because of what they create or not create in their kitchens. After all if it's not fresh, healthy, made from scratch and with tons of variety...You must not love your family very much. I know for myself I can even cause myself to fall into this trap. The media doesn't help either. How many commercials or shows feature that perfect meal made by the loving mom? Her love just pouring right out of everything on the table. But the kids don't care about any of that! They just want something they enjoy eating and filling.

Yesterday was one of those days that proved the last statement. According to my menu we were to have homemade bean and bacon soup with store bought french bread. (Maybe eventually I'll try to make it at home). Between running and putting away groceries the day just got away from me. So I was left with that dreaded question at 5pm...What's for dinner? I decided to go with quick. I defrosted a package of cocktail wieners that was in the freezer, put on a pan of water to make boxed mac and cheese and opened a few cans of corn. The reaction would've left you thinking I never feed these kids at all!!! They were clamoring for everything but especially the boxed mac and cheese and corn. I had to remind them that there were a lot of us and they couldn't take as much as they wanted. They must have used a fair amount of restraint since there was enough for them to come back for 2nds and 3rds...and they did! I heard...THANK YOU MOM!...a lot. Every dish was almost licked clean.

Some of my kids favorite meals are one dish wonders or convenience foods.....spanish rice, chicken and gravy over boxed mashed potatoes, cowboy beans, and spaghetti with canned sauce. The fact that it's not a masterpiece in presentation, isn't totally nutritionally rounded or I didn't spend hours preparing it doesn't lessen the taste of these. And it certainly doesn't mean I love my children less or that I'm less of a mother because I whole heartily serve these dishes...sometimes often! Give yourself and your fellow moms a break.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

October 2008 Kitchen Challenge Results!

The current Kitchen Challenge dared participants to create a full day of meals on $10 (for an average family) or $15 (for a 6+ people family). Full details on the challenge can be found here.

We had some great submissions, and were delighted to have a few international entries! Here is the rundown of submissions:

• Denise from *F*O*O*D*

• Jodie from HomeSweetHome

• Ranae at Cornbread and Cookies

• Lisa at The Joy of Six

• Sally/mini-mug's entry can be found here

• The Official LOK entry can be found on here

• Michelle at Coffee and Chaos

• Kim from Growlies for the Gang. -- Kim was a bit late, but she put a great twist on her entry. For anyone really struggling to see if they can feed a large family on less, this is a must-read.

And the winner is...

LISA at The Joy of Six. It was a hot competition. However, Lisa made an effort to do a balanced, 5-a-day, type menu. I think there is a perception that you cannot be frugal grocery-wise and still eat healthy. I this Lisa's entry shows that eating on a tight budget does not necessarily mean you'll be eating non-nutritious food.

I do want to state that it was a close race, and Jodie's entry was a close runner-up. We loved the cultural lesson with the entry!

I wanted to also give a special nod to the official LOK entry. This was an entry I came up with, but I got so much feedback about people wanting to try the taquitos, so apparently it was a hit with our readers.

Congratulations to all that played! Lisa will be getting a cute badge to put on her blog. Our next Challenge will be in December, though because of the holiday, we are considering a mid-month start (mid-November, to mid-December). Stay tuned for more details.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Getting READY for Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of the most popular holidays in my family. I cook a ton of foods that most everybody likes, we eat way too much & we watch football all day on TV. This is the one meal of the year where I go out of my way to make sure that everyone gets several of their personal favorites, even when it means making more than one version of the same dish. This year I will plan to feed 25 people. Our immediate family is 11, then whomever Hubby & the older boys invite and any extended family that is able to get here. I have an open door policy on Thanksgiving, anyone we know is welcome to come. Last year we had a 15 lb turkey and a 5 lb ham & there were very few leftovers, so this year I plan to buy a 20 lb turkey. We always get a spiral ham, so I'll see if I can find one of those that is a bit bigger this year as well.

Our tentative menu

Baked turkey

Honey glazed ham

white bread stuffing

cornbread stuffing

mashed potatoes

giblet gravy

baked sweet potatoes

candied sweet potatoes w/marshmallows

sweet & sour green beans

canned cranberry jell

homemade whole cranberry sauce

spiced peaches

corn on the cob

veggie tray

pickle & olive tray

homemade bread rolls

2 homemade deep dish apple pies

2 homemade pumpkin pies

cherry pie

peach pie

Over the next couple weeks leading up to Thanksgiving I will be posting recipes for many of these things on my food blog. Leave a comment here if there is something in particular you are interested in & I will try to bump it to the top of my list. I'll update with links as I get the recipes posted.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

October 2008 Kitchen Challenge - LotsofKids Entry

To read about the Kitchen Challenge, click here or here.

I did this challenge on my personal blog, but did it again as the official LOK entry (yeah, I just wanted an excuse to do it again). We were cooking for a family of 11--3 adults, 4 older children, and 4 smaller children. Note, as always, I'm fudging the numbers on some of the ingredients on the upside (usually rounding up), because I want the pricing to be more accurate to what the average family would find at their local store. I typically shop at Aldi and other low-cost grocers. As a result, my actual cost was a bit lower than the noted tally. However, unlike my personal entry, I'm doing a bit more "from scratch" in this challenge.



Pancakes and Syrup
Pancake mix: $1.25
Syrup ($1.50 bottle -- used half bottle): $.75
Total: $2.00

This one was simple. An all-in-one pancakes mix (just add water), and syrup. Yes, it's nice to have a big breakfast with meat and sides, but on average days, quick and easy rules in our house. One box more than fed our family, with a few cakes left over. We used half the bottle of syrup.

One tip I find handy when making pancakes is that I make most regular size, and then make several dollar-size cakes. First of all, the kids love eating the “tiny” pancakes, but it also helps when a kid wants seconds. I find I have less “half-eaten” plates when I give them the smaller cakes.



Creamy Tuna Macaroni
1 1lb box of elbow macaroni: $1.00
2 cans of tuna: 1.00
1 can of cream of celery soup: $.50
1 can of peas: .50
1/2 cup of breadcrumbs: .25
Total: $3.25

Simple meal, but tasty and satisfying. I cooked the macaroni as indicated, draining well. I prepare soup using regular water, and then added to noodles, mixing well. Flaked in the tuna and added peas, mixing until combined. Seasoned with simple salt and black pepper. I served on plates with a sprinkle of toasted breadcrumbs.

I’ll admit this picture does not make this look very appetizing, but it was actually really good.

Toasted breadcrumbs are one of those little things that can really make a meal special. They can particularly dress up ordinarily bland and boring dishes like mac&cheese. I make them often. Simply place breadcrumbs on a cookie sheet, give them a spritz of non-stick cooking spray, and cook in the broiler for a 2-3 minutes. If you have a toaster oven, this is even easier to do--and this is the way I usually do mine.



Flauta (Taquito) Dinner with Refried Beans and Cheesy Mexican Rice
Where we live, rolled tortillas filled with meat and fried crisp are called flautas (which means flute in Spanish). However, in the mainstream they are more commonly known as taquitos. I came up with this version because my husband loves them, but it is too expensive to regularly get them at a nearby restaurant. I also came up with this variation as a healthier version, since I didn't really like all the high calories of the traditionally deep-fried ones. Flautas can be made with shredded chicken as well, but I chose beef for the challenge.

1 1/2 lbs of beef: $3.00*
1/2 can of sloppy joe mix: $.50*
1 3-dz pkg of corn tortillas: $2
1 lb of pinto beans (2lb bag for $1.50--used half): .75
11/2 cups of rice (I show 2 cups in the picture, but ended up using less): .75
1 can of diced tomatoes and chilis (equivalent to Ro-tel): $1.00
1 cup of cheddar cheese ($2.00 for 2 cup bag--used half): $1.00
1/2 carton sour cream: .50
Flour, margarine, and milk: .25
Total: $9.75

* I purchased a bulk package of ground beef which was $1.99/lb when purchased in 3lbs or more pks, and the package I bought was $5.99. The Manwich was on sale for a $1.00, but I can regularly get a generic sloppy joe mix for that price. I fried up, drained, and mixed in sloppy joe mix. The total cost for this was $7.00. I ended up using half the meat for this dish. The other half was frozen for another meal.

Warm tortillas in a hot, dry frying pan, 5-10 seconds on each side, until soft and pliable. Fry up meat, breaking up any large pieces when frying. My family actually prefers to use sloppy joe mix in our taco meat, but you could do this with a can of tomato sauce and some taco seasoning. Add sauce to meat and mix well. Take a tortilla and put a small line of beef on one end. Roll tightly. Place seam down on a greased cookie sheet. Repeat and continue until all tortillas are rolled. Spray the tops of the rolled tortillas with cooking spray. Cook in 425 degree oven 15-20 minutes until crisp. Serve with guacamole, salsa, or other topping of choice. For the challenge, we chose to serve with sour cream.

Refried beans
These are simple. Using whole pinto beans, cook according to package directions. Add a bit of oil and puree in blender (we use a hand blender).

Cheesy Mexican Rice
I prepared the white rice in my rice cooker. I then made a white sauce using a couple tablespoons of margarine, flour, 1 1/2 cups of water, and 1/2 cup of milk. When thickened, I added the cheddar cheese and cooked until smooth. I added the cheese sauce to the rice, blending well. Then I seasoned it with pantry items: salt, pepper, and garlic powder. I drained the tomatoes well and mixed into the rice. This was really good, but too spicy for some of my kids' taste.


Grand Total: $14.75

I should note that some readers have commented that even with my fudging up, they couldn't do the same meal since food in their area is more expensive. I do want to remind that we are cooking for a mega-family of 11 and this fed us well (albeit without a lot of leftovers). For a more typical large family with 4-6 kids, I think even with pricing a little higher, you could make this meal within the $15 limit.

Since some of our readers have indicated they like to see how to do certain things, I took a few pictures of the taquito-making process.

When cooking your meat, make sure you break up any large pieces. This will allow you to roll the flautas tighter. They should be skinner than a traditional enchilada.

Place a line of meat at one end of the warmed tortilla, leaving a small edge.

Fold the edge over the meat and begin rolling. This may seem easy, but it can be tricky to get the tortilla rolled tightly.

Place the tortilla, seam down on a greased cookie sheet. You want to make sure there is a little space between the taquitos so they cook evenly. As long as you make sure the pan is oiled, you will not have to turn over the flautas when cooking.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Homemade Butter

While poking around the internet for various things, I found this blog entry for homemade butter. Needless to say, after drooling profusely, I bookmarked it and have made it my life's goal (this week at least) to try to do this myself. Yum and yum.

Of course, I thought it would be a nice gesture to share the link with all of you. Enjoy!

Homemade Butter from Little House in the Suburbs

Friday, October 24, 2008

Breakfast at our House

Breakfast is supposed to be the most important meal of the day, but most weekdays, at my house, it is very rushed or ignored all together. When my oldest two were small, I had a rule that they could not leave the house in the morning until they ate "something". Over the years I relaxed that rule & by the time the next two started school the "rule" was a distant memory.

I've recently been trying to get everyone eating "something" first thing in the mornings again. Some days it is a planned and organized meal, but most of the time it is something simple, like English muffins with butter & jelly or even a sandwich bag of dry cereal on their way out to the bus stop. I tried buying frozen waffles & while the kids like them, they are pricey & we always seem to waste almost as many as get eaten. I haven't been motivated enough to make my own waffles & freeze them, but it is something I've started to consider.

We've discovered a few recipes from the Lots of Kids Recipe page (great resource) that are big hits for breakfast and are always on the look out for more. This French Toast sounds delicious, it is on my list of things to try. I also found a recipe for Overnight Casserole that we will be having one cold morning in the near future. Oatmeal Casserole is easy to make the night before & has been a big hit, the little kids & I eat any leftovers as snack cake with our lunch. I also created an Apple & Oatmeal Casserole version of my own.

The kids were resistant at first, now they are eager to get up in the morning to see what I've got cooking. Breakfast really may be the most important meal of the day.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Fun Cake Ideas for Children

While I enjoy cooking and consider myself a good cook, I do not consider myself a gourmet or fancy cook. One of the things I want to learn in this life is how to decorate cakes. Even with my lack of ability I can turn out some cute cakes in my opinion. Sometimes things just take some creativity.

For her fifth birthday a couple of years ago, my daughter Cara wanted a doughut cake. Um .. yeah. I was trying to figure out how to do that one. Then I came across this idea.

I used a spring-form pan for the cake. That created my hole in the center. Pouring the cake batter in a greased, round pan with an oven-safe glass (also greased) in the middle would work too. I then heated some chocolate frosting (I am terrible at frosting a cake) and poured it over the finished cake. Adding the candy sprinkles gave it the finishing touch. I then just decorated the plate (an old microwave plate-carousel-thing) with other doughnuts. The worst part was keeping out little fingers. If you look at the swipe in the front, I didn't quite manage that.

For Cara's & Joanna's joint party this past summer, one wanted a chocolate cake with worms and the other a garden cake. I went with cupcakes and came up with this cute idea to appease both girls. I used Mike & Ikes as well as gumdrops for the petals. The gumdrop petals were cut in half top-to-bottom. The boys at the party loved the worms while the pretty flowers appealed to the girls. Everyone was happy and achieved a sugar rush.

For a dirt and worm cake in the past I have also used pretzel sticks for twigs, Whoppers for rocks and crushed Oreos for dirt. Gummy worms and bugs add the finishing touches. I also had the children decorate the cake themselves as a party activity. This was their masterpiece. They were so proud.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Taco Cornbread Pizza

Like most families, I am always in search of new, quick and easy recipes. I stumbled upon the recipe for taco cornbread pizza a couple of years ago, and just recently found it again when searching my hard drive. Essentially, it is taco pizza with a cornbread crust. This sounded interesting to me and certain worth a try. What I wasn't expecting was how really good it was. The cornbread makes a wonderful crust. You could use any type of taco filling. The seasoned beef worked well. Another good thing about this dish is that you can get away with using less cheese than on a traditional pizza.

Here is a picture of the finished crust.

Here's a picture of the finished pizza.

This dish was so filling. 1 or 2 pieces was more than enough for everyone, even our big eaters. The recipe is listed below. When I made it, I used a mexican cheese blend instead of strictly cheddar. When I make it again, the only change would be that I would make the taco meat a little saucier. But otherwise, this one is a keeper! Note: I doubled the recipe when making the above-pizza.

Taco Cornbread Pizza

1 (8.5 ounce) package corn muffin mix
1 pound ground beef
1 package taco mix
1 package shredded Cheddar, divided

Directions: Prepare corn muffin mix as directed on the package. Spread batter into a 12-inch pizza pan. Bake at 400 degrees for 8 to 10 minutes. Brown meat; drain. Stir taco seasoning into the meat. Sprinkle half the cheese over baked crust. Top with meat mixture and remaining cheese. Bake for 4 to 5 minutes until cheese is melted. Serve with lettuce, onions, black olives, tomatoes and salsa or hot sauce. Serves 8.