Friday, February 27, 2009

Cheap Meal Ideas

David saw an article about this sweet lady on You have to watch her on YouTube. Here's a sampling--the show is called Depression Cooking with Clara.

Since we're trying to watch our food budget, I plan to watch all her episodes at some point. I figure a 91 year great grandmother who grew up during the Great Depression ought to know a thing or two about cooking frugal meals.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Recipes for Lent

Every Friday, I hope to post a meat-free dish for all my fellow Catholics out there. In the meantime, here's a list of possibilities from my archives. (And don't forget--pancakes, waffles, or eggs are great for dinners too during Lent. You could also make veggie pizza/calzones, pasta, or salad without meat).
And if you need more ideas, look no further than the Internet. My favorite websites to browse for ideas and recipes are:

I really like because it's easy to search for recipes, plus they have reviews of nearly all of them...people are not afraid to tell you what they liked/disliked about a particular dish. I like, however since those recipes are by chefs, they are sometimes too complicated for my taste. But I do come across really great ideas and often adapt a recipe to suit me.
So don't worry, the next 40 days will be a breeze...and I'll be there right along with you :-)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Slow Week

I haven't been cooking much this week, mainly because I made a pork roast last Friday that made enough for 3 meals, David and I got to go to a basketball game Sunday night, we have to abstain from meat Wednesday and Friday, and we have 2 potluck dinners this week. So I decided to just be a bit lazy, but I will share with you the recipes I'm using this week in case you need an idea.

In the past week, I've made (or plan to make)

Broccoli Cheese Casserole

Mustard Seared Salmon

Fast and Friendly Turkey Meatballs

Nanny's Spaghetti Sauce
(to go with the meatballs)

Hope y'all don't mind me slacking a bit...half of us have the sniffles too, and I find myself busy holding Angel Boy a lot the past few days. If I end up taking pics, I promise to post them later on.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dog Park Cake

Somehow, I overlooked this post...I know, my own child's birthday cake...and a month late at that. Sorry...I guess I was too preoccupied while David was job hunting. I'll keep this post up for a week, and then I'm going to archive it and change the post date (so it looks likes I didn't post it so late, lol).

Speaking of David, this cute cake was his idea. I found the tiny plastic dogs at a party supply store; they were in a pack of 12 for $2.50. In the past, we've ordered our cakes, since I am not the most creative person when it comes to cake decorating (for proof, click here). We decided not to do that, because making your own cake is always cheaper.

If your little one likes dogs like Gabriel does (he's obsessed), this is the cake for them!

Dog Park Cake

1 box cake mix
Ingredients called for on the box of cake mix
1 batch Wilton butter cream frosting (for recipe click here)
Green food coloring (I prefer the gel or paste colors)
1 package Twizzlers Pull-n-Peel candy
1 cup graham cracker crumbs
Various printouts of park scenery (you'll see, don't worry!)
Flat/round toothpicks
Clear tape

The first thing you'll want to do is bake the cake according to the directions on the box in a 9x13 cake pan. I made a chocolate cake, but you can make your child's favorite flavor. In our house, it's all about the chocolate baby! Let the cake cool completely.

Now just google some images that appeal to you. I found these on the internet, shrunk them down to about 20% of their original size, and printed them out in color on card stock. Then you just cut them out and tape them to some toothpicks.

Here we have some lovely trees, shrubs, flowers, a freaky looking guy throwing a frisbee, and a doogie-sized water fountain. This cake is going to the dogs...I mean, to my angel boy!

I wish I could draw these out...stamp them...anything like that, but I've already told you I can't draw a lick (for proof, here's another cake I made with printouts off the internet).

Make the butter cream frosting, tint it green (add the green gel coloring a little at a time until you get the shade you like), and set it aside.

Carefully place the cooled cake on a serving platter, and slide strips of wax paper under all four sides. This will keep the platter nice and clean while you frost the cake.

Now frost the cake with the doesn't have to be perfect. Use the Twizzlers candy (separate it into individual strands first), make some paths in the frosting, then fill them in with the graham cracker crumbs.

Here's a pic of the dogs...aren't they cute?

Now just place the dogs and the pictures on the cake and you're done!

I'm sorry I didn't take more pics of the process...I was in a bit of a hurry to get this done during naptime. Here are some pictures of the finished cake. It really is can do it!

As you can see, Gabriel's eyes lit up when he saw his cake. He need a bit of help blowing out his candles, but he dug right into his piece of cake, and ate it up! That's our boy!

Happy Birthday Gabriel!

God bless your table tonight!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Calzones with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Spinach

After I tried making the Whole Wheat Pizza Dough, I decided to make calzones instead of pizza. I hadn't made calzones in a long time, and thought it would be a nice change from pizza. The kids had just sausage and cheese in theirs, but I put mushrooms and spinach in ours. You can put anything you want in yours.

It's best to make the filling in the morning and put it in the fridge until you need it. Then make the pizza dough in the afternoon, since it only requires one hour of rising time. This will help you save time and not have a mad scramble to get dinner on the table. I used the dough fresh this time because I needed all of it to make 8 calzones. Next time, I will make a double batch of dough so I can freeze half--which will definitely be a time saver when we want these yummy calzones again.

Some people might think a whole-wheat dough would be tough, but this dough baked up beautifully, and it tasted great. It was really easy to work with too--nice and elastic, but sturdy enough to hold up to the calzone filling. The kids scarfed their calzones in 30 seconds flat! Okay...maybe not that fast, but I was in bed with a lovely cold, and I didn't hear any complains coming from the kitchen. So go buy a bag of whole-wheat flour and try this one out. Once you do and see how easy it is, I'll bet you'll never buy a tube of refrigerated dough again.

Calzones with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Spinach

1 recipe whole-wheat pizza dough (see recipe archive, under "breads")
1 10 ounce box frozen spinach, thawed and squeezed very dry
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided, plus more for brushing on the calzones
8 ounces white button mushrooms, sliced
salt and black pepper to taste
1 pound bulk pork sausage or sweet italian sausage
1 teaspoon each dried oregano and basil (optional)
1 jar pizza sauce
2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese/pizza cheese blend

If you haven't already, make one batch of the Whole-Pizza Dough. Divide the dough equal into 8 pieces and set them aside while you work on the filling.

Brown the sausage over medium heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. I added the dried oregano and basil because I wanted it to taste like Italian sausage. It wasn't on sale when I went to the store, so I bought Jimmy Dean instead.

When the sausage is done, drain on a plate lined with a couple of paper towels.

In the same skillet, saute the mushrooms in the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Normally, you wouldn't want to add salt to mushrooms because it draws out all the water in them. But we want to take out as much moisture as possible so the calzone filling doesn't get soggy. Continue to cook the mushrooms for a good ten minutes over low heat until they are about 1/2 their original size and the pan is dry.

The last thing is the spinach. Make sure it is completely thawed and squeezed very dry (use your hands or wring out all the water in a clean kitchen towel). Again, this is to ensure the calzone filling isn't soggy.

Lay out all your ingredients on the counter top. My pizza sauce was in the freezer, so I had it thawed out and ready to go (in the zip-top bag). And no, it wasn't was outta a jar :-). (I froze it so I wouldn't waste it.). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Take one ball of dough and stretch it out gently, using your fingertips and working from the center out. It should look oval in shape, and about 7 inches long and 4 inches wide (please don't go running for a ruler, these are just guidelines here!)

Spread about 2 tablespoons of cheese on one end.

Add 2 tablespoons of sausage and 2 tablespoons of pizza sauce.

Now add 2 tablespoons of the spinach and mushrooms...

followed by 2 more tablespoons of cheese (this will help bind the filling to the dough, and avoid a big air pocket as the calzone bakes). Besides, the more cheese, the better, right?

Now gently fold over the other half of the dough, enclosing the filling.

Pinch edges together, fold over the edge once, and then fold it over again to make sure it's sealed shut.

Place on a baking sheet (I used a silpat mat, if you don't have one, use some no-stick cooking spray first). Repeat with the remaining dough and filling. Brush a little olive oil over the tops so they'll brown up nice and pretty in the oven.

Bake at 400 degrees for about 12-14 minutes or until the tops are a light golden brown.

These smell SO GOOD when they come out! Other than straight-from-the-oven cookies, there is nothing better than the smell of freshly baked bread. If you sealed the dough correctly, there should be no leakage of filling.

Remove the calzones to a wire rack and let cool for about 10 minutes before serving. I made these earlier in the afternoon, and then just reheated them in the oven for dinner. Like I said at the beginning of this post, I felt a cold coming on, and it hit me full force by the evening. Luckily, I tried one calzone beforehand.... :-).

Rebecca begged me to make these again soon, and I definitely will. They were a hit!

So there you are...calzones. Easy and delicious. Give 'em a try!

God bless your table tonight!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Paula Deen

If you've been reading my blog from the start, you'll know that I love Paula Deen. I cannot quite cook like her (sometimes there is too much butter involved!), but she reminds me so much of Georgia, where I was born, and I hope to go back and visit some day. And please don't laugh, but I love her accent's one of the things I miss the most. I have lived in 4 different states, and nowhere else do people talk the way they do in Georgia. People in Georgia are truly the nicest, most down home folk I've ever known. I love Texas, and wouldn't want to move, but I still have a Georgia heart.

So you might notice I have Paula Deen's website on my blog roll (I can't believe I didn't discover it until now!). I am excited to be able to check her site from time to time.

Now you know another minor (maybe moderate) obsession of mine, 'cause I admit it...I am a big fan.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough

Before I had 4 kids running through the house, I practically never used refrigerated pizza dough. I loved making it from scratch, and it was therapeutic to knead dough. Once we had Christina though, I really didn't have time to make pizza dough anymore.

The last issue of Everyday Food I got was full of healthy recipes, including one for whole-wheat pizza dough. I was thrilled because not only would it be homemade, but using whole-wheat flour would make it healthier, and it would cost less that buying it premade.

So I tried it out and made calzones one night last week. It worked GREAT...the dough was soft and elastic, but sturdy enough to hold up to the calzone filling, and it only needed one hour of rising time. I just posted the dough recipe here and I promise to post the calzone recipe later this week. Some people might think a whole-wheat dough would be tougher...but that wasn't the case at all. The dough baked up beautifully, and it tasted much better that the refrigerated dough. My kids scarfed down their calzones in 30 seconds flat. Okay...maybe not that fast, but I could tell they liked it....I was in bed with a lovely cold that knocked me out by dinnertime, but I didn't hear any complains coming from the kitchen.

Go buy yourself a bag of whole-wheat flour and try this one out...once you do, you'll see how easy it is, and I'll be you won't every buy the pizza dough in a tube again.
Whole-Wheat Pizza Dough
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 packets (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
1/4 cup olive oil, plus a little more for greasing the bowl
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little more for kneading
2 cups whole-wheat flour
Combine the yeast and warm water in a measuring cup or small bowl, along with a pinch of sugar (yeast "eats" the sugar and helps it get going). I keep my yeast packets in the fridge--they last longer that way. Make sure your water is warm, not hot. You should see the yeast get foamy and bubbly at the surface. If it doesn't look like the picture below after 5 minutes, then either your water was too hot (and you killed the yeast), or the yeast was too old. You'll need to dump the mixture and start over again.
Don't use a sugar substitute won't work, sorry. You'll notice I used 2 cups of water; I wasn't paying attention, but I just compensated by adding more flour later on. But do as I say, not as I do!
Anyway, whisk the sugar, salt, and flours together in a large bowl.
Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add the yeast mixture and olive oil.

Stir this all together gently with a large spoon until a sticky dough forms.

Remove from the bowl, and have your hubby pour about 1 tablespoon of olive oil into the bowl (or dump it out on the counter for a minute and oil your bowl). Spread the olive oil around, and put the dough back in, turning to coat. I did it this way because I was lazy and didn't want to wash 2 big mixing bowls ;-).

Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and set aside in a draft-free place for about 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.

This is what it should look like after the rising time is up.

Sprinkle a little flour on your work surface. Turn the dough out, and knead it about 6-8 times. Kneading is easy...just fold the dough in half and push it away from you with both hands, turn it 45 degrees, and repeat. It should only take about a minute. Here's the dough ready to go.

This is enough to make 2 large pizzas (about 10 inches across), 8 individual sized pizzas, (about 5 inches across), or 8 calzones. To freeze the dough, divide it in half, and place in the freezer until firm. Thaw in the fridge overnight before using.
You can also form the dough into circles and freeze them flat on a cookie sheet. Once they're frozen, you can stack them with some wax paper in between the layers and freeze in a zip-top storage bag. They'll last about 3 months.
When you're ready to make pizza, you don't have to thaw the dough out. Just take it right from the freezer, spread with pizza sauce, top with your favorite toppings, and bake at 450 degrees for about 18-20 minutes.
Now you can have pizza anytime you want, and save money too. God bless your table tonight!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dinner for Two

David and I like to go out to dinner, but we usually never do around Valentine's Day...the restaurants are too crowded, and my wonderful hubby loves it when I cook a special meal for him. We don't have a lovely balcony, or a goreous view like the picture above, but that's okay.

So I plan to make him an awesome meal Saturday night...and I'm not cooking anything even remotely healthy. After all, I can't think of any man who would get excited over a plate of vegetables, salad, or tofu.

This is what's on the menu:

Spicy Oven Baked Fries

I thought about making a side of asparagus, but then I said, "Naw!" David's been good since the year started, (and he's lost some weight) but he really misses burgers. And he loves chocolate and peanut butter together. I'm hoping I can cajole him into getting a couple of projects done around the house in the next few weeks, so giving him one of his favorite meals can't hurt, right? I'm telling you girls, the way to a man's heart is through his stomach!

Here's a pic of the burger and fries. Oh my gracious...that burger was TO DIE FOR! Talk about man food girls...this is what they really want to eat!

The cake was crazy good too...the peanut butter frosting was perfect, not too sweet, and it complemented the cake so well. I will definitely be making it again (thanks Suzie for the recipe!)

I may post the recipe for the oven fries later, but for right now...just cut up a couple of potatoes into wedges, sprinkle with olive oil, spicy seasoned salt, paprika, and black pepper. Bake at 400 degrees for 20 minutes or so, turning the wedges over halfway through. That's it!

Let me know if you try any of these recipes out! I'll post some pics later.

God bless your table tonight!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies

About 2 years ago, my uncle brought these cookies to a family get-together. They were so good...I just had to have the recipe. I have been making chocolate chip cookies using only this recipe ever since.

These cookies do not contain any white, all-purpose flour. Instead, they contain whole-wheat and whole-barley flour. This gives the cookies a bit more of a chew, but they still have plenty of butter, sugar, and chocolate chips in them, so these are not healthy cookies by any means! It just makes me feel better knowing I am giving the kids some whole grains in their diet (about 6 grams per cookie). And you can bet I eat these too...more than I should, but what the heck!

If you cannot find whole-barley flour at your local grocery store, you can substitute white all-purpose flour. Do not use whole-wheat flour for the entire recipe, or your cookies will be dense and hard. So far, I have not found whole-barley flour anywhere close to me (David found some for me at a whole-foods market one day not too far from his office). And I know espresso powder and cider vinegar are unusual ingredients in cookies, but the espresso powder brings out out the flavor of the chocolate, and the vinegar contributes a "barely there" tang.

All righty...are you ready? If you start the dough in the morning, you can bake these up in the afternoon, and make the house smell great. Better yet, bake some just as the kiddos are getting off the bus like I did, and you will be a hero--at least for the day!

Whole Grain Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup whole-barley flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks)
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, or light brown sugar and 1 tablespoon molasses
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 large egg
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Makes about 4 dozen cookies

*NOTE: I made a double batch, so it will look like more ingredients in the pictures. But I had to make enough to send to my brother who now in flight school with the Texas Army National Guard. My kids can scarf down cookies like nobody's I needed to make more than 4 dozen.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, salt, baking powder, and baking soda. Set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the butter, sugars, and espresso powder. (You'll see I used the light brown sugar and molasses; I don't buy dark brown sugar very often.)

Cream together on medium speed until the mixture is light and fluffy.

Add the flour mixture to the sugar mixture in the mixer in about 4 increments, and mix until the flour is all incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand.

Angel Boy must have smelled the chocolate because the minute I opened the bag, he came running. So of course I gave him a few chocolate chips :-).

Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and put it in the fridge for about 2 hours. This will make it easier to scoop out the cookies later. You can bake the cookies right away if you are pressed for time.

Now, take a small ice cream scoop (a must-have tool if you're making drop cookies), and scoop out the dough, placing the balls about 3 inches apart on an ungreased cookie sheet.

Bake for about 12-14 minutes at 350 degrees. Rotate your cookies halfway through. Once your oven gets nice and hot, you'll likely need to bake the cookies for about 12 minutes (and maybe even only 11 minutes. Oven temps vary greatly, so just keep an eye on them).

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet for about 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

Serve these with a cold glass of milk, and you might feel like the world's greatest mom! My kids think so, (even after I taught Joshua how to clean his bathroom yesterday). Enjoy!

God bless your table tonight!