Thursday, October 27, 2011

A Money Saving Tip: For Clean Floors

I have made a discovery in the (almost) 3 months that we have been living in our dream home - hardwood floors are very hard to keep clean!

 The entire first floor of our house has beautiful hardwood floors, and we love them!  But, every single piece of dirt, leaf, crumb, and hair can be seen.  I find myself sweeping the floors just about every day, and then I find more dirt!  It mocks me.

My two favorite floor cleaning tools are my Swiffer Sweeper and Swiffer Wet Jet.  Using these tools along with a good old broom and dust pan seems to keep the dirt under control.  I'll show it who's boss around here!

I love my Swiffer products; they are so convenient to use and clean my floors remarkably well!  The only problem I have is the amount of money I spend buying the cleaning cloths and solutions.  After my last trip to the store to pick up the needed supplies (and almost dying from a heart attack at the price I had to pay), I set out to find a more inexpensive way to clean my floors.

Enter the Money Saving Tip of the day!  I have found a way to refill the Wet Jet cleaning solution bottle with my own solution.  By doing this, I keep from having to buying and throwing out the company's 1 time use bottles.  I can also clean my floors with whatever solution I like now.  A bottle of my own brand of cleaning solution costs less than the Wet Jet solution and will last me a lot longer!

Want to know how do to it too?  It was so easy!

1.  Fill a small saucepan with enough water to submerge the cap of the bottle and boil.
2.  Once the water begins to boil, hold bottle in water - with cap submerged - for approximately 60-90 seconds.
3.  Remove from water.  Using a cloth, twist off cap.  (It only took me one try.  That's a big deal, since I always need Lester to open bottles and cans for me) :P
4.  If you look inside the cap, you will see small prongs that are supposed to make the cap permanently irremovable.  (Little do they know) ;)  Using a razor blade, knife, or fingernail clippers, snip the prongs off.  This will allow you to easily remove the cap next time you need to refill.
5.  Fill bottle with your cleaning solution of choice and mop those floors!  My floors are so happy and clean right now.  It makes me happy, too. :)

Here are the original instructions with step by step pictures, as well.

I have also read that you can make your own sweeper cloths.  I haven't tried it yet, but I will let you know if/when I do!  Happy Cleaning!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Eat Your Veggies!

As the thoughtful, responsible wife that I am, I have made it a point over the past month to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into our diet.   For the most part, I cook pretty healthy meals, but there is definitely room for improvement, especially in the veggie department.

As part of my "Extra Vegetable Initiative,"  I have instituted what I call "Meatless Meal" day.  Once a week, I aim to prepare a completely vegetarian dinner.  I'm positive we will never become full vegetarians, we love our meat.  (Lester would probably die first!)  But, I can say that I have succeeded in keeping him full and happy without him realizing that I've incorporated "Meatless Meal" days into the weekly menus.  In fact, he just figured it out last night. :)

One of the benefits of our Extra Vegetable Initiative" is the added vitamins and minerals we take in through consuming more vegetables.  We have also added more nuts and beans (another neglected food group) into our diet, which gives us the needed protein we would otherwise get from meat.  Finally, I have found that we save money on our grocery bill by cutting back on the amount of meat we buy.

I am including the links to three of our favorite "Meatless Meals" for you to try with your family!

Roasted Vegetable Couscous with Chickpeas from Cooking Light
Because couscous tends to be drier, next time I would double the onion topping.  (And, I didn't add the raisins - gross!)
By the way, if you have never roasted vegetables, you should!  The roasting process generally creates a sweeter flavor.  I could eat roasted vegetables like candy!

Stacked Roasted Vegetable Enchiladas from Two Peas and Their Pod
This meal was delicious and so filling!  Lester immediately asked me to make it again soon.
Next time I will probably cut the amount of cheese a little just to make it a bit healthier.

Fall's Favorite Curry from Chocolate Covered Katie
I made this for dinner last night and just ate some leftovers for lunch today.  This is definitely good, warm, comfort food!
I didn't include beans this time, but next time I will probably add a can of chickpeas for protein.
Also, this recipe makes a TON of food!  I would say about 5 large servings.  Use your biggest saute pan!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Organizing My Life: Recipe Edition

     Lester and I were talking about our hobbies the other day.  I have come to the conclusion that my new favorite hobby is definitely cooking and baking.  I love trying out new recipes and  making favorites again.  Mostly, I love seeing the enjoyment others (mostly Lester) get from eating a really great dish.  (O.K. I really enjoy eating, too) ;)

     Southern  Living and Taste of Home magazines are two of my favorite recipe sources.  I also love reading food blogs to get inspiration as well.  Every few months I go through my magazines and clip out recipes that I want to try.  The problem is that I then end up with a large pile of recipe clippings with nowhere to put them.

     My sweet mother made a notebook full of my favorite recipes and gave it to me when I got married.  Super awesome gift, huh?  I love it! :)  She even thought ahead and filled it with empty plastic page protectors so that I could eventually add my own recipes.  That worked great, for a while.  The problem with that system was: 1.  I had WAY too many recipes and 2. Most were odd shapes from being cut and torn out of magazines. 

What to do?
     I came to the conclusion that I needed to either write or type all of these recipes out so that they could uniformly be added to my book.  But, then I had an even better idea!  What if I just created folders and kept all my recipes organized on my computer?  The concept of keeping them stored electronically sounded great, but I was daunted by the amount of work I would have to put in to organize my mountain of recipes.

Enter Kitchenmonki. 
     I did some research and found a few free websites to organize recipes.  There were about 5 websites that seemed like they would work well, but Kitchenmonki looked as if it would serve my purposes the best.

Why do I like Kitchenmonki?
1.  It is electronic and free :)
2.  It does most of the organizing work for me.  I can search by ingredient, meal course, cuisine, or even cook time and find just the recipe I am looking for.
3. Using Kitchenmonki, I can search through my personal recipes or 1,000's of other recipes posted by other users.  (When you add a recipe, it asks if you would like to make it private - only you can see it - or public - any Kitchenmonki users can access.  All of my recipes are private so don't try looking for them) ;)
4.  I can easily create meal plans and grocery lists and print them off.  (Which, i think, is way better than writing it all down on a scrap piece of paper and not remembering where you put it.  Not that I would ever do that!) :)  Apparently, there is a way to pull it up on my phone too.  I just haven't figured that part out yet.

     I have only just started using Kitchenmonki, but I don't have anything to complain about yet.  This is just my free little review for anyone who is interested in electronically organizing your recipes.  Now, I must get back to working on that.  The mountain doesn't seem to be getting any smaller yet...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes

Ok, I needed to post this recipe today - right now - before I forget.  Not that I plan on forgetting.  These pancakes are just too good! We had them this morning for breakfast and Lester has already requested that I make them again tomorrow morning.  And, that's a pretty big deal since Sundays are Starbucks days.  Always have been and always will be.  Except for tomorrow, obviously.  :)

These pancakes are fabulous! (By the way, I've noticed that I use that adjective somewhat frequently.  I hereby make a promise to use a Thesaurus and expand my vocabulary.  Thank you.)
The recipe comes from Katie at Chocolate Covered Katie.  Katie is a vegan, dedicated to creating healthy foods that taste phenomenal.  I just discovered her blog this past week on Pinterest.  (We've talked about this already haven't we?  About how much I am addicted to Pinterest?  And how I spend way too much time on there?  But look at the wonderful things that come from my addiction!  Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes!)

Back on topic now - Katie definitely delivers on her promise.  Of course, this is the first recipe I have tried of hers; but, as good as these pancakes were, I am sure she will not disappoint in her other recipes.  Now, obviously, Lester and I are not vegan, so I do not have a problem with using regular milk instead of non-dairy as the recipe calls for.  But, that is really the only thing I changed about the recipe.  It is delicious in its own right!  I will share with you the recipe as I made it, but visit Katie's website to see the original and check out the rest of her yummy looking food!

Strawberry Shortcake Pancakes
makes 2 serving (3 pancakes each)
  • 1 cup chopped strawberries
  • 2/3 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 T rolled oats
  • 1 1/3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 2 T sugar
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1 T vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup chocolate chips (Not called for in the original recipe...but I can't leave well enough alone.  I love chocolate chips in my pancakes!) :)
Combine dry ingredients.  Add wet and mix until just combined, but do not over mix.
Grease a skillet or griddle and heat to medium-low.
Pour batter onto greased skillet using a 1/4 measuring cup.  (This will make sure the pancakes are all roughly the same size and that you get six.)
At this point I will just say cook until done, flipping once.  And good luck with that.  I can't flip pancakes.  The first batch always falls apart.  Is there some secret I don't know about??

Why don't you try them for breakfast sometime?  How about this morning?  There is still plenty of time left.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The World's Best Cinnamon Rolls!

As I have mentioned before, I do not claim to have created any of the fabulous recipes shared on our blog.  I just want to share with you some of the many very talented cooks in the blogging world and for you to enjoy the fabulous foods they create as much as we do.

Ree Drummond is the brilliant mind behind The World's Best Cinnamon Rolls.  If you haven't visited her blog The Pioneer Woman, you must do it today.  Ree blogs about her life on a ranch in Oklahoma,  her family, cooking, photography, and lots of other things.  I was introduced to her blog just over a year ago and have really enjoyed reading it, but mostly I enjoy trying out the recipes she posts.  I have her recipe for salsa memorized, since I make it just about every week. Remember that post? :)  I just finished prepping her Delicious, Creamy Mashed Potatoes for Dinner tonight.  I tested them, and they definitely live up to their name!

Now...on to the cinnamon rolls.  These cinnamon rolls have become a part of our lives.  I have made them for Sunday School breakfasts a few times, as well as times when we have company and there are never any leftovers!  Everyone loves them!  Warning:  these are not for the faint of heart!  The butter and sugar content is high!  But, that's what makes them good right?   My favorite part about these cinnamon rolls is the frosting.  It's not your typical cream cheese frosting.  It's maple!  Yum!  Ree also makes some fantastic variations to these cinnamon rolls, including her Chocolate Chip Cookie Sweet Rolls.  Um.  Wow.  I love those.

Here is the recipe for her original cinnamon rolls.  Go make them now.  Or maybe on Saturday.  Or whenever you have plenty of time to devote to cinnamon roll making.  It's worth it.

Cinnamon Rolls
adapted from The Pioneer Woman
*The full recipe makes approximately 50-60 cinnamon rolls.
1 quart Milk
1 cup Vegetable Oil
1 cup Sugar
2 packages Active Dry Yeast, 0.25 Ounce Packets
8 cups (Plus 1 Cup Extra, Separated) All-purpose Flour
1 teaspoon (heaping) Baking Powder
1 teaspoon (scant) Baking Soda
1 Tablespoon (heaping) Salt
Plenty Of Melted Butter (I usually start out with less and see how I feel from there)
2 cups Sugar (same as butter)
Generous Sprinkling Of Cinnamon

1 bag Powdered Sugar
2 teaspoons Maple Flavoring
1/2 cup Milk
1/4 cup Melted Butter
1/4 cup Brewed Coffee
1/8 teaspoon Salt
 Mix the milk, vegetable oil and sugar in a pan. Scald the mixture (heat until just before the boiling point). Turn off heat and leave to cool 45 min. - 1 hour. When the mixture is lukewarm to warm, sprinkle in the yeast. Let this sit for a minute. Then add 8 cups of all-purpose flour. Stir mixture together. Cover and let rise for at least an hour.
After rising for at least an hour, add 1 more cup of flour, the baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir mixture together.  (You can keep the dough in the refrigerator for a day or two.  Just punch it down once in a while, if needed, so that it doesn't overflow.)
When ready to prepare rolls: Sprinkle counter or rolling surface generously with flour. Take half the dough and form a rough rectangle. Then roll the dough thin, maintaining a general rectangular shape. Drizzle 1/2 - 1 cup melted butter over the dough. Now sprinkle 1/2 - 1 cup of sugar over the butter followed by a generous sprinkling of cinnamon.
Now, tightly roll the dough towards you and pinch the seam at the end.
Butter or spray your baking dishes.  Start cutting your cinnamon rolls 3/4 - 1 in thick and place in pan.
Repeat this process with the other half of the dough. Let the rolls rise for 20 to 30 minutes, then bake at 375 degrees until light golden brown, about 15 to 18 minutes.

For the frosting, mix together all ingredients listed and stir well until smooth. It should be thick but pourable. Pour over warm rolls and enjoy!

Note:  These cinnamon rolls also freeze very well.  I should know.  We are enjoying them for breakfast this week.  :)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Welcome Fall! I am so glad you are coming back into my life.

Fall is my favorite season.

There are good things about the other seasons.
Spring - Green grass and warm weather
Summer - Lots of delicious, fresh produce and time at the pool and beach
Winter - Christmas.  Enough said. (Winter definitely gets 2nd place, only because of this one holiday)

But there are also bad things about the other seasons.
Spring - Pollen
Summer - Unbearable heat and mosquitoes
Winter - Frigid frigidness

But fall?  Oh fall, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it.

In a nutshell, fall means
  • Apple picking
  • Halloween candy
  • Comfy sweaters
  • Cute coats
  • Pumpkin...well, pumpkin everything!
  • Crunchy Leaves
  • Crisp Air
  • Outside activities
  • Hot apple cider or cocoa
  • Warm soups
  • Thanksgiving memories
What is not to love, people? :)

I have already started celebrating the return of fall.  First of all, Pumpkin Spice Lattes are back at Starbucks.  Can I hear a hallelujah? :)  I have definitely been enjoying a couple of those!  Also, we picked up our first bags of Halloween candy.  I don't know what it is about that giant aisle of purple, orange, and black bags of candy.  It is irresistible.  A couple of weeks ago, Lester and I went to the apple orchard and picked up a half bushel of Honey Crisp and Golden Delicious apples. (There was a big thunderstorm the day we went, so we didn't get to pick them ourselves.  Hopefully we will go again soon!)  Since then, I have made applesauce, individual-sized apple pies, and apple chips. 

Most recently, I baked up some Apple Cinnamon Bread.  I love quick breads - banana, lemon, pumpkin chocolate chip, etc.  They are all so easy to make and so yummy!  This Apple Cinnamon Bread is no exception.  It smelled so good as it was baking and tasted even better.  My favorite thing about this bread is the slices of apples mixed in to the batter.  You can actually see the little pieces of apple when you slice it.  It also has a scrumptious brown sugar-cinnamon crust for all of you who - like me - have a big sweet tooth.  Enjoy it for breakfast or a sweet snack.  Apple Cinnamon Bread is the perfect way to welcome in the best season of the year.

Apple Cinnamon Bread
adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod
makes 1 loaf

1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
2 large eggs
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup applesauce
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups apples, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside.
2. In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. In a separate bowl, add the eggs and beat on medium speed for about 30 seconds. Add in oil, applesauce, and vanilla and mix until smooth. Next, add the sugar and mix until well combined.
4. Slowly add in the flour mixture and mix until flour is barely combined. Fold in the apple chunks. Pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
5. Mix together brown sugar, sugar, and cinnamon. Sprinkle over the batter in the loaf pan. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a thin knife or toothpick comes out clean.
6. Cool bread in pan for 10 minutes. Loosen sides and remove from pan. Cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Note:  Next time I would probably only put half the topping on, but - I don't know - maybe not :)


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Birthday Celebrations

We had a super fun time here last weekend.  This past Thursday was Lester's 25th birthday, and we celebrated in style!

On Thursday night, we had my family and his sister's over for pizza and brownies.  We all had a great time, and Lester loved opening his presents.  He told me that I was the best wife in the world and it was the best birthday he ever had.  Little did he know that there was still more birthday fun planned for Friday night. :)


Lester came home from work Friday night to a house full of guests waiting to celebrate his birthday with him.  We have such wonderful friends, and I am so thankful to everyone who helped to make this a special birthday for Lester.  We ate way too much junk food, stayed up way too late, but also had way too much fun!

Last year, I made a soccer ball cake for Lester's birthday, since he is a big soccer fan.  It was my first attempt at decorating a cake, and I was pretty proud of the results!  I wish I had a picture to show you, but you know me and taking pictures! :P

I decided to try my hand at decorating again this year.  Only this time, I went with a Super Mario theme.  Since actually creating Mario was out of the question, I made a "1 up" mushroom cake and little mushroom cupcakes.  Let me tell you, I bit off more than I could chew with this idea.  The cake almost destroyed me.  But, in the end, the it all looked pretty awesome and tasted great.  Most importantly, Lester had "the best birthday ever." 

That's really all that matters. :)

Here are a few pics of the cake and cupcakes.  I decided to post them here as a memory.  Next year, I'm calling up Publix for a cake. :)

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Chalkboard Project

I would like to start off by saying - I love our house!  We both do!  I don't think a day goes by that one or the both of us doesn't make that statement.

1. We love living closer to church.  We feel that we have more freedom and opportunities to get involved in ministry and grow relationships now.
2.  We love our new town.  Seriously, everything we need is so close!  (Which may turn out to be a bad thing if these late night McDonald's ice cream trips don't stop) :)
3.  We love decorating and making this space our own.
  • So far, the kitchen and living room have been painted and are almost complete.  We ordered a rug for the living room last week and are just waiting on it to come in.  (Hopefully it matches!)
  • Right now, I'm working on the upstairs - turning the bonus room into an office for Lester.  It's his birthday present from me.  He knows I'm working on it, but doesn't know all the surprises I have in store for it, yet.
Decorating is definitely a time consuming part of buying a home.  We're taking it slowly, waiting until we find just the right idea or piece for a space.  But, we are having a lot of fun doing it and know that our house will be just lovely once it is all finished!

Here is our most recent decorating endeavor, and - may I add - we are very proud of this one!

We built a chalkboard!  

The inspiration:
1.  The Brady Bunch - They had a mini chalkboard in their kitchen.  I have always thought that was awesome.
2.  Design shows on TV - I love, love, love watching design shows on TV and have always been fascinated by the creative use of chalkboard paint in rooms.
3.  Pinterest - Yes, I admit it...I have been sucked in to the wonderful world of Pinterest.  It was because of the DIY ideas section that I finally worked up the courage to construct a chalkboard for our kitchen.

How we did it:
Lester helped me out a ton on this project.  Because, let's just face it, I'm really good at coming up with ideas but I need someone to help me accomplish them.  (I don't always think those parts through) Lester comes in very handy in those situations! :)
1.  We bought a super cheesy, cheap-o painting at Old Time Pottery that had a decent frame.
2.  We went to the new homeowner's favorite store - The Home Depot - and purchased a pint of chalkboard paint, a small tester can of white paint, a drawer pull, and some wood screws.
3.  Once home, we ripped the painting out of the frame.  Lester flipped it over and painted the cheap wood backing to create our chalkboard.  (FYI - A little chalkboard paint goes a long, LONG way.  We have plenty left over!)  I painted the frame white.
4.  Once both pieces were dry, we re-attached the chalkboard to the frame, added the drawer pull as a chalk holder, and drilled our chalkboard into the wall.

We're super excited about this project.  As you can see above, we placed it next to the refrigerator and pantry.  It will help when making grocery lists, reminding each other of stuff going on, or just writing notes.
I had to test it out this morning to see how it works.

I think it works just fine. :)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Puffy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies...and, why running has become very important to me.

I have another confession to make.

I love food.  I mean, I REALLY love food.  But, I think you already knew that :)
I also love reading food blogs.  I get so much inspiration to try new cuisines, techniques, etc.  The problem with this love for food combined wonderful inspiration (and a brand new giant kitchen!) results in lots and lots of food being cooked and baked.  Delicious food.  (Sometimes healthy, sometimes not) :)
This is where running comes in.  I run so that I can eat :)  That's pretty much the only reason.  I also love running because it is something Lester and I can do together, but mostly I love it because I can eat something scrumptiously bad for me without feeling guilty. :)

Enter the Puffy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie.

I made these last night at the request of my sweet husband.  Of course, I most willingly submitted.  In no time at all I had these baked up.  Then we consumed them, and they were GOOD.  Really, how can you go wrong with peanut butter and chocolate?  It is the most perfect food combination in the world.

What did I love about these cookies?  What didn't I love about these cookies? They were super soft and chewy - like a chocolate chip cookie - without the sometimes tough, grainy texture (but with all of the flavor!) of a peanut butter cookie. 
I will definitely be making these again and again...and again.

Puffy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes about 18 (large) or 36 (small) cookies

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoons baking soda
8 tablespoons of salted butter, melted and cooled
6 tablespoons of creamy peanut butter, melted and cooled
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup sugar
1 egg + 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Add butter and peanut butter to a microwave safe bowl, and heat in 30 second increments until melted. Let cool completely.

Mix the flour and baking soda in a bowl and set aside.
In another bowl, mix the cooled butter/peanut butter and sugars until they are combined. Add the egg, egg yolk, and vanilla and stir until mixed.
Gradually add flour and mix until a dough forms.  It is a pretty firm dough.  Fold in chocolate chips.
Shape the dough into balls and place on a baking sheet two inches apart.  (If you are feeling really brave - which you are - sprinkle a little sea salt on the cookies before baking.  YUM!!!)
Bake for 10-12 minutes or until the edges are slightly brown. The centers should be soft and puffy.
Cool completely and enjoy!

  • During the process of making the cookies, I realized that I didn't have a full 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips.  But, I did have some peanut butter chips.  So I used 1 cup chocolate chips and 1/2 cup peanut butter chips.  It was a great substitution in my opinion!
  • The dough for these cookies is very firm.  I ended up using my hands to mix the chocolate/peanut butter chips in with the dough - almost as if I was kneading them in.
  • Do not over bake the cookies!  The cookies will not look like they are done when the timer goes off.  Take them out of the oven anyway.  They settle as they cool, and the puffiness is what makes these cookies wonderfully chewy on the outside while still soft and gooey on the inside. :) 

Monday, August 15, 2011

There's No Place Like Home

It's official.  We are homeowners!  We signed the papers on August 4th and were completely moved in to our adorable, little house by Saturday afternoon.  May many blessings be on the heads of my parents, my sister Lori, and my grandma for all the hard work they did in helping us move.

We are beyond thrilled to finally be living in our new home and working to make it just the way we want it!  We give God all the praise and glory for what He is doing in our lives.

I've promised so many people pictures, so I am including a few in this post.  These are just pictures of the downstairs.  Upstairs pictures will be taken and posted later, but we currently have a guest staying with us whom we have given free reign of the entire upstairs for the next week or so. :)

Disclaimer:  The pictures in this post will be horrible because -
a: I am not a photographer.  I don't take pictures of...well...anything.  I'm told that will bother me someday, but right now I don't care. :)
b: I don't even own a camera.  (well, I did....but it died, and I haven't gotten around to replacing it yet)  Yay for iPhone cameras though!

This is our adorable, little house!  
We are currently in the process of taming the jungle that is the front and back yards. 

Silly me opening our front door for the first time.

View from the front door.  
We LOVE the open floor plan.

Disclaimer #2 - Ignore all the unpacking and painting that's still going on.  It's a process. :)

Living room

My favorite, favorite, favorite room in the whole house!

Disclaimer #3 - The wine cooler came with the house.  It will soon be replaced with more shelving/storage.  Thank you. :)

Master Bedroom

Another view of the Master Bedroom

Master Bathroom
Yay for double sinks!!
Disclaimer #4 - Ignore random girl standing in giant bathtub to take a picture.  You do what you have to do to get a good shot apparently :P

Another Master Bath view
The bathroom is long....I couldn't get a good picture of the whole thing.  Sorry.

God is good. All the time.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

I'm Living in a Cardboard Box!

That's how I've felt recently.  The process of moving has turned my very neat, clean, orderly home into a chaotic mess.  Want a glimpse of that mess?  Here it is. 

Multiply that by about 1 billion and that's how many cardboard boxes are in our little apartment.  I have more bruises from accidentally bumping into them than I care to count. 

I am very excited about our move though!  In just a few more days, I can start unpacking and (hopefully) life will return to a state of normalcy.

This past month has been a crazy experience for Lester and I.  We have learned so much!
1.  We have clearly seen God guiding, directing, and providing for us in the process of looking for and buying our first home.
2.  We have discovered that we actually feel like grown-ups now.  Buying a house is a pretty big deal!  We're not just two little kids playing house anymore.  On the serious side of that, we are learning the need for wisdom and discernment in decision making.
3.  We are daily learning new aspects of trust, patience, and contentment.
4.  (On a personal note)  I have learned  am learning to work with "willing hands."  Let me be completely honest with you,  I have failed in this area more than I have triumphed.  Too many times, I have found myself grumbling, complaining, sulking, and growing angry about packing - the work it includes, the mess it makes of my house, the never ending-ness of it all. 

In my Bible study on being a godly woman/wife  I have been focusing quite a bit on the Proverbs 31 woman.  One particular phrase caught my attention the other day as I was reading the passage, and I just had to study it out for myself.

Proverbs 31:13 says, "She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands." 

The last part of the verse, especially the word willing, is what I focused on.  From what I understand, the Hebrew form of the word that willing stems from literally means pleasure.  It also carries the idea of delighting in or taking pleasure in something. 
Some commentaries I read defined her "willing hands" as industriousness.  An industrious person, by definition, is someone who is hardworking and devoted, working tirelessly, energetically, and diligently. 
Matthew Henry shares this view on the Proverbs 31 woman's work in this verse: "She goes about it cheerfully and dexterously, lays not only her hand, but her mind to it, and goes on in it without weariness in well-doing."

I have to say, I am very rebuked when I read of this woman's "willing hands."  Her work is not one of reluctance like mine is so many times.  Her work is something that she takes pleasure in, something that she chooses to devote all of her energy toThe woman who chooses to work with "willing hands" is one who does her husband good (v. 12).  The Christian who chooses to work with "willing hands" is one who demonstrates a fear of the Lord (v. 30).  I must ask myself, am I that woman?  Am I that Christian?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Confessions of a Chips and Salsa Addict

Hi.  My name is Sarah.  I am a chips and salsa addict.
There...I said it. :) 

It is a well known fact that if I get to choose where we are going to eat out, 95% of the time we will be enjoying enchiladas, tacos, or burritos at a Mexican restaurant.  And since I plan the menu around here, you can guarantee that some sort of Mexican dish will make it on the list every week.  (But to be fair...most of the time I scratch that dish out and replace it with something else so that Lester doesn't get Mexican-ed out) :)  He likes Mexican food, but doesn't necessarily LOVE it like I do.

My favorite part of any Mexican restaurant or dish is chips and salsa.  Chips and salsa is the perfect appetizer or snack.  Salty tortilla chips.  Spicy salsa.  I could eat baskets and baskets of it (and, maybe I have before). *blushes*  Once I get started, it is very hard for me to quit snacking on it.  Chips and salsa = happiness.

Lucky for me, Lester loves chips and salsa.  And, I think I've made an addict out of him too. :)

I have a favorite brand for both chips and salsa.  I have always bought the same and never varied from the tried and true...until now.  Lester and I visited my parents a little while ago, and my mom made homemade salsa, which she graciously allowed us to "try."  (You remember how I said its hard for me to stop eating chips and salsa once I start?  We almost completely polished off that bowl of salsa by ourselves)  Oops. :)  I vowed then and there that I would never buy store bought salsa again.  It was so fresh tasting!  So good!  And completely customizable to your own taste!  She shared the recipe with me, which came from the wonderful kitchen of Ree Drummond at The Pioneer Woman.

I just finished making a batch to go with our quesadillas tonight.  Can't wait!  I'm just trying not to think about it so that I don't eat any before Lester gets home. 

Salsa Recipe
  • 1 can (28 Ounce) Whole Tomatoes With Juice
  • 2 cans (10 Ounce) Rotel (diced Tomatoes And Green Chilies)
  • 1/4 cup Chopped Onion
  • 1 clove Garlic, Minced
  • 1 whole Jalapeno, Quartered And Sliced Thin
  • 1/4 teaspoon Sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon Salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon Ground Cumin
  • 1/2 cup Cilantro
  • 1/2 whole Lime Juice
Preparation (Did I mention that this is SO easy to make?)

Throw all ingredients in a food processor or blender and pulse until salsa has reached your desired consistency. 

  • This recipe makes a humongous batch of salsa.  I halved the recipe and came out with 3 cups.  That should last us a few days ;)
  • Be sure to taste the salsa and add/change any seasonings you desire.  I ended up adding some more cilantro and a little more sugar just to cut the acidity.
  • Warning!  Jalapenos are hot.  If you don't like your salsa too spicy, be sure to cut out the seeds and membranes before adding.  Mine is pretty spicy today.  Oh yeah :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Saving by Making: Laundry Detergent!

You have no idea how excited I am about this post!  I have been wanting to tell you about my latest experiment for a long time but had to wait to see if it actually worked first. ;)

As I have mentioned before, I am doing an extended study on what it means to be a godly woman and wife.  I have been tremendously rebuked as well as encouraged by the description of the virtuous woman in Proverbs 31.  I have learned that part of God's role for me as a wife is to be a helper to my husband and a guard over my househould.  That is a huge responsibility.

Proverbs 31:27 says, "She looks well to the ways of her household and does not eat the bread of idleness."
I have begun asking myself everyday if I am pleasing God in the way I am managing my home, because I will be held accountable for it.

Home management obviously encompasses many areas including but not limited to: planning, organizing, preparing, cleaning, and caring - and those few areas are simply umbrella terms for all the responsibilities that God has given me as a homemaker!
In our home, one of my responsibilities is the planning for and purchasing of groceries and items that keep our home running efficiently.  You know, those things you don't think about buying until you've run out?  (ie. Paper towels, toilet paper, napkins, laundry detergent, dish soap, etc)  One way i try to "look well to the ways of [my] household" is by saving money in these purchases.

Recently, I learned that I could make my own laundry detergent to save us money, so I decided to try it!  I love watching the Duggar Family on TLC, which is where I first heard about making my own laundry detergent.  They have a family website that includes a section of some of their favorite recipes.  I went on, found the "recipe" for laundry detergent, and set out to make it myself.  Let me tell you, it was SO easy to make, WORKS, and will definitely save us money (even if it is just in a small way).  Here's how you make it:

Homemade Liquid Laundry Soap

I purchased all the items for under $7 and made 10 gallons of detergent.  That's a great deal!

4 cups hot water
1 Fels-Naptha soap bar 
     Note: I couldn't find this particular brand, but did research and found that you could use any of these other brands: Ivory, Sunlight, Kirk's Hardwater Castile or Zote bars.  Just don't use perfumed soaps.  I used Ivory in my "batch")
1 cups Arm and Hammer Super Washing Soda
     Note: This is NOT the same as arm and hammer baking soda.  You can find super washing soda on the laundry detergent aisle.  It was right next to the Borax when I got it. 
1/2 cup Borax

  • Grate your bar of soap and add it to the 4 cups of hot water.  Stir continually over medium-low heat until dissolved.
  • Fill a 5 gallon bucket half full with hot water.
  • Add the dissolved soap mixture, Super Washing Soda, and Borax.  Mix well until dissolved.
  • Fill the bucket to the top with more hot water and stir to combine.
  • Cover and let sit overnight to thicken
  • Fill an empty, clean laundry dispenser halfway with the laundry detergent.  Fill the remainder with water.
  • Before use, shake well since the laundry mixture will settle and thicken up.
  • For top load washers, use 5/8 cup per load
  • Front load washers, 1/4 cup per load
  • This recipe makes 10 gallons of laundry detergent.
  • If you prefer scented laundry detergent, you can include 10-15 drops of essential oils for every 2 gallons of detergent.  Add it once the soap has cooled.  I didn't try it this time, but I would like to next time.
  • It only took me slightly less than half an hour to make this first batch and most of that time was devoted to grating soap. :) 

Monday, July 4, 2011

Caramel Banana Shortcakes

First of all, I apologize for not having posted in a while.  I have about three posts worth of stuff to tell you, but life has been just a LITTLE bit crazy around here recently. I'll get back on it as soon as I can.  I promise. :)

Secondly, here is why life has been crazy - we bought a house!  It has been quite the whirlwind weekend for us.  We found the house we love, made an offer, and were accepted all within 24 hours.  After months of praying, searching, saving, and studying, we are confident that God has guided us through the process, to this house, at this point.  We are looking forward to seeing how He will use our new house as an instrument for His glory!  We close the end of the month and will be moving in right after that, so - hopefully - in about a month or so, I will be able to post pictures for you to see!

Thirdly, I do have a recipe to share with you today!  A couple weeks ago, while doing my daily blog reading, I ran across this recipe for Caramel Banana Shortcakes by Bridget at Bake at 350.  Being a banana lover and intrigued by the concept of a non-strawberry shortcake recipe, I knew I needed to try it.  My parents came over on Friday night, which gave me the excuse I needed to make it.  I think I speak for all of us, when I say it was GOOD.  We served them up in mini trifle dishes because it is a sweet, sweet dessert.  It was the perfect amount for us to enjoy the deliciousness without feeling like we overindulged.  Maybe you could make it for your July 4th party tonight or another summer get together.  I don't think you'll be disappointed! :)

Caramel Banana Shortcakes
makes 6*

Shortcake Ingredients
  • 2 1/3 c. baking mix (like Bisquick)                 
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup of milk (plus more, if needed)
  • 1/2 cup mashed banana
  • 1 TBSP. butter
  • 16 oz caramel sauce/topping 
  • 2-3 medium bananas, sliced
Brown sugar whipped cream
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
Preheat oven to 425.

Place your mixing bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer.  (This helps the cream whip up faster later)
Mix together the baking mix, cinnamon, milk, mashed bananas, and butter.  I needed to add about another 1 1/2 TBSP of milk before my dough came together.  Dough is very sticky...annoyingly sticky.  Bear with it though, it tastes good. :)
Knead dough about 10 times on a surface covered in baking mix.  Form into a 1/2 in. thick circle and use circle cookie cutters.  *Make as big or as small as you want.  Bridget recommends using a 3 in cutter, and her recipe makes 6 shortcakes.  I made mine a little bit smaller and came out with 8.
Place on a cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes.  Remove and place on wire rack to cool. 

Making the whipped cream
Beat the cream and brown sugar in the chilled bowl on HIGH just until stiff peaks form.  Watch it or you may end up with brown sugar butter.  My mom's expertise came in very handy at this point, as I had never made whipped cream before.  Thanks, mom! :)

When ready to serve
Heat caramel sauce on stove and slice bananas.
Slice shortcakes in half.  Layer the bottom half with sliced bananas and caramel sauce, place the other half of the shortcake on top.  Finish with whipped cream and more caramel sauce.  Serve and enjoy!

Monday, June 27, 2011

Monday Morning Musings

I have made two important discoveries recently.

1. Manicures don't last very long when you're a housewife.  Washing dishes does a number on your hands.
I have to take a few sentences to brag on my husband right now though. ;)  He took me to the nail salon on Saturday to get a mani/pedi.  While I was relaxing in that wonderful massage chair and getting pampered, he did all the grocery shopping and made the baked beans we were taking to my parents house that night for dinner.  What a wonderful man! :) I am so blessed! :)
Oh, other discovery...

2. Slow cookers are awesome.
Seriously.  Throw in some ingredients in the morning, forget about it, and at dinner time you have a delicious meal?  I'm sold.  Up until recently, I have had a love-hate relationship with my slow cooker.  I own one but have only pulled it out maybe once or twice since we've been married.  See, my slow cooker is slightly temperamental.  It tends to be hotter and cook faster than it should.  Because of that, I was never able to use it when I was at school all day; there would be nothing edible to eat when we came home.  But, now that I'm home this summer, I can keep an eye on the monster and rescue dinner if necessary. :)
I've made it a goal of mine to build up my slow cooker recipe file.  Once a week, I am going to try new recipes to add, as well as share them with you. (If they are good) :)  How awesome to have those 30 - 45 minutes extra to work on making your house a home, while still having something delicious to eat at the end of a busy day?  I think these will come in handy.

Slow Cooker Recipe #1
Fiesta Chicken and Rice

Note: Before I get started on the recipe, will you do me a favor?  Check out Christy Jordan's website at  I love reading her posts about her home and family life, as well as trying out her delicious meals.  She's a true southern girl!    Now...let me share her recipe.  It was so easy (almost too easy for the amount of flavor you get), and delicious!  It was a winner at our house!

  • Chicken Breasts (however many you want to use - It doesn't matter since the chicken will be shredded at the end)
  • 1 can cream of chicken soup
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can corn, drained
  • 1 cup salsa
  • 2 tablespoons of taco seasoning
  • Cooked Rice

Place chicken breasts in the bottom of your slow cooker.  Pour in your cream of chicken soup, black beans, drained corn, salsa, and taco seasoning.  Stir to combine.  Cover with lid and cook on low for 7-8 hours or on high for 3-4 hours.  The chicken will break up into shreds as it cooks.  Stir in cooked rice and serve!

My prep changes.  
I used split bone in chicken breasts because they were on sale and that's what I had.  Because of this, at the 3 hour mark I took the chicken out, deboned, and shredded it myself, then added it back to the dish.  
Also,I served the rice separately instead of adding it to the chicken mixture.  That way Lester could eat as much rice as he wanted :)
Lester loved it with the rice, but I thought there was something funny about the Mexican flavors mixed with rice.  Next time, I may serve it with tortillas or tortilla chips instead.  I'll have to think about it :)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Growing. Changing. Becoming.

Earlier this summer, Lester and I read through Titus in our devotions together.  On May 17th, we focused on Titus 2.  Verses 4-5 specifically caught my attention that night.

And so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.

First of all, I thanked the Lord for the godly influence of my mother and grandmothers as well as my mother in law.  By their example, they are teaching me how to develop the attitudes and attributes found in these verses.

Secondly, I realized my desperate need for growth in these areas.  I don't know about you, but there have been times in my life when I have reached a point of complacency in my spiritual walk - not really seeing any areas that need to change and definitely not looking for them.  Praise the Lord, God has used my relationship with my husband to daily, many times multiple times a day, show me areas in which I can love Him more and then love Lester more.

The next morning, I made it my goal for this summer to focus on passages addressed to women, specifically wives, in my own personal Bible study.  I want to learn all that I can about what the life of a godly wife looks like and, by the grace and strength of God, grow to become that wife to Lester.  Along with my Bible study, I have been re-reading the book A Woman After God's Own Heart by Elizabeth George.  It has been a great tool in assisting me to focus on practical applications of some of the passages I have been studying.

God has been teaching, growing, and stretching me in a variety of ways already this summer.  Granted, I most definitely still have my besetting sins, but God is working in those areas too. And, I still have so much to learn! Through God's grace and strength, I am seeing victory and experiencing a closer relationship with Him, which is also changing my relationship with my husband.  I am so thankful for the work of the Holy Spirit in my life through my study of the Scriptures!

Lord, I give up all my own plans and purposes, all my own desires and hopes, and accept Thy will for my life.  I give myself, my time, my all, utterly to Thee to be Thine forever.  Fill me and seal me with Thy Holy Spirit.  Use me as Thou wilt, send me where Thou wilt, work out Thy whole will in my life at any cost, now and forever. - Betty Stam

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What is worth walking a mile to the grocery store for?

Oatmeal Brownie Milky Way Bars.
Ignore the broccoli.  I was making dinner when we decided to try these :)
Oh, yes.  Let me tell you how these came to be.

Yesterday was Tuesday.  Tuesday is ironing day for me.  I hate (nay -  loathe, abominate, abhor) ironing.  I don't like it.  But, I do it anyway.  Why?  Because I love my husband.  If he doesn't have to iron his clothes, he has one less thing to worry about in the morning and can sleep in a little extra.
I like to help him out.  He deserves that little bit of extra sleep.  He's awesome. :)

I made a deal with myself yesterday.  If I got all my ironing done in the morning, then I would reward myself by going to the pool for a couple hours in the afternoon.  Good motivation, huh?  I turned on my Disney music and spent the next couple hours ironing to the tune of Tarzan, Mulan, etc.  (It really does help pass the time) :)  I got all my ironing done, tidied up the house, and headed to the pool.  The pool that was closed for maintenance when I got there.  Bummer.

So, instead of spending a couple hours at the pool, I decided to do my grocery shopping.  I didn't need very many items this week.  A quick grocery trip means going one mile down the road.  Did I mention that we are a one car family?  For me, that means walking.  A mile isn't a long distance to walk, though.  No big deal, right?  It wasn't on the way there, but it most definitely was on the way back.  85 degree weather.  Carrying grocery bags.  That was a very long walk.

While I was at the grocery store I purchased a Milky Way candy bar and a bag of caramels, which were the only ingredients I was missing to make Oatmeal Brownie Milky Way Bars.  Then I made them, because Lester and I deserved some chocolate deliciousness after hard days at work. :)

May I just say, these bars are FABULOUS!  Chocolate-y. Chewy. Caramel-y.  I keep thinking about them, wanting to eat "just one more."
Go. Walk to the store and grab the ingredients you need.  It's totally worth it :)

Oatmeal Brownie Milky Way Bars


2 cups Old Fashioned Oats
2 cups Flour
1 cup packed Light Brown Sugar
2 1/2 sticks room temp. Butter
3/4 tsp Baking Soda
1 tsp Salt (I used Kosher)
2 cups boxed Brownie Mix
1/3 cup Canola Oil
1 egg
1 bag (11 oz.) Kraft Caramel Bits
1/2 cup Heavy Cream
2 Milky Way Bars

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
In a medium sauce pan, place two Milky Way bars, entire bag of caramels, and half cup of heavy cream.  Let simmer over medium to medium low heat until fully melted.  Remove from heat and let cool approximately ten minutes.
In a large bowl combine oats, flour, baking soda, salt, brown sugar, and butter.  Either use a fork to incorporate or just use hands to combine.  Its ok if there are some chunks of butter, you are looking for no chunk bigger then a pea though.
Add in two cups of brownie mix, egg, and oil.  Stir until just combined.
Using a prepared 9x13 baking dish, spread half of the oat mixture into dish and press firmly to flatten.
Pour the melted Milky Way over the oat mixture.  Make sure to get all the way to the corners.
Top with remaining oat mixture.
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Mornings In Our Home

Mornings.  We don't really like mornings around here. 
Mornings = obnoxious alarm clocks
Mornings = the end of sleep
Mornings = exercise (which we actually really like.  We just don't like waking up for it) :)

Lester and I respond to mornings differently.  99.9% of the time I am the first one up.  Waking Lester up in the morning is like trying to raise the dead.  He sleeps hard; but once he is finally up, he is ready to go.  Me?  I may wake up first, but it still takes me an hour or so to comprehend and start interacting with the world around me.

This is where breakfast comes in.  I need breakfast.  It helps me to wake up and gives me the energy I need to start my day.  Plus, I almost always wake up hungry.  Lester hardly ever eats breakfast.  He can easily go until lunch without eating anything.  Combine Lester's lack of need for breakfast with my zombie morning state of mind and breakfasts around here aren't a big deal.  They need to be fast and simple - something that we (or, I) can eat on the go, since we are usually rushing out the door from waking up too late ;) 

Bagels are our favorite breakfast food.  They come in a variety of flavors and are a quick way for us to get in the most important meal of the day.  Recently, I've started making my own bagels.  It is cheaper for us than buying from bagel shops or grocery stores, and they taste much fresher.  Making your own bagels is not a hard process.  It does take a little bit of rising time, but you can get other responsibilities done while you wait.  Yesterday, I worked on loads and loads of laundry while I waited. :)  Let me share with you how it's done!

Bagel Recipe

2/3 cup warm water
1 1/2 tsp sugar                                
1 1/2 tsp yeast
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp vegetable oil
3/4 tsp salt

In the bottom of your mixer bowl, combine the water, sugar, and yeast and let the yeast develop for about 5 minutes. Add in flour, vegetable oil, and salt and mix with a dough hook (or by hand) until the dough is elastic and tough. You may need to add in a bit of extra water (I added slightly less than 1/3 cup), but do it little by little. Let the dough sit and rise in a warm place for 30-45 minutes.

Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead. Cut into 6 equal pieces. Roll each individual piece into a “snake” long enough to wrap around your palm. Dip each end of the dough in water and press together in your palm, forming a circle. Place the formed bagels on a floured board and allow to rise another 30 minutes. 

Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a heavy-bottomed pot. When the water is gently boiling, place 2-3 bagels into the water for 1 minute and then flip to boil on the other side for another minute. Remove the bagels, place them on paper towels to take off excess moisture, then place on a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining bagels. Bake in the oven on 425ºF for 18 minutes, turning them over after 10 minutes. Enjoy! 

Variation: Brush hot bagels with melted butter and coat in cinnamon sugar mixture to create a crunchy cinnamon crust.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookie Story

I made cookies.
I don't get to make desserts very often because:
1) there are only two of us, and it would take us about 5,000 years to finish off a cake or pie or something by ourselves. 
2) Lester doesn't usually eat desserts anyway. 

So, we just don't eat dessert here.  There are a few exceptions though.  I LOVE ice cream.  Love. Love. Love it.  And, I have a weakness for McDonald's hot fudge sundaes and Chick-fil-a's milkshakes.  Sometimes we'll grab one if we're out, or Lester will surprise me and bring one home after working late.  Lester's weaknesses are chocolate chip cookies and brownies.  When I do make chocolate chip cookies, I only bake what we will eat that night and freeze the leftover dough for the next time.  They last a lot longer that way. ;)

I will take any opportunity I can to make dessert though.  I have a really big sweet tooth and would eat dessert every night if I could.  In that sense, I am very thankful for Lester not wanting dessert too often.  He saves me all those extra calories :)

We're getting together with friends tonight which gave me an excuse to try a new dessert.  I found a cookie recipe that sounded delicious, so I thought I'd give it a try.  They were really easy to make, and smelled good when I took them out of the oven.  I couldn't wait to try one to see how they turned out!  I ate one and wasn't sure how I felt, so I ate another. 

I've come to the conclusion that I don't like them.  They were Mexican Hot Chocolate Cookies.  I love Hot Chocolate.  I love Mexican Hot Chocolate.  I love cookies.  These should have been good, but they weren't.  To be honest, they were slightly dry and mostly tasteless.  How a chocolate cookie can be tasteless I really don't know, but these were.  I won't be posting the recipe here.  Sorry :(

Why am I going on about cookies that didn't turn out?  Why get you all excited about a new cookie recipe only to be told that you won't be getting one?

Because, that's life.  At least for me it is.  I'm sure if I was Paula Deen or Ina Garten this wouldn't be a problem, but I'm not.  I'm Sarah and sometimes I make cookies that just don't taste good.  It's all part of my adventures in becoming domestic. :)

Friday, May 20, 2011

What can you make with a gallon of strawberries?

I am currently enjoying a scrumptious slice of strawberry bread with my coffee.  Like my attempt at alliteration? :)  I also have three containers of glorious strawberry freezer jam.  For date night I'm planning some strawberries with chocolate fondue, and there are plans for strawberry smoothies in the near future.  Sense a theme here?

I went strawberry picking yesterday with one of my good friends.  It was a beautiful day!  Even though the end of strawberry season is here, there were still quite a few super red, super juicy strawberries left.  We both left with a gallon of strawberries each, which didn't seem like a lot until I got home and started washing, hulling, slicing, cooking, and baking.  One gallon of strawberries is a lot!  I'm currently researching strawberry recipe ideas to use them up.  I would welcome any ideas - and yes, strawberry shortcakes are already on the agenda.  I'm also thinking of trying my hand at making strawberry syrup to go with pancakes or waffles.  All you cooks out there please send your favorite strawberry recipes my way.  I would love to try them!

For the time being, I would love to share the strawberry bread recipe and the freezer jam recipe with you.
I know freezer jam isn't anything spectacular.  Someday I would like to try my hand at canning jam, but the process is somewhat intimidating.  Lester LOVES jam on his biscuits and toast though, so I thought this would be a good place to start.  (by the way...It's really simple)

Strawberry Freezer Jam
taken from Betty Crocker
  1 quart (4 cups) of strawberries, cut in half
  4 cups of sugar
  3/4 cup of water
  1 package (1 3/4 oz) powdered fruit pectin
Step 1 - Mash strawberries with potato masher or in food processor until slightly chunky (not pureed) to make 2 cups crushed strawberries. Mix strawberries and sugar in large bowl. Let stand at room temperature 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Step 2 - Mix water and pectin in 1-quart saucepan. Heat to boiling, stirring constantly. Boil and stir 1 minute. Pour hot pectin mixture over strawberry mixture; stir constantly 3 minutes.
Step 3 - Immediately spoon mixture into freezer containers, leaving 1/2-inch headspace. Wipe rims of containers; seal. Let stand at room temperature about 24 hours or until set.  Store in freezer.  Thaw frozen jam and stir before serving.

Come back tomorrow for the Strawberry Bread recipe! I need to take a decent picture of it, if we don't eat it all first. ;)   

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mushrooms. To. Die. For.

Lester and I were finally able to celebrate our anniversary on Friday night.  I surprised him by making a special dinner.  We had steak, green beans, mushrooms, and rosemary rolls.  Rosemary rolls are Lester's favorite.  The recipe can be found here.  They are so yummy and smell so delicious!  Unfortunately, they didn't turn out so well this time. :(  I usually make my own dough instead of buying frozen; I like the flavor and texture of homemade better.  I've never had a problem before, but I think I have narrowed down the problem on this occasion.
1. I tried a new dough recipe that I have never used before (probably my first mistake)
2. I have learned that sometimes when the weather is off, my dough is off.  I'm not sure why.  I have noticed that when it is super rainy or humid or damp my dough does not rise like it is supposed to.  Does anybody else have that problem?  Is it normal?
Don't let that keep you from making them though.  I've made these rolls many times and have never had a problem.  These rolls are very, very good!

But, the rolls are not what I wanted to post about today.  I want to tell you about the mushrooms.  Oh. my. goodness.  The mushrooms we had with our steak dinner were absolutely to die for.  I'm slightly wishy-washy when it comes to eating mushrooms.  I really like them on salads, in casseroles, etc.  I even will order them as side dishes at restaurants.  I love the flavor of mushrooms.  The problem is that after I have eaten half of them, the texture gets to me and I remember that mushrooms are fungus and I can't eat any more.
These mushrooms have changed my thoughts forever.  They had such a rich flavor and texture.  (Bonus - the house smelled AMAZING as they were simmering)  After the first bite, Lester told me that I had to share them on my blog.  So here it goes :)

Mushrooms to Die For
adapted from The Pioneer Woman's Burgundy Mushrooms 
  • 1 pound White Button Mushrooms
  • 1/2 stick Butter
  • slightly less that 1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1cup of grape juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon Freshly Ground Black Pepper
  • 1/4 cup Boiling Water
  • 1/4 cup Chicken Broth
  • 2 or 3 cloves Garlic, Peeled
  • 1/2 teaspoons Salt
  • Thoroughly wash the mushrooms and throw them into a large stockpot. Add all the remaining ingredients except the salt. Stir to combine.
    Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for six hours.
    Remove the lid, then continue cooking, uncovered, for three hours.
    Add salt to taste at the end if desired. The mushrooms will be very dark in color. Simmer until needed.
NOTE:  The original recipe calls for Burgundy Wine.  I had heard that grape juice makes a great substitute for red wines in cooking, so I decided to try it.  (Slightly risky for an anniversary dinner)  But, the grape juice really gave the mushrooms a tremendous flavor.  They really didn't smell or taste like grape juice at all!
Also, I kept my mushrooms covered the majority of the time.  I took the lid off for an hour and when I came back to check on them almost all of the liquid had been cooked out and I had to add more chicken broth.  I covered it back up for the last two hours, and they turned out beautifully.  

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Happy New Year!

I know what you're thinking and I also know that today is May 10th, not January 1st.  But, what you may or may not know is that we just celebrated our first wedding anniversary! :)  I also graduated from Bob Jones University with a Master of Science Degree in Biblical Counseling.  Throw Mother's Day in the mix, and we had an incredibly busy weekend!  Now that life is somewhat back to normal, I have had the opportunity to look back on the past year and recount God's many, many blessings to us.

First of all, I am so thankful for the husband God has given to me.  Lester is wonderful :)  I won't get all mushy on you, so you can keep reading.  In all seriousness, I am thankful for his Godly walk and his desire that our relationship together is one that grows in Christ-likeness and glorifies God.  Every day he demonstrates a hardworking attitude, a servant spirit, kind speech, and a joyful heart.  These are all areas I definitely need work in, so I am very thankful that God put Lester in my life to push me toward growth in these areas.

I am also thankful for the opportunity I had to attend graduate school.  The Bible and Counseling classes that I had to take for my degree were excellent.  I had the privilege of sitting under wonderful professors with vast knowledge of their field.  The best part, though, was sitting under daily teaching of the Scriptures.  I have grown so much in my knowledge of God, of His Word, and of myself and my desperate need for Him.  I am so thankful for all that the Lord has been teaching me.  Though constantly and increasingly aware of my sinfulness, I am thankful for the hope I have in Christ - the promise that He is sanctifying me, and the knowledge that someday I will be glorified and spend eternity with Him.

There are so many other things I could write about.  Suffice it to say, my own personal "thank you" list of blessings is getting incredibly long.  God is so good - all the time!  As wonderful as it has been to look back, I am excited that I get to look forward to a new year.  God is continuing to work in our hearts and lives.  We are thrilled to see what He is doing and will do.  Our prayer is that we will keep Christ at the center of our lives, both individually and as a couple, that we may glorify Him in all that we say and do.         

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Chicken Pot Pie made with cream cheese? Yes, please.

There are a few things you should know about me before I post this first recipe.
1. I am not a master chef.  I'm a newlywed, remember?  I'm still getting used to cooking. 
2. Recipes are my best friend.  I never deviate from them. ever.  I also never attempt to make anything without them.  Just ask Lester about my attempt at creating a new buffalo chicken pizza.  Epic fail.

For these reasons, you will probably never see any recipes that I have created myself.  All recipes will come from cookbooks, food blogs, or my dear mother.  Credit will be given where credit is due so that you know who to thank. :)

Now that that is out of the way, let's get down to business...
Last night Lester and I came home from work and were both exhausted.  As in, we both sat down on the couch and neither of us wanted to get up.  (Which was my fault, I wanted to watch the Royal Wedding, and being the dear man he is, Lester got up, made a pot of coffee, and watched it with me) :) 
I was about two seconds away from asking Lester if we could just order pizza for dinner.  Instead, I took a deep breath, got up from the couch and went into the kitchen to make Chicken Pot Pie with Cream Cheese and Chive Biscuits.  Am I so glad I did!  This meal was phenomenal!  It was so warm and homey!  A perfect dish to end a long day with. And, we have leftovers!

The recipe comes from Joy the Baker.  I love Joy.  She makes delicious, delicious food.  I've tried a few of her recipes with great success, so I definitely recommend you look through her recipes and try one yourself!
But, try this one first!  It's scrumptious!
The biscuits were the most intimidating part for me, but that is because the last time I tried homemade biscuits they turned out flat and hockey-puck like.  I'm sure you could always substitute with canned biscuits to save time and frustration.  But, mine turned out beautifully, so I know yours will too!

The only thing I changed about this recipe was that I left out the chives in the biscuits.  And, that's simply because I forgot to buy them at the store. I also substituted the zucchini for celery because we have an abundance in our fridge. :)
Oh, and I halved the recipe, because there are only two of us :)  The full recipe is included here, though.

Chicken Pot Pie with Cream Cheese and Chive Biscuits

For the Biscuits:

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 to 1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper (depending on how spicy you like your biscuits)
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup (2 ounces) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
4 ounces (half of a brick) cream cheese, cold
3/4 cup buttermilk, cold

Start by making the biscuits.  In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, sugar, black pepper, and chopped chives.
Add butter and cream cheese to the dry ingredients.  Use your fingers to quickly incorporate the fat into the flour.  Break up the butter and cream cheese with your fingers until some of the fat is the size of oat flakes and some of the fat is the size of small pebbles.
Make a small well in the center of the fat and flour mixture.  Add the buttermilk.  Using a fork, combine the wet and dry ingredients.  Try to moisten all of the flour bits with the liquid.  Dump the shaggy biscuit dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Knead together until dough forms a disk about 1 1/2 inches thick.
Use a round, 1 1/2-inch biscuit cutter to cut biscuits.  Gather the dough scraps, knead for a few turns, and cut out more biscuits until no dough remains.  Place biscuits on a small cookie sheet and place in the fridge until ready to bake.
Next, make the filling.  Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

For the Filling:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 cups whole milk
4 ounces (half of a brick) cream cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/8 teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
3 cups shredded chicken meat
2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 small garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 cup thinly diced carrots
1 cup diced zucchini (optional)
1 1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed

Dice onion, garlic, carrots, zucchini, and thaw the frozen peas.  Set aside.
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt butter.  Whisk in the flour.  Mixture will be very thick.  Heat for 1 minute.  Turn flame to low and add the chicken stock.  Whisk until no flour bits remain.  Whisk in the milk and add the cream cheese.  Heat over medium low heat, stirring often, untilcream cheese has melted and the mixture is the consistency of warm, thick pudding.  Add chicken, lemon, and nutmeg.  Stir.  Add salt and pepper to taste.   Remove mixture from heat and set aside.
In a medium skillet over medium heat, melt butter (or olive oil, if using).  Add onions and saute until translucent, about 3 minutes.  Add minced garlic and saute for one minute more.  Add carrots, zucchini, and peas.  Cook for  about 3 minutes.  The vegetables will not be entirely cooked through.  That’s ok!  Remove from heat and add vegetable mixture to the creamy chicken mixture.  Stir to combine.
Spoon filling into a 9×13-inch pan.  Remove the biscuits from the fridge and place them on top of the filling.  Brush the tops of the biscuits with heavy cream, buttermilk, or egg wash.
Bake for 20-23 minutes, or until biscuits are puffed and golden, and the sides of the pot pie are bubbling.  Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before serving.