Friday, October 30, 2009

Necco Wafers...blast from the past candy

When the box arrived full of Necco Wafers, I wasn't sure how my kids would react. We've used Necco Wafers in the past to decorate cakes, cupcakes and gingerbread houses but we rarely just ate them. This was going to be a new treat for all of us.

I went to the Necco website and learned a few interesting things about the company

  • Necco stands for New England Confectionery Company
  • It started in 1847 and is the US's oldest multi-line candy company
  • They also make those fun Conversation Hearts for Valentine's Day
  • Necco Wafers went with Admiral Byrd when he went to the south pole
  • The US gov't requisitioned most of the Wafers in WWII because they shipped easily to the troops
  • Necco Wafers are fat free, don't contain High fructose Corn Syrup and use all natural flavors and colors)
  • In addition to the 7 traditional flavors, they now have a chocolate roll with 4 flavors
We sampled both the chocolate and the traditional flavors.

I've always been a fan because it's a sweet treat and it takes awhile to eat. That means I'm going to make my sugar fix last longer.

The reaction among the kids was mixed, which isn't surprising.

On the chocolate variety, my daughter who hates licorice didn't care for the candy at all. There is something seriously suspect about the opinion of someone who doesn't like licorice. The 12 year old who has texture issues really loved the candies. He came back for more and screamed "I love them!"

The kids really preferred the classic variety, especially after I explained they needed to suck on the candies for awhile and not chomp on them right away. Long lasting sweetness is much better on their teeth!

I hope everyone enjoys their Halloween candy! We are totally candied out here already.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

French's Recipe Contest

This so isn't a cooking blog, but I know lately it seems that way! I do love to cook and I also love entering cooking contests. On the heels of my third place finish in the Spam cookoff at our fair, I decided to enter the French's Cookoff with a recipe that I'd actually eat! My recipe is for French Bread Cheeseburger Pizza. It's pretty darn tasty and always a hit with the kids. Please go vote for my recipe by visiting the link!

One reason my kids love this recipe is they get to help in the kitchen. When we were making this last night for dinner, my three year old held the cheese grater. It was a pretty big deal to her and she just grinned and told everyone how she helped make dinner. How can you go wrong with a recipe when you're kids get to help out?

French Bread Cheeseburger Pizza


1/2 cup FRENCH'S® Classic Yellow® Mustard

1 loaf of french bread

1/2 cup ketchup

1 lb ground beef

2 cup cheddar cheese, shredded

1 small onion, chopped

12 sliced pickles for garnish


Preheat oven's broiler. In a large skillet, brown hamburger. Drain off any fat. Add the chopped onion. Turn off heat. Add in French's mustard and ketchup and stir to coat ground beef. To prepare french bread, cut in half. Scoop out some of the inside of the bread to make a "gutter." Spoon meat filling into gutter. Sprinkle on cheese and garnish with pickles. Place the french bread halves under the broiler and broil til cheese is melted, about 5 minutes.

Monday, October 26, 2009

bonus recipe--corn dog muffins

I've been looking for an excuse to try these Corn Dog Muffins from Once a Month Mom. I discovered this website by following @onceamonthmom on twitter. I am absolutely loving her recipes. I wish I had the capacity in my freezer to do more freezer cooking.

I didn't have an after school snack ready for the kids today so this was the perfect excuse!

My 8 yo helped make these and I'm pretty sure he could make them by himself, aside from pulling them out of the oven. Very easy recipe. And instead of butter, Ben gets to use his favorite condiment of Ketchup, which is always a good thing for him.

Corn Dog Muffins


  • 1 Jiffy Cornbread Box Mix
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 hot dogs, quartered or diced


Dice up the hot dogs. Mix the Jiffy mix, milk, and egg. Stir in the hot dogs. Fill muffin cups 2/3 full. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until lightly browned. Allow to cool.

Freezing Directions:

Once cool place in gallon freezer bag and freeze. To serve: reheat in microwave for 1-2 minutes or until heated through.

Menu Plan Monday--Oct 26

Today is Lizzy's third birthday. I can't believe she's three already. I'm really looking forward to the terrible twos to be OVER. I'm a bit afraid that the terrible twos will turn into the terrifying threes. :P

She loves to help me in the kitchen and has ruined quite a few dishes for me. She'll add random ingredients like water and salt when my back is turned. The biggest disaster so far is when I was in the bathroom and she decided she wanted eggs. So, she cracked a half dozen eggs into a fry pan...the one her dad used to make breakfast in before he left for work. It was dirty so the eggs had to go down the drain. I'm a bit reluctant to admit she didn't get any shells in it either...I don't want to go encouraging her or anything!

Lizzy hasn't expressed any desire for a particular meal for her birthday other than "chicken" but all meat is chicken right now (except for hamburger).

Monday: Lizzy's bday meal (some sort of chicken)
Tuesday: chicken stir fry
Wednesday: Chilli @ the church
Thursday: taco rice
Friday: pancakes
Saturday: pizza
Sunday: Shredded Beef and carmelized onion enchiladas

Friday, October 23, 2009

A freebie from Little Blends

I'm a big fan of getting kids to eat their veggies. I mean, what parent isn't? While my kids are generally very good about eating vegetables, it hasn't always been the case.

My oldest has texture issues. He really doesn't like mushy foods. That means most cooked vegetables, he won't eat. Give him raw veggies and he'll chow down. But not all veggies are edible in raw form, so he eats a lot of the same things.

I'm also not above "hiding" vegetables. I do it, not so much to sneak nutrition in to my kids, but to say to them "Hey, you just ate squash and it wasn't so bad!" or when they claim they've never eaten it before to let them know they had eaten it and liked it. Once they get over that fear of the unknown, they are much more likely to try the vegetable again.

Little Blends is a yogurt that does the work of finding the right balance between fruits and veggies and sweetness to entire kids into eating something that might otherwise be rejected. The real bonus to me with Little Blends is not so much what it has but what it's lacking: There's no added hormones, no artificial ingredients or flavors and no high-fructose corn syrup. For those of you who like to read labels (I know I do!) Little Blends also have 25 percent the recommended daily value of protein, 20 percent daily value of calcium, 20 percent of Vitamin A, plus D, Iron and probiotics. They also contain DHA and omega-3s which help with brain development.

Yogurt is a super food in general, but Little Blends have made super super food by pumping it full of extras.

The folks over at Little Blends would love for you to try their product for FREE!

One of my lucky readers will get this lovely prize package of an insulated Thermos snack jar, a Little Blends spoon and a coupon for a free four pack of Little Blends yogurt!

To enter, visit Little Blends and comment below with which flavor you plan to buy with the coupon comment. Be sure to include your EMAIL address so I know how to contact you if you win! You can get an extra entry for following my blog. Please let me know in a separate comment if you're a follower.

The last day to enter is Oct. 31. I'll use to pick a winner!

**disclaimer** The folks at Little Blends provided me with free products in exchange for my comments on their product **

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Mustard Tarragon Roast Chicken review

Last night I had a bit more time for dinner and I wanted to make something that was a bit more fancy...or at least fool my family into thinking I had spent a lot more time on dinner than I had. After the week of craziness at the fair, I felt they deserved a few nights of better foods.

I'm always looking for new ways to cook chicken. It's a staple. I didn't really want to BBQ and I didn't want another casserole. I think we're all casseroled out right now.

I was using Stumble and found this recipe for Mustard Tarragon Roast Chicken. It calls for noodles, but my husband is rather anti-noodle. Instead I made him eat a sautee of summer squash on the side. Squash is always a nice substitute for noodles. The kids like squash with sauces because it covers up the taste.

This went together very quickly but tastes like you spent a lot longer on it. I imagine it could be adapted to a crockpot meal quite easily for those extra busy days.

Mustard Tarragon Roast Chicken


  • 1/2 cup Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh tarragon
  • kosher salt and pepper
  • 1 3 1/2- to 4-pound chicken, cut into pieces
  • 1 12-ounce package egg noodles
  • 1/4 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped
  • 3/4 cup dry white wine


  1. Heat oven to 400° F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the mustard, vinegar, 2 tablespoons of the oil, the garlic, tarragon, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Add the chicken and toss to coat. Place the chicken in a roasting pan and roast until cooked through, about 45 minutes.
  3. During the last 15 minutes of roasting, cook the noodles according to the package directions. Drain and return to the pot. Add the parsley and the remaining oil and toss to coat. Transfer the chicken to individual plates. Place the pan containing the drippings over medium-high heat. Add the wine and cook, stirring and scraping the bits from the bottom of the pan, until the wine reduces slightly, about 5 minutes. Divide the noodles among the plates and spoon the sauce over the top.

Recipe Review: Southwest Tortilla Wraps

I really love The Psychotic Housewife's blog. She always has something going on and is posting delicious fast recipes. Tonight's dinner was taken from her menu this week, but naturally I had to tweak it a little bit to stretch it out for 7 eaters. I added rice and my own seasonings. It's amazing how much rice and beans will stretch out a pound of hamburger.

This recipe was a big hit with the kids. It came together very quickly, which was good because I got home late tonight. DH liked it as well and it should pack well for his lunch tomorrow. My stretching made enough for 12 wraps. DH ate two and the 12 yo ate three and there were 2 left for lunch.

This will definitely go in to our stretch a meal file!

Southwest Tortilla Wraps

16 oz corn (frozen or canned)
12 oz diced tomatoes (I used 3 chopped fresh tomoatoes)
1 can (or equivilant) kidney beans
1/2 pound ground beef (I used 1 lb)
taco seasoning (or try a mixture of cumin and chili powder)
8-10 burrito size tortillas
shredded cheese as desired
1 C cooked rice--my stretch it further step

Cook ground beef, drain, stir in taco seasoning.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees while continuing the recipe.

Mix corn, tomatoes, and beans with ground beef in a large mixing bowl.

Spoon mixture as desired into tortillas. Sprinkle small amount of shredded cheese on top of mixture, close with toothpicks. Bake at 350 for 15 minutes.

Top with dollop of sour cream if desired before serving.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Teaching Tuesday--Traditions

Traditions may not seem like they have much if anything to do with teaching, but it's through traditions that we teach our children the values we want them to pass on to the next generation.

I grew up in a family with very few traditions. My mom was a single parent until I was 16 and spent much of her time working and going to school. Still, each holiday season my mom made the time to bake cookies. We were dirt poor and my mom is a wonderful baker, so she gave of her talent to people for the holidays in the form of plates of cookies. I believe her record one year was 80 DOZEN cookies. She would start baking at Thanksgiving and would go til just a few days before Christmas. We were expressly not allowed to eat any of the cookies. Mom did give us permission to eat the broken and burnt ones.

What I learned from my mom wasn't just that "it's the thought that counts" but more along the lines of "you don't have to have a lot to give a lot" and a knife can scrape off burnt parts and a glass of chocolate milk can cover up a lot of burnt cookie taste.

Once I got married, I wanted to continue the cookie tradition. This is when I learned that I'm not my mom and I don't have to try to be! I don't bake well. My husband does not listen to the "don't eat those!" and will sneak cookies behind my back or just plain eat the cookie dough I have chilled in the fridge. It was time we established our own family traditions because mine weren't working!

I married in to a wonderful tradition that we've continued with our children. Christmas Eve they are allowed to open one gift. It's always PJs. My mother-in-law started this tradition with her children out of vanity necessity. Her boys always wore out their PJs and she wanted to have them in nice PJs for Christmas morning pictures.

Another family tradition of ours started quite by accident. One holiday, we wanted to give the children a lesson on serving others. They had been fighting more than usual, so D and I decided they needed to learn to serve each other. Into a hat each of our names went and we each drew someone in turn. During the week prior to Christmas, we were to do secret acts of service for the person whose name we drew. And, each person needed to make something special for that person, as well.We were to be Secret Service Santas! It was a huge success. It made such an impact that the next Christmas, the children came to us and wanted to know when they were going to draw Secret Service Santa names again! They came to us so excited for the acts of service they had planned. One of my little ones even asked if it were ok to do service for someone else in the family in addition to their special person. It was one of those moments where, as a parent, you know you've done a good job.

Our traditions don't just revolve around the holidays. Each child is taken to lunch with either mom or dad on his or her birthday. Any restaurant. I would be lying if I didn't say I was thrilled to be out of the McD's and BK stage with some of the kids! This year, Leelee has requested Olive Garden. It totally makes up for having to suffer through years of chicken nuggets.

Of course, we also have our traditions of entering at the fair and our futile attempts at gardening each year. These are meant to teach our children that even if you fail, you can still have fun and eventually you may succeed! I'm still waiting for the gardening success. Instead, I guess I have to pretend that these traditions we're creating with our children are little seeds we've planted. Eventually, they will sprout and carry on, bringing love and nourishment and encouragement to our children. (That seriously didn't sound nearly as sappy in my head).

Menu Plan Monday--Oct 19

Now that fair week is done, it's back to the grind.

Here's this week's menu:

Monday: Beef Pot Roast
Tuesday: Baked Chicken
Wednesday: Dijon Pork Chops
Thursday: Southwest stuffed tortilla wraps
Friday: Spaghetti
Saturday: Leftover topped pizzas

I know it's not that exciting, but I have to ease back in to things gently. LOL

Sunday, October 18, 2009

We are big winners!

Since last the fair blog was updated, we added several more ribbons!

The pie was a massive flop. I have this curse: if a pie looks great, it tastes horrible. If it looks horrible, it tastes good. As you could see from the picture I posted, the pie was beautiful. Naturally, it was completely inedible. I tried it and didn't at all blame the judges for not awarding us a ribbon.

The next day, we did quite a bit better. We took two ribbons in sewing: third place in dressy clothes ages 2-6 and second place in school clothes ages 7-12.

Saturday, I managed to pull a third place win in casseroles using Psychotic Housewife's Mexican Bake recipe. Yes, it's that good! I hadn't actually planned on winning (I never do) and told the family they'd be eating the leftovers for dinner that night. As luck would have it, the dish was wildly popular at the fair and everyone wanted a taste. There was nothing to bring home.

Leelee and I also entered chicken recipes but we didn't do so well. It was unseasonably cold (in the low 50s) and the building where the event is held is not heated. By the time the judges got to my dish, it was ice cold. Ice cold chicken soup is not a good thing. Leelee made a hawaiian BBQ chicken quesadilla that was wonderful, but she wasn't lucky enough to place either. Still, we had fun and that was the most important part!

While I was making dinner tonight, the phone rang and it was the director of the Creative Living Center (this is the area of the fair where all the cooking and crafts take place). She said that our family had won an award and wanted us to be at the fair tonight to receive it! At first I thought she meant that I had won one of the drawings. This year, when you entered a cooking event, you received a ticket to enter to win some Royal Prestige cookware. I was desperate to win that, but was a bit confused why the whole family needed to be there. That's when I realized we had won something else.

Our family had actually won the Family Traditions award! This award is given to the family who wins the most ribbon points in a minimum of three categories. I was quite surprised to find out that our family, even though we didn't win first in anything, had earned this one! We received a blue ribbon, a lovely plaque and some prize money! Certainly I didn't expect our family to win anything. The CLC director made a comment about me being at all the events with the baby on my hip and being quite sure that's exactly how I must be at home. She said she remembered cooking and doing everything with a baby on her hip, too.

After we received this award, they did the drawing for the cookware. And guess what?

I won that, too!

It's actually a 7 pc set of royal prestige stainless steel bake ware. I was needing to replace mine anyway, so this was perfect.

I'm not normally a person who wins things, but wow... if we had lottery here, I'd be inclined to go buy a ticket!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Red hot cheesey apple pie

My pie entry for the fair
Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

a shout out & thank you! & laundry

I participated in an apron swap and my partner was Mary Grace She sent me the most amazing reversible apron. It's gorgeous. It was so gorgeous I put it on promptly and made dinner and spilled all sorts of things on it and now it's in my laundry. My laundry is uhh...well, let's not talk about my laundry right now.

I welcome any and all laundry advice, however. Managing laundry for eight people is no easy task and one I avoid at all costs. This means I usually end up with an email from my husband that reads:

"Dearest Wife:

My feet need socks. Matching ones would be nice, but not necessary since I've been wearing mismatched socks for a week now.

Your Patient Husband"

So uhh, yeah, me and laundry...not on friendly terms.

ANYWAY, back to the awesome apron package. She also sent me the cutest little pumpkin figurine. I've been using it to decorate my table settings at the fair cooking contests. I also love how she sent me a tiny candle and,...CHOCOLATE. Dark chocolate even. My favorite. And some candy bracelets. The kids found those and I had to pry their grubby little paws off them. I *heart* me some candy bracelets.

I'll post a picture of it soon! As soon as it's washed.

Pictures from the Fair

We are further suspending normal blog activities to share our fair experiences. Please bear with us til Saturday when all the fair fun will be done for another year!

Last night was the youth sewing and yeast baking. I do not feel bad at all for not placing. The person who took second place, IMO, should have taken first. It was the most incredible loaf of bread I have ever eaten. My apple bread paled in comparison. I also noted that the judges prefer blueberries. Every time someone has entered something with blueberries, they've placed first or second.

Leelee entered her recycled skirt in for the youth sewing. She used an old bedsheet with a funky pattern to make a three tiered skirt. She tends to be accident prone, so I really didn't want her using my serger. I taught her how to do a French seam. It wasn't pretty but she gave it her best shot. Some of the sewing by the other children was absolutely amazing. I was rather surprised to see that Leelee placed second!

and here's Kari with her award for cupcakes :)

Tonight is Pie Day. This is one of the biggest events of the cooking contests. I pretty much stink at pies but I like to try this one each year because it's a challenge for me. Tonight I've decided to make an apple pie with a coconut macaroon top crust. One of my favorite flavor combination is probably going to be lost on the judges: I love apples with cheese.There's a chain of fast food places in Colorado that sells a tostada with apple pie filling, cheese and cinnamon red hots. It's delicious. But it's a bit scary sounding. I'm afraid the judges will probably not like that particular twist in a pie. I'm taking just as big of a risk with the coconut topped pie. Who knows how many times I may change my mind today!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Seriously Spam? Winning recipes

As we were driving to the fairgrounds for our entries tonight, I told D it would be very ironic if I placed in Spam. I pour my heart and soul into dishes and keep losing. And, I put very little thought or effort into my Spam recipe. I didn't even try it. I hate Spam. I think it smells like catfood.

Needless to say, we were visited by the irony fairy as not only did Leelee place third with her Orange BBQ Spam Stir Fry, I placed third with my Spam Ravioli!

I know when I promised winning recipes, I certainly wasn't expecting the first round of recipes to be Spam!

Leelee's Orange BBQ Spam Stir Fry

1 can less salt Spam, diced
1 bag stir fry vegetables
1/2 C orange marmalde
1/2 C hoisin sauce
2 T soy sauce
1 T hot sauce
1 C chicken stock
brown rice

In a large skillet, stir fry the spam and veggies. In a large bowl, mix together the marmalade, hoisin, soy and hot sauces. Add in the chicken stock. Pour over the spam and veggie mix and heat through. Serve over brown rice.

Spam Ravioli
1 can less salt Spam
2 T tomato paste
1 T romano cheese
2 T chopped parsley
1 package wonton wrappers
1 jar spaghetti sauce

Boil a large pot of water.

In a food processor, combine Spam, tomato paste, cheese and parsley until smooth. Place 1 T of mixture in a wonton wrapper and seal the edges.

Drop ravioli in to the boiling water. Ravioli are done when they rise to the top.

Pour warm spaghetti sauce over the top and serve.

Menu Plan Monday-Oct 12

Fair week is in full swing. So far, we've only had one win. I expect that to change tonight with the Great American Spam cookoff.

Our entries this year: Spam stir fry (Leelee), Spamball marinara subs (ben), and Alex's tribute to iCarly Spam Spaghetti Tacos. The kids have talked me into entering as well. I'll be making Spam Ravioli.

The kids will be forced to eat their creations for dinner tonight. Hubby and I are enjoying some rare frozen dinners LOL

The Menu

Monday: Spam-a-lot
Tuesday: Baked Pork and Apples
Wedneday: pie day at the fair, crockpot chicken
Thursday: taco bake (entry for the Casserole contest)
Friday: pizza leftovers
Saturday: Chicken and Wild Rice Soup (entry for the chicken contest)
Sunday: beef roast, potatoes

For those wondering about our Pizza leftovers night, I make pizza dough and we take whatever leftover meats we have and dump it on a pizza crust and add cheese. It's pretty fun for the kids. They get to make their own pizzas and i get rid of the leftovers!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Saturday's Fair update

As usual, the little old ladies at the fair think my cooking sucks. I made an amazing biscuit and still didn't win.

The good news is Kari, 6, took third place in cupcake decorating. She's pretty excited. This was Lizzy's first year competing. She could barely see over the table. We thought she might win with a sympathy vote.

Monday, we are entering four recipes in to the Spam cookoff.

If we actually win any cooking contests, I'll post the recipes. I'm not sure if you all want to sample my loser recipes.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Redifining Girly with Pigtail Pals

My oldest daughter's first full sentence came at about 18 months. We were at the store getting clothes and she said "NO mama! I want pink one!" If there was ever a girly girl, it was Leelee. Even at a small age, she loved pink, kitties, ponies, babies and by age 4 was going through several outfits a day asking us "Am I fashionable?" Even now at almost 11, she loves clothes, make up and all the traditional girlie stuff (she does, however, have a secret dark sense humor!)

Contrast this with my second daughter. When she got her first baby doll, she threw it across the room and screamed "Let's wrestle!" She is more concerned with playing and getting dirty than she is anything fashionable. Bathing, in her opinion, is completely optional. Kari has been to the ER for injuries more than any of the other kids combined...and she's only six! When she was a toddler, we called her the evil demon monkey child because she climbed everything. It didn't matter how high, she'd get in to it. If you want to find Kari you look in two places: in the dirt or in a tree.

It has always been easy to find clothes for Leelee. She loves quirky yet stylish clothes. She is sure of who she is and that's great!

But what about Kari? Where were her orange and yellow clothes? Where were the clothes showing that girls didn't have to be stuck in pink, purple and barbies? Where were the clothes showing girls digging in the dirt for dinosaurs or climbing mountains or driving race cars?

Until a few months ago, there weren't many options. Then came Pigtail Pals.

Pigtail Pals is dedicated to "redefining girly" by showing "girls that they may be bold, adventurous and heroic just like the boys!"

In the face of all the pop princess divas, Pigtail Pals is opening the door for a new kind of message: Girls can be whatever they want! Girls are shown in a positive way in typically male dominated fields.

As a mom of four girls, this is a message that has been taught in schools and preached by parents, but until now, has been absent from wardrobes. If you walk into any major clothing store, the girls clothes are plastered with pictures of pop divas, princesses and kitties. Completely lacking are the clothes showing girls with dinosaurs, trains, fire trucks, and race cars. And it's just not fair!

My girls deserve to have clothes they like, even if it isn't pink and purple fluff. Heck, my three year old loves trains but have you ever tried to find little girl panties with Thomas? They just don't exist! So, she wears boys unders and we deal with it.

That's why companies like Pigtail Pals, mom owned invented and operated, are so important. They are giving voice to those girls who aren't content, even in childhood, to be boxed in to stereotypes.

I want to encourage you to check out Pigtail Pals and see the great things this small business is doing for girls.

And, if you're concerned about the economy, remember that small businesses like this one are what is going to turn things around. If you support small local businesses you are helping in big ways!

**as per the FTC stuff: I haven't received any free products. I haven't received any compensation. I just think this company rocks!**

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ways to use up Halloween Candy

hey, check out these great ideas from my guest post over at 3 Boys & a Dog!


How not to lose your marbles over dinner

As a mom of six kids, people usually ask me question that begin with "How do you have the time to..." With smaller families and busier schedules, it's hard to imagine finding enough hours in the day for larger families to accomplish much of anything! Like anything, it's all about how you manage and plan your time.

Over at Twittermoms, Samsung is sponsoring a sweepstakes for a new refrigerator, and let's face it, unless you've recently remodeled with an unlimited budget, we all want a new fridge! My fridge didn't get updated when we did our renovations earlier this year, so I'm desperate for any chance to get a new one!

This brings us to our Teach It Tuesday...How do I, as an insanely busy mom of 6 kids, get dinner ready quickly without losing my marbles?

Step number one is always know the location of your marbles.

That is to say, get a look at the big picture for the week. Where do you have to go? What do you have to do? Then plan a dinner around that!

It really doesn't take that long to sit down and plan your menu out each week. A menu doesn't have to be set in stone. It gives you an idea of what meals you can serve during the week. When you go to the grocery store, you know what food you need. This means you aren't staring at the refrigerator wondering "What can I make?"

I always plan with a schedule in mind. Wednesday night is our most chaotic night. The kids and D get home around 4:30. They have to leave at 6 for activities. During that hour and a half, we have to get all the homework done and cook dinner. D has to make any parent calls, so he's pretty much unavailable to help. It's a complete three ring circus. If I'm not careful, instead of being the ringmaster, I'll end up the lion roaring at everyone and pacing around in my cage. Every Wednesday night, we have something quick and easy. By Quick and Easy, I mean something I can whip up in about 15 minutes.

Step two is use your marbles slowly.

If you are concerned about time in the morning to put everything in the crockpot, get everything ready the night before after life has slowed down a bit and keep it in your refrigerator until you are ready to go! This is why having a removable crock is one of the most important features of a slow cookers.

Utilizing your slow cooker helps you give your family a hearty meal with the illusion that you put a lot more effort in to it than you did.

The best part about them is they are dump and go. You drop the food in. You turn it on (some even feature a delay timer!). When you get home, dinner is D-O-N-E!

The most important part about that scenario is that you actually turn the crock pot ON. I've left the house one too many time times thinking dinner is going to be wonderful when I get home, only to be missing those yummy smells when I walk in the door because I never turned the crock pot on.

This brings me to step three: Have extra marbles.

Having a disaster plan is important in every aspect of life management and dinner planning is no exception. Whenever we have leftovers, even if it's just one serving, I use my vacuum sealer and place it in the freezer. This is an instant frozen dinner. The kids get to have all the fun of picking out what they want to eat without standing in the frozen foods aisle waiting for them while the clock is ticking away. You also don't lose valuable time waiting for fast food or the pizza man.

Disaster plan dinners also include those meals where you always have on hand. Around our house it's pancakes or from scratch mac n cheese (it doesn't take that much time!) These meals are also great for those nights you try a new recipe and it fails miserably.

Dinner is one of those things that is really intimidating, but once you get the hang of it, really isn't all that bad. It can be an amazing time for the family.

The final step is to share your marbles.

Sharing always makes life easier and happier for everyone. Meals made together and eaten together make for quality time together as a family. Allowing your children into the kitchen to help with dinner teaches them important skills ranging from math to following directions to gaining confidence. Who doesn't want their kids to learn those things? And best of all, everyone still has plenty of marbles left at the end of the day.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Menu Plan Monday- Oct 5

This is the start of the crazy week for us. The fair starts Friday.

In order to make my life easier, I'm cooking for dinner also what I'm entering at the fair :)

Monday: Chicken Soup
Tuesday: beef stew
Wednesday: Spaghetti
Thursday: burgers
Friday: Spicey Orange BBQ stir fry
Saturday: pancakes
Sunday: pork roast

And don't worry, I'll be sharing any prize winning recipes :)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Makin' Noodles

We're running a few days behind this week, but that's not totally unusual. The fair starts next weekend and we spent time this week getting our entries together!

One big problem with entering the fair is I live in the land of deep fried butter and fried chicken and I come from the land of organic kale and baked free range organic baked chicken. Many of those healthy ingredients I'm used to, just aren't readily available here at a price I'm willing to pay. For example one of our favorite meals pre-move was yakisoba. It was very inexpensive at $1.25 for a pack of noodles and the seasonings that serve 4. Here, a similar pack of noodles that serves 2, sells for $3 at a certain mass retailer.

The choices when it comes to whole grains pastas are very limited. The only solution was to learn to make my own. And, the lack of a pasta maker on freecycle meant I needed to learn to make my own by hand!

To be honest, I was incredibly intimidated, but I figured what harm would it do? What was the worst that could happen? It could be totally nasty and gummy and I'd waste a whole lot of food...

The good news is that I hit it out of the park on the first try thanks to this recipe for Homemade Whole Wheat pasta (without a machine!)

I opted to make lasagna. This is something that D normally hates. He hates all pasta anyway. The kids will eat just about anything. I had a back up meal for Mr. Picky ready to go in the fridge and with lasagna, I figured the kids would inhale and then tell me it was gross later.

The best tip from this recipe was to roll up the pasta like a jellyroll then slice. My pasta was even! It was thin. It wasn't gummy. And, the shocker of them all...D actually liked it! The kids have not cared for much in the way of whole wheat pasta, but it proved my point that dishes prepared from scratch usually taste better than their store bought counterparts.

The lasagna recipe is one I got from my friend Lyn.

Lyn's Lasagna

1.5 lbs ground beef
1 small onion, diced
1 jar of spaghetti sauce
16 oz cottage cheese
1 egg
1/4 romano or parmesan cheese
2 C mozarella cheese
2 C cheddar cheese

1 recipe for Whole Wheat pasta noodles, cooked.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a skillet, brown the ground beef. Add the diced onion and cook til onions are tender.

Mix egg, romano and cottage cheese together and set aside.

Mix together mozarella and cheddar cheeses and set aside.

Spread a spoonful of spaghetti sauce on the bottom of a 9X13 casserole dish. Layer Lasagna noodles, followed by 1/3 of the cottage cheese mix, then 1/3 of the meat mixture. Top with several spoonfuls of the spaghetti sauce and 1C of the cheese mixture. Repeat with remaining noodles, cheeses, meats and sauces. On the top layer smother with sauce and cheese.

Bake in the preheated oven until the cheeses are bubbly and gooey.

Friday, October 2, 2009

A very Frugal Halloween

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. I love the spooky fun of it and it's a great excuse to watch one of my favorite movies. And, let's not forget the candy and the costumes!

When I was a kid, each Halloween we'd go over to a now ex-relative's house when it was time to pick a costume. She had this old trunk that, I swear was older than she was and at the time, I thought she was older than the trees! The trunk had that musty smell that old trunks seem to have. It must have been a mixture of mold and moth balls. I have, thankfully, never smelled anything like it since. The trunk was brought out early to air out so we didn't smell old and dead, unless that's the look we were going for.

The trunk was full of magic: Costumes and vintage clothing. We got to dig through the trunk and decide what we wanted to be for Halloween. I remember one year, I was a southern belle ... with a full hoop skirt.

As a kid, I never had a store bought costume.

Once I had kids, I was shocked by the quality of costumes in the stores. If you don't want to spend a lot of money, you usually end up with a costume that falls apart. It's like throwing money away and I hate throwing my money away.

One of the best ways to get good costumes is to buy a year ahead. Hit the stores for the after Halloween sales. The costumes go on sale for 90 percent off at some stores! I pick up Halloween decorations the same way. Online retailers will also drop their costume prices significantly. The closer it gets to Christmas, the lower the prices get. Heck, I give my kids costumes FOR Christmas presents, so it's a great way to get ahead on the shopping, too.

Fall consignment sales also offer a bounty of costumes at rock bottom prices.

Freecycle is always available for getting things for You need to be open to whatever anyone might be giving away. We picked up a fabulous mummy costume several years ago from a local freecycler. The boy didn't really want to be a mummy, but the costume was cool enough he changed his mind.

Thinking outside the box, you can also hit your local thrift stores to create your own look or see if they have costumes ready made. Thrift store shopping is great for finding just the right vintage look.

Never underestimate what you can do with a hot glue gun and some creative thinking. Various animal ears can be made with cheap dollar store headbands and craft foam. Add in some homemade face paint, hot glue more fun foam or felt to solid colored sweats to create "fur" and you're ready to go!

This year, we're using and re-purposing from our own special trunk of dress up clothes. Our favorite cheerleader is now going to be a zombie cheerleader. She's going to be hanging out with her pet roadkill bunny. Along side of those two: a cow girl (cowboy hat from the dollar store, jeans, and a thrift store pair of cowboy boots). And, the mummy costume is being pulled out for another year (it really is a great costume!)

Unlike the costume trunk from my childhood, the one at our house is open year round. Dress up clothes foster creativity. Around here, the dress up clothes are used so much that I could probably justify paying full retail, but I just can't do it. LOL