A good activity for me and my son to do together is baking. He enjoys turning on the mixer, cracking eggs, sneaking chocolate chips and licking the beater. So one rainy weekend day when we were running out of ways to occupy my son, I went hunting for a new dessert recipe that everyone would enjoy and would keep my son entertained.
My favorite place to find tried and true recipes is family and church cookbooks, and I went to one of my favorites. I didn't want cookies, and I was in the mood for something new. This recipe was from a family friend, and since I had everything for it in the pantry, my son and I got busy.
It was a little crumbly, and the crust could almost be considered dry. But with the gooey caramel-ish layer, it kept it moist. Everyone loved it, and it made for some good late-night sweets for the week.
Recipe: Fudgey Chocolate Cookie Bars
Summary: recipe adapted from church cookbook "The Melting Pot" FRC 2000
1 3/4 cups flour
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1/4 cup cocoa
1 cup butter
1 cup chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup sweetened condensed milk
1 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup chopped nuts (I left out)
Crumb flour, powder sugar, cocoa, butter together. (mixture will be dry) Press in a 9 x 13 inch pan and bake 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Melt together chocolate chips, vanilla, and condensed milk and pour over baked crust. Top with chocolate chips and chopped nuts. Bake an additional 20 minutes.
I made a double batch, then split it into 3 meals (4 servings each), which looked like a lot of food!
To package it for the freezer, I put the Sweet & Sour Chicken in a larger freezer bag, and put a bag of frozen white rice in with it. That way, the whole meal was ready to go!
I made one of these last week and it was a really big hit. It was easy to heat up on the stove, and I was surprised at how good the sauce was. My husband was impressed, and said it rivaled Chinese takeout. It made enough for leftovers I have two more meals of this in the freezer, and my husband said he would happily eat them again. My son wasn't too impressed with the large green peppers or onions, but he liked the pineapple and chicken. I'd call that 'good enough'.
This recipe is now included in my Creatively Domestic's Freezer Meals ebook for sale on Amazon. To view this recipe and many others, please visit (and buy if you're interested) from that site.
My freezer in the garage is just about cleaned out but my pantry is still pretty full. I'm not trying to clean out absolutely everything, but I could easily move everything to my inside freezer. I'm on my last loaf of bread from my trip to the discount bakery, and my stockpiled baking supplies are just about gone. My pantry overflow into the laundry room is still there, but hopefully by the end of the month I'll be able to get those boxes or crackers and cans of beans into my pantry.
This is going to come as a surprise to some, but Florida really doesn't get that cold during the winter. Surprise, surprise! Maybe it dips into the 50's, and you put on a sweater and call it done. But one morning I woke up...it was 33 degrees outside and there was frost on our front lawn! Talk about a shock! I couldn't get my toes warm all morning, and thought it appropriate stew weather. It just seemed right.
Unfortunately, (or maybe lucky for me) I had a Girl's Night Out so I would be gone for dinner. Something in the slow cooker waiting for my husband and son at least makes me feel like that they will have a semi-healthy dinner while I'm out.
Recipe: Slow Cooker Beef Stew
Summary: recipe adapted from Betty Crocker Cookbook
1 pound beef stew meat, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
1 medium onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
8 ounces carrots (baby carrots or whole carrots cut into large pieces)
1 can (14 1/2 oz) diced tomatoes, undrained
1 cup beef broth (or water)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
1 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon dried marjoram leaves
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 1/2 pounds potatoes, diced
2 cups sliced mushrooms (I left out)
Use a 3 1/2 to 6 quart slow cooker.
Mix all ingredients, except beef. Add beef on top (do not stir).
Cover and cook on Low heat 8 to 9 hours on until vegetables are tender.
Meal type: dinner
This was really easy to put together, it smelled great cooking, and the few bites I sneaked before I left the house made me hungry!
My husband said this was a good dinner, and that my son had a few bites, so that's victory. I had this the next day for lunch, (actually two bowl's worth!) and it was very filling, the perfect stew consistency, and the beef was not overcooked. Perfect cold weather food!
I love my slow cooker, and will try almost any new recipe I see. After seeing this at Lynn's Kitchen Adventures, I was initially intrigued because it was a side dish recipe that I could throw together, turn on, and forget about, and it didn't use any grocery store run ingredients.
My husband and I truly enjoyed this! I could see this being a great pantry/frig raid recipe, as I seem to always have some slowly wilting carrots hiding in the bottom of my crisper! There were not any leftovers!
Recipe: Slow Cooked Balsamic Glazed Carrots
Summary: recipe adapted from Lynn's Kitchen Adventures
1 pound baby carrots (you could also use regular carrots that have been peeled and cut into chunks)
1 onion, diced
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
Combine all ingredients and place in a slow cooker.
Turn on low and cook for 3-4 hours. (The cooking time will very depending on how you like your carrots cooked)
Lemon Pepper Drumsticks, Curried Hash Browns, Baked Beans
Drumsticks from freezer (the last ones! Hooray!), the potato for the hash browns was slowly wilting on the counter, and I finally got rid of that can of beans from the pantry!
Saturday night: PB&J for the kiddo, Takeout after bedtime for the grownups! (From our "Dining Out envelope")
My goal from the original challenge was to spend $25 or less a week on groceries, so this week I hit that goal by spending $19.08. I was even able to buy some convenience foods for lunches, as I have been struggling eating leftovers everyday.
Week Two overall was a lot of easier than the first week. Picking items to eat went smoothly, grocery shopping was not as painful as Week One, and overall I'm settling into a groove. Hoping next week it continues!
I bookmarked this recipe knowing that I had a ton of cream cheese (hello holiday sales!) and frozen spinach (6 boxes, anyone?) to use up. This recipe turned into a great Eatin' from the Pantry Challenge recipe, as I didn't need to buy anything at the store!
1 (16 ounce) package dry penne pasta (I used bowtie as my son got to choose pasta shapes that night)
1 tablespoon olive oil
4 (6 ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breasts - cut into 1 inch strips
1/2 cup diced onion (1 small)
4 cloves of garlic, minced (or less to taste)
Salt and pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1 (14.5 ounce) can chicken broth
1 (8 ounce) package cold cream cheese, cubed
1 (10 ounce) package frozen spinach, thawed and drained (I used chopped spinach)
1 (14.5 oz can) diced tomatoes
1/2 teaspoon salt (to taste)
Parmesan cheese, optional
Start pasta cooking according to package instructions.
In a large skillet over medium high heat, heat the oil, then add the chicken, onion, and garlic and season with salt and pepper, basil and oregano. Cook for 5 minutes or until chicken is cooked. Reduce heat to medium heat. Add chicken broth, and stir in cubed cream cheese until cheese is melted and smooth. Stir in spinach, tomatoes, and salt (to taste), and return to a low simmer for about 5 minutes more.
In a large bowl, mix together pasta and sauce and serve, or serve sauce on top of pasta. Top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.
My husband loved this! He wanted me to name the recipe "Awesome" because he thought it was that good. Uh, thanks honey. My son was a little turned off by the spinach (especially since I used chopped spinach, which made the "confetti" look) but after a few oohs and aaahs from the grown-ups, he cautiously ate it, but with no complaints. He was very excited when he discovered chicken in the mix!
I enjoyed the pasta and sauce mixed up together, although my husband preferred them separate as he is watching his carbs. This recipe got added to our "Great Recipe" list...which means it can be put on the Menu Plan as often as I'd like, so it passed the test!
My husband was out for lunch one day at Sweet Tomatoes, and one of their "Salads of the Month" was a variation of this recipe. He enjoyed it so much he snapped a photo on his cell phone of the description from the salad bar, and asked for me to make it at home.
I used a small "snack size" bag of Fritos instead of a large bag, to avoid having leftovers hanging around the house, that I knew would sneak and snack on for the rest of the week. I found a 99 cent bag by the checkouts, and it was cheaper (and more healthy) to buy that size!
Fiesta Taco Salad
1 pound ground beef
1 - 15 oz can kidney or black beans
2 small tomatoes, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
6 cups chopped lettuce (about half a head of lettuce)
1 cup shredded cheddar cheese
Corn chips or tortilla chips Dressing:
1 cup sour cream
2 tablespoon dry taco seasoning mix (or combo of your own of chili powder & cumin)
Brown ground beef, drain and let cool. In a large bowl, combine beef, beans, tomatoes, onions, lettuce and cheese. For dressing, combine sour cream and taco seasoning. Add dressing, a little at a time, and toss until the salad is as "wet" as you'd like. Top with corn chips and serve.
Mexican in any form is a hit with our family, and the Fritos gave a great crunch. My husband said this was pretty close to his take-out lunch, so it was a success.
This is the first week of the Eatin' from the Pantry Challenge, and while I had a basic menu plan for the month, this is what we actually ate. I seem to do better with eating from the pantry by rolling with what I'm in the mood for, rather than sticking strictly to a day-by-day menu plan. I write a long list of meals that I have ingredients for, then pick off the list according to what works for us that night.
This week was the first week my baby was home from the hospital, so we cracked into our freezer meal stash, ordered some "comfort food" pizza and were blessed with a meal from a friend.
Fri Jan 7: Takeout Pizza (a reward after a long first week with baby!)
So how did I do at the store? If you remember from the original challenge, I wanted to spend only $25 (or less) on groceries. I ended up spending $25.76 this week! So I was 76 cents over budget, but I will cover for that next week. So close!!
I spent about $7 getting the deals of the week, (oatmeal, peanut butter, egg beaters, coffee creamer) then the remainder went to getting items off my list.
I had totally forgotten what it's like to be on a super tight grocery budget. It was frustrating to decide what I felt I was running lower on: milk or eggs. Or totally irritated that I had to buy vacuum bags because it took money away from buying fruit.
Two things that didn't get a second look as they were getting thrown in the cart: Coffee and coffee creamer! I do have a newborn in the house!
So far, this week was a success on the pantry challenge, mostly because we had three "free" meals from our takeout envelope and a gift from a friend. I'm planning on next week to get more into my freezer, so it should be a good week!
I bought a lot of sour cream on sale, and surprisingly it's not getting used up as fast as we normally go through it. Off to allrecipes and the "Ingredient Search"! I had a spaghetti squash hanging behind, and with a search of my two random recipes, it brought this up!
Both my husband and I thought this tasted like potatoes, so it was a fun twist on a side dish. My son was not interested, but it added something fun and new for the grown-ups to dinner.
3 pounds spaghetti squash, halved lengthwise and seeded
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 (8 ounce) can sliced mushrooms (I left out)
1 teaspoon dried basil
3/4 cup sour cream
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 slices bread, cubed
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cook squash on a baking sheet in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until tender. Shred with a fork once cooled slightly, then transfer to a lightly oiled casserole dish, discarding shell. (I cooked my squash in the microwave earlier in the day and let it hang out in the frig until I was ready to put it together).
Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a skillet over medium heat. Cook and stir the onions, mushrooms, and basil until onions are translucent and tender. Stir onion mixture and sour cream into the squash until well mixed. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese and cover with bread cubes.
Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes, or until warmed through and top is lightly browned and toasted.
At a Christmas party we attended early in December, there was a great spread of appetizers, one of them was the typical cold Taco Dip. It was a real blast from the past, and I think I ate way too much of it!
So a few weeks later, I was still jonesin' for the dip, but thought if I made it into a whole meal, I wouldn't feel so bad inhaling a huge portion! I did black olives on half, as my husband isn't an olive fan. What a fun make-your-own takeout dinner!
Hot Taco Dip aka Super Nachos
Layer in a 9 x 13 pan:
16 oz can vegetarian refried beans
1 pound browned ground beef (or go meatless like I did)
Sprinkle of chili powder over top
Sprinkle of cumin over top
1/2 cup salsa
1 to 1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
1/2 cup diced tomatoes
1/2 cup diced onions
1 (2.25 oz can) sliced olives
Bake at 350 degrees for 20-30 minutes or until hot. Serve with sour cream, lettuce, cilantro & warmed tortilla chips*.
*To make warmed tortilla chips, dump half a bag or so on a large cookie sheet and warm in a 350 degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes. This works well in the toaster oven, too. My husband won't eat cold tortilla chips now!
Come along with me as I have a "Eatin' from the Pantry" Challenge for January!
I was originally inspired by the Eat from the Pantry Challenge last January from Money Saving Momma, but didn't feel prepared enough to join in. This year, however, is a whole new ballgame, and I am very excited to eat our way through the reserves!
My rules: Eat from what we have on hand from the pantry, refrigerator and freezers.
Reduce grocery budget to $25/week (or less if I can squeak it!)
Still buy milk, eggs, & produce on a weekly or bi-weekly basis.
There are few reasons for this personal challenge:
1. The newest member of our family was born Dec 30th, so all my prepared freezer meals are set aside to be used during January anyway.
2. My husband's company is switching from weekly paychecks to bi-weekly paychecks, so this will be a bit of trial and error to get this new situation more comfortable. By purposefully keeping the expenses low, I'll be able to figure out what works best for me.
3. I have been stockpiling all the great deals from the stores from before Thanksgiving and through the Christmas season. My freezers and refrigerators are packed tight, my pantry is stuffed and has started to take over part of the laundry room.
I have chocolate chips, bags of flour, and butter up the wahoo, and my 1/8th of a cow purchase of grass-fed beef is down to only a few cuts of meat, so it would be great to make some room for another purchase of that size. I also just went to the discount bakery, so we are set with bread items for at least a month. My pantry is holding massive amounts of canned diced tomatoes and boxed pasta!
Resetting the "normal"
We are anticipating the grocery budget amount that we had been setting aside this year might need to be tweaked once life settles down (HA!) and the new baby expenses are added into the Grocery/Household budget. I'm anticipating the amount with be a little more starting in February, so I'm not too concerned with rebuilding my "stash".
I know this will be a challenge in the baby-fog first few weeks to still hold to the rules, as there are some "emergency" purchases that seem totally justified when the family is adjusting to a new little person in the house. I vividly remember buying a large amounts of red grapes and lunch meat (especially bologna!) when my first son was born because those were the only things that sounded good for lunch those first few weeks. It seems weird to me now how astonishing good those things tasted at the time! I do have $25 a week for groceries to get some of those items.
So come along with me as I try "Eatin' from the Pantry!" I'm looking forward to cleaning out some food and saving my family money!
The newest little member of our family arrived a little early on Dec 30th! It was an easy delivery and baby is very mild mannered (so far!)
In true food blogger fashion, I even took pictures of the hospital food! While the food itself wasn't spectacular, there is nothing like your own choice of dessert at every meal! I think that's a rule I need to bring home!
Meatloaf, mashed potatoes, brown gravy, peas, cream of broccoli soup, and the best thing ever....
(which I must have been hungry for, because I didn't get a photo of!)
Roast turkey, mashed potatoes & gravy, green beans, chicken noodle soup, and the next best dessert of the day....pecan pie!!
We were very excited to meet our new little guy, and thanks for all the questions and concerns about our family. Come back tomorrow and meet my newest little grocery challenge!