Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Miss Class Representative 2010

Haley came home last week and told me the kids in her class were given the opportunity to run for student council (they only choose two classes per grade) and she wanted to run for class representative. In order to do this she had to prepare an essay and then read it to her class. I really enjoyed helping her with her essay because I was able to see how aware she is of her community and the current problems with the economy. For example she said in her essay "I'll work to get tastier cafeteria food that's still affordable to make".

Anyway, today she found out that she did win, she actually had 20 votes out of 26 students. Before school she was a little anxious and carefully picked out an outfit and had me curl her hair, just in case she needed to make an acceptance speech or something I guess. Here are some photos:

She's really blossoming into a young woman! It amazes me how much she's grown over the last year. Over the summer even. We bought size 10 slim jeans for her in August and now they're too small. Pretty crazy if you ask me.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Meal Planning on a Budget

So yeah, 3 blogs in one day, it's a lot but I've been meaning to blog about this for a while. I've set our weekly grocery budget at $100 for our family of 3.5 which includes 3 meals and 2 snacks per day, plus toiletries. I usually shop for 7 days worth of meals at a time so it costs about $14 per day to feed my little family, about $4 per person for 3 meals a day, which is $1.33 per meal. Before I go to the store I make a meal plan where I write down 7 days worth of dinner ideas. To give you an example here is our latest meal plan:

grilled fish with lemon cream sauce, salad, rolls, and broccoli
bacon tomato quiche with salad
Zuppa toscana w/ baguettes and salad
Turkey Spaghetti with salad and baguettes
Philly cheese steak sandwiches w/ oven fried potatoes (oh man, these were good!)
Turkey burgers with baked zucchini fries and salad
Hot dogs with salad and green beans

We eat a lot of salad! I hadn't realized that. Anyway, once I know what I'm going to be eating I make my list of ingredients needed for these things, usually I don't need all of the ingredients because I've already got them on hand. I should mention that when I'm deciding what to make I usually raid my pantry first so I can incorporate what I've got on hand.

In addition to making an ingredient list I also list basic necessities like milk, eggs, bread, fruit, etc. and I list things like "3 snack items" (box of crackers, nutrigrain, etc), " 2 breakfast choices" (cereal or bagels, etc), "2 lunch items". I do this because for one thing I need snacks, breakfast, and lunch, but I also know that if I see something I want I'm going to be inclined to buy it. Setting vague limitations keeps me from over buying but allows me to add a few items to my cart that weren't specifically on the list.

Overall I've found that this works really well for us. No one goes hungry, we eat good food, and usually I come out $10-$20 under budget.

I'm curious to know what everyone else does? What's your budget, how much is an average meal in your house? Do you shop with a list or wing it?

Zuppa Toscana

Have you ever eaten the zuppa toscana at Olive Garden? It's amazing, I love it, the only problem is that if I want to eat it I have to drive an hour and a half and pay some ridiculous amount, which is why I make it at home, usually with bread sticks and salad. Last night we paired it with these baguettes, which are simply amazing and so very easy to make, and a light salad. The best part about this soup is that one bowl is only 251 calories!! I love it.

3/4 pounds of lean breakfast sausage
3 chicken bouillon cubes
3 slices center cut bacon - diced
some diced white onion
1/2 cup of cream
5 cups of water
1/2 cup of chopped parsley
1 tsp garlic powder
crushed red pepper
salt and pepper
2 large potatoes - diced

In a dutch oven saute bacon and onion, then drain the grease and add sausage. Cook through.

Add potatoes, bouillon cubes, water, and seasoning and bring to a boil. Cook until potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes.

Turn heat to low and add cream and parsley. Serve warm with baguettes or your favorite crusty bread. Makes 6 servings.

Dark Chocoloate Chip Maple Pumpkin Bread

I'm not sure I want to even consider the amount of calories in this, especially since I've convinced myself that it's an acceptable breakfast and dessert food, which means I can eat it twice a day. I really shouldn't though. But if I eat a slice for breakfast and then skip my mid morning snack it might be OK. These are the kinds of internal battles I have in my head on a daily basis. Why can't sugar and fat be good for you? **UPDATE** there are 216 calories per slice, and one loaf provides 8 good sized slices, I just couldn't take not knowing.

On another note, I am trying desperately to shove this weather into cooler temperatures via my cooking. So far it's not working. Today's high is 106! It's "near record breaking" according to the weather channel; isn't that cool?! We're breaking records here.

Anyway, here is the recipe:

1 cup of pumpkin pie filling
1 - 1/2 cups flour
1 tablespoon vanilla
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 egg
2 tablespoons maple syrup
3/4 cups brown sugar
1/3 cup butter - melted
1 tsp baking soda
1/3 cup dark chocolate chips.

Heat oven to 350

Mix pumpkin pie filling, butter, vanilla, and egg together then mix in sugar, maple syrup, and pumpkin pie spice.

Then mix in flour and baking soda, just until moistened, fold in chocolate chips.

Pour into a 9x5 loaf pan and if you're feeling fancy put some decorative chocolate chips on top. Cook it for 50 minutes and enjoy!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Coffee Cake Muffins

These are fun because you have to try your hardest not to engulf all the tops of all the muffins that no one ate. It's quite the challenge because the butter/sugar mixture caramelizes and leave this crunchy, salty-sweet crust on top of the muffins, it's delicious.

2 eggs

2 cups Heart Healthy Bisquick mix

1/3 cup sugar

2 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice

1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
1/2 cup water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

3 tbs butter

1/4 cup brown sugar

Beat eggs slightly in medium bowl; stir in remaining ingredients except brown sugar and butter until moistened.

Divide batter among muffin cups in a regular sized muffin pan

Mix or beat brown sugar and butter until crumbly, sprinkle crumbles over the muffin batter.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes at 400 degrees until tops are golden brown.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Halloween Portraits - Alice

Oh.My.Goodness. This kid is cute, but you put a horse costume on her and it's just so much cute that I can barely take it. Haley's halloween photos will come soon but we're still working on her costume.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Cake Slice Bakers

Have you heard of this? It's a group of bloggers who bake their way through cookbooks, one cake at a time. Kind of like in that movie, Julia & Julia. Anyway, it's usually closed to new members but right now they've got an open enrollment type of thing so I went ahead and joined. I'm really excited to be a cake slice baker!

If you are interested in joining then email Katie at  and tell her your name, blog name, and blog URL with "cake slice member" as the subject line.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Cheesy, Creamy Potatoes

Lately I've been kind of obsessed with little tiny potatoes roasted in their skin. I eat them because I love the popping sensation they have when I first bite into them, breaking the skin. They're so delicious that I've been making them a few nights a week, which is fine with me but lately the family has been politely and delicately (I get offending if they don't like my cooking) asking me for different potatoes. Haley said the other day "Mom, I don't mean to be rude, I really don't, so please don't get offended, but can you please make mashed potatoes or something?". Then Nick said the other day "Baby, I really love those potatoes you make, I really do. But, maybe we should try something different; so we don't get tired of them".  They are so sweet, trying to spare my feelings. Anyway, I reluctantly made these creamy, cheesy potatoes the other day. They're good, very good, but let's face it, they're not my favorite, wonderful roasted potatoes, which one of these days I will have a recipe here for those.

1 lbs potatoes - diced
6 tbs butter
1/2 cup flour
2 cups milk
4 oz Colby jack cheese
salt and pepper
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp ground mustard

First off you have to make a roux. Doesn't that just sound complicated and fancy? Yes? OK good, that's why I said it. But don't worry, it's really easy. It's just butter, flour, and milk.

Melt 6 tbs butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Then whisk in 1/2 cup of flour. Whisk it until it's all mixed in very nicely. Then you need to SLOWLY add the milk, 1/2 cup at a time, whisking it in. DO NOT add more milk until it's nice and creamy. Be patient, take your time. You must never rush a roux!

Once all milk has been incorporated turn the heat to low and add 1/2 the cheese and the seasoning. Toss it with the potatoes, top with remaing cheese, and bake at 375 degrees for about 30-45 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Marble Sheet Cake

I have a little secret to share, I've never made a cake from scratch until now. I've always used a box because for some reason making a cake scared me, I'm not sure why. Maybe it's because I've tried and failed too many times to count. But I realized I was failing because I was rushing. If a recipe called for softened butter I would either ignore that and put in hard butter, or melt it in the microwave (big mistake), among other time savers (or wasters). Anyway, today we've got friends coming over so I made this marble sheet cake which was super easy, and it looks kind of fancy too. The cool thing is that if you wanted to use other flavors rather than chocolate you can easily substitute the cocoa powder for any flavor pudding mix, just add some food coloring into it so you get that nice marbling effect. Here's the recipe:

Adapted from Southern Living.


1 cup butter, softened

1 3/4 cups sugar, divided

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup half-and-half (if you don't have this use 2/3c milk with 1/3c veg. oil)

1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa

3 tablespoons hot water
1. Preheat oven to 325°. Beat butter and 1 1/2 cups sugar at medium speed 4 to 5 minutes or until creamy. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating just until blended after each addition. Beat in vanilla extract.

2. Sift together flour, baking powder, and salt. Add to butter mixture alternately with half-and-half, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat at low speed just until blended after each addition, stopping to scrape bowl as needed.

3. Spoon 1 1/4 cups batter into a 2-qt. bowl, and stir in cocoa, 3 Tbsp. hot water, and remaining 1/4 cup sugar until well blended.

4. Spread remaining vanilla batter into a greased and floured 15- x 10-inch jelly-roll pan. Spoon chocolate batter onto vanilla batter in pan (I put it into six dollops); gently swirl with a knife or small spatula.

5. Bake at 325° for 23 to 28 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool completely in pan on a wire rack (about 1 hour).

The recipe is meant to be accompanied with mocha frosting however I didn't have time to make my own and opted to use store bought triple chocolate with chocolate chips frosting.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Not so Wordless and Wow Wednesday

A fellow blogger posts a wordless and wow wednesday post every week where she just posts an amazing picture. I admire her, but I have issues with not writing, I don't think it's possible for me to post a photo without words. But I will do my best to keep those words limited in honor of wordless wednesday. I think I've already failed though. Here we go:

Wow, those are some cute Spurs fans!

Wow, that's a shallow depth of field!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

The Kids

It seems I haven't blogged about my kids in such a long time! We'll start with Miss Alice, she's such a handful these days and I love her for it because she keeps me so busy! She is all over the place, in fact yesterday I had to go searching for her soaking wet. I had put her on the floor with a bunch of toys so I could take a shower and she usually never moves from that spot however yesterday she felt adventurous. I had been in the shower for barely 2 minutes, just long enough to get shampoo in my hair when I realized she was being unusually quiet so I peeked my head out of the shower and she was gone. My first thought was that she may have found the cats litter box because she has been trying really hard to get into the laundry room where we keep it. I had this horrible mental image of my precious childs mouth covered in cat litter and that was all  it took to send me bolting out of the shower. I mean, what would I do if that happened? Take her to the doctors and explain that she may have eaten a cat turd? Not cool. Luckily I found her sitting outside of Haley's bedroom and I took her and put her back in her spot, closing the laundry room door on my way.

She's also growing more and more fond of Ranger although Ranger is very jealous of her and I think maybe even a little scared of her.
I couldn't imagine why she'd be scared. Oh, wait, yes I can.

As for Haley, that girl is a busy bee! She's incredibly social so it seems she's always playing with a friend, this weekend though, she's staying home with us because we miss her. This year she'll be participating in a few programs, an after school program called operation hero, a program at Inspiration Place called little chefs, and maybe a drama program offered by Joshua Tree. We're hoping to continue with girl scouts but our old troop leader moved over the summer and we're still waiting to hear from the new leader.

Semi Homemade Cinnamon Rolls

I woke up craving cinnamon because to me, cinnamon is an autumn flavor (although I'll eat it year round) and the weather this morning was wonderful. Crisp, cool, it gave me proof that despite my doubts, summer was in fact going to end (yay!). I started perusing food blogs and for some sort of cinnamon breakfast bread recipe but they were all either too complicated to make at 8am or I was lacking some of the ingredients. Instead I opted to make some semi homemade cinnamon rolls using crescent roll dough. These are not low fat but they are only 135 calories per roll. For an even healthier option use reduced fat crescent rolls.

Pillsbury big and flaky crescent dough
1 tbs margarine
1/2  cup brown sugar
3 tsp cinnamon
3 tsp pumpkin pie spice

Mix butter, sugar, and spices together

Roll out crescents and pinch the seams together to make one solid sheet of dough.

Spread butter mixture onto dough, leaving about 1/2 and inch on all sides.

Roll the dough back up so it looks like it did when it came out of the package.

Slice dough into 10 slices, put on greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for 15-20 minutes or until browned.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles

Oh man, these are good. And only 150 calories per serving, which is about 4 truffles. I coated mine in cocoa powder because I wanted it to look prettier however this is a messy and sort of unnecessary step so feel free to leave it out.

1/2 cup peanut butter
1/4 cup pretzels
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 tbs cocoa powder (optional)

If you have a food processor that won't destroy things then use that to finely chop your pretzels, if not you can do what I did and chop them up with a knife. Once chopped mix them in with your peanut butter. I used 1/4 cup of pretzels however I think you could definitely use more if you'd like because the peanut butter mixture is a little gooey which makes it difficult to handle.

Place mixture in freezer for 15 minutes.

Remove from freezer and roll them into 12-14 little balls, placing each one on a sheet of wax paper, then put them back in the freezer for about 30 minutes.

Melt your chocolate chips in the microwave in 30 second increments, stirring each time until smooth. Then roll the truffles in the chocolate, placing them on a fresh sheet of wax paper. Freeze them again for about 5 minutes.

Remove from freezer and roll them in the cocoa powder mixture if desired. Tap them to remove excess powder. That's it, super easy right?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Jewelry Box

As I mentioned in my previous post I want to get into product photography so I did a little research and found that I need some more equipment including lights and a lightbox but never one patient enough to wait for equipment to arrive in the mail I decided to try my hand at product photography using the equipment I already have which includes my camera, my 50mm lens, my external flash, my old Minolta close up filter that I have to hold in front of my lens because it doesn't fit, and two white sheets of paper taped to the back of a cereal box. I used my jewelry as my product and here are my results:

This is a ring that was given to me by my grandmother. I think I received it as a gift for my 18th birthday and it's been in the family for a while. Someone once told me they thought I found it one of those quarter machines you find in business waiting rooms. That person now has a permanent mark on their forehead in the shape of this ring from when I put them in their place using my fist. Just kidding, I'm a lover not a fighter.

Here is my class ring, notice the camera and film on the side there. On the other side I've got a paint easel, however I am not a good painter at all. I just needed something to fill in that space and I liked art.

Here are some of my James Avery charms. What is James Avery you ask? Just ask any Texan and they'll know, but if you don't have a Texan handy I'll go ahead and fill you in. James Avery is a jewelry store that makes really unique charms and jewelry. A lot of times they're miniature reproductions of larger things, like the camera for example.
Check out the detail on that, it even has a little viewfinder. Oh, but what's that little dangling thing on the side?? It's a film canister because I got this back when film was the norm. On every James Avery piece there is a little candle holder with 3 candles and the initials JA. When my best bud Ann and I were kids we thought it was a menorah and the JA stood for Jewish Academy.
 The thing I love about James Avery charms and jewelry is that everything I own from them has a story. The sun was given to me by my aunt Sharon because I really love severe weather. I know it's a sun and not a tornado but for whatever reason James Avery doesn't make those. Sharon also gave me the bride and groom when Nick and I were engaged.

So there you have it. I think for what I was working with it's not bad, but it's als not great. I don't really know the first thing about how to even market myself for product photography so if it's really something I want to do I think there is a lot to learn.

Goals for the week

I don't know what it is about today but I am in such a fantastic mood! Maybe it's because my amazing husband was able to scrub the nastiness (i.e. caked on dirt and grime from years of wear) off of our kitchen floor that we've been trying to remove since we moved in. Maybe it's because I had a great time last night having dinner with friends. Maybe it's because the weather is cooling off. I don't really know. Because of this fantastic mood I am approaching the weeks goals with a tenacity for success.

Goal one: Delve into the uncharted (for me) world of product photography. I love portraits but I think I need a new challenge.
Goal two: Help Nick get started in school. My husband has an associates degree but wants to go back for his bachelors so we can rake in some big bucks once he either retires or leaves the military. I want to help him get this started because, well, I like big bucks.

Goal Three: Get my hair did. Or at the very least make an appointment. I'm thinking I want something a little crazy and edgy, but not over the top edgy. I'm thinking I want it to be darker brown with wispy fire engine red highlights in my bangs, and then a small cluster of more wispy red highlights on the side of my head. Just a little pop of color.

Well that's that, I hope that I will complete more of my goals this time around. Wish me luck.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Spinach, Bacon, Red Pepper Quiche

Last night we had breakfast for dinner which included this quiche, some stove top red potatoes, and pancakes and syrup. It was gooooood, in fact I'm fighting the urge to go cut a slice of this quiche for a mid morning snack. Anyway, here is the recipe:

For the crust:
1.5 cups whole wheat ritz crackers - crushed
1.5 cups saltine crackers - crushed
3 tbs melted butter

Mix ingredients together and the press onto the bottoms and sides of a pie dish.

For the filling:
1/3 cup shredded part skim mozzarella
6 eggs
1/4 cup milk
5 slices center cut bacon - cooked and crumbled
1/3 cup chopped fresh spinach
1/3 cup roasted red pepper - diced
1/4 cup diced onions
salt and pepper
a dash of garlic powder

Beat eggs then add all ingredients and mix well. Pour into pie crust and bake at 375 for 35-45 minutes or until firm. Slice and eat it plain or topped with your favorite salsa.

Some Like it Hot

Oats, cinnamon graham crackers, peanut butter, chocolate, oh, and one generous teaspoon of cayenne pepper. Yeah, I finally did it, against the pleas from my poor family I made a spicy desert and I loved it. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of this dessert was watching my dear husband and daughter slowly realize that these were not ordinary dessert bars (insert evil laugh here). The spice doesn't really hit you until the end so at first they seem like any other extremely delicious dessert. When I served these to Nick he bit in and began chewing, then with a devilish smile on my face I asked how he liked them. They were great he said and for a moment I feared I hadn't made them spicy enough but then his eyes met mine and he said "what did you do?! Oh my God, why?!"  Then I actually did start laughing like a mad woman because I'm a little weird, OK?

I personally thought these were great but I was forced to promise that I would never do it again. So if you like it hot and if you feel like being a little evil these might be perfect. And if you don't like it hot just omit the pepper, but please don't tell me if you do, I'll have to call you a wuss.

Secret Spice Bars
3/4 cups margarine
1.5 cups quick oats
1.5 cups crushed low fat graham crackers
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 heaping tsp cayenne pepper

Melt margarine in a saucepan over medium low, reduce heat to low and add the next 4 ingredients. Cook on low for 5 minutes.

Spread half of mixture into greased 8x8 dish

In a microwave safe bowl melt peanut butter and chocolate together in 30 minute increments. Stir in cayenne pepper. Spread over oat mixture then top with remaining oat mixture. Chill for 3 hours and cut into bars.