Wednesday, December 29

Year in Review: This Year's Top Ten

I thought this might be fun for some of you who are newer here. I use Google Analytics to monitor my blog traffic. Let me tell you--it is always interesting to see what brings readers over hereSome are surprising, some not.

And yes, I am a nerd like that.  

So for this year (actually from February until now--when I started Analytics) here are the ten most popular links that brought readers this way.

1. Recipes ~ wow...that's flattering...hopefully no one was disappointed!

2. White Enchiladasthis is such a good one!

3. Homemade Vanilla Wafers and Banana Pudding ~ thank you, Alton!

4. Best Ever Muffins ~ I don't even care to admit how many times we've had these this year.

5. Homemade Ranch Dressing ~ thank you, Mom, for introducing this one to me (us)!

6. Homemade Enchilada Sauce ~ a close friend of mine from my former job introduced this to all my former co-workers and they are in love with this sauce just as much as I am (and apparently everyone else too!). 

7. Fresh Cherry Muffins ~ awww, shucks, this is one of the first recipes I posted here.

8. Spicy Pickled Carrots ~ thank you again, Alton!

9. Chocolate Chip Cookies ~ this one just makes me laugh.  Really?  But they are pretty good.  ;)

10. Brown Sugar ~ More of a tutorial, but a good tip nonetheless! 

Here is to another fun year in blogging! 

Tuesday, December 28

Coming Soon!

When the kind folks at CSN Stores contacted me and asked me to complete a review for them, I jumped at the chance!  CSN is comprised of over 200 websites, including everything from luggage stores to furniture and fashion.  CSN also carries tons and tons of wonderful kitchen items, and we all know that having fun in the kitchen is very near and dear to my heart. 

Please check back soon and I'll let you take a peak at what I was able to review!

Monday, December 27

Blanco Chili

I have been wanting to try a white chili for some time.  Plus, I had some cooked up great northern beans sitting in my freezer that really needed to be used.  This past week I finally did it, and I am wondering why I waited so long?

Hubs was very impressed.  He asked where I got the recipe from and I told him I didn't have one.  I glanced at a couple different recipes several weeks ago, but this recipe was entirely my own creation.  Not bad, if I do say so myself--and Hubby thought so too.  ;)

Blanco Chili

2 Tbsp olive oil (you could use butter too)
1 cup chopped onion
2 Tbsp flour
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans (or about 3 cups) great northern beans
1 1/2 cups cooked turkey, chopped (chicken would be just fine)
6 cups turkey stock (again, chicken works too....just using up Thanksgiving leftovers from the freezer)
1 4 oz. can diced chilies
1 1/2 tsp cumin
3/4 tsp ground coriander
Salt and pepper, to taste

Sour cream and chopped cilantro for garnish--avocado and monteray jack cheese would be wonderful as well!

In a large stockpot over medium high heat, saute onions in olive oil.  When onions are tender, add in garlic and flour and cook for 1-2 minutes.  Add in stock and heat through.  Stir in remaining ingredients and simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Soup should be nice and thick when ready to serve.  

This recipe is linked to:

Beauty and Bedlam's Tasty Tuesday
Blessed With Grace Tempt My Tummy Tuesday

Designs By Gollum Foodie Friday
Finding Joy in My Kitchen's Countdown to 2011
Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap
Hearth 'n Soul Recipe Swap  
Life As Mom's Ultimate Recipe Swap

Stockpiling Moms Great Recipe Swap

Sunday, December 26

Christmas Treasures

We had a wonderful, very relaxed Christmas Day.   I was able to get a lot of my (cooking) prep work done on Christmas Eve afternoon, so all I had to do was put the roast in the slow cooker and put together the carrots and twice baked scalloped potatoes on Christmas Day.   I did a really easy breakfast, so I spent a very minimal amount of time in the kitchen.  I do like to cook, but I don't like to feel like I am missing time with my family, so it was nice to be avoid being in the kitchen all day.

My Mom and Dad sent Peanut her very own kitchen set for Christmas--complete with bottom mount freezer.  I know.  We actually received the kitchen in the mail (from about six weeks ago and Hubs put it together when we first received it.   So in the garage the kitchen sat, awaiting it's introduction into the life of a very excited 2 year old little girl.   

And so excited she was...when she came downstairs Christmas morning she exclaimed "Pwesants!" {Presents!} and then she just stopped and smiled and looked back and forth between us and the kitchen.  You could practically see the wheels turning...a 'frigerator....pots, pans....[wooden] food galore....that little kitchen is just my size....I can actually reach that counter....I can cook like Mommy!

Needless to say she was thrilled, and she proceeded to saute cantaloupe, eggs, and bananas for us for breakfast--in the same pan.  It was, tasty.

I finally managed to tear Peanut away and give her her bath, and as she was playing in the water, I asked what other things she could cook in her kitchen.   She quickly responded, "Eggs and muffins and fruit and veg-tables and else...." {and other things}.

And boys, I tell you.  When I brought Peanut down after her bath and the Hubs saw her in the same dress she wore for our family celebration of Christmas, he had a confused look on his face and asked why she was wearing the dress again.  I guess he didn't quite understand that we girls wear our Christmas dresses on Christmas--even if we don't go anywhere.  Duh. 

Then the poor little Peanut did dishes all day.  Every time we had to go do something (take a bath or a nap, etc.) she responded "I do dishes first."  She must think I do the dishes a lot, because that was her constant task throughout the afternoon.

The Peanut also received this precious little ornament from her other grandma and grandpa.  I think it is quite fitting.

And for the time being, the timer on our camera is working out great, as the Peanut just thinks it is the funniest thing to see/hear the camera snapping pictures on the tripod.

I hope you all had a wonderful, relaxed Christmas as well.  How did you celebrate? 

Menu Plan Monday

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas.  We did, but I am so sad it is over.  Does anybody else feel that sense of sadness when Christmas is over?  I know I do--but I am also one of the ones that starts getting excited about Christmas in late summer.  I know.  But I can't help it.  I just love Christmas.  Anyhow, for this week, we will be having:

Sunday-BLT Carbonara, green salad with homemade ranch dressing

Monday-Chicken Parmesan, mashed potatoes, green salad

Tuesday-Tortellini Bake, and-you guessed it-green salad (I have some lettuce to use up!)

Wednesday-Steak with blue cheese sauce, baked potatoes, green salad

Thursday-Beef barley stew, green salad 

Friday-Pizza with homemade sauce and homemade crust, green salad


For other great recipe ideas, visit the Organizing Junkie

Friday, December 24

Merry Christmas!

From our home to yours....

have a wonderful Christmas celebrating the greatest gift of all.

Thursday, December 23

Look at All That Snow!

We went to the ChristmasTown tonight.  Although we went a little later in the season than last year, there was a ton of snow there this time!

These pictures may not do it justice, but according to Hubs estimation, he thought that there was at least two feet of snow on the rooftops.  The huge mounds of course, are from clearing the parking lots, but still!  Let's just say, I've never seen snow like this in SmallTown and definitely not ever in Hometown.  Some of the locals even sled down hills in the downtown area...but it looked painful to me.  However, I'm not that adventuresome, so what can I say?

And look at Peanut's little darling hat.  My dear friend's talented mom made it for Peanut--custom.  Our last trip down, Sarah's mom sat there and just whipped it up like it was nothing.  Isn't it just the cutest?  I was hoping to get a cute picture of her in it for our Christmas card, but you know what they say about the best of intentions.  Yeah, it just didn't happen liked I had hoped. 

Peanut wasn't a terribly cooperative photo subject tonight as she was too distracted by all the goings on around her.

What a difference--his without flash, mine with flash. Crazy, huh?

And on our way back, Peanut was getting restless, so I told Peanut we were headed home.

Her response: "Go see candies!"  {Go see the gingerbread house} Is she my daughter, or what?

I'd say she had fun this morning, wouldn't you? 

Decorating the Castle

At least that is what Peanut called it.  I was constructing the gingerbread house and Peanut saw it and said,  "Mama building a castle!"

This is my first one (excluding those I did as a small child--and those I only decorated) which is all from scratch and for some unknown reason, the roof didn't come out right.  User error I am sure--but I really don't know what happened.  I had the choice of either a ginger skylight or make late construction modifications.  I went with the pretzel stick modification.  Each year, I will get better at this, right?  Right?  Please tell me I am right.

But Peanut had a grand time and that is why I did it.  I am sure we won't be eating any of it.  I do have a major sweet tooth--but not for candy or cookies that have been sitting out.

Someone loved the Skittles.  She had more candy today than she's had in her entire life.  And not because I was allowing it.  She kept sneaking them.

She also enjoyed "Putting candies in the door!"

It took all I had not to straighten her pieces and to allow her the creative liberty she wanted...but I did.

And I am glad I did.  

This is definitely going to be a fun tradition to keep.  Tonight we are off to ChristmasTown and to drive around and look at Christmas lights...with homemade peppermint hot chocolate. We did it last year, but I think Peanut will definitely be more into this year as every time she sees lights, she exclaims, "Dose pretty!"  {Those pretty!}

What traditions do you have?

Wednesday, December 22

Sugar Cookies?

This is my go-to sugar cookie recipe.  Although if you aren't frosting the cookie and you are just eating them plain, they have a pretty mild sweetness.  I almost think of these as more of a shortbread cookie.  I do think they are perfect for frosting, because the frosting is so sweet, so the not so sweet cookie balances it out a little.  I got this recipe from my husband's aunt, who uses this recipe to make Belgium Biscuits (sugar cookies sandwiched with raspberry jam for filling, and frosted on top with vanilla icing--although these are a little different from the Belgium Biscuits I found online), which are a family tradition stemming from their Canadian heritage.

But I digress.

I just love this recipe when making either the Beligium Biscuits or a good ol' frosted sugar cookies.  Yum, yum, yum!

Sugar Cookies

1 cup butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
1 tsp. vanilla
1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/4 cups flour

Cream butter and add in sugar.  Mix until combined.  Add in yolks, vanilla, and salt and mix thoroughly.  Mix in flour until just combined.  Refrigerate dough for 1-2 hours.  Roll dough out and cut into shape(s) desired.  Line cookie sheets with parchment (or Silpat baking mats) to prevent the edges of the cookies from browning.  Bake at 350 degrees for about 10-11 minutes.  Allow to completely cool before frosting.  Makes about 2 dozen cookies.


1/4 cup butter
2 cups powdered sugar, sifted
1/2 tsp. vanilla
Food coloring if desired

Cream butter and mix in powdered sugar one cup at a time.  Add in vanilla, food coloring, and milk, one tablespoon at a time until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.  Frost cookies as desired. 

Monday, December 20

Jumbo Raisin Cookies

I only make these cookies once a year.  And I only make them because I love my Dad.  Now don't get me wrong--these. are. wonderful.  Every time I have one, I think to myself, why don't I make these more often?  And then I remember--they are a lot of work.  They are not over the top cookies, like these--but I just don't care much for the process of baking the cookies, having to let them cool completely and then having to frost them. 

Because I am impatient like that.  

But, as I mentioned I love my Dad and if I could give him a lifetime supply of these at his disposal, I would.  A funny little sidenote on these little bits of deliciousness:  I actually used to make these cookies as a Christmas gift for both my Dad and my Grandpa (what can I say?  They are easy to "buy" for!).  I would make a double batch so I had some to package (in these boxes) for both my Dad and Grandpa, and have enough leftover for the goodie platter at Christmas.  In the last years of his life, my Grandpa would often times be staying with my parents for an extended period around the holidays.  My Dad and Grandpa would each make sure to eat these cookies off the goodie platter before breaking into their own personal stash.  And when the goodie platter was gone, they would each try and get the other to open his own box first. 

I guess I should have made these more often, huh? 

I made some for my Dad last week when we stayed at their house, and needless to say, he was thrilled.

Jumbo Raisin Cookies

2 cups raisins
1 1/2 cups water

Boil raisins in water until softened.  Drain raisins, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.  Set both aside and let cool. 

1 cup shortening (not even close to real food, but trust me on this one.  You could also use palm shortening too, but I haven't tried that yet so I can't speak to the results, although it would probably be fine)
2 cups sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. allspice
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbsp. baking powder
2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. vanilla
4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 tsp baking soda, to add to raisin liquid

Cream shortening and add in sugar.  Once combined, add in eggs and mix thoroughly.  Add in cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, baking powder, salt and vanilla and mix until combined.  (Sidenote: I always mix in my spices/flavorings with the wet ingredients to insure they are fully incorporated.  I know you are supposed to sift all the dry ingredients together, but I told you--I am that lazy.  It's always worked for me, but it's probably breaking some chemistry cooking rule that I am not aware of.)  Once the reserved raisin cooking liquid has cooled, add in the baking soda.  In thirds, alternate adding in the flour and raisin liquid to the shortening/spice mixture, allowing each portion of flour and liquid to combine thoroughly before adding the next.  Once combined, fold in the raisins.  The dough will be fairly thick.  Almost biscuit like. 

Drop by large spoonfuls onto an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for about 13 minutes.  The cookies should be just starting to brown on top when you pull them out. 

Allow cookies to cool completely. 


1/2 cup butter, softened (room temperature is best)
3 cups powdered sugar
1/2 - 1 tsp vanilla (to taste)

Cream together butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla.  Add in milk in tablespoon portions until frosting is still thick, but easily spreadable.  It usually takes about 2 tablespoons. 

Frost cooled cookies.  Once frosting is "set", store cookies in an airtight container, separating the layers of cookies with waxed paper.  Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

This recipe is linked to:

Beauty and Bedlam's Tasty Tuesday
Blessed With Grace Tempt My Tummy Tuesday

Designs By Gollum Foodie Friday
Grocery Cart Challenge Recipe Swap

Hearth 'n Soul Recipe Swap 

Goodie Gifts

I mentioned before that handmade gifts are much more common in our home now.  Hubby has several other managers that he works with and they all exchange gifts.  It caught us by surprise last year, as it wasn't something that he had done before at his previous restaurants (same restaurant chain, just different restaurant...I guess that's small town living for you!).  Four managers to buy gifts for can add up pretty quickly, so this year I planned ahead and made Christmas goodie plates for each.  I think they turned out pretty good!

(please excuse Peanut's presidential placemat's all about taking advantage of every learning opportunity!)

I purchased Christmas plates at the dollar store (these are by no means gorgeous collectibles, but are still nicer than a paper plate--and definitely more sturdy!) along with red cellophane.  I had card stock and ribbon in my stash and with the ingredients for the goodies, adding it up I don't think it cost more than about $20.00 total, or about $5.00 per gift, including wrapping!

I made Hot and Spicy Chex Mix (I got all the cereal on sale and on coupon, so they were just over a $1.00 a box!), ginger snaps, and sugar cookies with buttercream frosting.  A little savory and a little sweet too!

Funny little side note~I didn't think I would have everything together for him to take to work with him this morning, so I had planned on bringing the plates into his restaurant late this morning and had told him that.  Well, I got everything together last night (ahead of schedule!) and I told him he could just bring them in with him to work and he looked disappointed.  Of course, I got all defensive and told him it would be easier for him to bring them in as he didn't have a two year old to wrangle manage as well.  He said that wasn't a problem at all, but he had wanted me to bring them in so I would get some credit for them.  Sweet, huh?

Don't worry sweet Hubs, I don't think there will be a question of who put these together.  ;) 

Sunday, December 19

Menu Plan Monday

I can't believe it's just a week until Christmas!  I am making recipes this week that will carry over and also allow us to clean out the refrigerator before Friday and Saturday.

Sunday-White Chicken Chili, Cornbread

Monday-Lentil Soup, Green Salad with homemade ranch dressing

Tuesday-Homemade Macaroni and Cheese



Friday-Clam Chowder, Ham and Spinach Baguettes (recipe to come next week!)

Saturday-Beef Roast, Twice Baked Potatoes, Horseradish Carrots, Dinner Rolls

For other menu planning ideas, visit the Organizing Junkie.

Friday, December 17

Merry Thanksmas!

As I mentioned awhile back, we are starting our own traditions this year.  With Hubby being in the restaurant industry, extended time off over the holidays doesn't ever happen happen that easily.  So rather than taking a real short trip to Hometown over Thanksgiving or Christmas (read: three days off - 2 days of travel = a really short trip), we decided to take a longer vacation in between both of the holidays and make it a worthwhile stay.

To coin the phrase of my sister (and uncle) *my mom...we celebrated Thanksmas.  (Thanksgiving + Christmas) 

* I didn't realize my mom was the one who came up with this "holiday".  ;)

Plus, we told my parents we were coming down on Thursday and surprised them by showing up at their house on Tuesday afternoon.  For me, I think that that was nearly the best part of the trip.  Hubby kept asking me on the way down, "Are you sure you don't want to call them?  Let them know we're here or that we're coming?"

You would think he would trust me after being my parents daughter for 31 years. 

I think I know them.

They are not going to mad or upset or put out.

Trust me. 

My Mom was in tears and jumping up and down when she came into the house when she got home from work. And my Dad, well, he's my Dad.  Peanut and I were standing in the family room when he walked in.  As he walked in and saw us, he stopped and asked,  "How did you get here?"  (In his defense, it was dark outside when he got home and Hubby parked our car in a place my Dad couldn't see it if he wasn't looking for it.)  All that to say, my Dad was very excited too. 

I was able to catch up and have coffee with several of my friends--for some much needed Mommy time--and Peanut had lots and lots of GrandpaGrandma time.

Hubs and I even had a date night.  We were given movie tickets for Christmas two years ago that we were finally were able to use (the tickets were only good at a certain chain of theaters and of course they don't have that theater here).  We saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and loved it.  The movie was wonderful.  I cried.  Even during one of the trailersI know.  I am such a sap--but it was about moms, okay? 

We were also able to stop and visit with Hubby's grandma on her birthday.  It's Peanut's only Great Grandma who is still living, so we were so thankful for the time that we shared with her as well. 

And Peanut got see her cousins! And her auntie and uncle of course.  It was extra special this time, as we got to meet this little guy for the first time

It was so funny too, because we had been telling Peanut that she was going to meet Baby R and then when we got there, he was sleeping.  We still introduced her and she patted him gently (as I reminded her several times) and then went to play with her older cousins.  We were there for several hours before he woke up and I think Peanut thought, "Hey, that's what he does.  He sleeps."  Because she was soooo excited when he finally started to stir and then when he opened his eyes and started moving and looking around--Peanut was beside herself with excitement.  It was pretty priceless.

She loved playing with her older cousins too...

and even though most of the 4grandkidspictures looked like this,

we were able to snag a couple of good ones.

And remember that slime I mentioned earlier this week?  I'd say it was definitely a hit for our nieces.

Bless my sister-in-law's heart.  And her tablecloth. 

When we weren't traveling to and fro we spent lots of time with my parents.  We went to Costco with my Mom the morning after we got there.  My mom kept adding items to the cart and then as Hubby was helping load the items onto the belt at the checkout, he said to me, "Gosh, you come home and your mom slaughters the fatted calf."  At least my Mom thought it was funny. 

My sister and brother-in-law came over several times during the week and Peanut immediately asked Auntie, "Pewter?"  Translation: "Where is your iPad, Auntie?"  That was over six weeks ago, but the Peanut certainly hadn't forgotten!   We had lots and lots of fun with them as we were able to share dinner with them several times and we even got to play a game of Apples to Apples.  Such fun!

My Mom had also planned a big dinner with all of her family, so we were able to spend some time with them as well.  My Mom (and my Dad's wallet) outdid themselves, as they always do.  We had crab cakes (real crab--not that fake stuff) with a spicy chipotle tarter sauce as an appetizer (can you say yum?) prime rib and ham for dinner and Eskimo Fudge Delights for dessert.

There was nothing light about them.  But they were darn good. (My Mom, the Hostess with the Mostess.)

As good as the spread was, the company was even better.

And my Mom even decorated for Christmas.

Let me back up though. From my late teens to the time I moved out when I was 23, I was the one who decorated my parents house for Christmas.  My Mom likes Christmas (which is evident from her 15, count 'em 15, 55 gallon storage bins of Christmas decor) but she's not so much into all time it takes to do it all.  So she just hasn't decorated much these last several years.  But in October, when we told her that we were coming for a week in December, the gloves were off.  I told she had to at least put up a tree.  And decorate it.  (She did purchase a new pre-lit artificial tree several years ago before Christmas and she set it up--that was the extent of her decorating that year--thus, she was required to decorate the tree as well this year).

But have I ever mentioned my Mom doesn't do anything half way?  Well, she doesn't.  As my auntie put it, "She puts Martha Stewart to shame."

No offense, Martha.  She's just that good.


And my family spoiled our little Peanut that night.  And she thanked everyone by conducting each and every one of us in singing medleys of Away in the Manger/Jingle Bells/Take Me Out to the Ballgame/The Itsy Bitsy Spider/Jesus Loves Me.

There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

From all the laughing.  

If someone wasn't singing, the little Taskmaster would point to that person and say their name loudly and admonish them into singing.  I don't know where she gets it.

I really don't.

And we had "Christmas morning" with my Mom and Dad. Peanut was spoiled indulged once again.  Peanut loved opening her pwenants {presents}and my Mom and Dad loved watching her.

As I sit here typing this at 12:30 in the morning, I am sad it couldn't have lasted longer.  My Dad sent me an email after we got home and said this last week was "one of the best weeks of family time since we used to go camping."  And it was such.a.great.week.  But as I have to remind myself, Christmas isn't about me.  It's about Him.

And all this other stuff?  It's icing on the cake.

And that's some pretty good icing. 


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