Monday, December 31, 2012

Christmas in West Virginia

We spent Christmas - and the week before it - with my family in West Virginia. It's a long drive, about 12 hours depending on how often we stop. Meaning how often I have to go to the bathroom.

It was the first time since my grandmother's funeral in March 2011 that all of us had been together. We were also able to host a family reunion for my dad's side of the family. It was so nice to see aunts and uncles and cousins. Here's the whole group of us.
My brothers, dad, mom and me.
And my parents with all their kids and grandkids.

The kids were all praying for snow and their prayers were answered the weekend before Christmas. Grandma and Papaw have the perfect hill for sledding, too.

The time my kids got to spend with their cousins was their favorite part of the trip! I love that they're making such precious memories.

One of my favorite parts of our trip was eating at a local Italian restaurant, Muriale's. The food was amazing, the decor was quaint and of course, the company was lots of fun!

Now, do you want to see what I got for Christmas? Most of it was cooking related!

My parents and niece got me this nice collection of West Virginia Mountaineer stuff.
My mother also got me some Fiestaware I requested, as well as a couple of cookbooks.

And now I have to brag on my husband. He got me a fantastic set of stainless steel bowls. I already had one and mentioned several times that I'd love to have more. He was listening, apparently, because he got an entire set! Yay for attentive husbands!
We received another blessing while on our trip, too. I got an email from Samaritan's Purse regarding the Operation Christmas Child boxes we donated. Our boxes were sent to the Ukraine, so now we can more specifically pray for the children who received them. The kids were so happy to hear where our boxes went. They're already planning for next year's boxes!

I hope all of you had a Christmas season filled with love and joy. And that something during this holiday drew your hearts and minds closer to Jesus, the reason for the season.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Last Menu Plan for 2012!

Well, technically only the final day of 2012 is covered in this menu plan, but it still counts. Today the Princess told me she was going to miss 2012. When I asked why, she said it was a good year for her. Funny girl!

I questioned her further about what made it a good year, and she gave me a list of things - our Disney trip, time spent during the summer with Grandma and Papaw, her birthday tea party, watching the Olympics together. One thing stood out to me - time spent with family was high on her list of what was good about 2012. It just re-emphasized to me the importance of spending time with our children. That's what means the most to them and is what they'll remember.

Now, on to this week's menu.

Beef bourguignon (slow cooker version), noodles

New Year's Day spent with friends - lots of snacks and probably some ham

Baked ravioli, garlic bread

Chicken pot pie, green beans

Steak, twice baked potatoes

Deep dish skillet pizza

Chicken and corn chowder

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Menu Plan Monday over at Organizing Junkie. Link up your own yummy menu plan while you're there!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Leftover Christmas ham? I've got recipes!

Our family traditionally celebrates Christmas with ham for dinner instead of turkey. Inevitably, though, we have leftovers. After making sandwiches for a couple of days, everyone is ready for something different. These recipes make the most of your ham leftovers without being repetitive.

This recipe uses up leftover veggies, too. An easy homemade cheese sauce and some pasta and you've got an all-in-one meal.

Cheesy Ham and Veggie Shells

If you enjoy a good quiche, this recipe is for you! Ham, broccoli, cheese and eggs - you really can't go wrong.
Ham Broccoli Quiche

Soup is a great way to make your ham leftovers stretch. Here are two great recipes.
Ham and White Bean Soup
Ham, Broccoli and Potato Soup
I know I said earlier that people can get tired of leftover ham sandwiches, but these little bites are an exception. Put together on yeast rolls with a hint of butter and seasonings, they are yummy and satisfying.
Simple Yeast Roll Ham Sandwiches
What are your favorite ways to use up leftover ham? I'm always looking to expand my repertoire, so please share in the comments.

Linking up to Full Plate Thursday over at Miz Helen's Country Cottage.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Greatest Gift of All

This time of year, we're all thinking about gifts. Gifts to give, gifts we might receive.

Some gifts under our tree
But the greatest gift of all can't be wrapped and put under a Christmas tree. It's the unspeakable gift of eternal life, made possible by the birth of Jesus. He came into this world as one of us, a humble man. He lived a perfect life, becoming the blameless sacrifice for our sins. Through Him we can live forever in God's presence.

May you truly know His mercy and love this holiday season. I wish you and yours a very Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

How to Make Homemade Gravy

You might have noticed I didn't post a menu plan for the week. That's because I don't have one. We're visiting my family in West Virginia for the holidays, so my mom is in charge of the menu and I'm helping. I love my mom's cooking!

But I do have a recipe to share, especially with a big holiday meal coming up. I love eating turkey and mashed potatoes covered with gravy. And nothing beats homemade gravy.

I used to buy gravy in a jar. But it is filled with sodium and other non-healthy ingredients. I didn't realize how easy it was to make homemade until my husband's Nana showed me a couple of Thanksgivings ago. Now it's the only kind of gravy I serve - homemade.

Here's what you need:

1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
2 cups liquid - I use chicken, turkey or beef broth unless I have drippings from cooking the meat
salt and pepper to taste

That's it! Only 3 ingredients plus seasonings!

Start by melting the butter in a skillet over medium heat.
Add the flour and whisk until completely smooth.
Keep stirring with the whisk until the mixture begins to bubble.
Now gradually at the broth, a little at a time, whisking all the while.
You don't want any lumps at all, so keep whisking until all the flour mixture is incorporated.
Turn up the heat just a little and cook until the gravy starts to bubble. Keep whisking. You'll feel it starting to thicken because it will be a little harder to whisk.

When your gravy reaches the desired thickness, remove from the heat and stir in salt and pepper to taste. I cook mine until the gravy coats the back of a spoon without all of it dripping off.

Serve with your favorite meat and potatoes or use in recipes that call for gravy. This recipe makes about two cups. It will keep in the fridge for up to a week. Simply reheat on the stove.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Tragedy in Connecticut

I sat glued to my TV yesterday afternoon as the horrific details of the elementary school shooting in Connecticut emerged. Twenty young children, all with their lives ahead of them, dead at the hands of a crazed gunman. Twenty sets of parents who won't watch their children open up his or her Christmas presents this year. Twenty families who will never, ever be the same. And the adults who were killed - their families are grieving too. As we go about our holiday celebrations in the coming days, these people will be burying their loved ones.

As more details are revealed in the coming days, there will be much discussion on gun control and perhaps mental illness. We will seek to place blame somewhere, anywhere in an attempt to understand this senseless act.

I know where the blame lies. It lies in man's sinful heart. There is evil in this world. We saw it with our own eyes in each news report, as each heart-wrenching detail was made known.

I fell to my knees, praying for those directly affected by this horrific tragedy. But I prayed for our country, too. We need God. We've tried to remove Him from schools and government, but today's tragedy made it clear that path isn't working. We must turn back to Him.

My heart is so heavy for those who have lost loved ones. But I want them to know there is hope in Jesus. He can heal hearts and bring peace in the midst of unimaginable pain. My prayer is that people will draw close to Him in these sad days.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Pumpkin Squares

We like pumpkin pie around here. But when we have company, one pie isn't enough. So I serve these pumpkin squares instead. They have all the taste of pumpkin pie but there are more servings to go around. The nutty crust offers a nice crunch, too.

Here's what you need:

For the crust:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup quick oats
1/4 cup chopped nuts

Mix well and pat into a greased 9x13 pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes.

For the filling:
1 can (15 oz.) pumpkin - not pumpkin pie mix
1 cup evaporated milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp vanilla

Stir all the filling ingredients together and blend well. Pour over the baked crust. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Menu Plan December 10-16

This week is going to be busy, busy, busy. Last week I had jury duty, all week long. You can read about it here if you want to. But this means I'm a week behind on all my Christmas baking and goody-making. Ackkk!

So I'm going to take a deep breath and dive right in to it! In the meantime, I'm going to try to keep my meal prep simple. Hopefully by the weekend, I'll be caught up.

Here's what I've got planned:

Philly cheesesteak sloppy joes, tater tots

Dinner with friends

Chicken potpie, mashed potatoes

Savory roast beef, Parmesan couscous

Spaghetti and meatballs, garlic breadsticks

Sunday school Christmas party - I'm making pecan pie bars and creamy mac n' cheese


For more meal planning inspiration, visit Menu Plan Monday over at Organizing Junkie. Hope y'all have a great week!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Jury Duty Report

On Monday I reported to my county's circuit court for the jury selection process. It took all day and part of the next. I was selected to sit on a criminal trial jury, which started on Tuesday. We wrapped up today, right around 5 o'clock.

Now before you think I'm divulging classified information, the judge assured that once the trial was over, all parties, including the jury, would be released from their oaths to not discuss it. She even said we could write a book about it if we wanted!

The case involved a conspiracy to commit robbery. Two parties had confessed and the other denied involvement. He was the one on trial. When all the testimony and evidence had been presented, there simply wasn't enough to convict him under our state's laws.

It took us about an hour to reach that verdict. I served as the foreperson, so I had to moderate the discussions and make sure we were following the parameters set forth by the law in order to make a determination of guilt. This is by far one of the most difficult things I've ever done. My gut told me this person was guilty. But we had to base our verdict on something other than gut feelings. That principle is the very foundation of our justice system.

I know we did our jobs as we had been charged by the judge. And I know it was the right verdict based on the evidence. But I didn't feel satisfied because I believed this person HAD been involved in the crime, it just couldn't be proven with the evidence provided and what we were allowed to consider as indication of guilt. Then after the trial the prosecutor told us the defendant had 13 more pending cases. Yes, that's right. 13.

So I feel that justice will eventually be served. I know that a person reaps what he sows. And sooner or later, a person's crimes will catch up with him.

In the meantime, I will be able to sleep in peace tonight. My fellow jurors and I did the right thing.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Twice Baked Potatoes

When I was in Florida on my girls' weekend getaway, I had some marvelous twice baked potatoes at a seafood place. I wanted to recreate them at home, so I experimented a little. I came up with a pretty good version, I think. My family gobbled them up, so I did something right!

The beauty of these potatoes is that they can be frozen and baked for the second time at a later date. Such a convenient side dish to have on hand! These potatoes pair beautifully with steak, chicken, pork and seafood.

Here's what you need:

6 large potatoes
1 small onion, diced (about 1/2 cup)
2 teas sea salt
2 teas garlic powder
2 teas dried parsley
3/4 cup sour cream
2 cups shredded cheese (I used white cheddar)

Scrub the potatoes well and dry with a paper towel. Place directly on the oven rack to bake. I bake mine at 350 degrees for an hour and a half.

While the potatoes are baking, melt a little butter in a small pan. Add the diced onion and cook until soft and browned. Set aside.

Allow the baked potatoes to cool enough to handle. Slice each potato in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scoop out the potato pulp from each half, leaving a 1/4-inch shell.

In a mixing bowl, combine the browned onions and potato pulp. Stir in the seasonings, herbs and sour cream. Feel free to add whatever seasonings your family likes here. Mix in 1 1/2 cups of the shredded cheese. Take a little taste and see if you need to add more seasonings. Spoon this filling back into the potato shells.
Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the tops of the stuffed potatoes.
If you're going to serve immediately, bake at 375 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
  To freeze for later, wrap each stuffed potato half in plastic wrap. Place in a Ziploc freezer bag. To serve, remove as many halves as you need from the freezer. Allow to thaw in the fridge for a few hours. Then bake as directed above, increasing the baking time a little.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Menu Plan December 3-9

This week is promising to be a busy one. Our church choir is getting ready to sing a cantata next Sunday morning, so there are lots of preparations to be made for that. And to top it off, I've got jury duty this week. I've got a couple of crockpot meals planned just in case I get chosen to serve on a jury. The kids have their schoolwork all laid out, and thankfully Charles works from home so he can keep an eye on them until I get back.

So here's what we've got planned for the week:

Ladies Night Out at church, hubby and kids get pizza

Chicken and corn chowder (I'll just put this in the crockpot)

Sausage, red beans and rice in the crockpot, cheesy biscuit bites

Meatloaf, roasted potatoes

Turkey pot pies, mashed potatoes

Final cantata practice and choir potluck

Meatball sliders

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Menu Plan Monday at Organizing Junkie.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Pecan Pie Bars

For Thanksgiving dinner, we had 11 people at our house, including ourselves. I had planned to make pecan pie, but I knew I could only get 8 servings out of one pie. And I really didn't want to make two pies.

My solution was to make pecan pie bars instead. You get all the flavor of a pecan pie in bar form, but the portions are smaller and there are more of them. The advantages to this are two-fold. First, you can serve more people. Second, everyone gets a smaller serving, which leaves room for sampling other desserts!

So here's what you need:

For the crust
2 cups flour
1 cup butter (2 sticks), melted
1/2 cup powdered sugar

For the filling
1/2 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 cup light corn syrup
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick), melted
a pinch of salt
2 cups chopped pecans

Grease a 9x13 pan. Combine the flour, powdered sugar and melted butter in a bowl. Pat into the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

In a mixing bowl combine the sugar and eggs. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well. Pour over the baked crust. Return to the oven for 25-30 minutes or until the filling is set. Cool and cut into bars. Store in an airtight container.

Click here for a printable recipe!

Monday, November 26, 2012

Crockpot Sweet and Sour Chicken

This is quite possibly the easiest chicken recipe in the world. All you have to do is dump a few ingredients into the crockpot and let them cook together. The hardest part about it is chopping the green pepper. And that takes about a minute or so.

The pineapple chunks provide the sweetness, while the peppers and barbecue sauce lend a little sour flavor. The crunchy cashews added at the end give the dish just the right amount of salty texture. Together, they're one delicious combination!

Here's what you need:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 can (20 oz) pineapple chunks, undrained
1 bottle barbecue sauce, your favorite brand (this equals about 1.5 cups if you're using homemade sauce)
1 green pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped cashews

Place the chicken in a greased crockpot. Add the green pepper. Pour the pineapple chunks and barbecue sauce over the top.

 Cook on low for 6-8 hours or until chicken shreds easily with a fork.
Shred the chicken and stir well. Serve over rice. Top each individual serving with chopped cashews. (I used to dump all the cashews in when the chicken was done, but leftovers got a little soggy and the delightful crunch was gone. So sprinkle them on each serving to maintain the right texture.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Menu Plan November 26-December 2

Did y'all have a Happy Thanksgiving? We sure did! Lots of food and good fellowship with friends. We're still enjoying leftovers, too.
This week I'm switching gears and trying some new recipes. I'll let you know how they turn out. Here's what is on the menu:

Tasty tilapia, quinoa with veggies

Chicken fried steak, mashed potatoes and gravy

Chicken patty sandwiches, fries

Beef bourguignon (crockpot recipe), noodles and rolls

Chicken bacon subs, green beans

Beef and bean taco casserole

Pasta with Very Veggie Sauce, garlic bread

Just like every week, I'm linking up with Menu Plan Monday over at Organizing Junkie. Head over there to get some menu planning inspiration!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Kitchen Tip - Cutting a Recipe in Half

Sometimes I like to cook in large quantities. Sometimes I don't. So for my own benefit, I compiled a list of measurements to use when I'm halving a recipe. Here it is:

Original        Half

1 cup              1/2 cup

3/4 cup           1/4 cup plus 2 TBSP

2/3 cup           1/3 cup

1/2 cup           1/4 cup

1/3 cup           2 TBSP plus 2 teas

1/4 cup           2 TBSP

3 TBSP          1 TBSP plus 1 1/2 teas

2 TBSP          1 TBSP

1 TBSP          1 1/2 teas

*Note - if your original recipe calls for one egg, just beat an egg, then scoop out 2 TBSP.

Also, if you're using a smaller pan with smaller quantities, you'll need to reduce your cooking time, too. Leave the temperature the same, but check for doneness often. Then make a note on your recipe about the correct cooking time for a halved recipe. It will come in handy later.

There, now isn't that handy? I mean, we can all figure out half of one cup or half of half a cup, but those thirds can be tricky!

This is part of my eclectic collection of measuring cups and spoons!

I'm linking this kitchen tip with Works for Me Wednesday at We are THAT Family.

Monday, November 19, 2012

3 Bean and Beef Chili with Hominy

I had never used hominy in a recipe until this one. I really didn't even know what it was. Hominy is made from the kernels of corn that have been soaked in an alkali solution. The kernels puff up to twice their normal size. I got canned hominy, so it had already been cooked, but you can purchase it dried as well.

The taste of hominy is very much like corn tortillas. I think I was expecting more of a sweet corn taste. It was such a great addition to a basic chili recipe that I'll probably use this as my go-to chili from now on.

Here's what you need:

1 lb ground beef, browned and drained
1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 can pinto beans, rinsed and drained
1 can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 can hominy, drained
1 can (15 oz) tomato sauce
1 can (10 oz) enchilada sauce
2 cups beef broth or water
1 TBSP dried minced onion
2 teas chili powder
1 teas cumin
1 teas powdered garlic
1 teas salt
1/2 teas black pepper

In a large pot, combine all the ingredients. Allow to simmer for about 20 minutes. If the chili is too thick, add a little more broth or water to thin until it reaches the desired consistency.

Garnish with sour cream and cheese, if desired.

See the light-colored bean-looking things? That's the hominy.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Menu Plan November 19-25

It's Thanksgiving week! I have so very much to be thankful for, I couldn't even begin to list it all here. I love that we have a day set aside to count our blessings, but as Christians, that's something we should do all the time. In every thing give thanks, like the Bible says.

Anyway, it's going to be a busy week. But it's so worth the extra effort to serve my family and friends. Charles takes care of the table preparation - table cloth, place settings, centerpiece. He's so helpful and talented!

Since we're hosting friends, they'll be bringing some of the feast. I'm making the turkey, two kinds of dressing, cranberry sauce, mac n' cheese and pumpkin pie. Take a tip from me and brine your turkey. It's amazingly moist and delicious that way!

Now on to the week's menu (cause I still have to feed my family the other days, too!):

Italian sausage sandwiches, garlic roasted potatoes

Citrus tilapia, broccoli

Homemade pizza

Thursday - Happy Thanksgiving!


Turkey rice soup (crockpot)

Chicken patty sandwiches, fries

So, what are you serving for Thanksgiving this week?

For more meal planning inspiration, visit Menu Plan Monday at Organizing Junkie.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Caramel Apple Cider Floats

Apple cider is so "fall," isn't it? I love to pour some in the crockpot with some spices and let it simmer all day. But this refreshing, sweet float is a fantastic way to enjoy cider, too.

Here's what you need:

1 cup of cider per person
1 scoop of vanilla icecream per person
2 TBSP whipped cream per person
1 TBSP caramel ice cream topping per person

Gently heat the cider in a saucepan. You don't want it boiling, just warm.

Scoop the ice cream into a glass. Pour the warm cider over the ice cream and sprinkle with a little cinnamon.

Spoon the whipped cream over the ice cream, then drizzle with the caramel topping. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Cheap Elf on the Shelf Alternative

I have to admit, I love the idea of Elf on the Shelf.  An elf comes to your house and keeps an eye on the children. Then he reports back to Santa. The catch - the elf is often naughtier than the kids!

And that's why I love it. It gives me a chance to be a kid again. But I really wasn't looking forward to paying $30 for a tiny little elf. So I thought, why can't I "make" my own Elf on the Shelf? Only my elf is a snowman.

Meet Melton.
I got him at Hobby Lobby for 50% off. I think I paid $10 for him. A whole lot cheaper than an official Elf on the Shelf that everyone else has! Our guy is unique!

Melton came with a letter, explaining he was there to be Santa's eyes and ears. He would let Santa know who had been naughty or nice. Every morning we'd wake up to find him in a different spot. The kids raced downstairs to see if they could find him first.
Watching a Veggie Tales movie with some other snowmen
Uh-oh! Melton TP'd the tree!
Cutting out snowflakes and making a mess!
Melton used a dry erase marker on our family photos!
Reading to the Barbies
He was super naughty - trying to unwrap presents!
Discussing the true meaning of Christmas with the Nativity figures

The night he left to go back to the North Pole, Melton left us something to remember him by.
He decorated our fridge like a snowman
 Our entire family enjoyed this fun tradition. I will admit, it challenged my creativity quite a bit. But it was well worth it. And I loved that Melton was cheaper than the Elf on the Shelf. And cuter, too!

Cheap and cute definitely Works for Me!

Operation Christmas Child - It's Not Too Late!

This year our family is participating in Operation Christmas Child, a ministry of Samaritan's Purse. Every year, thousands of shoeboxes filled with toys, toiletry items and other things make their way to needy children around the world. You can get involved, too.

First, find a shoebox or other similarly-sized box. A plastic shoebox with a lid works perfectly. Then fill the box with items for a girl or boy. You can even choose the age-range of the child. Here are instructions for packing your box, as well as suggestions for what items to include.

We decided to donate online so we could get a barcode tracking number for our boxes. That way we can track our package and see what country it goes to.

A special thanks to my husband who wrapped our boxes. He did an excellent job!

Then you simply take your boxes to the collection center nearest you. You can find out where by putting in your zipcode here. Our drop off location is literally around the corner and down the street from us. November 19 is the last day for collection, so you have almost a week.

If you don't have time to pack a box and get it to a drop-off location. Operation Christmas Child also has an option that allows you build a box online with options to put in each box. Or if you want to help someone who has packed a box but can't afford the shipping donation, you can donate to cover the shipping costs of these boxes.

If you don't have the resources to help monetarily, please pray for this ministry. We've already started praying for the children who will receive our boxes, that God would use our small contribution to reach their hearts for Him. There are so many ways to get involved, so why not help spread God's love and reach these needy children?

Creamy Mac 'n Cheese

I adore macaroni and cheese. But only if it's homemade. I used to make a version that called for canned cheese soup. I've revised it to make it a little healthier - although it does contain a lot of cheese! But you can't have mac 'n cheese without a whole lot of cheese, can you?
 Here's what you need:

8 oz. dry macaroni
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup flour
1 teas salt
1/4 teas pepper
1/2 teas dry mustard
2 cups milk
3 cups shredded sharp cheddar cheese
paprika, optional

Cook the macaroni according to package directions for al dente. The macaroni is going to soak up some of the cheese sauce you're about to make. So if it's overcooked, the mac will be mushy.

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan. Stir in the flour, salt, pepper and dry mustard and whisk until blended. Slowly whisk in the milk until smooth. Over medium heat, stir constantly until boiling. Reduce heat to low and cook for one more minute.

Remove the pan from the heat and stir in 2 cups of the shredded cheese. Stir in the macaroni and make sure all the pasta is covered with sauce. Pour into a greased 2-quart baking dish. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top. If desired, sprinkle a little paprika over the cheese for some extra color.

Bake at 375 degrees for 20 minutes or until the cheese is golden brown and the whole casserole is bubbly.

Please note that you can substitute other cheeses for the cheddar. I have replaced half the cheddar with shredded pepper jack cheese for a zesty twist, and it's amazing!