Caroling & Hot Cocoa “Bar”

I didn’t want to throw a “real” party.  It’s Christmastime and who, really, has time for all that extra cooking, cleaning and prep?  Not me.  So I decided that I wanted to start a new tradition:  caroling around the neighborhood and then serving hot cocoa afterward.  It was so simple and so much fun!  I’m not sure which was more fun:  watching the kids have a blast or singing the carols (which I love!).  I think watching the kids has the edge, though.  They were so excited but tired easily.

Next year we’ll limit it to one chosen street instead of trying to go around the block.  We were able to sing 10 to 12 times.  I used the collection of sheet music that good ‘ol Martha Stewart put together.  It was a nice mix of Christian and more secular Christmas music (e.g. Up on the Housetop and Jingle Bells in amidst The First Noel and Silent Night).  I was smiling about it for days afterward and hope that those who went with us had as much fun as we did.

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Afterward, I made Crockpot Hot Cocoa (this filled my 7 qt crock pot!):

  • 2 c. heavy whipping cream (not whipped!)
  • 2 – 14 oz cans of sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 gallon of milk
  • 2 tsp. vanilla powder (or regular vanilla, I used Thrive’s vanilla powder)
  • 4 c. chocolate chips (I used Hershey’s dark chocolate chips)
  • 1 c. powdered sugar

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I also made White Hot Chocolate:

  • 4 c. heavy whipping cream (not whipped!)
  • 4 c. milk
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground cardamom (removed from pods)
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
  • 2 T. vanilla powder (or regular vanilla, I used Thrive’s vanilla powder)
  • 16 oz white chocolate (I used the melting wafers from Hobby Lobby)

The White Hot Chocolate was the bomb.  Seriously.  I did not know it would be so good or I would have doubled the recipe.  Three or four people asked for the recipe!

Here’s the selection of marshmallows and additions including maraschino cherry skewers, spray cream cinnamon and chips of almost every kind:

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Before everyone showed up (we had two more families come after this shot!).

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The teenage girls who participated just INSISTED that “Let it Go!” was a Christmas song.  Ahem.  I disagree but they sang it with gusto (along with a few parents!).

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The best part?  Everyone seemed genuinely welcoming and happy to see us!  It’s definitely a new tradition.  Next year, I’ll make the boys bring their drums and bells from percussion.

Cheap & Easy: Crock Pot Peanut Butter Granola

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This is one of my teenage son’s favorite recipes. I like it, too, because I can “clean out the pantry” and add things based on what I’m trying to use up: sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, wheat germ, chocolate chips, cinnamon, etc., and adjust the recipe accordingly. If you’re like me, you don’t measure things and eyeball it anyway! Should you want raisins, I’ve never tried those but you could stir them in afterwards, although warming the raisins can’t hurt them. I love my slow cooker so much I’ve always had a little ceremony for them when finally break down. They are a definite workhorse in my kitchen. For large gatherings, I use both my slow cooker AND my 9.5 quart doufeu…easiest way I know of to feed a crowd.

CROCKPOT PEANUT BUTTER GRANOLA

1/3 cup coconut oil (I like Jarrow’s unrefined, organic, virgin from Amazon)
1 cup peanut butter, generous
1 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1/2 c ground flax seed
7 cups rolled old-fashioned oatmeal (NOT quick cooking)
honey to taste — usually 1/4 cup
3/4 c brown sugar

Allow oil and peanut butter to soften and stir to combine in the bottom of a large crock-pot. Add remaining ingredients, stirring to combine well and then stirring every 20 minutes or so until it’s as toasted as you like. I generally stir every half hour to an hour and leave the crockpot on low for four to six hours. You KNOW it’s a good recipe when your kids are a) willing to give up cold cereal for it and b) volunteer to stir it for you. It’s a hit at our house, anyway!

Something Delicious I Just Made Up: Hatch Pepper, Havarti & Cream Cheese Cheesesteak Sauce!

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This was a complete accident. I wanted to make the Homemade Chicken Cheesesteaks recipe from How Sweet It Is but I didn’t have the right ingredients. Sometimes, that’s a blessing. Here’s what I came up with and this is really, really yummy. I’m writing this now so I don’t forget what I did to create it! It was great on mesquite grilled chicken as well as with tortilla chips.

Hatch Pepper, Havarti & Cream Cheese Sauce

3 hatch peppers, roasted on the gas flame (or purchased roasted but in my tiny town, they’re not available that way), then sliced and seeded if you want – we didn’t bother
4 oz havarti cheese, sliced thinly
4 oz cream cheese, cubed or sliced as thin as you can
1 small to medium onion, sliced
6 T butter, approximate
1 T. balsamic vinegar
3/4 c. milk

In a cast iron pan, saute roasted peppers and onions in butter (about 2 T) until the onions are transparent and soft but not carmelized completely. Remove from flame and stir in about 1T balsamic vinegar. It will steam up so be careful — this smells heavenly (hello, fajita toppings!). Salt and pepper to taste. Remove peppers and onions and set aside for now.

Add more butter to the pan (I used 3 to 4 T). While the butter melts, whisk in about 3T flour and add about 3/4 cup milk slowly and keep whisking as it thickens (we used goat’s milk and it added a wonderful tang!). When mixture is smooth and thickened add havarti and cream cheese and whisk together. Return onions and peppers to pan and stir gently — salt and pepper to taste. At this point, I turned off the heat.

I took some out to hubs grilling the chicken and he said, “Man! That’s yummy!” Good sign. I think we’ll be eating this more often around here.

The Aldi Queen – Recipes & Bargain Groceries

I was first introduced to Aldi’s by a good friend back home (thanks, Sheila!). I have yet to actually visit the store but I found this almost-as-good link The Aldi Queen. She’s got some great, budget-conscious recipes.

One Serving Chocolate Cake in 2 Minutes!

Eggland’s best published this one cup chocolate cake recipe in a magazine I was reading the other night. By the time we were done making individual cakes (because everybody wanted one), I could have made a whole cake. Having said that, though, this was really yummy and way more fun. Give it a try! It came right out of the mug! Chocolate cake in 2 minutes. Wow. You can click on the picture for the recipe.

Link Love & Giveaways for a Rainy Wednesday

It’s a wonderfully rainy day in Houston today and I have lots on my plate. Mainly getting my office straightened up – still – so I thought I’d just share with you some wonderful links including great ideas and giveaways. Hope you enjoy them! They’re from some of my favorite sites to visit when the need for inspiration strikes.

Grosgrain Fabulous always offers the most beautiful creations. Now she’s offering a poppy boutonniere, but even if you don’t win, there’s always the tutorial on how to make the beautiful things. Click on her link and be sure to check out the blue one attached to the pillow – gorgeous!

Dudecraft made a bookshelf from an old ladder – I don’t know how practical this would be with children shaking walls and all but it looks fantastic, doesn’t it? And oh so clever. I love repurposed things.

So I’ve been searching for what to put in my kids’ lunch boxes other than the usual fare and I ran across this idea from Bakerella (isn’t that site wonderful?!): pancake muffins. With chocolate chips. Sounds like something my kids would eat and it’s not quite as sinful as a full-on brownie for lunch. Sometimes you do whatever you can to get calories in a child or they would not eat at all.


If you have thousands of extra dollars, be sure to check out Get Back‘s website full of beautiful vintage chairs, tables, you-name-it. It’s a fun reminiscent kind of thing and the restoration of the items has been just lovely. It would be kind of nice to step back in time…but we probably wouldn’t appreciate it like we don’t appreciate our current design trends. Anyway – it is surely fun to look around the site!

The Long Thread has this adorable little house pouch. I just love this cute design.

Design Sponge has the cutest lunchbox creation. And it actually looks like something I could do! But I’m not sure if it’s something any of my B-O-Y-S would carry to school or use. Maybe if I made a camo lunch box out of other repurposed fabric. But I do love this notebook version.

Wool & Hoop make the cutest crewel-work kits. The only crewel thing about it (ha! I crack myself up!) is that I don’t do crewel work. But the work is just gorgeous, no?

Artist Jeni B. Gochnour makes adorable festive fall and Christmas holiday items, doesn’t she? What great faces these characters have!

Cathe Holden of Something I Just Made created these items from pictures of a cherished quilt. What a great way to remember the quilt in a more permanent fashion.

There. I think that’s enough browsing for today. Hope you enjoyed some of the links!

Paula Deen’s Beef Macaroni Recipe

Don cooked dinner a few nights ago and used this recipe from Paula Deen. The kids ate it up! We actually saved money by using organic beef from Costco – we were able to use one pound instead of two (no shrinking with good beef!) – I highly recommend both the recipe and the meat.

1 teaspoon each dried basil, cumin, and dried oregano
Salt and pepper
3 cup canned crushed tomatoes
2 lb lean ground beef
1 tablespoon chopped garlic
2 cup chopped onion
2 cup chopped green bell pepper
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 lb box elbow macaroni
2-3 cup grated cheddar cheese

Cook the macaroni according to package directions; drain and set aside. Heat the oil in a skillet; add the peppers, onion, and garlic, and saute until soft. Add the ground beef and saute until browned. Add the tomatoes, salt and pepper to taste, and the basil, cumin, and oregano. In a large bowl, combine the macaroni and the beef mixture. Spread this mixture into a 9 x 13-inch baking dish. Top with the cheese and bake at 350 degrees for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the cheese is lightly browned and bubbly.

Cook’s Note: Ground turkey or chicken can be used in place of beef, if desired.

Yield: 8-10 servings
Prep time: 8 minutes
Cook time: 25-30 minutes
Ease of preparation: easy

Online Giveaway Winner!

And the winner is…Danielle! Yeah, entrant #2 is the winner chosen by the number generator at www.random.org. Thanks for entering – hope you love the cookbook! Send me your new snail mail address and I’ll get it off to you ASAP. Congrats!

Online Giveaway: Rachael Ray’s Just In Time Cookbook!

It’s finally time for an online giveaway! Your comment could win you Rachael Ray’s 2007 cookbook called “Just In Time” and she includes recipes that cook in 15, 30 or 60 minutes. Looks like a great collection. It doesn’t appear to have ever been used – just stored on a shelf. Some of the 15 minute recipes that I saw as I was leafing through the book looked so yummy and easy to make that I was tempted to keep it! Enter by leaving a comment on this post. The winner will be chosen from all comments (one per person please) by random.org. Comments accepted until April 30, 2009. Good luck!

Cheap & Easy Recipe: Ben Likes Hootenany Pancakes!

Ben likes hootenany pancakes so much that he sang for them and we got it on video. It’s a classic Rolfson recipe and oh-so-easy-and-cheap. It is a staple in our household for breakfast OR dinner. Sometimes we even have to make two pans.

Hootenany Pancakes

1 cup flour
1 cup milk
6 or 7 eggs
pinch salt
1 stick butter

Cut 1 stick of butter into several chunks and put in bottom of 9×12 or 10×13 pan. Place in 400° F oven until melted. While butter is melting, whisk or blend flour, eggs, milk and salt. When butter is melted, pour into pan with swirling motion. Bake for approximately 20 minutes. Pancake will puff up! Best served with elderberry syrup but also great with jelly, powdered sugar, etc. I have been known to serve these in the car in baggies – cold – and the kids eat them just as well. Enjoy!

Healthy Meals Under $10

Found this article today – looked like pretty good meals and they serve at LEAST 4 people. Worth a try, anyway – especially since I went to the grocery store the other day and about passed out at the prices. They really are going up! I figured I wasn’t the only frugal person in search of such recipes. Check them out here.

Image from health.com attributed to 123rf.

Online Giveaway – Mary Engelbreit Cookbook!

I was waxing a bit philosophical late yesterday so, let’s have a little fun! After all, Thanksgiving is just around the corner and you might need a good cookbook. What is it about cookbooks? I love them all. I have an entire chicken-coop-turned-cabinet in my kitchen full of ’em. That is why I’m parting with this one as an online giveaway; it’s a great cookbook, I just have not had a chance to try any of the recipes and I thought someone else might really enjoy this just in time for Turkey Day (aka Thanksgiving)! This is Mary’s “Queen of the Kitchen” Cookbook and it includes biscuits, wafers, chowder, ribs, lamb, turkey, shrimp, waffles, pineapple cake. The pies alone include: Brown Sugar Pumpkin Pie, Farmhouse Walnut Pie, Apple Cinnamon Crumb Pie, Strawberry & Lemon Tart, Deep Dish Apple Cranberry Pie, Nectarine & Blueberry Cobbler, Caramel Baked Pears and Double Pear Crisp. Ooooh, there’s Peanut Brittle Fudge Sundae…oh, crud, did I really want to part with this one??? It’s up for grabs! Rules: One entry per email/person, just make a comment on THIS post. Winner will be chosen by random.org in two weeks. Last day to enter will be midnight on Wednesday, November 19th. Value of this giveaway is approximately $19.95.

My Favorite Breakfast – Oat Bran!

I am addicted to oat bran. I know, crazy. It is fast, easy and yummy and I’ll let you in on my secrets. Get a big bowl. Put it away and get a bigger bowl. This way you can cook it in the microwave. If you want raisins, put them in now. Other additions are better after it’s cooked (say, nuts, fresh fruit or maple syrup). Place 1/2 c. uncooked oat bran in the bowl with 1 c. water. I usually go shy on the water so my oat bran is fairly lumpy and soaks up the milk I like to put on top (no porridge or gruel for me – it should have some substance to it!). Microwave on high for 2 minutes. Use a saucer for a lid. Stir and microwave in additional 20 second increments until it is the consistency that you like. Add 1 tsp. butter, cinnamon (if desired) and about 2 oz milk on top. I sweeten mine with Stevia (2 packets) but you can use real sugar if you like. There’s so many carbs in the oat bran, though, that real sugar makes it too sweet for me. A couple of variations you might like: mix in a hot cocoa packet (regular or no sugar) – yummy! I also occasionally like mixing in 2 heaping tsp. Green & Black’s Organic Unsweetened Cocoa. When I do this, though, I usually add a little Splenda to taste. Very nice chocolate fix. Maple syrup is also a good addition with bananas and yogurt…there are so many variations that I could eat this every day!