Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Cost Cutting Christmas Gifts

Times are tough, I don't have to tell anyone that. But what makes it feel even worse is when its Christmas time, Christmas is the time of the year when people are always compelled to splurge and shop and give great gifts to their friends and family. While the idea is great most people end up going overboard and putting themselves in debt. Which I have been known to do myself in the past. Its hard to limit myself. I want to give the people that I love and care about lots of things, the things that they want and that I know would be a very special and extravagant gesture. However I just can't afford to do that anymore. And as much as it hurts me, I know it would hurt much worse if I went ahead and made those large purchases. And then in turn it would hurt those friends and family as well because the financial struggle would be evident in the coming months. So no this year I'm sticking to my game plan and my budget. Instead of going out and getting each of my bosses and coworkers and then there's the lil monster's daycare teachers, ah the list goes on, $20 gifts a piece I cut back drastically. I decided to make homemade gifts and take my chance at doing some home canning. A task I'll admit had seemed like too much work, a little hokey and well kind of gross. I mean I grew up on Smuckers! But instead of doing pickles or jam, I found this great chutney recipe. (Yes the recipe I made for Thanksgiving) It was such a hit and I've bought chutney for friends as gifts before, so why not try my hand at it.

Let me tell you, this was the easiest present I've made! Literally it took less than an hour from start to finish and cost less than $20 for 6 jars! That's 6 people for under $20! I just used a big pot I had to boil the jars (which I had purchased for $7) instead of using a canner. I followed the recipe like usual and when it was complete I pulled the hot jars out of the water and filled the jars up. Put the lids back on and then sat them all back into the pot of water. Made sure the water covered the tops and let it boil for about 15 to 20 minutes. I didn't have a rack to lift the jars out of the water so that was fun trying to use a pair of tongs, but it worked. I sat the hot jars on a towel and let them cool overnight.

Instead of spending any money on wrapping my gifts I went "green" and used brown paper lunch sacks as my bags and went without the waste of tissue paper. I printed some cute holiday labels and placed them on the front of the paper bags. Then I printed out the nutritional information and some sample uses along with a recipe to use the chutney with. A simple homemade heartfelt gift that I know my friends will enjoy. And instead of breaking the bank I stayed in my budget!

Of course you can use any chutney recipe you find but I used the Cranberry-Pear Chutney from CookingLight. And then I found some helpful tips on canning at BellaOnline. I hope you all have happy and fun holidays!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Menu Plan Monday - December 1st

Ok so we're still eating up the leftovers from Thanksgiving so we'll be good with those until this weekend. So I guess my menu planning actually won't start until the 8th. The weather's turned chilly so I'm feeling like lots of warm-you-up meals. Plus its the holiday season and you just have to splurge, of course the budget's super tight so we'll be trying to reign it all in. And since its a new month you'll see some of our repeats. And I know it's not complete but I've been sick so please forgive me :)

Monday, Dec 8th
Dinner: Sloppy Joe's with Corn and potato wedges

Tuesday, Dec 9th
Dinner: Stromboli and salad

This was a huge hit with both the hubby and my lil monster! I didn't really follow any recipe just threw a bunch of ingredients together. I used refrigerated pizza dough, rolled it out, threw some spaghetti sauce on it, chopped up some green onions and onions, opened a can of mushrooms, added some pepperoni and salami and covered it with mozzarella cheese. Then folded it over, brushed it with egg and sprinkled parmesan cheese on top. Bake for about 30 minutes at 400 degrees, or until the dough is crisp and golden.

Wednesday, Dec 10th
Dinner: The Duggar's Tator Tot Casserole

I've been meaning to try this ever since I first saw their show. It seems like a really yummy dish, of course not healthy though. I can't imagine my lil monster not liking it so that's whats important. I've seen some recipes adding peas or corn so I think I might try that, oh or maybe green beans?

Thursday, Dec 11th
Dinner: My lil monster's holiday show is this night so we'll prolly just grab something and go.

Friday, Dec 12th
Dinner: The Award Winning Chilifest Chili Recipe served with flour tortillas and gaucamole

Of which I have been sworn to secrecy for, ok well not really, but I'm not going to post it on the internet 'cause it a recipe that's been passed around just friends.
Saturday, Dec 13th
Breakfast: Sweet Potato Pancakes
Lunch: Leftovers
Dinner: Turkey Tetrazzini (to find recipe)

Sunday, Dec 14th
Breakfast: Cream Cheese Apple Muffins
I found this recipe on Kate's blog and it sounded super yummy, plus I love the idea of being able to make a bunch and then freeze them. And with apples being dirt cheap right now, I can grab a bag for next to nothing. Oh I'm I'm also going to make the Apple Cinnamon Pancakes and freeze them too.
Dinner: Mexican Lasagna (following the big recipe to freeze)

Monday, Dec 15th
Dinner: Crockpot Maple Dijon Chicken

I found this yummy recipe on Stephanie's crazy blog. Can you believe she's using her crockpot everyday for a whole year? I love my crockpot but not enough to continuosly clean it everyday by hand. Anyways this meal sounds super yummy so we're gonna try it.

Tuesday, Dec 16th
Dinner: Chicken Enchilladas

Wednesday, Dec 17th
Dinner: Spaghetti

Thursday, Dec 18th
Dinner: Venison Stew with biscuits ontop

Friday, Dec 19th
Dinner: Lasagna (x2 to freeze)

Saturday, Dec 20th
Lunch: Soup & Sandwiches

Sunday, Dec 21st
Dinner: White Chicken Chili

Monday, Dec 22nd
Dinner: Chicken Pot Pie

Tuesday, Dec 23rd
Wednesday, Dec 24th
Dinner: It's Christmas Eve so we're going to my parents' house and we'll have appetizers and open presents!

Thursday, Dec 25th
Breakfast: It's undecided if we'll be at my parents' still so we'll see
Dinner: At hubby's brother's house so I'll just bring a side dish if need be

Friday, Dec 26th
Breakfast: Cinnamon Rolls
Lunch: Soup & Sandwiches
Dinner: Pizza - I'm not cooking! Lets order a pizza!

Saturday, Dec 27th
Lunch: Sandwiches
Dinner: Tyler's Ultimate Mac & Cheese

Sunday, Dec 28th

Monday, Dec 29th
Dinner: Crockpot Pepper Steak (Venison) and mashed potatoes

Tuesday, Dec 30th

Wednesday, Dec 31st
Dinner: New Year's Eve and our plans are up in the air so I'm not planning on cooking

Thursday, Jan 1st
Dinner: New Years tradition to eat black eyed peas so I've got a bbq black eyed pea recipe that I love and it turns it into a yummy meal.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Leftovers Galore!

Thanksgiving was great this year! My family was all together, well at least my side was with us. I didn't feel too stressed out at all, and everything seemed to go pretty smoothly. I think it helped that my mother brought the dressing and another veggie side so I wasn't trying to cook everything all at once. As soon as I can I'll update my thanksgiving day menu and post pictures. I must admit I was pretty proud. My turkey came out looking perfect and was the best tasting one I've ever had! So after all the fuss and muss we had a ton of leftover so I decided to get creative. 'Cause honestly you can only eat the "turkey day" plate for some many meals afterwards. Here is what I made with my leftovers....

Emeril's Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie: This was a great recipe because it really changed the ingredients up and made a totally different style of meal. Super yummy and clever why to use up those leftovers. But of course we never have any mashed potatoes leftover so I just whipped up a new batch for this meal.

Robin Miller's Stuffing Frittata: We always have a ton of leftover stuffing and never know what to do with it all. We end up with leftovers for weeks simply because we make half with oysters and half w/o so then we have tons leftover w/o the oysters. I found this recipe and knew it'd be a great way to use up those leftovers, well at least some of them. Plus it made Sunday morning breakfast a piece of cake, or better yet, frittata!

"Leftover Creamed" Spinach and Mushroom Enchiladas: This originally is a favorite recipe from CookingLight that I like to make. I ended up not loving my creamed spinach recipe from Thanksgiving so there was a bunch leftover. I had a package of mushroom leftover from the shepherd's pie as well so in come a variation of my Mexican favorite.

"Ain't no Chicken Spaghetti" - a Pioneer Woman mix-up: Hubby loves Pioneer Woman's Chicken Spaghetti so its a staple in our menu now however with the plethora of turkey I figured why not give it a go with turkey, chicken's cousin. They're both poultry and I can't imagine it tasting anything but good. So for this yummy recipe all's the same except I substituted turkey for chicken!

Emeril's Thanksgiving Leftovers Shepherd's Pie

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
4 teaspoons olive oil
1 cup chopped yellow onions
2 carrots, peeled and chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 teaspoon Essence or Creole Seasoning,
recipe follows
1/4 teaspoon p
lus 1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon
freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced garlic
4 ounces mushrooms, stemmed, wiped clean, and sliced
1/2 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons tomato paste
2 to 2 1/2 cups chopped or shredded roast turkey (white and/or dark meat)
1 1/4 cups chicken stock or canned chicken broth
1/2 cup green peas
4 cups leftove
r mashed potatoes or Basic Mashed Potatoes
3/4 cup grated sharp or medium Cheddar
Chopped parsley leaves, for garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9-inch square or 2.2 quart baking dish with the butter and set aside.
  2. In a large saute pan or skillet, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the onions, carrots, Essence, salt, and pepper and cook, stirring, until the onions are soft, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 20 seconds. Add the mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf and cook, stirring, until the mushrooms are soft, 3 to 4 minutes.
  3. Add the flour and cook, stirring, until thick, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato paste and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the meat and stir well to combine.
  4. Gradually add the stock and then the peas, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture is thickened, 6 to 8 minutes.
  5. Remove from the heat and discard the bay leaf. Carefully transfer to the prepared dish and spoon the potatoes over the meat mixture, spreading to the edges. Sprinkle with the cheese and bake until the cheese is bubbly and the potatoes are crisp around the edges, 22 to 25 minutes.
  6. Let sit for 10 minutes before serving. Garnish with chopped parsley and serve.

Stuffing Frittata

Cooking spray
2 to 3 cups leftover stuffing
1 cup shredded Cheddar (regular or reduced-fat)
6 large eggs
2 large egg whites
3/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoo
n mustard powder
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon cho
pped fresh parsley leaves

  1. Preheat broiler.
  2. Coat an oven-proof nonstick skillet with cooking spray and place over medium heat. Put stuffing in the bottom of pan to warm and stir to break up a little.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs, egg whites, milk, mustard powder, and nutmeg. Pour mixture over stuffing and cheese to cover stuffing. Sprinkle Parmesan over top. Cook on stovetop over low heat for 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer to the broiler and broil for about 2 minutes, until egg is cooked through and cheese is golden and bubbly. Sprinkle cheese over top.
  4. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and fresh parsley. Serve with sliced tomatoes.

"Leftover Creamed" Spinach and
Mushroom Enchilladas

1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 (10-ounce) can condensed reduced-fat cream of chicken soup, undiluted
1 (8-ounce carton) fat-free sour cream
1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles, undrained

Cooking spray
1 cup chopped onion (already in the spinach mixture)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and chopped
2 cups sliced mushrooms
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon salt (already in the spinach mixture)
2 (10-ounce) packages frozen chopped spinach, thawed and drained (we're using leftover creamed spinach instead)
1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Monterey Jack cheese, divided
10 (6-inch) corn tortillas

1/2 cup chopped seeded plum tomato
1/4 cup chopped green onion tops

  1. Preheat oven to 350°.

  2. To prepare sauce, combine first 4 ingredients; stir well.

  3. To prepare enchiladas, (here's where the variations begin: heat a large nonstick skillet coated with cooking spray over medium-high heat. Add jalapeno and saute. Proceed to step 4) Add onion and jalapeño; sauté 5 minutes or until tender, stirring frequently.

  4. Add mushrooms; sauté 3 minutes or until tender. Now add the creamed spinach and ...Stir in garlic powder, cumin, omitting the salt, and spinach; cook 5 minutes or until heated. Combine spinach mixture and another 4 oz of creamed cheese, leftover from original recipe, because I didn't think it was creamy enough...or 1/4 cup cheese in a large bowl; stir to combine.

  5. Spoon 1/2 cup sauce into a 13 x 9-inch baking dish coated with cooking spray. Warm tortillas according to package directions. Spoon about 1/3 cup spinach mixture down center of each tortilla; roll up. Place filled tortillas seam sides down in the baking dish. Spread remaining sauce evenly over tortillas; top with 3/4 cup cheese.

  6. Bake at 350° for 20 minutes. Top with tomato and green onion.

Now of course I've still got quite a few leftovers so I'm still scheming and scouring ideas for my leftovers so we'll see what else I can find and/or get creative with!

Recipe and photo courtesy of CookingLight.com