Tuesday, November 29, 2011


My husband's all time favorite soup in the world is the chicken enchilada soup from Chili's.  Not only is it a financial downfall to go to Chili's twice a week so that he can enjoy this soup, it's also extremely difficult with Brooklyn, whose idea of a perfect mealtime is to scream as loud as she can while chucking food in random directions and growling like a wild dog when she doesn't get a drink in time.
Therefore, I started exploring the internet, trying to find a good copycat recipe that would satisfy Chad.  After trying probably 6 or 7 different recipes with no perfect results, I decided to start reinventing some of those recipes until I came up with one that worked for us.  You can find the closest cousin of my final result here, which is where my search ended with my last attempt, but my recipe really varies a lot from it as well.  But, for the sake of citing my research, there it is anyway.


1 cup chicken stock
3/4 cup butter
1 diced yellow onion
1 3/4 tsp ground cumin
2 1/4 tsp chili powder
2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp red pepper
1 3/4 c masa harina
4 quarts water
1 1/2 c crushed tomatoes
1/2 pound cubed Velveeta
4 ounces shredded cheddar
2 lbs cubed cooked chicken breasts
Toppings (sour cream, pico, chives, tortilla strips, etc.)

Melt butter in a large pot.  Add onions, saute til translucent.  Add chicken stock and spices, mix until stock is melted down. 
In a large bowl, whisk masa harina with 1 quart warm water until no lumps remain. Add to pot, whisking constantly til well combined.  Stir continually over medium heat for 2 minutes or so and add tomatoes. Add remaining water to pot and mix well.  Let simmer ten minutes or so, stirring occasionally, then add cheese. Stir until all cheese is melted and combined.  Add chicken, cook another 5 minutes, stirring continually. Serve with a little shredded cheese on top, along with some tortilla strips and pico.  Chad loves it with sour cream.

It's not an exact match but I actually think it's better than the original. And, it's as close as you'll get without having the recipe from the restaurant itself.  Delicioso!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Let's all welcome Steve to the family...

Tonight we bought our Elf on the Shelf.  After reading the story and getting super excited about the fact that an ELF was going to be sharing our home until Christmas, Christian started dreaming up names.  I tried to help him along with some creative choices, like Nimble or Drizzbee... something with some inspiration behind it.

"I want to name him Steve."

Not Googly Boogly Tra La La?  Or Superhero Stan?
Not Grizzlebump or Flaggard?

"I want to name him Steve."

Ok.  Steve it is.

So welcome, Steve, to our humble abode. 

We sent him packing for his first trip to the North Pole with a hot cup of coffee (because it was an overnight trip and we didn't want him to tire out on the way) and a lengthy spiel for Santa from Christian.

Apparently, when he got back, he noticed that our tree had no star as of yet (I'm working on it. Don't judge me.)

He sits perched on a tree branch, with a note:

Thanks 4 the coffee.
It was just the lift I needed to get to the North Pole.
Santa says "hello."
I noticed your tree had no star.
Since you're a star, I put you there.
Steve the Elf

Hopefully Steve settles in well.  I know we're all excited to have him, and can't wait to see what comes next!  I would also like to report that Christian went to bed tonight, knowing Steve was watching, better than he has in at least six months.  Perhaps having a snitch around is a good thing... can't wait until Brooklyn learns to talk.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A little burnt out on pumpkin pie...

We already had one massive Thanksgiving meal, and tomorrow my dad is coming up from the city for our second go-round.  The problem is, I've already had my fill of pumpkin pie.  That, and I don't' have any evaporated milk and I really don't feel like changing out of my pajamas and house shoes to go get some. Just being honest...

Instead, I consulted my pantry to see what I did have, and decided to make this:

Pumpkin cranberry bundt cake with candied walnuts and caramel drizzle.  It was a lot more complicated than pumpkin pie but the rewards are neverending.  My dad will love me.


Pumpkin Cranberry Bundt Cake (adapted from here)

Note-- this can also be made as muffins or in a loaf pan as a quickbread.  It's amazing either way.


3 cups flour
5 1/4 tsp pumpkin pie spice
1/4 tsp ground clove
2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups granulated sugar
1 cup pumpkin puree
4 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup or more dried cranberries

1/2 tsp sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350.  In a small bowl. mix together the 1/2 tsp sugar and cinnamon.  Grease a bundt pan coat with sugar/cinnamon mixture.
Mix flour, spices, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl.  In a separate bowl, combine sugar, pumpkin, eggs, oil, and orange juice.  Mix into wet mixture just until blended, then stir in cranberries.  Pour into bundt and bake for 1 hour or until knife inserted in the center of one side comes out clean.  Cool 1 hour in refrigerator before turning out.

Caramel Drizzle (adapted from here)


1 cup butter
2 1/3 cups brown sugar
Dash of salt
1 cup white corn syrup
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla

Melt butter over medium heat.  Add brown sugar and salt, mix until well combined.  Add corn syrup and sweetened condensed milk and boil until just past the soft ball stage, about 8-10 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  This makes more than enough for a drizzle so feel free to remove about a cup and a half into a glass bowl for drizzling and then continue to cook to hard ball stage and pour out onto parchment lined baking sheet to cut into caramels later. Or, as I did, dip an apple into it and let that harden as well.  We make good use of our caramel around here.

Candied walnuts (adapted from here)

1 pound walnut halves
1 cup white sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/4 tsp salt
6 Tbs milk
1 tsp vanilla extract

Roast walnuts 8-10 minutes in 350 degree oven.  Remove to cool. Combine sugar, salt, cinnamon, clove, and milk in a saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, to boil until soft ball stage, about 8 minutes.  Remove from heat and stir in vanilla.  Stir in walnuts until well coated and pour out immediately onto parchment covered baking sheet and separate with a fork quickly.  These set fast.  Great for holiday gift giving on their own, as well.

To assemble, just slice a piece of cake, toss a few candied walnuts on top, and drizzle with warm caramel.  Feel free to heat the caramel up in the microwave for a few seconds to soften up if it sets too quickly.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Salt Dough Traditions

Now that Thanksgiving is over (almost... we still have family coming on Sunday) it's time to get into the Vince Guaraldi spirit... that is, Christmas time is here!

I spend all year just waiting patiently for the holiday season to start.  It's so warm and cozy to be in the Christmas season... hot cocoa, watching snow fall, warm pj's and fuzzy slippers, family, traditions, food, and sparkly things.

I try to combine as much of the above as possible for the optimal holiday experience, namely traditions.  One of ours is the making of salt dough ornaments for our tree every year.  We have such a fun time as a family painting and decorating our ornaments, and they're such a fun little gift to give as an accessory on gift wrap or part of a basket for a neighbor.


1/2 cup table salt
1 cup flour
1/2 cup lukewarm water

Mix the salt and water together.  Slowly stir the salt water mixture into the flour with a fork until a dough forms.  Knead for about a minute and a half.  This makes approximately 20-24 ornaments.  After your ornaments are formed, use a straw to put a hole for the ribbon or hanger and lay them all out on cookie sheets.  Dry in the oven for two hours on 200 degrees Fahrenheit and after cooled, they're ready for decorating!

I like using acrylic paints and glitter but really, you can do almost anything with these.  They're a great kids craft and we enjoy it every year.  Another fun trick is to mix a little ginger and cinnamon into the dough for gingerbread ornaments that smell like Christmas for years to come.

This is one of my favorite family traditions because every year, I can look at our tree and see the love we've shared years past as my children grow.  Our tree becomes a custom memory that can't be replicated anywhere else... priceless.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Eggnog Cookies, Eggnog Icing... win, win.

Yesterday, my family braved the supermarket for the Thanksgiving shopping rush.  As I rushed around, elbows out, pawing my way through shoppers for the groceries necessary for a successful Thanksgiving spread, my head was filled with lists of ingredients... sage, heavy cream, eggs, chives, potatoes... eggnog.  I know eggnog is typically a Christmas treat, but an almost pregnancy-strong craving for eggnog overwhelmed me so I decided to find a way to incorporate eggnog into our feast, even if I was the only one that indulged.

After browsing for some eggnog-inspired baking ideas, I came across this recipe for eggnog cookies and icing from The Family Kitchen.  I decided that with a few tweaks on the original, this was a winner.


2 sticks butter
1 cup sugar
1 egg, room temp
1 c eggnog
3 c flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp nutmeg

Eggnog icing:

2 c confectioner's sugar
5 Tbs (give or take a bit) eggnog
1/2 tsp nutmeg

Beat butter and sugar til fluffy with an electric mixer.  Add egg, continue beating, add eggnog and mix til well incorporated.
In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, nutmeg, and baking soda.  Carefully fold into wet ingredients just until combined.  Cover, and chill for two hours.

Preheat oven to 350 and drop dough by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheet. Bake 10-12 minutes or until edges are just browned.  Let cool on pan 5 minutes before removing to rack.  Make glaze by mixing the icing ingredients together til well blended and frost cookies when cooled.

Enjoy these with a hot cup of cider on a cold evening for a pre-Christmas treat that's sure to warm you up!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Back to the Basics

Lately I've been trying to think of all the gooey deliciousness that comes with holiday baking, and testing out new recipes for things I haven't tried before, but nothing was hitting the spot.  I've been in the mood for something gooey, chocolatey, and simple to make with everything I already had in my pantry.  It never struck me that I could go back to the basics and make something perfect that is as timeless as it is simple.

These no bake cookies are seriously mess-up proof, and everyone loves them.  Ever since I was a kid I have loved the gooey goodness of a chewy no-bake cookie.  And somehow, every childhood class party or holiday office gathering has had someone bring in a batch of them.  They're always there, in the background, making their appearance at just the right time.

I haven't made them in years, so I thought it was about time to introduce my kids to them.

3 c quick cook oats
1 3/4 c white sugar
1/2 c milk
1/2 c butter
4 Tbs cocoa powder, unsweetened
1/2 c peanut butter
1 tsp vanilla extract

Combine sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa in a medium saucepan and cook, stirring constantly, to a full rolling boil. Cook for 90 seconds at the full boil.  Less and your cookies won't set up, and more means they'll be a crumbly mess.  Turn off the heat and add in the peanut butter, stirring until melted and thoroughly combined.  Stir in vanilla and oats til fully encorporated and spoon onto wax paper in desired cookie size and shape.  I recommend refrigerating overnight to ensure full setup., and for storage without too much extra stickiness.  Layer between parchment for transport.

These are age old classic cookies that I'm sure everyone remembers and loves, and they're the perfect tag-along for a holiday party when you just don't have time to impress everyone with your baking skills.  Or when you want to pretend that you don't have time when really, you just don't have baking skills, although I like to think the former.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Magnets from vase filler?

Every day, I look at our fridge and think about the fact that someday, I really need to make some magnets that don't look ridiculous for our paperwork.  I put Christian's artwork and important information on the fridge, like many people do, and all I had for a magnet was an old heating and air conditioning ad magnet that I'd torn in half to make two magnets.  Obviously this wasn't really working out.

I took vase filler, a Sharpie, plain white acrylic paint, and magnetic strips and half an hour later, I had a pretty cute little magnet set that definitely beats the stupid heating and air half-ads.

First I drew the letters and a few shapes on the back of each vase filler stone with a black Sharpie marker.  I did some hearts and crosses, and two of each letter-- one  capitol and one lowercase. After that dried, I painted over just the back with acrylic paint, using an old eyeshadow applicator as a sponge painter.

I cut the magnetic strip into tiny little squares that would fit on the gems and after the paint dried, I used a tiny dab of hot glue to apply the magnet to the back of each stone.

That's it, it was that simple.  This would make a really cute gift, and would be adorable spelling out bible verses or quotes, or someone's name.

And I was so glad to ceremoniously toss the heating and air ad in the trash.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Wreaths aren't just for holidays.

I've been trying to find different wall decor without spending much money lately, because I've been noticing all the bare spots lining the walls of our house. Browsing Pinterest reveals tons of book page wreath ideas, so I decided to give my own rendition a shot and see what I came up with.

It was so easy, and took no time at all.  I used a book I got for a plane trip to California from Dollar Tree for the pages, Scotch tape for the adhesive, a circle cut from a file folder for the backing, and a tulle poof for the center and hanger.

I rolled the pages into tubes and taped them. I made the poof by following standard pompom instructions and flattening the back of the pompom to fit it into the wreath center. Then I just arranged the paper rolls in a 2 layer wreath formation on the backing, hot glued in place, glued the hanger and center poof in place, and I had a classy simple wall hanging.  This would be pretty with sheet music, too.

I think for Christmas I'm going to make one of these using wrapping paper and a glass ornament for the center.  I think that would be so fun for the kids' doors. Now if I can just find a perfect Victorian frame, I'll have a perfect beginning to a gallery wall.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Easy relaxation

I've discovered how to relax myself in 3 easy steps.

Step one- Change into pajamas and slippers.  The fuzzier the slippers, the better.
Step two- Make this drink.

In a giant mug, mix 8 oz hot coffee with one packet of hot cocoa mix.  Add two tablespoons or so of cream or milk.  Stir.
Step three- kick out everyone and turn down the lights.

Drink up. I don't know about you, but I have a date with my coffeemaker and a box of Swiss Miss tonight after everyone else is asleep.  Hello, e-books. Time for me to catch up on my House of Night novels.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The blueberries are neverending...

...but I'm totally okay with that.  Although, this will be the last blueberry recipe I post for a while.  I'm in the Thanksgiving spirit and as much as I hate to admit it, blueberries spell s-u-m-m-e-r.

My dad came up from the city tonight to see Courageous with me.  We had bad carry-out pizza, played with the kids, and had an overall good visit.  In honor of his visit, I made these blueberry cheesecake cookies adapted from this recipe.  My recipe is pretty different from the one at Hot Polka Dot... much less bright and summery, although I'm sure in July or August I'll give the original a whirl.


1 cup room temperature butter
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups flour
1 cup blueberries

4 oz room temperature cream cheese
3 Tbs confectioner's sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly grease a baking sheet.  Using a mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy.  Slowly blend in eggs and vanilla. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and baking powder. Carefully fold in blueberries, trying not to let any of the berries burst as you mix.

In a small bowl, use a fork to mix the cream cheese and confectioner's sugar together til well blended.  Roll 2 inch balls of the dough and use your thumb to create a well in the middle.  Put a dime sized dollop of the cream cheese mixture into the well and carefully seal the cookie together over it, using a little extra dough if necessary.  Bake 12-14 minutes or until lightly browned.  Let sit 5 minutes before removing to cooling rack.

These were a delicious treat after our cheap pizza dinner, and were shared with laughs while reading Shel Silverstein to Christian. All in all, a successful night.

Mostly homemade.

What better way to enjoy a lazy November Saturday than with homestyle chicken noodle soup?  So that's what we did today.  In fact, I'm still wearing pajamas as I type this and it's 4:15 in the afternoon.  Life should be so easy.

I cheated a little and used prepackaged egg noodles but it was so delicious and on this lazy Saturday, I didn't care.  You can look up an egg noodle recipe if you like but I really liked the dried ones. I don't remember the name but I think they were the only ones in the pasta aisle in a red and clear bag.


1/4 cup butter
1 cup sliced carrots
2 stalks sliced celery
1 can drained green beans
2 scrubbed potatoes, cut into 3/4 inch cubes
1/2 pound chicken breasts, diced
1 box chicken broth
1 tsp garlic
1 Tbs flour
1/2 white onion, diced
salt to taste
1/2 package dry egg noodles

Melt butter in large pot over medium low heat.  Whisk in flour.  Let simmer 2-3 minutes and slowly stir in chicken broth.

Add salt and garlic, whisking constantly, til simmering.  Add chicken and vegetables.  Cover and let simmer 20 minutes on medium heat. Add noodles.  Simmer additional 20 minutes, then serve with crackers or crusty bread.  Yum!

So easy, but it smells amazing while cooking and tastes even better.  Add whatever veggies you like, and this is also really good with turkey leftover from Thanksgiving.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Blueberries. Enough said.

My mother in law was kind enough to give me some of her extra groceries yesterday.  Included was a giant bag of frozen blueberries.  This means I absolutely must make blueberry muffins.  It's a law, I think...

So this recipe makes really big, delicious muffins if you're okay with only making half a dozen.  If you want a full 12, double it up.  The crumb topping makes the whole thing so definitely don't skimp on it. Yum.

1 1/4 c all purpose flour
3/4 c sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 egg
1/3 c canola oil
1 1/2 cup frozen blueberries

Crumb Topping:
1/4 c butter
1/4 c flour
1/2 c sugar

First, preheat oven to 450. Lightly spray then flour a muffin tin.  Whisk together dry ingredients in a medium bowl.  In a standard measuring cup, measure 1/3 cup canola oil.  Add in egg, vanilla, & enough milk til you reach the 1 cup line.  Mix oil mixture into the dry ingredients just until moistened.  Fold in as many blueberries as you like, probably about 1 1/2 cups worth.

Fill the muffin tins all the way to the top with batter, which should be thick.  Mix the sugar and flour for the crumb topping together and cut in the butter.  Sprinkle over the top of the muffins.  Bake 20-25 minutes or until done.

Perfect with a cup of hot coffee on a chill November morning.  I love this muffin recipe and I think I'm going to try replacing the blueberries with some dried cranberries and fresh orange zest sometime this week...  I love cranberries with orange zest.  And this is definitely the time of year to start baking with cranberries.



Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Little reminders...

... that everything happens for a reason.

It's nice to be reminded that we aren't in control, as scary as that may seem.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Just a small thank you...

Christian has had some issues with school this year, mainly due to the fact that this is the first year he's been diagnosed with ADHD and we've been exploring our options to try and find a comfortable way for him to fit in.

It's been a rocky start, with Christian's principal calling at least once a week with him in the office for something or other, and Friday when my phone rang and I saw the school's caller ID, I was not excited about answering.

Turns out Christian's principal just wanted to let me know that he's been amazing, and because he was so good they gave him a coupon for a free kid's meal from Chipotle. His principal and his teacher both went way out of their way Friday to let Christian know that he was special, and that he deserved positive attention, and for that I wanted to give them a little thank you.

I made the most amazing chocolate cookies, made with olive oil, and decided to package up a couple for school.  I'll start with the recipe for the cookies, then the directions on packaging.  I hope it doesn't seem to over the top.  I was going for classy yet understated... it seemed like a good way to show our gratitude.


1 cup whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup Splenda granular
1/2 cup Splenda brown sugar baking blend
2 eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp almond extract
1 cup dark chocolate chunks or semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 350.  Whisk together dry ingredients and set aside.  Using mixer on low, blend Splenda and Splenda brown sugar with olive oil.  Slowly add in eggs one at a time.  Mix in extracts and stir in dry ingredients til well blended.  Fold in walnuts and chocolate chips.  Spoon by teaspoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheet and bake 9-11 minutes.  Let cool five minutes before removing to baking rack to cool completely.

For gifting as a thank you, I cut a sheet of white cardstock lengthwise down the middle and folded it into a little sleeve, hotgluing to seal.  I tucked two cookies inside the sleeve and wrapped it gift-style in tissue paper.  Then using scrapbook scissors, I cut two cards from cardstock, stamped the front, embellished with a silver marker, hot glued on a bow, and glued the whole thing on top of the cookie box tissue.  The effect was really cute, and I just filled out the inside of the card with a simple thank you.  I'm hoping two cookies will be just enough to not look like a suckup, but we'll see.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Why buy laundry soap???

My gorgeous friend Erin taught me to make homemade laundry soap a few months ago, and I haven't looked back since.  I ran out recently and decided to share the wealth of knowledge when I made more. This potent stuff is every bit as good as Tide, but remember it's only laundry soap so you'll still need your fabric softener.

1 Fels-Naptha bar (97 cents in the laundry aisle at Wal-Mart)
1-2 cups Arm & Hammer Super Washing Soda (sodium bicorbonate) $2.75 for a big container
1/2-1 cup Borax $3.25 for a big container
1-2 capfuls Oxi-Clean Max Force Liquigel $9.00 for a bottle

All of those ingredients are found at Walmart and cost approximately $16 for all four items.  The only item you buy each time you make 5 gallons of detergent is the Fels Naptha bar.  Once in a while, you'll have to replenish your other supplies, of course, but this is a huge money saver.

First, put on a large pot of water to boil (about a spaghetti boiler's pot full).  While it's boiling, grate the bar with a cheese grater.  I'd recommend getting a grater from Dollar Tree just for this purpose.  Once the water has reached a full rolling boil gradually add the grated soap, stirring constantly, until it's completely melted.

Fill a five gallon container halfway with extremely hot tap water.  Pour the melted cheesewater into the tapwater and stir.  Add in the washing soda and Borax and stir thoroughly until completely dissolved.  Add the Oxi-Clean, mix well, and let sit overnight. 

The only other thing I can think of to say about this detergent is that it's a smart idea to stir it occasionally, and make sure you shake well before you add it to your washer.  Other than that, it's the best laundry detergent I've ever used.  Feel free to add essential oils to it to make it your own.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Make time for breakfast.

When our life gets too fast paced, sometimes I just slow us down a bit with a well cooked breakfast.  Life has been a bit overwhelming so the other morning, even though it was a school day, I let Christian sleep in and made a big delicious breakfast and we feasted then he went to school late.  We're rarely tardy the rest of the time, so I didn't feel too bad.  Even kids need a break sometimes.

Anyway, I made these griddle cakes and mixed berry syrup on a sunny morning without too much care in the world.  Scrambled eggs, sausage links, kicked up whipped cream, and hot coffee made this country breakfast one to remember.


1 1/2 c flour
3 tsp baking powder
1 Tbs vanilla
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs white sugar
1 1/4 c milk
1 egg
3 Tbs melted butter

Mix the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and make a well in the center.  Pour in milk, egg, and melted butter and mix until smooth.  Heat cast iron skillet until water droplets hiss and evaporate and spray lightly with cooking spray.  Ladle 1/4 cup of batter at a time onto the skillet and cook til golden and crisp around edges. You can use a griddle or pan but cast iron really puts a delicious crisp to the cakes.

Before you start the pancakes, put the syrup on.  I went super easy on this syrup so there are no frills.  Just dump a bag of frozen mixed berries, no sugar added, into a saucepan with 3/4 cup white sugar, 4 Tbs water, 1 tsp vanilla, and stir.  Cover and let simmer on medium high heat, stirring occasionally, the whole time the cakes are cooking.  Turn it off before you start plating and let sit about five minutes to thicken slightly.  Mix 1 tsp vanilla lightly into a tub of Cool Whip and you've got a delicious easy breakfast that takes no time at all with optimal results!

And seriously, who doesn't love pancakes??  What a way to bring a family together.